Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cats of the cold

"Tell me something Gaurav, why didn't you wear a tie today?"

The second panelist asked me as soon as I had took a seat for my personal interview at TAPMI (Supposedly reputed MBA College in India). I replied without a flinch,

"In this hot weather sir, I thought it'd make me feel uncomfortable."

The panelist continued, "But you could have put it in your pocket and put in on minutes before the interview began. Don't you think this would have made a better impression?"

I wanted to say something in return but didn't, as I noticed he was wearing a tie and I could make out he was himself quite uncomfortable in it. The second panelist was younger and I realized he was probably an alumni of TAPMI. I wonder if the moron would have been really impressed had he known I was putting on a tie only for the duration of the interview just to show him that I can wear a tie. But later I realized that even he might have done exactly the same thing during his interview at TAPMI years back.

I replied, "I think have dressed decently enough for the interview. If you think the tie would have made a better impression, then I probably made a mistake. But I adjudged that there could be better ways to impress the panelists than wearing a tie." He dropped the topic after that.

And this is the general trend in India for MBA interviews. Apart from the top seven IIMs, almost all other top colleges have made a sham and a corporate styled buffoonery out of the MBA degree. Colleges give more importance to the superficial features of corporate culture. They claim that during the interview they are looking for leaders, visionaries, potential mavericks, innovators, and all the similar adjectives they can find in their garbage-worth collection of self-help books.

Looking practically, each of these college has around 200 seats per year to be filled by candidates. If we consider 10 colleges like that, who can generate 2000 innovators and mavericks every year, the country would be exploding with conglomerates and multidimensional industries. Yet only one of those 2000 actually turns out to be an innovator. The rest all are only a chatterbox of innovation, leadership, and all the spectacular lexicon of explosive description of successful people.

It seems behind every successful man, there is a woman. Behind that woman are 200 book writers who write about the man. Behind those writers are 200,000 readers of those shit books who try to imitate him. And finally behind them is an MBA college which boasts about the guy being educated from 'reputed' institute like itself.

Its a pitiful state of Indian education system, where such colleges attract aspirants with all their promising jargon, and bank on their wealth.

This year I screwed up in the common entrance test (known as 'the Cat exam' in popular culture, and happens to be one of the toughest tests in the world) for MBA with only 97 %ile (Yeah this is actually a poor score). I missed out on the top IIM and MDI calls by less than a percentile. And since, I have to attend interviews at the rest of the ones from of the top fifteen colleges to which I have applied to. The level of competitiveness among emerging business professional is so high that it seems murderous even for hard-workers. With exploding population, and developing economy, the race for top paying jobs might perhaps be as much tough as anywhere else in the world, but the bar for skills is being raised higher and higher every year. The aspirants' math skills are good enough to tackle any third degree problem in minutes, and the English skills are such that they speak better than the Englishmen themselves. And despite all these efforts they are still average in the Indian job market.

'To bell the Cat' - A widely used term to describe the cracking of the CAT exam

You need more than that now. You need work experience of 5 years or more, coupled with exemplary extracurricular, and several postgraduate courses. And in the end you could still lose by a margin of a couple of marks.

Looking at my own debacle I serious feel that individuals are not rewarded according to their capabilities or their achievements. Its a country where you either go in a topmost institution, or go in an institution where a stupid tie is given more weight-age than the amount of knowledge.

It reminds me of an old Sanskrit verse by Chanakya (Legendary Indian political genius and an erudite scholar). Chanakya says...

Don't live in a country that doesn't allow you self respect, honour, means of living, ways of education and self development. Quit such a country. It is not fit for living.

Chanakya is correct about the opportunities in developed contry (and I seriously feel with the same amount of hard work, I would have made it in a reputed Business school in a developed country). He is also correct about self respect and honour as many non deserving people in get top jobs by exploiting the Caste based (and totally prejudiced and vote-bank politics related) reservation schemes in educational institutions.

But I disagree with Chanakya on quitting the country.

I had read some time back in the novel 'Dune' by Frank Herbert, a principle, stating that, ' The fiercest warriors are the ones who are born and raised in the most hazardous, difficult, dreadful, and arduous places.'

This is true enough to be practically applicable. The best footballers usually hail from Brazil, where impoverished families struggle in farms to raise money to send one of their several children to a professional football school. Pashtun warriors in Afghanistan fought tanks with obsolete weapons from donkey backs, and put up a stiff ten year resistance to Russians and eventually drove them out. Even among animals, its the cats, who survive in all kinds of climates around the world (even in Siberia) that have the most advanced predatory skills, which even humans envy.

A Brazilian village kid displays his football prowess.

Its the same with India. The nature of competitiveness and breakneck competition between peers develops the personality, knowledge, and resourcefulness of a person to the utmost level. Here, most of the children have only two choices; study or be poor. Its the tough life in India that can make you a better professional in all aspects compared professionals in other nations. It is also one of the reasons why Indian are being accused of stealing jobs away from locals in countries like US. Developed countries give their citizens less incentives to work hard, as they get unemployment grants. There are no unemployment grants in India. If you cant find a job your left to starve by the government. It might be a cold and cruel environment to grow up, but its an environment on which the strong thrive.

To take positives from my CAT performance, I have secured enough to convince my parents to let me take another shot at CAT. Earlier, due to my recent drop in academic performance towards the end of my college, my parents wanted me to quit studying and join the family business which I don't want to get involved in to because I hate a marketing job. The score has restored some some of the faith my parents had in me, and they wont nag me to quit my interests and, at least for a while, and let me focus.

To be honest, I feel somehow that this score could actually do more good than anything else would have. After all, everything happens for the good, if not the best.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lunch with Raz

After finishing with my MICAT exam at Jai Hind college at 12.30 pm, I decided I'd have some lunch before heading home as my folks were out and there was no one home to cook for me. I went to Leopold Cafe to grab a quick lunch. As expected, the place was crowded since it was Sunday. As I entered the cafe, a tourist came in along with me. The manager there noticed only one table empty and asked both of us if we could share the table. Usually I don't like to sit with unknown people (especially foreigners) but I didn't object as I was too hungry. The tourist set aside his backpack and pull out a large guide book about India, and started scanning through it, probably to decide on what to order. A moment later he asked me to recommend something. I suggested a tandoor dish. He ordered the same and introduced himself. And what I imagined to be a simple half an hour lunch turned into a two and a half hour discussion.

My meeting with Dr. Gal Raz was as interesting as it was unexpected. I have a certain soft corner for Israelis considering their recent history, and when he told me he was from Israel, I was already glad to have met him. He turned out to be a faculty in Darden school of business at Virginia university. We had a lot to talk about, as I myself am an aspiring candidate for management in finance.

Initially we spoke on India. The first thing he asked me was about my time in Mumbai. I guess he asked me this because he must have heard it from somewhere that Mumbai is a place where most of the Indians hope to migrate to in their life. He was quiet surprised to know that my family have been in Mumbai since the last 400 years (or more perhaps). He asked me the places to visit in Mumbai and had to disappoint him by telling him Mumbai is a totally westernized city and that it isn't much different from any other western place. The next we spoke on tourist locations in India.

But he couldn't keep himself from asking about economy and soon we were discussing the recession and its effects in India. After giving him a glimpse of Indian economy, I asked him a question I should have asked him little earlier.

'I heard it that the work culture in Israel is quite unhealthy'. I realized a spit second later that it was probably the wrong choice of words. He said, 'What do you mean by that?' I told him that I had read in the news that Israeli employees have hardly any respect for the seniors and are very offensive in the meetings and have a little politeness or manners.'

From his face I could make out that I hit the nail right. He accepted that it was true, and said that being from Israel he had faced it before. But then he immediately moved on defensive and spoke non stop for more than half an hour (the pride of his homeland was at stake). He said that Israelis are the least polite when it comes to discussing strategies. An Englishman, if ever had to disagree with his boss, he would start with, "I agree with your point, but there is a small problem of... '. For the same case an employee in Israel would reply to his boss as, 'You're talking bullshit and your gonna screw up the...'. In Israel any employee can walk up to the director and argue with him over any matter, and even use explicit language.

But Dr. Raz said that unlike other countries where people at higher posts are quick to take offense and never excuse juniors for any vituperations, Israelis don't take such comments as a offense and it doesn't hurt their ego in any way when their juniors point. While a severe argument with your boss can get you fired in India, it can get you promoted in Israel. Dr. Gal argued that such a culture actually improves the competitiveness and productivity of a firm when bosses accept criticism and questioning in a constructive manner.

I find it difficult to believe though that seniors don't have any ego problems with their juniors finding out faults and nagging them about it. But if it is true, Israel would be a great place to hire employees from, as people would focus more on productivity and less on office manners.

We then spoke about why Indians have an edge over the rest of Asians for competing for jobs abroad. I said it was one of the advantages of the British rule (one of the very few), that we have focused on education standards better than other Asians. He was quick to agree with me on that citing Israel as another example of the same. Finally after ending the conversation with prospects for entrepreneurship in India, Dr. Gal left for the Gateway of India, and I looked down on my unfinished stake.

It was great knowing Dr. Raz Gal, sharing my views with him. After getting to know more about Israeli work culture from him, he reminded me that we should look forwards for positives in everything and shun away all the negatives of any culture.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Moon Castle

I have been wondering lately about a science fiction based on a lunar colony based on the present mechanization (i.e. not much advanced technology than what is presently used). Of the innumerable sci-fi themes, the most prominently admired science fiction concepts are those which have a high degree of feasibility (if not completely attainable), for eg: Deception Point by Dan Brown, which despite being a science fiction fantasy, does offer a nearly plausible explanation for the described events (i.e. forging a meteor). Likewise I did some online history-geography research and based on our present savvy and the knowledge about moon. I have drawn out the following salients points which would be a likely or even a sine qua non platform for the lunar sci-fi fantasy.

Problems to be tackled for lunar stay.


1) Breathing and Water : Recent probes on the moon suspect large deposits of water in the shadowed depths of lunar craters (located near the poles). These deposits can be used to generate both oxygen(along with nitrogen imported from earth) and water for consumption. Denaturing oxygen would need more inert materials like nitrogen. However, our body doesn't use up the nitrogen, and its quantity decreases with an extremely low rate compared to that of oxygen. Hence we needn't worry about nitrogen supply.

2) Energy : There are zones on moon which are 'places of eternal light', i.e. there is an incessant and eternally unobstructed incidence of sunlight. A solar cell placed on such a spot would provide a stable stream of energy.

3) Food : Cultivation can take place indoors in controlled environment, with solar energy being ferried to the particular farm with the help of a set of mirrors to reflect light from eternally sunlit places.

The above problem are those which everyone can imagine to be cohesive, although they are the most convenient to address.

However, there are many issues which make such a moon base concept almost impossible, and are quite unimaginable even for colloquial space enthusiasts.

The real problems facing the moon base:

1) Space radiation (Cosmic rays)
On the earth, the harmful cosmic rays (high energy photons) released from the sun and outer space are blocked by the opaque atmosphere and Earth's magnetic field. It generates a secondary wave of radiation whose intensity is further abased due to the ionosphere, and hence we are protected.

However, space radiation is harmful, and once unprotected, one can have his DNA attacked by the radiation resulting in cancerous cells along with other bodily malfunction. The radiation is one of the major problems facing a plan for a crewed mission on Mars. In case of the Apollo mission the astronauts were on the Moon for relatively short time, i.e. days, and we hence not adversely affected by radiation. But a prolonged stay (months or years) is unthinkable due to the harmful effects of radiation.

2) Solar flares and Solar winds
Powerful surges of energy released by the Sun have harmful radiation which can knock the communication systems down and destroy vegetation and life. With the absence of atmosphere on moon, any life is heavily susceptible to solar activity. We should note that Mars has lost its 'air' due to continuous bombardment of its atmosphere by solar winds.

3) Temperatures
During the lunar day, the surface temperature averages 107 °C, and during the lunar night, it averages −153 °C. It would be impossible to have a stable environment under such temperature constraints.

Addressing these issues...

1) The Lunar soil (Regolith) can be melted and fused to form a glass-like material (Lunar bricks) which can provide protection from harmful radiation, although this would give out secondary radiation which could be even more harmful. The effects of the secondary radiation could be then minimized by employing hydrogen rich plastics. To go to the moon and use the regolith to manufacture Lunar bricks can be a feasible plan to counter deep space radiation.

2) Protection against Solar activity can be achieved by having the hub underground (Possibly under the Lunar dust. The Lunar dust can be an effective shield for protection from solar winds, although communication systems may still be susceptible. Moreover outside exploration during a solar flare could be detrimental.

3) There are some areas on Moon like the 'Peary crater' and 'Malapert Mountain' where the temperature conditions are expected to remain very stable, averaging −50 °C (−58 °F).This is comparable to winter conditions in Earth's the Poles of Cold in Siberia and Antarctica. Establishing a Hub with stable temperature here can be possible.

Of more significance to us is the Peary crater.

The crater is located at the north pole of the moon. A large part of the crater remains in eternal darkness (it never receives sunlight), giving partial protection against solar activity.

The crater has an extremely an low temperature and high depth basin where light elements (volatiles), such as carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and the most crucial of all, water can exist in pressurized state. Such vital resources can be available close by, just a few kilometers away from the Hub settlement.

The rim of the crater has four mountainous parts which are 'peaks of eternal light'. These unnamed "mountains of eternal light" are possible due to the Moon's extremely small axial tilt, which also gives rise to permanent shadow at the bottoms of many polar craters. Hence having a eternally sunlit area is an ideal location for the much needed perpetual solar energy generator, which can power the base.

The image of the Peary crater floor

The unknown Variable

The most uncertain factor of establishing a Lunar colony is the effect of microgravity on Human physiology. Low microgravity is known to result in a depressed immune system. It can also impair the development of the foetus. The exact details of the adverse physiological malfunction due to microgravity are not known. In short run, microgravity can be handled by wearing a heavy suit (with a large mass), that would balance the reduction in gravity. However, a limitation for this is that it doesn't address the effect of microgravity within the body organs, like less buoyancy for blood, less force exerted by heavy organs on the body parts around them. There have never been any long run experiments to investigate the effects of microgravity on human body and hence it is a subject of uncertainty.

Ignoring the microgravity and solar activity to some extent, we can have a strong candidate for an almost feasible astro-fantasy theme. Cheers!