The Vigin Way

Virgin Way

16-June-2019

Disclaimer

All thoughts written below are my own. Any resemblance to any other thought is purely coincidental. Writing this blog is an academic activity for me that gave me joy, with malice towards no-one, no-thing, or no-thought, and is not intended to trigger any heartbreak or a controversial conversation.

My view

I’ve read over half-a-dozen books since I wrote my last blog, but skipped writing about them, mostly out of laziness. But this one, that I finished reading last week, forced me to login to WordPress once again!

The tagline on the cover page — How to Listen, Learn, Laugh, and Lead — is a bit (I’ve deliberately avoided using “quite”, lest there be a confusion between Brits and Yankees 🙂) intriguing. Most of the books on leadership, that I’ve seen, focus on, er, leadership, but Richard Branson emphasizes on Listening, Learning, and Laughing first, with Leadership being more like an outcome of these acts, rather than an independent act by itself.

The incredible thing about Richard is that he has been a dyslexic child; even more incredible thing is his awareness about the same, and the way he seems to have consciously (with support from his family, of course — kudos to them as well!) worked his way through it, to the top (both literally and figuratively).

The top leadership attributes at Virgin include Integrity, A Sense of Humor, Entrepreneurial Spirit, Being Gregarious, Energetic, Empathetic, and Ability to Delegate Work (and Credits).

I’ll keep this review short by noting just the key takeaways for me, instead of an elaborate deliberation:

  1. Be authentic and empathetic — remember everyone’s different!
  2. Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity — Roman philosopher Seneca
  3. Hiring should be the #1 priority — even at the junior-most level
  4. Everything begins and ends with our people! If we keep our employees happy and engaged, they will keep our customers happy!
  5. Culture eats strategy for breakfast! — Peter Drucker
  6. Take decisions – Just do it!

 

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Sindh

Sindh

05-August-2018

Disclaimer

All thoughts written below are my own. Any resemblance to any other thought is purely coincidental. Writing this blog is purely an academic activity for me that gave me joy, with malice towards no-one, no-thing, or no-thought, and is not intended to trigger any heartbreak or a controversial conversation.

My view

I’ve skipped the ‘Storyline’ section this time, because this book isn’t one story, but a collection of short, real-life, stories of people (or people associated with other people) who had to face the agony of The Partition in 1947, starting from its build-up a decade earlier, and its after effects going up to two decades later.

Purely from a technical standpoint, this book doesn’t score too well. The stories generally begin without much introduction, making it a bit difficult to visualize the relationships between various people named in the story. Grammatically too, there are errors at many places. The interspersing of pictures amidst the text isn’t consistent as well.

This book was a chance encounter, and I picked it up because – being a Sindhi myself – I personally relate to the title. There are quite many books on India’s partition and independence; however, most of them (as far as geography is concerned) focus on Punjab and Bengal more than other parts ruled by British. I think I understand the reason now — people on either side of the partitioned states felt the pain directly and expressed it through various art forms. This pain was more of the partition of the state (and hence the migration) than the country — there was no national identity at that time anyway, since we were a cluster of more than 500 (much) smaller states or provinces which were amalgamated into a united identity post 1947.

Other that Punjab and Bengal, states such as Sindh, Baluchistan, and North West Frontier Province didn’t find much print space on the topic of partition (at least in India; not sure about Pakistan) simply because the geographical boundaries of the states remained intact post partition! And apart from Sindh, even the residents largely remained where they were!

Sindh was perhaps the one state which was occupied and revered by Hindus and Muslims alike. However, at the time of partition, the leaders chose to let it remain within Pakistan completely, while neglecting (or even accepting, maybe, but that doesn’t matter anymore) the fact that the residents who would move out would do so at the expense of their community identity.

The (mostly Hindu) residents who were forced to relocate, did so to various parts of India. Also, traditionally Sindhis have been a trading community; the breadwinners (usually men) used to live in places from Hong Kong to Africa to Canada, while their families (usually women, children, and elderly) stayed back in Sindh. At the time of partition, hence, many of the families “back home” chose to reunite with their breadwinner(s), instead of going to an unknown land of India. Thus, Sindhis relocated all over India and beyond, which, in turn, resulted in a lack of concentrated efforts towards maintaining a “Sindhi identity” in India going forward.

The stories stated in the book indicate that though people lost almost all their belongings while relocating, they were subject to lesser loss of family members, and were subjected to lesser violence (as compared to Punjab and Bengal), because many of them left Pakistan via planes and ships. There acceptability and eventual settling down as citizens of new India, however, was as challenging as that of the Muslims migrating from India to Pakistan.

Sindhis took pride in the theory of “Keep Walking”, accepting the relocation as their destiny, and looking ahead than ruminating about the past. In my opinion, this pride is somewhat misplaced, and which has led to a rapid decline of Sindhi language, culture, and customs in India. There are hardly any literary occurrences of & references to Sindhi books, authors, art work, or even movies! Sindhis still continue to be known as sharp traders, but are generally not seen as a community that celebrates Sindhi festivals with fervor, or anniversaries of important historical Sindhis, the way seen in other communities. There have even been talks of omitting Sindh from the National Anthem, and Sindhi as one of the official 17 languages in the country — and why won’t this be a reality sooner or later, in absence of a concentrated voice?

I found the following quotes from the book particularly heartbreaking:
a. “Most of the Hindu Sindhis displaced by Partition were soon established and affluent. They were practical people, moving on and making the best of what they had. Unlike the Jews and the Tibetans, they cast aside their traditions too easily. Unlike the Palestinians, they tore themselves away from their ancestral land and focused their energies on establishing themselves in other corners of the world. Somewhat like the gypsy Romani, they did not know how many they had lost — because they had not counted in the first place”

b. Efforts made to unite the Sindhis and to propaate their culture have not born significant fruit. The loss of a unique socio-religious tradition that combined elements of Sikhism, Hinduism, and Sufi Islam, was replaced by the Bollywood caricature of the shady businessman, much derided for his peculiar habits and unscrupulous dealings. But who could be blamed?”

 

Lessons from FIFA 2018

16-July-2018

Disclaimer

All thoughts written below are my own. Any resemblance to any other thought is purely coincidental. Writing this blog is purely an academic activity for me that gave me joy, with malice towards no-one, no-thing, or no-thought, and is not intended to trigger any heartbreak or a controversial conversation.

A blog on soccer!
I don’t claim to be a soccer fan in the true sense of the term, though playing in a couple of corporate leagues in 2012-13 did enhance my understanding of the game. I’m also not a follower of Premier Leagues nor the money involved therein (how I wish I was at the receiving end), nor UEFA, nor Copa America. But FIFA World Cups have been slightly different, for reasons I’m not sure of myself.

My first memories are from 1986, when Maradona-led Argentina lifted the cup. In the subsequent years too, I followed the progression quite a bit; however, it is only this year, 2018, that I’ve really watched & followed the tournament.

To be sure, my intent to follow this time was more to get some life lessons, than soccer lessons. And lessons I did get some, indeed.

Before the lessons
I found the following statistics interesting, though I haven’t bothered to find comparable data that statisticians usually find:
a. There was only one (1) nil-all match in the entire tournament — Denmark vs. France in the group stages
b. A total of 169 goals were scored in the tournament, averaging 2.64 goals per match. Of these 47 goals were scored in the 16 matches in the knockout stages, averaging 2.93 goals per match!
c. There were 12 self goals in the tournament!
d. (Only) 4 of the 16 matches in the knockout stages were decided by penalty shoot outs — of these, Russia and Croatia were part of 2 each

Why do I find these interesting? Well, it shows to me that most of the teams, most of the time, were playing for a result, and not for a draw!

Now to the lessons
1. Role of stress on performance
Russia played very well — better than the analysts could predict. The pressure of performing in front of the home crowd worked to the team’s advantage, just as the “right amount of stress” in the strings causes the guitar to sound melodious.

2. The boss is always right — and accountable as well
The ownership of the team’s performance is very clearly defined — bouquets or brickbats, both are for the coach. It is the coach who gets victory bumps; and it is the coach who gets fired for a team’s non performance, not the players.

3. Determination
In the final against Les Bleus yesterday, Croats simply refused to give up till the final whistle was blown!

4. Quality vs. Quantity
In the finals, Croats possessed the ball 61% of the time, but still lost to France!

5. It’s my earth — I’m responsible to keep it clean
I didn’t see the videos myself, but the way it was described on social media was very impressive. Despite the defeat of their nation, Japanese fans cleaned up the mess in the stands before leaving.

6. Role of stress on performance — version 2
The GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) contest between Messi, Neymar, and Ronaldo, clearly increased their stress levels beyond the “right amount” (see point 1 above). When Ronaldo scored the first goal in Portugal’s first group stage match against Spain, he stoked his chin to depict a goat’s beard as part of his celebration! Messi, on the other hand, missed a penalty against Icelandic rookies! Neymar seemed distracted as well — focusing more on injury exaggerations, with flashes of brilliance in between!

Germany was under similar pressure at a team level. They got stunned by Mexico in their first game, which I thought was a good failure right upfront. But they couldn’t gather themselves back, leading to their early exit!

7. Size doesn’t matter
Iceland is a country with a population of just about 330,000, and it was the first-time entrant at this edition of the FIFA WC. Yet they scored against both Argentina and Croatia.

8. T(ogether) E(veryone) A(chieves) M(ore) Work
Teams get very less time to group as a national team, since most players play for some clubs round the year. Many who play for the same team at the club level, find themselves in opposite national teams, which made their tasks of regrouping even more difficult. The teams that were able to shed their individual identities quickly, in favor of a national identity, showed better coordination than the rest.

9. Gratitude & Being grounded
Lionel Messi scored his solitary goal of the tournament against Nigeria — following which he celebrated with a gratitudinal gesture towards the heavens. Griezmann too, was much composed after he scored against Uruguay — a country he calls his second home after France. In contrast, younger players — and there were many, in addition to Mbappe — generally went berserk on scoring. It will be interesting to note the transformation of celebration from pure exhilaration to genuine gratitude.

10. Readiness for role reversal
French striker Giroud wasn’t able to open his account this World Cup, whereas French defender Umtiti scored!

11. Role of consistency on performance
As they say, past performance is not indicative of future results. Last 4 editions of WC have seen the reigning champions crashing out in group stage itself

The Ownership Conundrum

We have often come across situations when a task/ project did not complete as planned. The reasons have been many – Inadequate planning, communication gaps, unavailability of desired skills, and many others. A deeper analysis, however, tells me that, almost every time, the most pertinent reason of a delivery failure has been a lack of ownership. With a sense of ownership, most of the other hindrances could be surmounted, relatively easily.

A Short Story
Two masons were laying stones on a ground.
Someone asked Mason-1 – What are you doing?
Mason-1 said – Laying stones.
He asked Mason-2 the same question.
Mason-2 said – Building a house.

Build-up
Q: How do I instill a sense of ownership in whatever I do?
A: If I feel joy/ pride in the task/ activity/ deliverable being undertaken, the probability of owning the task/ activity/ deliverable will be high.

Q: How do I feel this joy/ pride?
A: If I feel what I’ve done/ I’m doing is important (enough).

Q: How do I feel that the task/ activity/ deliverable is important?
A: If I understand the benefits of my deliverable – business benefits, customer benefits, statutory perspective, branding perspective, etc.

Q: How do I understand all these benefits/ perspectives?
A: Well … Oh, wait a minute! First of all, exactly why should I care about all this? What’s in it for me (WiiFM)?
And I can get stuck at this point. Like, really stuck … unless I am clear about the associated reward or/ and penalty. This can be monetary or reputational in nature, can impact authority in the team/ group/ organization, or can simply enhance/ hurt my ego!

S.M.A.R.T. Actions
How, then, to approach the question of WiiFM? I can think of the following:
a. Role clarity – Every person in each assignment must be clear about his/ her role. I may be leading in one assignment, supporting in another. This clarity must be sought/ provided/ agreed/ documented at the beginning of the assignment.

b. Alignment with organizational goals – It is important for each person to understand the organizational benefits, as well as each other’s perspective. Business representatives must understand the extent to which technology can deliver; technology team must know what is the impact of their delivery to customer service; and so on.

c. Alignment with individual KRAs – Most of the times, KRA setting is done at the beginning of the year, and revisited only during yearly/ half-yearly review cycle. On a day-to-day basis, however, the assignments undertaken may not align with the same. I must periodically review my ongoing assignments vis-Ă -vis my KRAs, and re-align appropriately. Every person must also be able to arrive at a ‘self-rating’ for the said delivery.

But Finally
However SMART the aforesaid actions be, the sense of ownership eventually comes from within. Rewards and penalties can motivate, but only to a certain extent. Possibly the only way to maximize the sense of ownership is to maintain engagement with every individual – to ensure everyone feels heard, everyone understands expectations, everyone feels secure in his/ her job (hence will feel free to share information), and everyone feels free to disagree (while respecting organizational decisions).

Sapiens

Image result for sapiens book cover

01-May-2018

Disclaimer

All thoughts written below are my own. Any resemblance to any other thought is purely coincidental. Writing this book review has been a part of pursuing my hobby, that gave me joy, with malice towards no-one, no-thing, or no-thought, and is not intended to trigger any heartbreak or a controversial conversation.

Storyline

“Sapiens”, as the sub-title suggests, traces the history of human evolution, though from a different perspective. It begins its story 13.5 billion years ago, when Physics “appeared”. There seemed to be a lull before the next significant milestone happened about 4.5b years ago, when Earth was formed. Relatively quickly then, about 3.8b years ago, biology commenced, as first organisms were created. Between this and the appearance of first humans in Eastern Africa, about 3.5b years passed. These humans moved into different parts of the world, viz. North Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia … and even Americas. The movement across continents resulted in different evolutionary paths, and there lived about six “human” species, till about 10,000 years ago, when we “Homo Sapiens” were the only ones remaining.

The basic reason for Homo Sapiens winning over other human species (and the animal & plant kingdom, in general) is the development of cognitive abilities about 70,000 years ago. These abilities seemed to have happened due to chance gene mutation, but this paved the way for creation of “human language”, which was perhaps the turning point for human evolution. Development of language led to a clearer & sharper communication among our species. More importantly, it led to gossiping and imagining, which, in turn started creation of societal “myths” (e.g. Lion is the guardian angel of our tribe), which are nothing but “imagined reality” ingrained in the minds of a lot of people. This collective imagination then led to people cooperating to work towards a “common goal”, from spreading of one’s religious beliefs to running a government or a corporation, to spreading beliefs in human rights and social justice. It was this ability to communicate & cooperate in large groups, which was absent in other human species (or any other animal species, for that matter), which led to Homo Sapiens ultimately dominate over other siblings.

The author then moves on to the evolution of eating habits. Homo Sapiens had been hunter-gatherers, and were in the middle of the food chain, gorging on small animals/ birds/ fish/ insects, while being prey to larger ones such as lions. The discovery of fire about 300,000 years ago started altering this equation, and the Sapiens quickly jumped to the top of the food chain. The hunter-gatherers also started “settling” down along the coastal areas and water bodies about 45,000 years ago, where there was a good supply of aqua/marine food. This, and finally the agricultural revolution about 10,000 years ago, completely modified the social structure. The humans now started “owning” things, such as land to cultivate, “permanent” house to live in, and animals species such as cows (dogs were domesticated much earlier). Settling down resulted in alternation of human body structure, with joints now being used to plant saplings instead of hunting; teeth and intestines started shortening since there was less effort required to digest agricultural produce day-after-day. The quest to have a comfortable life did have its side effects, after all.

Another milestone in human evolution is creation of scripts, and represent ideas, thoughts, and numbers through writing. This was a direct result of settling down – people now wanted to keep track of their possessions and deal in financial transactions.

Then came the concept of “kingdoms”, about 5000 years ago, whence some “elitist” thought it to be their “God sent” responsibility to rule the masses. Alongside, the concept of “religion” started building up as well – Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam. Over the years, ruling ideologies such as Communism, Capitalism, Nazism, etc. developed. Since these ideologies too are based on the beliefs of a “superhuman order”, these can be considered religions as well! Again, all these ideologies and religions were created to have some (imaginary) goals and purposes, for people to believe in, and (if required) give up lives.

Closer to current times, the next evolutionary milestone was the Scientific Revolution. Until this time, people believed they knew everything that was there to know; there wasn’t a focus on creating a future better than what was present; in fact it was believed that past had always been better than the present! The Scientific Revolution started with the concept of Ignorance – people started believing that there are things that they don’t know; and hence they started trying to find answers to the newer questions.

People (mainly Europeans) undertook voyages which led to the (modern time) discovery of Americas and many island nations in the Pacific. Most of the explorations were business focused, but they also took scientists alongwith; conversely scientifically curious expeditions carried with them business focused people as well. This led to a tremendous growth in scientific discoveries/ inventions in a period of about 500 years (very short duration, compared with the entire existence of Homo Sapiens till then). And the business-explorers started declaring their discovered lands as ‘colonies’ of their respective emperors, thus routing all ‘revenues’ from the colony to their kingdoms, pocketing handsome commissions and profits en route.

These expeditions, however, led to the (near) extinction of the local/ tribal population – human and animal kingdom alike – over a very short period of time, since they were no match to the scientifically and technologically advanced European nations. Slavery was introduced too during this time – businesses wanted to maximize profits with minimum input costs, as well as avoid carrying out risky work (e.g. mining) themselves, hence they started importing labor (mostly) from Africa.

A very important change in mindset was that people started believing that future will be better than the present times. This virtually catapulted the prevalent business models by introducing the concept of credit, investment, and shareholding. On one hand, this fueled the consumption patterns (bicycle -> bike -> car -> SUV -> yacht), and, on the other, it pressed the accelerator further towards scientific & technological research to continually enhance the consumption experiences (2WD -> 4WD). This started creating a vicious & never-ending cycle of having to want more and more with each passing day.

The last few decades have been truly breathtaking in terms of scientific and technological advancements. Scientists are now ‘creating’ new types of organisms by cross pollinating ‘unnatural’ genes (e.g. a rabbit and a jellyfish)! They are very close to re-creating extinct beings (e.g. Mammoth)! They have an ambition to create Neanderthals as well!

We are also working on completely eliminating all natural causes of death! We’re flying! We’ve gone beyond the boundaries of our planet! We’re now creating robots and cyborgs! In other words, we’ve breached the Theory of Evolution which was based on Natural Selection – we’re probably becoming gods ourselves!

My view
Shocking and Awesome. Both at the same time. The last statement above is also very scary, since we Homo Sapiens – this time – would probably end up annihilating ourselves, with so much power.

The book starts slowly, tracing the human evolution gradually. The pace of the book varies, as the author spends more time on some of the milestones, e.g. around 70,000 years back (migration of Homo Sapiens out of Africa), and around 10,000 years ago (Agricultural Revolution). The last 500 years, however, occupy about half of the book (200+ pages) – which, in my opinion, could have been abridged by about 50-75 pages.

The key (still unbelievable) messages – which I took a long time to assimilate – are as follows:
a) I am forced to ponder over some of my own beliefs, e.g. the concept of ‘settling down’ (which is considered ‘common sense’ now, wasn’t common at all until recently), or being a vegetarian (not that I can become a non-vegetarian now)!

b) Religions and Gods – just as Countries, Empires, Constitutions, Ideologies (e.g. Communism, Capitalism, Nazism), Social Justice, Money, and Corporations – are myths ingrained in our collective minds. Myth that there is a “superhuman order” beyond what the mortal eye can see. Why are these myths created? To create a collective “goal” for Homo Sapiens (or any subset thereof) to work towards. Who creates these myths? The ones who first create (and start believing in) the myth of this superhuman order, now (as a follow up corollary) start believing in the difference between “us” vs. “them” – that the superhuman order has entrusted upon “us” (the privileged ones) to take care of “them” (the differently privileged ones).

c) Why should there be a collective goal? To let the Homo Sapiens feel a sense of purpose in life. Why is there a need for a purpose? To feel happy. Why is there a need to feel happy? Blame it on the Cognitive Revolution about 70,000 years ago which mutated the Homo Sapiens’ genes in a way that led them (us) to do creative thinking, devise languages, gossip, do measurements, and collect taxes. This is what makes us believe that our future would be better than our present. This is what led to the discovery of the happiness chemicals such as endorphins and dopamine. This is what we constantly chase, as a dog its tail and a musk-deer its musk. This is what, on one hand, makes us ambitious about living on Mars someday, and on the other, live in the present in a way that is destroying Earth every day.

d) So is there a purpose of life? Scientifically speaking – No. Humans are the outcome of a blind evolutionary process without a purpose. In the grand (cosmic) scheme of things, if Earth were to blow up tomorrow, this “event” won’t even be noticed! But We The People, aren’t content with our present (literally and figuratively), and, in a constant pursuit of “happiness”, keep buying & selling future, forever! This ‘forever’, however, isn’t expected to be a very long duration anyway 😦

The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich

Third Reich

16-December-2017

Disclaimer

All thoughts written below are my own. Any resemblance to any other thought is purely coincidental. Writing this book review is purely an academic activity for me that gave me joy, with malice towards no-one, no-thing, or no-thought, and is not intended to trigger any heartbreak or a controversial conversation.

Storyline

This 1200-page epic covers — in great detail — the Germany that was during the life and times of Adolf Hitler. In fact, this book can very well be termed as nearly a biography of Der Fuehrer, since there are very few parts in the book where anyone other than Hitler is in the center of the context.

It briefly traces the lineage of Hitler — he could well have been Adolf Schicklgruber, had his father, Alois, not changed his surname  before moving on to his birth in 1889 (incidentally the same year as Jawaharlal Nehru and Charlie Chaplin) in Braunau am Inn. Growing up in this Austro-German frontier town, he developed staunch ideas about the Germanic race, and of fusing the borders with Austria, which later proved to be quite significant in shaping up the world history.

Quite early in his childhood he had conflicts with his father on his choice of career — he wanted to be an artist, and his father wanted him to be a civil servant. He did not go too far into his academics, and was eventually left to fend for himself with both his parents passing away before he was 20. Then too, he did not attempt to get a regular earning job, and was somehow surviving on odd-jobs in Vienna for about four years, which (obviously, if one is constantly hungry) he termed as the “saddest period of my life”.

However, he spent a lot of time reading during his time in Vienna — literature that (unfortunately) served to poison his mind towards racist and autocratic tendencies. He also closely followed local politics, and had come to realize that to be politically successful, one must know how to (a) create a mass movement (b) cultivate the art of propaganda among masses, and (c) create “spiritual and physical terror”. By the time he left Vienna for Munich, he had developed an intense hatred for democratic & socialist developments in Europe, and a fiery desire to annihilate all people non-German/ non-Aryan.

Barely a year into Munich, World War I broke, and Hitler enlisted himself in the services in a Bavarian regiment. WW-I ended with a heartbreak for Germans, including Hitler, who fought quite bravely all through. He then decided to join politics, and joined a newly found German Workers’ Party — later National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazi Party for short — which was destined to (in)fame by this new joiner.

Hitler gradually got his grip around the party, then local Bavarian politics, and finally the German politics. His failed attempt at executing a coup in 1923 landed him in prison for 4 years. He wrote his famed book Mein Kampf (My Struggle) while in prison, where he clearly articulated his ambitions of a setting up a dictatorial regime, and of eastward expansion of the geographical boundaries of his Fatherland, since the Germans would need more space to live and expand their superior race.

Subsequent to his prison term, he continued unwaveringly to pursue his ambitions — albeit a bit more wisely after the failed coup. Other than the political lessons he learnt in Vienna, he realized he needed to have the country’s army by his side. He finally succeeded when he became the Chancellor of The Reich on January 30, 1933.

He then proceeded to get Germany in his stranglehold — he merged the powerful position of the President with himself, made the Reichstag (Parliament) a puppet organization, and created a parallel “Brown Shirts” army (a terror organization, as per an important lesson from Vienna), and subsequently the Secret State Police (Gestapo). All this while, he portrayed his actions as completely democratic in the eyes of the masses and the army. He also started cultivating a sense of revenge (for the defeat of WW-I, and the treaty of Versailles) and stoked racial sentiments, thus creating a foundation for his future actions.

He then started re-armament of Germany — under cover, since he was violating the Treaty of Versailles. In the process, he created jobs for six of the seven million population, which contributed immensely to his growing popularity. He also started making allies, the notable ones being Italy and Japan. Together they named themselves Axis, around which they were aspiring the world to revolve.

All this groundwork done, Adolf Hitler then proceeded to execute his main plans. He first occupied (nay reclaimed) Rhineland, then annexed Austria (1937) and Czechoslovakia (1938). This bloodless pursuit, through terror threats alone (again one of the important lessons in his youth), started giving him a sense of invincibility. When Poland refused to give in to his terror threats, he decided to go to war (World War II) on September 01, 1939 and brought Poland to her knees within six weeks. He continued his conquest and captured Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France in the first two years of WW-II. He also attempted to annihilate Britain, but failed in his attempt.

He also feigned friendship towards Russia in 1939 (to ensure he did not face resistance from Russia while decimating Poland), but his real aim was indeed to proceed further east, which he did after taking his (WW-I) revenge on France. Meanwhile, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, which forced Hitler to join Japan on the Western Front as well (since he had committed Japan to do so). This resulted in his warring on both eastern (Russia) and western (UK/ USA) fronts, which proved to turn the tide against him.

Gradually he started losing his positions on both fronts. The final blow came when Russia captured Berlin. Having vowed to “fight till the end”, Adolf Hitler continued to stay put in Berlin, until the Russians were almost inside his Chancellery. Heartbroken and disenchanted with the defeat, he chose to end his life himself.

My View 5-star

I took about 3 months to finish reading this book (my longest), and many times in-between (until I reached about 300 pages) thought of quitting simply because I was losing patience. Literally too, this book carries a lot of weight (in excess of a kilogram I guess), so holding it for long duration was tedious. I am glad I persisted.

A contribution of immense value for historians indeed, this book by William Shirer is quite evidently an outcome of massive study of the artifacts captured by the Allies, including personal diaries of several of Hitler’s coterie. It is amazing that amidst such trying situations, the people were able to pen their experiences in such detail — one, they were able to find time to write, and two, they could preserve the secrecy of these diaries all along!

The only thing that the (now late) author could have done is to conclude the context of WW-II, notably the involvement of Japan and the events leading up to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The book ends with Hitler committing suicide on April 30, 1945, and adding the remaining four more months of WW-II would perhaps have taken just a few pages more. It could also have touched upon the few months post Hitler, and the events leading to resumption of peace in Europe.

Ever since I finished reading this book, I have remained stunned at the story line. It is unbelievable that such a war has happened. It is even more unbelievable that one man — for most part — was the cause of such a massive war! I couldn’t help re-visiting the initial chapters of the book to re-read about the formative years of Adolf Hitler, to try and understand exactly what motivated him to shed the blood of millions across the globe, including his own countrymen (will need to read more books I think, including Mein Kampf). I am certain that the “literature” that he chose to read, during his youth, was biased — what else could explain his intense hatred towards the process of breaking up of the monarchy during the 19th century! How else could he have believed that non-Germanic races were lesser mortals, and that they needed to be ruled (by Germans, of course), not be rulers themselves! How else did he explain his eastward moves as his territorial rights, way beyond a normal ambition! I just wish he was a bit more well-read that he claimed he was.

From the WW-II perspective, I was equally surprised (chapter after chapter) that the Allies kept behaving like the proverbial ostrich who hides his head in the sand, imagining that the predator doesn’t exist. Be it UK, France, Russia, or even the Axis partner Italy, Hitler kept on telling blatant lies about his true intentions, and they believed him every single time. He annexed Austria, but told his eastern neighbor Czechoslovakia that they didn’t need to worry about that; then he annexed Czechoslovakia, but told Poland that they didn’t need to worry; then he attacked Poland while reassuring Russia!

Then, even though UK and France agreed to support Poland in case of an armed aggression, they simply seemed to stay away! I noted some timeline gaps in the book from the Allied standpoint (e.g. Sep-39 till Apr-40), which makes me feel that there wasn’t any significant action in retaliation by the Allies. I will perhaps need to read books from other perspectives (UK, US, Japan, and Russia) too before firming up my views.

It is sad when people with such brilliant minds choose to use it for destroying the world. With nearly no formal training in defining military strategies, and but a few years of war exposure, Hitler demonstrated his skills in army positioning better than his generals did. He also demonstrated political shrewdness of the highest level, which forced heads of other countries to agree to his terms on the negotiation tables. His oratorical skills are anyway considered a class apart. What could he not have achieved had he used his skills for constructive and creative purposes!

His fanatic ideas forced a (Jewish) scientist like Albert Einstein settle in the US, who later played a significant role in creation of the atomic bomb. This is indeed a blessing in disguise — I can only shudder to think what would have happened if Einstein stayed back in The Third Reich and worked for Hitler instead!

An Era of Darkness

Era of Darkness

12-December-2017

Disclaimer

All thoughts written below are my own. Any resemblance to any other thought is purely coincidental. Writing this book review is purely an academic activity for me that gave me joy, with malice towards no-one, no-thing, or no-thought, and is not intended to trigger any heartbreak or a controversial conversation.

Storyline

This non-fiction covers a detailed account of the happenings of the 190 years when India was a slave to (Great?) Britain. It actually starts with setting up of East India company in year 1600, but quickly skips a century and a half to the point in 1757, which is considered — more or less — a decisive year for commencement of the Imperial rule.

It estimates the overall amount of loot that happened — both cash and (un)kind — and attempts to convert the same to an equivalent current-day dollar figure, which — needless to say — is a mind-boggling number.  This, however, is just one part of the story. For most part, it tries to break the general myths surrounding the topic of the ‘benefits’ of slavery, which — I have no doubt in my mind — are spread by people who want historical facts to be diluted over time. Myth-by-myth the author has articulated his counter views with referenced data points. The myths of Brits giving India her political unity, free press, railways, ‘modern’ education system, tea, opium (no myth possible here), or cricket, are all shown in the contradictory light of facts and figures.

In the end the book also touches upon the after effects of colonialism — a difficult 7 decades hence — covering neighborhood unrest, economic recovery, political dilemmas, and a case for ‘return of the loot’.

My view 4-star

A splendid read … for the one who’s not a sympathizer of the Raj. This is the first book by Shashi Tharoor that I’ve read. It’s fast paced, and a bit ruthless (primarily because of lot of data points being present). The ruthlessness is primarily emanating from the confidence of the author on the sanctity of the data he has gathered, and a seeming restlessness to get ‘justice’ for India. His ideas of ‘a pound a year’ for 200 years as a token reparation, or a Royal apology (on 13-April-2019?) at Jallianwala Bagh are fairly well known by now.

I was particularly impressed by the bibliography and references provided, which demonstrates the depth of the study that the author would have conducted before beginning to write. It is also commendable that he has taken out time from his parliamentarian responsibilities to retire to Bhutan to find the solitude necessary for this project. The sensitivity of the subject, though, needed such a focus to be able to do justice with it.

Admittedly, as the author has stated, the facts and figures stated have been known for many years, hence the popularity of some of the speeches he has made in the recent past came as a surprise to him. Reading this book, I realize that this may largely have happened due to the unawareness of Gen-X/ Gen-Y (a large proportion of the current Indian population) about those facts simply because they’ve been born after 1947 and the data is not part of our history books in schools.

I didn’t particularly like the dig at the current Indian government/ bureaucracy at some places. It is fairly understandable for a Congress Member of Parliament to have views/ thoughts differing from the party currently in power, but there are other platforms to express the same, where he indeed gets ample mind space of the audience too, being the celebrated orator that he is.

Another view is on the language of the book. The author has, beyond doubt, a genuine command over English language. However, many sentences are long winding with somewhat difficult words (Disclaimer again: difficult for lesser mortals like me), which make the task of comprehending a bit time consuming.

There are some proof reading errors too in the book, which I’m hoping shall be corrected in the next print run.

Lastly, the spine of the inside hard-cover reads (in the same color and font-size) as follows:

“AN ERA OF   SHASHI”

“DARKNESS   THAROOR”

🙂

 

#MySQL #Database #Cluster Setup

 

14-Apr-2017

Overview

Penning (duh … typing) my thoughts after a while, this time for something technical.

I needed to install MySQL Database in a clustered setup, and thought it to be a cakewalk, considering the tons of documentations available at http://dev.mysql.com, and at other geek sites. However, en route, I discovered that the documentation that I could get my hands on, were insufficient to let me do the needful, leading to some stressful hours/ days, primarily due to the scattered & inconsistent pieces of information available. Hence, I thought I would write down the exact steps I followed, in order, so as to make it a real cakewalk for the reader.

Environment

Operating System: Ubuntu 14.04, 64-bit (freshly installed VMs)

Installation Binary used: mysql-cluster-gpl-7.2.27-linux2.6-x86_64.tar.gz

MySQL version (installed as part of cluster binary): 5.5.54
MySQL Cluster version: 7.2.27

MySQL Management Nodes – 1 nos. (10.0.2.15)

MySQL Server Nodes: 2 nos. (10.0.2.15 and 10.0.2.16)

MySQL Data Nodes: 2 nos. (10.0.2.17 and 10.0.2.18)

Other Notes:

(a) Base reference: https://dev.mysql.com/doc/refman/5.5/en/mysql-cluster-install-linux-binary.html

(b) Executed all these steps as user ‘root’

(c) Internet connectivity required at the time of installation

Installation Steps

(A) 10.0.2.15 – MySQL Server and Management Client

# groupadd mysql

# useradd -g mysql -s /bin/false mysql

# vi ~/.bash_profile (Add PATH=$PATH:/usr/local/bin:/usr/local/mysql/bin)

 

# apt-get install libaio1 # this was on blogs, but I didn’t particularly notice on http://dev.mysql.com

# apt-get install openssh-client openssh-server # This was a surprise find, not appeared in my searches … perhaps cluster/ data nodes use port 22 for some sync’ing!!
# cd <location of mysql-cluster-gpl-7.2.27-linux2.6-x86_64.tar.gz>

# tar -C /usr/local -xzvf mysql-cluster-gpl-7.2.27-linux2.6-x86_64.tar.gz

# cd /usr/local
# ln -s mysql-cluster-gpl-7.2.27-linux2.6-x86_64.tar.gz mysql

 

# cd /usr/local/mysql
# scripts/mysql_install_db –user=mysql

# chown -R root . # Still in /usr/local/mysql
# chown -R mysql data
# chgrp -R mysql .

 

# cp support-files/mysql.server /etc/init.d # Still in /usr/local/mysql
# update-rc.d mysql.server defaults

 

# mkdir /var/lib/mysql-cluster
# cd /var/lib/mysql-cluster
# vi config.ini # ‘vi’ is the editor … content of this file is stated in next section

# cd /etc
# vi my.cnf # ‘vi’ is the editor … content of this file is stated in next section
(B) 10.0.2.16 – MySQL Server
Exactly same as (A)

 

(C) 10.0.2.17 – MySQL Data Node
# groupadd mysql
# useradd -g mysql -s /bin/false mysql
# mkdir /usr/local/mysql
# mkdir /usr/local/mysql/data
# cd /usr/local/mysql
# chown -R root .
# chown -R mysql data
# chgrp -R mysql .
# cd /usr/local/bin
# sftp <user>@10.0.2.15
Enter Password: ********
sftp> cd /usr/local/bin
sftp> get ndbd
sftp> get ndbmtd
sftp> quit
# vi ~/.bash_profile (Add PATH=$PATH:/usr/local/bin)

 

(D) 10.0.2.18 – MySQL Data Node
Exactly same as (C)

 

MySQL Configuration Files
# cat /var/lib/mysql-cluster/config.ini
[ndbd default]
NoOfReplicas=2
DataMemory=80M
IndexMemory=18M

[ndb_mgmd]
hostname=10.0.2.15
datadir=/var/lib/mysql-cluster

[ndbd]
hostname=10.0.2.17
datadir=/usr/local/mysql/data

[ndbd]
hostname=10.0.2.18
datadir=/usr/local/mysql/data

[mysqld]
hostname=10.0.2.15

[mysqld]
hostname=10.0.2.16

# cat /etc/my.cnf
[mysqld]
ndbcluster

[mysql_cluster]
ndb-connectstring=10.0.2.15

MySQL Cluster in action
1. Reboot all 4 nodes
2. On 10.0.2.15
– Check for MySQL Server being run as a service already after reboot
# ndb_mgmd -f /var/lib/mysql-cluster/config.ini –initial

  1. On 10.0.2.16
    – Check for MySQL Server being run as a service already after reboot
  2. On 10.0.2.17
    # ndbd -n
  3. On 10.0.2.18
    # ndbd -n
  4. On 10.0.2.15
    # ndb_mgm
    ndb-mgm> show
    Connected to Management Server at: 10.0.2.15:1186
    Cluster Configuration
    ———————
    [ndbd(NDB)] 2 node(s)
    id=2 @10.0.2.17 (mysql-5.5.54 ndb-7.2.27, Nodegroup: 0)
    id=3 @10.0.2.18 (mysql-5.5.54 ndb-7.2.27, Nodegroup: 0, *)

[ndb_mgmd(MGM)] 1 node(s)
id=1 @10.0.2.15 (mysql-5.5.54 ndb-7.2.27)

[mysqld(API)] 2 node(s)
id=4 @10.0.2.15 (mysql-5.5.54 ndb-7.2.27)
id=5 @10.0.2.16 (mysql-5.5.54 ndb-7.2.27)

 

 

A Thousand Splendid Suns

ATSS

26-Mar-2016

Disclaimer

All thoughts written below are my own. Any resemblance to any other thought is purely coincidental. Writing this book review is purely an academic activity for me, with malice towards no-one, no-thing, or no-thought, and is not intended to trigger any controversial conversation.

Storyline

The story is woven around two women, Mariam and Laila, who didn’t start off very well as co-wives when destiny brought them together, but over time, they came very … very close to each other, as a mother and a daughter.

Mariam was born in a small shack (‘kolba’) built on a hill near Herat city in Afghanistan, in 1959. She was born out of an illicit relationship between Jalil – a wealthy businessman in Herat – and Nana -a maid at his house in Herat. Jalil abandoned Nana owing to pressures from his three wives, and she was forced to move out. The abandonment caused permanent scars in Nana’s mind, and she could never trust Jalil again. She remained skeptical when Jalil came to meet Mariam every week for the next fifteen years. With Mariam’s growing age, Nana kept getting overly possessive about her, and kept trying to create a negative image about Jalil and his family. However, Mariam kept feeling very attached to her father, and one day walked out of her shack to visit him in Herat. Nana committed suicide at this, and Mariam too was disillusioned since she realized she was not welcome at Jalil’s home.

With Nana gone, there wasn’t any shelter available for Mariam. Jalil and his wives married Mariam off to Rasheed, who was thrice her age, and who lived six hundred fifty kilometers away in Kabul. He himself was a widower and had lost his four-year old son in an accident. He wasn’t a very kind husband to Mariam, and became even more cruel when she had a miscarriage, and subsequently failed to bear a child to him.

Laila was born to Rasheed & Mariam’s neighbors, Fariba & Hakim in 1978. Laila’s father wanted her to study, an unusual aspiration for that time & geography. Growing up, she saw her brothers go to war with Soviet Union and get killed there. She was very good friends with another neighbor, Tariq, and their friendship grew to the next level by the time they were both teenagers. By the time they realized they were in love, Taliban had started eliminating rival leaders, and started ruling Afghanistan. They imposed a strict and terrorizing rule of law in the country, leading to (attempts of) mass exodus by the population, to neighboring countries like Pakistan and Iran. Tariq’s family also left, while Laila’s parents were killed in cross fire between warring factions. Laila had to take refuge in Rasheed’s house. Rasheed started making advances to her, and Laila – realizing that she had got pregnant with Tariq just before he had left – had no other option but to agree to marrying him.

Laila subsequently gave birth to (Tariq’s) son; and later bore a daughter to Rasheed as well. Rasheed, having got a son again now, continued his apathetic behavior towards his wives and daughter. Laila and Mariam, by now having developed a close relationship with each other, tried to flee from him, but get caught while trying to cross over to Pakistan, and they had to continue living with Rasheed under even harsher conditions. One day Tariq returns to Kabul and visits Laila. Rasheed came to know of this, and in a fit of rage, tries to kill Laila. Mariam gathered all her courage and energy to rescue Laila, and ended up killing Rasheed. Mariam is executed for this crime, and Laila marries Tariq.

My view 5-star

This is the second book (after “The Kite Runner”) of Khaled Hosseini that I picked up, and I found it more emotionally stirring than the previous one I read. The narrative keeps women in the center and men at the periphery, which – given the geography and time of male domination – is commendable. The timeline progression and the political events in Afghanistan is also kept real, which helps in relating to the problems of the characters.

I was a bit disappointed with Nana committing suicide. Knowing Jalil and his family, she could have easily visualized that Mariam would not be welcome at his house, and could have at least waited for her (to come back to her) for some time. However, since there needed to be a ‘turning point’ in the story, the writer chose to sacrifice Nana’s character for the purpose.

Jalil’s regret of abandoning Nana, and later Mariam, depicts the dual standards in men, who, on one hand, can’t control their desires, and, on the other, wish away the associated responsibilities. All sympathies with him, but the author’s choice of a lonely end for him seems quite apt to me in the context.

Mariam was a docile character for most part, but started showing her courageous side when she took Laila around town for her second delivery amidst the Taliban havoc in the city; also when she (along with Laila) took a bold step to run away from Rasheed and Afghanistan. Still, it was (pleasantly) surprising to witness the peak of her courage, when she killed Rasheed. Perhaps the years of physical & mental tortures by Rasheed made her tough from inside, or perhaps the love for Laila, or perhaps a bit of both.

As for Rasheed … it seems repelling when a 45-year old gets married to a 15-year old; and then again as a 60-year old gets married to another 15-year old! Rasheed seems to represent the traditional & patriarchal society of those times where such things were clearly acceptable. When Laila and Mariam were caught trying to abscond, the lawmakers did not show any sympathies towards them for having to deal with Rasheed’s atrocities; rather they were sent back to the same hell! Same (lack of) sentiments were demonstrated when there was no leniency towards Mariam when she killed Rasheed. Instead, had Rasheed succeeded in killing Laila (and then probably Zalmai, Laila’s son from Tariq, too), I’m sure he would have been let free!

The author clearly has a deep understanding of the social structure, stigma, and taboos. He builds up the story gradually, explaining the mindset of each character in detail. By the time the novel ends, he is successful in creating a visualization for the characters and the circumstances they were living in. The conditions under which Mariam and Laila lived after they were ‘handed back’ to Rasheed by Taliban were truly choking, and survival under those conditions seemed nearly impossible.

However, despite the continued pessimism, the author seems to be consistently giving a message of breaking free from these, through Mariam, Laila, and finally through Tariq, when he married Laila for the proverbial ‘happy ending’.

 

The Alchemist

Tags

Alchemist

09-August-2015

Disclaimer

All thoughts written below are my own. Any resemblance to any other thought is purely coincidental. Writing this book review is purely an academic activity for me, with malice towards no-one, no-thing, or no-thought, and is not intended to trigger any controversial conversation.

Storyline

The basic story is fairly simple. Boy saw a dream, Boy goes out to chase it, Boy realizes what he dreamt was always near him.

Santiago was a shepherd-by-choice in Spain. His parents wanted him to be a priest, but he wanted to roam around the world. After all his attempts to persuade the boy went in vain, his father finally gave him some “seed money” to buy the flock, and off he went.

He kept having a recurrent dream of the pyramids in Egypt, which made him restless. He met an old woman who interpreted dreams, and she confirmed that the boy should travel all the way. He was still unsure till he met an old man, a king actually, who directed his wavering thoughts to the “omens” around him. He also convinced him that realizing his destiny was actually an obligation than a choice.

Finally the boy decided to follow his dream. He sold his sheep to get the money required for the journey, and crossed the Mediterranean. Before he could even begin his journey across the desert, he lost his money to a thug. He was forced to work at a crystal merchant’s shop, to earn some money again. The boy gave, and implemented, some innovative ideas that helped the merchant grow his stagnating business. The merchant too, rewarded him with more money that he had originally thought he would give him.

After almost a year of working at the crystal shop, the boy continued his onward journey to the pyramids. When his caravan reaches an oasis, he met Fatima, and both of them fell in love with each other. He also met a renowned alchemist who was “waiting for a disciple” there, and who accompanied the boy in his journey beyond the oasis.

By now, the boy had become very conscious of the omens around him, and had picked up the “language” that was spoken by the “soul of the world”. He kept going subtler within, and he could interpret the falcons’ fight, as well as converse with the desert, wind, and the sun. He eventually reached the pyramids, when he realized that the treasure that he was searching for, was actually back in Spain, where he used to take his sheep for grazing. He travels back to find the treasure, and then goes to get his love from the oasis as well.

My view   5-star

I’d heard about this book many times in the past, so by the time it got into my hands, my curiosity was sufficiently stirred. And I must say all the hype was actually not a hype after all.

Paulo Coelho has used alchemy as a symbol to very effectively convey the message of continuous evolution. The powers of the mythical Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life actually exist within. One just needs a little faith and focus to tap into them. This alchemy helps one find one’s treasure, and then motivate one to strive to better oneself for the next. When we strive to do better every moment, everything around us becomes better as well.

Alchemy doesn’t mean we straightaway possess tools to turn lead into gold, rather it means that one should invoke one’s understanding of the “Language of the World”, which helps one achieve what one desires. The book re-iterates the fact that all the Universe conspires in helping one achieve what one desires to have with a great amount of passion.

The book tells us that omens, that guide our desires, exist all around us, but it needs a little concentration to be aware of them. If one chooses to follow the omens, they keep getting amplified further. However, if one chooses to ignore the omens, over time they diminish, and eventually stop being the guiding force. The fight of the falcons was one such omen that was nearly decisive in the boy’s quest. Since he decided not to ignore that, he won over the oasis’ chief, who gave him a decent chunk of gold, which he needed to continue his journey.

It also tells us that all what happens has a reason, and only the “Hand that wrote all” knows all about it. All along, the boy, along with his sheep, was sleeping in the very deserted church which contained the treasure in its underbelly. Yet destiny made the boy travel far to the east to get the experience of getting looted thrice, working in the crystal shop, finding his love, discovering his ability to understand the “language” of the living as well as the seemingly non-living beings (desert, wind, and sun), and finally seeing the pyramids. If, instead, he had got hold of the treasure in Spain itself, he would have missed connecting with the most important being in his life – the “Soul of the World”.

And finally, a comparison with another book that I like – “The Secret”. Of course, the presentation and style of “The Alchemist” is different from “The Secret”, but in terms of the core content, I find them quite similar. Both the books insist that life is generous to the ones who follow their destiny. The only subtle difference between the two is that Rhonda Byrne emphasizes on the power of visualization for achieving ones desires, whereas Paulo Coelho believes that nature provides enough omens to guide one to ones treasure.