Reading Comprehension

The Indian government has announced an international competition

[The] Indian government [has] announced an international competition to design a National War Memorial in New Delhi, to honour all of the Indian soldiers who served in the various wars and counter-insurgency campaigns from 1947 onwards. The terms of the competition also specified that the new structure would be built adjacent to the India Gate – a memorial to the Indian soldiers who died in the First World War. Between the old imperialist memorial and the proposed nationalist one, India’s contribution to the Second World War is airbrushed out of existence.

Read More

Economists have spent most of the 20th century ignoring psychology

Economists have spent most of the 20th century ignoring psychology, positive or otherwise. But today there is a great deal of emphasis on how happiness can shape global economies, or — on a smaller scale — successful business practice. This is driven, in part, by a trend in "measuring" positive emotions, mostly so they can be optimized. Neuroscientists, for example, claim to be able to locate specific emotions, such as happiness or disappointment, in particular areas of the brain. Wearable technologies, such as Spire, offer data-driven advice on how to reduce stress.

Read More

When researchers at Emory University in Atlanta trained mice

When researchers at Emory University in Atlanta trained mice to fear the smell of almonds (by pairing it with electric shocks), they found, to their consternation, that both the children and grandchildren of these mice were spontaneously afraid of the same smell. That is not supposed to happen. Generations of schoolchildren have been taught that the inheritance of acquired characteristics is impossible. A mouse should not be born with something its parents have learned during their lifetimes, any more than a mouse that loses its tail in an accident should give birth to tailless mice. . . .

Read More

The only thing worse than being lied to is not knowing

The only thing worse than being lied to is not knowing you’re being lied to. It’s true that plastic pollution is a huge problem, of planetary proportions. And it’s true we could all do more to reduce our plastic footprint. The lie is that blame for the plastic problem is wasteful consumers and that changing our individual habits will fix it.

Recycling plastic is to saving the Earth what hammering a nail is to halting a falling skyscraper. You struggle to find a place to do it and feel pleased when you succeed. But your effort is wholly inadequate and distracts from the real problem of why the building is collapsing in the first place. The real problem is that single-use plastic - the very idea of producing plastic items like grocery bags, which we use for an average of 12 minutes but can persist in the environment for half a millennium - is an incredibly reckless abuse of technology. Encouraging individuals to recycle more will never solve the problem of a massive production of single-use plastic that should have been avoided in the first place.

Read More

Everybody pretty much agrees that the relationship between elephants and people

"Everybody pretty much agrees that the relationship between elephants and people has dramatically changed,” [says psychologist Gay] Bradshaw. . . . "Where for centuries humans and elephants lived in relatively peaceful coexistence, there is now hostility and violence. Now, I use the term ‘violence’ because of the intentionality associated with it, both in the aggression of humans and, at times, the recently observed behavior of elephants.” . . .

Typically, elephant researchers have cited, as a cause of aggression, the high levels of testosterone in newly matured male elephants or the competition for land and resources between elephants and humans. But. . . Bradshaw and several colleagues argue. . . that today’s elephant populations are suffering from a form of chronic stress, a kind of specieswide trauma. Decades of poaching and culling and habitat loss, they claim, have so disrupted the intricate web of familial and societal relations by which young elephants have traditionally been raised in the wild, and by which established elephant herds are governed, that what we are now witnessing is nothing less than a precipitous collapse of elephant culture. . . .

Read More

Any company can generate simple descriptive statistics about aspects of its business

Any company can generate simple descriptive statistics about aspects of its business - average revenue per employee, for example, or average order size. But analytics competitors look well beyond basic statistics. These companies use predictive modelling to identify the most profitable customers-plus those with the greatest profit potential and the ones most likely to cancel their accounts. They pool data generated in-house and data acquired from outside sources (which they analyze more deeply than do their less statistically savvy competitors) for a comprehensive understanding of their customers. They optimize their supply chains and can thus determine the impact of an unexpected constraint, simulate alternatives and route shipments around problems. They establish prices in real time to get the highest yield possible from each of their customer transactions. They create complex models of how their operational costs relate to their financial performance. Leaders in analytics also use sophisticated experiments to measure the overall impact or "lift" of intervention strategies and then apply the results to continuously improve subsequent analyses. Capital One, for example,
conducts more than 30,000 experiments a year, with different interest rates, incentives, direct-mail packaging, and other variables. Its goal is to maximize the likelihood both that potential customers will sign up for credit cards and that they will pay back Capital One.

Read More

As someone said, this crisis was too valuable to waste

As someone said, this crisis was too valuable to waste. I, for one, learnt many lessons on crisis management and leadership. By far the most important lesson I learnt is that the primary focus of a central bank during a crisis has to be on restoring confidence in the markets, and what this requires is swift, bold and decisive action. This is not as obvious as it sounds because central banks are typically given to agonizing over every move they make out of anxiety that failure of their actions to deliver the intended impact will hurt their creditability and their policy effectiveness down the line.

There is a lot to be said for such deliberative action in normal times. In crisis times though, it is important for them to take more chances without being too mindful of whether all of their actions are going to be fully effective or even mildly successful. After all, crisis management is a percentage game and you do what you think has the best chance of reversing the momentum. Oftentimes, it is the fact of the action rather than the precise nature of the action that bolsters confidence. Take the Reserve Bank's measure I wrote about earlier of instituting exclusive lines of credit for augmenting the liquidity of NBFCs and mutual funds (MFs) which came under redemption pressure. It is simply unthinkable that the Reserve Bank would have done anything like this in normal times. In the event of a liquidity constraint in normal times, the standard response of the Reserve Bank would be to ease liquidity in the overall system and leave it to the banks to determine how to use that additional liquidity.

Read More

I wear a variety of professional hats

I wear a variety of professional hats - university professor, literacy consultant to districts, author of several books related to comprehension. To keep myself honest (and humble), I spend a lot of time in classrooms watching kids and teachers at work. During the past decade, I've observed a transformation in the teaching of reading from an approach that measured readers' successful understanding of text through lengthy packets of comprehension questions to one that requires students to think about their thinking, activating their "good reader" strategies.

Read More

Groupon is one of the fastest-growing companies of all time

Groupon is one of the fastest-growing companies of all time. Its name comes from "group coupons," an ingenious idea that has spawned an entire industry of social commerce imitators. However, it didn't start out successful. When customers took Groupon up on its first deal, a whopping twenty people bought two-for-one pizza in a restaurant on the first floor of the company's Chicago offices-hardly a world-changing event. In fact, Groupon wasn't originally meant to be about commerce at all. The founder, Andrew Mason, intended his company to become a "collective activism platform" called The Point. Its goal was to bring people together to solve problems they couldn't solve on their own, such as fund-raising for a cause or boycotting a certain retailer. The Point's early results were disappointing, however, and at the end of 2008 the founders decided to try something new.

Read More

Despite their fierce reputation, Vikings may not have always

Despite their fierce reputation, Vikings may not have always been the plunderers and pillagers popular culture imagines them to be. In fact, they got their start trading in northern European markets, researchers suggest.

Combs carved from animal antlers, as well as comb manufacturing waste and raw antler material has turned up at three archaeological sites in Denmark, including a medieval marketplace in the city of Ribe. A team of researchers from Denmark and the U.K. hoped to identify the species of animal to which the antlers once belonged by analyzing collagen proteins in the samples and comparing them across the animal kingdom, Laura Geggel reports for LiveScience. Somewhat surprisingly, molecular analysis of the artifacts revealed that some combs and other material had been carved from reindeer antlers.... Given that reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) don't live in Denmark, the researchers posit that it arrived on Viking ships from Norway. Antler craftsmanship, in the form of decorative combs, was part of Viking culture. Such combs served as symbols of good health, Geggel writes. The fact that the animals shed their antlers also made them easy to collect from the large herds that inhabited Norway.

Read More

Typewriters are the epitome of a technology

Typewriters are the epitome of a technology that has been comprehensively rendered obsolete by the digital age. The ink comes off the ribbon, they weigh a ton, and second thoughts are a disaster. But they are also personal, portable and, above all, private. Type a document and lock it away and more or less the only way anyone else can get it is if you give it to them. That is why the Russians have decided to go back to typewriters in some government offices, and why in the US, some departments have never abandoned them. Yet it is not just their resistance to algorithms and secret surveillance that keeps typewriter production lines - well one, at least - in business (the last British one closed a year ago). Nor is it only the nostalgic appeal of the metal body and the stout well-defined keys that make them popular on eBay. A typewriter demands something particular: attentiveness. By the time the paper is loaded, the ribbon tightened, the carriage returned, the spacing and the margins set, there's a big premium on hitting the right key. That means sorting out ideas, pulling together a kind of order and organising details before actually striking off. There can be no thinking on screen with a typewriter. Nor are there any easy distractions. No online shopping. No urgent emails. No Twitter. No need even for electricity - perfect for writing in a remote hideaway. The thinking process is accompanied by the encouraging clack of keys, and the ratchet of the carriage return. Ping!

Read More

The end of the age of the internal combustion engine is in sight

The end of the age of the internal combustion engine is in sight. There are small signs everywhere: the shift to hybrid vehicles is already under way among manufacturers. Volvo has announced it will make no purely petrol-engined cars after 2019...and Tesla has just started selling its first electric car aimed squarely at the middle classes: the Tesla 3 sells for $35,000 in the US, and 400,000 people have put down a small, refundable deposit towards one. Several thousand have already taken delivery, and the company hopes to sell half a million more next year. This is a remarkable figure for a machine with a fairly short range and a very limited number of specialised charging stations.

Read More

During the frigid season... it's often necessary to nestle

During the frigid season... it's often necessary to nestle under a blanket to try to stay warm. The temperature difference between the blanket and the air outside is so palpable that we often have trouble leaving our warm refuge. Many plants and animals similarly hunker down, relying on snow cover for safety from winter's harsh conditions. The small area between the snowpack and the ground, called the subnivium... might be the most important ecosystem that you have never heard of.

The subnivium is so well-insulated and stable that its temperature holds steady at around 32 degree Fahrenheit (0 degree Celsius). Although that might still sound cold, a constant temperature of 32 degree Fahrenheit can often be 30 to 40 degrees warmer than the air temperature during the peak of winter. Because of this large temperature difference, a wide variety of species...depend on the subnivium for winter protection.

Read More

Creativity is at once our most precious resource and our most inexhaustible one

Creativity is at once our most precious resource and our most inexhaustible one. As anyone who has ever spent any time with children knows, every single human being is born creative; every human being is innately endowed with the ability to combine and recombine data, perceptions, materials and ideas, and devise new ways of thinking and doing. What fosters creativity? More than anything else: the presence of other creative people. The big myth is that creativity is the province of great individual geniuses. In fact creativity is a social process. Our biggest creative breakthroughs come when people learn from, compete with, and collaborate with other people.

Read More

Do sports mega events like the summer Olympic Games benefit the host city economically

Do sports mega events like the summer Olympic Games benefit the host city economically? It depends, but the prospects are less than rosy. The trick is converting...several billion dollars in operating costs during the 17-day fiesta of the Games into a basis for long-term economic returns. These days, the summer Olympic Games themselves generate total revenue of $4 billion to $5 billion, but the lion's share of this goes to the International Olympics Committee, the National Olympics Committees and the International Sports Federations. Any economic benefit would have to flow from the value of the Games as an advertisement for the city, the new transportation and communications infrastructure that was created for the Games, or the ongoing use of the new facilities.

Read More

Scientists have long recognised the incredible diversity within a species

Scientists have long recognised the incredible diversity within a species. But they thought it reflected evolutionary changes that unfolded imperceptibly, over millions of years. That divergence between populations within a species was enforced, according to Ernst Mayr, the great evolutionary biologist of the 1940s, when a population was separated from the rest of the species by a mountain range or a desert, preventing breeding across the divide over geologic scales of time. Without the separation, gene flow was relentless. But as the separation persisted, the isolated population grew apart and speciation occurred.

Read More

This year alone, more than 8,600 stores could close

This year alone, more than 8,600 stores could close, according to industry estimates, many of them the brand-name anchor outlets that real estate developers once stumbled over themselves to court. Already there have been 5,300 retail closings this year... Sears Holdings — which owns Kmart — said in March that there's "substantial doubt" it can stay in business altogether, and will close 300 stores this year. So far this year, nine national retail chains have filed for bankruptcy.

Read More

I used a smartphone GPS to find my way through the cobblestoned maze

I used a smartphone GPS to find my way through the cobblestoned maze of Geneva's Old Town, in search of a handmade machine that changed the world more than any other invention. Near a 13th-century cathedral in this Swiss city on the shores of a lovely lake, I found what I was looking for: a Gutenberg printing press. "This was the Internet of its day — at least as influential as the iPhone," said Gabriel de Montmollin, the director of the Museum of the Reformation, toying with the replica of Johann Gutenberg's great invention.

Read More

Understanding where you are in the world is a basic survival skill

Understanding where you are in the world is a basic survival skill, which is why we, like most species come hard-wired with specialized brain areas to create congnitive maps of our surroundings. Where humans are unique, though, with the possible exception of honeybees, is that we try to communicate this understanding the world with others. We have a long history of doing this by drawing maps – the earliest version yet discovered were scrawled on cave walls 14,000 years ago. Human cultures have been drawing them on stone tablets, papyrus, paper and now computer screens ever since.

Read More

Every age has its pet contradictions

Every age has its pet contradictions. A few decades back, we used to accept Marx and Freud together, and then wonder, like the chameleon on the turkey carpet, why life was so confusing. Today there is similar trouble over the question whether there is, or is not, something called Human Nature. On the one hand, there has been an explosion of animal behavior studies, and comparisons between animals and men have become immensely popular. People use evidence from animals to decide whether man is naturally aggressive, or naturally territorial; even whether he has an aggressive or territorial instinct. Moreover, we are still much influenced by Freudian psychology, which depends on the notion of instinct. On the other hand, many still hold what may be called the Blank Paper view, that man is a creature entirely without instincts. So do Existentialist philosophers. If man has no instincts, all comparison with animals must be irrelevant. (Both these simple party lines have been somewhat eroded over time, but both are still extremely influential.)

Read More

Some psychologists and sociologists believe that psychopathy

Some psychologists and sociologists believe that psychopathy can be an asset in business and politics and that, as a result, psychopathic traits are over-represented among successful people. This would be a puzzle if it were so. If our moral feelings evolved through natural selection, then it shouldn't be the case that one would flourish without them. And, in fact, the successful psychopath is probably the exception. Psychopaths have certain deficits. Some of these are subtle. The psychologist Abigail Marsh and her colleagues find that psychopaths are markedly insensitive to the expression of fear. Normal people recognize fear and treat it as a distress cue, but 13 psychopaths have problems seeing it, let alone responding to it appropriately. Other deficits run deeper. The overall lack of moral sentiments - and specifically, the lack of regard for others - might turn out to be the psychopath's downfall. We non-psychopaths are constantly assessing one another, looking for kindness and shame and the like, using this information to decide whom to trust, whom to affiliate with. The psychopath has to pretend to be one of us. But this is difficult. It's hard to force yourself to comply with moral rules just through a rational appreciation of what you are expected to do. If you feel like strangling the cat, it's a struggle to hold back just because you know that it is frowned upon. Without a normal allotment of shame and guilt, psychopaths succumb to bad impulses, doing terrible things out of malice, greed, and simple boredom. And sooner or later, they get caught. While psychopaths can be successful in the short term, they tend to fail in the long term and often end up in prison or worse. Let's take a closer look at what separates psychopaths from the rest of us. There are many symptoms of psychopathy, including pathological lying and lack of remorse or guilt, but the core deficit is indifference toward the suffering of other people. Psychopaths lack compassion. To understand how compassion works for all of us non-psychopaths, it's important to distinguish it from empathy. Now, some contemporary researchers use the terms interchangeably, but there is a big difference between caring about a person (compassion) and putting yourself in the person's shoes (empathy).

Read More

Writing is both my vocation and my avocation: that’s all I do

Writing is both my vocation and my avocation: that’s all I do.

You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my story is interesting. And, next, I am a mystery - more so than a tree or a sunset or even a flash of lightning. But, sadly, I am taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril. For, as a wise man, G. K. Chesterton, observed, "We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders."

I, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me - no, that’s too much to ask of anyone - if you can become aware of the miraculousness that I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because - well, because I am seemingly so simple.

Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me. This sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Especially when you realize that there are about one and one-half billion of my kind produced in the U.S. each year.

Read More

It’s taken me 60 years, but I had an epiphany recently

It’s taken me 60 years, but I had an epiphany recently: Everything, without exception, requires additional energy and order to maintain itself. I knew this in the abstract as the famous second law of thermodynamics, which states that everything is falling apart slowly. This realization is not just the lament of a person getting older. Long ago I learnt that even the most inanimate things we know of - stone, iron columns, copper pipes, gravel roads, a piece of paper - won’t last very long without attention and fixing and the loan of additional order. Existence, it seems, is chiefly maintenance.

What has surprised me recently is how unstable even the intangible is. Keeping a website or a software program afloat is like keeping a yacht afloat. It is a black hole for attention. I can understand why a mechanical device like a pump would break down after a while - moisture rusts metal, or the air oxidizes membranes, or lubricants evaporate, all of which require repair. But I wasn’t thinking that the non-material world of bits would also degrade. What’s to break? Apparently everything.

Brand-new computers will ossify. Apps weaken with use. Code corrodes. Fresh software just released will immediately begin to fray. On their own - nothing you did. The more complex the gear, the more (not less) attention it will require. The natural inclination toward change is inescapable, even for the most abstract entities we know of: bits.

And then there is the assault of the changing digital landscape. When everything around you is upgrading, this puts pressure on your digital system and necessitates maintenance. You may not want to upgrade, but you must because everyone else is. It’s an upgrade arms race.

Read More

If you read only one book about the causes of the recent

If you read only one book about the causes of the recent financial crisis, let it be Michael Lewis’, “The Big Short”.

That’s not because Lewis has put together the most comprehensive or authoritative analysis of all the misdeeds and misjudgements and missed signals that led to the biggest credit bubble the world has known. What makes his account so accessible is that he tells it through the eyes of the managers of three small hedge funds and a Deutsche Bank bond salesman, none of whom you’ve ever heard of. All, however, were among the first to see the folly and fraud behind the subprime fiasco, and to find ways to bet against it when everyone else thought them crazy.

Read More

Plain speaking is necessary in any discussion of religion

Plain speaking is necessary in any discussion of religion, for if the freethinker attacks the religious dogmas with hesitation, the orthodox believer assumes that it is with regret that the freethinker would remove the crutch that supports the orthodox. And all religious beliefs are “crutches” hindering the free locomotive efforts of an advancing humanity. There are no problems related to human progress and happiness in this age which any theology can solve, and which the teachings of free thought cannot do better and without the aid of encumbrances.

Read More

How would one search for knowledge

How would one search for knowledge? The things which he knows requires no search, for he already knows. The things which he does not know, he does not know what he’s going to search for - this is Meno’s Paradox, also called the Sophistic Paradox.

In Meno, Plato eliminates the paradox by developing his theory of recollection through Socrates. A contradiction is an always-false statement. For example, if P is any statement, then P and the negation of P is a contradiction. A contradiction cannot be made true. A paradox, however, is a set of statements that leads one into a contradiction. So a paradox misleads us.

Read More

"We are our narratives" has become a popular slogan

"We are our narratives" has become a popular slogan. “We” refers to our selves, in the full-blooded person constituting sense. “Narratives” refers to the stories we tell about our -selves and our exploits in settings as trivial as cocktail parties and as serious as intimate discussions with loved ones. We express some in speech. Others we tell silently to ourselves, in that constant little inner voice. The full collection of one’s internal and external narratives generates the self we are intimately acquainted with. Our narrative selves continually unfold.

State-of-the-art neuro-imaging and cognitive neuropsychology both upholds the idea that we create our “selves” through narrative. Based on a half-century’s research on “split-brain” patients, neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga argues that the human brain’s left hemisphere is specialised for intelligent behaviour and hypothesis formation. It also possesses the unique capacity to interpret - that is, narrate - behaviours and emotional states initiated by either hemisphere. Not surprisingly, the left hemisphere is also the language hemisphere, with specialised cortical regions for producing, interpreting and understanding speech. It is also the hemisphere that produces narratives.

Read More

Hofstadter approaches the Mind from the perspective

Hofstadter approaches the “Mind” from the perspective of the computer sciences, in that there are both hardware and software aspects of human intelligence. He looks at the enactment of intelligence in terms of a formal system. In turn, Hofstadter declares that in primal, natural systems, formal systems are embedded. He infers that in relation to what we perceive as explicit in such formal systems, there is also an aspect that is intrinsically implicit. The idea of an embedded implicitness ultimately suggests a “Within” in the heart of things.

To begin, there is a need for a descriptive presentation of Hofstadter’s brain system model. He uses the ant colony as an analogy of the human brain system. Hofstadter relays that individual ants seem to be able to cooperate as teammates and not randomly wander off. After billions of years of evolution, these ants have passed a critical threshold...reinforcing themselves into a collective behaviour that results in an ant colony. Hofstadter likens ant teams to signals; and, basically, “the effect of signals is to transport ants of various specialization to approximate parts of the colony.” Ultimately, the fully evolved ant colony takes on a holistic aspect, and emerging molecular mechanisms take form.

Read More

But I wonder how much real attention Dickens’s books

But I wonder how much real attention Dickens’s books will get. In America at least, he seems to be an author more known than read. (Find me someone who claims to have read “Martin Chuzzlewit” and I will show you a goddamned liar.) Yet even if you’ve read only one of his books, his stamp is such that it feels like you’ve read them all. The virtues that kept him famous, prosperous and never out of print - that he is easily grasped and eternally inventive in his visuals and jokes - have served to make him iconic. His characters, of course, deserve most of the credit. They possess those funny allegorical names, behave just as fixedly, and get thrown into one melodramatic scene after another. But taken as a whole, those 989 characters make up an unforgettable universe of humanity matched only by Shakespeare, whom Dickens worshipped.

Read More

Union Carbide’s in-house investigation of the accident

Union Carbide’s in-house investigation of the accident will probably not be completed before the end of February. But an inquiry under way in India is already reaching some initial conclusions. The investigation has identified a combination of design flaws, operating errors and managerial mistakes that helped cause the accident and intensified its effects. In addition, the accident has stirred serious questions about placing modern technology in less industrialized Third World nations.

Read More

I was recently shocked to read that several city

I was recently shocked to read that several city councils in the UK are getting ready to expunge everyday Latin words from the English lexicon. Along with ‘via’ and ‘etc’ would be banished ‘viz’ and ‘i.e.’, not to speak of ‘inter alia’ and ‘bona fide’. There goes away that exotic literary advantage. It was only recently that Amrita, my 10-year-old, fighting against a tide of domestic protestations voted against romantic French and prevalent Spanish and chose Latin as her second language in middle school. I had cheered her and actually promised to help out with the homework, given that three out of five words in English are of Latin origin. Blame this vicarious decision on my formative years but growing up in Mumbai, Latin was never an option in my school, as our national language Hindi was strictly enforced. Shiv Sainiks had decreed that local Marathi was de rigueur for all citizens of the city. I therefore ended up needing to speak three additional languages, not to forget Tamil, my mother tongue.

Read More

Microfinance in India started in the early 1980s

Microfinance in India started in the early 1980s with small efforts at forming informal self-help groups (SHG) to provide access to much-needed savings and credit services. From this small beginning, the microfinance sector has grown significantly in the past decades. National bodies like the Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) are devoting significant time and financial resources to microfinance.

Read More