Archive for October, 2010

Capitalism rescued the Chilean miners…?

October 17, 2010

The private company that owned the mine was admittedly so broke that it neither had the equipment nor the millions of dollars needed to rescue the miners that got trapped half mile down below.

If those miners had been trapped like this 25 years ago anywhere on earth, they would be dead. What happened over the past 25 years that meant the difference between life and death for those men?

Short answer: the Center Rock drill bit.

This is the miracle bit that drilled down to the trapped miners. Center Rock Inc. a private company in Berlin, Pa with just 74 employees. The drill’s rig came from Schramm Inc. in West Chester, Pa. Seeing the disaster, Center Rock’s president, Brandon Fisher, called the Chileans to offer his drill. Chile accepted. The miners are alive.

Longer answer: The Center Rock drill, heretofore not featured on websites like Engadget or Gizmodo, is in fact a piece of tough technology developed by a small company in it for-the-money, for profit. That’s why they innovated down-the-hole hammer drilling. If they make money, they can do more innovation.

This profit = innovation dynamic was everywhere at that Chilean mine. The high-strength cable winding around the big wheel atop that simple rig is from Germany. Japan supplied the super-flexible, fiber-optic communications cable that linked the miners to the world above.

Samsung of South Korea supplied a cellphone that has its own projector. Jeffrey Gabbay, the founder of Cupron Inc. in Richmond, Va., supplied socks made with copper fiber that consumed foot bacteria, and minimized odor and infection.

So my ex-boss has been vindicated. He often asked “Do you know what is the 11th commandment..?” Before we could be through with our blinking, he replies “Profit” !!!

The moral quicksand

October 13, 2010

Worst moments of life sometimes are not so personal. Journalists documenting a war, rebellion or such crisis may hate to see suffering, but that’s precisely what makes a good copy. Here’s Paul Reyes of NYT on the constant conflict of personal values with career imperatives that quietly consumes and sucks you into the quicksand of minding business other than one’s own. He covered the mortgage crisis since it blew up in 2007 and had to enter several houses deserted by vanquished owners, looking up letters and images that conveyed deep sentiments and personal anguish, not without riding a guilt-trip of gut wrenching invasion of privacy that was never intended.

Documenting a foreclosure requires invasion of privacy—an embarrassment shared by the sheriff’s deputy, a trash-out crew, a journalist or photographer. Having spent the last couple of years writing about this crisis myself, I can say that the embarrassment never fades. The sentiment in letters and photographs long abandoned never evaporates completely, no matter how moldered. This sense of invasion, oddly paired with an uncomfortable intimacy, is part of the voyeuristic tension of documenting the homes that people leave behind—sometimes in a rush that scatters toys and trophies and love letters, sometimes with the kind of order and neatness that speaks to a stubborn pride.

Pride in nationality – A speech for my daughter

October 3, 2010

Pride is an emotion that relates to an overwhelming sense of personal glory and achievement. But if I had secured my nationality by birth – something in which I neither had any choice nor a conscious role to play, should I be feeling proud or is it just my good fortune? Guess it’s the latter. So for the time being, I shall just stop at being grateful to my parents for that ovarian lottery I got. I shall save my pride for that future moment in my life, when I truly feel I’ve done my bit to advance the cause of my motherland, in whatever little way I possibly could. To me, that should bring a sense of glory and personal achievement and that, I guess will make me feel proud to be an Indian.

So what’s that big future moment that I’m talking of…?

I shall get off the block with my sense of awareness. How well do I know my country, its people, their inadequacies and insecurities..? When I think of my country, honestly my direct perception is limited to the few people around my home, my school and a few places I’ve visited in the past. The rest of my knowledge about our country is from what I’ve gleaned from a profit obsessed media (for which everything is `breaking news’) or what I’ve inferred from reports by someone else. And then I also need to look inwards and size up my natural strengths and recognize my limitations. Identify domains where I can be of good use, to bring about a “real” difference to as many as I could within a finite time frame.

The great deeds done by our great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rani Lakshmi Bhai and so many others have given us a great history. But it’s the future that we have to be concerned with. I gather, our primary responsibility is to address the futuristic issues of how to live in an integrated world, a global village that overlooks all geographic boundaries and cultural inhibitions. We must preserve our culture by all means, but not to the extent of getting fanatical about it and refusing to acknowledge the benefits of adopting the proven best practices from others.

So I look across the world. I feel sad as we still find place amongst the countries of the “Third World”. I realize my big moment is around the corner, only if we could move up a few notches quickly and get listing under the “First World”… How did the first world countries get there…? Reasons are not far to seek. They had the right mix of individual enterprise, backed by government support, propelled by enormous political will. Of the three, Individual enterprise is something that is within our control. I take stock and look up our population data. India, has a population exceeding 1.1 billion, of which 60% are below 40 years. Stacked against most other countries where an ageing population constitutes the majority, we clearly enjoy a demographic dividend. It presents a perfect foil for us to demonstrate our individual enterprise and leverage the relative economic boom that we are currently witnessing, especially at a time when the most other developed nations are struggling to get rid of the adverse effect of the recent meltdown.

I am hopeful. The ball is rolling. CEOs of some of the Fortune-500 companies already are Indians. Indra Nooyi of Pepsico, Vikram Pandit of Citigroup, Shantanu Narayan of Adobe Systems, Lakshmi Mittal of Arcelor-Mittal, Ramani Iyer of Harford Financial to name a few. I can see the effect rubbing off on our enterprising young minds as many IIT and IIM graduates are starting up ventures on their own, brushing aside seven figure salaries offered by top global corporations. Now what remains is the government support to their initiatives like the Israelis do and get it propelled by political will. If that happens while I am still around, I shall be happiest to stand corrected and say “I am not just lucky to be Indian, I sure am proud about it.”