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"Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It's the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?" Guy de Maupassant

Monday, October 8, 2007

This is my last post on this blog. Radio Userland has served me well since I started blogging in 2003. I will post more details on the transition, at my new blog - for now I just wanted to make this announcement, and provide the new url and feeds.

New Blog URL - http://dinamehta.com/
Subscribe via RSS 2.0 - http://dinamehta.com/feed/
Subscribe via Atom - http://dinamehta.com/feed/atom/
Comments feed - http://dinamehta.com/comments/feed/

The new blog will also be called Conversations with Dina - it's just a new blogging platform - but the same old blog! I do hope you continue reading and feeding it.

My old blog will be archived at its old url (http://radio.weblogs.com/0121664/) and I will keep the archives going. Stuart, who has worked out the platform for Conversations with Dina on Wordpress has done some neato hacks - one that I love a lot is that the search function will not just search the new blog archives, but also my old Radio blog archives. And he has managed to transfer some of my posts over too. That's so cool!!! Lots more needs doing there ... and that will emerge I'm sure.



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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ate Poorthuis is a student at the University of Amsterdam, and is writing a thesis on the creative class in Mumbai. He wrote to me yesterday, in an email asking for help on a survey for Mumbaikars (I still prefer the term Bombayites :)). It piqued my interest for two reasons .. why his interest in and selection of Mumbai ... and I remembered listening to Richard Florida talk about the The Rise of the Creative Class, at Pop!Tech way back in 2004. He has subsequently written The Flight of the Creative Class. Here's an IT Conversations podcast of his talk at Pop!Tech.

"My name is Ate Poorthuis. I am currently writing my bachelor thesis at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I am writing this thesis on the creative class in Mumbai. In the last few years there has been a lot of academic writing on creative cities and the creative class. The definition of creative class in this context is very broad: it ranges from architects, artists, teachers and writers to managers, programmers, researchers and journalists.

It struck me that all research in this field is based on people and cities in North-America and Europe. That is why I decided to write my thesis on Mumbai. I cannot believe that Mumbai, with its artists, Bollywood, nightlife, university and IT-industry, is not included in any research on the creative class. With this thesis I want to shine some new light on the subject and I hope to provide another perspective for the academic field.

Since you belong to the creative class I want to invite you to participate in a web survey. The survey takes only 10 to 15 minutes to complete and can be accessed from any computer with an internet connection. The survey is completely anonymous. Your e-mail address is not stored within this survey and cannot be linked to your responses in any way. You can begin with the survey by just clicking on the link below. I will be very thankful for your time and effort.

The survey can be found on: www.creativemumbai.com/survey/index.php?sid=2

If you have any further questions or are just interested in my research, just send me an e-mail or have a look at www.creativemumbai.com. Also, feel free to blog about this research on your weblog and please do not hesitate to forward this e-mail to anyone that might be interested."

Mumbaikars .. or Bombayites .. whichever term rings better with you, do spread the word and take the survey .. it made me reflect on why I love this city with all of its 20 million people and why I believe there is no place like this anywhere on earth, no matter what some people say by calling it the least courteous city !


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Sunday, January 15, 2006

I finally got around to doing some housekeeping on my blog. Have edited the categories and links - am hoping they will render alright. The nice thing is each of them acts as a separate blog - so readers can subscribe separately to specific categories that interest you!

Here they are - links and RSS feeds :

Weblog Home : (all categories) subscribe


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Sunday, October 23, 2005


All my notes from Pop!Tech 2005 are on this page. I will share reflections on my take-out from this conference later.

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Robert Trivers uses neuroscience to talk about the self-deception that led to the Iraq War. Warfare is very conducive to self-deception. In the animal and plant kingdom, deception is part of the arsenal of any virus, bacteria, protozoa etc that use deception to attack. If a deceiver is rare, it is more effective, as the deceived cannot predict the deception.

Deception within species was not first recognised ... but now a wide representation of studies on it. Sexual deception in fish, frogs, insects leads to reproduction. False alarm calls by birds hunting food. Another example, ravens show a consciousness of deception in their food cacheing.

In a complex co-evolving world, between deceivers and those perpetuating deceptions, self-deception comes into play. Self-perception is subject to internal manipulation to give a feeling of confidence. Language while it accelerates our ability to make true statements, also enables false statements. Likewise, belief-systems. Studies have shown how our mind can affect how we perceive ourselves and the world.

Memories are biased - psychologists have done significant work in this area, but the judicial systems are slow in adopting these systems. Where memory can be inserted into the mind.

In the context of war, lets consider selective forgetfulness. How many remember 1956 - Saddam was our boy. 1982 - a truly tragic and immoral decision to support Saddam and Iraq to go to war on Iran. 1991 - we kick Iraq out of Kuwait.

To generalise the discussion on self-deception and war, there is a background to human warfare, which can be seen in chimpanzees. Features of modern warfare that makes it conducive to self-deception -- low history, ignorance is high, overlapping self-interest is low, little negative feedback - you can practice self-deception at home and be caught out - not when it is another nation.

We know that the arguments for war are baseless today. All assertions made turned out to be false. Consequences of this war on bogus grounds ... one thing psychologists have shown ... when you plan to do womething, you are more rational in your thought patterns ... in a down state ... not euphoric or happy then ... but once you sign on and decide you are going for it, your mood goes up, you feel euphoric, overconfident. The bitch is there was no planning with the war. The administration just jumped at it. And then had to justify their action.

Self-deception leads to two things -- leads you into disaster, then makes sure you don't have the tools to deal with what you have done to yourself.

The good news is that we really have a good opportunity to put together a broad theory of self-deception. The bad news is that the forces of deceipt and self-deception are really very powerful.



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Nassim Nicholas Taleb says we tend to treat knowledge as personal property, as something we own.  This is self-deception.  He encourages us to play a thought experiment - using traders as an example.

Assume fair odds (50% chance)
Year 1 : 1 mn
Year 2: 500,000 successful ones
Year 3 : 250,000
Year 4 : 125,000
Year 11 - about 1000 geniuses ... just by luck!

You can try and explain these things logically, you can rationalise it all.  Books like Lessons from the Legends of Wall Street, The Millionaire Mind, Secrets of the Millionaire's Mind make it all seem so easy. In one of these books, one of the fallacies in the finding that millionaires take risks, is that the author doesnot take note of the fact that bankrupt people take risks too. 

He takes on calibrations of 2% error rates - in tests he has conducted, it has been shown that the 2% error rate can actually be as high as 80% and not 2%. Hehe - higher error rates among MBA students than Math students!

Our bodies of knowledge are swelling, but we all have this disease of error rate.  The confidence in this knowledge we think we know may well be a fallacy.  When you look at the future, and ask people to predict the future, we have this tendency to tunnel and ignore events that may happen infrequently but which have impact on the outcome.  The most accurate predictors are weather analysts, economists hide it well, and security analysts perhaps the worst !

Sydney Opera House is a monument to a human disease.  It was scheduled to open 10 years before and cost much less than it actually did. Planning fallacy.  Because we tunnel.  Very few projects are completed on time, because while they can plan it very well, they don't take account of unpredictable elements.

The reason --- 'The Black Swan' --- for a long time, everyine thought all swans were white, because all the swans we saw were white.  But in Australia, we found black swans. Much of what happened in history is determined by Black Swans and not White Swans.  Their contribution is cumulatively huge, but noone notices it.

He shares some more tests on Bloomberg reports to show how surveys are less accurate than an analysis of prior experience.

A forecast has no validity unless you know the error rate.  It is getting harder and harder to forecast, particularly in social science, as complexities are increasing daily.  He doesnot say we shouldnot or cannot forecast, but we must try a little less self-deception in forecasting.


 
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Saturday, October 22, 2005


Solar Women engineers in Tilonia, India? Not much needs said about Bunker Roy's Barefoot College - except that he makes me proud to be Indian. 

He ends with this quote from Mahatma Gandhi : "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
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Cameron Sinclair, a Worldchanging colleague, is on talking about how to create architecture that helps the world. What can I say except that he is absolutely inspiring. Just go here and you will know why. It is great to hear from someone who isn't just talking but walking the talk, and "Design(ing) Like You Give A Damn"


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Nicholas Negroponte, professor at MIT and founder-chairman of the Media Labs on the $100 laptop project. 23 years ago, they tried computerising schools in Senegal - but it didn't work. In Costa Rica (3.5 mn people) however, it has been really successful - the poster child for the MIT Media Lab. He got involved in sending used computers to Cambodia. This stopped ... and instead they started building schools and not just sending used computers. Satellite connections were put in, laptops were set up, generators were set up. Kids started taking their laptops home and parents loved it, because suddenly they had a source of light (no electricity otherwise). The first English word many of them spoke was Google!

Today's laptops are so loaded ... he takes us back to the old days when they were so quick, so easy and so reliable to use. His question - do we really need it. Some things to reduce cost - remove colour mode on the LCD screen and use B&W with high resolution, or low res colours. Has to be on a very low power budget - below 2 watts. E-books must be below 1 watt.

They needed scale - not as much to take down costs - but to change the strategic plan in companies offering the service --- when he told them he needed 100 million chips - the company making the chips did an about-turn on their initial hesitation that it doesn't meet their business strategy.

November 16, 2005 is when it will be shown at the Vatican for the first time.

Wow. I hope they have India in their roll-out plans.



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Yochai Benkler leads the session on Participation Revolution by talking of the demarcation between producers and consumers in the Industrial Information Economy.  And then moves onto the Networked Information Economy.  Described as decentralised and widely distributed - in terms of computation and communications resources as well as human creativity, intuition, experience and motivational.  What this means is that things people have always done with and for each other, move to commons based productions, can be individual or collective, commercial or non-commercial.  A self-feeding contract. The other major development is we are seeing large-scale collaboration - eg. peer production using social cues rather than command and control. And sharing material resources.

Examples - Clickworkers for NASA, Wikipedia, Dmoz, Skype, open source software, Craig's List, Technorati.

Social sharing and exchange is becoming the modality of economic production. You have stuff flowing out of connected human beings,  Your supply and demand chains are different now - they are determined by "Surfers".  And they input back. 

He then talked about the Politics of it - of autonomy, of freedom and justice, of democracy.  As a result - new business challenges and opportunities, and new ways of being free and equal human beings.
A rousing "you can't stop us" end to the presentation.

A good paper by Yochai Benkler - "Sharing Nicely" .[link posted in the chatroom by Greg Elin]. 

Nothing so new, but useful to the audience here.  I was talking to someone during one of the breaks and describing how we have used tools like blogs and wikis and VOIP in disasters and for research projects - and they seemed to want to hear more about how these systems are changing the way we transact today. 



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Friday, October 21, 2005


Peter send this out - this follows the IIPM vs bloggers issue.

The "Right to Blog for Awareness" petition is up.

Please go read, and if you agree, sign at
http://www.petitiononline.com/blogbang/petition.html

There's a lot at stake here, especially for bloggers in India.

Is an interesting juxtaposition having just listened to Rebecca talk about Chinese censorship at Pop!Tech.


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Rebecca MacKinnon who runs Global Voices Online is on, talking about "China and the Internet - The change goes both ways ...". She tells a story about a village of about 150 peasants has a website - http://www.pusalu.com/ - started small as an alerts sort of site (UFO sightings for eg) and has now evolved to a community portal which actually has changed the world for the community there with vocational guidance and involvement from the community. This is one example that reflects how important the internet is to the Chinese Government, in bringing about change in rural areas.

Lots of examples of Chinese folk moving to the internet - Muzimei's blog where she discusses her sex life, Super Girl Li Yichun - selected by fans to win a contest, Yang Chengang who stuck his first song on the internet - "I love you just like Mice Love Rice" - and has become a heartthrob, with no official 'gatekeepers' interfering.

Result - more empowerment in China as a result. The world's second largest Internet user base. 10% global PC demand, 15% global handset demand are in China. More than 5 mn blogs, over a fifth Chinese internet users use internet bulletin boards, over 200 billion SMS's sent in 2005.

Proliferation of Chinese content on the internet is driving growth throughout the world, despite a crackdown by the govt, where bloggers are supposed to register with the government. It's a contradiction of sorts - it's to do with understanding the censorship culture in China. They don't clamp down on sex bloggers and mp3 stars, but on political commentary and emergent leadership. Keywords are blocked - Tiananmen Massacre for instance is blocked on Google. Blog service providers have to provide censorship for bloggers. Soft censorship.

The Chinese internet community isn't just keeping up with what's happening in the USA. It is innovating. And leading changes. egs. Mobile Blogs, Podcasting etc. These companies are able to be agile and innovate because they are building censorship into their platforms.

Concluding thoughts and questions :

  • "Code is Law" - Larry Lessig.
  • As software codes are being written in China - what implications on Western business models, what implications on freedom of speech in other countries.?
  • Can we prevent censorship from being baked into the model and code?
A really thought-provoking presentation from Rebecca.

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Suketu Mehta is talking about my city. Bombay. He is reading portions from his book Maximum City. I wish he had images of the city to enrich and bring alive his words.

I have read half the book on my flight in - and I was struck by how true and real many of his experiences and observations are. These are some facets he has written about - I feel conflicted - the question I find I am asking myself is, which part of Bombay do I live in. What is my space there? And we might find more facets emerging.

Update : In the Q&A - Suketu tells us that he flies out tomorrow to India, to file a Public Interest Litigation against the Government on how little they are doing for beggar children. 





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Mark Lynas - High Tide talks of rapid geological changes, and how rapidly they are happening. He makes predictions on what impact global warming will have, in a new book he is writing called Six Degrees.

Predictions based on degrees of global warming -

  • One degree - Code Blue -- temperature rise, coral reefs gone. Nothing can be done to prevent it.
  • Two degrees - Code Green - we can prevent it. Will lose the Sunderbans.
  • Three degrees - Code Yellow - by 2050 a third of all species extinct. The ice sheet in Greenland will melt and disappear altogether. The beginnings of runaway global warming. To avoid it, need to make great changes
  • Four degrees - Code Orange - decline of Sea Ice, all of marine ecosystems at the poles gone
  • Five degress - Code ? - the Hindukush, source of the Indus river will be dry. Rainforests may turn into deserts. Countries like Pakistan threatened. Ice shelf collapse in the Antartica.
Good photographs from High Tide. And more on global warming, a link someone shared in the chat.. Mark's message to us ... take this seriously, make it political, if we have to survive not just as a species but also as a planet.

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Ze Frank who was here last year too, is smokin'...  thousands of miles above us, with his Inflight Safety Page.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005


Theo Jansen builds mechanical creatures that walk on beaches! Beach animals, whose knees sag, some who die out in minutes. And who have mechanisms to guard against being blown away by the wind. They gather sand at the end of their tails, and each day when they retire, they unload this sand back on the beaches. Probably changing its topography :). He demos a beach beast to us on stage .. the motion is so incredibly smooth.

They're having fun in the chatroom, thinking up new applications for these animals - Star Wars killer bots, New Orleans Flood Navigators, Starship trooper bugs.

Amazing stuff. And a real treat listening to him. A wild combination of mad scientist and artist. Check out some of his animal movies here. And Wired had a nice article on his work.




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Norman Packard of ProtoLife, who is working in the areas of chaos, learning algorithms, predictive modeling of complex time series, statistical analysis of evolution, artificial life, and complex adaptive syste is talking about Living Technologies. He starts with the question - What is Life ? Life requires self-maintenance, self-reproduction and evolvability. He defines living technology as tech that is defined and enanced by its life-like properties. egs he gives - social engineering, ecological engineering, synthetic biology and even the internet.

He gives the example of Synthetic Biology - two approaches - top-down and bottom-up. And shares his experience with a bottom-up project he is involved in.

What's interesting to me is the central concept of giving up derivability and learning to harness emergence. I think some of these concepts are being embraced by the internet and its social nature. We came close with the Tsunamihelp experience, and evolving with each effort around recent disasters.




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Its great to be back in Camden Maine and at Pop!Tech. I got here yesterday, and it is so wonderful to see this little town being filled out by people from all over the world for this very special event. Was stopped by a few locals and asked is it Poptech time already! It was good to meet familiar persons, and many more new friends at the Cocktails yesterday. Did some Mehta-Mehta bonding with Suketu (Maximum City) Mehta's proud parents and ate lots of mussels.

Its the first session here and Andrew Zolli is back on stage, in his inimitable style. This session today is about 'Seeing What's There'. The first presentation from Graham Flint, was great from a technical viewpoint of how you can take some amazing photographs with super-high resolutions - the big benefit being you can interact with the image. There would be privacy and legal issues of course, and this was raised in the Popchat dialogue.

Dr. Robert Hanner took us through one of the grand challenges of biology - what's truly out there - how many species - 10 mn ? 100 mn ? And how DNA Barcoding species would also have social implications by helping democratise access, make it available, and as a result, bring us so much closer to the species.

Interesting question from a lady in the audience on how, having seen what is out there, how do they plan to preserve civilisation. The answer from the speakers -- we dont know how good the storage mechanisms are.

And, I liked this quote from one of the presentations ... so just reprinting it here:

"Research is to see what everyone else has seen and to think what nobody else has thought" 
Albert SzentGyorgyi.

Ethan is liveblogging Poptech here.

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