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India! A Melange February 24, 2018

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I just returned from a week in India, both in Hyderabad and Mumbai. It was a very interesting experience in a multitude of ways.

The two cities, which I will assume are representative of urban India. Were modern and not. Gleaming business parks, skyscrapers, hotels. But literally a stone’s throw nearby might be hovels of shacks put together from scraps. In city streets there are streams of cars, trucks, motorcycle, and on the slowest part of the road a pushcart carrying vegetables. (But I had been told that Indians were terrible drivers. They are not. The streets are a fluid ,chaotic system where driving on the left is the main rule. But lanes are fluid and often optional. Whatever the traffic flow is, both directions is what the road becomes. The drivers decide and adjust. A mobile democracy where there are much fewer accidents than could be anticipated excepting that Indian drivers are good, courteous, and adaptive.)

There are definitely class differences. Some must be carryover from the caste system, just not called that. There are haughty people who act entitled and treat others as lesser coupled with these others being overly deferential. But the modern economy is changing this some. Bright people intermingle and work with colleagues that seem to get past this.

The crowdedness does lead to nothing of the Western concept of a personal space. AS you walk, another person may step only 10 cm to 20 cm in front of you and expect you to avoid a collision. Bumping and jostling are just normal occurrences. Queues are not organized, with people rushing in to any gap they see.

I did talk to a few people about my experiences on planes. They listened and several said it sounded like villagers, more rural and less cultured Indians. Maybe. I do not know.

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Why Trickle-Down Economics Has Not Worked February 3, 2018

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The recent tax overhaul pushed by Trump and the GOP Congress is heavy on tax breaks for corporations. The reasoning is that these will help everyone because corporations pass the gains on to their employees and start up more new operations. This, however, is based on the economic model of the 1950s and 1960s. Corporations have changed drastically.

Corporations were once very employee-oriented. Great benefits including pensions, health insurance, and if the employee desired it, virtual full-career employment. Today, all three have or are disappearing from the corporate landscape. Employees are now an expense and an expendable item. Employee turnover is planned as a cost-saving process. Even pay and bonuses are more meagre with the attitude that an employee should be happy just to have a job and that if one leaves, he or she is readily replaceable.

Concurrently, other things move the corporate focus and monies in other directions. Executive pay and bonuses have skyrocketed in the past 4 decades. For many corporations, this executive tier is not just the CEO, but dozens or even hundreds of highly-compensated executives. Their salaries and bonuses reach into the hundreds of millions per year.

Another factor is the change in investors. 4 Decades ago, most investors were looking for longer-term, moderate risk investments. Buying and selling was a measured and deeply thought about thing. Today, a huge number of investors buy for the high margin, the quick huge turnaround. So corporations do many more things aimed for the investors – higher dividends, stock buybacks, mergers and acquisitions for high gains through cost savings and downsizing.

So those are two big areas where the new tax saving will go. A third might be, with a more global view than in the distant past, towards international operations.

South Asians are not all alike February 3, 2018

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In the many comments on the (long ago, but still quite active) post of A Planeful of Indians Behaving Badly. I received some comments that I must be mistaken because south Asians are hard to tell apart. One even specifically say that a Sri Lankan or Bangladeshi is indistinguishable from someone from India.

Physically this is true. But in overall bahaviours, it is not. Factors such as culture and religion come into play. Even among Indians there is one very obvious distinguishing factor. Sikh men are very different in their behaviours towards others in such a setting, on a long plane flight or in the waiting area for one, than their Hindu male counterparts. Sikh men are quieter with others, more reserved. That most Sri Lankans are Buddhist and that most Bangladeshis are Moslem does make a difference. The impact of these religious beliefs on attitudes and interactions with others reflects the fundament differences between them and Hinduism. (Yes, I do understand that Indian is multicultural and has differences, but the original post questioned why does it seem that Indians on long flights do not act like people of other nationalities. I still think they do, along with a few other bad behavioured peoples.)

One of the funniest things that happened in my exchange with this person was when I asked if Bangladeshis being Moslem made them different that a non-Moslem Indian. He said no. Then I asked if the same were true of a Pakistani Moslem. He then went into a very long diatribe about how Pakistanis were not really south Asians, but Middle Easterners, like Iranians or Arabs. The enmity Indians feel against Pakistanis is a huge factor in their perceptions of the world.

(At that time, now 7 or 8 years ago, I think), there was no Rohingya crisis in Burma, or at least it had not flared up for international notice. If it had of been, I wonder if he saw the Rohingya as immigrant Moslem Bangladeshis like the Burmese do or as an indigenous minority.)

Goodreads January 16, 2018

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There is a website for book readers called Goodreads. You can set up a profile, create a list of books that you have read, search for books by authors, rate and review books, and look at book lists people have put together, like book set in Italy or books about sailing or whatever topic you might want to list books.

Over the past 4 months since I joined, I have gone through and added to the books that I have read. I am over 1500 so far. Doing this have highlighted a lot of authors and themes I have read. This, in turn, have allowed me to find several dozen books that I have wanted to read. You can add these to a Want to Read list, which is handy when I decide I will buy some books.

One list I found was related to the (Mann) Booker Prize for literature. I have found the winners and some on the shortlist (finalists) for each year to usually be enjoyable books. So this list got a lot of clicks, close to twenty, to add to my Want to Read list.

I highly recommend Goodreads as a tool for the avid bibliophile.

Career tip – To go managerial or stay in science? January 11, 2018

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Most people working in a STEM field for a company will end up with having to decide on a certain one major career decision. This is whether to transition into management or to stay in the science, engineering, and technology area they were educated and started in.

Generally, the management side is more lucrative – higher pay, bigger bonuses, more perks. But it requires few STEM skills except at the lower levels. Instead the requirements are budgetary – making and sticking to them, legal and regulatory issues, personnel management, communications, amongst other areas.

The pitfall is that most STEM based companies – be it in biotech, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, computers, or others- have one very weal premise. This is that a person good in STEM will make a good manager. The list of skills above have little or no connection to what was learned in STEM education. The person is “promoted”, but usually without the skills to do the job well. One must work on those skills before put in this situation.

If you do not like balancing your checkbook and monthly budget, how will you like something many, many times more complex? If you do not like giving coaching and positive feedback, how will you supervise and motivate a team?If you cannot stand dealing with anything in minute detail, how will you be able to deal with lawyers and bankers?

Being a good manager is difficult. Yelling and screaming and micromanaging everything is easier (but more stressful) and will keep you in low level or mid level management.

Trump and Retrograde America December 18, 2017

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Donald Trump and the Republican Congress has a very conservative agenda. Conservatism inherently means a resistance to change, and a strong conservatism means wanting to undo changes to put things back to the way they were years or decades before. That is what is happening in the United States, a moving back. In some cases the efforts are aimed to have it be like it was 50 or 60 years ago as far as laws and regulations.

As a progressive, like all progressives, I find this appalling. Government back then was not for the common man. It was for the powerful and wealthy. The past 5 or 6 decades have been filled with efforts by both parties to help the average citizen. The GOP did this until about 25 years ago. They have gradually shifted away until they only mouth the words to get voter support. The reality is that Trump and the GOP dupe their supporters into thinking something good is being done while doing something harmful to the average person.

Tax reform is a prime example. Tax breaks that are temporary and counterbalanced by other changes will not make life better for most. But the changes for businesses and the wealthy do not have expiry dates. Isn’t that curious, that those for the average citizen expire when the changes that increase taxes – like the exemptions for taxes or mortgage interest- do not?

Certain authors October 23, 2017

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I read a lot for pleasure, around 50 or more books in a year. My tastes vary – fiction, biographies, history, geography, and other genres. So the authors I read are also varied. One area I focus on in choosing books and authors is award winners. The awards I pay attention to are the Booker Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel in Literature.

There are certain authors that have written a really great book that grabs my interest. When that happens, I often then find the other books that author has written to see if they are also good. Sometimes they are and I will then read every book that author has written.

These include such authors as Saul Bellow, Pater Carey, Michael Chabon, and Jennifer Egan,. A few have written such a small number of books that reading everything of their is easy. Charles Frazier and Jeffrey Euginides are 2 of those.

How to appear to be brilliant October 22, 2017

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Tip #1: When there is a group discussion, do not say much in the early part. Answer any questions asked of you, occasionally ask a question that does not give away much, only a Do you mean this or that? or another type asking for clarification. But listen to everyone. Sort through their thoughts, meld some, come up with points to reinforce or refute ideas, and just listen and wait. When the discussion starts to wane or when 2/3 to 3/4 have expressed themselves, then speak up with a few of the ideas you have had time to create. You are starting much further along than everyone else, so your opening points will sound so much more advanced, expansive, and in depth than most of the others.
Tip #2: Know and respect the boundaries of your knowledge. Speak on things you know. But if it is something you do not, and then do not be afraid of saying I did not know that. (and “Tell me more” will boost the others’ egos.) Do not try to appear to know everything. People are put off by that. So know almost everything and admit those few bits are new to you. People will accept you as very knowledgeable.

Tip #3: It is OK to expand your vocabulary, but do it only occasionally and only with words that exactly fit your needs. Too much, and you sound unnatural and ostentatious. But most people understand many more words than they commonly use. A sprinkling of those different words, when the meaning is obvious and natural, creates the impression that you are very knowledgeable.

Tip #4: Pick your battles wisely. There are many topics and arguments where your difference in opinion may exist but where its impact or that of the topic is minor. It is better to weigh in on more substantive things than to try and pontificate on everything. The result is that people learn that when you do speak up, it is something worth paying attention to.

Tip #5: If you have the big guns, use them when that is needed. Sometimes you need brilliance to seem brilliant. That is why one theme of these tips is to listen, wait, and think. Use your brain to come up with really good ideas. Too often people just think on the fly and their ideas are weak and incomplete. This leaves them very vulnerable to numerous counterpoints. The stronger and wider your ideas are, the less chance that someone will have a strong argument against your opinion. Think, think, think. But use the heavy weaponry only as sparingly as is needed. You do not have to annihilate the others.

Geographic Oddities – Binational islands October 14, 2017

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I have always been intrigued by international geography. Things like the shifting borders through history, the creation or demise of nations (including little known temporary nations like Los Altos in central America and Maryland in west Africa) , exclaves and enclaves, and secessionist nations (Biafra, the Confederate States of America, Katanga).

Today I looked at the startup page here and it reminded me of another (the startup page includes a counting of viewers of these posts, listed by nations). There were 2 views from St. Maartens, the Dutch portion of an island in the Caribbean. The other portion of St. Martins is French.

There are a few such politically split islands in the world. The best know are Ireland, split between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, and Hispanola, split between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Borneo, split threeways between Malaysian and Brunei and Indonesia, and New Guinea, split between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Besides these, there are 2 others of some size -Timor, split between Indonesia and Timor Leste, and Tierra del Fuego, split between Chile and Argentina.

Besides Saint Martins, there are many small islands of less than 1000 square kilometers in marine waters and there are a large numbers of tiny islands divided because they lie in rivers or lakes on national boundary lines. Wikipedia has a category of these. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_divided_islands

Career Tip: Reviewing as Networking October 11, 2017

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I have written about the advantages of being a reviewer for submitted manuscripts to scientific journals. In brief, you find out about some developments In your field sooner than others, you keep the review process robust because every manuscript – including your own – requires reviewers, and it gives you new names in your field to search the past literature for.

There is another benefit, but in the area of career development. These invitations to review come from a journal’s editor(s). An editor is usually a very established leader in the field. If you review, there is a building of name recognition and reputation. In the longer term, editors nominate scientists to be on the journal’s advisory board. If you have built a reputation, your chances are higher. Being on an advisory board is an accomplishment and has more prestige for more prestigious journals. Additionally, advisory board meetings are fantastic opportunities to network, learn of new unpublished research, and connect for collaborations.