Smells Like a Man…

The other day, we went to an Indian grocery store in Seattle. In addition to replenishing our spice stocks, and picking up a few veggies that are difficult to find in regular grocery stores (and what turned out to be date-expired, fungus-growing idli mav), we picked up a tube of shaving cream. Old Spice, old familiar brand, right?

A little later I was startled to hear laughter from the bathroom. When I went to investigate, I was handed the cardboard outer package. The ad copy on the package went like this:


For gentlemen with exceptional taste in scents, rugs, and TV shows.

Dear Man, your hands were not made to carry shopping bags or stroke furry kittens however cute they may be. No, your hands were made so you can sculpt statues of yourself. Or squeeze out a handsome amount of this smooth, man-friendly tube of Old Spice Shaving Cream. Buy it, and all else will be forgotten.


Old Spice has been doing a whole bunch of amusing, tongue-in-cheek video commercials. They’re more American in context… so I guess this is the stripped down, desi version.

And then, of course, there’s also the Indian video commercial, Mantastic
“It’s a telescope. But it’s also a flute.”
“Aami jani.” (I know)

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If ‘The Donald’ Were a Book, He’d be a Bestseller

(An earlier version of this article was published in )

When I read The Bestseller Code recently, it felt oddly familiar. It reminded me of Donald Trump.

This new book analyzes the secrets of bestselling novels. Authors Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers developed a computer algorithm to dissect and measure various aspects of a novel, from the number of times the author uses the word “of” to the topics and themes. Then they had the computer ‘read’ thousands of books, and differentiate between bestselling books and those that weren’t. The algorithm succeeded 80% of the time.


Donald Trump (Public Domain clipart)

So why Trump? Here was a candidate who emerged from nowhere to defeat all the front-runners for the Republican nomination. He was the bestselling candidate. Whether for supporters or opponents, his campaign always drew attention.
The book describes the algorithm’s criteria that differentiated best-selling books from others.

Many of them mapped perfectly on to Trump’s campaign. Here’s how:


Focused themes.
Best-selling books limit their themes. The authors give the example of John Grisham and Danielle Steel as iconic best-seller authors. A single theme took up about one-third of the book. Secondary themes – and only a few of them – took up the rest. That gave the novels a cohesiveness that made them easy to follow.

Trump’s campaign does this. His main theme is: “We need somebody who can take the brand of the United States and make it great again.” The underlying appeal implies that America is not what you want and I can change that. (I’ve taken the Trump quotations from:

Implicit conflict.
Grisham’s main theme is always legal; his secondary theme is everyday life, warm moments of human connection. Steel’s main themes are domestic, but her second commonest theme is ‘Hospitals and medicine.’ In both cases, there’s a threat to the family – legal or physical.

Trump’s campaign brings in the danger of the immigrant, the outsider. “They’re pouring in. They are bringing drugs, they are bringing crime.” The conflict he implies is that they’ll have to be stopped in order to “make America great again.”

Mainstream and relevant themes.
With a few exceptions, people prefer to read about here and now, a world they can relate to. They like to read about work. They like to read about families and human emotion.

Everyone can understand when Trump talks about his work. He’s not from an esoteric political ivory tower or the halls of government. He’s a businessman. And wife Melania and daughter Ivanka provide that sense of human connection.


This is one of the most important things that separates best-sellers from others – the emotional pacing and plot turns. Bestsellers start with a ‘hook’ that draws you in. Then something changes. After that, things get better and worse more or less like a sine curve.


(Source: Wikipedia)

(The authors of The Bestseller Code actually graph these curves, finding seven basic patterns for novels.) In the end, either the emotional curve turns up into a happy ending, or down into a downbeat one that often implies a sequel.

(This graphic is from The Bestseller Code. Used here as “fair use” with a link to the book.)

Trump’s campaign followed this pattern quite closely. The initial hook was, look, a candidate who’s entertaining! He’s not spouting all that boring language the other candidates use. He’s watchable. If you look at the graph on, it’s clear that all eyes will be on him right to the end.


Trump’s chances of winning through November 6, 2018 (source:

The graph above is taken from as of November 6th. (I edited out the non-Trump lines.) It doesn’t actually tell the whole story, because it doesn’t cover the primaries… when Trump defeated, one by one, all the other Republican contenders.


The authors had the algorithm analyze the writing style of these thousands of books, and found each author had a style that was as easily identifiable as their DNA. They also found a difference between bestselling authors and others in the way they wrote.

  • Straightforward language. Bestsellers didn’t use complex writing. Fewer adjectives and adverbs, more verbs and nouns. Full stops and commas, not semi-colons and colons. “The everyday language of the common man.”
  • Ellipses (that is, when the sentences fades away into three dots… ). Bestsellers used ellipses more than other books did. They allow a reader to fill in the blanks and identify more closely with the character.
  • Contractions are good and so’s colloquial language. The word “okay” appears three times more often in bestsellers. “I’d” is better than “I would,” “Can’t” better than “can not.” The authors note: ‘The contraction “n’t” appears four times more often in books that master the sweet spot of bestselling style…” Again, this reflects everyday language.

Trump has mastered colloquial, straightforward speech – which may be why teleprompters don’t work for him. There’s nothing convoluted or complex about his language.

We used to call it the quiet majority but people are fed up – they are fed up with incompetence, they are fed up with stupid leaders, they are fed up with stupid people.”

He also uses the ellipsis in its spoken form. For example, the now famous: “Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know…” (he was speaking of his opponent Hillary Clinton, and the 2nd Amendment gives Americans the right to carry guns).


Bdonald-trumppublic-domain-smestsellers have strong characters with ‘agency’ – that is, they make things happen. The characters need and want things. They are not passive. Their actions are described with strong, active verbs: “Tells, sees, hears, smiles.” Or “pulls, pushes, starts, works, knows.”

Trump has mastered this. It’s why it was so devastating when he called his opponents Jeb Bush “low-energy” and Marco Rubio as “Weak like a baby.” Or when he called all his competing Republican nominees weak. “All of ’em are weak, they’re just weak. Some of them are fine people. But they are weak.

Of himself, he says:

Show me someone without an ego, and I’ll show you a loser — having a healthy ego, or high opinion of yourself, is a real positive in life!

I am worth a tremendous amount of money” and “I have had tremendous success.” Not to mention, “I’m, like, a really smart person,” and “I am strong; politicians are weak.”


Bestsellers, apparently, often have the word “The” in the title. Examples the authors mention include The Goldfinch, The Firm, The Circle.  It’s probably a coincidence, but remember when Donald Trump was called “The Donald”?


My analysis doesn’t look at whether any of the statements are factual or not. That’s not an issue with a bestselling novel, which is obviously not “true.” The questions for a novel are: is it engaging and is it believable?

It seems as though Trump is being held to the same standard. For nearly half of America, Trump is a strong, active candidate with a simple and gripping story. He’s believable if not factual.

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2014 India Corruption: Modi Effect?

Last year, when I wrote about Corruption Perceptions, I said: I’ll be very interested to see if the new government in India significantly affects corruption perceptions in the next survey. The 2014 data are available, and it’s had an effect. How significant is it?


corruption map 2014scale for corruption perceptions mapTransparency International makes an annual Corruption Perceptions survey, covering 170-180 countries. (In 2014, it covered 175 countries and territories.) It calculates a score for each one, and ranks countries according to the score. They provide this information as a table – and in the neat map I’ve shown as a screen-grab above.

(The actual map on their website is interactive. When you mouse-over any country, it shows its current score and rank, and the scores for the two previous years. It’s a really user-friendly website. If this subject interests you, it’s worth checking out.)

Here’s how they describe their survey: “The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. A country or territory’s score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). A country or territory’s rank indicates its position relative to the other countries and territories in the index. This year’s index includes 175 countries and territories.”


I look at these data for India and Myanmar – both countries where I follow the business conditions – and also for the US and China as reference points. So here are the 2014 scores.

corruption scores to 2014(I’ve massaged the pre-2012 data to account for Transparency’s change in methodology. It’s probably good enough, but if you’re a purist, then you only can compare the last three years.)

  • India’s better, China’s worse. India improved its score, from 36 in the last two year to 38 in 2014. It’s a nice, though small, turnaround from the 2007-2011 slide. China meanwhile sharply lost ground, falling from a score of 40 last year down to 36 (its 2011 level).
  • This change means that India actually ranks better than China for the first time since I started looking at these numbers. The people surveyed consider governmental corruption worse in China than in India. India ranked 85 of 175 countries while China ranked 100 of 175.
  • Myanmar leveled off in 2014 after a sharp improvement in 2013. Unless there’s a significant change on the ground, people are unlikely to change their views of the corruption there. Its current rank of 156 of 175 isn’t in itself impressive, but it’s a whole lot better than its 2011 ranking of 180 of 183 countries (only ahead of North Korea, Afghanistan, and Somalia). Right now, it’s similar to Cambodia though well behind Indonesia.
  • The US improved its score from 73 in 2013 to 74 in 2014, also continuing a gradual rise since 2011 – which was enough to give it a rank of 17 of 175, in the top ten percent of countries.

corruption ranks to 2014(Since the number of countries surveyed changes from year to year, I use a Normalized Rank for this graph, showing the country ranks on a scale of 1 – 100. The graph is also inverted, because of course a lower rank is better and I wanted to show that visually.)

What I find interesting is that while these scores and rankings shift from year to year, the variation is usually small. In 2014, none of them have moved enough to change their color on the map above.

This suggests that there’s a “corruption environment” that is easier to tweak than to change dramatically. Also, since this survey measures perceptions rather than any objective reality, I’m never sure how much of the shift describes changes in perceptions unrelated to any change in the extent of corruption.

So I have mixed feelings about this exercise. I think it’s valuable to shine the spotlight on corruption, as Transparency does. Perceptions are also important in terms of willingness to do business. But it also demonstrates how much effort and commitment is required to make significant changes.

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What a Night! Paul McCartney at Candlestick

August 14, 2014: the last day for Candlestick. The obsolete stadium’s going to be torn down. It went out in style, with a concert by Sir Paul McCartney. The concert quickly sold out, of course, and we hadn’t thought to go. But our kids surprised us with two tickets…

pix 43 010 before the showWe didn’t quite know what to expect. Would Sir Paul perform the whole concert? Could anyone do a whole two or three hour concert? We figured we’d be home by 10.30 or 11 p.m. Fortunately, we’d been warned about the traffic difficulties, and went at 5.30 p.m. for a show due to start at 8 p.m. We got one of the last few parking spaces in an outside lot. The stadium was half-empty.

pix 43 014 the stageThrough my binoculars, I could see people bustling around the stage, which was at the other end of the stadium. In the audience, one group of people – dressed as Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – carried a banner saying “Three generations of Beatles fans here tonight.” Unfortunately, they took off their coats before I could get a picture.pix 43 020 before the showEight o’clock came and went with nothing but recorded music. People started clapping in the “We-want-Paul” rhythm.  But it died down and we all waited. I stepped out, and saw why – the entire road was lined with cars trying to enter. Later we learned that traffic management had been awful, and hundreds, maybe thousands, of people with tickets couldn’t find parking.


At 9 p.m., the waiting paid off. Paul McCartney walked onto the stage, in a dapper burnt-orange jacket. He looked good and energetic, waved a hello. In the picture below, that little figure in the middle is Sir Paul. His image was projected on two enormous screens on either side of the stage.

pix 43 030 paul mccartney finally
pix 43 032 paul mccartney

pix 43 030 paul mccartney finally 1Lots of nostalgia. He said this was where the Beatles had their last concert together in 1966, and the guitar he was carrying was the one he’d used then. He was here to give Candlestick a great send-off.

pix 43 033 paul mccartneypix 43 044 paulBy this time, the crowd had become really dense, and all the seats were taken. Everyone was thrilled. I overheard someone saying, “If you had told me that I would actually get to see Paul McCartney in person, I wouldn’t have believed it!”

pix 43 044 paul 1It was wonderful to hear him. But it was a visual spectacle, too, with film running above the stage and ever-changing colored lights.pix 43 057 colorSoon after he got started, he took off his jacket. The crowd cheered. He turned to the audience and said, “That’s the only undressing I’m doing this evening!” pix 43 068 paul

pix 43 070 paulFor some of the songs, he had little blurbs about what inspired them. Queenie-eyes is based on a childhood street game. “It’s too complicated to explain, but it goes ‘Queenie-eyes, queenie-eyes, who’s got the ball? I haven’t got it, it isn’t in my pocket, O-U-T spells OUT.’ That’s how we entertained ourselves, playing in the street. Nowadays…” He wiggled his thumb, miming a video-game control. Everyone laughed. We knew what he meant.

pix 43 087 paulHe explained Blackbird as a song of hope, that some young person who was feeling beaten down by all the events around would listen and know that they could rise above them.

pix 43 071 paulIn the old days, people wanting to applaud a performer would use their cigarette lighters, and the flames would be visible across the auditorium. No one carries cigarette lighters any more, but the stadium twinkled with cellphone lights. Sir Paul looked out and said he’d seen the lights and thanked the audience.

pix 43 090 lightsToward the end of the show, there were fireworks going off over the stage, and light flares on stage.pix 43 093 fireworkspix 43 094 fireworkspix 43 095 fireworksBut of course, it wasn’t exactly the end of the show, because the standing crowd brought him back for several encores. Here’s Sir Paul on the piano…pix 43 096 paulAnd then there were more fireworks…pix 43 100 paul and fireworkspix 43 101 fireworkspix 43 102 fireworksAnd another encore… see the faces of the Beatles on the screen onstage?

pix 43 103 encoreIt’s clearer here. pix 43 103 encore 1The crowd was mesmerized, no one wanted to leave.

pix 43 104 crowdpix 43 105 paul n crowdpix 43 107 paul n crowdA final burst…

pix 43 108 packed stadium…and then confetti pouring through the lights, and it was over. It was nearly midnight. He’d been performing non-stop for almost three hours, and still seemed full of energy. I was amazed. He had the body-language of a much younger man.

pix 43 109 confettiHere’s a list, from the Beatles Bible website, of the songs he played and sang (including encores): Eight Days A Week; Save Us; All My Loving; Listen To What The Man Said; Let Me Roll It; Paperback Writer; My Valentine; Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five; The Long And Winding Road; Maybe I’m Amazed; I’ve Just Seen A Face; San Francisco Bay Blues; We Can Work It Out; Another Day; And I Love Her; Blackbird; Here Today; New; Queenie Eye; Lady Madonna; All Together Now; Lovely Rita; Everybody Out There; Eleanor Rigby; Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!; Something; Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da; Band On The Run; Back In The USSR; Let It Be; Live And Let Die; Hey Jude; Day Tripper; Hi, Hi, Hi; I Saw Her Standing There; Yesterday; Long Tall Sally; Golden Slumbers; Carry That Weight; The End.


Traffic control after the show wasn’t any better than before it. We got home around 2.30 a.m. Still, in the car we had the complete remastered Beatles albums (my husband is a huge fan of their music, which is why the kids had gotten the tickets). So we turned on the CD player for  a Beatles music session while waiting to get away.

pix 43 113 farewell candlestick

All in all, a fantastic experience. After all, I’d been listening to the Beatles since I was a kid. At 16, I owned one 45-rpm record, bought with my pocket money, for which I made a cover decorated with a drawing made with my first set of felt-pens (i.e. markers). It’s “Money Can’t Buy Me Love” (with Cupid thumbing his nose at a boy offering him a wad of cash); and “You Can’t Do That” (with a guy confronting his girl-friend who’s dressed in floral bell-bottoms and talking to ‘him’).

Neither song was in the concert. But nostalgia aside, I think I liked the ones he sang better.

money cant buy me love 45 rpm jacketyou cant do that 45 rpm jacket

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My Suitcase is a Dinosaur

“Your suitcase is a dinosaur,” Usha said as she helped me haul it into the back of her van. It looks like it. My sturdy grey Samsonite is maybe 20 years old. It’s heavy and has only two wheels, so it’s not maneuverable.  This isn’t the suitcase I’d normally take on a short trip inside the country. I use it for international travel when I anticipate rough handling of luggage.

gray samsoniteMy usual suitcase for domestic travel is a sleek American Tourister (coincidentally, bought in Japan!) with four wheels. It’s much newer, maybe 4 years old. It’s small, light, and easy to move in any direction. But thanks to the TSA, it’s dead.

Sleek American TouristerFor my non-US readers, here’s the background: When you’re traveling inside the US, bags can be inspected by the Transport Security Agency at any time. You can’t use a lock that isn’t TSA-approved (meaning that they can unlock it with their master keys).  You check in your bag, it goes through some kind of inspection process, and if they want, they open it and check the contents.

It nearly always happens to my luggage, no matter from where to where I’m flying. I don’t mind. They re-pack everything perfectly; the only way you know they’ve been through is a little paper slip that informs you that your bag was opened for inspection. I have a sheaf of them.

tsa NOI

This suitcase has a TSA lock. Somewhere, on its multifarious journeys, we’d lost the keys. It didn’t matter; we never locked it when traveling anyway. It was never a problem.

Except this one time. I got home late at night from a trip, and found I couldn’t open my bag. The TSA had inspected it, and then — locked it. Since we had no keys, we had to break into it with a large screwdriver. That was the end of that suitcase.

I’ll replace it one of these days. Until then, I travel with a dinosaur.

gray stegosaurus



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New Product: Berries, Memories

The other day, I found this new product at our local grocery store: Pichuberry (TM). The box described it as a “newly-discovered Super Fruit.” It came from Colombia. The Latin name is Physalis Peruviana.

newly discovered pichuberries

I hadn’t seen these newly-discovered berries in years. They were abundant in season in Delhi, when I was a kid. We called them “gooseberries” and ate kilos of them. They were cheap enough that my Mom made preserves from them – enough to last us most of the year. It was a lot better than Kissan’s mystery-fruit jam we had otherwise.

Had Delhi discovered them before anyone else?

Not so, it would seem. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about this plant, called the Cape gooseberry (South Africa), Inca berry, Aztec berry, golden berry, and a host of other names:

  • The plant was grown by early settlers of the Cape of Good Hope before 1807. In South Africa, it is commercially cultivated; canned fruits and jam are common, often exported.
  • Not long after its introduction to South Africa, Physalis peruviana was introduced into Australia, New Zealand, and various Pacific islands.
  • It is also cultivated and naturalized on a small scale in Gabon and other parts of Central Africa.
  • It is grown in India where it is called ras bhari.
  • The Cape gooseberry is also grown seasonally in Heilongjiang Province in northeastern China, harvested in late August through September.
  • Its Turkish name is altın çilek.
  • It is grown in Thailand, particularly on Doi Inthanon.
  • In Egypt where it is known locally as harankash or as is-sitt il-mistahiya (the shy woman, a reference to the papery sheath).

The store price here was the equivalent of several pounds of apples, but I bought a box of the ‘newly-discovered super-fruit’ anyway. For old times’ sake. It brought back memories of sitting with my Dad while he spread a toast with cream and, for our amusement, made designs on it with Mom’s home-made Gooseberry jam.


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Surprise for 2013: Corruption in India, China, US and Myanmar

I was browsing the Transparency International website, and realized they have their 2013 data up. This organization tracks corruption, and each year they make a ‘Corruption Perceptions Index’ across 175-180 or so countries. For 2013, it was 177 countries. This measures how business people both local and international perceive corruption in each country. The map below shows the findings graphically – lighter is better. (The Transparency website has a larger interactive map. Take a look if you want to browse.)

2013 Corruption Perceptions Map - Transparency International

2013 Corruption Perceptions Map (from Transparency International)

Each year I calculate a few normalized scores to see how India – and China, the US, and Myanmar for comparison – have done over time. (Technically, TI says you can’t compare pre-2012 scores with later scores, but I’ve made an adjustment that I think makes it good enough.)

Interestingly, India, China and the USA hadn’t changed much compared to 2012. Their ranks were in the 53rd, 45th, and 11 percentiles respectively. Their scores had hardly budged from the previous year. I’ll be very interested to see if the new government in India significantly affects corruption perceptions in the next survey.

Meanwhile, in the 2013 survey, the big surprise was Myanmar. In 2012, its rank was dismal – in the 98th percentile, it was among the worst in the world. This time, it was still dismal, but had improved distinctly, bringing it to the 89th percentile.

Corruption perception ranks comparison 2013Its score had risen from 15 to 21 between 2012 and 2013, while India remained flat at 36, the US flat at 73, and China moved only one point from 39 to 40.

Corruption perceptions scores comparison to 2013While a normalized rank of 89 is nothing to brag about, the improvement is. If Myanmar can keep this up for a few years, people will be able to dismiss corruption there as no worse than anywhere in ASEAN.


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Fire, Drones, and 3-D Printing: Maker Faire, SF Bay Area

I’d never been to the Maker Faire before, though it’s held annually and I’ve been hearing about it. It’s a fair for people who make things, whether from Legos or junk or fabric or wood or electronic parts. It sounded intriguing, and I thought my still-an-engineer-at-heart husband would find it interesting too. So we went.

It was huge, occupying all of the San Mateo Event Center. It was awesome.

This tower of flames is a strength machine. You hit a lever with all your strength, and depending on your strength, you get 2, 4, 6 or 8 bursts of fire. The small kids were getting 2-4, the 10-12 year-olds usually managed 6, and the teenagers easily achieved 8 flares. Like this picture.

strength machine flames


I’ve been reading about 3-D printing for a while now, but this was my first chance to actually see it in action. I lost count of how many booths there were with 3-D printers, mostly making small plastic objects. One was working with organic materials; 3-D printing is being developed as a possible way of making human organs.


The other big theme was drones – flying objects that have multiple propellers and a lot more capability than remote-controlled toy planes. Some have cameras. One booth had a drone fitted with a 3-D camera, with the idea that it could record and then 3-D print people’s faces. He couldn’t demo it because his remote control used infrared, and the outdoors area was too bright.

Inside the pavilion, there was a Drone Wars area. We didn’t stay for the main heats, but we did get a chance to watch several kinds of drones flying inside the netted arena. They seemed a bit delicate. One crashed, slightly damaged, and looked for all the world like an injured dragonfly trying to get off the ground again.

This thing is really taking off (no pun intended). Only, regulations haven’t kept pace and right now, no one knows what exactly is legal or not. In the US, commercial use of drones requires permission – but people are already using them for aerial photography. In fact, there’s a 2-minute clip of the Maker Faire, taken by a drone. It’s called “A Drone’s Day at Maker Faire.”


Some of it was sheer spectacle. They had kinetic sculptures, moving monsters made of recycled metal junk. They were powered by batteries, presumably lithium ion, or propane. Some emitted gouts of flame. This one is called El Pulpo Mechanico (and the video linked above shows it flaming from its tentacles).

el pulpo mecanicoThis dragon breathed fire – and so did the umbrella-shaped flower beside it!

flaming dragonI’d love to see this water-dragon on a lake; it looks like it would work. But that day, it was marooned on a parking lot.

sea monster with floatsThis is the Titanoboa, a mechanical representation of a now-extinct snake.


Not too sure what this was, but it looked like a metal fish monster and people were lining up to go aboard.

metal fish monster


They had a whole bunch of creative conveyances. This buggy was I think pedal-powered.
There were two of these mobile serpents racing around the grounds. The black one was more impressive, with fins on every segment and scales, but I didn’t get a good photo of it. Here’s the white one.
drum serpent
This mobile rocking horse worked with person power, only the rider had to post like he was actually riding, rather than pedaling in a circular motion. It looked exhausting. But the horse was cute and got a lot of attention.

mobile rocking horseThese two are “creature quads” – pedal-powered four-wheelers “drawn” by fuzzy monsters. This is Hawk (who can unfurl his wings), and Miss Tickle is in the background. These had an even higher cute factor, and visitors kept stopping them to pet them.
monster cart


It wasn’t all machines and monsters. The faire had a substantial fabric arts section, too. This was my favorite: Sweaty Taxidermy. She does taxidermy without actually using animal skins. Instead, she uses sweaters. The effect is arresting.

sweaty taxidermyThere were more traditional things, too, like clothes and jewelry, a lot of it with a steampunk motif.


There were all kinds of robots. This one was humanoid, and looked like we imagine robots to be. It looked more decorative than functional, though.

humanoid robotThese two were a bit different. They had to be contained behind a chain-link fence; this tall one raced around swinging a ball of fire.

fire robotIts companion was a demolition robot on caterpillar treads, crashing into metal objects provided for it to destroy.

demolition robotAnd then there was this Dalek (a Dr. Who villain). It said “Exterminate” a number of times, but it didn’t follow through. Fortunately.

recycled materials dalek

 [Note: I updated this post with more pictures from my iPhone – if I find more I like, I’ll add them in too.]

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Pinnacle Conference 2014 – IIM Alumni

Every year, IIM Americas, the alumni organization for the 13 Indian Institutes of Management, holds an annual conference.  My husband Ambi and I generally try to go. (We were classmates; he’s an alum too.)

Ashima Jain at Pinnacle 2014The organization’s come a long way since its founding less than ten years ago, as President Ashima Jain pointed out in her address, “Exciting Times.”  The name has been changed from IIM USA to IIM Americas to recognize our Toronto chapter. We’ve 13 chapters in America, and ties to overseas alumni organizations – including one in Singapore that I remember fondly. Ashima deserves a lot of the credit – despite working full time for Price Waterhouse Coopers, her energy and vision have made this organization flourish.

Exciting times for IIM AmericasUnlike the institutes themselves, whose value comes in part from their exclusiveness, IIM Americas tries to be inclusive. India now has 13 IIMs – up from three when I graduated! Most IIM alumni organizations tend to be institute-specific, and remain small.  Even IIM Kolkata, the oldest of these institutes, has a small graduating class; and the newest ones have very few alumni, because they’re new. Having a pan-IIM alumni association made all the difference – it now has 7,500 alumni as members, from all of the IIMs, old and new.

At Pinnacle, we missed the breakfast meeting on mergers and acquisitions – too early and too far for me, particularly since my interest in the topic is largely academic. The conference was at the Googleplex in Mountain View, a good hour’s drive from home.


Ro Khanna, who’s running for Congress in California’s 17th Congressional District, spoke about the need for an honest and nuanced conversation about jobs and the global economy. People don’t want jobs going overseas, but also want the lower prices from “Made in China.” A US-made smart phone, for instance, would cost around $2300. Also, technological change is a much larger reason for job loss on globalization, displacing low- and middle-skilled workers.

Attending a last-minute meeting in New York, Radha Ramaswami Basu, CEO of iMerit Technologies, gave her talk by video-conference. She was in India with Hewlett Packard years ago, and we were interested to know what she’s working on now. After her 20-year career at Hewlett Packard, she and her husband started a social enterprise called Anudip Foundation to train impoverished young men and women in Kolkata, India, in information technology and micro-entrepreneurship. Then she started iMerit to sell remote IT service to US companies, thus providing jobs to Anudip graduates.


Two interesting panel discussions focused on data privacy and on entrepreneurship.

Who has our data, and does it matter? Panelists Ankit Jain, (formerly of Google and founder of Quettra Inc),  Rachna Choudhry, (founder of, a start-up that helps individuals locate and understand bills before Congress), Lil Mohan, (entrepreneur and technologist); and Ro Khanna all agreed that large web companies like Google, Facebook and Yahoo collected huge amounts of information on everyone who used the internet. After the Snowden revelations, we all know the US government also does. But: so what?

There were two interesting and opposed viewpoints. It’s companies gathering data that’s the real problem; they don’t use it for the common good but for marketing, while the government would generally use it to make us safer Vs:  It’s legitimate for companies to gather data about their clients as they’ve always done; but the size and power of the government that makes possible misuse of data both tempting and downright dangerous.

“People are willing to sacrifice data privacy for security,” commented the person sitting beside me.

But my experience is that it doesn’t even take that. People are willing to sacrifice data privacy for convenience. Everyone on the panel favored more transparency about what data was being collected, by whom, and how it was being used. But even if all that information were available, I suspect most people won’t bother checking.

What makes an entrepreneur succeed? Dr Ram Nidumolu (entrepreneur, author and academic), Mehul Nariyawala, (“Serial entrepreneur” and now at Google after his company got acquired), and Doc Vaidyanathan, (VP at CA Technologies) talked about what qualities an entrepreneur needs. A willingness to take risk is the most important, and one suggestion was to start something early before you’re embedded in a cushy job, with a family and a mortgage. Flexibility was essential, because no plan survived contact with reality. Determination, because ventures can and do fail; the key is to see it as a learning experience. (“Ventures fail, entrepreneurs do not.”) And luck, of course.

One of the pleasures of these gatherings is meeting old friends. I ran into S. Vittal, my IIM/A classmate who I hadn’t seen since we left the institute. Vittal, Ambi and I were among the most senior alums present — though there was one alumnus who had us beat by nearly a decade!

Outdoor lunch area at Googleplex




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Product “Improvement”

This is not a grumble about the ever-growing complications of home electronics devices, where the key to success appears to be in ignoring 90% of the buttons. Nor is it about the annoyances of continual software upgrades that leave a trail of incompatibilities in their wake. Or about high-tech running shoes that have replaced the then-ubiquitous simple plimsolls that were part of our school uniform.

old sauce panThis is about a saucepan.

This saucepan, in particular, a simple 11″ T-fal  with a glass lid. It seemed to fit right in with our cooking styles, and in the 2 or 3 years we’d owned it, we had used it again and again and again.  You can’t see it in this photograph, but the Teflon coating had started to wear out and look gray and patchy.

new saucepanIt was time for a new saucepan. We went back to the same store, and were delighted to find the same T-fal saucepan in the same size at more or less the same price, too. So we brought it, broke it out of the packing, tempered it and started cooking.

Something was wrong. While the old saucepan had sat stolidly on the stove while I stirred its contents, this one moved on the stove like skates on ice. I had to hold the handle when I wanted to stir it.

I couldn’t figure out what it was. The new pan was identical to the old one. I’m not much of a cook, and I figured maybe there was something I was doing wrong.  But the next day, my husband used it and found the same thing.

It wasn’t me, he pointed out. He waved the pan at me, upside down. This is what the bottom of the New Pan looked like.

bottom of new saucepanRather elegant and dramatic in its design, I thought. It wouldn’t look like that after a month or two, but right now it was a handsome thing.

Nope, he said. Those black rings aren’t paint or enamel. They’re Teflon. [Edited to add: Maybe they actually are enamel, but very slick enamel.]

Oh. But the previous pan was identical, right?

bottom of old saucepanNot quite It had the concentric rings, but no Teflon on the outer ones. The Teflon on the inner circles didn’t matter. The way our stove was designed, it was the outer part of the pan that rested on the burner.

So that explained it. What we couldn’t understand was, Why? His theory is that someone dropped one operation in its manufacture – scraping off the Teflon from the outer rings. Mine is that someone looked at the new design, as I did, and said That looks so good! And didn’t test it, because after all it’s a minor difference.

So now for a decision: Return the pan?  Or scrape off the Teflon, either deliberately or as time wears on and we keep cooking.

I think I’ll keep the pan, hold the handle when I stir, and be pleased that at least it’s not a computer upgraded to futility!

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