Saturday, December 6, 2014

Small is Beautiful: Why Small Businesses should Replace Big Businesses (A Case Study of Rickshaws vs Buses)


Major source of congested roads:
Minibuses/vans not rickshaws
Have you noticed a marked reduction of the concentration of minibuses often called yellow devils on the roads of Karachi lately? My heart fills with a feeling of comfort when I see these yellow devils and anticipate their dwindling fate, when I see them surviving with mostly empty seats, and await the deliverance from their yoke. Their arrogance has led to their takeover by the small homegrown rickshaws (12 seater) and ChinChi (QingQi). Tens of millions of commuters and pedestrians have been suffering from the menace of these yellow devils for the last 40 years: Their overloading, wild driving, menacing overtaking, threatening moves from one side to another, trying deliberately to block you and even trample you, holding up the traffic for as long as they want, their insensitivity to the wailing sirens of stuck ambulances, not listening to the persistent horns blaring at them by the traffic stuck behind and not caring a hoot about the passengers whether old, young or women or their discomfort. The emergence of these smaller rickshaws has convinced me about the theory of Small is Beautiful

Friday, November 28, 2014

Computer Revolution and Moore's Law: A Personal Journey

Moore's Law: Exponential increase
in transistor density and speed

In this post I trace a personal journey of my interactions with the evolutionary stages of computational machines. I feel my decisions in life have been shaped by forces which were not as clearly understood or even visible in the 1970s and 1980s as they are today and are depicted in this graph. Tremendous progress in the speed of the computers and their reduction of costs obeys Moore's law which says that speed of the computer would double every 18 months and the costs would decrease by half every 2 years. This trend has held for more than half century and is depicted in the figure in the context of the microprocessors.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Encounter Project 2: Propagating Islam as an Inflexible, Rigid, Harsh System

I am now forced to translate "Encounter-2", an Urdu column published in 2000 by Javed Chaudhry in his book "Zero Point" because I have noticed that since 9-11 there is a flood of rigid Islamic literature, likes of which were never encountered in my readings of Islamic literature during 1970s-80s. The literature that I typically came across then was published from a period extending from mid of 19th century till the 1980s. Recently, however, the frequency with which certain rigid thoughts and ideas seem to have been excavated from the ancient archives of fringe Muslim thoughts and then systematically spread as mainstream Islamic thought appears to be a part of a concerted campaign that seems to be growing in intensity. I think we need to seriously examine the proposition put forward in Encounter-2 below when we see rigid literature specifically relating to children books written from fringe Islamic perspectives that indicate:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Big Data, Management Transformation and Voyager of Star Trek Movie

V'jer of Star Trek
The growth of digitization and computerization and its assimilation of everything and everyone that it touches reminds me of the first Start Trek - Movie, where the enterprise encounters a huge energy cloud that is devouring extra-terrestrial objects and even planets on its path as it moves towards the solar system and then eventually towards earth. There seems to be nothing that can stop this energy cloud/mass and there is fear that even the entire earth may be swallowed by it. With each
star swallowed and with each planet gobbled, its size increases and so does its power and energy. What eventually happens to this energy cloud is part of the story that needs to be seen in this movie. What is of relevance for us is that the core of this ever increasing energy cloud eventually turns out to be none other than our old NASA spaceship Voyager that was released from the earth in 1977 and which only recently i.e. in 2012 teared out from the solar system and became the first man made craft to enter the inter-stellar space. In this movie, the Voyager during its two hundred or so years of its journey in the interstellar space has mysterious encounters. Through one such mysterious encounter with an energy source, it transforms and acquires the capacity to start attracting objects, gobbling them and becoming bigger and bigger and amassing more and more energy. Anything and everything that comes in its path is not only swallowed by it, but is also transformed into the energy, which accumulated on top of its existing energy, not only increases its power but also the speed with which it gobbles up things with greater and greater ferocity and an ever increasing appetite.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Companions of Hajj: Dekh mera Zauq o Shauq (Yearning and Passion)

Hajj kay Saathi (Companions of Hajj): See my Passion and Yearning

This year Arif bhai went for his second Hajj and all through the trip he kept on recalling the saathis (group fellows) of that first Hajj of 1996 in which I also accompanied. When I talked on Skype with Arif Bhai after the hajj, I found him emphasizing again and again that everything seems to have changed from what we saw during that first hajj; the fervor seems to be no more visible, the buildings that we saw at that time were gone, the bazaars that existed then are gone, the small eateries run by Bengalis and offering chatpatta desi food seem to have disappeared, the local touch from the shops is gone, the view of  haram as we witnessed then is no longer there; there is new construction everywhere, new building complexes, new malls,  upscale shops, trendy restaurants and the haram is now dwarfed and engulfed by the commercial highrises all round, and above all the local homily touch that we felt then seems to have disappeared.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pursuit of Excellence vs Guzara: How to teach excellence through everyday examples

This is late 1979, I had completed my intermediate, and my father had retired from his government job in Islamabad. We were moving back to Karachi from Islamabad via train in a reserved coupe of the economy class. The train system was already in a fast decline then. Gone were the days when the reserved compartments only had passengers with confirmed seats. Our
Coupe of the Train
reserved compartment was full of people standing and sitting on floor without reservation or even without tickets. My father had already complained to the ticket checker several times but to no avail. We had put a bedcover in front of the coupe as a curtain to gain some privacy. There were people standing and slowly nudging closer and closer to our reserved seats. One of them asked for the  space to sit on our reserved berth saying "guzara karna hai" (need to just get along). The word "guzara" somehow got my father to explode and he viciously turned the person down. I did not understand why my father, who was otherwise so considerate, got so much angry; after all it was just a matter of some space on the berth for a few hours. I could not understand then that it had to do with the use of the word "guzara", and the attitude associated with it. But, now several decades later, having seen the continuous decline in the quality of the services and products all around, whether government or private, I have come to the conclusion that this word "guzara" has become the bane of our existence, it is a malaise that is afflicting our society and eating its foundations.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Why PhD is Difficult to Complete and Why there are so many ABDs and PhD Dropouts

Adding to what does it mean to be a PhD and PhD myths related to specialization and departmental scope of expertise, here are some more myths that often discourage many to pursue a PhD:
  1. Myth: PhD is hard because doing it is very technical and complex. 
  2. Myth: A PhD degree requires a lot of intelligence and smartness. Holders of PhD are at the top of the intelligence pyramid. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What does it Mean to Have a PhD: Myths of Specialization and Departmental Expertise

Following are the myths about the PhD degree that have created an aura of difficulty around the PhD degree that discourages many from undertaking the plunge.
  1. Myth: A PhD in your subject of specialization makes you the expert of the entire area i.e. department to which that subject specialization belongs. 
  2. Myth: PhDs are department specific specializations. Hence, a PhD faculty can only serve in the department of his specialization. [departmental turf wars].
It is interesting to note that these myths are also subscribed by academics of universities and even authorities dealing with higher education such as HEC and PEC in Pakistan.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

13 Myths of Schooling and Education: Resources

Myths of Schooling and Education: Resources

There are popular "Myths" about education and schools that have become a matter of unquestionable belief for a large section of population during the industrial age.

See Changing Education Paradigms by Ken Robinson

Many successful and great people have busted these myths through their own personal achievements, examples, research and successful implementations.

Think of a child who comes from school and says that he hates maths.

What do you think that the school has taught him?

Of course, the school taught him to "hate maths"!

It never taught him "maths", but actually taught him to "hate" maths.
[Adapted from John Holt in "How Children Learn"]

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Why Education and Why Higher Education: Leadership in Life and Society

Why Education and Why Higher Education: Leadership in Life and Society

1. What is the Purpose of Education

We grew up in schools where the day started with an assembly where everyone used to pray that the mission of our lives should be to become a source of light. We prayed for the capacity to light up the entire world, and through our knowledge and actions we should remove the darkness from the world, and should illuminate every place on this earth:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Psychiatrist vs Educationist-Selecting whom to consult: Psychiatrist, Neurologist, Psychologist, Educationist, "Aamil" (Exorcist), "Pir" or "Shaikh"

Selecting whom to consult: Psychiatrist, Neurologist, Psychologist, Educationist, "Aamil" (Exorcist), "Pir" or "Shaikh"

This post describes the roles various professionals such as psychiatrists, neurologists, psychologists, educationists and "aamils" (exorcist), "pirs" or "shaikhs" play during periods of tremendous stress. It also defines a process that needs to be followed when you are referred to anyone of them. Serious harm to your loved ones leading to drug dependency, permanent loss of mental physical health, and even death may occur if the distinction between the roles played by these professionals is not understood and the process described below is not followed.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Of Hanafi School of Marketing, Orientation of New Students and Dr Matin A Khan of IBA

As my experience of dealing with students continues to accumulate, and as I closely observe how priorities of students change from what they are during their university studies to what they are in their later careers, I appreciate more and more the criticality and the importance of the two advices given by Dr Matin A Khan in our orientation session at IBA Karachi in 1985. So much so that over the last ten years I have made it customary to emphasize these points in every orientation session for the new intake of students that I am now privileged to address as Dean.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

How West Teaches History (through Movies) and How We have Forgotten: A Nation that has No History, has no Future !

A nation that has no history, has no future! Our ignorance about our history, our culture, our sensibilities are astounding. Recent protests about Geo's morning show speaks volume about the "insensitivity" arising from this ignorance, especially the ignorance of the media people. A few minutes of listening to the FM channels would convince you that the DJs have no grounding in our history, culture or tradition. Their only claim to their DJ position is their ability to talk in the twisted American accent with the phraseology and sound bites typical of an American teenager. With these kinds of people now holding our airwaves, the future of Pakistan can only be viewed with pessimism. Not only the ignorance of these people appear to be astounding, it is equally disturbing to find students of the Political Science and International Relations of HEC's top ranked university in Pakistan who after having done two courses in Islamic History are unable to tell what/when was the "Abbasid" reign or who was Halaku Khan and when did he invade Baghdad!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Capitalist Transactions Replacing Traditions and Values from Istanbul to Makkah



Free Water Fountain on National Mall
Last month during transit for a few hours at the Istanbul airport on my way to Tblisi, Georgia, I was struck by the "transactional" nature of every interaction at the airport. I was surprised that there were no drinking water fountains available at one of the busiest airports of the world. I started wondering if US and European airports have also lost the free water fountains that must have been there some 25 years ago because I don't seem to recall buying bottled water on my travels then, or has the University of Texas at Austin also lost its free water fountains which used to be there when I was there around that time. Nor do I recall having to buy bottled water during my visit to so many museums and buildings around the National Mall in Washington DC, or in Manhattan. If they have not lost them there in the heart of the capitalist West, then why this loss at Istanbul airport? However, a week later I got the opportunity to contrast this with the hospitality in the mosques of the same Istanbul! I will be connecting the dots later in the post.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Why do our graduates want to leave the country? Curriculum's Relevance to Social Impact

Curriculum's Relevance to Social Impact: Why do our graduates want to leave the country?

Why do our elite schools derive their prestige from the fact that their graduates get immediate placements in Western countries? Why do our highest performers of our universities consider their destiny to leave this country and build their life in well settled countries such as USA or UK? Why the ranking and rating criteria of HEC is geared towards acceptability of our graduates and their research in West? Why is PEC so eager to get our graduates accepted worldwide through Washington accord?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Georgia - Lesson in Preserving Language, Religion and Culture

Skyline with Churches
The first thing that strikes one in Tbilisi, Georgia is the love Georgians have for their language and their history and their resilience in maintaining their religious and cultural identity despite centuries of rule by foreign powers: Sign boards and billboards are all in Georgian, schooling is predominantly in Georgian, daily interaction is in Georgian, books and magazines are in Georgian, cultural performances are in Georgian and of course there is this distinctive Georgian Orthodox Church with its visible presence in every nook and corner and over the skyline of the city. So unlike Pakistan, where one has the foreboding of an impending complete loss of language, culture and tradition due to a whole scale adoption of English by the ruling elites including the religious elites.  Here I would relate some of my observations and conversations in my trip to Georgia and would later contrast them with what we see in Pakistan, and would derive some lessons.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Truth about Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD/ADHD): Reasons and Revelations

Truth about Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD/ADHD): Reasons and Revelations

cchrint.org
There is an epidemic of name-calling by school teachers and psychologists who are freely labeling the children with Attention Deficit Disorders such as ADHD. The epidemic started in the US and other "developed" countries and has now spread to Pakistan thanks to some powerful Hollywood and Bollywood Movies. Clinical Psychology Department of GCU, Lahore, conducted a survey of school teachers which revealed that the teachers consider nearly 60 percent of the children as having ADHD [See References below]. I would be describing the reasons behind this epidemic and five recommendations later in the post, but first consider the following questions:

Overprotected Kids: Need for Risk Taking and Self Discovery

Overprotected Kids: Need for Risk Taking and Self Discovery

Risk taking used to be part of the every day growing up experience of every child. With our over-protection and over-carefulness we are throttling the innovation, creativity and liveliness of our children. Risk taking and suspense used to make kids mentally strong and develop an ability to work under stress and pressure. Exploring new places, new situations that were often fraught with danger, were actually a preparation to cope with the uncertainties in life. This may very well be one of the reason of the psychological issues confronting many kids and youths today.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Plight of Sugarcane Growers: The Economic Costs of Regulatory Barriers for Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs


During the winter holidays, often extending from mid of December to mid of January, I often drive to Islamabad and back. The biggest nuisance on the National Highway as you pass through the upper Sind and lower Punjab are the miles and miles of queued tractor trolleys with over loaded sugarcane. The sugarcane is loaded in a manner that it extends on both sides of the trolley, doubling the width of the trolley and also increasing its height to an extent that the whole contraption is precariously balanced and is prone to overturning at the slightest pretext. It also becomes a major hazard by occupying most part of the two lanes of the road. The trolley now provides no rear visibility to the driver for traffic coming from behind, and providing no clue to the rear traffic of what lies ahead. On top of it, the drivers can't hear the horns or anything as their loudspeakers blare music at the top of the volume jarring the hearing.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Of Achars, Chutneys and Halwas: A Lifestyle Getting Lost Through Branding and Mass Production

Mangoe Flowers: Bur
Yesterday I heard the Koel's cu-ckoo and I could hear my nani jan (grandmother) calling from the past saying that this is spring time. There is now "bur" (small flowers) on the mango trees. "Remember Irfan, you need to go to the market to get the kai-rees (unripe mangoes)". Planning for the annual ritual of preparing the mango "achar" would then be underway.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Secret of Happiness: One Simple Rule

I was taught a very important rule about the secret of happiness and its relationship with expectations, the hard way, by my mother when I had returned back in 1995 from USA after having been there for over seven years. The lesson threw me on the ground, flat, and got the steam out of me. Bear with me as I connect the dots below.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

How Language Acquisition is Made Difficult for Children: Eight Lessons from an Urdu Acquisition Case Study

How Language Acquisition is Made Difficult for Children: Eight Lessons from an Urdu Acquisition Case Study

[The later part of this post would derive the lessons that I learned from my experience of how I learned Urdu which is described first. These lessons address the problems that our faulty methodologies are creating today in language acquisition especially in teaching of Urdu. The lessons are general and apply to other languages also as highlighted by references to well established and well known research. ]

The first Urdu Book I remember reading around 1966-67 was I think Urdu ki pehli kitab[?]I must have been around five or six years old at that time. Those were the days when the madness of imprisoning two and three year olds in the pre-school had not begun. (It is madness because nowhere in the developed world any educationist recommends this except schools in Pakistan run by administrators not academics.) I had by then must have gone through the Noorani Quaida. Anyhow, I distinctly remember a few lines from the very first page of that pehli kitab. Surprisingly many others who had started their Urdu from this book also do so. The first page had some very simple rhyming sentences with very short "meaningful" words such as:

Monday, February 24, 2014

Of Jungles, Streams, Berries and Wild Pink Flowers: Costs of Commercialization of Islamabad

Of Jungles, Streams, Berries and Wild Pink Flowers: Fragrant Memories of Islamabad that Was

This December I was in Islamabad. Going through the town brought a pang in my heart as memories of 40-45 years ago came flooding down. Those were the times when kids like us had immense open spaces with wild growth to explore and experience the nature. We used to call such places jungles as there were bushes, shrubs, trees, gorges, creeks, tall grass and all sorts of vegetation, where sighting of snakes, giant lizards, and jackals was common with occasional reports of sightings of even leopards and wild boars. For us that used to be a wonderland where we would go out for wild berries, swimming in the clear natural springs, and trying to relive Tarzan climbing the trees, jumping from one sheesham tree to another and roaming the jungles with bows and arrows like Robin Hood and Little John fighting the obnoxious sheriff of Nottingham.