Monthly Archives: August 2012

Free Books

Writer, Cristian Mihai, is giving away “Free Stuff” for download, for a few days this month and gives freebies once every month!

Cristian visited my blog earlier this month and I was delighted to discover his – it has great blog content on books and writing.

I have downloaded “Jazz” and “A Sad, Sad Symphony” and am looking forward to getting started.

Blogging – An Experiment

Musing

Blogging, for me, started three and a half weeks ago, with a steep learning curve and not having a clue what it was about. I have seen many blogs since, with different styles – some for business and very professional, some for serious hobby enthusiasts, many for leisure (travel, books, humour) and some for sharing of personal thoughts and experiences.

For now, my blog is still an experiment. I have many interests (books, business, risk, science, travel) and have been penning my thoughts and experiences in the different categores.

The best part of the experience so far has been the journey to other blogs, in fact, some amazing blogs! Writers, book-lovers, philosophers, psychologists and business people have visited my blog, liked my posts, commented or decided to follow me; then I have discovered their fabulous blogs, with a wealth of good writing, tips and knowledge.

I feel I have discovered friends with common interests in this process and am privileged to be growing through visiting all these blogs. Thank you, bloggers!

Book Review: Euphamania – by Ralph Keyes

Euphamania – by Ralph Keyes

Everyone gets something different out of a book. The opinions here are mine only.

This is an infomative and entertaning book. It is well researched and witty at the same time, so makes an enjoyable read.

From taboo subjects to business, food, drink and politics, our language is filled with euphamisms. Different euphamisms fall in and out of fashion over time. Just think about the number of euphamisms for “telling lies” to avoid our discomfort at referring to someone as a liar. In Chrchill’s time there were “terminological inexactitudes”. We “massage the truth”, we “sweeten the truth”, we “tell the truth improved” and we “pretend”. We have also seen people “misspeak”, “make bad choices” and “exercise poor judgement”. Bernard Madoff apologised for his “error of judgement”. Richard Nixon was often “in denial”.

There are probably more stories about the history of euphamisms than in this 250 page account, but it captures the essence of how euphamisms emerge and evolve and is great for someone reading about the subject for pleasure. Above all, it is hilarious in places and great fun to read.

Round and Round We Go…

The news over the last couple of days seems to have been dominated by Lance Armstrong being charged with doping and losing his titles, as happened famously with Ben Johnson some time back. “Athletes will try almost anything to beat doping tests“: – this article describes how athletes are ahead of the game and anti-doping agencies play a never-ending catch-up game. (The biological passport, which profiles athletes over time is said to be a big step forward, but nevertheless, one wonders if that too can be outsmarted over time.)

There is a parallel here with the various banking crises and corporate scandals we have witnessed in recent years. These players were ahead of the regulators. So, there we go – a scandal or crisis happens, the next thing we know, the industries get burdened with more regulations (even for the many who commited no wrong and would be quite well in control without these regulations); down the road then, yet more creative ways are found by some to outwit the systems and round and round we go…

There is the good, bad and ugly in sports as there is in business. The bad and ugly must not be allowed to over-burden the systems and let’s hope the good prevails over time.

Book Review: Redirect – by Timothy Wilson

Redirect – by Timothy Wilson

Everyone gets something different out of a book. The opinions here are mine only.

The basic premise of the book is that many techniques prescibed in self-help books and programmes rolled out to address social problems lack proper scientific validation and have not worked. Many such programmes (e.g. to reduce prejudice, alcohol and drug abuse, close the achievement gap) have been implemented without rigorous testing, therefore have wasted billions of dollars and have not worked. Timothy Wilson criticises the use of testimonials by those who advocate such techniques as biased, and recommends strict scientific methods, with control groups etc. to test techniques used for social problems just as is done in medicine (because common sense arguments, although appealing, often lead to wrong conclusions).

Wilson advocates a a number of tested techniques (such as “story-editing” or redirecting the internal narrative, labelling kids’ behaviour appropriately, distancing and writing for trauma victims and other techniques) instead, to effectively deal with these problems.

I like the rigour Wilson requires and applies to the testing of the techniques to achieve objectivity, as opposed to using glowing testimonials, which are possibly biased. However, Wilson himself states that it is unclear whether applying these laboratory tested techniques in the real world will achieve the same results – there are too many complexities; however, at least it is a step in the right direction.

Psychopaths: Beware, They Really Do Look Normal

It wasn’t my intention in this blog to talk about crime, but everything is interlinked somehow, and I hope it will be helpful.

In one of my previous posts, The Garden City Butcher, I remarked about how stunned I was that the criminal seemed so normal, polite, and friendly. Yesterday, I watched another documentary on the “Crime Investigation” channel, about the high profile case in Malaysia of the murder of Canny Ong, a young lady (with a black belt in taekwando). Canny Ong was abducted from the car park of a (relatively upmarket) shopping complex in Kuala Lumpur. Again here, the criminal looked like a perfectly normal, innocent, simple guy. Apologies if it is a known fact that this is indeed the case in general, but I had not been aware of this before. I expect there are many others out there who, like me, somehow imagined that criminals have a suspicious look and demeanour about them and can be avoided with some common sense. It really is not that simple. More general reading on the subject can be found in the article “The Psychopath: The Mask of Sanity“.

I didn’t find the hour-long documentary on the internet but found a preview of that TV dcoumentary, called “The Murder of Canny Ong premiers on CI“. The criminal can be seen from about 1’30” to 1’40” in this preview video. The documentary has been created to raise public awareness and I hope it does.

Is Society Promoting Psycopaths?

I watched a fascinating clip on Tonic TV yesterday on the studies of brains of people with psychopathic tendencies. Apparently, the tendency is found in people with a deficiency in the amygdala (the part of the brain playing a key part in processing emotions) – a deficiency that causes these people to have no qualms about being immoral or unethical and hurting others in the process.  I couldn’t locate the clip on the website but found some other fascinating articles on the subject, one in Expats Post. I recommend reading this.

To sum it up, the psycopaths who end up in prison are at the extreme end of the spectrum but many other psycopaths walk among us. Their characteristcs? They con, swindle, manipulate, control and cause emotional and psychological damage to others and wait – here’s the surprising element – their personalities are often charming, witty, confident, outgoing and disarming. This, only to use others to their advantage, then discard them later. The “Expats Post” article goes on to say that society often rewards such people with a “win at all costs, get the job done” attitude e.g. in corporations, politics, Big Banks etc.

I am impressed with the progress in brain science. Perhaps some day brain scans will be added to the repertoire of tools to more accurately profile and fit people for roles, reducing the dependence on psychometric profiling, assessment by other people (possibly psychopaths themselves) and popular votes.

“eYamakan” i-Phone and i-Pad app for Navigation

Google MapsTrying to easily navigate to “The Symphony Stage” in the Botanical Gardens for a concert? Or a favourite area on a mountain trek? There are no street addresses for such places, so “Get Directions” on Google Maps becomes a little tricky. To the rescue is “eYamakan“, an enhancement which allows the user to drop a pin on the map location, following which eYamakan will assign a unique ID to the location. The unique ID can be saved, recalled and shared with friends, whenever required, for hassle-free navigation to that spot. eYamakan has a voice feature too.

i-Phone and i-Pad apps are aplenty these days. So, why is eYamakan special? The idea was mooted by two classmates at INSEAD, from countries far apart – the United Arab Emirates and Italy, in an idea generation session in class – and now it has come alive – so is an inspiration to the rest of us to put our entrepreneurial minds to work! Ruffled by difficulties in navigating through places with unstructured address systems or with foreign sign posts, our two classmates came up with a blueprint for this helpful (free) app.

The name eYamakan is inspired by the Arabic word “yamakan”. It is a word used as part of the opening of many classic stories, beginning with “once upon a time” or “once upon some place”, hence is associated here, in eYamakan, with the identification of a place.

The Neuroscience of Risk Taking

It is good to hear that research is ongoing on the link between brain chemistry, biology and genes on risk taking behaviour (see “The American Banker”, 18 August 2012). I have often wondered why courses on risk management discuss models, complex mathematics, markets, operations etc. at length but stay silent on the topic of what, in an individual’s chemical make-up,  triggers extreme risk-taking behaviour and how to address this. (Surely this has to be among the most obvious and directly related of factors.) Perhaps the science has not been sufficiently developed to be made useful in practice – we hope some time in the future it will be.

In “The Hour Between Dog and Wolf” – by John Coates, reference is made to the question asked, “why do bankers (traders) take such stupid risks?”, and the reply was along the following lines – “we get a thrill from risk….a hot streak releases a chemical high….this is where the Master of the Universe feeling sets in. It’s euphoria”. It is quite the opposite of euphoria for those who suffer the widespread consequences when things don’t go so well. One suggeston put forward there is for more ‘biological diversity’ among traders – something we hope the ongoing research will help ascertain the benefits of. As alluded to in the ‘American Banker’ article, appropriate compensation design is also critical, to curb extreme risk taking for short term results.

Crimewatch – The Garden City Butcher

Youtube Video (PG, Graphic Scenes): The Garden City Butcher

The TV happened to be switched on at the Crimewatch channel a few days ago and I happened to watch this (true story). It is about a criminal in the mid-nineties whose modus operandi was to befriend unsuspecting tourists and find a way into their rooms (e.g. by sharing a room or agreeing to go to breakfast together). Once in, he used an electric shocking device to put out his victims, killed them, then doctored their passports and credit cards to get their money.

What stunned me in particular was how completely normal, friendly and charming this criminal seemed when chatting with tourists. Watch from 18’10” to 18’50” and from 28’42” to 29’34” in the video (continue watching if you want to see what happened next, but please be warned, it is gruesome). Disturbingly, I am pretty sure every single iota of ‘gut feel’ that has been honed in me in my almost half a century of existence and every bit of cellular intelligence in me would not have raised a single alarm bell if this person had started a conversation with me. How often have we chatted with passengers in a flight or people waiting to board an airplane and used our senses to decide whether to talk more, meet again or become friends – everybody does it!

I am still flabbergasted and dumbfounded, a few days after watching this. These victims were really, really unlucky and perhaps all that can be said (lame as it sounds in this context) is, let’s not be charmed too quickly when talking to any stranger. Also, given the criminal’s history of having been to prison many times, perhaps it would have been helpful if the authorities could have put some sort of ‘watch’ on him and not let him travel so freely. I wonder if police and detectives are sufficiently resourced to do this?