Friday, May 29, 2009

Book Review - The Ascent of Money

The Ascent of Money, A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson: An interesting historical perspective of money, its origin to present, how it shaped civilizations, how it financed wars and all its ups and downs. It is amazing how the author has mixed world history with finance and presented the dynamics of moneyless societies and money oriented societies with cash, banks, bonds, stocks and how we continue to evolve.The mix gives us plenty of interesting anecdotes and tidbits of history. I was surprised to note that Fibonacci, famous for the series named after him didn't quite discover the series first - there was a previous mention of the series by Pingala in an older Sanskrit book. As well, Fibonacci made other important contributions that we hardly recognize him for. Then, there is mention of a Persian tablet, societies like Inca that had no concept of money or value for gold, and the South American tribe that lived on monkeys (truly monkey food!) and came into contact with civilization just 5 years back, Italian loan sharks that inspired Shylock character in "The Merchant of Venice", East India company and Dutch finance controller, US civil war and New Orleans immigration & Katrina insurance woes in North America and so on! There is lot of bad news from history, but the author also explains the importance of money and loan/debt markets as necessary instruments without which lot many things may not have been possible for our evolution into a civilized society - the moneyless societies only cared about food and fertile women!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Doctor Joke

I went to the doctor last week and had a rendezvous I thought was funny. My ears were bothering me after hearing my children screaming on top of their voices.

Doctor: (Taking a peek in my ear) Your ear drum and outer canal look OK. But it is possible there is pressure imbalance in your Eustachian tube. E-U-S-T-A... I forget if it is C or T...
Me: Never mind doctor. I only know about You Tube!
Doctor: Yeah. E-Tube! (I figured he wasn't on
the Internet often!) Usually it is self correcting and the problem will go away in a few days. Have you had a cold?
Me: No. But, I have some allergy, but I don't think that caused any problems.
Doctor: OK, the allergy can cause the ear problem. Let me give you this nasal spray prescription. That should help.

I thought that was weird - I come for an ear problem and get prescribed a nose medicine! Turned out, the nasal spray did help the ear!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Book Review - Tough Choices - Carly Fiorna

Tough Choices By Carly Fiorna: Great autobiography of Carly Fiorna, the former CEO of HP. This is a must-read for B-school students. While aspiring B-school women could get more reading this book, I think aspiring men are plenty well served too. Carly explains how her parents ambitions primarily drove her excellence and decisions in early lfie, and how she transitioned to making her own decisions when she dropped out of law school. She explains her career progression at AT&T, which shows all the typical large company dynamics how leadership, influencing, strategy and execution works in such places, despite being slow, political and filled with frustrations. B-school students who might start dealing with senior management are well served by reading through her vivid experience and candor dealing with the multitude of what I'd call testosterone packs. She is candid about when she cried, when she was nervous and afraid, when she put her foot down, how she judged people and positioned herself over many different situations, all of which will be immensely useful for the folks who will go through the same in their career, to compare and learn from someone who has been before in such shoes. Of course, she also explains her perspective of what happened at HP - what again stands out is her candor in allowing the board to state she was fired, as well that she hasn't played her gender card through her career to her advantage or disadvantage. Rather than her media stereotype of a glamorous, stubborn, woman CEO, she comes out as a very capable, intelligent, balanced leader and role model.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Book Review - Stop Walking on Eggshells

Stop Walking on Eggshells by Paul Mason & Randi Kreger: If you were ever wondering, "what is the matter with him/her" - be it an overbearing mom, childish wife, irrational husband, or ever depressed child, this is THE BOOK to read. In my view, this is the ultimate book that can help anyone going through emotional turbulence in relationships understand what is really going on, and what can be done about it - whether it is husband-wife, parent-child or other loved ones. It explains potential Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) behaviors with plenty of examples that anyone going through similar experience can quickly identify and relate. Once that is understood, further reading helps how to deal or cope with it, how one can react differently, how to get treatment or support, all of which will be extremely useful to someone in such relationships, or to advise someone who might be in such a relationship. This book needs to be translated in all languages, the concept should be taught at some level in school or college so more people in all walks of life become aware and can act or react sensibly, de-criminalize what could be attributed to such behavior, and create win-win resolutions for civil disputes. For example, judges in many countries still favor the mother for child custody, without an awareness to examine potential BPD behavior - such decisions routinely affects children, who might grow up into a stressed out adult, and the saga continues.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Book Review - Socrates

Socrates Ancient Greek in search of Truth - Pamela Dell: I picked this book in the library, since it looked like an quick and easy read of what could otherwise be intense philosophical stuff. And, I was very pleased. Pamela has done a great job relating 400BC system of government and practices to current terminology of democracy, courts, jury etc, so it becomes easy to appreciate history. I learned something interesting - when Socrates' father died, by law he became his mom's guardian, and she could marry only if he permitted. As well, she must marry if he demanded so! I wrote in my other blogs comparing laws on how societies or governments don't want to pick up the tab for a non-earning spouse or aged parents and instead pass laws to pass the buck - this was yet another example how society dealt with a hot potato no income individual. Any case, Socrates was a wise man, who debated well by asking good questions and positioning truth at all times, but even back in 400BC just as we see today in many parts of the world, the larger society is not always willing to go by what would be rational. For example, public officials in Athens were appointed by a draw of lots, without regard to their qualifications; Socrates questions this practice citing just as we wouldn't hire a carpenter that isn't qualified, we shouldn't appoint someone to public office without relevant qualification. Ultimately, he is convicted on charges of spoiling young minds and is sentenced to drink poison - interestingly by a jury vote 361-140. Socrates was given the option to go in exile - instead of taking it, he misjudged wisdom would prevail! Key learning, we should realize the system around us was, is, and will be driven by emotions, politics, human nature, and plenty other factors, more than just wisdom - back then and now, being wise doesn't imply being smart or savvy.