Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pecha Kucha Night – Mumbai

A few nights ago, we attended a program in a very different format. It was called a Pecha Kucha Night (PKN). I hadn’t known of its existence until I saw a poster for it in Mumbai’s JnanaPravaha.

Pecha-Kucha originated in 2003 in Dytham-Klein, an architecture firm in Tokyo. It is now run in over 200 cities. The goal is to provide a forum for architects, artists, photographers and even academics to showcase their work and ideas in a rapid-fire mode. The format mentioned in the poster is what caught my eye – people had to present 20 slides with 20-seconds-per-slide.

We went not knowing what to expect. The auditorium was absolutely packed, with people standing at the back and also sitting on the floor. The Mumbai version had a big architecture focus -- 5 of the 8 presentation related to architecture. The other presentations that night were by an aspiring musician/singer, and one by an artist-videographer and one with ideas for more effective management & leadership.

The creativity of the presenters was very impressive. The first presentation was about lighting the entryway to the Paddington Station in London, on how many factors go into making sure that there is a smooth transition of lighting from outside to inside. The next presentation was a very rapid survey of “Mud architecture” – featuring a few very impressive constructions in Mali and Yemen.

One entire presentation was in the form of movie characters speaking through cartoon bubbles – illustrating the idiosyncrasies of people who build a house presented from an architect’s point of view.

One person used his 20 slides in a presentation titled “7 Colors” in which he proposed several principles to make Management in general more effective.

An architecture professor bemoaned the state of their discipline, using data, humor and sarcasm in his 20 slides titled “A2F.” An architecture student presented a call to action from his fellow students by presenting work that he had done in South Africa. His 20 slides hinged on the premise that one person can make a difference.

I particularly liked the fact that in this format all 20 (PowerPoint) slides were set to auto-transition after 20 seconds each. Once the SlideShow started, this ensured that in 400 seconds, the entire show would get over. There was no going back to elaborate on any slide. Some participants struggled to keep up, but the time limit forced them to keep going. (I now wish that more of my work/business presentations had this sort of a time control imposed on them. We have all attended too many conferences where the earlier presenters consume way more than their allotted time, belaboring points.)

Overall, I was very impressed Pecha Kucha –in terms of the scope and breadth of its content, and especially the format. I will make it a point to see if I can catch Pecha Kucha Nights in other cities.

To find one near you, check out

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nobel Economics committee can't go wrong

Economist Alex Tabarrok has identified an interesting situation and points it out. Even as opinions are divided on the Nobel Peace Prize committee’s decision this year, Prof. Tabarrok says that the Nobel Economics Prize committee can't go wrong this year.

We need to know a couple of things before we can appreciate why he is saying that.

In the betting market for the Economics Nobel prize this year, Eugene Fama is the leading candidate. He has the best odds.

Fama is best known for his Efficient Market Theory (EMT) which might be Nobel-worthy. To oversimplify, EMT states that markets are always "informationally efficient" and all known facts are instantly factored into the price of an equity/entity.

So here’s why this year’s Nobel committee’s decision will be self-fulfilling. Let’s say that they do give it to Fama. Then he deserved it because even the betting markets demonstrate an instance of EMT at work. All is well.

Let’s say they give it to someone else. Then the betting markets were wrong, and the EMT didn’t hold true at least in this one instance. (The odds for the eventual winner should have been better in a very efficient market.) The prize shouldn’t be given to the theory since the EMT doesn't always hold. (Aside: Many are now arguing that EMT doesn’t always hold true.)

Therefore, either way the Nobel committee can’t go wrong this year.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Another Day in the Frontal Lobe

Katrina Firlik, a brain surgeon has written a book about her profession, aimed at the lay person. It is a very easy read and I can’t recommend it enough. Books such as these are the closest that most of us will ever get to understanding a neurosurgeon’s life and thinking.

Dr. is smart, witty, has a very wry sense of humor and is disarmingly down to earth.

Dr. Firlik could have assumed one of several tones as the author: she could have come across as authoritative (“I am a brain surgeon, and you’re not”) or been didactic, or she could have taken a chummy tone. She doesn’t do any of this. With a well poised sense of balance, she comes across as a very capable and smart person, who is confident enough about sharing her vulnerabilities when warranted. She is able to convey the complexities involved in decision-making around different procedures regarding the brain, showing us that there are no black-and-white solutions

The book is structured to roughly parallel her life, taking us along as she chooses neurosurgery, goes through the seven years of residency and becomes a full-fledged practicing surgeon. There are numerous real-life anecdotes –funny ones as well as heart-rending ones.

I found Dr. Firlik’s way of giving advice, with a very light touch to be really effective. She has many examples of how huge personal catastrophes (and lives) could have been saved simply by the use of a helmet or a seat-belt. She is also not above adding “Nice” after a horrifying 2am drunk driving, no seat-belt disaster. I wish some of my college friends who still smoke would read this book. She casually mentions the havoc that the smoking habit unleashes on the brain in later years.

From time to time, she shares with us some of the black humor that the doctors, residents and nurses resort to about the patients. Dr. Firlik manages to pull these off, without ever giving the impression that any of the doctors are being callous. It is simply a coping mechanism for those who work long hours in grim circumstances.

There is a great line in the book which I know I will be quoting soon. When patients ask “Why me?” one of Dr. Firlik’s mentors says, “There are three possibilities. It could be bad genes, bad habits or just bad luck.”

I am very glad that I took the time to get hold of the book and read it. For those of you who just don’t have the time, I’d still recommend that you borrow the book from your local library and at least read the chapters titled ‘Scientist and Mechanic,’ ‘Traces of Thought,’ and the final chapter ‘Brainlifts,’ in which she speculates about what the future in her profession holds for enhancing brain and memory power.

Every profession should be fortunate enough to have someone write about it in an accessible and smart manner. For neurosurgery, it is Katrina Firlik. Don’t miss this book.

A Few Random Excerpts from the book that I jotted down: [On the fact that 15,000 people are affected every year] In short, a brain tumor is the fault of no person or thing. As with a deadly hurricane, nature is often both powerful and indifferent.

[Lesson learned as a junior resident] A lesson learned early on is that a sin of commission is better than a sin of omission. Better to do too much than too little. If you appear weak or indecisive, people will walk all over you.

[On why doctors are forced to be extremely cautious about possible litigation] At $106,000 per year, my malpractice premium is already high enough.

[One preventative idea] An idea I’ve had off and on during late-night treks to the ER. Everyone past a certain age – it’s hard to be exact here and I’m not being ageist, really – should consider sleeping on a traditional Japanese-style futon, the real kind, frameless, right on the floor. I can’t tell you how many ER visits for injuries to fragile parts – heads, necks, backs, limbs – could be prevented if simple falls out of bed were curtailed.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Taking Time Out

In my dozen years of living in Chicago, I didn’t pay much attention to Time Out magazine. That, I think was a mistake. I would see copies lying around, but with full time work and staying in the suburbs it was difficult to carve out time for the myriad activities that Chicago had to offer.

Here in India, I am finding the magazine extremely useful. It comes out in 3 cities – Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai. Each issue contains a long list of cultural and entertainment events for 15 days - Short films, documentary screenings, art presentations, open-air concerts and book launches with author talks.

If you live in a metro anywhere in the world, and are interested in attending these types events, subscribing makes sense. Most can also be found in their website.