Genghis Khan and the Modern World


After watching the movie Mongol, I came across the Book ‘Genghis Khan and the modern world‘ written by Jack Weatherford.   Based on Dr. Manmohan Singh’s review, I purchased the audio book and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The Author has done an extensive research traveling to several places conquered by Mongols and presents his findings as a non-fiction book.

Genghis Khan has been mostly portrayed as a barbaric military commander who lusted for blood, women and gold.  Reading through this book, I developed a sense of admiration for this historic figure and the contribution of Mongols to the world at large.  History has always been marked by propaganda and influenced by various cultural opinions.  In my opinion, this book presents a balanced approach of Mongols achievement and the evils of their conquest.  One should read this book without any prejudice irrespective of their cultural and socio-ethnic background.  In this article, I present mostly the positive side of Mongol conquest.

Temüjin or Genghis Khan was born in an era where  murder, kidnapping, plundering, enslavement, acts of revenge ruled every walks of Steppe Life.  Nomadic clans established confederations and fought against each other.  Around 9 years old, he got engaged to his future wife Börte and while returning home an enemy tribe poisoned his father Yesügei .  He escaped from them and returned home safe to claim his father’s title as the next ‘Khan’ (King) of the tribe.   Since, he was very young they failed to recognize him as their leader and the tribe abandoned his family too.  His mother Hoelun raised the children amidst abject poverty in a small ger (house), surviving primarily on wild fruits and small game hunts.  Later, another tribe enslaved him during a raid and he managed to escape during night with the help of a good-natured old man.  He met Jamuka a person little older to him who offered him food and shelter.  They became Anda‘s or sworn brothers (not through blood relation) who later helped him to rescue his wife Börte after the Merkit tribe kidnapped her.  Also, Jamuka became one of the sworn enemy of Genghis Khan himself at a later stage.  One escape after another, everyday became a life of survival for Genghis Khan and at the same time his fame spread across the steppe lands.  Soon, one after another he united the nomadic tribes under his charismatic leadership.

He practiced ‘Shamanism’, drew his spiritual inspiration and guidance from the mountain ‘Burkhan Khaldun ‘ and the ‘Eternal blue sky’ that guided every walks of Mongolian life.  He abolished the aristocratic society and established a meritocratic society based on merit, achievement and loyalty to his kingdom.  Unlike other rulers of his time, who considered themselves above all law, he bound himself to his own laws and made decisions in agreement with Kurultai - a political and military council.

Genghis Khan established the world’s most powerful army and has perfected siege warfare.   He could be aptly described as the ‘destroyer of cities than destroyer of people’, even though the number of people killed during his regime outnumbered the Nazi German rule.   Mongols nomadic way of life helped them to travel with less logistics for longer distances on horse backs, with less food and water under harsh climatic conditions of the Gobi desert and the cold regions of Siberia for a lengthy period.  Their small army moved with such discipline and great precision that they could easily overthrow armies several times their own size.  The German word ‘Blitzkrieg’ aptly applies to their method of warfare.   They preferred diplomatic peace over warfare and when it failed (when enemy kings tortured and killed their ambassadors) they ruthlessly uprooted their enemies.  Unlike  many kings who practiced various forms of torture (burning alive, catapulting people across enemy fortresses, mutilating captured prisoners), Mongols practiced instant killing, never tortured people or held enemy hostages.   They were masters of deception and had surprise attacks on the enemy kingdom.  They spread propaganda about themselves to terrorize people and invoke more fear among the conquered subjects.  Once they conquered a city, they offered peace treaties to their subjects.  Those who accepted peace were well protected and even considered as part of their own tribe.  Genghis khan made sure to protect the widows and young children of his own tribe and that of the conquered kingdoms.  Then he ordered systematic plundering of the city particularly the aristocrats whom he considered as evil people who hoarded wealth.  He then distributed the loot among his men based on their ranks, contribution and achievement during the war and he led a simple life.

Mongols were more like bees who sucked the nectar out of flowers and spread the pollens from place to place.   He cross-pollinated the civilizations which were unknown to each other before his conquest.  He quickly assimilated the wealth of knowledge and technology of the conquered kingdoms into his own arsenal.  Every person who had the skill from the craftsman, tanner, artisans, doctors, engineers found new ways of expression.  Chinese engineers built advanced catapults and other light artillery which were transported on horse wagons that could be readily assembled or disassembled.   Walls no longer protected kingdoms which were blown away by the gun powder and heavy shells.  Mongols were nomadic herders who lacked formal education, unlike their Muslim subjects whose common men could read/write well.  Genghis khan made best use of them by establishing schools and promoting education on a wider scale to a common man, which was a distant dream for the Western society of that time.  Paper from China was heavily used by Muslim scholars to produce great literary works and countless  books were written on medicine, surgery, astronomy etc.  The Power of Church over State prevailed in the European countries and persecution of other religious sects continued at large-scale.  However, Genghis khan practiced Religious tolerance and only demanded absolute loyalty towards him from his subjects.  He introduced carrots and many other crop varieties to the Chinese and Chinese tea to the Europeans.  Mongols have almost conquered 30 countries in the modern-day world to little more than the size of Africa with just 100,000 soldiers that could be fitted in a football stadium.  He established an International law governing his citizens under the rule of ‘One Great Khan’.

He promoted free flow of trade and commerce among his conquered nations even during times of war and he popularized the silk route.  He established a decent ‘Postal system’ that fostered speedy communication among his conquered nations.  His conquest mostly ended where the grasslands ended.  Unlike China and Middle Eastern kingdoms, he did not find enough wealth among the Europeans.  Europeans considered Mongols as devils who destroyed their civilized way of life and escaped out of sight into clouds of dust.  Nonetheless, Europe drank the innovation of the Mongols that flourished later in Europe during the Renaissance period.  Mongols introduced different Silk and Satin cloths , wide varieties of ornaments, Compass and other Maritime equipment and Printing technology to the Westerners.  Though the Westerners could brush aside Mongoloid race as yellow peril and justify their later conquest of the world to suppress the barbaric tyrants evolved from Mongols (Shah, Amirs, Khan, Moghuls (Persian for Mongols), Tartars etc…), they should acknowledge the good things brought by the Mongols to them.

Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan whose court was visited by the explorer ‘Marco Polo’  established the ‘Yuan dynasty’ by unifying South China with the North East Manchurian kingdoms.  Unlike his grandfather who is known for his military genius, Kublai Khan is a great diplomat who relied on propaganda, behaving more like Chinese and assimilated their culture in every walks of his life.  However, he lived a Mongol life within the forbidden city.  During his reign, he sent several Armada ships to conquer island nations like Japan and some South-east Asian countries.  He established several committees to promote Scientific Farming, Universal Education to all his citizens and ordered for Census on a larger scale to understand the demands of his subjects.  He even tried to come up with an Universal Alphabetic system to co-ordinate the activities of his kingdom which was widely dispersed across many geographical areas.  He introduced Paper money and established a Standard system of weights that eased exchange of goods and promoted trade.

In essence, in the words of Jawaharlal Nehru (First Prime Minister of India)

It would be foolish not to recognize the greatness of Europe.  But it would be equally foolish to forget the greatness of Asia … The Mongols were nomads, hating cities and the ways of cities.  Many people think that because they were nomads they must have been barbarians.  But this is a mistaken idea.  They did not know, of course, many of the city arts, but they had developed a way of life of their own and had an intricate organization.  If they won great victories on the field of battle, it was not because of their numbers, but because of their discipline and organization.  And above all it was due to the brilliant captainship of Chengiz.  For Chengiz is, without doubt, the greatest military genius and leader in history.  Alexander and Caesar seem petty before him.  Chengiz was not only himself a great commander, but he trained many of his generals and made them brilliant leaders.  Thousands of miles away from their homelands, surrounded by enemies and a hostile population, they carried on victorious warfare against superior numbers.

Reduce-Reuse-Recycle


Reduce-Reuse-Recycle Thumbnail for version as of 18:31, 7 December 2008

I read a quote few days back:

You work in a job you hate, to buy things that you don’t need, to impress people whom you don’t like

I recently attended “Houston Recycling” presentation at Schlumberger and thought of sharing a few things about recycling.

Recycling 101

Reduce

Reduce means to prevent waste at the source.  Buy only those things that you need and use it up.

Reuse

Finding a second (or third, or hundredth..) use for a product to extend its life.  Buy or sell second-hand items with Craigslist, Ebay etc.

Recycle

Taking a product at the end of its useful life and using all or part of it to make another product.

Why Recycle?

Story of Stuff

We need to ask ourselves two questions:

1) Where the stuff come from?

2) Where the stuff goes to?

Here is the story of the stuff

Reducing Consumption

Like other species on Earth, humans too derive materials to produce and later consume from their environment.  We must remember that, Nature has and will survive any environmental disaster; humans won’t.  We, the mighty ones will get recycled to new species.  Humans have greater impact on the environment compared to other species, which could be given by a simple equation

Human Impact = Population X Affluence X Technology

  • Population is growing at an alarming exponential rate.  We need to fix this somehow. ↑
  • Affluence represents the average consumption of each person in the population.  It is related to GDP/capita which is increasing over the few centuries for many nations. ↑
  • Technology represents how resource intensive the production of affluence is; Technology driven by innovation produces many efficient products in certain areas (so we are doing good) ↓

Currently, the product of P and A outweighs T.  In order to cut the impact on the Environment, we need to work on controlling the population and reducing our consumption.

Unlike population control measures, consumption is something that we could control on a day-to-day basis.

Before making a buying decision, we must find out our Needs and Wants.  Needs are something that we want to have, something we can’t do without.  Wants however, are something we would like to have and stars won’t fall on earth, if we don’t have them.   Economists consider ‘Needs’ as something essential for survival – food, clothing, shelter etc.  Nonetheless, we don’t live just for survival but to have a better everyday life experience.   If you are a music lover and would like to own a ‘Apple Ipod’; buy it, if you could afford it.  In my opinion, instead of compromising on your music hearing experience by purchasing a low quality music player, getting an IPod could be considered a ‘Need’ rather than a ‘Want’.    If you could not afford it now, save and buy later.   Buy things that you consider essential for your everyday life and which are of good quality, but keep it to the least.  I understand that people need two/three pairs of good quality shoes, but whether someone really need or want a wardrobe full of shoes?

Free is always a mesmerizing word and can easily fool you into the trap of accumulating things.  Also, people tend to buy things that they don’t need simply stating – ‘Are you Stupid? Can’t you see that the product came with a very good deal‘.  More than the buyer of a product, a seller attaches more value to the product that they own.  Sometimes, they don’t find a market to sell things at the price they want.  So, people find it difficult to let go off their old cars (for instance), even though it is gas guzzling and running under high maintenance.

Certain thing are external to us, but you can control.  For instance, I opted out from lot of pre-approved credit card offers, yellow page stuff , paper bills.  I don’t need them anyway.  I don’t wish to spend time processing them and putting them in trash.

Reusing Stuff

If we can’t resist the temptation of consumption, we have to find TIME to keep things organized.   HOUSEKEEPING becomes essential to keep up things in order and to remove clutter.

Anyhow, One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  Identify things that you don’t need, but might be useful to someone else.  You can give stuff to Goodwill or sell it on Ebay, Craigslist etc..  Back in India, many things I could find ways to get it repaired and reuse multiple times.  Here in US, it is mostly ‘use and throw’; repairing is not worth the effort compared to purchasing a new product.

If you plan to read a book only once and not use it as a reference, you can either get it from a local library or buy and then sell it online.  Sometimes, it is better to rent something for a one time use rather than buying  and never using it again.

Recycling

Reducing clutter saves space and reusing stuff increases product lifetime.  However, Recycling is almost like giving new life to an already dying soul.

If you don’t recycle products, or if you throw your food waste away, instead of composting it, much of it go to the Landfills and occupies space.   Landfills are designed to bury trash – not break it down.  Very little oxygen or moisture flow through these landfills and it takes a lot of time to decompose.  There is a possibility of leaching solid waste to ground waters, lakes and rivers.

Almost 64% of what goes into landfills is paper, plastic, metal and glass.

Any type of paper is recyclable, including envelopes, post-it notes, colored paper, newspaper, cardboard, and magazines.  However, recycle paper that is fluorescent or brightly colored, waxy and thermal (older fax machines), laminated and food-stained ones are not a good fit.

Most plastic containers have a number 1 through 7 inside a recycle symbol.   Most cities accept numbers 1 and 2.   No. 6 plastic, which is made up of Polystyrene is not recyclable yet.  A good example of No. 6 plastic is Styrofoam cups.

Dart 6J6 : Insulated Styrofoam Cup, 6 oz, 1000/CT, White

All metal cans can be recycled whether they are aluminium, tin, steel or a combination.

Glass containers are 100% recyclable and can be recycled infinitely without any loss of purity or quality.

Two types of batteries can be recycled: Lead-acid ( from cars) and rechargeable (Nickel Cadmium batteries and others).

CFLs contain mercury and shouldn’t be thrown in trash.

Motor oil and Paint are recyclable and don’t put it down the drain because it can contaminate ground water.

Most recycle products consume LESS energy to produce during the manufacturing process and recycling industry is growing at a bigger pace.  There is definitely a bigger market for recycled products.

Take Away

Remember the 3R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Conserve our planet, by making good choices in your everyday life.

References:

Tidbits and Facts about Recycling

http://www.recycleindia.org/

http://earth911.com/recycling/

http://1800recycling.com/

Playback 2009 – Welcome 2010


Every new year, I am shifting to a new apartment :-). Believe me, shifting the apartment every now and then is really not a good idea. Since, I keep things to a minimum, I didn’t have lot of stuff to move around. I have been without broadband connection for few days and since I got one now, it is a good time to update my blog.

Career

I joined Schlumberger soon after my graduation from TAMU. I was really surprised that they honored my job offer, amidst huge economic downturn and layoffs throughout the Oil Industry (I joined after almost 8 months from accepting the job offer ;-)). I completed one year at Schlumberger, working as a Software Engineer in Seabed team, developing database solutions for Oil & Gas Industry. In this one year, I got an opportunity to meet people from different technical background, level of work experience and nationalities through various training programs conducted all over the year. To a certain extent, I found the training programs helpful in shaping my professional career. I got an introduction to the Oil and Gas industry and a little bit of petroleum geology.

disclaimer: views expressed above are mine and not that of my employer :-)

Travel

Houston is a big city, but I never found a chance to roam around. Either, I am very lazy or couldn’t find people who match my interests ;-). However, I traveled to few places

Austin Trip

I went on a camping trip with few friends who reside in Austin.

California Trip

One week was not enough to enjoy the beauty of California. I visited SFO, Half moon Bay, Muir Woods, Yosemite Valley and Stanford University. I enjoyed food at various Indian restaurants. There were few things that I learnt during the trip:

  • Never give ride to a stranger (unless it is some kind of emergency)
  • It is better to confirm reservations through email. We had lot of mis-communication over phone and ended up paying a lot for the inn. If you are camping, plan months in advance.
  • Read your car rental agreement thoroughly and understand the rental terms before signing the contract
  • GPS is not always smarter than a human being. GPS took us on a roller-coaster ride around a no-man’s land in Yosemite valley, traveling at 10 mph for almost an hour( at 8000 ft above sea level). Driving through that path was a near death experience.
  • When you are near water-bodies, keep your electronic items away. I was completely drenched once I slipped into the waterfall. Luckily, I didn’t get hurt. My lovely Sony Ericsson phone decided to end its life that day, but my chivalrous Canon 890 IS camera survived the horrible incident after a few blows of hot air from the dryer in the restroom.
  • Start your day early, if you wish to visit lot of places
  • Above all, travel only with people who really enjoy traveling :-)

New Orleans Road Trip

I joined this trip at the last-minute and had a great time hanging out with my friends at Bourbon Street. We also visited some Alligator swamps and Louisiana State University. Later, two of my friends who dropped me at home met with a terrible accident. That was the most tragic, hard-to-believe event in my life.

Phoenix Trip

I went to Phoenix to attend a week’s training. The weather was ‘muggier’ and I was also ‘mugged’ on the first day itself. Later, I went to Arizona State University (ASU) to meet one of my undergraduate friend. Since, time was short for a trip to Grand Canyons, we decided to go to Tuscon. The sunset view from Mt. Lemmon was amazing.

Books

I got membership at two local libraries – Houston Public Library and Harris County Public Library. I used to hold books and movies through their online system and pick them up after my office hours. I never felt a need for Netflix, as most of the movies I get from these libraries are pretty good. If you are patient enough to watch new releases after 4-5 months, you can get from these libraries (lengthy waiting list). My daily travel time to office was around 25 min one way and I used to hear lot of audio books to and fro from work. Check out the reading list so far on my LinkedIn profile. Also, I started subscribing to audible.com. Next time, when I go to India, I need to get some Tamil books which I don’t get here in US.

Oracle Certified Associate

My day-to-day job involves lot of Oracle PL/SQL coding. So, I thought it would be better to prepare for ‘Oracle Certification – Advanced PL/SQL Developer OCP‘ outside of my work. I took and passed the first two exams 1Z0-047 – Oracle Database SQL Expert and Oracle Database 11g: Program with PL/SQL 1Z0-144 required for ‘Oracle Certified Associate’. Still, one more left for OCP. In my opinion, preparing for these exams will help someone to write better pl/sql code. Nonetheless, continuous learning and solving real world problems are essential to develop expertise. I found Oracle documentation as the best resource for preparing for these exams, as well as Oracle recommended training materials. I enjoyed reading Oracle Pl/SQL programming by Steven Feuerstein while preparing for the PL/SQL exam.

Toyota Corolla

After driving for one year, I am really satisfied with my Toyota Corolla 2009. It gave me on an average 29 mph in the city and 32 mph in the highway. In the below graph, the positive peak was when I went for the camping trip near Austin, where I traveled mostly in highways.

Toyota_Corolla_LE_MPG

I am not sure whether I should have gone for a high-end used car and not buying a new car (I got a good deal though :-)), since car prices depreciate a lot in the first few years. If someone is planning to sell their cars in few years, it is not worth buying a new car. Insurance costs and monthly payments will increase the real cost of ownership. I did two things to cut it down to a certain extent:

  • Refinanced my car to a credit union, that provided me better interest rate than Toyota financing. I later paid-off my auto-loan within months.
  • I took a ‘defensive driver training’ course for insurance purpose, which reduced the insurance premium to a small extent. It is better to ask for insurance quote from various insurance providers at least once in six months. This might get a better deal.

Lost ‘n’ found

I would say the biggest event of 2009, was getting back in touch with one of my school friend after almost 16 years.

Aristotle and Nichomachean Ethics


Couple of days back, I was hearing an audio lecture on the ‘The Ethics of Aristotle’ by Father Joseph Koterski, Fordham University .  It has been a long time, since I wrote a blog post and thought of sharing a few points from that lecture.

Aristotle is a famous Greek philosopher of common sense from the lineage of Socrates and Plato.  His work, ‘Nichomachean Ethics’ gives a historical and philosophical account on the subject of ethics.  Being a biologist himself, he approaches the subject of ethics with a ‘biological model’ in which species are characterized into ‘genus’ by finding common characteristics among them.  In the same way, he looks at common elements in the lives of culturally diverse individuals and organizations that led to their excellence.

Purpose of Human Life

He mentions that the purpose of human life is HAPPINESS.  All people act in some way or other towards making themselves happy.  He argues that what constitutes happiness is where people disagree.  He considers happiness as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end.  Human beings are blessed with RATIONALITY that provides them with a sense of ‘Knowing’ and ‘Choosing’.  By ‘Knowing’, he refers to cerebral functions such as articulation and calculation but also practical intelligence such as arts, carpentry etc.  By ‘Choosing’, he refers to choosing from the gamut of our passions, desires and emotions to which we are attracted or repelled.  Though, long life of reasonable health, material prosperity, friends etc., are essential for human happiness; Aristotle claims that only in the proper development and use of of rationality, human beings will be able to find fulfillment and happiness.  Dalai Lama in his book ‘The Art of Happiness‘ also mentions that ‘Happiness’ is the ultimate goal of our human life.  It needs to be distinguished from human pleasure and pain through rationality.

Moral Excellence

Aristotle refers to ‘Virtue’ (aristeia in Greek) as ‘Excellence’ in any human person.   ‘Moral Virtue’ as the state of character in which a  person has the habit of choosing the mean between the extremes of excess and deficiency with respect to some action, desire or emotion.  By ‘mean’ (kind of golden mean), he refers to the peak of excellence that is ‘just right’, and not ‘average’.  Socrates viewed ‘Virtue’ as a ‘matter of knowing’; a person who really knows what is right will do right.  In contrast, Aristotle argues that ‘knowing is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for moral virtue’.  According to him, virtue is attained by right reasoning or making right choices consistently, until it becomes a habit  i.e., Moral virtue can be acquired as a habit by repetition, until it becomes ‘second nature’ to us and thus makes life easier.  Aristotle combines an element of knowledge and an element of control in his concept of ‘virtue’.  Right reasoning includes taking into account relevant aspects of situation, a choice that an impartial but knowledgeable observer would come to.  He also holds that certain things like murder, adultery are inherently evil in themselves, not just by reason of some excess or defect.

Courage and Moderation

Aristotle’s definition of COURAGE, is the virtue of choosing the golden mean between recklessness and cowardice when we are confronted by danger that really merit some fear.  In similar fashion, he mentions TEMPERANCE as the habit of choosing between insensibility and self-indulgence.  Aristotle also argues that we should attach praise or blame only to actions that are done voluntarily.  Responsibility for the actions could be eliminated or reduced if the following conditions are met

  • If the action is done under compulsion (physical force, threats, addictions etc)
  • If the actor didn’t have sufficient knowledge about the circumstances – sometimes by one’s own fault or circumstance which are totally out of his/her control

Social Virtues

Money

Liberality and Magnificence are the two virtues that he discusses with the subject of money.  According to Aristotle, LIBERALITY stands between prodigality and meanness.  MAGNIFICENCE stands between vulgarity and niggardliness.  In the days of Aristotle, wealthy people demonstrated magnificence in the form of sponsoring theatrical productions and Athenian festivals (putting large sums of money to work for public service).

Honor

PRIDE stands between vanity and humility.  He does not consider pride as arrogance, for example, in the saying ‘Pride comes before the fall’.  It is the true love for the things that went fine in one’s life and humility to accept things that gone wrong.

Industriousness

The golden mean between too much and too little ambition

Good Temper

Virtue concerned with the emotion of anger.  Anger involves the mean between excessive irritability and wimpiness (to be liked at whatever cost).  According to Aristotle, passion is not something we choose, but something to which we must choose to react.  He mentions that we must learn to recognize the patterns of anger and respond appropriately.  Anger could proper beneficial, for instance, a spirited response against an injustice.  Tamil Poet Bharathiyar mentions in his poems “Sirumai kandu ponguvai va va …” (get angry at the sight of injustice) , “Rowthiram Pazhaghu” (practice anger for right things).  In circumstances of injustice, he considers wimpiness as a vice.

Friendliness

It is the peak of excellence between flattery and surliness.

Truthfulness

The mean between boastfulness and false modesty.  It means a habitual willingness to keep an open mind and maintain critical objectivity.

Wisdom

The mean between buffoonery and boorishness.

Shame

Healthy sense of shame and modesty should be developed between shamelessness and bashfulness.

Justice

He throws light on the crucial distinction between law and justice.  Justice in the sense of fairness and equity need not be codified into law.  Aristotle calls “natural justice” into natural law theory, the notion of a higher law by which one may judge the justice or injustice of any humanly crafted law.

He categorizes justice in the sense of fairness or equitable as

Corrective justice: Justice that involves the restoration of equality between parties by compensating the wronged or injured party.  It looks at things objectively without regard to the status of the parties and concentrating on the amounts in question to be made equal.

Distributive justice: Justice that takes personal status of the parties into account.  Things are expressed in terms of ratios rather than equal amounts.  For instance, people earning salaries above certain amount falls in a particular tax bracket.

Like other virtues, Aristotle considers justice also as a habit of choosing the mean.  For instance, giving the right amount of pay for the work done; taking into account the knowledge and skills required, the risk involved, time and money spent etc.  Also giving the right amount of work for the pay to be earned.

Regarding equity, he mentions that law makers should consider the general situation while creating a law and cannot expect to envision all possible exceptions that may arise.  However, he mentions that appropriate amendments have to be made to correct the law when those exceptions arise.

Hard cases make bad laws

Intellectual virtues

Aristotle believes that the goal of TRUTH is to conform the mind to the way things are.  He believes that one must first know the way the world works to be able to improve it with practical uses of the intellect.  He implies that we must know the truth about ourselves to be able to develop appropriate skills and virtues.

Aristotle identifies five major intellectual virtues:

Science

The habit of demonstrative knowledge of what is necessary and eternal to show how effects are linked to their causes.  He proceeds from first principles, through the chains of reasoning typical of a discipline, to the conclusions appropriate for that discipline.  For example,

  • All men are mortal
  • Socrates is a man
  • So, Socrates is a mortal

Art (techne)

The whole range of technological knowledge that shapes the mind of the person who possess it.  For example, the knowledge of a plumber or a mechanic whose competence is far-reaching rather articulative.

Prudence

Prudence or practical wisdom relates to the action of deliberating for the right amount of time with regards to an action or emotion.

Intuition of first principles (nous)

Intuition of first principles means insight, is the habit of grasping the principles from which demonstrations will be able to proceed.  For ethics, the first principle is identify the good from the evil.  Then pursue good and avoid evil at all cost.

Wisdom (sophia)

The habit of uniting the intuition of first principles with science.

Aristotle argues that intellectual component is necessary for any of the moral virtues to take place, and a moral component is essential for prudence to occur.

Struggling to do right

Aristotle distinguishes four kind of people

Altruistic: People who are god-like or who have already developed a preternatural affinity of choosing good virtues.

Bestial: People are adept at choosing vice all the time.  They do it with ease and with great regularity.

Continent: People who know the right from the wrong and struggles a lot to choose the right one.  Ultimately, they settle for the right things.  The continent person is not altruistic but weak-willed in nature.

Incontinent: People who know the right from the wrong and struggles a lot to choose the right one.  Ultimately, they settle for the wrong things.  The incontinent person is not bestial but weak-willed in nature.

Morally weak people’s action is not just the result of intellectual mistake but involves the influence of the interplay of their passions and desires.  Aristotle strongly urges that we develop the habit of deliberation to facilitate the control of our passions and desires.  Slowly, we will be consistent in making wise choices.

Friendship

Aristotle distinguishes three different types of friendship

Friendships of pleasure

People simple enjoy one another’s company that gives them a sense of one’s own pleasure.  This sort of friendship tend to fade and break off when what gave them pleasure cease to exist.

Friendships of  utility

Friendship that is grounded on mutual advantage for one another.  They may not enjoy each others company but appear to be nice with each other.  Once the usefulness vanishes the friendship also vanishes.

Friendships of excellence

Friendship of excellence (also called Friendship of Character) depends on virtuous people wishing well for one another.  They wish good for their friend’s own sake and not for their own pleasure and utility alone.  This could occur only when atleast one person in a relationship has already developed that virtue, that still holds the relationship even when the other person draws out.  This requires considerable time and familiarity.  Such friendships are rather small.

Also there can be relative equality or inequality between the parties involved.  Friendship can exist between a parent and child, spouses, rulers and subjects.  Virtuous people are in general more open to share than vicious people.  He also mentions that loving is more of an essence of the friendship than being loved.

Friendship is based on self-love and on a willingness to look out for the good of others.  If one’s love is excessive he looks out for less in others and vice-versa.  Much of the pleasantness in friendship consists in holding a shared viewpoint on many topics.

Aristotle’s vision of friendship contains a strong sense of nobility, that at times requires us to do painful things when they are right even though it hurts friendship.  We have to transcend boundaries of pleasure to do things which are equitable, even at the cost of considerable sacrifice of friendship.  Friends should be able to face hard decisions with honor and justice.

Pleasure

Right from beginning, Aristotle marks that Happiness is the ultimate goal of human life.   Even though pleasure is necessary but not sufficient for attaining virtue.  He takes a moderate approach and considers PLEASURES that assist the development and proper use of our rationality should be regarded as right and good whilst those that impair or frustrate our rationality should be regarded as suspect.

Conclusion

Nicomachean ethics is basically set in a political context of his period.   He claims that happiness consists in a life of virtuous activity rather than a life dedicated to personal amusement.  This is achieved through deliberate action through rationality and consistent practice until it becomes habitual so we do things with pleasure and great ease.  Finally, he claims that the happiness of the contemplative life is superior to the kind of happiness possible in active life.  For a scholar like Aristotle, having leisure for study and using his mind for a great cause provides him supreme goodness and happiness.

A Slap on the face


Once upon a time in a village there lived a farmer with an old donkey.  This donkey served its entire life with utmost sincerity to the farmer. On one fine evening, the farmer and the donkey were taking a walk back home through the farm land.   Suddenly, the tired donkey trembled and fell into a dry well.  He started braying loud with sustained injuries.  The farmer thought for a while – “This donkey is already very old and it would cost me damn money to pull him out of the dry well.  Also, he does not have a costly insurance like me”….”Go to hell donkey, I will bury you live in this well itself”.  Then, the farmer enthusiastically began to cover the dry well with the shovel in hand.  Villagers gathered around to watch the plight of the poor donkey.  They cursed the farmer for being very cruel.  The donkey was deep in pain; not over his injuries but over his Master’s spiteful nature.  He struggled for a while and then an idea struck in its mind.  He jibed around the inside of the well whenever the mud fell on him.  The farmer got irritated and frantically threw more mud inside the well.  Slowly, the dried well started filling up with more mud and now the smart donkey was on top of it.  The farmer was totally exhausted, threw his shovel and fell to the ground.  Villages cheered the donkey which emerged successfully like a phoenix out of the ashes.  They praised the donkey for its smartness (Kick Ass dude!!!!!).  Hearing the villagers outcry, the farmer stood up and went on to hug his smart ass.  The donkey turned around at the foolish farmer, slapped him on his face with its powerful paws and went on its way.

Moral of the story: When you try to cover your ass, you get slapped on the face ;-)

Just kidding !!! Whatever be the circumstances in life, if we patiently think for a moment, we could find a solution to the problems in our life.

Courtesy: Isha foundation http://www.ishafoundation.org/IshaLive/Streaming.php

People-Teams-Presentation-Feedback


This is my first post after joining Schlumberger.  I attended a two weeks training program that gave an overview about the Company, the Oil industry and some training on soft skills.  Schlumberger believes in improving the potential of the employees through continuous training and development.  I found this particular training lengthy and tiring after sitting for long hours listening to lectures.  I wished to get back to work soon.   Nonetheless, I had something to learn out of this training program and I tried my best to summarize the contents that I could remember in this post.

Being a software engineer, it didn’t make lot of sense to me to write programs without understanding the domain. We had a three day session conducted by an experienced geologist that gave us an overview of Oil Exploration and production.  It was an eye opener for me to get to know the different technologies that have been employed to obtain black gold from the earth’s belly.  I have little idea on how long these non-renewable resources could satisfy the energy needs of the world.  However, it is worthwhile to note that the current technological advancement and engineering feat achieved through collaborative efforts are pushing the decline of this oil industry and the energy crisis to the future.

People & Teams

Also, It was a wonderful experience to meet people from

  • Diverse backgrounds – Software Engineers, Postdoctoral Research scientists, Field Engineers, Supply chain specialists
  • Different Nationalities – Indians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Americans, Hispanic, French
  • Different Levels of Experience – 0 to 2 years with the company

We were divided into three teams for most part of the training.  It was good to learn some team dynamics.  They mentioned that a successful TEAM (Together  Everyone Achieves More) has the following characteristics:

  • Common Goals (and Vision)
  • Leadership and clear roles
  • Expertise
  • 100% Participation
  • Supportive Relationships
  • Time

Working in a multi-disciplinary team for different case studies assigned during the training program, I noticed a few things:

  • Most people were experts in their own area and they view the same problem given to everybody with a ‘filter’ based on their background.  We get to know the different dimensions of the same problem from different angles.  However, we must understand that people perceive things differently and nothing can be left for ‘Assumptions’.  Always, we have to make sure that everybody is on the same page regarding a particular issue
  • Some people talk way too much and some people rarely open their mouth during meetings.  A good team leader should make sure that everybody gets a chance to voice their opinion.  Final decision need not be that of a team leader but the one agreed upon by the team inline with the common goal
  • Brainstorming sessions are essential to generate new ideas and all the ideas have to be captured somewhere, before picking the good ones
  • People do not so much listen as wait for their time to talk – Evelyn Waugh.  When everybody in our team were talking at the same time, one of my team member threw a permanent marker on the table and asked everybody to stop.  He said, “Person who wish to speak, take the marker in hand and the rest of the team just listen”.  It made a huge difference in that atmosphere.  In conclusion, we need to Understand first and evaluate second.  They mentioned it as the E.A.R method (Explore, Acknowledge and Respond)
  • We should have a well-defined problem to start with.  Considerable amount of time has to be spent in properly understanding the problem.  This is critical in identifying the root causes of the problem.  Once the root causes are identified a decisive plan has to be drafted to identify the priority of tasks for execution.
  • People neglect Common sense at times and give more importance to tools & processes that they learnt during the course.  A good carpenter would be noticed only by his furniture work rather than by the size of his tool box.  It is to be emphasized that the process and tools are in place only to aid us rather than think for us
  • Supportive relationships are essential in leading an ordinary team to exemplary performance, even though the team lacks some expertise
  • Never put down other people’s thoughts as rubbish or start your conversation with a negative connotation.  People are more willing to listen to you, if you start something like “I appreciate your idea and have you thought about this….” and then present your idea.  Don’t have any BUTS, HOWEVER etc., as part of your sentence.  In my opinion, we could say something like “I have a suggestion to make and we could decide to take it or not later”.
  • Time:
    • It is better to have a time-keeper in a meeting and a proper agenda to keep us on track.  Nevertheless, we need to be flexible with the agenda within that time period, so that we meet our objectives and arrive at some conclusions at the end of each phase
    • Every member in a team should have a space and time to think on his own before collaborating on ideas
  • Going with the flow:
    • We have to learn at times when to make our point and when to keep quiet.  This is called the art of fighting without fighting
    • Not all your ideas would be appreciated, however brilliant they might be.  Therefore, we must not take anything personal
    • I purposefully started working alone on a particular case study, to see how the team responds in such a situation.  People immediately think that you are a spoil sport, neglect your ideas and suggestions.  In short, you will lose your presence in the team.

Presentation Skills

  • Texans in general are slow speakers and majority of Indians (including me) speak fast.  Slowing down my speech indeed helped me to garner my thoughts, at the back of my mind before delivering it.  In addition, it helped the audience understand my thoughts better
  • I was pointed out that I need to be improve on the cadence and that my tone is fine.  I realized later that it is essential otherwise people get bored with a monotonous voice
  • Watch your ‘ahs, uhms’ during the presentation.  Indeed we had people who set records with the largest number of ‘ahs’
  • Smoothen your transition from one speaker to another, rather than ending your speech abruptly
  • Sometimes people worked their case studies with so much depth that they did not find enough time to practice their presentation.  Communicating our ideas is much more essential and it could be done better through practice
  • Keep your audience in mind
    • Expand on the abbreviations and clarify the jargons
    • Avoid any jokes that could offend anyone in the audience
    • Engage the audience through interactive questions or thoughts
  • Less is more.  Sometimes people get into too much details losing the forest for the trees
  • Grab your audience attention before starting your speech and set the ground rules for the presentation (For instance, the questions will be taken at the end of the session)
  • Stand up and present yourself, so that you would be the center of attention
  • Take a deep breath in case you are nervous.  Confidence is the key to effective presentation
  • Make a proper eye contact with your audience.  If you keep looking at one set of audience, the other people in the room feel neglected and lack attention
  • Avoid unnecessary movements and hand gestures that could distract the audience
  • When you screw up something, don’t get tensed and apologetic.  Keep moving
  • Presentation slides:
    • Keep slides to the minimum and to the point
    • Never read through your slides.  Slides are there, to aid your presentation
    • Have a complete understanding of your material and don’t put anything on the slide that you could not explain
    • Keep your slides clean from distracting pictures and videos
    • Don’t show your back to the audience while presenting.  Look at the laptop in the front rather than romanticizing with the projected slides behind you
    • Slides should have appropriate font size so that the contents are legible from a far away distance
    • Choose your colors appropriately.  Nothing is worse than a dark blue letter on a black background

Giving Feedback

Most of the time in our lives we get negative feedback and we rarely ever spent time filling out customer surveys.  Anyhow, I learnt that feedback is very much essential in continous improvement of any system.  A feedback may be positive, negative, constructive but it must be “Specific“.  A good feeback should be delivered in a positive manner with appropriate timing.  Feedback must be
  • Motivational - Tells a person what they have done well
  • Formative - Tells a person how they could improve effectiveness
Always start with a motivational feedback and conclude with a formative feedback.   Avoid conjunctions like unfortunately, but, however etc.  Most people get defensive when receiving feedback particularly when you know that you have done something right that the person says wrong.  I did it once during the presentation.  However, they taught me to accept feedback graciously with a ‘thank you’ without denying it.  You can respond to their comments later.

Camping – Inks lake state park – Longhorn Cavern State Park


Breaking the mundane schedule of office to home and back to work, I decided to go on a weekend camping along with my friends in Austin.  This was my second camping after Huntsville trip.  After I came to Houston, this was the first time I went to College Station to pick up my friends, on a trip to Austin.  Also, this was the first trip that I drove a lot in highways.  I believe I have improved my driving skills with little quirks once in a while.  Once I reached College Station, I felt that I returned HOME after a very long time and while passing through University drive, A&M Libraries etc., I felt very nostalgic.  I had food at one of my favorite restaurant in College station – Chef chaos and also at Jin’s Asian restaurant.

Once we  reached Austin, we went to Cholas Indian restaurant along with my friends.  After a wholesome meal, we started towards HWY 29  to Burnet.   From Burnet took the Hwy 29 West and then left on Park Road 4 towards Park Headquarters.   We reached Inks Lake State Park before 5.00 pm and parked our cars at our camp site.  Later, we decided to go on some trails as some of my friends wished to jump into the lake from the cliff.  But the water was too freezing that only one guy managed to do so and others came back after some hullabaloo.  We took a few snaps near the rocks while enjoying the cool breeze and a wonderful sunset.

The camp site had excellent restroom facilities with showers, electric outlets where we could charge our mobile phones and is situated amidst beautiful lake and granite cliffs.


We rented out tents and other stuffs for barbeque from Texas A&M Outdoor Adventures facilities.  We had sufficient food and drinks for everybody.  Unlike Huntsville trip, this trip was well planned by my friends rather adhoc.   Successfully, we were able to build the campfire and I spent most of the time sitting around it.

I believe we were the only group in the entire camping site who were making hell a lot of noise, dancing and enjoying a lot.  I should really appreciate our neighboring campers who patiently accepted our presence without complaints.  I thought of sleeping in the tent and finally decided to sleep in the car itself.  It was bit uncomfortable, but I felt I made a good decision only after my friends knocked the car door in the early morning when the temperature dropped to 29 °F suddenly. We slept for some time switching on the heater in the car.  In the morning, after refreshing ourselves we spent sometime on the paddle boats in the serene lake filled with ducks.  We would have spent almost an hour in the lake jumping from boat to boat and taking photographs.

Then we went to the nearby Longhorn Cavern State park.  We were taken on a guided tour of the limestone caves which was used as shelter during prehistoric times.  At the entrance of the cave, we saw a cute little girl with a gracious smile towards photographers.  I should have taken a good picture of her.  There used to be a church and consort hall inside the cave.  The tourist guide recounted a story about an outlaw who hid some big loot in those caves.  He also informed us that gun powder was made in these caves during civil war.

I was too tired after we reached my friends’ house in the evening as I am not used to long trips that much.  So my roommate has to drive me back on my car.  We reached Houston around midnight after dropping two of my friends in College Station.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.