Life

Last week there were two deaths, close together; one, a class mate of mine from my school and college days; the other, a senior colleague, recently retired. Both untimely and both sudden. When in the thick of work, with the hours rushing by, as I get engrossed in files and meetings, the thought of the fragility of life never enters my mind. And why should it, I wonder: there are certain duties assigned to each of us and performing these duties is at the core of the meaning of life, as I see it. And so I, living life from minute to minute, caught in the moment, ignore tomorrow, ignore the uncertain and the unknowable.

Read the article: Our precious lives

Power of Simplicity

Blaise Pascal once famously ended a letter with an apology: I’m sorry that this was such a long letter, but I didn’t have time to write you a short one. Computer science has pretty much the same problem. It’s a young field, and young fields are messy. They get weighed down with excess Jargon. There are multiple names for the same ideas and the ideas themselves are often snarled together. It’s a complicated science, because we haven’t had enough time to make a simple one.

Read the article: Pascal’s Apology

Goldman Sachs and the $580 Million Black Hole

James and Janet Baker spent nearly two decades building Dragon, a voice technology company, into a successful, multimillion-dollar enterprise. It was, they say, their “third child.” So in late 1999, when offers to buy Dragon began rolling in, the couple made what seemed a smart decision: they turned to Goldman Sachs for advice. And why not? Goldman, after all, was the leading dealmaker on Wall Street. The Bakers wanted the best. This, of course, was before the scandals of the subprime mortgage era. It was before the bailouts, before Occupy Wall Street, before ordinary Americans began complaining about “banksters” and “muppets” and “the vampire squid.” In short, before Goldman Sachs became, for many, synonymous with Wall Street greed.

And yet, even today what happened next to the Bakers seems remarkable. With Goldman Sachs on the job, the corporate takeover of Dragon Systems in an all-stock deal went terribly wrong. Goldman collected millions of dollars in fees — and the Bakers lost everything when Lernout & Hauspie was revealed to be a spectacular fraud. L.& H. had been founded by Jo Lernout and Pol Hauspie, who had once been hailed as stars of the 1990s tech boom. Only later did the Bakers learn that Goldman Sachs itself had at one point considered investing in L.& H. but had walked away after some digging into the company.

Read the article: Goldman Sachs and a Sale Gone Horribly Awry

Fall of Microsoft

Eichenwald’s conversations reveal that a management system known as “stack ranking”—a program that forces every unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor—effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,” Eichenwald writes. “If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review,” says a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”

Read the article: Microsoft’s Downfall: Inside the Executive E-mails and Cannibalistic Culture That Felled a Tech Giant | Blogs | Vanity Fair

The 7 Greatest Ideas in History

Just a few stand out above all the rest. They change the course of history and affect the lives of millions who aren’t even aware of them. Amazingly, they are often the work of a single person. Those ideas are truly great and seven really stand out. To make my selection, I applied three criteria: Longevity (i.e. they survive a long time without being amended or surpassed in any significant way), impact (i.e. they greatly affected the lives and work of others) and authorship (i.e. they can be traced to one person).

Read the article: The 7 Greatest Ideas in History

Human survival depends on space exploration – Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking says the colonization of outer space is key to the survival of humankind, predicting it will be difficult for the world’s inhabitants “to avoid disaster in the next hundred years”… Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill. But our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million. Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain lurking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space.

Read the article: Human survival depends on space exploration, says Stephen Hawking

Women are rejecting marriage in Asia. The social implications are serious.

A lot of Asians are not marrying later. They are not marrying at all. Almost a third of Japanese women in their early 30s are unmarried; probably half of those will always be. Over one-fifth of Taiwanese women in their late 30s are single; most will never marry. In some places, rates of non-marriage are especially striking: in Bangkok, 20% of 40-44-year old women are not married; in Tokyo, 21%; among university graduates of that age in Singapore, 27%. So far, the trend has not affected Asia’s two giants, China and India. But it is likely to, as the economic factors that have driven it elsewhere in Asia sweep through those two countries as well; and its consequences will be exacerbated by the sex-selective abortion practised for a generation there. By 2050, there will be 60m more men of marriageable age than women in China and India.

Read the article: The decline of Asian marriage: Asia’s lonely hearts

India’s Singh on the Wrong Side of History

India has an unmatched capacity to look opportunity firmly in the face, turn around, and walk off resolutely in the opposite direction.

The latest manifestation of the national pastime comes in relation to public corruption. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could have appropriated the cause and channelled the people’s movement to enact tough new laws to rid India of corrupt practices and cement its economic future. Instead he has responded with vacillation and, by using the powers of the state to intimidate activists, planted his flag on the wrong side of history.

Read the article: India’s Singh on the Wrong Side of History

Life skills

[Our economy] demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns […] We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption.

Read the article: How to Make Trillions of Dollars