Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Resurrecting rice in Cambodia

I haven't written a book review for quite some time now. That's not because I haven't been reading. On the contrary, there are just too many book demanding my attention. The latest book I completed is about an agriculture project that was started in Cambodia in 1986 by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which is based in Los Banos, Philippines. I first came across IRRI and its work through my Development Economics textbook while in University. Here, I am being re-acquainted with its work in Cambodia.

The political upheavals in the last 30 years has reduced the nation of Cambodia to one of the poorest countries in the world. Its people also suffered greatly under the regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, glimpses of which can be seen through the movie, "The Killing Fields", which stars Sam Waterston and Dr Haing Nor. The atrocities of the Pol Pot regime on its own people is shown in gut-wrenching scenes, particularly the thousands of buried skulls that were uncovered - hinting at the vast killings that occured during that time. It is in this context that the IRRI was invited by the re-constituted government of the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea to repair and rehabilitate its rural economy - particularly of rice production.

In the "The Burning of the Rice - a Cambodian Success Story", Donald Puckridge recounts the story of how the IRRI, through the Cambodia-IRRI-Australia project (CIAP), helped rural rice farmers improve their rice production methods and consequently increased their yields significantly through research, innovation within the local context, and more importantly, through training the locals so that they can become self-sufficient and self-supporting in the long run.

This book is filled with personal anecdotes of the experiences of the mainly Australian and Indian expatriate staff, as well as the locals who worked closely with them through the almost 16 years of the CIAP's existence. It is a story filled with the realities of subsistence farming, of the need to break the cycle of poverty, and how research into new farming methods and rice varieties, as well as training made the difference. After reading this book, I have renewed respect for the Australians, who were the ones on the ground to do the training and drive the changes. This was in spite of the dangers involved in living in a Cambodia that continued to be rocked by violence and political upheaval, such as the coup carried out by the Hun Sen government in 1997 (after they lost the elections to FUNCIPEC). Puckridge also dwells into social and historical issues of the Cambodian peoples today, and how they have been affected by the times they spent under the repressive regimes of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. There is a story behind the picture on the book cover.

For a long time, news reports on Cambodia, and indeed, Vietnam, focused on the political conflicts, humans rights and maneuverings that did not find favour with the western world, which was largely represented by the US. The one dimensional perception has hidden many of the social and economic work that was going on to resurrect the Cambodian people's livelihood. In this respect, Australia not only contributed manpower and expertise, they also gave money to fund the work of CIAP, and through it, enabled many Cambodian farmers to improve their agricultural endeavors and its research expertise.

I now understand Cambodia a bit better and look forward to the day that I can visit the country as an observer to witness the changes that has occurred over the last 20 years - changes brought about not so much by the political situation, but more through the economic and social resilience of its peoples.

For more, see:
The Yielding Fields
AusAID and Cambodia
International Rice Research Institute

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Copyright or wrong?

Copying and copyright is an issue that is dogging more and more people because almost everybody in this internet age has become a website designer (yes, even 11 and 12 year olds can design websites nowadays) or a content creator (such as bloggers).

I once had a student who did a website for a commercial firm. This firm subsequently received a lawyer's letter demanding payment of penalty (I think the figure of S$5000 was mentioned) for using one of their maps in one of the WebPages. I don't remember if there was any takedown order. Apparently the copyright holder wanted money more than just their rights, or are these one and the same? I heard of similar cases by WOM and in the press and marveled that this company was doing a side business going around town suing everybody in sight who may have violated their copyrights. I don't quite agree with these predatory tactics. In many cases, as in my student's (he sounded anxious when he first called me to discuss the issue), the act was done without intent to deprive the copyright holder of its revenue, but the copyright holder thought otherwi$e.

When is it right to copy a work? How much of it can be copied. To whom does that work belong, and for how long? These, and many more issues are explored and discussed in John Gantz and Jack Rochester's (G&R) book, "Pirates of the Digital Millennium". This is a highly readable book, compared to others, which tend to be couched too much in legalese that an average reader would get lost in or fall asleep on.

It covers a short history on piracy and the copyright law. It showed me (I am not legally trained) that copyright or the right to copy has not always been, and need not always be the same in different times and different places. Copying is a very natural human activity, anyway. Before the advent of the printing presses, monks were copying valuable tomes of works from other monastaries for their monasteries. Copyright then was never an issue. Meiji Japan had copied the French and Germans in their education systems, as well as US technologies before and after World War II, profiting greatly from them, although this same activity led to the untold suffering of many in the war.

G&R also explored the various parties involved in any intellectual property dispute and looks in detail at one such party - Microsoft. The point made was that much work goes into producing a product, whether it is software or music or movies, and much of these involve a creative and innovative process – typically long and usually expensive. Piracy denies these producers of their rewards (or at least recoup their investments). For smaller players, piracy can drive them out of business. The implication is that piracy is anathema to creativity and innovation. A country will find itself much poorer if it did not have sufficient laws to protect its productive endeavors, as the case of Ghana illustrated. Some nations, especially the US, have swung decisively in recent years, to the side of the producers, culminating in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998. In the authors' opinion, this act is flawed as it favoured the producers too much. For example, an innocent child was accused of sharing a Harry Potter video over the internet when in fact, the child had only done a one-page book report on that video. There remains the possibility of abuse by the producers that can scare the living daylights out of everybody through this Act.

The authors conclude their discussion with the economic argument for piracy (with Lester Thurow weighing in here) and the issue of ethics (what you should or should not do argument shorn of pragmatic considerations). They suggest certain actions that both the consumer and producer can take in the future to reduce (not possible to eliminate) instances of piracy.

It’s a good book. Go read.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The dirt in words

Two weeks ago, with some time on my hands, I sat down to watch an old movie. "Glengary Glen Ross" is an award winning movie made in 1992. It had a stellar cast of Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alec Baldwin and Kevin Spacey, amongst others. Adapted from a stage play, this movie has riveting dialogue and a whodunnit. Absolutely seat-of-the-pants.

What lingered most in my mind was how the part played by Alec Baldwin rallied his team of salesman. In that 10-minute scene, I have never heard that much foul language used - ever. What's more, it came from just one person - Blake (played by Baldwin) - who was basically conducting a monologue. The f**k word was used so often, and with some many different layers of meaning and usage that I am dumbstruck by the versatility of this one word. I doubt that that scene can ever be censored because the word is so integral to the entire 10 minute performance.

Foul language, whether we like it or not, is part of our everyday speech. So much so that Ruth Wajnryb has written a book, "Language most foul" about the use of this register, or language instance, in the world today. This book is not for those who cannot stand the sight of foul words (I am not sure about the audio/sound or vocal part) - the work f**k appears in the book with such regularity and frequency that the book would have been labelled profane and dirty if that is the sole measure of the book. It would never pass muster on the list of desirable books and blogger will surely have it flagged.

But before you jump to any conclusion, the book is actually a scholarly (yes, you didn't read that wrongly) tome on foul language. In it, Wajnryb surveys a lists of commonly used foul words such as the evergreen f**k and sh*t, amongst others, and spends considerable effort in tracing their origins and describing their usage over time. Wajnryb makes the point that, because of how frequently they are used today for virtually every part of life that these words have lost their foulness in certain contexts. So, for example, f**k is used as part of the integrated adjective "inf**kingcredible" to add emphasis rather than profanity to the word "incredible". Nevertheless, such words continue to be used in contexts that are offensive to some, if not all, people.

If you think you are up to the language, its a good read. But make sure you don't leave the book lying around for your young son or daughter to pick up. Otherwise, you may end up in hot soup with your wife/husband/mother/father, whichever it is.

Brace yourself for the book with the most foul language I have ever come across. It puts many of the most 'dirty' books to shame.

Availability Note: Unusually, this book is not listed in Amazon.com The closest title (by the same author) is "Expletive Deleted : A Good Look at Bad Language". From Amazon's review of this book, I would say that it is the American imprint of this Australian author's original book. This original is available online at Dymocks Booksellers.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Orwell's Burma

I am planning my vacation, but I cannot decide where to go this December. I am spoilt for choice, except when it comes to Myanmar. There is only one tour agent advertising one tour package to Myanmar. I briefly considered that package, but put it aside quickly. What is it about Myanmar that makes it desirable on the one hand and undesirable on the other, as a tour destination, I wonder?

Perhaps part of the answer lies in the book "Secret Histories - Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop" by Emma Larkin. This book is not a just a mere travelogue. It is this and more. Ms Larkin writes about her experiences traveling through Burma, the old colonial era name of what is Myanmar today, with reference to George Orwell's times and tales there in the mid-1920s. This is an interesting angle to base a book on, but as events in modern Myanmar would have it, Ms Larkin shows how prophetic Orwell is through his now very famous books, Burmese Days, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eight-four. George Orwell, or Eric Blair, his real name, worked in Burma for 5 years as an officer of the Imperial Police Force.

Through her recent travels around Myanmar, Ms Larkin shows how closely its politics and society today mirrors those described in these three books of Orwell's. Though not strictly communist, Myanmar society today is a closed one. Although it pretends to be socialist in leanings, it is in fact authoritarian and dictatorial, much like what the society depicted in Animal Farm turned out to be. The people of Myanmar do not have political freedoms, as demonstrated by the muzzling of its most outspoken daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi. There is no freedom to write and publish. Many who dared are today locked up in one of Myanmar's most overcrowded prison - Insein Prison. A native explained that they cannot speak or write about what is going on in Burma. People who do so disappeared, as happened to a most repected and prolific local historian, much like people in the fictional Nineteen Eighty-four. The education system has become so poor that there are all of 40 candidates for a Ph.D every year - Phoney Doctorates as they are more popularly known.

This book is filled with anecdotes about life in Myanmar and its ordinary people. The author has travelled from Mandalay to Delta, Rangoon, Moulmein and Katha to the places the Orwell once lived and worked to bring us a book full of sketches of its people's experiences, fears, jokes and, yes, laughter, if only of the bitter sort, that permeates life in Orwell's Burma today.

40 years of dictatorial rule has reduced Myanmar to a basket case, needing to import basic necessities such as rice to feed its people. This depressing list of deprivation includes those in knowledge and basic freedoms. If you have read any or all of those Orwell books, you will get a pretty good idea of what Myanmar is today. This is certainly a unique book written from a unique angle about a people which the world has almost forgotten.

It doesn't really matter if you haven't read any of Orwell's books, the stories are human enough for you to relate to immediately. Having a good background in Orwell's works gives you the icing on the cake, so to speak.

So should I visit Myanmar these holidays? Yes, if only to experience first hand what Larkin has written about, but certainly not if the family is coming along.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Ramp-up your brain season

This is examinations season in Singapore's. Its a country where the education environment is highly competitive, to say the least. The exams to be conducted in the next two weeks are also end of year exams, which, for some, will determine the next stage of their young lives, depending on how they perform. For the senior primary school students, their die have already been cast. Their PSLE (promotional examinations) have just ended. For the next three days, their papers will be marked and graded in this nationwide exercise.

Stressful times indeed, for students as well as parents.

Going by anecdotal evidence alone, the informal education market is huge. It seems like every student has a privately engaged tutor besides the school teachers they already have. And the private tutor's job is not for education, it is for drilling and making sure that students keep to their books, and their past exam exercises in order that they can score the best grade possible. You see, both parents have to work to earn a living in Singapore. So like many things in Singapore, and the world, outsourcing is the rule of the day.

But according to Pyschology Today (PT), there is one other source of help - the right food. In the article, A Taste of Genius in PT's July/August 2005 issue, Lauren Aaronson sets forth the good that some types of food can bring to the brain. Some of these may already be familiar to you, being the stuff of urban legend and mother's tales for some time now. First off, oatmeal works its magic through fibre, glucose, nutrients and acids of which it has in abundance, supercharging your brains in the process. Glucose-sweetened lemonade can also "boost recall of events, words, movements, drawings and faces, among other things, with effects lasting long enough to get you through a two-hour exam". Besides food, exercise is also just as important as it "improves the delivery of oxygen to your heart...", which in turn "pumps up your brain", and we are not talking about carcinogens here...

There are lots more tips on the beneficial effects of various types of food for the brain. It is perhaps timely reading in this examinations-laden season.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Nelson - his life and tradition, Part 1

The name Nelson - Horatio Nelson, is easily and unambiguously recognizable as the great British Admiral and victor of Trafalgar. It is amazing that he is still remembered, given that he lived more than 200 years ago, but then, he was, and I believe still is, hailed as Britain's greatest Naval hero.

Nelson's fame and exploits are well documented, but this is the first time I have read a full biography of the Naval hero. "Nelson - A dream of glory, 1758 - 1797", by John Sugden, is obviously a well researched tome. It weighs in at 794 pages, with a further 112 pages of notes and citations. My only complaint is that the book is so very heavy that bringing it around with me wherever I go was a non-starter. But don't let this scare you off. Although a scholarly work, it is highly readable.

In relating the subject of his book, Sugden looks at both the man's strength and weaknesses, neither glossing over one nor lingering over the other. Nelson's strength was in his competence, bravery and conscientiousness. Above all, according to Sugden, he was a driven man - a quality that allowed him, no, constrained him, to reach ever higher levels of achievements and fame in a Navy that he loved so much.

Nelson's leadership comes out very strongly in this biography. His was a lead-from-the-front type of leadership - a style that won him many faithful followers and many battles over the years, but also resulted in him losing his right arm and right eye before 1797 was out. One other quality in Nelson that students of leadership should take note of, is that he looks after the well-being of his subordinates and took every available opportunity to try to elevate the deserving ones.

What are the weaknesses of this hero of Trafalgar and Britain's greatest Naval Commander? Proneness to flattery, boastfulness and self-advertisement are cited as examples. His neglect of his wife is another. But having read the book, considering the times he lived in, and the betrayals he encountered, he can perhaps be forgiven for all except the last.

I have gained a new perspective on the history and traditions of the Royal Navy that goes back so many years. Though never a sailor nor a British, I once lived among the Royal Navy based in Singapore. I remember how children, including myself, ran across my school field to gawk at the helicopter that ferried the Admiral to and from his house just across from my school in the Naval Base. The Admiralty House, as it used to be called, and continues to be called, is still there, albeit used for a different purpose today. My school grounds, on the other hand, have disappeared.

Reading this book is time well spent, and this is only part 1 of of the narrative of Nelson's life. Sugden is following up with part 2, which dwells on Nelson's greatest victory yet - Trafalgar.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Non-profit Innovation

Some not a very long time ago, Singapore was rocked by a scandal in one of its most successful charity organization. The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) had broken new ground (at least for this part of the world) through its innovative methods of raising cash for its cause. It became the richest charity in Singapore, with reserves in excess of S$200 million.

Unfortunately, in the process of becoming successful, it engaged in certain practices which, while not illegal, were questionable from the standpoint of a charity. This has been covered in one of my other blogs.

At the end of the day, its really about good corporate governance - how a charity manages and uses money in the cause for which it was given in the first place. Now, another charity is in trouble - the Singapore Assocication for the Visually Handicapped (SAVH). It has had its annual grant of $1.4 million taken away after problems at the SAVH became public

While good corporate governance, especially in charities which do not readily face 'market discipline', is important, it can also be a bane because it stifles innovation in these organizations. And innovation is important in the Voluntary Sector. In fact, the very existence of a particular non-government organization (NGO), charity, institution of public character (IPG), or whatever name it goes by, is a result of an innovation in itself. This point is made by Storey, et al. in their book, "Managers of Innovation - Insight into making innovation happen" (2005). NGOs takes on a life of their own in order to "fulfil unmet social needs" and the way its does so tends to be something new and unique. Storey looked at 2 NGOs in the chapter on the Voluntary sector - Oxfam and the less well know Age Concern which is based in the UK. His analysis of the situation in Age Concern is particularly interesting because the twin forces of strict governance / control and innovation spiritedness are often incompatible. But in NGOs, you cannot do without both, as the NKF and SAVH cases have shown. How Oxfam and Age Concern faced this issue and resolved it makes for interesting reading.

Now that Singapore's National Council of Social Services (NCSS) is in corporate governance gear, one wonders if it may snuff out the innovative spirit of the erstwhile voluntary organisations, and even stop new ones from forming. Time will tell.

Beyond charity, Storey, et al., in the same book, have written other case studies of organizations in the Telecoms sector (GPT of GEC and Nortel), the Engineered Manufactured Goods sector (HP and GDA of GEC) as well as about the Creative workers in Zeneca, a pharmaceutical company and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). This covers quite a broad spectrum of industries and organizations. In other words, there's something in this book for everyone who is interested in the subject of innovation and how it is managed in different businesses and contexts . These case studies are also fairly recent - the book was published only this year (2005).

For the serious student of Innovation, this is a must read.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Golden Cinema in Black and White

Believe it or not, there was a movie cinema in the British Naval Base in Singapore in the 1950s to early '70s (this, and the rest of the workers' quarters were demolished in the 1980s). It was quite a sizeable cinema hall and it has screened a mix of movies, from Indian (not Red Indians) movies to the English blockbusters.

As a very young boy then, I often only heard of the shows that were screened there, the most famous of which was Dracula. The name, Christopher Lee, has stuck in my mind ever since. The other show that generated much excitement and talk was The Ten Commandments with Charleton Heston in the lead role. But I never once stepped into that cinema hall, much less watched any of these blockbusters because my mother believed that movie watching has a negative influence. The closest I ever got to seeing the movies were the full-coloured printed flyers that were distributed around the Base advertising the upcoming movie. I did, however, catch the occasional Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies that were screened in the open air across the road from where I lived then. These screenings were free of charge, courtesy of the British Empire. So long as you can find a place on the grass land to sit down, you're set for Tarzan.

I also often wandered outside this sole cinema hall in the day time. This cinema hall was located at the end of a street named Jalan Kedai. It could get very silent during the day where no movies are screened because everyone who has the means to catch a movie is busy making a living. The silence of the place is eerie, especially when a swamp (ever heard of the Swamp Thing?) is about 50 metres away.

Today, that cinema hall and all its surroundings, including the swamp is gone. The movies that used to play there is but a memory. Indeed, movie going has been around for more than a hundred years. The black and whites, the silent movies, the talkies and the musical are the stuff of legend today. Fortunately, they have been preserved by movie studios and are screened from time to time for film buffs and serious movie historians. There are many books that document the lives and times. One of the most recent that I came across is the picture-book "In the Picture - Production Stills from the TCM Archives". TCM stands for Turner Classic Movies. Once again, through these stills, I was re-acquainted with Tarzan and Johnny Weissmuller with Jane - er, Maureen O'Sullivan, that is. This 159-page book has a full-sized picture in almost every page, showing movie stills from the silent era such as Buster Keaton's The Cameraman, Lilian Gish's The Scarlett Letter to those talkies starring Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Johnny Weissmuller (pages 36 and 55), Greta Garbo, etc. etc. right up to Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson in Giant. There are just too many to list here. The actor I missed most in these pages was Charlie Chaplin. I wonder why its not in this book? The TCM website does have Charlie Chaplin's The Kid (1921) and Modern Times (1936).

One interesting nugget I picked up in this book is how erstwhile silent movie actors can fail to make the transition from silent movies to talkies. Their movie careers were adversely affected by it - the victims yet again of technology. A case in point - in silent movie actor, John Gilbert's first talkie, His Glorius Night (1929), audiences just could not match his actual light natural baritone voice with the high pitch voice that they imagined him to have after watching 5 years of Gilbert's silent movies. That movie flopped and Gilbert's star wanned. On the other hand, Greta Garbo's first talkie, Anna Christie (1930) was successful and propelled her towards greater stardom. This nugget is from page 19 of the book.

Lots of interesting tales and 'old' pictures in this book. Have a look.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Skoda going places

I have a confession - I don't know how to drive a car. In car-crazy Singapore, where I live today, that's a anachronism. I have my reasons for this state of affairs, reasons that might surprise you if you knew, but let's just leave it at that. This doesn't stop me from being an observer of cars, which reminds me of an Eastern European make called Skoda. When it first debuted in Singapore, it was very very cheap, compared to the rest of the competition. It was also very very, lets say, flimsy. It looked like an undercarriage which just happens to have a body covering of tin metal. It reminded me when Honda first came out with sub-compact cars that ran on motorcycle-sounding type engines that could seat two Asian-sized passengers - a third or fourth if they could squeeze into the back seat. It was said that the car's body was so flimsy that the car will be crushed completely, like paper, in an accident. Japanese cars have made quantum leaps in terms of power and design of their cars since.

Well, back to Skoda. It looks like it has also grown up since the first time I saw a Skoda about 15-20 years ago - at least in Europe. Strategy+Business has a case study article on this in its current Fall 2005 edition. The entire article is available online here. Prior to reading this interesting article, I didn't know that Skoda has had a long and illustrious history. It is now owned by Germany's Volkswagen, and under its management, it has emerged from its communist days to become a world challenger in car design and performance. It is so successful that its parent, Volkswagen, felt threatened by its designs. How did this happen? Read the article and find out.

P.S. You need to register with S+B, but the registraton is free of charge.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Ships that Cunard sailed

As a young boy, I was given an assignment to write on the topic "My ambition". I was then in primary school (that's elementary school in some other parts of the world). Without much hesitation, I penned a short essay on being a sailor when I grew up. There was much to commend about this ambition.

First, you get to see the whole world. I was at an age where you long to see something outside of your home and school. Second, sailing evoked adventure, and that's what every boy likes, especially when he has been fed on story books such as R.L. Stevenson's Treasure Island, Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Alfred Hitchcock's tales of adolescent mystery and suspense. And did it help that I was staying in the British Naval Base (Dockyard) in Singapore at that time? Watching large man-of-wars was within walking distance from where I lived.

But that's the world of fantasy. Fast forward to Cunard - a name that brings to mind large large ships that sailed across the Atlantic, and occasionally, the world. What's more, you also hear that these ships are luxurious and probably only the rich and famous can afford to sail in them. At that time, I had yet to hear of the Titanic. I wasn't rich nor famous and therefore never stepped onto a Cunard. I could only read about them.

Cunard is still very much around, and it has been so for the last 165 years. Recalling my adolescence, and still not yet rich nor famous, I picked up the book "Cunard - A Photographic History" by Janette McCutcheon to re-live its glory years. This is a table-coffee book of 96 pages. Something light to hold in your hands while you sip your coffee. It is full of pictures to dazzle your eyes and bring back memories of bygone years. Its an easy read too, although the narrative seems a bit halting, but this is to be expected. The pictures are, after all, the main attractions. The narrative informs the reader about the history and significance of each picture in the book and about the social and historical context. Every page is filled with photographs of the various Cunard ships from the time when Samuel Cunard first built his Royal Mail ships that, by the way, also carried passengers. Divided roughly into three parts, the book traces the history of the company from its founding to the First World War, the years between the world wars and period after the Second World War till the present.

At the end of it, you get an appreciation not only of Cunard's history, but also of how circumstances and inventions of the day can affect the prosperity or survival of a company. For example, after World War II, Air travel by Jet became popular and that took away Cunard's ertswhile business of ferrying passengers across the Altantic. It eventually had to focus on the Cruise Liner business, for which it is best known today, at least for the holidaying crowd. However, you will want to read about its shipping business from the early days, and look at the marvellous ships it once used to own, including its Carpathia, which picked up 705 passengers from the sinking Titanic in 1912 and the Lusitania, Mauretania and the Aquitania - the fastest and biggest ships of its days.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Best free journal on the web

Strategy+Business" (s+b) is a quarterly print journal/magazine from Booz Allen Hamilton. Its a great magazine targeted at business leaders, academics, and anyone else interested in what is happening in the world of business today, and possibly what will happen tomorrow. The content is varied and, best of all, its freely available on the World Wide Web. Unlike its rival, The McKinsey Quarterly (MQ), all content that are in print is available without charge on the internet at the same time that the print edition is out.

MQ used to offer all its content for free on the web too, but switched to providing premium content for a fee. Some content remains free, but you feel crippled when you can't pursue an interesting topic that is featured because the content is considered premium. I used to refer to MQ quite a lot when I was pursuing my Masters degree in Technology Management a couple of years ago. Needless to say, it was then free of charge on the web.

In any case, s+b is just as good and its still free on the web. You can also get it to send you e-mail updates as and when a new issue is available. You won't miss an issue like that.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

T-shirts economics

Here's a good book to sink your teeth into. Published in 2005, "The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy" is an unlikely sounding text on International Economics, but that's what it is, and more. Its about international trade, politics, history and even travel, weaved around the theme of the economics involved in the global textile and apparel trade over three hundred years!

In developing the narrative, the author, Dr Pietra Rivoli of the Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, first traces the beginnings and development of the cotton industry in the US and England. In particular, she englightens us on the reasons for the longevity of the cotton industry in the US and how, even today, the industry that grew from this basic commodity - apparel and textile - still has a strong, albeit wanning, presence in the US. In weaving together a masterful account of the history, politics and economics related to this essential industry, Dr Rivoli has managed to entertain with wry observations and personal anecdotes garnered from her travels to research and write this book.

My favourite part of the book is where she describes how technology, research and development has extended the dominance of the cotton industry in the US through 200 years. Now, one would expect that a country or any organisation would lose its competitive advantage in a product, service or skill after two or at most, three generations, but for 200 years? Amazing!

Written in non-intimidating language with little trade jargon, its an easy read. Yet its full of insight spanning a whole gamut of topics and disciplines. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

You have to read it too.

Its available at Amazon.com for about US$19. The price will vary depending on whether you are getting first-hand or not. But then again, this book is quite recent.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Blogging crap

Blogging is writing about yourself, your experiences, your life. Some have adapted blogging to venture on writing on highly specific areas and have thus created wonderful resources on blogs. But I must say that I agree with one commentor to this blog that a lot of the blogs you find in Blogger.com (and perhaps most other purpose-built blogging portal) is just crap.

Some, after securing a good blogger address, write nothing worthy of that address. For example, see http://writer.blogspot.com. (sorry Mr Bray). Some write garbage, and worse, repeat that garbage over several days' blogs - and they write nothing else. Its the worst form of bad writing - 'spamming' their own blogs.

I ask, "Why bother in the first place?" You can't invite people to view your blog because you'd die of embarrassment, you can't publicise your blog because you'd be viewed as vacuous, you can't even make a cent out of it because Google Adsense has more sense than to let you have their codes.

So why do people do it? I really cannot figure it out. I can only guess.

Maybe having a blog, whatever that blog has or does, is not important. The satisfaction lies in the fact that you have a blog address.

Maybe other priorities in life have distracted you from your blogging ambitions.

Maybe you are suffering from writers' block, and its been blocked for the last 3 years!

Maybe you are just not interested anymore, but don't want to delete your blog, or cannot be bothered to, or don't know how to(?)

Maybe one day, the blogger may resume the activity. I don't begrudge such ambitions, but either start writing something or release those blog addresses!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Purpose of this blog

My tastes in the written word are rather eclectic as much as my interests are wide. I have always loved reading - anything that I can lay my hands on. But you get selective over time, because you know that you cannot possibly read everything that has ever been written and printed.

Of late, my interests are in technology, management, information systems, e-business/e-commerce development economics, history, some politics, Christian literature, retail management, etc. Some of these areas interest me because they contribute to my rice-bowl (i.e. my professional interests), others because I have had an abiding interest in them - something of a hobby that helps me de-stress and know something more about the world that we live in at the same time.

Whichever the case, I read a lot. Because I have access to very current books and writings, I thought I might share my views about them in this blog. Of course, older books are just as important, but I suspect much has already been written about them anyway. Another reason for this blog is personal - often, I have forgotten what I have read over the years. Since I spend a lot of time reading, its a big part of my life that is missing in my memory. When you get older, you become more concerned about remembering. Nostalgia increasingly becomes an important part of life.