Kerala Model vs Gujarat Model

In their mid-weekly public policy newsletter, Anticipating the Unintended, Pranay Kotasthane and R S Jaitley discuss the Kerala and Gujarat model of how states have developed.

They suggest that the current situation in both states are the result of history of about two centuries and not just the current government in power in both states. They suggest that the best state model to pursue is to take the best of both worlds.

Perhaps the model to follow is the Travancore state did in the 19th century. Writing about the policies pursued by Travancore, they write:

Travancore was keen to be seen as a model ‘native state’. It privatized landholding and introduced commercial crops in the state. Private property rights means a greater incentive to improve farm productivity. The results were immediate. The state ran a budget surplus for a better part of the 19th century and it used it to invest in education and public health.

Pranay Kotasthane and Raghu Sanjaylal Jaitley, Anticipating the Unintended, #37, May 27, 2020.

There are innumerable social issues that affect Kerala today as it had affected Travancore then. The pandemic exposes Gujarat’s lack of investment in education and public health. But, Kerala is able to invest in these today only because of the gains of private enterprise in the past. In that sense, Kerala seems to be following the Scandinavian model.

Pragati Podcast #138 Prem Panicker

These are show notes from Episode 138 of the Pragati Podcast with Prem Panicker (Twitter). I thought this episode is an equivalent to an MBA course on starting an online publication in India today. My show notes are only points from the podcast that are of interest to me.

Image Credit: The Pragati Podcast/IVM Podcasts

Prem is talking about his time at rediff.com. He says that they had limited resources and so the news desk they developed had to sort and prioritise news flow. For press conferences and coverage of events, they could rely on news agencies who will cover these events. They had to decide when to send in a reporter to the field.

He says they used data to maintain customers and to make sure they are not losing readers but the current news organizations are being run from Excel sheets.

They designed their story pages like home pages because people were landing there directly. Their pages were modelled like a shopping mall is. The customer is made to walk by some stores as he moves up or down the stairs or escalators in the mall. This is for randomly discovering stuff one might not otherwise consume. Similarly they share stories that the reader reaches a page is also shown news content that they might like to read.

Prem talks about his time with Yahoo! They knew that they could not compete with other news organisations. They went for thoughtful long form pieces. Some of the news stories that emerge are like the ones by Arati Kumar-Rao while she travelled along the Brahmaputra river.

He says that we cite short attention spans of the reader. But, this is more the journalism houses excuse for not providing long form journalistic content. He cites examples of various journalism house pivoting to long form journalism. Even Buzzfeed!

The “class” even had a case study with Barkha Dutt’s new venture – MoJo TV.

For some examples of online content done well, he suggests his own website, peepli.org stories from 2014 for which he is presently trying to raise money.

For data visualisations, he suggests work done by Bobby Ghosh for the Hindustan Times, circa 2014. Ghosh is presently with Bloomberg Opinion.

He suggests the podcasts of Amit Varma’s The Seen and the Unseen and Rukmini’s The Moving Curve.

The show ends with a number. Prem thinks that INR 120 crores would be a safe amount to have to start your own news venture.

Work from Home 3

India is under Lockdown 4.0. There are more than one lakh COVID-19 positive patients in India. There are about 400 in the ward of the city where I live. The Lockdown has been extended up to May 31 in the state.

After struggling with the Lockdown through March and April, I feel that I have some more control and the processes that I laid out for work and home have started showing some benefits. That many of the Lockdown requirements were eased added to the sense of control I felt.

I got myself a desk and two chairs. We had not purchased these since I did not feel the need for a table when I was working from office. I spent most of my time at home using my mobile phone. With working from home, I was spending 8 to 10 hours on the laptop. Other than a place to keep it also helped in ergonomics and lends itself to multiple other uses.

I continued consuming news only through 3 Things and The Moving Curve. I have started adding other news through newsletter, blogs and tweets but reduced it’s consumption through May. But, I try to keep away from news of the pandemic but that has been difficult.

I started packing my work laptop after completing a day at work. I also practiced locking up the room I used for work. This gave me a sense of separation between work and home. I also tried to limit working hour whenever possible. This also helped family understand when I could be disturbed.

We upgraded the internet connection at home which has helped with multiple people using the wifi at home.

Changes outside also helped. Before May 17, government announcements frequently changed when shops would be open and when not. These notifications changed in 2-3 days. This had led to a lot of anxiety. Shops staying open for longer hours and more shops opening up since May 17 has returned a sense of certainty. Power and Internet connections have also become more reliable in May.

Other posts in this series:

  1. Work from Home 1
  2. Work from Home 2

Using a Zettelkasten in a Bullet Journal

In my last post I explained the concept of the Zettelkasten. Many of the articles that I linked to in that post suggest using digital tools to implement the Zettelkasten.

Zettelkasten. Image Credit: Kai Schreiber via Wikimedia Commons.
What the bullets in a bullet journal stand for. Image Credit: BulletJournal.com

I have had a history of not trusting digital tools. This is because I have used many of them and move to the shiny new object when I find one. This has led to my information being stuck in various digital tools like Evernote, Notion and now some on Roam Research.

The idea of a second brain requires something that we would trust we would use. Else, we just keep our ideas and thoughts in our head.

I needed something that I would trust I would use and would be analog.

This is where the Bullet Journal comes in. I have used this analog tool for the past six months. I am starting to build enough trust in entering information there knowing that I will use it. The physical presence of the written word also dispels fear about losing ideas in various silos.

Moving a Zettelkasten into a Bullet Journal reduces the clutter of index cards that it leaves behind. While, Zettelkasten enriches the practice of reflection in the Bullet Journal. It pushes us to link the ideas we jot down in the Bullet Journal with each other in a way that our brain does. This also helps us remember these ideas better.

Zettelkasten in its original avatar is analog. It uses a sort of threading system using boxes and alphanumeric references to each idea. The word threading reminded me of the practice of threading used in Bullet Journal.

Zettelkasten in it’s original avatar is analog. BuJo is also analog. I thought there must be a way to tie both these practices together. Threading is used to refer to a previous section as a way to provide continuity to a post. The video explains threading:

I want to extend the concept of threading to use it more than just for providing continuity of a collection or notes within the Bullet Journal.

A latitude or longitude is expressed in degrees, minutes and seconds. Similarly, a bullet can be referred to as volume, page number and line number. This means that each bullet in your notebook can be linked to another bullet within the same notebook or even another notebook.

This threads similar ideas together in the course of writing your bullet journal. I would suggest using the Index to collect tags related to a similar idea together. This would give you an index that would collect the page numbers on which ideas are being discussed. You can take a minute to go through these tags during your weekly or monthly reflection. You can also refer to the index when you are struggling with an idea related to the tag.

Zettelkasten

Zettelkasten is a way to organise notes.

When you get any information (via a book, an article, a podcast episode, etc.) that you think is important for you, it suggested that you write it down. In the process of writing it down, it is essential that you write it down in your own words. Later, it is essential to consider where this idea fits into your understanding of the world. This helps to retain and apply the information that you obtained.

Eugene Yan summarises the process succinctly:

  1. Write each idea you come across on a card.
  2. Link idea cards to other relevant idea cards (idea -> idea link).
  3. Sort cards into broader topic boxes (idea -> topic link).

Before I talk about my personal experience, I would like to record how I discovered this process.

I stumbled upon the Zettelkasten in March 2020 when I read this piece on the process by David Clear on the Writing Cooperative. This is the most comprehensive write-up I’ve seen on the Zettelkasten.

I found Roam Research during a Twitter conversation I was having with a friend who mentioned it as a note taking app that he was using.

Twitter conversation on March 19 with Saurabh Garg where he mentioned Roam Research.

There are a bunch of videos that have been put out by it’s founder Connor Sullivan-White. But, those did not make any sense to me. I tried taking notes on two days of April. I could not figure out what people were going crazy about. Hence, I dropped the whole Zettelkasten experiment there.

Roam Research then found mention in a Thomas Frank video. I subscribe to his YouTube channel for tips about productivity. This was where the tool started to make some sense.

Thomas Frank’s video about Roam Research app.

I agree with Thomas that the major drawback of this app is that it does not have a mobile companion app. It is a good tool to research a subject.

Then two days ago I found these two blog posts on Eugene Yan’s blog which I found through Twitter again. I liked his writing style which is short and to the point.

  1. Learning an Easier Way to Write: 3 Simple Parts
  2. Stop Taking Regular Notes; Use a Zettelkasten Instead

Shu Omi’s YouTube channel has two videos that explain both the Zettelkasten method as well as the way he takes notes. The method is similar to the one that Eugene Yan uses. So, you can watch the videos if you like to watch this method work.

Shu Omi explains the Zettelkasten method.
Shu Omi explains how he implements the Zettelkasten in Roam Research

I have now started using the Bullet Journal and have found it more useful as a tool that I want to use. I have not had success with digital tools and I seem to keep replacing them when I find a shiny new thing. This, is why I prefer to keep things in a bullet journal. In the next blog post, I will go into the details of how I incorporated the practice of the Zettelkasten into my BuJo practice.

What’s not going to change in the next ten years?

Jeff Bezos says –
“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. …[I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible. And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.

via Vishal Khandelwal, SafalNiveshak.com

Samkhya

In 2010, I wrote a blog post called Going back to the temple. A recent reading of the ISKCON’s version of Bhagvad Gita As It Is, felt like a push towards a non-questioning worship of Lord Krishna and it’s interpretation of the Gita felt like an effort to turn people towards the ISKCON movement rather than to enlighten people about the Gita itself.

I have also been reading the Stoics lately. I have read about them in Tim Ferriss’ videos on YouTube, Ryan Holiday’s newsletter called the Daily Stoic, a book on the Stoic Philosophy – William Irvine’s book on Stoicism.

These made me wonder about Indian systems of philosophy. This led me to this wonderful Wikipedia page. This further led me to Samkhya. Many have called Samkhya the philosophical backing for Yoga.

Like most Indian philosophical schools, the original works are lost. These seem to have either been not taken forward as an oral tradition at some point. There is likely to have been misinterpretations as these have passed down centuries.

I was comparatively reading two translations of Samkhya Karika, which survived since there was a Chinese translation from the 6th century that survived. The two are –

  1. The Samkhya Karika by Ishwara Krishna – An Exposition of the Sytem of Kapila – John Davies [PDF link]
  2. Samkhya Karika – Brahmrishi Vishvatma Bawra

The second book led me to this website of Brahmrishi Vishvatma Bawra. The site does not appear to have been updated since 2015.

It led me to look for modern Samkhya teachers. This led to a book called Modern Samkhya by D E Osto

This is where I am at learning about a rationalist and atheistic school of Hindu thought. Since, today is Buddha Pournima, I thought linking to this blog post which compares the study of Buddhism and Samkhya might be a good addition. The parallels are striking.

As D E Osto writes on his website about the book:

The ancient philosophy of Sāṃkhya can be applied to modern life in a number of valuable ways. Rather than becoming overly concerned with the metaphysics of the system, Sāṃkhya can be seen as a psychological tool to overcome suffering. Through rigorous philosophical and psychological analysis, a person can learn to detach or disassociate from the psychophysical entity, and realize witness consciousness or what I refer to as the transcendental subject.

D E Osto, Modern Samkhya

The parallels to Stoicism is striking to me.

George Saunders

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders is a book that cannot be categorized. It is a dystopian novella, a science fiction read, a satirical take on our times, the 21stcentury Animal Farm in a way, and perhaps more.

Written in 2006, almost fourteen years ago, this novella is still so frighteningly prescient. We are living it in a way, in almost every country. Most countries of the world today have their own Phil, and their reign isn’t brief.

Vivek Tejuja, in his review of The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

Chamath Palihapitiya

I first heard of him on Tim Ferriss’ 5 Bullet Friday (dated April 17, 2020). This is the text that Tim adds:

Podcast episode I’m listening to —Billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya on How to Invest in This CrisisThis was sent to me by one of the better investors I know, someone who has been exceptionally successful in startups, public equities, and cryptocurrencies. Here is the description: “This is an episode of The Pomp Podcast with host Anthony Pompliano (@APompliano) and guest Chamath Palihapitiya (@chamath), the CEO of Social Capital, the Chairman of Virgin Galactic, and the owner of the Golden State Warriors. In this conversation, Chamath and Anthony discuss … where Chamath currently has capital invested, how he thinks we can solve the structural issues in health and economics, why being a patient investor will pay off, where he is looking for opportunity right now, what he thinks should happen with the NBA, and how the world is going to change after the pandemic is over.” Term that pops up in this episode: fiat currency. The term “fiat” derives from the Latin fiat (“let it be done”). For more on fiat currency as related to the US economy, I quite enjoyed Biography of the Dollar when I read it in 2009.

Tim Ferriss, 5 Bullet Friday, April 17, 2020

While following YouTube’s suggestion, I also enjoyed listening to this interview with him for the View from the Top podcast. There is a nice summary of the episode on their website.

I gather that many of his appearances on television has been controversial but he has some interesting insights into the present scenario. He also has an annual letter to his investors where he shares his thesis of the present condition.