The Leaning Tower: Global Infrastructure

Stardate: 11022.7

First, Navroz Mubarak!  May the new year bring peace, prosperity, opportunity, and profit for all!  ;-D  It has been a while since my last post where I started my discussion of the WEF Global Risks report for 2010.  I had indicated that I would follow-up with two additional posts on the matter.  Well, here’s one.  Enjoy!

While discussing the appendicular skeleton in an audiobook on human anatomy, the lecturer caught my attention by noting a remarkable (and often taken for granted) attribute of our intra-structure; as the human body grows, the bones on one side of the our bodies grow evenly with respect to those on the other, without any direct measurement or communication mechanism!  The left femur and the right femur grow pretty much at the same pace keeping the overall body in balance!  In a few cases, however, bones on one side of the body grow faster than their counterparts on the other side impeding the individual’s motor abilities.

The Present:

While this condition is rare in skeletons, it is NOT uncommon in the economies of developing – and sometimes even developed – nations; where development in one socio-economic aspect significantly outpaces others.  The WEF report cites examples of villages in Africa and South America that lack basic infrastructure needs, such as running water and sanitation, situated alongside state-of-the-art highways and port facilities.  These imbalances, and the risks they pose, are no longer a matter merely of academic discourse or limited to esoteric economic debate.  Similar ideas are increasingly being portrayed via classical pop-culture vehicles; recall images of world-class call centers juxtaposed with feeble transportation infrastructure from Slumdog Millionaire!

The Past:

Drawing from the hundreds of encounters I have had with (now Late) Dr. Spellman’s guns-and-butter graphs from my undergraduate economics classes, some of this skewed development could be attributed to the undesirable side effects of comparative advantage among nations.  However, let’s not be quick to exculpate other dubious – not malicious perhaps, but certainly irresponsible – contributors, including (1) hypermyopic mining of resources and markets by quarterly-report driven initiatives, (2) weak or absent government oversight, (3) corruption, and so on.

Key observations from the WEF Report:

  • Challenge: To address infrastructure needs with a vision for sustainable and resource-efficient approach to projects (hmmm… sounds like a page out of the AKF handbook)
  • Last decade saw the rise of public-private partnerships on large infrastructure projects (I’m thinking PartnershipsInAction)
  • Must establish and share best practices, expert knowledge, and enabling technologies across frontiers
  • Infrastructure levels must be achieved in economically and environmentally sustainable manner (more green: wallet and planet)
  • Agriculture and food security related infrastructure concerns:
    • 1 Billion people went hungry in 2009
    • World population is increasing with roughly 75% of the world’s poor living in rural areas
    • Population growth leads to higher demands, not just for food but, also for water and energy required to produce and transport that food

The Future:

In many forecasting models, the recent past is used to estimate the immediate future.  So, where do we go from here?  Now that we recognize where we are and what got us here, what steps can we take to treat this condition?  Here are some initial thoughts that come to mind:

1. Countries of Opportunity: Developing nations are increasingly becoming countries of real opportunity.  Both, as a market for goods and services, and a source of talent and natural resources.  Going forward, we need to abandon the locust-approach to multinational ventures, which may yield profits in the short-term but is ultimately self-defeating for everyone – including the locust.  Instead, all parties should approach the venture as partners, seeking a truly win-win opportunity over the long-haul.  Let’s take that one step further.  Let’s start the dialog on what we can do collectively to make more and more countries, countries of real opportunity.  Imagine the potential of turning a deficit-oriented view of the developing world into an asset-oriented one where we take proactive measures on continuously nurturing new opportunity!

2. Green: Any discussion including “long-haul” should not ignore consequences on the environment.  We need a planet on which to pursue economic opportunity.

3. Civil Society: The Aga Khan Foundation was certainly avant-garde in recognizing the condition of skewed development and in systematically promoting, over the last 40 years, public-private partnerships to further sustainable development.  In the future, it is my estimate that organizations such as the Foundation and the broader civil society will continue to play a significant role in furthering sustainable and balanced development.  Governments and private enterprises alone cannot – and should not – be burdened with this task.  Sustainable development is our collective responsibility and we need to step up to it! 😀

4. Knowledge: Access to education – good education – must be made universal.  Further, we should facilitate the sharing of best practices, expert knowledge, tools, and technology.  Here again, the attitude should be of partnership, we should seek to learn from each other.

5. Addressing Corruption: Another classic example of the locust mindset, corruption, must be addressed.  Of course, this malaise would start somewhat self-correcting with the improvement of socio-economic conditions which would result from countries becoming countries of opportunity!  But, that does not mean that we allow corruption to impede progress in the interim!

A self-proclaimed econoptimist, I believe that we will move in this direction.  Our approach may be gradual at first, due to this Global Short Leg Syndrome.  But as we recover, we will develop better motor control, picking up the pace toward sustainable development!


Jobs, jobs, jobs!

Stardate: 11015.9

From day one in our respective offices, both President Obama and I have been obsessed with… jobs, jobs, jobs!  So, it is no wonder that I started my reading and analysis of the WEF report from the section on unemployment.

Key observations from the WEF Report:

  • Dramatic rise in unemployment over the last 18 months: reverberations from the recession still linger
  • Job creation is much slower than job evaporation (doesn’t take a genius to figure this one)
  • Despite incredible growth rates, India is enduring an unemployment rate (officially) of 7.2%
  • Here’s the kicker: some portion of jobless spike could be structural; remnants of the reverberations could transform into longer term underemployment
  • Oh and before the perpetually paranoid protectionists start building fences, please note that curtailing immigration may actually exacerbate the situation

So, what exactly is structural (vs. cyclical) unemployment?  During periods of economic growth, increased demand for goods and services drives up the demand for labor, leading to lower unemployment.  In recessionary times, the reverse is observed.  Nothing earth shattering here.  This is cyclical unemployment; tied to the business cycle.  In some cases, (consider US steel production) factors shift so drastically causing the underlying structure of the economy to change which precludes the spike in unemployment in a sector (or sectors) from reverting back to “normalcy”. This is structural unemployment; tied to the changed structure of the economy. Structural unemployment is generally more challenging (sometimes even futile) to combat.

And how does underemployment differ from unemployment?  Loosely put underemployment is the younger sibling of unemployment, where the reduction in demand for labor is distributed horizontally so that more people have less work rather than a few with work and others without.  However, underemployment could also imply underutilization of skills and talent or lower wages.

Finally, how do we get out of this mess?  Here are some strategies that I would like to offer – in no particular order:

1) Efficient placement processes.  Obviously, there are jobs out there, but the disproportionately large supply of labor is slowing (counter-intuitive as it may sound) the hiring process; for each open position, double or even triple digit resumes are being submitted. This flood of applications is simply clogging the pipeline and taxing the already overburdened HR personnel. What is exacerbating this even further is the narrow location-scope imposed by job applicants which in turn is rooted in the shift toward multi-generational housing arrangements (slowing of the economy is incentive enough for recent college graduates to move back in their parent’s houses).  If we are to tear through the unemployment doldrums, applicants need to go where the jobs are and make their job searches more focused in their areas of expertise and skill.

2) Education.  Which brings me to my next point.  If your skills are outdated or you find that the skills you possess do not seem to match the job opportunities out there (structural shift), acquire new skills; preferably those with better employment prospects.  No solution to unemployment or underemployment (particularly from a long-term perspective) would be complete without a heavy focus on continuous education.

3) Free flow of capital and labor.  There is a great big world out there.  Why limit your options?  Seek out regions and even countries of opportunity for your field of endeavor.  Having a hard time finding the right place for your skill set, this may be a good time to review #2 again.

4) Coming together.  The days of going at it alone are long gone. So, find a great network (like the Ismaili Professionals Network) and get involved.  Seek out others who are in the same profession or economic activity who can help you navigate through the maze of corporate hiring.  Or, consider launching a start-up!  The conditions may be ripe – particularly if you can seek out partners with complementary skills and/or venture funding ;-D  Jokes aside, this may be a very opportune time to explore entrepreneurial options specifically in regards to innovative ideas and new knowledge areas.

5) Innovation and new knowledge areas. At the RIPBC in Dallas, Chairman Amin concluded his presentation on Global Economy with “Leaders in innovation will continue to win in 21st century.”  I cannot agree more.  In fact, I believe the operative word here is “continue”.  Innovation leading to success is not a radically new or (forgive the pun) innovative notion, it is a time-tested phenomenon.

So, what are you waiting for?  Help me and President Obama fight this monstrous recessionary quagmire – you can start by helping connect just one prospect with a suitable opportunity!

Identifying and Managing Risk

Stardate: 11015.7

Notwithstanding all the pressing items on my to-do list, I resolved to review and comment on the Global Risks report for 2010 from the recent World Economic Forum by the end of this week.  With only 25 hours at hand and a daunting list of must-complete items still on that pesky list, it appears we may have a race against that thing called *time* once again.  Funny thing, this week has been unusually intense with back-to-back meetings; in person or on conference calls.  Now add to that logistical challenges of coordinating calls with team members spread in timezones across 4 continents; North America all timezones, Europe, Asia, and Australia!  As intense as it has been, I must admit, I am thoroughly enjoying it!! I guess that makes me a Workafrolic!!! (Richard St. John’s TED presentation)

In any case, while there are several risks identified in the report with varying levels of inter-connectedness, likelihoods of realization, and severity, my attention is drawn to:

1. continued unemployment and underemployment; echoes from the stalking recession
2. skewed, inadequate, or virtually non-existent infrastructure capacity; unsustainable development
3. energy myopia;

In Constantine (the movie), the angel Gabriel declares that humanity is at its best when faced with adversity (or something along those lines). However, I believe the archangel jumped to an incomplete conclusion. Humanity is at its best… tactically. In putting all our focus in the seemingly insurmountable challenges at hand, we sometimes tend to neglect the strategic view; the more severe the current issues, the more we tend to compromise on future think. And while this may be justified in many cases (for what good is the heavy bag of food if I am to drown), it is not always the prudent position (shed the weight of the bag of food to avoid drowning, only to be washed ashore starving).

In the little that I have reviewed, I have been pleased with the report’s balance in addressing short-term and long-term issues. In fact, a significant emphasis is on the long-term; I must say, I am impressed. So, between now and tomorrow nite, I will endeavor to review the report and supporting research particularly in the areas of the aforementioned 3 risks (or risk components) and share some comments with you 😀  Stay tuned…

Zervan Paused

Stardate: 11011.0

While we can move from point to point in space, why does it appear that we can only travel one-way in time? Is there an arrow of time, or can we travel back in time as well? The laws of physics do not prohibit the uncracking of an egg, however, observing this in practice is limited to experiments with apparatus capable of playing videos in reverse!  Perhaps, we are going about this all (forgive the expression) backwards.  Maybe, there is no arrow of time but an arrow of experience.  Take the uncracking egg for instance, even if we were able to successfully conduct that experiment, it would be a series of events culminating into the reformation of the egg.  Again an arrow moving forward from a state of high-entropy into one of lower-entropy – the direction remaining forward nonetheless!  So, maybe we can travel back and forth and sideways in time, however, our capacity to experience events is limited and constrains us to this forward facing arrow.  So, that’s the first point: there is ONLY a perceived arrow of time resulting from the arrow of experience.

Here is another mind-bender for you to consider should you have the time.  Einstein stopped at a 4-dimensional universe; 3 dimensions of space and 1 of time.  Subsequently, other theories (specifically, string theory) have proposed additional space dimensions – as many as 7 additional dimensions (at least in stable representations).  But, what I’m more interested in is additional dimensions in time.  What if time as we know it was simply one dimension of a 3D time?  For ease in visualization, let’s use familiar Euclidean notations to describe points in this 3D time; ( tx tk tz ). Where tx represents our familiar notion of time; the arrow of experience based time. So far, so good? For a second (like that means anything) don’t worry about what tk and tz represent – we will get to that later.

Now, hold up a piece of paper in your hand so that you can see full sheet with the bottom edge of the paper at eye-level. Next, rotate it so that the top edge of the paper moves away from you. At some point, instead of seeing the whole sheet, all you will see is a line. Apply this same logic to the temporal plan txtk. The angle at which our faculties can experience the plane txtk is so constrained that we can only perceive a flattened forward-only straight arrow of time! Now, imagine a whole stack of paper – infinitely tall – and you come face-to-face with Zervan!

More elaboration on tk (karma) and tz (Zervan) in a later post!

Leapfrogging TOAD

Stardate: 11011.2

Sometimes time-saving tools can be fairly time-consuming. TOAD claims this dubious distinction for its auto reformat feature. Our DBAs often use TOAD to apply packages and other PL/SQL code on Oracle databases. Now, TOAD has this feature where it can beautify your code. What that translates into is that PL/SQL on the database cannot be directly matched against (for parity checks) the PL/SQL in the version control system!  So, our challenge was to find some way to quickly but accurately compare these two versions.  Here is how our engineers leapfrogged TOAD:

Run the following 4 regular expression find-and-replace operations on both files (we used Visual Studio 2008 but the same can be accomplished by sed or any other utility)

  • Remove all newlines in the files so that we end up with one very long line of code.  Step 1: Replace ‘\n’ with ‘ ‘
  • Replace all tabs and other whitespace with a simple space.  Step 2: Replace ‘:b’ with ‘ ‘
  • Replace multiple consecutive spaces with a single space.  Step 3: Replace ‘:b+’ with ‘ ‘
  • Replace all semi-colons (PL/SQL statement terminator) with a semi-colon and newline.  Step 4: Replace ‘;’ with ‘;\n’

Voila!  Now we have two files that (although not very easily readable) can be compared for parity!

The Teflon Piece

A boon or a bane, to wax or to wane, a friend or a fiend – he knows it all, he is a teflon piece.
A symbol of certitude and not hubris, like many entrepreneurs are.
I am sure Schmidt, Sergey and Page would love to have him, to feel complete! (I just finished reading “Googled” :))
Well, if this feels like one of the social network’s testimony like thing, so be it.
I know he would be modest enough to tell me, Oh puhlease…..or just say nothing at all….but excuse me KB, I insist 🙂
Be it Stardate or anagrams or great coffee…..I have come to appreciate this natural knack of being able to do it all and yet look great 😉

Lunch time with our neighbors, most of them being beautiful ladies, actually all of them were ladies,
and KB was ready with the Italy’s-used-to and America’s-favorite – PIZZA!
Topped with beef, cheese, jalepenos, olives,…yummmmm.

No one but him, relished it, for others felt they could not exercise like he could, after a heavy meal, and so thought it better to resist.
Needless to mention, I am a vegetarian…so that “Yummmm” does not hold true when it comes from me 😉
And then, at their not so thankful look, he said eating the last chunk of pizza….”Third world citizens, you see….can not afford to waste food!”

Even our forefathers would be wonderstruck to see the younger generations with such lovely insight and heads-on-shoulder kinda approach towards life.
Was indeed a lesson learnt for me. This indeed gives me a good picture of what IPN holds.

And that is why I would love to contribute to this web-log.

The mission and ethics of KB’s enterprise and IPN may like this and hence, I share this today.

“The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough.
It takes up a lot of your time.
What do you get at the end of it?
A Death! Well,
I think life cycle should be all backwards.
You should die first, get death out of the way.
Then you go live in an old age home.
You get kicked out for being too healthy, go collect your pension, then, when you start work, you get a gold watch on your first day.
You work forty years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement.
You drink alcohol, you party, and you get ready for high school.
You go to primary school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities,
you become a little baby, you go back,
you spend your last 9 months floating with luxuries like central heating, spa, room service on tap,

…and then you finish off as an orgasm.” AMEN! – Reverse Engineering at it’s best!


Stardate 11008.3

No, not the musical group from the 80s but the highly efficient little organ inside us that keeps the red stuff enriched and flowing.  From my basic understanding, our heart is made up of four chambers (and Salima keep me honest here please).  Each apparently routing the blood stream in a different direction; to a different destination.  Viewed in isolation, these chambers seem to be working in a completely disjointed manner, however, when seen together: precision and singular focus.  Amazing!

In our discussions today at the National EPB/IPN meeting, I couldn’t help but be drawn to this image.  Farid (Business Services), Taj (ESS), Saleemah (Financial Services) and I (IPN) have different mandates, different target demographics, and we each (using Chairman Amin’s words) bring a different lens to the discussion.  And while individually, each one of us may have appeared to be moving in different directions – completely opposite at times – in reality, we were enriching ideas by making them flow in different directions, holding them to different standards and scrutiny, ultimately polishing and enhancing them to the point where they were ready to bring life to our programs and services for 2010.  Amazing indeed!!

Who would’ve thought that the *Economic* Planning Board is all heart!!! 😀