Saturday, March 28, 2020

Is a recession due to the coronavirus inevitable?

First things first: what is Recession? “In economics, a recession is a business cycle contraction when there is a general decline in economic activity. Recessions generally occur when there is a widespread drop in spending.”
What keeps an economy buzzing? It is the consumer; and a positive consumer sentiment that motivates us to shop for new cars, houses , household stuff and services.
Consumers are humans. With the #COVID19 induced barrage of news, uncertainty, and lockdowns humans around the world are feeling overwhelmed. The consumer and business sentiment is far from positive. Check out United States Consumer Sentiment index
The global economy is already in recession. Why do you think the governments around the world have stepped up with bailout plans? (ref: The bill for saving the world economy is $7 trillion and rising).
Let’s look at the light at the end of this tunnel: Humans are resilient when facing uncertainty. Recessions eventually lead to extended periods of growth. We will certainly get past this economic slump.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Career advice: What are the jobs or domains that would thrive in the future, with the advent of AI, robotics, automation and all?

Here is my response to a recent question from an online forum.

Assuming you are asking about techno-functional role, a System Integrator is going to be in demand; and will thrive with the advent of AI, robotics, automation and other digital technologies.

So, who is a Systems integrator?

A systems integrator (or system integrator) is a person or company that specializes in bringing together component subsystems into a whole and ensuring that those subsystems function together, a practice known as system integration. Systems integrator - Wikipedia

Why are they going to be in demand?

AI, ML, Analytics, Robotics, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and other automation, blockchain and other emerging digital technologies don’t operate in isolation. To deliver innovative solutions and business processes, they need to be integrated together and operate with existing processes and systems either in the enterprise or across enterprises.

A system integration engineer (or Enterprise Architect) needs a broad range of skills and is likely to be defined by a breadth of knowledge rather than a depth of knowledge. These skills are likely to include software, systems and enterprise architecture, software and hardware engineering, interface protocols, and general problem solving skills.

People with a good grounding of technology and business processes who can customize, configure and integrate such emerging technologies and bring together people with depth of individual technologies are going to be in demand. 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Bengaluru, then and now: How was Bangalore 30-40 years back?

Thanks to my dad’s career in defense service, we had an opportunity to relocate to the city about three decades ago. And after retirement, my parents continue to call Bengaluru their home. After graduation, I moved to Mysuru for my Masters, and continued to come back to the city after my stints around the world.

Let’s look at the question from two dimensions – what’s changed in Bengaluru; and what remains the same.

What’s the same?

  • Air quality and Pollution issues – In the nineties and early part of the millennium, there were lot more open spaces. Parthenium menace would plague the city and those with Bronchitis and Other lung diseases would be advised to move out or cope with it. Thanks to urbanization, the city has turned into a concrete-jungle; and Parthenium and pollen pollution has given way to C02 and sulfur pollution. Those with Bronchitis and other lung diseases are still advised to move out or cope with it.
  • Kannadigas vs Kannada-gotilla Camps – Bangalore always enjoyed a large influx of migrants from across the country. Thanks to the large presence of military, research and Public Sector undertakings (HAL, NAL, DRDO, ISRO, BEL, BHEL, BEML, HMT etc etc), the city has always had a cosmopolitan feel. Some new migrants have tried to assimilate by learning the local language, while others in transferable jobs have also managed just as fine without doing so.
  • A few tree lined streets – A stretch in Malleshwaram, Basavagudi, Jayanagar or CV Raman avenue and a few other pockets continue to be tree-lined. Similarly, the city continues to enjoy a few lung-spaces like Cubbon-park, Lalbagh.

What’s changed?

  • Gardens have given way to tech parks – Bengaluru has long enjoyed the moniker of ‘garden city.’ But the gardens have given way to massive tech parks, especially in the South and South Eastern part of the city. This is perhaps the greatest change we are seeing around. While the influx of folks in Defense and PSU sectors continue, influx of millions of tech-generations has transformed the southern part of the city.
  • Tree lined Houses with gardens in residential neighborhoods have given way to multi-story flats. Influx of lot more people in the same parcel of land is increasing the population density
  • Unregulated construction, citizen and builders flouting zoning regulations. Large multistory apartment complexes have mushroomed in the interiors. Builders don’t bother to work with civic authorities to provision access driveways to main-roads leaving new residents scratching their heads in frustration.
  • A generation ago, lot more people used bikes, scooters and even bicycles to commute. Now most middle-class families living in small apartments and houses have cars but nowhere to park. They park their cars on streets in front, further choking narrow streets.
  • Cyclists are almost extinct on main roads. I loved riding a bicycle for the four-kilometer stretch to Malleshwaram during my college days. It is unthinkable to even imagine navigating that stretch in today’s busy traffic!
  • Perennial construction and digging around – you can’t drive a few hundred meters on a major road without seeing some roadwork or construction debris from adjacent lands blocking parts of the road. But isn’t it the same in rest of the country?
  • Cost of living has increased – Old timers complain that housing is much more expensive, eateries and darshanis charge more etc.; But isn’t it the same in rest of the country?
  • Density of population and traffic chaos - Outer, peripheral and other ring roads are choking. But isn’t it the same in rest of the country?

So, what does all this mean?

With all the chaos one sees around the sprawling metropolis, I am inclined to give A+ to the civic authorities including BBMP, BWSSB, BESCOM and even local Police. For a population of 13+ million
  • Residents don’t experience frequent blackouts like in other third world Metropolis. A few power-cuts are primarily due to constructions in neighborhoods, not because the system is failing!
  • A large portion of the city gets fresh Cavury, ‘corporation’ water, which is not a small task
  • If you are so inclined to go green, BMTC and Namma Metro continue to provide an above-average service for commute within the city. Taking public transit beats riding a bike or driving a car on choked roads any day!
  • Although residents come to grips with occasional incidents of robberies and theft, the Police by-and-large keeps the city safe!
City continues to grow. Now that the ring road is choking, the city is already planning for a peripheral ring road Four-year plan to implement 65-km peripheral ring road in Bengaluru

Monday, December 23, 2019

Yet another Kleptomania story: Mexican ambassador caught shoplifting in Buenos Aires resigns

A recent incident involving a Mexican diplomat who was caught shoplifting a $10 book from a high-end bookstore in Buenos Aires made for international headlines. The society holds professionals like diplomats in high esteem; and when a member of that cadre strays from the straight and narrow, we all take note.  According to news accounts
Mexico’s ambassador to Argentina resigned on Sunday citing health problems following new allegations of shoplifting after video from late October showed the diplomat attempting to steal a $10 book.
Ambassador ├ôscar Valero Recio Becerra “has been ordered to return home,” said Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard. The diplomat will be investigated by a government ethics committee. 

El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires - GETTY IMAGES
“Ricardo Valero is a great person, he’s undergoing neurological treatment and I wish him a speedy recovery,” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard wrote in a post on Twitter. We are all taught from an early age that stealing is wrong, and such an urge must be suppressed. The incident also brings up the debate on whether shoplifting and Kleptomania are symptoms of a mental and neurological disorder or simply an un-suppressible urge to steal things one covets. According to Mayo Clinic "Although there's no cure for kleptomania, treatment with medication or talk therapy (psychotherapy) may help to end the cycle of compulsive stealing."

Also, the viral video of "Indian family gets busted for stealing hotel accessories in Bali"

Sunday, December 22, 2019

FAQ on Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill

I have been blogging my viewpoints and observations "Aging and caregiving in India" during the past couple of years. 

In the previous post, I introduced the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Amendment Bill, and it is anticipated that the bill will soon be passed into law.  This is a great and timely move for a society that is undergoing changes.The earlier support systems enjoyed by elders in joint families are slowly giving way to nuclear families with a free-for-all. While Indian baby-boomers are aging, nuclear families are torn between caring for elders and supporting themselves and the next generation. 

Here are a few Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on the topic of elders and elder care in India that the articles in media seem to be highlighting 

Question: The Bill proposes the registration and maintenance of minimum standards of senior citizens' care homes. How will this work?

Standardizing the registration and maintenance of senior care homes will certainly help families considering this option. However, as with most other regulations in India, there could be a large gap between the intent and actual enforcement. Even in western societies like the USA where senior living homes are highly regulated by Federal, State and local agencies, the quality of care varies widely and enforcement is not always uniform. A few recent articles in the press:
As the law comes into effect and we see more nursing homes in existence, the plans for enforcement will begin to mature. 

Question: Is everyone going to be okay with senior citizens being entitled to maintenance 'by law' from their guardians?

Merely passing the law does not mean senior citizens can automatically begin demanding 'maintenance' from their children or others. One has to understand the intent and spirit of the proposals in the law : 
  • Many families live a hand-to-mouth existence themselves and it won't be fair or practical to ask a son struggling to maintain his household - e.g. wife and kids - to also dole out a sum of money to his parents. 
  • On the other hand, the intent of the law is to ensure that families with property that they are likely to inherit from elders, pay-back by taking care of such elders with dignity during their lifetime. 
Senior citizens who do not have children or grandchildren can claim maintenance from a relative who is either possessing their property or who will inherit their property of the senior citizen after their death. The relative must not be a minor and must have sufficient means to provide maintenance. If more than one relative is entitled to inherit the property, then maintenance must be paid by relatives in proportion to their inheritance of the property.

One frequently reads horror-stories of children abusing their helpless elders by demanding their assets or rights to other property. The law is intended to deter such folks and make it easier for victimized elders to seek protection.  

Question: How do you see the family dynamics change after the amendment brings other family members including sons-in-law and daughters-in-law into the ambit of the law?

Merely passing the law does not mean senior citizens can automatically begin demanding 'maintenance' from their children or other members of the family mentioned. The intent of the law is to ensure that family members with property that they are likely to inherit from elders, pay-back by taking care of such elders with dignity during their lifetime.  

One frequently reads horror-stories of children abusing their helpless elders by demanding their assets or rights to other property. The law is intended to deter such folks and make it easier for victimized elders to seek protection.  

Question: How should I file a case to seek maintenance from my family under Welfare and Maintenance of Parents and Citizens Act, 2007?

Let us take the example of an elderly senior citizen without sufficient means to survive and his/her children have enough resources to live and they are not taking care of them financially. The senior citizen may write an application to the local government authority (e.g. district magistrate) citing all the facts and ask them to direct the children to pay maintenance. If district administration fails to compel the children to act, then the senior can file a civil case against children under the above Act.

Of course, there may be practical issues involved here; e.g how is the senior citizen going to get the resources and knowledge to contact an attorney. 

Question: Will the amendment help Senior Citizen who are incapable of handling legal proceedings due to one reason or another?

The amendment to the law doesn't seem to directly provide for help with complex legal proceedings. However, a couple of points highlighted include :
  1. Appointment of Nodal Police Officers for Senior Citizens in every Police Station and District level Special Police Unit for Senior Citizens.
  2. Maintenance of Helpline for Senior Citizens 
These provisions are likely to make it easier for Senior Citizens to seek help, but don't seem to indicate that lawyers or legal help will be made available to them. 

You may check out some of my viewpoints on "Aging and caregiving in India" 

Indian law to protect rights of Seniors : Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Amendment Bill

India has a large aging population of senior citizen. There are over 135 million elderly people in India and by some accounts it has the second-largest population of senior citizens.

The Indian society is transforming at a fast pace, and joint family structure has given way to nuclear families with youngsters migrating to metros for opportunities, leaving behind their parents and elders. The traditional support systems where neighbors in a small town would keep an eye on the young and elderly has given way to large apartment complexes where neighbors hardly know each other.

Taking into account the continuously widening the gap between generations, Indian lawmakers have stepped in to ensure a conducive environment for the elderly. A “Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act” was passed in 2017.

Indian lawmakers have decided to amend the act with a proposed ‘Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Amendment Bill.’ The proposal is attempting to balance the traditional, moral responsibilities of families around a legal framework and has the following major salient features:
  1.  Definition of "children" and ‘parents’ has been expanded.
  2.   Definition of 'maintenance' and ‘welfare’ has been expanded.  
  3. Mode of submission of application for maintenance has been enlarged. 
  4. Ceiling of Rs.10,000/- as maintenance amount has been removed. 
  5. Preference to dispose of applications of senior citizens, above eighty years of age, early has been included.  
  6. Registration of Senior Citizens Care Homes/Homecare Service Agencies etc. have been included. 
  7. Minimum standards for senior citizen care homes has been included in the Bill.
  8. Appointment of Nodal Police Officers for Senior Citizens in every Police Station and District level Special Police Unit for Senior Citizens has been included.
  9. Maintenance of Helpline for Senior Citizens has been included.
Senior Citizen and those in online forums are excited about some of the amendments proposed. It is likely that the Amendment bill will pass the Indian parliament, after which some of these will be rolled out. However, it is unclear how and if the act will actually improve the plight of some of the 
135 million elderly people in India. 

I will try to blog some of the questions into a FAQ in my next post. In the meantime, you may check out some of my viewpoints on "Aging and caregiving in India" 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Reflecting on "HIDDEN BRAIN" The Ventilator: Life, Death And The Choices We Make At The End

This week’s podcast of Hidden Brain really hit home for me. The episode raises intriguing questions about end-of-life decision. Shankar Vedantam's narrative takes us  through the question "The choice was always, do you want to see tomorrow?"

The episode takes us through the journey of a family grappled with the same question. Over the decades, they talk deeply about the choices they would want to make in the face of an incurable illness or terrible injury. But when the time came to act on their beliefs, they discovered a question they hadn't considered. What if the seemingly rational choices you prefer when you're healthy no longer make sense to you when you're actually confronting death?

The questions around life, living and the reluctance to embrace the inevitable death even when it is staring you in the face are topics that I have been reflecting on since my father was paralyzed and eventually spent the last 8 months of life needing 24 X 7 care and support just to see another day; a day that may not be better than the one gone by.

I also began to appreciate how rational people react when facing the inevitable end. My dad was a proud and active veteran who had spent his early retirement years traveling around with my mother. He continued to be upbeat, even when facing the of debilitating effects of Parkinson’s.

What will happen to me after I die?

Would we be better prepared to embrace death when it inevitably comes calling, if we can answer this question? It is a question that humans and philosophers across civilizations and generations have pondered. Religion, spirituality or even the study of history and anthropology doesn’t give a clue into death and what lies at the other end. And if there is something in that ‘black hole.’

Humans don’t have the answer since the dead cant tell us what’s on the ‘other side’. And while the living can be certain that death isn’t reversible, we don’t have an assurance that the unknown we pass onto is going to be any better. Hence we take comfort in the status quo, and the certainty of life as we continue to live.
Of course, not all of us are destined to face this question. For many, death may be sudden, abrupt or untimely; leaving only the survivors to come to terms with death.

I have often wondered about the reason why people like my dad, and the protagonist of this podcast, Ms Stephanie Rinka want to struggle to live.

It is the will to struggle through the ailments and live to see another day, or is it the fear of the unknown finality of death that keeps them hanging by a thread?