The Aladdin's Cave

Hi, thanks for stopping by! The dictionary defines the idiom “The Aladdin’s Cave” as “a collection of interesting and beautiful objects”. Likewise, my website is a potpourri where you can browse and read from a variegated collection of articles on sundry subjects. Be prepared to stumble upon pieces ranging from noodles to analytics and from novels to friendships. Like what you read? Thanks a ton for being such a sweetheart. Don’t find it up to the mark? Well, blame it on back-breaking expectations ;) Jolly Reading!

Month: October 2014

Winter is Coming!

Hello Friends!

As the second half of the fall semester begins from tomorrow (er, today), this post is an attempt to stretch the so-called extremely-mini break to its maximum possible length. Allow the soon-to-be swamped student to wring an extra hour or two of breathing time before getting lost in the usual graduate-level pandemonium! 🙂

Okay, first of all, I am extremely sorry for tricking you into reading this post by using the tempting quote from Game of Thrones
as its title. As must be clear from the image below, this post has absolutely nothing to do with GOT – apart from the fact that its author is as eagerly awaiting Season 5 as the reader! 🙂 But if the literal meaning of the quote is considered, I can be spared – because in Pittsburgh, winter does seem to be approaching at quite a disturbingly rapid pace.

My tolerance for cold is not something I am proud of – though I manage to survive by burying myself under every imaginable winter wear. To aggravate the impending misery, Pittsburgh (PA) is infamous for its merciless cold, thundering winds and relentless snow. And if the weather of every city could be assigned a gender, Pittsburgh weather, given its whimsical temperament, would definitely be a girl. Yes, the weather forecast applications have a hard time keeping up with the moody climate and the denizens have an even harder time deciding their attire for the day.

And to add to all this, there’s this totally uncooperative equation [C/5 = (F-32)/9] to convert temperatures between degree Celsius and degree Fahrenheit. Before you think that I am blabbering random stuff and cribbing about anything to do with temperatures, allow me to explain myself.

So here’s the thing: In India, we always express and discuss temperatures in degree Celsius. Having grown up using this unit, we Indians have trained ourselves to simultaneously imagine the temperature we are talking about. It’s like, you say 40 degree Celsius and I will raise my hand to wipe my brow. You say 2 degree Celsius and I will pull the sheet a little closer – it is like a reflex action. But here in US, it’s Fahrenheit all the way, which leaves me quite disoriented at times. And the conversion not being a matter of a quick multiplication or division (as is the case with miles and kilometers or pounds and kilograms), it requires a conscious effort to gauge the weather if the temperature is expressed in degree Fahrenheit.

You may think that that is quite a load of rant about a simple thing – but trust me it’s not. You really don’t want to be ill-equipped or freezing or sweating, just because nobody could figure out a better relationship between the two units. So as always, Gunjan (hubby dearest) came to my rescue and created a little something to help me arrive instantly at a ballpark temperature figure before I step out of the house.

Here’s the graph that he has created using Microsoft Excel:

What's It Like Today?

What’s It Like Today?

The intuitively color-coded legend and the easy-to-read plot does a wonderful job of enlightening me everyday. This simple graph has made me “weather-wise” and I feel a lot more confident due to this latest addition to my winter-kit. And yes, it’s not everyday that you receive such a meaningful and personalized gift – so that’s another factor that is gonna add to the warmth this winter! 🙂

Please feel free to download this image and use it for quick reference if your weather-sense is as orthodox and inflexible as mine.Have a beautiful winter! 🙂

P.S.: I do realize that one could easily change the setting in the weather forecast application to set the desired unit. It’s just that something like this comes in very handy when the news channels and the newspapers and everyone around you are all Fahrenheit fans. You definitely do not want to be either clueless or totally out of sync!

 

 

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Best Practices in Communicating Complexity

Preface:

Hello Friends!

I beseech you all to give me one more chance to explain my disappearing act. It has been around five months since I joined the 12-month MISM (Master of Information Systems Management) program at CMU (Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh) and believe me, it has really killed me! Yes, it has killed me but I have lived to tell the tale. However, I will tell that tale some other time – the wounds are too fresh to prod. 😀

So even when being smothered with assignments, quizzes and all other components packed in the grad-school parcel, I’ve been battling this guilt of ignoring my dear blog. And then this thought flashed – to share something that I had already penned down but not posted. I wrote this academic article as a part of a coursework here and I hope it will be of some use to some of you.

Here it goes:

Let me begin this post by analyzing the title of this write-up. As soon as we read the topic, the first questions that come to the mind is – “Do I really need to know about these best practices?” or “Can I imagine myself in a situation where I would be required to convey complex and intricate data to an audience?”. The answer to these questions is a firm and truthful “Yes”. In fact, as future managers, we will be required to do this all the more frequently and we could lose out on significant success in our careers if we don’t master this skill.

No matter what professions we are in, a major part of our job responsibilities comprises explaining our work/data/results to an audience who is unfamiliar with our domain. In these situations, we must recognize that it’s not the right place to show off our knowledge and command on the subject by employing the usage of unnecessary jargons and numbers. If we are the presenter, it’s understood that we are experts on the subject. Or else, we would not be relied upon by our company to be the presenter. What the audience trusts and expects us to do is to relate our data-heavy story in a simple manner so that they can really understand the subject.

According to Charles Whaley (1999), the usage of complex phrases only makes the communication less efficient, thus defeating the whole purpose of the exchange of information. In his paper (Charles Whaley, 1999), he cites a simple example of the usage of the word “disintermediation” in place of the phrase “cutting out the middleman”. By using such ‘biz-speak’, we risk losing a major part of our audience to whom the phrase “disintermediation” might be nothing more than gibberish. As a result of such convoluted phrasing, the audience simply loses interest in the subject and stops participating.

To be an effective communicator, there are some key factors that we must keep in mind. First, we must always target the audience we are presenting to and should only present relevant information. Also, the information must be communicated in a different manner while presenting to audiences belonging to different age groups or categories so that they can relate to it. The second thing to remember is that pictorial representations always win over textual representations. The chances of us remembering or understanding a pie chart or a histogram are much higher compared to that of retaining figures and numbers. Use of multimedia is very helpful in detangling intricate information and in keeping the audience interested. The third important principle is to sequence the flow of the information. This technique ensures that we adopt a step-by-step approach and not bombard the audience with an overwhelming amount of information. The last point is that we must never undermine the importance of feedback from the audience. This can be done by simply asking questions to the audience to ensure that they are with us in the communication process. Receiving responses from the audience keeps a check on our tendency to ramble through the presentation by just dumping all the data without providing the interpretation.

In the end, we must remember that it really is a challenge to adhere to the best practices in communicating complexity and it does not come naturally to everyone. This thought has been beautifully summed up by E. F. Schumacher in his quote – “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” Hence, we all must put in a conscious effort and discipline ourselves to follow these practices and become a better communicator of ideas, data and stories.

References

Charles Whaley. (1999). Avoid Excessive Complexity In Communicating At Work. Retrieved on August 9, 2014 from

http://search.proquest.com.proxy.library.cmu.edu/docview/225027308?pq-origsite=summon

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