September 18, 2018

Investing in one self - Economics 101


'Too much work and no time to learn'; 'Too exhausted to learn' - are some complaints from working professionals and 'Too much to learn and not sure what to do with it' are complaints from students. Time is a scarce commodity and all of us have only 24 hours in a day. How we deploy these 24 hours is the single most factor that will determine success in whichever way you define/ aspire for.

The connection to Economics 101 came up in a random discussion with my teenage daughter. There is a concept called 'Production Possibility Frontier (PPF)' that is taught in Economics. It talks about a fundamental choice to be made in deploying scarce manpower. This can be used to produce necessities or defense equipment, or other such options. PPF gives a framework to deploy a scarce resource (the fundamental problem) based on the opportunity cost, production efficiency, consumption efficiency and economies of scale.

While the application of this concept has been primarily for a society or an organization, it can be applied at an individual level too. On any day or over time, I can choose to spend the time 'working/ fulfilling duties/ using the skills' or invest in 'developing new/ honing existing skills'. You can add 'leisure/ enjoyment' also as a third choice. For simplicity, let us look at the PPF graph for the first two choices only:



There are three different aspects of this worth looking into:
  1. 'Investment' does not give us immediate results and takes time away from immediate tasks. Hence, one is tempted to completely focus on current work and ignore the investment activities. However, we need to note that these frontiers are not static. By improving efficiency and learning new skills, this PPF can shift right significantly. In the worst case, if the skills are no longer useful, it may even shift left.
  2. The opportunity cost (what you lose on one dimension by moving resources to the other choice) varies based on where you are operating on the curve. So, moving 30-60 minutes of your time to investment may not impact your work much. But, if you are already spending 1 hour and you want to spend another 1 hour, it may impact the work output. The same holds when you move from the other side.
  3. PPF also tells us that if you are not operating on the frontier, you are not working at your complete potential. All of us can vouch that in this case, time can be wasted in many different ways :-)


Applying these insights, we can see:
  1. Right Efficiency: We need to track where we are spending our time to first ensure that we are on the frontier of efficiency and not wasting time that prevents us from achieving the potential.
  2. Right Mix: Once we are at max efficiency, achieving an ideal mix based on the stage of life is essential - as a student or working professional. Focus on applying what you learn and learning while you work.
  3. Right Shift: The frontier can be moved significantly only by investing time in one self - whether it is new skills (soft skills to domain knowledge). If not, there will just be incremental changes. This is best done by self-discipline or it can be mandated by leaders of teams.

In my experience, meditation is one such daily investment that yields great benefits. Half an hour per day invested into meditation can significantly right-shift the curve allowing you to deliver much more than you could have done without it. Regular practice makes the right shifted curve a new normal. You can learn more about the simplest and most effective one that I follow at www.artofliving.org.

Think about how you can apply this in your life or help team members/ friends get out of the trap of growth-less-'busy'-ness. Do share your experience below.

April 14, 2018

Why so many New Years? - Part 2 (De-mystifying Jyotish Siddhanta - Ganita)

Happy New Year once again!!! Today 14th April - is celebrated as Puthandu, Vishu, Baisakhi, Bohag Bihu and other names in many parts of India.

Having discussed the difference between the Jyotish (sidereal) and tropical (seasonal) calendars, the next question we look into is 'why are there different versions in this approach'? The ancient seers understood the impact the celestial bodies have on human mind and body. Out of the many such celestial bodies (Graha) - nine of them are considered most important (Nava-Graha). Out of these nine, the largest 2 that are visible to humans easily and govern daily routines are the Sun (Surya) and the Moon (Chandra).

Almost all Jyotish calendars that are in use, work with the movement of either the Sun (solar) or a combination of Sun and Moon (luni-solar). Surya represents the human self and governs the daily routines of the entire creation on earth. Chandra has a significant impact on water (as seen during tides) and in turn, the human mind. We have heard the word 'lunatic' :-) that is derived from the same root word of 'lunar'. New moon (Amavasya) or Full moon (Purnima) days are specially called out to be cautious.

As these calendars are not season based, we need to find a reference point in the space that we can use for defining the movements and start/ end points. This is the next foundation stone of Jyotish Siddhanta - the reference screen. Our universe is very interestingly designed and it turns out that most of the celestial systems in our galaxy are in a narrow plane. Given the relative movement of our solar system and the other star constellations in the vicinity, they give us a good 'almost static' reference screen in the background.


Astronomers in different cultures worldwide mostly narrowed down to 12 such star clusters that are more or less equally spaced out, and could serve as a reference. This helped divide the 360o reference screen into 12 parts. Even though the Earth revolved around the Sun, when you observe the Sun from Earth, you would see one of these reference clusters behind the Sun. These 12 clusters are now called Zodiac signs or Rashis. This is pictorially shown below (Image via Marcia Rieke)


This system allows you to reference locations of Surya and other Grahas on a celestial background. For simplicity, these 12 clusters are assumed to be equal in the radial time spread of 30o each. So, at any point in time, you can draw out the locations of all Grahas on this backdrop and that would become the Jyotish chart of that time.

Coming back to the calendar - the two primary versions that are in use are Solar and Luni-solar. In this list of Rashis, Aries (Mesha) is usually considered to be the start by Indian and Western astrologers alike.

The Solar calendar tell us that the new year would be when the Sun enters the Mesha rashi for the first time and that is today 14th April! This calendar would always have 12 months - one for each rashi as the Sun completes the 360o movement. This date would gradually shift by a day over a sixty year time period due to the difference between the Jyotish and Seasonal calendar.

The Luni-solar calendar calculates the month start on the next day of Amavasya. There are versions that use the next day of Purnima too - let us keep it aside for today. This tell us that the new year is on the next day after Amavasya (New moon), just before the Sun enters Mesha rashi - so that the Sun moves into Mesha rashi during this month. This new year was Gudi Padwa that we celebrated in the last post! The number of months would also vary between 12 and 13 - more on this later.

Hope this gives some insights into the different Jyotish calendars. More on this in the next post… till then, let us watch Surya along with the other Grahas transit through the 12 Rashis on this celestial stage.

March 18, 2018

Why so many New Years? - Part 1 (De-mystifying Jyotish Siddhanta - Ganita)


Even though 1st January is widely accepted as the new year, each community and culture has its own new year. In fact, the Indian Calendar Reform Committee that was set up in 1952 identified more than 30 well developed Vedic (Hindu) calendars that are in use across different parts of India!!! Today being Ugadi (Gudhi Padwa), it may be an apt day to start this series and share what I have been to learn about Jyotish Siddhanta - a subject that deals with astronomical calculations and measurements.

'What exactly is a new year?'. Time, as we know it, is continuous. We cannot comprehend the start nor the end of it. As Sri Sri says, time is not linear-continuous, it is spherical! Understanding this will need quite some appreciation of theoretical physics/ spirituality and we will discuss it under another post.

New year, or the definition of an year, helps us put markers on this infinite scale of time. As we measure distance from one city to another, an year measures the distance on the time dimension. As the distance can be measured from any point, any origin; the year can also technically have any starting point. And that can be a New Year. In fact, we do have anniversaries and birthdays that do the same.

Definitions of a start and end of year helps us take stock of the progress in our lives, businesses, relationships and plan for the next period of time. It is large enough to encompass different seasons and yet small enough to have 80-100 such cycles in one life time.

Most of our life revolves around the seasons that we experience on earth. So, what better than to define an year as a repetition of seasons. This also translates into one revolution of earth around the sun. Thus, was born a basic form of calendar that was based on seasons. It has 4 anchor points - the 2  equinoxes (equal day and night duration), the longest day and the shortest day. These 4 anchor points define the duration of the year.

One could choose any date as the new year and have any definition of small intervals (months) within that. For some reason, the current Gregorian calendar, with variable month durations, became widely accepted with 1st Jan as the new year. We will talk more about this in the next part.

Life would be simple if the nature was that simple :-) There was one additional complexity that was solved by the Indian calendars. The astronomers found that, in the space, one revolution of earth around the sun is a bit longer than the one defined by these seasonal calendars! What that means is, if we were to mark a point in space on the earth's orbit and call the year as the time taken for earth to come back to the same point on the orbit - it would not match with our duration as measured by the tropical (seasonal) calendars.

Why would that be? It turns out that earth has 3 types of movements - not just rotation and revolution that we have studied in the school. There is a 3rd movement - similar to a spinning top whose 'axis of spin' itself rotates. This movement is now called 'precession of the equinoxes'. The difference created by this movement was added in Indian horoscopes as 'Ayanamsa'. Over an extended period of time, this implies that the equinox on earth will occur at a different point on earth's celestial orbit!



The difference is quite small and the accumulation of this difference is approximately 1 day (1 degree) over 60 years. This makes it hard to notice it in one lifespan. How did the Indian Jyotish experts found this this out, is a mystery. Hence, all the Indian new years, festivals are based on the astronomical positions of the sun and moon - rather the seasonal calendar.

Happy Ugadi (New Year) to all of you - welcoming the Vilambi Samvatsara (Vilambi is the name of this year in the cycle of 60 that repeats itself after that) on the Gregorian day of 18 March 2018. This also coincides with the start of spring season - with 'new'-ness in the air.

The other implication that may shock you, is that if you follow western astrology, that relies on the tropical calendar, then there is a 70% likelihood, that your sun sign is not the one that you think it is :-)

More on that in the next part… hopefully, before the next new year on 14th April! Does this cause change in the earth's average temperature across the year? We will find that out in the coming parts of this series.