Sunil Garg

How to Analyze Public Speakers

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During my senior year of high school, I attended a weekly seminar on Media, Politics, and Public Speaking. Every week, we would have a politician from the Portland area, such as Brad Avakian or David Wu, speak to us for the first half of class. Not only did these interactions serve as great exposure to local politics, but our instructors used the time to help us become more media savvy by asking us to reflect upon and analyze what we heard after the speaker had left.

One of the tools we were given for analysis was a worksheet written by Aloha High School teaching legend James Barlow. It provides four pages detailing various categories of argumentation that a speaker might use to persuade his audience, such as “folksy appeal” or “tabloid thinking”. I found that using it just a few times really helped me to see through these tactics, which are ubiquitously used by public speakers, and also enabled me to better challenge their arguments.

I came across the document recently while sorting through some old papers, and thought that the world might benefit from its presence on the internet. All of the definitions don’t seem entirely accurate, but the content is all perfectly valid. There’s a pdf of all four pages available here, and a transcribed version is below the fold.

Everyday India

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Kids at the Temple

Before and during my recent trip to India, many of my friends encouraged me to blog because they wanted to hear about what I was up to. It turns out that I didn’t do the best job of writing frequently and ended up with a grand total of three posts.

For those of you who are still curious, however, I found something much better! Yesterday morning, Boing Boing linked to a profile of Nehru Place on Our Delhi Struggle, an awesome blog written by two New Yorkers currently who are living and working in Delhi. The post on Nehru Place caught my interest because I happened to be there exactly one month ago on a mission to find a new power adapter for my laptop – the previous one died with dramatic sound effects due to a voltage spike which somehow made it past my precautionary surge protector.

Jenny and Dave do a great job of capturing everyday life and experiences (of Americans visiting or living) in India through brilliant writing and beautiful photography. They’ve covered topics ranging from infrastructure frustrations to development to healthcare to social norms to poverty, and most of their experiences, reactions, and insights mirror my own. I quickly found myself reading through their entire blog archive, and am sure that their posts will resonate with anyone who’s visited India in the past.

As for my travelblogging habits, I promise I’ll try to do better next time!

Waste Management in an Age of Disposable Goods

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Last month, I visited Goonj, a Delhi-based NGO which began in 1998 with a focus on the reuse of clothing. Now a decade old, the organization distributes over 20,000 kilograms of material ranging from clothes to school supplies to computers throughout South Asia every month.

Though I was primarily there to evaluate the possibilities of partnering Ujaala’s efforts in the Pacific Northwest with Goonj, the feature of my visit was a tour of their sorting facilities, which turned out to be quite an impressive operation. What began as a small organization quite similar to Ujaala’s has visibly evolved into a well-planned and thoughtfully executed process of collecting, sorting, recycling, packaging, and distributing various material through a network of NGOs spread across the country.

For example, Ujaala’s clothing drive in Portland last year concentrated its efforts around clean and wearable clothing, due to limited resources like washing machines and volunteer hours available to sort and package the clothes. At Goonj, clothes are sorted based on type and condition, with torn or otherwise damaged clothing reused for other purposes including drawstrings, sanitary napkins, and other items. Lightly damaged clothes are repaired with sewing machines. Everything is finally made into sets which are tied together with a thin strip of salvaged cloth.

Apart from collection and processing, the organization’s mission was quite obviously applied in the other steps of its process. The sorting efforts described above were staffed by members of the local community, and used as an opportunity to provide incomes to individuals in need. At the other end of the chain, Goonj works with its partner NGOs to use the donated materials as incentives for positive behavior rather than simple charity, which could mean something as simple as giving the school supplies to attentive students. To top it all off, the organization does its own printing on the backsides of used paper.

Wild Elephants and Tigers, Oh My!

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In mid-April, our group decided to take a trip to Corbett National Park, which is a large and famous tiger reserve in southern Uttarakhand. Our visit was an incredible learning experience, as it not only provided an opportunity to view rare wildlife but also to consider some important issues regarding park management and ecotourism. While in the park, I noticed many tenuous issues, especially with regards to the park’s heavy regulation of tourist activity and its relationship with the surrounding community.

As we first drove into the park, I was immediately drawn to notice the contrast in access models between American national parks against Corbett’s strict limitations on vehicles and pedestrians within the park. I am accustomed to parks in the US with universal access provided by way of well-paved roads, large visitor centers, and recreational facilities including campgrounds and miles of hiking trails. The threat to visitors’ lives exists in both cases – put simply, here, it’s due to tigers and leopards, and there, bears and wolves. In cases where strict rules are absolutely necessary in the US, such as in extremely fragile alpine climates, regulation exists in the form of required permits and limited trails. Thus, I wonder how differences in access policy affect conservation efforts in parks, as I believe most human impact in these environments is caused by tourist activity.

My second thought was about the park’s history. Given India’s high population density, it was hard to imagine that the area within the park’s boundaries was previously uninhabited. I have since learned that upon the park’s creation, people were forced to move outside of its borders in order to provide a sanctuary for tigers and other wildlife. While this effort has resulted in measurable success to conserve India’s tiger population over the last few decades, it has undoubtedly had an impact upon the surrounding community.

We stayed at a dormitory residence in Dhikala, a small settlement in the center of the park, which is surrounded by a formidable electric fence. From there, we were able to explore the park via jeep and elephant safari every morning and afternoon. Since we stayed there for two nights, we had the opportunity to go out four times, and every trip resulted in sightings of elephants, deer, birds, and other wildlife. On top of all of that, we were able to get a glimpse of a tiger in the wild!

As we left the park, we had an opportunity to sit in on an seminar hosted by the International Ecotourism Society. Because the park attracts a significant number of visitors every year, tourism has become an important part of the economy in the surrounding areas, including the nearby towns of Ramnagar and Chhoti Haldwani. While we were there, Carolyn Wild, an ecotourism consultant from Canada, gave a well-attended talk on using indicators to assist in sustainable tourism development. While giving the presentation, she focused on leveraging tourism to provide benefits for the local community, while promoting sustainable development to attract more tourists in the future.

Along these lines, while she expressed the importance of sustainable tourism development, Wild did little to explain what measures could be taken to attain sustainability. Had she done so, the audience would have been better equipped to make tangible changes in their businesses and lifestyles to practice sustainable tourism development in the Corbett region. In addition, Wild did not discuss the education of tourists as a means for protection of the surrounding environment instead choosing to focus on the economic wealth brought to a region by tourists.

Judging by the audience present at the seminar, the impact of tourism has likely been largely positive due to increased tourism in the region. I am curious to know how the park’s creation has affected people who are not directly involved with tourism, as well as in other regions where park creation is similarly taking place today.

All in all, I was completely awed by the experience of staying in and exploring this vast wildlife reserve. Hopefully it will remain a successful endeavor to conserve nature and biodiversity for future generations.

Blogging From the Himalayas

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This quarter, I’m studying abroad with the UW South Asia Center in India’s mountainous northern province of Uttarakhand. Along with 11 other students from Seattle, I will be studying forest ecology, sustainable development, and culture of the Kumaon region, over a span of ten weeks. In addition, we will be working closely with Chirag, a well-established non-governmental organization in Uttarakhand which works to promote development in the area.

Every time I travel to India, I begin to convince myself that I’ve become accustomed to the 20+ hour journey. However, every time I visit again, it becomes uncomfortably apparent that there’s no getting used to the long flights, extreme time difference, change of climate, and of food and water.

Since this is the first time I’ve visited India outside of the peak winter season, I was surprised to find that the 747 we boarded in Amsterdam was carrying less than a third of its capacity for passengers. Upon landing in New Delhi (after spending eight hours stretched out across multiple economy class seats), our group quickly cleared customs, picked up our baggage, and climbed aboard a chartered bus heading towards our hostel at Connaught Place.

We spent two days in Delhi – just enough time to decompress, orient ourselves in the city, and get some shopping out of the way – before escaping the heat with overnight accommodations on the northbound Ranikhet Express. The next morning, we arrived at the railhead in Kathgodam and transitioned to yet another method of transportation, this time onto three jeeps which carried us upwards on winding mountain roads to our final destination at Sonapani.

In the past week, we’ve spent some time becoming familiar with the area, our coursework, and Chirag’s ongoing projects. I plan to continue blogging over the next few months about our work and travel excursions in the region.

Stay tuned for more!

Note to Self

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Don’t generalize results after testing web applications in a pre-release browser, even if the browser is an incredible improvement over its predecessor and doesn’t seem to have any major bugs in “normal” use.

So You Think You Can Start a Non-Profit?

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Over the past few years, I’ve worked with many non-profit organizations as a volunteer or board member. Most recently, I joined with some friends to found Ujaala, an organization that aims to support other organizations in India through projects that are locally actionable by volunteers in the US. (We didn’t want to focus our efforts on simply sending money overseas. Instead, we want to engage the local community in order to build awareness of the needs and issues affecting people in India.)

Since then, we’ve collected, sorted, and packaged over 1000 articles of clothing in a campaign that we ran this summer – they’ll soon be shipped to an NGO in India. While our first project has been quite successful, I’ve learned many lessons about what’s required to start and run a non-profit organization, and thought I’d share:

  1. Write a Mission Statement
    Before you can even start, it’s important that you identify a need that your organization will strive to address. It can be something as specific as supporting a particular team at your local high school, or a bit more broad, like Ujaala’s: Bringing opportunity to those in need by collaborating with non-profit organizations in India. Not only will a mission statement give your organization a defined purpose, it will give you a standard upon which to measure every action and project that your organization undertakes.

  2. Assemble a Diverse and Committed Team
    If you’ve read this far with interest, you’re probably committed to your cause enough to help get an organization off the ground. Find more people like yourself and get them excited about your idea. You will need a dedicated team in order to fill your organization’s board of directors and also to spread out the administrative and substantive workload involved with running any organization. Additionally, as with any group of people, a diverse set of individuals will bring many different ideas and opinions to the table, which will prove to be extremely useful as you brainstorm fundraising and project plans.

  3. Understand the Legal Stuff
    While not nearly as fun as the actual work your organization will be doing, it’s important that you understand and navigate through the legal process required to set up a non-profit organization. In most cases, you will need to set up a non-profit corporation in your home state, and then apply for 501©(3) federal tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. While a tedious process, filling out the intimidating 28-page application, IRS Form 1023, will help you to solidify and understand your organization’s activities along with its long-term financial plans. This process may not be applicable for every non-profit organization – please remember that I’m not a expert, and do contact an accountant or lawyer if you have any questions.

If you can successfully complete those three tasks, there is no stopping what your organization is capable of. Keep your team motivated, and go help the world!

My Year in Cities, 2007

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Over the past year, I studied in Europe, visited 3 countries and 5 cities for the first time, went on my first business trip, traveling by land, air, and sea. I flew 29,066 miles – that’s all the way around the equator and a bit more! I couldn’t have predicted any of this in December 2006, so let’s just wait and see what 2008 brings.

Following Kottke’s lead, here’s my year in cities for 2007:

  • New Delhi, India
  • Beaverton, OR*
  • Seattle, WA*
  • New York, NY
  • Santa Clara, CA
  • Silver Falls State Park, OR
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands*
  • Brussels, Belgium
  • Paris, France
  • Chula Vista, CA*
  • Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  • Ensenada, Mexico

One or more nights spent in each place. Those cities marked with an * were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days.

Word of the Year

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Merriam-Webster has named “W00t” the Word of the Year for 2007.

Merriam-Webster’s president, John Morse, said “w00t” was an ideal choice because it blends whimsy and new technology.

S3ri0usly?

Purists of “l33t speak” often substitute a “7” for the final “t,” expressing a “w007” of victory — an “in your face” of sorts — when they defeat an online gaming opponent.

A Weeklong Experiment With Facebook Flyers Pro

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Last Monday, in an attempt to promote our Facebook application while experimenting with Facebook’s advertising platform, I signed up for Flyers Pro, a low-cost CPC-based service that allows users to purchase targeted advertisements on Facebook.

Over the course of one week, my flyer received 2,108 impressions and zero clicks. Starting with almost 1000 on the first day, daily impressions steadily declined as the week progressed, probably because Facebook’s algorithm saw that they weren’t making any money on this flyer.

Flyers Pro Statistics

Even though I don’t expect people to click on ads within Facebook, since I rarely do myself, I find it somewhat surprising that I didn’t receive a single click from any of the high schoolers to whom this flyer was shown. If I were to receive a single click at this point, that would give me an overall click-through rate of less than 0.05%, which is abysmal by any standard.

While I fully recognize Facebook’s value in reaching and engaging the younger online population, this experiment has made me skeptical of the viability of CPA or CPI-based advertising with Facebook and its competitors. Given that this realm of advertising is very much in its infancy, this picture might change very soon.