Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Will American Meltdown Help India?

Some people seem to think a meltdown of America will help India. I haven't heard of a more foolish hypothesis. I am as pro-Indian as any other Indian but this is ridiculous. In this global village we are all connected. A well balanced article on this is here.

Also see here.

Growth of a country is driven by positive actions. It does not depend how poorly someone else is fairing.

And in this age it depends upon who is in the fore-front of technology. America, Japan and countries in Europe are where they are because of their innovations and progress made in manufacturing industry. Those countries did not let go and ushered in the communication age. Scientific and Technological breakthroughs have been the driving force.

Now if we were to make a breakthrough into some new technology - for example, if we were the first to develop technology to enable super conductivity at normal temperature (say, 40 deg Celsius), that would catapult us to the top of nations. Or say, we could become the nerve centre of nano technology, then we too will have a story to tell.

Note: The photograph used belongs to Julia Freeman-Woolpert. Please go here to see more such photographs.

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Rejection Of Emergency Bailout and a Conspiracy Theory

Four points ...

1) It is refreshing to see bipartisan approach to an issue. To have witnessed Indian political parties in opposition trying to shoot down every proposal the givernment puts up can start getting on your nerves.

2) This was expected. There is an inherent sense of injustice attached with the bailout. Death and resurrection is part and parcel of free market economy. Besides, there are alternatives. Too see one such (simplistic) alternative (whether you agree or not) go here.

3) The bailout defeat highlights the effort that the Bush administration has put to behind the Indian Nuclear Deal. It received marginally higher votes that the required 2/3rd majority.

4) This point is tongue in cheek - well not entirely. Consider this scenario: Congress votes down the bailout plan ... market crashes ... people in the know pick up the shares at rock bottom price ... soon the bill in its new form is presented and accepted ... markets rally ... people in the know make a killing. How is this for a conspiracy theory? ;-)

Note: The photograph used belongs to Myles Davidson. Please go here to see more such photographs

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Bengalis Will Be Bengalis

Hidden in this news item is this trivia:

"The passage of the Berman Bill HR 7081 will set the stage for the 123 agreement to be signed into law by President George Bush and the formal signing during secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's visit to New Delhi sometime in October. Earlier, Rice was scheduled to follow foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee back to New Delhi on October 3. But because of Durga puja, Mukherjee will not be available."

Since when is Durga Puja more important than the affairs of the state? When the foreign minister is a bengali, I guess.

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American Lessons for India

An excellent article on misplaced political priorities is here.
The article in Times Of India by Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar is excellent on two counts:

1) It explains in very simple words exactly what the sub-prime crisis is all about.
2) It lays down the cardinal rule for India's future. To quote "India is just at the start of financial inclusion. But as it prospers, political pressures for cheap loans to the poor will grow ... the poor and needy should be given grants, notloans that they canot repay."

The market is a living beast. There is a need to regulate it. But at the same time ill-advised actions should not turn it rabid.

Note: The photograph used belongs to Svilen Mushkatov. Please go here to see more such photographs.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

India's Population Is Not A Problem

Every article on ills of India ends up blaming India’s population. “We have a large population, hence it takes time for the impact of liberalisation to percolate through”, “large population is to blame for all ills of India, “we have a large population that is illiterate, therefore …”, etc., etc.

This surprises me a little. And I know that this will shock many of my readers but I do not consider population to be a problem. How can abundance of resources be a problem? Have you heard any one every say, we have abundance of oil in our country and therefore we have a problem?

There is a need of a change in perspective. The problem does not lie in the huge population we have. The problem lies in the way we have gone about handling the resources. All policies are (apparently) made so that the population benefits. So basically the focus is to do something for the people of India. The focus needs to shift so that the population of India is not the target of these policies; rather they are the means.

More on this in coming days …

Note: The photograph used belongs to Sanja Gjenero
. Please go here to see more such photographs.

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Learning Chess from Bobby Fischer Himself

Glass Chess Board
As I encourage my sons to take up chess, I cannot think of any other book except Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess. My friend, Ashish Balaya, introduced me to this when we were doing our masters together. And in all these years OI have not come across a more effective way of learning chess.

The book is as simple as it is effective. Perhaps that is the mark of the genius that Fisher was. Every concept is presented as a set problem-solution picture form. And it gradually takes you to ever increasing complexity. The best way to learn from this book is by recreating the pictures (even for the simplest ones) on the actual chessboard.

Surprisingly when I searched this book at Foyles I could not find it. I finally found it in Bangalore! Please buy this book and give to your kids. You will surely thank me.

This book will not make you a Grandmaster. But, it will definitely make you fall in love with chess. I recommend it very strongly.

Note: The photograph used belongs to Katia Stamenova. Please go here to see more such photographs.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Why is dollar appreciating?

I had asked this question here previously.
I finally have the answer. Today's Times of India has the answer though only with reference to the Indian Rupees.

It seems there is a sustained demand for US Dollars because the Foreign Institutional Investors(foreign with respect to India, that is) are selling heavily in the India stock markets and repatriating money. Also the foreign banks are selling their Indian assets to repatriate money to meet liabilties athome.

So there it is. A simple supply and demand situation.

Note: The photograph used belongs to Dani Simmonds. Please go here to see more such photograhs.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Formula One at Night in Singapore

Whatever be the novelty value of F1 racing at night, I personally feel it is an incorrect decision. F1 racing has all the thrills and (sometimes) spills and doesn't require any prop to make it more alluring.

I am not sure what the reason could be for having the night time race (but I can bet it is something to do with telecast rights and the correct time of the day in the west), it is not worth the risk it carries.

I am sure all precautions and backup are in place to ensure no power outage, but the probability is non-zero. But it only needs one glitch to result in a disaster.

I enjoy motor sports but this is one for which I will keep my fingers crossed.

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An Alternative Bailout Plan - using the $700 bn effectively

Cash does not get destroyed. They mere change hands - we are not considering burning cash as an option. So, though the investment banking world lost money, the cash is floating somewhere in the system. It does not make an appearance because of the fear of cash crunch - a typical catch 22 situation.

The best response to the present crisis would have been for the US government to do nothing. The market should be allowed to follow its course. Let the financial institutions who did well thrive, the ones that have made bad decisions dies out. Instead of pumping $700 billion into the money market, I would have loaned it to the sectors that are suffering because of the cash crunch. Say, a company had planned to develop a new line of business and the take off has been postponed because of the present market, fund that company. If required involve the relatively better regulated banks / financial institutions.

Too simplistic? Perhaps! But an alternative nevertheless.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

India's Painful Transition to Growth and Prosperity

A very erudite analysis of the problem facing India is available here

The position I took in my previous post is reflected in this article - in a way.

I do not quite agree with "If ever there were a symbol of India’s ambitions to become a modern nation, it would surely be the Nano ..." though. At the most Nano might be the hope of millions of Indians who wish to own a car, but that I am sure is not the definition of a modern nation. Right? We don't even know if it will sell that well, now do we?

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More People Need To Quit Farming

Sometimes the best piece of news does not come from the traditional sources - Newspaper, TV or Radio.

I chanced upon the following in a BBC Podcast. I have tried my best to reproduce what the Indian Agriculture Minister, Mr. Sharad Pawar has to say:

"There are certain regions where drought (lack of water) is a regular phenomena and in such situation agriculture doesn't become viable. Along with this we have to divert sizable population from agriculture to non-agriculture. If you have two sons let only one son continue in agriculture. Let the other son go service sector, let him go to industry ... there are number of avenues that are available - this country is prospering ... one can develop industrial bases near the villages, Why only in cities? ...Now we have to go the second agriculture revolution"

I have never come across any statement like this in the newspaper. I am sure in an election year, the political parties are sure to twist the wisdom of this interview out of context and attack Pawar. In fact in the same podcast a JNU professor, Jayathi Ghosh has a go at him - a sort of personal attack ("he is more interested in cricket than in agriculture"), totally uncalled for. She makes no attempt to find out during the interview the context in which the statement was made.

I am no fan of Pawar or for that matter any politician and I know everything is not hunky-dory with Indian agriculture, but I think Pawar is referring the load on drought-hit agricultural land.

There is a definite need to improve the agricultural situation - and that is an understatement - but at the same time there is also a need to reduce the load on the land. It doesn't make economic sense to continue beating a dead horse. Common sense would dictate that land that is rich or that which can be made rich with little effort should produce.

As the industry grows, the appetite for more land will continue. To avoid the Tata Nano like misadventure, perhaps areas that are of marginal utility to farming could be converted into industrial areas. This will also ensure correct focus of agriculture-revival effort. What is required is, of course, political will.

Note: The photograph used belongs to Dominic Morel. Please go here to see more such photographs.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

'Fooled By Randomness' - an Antithesis to 'The Secret'.

The two books are as different as chalk and cheese (which is which - you decide). It should not be possible to compare the two. But interestingly they present diametrically opposite thesis.

Given its iconoclastic image, it is not surprising that Fooled By Randomness(FBR), it is not surprising that it beats down everything The Secret stands for.

The Secret is about controlling your destiny by mere thoughts. FBR insists that success is entirely random.

The Secret presents evidences of successful people who have become successful by using, well, the secret. FBR insists that "luck is democratic and hits everyone regardless of original skills" and so there is no secret there.

The Secret quotes the Buddha and confirms "All that we are is the result of what we thought." FBR debunks this: "past event will always look less random that they were ..." and that people just back fit explanations to justify their present.

The central theme of The Secret is that if you follow the secret you will achieve what you desire, rest is incidental. The central theme of FBR is that hard work, discipline, persistence are necessary but not sufficient conditions for success.

The Secret sells you a dream. FBR brings you down to earth. If the Secret works then FBR will attribute it to pure luck.

I think I will make it a hobby to compare books of different genres.

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Manchester City will win Premier League soon

That's my prediction. Why? Because the Abu Dhabi United Group have taken over the Premier League club. Arsenal manager Wegner has expressed his surprise (he "doesn't have a rational answer") at this.

Well, I can provide you the answer. You decide if it rational. To win the Premier League you need big money to get a few big names, players and coaches, in football. Once that is done it is only a matter of time that Machester City fortunes will rise.

Yeah, yeah, I know big names are not a guarantee of a title. But what will stop the ABu Dhabi group from trying?

Now that I have stuck my neck out and made the prediction, I will be following the EPL closely.

Any bets on whether Wegner will become the Machester City manager in future?

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Courtly and Academic

I picked up something mildly amusing from here.

"Later this week Manmohan Singh, India’s courtly and academic prime minister, will meet President George W. Bush at the White House. This unlikely couple will shake hands and congratulate each other that the US-India nuclear deal has passed the Indian parliament and been accepted by the international Nuclear Suppliers Group."

Unlikely couple!! Manmohan Singh is courtly and academic, which I am assuming is a compliment. What does that make President Bush then?

By the way the article itself is very interesting. Please read it.

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Brussels set to slash trademark fees

I picked the following from Financial Times.

"Trademark applicants in Europe could see fees slashed by more than one-third, after a deal was struck this weekend to resolve the long-standing problem of hundreds of millions of euros in unwanted surpluses at the European trademark office."

Now! That is a good problem to have.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Indian Govt. Cracks Blackberry Code

A few points come to my immediately.

1) Is it so easy? Damn! I should have know :-)

2) Difficult to believe that the person / persons who cracked the code are from within the government. What precautions have been taken to ensure confidentiality?

3) The encryption code can be changed. So, what does the government do? Again spend months to crack the code?

4) And most importantly, what was the necessity to proclaim it to all and sundry? Won't the terrorists simply stop using Blackberry? Funny!

Note: The photograph used belongs to Mark Iafrate. Please go here to see more such photograhs.

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Short Sell Ban

Before you start reading this a confession. I am getting into dangerous territory here as this log is based on half baked knowledge. Someone please comment to put me right if I have got it all wrong.

As I understand, short selling is the primary weapon of the Bears. Borrow stock, sell in the hope that the stocks will fall for them to buy back and return to the borrower.

But banning short selling aren't the regulators taking the bears out of the market? Wouldn't that remove the balance that is brought in the market by bulls and bears? I mean the bulls want the prices to go up while bull want them to come down. This should theoretically give a fair price for a stock.

But with bears gone, the bulls will have a field day and the stock prices will always go up until reality catches up with the prices and then it would be a bigger disaster. No?

Oh well! What do I know?

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Why do I buy books

Old Books
I always read books twice. If possible within 6 months. I have experienced that re-reading a book within that duration ensures long term memory retention. That is why I need to buy books. So every book that I discuss on this blog has been purchased by me. Some on Amazon but most during trips. Nothing beats reading something interesting while waiting at airports.

Right now I am re-reading Fooled By Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It has been dubbed "One of the smartest books of all time' by Fortune. I would agree, although I cannot claim any mastery over economics and finance.

The following extracts from the preface of the 2nd edition will tell you what to expect:

"Past events will always look less random that they were (it is called hindsight bias)."

"... we don't have much of a clue in the social "sciences" like economics in spite of the fanfares of experts."

"... the kind of luck in finance is of the kind nobody understands but most operators think they understand ..."

This is just the book I need to read (re-read?) to put the Wall St. happenings in perspective.

Note: The photograph used belongs to Zsuzsanna Kilián. Please go here to see more such photographs.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

A paperback rider in London

Read the detailed news item here

I eish this was on the main pages of newspaper today rather than the TZP news (see here)

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Suicide Bombing in Pakistan

I could replace Pakistan with any other country and the headline would be true - if not today, then tomorrow. The only thing that is different is that the conduit has become the target. Much like drugs.

The reaction is always the same: "We will not rest till the last terrorist is removed from the land." This is not going to work. The focus is misdirected. The terrorist is the last link. No amount of security beef-up can stop individuals from striking terror.

Who funds these terrorists? How do they get the constant supply of arms and ammunition? It is almost as if there is a parallel economy running. From the production to distribution - the scale cannot be small. I am sure the entire supply chain can be located in matter of months, if not days. After all, this is not cottage industry. What is required is to throttle the supply chain. How difficult can that be? If bank accounts of all known sources are frozen, will that not make a difference?

And if I can think of all this sitting in the comfort of my house, can't those who are in the thick of the action think of this? I am sure they are aware of this. Then why don't I see headlines that go: "All terror accounts frozen" or "Prominent industrialist arrsted for funding terror" or "company closes down after terror scandal"?

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TZP for the Oscars

Another year. Another good movie sent as India's entry to the Oscar. And with it hopes of a few hundred Indians that this year we will make it at the Oscar.

But what is this craze?
Are we so hungry for recognition by the west? Are Oscars the ultimate in recognition of cinematic quality? Shouldn't cinema be judged by the audience? If it is a box office hit, then the movie is good.

Ok, so it is nice to see where you stand in world competition? But Oscar is no Olympics. And how does one compare two different styles of cinema?

The Oscars have sold themselves rather well, I must say. The glitz and glamour has obviously caught the imagination of the Indians. But does every news channel and newspaper have to carry this news as a breaking news / front page news?

And is there a commercial angle to it? If we win the Oscars will the western market open up for Indian cinema? I wish someone would do an ROI analysis.

Having said that, Tarre Zamin Par is a good movie. I hope it wins ;-) I am a die hard Hindi movie fan, after all.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Tree

I had written this story on 03-June-1991
I was environmentally conscious even then!

It was known as Lakhan chacha's tree. When he grew old, the tree was called Boodha Lankhan's tree. But it was always known as by his name. It grew in the Sarpanch's - the village chief - land. He wanted to get it cut down. He sent a few men one summer afternoon. Lakhan chacha - "I was strong as a bull then" - fought with the three of them. "You have to cut me before you can cut this tree." The tree remained and the villagers named the tree after him.

It was an ordinary tree. Nobody remembers who planted it or why. Bang opposite chacha's house, it had been his constant companion - in bad times and in good. A hundred memories. As a kid he played under its shade when his mother broke grains. He could see the tree from far when he returned from school. It was under the tree that chacha was smitten by Basanti's beauty. She was walking back from the fields, her head down, blushing under the gaze of the village lads. How desirable she looked. The next day he waited alone. As she passed him by, she looked at him and smiled. "My pulse went racing." He went on to marry her. Now there was no one. Only chacha and the tree.

Last summer the heat was oppressive. It was already August and no rains. Another drought. Bore wells were pressed into service to save the crop. But who would water chacha's tree? And one day chacha fell ill. The neighbors sent for his nephew from the nearby town. "This tree is like my mother. Please water it. Don't let it die." Nephew was more interested in what he could take back with him after chacha's death. Chacha a dying. The delayed monsoon finally arrived. The green leaves reappear and then one day chacha died.

The villagers met. Chacha did not have much money. The nephew was not interested to spend any money. Cremation required money. One of them came up with a brilliant idea. "And a fitting one too", said the villagers. So they cut down Lachan chacha's tree and cremated him by using the wood from the tree.

Heavens cried that day.

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The Diamond Ring

This was the first short story I ever wrote ...
My diary shows 31-March-1990.


The attraction was mutual and instant. Love had to grow. Over lunch-time discussions; over coffee-house gossips; during tutorials. He seemed to have answers to all questions asked by the teacher! How could she always see the other side of an argument?
Love had to grow.

But she was apprehensive. All lovers are. What attracted him to her? She or the diamond ring? He had once asked her to keep it away from his sight as it reminded him of the society and injustices. Seemed like a lecture! But were his eyes on the riches which the sparkle of the diamond ring reflected? It was time for the the final test.
"We never discussed my family", she said. "But before we take the final plunge I'd like you to know my background. My mother was a refugee. Being a socialite before arriving to India, she refused to depend only on the meager rations being doled out to the refugees. She befriended the officer-in-charge of the nearby army station. Gradually using her charms on the officer and on others whom she met through the officer, she started climbing the social ladder once more. She must have slept with a lot of officers."
She stopped, looked in his eyes searching for a response. No reaction! A trifle disappointed she continued, "somewhere along the line I was born." She smiled ruefully. "At least my mother kept me away from her, well affairs. She sent me to a boarding school so that I remain uninfluenced. But she was brave enough to tell me all. She is my mother and I love her."

For some time he did not speak. Then gave a small laugh. "Come to my house tomorrow." And left.

That whole night she cried. She couldn't care less if he never returned. She would break to pieces if he left. The heart ached.
He was waiting in his house, flipping though a picture album. As she sat down on a chair in front of him, he lay the album open on the table, pointed and said, "my grandfather. You see, he was ..."
She gave a small yelp. On the grandfather's finger was the very same ring which her mother had given to her. The sparkling diamond ring!

She looked at him. His eyes were smiling as he went down on his knees. "Will you marry me?".

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If I had to read only one book on management

If I were constrained to read one, and only one, book on management then I would unhesitatingly pick up - no, not The Goal! not even near - Managing For Results by Peter Drucker.

Managing For Results is needle sharp focused. Each sentence can launch a 100 books on management. One you have read Managing For Results every other management book reads like a corollary to the thesis presented by Drucker.

Just to give you the flavour of this book, I have reproduced a few gems that are present in the first chapter itself:
1) Neither results nor resources exist inside the business. Both exist outside.
2) Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems (because of this sentence alone I have eliminated the word "problem" from my vocabulary)
3) Economic results are earned only by leadership, not by mere competence.

And all that in 1964.

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Battle for the North Pole

A good article is published in Der Spiegel. Discusses the race for the spoils that global warming has revealed in the Arctic region.

The countries involved in the race - USA and Russia among them - will ensure that the status granted to Antarctica and Moon is not granted to the North Pole. It is a sad state of affair since melting of the polar ice cap should be a time for rapid action to ensure reversal and not a time to exploit the riches underneath.

As for me I am glad that the big 5 are all in the northern hemisphere - not near Antarctica or the Moon.

Note: The photograph used belongs to Paul Caputo. Please go here to see more such photographs.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

I think the HCL CEO got it wrong

I read in yesterday's newspaper that the HCL CEO, Mr. Vineet Nayar, has claimed that the present crisis will actually help India IT. That the present scenario will result in more outsourcing.

I don't see how a Wall St. meltdown is going to help Indian IT companies.

Recession ensures a cut down in projects that otherwise would have been in place. Many of the projects that start during normal period or during a boom is in hope. The idea behind projects is that the investment now will result in returns in the future and hopefully more than investment now. But during a recession, the "investment now" is hard to come by and no one is sure of the future. Hence a cut back in the projects.

Instilling confidence among consumers can bring a country out of recession. Increase the purchasing power of the citizens by giving them jobs and pump in money to support the local market to grow stronger - that is a way out of recession. Both these steps are anti-outsourcing. Outsourcing came about because of competition and the desire to drive down price to remain competitive. Not because of a bust.

I hope the HCL CEO is correct. I hope I got it all wrong. And perhaps US will come out of this phase soon. Seems like 1929 all over again, but the financial institutions have grown wiser (cross your fingers) and US will recover fast. US is by far the biggest consumer of software and of that goes into a recession for a prolonged period, every one will be affected.

But here is another scenario. USA bounces back before Europe slips into recession. Then USA would need to become competitive fast. Projects are announced. They would not have enough manpower to execute all the projects. USA comes to India and, well, everyone is happy again.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Goal

I first picked up The Goal when I was browsing through my company library about 15 years ago or so.
I had never heard of a 'management novel'.
Wasn't sure what to expect but the concept seemed interesting.
When I finished reading I was blown away.
This was it!
The only way to make anything stick was through a story.
I bet all of us remember many stories that we heard in our childhood.
Since then I must have read The Goal - first by borrowing the same book from the library multiple times and then by actually buying the book when I left the company - at least 15 times, if not more. One may not agree with the Theory of Constraints and denounce it as not very practical in all situations, one cannot deny that the books contain some gems. In any case Goldratt claims huge success using TOC. See here. And it all started with The Goal.
It is a story of a manager trying to save his job and marriage and manages to both (what else do you expect!) using the good old Socratic principles.
I followed up this book with The Critical Chain and It's Not Luck(sold in India as Goal II - shows the impact of the original one). The sequel and The Critical Chain do not leave the same kind of impact as The Goal does. But they are still worth a read.

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Strong Dollar

Feels nice when you observe something and the experts catch up later, doesn't it? This is from Financial Times dated 17.Sep.2008 (see my post on 17.Sep.2008):

One of the most extraordinary features of the past month is the extent to which the dollar has remained immune to a once-in-a-lifetime financial crisis. If the US were an emerging market country, its exchange rate would be plummeting and interest rates on government debt would be soaring. Instead, the dollar has actually strengthened modestly, while interest rates on three- month US Treasury Bills have now reached 54-year lows. It is almost as if the more the US messes up, the more the world loves it.

For the complete article go here.

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FDA imposes Ranbaxy import ban - but what about India?

The details of this news item is scary and it is nothing to do with the 10% fall in share price. I have extracted the following from Financial Times.

The US Food and Drug Administration issued an “import alert”, instructing border officials to return or destroy drugs made in the two Ranbaxy plants of Dewas and Paonta Sahib, including simvastatin, the top-selling generic cholesterol-lowering drug.

It identified violations to “good manufacturing practice” which meant it could not be sure that processing took place in sterile conditions or that there was protection against cross-contamination of pharmaceuticals. It stressed it had not found evidence that Ranbaxy had shipped defective products.

Ok. Fair enough.

But what about those drugs that are manufactured in the above mentioned Ranbaxy plants and are available in India? The ban is on 30 generic drugs.

Shouldn't the drugs control authorities in India also look into it?

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Want to buy an airport?

London Gatwick, the second biggest airport in the UK, is being sold by BAA. I don;t think I can afford it.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Free Resources For Learning German

German Beer Mug
An established way to learn German (or for that matter any language) is to listen to the language as spoken in native tongue. Spoken language however, normally, comes at a cost. Either one stays in Germany or other German speaking countries, or buy expensive German Learning Courses. Among the German Learning Courses I found Rocket German the best for gaining initial confidence. It is also the least expensive of all other similar course.

However, after spending a considerable sum of money in buying books, CD's and German courses, I recently chanced upon this huge pool of free resources that is available on Internet. My earlier Google searches on German Language had not thrown up this site.

As it happens, Deutsche Welle has some fantastic German courses - all available for free. The material is very effectively designed (with the help of Goethe Institute in some cases) and can hold your interest for a long time - which helps when you are learning a foreign language. The language courses are graded and so one could pick up from the level one is comfortable with.

For example, the language course that goes by name of "Deutsche, warum nicht" is a set of four courses with increasing difficulty and contains upward of 1200 hours of recorded material. "Mission Berlin" is a gem of a language course. (There is also Mission Paris and Misja Krakow - for those who wish to learn (preliminary) French and Polish). The course is presented as a fast paced computer game. Check this out too.

And there is a lot more to explore.

Yet another method of learning German is to get a German sentence everyday by e-mail. You have the whole day to memorize the sentence. I find this very helpful. Check out http://www.german-flashcards.com. I found this site good to boost my vocabulary. The primary membership is free where you get to learn words and sentences on flashcards. Just spend 10 minutes a day to improve your vocabulary. Very effective. The premium membership helps you with the pronunciation too.

The book that I most refer to for brushing up and clearing doubts is Teach Yourself German. I would strong recommend this.

And finally my own home-grown method. I discovered this only last month when I was in Germany and browsing through a book shop. I wonder why it didn't strike me before. If you are into Tintin comics, then buy these comics in German (or in the language you are learning). You will learn the language faster and enjoy it all the more. By the way, Tintin is known as Tim und Struppi (Struppi = Snowy) in the German version.

Note: The photograph used belongs to Dale Eurenius. Please go here to see more such photographs.

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The Secret is a Rip Off

At least that is what comes to mind when you read the The Secret. It is of course possible to come up with same idea presented in different ways. But someone who claims to have done so much research on the secret does not mention the once-upon-a-time bestseller Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill even once.

Don't believe me ... sample the following excerpts from Napolean Hill

"This book contains the secret, which has been put to practical test by thousands of people ..."

"There is a difference between wishing for a thing and being ready to receive it."

"Conduct yourself just as you would if you were already in possession of the material thing which you are demanding."

"Just as electricity will turn the wheels of industry and provide useful service if used constructively, or snuff out life if wrongly used ..."

I could go on and on.

Where does The Secret score and why is it on the best sellers list? It is slickly produced. Paints a broader stroke by including all aspects of life. And leans on quantum theory for support.

Whereas the Think and Grow Rich depends on outdated concepts like ether and focuses solely on making money.

I prefer Napolean Hill. At least it does not claim that success is easy ... The Secret seems to be peddling just that (though to be fair to The Secret they do allude to plan and effort - just hints of these thrown here and there).

Perhaps The Secret acknowledges Napolean Hill and somehow I missed it. Possible.

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Preferring Butterflies to Bank

This is from the Financial Times:

Art lovers continued to defy the economic gloom on Tuesday, spending another £41m ($73m) at Sotheby’s auction of new works by Damien Hirst and throwing down a challenge to the way art is sold.

More than £111m of work changed hands in the two-day auction, well above Sotheby’s estimate of £98m.
Mr Hirst said that he was “exhausted and amazed that my art is selling while banks are falling”.
“I guess it means that people would rather put their money into butterflies than banks. [It] seems like a better world to me.” Several of the works up for auction featured butterfly motifs.

Looks like people are withdrawing money from the banks as quickly as possible and investing into avenues that does not swing like a yo-yo, unlike stock market. Perhaps, the Indian model of having Nationalised Banks has some merit in it. A lot many people have suggested withdrawing their savings from the private sector banks and placing it in State Bank of India.

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Nokia tops in Greenpeace ranking

I am reminded of what Thomas L Friedman said in his lecture titled 'The World is Flat 3.0' This was delivered at MIT as part of their open courseware program and can be freely downloaded on iTunesU. In this lecture he ridicules the current so called green revolution. He says: It is not a revolution. When have you heard of no one getting hurt in a revolution. It is a party out there. (or something similar to that effect).

I agree.

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More Maternity Leave

The Govt of India has agreed to increase the maternity leave from the existing 3 months to six months.
In addition, mothers will get 2 years of paid leave to take care of their children - during examination or illness.
This applies only to the women employed by Central Government.
For now.

I hope the private sector follow suit. The women in the private sector must not exploit such facilities though. I know of numerous cases where after availing of the maternity leave the woman employee resigns within 15 days of rejoining. Only to join some other lucrative job. There is nothing illegal about this, I am sure, but seems like shameless exploitation of facilities. You see the long leaves have a built-in trust factor that to my mind is violated here.

That said, this is will give an opportunity to so many women who cannot follow a career due to family constraints. A welcome move!

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Please wear helmet

"Cops snuff out youth's life" screams a Deccan Herald news item. I think it is just to grab attention. Read through the news details and the tragedy hits your guts. A 26 year old college student going to collect his offer letter for a job fell from a motorcycle when a policeman tried to grab the speeding motorcycle on the busy highway. The bike rider wore no helmet and the police were trying to book the offenders.

Perhaps, the police could have tried other methods to stop the motorcycle. Grabing the handle of a bike is guaranteed to throw the biker off leading to serious accident, if not death. But why don't people wear helmet on bikes?

Perhaps they thing the laws of physics donot apply to them.

Frankly I do not feel sorry for the kid who died, as heartless as it may seem. I feel sorry for his parents.

My heart feels heavy as I type.

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Words of Wisdom from Wall Street

Why do the MBA's command such high salaries. I believe the pick of the pick are the financial chaps. I wonder what explanation would they come up with to explain the Wall Street meltdown, in layman's language, I mean.

Anyway, sample this:

"It seems perfectly clear leverage is going down, that banks will be more careful who they do business with, and that there is a desire to be more of an agent that a principal."

And this:

"There will be a trend toward specialization. It's hard to be in too many places. Firms will concentrate on their strengths."

And this:

"There is a new way coming, but the old way is gone. I think the old model have been destroyed, or at least cyclically challenged. We'll have to figure out when the dust settles."

Does anyone know what new words of wisdom are being offered?

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Attacks on Christians in India

"We've highest regard for Christ and Christians' work in health and education fields. The attack is only on groups engaged in conversion." So that justifies the attack on (claimed to be a case of mistaken identity) the Adoration Monastery in Mangalore, where the nuns do nothing else but pray 24x7.

Elsewhere, bomb blasts from Muslim Terrorists rip the limbs of common man in N Delhi.

In both cases the perpetrator is an Indian and Indians have suffered.

My head hangs in shame. And all I can do is blog!

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Will anyone tell me why is the dollar appreciating?

Wall Street is in a state of turmoil.
Unemployment rates in US are on the rise (HP has today announced a downsizing of 25,000 odd employees).
And if the value of currency is determined in open market, will someone tell me who is upbeat about the US economy? And why?

PS: I did get the answer to this one. See Why is Dollar Appreciating?
Later on, the main stream media caught up. What fun!

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