Sunday, November 30, 2008

Countering Terrorism - Simple Solution

Not surprisingly the solution to countering terrorism lies with the the ordinary citizens. The Army, the NSG, The Marine, The Police are what we could be termed as corrective measures. They are the cure. The prevention lies with us and in this simple question:

How well do you know your neighbours?

When a new neighbour moves in do you go and meet them? How many times have you invited them for a cup of tea? Have they responded likewise? Do you know your neighbours by name? Those bunch of college students who have recently moved in, are they the normal boisterous kind or do they keep to themselves? Has your neighbour suddenly turned the quiet type?

You see, before a strike, the terrorists will need to recce the area. Invariably, one a group of them will move into a neighbourhood and stay there for at least a month if not more. So, the solution lies there. Deny these terrorists a platform to launch their mission.

It is not possible for the police or the security forces to keep an eye on every one of us. We need to help ourselves. Neighbourhood watch is an excellent way of countering terrorism.

Note: The photo used here belongs to Laura Shreck. To see more of her photographs visit her gallery.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai Martyrs - We Salute You

Those who died in their line of duty saving lives of others. I salute you. Your death will not go in vain.

Ambados Pawar, Constable
Ashok Kamte, Deputy Inspector General
Chander, Commando, NSG*
Dudgude, Sub Inspector
Gajendra Singh Bisht, Hawaldar, NSG
Jaywant Patil, Constable
Hemant Karkare, Inspector General of Police
M.C. Chaudhary, Constable
Nanasaheb Bhonsle, Assistant Sub Inspector
Ombele, Assistant Sub Inspector
Prakash More, Sub Inspector
Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Major, NSG
Sushant Shinde, Police Inspector
Vijay Khandekar, Constable
Vijay Salaskar, Police Inspector
Yogesh Patil, Constable

* Commando Chander's death during the operation was indicated in the news on Friday, but I cannot find any more reference thereafter. The newspapers and news channels talk about 2 NSG deaths. Could someone please confirm my list. It has 3 NSG commandos.

Note: The photo used belongs to Michal Zacharzewski. To see his pictures go to his gallery here.

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Next Terror Strike - Is Bangalore Ready?

The terrorists have managed to do what they set out to do. Spread terror AND grab world attention. Their strategy has changed. No longer will they hit public places only. You grab world attention by hitting the elite. Like they did in Mumbai.

So what is next? It does not take a genius to predict that there will be copy cat terror strikes. And Bangalore could be the next target. Just as Mumbai is the financial capital of India, Bangalore/Bengaluru is the IT hub. Imagine the impact on India's image in the world if Vidhan Souda, Infosys, Wipro, Leela Palace, Taj, etc., are hit. And what publicity? This is exactly what a terrorist organisation seeks. See here.

I am not sure how well coordinated the terror organisations are. A copy cat strike could be initiated in a haste. If so that will be quickly countered. Or they would wait till it settles down and then hit. In either case we need to be vigilant. As I drove down from my office to home last night I could not see a single police person on the street - unless they are well hidden. Not a single barricade at the entry points to Bangalore (in the past I have seen a kind of traffic blockade near where I live; I could not see that last evening.) I am not sure if Bangalore is prepared. We could also see such copy cat strikes at all other state capitals. Are they ready?

So this is my plan ...
As soon as I complete writing this blog, I am going to send e-mails to the newspapers, chief minister (I think there is a public domain e-mail somewhere) and whoever I can find. Bangalore needs to get ready. And this cannot be a few months of vigilance. It will be for ever. If this is the price we have to pay for prosperity then so be it.

I request all those who read my blog. If you have the clout, please send it to the concerned authorities. If you do no, then forward this message or link to everybody you know. Let us play our part in defending India and saving innocent lives.

Someone asked me what we can do to counter the terrorists. It took me the whole of last night to come up with this answer: we can out think them.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

When Terror Tamasha Replaces Cricket on TV

The whole tamasha of showing terror live, the importance given to a handful of terrorists and morose faces on the TV speaking of tragedy is nauseating me. There are panels discussing terrorists and India's response. High ranking officers giving interviews as to what is being done. This is as if in absence of live cricket telecast, the TRP hungry channels have found a new live show.

Yes terrorists have struck us. 100+ people have died. It is tragic. And yes our brave forces are fighting them. That is all to it. A simple "operations are going on ... you will be told when it is over" is sufficient.

We Indians - including me - love tamasha. Life comes to a standstill when India plays cricket. So, it is with these terror attacks. Too much importance is being given. That's what makes us so vulnerable. Let us accept the fact that there will be more such attacks. We need to adopt a touch stance. No negotiations. No compromise. Collateral damages are unfortunate. If there are terror attacks of this type, just blast them away. People will die. It could be me. My family. My kids. But that is the cost of war. And make no mistake, this is war. I go by what Caesar was supposed to have said, "Cowards die many times before their death. The Brave die but once." I see (ab)normal traffic outside my window in Bangalore, as I type this. A few weeks ago there were serial blasts. Do you think the Bangaloreans think about the next blast when they step out of their homes? Nah!

Let's face it. Why do terrorists hit vulnerable targets? To spread terror (duh!) and bring attention to their cause. Our over reaction by giving so much importance every such tragedy only goes to feed these terrorists.

And what about the people who sit in front of TV "horrified" by all this. Come on! You think they care. This is just a show. It is happening to someone else. I am sure we all feel sad for the people who died, the man who has lost his wife, the father who lost his son. But then we move on. Like I did this morning. Checked the news. Blogged. Came to office and done my job. Blogging again. That is an ordinary human being for you. We all do this. We feel the pain only when one of our near and dear one dies.

Consider this scenario:

Terrorists attacked Mumbai. All news channel report it as a normal headline. And then the ticker tape continues below giving phone numbers for people to contact and the newsreaders then go on with their normal reporting. After the flushing is over, the TV channels report the news and that is the end of it.

Let us starve the terrorists. Deprive them of the mileage they get out of this.

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The Real Terrorists

This is a rehash of my previous blog but worth it as posts done long-long ago tend to disappear from the public sight.

Even as the NSG flushes out the terrorists and the Mumbai police try to restore normalcy, investigating agencies from all over the world are rushing to India to study the learn lessons and of course help in finding out who did it. This happens every time there is a large scale terror attack. In variably the trail leads to a group, be it Al-Qaeda, or Laskar-e-Toiba or any of the numerous organisations. Most of the time the groups own it up themselves. And then there is a round of condemnation, speeches to wipe out terrorism, promises to follow up the perpetrator, ... till the next attack.

Seeking and attacking the terrorist organisation will not finish them off. One cannot wipe away the organisation. Nor can you recognise a terrorist when he walks past you. He doesn't have red eyes and is not always loaded with ammunition.

The focus is all wrong. And I am sure the FBI, the RAW, the MI, the who's-who-of-the-investigation-world know this. This is what is required.

a) Determine who finances these terrorist groups. Such huge amount of money cannot be floating around. It has to be channelised through banks at some point of time.

b) Determine who sells them these sophisticated arms and ammunition. These are not home made rifles and guns. Must be some arms manufacturing factory. Or it could be army ammunition siphoned out.

c) Is it a country / countries or a group of wealthy people?
d) Freeze the accounts. Close down such factories. Cut off the supply chain.

It is not as difficult as it seems. Certainly more effective than sending armed forces to bombard Taliban in Afghanistan or seeking out WMD. Needs a coordinated effort from all the countries. The world has more or less managed to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons. There is no reason why terrorism cannot be brought down too. Guns and grenades may be easier to make compared to nuclear weapons, but the supply chain is similar. Control the supply chain and the end product will be in control.

It is also high time that all - ALL - countries agree on the definition of Terrorism. I don't care if they are freedom fighters or not. If acts of terror is pursued to meet their goal (such as planting bombs in railway station, taking hostages, blowing up cars in public places ... this can be easily defined) no support can be given by any country. The rest of the world should boycott that country supporting such terror activities. Hint: Next time there is a discussion in the UN and you find any country trying to support armed freedom fight is a terrorist supporting country.

It may not be possible to wipe away the terrorists by killing them but we sure can throttle them to death.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Americans! These Companies Are Still Fleecing You!

Is it TARP or a trap?
You think your money is being used. Actually it is being abused. AIG executives will still get HUGE bonuses.
See here.

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Terrorists Are A Bunch Of Idiots

Many explitives - such as those questioning their parenthood, etc. - come to mind but I choose this - idiot - carefully. What exactly is their game plan? Do they think they can bring a city like Mumbai to its knees? Or do they think because of their repeated attacks, India will suddenly say "Oh! We are so afraid. Take what you want. Leave us alone."? Fat chance! Only a bunch of idiots can think they can frighten the world into submission.

I don't think they even have any goals left. Look for Indian citizens, US citizens, British Nationals and kill? To what purpose? What will they achieve? No idea!

So here is an open message to terrorists. Do what you want to do. Mumbai will soon return to normalcy. We will stand with our heads high and crush you - sooner or later. India and the World will celebrate life while you can go and hunt for soft targets - such as your mothers

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Indian IT Firms Increase Working Hours

I am surprised at the lengthening of work hours by the big names in software industry, Infosys, Wipro, TCS, name it and you have them on the list. Read here. Their philosophy seems exact opposite of what I believe all software companies did. Perhaps I am wrong. I always thought that the best way of increasing productivity is by setting tighter deadlines (or stretch target) rather than monitoring individual clocked time inside the company.

If I want my engineers to work longer hours I just need to crash my delivery schedule proportionately. That's where the solution lies.

What am I missing?

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My Response In Financial Times - Pooglers and Groctoids

Do you think this will really work? Out of box thinking is good. As long as the context is kept in mind. There is something called square peg and something called round hole.
I bet some time later there will be a management article / book on how successful this experiment was. The true way to test the success is however, to set up quantitative goals beforehand and then measure the outcome against a control group.

To follow the blog visit here

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My Response In Financial Times Blog - The Indian Advantage

I respect Mr. Narayana Murthy and I am sure he believes in what he is saying. But he is wrong. The Indian culture was always present; there is nothing new there. Then how come it is only now that India is shining?
This just seems to be trying to hunt for a cause of an effect.
The truth is that today’s India is a result of opportunity that presented itself with the Y2K problem coinciding with the globalisation drive that was forced upon India by IMF. Y2K needed immediate service of a large number of cheap English speaking labour and we just happened to be there.
Don’t get me wrong though - I am not complaining. I am reaping the benefits too.
To follow the blog visit here

A bit blasphemous. I agree.

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My Response In Financial Times Blog - What’s the best way of sharing the petrol bill?

Just wondering if the simple one-person-cuts-the-cake-and-the-other-person-chooses-her-share will not solve the problem. That way, Lucy pays for a tank full of fuel and both sisters drive like maniacs and the next time Lucy’s sister pays for the full tank and both sisters drive to extract maximum benefits and then the next time … you get the idea. They would soon settle down to an equilibrium where both are satisfied and the frequent gas station trip reduces.

To follow the blog visit here

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My Response In Financial Times Blog - How do I calculate an appropriate salary?

“Fair Figure” as opposed to real figure (which is entirely decided by the market; and by market, I mean your market where you see yourself as a commodity unless you have an USP) should be determined by the value you bring to the company you are working for. You have to therefore convince your employer that you are worth £££’s based on how much ££££’s you can bring in to that company. Given the (impending) recession, I would advice you to stay put for some time and improve your USP.

And oh! By the way, your quality of life does not depend on how much you earn; rather on how well you save, invest and spend.

To follow the blog visit here

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My Response In Financial Times Blog - Should we take a pay cut?

I often visit the FT blogs. I leave my comments there. Since the views are mine and the viewership is different I though I should duplicate my responses here. For the complete blog please visit here. Unless the options are clearly spelt out any decision would be foolish. Under what terms are the pay cuts being introduced? Is it till we turn around? Or till the present financial crisis is over? Ideally the company should share with you the plans for recovery so that you are clear when you are likely to get back you original salary.
There is another side to the story too. A job loss could unleash the hidden talents you always suspected you had but never managed to get it going. Who knows? Perhaps you have an entrepreneur hidden within you, just waiting for such an opportunity. The current situation may not seem to be an ideal time to launch a business, but the best opportunity comes along during such times of crisis. In addition, if it is an eventual job change you are looking for, then taking a pay cut may actually reduce your bargaining power with your future employer. Generally, when you job hop, the future employer either matches your existing cost to the company or exceeds it.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ooty Chocolates - World's Best

Recently a friend, Santosh, and his family visited us and left some Ooty chocolates behind. Yummmmmy is the word. Just one bite into the hand made chocolates and all your senses come alive. So I hunted the Net for the recipe and a blog actually gives in great details how to prepare these chocolates. (The author of this blog is not me!!)

Ooty Chocolates should be made national treasure. They are in no way inferior to the ones from Switzerland or Belgium. What we lack is banding. I do not see any reason why they are not as coveted as any of the other popular brands.

So can we see Ooty Chocolates splashed all across Incredible India adverts please. Thank you!

Note: The picture used here belongs to Pablo Duarte. To see more of his pictures please visit his gallery.

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NIC Report, US Decline And Role of UN

On 25th September 2008, the German Finance Minister, Steinbrück, predicted that the US will lose its superpower status in the world financial system. He was not way off. On 20th November, America's National Intelligence Council (NIC) in its annual report indicates a decline in US supremacy. The prediction is that US will be one among the many; not the only one. The report also goes on to indicate that China and India will become more powerful. This, of course, doesn't mean that US will become a non-entity. It is just that US will not be the single point contact of all world decisions.

This news made headlines all over the world so there is no much value in repeating the points. Instead I would concentrate on why I see the United Nations taking on a bigger role from here on.

The NIC report paints a dismal scenario indicating a "19th century-like scenario, territorial expansion and military rivalries." Though NIC report indicates that this is likely by the year 2025, the present economic crisis, if prolonged, would only hasten the trends.

With all governments focused on solving their economic crisis, there is bound to be diversion of resources and this would result in less monitoring, resulting in warfare by smaller states and "non-state actors" . The biggest fear will always remain nuclear weapons falling in wrong hands. Imagine if a terrorist organisation gets its hands on a nuclear device. This is where we need a strong world body.

United Nations?
The United Nations is largely seen as an ineffective body. At least that is the public perception. There is no doubt about its contributions but the impression is that it has not reached the potential it could have. The Iraq war and the crisis in Yogoslavia where UN was entirely bypassed by US only added to this image. UN also got some bad press in its dealing in DR Congo.

The perception is that because of the Veto power vested in the 5 countries - US, Russia, China, UK and France - the UN will never go against the wishes of these countries. This perception needs to change if there is any hope of containing a "19th century-like scenario." This is highlighted in the press conference on 3rd April 2000 which was called on the Role of UN in the Millennium. Although the Millennium Discussions was comprehensive and covers wide topics like "Globalisation And Governance", "Freedom From Want", "Sustaining Our Future", the questions in the press conference were largely focused on ":Freedom From Fear", meaning security concerns, and reforms in the Security Council.

Things have changed since. The period of 2000-2008 has seen rapid growth in the BRIC countries. To be able to really build a Security Council whose resolutions are acceptable, Brazil and India needs to find a place in there. There should be a provision for a review to see who can be taken in (or off) the security council after, say, every 15 years. Besides, there is a need for a solemn commitment by the permanent members of the Security Council not to take any military action, except through the Security Council.

Unless the UN takes decisive actions and unless the permanent members of the Security Council stop taking independent actions, the UN will only play a very small role in "Freedom From Fear". Which, of course, will be a tragedy.

Also see here for a good analysis of the NIC report

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Idea Of God

The more I think of it ... the more confused I become. I think it is designed that way - if you believe in God, that is. Or it merely reflects my lack of confidence in myself - if you do not believe in God, that is. Or both.

The idea of God has existed for so many generations. It has changed form though. It all obviously began as God(s) being controller(s) of natural elements, such as rain, thunder, lightening, earth, sun, ... , you get it. Then at some point in time, a more 'human' form took over. It was definitely easy for humans to imagine God as another human or at least human like. Some of the Gods even had imperfections. The next natural step was organised collation of idea of God and a user manual - religion stepped in. And with that the God(s) became perfect. No more human like failings for them.

The organised religion was flexible enough to absorb perturbances. Witness, Hindu religion soaking up Buddhism by declaring that Buddha is Vishnu's ninth avatar (even though the Buddha revolted against the Vedic religion), or the use of science to justify the ancient scriptures, by both Hinduism and Christianity. Flexibility is one of the reasons why religion has survived. The another is, of course, critical mass. It is like tipping point. Once you have enough followers, it is difficult to dislodge. Moreover, the numbers in religion only grows as human population grows.

Quantum Mechanics came as a boon for religion. Just when science threatened to know it all with its determinism, Quantum Mechanics provided a base that could not be beaten - there is no way, one could know it all. All events are probabilistic and not deterministic - it didn't matter that the principles of Quantum Mechanics could not be extrapolated from one context to another. The conclusion was sufficient.

But religion became a weapon. To be wielded for political gains. Sane people needed to shun the concept of religion but could not let go of God. At some point spiritualism came in. As spiritual beings, we could easily say that we do not believe in religion but still believe in a superior force that governs. It also becomes very personal. And politically correct. Borrowing the concept of energy from physics, God was now explained as an energy source, all pervading, existing but since energy cannot be defined (except in terms of itself), God also could not be. It existed. That is sufficient. How else could one explain the natural order the prevails. It could not have been an accident.

You see, if you ask enough how's and why's, at some point of time all arguments against God breaks down, one cannot keep explaining the natural world as our knowledge is still limited. No one can explain away belief with arguments. And this is quite convenient for the believer but very inconvenient for the non-believer.

So, does God exist? I need to make up my mind. Cannot keep arguing back and forth for ever, can I? So here goes ...

Close your eyes (I mean after reading this blog) and imagine in your mind the expanse of the universe we know. Just think of the vastness. Our galaxy is a tiny bit of that universe - very tiny, tiny bit. Besides, it is an ordinary galaxy - nothing special about it. In that ordinary galaxy, our Sun is a very ordinary star. If someone were to take a snapshot of the Milky Way, the Sun would not stand out. We are still talking of size, of course. In the Solar system, the Earth is a ordinary planet, in terms of size. And on the Earth, whose diameter is roughly 12800 km, we humans are, on an average, six feet.

See how tiny we are? So, if the universe is a Blue Whale, we are like microbes - or even smaller.

Perhaps, somewhere in this universe or a parallel one, there are other intelligent creatures like us or more intelligent than us. They may or may not believe in God. But they would be of the same scale. Tiny little things in the vast scope of their universe.

Now, why would God - if s/he exists in whatever form - waste time to create and to entertain - such tiny creatures?

Isn't it more likely that life is just an accident? It just happened. And we are just trying to justify our invention - the Idea of God.

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India and Pakistan To Form An Economic Union

I would love to see that as a headline someday ...

I wonder if this is a pre-condition laid by IMF. In any case, this is the best piece of news to come out of Pakistan since ages. (I think the last good news was Abdus Salam winning the Nobel prize - ok I am being a little over the top here!)

According to the Financial Times, "Pakistan is prepared to withdraw its first-strike nuclear threat and push to create an economic union with India in an effort to bring peace to south Asia."
I am aware that a SAEZ - a South Asia Economic Zone - on the lines of EU will take time. Years of distrust needs to be overcome. And then one needs political will on either side. But then we have in the past seen economic realities overcome political stances very rapidly. Remember, USSR, Perestroika, Gorbachev, ...?

Actually, I hope the countries of South Asia grab this opportunity. The bargaining power of an economic zone comprising of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Srilanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives will be tremendous. Perhaps, Iran would like to join. And someday Afghanistan.

The end of the present economic crisis could see a rearrangement of financial clout. US may not remain the financial superpower. Already the EU has powered its way to the top. But even they face economic recession. Japan is also in recession. The south Asian countries seem to be unaffected (to an extent). If we can create a large market of consumers, we could see prosperity coming our way.

Pipe dream?

At least we can try!

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

High Bank Interest Rates

Either I have not understood economics - which is more likely - or nobody has paid attention to this.
Every public sector bank in India is offering 11% - 11.5% interest rate on long term deposit (starting from 1 year). This, of course, makes sense for the banks, given the volatility of the markets and reduced confidence in multinational banks. More funds are likely to flow into the bank coffers.
But doesn't this also result in money getting siphoned off from the market? Now that deflationary conditions hover around our collective heads? Besides, how are banks going to show any profits? Banks are not lending money to the common man.
Ok! I get it. They are perhaps lending money at a very high rate to the businesses citing the current financial crisis and the banks can afford a high interest on term-loans.
A puzzle then: RBI has been announcing various monetary measures to release funds in the market. I haven't see much of that benefit being passed to the common man.

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Manchester City Beats Arsenal - Poetic Justice

I had posted this on 24th September as a reaction to Wegner's comment.
Well, today Manchester City thrashed Arsenal 3-0. See here.
I dislike people who try to pull down others.
Poetic Justice!

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Vikram Pandit Under Fire

With Citibank sinking into quagmire, Vikram Pandit's leadership qualities are being questioned. He is believed to be a technocrat not fit to lead people ... his strong point is analysis not leadership ... doesn't take tough decisions ... and all the usual crap that nasty people reserve for people at the top.

But then can you blame people from pointing fingers at him. The Indian press lauded him when he took over as the CEO. But he has not delivered. No major decision has been taken so far that has inspired the Wall Street. He lost out Wachovia to Well Fargo. And now his job is on line.

But is he really to blame. Let us turn to my favourite management book: Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense by Pfeffer and Sutton. In an very interesting titled chapter, 'Are Great Leaders in Control of Their Companies?', the say:

"Even the most powerful executives have little influence over macroeconomic trends, the price of international currency and oil, wars and terrorism, organizational history, and the weather. That is why although stock prices sometimes dramatically in the short term when a CEO is fired or hired, there are seldom long-term effects on market value.

Those who have studied the investment impact contend that the replacement of a corporate boss is often like that of a baseball team manager: after a knee-jerk sense of relief comes a realization that it won't do much good if the new guy has to lead the same bunch of bums whose losing streak got the previous manager axed.

Take your call.

Note: Do you want to read more about my views on leadership. You need to visit my other blog.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Posthumous Nobel Prize For Einstein

This is a standard quiz question in schools and colleges ... For what was Einstein awarded the Nobel prize? The answer is surprisingly: "For Photoelectric Effect; not Theory of Relativity." Einstein is long dead and gone. And Nobel prize is not offered posthumously. A pity!

Turns out that Einstein is very much alive among scientists. Recently scientists have proved that the famous equation E = mc2 is correct after all. See this piece of news.

However, if you think there is a general agreement on Einstein's greatness. Think again. Visit here to see a scathing attack on Einstein (Albert Einstein, Plagiarist of the Century)

A more unbiased discussion on Albert Einstein's claim on E = mc2 is here

My views: Poincaré may have come very close to the theory of relativity but he did not have the leap of imagination that Einstein had. While all scientists of that era had taken "ether" into account to describe the phenomenon of light and relativity, it required a total genius to reject the idea of "ether" and assume that the velocity of light is constant is a given. That also requires guts.

Did you enjoy this post? Perhaps, you would like to read another one on Einstein!

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Phantom! Save Us From The Pirates!

When I was a kid, long, long ago, Phantom and Mandrake were very popular comics. At least, in India.

The recurring theme of Phantom, of course, are pirates. In fact, the first in the line of Phantom was a victim of piracy. And since then each son (if I remember correctly, one was a daughter - one of the twins; not absolutely sure though) of the 21 generations took the following oath "I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice, in all their forms, and my sons and their sons shall follow me."

Some of the comics involved high sea piracy with gun toting, helicopter flying pirates. This was all good fun. as the idea of pirates in the 20th/21st century was quite, well, anachronistic. Every time a ship was seized by the pirates, Diana (his beautiful wife) would be on it. Phantom would then sneak in and thrash the hell out of the pirates, each with a skull mark on his jaw. Good fun.

Looks like Somalia pirates have read Phantom in great detail. And decided that piracy makes good business after all. No competition, no regulations, easy target.

But how did the Somalians start off with piracy? There has to be a reason. Phantom cannot be one of these. As I googled I found my favourite theory of Chaos coming to life. I was surprised by what I read. So, in the true tradition of story telling ...

Once upon a time, US launched a war against terror. At that time Somalia was limping back to some sort of normalcy. Ismalic courts promised to end the lawlessness. However, as usual, without understanding the social context, the Islamic court received bad press in the west. Following the equation, Islam = Al Quaeda = Terrorism, US sponsored invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia. The rule of Islamic courts was destroyed. Lawlessness promptly returned. I am not sure if Al-Qaeda had a presence in Somalia or not, but now it certainly has. Exactly opposite of what was intended. Some of the Somalian Warlords saw opportunity in sea. High sea piracy is a manifestation of this lawlessness.

You just have to google to check out the numerous articles supporting the above story.

Even Phantom will not be able to solve this problem. His methods are similar to the war on terror. Use violence to crush violence. This does not work. Terror is a symptom. Need to address the root cause.

Did you like this post? Then perhaps you would also like my other articles on terrorism!

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tips For Marketing Executives

Seems to me that blogs could be of great source of input to marketing executives. Especially those who market internationally.
Here's how ...

See the world map on your right. Almost all bloggers have a variation of this map. Notice that there is a trend that emerges. Heavy viewing of English news blog in Northern America, Western Europe and it cuts across Asia almost in a straight line - with very few in China and Japan. Now, I am not saying that is a representative of all News Blogs. But all a marketer needs to do is pick up the first 100 top English news blog (unfortunately, I am not there yet) and look for the trend.

Similar, if you see a similar map in my other blog you will find a heavy concentration of viewers in Eastern USA and Western Europe. This is the locus of aerospace industry, in any case.

So, if you are into exporting food, pick up blogs on food and check out the trend. Check out the posts that has invoked the maximum interest. You now have a ready market for your stuff. Or at least you have identified the geographical areas where you need to concentrate on. Internet would be your main medium, but by poking around you could also figure out the correct medium. For example, checkout blogs on TV. See the content and the locus of hits. Determine if there is any overlap.

You could also go contrariwise. Seek out the areas that are largely blank. These are unexplored, virgin areas for your product. Be careful though. It could be that the Internet may not have penetrated into those areas as much as USA or Europe. It could also be that you are checking the wrong language blogs.

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Wake Your Mind Up

Didn't you always want to become a genius? Without trying, of course! Wouldn't you like to achieve more in less time? Resolve difficult problems at one glance? I always wanted to do this. Imagine walking into a room full of people struggling with a tough issue. You have a glance at the flip charts, shrug, offer a solution and walk out leaving everyone flabbergasted. Now that would be something! Such 'wow' moments have been few and far between. But I never stopped dreaming.

I am not alone in my thinking though - the market is flooded with how-to-think-like-a-genius type self-development books. I have always tried to avoid such books. I have always viewed them with suspicion. If only becoming a genius was that easy ...

But I have two. One is How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb. I have blogged on this before. Here. Not sure whether this helped me or not, but the only reason I am learning German is this book. (You need to read the book to find the connection - though it is very obvious).

Some time ago I succumbed to another book. It was the title that caught my attention. The Mind Gym: Wake Your Mind Up. I must have purchased this book about a year ago and only today managed to force myself to read it. It lay untouched all these months. The book comes with a free membership to the mind gym website.

Will let you know as the days progress if this book helps me use my brain in new ways. You can check it out as well.

Wish me luck!

If you liked this blog, why don't you stay back a bit and read my other blogs discussing books that buy. Here.

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A Look At Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in America And Its Equivalent In India

With so much talk of companies going bankrupt in USA, I decided to dig into the details. To a common man, like myself, if a company has gone bankrupt, the company is history. Ceases to exist. Dead. Apparently not.

First some definitions ... ( I am not insulting your intelligence. I am trying to make it clear for myself).
A debtor is the one who owes some money (or debts) to others.
The 'others', mentioned in the statement above, are the creditors.
Thus, if I am a company and I have taken a huge loan from a bank, I am debtor and the bank is the creditor. I need to pay off the debt I owe to the bank.

But if I am a shareholder, I am not a creditor of the company. I own the company, you see. Just a tiny bit of the company, But still an owner and hence a debtor.

However, if I have a fixed deposit with the company, then the company owes me my money. So, I am a creditor.

Now, when a company cannot repay its debts, the company can voluntarily file for bankruptcy under chapter 7 or chapter 11.

If the company files for bankruptcy under chapter 7, then the assets of that company is sold off and the debts repaid to the creditors. So, the company is now actually dead. Liquidated. (I like the word liquidated. Very graphic. You can actually see in your mind, the fixed assets of the company being squeezed into liquid cash and flowing from the company to the creditors).

However, bankruptcy filed under chapter 11, means the company is still alive but not kicking as hard. The control remains with the existing management (which is kind of funny! If these guys could manage, why would a company go bankrupt in the first place?) What makes it a little more baffling is that initially the same jokers who brought the company to this state have the exclusive right to propose the restructuring. Of course, the creditors have to agree to it. This is ensured by a bankruptcy court. If there is no agreement, the court can move the bankruptcy from chapter 11 to 7. Sometimes, when it is determined that the management is utterly useless, a trustee is appointed by the bank to take care of the restructuring.

Chapter 11 bankruptcies are politically more expedient. Since the company doesn't close down completely, people have jobs, the suppliers can still operate. (Remember the unpaid amount to a supplier is also a debt.)

So, do companies recover from a chapter 11 bankruptcy? In recent memory, as far as I remember, post 9/11, Delta and Northwest Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Both emerged after restructuring and subsequently they merged to form the biggest airlines in the USA.

That is all in USA. Wikipedia has lot of material on this.

What about India? Not so good news, I am afraid.

First, getting information on Indian Laws is a task by itself. A paper by one Mr. N. S. Tomar (then a 5th year student in a law college) - I think this paper is written in 2002 (see here) - concludes:

"Indian insolvency law failed to keep pace with the domestic and international developments. Both, the Companies Act, 1956 under which winding up of companies is carried out and SICA which deals with revival of companies fail to capture the true relevance of the insolvency law besides not meeting the dynamics of the modern economic system. The two laws were enacted to cater to meet the expectations of industries thriving in a protectionist environment unexposed to competition in a closed economy. Both the laws do not provide for engagement of professionals and their skills in the insolvency system."

I got hold of a book called Wadhwa's Corporate Law. This is a 2001 edition. The Sick Industrial Companies (Special Provisions) Act 1985 is covered in Part IX. It states in the introduction: "An act to make in the public interest, special provisions with a view to securing the timely detection of sick and potentially sick companies ...".

The word bankruptcy doesn't seem to occur. A "sick industrial company" is defined as "an industrial company ... which has at the end of any financial year accumulated losses equal to or exceeding its net worth." So, this is it.

More information is available here

This piece of editorial in the Economic Times concludes:

"It took barely 72 hours for Lehman Brothers to be acquired after it declared its bankruptcy in the United States. In India, a bankrupt company would have had to go to a court, which in turn, would have taken its own time to appoint a liquidator for the sale of assets. Why can’t we execute the sale of companies declared bankrupt within 72 hours? This is the crux of the issue."

Only a professional will be able to wade his way through. So, if this blog is being read by a person who deals with insolvency and bankruptcy, please add value.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is Google Earth History? After The Moon ISRO Looks At Earth

Looks like India's Space Program is on Testosterone. After conquering Moon, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) seeks to dominate Earth. It plans to launch a competition to Google Earth. It will be called Bhuvan (for Earth). See here for more details.

Did you like this post? Why don't you stay a bit longer and read my other posts on India's space program:

Moon Race
Space Success

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Financial Mess Explained

Economists and Financial gurus still trying to understand the financial meltdown phenomenon. That way they could offer solutions that hopefully make them as famous as Keynes, post-1929 depression. Come on! I would do the same if I were one. This kind of opportunity does not come every other day, does it?

Ok now seriously, A very good analysis of the financial mess and a solution is offered in a blog here. This was published as recently as 14th November.

This blog used the term "CDO" very liberally, assuming that everyone would understand it. In case you do not, please go here for clarification.

Pictures speak a thousand words. Very true. Take a walk down the 'bank street' in this interactive feature in the Financial Times website (here). Very interesting.

Staying with the theme of pictures-speaking-a-thousand-words, visit another interactive at FT, here, and launch the interactive to see pictorially what happened. It is brilliant.

Did you like this post? Why don't you visit my other posts here.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Blast From The Past - Financial Crisis

The main goal is to emphasize the role of financial panic as an essential element of the crisis. At the core of the crisis were large-scale foreign capital inflows into financial systems that became vulnerable to panic. The paper finds that while there were significant underlying problems and weak fundamentals besetting the economies at both a macroeconomic and a microeconomic level, the imbalances were not severe enough to warrant a financial crisis of the magnitude that took place. A combination of panic on the part of the international investment community, policy mistakes at the onset of the crisis by governments, and poorly designed international rescue programs turned the withdrawal of foreign capital into a full-fledged financial panic, and deepened the crisis more than was either necessary or inevitable.

Sounds familiar? It should be ... there is hardly an educated person who does not claim some knowledge on the present financial crisis. Only that this is a paper that was written to explain the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. I just edited out the word "Asian". I picked it up on a random scan of the Internet (no copyright violation is meant).

Humans have not yet become the economic animal it claims to be.

Are we condemned to repeat history for ever?

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Differently Abled. So What?

The only reason I am putting this on my blog is so that such news do not die out, buried deep in the 6th page of a newspaper.

To read the news that a blind boy from India won gold in the Chess Olympiad for Blind and Visually Impaired held in Greece, please visit this bit of news in Deccan Herald here.

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News That Make Headlines And Those That Don't

Citibanks' axing of 52,000 odd jobs have made headlines. And so has the Dunlop's closing of its unit for an indefinite period. But there are so many more stories that do not make headlines. Here are a few ...

1) A paint manufacturer in Bangalore is in trouble because there are no new orders. He says that most of the constructions are stopped. There no new projects launched.

2) A fork-lift company that used to sell 20-25 units a month sold only 3 last month.

3) The textile mills in Mumbai and Coimbatore that saw a huge spike last year are on verge of closing down or have already closed down. There are no new orders.

4) It is now "buy one; get one free" if you buy appartments in Mumbai.

5) In Mumbai, the banks are no longer issuing credit cards.

6) A dear friend told me that if you have money in bank, go to a house constructor, open your check book and offer cash. You will get an appartment at the price you name.

These will not make the headlines. These have been told to me by people I meet and talk to. So when Infosys declares that they will recruit 25,000 this year, I am filled with hope. But then my eyes fall on Ratan Tata's suggestion of an US like injection and I am all confused.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Has USA Lost The Moon Race To India And China

With India's successful moon mission and China's advances in space technology, has USA been left behind in the race to the Moon? I think USA (and the other space exploration countries) got it wrong when they bet on the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is a reaction to the then USSR Mir Space Station. So basically it is a product of the cold war era. And I wonder if the experiments conducted on the ISS are of any practical use. In fact, I do not think of these experiments as experiment at all. I do not believe that any of what has been accomplished in ISS could not have been simulated on a computer. Basically, the theory is known - no surprises there. I do not consider the manufacture of a perfect glass window to be an achievement. The biggest success of ISS is ISS itself. It is an engineering marvel, no doubts there.

But worse, it took the focus away from moon. For USA and rest of the powers, moon was conquered and done with. ISS was the present and its extension was the future. That's exactly where NASA went wrong. Setting up a space station on Moon should be a less challenging feat compared to ISS. Moon is a stable base. I have a hunch that with the ISS budget it should be possible to make 3-4 ISS on the Moon (And that also means if there is an accident in one of the Moon stations, the space explorers can shift to the next door station - much safer than the ISS.) It also provides the perfect launch pad for future deep space exploration. The only advantage that ISS offers is the distance. It is about 350 km from earth and moon is approximately 384,000 km from earth. Apollo took about 3 days to reach moon. That is not much, is it? And experiments could be carried on moon's surface too. At one-sixth the gravity of earth, the experiments on moon would serve as good points for extrapolation into micro-gravity. And with no atmosphere, moon also serves as a great space observatory. Imagine Hubble Space Telescope(s) on Moon!

NASA is planning to launch its lunar mission in early 2009. It wants to set up manned outposts on moon by 2020. India now plans to send man to moon by 2015. To set up its outpost, NASA needs to send its man mission around the same time. If USA had continued the lunar missions into the 80's and 90's, (wo)man would be playing golf on moon by now. And they all would have been Americans!

So what is next? I am not sure what impact recession will have on USA's space desires. India has proven that it can launch a moon-mission at a fraction of the cost. Collaboration seems to be the only way out. That is already evident - NASA has two instruments abroad the Chandrayaan. Competition in space exploration is wasteful. USA, Russia, India, China, Japan and the EU need to come together and re-conquer the Moon.

Note: The picture used here belongs to G Schouten de Jel. To see more of his pictures visit his gallery.

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Accidental Damage To Your SEO

I discovered this quite by accident. And this is something we bloggers need to be extra careful about. If you (accidentally) publish a post without a title in Blogger, the URL will take words from the first set of text of the post and your URL is damaged for ever. This is a disaster as far as SEO is concerned. The only way to resolve this is to copy the text, delete the original post, create another post and republish.

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Missed Opportunity for CRY, Helpage India

Perhaps organisations like CRY and Helpage have enough fund. Otherwise I do not see any reason why they would not exploit the Internet. I have been trying to obtain a widget or something similar to place on my blogs. This will direct some of my traffic to their websites. And hopefully someone will get involved in a bigger way. But no! I scanned their website for a widget but ...

For NGO's not to exploit the power of Internet is criminal.

If any representative of CRY or Helpage or any other NGO happen to see this post, please feel free to drop a line telling me how to go about it.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sachin In Fianancial Times

Here's a test:
Do you feel sad when India wins but Sachin Tendulkar does badly? Yes? Then you are a true Sachin fan.
At my age I can claim that I have seen Sachin grow. I became his fan when he thrashed Australians in semi-finals and finals at Sharjah in 1998. So when he is interviewed by my favourite read in the cyberspace - Lunch with FT, I had to include the link in my blog. Go here and enjoy.

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Ice Age Or Global Warming - Which Do You Prefer?

This is a 2 day old news. If scientists are to be believed the greenhouse gases has actually postponed the onset of the biggest ever ice age. See here.
So if this a reason to rejoice? Scientists are not so sure. But this news sure throws open a few more avenues of scientific exploration.

Here are the questions that come to mind ...

1) Why does ice age occur? There are no definite answers. See here. A good introduction to ice age is also here.
2) What makes ice age go away?
3) It is generally agreed that 500 millions years ago the carbon dioxide concentration was 20 times that of today. The various factors that resulted in lowering of the concentration is described here. Plate tectonics is still at work. How does that effect the present increase in carbon dioxide?
4) Evolution dictates that with the increase in carbon dioxide levels, there should be larger trees. Will such giant trees counteract the increase. Or are we adding greenhouse gases too fast?
5) All future weather predictions are based on computer models. So perhaps the focus has shifted from determination of causal relationship to explain a phenomenon. The focus is now on generating a result based on the model and then explaining why something is happening. I happen to be from the old school of thought. Give me an Einstein any day.
6) All my life I have understood the weather as a chaotic system. This was even since I read Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick. Chaotic system by definition is the unpredictable behavior of a deterministic system. A slight change in one variable will result in a totally different end result. This could be due to a rounding off error or a truncation of a variable in the model. Could this be reason why scientists are sometimes predicting ice age and sometimes global warming. Perhaps the weather will continue to remain within the normal range (for humans, I mean) and it is only the computer generated result that is swinging from one extreme to another. Now that is a happy thought.
7) We evolve slowly. But bacteria evolves faster - much faster. Is it possible that some carbon dioxide eating bacteria has already evolved? Now, won't that be fun?
Note: The photograph used belongs to Paul Caputo. Please go here to see more such photographs.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Increase Blog Traffic Using Alphainventions

I generally don't fall for such gimmicks. If someone says I can guarantee your traffic, I would laugh at him. Besides, for some (crazy?) reason I believe my contents will be sufficient to drive traffic.

I must have accidentally hit There is a small field up there that says "Notify Readers About My Blog". I had nothing to loose any way. Within minutes of placing my blog site there I got a few hits. That surprised me.

Ok, so this is my plan. Every time I blog - which is very often - I will go to Alphainventions and click.

Hopefully the traffic will increase.

Does anyone know how this thing works?

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Some weeks ago I had posted a rather flippant article on how anyone could write a management book. I took the example of whitewater rafting expedition. Looks like the joke is on me. Some one has actually written a book based on whitewater. Not rafting but kayaking. Don't believe me. See here.

Follow the link. The discussion with the authors is very good.

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Stock Brokers Are Still Making Money - An Analysis of BSE Sensex Data

Wall Street Bull

And in short term too. You don't believe me?
Just check out the BSE Sensex prices over the past few days (rounded off).



You would see a remarkable consistency.

Ok. Now let us now check out what happened a year ago:




Did you expect the inter-day high and low in the BSE Sensex of Nov 2007 and 2008 to be similar? Except for 08-Nov-2007, when the fluctuation was the lowest (and hence less money was made) and 02-Nov-2007 when the fluctuation was the highest (when more money was made) the variation is largely confined within 430 to 596 in both the set of data. This is remarkable.

Now are you convinced that the stock-brokers are still making money?

Agreed that the analysis does not indicate if the inter-day high came before the inter-day low in the day or vice-versa, but one can make money the normal buy-low-sell-high way or by short-selling. Please understand that stock-brokers make money everyday.

But what of the ordinary investor? Surely, the average matters? The average of Nov-2007 is way above that today. So, someone who has invested money in Nov 2007 has lost out in Nov 2008. There is subtle difference between sensex falling and making profit/loss. One does not make loss just because sensex falls. One makes profit or loss only when you buy and sell. As long as you don't sell, you are fine. One just needs to ride out this wave. See here.

You are still not convinced? You are a tough nut ... I must say.
Ok this data is extracted from Against The Gods by Peter L. Bernstein.

In early 1930, right after the Great Crash, price of shares fell about 50% of their previous highs. Prices proceeded to fall another 80% before they finally hit the bottom in the fall of 1932. In 1955, the Dow Jones regained their old 1929 prices. Just nine years later, in 1964, the prices were double that of 1929 highs.

Now are you convinced?

Please note that the above analysis was done as this blog was typed out. I took November because this is November. So, it is possible that the conclusion arrived at is purely coincidental. Heck of a coincidence, I must say.

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

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Joy Of Trivia

Have you spent lazy afternoons doing nothing? Not even TV I mean?
Ok let me make it more colourful ... it is winter ... the sky is clear ... sun light streaming in ... and you are lying in an hammock eyes closed just dozing away ... heavenly!

That's the kind of joy I derive collecting trivia. Knowledge that has absolutely no role to play in my day to day activity. I collect trivia as I read books that are by no means trivial. Sort of serendipity. But at times I come across books that are packed with trivia. That is pure joy!

So here's a list all trivia that I picked up from just one chapter of this book.
Meanwhile ...

Trivia #1: The first book that was written in the west on Indo-Arabic numbers was in 1202. The title of the book is Liber Abaci (Abacus ... Abaci. Get it?) It was entirely hand-written by Leonardo Pisano. Never heard of him? Sure? Heard of Fibonacci? The same person associated with Fibonacci Numbers (go read The Da Vinci Code or a good book on maths). Well, Leonardo Pisano is better known as Fibonacci.

Trivia #2: We all know Roman numerals - I, II, III, IV etc. But what did the Greeks use? They were a very advanced civilisation. The concept of proof comes from them. Pythagoras was a Greek. So what did he use for numbers. It turns out that Greeks used their alphabets for numerals. Thus, a is 1, p is 5, d is 10, r is 100 and so on. With such a primitive numbering scheme they managed to advance so much, I wonder what wonders they could do if they knew the Indo-Arabic numbering scheme.

Trivia #3: This must be known to many among you. The word algorithm is derived from the name of the great Arab mathematician who lived around 825 AD, al-Khowarizmi. He was the first mathematician to establish rules for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing using the Indo-Arabic numbers. Come on! I cannot believe that the Indians invented zero, but did not know how to add, subtract, divide and multiply! Historians, please dig deeper.

Trivia #4: In Florence, there was an edict issued in 1229 to ban the use of Indo-Arabic numbers. People who had to learn the new numbers had to disguise themselves as Muslims. It was not until the early 1500s that Europe finally accepted 1, 2, 3 ...

Trivia #5: Remember the pains in the early schooling days when you had to memorise the multiplication tables. Well you can blame al-Khowarizmi for that. He invented it.

Now, isn't this knowledge absolutely fantastic and utterly useless at the same time? Utterly did I just say "utterly useless"? I am wrong. It always helps to set up a context. Such information makes a subject interesting. It generates just the kind of interest that is needed to start learning a subject.

Now coming to the book from which I have taken all this interesting fact ... It is Against The Gods by Peter L. Bernstein. The book is about the remarkable story of risk. It is worth its weight in gold. The financial wizards of Wall St, would do well to memorise this book.

Note: The picture used here belongs to Fleurdepix.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

An Open Letter To Mr. Barack Obama

Dear Mr. Obama,

Chances are that this open letter will be lost in the millions of blog entries on Internet. But then this Internet. This could find its way to you - who knows?

My opinion may not matter much to you, in any case. First, you are surrounded by men and women of exceptional standings. They are your advisers. They obviously know a thing or two about economics, politics, America and the World. Second, I am not even an American.

But here goes any ways ...

Long ago, we too elected a leader who energised a nation. He was young and he too had dreams. Rajiv Gandhi. We thought we finally had a world-change. But things happened. And then he got assassinated.

I haven't seen any other election that carried so much promise. Until now that is. Yes, Indians are thrilled by the promise your election carries, even though we know you are an American president. We are thrilled that there is another leader who is young and has dreams.

But whether you wish to remain an American president or be a world changer (this is not by default, you have to work towards it) is your decision. All your acts will obviously be guided by your that one decision. But whatever you do will have an impact round the world - whether anyone likes or not, American remains the only superpower.

So here is my wish list / advice for you.

1) Do not be the first Black president. Be the first Green President.
Understand the difference between urgent and important. To save the world economy is urgent. But to ensure that earth remains a clean home is important. Please keep a green earth your top-priority. The world economy will heal itself sooner or later.

2) Long Term versus Short Term
Your victory is to a large extent can be ascribed to the current economic situation. I am not taking away your and your team's role in the victory. But if the Bush Administration had delivered, you wouldn't have won. So obviously you will focus on reviving the American Economy. Besides, it is urgent. Entering long periods of recession is not going to help anyone. The first casualty is likely to be the earth. All attention from global warming will be diverted to earning bread. But as I have posted previously in my blog, the market is a chaotic system. Ensure that the decisions you take keep long term effect of short term actions into account. As much as possible, I mean. Your team will come up with solutions as you direct. If your attitude is come-on-let's-lick-this-problem-now-we-will-cross-other-bridges-when-we-come-to-it you are likely to get short term solutions with long term disasters. This is something to keep in mind for everything. The problem is that people will expect a quick solution from you and you will be under pressure to perform. Beware of hasty steps. They will come to haunt you later.

3) Terrorism
For some time now the world has looked to America to crush terrorism. America has used force to crush terrorism. I think such attempts are futile and foolish. Futile and foolish because the solution is not holistic. The solution is simple but for some reason hasn't been actuated. All that is needed is to choke off the fund flow into terrorist hands. Adopt a resolution similar to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Get other countries involved. Hunt for the people who finance the terrorists and who supply arms to them. Easier said than done but possible at a fraction of cost when compared to costs of direct attack - you would know better the financial and human costs of the Afghan war.

4) World Trade
Ban protectionism. Open up world trade. Will make you unpopular in America if you do it immediately. But has to be done and will happen whether America likes it or not. If the world has to prosper. Your call.

5) Listen to your conscience
America may have elected you. But the World looks at you for leadership. I will love it if India provides that leadership but that will take time. Now it is you. Before taking a decision, take a deep breath, close your eyes and listen to the small voice inside your head. Will this be good for the world or just America (for the short term, at least)? Chose to be a world leader - not just because you are the head of the most powerful democracy but because you choose to take the world along.

Here's wishing you all the very best. You know that you can't be an average president. It is either excellence or disaster. Give it your best shot.

I would hate to see another dream die.

Best Regards,

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Let's Learn German Together - Lesson 7

she: "Sagmal, was ist dein Plan denn?" (say, what is your plan then? zakmaal, wass isst dye-n plaan denn.)
you: "Heute, ich fahre nach Bremen. Dort habe ich ein paar Besprechung morgen und übermorgen ... Mittwoch und Donnerstag. Am Freitag bin ich frei. Dieser Tag besuche ich die Dom, die Bremen-Sänger und den Markt. Samstag komme ich nach Frankfurt zurück. Bist du frei am Samstag?" (Today, I go to Bremen. There I have a few meetings tomorrow and the day after ... Wednessday and Thursday. On Friday I am free. This day I visit the Cathedral, The Bremen Singers and the market. Sauturday I return to Frankfurt. Are you free on Saturday? hoy-tay issh faahray naakh Bray-men. Daw-rt haa-bay issh eye-n paar bay-spray-schung morgue-en oont ueber-morgue-en mitt-wockh unt donners-takh. Am fry-takh bin issh fry. Dees-er takh bay-sookh ish dee dome, dee bray-men saenger unt den mark-t. Zams-takh come-ay issh naakh Frank-foo-ert tsurukh. Bisst doo fry um Zamstakh.)

she: "Natürlich. Ich werde am Samstag und Sonntag Frankfurt zeigen." (Of course. I will show you Frankfurt on Saturday and Sunday. Naatyur-lish. Issh ware-day um Zams-takh oont zoon-takh Fraank-foo-ert ts-eye-gen)

you: "Das ist sehr nett von dir. Treffen wir sich deine Eltern?" (That is very nice of you. Will we meet your parents? Dass is seyer net fawn deer. Tray-fen wir dye-nay elt-urn)

she: "Natürlich. Wir treffen sich mit ihnen. Und mit meiner Schwester und meinem Bruder auch. Sie wohnen noch mit meiner Mutti und meinem Vati." (Of course, we meet them. And my sister and brother too. They still live with mother and father. Naatyur-lish.Wir tray-fen zish mitt ee-nen. Oont mitt miner shvester oont my-nem brooder aukh. Zee woh-nen nokh mitt miner mooti oont faati)

you: "Gut! Und am Montag, ich treffe mich mit einem Kunde in Baden-Baden." (Good. And on Monday I meet a customer in Baden-Baden. Oont um Monn-takh, issh tray-fay missh eye-nen koond-ay in Baaden-Baaden)

she: "Baden-Baden ist sehr schön." (Baden-Baden is very beautiful. Baaden-Baaden isst seyer schoen.)

you: "Ich weiß. Und am Dienstag fliege ich nach Indien zurück." (I know. And on Tuesday I fly back to India. Issh Why-ss. Oont um deens-takh flee-gay issh nakg Indi-n tsurukh.)

she: "Beschäftigt! Wie fahrst du?" (Busy! How are you travelling? Bay-shaef-tiggt. V faahr-est doo)

you: "In Duetschland? Mit dem Zug." (In Germany? By Train. In Doy-ch-laand. mitt dem tsuk)

Interesting Points:
a) The word "Sagmal" is used to switch a subject. In formal situations, the word "Sagen Sie" is used.
b) The word "denn" is used to soften the abruptness of a question. I told you Germans are very polite!
c) As in English, many 'future' tense sentences (where "will" is used) can expressed in present tense in German. You will see lots of example in this lesson.

d) The word "Natürlich" actually translates as naturally. Also means "of course".
e) Be careful about pronouncing "ei" and "ie" - "frei" is pronounced "fry" while "frie" would be pronounced - "free". I am not aware of any word in German that goes "frie" - I have just used to show the difference.

f) "einen" and "meinen" are applied to masculine gender and neuter gender is the main verb is not "to be". Hence, "Und meine Schwester und meinen Bruder auch."

g) "mit" changes "meine" to "meiner" and "meinen" to "meinem", "einen" to "einem". Also note that if the main verb is not "sein" (am, ist, sind, bist, etc) then the personal pronoun (ein, mein) become (einen, meinen). "Mit" also converts "der" to "dem". This can only be learnt with practice. But no one will kill you if you make a mistake. Germans appreciate the fact that you are making an attempt. In any case, you would notice that "die" is generally untouched. Skip these points if it sounds too difficult. We will visit these in our next Grammar stop - later.

h) "Mutti" and "Vati" is actually "Mutter" and "Vater". Like "Mama" and "Papa" instead of "Mother" and "Father"
i) In Germany you don't travel on train! You travel with the train. Hence "mit dem Zug".)
j) I have visited many places in Germany, but I am most familiar with Baden-Baden, Frankfurt, Cologne and Bremen :-) I will keep Cologne (Köln) for another lesson.

k) Remind me later to touch upon the "sich" and "mich" that is attached to "treffen". For the time being just memorise it. Think it of, "We meet ourselves with your parents" or "I meet myself with my customer."

a) Translate: You are going on train. (Use formal "You")
b) Write down the names of the days of the week in order (Monday to Sunday).
c) Translate: My sister lives in Cologne. (Wohnen = lives. Check Grammar Lesson to work out the verb ending for third person. Wohnen is a regular verb).

To see all the german lessons on one page click here => Check out my lens

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Real Heroes of American Elections

Barack Obama deserves all the praise for taking a nation across the last race barrier. That he is capable of moving people to tears was apparent in his acceptance speech.

But credit must also go to those unnamed white youth who overwhelmingly voted for Obama. If what I saw on TV last night is correct then Obama received 16% more votes compared to McCain among the white voters under (and including) 29 years. McCain leads in all the other groups of white voters.

As always the young have shown that they are the ones who can bring in change. The white youth of America is the real hero.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

America Can Rejoice Today but Four Years Down The Line ...

America has swept race aside. In one telling statement they have proved Martin Luther King Jr right. But then such changes do not come overnight. Today may be a proud moment of American history, but the seeds of this were definitely sowed much before. America must have been ready for quite some time now. Otherwise do you think Obama could even dream of becoming the president of USA?

That said, the real work, of course, starts after the initial euphoria dies down. The real test of America will be 4 years down the line. Will Obama have to do more than other past presidents to get re-elected for a second term? (I am assuming that he will do better than many presidents; ok! some presidents; alright! alright! at least one president who managed to get re-elected nevertheless).

The real change can be witnessed in America only 4 years down the line.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Surely The Pledge By Wall Street Is a Joke

It is reported in the FT, that "Wall Street firms will pledge not to use the recent $125bn cash infusion from the US government to pay bankers’ bonuses in an effort to defuse the mounting political furore over compensation at battered financial groups."

Instead, "Wall Street executives say that banks will pay bonuses from earnings and existing cash resources, like in previous years, and use the government capital for acquisitions and to replenish their depleted balance sheets."

The news report says, "The nine institutions which sold preferred shares to the government in exchange for $125bn, have set aside an estimated $108bn for employee compensation and bonuses in the first nine months of the year."

Question: Any reason why bonuses are being paid at all? After all these guys have messed it up. Why shouldn't the "earnings and existing cash resources" be used to "replenish their depleted balance sheets"? What am I missing here?

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Let's Learn German Together - Lesson 6

In the lesson 4, your friend's focus was on her mobile when you asked her a question. Remember? When she responded with a “Wie bitte?” Good!

So obviously you are curious.

You: "Wer ist das?" (Who is that? were isst dass)
She: "Ein Freund von mir" (A friend of mine. Eye-n froynt fawn meeyer)

Do I see your face fall? Don't worry. There is a world of difference between my boyfriend (mein Freund) and a friend of mine ("ein Freund von mir").

You: "Was ist es über?" (What is it about? wass isst es ueber)
She: "Ich muss jetzt gehen.” (I have to go now. ishh mooss yet-st gay-hen )

Ober: "Hier ist Ihr Tee mit Zitrone, Saft und zweimal Schokoladekuchen." (Here is your tea with lime, juice and two chololate cakes. Hear isst ear tay mit tsitronay, zaaft unt tswai-maal shocko laaday-cookhen.)
Both: "Danke schön!" (thank you. Daankay schoen)
Ober: "Bitte schön!" (bittay schoen)

You: “Wie heißt?” (what is his name? v hiyst air)
She: “Wer?” (who? Were)
You: “Dein Freund!” (Your friend. dye-n froynt)
She: “Tom. Er ist ein Engländer.” (Tom. He is English. Air isst eye-n Aing-laeder)
You: “Oh!”
Sie: “Tom kommt aus England. Er ist hier für nur eine Woche. Ich muss mit ihm kaufen gehen.” (Tom comes from England. He is here for only one week. I have to go with him for shopping. Tom kommt aus Aingland. Air isst here fuer noo-er eye-n wockhay. Issh mooss mit ee-hm cow-fen gay-hen)

Interesting points:

1) “v” is pronounced “f” - von (fawn)
2) A repetition: “d” at the end of a word is pronounced “ t” - Freund (froynt)
3) In german, “must” and “have to” conveys the same meaning. Since this is a modal verb (mussen), the main verb goes to the back. (Ich muss jetzt gehen)

4) “Your” also takes two forms like “you”. Thus, in the formal form it is “Ihr” (with a capital “I”) and informally it is “dein” (both Ihr and dein used here come before masculine - Ihr Tee & dein Freund)

5) “j” is pronounced “y” - jetzt (yet-st)
6) “aus” is used in various ways. In this context it is used as coming from a place.
7) “I am called …” is more common that “My name is …”. Similarly, “How is he called?” is more used than “What is his name?” Actually, “Wie heißt er?” means “What is he called?”

8) “ß” is actually “ss”. Not exactly, but for the time being this will do.



a) I come from India (Indien = India and kommen = to come. Also see Lesson 5 for the verb ending with “I”)
b) My name is … (heißen = to be called. Also see Lesson 5 for the verb ending with “I”)
c) What is your name? (The more used form is: ”How are you called?” Use formal you. See Lesson 5 for the verb ending with formal you)

Is it becoming a little difficult? In my next lesson I will do a recap with all the words that we have used so far and everything should fall in place.

Keep working at it. In case of doubt please feel free to drop a comment.

To see all the german lessons on one page click here => Check out my lens

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The Biggest Book Deal In US Publishing History Is A Threat To Amazon

The greatest threat of the online library deal that Google has struck with leading publishers (see here) is to Amazon. Amazon's Kindle is already a big hit - not because of its design or utility (in fact detractors claim that it is a piece of lousy design and are awaiting Apple to come up with something similar) but because of the content. Amazon's huge "book-self" is not easily beaten. But if "readers [are] able to search and read snippets from millions of out-of-print and copyrighted books on the internet with the option to buy online access to them" then Kindle then becomes a commodity. And if Sony makes a deal with Google or if Google come with their own version of e-reader or if one can download these books in any e-reader, then Kindle will face tough times ahead. In fact, I see a threat to paid online encyclopaedia, such as Encyclopaedia Britannica, also. Wikipedia will perhaps survive.

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Paul Weber of Rocket German Visited Me

You may or may not know Paul Weber, but you definitely would have heard of Rocket German. Bloggers all around the world swear by this course. Would you believe me if I said he visited my blog? Yes this blog! No? Just see the comment in here. Am I thrilled or what!!

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Making Rowling & Harry Potter Immortal

Platform 9-3/4
I have had hours of pleasure reading and re-reading certain books, the one that stands out for the last few years have been Harry Potter. So have countless others. (In fact I just finished re-reading Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban. A quick weekend read)

I think the best way to repay Rowling (ok! she has become rich and all that but ...) would be to have a platform 9-3/4 at the Kings Cross station in London.

Note: The picture used here belongs to G Schouten de Jel. Visit his gallery to see more such photographs.

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No Bad News

UN should declare 01st November 2008 as no-bad news day. Today's (02-Nov-2008) newspaper (at least the Times of India, Bangalore edition) has no bad news on its front page.
The news headlines are:
a) Loans may get cheaper soon
b) Varsities will get grants to boost Kannada
c) In the times of job cuts, people turn to Marx
d) Fly cheap to the Big Apple now

And then there is a picture in the centre showing Obama scowling at the photographers. Not really bad, he comes across as a good family man.

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My Library