Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Need versus Demand

I am in danger of quoting the complete book. I am so taken by it.

Here's another gem from Economics In One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics by Henry Hazlitt

But need is not demand. Effective economic demand requires not merely need but corresponding purchasing power. The needs of India today [the book was updated in 1962, remember] are incomparably greater than the needs of America. But its purchasing power, and therefore the "new business" that it can simulate, are incomparably small.

Things have now obviously changed for the better. India has the need and a better purchasing power than it had in 1962. But those who are in marketing profession (and that means all employees of a company, actually - designating a separate department as the Marketing department is the biggest mistake all company do. They should call it front-end or something similar and get all other employees to start thinking like marketing chaps - but I am digressing) should take this lesson to heart: Quantitative and Qualitative Market Research will give you the 'need'; do not confuse it with 'demand'.

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Working your weakness away

Here's a conversation I had a few moments ago.

"You are good at maths, right?"
I said, "Actually, I was never very good at maths."
"What? So all those (pop) books you read on maths is just for show, is it?"
"No. I read such books precisely because I am weak at maths."

Why is this so difficult to understand?

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Good Manager, Bad Manager, Good Economist, Bad Economist

Any book that has the following statement is worth reading:

The bad economist sees only what immediately strikes the eye; the good economist also looks beyond. The bad economist sees only the direct consequence of a proposed course; the good economist looks also at the longer and indirect consequences. The bad economist sees only what effect of a given policy has been or will be on one particular group; the good economist inquires also what the effect of the policy will be on all groups.

For a second I thought this was one of the many post-meltdown books that are flooding the markets today. (All those who could not predict it are now explaining it, funny!) But no. Economics In One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics by Henry Hazlitt was first published in 1946 that is not a typo - it is 1946) and then updated in 1962.

Actually, if I were a plagiarist I could replace the word 'economist' by 'manager' and publish a sure shot best seller. This is how ...

The bad manager sees only what immediately strikes the eye; the good manager also looks beyond. The bad manager sees only the direct consequence of a proposed course; the good manager looks also at the longer and indirect consequences. The bad manager sees only what effect of a given decision has been or will be on one particular group; the good manager inquires also what the effect of the decision will be on all groups.

Hmmm.... May be I will learn a lot about management by reading this gem of a book on economics.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Look out!

In a world where everyone can see, a blind person should have an easy time. Or so you would think.
After all, if all those who have eyes look out for others, a blind person should be able to cross roads without any problem.

Try closing your eyes while crossing the road!

We have eyes but we always expect others to take action. Sometimes we take (evasive) action - and follow it up with a round of cursing, since someone else is to blame. As I said, the others need to take action, not us.

"Why don't they take responsibility?", we say.

Scary, isn't it?

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Dip Reviewed

I completed this fantastic book in one sitting (almost). I enjoy Seth Godin for what he is - an iconoclast. He challenges conventional wisdom and makes you think. But with The Dip, he has surpassed himself. I wish I could write like him. I wish I could think like him.

'Nuff said. Check this out => The Dip - Book Review

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Want to be rich? - moved

This series was getting longer by the day and threatening to take a life of its own. I have therefore moved all the existing material to a dedicated blog, called, what else, Want to be rich?

The existing posts will remain here as is. All future posts on this subject will be in the new blog. Hopefully that willget the same patronage as this one. Hopefully it will make better sense there.

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Life Moves On

"What is that?" Screamed my elder son, Arunabh, all excited. He had a seen a 'new' gadget (boys will be boys). We were watching the India-West Indies ODI Cricket (Shouldn't this now be called F-50?). A man was holding this 'thing' near his ears.

I looked surprised at my son. "That thing is a transistor radio," I said.
"A what?"
"You know, a transistor radio. You can listen to radio on the move ...." I ended lamely.

Then it hit me between my eyes. I belong to the last generation. I am the buggy-whip manufacturer in the age of automobile. Felt like Rip Van Winkle.

Let's see what else has changed since my childhood (I am talking of those things that have disappeared; not those that did not even exist, like, Internet, Mobiles, etc).

Radio with diode tubes
Telephones with circular dialer (you needed to insert your finger at the appropriate numbered hole and turn the dialer clockwise to the end)
Steam engine
Black & White Television
Cyclostyle copiers

To the older(age-wise) readers:
Do you no longer see things that defined your generation?

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Want to be rich? - Part 18

We have been talking about getting rich. This is the 18th post on this subject. I think it is now time to define what 'being rich' actually means. In one of the earlier post I have quoted Buckminster Fuller that links wealth and the duration that the wealth can sustain you if you quit working today. In my mind, that definiteion is a recipe for post-retirement. And makes lot of sense.

However, the definition of 'being rich' has a social angle to it too. You need to appear rich too. How much you wish to appear rich depends on the people you work and socialize with. It is an entirely an external factor and very few can totally resist it. It is all very well to say that you should not succumb to peer pressure. Most do. To a small or large extent.

And then there is this personal desire. My personal desire to is to have two one-week holidays every year and that these holidays should be spent in confort. That would mean staying in a 5 star hotel / resort. If I manage to pull this off year after year then I am doing fine.

So, what is this becoming rich thing. Let's sum it up ...

a) Enough money to fulfil your (and your family's) desires.
b) Enough money to conform to your peer group
c) Enough money to ensure that when you retire your standard of living does not drop off.

Now, you may say that there is no limit to desires or that conforming to your neighbour's expectation could spiral your expenses.
The word 'enough' is to be determined by you.
The limits too areto be defined by you.
Once you decide your limits you know how rich you need to be.

Everyone does not have to be as rich as Bill Gates. It is sufficient if you become as rich as you want to be.
Work towards your definition of becoming rich.

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Predictably Irrational Reviewed

My last few posts may have indicated otherwise (see here, here and here), but I genuinely enjoyed reading Predictably Irrational.

I have now placed my review of the book here => Predictably Irrational - Book Review

Please let me know if you have enjoyed the review

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Friday, June 26, 2009

And I thought Science Was All About Evidence

I am a hige fan of Simon Singh. Anyone who can write a subject like Fermat's Last Theorem in a way that a layman can understand it certainly deserves respect. I was therefore a little upset and curious when I read that he has been sued for libel.

It turns out that he has been sued by the British Chiropractic Association.
For what?

For writing an article against the practice of Chiropractic. You will find details of the full article by Simon Singh here.

If you read the article, you will find that Simon Singh has given enough evidences. As men of science, what would you do?
I would show counter evidences and use this opportunity to popularise Chiropractic.
But no?
Simon Singh has been sued.
Which I think is ridiculous.

You may also express your support to Simon Singh by signing your name here.

Beware, The next time you say, "God does not play dice," be careful. Someone may sue you for libel against quantum mechanics.

By the way, Chiropractic is not yet a recognised stream of medicine in India.

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Want to be rich? - Part 17

The most interesting instrument of growing money with the least effort - at least in India - is the Public Provident Fund (PPF) route. Other countries will have its equivalent.

This is how it works. You open a PPF in a bank (I have one in State Bank of India). You can also open a PPF account in the Post Office. It is a 15 year scheme. You need to deposit at least Rs. 500 every year. The maximum you can deposit every year is Rs. 70,000. The scheme has other facilities like loan and partial withdrawal. I would advise against it. Keep the money in the PPF scheme for 15 years.

If you deposit Rs. 5000 a month (Rs. 60,000 a year) for 15 years, then at the end of the 15th year you should have - assuming 8% interest - about Rs. 17,59,457 in your account (i.e., 1.95 times the amount you actually save). In addition, you get a tax exemption on the money you save. Assuming you are in the 33% tax bracket, if you take the tax saving into account, the effective increase in your money is 2.91 times)

Some more details are available here.

Doesn't actually make you a multi-millionaire (what do you expect from a no-effort scheme?), now, does it? But every bit helps.

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Want to be rich? - Part 16

We have so far established that there is a definite effort that we need to put in order to achieve the riches that we desire. But mindless effort will achieve you nothing. Directionless effort, unfocused thrashing of hands and feet seldom gets you what you desire. Now, if only you could focus your energies and push.

You therefore need to set a goal. Quantitative goals are better. But qualitative goals also helps. And the reason you need to do this is so that the universe responds. Oh! Ok, I was just poking a bit of fun at The Secret. (Come on! Be serious). And the reason you need to do this is so that you are motivated. If you have a goal in your mind and you see you initial efforts getting you towards that, you are motivated. That's what helps.

Understanding quantitative goals are easy. You can look to get a return of, say, 15%, over a period of 6 months. Or something similar. You could also set a goal to pay off your home loan in 6 years instead of 15 years (this by the way worked for me, though not by means of huge returns from investment; rather from savings). I would advise setting goals that are achievable but slightly beyond your zone of comfort. You need to strive towards it, right? Once you are on a roll, you can go for stretch targets.

Ok, what about qualitative goals? This could be fuzzy but needs to motivate you. I can share my qualitative goals with you ... and it is as follows:

All the purchases I make on Internet shall be from the money I earn from my Internet activities.

Now, this may seem foolish and easily circumvented. But it works for me. Choose whatever works for you - whatever motivates you to become rich.

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Want to be rich? - Part 15

How many years of practice do you think you need to become a real good violin player?

Oh! You don't play violin!

What do you do?

And how long did you take to become a master of what you do?

Then how do you expect to become rich overnight?

You need to work towards it. Like everything else.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Predictably Rational - Part 3

It took me a while to get used to the idea of 'experiments' in behavioral economics. My idea of experiments is as follows:

(i) It should be possible to control parameters in an experiment
(ii) The 'unit' under experiment should not know that there is an experiment going on (quantum mechanics seem to suggest that this may not be possible - "the photons know" - but that is another story)
(iii) The experiment should be repeatable
(iv) Most importantly, the results should not be known before the start of the experiment.
(v) And finally, once an experiment is performed and results concluded, every subsequent similar (but not identical) experiment should be predictable. (A result of such experiments that does not behave as predicted becomes the basis of the next hypothesis).

The experiments in Predictably Irrational, seem to be following the above criteria, more or less. So over a period of time you get used to the word experiment being used in not-strictly scientific context.

But athere is one fatal flaw, as I see it. One vital parameter has been tampered with. In many of the experiments, an economic gain is made without any cost to the particpant. What is economics without cost? Dan Ariely goes all out to prove that humans behave irrationally when encountering the word FREE! and then proceeds to perform experiments where the objects of experiment get easy money or goods that are free. Doesn't that make experiments unrealistic? After all you are trying to predict human behaviour in normal circumstances.

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Want to be rich? - Part 14

It can only be called a pipe dream. It has always been my desire to invest a sum of money and once I get sufficient returns, and take out the initial investment before it is too late. The returns will continue to earn money while I invest that amount in another fund. And then when the second fund starts giving good returns, I again take out my initial investment and allow the returns to continue earning for me, while I invest the original sum in yet another fund ... you get the idea; the faster I circulate my original money from one fund to another, the quicker I become rich.

This would be ideal. But I have never been able to do so. Perhaps I lack the discipline to follow it up.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Predictably Rational - Part 2

In his book, Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely tackles a very interesting phenomenon. The inpact of the word FREE in our decision making. With the help of some clever 'experiments', Ariely has 'proved' that human shoppers go beserk when they see the word 'free'. In other words they act irrationally.

The basis of this assertion is what economists term value or relative value. As per the economists the value you derive from any buy, is the value you associate with the satisfaction you obtain from the purchase minus the cost of the product (in same units).

So, if you value the satisfaction from eating a high quality Swiss or Belgian chocolates at 100 units and the satisfaction from a low-priced, non-hyped, Indian chocolate at say 75 units. Also assume that you have to pay 15 units for the high quality chocolate, and 10 units for the Indian chocolate, the value of Belgian chocolate is 100 - 15 = 85 units. The value of the Indian chocolate is 75 - 10 = 65 units. So, you would go for the Belgian chocloate (if you can afford, I presume).

Now, if you drop the cost of both chocolates by 5 units, your buying pattern should not change since the relative increase in value is identical. That is what the economist will say.

Dan Ariely goes on to indicate, in his (very readable, by the way) book, that when the cost is dropped to zero, humans become irrational. In our example, if the cost of obtaining the Indian chocolate is made zero and the cost of the Belgian chocolate is made 5 units, the rational model breaks down. People will shoot for the free chocolates. We behave predictably irrational. (By the way, Dan Ariely is not using the word irrational in a bad way, it is just that the standard economist assume a rational response to incentives and Ariely is 'proving; it otherwise.

But let us see where both stadard economists and Dan Ariely fail.

Before I give my explanation, please do consider that I have no formal (or for that matter informal) training on economics. Having made that disclaimer (ahem!) let us proceed.

I think, the economist evaluate value in a totally different way than the common (sense) person. We derive value not by subtraction but by division.

Here are the formulae ...

Economist's Value = Satisfaction - Cost
Common Person's Value = Satisfaction / Cost

So when the cost drops to zero, the value tends towards a very high value. That is the only reason why we behave the way we do. Absolutely rationally!

By the way, there is no such thing as free lunch. Dan Ariely explains this beautifully in the chapter The Cost of Zero Cost of the book.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Want to be rich? - Part 13

If you want to get rich, you have to reduce your dependence on God. Note that I am not asking you to become an atheist. You may still keep your faith in God, spirituality and miracles. You can still pray thatyour day goes well. But the sooner you understand that god does not drive the complex economic system that is entirely man-made, the better off you will be.

Every action taken by you to become rich is entirely - entirely - your and only your responsibility. Random events or a black swan event may drive markets up and down; you may cash before it crashes; or you may sunk all your money - God has no role to play.

You can become rich. And the first step is to understand that it YOU who is responsible.

Actually that is true in all walks of life, isn't it?

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Predictably Rational - Part 1

This is not a crticism of the book Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. In fact, it is a brilliant book and I would recommend it to everyone. The book essentially debunks the theories of a rational economic man as preached by Standard Economics. The book is on Behavioural Economics which starts with the assumption that uman beings could be irrational also. And goes on to prove that we are not only irrational, but predictably irrational and that we demonstrate the same irrational behaviour time and again.

This series of posts will try to prove that we may be irrational but perhaps not predictable. I will take each of the chapters (not in any particular order and show that it is not a good idea to predict how someone would behave in, say, India, based on experiments carried out in United States.

To be fair to Dan Ariely and other behavioural economists, they do claim that behaviour is contextual. But I think they are way off mark when they conclude based on experiments.

Let me take an example from the book. In an experiment, Dan and his team, served four kinds of (free) beer and took orders (in a bar near MIT, I think). When order was taken aloud, people around the table chose four different beer. On taking a survey after serving the beer, the economists found that the one ordering first always enjoyed the beer and the rest didn't enjoy it that much. When the people being served were asked to write down their orders the variety of beer ordered per table was reduced. The average enjoyment however went up.

The conclusion: (as per the book) [P]eople are willing to sacrifice the pleasure they get from a particular consumption experience in order to project a certain kind of image to others. ... In Hong Kong, individuals also selected food that they did not like when they selected in public rather than in private, but these particpants are more likely to select the same item as the people ordering before them.

So in essence, people would strive to conform to an image that is driven by their respective culture.

Now is this reaaly so? India must be very unique then. Why? I have been to innumerable such gatherings. When I was younger and unmarried, we had this tradition among friends to eat out to celebrate birthdays. SO essentially the birthday boy or girl pays. The food for rest of us was therefore free. We also had to announce our choice in public for the waiter to hear what we wanted. Sometimes one person would take the initiative to write down waht we wanted and give it to the waiter. Given the scene that is very similar to the Dan Ariely experiment, my experience is very different. We always ordered different food but just sufficient for all to have a little taste of an item. So if we are 6 of us, we would, say, 2 plates of 4 items each. The idea was to taste as many items as possible. The idea was also to ensure that we are within budget. And also that we should not waste food.

Those days there were occassions when I had to eat alone - I was a bachelor, remember? I did the same. I order "thali" (a plate with assortment of food in small quantity; "thali" means a plate - so basically a platter) to taste as many different varieties as possible but still keep th bill with budget. Not always, but often.

Now I am married, but when we go out to eat we still do the same. Yes the budget has expanded, but we try to include as many dishes as possible within the budget.

Now is that being irrational? To maximize pleasure within budgetary constraints is a perfectly normal way to behave. In fact it is rational. Predictably rational.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Want to be rich? - Part 12

In my last post I talked about impulsive purchases and breaking barriers of reluctance. Credit cards are instruments that help you spend unnecessarily and spend more. Since you do not see your net worth reducing, you get psychologically inured to overspending.

One way to escape this is to avoid the temptation to increase the credit limit of your credit card. I deliberately ignore mails from my bank to increase the credit limit. In one case, the bank increased the credit limit on their own because I am their valued customer. Yeah sure! I also carry just one credit card. I have surrendered all others I had.

I just read something called the ice glass method for reducing credit card spending. The following extract is from Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.

[The Ice Glass Method] is a home remedy for impulsive spending. You put your credit card into a glass of water and put the glass in the freezer. Then, when you impulsively decide to make a purchase, you must first wait for the ice to thaw before extracting the card. By then, your compulsion to purchase has subsided. (You can't just put the card in the microwave, of course, because then you'd destroy the magnetic strip.)

Go figure.

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Mind Over Matter - the Placebo Effect

The placebo effect in medicine is now an established fact. If you could fool the brain to think that the thing you are swallowing is actually a high potency drug instead of sugar laced caffine, the brain triggers appropriate hormones and body defence systems to drive away the disease. This much is known.

But I was pretty much zapped when I read about placebo in surgery. This is from Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely ...

But on day in 1955, a cardiologist in Seattle, Sr. Leonard Cobb, and a few colleagues became suspicious. Was it really an effective procedure? Did it really work? ... To carry out this test, Dr. Cobb performed performed the traditional procedure on some of the patients, and placebo surgery on the others. The real surgery meant opening the patient up and tying up the internal mammary artery. In the placebo procedure, the surgeon merely cut into the patient's flesh with a scalpel, leaving two incisions. Nothing else was done.
The results were startling. Both the patients ... reported immediate relief from their chest pain. In both groups the relief lasted about three months ... Meanwhile the electrocardigrams showed no difference between those who had undergone the real operation and those who got the placebo operation.

Dan Ariely goes on to cite another such experiment.

Because of the nature of these surgeries and the ethical issues involved it is not possible to verify if placebo effect can replace most of the surgical procedures that are done today. But it certainly is impressive.

Just imagine you go for a bypass surgery. You come out hale and hearty as the surgeon declares that the bypass operation has been a great success. In actual fact, all the surgeon has done is made some deep cuts down your chest and stictched it up.
Your brain has been fooled and your body thinks everything is hunky-dory. Now, how cool is that.

Your main crib might be the cost ... there is no way one is going to pay a huge amount for one small cut. But the cost of the operation is part of the p;acebo surgery, you see. Because the surgoen has charged a huge amount, s/he must be good at what s/he does. See?

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Want to be rich? - Part 11

I keep telling all my colleagues, friends, and acquaintances: it is not how much your earn that makes you rich. It is how much you save.

Money might come pouring in from all your investments or from the high-paying job that you do, but you will not become wealthy unless you stop spending on that thing of desire that catches your fancy every once in a while. The road to riches has many diversions taking you away from it - and all those diversions are rooted in impulsive buying.

You have been thinking of jogging in the morning. You seem to be possessed by it. You read up all the health magazines. You end up buying running shoes (even though you already have a pair of sports shoes; but they are not running shoes, are they?) a pair of track pants, a head band and wrist bands, some weights (the magazines say that weights are essential to give you maximum benefit of jogging) and ... this list goes on and on. A year down the line you have stopped jogging. And the junk lies in your garage.

That is money down the drain.

There is another aspect of spending that you need to be very careful about. And this is my personal experience. Coming from the background I come from, I was very reluctant to purchase big ticket items. But you know what. You just have to break the first barrier and buy an object of desire that is slightly beyond what you have purchased till now. Suddenly you are free. You start purchasing more items of similar price range. Let's say I was reluctant to buy anything beyond Rs. 10,000. Then one day, I go ahead and buy something - let's say a bicycle - worth Rs. 13000 (I really, really needed that object). It took me a great effort to buy that. But once I have done that, I suddenly find myself window-shopping for objects of that price range. It took me a while to realize that I had crossed the threshold and that the reluctance had disappeared.

This to my mind is more pernicious than impulsive purchases.

I am not advocating a non-materialistic live - where is the fun then? Once in a while it is ok to give in to impulses. Sometimes. Just be careful of breaking the upper limit of spending barriers. If you are feeling uneasy about buying something, perhaps there is something you should feel uneasy about.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

When you are really, really sad - revisited

Chocolate helps but you do not like my idea. Here's another way to dispel sadness ...

Read Calvin and Hobbes.

I just got the Book one of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes from the library and cannot help feeling so light and fresh after reading just the first 81 pages. Many of these I have read so many times, but Calvin and Hobbes have this gift of remaining fresh and whacky for ever.

I know the comic lovers will crucify me, but I think Calvin & Hobbes is better than Peanuts. Bill Watterson is the greatest.

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Saina Nehwal wins Indonesian Open

I was wondering what my 400th blog would be.
Couldn't have been better.

While India kept plugging for the cricket team and Sania - who is a human yo-yo as far as her performance goes, this girl, Saina Nehwal, has slowly but surely powered her way to the top of the world badminton stage. More success to her.

Good job girl!

More details here.

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Want to be rich? - Part 10

First, I wish to thank all my readers for sending me e-mails presenting their point of view on my series on Want To Be Rich? Some have asked me not to stop at part 9. Others have pointed out different points of view. I have therefore decided to continue the series till I exhaust all my ideas.

But before I restart, please understand that I do not claim any expertise on this subject. These are my views of managing money. It is intended to make you think about money and your future.


An important ground rule in your path to becoming rich is to understand that high returns are always associated with high risks. Always. So, if someone is promising you high returns but telling you that there is no risk, then that person is making a quick money - from you. So, please venture into high risk-high return schemes only if you have excess money and/or if you are young.

And then there is always the Black Swan.

A relatively safe instrument of making money from stock markets is what in India is called the Mutual Fund Systematic Investment Plan (SIP). This is particularly affective when the share market is in an upheaval. The most important think to remember in an SIP is that you need patience.

The way it works is similar to a recurring deposit schemes. You put in a fixed amount of money to the scheme every month. When the share market is down your money will buy more units. When the share market is up your fixed money will buy you less units. This averages out the fluctuations.

I actually did an experiment. I invested in a mutual fund where I paid a lump sum outright at the beginning and at the same time started investing in an SIP. After a year, the outright payment has given me a return of -14.3% (a loss) and the SIP actually gave me a return of +13.5%.

You will get more information on SIP here and here.

I see SIP as a long term investment plan. I intend to keep it up for about 5 years to see how well it works.

I also see SIP as having better Return on Investment, if you consider the effort and time required to follow the share market directly. Direct investment will most definitely fetch you much better returns, but you need to invest lot more time to understand the share market.

As long as you do not put all your money in SIP, you should be fine.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

The Art Of Non-Conformity

There are occasions when you desperately want a person to succeed. I do not know Chris Guillebeau, except through the e-mail updates I receive from his blog. As you read what he writes, he comes across as a genuine person. That to me is a sufficient enough reason for me to want him to succeed.

I would, therefore, very strongly recommend visiting his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity and subscribe to the updates. I also recommend that you read his manifesto 279 Days to Overnight Success. It lays down a (one of many) path to become a full-time blogger / writer.

What I find inspiring is that he manages to get enough from his on-line business to be able to pursue his dream of visiting all the countries in the world.
Actually I envy him.

Pssst! He does not know that I am endorsing him.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

When you are really, really sad

You must have read reports here and there, in newspapers or magazines.
I can confirm it.
When you are really, really sad, and nothing seems to be going the way you desire, eat chocolate.
Not too much.
Just a tiny bar.
You will see tangible change in your mood.
I have tried it on myself and it works.
Caution: it does not change the mood permanently. The trick is to immediately set yourself a virtuous cycle that keeps you there.
The moment your mood starts on its upswing, start doing things that makes your mood even better and better till the symptom (sadness) disappears.
Warning: Chocolate will do nothing to remove the root cause of your sadness. You have to find a cure for that yuourself.

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Superlative Customer Service

You know what? I would love to see on an e-mail?

1) Instead of ...

This is a system generated email Please do not reply to this email.

this ...

This is *not* a system generated email. I have written this mail to you personally to show how much we care about your business. Should you have any concern or feedback, please feel free to respond to this e-mail. I will also recommend that you save my e-mail address in your contacts list in case you need to communicate to me in future.

2) Instead of ...

You are requested to make payment on or before due date.

this ...

You payment due date falls on xx/yy/zzzz. Your timely payment helps us give you superior service. However, if for some reason you are unable to make the payment on or before due date, please call me up and we will work out together and design a new package for you.

3) Instead of ...

For Refund through credit card 5% bank charges applicable

this ...

Since you have provided us with substantial business last year, we will wave off the 5% bank charges that are applicable for refund through credit card.

This is an example of a superior customer service. I reproduce the entire mail here ...

Thank you very much for registering for The MathWorks seminar.
Just one clarification:
You have registered for the Chennai seminar organized at Le Meridien, Chennai for 10th July but your location is Bangalore. Kindly confirm

Thanks & Regards

As it turned out, I had indeed made a mistake. Now, that is customer service for you.

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Viewing Harmful Web Content - Chinese Style

It is reported that the Chinese government will hire at least 10,000 volunteers to censor Internet by the end of this year. The purpose is to monitor harmful sites and contents.

I bet all Chinese are queuing up. This is the only way they will get to see 'harmful' contents on the cyberspace.

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Web Pages Outside Blogs

This post is intended to consolidate all my non-blog pages I have made so far (besides it gives me a kick)
I have posted these activities from time to time in this blog. So, this is just a consolidation, in case any of my readers have missed checking out any.
Feel free to visit these pages, if you have already not done so.
Let me know how I am doing.

Travel Related Pages

Belur, Karnataka
Halebid, Karnataka
Shravanabelagola, Karnataka
Mahabalipuram, Tamilnadu
England and Northern Ireland

Book Reviews

Our Iceberg Is Melting
Evolve Your Brain
How To Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci
Purple Cow
The Go-Giver
It's Not About The Bike
The Undercover Economist
Against The Gods
The Tipping Point
The Music Of The Primes
The Logic Of Life
The Google Story
The Blind Watchmaker
Survival Of The Sickest
The Calendar
Andy Grove
Eats Shoots & Leaves
Air Babylon
The Black Swan
Just books (not strictly a book review; rather a list)
Are You Afraid of Mathematics? (another list)

Business & Management

The Leadership Hype & How It Affects You
I Am A Bad Manager
Evidence Based Management

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Education in United States

More than the book GEB, I find Douglas Hofstadter's description of his education more interesting that the book itself ...

[I]n late 1967 ... I dropped out of math grad school in Berkley and took up a new identity as physics grad student at the University of Oregon in Eugene. ... I was very discouraged with the way my physics studies and my life in general were going, so in July I packed my all my belongings into a dozen or so cardboard boxes and set out on an eastward trek across the vast American continent. ... From Boulder I headed further east, bouncing from one university town to another, and eventually, almost as if it had been beckoning me the whole time, New York City loomed as my ultimate goal. Indeed I wound up spending several months in Manhattan, taking graduate courses at City college ... but as 1973 rolled around, I faced the fact that despite loving New York in many ways, I was even more agitated than I had been in Eugene, and I decided it would be wiser to return to Oregon and to finish graduate school there. ... In 1974, I switched Ph.D. advisors for the fourth and final time ...

Can you do that? I mean, switching subjects, schools & university, and professors at will?

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Understand the Context

"I understand you": when you say this, what do you mean?

Does it mean I get the meaning? Actually this is a superficial level of understanding. The real understanding comes when you can place a meaning in the proper context. So, "I understand you" means that I am able to place what you say in proper context.In fact, an intelligent wife would prefer "I understand you" to "I love you". Anybody listening?

If that be so, then shouldn't we be practising 'placing meaning in proper context'?
You need not wait for an emotionally charged moment to practice this.
You should be able to practice this when you are carrying out mundane activities such as reading.


Consider this first sentence from GEB by Hofstadter (I could have picked up any sentence, but this is the book I am reading currently, so ...)

Frederick The Great, King of Prussia, came to power in 1740.

On reading this sentence perhaps you recalled who Frederick was? Or which area was once called Prussia? Perhaps, because you are reading this blog, you quickly check up the Wiki. And you are done. But that is not placing the sentence in context. That is just gathering particular information, not contextual information.

What about 1740? What was happening in Europe around 1740? What was happening around the world? What was happening in India?

Ah! Now you understand.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Brain, Mind, Consciousness and the Deception

The success of books like The Secret indicates that more than a few people believe in the hidden power of the brain. The Secret is not the first book to establish this though.

Here's what you can do. Go to Amazon and give a search for "subconscious" in books. At the time of typing this, it threw up a list of 551 books, and books like The Secret, Think and Grow Rich, Evolve Your Brain are not even in the list!

The recipe of all these books are more of less as follows:
a) Focus your conscious mind/brain (i.e, Cerebral Cortex) on something that you desire

b) Continuous focusing will transfer the thoughts to your subconscious mind/brain (i.e, Midbrain and the Cerebellum)

c) Expect miracles - as the subconscious works in mysterious ways.

a) and b) are facts. c) is not.

In one of the books I was horrified to read that one father lost his right hand because he had jokingly said that he would give his right hand to get his daughter cured of some skin disease. Soon after he lost his hand, the daughter was cured. The author then goes on to say that the subconscious does not understand jokes. It takes such instructions as truths and acts on it.

Just imagine!

The Secret is not so different. Once you have internalized your desires, your subconscious calls out to the universe and you get what you wish.

Agreed that we have not yet fathomed how good (or bad) things happen to us. There are times when the incidents in our life seem non-random, as if some force is driving the consequences. But to imagine that one gets cancer because s/he has asked for it is downright ridiculous (One of the 'philosophers' in The Secret actually says this).

It is therefore refreshing to read books that do not consider the human brain to be any different from ... well read it yourself:

As I see it, the only way of overcoming this magical view of what "I" and consciousness are is to keep on reminding oneself, unpleasant thought it may seem, that the "teetering bulb of dread and dream" that nestles safely inside one's own cranium is a purely physical object made up of completely sterile and inanimate components, all of which obey exactly the same laws as those that govern the rest of the universe, such as pieces of text, or CD-ROM's, or computers. Only if one keeps on bashing up against this disturbing fact can one slowly begin to develop a feel for the way out of the mystery of consciousness.

This is from the preface written by Douglas R. Hofstadter in the 20th-anniversary edition of his famous Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid popularly known as GEB.

I bet you have heard of this book. Many of you must have read this. Quoting from GEB used to be an in thing among 'intellectuals' (one of the reasons I never read the book for a very long, long time).

I recommend that you buy and read this book again. Especially because the author has written a 23 page preface. And going by what Hofstadter has written in his preface, not that many people have understood the book.

The book is extremely dense (as measured by ideas per page) and the preface from the author definitely helps.

Point to ponder: I have quoted from GEB in this post. Does that make me an intellectual? ;-)

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Angels & Demons

Had to read Angels & Demons before seeing the movie. So managed to that this weekend.
Naturally, even when you do not wish to, comparison with The Da Vinci Code is inevitable.

Here's my take on it.

As a book the Da Vinci Code is far superior to Angels & Demons. In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown actually invites the readers to solve the clues along with the main protagonist, Robert Langdon. On the other hand, unless you live in Rome and have spent your considerable time staring at the architecture and sculptures of the temples, you are unlikely to solve - or even attempt to solve - any of the clues in Angels & Demons. So, as a book, I prefer The Da Vinci code.

It is exactly for this reason that I predict that the movie Angels & Demons will be a bigger box office success than The Da Vinci Code. It is always difficult to project mental processes on to the screen, though I must say, the director Ron Howard of Da Vinci Code made a valiant attempt to depict Langdon's thought process by superimposition of shots and using sepia tint (Is that what it is called?).

Oh! By the way Mr. Dan Brown, Hatha Yoga is not a Buddhist practice. You might want to update Angels & Demons.

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Want to be rich? - Part 9

Of all the books that I have read on becoming rich, only one - just one - makes any sense. All others books in the market draw heavily from this one book and add their own ridiculous modus operandi (not all, but many).

Ridiculous because, these books assume that the personal examples they quote works out of context too. Since most of these books are written by America-based authors, most do not even apply to other countries, in any case.

But this book is different. It is like one of the classics that transcends time and space.

It goes by the name The Richest Man in Babylon by Richard S. Clason.

Buy this book (by clicking on the link above from Amazon or from your local book store). It is a thin book and contains all the wisdom you will even need to become rich.

How well you apply the wisdom is up to the readers, of course.

The least the wisdom will do is ensure that you will never become poor.

I wish to end this series of Want to Become Rich? with this post. I have tried to pass on whatever wisdom I have gathered over the years. This may not suit everyone, but will give you something to think about. Many of the lessons drawn are common place. Well ... what can you do about it? I hope you have enjoyed this series of post as much as I did typing it out.

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Want to be rich? - Part 8

There is just one golden rule when it comes to becoming rich. Aand that is ...

You should earn money even when you are not present.

So that rules out jobs.
Or even business where you need to be present all times.

Building a business where you employ clever employees is definitely a very big yes.
Investments in property, shares, mutual funds are a yes.
And surprise, surprise, monetized blogs (such as this one) are also a yes. At least for some (No! Not me! Not yet!)

The trick is to start early.
Reason: You have sufficient time to recover from setbacks - there will be setbacks, guaranteed. Youth is not risk averse. So that helps.

More importantly, the real benefit of compound interest kicks in.

How much do you think you get if you invest merely Rs. 2000 per year for 25 years that returns you 10% compounded annually. It is Rs. 2,16,363 ( more than 4 times)

You are risk averse?
You would like to put the money in a recurring deposit bank scheme that gives you just 5% returns compounded. In 25 years your money will become Rs. 1,00,227 (a shade over double)

But you should have 25 years with you. So don't start at 40. Start when you are 25 years old.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Want to be rich? - Part 7

You say you are rich. You are wealthy.
You may be well off, but are you really wealthy?
There is a distinction, you know?

Wealth is a person's ability to survive so many number of days forward ... or if I stopped working today, how long could I survive?

The above extract is from Rich Dad, Poor Dad and attributed to Buckminster Fuller.

When I read this line for the first time, it scared me. I can just imagine how long I will be able to survive without a job. And more importantly, how well will I be able to survive? So today I may be better off that I was 10 years ago. But I am definitely not wealthy.

Are you?

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Want to be rich? - Part 6

To become rich, get insured. 'You must be joking," you say.
Insurance has the lowest Return On Investment.
So I must be out of my mind when I propose that one of the ways to become rich, you need to get insured.
Hear me out please.

Contrary to popular belief, insurance is not just for your future. Yes, you pay a premium to offset any future eventuality.

So, for instance, if you are hospitalized and you have a medical insurance, the insurance will cover your expenses.
If you are disabled and you are covered by insurance, you get an amount that will take care of your loss of capability to earn.

If you die, your family will get a sum of money that will hopefully take the place of the earning member - you - who is no longer there.

But this is only part of the story.
Insurance allows you to take risks in the present.
This is not recognised easily.
If you are insured for the future for a small premium, you do not have to bother to save a huge amount of money for any eventuality.

You can take a part of your present income and start investing without fear of a failure.
And investing, though fraught with risks, is the only game in town that can make you rich.

Lesson: Cover yourself adequately for the future. Get insured. And then invest boldly in the present.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Want to be rich? - Part 5

Flip through up any language text book.
You will notice that the rich are
(i) cunning
(ii) cruel
(iii) exploitative

Most of my childhood, teens and early adult life, we can visualize only one path to become rich. You need to exploit the poor farmer or the trader mercilessly and grab opportunities with scant regards to humanity to become rich. The rich has his vault full of pawned goods that the poor farmer deposits in lieu of money to buy seeds. The rains fail. The rich insists on his money., Where would the farmer get the money from. His land is usurped by the rich. You get the idea!

So who are the heroes of Indian tales - the educated man who impresses the king with his wisdom, the poor brahmin who earns name and fame because he is learned, and the cunning housewife who saves the day by fooling the cruel carnivore. Yes there are benevolent kings and kind moneylenders. Yes, the good always triumph in the end, but you come away with a bitter taste in your mind for the rich.

It did not help that early independent India plunged headlong into socialism. Since the rich exploit, the state would step in to save the day. Thank goodness for the givernment otherwise the profiteers would have sucked India dry.

The divide between the haves and the have-nots in India is accentuated by another factor: the varna (incorrectly translated as caste) system. You could either be a learned brahmin or others. The educated could not be rich; the rich could not be a learned brahmin. Indian mythology supports this to the core. The two sisters, Saraswati - the godess of learning - and Lakshmi - the godess of wealth - cannot see eye to eye. Any one of them will stay in your house. You got to choose between Saraswati or Lakshmi. 'Running after money' is as great an insult as any. The only honorable means of earning money is to get educated and go about earning money honestly.

It was not until early adulthood that I realized that the businessman is the driver of any economy and the resultant prosperity. They create jobs. They create opportunities. They create wealth. But this knowledge came in a bit too late for me. Even today, and I am 44, my initial reaction is that of shock when I read that high court and the supreme court judges - nor all of them fortunately - are involved in scams. It takes me a while to recover from news of corruption in India's defence forces. I have to hello-anybody-home? myself before I can proceed.

So what is the lesson?
The rich are not bad people. Seeking and exploiting opportunities is not the same as exploiting people. Stories are just that, stories.

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Want to be rich? - Part 4

This was the mid nineties (I think, or early nineties).
India was truly on the way to reforms.
The share market had recovered from the Harshad Mehta scandal.
Things were looking up.
It was possible to trade online on National Stock Exchange (NSE).

I was lucky to be working at a place where colleagues were friends too.
We decided to become rich by investing in share market.
Though I had burnt myself badly in my tryst with the share market, I was drawn into this venture.
Basically, I derived strength from numbers.

We started reading economic times.
We decided that Initial Public Offerings are too risky.
It is better to trade direct.

One day, this friend of mine brought in an analysis on Kishko Cutlery.
The recommendation was buy.
We rushed to the nearest online trading centre - this was a good 20km away.
I purchased 100 shares.
The shares plunged soon after.
All my fears about the share markets came back to haunt me.

Later, much later I learnt the dynamics of market movement and newspaper reports.

Lesson: If it is in the newspaper, you are already very late.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Want to be rich? - Part 3

Late eighties.
My cousin is a year elder to me and he had then just moved to Bangalore.
I went to see him.
I saw some share applications in his room.
I knew people become rich by investing in shares.
I picked up one - Usha Rectifier.
My cousin said he was not going to apply for this company and that I could apply if I wanted to.
I should have asked him why he doesn't want to apply.
The share whose face value was Rs. 10 was in the market for Rs. 50.
Another colleague of mine who understood this a little better that I asked me to find out more about this company.
I looked it up in a finance newspaper.
It was being traded at Rs 170.
That was the only information I needed.
Wow! At Rs 50 this was a bargain!
I started deraming how much I will earn in a few days.
The day I applied, the share value fell to Rs 110.
With a few months it fell below Rs 50.
And then it disappeared.
This share - renamed Usha India - is no longer traded.

My first attempt to become rich was a miserable failure. I went back to my shell. This way is not for me.
That was a serious mistake.
Instead of learning from my mistake and instead of learning the way share market works, I stopped at the first sign of failure.

And what was my chance of succceeding?
I had no knowledge of the share market.
It was entirely an instinctive decision driven by dreams of becoming rich the easy way.
Doesn;t work.

In all other endeavours I have always pushed hard against failure., If I slip, I push back harder.
My humble growth in my job could be attributed to my determination to do better.
But I did not transfer my resilience from one domain to another.

Making wealth was a new domain for me. I started by diving into the deep end. That was fine.
But I failed to learn from my failure.
That was a huge mistake.

1. It is natural to get excited when you take your first steps. Do not have high expectation. The first steps are likely to fail.

2. Be mentally prepared for the first failures. You are likely to succeed subsequently.

Years later I dabbled in shares again. But that is another story.

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Want to be rich? - Part 2

At school all my friends came from the same background - middle class. My neighbourhood group was from the same ecosystem. We discussed all things under the sky but never about wealth. As I churn my mind, I do not recollect a single instance where we discussed wealth and the wealthy. I remember discussing sports, sportsmen, Sunil Gavasakar and Kapil Dev, movies, actors and actresses (obviously), government, polictical parties, Indira Gandhi, USA and USSR, Pakistan and the 1971 war, books - lots of books, nieghbours, girls, teachers, some more girls, in other words everything except wealth. Who does? Who is bothered about the rich when you are in school?

As we moved into college, future became a subject of discussion -sometimes. For some like me who managed to get into professional colleges (Engineering and Medicine) the path was clear; so no second thoughts there. Some did not make it to these colleges and though they were excellent at studies they had to settle for fundamental sciences. Those days, for a typical middle class family, Engineering and Medicine were the only two known good options for a bright future. (The outlook has changed a little since, I hope)

Then a handsome boy moved into the neighbourhood. Soon we became friends. I remember 4 of us (3 old friends and this new one) were sitting in my friend's house. It was summer holidays. His mother had served us something to drink and something to munch. For some reason, we started talking about ambitions. This new chap said, "I want to be a model." Model? Who wants to be a model? We looked at each other. A middle class child is brought up to be polite. So we didn't say anything but once he left how we laughed and laughed. Slowly this new friend drifted away from our gang. Many years after I heard that he was featured in some magazine cover and that he was actually pursuing his ambitions.

And the rest of us? We settled into various ambitionless, riskless jobs. Even in my job, I was surrounded by people of similar background: Middle-class families who had pushed their children through engineering college.

Looking back I now wish I had some friends who were from an entirely different background. What if we had friends whose fathers were businessmen? What if my friends talked about wealth? What if we visited their houses and were dazzled by their wealth? What if their fathers took time to talk to us about what we did? What if we had asked our friends from business families what they would like to become when they grew up? What if they had painted a future driven by ambition and passion and totally different from ours? What if we were exposed to an entirely different mind set? What if...?

A different future requires different mindset. Having friends from different background is a great way to get started.

There is saying, "birds of same feather flock together." Notice carefully. They do not have the same feather because they flock together. A big part of our future is limited by what we see around. Unless we are Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Need to break free.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Want to be rich? - Part 1

I am an anti-thesis of Robert Kiyosaki, the author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

Reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad is thrilling. It is so well written that you start believing that you also can become rich. So what of me?

I have serialized the mistakes I made that perhaps has prevented me from becoming rich.

Some of you will identify with me: to them I would advise not to follow me.
Others will take a lesson from my shortcomings.
And by bringing myfear out in the open, I will change, ahem!

Basically, what I trying to do is introspecting into why I could not break out.

My father came from a huge family. He had 11 brothers and 3 sisters (Big family! What fun! In contrast I am single child.)

I grandfather was a lawyer in the town of Dhanbad.
I am told that he detested telling lies. So, one fine day, he decided he will stop practising law.
By then his eldest son started working (as a lawyer!!) but the overall income fell.
So the living standard suffered. This was pre-independent India.

My father left home at 16 to join the Indian Air Force (IAF). He was 6 ft and had - others have told me - a V-shaped body.

Someone once challenged him to a boxing bout and beat the hell out of him.
He resolved to take up boxing.
He went on to become the Air Force Boxing champions in various weight category.
He became known as 'Boxer Mukherjee'.

His boxing career ended after he married. My mother says that my father had near zero bank balance when she got married to my father.

In other words, he enjoyed his life as a bachelor. Boxing and enjoying life!
Mother then took charge of the household. She started saving pennies. This was early sixties. There was not much scope of investments in India.

Savings was all that was possible. She saved enough. Insured father's life. The insurance matured before father's death and with that money we purchased 'colour' TV and refrigerator.

This was when I reached college.
My parents managed to build a house from the savings and loan.
They managed to get me through school and college education.
And when father died in 1986 she did not have to ask money from anybody.
I am very proud of my parents.

My childhood has been a happy childhood. I was never denied any request.
But at the same time we never splurged. And we never went beyond budget.
People in Airforce cannot be called poor. But they are not rich either.
And we always saved. Banking was something that I learned fairly early.

So saving money is embedded somewhere in my brain.
Investment is risky, losing money is no fun.
Future is uncertain, so save money.

Over the years I have found it very difficult to tear myself away from the fear that arises from losing money.
Today, perhaps, I can afford risky investments.
However, most of my investments go into relatively safe instruments.

So what is Lesson #1.

To become rich you need to reformat your memory.
My parents did what they could do best according to their circumstances.
I should have done / should do what I can do best according to my circumstances.


Wait for my next post for Lesson #2.

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Yellow Journalism at its Best

"Satyam Posts Rs. 181 Crore Profit" screams the headline of Indian newspapers.
"Wow!", you say.
You read the first paragraph and go to the next news item.

The third paragraph tells you the correct story

However, the Satyam management in its filing has cautioned thatthe results are based on information available in the company's management information system [yes the same one which Raju ran all these years] and not necessarily in compliance with generally accepted accounting principles, It informed that "in absence of proper records a lot of information has been derived on the basis on assumptions. In other words, the information may prove to be incorrect after Satyam's incomes are restated by the two auditing companies that are on the job presently.

This is sensationalism at its best.

By the way, read my previous post on assumptions. Some coincidence.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What they never teach you in schools

After 10 years of handling engineers fresh out of college, I finally came to a conclusion about what is wrong with our schools and colleges.

Yeah, it took that long!

The problem lies with the way thinking is taught.
You have a problem ... solve it ... you get an answer.

More often than not the solution is unique.
And that is because the problem being solved is complete.
You see you don't need to assume anything.
The problem contains all that is required to solev it.

In the world outside colleges, the problems are not complete. In some cases, the bits of information that are floating around are conflicting.

To solve such problems, you need to ...

(a) figure out the bits of information that are incorrect and thus remove the conflict, and
(b) assume information so that the incomplete problem is now complete.

This immediately gives us multiple correct solution to the problems of life. Each solution depends on the assumptions. To determine which of the multiple solutions actually make sense you do not check the solutions. Instead, you verify the assumptions.

How valid are the assumptions?
What is the assumptions change?
Are there assumptions that conflict with other assumptions?
Can I drop an assumption?

And then there is that element of time ...

Can the problem change over time?
Can some of the assumptions change over time?
Do the solutions make sense a few years down the line?

Now tell me when was the last time a college professor asked you to make an assumption and solve a problem?

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Monday, June 8, 2009

How to become & remain rich

This spake Robert T. Kiyosaki:

I suspect there will be many booms and busts in the next 25 years ... I am concerned that too many people are focused on money and not their greatest wealth, which is their education. If people are prepared to be flexible, keep an open mind and learn, they will grow richer and richer through the changes. If they think money will solve problems, I am afraid those people will have a rough ride. Intelligence solves problems and produces money. Money without financial intelligence is money soon gone.

Most people fail to realize that in life, it's not how much money you make, it's how much money you keep.

Yeah! You got that right! Robert Kiyosaki is the same person who claimed, "Th[e] pattern of treating your home as an investment and the philosophy that a pay rise means you can buy a larger home or spend more is the foundation of today's debt-ridden society."

Both the above extracts are from his book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad. This was written in 1997.

People would do well to read Rich Dad, Poor Dad instead of The Secret.

'The Secret' baffles me ... I find the relation between our sub-conscious and all-giving universe rather tenuous. (Opportunities seem to open up when you practice the secret; but did it open up because you kept your eyes open as you were aware of your goals or because the abundant universe decided to gift you with opportunities since you focused on your desires?)

'Rich Dad, Poor Dad' on the other hand is down to earth and makes lot more sense.

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Blink - Book Review

'Blink' was due for a review for a very long time. Luckily I have a copy (see Why Do I Buy Books)

You can read the book review here => Blink - Book Review

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Party Games

This could be a party game.

Heard of wine tasting? This one is cola tasting.

Get a few bottles of Pepsi and Coke.
Each of your guest gets to be a tester by turn.
Give your tester 3 glasses.
Fill two of the glasses with, let's say, Coke and one with Pepsi.
The tester is *not* required to say which is Pepsi and which is Coke.
All you they need to say is which one is different from the other two.

You think it is easy. Here's what I read in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell:

In the beverage business, this is called a triangle test. ... Believe it or not, you will find this task incredibly hard. If a thousand people were to try this test, just over one-third would guess right - which is not much better than chance; we might as well guess.

Of course, Gladwell does not recommend this as a party game. I just thought this could be one.

If conducted with flair it could engage your guests for some time. The success lies in everyone having equal opportunity to win.

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Birds of Kodaikanal - Can You Identify These?

Thanks to responses to this post and independent verification by Mr. RS Suresh (check out his website on birds) of the birds I now have the names of the birds.


My recent trip to Kodaikanal - before the appendectomy, thank goodness - was brilliant in more than one ways. My most precious moments were sighting birds on my twice a day walk around the star-shaped Kodai lake, bang in the middle of the hill station.

Unfortunately, I do not know the names of these birds. If there is any one out there who can name these birds, I will be very obliged.

Any one?

Bird#1: This one skipped daintily on lotus leaves looking for insects. How light is this bird?


Bird #2: This looks like a Kingfisher. I am told The Indian Turner looks similar to a Kingfisher. So what is this?


Bird #3: A local 'guide' told me that this is the Nilgiris Wood Pigeon.

This one is called SPOTTED DOVE

Bird #4: And who are you, my dear friend?

Bird #5: Most of these are very difficult to spot. This one was almost invisible. What you see is a cropped image.

Bird #6: This one took off before I could take a snap.

The above three birds are the same - RED-WHISKERED BULBUL

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Free Will and external influence

You're the man! (or woman!)
You believe in free will.
You make your own decisions.
What you are today is because of your efforts and because you were ready for the opportunities that presented themselves.

I don't dispute this. But did you know how easy it is to manipulate you.
"Manipulate me?". you say with a scorn.

Okay. Let us touch on another topic.
Have you heard of 'priming'?

Psychologists have conducted experiments that show that it is possible to make you act differently merely by seeding your brain with relevant words, without your knowledge, of course.

You must have experienced this yourself. At the watering hole you talk to a bunch of guys talking negative. Haven't you come away feeling miserable?

An experiment devised by a psychologist John Bargh shows how this works. If you are given a scrambled-sentence test, such as ...

1. him was worried she always
2. shoes give replace old the
3. sky the seamless gray is
4. sunlight makes temperature wrinkle raisins

The idea is to form 4 word-sentences.

It turns out that people giving this test walked slowly. Their brain was being primed with words, "worried", "old", gray", "wrinkle". These made the brain think of being old.

To quote further from Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell:

Even more impressive, however, is how mysterious these priming effects are. When you took that sentence completion test, you didn't know that you were being primed to think "old." Why would you? The clues are pretty subtle. What is striking, though, is that even after people walked slowly out of the room and down the hall, they still weren't aware of how their behavior had been affected. ... Aronson and Steele [two psychologists] found the same thing with the black students who did so poorly after they were reminded of their race. ... The results of these experiments are obviously quite disturbing. They suggest that what we think of as free will is largely an illusion: much of the time, we are simply operating on autopilot, and the way we think and act - and how well we think and act on the spur of the moment - are a lot more susceptible to outside influence than we realize.

Hmmmm... So, there is merit in listening to 'positive mental attitude' CDs when you drive to work after all. Imagine your effectiveness improving just be listening to something that seeds your brain with words like "can do", "good", "effective", "smart", "positive", and "tops"

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

How Good Are You?

You have been dreaming of doing your own thing.
For years.

To start a school of your own.
To kick start your own business.
To become a full time writer of best selling books.
To start that philanthropic organisation that will take care of the street kids.
To go around the world and get paid for it.
To buy that farm house and grow organic food.

Ok here is a question.

Can you quit your job to do that thing you love?
In six months time?
Okay, a year, perhaps?

No? Then perhaps you are not as good as you think you are.

Yes? Then what are you waiting for?

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Tech Mahindra has got the Satyam equation all wrong

This is very apparent from the unconfirmed news of the latest round of job cuts at Satyam.
That some jobs are lost in any takeover or merger is expected. Especially if there are overlapping domains. I am not sure the overlap of domains justifies a job loss of the order of 10,000 (this is the number indicated to be on bench - obviously all will not go).

What concerns me more is the attitude of the new management. Management Guru, Peter Drucker, chanted, "Costs are inside, results are outside".

In vain, it seems.
Woes of Satyam will not end till they regain the confidence of the customers. Many have left. Others are deliberating. Getting rid of your most valuable asset (at least in the IT sector) - your people - is not the best way to impress customer.

Did Tech Mahindra bite more than it can chew and now shedding weight to cut losses?
Or was Tech Mahindra interested only in the few domains Satyam were strong in?
Either way they are making a mistake.
Such huge job losses will only lead to flight of other Satyam employees. And remember only those who are good get jobs. Satyam will lose good employees.

What should be done?
Well, I would ask my managers to take all the hands on bench and allocate them to existing projects depending on their existing skill. With these extra hands, I would ask the managers to give me gold-plated zero-defect output, ahead of schedule. This would give a clear signal to the existing customers that Satyam means business. That they will do whatever possible to regain customer trust. Customers should respond accordingly. This will also send loud signals to the employees - you are our main assets; please throw your weight with us. We will turn this damn thing around.

I believe non-technical staff will be first to go. Such as marketing people.
Come on! Do you mean to say, marketing chaps who have cultivated relationship with customers over the years are replaceable commodity?

If you are interested in my other posts on Satyam click on

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Evolve Your Brain

Evolve Your Brain by Joe Dispenza, D.C. caught my attention not because of the title. By now I am quite used to eye-catching titles; this is marketing. As they say, never judge a book by its cover, but I am digressing. What surprised me that the foreword has been written by an Indian, Amit Goswami.

Don't know about you, but this is a first for me - an Indian writing a foreword for an American author. Well! Well! Well!

In any case, my review of the book is here => Evolve Your Brain - Book Review.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lessons from Appendectomy

Continuing from my previous post on Appendectomy ...

So what did I learn from my experience?

1) Never, never, never tolerate any abdominal pain for more than a day. Or for that matter any pain that does not go away with any over-the-counter medicine. There is no shame in going to a doctor and telling that you are suffering. An untreated appendicitis could be fatal. Make no mistake: Appendicitis is a medical emergency.

For more details, click here.

2) The most painful part of any surgery is not the surgery itself. It is the Intravenous saline drips. The saline drip contains sugar and more than a specific rate causes your vein to swell up and block. And then the nurses will search for another point to introduce IV. I had a total of 5 IV punctures and I hated all of them.

3) Ask the surgeon not to cut a hole through your navel. It takes more time to heal. Unless you are worried about the 10 mm scar on your tummy. It is more that 15 days now and I still have persistent pain around my navel, though the scars have all healed. (I will visit the doctor again if the pain persists).

4) General anaesthesia is the best thing that can happen to you, especially if you are sleep deprived.

5) Do not go by what you hear from others. Yes, appendectomy is a quick surgery. Yes, it is very common. Yes, generally people recover after 2-3 days of rest. No, that does not mean you will also recover in 2-3 days. It may take 10 days or more to get back to your normal routine. Depends on your body. Do not be in a hurry to recover. Enjoy your rest.

I am not a doctor. These are my experiences. It may or may not apply to you.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

An appendectomy

At first there was this uneasiness, as if the morning visit to the toilet was not exactly satisfactory. By evening my stomach was on fire. I managed to drive 10 k.m. to my house convinced that I had appendicitis. This was Thursday. Visits to the neighbourhood few-bed hospital on Friday morning reduced the pain a little after an injection shot. But the pain was promptly back and would not go away even after a double strength pain-killer was prescribed. Since the ultrasound did not reveal any signs of appendicitis, the doctor hesitated. But by Saturday evening the doctor did not want to take any more chances and I was promptly packed off to the Manipal hospital, Bangalore. I was hesitating - even then! - but my wife would not hear of it. The reason I was hesitating was the total absence of any other symptoms of infection, such as fever or vomiting. The pain was of course numbing. I think I have a high tolerance to dull pains (not to sharp pains, but I am getting ahead of myself here)

I stepped into the hospital and started shivering like a malaria patient.

I was immediately taken to the emergencies and casualty ward. By the time the doctor on duty arrived, he was peppered with calls from other senior doctors of the hospital - my boss and my wife were using their network.

Appendicitis it was. A quick ultrasound scan confirmed that.

I was moved to a room and put on Intravenous (IV). This was my third night without anything solid in my stomach. I was given a few pain killer shots. The pain was brought under control.

Around midnight the anesthetist came over to take my signature. He explained me that it would be a general anesthesia. I don't quite remember the name of the drug I would be administered. I was to be administered the anesthesia through IV and mask.

As he left he said, "best of luck for tomorrow."
He said that twice.
Best of luck!!! Why best of luck? I thought this was a minor surgery!

Earlier in the evening, the doctor explained me that they would remove the appendix through keyhole (laparoscopic surgery). They would make 3 holes - one, a 10mm cut through my navel to insert a camera, second, a 5mm cut about 4 inches directly below the navel, and third, another 5 mm cut on the left of the stomach, away from the appendix (which is on the right) so that the cut does not get infected. These two 5mm holes were to serve as entry point to surgical instruments. Prior to that my stomach was to be bloated with carbon-dioxide gas. This would facilitate access. Neat!

Hospital is all about nudity. To the nurses and other staff you body is just a piece of meat. The next morning, the barber came, stripped me to my knees - exposing me completely - and proceeded to shave me from chest downwards and did not stop till he had shaved off my thighs.

Continuing with nudity ... do you know what suppositories are? These are pencil-like, approximately 2 inch tube of medicine. Since I was not allowed any oral ingestion, and since they did not want to puncture my behind with needles ever few hours, I was given regular dosage of paracetamol and pain killer using suppositories. The nurse would come and turn me around and push two tubes into my rectum. The body is supposed to absorb the whole tube in around 10-20 minutes. I used to feel funny initially. Then you give up.

Sunday 9 a.m.
I am wheeled into the pre-op. I am told there is a slight delay as there is an emergency cesarean operation in progress. I wait for about 15 minutes and then I am wheeled into the Operation Theater. Some people slide me from the stretcher to the Operation Table. The Operation Table, I notice is actually split in the middle - a lot like my bicycle saddle - so that it takes in the body contour. Someone puts a cap on my head. They are all masked to so I do not recognize anybody ("Hmmm..."). Someone is humming (Good sign - the surgeon is relaxed."). One chap ("must be the anesthetist") comes and injects through the IV. Immediately, my head and ears pop inwards. A very unusual sensation not very discomforting but not extremely pleasant at the same time. I fight it off. In a few seconds I am back to normal. Now I am afraid to close my eyes, just in case they think I am out and start off (pretty dumb of me, I know). So I keep my eyes open. After a few moments another IV shot and ...

When I wake up I am in a different room. I have no recollection of anything that happened. I feel absolutely relaxed as if I have just woken up. Very refreshed. I move my hand over the stomach and I feel warmth on the back of my palm. I realize that the operated area is being exposed to infrared heat. Shortly after I am wheeled back to my room. It is 2 p.m. on the clock.

Some experience.

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