Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Islamic Science

Do read HT Goranson's article on Project Syndicate

I was reminded of Al Beruni the Iranian scholar from the ninth century. Al Beruni had visited India and was a known Sanskrit scholar. He had written one of the most comprehensive books on india of that period - Tarikh al-Hind that roughly translates to Chronicles of India. He had also translated some mathematical work by Indian mathematicians.Indian mathematics made its way to europe through the arabs and the persians. Globalization of science!!!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Getting Practical in Controlling Malaria [Project Syndicate]

Dr. Sachs makes an excellent point on the failure of markets to improve the conditions of the poorest of poor. There are large communities for whom "free markets" will only work after a certain threshold quality of life is reached. That threshold is quite low for these people, it involves access to drinking water, food and hygiene.

Getting Practical in Controlling Malaria

by Sachs D. Jeffrey

<p>Many international assistance programs fail because they are badly designed and/or too complicated. The result is that the poor don&rsquo;t get the help they need, and taxpayers in rich countries lose confidence in the use of their aid funds. Read More

Disclaimer

Project Syndicate is not responsible for the content of this e-mail, and anything said in this e-mail does not necessarily reflect Project Syndicate's views.

Wake - up pretty girls!!


I found an interesting article on NY Times today.
What's Wrong with Cindrella?

Keeping to toys and kids ....

I frequently visit toy stores to buy gifts for my wife's sister's kids.  It is a fascinating experience to watch marketing work its magic with the parents and kids as well!!  Yesterday, I was trying to get to a couple of toys my nephew wanted and we found one of them, by the skin of our teeth.  A lot of parents were at stores too at about 5.30 PM on the day before Christmas trying to buy "panic gifts" to reinforce their kids' belief in Santa!!

I strongly feel that Santa must be given a honorary place in the echelons of marketing !!  Without him gifts would lack that special meaning and the same Elmo would look a lot less attractive to kids if they realize there was no Santa behind Elmo's appearance at the Christmas tree.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Creativity and Chaos


Saying Yes to Mess - New York Times

NY Times has a cool article on "disorderliness".  I was elated, as I am prone to being more "chaotic" than organized.  Noting that anecdotal evidence is not sufficient to support a general argument, I do state that I noticed some of the smartest people having very chaotic offices :)



Monday, December 18, 2006

Mickey - Santa is not yours !!!



This article tells us of the extreme extent to which trademarks are being pushed to !!!

Disney tells Santa clone ho-ho no

Santa belongs to millions of kids around the world and not just to the privileged few who can visit Disney's theme parks.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

What about human rights?


China buys 4 nuclear reactors from the US

The Chinese successfully managed to buy 4 nuclear reactors from the US.  I might be making a moot point, but I will make it anyway.  I find it amusing that there is no talk of the Chinese government trampling on the human rights of millions as long as the world's economic powers can sell something to the chinese !!

While a democratic country like India faces so much opposition to a "superficial" nuclear deal involving technology transfer, a communist regime gets to buy nuclear reactors at discounted market prices.  This mirrors the failure that i called UN and how it has come "not" to reflect the current geo-political power shifts.  A communist regime that is not be trusted is allowed to buy nuclear technology on the open market, while a democratic country (almost no human rights violations) with established nuclear capability and responsibility has to jumpo through red-tapism to get a nod from big brother.

Open your eyes US.  The world's most powerful democracy needs to be more proactive about its relationship with the world's largest.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Pondering over moral dilemmas

I was reading New York Times and came across this article - Diamonds Are for Never?

Following is an excerpt from the statement that caught my attention,

Tom Zoellner, who researched the industry for his book "The Heartless Stone" (St. Martin's Press, 2006), said the Kimberley Process doesn't concern itself with objectionable practices like the use of child labor in India, where most diamonds are polished. But he said because many Africans depend on them for their livelihood, a boycott is not the answer. The best defense against dirty diamonds, he said, is to ask questions.


Are these two moral dilemmas comparable ?

Should potential buyers of diamonds boycott them because these gems passed through sweatshops employing children in India?  Well, there are umpteen number of goods that have the toils of third world women and children written all over them. Shouldn't the developed world be asking questions about the carpets in their living floors?

Very few firms in the western world have monitoring practices to oversee their suppliers in the developing world. Such costs just add up to the transaction costs and increaser the clearing price between the parties involved in the transaction and therefore often such situations result in a tacit "don't ask don't tell" understanding.  An unwritten norm of governance between the two parties.   Although sad, such a system does ensure that some of the world's poorest of the poor do get some form of economic livelihood.  At least for products that are smeared with the "sweat" and not the "blood" of children should be bought more pro-actively. 

Abolishing child labor is not a necessary and sufficient condition for  improving the welfare of these children. Education too is just a necessary condition, but not sufficient.  But, what education does provide is a self-belief in their own potential, a big picture view, and the confidence to aspire for a better life.  Is there a one necessary and sufficient condition ?




Thursday, December 14, 2006

On Exec ed programs

I found this interesting remark on the Economist.

Mr Hochstein pointed to two programmes in particular: the $92,000 boardroom executive MBA programme offered by Queen's University and Cornell's Johnson School of Management; and the $90,000 executive MBA programme offered by York University's Schulich School of Business and Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management. "Practically nobody fails and a failure rate less than 10% is suspect," Mr Hochstein said. As for accelerated programmes, he wondered how schools can justify allowing students to study for less time simply because they paid a higher price. "I don't trust any MBA grad any more [who obtained a degree in] under two years," Mr Hochstein said.
Alan Hochstein, is a finance professor at Concordia's John Molson School of Business.


I do not agree with his viewpoint, and moreover, in my opinion executive MBA's are not enrolling to learn "business concepts", but rather to gain access to the valuable network capital that is offered by the above mentioned schools' alumni.

Executive programs might provide a formal structural framework which these individuals can then use to encompass their practical learning. 



Old Memories

My dear old friend Sam sent me this pic a couple of days ago. It brought back infinite memories - that eventually formed a collage in my mind. This photograph was taken in 1987-88 when I was in my fifth grade. I wish I had saved the class photographs of all my school years. I don't think I have all of them and it makes me feel very sad that I never bothered to save those memories.

I am still in touch with --hmm, 8 out of the 52 that are in the pic. Five of them are actually stacked one after another along with me in the pic, and I can't help wondering if that means anything, given that we are still keeping track of each other.

Well, those who know me and who read this blog, try guessing my location in the pic!! Posted by Picasa

BBC E-mail: Indian army's biggest enemy - stress

I found this very sad story not reported in any major newspaper in India.

I have fond memories of the army as I had been selected into the NDA and the only reason I am not in the Indian army is because of me failing the eye test.

For good or bad, that was a turning point in my life.

Dr. Mallapragada could have been Lt. Col. Mallapragada!!

** Indian army's biggest enemy - stress **

Do you want get laid ?

When Microsoft announced that it would be taking on the iPod with something called Zune, did its branding team realise that the word translated into French slang for genitalia and a Hebrew term meaning getting laid?

Read the entire article here



Read the reference on Amit Varma's blog here.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Open Source at 90 MPH -Business Week

I found this interesting article on the Businessweek site. 

Open Source at 90 MPH.

A new extension to the  "openness" idea.  Interestingly, when I was visiting universities during my job search, Dr. Roger Calontone at Michigan State made a very intriguing comment on the notion of what's really "open".  Given that the "openness" comes from the sharing of IP, he said, we could actually break down any tangible product into bits and pieces that constitute the core IP.  The openness logic that seems so obvious in software product development becomes very obvious even in traditional product settings when we reconceptualize the notion of "openness" at a more subliminal IP layer and not the product layer.

This is similar to Dr. Richard Dawkins' notion of the Selfish Gene.  It is not about the species or the organism, but it is about the "gene".  Simialrly, for openness, it is not the product, but the underlying idea or concept.





Brian Smith from Chase Bank

These days when I am at home, and our phone (the land line) rings, I am more than eager to answer the call. The reason being an opportunity to understand the BPO industry in India. You must be thinking, I am nuts. However, I urge you to try. It is an interesting experience.

For instance, today I answered the phone in the afternoon and a very Indian voice greeted me and introduced himself as Mr. Brian Smith from Chase Bank. He was trying to urge me to sign up for the credit protector service from Chase. What's funny is that I can hear so much noise in the background, so typical of an Indian call-center (I have visited one of these, and I can relate the background and settings). I could hear Indian languages being spoken, while our Mr. Smith went on with his speel. The best feature of the call is that the guy never even asked me if I am interested in the service. I let him go on for a while and then rejected the gracious offer which tried to strip me off 8 dollars a month (with a guarantee that they will protect me upto 25,000 USD if I were to die or lose my limbs :)).

I am not trying to make mockery of the thousands who get employment in the call-center industry. However, what I think funny is that Chase believes that its customers would listen if the rep had an anglicized name and a put-on accent. What's to hide? Let your customers know that it is Mr. Ritesh Gupta calling and that if Gupta calls, on the whole the costs for Chase go down, thereby allowing it to focus more on what it is good at devising financial offerings, rather than focusing on making phone calls to manage service.

I don't want a Gupta masquerading as Smith. Either I want a Smith or a Gupta. Period.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Institutions and free-markets - example

A good news clip to illustrate that economic considerations are often overruled by political and other social interests. 

BBC NEWS | Business | US drops plan to open up airlines

The overwhelming need of the US customers to have better choice, service and lower prices (aim of the free market), is apparently being run-over by the societal need for greater security.  Institutions at work ... illustrating the importance of grossly neglected view of economic sociology.




Humorous post on reservations and castes - The Rational Fool: Caste = ex

Although my views on reservations and the caste system are not aligned with the author's ideas, I found this post hilarious.
The Rational Fool: Caste = ex

Monday, December 04, 2006

Javali and Lord Rama


I came across an interesting reference in Amartya Sen's "The Argumentative Indian".  In a broad argument that stresses upon the indian pluralistic tradition, Dr. Sen discusses the heterodoxy in religious thought in ancient India.  He refers to an interesting conversation taken from the indian epic of Ramayana, between Lord Rama and Javali.  Javali is a sage who gets considerable attention in the epic as a worldly wise man with an atheistic view towards life.  I am citing from Dr. Sen's book -
 
[T]the adherents of Hindu politics -- especially those who are given to vandalizing places of worship of other religions -- may take Rama to be divine, but in much of the Ramayana, Rama is treated primarily as a hero -- a great 'epic hero' -- with many good qualities and some weaknesses, including a tendency to harbour suspicions about his wife Sita's faithfulness. A pundit who gets considerable space in the Ramayana, called Javali, not only does not treat Rama as God, he calls his actions 'foolish' ('especially for', as Javali puts it, 'an intelligent and wise man'). Before he is persuaded to withdraw his allegations, Javali gets time enough in the Ramayana to explain in detail that 'there is no after-world, nor any religious practice for attaining that', and that 'the injunctions about the worship of gods, sacrifice, gifts and penance have been laid down in the sastras by clever people just to rule over [other] people.
 
Javali, as you can see was an atheist.  He does not believe in an after-world and neither does he believe that one can attain it through religious practices.  More importantly, he is actually preaching this to Rama, who is supposed to be an incarnate of Lord Vishnu, the supreme being. To reconcile these two alternate views, of duality (major focus of the Gita) with an athesitic view can be quite a challenging one.
 
There is often a very constrained view of hinduism in the west - that it is a polytheistic religion.  However, hindusim is truly "pluralistic" and had allowed the blossoming of various schools of thoughts.  It was very refreshing for me to learn about an athesitic branch in hinduism.  I had known about the roots of buddhism being in Hinduism, but had never personally made the connection between the formal branch of Carvaka school with the ideas of buddhism.  Also note that buddhism is probably the only major world religion that is truly agnostic.
 
 
 

These Brits must be crazy!!!

 
It suddenly occured to me.  The brits don't have my departure record and maybe I can never travel to the UK again.  Let me explain what I am talking about.
 
I was in the true "firangee" land - UK, in October to interview with the London Business School for an academic position. After a couple of days of stay I was leaving from the Heathrow airport and I managed to check-in at the British Airways kisok.  I was under the impression that I would have to go through immigration and that I would get a exit stamp on my passport for the departure date.  However, after the check-in, no official verified the validity of my american visa - until I came up to the gate.  Moreover, no one made a note of my departure date.  It seemed strange to me that a country like UK which is under terrorist threat should act in such a way.  Either, they have an automated system which picks up records from the arilines or simply they don't care when foreigners are leaving the country !!! It is anyone's guess which of these could be true !!
 
In contrast, my experience in Singapore, during a recent trip was very different.  Before I could get to the check-in counter I faced a 15 minutes interview about my stay in the US from an official (looked singaporean to me) after which I was allowed to gte my boarding pass.
 
I have no explanation for why the UK system is so lenient compared to its Singaporean counterpart.  What I am more worried about is that when I enter the UK next time around . they might only see a new entry record - but no exit record !!!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

[Marketing Society] The passing of a legend - Professor Frank M. Bass, 1926-2006

The great Frank M. Bass passed away as reported by this email. Marketing PhD students will immediately recognize Dr. Bass, but for others who may happen to read this post, Dr. Bass published the first seminal paper that provided a mathematical model as to how new products (consumer durables) will be adopted by a population of consumers. Bass's simple yet elegant model can be called the catalyst - that set forth an entire field rolling - the field of market modeling. Bass' model underlies almost all sales prediction models. Phrases like "early adopters" or "innovators" and "imitators" have gained prominence in today's world. They can be understood more intuitively through the Bass model.



---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Popkowski-Leszczyc, Peter < ppopkows@ualberta.ca>
Date: Dec 2, 2006 7:51 PM
Subject: [Marketing Society] The passing of a legend - Professor Frank M. Bass, 1926-2006
To: marketing-society@list.informs.org

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

It is with great sadness that we report to you the news that Frank. M. Bass, the Eugene McDermott Chair at the University of Texas at Dallas has passed away on December 1, 2006. Frank has been one of the founders of our field and his list of accomplishments is long. He has received many major awards, including a nomination for the Nobel price. He will in particular be remembered for his papers, especially the Bass model, published in Management Science, which has about 600 citations and is the 5th most cited article in the journal's history. He will also be remembered for the supervision of close to 60 Ph.D. students, many of whom are established researchers in the field of marketing.

His wife Portia Bass has provided information concerning Frank's funeral arrangements on his website at: http://frankbass.org/fmb/fmb.aspx (an obituary will be posted soon). A request has been made to not send any flowers; instead it was Frank's wish that contributions are made to the Frank M. Bass Institute at the University of Texas at Dallas http://som.utdallas.edu/bass/ ).

He was our friend, colleague and mentor and he will be missed a lot,

Dominique Hanssens

Don Lehmann

Bob Leone

Len Parsons

Peter T.L. Popkowski Leszczyc

Dave Reibstein

And the other 50+ Bass students

Peter T.L. Popkowski Leszczyc, Ph.D.


Institutions and free-markets

I found an intriguing debate on the blogosphere.  The original post is Gautam's post here
and Ashutosh Joglekar's rebuttal here.

My thoughts -
       The pro-free market advocates (some) confound the necessary intervention of institutions created by political governance mechanisms with anti-free market forces.  What they don't realize is that institutions that oversee the so-called "free markets" are not self-evolving structures, but are entities, often created by political and economic interests, to safeguard the interests of society in general.  Free market forces cannot operate in the absence of such institutions and their presence cannot and should not be confounded with the absence of true "free-market forces".

Ashutosh's point in his rebuttal here is valid that " What distinguishes free markets is that they give incentives to every person in their purview to gain that purchasing power. That is really the nature of the free market soul."

But, what he really misses is that this true soul does not come about itself -  but is in fact erected by the institutional forces which are often not part of this true free-market but are structures erected by non-economic interests such as the government for instance to oversee the free-market.

Left to itself, free markets are not going to solve the world's social or political problems. It would not be prudent to think that an economic solution would somehow solve these interrelated problems, by merely blowing the free-market horn.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

"Just As Good As Toyota" Is A Tough Sell - from Business Week

Check out this article on businessweek on GM's branding. 
"Just As Good As Toyota" Is A Tough Sell
Having been a GM car user for over 3 years now, I concur that perception lags reality quite a bit in the auto industry. Consumers are paying premium for the "perceived" reliability/safety of Japanese vehicles.  More particularly, if a consumer is looking at a shorter time frame say 3-5 years, there is no perceivable difference in the performance of GM's vehicles compared to Japanese offerings. 


I have been a Saturn user for almost 3 years now and I feel so glad that I made that choice.  Honestly, I think the Japanese offerings look very bland (except for Nissan to some extent and Mazda once in a while) and are expensive for the same features.

"Open" is not "Open Source"

Amit Verma has a post on Gaurav's post on collaboration.

Amit misses a crucial point - What Gaurav suggests is something on the lines of Wikipedia. Open Source is often "misused" in a number of contexts, where the "source" really has no meaning. The spirit of users participating in developing knowledge is the part that is shared across these contexts - and this refers to work done by Dr. von Hippel and his students on user communities. There is really no "source" in Gaurav's idea. Open Source is a unique team used in the context of software products such as Linux that have been built by communities under the GPL - the actual source code or the code that makes up the software is available in public domain.

My post also hits at a lot of management "wannabes" who tend to use jargon too much. I have met many individuals during my MBA and phd days who have a propensity to use management jargon for the sake of using it, (or should I say misusing it). My sincere request to all these individuals is - to please spare us all mortals. The world can be a better place with simplicity.

Q&A with Karim Lakhani

I got this link from Chris DiBona's blog here.  It is a Q&A session with Karim Lakhani an Assistant Professor at HBS now.  Karim finished his PhD from MIT under Eric von Hippel, who is a very close associate of my advisor Gary Lilien.

Karim has been involved with the open source community for quite some time now.  Although my framing of the open source co-ordination problem is more structural and abstracts the behavior of individual agents in the system, it is in tune with the spirit of open source.  Karim along with Sonali Shah (now at UIUC), who is also a student of Dr. von Hippel at MIT have been an inspiration to me when I decided to pursue this domain as my dissertation topic.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

International Students and US placements

My wife is finishing up her MBA at the Ross school of business at U of Michigan. As she did an evening MBA it took her 4 years and over 40,000 USD from her pocket to get through the program, apart from the countless hours of stress trying to manage work and study, and the hours spent driving to her classes.

Students pursue MBA education to get a great job, period. When she joined the program, we were under the impression that she would be able to interview for all the firms that would participate in the placement process.

After 4 years of toil, come placement time - over 60% of all the jobs are only for students with green cards or citizenship. I am complaining because the school never proactively mentioned that this even happens. If the school does not want to address this placement issue, I do not understand why they even encourage international students to consider their program.
Does the school think international students are coming into US just to go back to their home country? If going back to the home country was the original objective, a student would not spend close to 80,000 USD to get an MBA degree here in the US.

It is the same scenario with firms recruiting for jobs in Europe and elsewhere. They all want work authorization.

After talking to a number of international students it occurred to me that none of them know the reality of recruiting here in the US. A number of firms, as of today, are not willing to hire international students. From what I gathered at University of Michigan, the consulting firms and the I-banks are more likely to hire students who require visas, than other firms.

Information about the recruiting policies of firms should be made public proactively. The Ross school has not and neither do a number of other b-schools (look up business week rankings - complaints on schools such as Austin are listed for their inability place international students).

All I am saying is that, students should be made aware of what structural difficulties they might face when they try to get hired.

The story repeats in Penn State's placement process as well, and this is from the regular placement fair. My roommates recently attended the fair and almost all the firms wanted citizens or students with green cards.

I am not sure to what extent students coming from India or other countries are aware of such job related issues when they plan their education in the US.

At least, I want them to be aware of what they are up against, given my own experience.

More on Walmart

Gaurav has a post with similar opinions on Walmart's entry into the Indian market here.

Refer to my earlier post here, with similar views and Economist's article on retailing in general.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

WalMart enters India in tie-up with Bharti


WalMart enters India in tie-up with Bharti

I guess the time has come for the Indian retailing sector to brace up to the Walmart onslaught.  I had earlier written on retailing and its possible effect on the kirana and grocery stores in India here.

As you might be already aware, Walmart is exceptionally good in managing inventory through its IT heavy logistics focus.  Its stores are huge and allow it to achieve economies of scale even at the store level - an advantage that translates into micro-management of demand.  Hence, Walmart's famed ability to respond to sudden demand shocks such as the one it experienced after 9/11 aftermath for American flags, for example.  The real question then is whether Walmart will be able to rethink its inventory management strategy and adapt to the eccentricities of the Indian market. 




Monday, November 27, 2006

demise of kirana stores - don't bet on it

I am posting this article on the new age of retailing in India from Economist.com. It is from the members section, and hence I am replicating the entire article. Following are my thoughts after which you can read the article.

Reliance is leading the retailing revolution by aggressivley opening up retail stores - smaller scaled markets (probably smaller than the old supermarkets like Panchavati and Trinethra in Hyderabad) and bigger hypermarkets (probably similar to Giant in hyderabad).

Does this mean that the lalitha parameshwaris or the mom and pop stores that were the lifeblood of retailing in India for many centuries (:)), would slowly die out. The predition is that they will. I do agree that a number of shoppers will shift to the new age grocery outlets, but that is contingent upon price sensitivities that have been built up over many decades. I would not be amazed to see the smaller outfits survive in such competition purely by their reach. No matter how many outlets reliance may open up in hyderabad, it is impossible to cater to the 6 million odd population of hyderabad and the smaller stores will survive in such a geographical scenario.

More importantly, the mom and pop stores are the best possible means of achieving mass customization. It never amazes me that the store guy near my neighborhood remembers me and my brand of toothpaste even after my long abscence from the local scene. Such individual level preference-memory is the holy grail even in mature retial markets such as the US, and retailers have not yet figured out an optimal method of suggesting the preferred shopping basket. Online retailing has created some avenues of solving this issue, but is still a long way to go from my kirana and grocery store's model in hyderabad.

I wish him all success in this market and I am sure he will adapt to an ecological niche and survive. You could imagine these outlets as being the incumbents in the market that are nimble and can solve some of the toughest challenges involved in implementing segmentation strategies for FMCG's in a retail market such as India.



==============

INDIA's retail revolution is at last getting started. At the moment 97% of retail sales are made in more than 15m tiny mom-and-pop stores, mostly of less than 500 square feet (46 square metres). But now Reliance Industries, the country's largest business group, is to spend 250 billion rupees ($5.5 billion) on big new shops over five years, starting on November 3rd when it will open 11 convenience stores in the southern city of Hyderabad. And big foreign companies are moving in too. The government bans them from selling direct to individuals, but they have found a side door: starting wholesale and sourcing companies which supply a local retail partner. The first to do this, last month, was Australia's Woolworths, in league with Tata, India's second-largest firm. Tesco, from Britain, is expected to follow soon, and Wal-Mart and France's Carrefour are also thought to be searching for a way in.

Reliance rarely develops its new ventures quietly, so rumours and leaks about its plans have sparked a chain reaction. Foreign firms have realised that they need to get a toe-hold in India quickly, without waiting for the government to open up retailing to foreign direct investment ( FDI) properly. If they wait too long, they risk leaving the field clear for big Indian groups, such as Pantaloon Retail and Spencer's, which have been accelerating their expansion plans and securing scarce development sites.

For overseas companies looking for growth outside sluggish domestic markets, India's retail business is one of the most attractive. Consumer demand is booming as the government's steps to liberalise the economy have produced GDP growth of around 8-9% a year. Technopak, a Delhi-based retail consultancy, expects retail sales of $250-300 billion now to rise to nearly $430 billion by 2010. Modern retailers' share will rise from just 3% now to 16-18%, it says.

Retailing is one of the last big sectors of the Indian economy to open up to FDI. Previous attempts by foreign retailers to start businesses were blocked by successive governments. In the 1990s opposition from traders and local shopkeepers was enough to convince politicians. Later on the government was persuaded by the political left, and also by the Indian business lobby. The current government now has no hope of allowing FDI into general retailing by the end of this year. But side-door entries are permissible. "We need a model that doesn't replace existing retailers," says Kamal Nath, India's minister of commerce and industry.

Under the current policy, Western brands from Reebok and Cartier to Marks & Spencer have set up franchise stores with locals. The locals own and run the shops, and the foreigners run the sourcing and wholesale part. Starbucks, a coffee-shop chain, is expected to open soon as a similar franchise. Earlier this year the franchise policy was relaxed, so that foreign firms can now take 51% equity stakes in shops that sell just their own brand. But this has yet to catch on in practice. Broader wholesale businesses selling to registered retailers have also been allowed, though Metro of Germany is the only company to have used this route so far.

The newest model for foreigners getting into India is the Infiniti-Woolworths partnership. Infiniti Retail, a Tata group company, last month began opening "Croma" stores that sell electronics and household electrical goods sourced from a wholesale company in India fully owned by Woolworths. "I pay a cheque every Wednesday for the previous week's supplies," says Ajit Joshi, managing director of Infiniti, explaining the relationship. Bharti Enterprises has been discussing a similar deal with Tesco and most recently with Wal-Mart. "Government policy allows foreign equity in back-end wholesale and logistics and in real estate, so we'll do a joint venture with a foreign partner in those areas, and we will own the retail business 100% till the government allows FDI there, and then we'll do a joint venture there with our partner," says Sunil Mittal, Bharti's chairman. He will not confirm whether the retail partner will be Tesco or Wal-Mart, but says he hopes to sign a deal by the end of November.

Reliance intends to have 5,000 shops across India within five years. There will be 2,000-5,000-square-foot convenience-food stores of the sort now being opened in Hyderabad, and also bigger, 25,000-50,000-square-foot hypermarkets, starting with one in Ahmedabad at the end of the year. Pantaloon Retail, India's biggest and fastest-growing retailer, has 144 shops in 32 cities, and Kishore Biyani, its founder, plans to double the square footage of his empire by next June. Local businessmen have started smaller chains in the south.

India's millions of small stores, of course, are terrified of the onslaught from domestic and foreign retailers. Many Indians may stick to the small, personal shops they are used to. But the modern emporia will offer lower prices and, presumably, higher quality. "Shopkeepers are asking, 'is Reliance going to kill us?'" says Arvind Singhal, chairman of Technopak.

A few small shop-owning families in richer areas of the country are taking the easy way out. They are leasing their premises to big consumer brands such as Nike and Reebok, who will pay rents of more than 300,000 rupees a month, far more than the profits that most successful families can make with a traditional small vegetable, grocery or chemist's shop. A few are being more daring and are expanding their stores. Technopak is advising groups of small shopkeepers in various places on how to get together and gain at least some advantage of scale in purchasing and marketing.

"It will affect our whole market if one of the new stores comes here with lower prices, so we have to compete," says Harsh Narang, whose family has run the Shri Sant Lal grocery and general store in Hauz Khas, a prosperous middle-class market in Delhi, for 50 years. He recently doubled the size of his shop and is considering an offer from Hindustan Lever, Unilever's Indian subsidiary, to help modernise. But fruit and vegetable sellers who work from pavements will have far less chance of survival. Jageshwar Prasad, whose family owns a tiny 90-square foot vegetable shop and pavement stall in nearby Malviya Nagar, says, "It will affect us very much because they will take both the rich and the poor customers with lower prices."

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http://www.linkedin.com/in/girishmallapragada
http://girishmallapragada.blogspot.com

What is blogging?

I have been spending quite some time reading the various blogs that are linked to my roomie Gaurav Sabnis' blog. Although, I did find quite a few blogs with interesting posts on relevant issues, I was disheartened to see that the posts were mostly mere link-ups, with quotes from the original post. The authors seldom add value to the original post.

It seems like the very natural power law as explained by Barabasi and Albert in their Science article on the dynamics of networks is operational here as well (Dr. Albert is on my dissertation committee). Their explanation provides the rationale behind the all-pervasive power law in naturally occurring networks. The blogosphere seems to be following this law predictably. Bloggers want to link their own posts to posts by popular bloggers, in the process adding little value and generating a lot of redundancy on the information network. It helps the diffusion process of the original ideas, irrespective of the quality or relevance of the original content. The network as a whole is subjected to such information flows that have only been spresd not because of the true quality of the post but because of the self-interest of the bloggers who link up to such posters. Over time, even if the quality of the original posters decays, the network as a whole continues to cluster around such posters, thereby leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The death of Indian Cinema

I paid my last tributes to Indian Cinema yesterday in Cincinnati.  I was visiting my wife's sister's family and had an opportunity to watch a few Indian channels at their house.  I realized I was a little late in realizing that Indian Cinema was dead already and all I could do was pay a few tributes.

Cinema served as a great medium to reach out to the largely illiterate Indian population in the pre-independence era.  Movies that tackled sensitive issues dealing with complex social structures were used to inform and educate the masses in this era.  I am not going to cite movies, but even regionally speaking, great movies were made in Tollywood that were real masterpieces.  Movies served a great purpose beyond entertainment, as catalysts of social change.  It is this cinema that has died a silent but sure death, and I have paid my tributes.

Cinema now is "item" numbers, cheap remakes of hollywood action flicks, cheap remakes of old movies, stupid teen romances.. and the list goes on without a meaning or purpose.  A few silent efforts that mirror the original spirit of Cinema as lost in the media hysteria surrounding Ash or "Malaika and her thighs".

Satyajit Ray would be turning in his grave.  However, I am happy for him that he does not have to see Indian Cinema die a painful death.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Watch "Jimi Hendrix - Purple Haze (Marquee club, Berkeley)" on Google Video

Your friend, girishm@psu.edu, has sent you the following video from Google Video and included this message:

Jimi playing guitar with his mouth

Jimi Hendrix - Purple Haze (Marquee club, Berkeley)

3 min 55 sec - May 24, 2005
Average rating:   (182 ratings)
Description: Jimi's performance of Purple haze at the marquee club and berkeley, 1967 and 1970 respectively.

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Go to video.google.com/

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Add it at video.google.com/videouploadform

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Privatization is not the panacea for all problems

On Milton Friedman

New York Times has a good review about the work of Dr. Friedman. 

       On a different note, I was caught by one of Dr. Friedman's beliefs - that government governs best that governs least, wherein he championed the post war thoughts against Keynesians.  I understand that this holds good for economies where there are institutions in place.  Much of the arguments I hear in favor of privatizing everything in India follow Dr. Friedman's ideas - you should allow the market to figure out a solution.  I am not very convinced that India could have been better off if it had adopted privatization as a model ten years earlier.  Without institutions and proper mechanisms in place, private enterprise cannot on its own bloom and lift millions out of poverty. However, this itself does not make a case for the government investing in building turbines forever!!!

       When people refer to the opening-up of markets, very casually, they are referring to the Coke they can buy on the street or the good Nike gear in a mall.  How about medical care in rural India? Will MNC's be willing to invest in projects which do not turn-in returns for decades?  I am not very sure about that.  How about railways?  Will private enterprise solve the mass transportation problem in India?  The so called privatization of the air-travel market has given us at most two more choices, Jet and Sahara, and that only at some cities. 
       There are sectors of the economy, particularly in countries like India, where investments will not flow-in on their own.  Privatization ensures that investments flow to those projects which have the highest returns.  The greater good need not necessarily be in such projects all the time.  These are sectors which need improvement for the greater social good, while the privatization model is for the "shareholder" good.  Often, the public good is not aligned with the interests of organizations.  That is when, governments need to step in and probably stay long enough to bear the burden of investment on the public's behalf.  Government intervention is required to kick-start a lot of things - investments in public energy projects, irrigation, transportation among other areas.  These are sectors, where the invisible magic hand will not work very effectively.  I chose the word effective and not efficient, because, Government intervention might be inefficient, but is required in such sectors is effectiveness and the privatization model does not have an answer yet to effectively tackle such domains.
      Finally, in my opinion, the bane for India has been not that the government intervened but that it does not seem to know when to get out.  The right timing of exit, from those sectors where the initial catalyst has already been provided by the government is very crucial for efficiency to kick in. 

Writing versus blogging!!

I read a very interesting comment on Suresh's blog.

On Writing versus Blogging

Suresh has interesting comments on differences between blogging and writing ( I guess he was referring to academic writing), specifically with respect to citations !!!  Academic text often comes across as being very dense due to the very nature of relying on earlier work while supporting your own.

I have seen my writing evolve over time.  Prior to my starting my PhD program, I took great pride that I was a very good writer.  I mean, I am more comfortable when I actually write (with a pen).  I can pen tens of pages without blinking an eye, but somehow due to my "two finger typing", it seemed to me that I had lost the art of keeping the ideas flowing.  I am just bluffing ...it was more the nature of writing that caught me on a wrong foot.  Well, as you know, academic writing is a whole different ball game.  All my conceptions of me being a great writer changed forever.

I still retain the first academic article (first ever full draft) that I had turned in for a class I took with none other than Dr. Martin Kilduff when he was at Penn State.  Martin was teaching the Organization Theory seminar and I turned in my draft which was more of an introductory essay to the application of complex systems theory to organizational settings. I guess it was more the obscurity of the topic than my writing style that really offended Martin.  There was more green on my draft when I got it back!!  Well, you can imagine what must have happened to my grade in the class : a perfect B. 

Coming back to Suresh's original point on blogging versus writing.  I agree with him that one should not rely solely on blogging to improve one's writing style.  However, continuous writing can have a good impact on one's ability to structure thoughts and present them coherently and grammar does improve quite a bit with continuous practice.  However, there is actually no blogger out there who comments on the grammar or the writing style of the  writer.  In fact, when you go read blogs, they are more about content - and bloggers pay little attention to delivery style, while focusing on content almost in entirety.  Therefore, I am not sure, that there would be good outside influences on one's writing in the blogosphere.



Thursday, November 16, 2006

confessions of a drunk phd

There are moments when you look back at your own life and ask " why am I the way I am?".. well I guess there is no answer. You are the way you are because of the choices you made. Life is all about choices and living through the ones you made, figuring out the reasons for making those choices....

We tend to think that life is under control, well we all are bound by the anthropomorphic principle. Our life is nothing but a social construction on a small speck of dirt rotating around a very average star in a very average galaxy in the vast expanse of the universe...

I feel so small being a marketing PhD.. thinking about organization, innovation and social networks.. was I better off... studying theoretical physics .. I am not sure.. as what lied ahead is the path wheRE I figure out whether I did the right thing....

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Is God a Bayesian?

The moment I realized I have a job on hand, my blogging index has gone up tremendously!! Anyways,  this is a short conversation between me and Dave LeBaron.  Dave is a PhD student, one year my junior, at Penn State.

I guess the humor is slightly more math and meant for PhD's but to make it more readable, I will give you a brief background.  There are too dominant approaches to estimation in Statistics:  The classical approach that treats the data and parameters that govern how the data behave as different sets and develops point estimates for the parameters given the data.  The Bayesian approach in contrary treats both the data and the parameters as unknowns and estimates the distributions for the parameters.

Well, that's the best I could do.

Girish and Dave are walking down the corridor.

Girish:  Dave, if God were a Statistician, would he be Bayesian or Classical?

Dave: (Pauses for a moment) Well that's simple, he is surely Classical, because only the Devil could have come up with Bayes.

The icing to this story is, as you might know, that Thomas Bayes who first proposed the notion of conditional probability on which the entire Bayesian paradigm is built was an English priest.  The Devil turned out to be God's lieutenant !!!

Few ideas to escape Quixtar clutches

The motivation for this post is a blogpost by my roommate Gaurav Sabnis. You can read it here.

I laughed my head-off, someone must have tried that already, maybe not!!! So here's my list of ideas, feel free to come up with your own when you realize some quixtar junkie is approaching you in Walmart or Sam's...

1) Tell him/her/them that your spouse works for the IRS (see them pack and run).
2) Tell them that you bought Google stock on the day of its IPO.
3) Tell them that you ar already an IBO (gaurav's trick).
4) Tell them that you almost knocked out RN in a fist fight (Raj is supposedly one of the quixtar biggies).
5) Scream "'Help Help" at the top of your voice.
6) If you know any good galis (any language), start abusing them almost immediately.
7) Tell them that you have a PhD in Marketing, it worked for me !!
8) Tell them that you are going to report them to the IRS.


Most treacherous one:
Act dumb, infiltrate their unit and pass on their details to the IRS.

Amway, Quixtar, Brit World Wide, and black money

I have always wondered how an international student trying to make ends meet in the US can afford to lead a luxurious life. I am not blogging about this because I have lived on a pittance while someone like me chose to go the Amway route to supplement their income. Yes, this blog is against the intellectual robbery that the Quixtar community is unleashing on Indian students in the US.

I am blogging this not just because I am so utterly disgusted with the very notion that we Indians not only fall prey to these multi-level marketing gimmicks, but are also the ones perpetuating it. Quixtar calls getting inolved in this scheme becoming an IBO or independent business owner. What really is the business here: getting more people on board in a pyramid scheme that involves treachery and deception? I have been to one such meeting a long time ago when it was called an e-commerce seminar!! For heaven's sake, why don' these guys be truthful about it.

The Quixtar speel, as many of you might know, is very generic - would you like to own a million dollar home soon, are you happy with the car you are driving now, where would you like to vacation in five years from now.. these are the types of questions that are asked to stimulate interest and then they make it seem as if making money was so easy. All you have to do is make more people join under you and use Quixtar products so that you get some kickbacks (or whatever they are called, but I guess you get the logic).

Where is the business in this ? A lot many who sign up for these gimmicks are poor Indian students who want to pay their tuition. All they end up doing is getting sucked up into this quagmire and wasting time striving to sign up more people and working for building their own pyramid, rather than doing a good job for what they have come here for - education. It is almost as if there is this huge machinery luring these poor souls into a vortex that is Quixtar through treachery and deception - promise of riches and early retirement and financial security at the expense of a quality lifestyle.

What pains me is that the people who are already in this Quixtar business focus on segments such as these - underfunded Indian students, H-4 wives etc. to get their mass going. The students should remember that it is illegal to earn income outside of their campus and if they get caught by IRS they will immediately be deported back to India. Quixtar on its website says that it does not recruit anyone who is not authorized to work in the US as an IBO. However, they do not have procedures in place to implement this, and rather rely on the upstream individuals (top of the pyramid) to ensure that all who set up their IBO's are individuals who do not have immigration issues. The upstream neglects this conveniently exclusively focusing, rather prying on F-1 students and H-4 wives to build up their own pyramids.


To some extent all the money that is being circulated in this system is black money. Money being earned by individuals who are legally not supposed to earn it. The companies which run the whole thing are happy. Thousands are being sucked into this through the promise of quick riches. The real upstream guys make money not through the kickbacks, but through the motivational leadership that they provide to the "stupid masses", at the bottom of the pyramid. CK Prahlad would kick himself if he gets to know how the galactically greedy have misused his "riches at the bottom of the pyramid" notion.

This Quixtar machinery is what Ayn Rand refers to as the "moochers" in her book Atlas Shrugged. They are the parasites who thrive on the insecurities of others, and live of the value created by real men in society.

More later ........on how to beat the quixtar onslaught....

How to catch a lion in the Sahara

I read this really wonderful collection on a blog I came across recently.

How to catch a lion in the Sahara

Enjoy!!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

More than one route to PhD success

I found this interesting link on the web Musings on the article "What makes a good PhD student?"
that points to this very good article on the journal Nature More than one route to PhD success.

I look back at my own experience and realize that both my advisors did a great job in encouraging me to think on my own. They were also patient with me when I was learning and did the hand holding when required, particularly Raj.

On a much lighter note, following is the story that I heard from my advisor at a wine party:

Once upon a time not too long ago, a man was taking a stroll in a forest. He comes across a clearing and is intrigued to see a rabbit sitting down and writing something. He hides behind a small bush and observes the rabbit. After a while, a fox comes by and asks the rabbit, " What are you writing?", to which the rabbit replies, "I am writing my doctoral thesis". The fox asks the rabbit regarding the topic and the rabbit replies, " It is about how rabbits can kill foxes". The fox then asks for proof and the rabbit asks the fox to follow it into a nearby cave. After a while, only the rabbit returns and the fox does not. Now, our observer, the man is really intrigued and continues to watch. A few hours later, a bear comes by and the entire drama that happened with the fox and the rabbit, repeats with the bear as well, with the same result of the rabbit coming out alone from the cave. Really puzzled at this, the man decided to investigate on his own and approaches the rabbit to ask the same question as to what the rabbit is writing about. Realizing that the man had been watching it, the rabbit asks the man to follow it into the cave at a distance and when they approach the cave, the man realizes the truth.

A huge lion lay chained to the cave's wall. The rabbit and the man walk out and the rabbit turns to the man and has the final word,
"It is not important what your thesis is, it is important who your advisor is"

I am the rabbit...hoping to become the lion someday.

Did an Asteroid Impact Cause an Ancient Tsunami? - New York Times

Did an Asteroid Impact Cause an Ancient Tsunami? - New York Times

I found this very interesting article on the possibility of giant tsunamis in earth's past that created what are called chevrons - wedge shaped sediment deposits. As technology improves drastically and becomes available to independent researchers a new wave of theory formulation and testing is bound to become feasible in many fields. In the above example, the availability of satellite imagery through Google Earth is allowing scientists to collaborate and identify chevrons all over the earth.

New Research for the New Age!!

Sun Java and Open Source

This was bound to happen !!! After years of postponing the seemingly most rational decision it could have taken, Sun eventually takes the bite. The real thing was getting Java to the community and not Solaris as Sun though earlier. Sun tried the hy-brid model of trying to gather a community by coordinating the Java standards movement for a while, with little or no positive feedback mechanism to its own success. Rather, it could have adopted the open source movement in its early days and could have been the real champion of the movement from day 1, the mantle that IBM probably owns now.

Sun releases Java code for Open Source

Interesting times ahead. Everything is coming together - the champion stepping down at Microsoft, Open source gaining momentum in the marketplace, Sun mending its ways...the big puzzle is being solved.
--


Girish Mallapragada

http://www.linkedin.com/in/girishmallapragada

Time to end the musings??

I am relieved. I could not help but think of all the exits I drove past in the 90,000 odd miles I put behind me since the day I started driving on the US highways till today when I accepted an offer from University Of North Carolina to join as an Assistant Professor in marketing in the B-school. The past four and half years have been tough. I somehow managed to get through my PhD and get a good job, not staying away for more than 3 weeks from meeting Radhika over the past 4.5 years. 90,000 miles roughly translates to a hundred trips from State College in pennsylvania to Detroit in michigan and over a 4 year period that is equal to 25 trips a year - two trips a month - a trip once every two weeks!!! Whew!!

I am relieved... I even managed to get a job.

Well, that begs the following question - will the title of my blog change? I have decided to retain the name for two reasons - 1) I am still a PhD and 2) given the fact that very few others read it anyway, what the heck!!!

From Joseph Stiglitz

Joseph Stiglitz has a nice article on Project Syndicate.

A Cool Calculus of Global Warming

He makes a good point that the real culprits, i.e., the industrialized nations are not paying a proportionate price for global warming. The Bush administration which believes in opening up markets elsewhere does not believe in the power of the invisible hand to solve the global warming crisis, thus rendering initiatives such as the Carbon trading effectively useless.

Al Gore's book and movie "An Inconvenient Truth" is an excellent non-verbose introduction to the seriousness of global warming.

Monday, November 13, 2006

My Top 10 Rock Songs

1) Cocaine - Eric Clapton
2) Freebird - Lynyrd Skynyrd
3) Voodoo Child - Jimi Hendrix
4) Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin
5) Satisfaction - Rolling Stones
6) Purple Haze - Jimi Hendrix
7) Born on the Bayou - CCR
8) Feel Like Makin' Love - Bad Company
9) We Will Rock You - Queen
10) Smoke on the Water - Deep Purple

The Evil Rice!!

Moving to the US was a revelation, especially considering my food habits. Actually, it was not that they changed once I moved to the US, but the fact that they did not change from what they were in India - I am still a staple rice consumer!!

However, now I am surrounded by all these new messages that carbs are extremely bad for health and that I stand a risk for heart disease ..yada .yada . yada. I neglected these for a long time and then came the cholesterol scare. I went for a normal check-up in December 2004 to our university hospital, got into a conversation with my doctor on my family's history with heart ailment and he suggested i get my cholesterol levels tested. Lo and behold it was hovering around the 200 mg/dl level and I was asked to take Lipitor. I resisted for over 3 months and then finally gave in when the levels shot up. However, I convinced myself that I was too young to go on cholesterol medication and gave it up voluntarily, but, I did manage to bring down the total cholesterol to 161 and LDL to 130 (something) with a constrained vegetarian diet. Remember this, I did not increase my physical activity, did not take medicine, ate rice regularly and yet brought down the cholesterol. I am not sure why my body reacted the way it did and then I realized I was better off figuring out my own regime !! Rice did not seem to be the culprit in my case.. well at least not totally!!

My doctor did warn me that the risk came from three sources - genetics, food and lifestyle. I could not change the first, but had leverage to play around with the other two.

All my grandparents ate rice.. tons of it and lived upto their eighties, well of course all except my maternal grandfather. Did they lead healthy lives? - yes they did and were in sound mind till the day they died. There are umpteen stories such as these In India and I guess much of the far east which are all rice based in their food habits! Then why is their such an obsession with not eating rice in the west? Is their something in the climate? Or is it the good lifestyles of my grandparents back in India(good physical activity etc.), which compensated for this heavy intake of carbohydrates.

I figured that my genes somehow have developed this tolerance for rice and processing it beer than they help process fried meaty food. I am not going to take Lipitor, I will probably not run 10 miles a week, but I did change my attitude towards food. I do not eat the egg "yellows", drink light beer, stay away from desserts, do not eat fried food and do not drink soda!! I still enjoy my south indian dinners with a good amount of rice and whenever I feel I am going overboard I substitute it with rotis made of wheat. Looks like it is working.

To me what's important was that I realized I needed to take control of what I was eating and watch out more than going into some pani diet mode. well, I hope to be happy with myself till the next cholesteroal check and/or a detailed discussion with one of my cardiologist friends...these guys are crazy!!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Have you thought of these issues?

Is our life a quest? Are we living through a meaningful existence? Is there is a higher purpose beyond our toil through vast drudgery, pestilence, hope, despair, anxiety, excitement, triumph, failure, love and finally death? Are we alone in this universe? Does God exist? Can we love our enemies? Can we be free of greed? Can we solve the world's problems? Is there an invisible hand? Was Einstein right? Can we predict the future? Is there an underworld? Did Jimi Hendrix really play the guitar with his hands? Is pluto a planet? What is a planet? Does Mr. Hefner really have sex at eighty? Will Paterno ever retire? Why does Cartman scandalize his mother? Why does Jimmy Neutron's hair stand up that way? Does everyone watch Law and Order?

Indian millions and asymmetry

Businessweek has an article on the Indian millionaires.
India Rolling in rupees

Question:
Which is better socialism or capitalism - in improving the welfare of the masses?

The rich get richer phenomenon creates huge asymmetries in the distribution of wealth in an already vastly divided country such as India. As long as the lowest section of the society is at least getting basic food and shelter, the rich gets richer notion works. What about the situation when the lowest section is dying of hunger? The divide that gets created is a unfathomable chasm and cannot progress forever. That is when revolutions rise.. when the farmer goes on strike, there is no GE, there is no Infosys and there is no Microsoft and finally no rich cars, no IIT's and no progress for the entire nation.

A gross neglect of small farmers by the Indian government has resulted in the deaths of thousands of them in many states including AP. All that they need is a better price mechanism and not the middlemen who control the supply chain in agricultural commodity trading in much of India. Information is power - and this is being used well in some farming communities by helping these groups figure out the best prices in the local markets so as to avoid the middlemen. You can read about it in Friedman's book.

India is an interesting experiment as we started of as being a socialist nation and now we have capitalism uplifting a huge bulk of the downtrodden in society. The argument is in favor of the market being an optimal means to figuring out the best solution for India's problems. However, what does get neglected is the plight of millions of poor .. Jeffrey Sachs calls them "poorest of poor" in his book. These people need much more than a choice in cars and a choice in insurance companies - they need better seeds, better water facilities and better basic health-care. The Millenium Development Project works towards achieving some of these goals. To contribute to the MDP - please visit The Millenium Promise.

The Turkish Peacemaker

BBC reports on this man's mission in Turkey to stop family feuds!!

The Turkish Peacemaker

What surprised me though was my poor knowledge of this exotic country!! I have had a good number of Turkish friends throughout my doctoral program and from my interaction with these folks I had assumed that all of Turkey was as modern and open as them. A grave and obviously stupid mistake.

To understand the enormity it is equivalent to them thinking of me being a true representative of all of India's hidden corners. Apart from this obvious no-brainer conclusion, what surprises me is that how the international media chooses to focus more on the modernistic side of Turkey, while grossly neglecting the dark sides.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Argumentative Indian

Amartya Sen's "The Argumentative Indian" is a masterpiece. I have always been a big fan of Amartya Sen's work for the "layman", but this one turned out to be a real gem. I could not put down the book and have finished the book with a voracious appetite for the man's writing skills. His knowledge of Indian culture, history and his ability to weave coherent ideas using these complex and rich canvas is awesome.

In this book, Amartya Sen highlights the heterodoxy and pluralism in Indian thought. I really was amazed to read about the Carvaka philosophy in ancient India that comes closest to Atheism in its current form. I do not intend to summarize the book in anyway in my blog... my intellect is far weaker to match the greatness of his writing.

For those who are interested his other book "Development as Freedom" is also a wonderful effort at the fundamental notion of freedom and what it means in today's world. Happy reading!!!

Coke levani soo che!!

Sathya - was my boss at Pramati and he taught me whatever little I knew about Sales and being a Salesman. I realized the value of much of what he taught, in the past 5 months as I was looking out for my job. I managed to get a few offers from good schools - partly due to my research, partly due to my social equity and more importantly, partly due to me ability to sell myself well or so I feel.

I owe part of this to the hard-earned lessons during my sales stints - at Pramati for a year and at Coca-Cola - Surat for three months. More than the one at Pramati my selling coke to grocers in south-western Gujarat was the ultimate sales experience for me and will always remain so.

Coke levani soo che!!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Polytheist to Monotheist to Agnostic to Atheist to ???

I am confused about religion and my conviction to faith. I was brought up in an extremely religious south Indian brahmin family with heavy emphasis on the influence of god in everyday life. I must have spent countless hours learning stotras or praises for various gods and spent at least an hour or so almost everyday for over 10 years of my childhood in offering prayers to the gods (more on sundays .. as I prayed to Sun god in addition to the others I prayed to everyday).

It is obvious that I was brought up as a Polytheist. I believed in the existence and influence of multiple gods over different domains of my little world. However, I do have to admit that through this polytheism I also gained some knowledge on alternative systems within the greater framework of Hinduism, namely dvaitha - through my exposure to Madhavacharya and advaitha through my exposure to Shankaracharya, mostly through countless stories that I heard from my maternal grandmother. When I look back at my own belief systems and impose a structure on it I can probably say that in my early teens I was slowly transforming to being a monotheist - a believer in none but a "One God". Apart from Shankara's stories, this was also partly due to exposure to other religious faiths - foremost among them Christianity. My cousin had married a chiristian and although they are not both devout church-goers I did start reading quite a bit on Jesus.

As I grew up and my understanding of faith developed, I could not escape from the teachings of the stalwart who redefined Hinduism as a faith - Swami Vivekananda. However, due to my own interpretation of what he said and issues I chose to focus on during my adolescence it seemed to me that there were far more important issues in the world than mere personal faith or religion. The all powerful god seemed not to care about countless millions in this world who suffer due to hunger, poverty and disease. Does Karma explain this..yes.. but it offers no solution to mortals as it chooses to focus on multiple lives and after life filled with wonders. To some extent I believed Christianity did offer solace, but I do not like their indifference to other religious faiths. More importantly all this made me an agnostic - one who believes nothing which cannot be demonstrated by the senses, As Professor Huxley first defined it. To me an agnostic still does not reject the God Almighty, yet places a tougher constraint that such a God has to be percieved through the real physical world.

The transition from Agnosticism to Atheism probably happened as I went through my PhD. A journey of enquiry into cause and effect of reason and logic changed me forever. I am an Atheist not because I reject God, but because I do not have time for God. I guess I am a mix of all these categories of beliefs, for better or worse. I feel guilty saying it, but I realize that's going to be the truth. I believe in contributing to CRY now and working on some grass roots initiatves soon. I believe in understanding welfare economics more than I understand my own faith.

I am confused about faith. However, I am not so confused about what I can do to remove a little bit of trouble in our chaotic world through more practical means.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Politics and perfect timing

I realized that I was laughing out aloud as I heard the BBC correspondent talk about the verdict in Saddam Hussein's trial. A much needed climax for the Republican campaign!!! At first, I took it at face value, thinking it could not have come at a better time - a day before elections! But then, I realized well why would it have come on any other day - IT DID HAVE to come a day before. That's the beauty of politics and perfect timing - I leave the rest to the reader's imagination.
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/06/us/politics/06vote.html?
hp&ex=1162875600&en=d18dfbcf5755d568&ei=5094&partner=homepage

Monday, October 09, 2006

Tokyo and all about short garbage bins

I recently went on a trip to Singapore to interview with National University of Singapore and Singapore Management University. I took a really long flight from Detroit to Tokyo and then to Singapore from there.

One of the things that really struck me in Tokyo was the sudden decrease in size of a lot of things, specially, garbage cans. I then realized that having adopted the US as my home country for 5 years now has changed my perception oif the world.

US is mostly about excesses, there is too much space and hence the extravaganze, even in the size of garbage cans. Throw away more, as one can afford to. A short transit even through the Narita airport gave me insights on the frugal nature of living in Japan, a country that I always admired. With little land and limited natural resources, the country has been an economic miracle and has come a long way from its defeat in WW II. Although much of this miracle is attributed to the Marshall's plan and US's continued suppport through the seventies, the Japanese deserve a lot of credit.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Friday, September 08, 2006

Ridiculous Expenses and the World Bank Project

This story goes way back to 2001. Some of my friends had joined Accenture and were immediatly put on the AP State Electricity Board restructuring project. These guys were working out of Taj Krishna and were being paid an astronomical daily allowance for their stay in hyderabad (somethign like 60 Uk pounds a day). There were about 5/6 guys wand they were on this project for close to a year and guess what their residence was at the five star hotel. Where did the money come for this project? You got it right.. out of the World Bank approved funds for the restructuring and the AP govt happily obliged by hiring Accenture to do the job.
So, we have a bunch of guys who do not have local knowledge, cannot speak the language and have no way of properly communicating with the Assistant Engineers of the board traveling all over the state and trying to fix a problem, they can't even talk about.

Well, the current state of the board is a reflection of this endeavor.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Good Corporate Citizen

Infosys buys staff insurance policy worth Rs 10,000 cr- The Economic Times

Although I am not a big fan of Infosys as a corporation, I really admire some of its HR policies. It has not figured out the best model for managing people, but, it has one of the best models currently floating around.
On a completele different note...
My experience with working with Infosys was limited to the STG group in the bangalore office. I was working as a Sales manager for Pramati Technologies and had to interface with some technology decicion-making groups within large IT vendors in bangalore. It was a pity to see the quality of work these guys did at STG. The way it worked was that STG had to approve IT tools before any of the project teams within Infy could start using them. These guys were not at the leading edge of technology and this was a nightmare. For instance, while a lot of firms had started devloping applications using Container Managed Persistence Beans in server-side java development, this group was still wallowing in the mud that was java servlets. The convenient justification the group had was that if the projects teams could develop an application using the inferior technology, then why shoudl they adopt something so radically different. The actual thing was that they had no clue how to devlop expeertise in the leading edge stuff. I always wonder, if they are still the same.

Their attitude towards smaller more innovative software vendors(primarily product based firms such as Pramati) was absolutely abhorring. I cannot imagine that a firm that touts itself around as the icon of "Indian" capitalism can be so indifferent to innovative start-ups trying to make a mark.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Co-creation: Isn't it understanding customers ?

I couldn't help calling up my wife after I read this post on Atanu's website.

http://indianeconomy.org/2006/08/31/the-pyramid-has-a-false-bottom/

He makes a good point that to be a successful "public intellectual" you need to have a catch tag line. I find it so funny and fully agree with him. The long tail, co-creation, world is flat, whatever and what-not. Give me a break.

My wife had taken a course at Michigan on Co-creation of value and being a PhD in marketing I couldn't help arguing with her on what it really meant. I have seen the syllabus, listened to her talk about the course and all I could gather from it was that it is being in touch with customers, cast in a catchy tag line. It is too common in academics. Birger Wernerfelt, at Stanford had written one of the early seminal artciles on resource based view of the firm on which others like Peteraf and Barney built their arguments. Wernerfelt had written his artcile in 1984 in Strategic Management Journal, a reputed academic journal. In the nineties, suddenly this new management notion of the core competency became suddenly very relevant and one cannot help but wonder at the similarities of this with the old RBV literature in the strategic management field!!My wife says I rant against it because of the "sour grapes" syndrome. Academics envy the abaility of management gurus to translate acdemic concepts into managerially relevant ideas. To me it seems like plagiarism, well intellectual at least !!Co-creation is at best Customer contact recast given the all-pervasive nature of the Internet as a contact medium. Involving users in the process of innovation is not a new idea and von Hippel at MIT has done good work on this domain. The open source community is a standing example for this and we don't need any new "consultants" walking into the world with bright eyes views about co-creation. All they want is more and fame for themselves, without having to take the burden of developing the original ideas. They move on once it becomes old, as for them they need to continuously find new domains to exploit. While, the true researcher woudl probably be more interested in actually drilling down.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Duality of Matter-Energy

This is my post on Atanu Dey's blog.

Absolute truth is “absolute”. The physical universe is not a conception of human intellect but is an aboslute. We can only ascribe characteristics to it which fall under the realm of human understanding, and science enables us to do this. However, our conception of the physical universe is largely based on what we observe, and to be fair to science, that’s the best we can do. However, what we really know is very little and what possibly lies out there is huge. Imagining impossible things (within the constraints of our understanding) need not be be “magic”. There is a scientifc process which enables us humans to theorize and imagine the impossible (akin to Einstien single handedly theorizing the space-time continuum).

Perpetual motion machines are an impossiobility given the constraints of the inherent duality of matter and energy. It is one nature’s fundamental laws. However, it is our “realization” of an absolute truth that underlies this behavior.

What theories are for is to push this understanding by creating boundaries and constraints to this observed behavior. That is what Einstein did when he reshaped our understading of Newtonian laws. Currently, there is little which can push this duality between matter and energy.

Finally, I also have to add that we have greater problems dealing with mere fossil fuels before we can even get to these PMMs.

What is logical, is still based on the dominant conceptions of reality. New evidence in science has trumped dominant logic time and again.

It might be wishful thinking from my part to imagine PMM’s, but the hope that is of at least a clean energy (if not free) is a rational and non-magical one.

Atanu Dey on India’s Development » “Free” Energy? Not Really — Part 2

Atanu Dey on India’s Development » “Free” Energy? Not Really — Part 2

Atanu's reeponse to my post on PMMs.

New pricing for gasoline

2007 Dodge Ram SRT10: Overpriced, Overpowered and Proud of It - New York Times

I always felt that I am overpaying at the pump because of the large Dodge Ram truck that pulled over beside me. I suggest there be a new pricing mechansims where owners of gas-guzzlers pay more for their excesses. Why shoudl an individual who decides to drive a non-decript furl efficient car pay the same as someone who drives an ugly gas-guzzler?

The gas-guzzler tax imposed by the government is not a solution as the owners of this beasts do not really feel the pinch. Soem of my friends argue that the owners of these vehicles are already penalized by the intrinsic low mileage-nature of the products they use. I don't care.. I want more punsihment, I want them to pay more per gallon than I do. Not just more per mile!!!

My room mate is a big fan of Dodge because he thinks it is manly. What firm in its right mind (except for Chrysler of course.. god I hate the firm), is concerned only about the customer constituency and does not care much about the environmental constituency. I am not a green flag touting environmentalist, but I do hold an opinion that firms which just don't care about the environment should just not exist. I mean, even from a market perscpetive, how dumb can you be to launch products such as these in today's world. GM, has a lineup of new SUV's i cannot believe it!! Don't they ever realize that they are messed up !! Well, in a way it is good that these firms are selecting themselves out of the landscape, making it is easier for the rest of us.

What's Open Source eating into?

Open Sources | InfoWorld | Who are the losers, now that open source is winning? | August 24, 2006 07:55 AM | By Matt Asay

This is a very nice article specifying where the wins for Open Source are coming in from. Unlike the imagination of hard right enthusiasts open source who would like to imagine that the Open Source is taking a bite out of traditional vendor's plates, the reality is that the open source momentum is creating whole new markets, particularly in the SME domain.

The author makes a good point that there should be peaceful co-existence with the proprietary world. This is obviously the liberal view in open source, more practical and predicting the future of a new IT landscape.

Moreover, while there are softwares like MySql and Sugar CRM which have taken off there are umpteen number fo products which are yet to make it to get to the mainstream commercial world, or as the author puts it yet to be monetized. The appropriation of rents from the more mainstream products has begun, however more innovative initiatives are needed to launch these thousands of other projects.

In my opinion, the open source movement is the precursor to all "open" intiatives revolutinizing media and information industries now. Youtube.com, wikipedia among other things, although nascent, point towards a world where IP is shared rather than owned.

Academia is a great example of shared IP by the community. I cannot predict how much new value will eventually be created in monetary terms, however, what I do know is that openness is here to stay. It is a fundamental property of the digital revolution and there is no looking back.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Free Energy ? .. Might be possible

If there is anything constant to our scientific understanding of the universe it is “change”. Not long ago we all believed that earth was the centre of the universe and not long we all believed that the earth was flat and that Newtonian laws held their course everywhere and that there is only one type of matter.
As science progresses and new inventions and discoveries are made, the fundamentally held beliefs of the physical world keep changing. We can only aspire to get close to the truth and can probably never ever figure out what the truth is. Scientific endeavor has to push this frontier by continuous theorizing and experimentation.

Being closed to the idea of an energy source that is so radically different to our current conceptions of energy might be valid from a everyday standpoint but not for physicists who look for this holy grail. As new types of matter are discovered and theoretical physics keeps reshaping our fundamental beliefs, there might be a day not far ahead when we might get there.

“Collapse of Chaos” by Kack Cohen is a great book. For instance, the argument that Atanu presents is close to the one which says that life is possible only with water or when carbon plays a significant role. it is true in our setting in our world which is carbon based? Some of these beliefs do not explain anaerobic bacteria which live on methane under the ocean!!

My opinion is that we have to trust the scientific enterprise at the same time keeping an open view to radical findings that might challende the dominant view.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Steven Borgatti's page

Steve Borgatti
Dr. Borgatti was instrumental in compiling the UCINET package that has become a ubiquitous tool for social network analysts. I have used it extensively for data analysis in my dissertation and some other projects that I have worked on.

A nice complmentary package for modeling network dynamics is the StocNet package.
StocNet
With the rising popularity of blogs and their possible impact on B2C as well as B2B markets, social network analysis can play an important role in understanding the dynamics of these online communities. The structural view of networks provides valuable insights into the social dynamics of these communities. I have used the social networks approach to understand the collaborative open source community model through my work with my advisors and my dissertation.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Battling the flab | Economist.com

Battling the flab | Economist.com

It is an interesting notion. While the rich get fatter in rest of the world, it is mostly the poor who get fatter in the US. I don't have empirical evidence to support this, but at least based on my general observation this is true.

The healthy foods are more expensive in the US, while the junk processed food is cheaper forcing the underpriviledge low-income families in the US to eat unhealthy stuff.

And everone just blames carbs, or fat just single food components as the culprits for obesity. I read somewhere that Indians have one of the most fascinating dietary habist in the world. It is surprising to see that with a high carb oriented meal plan we still get out not being obese. However, other evils such as diabetes pains us.

I have begun watching my diet more once my LDL levels went up. However, I was able to bring them down by cutting down on meat and eggs. Some medication from Himalaya Drugs helped too. I guess we all have to figure out a moderate diet with sufficient exercise.

Water, water everywhere? | Economist.com

Water, water everywhere? | Economist.com

There are huge parts of India where water is very scarce. Moreover, cities like Chennai and Hyderabad suffer from water shortages time-to-time. The shortage of water i guess follows Amartya Sen's welfare economics argument that famines are not just caused by natural causes but because of mismanagement. Droughts are the same too. Harnessing flowing rivers for water reservoirs is seen as a bad thing in rightist way of India. How about making drinking water available to the poor? Can political viewpoints determine the quenching of thirst of millions of poor? My questions are mostly rhetoric, with few answers from my side. Honestly, I don't think I am wise or enlightened enough to suggest answers for complex issues faced by a socialistic democracy like India. However, I do believe that me and everyone else shoudl at least raise the right questions.

Department of Defense study urges open source adoption

Department of Defense study urges open source adoption

Often, technologies get legitimacy as a result of an influential customer's decision to adopt. DoD's relentless push for open source, not because it is cheaper, but because it is a solid technological alternative free from lock-ins is good publicity for the open source world.

Much of the questions that I faced during my job interviews at AMA in Chicago dealt with the viability of open source as an alternative. I insisted that open source does not mean free software, it means the freedom to software, or in other words to quote Stallman, "Free as in Free Speech not Free Beer".

Open Source provides customers control over their investment, even if it is just as expensive as proprietary technologies are, in and itself that is a great reason to go the open source way.

To me an ardent fan of the open source world, Gates stepping down is a welcome, it is one among many things that will affect the fall of Microsoft from its current pedestal. Others, the rise of Google, developing economies looking forward for alternatives very expensive IT infrastructure among other things.

Till then, it is not a completely open world.

Ganesha drinking milk again- The Times of India

Ganesha drinking milk again- The Times of India

While hundreds languish in hunger on the street, milk is offered to stone idols!!! Cannot believe that people not only have apathy but are also galactically stupid. Religion that is supposed to provide the moral fabric for the masses causes the very ills we see in everyday lives !!!

I guess things like these make one question one's own beliefs. I might not be rebellious enough to question existence of God, but it does make me question the illusory framework into which we, Indians, have incorported God.

I can only wish for better times.