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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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.