Thursday, July 19, 2007

USCIS volte-face: the real reason

As many of you might know the USCIS did a volte-face and reversed its July 2 visa bulletin.  It has now announced that the Visa bulletin released on June 15 will be valid and that it will be accepting applications for AOS till August 17th.  News media reported that the Gandhigiri act staged by Indian programmers worked its magic on the US administration.  My guess is that the threat of a class-action lawsuit worked.  In the US you have to sue first, and then things will get done.

Legal immigrants have been silent taxpayers and their voice has never been heard by the administration so far. Somehow, the people who jump the wall and dig a tunnel are heard better than the ones who write software and cure heart ailments, just because the former's numbers are larger.  let me clarify that i have nothing against Mexicans.  i have seen many of them at work and I believe that they are a very hard working group of people.  However, rules are rules.

The administration decided to make all priority dates current as the comprehensive immigration reform bill was on the floor of the senate.  This was done only to assuage the feelings of the legal immigrants who often wait decades in a line to get their citizenship.  The CIRB would have granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants and fearing backlash from the legal immigrant community, the administration pushed the dates.  However, the good times did not last long.  As soon as the bill failed to  get an approval from the senate, the administration pulled back the dates, as the woes of the legal immigrants meant nothing now.  However, they underestimated the response of this community, and I believe that justice has been served eventually.

My adviser once remarked that I should have probably jumped the wall instead of coming here for a PhD.  Well, I am not really bothered about getting a green card. All i want is a right to work for as long as I want.  In my opinion that is good enough.  why should the intent to immigrate be tied to a job.  Why should an employee lose his/her position in the line, when they switch jobs?  Why should the system hold up someone in their career because they ave filed an application to immigrate to the US? Isn't it against the core principle of capitalism -  that capital should flow to the place where it achieves highest returns?  By restricting labor capital from looking for better jobs, the current policy is acting inefficiently.  It is only beneficial to everyone that the administration changes its rules so that employees rather than the employers file for immigration applications directly - and the government restricts its role to processing these applications rather than imposing constraints on job-movements.

It is the conundrum faced by the US that leads to the current problems in the immigration policies.  US allows 60,000 work visa every year and almost 40,000 of these visas go to Indians, by some estimates.  Assuming that at least half of them file for immigration, there are 20,000 applications for 10,000 green cards allotted every year (each country gets only a maximum of 10k green cards in a calendar year).  I have not added the students of Indian origin who complete their education in the US and join the labor force each year only yo eventually apply for a green card.  the line just keeps getting longer every year.

Unless, the administration clean up its act and changes its policy towards certain countries that are more capable of generating more number of talented people who are wanted in the US, there is no way of shortening the line.Till then, bhailog , lage raho .. munnabhia style.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Saturn, Pratibha Patil and Isaac newton

You have to read this to believe it! Astrologers are forecasting a victory for Pratibha Patil - the presidential hopeful in India! The funny part is that the planet saturn, that is over 762700000 miles from the earth floating in space, revolving around the sun, seems to somehow influence a woman's performance in an election. Do you see the joke !

Ok, now let's get Newton into picture. Following his ideals, let's apply the universal law of gravitation to understand Mrs. Patil's movement from Jairpur to New Delhi. My model makes some assumptions. They are contestable, but I am sure they are better than astrology.

Assuming Mrs. Patil weighs around 80 kg, the center of gravity for the patil-earth dual system (assuming no one else is present on earth) lies deep within the earth's core. To simplify further, let us also abstract away the sun and assume that Earth and Saturn are the only two heavenly bodies in local space. Now, let's calculate the force of attraction between Mrs.Patil and Earth and and Mrs.Patil and Saturn. As Mrs.Patil lies within the earth's core, the force of attraction between her and earth is zero, following universal law of gravitation (the distance between patil and earth is zero). Now applying the same law (F = gm1m2/r-sqaured) the force exerted by Saturn on Mrs.Patil works out to be 0.000002 Newtons (1 Newton = 1 Kg m/sec-squared). As force = mass*acceleration, Mrs. Patil would have accelerated in the polls with a value of 0.00000002 m/second-squared. Further, for her to travel from inertia in Jaipur, Rajasthan to New Delhi it would take her about 52 days (using s=ut+0.5at(2), distance between Jaipur and Delhi is 258,000 meters and acceleration calculated as above).

Now, given the speed with which she seems to have shot to New Delhi, it is clear that something else was moving her from Jaipur to Delhi, and it is definitely not Saturn. Saturn's contribution to her movement was quite slow.

I know, you must be thinking I am crazy. My physics is slightly messed up too. I twisted the applicability of laws to make them fit my problem. Well, at least my calculations are based on certain conditional assumptions involving the well established laws of physics, unlike the half-witted astrologers who get national attention saying that the planetary configuration is similar to the period when the Mahabharata war took place!

Unless, Newton was wrong, Saturn did not have anything to do with Mrs. Patil's impending victory. Period.

Yes, elephants can dance !

IBM reported its results recently and yes, Mr. Gerstner, you were right ... Elephants can dance!

Lou Gerstner the erstwhile CEO of IBM wrote about how large firms such as IBM can be nimble in a fast paced business environment. Large firms are often slow to adapt to environmental shifts and are left in the dust, however, Mr.Gertsner disagreed with this popular notion and talked about IBM managed to be nimble.

The business landscape is strewn with numerous examples of firms that could not adapt and were either bought over or just went bust. There are also firms like IBM, 3M, Apple which seem to redefine their very existence time and again, adapting to their customer's needs well thus being nimble.

IBM has shown against conventional wisdom that being large does not imply ineffectiveness in strategy. IBM is my favorite firm, not just because it is a great champion of the open source cause, but because its institutional memory has outlived the visionaries who were at its helm. Although, many would argue that individuals have longer memories than institutions; a firm like IBM has shown that as long as the knowledge structures that deal with strategy formulation and implementation are codified into an organization's routines, an institution's memory can be as effective as an individual's.

Go IBM. And by the way, I eventually transitioned smoothly to an IBM Thinkpad from my old Dell workhorse. I now realize why an IBM laptop is so much more expensive than a similarly configured Dell. You got to use a Thinkpad to fall in love with it. However, I do pay due respect to the workhorse that saw me through my PhD days.

Pakistan - Waziristan ? Blame the Bristish

Reading this article on New York times got me thinking.

It is often conveniently forgotten that the British are responsible for much of the strife in today's world. You might be surprised, but let me explain. Who can ever forget the role of British Imperialism in shaping 1) the Palestine and 2) Pakistan.

These two regions owe their existence to delusions of British law makers of the last century. Both have turned out to be regions of conflict. Usually, the British were very good at building institutions which eventually sustained governance and law in the countries that they colonized. However, the above mentioned were created at the end of the great British empire and a as result there was not enough time to develop such structures.

Well, maybe it is not a good idea to keep pining about history and time to move on and think about what can be done.

With respect to Pakistan, it has turned out to be a failed state with a military dictator who masquerades as a champion of democracy at its helm. No matter how much Indians like me want democracy in Pakistan, the reality is that a military Pakistan is always better than a democratic Pakistan and we all need to grudgingly acknowledge that. Historically, except for Ul-Haq's regime, most of the belligerent tones emanated from democratically elected governments in Pakistan.

Consider the relationship between India and Pakistan to understand why a military Pakistan is better.A military Pakistan is rational enough to not attack a stronger India, as the leaders who are from the army ranks know that they cannot win a direct confrontation with a much larger India. A democracy however, has delusions - of grandeur, non-existent albeit, but one that instills a false sense of pride and nationality among its citizens. Such delusions lead to skirmishes more often than required at the border. It seems like the US figured this out - that a supportive military Pakistanis better than a non-supportive democratic Pakistan.

Mr. Bush faces a daunting task ahead of him. If he wants democracy to survive in Iraq, he has to support the monarchy in Saudi, not to mention all the other emirates, and most importantly support a military dictatorship in Pakistan. He needs the support of a dictator to help resurrect a country in which there was a long dictatorship until recently. Ironical ? Yes, but irrational, no!

I have come to realize that there is no way out of this conundrum for the US. As Niall Ferguson says, the US is not good at building institutions in other countries from ground up. There is a need for able administrators on the ground, and not just the presence of military commanders. The sooner US realizes this and learns lessons from British experience of the past two centuries, the better. A military victory will not stabilize Iraq as Bush expects it will. Unless he reinforces a military commitment with a long US commitment in other aspects of the society (law, governance, finance etc.) for a long long time, the future of Iraq and the middle east seems bleak.

I wish, better sense prevails. I wish the US public supports continued commitment to Iraq even after the war is over. Else, the US has done nothing but stir up a hornet's nest. I wish I am proven wrong.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Hinduism - all about choice

God is the all pervasive concept in all major world religions.  The fabric of divinity is no ingrained in mankind's religious and spiritual belief and it is probably a futile attempt to tease out the rationality behind this concept. I apologize Mr. Dawkins.  Before, I continue to pontificate on the subject, I have to state that with respect to God, I am confused. As I have said elsewhere, I was born into a very conservative religious Hindu family, but have slowly transitioned into being an atheist finding comfort in the fact that, Hindusim, probably the oldest of all faiths allows one to be an atheist and still a hindu.

If I were given a chance to be reborn and if I were forced to choose a religion, it would be still be hinduism.  The main reason being the freedom to choose that hinduism bestows upon its followers.  The west primarily knows hinduism through the millions who bathe in the ganges.  However, what the west does not see is that hinduism is a collection of many faiths and that one can comfortably be one's true self and have a core sets of beliefs that might often be contradictory to the core mainstream concept of hinduism. 

The other major religions, have a single concept of god - Jesus and Allah and one cannot reject the existence of Jesus or Allah and still be true to their faith.  The faith and the belief system of both Christianity and Islam draw their inspiration from their prophets, unlike Hinduism.  Hindu faith precedes all prophets, personalities and at its heart are a core set of beliefs that are simple yet elegant, and can form the platform for all spiritual faiths. That is the contribution of hinduism to world faith.  I am convinced that there is no one correct route to salvation, if there is any.  There have to be many ways and it has to be about choice.  One should be able to choose one's belief structure and should not be told how it should be.  Yet, this belief structure should be so refined that it cannot be used against the well-being of humanity.   Like Mahatma Gandhi put it once, " If you are a true christian, you arer automatically a true hindu", and I cannot make it sound any simpler. That is the point I am tryign to make.

However, hinduism has much to learn from both christianity and islam onw how it treats the deprived.  Hinduism scores very poorly and has to evolve from its notion of karma, which is often conveniently used to explain pestilence in our world.  This pestilence is taken for granted due to the defeatist attitude that "karma" often propogates.  I find this the biggest roadblock in an otherwise refined faith that can allow us to be who we are, with or without accepting an all-powerful god.

Moreover, our spiritual evolution should not have a goal, other the process itself.  Ends, should not matter in our quest for who we are, in terms of our spiritual beliefs.  It should be about what paths we tread and what that makes of us as rational, sensible human beings.  Hindiums, I believe provides that choice.

Sprint booting customers

News agencies have reported recently on how Sprint is booting out customers because they are calling customer service too many times.  Well, given all the logic of profitability at the customer level, maybe Sprint is right.  Apparently, if a customer holds up a customer rep (I mean the human kind not the system kind) for 11 minutes they become non-profitable for that month as it costs 4 dollars for every minute.  Given an average cash flow of about 40 dollars from the customer, a 11 minute per month hold-up is all that Sprint can handle profitably.

If you ask me, Sprint is stupid. It should first start looking at its own systems to identify what is wrong within that is making customers call so frequently and why is is that Sprint customer reps are not able to solve problems quickly.  With absolutely pathetic service and high prices, all cell phone providers suck and now they are acting self-destructive.  I don't know what happened to the old marketing adage " the customer is always right". 

The one thing that I am happy about is that, now, I know there is at least one company that is acknowledging that it still uses humans to answer calls.  My provider AT&T is inhuman.  I only reach machines whenever I call them.  Sometimes, they don't even have an option for talking to a "human" on their menu.  I figured a new trick to get past the voice recognition system, whenever I must talk to a human.  I utter inaudible syllables in my vernacular so that the system loses patience with me and transfers me to a human.  Sorry IBM.  You can never get past that with voice recognition. 

Try it, my trick works!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hybrids - boycott them

Follow the link below and you will know what I am talking about. Toyota, the champion of hybrid technology is like any other car company that wants to make money by selling cars that we don't need as consumers. I don't understand the logic behind a 400HP hybrid on its flagship sedan.
Reviews - Automobiles - 2008 Lexus LS 600h L - Test Drive - New York Times

Hybrids are a mere smokescreen used by automotive firms to buy time in their transition to a much cleaner technology. Hybrids are still gasoline based engines - that makes them only slightly better than traditional gasoline engines. It is only flag-waving environmentalists who live in expensive centrally air-conditioned that will vouch for the hybrids. They are expensive and the more we promote them as consumers, the longer it will take for the car firms to come up with better technologies based on electricity or other alternatives.

Imagine a patient who is dying. Would you rather spend money figuring out a solution that saves his life or spend time and money in curing the large bruise on his leg? A life or a leg? The choice is clear.

Boycott hybrids!