Saturday, July 28, 2007

what foreign policy?

All that the media wants is some new hot topic. CNN is obsessed that the Hillary and Clinton camps are caught in a war (well sort of) as a result of remarks made by Obama and Hillary in the CNN-YouTube campaign. The specifics are that when asked whether any of the candidates would have a discussion with rogue dictators in countries such as N. Kore and Iran, Mr. Obama said that he would while Mr. Clinton gave a very political answer - saying she wouldn't. The Hillary camp seized on this opportunity saying that Mr. Obama was a naive, inexperienced newcomer.

Well, if you really take step back and think about it. I have not seen worse hippocracy from Mrs. Clinton. US foreign policy over the last "n" decades has been messed up - treating dictators such as Mr. Hussein as a friend and then dislodging him, covertly supporting the mujahidden in Afghanistan and then calling them terrorists , the list goes on and on. The famed US foreign policy of not talking to heads of supposed terrorist states is nothing but foolishness. Such closed door policies have no value in a world where public perception of US self-righteousness is being questioned. Mrs. Clinton promises change - but acts like a seasoned politician from the beltway. Half-truths, secrecy among other vices. She is playing by the so called beltway-rules, but, what her camp and she do not realize is that the world is changing.

UK is about to pull its troops from Iraq and the famed coalition of the willing will be reduced to US alone. It is high time that leadership wakes up to a new world. Mr. Obama is at least honest, though naive. New times requires new strategy and it was refreshing to see a candidate saying that he was willing to holding high-level talks with rogue regimes. It is time that the US holds direct talks with such regimes and makes it clear to them that it means business. It exudes a honest, direct approach to solving problems, a classic American tradition. One thing that strikes me the most is the honest, law abiding direct ways of the American public. I wish the politicians in US were more truthful.

I request all Americans who are eligible to vote to throw out Mrs. Clinton. She promises change but delivers none! It is not a virtue to be politically right - if you want to bring about change!

The war I almost fought

I guess there is no point thinking about what you could have been in life. How about an army Lieutenant? Well, I was about ... well, really close to becoming one.  As I hear about the stories of young Americans who have died in the Iraq war, I keep thinking about my own foray with army recruitment.  I cleared all the exams required for entry into the prestigious National Defense Academy in India in 1995, however, I failed the vision test and had to give up admission into the program.  The program would have made me a second lieutenant in the Indian Army.  The icing to this story is that, the year I would have graduated  - 1998, the Kargil war broke out.  A couple of my friends who got into NDA in 95 saw live action on the front.

I keep thinking about how I could have been there.  I don't regret losing the opportunity, given, what I am now.  However, I do feel nostalgic, as if it was a war that I almost fought. 

However, as one family member of a killed American soldier said, history only remembers the very few individuals and not the thousands and perhaps millions who fight and die in the wars.  Well, in any case, men who really go to war don't do it for fame, but for honor.

Buy it Now on eBay

I guess a lot of us have at some point in time breathed a sigh of relief when we noticed a "Buy It Now" link on a eBay item.  I have managed to reduce the uncertainty of whether I will be able to get that item or not by simply paying the buy it now price.
It is probably true that I might have ended up paying more than what I would have if I had gone ahead with an auction. However, it is also probably true that I might have ended up not getting that item.

One way to reduce the fears of the final price is by looking up the final sale prices of similar items and if they seem close to the buy it now price, it is a good idea to just but the item using this feature.  New York Times reports on  recent ruling by a judge to allow ebay to continue to use this feature - read the story here.  I hate the patent trolling firms - their only objective is to use the patent as a way to extract money from firms which end up using the technology in a useful manner. These firms are like a plague to innovation.  They don't have any intention of developing a product or a service that indeed uses this technology to benefit consumers, rather, they are just hiding in the shadows waiting for some firm to use it and then sue it for millions.  The courts need to be more discerning on how they read the law in such scenarios.  It is very easy to allege a firm of patent infringement - but what about the utility lost by not using this technology.  Benjamin Franklin is often credited with the idea of patenting and I am sure his notion of allowing patents was to enable innovators and entrepreneurs to extract rents from their ideas and creativity. It is so sad that often firms like even Microsoft have resorted to cheap tactics to stifle innovation. 

Although the ruling reported in the Times article does not in principle stop the firm that has sued eBay, at least it has does the job.  I wish courts throw out such firms in the future.  Just like, they are throwing consumers who sue the fast food firms for making them fat.  I will get to that topic sometime else.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

PhD: The marathon that ends ina dash - Part 2

My old post on how a PhD program is similar to a marathon with a sprint at the ending has stood the test of time. Moreover, I realized that my PhD meant different things to different people. Let me explain.

After laboring for ages (more ,like 5 years) in the PhD program at Penn State . I was still short by a few weeks when it came to defending my dissertation. I had to postpone my final defense by a few weeks to accommodate the revisions suggested by my chair. Therefore, I officially graduate in 5.5 years, instead of five. However, in the Jurassic timescales of the research program these five years passed by in the blink of an eye. It is almost funny that I had "originally" planned to finish it in four. My original I-20 says the average is 6 years. So it means that I came in thinking it will be six, thought I could do it in four, settled for five and finally manged 5.5.

Now, talking about expectations - Radhika thinks I took "forever". I tend to agree with her on this, as usual! Now, moving from time to aspirations - my mother thinks I am a bigshot professor, which is kind of nice! My friends back from b-school think I must be crazy to give up a corporate life for a teaching job (I never told them it is a research job - neither do they seem to care).

The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that my PhD has a different meaning for different people. However, for me it is fun!

The spirit of Detroit

I had an interesting experience recently.  Radhika and I pulled over into a coffee shop in Troy - Michigan, in our 'vette of course.  I noticed a small group of oldies staring at our car when we got down.  As we entered the shop, I realized that they were auto-junkies, old men who had probably retired as members of the UAW and had nothing to talk about except cars.  I was glad that our car got attention from them. 

After a few minutes, a man in a really old Ford pulled up. Instantly, there "ooohs" and "aaahs" from the group.  One man even got up to get a closer look at the car.  They instantly recognized the car as a 1939 Ford and I was amazed with the passion with which these guys kept talking about its finish, contours etc.  Finally, they got up to leave and they walked over to our 'vette walked around it for about 5 minutes, talked among themselves and finally left.  One of them, rode away in a bicycle, one in a motorcycle and one in a car.

I felt amazed.  What binds these men is I guess the indomitable spirit of Motown!  Live on Motown.

I guess, the next obvious comment is  - it is old glory and the Big 3 are dying.  Yes, they are!  However, that does not take away the american eye for a good car!  Honestly, I believe that the Sphinx shall rise again!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The magical cell phone

My thoughts on cell phones continue.  New York Times reports on new laws that might change how consumers use their cell phones across carriers!  Read the story here

My first phone with AT&T came locked which meant that I could not use it with any other provider.  However, I looked up ebay for a solution and found a device that allowed me to unlock the phone, and voila! I was able to use the Sony phone when I went to India.  Later, I got to know that you can actually get your wireless carrier to unlock your phone, by calling their customer service! That was a welcome.  However, if you belong to either the Verizon or the Sprint network, then toughluck - Why? Because these two providers are on a CDMA network which is not very popular in Asia particularly.  In Asia, particularly, India uses GSM a much newer technology.  Arguments about the merits of both these technologies, exist and therefore there is no point in taking sides.

Anyways, next time you are traveling to India, call your provider and unlock your phone!