Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A new kind of religion

I have had the opportunity to witness a close relative of mine adopt Christianity with a zeal that is unparalleled even by the faithful millions that throng lectures by people like Joel Osteen.  What scares me is not the fact that there are many Indians like her who are converting to Christiniaty.  I am least bothered by someone else's faith.  However, what troubles me is the religious dogma that they seem to adopt along with the religion. For many, it is a change from being a dogmatic Hindu to being a dogmatic Christian. 

I cannot fathom what people who convert look for in the other religion.  All religions come with costs, but strip away all the mumbo-jumbo, at the core of all faiths are simple truths that all men are created equal.  How can then intolerance at those who choose to practice another faith come into being?  Additionally, what really fascinates me is this notion that if you change your faith somehow, you become different and now you are a true believer. I had written a post a long time ago as to why an atheist such as me does not want to go to hell based on the simple premise that for me there is no heaven or hell.


Monday, December 08, 2008

Wall Street's Pain and Thain's gain

Nothing can better describe the excesses of Wall Street captains. 

John Thain is a smart guy - no doubt.  He had successfully (without a choice) overseen the sale of his firm to Bank of America during the credit crisis.  However, wasn't that part of his regular job? I mean, to safeguard the interests of his firm's shareholders? He is getting paid close to 750,000 USD annually for doing that.  Now, he has the audacity to claim that he deserves his bonus for doing this.  A bonus of 10 million USD for a year in which almost all of Wall Street has been wiped out, billions have evaporated and Merill Lynch has practically ceased to exist.

His behavior is not surprising given the unnecessary adulation that the business world has placed on CEOs per se.  No doubt, great leaders are a rarity, but John Thain is no Alfred Sloan.  He is just John Thain and he should be glad that the lynch mob is not there out to get him.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The state of andhra politics

The more I try to read up on what's happening in Andhra Pradesh, the more I am scared.  It seems to me that the state is hurtling towards a political disaster of alarming proportions.  Politics, beyond the obvious gimmicks, has a large impact on the state's governance.  Following populist programs, instead of adopting progressive policies will only cause the state more harm and reset much of the advances achieved in the last ten years.

I had hoped that Chiranjeevi's entry will shake up the political system and make TDP and Congress more accountable to what they say and promise.  However, all I see is more film stars in the political drama that has been unfolding. The herd-like mentality of illiterate film-goers who mix-up onscreen persona of their heroes with their real-life traits is surely going to damage the future of the state.
Now, TDP has recruited the entire NTR clan to try and win the elections. Congress, although slow, is trying to woo some big stars as well.  Such nonsense can only unfold in a state where movies seem to be the only thing that anyone and everyone cares about.

I don't see one leader who brings a rational, intelligent approach to solving the state's problems. Although, I believe that Naidu is the most capable of the lot, it is a pity that he has to rely on film stars to win the election and not on the merit of his governance capability. 

On california chickens and human rights

Sure, November 5th was a momentous day.  Apart from the most obvious thing, there are a couple of things that need attention.  First, the state of California has acted in a manner that is outrageous and unforgivable.  In one stroke, the voters have cast doubts on the progressiveness of the state.

They have approved a proposition calling for a ban on same-sex marriage and another that chickens be confined in cages where they could spread their wings.  Can you believe it? The right of a chicken to spread its wings is apparently more important than the right of two humans to live together.  I am not sure of this surprising outcome is a result of the changing demographics of the state or if the citizens of this great state have begun to slowly experience a decay in their progressive agenda.  Further, the voters have rejected another proposition which calls for utility companies to rely on renewable sources to a greater degree.  Why? What is wrong with you Californians ? You get a chance to impact us all in a better way and you choose to mess it up? I had always admired you for the often revolutionary stance you have taken on many issues ranging from same-sex marriage and climate change.  You have messed it up this time and I am not sure how badly this will impact us all.



Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The art of creative destruction

Creative destruction - there is no better phrase in all of management or for that matter mankind's progress.  Joseph Schumpeter, a famous Austrian economist coined this term to represent the only sure shot strategy for firms to be successful in the long-term.  Various versions of this strategy have been made popular in management folklore by later year gurus, but Schumpeter's legacy remains.

Creative destruction essentially says that continued progress can only be made by destroying works and creating what works better. In this argument, lies the inherent tradeoff between exploitation versus exploration.  Creative destruction is the hallmark for mankind's progress.  However, the sheer uncertainties involved in managing an organizational setting that seeks to pursue this strategy makes it difficult for firms to be successful at every decision node. However, one would expect that by imagining the impossible and by working towards it at least some times firms should be able to exploit the benfits of creative destruction.

But, not with Microsoft, arguably the most successful firm in the software industry.

Microsoft, it seems loves Windows and cannot exist without it.  It is a cash cow and will be so for quite a while.  Yesterday, Microsoft announced its plans for a new brave OS called Azure that would supposedly exploit the power of the network and the desktop. I guess they have been sleeping for over a decade now and are late to the party.  Given that many other firms have been making giant headways into cloud computing, Microsoft wants to crash into the party.  Well, before we give credit to Microsoft for being creative we also need to realize that Windows will still remain the primary platform for this new foray into the web.  What a pity - Schumpeter must be turnign in his grave.

Microsoft does not underatand creative destruction.  It is obsessed with the Windows desktop OS.  A few days ago, I had blogged about smart. small devices and how Linux is becoming the default OS for such devices.  A new internet that leverages the power of cloud computing obviates the need for super smart end-user devices. Although, users are indeed free to use such devices, increasingly efficiencies are becomign clear in the network centric model fo computing.  Microsoft, apparebtly does not get the message.

Additionally, there is something called product preannouncements in software lingo, and Microsoft is notorious for such predatory behavior.  Sometimes these announcements are made with vaporware products (those that don't exist in the pipeline), with no intention of ever launching them. The announcements are merely signlas to competition to stay off the turf. I am not sure to what extent this is happenign with Azure, but it is clear that it has to be someone other than Microsoft to create better things in the computing world.

Till then, I will toil away at my numerous Windows machines and work on my Ubuntu-powered laptop whenever I need a break.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The worst news site ever - GreatAndhra.com

I have been following a website for a few months now: www.greatandhra.com.  The site never ceases to amaze me with the crap that it reports, or maybe I should say it publishes.  Many news items on this website are merely titbits of information, often taken from leading newspapers in Andhra Pradesh. Although the site has separate sections for movies and politics - often these two are so intertwined, given the state of politics in in Andhra Pradesh.

Most published stuff on this site is merely opinion and is often presented as if it were a fact. Very little is of any consequence and the language is so poor that it begs a grammar check from stupid MS word.  What threw me off the cliff was this article filed under the section titled "Special News": Attempting To Understand Religions and Gods!  I don't think I have read anything more banal or nonsensical in my entire life. 

For example, a paragraph begins as follows:

Listening to this the humans understood that there is someone beyond them who is divine. They started adoring the Sun. They understood the feel of adoration. They felt the fear of being controlled. Masters were happy. Their noble mission took an initial step towards the vision of bending the humans towards spirituality.

"they understood the feel of adoration" ?  What in whose name I dare not take, does that mean?

Point taken - everyone has a right in the new brave digital world.  Therefore, I too have a right to criticize a pseudo-news site that is probably up and running because it manages to attract thousands of visitors and thereby makes money.  What amazes me is the banality of news reporting and the very fact that the site has actually managed to get so many online advertisers.  I read it for my everyday share of slapstick reporting. 

Please, if you are in the business of making money off of Chiranjeevi's entry into politics, the upcoming election in Andhra Pradesh, the role of Junior NTR and Illeana in shaping Andhra Pradesh - please stick to that.  You will have your share of idiots visiting your site.  But, please do not pretend that you are a comprehensive news site. If you want to write bull, start a blog and do what millions of aspiring writers have done all over the world, including me. It is my bull and I do not call it news - it is often opinion and yes, it is biased.


Revisiting Infy’s Growth


 

I had blogged about Infy's growth and its prospects about 20 months ago here. My prediction was that Infosys will slow down, no matter what. It is the very model that Infy has used to grow that will bring down its growth – an increased reliance on low-cost solutions to customers. This strategy relies on the premise of low-cost labor markets and Infy's ability to coordinate large-scale workforce. Infy was going at about 45,000 employees and roughly a billion dollars in revenues at that point in time.

An almost linear relationship between number of employees and revenues implies that Infy has not been so successful in earning positive returns to its investments in workforce training or leveraging existing in-house knowledge to attract more business from existing clients. With a bench rate close to mid twenties, Infy has only been adding employees to gain business from new clients without being able to leverage those that are on the bench. One reason could be a slow upgrade process with respect to keeping the bench on its toes. Another could be the buffer needed to meet volatile technology trends in a business dominated by fast-paced changes in the customer environment.


 

Whatever the reasons, Infy has only choked itself by probably neglecting to invest in high-end services (product deployments?) that can stabilize its revenue stream without the deployment of actual work force. I have updated my analysis, and things have only gotten worse for Infy.


 

year        revenues    employees    income

                        

1998        0.771        0.445        0.520

1999        0.674        0.43        2.470

2000        1.003        0.824        0.987

2001        0.314        0.092        0.604

2002        0.413        0.434        0.398

2003        0.409        0.668        0.597

2004        0.498        0.431        0.213

2005        0.351        0.432        0.460

2006        0.425        0.339        0.383

2007        0.190        0.228        0.174


 

The numbers under the columns represent the year on year growth as a percentage of the preceding year's number. Since 2005, Infy seems to have slowed its headcount growth, not surprising given the slower rate at which it is adding clients and also the higher wage rates in India. 2007 was particularly bad for Infy – revenues grew only at 19% and income at 17%. The sharp drop in income indicates a higher cost structure probably due to rise in wages in India. Amazingly, Infy still continues to add new employees with a headcount nearing 75000 and revenues of around 3.3 billion. Inflation adjusted, Infy has been able to earn around 35,000 USD per employee compared to 45,000 USD five years ago.

On Jnauary 19, 2007 Infy's ADR was priced at USD 56.13. As of today it is priced at 25.07 (1.05 USD in dividends over this period).

Markets are embedded in society

Most of us have been appalled at the economic landscape of the past few months.  For those that are not so financially savvy, but carry-on with their every day lives, there is too much wall-street lingo to grasp. However, reality has begun to reshape the ideas of many economists with respect to regulation and the benevolent role of public institutions that might at least prevent future mishaps. It seems like there will be a new age of economic socialism. Based on my limited experience, I have tried to use simple principles to make sense of the anarchy. My intention here is to is merely to reflect on my understanding.

Many fiscal conservatives that I have argued with seem to believe too strongly in a system where firms and individuals magically interact to give rise to efficient markets.  It seems to me that their assumptions are often rooted in an almost folksy role of markets, and the rationality of economic entities that take part in them.

Much of modern economic thought has been dominated by the notion that people and firms are rational, forward looking, and self-interest seeking entities. Nobel prizes have been won on various propositions and ideas that revolve around these principles - often even testing the boundaries of these assumptions. That, society will be better off overall when each entity seeks to maximize its self-interest has been the fundamental principle that has guided many policy makers.  In principle, the assumptions that govern this idea seem to hold under amany situations and hence the markets work the way they seemed to work.

However, economists have also pointed out firms and people are self-interest seeking with guile (notably Oliver Williamson), and that they are only "boundedly" rational (notably Herbert Simon).  As a result, markets are "inefficient" rather than efficient, but maybe still the only effective tool. The notion of "guile" is important as it imposes a reality-attribute on many economic entities. Both firms and individuals seek self-interest through opportunistic behavior (guile), which imposes costs on the the governance of economic activities (transaction costs).  However as these costs cannot be estimated before beginning economic relationships, contracts are put in place as the tools of governance.  Rationality can only be "bounded" because firms and individuals do not have the tools and information to be perfectly rational ( I haven' even included the role of emotions, yet).

Laying out these simple principles, it becomes apparent that most defenders often forget that self-interest seeking and rationality come with the constraints of "guile" and "boundedness".  Wall Street firms esentially ran amuck with other people's money seeking excessive returns that carried excessive risks (they make money at the expense of their customers). - a classic opportunistic behavior that was simply self-interest seeking with guile.  What was found lacking were proper contracts that would impose restrictions on such behavior.  Absent, some degree of oversight, such behavior cannot be checked.  Governing boards have failed miserably to impose the required checks and balances, probably due to their own involvement with the top management teams or maybe because of golf-game buddiness. Managers who are simply agents acting out their own self-interest have little risk-aversion when playing with shareholder's money.  Markets, absent the regulaiton, let such deviant behavior run amuck and facilitated the collapse. 

Yes, markets are self-correcting.  However, the process is often very slow and when fear dominates greed, ordinary people (not merely investors) face the music.  It is in the self-interest of the tax-payer to impose certain costs on economic entities that have come to cause such pain and suffering to them. Market cannot exist in a rational, self-interest seeking world - but rooted in reality of tha taxpayer's oversight. Not because it is the most efficient way to oversee them, but the most effective. 

Free-market thinkers have had their share of history - their Newtonian world with its limitations has worked with some friction, but reasonable well so far. However, the frame of reference is rapidly changing and it is clear that a new Einsteinian reality is taking hold.  Free-market thought has to learn to operate within this new reference frame, till a new theoretical argument replaces the one that is shaping up now.  The role of the broader society in governing economic activity.  I see it not as socialism but as economic socialism - that all economic activity is embedded in a much broader social context, a notion that has been around for quite some time, but has been ignored so much (see Karl Marx, Mark Granovetter )  

Saturday, October 25, 2008

We are Penn State

Penn State's relentless run to the National Championship continues with today's historic victory over the Buckeyes.  Further, having beaten the Wolverines and the Buckeyes, the Lions are firmly perched to claim the Big Ten championship this year. 

WE ARE PENN STATE!


Break those Texas Horns next!

Netbooks and the new age of linux

Recently, I have noticed an interesting trend on many online electronics retailers. They seem to be competing to sell low-priced extremely small laptops!  These amazing machines are more netbooks than notebooks as they make up in size for what they compromise in performance. They are extrmely efficient machines for browsing the internet and accessing email - two critical activities business travelers seem to really need.  Being light and wieldly, these netbooks provide additional functionality than the expensive smartphones that have been rulign the roost in the business traveler segment. 

Two important developments are making these small netbooks a reality.  Solid state drives and Linux.

The solid-state drives that made the ipod famous are now revolutionizing laptop technology. These drives lack movable parts, are extremely light and are therefore ideal candidates to be the core components of small laptops that are vying for the huge business traveler segment.  But, there is one more challenge - the operating system. Windows in its current state has become so cumbersome and complex that it needs more than 2 GB for installation.  If oen is trying to configure a light laptop with a 4 GB solid state hard drive, obviosuly Windows is not the right choice. Step in - Linux.  With an extremely small kernel that can be customized to operate a small wrist watch to a large monster machine, Linux offers a great opportunity for netbook manufactureres to configure their wares.

Check out this new offering from HP at amaon for a mere 299 USD.  With a 4 GB hard-drive and a SUSE linux OS this netbook is surely a small wonder.

It increasingly seems that Linux will be a dominant OS in the small-devices market.  Google's Android that is based on an open source OS is already hittign the markets and more devices such those being sold by HP and Nokia are gaining traction.  I always believed in Sun's adage that the "Net" is the computer.  As we move towards a stupid-client computing model, Linux is sure to play a more dominant role in powering small, intelligent and cheap devices.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Starbucks must be crazy

I am beginning to experience the benefits of staying put at one place and having an academic environment around me 24/7!  One of the things I I really like about an academic environment is the discussions we have in our aisles, or over coffee. These often revolve around serious research topics, but also meander into funny observations on everyday life. I guess that is what happens when you throw a bunch of serious researchers who are all trying to solve a few problems!.  Apart from the shamless self-promotion of my lifetsyle, there is somethign about Starbucks that came up in one such discussion.

I have always wondered why Starbucks insisted calling their coffee sizes - large, grande and venti - I never figured out the reason. I have not read about it much outside as well.  However, one argument is that they want to insist on their differentiation from low-end coffee chains such as Dunkin' . I guess it makes sense to create a unique vocabulary that consumers can relate to your brand and expect them to show loyalty to those affiliations.  However, the funny thing is - large, grande and venti are actually the most stupid names you can come up with for coffee sizes.

Here's my rationale - Tall is a measure of height, Grande is a measure of size, Venti, although unclear might be Italian for twenty (trusting my Italian colleague) fluid ounces.  So, what starbucks has is some crazy nomenclature of height, size and volume to measure their coffee and somehow convince people to pay a premium of over 300% on comparative offerings.  Call it ingenuity!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Andhra: A state to be run by movie stars?

Recently, Chiranjeevi a big movie star in the state of Andhra Pradesh announced that he would be contesting in the state elections under the banner of his new party PrajaRajyam.  I was not a big fan of his entry into the state politics as I felt he was still untested as a capable organizer.  Being a movie star is one thing and running the state is another. What AP need at this moment is a capable leader who understands not politics but how to to marshal the state's resources, build a consensus among the various constituents and lead AP onto the road towards development.  However, his entry seemed to only create further divisional politics and divides among the various communities in the state.

However, I changed my view as clearly there is a need for an alternative to the TDP-Congress set-up in the state.  An independent party that has no close ties to either of the two dominant parties in the state could provide an alternative platform for growth. So far so good. But, the problem is who would actually be part of Chiranjeevi's advisors - his brother, his brother-in-law, many film personalities with little or no understanding of economics or what it entails to organize. Movie-matinee idols are only limited to inspiring the masses, they cannot be trusted to implement progressive policies that can address real issues.  The worst part is that they might actually adopt populist agenda that would end up costing the state exchequer millions.

Chiranjeevi needs to enter the state politics.  However, to be able to make a difference he needs to be surrounding himself with intellectuals who can help him make a difference.  he has a fresh start and can dream to do this.  However, it seems like he is slipping by surrounding himself with movie stars and other celebrities who might know nothing of governance.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Faithful Poor

I guess it is sheer blind faith in an almighty god that makes a society oblivious to the pathetic state of its members while covering its deities in gold.  TTD, an organization that oversees one such deity, stands an epitome of such irony in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India.  While millions suffer with lack of proper access to primary healthcare, water and other basic amenities over 200 million USD will be spent on covering the temple in gold.  Agreed, the TTD has probably done its share of good by feeding the poor who visit the temple. However, how does humanity benefit by seeing their god covered in a stupid metal that glitters?

Does a ritual like "Subhiksha Yagnam" solve India's food problem? What we lack is a honest discussion of how faith plays a role in the Indian society while apathy rules the minds of the faithful. A sorry state indeed.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Word of Mouth - Do tell a friend

Word of Mouth - How many times have we heard that word (ab) used? Marketing has placed it at an altar that is much visited by many new age firms that claim they are into exploiting word of moth.  However, there are very few great examples of firms that have managed to exploit the benefits of word of mouth (WOM).

In the pre-internet era, it was rational to expect that word of mouth works better in consumer groups that are closely knit - either by geography, family, workplace or some other social context.  However, first with the rise of instant messaging, blogging and then with social networking sites such as facebook, WOM has taken a whole different meaning. I cannot recollect a scenario when something good propagated over the web and bnefited a product commercially - maybe, there quite a few. Just that I cannot recall any immediately.  However, I do remember that an aggressive WOM campaign by the film "Snakes on a Plane" only resulted in its magnificent failure at the box-office. 

I guess the takeaway is that WOM can work both ways.  Firms should also pay attention to the content than just to the content's vehicle delivery.  One additional hurdel in the effectiveness of a WOM campaign is how do you facilitate such WOm to play out? Can firms provide any tools that might enable loyal consumers to unleash the power of WOM? If we look around blogs, IMs and social networkign sites are disconnected and there is no way the benefits of WOM can pan out across these disjoined groups.  These entities pursue such disconnected strategy hoping to be the next AOL of the Social Network era.  However, the inherent flaw in their ideology is that they are actually limiting the pwoer of network externalities.

Enter tools such as Tell-A-Friend. This is a nifty widget that firms can embed intheir website advertisements and what it does is it allows the referrer to access his/her friends across any social network. Cool - ain't it ?  What excites me further is that it comes fom my Alma Mater - Pramati Technologies.

I think tools such as this have the power of obliviating the power of sites such as Facebook which hope to monetize the disjointedness of their network from others and provide a more cohesive platform for advertisers. This is one classic example of how technology can bring down hurdles artificially imposed by firm sin th hope of extracting private rents.  The power of the Internet lies in its openness and thankfully as more parties become players, the barriers will come down quicker helping Internet realize its true potential - the utopian world of of limtless connectivity.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Chrome vs Firefox

To a lot of people what browser they use might not be a big issue.  For me, it is :).  I have been following the browser wars for a long time and have every possible browser installed on my laptop, and I upgrade to the latest versions asap.  Call me crazy, but I think the future of computing will be back in the "cloud", what we call the Internet and therefore Browsers will play a bigger role than operating systems.

Therefore, the moment I got wind of the news that Chrome, a new browser from Google, was being released I jumped up in joy.  Well, not exactly.  Ideally, i would have wanted Google to take Firefox as it is and fork it to develop a much better browser.  What they did was to take the best of firefox and re-engineer a browser from scratch.  The resulting Chrome is definitely a right step towards exploiting the future cloud, but is still a long way to go.  The good thing is that Google announced that it woudl continue to support Firefox for another three years, and , together Chrome and Firefox are sure to bring down IE and with it MS.

The best feature is the multi-processing capability of Chrome.  The browser treats tabs as different processes and therefore does not slow down as you open more tabs.  Moreover, if a particular process in a tab crashes, the browser itself doe snot crash - a gift, given the instability in many java based applications. 

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

heard officially

Unbelievable it is, when a Republican commentator goes on record saying that Americans would understand when told that Sarah Palin does not even have a passport. Apparently, whether a politician has a passport or not could be an indicator of their foreign policy credibility! 

Other things I have heard on news:

  1. Being the governor of the state that is closest to the new belligerent Russia will help her credibility in dealing with Mr.Putin (good luck to that).
  2. She was the mayor of a town with a population of 7000 and a state with a population of about 700,000 - that qualifies her and  apparently makes her even better than Mr. Obama (who by the way beat the mighty Clinton machine with his organizational skills).
  3. She is a working mom and therefore understands the issues of women better - well, this seems reasonable.
  4. She is pro-life; I don't understand how this would benefit women though.
  5. She believes in creationism - hmm, it must be a miracle of nature that someone with her credentials is getting national stage. So, let's give it to her on this one.
  6. A republican strategist claims she is a great administrator because she sold a plane on ebay!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Why telugu cinema disgusts me

I must say I have watched my share of Indian movies in the past.  However, over the last few years the share of Indian movies in my movie-viewing pie has gone down considerably, reaching an almost nothing. More particularly, I must say that telugu movies really disgust me.  The last few that I had watched enabled me to really reflect on why this disgust really came about.

First and foremost, the violence in mainstream telugu movies in almost unbearable.  I remember watching a movie called Gajini with a friend a few years ago. Characters in the movie were shown slaughtered as if they were no more than chicken.  It was disgusting to watch the blood being spilt - although, I know it was for cinematic effect those scenes caused a visceral reaction in me.  I could not believe it when I saw parents with little kids in the theatre.  Are Indian cinema-goers just immune to this onscreen violence?  Many studies have shown that continuous exposure to fictional violence is detrimental to the proper development of kids. Telugu cinema in particular does not seem to believe so.  Faction movies, gangster movies, college violence is a rage - do movies reflect the society, or do they shape it? I am not sure, but I do think these are reinforcing each other.

Second, and no less important is the treatment of women in telugu cinema.  On on hand, we have the industry stalwarts going on record saying telugu cinema is great, artsy and that it has contributed so much society. Yes, maybe there are a few gem of a movies once in a while.  However, the mainstream trend is to treat women with utter disrespect.  It is not uncommon for the lead actress to have a meaningless role in the movie.  She is dumb, has little imagination or ambition, and all she is allowed to do is dress pretty and wait for the hero to take care of her.  Nothing can be farther from the truth, when you consider how women in andhra are playing an increasingly important role in shaping the telugu society.  You look around, and one of the striking features of professional life in andhra is the increasing number of women on the job.  And, how does telugu cinema celebrate this rise of women - by portraying them as pretty damsels in distress.  To add insult to injury, most male characters in the movies treat the women characters with utter disrespect.  Industry leading male actors have to take a look at the characters they portray and how those characters treat women more carefully. 

Telugu cinema has a rich history - of having a role in shaping the telugu society of the fifties and the sixties.  Great movies questioned social evils, and some even provided plausible solutions.  These solutions did not always involve killing the bad guys in gory violent showdowns.  Women were treated with respect and were shown as intelligent caregivers. The state of telugu cinema now is outright disgusting and does not deserve any support from society. It is neither art and whosoever even watches such movies are probably guilty of perpetuating the evil that comes with it.

Unless a change comes from within telugu cinema cannot change.  There must be a way of making classy, relevant movies that are a celebration of the culture that gives rise to such art - yet, being commercially successful. Unless this happens, telugu cinema will merely remain a form of entertainment that is a purely fictional, fantasy ridden noisy affair that it no
longer relevant.

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain deserves Palin

It seems to me that the US is hurtling towards a catastrophic downfall, and the only thing that stands in its way is Obama.  If not for anything else, I wish Obama wins the presidency just to save the future of of science and mankind itself.

New York Times reports that Sarah Palin, the republican VP pick "has supported the teaching of intelligent design in public schools, alongside evolution".  What does it mean to us all when a possible contender to the highest office in the US picks a leader who thinks man did not come from an ape - but that the almighty made man in his own image?
Aaha, I get it now. If for a second, we were to accept the intelligent design argument the very fact that people who make such an argument exist itself would be proof for the non-existence of intelligent design.  It is that might stupid.

The charming VP pick also opposes classifying polar bears as as endangered species (maybe she wants to shoot all of them herself being a hunter and all) and supports drilling in the arctic wild life refuge.  Sometimes I feel enraged that such imbeciles even get the center stage in today's world. I am not sure, however, whether to blame them because I think the real blame lies on all the wimps who place them there. Really, I am sick of the intelligent design argument. I wish I were teaching science instead of marketing in college, just to face all these idiots who think Bible is a science book.

I thought, McCain was a nutjob and now I think he is a messiah compared to her.  Maybe, they deserve each other and McCain with his self-destruction in sight picked her so that he can go hurtling there quicker.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hail to the Queen and the Old Man

I could not believe how much of a role hubris plays in our lives. I watched in disbelief as Hillary forcefully stole the thunder from what was supposed to be Obama's convention. Not to mention all the Hillary supporters who are so disgruntled by her loss in the primaries. If there something called a bad loser, then some Hillary supporters are redefining it. They need to accept the reality that the political torch is being passed on to a new generation and what they are holding onto is hubris. Hail to the Queen - yes, except that the queen no longer as a country to rule.

Moreover, the media is so messed up that they keep referring to political dynasties as if it were a good thing. If Hillary would have been elected, we would have had two families, Bushes and the Clintons ruling the most powerful country on earth for 28 years. If you call that a democracy, you must be kidding me. Obama, brings freshness with his life's struggles. If you were to contrast him with McCain, you know who has the more realistic American story. McCain keeps claiming that he is more patriotic or is stronger on national security. If you really think about it, republicans are the ones who should be considered weak on this issue because it is because of their foreign policy mishaps that US finds itself in the current situation. Moreover, getting married to an ultra-rich heiress and owning multi-million dollar homes is not a typical American story. McCain is old, jaded and belongs to the past. Age is not always experience and given the problems that US faces today, what the country needs is new direction, not experience executing the wrong policies.

Monday, August 04, 2008

I dread the Olympics

As the opening ceremonies of the Olympics draw near, China takes the world's center stage.  Rightly so, because no other event matches Olympics in its scale or appeal and therefore the host country gets an opportunity to showcase itself on the global stage.  It is China's time and I am sure they will exceed expectations.  Foreigners visiting China will go back with fond memories of the country and the global media will marinate in loads of China-showcasing content.  The large MNCs hoping to sell more consumer goods in China will get their share of the pie.

India, on the other hand will as usual send a big contingent to the games and come back with a medal or two, at best.  What a contrast, between the two nations!  Yes, China is a communist country etc etc., yet, the marked difference in what is happening there is as opposed to hat is happening in India is glaringly visible everywhere.  Olympics are just one place where the differences are more prominent.  China's medals tally has been rising over the last few decades, whereas India has more or less achieved nothing. I am sure that the Chinese have put in place a disciplined structured approach, a sort of war preparation, to deliver the best at the games.  India, on the other hand has no clue what it takes to win even a bronze, forget a tally.  The few medals that might tinker in will probably be because of the super human efforts of a few determined souls.

I hate the Olympics; for one thing, I feel ashamed taking to anyone about it.  Because, they ask me about India's tally and I feel like I belong to boondocks. I like them, however, for the Games give us Indians an opportunity to reflect on how little we have achieved even after so much progress in the last few decades.   

Monday, July 14, 2008

A taxpayer's plea

I track my annual taxes religiously.  In fact, I am usually one of the earliest filers who even gets back a return by mid-february.  Given that many individuals actually file for extensions, I must say that my timing is certainly an achievement. I have always been happy that my taxes were being put to some good use when I drove on the wide sweeping lanes of Interstate 80 and enjoyed the clean and well maintained rest areas all over the US.  I was happy that the taxes were being put to good use for public welfare. 

Then came the Iraq war - I was outraged that billions of taxpayer's money was being wasted on missiles and bombs. Much better returns could have been achieved by investing in health or education in impoverished countries.  Then came the housing bust.  Greedy pigs they are, banks, mortgage companies and wall street firms have caused a debacle by financing homes for people who could never afford those houses. Amidst the greedy, stood I.  In a house that I could afford, but could not sell when I anted because of the bust.  A bust that was created by individuals who could not afford houses in the first place and the greedy pigs that financed them.

To say that I am in the pits, would be an understatement.  The US is beginning to looks like a socialist society now that the government might actually bailout Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  All this could have been avoided if Wall Street was policed better.  The very firms that cry foul when there is government oversight, cry for help when the lack of oversight combined with their never ending capitalistic greed leads to a systemic collapse.

To add insult to injury, I am now being forced to bankroll the very organizations responsible for the trouble I am in.  I know there is no way out, but to take the burden and work my life off to pay taxes and get the system back to stability.  Or, maybe I should rebel like Galt's brethren and create a new world order. Well, that seems impossible now.  Maybe, I will just pay my taxes and hope for the best.

Taxpayer - what a wimp!

Monday, June 16, 2008

The joy of flying first class

High gasoline prices have brought in a new type of luxury to me - first class air travel.  Additionally, I guess all those flights out of detroit and sticking to Northwest through the years are finally paying off for me. 

I have been an elite member in Northwest for the last two years and I realized that I have been flying first class (free upgrades) more often now. My explanation for this is that as airfares are increasing due to higher gasoline prices, firms are cutting down on discretionary business travel.  As a result, "have-to-fly" economy folks like me with elite status are getting frequent upgrades to first class. I cannot say if my theory is perfect, but honestly, I don't care. 

Keep 'em scotches coming.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

hyperinflation in zimbabwe

Yes, the nightmare is playing out again.  that ugly beast called hyperinflation has reared its head in an unprecedented scale even in a modern world of globalization and free market capitalism.  So much for the Bush Doctrine of ushering in democracy and economic freedom all over the world.

The classic oft cited hyperinflation story goes back many decades to the story of the Weimar Republic.  Hyperinflation was so rampant that it was cheaper to cove one's walls with currency rather than buy the wall paper.  Times were different then; free market economics dod not rule the roost, Keynesian economics were still untested and the invisible hand of Adam Smith played a very constrained role.  It is great shame that Zimbabwe is facing this even today!  

The article reports the despicable state of affairs - an average worker's one month salary for a 2-liter bottle of Coke (talk of a global brand!). The last time I heard Bush, he was talking about the US's moral stance in the fight against dictatorships and military regimes.  I must be stupid or something, because to me Mugabe is no different from Saddam.. Aaha! Hold on! There is no oil in Zimbabwe.  Yes!  I got it now.  

At this moment, a very memorable quote from a movie comes to my mind.  Danny Archer, a mercenary brilliantly portrayed by Leonardo DeCaprio, in the movie Blood Diamond says, "This is Africa".  He says that to convey the message that the world does not care.  How True!


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Will US need a Lalu?

The rising price of gasoline is ushering many changes into the lives of millions across the world.  Nowhere is this effect grander than in the US where consumers have been pampered by both good old road trips and cheap flights for their travel needs. 

Anyone who has lived in the US would understand that the country just moves on its roads; millions of vehicles ply its roads 24/7/365 and thousands of flights depart from hundreds of airports all over the country.  However, good old oil and its price climb is affecting both road and air transportation in ways one can only begin to imagine.  The profound implications of how this will affect travel behavior over the long run can only be mulled upon at this point in time.  AAA recently reported that fewer Americans (0.9% lower than last year) had taken to the roads for their memorial day trips - not a great change, but clearly a pointer of things to come.  Airlines are going bankrupt at an increasing rate; they are looking for mergers, closing hubs, cutting down routes and laying off employees.

If maintaining large family vehicles becomes impossible and there are no flight options - what will consumers do?  How will they travel? Clearly, these things will affect travel behavior and in turn tourism, local economies and maybe the structure of relationships between people (relatives and friends).  A far stretched argument for sure, but nothing seems impossible given the pace of these changes.

Two things might happen - 1) consumers would group into segments based on whether travel is discretionary or not and/or 2) trains will make a comeback. If India can run a large train network across the length and breadth of the country, so can US. It might not seem like a efficient, optimal solution at this point in time.  However, it is a reasonable change given consumers are also willing to make sacrifices and adjust their travel behavior.  Maybe someone like Lalu will emerge to take charge and change the fortunes of railroads in the US!


Sunday, June 01, 2008

Innovating to disaster: Does India need Nano?

I have never been a big fan of the car revolution in India.  Many free market enthusiasts would argue that people should be allowed to purchase and enjoy what they can afford and hence, the development of cars such as the Nano is justified.  However, given the huge environmental concerns and all the costs that come along with over 350 million Indians driving a Nanoish car to work, I vote for institutional intervention over free market capitalism.  It is time that we all realize we are on the verge of a global collapse due to oil dependence.  What india needs is better commuting solutions, preferably involving mass transit, not small cars that lead to greater pollution and traffic jams in India's already clogged cities.

The role of institutions cannot be underplayed in scenarios such as the one that many developing economies face today. Faced with energy insecurity governments all over the world are scrambling to set-up unholy alliances with countries that have perpetuated this "insecurity" to begin with.  The apt response would have been to invest in renewable energy sources and reward innovation that creates novel solutions to problems involving mass transit, fuel economy, alternative energy resources among others.  These issues are more important for countries such as India than for maybe, a developed country such as the US that can bulldoze its way around the world for secure energy, maybe not for too long but at least for the moment.  It is a disaster of scientific progress that Tata Motors chose to focus on the Nano in times such as these. Lack of forward thinking by our leaders (industry captains and the babus)  will only lead to further chaos and instability in India's quest for energy sufficiency.  Creative solutions could include, tax subsidies to people who motor-pool, use two-wheelers, use public transit.  Further, public transportation could be privatized - leading to efficient and effective services facilitate through market dynamics.

For example, no new license are being granted to three-wheeled auto-rickshaws in Hyderabad. Good intentions were behind this, I am sure.  However, if this is not complemented with an increase in buses -it would only lead to an increase in private vehicles and thus further deterioration of the city's road network.  A better approach would have been to retire old  autos and grant new licenses to energy efficient ones and those that can take in more than 3 passengers and ply specific routes.  This would have eased the burden on the resource constrained public system and also kept a number of private vehicles off the roads.

The market's solution of  putting a car in the hands of millions of Indians might be a dream come true for its investors, but it is a nightmare for the country.  What we need is an efficient transportations solution at an aggregate level not a micro-answer to middle class dreams. The truth is bitter - by the time millions of Indians climbed the economic ladder to be able to afford a car, the world has changed. This truth must be accepted and sacrifices have to be made to achieve better growth. One maybe able to afford the Nano, but may never be able to commute to work, given oil's never ending rise. 

Monday, May 12, 2008

Failure of IPL Mallya and Dravid show the way

I had written in one of my earlier posts that IPL is the beginning of demise of cricket in India.  The cracks are are already evident.  The IPL is being run as a marketing franchise whose sole purpose is entertaining the masses and making big bucks.  however, given the very nature of sport - someone is bound to lose - and those who bet big on the losing teams will be the ones to bail out first. Enter - Vijay Mallya.

The Challengers are languishing at the bottom of the IPL table and I won't be surprised to learn about Mr. Ambani's feelings about the Indians.  The whole thing is nothing but a big joke on Indians. I used to like cricket. However, I want to cheer for Tendlya hit a six against Shane Warne. Not Gilchrist hit a six against Bajji.  There is no fun in that - even if Gilchrist plays for the Chargers. 

Leave cricket alone - shah rukh, preity, mallya, ambani... go away and let us watch a game in peace.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Increasing danger of Inflation in India

Last week I had written about the rising danger of inflation in India.  It was obvious - the very nature of macroeconomic dynamics warrants inflation in a growing economy unless the demand side growth is evenly matched by the supply side economics. Economies that operate at full employment are susceptible to a greater risk of inflation as there is very little buffer available to meet the growth in demand through increase in supply.  Unless, of course considerable technology improvements increase productivity of labor and capital to such an extent that the spikes in demand (part of it due to full employment -> more wage earners -> more consumption) are matched effectively by a supply response thus keeping inflation down.

Monetary policy is aimed at tweaking the interest rates such that the cost of capital affects both the supply and demand side of the equation. History has shown that central banks have become very adept at using this tool and have thus managed to steer economies off of high inflation and deep recessions.

The response of the Indian government to rising inflation has its pros and cons. There are some proponents of the theory that traders are the ones who are driving up the prices of commodities and energy.  Sure, they are not entirely responsible, but they have played their part more than satisfactorily.  Although I like this response, the only way the Indian government can really affect the inflation is by further tightening  interest rates which would obviously lead to an appreciation of the Indian rupee (more dollars will be chasing rupees due to better returns). The government is loathe to follow that route due to political reasons - but, the truth of the matter is there is no other way out.  With the Pay commission's reports putting billions of dollars in Indian hands - there are bound to be millions of government and PSU employees looking to buy their new cars, clothes, eat out among other things.  That would just be the catalyst to the inflation demons.

I hope better sense prevails and the government starts tackling inflation.  Already there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor due to the inequitable distribution of wealth creation from the last few years of growth.  If inflation raises its ugly head further the millions of households which found themselves in the lower middle class will be back in the lower class again erasing almost all the improvements made in the past decade or so.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

on creationism

here's a cross post based on one of my comments on a NY Times Article:

Religion should have no place in a civilized society. So much of peril has been brought upon our world by religious fundamentalists, and I am not just referring to radical islamists. I cannot stop myself from laughing my head off when creationists in the US argue that the Book of Genesis spoke about creation first. All I can say is that there are books in eastern religions that have spoken of creation 2 millenia before Jesus even strode this earth. Does it make Jesus irrelevant? The idea of creationism is beyond Christianity or the western view of religion. This thought has existed since time immemorial because of mankind's urge to explain their existence and without the tool called science various cultures have come up with their own explanations of the beginning of life as we know it. If Genesis has Adam and Eve, the Vedas talk about Varaha Avataram, so on and so forth.

I come from a very religious country and I can rather proudly admit that for all the ineffectiveness in our primary education system we have been able to keep god off from our science text books.

The development of rational thought and the scientific process has enabled us to explain a physical world that makes sense to us as a group. Things that were beyond our comprehension a thousand years ago are understood, researched and explained because of science. Religion had nothing to do with this progress. The rather simplistic explanations that religion has for explaining the beginning and meaning of life in itself are abhorring and trivialize the giant strides made by science in this regard.

Seriously, Adam and Eve and the evil python?


Inflation, Growth and other Structural Problems in India

I am sure it was a well deserved pay hike for the millions of PSU employees in India.  The sixth pay commission proposed sweeping changes to pay scales of government employees and as a result many would be given an arrears to account for the raises over the past two years.

Reports are trickling in that inflation in India is on the rise and that both the Finance Ministry and the RBI are taking all steps to somehow counter it.  Obviously, the ideal situation for a growing economy for India is to consistently achieve high growth rates coupled with medium to low inflation.  Now, that can only be achieved if the growth comes not merely from demand but also from supply.  India has done a reasonable job of doing this in the past decade or so.  However, the pay commission's report could not have come at a worse situation.  There are fears of global economic recession and it is not clear to what extent India is decoupled from US particularly.  Second, and more importantly, the millions of PSU and other government employees with huge amounts of disposable cash in their hands will be demanding and consuming more "goods" and "services".  The supply side will be slow to catch up for obvious reasons.  This will only fuel the already raging fires of inflation. 

There are big differences between farm growth rates, industrial growth rates and IT growth rates in India. These differences play a pivotal role in how increase in disposable incomes would contribute to further inflation in India.  And, I have not even touched upon the real estate bubble waiting to burst in many cities.

Monday, April 28, 2008

How many days of cricket in India did you say

I was an avid cricket fan for a long time. I myself was guilty of spending countless hours watching test and one-day matches played by our beloved cricket team during my college years. Somehow it seemed justified at that point in time, but this new thing called IPL is really bothering me now.

My concern in general cricket is taking up too much of our time in India.  As a nation it is clear that we are already obsessed with Infosys, religion, and cricket among other things.  Do we need to further obsess about how the daredevils beat the charges for over 60 days in any given year ?

Now, apart from this sixty days of madness, the national team is going to play another 40-50 one day internationals, one or two more tewenty20 series and a couple of test series.  it continues to amaze me that even with this much cricket going on people don't seem to be fatigued at all! I have made it more than obvious in soem of my other posts as to who much I hate the IPL and how it will kill a game as we know it.  Call it the future of cricket but I am sure that the twenty-twenty is here only for the interests of big business and th destroy a game that was so captivating when the likes of Richards, Kapil and Imran strode the grounds.  Now it is all about selling toothpaste, motorcycles and televisions.  Moreover, there is not much fun left in watching these too many games happening all the time.  I prefer the once in a while test series and a couple of one-day series once in a while. It was more romantic, took up less time and one could look forward to interesting sportsmanship.

What we get now, is like Cricket on Demand. 

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Blaming Miley Cyrus? Blame Hannah Montana first!

Latest in a series of scandals of Disney "idols" is the Vanity fair photo of Ms. Cyrus.  I am sure parenting blogs all over the earth are screaming for Ms. Cyrus' scalp.  well, to some degree they might be justified being parents of teen girls.  Hey! Wait a minute - aren't you the ones to be blamed to even allow some television character called Ms. Montana with a dual life to be your daughter's role model in the first place. no one can control any one else's life and if Ms. Cyrus wants to be herself, let her be.  It is for you to teach your kids that Ms. Cyrus is not Ms. Montana, and if you cannot do it then may God help you. Or rather may Murphy help you (I am trying to be an atheist and the only person I believe who can influence other's lives is Mr. Murphy).

So, will you go and sue Ms. Spears now because she was a Disney idol at some point in time. The truth of the matter is the issue does not lie in whether Ms. Cyrus is running around naked, but whether parents are allowing their kids to live in dreamscapes built on Disney's world in the first place.

I might be wrong in my arguments and maybe I cannot judge the full depth of the isue because I don't have a teenage daughter yet. But, I am learning quite a few things about Disney and its idols from all of this.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Learning Abstraction

There are many arguments presented for and against learning abstract concepts as opposed to real world applications.  A study done by Ohio State scientists indicates that abstraction might be better, at least under certain contexts. 

The trick is to learn how to figure out the rules of the game.  The notion behind abstraction is to learn the underlying principles rather than how such principles manifest in the real world.  In contrast, learning via examples, not knowing the mechanics of abstraction, provides the nice "aaha" moments, without an understanding of the underlying principle. It is a valid argument that in certain sciences you need to look, touch, feel and play with things to understand them better, whereas others are more amenable to learning via abstraction.

A reflection on my own learning during my undergraduate education in engineering tells me that I was better at abstracted learning rather than learning by playing with things in the laboratories. I scored very nicely in theoretical courses with equations and derivations while losing out in the laboratories :).  I am not sure if I can conclude that I was better learning the principles from my scores, but for some reason I was better at manipulating equations rather than play with the diesel engine in the laboratory.

People seem to have an intrinsic preference for one type of learning as opposed to the other.  Or maybe they use a combination of the two to achieve optimality.  What does become important however, is while teaching kids at home, we might have to pay attention to the principles as well, and not just be happy seeing them play with toys that provide the "touchy" "feely" learning.

Pay up Toyota: It is my idea

I guess someone at Toyota had a similar inspiration as I did.  Let me explain.

If you are an avid reader of my blog (which puts you in a group of about maybe 0.000000001% of earth;s population or i/6785 visitors to my blog since I started tracking visitors), then you might remember my post on the missing e in the english alphabet. Just to refresh your memory, you can re-read my adios amigos post here.  Some have written to me saying it was creative, while others have LOL, and some have promised to beat the hell out of me.  However, I realized that my inspirational story of a missing alphabet shares ist storyline with a recent Lexus' hybrid commercial.  You can watch it here.

Hmm, the missing H vs., the missing e.  maybe I should have worked at an ad-agency.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Wubi Ubuntu Heron and Thinkpad

I have been running Ubuntu Gibbon through Wubi on my Thinkpad.  I decided to move to Heron last week as I noticed that the beta for Heron was available through Wubi.  I prefer Wubi as it has made life so easy while using multiple OS on my laptop.  The few issues I had with Gibbon were that configuring the wireless took me sometime and configuring the screen resolution took a while given that I had a ATI card.

I first uninstalled Gibbon as I had learnt from my previous experience that I cannot upgrade Ubu8ntu if I am using Wubi.  I then downloaded the beta of Wubi. However, by default Wubi was trying to install the 64 bit version of Ubuntu and I never realized that. The first attempt was a failure during Ubuntu boot.  I then read the FAqs and found the guidelines! That was a no-brainer.  The guys should have posted a warning at least during the installation stage.  I then found the beta for the 32 bit version on Ubuntu's site, downloaded it and placed it in the same directory as the Wubi exe file.  from then on the installation was really smooth.  I booted using Ubuntu and the screen was automatically configured and the wireless configuration was a breeze through as well. 

More importantly, I was able to configure a bluetooth device, my Razr phone, and managed to transfer files to my laptop.  This was something I was never able to manage with XP.  Somehow Ubuntu made it so easy.  I use Ubuntu for browsing as I am beginning to feel that it takes less resources and does not convert my laptop to a heater!

I hate using Microsoft. However, I do, because much of my work is still tied to the OS.  I will probably remain a dual-boot nerd for a long long time.  As I continue to stick to Ubuntu, I have realized that it has nicely evolved into an alternative to the Microsoft OS.  Now that Vista is an official flop and Microsoft has speculated the release of Windows 7, Ubuntu shines on the horizon as the future of computing.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Social Media: Evolution of the Community Evangelist

It is a fact that online communities are here to stay. Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, Orkut ...these have become more than what yahoo groups had aspired to be a decade ago.  They have become windows into various aspects of everyone's life.  The real issue for firms is how can they manage the evolution of such communities to their advantage. Can they leverage the formation of such communities to strengthen their brands? Speed up product adoption? Better advertise?

One essential step that many firms have taken to better understand such communities is the creation of a new role, "Community Evangelist". Read an interesting post by Mario Sundar hereMario Sundar of Linkedin, Lionel Menchaca of Dell are examples of a few famous bloggers who have become the icons of a new age of blogging.  Community evangelism aims to inform and perhaps shepherd the communities towards a state of positive predisposition towards the brand.  I also see a much bigger role in the technology sector wherein such individuals can have a bigger impact on product adoption and creation of expectations for the future.

The real satisfaction for me as a researcher watching such initiatives by firms is the legitimacy of this emerging phenomenon.  My interest lies in unearthing the mechanics of social communities and what that implies to businesses. 

Launching India back to its past - The Mayawati Story

It might not come as a surprise to many that Mayawati has grander political ambitions than merely being the Chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.  She clearly has an eye on the Prime Minister's Office and given her mass appeal with the underprivileged across the nation, particularly the cow belt, she might as well turn out to be the biggest winner in the next coming elections. 

Whether she will become the Pm or not she is sure to have a big influence on policy decision at the central level.  It would have benefited the underprivileged if she really had the integrity to follow up on her speeches.  However, the past has only shown that she is in fact as corrupt as they come.  But, what she will do is throw a wrench into the reform machines and the free market policies that are being implemented, albeit with inefficiencies, in the country.  With ambitions of serving the poor she will only make it worse for the entire country to move forward.

It has been proven many times over that nothing serves the broader welfare of the society than enabling them to help themselves.  Developing infrastructure in sectors such as power, telecom, transportation and energy will have a broader and deeper impact on chronically suffering sectors such as agriculture than giving it subsidies.  However, as expected any government which takes support from Mayawati or her likes is bound to become more protectionist at the same time being ineffective in the very premise of uplifting the poor.  What we will have, as a result, will be a Bihar at a much wider scale.

It is a pity, that it cannot be stopped by a defunct nepotistic Congress and a faith-ridden BJP.  We have no viable alternative and that is the primary reason for a rise in Mayawati's equity.  Let's hope there will be a miracle in the elections and Maywati falters.  Else, as a country we will only be launching ourselves into the past.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Edward Lorenz and my career path

Edward Lorenz, father of what is popularly known as Chaos Theory passed away at the age of 90 today.  Many of us might have heard a statement which goes something like, "if a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil will there be a tornado in Texas?".  Well, he was the guy who had originally conjectured that such a thing is possible. 

I have a special association with Lorenz's writing as my original inspiration to pursue a PhD came from reading a book titled "Complexity", which first introduced me to many concepts that are part of Chaos Theory.  I had read this book when I was an MBA student at the Indian Institute of Management from 1999-2001.  I was so inspired by the book and the apparent ramifications on business practice that I did a group term paper for the Strategic Management course on the "red queen effect", another fall out of the complexity theory. Red queen effect refers to the red queen's race in Lewis Carroll's "through the looking glass".  The character red Queen in this book tells Alice that, "It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place". The effects stresses the nature of change and how firms need to be innovating constantly to sustain their competitive advantage.

Eventually, I was so smitten by the principle that I followed up on the theory of Complexity and found that the University of Michigan offered a certificate course on Complex Systems.  I wrote to students in the program and found out that you had to be enrolled as a student in one the graduate programs at the university to be able to take this course.  Thus started my quest for information and eventually I decided to pursue a doctoral degree in business. 

My admiration of chaos and complexity did not end with my admission to the marketing phd program at Penn State.  I further did a first year term paper (in Dr. Martin Kilduff's Organizational Theory course) on Complex Systems by reviewing the literature in management journals that employed complexity theory to business problems.  I stopped pursuing the idea after I found more interesting things - open source software development.  However, I still read many related articles as I use a Social Network approach to understanding developer networks.

Serendipity eh ?... or is it the essence of "Chaos Theory" ?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Microsoft, Fed and a future bailout story

This might happen in the not too distant future.  A Fed bailout of Microsoft.  Just as the Fed bailed out Bear, it might have to eventually bail out Microsoft as well.  It is no secret that Vista has been a big flop for Microsoft.  What could now happen is Microsoft tries to scramble desperately to develop a new OS that is not like Vista and given that MS never learns from its mistakes all we will we get is some variant of XP and Vista. (gates has already called this Windows 7).  As usual, due to to Microsoft's thoughtlessness it will be a flop and what the world will end up with is a monopoly that cannot address the needs of millions of consumers and firms.  Very sensitive financial data and hosts of other things will be continue to be hosted on old legacy Microsoft offerings that lag behind other technologies.  One the day of reckoning when no one is prepared, there will be a system wide crash and with it the stock markets.  The Fed will be asked to bail out Microsoft because a further collapse needs to be prevented.  The Fed will agree and rescue MS shareholders while leaving million sof MS consumers at a loss.

I urge what we need is a consumer bill of rights from Microsoft.  The right to be free and be able to insist for software that can work with other programs.  Also, these rights should enforce hardware providers not to develop hardware that is OS dependent.  The driver developers need to be arm-twisted as well.  The reason we need the institutions to intervene is that otherwise they would be the ones who would be forced to bail out Microsoft and all the other greedy firms which rely on closed IP, just like we had to bail out Bear.  We deserve much better and much more than that.

Harvard on Open Source


Yes!  The Ivory Tower has spoken. Harvard has a new case on open source.  For too long have b-schools stayed away from trying to understand the impact of the open source movement on organizational theory.  With the increase in focus on "open innovation", the open source movement is getting a much deserved attention from multiple quarters. 

Having been a student and researcher of open source I have had many tough moments when I had to make a case for the importance of open source.  Cases taught in the business schools serve an important purpose of introducing future managers to new ideas and business models.  May there be more on open source!

Friday, April 11, 2008

The missing P(olitics) in DNA

I think I am confused, because, based on what I had learnt back in high school, there was no P in the DNA sequence. Let me explain in detail.  I am referring to the ATCGH in our DNA sequence and the missing P. 

Of course, I am kidding; on a more serious note the world is just becoming a place with more nepotism where blood lines bestow upon you an unofficial right to rule.

There are numerous examples supporting my claim that politically the world is falling back to a quasi-monarchic system.  Many ancient and medieval kings ruled by the sheer power of their bloodline.  Early on these claims were based on the divine powers that they were thought to have inherited from the gods (as in "Ra" in the egyptian kingdoms).  Later on these divine claims were lost, but the concept of being a "royal" by bloodline survived through the medieval world.  On a saddening note we see the remnants of this argument in the celebrity status enjoyed by the British royals even to this day.  Seriously, I think the British royalty needs to be tried in International courts for the crimes they committed against free peoples all over the world in the name of colonization.

On a more contemporary note, the missing P(olitics) in DNA seems to be omnipresent through its effects.  From the world's largest democracy (India) to its most powerful (USA), the consequences of DNA are evident.  India managed to elect the daughter of its first prime minister, his grandson, grandson's wife (extended phenotype at play here), and it seems like the country is on track to grooming the first prime minister's great-grandson for the role.  Let' not even talk about Pakistan, where the story is similar.  Considering the US, beginning 1988, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue read - bush, Clinton, bush for a big 20 years.  And now, if Hillary gets the ticket and gets elected it will be 28 years of two dynasties determining the fate of the world's most powerful country and the world itself.

And I am still talking about democracies.  Maybe the commies are better on this aspect as they seem to prefer bootlickers to their kids.

I must be missing something in the overall picture.  Have we come so far to be so similar to the ancients and medievals with respect to who is actually governing us.  Critics might say that some of these blood lines have survived because of the merit of the candidates.  yes, it is true to some extent as it is evident from the tough fights for the Democratic nomination in the US.  But, my argument is still valid that somehow after all thee centuries of evolution in terms of democratic ideals, merit and fair chance to everyone we are still in a state wherein being the kid or spouse of a the country's premier seems to bestow upon us an almost divine right to rule.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Let's be honest

Marketing has taken too much flak.  I say, it is time marketing gets honest and reigns in its actors - models and celebrity endorsers who say unwanted things.  Sure, I do agree that the sole purpose of marketing is not to just "advertise" or "sell" or "convince" potential customers. It is a much broader definition that has many important components that include the matching between buyers and sellers, customer wants and needs and more importantly informing the customer as to how a product might solve the customer's problems.

Moving beyond this polemic treatise on marketing, there is one brand which i think is like the anti-christ to marketing's core message. I have no problems with brands that try to address genuine needs of consumers or which are not "shallow".  They live upto their promise.  This brand is Victoria's Secret.  I have nothing against their positioning or their marketing message.  I think it is fabulous and they have very nicely tapped into the male psyche.  However, I do take issue when one of their top models says on TV that she likes cheese and gorges on it.  Yet, the funny part is that her waist size is a mere 24, very atypical of the millions who like cheese and gorge on it.  I get cynical when i watch such messages.  Is this the purpose of marketing?  Are we here to cheat ourselves into believing that a model who looks gorgeous can also gorge on cheese?

BTW, do you know Beyonce likes Southern fried Chicken?

Moving on to a more airy philosophical issue the question is whether we have turned into a make-believe society that rewards our looks much more than what we are as humans inside.  Not just that, is a woman's beauty only enhanced by the lingerie she wears? If you answered with an emphatic yes, you are most likely to be either unmarried and less than 24 in age OR you are married and 40.  If you answered with an emphatic no, you are wise.  If you had a visceral reaction in between, then you need to visit the VS store soon.


Monday, March 31, 2008

Rescuing Bear

I have always been a strong believer in the role of institutions in market capitalism. The current financial crisis stands as testimony to the failure of the famed market to figure out the best solutions to many financial issues.  All of the market's failure culminated in Bear's monumental failure and its subsequent rescue by the tax payers.  Some might argue that Bear's failure was merely an organizational failure at a large investment bank.  But, a system hanging by the thread to every word being uttered by the Fed indicates how much the so called free markets have come to rely on institutions (government included) for their very survival.

Yes, the market figures out the best solution and money should flow to those sectors where it achieves highest returns.  Additionally, government should not intervene in the running of the capital markets.  This should not however diminish the importance of regulation and oversight when public money is involved. Due to the intrinsic principal-agent problem in the running of companies, governance assumes great importance. Company boards which were supposed to have solved this problem have turned into puppet shows of shared memberships. It seems to me that a very well managed financial regulator(s) with excellent oversight capabilities and a mandate to act swiftly and decisively will be the only solution to the extremities being created by the markets. 

Why should the tax payer come to the rescue of Wall Street, when the street makes so much noise about free market?  Wall Street relies on the free markets argument to charge hefty fees and take millions in bonuses, and very conveniently wants the public to bail it out when things go wrong.  What about the free market then? Shouldn't Bear be allowed to fail according to the free market standards? Any takers? No, because the public at large is saved from a monumental systemic collapse that might be triggered of Bear were to fail.  So, who created this hazard? I guess, it was the tax payer for having let the market run a "firms gone wild" act in the first place.

The entire financial system thrives on future expectations of cash flows. Therein, seems to lie our capitalist modern world's greatest invention and its greatest failure! Predicting its own future.

Odometers and consumers

An interesting story is unfolding about faulty odometers on some Honda cars.  So, all you Honda owners out there, please do keep in mind that the real world is not what it seems to be, always.  I do not want to throw the baby out with the bath water, at this stage by saying that this is a systematic thing occurring with all Hondas.  However, as I am biased against those boring dull, overpriced Japanese sedans, I have the privilege of doing this.

I have always been asked the reasons for my inherent negative attitude towards Asian car makers.  The reasons are simple: 1) My wife works for GM and 2) the real truth is the Japs are indeed boring.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Summarizing the financial crisis

The financial meltdown is massive: losses at banks are inching beyond hundreds of billions of dollars.  I have read quite a bit about the unfolding of the crisis from the day we put up our house in Michigan for sale.  So far I have only seen one home foreclosed in our neighborhood and many folks who live there have been around for decades.  It makes me wonder, where in the hell is all this financial mess centered around mortgages coming from.  Anyways, I am sure, there are many who have gotten into loans they could not afford and are foreclosing.  But, more importantly, the same risk was repackaged and sold so many times that the final financial instrument and its associated behavior with respect to the movement of the underlying asset have become too complex for the famed wall street minds to assess. Hence, the current crisis. 

A very nice article in the times summarizes the role of knowledgeable MBA wall street types -
These are ordinary folks who know a spreadsheet, but they are not steeped in the sophistication of these kind of models," Mr. Wien says. "You put a lot of equations in front of them with little Greek letters on their sides, and they won't know what they're looking at.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pontiac G8 GT: Car review .. well not really

Yes!

I finally get to blog a auto review! And, that too of a much vaunted, much lusted for Pontiac G8 GT - pure american muscle in all its glory.  I test drove this baby today at a dealership in Durham, NC.  The car is one of the first 888 G8s that rolled off the assembly line in GM's division Down Under - Holden of Australia. 

To say that G8's exterior looks awesome would be an understatement.  It looks mean and has a stance of a predator waiting to pounce on its prey.  Its rectangular lines and a wheelbase that rivals a BMW's 5 series clearly positions it as a competitor to the perpetual winners in the performance sedan race.  I did push on the accelerator when I hit the highway, and the 361 HP 6 Litre V-8 responded with zest.  I drove it in regular transmission mode and felt that the drive train was hesitant in the first two gears, however, it did extremely well once it reached the third gear. You have to take that with a pinch of salt as I have been pampered by my Corvette's V-8 that does much better in the lower gears.  I did get an impression that the transmission responded much better when I shifted to the sport mode. Road noise seemed reasonably low given that a huge V-8 was growling under the hood.  The car handled beautifully around curves and there was absolutely no roll.  I am not a race car driver, but having driven a Corvette for over a year, I do admit that the G8 is a great car for just around 32K.  There is no other car that comes close to the value that G8 gives you in the performance sedan category.  With a timing of 5.3 seconds for 0-60 mph, a 32k car is a steal!

GM claims that better mileage can be achieved on the interstate as the G8 power plant shuts down 4 of the 8 cylinders while cruising.  I sincerely wish that this displacement on demand technique works fine. 

Am I upgrading to a G8?  Hmm...interesting question.  I was told that there is a serious inventory shortage as only a few G8's have arrived at dealerships.  I am salivating over a black panther black finish with a sunroof - looks like it will be a wait.  If I do upgrade, I will be sure to blog about it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

God and Eleanor Roosevelt

I heard an interesting remark in a late nineties tv show and followed it up. To my amazement I did find news articles which reported that Hillary Clinton claimed that she had conversations with the "Late" Eleanor Roosevelt; note the operative word "late".  Now, it makes sense to me. it seems like only two kinds of people can advise US presidents and the hopefuls, the dead and God.  Bush had some point claimed that God had asked him to invade Iraq. Although th US media failed to pick it up, many other agencies including the BBC reported this. 


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Gone in four seconds

Yes! We got a perfect chance for making our Corvette race a bunch of street cars on a road in one of the Detroit suburbs.  The time was perfect, 11 in the night.  The racers were all there, a Black Dodge Charger to my left, a large white Escalade behind me, a silver Ford Mustang to my right and there we were in our red corvette in the middle lane.  I think it was the Charger that spotted us first and taunted us by racing ahead and slowing as if to goad us into a quarter mile dash.  I was at the wheel and resisted the temptation. I bet they all knew that none of their cars could have beaten our corvette in the race, or maybe they did.  The Corvette can easily pull off 0-60 mph in just over 4 seconds.

Then, the four cars surrounded me as we approached a red light.  I then realized that I was in the perfect setting for a quarter mile dash to the next light.  The others cars burnt rubber, and I waited, my heart was racing.  I looked to the right and behind me and realized that they were all teenagers giggling and smiling earnestly waiting to see if they could beat me to the next light.

GREEN!

They all sped past me, and I barely managed to get to 45: the legal speed limit, in about 5 seconds.  I chose not to race them. I knew better.  They were all kids probably in their early driving years and I didn't want to get into a street race with them - a possible recipe for disaster.  I did not want to end up as a bad future clip on World's wildest police videos.  I felt I did the right thing.

I was not sure if I had chickened out.   However, I sure knew that even I did I was a chicken in a corvette.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Downfall of Vista

Vista is going down, really badly, and with it is going down Microsoft's reputation!  With all due credit to MS product development teams, the firm should probably learn a thing or two about ethical marketing.  MS is being sued for its "Vista Capable" claims.

While Vista falls flat and XP continues as the dominant OS, Linux surges ahead as the leading OS with advanced 3D capabilities and visualization.  I dual-boot with Ubuntu, a popular Linux Desktop OS.  It is amazingly fast, stable and easy to use. From a strategic standpoint, I think the Linux community should use the moment to ramp up Ubuntu and some of the other desktop flavors of Linux to beat the technology edge out of MS.  It is going to take a while for MS to fix the mess that Vista has created.  Millions of dollars that were invested on product development (which truly meant - poor design and lack of clean engineering in the OS), have gone down the drain.  It is not clear whether the future release candidates will correct the faults for MS.  Linux, particularly Ubuntu, is uniquely positioned to take the shine away from MS on GUI at this stage. 

The downfall of Vista will be the beginning for the rise of Ubuntu dominance.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Entertainment, Desi Style

It is almost a laughing riot when I watch news on CNN nowadays. Well, first of all I watch it on really high volume for one of two things - the family that lives in the apartment above me stomps around on the wooden floor so hard that I need a tool to cut down that racket. Second, my folks watch Tamil programs on the Internet.

Well, just to clarify, and in the interest of brevity, let me confess that as my mom and aunt are visiting me I am forced to find web sites that host regional language programs every night. The Internet never ceases to amaze me, and to my own chagrin and to the delight of my folks, I did manage to find such a site.

What this boiled down to is the same routine every night:
1) visit the site
2) look for uploaded programs for the day
3) download them
4) up the volume on CNN as my folks watch their favorite Tamil shows

So, I hear Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper with a twist of Tamil ads and the dramatic music in the background as the grand soap operas play out every day. Mothers-in-law scheme against their daughters-in-law, long lost sons find that their newly found father has multiple wives, aunts plot against their nephews to take over ancestral property; and, I spend my evening trying to focus on two physics principles about politics and the economy - momentum and gravity.
1) Momentum - Hillary tries to find one as she continues to lose the battle against Obama.
2) Gravity - the stock market continues to figure out that Newton was right all along and that things do fall to the ground (Although Jim Kramer tries to refute it while evangelizing a Bull market, failing to believe in Newton).

Honestly, I have come to believe there is not much of a difference between the two forms of entertainment - Tamil soaps and the grand political and economic debates on TV. Or, maybe, my senses have been numbed so bad that I no longer see the difference. Didn't Bill Clinton have an affair? Isn't the current lame duck Prez a goofball? Isn't Jim Kramer a maniacal stock-broker who shouts his head off on prime-time? Maybe you will disagree. Maybe you don't. But, I do sure have a wild ride for the next few months.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Wisdom of the crowds

A nice story about a new venture that leverages crowdsourcing here.  Organizing consumers to generate new product ideas fascinates me.  The holy grail of marketing lies in understanding or anticipating latent consumer needs and building the most appropriate solutions for these needs. It seems to me that a reasonable chunk of innovation in the near future will occur through this model.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Scrabulous and Change - At a loss for words

Yet again, a couple of firms have proven that most market leaders lack the short sightedness to accept change and adapt to a new business model.  I am referring to Mattel and Hasbro, the two firms that hold rights to make the popular board game Scrabble.  They are planning to bring legal charges against "Scrabulous", an online version of the board game that has become popular on Facebook.

Clearly, change is beckoning many industries, and, new ventures like Facebook are acting as catalysts for this change.  What we are seeing in this case is probably one of many wars that will shape up how social network platforms will influence new business models.  Already, big media is struggling to cope with sites as YouTube.  Wikipedia has grown into some sort of a directory-driven portal that Yahoo was in its early days, for knowledge.  Look up any topic on any search site, a link to the topic on Wikipedia is sure to pop-up in the first ten.  There is nothing that can comprehensively beat "Wisdom of the Crowds".

My students ask me if social networking will change the world.  A lot of them are even skeptical.  I tell them that is similar to what happened before the Internet boom and the subsequent bust.  An ecosystem is growing and surely the principles that govern Darwinian mechanics will shape up social networking.  There will be few left standing, maybe Linkedin, Facebook, YouTube, and some of the also-rans.  But tons of money will be made, by investors, by entrepreneurs; much more will be lost too.

Surely, nothing is permanent except change.  Those firms that do not accept this, will be at a loss for a lot more than merely words.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

adios amigos

It was not ()asy for m() to to mak() this d()cision.  I d()cid()d to walk away from the ()nglish alpab()t.  I gu()ss you must hav() figur()d out who I am, and what I m()an to the ()nglish languag().  B()for() I proc()()d, I must admit that this d()cision was mad(), b()caus() there is no ()mpathy left on this plan()t.  It is just apathy!

()mpathy is in my opinion the strongest ()motion and looking at mankind's downward spiral towards a complete lack of this - I d()cid() I am no longer us()ful as w()ll.  Th()r() will be no ()mpathy and no ()motion anyways, so, why will anyon() n()()d m().

Yours truly,
e

Thursday, February 21, 2008

IPL BCCI and the failure of cricket

The final nail in the coffin has been hit.  IPL eventually kicked off with the famed "auction" of cricket players from all over the world.  The BCCI has been trying to mastermind something similar to the soccer leagues in Europe, with the ultimate objective of centrally master minding the whole thing and making money off of a cricket crazy nation.

Millions will end up watching more cricket - that too, the really shorter version of it and now even more frequently.  Not just that, the BCCI is also betting that cricket crazy Indians are just that "Cricket crazy" and Indians next.  At some level it takes the fun out of the game - who do you cheer for?  what is the optimal grouping rule here? 

I cheer for Penn State against Ohio State; I cheer for UNC against Duke; I cheer for AC Milan against Real Madrid; for Argentina against England;for India against Pakistan and finally (now) for Pakistan against Australia!  I am not sure how the Indian cricket psyche works - will a Jaipurian cheer for Ponting against Khaif? I am not sure! In fact, I don;t think I can answer that question. Because, I always though to cricket as a game that flames nationalist passions and that is why it was so hugely popular in India.  Now, the rules of the game are different.  I don't believe that BCCI has got the pulse of the nation right!