Friday, 26 December 2008

2009 Survival toolkit : Ability to anticipate

Ability to anticipate change is one of the very poorly understood and misrepresented and often ignored facets of life. Your abilty to anticipate change (good or bad) gives you an option to be prepared and as the ancient philosopher seneca rightly said 'luck favours the prepared'.
It is the differentiating factor between a normal dude who follows the crowd buying an iPhone and a smart guy who in the anticipation of the new 'iPhone application market' that has been opened spends some time learning iPhone SDK. Apart from those who are completely drunk and thinking hard to remember their home address (recent surveys indicate that 2% of them never reach home) nobody wants to be unaware of whats going to happen , otherwise astrology would not be one of the worlds most profitable and aged occupations ,the only obvious competition being ....
Surprisingly many of us including the all powerful leaders who have everything at their disposal blink and and caught unaware of surprising turns of our lives , a few of them would be 9/11, 7/7, recent 26/11, global economic crises. Though all the inciedents are easy to rationalise in retrospect. I feel we ought to learn from lesson and sharpen our toolset to face the bleaky future ahead.
There are only few who succeed in anticipating opportunities and hazards and prepare themselves and the corporations that they represent towards growth and/or avoiding failure. These are the nosy people who could visualize the war when others are struck with the nuances of battles, this is the ability that makes Alexander , Alexander the great.
To dig a bit deeper, what are the key ingredients required to have an ability to anticipate change
The first and foremost is access to the information , secondly ability to process the information either by themselves or by discussing with those who could to convert that into knowledge and finally to be able to rationally decide and act-upon or influence the key decision makers.
Access to the information is not a difficult task anymore thanks to the technology. Internet has cut the barriers of access to the information (to the extent that terrorists also tend to rely upon it for their survival, for instance google earth was supposed to have been referred by mumbai terrorists).
The second part is the most critical part of the equation, many often we tend to form very rigid learning and inference patterns based on what has worked for us(to our dad and some friends) in the past and limit our decision making abilities. And this is exactly the place where our personal priorities and prejudices start playing a major role. By nature , human mind has a tremendous ability to imagine and creates a design space for facing a scenario with numerous decisions and a more complex design space for linking multiple scenarios and so on.
To keep things very simple, if we imagine our decisions are stored in a library which is huge, more often we dont walk across all the shelves to get the exact book we are searching for. We stop at the nearest shelf which has closest possible similarity of what we are searching for. Our restriction of getting stuck to what we beleive is right (esp when we are aware of the fact that it could be wrong) breeds to denial. When we our mind gets used to 'denial' mechanism, it gets even more comfortable as it need to seek only very few inputs from outside.
This is one of the reasons why knowingly people get into mega-ponzi schemes of economic terrorists like Modoff and this is why there are jehadists who are hell bent to change the world in the way they are comfortable seeing with their little knowledge.
The third part of acting is where big mistakes are bound to happen, for e.g we cannot expect obama to sleep tight and think about a solution for on going economic onslaught, he leans on his advisers and his judgemental abilities (on the contrary people still beleive he is effectively googling for a solution), more than leaders we are always sorrounded by people who influence our thoughts and the perennial human itch to do something and be appretiated which would further complicate things.
In short, ability to anticipate really makes a difference in our judgements and keeps us prepared and increases our possibility to succeed. But there is a limit to what we can do and if one could anticipate all or most of the situations, management consultants/holy-men (strangely they both have lot of resemblance in their operations, less work and lot of money) and other advisors would vanish out of the window. Can you imagine a world with out Gartner/Forrester/Mckinsey types. Unfortunately i cannot.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Mindless Terrorism , Faulty democracy and a Small Orphan

The horrendous mumbai crime which was of epic proportions pushed the ongoing economic struggle for a week out of the headlines. Those who wanted to terrorise the psyche of people all over the world ,24/7 indian news channels who were clueless about professional integrity  and the horrible politicians who had narrow visions of their votebanks alone were all in the limelight and had their fair share of publicity, positive or negative.

The crisis clearly showed the guts of the mumbai people and their resilience, the bravehearts who dared their life to put a fullstop to one of the worst terrorisms that world has seen. Apart from the valiant fights of the brave and that of the people to comeback, the terrorists seemed to have acheived what they wanted to, i.e exposing the vulnerabilities of a country and its lack of leadership.

Any country or culture is always represented by their leaders in the tough situations, a Ghandhi was there to liberate india, a Winston Churchill was there to get Great Britain out of World war, a Martin Luther King was there to fight for African American's cause , a Rajiv Ghandhi was there to lead india out of russian-styled socialism to economic growth and the history is never void of these kind of heroe
s. But unfortunately current Indian leader are not more than a laughing stock.

Similar to Credit Crunch Crisis, Indian democracy is facing a systemic failure. Unlike anyother country India is an unique country which is a federation of different cultures,languages often with very less common cause. Only the great leaders of the past and rulers from outside(for administrative purposes) have kept india tightly knit together apart hinduism (intrepreted in different local names over the time) and the shared minds of people.

Indian democracy expects a strong PrimeMinister to get the act together and paint a strong i
mage to other countries, but unfortunately over the times the regionalism has gained popularity and the national parties have become weaked acoss. This pushes them to get into coalition with many regional parties, those who dont align to thier visions (or lack of it) and form an opportunistic alliance. Being pulled on somany directions to satisfy these parties which inturn do the religious/caste/sect politics, the national govt paints a very weak and vulnerable image to the outsiders. Added to this the pacifist mentality of the people who dont have a bigger cause than their monthly salary, an attitude to get things done by corruption has completely left the system in shambles. Over the times, the system in its current form has become a place which lacks space for somebody with a good cause and who could become a strong leader.

Till a point where  a strong leader emerges who could mend the rotten system and raise the 
hopes of people from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, there will be lot of phonies and cronies (like the current lot) who will rule india and these kind of inciedents would be talked for a month at a max and be forgotten and these cronies will be busy scouting (rather shamelessly) for votes and to save their vote banks, majority or minority.
While we wait for tough leader who could fix all the issues of India, lets apologise to Moshe who has lost his parents who beleived in India and its values.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Somali Pirates and Investment Bankers of the world


Apart from the global economic turmoil, obama and falling oil prices another thing that has been keeping us entertained is the news about piracy. Somali pirates have been very active these days when the world was betting on which bank would fall n and what would be the margin of obama's victory (except for McCain from his family inclusive of his wife). The big news has been the Sirius Star of Saudi arabia with its 110Million $ oil cargo.
Piracy is not a new phenomenon and could been around from the days after humans learnt how to build boats and sail around from the days of phoenicians and may be before them, the more interesting thing is the fact that current form of piracy i
s becoming completely uncontrolled and the Horn of Africa or the Gulf of Aden is completely ridden with them and is driving people really crazy.
The Somali piracy is should be understood along with the recent history of somalia, Somalia has been in chaos ever since 1991 and it is unregulated majorly (though with a presense of a government, president etc) and is governed by various warlords. This lawlessness has opened up the vast coasts of the somalia. This fish-fertile coast was abused by everybody and some entrepreneurial somali saw this as an opportunity and started collecting a small some of fees (protection fee may be) from these foreign ships and today it has fully developed industry to the extent that pirates are about to hijack a ship which is 400 miles away from the coast with the sophistications of GPS etc. While the risk of losing the cargo drives the owners dizzy, they usually tend to negotiate and to get the ships back (17 ships are still with them) which further boosts the pirates morale.
Pirates seems to be very calculative and methodical, they wait for the right catch and take significant risk to conquer, retain and make the money through negotiations and release the ship after the ransom is obtained.
Strangely , I couldnt resist drawing the parallels with the economic crises, the investment bankers (who made money creating complex financial deals on the underlying financial instruments) played the roles of sophisticated pirates and took daring risks and reaped the bounty in bonuses, but should we blame the pirates or the conditions that breed piracy for this. I
t is eitherway and in a country like Somalia where there are not much opportunities and lawlessness is the only law, piracy gets justified morally (atleast for the bribed port authorities and pirates) and 
lack of regulation simply flames it up. Likewise when the market was unable to control the daring acts of the economic pirates and they took the whole economy down.
Hopefully international cooperation controls piracy and co-ordinated global action control the freefall, else the days of people queuing up for the free soups are not far from reality and may be Pirates would get really rich by then and could be contributing to IMF( it has been asking money from everyone)

Friday, 31 October 2008

Is economy an art or science?


Me and my colleague had an interesting argument about whether economy is a science or an art over a Friday evening pint. The conversation was driven by the fact that the pub we frequent was void of the usual buzzling crowds and owing to the current gloomy days. I took (as usual) one my recent readings as a basis of my arguments. George Soros in his recent books eloquently argues about thinking and reality. He puts forwards that 'thinking' alters 'reality' and vice versa and with wide array of participants with different mindset( but with the same goal of making more money), the economic systems are inherently very complex to predict. He refers this as theory of reflexivity.

 And anything complex has always been portrayed as art , ignoring some modern arts with just a dot in the canvas with an explanation of 'portraying intricate human relationships in a deterministic and dark emotions among human ethos'.

Science tries to simplify things and while doing so , removes lot of variables which doesn’t seem to have a significant effect on the outcomes during the observations.  This is done for known lack of correlations with the outcome based on our knowledge. But these variables may have massive effect on the outcomes under unforeseen circumstances.

For e.g. it is a very simple fact that if we lend to risky borrowers, it may never get returned and our capital may be at risk. You don’t need be a nobel laureate to be able to tell this. But in the stable economy with lot of promises and an upbeat mood, this simple variable has lost its meaning or lost its relevance before world woke up and started to stick to its basics. All those complex risky models which the WE-HAVE-ALL-THE-CASH-IN-THE-WORLD investment bankers employed haven’t helped much. So Is economy an art or science?

The human society learns predominantly based on what has happened and it follows the pattern of evolutions as the experience get hardwired into the genetic makeups, evolution in its  'design space' gives room for strong and weak both out of mutations and out of circumstances, but the weak doesn’t survive hard tests and gets eliminated. But there is a definite possibility by the laws of probability that it could re-occur and get killed again. Similarly economy which is fundamentally driven by the sentiments of buyers and sellers is extremely complex with humongous amount of influencing variables.  To be able to understand it better,  economists resort to simplification and try to make it as a science.

Without treating economy as a science , we will be walking in the valley of death ridden with beasts in the nights without any lamps to guide us. Science helps us to travel the night to a good extent with a reasonable success. But in the in the unknown path , we never know what is next and are bound to fall down and get hurt. This lamp helps us to understand where we have fallen , what has happened to us and how to get out that place.

World as a whole learns from its mistakes and proceeds forward, but the wounds take a bit to heal depending upon the severity and those who are in control (@#$) try different medicines like injection of capital , cutting interest rates etc hoping the wound will heal faster. This is a pure trial and error and no one will have the sure answer until the wound shows signs of healing.

This leaves us with a conclusion that economy is full of knowns and unknowns , while the knowns are answered by science, the element of unknowns are always an art , once we understand the art, it becomes replicable and gets moved to the science area. This is similar to commodization , to give an analogy, photography made lot of artists redundant and art gradually moved towards impressionism , modernism, post modernism etc etc whose understanding is left to the intrepretations of the viewer (mostly to the artists).

But the high profile economists and risk modelers dont seem to accept this fact and get trapped into deciphering economic complexities through mathematical equations.

The esteemed nobel prize foundation is not an exception, They have been rewarding best economists since from 1969 and am sure somebody who are making 10 Million Swedish Kronars for the contribution towards economics must be really having some answers and following are the list of people who have got the prize for last 8 years and am sure their views may be very relevant. You should definitely talk to them because mainstream media and the govt leaders are not seemed to be bothered about their thoughts and complex models sadly.

Found below is the list, if you want to know who they are.

2008 - Paul Krugman

2007 - Leonid Hurwicz, Eric S. Maskin, Roger B. Myerson

2006 - Edmund S. Phelps

2005 - Robert J. Aumann, Thomas C. Schelling

2004 - Finn E. Kydland, Edward C. Prescott

2003 - Robert F. Engle III, Clive W.J. Granger

2002 - Daniel Kahneman, Vernon L. Smith

2001 - George A. Akerlof, A. Michael Spence, Joseph E. Stiglitz

2000 - James J. Heckman, Daniel L. McFadden

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Capitalism and Socialism


Last week is the most dramatic of all the weeks in known history of our generation (who had missed the great depression) and has redefined many conventional thoughts about the capitalistic markets and free economy. The week started with the fall of Lehman’s and was epitomized by the Fed’s bail out of monstrous AIG to the tune of 85 Billion dollars.
Capitalistic economy as per Adam Smith’s is governed by the invisible hand and is to be governed by the participants and with basic governance by regulators. Those who are smart could make money irrespective of their background and those who are not would lose money however mighty they may be. The free-economy had been the pioneering face of the democratic countries and is the basis of the consumerism and global addiction towards luxurious life style.
When the going gets tough, tough gets going and when the world was tired of conventional financial instruments, there emerged a bunch of smart traders who devised complex terminologies to sell the toxic assets (Credit Default Options and Credit Default Swaps have become household items now) and there was nothing wrong in what they did till the market busted. As they say “Success is a great Liar” and makes to be unaware of the possible consequences in the longer run and adding to the human behavior of denial, nobody wanted to blow the whistle.
In fact, nobody blew the whistle and it got blown by itself and eventually the market got shaky and the rest is well documented. But the very interesting part in the whole story is the fact that definitions of capitalistic society are being redefined and earlier foundations are being forgotten. This said, what the definitions of a capitalistic society are?. In my view, there are 3 top things which are the building blocks of the capitalism. First, the market exists by its participants and by their competitiveness. Those who are highly competitive survive and less competitive ones get eliminated (Survival of the fittest). Market is open for newer and legitimate ways to make money.
A socialistic economy based on Karl Marx philosophy advocates protection of interests and encourages governments to tightly govern the industries and advices them to build or own huge non-competing industries leading to state sponsored monopoly. After all the effort that has been spent in curbing communistic policies the US govt has sponsored bailout of Bear Sterns, AIG etc and has created a kitty of 800 Billion dollars to act upon any failures.
Though my intentions are not to undermines the intentions of different countries efforts to safeguard interests of public (me being one of those), but I have a feeling that with the revised laws of the game, the distinction between capitalism and socialism ( I hate this ) are lost and its time where we rewrite laws and come up with something like capocialism which is a balanced approach between best of both. Till that happens lets all start our days praying that we would be able to keep our jobs and pay our mortgage bills, Do you differ?

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Simplicity vs Complexity

It has been a long time since i blogged last , the world has been the usual in these days with the oil prices going up (and down recently) people talking about unstable economies, inflations and terrorists mindlessly bombing and dopists still trying their luck in Olympics. All of these things have become something of a norm and doesnt strike us much in our routine life.

I led a very simple life of no internet for nearly 2.5 months thanks to ever confusing ISP's Sky and BT who kept me agitated, frustrated, disappointed (finally i settled down for Sky where i started with) so on.

Talking about simple life, it becomes extremely complex to be simple. Being simple is a very philosophical thing which ordinary mortals like us find very hard to attain.Great saints and yogis were able to remain simple as they had realized the truth which removes the complications and their whole purpose of life become to teach simplicity. (The simplicity that i talk here is the simplicity of thoughts and not wearing meagre clothes and living by fruits and milk ;-) . Late Indian Prime Minister Nehru once (jokingly?) commented that it is very costly for the congress party to keep Ghandhi simple (in the ways ghandhi wanted).
But that path towards simplicity is not all that simple as we are brought up in a complex world full of people with complicated thoughts and harder situations.

Our thought process is inherently complex as humans are gifted with a brain with 100 billion neurons and a processing speed of 100 million MIPS (million instructions per second), with this much of processing abilities , there is no wonder that we tend to process too much about a situation/person and make our life very complex.

While i was drowing myself in search of simplicity with no internet among the books and library, I came across a book called 'Orign of Wealth' by Eric D Heinhocker. Eric is a senior fellow of McKinsey Global Institute and his research and the original ideas are really fresh. He argues about the logical fallacies that traditional economists have built into their models that have resulted in over-simplification of the scenario(subprime mortgage dealers?) and argues majority of current economic decisions are taken assuming that world is "full of over smart individuals acting on extremely simple situations".

He starts the story from Adam Smith who pioneered the modern economy progresses towards to walras who brought the mathematical modeling into economics through his obsession with physics and so on. He argues the need to understand and accept complexity and chaos, as economy is a massive complex adaptive system. The book is an awesome read and is a great combination of economics, anthropology, physics and other academic disciplines. It was really a great read.

The world is really complex and if we need to face the complexity, we really need to keep our minds simple and be simple. I couldnt resist laughing when two students were discussing about a mathematical equation applied to pricing of commodities(during my tube journey last friday)on my way to a meeting to explain a complex architecture with a client. I think we still have long way to go in our quest to become simple.....

Monday, 16 June 2008

Relocations - Good and Bad

Birds migrate to avoid winter, fishes shoal in search of food, locusts swamp the fertile lands, human community started migration millions of years ago from Africa. It could be called as migration, movement, relocation or in modern terms immigration, emigration etc etc. Movement from one place to another has always been the norm of life for all the living beings (that could walk). I recently moved along with my family from India to UK and it made me think of these relocations dearly.

Movement has always been in quest of something , lets say Gold, Silver, Spices, Horses, knowledge, spreading religion etc. There has been voluntary migrations like people settling down in US , Australia etc from the European countries and there been forced migrations of African people all across the world(who were sold as commodities in the slave market those days).
The inquisitiveness in the man to understand things that existed beyond his vision and the stories told to him by other travelers from far off places must have really kindled the fire in him to explore. And obviously the first traveler must have been somebody from Africa where the mankind originated and spread across the world-, but the travelers like Huien-Tsang, Marco Polo, Vasco da gama etc made some real marks and increased human thirst to explore further and Silk Road greatly helped in bridging the diverse cultures of the west and east together(Silk route is a great book to read about it).

Somebody said 'Struggle in a battle is more interesting than the victory of it', On the similar lines life becomes dull as soon we achieve what we desired and its only the quest to achieve urges and motivates to do more. Those who escape this vicious cycle become either saints or losers. So travelers unlike tourists who have a determined path an schedule are the ones who are out there in the wild to enjoy the struggle to go to a place and they just keep moving. The greatest of the great warriors have all been only travelers and a glorious victory or insurmountable wealth have never been able to confine them in that place.

There is another sad side of the coin as well,there have been many mass exodus in the history where people had to migrate from one place to another to escape tyrant king, famine , wrath of lost wars etc and etc. The very earliest sighting of this can be traced to jews from earliest bible days to world war days , and the wandering had really made the jews very intelligent by etching adaptability to the difficult situations into their genetic make ups. We can keep quoting tribes after tribe at various times in history for varied reasons.

These sad travels, after having lost their homeland, assets, relatives with only hope as an investment and trying to begin a life in a new place where they dont exactly belong, to live as a refugee (or something equivalent) compromising the dignity must really wreck the minds. The fights that these individual alien groups launch have given rise to great leaders like Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther king to name a few.

Those who have traveled to Gulf countries and places like Singapore would have noticed the workers who have brought in to do the hard labor in harsh conditions, this is another mass exodus from developing countries to developed countries and has tons to sad stories in it(I cant forget two laborers cutting the grass in heavy rain opposite to my home in Singapore in 2002). Leaving families back home, pledging their assets for the visa and travel, living under hostile conditions of the agents who brought them , it is very hard to put their pains in the words(the national geography did a better job with the afghan girl - shown in the left-).

We just keep traveling in quest of fulfilling our desires and all of those travels are not always sweet for everybody.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Taxi Drivers and their own world


Taxi drivers are one among the very interesting people to observe and converse with, by the virtue of the people from different walks that they deal with they very often tend to develop good conversational skills , recently I met once such person called Tahir on my way to Heathrow airport.
Tahir is a Desi Muslim whose father was a soldier who migrated from undivided India to UK and is born and brought up in UK.
Our conversation started with his views on smoking (he had quit and has become too fat-his words-, a good reasons for smokers not to quit) and continued towards India-Pakistan partion, quran, gita , bible etc, his tolerant views towards religions and stress on the humanity was really inspiring especially in these troubled days where people get killed in hundreds in the name of religion and god. He was a first hand victim of selfish relatives, a partner who looted all of his money – never heard of a good partner so far ;-) - when he was emotionally fragile after his dads death in Pakistan. He was a very interesting conversationalist who could transpire you at ease. I was a bit unhappy the journey could last only one hour.

Taxi drivers could offer you a wealth of information especially when you are going into a new place -good pubs, nice restaurants etc- , except for those sloppy GIVE-ALL-THAT-YOU-HAVE-GOT types, they are the walking(driving) wikipedia ( using encylopedia as a metaphor has been abolished lately) and they gather countless wisdom picking it from many a passengers from diverse cultures, countries, personalities etc , mainly those who drive in big cities like London, Newyork , SFO.

Each driver is a CEO in his small mobile office. People hop-in and hop-out, there could be good people, bad people, rich , poor, preachers , benovalent, malevolent but they just carry on the routine. Being a taxi driver gives one a sense of economic independence with he being his own boss and he can decide to close the office after gathering enough for the day, the good thing is you can avoid skip those ever poring emails (but one of the drivers that I met recently had a blackberry ;-) ).
Drivers have their own business model, servicing philosophies etc and operate under stringent competition with very little differentiation – All the new york cabs looks the same to me.Its very interesting to observe the taxi driving as an economic model as well, the key factors being, the window of time that he can drive (except those call center drivers), the places where people require their service most and the number of competitors that offer similar or better service in that area. Smart drivers tend to look for steady repeat customers by engaging with you and establishing a connect and those who are not so lucky, blame it on the bad day or bad government. There is always some “cash on the table” and the most smart driver gets more.

But there are bad sides of the story as well and I could harldly resist the thought of what if the driver turned out to be psycho or a part of the gang that could take you a shady place and loot(esp in mumbai and delhi, these feeling get intense), there have been numerous cases of rapes and murders by taxi drivers(they get murdered by bad passengers as well) all around the world and we always need that caution and a bit of luck to reach our destination safely and we need to be careful about what we talk to them esp if the driver has lot of customers from the place we work.

Anyways, driving is a interesting profession where if you have luck , you could be the likes of Senna, Schumacher , Rakkinen etc or you could be waiting for the customers on the roads to ensure that you make enough to pay for the debts, mortgages etc , etc answering the calls from the impatient wife who made the dinner two hours back and the kids who have gone to sleep after a long wait.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Art of Decisioning and Karl Popper

Starting from when to wake up from the bed we start making decisions like which shirt to wear , which train to take, whom to talk to, when to respond to an email, whom to take for lunch etc etc.. we all take countless decisions everyday (strategic, operational , tactical, good , bad, opportunistic, benovalent etc) . They can be categorized easily into those that work very well (not taking an umbrella when weather forecaster says it would rain heavily) to decisions that screw up very bad (concluding that Iraq had weapons of Mass Destruction ) .


Decisioning is really an art, which decides between life or death many a times. Though decisioning is well talked about and we are all aware of how critical it is to make a correct decision, many of us fail miserably many a times. To get this art into a science form there are lot of interesting experiments by Philosophers, I recently read one such experiments (“Conjectures and Refutations”) by the eminent philosopher Karl Popper. Those who are too lazy to check out who is popper from wikipedia, Popper is an Austrian philosopher who spent great deal of time in London school of economics (LSE)(1946-1969, subsequently knighted as well) and has influenced variety of philosophers and new age thinkers. He is not a guy with whom you will share a mild relation, people either like him to the core (Like legendary Investment banker George Soros) or other Classical empiricists who hate him to the core.



The book talks about scientific philosophy , origin of knowledge , decisioning etc and he covers them at great length at various different perspectives and sheds a great light on conventional wisdom. The part that intrigued me was that on the decisions we make, the way we form theories and their testability and falsibility. It started lot of questions and I started searching for the truth. (He has devoted an entire chapter on truth also), As we all know (in popper's words), truth is always relative and it is very hard to reach the absolute truth. When Galileo proposed his theory , it held good (after a great deal of reluctance from vatican) till newton arrived , newton's version of truth was better than Galileo's and kepler's and Einsteins was far better than newtons and so on. But individually their postulates helped to overcome and correct the assumptions that the society held till that point of time.



Leaving truth aside(it gets too philosophical and to us it is of no use),If we were to consider decisioning to be a black box , it has two main inputs , facts and assumptions (at a given situational context). The facts and assumptions are predominantly derived out the knowledge repository that we have gathered genetically as well as from our own experience. The knowledge that we gain is based on our observations and the inferences that we make out of them. He argues that unfortunately we don't do a critical evaluation of the inferences we make and we don't do it for the assumptions that we carry along as well. This could mean that we carry a sig
Popper's philosophical genre is what is being called as “critical rationalism” and he has done a remarkable work on it. Apart from treating it as a branch of philosophy , one could use his critical rationalism in variety of practical purposes , starting from psychology , economy to business intelligence etc. He mentions that this is a heritage of the greek philosophers that western civilization has accepted as a mainstream thinking which has resulted in numerous scientific discoveries (eastern society was close to invent a steam engine, they had a similar concept but used it to make rice-cakes) .

Human mind is very good in making judgments based on the known facts , but doing a critical evaluation and being driven by the assumptions that are influenced by biases have cost huge amount of lives and money from both the good sides and bad sides.

Anybody out there dying to make a bad decision?, evidently nobody would (Not sure about Bush, though) . Then, why do we keep taking bad decisions all the time? , Cant we all sit back , spend lot of thoughts and take right decisions all the time. Unfortunately that is not how it happens. We make decisions based on our prior knowledge with the time constraint a situation poses and tend to make lot of assumptions in the due course, if we are rational (a bit lucky as well) and have critically evaluated the assumptions that are the constituents of a decision making process , then it increases our probability of the decision being good, nothing else.



With an infinite permutations and combinations of events and possibilities of the occurrence of events which we are not even aware of ( only terrorists knew the flight could be made as a kamikaze bomber but not the police during 9/11) , the confidence level of a decision being successful increases . Please note this can never become an event with a probability of one (unless you decide on a fact like , today sun will appear in east and will set in the west, which is also debatable as we are making an assumption based on the observations on the laws of nature).



If decisioning seems to be such a hard stuff, why people tend to talk about it so less, unfortunately we all tend to think about things in the way we are taught to in the early part of our life and form rigid patterns of learning, we tend to develop our own convenient ways to deciphering and reacting to the challenges that a situation poses and this rigidity shuns our mind from adding more assumptions and a chance to evaluate them. But the philosophers starting from Xenophanes, Socrates and recent contemporary philosophers like Tarski, Russell, Popper etc have spent a great deal of energy and efforts into it and it is sad that this knowledge still remains elusive to a small circle.

It would be good if analytical reasoning and the views of several philosophers /scholars can be taught as a part of the curriculum for all of us as it would definitely make a better world, till that time lets keep making decisioning in our own ways and keep messing up to make the world a more interesting place. World would be a dull place to be filled by smarter people alone. Can you think of a super intelligent George Bush!
References :
Conjectures and Refutations by Sir Karl Popper
Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Plato.stanford.edu (Image reference)
And a bit of google and wiki.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Great Moghul Buildings on a Indian Summer Roadtrip

Few things would be more fascinating than the moment when , what your boring history teacher taught comes to life before your very own eyes. I have always been fascinated by the history of(probably everything) moghul emperors who ruled India before the British. The grandeur of the palaces , the cities, gardens and the cuisine (biriyani, chicken tikka etc) that they have introduced have left an everlasting mark (both good and bad) on the history of India, especially in her medieval period.
I was keen to take a road trip in the northern part of India as a part of our annual north indian road trip with my inlaws. and after contemplating various choices like Gurukshetra (where Mahabharata epic war was-supposed to have been- fought), Jaipur, Mathura Brindavan etc we decided upon Agra and Fathepur Sikri as it would be a good chance to liven those dull pages of the histroy books depicting the moghul period.
Day 1
The Moghul history (as we all know) started with Babur and progressed with humayun, Akbar (famously) , Jehangir, Shahjehan (lavishly and lovingly) , Aurangazeb ( hatedly) and ended in a chaos with the last moghul Bahadur Shah. We started our exploration with Redfort and it was really “grand” in its truest senses. The very thought that you are walking among the places which altered or determined the due course of Indian history was exhilarating.
Brushing aside the ugliness/damage caused by those who want to be a part of the history by etching/sketching in the walls to leave their names (mostly their lover's as well) Redfort is well preserved and has well spoken about places like Diwanii-Am (the courtyard which hosted Peacock throne – taken away by Iran's Nadir Shah-) , Diwani-Khass (where Chatrapathi Sivaji was interrogated by aurangazeb), the Tajmahal view where shah jehan was kept prisoner by his own son Aurangazeb. Except for the disappointing guide that we employed who twisted the history to his own whims , it was a day well spent.
Day 2
Our next stop was Tajmahal, it would be a waste of time to add anymore words to describe it and all the good words (majorly romantic) in all the known languages have been spent to translate the awe inspiring Taj Mahal. The Industrialization has not spared its splendour and what used to be a White Marbled Taj and is almost yellow now and my uncle was joking that in the due course the pollution would automatically ful fill Shah Jehan's desire of building a Black Taj (he has infact laid the founding stones on the other side of the yamuna river) by converting its color from yellow to black.

Though Taj stands for an obnoxious (close to reckless) spending of people 's money by shah jehan's (even his son felt so and put him in prison for his last 8 years) , If one may consider the boost it has given to Indian Tourism and the innumerable people who make their living , starting from rickshaw-wallas , guides, to those interesting photographers (who make you feel/pose like shahjehan for 1000 Rs ) etc, I strongly felt , it was a nice investment for SJ for the Indian tourism.
Our Last stop was at Fatehpur Sikkri which was built by “Akbar the great”, as a mark of his grand victory, Akbar is believed to be the most tolerant (but some facts say differently ) moghul emperors of all. Interestingly he had a wife each from Muslim, Hindu (Jodah Akbar – she was talked about more than Akbar by everybody thanks to the recent hit hindi movie in her name) and christian religions, its no wonder that he created Teen-Elahi which he proposed as an amalgamation of the three religions.
I was really thrilled to roam around in his court where he would have been conversing with the great ministers like birbal and the lovely music court where tansen would have been rendering those immortal ragas.

Just to ensure that I get a proper dosage of Indian summer before starting my next travel , I visited a hindu temple in a place called Sripuram near vellore fully woven by gold by a self proclaimed god (man), it was huge , intricate, stunningly beautiful and people have been flocking like mad to have a glance of the god (presumably gold, I suppose) . One would definitely find it enjoyable as a tourist attraction, forgetting the I-AM-THE-GOD type stories. I had lots of questions on the pur pose of the building on the lines of Christopher Hitchens (“God is not Great”) , but kept them with in myself just to ensure I respect others sentiments.

Buildings start their life from the days of their conceptualization in the minds of those who had/have access to the huge kitty (of others) , carried on by the architects who gave life to the thoughts by their superior design (the use of trignometry principles in Redfort) and those poor builders who toiled for ages – Taj Mahal took 20000+ men and about 22 years-. Not all of them are completed and the lucky ones like Redfort, TajMahal etc stand as a proof of the “bigger than life” type imagination of those who wanted to outlive the time and be remembered by future generations. Visionaries like Akbar, Shahjehan have definitely achieved it evidently as no one is bothered about people like Jehangir (poor guy, built a huge library !), aurangazeb etc. Lets love buildings...

Sunday, 6 April 2008

In search of Lively bookstores in London!

Bookstores small and big have a life unto themselves and going to bookstores definitely provides a good experience - at least for the bibliophiles-. The fresh paper smell, knowledgeable staff , great selection of books to your avail would definitely could leave a great feeling of satisfaction of time well spent in them. London with its blend of modern values and legacy has a plenty to offer for those who love that personal feeling of visiting a booksho. Especially, Charing Cross road is full of bookstores from Borders, Blackwell, Foyles , a couple of secondhand bookstores etc. This is just an attempt to connect the dots on my pursuit of good bookstore's over the last three weeks .

Week 1:

Foyles was the first bookshop that I started with, Foyles is one of the oldest bookstores in London ,started in 1903 by two brothers, William and Gilbert Foyles, who set the shop to sell the books that they left with after failing in the civil service exams. Foyles has an extensive collection of books ( loved those books on pirates). Though it has many a sections, the collection lacked depth, I ended up staying mainly in the philosophy section and bought a couple of books.

Week 2:

After a bit of googling, I found Hatchard's to be a cut above the rest- it is the oldest surviving bookstore in whole of UK (Started in 1797)- and it didnt fail to impress. The shop has a well preserved legacy look(especially those reading chairs), after walking around for a while, I eventually moved on to my favorite section. Disappointingly the philosophy section was very weak. In the tills – I bought “Conjectures and Refutations” from Karl Popper- the staff accepted the fact that they have a very little collection on philosophy and surprisingly, referred me to couple of other places (competitors) where I could find a good collection. I don't know whether his manager would like that!

Another interesting place I found near Hatchard's was the “Fortnum and Mason” which was started in 1707 as a grocery – a supermarket now by evolution-, It was really an interesting place with all those costly items (350 pound hats, 150 pound umbrella's etc). It had an unimpressive small book section (majority on cookery , wine etc) as well.

Week 3:
After having lost the mobile , the weekend seemed to be more personal ,with an absolute control over my destiny. I decided to hit the Waterstones near Piccadilly (based on Hatchard staff's reference). After waving bye's to the party goer's in the stretch limos, I entered the biggest bookstore I have ever been to (they own Hatchard's as well), it was so huge that people were sleeping on the reading coaches- you feel bad when you want to sit and read-.

Waterstone's has a big collection of every possible books on all the possible titles -with a huge one epistemology as well-, but I didn't get the same warmth as in Foyles and Hatchard's. The staff (at least those whom I encountered) were less knowledgeable and more like those who are behind the train ticket counter. In spite of huge collection of philosophy books ,somehow I didn't feel like staying there for a long time. After spending a while in the Travel section, I headed back to Hatchard's to spend my evening with whatever they have got.

In the fast paced world, where book reading habit is dwindling drastically, very soon the smaller as well as bigger bookstores could be extinct paving way to supermarkets. Though these days could be a bit far, the smaller soulful bookstores would definitely be missed. After all , buying books is an experience we could always cherish, somewhere i read a quote about fishing which went like, 'Fishing is about that experience, many confuse it with the fish".

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Psychology of social networking sites


Nobody passes a day these days without checking out or without getting an invitation to join a social networking sites, they are the in thing and if you are not a part of these vogue stuff, you will be branded out of touch with the system, and with those net junkies , the peer pressure adds up even more.

If you start digging deep into to the psyche of the social networking site, we can understand our human carving to be associated with a group. This didn't start recently and has been since from our primordial days, man (and women too) started moving in groups for the want to food and safety which eventually led to the birth of villages , cities, countries etc and etc. Being in a group (except if you are a true lion which by probability very low) just adds to your comfort and you feel more courageous if you are among the crowd of like minded people. (Refer single theory , group theory etc or those pranks in your college days).

The key tenet of Internet has been collaborations among a diversified groups and initial days of web was all about consolidating information, it was a good foundation which led to newer interactions with somebody/thing whom you wouldnt have dreamt of meeting . For a society whose constituents had a shrunken vision of life, thanks to the widely accepted materialistic values, this was hardly sufficient and thus started chat .Chat was(is) a transient interaction and it built good (and some bad too) relationships. Evolutionary theory started playing a role and gradually web started moving towards social networking.

I dont have a clue about the exact birth of social networking sites (wikipedia is a different genre ) and am sure our wikipedians would take care of that, there are numerous popular soc networking sites like myspace, facebook, linkedin, orkut, bebo. flickr etc with huge fan following and very niche sites like asmallworld which are by invitation only but all of these exploit our carving for being in a group (not forgetting those emerging virtual world ones). So there is something to choose from whatever may be your want. But the sad fact is apart from being popular and money spinning machines, these sites are becoming more like Walmarts , Carrefours and Tesco's of the world. Pure commodity stuff.

On the otherhand there are set of emerging sites like twitter , librarything, passportstamp really stand out of the crowd for different reasons, twitter is a microblogging site and is a real cool stuff. Librarything is one the most useful site which exists for a purpose , where you can set up a catalog of your books (200 for free membership) in no time with all the information and you can put it in your blog also for a random display of your books, passportstamp is a site where you can keep a track of your travels and am sure if we dig more we could get more.

Whatever said and done, its good to understand that technology helps in getting people closer together where religions (were they supposed to ?) and other great leaders have failed. It would be interesting be see what would be next evolution of these sites, may be we all will dwell in the virtual communities and would be debating with socrates , aristotle in a greek amphitheater sipping our super chilled fosters. Lets keep our eyes open, in the mean time lets socialize more in the real world with real people, there has been no substitute to it.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Black Day in Google and T-Mobile Data Card

Above is how google was looking in the evening today (and it still does even as I write ), I was a bit shocked and was assuming somebody has found out a new IE security bug (last time I heard a 4 year old kid in morocco was able to do it) and , a closer look revealed that they are in fact spreading the message of earth hour. But with that all that web traffic that google generates by means of adsense adverts and the power it could consume globally, How about taking down adsense down , say for 10 minutes, wouldnt it conserve a lot of power, Mr Google?

Another funny thing about google i observed was the gmail size counter, when the page was loading it showed around 2+Gb and once the page had fully loaded the counter started ticking around and was showing 6 GB+, the funny thing was even after I had logged out of the internet ( My T Mobile data card has only 3GB bandwidth and works only during a specific combination of intensity of sunray , temparature , # of people in the jubilee line divided by 6.023 raised to the power of 23 etc) the counter was still on the increase. Some geek programmer in google , a ph.d may be, has put the logic in the javascript and it keeps ticking... Beware Google, technorati is catching up.

Black Swan, Power of Now and My Coffee

All thought is a feat of association; having what's in front of you bring up something in your mind that you almost didn't know you knew.Author: Robert Frost
Good books are always the source of good thoughts and i was fascinated by two thought provoking books in “Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and “Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle (in no particular order as a disclaimer). The two authors analyze life from two very different perspectives , Nassim was a day-trader by profession ,he calls himself a empirical skepticist and Eckhardtt Tolle doesn't call him of anything , but is an inspiring spiritual master.

Black Swan is quite heavy to read and is not that book you would want to read on the beach after a couple of margaritas being distracted by the blondes. Black Swan , nassim explains, is a metaphor which can be realized only after its occurrence and people typically understand it only in retrospect (couple of quoted black swans are Google and Sep 11 and recent ones being global liquditity crisis) and we really dont understand when we are in middle of it. The awesome part is the way nassim takes a hit on the established beliefs starting from Plato(personally I hated his “Republic”) , Gaussian bell (HR's beware) curves and so on, he questions a lot of common beleifs that we take for granted as a god given rule. Fun to read.
Another good part is the reference to lots of philosophers and it could be a start of a whole new on thinking , contrary to the common thinking of philosophy as a heavy subject reserved for bored academics with a strong inclination towards debating on useless conundrums , nassim lets us realize it to be tool to strech the mind positively. Being a skeptical empiricist with lots of questions may not be all that easy in a practical life at all circumstances ,dont ever practise it with your wife, it may be injurious to health, but there are lot of things that you could learn and I have really started appreciating the empiricists in John Locke , David hume (though they are not too skeptical like nassim) and others philosophers like descartes ("I think, therefore I am" fame),nietzche , satre and even the Aristotle (Rhetoric is awesome).

If "Black Swan" is about complexity, “Power of Now” is all about Simplicity and it talks about self realization and focusing on the present moment rather then lamenting about the past and being anxious about the future. The essence of the book is to stick to "Now" rather than seeking ourselves and our identities in the past (dont we all often hear how one's grand parents were rich and powerful etc) and future (that Maserrati car , Havana Cigars , Rolex watches etc etc). Though the concept that he explains is not something that he invented (he doesn't claim so as well, luckily), the beauty lies in the way it is presented .



The good part of Tolle is the clarity (sample in above video) that he had brought in explaining such a heavy concept of realizing self, killing ego, living in now with simple anecdotes and an easy question and answer style and one couldnt stop from drawing easy parallels between Eckhart Tolle, Ramana, Bhavat Gita , Sufisim etc. Tolle seems to be very well living in the present and has been generating books at a notable speed, few good books worth mentioning are “Stillness Speaks” and “Practicing Power of Now”.

The good thing about these two books are the way they have been accepted into the mainstream community irrespective of the heavy subjects , thanks to the capable authors. Nassim believes in the randomness (Fooled by Randomness was his first ever book) and argues that world is more non linear than we tend to think and trying to fit linearities upon an complex non linear event would not get us anywhere. Tolle believes in the orderliness of a very simple world where people cling on to the present and live the current moment and has a magnanimous vision of a New World where every body is very happy practising power of now.
Hey its, time for me to have a coffee , wait a moment , I think nassim would call coffee as “an invigorating liquid which has been made tastier by the brownian motion of the coffee particles suspended in the milk when properly heated” and tolle may call you to "just ignore anything else and enjoy the moment of sipping the coffee and be within yourself". We need them both and morethan any thing I just need my coffee NOW.

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Monday, 24 March 2008

Heather Mills and her divorce demands

£499,000 annually for holidays, including private flights and helicopter hire.
£125,000 per year for clothes.
£542,000 for security
£627,000 for charitable donations
£190,000 for professional fees
£30,000 for equestrian activities
£39,000 for wine
£73,000 for business staff
£43,000 for a driver
£20,000 for a carer
£39,000 for helicopter flights taking to hospital

The above were partial list of items that ex-model, leading charity beacon Heather Mills had wanted from her ex-husband Beatles hero, Sir Paul Macarteny as a part of the divorce settlement. This list has got a lot of funny anecdotes. While she was asking £39000 for wine the fact is, she does not drink (probably she was asking for her friends from the charity groups she supports). Due her leg problems she cannot ride horses and she has asked for £30000 for equestrian activities (for guests to ride may be) . So if you extrapolate this for other items(houses, cars etc) it is really hilarious.


In her not so famous crusade against Macca which lasted for months, she has made everybody's

eye brows rise with her obnoxious demands. Luckily the judge Sir Hugh was not an innocent man to believe ex-orbitant stories from her and has quashed her demand with stinkers. Though she has eventually agreed for £25 Million approx , she has been making wild comments about how she had been betrayed by Macca, the judicial system and luckily she has not made any statements saying that aliens were conspiring against her regarding the bounty that she truly deserved (she had estimated Macca to be worth of £800 Million and wanted around half of it).



Leaving aside the serious side of the story , it is really funny to read her interviews about the opportunities that she had lost because of being with Macca , she has claimed she has lost a multi million dollar contract with Larry King and she has lost the chance to be the top TV anchor somewhere else etc and etc. If she remains in limelight for more time we could hear things like

  • “Obama is pleading me to campaign for him”

  • “George Clooney is begging me to act in his next movie as his pair”

  • “Queen has been wanting me to run her charity missions”

  • “There is an offer from habitants of Mars to be their TV hostess”

Luckily all of these mess created by this not so cute con-artist has ended for swiftly thanks to the strong judicial system and only sad story would be that of her kid beatrice who is going to grow with her. God Save Beatrice. We can only hope she would change her minds and find something worthwhile to make money (to donate). Better luck with next husband darling .No matter what, people like heather gets the grand gossip machines of the world going and they dont fail to entertain us at all. Thanks a lot heather, you are a charm.

Friends, she is not the first woman who wanted to make money of out her celebrity husband and is not going be the last one either. In the meantime all those lonely rich male celebrities in London , Newyork, Paris etc , please be aware Heather Mils is on the loose and could be roaming around in your neighborhood/clubs for the big catch (The truth be hold. she is more than a blonde).

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Saturday, 22 March 2008

Long weekend with my laptop

Thursday 20 March 2008:
On my flight back from Belfast ,I was tensed immensely to face the long weekend contrary to those who were looking forward for it(Am sure the traders desperately were, heard most of them are giving penance this easter). The key reason being to face four cold days alone (I am in middle of my travel as usual). I am not a great fan of solitude and SITTING-ALONE-REALIZING-THY-SELF types.

My long week on the roads ended after I reached home very late thanks to the weather and the London Underground. My only connection to Belfast earlier was through the BoneyM song and it didn’t seem to be a dull place. I was intrigued by a shopping (Spires ?) mall which was housed in an Victorian type building , being to used to dull warehouse like buildings of Tescos and Walmarts , it was really refreshing to see a mall in such an elegant building. It was quite sad that I couldn’t get enough time for Irish single malts. I slept without any dreams abt my long weekend.

Friday 21 March 2008:
I started my lazy long weekend with a coffee and the thought of being organized struck me as a useful way to spend my day. Being organized has been in my wishlist since from very early days, somehow I was never fascinated by the notion of “…everything in its place”. I really love chaos and strongly believe chaos give birth to innovation (thanks to the popular support for chaos theory, a little bit of indiscpline is accepted everywhere now a days and is a good scientific excuse for being shabby). My Guinea pig was my laptop as it had started cranking out lately.

Being what I am, I spent a good time analyzing it to arrive at a directory structure which would be easy for storing and easy retrieval. (I consulted couple of websites but nothing was of use). I started with cleaning of all those old I-AM-HERE-TOO kind of files and those which have outlived their usage (we all live among them right?). Then it was a time for de-fragmentation of the drives which seem to go on for ever. Interestingly I had some 9GB worth of open source tools and some 600 odd presentations. Thanks for tolerating me Mr Laptop.

Leaving my laptop in the safe hands of defrag tools, I went out for a walk and wanted to try out renting a movie, the tile “Duel” in the display was very catchy (It was the first movie made by Spielberg) and it turned out to be a fantastic movie and I could never come out of it yet. It is a story/duel between a guy who is out on a long drive to somewhere and a truck driver (As usual hero wins). There were no major knots in the story but the way the events unfold was really spell binding. No wonder Spielberg went ahead to make big titles then onwards, If you haven’t watched the movie yet, you are missing something.

It remembered me of my favorite writer Sujatha whose lucid narrative style, satirical way of engaging the readers and the brilliant ability to present very hard subjects in a easy to understand manner has got him a fanatic fan following in Tamil .With a grasp on various walks of fields ranging from history, science, computers, fiction, serious literature, casual literature, arts etc he was (passed away last month) really a wikipedia with a soul.

Coming back, The defragmentor was still at its job and I was drawn by the FT’s art column, it was about an artist who uses “grey” as a predominant color of his choice to maximize strong void of feelings (???), it was an interesting read and the author was talking about minimalism, essentialism, emergence of pathos through colors and those confusing words. It was just an article you wouldn’t want to give a glance on a normal day, but given the luxury of time at my side and not wanting to hinder the critical mission of getting my laptop organized, I went ahead reading the review and was quite captivated by the author’s narration.

If i try to connect the dots of various happenings, the realization of enjoying smaller things of life with an immense involvement and a tolerance towards what it seems like a totally irrelevant thing to us makes us more matured and knowledgeble.....Ooops there is a burning smell from the kitchen , i don't know whats happening to my experiment on cooking , Catch you all soon.....

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Saturday, 15 March 2008

Analysis of Bear Stearn's sad sub-prime debacle

Lots and lots have been written and discussed about Sub priming and it has become a household name/phenomenon lately ( to the extent that it gives 20+ million result pages on a simple google hit, though the losses are 1000+ times of that) . World has been witnessing the aftermath of the sub-prime crisis and it doesn’t just seem to stop.
The latest emerging news about sub-prime crisis has been that of Bear Stearns debacle. Bear’s being the fifth largest investment bank in the US, is an unique and elite among the world’s financial institutions.
Bear Stearn has taken a heavy toll out of the subpriming (shares have fallen by 47%) and is limping hard to survive. If one were to take a closer look , there are lots of lessons one can learn about the complexities of the financial products and the implication of capitalistic drive when allowed to take a risky form , how hard it can hit the poor investors.In Nassim Taleb’s words Bear Stearn has proved that “Sub Priming” is a true Black Swan, nobody was able to predict about it and now people are conveniently fitting theories to explain it retrospectively.

Coming to our story, Bear Stearn's doesn’t deal with the common man; it is a wall street up market bank that has very close intricate web of interactions with the top banks (FT says it has been doing plumbing for them) and financial groups.
It had a huge exposure to the complex mortgage backed securities and the when the liquidity started evaporating from the market after the sub-prime bubble bust, it has started facing the tunes from the same who were pumping money to it. Fearing that BS may fail, Overnight, everybody have started liquidating Bear instruments and daytime and afternoon lending has also become very difficult for them and FED had to come to rescue to save them from the worst (to get their coffee machines working too).

Ironically the FED regulations (web says it is designed to protect only the direct impacts of common man) doesn’t allow them to directly lend to BS as it is not a regular type of a bank and JP MC had to play a middle man to facilitate the short-term (28 days) bail out.
JPMC has got nothing to lose as the risk will be underwritten by the Fed and it is just facilitating and by putting its skin to the game, it could very well emerge as a potential buyer of Bear Stearn's at dire cheap rates (Otherwise, It is hard to imagine this to be a patriotic act from the astute business man Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMC) .
Ironically during the Long-Term Capital Management crisis in the late 1990’s it is the same company (thanks to the retired CEO Jimmy Cayne who must be playing his usual bridge games now) which refused to co-operate in the bail out. Yet when they are in a similar situation the Bernanke(Fed Cheif) can’t refrain from saying that “You clear your own mess!” as this could further lead into the systemic failure of the financial backbones of US. So all those daring darling, dont worry Uncle Bern is there to help you.

Simply put Bear Stearn's case could just be a starting of a scary blood shed of those who seemed to understand (did you?) the complex and so called innovative financial instruments are all getting axed one by one (another one was Carlyle group last week) apart from those daunting write-downs by the likes of Citi, Meryll Lynch, UBS etc which we all know. Sad stories apart , this has become a happy hunting ground for the cash rich sovereign funds and the IS-MOON-AVAILABLE-FOR-BUYING kind of oil rich sheikhs to get huge stakes at low costs in the name of bailing the struggling co’s out.

While we are talking about these financial giants, very few people talk about the pension funds who have invested heavily betting on these financial innovators, it would be hard to see those poor men (women as well) who are sleeping peacefully unknowing the fact that their savings and future protection is being blown away under their nose by daring fund managers. So are we moving to an era of simplicity?
Hello Mr Not so rich investor, please dont read anything into sub-prime, credit swaps, options over futures, leveraged investments, spread betting over options and other head-spinning mumbo's instead you can buy gold and keep it under your pillow or you can invest in rare stamps (Stanley Gibbons )and please keep them in your purse always.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Learning from experience through low cost travel in chennai

I attended a outdoor indoor learning last week and it was awful lot of fun , it lasted for three days and put a test to the physical endurance (not much of strain for the brains). Training like this can reveal a lot of the things that you don’t know that you don’t know or things that you don’t know that you know. (Thanks to the recent management mumbo jumbo books I have picked up the art of talking in a very confused fashion). The combination of outdoor learning followed by a reflective indoor session makes the concept sticks in your brain cells; refer to www.learningfromexperience.com if you are interested. I found the Kolb's learning style inventory very interesting out of the training.

The effect of reflective training and the philosophies of Ramana that could be the basis of very famous "Power of Now" made me curious to conduct a practical experiment on my way back home, my aim was to reach my home from Chennai railway station through the public transport and autos rather than otherwise costly taxi option which could easily cost 8-10 times more (Other critical reason being my wife’s warning on my lavish spending on books L ).

Luckily there was another collegue of mine who was interested to pursue the travel like me and we started walking towards a sub-urban railway station from the main station. It was not a great walk but getting past those PAY-ME-ALL-THAT-YOU-HAVE auto and cab driver was quite a challenge, after managing them , we reached the station slowly (thanks to that strenuous trekking) and we were welcomed by its closed gates. Oops first obstacle for our experiment.

We didn’t give up and walked back again to get into a shared auto (that you share with other passengers who are not willing to pay a ransom by going alone), I had a slight hesitation in getting into that as it was a bit crowded and the driver was very abrupt in saying that if I need luxury I can go on a separate auto , it was a WELCOME-TO-THE real world kind of an experience and we started our journey his way. There were lot of interesting passengers on our route to a place called thiruvanmiyur (One of them was a lady servant maid who was going to work very , another guy who agreed to pay 10 Rs and paid only a part of it and still got away).

Our next journey was by a bus from thiruvanmiyur to velachery and more than the bus journey , the wait for the bus was the most interesting part , it was great to see the city getting itself prepared to take up the day and the early risers of the society like newspaper vendors , milk distributors, guys tired of making cold calls from BPO centers , bus drivers and conductors were roaming around sipping their teas and early morning smokes trying to pass the day to the late rising office goers.

The third journey was from velachery to pallikaranai (where I have my home) and the bus was leastly crowded , quite contrary to the popular belief the bus conductor didn’t curse me badly for not having proper change ( I was not able to take up this ill-treatment) and infact helped me in settling down with my baggages. After getting down , I had to take up an auto to my home and alas , I had to pay more than the total of above three journey’s . Anyway it was the compromise that I had to take to escape from those sleepy dogs (you could never underestimate the damage that they could do).

My parents were pleasantly surprised and infact my dad said I have started showing signs of sensibility towards money (Couldn’t understand that really). With a great sense of satisfaction of accomplished something which I have not tried in last ten years and having had a cool experience of seeing the real people who don’t need to pose with a borrowed lifestyle , I bragged my experience to my collegue that morning and there came a stunner, it seems there is a bus that starts from Chennai central that goes towards my house and it could have costed me only 1/10th of what I had spent. But hey, the experience that I got was worth paying it. To those who get a buddish smell out of this blog, I am not concluding to say that it enlightened me but it was revealing the fact that we all have simpler options in life and its worth enjoying those when ever we could.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Virtual Worlds and Your Real world Credit card

I was watching the BBC breakfast today on the emergence of a new (a bit old in the world ) web sites that promotes the phenomenon of virtual world. It’s really quite interesting to see the evolution of the web (forgetting the features of web 6.0 which we saw in my last blog); apart from serving our real world needs, web has now provisions to offer you an option of living out your fantasies in a virtual world. Though the virtual world hasn’t been pushed to the extremes of Isaac Asimov kind of fantasy realms-the current novel (The end of eternity) that i am reading talks about century 2458 -, it has emerged something to be noticed (other wise why should we care about it ;-)).
Virtual worlds are nothing new to the real world dwellers and it has taken different from being painted on the walls of the caves by homo habilis to what was captured on the papyrus by egyptians and to the various epics by various civilizations. Now a days virtual world has become synonymous with the sites like secondlife.com, there.com and the likes of forrester's and gartner's have started talking about it.

So what prompts one to have a virtual world forgetting the current reality? We often get bored of the “now” as it is too daunting to carry on (esp when it doesnt go on the way you would want it to!). The illusionary world, esp if you can maintain your anonymity to others , becomes a let down for your thoughts which you wouldnt do normally - we do when we pass those 3 pints-.
It gives you a sense of control over your destiny and gives an easy option to pull out if you dont want (In the real world, can you bunk that Valentine's dinner that you promised to your wife/girlfriend, the very thought it self is scary).

It has always been a pleasure to be digging around the history to understand what has happened (at least it helps those dull historians and sci-fi authors to survive) and to ponder about what will happen in the future. The very thought of skipping away from the tortorous , face-slapping reality itself is a sigh of relief for many of us.

There are myriads of reasons which makes us frustrated in our day to day transactions and the virtual world entrepreneurs tap (or try to tap) our psychic need for attaining what we want to do and what we want to be. So instead of day dreaming about us becoming Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, we can create avatars of similar nature on our own and we can become one.

These virtual worlds seems to be an extension of what is there in those Xbox and ps-x games and with a complex interaction of multiple players, the role that you choose and way you get to interact with the real psyche of somebody in Montenegro and Fiji Islands makes life more interesting, esp those who live in the cities with a very minimal realistic human interaction in the fast paced world.

But its not only for burning out your free time, some practical usefulness of these could be in the areas of simulation aided with the adaptive learning based on artificial intelligence of virtual avatars where one could learn how to behave in a new social/economical/political conditions and understand what life was before some 200 years back(I want to be a part of Richard Feynmann's lectures) and who knows, if it is pushed to some extreme we could be a part of a movie and interact with its character in the virtual world site instead of just watching those heroes and heroines running around the trees trying to get away from heroines dad and uncle who wants to marry her.
Watch out for that virtual world where you can search , blog, mail, map etc and from google where there could be mood sensitive adverts (how about an ad for getnewfriends.com after being kicked out another cute girl avatar? Eric?)

But are these sites not trying to make you move away from the practical realities of life similar to what TV has been doing to us for a long-time with its melodramatic antiquities? May be yes or may be no, but hey, all is not well and if you want to have a good life in the virtual world, you need to shell out some good amount of dough from your real world credit card and beware, you cannot tell your wife and bank that you will repay using your avatar who is too wealthy out the business that you have launched ( I heard banks are preparing to send hooligan avatars to collect what you owe?) .

Monday, 18 February 2008

Web 3.0 and beyond!

Enough has already been discussed about web 2.0 and it has become definitely not an “in-thing” to talk about, personally I always feel web 2.0 was a cooked up marketing strategy for presenting things in a sophisticated way - which users always wanted. Web 2.0 is not a technical breakthrough in a great way that it could spark lot of innovations. All that we got was a bunch of social networking mumbo jumbos with Ajax in the presentation layer. But it is really getting to be interesting what is brewing as web 3.0.

Web 3.0 as per Tim Berners-lee is “People keep asking what Web 3.0 is. I think maybe when you've got an overlay of scalable vector graphics - everything rippling and folding and looking misty - on Web 2.0 and access to a semantic Web integrated across a huge space of data, you'll have access to an unbelievable data resource” This sounds really serious and don’t mean much to ordinary mortals who are not in the innovation league of Tim.
Last I heard about the innovation league was that they are working on web 6.0 where you can order a coffee from starbucks site and download through your USB port, 6.0 is a web that could convert the bits into liquid particles using B2PML (bit to particle mapping language), Don’t get me wrong , after all did any one believe about 3D printers?

So what could constitute web 3.0, here is a compilation of what the world feels about web 3.0
People would operate on a semantic web, i.e. the data that is available can be perceived as information and can be queried over the web. Somebody can initiate a query like, Hey Mr. Google; get me a list of all the politicians around the world who are honest? (Google after querying over numerous indexed semantic webs would judiciously return No data found.)

It would pave way for artificial intelligence, so the bot that we could write would browse over the world and get us the cheapest air-ticket for Hawaii, book a hotel room at the rate of 2$/day against the actual cost of 2000$ (next to where your childhood sweetheart who is still unmarried like you, stays; married guys get to stay in YMCA types alone) , place an order for a pick up cab with a driver who is pleasant and speaks Swahili for your convenience and send a smart convincing I-AM-FEELING-VERY-SICK mail to your boss

Distributed databases where one row of info could be in a db running with oracle in seattle and rest would be in liquid and semi solid format running on a unknown db in Ghana
Easy communication with aliens

Oops , i think I am getting too wild about futuristic web 3.0 and till the time I could see a sensible web 3.0 project in apache , I am happy to drink coffee in a traditional way by buying it from a coffee shop, You?