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 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.