Dec 12, 2010

The Problem With Wikileaks

Over the last one month, we've been inundated by wikileaks with all these 'top-secret' diplomatic cable communication records .. Of-course, some good aspects have come out like the true-pictures of prisoner abuse & related stories..But I've to say, bulk of this leaks is practically useless and to a great extent, undesirable.. I came across this link   today... The headline screams  'Singapore called India stupid , Japan a big fat loser'... Now if you read through the story, you would see that its some diplomat who has expressed this opinion.. Its not the stance or official position of Singapore..its just an arbitrary opinion of a diplomat.. Now the media highlights it with a catchy tagline to get reader-base.. An average news reader will be easily enraged by these kind of stories if he happens to be on the receiving side.. I'd say, a large proportion of Indians who read that news would have felt some level of animosity to Singapore..  This is precisely the problem with wikileaks.. By revealing these kind of communication between two officials, they are just fueling animosity..

Some of the other crap that was released by them -  Most of these arbit stories are comments / faxes by some diplomat to their superiors or colleagues.. Such comments between two individuals should never be escalated to such an extent that it creates unnecessary animosity .

During my time @ IIMK, we maintained a google group for Students' Council to discuss about various things happening in institute.. There are lot of crass comments like this in that GG for/against many people ..However, those remained in the group and was never allowed to become the official word of Council.. If that was thrown open to public, a lot of people would have felt strongly against us.. I tend to compare the feeling/irritation of people who are at the receiving end of wikileaks to what we would have felt if that Google Group was ever made public :)

Dec 3, 2010

The Triumph

Its almost a day since the announcement came..Still the vuvuzelas are going on and on over here in Qatar..  An event thats going to happen after 12 years means that much for the common man here.. Football has a greater purpose than being just a game.. If you look across the world, you would not find anything else that unites people more than soccer.. Cutting across religion, politics and races, soccer is perhaps the greatest unifying spirit of mankind.. By taking World Cup into unchartered territories like Russia & Qatar, Fifa has done the right thing-- bring more people under this unifying force..

Its a beautiful time to be in Qatar... Its much more than just hosting a tournament.. Its about bringing unprecedented development & world-wide visibility to the Middle East.. Its about bringing together a region that has been ravaged by conflicts for quite long.. Its about unifying people..I hope I can come back here in 2022 to see some matches :)

Nov 15, 2010

If you don't write about me in your blog..

Post marriage, wife has been threatening me with dire consequences if I don't write about her in my blog.. Now, I have to admit, I thought Students' Council @ K was the ultimate lesson in diplomacy.. But again, I've been proved wrong.. Bachelors over there, marriage will teach you diplomacy at its best.. Some nuggets of diplomacy ..

At marriage reception
She : (Introducing someone to me ) This is xyx ( name )  my aunt's nephew's cousin's ...
Me: Oh hi.. How you doing.. Nice to meet you..
(post 5 minutes )
She: Hey, u remember xyz
Me: Huh!! Which xyz ??
She: #$%^#%
- This happens both ways.. so, not much of a problem.. you tend to meet 100s of relatives.. you remember barely 10 of them..

At a shopping mall
She:- Does this top look beautiful ?
Me:-  Yes yes.. ( Have to say, there is no alternative answer to this)
- This doesn't end there.. this goes for multiple iterations.. And I've spent a disproportionately large proportion of my time waiting in-front of trial room to give this 'Yes yes' answer.. And needless to say, I've stopped looking at my credit card bill.. Finally coaxed her to take a credit card :) :)
-- post 2 - 3 hours
Me: Ah..I'm tired :(
She: #$^^%*$@ .. How can you get tired while shopping ?

At home
She : (After cooking experiments) Is this tasty ??
Me:.Well...yes  ( If you give this answer, the argument stops there :) )

Now, professional commitments have put us in two different countries till Jan :((.. So, the arguments have shifted to phone

Over Phone
Me: Hey..I forgot to tell you..I'm going to see a tennis match
She: don't tell me anything :(
Key learning - The statement 'forgot to tell you' is a taboo :)

Having said all this, I've to say its beautiful :) .. & I miss you :(

Nov 14, 2010

F-Mail ??

No..No.. Its not an expletive :) .. On the other hand, this Monday(15-Nov) could be a day when email communication gets redefined again.. Last time it happened was when G-Mail was announced in 2003-04.. And as per lot of  reports, Facebook might be coming up with a mail system..
News Links

Nov 6, 2010

The Mallu'ish 'Gelf'

When people told Qatar is full of mallus, I really didn't expect this much..
My usual intro conversation with a new person whom I meet here

Me: Naam kya hain ?
Stranger : Eh !!

Me: Name ?
Stranger: Eh!!

Me: Perentha ?
Stranger : Oh..peraano chodichathu ... Peru ... xyzz

Now I've started talking straightaway in Malayalam

Near the place where I stay in Doha, there is a Kerala inter-district football  tournament going on.. I've to say that the level of competition that I see in that is much higher than what is usually seen at Calicut in any of the leagues .. Some snaps from that
The Penalty :)

Oct 30, 2010

The Open-Economics of Technology-1

While I was studying engineering, there was a huge fan-following towards this Open-Source / Open Standards in technology.. I guess thats still there.. Microsoft is/was seen as the villain.. Linux was the holy grail of computer science folks..

6-8 years have passed by after that .. Now, the villain is Apple , with its tightly controlled iOs,Appstore ecosystem.. And the perceived open-angel is Google with its Android ecosystem. Steve Jobs in his various interviews and talks insists a profound point about this open-ness. "Ultimately customers are not bothered about whether the product is open or not..They are bothered about the experience with the product"...

There is this nice NYTimes article that I came across recently.. They are comparing the Mac-Windows phase with iPhone-Android 'battle' now. In the quest for perfection in experience, Apple has largely kept a close-knit system. In the quest for economies of scale, Android has taken a lot of manufacturers into its fold. For Google, achieving economies of scale matters a lot..Mobile Ad-revenue is a space that they really want to dominate. And to do that, they really need to make a large user-base on Android..

Is this really a head-on battle as analysts have been speculating ? Apple's goal is to create break-through products that gives a compelling user-experience.. Google's goal is to dominate Ad-revenue share from Search.. If we look from these two contrasting perspectives,Apple shouldn't ideally bother much even if Android installed base is gets much larger than iPhone base.. As long as there are enough App-developers making good Apps for iPhone, they should not really be bothered even if Android installed base is high..

Right now, making an App on iPhone is far more profitable than making an Android App.. But if the scale-economies turn the developers too towards Android, Apple should start to bother.. But the customer segment using iPhone is affluent. And, they are really not going to turn to Android for a fad towards open-technology anytime soon.. For them, its just the experience that matters.. I guess Jobs has figured that out.

Oct 5, 2010

Being in 'Extremes'

  I've realized something of late.. I live in extremes.. I'm either extremely professional or a totally lazy guy.. I'm either extremely competitive in some cases, whereas in others I really don't bother to raise even an effort..I'm either emotionally dead ( which many people have accused me of ) or i'm an emotional wreck in rarest of the rare situations.. I'm either very calm & composed or  i'm extremely frustrated... A subject either interests me a lot or it just doesn't go anywhere near me...   I don't belong to anywhere in between..

   The problem in being in extremes is that when you are in one extreme, even  in situations which require the opposite extreme behavior, you tend to fluster... Its very tough for me to strike a middle path. There is a property of extremes because of which this middle path is extremely difficult..Typically if you take a pair of contrasting extremes, one extreme ( say, extreme A)  would mean you expect a lot from your environment/society/immediate circle of friends/family...In the opposite extreme ( say extreme B), you would expect nothing from anyone.. If you are in extreme A, absence of some expected behavior would would tend to push you more & more towards extreme A.. You wish you were @ extreme B.. But switching is kind of out of our control.. Situations may have modeled / cultured you to be in say, extreme B behavioral state.. switching to extreme A is very difficult... And once you switch somehow, each and every situation that may require the opposite extreme behavior won't even bother you..But may bother others a lot :)

Aug 22, 2010

Discovering Economies Of Scope in Technology

  There's this interesting joke that I came across in Seeking-Alpha "Intel bought McAfee because the bloatware that McAfee sells is second biggest driving force for CPU upgrades after Windows. And CPU upgrades are good for business at Intel"
     Its a strange acquisition in many senses.. Intel paid a huge premium ( 60% premium @ $48 per share in an all cash deal worth $ 7.7 billion in cash ).. Never heard of a tech-acquisition that big in recent times.. Even the big buys made by Oracle were a mix of cash & share options. So, what made Intel buy McAfee which runs a seemingly unrelated business of anti-virus & security software ?
     To understand this in a better way, there was this interesting debate between Steve Jobs @ Apple vs Adobe..It was over the unsuitability of flash for iphone..The letter by Jobs is still given on Apple site .. A lot of points in this debate are on open vs closed systems.. But there is this point related to hardware given by Jobs - "To achieve long battery life when playing video, mobile devices must decode the video in hardware; decoding it in software uses too much power" ..Jobs' argument is in a different domain..But the implied point is that, as electronics on these domains advances, more and more functionalities move into a hardware domain from a pure software related side..Audio was the first one, Video controllers built into chips were next and Security related functionalities may be the next

    During my engineering course, we were taught this interesting observation called 'Moore's Law' ( Gordon Moore was one of the co-founders of Intel ) .. It observed the number of transistors per square ( and consequently, the processing power)  inch on an Integrated Chip doubled every year.. This rate of growth has been rather slow over the last 5 years or so. If you compare the PC processors that Intel has been doling out, even though they have been boosting the speed, there is very little value add for a normal person.. In other words, unless I'm a gaming freak or a graphics designer or some specialized application user, there is very little need for me to buy a latest Intel processor based PC/laptop.. Intel has been unable to make any significant progress on a 'value addition to a normal user' over the past few years..And thats reflected in their cash-rich balance sheet ( They have a cash balance of $18.3 billion it seems ) 
      So, basically Intel is trying to bring new value at a hardware level.. As the processor speed based game kind of leveled out, Intel needed to do something innovative or special to keep its hold on the consumers.. In other words, they are searching for new economies of scope by buying McAfee..
       To be fair to them, this acquisition is just a no-loss experiment.. For, there is no better way to use their huge cash reserves ( maybe other way was to give out huge dividends ) ..And even if they fail to integrate McAfee technology to the chips , they are not going to lose out as McAfee themselves have a stable business. 

Aug 18, 2010

The Clock Runs a Full Circle

There is a lot of noise being made about Mamata Banerjee's common rally along with the Maoists.Left & BJP are equally vociferous in criticizing her..I'm no Trinamool supporter either, however I find the development actually positive

I'm an eternal optimist when it comes to Indian politics. Somehow the belief that system will work out well in the long run is entrenched in me. During my first year @ IIMK, I was exposed to an amazing course called Social Transformation of India taken by A F Mathew. It exposed us to the grim realities of Rural India and why people take up arms as a means to end desperation..  Arms struggle is not a viable option in long term..Neither will it work in a well informed & increasingly well connected world.. The growing assimilation of Maoists in Nepal to the mainstream politics in a pointer to that. I've a feeling that even the Maoists in India are realizing the futility of an armed campaign outside their comfort zone..In Economics terms, 'Network Externalities' are forcing Maoists to take this path :)

 No matter whatever be the political brownie points that Mamata is aiming at, the fact is that Maoists are increasingly seeking an acceptable 'channel'  to the outside world.. And that political channel, whether it comes through Left or Trinamool is largely immaterial..

Jun 20, 2010

History, Predictions, World Cup & Taleb

I read an amusing argument in a World Cup news section of some paper - "Since 1962, European teams & Latin American teams have won the world cup alternately. Going by that logic, it'll be Brazil or Argentina this time" .. About 2 - 3 years, I might have been swayed by these kind of arguments, however, after reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Fooled by Randomness, I tend to be amused by these kind of predictions..
   There are different kind of predictions. One type of predictors just give out their bets / premonitions..Second one, you just do a set of data analysis, find some pattern and make your bet based on that..If you win, you tend to develop a self-belief in your logic, which might not have any rational basis.. You never tend to realize that you have made a correct bet just out of randomness, rather than any strength in the underlying logic.. A lot of stock market bets are again like that..You tend to observe a set of past events , make some generalizations and place a bet..If you win, your tend to feel a high...Very rarely do such people realize that they are indeed 'fooled by randomness' 

    You tend to see such illogical statements or predictions everywhere..FIFA site now screams this just ahead of match between Brazil & Ivory Coast - "Brazil have never conceded a goal against an African team in the history of the World Cup. " Now, what logical connection do past WC matches of Brazil have with today's match ? I wonder how many ppl would have bet in Ladbrokes based on such comparisons..

    In 1996 World Cup Cricket final between SriLanka & Australia , Arjuna Ranatunga, the Srilankan captain won the toss and decided to chase. Back then it was unthinkable..Why ? Because from 1975 - 1992 ( 5 world cups ) , no team had won a World cup final by chasing..Everyone won while batting first. When Ranatunga won the toss & decided to field, I remember many commentators criticizing that decision..
Srilanka won that final . In the post match conference, I still remember a journalist questioning Ranatunga on his decision to field first. To that , Ranatunga answered like this - " I don't believe in history. I believe in ability" ..Srilanka in that tournament had perfected the art of chasing..And to that basis, Ranatunga's decision was correct. However, had Srilanka lost that final , the first criticism that Ranatunga would have faced would have been over his decision to field first.. Very few people will recognize this randomness bias in such situations..And even if you recognize that, it would take a lot of guts to "go against history"..  Back then, I didn't understand the significance of Ranatunga's statement. But after reading Taleb, all such things make more and more sense to me.

Now back to World Cup Soccer..Seeing the way European powerhouses are playing , I don't think anyone amongst them is going to win ( PS:- I'm a hard core fan of Netherlands Soccer team ) .. And based on the current form, I would any day bet on Latin American teams..And when this tournament ends and say Brazil/ Argentina wins, people should realize that its not because of this 'alternate winners between Europe & Latin America phenomenon' , but it is because of the way they have played.

Apr 29, 2010

The Goldman - SEC Tangle

     When someone makes a very flashy statement , it quickly catches the imagination of the public..News sites repeat it again and again because of its sensationalist value..If you read in general about the global financial industry, this statement wouldn't have missed you last week -  "When you buy protection against an event that you have a hand in causing, you are buying fire insurance on someone else's house and then committing arson "..

A very catchy statement made as an accusation against Goldman Sachs recently..However if you dig a bit deep into this extremely interesting case, you would find that this statement is metaphorically wrong to be used in this context.

At the heart of this entire quagmire is this structured financial product called 'Synthetic CDO's' .It actually seems to be like a gambling instrument.Player A thinks that a particular market ( in this case the housing mortgage market ) will tank. He thinks that he can profit out of this by buying a lot of 'Credit Default Swaps'(CDS) on some bonds in this market. However, he cannot get CDS out of thin air. Players B & C feel that the market is bullish and thinks that they can profit by being on the long side of insurance ( CDS ) . Investment bank GS brings these players together and with the help of another intermediary, structures this transaction putting player A on the short side , B & C on the long side. Essentially what GS was doing was just 'making the market' or brokering the deal between parties who had counter views on the market. It was guaranteed that one side will lose and other will gain. Eventually the market tanked & player A won. 

 SEC case is built on this premise - "GS failed to disclose to players B & C that the person who came forth with the deal was on the short side ". In other words, GS failed to do its fiduciary duty to the investors. However this argument falls flat on one good point- The relationship between GS & players B&C is not investment advisor - investor .. Its rather the relationship between market-maker and a client. The client in this case is an established institutional investor who has his own views about the market..Had Goldman taken this deal to retail investors ( and internally betting against the market ) , it would have been a clear case of fraud. 

  Similarly one of Goldman's counter arguments was also a little bit stupid. With respect to this particular trade, GS themselves lost out about $90 million as they were on the long side. How did GS lose ? It is common for the agency brokering the deal to hold a slice of investment ( a long position ) so that the other players on the long side get a confidence . GS apparently held that long position to give the deal a bit of credibility. They would have thought that they can easily exit this long position, which they could not do..And ultimately it resulted in a loss for them.

   If Goldman was advising clients B & C ( investment advisory ) in addition to being the market-maker, there would have been a clear case of conflict of interest ( this aspect is yet to emerge in SEC hearings I think ). Essentially one agency cannot at the same time be both investment advisory & market maker.So, does this mean that banking has to be separated from  market-making ? I think yes. Because there is a clear case of conflict of interest. And with these esoteric financial instruments, the conflicts might deepen

   Is there any Social Value for these Synthetic CDO's ? After all, the players involved have no insurable interest & they do not own the bonds. Isn't it just betting ? However, this argument isn't that sound. This is in one way the equivalent of short-selling in stocks. Short selling is a powerful mechanism to deflate bubbles. It aids in price discovery. However there is a big difference between short selling and CDS. The Credit Default Swaps are private agreements. Short selling is done through stock exchanges ( atleast a high volume ) . Very little information on the CDS market is known publicly. If CDS settlements are routed through central clearing houses,the information on the volume of bets would be known in industry and players would be more careful against bubbles. Infact, volume of CDS trading is a better indicator on the value of bond rather than pure credit ratings. Hence, I think the solution is not to ban Synthetic CDO's ( by that argument, even short selling will have to regulated as players just speculate rather than invest ) , but to make the information public.

 I don't think Goldman is 100% clean..However I would bet against SEC in this :).

Few worthy links

6) The pitch book -

Apr 21, 2010

Doesn't Albie Morkel Look like Michael Ballack ??

Doesn't these two people have an uncanny resemblance ? The first time when I saw Morkel play for CSK, I was just wondering did they contract Ballack for a celebrity status..  The similarity appears even more striking when seen on Television

Mar 31, 2010

The Fixation with Devil among Keralites ?

Last month's Google Analytics reports on my blog gives me this interesting keyword search stat..

Satan worship in Kerala   ( 18 visits )
Satanic worship in Kerala   ( 8 visits )
devil worship in Kerala      ( 4 visits )
Satan worship in Cochin     (4 visits )
Satan worshippers in Kerala ( 2 visits )
...and some more with one hit each

In total about 40 Devil related keyword searches reached my blog last month.. I had written once from a technical perspective on this
.. But wondering what's the reason behind this sudden spike in interest with devil among Mallus.. Is it because of exam season or something ? Any rational explanations ?

Feb 16, 2010

The Office Of Representation

When I came over here at IIMK, I never thought I would have a 2 year stint like this.. I'm someone who had stayed away from practically anything other than Acads during my undergrad.. Infact 70% of the students at NITC would have been in some Ragam committee or other...but i've never been in one over my entire 4 year stay over there.
With such a background behind me, I found myself in the thick of all activities over here.. Got elected into Students' Council couple of months after I came here..and after that it has been an enriching ( & extremely difficult at times) life.. It has been a stint that taught me a lot.. In many situations my way of thinking has changed a lot because of this..
Words can never describe these, but I'll give a few examples to Illustrate..

* Often, an average Indian has a high tendency to blame the govt / authorities / whoever who is in charge for lot of issues that he's facing.. Like, he'll say electricity supply is breaking down frequently, petrol prices are spiralling up, cleanliness is not maintained in public places etc..All these are facts.. But the point that the common man might fail to realize is that the Govt / administration is working under lot of constraints....petro prices might not be in govt's control, they might not be finding enough municipal workers to clear garbage etc.. Now all these might seem to be excuses that Govt should not make.. it seemed to be so to me till 2 years back..
Here I've been at the receiving end of so many issues..washing machines not working, dogs in campus, budget money not deposited , marks not fair...and much more.. I'm in a representative position which exposes you to all these kinds of demands from people..Even as I'm writing these, complaints about the Mess bill are coming up in IP.. In other words, I've realized what it is to be like when you are running a govt ( can't equate this to the real govt running experience, but may be a minute fraction of that ) .. You might want to do a lot..but you are often bound my many constraints.. This 'constraints' might seem to be a political excuse to many..And many people might not buy this kind of an excuse.. but often thats the answer when people come to you with issues that you cannot resolve...The reasons could be many...may be you don't have the power..may be addressing that might lead to more problems..maybe you simply don't have time ...and much more.. The problem in such an office of representation is that it is very difficult for your constituents to realize the barriers that you have.

* In the earlier point, I mentioned about the lack of time..Again to a normal citizen, the excuse that govt does not have the time would seem to be an insulting excuse..But then, its a fact.. Here, there have been situations in which I've got many such issues to handle from different people.. Each one of them might have often felt that why my issue is not addressed.. Unfortunately, he's not aware of the entire set of issues that we are facing... He often thinks from a perspective that his is the only issue.. But we might have may be 10 identical or non-identical issues from 20 different people coming to us...And if we prioritize that, probably his issue might not figure in the top set.. And if we, being in an institute with about 550 odd people have face it, I can imagine the kind of pressure that a Govt would be going through.. And often this pressure would lead to govt into a non-action state..or in better words, a not-too-bothered state.. People call that inefficiency...but in reality, its not just inefficiency...its something more systemic.. govt cannot be thought of as an answering machine or a grievance addressing mechanism...those are just parts of the machinery

* B-school is perhaps the worst place theoretically to preach or teach altruism.. But I've realized value of being altruistic to a certain extent by being in this office..Before coming here, I had a strong conviction that by putting in certain correct incentive mechanisms , you can make people work...But thats not correct in many situations... Many of the so-called capitalistic things can be done in a better way if you sensitize your workers in an altruistic or socialistic way... And paradoxically this realization has come in a place which is supposed to be the rock-bed of capitalism in modern times - the B-school
What really makes elected representatives work ? You really don't have an incentive mechanism set up over there.. Constituents elect their representatives.. Maybe the only thing that the representative should be worried about is the re-election.. Now, that re-election threat alone is not enough to make people work.. Unless the representative has a dominant altruistic inclination, its very difficult for him/her to be motivated to work.. Just as in the case of a B-school were the carrots of CV point & all are not really enough to make ppl work ( these are motivating enough for ppl to contest ) , you cannot design enough carrots for an elected representative to work in a political system..

* In a democratically elected govt ( or for that matter, any type of govt ) , many of the decisions cannot be taken democratically..There have been situations in which we as a student body felt that a certain course of action was correct taking into consideration the long term interest of the institute, but felt that if we bring this issue up for discussion or voting among our constituents, we may not be able to get that done ( in a democratic way ) .. And we went ahead recommending the correct course of action in a non-democratic way (i.e, without taking the consensus in the batch) ...the fear might have been unsubstantiated though.. But the underlying point is this.. Whenever an issue comes, there are often calls from lot of people saying, lets do a poll..lets do what the majority feels..etc... But thats a very very wrong way of thought.. The majority in a democracy might not think in a rational way.. majority might not consider long term interest at all...Like, if we do a poll in India asking whether income tax should be reduced to 5% or not , a democratic solution would result in 5% tax...but with that tax, govt cannot sustain the system.. Democracy is often called a participative form of governance..But it should be participative only when the elected representatives call for participation...When to invite for participation is another call that representatives need to take ( and that call is often a tricky one )

And much more..I can go on and on in this subject... But enough for a blog post..

Few years later, I may pen down all these experiences , principles, learnings etc in a book :)