Friday, May 26, 2006

Google + Dell, Yahoo + eBAY, and Microsoft

Yahoo and eBay joined hands to fight Google. And, Dell boxes will ship with Google pack from now on.

Shares of Yahoo! went up, eBay went up, Google went up, and Dell went up. And Microsoft went up too!

I don't know if Google's move is counter to Yahoo's since only hours separated these news. But one thing for sure, Google definitely hit upon a great idea to realize the real estate offered by Dell. Eversince HP and Lenovo have been successful in cutting the fab and consumers starting to prefer window shopping PCs to ordering over Internet, Dell share has been declined. Their results were below expectations. This will increase profit margins for them.

As a consumer, I see it as going in positive direction. I see a future where minimal configuration PCs preloaded with search and other discount coupons for shopping be real cheap if they were subsidized by search engines and shopping portals? How about mail-in rebates for when you buy a PC?

Rube Goldberg Machines

I have always loved the idea of complex machines doing simple tasks and had "invented" lots of them during my childhood. I didn't watch TV or cartoons that much, so never noticed similar ideas floating by. One such machine was a complex device to catch bees that keep disturbing us on summer afternoons.

Recently, I hit upon the quiz that talks about famous Honda "Cog" advertisement. I had seen it on Internet and liked the commercial a lot (being similar to my childhood machines). However, I never know that these are called "Rube Goldberg" machines after the famous cartoonist who invented them. Now I know that they are also called "Heath Robinson contraption" (in UK) and Pythagorean Machines (in Japan).

I loved playing The Incredible Machine a lot after I first learnt in G-20, Ravindra Bhawan at the university. Me and N. V. P. Iyer spent nights playing this game. Those who haven't played it should give it a try. I still play the later versions of this game: "Return of the Incredible Machine: Contraptions", and "The Incredible Machine: Even More Contraptions". They are so much fun.


RSI is getting lots of attention from computer addicts all over the world. I'm just another addict and thus, I recently downloaded Workrave to give it a try. Though the interface is good, I find it pretty annoying. Or may be that reflects how little breaks I take while working. However annoying it may be, I want to keep it on default settings for a few days and if that's still intrusive, I would like to try never-had-a-rsi-problem settings of 10 seconds micropause every 10 minutes and 5 min rest break every hour.

I would have liked a lighter version. A small applet consuming 20 MB of RAM is not a good one.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Reservations: OBC View

A wonderful post by an OBC in an IIT and his take on reservations.

True Mandal

This article from ChandraBhan Prasad is eye-opening and shows the true Mandal. I agree with him that if powerful OBCs are removed from the list, the anti-sentiment will cool-off. However, ecnomonic considerations should be part of it to be acceptable to me as a short term solution.

Misuse of Reservation System

Well, as I was reading the articles, I found the misuse of reservations system in India is not in isolation. We, Indians, can get an OBC or SC/ST certificate so easily that the main purpose is lost anyway. But here, I found that Americans are using DNA tests and technology to claim certain rights. E.g. a white person undergoing DNA tests to claim that she is 2% Asian and gets into college (after claiming she is Asian) and gets a scholarship too!

I should also undergo DNA test to find out that how much % of me is OBC! That alone can ensure some future to my offspring. Where have we come?

Reservation hurts

As if killing IITs and IIMs are not enough, they want to kill private sector now. Our vulture government is adamant now on introducing reservations in jobs in private sector too. If I own a company, I decide who I employ. That’s none of government business. I pay taxes for you to set-up whatever you want to. Keep out of my company.

I think India is heading for a long civil war. Slowly but steadily.

I thought of various alternative reservation mechanisms to follow up my earlier post. I still think we don’t need the reservations but owing to current state of affairs with respect to primary and secondary education, I propose following alternatives:

A. Government is given 25 years to get primary and secondary education systems in shape. Let there be reservations for economically backward classes (people below 50% of per capita income) in all institutes. Let this be pegged at 30% from year 1 and reducing in one percentage point every year for next 25 years (29% in year 2, 28% in year 3 and so on... till 5% is left in year 26). Then let 5% continue for another 25 years period and probably forever. Allow vacant seats be filled by general category.

B. Identify what people actually need reservation. Analyse their demographics. Install a point scale from 1-10 for these people. Award them that many % extra marks. That’s the way it is done for NCC cadets, War Widows and like. No reservations, just plain, pure and simple affirmative action.

C. Same point scale as in B and gradually decreasing reservation as in A. And the cut-off of reserved category be set at 10% below (at 90% of marks of) last general category student admitted. Again, allow vacant seats be filled by general category.

None of my alternatives are based on castes (scrape the SC/ST quota too), as I don’t like discrimination and don’t want to divide based on caste. I remember an OBC leader saying that they have suffered 2000 years of oppression. Are we supposed to pay for (claimed) sins of our ancestors? Where are the facts? Didn’t Muslims invade India in last 1500 years? Should we throw them out? Those same Muslims now want reservation too! The same leader also said that OBC in India are worse off that Slaves were in USA. Also the reason he says that since upper caste people get coaching for entrance, OBC need reservation. I say that coaching system favours people based on their economic status not caste. So he should instead be arguing for economically backward not socially backward. Another argument he made that % of OBC population is more even more that it was when decided by Mandal commission. Well, so population control goes against you. People are being rewarded for multiplying faster!

See where it is heading? Why don’t the government reserve everything in this country to everybody in their share of population? OBCs drive on road in OBC lanes. SC/ST in SC/ST lanes. Let’s reserve seats in airlines, railways, buses, and all public and private transport. Let’s designate half of country’s lakes as OBC lakes. OBC and other backwards take east shore of any river and general category the west shore. 50% of “sulabh” toilets are reserved for OBC. So are 50% of hospital beds. And, 50% of all cars sold. And, 50% of all two-wheelers sold. And while are at it, 50% of parliament seats and 50% of cremation grounds, too. To hell with it, why doesn’t the government divide India into two equal parts? A general category India and a backward India (consisting of all self proclaimed backwards – SC/ST/OBC). Give us our country back. Let us progress. We will create new IITs and IIMs. We don’t need Congress or UPA. You go head the Backward Republic of India. Leave us in peace.

I hate being unable to do anything about it. That’s where I don’t like democracy. You own the cow and neighbours decide who gets the milk. Democracy probably depends too much on average IQ of the population below the median IQ.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Saas Bahu Saga and The Sensex

I feel bad at naming the post so similar to CNBC TV-18 program's name "Saas Bahu and Sensex". But nothing else sum up my post better. Though the issues are not interlinked here as in the program.

I found how much Afghanistan loves Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and was, honestly, a bit surprised. Ekta Kapoor promoting genesets sales in Afghanistan. I don't happen to like soap operas but I know how many people prefer to get involved in Tulsi's life. It does not matter to some that may be their own problems will get resolved if they spent the same half an hour discussing with their hubbies. Well, their life, their choice. On the same note, I wish these serials have significantly less *noise* of heads turning, eyeballs meeting etc. Each such scene repeats thrice with ill-conceived sound effects. It is deafening and boring. Unfortunately, other serials have started copying it too. I wish TVs have programmable automatic sound filters.

Sensex has tanked today. Markets witnessed their highest absolute fall till date. Down 826.4 points (-6.76%) at close. Black Monday is legacy now. Lets talk about Black (or rather Red) Thursday. It had to happen. But the slope surprised me. Looking at advance decline ratio, recovery seems remote. It may fall further on Friday. And FIIs may come to feast on it if it 11,000 is broken.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Consumerism.... vs Philanthropy

See Nitin's comment on earlier blog here.

I agree that consumerism is a good thing. Car, flights etc are neccessary things which are offering value (such as reduced travel time) and has an associated cost. Ofcourse, people can travel by train rather than the plane and spend the money thus saved into philanthropic causes. People have done that and are doing that. But thats not I would expect from anybody or everybody.

Dogs, however, serve a different need, that in my opinion can be substituted in most of the cases. Perhaps, thats my perception and prior experiences with dogs and their owners. Most of them treat their dog as their (super)kid and flant them. They also believe their dog is superior to many poor kids living in the neighbourhood. This was in reference to these scenarios.

Dogs also serve other needs that can't be substituted such as aid to blind persons, sniffer dogs and other specialized roles. Its not about that.

Consumerism is good for society so long as it remains within reasonble realm. Its good as long as it does not strain resources. If resources are plentiful, consumerism is good. If resources are scarce, proper measure ought to be taken. Imaging water scarcity driving water prices to $20 per liter. Would you say that poor have no right to drink water since they can't afford it? Would you say in that scenario that water industry is creating lot of jobs and lots of money for shareholders so its good for ecnomony? You could say the same about opium trade. (in negative sense, though. They generated lots of jobs and lots of money. But do we want it?)

With money comes responsibility. Atleast for those, who understand that money isn't everything.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Dogs: Best Friend or Enemy of State

What inspires this post is a news item in CNBC TV-18 news yesterday on lifestyle. The focus, as you would have guessed it by now, is on dogs - so called man's (or to be politically correct, human's) best friend.

The case in point is the expenditure incurred on dogs vs the kids. As per the news item, buying a dog could set you back by 50,000 - 75,000 INR. And their monthly maintenance expenditure runs from 15,000 - 30,000 INR. That's a whopping INR 180,000 to INR 360,000 per year per dog. For international readers (if any) of my blog, that translates into $4,000 - $8,000 per dog per year.

Sample these facts. Indian per capita income is less than $600 per person per year. So an average dog has higher per capita income than an average Indian (or for that matter, higher than an average citizen in half the world's countries). Even on purchasing power parity, Indian at $3,400 falls short of a dog.

But that's not what I want to debate on. My concern is the next fact.

It costs INR 800 to educate one child for one year, that's less than $18 per child per year. You can sponsor a balwadi, (place where 35 below-poverty child below 6 yr old stay so that they don't get dragged into child labour) for a sum of INR 30,000 (or $670) for a year.

That to me translates that a dog consumes equivalent to 210 - 420 toddlers' basic needs; or education of 225-450 kids.

Still with me?

Another fact: India is home to 17 million child labourers (official). Unofficial estimates put this figure to close to 75-80 million.

I live in Bangalore. I have seen that the dog craze in this city is much more than in places such as Delhi. So much so that I am often disturbed by their indiscriminate barking that I can't work or live in peace. I wonder how people cope with that.

Estimating that only one in 50 families have at least one dog in Bangalore (I think I'm being conservative here); with population of more than 5 million, that would translate into more than 20,000 pet dogs in Bangalore. But even by this standards, that dogs consume more than what it would cost to setup up 240,000 balwadis caring for more than 8 million toddlers or about 10% of India's child labourer population. And that's just one city.

So, these dogs to me are more of enemy of these poverty stricken kids than human's best friend.

Talk about getting the priorities right?

I remember one poem from my school days. I forget the name of poet, but was probably, Sumitra Nandan Pant (one of the four great Hindi poets during 60s - 70s). Let me know if that's right. It goes:

"Kutton ko milta doodh, bhooke balak akulate hain.
Maa ki haddi se chipak chipak, jaade ki raat bitate hain."

Its in Hindi, written sometime in 60s or 70s. Here is English translation:

"While the dogs enjoy the milk, hungry kids agitate and go restless.
Clinging on the mother's bare bones, they pass the winter night."

(agitate is probably not the correct word here to Hindi "akulana" which is feeling of hunger, restlessness and feeling of being not able to do anything to change status quo)

Next time, you decide to buy a dog, think of how many kids you can rescue from the clutches of poverty. Go here and save the India's future.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Education and Reservation System In India

I have always had a simple opinion on reservations - "we don't need them". By we I mean Indians of all varieties, shapes and sizes. 12 yrs of primary and secondary education is enough to train kids to be competitive. If you can't do it in 12 most productive years, as far as learning is concerned, you can never do it. I also strongly advocate that education upto 12th should be free and compulsory. We should learn from Japanese what they did after WW-II. But making education free means money, and India is left without any with growing tax breaks, inefficient tax nets, tax evations bigger than economy of Pakistan, and richer, fatter and power-hungry politicians. Our politicians are busy making law to get more "offices of profit" when they should be making "12 yrs of education" into law.

People say we are poor country. A miniscule percentage of Indian public, who invest in primary markets and who are into "retail" segment with less than $2000 each to invest, coughed up more than Rs 200,000 crores or more than $ 4.5 billion. This excludes high-networth investors and financial institutions.

I think government should setup "Basic Education Fund" which has tax exemption of 200%. So if you have income of 10 million, donate 5 million to this fund and pay no tax. I'm sure this will lead to decent corpse. But the execution also counts a lot. We need to maintain public account of this fund to see how much goes where.

With so many politicians, incl. Arjun Singh and Left, saying that so-called backward castes need reservation, I challenge them to donate all the money they have for the cause of upliftment of their caste-brothers. No. They won't do that. They want middle-class to suffer and pay for their cause, reducing their right to education at the same time. I have never seen worse arguement that this. Kill the golden goose. Kill the middle-class. Kill the India. They never think of middle-class fellows who study 16-hr a day for their right to quality education. Rich will escape to foreign education. What about your bank-clerk's daughter? What mistake has she made in her life, apart from being born in India, that deny her birth-right to fair competition to quality education.

Also, those same politicians say merit will not suffer. I received a wonderful suggestion in email, that I would to share. How about reservation in Parliament? Let all doctors that treat MPs, MLAs be from backward classes. Let all aids be that. This will ensure jobs for them and provide good oppurtunities to growth. Let all government jobs for unskilled labour be reserved for backward classes. But ensure free and fair competition for skilled jobs.

I also don't like the concept of pre-nursery, nursery, LKG and UKG before getting into 1st. Poor kids. Give them a break. Let them enjoy atleast first 5-6 yrs. After that, its competition for the rest of life.

On the same note, I found this article from Rahul Phondke interesting from my alumni site. I can't link that here but here is how it goes (quoting verbatim)

In a significant move today, Congress announced 50 % reservation for all Left Handed people in IITs/IIMs. Said a congress spokesman , "In 60 years of independence there has not been a single left handed CEO. It is time to set the system right " . This reservation will be over and above the existing reservations taking the total reservation to 99.73 %. In order to take care of the fractions, the government also announced an increase in the number of seats taking the total IIM seats to 1000.

The official bill would be signed soon by the PM's office ....with his left hand ...