Tuesday, April 24, 2007

All quiet on the blogging front

No new posts in the past 5 days... And this will continue to be the case for the next week or so. The project I am managing will be going into testing next week. Got to tidy up the loose ends and do some final reviews.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Gartner hype cycle

One very original concept from among the IT analyst firms is the "Hype Cycle" from Gartner. It maps out the distinct stages in the adoption of new technologies -
-- Technology trigger

-- Peak of expectations
-- Trough of disillusionment
-- Slope of enlightenment
-- Plateau of productivity

Mapped out spatially, the hype cycle would look like this...


In my opinion, the hype cycle is a sexed-up well-marketed version of the following Axiom -
"Any new concept is over-hyped in the short term and under-hyped in the long term"
(Keep this in mind when you want to plan your cross-sector career moves...)


Examples of over-hyped technologies that will be big in the future -
-- RFID
-- Nanotech
-- Software offshoring
-- The mobile phone as the sole computing device for most of the world
etc etc

Examples of over-hyped concepts that have started making a huge impact (good or bad)
-- Video streaming
etc etc

Every year, Gartner places the different emerging technologies into the graph based on their understanding of where the hype is leading. The 2006 hype cycle is here (Click on image for bigger picture etc etc)...


More about the hype cycle straight from the horse's mouth.


The Daniel Loeb anthology - Chapter 2

Expanding on our previous coverage of Daniel Loeb's unique activism style, below is a letter sent to the management of Salton Inc, makers of the George Foreman grill.

..................
..................
In the most recent quarterly results announced Wednesday, February 9th, the Company reported yet another "miss" on both lower revenues and poor margins. Short interest is one of the few benchmarks that seem to remain stable, with nearly 50% of the shares lent out to speculators who are betting that Mr.Dreimann will lead this Company into bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the Company's proposed restructuring, which has been in the works for over a year, remains a chimera.

What is most astounding about the Company's apparent death spiral is Mr.Dreimann's inexplicably insouciant attitude and the fact that he remains in charge. His tone and demeanor in our meeting last summer and on the conference call seemed to me to be one of denial and arrogance. I was disappointed that he refused to allow me to speak on the Company's conference call, but I might have forgiven him had he called me personally to apologize rather than having his lackey, Ken Sgro, insult my intelligence by blaming the slight on a "conference call administrator malfunction."

The conference call debacle pales in comparison to what I witnessed last summer when I attended the U.S. Open tennis final. You can only imagine my consternation when I looked around the stadium and saw the Salton name emblazoned all around the interior of the stadium walls next to such robust companies as IBM, JP Morgan and Mass Mutual. I had to wonder how much precious capital had been squandered in such a poorly conceived marketing scheme to promote the Salton name when the Company was in such dire financial straits. My bewilderment quickly turned to ange when I saw the crowd seeking autographs from the Olsen twins just below the private box that seemed to be occupied by Mr. Dreimann and others who were enjoying the match and summer sun while hobnobbing, snacking on shrimp cocktails and sipping chilled Gewurztraminer.

While Mr. Dreimann hobnobs at such social events and is driven around in a chauffeured limousine - I can only assume he has a chauffeur paid for by the Company; how else can one explain the $52,966 annual car allowance disclosed in the Company's proxy statement? -- Salton's shareholders and bondholders suffer the consequences. What is equally shocking as Mr. Dreimann's poor management, behavior and the fact that he is awarded anything more than subway tokens for his transportation needs is that this Board of Directors has sat idly by while he lays waste to this Company. In addition to the car allowance, how can the Board's compensation committee possibly justify granting Mr. Dreimann's exorbitant $600,000 annual salary?

One would assume that only a Board of Directors with no vested interest would look on while a CEO wastes corporate assets, is accused of irregularities with respect to the Company's distribution channel and is accused of trying to bully customers into engaging in uncompetitive behavior with respect to pricing. On the contrary, Centre Partners holds a $40 million preferred stock investment in the Company. Unfortunately for Centre, these preferred shares convert at a price
of $17.00 per share, which was a very substantial premium to start with and is an astronomical 494% premium to Friday's closing price. Nevertheless, one would think that Centre would want to protect the value of its preferred shares and perform its fiduciary duty, which in our opinion would involve relieving Leonhard Dreimann of his management duties as well as canceling his chauffeur-driven limousine.

In the course of my investigation into corporate governance matters at Salton I decided it would b worthwhile to understand Centre's operating philosophy and culture and to see why Centre managing directors, Robert A. Bergmann and Bruce A. Pollack, have not taken swift action to terminate the Company's bungling CEO. What struck me about Centre's website (www.centrepartners.com) was the wishy washy tone replete with business school jargon, buzz-words and cliches but little substance. Two examples are below:

"Our reputation rests firmly on the integrity, commitment and intelligence
of our professionals."

"Responsiveness has always been an essential, core value of our firm.
Whenever we are called by our partners, we react quickly to provide counsel
or services they need, and stay by their side through challenging times."

With all due respect to the professional staff at Centre, how intelligent was making a $40 million investment in Salton at a very substantial conversion premium, which could all be lost in a "cram down" should the Company have to file for bankruptcy? Secondly, one can only wonder how responsive Centre has actually been in light of the value destruction. I looked through the entire website and found it curious that there was no mention of holding management accountable or of Centre's own investment performance, which I imagine is probably pretty mediocre and inferior to that of the firm I manage. Third Point's culture differs from Centre's in our emphasis on performance, money making and accountability, in stark contrast to Centre's affable "Mr. Rogers" approach to investing. I suppose that if Third Point were to have a website, rather than the feel-good background of two shaking hands, we would likely depict a well-worn boot colliding with the backside of an incompetent manager.

It is admirable that Centre describes itself on its home page as a "firm with a middle market focus that seeks to make friendly acquisitions and equity investments," but the time for friendship with this CEO should end now. We at Third Point demand that Leonhard Dreimann be terminated immediately and replaced by either David Sabin or William Rue as interim CEO until such time as a qualified executive can be found to lead the Company back to the level of performance and prosperity that we believe is possible under new leadership.

Sincerely,
/s/ Daniel S. Loeb


Daniel S. Loeb
Chief Executive Officer

Related Posts:
The Daniel Loeb anthology - Chapter 1

The Daniel Loeb anthology - Chapter 1




Daniel Loeb runs a US$3.5 billion hedge fund called Third Point LLC. He is n activist fund manager known for sending sarcastic, searing open letters to the management of companies which he thinks are not doing well.

The letter featured in this post is not to any management; instead it is a recruiting email exchange. This should give you an opening into the mindset of the guy and the nature of his other letters.


—–Original Message—–
From: Alan Lewis
Sent: Tuesday, March 22, 2005 11:34 AM
To: Daniel Loeb
Subject: CV

Daniel,

Thanks for calling earlier today. Enclosed is my cv for your review. I look forward to following up with you when you have more time.

Best regards,

Alan

Alan D. Lewis
Managing Director
Sthenos Capital Ltd.

—–Original Message—–
From: Daniel Loeb
Sent: 27 March 2005 23:08
To: Alan Lewis
Subject: RE: CV

what are your 3 best current european ideas?

Daniel Loeb
Managing Member
Third Point LLC

—–Original Message—–
From: Alan Lewis
Sent: Monday, March 28, 2005 1:03 AM
To: Daniel Loeb
Subject: RE: CV

Daniel,

I am sorry but it does not interest me to move forward in this way. If you wish to have a proper discussion about what you are looking to accomplish in Europe, and see how I might fit in, fine.

Lesson one of dealing in Europe, business is not conducted in the same informal manner as in the U.S.

Best regards,

Alan

—–Original Message—–
From: Daniel Loeb
Sent: 28 March 2005 09:50
To: Alan Lewis
Subject: RE: CV

One idea would suffice.

We are an aggressive performance oriented fund looking for blood thirsty competitive individuals who show initiative and drive to make outstanding investments. This is why I have built third point into a $3.0 billion fund with average net returns of 30% net over 10 years.

We find most brits are bit set in their ways and prefer to knock back a pint at the pub and go shooting on weekend rather than work hard. Lifestyle choices and important and knowing one’s limitations with respect to dealing in a competitive environment is too. That is Lesson 1 at my shop.

It is good that we learned about this incompatibility early in the process and I wish you all the best in your career in traditional fund management.

Daniel

—–Original Message—–
From: Alan Lewis
Sent: Monday, March 28, 2005 4:08 AM
To: Daniel Loeb
Subject: RE: CV

Daniel,

I guess your reputation is proven correct. I have not been in traditional fund management for more than eleven years. I did not achieve the success I have by knocking back a pint, as you say. I am aggressive, and I do love this business. I am Half American and half French, and having spent more than half my life on this side of the pond I think I know a little something about how one conducts business in the UK and Europe.

There are many opportunities in the UK and Europe, shareholder regard is only beginning to be accepted and understood. However, if you come here and handle it in the same brash way you have in the U.S. I guarantee you will fail. Things are done differently here, yes place in
society still matters, where one went to school etc. It will take tact, and patience (traits you obviously do not have) to succeed in this arena.

Good luck!

Alan

—–Original Message—–
From: Daniel Loeb
Sent: 28 March 2005 10:23
To: Alan Lewis
Subject: RE: CV

Well, you will have plenty of time to discuss your “place in society” with the other fellows at the club.

I love the idea of a French/english unemployed guy whose fund just blew up telling me that I am going to fail.

At Third Point, like the financial markets in general,”one’s place in society” does not matter at all. We are a bunch of scrappy guys from diverse backgrounds (Jewish Muslim, Hindu etc) who enjoy outwitting pompous asses like yourself in financial markets globally.

Your “inexplicable insouciance” and disrespect is fascinating; It must be a French/English aristocratic thing. I will be following your “career” with great interest.

I have copied Patrick so that he can introduce you to people who might be a better fit-there must be an insurance company or mutual fund out there for you.

Dan Loeb

————————————————

From: Alan Lewis
To: Daniel Loeb
March 28 2005

Hubris.

————————————————

From: Daniel Loeb
To: Alan Lewis
March 28 2005

Laziness.


Via BankersBall




Thursday, April 12, 2007

Top traders in 2006

Trader Monthly magazine has come out with its list of top traders for 2006. To make the top 5, you need to have made 1 billion. To make the top 100, only 50 large ones...

Buggers seem to have lost my application form which I had filled out in triplicate and got attested by a notary!


Name


Firm



Age





Est. Income
John Arnold


Centaurus Energy



33





$1.5-2B
James Simons


Renaissance Technologies Corp.



68





$1.5-$2B
Eddie Lampert


ESL Investments



44





$1-1.5B
T. Boone Pickens


BP Capital



78





$1B-1.5
Stevie Cohen


SAC Capital Advisors



50





$1B
Stephen Feinberg


Cerberus Capital



47





$800-900M
Paul Tudor Jones


Tudor Investment Corp.



53





$700-800M
Bruce Kovner


Caxton Associates



62





$700-800M
Israel Englander


Millennium Management



58





$600-700M
David Shaw


D.E. Shaw & Co.



55





$600-700M

Full details here.
via Rajagopal


Interestingly, #2 in 2006 - James Simons - was #1 in 2005, earning around the same $1.5 billion range. He is a mathematician who is co-credited with the Chern-Simons theory. Read more about Simons here.

Simons runs "Renaissance Technologies" (RenTec) which specializes in black-box program trading. This is a trading technique which uses computer programs to automatically buy and sell equities/bonds/options and other instruments based on a variety of models. RenTec is said to specialise in statistical arbitrage (stat arb). A more illustrative and easier description of stat arb can be digested on Roger Ehrenberg's blog where he explains stat arb opportunities in the Dow's 540 point drop in Feb of this year.

RenTec is rumored to run 2 varieties of these programs - (1) where the program automatically does the full trading and (2) where the program spits out potential trades to a "human trading desk" who then optimize the recommendations for best leverage. Because the fully automated programs leverage stat arb models, they generate an enormous volume of trades squeezing tiny profits in each transaction. In the past, RenTec programs have generated 10% of total daily volume on the NASDAQ.

RenTec has around 250 employees, most of whom are Ph.D's in Mathematics, Physics, Comp Sci etc. and have never worked on Wall Street. From some info I had read sometime back, only the head of their "human trading desk" is from Wall Street.

If anybody wants to share in that wealth, you can apply here. Don't forget to give my name as the referral if you get in so that I can collect the 10k referral fee etc etc.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Life is a rollercoaster...

Don't worry. This is not about Ronan Keating crooning "Life is a rollercoaster" to a million teenage hearts and causing a warp in the space-time continuum.


Life in India is a rollercoaster seems to be the general feel from an American expat family in Bangalore...

".. the rhythm to being an American expat in India. The roller coaster analogy is probably the most helpful at illuminating the general feel of it in most things.
...............................

...............................
But the roller coaster is about more than just cool adventures and minor (and some major) annoyances. There's just not much middle here - no gentle sloping part to this ride where you go peacefully around the corner and reflect on the rest of the park.
...............................
...............................

Now, since I realize this sounds like me bitching about our pampered existence, I am bitching about a full-time staff of three people in a palm-tree lined resort. I know. There's times I just loose all patience.- I CAN DO MY OWN DAMN LAUNDRY AND DRIVE MY OWN DAMN CAR!!! Stop calling me "ma'am"! And... stop calling my 2 year old "sir".
...............................

...............................

It took us 4 months to get a bank account opened and its been 8 months and we STILL dont have screens on our windows. But...you can call a party planner on a Wednesday and throw a full blown St Patricks day themed party 2 days later."


Check out the full post here.


All these maids and drivers seem such an inefficient allocation of labor to somebody coming from a high-labor-cost economy (aka DIY culture aka you-gonna-charge-100-bucks-an-hour-for-that-!!! culture). In this case, I think the problem is aggravated by the fact that one spouse in an expat family usually doesn't work. So there really is no need for so much domestic help. But I am sure many all-IT families would love to afford this.

Gave me a chuckle when I read the "stop calling my 2 year old 'sir'" part. We now have a part-time maid back home in India to help Mom in the morning so that everybody can leave on time. My li'l 7-year old sis positively demands the maid to call her "sir"!! And they usually do!

But the biggest problem any expat family will face is the total lack of privacy. Everybody brazenly wants to know everything about everybody. The whole notion of privacy is lost on many many people. I had touched on this in a previous post about paper email in India.


Yes India is a very chaotic place where everybody wants to take the shortcut. But what Frank Sinatra sang about New York can equally be applied to this chaos - "If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere".

Monday, April 9, 2007

Europe crosses US in stock market value. First time since WWII

Via the NYPost


You can't pick one single reason for this. Instead it is a confluence of factors that have come together at the right time...
-- It's amazing what a stable solid currency can do for the long-term economic prospects of a region. If the Euro and the Pound continue to perform well against the dollar, it is better to hold Euro and Pound assets - here European stocks
-- More and more Asian and European firms prefer to list outside the US as US markets seem to be inefficient. Underwriting fees in the US are the highest in the world, coupled with the fact that IPO's are slowly becoming commoditized.
-- There is more growth in companies outside the US. So more companies tend to list outside the US.
-- etc etc

Imitation is the best form of flattery

Or something like that...

It seems that Google is using CSS from the open-source Yahoo User Interface library in the Google personalized homepage service.

My smartphone buying guide

I am in the market for a new mobile phone. If you have opinions on my shortlisted phones, do leave them in the comments.

What I am looking for in the phone
Prioritized, this is the order...
-- Great voice quality and volume
-- Speakerphone. I am in conference calls daily
-- Great camera. Space to store a good number of photos
-- Looks good
-- Internet browsing. The CBD area will soon be covered in WLAN
-- Music player. Doesn't need to be a "great" music player. Should be able to play a few songs
-- Allows me to write my own Java apps (at least) and download them to the phone

The budget
S$1000

The shortlist














Nokia N95



Nokia N93i



Nokia N91



Nokia N80



Nokia N73



SE K800i



SE K810i



SE W880i




Feature Comparison














Nokia N95

Camera: 5 M
Cam zoom: Digital
Cam Flash:
LED
Cam Stabiliser: No
Storage: 160 MB
Exp Storage: Micro-SD upto 2 GB
Sp-phone: Yes
Looks: Plump

Screen: 240X320 TFT
Colors: 24-bit
Connect: WLAN, 3G, GPRS, BT, USB, IR

Extra: GPS

Nokia N93i

Camera: 3.2 M
Cam zoom: Optic
Cam Flash: LED
Cam Stabiliser: No
Storage: 50 MB
Exp Storage: Mini-SD upto 2 GB
Sp-phone: Yes
Looks: Awesome

Screen: 320X240 TFT
Colors: 24-bit
Connect: WLAN, 3G, GPRS, BT, USB, IR



Nokia N91

Camera: 2 M
Cam zoom: Digital
Cam Flash: LED
Cam Stabiliser: No
Storage: 8 GB
Exp Storage: No

Sp-phone: Yes
Looks: Trying too hard to be cool
Screen: 176X208 TFT
Colors: 18-bit
Connect: No WLAN, 3G, GPRS, BT, USB, No IR



Nokia N80

Camera: 3 M
Cam zoom: Digital
Cam Flash: LED
Cam Stabiliser: No
Storage: 40 MB
Exp Storage: Mini-SD upto 2 GB
Sp-phone: Yes
Looks: Plump

Screen: 352X416TFT
Colors: 18-bit
Connect: WLAN, 3G, GPRS, BT, USB, IR



Nokia N73

Camera: 3.2 M
Cam zoom: Digital
Cam Flash: LED
Cam Stabiliser: No
Storage: 40 MB

Exp Storage: Mini-SD upto 2 GB
Sp-phone: Yes
Looks: Good
Screen: 240X320
Colors: 18-bit
Connect: No WLAN, 3G, GPRS, BT, No USB, IR


SE K800i

Camera: 3.2 M
Cam zoom: Digital
Cam Flash: Xe
Cam Stabiliser:
Yes
Storage: 64 MB

Exp Storage: Mem Stick upto 1GB
Sp-phone: Yes
Looks: Great
Screen: 240X320
Colors: 18-bit
Connect: No WLAN, 3G, GPRS, BT, USB, IR


SE K810i

Camera: 3.2 M
Cam zoom: Digital
Cam Flash: Xe
Cam Stabiliser:
Yes
Storage: 64 MB

Exp Storage: Mem Stick upto 1GB
Sp-phone: Yes
Looks: Great
Screen: 240X320
Colors: 18-bit
Connect: No WLAN, 3G, GPRS, BT, USB, IR


SE W880i

Camera: 2 M
Cam zoom: Digital
Cam Flash: LED
Cam Stabiliser:
No

Storage: 16 MB + 1GB expandable
Exp Storage: See above
Sp-phone: Yes
Looks: Good
Screen: 240X320
Colors: 18-bit
Connect: No WLAN, 3G, GPRS, BT, USB, No IR


My impressions














Nokia N95

S$1100

Feature and connectivity packed.

Marketed as a nextgen PDA, but no touchscreen. D'Oh!!

Cam not good as SE K800 series. LED flash and no stabilization.

Looks OK only...

Price/Value ratio is too high

Nokia N93i

S$1000

Feature and connectivity packed.

Cam is good with optical zoom. But LED flash spoils night photos

Awesome looks!!

Price/Value ratio could be better




Nokia N91



Music phone, not a cam phone.

Lots of memory.

Screen sucks

Rejected











Nokia N80

S$ 500

Camera not good.


Looks bad

Rejected













Nokia N73

S$ 400

Looks good

Cam not good as SE K800 series. LED flash and no stabilization.

Good value for money

SE K800i

S$ 400

Great camera

Subtle good looks

Great value for money



SE K810i

Not out yet

Same as K800i and looks better. But is not out yet







SE W880i



Camera not to level of SE K800i.

Rejected






Parting shot
My rational self draws me to the K800i. But my reptilian primal brain might spring for that awesome-looking N93i tomorrow.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Temasek Holdings and GIC: A short profile of Singapore government investment firms

For those who have read my previous post on (Temasek + GIC) vs. RBI tug-of-war, here is some info on the Singapore government's two investment firms - Temasek Holdings and GIC.


Temasek Holdings

Mandate: After independence, the Singapore Government established Government Linked Companies (GLC's) to kick-start investments and growth in key industries. The aim was to setup companies that would put Singapore on the map as a leader in many emerging and important industry sectors; but which needed significant capital which could not be provided by individual entrepreneurs. E.g.: Singapore Airlines, Singapore Technologies, Chartered Semiconductor, Ports of Singapore Authority, Neptune Orient Lines, Singapore Mass Rapid Transit, DBS Bank etc etc.

Initially most of these investments were controlled by the Ministry of Finance (MoF). Temasek Holdings was setup to take charge of investments in many key GLC's. The original mandate was to continue to invest in local Singapore companies to provide them the capital to compete more effectively and develop key technologies on the global stage. Over the years, Temasek Holdings has also invested its returns in external companies and markets to improve returns.

Established:
1974

Portfolio size:
US$ 80 billion

Average return:
18% compounded annually over 32 years

India direct investments:

ICICI Bank
ICICI OneSource (BPO)
Mahindra & Mahindra
Bajaj Auto
Apollo Hospitals
Medreich
Tata Teleservices
Reliance Energy
Shringar Cinemas

India fund investments:
Merlion Fund
WestBridge Capital Partners
Reliance India Power fund

Useful Links:

Temasek Holdings 2006 Annual Review
On The Prowl - Profile of India approach by BusinessWorld India
Profile of India approach by Asia Times



Government Investment Corporation





Mandate: To preserve the international purchasing power of the Singapore government's foreign exchange reserves.

Established: 1981

Portfolio size:
US$ 100 billion

Average return: 9.5% compounded annually over 25 years

India direct investments:
Matrix Laboratories
Punjab Tractors
Ambuja Cement

India fund investments:
IDFC
Actis Private Equity Fund
IL & FS

Useful Links:
GIC India investment profile - BusinessWorld India
GIC investment returns - Asia Finance blog
Singapore: The red dot and the dancing elephant -
BusinessWorld India

My name is Yakob and I will tear your head out

I am shopping around for a gym membership currently. Usage of the gym in my condo has hit the limit in terms of fat-burning potential. I need some supervision to get the remaining McSpicy residue off my abs and to make sure I do the right weight exercises so as not to lose muscle in the fat-burning process.

Hugh MacLeod of Gaping Void fame also seems to be "gymming". He has this hilarious post about the profile of the gym he goes to.
"It's not really a bodybuilding "What do you think of my fabulous abs" kinda gym. Nor is it a metrosexual "I don't eat carbs after 3pm" kinda gym. It's more of a blue collar, "Hello, my name is Yakov and I am going to rip your lungs from your chest" kinda gym. I like that."

I would love to go to a gym like that. There wouldn't be too many distractions like TV and jackasses bringing in their own hip-hop mix CD's to play in the gym (I love Eminem, 50 cent and Puff Daddy. But c'mon that schmuck Pharrell Williams and other similar phonies in a gym???). Problem is that these blue collar gyms are unlikely to have treadmills as that would be too metrosexual. So any cardio exercise goes out of the window. And high-intensity cardio is what is needed to burn fat.

So here I am reduced to negotiating with California Fitness, Planet Fitness, Fitness First etc etc around the Raffles Place area. If you thought Oracle was the master in price discrimination, wait until you start gym negotiations!!

Bal Thackeray: Icon of Mumbai

Tehelka.com has published the results of their poll about Mumbai.

Biggest Mumbai Icon: Bal Thackeray
Most Hated: Dawood Ibrahim
etc etc
Full results here.

Via Satish

Friday, April 6, 2007

(Temasek + GIC) vs. RBI tug-of-war

Haha... What we all thought would happen has come to pass.

The Singapore government's uber-investment firms - Temasek Holdings and GIC had been stymied for some time in their efforts to each take a 10% sake in India's ICICI bank. The Temasek and GIC efforts were blocked by the Indian central bank - Reserve Bank of India (RBI). There is a law that caps to 10% the holdings of a foreign entity in an Indian financial institution. RBI had argued that since both Temasek and GIC were owned by the Singapore government, they are considered a single entity.

It had been commonly thought that RBI was simply jockeying with the law to negotiate a Singapore banking license for the State Bank of India (SBI). All of that has proved true. There is news that GIC and Temasek may be cleared by June to each take a 10% stake. In return, SBI will get a Singapore banking license.

What does the customer want really?

In many cases, a customer's desire for a particular product is actually a metaphor to an underlying deeper desire. And in most cases, the customer is not consciously aware of this deeper desire that they are expressing thru their interest in a product. To be a great marketer, you need to understand what the customer really actually wants. This is what will separate you from the riff-raff.

People buying condos are looking to buy into a lifestyle. Similarly, as Rashmi Bansal puts it so well in this awesome rip-roaring post, people looking to buy clothes are actually looking for wardrobe advice. And active users of social networks in most cases really actually want to get laid.

Check out this excerpt from Rashmi Bansal's post...
"There are two kinds of salesmen in the world - sorry salesmen and sari salesmen. The sorry variety diffidently walk upto a customer and enquire - just for the sake of enquiring - "Madam, can I help you?" Madam glares at the salesperson and he/ she beats a hasty retreat.

The second kind of salesman sizes up his prey and then moves in for the kill. "Aaiye na sister, baithiye na... " He then proceeds to pull out some 'latest stuffs' and even as 'sister' protests "mat kholiye" he grins and declares,"Dekhne ka koi daam nahi lagta." Or so you think.


The fact is once this sales fellow has dug his claws into sister's skin she will never leave the shop without buying something. "Kya mangaoon, chai, thanda..." And he proceeds to open a few hundred saris more without a care in the world about who will fold them.
.......................
......................
......................
The irony is that a lot of the people who enter designer stores might not be as well turned out as you'd expect. Maybe that's why they are at a designer store - in need of urgent wardrobe advice. Deciding who are the freeloaders and who the potential big bucks but you-would-not-know-it-if-you-looked-at-me is where a true salesman's instincts kick in.
"

Monday, April 2, 2007

In India, there really is Paper Email!

Google had an amazing April Fools' joke out - GMail Paper Archive.





But wonder of wonders, such a service already exists in India. The Indian Postal Service has a service called "ePost". Emails sent to the post-office will be printed out and delivered to the recipient in the village. Similarly, somebody in the village could write a letter and pass it to the postman; it would be transcribed into an email and sent!!

"S.K. Bharadwaj's octogenarian uncle S.N. Bharadwaj has never seen a computer. That's not surprising, since he is a farmer in India's remote state of Uttar Pradesh. His village has no phones, never mind Internet access. Even so, the old guy is "delighted" to get emails several times a week from his nephew in Delhi, some 300 miles away.

India Post's ePost system allows anyone with Internet access to send email to those without it and vice versa. The logistically ambitious project is emblematic of modern India: Though it's a global technology powerhouse, life for many of its people hasn't changed much in centuries. A quarter of Indians live below the poverty line, and only about 6% use the Internet.

Using ePost, Bharadwaj can send an email to his uncle's local post office, where it is printed and hand delivered. In reverse, rural patrons can handwrite letters and have them translated into emails. Delivery by ePost-gram costs less than 25 cents per page and usually takes a day, compared with about a week by snail mail."

Check out the full story at Fast Company...


I am sure there is some translation service embedded into this whole thing. Mr. S.N. Bhardwaj is not going to read an English email from his nephew. And I can't imagine S.K. Bhardwaj typing laboriously in Hindi on an en_US keyboard...

An for all those non-Indians out there who are going to ask - What about Privacy?
Relax.
Firstly, In India, privacy is not important. Example: Everybody knows how much everybody else is making in the same office, and knows all minute details about their co-workers.
Secondly, with privacy involved, this service would not have been possible at all.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Save water. Shower with a friend

I was googling for a showerhead pic for my previous post on Richard Quest's shower phobia. Came across this masterpiece...


Hehe... Still got a chuckle out of me at 4 in the morning...

Shower phobia!


The one and only Richard Quest who hosts CNN Business Traveller is developing a fear of taking showers. For the second time, he got stuck in his shower cubicle at an airport.

"Wet, naked, shivering and with a plane to catch, what’s a man to do? Shout! For thirty minutes, I banged on the wall and shouted for help. I made as much noise as possible. Nothing. No one it seemed could hear me..."

Check out his blog post for full details...

You won't throw away these business cards

Jeff Nolan has a photo of Steve Wozniak's incredible precision machined biz cards. Check them out on Jeff's blog.

If you want to order similar cards for yourself, go to PlasmaDesign. Prices are ~US$5/card for a batch of 100. My suggestion is not to worry about the cost and instead go with the "field of dreams" approach - If you get such cards, your clients will be so impressed that they will dump you with no-bid contracts.



The anti-portfolio

Everybody has a portfolio nowadays. With the surge in liquidity over the past 5 years from ultra-low interest rates, equity markets have been doing very very well, worldwide. And the common man with his 200% appreciated portfolio feels like a BSD.

As Mark Cuban said so endearingly -
"I swear people are more protective of their stocks than they are of family members. You can call a guy's wife fat, but if you tell him that TASR is overvalued, watch out. Every ounce of venom comes out."

So, it is a refreshing change to see a well-known venture capital firm come up with an "anti-portfolio" - the startups which they refused to invest in, and which became stupendously successful. As Bessemer Venture Partners explains -
"Whatever the reason, we would like to honor these companies -- our "anti-portfolio" -- whose phenomenal success inspires us in our ongoing endeavors to build growing businesses. Or, to put it another way: if we had invested in any of these companies, we might not still be working."

Overall, a gentle and humble way to remind us that we are human, imperfect and each of us have our own failings. So please keep those feet planted firmly on the ground...

Check out Bessemer's anti-portfolio here.

The feeling of topping 407 kmph

I have seen a few shows on TV where they say hitting 250 kmph in a Ferrari is a very sexual feeling. Apparently topping 407 kmph is a bit different. You are overcome and start to cry...

BBC Top Gear takes the Bugatti Veyron to it's limit and hits the max speed. I can understand why James May (the driver) cries in the end. It's a bit like seeing the shuttle take off in all its power and glory in that awe-inspiring skyscraper blaze of superheated exhaust. And I was watching that on TV!

[If you can't see the video, click here]




This is the same beast that a dumbass crashed along a country road in Surrey, England.

Friday, March 30, 2007

2007 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders from Warren Buffet

Warren Buffet publishes an annual letter to his shareholders. The letters have a general pattern -
-- Overall performance of Berkshire over the past year
-- Analysis of the Berkshire performance by sector. Special focus on the good and bad sectors and why these sectors did well (or not)
-- Acquisitions in the previous year and why the acquisitions were made
-- Major future issues that affect Berkshire as a firm
-- Tirade against derivatives
-- Tirade against hedge funds
-- Warning about US trade deficit
-- Some interesting tidbits of info
All of these sprinkled with amusing quotes...

I am no finance wizard. So I leave it to the readers to contemplate the deeper content in the letter. You can download the letter here.

But lemme decorate this post with some of those amusing quotes...

"
In fairness, we’ve seen plenty of successes as well, some truly outstanding. There are many giant company managers whom I greatly admire; Ken Chenault of American Express, Jeff Immelt of G.E. and Dick Kovacevich of Wells Fargo come quickly to mind. But I don’t think I could do the management job they do. And I know I wouldn’t enjoy many of the duties that come with their positions – meetings,speeches, foreign travel, the charity circuit and governmental relations. For me, Ronald Reagan had it right: “It’s probably true that hard work never killed anyone – but why take the chance?”

We continue, however, to need “elephants” in order for us to use Berkshire’s flood of incoming cash. Charlie and I must therefore ignore the pursuit of mice and focus our acquisition efforts on much bigger game. Our exemplar is the older man who crashed his grocery cart into that of a much younger fellow while both were shopping. The elderly man explained apologetically that he had lost track of his wife and was preoccupied searching for her. His new acquaintance said that by coincidence his wife had also wandered off and suggested that it might be more efficient if they jointly looked for the two women. Agreeing, the older man asked his new companion what his wife looked like. “She’s a gorgeous blonde,” the fellow answered, “with a body that would cause a bishop to go through a stained glass window, and she’s wearing tight white shorts. How about yours?” The senior citizen wasted no words: “Forget her, we’ll look for yours.”
What we are looking for is described on page 25. If you have an acquisition candidate that fits, call me – day or night. And then watch me shatter a stained glass window.

When Charlie and I were young, the newspaper business was as easy a way to make huge returns as existed in America. As one not-too-bright publisher famously said, “I owe my fortune to two great American institutions: monopoly and nepotism.” No paper in a one-paper city, however bad the product or however inept the management, could avoid gushing profits.


We show below our common stock investments. With two exceptions, those that had a market
value of more than $700 million at the end of 2006 are itemized. We don’t itemize the two securities referred to, which have a market value of $1.9 billion, because we continue to buy them. I could, of course, tell you their names. But then I would have to kill you.

The good news: At 76, I feel terrific and, according to all measurable indicators, am in excellent
health. It’s amazing what Cherry Coke and hamburgers will do for a fellow.

The inexorable math of this grotesque arrangement is certain to make the Gotrocks family poorer over time than it would have been had it never heard of these “hyper-helpers.” Even so, the 2-and-20 action spreads. Its effects bring to mind the old adage: When someone with experience proposes a deal to someone with money, too often the fellow with money ends up with the experience, and the fellow with experience ends up with the money.
"

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Word of the Day: Chernobyl Design Pattern

This gave me a good laugh. The Chernobyl design pattern as explained by Rob Weir (via cruizer) ...

"There is something I call the “Chernobyl Design Pattern”, where you take your worst bug, the ugliest part of your code, the part that is so bad, so radioactive that no one can touch it without getting killed, and you make it private and inaccessible, and put a new interface around it, essentially entomb it in concrete so that no one can get close to it. In other words, if you can't fix it, at least contain the damage."

The good thing in doing this is that it allows you to create a new implementation of the bug-ridden code later at your leisure. But we know that this never happens...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

How to manipulate the stock market

Update: Lots of people are coming here from voting sites. You might want to check out my posts on Simplicity, Management, Software Development, Career, or the main blog. If you like the content, you can subscribe to the feed. Thanks.


An interesting account of what actually drives the market. By Jim Cramer in a video interview on TheStreet.com. Cramer is an ex-hedge fund manager (apparently 24% annual return from 1987 - 2000) and the host of CNBC's Mad Money.

Some choice quotes -
"You know, a lot of times when I was short at my hedge fund—when I was positioned short, meaning I needed it down—I would create a level of activity beforehand that could drive the futures. It doesn't take much money."

"What's important when you're in that hedge-fund mode is to not do anything remotely truthful. Because the truth is so against your view that it's important to create a new truth to develop a fiction."

"The great thing about the market is it has nothing to do with the actual stocks."



If you have a broadband connection, you can watch the full interview where Cramer gave his "veteran's perspective". Click here for the video. Poor interviewer Aaron Task's expressions with each of Cramer's revelations are priceless!



A more elaborate transcript is below...
"You know, a lot of times when I was short at my hedge fund—when I was positioned short, meaning I needed it down—I would create a level of activity beforehand that could drive the futures. It doesn't take much money. Similarly, if I were long, and I wanted to make things a little bit rosy, I would go in and take a bunch of stocks and make sure that they're higher. Maybe commit $5 million in capital, and I could affect it. What you're seeing now is maybe it's probably a bigger market. Maybe you need $10 million in capital to knock the stuff down.

But it's a fun game, and it's a lucrative game. You can move it up and then fade it—that often creates a very negative feel. So let's say you take a longer term view intraday, and you say, "Listen, I'm going to boost the futures, and the when the real sellers come in—the real market comes in—they're going to knock it down and that's going to create a negative view." That's a strategy very worth doing when you're valuing on a day-to-day basis. I would encourage anyone who's in the hedge fund game to do it. Because it's legal. And it is a very quick way to make money. And very satisfying."
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What's important when you're in that hedge-fund mode is to not do anything remotely truthful. Because the truth is so against your view that it's important to create a new truth to develop a fiction.
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The great thing about the market is it has nothing to do with the actual stocks. Now, maybe two weeks from now, the buyers will come to their senses and realize that everything that they heard was a lie, but then again, Fannie Mae lied about their earnings for $6 billion, so there's just fiction and fiction and fiction.

I think it's important for people to recognize that the way that the market really works is to have that nexus of: Hit the brokerage houses with a series of orders that can push it down, then leak it to the press, and then get it on CNBC—that's also very important. And then you have a kind of a vicious cycle down. It's a pretty good game. It can pay for a percentage or two."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Real estate market in Hyderabad etc

This blog has an interesting view on the real estate market in Hyderabad.

Meanwhile, there are plans for 4 completely new cities to be built near Bangalore, Hyderabad, Bombay and Gurgaon. These will be built by Real Estate Investment Trusts.


As usual, make your own research and judgments.

Productively examine your bank statement for fraud etc

My bank sends a printed statement of my account activity every month. Going thru and validating each item in the statement can be a real pain.

Here's one trick I use. Every withdrawal I make from the ATM is always an uncommon amount. For example, I always withdraw $70 from the ATM. When browsing thru the statement, I discard all the 70$ withdrawals and scrutinize the few transactions left.

Now, this technique can be a liability in a focused fraud attack. If somebody knows you always withdraw 70$, then they can take advantage of this and withdraw large amounts in multiples of 70$. You wouldn't notice this in your statement. To prevent this, you can switch to a different uncommon amount every month.


This can also be a way to know at a glance if your significant other is making some significant withdrawals :-).

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Post-it for dummies

Great Post-It ad. See more here.

My humble contribution...
Post-It on cockpit controls
12 o' clock - North

3 0' clock - East


Pls share your ideas in the comments...

What's up with these crocs


I went out for some lunch and some detergent shopping (yeah.. very focused guy). Saw at least 20 people in the supermarket wearing these pink embellishments. Interesting thing - Most of those pple were at least 30 years old... I can understand kids loving them, but grown-up women???

Would like to know what's attractive about these monstrosities. Are we all itching to express the rebel within?... or yearning for that lost childhood?

Maybe products that allow non-confrontational expressions of our rebellious individuality have a great market. Maybe this is what's so great about those Pumas.