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Notes to Myself

Month

March 2009

Ayn Rand on Governments..and the curious case of US Auto sector (and Satyam in India)

Ayn Rand, the person who developed concept of ‘Objectivism’, was a staunch supporter of ‘free will’. Through her books FountainHead and Atlas Shrugged she strongly criticized ‘Collectivism’ and role of anybody/ agency (e.g. Government) who imposed restrictions on Free Will and freedom of expression.

I have a couple of great videos of interview of Ayn Rand where she has talked in depth about her thoughts on ‘Objectivism’, ‘protectionism’ (which leads to creation of state-sponsored Monopoly).

Here are a few of her quotes on Government:

“The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means:  to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man’s self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force.

 The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law.”

A government is the most dangerous threat to man’s rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims. 

Government “help” to business is just as disastrous as government persecution… the only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off. 

So according to Ayn Rand it was not government’s job to build schools, feed poor or run social business enterprises – that should be left to businessmen who out of their own benefits will do these (without need of so called ‘philanthropy’)

————————————————–

Now why am I discussing all this right now?

Because of the following news:

http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9781PL80.htm

For many many years the US has been viewed as a Capitalist country, with very few interference from the Government or any of its agencies. It was truly a country of opportunities and if you had an idea, you could become billionaire through legitimate ways.

But that was during heydays. With recession gripping the world, even the US is turning towards protectionism, interfering the ‘free market’.

It was an unpleasant surprise when Obama talked in favour of putting a cap on H1-B or against outsourcing of work outside the US. It was a kind of ‘protectionism’ that Ayn Rand was opposed strongly. It was a norm in developing countries – including India – but the US??…no way!

<span class="Apple-style-s
pa
n” style=”font-size:small;”>But since then Obama has moved beyond just ‘protectionism’ – and has started dictating business policies , how his bailout package should be used and – even who should run the businesses!

General Motors (GM) CEO Wagoner went on 29th March to meet Obama Administration, to discuss bailout plan for GM. But instead the Administration ‘requested’ him to ‘step aside’ as CEO which Wagoner agreed to almost immediately!

I can understand the US government’s keenness in restoring the economy, ensuring that every single dollar they give out as support is used efficiently – and they did a good job when AIG misused that money to give fat bonuses to their top executives – but asking CEO to step down is just a bit too much.

Of course, GM is in DEEP trouble. They just announced loss of $30 billion (!!!) for the year 2008…

To put this in perspective…Infosys’ total annual revenue is $6 billion that too with employees over 100,000! 

This means, GM lost, in a single year, the amount that 100,000 Infosys employees will generate after 5 full years of hard work!!! Whoaaaa….

In the light of this, one may argue in favour of the need for interference by Obama (or any Government)…but definitely, in the long run such interference by Governments is not good (yes, I support Ayn rand’s views in this matter)

———————————————————

Meanwhile, the situation is not very different in india. After the Great Satyam Robbery, government jumped in – appointed key executives on the board which is now overseeing the sale procedure.

http://www.blonnet.com/2009/01/12/stories/2009011251400100.htm

Three months later – the charges are not yet established against the tainted founder…which is Government’s primary job according to Ayn Rand – to privide legal protection.

Instead the government is busy trying to sell Satyam off – by spending all the time on the stake sale procedure.

One bidder has already accused government appointed board of lack of transparency.

But at least in case of Satyam, the interference by Government was necessary – given the size of scam.

In short, I favour Ayn rand’s views of Free Market without government interference, in general. But in specific extraordinary situations like these two (Auto sector in the US and Satyam in India), government MUST take control until the things are restored to normalcy.

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Why…?

Why do people talk even when they have nothing to say?

How To Do Nothing… what is YOUR way of DOING it?

Recently came across this article:
How To Do Nothing
But I am really disappointed with the quality of content 😦
I think I can add a lot of ‘value‘ to it…based on my in-depth knowledge on the topic!!!
~ Kaustubh

Just don’t compare Kosmix to Google

Kosmix – Another newcomer competing (??) with Google…

Google is just a little over a decade old but has earned enormous name and success since its inception. Since then there have been many ‘rivals’ ‘threatening’ to displace Google from its ‘No. 1 web search engine’ tag.

I lost the track of the count – but remember a few names such as Kartoo (http://www.kartoo.com)
or India’s own (and much-hyped) Guruji, meaning Teacher in Hindi, (http://www.guruji.com/) etc.
– in addition to other BIG names such as Yahoo!, MSN, AskJeeves who also provide web search engines of their own.

But none of them have managed to create even a dent in Google’s popularity/ success. Reason? Simple…none of these could match Google’s PageRank algorithm – which returns the best possible search results.

Search engine experience is not about flashy user interface (like Kartoo). Also, just keeping itplain and simple like Google (as done by Guruji) doesn’t mean you would come up with the best search results. It’s about understanding the search expression and giving user what they are looking for.

So is Kosmix just another addition to this long list of ‘rivals’? Well, not entirely…at least if yougo by following article:

Just don’t compare Kosmix to Google

Kosmix is co-founded by a couple of Indians! But that is not what makes it interesting…

What I liked was – the founders have a clear goal, a clear strategy for their business. They have made it very clear that they are not directly competing with Google – and it is not form of escapism. 

As Harinarayan – one of its founders – has mentioned in the article:
“Search does what it does well, very well,” Harinarayan said. “I don’t think we can ever compete with that.” Kosmix, he said, is not about finding the best set of documents for a specific keyword or phrase. Instead, its goal is to “tell me more about something,” he said
.<
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And this is evident from the Home page of Kosmix, as well as the search results. The home page has various categories/ labels where different types of News are put together under one panel – not much difference compared to other websites.

But difference is evident when you search for a particular term. I tried ‘Roger Federer’…(check for yourself too!)

Google returned 6,580,000 records – starting with News Results and then Roger’s Homepage.

Kosmix prompts us ‘Wait a sec…we are building your guide for Roger Federer’ …so they are not just treating ‘Roger Federer’ as a search expression…but as a ‘human’! 🙂

Then it shows a neat display of information about Roger – including images, news and blogs, videos etc.

I am not yet saying that the search results are better than Google…but definitely the Kosmix approach is different. It’s not an imitation of Google.

Kosmix is just an infant start-up and has got initial funding of $20 million. It remains to be seen if it can build up on this or loses on the way (or is taken over by some BIG FISH)


A nice logic puzzle…

This puzzle was given to me in my first job interview…the initial time given was 3 minutes.  After 3 minutes I had still not solved it, so my interviewer asked, “If given some more time will you be able to solve it? Or you haven’t got any clue how to work it out?” …I said, “I am almost there”

Eventually I managed to solve it in a little over 4 minutes – and also got the job!

Here goes the puzzle:
—————————————————————————————–

21200 is a peculiar number… 

If we number the digits from left to right from 0…i.e. First ‘2’ represents 0 th (zero) position, ‘1’ represents 1st position….till the last ‘0’ in the number represents 4th (fourth) position…
THEN, the number tells us: How many ZEROS there are in the zeroth position, how many ONES there are in FIRST position etc.

i.e. 21200 has ‘2’ zero’s, ‘1’ one’s, 2 two’s, ‘0’ three’s, and lastly ‘0’ four’s…or let me explain with headers for position and digits:

POSITION: 0 1 2 3 4
DIGITS in NUMBER: 2 1 2 0 0 …(== Actual number 21200)

Now the puzzle is:
<span class="Apple-style-span" style="f
on
t-family:verdana;”>
You have to find similar 8-digit number satisfying similar condition.

i.e. If we number the digits in that 8-digt number as 0 to 7 (starting from left), then each digit in that position should tell us how many times the number occurs in the entire number.

————————————————————————————-

I know, I may not have been able to clearly explain the problem statement; but hey…that is how the problem was explained to me as well….so I spent good time of the given 3-minutes to ‘understand’ the problem statement first!

So this is all you have got…check if you can solve. (The solution itself is not so difficult…once you figure out the approach)

~ Kaustubh

Piracy, Google Digitization project and ‘right’ pricing of ‘original’ work


Yesterday there was a book exhibition in my company that was selling books at “massive” discount ranging from 40% to 60% of the cover price.

Lot of people had turned up to see the exhibition – but very few of them were actually buying any. Reason? Well, in India you can get cheap duplicate copies of all the popular books at any book stall near street corner, traffic signal etc. – and that too at one-fifth of the original price (actually one-tenth)

I read an interesting anecdote about the piracy in a recent interview of Danny Boyle – the Oscar winning director of Slumdog Millionaire. Sreenivasan Jain, the interviewer, presented Danny with a pirated DVD of Slumgog Millionaire.

Piracy, Srenivasan told him, has its own way of bestowing status on art. A bit like the pirated books sold at traffic lights: if you’re part of the traffic light Top Five, you have a hit novel on your hands.
Danny squealed in mock outrage, “I can’t accept it!” He even refused to hold the DVD in his hand for a few seconds 🙂

But I have a different view on this…though I completely respect rights on the person creating an original work (be it a book, a song or a movie), I feel that the piracy (by this I mean ‘reproducing the cheap versions’ only not ‘stealing and modifying idea’ or any other forms of piracy) does not necessarily originate from an intention to belittle the effort of original creator. With regard to cheap imitations, at least, it addresses the demand-supply gap and exorbitant and illogically high prices that the “original” work is charged for. Many times creators or distributors ‘exploit’ people by charging extremely high prices, e.g. in case of Harry Potter books (which in my opinion do not deserve to fetch so much of money – I know lot of people won’t agree)

Thus, pricing, too, has very little to do with the ‘quality of content’ and is mainly about demand-supply and marketing (creating hype). Let me explain with an example:

The Argumentative Indian is a well-though and written commentary on Indians. Though the book by Amartya Sen has become popular (mainly because of Amartya Sen himself and not by virtue of the contents), the popularity (in terms of no. of copies sold) cannot be compared with a Five Point Someone or a One Night At Call Center (which, to me, are very ordinary books – and did not deserve the kind of fame or success they got)

Of course, genres of these books are totally different. The Argumentative Indian is a critical (and hence boring for many) book while the other two are mainly for leisure reading with a great mass appeal (who prefer light reading do not want to stress their grey cells too much). But genre/ content is not the only reason. Pricing is another reason. While The Argumentative Indian is priced at Rs. 295, the other two books are modestly priced at Rs. 95 only – making them accessible to much wider population.

Firstly, people want to buy/ consume new creative work – that is how there is so much demand for books, movies, music. Secondly, people want to buy original stuff – when it is priced right. (Right in terms of their valuation)

But if they ‘think’ that price for original is too high, they would not settle for nothing…instead they would turn to imitation/ pirated copies. That is how ‘market’ or ‘demand-supply’ decides the right-price of any work.

This can be best explained by the Moser Baer CDs/ DVDs. Earlier the original movie CDs were priced at Rs. 200 onwards. And DVDs at Rs. 400 onwards. Since this price was not affordable to most people, the pirated CD/ DVD market was on high – with pirated copies selling at about Rs. 50 (for CDs) and Rs. 120 (for DVDs).

Then came Moser Baer – India’s largest manufacturer of blank CDs/ DVDs. It purchased rights for many old/ new movies and started producing original copies of those under its own label – Moser Baer. They priced these modestly – at Rs. 30 to 40 (for CDs) and Rs. 70-100 (for DVDs)

So now you could get the ‘original’ CDs at cheaper price than the ‘pirated’ copies being sold by street-shops. People felt that price was ‘right’ – so they jumped on to those…and now Moser Baer CDs sell so much that they have virtually driven pirated CDs out of business (Pirated copies still sell NEW movies – which aren’t yet officially released by Moser Baer – so to use management jargon, pirated CDs business has ‘repositioned’ itself to a new and limited business segment – that is NEW movie releases – and have left the old movies market to Moser Baer)

……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Now how does all this relate to the title ‘Google and the Future of Books’???

I came across following New York Times article: (Google and the Future of Books) http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22281

For the uninitiated, about 4 years back in Dec 2004, Google launched a project to ‘digitize all books ever printed’ anywhere in the world. This caused serious repercussions across the world, and received mixed reactions. People who felt that the pricing of books was a major hindrance in access to books/ knowledge, welcomed the move as it would make access much cheaper. Others, who saw it as a threat to the Copyright of content opposed it.

Google, the online giant, had been sued in federal court by a large group of authors and publishers who claimed that its plan to scan all the books in the world violated their copyrights.

Four years on, Google has reached a partial settlement agreement. As part of the class-action settlement, Google will pay $125 million to create a system under which customers will be charged for reading a copyrighted book, with the copyright holder and Google both taking percentages; copyright holders will also receive a flat fee for the initial scanning, and can opt out of the whole system if they wish.

Now compare this with the earlier case of piracy/ cheap imitations I talked about. Google’s digitization of books project cannot be called ‘piracy’…but it still is linked with the sam
e
issue.

Both raise a valid point – how the ‘original’ work should be priced.

Piracy and imitations are present because – a. there is huge demand for the original work and b. the pricing of this is beyond scope of most of the people who want it.

Google’s digitization project makes access to the books very easy and cheap – thus reducing the necessity to pay high price for the books. (You could only pay ‘per read’ i.e. the pages you actually read, and would not have to pay for the entire book. Thus if you did not like the first 10 pages of the book, you need not have to pay for the rest – unlike a print version.)

Combining both, one could argue that it is high time when the creators, publishers and distributors take a note and decide how the work should be priced ‘right’ – otherwise, with advent of technology, it would not take too long to drive them (the print media) out of business.

I feel irritated and angered when I see ads on TV (starring leading faces from film and music fraternity) urging people to “stop piracy, and start buying only original labels”…without compromising on their exorbitant price. If I could get a pirated MP3 CD for Rs. 30, why would I buy one for Rs. 150 – just because it is “original”???

When I buy a pirated item, I do not intend to berate the work of the creator – what I object about is the middle-men (the distributors, marketers) who make loads of money for no reasons – by appealing to our ‘conscious’ and selling their ‘original’ copy for 5 times the ‘imitation’

My logic is simple – books, movie CDs, music CDs are work of ‘creative mind’ only till they create it; but when they start ‘mass producing’ it, the work becomes a mere ‘commodity’ and therefore loses its price premium. So it MUST be priced cheaply or should not be ‘mass produced’.

An M F Hussain painting fetches valuation in millions – not only because it is a ‘quality product’ but also because there is no other painting like it. If someone wants his/her book, movie or music similar price, he/she should maintain its uniqueness and should make it a commodity.

National Pi Day

Days are plenty… Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Women’s Day etc. are well-known…but did you know of a few unusual (and at times funny!) days?

Check these:

International Men’s Day (Yes! Men too get to celebrate – though only for a day), Buy Nothing Day, International Mother Language day, Singles Awareness Day (aka SAD – celebrated by singles on Valentine’s Day), World Thinking Day, Beer Day, Middle Name Pride Day, Fossil Fools Day, World Party Day, Beat Up a White Kid Day, Bike-to-Work Day, National Sorry Day (not saree day), World Turtle Day, Mixed Race Day, National Doughnut Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day (I would like to add a “…and Make Him Bite Your Boss” Day!), International Lefthanders Day, Melon Day, Ask A Stupid Question Day, International Talk Like A Pirate Day, Software Freedom Day (It’s about Free software, not freedom from software), Apple Day, Boss’ Day (does he not have it everyday?), Global Handwashing Day (what about the rest of the body??!!), Mischief Night, World Vegetarian Day (Jai Ho!), Sweetest Day, Monkey Day…

Anyways, the good news is – there is a welcome addition to this loooong list of days: A day devoted to promote Maths and Science

March 14th has been celebrated by math enthusiasts around the world as ‘Pi Day’. The day also has a dedicated website! (http://www.piday.org/ )


Why 14th March? Well, in American date format it is 3/14 which is approximate value of Pi (3.14)

Till last year, this day was a low-key affair limited only to math enthusiasts (which aren’t many…!)


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But this year was different – March 14 this year was officially declared as ‘National Pi Day’ by American Congress. The resolution for the same (available at: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d111:h.res.00224 ) was passed by the American Congress on 9th March 209…with a thumping majority (391-10…I wonder who those ’10’ were who opposed the bill).


Though most of the news agencies and websites failed to take a note, CNET news did cover it in detail (http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-10194354-38.html?tag=nl.e703 )


The interesting part of this article was mention about division between two major political parties in the US (which just shows that Indian political parties are not the only one smitten by this habit of fighting on each and every issue)

The article notes – Though the purpose of celebrating the day, which is to promote the idea of improving math and science education, is agreed upon by both, the Republicans and the Democrats; they differ on ‘How to achieve this goal’.





Post Scriptum:

My personal dream is to celebrate, at least once in my lifetime, a ‘Zero Debt Day’ – a day when I will owe nothing to nobody!!!


I am trying hard to sell this novel idea to my Creditors…wish me luck (if you are not one of those…or buy my idea <span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-family:verdana;

“>if you ARE one of those)



Happy Holi – the Festival of Colours…

Happy Holi!!! 
Holi, the Festival of Colours…may your life be as colourful as the ones you see in images below… (gathered from the Web, hopefully, without any Copyright violation!)











दिवस फार कठीण आहेत…


नुकतेच आमच्या एका प्रोजेक्ट मीटिंग मध्ये मी माझ्या manager ला सांगितले: ’माझ्या टीम मधला एक जण resign करणार आहे अशी कुणकुण मला लागली आहे’ (अर्थात हे मी इंग्लिश मध्ये सांगितले – आत इंग्लिशमध्ये मी ’कुणकुण लागली आहे’ हे कसे म्हटले असले प्रश्न विचारु नका. भावना लक्षात घ्या! तर कुठे होतो मी – हा,  कुणकुण लागली…)


तर माझा manager म्हणाला ’अरे खरंच जात असेल ना तर जाऊ दे त्याला’… म्हणजे एखादा मुलगा बागेत गेल्यावर ’मला झोपाळ्यावर जायचे’ असा हट्ट करु लागल्यावर जसे आपण म्हणतो ना – ’जा हो बाळा, नाही तुला कोणी अडवणार’ तसे मी त्याला रेसिग्न करणाऱ्याला म्हणणे अपेक्षित होते की काय… (आता खरं तर हे उदाहरण तितकेसे योग्य नाही. इतक्या समजूतदारपणे कोणीही आपल्या ’कार्ट्या’शी बोलत नाही. पण (परत एकदा) – भावना लक्षात घ्या!)


आता अगदी खरे सांगायचे तर असे कोणीही माझ्याजवळ बोलले नव्हते. मीच जरा चाचपणी करावी म्हणून एक खडा मारून पाहिला – म्हणजे उद्या मीच असे म्हणालो तर त्याचा कितपत फायदा होईल ह्याची चाचपणी करण्यासाठी. पण ’जातोय तर जाऊ दे’ हे ऐकून मला एकदम धक्काच बसला. (माझाच ’खडा’ मला बूमरॆंग सारखा येऊन लागला) असो. थोडक्यात काय सध्या आहे त्या जॊबशी ’एकनिष्ठ’ राहाणे चांगले!


पण सध्या काही काम पण नाहीये, आणि त्यामुळे दिवस कसा घालवावा ते कळत नाही. हल्ली तर ईमेल्स येणे ही बंद झाले आहे. म्हणून मग टाईम पास म्हणून मीच इतरांना पाठवलेले ईमेल्स ’सेन्ट आयटम्स’ फोल्डर मध्ये जाऊन वाचतो.


पण असे तरी किती दिवस करणार? म्हणून मग मी आणखी एक युक्ती शोधली. आमच्या इथे वेब ईमेल्स (याहू, जी मेल, हॊटमेल इत्यादी) ब्लॊक केले आहेत. फक्त लायब्ररी मध्ये ओपन होते. म्हणून मग मी स्वतःलाच माझ्या याहू, होटमेल, जी मेल वर ईमेल करतो. आणी मग लायब्ररी मध्ये जाऊन त्या वाचतो..आणि मग त्याला माझा ऒफीसच्या ईमेल वर रीप्लाय करतो…आणि मग माझ्या डेस्क वर येऊन ते रीप्लाय वाचतो. हे सगळे करता करता वेळ कसा जातो ते कळतच नाही!


आता तुमच्या लक्षात आले असेल कि मी किती पडीक आहे. पण हा असा टाईम पास तरी किती दिवस करणार? लवकरच काही तरी नवीन विरंगुळा शोधला पाहिजे.


जी गोष्ट ईमेल्स ची तीच फोन ची. हल्ली कुणाचे फोनच येत नाहीत. अगदी क्रेडिट कार्ड किंवा इन्व्हेस्टमेंट स्कीम विकणारे फोन ही नाहीत. पण चुकून असा फोन आलाच तर मग मात्र मग मी ती संधी सोडत नाही. अगदी अर्धा पाऊण तास तरी बोलून सगळी माहिती मिळवतो. तेवढाच वेळ जातो, आणि इतरांना मी बिझी असल्यासारखे वाटते.


असो…आता मी जातो, परत एक ’महत्वाचा’ फोन आला आहे. क्रुषी महाविद्यालयाच्या एका प्रदर्शनात एका स्टॊल मध्ये मी जाऊन एका आधुनिक कीटकनाशक फवारणी यंत्राबद्दल मी उत्सुकता दाखवली होती…आणि अधिक माहिती साठी माझा फोन नंबर दिला होता…त्याच बाबाचा फोन आहे!  आता चांगला तासभर तरी मी त्याला सोडत नाही  -:)

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