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Showing posts from 2007

Society - A religion?

I had an interesting discussion with a friend of mine about religion the other day. It actually started off because we were looking for interesting topics to talk about. I have always found that religion, as a topic of discussion seems to evoke a great deal of passion in people and this was no different. However, while arguing my point I tripped upon an idea that got me thinking.

As part of the discussion I was asking the question – How can we bring people together under one umbrella of norms? If religion is not the binding factor then what else could it be? What is it that holds a society together and why do we all conform to the norms of society? There are basic rules in society that we do not question. We all seem to walk the line on those ideas. Killing and stealing are the most obvious crimes that we consider as an evil in society. But what is it that makes us work under that assumption? Who sets the rules of society and based on what factors do we modify those rules? If religion …

Stunning

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One day I was getting ready for work and happened to look out into the patio. This is what I saw. I guess the little fella got to work earlier than I did.


Market Schizophrenia

If you buy now you are catching a falling knife. If you don’t buy in a down market you are missing your opportunity. If you sit on the sidelines your cash is depreciating. If you don’t put cash in your portfolio you are over exposed.

The markets are at it again. It is the end of the year and everyone is trying to talk everyone out of the market. There are analysts galore who believe that Armageddon is around the corner. Global meltdown is only a heart beat away and the Federal Reserve chairman has no understanding of the markets. There are bankers peddling new instruments that handle “convexity of the mortgage losses” and “calculus of the…” Whatever!

In the past six years that I have followed the markets, CNBC and other business media outlets seem to take investing as a contact sport rather than a calm and calculated activity. The last time I felt this way was when I was walking down the aisles of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Apparently, I am doomed if I do and damned if I don’t. And t…

Words unspoken

Have you ever listened to a person talk and wondered – “What the hell is he talking about”.

As I was growing up, English was not the most popular language among kids. However, I was never a local of the city I resided in and so most kids had to talk to me in English. Even with their limited knowledge (and admittedly my own) of the language we never had a problem exchanging ideas and thoughts. We used expressions, sound effects and many other modes of communication in addition to the language to express ourselves. Yet everything was crystal clear to each other.

Fast forward to today. Over the last few days I have been noticing someone I interact with very closely doing the very same thing we used to do as kids. His mind seems to be moving faster that his tongue and most of his thoughts are left unspoken. He uses obscure sounds and half sentences to put together a thought and at the end of it all it makes only partial sense. So I am forced to ask for an explanation again. I am certain tha…

Falling apple

I watched my dad iron his clothes one by one. From the time I could remember, he has enjoyed ironing clothes. As he ironed there were two stacks forming on the bed, one had his clothes and the other had everyone else’s. That was really unacceptable to me. After all I was more like my dad, I thought. My clothes belong in the first stack. I protested, and in a very deliberate manner I moved my clothes from the generic pile to the other stack. I said “Like papa”.

I was probably eight when that happened. I have always wanted to be like my dad. He always seemed to have a very reasonable explanation for the things he did. When we were commended or punished it always came with a clear explanation. So I always tried real hard to be a lot like him. Starting from the mock episodes of shaving where I applied his shaving cream to my face and used a stick to scrape it off to the time when I started driving and copied every single driving style of his, it was always about doing it the way he did it.

The Settlement

Merck is settling with a bulk of the Vioxx plaintiffs for five billion dollars. Now, on the face of it might seem like a lot of money. After all Citibank got hammered for reporting a write down of 8 billion dollars the other day. But when you consider that the amount being talked about four years ago was fifty billion, the new number sounds a lot better.

The clincher however is the way they went around getting to this settlement. When the Vioxx warning came out and Merck pulled the drug off the shelf and everybody who had anything to do with the drug sued the company. There were thousands of plaintiffs and everyone clamored to consolidate it into a class action lawsuit. People dreamt of the days when Altria was slapped with a 250 billion dollar fine. They could all see the millions.

So Merck did the honorable capitalistic thing to do. They started working on a divide and rule strategy. First they made sure that the lawsuit did not get a class action status. They then began defending eac…

Unstructured Investment Vehicle

It was a regular weekday morning. I woke up and headed straight for the microwave. I needed the adrenaline rush from the coffee before anything would make sense. I picked up the Wall Street Journal and browsed through it. The anchor on “Morning Call” was talking about a funny instrument that the markets have been seeing off late, “SIV”. I looked up from the paper. What does that mean, I wondered?

It begins with the mortgage lenders. When you and I go out to buy a house we obviously do not have the cash to pay for it. So we head to the nearest lender. They do a background check on you figure out that you are a worthy borrower. So the lender gives you a loan which you repay through regular payments including an interest on that loan. So it is easy for you to see that the lender makes money through the interest that you pay.

But how does the lender get the money to lend? Ok, so the lender obviously doesn’t have all that money. So he goes around shopping for people who would buy the assets …

Jolted

I crunched into the last of the chips. The evening was fading and I was reclining into my chair in front of the television. It was time to open up my laptop and begin writing up the essays that I had been struggling with for a while now. And then I heard the roar. It sounded like somebody landed hard on the floor above me. I sat up startled. It was not the usual noise of someone running around or dropping something. No, it had an unearthly hollowness to it.

I looked up at the ceiling annoyed at the inconsiderate neighbor. It was 8:03 pm. Then it happened again. Bump! Bump! Now I knew it wasn’t the poor lady upstairs. I realized that the crisscross of fault lines over which I have lived with careless abandon for eight years has finally come to haunt me. My head was racing. Run for cover! I thought to myself. Do I have enough time to get out of the building? I guess not. The dinning table in the corner of the room looked like Fort Knox under these circumstances. I ducked under it. Bump! …

Softie

It’s not a growth stock. There is nothing worth waiting for here. You might as well move on to greener pastures. The organization has lost its relevance in the market place. The days of it showing stellar growth are over. It’s a value stock now. All you can hope for is an increase in dividend and put it into your retirement fund.

Then it happened. The company with $32 billion in cash and $300 billion in market cap came back roaring. With 95% of the market share and a bottom line of $13Billion it was not expected to grow at a whopping 23% no matter what the conditions and yet Microsoft did the unthinkable. It turned around and became a growth stock once again.

It is not even twenty-four hours since they announced the results and there is a parade of analysts upgrading the stock and claiming that the growth days are back and yet nothing has changed in the company itself. It still holds the same PC market share. It still makes a loss in the online business, a wider loss for that matter. It…

Ride of a life time

The offer was irresistible. It was an opportunity to be part of building something from the ground up. It was something I had always wondered about. The chance to shape the future of my career with people I knew and respected. People who knew my strengths and weaknesses. People who knew my career dreams and aspirations. It didn’t take me a moment to say "YES".

It has been a tumultuous two year ride. Things did not turn out the way I thought they would. There have been the highs and then there have been the lows. There have been grand successes and colossal failures. There have been achievements and disappointments. There have been agreements and disagreements.

Today I depart on a sad note. The disappointment of my personal failure is strong and hard. I wish things had turned out differently. I wish I was more experienced to see the issues coming. I wish I was more apt at understanding the problems and addressing them. But what I do not wish is that I was not part of this.

I lov…

Rythm of history

I was glued to the web watching Charlie Rose interview Warren Buffet. There is something about the man that is truly captivating. Could it be because I am chronically aware of the things he has achieved or is it simply that the man is that good?

The interview was captivating and the man talks with such utter simplicity that it is hard but to admire how he gets to be so grounded. But none of that is why I write this. He said one thing that really caught my attention and I figured I should note it down somewhere before I forget it.

Actually he was quoting Mark Twain when he said:

"History doesn't repeat itself but it sure rhymes"

Think about it. You must have surely experienced it sometime in your life.

Unreal World

I often hear the words, “Live in the real world”. It usually refers to me not looking at things that are in my immediate vicinity or things that have to do with the people I know and interact with. So I do. I look at ways to face the real world.

Yet every time I turn on the television the real world appears far removed from what I live in. There is the war of the worlds, there are the terrorist groups, there is the civil unrest, there is the ethnic cleansing, there are the religious wars, there are the political unrests, there are the local city murders, there is the neighborhood sex predator and there is the spouse abuser next door. Yet I have neither witnessed nor experienced any of this.

Don’t get me wrong. I want no part of any of that now or ever in my life, but it does beg the question. Do a lot of us really live in the “real world” however hard we try?

Fading Images

“Naughty”. That was the reprimand that I heard as I accidentally switched on the table lamp. I was kneeling for the daily prayers and instead of concentrating on the prayers I was obviously more engrossed in the things on the table. After all it was summer vacation and I was in my grandfather’s house to enjoy every minute of it. Prayer seemed too much of a distraction and waste of time. My grandfather was very particular about prayers and no mater what the occasion he would have his daily prayers exactly at 8:00pm. A grandson playing around with the table lamp was not something he accepted during that time. Like he always said, “Play time play and study time study”. True to his word he did have his play time. He cherished the time he spent surrounded by his grandchildren. He would spend lazy afternoons sitting at the dinning table drawing caricatures of politicians much to the amusement of his young observers. He would regale us with the history of our ancestors and occasionally take …

Paralyzed

There was a time at the beginning of my post graduate program when I was trying to decide about living alone. I remember one night lying in aunt’s attic bedroom in the dark and computing expenses all the way to the end of the year just so that I was sure I could afford such a change. I knew it was the right thing to do, to go out there and learn how to manage my own life. But the correctness of the decision wasn’t sufficient enough for me to make it and move on. I had to work it all in my head and make sure I was not missing anything.

I am consumed by jealousy when I watch people make life altering decisions in a fleeting moment and move on with their choice. Most times this works out very well for people. Even in my case I have found that in spite of all the analysis that I do, my first impressions have usually been right. So then why am I so paralyzed at every step of the way?

I wish I could make decisions based on first impressions. Make those decisions and live to learn with its con…

Truth is overrated

Is it always smart to tell it the way it is? Would it be smarter to sugar coat something if you know that that is what people want to hear rather than the plain truth. If it does no one any harm it real seems like the smart thing to do.

When you are put in a situation where you are not sure if the true answer would be something that the listener can deal with then what is the point in actually saying it if it serves no additional purpose. Even if you believe that you want to have an open and honest conversation with that person is there really a merit in actually saying it the way it is at the risk of offending that person? Is the truth more important that the persons feelings?

As an idealistic teenager I used to believe that brutal honesty is what is always better. My dad probably has something to do with that method of thought. But over the years I am not so sure anymore. I feel brutal honesty is overrated. It is probably better to anticipate what the other person likes to hear and mo…

School of life

The stock market appears to always be in a hurry. There is always panic and noise on the floor of the market on any given day. Words like “spectacular”, “fabulous”, “unbelievable” etc. are thrown around in the media. New York is the place where it all happens in the Americas and if you are not part of it you are not really an investor.

Yet the oracle from Omaha lives and operates out of the most inconspicuous of cities in the country. He has been at it for over 50 years patiently biding his time. Never an anxious word or a superlative term escapes his lips. Everything is matter of fact and understated. Over the years he has trounced the market and its theories with diligent and patient investing. Results speak for themselves. Berkshire Hathaway is a study in smart and logical investing.

I started out in the world of investing about five years back. The bubble had burst and the market had hit rock bottom. I started off by buying the companies that I had heard of the most. The market retu…

Raw emotions

She mostly ambles around the house with not a care in the world. Everything is fair game in her eyes and nothing is too expensive or too precious to be categorized "not a play thing". The first step is to pull down any object to her level and then examine it and see if it is interesting enough to keep her engaged.

One day she strutted around with an old can on talcum powder. Since she had no one else to play with, her grandfather happened to be her most obvious target. The grandfather obliged and played along asking for some powder to puff his face with. She willing gave him some and enjoyed doing so. A few hours later in her eternal quest to find something interesting, she found the grandfathers powder tin. Promptly she took it and walked around the house threatening to puff up the whole house. The grandfather was quick to reclaim his can of powder and explained to the child that it was not a toy. The child surrendered the tin but walked away pointing out that she had willin…

Wasted life?

A number of politicians in recent days have run into trouble stating that the troops who died in Iraq were a waste of good life. Not surprisingly every time this has happened there has been outrage and almost immediate retraction of the statement. There have been accusations ranging from lack of patriotism to treason. Every person in the public eye who has said this has been left holding their head down in shame.

So how wrong is it? Why are people offended with the people who say this? Is it because they think that the person is stating a lie? Or is it the inability to accept that a decision was wrong? The majority of the country today believes that the war in Iraq was a mistake. Polls have shown with unrelenting accuracy, the acceptance of this fact. But yet the country is outraged when someone states that the people who died in this war were wasted. Is it because people feel that it is an insult to the troops who fight the battle? That this would demoralize them? Or it would shatter …

Look out - Its an idea!

Here is the punch line of an ad: "All Wall-Street needs are ideas". The punch line wouldn't really make an impact unless you see the visuals. Each scene has a different business setting. Everything in each scene begins to disappear except the people who are interacting in the scene. Furniture, coffee mugs, professional degrees - everything.

Though the ad takes aim at investments, I think it applies very well to workplaces. Really all we need is an idea, everything else will follow. The reason why a lot of us feel trapped at work or find our work dissatisfying is because we are all riding somebody else’s idea.

It’s true! All we need is an idea. The problem is the idea is hard to come by and even harder to spot. So then all we can do is ride along with somebody else.

Connectors

The first Barbeque party was a very innocent idea. I was in a new city and at a new job. Just out of college I knew nobody in the city and all I really wanted to do was find somebody whom I could call a friend. I started out by calling a few people from work. It turned out to be good fun. The problem is that slowly the group that I invited began polarizing and eventually it fragmented into smaller groups. Now I invite only one of those sub groups.

The book "Tipping point" by Malcolm Gladwell talks about connectors. Connectors as the book suggests are people who play the role of connecting people. They bring people together no matter what the setting. It is through them that groups of people interact with each other and remain connected. Without them the group would be a fragmented force. But with an active "connector" they form a very strong cohesive bond. With this kind of a person begins a tipping point of any great idea.

Before my experiences with entertaining, I …

Battle for social intelligence

How many times have you known that you are doing something wrong but yet pig headed enough not to admit it to yourself? It happens to me all the time. I wonder why it is so hard for us to accept a mistake and make immediate amends. What is it that makes us dig deeper into the hole and then later have to claw ourselves out of it?

I for one have found myself in this situation more regularly that I would like to admit. It almost always begins with a righteous stand. I am certain that I am on the righteous side of an argument or stand and I take a very aggressive pose. This is usually followed by sulking and pretending to be the victim.

As a child, arguments with my father or mother always began in this fashion. I would invariably end up throwing a tantrum and almost always not get my way. But the sad part of it is that whenever I am done with the outburst almost 99 percent of the time I have felt miserable about doing something like that. What is even scarier is that I have felt bad about …

Transferring inefficiencies

Every organization is always in search of making itself ever more efficient. If you are a keen follower of quarterly reports that every organization puts out every four months, there is not one that gets written without the words “improved efficiency” that is embedded in there somewhere. Even governments talk about efficiency in governance and efficiency in services. But is there truly such a thing as eliminating inefficiencies? Do we really rid the world of inefficiencies when a process is improved or do we simply transfer this inefficiency to another part of the system?

It all started on Monday morning when I had to report for Jury duty at the courthouse. You can never go for one of these things without at least one person giving you a horror story about the grinding waiting that has to be done for anything to happen. First day went by with no activity. At the end of the wait the judge did come over and tell us that she was unable to get to us because of some delays and will do so th…