November 26, 2012

iPad Revelation...

Realized recently that iPad has great potential to substantially reduce materials in your life. Its a good substitute for newspapers, magazines, books and gaming consoles. And I was amongst the people who were vehemently against the notepads for more than a year after their launch. I am planning to switch over to iPad completely for my reading needs, and lets see how the experience goes.

Living In Ivory Towers

I have been reading a few trading books lately, and re-read 'Reminiscences Of a Stock Operator' recently. Taking out the financial mumbo jumbo on how to identify good trading opportunities in the market, there is one broad thing in the book which is missing from our everyday lives now. Almost all the biggest trades where Livingston made a killing came from his understanding of the real world - observing something very common, or after interacting with someone. 

However, comparing that with most traders I know, they all live in financial centers, holiday in Bali or Phuket, and have only brokers/traders as friends. They have kind of separated themselves from the 'real' world completely, and read news/research from the same sources. Most traders have lost touch with actual ground realities of the world, and trade purely on the basis of news flashing on their Bloomberg screens, or some broker ideas. This may be one of the causes of the growing unhappiness in the banking industry - its a circular feedback loop, and unhappiness is feeding itself as very rarely people get an outsider's perspective. 

To correct the situation, and purely from a selfish perspective of making one better traders, one needs to meet more and more people outside the industry. Touch base with a few old friends who work in completely unrelated fields. If not anything, we would learn something new, and feel happy reliving our old days. Social Media was meant to bring people closer, and reunite old friends, instead we have limited it to spam people with smart comments, and random pictures. 

Facebook Babies

How many of us haven't counted the number of likes after posting an album of a recent trips? In today's world, thats the benchmark for how good the trip was, or how good a photographer one is. And we do get depressed (at least I do) if after a couple of hours there is not a single like or comment on the pictures. 

In this mad world of liking, and counting, why do people put photographs of their babies? I mean, its akin to subjecting them to a new kind of competition. Imagine if you can re-live the moments you were born (that would be ages ago), and can actually see who all held you in their hands, and planted a kiss on your cheeks. Imagine being able to find out which of your uncles and aunts wished you what the moment you were born, and the specific gifts they brought with them. The new generation of babies would be able to find this out in a few years when they go through the facebook profile of their parents, and their first pictures. They would be able to see how many people 'liked' it, and who all found it 'cute'. 

The whole scenario scares me a little, and we may be subjecting the little ones to some undue competition (for likes and clicks). 

P.S. - This post has nothing to do with my general dislike for people posting the pictures of their kids on facebook. I mean, all kids are cute, and lovely, but whats it with putting the pictures of a new born? Let him breathe first. 

November 25, 2012

Celebrating The Goodness

There is just so much panic and depression in the world today. In the race of our lives, we forget to see the goodness around. Going forward on this blog, I intend to focus on all those good parts of life we we tend to ignore. This is not too say I won't be discussing about the ground reality of the world, far from it. But the focus would be more on the good, and perhaps the way ahead on the bad things. 

And to get things started, let me start with the movies. This may well be called the Golden Age of Indian Cinema. We were always a big movie industry by any standards, but lately, we have had many talented directors and script writers who instead of making the usual flicks, are focussing on taking the cinema ahead. Thanks to the multiplex culture, now we have an audience who can enjoy all kinds of cinema. Over the last decade or so, bollywood has been experimenting with some really interesting movies. Be it the Rang De Basanti, which almost inspired a whole nation, or one of the very rare female lead movies Kahani, which proved once again that a everyone appreciates a good cinema, irrespective of the stars. I'm not saying that now all the movies being made a very good, far from it. However, now a days we have at least one movie every few months which promises to take our cinema forward. For every south-indian remake we are making, there is one genuine lovable original also. 

One interesting thing about the recent movies is the grey characters in them - we no longer portray our characters in complete black and white, and there is very little sugar coating of language as well. We are turning back the dream world of Raj Kapoor, and putting our movies back to the reality. Ishaqzaadedidn't harp much on the differences between the religions, and more on the differences between the two families. In the movie, there were no caricatures which have been done to death in our movies, and in spite of dealing with a heavy and touchy subject, it was done very lightly and without being preachy at any point. Its a different matter that the movie left me depressed still, not for any fault of its making, but for the true reality it depicted - the fact that such things are still happening in our country. The sad fact that in a country which perhaps makes the largest number of movies in the whole world, and where more than 80% of movies would be love-stories, in real life we are much more tolerant of corruption than of love marriages. And to some extent the fault lies which the movie makers of yester-years who made such dreamy movies that people never considered them a part of their real lives. Those movies were everyone's getaway from the real world, and not a reflection to build upon. 

We now have movies scaling revenues of 100 Cr on almost regular basis now, and this gives the people associated with the industry much more room and space for experiments. After the initial infatuation with the salaries of stars which have already sky rocketed, some part of the money would be spent on technical aspects of movies as well - in the form of better sets, better camera work, and some time in near future better scripts. Hollywood has a culture of adapting popular novels into movies, and we have made tiny beginnings in that direction by having a few Chetan Bhagat novels being made into movies. Its no wonder that of all the 100 Cr plus hits, the only one which wouldn't make us feel ashamed in front on an international audience is 3 Idiots, which was an amongst the very first bollywood movie which is inspired by a novel. 

July 24, 2012

Classics Revisted: Emma by Jane Austen

There is something about the classics which make you want to read them. I mean, the world has evolved in a linear fashion, and hence to undetstand it fully you need to understand the past developments as well. There are so many contemporary books, movies, articles and everything else which borrows from historical works. This by itself doesn't mean they are superior to the current books. Its just that more people share the common history of past works, similar to say the qwerty keyboard system. It may not be the best one for current times, and yet the world share it.

Emma is hailed as one of the greatest works of Jane Austen, and that itself makes it one of the books to read. This is the second Jane Austen book I have read, the first one being Pride and Prejudice (though I read it ages back, and am sure didn't appreciate it much then). Emma is a story about a rich girl, living in english countryside and who has very few friends. Her life changes drastically after the marriages of her sister and caretaker, and she's left alone in her house with her father. The book in mainly about her quest to find new friend, and later to manipulate her love life the way she wants. Emma lives in a world of her own, and tries to control the life of a few people around her just for her amusement. There are very few characters in the book, and the pace of events is slow. Everything is presented in minute details, and adds to the beauty of the book. The story in the books move at a pretty slow pace, and its more about the nuances of each character and situations which makes this book a classic. Read it for the old world charm on a holiday.

June 6, 2012

Is Online Freedom Overrated?

When times are good, one can get away with murder. But when the dial turns, a lot of hidden skeletons come out of closet. Governments world over have been facing and fighting increasing public scrutiny over their affairs. All the seemingly simple stuff like grant of licenses, or some rights now draw intense media attention, and more likely than not criticism. No wonder steps are being taken to limit online freedom, or limit exchange or damaging views. And with it comes the backlash. Most neo liberals defend their online freedom, and are joined by some celebrities as well. However, in my view, they are fighting the wrong battle.

Online freedom is all about the right to visit websites, post comments, and share stuff (subject to copyright). Any restriction on any of these is met by a huge uproar on the online world. However, there are so many things in real life which is similarly prohibited, but no one fights for them. You can't visit all the places in the world, some places are banned for entry. You can't say just anything to anyone in real world as well. And you are not allowed to share stuff freely - even inter state trades have barriers. People need visa to travel from country A to country B. So while we have been so tolerant of all these imposed restrictions in real world, we feel suffocated when some website or article is banned by the government.

Do we really think before we share/tweet something? Does it really affect our lives or defending online freedom is the new thing in vogue?

May 4, 2012

Recessionary Times

We are in recessionary times, and there seems to be no way out of it. Its no longer a shock-and-bounce thing, and it will take years of grinding to get out of this mess.

Surprisingly, there seems to be very little introspection happening on where we went wrong. Even though Enron and Lehman went bust, their employees made millions (and some even billions). Something is terribly wrong with the way things are structured, and the more I think about it, the more confusing it gets. When Lehman stock was trading at 2 dollars, fed needed a meeting to plan its rescue, not withstanding the fact that its employees could very well have bought every stock in the market.

Its a recession of character and morality, and don't think there is any way out of it.

April 24, 2012

Travel Plans

Finally managed to squeeze a long weekend plan to a 'foreign country'. Well, even though Singapore is not a proper travel destination (shopping and adventure parks don't count as travel destinations), its a first. And hopefully we could plan similar trips in months to come as well.

So the next weekend and two days would be well spent in Singapore. Should be posting a few pictures soon after the return.

April 21, 2012

One Click: Part Two

I couldn't help but notice the irony in the title. Something which was intended to be simple and fast, has got a second post on it. Anyways, this one is not about the book, but on e-commerce and internet as a whole.

The fastest way to become a millionaire these days seems to be via technology based start ups. They may be pure plays like Instagrams of the world, or can be a web enabled real businesses like Flipkart (more on flipkart on some later date). People are investing like crazy into tech start ups, and valuations are reaching close to bubble zones. So what is it which makes an e-company more attractive than a brick and mortar one? Is this just the premium on betting on future or there are other real tangible present reasons?

For one, they are more nimble. Compared with a company on ground which may have locked a long term lease, have inventory, and old information systems, an e-commerce company would be much more nimble. It would be much quicker to adapt to changes, and can completely re-invent itself at lower costs.

Another reason I think is the efficiency - compare the music selling models for Apple and a CD store. While the actual store would place orders for CDs, wait for shipment, pay for transportation costs, pay rental for the store, and then be left with unsold inventory. Apple on the other hand just sells a digital file, gets a hefty cut on each song sold, doesn't carry any inventory risk, and has almost no capital deployed. Little wonder Apple has a margin in 40s, compared with single digit margins at say Walmart.

And lastly, I think its a huge monopoly of scale potential. On internet, its just one or two guys who control each markets - be it google in search and mail, microsoft in OS, Apple in products you didn't knew you needed. So, no wonder when someone opens a flipkart, it gets a much higher valuation than if he had opened a store of even twice the scale.

It may all be a big lie, and ten years from now mankind may return to real brick and mortar businesses. But whats the harm in trying to understand a few things, and try to rationalize the same.

April 12, 2012

One Click: The Amazing Amazon

This may be a long post, or I may split this into multiple posts. Depends on how much the battery in my iPhone lasts, and how much I can think or write at one go. The reason why it would be a long one because its about the book, and then, about a lot more things.

Firstly the book. The one I'm talking about here is titled 'One Click', and is about Amazon and its founder Jeff Bezos. Few stories in the internet era have been more successful than that of Jeff Bezos. I'm not counting Facebook and Twitter and a whole lot of other companies simply because its too early to tell. Internet is like the big wild jungle, and its all about 'winners takes all'. The pace of change is mind numbing, and very few companies survive after the initial hype. Amazon did, and changed the rules of the game. It has survived the first decade, seen two crisis, and still manages to grab the front page.

Bezos can be credited to a large extent for shaping the e-commerce as it exists today. He just hung in there, overseeing profitless growth for years, and yet believed in the future. Now we have a lot of portals offering similar services and it all looks so natural now. The book briefly deals with some of the very obvious problems faced by the founding team, and how some of the features so common today were conceptualized.

On another level, it makes you wonder about the possibilities of the internet. Is it really going to change the world for good, or is just a passing fad. Its a crazy world out there now. The aggregator websites offering air tickets are valued much more than the airline companies themselves. Similar may be the case for online movie ticketing, book selling ventures in India. Most of them are being valued at more than the valuations of the underlying business they are supporting. May be, world is changing for ever, or it may be just another bubble. Anyways, we are back in the dot com mania, albeit a little bit wiser than last time.

P.S. - I will have to split this into parts, and let me write the other half later.

April 11, 2012

Diary Of A Wimpy Kid

As I may have mentioned in few of my earlier posts as well, I'm currently in my reading phase. Have been reading a lot a books, the latest being the four books in 'Diary of A Wimpy Kid' series.

I first read about them on some blog, can't remember which one, and had ordered them long time ago. On my last India trip, was travelling quite light and hence managed to carry lots of books back with me. Anyways, I digress. Coming back to the book.

The book is very differently written, and its more of graphic novel with each page having pictures and only a few sentences. It deals with a middle school kid named Greg, and the world from his perspective. There is a good bit of humour in the book, and the cartoons add to the story greatly. Read it to relive your school days, these are very light reads with each book not taking any more than 2 hours at maximum.

April 5, 2012

Andre Agassi - Open (Autobiography)

I'm quite bad at writing about stuff, more so about movies and books.  As in, apart from the general writing skills which can't be helped much, I'm also confused about how much the review should be based on actual contents of the book/movie, and how much should be based on discussion over its quality. The problem is, unlike a professional reviewer, I'm not quite sure who I'm writing the review for. If by any chance someone stumbles upon this page, and reads about the story of a book/movie he/she was planning to read, then I would have just done a great disservice to both the person as well as the book/movie. So, let me stick with the format I'm more comfortable with - just a cursory discussion on the quality of the stuff, and recommendations. Actually, its quite easy to figure out the recommendations part as well - if I'm writing about something, it must be quite good in my opinion (or a small probability that it would be very very bad, which again would make it interesting as well). 

The other day, I had ordered loads of autobiographies when some of my relatives were coming over to Hong Kong for a trip. Mostly, I had ordered some interesting mix of autobiographies - Jeff Bezos, Andre Agassi, Steve Jobs, Kishore Biyani, etc. 'Open' by Andre Agassi was my first sportsperson biography, and I was not quite sure what to expect from it. I used to watch tennis earlier, in my school days, around the same time as Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were at the top of their game. If only I had read this book back then, to better understand the game and what goes behind it. 

This book is not about someone's love for tennis or anything like it. Its about Andre's journey of self-discovery, and his rebellion. It may sound odd, but for a large part of his career, Andre hated tennis, and started playing the game only because his father left him no choice. It details his feeling at different points of his career, how he left like quitting after every loss, and how he decided never to lose to a few players ever again. Even if you have never seen an actual game, you may relate to the feelings, and will be cheering for him in matches played years back. 

The writing style was a complete shocker to me, and I was hooked onto the book from the very start. Written in first person, and present continuous form, it makes you go through his life as it happened, and not as an after-thought written 20 years later. This may be the first biography in such detailed format which I have read. Most others deals with events and their significance, this one deals with emotions and feelings at each point of time. Hence the thought that I wish I had read the book (or he had written the book) much earlier, while the matches were still on. 

Definitely worth a read. 

March 19, 2012


On some days you feel like superman, full of energy and optimism. On others, you are just passing through life in a monday to friday ordeal. Why does it feel like this?

Under 30, working in a good company, shouldn't I be more hopeful about future. And have much more of superman days than the other ones? Is it just the global recession taking its toll, or I need to seriously consider a career change?

March 3, 2012

Priorities Of Life

Thanks to Facebook, now we all know the places people visit on their holidays. And sadly, it seems most people make their choices based on where others have been. I know of so many people who went to Maldives/Mauritius for their Honeymoon (myself included),or went to Bali on their long weekend trip.

There is nothing wrong with any of these places, and most of them are great holiday destinations. But what surprises me is the amount of time people spend on planning their trips. Most of them seems to book their tickets at the last minute without doing any research on their own. With information so easily available, I would have assumed people exploring new places and locales. And given most people take just one or two vacations a year, they ought to spend a little more time on the planning.

I too plan to make at least one good trip this year, for about four to five days. Lets see what place we finally decide on, but I would want to be a lesser known place. So that there is something new to be explored. Or even if its run of the mill destinations like Bangkok, would prefer planning it in a better way than most people seem to be doing.

March 2, 2012

Another Template Change

I'm back to the phase when I am cleaning up my life. There is so much junk flying around these days all over the internet, and on some days it intimidates me. Every morning when I reach my office, there are at least a hundred emails in my mailbox, most of which are irrelevant to me, but nonetheless I have to clean them up. Then there is the personal gmail where there is another 50 mails daily with most of them being marketing materials from airlines/banks/shops. And finally the 500-odd friends on the facebook who keep chatting non-stop, keep getting married, having kids and what nots. I needed a change, and I needed a break. So what do I do?

I can't make any changes to my office emails, so I let it be the way it is. On gmail, I have unsubscribed to most mass mailers, and its an ongoing process. But I am making some progress here. At the risk of losing out on the next great sale offer, when they would be selling tickets to swiss alps for 1 cent, I have risked blocking all such emails. On twitter, I have removed a lot of people I was following, including the great Big B (I really admire him, but there was nothing interesting in reading his tweets). On facebook, I have finally deleted scores of non-friends, and brought my friends count down to 400. Even there, I have created a smaller list of 'real friends and family', and its only there people whose activities I would now be seeing (and vice versa). I may be rude and things like that, but I'm not really interested in knowing about the daily life of some guy only because we did our engineering from the same college (come on, my college had some 2000 plus students at campus at any given time). 

In line with the theme, I have removed some clutter from my blog as well, and changed the template to this very simple one. A blog should be about the writer and his posts, and anything else is plain distraction. So, hopefully I would stick to this one for a little longer. 

January 26, 2012

The Entrepreneurship Bug

Quite a few of my friends recently have started their ventures, and I'm sure many more are planning to, over the next few years. I'm not sure about the reasons behind each of them, but broadly it may have to do with boredom with corporate life, and in some cases a deep desire to do something unique and different. With recession talks almost always grabbing the newspaper headlines, we may just be entering the era of innovation, and this may be the right time to start something. 

I have been thinking along similar lines for some time, but not in terms on any specific ideas. Till now, the thought has been pretty broad, with things like whether to be based in city A or city B, or whether it should be an online service based venture, or things like this. In my view, unless one is Steve Jobs, specific ideas aren't usually the starting point. One can always look at his surroundings, and locate 5 different business opportunities. The key, in my view, is to be able to decide on the macro variable - people, place, medium, capital, etc. Once you have sorted these basic issues, you can always take the plunge. 

Here are some of the interesting ventures by a few of my friends, produced below without their permissions (I hope no one minds some words written about them):

Copper Sky Journeys: This one is my favorite of all the ventures I have come across, and I like both the business idea, as well as the web design part of it. Its a very simplistic design, and still presents almost all the necessary information anyone would need. 

Purple Penguin Realty: This is a relatively new venture, and the website went live just a couple of weeks back. They deal in the real estate business, and though I couldn't understand the whole business plan properly from their website, it nonetheless appears an interesting opportunity given that the sector is completely dominated by unprofessional (to say the least) people. 

Both of these are in sunshine sectors, with both real estate and tourism offering lots of opportunities for growth in future. 

Into Biographies

I'm currently in my reading phase - the phase where in I will be reading 3-4 similar books at one go. And post it, there is usually a lull, where I won't be touching anything for months, if not quarter-years. 

After having read two back to back 'Retail' business biographies (one by Sam Walton, and then another by Kishore Biyani), about which I have ranted earlier, I have now started with 'Open' by Andre Agassi. I have just managed to get through with the first chapter, and I already have pretty high expectations from the book. I have never ever read an autobiography of any sportsman, and hence just wanted to give it a try. If all goes well, may try my hands on the stories of Lance Armstrong or may be even Shoaib Akhtar. 

January 18, 2012

It Happened In India

I recently read the book 'It Happened In India', the life story of Kishore Biyani, and by some length, of organized retail in India. You and Me may not think too much about the Pantaloons and the Big Bazaar stores, which are now almost present in all the big malls, but anyone who has ever applied for any license/passport/registration anywhere in India would know what a feat it is. By some logic, it may be a bigger achievemet than Walmart as well, assuming the US government offices are nowhere like India's.

There are parallels with Walmart, with Biyani being heavily inspired by Sam Walton, and thats reflected even in the way in book is written. Both the biographies follow very similar format, starting with a scenario, and then comments and quotes from related people. However, the book is nowhere near the Sam Walton's, and misses out on a lot of details.

My takeaway from the book is quite simple - if you are good at something, and are adaptive to ideas and changes, you can make it big. You don't need great ideas to be successful, but pure dedication and some risk apetite. Recommended for a casual reading, but if you want a good book on retail, Sam Walton's one is miles ahead.

January 3, 2012

The Pace Of Innovation

I was reading an article on how companies in China are upping their R&D spending, whereas the US companies are cutting on it. May be with the exception of Apple that is. With China growing, it was just a matter of time that they started spending on R&D. But it raises one interesting question along the lines of social development. Is this the outcome we all should strive for?

The occupy wall street protest in US and world over is a protest against the economic divisions. However, I think the fast pace of innovation is one of the reasons for an increase in inequality in recent decade. The few who are at the fore front and well equipped can take advantges of the new technologies, whereas the less privileged ones are left farther and farther behind. Think of the plight of someone who has never been on internet - she wouldn't even understand half the news stories which comprise of who wrote what on which network. Add to it the offers on bookmyshow, groupon etc, which for some reasons aren't available otherwise. Increasingly, the world is getting more and more unfair for the have-nots.

We should all stop for a moment and think about the direction in which we are moving. Is it fine to spend billions on the research of touchscreen technology or other such 'path breaking' ideas when more than half of mankind lives in poverty. When there are greater problems to be solved - both in the field of medical sciences and also towards things like economic housing. I am left wondering about the kind of world we are becoming - apple sells millions of iPad, and not many people actually have a clue what they are buying it for. They all keep buying as if they will be able to connect the dots later.

I'm becoming more and more inclined towards the Chinese model of development - capitalism with some state control. There are obvious issues, but capitalism left to itself may not give the best possible outcome. It lives on the principle of survival of the fittest, and at some point, this becomes a scary thought.

January 2, 2012

Just Another New Year Post

The online world is inundated with messages and posts on new year. Most of them are either wishes or resolutions, and like every year most of them would be forgotten within the first fortnight. And inspite of knowing this, people still want to savor the moment and make some promises to themselves.

I think its more to do with 'closure'. A year ends, and a resolution list makes one think about where they stand, and where they should aim to go. Like everything else in life, we may not end up there, but there is no harm in dreaming and trying. So that leads me to my list of resolutions for the new year.

I don't have a list per se, though I do have a vague idea about where I want to be at the end of 2012.

1. I want to have seen at least some part of the world outside Asia - it could be Europe or Americas or Australia/NZ.

2. I want to be fitter and healthier - not just in terms of weight and shape, but as a lifestyle. I want to be a regular either at gym or with some sport.

3. I want to end the year much better in my profession than I'm now. 

4. I want to have a serious hobby - one in which I can spend my weekend and free time, and which would be productive at the same time. It could be reading lots of books, learning a new language, or photography. Or may be a combination of all of those.

Let me revisit this list sometime during mid year, just like most companies do. Hopefully there would some progress and I wouldn't cross out any of these as unattainable.