Wednesday, August 31, 2005


This is a transcript of an alleged radio conversation between a US Naval ship and the Canadians, off the coast of Newfoundland, Oct. 95.

Canadians: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the South, to avoid a collision.

Americans: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the North, to avoid a collision.

Canadians: Negative, You will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.

Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say divert YOUR course.

Canadians: Negative. Repeat, you will have to divert your course.


Canadians: We are a lighthouse. Your call.

Via Jammy

This seems to a be one of those numerous urban legends.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Go Public ...

North Carolina State University has an annual budget of close to a Billion dollars - Which means that if it was a publicly traded company, it would be in the Fortune 1500.

However, most Public Universities in the US are struggling currently through the economic slowdown - A major problem for universities is the fact that several corporate sponsors have pulled the plug on donations, while Universities struggle to sustain a heavily bloated overhead (read, 80 year old tenured professors). The brunt of the effect is felt by the students with reduced funding, increased class sizes, shorter library hours among others.

Management of the University does leave a lot to be desired as obviously PhD's don't necessarily the best administrators. Gargs has plenty of gripes about the lack of graduate student funding at the University. I am sure everyone has their own university horror story, so lets not even go there.

What if Universities went public ?

One of my first posts was about the setting up of People Exchanges where people could list themselves on a stock exchange. Looking at the sorry state of funding in Universities in the US, I wonder if they need to maybe start listing on the stock exchanges as well.

Firstly, there would be a complete overhaul of management, with professional managers appointed by Wall Street. No more Chemistry professors managing budgets of a billion dollars.

Secondly, a bunch of departments will be shut down - Departments that dont show a profit (like Psychology for example) will probably lose all funding.

Thirdly, the concept of "tenure" will no longer exist - Professors who dont perform well, according to a certain well defined set of metrics will be "let go".

Fourthly, the relative performance of different Universities will directly influence the amount of funding they are able to obtain. The stock price of different universities will vary in line with performance on metrics such as graduation rates, average starting salary etc ..

Fifthly, departments such as Bio-Tech which have grown to become "Profit Centres" will benefit from such a move because of increased cash availability.

Why would people want to invest in Universities ? For several reasons ....
  • The Sports Teams
  • Patents
  • Marketing Opportunities
  • Real Estate
  • Philanthropy
Overall, there are some positive and some negative features associated with such an initiative - One likely outcome would be the focusing of each University on their "core competencies" - There is really no reason for NC State to be pouring money into an Advanced English program, when there is a phenomenal program available at Chapel Hill and similarly, there is no need for a Computer Science program at Chapel Hill, because NC State's program is vastly better.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Word Verification

Guys, I have turned on "Word Verification" on my comments page. This is because of all the problems I have had with comment spam, with random people leaving spam-like comments.

Dont let this dissuade you from leaving comments !

At last ...

I turned 25.
Theres good and bad in it.
I wanted to be a millionaire by now. And I am not. Not even close.
But I can rent a car without paying the underage fee.
Not bad :-)

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Netflix saves the USPS star

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is a much-maligned organization. No American I have met trusts it completely, and FedEx and UPS have grown very quickly at the expense of USPS.

I have always had quite a good opinion about the USPS, especially their post office clerks. The guys at my post office (Avent Ferry Shopping Center, Raleigh, North Carolina) have to be the most cheerful clerks in the world. They probably say "Good day", "How are you", "Not bad", "Do you want any stamps", "Is there anything fragile, liquid or perishable" a thousand times a day !

However, with the advent of email and e-greetings, the mail volume in the US had been shrinking slowly and since 2000, there was a reduction of about 6 billion pieces of mail per annum. However, the trend changed in 2004, and I believe that some of the main causes for that are eBay and Netflix. I estimate that Netflix alone is probably between 500 Million and a Billion pieces of mail.

Its good to see that - Because, it shows that things always happen in cycles - The very internet that took away a lot of USPS' business is now resuscitating USPS through increased mail volume.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Civil Liberties

Soon after 9/11, the Republican Government in the US seized the opportunity to push through some fairly draconian pieces of legislation including "The Patriot Act". Enough has been written about the Patriot Act and I dont have anything new to add to the discussion.

There are three other things, somewhat tangential to the issue that I wished to talk about.

The first one, is quite a shocking one, in which the Government is trying to get book stores to share with them purchase histories of select customers who are suspected of wrong-doing (Primarily terrorism, either the act or planning of it). I recall an advertisement from some time ago where the US boasted about how it's democracy was superior to other countries (Targeted at the Communists), by showing a situation where a person was arrested for reading a certain book. Looks like things have come the full circle now. Several local bookstores (Predominantly the independently owned ones) are getting people to sign a petition opposing this legislation.

The second one is regarding the repeated use of an anecdote by multiple sections of society - Politicans, Law Enforcement and others of how Mohammed Atta, the mastermind of 9/11 was caught speeding but was let go because the policeman did not know that he was wanted in another jurisdiction, because information was not shared between different police districts. Based on this single anecdote, an argument has been made for the increased sharing of police information - Which is certainly necessary and important - But, it will never ever stop a terrorist attack, because Al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization will ensure that their hitmen will have clean records and will never speed (like Atta did) - This is not dissimiliar from the ways of working of the Sicilian mafia, which ensured that the button men had clean records so that they would be easy to get off.

And the third one disappoints me a lot - I have always looked to Europe as being a place where civil liberties were always considered of extreme importance, and I was dismayed to see that after the terror attacks last month, 73% of Brits said that they would give up their civil liberties in exchange for protection against terrorist attacks. After making a lot of noise about the Patriot Act and other restrictions on civil liberties in the US, the British seem to have caved in very meekly. Of course, the UK isnt really part of Europe ....

Friday, August 26, 2005

Give me your tired, your poor

I recently read a letter that a reader had written to the editor of Newsweek magazine. She was responding to an article in a previous issue about how the inhabitants of a small town in Connecticut had forced recent immigrants from Ecuador to stop their noisy weekend volleyball games. She said that if all immigrants would be accepted only if they left their native culture behind, then the US would have moved very far away from its initial motto of "Give me your tired, your poor".

A little bit of research revealed that the above quote is part of a few sentences on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York. The lines are taken from the poem "The New Colossus" by the poet Emma Lazarus.

The last lines of the poem read as follows ...

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

America in the late 1800's must have been such a glorious destination, such a marked contrast from the rest of the world - A mecca for the hungry Irish peasants during the potato plague that left their crops ravaged, for the Sicilians persecuted by the North Italians, and many others.

The US at that time took everybody in, regardless of age, religion, education, language spoken, ability and national origin.

I cant help contrasting it with the current situation, where the US, although still the most sought after destination, has so many pre-conditions before admitting people from abroad - Test of English as a Foreign Language, necessity to be a qualified technical expert, quotas by nationality ....

Of course, I agree that this was inevitable, the US isnt as unpopulated as it was a long time ago, but its sad that there is no one place where the poor and downtrodden can look to, a place of hope, a place where they know they will be welcomed ...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Speed of Response

I am a major Indian military buff. And although I believe that all wars are futile, I think the maintenance of an army by every country is vital. I have always loved the Republic Day parades and used to watch them every Jan 26th without fail - I missed the ones in 2003 and 2004, but caught it this year when I was in India.

A girl who used to work for my dad married Flight Lieutenant in the Air Force. He is stationed somewhere near Bombay now.

I was talking to him some time back and he was telling me that if it was determined that India was under attack, the Air Force could have entire squadrons in the air within 3 minutes. This was for the Western seaboard. It was 10 minutes for the Eastern seaboard.

I think thats amazing, and I am sure that all companies can learn and benefit from techniques used by the armed forces.

And of course, the armed forces can learn from industry - One incident that always comes to my mind is how the US Army dispatched huge amounts of supplies to Kuwait during the First Gulf War - All of the containers were lined up in a 2 mile stretch, and although all the necessary supplies were there, nobody knew which container contained what !

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Born Into Brothels

I watched "Born Into Brothels" a few weeks ago. I loved it - Its a documentary set in the Calcutta red light area, Sonagachi. It was shot by an American woman who has lived in the brothel, on and off for the last several years.

The brothel, of course, looked horrible. It was filthy, there were junkies eveywhere, the women used foul language in front of their children and there was no escape route for the children. Most of the girls ended up becoming prostitutes and the boys became pimps/junkies.

The American lady, who is a photographer by profession, started making friends with the children of the prostitutes and ultimately ended up teaching them photography. I was amazed at how talented each of the kids was with the camera.

The movie, in spite of its theme was quite upbeat and at the end of the movie, I was quite happy rather than being sad as I expected to be. I thought that the overall treatment of Calcutta and India was quite fair overall - There was no attempt to show India as being anymore dirty than it is, or the government being any slower than it is.

And then I read this blog post, by "Great Bong", and although he attempted to project an image of being extremely neutral and objective, it was clear that he was upset with the way the movie portrayed Calcutta. I love the way he talks about everything but the core issue - Starving, struggling people.

In his post, he accuses Zana Briski, the photographer of deviating from the main subject in order to focus on the bad things. He also says that the movie comes across as "Look at how the European woman is saving the souls of bottom-feeding Indians." "All the good, noble characters (her and the principal of a school) are Europeans."

So, my questions are ...

1. So what if she focuses on the bad things ?
2. Why are Indians so defensive ?
3. Why are we analyzing Ms. Briski's motivation ?
4. Should the world see our poverty and squalor ?

Lets face it - India although the greatest country, has countless problems - That doesnt mean we need to walk away from it or give up on it - But, that is the truth. And the first step in solving a problem is acknowledging it.

Indians need to stop being so defensive about the country - Especially, the well educated, well fed ones - Whose only concern is that pictures of the true India - Dirt and filth will spoil their opportunities to sell BPO solutions or will necessitate them to answer tough questions during pseudo-intellectual cocktail sessions at Harvard.

Screw that !
India needs change, a lot of it.
India needs help and a lot of it.

And if the way to get help is to come out with the begging bowl and show the ugly underbelly, so be it.

And, why are we worried about Ms. Briski's motivation ? Its not even relevant to the starving millions in India - A much larger issue is the attempt by the affluent in India to brush the poor under the "India is Shining" carpet.

India is progressing, but we are in no way shining. And we need to acknowledge that - That would make us powerful.

Can these pseudo intellectuals promise to eradicate poverty ? Can they feed everybody who needs food tonight ? Guarantee that nobody will starve or shiver to death tonight ?

If they can't, then they need to shut up and let Zana Briski or anybody who chooses, to do their charity work unheeded and uncommented upon - If you can help, help. If not, let others help, no matter what their motivation is and even if it means that you are forced to search your conscience and makes you feel like a traitor.

Have you saved anybody from a brothel ?
Zana Briski has.

Update: I posted this link as a comment on "Great Bong's" blog and he promptly deleted it.

Update II: He requested that I post the content of this post as a comment, which I have.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Playlist Based Matching

Looking at the success of all of these online matching/dating services, I think there is a clear business case for a website that uses some cool technology to match people.

In the last few months, I have been seeing more and more ads for They claim that they match people on 29 dimensions, such as, values, sense of humor and others.

However, from my perspective, I think the eharmony deal is hogwash because they are trying to get people to define their personalities by answering questions and of course they are'nt going to be honest !!!

The one thing that might really be representative of a person's personality is their taste in music.

Remember my post from a few days ago where I talked about an ipod exchange service ... Extending that concept to the dating game, what if there could be a website that looks at each user's ipod playlist (No. of songs, no. of popular songs, no. of unpopular songs, most played songs etc ...) and matches people on the basis on common tastes in music ?

I think it would be cool !!

Monday, August 22, 2005

An Advanced Welcome ....

It struck me yesterday that a lot of what I have done and continue to do (Study, Work, Create, Build, Buy) is for people who have not yet become part of my life - The wife I havent met yet, the kids I am going to have and friends I will make ...

This is a welcome in advance to each one of you !

Great performances by children ...

In May 2005, I posted this list of my favorite acting performances by children ...

I wanted to add a few more to the list

Man on the Moon - Reese Witherspoon (In my favorite scene below ...)

Farewell my Concubine - Mingwei Ma (Douzi as a child)
Shag: The Movie: Phoebe Cates

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Seems simple to me ...

I am going to start this post with a confession - I have (in my foolish past), actually read a few issues of the women's magazine, Cosmopolitan. And even, worse, I have actually had the cocktail of the same name :-)

But that is neither here nor there .....

One recurrent theme I saw in those issues of Cosmopolitan was how unhappy women were with the fact that men kept leaving the toilet seat up. This seemed to the be one of the top problems women had with men, right up there with, "He never listens to me" and "He flirts with my friends"

I have a simple solution.

Put a urinal in each bathroom. Men know what I am talking about and I guess, most women do as well. However, just in case, heres a picture of one ...

Its convenient for men, and women dont have to worry about the toilet seat anymore.
One less thing for women to complain about - Wonder if that will make them happy or unhappy ;-)

Note: As a clarification, this would be in addition to the regular toilet !

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Progress Energy

Progress Energy is the electric utility for Raleigh, North Carolina where I live. The major utility providers in North Carolina are Progress and Duke Energy.

When I got my latest bill from Progress Energy, I noticed something interesting. These guys are now trying to peddle "Electric Surge Protection" as a service ! Talk about getting the wolf to guard the chickens ... Arent these guys supposed to ensure that there are no electric surges ?

Interesting ....

Friday, August 19, 2005

Free Trade in the US

"Free Trade" has to be one of the most abused terms in the world. The developed world often defines the term in a way that suits their purposes. Of course, there have been reams written about how the so-called proponents of free trade, the US and Western Europe often resort to illegal subsidies (Agriculture and Tobacco subsidies in the US for example) to make their products competitive, while simultaneously blocking imports of products from China and India (Textiles for example) citing "Dumping" and "GATT/WTO violations".

This facet of "Unfree Trade" has been discussed to death.

Another facet that receives little attention (I have not seen it mentioned anyplace) is how free trade in labor is being curtailed in the US. This is being done through the imposition of a minimum wage (Federal statutes set the minimum at $5.15/hour, with individual states setting their own floors - $7.25 in Oregon for example).

I believe that this is restricting free trade in the sense that it prevents workers who are willing to join the workforce at lower than minimum wage from being able to do so. There are several million people that are unemployed in the US and I believe that they would be willing to work at less than minimum wage. Would the ability to hire people at less than minimum wage keep more manufacturing jobs in the US ? I think it would. Of course, currently, this gap is being exploited (?) by immigrant laborers, primarily from Mexico.

There are two effects of offshoring work (IT/Manufacturing) - The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The rich are getting richer because margins for US based companies are going up. The poor are going to struggle because their jobs are going overseas and they lose the ability to compete because of the artificial minimum wage. In a true free market, labor supply/demand would combine to define the minimum automatically.

And once this natural minimum goes below $5.15 (I think it already has), thats a point of no return for the economy.

Read this article ..... it describes how McDonalds outsourced its drive through window operations from Oregon to North Dakota because of the minimum wage differential. Next step, when $5.15 is too costly - A guy with an Indian accent asking you whether you want to super size your fries :-)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Jeez !

This guy has a phenomenal list of all the Tamil leaders killed by the LTTE. There are about 30 people on the list.

Why did the LTTE assasinate all of these people ?

Were they "Bad Tamils" who sold out to the Sinhala devils ?!
Seems like somebody has been watching too many Shankar movies ...

Kaun Banega Crorepati -

I loved that TV show. Amitabh Bachchan was a phenomenal host. fyi, Kaun Banega Crorepati is the Indian syndicate of "Who wants to be a millionaire". I was watching an episode of "Who wants to be .." on the Game Show Network today. Amitabh is so much better than Regis, with his pregnant pauses, sly smile and personality.

Of course one of the lifelines on the show is "Phone a friend" - I was struck by how few of the "friends" were usually able to help. I wonder how many friendships have been broken by the "Phone a friend" deal ...

"Did you wreck the answer on purpose ?"
"I lost half a million because of you !"
"Were you on coke when I called !"

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The $2,200 (1 Lakh) car ....

Ratan Tata is a genius, or atleast someone within Tata Motors is. Of course, most of us have heard about Mr. Tata's dream of building a One Lakh Rupee car. I for one, have been a sceptic. My training in Mechanical Engineering (!!) and common sense lead me to think that if a manufacturing genius of a company such as Toyota could not achieve this, Tata would find it close to impossible ...

And then I read an article on how they were going to create this car. I have always had a healthy respect for Tata Motors' R&D - Their success with India's first completely indigenous car (the Indica) and the fact that they were able to lure Dr. Basargaekar from General Motors ... But what I read had me speechless for a few seconds ... Such a simple idea, so simple that it had to work !

The plan is to create a car that is largely made of high strength composite plastic, thereby reducing the usage of steel. A lot of the joints are to be sealed with industrial adhesive rather than expensive welding. Once, the different components of the car are built, they will be assembled in two ways - The first, conventional one is where Tata Motors assembles the car in their Pune and sells it to their dealer network.

The second one is ingenius - They want to sell kits to any of the thousands of service stations around the country, so that the car can be assembled on request. Customer goes to their local service station and gets a car assembled right there. Just-In-Time, in your face !

This in the words of an expert "Converts the car to a commodity"

Dear readers, I can see you are incredulous and dont think it will work. "Industrial adhesive ! It cant be safe", you say. Its absolutely safe. "I dont want mechanic Raju to build my car !" - Go to the dealer. "Can service stations afford to buy the kit ?" - They dont have to keep in it stock, they will order it as per demand. "Theres no space on Indian roads !" - Thats not Tata's problem, and in fact, if the Indian Government decides to expand the road network, guess who benefits ? Tata Steel and Associated Cement Companies, two Tata family companies ! Helps to be a $18 Billion conglomerate, doesnt it !

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Sri Lanka - A Beautiful Country

After all the talk about the LTTE and the violence in Sri Lanka, I wanted to end this three party series on a positive note, talking about the beauty of the country. I have never been to Sri Lanka myself, so all of this is hearsay from my dad and cousins who have been there. And now Indians can visit Sri Lanka without a visa !

The best places to visit are Anuradhapura, Colombo and Nuwara Eliya.

Anuradhapura was the capital of Sri Lanka for 1300 years beginning 380 BC. It is in the Northern part of the country, pretty close to the territory controlled by the LTTE. Anuradhapura is the oldest city in Sri Lanka and was at one point filled with huge palaces, upto nine stories high.

Anuradhapura's proximity to Tamil Nadu led to a great deal of cultural influence and also encouraged the kingdom's conversion to Buddhism, but was also its eventual downfall, making it vulnerable to the invading Tamil forces of Rajaraja Chola, who sacked the city in the 11th century AD. The Sinhalese capital then moved to Polonnaruwa.

Colombo is similar to any large Indian city, with crazy traffic, lack of systems and a huge abundance of color and liveliness. Some of the places worth visiting are the Colombo Fort, Cinnamon Gardens (where the rich live), Slave Island and several temples and pagodas. Oh and stay at the Taj Samudra :-)

Nuwara Eliya is the Sri Lankan version of Simla, a hill station built by the British as a summer retreat. With verdant vegetation and golf courses, its a great place to relax. It was built also completely in the 19th century and the architecture is largely English in style.

Some more pictures .....

Images copyright Lonely Planet Images, Aloka Foundation &

Go to Sri Lanka !!

Monday, August 15, 2005

LTTE: What stripes does this tiger have ?

Following my brief account of the history of Sri Lanka yesterday, I want to continue and talk about the LTTE. The LTTE stands for the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam. I must warn you guys, this is going to be a long post !

The very mention of the LTTE polarize people's opinions. The LTTE is either vilified beyond reason as a terrorist organization that kills politicians, recruits children and makes its soldiers soulless. And the other section of people think of the LTTE as a romantic organization to be compared with the likes of Che Guevera and Fidel Castro's organization. What is this organization, that provokes such passionate opinions and feelings ? And what do they stand for ? ... No account of the LTTE can be made before explaining the Dravidian politics of Tamil Nadu first.

I grew up in the state of Tamil Nadu, in India. My state has had a history of dravidian chauvinism with ethnic Tamils (Dravidians) considering themselves oppressed by the invading Northerners (read Brahmins/Aryans). No matter that the Brahmins have been in Tamil Nadu for hundreds of years. This passion for the Dravidian heritage led to the formation of the Dravida Kazhagam (DK) and its progeny, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK). These parties were started with the fundamental purpose of protecting ethnic Tamil culture from the North. Its interesting that now a Brahmin (Ms. J. Jayalalitha) runs the ADMK !

To some extent, this attitude was probably justified, considering the complete lack of importance given to the Southern States by successive Congress Governments at the federal level.

The leaders of the Dravidian movement included such stalwarts as Periyar and Anna. They succeeded in capturing the people's imagination and movements were made to ban the teaching of Hindi in schools.

Since the inception of Sri Lanka, its premiers surrounded themselves with Buddhist advisors who advised them to marginalize the Tamil minority. This was achieved by making Sinhalese the official language and introducing difficulties for Tamils who wanted to get jobs with the government. This resentment gradually grew to the extent where the minority, in the absence of a political and peaceful alternative, chose the route of violence and militantism, through the formation of the LTTE.

It is no secret that several top politicians of Tamil Nadu have supported the LTTE through the ages, including Mr. Karunanidhi (There were even rumors at one point that MK was behind the assasination of Rajiv Gandhi - Total hogwash in my opinion), Mr. V. Gopalaswamy (MDMK premier who was put behind bars for his speeches in support of the LTTE), Mr. Veeramani etc ...

The formation of the LTTE as an armed organization was inevitable considering the situation Tamils found themselves in.

The LTTE was formed on May 5, 1976, under the leadership of Velupillai Prabhakaran, and is the most lethal, well organised and disciplined terrorist force in the world. Headquartered in the Wanni region, Prabhakaran has established an extensive network of checkpoints and informants to keep track of any outsiders who enter the group's area of control.

The organization has two parts, a military wing and a political wing. Both these wings are overseen by Prabhakaran (henceforth referred to as VP).

The military wing consists of the following units

Air Tigers (Airborne)
Sea Tigers (Amphibious Unit, lead by Soosai)
Elite Unit (Charles Anthony Regiment)
Black Tigers (Suicide Squad)

The political wing is led by Anton Balasingham, LTTE’s ideologue based in Switzerland.

Estimates on cadre strength range from 7,000 (LTTE official numbers) to 18,000 (Sri Lankan government claims). Each cadre is mentally toughened to the extent that they do not fear death. Each of them has a cyanide pill around his or her neck that they consume if there is a chance they would be caught.

The induction of women and children into the fighting force began when the IPKF from India inflicted severe casualties on the male regiments. Most of the children inducted into the war were graduates of a “Tiger Cub” training camp based in Pondicherry. The camp was focused on physical strength training and not military training, which meant that these children were being thrown into war against the highly trained IPKF and Sri Lankan army. Consequently, 60% of the casualties were of children less than 18 years of age.

Women in the LTTE are forced to suppress their femininity and sexuality, which is regarded as a crime and an evil force that could sap their strength. Marriage is not allowed for women cadres up to the age of 25 and for men up to the age of 28.

A typical unit of children was trained for four months in the jungle. Woken at 0500hrs they assembled, fell in line, and their leader raised the LTTE flag. This was followed by two hours of physical training, after which the recruits engaged in weapons training, battle and field craft, and parade drill. During the rest of the afternoon, time was spent both reading LTTE literature and more physical training. Lectures on communications, explosives and intelligence techniques continued into the evening. No contact was permitted between the camp and the children's homes during the training period. Sleep and food were regulated during training to build endurance.

After 1990, when children were pitched into battle against Sri Lankan forces, the LTTE made training tougher. The military office of the LTTE headed by Wedi Dinesh developed a training programme that would make the child fighters even more daring than adults. This included the screening of Rambo-style videos in which the daredevil approach is invariably successful. The trained child fighters were also prepared for battle by attacking unprotected or weakly defended border villages. Several hundred men, women and children have been killed by LTTE child combatants armed with automatic weapons guided by experienced fighters during such 'inoculation attacks'.

The LTTE is funded through three sources, none of which have been clearly documented. The first one is the vast Tamil diaspora around the globe (Especially Switzerland, Scandinavia and Canada). The second one (Never proven) is drug running (cocaine) from Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, southern China, Afghanistan and Pakistan

The LTTE also operates a vast shipping network, which is used to run arms from Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, South Africa, Burma, Turkey, France, Italy and Ukraine.

The LTTE has almost complete control of the Northern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka and have set up their own parallel administration with courts, revenue collectors and other administrative units.

So, is the LTTE right in doing what they are doing ?

Its obviously not an easy question to answer. My gut feeling is the VP had his heart in the right place when he started the LTTE, with its armed struggle. However, somewhere along the road, they lost focus. They crossed all limits on what they would accept in order to achieve the goal of Eelam, the separate Tamil State.

Widespread, indiscriminate killing, child soldiers, drug running, arms running, suicide bombing – None of these can be condoned as the means to an end.

In addition, the LTTE is not an organization for the peace time – They are an organization that have been built solely for the purpose of war. And in the last two years, rifts within the organizational structure have been cropping up, one of the consequences of which was the expulsion of Colonel Karuna from the LTTE leading to a split in the LTTE.

The reason for the assassination of Kadirgamar might have been simply to occupy the mind of the LTTE cadres and remind them that their struggle is not over yet.

How will this situation ever be resolved ?
The LTTE has ascendance over a large part of Northern Sri Lanka, but what is the long term plan ?

And if you come to think of it, what is the best case scenario for the LTTE ? Lets assume they get Eelam – Is that the end of all problems ? I would argue that it would be the beginning of a whole series of problems including how to manage LTTE cadres in the peacetime, jumpstarting the economy in the absence of drugs and arms trading, restoring diplomatic contacts with the rest of the world, including, most importantly, India.

The LTTE started off well and had a lot of people rooting for them. However, they have squandered this goodwill through pointless assassinations and killing. And this assassination of Kadirgamar, a decent man is the last straw. Of course, it might have been carried out by a maverick unit within the LTTE, but overall, VP has to take the responsibility for it.

Halfway through their journey, the LTTE started moving in the wrong direction, fed by desperation, passion and maybe pure bravado. Having started down the wrong path, they have put in place elaborate measures to sustain that flawed approach, including the arms/drugs etc that were discussed. Until the LTTE moves backwards until they get to the cross roads where they made a wrong turn, this problem will never get solved.

There is nothing romantic about death and murder.

All in all, this tiger is getting old, and can't hunt.
And it might become a man eater real soon.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Sri Lanka: A Brief History

Lakshman Kadirgamar, one of the best foreign ministers in the world is dead. Shot dead by a hail of bullets in the swimming pool in his home. In his home that was guarded by over 100 armed Sri Lankan security forces. What a loss for Sri Lanka and for the world.

The late Mr. Kadirgamar was a lawyer, a graduate of Oxford University. In fact, he was the president of the Oxford Student Union when he was there. My dad was a fan of Mr. Kadirgamar's.

He was a Tamil, like me. However, he was not a supporter of the LTTE and believed in the concept of a united Sri Lanka, one in which the Sinhalese and the Tamils could co-exist peacefully. He was instrumental in getting the Western world to recognize the LTTE as a terrorist organization.

Firstly, a brief history of Sri Lanka.

The first inhabitants of the country were the "Sinhalese", a group of people who migrated from India in 500 BC. Buddhism became the primary religion of this group of people.

Starting in the the 5th Century AD, a power struggle began between the Sinhalese and the Tamil people of the state of Tamil Nadu in India.

In the 10th Century, the Chola rulers of Tamil Nadu conquered Northern Sri Lanka which was then won back by the Sinhalese rulers. This happened again in the 13th Century. The country went through periods of divison and unity alternately.

Then the Portugese, Dutch and British took turns plundering the country.

Since independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has been rocked by economic crises, the rise of Sinhalese nationalism, and violent waves of revolutionary fervor and Tamil separatism.

In 1959, the Prime Minister SRWD Bandaranaike was shot dead by a Buddhist monk.

His widow, Sirima, became the first woman Prime Minister in the world. She enforced a policy of nationalizing all industries and schools (Sounds like Indira Gandhi's mentor !) She also enforced Sinhalese as the official language.

These policies continued through her second term and continued to antogonize ethnic Tamils.

In 1972, Velupillai Prabhakaran created the Tamil New Tigers, a pre-cursor of the LTTE.

In 1983, in response to the killing of 13 Sinhalese soldiers by the Tigers, 600 Tamilians were killed in Colombo. This sparked the flight of about 100,000 Tamils to India for refuge. Several of them continue to live in India.

In 1987, Rajiv Gandhi, the then Indian PM sent in Indian troops to help maintain the peace. This move spolit India's record of having never invaded a country in all of its history. Initially, the Indians were sent in to help protect the Tamils. However, after some reports of misbehavior on the part of the Indian troops (including allegations of rape), the LTTE turned on the Indian troops as well.

In 1990, the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) withdrew after doing a thoroughly miserable job.

In 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was assasinated at a political rally by suicide bombers - One of the prime accused, Nalini recently sought release on humanitarian grounds of having a young daughter - Crazy, she should have thought of that before she got involved in militant activity.

In 1993, Sri Lankan President, Premadasa was assasinated.

In 1994, Chandrika Kumaratunga (the current President) was elected. She is also the daughter of Bandaranaike and Sirimavo.

1995 marked the first truce between the LTTE and the Sinhalese. However, this was broken and till date the country has oscillated between uneasy truces and deadly violence.

For the last couple of years, a truce had held good and it seemed like it would last. However, with the killing of Mr. Kadirgamar in what has all the hallmarks of an LTTE strike (sans the suicide bomber), it looks like Sri Lanka is about to take a giant step backwards and regress back into a bloody war.

So what is the LTTE ?
What does Prabhakaran want ?
How are they funded ?

I will attempt to answer these tomorrow.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Projectable Cell Phones

This is an idea I had a long time back - 5 years to be exact. In fact, a group of six of us from BITS, Pilani participated in a "Business Ideas" contest organized by the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta.

We called ourselves "Shreshta". We did a great job of developing a detailed business plan for the idea with financials, marketing plan etc ....

Well, this was the idea - To create a projection facility in cell phones. Let me explain ... Cell phones, as we call know, have a constraint in size - People want to them to be as small and light as possible. In this day and age of 3G technology, it is becoming possible to browse the internet on cell phones. However, due to the limitation in screen size, this experience is frustrating.

In order for internet access on cell phones to take off, there needs to be a way to display the contents of a website without increasing the size and weight of the phone.

When a web page is loaded onto a cell phone, although the whole of the page is downloaded at the same time, it can only be displayed one frame at a time. We visualized a situation where the cell phone could be connected to a projector which could be used to project the entire downloaded content at the same time.

You could project the content onto the seat of your car, the seat in front of you on an airplane or even the ground !

And, with the constraint in projector weight, there would be projectors provided by companies as a service - For example, airlines would offer this to their customers. Car companies would pre-install the projectors in their cars.

The judges thought the idea was good, but they hated our financial plan - So, we didnt get anywhere.
But this idea has always stayed with us and if any of you guys thinks there is merit in the idea, let me know and we can brainstorm on this ...

Friday, August 12, 2005

Complete lack of discrimination

I had an interesting experience today. As part of some of my research work, I was speaking on the phone to a Senior Director at one of the world's largest Logistics companies. We were initially scheduled to speak for about 30 minutes, but we ended up speaking for close to 75 minutes. I really enjoyed the interview, which to a large extent turned into a brainstorming session.

At the end, he said that he was interested in interviewing me for a position within his organization. I was extremely pleased by his offer and later, I realized that it might have been a perfect example of the complete lack of discrimination we all strive towards.

All he knew about me was that I was male. (From my voice)
He didnt know anything else - My race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, political inclination.

Maybe thats what we need, for people to only communicate through the phone. That might help break the barriers of stereotypes that seem to be so wide-spread.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Progressive Advertisements

Everybody who lives in the US has probably seen the TV advertisements for Progressive Auto Insurance. As a brief synopsis, the guy on the ad talks about how the Progressive website that has a live ticker that shows actual rate quotes that are being given to customers around the country.

For example, shopper RP in the picture above is getting a quote from Progressive and Progressive also shows the projected rates he/she would get from other companies.

Cool piece of technology, isnt it ?
Although I was impressed initially, I realized that it serves no real purpose - Yeah, so RP got these quotes and Liberty was the cheapest - So What ?! All I am worried about is how much my insurance costs and what Progressive and other companies would quote me ...

Can anybody educate me as to what other benefits could be derived from this ticker ?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Passing on some info

There are two pieces of information that I wanted to pass on ...

ICE stands for "In the Case of Emergency". After the recent blasts in London and the floods in Bombay, emergency service providers would often find cell phones on the body of unidentified victims, but they wouldnt know whom to call. A guy in London thought of an idea - Everyone should have an entry on their cell phone that started with ICE so that people would know whom to call in the event of an emergency. I have one on my phone.

Barbecues & Contacts
I heard through a forward that people wearing contacts shouldnt get too close to a Barbecue because apparently, the heat can melt the contacts and leave you blind. Dont know whether this is true, but I guess its better not to take a risk !

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Outsourcing ....

A Professor of mine, at Grad School used to lament the fact that so many American jobs were being offshored to China and India. He believed that in a few years, the only major businesses left in the US would be Fast Food Restaurants and Clothing Stores.

I am by no means an expert on outsourcing/offshoring, but I started pondering about the direction in which outsourcing could head in the US after watching a recent episode of the "Daily Show with Jon Stewart".

The episode talked about the US Army and recruiting problems they have had recently. One of the guys from the show was talking to a marketing expert and asking him for strategies that would improve recruitment in the army.

The marketing guy was unwittingly hilarious - He said that the major reason the army was having a problem with recruiting people was the long duration of the stay overseas. He suggested that soldiers be given incentives - Kill 10 people a month and get back to the US in 3 months, kill 6 people a month and come back in 6 months and so on .... I was shocked initially and then it struck me ... Soon, America is going to outsource armed conflict.

Of course, this has been done several times before by great warriors like Hannibal and Alexander who hired mercenaries who fought for money and not for their country.

And in a way, the US has done the same kind of thing, by supporting the Taliban during their proxy war with Russia in Afghanisthan, supporting the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, supporting Israel and supporting Saddam in his (and the US') fight against Iran.

However, a large scale outsourcing of war - Would that be possible ? The Americans didnt want to pave roads, didnt want to mow lawns, so they got the Mexicans to do it. What about war ? Would soldiers fight and die for money in the absence of a nationalistic goal ?

I wonder ...

Monday, August 08, 2005


Politicians are everyone's favorite whipping boys. (Or whipping girls, in the interest of being quite PC). I have always loved the saying "People get the rulers they deserve" - I think that is absolutely right.

Of course, as far as politics and politicians are concerned, there is an endless list of topics that can be discussed, but there is one that I struck me recently. I think it was sparked by an article in my local newspaper (The News & Observer). It attacked the perceived myopia of local politicians, including the Raleigh mayor with some intense venom.

The topic of the piece was about zoning issues, with the newspaper saying that the politicians were being myopic by giving out commercial licenses like candy to the likes of Wal*Mart and Target.

The newspaper was probably bang-on. However, I couldnt help putting myself in the politician's shoe for a few seconds. Every decision that a politician makes is similar to the proverbial "Devil or the Deep Sea" decision. And when politicians are criticized for making decisions purely to get votes, arent the voters equally to blame for voting for the politicians who give them the short term advantages, forgetting the long term ?

How many voters would pay more for gas today ? Very few. And yet they accuse politicans about taking a short-term view of the gas crisis by invading Iraq and not funding renewable energy research. How many voters would like it if their politicans came to them and said that a decision had been made to spend all available resources on developing renewable energy, which would translate to a higher price at the pump for the next 10 years, but low prices thereafter ? Would voters like that ?

Of course not !

So, if politicians are myopic, voters force them to be myopic and focused on the short term. Thats what I think.

Everybody wants immediate results. Indian voters want a new sari and a dhoti rather than an opportunity to have a pucca home in 10 years. (Jayalalitha vs. Chandrababu Naidu) - So, who was right, Amma or Naidu ?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

iPod Exchange Service

I love my iPod.
I know we have already been there before ! So before you guys start groaning about how I can't seem to stop raving about the iPod, I should let you know that I refer to it only because it is the basis of an idea that I had.

I have an iPod mini which holds about 1,000 songs. Its full.
I usually use the "Shuffle Songs" feature while I am using it, so that I get treated to a random stream of music. However, after about a month or so, it seems like I have listened to every song a number of times and am ready to listen to new songs.

I wonder if it would be possible to set up an iPod exchange service where two random people could exchange their iPods. Each of these could have a completely different taste for music, which would be a good thing (or bad) depending on how you view it.

Two things I would consider as potential complications are:

1. Music, I think is a very personal thing with ones musical taste very much part of ones personality - I do not know how comfortable people would be in revealing their tastes to other people and also in subjecting themselves to a certain "loss of control" in terms of the music that they would listen to, after the exchange

2. Would this be legal ? In this day and age where record companies are fighting tooth and nail against file sharing programs, would this be considered to be fairly similar to those sort of sharing services ?

Saturday, August 06, 2005


In today's globalized economy, geographical barriers continue to crash down every day. Engineers in India develop's website, Chinese manufacturers produce Mini-Eiffel Tower models and American Executives direct marketing campaigns in Chile.

The concept of the the borderless office or the virtual office is extremely powerful. I myself operate in such an environment with a team in India and another in Europe. This movement towards a situation where labor is sourced for the best location is something that has brought and will continue to bring huge benefits to India.

However, in spite of the global connectivity we have through the internet and advanced telecommunications, actual physical travel continues to be a necessity. One of the things that I have thought about often is the difficulty that Indians have in getting visas to visit other

Americans, Canadians, Western Europeans and Japanese get to travel to almost every country in the world without a visa. Indians on the other hand, can travel to a grand total to two countries without a visa - Sri Lanka and Nepal.

This leads to a bottleneck in the path of Indian Multinationals that seek to service the whole globe. It would be awesome if the Indian Embassies around the world would create a coordinated campaign to convince countries around the world to allow Indians to enter without a visa.

Of course, Indians have historically abused the visa privileges afforded by other countries to the extent that our applications are among the ones that get scrutinized the most. The past cannot be changed. And in order to get things moving, it might be necessary for Indian Government to set in place strict guidelines/procedures to ensure that Indian citizens do not overstay/violate their visa terms.

In the meantime, I continue to envy the ability of Americans to jump on a plane at a moments notice and go to almost any country in the world.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Short Story

Ammani is an awesome story-writer.

She recently came up with a cool idea - Writing short stories for people based on three random words that they send in. In return, if the person likes the story, they could contribute an amount of their choice to Project Why, a great organization run by Anouradha Bakshi.

I had the honor of being the first to send in my words, which were "A Happy Ending"

And her story was ...

She was determined to write a story with a happy ending. She opened her pen, smoothed out a paper and stained it with her words. In her story, a little boy runs away from home only to be kidnapped, maimed and sold to a rich Arab sheikh who used him to race camels. Where's the happy ending, you ask. Well, the Sheikh was a very happy man when the little boy won the race.

I loved it.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Moving On Up ....

Progress is about moving up the value chain ....

Think about it, growth is one's career is about moving up the value chain - You start off doing grunt work and then as you gain experience/education, you move on up in terms of the sophistication of the work you can handle.

Adding value to yourself, adding new skills, improving efficiency, increasing one's range of expertise are the steps everyone takes in growing professionally.

And its not just in professional life, its quite true of personal life as well.

I see a parallel example in the case of Indian IT companies. They started off doing very basic IT work like testing. And gradually moved up the value chain, working on larger projects with a strategic focus. And now Infosys and Wipro are rapidly growing their business consulting practice with a view to take on the Accentures and PwCs of the world.

Largely true of Chinese manufacturing units as well ...

Looking into the future, I see two industries in India that are going to move up the value chain and in the process, become extremely profitable !

BPOs: Moving from call centers to being cost effective extensions of large corporations.

Pharma: Currently, the Indian Pharma industry is focused around four things - Generic drug manufacturing, contract manufacturing, the domestic market and raw material production. But thats not where the money is ! The money is in patented molecules that can be marketed in the drug-hungry USA ...

The need is to identify an entry path, a path of least resistance. The next step is to establish cash flow through this initial step. Then, this cash is used to develop internal capabilities and these companies can move up the value chain ...

Dr. Reddy's, Ranbaxy and other Indian drug companies, Infy, Wipro and other IT firms, Spectramind and other BPOs all have solid cash flows - Wipro is generating 600MM dollars of cash every year.

Thats powerful. So, Ranbaxy can set up a sophisticated R&D lab in India to discover an original molecule and sell it all over the world for millions.

As somebody said "The first million is the most difficult" - Once cash flow is established, there are opportunities for quantum leaps !

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Check out this resume !

Got this from RT ....

Stood first in BA (Hons), Economics, Punjab University, Chandigarh,1952;
Stood first in MA (Economics), Punjab University, Chandigarh,1954;
Wright's Prize for distinguished performance at St John's College,Cambridge, 1955 and 1957; Wrenbury scholar, University of Cambridge,1957;
DPhil (Oxford), DLitt (Honoris Causa); PhD thesis on India's export competitiveness

OCCUPATION /Teaching Experience:
Professor (Senior lecturer, Economics, 1957-59;
Reader, Economics, 1959-63;
Professor, Economics, Punjab University, Chandigarh, 1963-65;
Professor,International Trade, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi,1969-71; Honorary professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi,1976 and Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi,1996 and CivilServant

Working Experience/ POSITIONS:
1971-72: Economic advisor, ministry of foreign trade
1972-76: Chief economic advisor, ministry of finance
1976-80: Director, Reserve Bank of India; Director, Industrial Development Bank of India; Alternate governor for India, Board ofgovernors, Asian Development Bank; Alternate governor for India, Boardof governors, IBRD
November 1976 - April 1980: Secretary, ministry of finance (Departmentof economic affairs); Member, finance, Atomic Energy Commission; Member,finance, Space Commission
April 1980 - September 15, 1982: Member-secretary, Planning Commission
1980-83: Chairman, India Committee of the Indo-Japan joint studycommittee
September 16, 1982 - January 14, 1985: Governor, Reserve Bankof India
1982-85: Alternate Governor for India, Board of governors,International Monetary Fund
1983-84: Member, economic advisory council to the Prime Minister
1985: President, Indian Economic Association
January 15, 1985 - July 31, 1987: Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission
August 1, 1987 - November 10, 1990: Secretary-general and commissioner,south commission, Geneva
December 10, 1990 - March 14, 1991: Advisor to the Prime Minister oneconomic affairs
March 15, 1991 - June 20, 1991: Chairman, UGC
June 21, 1991 - May 15, 1996: Union finance minister
October 1991: Elected to Rajya Sabha from Assam on Congress ticket
June 1995: Re-elected to Rajya Sabha
1996 onwards: Member, Consultative Committee for the ministry of finance
August 1, 1996 - December 4, 1997: Chairman, Parliamentary standing committee on commerce
March 21, 1998 onwards: Leader of the Opposition, Rajya Sabha
June 5, 1998 onwards: Member, committee on finance
August 13, 1998 onwards: Member, committee on rules
Aug 1998-2001: Member, committee of privileges
2000 onwards: Member,executive committee, Indian parliamentary group
June 2001: Re-elected to Rajya Sabha
Aug 2001 onwards: Member, general purposes committee

India's Export Trends and Prospects for Self-Sustained Growth -ClarendonPress, Oxford University, 1964;
Also published a large number ofarticles in various economic journals.

Adam Smith Prize, University of Cambridge, 1956
Padma Vibhushan, 1987
Euro money Award, Finance Minister of the Year, 1993;
Asia money Award, Finance Minister of the Year for Asia, 1993 and 1994

Yup, its our very own Manmohan Singh ....

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Subconscious

The subconscious mind is so powerful ! I have always read about it, but today I saw an actual example.

I had picked up some beer yesterday - The staple, Molson and some O'Douls. I had never had O'Douls before. I had a colleague of mine drop in, today evening. He drank the Molson and I had the O'Douls. And as usual, after about three beers, I had a pleasent buzz :-)

However, then I realized, to my consternation that O'Douls was non-alcoholic ! I had gotten drunk on non-alcoholic beer. How powerful the subconscious is ! Or maybe the brain is just lazy and just replays the same emotions/reactions to certain events ....

Monday, August 01, 2005

Food Connections - Ethiopian Food

This is to in continuation of the mini-series that I had written earlier on the connections of various cuisines to others ... Below are the links to the previous relevant posts.


This time I am writing about Ethiopian cuisine (At Vayam's suggestion !).

Ethiopia is the only African nation that was not colonized by European colonial forces. It was briefly occupied by the Italians between 1936 and 1941. In terms of food connections, there is a large degree of influence by Indian cuisine and to a lesser extent by Italian cuisine.

Injera, a flat, sourdough pancake made of the indigenous grain called t'ef, is the country staple. The injera is typically served with either meat or vegetable sauces. Injera has been prepared since at least 100 B.C

The t'ef flour is mixed with water to form a dough and kneaded by hand. A leaven (ersho) is added. The leaven can be obtained in different ways, for example, a small amount of the previous enjera dough may be saved for the next dough or the bowl may be left uncleaned after the dough is made and the small quantity left will be sufficient for leavening.

This process is very similar to the process used to produce the batter for dosas/uthapams. And indeed, Injera is very similar to dosa, but its baked, not toasted.

Wot and Alicha, which are the staple side-dishes are very similar to Indian curries. Spices play an important role in most countries in Asia and Africa, and Ethiopia is no exception. Some of the spices are grown in Ethiopia, either cultivated or wild, and others are imported, mainly from India.

And there’s an Ethiopian appetizer called a sambusa, which consists of ground spiced vegetables or meat in a deep fried triangle of dough ... This is very similar to the "samosa", the Indian appetizer which consists of ground spiced vegetables or meat in a triangle of dough, deep-fried.

Another connection is with Italian food, drink, and culture, since Ethiopia was an Italian colony. There are usually a variety of espresso drinks on the menu in Ethiopian restaurants.

And of course, Ethiopia is the country of origin of coffee.

However, there are several non-food connections between India and Ethiopia, that are quite fascinating ! (Source: The Guardian)

Interestingly, Bollywood movies are immensely popular among Ethiopian youth and Indians walking down the streets of Addis Ababa have been greeted with "Namastes" !

India and Ethiopia, have had a long history of trade with import of Indian cloth and spices and export to India of gold and ivory (The African elephant has larger tusks than the Asian elephant)

Ethiopian slaves, known as Hapshi, were exported to India too, where they became concubines and palace guards and of course, palace guards, sooner or later seized power which gave rise to Hapshi dynasties in Gujarat, Bengal and Goa.

Indians were brought to Ethiopia for their technical skills. According to one account, it was an Indian architect who built the first castle in Gondar, a former capital.

Like other east African countries, Ethiopia once had a substantial Indian business community. That changed after the attempt on the life of the Italian fascist viceroy, Graziani, in 1937.
The fascists massacred Ethiopians in reprisal and a rumour circulated that the plot had been conceived in the shop of Mohammed Ali, the principal Indian merchant. All the Indians were expelled.

Traces of the Indian influence survive in Ethiopia's national language, Amharic. The word for tobacco, for example, is "surat", the name of the Gujarati city from which it was brought.

How wide spread the influence of India has been ... And how largely benign .....