Tuesday, December 27, 2011

[Book] Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

      I received the tamil translation of this book from Muthukumar during the recent visit to his home. This happened to a page turner. One disadvantage of reading a international best seller in tamil is that few specifics such a place , name don't get registered in the mind. On the other hand reading is much more fluent that i finished of the book in 2 days.
      Regarding the book , its written by John Perkins who happened to be a cheif economic analyst of a consulting firm , advising leading MNCs on international projects. He had advised large scale infrastructure projects being undertaken by worldbank loans in many (what they call as ) third world countries such as Indonesia , Ecuador , Panama , Saudi Arabia , Iran & Iraq. This book gives a vivid picture of how Oil happens to be single reason behind geo political relationship across. USA, being one of large scale consumers of oil, has critical national Interest in securing oil imports for many more decades. Apart from securing oil reserves , other major aim for US to find alternative market for its companies outside its borders and also cheap labour (outsourcing) in order to increase profitability.

      From the end of 2nd world war when US was unanimously declared as world power till 1970s , all the political equations lingered around the theme of elimination of Communism.The oil shock of 1970 , when OPEC nations stopped the export of crude oil for few months resulted in oil price sky rocketing from 1$ to 8$ , changed the political motivations of US completely . 
  
Now their main motto is as follow 

   1. Identify countries with  huge oil reserves . 
   2. Force them into mutual economic agreements , so as to secure import of oil from them. In return these countries were forced to take huge infrastructure projects undertaken by US companies which brings the oil money back to US. Countries which entered into such agreements where given special treatments , such as making sure the kings/dictators where shown in good light in world media (Ex Saudi Arabia , Dictator Shah of Iran in the 1970s, dictators of Libiya & Egypt (till a year back) etc.
   3. Oil rich countries and their leaders who didn't bite the bait were projected as enemies of international peace and all chances were used to crush the regimes there and install a puppet regime which will sign whatever agreement US wants ( Present day Iran , Iraq , Ecuador , Venezuela , Panama , Libiya , Afghanistan etc ) 

Execution strategy is as follows 
   1.  A well coordinated mafia consisting of US Govt , Western Oil companies , MultiNationalInfra companies  , pseudo financial institutions such as World bank , Asian development bank and last but not the least the CIA , employ's a strategy which is fine tuned for every country 

   2. At first world bank & MNCs enter into agreements  forcing these countries to take huge loans from these pseudo financial institutions under the unrealistic projections that these infra projects will make GDP/GNP of these countries grow at a faster rate (ridiculous rates ot 15-18% of gdp growth was projected) . The author is one of such leading economist who project imaginary growth rates which they themselves don't  believe. These projects are used to suck money from countries rich in petro dollars. Countries which cannot pay back loans are used as puppets governments . They are used as markets for invasion by US companies and also forced into "backboneless supporters" in UN 

  3. When leadership of some countries doesn't agree to these one sided agreements , accidents are orchestrated by the ruthless CIA. On many occasions week internal oppositions are funded /supported to topple the leadership ( remember the recent Libiyan internal war )
 

India

     In this book there is no reference to India as author was not engaged any projects based in India.But turn of events in India not any different from the global space . 

    1. Union Carbide gas leak tragedy in Bhopal (1984).When the incident happened Govt of India was so weak that they didnt have courage even to arrest the Indian incharge of this company.Infact leaders including  Rajiv Gandhi & Narsimarao had to take personal care of this person to safely reach US. After two and half decades of economic growth India is in a position to voice against Dow Chemicals ( current owners of Union Carbide ) sponsoring London 2012 Olympics.Still Indian govt couldn't muster courage to voice for compensation for the affect people.

    2. 123 nuclear agreement . US government is forcing this on us. This has a clause that limits the maximum liability for the multi national suppliers of the atomic reactor to 50 million USD ( then revised to 500 million USD after pressure).Govt which says that there is no possibility of disaster in nuclear plants are not able to convince the suppliers for complete liability even for manufacturing defects. 

    3. TamilNadu govt is planning to provide free laptops to all high school & college students (a multi billion USD project . Socialistic projects in TN are  percursor for things to happen across India ). When inviting tender for this procurement , requirements initially targeted linux based laptops with 320GB HDD & wifi. Then came  Hillary Clinton's (US secretary of state) visit of tamilnadu's CM. Within weeks qualification for this tender was changed to 160 GB & Microsoft windows 7. Wifi was sacrificed in order to accommodate win7. This is despite the fact that linux is more advantageous for students.No prizes for guessing what conspired in the meeting. 

   4. In military procurement for Indian Airforce , US govt almost forced india to purchase from US companies and when the deal went on the other way, US expressed their displeasure from official govt channels. These show how intermingled govt and MNCs has become

List goes on ...  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to Invest in Gold



   Form the time i had shown interest in gold April 2010 gold has been up almost 50% in a span of 1.5 years. This should be historical bull run for the precious metal in all history.Last article's aim was to show that gold gave better returns compared to inflation on a consistant basis. But a return of 50% in this period is by no means normal.Such a sudden spike has driven lot of people to consider gold of investment recently ( retail investers tend to enter at the tail end of any bull run). Widely used method for investing in gold are as follows
  1.  Traditional method of buying jewellery 
  2.  Buying gold coins ( from banks , dept of Post)
  3.  Gold ETF 
Lets see what would be optimal method to invest in gold.


Jewellery 
  From investment point of view this is the worst method .
  Pros:
    • Can feel the aesthetic value of gold.
  Cons:
    • 5-25% more to paid for making charges etc depending on the intricacy of design. 
    • No universal rules ( most of charge charge cost of gold for stones weight too )
    • During small value purchases, consumers don't have negotiating abilities 
    • should take of safe keeping 
    • vat/sales tax should be paid over cost of jewellery
    • Wealth tax ( 1% for assets more than 30 Lakhs)
    • When we try to sell back returns from jewellery , we will take a hit of 5-25% 


Gold coins 
   Pros:
    • 24 Carat, 999.9 pure. Imported from switzerland (why the hell does it matter ? )
    • Distributed by banks , Dept of Post which can easily relied than Jewelleries
    • Tamper proof packing 

   Cons
    • Atleast 10% premium ( due cost of distribution ) 
    • Price are not uniform . Vary highly between banks (see the table below)
    • Should take of safe keeping 
    • Price of lower denominations are very costly (some cases extra 10% costlier)
    • 1% VAT/Sales Tax over the cost of coin
    • Subject to Wealth Tax ( 1% for assets more than 30 Lakhs) 
    • Banks don’t buy back the coins.So you have sell back to jewellers
    • When we try to sell back returns from jewellery , we will take a hit on the 10% premium paid.

ETF 
    Exchange traded funds from mutual fund house
PROS
    • Assured purity of 99.5%
    • No premium charges ( As there is no cost for distribution as it uses the existing stock market framework  )
    • No VAT / Sales Tax / Securities Transaction Tax 
    • No Wealth Tax 
Cons 
    • Cant physically feel the gold
    • Easy to realize investment returns
    • Volumes are low 


Lets see the prices of various options on Nov 4


Price of Jewellery

                                          22 Ct      24 Ct
Dinamalar 2637      2820
Prince Jewellery 2640      2824







Price of Gold coins at various banks 

BankName Lowest Denomination Highest Denomination Price per gram Tax
SBI 6235(2gms) 150350(50gms) 3118 - 3007 exclusive of Value Added Tax/Sales tax.
IOB 6141(2 gms) 292774(100gms) 3071 - 2928 exclusive of Value Added Tax/Sales tax.
HDFC 8520 (2.5 g) 330620(100g) 3400 - 3306 including sales tax as applicable in Mumbai
Corp Bank 6221 (2 g) 289254(100g) 3111 - 2893 exclusive of Value Added Tax/Sales tax.
ICICI 3514 (1g) 60564 (20g) 3514 - 3028 exclusive of Value Added Tax/Sales tax.
BOI 12138(4 g) 146882(50g) 3034 - 2937 exclusive of Value Added Tax/Sales tax.







NAV of Various ETF 

ETF Name
Price               
Volume ( in Lakh Rs)
Goldman Sachs Gold ETF
2685
3386
kotak
2697
670.34
Reliance Gold ETF
2601
446.65
SBI Gold ETF
2733
217.44
HDFC Gold ETF
2745
174.52
UTI Gold
2668
121.43
Religare gold etf
2761
49.42
ICICI Prudential Gold ETF
2745
23.8

Conclusion : 
       Based on the pros and cons listed above the best option for investing in gold is through Gold ETF. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Comparision of Payment Gateways in India

    It all begin when a friend asked me about the possibility of setting up a ecom site for his traditional business.Since it involved both B2B and B2C segments, one of the areas of interest was online payment ie) user purchasing a commodity in his site and paying via credit card/debit card/NetBanking online. Though i have used this facility as a consumer almost on a daily basis , i wasn't aware of the underlying business model and hence decided to explore it. As usual, armed with Google, digged through  the net and following is the overall summary

Service Provider Charges 
( Initial Setup Cost +Yearly Charges + Transaction Charges)
Comments
CC Avenues 7,500, 1200, 7% / 40,000,3600 , 3% Industry Leader.Most widely used . No 1 Player
ebs.in ( Axis Bank ) 30,000,2400,3.25% No 2 Player
ipayin.com NIL,2500 + 3.99% / 25000,4500,2.99% Integration into webpage seems to be easy. Not sure of quality of service
HDFC Info not in public domain
ICICI Payseal Info not in public domain Seems they dont care about startups & smaller companies
PayPal NIL,NIL,3.4% + .3USD Cannot Receive payment in INR. Many international currencies supported. Apt for US faced ecom sites.Can take delivery in INR in Indian Bank Account




Few points to note
  •   Irrespective of using CreditCard , DebitCard or NetBanking transaction overhead seems to be same.
  •   At least 3% transaction charges
    •   This point intrigues me a lot. When i pay Rs200 for a book in flipkart someone is getting Rs6 . Hmm I guess this is very high for waffer thin margin business like retail. I can understand if the underlying mechanism is credit card ,then the charges imposed by card issuing agency ( MasterCard , Visa,Amex ) will also be added to PG's cost of service.But if NetBanking is used and amount is immediatly debited from consumers bank account , what's the need for extra charges. Is banks imposing charges similar to card issuing agencies ?
    • At a point when Govt wants to push cash less transactions for the purpose of transparency and eradicating black money ,this ( high charges ) is definitely a road blocker in this direction.  
  •   Cost of service seems to be uniform even in matured market like US . Paypal asking prince is above 3% . But quality of service seems to be better there.
  •   Mostly merchants are not happy with current model of business
    • Domain is so large that there is ample scope for more players   
Wish List
  RBI should come up with a common platform , inline with NEFT, atleast for NetBanking ,where money transfers from consumers to merchants with least overhead and that could be easily tracked , monitored and audited.
 

If anyone reading has first hand feedback on any of the service provider please leave it in the comment section ,so that benefits everyone. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

LasVegas and GrandCanyon

      A trip to US wouldn't be complete without a visit to the sin city.From SantaClara it was a 530 miles drive and most part was through barren deserts of Nevada. Both of us were eager to visit ,but due to the issues we faced with car on the Yosemite trip ,we were bit hesitant to drive this long.The other option was to travel by air or a mix of flight and car. When we checked the rates it was around 450$ per head for direct flights from SanJose to LasVegas and back. Other option was to fly till LA ( 80$) and take a rental car from there for 4 hours. Here too car rent was around 250$ for 4 days.It wasnt affordable and hence decided to stick to car for the entire trip.After Yosemite trip we changed the car to a same model ( KIA Forte) with different colour.

From LasVegas
       During preparations colleages in US office were very helpful .Inspite of their busy schedule Sandeep,Ratnesh,VijayAsokan & Josephine  spent a lot of time explaining what to do and more importantly what not to do.They spent so much time that i literaly felt embarased for wasting their time.Sandeep gave a crisp writeup on what places to visit and more importantly what should be skipped( attached with this blog). Since there are number of casinos / hotels , visiting all of them will simply drain our time and energy.Since we are short of time any small mistake would have ruined our plan.We had long weekend for labour day( 3 days)  and we made it even longer by adding couple of more days ( Friday and Tuesday) and made it 5 days affair.2 days were exclusive for travel which left 3 days for Vegas and Grand Canyon.Booked rooms at Exacalibur. It came to around 400$ for 3 days.Later extended to 4th day for 40$. Apart from this charges they charge 15$ for using the amenities.We could have take taken other hotels far away from the strip which would have been cheap. But being in the strip saved lot of time and energy.
  
   We started on Friday( 2 Sep) morning 5 AM from home .We stopped only for lunch and fuel , a total of around 40 mins.Driving , drive and still drive. Quite tiring.The entire stretch was barren and temprature raised to 100F as we approached Nevada desserts.
From LasVegas
From LasVegas
We had sun screen lotions and sun glasses , which helped to reduce the effect of hot sun on us.We reached Vegas at around 2:30 just in time to checkin into the hotel at 3 PM.A long queue awaited there.After waiting for around 20 mins checked in and took a room at 15th floor.Room was neat and meet our expectation. Lucily we didnt choose the LA route. On the day we traveled there was a fire on the highway connecting LA and Vegas and traffic was disrupted.We could see the smoke fumes when we were traveling but could find the reason only on watching TV at the hotel.Took rest till 7 PM and started for the casinos.
   
     We have heard that water is the elixir of life.But it seems Beer and Margareta (a cocktail made mostly of vodka) were the elixir of Vegas.Luckily we had carried lot of water as per Sandeep's guidance ( a 10 litres can , a 5 litres can & 18 * 250ml bottles).Entire cost of these came to around 6-7$ in SantaClara. At vegas at the strip one 250 ml bottle was sold at 1$ and withing the casino it was 1.8$. Frist couple of days the heat was intense . I used to pick margarita to keep myself cool.It was made of crushed ice filled with vodka and flavors of our choice.We can sip it for long time and keep us hydrated.These bottles used to be really big . Medium sized one which i picked once  was as high as my knee(cost 11$).
From LasVegas
From LasVegas
First day we visited couple of casinos Luxor , Mandalaybay. .

Playing in Casino and Day Trading

   We had a initial stop loss of 100$ (max loss at which we would stop gambling) .Unfortunately both of us were not aware of any card games played there and we stick to machines where we can make bets as low as 1 cent. I was not here with the hope of making money at the casinos but wanted thrill of gambling. Hence always made bets with lowest possible values and there by increased no of bets at a given cost. Realized gambing and investing in stocks(for short period called as trading) are pretty much the same. Some rules to stick
      1. Have a strict stop loss (a level where you will stop gambling)
      2. When bets go in your favour increase ur stop loss and continue gambling ( trailing stop loss)
      3. When bets go against you , book losses and move on
      4. Accept that everything is random so that you dont attribute success to your intelligence or failure to your ignorance

    Its very easy to accept these rules in gambling but not in stocks.We tend to think that short term movements in stocks due to some logical reason and fail to accept the underlying randomness. Since we had a very tight schedule we couldnt play much .We played at max 5$ in each casino. We should have made bets worth 75$ and expectedly on most occasions lost and made big on few bets.Finally the tally was a profit of 20$.At last someone is returning from Vegas with money :) . At each casino i would bet till the last cent and print out a voucher.These voucher can be redemed for cash at vending machine.But i chose to keep the 1 cent vouchers as souvenirs.
   

From LasVegas
      Concept of LasVegas was itself mindblowing. The entertainment hot spot for the entire world ,  created right at the middle of a desert.Who in his sane mind will think of it. Where do they get water for these hundreds of thousands of people who visit daily.If you have watched God Father ,you would know by now how casino business were created.During the later part of last century when the law enforcement tighened their noose around the mobs ,they wanted to move into legitimate business of high returns .Casinos was the prime among them.

From LasVegas
     There were number of casinos. It would have taken a full week to visit each of them. We choose the ones marked as "must vist" by sandeep.They were really awesome. Grandness of each of them was mindblowing. Ceaser's palace , Venetian had replicated hot spots in greece and venice. Inside venetian there is a boat ride similar streets of venice. NewYork NewYork has replicated must see places in Newyork.

    On the 3rd day we planned for a trip to GrandCanyon.We decided to visit  south rim and it was 4 hours ride from Vegas.We booked with a bus tour paying 80$ per head.Due to labour weekedn it was highly crowded and started from vegas at 8:30 delayed by an hour.On the way we visited the Hoover Dam built on the Colorado river. Next stop was at the National Geographic museum where we saw a short film(35 mins) on the Grand Canyon(15$) on a iMAX theatre. National Geographic movies used to look splendid on a 32inch TV itself. No prizes for guessing how nice it will be on a imax theatre. Impressive movie hall and even more impressive moive. 
   
    Then we moved to south rim where had just 2 hours to cover this spectacular 7th wonder of the world.Clock was running ahead of its usual speed. Relativity :). I could have sat for hours looking at this god made wonder.Completely lost track of time and after last minute frantic walks finally we reached the location bus was supposed to be parked but couldnt identify the exact spot. After few frantic calls to the driver we reached 15 mins later to the bus.We had one more companion to be late and he too was a Indian :) Finally showed them what IST was. It was quite a surprise, everyone was sticking perfectly to the time.In my past experiance i  have never seen a meeting/trip start sharp on time even in (supposedly) highly disciplined software compaines. Definitly a point to improve for us. One thing regret missing there is the helicopter ride. For a cost of 120$ or so ,they will take you from the top of the canyon all the way down , land near the river and then comeback , all in 30 mins. We didn't book ahead and really regret missing it.

     4th day visited the left over casinos starting from 10 AM .Visited most of the leftover casinos.Had buffet at Harrah's.By 6 PM we were worn out and returned to hotel.Kumaran  was completly down and decided to rest at the hotel.There were 2 more must see spots which were very far by walk. So took the bus (called as deuce) and went to Fremont street. This was supposed to be down town of vegas. Few old styled casinos were there. It seems casnios started here and when the goverment wanted some norms to be followed , the mobs moved out of downtown and selected a outer place ,which now became the strip. There were comparitively few visitors the this street. Fremont street was nice with live shows going on the streets.Entire street ( 200 meters long ) was covered by large screen(lcd) which was good to watch.

From LasVegas
From LasVegas
     Now the only left over place was the Casnio Stratosphere and time was 12 PM. Though 12 PM was not a time to rest at Vegas , this casino was outside the strip and roads around them were deserted  and i had no company either. After much back and forth thought finally decide to visit this too. The speciality of this casino is that there is a hall at 108th floor which can accessed by payment(16$) and few amusement rides there. I took ticket for entry and any one ride and went up. 

View from this hall was mesmerising. Entire city of Vegas can be seen at one shot.Huge hotels looks at miniatures at this height.You need not raise your head to look at the moon.
From LasVegas
Then the rides. At the first ride they will drop you from floor no 108 . It will be free fall till floor no 10 or so and then will land safe at the basement. It was awesome to look at. Since i had the camera and bags i didnt want to take it . I was bit frightened on seeing this too :) 
I choose a ride called as insanity .Its a ride where we take hoirzontal circles at high speeds. The catch is that the revolutions are made outside the building ie) literally at a height of 108 floors.quite wonderful.
From LasVegas
There were 2 more rides . I wish i could have taken these rides unlimited(34$) if i had time and company. Another thing which i missed is the gun show. There was gun show where you can view all guns , handle it and even fire live bullets from it.It was far from the strip and i couldn't find time to visit it.

The next day we started on 10 AM after settling bills at the hotels. Didn't stop for food anywhere. Just refilled fule couple of times and took rest for 10 mins , at two rest areas and finally reached SantaClara at 7 PM.Drive direcly to Saravana Bhavan for a authentic south indian dosa and coffee to commemerate the successful tirp :)
More Photos @
LasVegas

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mono Lake , Mammoth Mountain & YoseMite National Park

         This was my 2nd weekend in US and we really wanted to drive long on this. We chose Yosemite National Park ,which is 4 hours/180 miles/290 KM drive from Santa Clara.
        Three of us Myself, Kumaran & Ratnesh  were in for it .

From Mono Lake, Mammoth mountain & Yosemite National Park
Our initial plan was to start early morning say 5 AM .But later changed the plan to get started by 12 AM in midnight and reach Mono Lake for sunrise. We were not ready to believe the GPS completely and took prints from Google maps. We started around 12:30 AM  and no major stops on the way, apart from picking coffe from McDonalds. I hate this coffee ,made a decision to never take it hereafter. It was a long drive as i was awake through out the trip. Sun was supposed to rise at 6:21 AM , but when we reached there at 5:45 sky was already well lit even though sun hasn't risen. Now we were in the high way and we need to take a small road to the lake. After looking for the road quite a long time and trying some trial and error on few unmarked path, we saw a car taking the road to the lake and we followed it and reached the lake just in time to see the sun rise.
        The unique proposition of this lake is the nature of water ( high density due to mineral content) and tufa ,sort of coral reefs formed by mineral deposits. Water looked crystal clear but while touching it was like oil and tasted miserably :).
From Mono Lake, Mammoth mountain & Yosemite National Park
We saw the sun rise here . We couldn't have the view of sun due to clouds but it was picturesque seeing the horizon getting painted first in red then in glittering gold by the sun .Apart from us there were 10-15 people.
From Mono Lake, Mammoth mountain & Yosemite National Park
       Initially our plan was to go to Yosemite national park from here . But we were pleasantly surprised by the snow on the hill top surrounding mono lake. Mammoth mountain which was famous for its snow capped mountains was not in our plan , as we didn't expect snow at this point in summer. But now we changed our plan to accommodate mammoth mountain too. On the way there was a place to refresh our self . It seems to maintained by government and it was pretty clean.

From Mono Lake, Mammoth mountain & Yosemite National Park
Not even 5 minutes into drive from here ,front tire got flattened. After a bit of trial & error experiments , we were able to replace the spare tire. But spare tire was not full sized one and it was meant for only short term drive. We didn't want to waste time repairing it and our calls to renting agent(budget) was also not responded properly .So we decided to carry on the trip and change the car itself the next day.Later came to know that it was a wrong decision. We shouldn't drive for long using spare tires and that too in the front axle. Anyway we came to now this fact on the next day only when we were mentioning this incident to colleagues. 
     We continued to mammouth mountain. There were only traces of snow . During peak season there would be meteres of snow above the ground it seems . We took the cable car to the top of the moutain and spent about an hour there. View from there was very nice. This is the first time i am encountering snow and so even though there were only little snow it was thrilling for me.
From Mono Lake, Mammoth mountain & Yosemite National Park
  
From Mono Lake, Mammoth mountain & Yosemite National Park
  After mamouth mountain ,we drove towards Yosemite National Park. There was a severe forest fire in one portion of the park and i was bit worried if we could access all the places .But all the must visit places were out of the danger area .We could see the fire engines and forest ranger vehicles whizzing  to and for on the road.
    We visited lot of vista points .There we could park our car and take some snaps and enjoy the nature.Mostly there were moutains,streams and coniferous tress. Mountains were huge and beautiful.Half Dome , a mountain which looks as if it was cut into half was the important one. At various points in the trip , we saw the same mountains ,falls from different altitudes and angles.
From Mono Lake, Mammoth mountain & Yosemite National Park
From Mono Lake, Mammoth mountain & Yosemite National Park
Every view was equally beautiful. We went to the top of the hills (glacier point ) and had a full view of the entire area from there. Then we drove down to the valley . It was almost sunset at this point and we started to travel back.We thought of going straight to Sanjose airport and change the car . But by the time we reached the city it was almost 1 AM and we were damn tired (24 hours non stop driving ) and hence postponed the car change plan to the next day and reached home.
More photos here
Mono Lake, Mammoth mountain & Yosemite National Park

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Crisis Economics

Crisis Economics by Nouriel Roubini & Stephen Mihm. This is the 3rd of series of books which i was reading on the recent Financial crisis.Others being Fooled by Randomness  by Nassim Nicholas Taleb & Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy by Raghuram Rajan .

     One common credit for all these authors is that they had in one way or other predicted the economic crisis even before rest of the world . So now its time for them to write books in 'I told you so' tone :). Invariantly all of them try to articulate the reasons for the crisis. Taleb has his own reason - 'Tail risk' or 'Black Swan events' which weren't given enough attention. Mostly he finds fault with probabilistic distribution adopted by the investment bankers. Roubini and Raghuram , both eminent professors , agree between themselves , that fault lines run more depth than what is seen from outside .Entire system is being rotten.And the worst of part of the story is that we havn't cleaned up so far.We are just decorating the skin of a soon to be dead cancer patient and admiring at his recovery.
      Crisis Economics is the best among them and following is excerpts from it .
Crisis are part of parcel of capitalism . He differs from the concept that crisis are black swan events (least random one off events as described by Taleb ) but structural events associated with boom and bust.In the past centuries we have seen boom and bust cycles which occurs in a predictable fashion, off course mostly in the hindsight. Whenever a major invention , discovery , shift in technology happens  ,there is a euphoria associated with it and when it goes beyond the fundamental reasons it turns out to be a boom which invariably land in a bust. Tulips , Industrial Revolution , Rail Road Companies , the recent dot com and finally now the Financial Derivatives,  all follow the same path .Each crisis provides a opportunity to clean up the mess and make the system far more robust. All the major financial controllers ( Federal Reserve , SEC etc ) where formed in response to crisis in the earlier path of 20th century.  Unfortunately this is not happening now.

            Banking sector is in such a mess that they have taken the entire world into ransom. Still there is no one to supervise them effectively and no rules to adhere to. They do what ever they want to maximize  their profit ( inturn  their bonus ) and when the tide changes they go hat it hand to govt to bail them out ( ironically again have large bonus ). Glass–Steagall Act, which was safeguarding the world from the financial system from their inception in 1932 to 1999, prevents banking and investment banking to be under a same company.Now its a writing in the wall that the institutions which have become "too big to fail" came to their current form after this act was removed in 1999.There is no plans for breaking down these evil empires.

     People refrain from doing bad things , not because they are inherently good , but due to fear of getting punished by law. Corporations aren't any exception.When corporations are sure that what ever they do  Fed will be lender of last resort to cleanup their mess , they have little incentive to do their work properly.After the crisis of 2008-09 , we have done so little in eradicating the reason for this crisis , breaking too huge institutions , regulating complex derivatives (correctly predicted as Weapons of mass destruction by none other than Warren Buffet ) , almost of no Govt supervision of these companies ,insane risk management, carry trade , funny rating agencies  and ridiculous compensation system.

        Everyone is interested in reading about predictions . But its quite a experience to read a book of future prediction , when the events predicted were unfolding in front of your eyes .This week will go in the history for all the drama happening in Capitol hill over the issue of increasing the dept limit of US from the existing limit of 14.3 trillion Dollars by Aug 2 deadline . Failing to reach a accord will mean that US Govt will default on its dept. Though there is less than 0.01 probability for this to happen this time ,but one thing is for sure .Status quo of United States being the economic super power and the dollar being worlds reserve currency($) are about to be changed.Only question is , if it be a orderly event spanning over decades or will it be a catastrophe ?  Only time can answer it.

     Last time we faced any such structural change was when US & Dollar took over the baton from the Great Britain & Pound during post World War 2. But now we dont have a clear player to take over the lead.Closest possible is China and its Yuan. But there are several reason for why China cant be a No1 anytime soon - not a democracy , not a open economy , Yuan not being a free floating currency , huge dependence on export.

In order to clean up the mess the author wants the following to be done
     World Financial system to be revamped ,structural cleanup
     Countries to reduce the fiscal deficit/surplus so that a balance is maintained.
   
But there is no indications of steps in this direction being taken.US continues to increase its deficit and China continuing to increase its surplus. They both are in a parasitic relationship which has become increasingly difficult of both nations to get out of. The more time they continue the more complex it becomes. Unless there is pre planned orderly unwinding  , it could to lead to huge destruction which could make all the past crisis look like a mere hiccups .

 India ..
    India seems to be in a far better shape then the rest of the world . RBI plays the right role of central bank defusing boom by monetary supervision.Banks are better capitalized , thanks again to RBI.Far more self reliant economy than the rest of BRIC with least dependence on export and favorable demographic dividend.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Santhosh Marraige Reception

Date : 26 June 2011
Location : Ambattur , Chennai


Though i have purchased this HD handycam many months back , this is the first time i processed the captures and uploaded into youtube. Raw HD data takes about 2MB per sec ( 16100 kbps bit rate ) . Processing HD output is highly time/cpu intensive and takes huge bandwidth to upload. Stumbled on a software called VideoPad and with its help , converted those huge videos into 1280 *720 mpeg stream at a bit rate of 4500 kbps.









Thursday, June 23, 2011

Night Trek To Makkalidurga

        This time we decided to join a night trek to Makkalidurga organized by BMC.Reasons - wanted to do a night trek and didnt have time to organize one on my own.Myself , Karthik , Hari and Abhinav decided do it.BMC was charging Rs750 for this trek.Bit costly as it includes only rental cost of van and morning breakfast .When three of us boarded the van at LifeStyle around 10:30 PM , it was already fully packed with atleast 25+ people.Abhinav joined at Mekri circle. We reached base of hill at around 12 PM.

      It was 2 days past full moon day and visibility was good under moon light. 2 days back we had the century's longest lunar eclipse. It would have been a different experience had we taken the trek on the day of the eclipse .After the usual self intro (so boring this time) we started to climb. There were 3 organizers.Being a night trek , no one could see others face clearly and might be because of it there was no interaction too. It was a large group made of number of cohesive small subgroups. Trek as pretty much easy. The night view of towns nearby was nice as moved up.

From NightTrekMakkalidurga


Since it was quite boring 4 of us played 20 questions for sometime.Trek was for about 100 minutes including break. As usual at the top there was a small temple and few diapilated structures.

Even though it was small trek , taking it on a friday night made us tiresome. We used the sleeping bags and started making our beds.Winds at this height was very chilly and blowing at good speed.It was quite a experiance to sleep under moonlight.
   
From NightTrekMakkalidurga

     When i woke up at around 5:30 AM , few photographers were tyring their best to get good view of the sunrise. But it was bit cloudy in the east direction and we couldnt get the good view of sunrise.



It was quite a task for me (as usual) to wake up Karthik.After few snaps we started the trek down.

From NightTrekMakkalidurga

It was hardly 45 minutes and we started back to bangalore at around 7:30 AM. Since we were sleep starved we couldnt enjoy the down trek / return journey.Had breakfast at the outskirts of Bangalore at 11 AM. Breakfast was hardly needed.Instead we could have reached home early to take good rest.

From NightTrekMakkalidurga

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Singapore

        Though "trip to singapore" was a long pending agenda , catalyst to this trip was a random internet advertisement in which Tiger Airways promised* (yes the * was intended) to and fro to Singapore at a very low cost (some thing around 5K INR). This concept was readily accepted by Venkat , Bharathi and Karthi and we booked tickets within couple of weeks. Final travel cost then was around 10K for a single passenger including all charges.Later Bharathi dropped out as Balu's marriage was in the same weekend that we have booked tickets. There was no provision to reschedule these low cost tickets and hence others planed to stick to the initial plan.Later one day during breakfast when i was mentioning this plan to Hari , he offered to joined in. Luckily his ticket was even cheaper , 7K INR.  The departure was scheduled on 3 March at 11:45 PM from chennai. Three of us ( Myself , Venkat & Hari ) started by Brindavan Express from Bangalore and reached Chennai at 8 PM. We reached airport at around 9 PM where Karthi was waiting. We had sufficient time  before checkin and hence decided to have dinner in airport. It ironic that there was only one hotel ( 20 seater) in the entire International airport.

  There was a couple of new camera and camcorder we were carrying. If we didnt show these and get receipts from the customs ,it would added to our customs limit on return.So we approached a customs official to do the necessary paperwork.You need a spectacular negotiating ability to get a work done from a Indian Government official. After lot of cajoling he accepted to do his duty. At least 25 minutes was wasted by this useless fellow. We had only 3:30 hours to sleep that night.I couldn't sleep during the journey. Next day we landed right on time at around 6:30 AM PST.
    First was immigration. Myself and Hari came through the same counter and i preceded him. The agent at our counter was very stubborn.She was having a detailed look through the passport and questioning people for more time , whereas other agents were relaxed and finished the process quickly. She even reported two passengers to her higher authority.They were taken to a separate room for questioning. When Hari finished immigration ,he mentioned that when they scanned his passport my photo was showing up there !!!!. Ooops how could it be possible ??..Okay .On rewinding the past events we got the reason for this confusion.We both applied Visa simultaneously and have given applications without pasting/fixing the photo in it .The agent processing the application has switched the photos and finally as per government of singapore we had a different face. If we can do this why not others, whose aim to forge a entry. I have read somewhere [The Day of the Jackal] that when some sees your identiy cards and verifies against your face , he looks for similarities between both of them and mostly let away even if few things are similar. Very true .Even a strict agent cannot identify difference between these two photos and the orginal faces. Its hightime that We should get away from photo based identification and resort to more foolproof methods such fingerprint , retina etc .Lucily we were saved :) Else we would have made headlines in nextday's newspapers for trying to enter singapore with false visa.
       Our hotel booking was in littleIndia at 12PM. We thought of reaching there , deposit the luggage and wander around that area till 12 PM. Arriving at the airport we were clueless on how to travel to the hotel . Our poor planning was already showing its effects. We didnt even have a map of the city , no bus/train routes info , no local mobile phones. There was a cab stand it was mentioned that cost would be around 45$ . oops .. There was bus taking passengers freely to some train station. Since it was free , and since many people boarding it , we too got into it :) . Inside the bus we were discussing how to proceed next . On hearing our confused speeches couple of people offered to help us. One passenger told us the route in MRT (local train service there ) and also mentioned that he will be accompanying us until 2 junctions and one stretch we had to travel on our own. There were prepaid cards to pay for train journey . It costs 10$ with a 5$ travel value. This card can be used for buses too. We bought 4 such cards.For reasons not known to us the person who was guiding us didnt have a card and bought a ticket , even though he was long staying resident. With this card the travel was hassle free . No queues to get tickets . Jus swipe the card on the entry and exit and automatically the ticket charges are calculated and deducted.[ Recently read that same methodology is planned for Bangalore metro too . Lets see how they implement it ]. This is a must in chennai too. Mostly the wait time for tickets in chennai metro used to be 15-20 mins in peak time . MRT in singapore was archtectural marvel.Its completly underground and runs in 2 / 3 layers in intersecting points. Stations were not only clean but very apealing , inline with 3 star hotels in India. Official mean of communication is English , Tamil and Chinese. All public sign boards and public announcements are carried out in these three languages.

       We reached the hotel around 10 AM and we were tired.Checked into a room earlier and took rest.On the first day we planned to visit zoo.Still we didn't have a map and we had no idea of how to proceed . Since we were running out of time we decided to get a taxi. But none of the taxi stopped when we showed our hands.Intriguingly we observed what has happening .Opps there was a stand to get the taxi. There was queue here too and whenever a empty taxi passes by this stand , first person or group got into it and proceeded. No Negotiations . Accurate Meters .. Interesing !!!. Finally we got to the taxi after a long drive (20-30 mins) . Cost was 18$ .Zoo was pretty much good.

From SingaporeTrip

Got a couple of maps and found out that the entire city and all its tourists attractions were very well connected by bus and MRT. We never took a taxi after this. That night we visited Marina bay and Singapore flyer , a huuugee the gaint wheel was a attraction there. Per head cost was 29$ ( Rs 1000 ) for one trip .It was spectacular to get a bird's view of this concrete jungle in glittering night lights .
       We had the idea of tasting authentic Chinese dishes and got down at China Town MRT station. All the dishes were priced around 10$ . We ordered Spring onion , a chicken dish , a prawn dish , a plate of meat ball and a cup of rice . All through the process of ordering we couldn't communicate with them in English .Sign language and marking the menu card were communicating methodology used. Good that Chinese didnt know English that well , so that we could maintain our dominance in IT and ITES industry. Each dish we ordered were too huge.For instance the meat ball dish had 4 meat balls each of the size of a tennis ball. 
       Every day we used to reach our hotel around 12 PM and the street used to have traffic as if it was 8 PM. We would shop around at the Mustafa center .Every day we would shop around till 2-3 AM and got up late in the morning. We bought a local sim card .Process was pretty simple . Shopkeeper scaned my passport and thats all . No paper work,, Nothing . In minutes i had a local phone . Cost was 8$ for 10$ worth of talk time. International calls to India was dead cheap. We made almost a hour worth of local and international call and still few SG$ were there.Couple of my friends were staying here . Initially i had contacted them earlier through mail and phone to get some details but scedule was so tight that i couldnt meet them.3 days were very short time :( Should have been atleast 5 days to call it a trip .Atleast now i could call them up and ask for some suggestions .

       Next day went to Sentosa Island. Universal Studios also lies here and i have booked tickets for this ( S$ 72 per head). Our idea was to cover the entire island in one day. There was three ways to reach the island from the mainland . Landroute , cable car and Mono rail . We decided to try the cable car and spent lot of time to locate the starting point of the cable car. It costs around 25$ for to and fro and view was awesome from it.

From SingaporeTrip

From SingaporeTrip


we reached very late at around 1 PM here and that day was not enough to cover the Universal studios itself. Attractions here were the 4D show , water world set and live climax stunt , rides in Egyptian set and Jurasic park.We were pretty much occupied till 7 PM , the closing time of the studio.

From SingaporeTrip

From SingaporeTrip


We didnt visit few items in Sentosa Island. It was already 7:30 PM. Just picked up few brochures at the Information desk and found that there was a music fountain show at one part of the island. We decided to check this out. It was some 30 mins show. A story was depicted with laser shows , fountains and lights at a beach.Pretty much nice.It was almost 10 PM and we called off for the day.We reached Orchard Road and we were damn tired to roam around and returned after spending some time there.

From SingaporeTrip

Considering previous days experience @ China Town , we didnt want to take risk with dinner and had it at authentic chettinad restaurant itself at little India . Then asusual shopping ..  If you are traveling from India , definitely LCD TV is a must buy here. it almost 30-40% cheap here ,but International warranty is not provided . Initially i had planed to buy a 32inch LCD TV (LG/Sony) for a budget of 20K  . But there was 42 inch LG Plasma at the same cost and so i went for it. Indian price was around 45K and i got it for 600 SG$(22K INR)  . In this amount we can claim a refund of tax at the airport of some 50$. Customs officer here was opposite of what i have seen in chennai. He sealed my application immediately and politely mentioned where to drop it . Within 10 days i received my refund.

    Final day we decided to stick to Sentosa Island itself as there were lot of tourist attractions still there. We used the famous underwater tunnel , seal show , dolphin show , and finally spent some time at the beach there and started .

From SingaporeTrip

There were lot of adventure sports which we couldnt try out due to lack of time. One among them was the traveling by hanging in a rope at some 500 feet higher for a distance of say 500 meters over the beach.Today our visit was very short. We had to return and packup for the airport. We returned at around 5 PM bought some souveniers and started towards the airport.
    
   My 42 inch TV was weighing around 28 Kg and we had only 15Kg baggage ( as initial plan was for a 32 inch one ). Tiger Airways was charging around 200 US$ for this baggage . It was more than to and fro ticket. Luckily my friend Sangeetha who was a resident in Singapore was there to send us off. Gave here the TV and made arrangements so that my other friend Mani who was also resident will bring this during his travel ( scheduled in 2 weeks time after that ). Had these people were not there to save the day i would have lost almost 7-8K INR.

      The airport was very spacious , clutter free even though it was the budget terminal. Only place where there was any crowd here was at the duty free shop selling liquor. Venkat bought few for his friend . I was in no mood to purchase anything here after the chaos with TV .But later picked a premium scotch (Chivas Regal 12 years ) at the duty free shop at chennai. It costs around Rs1500 here whereas in Bangalore it is retailed at Rs4500. Should be around 5000 in Chennai .We are allowed to take 2 bottles each. i could recoup all the travel expense just buying and reselling 2 bottles :)

From SingaporeTrip

Final Cost of the trip came to around 26K INR per head including travel ,lodging , food and sightseeing.


Few learning 
    3 days was too short for us. Around 5 days is needed . 
    Plan accurately even before starting to avoid wasting time on planning 
    For purchase decide the items/models to buy before hand , dont waste time evaluating models here
    If you are buying TV make sure you ticket has sufficient baggage and price of TV is within custom limits .
    Make sure you get the GST refund forms at the shop and get them validated at the airport

Monday, February 14, 2011

[Trek] Skandagiri

It has been a long while since i attended any trek .So after a tough schedule in January thought of trying a trek - skandagiri. Couldn't get enough members from Citrix. Finally a group of 5 people - Myself , Bharathi , Rajesh , Sushar & Nandhakumar decided to proceed . It seems night trek was the specialty of this mountain range.Since none of us had done it earlier ,we decided to opt for day trek inspite of hot climate - not a optimal option though.
We started in 3 bikes at 5:30 AM. Bangalore was sooooo cold.Riding at 50-60 kms/hr on highway ,chillness in air was so intense that i felt as if am wearing a cotton shirt. Sweater & a sports Tshirt was no enough to this climate.Hands become numb as if i a surgery can be performed without anesthesia.Luckily got a glove from sushar.We rested wherever possible to have hot cup of tea.

From Skandagiri Trek
On the highway

Route was along NH7 high way, cross new airport and proceed to chickbalapur.Had breakfast in a restaurant opposite to large park at the center of this town.From this point take left ,adjacent to the park and proceed for around half a kilometer where a road proceeding to left has a arch.Turn on to this road and proceed in whatever direction that this small road takes you. Lot of fields , settlement ,brick factory are on the way and finaly we will reach a dead end and we need to take right from here.This road lead to pagagini mutt.
There were not caretakers for parking by the time we reached there ( around 9 AM) though few cars and bikes were parked there. A worker in the mutt told that sun would be very hot and there would be no water at the top and asked us to get back. After gaining his confidence by spending thirty rupees ( same strategy to follow either in parliament or in a street corner ), he agreed to take care of our bikes.
From the mutt there is a path , as large as needed for a car to travel ,some 750 meters , till the starting point of the trek.This point can be identified by a large stone with some instructions written on it. Unluckily we didnt hit this road and instead took a small path directly towards the hills ( ஒரு ஆர்வம் தான் :-) ). We kept on reaching dead end ,backtracking and choosing a different path in a cyclic fashion .


From Skandagiri Trek
Searching for paths



From Skandagiri Trek
Returning back after meeting a dead end

After a hour of intense encounters with steep rocks and thorny bushes i could feel that we were lost.But unluckily there were no one to seek help from.Finally a local person called us down ( we were almost 1 KM up in the wrong path) and told us that we were on the wrong path and offered take us in the right path for Rs300 ,till half way of the trek after which path would be clear one. In reality it was too high a price for guard for 50% of the trek, but its was seller's
market and we couldn't do any bargain.
He took us to the correct road.In hindsight it was a blunt mistake that we couldn't stop laughing at our self.The path so well laid that it was more like a path to a hill top temple , albeit with small hiccups.It took around an hour to reach the spot where guard would depart us. There was a medium sized rock on the right and a steep path leaves on the left.From here the path was turning into a jungle track.Initial trek had a greenery. We had to cross five remains of fort walls.

From Skandagiri Trek
One of the fort wall

We had enough loads of water ,chocolates,dates & glucose to energize us to proceed.We took a slow path resting for every 20 minutes all along the way for photo shoots and snacks.There were dilapidated remain of rest places which should have been used by soldiers.

From Skandagiri Trek
Remains of a soldier's cabin


From Skandagiri Trek
Yet another fortwall

Last stretch was steep and had little green cover exposing us to the hot sun. In-spite of sun , chill winds were blowing at these altitudes giving us a feel of entering a AC car after wandering in hot sun.Finally we reached the top at around 12:30. There was a small temple , which morphed into a miniature hotel selling bread omelet , maggi and water cans.

From Skandagiri Trek

Finally at the top

From Skandagiri Trek
Waiting for lunch


items were ridiculously priced . ( one break omlette at Rs 20 , Maggie at Rs 25 and water bottle at Rs 40) .Since we carried bread with us ,we bought omlette for our lunch.After about 30 minutes of rest ,we started climbing down and was a easy job as expected.

From Skandagiri Trek
Breathtaking view from the top


One of disturbing scenes all along this trek was the litter , mostly water bottles , polythene covers of snacks ,beer bottles and what not spewed all over the path and mostly the top.In all the treks one of motivating fact is the unadulterated environment , but here the litter gives feeling as if it was market corner.Forest department should take control over such sites and control such menace to the environment.