Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Double whammy for Vista

In addition to the world wide stock market crash today, where Dow fell 4% by 416 points, biggest fall since 2001, (I thought I'll post about that, then decided against it as it is all over the place today anyway, visit CNBC.com for expert economist opinions, or the special WSJ premium report), there were two news releases that caught my attention today

(a) What we've been waiting for has arrived, sooner than we expected. Microsoft discloses an antipiracy bug in Windows Vista, where users are prompted / forced to reactivate their Vista, even on PCs where reactivation is not required, after installing certain system drivers and utilities.
Microsoft acknowledges, "This is not a problem with any of the drivers and utilities. This is a Vista problem"

Worth the wait? Well, even worth the 'no-Vista'

(b) Worldwide PC maker, Dell to start selling Linux PCs - Wow! Isn't that awesome? After collecting some 1800 new products and service ideas from IT users and customers through an online suggestion box (in CEO Michael Dell's serious attempts to survive the phase Dell,Inc. is going through), Dell has annouced that it is going to sell a new line of certified ready-to-use Linux-loaded desktop and laptop computers. Way to go!

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Monday, February 26, 2007

It's payback time for Martin Scorsese!!!!!!!

And it is twice the fortune! Martin Scorsese's mob epic stole the Oscars today for both the 'Best Picture' and 'Best Director'. I was certain that this was Mardy's year, after being nominated 5 times for Best Directing Oscar in the past. 'The Departed' was such a movie, and his first one based on a plot, and what a plot it was!! Scorsese, 64, is undoubtedly one of America's finest directors, having the likes of Aviator, Gangs of New York, Taxi Driver, Good Fellas, etc.
But the Best Movie Oscar came as a pleasant surprise. I thought Little Miss Sunshine had a better chance, as I believe the Oscar Selection Committee normally feels against what I feel. 'Departed' bagged a total of 4 oscars. I'm more delighted about the Best Director Oscar though, how many years have we all waited for this moment!!! ?

The team (Martin Scorsese, Leonordo DiCaprio) has already announced their next - The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (2008)

One thing that kept us wondering was, there was no Matt Damon in the audi, and neither was a mention to his credit by the producer or the director. Or did I miss it?


Sunday, February 25, 2007

The wonders of education in Africa

An interesting statistic published by UNESCO in the Global Monitoring Report, 2005


Friday, February 23, 2007

Microsoft needs an ethics officer

I'm not sure if they have one. But, even if they do, I'm sure he's not doing a good job. Time and again, we see this company entering anti-trust lawsuits (I can list so many cases where they were penalized by the EU). This time, it is in the U.S., for patent infringement.

As a company, they must learn to compete ethically and produce innovative products with their own creativity. Alcatel-Lucent had accused the world's largest software maker for infringing on its patents related to standards used for playing MP3 digital music files. A U.S federal court found Microsoft guilty today and ordered the firm to pay Alcatel-Lucent $1.52 billion in damages. This is a large sum to settle a suit, even for Microsoft, which is used to paying in the order of hundreds of millions for the anti-trust lawsuits that it faces frequently.

I'm not very surprised at this, this time. I adjust my thoughts to believe that this is what happens when a company grows to this size. It loses its controls on ethics. Today, it could be Microsoft, tomorrow it could be anyone else! Microsoft, of late, have been more of a follower in terms of products -

Playstation ==> XBox
Apple iPod ==> Zune MP3
Mac OS X ==> Vista (3d graphics, etc.)
Google Docs ==> MS Office Live
Google Earth ==> MS Virtual Earth

All these put together suggest a pattern to me - dearth of creativity at the giant!


Costco ruins Apple's image, reputation and creativity

Picked this up from Greg Miller's UnixJunkie blog. This is so sad for Apple!

Apple would rather give it away for free. Time to sue Costco for its stupidity and negligence.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Apple's win over Cisco's iPhone

BBC Uncut

Last month Steve Jobs announced the forthcoming release of Apple's entry into the cellular phone market via the iPhone, but Cisco had registered the brand name in 2000 for its Linksys subsidiary.

So, Cisco had sued Apple on a trademark violation, but now the two firms have mutually agreed to use the term iPhone on their products worldwide. So, we are going to have two iPhones!! We still do not have the details on how they worked the deal out yet, but under the deal they will also work together on security, consumer and business communication.

This is a win for Apple, isin't it? It also stresses the value they associate with their brand name, and that they are not willing to settle for anything other than 'iPhone'. I still think Apple may go a step forward and prevent Cisco now from using the iPhone brand in the future sometime, as this starts leading to customer confusion. Just imagine, there would be two somewhat similar products called iPhone floating in the market. Consumers who want to buy one may get shown the other at the store and may stick with it. Search results for 'iPhone' would not return only Apple's product. Eventually, this might turn to be a disadvantage for Apple and so I believe since they possess an image for the i* products, they would even try to pay Cisco out of the way soon. Cisco shouldn't worry too much about that.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

@ Austin City Limits (ACL) 2006

If there's one thing for which I would say 'Been there, Done that' about Austin, that is ACL most definitely. I've never had the opportunity in my life so far to see 130 bands play at 7 different stages for 3 consecutive days! I've seen a lot of live music in the likes of Bryan Adams, etc. back in India, but those were all one band-one stage-one evening type of concerts. My experience at ACL last year went far beyond description.
Click to enlarge any of these photos for a closer view...

Some of my favorites at ACL 2006 (not in order of preference)

Haan..here's rest of the gang too...


Cloudy huh? Not a soul moved even when it rained....

1. John Mayer (man, he was so amazing)

2. Van Morrison (although he was performing in parallel with John Mayer at a different stage, I must admit both the stages were filled with its own followers)

3. Los Lonely Boys (Always wish I could hear more of them)


That's Amy and me...guess that's the start of the second day...

1. Nada Surf
2. The Secret Machines
(these were the ones that started my day there)
3. String Cheese Incident
4. The Raconteurs

5. Massive Attack
(and what a way to end the day! Phew!)

DAY-3 (favorite day for me, and for most I would guess)

1. Matt Costa
(I thought he was pleasant)
2. The New Pornographers (How many rock bands have a female lead? I don't know the answer but this one does, and they were awesome together! Metal mania!)
3. Damian Marley (missed some reggae?)
4. Matisyahu (This guy has his own charm when it comes to live performances)
5. Jack Ingram
6. Ween
(I missed these guys, as they were in parallel with Matisyahu, but Charles said they were pretty cool that day)

Yeah, Dustin and I are kind of getting tired, but Charles looks all excited still, as we wait for the last two bands of the festival!! And they are.....

7. The Flaming Lips (The BEST on-stage performance I've ever seen, at ACL 2006 and ever - They know live performance, and got the crowd involved so much. Everyone just loved 'em.)

Click to enlarge - when you see a colorful stage as this, you don't have to go too far to guess who that is, it has to be the Flaming Lips!

8. Tom Petty (you bet! - What a conclusion he gave to the whole festival on a rainy Sunday! - He played all my favorites including Mary Jane, Refugee and Life is a Highway ofcourse... And he goes down as my favorite at ACL 2006. He didn't have to try too many things as the Flaming Lips, it's just his vocal chord and guitar, that's enuf!) - Here's the big guy himself -

Exciting, right? Don't miss it if you're here at Austin during September, 2007.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

How to get a doctorate in Physics?

Ask the Physics maestro - Chiranjeevi :) For those not aware, Chiranjeevi is the killer actor in the Telugu Film Industry in India. Sometime back I posted about how he defied gravity with an awe-inspiring video, but this time it gets even better - he defies friction.

Enjoy this hilarious 15 sec video!

I think, in that shot, if there was anyone that felt a little embrassed shooting this scene, it must have been that poor horse.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Downloading YouTube videos

They maintain everything on the server, that is their strength. But if you ever need to download YouTube videos to your desktop, you can try this simple tool.


You would need Flash Player (You can get it free here) since you would have to save the file as .flv

Note: This blog does not guarantee that it is legal or illegal.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Plan-B to save Darfur

President Bashir and the Sudanese Govt have foiled all opportunities to cooperate with international efforts to end the violence at Darfur. If you are in the dark, about what is happening at Darfur, please click here to read what I posted sometime back for more details on what is happening there. More than 400,000 people have been ruthlessly killed.

I take this opportunity to urge you to sign this petition (from Save Darfur)to President Bush, who apparently keeps delaying the launch of this plan. If you do not believe in the effectiveness of activist groups (especially since the first petition didn't have a great impact), remember it could do no harm or cost you anything, but there is a slight chance that the President hears us. This is probably the least we can do to prevent further loss and displacement of innocent lives.

Click here to sign the petition - shouldn't take more than a minute.

Thank you very much.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

LA Countries using USD as currency

Q: Could you name at least one Latin American country that uses the US Dollar as its official currency?

A: Panama - since 1904, joined by Ecuador in 2000

Economists term this process dollarization
Click here to read a September 2000 article, on how Ecuador transformed from sucre to USD


Monday, February 12, 2007

Onyx hits biotech jackpot

Shares of Onyx Pharmaceuticals doubled today after Onyx and partner Bayer AG reported increased survival rates in a drug trial on patients with liver cancer. This drug, Nexavar, is currently approved for kidney cancer in 50 countries, but liver cancer poses a more serious problem, for which currently there is no treatment in the U.S.
Would this be it?

Watch Onyx CEO, Hollings Renton, interview with CNBC.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

DUI in the airline industry?

WSJ Premium Uncut

Well, not really. Thankfully pilots don't indulge in drunken driving, but the week before, U.S Airways CEO Doug Parker was arrested under DUI charges, just hours after their $9.8 billion bid for Delta Air Lines was rejected. Mr. Parker, 45, was pulled over at 11:30 pm. Jan 31st. Results showed his blood-alcohol level to be 0.096, when the legal limit in Arizona is 0.08.

The CEO wrote 2 letters to his employees regarding the incident -

"You need to know how embarrassed and sorry I am about this," Mr. Parker wrote in the first letter Thursday. "I have let down all of you and also my family, and that is something I will have to live with irrespective of the outcome."

The second one after the results -

"I will accept the consequences of my actions and I will ensure that it doesn't happen again," he wrote. "Again, I apologize to you and appreciate the hundreds of notes of encouragement that I have received from you already. We have a great airline with great employees and I'm committed to not letting you down in the future."

Well, I'm not sure if these would help. I agree he is human too, but he is a leader and has his responsibilities. Once the apple rots, it is hard to bring it back to its original freshness, right? I think someone should write a book on CEOs and Criminals. I wonder who the cause is and who the consequence is...


Saturday, February 10, 2007

Cisco IBSG Global Offsite Conference, 2007

Hello everybody, sorry there've been no updates for a few days. I was busy at Cisco's IBSG (Internet Business Solutions Group) -Global Offsite 2007 Conference at San Jose from Feb 6-9. And I'm just on my way back.

It was a very exciting experience where I got to meet a lot of exceptionally qualified people from all over the world, including the emerging markets like Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Korea. It was a 3 day event at the Seascape Resort at Aptos, CA (around an hour's drive from San Jose).Our CEO, John Chambers addressed the gathering today. I must admit he is an amazing speaker and personality. He enlightened us on Cisco's vision and strategy for the future. The one speaker who left the audience discussing the topic at dinner tables throughout the conference, was Cory Ondrejka - CTO Linden Labs. (I've long wanted to post about that - Linden Labs and Second Life, I'll do it sometime this weekend or next - If you don't know about Second Life yet, hold on for the surprise)

Overall, an inspiring week!


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Can flowers stink?

Q: Which is the world's stinkiest flower?

A: Titan Arum (Amorphophallus Titanum) also known as the Corpse Flower

Curator Don Murray says, "It is a cross between rotten cheese, dog poo and something dead". Yukkeeeee......revolting stink!

The warmth of 2006 and mild winter to date have encouraged the Corpse Flower into a phenomenal growth spurt and into flower -- an event that usually happens only once every six to nine years.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Vista hits retail shelves..., only shelves...

Last week, Microsoft's long-delayed Vista hit the retail shelves to let consumers get their hands on their coolest operating system in their history...., but not many did. Stores saw only a trickle of early adopters on Tuesday. Retailers around the world held special midnight events Monday or opened early Tuesday when Microsoft released its Vista and Office 2007 products in 70 countries.
However, for example, at a CompUSA store at Raleigh, NC, only a dozen customers braved the late night to stake their claim on a copy of Vista.

Do not misunderstand, this is not the trend. Just the week before, the video game World of Warcraft - The Burning Crusade hit the shelves and sold a smashing record of 2.4M copies in just 24 hours worldwide. I don't have the numbers on Vista's opening day sales yet, but no where close!
Simply because
  • It is a Microsoft product, let's wait for them to fix the bugs
  • What is the 'killer' application in Vista? Why should I upgrade?
Nevertheless, new PCs shipped from the manufacturers like Dell and HP will go with Vista henceforth. That should be something to cheer about for Windows lovers. But, is this the best that the world's richest and largest software company can do? C'mon....they've spent half a decade in developing the product and planning this release...


Peyton Manning and Colts claim the Super Bowl victory!

Peyton proved that he is a tremendous player and a great leader, when he guided the Indianapolis Colts to their Super Bowl victory against the Chicago Bears, and also claimed the Super Bowl MVP of the year.

It was a wet and wild game, but the Colts were not sloppy and proved they can win the biggest game. It was a great start for the Bears with a kickoff touchdown, but they didn't quite capitalize on that. I was waiting for them to turn things around, but except Urlacher and Tillman's few desperate efforts, nothing major happened. The Colts dominated the entire game with elegance and classic interceptions. The Colts won 29-17 to take home the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

But nevertheless, loyal to the fact of the Super Bowl Sunday being the day with the 2nd largest food consumption in the country (after ThanksGiving ofcourse) , I had lots of it, and enjoyed the game.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Photos from our Republic Day celebrations

We had our Jan 26th Repubic Day celebrations, as part of the Indian Graduate Business Association (IGBA) here at McCombs, UT. I have a few photos to share.

That's Jaison, Ravin, Wes and me, from your R to L.
Don't miss the flag behind! That was the purpose...Miss the plates in front, that wasn't...

Olamide (alias Lamy) discusses camera defects, ...little aware that Jaison knows only banking.

Btw, Jaison's our representative IB guy. And watch, Vivek contributes from the kitchen.

What's a Republic Day without a cake! Well, actually, don't know the significance of a cake here, but I'd go anywhere for one!

That's Priyanka, our incoming IGBA President (batch of '08) doing the honors, and Vivek our outgoing President (batch of '07 as I am) acknowledging. Damn, the Presidents ate it all too..! Sheila tries to get a pic, oh, and she's not smiling eeeeeeeeee for once...Colgate's goin' to sue her...wonder what went wrong with her camera now...just kidding...take it easy...

There are 2 kinds of people in this world. Those who know they're in the photo, those who don't....hard to differentiate though...:)

And finally, everybody realizes it's Republic Day and we got to be together - with Mukund negotiating the center stage...as usual...

Change in tone. Here are a few more pictures from Republic Day celebrations from India, Hyderabad, at a school for the under-privileged children. 'SAVE India', as you might already know, is fighting for the rights of poor children in the weaker sections of the society, and educating them to take them to the next mile in their life.

Deepak, who co-founded SAVE along with me and my friends Mukesh and Partha, and who is among the best people I've ever met until today, did the honors as the chief guest at the school. I got the privilege once a couple of years back and trust me, it was once in a lifetime experience... Click here to know more about SAVE.


A space elevator? A 21st century achievement?

Yes. LiftPort corporation says within the next 15 years they believe they can take people to space through a space elevator that they are building. They think it would take around a week to get to space through this robot, in other words, the trip itself is a vacation! :)

NASA recently hosted a competition for this, and that's when LiftPort came to the limelight. They've staked their corporation on this concept which they themselves don't see going live before the next 15 years. So, they see something in it. They are dedicated to building a mass transportation system to open up access to the inner solar system.

Well, I'd definitely do it if it happens on my watch. Enjoy their interview.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

Google = Internet

Google wants to go beyond just becoming a verb. They want to become our Internet. They've been acquiring huge volumes of fibre assets, not just for search you would imagine. They are building a LOT of data centers with close proximity to power, like they recently bought 520 acres in Goose Creek industrial park which is probably 100 times as much land as any conceivable data center would require. Why all this? The reason is simple and logical. As we all begin embracing Internet video (50% Internet bandwidth is over Bit-Torrent), it becomes a huge backbone burden on the ISPs and cable companies whose current network infrastructure cannot support anywhere close. Google is the first to see this, and has just started its building program. There will be a day when all the ISPs will HAVE to team up with Google to use their local data centers, as an alternative to bankruptcy.

"We won't know if we're using Google or if we're using Internet and for all practical purposes it won't matter. Google will become our phone company, our cable company, our stereo system and our digital video recorder", says Mr. Cringley


Tutorial on trading futures

This is a small tutorial on how to make arbitrage profits from trading futures.

What are futures?
The futures contract calls for delivery of a commodity at a specified delivery or maturity date, for an agreed-upon price called the futures price, to be paid at contract maturity.

How to get the price information?
Let us take Gold for example. We can get the spot price (current trading price of the commodity) and the futures price from various sources. We also need the risk-free rate or Treasury Bill rate. Let us use Wall Street Journal market place.

Here is the information after th bell today, 2/2/2007.

Gold spot price - $647.45 (So)
6-month T-bill rate - 5.152% (Rf)

You will also find the list of all Gold futures prices here.
(From there, I got
Gold August-07 price (6 months from now) - $663.9 (Fo)
We will not need this information now, it is for comparison)

How to make arbitrage profits by trading Gold futures?
If the markets were efficient, the Spot-Future parity must hold good.
Fo = So (1 + Rf)^T

where T in our case = 0.5 years, as I'm estimating the 6-month futures price of Gold.
Plugging in the data we got from WSJ,

Fo = 647.45 * (1+.05152)^0.5
= $663.91

Now if we check what the 6-month Gold future contracts are trading in the market at, we see that it is $663.9 too ! If it were selling for less than $663.9, people could make arbitrage profits. Since the market is efficient, in that case, there will be buying and selling of such contracts till the market corrects itself to sell 6-month futures at $663.9, and that is what has happened here.

Now for argument sake, let us suppose, Gold is trading at $663.0 instead of $663.91. I'll show you how to make profits

1. Today
(a) Long the Gold futures. So there is no cash flow now. You have just entered an agreement to buy at a future date for $663.0
(b) Go short on Gold. ie. sell Gold at its current spot price. You get $647.45.
(c) Invest this money in T-bills maturing at the end of 6 months from today

2. After 6 months
(a) You will get 647.45(1.05152)^0.5=$663.91 from the T-bills
(b) Use $663.0 out of that to pay for the futures contract and get the Gold
(c) Use this Gold to cover your short position
(c) $0.91 is your profit left on the table! Enjoy!


Friday, February 02, 2007

Dell, Accounting Scandal and Investor Lawsuit

It was not long after Kevin Rollins was fired a day ago (well ok, resigned), that Dell investors filed a lawsuit against the computer maker's accounting practices in its longtime partnership with chipmaker Intel.

  • Dell's deal with Intel
    • Dell has been receiving 'rebates' from Intel for a long time every year to the order of $1 billion per year
    • Agreement was to use only Intel chips in Dell computers, (and not AMD's)
    • Intel had urged Dell to keep this deal secret to due to fear of antitrust lawsuits (unfair competition) against Intel across the world
    • So, the deal was maintained secret, known only to 15 senior people within the organization
    • And we know, anything "secret" in a public company, is "likely illegal"
  • Lawsuit -
    • Seeks class-action status on behalf of Dell shareholders
    • Filed here in Austin
    • The 'rebates' that Dell received are termed 'e-cap payments' (exception to corporate average pricing)
    • Fraudulent accounting - Dell's profits have been reported inflated by hundreds of millions of dollars
    • The $1 billion a year that Dell received was spread 'unevenly' across the 4 quarters, and the money was applied to reduce COGS (cost of goods sold) on the Income Statement - (Intel must be cursing Dell for this). In other words, they recognize this revenue as and when they want, depending on their quarter's performance. This is not conformant with US GAAP.
    • More, since 1999, Dell started making computers with AMD chips, again "secretly" - because the deal with Intel was still on - I seriously don't know how they got away w/ this.
  • AMD vs Intel
    • vigorously competing against each other for market share - with AMD doing better in the recent run
    • With this investor lawsuit against Dell, AMD jumps to the occasion and sues Intel for unfair marketing practices - I totally agree, this is an unethical fight for monopoly which is illegal under the antitrust regulation. Even if Intel gets away with this at U.S, I'm sure the EU will not tolerate that

  • So, now what?
    • Huge reputation damage for both Dell and Intel. More for Dell because, fraudulent accounting practices are far more illegal than antitrust.
    • PWC is Dell's defendant (Remember what happened to Arthur Anderson after the Enron drama?)
    • If I were working at Dell, I would have considered quitting, not because of the dropping share price or losing market share but just because the top management had a secret deal going on without letting the shareholders and employees know about it.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Rollins out; Michael in again - Where is Dell heading?

Dell's CEO, Kevin Rollins, was fired (they say resigned) last night after the bell. That the founder is returning back to lead a company that he started in his dormitory room here at UT Austin, indicates the crisis that one of the leading PC makers in the world is facing.

Kevin, who pioneered strong growth in Dell in the 1990s was appointed CEO by Michael Dell himself in 2004 when Dell took over the board. But Dell faced serious problems ever since.

* Stock has not been in favor of the investors

- picked up a little in 2006 but consistently declining otherwise

* Drop in market share due to heavy competition
- The primary competition comes from retailers selling PCs and products like Walmart, BestBuy and Circuit City (Remember, Dell sells only directly and hence these retailers are posing a serious threat. What was once its biggest competitive advantage is now turning out to be a threat)
- Foreign PC makers like Lenovo of China and Acer of Taiwan have gained ground in the global market
- HP has resurged to overtake Dell to become the current world's largest PC maker

* Dell's strategy was low pricing that it was able to maintain by selling diretly to customers (thereby removing distributor and retailer profits from the value chain). After successful restructuring, now HP is able to compete on prices as well. So, Dell is losing its competitive advantage

* As we all know very well, Dell had to recall several million defective laptop batteries over the last year

* They missed several earning estimates and sales projections in the past few quarters. They even just announced that they would fall short of forecasts and analyst estimates when they announce their earnings later this week.

* Accounting problems too - the SEC has started looking into its finances since late August last year

* Unstable upper management - CFO announced resignation in December, Senior Vice President announced retirement in a few months

It is relatively clear that Rollins had not been doing that great a job from many facets, and ultimately he failed in his single most important responsibility - meet shareholder expectations.
He has to be ousted, and he is. Michael himself steps in permanently (not as any interim CEO) to turn the company over from the monster of issues that it is facing.

But I've seen both of them address live here at UT at different occasions. Although Kevin had a little more charm that Michael, I was not impressed with both. Well, I'm talking of the terrific likes of Jeff Immelt (CEO of GE) and Rick Wagoner (CEO of GM)!


Count the number of passes

Go to this link, allow the applet to load (will take a few minutes), click on play. Then in the video, count the number of basketball passes between the players in the white shirts. The count should NOT include the passes between the players in black outfit. Not as easy as it sounds.

Sorry, the video is copyright protected, so not embedding it here.

Then, look at the comments section...