Saturday, December 26, 2009

Conversations at a cafe - the one about stars, the Super Bowl and relationships

Sheetal hated Mark. She hated him because he seemed to always espouse ideals she seldom agreed with. She suspected he did this on purpose, just to spite her. She hated him because he seldom seemed to be driven by rationality and often argued “the implications of being human”, whatever that meant. And, she hated him for always being 10 minutes late. She never understood why, despite knowing him, she still waited and expected him to be on time. Above all, she hated him for that. Today Mark was nearly an hour late. Sheetal was already on her third paper and second cup of Pumpkin Spiced Latte.

“Sheetal, why are you so strung up all the time?”

Startled, Sheetal looked up to see Mark smiling back at her, holding his cup of Mocha.

“What!? When did you get here?”

In a swift, practiced stroke, Mark turns the empty chair around with his left hand while placing his coffee on the table with his right. He removes his shoulder bag and nudges the chair so that its back now touches the two person table Sheetal is seated at, and sits down straddling the chair with his chin resting on his hands on the chair back.

“You were frowning at the paper you were reading. I walked in five minutes ago, but you were totally trying to stare a hole through that paper. You didn’t even notice me, so I thought I’d just get my order before I walk over.”

“No that’s not really true...,” Sheetal begins to protest. She leans forward and looks Mark evenly in the eyes.

“All right Mark. When are you meeting her?”

“What? Who?” Mark questions with a surprised chuckle.

“The girl behind the counter. She’s new here and you found her cute. So you decided to speak to her first instead of letting me know you were here.”

“Come on, Sheeps. Do you really think of me like that?”

“Yes I do. I know you. So, when are you meeting that girl?”

“Kimberly. Her name is Kimberly and you’ll get a chance to talk to her at Megan’s party tonight.”

“How do you always manage to do that? You ask and no girl ever says no.”

“Ya, I’m James Bond.”

“No seriously. What do you say to these girls that they just go ‘ya okay. I’ll, like, have, like, dinner with you. And, like, then some.’”

“Wow you make them sound so duh. It doesn’t work that way at all.”

“So how does it work?”

“I don’t know why some girls agree to go on a date with me and some don’t. I so wish there was a magic word or line I could say and they’d always agree, but there isn’t. If that were true, I would just call up Scarlet Johanssen and say it over and over again. Okay maybe I’d call Maggie Gyllenhall as well. Oh and Michelle Wong”

“What no Megan Fox?”

“Naah. She’s over-hyped.”

“And if you like Michelle that much, why don’t you just ask her?”

“I did”


“And what? It’s not happening.”

“And you’re still harboring feelings for her while you ask other girls out?”

“No not really. Sheeps why am I in the hot seat?”

“Because I want to know. And you were late.”

“Sorry about that.”

“Ya I know. But you still haven’t answered my question.”

“Well, I asked Michelle out last week.”


“And she’s not interested.”

“What did she say?”

“That she’s not interested.”

“Ouch. That’s cold. I always felt she was a little, you know, blunt.”

“No, not really. I think it’s very mature of her, actually. I appreciate her honesty and forthrightness. It’s what I liked about her to begin with. I sometimes wish others would follow her example and say what they think and mean more often. She’s not stupid, you know. I think she just happens to choose being honest and direct more often than others.”

“Listen to you defending her.”

“Not wanting to date me doesn’t make her a bad person, right? And that’s how life is.”

“Like how?”

“You know, the ones you like are not interested in you and the one’s who are interested in you, you don’t like.”

Sheetal cracks up. “Really Mark!”

She puts the paper she was reading in the folder on her lap, closes it, puts it on the table and leans forward. With elbows on the folder and her face cradled between closed palms, she asks “In that case how do you explain people being together at all?”

“Some of it is genuine attraction and compatibility, you know, when you find someone who you instantly gel with. You just seem to get each other even when you disagree. Strongly. “

“And the rest?”

“Biology and economics.”

“Huh? Are you implying that every relationship is some form of prostitution?” Sheetal frowns and nestles a wisp of hair behind her ear.

“No, not at all. I’m referring to the, you know, the prime directive.”

“The What? Is this an obscure Matrix reference? You do know that I never get most of your movie references, right?”

Mark chuckles. “‘God is happiest when His children are at play.’ Or in other words, breed and be happy. At some point both the guy and the gal say ‘you’ll do’.”

Sheetal leans back and crosses her hands. “You mean people just give up and settle for something they think is ‘good enough’.”

“Yep. That’s why it’s called ‘settling down’”. Mark takes a sip of his coffee.

“Not very romantic at all.”

“Not much is.” Mark gulps another sip.

“I think that’s why arranged marriages work in some cultures.”


“Your cultural heritage for one still has arranged marriages, right? I think they work because both the guy and the girl come in with the idea of ‘it’s a compromise’ and decide to rough it out.”

Sheetal frowns. “Next you’re going to say that matching Horoscopes is the way to go.”

“Well, at its very basis, the idea is that marriages are successful if the couple has compatible personalities. If you think about it, modern internet dating websites do a similar thing. Aren’t you on one of these sites?”

Sheetal cocks an eyebrow. “Well, Misha made us all sign up just to see who’d bite.”

“And Jim doesn’t mind?” Mark cocks a smile.

“I don’t think he knows and this was before I really met him. And I don’t respond to any emails I get.” Sheetal fires a mild stink eye in Mark’s direction.

“So did you fill out their extensive questionnaire?”

“Well not really. Misha just wanted us to put up pretty pictures and write the bare minimum, so I just breezed through the personality section.”

“So if you were serious, you would take the time to answer all those questions. Right?”

“Ya, I guess.”

“So then they could use that data and come up with a Meyer’s Briggs like personality profile for you. And by you, I mean any one who sings up.”

Sheetal shrugs, “Yes, I guess. And your point is?”

“Well,” Mark gesticulates with a partially close fisted left hand:. his index finger and thumb joining as if trying to pierce something with a sharp pointed needle. “… given a personality profile, these websites will try to find personalities which in their ‘experience’ will best match.”

“And by their ‘experience’,” Sheetal accentuates with air quotes, “you mean the research they performed across several long lasting, happy couples.”


“So what’s wrong with that?”

“Well nothing per se. But, it does beg the question of what guarantee they have that personalities really govern, at least to a statistical significance, the success or failure of a relationship.”

“Honestly Mark! How can someone stay married if they can’t even get along with their spouse?”

“Compromise. It could be for a number of reasons, the least of which could be social standing, support for a child, possible future fortune or even asylum or citizenship.”

“I can’t believe that everyone who answered that they were happy had one of these ulterior motives.”

“No not everyone, but it still is very possible, right?”

“Let’s say so for the sake of the argument. I want to see where you’re going with this.”

“The point I’m making is that no one really knows what works and what doesn’t. Personality profiles are merely an attempt to quantify the success of a given relationship. Who’s to say that the profiles most opposed won’t come together and live happily ever after?”

“So you’re going to say horoscopes are also such an attempt? A projection from the domain of relationships into the dimensions of a personality profile and finally on to the real number line as a percentage of goodness of a match?”

“Wow Sheetal. Leave it to you to come up with a mathematical definition of everything. You do know that you sound super scary when you do that, right? Next thing I know you’ll be spouting equations with Greek letters and curly braces on the napkins.”

“Are you calling me a geek?”

“Only as a badge of honor. I swear. But, yes, essentially Hororscopes could be looked upon as such a mapping. And they needn’t also be that different from personality profiles.”

“You’re saying there is a correlation between a person’s date and time of birth and their behavior. And hence, there’s a correlation between the position of the planets and stars and the stability of a relationship.”

“Exactly!” Mark snaps his fingers on both hands. “What if there is a statistically significant correlation between behaviors and astrological charts? More so, what if there is a stronger and more direct correlation between astrological patterns and successful relationships, independently of behaviors?”

“Mark, you do know that line of reasoning is specious at best? Going by your logic, I could pin the success of relationships on how tall grass grows every year. Or how close the Boston Redsox come to winning the World Series each year. Just because we can propose a metric does not mean it really applies.”

“But people have been doing this for ages and it seems to work out! Look at the success rate of Asian Indian marriages versus those out here in the Western world. The US is infamous for having a divorce rate of 50 percent. Nearly half the marriages in the entire country end in divorce. That’s no better than a coin flip. Wouldn’t it make sense to go with something that can better those odds?”

“Sure. I mean everyone wants a ‘lived happily ever after’ tag line. But that doesn’t mean you put your unquestioning faith in a dubious predictor.”

“But if it betters the odds, how can it be more dubious that not using anything?”

“There is a certain stock market predictor that postulates that the Market will go up if an NFC team wins the Super Bowl and will go down if an AFC team wins. The Super Bowl Stock market predictor has upwards of an 80% success rate in the past 40 years. Those are some impressive odds wouldn’t you say?”

“Yeah, but you won’t find me betting my money on that.”

“And why’s that, Mark?” Sheetal asks with a smile.

“Because, I don’t see a relation between how a football team performs and what the stock market does.”

“Even though there’s a high proven correlation and past record of performance?” Sheetal giggles.

“Yes, we all know correlation is not causation. Stop making fun.”

“And yet, so many people watch Punxsutawney Phil come out every winter to let them know if the winter is going to last another six weeks by looking at his shadow or not.”

Mark laughs. “Yeah, I always found Ground Hog Day supremely idiotic. Loved Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell in the movie though.”

“And yet every year millions participate in the same ritual.”

“But it’s not like everyone believes in it. Most just do it as a reason to party. It’s a joke and everyone knows it.”

“Sadly that’s not the case with Horoscopes and other modes of divination.”

“Yes my dear, not everyone is as smart and rational as you. It is a fairly human failing to want a apprehensible explanation of why things happen. And more so to protect one’s self from painful future experiences.”

“And to save myself from another painful experience, I have to leave now. I have to stop by the Library and then I’m picking Jim up from the airport. And then we have to be at Megan’s to meet you and Kimberly!”

“Just be gentle when you meet me with her.” Mark catches Kimberly looking at him, and waves at her and cracks a smile.

“Oh look, she’s been checking you out. That’s a good sign.” Sheetal giggles and waves out to Kim, who now looks puzzled.

“Alright, get out of here. I’ll see you at Megan’s. Hopefully, you haven’t scared Kimberly away.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How to blow more money

As a sequel to my previous blog about investing or blowing your money, here's an investment strategy that I have been roughly following:

“First, identify the quantity of cash to be put to work -- example: 20%. Second, break the trade into digestible chunks -- example: break it into four parts, 5% each. Third, implement the first trade today -- example: invest 5% into equities today. Fourth, set a date for implementing the second trade -- example: two months from today invest the second 5%. Fifth, implement third and forth segments if market pullbacks occur -- example: invest the remaining 10% of the cash on market pullbacks. And sixth, after the date of the second trade occurs, return to step one with the remaining cash -- example: two months from today, if the market never provides the opportunity to buy on a pullback, break the remaining 10% up into three to four parts and follow a strategy similar to the one utilized for investing the first 10%."

Source: Riverfront Investment Group’s strategy for committing new capital to stocks

My personal strategy veers from this a little bit. I keep researching stocks so that I am prepared to act when the date rolls around. Also, during my research should I come across a security that really appeals to me, I will pull the gun and trade prior to the defined date. If not, (and for the most part) we're back on the systematic investment tracks.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Palm's Pre-eminent device

Image source:


A couple of weeks ago, I happened to lose my faithful Sprint clam-shell phone. I had come to like the LG Muziq as a no-nonsense functional device. Yes, it could play mp3s, browse the web and take pictures. It also sported a loud enough speaker phone and ran on Sprint's reliable and fast CDMA network. But, it definitely lacked the spunk of the iPhone or any other smartphone for that matter. It had a GPS chip built in, which I never used in the two years that I owned it. It had an address book that I never completely filled, but for that matter, never did rely on entirely either. But, I still liked it because it was a work horse and worked as a very reliable communication device. My Dear LG Muziq (VX 570), rest in peace, wherever you are.

Sprint Service contract

Well, now that I had lost a phone, the good folks at Sprint were only to helpful to sell me another one. Luckily, my contract was expiring in a week's time and I was eligible for Sprint's $150 rebate on a new phone and plan. I didn't have any insurance on my Muziq, so getting a similar replacement was not a cheap option.

I had been following the buzz on the Pre for a while, so decided to go take a closer look. My prior experience with it hadn't been as compelling: I had managed to freeze the UI when I ran several applications. To be fair, I was looking at a device in a Sprint booth setup at a company fair and there were tons (> 20) of apps open when that happened. Even then, it did recover after freezing for about a minute (we were all engineers and all very patient technophiles).

So this time, since I needed a phone anyway, I decided to splurge for the Pre. A word of caution to others with wallet friendly plans: you will need to sign up for a $69.99 or $99.99 per month all inclusive data plan. With my Muziq, I was already paying extra for night and weekend minutes from 7 ($5) and the Sprint vision plan ($15) and unlimited messaging ($5) on top of my flexible plan ($29.99). So for me, getting 450 minutes, unlimited messaging, unlimited data, NFL mobile, Sprint TV, Sprint Navigation, Mobile Facebook, Mobile Youtube and a cool phone for $20 more / month made absolute sense.

The device cost me $350 upfront with $150 mail-in rebate ($200 + taxes). I hear now the price has dropped to $150 (+ taxes)! If you buy the Pre in the State of Broke, and by that I mean California, your taxes are generally higher. I'm not sure if they've instituted a disposal fee on cell phones yet, but ya, the taxes are higher.

So plan costs aside, there are several other features of the Pre that make a whole lot of economic and ergonomic sense to me. And these in a large portion balance out other costs typically associated with cell phones.

Physical attraction

I'm all charged up

First and foremost: I have always bemoaned the lack of standardized chargers for cellphones. These are additional devices one needs to purchase and add to the hidden cost of owning cellphones. Manufacturers and networks perhaps considered this a cozy form of "lock-in" but it ends up being just inconvenient. Even Apple, make that especially Apple, products suffer from this. BUT NOT THE PALM PRE!! Much to my surprise, it came with a sleek looking travel charger! And the best of all, the charger on the Pre is a standard MICRO-USB port (not a mini-USB port typically found on your digital cameras. Micro-USB is newer standard with a smaller connection form factor)!

Which means replacing Palm Pre's chargers are cheap! This also means that I instantly have a Car charger since my Car USB adapter now becomes a car charger! This in of itself can save you upwards of $10 (depending on how savvy you are with EBay!). I remember having to shell out $30 for my Samsung phones while travelling. But I won't get bitten like that any more!

Also, connecting your Pre to your computer is a cinch and doesn't require expensive and non-standard cables. Again, money saved. If you have one of the newer cars that provide USB ports for mp3 playback, you not only have a charger, but also a built-in player interface!

No longer do I feel trapped and at the mercy of difficult to procure connectors and chargers. No longer do I need to lug around dozens of different little black wires, adapters and connectors. THANK YOU PALM, FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART!

And the joy doesn't stop there. The Pre comes with a pair of standard 3.5mm bud-headphones. While these are, as several websites will attest, not the very best earphones money can buy, they are definitely very functional and comfortable. And they are also, I can't emphasize this enough, standard. If you want, you can easily hook up your expensive noise-cancellation headphones without any problems. Such wasn't the case with most of my previous cell-phones and makes the Pre's design in my eyes very thoughtful and convenient.

Hold me

The device itself is fairly compact and glossy. Several have described it as "plasticky", but I found the device sturdy and useful. Several online reviews have described the slide-out keyboard as "razor sharp", but I found no truth in those assertions. The slide out keyboard feels robust and easy to grip. It does not, however, slide very well with one hand, and typically using the Pre is a two-handed operation. DO NOT OPERATE THE PRE WHILE DRIVING (I haven't tried this, but am willing to bet that it is difficult, especially if you password lock your phone. Btw, I highly recommend password locking for reasons highlighted later).

The keys maybe small, but are easy to use. I have neither very large hands, nor are my fingers stylus sized. I am able to use both my thumbs for typing and the full QWERTY keyboard is definitely much easier to use than the poke-and-correct soft-keyboard on the iPhone. The "shift" and "caps lock" keys work a little differently than their regular full-sized counterparts. The "shift" key is an orange key on the Pre and selects alternate characters or numbers. It, however, does not toggle between upper and lower case letters. That's where the "caps lock" key, denoted by a bold up-arrow, comes in.

Both the orange "shift" key and the up-arrow "caps lock" keys are by default one-shot, i.e. pressing them once invokes their functions for the immediately subsequent key press. E.g. if you press the up arrow key and typed the letters h, y, p, o the text would appear as "Hypo". To make the shift key "stick", press it twice. Press it once more to return to default mode.

Pre's key interface is very intuitive and very well done. Pressing the shift key once causes a blue circle to show up under the cursor indicating that the next character entered will the alternate text. When a character is entered, the circle disappears indicating a return to default mode. When the shift key is pressed twice, a black circle appears indicating that the shift key is "stuck". All text entered while the black circle is shown will be the alternate characters on the keypad. Pressing the shift key once more causes the circle to go away, indicating a return to default. A similar tack is followed with the "caps lock" key. However, instead of a filled circle, an arrow (filled blue for one-shot and filled black when "stuck") appears.

Touch Me

The Pre comes with Copy + Paste functionality, though I am yet to entirely master this. Perhaps some manual somewhere describes how best to do this, but I generally need a couple of attempts to get the cursor where I really want it to be. I tap twice in text to move the cursor to a particular location. To select text, I tap twice and drag my finger. This isn't usually very easy and I sorely miss arrow keys. Once text is selected, I copy / cut / paste using the Edit menu at the top left of the app in question. This works, but don't expect to rely on this mechanism for any amount of serious editing. For things like Facebook and Twitter status updates, you are much better off simply using the backspace and retyping. Perhaps if someone has a better technique, I am willing to learn! so let me know!!

Watch those hands

The Pre, being a very smooth glossy black plastic device, is a natural fingerprint magnet. However, Palm very thoughtfully provided a stylish black and orange chamois cover that not only protects the device from scratches but also helps keep it clean. I've seen iPhone users squeal and ohh-and-ahh over my Pre and its brilliant skin to no end!

NOTE: you will NOT be able to make your Pre look tacky by using some form of swaddling skin over it. Doing so will probably hinder the slide-out keyboard. You are better off using the cover Palm provided or buying something similar. It is the very convenient and functional on the whole.

Update: 09/17/2009

It's not just a physical thing

It's all about who you know

If you have changed phones as many times as I have, either due to expiration of your contract or through an untimely loss to the vicissitudes of the Universe, then you have most likely suffered the pain of losing all your contact information. You have probably also learned quickly the value of frequent backups, but have consistently run into the problem of synchronizing your new device with all your contact information. You also probably ended up having the same persons contact information in several different entries and formats. Well, at least I did.

The good thing was that because I had wireless backup on my plan already, all my contacts were neatly backed-up on Sprint's cloud. However, getting these on to my new Palm wasn't as I had expected. I expected that I would sign up for the wireless backup plan with the Pre and viola all my contacts would be loaded in to it again. Bada bing, bada boom. Errrnnnn!!!

The Pre is incompatible with Sprint's wireless backup service! And before you can curse out "retards" at Sprint, I'd ask you to breathe deeply and reconsider. Despite the fact that the Sprint salesperson told me this after I had already purchased the Pre, I have to hand it to Sprint's call-in customer service. They guided me to a download assistant app that can transfer my contacts from Outlook to my Pre profile / device. However, this too wasn't exactly what I was looking for, since the transfer is ONE WAY, i.e. I could get contacts on to the Pre / Palm's profile, but then I would have locked myself in.

Again, though, Palm surprised me. Instead of pulling an Apple / BMW on me and cruelly locking me to some horrendous closed interface, I had the option of using Palm’s Synergy. The moment I entered my Gmail and Facebook account information, it automagically pulled in and merged contacts! I now had people I’d never previously managed to add to my phone contacts, all in one place!

Getting the numbers in from my Sprint Wireless backup became ridiculously painless too: I exported all my contact info from the Sprint Website to a CSV (comma-separated values text) file. Next, I imported this into my Gmail contacts and before I could blink, the Pre had literally wirelessly synced all the new numbers as well!

Synergy isn’t panacea though: several of my contacts were repeated in Gmail and appeared so on the Palm as well. But Google’s Contacts management interface is fairly functional and merging similar contacts is relatively painless. Again, as you update your Gmail contacts, the Pre syncs almost instantaneously. I’m not entirely sure if there’s a push protocol underneath it all or if Pre polls that often.

The Pre also pulls in profile photos from Gmail contacts, so if your contacts have set a profile picture, it shows up on the Pre’s address book, and also when your friends call. Which I found super neat.

Sidebar: not sure if this opens up a security hole / malicious code execution exploit of some sort, e.g. if some of your contacts use a specially crafted JPEG. If this really a concern, one must wonder what kind of people you’ve been chatting with :)

Overall, it took me about 5 minutes to go from “I don’t have anyone’s contact information because I just lost my phone” to “Dude, how many freaking email addresses do you really have?” And “Babe, that’s a sweet profile pic!”

Talk to me

I long resisted the iPhone because of the lack of a physical keypad. I still fear that having a cracked screen will make the phone entirely useless during an emergency. Laugh all you want, but I have been through such an incident: the screen on my clam-shell was cracked, but I could still dial the number using the keypad. And I love the fact that with the Pre it is still possible to call someone using just the slide-out keyboard.

Calling people is easy on the Pre. You can either use the touch keypad, or the slide-out keyboard, which has the phone keypad highlighted in orange over the letters of the English alphabet.

Remember the Orange “shift” key? You don’t have to use it when dialing! The Pre searches through your contacts to determine if you are entering someone’s name or typing in a number and all options are shown in a easily scrollable, selectable list. If typing numbers, you can simply hit the “Enter” key after you are done typing the number and Pre starts dialing. Sweet. I typically prefer the keypad for calling people, but have found the on-screen keyboard fairly functional as well.

Navigating IVRS (interactive voice response systems, e.g. the automated menu that greets when you call your bank) using the Pre is easy as well: move the device away from your ear and the screen lights up with the keypad shown. Again, I prefer using the slide out keyboard, but the keypad is very useful. To add another person to an ongoing conversation, you tap the “person with a plus sign” icon on the bottom right.

Answering phones when your phone is locked is thoughtfully done as well. You don’t need to enter your password for picking up a call: simply slide the lock icon and you can talk. Use any other feature, however, requires you to unlock the phone. This is a minor inconvenience compared to typical clamshell phones, but is unavoidable.

Sup YouTwitFace!

The Pre comes preloaded with Facebook, and Youtube apps, which are generally very functional. There are Twitter apps available in the Pre app catalog, but I haven’t downloaded it yet, since I’m not a huge Twitter user. I know, I know, I’m one of those who didn’t participate in Iran’s failed revolution. Nor am I one who ardently follows Ashton Kutcher. Or CNN for that matter.

I think the iPhone Facebook app is a little more functional though: on the Pre, while you can update your status and read feeds about other people’s statuses, you can “share” or respond to someone’s published status / photos. I found that mildly annoying, but the problem is easily resolved using the Pre’s web-browser. But still, if someone from Facebook reads this, I hope it moves them enough to update their app for the Pre!

Which brings us to Pre’s web-browser. It is awesome. I’ve used the iPhone browser and felt the Pre’s browser to be just as good, if not better. It supports the same auto orientation (from landscape to portrait and back) depending on the orientation of the phone. It also responds to the de facto standard two finger zoom-shrink and one finger pan / focus controls.

Where the h3$$ am I?

The Pre also comes with two mapping / navigation applications: Sprint Navigator and Google Maps. Both display your current location on a map, though Google Maps is a 2D display. Also, it doesn’t provide any turn by turn directions. Sprint Navigator, on the other hand, does, and with street names! The Pre is well on its way to replacing my Garmin since I never need update maps. I haven’t used Sprint Navigator in no-network conditions though, so am not sure if it is reliant on assisted modes or can function standalone.

Compared to the Garmin though, the Navigator appears a little brusque and chatty at times. When starting up in parking lot, the Garmin typically starts off with “Please drive to highlighted route”. Most GPS devices tend to be similar in this regard because they lack orientation / trajectory when still. However, Sprint Navigator starts with the rather unhelpful “You are now off-track.” To which my response typically is “Gee thanks, Captain Obvious!” Also when going along really long roads, Sprint Navigator often says things like “Drive 2.2 miles to (sic) Continue to…” [LongRoad], which is a little jarring.

HOWEVER, given the fact that it is FREE (and by that I mean, already paid for and at a price that brings so many other features), it is totally worth it. I haven’t used Google Maps or my Garmin once after discovering Sprint Navigator.
The Pre has only one speaker and while it is not as loud as the Garmin, it is very usable and functional in a closed car. It is almost impossible to use in a convertible with the top down, but then so is the Garmin, and as I imagine, any other device that does not hook into the car’s audio system.

My car doesn’t have Bluetooth, so I’m not sure if the Sprint Navigator can use that. If it can, it would be at par with several newer standalone GPS devices.

Call-quality on the speakerphone is generally very good. I found the speaker louder than my previous phone and none of the people I spoke to over the speakerphone complained of echoes or low sound.

In your face!

The Pre comes with a point-and-shoot 3 MP camera. It, interestingly, also supports a surprisingly bright LED flash. The picture quality is fair, but definitely not a match for anything Canon ever produced. While iPhone owners told me it was better than theirs, I do not appreciate the fact that it suffers from the same “soft-key” problem of the iPhone: you have to tap the screen to take a picture. This renders self-portraits and impromptu arm’s length group captures impossible. I preferred the dedicated key and the “vanity screen” of my clamshell. The Pre does give a polished surface on the back, which some (e.g. women obsessed with their lips?) may find helpful.

But here’s the most important part: the pics captured on your Pre can be immediately as attachments, or uploaded to your Facebook profile or shared via MMS. Take that iPhone! You can ofcourse browse them on the phone with the same intuitive flick and swish and zoom and pan gestures. And as expected, the photos auto-orient themselves depending on how you shot them and how you view them.

Coming soon:

USB media sync
SPRINT NETWORK and service
Built-in WiFi vs. EVDO / 1x data


While there are a few things I'd like to see Palm improve in the next generation of the Pre, I am very satisfied with Pre and Sprint's service. I have seen my iPhone owning friends go ga-ga over the Pre and I have never suffered any dropped calls or the slow network issues. The features and accessories are very thoughtfully designed and make this device exceedingly easy to use and supremely functional. I have, thus far, no qualms in encouraging you to switch to the Pre and Sprint should you find yourself in the market for a new phone / plan. FWIW, I’m not a Palm or Sprint shareholder as of this writing :)

Justify Full

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How to blow money

As we all get wiser, there are different things we profess to have learnt. In my case, some of my professions seem to inspire curiosity in others. Which brings us to the topic at hand: investing in equities (aka stocks). Here's my spiel:

Know why you want to invest because all investment comes with a measure of risk. Understand how much risk you can tolerate as a person and invest accordingly. this may sound counter-intuitive, but the last thing you want to do is buy a ton of stocks with aggressive enthusiasm and foolish optimism, then get queasy when your stocks take a dive and sell them in a knee jerk reaction ("buy high sell low" is not something you want to do).

if anything, slow down your decisions to buy / sell till you think you understand what you are doing. I personally find making a spreadsheet with relevant numbers and rationale and research before I decide to buy or pass on a security as a very good way of naturally slowing down the decisions. At the same time, it helps me build a strong case to backup my decision. If I know why I took that decision I can learn from the result: if it ends up well, I know I have hit on a method that seems to work. If not, I can analyze to see where I went wrong, what data / knowledge I lacked that could have averted my loss. Noting down when the security was bought and sold also helps in tax accounting.

I was recommended the following books, and i think i was very fortunate that i did read these before doing anything else:

* Benjamin Graham, The Intelligent Investor
* Benjamin Graham, Security Analysis. This book is HUGE and BORING. I haven't been able to get through it all, but reading the Intelligent Investor gave me a good highlight of what to expect. So now I use this as an ecyclopedia to brush up on analyzing a particular financial statement and occassionally as a sleep aid.
* Peter Stanyer, Guide to Investment strategy. This is so much info that I actually understood what this book was saying a couple of months after i thought i was done reading it. i went back to its pages when i started hearing about CDOs, CLOs, mortgage backed securities, credit default swaps, etc. all related to the credit crisis of last year. This book actually highlighted the risks with each of these categories, and to me, presaged the mess we're in.

I like these books because they try to keep the "mumbo-jumbo" like 200-day and 50-day moving averages and "trend patterns" (e.g. "higher highs higher lows", "high P/E at the bottom", "following the smart money") out of the investment. To me those "patterns" represent speculation because you don't really know why the market just did what it did, but you still go along with it because it's done so on a few occasions in the past. To me that logic is like "Mr. X went crazy last Tuesday when it was a full moon. Today is Tuesday and a full moon, so expect Mr. X to go loony today." (Sidebar: the words "lunatic" and "loony" are based on such beliefs. I kid you not. I'm sure goddess Luna looses it every time someone abuses her name thus. Maybe she does have that effect on people).

For "inspirational" reading, I like Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad Poor Dad. He has several others along the same lines, but none actually teach you much about investing in stocks. They talk about investment in general and how he got smart and rich investing in real estate and running his own business. Strictly bed-time reading to inspire you to want to invest, according to me.

If you have already read these and are ready to start doing homework, here's my current strategy (remember to do your own due diligence. don't "invest" just because someone you know "thinks it's a great idea"):

I look for companies with:

* Low Price to Book ratios. I like them if they're under 1. There were several of these around March 9, but are disappearing fast as the market rallies. Apparently Buffet recommends sticking to those with P/B ratios below 2.5x.
* High current ratio (CR) and quick ratio (QR). These are related to how much cold hard cash companies have on had compared to their liabilities. The higher the better. I definitely stick to above 1.5x.
* Low Debt. Also sometimes "long term debt to equity". The lower the better. if it's 0, it's got my attention, but i definitely like it to be less than 0.5x.
* Low P/E. The above estimate the value and soundness of a company. but it's stock price can move independently. P/B and P/E are my measures of "how far away from sanity" the stock prices have drifted. if the p/e is lower than the average historical p/e for the company, it's got my attention, but then i'm really scouring news releases to find out why the market thinks the price should be this low. is it because there are clouds on the horizon (lawsuits, loss of business patents, strong competition, rising costs etc.) or the market has just forgotten about this stock. I prefer it when it's the latter :)
* Dividends: i like it if the company has a strong track record of paying dividends on time. if they're increasing, even better.

that's about my current level of understanding. Each day I learn something new, and constantly look out for learning anything that scares me about the stocks i've already bought.

To make this interesting, feel free to send me your picks and i can tell you my opinion on those.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Internet is a wonderful thing

So, I'm sitting at home, having lunch on a Sunday afternoon when I catch a screening of "A Beautiful Mind". Right around the scene where John Nash is "arrested" by Dr. Rosenberg, I noticed a face in the extras in the scene I had never noticed before... It was only a fleeting glimpse and I swore to myself that I saw Bryce Dallas Howard. Given the fact that it was directed by her father Ron "Opie" Howard, and his propensity for casting his family in minor roles in his films, I was reasonably sure. But, I wanted to be sure. So I Imdb-ed "A Beautiful Mind", "Bryce Dallas Howard" and found no link... "Bing and Google are your friends"... after a persistent search of keyterms and scouring through websites, i stumbled upon confirmation at this website!

Image source:

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Pakistan suffers India's cancer

It is fortunate that Pakistan is beginning to realize the true malevolence of fanatical terrorism. It is equally, if not more so, unfortunate that the realization comes at a large human cost.

There have been several political and social events of note in Pakistan, that point to increasing strife with the Taliban and consequent loss of peace, property and, sadly, life.

This is only the latest

Some might be tempted to describe the situation with any of the following adages and phrases:
  • "What you sow is what you reap"
  • "have a taste of your own medicine"
  • "playing with fire"
  • "evil begets evil"
  • "We told you so"

I would disagree. Schadenfreude is hardly the apt response: an unstable Pakistan is really bad for India. Pakistan should realize that it is being consumed by a cancer and needs help. India must be proactive and seize the opportunity to aid Pakistan in eliminating fanatical radicals. Pakistan must ask for and accept the assistance offered by India.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Taxes are a Bi**ch!

In a string of extra-ordinarily embarrassing events, while trying to grow its inner circle, the inchoate Obama administration has suffered another tax-related set-back. And this one was, some would say, unsettlingly close to home.

"It appears to be a systemic failure in the Obama administration's vetting process", quipped an regular Washington insider familiar with several previous administrations' vetting processes. Under the strict condition of anonymity, this person further divulged "... vetting is a very delicate process.. it is more art than science. On the one hand, you want absolutely the perfect candidate for the job, because the American people deserve nothing less. While on the other, you have time pressures. Nobody wants to drop the ball here. And good candidates, typically, are hard to find. Especially, here [in Washington]. Typically, administrations quickly settle for someone who just looks the part."

Lindsay Siftmeister, who has been following the recruitment processes of several previous administrations and large, aggressive businesses, opined that "with government growing and a new batch of inexperienced leaders being inducted, there is a serious shortage of old, well-known personalities around the hallowed halls of power. Look, every nomination process has its fits and starts, sometimes even before getting to the confirmation stage."

As an example of past incidents, Ms. Siftmiester alludes to the nomination and subsequent redaction of Harriet Meiers. "Harriet was a perfectly good candidate with a pleasing and charming personality, who upon further introspection decided the job was not where she wanted her legal career to go", said Ms. Siftmeister animatedly. "And who can forget Bork?", she added, referring to another judicial nominee, Rober Bork, whose nomination was so severely contested and cross-examined that the phrase "being Borked" was inducted in the unofficial Washington parlance to mean "decimation of one's self-esteem by intense and combative questioning".

Dr. Artho "doc" Cygnus, chief nomination strategist at Always Right, a Washington based neo-conservative think-tank, considers the spate of tax based nominee retractions a symptom of the "'everyone deserves a star' and 'everyone's a winner' mentality plaguing the Left. As a result we have people like senator Tom Daschle who 'miss' paying taxes to the tune of several thousands of dollars. It is just a perfect example of 'not eating your own cooking'. The same law-makers who repeatedly vote to introduce new taxes while increasing existing ones, shirk away when they need to pay. It's as if the laws don't apply to them."

The candidate in this most recent controversy, though, is of a different breed altogether. "It just wasn't something we would normally expect!", explained the Adjunct Director for White-House News and Entertainment Cycle Management, Barbara Saunders. Displaying a dossier with photographs and relevant tax documents, Ms. Saunders proceeded to explain Bo's case further.

Bo, a Portuguese water dog, was presented to the Obama's by Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. "The complication", explained Ms. Saunders, "arises from the recent trouble in the economy and the unprecedented intervention by Congress in the financial markets."

In an effort to balance the enormous bailouts, Congress added legislation to expand the tax base: the new legislation now includes all vertibrates that generate income above twice the median national human income. "This caught quite a few people unaware", offered Ms. Saunders.

Several tax shops such as H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt are reportedly scrambling to prepare last minute amendments and extensions. "Filing K9 returns by April 15th seems almost an impossibility. Even Paris Hilton's chihuahua won't be able to make it by the deadline", mentioned Timothy "Guy" Acksman, the local H&R Block representative.

At last count, the soon to be indicted Bo was seen running around the White-House lawns chasing Sasha and Malia. "Poor Bo has no idea what is in store for him", lamented Daniel Umass, Asst. Director of Verdant Vegetation and Floral Irrigation, as he watched the trio run around.

In other unrelated news:

pirates continue to harass denizens of the world, as three more non-American ships were captured, looted and sunk off the coast of Somalia.

In Uzbekistan, a dozen people were injured and 5 people, including 3 children under the age of 5, died when an improvised explosive device was found by the children in a toy. A local radical Islamic separatist group is suspected.

Fresh violence broke out between radical Christian missionaries and local Hindu residents in a remote town in South India. While tensions have been growing over the past year over increasing conversion rates between religions, it is as yet unclear what precipitated the riots.

Based on the success of ABC's Dancing with the Stars and Fox's American Idol, GBS is launching a new reality show based on celebrity examinations. "We were very inspired by the response Katie elicited in the 8pm - 10pm viewer demographic", explained a top GBS Programming official while referring to Katie Couric's televised colonoscopy. "We plan to have competitive colon and prostate examinations, and every inch will be televised." Several celebrities including Donald Brump, Barbara Ztriezand, Warabara Balters, Yannifer Yanniston, Bilbo Riely, Wolf Blazter and Stephane Kollibretti have already reportedly signed on for the first season.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Meaning of Life… by Chance

I want my money back. (Thanks, Meatloaf!) Or something. Like millions of students who come to the United States for higher education, I too came with education as the last thing on my mind (no, not really… but then saying that makes the opening more dramatic).

I wanted to have the “American experience”, you know, meet with people of different ethnicities and cultures, interact, learn, and know and befriend peoples of the world. Interact with not just the “locals,” but also “imports” from places as diverse as South Africa, Brazil, Equador, Columbia, Mexico, Australia, the Middle East, China… you get the picture.

Nashville, in general, and Vanderbilt, in particular, did give me some exposure. I made friends from Vietnam, Korea, Pakistan, Zambia, Ukraine, Thailand, China, Turkey… you name a country or an ethnicity, and I met and befriended someone from there, barring Antarctica (However, I did see the Penguins at the Sea World, and they stank, but I digress). Nashville, while not known for its diversity, surprisingly did not limit the experience even when I left school and started working. My acquaintances expanded to Cherookee, African Americans, Japanese, Africans, Irish, Armenians, Iranians and many other ethnicities.

Since I was spending time meeting different people, I naturally spent less time with my brethren from India. I was perhaps even labeled a “coconut” or “desi averse” by the not as social “desi junta.” Even if I did, I do not mind. I had stepped out to broaden my horizons and by George, no slur was going to deter me from meeting fascinating people and garnering wonderful anecdotes.

A few years thence, I moved to the Golden Shores of the Bay Area, known amongst other things, for its immense and diverse immigrant population. I was excited to giddiness at the prospect of meeting so many more interesting people. Perhaps I might meet a few interesting gals as well. The possibilities seemed endless. Perhaps NYC might offer more, but this was exciting nonetheless.

Cut to a year later: I just stepped out of a late night screening of “Luck… by chance.” With a kazillion other desis. Watching a Hindi movie with a theater packed with people Indian origin, all talking, cheering and clapping during the movie made me feel like I was back in a theater in Mumbai. The exclamations and exultations at the appearance of Bollywood icons like Rani Mukerji, Shah Rukh Khan and Hritik Roshan were surreal.

Image source:

The audience and the movie, however, were a remarkable catalyst for an amazing realization.

The movie revolved around the lives of struggling actors in the glitzy world of the Hindi movie industry (or sometimes identified with the now despised epithet “Bollywood”) as they rubbed shoulders with fate and “star kids” (children of famous previous generation movie stars).

The movie caricatured the various industry stereotypes: an emotional and porky Punjabi producer, a domineering “star mother”, a ditzy “star daughter”, a hack director, a frustrated script-writer and their interaction with the gossip magazines.

It is also notable for many tongue-in-cheek references and cameos: Abhishek Bachchan, Akshaye Khanna, Shah Rukh Khan, Karan Johar, Rani Mukerjee, Diya Mirza all pay obeisance by lighting the screen for a few glorious moments. It reunites Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia, who first appeared together as adolescents in “Bobby”. Mr. Kapoor delights as the porky Punjabi producer “Rolly”, while Ms. Kapadia does ample justice to the role of “Meena”, a domineering “star mother”.

The plot focuses on how difficult it is for an outsider to break into the Hindi film industry, and the kind of people that thrive in the Bollywood environment. However, the irony of the movie is that perhaps the only outsiders in the movie are Isha Sharvani, Juhi Chawla and Dimple Kapadia.

The movie stars:
• Farhan Akhtar: as Vijay Jaisingh, the struggling outsider from Delhi. Farhan is the son of veteran script writer Javed Akhtar and noted scriptwriter Honey Irani.
• Konkona Sen Sharma: Vijay’s first love and wronged girlfriend. Konkona is the daughter of acclaimed Bengali film director and writer Aparna Sen. Aparna Sen Sharma is herself the daughter of noted film critic and director Jibananda Das
• Hritik Roshan: as the haughty movie star. Hritik is the son of, actor turned director, Rakesh Roshan and Pinky. Rakesh Roshan is himself the son of Roshan, a famed Bollywood music director in his own time. Rakesh’s brother Rajesh Roshan is currently a famous Bollywood music director. Pinky is the daughter of noted Bollywood director J Om Prakash.
• Sanjay Kapoor: as the hack movie director, Ranjit Rolly. Sanjay is the son of Bollywood movie producer Surinder Kapoor and the brother of erstwhile star Anil Kapoor and producer Boney Kapoor
• Rishi Kapoor: as Romy Rolly, the harried producer. Rishi Kapoor is the son of the famous film director Raj Kapoor. Raj Kapoor, amongst other things, discovered and debuted Dimple Kapadia opposite Rishi in “Bobby”.

The movie is written and directed by Zoya Akhtar, who is, you guessed it, Farhan’s sister.

The following stars make cameo appearances:
Appearing as themselves

* Shabana Azmi: Farhan’s step-mother and Javed Akhtar’s current wife
* Javed Akhtar: (as previously noted) Farhan’s father and veteran writer
* Aamir Khan: son of film producer Tahir Hussain and nephew of Nassir Hussain, a director and producer
* Shahrukh Khan: a true outsider to Bollywood and currently the “reigning” actor in Bollywood
* Abhishek Bachchan: son of noted Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan
* John Abraham: an outsider!
* Rani Mukherji: a daughter from a family steeped in movie making tradition. Cousin to star Kajol
* Kareena Kapoor: grand-daughter of Raj Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor’s niece
* Dia Mirza: an outsider!
* Karan Johar: son of Yash Johar
* Ranbir Kapoor: grandson of Raj Kapoor and son of Rishi Kapoor
* Akshaye Khanna: son of noted actor Vinod Khanna
* Vivek Oberoi: son of actor Suresh Oberoi

In a very ironic twist then, this particular production refrains from incorporating any new faces either in front or behind the camera. For me, the ensemble cast also highlights a particularly interesting thing: every parent wishes that his or her children prosper and achieve more than him or her. Javed Akhtar was a notable writer, but no more. Likewise Honey Irani, though respected in her own time, was never the siren sizzling up the silver-screen. Their children now call the shots as writers, leading actors, directors and producers.

Such behavior, i.e. doing one’s best and then passing the baton to the next generation, is common across almost all surviving life forms (that I can think of). This then must be the meaning of life: prosper and consume as much as you can, procure as much as you can and pass on to the next generation, so that they may in turn consume, prosper and achieve more than has been achieved before. From this behavior stems forth strife, struggle, betterment, competition and evolution itself. As do rampant consumption and explosive growth till external forces necessitate change.

All the same, while the cause (“meaning”) for the struggle in life has been addressed, the underlying existential question or purpose behind it all still remains, i.e. “Why? Why go through the rigmarole of competing, of consuming, of procreating and to what end?” I suspect, I’m in the same boat as the rest of Creation on that one, because I just don’t know. Yet.

“Why not then just give up then? Why continue living when one cannot find any answers?” one may question further. In all theory, one could. There isn’t anything to stop one from doing that, if one so chooses. I personally think that is not the most logical (or if you prefer the word “correct”) approach.

“Giving up” rests on the *assumption* that there are no “answers”, that life truly has no purpose. But the honest truth is that we don’t know. Probably there isn’t any purpose at all. We’re all just manifestations of energy, going through an inevitable chain of interactions guided by the inexorable irreversibility according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

If, however, there is a purpose, then the only way to find out (if determining the “purpose” is important to the one doing all this questioning) is to continue searching (and living). Furthermore, when the time comes, one must pass on the search and the knowledge (“current state”) to others more capable (usually younger children for they have a longer shelf life and more energy). Hopefully the new charges have greater intuition and insight, so that they may not waste their lives repeating what has already been done, but explore the uncharted paths of discovery. One is then best served by doing things that haven’t been done before.

On the other hand, if there truly is no purpose, then there truly are no constraints, no levels to achieve, no bars to meet and nothing to dictate how one must live life. One is then free to explore and do as one wishes in the sole pursuit of personal fulfillment (whatever that might be).

In either case then, we are manumitted from proscriptions of tradition, the bounds of religion and the constraints of “right” and “wrong” and are free to choose and do as we deem logical or favorable or palatable. We are free to shun the example of a person willing to sacrifice his own son at the behest of unseen and unheard voices. We are liberated from emulating the paragon of perfection who agrees to publicly persecute his wife by placing her on a burning pyre. We can candidly eschew the schizophrenic rants of a senile pedophile who advocates violence in the name of a higher power. We are emancipated from accepting the world around us as perfect and are empowered to reshape it as we see fit.

The questions:
“Why? Why go through the rigmarole of competing, of consuming, of procreating and to what end?”

can then best be answered the way Neo did:

“Because I choose to.”

So then, just like the million other “aliens” watching the movie with me, I am here because my parents strove, struggled and persevered every day of their lives to give me this opportunity of achieving more. So that I may learn and grow and do all that they couldn’t achieve. And more.

So, no, I don’t want my money back. I am broadening my horizons. I am learning about life in ways I couldn’t have back in Mumbai. I am learning about the Life, the Universe and Everything, and myself. This is all worth it, many times over, many lifetimes over.