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November 10, 2008

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Some one to walk over me

November 4, 2008

The elections have become a game of manipulating the media in the US. The better candidate better manipulates. The even better candidate accuses the other of manipulation, in a graceful manipulative swipe. The public buys it all. In this election, McCain and his moll may actually benefit from a sympathy vote after all the media-bashing. Loved this comment someone left on the NYT article.

Not just kids, all of us had a nap

October 2, 2008

Movie review for the film “Kidnap

First a couple of words about the new Inox Jayanagar where we saw this film. Bad cramped parking, very small elevators and insipid popcorn. Avoid.

Now for the most awaited movie of the season. After Jaane Tu.. and Bachna… the expectations from an Imran-Minnisha film were sky high. Sanju baba, of course, is all-time dependable. Gadhvi has done some good work in the past– stylish if not sensible. So we decided to fork over the weekend premium (250 bucks a ticket, including popcorn!) without waiting for reviews.

Bad idea. Gadhvi decided to follow, again, the all-style no-soul route.

**** May contain spoilers ****

The film starts with the dialogue “Maine tumhe kidnap kiya hai” which made the audience erupt in laughter. Not an auspicious beginning for an alleged edge-of-seat-thriller. We decided to give Imran time to find his bearings. Unfortunately, the dialogues kept getting more mundane from then on. It competes with Sarkar 2 for the year’s dullest dialogues. (We so hope Sanjoy watches this movie, he can do another killer review!!)

Vidya Malavade, the hot babe from Chak De, plays Minissha Lamba’s mom in this one!! The casting director must be on drugs. Sadly, this may end Vidya’s career, though Lamba looks way older than her. Lamba, on the other hand, is on a mission to establish a sexy image. She appears extremely uncomfortable in near-nothings– not just in songs but even when she is supposedly in captivity. The costume designer was definitely high. She fails to realise that sexuality is not just in boob-shows but comes as a package– the facial expression, the body language and the come-hither eyes. There was none. She looks as arousing as the mannequin being changed in a shop window. She tries too hard and wastes the goodwill created by the Bachna… role. Plus the fact that even though her role is pivotal, she hardly has anything to do except mouth dialogues fit for a 7 year old and remain undressed.

The acting by Imran Khan is first rate again and I do hope to see him bag the Oscars one day, in footsteps of his uncle. He is a sincere and fiery actor lost in an oddball script. Sadly, the screenplay is so awkward that his intense dialogues appear comical. Whoever in the audience was not sleeping was busy hooting in amusement…

He did have a fun chase scene. Outrageous but well executed stunts. The only highlight of the movie, IMHO. Reminded one of Jackie Chan, wish they kept that tone for the entire film. Sigh!

Now for my main problems with “Kidnap“. Firstly, the revenge motive is thrust down your throat. The plot is as dark as “Zinda“, yet the movie maintains a candy-floss feel throughout. You can easily foresee that every character is inherently good and every one had their “majboori“. Ergo, everyone forgives everyone and lives happily ever after. For the hate that Imran’s character carries for Sanjay Dutt’s character, the latter should have been shown more as the “Dilip Tahil” variety. A typical rich, arrogant and ruthless person. The audience must also feel some of the hate. Yet, we always see him in a sympathetic light, we root for him. That makes the revenge hard to digest. Similarly, Imran’s character should have been a twisted freak but he appears sad, almost as if he’d stop the revenge if someone said Sorry to him just once. He’s a frustratingly good boy, performing evil actions. While that syncs with his character, it jars with the plot.

Secondly, it has some gruesome songs. Picturised badly, appear illogically and sound terrible. They completely halt the narrative and everyone looks so uncomfortable even doing them. Lyrics like “Mausam kya Awesome hai“. Yikes! Sound engineering is quite good, on the other hand. The scene where Imran brings back Minissha after her escape attempt has fabulous background sounds.

Lastly, the climax, like most Bollywood films of late whimpers down after a cool build-up. Somehow our directors start to copy their latest DVD purchase, perhaps Richard Shepard’s 1995 flop Mercy in this case, but don’t have the patience to watch till the end. Or in some cases, like in Zinda, they are unable to stay faithful to the climax for cultural reasons.

Kidnap belongs to the “Anjaam” genre. It is so bad, it finds a cult following. It is a great movie to watch with a large group of friend, hooting and whistling. Just make sure you don’t pay attention to the screen, else you will end up with a power-nap.

Economedy of Errors: Cartoonists View

September 30, 2008









Source: About.Com

"Mr.Bush, we finally found the WMDs. In New York City!!"

September 30, 2008

An article from 2003, to which we should probably have paid attention, here

Thanks to Shashank for sharing this with me. I decided to put it on my blog since it is so relevant even half a decade later, maybe more so. What amazes me is that something so obviously catastrophic was beyond the comprehension of so many highly educated and highly paid “experts” for 5 years. Begs the question, what is it that they actually do besides smoking pot at B-schools?

An excerpt for those too lazy to click through to the BBC site :-)

————-

Buffett warns on investment ‘time bomb’
Tuesday, 4 March, 2003

The derivatives market has exploded in recent years, with investment banks selling billions of dollars worth of these investments to clients as a way to off-load or manage market risk. But Mr Buffett argues that such highly complex financial instruments are time bombs and “financial weapons of mass destruction” that could harm not only their buyers and sellers, but the whole economic system.


Derivatives are financial instruments that allow investors to speculate on the future price of, for example, commodities or shares – without buying the underlying investment. Some derivatives contracts, Mr Buffett says, appear to have been devised by “madmen”. He warns that derivatives can push companies onto a “spiral that can lead to a corporate meltdown”, like the demise of the notorious hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management in 1998.


Derivatives also pose a dangerous incentive for false accounting, Mr Buffett says. The profits and losses from derivates deals are booked straight away, even though no actual money changes hand. In many cases the real costs hit companies only many years later.


This can result in nasty accounting errors. Some of them spring from “honest” optimism. But others are the result of “huge-scale fraud”, and Mr Buffett points to the US energy market, which relied for most of its deals on derivatives trading and resulted in the collapse of Enron.

read more
————–

I am sure Buffet was not alone to anticipate the “many years later” cost impact, way back in 2003. If they continued to lure and loot the trusting public despite such warnings, they must be judged similar to war criminals now. While many of us may lose money, jobs, homes and even Internet access (ouch!), the mad-men (in Buffet’s words) responsible for the man-made destruction continue to sip their Pina Coladas hiding in their yachts near Cayman Islands…

On a related note, please avoid spreading and acting on rumours regarding insolvency at ICICI Bank. I am not a fan of the bank and, in fact, stay far away from dealing with it. But I do know that such rumours are malicious and could trigger an unnecessary spiral of doom for a teetering economy. Stay sane and prudent. Work hard and spend more.

We’ll be out of this mess, soon.

(On)Line Maaro

September 26, 2008

One of the better things that have happened to our lives recently is the online ticket booking systems. I remember the days when booking a ticket meant waking up at 5 to stand in a line at the railway station, only to return empty-handed at 11 because the quota was filled. Of course, you could still buy as many “black” tickets as you wanted at the pan shop near the counters. From those dark days to the efficiency of anywhere, anytime booking, including specifying seat preference. We have come a long way indeed, at least in this department. The great thing is it applies not just to air and rail bookings but even buses now.

I recently booked with KSRTC and was surprised at how well the website was designed and functioning. The icing on the cake was a airline style seat map! This was such a contrast to the last time we booked, going to a KSRTC travel agent who spent 30 minutes on a dial-up connection just waiting for the page to render. And another 30 while he made mistakes and repeated the search.

Even the bus itself was quite comfortable, even if it did stop at vague food joints and showed the most boring films. Once you have the ticket print out, you just head to Majestic where the platforms are well-numbered and a well-mannered conductor assists you in boarding. The same applies to Airport shuttle, where one can book tickets on RedBus or ViaWorld (although for now the buses are so empty, don’t bother with reservation!) and rest assured in the hands of timely service and well-mannered, good-humored, hindi-english-kannada speaking conductors.

The newly designed IRCTC offers a load of features for rail booking. It has minimized problem of searching for oddly named stations, though no software can help you detect that Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Junction is what you want, when looking for Kolhapur. I just wish they had a simpler interface for searching different classes and dates on the same page, instead of trying different combination as new search each time. What impressed me most was how effortlessly and quickly (2-3 days) they refunded the money for canceled tickets and failed transactions. They even allow you to ensure, say, a lower berth or not book a ticket at all. Adding a seat map would be the next big idea.

For airlines, I have already professed my love for IXIGO by adding their widget below my blog. This clutter-free site shows the final price, all inclusive, whereas many other travel sites confuse us by comparing basic fare only. Then they have a fast, easy interface to refine or modify the search. The best part is, clicking on the fare takes you to the airline website for payment. Ixigo is not an agent and does not collect any fee. You deal direct with the Airline for everything, which makes it hassle-free and cheaper in case of cancelations. I only wish they had a similar service for international flights soon, since comparing best itinerary (stating both total travel time AND total cost clearly) is still quite difficult. If anyone knows of an international flight price-finder from India, do comment and let me know.

On a different note, we recently used the Pune Corporation website for paying property tax. The transaction deducted money from my card but showed up as failed on the website. Sending a mail to the help-desk elicited a prompt response. Within 2 days, they confirmed that tax due was clear. Again, I was happy with not just the facility but even the prompt service.

These small steps go a long way in improving quality of life of the average Indian. More such initiatives will help so much in reducing faltu stress and eliminating corrupt middle-men.

KISSmet Kommention

September 25, 2008

Maybe it’s envy. After all, the highest number of comments on any post of mine is 7.

But I can never understand exactly how important people think their blogs are, when they enable three layer security mechanisms to control comments. Why would all the spammers in the world divert their resources from lucrative phishing schemes, to unleash commenting bots on you? The letter verification is to elude bots, not a free eye-sight test. I really don’t see why Blogger even bothers to retain this feature. In fact, the more I see WordPress blogs, the more disillusioned I am with the Blogger design. You just comment– no authentication, no gyaan. And what pretty comment boxes, what useful comment alerts.
Google is going lazy the Microsoft way, of late. Don’t you think?

Of course, some of the best writers out there still use Blogger. So I brave the security cordon and continue squeezing in my puny comments on my favorite blogs. But please, people, just keep it simple!!

Dunce of the Millennium

September 24, 2008

A friend’s blog states in the header: Dunce of the Millennium, awarded to the fool who destroys the planet he lives on.

That’s a cool statement. Saving the world. Forests, weather and energy for our children. Keeping Wall-E at bay. We know it, yet we don’t do anything about it. After all, we are but one person. What can we do? How can it matter what we do? What’s the government doing?

One of my all time favorite movies is “Brazil“. It’s Terry Gilliam’s vision of an Orwellian world, where free speech is punished and bug-ridden machines rule (he knew about Microsoft Vista?). The unique factor of the movie is how this society is enforced not by an all-powerful dictator or a ruthless “big brother”. It is every day people like you and me, doing just their daily jobs, their “duty”. In itself, each man’s work is harmless; each man believes in freedom and love. But together, as cogs in the “system”, they work to destroy the very ideals they hold dear. They unknowingly (really?) create a totalitarian state themselves, instead of a power-hungry “villain” commonly seen in this genre.

This post is not about a totalitarian state, although recent events with churches and taxi-drivers would not place that too far in the future either. This is about my favorite topic: Bangalore infrastructure.

The topic has been done to death by everyone already. IT honchos, industrialists, expatriates, journalists, students and even politicians have commented and accepted that the infrastructure is crumbling and something needs to be done soon. One day, they even decided to raze some randomly selected illegal buildings (randomly sparing all civil-servant bungalows) in Koramangala, that left some innocent people homeless (the officials who authorised the illegal construction sold and vanished years ago). The locality remains as congested. Then they came up with magic boxes to create signal-free routes and ease the traffic flow. With no drainage and narrow service roads, most magic boxes flood within 1 hour of rain. The signal-free routes, meanwhile, have no pedestrian bridges. Unnecessary lives are lost each time people attempt crossing in front of cars doing 100kmph. You might think these were common-sense factors that any city plan would provide for. But this post is not about all that either.

No, this post is about something much more “you and me”. Something so visible and yet so invisible.

My landlord is making a commercial complex near Lalbagh. That’s a crowded stretch of road, yet one of the “freshest” areas in Bangalore thanks to the botanical garden and dense trees of Basavangudi nearby. This 4 storey complex will house a supermarket, restaurant and offices. In other words, it will host an estimated 45-60 people at a time, daily. For all the additional business that it will generate, there’s basement parking provided for about 12 cars. When I asked him how will that work, he reassured me: “Oh there’s lots of lanes around the place, customers can park easily!”.

Well, that is true. After all, he is not in the business of making MLCP (multi level car parking). How can he justify cost of an extra basement to park more cars? Anyway, parking another 6 cars will not solve Banaglore’s traffic woes. The government must do something about that!

After this incident, I began to notice other new construction. There’s a new Big Bazaar opposite Ragigudda temple in Jayanagar. This is a busy intersection, often gridlocked. On Wednesdays, people throng BB for the weekly discount. About 15-20 cars can be parked inside, twice that number line the narrow roads leading in and around the complex on busy days. Another hypermall by Mantri is coming up soon, banking on the same lanes for parking.

The fancy Innovative Film City on the outskirts of the city has over 15 attractions and costs Rs.700 for a full-day tour. They plan to open a 21 screen multiplex, a shopping arcade and a hotel. The cars and tour buses must park outside the main entrance, going all the way up the sylvan hillside. While this works fine today, I shudder to imagine what happens when another theme park opens next door. The optimist in me believes the car park may be under construction. The cynic looks at their earlier disaster, the multiplex at Marathahalli, and is afraid the parking may again be sufficient for a tenth of the capacity. If it exists, at all.

The same story is repeated in numerous new malls (viz Garuda Mall, where parking is a joke!) and apartments coming up around the city. I can understand planners did not anticipate 4-wheeler growth 10 years ago and older buildings must struggle with insufficient parking space. What gets my goat is when the administration approves new projects with obviously insufficient parking. More so when these new ventures are otherwise aping the American model of mega stores like the Walmart that have parking lots larger than the store size itself! Two years later, the BBMP is conveniently going to blame builders for not providing enough parking, and absolve themselves of any blame for increased floods, jams and fires in the newly “developed” areas.

I am sure fire safety laws are being flouted in a similar vein, with cramped escape routes and
no access for fire engines. They will jail another Ansal Builder for 2 years, while another 80 innocents perish in a fire. Would you believe these malls and multiplexes came up after we allegedly became conscious of the need to “do something about it”.

The point of all this ranting is how we “save money” in our little projects, comfortable in the thought that one more car parked on the road won’t hurt anyone. And, smart IT executives and investment bankers like you and I, we continue to agitate for better infrastructure and world-class facilities from the government.

I wish we’d just save the neighborhood before we save the planet.

A Comedy of IPRs

August 27, 2008

The so-called entertainment news today is that Warner Bros have sued some B-grade Indian producer over the title of a film called “Hari Puttar”, because they are worried it will impact the business of their “Harry Potter” franchise. The lawsuit is based on the premise that Indian fans of Harry Potter and (sigh! where was she when I was in school?) Hermione would readily abandon the magical firangi movies in favor of a desi version, if one was available. So now there is a hoo-haa about whether the Indian producer is within rights to use a perfectly legit Hindi word “Puttar” that has no similarity in meaning to the English word “Potter”. Bombay High court, already laboring under a 200 year backlog of genuine cases, will have to decide whether the lawsuit is a publicity gimmick or whether Warner’s IPR has been “snitch”ed.

The plot, as I understood it, is that a 10 year old kid wishes for his family to disappear. His wish is promptly granted and he is left “home alone” to battle two bungling goons who are trying to get their secret microchip back from a toy in the kid’s possession. How he foils their plans is the rest of the film. It stars my favorite actors as the goons, so I’m praying it’s not all bad.

Most news articles don’t even mention the possibility of this film being a rip off of anything but the Harry Potter stories. Either Mr.Purriiie is very very smart or most Indian journalists were born after 1990. Wonder if sundry blog posts will result in Mr. John Hughes exchanging places with brother Warner to sue the lucky Mr.Purrieee?

Oh hell, even the BBC News got it wrong. Pardon me for sneering only at lazy Indian newsies.

After all, the ever-alert media has, thankfully, given wider column-space to this historic lawsuit instead of boring us with the tale of a family left alone without even a home, under the benevolent shade of the Lotus.

Throwing the Baby with the Bathwater

August 4, 2008

The Indian School of Business has been ranked 20th in a list of top 100 B-schools around the world. While this is a proud celebration moment for alumni of the school located at Hyderabad, it merely reinforces the conviction of its founders who, ten years ago, set out to create an Indian B-school to rival the likes of Wharton and LSE. This news brought back memories of my student days in 1998, when it was announced that ISB would be established in Bombay. After weeks of front-page tamasha, the school decided to skip India’s commercial capital in favor of relatively unknown Hyderabad. As a proud Bombayite, (despite what Raj chooses to believe) this bhaiyya was quite upset that some upstart school rebuffed his favorite city.

A decade later, having abandoned the mayanagri myself, I realise that this incident, perhaps, marked the turning point of a deeper malaise affecting India’s crown jewel. The Indian growth story has bypassed Bombay, leaving it a mere shadow of its glory days— much like those dilapidated beautiful bungalows that dot Bandra, silently recounting an era of opulence and prestige, now lost among the skyscrapers of Powai.

Found this article from the Indian Express, dated September 10 1998.

You may be forgiven for mistaking it as production notes from Sarkar Raj. I was more shocked at how latter half of the article could be from a 2008 newspaper, despite the change in government! Maharashtra’s Nero continues to dog the hardworking “manoos” with distracting, unproductive dogma, while the means of production continue to dodge the state. Ten years later, more and more industries, entrepreneurs, schools and talent are being driven out of Bombay. New enterprises prefer to avoid a sleepy CM and the rebel without a cause, choosing to open shop in Gurgaon and Trivandrum instead.

The electorate may have judged Chandrababu Naidu harshly, but history is sure to be kinder to that man of vision. On the other hand, the curse of rhetoric replacing honest labour did not die with the sequel to Sarkar. Ironically, fiddling by modern day Neros may be responsible for India’s most prosperous state turning into one they dread the most– Bihar.

Now for the article itself, that provoked this post:

————–

Indian Express, dated Sep 10, 1998

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu is getting all the prizes and it is not going down well in Maharashtra. Few things have brought home so acutely the fierce competition between states than the bidding for the Indian School of Business, India’s answer to Wharton. It’s not investment rupees or jobs created that counts here but the prestige of playing host to what is intended to be a world class institution.

Mumbai has been passed over and the school, promoted by a glittering array of big corporates, has gone to Hyderabad. Apparently incentives were not the paramount determinants of the choice of location. When Anil Ambani speaks of the “vision and organisation” of the Andhra Pradesh government and Anand Mahindra of the “triumph of political wisdom over political expediency”, they are emphasising other important factors which influence business decisions. Politicians could pay closer attention to what young business leaders are saying.

For Maharashtra Chief Minister Manohar Joshi the unkindest cut of all came from Bal Thackeray who said Chandrababu Naidu “moves like a typhoon”. Unkind because Thackeray’s attempt to commandeer places in the school for Maharashtri-ans is what probably queered the pitch for Mumbai, the promoters’ first choice when they put their ideas to Joshi and Thackeray on May 5. In that case the message in the rejection of Mumbai is that India’s Wharton will take the best and the brightest and not politicians’ candidates. It is a good advertisement for the school. The loss of the business school is symptomatic of a larger problem in Maharashtra today.

Shiv Sena and BJP politicians lacked experience to start with and have not grown into their jobs in government. They remain in many ways the parish pump politicians they always were. Apart from the Chief Minister himself there is little evidence of administrative abilities and even Joshi is hamstrung by his party boss. When the coalition came to power, Maharashtra was already being challenged by other states for new investment and projects and beginning to lose its position as destination number one.

The Enron affair exposed the amateurishness of the SS-BJP coalition and ought to have taught the new government some valuable lessons. Unfortunately, there has been little sign that the government is wiser for that experience. Politics and self-aggrandisement continue to come before pragmatism and common sense. Consequently, although Maharashtra’s physical and human resources still make it a major business destination, many of the statistics show investment is not growing as rapidly as it is in other go-getting states. Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are pushing ahead faster on a wide front, Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and perhaps even Uttar Pradesh in some areas. To Thackeray and Joshi these trends are mere grist for the political mill as they engage in a new quarrel about whether Maharashtra is first or fourth in the league. The fact that the government is thrashing about for ways of arresting the downslide in the state’s finances is proof of Maharashtra’s worsening condition.



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