Friday, November 30, 2007

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Subprime Poker!

What would the "father of the Mortgage Backed Security" have to say on the current subprime crisis in the US? Thats something that struck me the other day, when I saw someone reading the Wall Street cult novel Liar's Poker.

Lewis Ranieri was one of the many "Big Swinging D**ks" at Salomon Brothers where he started the mortgage trading desk and thus shot the firm to its heady heights in the mid 1980s. I hadn't seen him on the US edition of CNBC yet, so I ran a search and found this 'rough transcript' of his thoughts on the issue. Spoiler: The system's broke!

"We're restructuring a loan around a borrower; he can't afford the loan and now we're going to take the NPV of the change and send him a tax bill so the IRS can chase him . . .?" Read more (courtesy: Calculated Risk blog)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Scoop 2.0: We’re Hiring!

One of the interesting ways for technology watchers to speculate on a company's future plan is to regularly scan its online jobs page. It may not always be accurate, but if the job description is specific enough it can often lead to a scoop!

One of the best examples is this piece from about 2.5 years ago which suggested that Google was looking at buying up "Dark Fiber" based on this vacancy:

"Google is looking for Strategic Negotiator candidates with experience in... (i)dentification, selection, and negotiation of dark fiber contracts both in metropolitan areas and over long distances as part of development of a global backbone network,"

Before you knew it, Google was WiFi-ing up entire cities free of cost and now could soon become a full fledged telecom giant if the secret "gPhone" project indeed bears fruit. The latest scoop is on Facebook's "we're hiring" page which suggests that the Social Networking poster boy could be looking at an IPO as a"very serious option" in the near future. {Link courtsey Paul Kedrosky}

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Gimme A Break, Mr. Prime Minister.

I don't believe our Hon. PM, Dr. Singh could have said this with a straight face: Coming to Patil's rescue, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rubbished the charges as "mudslinging" saying there was no evidence that Pratibha Patil herself was involved in any of the irregularities.

(Pic Courtsey:

Sure, its the BJP that's very openly behind the campaign to discredit the leading presidential candidate and they're pretty open about it. But to say that there's no evidence that Mrs. Patil herself was involved in any of the irregularities is laughable. Either she's dishonest or she's incredibly clueless - both qualities that the average citizen does not want the next President of India to possess. Webster defines "mudslinger" as one who uses offensive epithets and invective especially against a political opponent. In this case, the harshest invective from the BJP is nothing but verbatim quoting of the report from the Reserve Bank of India - the institution that the PM himself headed more than two decades ago!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Forget Valuations … Will My Frequent Flyer Points Be Merged?

Since, I’m not an investor in any of these companies and I don’t track this specific industry as a journalist, my interest is pretty selfish! Will all of this make life any better for me as a flyer? I’m not talking about dirt cheap prices. I’ve bought enough of these low-cost tickets and been conned enough by the fine print to not chase discounts. Instead I’ve decided to do the counter-intuitive thing and get myself enrolled in all the frequent flyer programs! Credit card points, third party purchases and obesessive internet usage have all contributed to lots of free miles and trips!

I’m in fact specifically interested in whether these mergers will make frequent flyer programs more competitive and more accesible. The internet is the lifeline of any decent frequent flyer program and unfortunately none of our carriers have done a good job online.

IA and AI combined their frequent flyer programs some time ago but the entire process seems to be one big mess. They’ve done a smart thing by starting a new website dedicated to the FF program except that they haven’t taken the old ones down from the IA and AI websites. The result is that all three sites show different versions of your mileage statement since they’re obviously not interlinked. The helpdesk for the FF program has been outsourced to a third-party which is acceptable. What is not acceptable is the fact that the third-party also works with ’sarkari’ timings, processes and attitudes. You still need to download forms, print them out and fax them back to perpetually busy numbers. A couple of days later you need to call the numbers and if you’re lucky to get through, confirm the fact that your fax was received and processed. Its been months and I’m still waiting for my points to reflect. Incidentally the reason I need to claim missing miles is that my FF number could not be entered into the Air Mauritius system when I checked-in. If this is the case with a code-share partner, then being part of a global FF alliance is a distant dream.

Kingfisher is by far the best airline I have flown in India, but their online presence isn’t as classy as the real-world experience. The website is very “1.0″ if you know what I mean and the frequent flyer module looks as if it has been thrown in as an afterthought. There are very few partnerships by way of airlines or other services like Credit Cards. I put in a missing mile claim and the status remained “pending” for days before I decided to register an online complaint. The online error reporting system had a bug (irony!) and so I had to write a generic email. Someone actually replied to it though, saying it had been processed. I logged on to see that the claim showed “rejected” but the miles had been added! Well, I decided to not pursue the matter.

Jet Airways by far has the best internet presence and their online FF module is way better than the competition. There are many more partners and all the partnerships are linked on the site. When I clicked on “The Economist” link, it took me straight the page on the Economist site which allowed me to pay for a subscription through the Jet Airways alliance. However, sometimes too much of a good thing can backfire if it’s not thought through. The airline offers 500 bonus miles as incentive for online ticket bookings. Unfortunately, it gives these miles only on the basis of every PNR generated. This means that if I book a two-person return journey, I only get 500 miles. If I had booked each person’s one-way trip individually, I would make 2000 points since I would have generated 4 different PNRs. Jet, has thus incentivized inefficiency in their system, not to mention that every PNR generated has a cost associated with it. I guess they didn’t bank on people with lots of time to waste and a point to prove such as Yours Truly but with the internet, it doesn’t take much time and effort to beat the system.

Anyway, I hope the consolidation in the air leads to better services for FFs because now more than ever, loyalty is going to determine bottom lines!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Flags & Anthems

I thought the Supreme Court verdict passed on Republic Day, five years ago, in the famous Naveen Jindal case would put an end to our hypocrisy on flags, anthems and such. However, the two 'controversies' of the past week surrounding SRT and NRN quickly burst that bubble!

The "anthem" controversy has hypocrisy built into it. Pray, can someone explain to me what an 'instrumental version' of a national anthem is, in the first place? Logically, if the instrument starts playing, the crowd starts singing - without any prompting! It's only in India where people are either too embarassed or ignorant, that we need to arrange for a choir of school children to sing, while the rest mumble or just ... stay mum! Whether it's a movie theatre or a stadium, a function or a felicitation, one never hears a thundering anthem being rendered with gusto. Infy had arranged for a five person choir and then apparently dropped the idea because "foreigners might be embarassed". I think the foreigners would have been rather puzzled to see no one on stage or in the crowd singing! We just don't like singing our own anthem for some strange reason.

While the Infy incident raised some hackles because of Chairman Co-Chairman Narayana Murthy's explanation (which he has since apologised for), the Sachin incident is just downright comical. Agreed, whoever decided on the theme for that cake had poor taste (seriously, saffron icing?), but why blame Tendulkar when the Indian High Commissioner himself was looking on approvingly? In any case, when it's quite clear that the intentions are not malafide in any way, why resort to grandstanding and jingoism?

I am loathe to admit that I draw intellectual inspiration from mainstream Hollywood but a few lines from an otherwise trite scene in The American President, sum up my thoughts perfectly:

"You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

300: Brilliant Fiction

I finally found the time to go and catch "300" - the flick based on the "graphic novel" by Frank Miller (which is itself inspired by the 1962 film). I loved the comic book so I was determined to see the adaptation and its allegedly unbelievable special effects. The visuals were brilliant and the acting was intense. While some contend that this kind of film-making will destroy cinema as we know it, the actors themselves confess that it brings them closer to real theatre. Having nothing but a chroma in the background is apparently a liberating experience for a true Thespian.

It was clearly the least politically correct day of the year to watch the film - yesterday was the Parsi New Year and the film is pretty hard on the ancient Persians. However, if it's any consolation to my Parsi friends, I wasn't seeing the film for its take on history - poor Xerxes is made to look like a drag queen! It was purely to enjoy a mindless action flick made using stylized digital techniques. Blood and gore never looked so beautiful!

I was surprised that Iranians are protesting against the film. After all, wasn't it the supposed tyranny of the Zoroastrian kings that the early Islamic conquerors highlighted to get the masses on their side, before driving Xerxes' descendants out? If anyone should be protesting, it should be those original Parsis, a majority of whom wound up in India. Fortunately, they've proven to be far too intelligent a community to take these things seriously and are even apologetic for the few among them who have cried foul!

All I can say to our friendly neighbourhood 'Bawas' is: "Guys - nothing remains of Ancient Greece except touristy ruins! You're still worshipping your God and have made your adopted country proud. The (approx) 300 of your ancestors who braved the Arabian Sea and landed on the shores of Gujarat, centuries ago to start from scratch, are heroes in their own right. Happy Navroz!"