Sunday, December 07, 2008

Indie cinema in India continues to rock!

Oye Lucky! is the latest indie movie in India that continues the very welcome trend of good independent cinema.

I personally thought that the director's earlier movie -- Khosla ka Ghosla -- packed more punch, primarily because it had a better ensemble cast, and there were more dimensions to it. Here, the story is loosely based on "Catch me if you can' plot line.

The only thing that made me think more about the movie and why I am posting it is the following. The movie had Paresh Rawal put in 3 independent characters, all completely unrelated to each other. When reading the reviews etc., I assumed it was a gimmick, kind of a creative license to let a great actor excel. But watching the movie, it didn't seem that way. I was wondering if there was a purpose to it.

My conclusion, to end the suspense, was that each of these characters was someone the lead protagonist perceived as a father figure, and hence saw the reflection of his father in them. So, of course, one of the characters is actually his father. All three characters, it seems, are the ones this character looks up to in some way, but is always eventually let down.

So may be there was a moral to the story that the director was leading to?

Even apart from this little puzzle in the movie, I thought the movie was relatively funny, though started to drag somewhere in the middle, and all the main actors did well. Especially impressive was the great snapshot of Delhi, its lingo, its absurdness.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Is it the wrong time to buy a house right now?

We've been looking to buy a house for some time. Already, being in Bay area, we were expecting to pay a huge premium for what we get. With the financial meltdowns, it now seems probably the worst time than ever to buy.

I was trying to assess where housing prices will go in the next year. Will the next year be a better time to buy than now? There are a few things to think about that cautioned against it:

1. US Dollar might weaken as confidence of foreign investors plunges. If lending and credit freezes up, as it has, and doesn't start flowing again, it is going to take a while for the economy to rebound. If the dollar weakens, if the houses are really worth what their price tag indicates, then the prices should rise.

2. If the funds in the bank are going to be either not covered by insurance, or are going to go less distance, maybe it's worth it to invest them in something more tangible, as in land or gold.

On the other hand, if the dollar does weaken, then affordability would suffer in general. Any large loans that people would have taken out would become increasingly difficult to pay.

I tried looking for some historical data for how house prices changed over the years in comparison to how the economy was doing. I couldn't find much yet, but there was one interesting data point -- how housing prices varied as a ratio to median household income. Here is a spreadsheet detailing the trend from 1980 to 2007. Historically, in the bay area, the ratio has been stable around 4 to 5. In the last few years, it has risen to a 9.8!

Based on the experience from the downturn in 2001, incomes won't go up in the next year or two. This is true now as well -- investors are sending out warnings and asking companies to tighten belts. In our company too, we have reduced our head count and decided to take pay cuts.

If I look at the years following 1980, the housing prices ratio to incomes should have probably gone up if the income was lower and there was any inflation. It was indeed so in 1981, but then the ratio dropped every year until 1985 when it reached 4.2.

In any case high housing prices outpaced the economy, and with the downturn in full swing now, the income levels aren't going to climb up any time soon. This means, the housing prices should be up for continued correction for the next few years, until incomes actually start to go up.

In conclusion, if the economy and dollar will be weak, affordability will suffer. Incomes aren't going up. House prices as compared to income levels are still inflated in the Bay area, and therefore will come down. If not, then poor affordability in this economy will anyway make it harder to afford these high prices. Therefore, it is probably not a good time to buy a house for us right now.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The first presidential debate

I watched the first presidential debate this year between Obama and Mccain.

You can read the reactions and spin on these in several places, and here are my observations. These aren't criticisms, but observations of the training these guys went through, and what I noticed as they were clearly trying to do, or were clearly unable to do. It is unclear until plenty of people have analyzed it and have done polls, how much these will matter in the final outcome.

1. I noticed that Obama consciously, very consciously, looked away from the host and faced the camera directly when making a point about his readiness or his abilities. In contrast, Mccain did not do that even once in the entire session. While at times it felt as though it was unnatural, it was effective for Obama. Each of those times, it connected him to the people watching.

2. Obama, whenever addressing Mccain, would look at him straight and talk to him. Mccain on the other hand, seem to not want to look at Obama. That seemed a bit rude and robotic -- don't you always look at the people around you, especially when you are speaking to them, or referring to them?

3. Obama, not once in the entire debate, gave one sound bite that others would want to repeat. It was very plain, very labored speech. In contrast, Mccain, whether or not he was saying anything meaningful, had it down much better. Calling Obama naive, repeating specific numbers (930M, 18B, etc), claiming "Obama doesn't understand" -- all these he repeated and ensured would be picked up and repeated by a lot of people the next day. Obama needs to loosen up, get less embroiled in the correctness of details, and give his people sound bites to repeat after him.

4. The debates need some fact checkers. Mccain could stand there and lie through his teeth, and it would be on Obama to point them out as lies -- but how many would he be able to? Maybe candidates need better strategies to point out the lies, and tell their own lies with more conviction.

5. Mccain's lies put Obama on the defensive. Obama wasn't taking the war to Mccain. Even strong points were put really mildly. Take an example: Mccain took his time to drive home his point that "Incredibly, INCREDIBLY, Obama has not gone to Afghanistan" -- and he repeated it twice. Now, when Mccain said he wouldn't publicly state making offensive strikes against Pakistan and just do them, Obama should have really taken Mccain to task. Here is a presidential candidate openly saying he has double standards. On top of that, this is the same president who sang a song to "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran." These double standards, these reckless speeches, these reckless mindsets are the cause of the economic mess this country is in. This is the same recklessness earlier president had, this is the same recklessness Mccain champions. BUT, no, all Obama could muster was that given Mccain's bomb iran video, this comment from Mccain was not very credible. C'mon now -- you've at least got to walk through doors that open!

The debates coming up later should be more interesting. So far the candidates were sparring, and hopefully there would be fire from Obama we would see in the future.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Please vote

After the pathetic eight years of lack of leadership and asinine handling of foreign affairs, no patriotic American should sit on the sidelines and feel their vote doesn't count.

Please vote. And vote Obama. It would be appalling if the Republicans are allowed to lie their way to a victory.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


As you might know, Jambool partners with Kiva to make loans to needy entrepreneurs around the world -- especially in third world countries. Since we launched the partnership in mid August, we've made loans to over 50 businesses (that's roughly 3 loans a day). You can see more at:

Kiva has been great to work with -- simple and effective. In case you don't know about Kiva, it enables peer to peer lending for businesses in developing countries that need small loans. The lenders themselves do not charge or expect an interest on the loan, and more often than not (I think), they don't even expect a repayment. But repayments make it far more sustainable of course.

I also found out about Microplace today -- an EBay owned company -- that also provides a similar peer lending model for needy businesses.

As I found out from elsewhere -- there is a subtle difference between the two. The loans on Microplace are returned with an interest to the lender, and the loans here are securitized -- which implies these loans can be sold to another investor.

The Kiva model seems simpler. Having heard the story of the beginning of microfinance from Mohammed Yunus, it would seem one wouldn't want to tack on interest in order for these loans to work. That said, apparently even the Kiva loans are often given out at an interest to the businesses and it helps support the field operators. I personally find it better that there are fewer people earning interest from the loan given to a needy entrepreneur, and any interest that is indeed paid stays very close to the source.


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Roadside Indian Dhabas

This weekend we drove up to Sea Ranch on Highway One. On the way here, we came upon Sizzling Tnadoor -- an Indian restaurant with a picture perfect setting right on the Russian River. It came across as a bit of a shocker -- the last thing we expected on the drive up in Sonoma is a desi restaurant serving out tandoori chicken.

What to say, Singh is Kinng!

On a slightly different note, Akshay Kumar rocks the house in Singh is Kinng. On the non-mainstream cinema, Aamir was good. Blue Umbrella was great, especially because it gives stage to one of the finest actors India has -- Pankaj Kapur.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The "joys" of running a company

One of the many "joys" is dealing with "service providers."

Currently we are in the process of choosing a vendor to outsource our HR to. Having talked to multiple vendors, I realize that this is one of the industry that thrives on obfuscating the obvious. Everyone in this industry loves to wrap words in yarn out of management handbooks. Here's an example I pulled from one such site: "Our PEO services allow you to systematically and strategically enhance the total quality of your organization, which results in greater efficiency and productivity." WTF?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sometimes it's the years and not the mileage

I've been a huge fan of the Indiana Jones movies, and I had been waiting for the latest movie to come out for more than a year now. One word: FAIL.

What a dumb, stupid mess. Everything seemed so unnatural. It seemed as though they had run out of all ideas. Low on entertainment. Low on fun. Low on creativity. Sometimes, the years do start to count more than the mileage.

That said, it seemed to borrow a few things from Tintin. There were at least a couple of references that I noticed. The notion of aliens was referenced in Flight 714. Though, I wouldn't say that's necessarily where they borrowed it from. The second reference was the scene where Harrison Ford is crawling in the cave... it seemed to have been framed right out of the Prisoners of the Sun.

I hear Spielberg is working on a Tintin movie...

Monday, June 02, 2008

FriendFeed picking up at Twitter's expense?

I've seen several messages flow today on Twitter that people don't tweet that often because they are on Friendfeed instead...

I recently installed Twhirl and it's great that the most recent version supports both Twitter and FriendFeed. I tried Alert Thingy, and it was terrible on the Mac. Twhirl on the other hand worked a lot better.

Talking of Friendfeed, it is a much more open version of the Facebook news feed. Facebook has clamped down quite a bit on what shows up in the news feed. In fact I hardly see any updates from apps in the news feed any more. All I see are updates from Facebook and its own applications (Photos, Wall, Video, Posted Items).

If feeds are here to stay, Friendfeed and its api can become powerful developer tools for growing web applications.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Tuscan Wines

Pooja and I were traveling through Europe this April and spent a good part of our trip in Tuscany. We stayed close to Firenze/Florence at a B&B in the countryside. The stay itself remains one of the best vacations we have taken and I highly recommend it.

A good part of our stay was spent driving to different parts of Tuscany and picking up on the foods and wines of the region. Just as many books might tell you, Brunellos from Montelcino are fantastic. I happened to try the Banghi at a restaurant in Fiesole, with their pasta in wild boar sauce, and the wine and meal rank among the best I've ever had.

The interesting things about wines in Italy is that the governing bodies -- DOC/DOCG -- tightly control the vintages of wines. E.g., Brunellos that you can buy are already aged 5 years, and they age well for another 10. You can't even buy a Brunello in the market that hasn't been aged 5 years. Similarly, the Chiantis are aged at least 2 years.

The wine tour at Vignamaggio was great. Someone claimed that the estate was the birthplace of the da Vinci's "Mona Lisa". The wines were great too. We lucked out here -- we had reached Greve pretty late in the evening and the tourism office there was able to get us a wine tour reservation at a pretty short notice.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Patent awarded..

I recently heard the patent for the Amazon Flexible Payments got awarded. That's super!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Back from GSP

I came back a bit early from GSP. We got selected to present at the Appnite, and I hear that it went quite well even if we did not win the Mackbook air.

I posted a couple of notes from the conference on data portability and Bring your own platform panels.

San Diego was great. We stayed at the Omni hotel in downtown, and managed to sneak out to the Oldtown for dinner and the La Jolla area for the afternoon.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Jambool is hiring

See here for more details.

If you know great software engineers who might get excited about working for a startup that's among the frontrunners in the social applications space -- do let us know.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Case against Macs

I recently had to get a new power cable for my powerbook. It cost me $80. Eighty dollars for a power cable?! So in some ways, four power cables = 1 phone??

My DVD superdrive stopped working -- DVDs just won't go in at all. I looked online for possible things, and nothing worked. So I went to an Apple store. Without even bothering to look at it, their solution was to replace it and get a new one. $330. Ouch.

It isn't under warranty so I have every intention of prying it open to see why it won't work. If nothing else, I might be a little bit better off knowing something I didn't earlier.

Replacing batteries in an ipod isn't a simple matter of turning it over, popping the sucker open and putting in a couple of AAs. Apple wants you to send in the ipod.

Agreed, you are trying to get the world back from Windows, but for crying out loud, do you have to make it this hard?

We should know fascism when we see it

We watched the movie Parzania. While we knew a bit about the riots, but the hard hitting movie made me go and read about this a lot more. Watching the movie and reading about the atrocities in Gujarat, it makes you detest the nationalist parties involved.

You can read more on wikipedia. The article by Arundhati Roy hit a nerve. Somewhere down the line, India will have to admit that the Gujarat violence was a pogrom, a genocide committed by the Hindu fundamentalists.

The likes of Mussolini and Hitler have come and gone, and yet fascism never stops to rear its ugly head. Yet, we as a society find it convenient to look the other way until it is too late. We are all too involved in our own daily lives to feel concerned about things that happened thousands of miles away -- until one day it blows up in our face.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Now Plants can talk

If there wasn't enough content being put online by humans, now plants can join the fray.

This is a pretty interesting setup by Botanicalls: the plant can now twitter you about the moisture content in the soil.

One wonders though... I need this twittering so that someone else besides my wife can actually tell me to water the plants. Or maybe once you start getting the twitter messages, you'll feel more compassionate to the plants -- as though they were indeed talking to you... "I'm thirsty!" I guess that would make you rush to the tap.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Couple of lectures

Over the last few weeks I had the good fortune of listening to two excellent speakers.

The first was Mohammed Yunus, who founded the Grameen Bank and was awarded the Nobel prize in 2006. Mohammed Yunus is a terrific speaker and a lot more down to earth than most other public speakers I've listened to. His story on the "poor people's bank", as he calls it, is a phenomenal story and he tells it, seemingly, without any spice. For someone to have achieved a likely unassaiblable goal of countering poverty in Bangladesh and inspiring many others around the world, his humility is inspiring.

There were a couple of points he made that I wanted to jot down and remind myself repeatedly. While companies can strive for maximizing profit for themselves, they must pay heed to the planet around them and help maximize the overall benefit to the planet. He did not advocate it as an alternative to capitalism. This is a sentiment I've heard several times recently, and it is something worth listening to.

The other lecture I happened to go to was by Larry Lessig. This was Lessig's last Free Culture talk before he moves on to something different. Lessig's well known for founding Creative Commons and pushing for reduced restrictions on copyrights -- especially as they apply to the digital medium.

Lessig's talk was impressive and it is also impressive that the next challenge he is taking on is to end lobbyism and corruption in Congress. Interestingly, among the presidential candidates there were only two who push for lobbyists not funding congressmen's election -- Barrack Obama and John Edwards.

Lessig later also posted an online video on why Obama and not Hillary, that I am posting below.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Kids these days!

I've often gotten into discussions with people about the difference between how a teenager would view the world versus how an adult would -- the difference caused by the fact that the kid probably never saw a world without the Internet.

There was a time when you had to take driving directions from someone over the phone.

You couldn't just get your answers by typing a few words on a computer.

Dial up used to cost money -- and it used to make strange noises.

Today I saw its funny outcome on reddit: See for yourself!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Where does our food come from?

Have you not always wondered about the origins of food that lands on our plate? I know I have -- especially in the US, more than India.

In India, figuring out the food chain was relatively easy. First off, our family was entirely vegetarian. My father hails from a village not too far from where we lived, and his brothers and father were wholesale traders in fruits and vegetables. My father has always been passionate about finding the best (and cheapest -- but that's just with every Indian ;) and freshest vegetables, and I have always attributed it to his formative years, spent helping out with the family business. So, the food chain to trace for us was relatively easy. The pieces that were missing were -- what seeds, fertilizers and manure the farmers were using at the farms our vegetables came from. The land of Punjab -- the area where I grew up -- is known for its fertility, and as far as I knew and read, farmers were using the traditional methods of farming. As a result, what food we ate depended on what season it was, and how the rains have been that year and so on. Man had not taken over Nature in determining what food we ate. I believe this is still the case there, though it is changing.

In comparison, there is a feeling of mystery behind food we get in the US. First off, the farmers' markets are relatively rare. So the food is mostly obtained at the supermarket. At the supermarkets, irrespective of the time of the year, you get the same food. Potatoes and onions, apples, oranges, bell peppers, you name it -- what season it was, or how the weather had been that year never mattered when it came to determining what to eat. At first glance, it seemed all positive. This is what a developed country is about -- industrialize the agriculture, empower the farmers to grow and feed what people want. A little naive, don't you think?

A recent book I am reading -- Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan -- attempts to trace the food chain that gets hidden behind the meals we eat. It is an enlightening read, and I very strongly suggest that you should read this book. You will never look at your food the same way again.

There are several observations that the book arrives at that are worth remembering. I note them here for lack of a better place to remind myself of these later.

1. Everything is connected. The author makes this zen-like observation about farms -- and he doesn't extrapolate it to anything else. But it is hard to not think about everything the same way.

2. We are what we eat. I recall Hemant telling me this once upon a time. This is true of the meat you eat as well -- the cow that's fed on chemicals and corn will lead to beef that has those compounds, and they will end up in you. It is surprising how apathetic we have become as a civilation about what we eat.

3. Food is a primary reason behind how large our brains are. Koala bears evolved to have a very small brain because they only eat eucalyptus leaves -- and as a result their brains shrank over time because they didn't need to work hard at trying to figure out how to get the food. Humans evolved with a much larger brain because of the complex nature of our meals. This does make you wonder if apathy towards food is going to end up making you dumber.

4. Not everything is suited to be done at large scale. This is especially true about farming. The scalability comes in dumbing down the process, and being able to repeat the same thing again and again.

A good sign for America

Here's to hoping the man makes it all the way to the White house!