Thursday, November 23, 2006

Making Sense of Stock Market

For any given future time period, there is no assured strategy for:

  1. Making money, however small the transaction cost.
  2. Losing money, if transaction cost is zero.
  3. Protecting your wealth (against inflation) that completely ignores stock, commodity or other markets.

Corollary: Active trading in a system with non-zero transaction cost makes 2 achievable and 1 unlikely.


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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Dog eat dog world of Game Theory

Out on a walk in the morning, I saw four or five very excited dogs that had surrounded a man sitting on his haunches.

Getting closer, I realised that this man had brought food for them, which naturally led to all the excitement. There was another dog (let's call him White) some paces away, who was kept pushed back and not allowed to join in the party by those who got there first!

I moved quickly to gain a safe distance. That's when I noticed yet another dog (Black, okay?) some 100 metres further down, also walking determinedly to crash the party.

The dramatis personae had gathered and I began to wonder how the script would unfold. Will the two latecomers be able to take on a numerically stronger, established group?

White seemed to debate the same question as he waited for his natural ally to reach the scene. 

They were dealing with dangerous guys, and White knew the odds well. So he quickly went over his notes of , that no doubt his professors in the school of hard knocks had drilled in very solidly. And he declared his strategy by energetically challenging the newcomer!

A ferocious, and probably unnecessary contest, seemed all set, when one from the entrenched group broke away and joined White in beating away the intruder.

And then both returned happily to the party. How cool, I thought!

I moved on, contemplating the lessons so brilliantly worked out by  but even more amazed by how nature has given all her creatures the ability to work out answers, without recourse to any theory. Wish I learnt to theorize less and experience more.

A little later I saw the problem developing in to a game theory nightmare. Two more dogs were following the scent of the friendly man that brought food each morning.


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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Should you have the right to sell your kidney?

Amit Varma asks the question, "Does your body belong to you?" And responds as follows:

Your answer, but naturally, would be: "Of course it does. How dare you even ask?"
And I presume that you'd strongly protest any attempt by the government to assume control over your body. If it issued a diktat that you may not use your left hand on Sundays, or pierce your left earlobe during summer, you would sneer in disbelief, and refuse to give in to the state's conceit.
I also presume that you'd extend your ownership to your kidneys.

Source: India Uncut: Does your body belong to you?

"Legalising the trade of kidneys, thus, should be a complete no-brainer," he goes on to argue.

Quite so, but it may not be correct to assume that because you have ownership of your body, you may trade in it as you please. That would allow unfettered licence for prostitution. Worse, it would make it legal for a very rich man to buy body parts--for making soup, for instance.

Therefore, the trade must be regulated because markets often do not produce desirable (or even efficient) outcomes. Not only in kidneys, but in all the other things that you may own or create.

Consider this: a rich man buys a kidney or two from people who's tissue-type matches his own, and then forbids them from donating or selling to anyone else, as a kind of insurance for himself. Would that be desirable, or even defensible?

Amit doesn't actually make the simplistic argument above. I made it up to present the case for regulation of any trade in kidneys.

How should such regulation be effected? How would I know, I'm only a blogger!


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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Micro Persuasion: The Underground Blogosphere

Steve Rubel has an interesting post on bloggers pitching their posts via email in the hope of getting a link.

The Underground Blogosphere is an intricate web of hundreds of thousands of emails that bloggers send to each other every day. In essence, they are "pitching" their latest posts in hopes of getting a link. Sometimes, bloggers are genuinely looking for good feedback, but more often than not all they are just looking for traffic.

Source: Micro Persuasion: The Underground Blogosphere

There are divergent and equally interesting viewpoints in the comments.

Here I want to share my own experience with emailing links:

  1. I've done it exactly twice to bloggers, because I blogged about what they had written. (One linked and both responded via email. The one who did not link, and neither was expected to, responded again about a later post via email!)
  2. Have also occasionally emailed links to people I know. Mostly these have been ignored, but not the mail itself! (Several attempts to interest my wife, for instance, have completely failed :-)

My point is that there are bloggers (who almost always also read blogs, at least in their own area of interest). And there are other "normal" people, who don't.

The former are interested in links to posts they want to read. So it is fair, if you send them a mail, but only if you genuinely think they would be interested. (There can be no chance of a link, if they aren't interested. And even future possibilities would be closed if your email is put on the blocked senders' list. So it is a self-limiting problem.)

Finally, I've found that most influential, widely read and respected professionals are extremely nice people. And unless provoked to the extreme, are gracious in their response. Steve is one of them.

There is no point in testing their limits. They know how to deal with spam.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

How to Save the World

Here's an excerpt from an old post of Dave Pollard's.

In the Spring of 1969 I fell deliriously, profoundly in love with a tiny, intense young woman of quiet and staggering intelligence. Joanne was an accomplished pianist and flautist who planned to study music at the renowned Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. I wanted to study philosophy and political science and creative writing and an extensive and incongruous group of other subjects. But most of all I wanted to travel the world with Joanne, to transport us to some wondrous, distant place, wrapped in a mutually-woven cocoon of idealistic emotional and intellectual passion and protected from an outside world that I saw as nothing more than a coarse and rude intrusion into the perfection and purity that was we two.

Source: How to Save the World

I'm sure most of you have known a Joanne (or a Dave). For her sake, and for your own, do find the time to read the piece.

Talking about stories takes away from their charm, so I won't type a letter more.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Right brain versus left brain work

Here's a teaser that Dina Mehta put up on her blog. Which was, of course, cracked by her very intelligent readers in no time.

Do puzzle over it before you check the answer.

If you use the right brain to solve it, you won't need a method and a fully formed answer would drop into your mind, as if by magic.

To use the left brain, skip down and follow the suggested steps. May be called cheating in this case.

Was passing by one of the busiest 'walls' in Bombay today .. and couldn't resist this picture. Any guesses on the product? No pink prizes ange :)

A picture named red rose.jpg

Source: Conversations with Dina

The cheating way:

  1. It has to be Red Ro?e. So Rose is a no brainer.
  2. The ® indicates, it is trademark for some product.
  3. The products are PAM*/PAN*; SL*; NIGH*. If you are too lazy to think, go over to, put these letters in the text box, choose "Match these letters" from the dropdown. (You'd have to do it 4 times; twice to cover PAM*/PAN*. )
  4. Select similar products from generated list.
  5. Verify that length of words, when centred or right aligned, match the visible pattern.
  6. Announce the answer to yourself!

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Placing a dagger to seek relief?

"None can be permitted to place a dagger on the neck of the person and seek relief. None can be permitted to hold the city, law and order and the law-abiding citizens to ransom and then ask for relief," Supreme Court of India

Source: The Hindu : Front Page : Apex court will not stay sealing

Yes,it isn't lawful to do so.

But running businesses from residential areas isn't lawful either. MCD turning a blind eye to the goings-on for years isn't lawful. And God knows a thousand other things aren't lawful that the traders could point out against others.

And if you go beyond lawful to what is unfair, reporting the sound byte may not be fair to the judges, whose decisions are probably based on the law and jurisprudence, and not vivid analogies.

But even if the judges hadn't said so, anybody else could have. And there are other provocative things being said, which nobody can stop from rippling through the society.

In other words, this issue is political and the solution would have to be political too.

A full time mom blogs about it here:,

A young man at:

There would be many more. And some may have given analysis based on knowledge of these issues, although I couldn't locate much.

Sound bytes help crystallize opinions, so they have a use. Pelting stones, setting shops on fire or killing people may have been too be useful, in the past. Today we have the option to use all caps, if we must.

We did talk about new options earlier at: Is blogging any use for politics?


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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Sivamani with the Silk in Concert

Have you ever cried and then found it difficult to explain, even to yourself, what had overcome you?

Or woken up from a dream with a recollection more vivid than your normal perception with eyes wide open, and then lost it faster than evaporating dew?

I feared something like this might happen if I delayed writing about yesterday's Indo Jazz concert at the Music Academy, Chennai. It was such a visceral experience!

Sivamani took time reaching the stage, but that's because he entered from the rear, beating drum midst the audience: some basic rhythm and standard showmanship. But man, when he touched that huge drum kit on the stage, it was magic!

I have never heard such drumming before, but can give you an idea if you've heard the sound of distant thunder, the piccolo of birds, and the breath of a tiger. If you have heard the silence of a missed sob.

If you have not just heard these sounds, but experienced them, you have done well to prepare yourself to hear the God of percussion that is Sivamani!

I might have said that he dominated the concert. But that would be exaggeration. Because there was also that sublime vocalist, Shankar Mahadevan

And Louis Banks on the keyboards. This legendary jazz musician, however, preferred to play second fiddle last night.

There were Sridhar Parthasarathy, on mridangam and Karl Peters on electric guitar. Karl's playing the strings percussively and Sridhar's masterful handling of the mridangam enhanced the dominant sounds of the evening.

Surely the jazz aficionados would have preferred more keyboard work. But you can't accommodate everything in one evening, can you?

Mahadevan, however, accommodated a request by the audience to sing Kajra Re! 

It ensured that everyone went home happy!!



Friday, November 03, 2006

Everyday experience and the connected world

Experience seldom scales up very well. We know that:

  1. Hand written greeting cards bring a joy that is missing in e-greetings and forwarded SMS's.
  2. Cooking for a family is different from managing a large kitchen.
  3. Experience of managing a corner store doesn't help when the business is a large departmental store.

It is the same when we tranfer our experience of personal interactions from real world to the virtual one.

People around you wouldn't ignore you so completely, as they may online. A polite smile is almost biologically programmed, but there is no equivalent on the net.

You now have the freedom to say what you want. But nobody has the slightest obligation to pay attention.

In some respects it is disconcerting, but in many others it is fun too!

Source: gapingvoid- cartoons drawn on the back of business cards


Thursday, November 02, 2006

The smell of snake oil

New futuristic transportation coming to a city near you?

It's the SkyBus running on Goa Test Track, but according to Mr B Rajaram on, "India is not getting benefit of own technology innovation."

Hardly surprising because he claims:

  • The SkyBus can provide the comfort of air conditioned travel at speeds up to 250 kmph. 
  • A 100 km network can be built in less than 3 years at roughly Rs 5000 crores.
  • Estimated return on investment exceeds 15%

Smells of snake oil to me. (Please read the text below.)

But it seems crores of rupees from public funds have already been spent on the test track and other development work!

Perhaps, some bloggers might want to have a more careful look and form an opinion. (If you blog about it, please, do tag it: SkyBusAtrilab.)

Strategy: Digitally empowered knowledge-embedded- infrastructure-evolution to make basic infrastructure
of roads, railways, air/sea ports, power management, healthcare, water/sewage management, municipal
house keeping functions, habitat development for under-privileged, agricultural water management/
harvesting/ transportation to processing centers, basic food processing and delivery systems, educational
support – almost covering the entire gamut of human life.

Source: Atrilab About Us

Update: In response to this post I received a document called the SkyBus Fallacy. It raises some very interesting and pertinent questions. (The last part is an embedded image, which does not show clearly in Google Docs. If you need to verify the calculations yourself, I shall be happy to email the original MS Word file.)