30 May 2011

The Inflation Conundrum...

So the RBI has raised interest rates 9 times this fiscal year; the last one by 50 bps. The GoI and RBI claim this is being done to counter inflation, which seems to be steady between 8 – 9%. Developed countries suffer from stagnating capital markets, while developing countries have to combat inflation.
Inflation is mainly of two types – supply driven and demand driven. Supply driven inflation means the supply outscores the demand, leading to a reduction in price due to abundance and surplus of goods & services in the market. Demand driven inflation, on the other hand, leads to increase in prices as the demand is larger than supply. The Indian government seems to be treating the existing inflation issue as demand driven. It believes there is surplus liquidity in the market and hence asks the RBI to raise interest rates to make money more valuable. But this action seems to be doing very little save adversely impacting our country’s growth figures. Hoarding of some primary food items has been occurring on quite a few occasions (sugar in 2009, onions last year, etc.). The demand is thus, much higher than the presence of those commodities in the market and this leads to increase in their prices. But a 150% price jump? And that too for basic food items? Does the GoI think the poor, who form 60% of India’s population, will be able to afford it? And does the GoI think this problem will get sorted by increasing lending and deposit rates in banks? Think again.
The lower class needs food to survive, and this dwindling of food supply is the primary cause of food inflation, which I can presume is in double digits. 22 lakh tonnes of food grains get wasted annually due to sub – standard storage facilities set up by the governments. Infrastructure (highways, railways, connecting roads, etc.) are in appalling conditions. Over 1 lakh litres of rain water annually get wasted per city because the government has no storage set ups for it. Imagine the wonders reduction on dependence of rain water could do for farmers. They could be lesser worried about uncertainty, food harvests would be close to bumper crops every year, more mouths could be fed and proper infrastructure could ensure the food commodities reach all the people.
The central government needs incentivize farmers to produce more crops. Private companies like Reliance, Future Group, ITC are doing something on those lines by offering farmers more money for their produce and eliminating middlemen. This is also increasing supply chain efficiency and benefiting the urban customer. Companies like Jain Irrigation can build a lot of water storage areas and ensure that the farmer is less dependent on rains and ground water and feels more secure at his profession. Tax benefits need to be increased to companies which work on developing hard and soft infrastructure (the latter includes hospitals, toilets, schools, colleges, etc.) in backward villages. The government needs to encourage companies carrying out such activities which will lead to overall growth of rural areas and still maintain our food production and supply, so that we do not have to depend on foreign countries some decades later for food grains.
True, the suggestions I have made may sound a bit farfetched as India has a lot of leaks in its system. But if anyone can make it possible, it is the team of Dr. Manmohan Singh, P. Chidambaram, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Pranab Mukherjee. We have a very formidable team at the head of the Central Government, along with a very able chairperson of the RBI. It is about time these leaders pay attention to glaring problems in the Indian economy. These development policies will not only help India continue on its growth drive avoid getting stunted, but also ensure that happy and satisfied citizens of India revote the Congress into power for at least the next 2 terms. It remains to be seen what the politicians of India really want from this country and their positions.

22 May 2011

How Google Changed the World

The year was 1996.  It had only been 15 years since 1981, when Microsoft had introduced their revolutionary DOS operating system on IBM and other PCs, and started their ambitious goal of putting a personal computer into every home.  The world had also just started to transition to the colour of Windows 95 monitors after more than a decade immersed in monochrome monitors. Two years ago, in 1994, Yahoo! had created the first comprehensive directory of the World Wide Web with their Yahoo! directory. The internet for the general public was born in the mid 90s, as many people rushed to post information onto the internet, supporting its initial growth.

With all this information on the internet, it was critical to find a way for people to find information. With a way to find information that people needed, it would further support the growth and continued use of the internet. During the late 90s, the search engine Alta Vista became the most popular search engine in the world, allowing people to find some of the information they were searching. However, its search results were mostly trashy, as it was difficult to pinpoint relevant information for which one was searching.

Fortunately, in 1996, a new university graduate project collaboration between two graduate students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, was under way. It used an innovative approach. Instead of merely using a forward mechanism of searching for pages, it calculated a web page’s importance or relevance based on backlinks linking to a certain site, through PageRank, after crawling and indexing as many pages as possible. The result was a highly-targeted search engine, which allowed for highly precise search results, truly allowing people to find a needle in a haystack. What, in the past, may have taken days, weeks, months, or even a lifetime of searching, just took a few seconds. The company, Google, was incorporated in 1998. Like many of us, Google’s initial beginnings were humble. As poor graduate students, the founders of Google sometimes looked for microprocessors that were being dumped and not used by the university any more in order to use them for servers. Gradually, knowledge about the relevance and usefulness of Google’s search engine spread throughout the world. In 2000, Google tried to sell its search engine to Yahoo! for $1 million, but Yahoo! unfortunately, did not have the foresight and declined.

After the .com crash at the turn of the millennium, many more useless internet companies had to fold. Throughout this time, Google, who provided a highly essential service to people, was able to plough through this difficult period and give the internet its needed structure and stability. Eventually, Google figured out a way to monetize its search engine through AdWords in 2002.

Today, Google contributes to everything we can think of online. Picassa is one of the best online photo sharing applications, Google Maps is an application almost everyone uses for directions before they visit a new location, the Android OS has already dipped into about 30% of the iOS’ market share of tablet PCs and mobile phones, Orkut was quite a social networking hit before Facebook eclipsed it, the Google Blogger site which allows bloggers to maintain online diaries and share their thoughts if they choose. We don’t need to mention the Google search engine which is arguably still the best in the world and keeps updating itself e.g. the iGoogle search engine which allows one to personalize his/her search page. “Google it!” is a new term that is used by many people when looking for information. Google has not only synchronized the World Wide Web, but has empowered most people with information on virtually anything they want. Indeed, Google has changed the world!

8 May 2011

The Week That Was...

The week from 1st to 7th May, 2011 was quite an eventful one in context of happenings across the world. The killing of Osama bin Laden, Sony’s CEO Howard Stringer apologizing for the hacking of Playstations and offering $1 million per user in remuneration, more 2G scam revelations coming to light, the BSE rallying up and down, etc. were some of the events that occurred. We’ll focus on a few that really made the headlines in morning papers.

Osama bin Laden was reported dead on late Sunday evening. US Navy SEALS infiltrated into his Pakistan quarters and successfully killed him. This was timed perfectly to occur just before Obama begins his election campaign. Bin Laden wasn’t brought back to the US like Saddam Hussain and electrocuted on the chair! Instead, he was shot in the head and his remains buried at sea. A bit too convenient, it seems. And was bin Laden really responsible for 9/11? The documentary Zeitgeist proves otherwise; more so that it was an inside job. Also, the bin Ladens were especially close to George Bush Snr. and managed to get a lot of favours from Bush Jnr. right after 9/11. That is not to say that the news may not be true, but I have my reservations. What the news has done, though, is that it has spread a lot of euphoria amongst US countrymen. That, and additional jobs created, have increased Obama’s popularity drastically. He has almost reserved a stint for himself at the White House for the next few years. He can afford to spend nothing for his election campaign and still be a major contender for the position of President of the United States.
For the 9th time this fiscal year, the RBI increased interest rates; this time by 50 bps. This, they declared, was one of the key measures in controlling inflation in India, though it was not investor friendly. This policy, along with possibilities of a global economic recovery, led to the SENSEX dropping for 9 successive sessions before rising on Friday. A lot of people also lost money invested in silver as it lost its shine by almost 30% in this week alone. Experts cite the reduction in imports into China as the main reason for this slide in not only silver, but other commodities also. This might encourage those investors to enter the stock market and possibly help it rally upwards in the near future. Crude also dropped to below $100 a barrel after long. This could spell good news for India and other countries as the prices of fuel may now not rise as sharply as expected. Also, a reduction in dependant palm oil and other raw material could reduce input costs and margin pressures for many industries. Also, reduction in edible and cooking oil could lead to control in food prices and positively impact inflation. That being said, all we can do is wait and watch if the Indian government proactively takes some more measures to benefit the common man.
Kanimozhi has finally been named in the CBI chargesheet and was presented in court this week. She looked extremely tense, bordering on tears. Ram Jethmalani defended her staunchly in court saying she claims her main fault is she is Karunanidhi’s daughter and hence she is being targeted though she had nothing to do with the 2G scam, and that it was all Raja’s fault. She now wants to be granted bail on the grounds that she is a woman. Strange... she did not think of all this when she was one of the main perpetrators in the 2G scam, something the evidence accumulated by the CBI clearly shows. It is amusing how Kalmadi, Sheila Dixit, Kanimozhi and other politicians amass all the wealth when they can, but blame the entire world when they are exposed. Anyway, I am sure I speak for most people when I say that I hope justice is dished out to all those guilty, man or woman.
Of course, I have not mentioned the Royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The who’s who of the world were present, and the paparazzi ensured the high profile wedding was covered from all angles; attendees, fashion, celebrations, etc. I didn’t follow it to be able to write a lot about it, though.
We didn’t have only one headline repeated over and over again this week, though the media were more than keen on constantly covering the death of Bin Laden. So the world did see highs and lows this week, and it was fun. It’s a pity such weeks do not come often to keep us interested and thinking. Now, the consequences of the events that have unfolded remain to be seen. Hopefully they will be positive; the world has witnessed too much bad news in the past few months.

3 May 2011

20 Things To Let Go!

A wonderful article which my professor shared with me:

You are in an imaginary hot air balloon. It’s just you and all of your belongings in the wicker basket. Something went wrong and you are losing altitude fast. You will hit the ground in less than ten minutes if you don’t come up with something quick.
The only immediate solution is to get rid of excess weight and throw off at least half of your belongings. It’s that or hit the ground in ten. You look at the things and hesitate for a few seconds but then you do what you have to do and start throwing the things you have gathered half your life one by one. The cargo gets lighter, the descent slows down then you are floating up again back to altitude. You are relieved beyond comprehension.
This happens to all of us in less dramatic circumstances. We attach ourselves to things that we have accumulated over the years. Some of them might have some practical value. Others we just have attached ourselves sentimentally to over time. Some others are just clutter.

Our mental life follows the same fate. We carry with us a lot of things in our heads along the years – Our life story, emotional attachments, beliefs and other things which can linger in our minds for many years. Some of them are useless ideas that drag us down considerably. Some are emotional debris from difficult moments in our past. Some are just beliefs which we have attached ourselves to for no apparent justifiable reason. Some others are just self-destructive habits and fears.

So if you were in the hot air balloon situation, which of these mental barriers should we let go? I have listed down 20 here. Do you have any more?

1. Let go of attachments: According to Buddhist Philosophy, attachment is one of the roots of all suffering. I can’t agree more. We attach ourselves to all sorts of things even the most self-slapping stupid notions in the universe. Are you attached to something? How much are you attached? Is it keeping you back from something? Is it making you suffer? Look at it straight through – break the illusion. Know that every attachment can be detached.

2. Let go of guilt: Guilt has absolutely no function whatsoever. Think about it – what could guilt possibly resolve? It just holds you imprisoned to self-mortification and sorrow.

3. Let go of Negative thinking: Pessimistic thoughts and negative attitudes keep you locked in a dark aura that permeates in everything you do. It’s a dangerous line to follow. Know that thoughts influence the world around us. Enough said

4. Let go of self-criticism: Many times we are our biggest pain in the neck. We criticize ourselves with the best of intentions but then go over the acceptable limit. Criticism then turns to disempowering messages. Let go of it and be kind and gentle to yourself.

5. Let go of prejudice: Prejudice keeps you bitter and resentful. It restricts your opportunities to connect meaningfully with others.

6. Let go of compulsive thinking: Do you keep on doing something just because you feel you have to do it without any apparent reason? It’s time to honestly reflect on its usefulness and its side-effects.

7. Let go of the need for others’ approval: We often tend to seek approval by others. This is an attention-seeking behaviour and one which threatens our self-confidence and authenticity.

8. Let go of limiting beliefs: Most of our limits are self-imposed. Life doesn’t have defined limits. Our beliefs do. Learn to identify those beliefs which narrow down your possibilities for action and let go of them.

9. Let go of grudges: Let me put it this way – grudges are bad for your heart. Keep them long enough or numerous enough and your health will eventually suffer. Research is showing the relationship between heart disease and emotions such as anger and grudges.

10. Let go of the “I’ll do it tomorrow” attitude: This is a delaying tactic of your subconscious saboteur trying to keep you from accomplishing important tasks. Try to be aware of it when you think it and consciously push yourself to do at least the first part of it. Naturally you will then continue the whole task because the hard part is only the beginning.

11. Let go of anxious thoughts: These are born out of our fear of the unknown and uncertainty about the future. The thought that something unpleasant may happen is only an unreal thought we have created ourselves. Ask yourself: “Is this thought based on real evidence?”

12. Let go of past heartbreaks: A heartbreak can take quite a long time to heal. Your heart is locked as your mind keeps on hovering over the same thought. The thing to realize is that in heartbreaks it is not the loss that make you suffer but the idea you create in your heads about that loss.

13. Let go of bad memories: Sometimes we remember unpleasant things that stir up some sad feelings in us. Bad memories make you relive those sad moments in the present. Keep them where they are – in the past.

14. Let go of useless things: We also attach ourselves to things of all sort. Sometimes we clutter our life with useless objects. Let go of them and simplify your working and living environment.

15. Let go of bad company: If there are people around you that are insincere, harbour envy, are highly pessimistic or disempowering, keep away from them.

16. Let go of the idea that you are a product of your past: One very common mistake we fall into is the belief that we are determined by our past experiences. This limits our view on future possibilities since we are stuck in believing that the future can only be more of the same as our past.

17. Let go of identifying yourself with your job/role: This is one of the risks of modern day life. Since roles are always becoming more specialized we think that we are part of our roles. This makes us lose perspective of our true nature.

18. Let go of counterproductive habits: These are the repetitive patterns of behavior that obstruct or distract you from constructive and productive behavior. They can be anything from watching too much TV and overeating to self-destructive behavior such as drug abuse.

19. Let go of taking things too personally: Very often we are disturbed emotionally because we interpret people’s words and actions from a very subjective perspective. When we take things personally we get irritated, hurt and disappointed.  When you look at life from a more detached and objective point of view, we stay emotionally balanced and focused on our priorities.

20. Let go of the ticking clock: Time is one of our biggest sources of stress. Well, not time really but our perception of it. Sometimes we are enslaved by the concept of time even in our moments of leisure. This has devoured a lot of our genuine freedom and space. Learning to spend moments without the constant awareness of time can be liberating and finally productive.
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