Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Great Hangover

Thanks to Saumil for recommending me this book.

A lot happened last year in the US financial industry and people say that is going to be very historical. There are references that we came very close to Great Depression. Yet beyond the main headlines, i had no idea what really happened, its causes, consequences etc.

The Great Hangover is a collection of about 21 articles covering the Financial meltdown by reporters at Vanity fair. The articles are quite detailed and very very interesting to read. My favorite ones are articles written by Bryan Burrough. Michael Lewis, the ones on Bernie Madoff, again, very interesting read.

Highly recommended -

So what is the take away from all this -

I think that the one lesson that clearly emerges is that "there is no such thing as free money". If you are seeing any lucrative offer, a scheme paying higher interest rates than others, or if you are earning money more than you think you deserve, it has to pay off through some means in the end. You may win in the start but later on, there is no free lunch and it is a risky game, gamble actually and you can also loose. And thats what happened.

But it is a gamble with a difference. In a gambling game, only players win or loose, spectators can merely watch and enjoy. But in financial world, this didn't happen. People who took risk failed and it was tax payers money needed to bail them out, so even those who were not directly playing had to pay. The explanation here is that you have paid the cost for seeing something wrong and not doing anything about it. The era of "consumption" of democracy is over, either be active or "be satisfied with what you get". This also sends a wrong signal to the people who took risk because they were able to get away with that, well not all of them but many did.
These people still earn more than what they deserve and are unashamed by the fact that they have their jobs right now because of this massive intervention by the govt. Their unabashed attitude is still a problem.

Oh come on, you take someone's money, claim 2% of the money as your fees and 20% of the margins that you earn on it, don't you think that it is too high. Every bubble has to burst sometime, the whole attitude is to make money before it comes and some succeed and some fail. Those who fail are the most vocal, but they forgot it when they were making money.

There is also a documentary - Inside job that explains this whole mess in a different perspective. It is narrated by Matt Damon and is quite a good watch. Although many people declined to be interviewed for the movie, but for the ones who did, they still do no see anything wrong with the system. Many believe that it was just a happenstance and economy will bounce back.The movie does a great job in interviewing economists and asking them the conflict of interest when these same economists are on the board of these different financial companies.

Manas and i were enjoying this movie, laughing , giggling, making fun etc. But the entire hall was shocked after watching the movie. There were many elders in the hall, many who could feel the pain and see that nothing has changed. For us, we watched the movie from a complete detached perspective, the meltdown had not affected me at all, i have a job and it pays me more than i deserve. One old man sitting one row back to us said "This is the scariest movie i have ever seen". People were shocked - and there was an emotion of helplessness, not knowing what to do - the same emotion that comes when you watch Peepli live, i guess.

I would also recommend this movie, to anyone who did not follow what epic event happened in 2009, anyone who wants to know what the future is in store for us.

Inside job :

Rally to restore Sanity.

Today Jon Stewart's rally to restore sanity was held in Washington. I got to see the last 80 mins of it. It was hilarious and touching - awesome! just like his show. Of particular importance to me was his last 10 minute monologue (transcript copied below), in that he gives the analogy of traffic merging from 6 lanes to 1 lane by showing a video and there he says that inspite of our differences, we still share and say - you go, then i will go, there is such simple human co-ordination at play and that comes just because we are human. I found this to be very nice, even more so because i too had thought about it sometime ago, in a slightly different context - mine was stop signs. At an intersection, there are stop signs, no stop lights and people are courteous to let the guy who came first leave first. No one tries to outsmart the others and everyone patiently waits even though the road in front of them is empty. This thing is not just a human courtesy but it is there in the law, basically the law expects this level of decency. This is just awesome! And Jon Stewart thinks too now.

Overall, the rally was amazing. Stephen Colbert and Stewart had some very nice jokes. But with a name like "rally to restore sanity", thats simply going to work.

Here is his transcript -

“I can’t control what people think this was. I can only tell you my intentions. This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.

But unfortunately one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24 hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous flaming ant epidemic.

If we amplify everything we hear nothing. There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats but those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Partiers or real bigots and Juan Williams and Rick Sanchez is an insult, not only to those people but to the racists themselves who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate--just as the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe not more. The press is our immune system. If we overreact to everything we actually get sicker--and perhaps eczema.

And yet, with that being said, I feel good—strangely, calmly good. Because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us through a fun house mirror, and not the good kind that makes you look slim in the waist and maybe taller, but the kind where you have a giant forehead and an ass shaped like a month old pumpkin and one eyeball.

So, why would we work together? Why would you reach across the aisle to a pumpkin assed forehead eyeball monster? If the picture of us were true, of course, our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable. Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own? We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is—on the brink of catastrophe—torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day!

The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV. But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live our values and principles form the foundations that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done. Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives. Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do—often something that they do not want to do—but they do it--impossible things every day that are only made possible by the little reasonable compromises that we all make.

Look on the screen. This is where we are. This is who we are. (points to the Jumbotron screen which show traffic merging into a tunnel). These cars—that’s a schoolteacher who probably thinks his taxes are too high. He’s going to work. There’s another car-a woman with two small kids who can’t really think about anything else right now. There’s another car, swinging, I don’t even know if you can see it—the lady’s in the NRA and she loves Oprah. There’s another car—an investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah. Another car’s a Latino carpenter. Another car a fundamentalist vacuum salesman. Atheist obstetrician. Mormon Jay-Z fan. But this is us. Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear—often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers.

And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile long 30 foot wide tunnel carved underneath a mighty river. Carved, by the way, by people who I’m sure had their differences. And they do it. Concession by conscession. You go. Then I’ll go. You go. Then I’ll go. You go then I’ll go. Oh my God, is that an NRA sticker on your car? Is that an Obama sticker on your car? Well, that’s okay—you go and then I’ll go.

And sure, at some point there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute, but that individual is rare and he is scorned and not hired as an analyst.

Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light we have to work together. And the truth is, there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together.

If you want to know why I’m here and want I want from you, I can only assure you this: you have already given it to me. Your presence was what I wanted.

Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder. To see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine. Thank you."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Life in July 26 - Oct 23

Wow, that long! That long to write status updates on my life. And i had no idea what took it so long. I was not busy, well not busy at work but other things were happening. Lets see what all it was -

The best - Ran the San Jose Half marathon. Feels good, on to next target - full marathon.

Attended Indian Ocean's concert. Good concert, didn't like the fact that we had to sit and attend .... who listens to Indian Ocean while sitting still, no one. But they played Zindagi se darte ho. Jugalbandi was also quite good. They had to get two people to replace Rahul, i liked the new band members.

Went to a hike on Mission peak with Nikesh. Short two hrs hike but enough for me to say - Mission peak conquered.

Abhinav Shantaram stayed with me for a week. Good fun having him here. Went to Stanford with him once.

Nandini has decided to go back to India, atleast somebody amongst us still has some sense left. She came to visit. We went to Hearst castle and drove on highway 1. Drive was good, castle was ok. May not go again, but he (Mr. Heart) had loads of money.

Went to Atlanta for Achin's wedding. Had a great time there. Its always fun in family get togethers especially in wedding occasions.

Watched a play - Superior donuts at mvcpa. The play details can be found on wikipedia - Nice warm play with a sad happy ending.

Joined camera cinema club and attended the movie - Conviction. Really liked the movie, cried in the end. Great acting by Hillary Swank and Sam Rockwell. Direction could have been better, the movie lacked polish but such a powerful story. And a true story as well. Thanks for making the movie. Watching movie at camera cinema club, where there is this anticipation, suspense and every time a different emotion so far. i love it.

Got promoted, and got more options. Life at work see-sawed. Currently, it is at the high end. It was tough when it was low. Good times, bad times - they all come and go.

Bought a new laptop. Currently writing from it. Ipad is working fine.

Finished my ipad cover - a beautiful felted cover with threads hanging to show its authenticity :) Working on flap at the moment as the cover shrunk more than i expected. Size 50 needles have arrived, next project - a big rug.

Started a course at Stanford - Its called - The future of energy - The effect of climate change, policy and markets. Website - 5 week courses, one class every week. 2 hrs each class. Mainly to get more knowledge of energy and the world we live in.

Team Asha training has ended. Went to last weekday run, only Matt was there. Thanks Team Asha for your help and support.

Watched the movie The Town. Ok movie. Love Rebecaa Hall's performance. Would have been great had Casey Affleck been the protagonist.

Words with Friends on ipad was a fever with me last two months. Megan and Dhruv were regular opponents with others too.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Anatomy of Kerala tourism video

Thanks to Justin for sharing the video and his interesting post can be read here -

I just cant seem to get over the visual imagery in the video. I think its time for me to watch another Kim Ki Duk's film, its been a long time.

A few thoughts before i begin my analysis -
Thanks to the video makers / kerala govt for making this. With the video so surreal, i am not sure how it got approved. This video has some elements that are non-trivial, and they are not visible immediately but they add to the experience. It is videos like these which are made for repeated viewing, mainly to understand how one's brain works. If we like the video, if it clicks to us, then what is it. This post is my attempt to understand this 3 min video.

Start scene - Man fishing. ( 0 to 26 sec)
Firstly, it is an animation but very well done, so my mind is always trying to fiigure out, is this real? This creates intense concentration. Next, the camera is fixed but it is the water that is moving which gives life to the scene (as opposed to a static postcard). The man is still for the first half of this clip, and during that time, the eyes are looking at the imagery which is too good to be true. And then at 11 second mark, the man moves, but just observe his style of movement, and when i see his posture with legs crossed, my facial microexpression says - "yeah! thats correct".

Woman on massage table scene - (27 sec - 57 sec)
Camera is upside down, but that should have been ok, but it is the lateral movement of the camera which keeps us engaged. Since it is handheld, it is not entirely linear, so it gives us a perception that we are looking by our own eyes. And ofcourse the model is very beautiful too! Next, the camera jumps to show her in full, but again the lateral camera motion is still there. The camera just becomes our eyes and we feel as if we are there. And look at the next clip, the camera cuts to her face but this time, the camera is static and the actress is the one who moves, still giving us the same feeling of being physically observing it. The next two scenes just gives us the visual beauty of the landscape and what speaks is the calm, serene, and beautiful backdrop.

Man practicing Kathakali at his home (58 seconds - 1min 18 seconds)
This one is the best as per me. Look at how the video starts - the camera is outside the man's boundary, just above the mud wall, as if it is sneakily peeking to someone's house. It looks like we are the ones who are sneakily peeking, this goes for 6 seconds (just enough time for the brain to register this feeling) and then camera goes to the closeup. In all kathakali / tourist promotion viodeos, we always see the final imagery, man with paintings making facial expressions, but very rarely we have witnessed a man practicing the art, without the makeup, in its pure raw form, and while sitting at his home. We can see what actually happens, beyond the makeup. And then the last part, the camera is now inside the house, just above the wall boundary and we see the lady walking outside. This completes the story here, it was she who was peeking. It took 20 seconds to narrate a complete story and people experiencing atleast 5 different emotions in this time period.

Lady in boat scene (1min 19 seconds - 1 min 39 seconds)
Again, a very deep 20 second clip. What should you do if you are in the most peaceful place in the world - you think, introspect and reflect upon yourself. The 20 second clip describes those three adjectives in that order. It starts with the lady deep in thought and her reflection approaching her. Again, kudos to the way it is done, same clothes, almost same expression. But notice carefully, they two ladies are looking i different directions, it is not entirely a mirror image. And as the boats cross, the lady directly stares in the camera. At this point the viewer is convinced that the two are looking into each other, the camera position just adds that effect so silently. "Reflect upon oneself" if you ever have to portray this idea, how will you do it? Just think about it, its very hard! But the way this scene captures it, :) . Also there is some effect by the fact that the boats are moving, it does give some subconscious signal of time, passing thoughts and the slowness of the boat, just registers the fact that time slows down in this world.

Lady with long hair ( 1min 40 to 1 min 59 seconds)
We start by looking at the lady through a tree's branch. And the camera is moving backwards. I am not sure about the significance of the scene, to me there are two possibilities - on one side, it tells about Kerals's traditional practices portraying the myth and the mysticism in it or the other possibility is that you can be as insane as you want to be here :) . But cut to the next clip, now we are looking in the opposite direction and instantly we see the big tree with its convoluted branches and children sitting on them. The camera, again from this angle, moves backwards. We see the lady coming out of herself and looking at the people.

Dance form scene ( 2min to 2min 13 seconds)
I believe those are different dance forms in Kerala and they are just shown in an artisitic manner. The scene where we see the man arbit lip faces and the lady relaxing enjoying it, its actually the lady looking at the dance and enjoying it. The lip movements are not directed towards her, it is a art trick to show both the player and viewer in the same frame. And there are many things that are beyond my art interpretation, like why there is a dog in the long shot scene in this clip?

Lady and the elephant ( 2min 14 seconds to 2 min 50 seconds)
What is the end feeling that the maker wants us to leave with ? This scene captures that in a very indirect manner. The final emotions are natural beauty, wildlife, peace and being one with yourself and nature. Notice how the camera moves laterally here, just showing that there is so much silence in the backdrop. In the closeup frame, the expression on her face is of peace And in the last part, the camera moves backwards, as if it is leaving the two together .... in inner bliss. In the moment.

Your moment is waiting.
Which moment is talking about? Justin Cherian in his blog writes that it could mean anything but i beg to differ. I believe that there is only one moment that is being referred and that moment is the moment of inner bliss. The same moment with which the camera signs of that visual imagery. Admire the articulation "Your moment is waiting" here - It is not you who is waiting, it is your moment that is waiting. You can achieve the moment, it is within your reach, infact it is waiting for you to come.

Wow! It will take some time to settle it. The application of the whole to Kerala tourism is just a brilliant idea. Kudos!

Lastly, if you liked the video, may i recommend the movie - The vertical ray of Sun

Monday, October 4, 2010

Techcrunch disrupt.

I attended Techcrunch disrupt second day as part of my company. Techcrunch disrupt is an annual conference where startups come and pitch their products, mainly focussed on some disrupting products.

Liked products such as qwiki (which even won the contest), cloudFair, Gunzoo, Lark ( great idea) , and some others. Some were quite bad which made me wonder - really ? :)

But overall, what i liked was the spirit of conference, great minds gathered under an expo and discussing the next generation of disruptive ideas. This to me was the highest point in technology so far, everyone sitting with their smart devices, sharing ideas on twitter/fb etc, companies demoing on ipad, judges evaluating on ipad, startups everywhere, cloud, social, all buzz words in the air. And everyone excited about it, everyone trying to add their contribution to this ecosystem. Everyone believing in their ideas and working towards it.

A nice experience, a good look into whats happening in Silicon valley. Seriously, if you look here, if you see some things that people are doing here, it is a totally different world. Ways to make information tractable, meaningful etc, these are problems that silicon valley is seeing and silicon valley is solving. Only once the solution is there, then the world will notice it and adopt it, till then we are on an island, trying to make sense of things.

Kishan vs Kanhaiya

I went to see a Paresh Rawal play - Kishan vs Kanhaiya. I liked it to an extent. It deals with the atheism vs believing God. The good part was that they chose this subject, still and always a favorite. The bad part was that in all such plays, believers always win.

The premise of the play is that Kishan lal's is an atheist whose work gets destroyed due to an earthquake. His insurance company refuses to pay the cost because it was an act of God. So Kishan decides to sue god (Kanhaiya, hence the name Kishan vs Kanhaiya) in court and then wins the case in end.

Paresh Rawal plays the protagonist, this is the kind of role in which he excels and its truly great to watch him. His dialogue delivery and sheer timing makes the play watchable. The supporting cast is quite disappointing as per me, even their direction is straight out of some Bollywood movie.

Some of the dialogues written about atheism, some about value of hard work are quite good. Overall an average play.

Achin's wedding

Went to Achin's wedding last weekend, It was in Atlanta. Nicely organized ceremony. Among other things, the highlight was meeting Amit, my cousin. During ladies sangeet, we were finding it difficult to find sangeet songs. But Amit came with some awesome Punjabi boliyan.

The best was this punjabi song - billo ji. I have found a youtube video but even it does not do any justice to the way he sang it

The Hawan was done in an innovative style - Panditji was explaining the meaning of those sanskrit mantras in english so that others can follow what is happening during the ceremony. This was much appreciated by everyone.

Also learnt another cards game...... woh shaadi hi kya jismein patte na khele gaye hon :)

But like the last time, and like every other wedding, the best part was the thass that follows after the ceremonies. The never ending thass where we discuss anything and everything and all with good spirit. Another event that we will never forget is the dance of Pant Auntie. Her unique style of dance which was basically dance without emotions,, dance with a straight face was immensely discussed and laughed. But seriously, she must be 55+ and the way she was dancing was amazing, hats off to her. But what followed her dance was people trying to imitate her, people trying to visualize her...awesome!

First half marathon

Headlines on Oct 4, 2010.

Indian Express -
Arvind Batra finishes half marathon in 2 hrs 58 minutes, 36 seconds.

The Hindu -
Arvind Batra rocked and rolled in San jose Rock-n Roll half marathon.

Times of India
"Every body part hurts" -Arvind Batra

Hindustan Times
Team Asha, cheerleaders and random strangers help Arvind Batra cross the finish line.

Punjab Kesari -
अरविन्द बत्रा के छक्के छक्के छूट गए

NavBharat times
धूप में धमकते नज़र आये अरविन्द बत्रा

Tehelka news
Arvind Batra remembers every junk food eaten in his last mile run at San jose half marathon.

Random blogger
Arvind batra disappointed by fifty year olds finishing ahead of him gets some solace on seeing younger people finishing after him.

on arvindbatra,

Wow, it feels good to reach a milestone, and running a half marathon is. I think it will be one of the best things that i have done this year. Truly enjoyed the experience. I think the biggest highlight of the day to me (other than me finishing the race) was the whole spirit of volunteerism and selfless service. Countless people standing at the sidelines and cheering for you. The school kids who were so eager to give water, cheerleaders who never stopped for the entire three hrs, and random strangers. So many stories

A home at mile 2 mark decided to give bacon to runners to cheer them up.

A stranger ( a man of age 50+) at mile 11 told me - You are almost there and you are looking good, run easy and don't injure yourself.

People at mile 4.5 cheering the top 2 runners who are returning to base. No hard feelings :)

A school kid at a mile 6.6. water station - Please take my water, please take mine!

A local family sprinkling water through their garden hose on people.

Countless families sitting in front of their houses and yelling "Keep going"

A man came out and started playing his guitar to entertain us. A teenager was playing beautiful drums in a rhythm.

Completed marathoners running last two miles again with friends to give them support and help them complete.

The school kids had assembled in morning as early as 6:30 am. Water stops at every 2 miles were such a great help. It was a very humid day. What a validation of selfless service today. And Team Asha people cheering all the way. I could not have finished without you.

My mile chart
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 11.5 12 12.25 12.50 12.75 12.9 13.0 13.1

Running to me is as much a physical effort as it is a mental one. It is very easy to walk 13 miles but to push yourself to run requires a lot of mental strength.

Watch out - next milestone - full marathon in 2011.