Crazy Road Signs

What is the road sign that you least expect to see in front of a clinic/hospital?

A one way street sign.

I guess it says a lot of things about the competency of the medical staff there.

– this photo was captured inside NITIE Campus, mumbai



My friend at FB shared a wonderful picture…
This sign at the shop reads

Credit will only
be given to people
Over 85 years of age
(fine print) That too if accompanied by both the parents


Hindi vs English

A common argument that I (and most of the people use) is that English, unlike Hindi, is not a phonetically correct language. Brits write one thing and pronounce it other.

However today my friend threw a challenge at me.

If you think Hindi is so phonetically correct, then try writing “Mel Gibson” in Hindi.

My Hindi is not that great, so in all the attempts I made, I failed. Can one of you help me with that?


Singapore Markets: Price Discovery

I had been tracking ADRs of Indian company for years now. Many of the prominent companies like ICICI Bank, Tata Motors, Infosys, Tata Communications, HDFC, WIPRO. Dr Reddy’s, MTNL, Sterlite etc. are listed in New York. Being 12 hours behind India, the closing price of this exchange gives the insight about the opening prices in India.

NIFTY Futures are traded in Singapore Stock exchange. On monday NSE closed first for 2 hours then for the rest of the day. However Singapore stock exchange only cooled off trades in NIFTY for 5 minutes. So essentially FII could still trade, while domestic markets were closed.

Days like these makes me wonder if merely tracking prices is good enough. Indian government allows individuals to send money abroad and invest in foreign markets, but why do so few of us avail this facility? (there is an annual upper cap of 100,000 USD or so, but its large enough for most of us)


Indo-Pak relations and Taliban

The situation in SWAT valley, Pakistan is far from normal. As per Time over 1.5 million civilians have been displaced and both sides claim to have killed over a 1000 soldiers.

For the past decade or so the government had little control over North West Frontier, but now the situation has reached crisis proportion. Pakistan needs all the men it can to fight the situation, but the problem is that bulk of its army and military infrastructure is entrenched all along the Indo Pak border and is miles away from the actual battlefield. The trust between we 2 countries is so low that no General can even think of sparing these men.

Now the question is:
1. What is the implication of this Afghan Pak standoff for India?
2. How can India make the best of it?

Losing control over the SWAT valley could destabilize/topple the newly formed democratic government in Pak. Now a democratic govt is always far better for the peace of the region than a military dictator. (Musharaff was a war hero and the chief architect for Kargil War)

Lawlessness are the recruiting grounds for terrorist. Even now Pakistan is feeling the heat of the attacks from these groups. We not only have a moral responsibility to lend them a helping hand, but ending this would reduce a lot of terrorist threats for India. After all its better to curtail the threat of Taliban on Pak soil then battle them out in our cities.

Goodwill: If India makes the smallest gesture like declaring:
“We (India) sympathize with Pak for the battle they are fighting and unilaterally declare cease fire till the threat is over” and also withdraw some troops then it will not only help us gain some goodwill with
a. Pak Army
b. Pak population
c. International Forums.

This will free a lot of Pak troops to fight the talibans. Indian army should also welcome this move because this way not only military expenses will go down, it will free our soldiers for other pressing tasks.

I think a small gesture like this could go a long way in resolving the indo-pak conflict over kashmir and also extract diplomatic mileage.


LTTE and Tamil Refugees

LTTE started with a very noble cause. Since the 70s it fought for the rights of the Tamil people. Initially the Tamils were treated real bad by the Sinhalese. However the success of this extremist outfit forced the government to treat them like equals.
This 30 year long civil war in Sri Lanka has caused a lot of casualties on both sides. However the real people who suffered were the tens of thousands of refugees who were displaced. Almost every mile of the shore of Tamil Naidu (India) has a refugee camp.

India’s history of treating migrants (even from parts of its own country) is abysmally bad. Biharis and Bangladeshis are regularly singled out and rounded up by not only mobs of civilians but also the police. However there is a lot of sympathy for tamil refugees in Tamil Naidu. (Which also explains their ubiquitous presence) So the question is
“Will the Sri Lankan refugees ever return back to their mainland?”
“What will the government of India do?”


Credit Card theft

A friend of mine was a victim of online credit card. Someone used his credit card information to purchase airline tickets online.

This is the advice I gave him.
1. Call the Credit Card Company and block the Credit Card: After verification this process should take 30 seconds and no credit card company can legally ask you questions or try to sway your mind.
2. Then ask them to email/courier you the Credit Card Fraud Form and try to gather as much information as possible about that transaction. (There was one case in which on my ad-on card, my brother made a transaction that he had no recollection of. Hence querying of such details can prevent any such embarrassment)
3. Many good credit cards have a in build fraud protection insurance/scheme. Check the website/documents of any such scheme.
4. Check with the merchant. Usually they help willingly. However if they show reluctance, threaten then with a Credit Card Dispute.
According to investopeida
” This law allows consumers to withhold payment on poor-quality, damaged merchandise or incorrectly billed items they bought with a credit card until the matter is resolved. ”
Basically any merchant understands that once a dispute is called, he would have to spend a lot of time in documentation and legal hassles. Whats worse is that the Credit Card Company will charge the merchant for all the processes at its end and might even blacklist the merchant.
There is often a chance that the merchandise was not shipped, or the travel not made. In those cases timely action limits the damage caused and might also help in nabbing the culprit.
5. Deduct the wrong transaction and Clear all the remaining credit card outstanding, billed and unbilled. This demonstrates the genuineness of your intention and helps to sway the authorities to give a ruling in your favor.


Expense Account and ethics

You would have heard of the IBM sales rep joke who padded his expense account when the boss disallowed for the Hat purchase he had to make. In real life we often tend to go to upscale restaurants, open expensive wine bottles (often multiple) and splurge when given the freedom and access to corporate Amex expense account. However often we don’t realize the long term ramifications.

If you want to screw up your opponents chances of promotion, dig into their expense account and raise objections backed by facts and signatures. No matter how good their achievements are or how much politically connected they are, they can never recover from the embarrassment.

Company expense account is like a blank cheque. If your job responsibilities involve traveling and client interaction, then one can ideally charge almost anything under this account. I have known a few of my friends in sales and marketing who practically live off the expense account.

Almost everyone pays for hotels stay, fancy restaurants, taxis and designer gifts from the expense account. However the problem comes when:
1. We over spend because we are not paying
2. We inflate the bills and expenses
3. Sometimes people even create fake bills. I have known so many people who can get fictitious bills for fuel or medicines from the nearby shop.

What we fail to realize is that just because the expense was approved, does not mean that your misdemeanor went un-noticed. Everyone knows how much a taxi ride from the airport to the hotel costs. So just because one has the receipt, does not mean no one will be suspicious.

Whats worse is that these days data is being stored for eternity and can be retrieved in a jiffy. Back stabbing and office politics has gone so competitive that if someone wants to check the honesty and integrity of an employee, the expense account is the place where they start. Few of the British MP recently woke up to this embarrassing surprise recently.

Just because its allowed, does not mean it is permitted. Spend the corporate money like the way you would spend yours and things will be OK.


Problems of a Universal Currency: Globos (part 2)

I might fancy Swiss chocolates, but Swiss factories will not accept INR. I need to pay them in Swiss Francs.

Currency prices fluctuate every second. So I would not like to trade in Swiss Francs, not the Swiss trader in INR. Hence the need of International Currency like Euro/USD. Both Parties agree that the International Currency will have the same purchasing power tomorrow as it has today. Hence it can be used as a reference.

In the previous post, we had discussed the rise and fall of the various international currencies over the past 2500 years of coinage. But why do one need a currency?

My economist friends would quickly point out that money has 3 uses:
1. Medium of Exchange: It eliminates the transaction problem that usually occurs with Barter system. Your Soft Drink vendor might not fancy the idea of buying grain, but he will surely accept coins.

2. Unit of Account: Since all values and numbers would be converted to the local currency, Money allows people to record and measure their financial data and allows easy comparison.

3. Storage Value of money:
Grain, meat and produce is perishable. However coins are not. Ideally speaking I could store money for eternity and it won’t diminish in value (lets forget inflation for the time being) This fact also facilitates in loaning money and raising capital.

If these are the only purposes of money, then a blanket Universal Currency makes sense. After all:
As we saw in the swiss chocolate case, the more universally accepted is the currency, easier will it be to do trade. Also the easier it is to trade, the more variety and cheaper would be the prices of goods and services. Then why is it that in spite of 2500 years of using money, why there has been no lasting attempt to make an international currency?

To understand money, we have to understand why coins were minted and currency issued. Currency have always been a means for a strong state to leverage on its economic and military strength and raise money.
A coin always had some part of Copper (or other cheaper metal) Yet the value of the coin was historically always equal to its weight in silver/gold. So in effect the more coins a state would mint, the richer it will become. However to do so, the state had to ensure that the world accepts its currency at face value and not the intrinsic value (value of the metal)

Sooner the USA and later the whole world realized that they can issue Fiat Money. Hence now if GoI issues a 1000/- bill, it basically creates a 1000/- for itself out of thin air. But like it Zimbabwe if the government fails, the local currency is rendered worth the paper it is printed on. Now this ability of a government to raise money to fund its deficit is too tempting to resist.
Suppose like in EU, we are able to convince government to be thrifty (easier said and done), the question that still remains is redistribution of the new currency that is printed. Look at the opposition that some of the EU members have against inclusion of Turkey in the alliance.

Ideally speaking every country allocates a larger part of its budget for development of backward regions. However if you start doing this on a global scale, then the rich states object. They feel that their wealth is appropriated by the state and squandered away.

This problem will not go away until the world truly thinks itself as a part of a global village. Euro, in spite of all the hiccups, could achieve that. So there is no reason why the rest of the world could not. However in the decade to come, this looks a bit tricky matter.



International Currency (Part 1)

Today USD is considered as an international currency. However this was not always the case.

Older International currency
1. Denarius (silver coins issued by the Roman Empire) First stuck in 211 BC was in trade till 275 AD. The coin weighed 4.5 gms in silver. The legions of Rome provide stability and its widespread empire provided liquidity/acceptability to these coins. Its influence went beyond the borders of the Roman Empire and even today many Islamic country use the word Dinar for their currency.

2. Ducat: it weighed about 3.5gms of gold and was issued by Venice in 1140 AD. Till the time Venice was the center of trade, Ducat remained the measure of gold and wealth. Even in Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare), the loan was given in Ducats. Mediterranean has always been the center of exchange of goods between Asia, Africa and Europe. Since Venetian Galleys ruled the water there the currency was widely accepted.

3. Soon after the discovery of the New Worlds and the Passage to Asia via Cape of Good Hope Italy’s influence in the world trade declined. The center of international trade and finance shifted to Spain and then Finally to England (because of its widespread colonies). Pound Sterling hence became the currency of choice. All other currency were pegged against Gold or this currency.

4. Dollar: Dollar’s rise to supremacy was not smooth. Early dollars were issued by the merchant bank (and not the US Government) Hence it was not uncommon for an individual owning 10-15 different issues of dollars each valid in different states. Even after the Civil War when US government started issuing dollar, the currency initially failed. Till 1932 there were 2 dollar the Green paper (fiat money) and the Gold Coin. The exchange price of the two were determined on the basis of gold prices. It was only after the World War 1, when the European government owed US huge sums of money that Dollar Supremacy was established. The Fact that Fort Knox had at one time almost half the known bullion in the world further strengthened US Dollar’s position as the international currency of choice.