Monday, March 26, 2007

Holi-day Celebrations

ASHA Stanford hosted Holi celebrations at the lush green venue of Sandhill Park in Stanford. Holi is the festival of colors and is celebrated to welcome spring. It turned out to be a colorful day!

Wearing Trashbags to Save the Seats

Here comes a big Splash

Thursday, March 22, 2007

CSI : Jamaica

The stakes at the World Cup Cricket played in the West Indies are sky high now. Notwithstanding the pressure of performance from the fans demanding victories in every game, players have to tend to their commercial interests and also contend with bookies now.

The World Cup has just snared its first victim- the coach of the Pakistan Team...the inimitable Bob Woolmer. He died shortly after his team's defeat to Ireland, and I was sure that there was some foul play involved. The BBC now reports that he was infact murdered. A post-mortem examination established that the former England player had died as a result of "manual strangulation".

This is a heinous act and the perpetrators of this crime should be apprehended at the earliest. The clues are pretty strong, and a CSI analysis would be based on these facts:
  • Bob Woolmer went back to his hotel room the day of the defeat after 8:30 pm, the maid found him unconscious at 10 am and he was declared DOA at 1215 pm.

  • He was found partially naked, draped in a towel, indicating that this was either before he went to bed or early in the morning. The post-mortem will have a more accurate estimate.

  • Since he was draped in a towel and found dead in his bathroom, it indicates he knew the attacker(s) and probably let them into the room and had an animated discussion before matters went out of hand. There was no sign of forced entry into Mr Woolmer’s hotel bedroom, nor had his possessions been disturbed

  • In the Police Commissioner's own words "Bob was a large man - it would have taken some significant force to subdue him". This indicates either a large man like himself or more than one person attacked and killed him

  • The people with the greatest motive are either bookies, disgruntled fans or a member of the team.

  • It is unlikely that a crazed-fan entered the hotel and room without escaping the watchful eyes of security. The same may apply to bookies too no matter how affluent.

That should narrow down the list of suspects considerably. Now, I hope that the CCTV footage will provide some damning evidence.The ICC doesn't want the investigation of the murder to interrupt the remaining games. The show must go on...just like the unending seasons of CSI.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Cramer Effect

A few words spoken by a few people can drastically effect the course of the US financial markets. Two of them hold official posts - Alan Greenspan, the former fed chairman, and Ben Bernanke, the current chairman. Sometimes even chosen silence at their ends can result in a market volatility. Fortunately, their pronouncements happen quarterly or over a cocktail at a big-wig meeting.

There's also this former hedge fund manager, Jim Cramer, who influences the markets on almost a daily basis. He is the host of the popular show - 'Mad Money' (Note: I also own a copy of his book Real Money), where viewers call him up for his advice on stocks. The next day at the start of trading, the stocks which he advised to sell are pummeled and the ones to buy appreciate in value faster than you can say 'Boo-Yah'. I have been left holding the bag of pummeled stocks on several occasions and sometimes very pleasantly surprised by the increased value of my stocks.

Thanks to the Cramer effect, I never buy any stock that he advices to buy anymore because they shoot so far up in value, wiping out any profits that I can potentially make on them. Stock fundamentals be damned.

It seems Cramer has let the cat out of the bag on his tactics and stirred a hornets nest in his latest interview where he says "A lot of times when I was short at my hedge fund...meaning I needed (a stock) down, I would create a level of activity beforehand that could drive the futures," Cramer said. "It's a fun game and it's a lucrative game."

Cramer has retired from the Hedge market business and claims to run a fund for charity. His benevolence, though, can not justify the blood he has spilled of many an investor.

B'lore Headbangs to Iron Maiden

CNN-IBN reports that nearly 30,000 fans showed up for the Iron Maiden concert in Bangalore last night.

Thank goodness Karaoke hasn't caught on big in India :)

It is a different experience attending a rock concert in Bangalore than in the US. Even classic rock acts attract a much younger in the US the age of the audience mirrors that of the band members.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


For a road-warrior like me, no-frills airlines like JetBlue and Southwest have brought a whiff of freshness in the stale airs of the big carriers like American Airlines, Delta, United and US Airways. What I like best about Jetblue are the personal television monitors, a la Singapore Airlines, to survive the long cross-country flights. They had friendly staff who made funny pre-boarding announcements until the FAA clamped down on their humor. There are constant servings of beverages and junk food (like my favourite Terra Blue potato chips) to satiate the thirst and hunger cravings.

They have gotten a lot of flak lately for the recent flight cancellations at JFK in New York where they left passengers stranded in the terminals. This happens to me every time I fly through O'Hare during winter on just about any airline.

My only complaint about Jetblue was and is their frequent flier policy. For each flight completed and each reservation made online you get a certain number of points (Max of 8 for a coast-coast) and once you reach 100 points or about 8-10 roundtrips before you get a free round-trip. (Southwest requires 16 roundtrips for a free ticket). The problem with the JetBlue policy is that these points expire in a year so if you are unable to make the 100 points in a year they will be gone. I have watched my 92 points vanish in the last month. This rule is draconian...I am still redeeming my American Airline miles that I earned in 2000.

I had stopped flying on American because their service went down the tube after 9/11. I used to have a choice of two hot meals on coach during my trips from Austin to San Jose in 2000. Now I dont even get peanuts that Southwest hands out with glee.

I restarted my trips on AA as my manager got me an Admirals Club membership as a spot award. This membership provides me access to their lounges so I can sink into their comfortable leather sofas, watch the telly or read the magazines, and get on to the internet before and after a flight. This lounge feature is a good strategy for airline companies as frequent fliers are bound to get hooked on it and stick with the carrier.

I have lesser incentive to fly on JetBlue now as I have to make all my travel arrangements with our official travel agent which means I dont get the reservation points anymore, thereby doubling the number of trips I need to make for the magic 100 points. I am only hoping JetBlue sees the error in their ways and win back their customers loyalty. They can start by reinstating my lost 92 points!

Cricket Watch

What lengths would you go to watch a cricket match?

The World Cup Cricket has begun and has already featured an epic battle fought on the grounds of the Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamaica. I haven't watch a single ball being bowled in the tournament so far. It was not like my last trip to Jamaica in 2002, when I traveled nearly 5000 miles with the intention of enjoying two days of cricketing action between India and the West Indies only to be holed up in the Hotel room because of incessant rains (I have since decided not to risk such trips to watch a game live).

This time it is because I refuse to cough up the high fees for viewing the live telecasts. These feeds are only available on satellite television - DirectTV and Dishnetwork, each demanding $199 for the telecast of the 51 matches. Considering that I will be following only the games of my favorite team, i.e, watching only about 6 games, this works out to about $33 per game! This is exorbitant even for a captive audience. I could watch the Golden State Warriors play in the Oakland Arena from a prime location with this kind of money. Compare this with NBA TV charging $200 for over 200 games, with many of the games broadcast in high-definition unlike the grainy cricket telecast on dishnetwork.

Four years back I was faced with a similar pinch to watch the world cup cricket games but I was able to share the costs with my two house mates. This story about the pains of a cricket lover in America was picked up by the Outlook magazine. I even signed a petition so we could watch the games on cable or the high speed internet.

It seems like the bigwigs at echostar have listened to our petition, and decided to share the feed on-line on Willow TV. The only problem - its the same cost of $199 for even granier pictures with lots of lag and delay in the feeds. I discussed with my friend the possibility of using a slingbox device so we could stream it over the web from his dish connection. I was about to hit the bid button on an ebay auction for the SlingBox AV (about $70 excluding shipping) when I decided to use my google powers to find a better option. My search yielded a TVonPC online offering called EZ TV which I am not sure is legit even with their FAQs explicitly stating that it is. I signed up for it and checked it out for myself. The image size is rather small but the feed has no lags like willow tv, definitely watchable!

p.s.: I just googled with the same search query and couldnt locate their paid advertisement anymore. I am now keeping a close watch on my credit card statement.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Muscle Memory

My association with Tennis dates a long time back when I was about 8 years old, when I showed up at the tennis courts with a Badminton racket in my hand. I have since then switched to using a tennis racket and improved my game by watching a lot of tennis on the telly and taking tips from other players. I have also 'abstracted' many of my life's lessons from my experiments with tennis.

For example, when my game was stuck in a rut for a period of time, I decided to get expert help in the form of a tennis instructor who could take my game to the next level. Since then I have applied that in my professional life as well and have sought advice from a mentor to help navigate through the doldrums of work and life.

I later switched tennis instructors from a scheming Matt M, who also moonlighted as a Chiropractor, and was more interested in ensuring that I spend my hard-owned post-tax dollars on his multiple income sources. This time I chose an expert - Brian Garrow, an illustrious son of the city of Sunnyvale, who won laurels by beating legendary players such as Ramesh Krishnan. Brian's loyalties were not split and I could get his undivided attention in sprucing up my game and I developed a killer forehand. Lesson in life for me - always chose the best of breed else you will end up in the dispensary.

I also learned another important life's lesson from tennis - If you spend all your tennis time just learning from the instructors, you are gonna go broke. Its valuable to rally against other players, just for the fun of it, also its light on the wallet (unless the loser buys beer at the Dutch Goose in Menlo Park and you happen to be him).

This week, after many months of playing with my inconsistent single-handed backhand, I switched to a double-handed backhand with some spectacular results. My decision was partly swayed by watching Serena Williams destroy Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open with her killer, open-chested, two-handed backhand. I went back to the wall and practiced my shots for a few hours. Every shot I hit (remembering Ms Williams as I swung my racket) boosted my morale and increased by enthusiasm by leaps and bounds. I can't believe I made this switch after two decades of playing mediocre tennis. I enjoyed even my solitary trysts with the practice wall and after many hours I finally got the muscle memory to use it effectively in a game.

The Namesake

Last Tuesday, I attended a special preview of 'The Namesake' organized by the American India Foundation. The movies director - Mira Nair makes such hard hitting movies to, in her own words, "take the embarrassment out of the Indian lifestyle". I could relate very well with with the movie and its characters, not because its protagonists are torn between two countries - India and the US. I felt that my life was embodied in Gogol's character, minus the part about my name based on a 19th century Russian author. Beyond the immigrant story, you will notice how Mira Nair has contrasted the relationship between Ashima and Ashoke, wonderfully played by Tabu and Irfan Khan, and the ones entrancing Gogol, wonderfully portrayed by Kal Penn.

The movie is not your typical song and dance movie that bollywood enthusiastics will probably be queuing outside Naz8 Cinemas for. At the end of the movie, there was no clapping or cheering, just the silence of a captivated audience with a big lump in their throats. The cheerful banter began when Mira Nair came on stage for a question and answer session.

I also happened to watch another relationship movie on PPV - The Last Kiss. It stars an actor who reminds me of Kal Penn - Zach Braff. It also features Jacinda Barrett who plays Maxine in 'The Namesake'. It is just another relationship movie, with a lot of similar situations that I have been through, but no advice to help us viewers out. Whatever happened to the movies with a moral at the end?

Now...I have an idea for the next spoof in the long line of 'Scary Movie', 'Date Movie' and 'Epic Movie'.