Monday, September 22, 2008

Moving to Wordpress

I am finding it extremely difficult to manage two blogs, and hence moving all the content over to my Wordpress blog. You can access the older content as well as new at

Monday, September 15, 2008

Lehman: Hubris, followed by Nemesis?

Financial Times has a very good read on the state of Lehman Brothers, which grew to be among the top 4 investment banks in the world. It says how Richard Fuld's never-say-die attitude has saved it in the past and put it on a growth trajectory, but this time, perhaps, he held back far too long [link shared by Rave]:

Lehman’s collapse is worrying for financial markets and for Wall Street as a whole. It is also a tragedy for its 24,000 employees, who were drilled into unwavering loyalty and cohesion by Mr Fuld. Many held a lot of their wealth in Lehman shares, which have lost most of their value.

It is also a tragedy for Mr Fuld, in the classical Greek sense. He had devoted so much of his life and his personality into moulding the bank he could not accept its decline. If he had sold out earlier, Lehman might have survived but he was too proud. It was hubris, followed by nemesis.

I hope there is still a white knight somewhere who can save Lehman, because I wonder if its collapse will bring down the house of cards.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Google Crawler hitch brings down UAL

This would rate pretty high in Ripley's Believe It or Not! Google posted a 2002 news story on its front page about UAL going bankrupt, which brought down UAL share prices rock bottom. [link]

Shares of UAL lost 75% of its value in seconds, plummeting as low as $3 from $12.30 prior to the story appearing on Google. Some investors in UAL stock lost a ton of money. The stock hit an all time low on heavy volume.

The shares bounced back after the market realized it was a 6-year old story on the company’s 2002 bankruptcy filing that appeared on Google. Investors who sold on the news were stuck.

Google declined comment on the incident. Later, it blamed the Sentinel for posting the 2002 Chicago Tribune article on their website. The Nasdaq Stock Market, where UAL shares are listed, said trades triggered by the erroneous report wouldn’t be rescinded. The Google story then was picked up by Income Securities Advisors, a Florida investment newsletter, and disseminated over Bloomberg News triggering a wave of panic selling. It appeared as ”United Airlines files for Ch. 11 to cut costs.”

Amazin' ain't it? No wonder Google is facing antitrust investigations due to the immense power it yields.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Chrome and Email check!

Google just released Chrome, its open source browser which has a bundle of new features like making tabs different processes. In some ways, it seems to be a throwback to the days of IE6 where tabs would actually be processes! However, the new paradigm gives a tabbed UI and a process based backend, which should be interesting to try.

One big advantage with Chrome is going to be finding out which processes are badly designed and hog memory -- something that is pointed out in this blog post.

I decided to give it a try to opening all the new emial services (Gmail, new Yahoo mail, and Live Mail) in separate tabs and testing their memory usage:

It seems to me that that all the mail programs actually use up a lot of space (and Gmail/Y!mail top it at around 20Mb each -- looks like there was some GC happening and Gmail process collected back some memory). Live mail seems to be the most lightweight!

However, what I am worried about -- if my mail tabs are using up that much space and it is only going to go up as these applications add more complexity, why would I not use a desktop based mail client, and switch to a web based client while on the go? A lot of times I have to face flaky connections, and it seems obvious that web based mail clients are downloading a ton of stuff everytime!

The pain point of offline mail clients is the ability to keep perfectly in sync with the server (IMAP notwithstanding and perhaps that should be worked upon) and the ability to install updates, due to which their UI is now lagging behind web based counterparts. If desktop applications can figure out some way of cleanly installing new features and keeping things completely upto date, would they get back in vogue?

Update: And this is what the condition was after leaving the tabs open for about 3+ hours:

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Why is FDI out of US more profitable than FDI into the US?

Mihir Desai of Harvard Business School says that portfolio investments into the US have been far more profitable than direct FDI investments. Inbound FDI into the US has averaged a return of 4.3% while outbound FDI from the US into other countries is about 12.1%. At the same time Wall Street went up more than any other markets in the world. Why is it so? Mainly because US companies traditionally invest in more controlled markets and have the advantage of getting cheaper cash and a better product and marketing portfolio (as a result of the controlled markets), while at the same time MNCs investing into the US have no such advantage of low-hanging fruit. [original article]

Why is it so difficult to make money as a direct investor in the
United States? Indeed, much of the rhetoric on investing environments
argues that the major destinations for U.S. outbound FDI—the developed
markets of Europe and Japan and the emerging markets of China and
India—are filled with capital controls and ownership restrictions. How
can the United States as a destination end up being so much less
attractive despite the relative absence of this usual litany of
investment obstacles?

Part of the answer may lie precisely in how these obstacles tilt the
playing field between local firms and multinational firms. In a series
of papers, [HBS associate professor] C. Fritz Foley, [University of
Michigan professor] James R. Hines Jr., and I have shown that distorted
environments are precisely where multinational firms have an advantage
relative to local firms. In countries with weak capital markets and
burdensome regulatory regimes, multinational firms can use their
internal capital and product markets to access global resources while
local firms can't. In effect, these distorted environments burden local
firms, create opportunities for institutional arbitrage for
multinational firms, and can lead to a successful set of foreign
activities for multinational firms.

The United States, in contrast, creates few such opportunities for
low-hanging fruit for foreign multinational firms relative to local
firms. As such, the conditions that may underpin the profitable
experience of U.S. firms as they expand abroad are not there for
foreign firms investing in the United States. More generally, the
presence of highly competitive local firms in the United States
undercuts efforts by foreign multinationals that don't have truly
differentiated capabilities. Simply replicating strategies that were
successful at home is likely to be insufficient in the United States.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Second Highest Bid auctions

Found this interesting post on Sriram Krishnan's blog where he describes the origin of the Vickrey auction that is used by Google and Yahoo! for the online advertising. Very interestingly, although it has some side-benefits of removing winner's curse and bid shading (see links on Sriram's blog), the real reason why this process was adopted [instead of the traditional English auction] is that the Google systems people wanted to reduce the loads on the server that would have resulted from people changing their bids rapidly:

There have been several articles documenting the work of Google's Salar Kamangar and Eric Veach in bringing this to AdWords. What is lesser known (atleast to me )is that they implemented this model to solve another problem entirely. I came across this old talk from a Google employee - in the speaker notes, it talks about how Kamangar and Veach implemented this feature to stop advertisers from logging into the system and modifying their bids constantly (since that's what people tend to do in an open English auction). By implementing a second price auction, they were hoping to reduce the load on the system.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Google, SEO, Knol and the rest of the world

Google recently launched Knol, their wikipedia competitor which allows experts to own articles. The concept is interesting because Wikipedia allows free-for-all authorship, and by making the articles edited by experts and listing their owners clearly on the knol, Google hopes it will get higher quality content. The editors will stake their prestige on the quality of the content, and overtime Google could also share Adsense revenue with them.

However, a has also raised quite a storm in the teacup since people are speculating that Google will take undue advantage of its search traffic to drive usage of knol. Google has pretty much become the traffic policeman of the new web -- telling people where to go, and getting them there through its vast knowledge of the contours of the internetland. However, as is often the case in India, what do you do when lawmakers become lawbreakers? When a cop's car breaks traffic rules, do you give them a ticket? While I am hopeful Google will not quite reach the level of Indian police (or even Bennet, Coleman & Co.), but the question of Knol getting undue advantage (as against the much better established Wikipedia) can not be brushed aside.

The importance of Google's dominance of the web came to the fore front yesterday during a discussion at the Open Coffee Club's first meeting in Kolkata yesterday. Angshuman of Taragana complained that he had a hard time when Google dropped him out of their indexes for some reason he is yet to figure out. While he has several conjectures such as his wordpress translation plugin due to Google might have labelled all his pages as duplicate/spam, or changing his URL syntax using mod_rewrite, he couldn't really figure out what the problem was. Using the webmaster tools wasn't much help either. Finally, the way he resolved it was by telling the Google representative that he would stop his Adsense spending if his website wasn't restored -- he claims that is the only thing that works with Google. Being dumped by Google indices is quite scary for any website owner, almost like not being reachable from the Start button on a windows box, and there needs to be better mechanism to deal with such 'mistakes'.

Microsoft has often been accused of using its Windows strength to push its other services, and now Google could do the same. While Google has been the poster child of the internet, and we all continue to use its services in good faith, ignoring trespasses into content creation space, brushing aside its transgressions as mere mistakes -- one can hear whispers today and one expects them to soon transform into noises. The onus is on Google to uphold its "don't be evil" philosophy, and communicate its positive action proactively to the rest of the world. It has already done well for the last few years, but the time has come to be more open, more forthcoming, and more accommodating, or might find itself in the same boat as what Microsoft, AT&T and other monopolies have been in the past.