Nostalgia isnt what it used to be

July 30, 2016

As I saw both the Democratic and Republican conventions happen over the last two weeks, I experienced a strange phenomenon. Whenever I turned to Fox, or whenever I heard a Trump supporter talk about how the conventions went, I felt that the Rashomon effect was in play. I could not fathom where the Trump supporters were coming from in their interpretation of events. Did they see the same things I did or were we in parallel universes?

For example, apparently, Chris Christie’s public almost medieval call to “lock her up” at the RNC is the right thing to do, whereas when people of color were celebrated at the DNC, one of the Trump supporters said something to the effect that Democrats are the real racists because they were the party of slavery, segregation, and jim crow. Essentially, the responses were unhinged, seemed irrational at best and dangerous at worst. Trump supporters seemed to be behaving liked a cornered predator whose fundamental existence is being threatened.

Or take Trump’s campaign slogan: Make America Great Again. For a campaign slogan, it is just fine, maybe even great, but what puzzles me is how building a wall or stopping muslims will create jobs, reduce crime, etc., even if you were to, for the sake of argument, overlook the obnoxiousness of the proposals. If the argument is that illegal immigrants are taking away jobs from Americans, or keeping wages low as unscrupulous businesses hire illegals when they should be hiring locals to keep costs low. But study after study has shown that Americans do not want to do the jobs the illegals do. Regarding crime stats, while some of the statistics he quotes are true, the question is whether it is a real trend, and if so what is the solution. Even after the spike in 2015, apparently, crime rates are lower than when in the 50 largest cities compared to when Obama took office, contrary to what Trump implied in his RNC speech. So how Trump’s proposals are going to make America great again is something I do not understand.

That got me thinking who are these people, where are they coming from, what is their real grievance, what makes them support Trump and what is it that they see in Trump that seems to suggest that their grievance will be addressed by him and by nobody else. I think it is important that we understand this phenomenon and address it, or else we may have a situation that is worse than Brexit on our hands in November.

One thing I can gather is that it is the older, male, less educated, white folks who seem to gravitate to Trump’s message, and maybe it is nostalgia about how the country used to be before they had to share it with others. As a demographic, there are multiple studies that seem to indicate that they are worse off than they were a generation ago. In fact, I read that theirs is the only demographic whose life expectancy had dropped in recent years. This is a legitimate concern that needs to be understood and addressed, but, I do not see a discussion of the problems their causes and solutions. Building a wall or banning muslims is not going to reverse the factors that are causing the decrease in life expectancy.

The question is why do older non-college educated white men feel left out and why have their voices not been heard? I guess the argument is that the Republican and democratic party have disappointed/failed them because trickle-down economics did not work for them and unions are dead, and the tea party wing of the republican party has also failed them because obstructionist tactics do not work either. Part of the challenge is that the disappearance of jobs or the lack of wage growth in the last 15 years is a secular trend that economists are barely beginning to understand. Previously, whenever the economy grew because of increase in productivity, it translated into wage increases. However, since 2000, or so, since the “internet revolution”, productivity growth has been happening without increase in wages. Understanding the causes and coming up with solutions for this problem is the challenge for this generation. And we need as many smart people we can get from all over the world to help us solve it. Retreating inwards and espousing Americanism instead of globalism will only make it worse.

Regarding how do they expect that the Donald will deliver for them, my bet is that a more realistic outcome, even if Donald becomes president (god forbid), is similar to the outcome that Brexit voters wanted and got. In the UK, Brexiter’s irrational xenophobia has unwittingly put their own retirement pensions at greater risk while reducing the opportunities for the younger generation. So, while they voted to go back to a “better” time when the neighborhoods were more to their liking, chances are that they will end up disappointed and poorer, not just financially, but culturally as well. In Brexit, older non-college graduates, both male and female were for Brexit. Fortunately for us, older women seem more sane than their male counterparts here in the US and they may well be the key demographic that saves us from catastrophe in this election..

In essence, my sense is that while Trump supporters may have a pleasant nostalgic dream, disconnected from reality, what they will likely get is a nightmare even if they succeed. Because, you know, nostalgia isnt what it used to be..

Je sius charlie?

January 14, 2015

When the terrorists attacked Charlie Hebdo last week, my instinctive reaction was to support Charlie Hebdo. And I still do. What has struck me since then, is the magnitude of the response of the world. My perspective has been evolving particularly when I read the following Atlantic article: because it provided me a nuanced argument I was looking for to support Charlie Hebdo even when I did not find their humor funny. Where I come from, Freedom comes with Responsibility, and one can make the argument that some of the folks in Charlie Hebdo were irresponsible in their use of freedom of speech.

My current position is that, while I am glad that we are all celebrating free speech and it is extremely important and I fully support that, it does strike me that there were many other acts of terror perpetrated by Islamic extremists that deserve much greater condemnation.
For example, the atrocities committed by Boko Haram in western Africa, or the dastardly killing of innocent children in a school in Peshawar are two recent examples in a long list of recent events that include 11/26 Mumbai attacks, 9/11 attack, etc. The Peshawar one, in particular, was particularly cowardly and insane. In theory, the Charlie Hebdo journalists had intentionally insulted Islam, but the children in the Peshawar school, did no such thing. They were also of the same faith as the attackers. Their only “crime” was that they were children of Pakistan Army personnel. I did not see a bunch of world leaders march hand-in-hand when that happened. I wonder why?

I may be conflating all these Islamic extremists, e.g., those that bombed WTC on 9/11, took over the Oberoi in 11/26, took over the mall in Nairobi, Boko Haram, those who killed innocent school children in Peshawar, bombed London, killed Daniel Pearl, and killed the journalists in Paris, etc., etc., as being products of the same process, but it does appear that the ideology is shared among these groups at a high level, even if they don’t always agree with each other. So the question is why?

Some have tried to unfairly lay the blame on the entire religion for the acts of a minuscule minority, but, I prefer to base arguments on data. To this end, I recently came across the work of Prof. Steven Fish at UC Berkeley (See A couple of points he makes are particularly revealing. According to him, in the aggregate, Muslim societies are not any more “violent” than other societies. Their crime rates are lower, and rates of political violence are not materially higher than other societies. So there is real evidence to suggest that those who try to blame the religion as a whole for the violent terrorist attacks are likely mistaken.

The kicker though, is that according to the same data, terrorist attacks are much more likely to be performed by Islamic extremists than by any one else. So, the problem is Islamic extremism. That is the common enemy that all of us need to isolate and defeat. I would also venture to guess that the Islamic extremists are not particularly spiritual or aware of the deeper philosophical underpinnings of their religion.

So rather than say “Je Suis Charlie”, I would rather all of us say “je ne suis pas un extrémiste islamique” and unite to understand and defeat Islamic extremism.

Windows vs Mac: My personal experience

October 19, 2013

My first exposure to personal computers was as an undergraduate student in the late 1980s with PCs, that had 640K RAM and a 20MB hard drive. I am not sure I had even heard of Mac those days. Through the years at grad school I predominantly worked with UNIX and variants thereof, but as soon as I joined the workforce, my personal computing device was a Windows device. Both the machine I had at work and at home tended to be windows machines as all the development I did was on windows. Apple in the late 1990s and early 2000s was not projected to be the winner in the personal computing revolution.

Fast-forward to now and resistance was futile! I essentially have every single Apple device that Apple has produced at home (iPhone, iPad, iPod, Apple TV, etc. etc.). What is even more unbelievable is that I even bought an Apple MacBook Pro for my work. However, it was a mistake for me to purchase Apple’s MacBook Pro as a device for working on. Yes, the key productivity tools are available, as are development tools, but Word, Excel and Powerpoint on Windows are an order of magnitude better than anything remotely similar on the Mac. I had to make the decision to purchase a windows machine for work because the 8GB RAM MacBook Pro was just not cutting it for me. I ended up getting a 32GB RAM Windows machine, because for the kind of work I do my productivity with the Mac was significantly lower. And believe it or not, the Windows machine was cheaper than the Mac! Of course, some folks would say that Microsoft has made its software on Mac inferior by design, but that does not preclude Apple from making products that are comparable, especially given its supposed advantage in ‘controlling the entire stack’. 

While I can see end consumers paying a premium for a silver/gold case with a glowing logo, I am not sure that business folks will. Yes, iPads are cool, and executives who need to see reports on the go will have them, but after experiencing the latest versions of windows and office, I think corporate end-user computing will be on Windows for some time to come.  

What are the Republicans thinking?

October 12, 2013

That was the question that has been at the back of my mind through this Obamacare, government shutdown fiasco. As I write this, it appears that a NBC-WSJ poll essentially suggests that a majority of the country also thinks that the Republicans are crazy.

It all started for me when the esteemed Senator Ted Cruz from the great state of Texas spent like 20 hours rambling on a bill that was apparently introduced by himself. Essentially filibustering himself. I thought that was a bit odd, but it did have the desired effect in that I actually tried to listen to what he had to say. That is when it started to fall apart for me. All I heard was doomsday predictions about hell freezing over if Obamacare was implemented without any specifics, either in terms of why would hell freeze over, nor what can we do to prevent it other than repeal it.

That got me thinking about why do these guys hate this law so much. And here were some hypotheses:

1. They are true champions of decentralized government and actually don’t want anything from the federal government. That was proven wrong when 23 of the 26 states that have apparently refused to take any support from the federal for implementing the health exchanegs required under Obamacare actually get more benefits from the federal government than they pay in taxes. So it was not that.

2. They just hate Obama himself and anything he does. There is some merit to this, but, that didn’t explain to me why they would hold the government hostage and threaten default etc. I guess, the Republicans may be crazy, but I was not sure they were that crazy.

The rhetoric coming out of Republicans was so extreme and seemed to suggest that Obamacare threatened the very foundation of this country. That made me wonder, why are the Republicans so scared of this?

I think the Republicans hate Obamacare because they think if it succeeds it will be the end of the Republican party and what it stands for. Only that can explain why they oppose it so viscerally and use such extreme rhetoric about its effects. Why do I say this?

Essentially they are on the wrong side of almost every demographic/cultural trend in the country right now, as the last presidential election showed. In addition, they will likely lose part of their core demographic to the democrats if Obamacare succeeds. If the Republicans lose some of their core demographic  because  ‘Obamacare’ succeeds, that will likely usher in another long period like the 1950s-1970s where the Republicans will have to struggle to drive a legislative agenda that is relevant to a majority of this country.

So, rather than adapt to the new reality and survive by coming up with some alternatives of their own, they are behaving like an injured animal that is cornered, by being aggressive and hoping that the Democrats get scared and capitulate. It is so much easier to stop others from trying out new things than to come up with new ideas oneself.


They talking to me in Hindi!

August 17, 2013

That was the thought that popped in my head as I made my way into the famous Varadaraja Perumal Temple in Kanchipuram.

We had decided to stop at the temple partly because we wanted to begin to show our 8 year old son that India had many historical structures that were over a 1000 years old.  You see my son is currently fascinated by Greek mythology, and I was beginning to wonder why Indian mythology is not as appealing to him. I thought showing him some spectacular temples and some of the stories behind those temples will get him interested.

The temple did not disappoint one bit. It is a magnificent complex, with an outer courtyard that has shops that sell silk sarees that Kanchipuram is famous for. We parked in this courtyard and started walking barefoot towards the temple. The shopkeepers of these silk saree shops were an enterprising bunch, and immediately tried to push their wares on us. None of this was a surprise. What was a surprise was that they tried to do this in Hindi. Now this is puzzling for two reasons:

1. We are Tamilians, and while we were dressed in t-shirt and jeans, etc., I did not think we looked like north Indians. It is not like we said a word in any language. They were talking to us in Hindi based solely on how we looked.

2. This is Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu we are talking about, and of all the languages other than Tamil that anyone can speak in a temple in Tamil Nadu, Hindi was the last language I would have expected.

As I mentioned this to my Mother, she remarked that it was because of the color of the sacred thread I had tied around my right wrist. Apparently, that is what gave it away, because south Indians, apparently tie yellow threads around their wrists and north Indians tie red ones.

Had I known this, I would have tied a red thread around my wrist on that day in the final year of college. It was the day I was going to pick up my student visa from the American embassy. I had an old TVS-50 that my uncle had loaned me, and of course being a final year under-graduate student in 1990-1991, I did not have a valid drivers license, etc. I got pulled over for some reason by a cop, and he started quizzing me in Tamil. Now, while Tamil is supposedly my native tongue, I am not particularly fluent in it. In addition, when the cop asked me where I was from, I said Calcutta. He then asked me whether I speak Hindi, and I said yes. He took me to another cop who spoke in Hindi and after I answered his questions, he let me go. Had I had a red thread around my wrist maybe the cop would have cut to the chase and started the conversation in Hindi.

Now getting back to the temple. We reached the temple just around the time when the evening archanais were happening at all the key sannadhis. It was a pleasure to see the local folks likely visiting the temple prior to dinner or whatever. This Varadaraja Perumal temple is famous for its golden lizard, and a local gentleman was kind enough to explain to my son that if you touch the lizard, then you will be spared all the inauspicious consequences of lizards falling on you. That was serendipitous because my son was getting upset with all the lizards hiding behind the AC units at home. So all in all, a very satisfactory visit.

Now when I succeed in explaining to my son that this temple is one of the Divya Desams, and that we are supposedly descended from the person who founded the temple at Thirukannamangai that is also a Divya Desam, hopefully he will begin to appreciate Indian history and mythology as much, if not more than Greek mythology.


Alea Jacta Est: Jumping off the Aircraft Carrier

July 21, 2012

Alea jacta est, was the thought that crossed my mind. “You are finally jumping off the aircraft carrier!”, exclaimed a close friend of mine.

Friday July 20th, 2012 was my last day at HP, the company I joined in 1998. True, while not as dramatic as Caesar crossing the Rubicon, etc., it was a significant event in my life. I thought it would be apropos for me to reflect on the last 14 years, acknowledge the contribution HP has made to my life.

The best analogy I can think of to frame this entire experience was something one of my managers had mentioned when he came back to HP after leaving it, namely that it felt like he was moving back into his parents house. To me, this feels like I am moving out of my parents house and going to college. I am jumping off the aircraft carrier and will have to create a boat with my friends.

I started as a Software Engineer in 1998, and was Director, Strategy and Planning in my last job. HP, or to be more precise the people at HP, gave me the opportunity to experiment with different functions, in different businesses that I could not have gotten almost anywhere else. I dont know what the rest of my career has in store for me, but whatever happens, the foundation for that would have been laid in the last 14 years. It is as if, I got the opportunity to work in the engine room, on the lookout post, and a variety of other roles on the aircraft carrier. Of course, various people took chances on me at various points, enabling me to move from being a developer to leading a small team in a research laboratory to running product marketing for a data warehousing product to driving strategic projects, etc. Each of these transitions would not have been possible without someone believing in me, and I am really grateful for that. However, as luck would have it an abnormally large fraction of those who took a chance on me did not stay in HP very long thereafter. If someone constructed a statistical model I wonder what the insights will be, but from my perspective, there was a very strong correlation between my bosses hiring me and them leaving the company. I actually counted one day, and I came up with 18 bosses in my 14 years at HP, of which 15 were no longer in the company. I have joked with my friends that at times I feel I am on ‘Survivor’, and i have no idea when I will ‘get voted off the island’, or I am on the wrong island. 🙂

The challenge this posed was brought to the fore when I was talking to a very senior person who had joined the company recently about possible roles. After a 30 minute conversation, he asked me two questions that pretty much convinced me that I had to do something different. The questions were (I am para-phrasing):

1. You seem to be a smart guy, why are you still at HP?

2. Most people you have worked with seem to have left the company. How can I trust or verify what you are telling me?

This told me that this HP was clearly not the HP I joined. In 2001, when I had got accepted into MIT Sloan, and my business unit had got canned,  a manager from a different organization took me into her organization and sponsored my trip to MIT. She trusted me and took a chance on me. Clearly that was a different HP. It was the HP I joined, where decision making was pushed down in the organization, and the philosophy was: hire the smartest people you can find, and give them the freedom to do what is right and hold them accountable for the results. Make sure they get better at what they are doing, and focus on making a contribution to the larger industry/eco-system you are a part of.

In this context, when I got approached by an old friend about the possibility of starting a new company, the choice was pretty clear to me. As John Morgridge once told a group of us at a leadership event, “You have to be prepared to accept opportunities that come your way”, I decided to take the plunge into the sea of entrepreneurship by jumping off the aircraft carrier.



That day in 2001

September 11, 2011

As the world pauses to remember 9/11, I cant help but think of where I was that day and why I will not be able to forget that day.

The summer of 2001 was a turning point in my life. It was supposed to be the summer of re-invention in my career, potentially my life. I was going to spend a year in Boston attending MIT full-time. My wife had started a new job, and we were going to be a San Francisco-Boston couple for a year.

In addition, my sister was visiting from India, and that was key because it was the first time since my Father’s passing in 1999 that anyone in my family was visting me. That may not sound like much, but it was very important to me. It was also the first time my sister was visiting me since I left India in 1991. So, I wanted to make sure that this was a memorable trip for her. It was memorable all right..

My sister arrived just as I finished the 8 week summer session at MIT, full with 10 hour class schedules. My sister had classmates in Boston and NYC, so we were going to spend some time in those two places. We were also going to visit bay area out west to catch up with my wife.

In NYC, we did the usual sights, Empire State Building, Central Park, and of course the World Trade Center.  I remember buying the tickets from the TKTS booth, and going up the high-speed elevators to the ‘roof of the world’. This was the last week of August 2001. At that point in time, this trip only had personal meaning for me because I remembered the photographs that my dad had taken from the ‘roof of the world’ when he had visited the World Trade Center in 1985.

We went back to Boston as the next academic session was starting first week of September. On September 4th, HP announced its intention to buy Compaq, and the stock fell to $11 a share. It had a material downward impact on my net worth. I was trying to not get upset about that and focus on the possibilities ahead. After all, I had a nice apartment on Comm Ave in Back Bay, in a happening part of Boston. The atmosphere at MIT was just unbelievable. So much so that I had decided to not have a TV. I had a netzero (remember that?) internet connection, and didnt feel the need for a TV.

All this is important, because that morning, the fateful morning of 9/11, didnt feel different from any other. I was preparing to go to class, when I got a call from my mother in india around 9 am. That in itself was a bit unusual, but what she told me was even more asounding. She said something about a plane from Boston crashing into the world trade center.

My first reaction was one of disbelief. I remember telling my mom that it probably was a small plane, like the plane that crashed into the empire state building years ago, but she was adamant. The plane had originated in Boston, she said. I logged in, and remember seeing the news of the second plane crashing into the center and remember not knowing what to think. Then there was news of the crash at the pentagon, and my reaction was one of utter shock. Like everybody else, I was at a complete loss. What the heck was happening?

I must say, being at a place like MIT definitely helped me cope with the events, and put it in perspective. I remember attending a packed lecture by Noam Chomsky that was a cold, rational explanation of our outrage. For example, this was the first time after Pearl Harbor that American blood had been spilt on American soil. Chomsky, being Chomsky had some anti-establishment flavor to his argument. This was not the time for that. I remember some folks in the audience challenge him on that. There were other discussion forums, where different ideas were discussed, including one with israeli and palestinian points of view being debated openly. I distinctly recall one of the israeli debaters mention the india-pakistan partition and their mutual acceptance of each other as a model that the Israelis and Palestinians could follow. I was not so sure about that.

In the 80s and 90s, growing up in india I saw religious-extremism and terrorism had claim countless lives. This extremism was a direct result of active cross-border encouragement and support from the Pakistani government. See my other post on my views on the relationship between India and Pakistan. Only after 9/11 has the role of the Pakistani government and armed forces in aiding and abetting muslim extermism become clear. I for one, was not surprised that Bin Laden was finally killed in Pakistan.

As the two towers collapsed, our trip there just a couple of weeks ago began to take an entirely different meaning for me. We had taken one of those elevators all the way up, and now those buildings didnt exist. I could imagine the sheer terror that those folks on the top floors would have experienced. I began to imagine what would have happened to someone in the elevator when the planes slammed in. Our class visited NYC in November as part of the program, and I couldnt bring myself to visit Ground Zero then. I was still too numb. I saved those tickets though.

Indian Corruption

April 12, 2011

Corruption is the hot-button issue in India these days. It took an old-fashioned Gandhian technique of a hunger fast by a respected social activist, Anna Hazare, to get the government to set up a commission to see whether they should set up an Ombudsman that is independent of the three branches of government to tackle corruption.

This because the three existing branches of government have a terrible record when it comes to fighting corruption ( ). I think the real question is why is that?

I think we need to separate ‘petty corruption’ from the big-time corruption, although both contribute to a general culture of corruption where anything goes.

For petty corruption, I have a hypothesis that I would like to test, and it boils down to very simple human behavior characteristics, and the notion of pay for performance. My hunch is that government employees in India are not ‘paid for performance’. Imagine that the clerk in the ration card office is paid a bonus in addition to his or her salary that is based on how quickly they process ration cards effectively. I am willing to bet you the instances of ‘petty corruption’ will most likely disappear. My guess is that a significant part of ‘petty corruption’ is directly linked to lack of a ‘pay for performance’ system, and the corruption in this case is an induced pay for performance mechanism. If people have thoughts on this matter, do comment, I am eager to hear what you have to say.

Then there is the big-time corruption the most recent example of which is the telecom scandal. I think this corruption can only be tackled with ruthless transparency. There have to be huge consequences for both the recipients as well as the payers. One challenge is that if there is a significant ‘black economy’ where the financial transactions cannot be tracked, it makes it difficult to have transparency.

Finally Glenn Beck is gone

April 12, 2011

Recently, Glenn Beck and FOX News decided to part ways at the end of the year ( Part of me was vindicated as I had wondered in August of 2009 about how Glenn Beck gets away with sheer incompetence(

However, as I saw all the media reaction including Glenn Beck’s own explanation (, I couldnt help but wonder a few things.

If this is indeed the 3rd highest rated show on cable TV, why would FOX not want to continue it? Could it be that more than 300 advertisers ( have publicly stated why they wont advertise on his program? Whereas only a fraction of that have continued ( I am sure FOX found it tough to charge the advertisers who continued top-billing for the 3rd highest rated show. So, net-net, this show likely didnt make much money. Definitely not as much money as its viewership seemed to suggest. Yes, there was viewership, but if they were all the conspiracy theory believing crowd, the set of advertisers who can effectively target such folks is likely very small.

So, FOX at some point would have come to the realization that this show was more trouble than it was worth, and waited for the first contractually available opportunity to get out of the contract.

But, why did Glenn Beck decide to quit? There was talk of him leaving to start his own cable network that he denied ( But, I think there is more to it than meets the eye. It does look like a significant number of ‘advertisers’ on Glenn Beck’s program were companies that Glenn Beck had interest in, such as gold companies. Now, if you were Glenn Beck, and your money was one of the main ad sources associated with your program, why would you want to give that money to FOX if you could use it to promote your own interests without anyone questioning any potential conflict of interest, etc. In addition, if what Jon Stewart says about him (“finally, a guy who says what people who aren’t thinking are thinking.”) is right, they will watch him anywhere. After all,  CNN and FOX have built up his name brand over the last decade, so why not leverage that to your own advantage?

So what value does FOX provide Glenn Beck moving forward? Apparently very little, and one can maybe see why..

So there was a mutual interest in parting ways, an amicable divorce, if you will.

2010 in review

January 2, 2011

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Minty-Fresh™.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa has 296 steps to reach the top. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2010. If those were steps, it would have climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa 4 times

In 2010, there were 3 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 10 posts.

The busiest day of the year was October 31st with 26 views. The most popular post that day was Corporations versus People: Does our politics have to be that way?.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for zytglogge, clock tower near roorkee, kannan blog, bern clock tower, and old roorkee town.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Corporations versus People: Does our politics have to be that way? October 2010


Aah! The World Cup July 2010
1 comment


health care for the masses April 2010


About October 2008
1 comment


how does glenn beck get away with it? August 2009