Thoughts on Bureaucrats, Technocrats and Politicians

Bureaucrats take the actions which are justifiable (by book or by order of their superiors), they care less about consequences (in case there are multiple possible actions, they let the politician decide the appropriate action).

Technocrats take the actions which (according to their analysis) have best (long term/short term) consequences, they care less about how harsh the action could be on certain individuals and their logical thinking usually fails to take into account the law of unintended consequences like  Cobra Effect.

Politicians take the actions which are palatable and which are usually good for their (long term/short term, well, usually for next elections) popularity.

Till now, India was run primarily by politicians + bureaucrats, it seems to be transitioning towards politicians + technocrats.
It would be interesting to see the (short term/long term) consequences of this transition.

Note: The above statements are not my original discovery, I have read statements along similar lines at various sources.

Random Thoughts: On minimum wage laws

NY Times in 1987

Raising the minimum wage by a substantial amount would price working poor people out of the job market.

NY Times in 2014

The weight of the evidence shows that increases in the minimum wage have lifted pay without hurting employment.

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Tech world’s love for letter “X”

  1. GoogleX
  2. Google neXus
  3. Apple Mac OS X
  4. Apple Xcode
  5. HTC One X
  6. Google Solve-for-X
  7. SpaceX
  8. IBM X-force
  9. Motorola Moto X
  10. Microsoft Xbox
  11. Comcast Xfinity
  12. Sony Xperia phone
  13. Dell XPS tablet
  14. X-treme tablet
  15. Motorola Xyboard tablet
  16. Nokia X

No where, outside, of the tech world is the letter “X” gets such a prominence.

Update (Feb 24): added Nokia X.

Relocating to California for internationals – Part 3

  1. Manage your finances
    Use Mint for getting a complete view of your finances. CreditSesameCreditCreditKarma, and Quizzle for free credit score tracking. Quizzle always try to sell something; others are better. The score they provide is not the same as the FICO score but is highly correlated. Use Splitwise or Buxfer for splitting bills with friends. Vanguard has a great selection of index funds. Matrix ITA for air fare prices. yapta for tracking air fare prices over time.
  2. Get three free credit reports every year
    Set a google calendar event to get a free report every four months rotating between Equifax, Transunion and Experian (major credit report providers) via annualcreditreport.com. Each company is bound to provide you with one free report once a year.
  3. Return policies are really lax in CA (and the US in general)
    Buy almost anything including electronic gadgets like phones and laptops to try. If you don’t like it just return it within a set time period, usually 15 days or 30 days, for free.
  4. Healthcare
    The US has one of the most expensive health cares in the world. Employers provide health insurance – medical, dental and vision. For healthy individuals, usually, the less expensive plan (HMO) is a better option. Dental insurance usually covers two teeth cleaning per year for free. Vision insurance covers one vision test, which is usually not free but with a nominal co-payment. Medical insurance usually covers a physical checkup.

To be continued to part 4 (Retirement accounts, investing, Things to do in and around California)

Relocating to California for internationals – Part 2

  1. Buying a car
    Due to the deliberate destruction of public transport, driving a car is cheaper on the west coast compared to taking public transport unless your employer subsidises commute via public transport. Decide ah car you want to buy, Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla are value for money for singles. Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are better for people with families. Specially, who have young kids which require child safety seats.  On luxury end, Toyota Lexus, BMW, Mercedes and Tesla are the popular ones. A car’s average age is considered to be 200, 000 miles. So, be wary of that while buying a second hand car. Do check car’s mileage (miles per gallon) on fueleconomy. Car model years are a bit misleading, model 2013 usually, came out in June 2012 and for some companies even earlier). If you are buying a new car, then go to multiple dealers and bid them for the best price, it is usually easy to get 10% or more off from the marked price of the vehicle. If you are buying second hand, ask for a Carfax report which gives the detailed history of any recorded accidents which car had. Check the price of second hand car at Kelly Blue Book, in my opinion, they are marked upwards by 10%. craigslist is still one of the best source for buying and selling cars. Avoid buying cars with non-Californian license plate since you have to register them next year. Specially, avoid cars coming from cold states since they might have been corroded by salt which is used to prevent ice melting on roads in these states. Go to DMV and inquire if that car has any pending fees/parking fines which are unpaid for. Buying second hand cars from individuals, as opposed to dealers, is usually cheaper. But dealers will sell second hand cars with a warranty to justify the premium, do get details of the warranty. If you are buying from an individual, do get a thorough inspection done at a car mechanic (costs  < 100$).
  2. Car insurance (Auto insurance)
    Do hunt around for multiple quotes, try insurers to match quotes from others. Good companies are AAA (recommended) and Geico (they never gave me a good rate though). Smaller companies like StateFarmFarmers, and Provident (to name a few) might give better rates as well. Usually, phone calls will return better rates than the websites. If you are driving history in the US is not long enough, be ready to buy an expensive insurance for ~6 months and then buy a new one. Have minimum liability of 100K/300K (meaning 100K per individual in an incident and 300K per incident). If your car is new, get a comprehensive insurance with high deductible like 500$ or 1000$.
  3. Maintain emergency cash
    The usual rule of thumb is to maintain 6-8 months of expenditure at a safe place. Checking and savings accounts are insured by FDIC up to $250, 000 per customer per bank. So, keep it in a high yield savings account (Barclays offers 1.0% – which is high by US standards). A more elaborate list is available at fatwallet. Another alternative is to buy Series I Bonds by US treasury. The purchase is limited to $10K per individual and they have to be held for at least 1 year after purchase. They are inflation-protected, meaning, their value will go up with inflation. They are not taxable by state and city governments.
  4. First tax filing
    California has state taxes. Both state and federal tax filings are due every year in April for the previous year. I used to use pen and paper for a couple of years. It was a great learning experience but was unsustainable in long run. So, I started using TurboTax instead. Keep an eye around for TurboTax deals.
  5. If you are paying full price for anything you are probably paying too much
    All marked prices whether it’s rental cars or food, there are deals/discounts going all the time. Whether it’s worth spending the time to look around for discounts is a personal choice. As a rule of thumb, looking around for discount coupons/deals when you are paying more than 100$ is not a bad idea. If you work for a big company, they will usually have an internal perks site. Also, you can check out perks eligibility at larky based on your employer, city and state of residence, insurance and credit cards.
  6. Eating out
    Use yelp to find good restaurants. Tipping norm is 15-20% for food served on the table, anything less than 10% looks ugly. Taking food out as “to go” has no mandatory tips. Subway is a great healthy place for “to go” sandwiches. Starbucks fulfills the national coffee addictionMogl provides 10% cash back on selected restaurants in California.

Continue to Part 3 (free credit reports, managing finances, health care …)

Relocating to California for internationals – Part 1

This set of articles are for Internationals who have recently relocated to California for a job. I am listing a few things which I wish I knew when I first arrived here for a full-time job. Short link to this page: http://bit.ly/fotb-ca)

  1. Hunting for apartment
    Use craigslist.orgpadmapper.com (this also provides average renting prices of the area) and housingmaps.com. Use crimereports.com to check the crime statistics of the area as well. Good apartments are booked really fast, sometimes, as quickly as the same day. Leases are usually a year long.
  2. Get SSN (Social Security Number)
    By visiting the nearest SSA office. A waiting period of 10 days is recommended after entering the USA. It’s a single number which will uniquely identify you in the USA. Its needed for credit cards, bank accounts and pretty much everything else. Most banks at their discretion will open a bank account without an SSN though.
  3. First phone
    USA has both CDMA and GSM networks. Phone numbers in the US are portable and that too for no fee. So, moving from one carrier to another is easy. The US has a weird contract phone system where people pay 200$ upfront and then buy a two-year contract to get a free phone locked to that carrier. If you are planning to go for a contract phone, go for either AT&T, which is GSM or Verizon, which is CDMA. They have the best coverage but they are expensive. T-Mobile, a GSM carrier and Sprint, a CDMA carrier, are less expensive but have limited coverage. If you go for a contract-less phone, you will pay more upfront but still much less over the two year period. In that case, go for either a good Nexus phone from Google Play or go for an unlocked iPhone from Walmart. And use that with an MVNO, mobile virtual network operators like Cricket wireless or StraightTalk. For the curious, a long list of MVNOs is available on Wikipedia.
  4. First Bank account
    I would recommend getting a primary checking account at a big bank like ChaseBofA or WellsFargo. Checking account is also known as current account in some countries. Open a checking account and not a savings account. Most savings account practically offer 0% at big banks and you cannot withdraw money more than thrice a month from them. Also, don’t pay a maintenance fee for your account. Usually, the accounts have a no maintenance fee clause if you meet certain conditions. Clauses like your employer making a direct deposit or you maintain a minimum balance ~ 1000$ dollars. If there is no such clause just tell the banker you will walk away and they will most likely fix it for you on the spot. Do check if any promotions are going on nearby. Also, ask your friends for a referral. In most cases, their banks/Credit Unions are happy to give you and them a referral bonus for a new customer. Credit unions don’t have shareholders to distribute the profit (unlike banks). So, in some cases, they can offer better service but usually, their small sizes interfere in that.
  5. First credit card
    Credit cards have better credit protection, in case they are stolen, and better rewards than Debit cards in the US. It takes time to build credit history and is useful for negotiating loans for big purchases like buying a home. So, even if you feel you don’t need one, just get one, use it and pay it in full before the due date. Say your card’s billing cycle started on Jan 1, then the billing cycle will end on Jan 31. Depending on the card, you will have time to make payment till Feb 15 or Feb 31. Don’t make the minimum payment, if you can just pay it fully. Credit card interest rates are ridiculous ~13%-17%. just pay in full. Don’t go for a secured credit card. Don’t go for a card with an annual fee. Preferably, go for a card which provides no foreign transaction fee, capital one cards are my favorite for that. Usually, big banks are reluctant to give credit cards to people with no credit history in the US. All transactions from credit cards as well as any mortgage/loans inthe US contributes to an individual’s credit history. If no big bank is ready to give you a normal (not secured) no-fee card then go for credit unions. I got my first card from SFCU. Six months later, my credit history was sufficient to get a normal no-fee credit card from Bank of America for which they denied earlier. Also, to avoid getting junk credit card offers in your mailbox, opt out.
  6. Driving license
    Your country’s driving license will work in California for only the first 10 days. I would recommend not to drive in California alone unless you are coming from a country which has similar traffic laws. Getting a driving license involves two steps – a written test, which is easy. Prepare for it by reading CA driving handbook and then book an appointment. The second step which is a driving test is more involved. Most of my friends failed at least once and in some cases twice. I would recommend looking for driving instructor on craigslist.

Continue to Part 2 (buying cars, car insurance, tax filings…)

Vivek Wadhwa: “The next Trillion Dollar Opportunities”

(Opinions expressed here are my understanding of Vivek Wadhwa’s opinion)
“The next Trillion Dollar Opportunities” (in this decade)

China’s manufacturing and India’s call center business is saturated.
PC industry is dead, Laptop is flat and mobile is going up.

Next trilion dollar opportunities

  1. Proactive health care
    Preventive care is much cheaper.
    Expect sensors everywhere (in toothbrush, tiolet, mirror etc.) to give info based on spotted symptoms.
    IBM Watson is being trained on medical data.
    Soon, nanobot’s will go inside body for drug release/monitoring.
  2. Manufacturing
    Robotics taking over (Baxter – 22K robot – will cost 1-2 $ per hour of work after that).
    Manufacturing coming back to USA.
    America is being automated.
  3. 3D Printing
    Current 3D printers 200 (low end) -1500$ (high end).
    Expect prices.to go down to 200$ for high end in 5 years => house hold goods can be printed at home.
  4. Finance
    Square-like mobile payments exploding
    Bitcoin carries a negative image, expect government backed digital currency soon.
    mPaisa in Kenya –  60% of transactions via sms now (25% of Kenya’s GDP).
  5. Transportation
    Robotics drone going to take over for deliveries
    Self-driving cars are imminent.
  6. Computing
    Big data
    Internet enabled devices augmented by  high speed internet (Google Fiber)
    New UIs – touch based interfaces, augmented reaility (Google Glass)
  7. Synthetic Biology

We are taking exponential (and not linear) steps in technology  and humans are not good at predicting impact of exponential changes.

Grand Problems

  1. Energy
    Solar energy ~ 10, 000 times total human energy consumption.
    97% fall in solar energy prices in 35 years and its still falling, in 10 years, it will be grid parity
    (Its already disel parity in India)
  2. Water Shortage
    Energy is free => Water distillation is free.
    Dean Kaeman’s slingshot purifies water (it consumes less energy than hair dryer)
  3. Education
    More education is accessible online now, tablets provide easier/better access.
  4. “In vitro” meat
    Two silicon valley companies working on that.
  5. Connected world
    Better flow of information.
    Helped in social revolution.

 

Beyond Numbers: Dealing with terrorism in India

Let’s start with a small exercise.
Trying searching for the list of Sept 2011 victims or for the list of London Bombing victims.
In each case, more than half of the results on the first page lead to a list of names along with the photos and life stories of those people.
Now, trying searching for the list of Hyderabad blast 2013 victims, you would get a few results like this which lists the names of the people but where are their photos and life stories?

Try another search for a list of Mumbai attack 2008 victims, what do you get?  a partial list from Telegraph, another list of just names from two circles and mid-day.
One can try more such searches and the difference will be immediately obvious. As a nation, India has reduced the terror victims to numbers.
And that has lead to one of worst forms of desensitization towards terror attacks.

Few months back, women were on streets of New Delhi not because “one” woman was gang-raped (such “one”s happen just too often in the country/world) but because they were able to relate to the unfulfilled life story of “a girl born in a poor family whose father sold his land so that, she can study. And she dares to break the New Delhi’s norm of women not venturing after sunset.” As humans, we learn to relate to other humans based on their life stories.
Imagine this for a while, rather than reducing these deaths to numbers, what if media had instead written about the “engineer from a poor family background who got recently engaged”. I am making this up but such a real story won’t be impossible to find in say, Hyderabad blasts.

The lack of these stories acts as boon for anti-nationals like Arundhati Roy who write editorials supporting Afzal Guru (hanged for 2001 Parliament Attack) – notice the implicit life story of Afzal Guru in the article.
These anti-nationals are able to create well-articulated life stories of these victims to which people claiming to be liberal/open-minded/forward-looking relate to.
When we reduce victims to numbers, we don’t see them as humans any more, we don’t think about the difficulties their immediate family members have to bear. No wonder Narasimha Rao, ex-Prime Minister of India, once said, “It seems in this country only terrorists have human rights”. As India loses the intellectual battle against terrorism, it loses losing the real battle on the ground as well.
This also hits back India in international diplomacy since foreigners would know bad as well as good life stories (sometimes completely fictional) about the hanged terrorists but the terror victims will be reduced to numbers and forgotten.

If Govt. of India or Indian media can start compiling life stories of these victims, it can target all the above issues. Indians will become more sensitive towards terrorist attacks, anti-nationals will lose their clout and foreigners will know more about the lives of who died.

Random Thoughts: Rape and The Indian Blame Game

After the Delhi gang-rape case, there has been a sudden upsurge in traditional as well as social media over rape in India.
As usual in such cases, the initial reaction is to find someone to blame.
And in this case, the onus of the blame has been put on

  1. Patriarchal Indian Society – without realizing that more rapes happen in the not-so-patriarchal USA
  2. Indian masculinity – “who feel threatened by women asserting their identity” without realizing that rapes happen even with infants, senior citizens, visually challengedmentally challenged and homely women in conservative villages of Haryana to Kerala.
  3. Indian Police – as if police officials are omniscient and should be present before the crime happens
  4. Honey Singh – I am expecting a petition against Vatsyayana next

This blog post is a collection of thoughts about the same.

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Female Foeticide

The first episode of Aamir Khan’s show Satyamev jayate raised the issue of female foeticide in Rajasthan. While the show asked for stringent laws, it missed a few major reasons behind the same.

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