Sunday, March 29, 2009


  1. Get hold of a Maxtor 320 GB external drive.

  2. Plug it into Linux and find out that the capacity reported is actually 300 GB. I have experienced this before as well -- my Acer laptop's hard drive was touted as 60 GB while the partitioning software reported it as 55 GB. (Update: When it comes to disk sizes, 'giga' means 10 raised to 9, and not 2 raised to 30. Duh.)

  3. My intention was to use the drive for both the personal and work laptops by dividing it into an NTFS partition and an ext3 partition. To do this you need to add NTFS support to gparted by installing the ntfsprogs package.

  4. Use gparted to resize the existing NTFS partition and create an ext3 partition from the freed up space.

  5. Using rsync to back up the data partition in Linux is a breeze -- the whole thing is over in about 15 minutes.

  6. Now attach the drive to the work laptop and find that the drive is not recognized at all, except to report an unknown device called 'Maxtor Basics'.

  7. Tear hair out for a half day or so trying to figure this out, including a) upgrading to Windows XP Service Pack 3 and b) running Mepis Live CD on the laptop and confirming that the drive is compatible with the laptop's hardware.

  8. Fix the problem finally by deleting a file called 'infcache.1' in c:\windows\inf. Now the drive appears in both Windows Explorer and the disk management snapin. Also change the access permissions for usbstor.pnf and usbstor.inf, to be on the safe side.

  9. Waste about half an hour trying to use the built-in Windows backup utility -- get errors like 'delayed writing failed', etc.

  10. Download Cobian Backup and complete the job -- the backup process is nowhere near as fast as using rsync in Linux, but it does the job adequately.

  11. One minor issue still remains; I'm unable to remove the drive in Windows using the 'Safely remove hardware' option -- Windows reports that the device cannot be stopped now and asks me to try later.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why do I even bother?

Spotted in DC in an article about the rupee (italics mine):
In nominal terms, it has fallen from Rs 39.27 to the US dollar on January 15 to Rs 51.10 to the US dollar by March 3 -- a decline of more than 30% in less than two months.
The time it took for the rupee to fall 30% is actually 13 months, since the January 15 refers to 2008, not 2009. It wouldn't have mattered so much if this was from a regular news item (what with reporters facing deadlines and all), but the sentence in question is from the first paragraph of an op-ed piece, where one would assume more care would be taken to ensure accuracy.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Naked short selling brought down Lehman?

The Deep Capture guys must be feeling vindicated. On the other hand, is this just blame-shifting by the folks at Lehman?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How to spot a hidden religious agenda

From How to spot a hidden religious agenda:
Misguided interpretations of quantum physics are a classic hallmark of pseudoscience, usually of the New Age variety, but some religious groups are now appealing to aspects of quantum weirdness to account for free will. Beware: this is nonsense.
Yes, you there in the last row, I'm talking to you.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Wild Fire

I have read a couple of Nelson DeMille novels before, and have found them quite readable. I picked one up -- Wild Fire -- after a long gap. I have not made it through Chapter 1 yet, but I have already been assaulted by a combination of cliches, trying-too-hard-to-be-clever quips, an overdose of testosterone and plain old jingoism. Some samples:
  • "We are now a mostly paperless organization, and I actually miss initialing memos. I had an urge to initial my computer with a grease pencil, but I settled for the electronic equivalent. If I ran this organization, all memos would be on an Etch A Sketch."

  • "Also included in our collegial group are people who, like ghosts, don't actually exist, but if they did, they'd be called CIA."

  • "Also, this guy has a bad habit of coming back from the dead - he's done it at least once before - and without a positive body identification, I'm not breaking out the champagne."

  • "My wife is a beautiful woman, but even if she weren't, I'd still love her. Actually, if she weren't beautiful, I wouldn't have even noticed her, so it's a moot point."

  • "The message read [Ed: It's in all caps in the novel -- BTW, somebody please tell the author that normal people don't type in all-caps anymore -- but in the interest of not hurting the eyes too much, I've changed it to normal text]: Let's knock off early, go home, have sex, I'll cook you chili and hot dogs, and make you drinks while you watch TV in your underwear. Actually, it didn't say that. It said: Let's go away for a romantic weekend of wine tasting on the North Fork. I'll book a B&B. Love, Kate."

  • "Like most men, I'd rather face the muzzle of an assault rifle than a pissed-off wife."

  • "... who I strongly suspect was once romantically involved with my then future wife. This is not why I disliked him - it was why I hated him. I disliked him for professional reasons."

  • Never referring to Osama bin Laden without the prefix "scumbag", a derogatory reference to the Middle East ("Sandland"). We get it -- you are a red-blooded American.

  • "Not one of my better cases, but it brought me and Kate together, so the next time I see him, I'll thank him for that, before I gut-shoot him and watch him die slowly."

  • "This was one of the reasons. we got divorced. The other was that she thought cooking and f**king were two cities in China."
I think it would have been easier to scan the pages and put them up, as someone recently did for a book with really bad porn.

Update: Surprisingly, the book turned out to be an entertaining read, the Bollywood style climax notwithstanding.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Investors' dilemma

Olga Tellis' columns (by the way, I've always wondered about this: what's a Russian doing, writing finance columns for Deccan Chronicle?) usually make a lot of sense, but I don't agree with this:
A study of asset class-wise returns between 1998 and October 2008 by Fidelity International shows that equity has out-performed all other asset classes, followed by gold, fixed deposits and lastly, gilt.

But one has to have a long term horizon of seven to 10 years.
Tell that to an investor in the Japanese stock market: the Nikkei, after reaching an all-time high of 38,957.44 on December 29, 1989, is currently languishing at 7,376.12. An investor with a time frame of say, 19 years, would be really sore from all the ass-reaming.

She continues:
For an individual, it is difficult to time the market, namely to buy at the lowest price and sell it at the highest.

One has to know one's risk and reward profile and invest accordingly.

That is why it is better to go through the mutual fund route.

Many mutual funds may be performing badly in the present scenario, but it is not true of all mutual funds.

There are several who are doing well and giving good returns even in this scenario.
A quick glance at the financial pages shows that there are approximately 57,483 mutual funds to choose from, run by fund managers with varying levels of competence. In what way is this better than choosing from an even larger list of individual company stocks? Also, unless a mutual fund is able to short stocks, I do not understand how it can give positive returns in a bear market; it's not a hedge fund, after all.

The more and more I think about the whole investing thing, I can't help but come to these conclusions:
  1. Investing your money is not a way to become rich. Your aim should be two-fold: a) ensure that you don't lose your principal and b) beat inflation. A regular saving habit [putting your money in rock solid investments (and no, I don't mean mutual funds or stocks)], coupled with the under-appreciated magic of compound interest, will take you a long way.

  2. Earn your money by the sweat of your brow, not by clever, get-rich-quick schemes.
If you feel that this advice does not hold good, and inflation is still going to screw you over, blame the government for its deficit financing policies and printing presses (I know, this is not a solution; but hey, there's always Kaun Banega Crorepati).

Monday, March 09, 2009

Quote of the day

Dude, feed him some moon pies and oxycontin and call him Mini-Me. As bread'n'circuses go, it couldn't be beat.
-- Reddit comment about Republican wunderkind Jonathan Krohn.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Off-balance sheet exposure

From Deccan Chronicle:
Among the bank groups, the off-balance sheet exposure of foreign banks was over 28 times of their total liabilities. Private sector banks and public sector banks had off-balance sheet exposures of 251.2 per cent and 61.5 per cent of their total liabilities, respectively.
That's right, it's not 28 per cent, but 28 times. Considering that Citigroup is supposed to have a trillion or so dollars in off-balance sheet SIVs, this is not surprising:
The top five banks with the largest off-balance sheet exposures in India were Citibank - Rs 16,44,729 crore; Standard Chartered - Rs 16,25,608 crore; HSBC - Rs 13,22,985 crore; ICICI Bank - Rs 11,51,349 crore and Barclays Bank - Rs 10,44,134 crore.
Like parent, like subsidiary. Also note that you-know-who is the only Indian bank in this sorry list.

Spot the odd one out

Three headlines:
  • Unruly lawyers started violence, police exceeded limits: Srikrishna -- The Hindu
  • Srikrishna slams CJ for soft-pedalling row - SC puts ball in high court -- Deccan Chronicle
  • Srikrishna report indicts protesting TN lawyers -- Times of India
The report places equal blame on both sides, but you wouldn't know it by reading the TOI or the DC versions (The DC version, by the way, is uncharacteristically wishy-washy).

Speaking of newspapers, is it just me, or has R K Laxman jumped the shark? The You Said It series cartoons are giving Sudhir Talang and Keshav a good run for their money in the "Which newspaper has the most insipid cartoon" contest. Time for graceful retirement, I think.

Monday, March 02, 2009

IIPM voted best B School in the country

... in the non-IIM category.

And by the way, if you didn't know it already, I have been voted the best batsman in the country in the non-Sachin Tendulkar category for the last three years.

LeT shuts down after anti-terrorism pledge

The Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Toiba today announced that it was shutting down. This announcement came in the wake of the anti-terrorism pledge taken by the Orissa Chief Minister, Union Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar and a host of religious leaders. Addressing a group of reporters at a hurriedly convened press conference, Mohammed Aftab, the LeT spokesperson, said that this action left his group completely stunned. "We did not see this coming," he said. "We can handle a military raid, air strikes, even cruise missiles, but this is too much. I mean, how can we defend against something as deadly as a..." -- he quickly emptied a glass of water before continuing, "an anti-terrorism pledge"? He went on to add that they were planning to take this up with the International Criminal Court, claiming that a serious violation of their human rights had been committed.

In related news, the president of the Confederation of Indian Industry announced that an anti-recession pledge would be taken by all its members on March 15. This news was greeted by an immediate 230 point spurt in the Sensex. The rally could not be sustained, however, when the traders realized that the American President, Mr Barack Obama, would not be taking the pledge owing to prior commitments on that day.

Warren Buffet does derivatives?

From Bloomberg, via Mish Shedlock's blog:
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. posted a fifth-straight profit drop, the longest streak of quarterly declines in at least 17 years, on losses from derivative bets tied to stock markets.
Berkshire shares have fallen 44 percent in the past year as the value of the firm’s top equity holdings dropped and losses increased on the derivatives.
And here I was, thinking Warren Buffet was conservative and invested only in things he understood.