Friday, May 29, 2009

Swine flu

seasonal flu claimed an average of 36,000 lives annually in the 1990s, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

small city vs big city

People seem to forget that Shockley went to death valley because there was absolutely nothing there and you could get all the basics dirt cheap. The nutcases that started the silicon revolution did that in barns and garages and of those in the cheapest they could find. The shockley five went to start Intel in the neighbourhood and thus Silicon Valley was born.

If I where building a startup in the US today, I'd seriously consider Detroit. You can buy houses for 500$ right now in Detroit and infrastructure is just good enough to live. You could spent years there on the most minimal VC and since Detroit is so super-boring now the team actually would have a personal interest in concentrating on the thing their building.

Problem is, and all jokes about single engineers aside, that means the spouse has to find something viable in that location as well. Some professions are pretty portable, others aren't. But it's not just about where you can lure a single person.

Plus, if you lose your job, suddenly you're in Toledo where there's not that many other companies. At least in the Bay Area, you know you have multiple options to switch to should you want to. Without having to sell your house which no one wants or needs to buy. (Admittedly this is a chicken-and-egg problem; if enough companies move to Toledo or wherever, this goes away.)

My wife & I left silicon valley about 5 years ago at the tail-end of the dot-com bust. I had a GREAT time there, aside from the worthless options and 80-hour work weeks. We thought it was time to start a family, and wanted a bigger, less-expensive house, no traffic, slower quality of life. We were willing to trade a premium salary for it.


Turns out that when you're in a smaller town, you have NO OTHER employment options. What happens if you don't like your little tech company? uh, you're screwed. In Silicon Valley you always had a network three deep that could get you a fun, interesting job in a little bit. You had options. A backup plan. In smaller towns you're running without a safety net. If you leave the relocated tech-company, you've got the small-town mindset and businesses. I see plenty of craigslist ads that read, "must have 5 years networking experience, cisco preferred. Be able to build and administer our 50-person network. References required. $10/hr, contract only." I'm seriously NOT kidding.

I wish I could completely rewind my experience and still be in silicon valley. Higher rents, more traffic, silly housing prices and all.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

New Pension System

The major disadvantage of not being able to withdraw the money from the scheme lies in the taxation of the pension.

Pension, in whatever form it is recieved, is taxable under section 17 of the Income Tax Act. NPS deals a double whammy in this.

One, at the time of withdrawing even the partial amount that is allowed, tax will be levied on the withdrawls made. The pension one gets out the corpus continues to attract taxation as mentioned earlier. Therefore there is no respite at all from the tax.

Compare this with any insurance plan or PF or PPF etc. Here the investor gets the full money he has invested together with the returns FREE of tax. Which means, at the time of retirement, he has the option of deciding the mode of investment depending upon his/her convenience. Plus retain a lot of cash to meet expenses like marriage/education of children.

Forget about the fund management charges, even other fixed charges are not very attractive.

For instance, if a person were to make a deposit of Rs.1000/- every month into his pension scheme, the average cost works out to be 6%. So you end up paying a higher cost for a benefit which is non existent!

Cost should not be the only criteria to be looked into while deciding the investment option. Lower cost does not necessarily mean higher return. Because there is nothing called free lunch in this world.

Look at the fund management charges for NPS. 0.0009 percent of the fund value managed. This means, a fund manager should manage really large volumes of money to earn a reasonable fund management fees. Else, the fund manager will most certainly be in loss and any loss making entity will not deliver good performance. This is the universal truth. Already a few of the fund managers are grumbling about the low returns on the funds managed. Where is the incentive for them to perform??

Consider this, if an AMC manages funds worth Rs.100000 crores in the corpus, they will get Rs.90 crores in revenue. But look at the disadvantage of managing a fund of this size. The fund will not be agile enough to take advantage of the market movements.

Also, the biggest drawback of this scheme is that the capital is never given back in full. Whether one likes it or not, he has to continue getting the pension from a designated agency. What if there are better alternatives tomorrow? Or worse still, what if the investor needs the bulk money for any emergency? In the traditional pension plans offered by the insurers, there is an option to withdraw the corpus in cash. This option is missing in the NPS.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Is Your Home A Good Investment?

And it's startling.

We have just been through the biggest boom in real estate in American history. The subsequent bust surely hasn't finished.

Bloomberg News
Dropping home prices are only one of the factors that keep the annual returns on homes low.
Yet look at the numbers. Since 1987, when the Case-Shiller index of 10 major cities begins, it's risen from an index value of 63 to 151. Annual return: Just 4.1% a year. During that period, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, consumer prices rose by 3% a year. Net result: Home prices produced a real return of just 1.15% a year over inflation over that time.

Critics may point out that the analysis is unfair -- after all, it starts counting near the peak of the 1980s housing boom. Fair enough. Look at the performance since, say, early 1994, when home prices were near a historic trough. Surely someone who bought then has made a bundle.

Not necessarily. Since then the ten-city index has risen from a value of 76 to 151. Annual return: 4.7%. Inflation over that period: 2.5%. That's still only a real return of 2.2% a year above inflation.

You can often do better on long-term inflation protected government bonds.

And real estate often costs 2% or more a year in property taxes, condo fees, maintenance, insurance and the like.

Conventional wisdom long held that home ownership was a route to wealth, and the imputed rent -- in other words, the right to live in your home -- was just part of the value you got from it. Under that widespread view, the recent housing bust was simply a temporary, though deep, pothole.

Yet for very many people, even over the past 15 or 20 years, the imputed rent may have been all, or nearly all, the real value they actually got from their home.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Everything I’ve read about fitness and sleep during the past ten years has talked about the major importance sleep plays in rejuvenating our body — lack of sleep can be as harmful as eating unhealthy foods! While I’ve been trying to change my schedule to wake up earlier, I often find myself waking up extremely tired. I justify going back to sleep because I tell myself it’s probably healthier than waking up early. But then if I don’t deal with lack of sleep for a few nights in a row, I’ll never adjust my sleeping pattern. 

And it's not just difficulty sleeping either, the body ends up literally consuming more energy trying to sleep than it does while conscious. The lack of oxygen in the circulatory system fools the body into overproduction of red blood cells to compensate. This, in turn, leads to a dangerous shift in blood pressure to the point that the heart may cease to function under the load (chronic-conjestive lung and heart failure).

In many cases, those suffering from it are often discovered with blood oxygen levels lower than that of a cadaver.

One thing to remember though, is that the act of sleeping isn't just merely closing the eyes for a few winks, the body *needs* to rest lying down to recover from the negative effects of being upright all day. Blood that is left to pool in the legs for too long can eventually lead to dangerous blood clots.

In my early thirties I started snoring a lot, and very heavily. Two years later I started experiencing symptoms such as forgetting where I was going as I driving down the road, getting into my vehicle and not remembering how to start it, forgetting my own phone number, the inability to perform my job at any level of competency, etc.... I thought I had suffered a major stroke.

I went to the doctor and he said I was a ringer for sleep apnea and referred me to a sleep clinic.

Long story short I was waking 50 times an hour because that's how often my breathing was being interrupted and my body would rouse me due to low oxygen levels in my blood. To me it seemed as if I was awake all night long and never went to sleep.

After being fitted with a cpap mask and sleep machine to pump air into my mouth and nose while I slept it took me three weeks of normal sleep to recover my mental faculties.

REM sleep also doesn't come instantly. In most people you need at least 90 minutes from falling asleep to having your first REM period. Anything under about half an hour is a sign of narcolepsy. Your longest REM episodes happen after several hours.

On the average over a whole night, about a quarter of the time will be REM. It's safe to assume that in the long run those two hours or so of REM a day are what your body actually needs.

But again, you don't get them in one big chunk. You get them interleaved with periods of non-REM sleep. So what it boils down to is that to get your normal quota of REM sleep, you'll actually need those 8 hours a night. You might get by with just 7, but anything less (unless you're over 70) is putting stress on your brain in the long run. You might not outright die, but you won't be very smart or attentive after months of getting significantly less.

No, the most essential type of sleep is slow-wave sleep, which is even mentioned [] in TFA.

I've done some computational modelling of the cerebral cortex, and my hypothesis [] (page 7/139) is that slow-wave sleep is used to re-strengthen competitive connections between cortical columns, restoring the ability to think clearly.

Morbidity, [or sickness,] is also "U-shaped," in the sense that both very short sleep and very long sleep are associated with many illnesses - with depression, with obesity, and therefore with heart disease and so forth. But the [ideal amount of sleep] for different health measures isn't all in the same place. Most of the "low points" are at seven or eight hours, but there are some at six and some even at nine. I think diabetes is lowest in seven-hour sleepers, [for example]. But these measures aren't as clear as the mortality data.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

REST, Restful

How I explained REST to my wife...

We need to be able to talk to all machines about all the stuff that's on all the other machines. So we need some way of having one machine tell another machine about a resource that might be on yet another machine.

Wife: Sounds like GET is a pretty important verb.

Ryan: It is. Especially when you're using a web browser because browsers pretty much just get stuff. They don't do a lot of other types of interaction with resources. This is a problem because it has led many people to assume that HTTP is just for getting. But HTTP is actually a general purpose protocol for applying verbs to nouns.

Ryan: Because web pages are designed to be understood by people. A machine doesn't care about layout and styling. Machines basically just need the data. Ideally, every URL would have a human readable and a machine readable representation. When a machine GETs the resource, it will ask for the machine readable one. When a browser GETs a resource for a human, it will ask for the human readable one.

Tim Berners-Lee on the next Web

Turkish Court says kissy worker gets job back

The woman was confronted by her boss after she was caught kissing on tape on the business's closed circuit TV, Anatolian said. The business in the capital was not identified.

"When you take into consideration that the kissing was momentary and that there were no customers present and that no other workers saw it, is a grave decision to say the action breached the order of the workplace," the appeals court said, annulling a decision by a lower court to uphold the firing.

Distributed Denial of Dollars attack

A friend of anakata told Blog Pirate that the bank account to which the payments are directed has only 1000 free transfers, after which any transfers have a surcharge of 2 SEK for the account holder. Any internet-fee payments made after the first 1000, which includes the law firm’s ordinary transfers, will instead of giving 1 SEK, cost 1 SEK to the law firm. Since Danowsky & Partners Advokatbyrå is a small firm, all the transactions are handled by hand. Handling all payments will be time consuming, costing the law firm in productivity. Maybe it will even affect their success in other cases.

Perhaps you didn't read that the judge is drinking buddies with the prosecution? The judge belongs to several - uhhh - "fraternities" whose goal is to enrich the *iaa's of the world? Perhaps you missed the fact that a jail term was handed down for what amounts to a civil matter? Or, maybe the fact that this court (let alone the judge) has no jurisdiction over the servers? (I'm not certain whether the court has jurisdiction over the company or not, but the servers are definitely beyond the court's jurisdiction - I should find out where TPB is incorporated as a business)

I'm not savvy enough to explain a whole lot more, but, yes - this kangaroo court is so flawed and tainted that any lawyer in the world should be embarassed to even read about it. Everyone involved in the prosecution whored themselves out shamelessly.

Wrong country, wrong court, wrong judge, and most definitely the wrong complainants.

more US troops died from accidents, illness or suicide than from combat

An estimated five soldiers in Iraq try to commit suicide each day. Between September last year and last month, more US troops, 72, died from accidents, illness or suicide than from combat, 67.

Friday, May 01, 2009

city of Christiansfeld, Denmark

For instance, the city of Christiansfeld, Denmark used “ambiguity and urban legibility” in street design to reduce high death rates on the town’s central traffic intersection. Instead of erecting warning signs, road markings, and traffic signals, Bjarne Winterberg and the engineering firm Ramboll removed traffic signals and road markings. No mode of transport was given priority and pedestrians, buses, cars, and trucks used eye contact to negotiate the junction.

Surface treatment, lightning columns, and junction corners were squared up. The purpose was to make the intersection resemble the centre of the town or to create a public realm. Expectedly, the number of killed or seriously injured (KSI) during the last three years was reduced to zero, moreover, traffic backups were reduced. Compared to junctions having traffic signals, ambiguous junctions prevent accidents, reduce delays, and are cheaper to construct and maintain.

Shared space is another woonerf principle that is applied to transform busy traffic intersections. In Friesland market town of Oosterwolde, different types of traffic intermingle giving an impression of chaos and disorder, in fact, traffic negotiates the junction using eye contact and care for other types of transport. No state regulation or control is visible and traffic movement depends on informal convention and legibility.