Showing posts from 2008

A Hard Day's Night

I am adequately familiar with "A Hard Day's Night" by The Beatles. But I never paid any particular attention to the opening chord. That is until I heard this analysis on NPR about the use of Fourier analysis to breakdown music into its component sounds. Paying closer attention to the song also helped me recall why The Beatles were such a great band.

12/11: Live, Freeze, and Die!

New Hampshire is famous for its official state slogan, "Live Free or Die," adopted in 1945. It is a reference to the aggressive sense of independence inherent in the American political philosophy. The phrase has its origin in an 1809 toast written by General John Stark, New Hampshire's most famous soldier in the American Revolutionary War.

However, a new state motto is being proposed by some. I heard it from a former colleague (John Finocchiaro) who is still without power following the December 11 ice storm that threw 1.25 million homes back into the Dark Ages. The proposed motto, rather appropriately, is "Live, Freeze, and Die!"

Additionally, I would propose that "12/11" (a spoof of 9/11) might be an appropriate name for one of the worst ice-storm-induced power outages in recent New England history.

Why I Love The Bose Wave Music System

What I like most about the Bose Wave Music System is its size-to-sound ratio, price-to-sound ratio, absence of external moving parts, and ability to play MP3 CDs. The minimalist external design is simply remarkable. I don't believe there is anything else in the market that is one-piece and can compete on these metrics.
Size-to-sound ratio. This system fits on one corner of my bedroom dresser and is as much music system as I'll ever need. The sound quality and quantity is superb and superior to what one might expect from much larger and more expensive music systems. Based on a volume scale that goes from 0-99, I generally listen at around 35-40, bump it up to 50-60 for party moods, and have never needed to go much higher than 70. There is nothing else in the market that is this small and provides a similar sound quality.

Price-to-sound ratio. Again, the sound quality this system affords me for the $500 price tag is about as much music system as I'll ever need at home or wish …

Coping With Power Outages (And Subzero Temperatures)

Ours was among the well over one million homes that lost electricity as a result of the Northeastern ice storm that hit New England and beyond on the evening of Thursday, December 11, 2008.
The extent of power outages caused by this ice storm is being classified as one of the worst ever. Other outages included land-based phone, cable, and internet services.

Our place went dark at around 10 PM EST on Thursday. We had power restored around 8 PM EST on Friday. We were lucky to have power restored in about 24 hours. Estimates for other regions are as high as two weeks. Living without power for almost an entire day was an important experience, especially for the kids.
Luckily we were fairly well equipped to weather the storm. Here's a summary of the lessons either learned or reinforced.
Keep a powerful outdoor flashlight, e.g. something that operates on three type D batteries. Such a flashlight will provide extended run time and a strong beam of light. However, use the flashlight sparingly…

"The End of Wall Street's Boom" By Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis's take on the current financial crisis belongs in the *must-read* category.

He is, arguably, "the funniest serious writer in America."

His 1990 book "Liar's Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street" is widely acknowledged as the quintessential non-fiction introduction to Wall Street's underbelly.

Most articles of this length would be abandoned midway. Lewis throws in plenty of serious material, e.g. the ratio of median home price to income. What makes Lewis's writing such a pleasure to read is that he doesn't forget the human element (anecdotes, character sketches, and so on), which also helps to the lighten the reading experience.

The End of Wall Street's Boom By Michael Lewis.

Mumbai Attacks: Is Gun Control To Blame?

In the final tally, the Mumbai siege lasted three days and resulted in a dead body count of nearly 200.

The most thought-provoking comment I've come across thus far has been from Ashish Gulhati.

His point essentially is -- reduce dependence on the state by allowing civilians to arm and defend themselves against tyranny.

Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and final Guru of the Sikh religion, had the same recommendation for very similar reasons, i.e. to combat Mughal tyranny against the Hindus and the Sikhs in India.

Skeptics would do well to read this enlightening overview of the pros and cons of gun control.

And as Sauvik Chakraverti insightfully points out in his blog, the 1984 massacres of the Sikhs in Delhi, which many believe were state-sanctioned, would probably have turned out very differently if the citizens had been as well armed as the state.

Why I Love Facebook

In a sense, I envy friends who live and work in the cities or towns where they grew up. (Although, they often remind me that it can get a bit tiring when you can't run a quick errand around town without running into someone you know!) For the rest of us, there's Facebook, which helps me reconnect with family and friends scattered all over the world.

My favorite apps, which I recommend for any current affairs aficionado: Deadline (by AFP, with tens of new questions added daily) and The New York Times News Quiz (five questions refreshed daily).

But more than any app, I think what makes Facebook click is the ability to post statuses, notes, photos, videos, links etc and have friends comment and share reactions on all of the above.

Mumbai Attacks: Retire the Sledgehammer!

As I write, we're just beginning to understand the full impact of today's bombings, shootings and hostage-taking at seven of Mumbai's (formerly Bombay) most recognizable venues including the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel, the Trident Oberoi hotel, the Chhatrapati Shivaji (formerly Victoria) Terminus (Mumbai's largest ground transportation hub), Chabad House (formerly Nariman House and now a base for the orthodox Jewish group Chabad Lubavitch), and Leopold Cafe.

Most reports coming out of India's financial capital, Mumbai, are citing over 100 fatalities and 300 injured, many of them foreign citizens. I am keeping my fingers double-crossed. I lost a family member in the Delhi bombings of October 29, 2005 - two days prior to Divali - while she was shopping with her fiance at South Delhi's popular Sarojini Nagar market. And now this - one day prior to Thanksgiving!

To borrow Obama's terminology, all sides need to learn the use of a scalpel; the sledgehammer ap…

Barack Obama and the Black Vote

Lately I've been hearing people assert that perhaps Barack Obama won the 2008 US presidential election primarily due to the black vote. I don't believe that is the case. Let me explain why.

The Democratic Party has been winning the black vote by huge margins (high 80s) since the black majority shifted from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party starting with, you guessed it, FDR in 1932.

Obama won 95% of the black vote, which is only 1% higher than the previous record of 94% set by LBJ in 1964, following LBJ's support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Obama's 7 point spread with respect to the overall popular vote (Obama's 53% versus McCain's 46%) is better than many including Bush (2000, 2004), Carter, Nixon (1968), JFK.

Obama's electoral college majority (364 versus 163, with Missouri still pending) is at the Clinton levels and is better than many including Bush (2000, 2004), Carter, Nixon (1968), JFK.

Finally, the 2008 voter turnout has been estimated a…

Barack Obama and the White Vote

It is well known that Barack Obama won the vote in many constituencies including the college educated, the youth, most (if not all) minority groups, and women.

However, there is a misconception among most people that he did poorly among whites.

It is true that Obama got a minority of white votes. He received 43% as compared to McCain's 55%. Hence, a 12 point spread.

However, it is critical to note how Obama's performance among whites compares with that of previous Democratic Party nominees. Many people aren't aware that the Democratic Party has traditionally struggled to win the white vote. Obama's 12 point spread is actually the same as that of Al Gore in 2000 and better than John Kerry's 17 point spread in 2004.

Apparently, no Democrat has won a majority of the white vote since Lyndon B Johnson in 1964. And LBJ was the only Democrat to win the white vote since Roosevelt won it in 1932.

Further reading.

Could the Barack Obama Story Happen Only In America?

Lately I have grown a bit tired of the "Only in America" sentiment that has been going around in the aftermath of Barack Obama's historic win in the 2008 US presidential elections.

I am proud to have been a very early supporter of Obama's candidacy. I joined his Facebook fan club when he was a long shot for the Democratic Party's nomination and had 300K odd fans. He now has 2.5M fans on Facebook.

However, we ought to remember that there are many other nations that have been electing women and other minorities as heads of state, in some cases since decades ago.

Women have been elected heads of state in the UK (Margaret Thatcher), Canada (Kim Campbell), India (Indira Gandhi) and elsewhere.

Similarly, ethnic minorities have been elected/appointed to the top in France (Sarkozy), Peru (Fujimori), Argentina (Menem), India (Manmohan Singh), Bolivia (Morales), Venezuela (Chavez) and elsewhere.

Barack Obama's election is a huge milestone for America, but let's maintain…