Sunday, March 30, 2008

Right approach

Sometimes a slow gradual approach does more good than a large gesture. - Craig Newmark (1952 - ), Keynote Speech, SXSW 2006

Incremental evolution, gradual refinement, pilot project etc. can be used to describe the above quotation. 'What good is a big splash? All it does is make a big sound and get people around soaking wet.' Is it not?

For any endeavor, it makes sense to start small, looking for immediate feedback and correcting the course as we go along. This is so pertinent to small investors that they better have it inscribed on their bathroom mirrors. Sometimes when people get carried away by the news of killings made by some big bulls in the stock market, small investors run with all their life time savings and invest. Regardless of amount of money you have, it helps to understand the system by using some dummy trading systems and test our strategy. Quite a few sites on Internet offer such facility. For a small fee, you can access trading platforms, trade as though you are playing with real money, learn valuable lessons and then start gradually investing little by little. Making a big splash in the market is going to get you literally wet because after you lose your shirt and other proverbial garment in the market, aren't you going to get real wet? On top of it, if the big bang of bursting market bubble also occurs, it is bound to ring in your ears for a while.

Another drawback of starting any activity on a grandiose scale is the difficulty with getting some instant gratification. Good or bad, instant gratification is the best sense of accomplishment. So, we need it. On grandiose projects when the first milestone is so far and difficult, it is easy to give up at the first obstacle. To avoid this we can start small and maintain a steady pace.

Small is beautiful. All good things come in small packages.


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Saturday, March 29, 2008

PDF Editor

If you are looking for a free software to edit PDF documents, you may want to check out PDF editor from Foxit software. PDF editor from Foxit Software is pretty good. Free trial edition is pretty good and trial period is six months. Free trial version puts a small watermark at the top of the document when you save the document edited.

User interface may be somewhat confusing or may be I did not explore it fully. I  had to fill out few form fields in a document and the way I did was to right click on each form field and 'add text'. I had expected editing it like any word document. That was okay as long as I could edit the document without having to buy Adobe.

You can download the trial version from -


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Tuesday, March 25, 2008


"Prayer is not a spare wheel that we pull out when we are in trouble. It is a steering wheel that keeps us on the right path throughout our life."

What a beautiful quote! I do not know who said it. Got it in an e-mail and could not wait to write it down. Only if we remembered to take the name of the God every time we start something, in no time all our insecurity, diffidence, lack of confidence all go away like the mist at the first rays of sun. When we start something new or about face a challenge, we seem to think about everything else but God. It is only when we run into some problem, we use the name of God as a last resort that too without much hope or belief. Even in desperate situations, we are not sure if things can turn for good. We somehow remember that people say it helps to pray during the times of trouble and we too do that. Instead of using prayer as the last resort, why not make it part of our daily routine. Even if we are absolutely scientific minded, believing in supreme power goes a long way in taking out most of the worries. Even scientific minded people acknowledge that there are way too many unknowns and factors not within our control, belief in God is a way to abstract them all and treat them as a black box and not worry about them. Worrying about all that is like plugging leaky holes in a boat instead of rowing the boat to our destination.


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Saturday, March 22, 2008


Tibet is in the news once again. Ever since China invaded and annexed Tibet in 1950's, Tibetians have been stateless people. Many along with their religious leader came to India after Chinese invasion. They were settled in 3-4 places in India.

One such place is Mundagod - small town in North Karnataka. Mundagod is probably 30-40 miles from nearest metropolis Hubli-Dharwad. Being from Dharwad, I got to see Tibetians and their life quite a bit while growing up in Dharwad. Mundagod was also on the way to Sirsi/Honnavar in North Kanara district - my ancestral places. So every time I took a bus ride to the native, it passed through Mundagod and Mundagod bus stand used to full of Tibetians.

Tibetians who were settled in Mundagod wove sweaters. You could see them selling their sweaters on the footpaths of Dharwad and Hubli. Since many of them used to go to Nepal, Tibet etc. they also used to bring along rare items such as imported sneakers, jackets, jerseys etc. Not sure how it is now. But, during my time, most of the sweaters worn by people were made in Mundagod. There may still be some old sweaters at home - made in Mundagod.

It was a different story about the bargaining with these Tibet women selling sweaters. It was funny to watch them bargain with people from Dharwad in their own version of Kannada. It must be appreciated that these Tibeti people, rooted out from their homeland, forced to settle in some totally alien land, starting their lives from scratch, making a honest living by selling sweaters. They also started providing Tibeti medicines  later. No experience with that. My dealings with them was over with probably half a dozen of sweaters bought over the period of 10 years.

It was a pure bargain game. Tibeti woman would say some price. You would quote something less than half of that, you go back and forth and then settle at something. Pay money and take your sweater. These Tibeti women were no less audacious than car salesman if you decided to back off after they agreed to sell at the price you asked. If you dared to do that, then be prepared to be humiliated by their entire lot occupying the footpath for being a sissy and what not.

Despite their extreme hardships (at least during initial days), Tibetians have rarely been caught for any criminal activities. This may be due to the fact that entire community was well managed by their religious elders. Absolutely no non-sense and hardworking people. Over the time, they transformed their colony in Mundagod with lush farms, home industries and medical facilities. Dalai Lama visits once in a while. His deputies run a tight ship and Tibetians continue to do well in their adopted country.

Hats off to these people.


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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Stuck CD in 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Recently had some problems with  CD player in my new 2008 Camry Hybrid. It is the standard CD player/ radio unit. Looks like many others have also had similar problems on Camrys of previous years too. If you search Google, you will find many similar stories. Too bad for the quality that we have come to associate Toyota with. Seems like the vendor of CD players produced a large batch of such defective units and thus many are getting affected.

It is a very peculiar problem in the sense that it is not readily reproducible and on top of that it is self correcting too. CD will be playing nicely one moment and suddenly CD stops and does not eject out. Nothing helps. The display shows 'Error 1'. Radio plays ok. You give up and after a few hours, normally after you have parked the car for a while, try ejecting and CD pops out. You can play CD again. Works as though no problem for a while and the same cycle repeats.

I had this happen twice. I wanted to take it to the dealer when that 'Error 1' came so that they could see the problem. Since my car was still under warranty, they agreed to replace the CD player unit. Let's see how this goes. Luckily for me, between the time I went to dealer to show the problem and the day they replaced the CD player, CD popped out. Otherwise, it would have be bad to lose out on a good CD that too from the library.

Warranty process was pretty smooth. I took to the dealer right when it had that problem. No questions asked. The dealer ordered for a replacement unit, asked me to come back after a week and it took a couple of hours to replace it.

It is the first time I have had to claim any warranty service on 3 cars I have owned in last 10 years. Too bad that it had to be on my brand new Toyota Camry. Looks like Toyota quality is suffering. Especially by the number of similar problems reported by other customers. I hope somebody at Toyota takes notice and fixes such problems. Agreed that all such accessories are sourced from outside vendors. But Toyota should demand rigorous quality from their vendors. If such problems surface, regardless, Toyota brand is what going to suffer. Not that of unknown vendor.

I am hoping this fixes my CD player problem once for all. Although there are people who have had to have their CD players replaced multiple times. If the vendor produced so many defective units, even the replacement may come from such defective batch.


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Monday, March 17, 2008

DELL customer service

Recently I had a reason to contact DELL customer service. I had bought a laptop few months ago. The power adapter conked out during warranty period. Not a big deal. These things do go wrong.

I chose to contact DELL using their online chat facility. Their web site is pretty good. It can detect your computer id if you permit it. That id will speed up getting technical support. That was neat. BTW, that id is also put on the back of the laptop where you can find laptop serial number. That service tag id is the social security number of computer. Have that handy. All communication with DELL is done using that.

First online chat person was helpful. He had to determine if it was battery or the power adapter that was the problem. One step was for me to restart the computer and check for some BIOS setting. So, I had to end that chat session. He was nice enough to provide his name and id so that I could try to request for the same person when I reconnected for online chat support.

Unfortunately when I reconnected the same person was not available. The other support person was equally helpful. Walked me through their regular process and determined that most probably it was power adapter that was defective which was causing batter not charge. Turned out be true.

Great thing was how quickly they processed the replacement. Once they confirmed and agreed to replace, I got my replacement in less than 2 days excluding the weekend. They shipped using DHL. Kept me posted on the process using their automated e-mails so that I could stay on top of the process. Their supply chain system seems to so well oiled. It was a pleasure. As part of warranty replacement, I have to return the defective part. They enclosed DHL label for return shipment. I just need to put back the old adapter and ship it back to them. How much more easier this can get?

I certainly recommend DELL based on this experience. I certainly did not want anything to go wrong. But, things do go wrong. When they do, having someone like DELL take care of your concerns promptly is worth the business you give it to them.


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Firefox version 3 beta

Firefox version 3 beta is available for sometime. I started using it for last few days. It's been good.

Ever since I switched to Firefox 3 years ago from IE, I have never gone back. It is such a nice browser. Browsing is so smooth. So fast and it loads in no time. Compare that with IE. With every new version, it has become slower and uglier. I use IE to browse only those pages in some Indian languages which Firefox does not seem to render fonts correctly. I am sure there is some setting which can be changed or some additional fonts to install. I have not done it well or simple tasks such as changing encoding does not work. Another place I am forced to use IE is to watch movies online from Netflix. Their DRM scheme works only in IE and you can not watch movies online using Netflix. That's about it and rest all only using Firefox.

Firefox version 3, performance seems to have further improved. Seems faster and smoother for most of the pages. I would have preferred UI to have remained same. Some things they have changed are not very intuitive. For example, home button has disappeared. You can get it back but it is not very clear. I had to Google to find out how. Another pet peeve is the disappearance of nice separate menu item for bookmarks for live feeds. That has its own tool bar now but is not that user friendly. I can live with those annoyances for better performance.

So far no problems. Being beta, it is bound to have some issues. They have built a nice feedback utility which can transfer back the information if and when the browser crashes. That's neat. So far in last 3 days, it crashed only once.

I hope a day will come when I do not ever have to use IE. It's such a dog of a browser.

Cheers to Firefox and Mozilla for such a nice browser and for free.

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What can $2 buy?

What can $2 buy? Answer is troubled banks such as Bear Sterns.

This is amazing and should be a great study for students for finance. If you look at the balance sheet of Bear Sterns. JP Morgan which acquired them paid only for cash or close it. So what happened to other assets. With little knowledge of finance and banks that I have, I think most of the other assets are loans. With sub prime mess, all those loans are worth nothing. Thus effectively taking them away from firm's value. Loans and receivables are only as good as your ability to recollect them.

Normally, when a company acquires another company, they pay more than the book value as a premium. In this case, price is less than book value. This is the case of negative goodwill (goodwill as in finance).

How many more banks will follow the suit? All excesses have to come to an end. Correct? We saw dot com bubble. Now real estate bubble. History repeats.


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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Star that flamed away

Politicians and politics do not interest me much. However, this week a politician or more than that a good regulator I had come to admire faded away into oblivion. That's sad. By now, you may have guessed it. The man is Eliot Spitzer, ex- governor of New York.

I admired Spitzer when he went after financial services industry. That was the time when mutual fund companies, brokers all played with our money to their benefits. Mutual funds companies traded our money in and out - many times against the set policies of the funds. They helped make a great deal of money for the brokers they used to trade funds. In the net, we lost out in reduced gains and in many cases lost out big time.

Spitzer was the attorney general of New York back in those days. He went after these irregularities methodically and won the admiration of many people like me who felt helpless. Helpless because for small investors options were limited. And among the options we had mutual funds seemed the best. People whom we had trusted our money with doing this kind of things.

It was due to Spitzer's no holds barred approach which reined in these hoodlums of the industry. He made them pay huge fines. A little of which was used to compensate people who were the victims of malpractice. More than anything he was successful in instilling a sense of fear and responsibility on wall street. Bravo for all that.

Later Spitzer became the governor of NY. Even after he became governor, he kept a watchful eye on anything out of ordinary in financial sector.

I wish he had not destructed himself the way he did by getting entangled in sex scandal. Too bad. Human  weakness got better off of him. If he is genuinely a good man, destiny will forgive him although it may look like his career is over for good. I hope it turns out be like that and Spitzer comes back to public life after doing (moral) time for his mistakes.


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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Same mistakes during market downturns

Stock market has been swinging violently off late. No wonder history repeat and so are our mistakes. It is sad to see people emptying their money from stocks and stock mutual funds avoid loses. What we do not realize is by withdrawing money during market downturns, we are following worst way to invest - "buy high. sell low." People re-enter the market once again when the stocks go up. Making same mistakes again. Buying high. Selling low.

I have always wondered why people get into stock markets if they do not have stomach and patience in the first place. First of all, if you do not have excess money after you have put aside money for emergencies, no point in investing money in the market. It takes decades of patience and perseverance to make money in the market. If you can invest for a long haul, diversified portfolio can yield 8-10%. That's about it.

I think people have some money and instead of keeping it aside for emergencies, they invest all that they have in market and get nervous when the market goes down. Who can blame them? If you have invested your emergency fund in the market and if the market goes down, it can make anyone nervous.

Invest funds excess of your emergency reserve and that you do not need at least for next 5 years. Once you invest in the market, stay put for a long haul. If you buy individual stocks, cut your losses. It is far better to limit losses than hope that you will somehow recover the losses. It is true that overall market comes up but not individual stocks.

By buying and selling frequently, you are making others rich at your expenses. All those trading costs add up and affect returns.

Once again basic principles if you want to dabble in individual stocks.

1) It is difficult to manage more than a dozen stocks at a time.

2) Buy value stocks. Value stocks are good stocks which are trading around 15 P/E ratio.

3) Cut your losses. Rule of thumb is to sell a stock if it falls by 5%. Set an automatic stop order to sell at 5% drop as soon as you buy the stocks.

4) Lock in gains. Set a trailing stop order once the stock appreciates by 10%. By setting trailing stop, you will lock in some profits and minimize loses.

5) Trade less. Even with discount brokers, trading costs add up.

6) Remember to write off losses in tax returns.

7) Put only a small percentage of your assets in individual stocks. As an individual investors, out abilities are limited by how much time and effort we can spend researching the stocks compared to full time traders and their support systems. Rule of thumb - 20% of your total assets. If you have 100,000 to invest, it is wise to keep individual investments to less than 20,000.

8) Park rest of your money in diversified portfolio of stock and bond mutual funds and forget about intermittent market changes.

It is easy to make decent money with basic discipline and commonsense. It is just that simple things are always complex for us.

Very best with your portfolio.


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Great free fax service from Fax Zero

Even in these days when majority of the communication is done by e-mail, on certain occasions need arises to use a fax. This is especially the case when someone asks you to sign something and fax it. You can buy a fax machine and use it, if you want to spend money. Otherwise, services like Fax Zero are very useful.

Fax Zero  offers free Internet based fax service. 2 faxes per day are free. If you have additional faxes to send, you can buy additional services. Works very well. You simply upload the document, you want to fax and enter the fax number and hit send. You will get a confirmation e-mail in no time. After you confirm the e-mail by clicking the embedded link, you are done. Within a few minutes, you will receive an e-mail to let you know the status of your fax. If the fax machine on the other end is fine, your fax should go through just fine.

When we normally fax, normally the document has our signature. How to capture signature on a word document? I used a simple technique. Just sign clearly on a piece of paper, take picture of the paper with the highest resolution possible with maximum zoom. Edit the picture and make it a nice small jpeg picture and insert it into document. If you do a good job, when you print or fax the document with signature inserted, it looks perfect as though you have signed it. Another way is to scan your signature to get the jpeg. Either way works fine.

If services like Fax Zero can save me a trip (& money) to Kinkos or Mailboxes etc., I am all for it.

Thanks for the great free service Fax Zero.


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