Friday, August 31, 2007

Venezuelan oil politics with Cuba

Fidel Castro, the iconic communist dictator has outlived several American presidents, survived American sanctions and in spite of losing the Soviet financial support after its collapse, is still managing to find new allies with countries like the left-leaning Venezuela.

Cuba has dispatched more than 20,000 doctors, as well as thousands of other specialists such as sports trainers and therapists, to Venezuela. Hugo Chavez's government has paid for the service by providing Cuba with nearly 100,000 barrels of oil a day, filling the void left by the Soviet Union, Havana's longtime benefactor during the Cold War.

Bringing medical personnel to once-forgotten shantytowns of Venezuela has been among the more popular of Chavez's many social programs, and has helped consolidate Venezuela's self-styled revolutionary government. Working from small brick modules, the Cubans examine newborns, provide care for the elderly and make house calls -- all for free.

Showing us remnants of the vestiges of the revolutionary socialist movement of Karl Marx and Lenin that brought the world decades of cold war, Cuban leader Castro is selling his tactics of indoctrination to willing buyers like Venezuela who are strongly opposed to the US policies.

But all is not going well in the two way deal. Recently, in Venezuela some 400 doctors and medical staff protested dressed in white medical gowns and bearing national flags, carried banners reading 'No More Cubanisation!' as they marched.

They claimed that while the Cuban-staffed clinics are equipped with medicines and modern machines, Venezuelan public hospitals often lack basic medical equipment. They say that Venezuelan doctors are underpaid and many are unemployed.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What was Vick thinking?

Michael Dwayne Vick (born June 26, 1980 in Newport News, Virginia) is an American football quarterback and he had everything going well for him. He is a contracted player with the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League.

Now he has been suspended indefinitely following allegations of his involvement in unlawful interstate dog fighting.

The Atlanta Falcons informed Michael Vick and his representatives in a letter yesterday that they intend to force the quarterback to return a portion of the $37 million in bonuses that his 10-year, $130 million contract contains.

Falcons have not released Vick from their contract, but it is thought that he will be dismissed after the tussle for his complex money matter is over. That may be the end of his NFL career.

Dog fighting which is done for gambling is a brutal contest. The dogs are made to fight till death or until one is fatally wounded.

It is not easy to understand why Michael Vick who came from humble beginnings and rose to become a prestigious NFL star will throw everything away for his involvement in this barbaric activity.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Floating houses: a lesson for living in rising water

The lesson is from Dutch Housing Minister Sybilla Dekker who recently said: "You cannot fight water. You have to learn how to live with it."

Or in this case, float on it.

With scientists predicting sea-level rises of up to 110 cms (43 inches) by 2100, and catastrophic weather events becoming ever more common, the floating house could be the only realistic way for people to continue living in low-lying areas without fear of losing their homes, possessions and even lives to flooding.

The Netherlands famously known for its windmills, half the country lies below mean sea level. Flooding has long been a fact of life and extensive range of dikes and dunes protects the land from the rising tides.

Now a construction and engineering company Dura Vermeer has come up with a novel and, when you think about it, obvious solution to the problem: houses that float.

"These type of homes offer a good way of dealing with the effects of climate change," Dura Vermeer spokesman Johan van der Pol said.

"Unlike normal houses, they are extremely flexible when it comes to flooding, able to deal with a sea level rise of up to five metres.

The company has developed two variations on the same theme: a floating house which, as the name suggests, sits permanently on the water like a boat; and an amphibious house that stands on dry land but, in the event of floods, is able to rise with the water.

Both employ a large hollow concrete cube at their base to provide buoyancy, and are "moored" in pairs to huge steel piles to keep them anchored in one place, the piles enabling them to withstand currents as strong as you would find on the open seas.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

2o Rules to get rich

Here are the timeless rules given by By Carla Fried, Money Magazine.

1. Be humble
When you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it--this is knowledge.

2. Take calculated risks
He that is overcautious will accomplish little.
--Friedrich von Schiller

3. Have an emergency fund
For age and want, save while you may; no morning sun lasts a whole day.
--Benjamin Franklin

4. Mix it up
It is the part of a wise man to keep himself today for tomorrow and not to venture all his eggs in one basket.
--Miguel de Cervantes

5. It's the portfolio, stupid
Asset the overwhelmingly dominant contributor to total return.
--Gary Brinson, Brian Singer and Gilbert Beebower

6. Average is the new best
The best way to own common stocks is through an index fund.
--Warren Buffett

7. Practice patience
It never was my thinking that made the big money for me. It was always my sitting. Got that? My sitting tight!
--Edwin Lefevre

8. Don't time the market
The real key to making money in stocks is not to get scared out of them.
--Peter Lynch

9. Be a cheapskate
Performance comes and goes, but costs roll on forever.
--Jack Bogle

10. Don't follow the crowd
Fashion is made to become unfashionable.
--Coco Chanel

11. Buy low
If a business is worth a dollar and I can buy it for 40 cents, something good may happen to me.
--Warren Buffett

12. Invest abroad
The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
--St. Augustine

13. Keep perspective
There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.
--Harry Truman

14. Just do it
It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.
--Eleanor Roosevelt

15. Borrow responsibly
As life closes in on someone who has borrowed far too much money on the strength of far too little income, there are no fire escapes.
--John Kenneth Galbraith

16. Talk to your spouse
"In every house of marriage there's room for an interpreter."
--Stanley Kunitz

17. Exit gracefully
Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.
--Pablo Picasso

18. Pay only your share
The avoidance of taxes is the only intellectual pursuit that carries any reward.
--John Maynard Keynes

19. Give wisely
The time is always right to do the right thing.
--Martin Luther King Jr.

20. Keep money in its place
A wise man should have money in his head, but not in his heart.
--Jonathan Swift

Monday, August 20, 2007

Using reverse psychology against Hilary Clinton

White House strategist Karl Rove who successfully campaigned to bring Texas Gov. George W. Bush into white House, sees Hilary Clinton as a formidable opponent and is going after her even before she is nominated.

The decision to focus on the New York senator to the exclusion of other potentially formidable Democratic standard-bearers such as Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois offered a rare glimpse into a world where things are not always what they seem -- the world of modern-day electioneering.

In this case, Rove's weeklong broadside against Clinton -- which he is expected to repeat in multiple appearances on television talk shows today -- looks suspiciously like an exercise in reverse psychology that his team employed three years ago when it was preparing for President Bush's reelection bid.

In the run-up to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, when it was not yet clear who Bush's opponent would be that November, Rove and his aides had begun to fear that their most dangerous foe would be then-Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

With his Southern base, charismatic style and populist message, Edwards, they believed, could be a real threat to Bush's reelection.

But instead of attacking Edwards, Rove's team opened fire at Kerry.

It seems the Democrats, in a knee-jerk reaction to GOP attacks, would rally around Kerry, whom Rove considered a comparatively weak opponent, and make him the party's nominee. Thus Bush would be spared from confronting Edwards, the candidate Republican strategists actually feared most.

Karl Rove has decided to quit by the end of this month, nearly one year after Republicans lost control of both houses of the U.S. Congress.

Polls also show President Bush with the lowest approval ratings of his administration and little optimism among Republicans as the party prepares to compete in next year's presidential and legislative contests.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Threshold of clinical depression too low

Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Prof Gordon Parker -senior psychiatrist said, depression had become a "catch-all" diagnosis, driven by clever marketing from pharmaceutical companies and leading to the burgeoning prescription of antidepressant drugs. Too many people are being diagnosed with depression when they are merely unhappy, he said.

He said the drugs were being marketed beyond their "true utility" in cases in which people were unhappy rather than clinically depressed.

The psychiatrist, of the University of New South Wales, Australia, said the "over-diagnosis" of depression began in the early 80s, when the diagnostic threshold for minor mood disorders was lowered.

His 15-year study of 242 teachers found that more than three-quarters met the current criteria for depression.

Qualifying symptoms included "feeling sad, blue or down in the dumps" for two weeks, or appetite change, sleep disturbance, drop in libido and tiredness.

The psychiatrist said these symptoms were so common that most people would have them at some point in their lives. Under the current diagnosis guidelines, around one in five adults is thought to suffer depression during their lifetime.

Friday, August 17, 2007

What's the problem with US subprime lending?

Subprime lending is a highly controversial financial transaction.

Opponents have alleged that the subprime lending companies engage in predatory lending practices such as deliberately lending to borrowers who could never meet the terms of their loans, thus leading to default, seizure of collateral, and foreclosure.

Proponents of the subprime lending maintain that the practice extends credit to people who would otherwise not have access to the credit market.

Research by the Centre for Responsible Lending has predicted that one in five of the sub-prime mortgages made in the past two years will end in foreclosure, resulting in the biggest crisis for the mortgage market in modern times.

The centre said 2.2m sub-prime home loans had already failed or would end in foreclosure and that the losses to homeowners could be as high as $164bn.

Although the turmoil in the sub-prime mortgage market is nothing new, the most recent signs of stress at investment bank Bear Stearns have increased speculation that the Fed may soon have to cut rates.

But most analysts say Mr Bernanke and his Fed colleagues will want to see real signs of economic damage before they respond with cheaper money. For now, they think, the main danger to the US economy remains inflation.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Social networking among fastest internet trends

Social networking has become one of the fastest-growing Internet trends of the past two years.

According to Internet metrics firm Comscore, Facebook saw users increase 270% from June last year to June this year. It now has more than 52 million users worldwide.

MySpace registered lower growth of 72% but still leads the market with 114 million users. Bebo, with a majority of users in Europe, grew 172% to more than 18 million users.

Now mobile phone companies are after the social networking sites.

The mobile phone companies reckon the people who are using sites like Facebook are exactly the sort of people likely to be interested in using the Internet on a mobile phone.

Revenues from putting user-generated content - i.e: content such as videos and blogs created by consumers rather than media organisations - onto mobile phones is expected to rise more than tenfold over the next five years, according to estimates by Juniper Research published yesterday.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Indian film industry is evolving

Rakesh Roshan, a well-known independent film maker says independent producers will still be able to compete even if the Indian film industry moved towards a studio model.

While there is an increasing number of corporates entering the film industry, they face one disadvantage. They lack experience. Of course, as time goes by, it is something they can gain. Even after so many years in the industry, I am still learning. I still face dilemmas as to what will work and what will not, Rakesh said.

India is the largest producer of feature films in the world - about 1,000 films a year, most of them are made in India's main language Hindi. The term ‘Bollywood’ applies to the Mumbai-based Hindi language film industry in India, but the foreign usage implies the overall film industry of India.

India’s media and entertainment industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, according to a latest study by P ricewaterhouseCoopers, the world's largest accounting firm.

Content of the film industry is now aimed at different audience demographics. Now the success of a movie depends on - script and story, director’s vision, on screen talent, marketing and positioning and release date of the film - and only the star cast is dependent on studios.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Stock markets plunge as investors panic

Global finacial markets are in turmoil. The Dow was down more than 212 points at its lows; closed at 13,239.54 on Friday.

We are all affected by stock market falls even if we have never owned a share or investment fund. The disruption affects us through our employers, our pension funds' holdings of financial assets or our mortgages.

The world's central banks have now injected $326bn on Thursday and Friday into the money markets to fend off the threat of a credit crunch, where the availability of loans dries up and interest rates soar.

Investors continue to worry that that the U.S. subprime loan problem might be turning into a full-fledged global financial panic.

The subprime woes, related to the fallout from losses on US mortgages for people with poor credit records, again took centre stage in US markets on Tuesday while related losses at Australia's top investment bank shows that the impact has global implications.

A few years back, most people in the world's financial markets believed in the old adage that when the US sneezed the rest of the world caught a cold. This no lnger holds true.

While the US economy may have softened, the rest of the world has stormed ahead, led chiefly by the emerging economies. For those countries with weak domestic consumer spending - apart from Japan, Germany is the other obvious example - the strength of emerging market demand has provided a welcome economic shot in the arm through higher exports.

The US is Japan's most important export destination. The Japanese worry about the implications of the US housing slowdown and the fallout from the sub-prime market.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Future stars on dance floors : Dancing Robots

The robot in the picture copies the moves of a human dance teacher.
Japanese researchers have created a dancing robot capable of imitating a routine at a moment’s notice, with no need for time-consuming and costly rehearsals.

Researchers at the University of Tokyo have used software allowing their robot HRP-2 to copy the moves of a human dance teacher through video motion capture technology.

HRP-2 then watched dance instructor Hisako Yamada performing a Japanese folk routine called Aizu-Bandaisan, before accurately reproducing her performance just minutes later.

Some dancers have commented that robot dancers will always have some human element missing. While that is true, there may be some humans who may prefer a robot dancer.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Concern over social networks

A social network is a social structure which generally comprises of individuals, groups or organizations that are tied by one or more specific types of relations, such as values, visions, ideas, friends, kinship, business, or even web links.

Research by a number academics has shown that social networks operate on many levels, from families up to the level of nations, and play a critical role in determining the way problems are solved, organizations are run, and the degree to which individuals succeed in achieving their goals.

Friendship networks tend to be larger in younger groups, but they have weaker ties with those they talk with. But as they get older, the networks are smaller and they have stronger ties.

Some experts worry that cellphones will replace face-to-face contact, said Scott Campbell, who teaches communication studies at the University of Michigan, USA.

But what was set up as a purely business strategy is having an unintentional social effect. It is dividing the people who share informal bonds and bringing together those who have formal networks of cellphone “friends.”

Maybe they should blame the cellphone carriers. The carriers, after all, set up plans that encourage subscribers to talk mainly to people in the same network. The companies say they are simply trying to recruit and retain customers.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Success secrets from India's top entreprenur Ambani

Mr. Dhirubhai Ambani, one of India's top entrepreneur, a rags-to-riches story, reveals on Rediff the secrets of how he built the Reliance Industries.

* True entrepreneurship comes only from risk-taking.

* Pursue your goal, even in the face of difficulties. Convert difficulties into opportunities. Keep your morale high, in spite of setbacks. At the end you are bound to succeed.

* My advice to young entrepreneurs is not to accept defeat in the face of odds. Challenge negative forces with hope, self-confidence and conviction. I believe that ambition and initiative will ultimately triumph. The success of the young entrepreneur will be the key to India's transformation in the new millennium.

* Dhirubhai will go one day. But Reliance's employees and shareholders will keep it afloat. Reliance is now a concept in which the Ambanis have become irrelevant.

* I have trusted people and they have put their trust in me. I have encouraged youth, and they have never let me down. I have asked my people to take initiative and to take risks. It has paid me rich dividends. I insist on excellence. This helps us to be leaders. Reliance is built on some of these principles.

* The secret of Reliance's success was to have ambition and to know the minds of men.

* Growth has no limit at Reliance. I keep revising my vision. Only when you dream it you can do it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The wayward son of non-violence preaching Gandhi

A scene from Gandhi My Father, a new film that explores the turbulent relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and his first-born son. Photo- Telegraph UK.

To Martin Luther King, he was "the little brown saint of India - the first person to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction". Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India, compared him to Buddha.

The world has heard a lot about Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent movement that eventually gained independence for India from the British. But we know little about his family life.

A new film 'Gandhi My Father' depicts the Mahatma as a difficult patriarch whose ideals shaped a nation but hurt his family.

As one commentator points out: "He loved his son and family, but he loved the nation more." It's a distinction that makes for a compelling film.

The film traces the disintegrating relationship between the Mahatma or ‘Bapu’ (father) as he was fondly known, with the eldest of his four sons, Hiralal.

What emerges is the uneasy tensions in the family’s South African residence where Gandhi practised as a barrister up to 1915. The patriarch’s firm insistence that Hiralal abandon his education and wife Gulab in order to assist him in his fight against the inequitable apartheid system, leads to resentment by the young Hiralal.

Post 1915, the entire family relocates to India where resistance to British imperialism is gaining momentum. Hiralal tries to assert his own independence but he is thwarted by opportunists who use the Gandhi name to establish fraudulent companies and discredit the freedom movement. The Mahatma publicly disowns his wayward son and Hiralal sinks into alcoholic depression.

Supporters of Gandhi in India have tried to ban the film unsuccessfully as it portrays their revered hero in poor light. The contrast of human strength and weakness lies in the fact Gandhi almost single handedly with no military force at his disposal mobilised the masses through his non-violent means and won against the imperialistic British, but failed to help his own son with understanding, love and care when he needed most.

This is a gut-wrenching story that would have affected the man who carried a larger-than-life persona.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Polluting printers

This printer in a Brisbane, Australia, office building contributed to higher particulate matter concentrations indoors than those outside near a freeway.Photo:Lidia Morawska.

This study has appeared in the online edition of the American Chemical Society's Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T) journal, measured particulate output of 62 laser printers, including models from name brands such as Canon, Hewlett-Packard and Ricoh. Particle emissions, believed to be toner -- the finely-ground powder used to form images and characters on paper -- were measured in an open office floor plan, then ranked.

The research underscores the importance of printer emissions. Read more here.