Thursday, December 18, 2008

India may need anti-terror help

Abridged version published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Nov 30, 2008

Terror struck again. This time half a way across the globe in Mumbai. As a person of Indian origin with many friends hailing from Mumbai I was glued to the news channels watching the drama unfold in the city where I had started my first job. A city I would describe as a heady concoction of NYC and LA (in equal measures) to my American friends.

The attacks underscored the fact that democratic civil societies all across the globe are menaced by the same forces of radical fundamentalism. Also reminded the world of the unique capabilities of radical groups to asymmetrically project their abilities by selecting soft targets and bringing entire cities/nations to a standstill.

Making me less than 2 degrees separated from the crises was an email from an old classmate from management school. He had subsequently joined the Indian Police Service and had now lost a police batch mate to terrorists' bullets in Mumbai.

What he had to say as he vented and shared his grief has relevance for us in US as we try to fathom what is transpiring there :"Another Terror attack in Mumbai and I expect the same stereotype stands from the political parties, same response from the media and the same anguish and feeling of helplessness from the public. Rightly so, they ask, what is the Government doing about it? The opposition parties will exploit the situation to say that the Government has been soft on terror…..While legislation and awarding deterrent punishments are very essential in our fight against terror, they are by no means sufficient to put an end to terror. The public at large rightfully ask – if US could stop terror attacks after 9/11, why can’t our security system do the same here? Friends, we will continue to have such attacks till we as a nation and as a society do not decide to invest in the police of the country. We expect a first-world police reaction from a third-world police. But we as a society are not bothered – or is it that human life, and more so a life of a policeman, is too cheap? Or is it that we are not aware of the deficiencies in our security systems? The reaction of the Government is also on the same lines – will legislate a strong anti-terror law, will create a federal agency, will bring in police reforms, etc. Unfortunately these terror attacks are only ‘action events’ for the media to keep people hooked on to the TVs. But hardly we have informed and consistent discussions in media to improve the security situation." Not unlike the reactions we had in the US or London or Madrid or Bali after terror attacks.

What hit home for me was that the US is perceived as a role model for securing the homeland from terrorist attacks. There may be a need to share that expertise and intelligence with other US allies as terrorist organizations start picking out as targets US interests and citizens in those countries. Mumbai and India are no strangers to terrorist attacks but this was the first time foreign nationals were also targeted. We also need to continue to strengthen our own defenses against terror attacks as the bad guys continue to plot new ways to cause us damage

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bailouts reward poor performance

Bailouts reward poor performance
Deepak Seth • November 24, 2008
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

The president and Congress seem to be caught up in the mindset of bailouts being the only mechanism for getting us out of the current economic crisis.

I think it may end up being a case of throwing good money after bad.The federal government should instead figure out a way of rewarding the successful and efficient operators rather than bailing out the inefficient. Obviously the successful operators are doing something right and it is their approach which needs to be propagated throughout the economic system.

The bad practices and processes of the inefficient operators are the contagion which needs to be eliminated to bring the economy back on track.The bailouts allow the same bad practices and processes to get a new lease on life under the very same managements which had created them and allowed them to thrive in the first place. This will only prolong the pain for the entire economy since these companies will continue to sap the system as they continue their market-unfriendly practices.

While the big Wall Street players, banks and insurance companies were driven by insatiable greed to follow unsound practices or to overlook warning signals, several relatively smaller institutions kept their eye on the ball, making sure that they had sufficient collateral before extending loans and have emerged relatively unscathed from the crises.

The government needs to figure out ways of extending the lines of credit for these institutions.These players are more likely to get the monies to deserving borrowers faster and more efficiently. That is what the credit-starved economy needs right now.

A similar approach needs to be followed for the automobile sector. Rather than bailing out the General Motors, Fords and Chryslers, why not reward the Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans that have been consistently more successful in the marketplace? Maybe assist them in acquiring the failing Detroit behemoths and turning them around. Most foreign car companies do a significant part of their manufacturing for the U.S. market in the United States and thus such an approach would better safeguard U.S. jobs.

More damaging is the fundamental organizational and cultural transformation that bailouts may bring about. The shift from "we need to be better focused on consumer needs to be successful" to "we need to have better linkages in Washington to make sure we have a finger in the bailout pie."

It's a shift from "competition" to "patronage" from "consumer" to "feds" from "global competiveness" to "protected islands" from "eliminate waste and improve efficiency" to "who cares, we'll be bailed out in the end." This will be detrimental for the United States in the long run.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Politics has buyer's remorse, too

Politics has buyer's remorse, too
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, November 3, 2008

As we head to the polling booths on Tuesday, a fear gnawing in many people's mind is: "What if I make the wrong choice?'' The run-up to the presidential election has branded it as a "pivotal,'' "epochal,'' "once in a lifetime'' kind of election in the psyche of the voters.And that makes the weight of the decision even heavier — as if the fate of the universe hangs in balance on each individual vote.

I do not feel the same way.I agree with the point that this election is very important, perhaps more important than any ever.But I have enough faith in American democratic institutions (the executive, the legislative and the judiciary) to know that any changes forthcoming would be within the parameters of what has been enshrined in that shining beacon: the U.S. Constitution.

As I saw both the candidates and their teams in action over the past few months, I felt even more reassured that we are being asked to make a choice between two equally exemplary individuals.Both hold the best interests of the United States first and foremost in their hearts.So whether Obama wins or McCain, we the people have won in either case.

And once the voting is done, the "What, if I make the wrong choice?'' will morph into "Did I make the correct choice?'' That is a question all marketers are aware of. It is what almost any consumer goes through after making any big-ticket purchase.Marketers/psychologists call it "post-purchase dissonance'' or "buyer's remorse.'' Experts say buyer's remorse can be caused or increased by the knowledge that other people will later question the purchase or claim to know better alternatives.It comes down to the "we told you so'' or "you should have known better" moment.Companies deal with buyer's remorse by having return policies that allow consumers to return goods if they are not fully satisfied.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing for election results.However, the lead time between the declaration of results and the oath-taking by the new president (an anachronism from the horse-and-buggy days) provides a release for the remorse and an opportunity to reinforce or rationalize the validity of one's choice.

I would think that any such remorse after the election would be misplaced if every voter makes his or her choice based on the sole criteria of "Who is best for the country?'' without bringing factors such as age, race, sex, appearance or color into play.

If every voter does that, we will end up on Wednesday with the best guy winning.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Google “Power” - From “Search” to “Rescue”

The Search Giant has proposed it’s own Rescue plan for the Environment and reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels - Clean Power by 2030 .

The web giant in a release posted on its site said: “While this plan will cost $4.4 trillion (in undiscounted 2008 dollars), it will ultimately save $5.4 trillion, delivering a net savings of $1 trillion over the life of the plan”.

Highlights reported in the Times of India :
The three basic elements of the clean energy plan are new transmission lines and policies like national renewable portfolio standard, new generation vehicles running on non-oil fuels and greater energy efficiency by installing smart meters and real time pricing.

Now that the Googloids have got this figured out can they start “searching” a solution to our Economic Crisis ! The “Do No Evil” company may do a better job of it than our Government has…..

Monday, September 29, 2008

U.S. must rediscover innovation

U.S. must rediscover innovation
Deepak Seth • September 29, 2008

Innovation has been the lifeblood of the American economy and the American way of life. America's success has been built on the model of inventing stuff, branding it, manufacturing it efficiently and then reaping the profits from a global market.

Now the innovation engine seems to be slowing down. There are some reasons:

  • Science and technology are taking a back seat in a country distracted by other issues — wars, natural disasters and economic crises.
  • We've missed the bus with key emerging global trends — climate change, stem cell research, alternate energy. Europe was faster off the block and now, as the rest of the world buys in, they reap the profits.
  • In a culture of the "cool," science and math are viewed as "uncool." That shrinks the talent pool from which the innovators of tomorrow can appear. Funding for science and math education is not at desirable levels.
  • Post-9/11 travel restrictions, global uncertainties and the growing prosperity of China and India have reduced the inflow of scientific talent to the United States for higher education and research.

The large-scale shift of manufacturing capabilities from the U.S. has created a disconnect between the lab and the shop floor. The effects of that are now starting to show. Most U.S. companies view themselves as "bundlers''—bundling together goods and services developed and built elsewhere. Research and development is viewed as another process ready to be off-shored.
The next president needs to re-establish U.S. preeminence as the innovation hub of the world. While bailouts of sinking financial firms can provide a short-term solution to economic crises, a focus on innovation can leverage the inherent resilience and ingenuity of the American people to restore the energy and creativity of a free-market economy. Here are some suggestions:

  • Redirect financial institutions to focus on what they used to do best: financing innovation, weeding out the crazy ideas from the true blockbusters.
  • Launch a big national initiative like the Manhattan Project, Apollo moon program and Human Genome project. The spinoffs from these programs created much of the technology we see in our homes today.
  • Pay bigger incentives for U.S. corporations for R&D. Reward investments made at home in the U.S.
  • Make a big push for science and math education in schools and for more academic scholarships at colleges.
  • Have a finger in every pie. Offer incentives to corporations and universities to invest in technologies focused on the global marketplace rather than just the U.S. market.

"Innovate or perish" is the new mantra.

Monday, August 25, 2008

America's brands face global test

America's brands face global test
Deepak Seth • Guest essayist • August 25, 2008

China may be basking in the glory of leading the Olympics Gold medal tally, but anybody following the coverage of the Games would realize that it is US brands which reigned supreme. Coke, McDonald's, Nike, GE et al were ubiquitous in their presence. In fact, for many a decade US brands have been at the forefront of spreading Americana - a love for all things American all across the globe. Many a time the US brands have succeeded in areas where formal diplomacy has failed.

US brand power is facing some interesting challenges in the global economy. The most important one is on how to retain a single global identity straddling various markets each with its own unique characteristics. On one hand you have a huge but mature and stagnant market like the US with its single digit growths and on the other you have the small but rapidly growing markets like China, India with sustained double digit growths.

If one allows distinct brand identities to emerge in the different markets than the global brand identity weakens. The same brand would mean different things in different parts of the world. If a single global brand identity is enforced all across the globe than it becomes less appealing in the high growth markets. A Hobson's choice if ever there was one.

Several options:

1. Think globally, act locally - a single global brand identity with sub brands to allow for regional variations. This way even if something goes wrong with a brand in a local market the entire global brand is not impacted.

2. The message may be global but delivered in a way that addresses local requirements. So while Coke retains its distinct red color in China it adds "shuang" (Chinese equivalent of "awesome") to its campaign to provide local flavor.

3. Incorporate features from the emerging markets into the global brand identity to make it more universally acceptable. GE's recent advertising campaign utilizes elements from other markets (Indian doctor using portable EKG machine, Dragon heating water for a Chinese village etc.) that reinforce its global identity.

4. Increased cross-ideation from other markets. As marketers attempt to increase growth in the US market they will increasingly look forward to ideas/success stories from other global markets.

Chinese companies are also increasingly making forays into the global market and enhancing their efforts to become global players. The US however is uniquely poised to retain its position as the global brand powerhouse. It has the early strike advantage of already being present in most global markets. Most importantly it already has a microcosm of most global markets present within the US in terms of the local immigrant communities to test market stuff and draw talent from. All strengths which companies from relatively insular countries like China cannot currently compete with.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Satire makes politics less stuffy

Satire makes politics less stuffy

Deepak Seth • Rochester Democrat and Chronicle Editorial Board community member • July 28, 2008

When I was growing up in India, satire was a part of the daily newspaper reading ritual. The central piece on the editorial page, very aptly called the "middle," used to be a satirical look at the issues of the day.

And the "middle" is where I used to go to first before I moved on to the other sections. Moving to the United States, I longed for the "middle." On inquiring about it to my journalist friends, I was told that "news and satire are not mixed together here." People go to the late-night TV shows, Saturday Night Live or Comedy Central to get their dose of satire.

Last week, The New Yorker magazine brought satire center stage by publishing a satirical cartoon of the Obamas on their front cover.

The cover depicts "President Obama" in the Oval Office, wearing a Muslim-style outfit and doing a fist-bump with his wife, Michelle, who is dressed in camouflage with an automatic rifle slung over her back.

A picture of Osama bin Laden hangs above the mantel of the fireplace, which has an American flag burning in it.The Obama and McCain camps both have described the cartoon as "tasteless and offensive." The New Yorker has said the cover satire was obvious and should be seen in that light.

The McCain camp must be thanking their stars that Obama got picked on and not their candidate. But there's a long campaign ahead, and some satirist is going to pen McCain enjoying a back rub in a Hanoi Hilton hot tub as burgers cook and wine flows. Or in a geriatric home fumbling with his hearing aid, senior diapers and other accoutrements of advanced senility.
Both descriptions are over the top, aren't they? Such is the nature of satire — challenging deep-seated prejudices.Maybe the Obamas need to respond with their own satirical interpretation of the cartoon:
  • Michelle Obama has the AK-47 as a salute to the Second Amendment right to bear arms. She is protecting her home and hearth from disgruntled Republicans.
  • Obama is dressed as a Middle Eastern Christian (who dress like their Muslim brethren) as a salute to global Christian unity and world peace.
  • The portrait of bin Laden on the wall indicates that Obama has gotten rid of him (unlike Bush) and has hung his portrait up on the wall like a trophy.
  • Flag in the fireplace: Obama is disposing of an old flag in the only correct way as per U.S. Flag Code, which states: "The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.''

Let the battle of the satirists begin. Elections are serious business, but we all have a funny bone that needs tickling!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

IBM plans : potential good news for Rochester ?

Today's news item about IBM's growth plans in New York had an interesting twist which piques my curiosity. It talks about : "the creation of a new, advanced semiconductor packaging research and development center at an undetermined location in upstate New York"

I do hope Rochester area business, political and educational(RIT, UofR) leaders have made a strong pitch for this center to be located in the vicinity of Rochester. I wish them luck and am keeping my fingers crossed.

Monday, July 7, 2008

America's a land coated in sugar

America's a land coated in sugar
Deepak Seth • Editorial Board member • July 7, 2008

Ms. K entered the meeting with a basketful of candy, which she strategically placed on the table before she commenced her presentation. All of us around the table stared longingly at the goodies; most of us were overweight and battling weight-related issues.

Each waited for someone else to make the first move. As soon as the bravest one made his move, the rest followed. The presentation got drowned in the crinkling of the candy wrappers and conversation about the candy. Meanwhile, Ms. K continued her dreary monologue about missed targets and declining sales. The boss was lost in her thoughts, thoughts driven more by the chocolaty nougat she was chewing rather than the sales numbers being presented. "Excellent job, Ms K," she intoned, followed by, "Thanks for the great chocolate, very thoughtful" as Ms. K wrapped up her presentation. The "sugar high" had won again.

This scene plays out at offices every day. And to very detrimental consequences for our health. As we battle an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and a host of other lifestyle-related illnesses, it is high time people start bringing in apples, oranges, nuts and other similar healthy alternatives for meetings.

The concept of bringing "coffee and doughnuts" in for the team needs to metamorphose into "coffee and celery sticks."Is it not strange that the things that taste the best are most likely to be the unhealthiest? Seems weird from an evolutionary perspective. Why would our taste buds evolve in such a way that what tastes the best can be harmful for us?

The reason is that food processing and our propensity to consume have evolved at a faster rate than what our taste buds could keep pace with. We like sweet because sweetness drew our caveman ancestors to food that can provide the highest burst of energy in the shortest time — honey, ripe fruits etc.

The efforts in collecting such foods and their high spoilage made sure that there was never an excess of these calories. But before long, mankind had discovered a way of extracting those sugars, concentrating them and overloading ourselves with it. Many times beyond the capacity of the body to effectively process it. And that's where our woes began.

Should we then give these guilty pleasures up? No, not at all. The answer lies in moderation. The food industry can help by an across-the-board reduction in the sugar content of all food items by at least 20 percent.

It can be easily done. Many European/international versions of our favorite brands are much less sweeter than what is sold here.

You don't like sweet, you like salty? Don't even get me started on the woes of too much sodium.

Community members serve on the Editorial Board and write regular columns.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Regulate speculators in oil market

Regulate speculators in oil market
Deepak Seth • Guest essayist • June 23, 2008

The soaring prices at the gas station have got all of us flustered. While some may argue that the high prices will finally ensure that other competing products/technologies get a fair chance, most agree that these prices are detrimental to our global competitiveness. US industry unlike European & Asian industry has evolved under the premise of cheap and abundant availability of oil which would keep the cost of transportation low. The rising prices strikes at the foundations of the US production model.

Unfortunately, an issue of so much importance to the economy and national security is caught up in partisan wrangling. One side argues for opening up more domestic areas for drilling notwithstanding industry reports indicating that oil from new areas like ANWR will have an insignificant effect on oil supply & prices in the short term. Moreover, domestic oil production from existing oilfields in Alaska has been declining every decade despite increasing prices. Oil companies are global conglomerates and business economics dictates that they source from wherever they find oil cheaper. New oilfields in the US will produce oil at a higher cost than older fields outside the country.

The other side argues that any new drilling will destroy the environment. They ignore the fact that the mad rush towards bio-fuels is leading to massive deforestation in the Amazon region for planting more bio-fuel crops. That is as or more damaging to the environment as drilling in ANWR would be. Climate change is a global phenomenon so destruction of the Amazon rainforest affects the US environment too.

Oil companies, OPEC and the US government all seem to be in agreement that the prices are being driven more by speculative pressures rather than any demand-supply equilibrium related reasons. The government and regulators have a role to play in correcting any distortions in the market caused by fraudulent activity or structural deficiencies. Public memory is short and most people seem to have forgotten the havoc wreaked by Enron in the Energy Futures markets in an under regulated environment. A few ways in which the government can step in:

1. Impose a cap on volume of oil trades allowed in the Mercantile Exchange
2. Install price governors which stop trading if the price hits above/below a certain specified range.
3. Increase margin money norms for trades.
4. Impose a tax on the profits from speculative oil trades. This tax is not on oil or oil companies but on profits from speculative trading in oil.
5. Aggressively investigate fraudulent activity in oil trading.

However I do not expect any action in the near future as the current Administration prepares for transitioning to a new one. With the lack of action I will not be surprised if prices hit $5 a gallon at the pump before the year is up.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tax alternatives are everywhere

Tax alternatives are everywhere

Deepak Seth • Guest essayist • June 9, 2008

In my May 27 column titled "Taxes aren't only revenue option.'' I shared some ideas about alternative ways to raise revenue. Today, I offer other ideas to accomplish the transition from the "raise taxes and/or cut staff/services'' mindset to the "raise revenue and cut costs'' mindset.
Ideas related to cutting costs by improving efficiency and effectiveness open up a veritable Pandora's box.Here are some more readily executable ideas, which hopefully should not get caught up in political or administrative gobbledygook.

  • Institute reverse-bidding as the means for awarding all county and city service and supply contracts. Whoever bids the lowest for providing a service or supply to the county/city should get the contract as long as they meet other criteria. The process should be open, transparent and Web-enabled so that citizens can also keep tabs on what the county is paying.
  • Review the routing and scheduling of the county/city fleet of vehicles on a scientific basis. Many new routes may have been added over the years and the existing routes/schedules may not be optimal. Multiple/duplicate trips might be happening when a single one would suffice.
  • Think of opportunities to sell when buying a product or service. The county/city may be intending to pay for a certain service, but it may be possible that vendors are willing to install the service for free or pay money in return for certain privileges.
  • Go green, think Earth and save dollars. Take energy audits of buildings and vehicles with corrective actions to make them more energy-efficient, solar panels on buildings, harness geothermal and wind energy opportunities, convert diesel vehicles to run on bio-diesel (including used cooking oils). It's more relevant now due to rising fuel prices.
  • Standardize and consolidate information technology —infrastructure, software, hardware — across all county/city organizations with interoperability so as to get better rates from vendors and service providers.
  • Some county/city services appear to be monopolies with only a single provider. Introducing some competition and more private players into the mix can drive costs down.
  • Investigate opportunities to transition some services traditionally assumed to be in the public-sector domain to private entrepreneurs. Generally, the private sector is more efficient in keeping costs down. In other words, can driving license, vehicle registration and passport applications be collected by local pharmacies, photo shops or driving schools? Would the private sector be interested in running some bus routes?
    Government has to find more creative and thoughtful ways to raise money.

Community members serve on the Editorial Board and write regular columns.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Indian spelling "bees" swarm Washington

Each immigrant community has enriched the American melting pot in their own unique way. The Indian-American community has added its own colors to the mosaic of Americana by its steady participation and successes in a classic American tradition : the Spelling Bee.

The Indian-American community accounts for less than 1% of the US population . But 10 out of the 45 semi-finalists (nearly 25%) in the Howard-Scripps Spelling Bee this year are Indian-Americans. There were 35 kids of Indian-origin among the 288 qualifiers from the millions nation-wide who try and make the final cut in Washington DC -- around 12 per cent qualifying rate. Five Indian-Americans have won the contest in the last 9 years.

Indian bees swarm into Washington DC for spelling fest; ten remain in fray

The Championship Finals air live on ABC from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. EDT today Friday, May 30.All the best Kids !! I will have to be extra careful checking for misspelt words in my writings - you are setting very high standards (Reminds me of the edit in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle today : Detroit teen teaches grown-ups a lesson in civility. )

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Another male bastion falls .......

An interesting news item is floating round in the news media today :

Was William Shakespeare a Jewish woman in disguise?

I caught this story in Haaretz(Israel) and the Times of India.

Only way for the guys to score a point in the battle of the sexes is to hold steadfast to the claim that Mona Lisa was actually Leonardo Da Vinci in drag.

Shakespeare himself summed it up in Romeo and Juliet "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Paradigm Change for Local Government

Brighton resident suggests a 'paradigm change' for governments
Deepak Seth • Community member, Editorial Board • May 27, 2008

Traditionally, attempts to balance government budgets have focused on the axiom: Raise taxes and/or cut staff and services. This generally raises the hackles of people on both sides of the ideological and political divide and ends up with muddled measures that do not balance the budget.
I would suggest a paradigm change: Raise revenue and cut costs.Implicit in this statement is the premise that raising revenue is not the same as raising taxes, and cutting costs is not the same as cutting services and staff. My proposals hinge on raising revenues through innovation and cutting costs by improving efficiency and effectiveness.
Raise revenues:

  • Sell/lease naming rights to as many county/city resources and events as possible. Airport, airport concourses, parks, park shelters and lodges, new streets, summer and winter festivals, sound and light shows, etc. Crass commercialism? No, not at all. Visit any college or university campus and you will get a sense of what I mean. The county leadership should pick the brains of the local universities to figure out how their kind of naming/branding programs can be replicated.
  • Most county/city resources like park shelters, etc. are rented out at a fixed price. Move to a demand-based pricing model where the same resource needs to be rented out at different rates depending on the popularity of the spot/time slot. People should pay more for peak times and less for lean times. Another option: Instead of a first-come, first-served booking model, a bidding model (akin to eBay) should be used with the highest bidder getting the resource. Some leeway could be allowed for charitable organizations, community groups, etc.
  • The county and city may be sitting on a treasure trove in terms of its historical archives. Genealogical and Internet search sites are willing to pay good money for such information. Recently, paid a sizable amount to the federal government to digitize IRS archival data and sell it on the Web.
  • Many European countries charge differential penalties for minor traffic and civic violations based on the paying capacity of the violator. A similar model can be investigated here. A $100 surcharge on a traffic ticket is a lot for a fast-food attendant but is a mere slap on the wrist for a rich businessman.
  • Negotiate right-of-way agreements with utilities and telecom service providers based on a fixed fee plus a share of revenue rather than the fixed fee. If the cable company is making more money because of selling more premium and HD programming, county and city revenues should go up, too.
    I'll write on how to cut costs and improve efficiency in my next column two weeks from now.

Community members serve on the Editorial Board and write regular columns.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fad, Fiction or emerging reality ? "Dead Pets are Forever"

What would you think of the idea to convert a beloved dead pet or relative into a diamond/gemstone which you can wear on your body for the rest of your life ?

Apparently, that is possible now. Chicago based LifeGem converts dead people and animals into everlasting gems :

Pet owner turns dead cat into a ring!

Seems like another addition to what we may want to be done with our remains after we die. Ranks right out there with cryogenic preservation.

"Diamonds/Dead Pets are Forever"

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"Baby Onboard: Please switch off cellphone"

Cellphone radiation had been suggested as a possible cause for the disappearance of the honeybee. And the internet is full of unsubstantiated rumors about gas station fires being sparked off by cellphones or eggs being boiled by cellphone radiation.

But this one is more real. Could the recent spurt in behavioral disorders in young kids be related to cellphone usage by them or their mothers during pregnancy ?

In a study, which is to be published in the July issue of the journal Epidemiology, scientists from universities of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Aarhus, Denmark surveyed the mothers of 13,159 children born in Denmark in the late 1990s about their use of the phones during pregnancy, and their children's use of handsets and behaviour up to the age of seven. The findings show that women who used mobile phones were 54% more likely to have children with behavioural problems, and that the likelihood increased with the amount of potential exposure to the radiation, the Independent daily of Britain said.

Study also found found that using mobile phones even two or three times daily was sufficient to increase the risk of their babies developing hyperactivity and difficulties with conduct, emotions and relationships. The health implications likelihood is even greater if the children themselves used the phones before the age of seven.

The Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, the official Russian radiation watchdog body, holds that the peril cellphones pose "is not much lower than the risk to children's health from tobacco or alcohol".

Scary stuff.......However, the researchers warned that the results "should be interpreted with caution" and need to be verified by further studies.

Show me the Money.........

I had always wondered why all currency notes in the US whether $ 1 or $ 10 or $100 had the same exact dimensions. Coming from India and with my experience in other European/Asian countries I was more used to the graded sizes of the currency notes. The smaller denomination in a smaller size with progressively increasing sizes as the denomination increased.

Reduced the chances of accidentally handing out a wrong bill and was particularly relevant in parts of the world where literacy is low and people relied on the dimension of the bill to interpret it's denomination.Varying the sizes would also make it easier to handle for the visually impaired.

A recent court ruling may force the treasury to move in that direction :
Paper money unfair to blind - court

Surely, a very welcome step for the visually impaired.Costs involved may be high as ATM's, Vending machines etc would need to be retrofitted.

Does anybody know the background of why all US currency is the same size ? Also, what are your reactions to the idea of having different sized bills in your wallet ?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Roll out red carpet for Canadians

Roll out red carpet for Canadians
Deepak Seth • Guest essayist • May 12, 2008

As our elected officials struggle to balance their budgets, help may lie right across the lake — in petro-dollar-rich Canada.While the U.S. dollar has weakened, the Canadian dollar has gotten stronger in recent years. The weakening dollar has made the U.S. an attractive tourism and shopping destination for Canadians.

Friends in Buffalo talk about Canadians swarming area malls. Buffalo Niagara International Airport is seeing massive influxes of Canadians who get an automatic 10 percent or more discount if they fly out of Buffalo vs. flying out of Toronto. The plans for the Buffalo Bills to play in Toronto works wonders, too.

This is all great news for Buffalo's moribund economy recovering from the decades-long manufacturing slowdown.To benefit from this boom we need to ensure that the welcome red carpet extends to Rochester and the Finger Lakes area. Area businesses and tourism bodies all have a role to play:
* Local business, civic and tourism leaders should be actively promoting Rochester in Canada at all forums.
*Stock merchandise preferred by Canadian buyers. Accept Canadian currency or make more currency conversion options available. Add French speaking staff. Add Canadian favorites to menus (fries with gravy and cheese anyone?) Make Canadian TV channels/newspapers available in guest rooms.
*Hand out "Visit Rochester'' literature at the border. Create a "Canada Week'' in Rochester in which area museums — Strong, Eastman, Memorial Art Gallery —showcase Canada-themed collections or Canadian artists. The Rochester Philharmonic can have a guest conductor from Canada. Local stores can have Canada-themed displays.
*Names such as Xerox, Kodak, and Bausch & Lomb are still big draws. There could be an "Imaging Tour'' of Rochester which showcases Rochester's "inventive genius'' heritage.
*The high-speed ferry was ahead of its time. Now, there is potential for a privately-run hovercraft operation between Toronto and Rochester. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter's efforts to reinvestigate options are laudable.

Let's take a page out of the Canadian playbook and replicate the same measures they had employed to motivate us to spend our powerful dollars in the days when one dollar equaled 1.4 Canadian dollars.

Does an integrated "Visit Rochester'' campaign for Canadians already exist? If not, can our city, county, tourism and business leaders get together to create one and present it to the community within the next 90 days?

We would have no one but ourselves to blame if we are left by the wayside in this mini gold rush. Community members serve on the Editorial Board and write regular columns.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Have you "hypermilled" lately ?

This appears to be a new driving technique to help people cope with the rising gas prices. Seems slightly risky and foolhardy too. But with the gas prices rising the way they are people are ready to try anything to make that gallon stre........tch longer :

An increasing number of motorists in US are following a radical driving technique designed to eke out every last mile from a tank of fuel. Known as 'hypermiling,' the methods can double gas mileage, even in gas-guzzling vehicles.

Hypermiling includes pumping up tires to the maximum rating on their sidewalls, which may be higher than levels recommended in car manuals; using engine oil of a low viscosity, and the controversial practice of drafting behind other vehicles on the highway to reduce aerodynamic drag.

The "advanced" techniques of hypermiling are in addition to well-known approaches including keeping speed down, accelerating gently, avoiding excessive idling and removing cargo racks to also cut down on aerodynamic drag.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Do we vote for people who look like us ?

Seems like we do. Esp. if we are weak partisans or independents. We seem to be more favorably disposed to vote for someone who looks like us that is shares many of our own facial characterstics. Stanford University had done an interesting study on this ahead of the 2004 Presidential election.

Would be interesting to see how this plays out in the 2008 elections.

Maybe with Obama's mixed parentage both the African-American and White populations see a little bit of themselves in him. Or everybody see's their favorite grandpa in John McCain. Wonder how that all plays out :

Facial Identity Capture and Presidential Candidate Preference

To test the effect of facial identity capture on vote choice, we passively acquired digital photographs of a national random sample of voting aged citizens. One week before the 2004 presidential election, participants completed a survey of their attitudes concerning George Bush and John Kerry while viewing photographs of both candidates side by side (See Figure 1). For a random one-third of the subjects, their own faces were morphed with Kerry while unfamiliar faces were morphed with Bush. For a different one-third, their own faces were morphed with Bush while unfamiliar faces were morphed with Kerry. The remaining one-third of the sample viewed un-morphed pictures of the candidates.

Post-experiment interviews demonstrated that not a single person detected that his or her image had been morphed into the photograph of the candidate. Participants were more likely to vote for the candidate morphed with their own face than the candidate morphed with an unfamiliar face. The effects of facial identity capture on candidate support were concentrated among weak partisans and independents; for "card carrying" members of the Democratic and Republican parties, the manipulation made little difference.

Do you suffer from "nomophobia" ?

"nomophobia" : the fear of being out of mobile phone contact.

Researchers in Britain have carried out a study and found that nomophobia is plaguing our 24/7 life -- running out of battery or credit, losing one's handset and not having network coverage "affects 53 per cent of mobile users". "Being phoneless and panicked is a symptom of our 24/7 culture," Stewart Fox-Mills, the Head of Telephony at the Post Office, which commissioned the YouGov survey, was quoted by The Independent newspaper as saying. According to the survey, men suffer more than women, with 48 per cent of females and 58 per cent of males admitting to feelings of anxiety.

Looks like this should be a big fear amongst Rochesterians too esp. during winter hoping that our phones don't die out as we commute to work in a winter storm... anybody got any interesting Nomophobic stories to share ?

Gaming craze no game for parents

Gaming craze no game for parents

Deepak Seth • Community member, Editorial Board • April 29, 2008
Spring is in the air, the days are warming up and the outdoors beckons. Or does it? Not if you ask my 10-year-old son and many other boys his age.It is almost impossible to drag them away from their wintertime "screen" pastimes of TV, computer games, DS, Game Boy, Xbox, Wii, etc. The virtual world seems to be slowly encroaching upon the real.

"What happened at school today?" is more likely to be answered in terms of what armor some friend has accumulated in Runescape or what level another has reached in Super Smash Brothers Brawl. Any visit to the mall with him now includes a pilgrimage to the games store for the weekly ritual of new release browsing.

Like most other parenting decisions, this one leaves us in a bind. Is this gaming helping kids acquire skills for the future? The fighter pilots of tomorrow are more likely to toy with a joystick controller opposite a giant screen than suit up and get into a cockpit. Surgeons are going to use robotic devices guided by game-like controllers.

On the other hand, the harmful effects of too much exposure to electronic gaming on the eyes and the brain have been well-documented. Many games carry warnings about the risk of causing epileptic seizures because of the constantly flashing images.

This is just the beginning. The lure of gaming is only going to increase as teenage years commence. Discussions with friends facing the same dilemma have thrown up some interesting options:
- Restrict exposure to any screen-based device to a fixed duration, say a couple of hours per day. The kid chooses how he wants to allocate that time across various devices. "No TV if you have played Xbox for two hours.''
- A mandatory break after every 30 minutes of gaming. Luckily, some of the newer devices automatically give some warnings when the game has been going on for too long a time.
- No gaming during certain hours of the day or if the outside temperature is in a particular range or if certain mandated household chores and homework have not been completed.
- Request teachers to monitor whether the entire conversation among kids is focused on gaming exploits. Maybe try distracting them with some other activities.
- Lobby with games companies to create more "educational" games. Today a majority of the popular games primarily focus on "killing" or "capturing" or blowing things up.

Most important, maybe I need to get off the couch and go outside more often — be the positive role model I should be. Is it my incessant pounding on the keyboard or flicking from one news channel to another while the winter debris awaits cleaning in the yard outside the right example to set?
The parental guilt trip starts again.

Community members serve on the Editorial Board and write occasional columns.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Earth Day(April 22) : Confluence of Science and Religion

Long before the "Environment" and the "Earth Day" became key talking points for the glitterati and the chatterati, humankind's ancient heritage had already provided a spacious spiritual home for the environmental ethos. All religious traditions established the principles of ecological harmony centuries ago - "not because the world was perceived as heading for an imminent environmental disaster or destruction, nor because of any immediate utilitarian exigency, but through their quest for spiritual and physical symbiosis, synthesized in systems of ethical awareness and moral responsibility."

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Bible (Genesis 8: 22) says "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease."

Native American peoples have long recognized and celebrated in story and song the interdependence of the earth and all her creatures. 'I was born by these waters. The earth here is my mother'

Hindus in Vedic hymns (('Atharva-Veda,' XII, I, ) pray "O mother earth, kindly set me down upon a well-founded place! With (father) heaven cooperating, O thou wise one, do thou place me into happiness and prosperity"

Muslims believe that God compels them in the Quran to respect and revere the environment "Greater indeed than the creation of man is the creation of the heavens and the earth." (40:57)

His Holiness The Dalai Lama in The Buddhist Declaration on Nature, in words which breathe and pulsate with the Buddha's ethical and ecological vision: 'Destruction of the environment and the life depending upon it is a result of ignorance, greed and disregard for the richness of all living things.'

In my own Jain faith the scriptural aphorism "Parasparopagraho Jivanam" states that all life is bound together by the mutual support of interdependence. Jainism founder Mahavira proclaimed a profound ecological truth: 'One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, air, fire, water and vegetation disregards one's own existence which is entwined with them.'

While many of us are convinced by the Science behind the need to care for the Earth and our environment, others who look for guidance on such issues from Religion can draw strength from the fact that in all likelihood their own religious traditions strongly endorse care for the Earth in some shape, way or form.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Take solar power out of the shade

Take solar power out of the shade
by Deepak Seth
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, April 14, 2008

As we deal with the vagaries of spring weather, the thought of solar energy being the panacea to deal with our rising energy costs seems pretty far-fetched.But evidently it is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Germany on an average receives significantly less sunshine than New York but is currently the world leader, accounting for nearly 50 percent of a global solar industry valued at $16 billion.

This and many other such interesting facts were highlighted by Jigar Shah, chief strategy officer of SunEdison, the leading solar energy service provider in North America.Shah was the keynote speaker at the annual banquet of the India Community Center.

With the current focus on the environment and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, solar energy enjoys more uniform support from the public than any other technology.In a survey, 89 percent of Ohio residents indicated that they were willing to pay 50 cents or more extra per month for solar power. Wind power is also environmentally friendly but suffers from "not in my backyard'' syndrome.

Many people and companies worry about the high upfront costs associated with solar power. However, solar is now moving from the expensive to the competitive state. Nuclear, coal and natural gas power plant costs have increased significantly. Transmission infrastructure has increased in cost and takes significantly longer to implement. Distributed technologies such as solar can be built quickly, averting power crises more effectively.

The entire power needs of the country can be met by 10,000 square miles of solar generating systems in the Nevada desert. But you do not even have to look farther than your own roof for installation of solar generation systems.

Several big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kohl's, and J.C. Penney are already taking a lead in installing rooftop, solar power generation systems. Each year, more than 2 billion square feet of new roofs are installed. Brownfields, airports, wastewater treatment facilities and public lands are excellent sites.

I would love to see organizations in the greater Rochester area — town boards, county and city offices, school boards and the Rochester airport take the lead in evaluating and adopting this technology.

Another sunny side of this story: As a distributed resource, solar generates more jobs that any other renewable energy technology per megawatt hour. Implementing solar initiatives upstate can arguably fuel $1 billion in economic growth — 1,000 job years of employment while reducing the growth of electricity prices by half.

Community members serve on the Editorial Board and write regular columns.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Be pragmatic in China dealings

Op-Ed piece by me published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle today (March 31, 2008).

Be pragmatic in China dealings

Talk of a boycott of the Beijing Olympics by President Bush in my opinion is ill-advised. There is much at stake in a long-term Sino-U.S. relationship. A knee-jerk reaction to recent happenings in Tibet is therefore undesirable.

It is time both countries started viewing each other as strategic business partners (which they are) rather than foes/rivals in the traditional Cold War mindset.

Business leaders in corporate America show great acumen in managing their strategic relationships with long-term vendors/partners/financiers. A similar approach should be used in managing the relationship with China. Contentious issues should be dealt with in a businesslike fashion with very little saber rattling in public.

It is presumptuous to assume that China will grant autonomy or freedom to Tibet as a result of a boycott of the Olympics. The Beijing Olympics have been showcased as a matter of national prestige, not only for the government but for the people of China, too. Any incident that causes loss of face at what has been deemed to be a big coming-out party for the New China will lead to lasting rancor. Rather than improvement in the situation in Tibet, it is most likely to lead to a hardening of attitudes, as the Chinese would view the Tibetan leaders and people as a cause of national shame.

I would suggest that:
  • President Bush attend the Olympics and share American concerns about Tibet in discussions with the Chinese leadership. He would also then need to be prepared to hear the Chinese opinion on various United States policies (Iraq, human rights, etc.).
  • The Dalai Lama should continue to exhort his followers to use peaceful means of protest rather than violent confrontations with the Chinese establishment. Younger factions within the Tibetan diaspora are proposing alternate paths, as they have not perceived any concrete results from his approach.
  • Chinese leaders had been pragmatic enough to establish a "One China, two economic systems'' policy when China reintegrated Hong Kong. A similar approach is needed as they deal with Tibet. An out-of-the-box idea: Invite the Dalai Lama as a guest of honor at the Olympics Opening Ceremony. China needs to soften its stance toward the Dalai Lama.

While the Dalai Lama has dropped the demand for independence and is willing to accept an autonomous status like that of Hong Kong within China, he and many others are wary of losing their distinct cultural and spiritual heritage for which special safeguards may be needed.

The United States should continue to pragmatically engage China as a strategic partner — in the boardrooms of the corporate world, in the staterooms of government offices and on the playing fields of the Olympics.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tata buys Jaguar/Land Rover from Ford

Fortune columnist John Elliot headlined this story as "Tata buys into 40 years of trouble"

I would call it a ray of hope for the beleaguered Land Rover/Jaguar brands. They were languishing in the bottom of the heap in the Ford world but would now be the crown jewels in Tata's burgeoning global automotive empire.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

India's image has changed in United States

India's image has changed in United States

op-ed piece by me published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle today.

Buried under the deluge of the media blitz surrounding the Obama-Clinton fracas and Gov. Spitzer's shenanigans was an interesting news item about the results of Gallup's World Affairs Survey 2008. This survey rated the perceptions (favorable vs. unfavorable) about various countries among the American population.
Not surprisingly, of the 22 countries rated in the survey, long time friends Canada, Great Britain, Germany and Japan were at the top of the "favorable" list, winning the favor of at least 80 percent of Americans.
I was pleased to see my own country of origin, India, at the sixth position (69 percent favorable) alongside France and right behind U.S. ally Israel (71 percent favorable).
There are several reasons that can explain the growing positive image of India among Americans:

  • Shared democratic values and commonly cherished ideals of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
  • Efforts by the Indian community to assimilate with the U.S. mainstream. Strong focus on self-help without being a drain on the larger community. No longer are images of poor, starving children the only iconic images from India.
  • The contributions of Indian professionals — doctors, engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs.
  • Increasing popularity of Indian traditions in the mainstream socio-cultural milieu — yoga, karma, chai tea, Bollywood and others. What started off as a trickle with Mahesh Yogi, Ravi Shankar and the Beatles in the 1960s is a veritable deluge now.
  • Strong cooperation on the anti-terrorism front with a nuclear cooperation treaty also on the anvil. Many in the United States see India as a strong bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism as well as a counter to China's growing military power.

On the bottom end of the scale, Iran, North Korea, the Palestinian Authority, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Cuba are viewed more negatively than positively by a greater than 2-to-1 margin. China is in the company of Pakistan and Russia as the only countries to see their favorable scores decline significantly over the past year.

Gallup found some significant partisan gaps in favorability toward some countries. Israel, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are all viewed more favorably by Republicans than by Democrats. France, Mexico, China, Venezuela and Cuba are all viewed more favorably by Democrats than by Republicans.

Interesting findings indeed. One will see them ebb and rise as relationships with the United States evolve in a complex geopolitical scenario. The focus should be on how people from other countries can be "goodwill ambassadors" for their own countries as they continue to assimilate here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

My advice for New NY Gov. Paterson

Published in the Rochester D&C (03/13)

Build bridges, eliminate gridlock

Be a "builder", not a "steamroller":

  • Tone down the rhetoric in Albany and focus on specific action plans.
  • Build bridges with all members of the polity to eliminate gridlock.
  • Ensure adherence to high standards of moral and fiscal probity.
  • Within the next 100 days, transform proposals on upstate economic development, education, inner-city crime reduction and health care into executable action plans with clear delivery timelines.
  • Cut the influence of lobbyists and vested interests on Albany decision-making.
  • Launch an initiative to enhance the state's global competitiveness.
  • Visit at least one inner-city school every week to interact with kids and establish a culture of achievement.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Equip every pupil with a laptop

In my blogpiece Thoughts for the New Rochester School Chief and Rochester D&C article dtd Dec 2, 2007 (Equip every pupil with a laptop) I had suggested equipping every child with a laptop (of the kind being developed by One Laptop Per Child Foundation in the USD100-200 range for the developing world).

Seems like Birmingham, Alabama is doing exactly that : U.S. city might buy ‘Third World’ laptops.

Would be interesting to see how the program shapes up. It would be great if they could do so without additional burden on taxpayers.

I was pleased to see that my idea is not "pie in the sky" as some detractors in Rochester hd claimed it to be.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Who is a Hindu : Shashi Tharoor's perspective

Most people in the US have very little knowledge about Hinduism and other Eastern religions which are part of the Hindu tradition : Jainism, Buddhism & Sikhism. An excerpt from Shashi Tharoor's book shares an interesting perspective :

From Shashi Tharoor (former UN Under Seceretary General) author - India: From Midnight to Millennium, pg 55-56

I grew up in a Hindu household. Our home (and my father moved a dozen times in his working life) always had a prayer room, where paintings and portraits of assorted divinities jostled for shelf and wall space with fading photographs of departed ancestors, all stained by ash scattered from the incense burned daily by my devout parents. Every morning, after his bath, my father would stand in front of the prayer room wrapped in his towel, his wet hair still uncombed, and chant his Sanskrit mantras. But he never obliged me to join him; he exemplified the Hindu idea that religion is an intensely personal matter, that prayer is between you and whatever image of your maker you choose to worship. In the Indian way, I was to find my own truth.

Like most Hindus, I think I have. I am a believer, despite a brief period of schoolboy atheism (of the kind that comes with the discovery of rationality and goes with an acknowledgment of its limitations – and with the realization that the world offers too many mysteries for which science has no answers). And I am happy to describe myself as a believing Hindu, not just because it is the faith into which I was born, but for a string of other reasons, though faith requires no reason. One is cultural: as a Hindu I belong to a faith that expresses the ancient genius of my own people. Another is, for lack of a better phrase, its intellectual "fit": I am more comfortable with the belief structures of Hinduism than I would be with those of other faiths of which I know. As a Hindu, I claim adherence to a religion without an established papacy, a religion whose rituals and customs I am free to reject, a religion that does not oblige me to demonstrate my faith by any visible sign, by subsuming my identity in any collectivity, not even by a specific day or time or frequency of worship. As a Hindu, I subscribe to a creed that is free of restrictive dogmas of holy writ, that refuses to be shackled to the limitations of a single holy book.

Above all, as a Hindu I belong to the only major religion in the world that does not claim to be the only true religion. I find it immensely congenial to be able to face my fellow human beings of other faiths without being burdened by the conviction that I am embarked upon a "true path" that they have missed. This dogma lies at the core of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism -- "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father [God], but by me" (John 14:6), says the Bible; "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his Prophet." declares the Koran – denying unbelievers all possibility of redemption, let alone salvation or paradise. Hinduism, however, asserts that all ways of belief are equally valid, and Hindus readily venerate the saints, and the sacred objects, of other faiths.

Friday, March 7, 2008

English : Quo Vadis?

Which one do you think is correct "I am thinking it's going to rain" or "I think it's going to rain" ?

Well, as per one of the world's foremost experts and author of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, Professor David Crystal, the future might see more prevalence of the 'I am thinking, I am feeling, I am seeing' construct rather than 'I think, I feel, I see'...

The reason being the evolution of a new kind of Standard English with pronounced Indian characteristics. Indians tend to use the present continuous where Americans/Britons would use the present simple.

"In language, numbers count. There are more people speaking English in India than in the rest of the native English-speaking world. As the Indian economy grows, so might the influence of Indian English," he explained.

Interesting article :Indian English will conquer globe: Expert

Having lived in all 3 countries- UK, India and the US I am yet to figure out which category my English falls under. I do know that I spell "color" and not "colour" but I do end up saying "zed" instead of "zee" for "z" as my kids gleefully point out.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Ending inner city youth violence in Rochester

The Rochester D&C today carried an op-ed piece by me on the issue :

Take these steps to help cure violence
Deepak SethGuest essayist
Post Comment
(March 3, 2008) — The blood on the sidewalk will soon be gone, but the hurt in the victims' families and the community will stay forever.Are we doing enough to break the vicious trend of using violence as the only means of conflict resolution?

The recent performance of the New York Symphony Orchestra in Pyongyang, North Korea, indicates that we as a nation are willing to use culture and diplomacy to deal with conflicts. It is high time similar trends start manifesting themselves on our city streets. Some suggestions:

  • Absence of positive role models is a reason for young people making wrong choices in life. However, today there seems to be no lack of African-American role models. Choose any line of human endeavor — sports, business, music, politics, movies and you will find a multitude of highly talented African Americans at the pinnacle. It seems that many inner-city youths are ignoring these role models and are instead looking up to gang members and drug dealers, and are too readily influenced by the guns, flashy jewelry and shiny cars of these people.
  • The City School District should encourage positive role models closer to home — local minority business people, company executives, newspaper editors, sports people, elected officials, police and fire personnel, artists and down-to-earth successful people from everyday life. Food service workers, construction workers and auto mechanics could visit schools and share their life experiences with kids. No sermonizing but heart-to-heart conversations about how they were able to overcome the tribulations of their own youth to achieve success. If such programs already exist, they should be strengthened.
  • Most parents incentivize (some may call it "bribe'') their kids for achieving the desired school performance. This may not always be possible for economically disadvantaged parents. Getting food on the table will always get priority over buying a reward for the kid for getting good grades. Local businesses could get together with the City School District to institute a well-publicized award program to reward kids exhibiting exemplary performance.
  • Parents and caregivers should monitor and keep tabs on who their kids associate with and the activities they engage in during and after school hours. If a good kid being at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people can result in him/her getting killed, then it is the duty of the parents/relatives to ensure that their kid does not end up in such a situation. It is better to deliver a reprimand to a kid and face sulking behavior than to deliver a eulogy.

There are no easy solutions. But we as a community need to keep looking for answers.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Nano revisited.....

Remember my piece "US should join in Nano car effort" urging Rochester area manufacturers to join the cheap car revolution by establishing themselves as vendors/suppliers/consultants for the companies that are making these cars in other parts of the world.

Seems like a company in Ontario, Canada has decided to follow that path : "Canadian components for Nano".

"Waiting for the world to come to us was not an option. We wanted to diversify and expand our markets so we had to go out to the world," said the CEO of that company.

Exactly the spirit we need to see from Rochester Area Businesses........

Friday, February 22, 2008

Exports show region's resiliency

An article based on my recent blog article was published in the Rochester D&C on Feb 18 :

Exports show region's resiliency

Deepak SethEditorial Board community member
Post Comment
(February 18, 2008) —

On Jan. 24, the U.S. Commerce Department introduced a new data series that precisely measures manufacturing export values for metropolitan areas. In 2006, the Rochester metropolitan area recorded export sales of $4.6 billion.

Rochester was the leader in upstate New York, ahead of Buffalo-Niagara Falls ($4.2 billion), Albany-Schenectady-Troy ($3.4 billion), Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown ($2 billion) and Syracuse ($2 billion). In fact, Rochester was the No. 1 metro area in the entire state, excluding the New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island region. A remarkable achievement indeed. More remarkable is the fact that this has been achieved at a time when the area is seeing a steady decline in manufacturing potential.

Canada is Rochester's single biggest manufactured exports trading partner, followed by Mexico, China and Germany. Our area's biggest exports were chemicals, computers and electronic products, machinery and plastics and rubber products.

These statistics reveal certain important points:
  • Rochester-area delegations to Albany and Washington should take note of these facts and ensure that they are factored in while deciding the allocation of governmental developmental dollars to the Rochester area. We always seem to be fighting a losing battle with Buffalo.
  • Export-based industries not only create jobs but also help in reducing the national debt. Special incentives should be formulated to attract and grow such businesses.
  • One will have to wait and see the economic implications of the changed travel requirements with Canada. Delays or unease in traveling between the two countries may manifest itself in reduced trade. This is one area where federal policy will very directly affect Rochester residents.
  • Mexico is also a major export destination. Opportunities exist to leverage our area's Hispanic heritage and enhance the bilingual potential.
  • The exports destination basket is spread very thin. Area businesses should be striving for establishing toeholds in other emerging economies: India, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Middle East, etc. Exports to China also do not seem to reflect the potential that exists there.
Overall, these numbers speak well for the resiliency of the Rochester economy and the adaptability of the local businesses to the changing economic environment.
The spirit of innovation and out-of-the-box thinking that drove Rochester in the past can continue to do so in the future. Local business and political leadership have a very important role to play by adequately harnessing and directing federal, state and local resources.

Community members serve on the Editorial Board and write regular columns.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Super Bowl XLII - "Indian" themed ads

Did you guys watch the Super Bowl ? I bet almost all would have. Pretty exciting game and a nailbiting finish

Did you catch all the ads ? Seems like the Indian community has finally "arrived". The rite of passage being becoming the focus of racially stereotypical jokes. The Italian, Irish, Latinos , Chinese have all been through it and now it's our turn. Some would say being noticed in a funny manner is better than not being noticed at all.

1) did it twice. One ad, "Sales Hero," featured an Asian Indian salesman ("Ramesh Chakrapani") with a stereotypical accent being threatened by his white boss, a short, white man with a mustache, to boost his sales or else. After the Asian Indian employee checks out, he wins an award for best salesman of the year and accepts it on a stage standing next to his wife and seven children. The other commercial, "Panda," featured a panda-bear couple speaking with strong Asian accents, worried that their business, Ling Ling's Bamboo Furniture Shack, might go under. They call a panda psychic who refers them to Both ads, produced in house, were found offensive by more than half a dozen ad execs, reports The Wall Street Journal.

2) Bud Light relegated most of its ad time to horses, Dalmatians, beer and Will Farrell, but one spot, "Language of Love," produced by the LatinWorks agency, offended some people. This commercial featured a group of men of multiple races/ethnicities trying to court women at a bar. A macho-looking Latino man was trying to get them to stop talking with their stereotypical accents--teaching an Asian man how to say hi, for example--and then trying to seduce a woman with his accent sounding like Antonio Banderas, but she's already taken by a short, Asian Indian man who says "Bud Light" in a thick Asian Indian accent.

These descriptions are from

The ads are funny but seem to be creating/reinforcing some weird stereotypes :

  • South Asians are communication challenged , have thick accents and have very large families.
  • South Asians are socially challenged

And such stereotypes are always dangerous……...

Monday, February 4, 2008

Rochester : Export Engine for Upstate Economic Growth

On Jan 24, the U.S. Commerce Department introduced a new data series that precisely measures manufacturing export values for metropolitan areas. Service export values are not included in this series. As per this report, in 2006, the Rochester metropolitan areas recorded export sales of $ USD 4.6 billion. Overall U.S. exporters reported a record $1.4 trillion in goods and services in 2006. Final 2007 numbers are forecast to exceed 2006 totals.

Rochester with it’s USD 4.6 billion was the leader in Upstate New York , ahead of Buffalo-Niagara Falls (USD 4.2 billion), Albany-Schenectady-Troy (USD 3.4 billion), Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown (USD 2 billion) and Syracuse (USD 2 billion). In fact, Rochester was the number one Metro area in the entire state excluding the Tristate New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA area (USD 66 billion). A remarkable achievement indeed. More remarkable is the fact that this has been achieved at a time when the area is seeing a steady decline in the manufacturing potential of it’s erstwhile stalwarts like Kodak and Xerox. This speaks highly of the mid-size Rochester companies which have picked up the slack.

Canada is Rochester’s single biggest manufactured exports trading partner (USD 1.2 billion) followed by Mexico (USD 703 million), China (USD 270 million) and Germany (USD 249 million). Our area’s biggest exports were Chemicals ( USD 1.7 billion), Computers and Electronic products (USD 1 billion), Machinery (USD 663 million) and Plastics and Rubber products (USD 197 million)

These statistics throw up certain important points:

· Rochester area’s delegations to Albany and Washington should take note of these facts and ensure that they are factored in while deciding the allocation of governmental developmental dollars to the Rochester area. We always seem to be fighting a losing battle with Buffalo.

· Exports based industries not only create jobs but also help in reducing the national debt. Special incentives should be formulated to attract and grow such businesses in the Rochester area.

· One will have to wait and see the economic implications of the changed travel requirements with Canada. Delays or unease in traveling between the two countries may manifest itself in reduced trade. The local governments need to be on their toes in making these new changes as smooth and painless as possible. This is one area where federal policy will very directly affect Rochester residents.

· Mexico is also a major export destination. Opportunities exist to leverage our area’s Hispanic heritage and enhance the bilingual potential.

· The exports destination basket is spread very thin. Area businesses should be striving for establishing toeholds in other emerging economies : India, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Middle East etc. Exports to China also do not seem to reflect the potential which exists there. Business associations like the Rochester Business Association should help their members in making breakthroughs in the non-traditional export markets. Trade delegations, increased web presence, participation in trade shows etc should help.

· The high proportion of Chemicals/Plastics and Rubber etc. in the mix appears slightly troubling as these are often considered sunset industries in the US, likely to be impacted the most by tougher environmental standards. For all the other Metro areas in the same export size range – Computers and Electronic products were the number one export product. For Buffalo , Transportation equipment was the number one.

Overall, these numbers speak well for the resilience of the Rochester economy and the adaptability of the local businesses to the changing economic environment. The spirit of innovation and out-of-the-box thinking which drove Rochester in the past can continue to do so in the future. Local business and political leadership has a very important role to play by adequately harnessing and directing federal , state and local resources.

Dissent is the heart of a free people

Dissent is the heart of a free people
Deepak Seth Guest essayist
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(February 4, 2008) — "Your freedom ends where my nose begins'' is a pithy aphorism that describes the extent to which personal freedoms such as the right to free speech should extend.
Unfortunately over the years, peoples' noses are becoming increasingly longer, thereby significantly impacting the ability of freethinkers to speak their minds. Every group, community, religion, country has a whole plethora of issues on which they would like no open discussion. Anybody who has the temerity to do so will have to undergo the modern equivalent of being attacked by a mob. The wisdom of "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,'' arguably attributed to Voltaire, seems to have been cast into the dustbin.

Each of such groups generally says that you as an outsider cannot comment or are not qualified to comment about the internal workings or history of the group. Their experience is so unique that nobody outside the group can truly fathom what it is and how it has shaped them. Some do not even allow members of their own group to speak freely about what they perceive as shortcomings of their group. Others even go one step further, where the ban not only encompasses free speech but extends to physical appearance, too.

It is for society at large to decide whether free thought, speech and a spirit of inquiry are to be cherished or if human endeavor is to be restricted by the boundaries established by the thought-police of each group. Checking behind one's shoulder should not be the prerequisite for speaking out in a free society. Dissent and criticism are inevitable in any society and should not be curtailed.

The truths of today have been established because someone in the past had the courage to dissent from the prevailing thought. We might still be believing the Earth is flat, sun revolves around the Earth, foul air causes malaria, storks bring babies, etc., if not for the power of dissent, criticism and the logic and reason that they led to. Similarly, some of the truths of today will not stand the test of dissent and will get replaced.

Today, people seem to be scared of linking their opinions with their identity. They rather prefer the anonymity of the blogosphere. This yearning for anonymity is brought about by the fear that a single identifiable statement from them, if misconstrued or taken out of context, can destroy their entire life, career and reputation.

The dissenter/critic is not always right but the very fact that dissent/criticism is allowed speaks of the maturity of a society.Take a look again at the one document that truly rises above this petty mindedness: the U.S. Constitution and its promise of "freedom of speech." I draw inspiration from it and my faith in the principle of "live and let live.''

Community members serve on the Editorial Board and write regular columns.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A "Fine" Toilet - Singapore Style

A recent 20/20 story included a mention about fines in Singapore for not flushing a Public Toilet after use. Singapore is often descibed as a "fine" city.

How they enforce that beats me ...... Cameras in public restrooms ?

Couldn't find much on the web except confirmation that there is a Singapore $250 fine for not flushing. And it is a moot point since almost all public toilets in Singapore are self-flushing.

If they are really enforcing that fine it is indeed a case of Public money being flushed down the toilet !!!

US should join in Nano car effort

My blog piece Can Rochester ride the People's Car? was published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle as U.S. should join in Nano car effort.

Sparked off some interesting debate on the D&C website which you can check out by following the link above.

Despite the economic recession and a globalized economy, I see very little awareness amongst ordinary Americans about the need to proactively exploit business opportunities in the emerging economies.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Healthcare : Robotic Style.......

How does a society which has a very high proportion of elderly citizens, is very insular (not willing to accept new immigrants into its fold) plan to deal with the issues of care of the elderly in the long term future ?
The country is Japan and the solution is Robots.......yes ..... Robots helping with elderly care.
Is that the way we are headed in the US too ? .....maybe.... either more citizens agree to work in this area or more immigrants be allowed in to do this work...... if the answer to both is no then the answer is about cold, impersonal care !!
Links :
RI-MAN And Roujin-Z Robots: Elder Care Fact And Fiction
Robots Help Japan Care For Its Elderly
Aging Japan Building Robots To Look After Elderly

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Can Rochester ride the People's Car?

Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Group unveiled his company's new "Nano" dubbed the People's car at the 9th Auto Expo in New Delhi, India recently. Priced at $ 2500 (yes, that's just 2 zeroes after the 25) it will be the cheapest car in the market (anywhere in the world). He was motivated to develop this car by a sight very common on Indian roads: entire families riding two wheelers- one kid perched behind the handle bars, the mother riding pillion with a kid clutched in her arms and maybe another one tucked between her and the father driving the bike. He thought he should build a safer vehicle for people who can just afford a two wheeler. Tata realizes the concern of some environmentalists that the popularity of this car can increase crowding and pollution, he does believe that "India desperately needs a mass transit system" but also asks "should (ordinary Indians) be denied the right to individual forms of transport, the right to safety?"

Reactions in the US to this car were as expected - questions about safety, emission standards, fodder for jokes on the late night shows and some smart quips even on regular News shows. However, most people seemed to have missed a point. This car , its pricing and potential success validates the hypothesis proposed by the renowned management guru C.K. Prahalad that there is a "Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid"- there is money to be made, sizable amounts of it by making low priced products for the low income segment of the world's population. Another Indian company Bajaj proposes to launch a car in the same price range and Renault's Carlos Ghosn is also talking about launching a $3000 car. With the projected millions of units sale (Car penetration in India is just seven per 1,000 people compared to 550 per 1,000 in countries such as Germany and around 800 per 1000 in the US), even at these low prices the market size is of many Billion dollars. Even if we do not buy this car we can be supplying technology, expertise, components etc to the makers of these cars and their vendors.

Business associations in Rochester and other similar cities should be deliberating on how US companies can leverage their strengths to join this revolution being unleashed in the far hitherto considered to be impoverished parts of the globe. Some may think that Rochester since it does not have a strong automotive manufacturing base (except for Delphi) may not have a role to play. How about some out-of-the-box thinking. Making a car at this price has required a paradigm change. I would think that all manufacturers in sectors like sheet metal working, injection molding, induction welding, composite materials, paints and adhesives etc. can benefit. Vendors in India would be on the lookout for expertise, technical collaboration, products etc. as they try to ramp up their production to meet the new demand. There is definitely an expertise in these areas in Rochester given the supplier base for Xerox, Kodak and their spin-off's. The need is for a systematic evaluation of the opportunity and identifying proper matches for interested Rochester area manufacturers. RBA or some other industry group should take the lead with this. Their role should expand from attracting investors here to exploiting opportunities elsewhere. Both approaches bring jobs and money to the local economy.

We can choose to ride the people’s car wave or just watch as the world drives by in it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A People's car for the World !!

Tata Group chairman, Ratan Tata, poses in the company's new Nano car during its launch at the 9th Auto Expo in New Delhi. The car, a hatchback with a 624cc engine, is priced at about 100,000 rupees ($2,500), half that of the current cheapest car in the market. (Reuters Photo)
There is definitely Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid as countless entrepreneurs are discovering.
The Nano's also expected to get 54 US miles per gallon......once gas hits USD 10/gallon you should see a lot of these on the roads here !!!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Arm wrestling NY style?

A meeting with Gov. Eliot Spitzer

Given that California is NY's strongest rival in the "idea driven economy", would Gov. Spitzer be willing to take on Arnold Schwarznegger in an arm wrestling match? Surely not, the Governor was quick to retort; however he would gladly challenge him to an IQ match.

On a more serious note, the Governor seems to be all done with his bout of arm wrestling with the State’s Republican Leadership . He struck a more conciliatory note when he met the Editorial Board on 01/10. He mentioned that he realized that the public has no tolerance for stagnation and gridlock. His objective was to get things done. And get them done in a fiscally prudent way.

He plans to present a balanced budget without raising taxes. He did not envisage this increasing the state's debt in a major way as he planned plowing resources from the sale of state's sub optimally utilized assets (e.g. property in Manhattan) into more productive programs. And he did not feel the plans to sell the lottery were like selling the crown's jewels because he was taking a capital asset (State Lottery) and converting it into another capital asset ( Endowment for Higher Education).

His plans to move the focus on education from K-12 to what he described as P-16 (Pre K to end of college) sounded interesting. This approach plans to harness the expertise and resources available for higher education to improve the state of school education. He reiterated the need for getting parents more involved in the process. In response to a question he also promised to research about the low attractiveness of teaching as a career amongst people of color.

He drew some flak for referring his cap on property tax proposal to a commission for review. The Governor tried to dispel the notion that commissions are places where good ideas go to die. He expected the property tax commission to present its findings within this calendar year. He opined that the commission was a nice way to draw feedback and opinion from all stakeholders, a shift from the earlier unilateral approach much disliked by his detractors.

How can he as NYS Governor help New York City retain its position as the Global Economic Capital? A position increasingly under threat from competitors like London and Dubai. And an issue which impacts all of us since NY City is an engine of growth for the entire region. He mentioned about his initiatives with the CEO's of major financial corporations to formulate a new NY Financial Regulatory structure which removes the incoherence across various silos like Banking, Insurance etc and brings it more in line with the model used by London. He is in consultation with the Federal Government on these issues and the problems with visas which make global financial players choose London over NYC for their operations.

The governor has a strong agenda for Rochester. He spoke about Midtown and the fact that he had asked Mayor Duffy to identify similar other investments. He felt Rochester given the availability of trained & highly educated workforce and high concentration of research labs and higher education institutions was uniquely poised to benefit from the USD 600 million funding over the next 10 years on Stem Cell Research in the State.

The battles of last year do not seem to have taken a toll on the boldness of the Governor’s visionary thinking. He is more pragmatic and astute now. This should bode well for the execution of these plans to reality. Another year of gridlock is something which the public will not be willing to endure.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

How are the Baileys doing?

Sen. Chuck Schumer had introduced us to a fictional family, the middle-class Baileys—Joe, Eileen and their three kids in his recent book "Positively American". So my question to Sen. Schumer when he met the Editorial Board on 01/08 was "How are the Baileys doing?". Turns out that the Baileys who were distinctly upbeat a decade ago are now slightly despondent about the state of the economy, gas prices, and college tuitions and seem to think there are tougher times ahead for their kids. However they still have not lost their resilient spirit and continue battling on notwithstanding the odds.

The major reasons for this despondency as per Sen. Schumer were the reduced funding available to support education and health initiatives. The 2 big causes for a decline in funding as per him were the reduced tax burden on the super rich (those making over $ 1 million a year) and the $ 200 Billion a year spending in Iraq. The Senator had spent New Year in Iraq with the US troops and waxed eloquent about their valor and commitment. He was pleased with the progress made on the ground under the NY born Gen. Petraeus but described the state of Iraqi civil society as still being fragmented by sectarian differences and a very weak & unpopular central administration.

For us in Rochester, Sen. Schumer had some good cheer to share. He mentioned an emerging trend of US corporations moving some of their high-end manufacturing work back to the US. He felt Upstate NY in general and Rochester in particular was well poised to benefit from this trend given the availability of trained & highly educated workforce, population concentration and low office space rent. He spoke about his efforts to boost the local economy by helping local companies for specific initiatives; developing niche opportunities like Fuel Cell Technology, Center for Photonics; Grants in the Budget for corporate, county and city endeavors; and overall by making the business climate better (e.g. by better air services)

The issue which bothers the Senator the most is the declining standards of the US education esp. Math and Science education. He feels that declining education standards will significantly reduce America's competitiveness in a global economy. He discussed his initiatives to get more qualified people interested in Science and Math teaching. He highlighted a grant for establishing a Center for Math and Science teaching excellence at the Nazareth College. In response to a question he also promised to research about the low attractiveness of teaching as a career amongst people of color.

How will the Baileys vote in this year's presidential election? Definitely for the Democratic Party, the Senator said, but for which Democratic contender? Sen. Schumer the quintessential politician suavely sidestepped the question.

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