“Pura Vida and the chronicles of insomnia from the land of witches”

The one and only Aranal volcano in it's full majesty

August just felt like july – some enlightenment and some inconvenient truth. I have been waiting all month long for an epiphany to occur to me or something profound to happen.All I had was a minor anti-climax! Life gets complicated when one has many more questions than answers! It doesn’t help that I have a Chinese wall inside me. A wall between what I feel inside and what I show outside! Do all Indians feel the same way? I for myself got too influenced by Mario Puzo’s novel ,“The Godfather”, for too long!

Having found the strength to dig my heels in, I am resigning to fate. I am used to life being a ferris wheel and now it has offishally entered “ bungy-jumping” territory. May be it’s fate’s way of telling that get used to it and develop a thick skin, you would thrive in future!

In LA rain gods have pissed again and pretty much took a month of summer away. Living at the beach comes at a premium, so I nearly started a facebook petition to force all beach landlords to refund a part of the rent money. I haven’t completely given up on the idea, so what do you think? August brought the gloomy news about housing and economy too. The Fed seems to be doing everything, but It all seems to end up like whipping cream on crap.
I don’t want to try but I am sure it still tastes like crap! If braindeadanomics were a kingdom, Bernanke would be its king! I understand that there is a correlation between GDP and collective happiness. We are at a point mindless consumerism is threatening the planet (Read global warming, BP rig explosion, etc.). This is high time people rethink consumption ! As a token gesture, I am giving up buying alpine water, which is usually shipped 10000 miles across from Europe, what a joke?

The signature thing about Europe is it’s reasonably free of mindless consumerism. but in fast changing global business dynamics- donno how long they would have this luxury-It reminds me of a news story where spain’s towns were competing to host a nuclear dumpsite. May be one day people in Madrid stop taking complete august off!

August also brings in solidarity among Indians everywhere, to ring in 64th year of India’s independence. In the 80s there was a Bofors guns scandal, where guns were purchased a little over regular price. In late 90s there was again Kargil coffin scandal when coffins were bought at 13 times the regular price. 2010 brings in $80 toilet paper rolls for commonwealth games. Assuming that toilet paper is not gold, it’s like 100 times the normal price. Who ever thought India was not developing fast enough needs to think again! Jokes aside, I am delighted that India is inching towards its rightful prominence on the world stage. We come from the land of $35 laptops and $2k cars! The world can ignore 1.1 billion people at its own peril! China recently surpassed Japan by sheer GDP terms. I hope India does the same soon sans the 60miles long traffic jams and polluted environment.

There was recently a customer at my travel agency. He is a student at USC and was explaining how he got a tech job in summer though his tech background is zilch. This is what I call as positive side of racism- the benefit of being dark skinned and having a strong accent! Now why doesn’t it work for getting into best B-schools ?
Finding conviction to give up coffee is not an easy thing and I just might have done that! I realized coffee moves food thru the system before the body got a chance to absorb all nutrients. It gives a nice kick the first hour after drinking, but the dependency is simply unacceptable. I have been successfully off coffee for 10 days now and gave myself a couple of pats  My next goal is to get up early and start getting back to shape. I am calling 1-800-wish foundation already!

Talking about food, I have been considering raw diet for a while and had my friend Sunil dragged me to this fancy place called “Planet Raw”. As with all fancy places the food is innovative but expensive. The best thing is they have a few non-alcoholic drinks that give a nice buzz. The worst part though is if someone wants to get more info on raw diet, they have to cough up $150 for a 15 mins. consultation ! (I absolutely, positively, didn’t make this up. SWG it said on the menu)

In LA we never have a shortage of fads and very of these fads last longer than Larry King’s marriages. I am sure many people have come across “Conscious Consumerism” thought it’s relatively new for me. In LA I observed many rich people taking pains to support many local causes, and pay a lot of premium for ethical goods and services. Coming from India, where subsistence has been the buzz word, with nary a sense of civic responsibility, I salute the conviction of these people .I have been living in LA for almost 10 years but I have no LA in me and that’s beginning to change! In this spirit, I am giving up leather. Most animals are beaten, electrocuted or skinned alive for leather. If you have a moment browse this website and you would never wear leather again!

I never got a chance to introduce our stat professor Dr. Seal. He might have anglicized his name but he very much our Indian. One problem with him is the obsession with getting street cred. And the other one is his continuing LMU’s grand tradition of telling very un-grand jokes. I couldn’t care less cuz he is extra generous in grading! His favorite phrase was “ Lies, damn lies and statistics” . And I would like to add to that, Department of Labor’s employment numbers and National Realtor Association’s housing forecast!

As the story goes, god created the world in 7 days and on the last day he/she realized something is missing and so Beach Volleyball was born. I suck at BV but it’s a nice cardio and even nicer way to make new friends. I have actually asked my LMU friends to help me put a small BV league in our neighboring beach. Playing BV at Playa itself would give me an hour extra sleep on the weekends and free parking!

I also need a clarification about template jokes whether are they good or bad? One template joke goes like this. There was this guy Amit, who always had hard time understanding his wife Rekha. One day he was wandering on the beach and accidentally stepped on a bottle. The proverbial genie popped from the bottle and asked Amit for a wish. Amit thought for a while and asked for a bridge across ocean, to cut his daily commute to the other part of the city. Genie thought for a minute and begged for an alternative wish. So, obviously Amit asked for the ability to read his wife’s mind! Now the Genie thought again and said, “You want 10 lanes or 20 lanes?’” The sheer ingenuity of a template joke is that it allows one to say the tricky wish as the second wish and make seem a bridge across ocean as an easier thing. So I ask what’s wrong with a template joke?

I recently had my first real vacation in god-knows-how-many-years. . I have to say I am pleasantly surprised that the sky didn’t come crashing during my absence from work. If Goa is “god’s own country’ then Costa Rica is it’s Siamese twin. The parallels in climate, food, culture and people are unmistakable. People in CR have a laidback lifestyle. They even have a term for it called “Pura Vida”, which loosely translates into English as “Pure Life”. However, CR is beginning to be spoiled by American capitalism. All the ills of US like McDonalds, BKs and even SUV culture seem to be mushrooming all over. I think I am having a romantic affair with CR. I donno if it’s true love or just an infatuation! I have to confess that I have a trackrecord for having extended infatuations with some stuff and even some people. If someone wants to make a (mo-) documentary on infatuation, I would be the obvious candidate!

Here is an update on Mozart. I believe Mozart and I have fell apart. In good old days, he would fart and I pretend not to notice. I would sing and he pretends not to groan. Nowadays he stinks and has become too clingy! I have become somewhat of a bad tempered person too. I think that’s it for dogs and me. No mas perros!

I would like to wrap up saying that “Salt” is a very dangerous movie capable of annihilating 3 perfectly good hours ! Never did mankind was exposed to such scripted dialogue and even more scripted fights. Note to myself: don’t trust sis-in-law’s reviews!!
-Love , Language and La Vida

This blog is not culled, copied or mangled from a variety of resources, but as bollywood directors would say, “is INSPIRED from a lot of Hollywood movies :)”

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Posted by on September 1, 2010 in Uncategorized


Bromancing the beach and other nutty nonsense from a Narcissist

As some of you might know, I lately moved to Playa Del Rey, just 3 blocks from the beach! It has been one long wait for me, but a well rewarded experience! The decision to move out from a place opposite The Grove is not an easy one for me, and had somehow talked myself into it . In life when one door closes another one opens! I now have two wonderful roommates, Ben & Manny,both are in the movie industry and an adorable dog named Mozart !

Playa is 2 mins. drive to LMU and 2 mins. biking to the beach! Taking inspiration from Ben who has done it all in outdoor activities (sailing, flying,camping and even biking across Colorado mountains !) I planned on a little bike trip of my own. Ben and I are joined by an equally crazy guy Tushar, who would subsequently have several days of sore behind . The plan is to bike from LA to SB, but Ben didn’t trust us we would do 100 miles of biking through the hills! It was decided that we take Amtrak upto SB and make a 2day bike trip from SB to LA. Gallons of water, loads of powerade and a tyre puncture after we reached LA, everything a little sore except our spirits! I carried a backpack most of the trip and that nearly killed my middle back! In the pantheon of dumb ideas, the backpack idea ranks next only to Shrek forver after.

We are again planning a trip from SF to SB, a totally dangerous ,crazy and near-suicidal idea! But, it’s my way of (over)-compensating years of laziness, if you will! And, I am sure this won’t be the last one.
When I was young, I never really played any sports (unless playing with my pecker counts!?),so I am a little excited to discover the brave new world of active living. It’s hiking, biking and some surfing hopefully! The weekends in Playa feel like I am living in retreat paradise, and far away from the humdrum of the city. I still work, study and workout on weekends, but life is devoid of antsiness. Everything is in perfect harmony! If my life has a groundhog day then let (might?) this be that day!

I always make a point of talking about Obama. Right now he looks as a bee keeper, one without the right gear and with lot of rogue bees out there to get him! As if Oil spill, McChrystal, Israel problems are not enough, he now has to deal with the death of Senator Byrd! Another well deserving achievement is the gold rally. The yellow metal has breached $1250/oz mark. It is not a great achievement by itself but when compared to remarkable drop in stocks, it would have been an awesome trade! Governments around the world are trying to fend of recession by keeping interest rates historically low, and government spending quite high, so I feel there is still a little gas left in the rally!

Now is a good time as any to introduce the Dunning-Kruger effect: people who don’t know much tend not to recognize their ignorance, and so fail to seek better information. There are many victims of this effect with some of them investing in stock market. God only can save them! Why don’t they all go to Vegas? While they would still lose money, you would get free drinks in the process 😛

Last week was also one of the rare times I felt a genuine emotion. I was at my library café and saw a girl buying food/drinks to all of her friends. Just to see what happens, for the heck of it, I asked me to buy me food sure she obliged! I was a bit bemused and somehow found words to thank her. She said something back like “Karma will come back to me”. I gave a platonic hug and stepped out of the café. That is a sweet sweet thing coming especially from a sophomore girl, who I considered to be stuck (way) up and don’t give a hoot for. I promise to pay it forward !

The city grew around me and I have a feeling I made my peace with it. I was lucky to attend a Dodgers game and everything except the score went perfect! I made some excellent friends in the process too. We are all supposed to behaving like MBAers and blah, but I realized we are just another bunch of kids but pretending to be grown ups, groping for our place in adulthood! We had way too much fun Karaoking and then taking pot shots at each other later at Tony’s apartment. The seeming immaturity is a sign that we haven’t had many issues with life or all have a peter pan syndrome! As an avowed agnostic it will be unfair to take god’s name in vain, but truth be told that I truly felt blessed.

My new dog, Mozart, made me thinking that actually I am a dog myself. Like a dog which recovers by licking its own wounds, I have finally overcome my bouts of depression by fessing up to people and sometimes even writing about it! Having had a constant need for validation and then to trying to fit in, I am elated to finally have a handle on rejection. I want to be true to myself and also others, so if I am not sugarcoating anymore then you know why!

I don’t have serious plans to enroll in marriage institution. At the least, not until and unless I meet someone a tad more intelligent than I am, and a lot less headstrong as I have been! And, be my conscience keeper or my moral compass. Also, of course be open to bike the world and get old together. And as if it’s all gonna happen, she has to like me too! I am not exactly wishing on a shooting , but wouldn’t it be wonderful to quit gym, eat pizza and drink real beer (not the MGD 64, it tastes and looks like dilute pee…gross!) .

I have one last rant about Dr. Kalbers. He sure made me a better day trader and stock analyst,but if anyone is taking accounting class with him, keep couple of things in mind. He is deceptively cool in teaching and dangerously hard in grading! Is that what we get for pretending to like his jokes ?
There is an unspoken rule in hometeam cheering that you remain unspoken about losses. As always, I want to clear the air. Ghana is the only African team to make it to quarter-finals. Having come from a third-world country myself, I understand what this means to Ghanians. India as some of us know has the notoriety of having the least talent for any sporting event, of any country (sub-saharan countries included! Here in the US we have MLB, NBA, NFL,NHL and MLS(may be?), so I think I can live with Ghana’s win against US, and too bad they couldn’t progress into semis !.

I was a cynic who knew the price of everything and the value of nothing, but I now morphed into a realist who celebrates the freedom and opportunities in my new home. What a true joyous experience that renewing the vows of life is! Dream big, live large, and work harder !

Me, myself and my future memories

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Posted by on July 10, 2010 in Uncategorized


Vamsi and Kumar escape from the daily grind

I have a plan to fight off shadow work, FYI it means never really being far from work because of cell phones and/or Internet. The idea is called shadow slacking, where you are never really far from slacking. In addition to the usual suspects of FB, email, and magazines, I have discovered blogging!
It’s one of the weeks Los Angeles feels more like Los Diablos. I had a near miss from yet another speeding ticket, missed a wonderful opportunity to move into playa vista ( the adult equivalent of Alice in wonderland), and as if this is not enough, it rained on my freshly waxed/detailed car 😦
It’s also the week I realized that am in a mad dash to get somewhere in life but don’t know where! That’s a bone chilling truth as I’ve just turned 30 and supposed to have my shit figured out. Yes, I run my own biz and opening another one. Yes, I’ve joined MBA program and near top of my class. But no, I haven’t mastered time management and no, I am not settled yet! (I’m not yappin bout homes!)
My obsession to mentally photograph anything and everything that’s utterly useless has hit a peak and the contrariwise jumped into a valley. I remember word-word all the oldies’ lyricsbut have difficulty remembering important stuff (pay bills,shift apartment yada yada). This reminds me of what my 2nd grade math teacher warned me of! Assuming that my brain yields to the law of physics, there is only so much I can store. OK, point noted and swiftly forgotten 😉
Talking about forgetting, as a punishment the Empire of Economic Fundamentals strikes back. Greece, Spain, Dubai and am I starting to hear a whisper of pending bankruptcy from California? Whatever happened to kicking the proverbial (debt) can down to our grand children?? Talk about karmic fairness! It nukes any chances of early recovery of the economy.
After 2 yrs. Of working out , I present the stats. 305 backpull and 1100 leg push but why the heck is my bench press struck at 150 for a year now, talk about plateauing ! Somebody needs to shake up the routine a little! But this brings an inconvenient truth . Is my head too small for my shoulders and my adam’s apple too big? BTW it’s a rhetorical question, don’t answer that!
There are some news an ordinary man should never share but I am a superman 😛 I got hit on repeatedly by this guy following me all around Bloomingdale’s 2nd floor . My gaydar didn’t go off at first but following me to the parking lot, please, gimme a break. I politely told him that I don’t swing that way. Although truth be told that I have been haunted by switching SO to take advantage of this kind of attention lately! But switching sides?? I thunk again! Gays are bigger drama queens than girls and their love making is not natural ! yay, I don’t have OCD and back to SI swimsuit edition ..hahaha
And here is some juicy news worthy of K-Earth 101 . I end up meeting some chick who is dying for some over the sweater action – (no prizes for guessing who!) I don’t exactly dig queens of dry humping . And, don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad ?!
A holler to all terminator fans! A dear friend has showed me the movie location of T2, where the kid is chased by the T1000 in a Mack truck and our Governator(T-800) comes to the kid’s rescue. The place is now a useless canal. So I say that we recreate the scene and I want to do the role of the kid on bike. But, I am taking auditions next week for the other two roles (no recommendation letters accepted, it’s on a pure merit basis, T-X need not apply) . Also, accepting monetary donations from all T2 fans, who might be time-commitment challenged!
I have always wanted to introduce our accounting professor Dr. Lawrence Kalbers . What a welcome respite from a previous prof., who shamelessly kissed his own ass, class in and class out. Kalbers is smarter than a whip. He retorts out of line questions that would make stand-up comedians like Chris Rock and Dane Cook, to stand up and notice (pun intended) !
It has came to my notice that some shapeshifting sexists created stereotypes that guys think through their groins, while girls by their hormones. So I want to set the record straight. Both guys and girls think through their asses, or how else do you explain electing Bush twice? On a more serious note, the Obama administration asked BP to take full responsibility to mop up it’s mess. It’s like my roommate asking me to taste my own cooking..why would I do that? 😉 “Yes, we can not” is the new slogan that BP is over and over again trying to convey this to the President.

The coming week is actually the real judgment day. Its high time to prove that Lakers are not chokers. In my scheme of things, Celtics team 2008 team is 2 yrs older and Lakers 2008 team is 2yrs more experienced. We used to blew 25point leads in 4th quarter , while now we are (almost) blowing 17 point leads only! P.S: Steve called me about suggestions for Magic’s plans for fishing. I suggested him Martha’s vineyard . And, soon they would have Celtics company ! P.S , P.S : I am already making plans to attend Lakers Parade !
I sayeth on to thee- “Bye bye daily grind and welcome home, ecstatic times“
Vamsi, Myself and Kumar

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Posted by on June 2, 2010 in Uncategorized


Jolie I am not with you on this

When Obama first announced his candidacy back in 07′, I thought of him as as another fringe candidate similar to Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. I was not roused by speeches. Was always suspicious of people proposing grandiose ideas, with little experience to show for. Though I knew Hillary was of Machiavellian type, I still liked her experience. I was even open to McCain’s candidacy. A vietnam war vet willing to reach across aisle.

A light-skinned candidate candidate with a name like Colin Powell for the presidency seems plausible, but a black man named Barack Hussein Obama? I doubted it. His name vaguely linked to both American war fronts. Obama rhymes with Osama (Afghan war). His middle name Hussein rhymes with hussain ( Iraq war) . Against my intense disbelief, Americans embraced him. It shows how far the country moved from Bush’s Parochial tunnel vision.

When Obama was unable to confirm many of his cabinet nominees, I was very gleefull. A stumbling president with an inexperienced team ! I cheered when President Obama and his newly made-over-fancyboots wife made asses of themselves in Copenhagen while attempting to wheedle the Europeans into granting Chicago the 2016 Olympics. And I gnashed my teeth when the Nobel Prize Committee decided to fete Obama with the Peace Prize. I thought the renowned noble committee selected an elitist socialist whose policy is all smoke mirrors ! To sum it all up, I was an Obama-Rejectionist .

But as the past month’s events show, I have been very wrong. I will tell you why.

Obama has always called Iraq war an unjust war and Afghan war the right war. Obama not let the Nobel peace prize announcement sway his resolve. He made the right decision to send 30,000 troops to finish this war. Some bicker the man has not done anything. I say the Nobel goes for the man and his word.

He made China,India,Russia vote on UN motion against Iran . A first of it’s kind EVER! His China visit handsomely paid off. And so did his gesture of arranging first white house state dinner in honor of Indian prime minister. He also successfully lobbied India and China for climate change pacts. By scrapping missile shield in Poland, he mend fences with Russia.

Same thing goes for healthcare bill. He was open to compromise on controversial topics like paid abortions, public option, etc. But the bill preserved the most important aspects. A better health coverage for uninsured and pilot projects to understand spiraling healthcare costs. Obama once again showed character when he didn’t cave in to the black caucus that were onto him ever since he got elected. A group sometimes known to prefer equality of result over equality of opportunity!

Finally, he had the courage and decency to call Pakistan’s bluff – a issue very dear to all Indians. The age-old nexus between Pakistan’s intelligence/military and terrorists. This issue had been repeatedly dodged by 5 previous administrations (Bush Sr.,Clinton-2, Bush Jr.-2) . Also, Obama personally saw to it that FBI follow up with swift indictment of David Headley( a.k.a Dawood Geelani) .

When the noble prize awarding ceremony came, instead of disposing of troop surge in a perfunctory gesture, he made it the basis of his address, devoting the first half of the speech to what he called the challenge of “reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths—that war is sometimes necessary, and war at some level is an expression of human folly.”

Working out apparent contradictions, reconciling irreconcilables, finding balances, living with paradox—these are the intellectual bread and butter of Obama’s politics. I am happy that Gandhi didn’t get this prize. By his support of the Khilafat movement, Gandhi was disregarding the national rights of the Ottoman subject peoples and especially those of the Armenians. In Oslo, Obama was in effect calling the bluff of purists on both the right and the left.

As I pitch tent in a different quarter, I want all my friends/family know that I’ve not been smoking any fancy weed 😉 . I have deeply changed my opinion of Obama. What the President has is a sophisticated theology, an anti-utopian belief that human imperfection is inevitable but progress is possible if human beings remain self-critical about what they can achieve! Obama has evolved as a leader over the years. What a welcome relief from go-for-broke attitude of his predecessor. The difference betwen Obama’s address to German people last summer and his latest speech at Oslo shows an adaptable person and a man ready to raise to the occasion. By all accounts, Obama is a well-grounded, decent, thoughtful man. He comes across, in his person and manner, as nonpartisan. A bonafide statesman when the world needs him most.

So Jolie I am not with you on the hating Obama part! I am more than certain that Obama has not forgotten Darfur nor has he moved on! He would (in time) bring justice to Sudanese people.
I think it’s best for us to sit together for coffee and reconcile our differences 😉

I know ‘ve been wishing way too much lately but just one for the upcoming new year. Can we be blessed with a leader at least half as good a Obama, in India. Some one who is a pragmatic idealist, one who doesn’t need to suck up to a foreign born Italian woman. An able man/woman with fire in the belly, and less than 70 years old! Is it too much to ask ?

I am not with Jolie on hate-obama part !

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Posted by on December 14, 2009 in Uncategorized


mi ‘fessions&resolutions

“God, give me the serenity
to accept the people I cannot change ,
the courage to change the person I can,
and the wisdom to know it is me! ”

I am trapped in my skin as someone I don’t know or understand, petrified by the world around me. I wanted to write myself out of this vortex of delirium.
It’s kind of comforting to think that no matter how eccentric you think you are, that you’re not alone. We’re really in the same boat with everyone else in the world, dreaming, imagining, full of ideas and striving to express ourselves
I can’t believe I have turned 30 today, a day I have never planned for!
Most of my achievements in life have been little more than pedestrian. Since I’ve been very reflective lately and in a goal-centric state of mind, I went through some resolution frenzy. I essentially want to change gears in life and also make peace with myself. What follows is a series of ‘fessions and resolutions.

Shed my delusions of grandeur
Stop working on Hawii time and become a morning person
Buy a home close to the beach
Worry less and act more
Improve my handwriting (though I like the compliment that I like a doctor 🙂 )
Watch less tv and read more books (non-fiction)
Give back to my country, which has subsidized 90% of my college education.
Learn salsa dancing
Cure my ADD to achieve the above feat
Launch the medical tourism business finally
Be a little less competitive and lot more understanding.
Backpack thru europe (stop it,there is nothing dirty about it)
Get a pet (chihuahah or terrier)
Stop watching basketball (lost interest after Lakers finally won)
Not screen my customers’ calls
Learn swimming

if you have read till here, either you are a very good friend of mine or someone who needs to get a life 🙂

Stop being a selfish bastard and bend a little backwards to accomodate friends & family.
Absolutely stop my road rage, totally not worth it! Keep myself and most importantly other people, who had the misfortune to share the roads with me,out of harms way.
Not succumb to peer pressure
Stop lying about things (no, I don’t like bleu cheese or wine. Stick with rum&diet)
Be serious about six pack& obliques ( been eluding me forever )
Take initiative to recycle and bike to run short errands

Most importantly, not to do things I dislike, to buy things I don’t need, to impress people that I don’t care about !

These are jillion and difficult! So wish me good luck that I achieve most of them.


Posted by on November 28, 2009 in Uncategorized


My (not so) new trading strategy

My brother Kanoj has been itching to jump into stock markets. He picked my brain and I suggested he follow (my idol,) Nassim Taleb’s strategy. Malcolm Gladwell did a series of interviews with
Taleb trying to undertand Empirica’s strategy. The following is an extract of those interviews.

To bring you to speed, Niederhoffer is a flamboyant options trader, who got burned twice. Taleb is the author of the famous book “Black Swan”. Taleb operates Empirica from a small trading floor, one the size of Manhattan appartment and his teams consists of a small nerdy crowd.
One of Taleb’s earliest Wall Street mentors was a short-tempered Frenchman named Jean-Patrice, who dressed like a peacock and had an almost neurotic obsession with risk. Jean-Patrice would call Taleb from Regine’s at three in the morning, or take a meeting in a Paris nightclub, sipping champagne and surrounded by scantily clad women, and once Jean-Patrice asked Taleb what would happen to his positions if a plane crashed into his building. Taleb was young then and brushed him aside. It seemed absurd. But nothing, Taleb soon realized, is absurd. Taleb likes to quote David Hume: “No amount of observations of white swans can allow the inference that all swans are white, but the observation of a single black swan is sufficient to refute that conclusion.” Because L.T.C.M. had never seen a black swan in Russia, it thought no Russian black swans existed. Taleb, by contrast, has constructed a trading philosophy predicated entirely on the existence of black swans. on the possibility of some random, unexpected event sweeping the markets. He never sells options, then. He only buys them. He’s never the one who can lose a great deal of money if G.M. stock suddenly plunges. Nor does he ever bet on the market moving in one direction or another. That would require Taleb to assume that he understands the market, and he doesn’t. He hasn’t Warren Buffett’s confidence. So he buys options on both sides, on the possibility of the market moving both up and down. And he doesn’t bet on minor fluctuations in the market. Why bother? If everyone else is vastly underestimating the possibility of rare events, then an option on G.M. at, say, forty dollars is going to be undervalued. So Taleb buys out-of-the-money options by the truckload. He buys them for hundreds of different stocks, and if they expire before he gets to use them he simply buys more. Taleb doesn’t even invest in stocks, not for Empirica and not for his own personal account. Buying a stock, unlike buying an option, is a gamble that the future will represent an improved version of the past. And who knows whether that will be true? So all of Taleb’s personal wealth, and the hundreds of millions that Empirica has in reserve, is in Treasury bills. Few on Wall Street have taken the practice of buying options to such extremes. But if anything completely out of the ordinary happens to the stock market, if some random event sends a jolt through all of Wall Street and pushes G.M. to, say, twenty dollars, Nassim Taleb will not end up in a dowdy apartment in Athens. He will be rich.

At Empirica, then, there are no Wall Street Journals to be found. There is very little active trading, because the options that the fund owns are selected by computer. Most of those options will be useful only if the market does something dramatic, and, of course, on most days the market doesn’t. So the job of Taleb and his team is to wait and to think. They analyze the company’s trading policies, back-test various strategies, and construct ever-more sophisticated computer models of options pricing. Danny, in the corner, occasionally types things into the computer. Pallop looks dreamily off into the distance. Spitznagel takes calls from traders, and toggles back and forth between screens on his computer. Taleb answers e-mails and calls one of the firm’s brokers in Chicago, affecting, as he does, the kind of Brooklyn accent that people from Brooklyn would have if they were actually from northern Lebanon: “Howyoudoin?” It is closer to a classroom than to a trading floor.
What Empirica has done is to invert the traditional psychology of investing. You and I, if we invest conventionally in the market, have a fairly large chance of making a small amount of money in a given day from dividends or interest or the general upward trend of the market. We have almost no chance of making a large amount of money in one day, and there is a very small, but real, possibility that if the market collapses we could blow up. We accept that distribution of risks because, for fundamental reasons, it feels right. In the book that Pallop was reading by Kahneman and Tversky, for example, there is a description of a simple experiment, where a group of people were told to imagine that they had three hundred dollars. They were then given a choice between (a) receiving another hundred dollars or (b) tossing a coin, where if they won they got two hundred dollars and if they lost they got nothing. Most of us, it turns out, prefer (a) to (b). But then Kahneman and Tversky did a second experiment. They told people to imagine that they had five hundred dollars, and then asked them if they would rather (c) give up a hundred dollars or (d) toss a coin and pay two hundred dollars if they lost and nothing at all if they won. Most of us now prefer (d) to (c). What is interesting about those four choices is that, from a probabilistic standpoint, they are identical. They all yield an expected outcome of four hundred dollars. Nonetheless, we have strong preferences among them. Why? Because we’re more willing to gamble when it comes to losses, but are risk averse when it comes to our gains. That’s why we like small daily winnings in the stock market, even if that requires that we risk losing everything in a crash.

This kind of caution does not seem heroic, of course. It seems like the joyless prudence of the accountant and the Sunday-school teacher. The truth is that we are drawn to the Niederhoffers of this world because we are all, at heart, like Niederhoffer: we associate the willingness to risk great failure — and the ability to climb back from catastrophe–with courage. But in this we are wrong. That is the lesson of Taleb and Niederhoffer, and also the lesson of our volatile times. There is more courage and heroism in defying the human impulse, in taking the purposeful and painful steps to prepare for the unimaginable.

Wait up for my birthday resolutions & confessions post. promise not to disappoint you!


Posted by on November 27, 2009 in Uncategorized


B&N -A Luv Story

Barnes & Noble: A Love Story

Not so long ago, God wanted make this world perfect and he created Barnes&Noble. I will explain you why.

For me, to step into the open,airy, welcoming B&N  is like stepping into Charlie’s Chocolate Factory!  All the books that are waiting to be devoured by my brain.I raid the magazine section and then the new nonfiction arrivals. But in the end I can’t read more than two. Am I greedy or what?

I love the comfy chairs near the cafe. I place a blazer on the headrest and once you settled in one of those couches, you literally need help getting up!  The blazer (I use a cheap one) helps you hold the seat, be it during restroom or coffee breaks.

After you are settled in the couch, one can read an entire goddamn book in the store and the staff won’t bug you once (unless you are sleeping, then they would wake you up. it happened only once to me!)And even if one were to buy some of the books that can’t be read in one sitting, the 14 days return policy helps. It’s almost like a library with a security deposit and no limit on number of books to be borrowed. I avoid credit cards and use cash for payment . That way nobody can track all the returns I have been making. The last time I bought a book at b&n was almost an year ago .That too because I spilled coffee on this small book and it was only fifteen bucks. So might as well buy it !

It’s not like I don’t want to buy their books. Most of them are not expensive, my gripe is that every time I buy, would never reread it !! And, for the books that you have to buy, use the member discount card. (I mean to say, give out the phone number of any friend, who already is a member!)

The stores do have some minor drawbacks, like homeless hijacking the restrooms, absence of free parking but there is one recurring nuisance at most stores in LA area. It’s some of the indians soliciting me to make me independent businessman. I would explain that I am already successful at my business but they wouldn’t listen. They want to dispel my “misconceptions” about their business model and hell bent on signing me up. A few times, I was forced to give my cell number and boy oh boy, do they ever take no for an answer?  In case, you haven’t already realized who they are , it’s the AMWAY people! 

Coming to think of parking fees, I would just buy venti latte at the store (cost is often less than that of parking)and get them validate parking. Also, you need the latte to stay awake in the  couches.
Though Lord Almighty has made B&N perfect, I have a strong feeling that it can certainly be made better. I thought of 4 ways

1) B&N must add a juke box. The  Frank Sinatra collection on their playlist is good but does get annoying sometimes. I would love to have some Coldplay,U2 or Radiohead songs played in those speakers. 2)Put a helper in the restrooms to hand out soap and towels, just like it’s done at fancy clubs. B&N should  put a tip jar and I am sure patrons would take care of him/her. 3) Expand the pastry/snack selections. 4)It’s a wonderful space to find attractive singles. So why not B&N host singles mixer , like at the time of release of Dan Brown books or Harry Potter books!? ( I would update this space as and when I get more ideas to better B&N) 

How does B&N survive?  It has been making net profit ~ $200 million per annum  but that’s not a lot of profit.B&N operates over 600 stores and also has a big catalogue business. So each B&N store makes around $300k, which is less than average bonus for a Goldman Sachs employee!  B&N is almost like a non-profit run by book aficionados !

No talk about B&N is complete without bashing the independent bookstores. My experience is that most of those are  vastly overrated. The staff at B&N are very eager to help finding books. This is something independent stores loath to do. Most of them are packed,pricey and don’t have a decent return policy. Not to mention the lack of decent couches, absence of a cafe, and no wi-fi access!

As a favor to the excellent staff at B&N, I make a point to put books back in the rack (all freeloaders should do the same). Also these days a common dilemma for book lovers  is the choice of Kindle and Nook. I am positive that I would get Nook. One reason is to reaffirm my love for B&N . Second reason being that one can read any e-book on Nook, while on the store’s Wi-Fi network!

I hope B&N survives this recession well. It has an amazing selection of books and  I am begging all my friends & family to keep shopping here! I think I am in love with B&N. This is where I have the unsleazy-fun . And may be I will propose soon 🙂

I am sure most people have interesting stories to say about B&N. Please, be my guest contributor, and email me asap! long live B&N !

1 Comment

Posted by on November 18, 2009 in Uncategorized