Personal Musings

This blog is intended to be just a jumble of thoughts that hit me and need not necessarily mean anything.

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Location: Kerala, India

Water flows ...

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The "private" matter

Do we, in India, have privacy? To be more explicit, is right to privacy a fundamental right?

What lawyers and judges will argue: Yes.

The reality: NO.

The Article 21 which is supposed to provide us privacy doesn't actually talk about privacy. An opinion piece by Chinmayi Arun on the The Hindu regarding the state of privacy is available here. Here is another article in legalservicesindia that talks about the history of privacy in India. What is clear is that we all believe that we have a right to privacy because the Supreme Court interpreted as such in a bunch of cases, and not because we actually have the right.

Suppose you gave permission for your child to go to a mall to watch a movie and "to also have food from the food court of the mall because he is anyways there". Your child understood the explicit permission granted by you to spend your money correctly. He goes to a movie and eats from the food court of that mall. Say, the next day he goes to buy a shirt from a shop in the mall. He grabs something to bite "because he is anyways there" in the mall. The question now is: did you allow the child to waste your money on a food by interpreting the exact words of your permission. Supreme Court said something, and the citizens interpreted that privacy is there. If Supreme Court says something else, will the right to privacy go? Or, has Supreme Court taken over the role of a benevolent dictator who grants their citizen some rights. We still live in a democracy, not a kritarchy(rule by judges).

The test of a fundamental right is not whether a person can fight for it and get it from a court. The test for it is whether the said right is possessed by him by default and only malicious intention can deny him that right. From this perspective, the right to privacy may be a sort of right we may deem to have. Any person who may want to deny that right can do so with impunity. The target of such a malicious person can't really do much about it, as they have to now prove that their liberty has been violated.

What is actually private and what is not private? Is 'not private' same as 'public'? Is not public same as 'private'? These are the questions that can't be answered because the right is written as a string of few words within some remote copy of a court order. Anyone asks me what is right to equality, we can just point to the articles 14 through 18 in the Constitution of India. But if you ask about privacy, there is no place to point out.

 With the advent of internet, things have become a bit more murky. The concept of identity online and identity in real world are entirely different. For identity in real world or an offline identity, there is a physical entity/person who maps directly with the identity. The physical person can be photographed, described, touched; basically, the physical senses can be used to ascertain the identity of the person. The online identity has no such mapping or means to validate. Online, the identity is just a handle. The knowledge/posession of a password or a login key is the only means to assert the identity of an online entity. Whoever knows the password of "OfficeOfRG", for example, is deemed to be the identity called "Rahul Gandhi". Whoever logs into a banking site using a username and the corresponding password is deemed to be the holder of the said bank account. Or, just because biometric identity stored against an Aadhar number matches with a person, it is assumed that the identity of a person is what the Aadhar database says it to be.

So, I could just go to the local centre to register myself as Indira Gandhi. The Aadhar database records my finger print and iris pattern, and puts my name as Indira Gandhi, a female. (And you guys know how easy it actually is. Remember, no one verified our identity when we went to get our Aadhar number.) I can now demand the GoI to give me one more LPG connection in the name of Indira Gandhi and gobble up all the subsidy. Worse, if I do any crime, I can say that its done by Indira Gandhi and not me because the finger print matches with Indira Gandhi. Sorry for using first person to explain this, but the concept is basically simple: Aadhar is an identity of what the UIDAI wants it to be. Aadhar is not the National Population Register which keeps track of the citizens of India.  

Therein lies the problem.


Fix?

Well, basically insert an article which could be titled as "Right to Privacy" somewhere preferably near article 21, perhaps even as 21A. Make a law termed "Right to privacy law" whereby all definitions on what is deemed to be private, both in the physical world and in the online world, could be clearly defined.
We would also need an amendment to the 'Aadhar Bill' that says that Aadhar information if used for any government scheme(whether it be for GoI or for a government of the state or union territory or local governing body), must be confirmed with the physical identity of the person as well.




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This is a personal blog of the author. All opinions expressed are personal.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Predation of researchers and their research potential



Before you continue, please read themotivation for writing this post: the article  written by Sambit Dash. As usual, nothing i say is against the author per se. Again, this is a topic i am not usually vocal about, but i thought i will share a few thoughts. I may be more wrong than right.
That's it for the disclaimer part.
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What is observed

It seems that there is now literature(Seethaathy,SG; Santhosh Kumar,JU;Hareesha,AS, 2016) to prove that Indians ace in publishing in predatory journals(a.k.a paid journals). We now have numbers as well. Over 51% of papers published in such journals of poor quality is by Indians. The short conclusion by the authors: publication pressure and lack of monitoring are the main culprits for this fall in quality. If numbers is all you want, there is one more older article(Gupta, BM; Dhawan,SM, 2008) that talks about publishing count and all. Here is a pdf presentation about status of science and technology research in India, presumably from 2013. This post is to break this myth that numbers matter much when it comes to quality.

Let me state up front that I am not going to bring data from publisher's sites. I am only going to use all information I have gathered from personal communication over the last 15 years with various people to present the ideas. So, sorry. No reference for data.

Whipping a tortoise won't make it run fast

In the good old days, researchers--the people who actually grind it out in the labs/field, collecting all the data with sheer hard work, and publishing it--never had to worry about where they published. Most people used to publish their research work according to their budget in places where they deemed fit according to their understanding. During those times, doing PhD under a good place under a a great guide/supervisor/mentor is all that mattered. This was also the time when teachers(lecturers, readers, professors) taught in class. Research scholars were self-motivated by default to do Ph D. There was no necessity to do research, and hence whatever research used to happen used to be of good quality. This was the era when the word of the guide was enough to award a Ph D degree, teaching professions didn't demand publication count, and people with M.Sc could work in pharma labs and still make a decent living.

Then, the Government of India(GoI), started having ideas. GoI suddenly thought that research in India is not that great. There were only a handful of universities that were having good research work. Naturally, someone wanted to know how good our researchers are doing.  Here enters the bureaucracy.

The easiest to way to say how good something is is by picking something quantitative and comparing based on that. So, the babus asked the question: how much research is happening in India. No one had any real clue about what is happening where. In fact, the way our universities worked was really simple: somehow get some money allocated, spend the money allocated, ask for more money. If you lived in any university environment in any part of India, chances are that you have absolutely no idea what work is happening in the rest of the university. If you knew some good work, it's because that work came in the news somewhere. In fact for some interdisciplinary research, it was not uncommon to have two scholars working in different departments publishing papers in the same field but not knowing about it till they bump into each other later outside the university. So, when people wanted to quantify, they just asked the question: how many papers have you published in international journals.

GoI suddenly gave people a magical formula: publish in an International journal and you get branded as good researchers. The more you publish, the better researcher you become. Probably, that wasn't enough of a motivation, but the babus fixed what to measure. This PIB Note(Reply to Rajya Sabha by Minister of Science and Technology, Shri S Jaipal Reddy) basically explains what they have been doing and what's wrong with the whole exercise.

Another enlightened mind thought that Indians are not publishing because they are not suitably motivated. So, they just made PhD mandatory for getting an professor post. You know the way things work in India. There were some loopholes left for some extremely important people without PhD to get a promotion because, as you guessed it, they have worked too much for the university and obviously we cant expect a veteran to register for a PhD degree now. Looking at the way things stood, they just made it mandatory for even Assistant Professor posts to be filled by only people with PhD. (I am consciously omitting the currently-doing-PhD-part for brevity).

Now, what does PhD and teaching posts have got to do with quality publications? If you thought that this question is weird, it's OK. You will be among the 99.9999% of the people who naturally map research publication with professors in some university lab(wearing a white coat surrounded by test tubes). No one, especially in India, knows that most people don't teach in some university after getting a PhD. Even rarer people have heard about companies where they do research. Yes, I am talking about commercial entities who actually recruit people to solve real problems given to them by industry. And, NO, most of their recruits are usually smart graduates or post-graduates or graduates with years of experience.Do they publish research papers? Yes. But companies are more interested in patents than in papers. Patents have commercial value, peer-reviewed technical articles/papers don't have (unless it's a market-research company which can sell white papers to make money.) Of course, the babus in the ministry didn't know that research happened in lots of places.

So, the accountants in the ministry rightly argued that to manufacture more papers, we need more factories. Obviously, as making new factories(aka universities) is tough, we will just stack more machinery(aka professors) in existing factories. Then it dawned on them that most machinery are just outdated and not making papers as they first thought. Obviously, replacing them with machinery that can mass produce papers will be anti-labour. So, it's enough to mandate that all new machinery will enter job after they produce a few papers, and they will get career progression only if they continue to produce papers. (My apologies, if I unknowingly hurt anyone by using the analogy of machines.)

Another event happened in the meantime. The sudden demand for Indian engineers in software industry flooded the education market. IT/ITeS industry was happy about recruiting any engineering graduate. When they still had shortage, they started recruiting any graduate. This naturally resulted in the huge demand for teaching faculty. Private colleges started to crop up every where. When a college crops up, it has to be staffed by qualified teachers. That means, the overall demand for qualified teachers started rising. Basically, the government realized that if all the staff in all the colleges were mandated to come up with papers if they had to get a job, obviously the number of publications will increase.

Their logic was undeniable. And, like the VIKI of Asimov's 'I, Robot', the babus started giving more and more focus to numbers.

Apples from Peach tree

The rules were changed to give researchers in universities more incentives to publish papers. OK, let me be a bit more frank and open here. All existing and aspiring teachers were given the ultimaum: get a PhD degree by publishing journal papers or you won't get a job or promotions. They might as well have said: publish or kill yourselves. Leaving the dramatizations aside, the babus started truly believing that a change of rule will change the results. The final table with numbers will magically change by this "smart" rule they introduced. (How I wish they were taught about "process for the sake of process" in their training years.)

To quote from the script of Kung Fu Panda(2008)
 Oogway[points at peach tree]: Look at this tree, Shifu. I cannot make it blossom when it suits me, nor make it bear fruit before its time. 
Shifu: But there are things we *can* control. [kicks the tree so that peaches fallShifu: I can control when the fruit will fall! [he slices a peach and throws the pit to the groundShifu: I can control where to plant the seed! That is no illusion, Master! Oogway: Ah, yes. But no matter what you do, that seed will grow to be a peach tree. You may wish for an apple or an orange, but you will get a peach. 
The Shifu in the decision-making bodies think that quantity and quality of publications will magically improve because they are in control. But the truth is: you can't get apple from a peach tree. The good publications aren't going to come because the new rules demand publications.

Predators, please eat us

Publication count became important. The babus wanted an accounting entry. So, naturally, people started asking ways to mark the check box in this new laundry list. So, people started asking: how do we publish research papers.

It so happens that to publish a research paper, you need to have data. And, making authentic data takes time. But, unfortunately, in the mad rush to complete the course, meet family commitments, check answer scripts, do office politics to get the next increment, and umpteen other issues, the only thing that a typical researcher doesn't have is time.

Obviously, can't these teachers call some students and get some experimental work done by the students.

No. The students that we have in our classes are practically good for nothing. We never teach them creative thinking or problem evaluation in our written exam focused education system. Unless, you are going to spend time monitoring them, they can't think themselves to do the research work. And, time is what the researcher doesn't have.

The people who genuinely wanted to do research and get publications suddenly encountered a practical difficulty. Necessity is the mother of inventions. Indians invented International Journals. Not exactly invented, but they figured out that the system can be gamed.

"Babus, you want numbers. We will give you numbers," screamed the forced researcher. The enterprising among them spread the word that they know a journal in which publication is easy. No one will reject their paper because of grammar, or of technical rigor.    

More than predatory journals coming to India, the Indian forced researcher tried to get "International" journal started to cater to their needs. The cash-strapped private universities were not far behind. They suddenly found a new income source. Of course, if the Cambridges and MITs can have their own press, why not a poor Indian university.

Straw and the Camel's back

The job of a teaching faculty is to teach student. On top of that, they do the administrative work that the organization will naturally expect from them. And, there is going to be the hundreds of audits that they have to answer to. Probably, they have to spend more time doing paper work than interacting with students. And they have to spend more time monitoring the paper work than they would have spend making those papers in the first place. And, of course, they have to come up with quality publication; nothing less than a SCI-indexed journal.

All this has to be done with no time, no money and absolutely no motivation other than the sharp animal instinct of survival.

The problem with quality research is that it takes a lot of money. To do an experiment, you need quality equipment. If someone tells that there are free tools available, all i can retort is: just because they don't charge fees, would you send your own child to a government school. On top of the resources, we need an environment conducive of research. And, then there is the requirement of free time and a quality support team.

Without these, no amount of rules is going to change anything.

If the higher powers think that they would accept only publications meeting certain metrics, our compelled researchers are smart enough to get a journal meeting those metrics but with relaxed entry criteria.

All that has happened so far is adding one straw at a time atop the camel.

Is there a cure?   

I am among those who strongly believe that no one has the right to complain unless they can also suggest one plausible solution.

Let me first start with the toughest one. We need desperate reforms in our school education. There is already a shift towards outcome based education. Now, we need to change our school system to allow students to learn one skill at a time and move one. Ideally, we should have a set of exams where individual skills are tested, like can student add any two numbers, can a student interpret a graph, can a student identify the correct spelling of words, does the student have a vocabulary of N number of words, etc. The new test system must have provisions to check creativity, problem solving skills, ethics. Most importantly, respect the bell curve. India is a large country. Not all students are going to be good in all the subjects/skills. Some are going to be way above average, some shall be below average. 100% pass is as good as 100% failure. If a student got 100/100 marks, the test is broken.

Stop gobble up and vomit type questions in examinations. None of us are going to know everything when we go to work. There are many things we learn as we work, there are many things that even a person with 30-35 years experience doesn't know. Not all students can memorize tonnes of literature, and most of them are doing well when the have grown up. Once we stop this type of question, we can evaluate students based on their ability to respond to situations.

Start having separate research and teaching posts. Those in research posts can concentrate on guiding project students, students doing MS by Research(we desperately need this degree in every university department). Let those in teaching post be only judged by their teaching, and not by their research.

Change the funding method. The acceptance ratios in good conferences and journals is pretty low. Researchers must be motivated to take risks if they have to perform high quality research work. I am seriously for cheap loans for research and publication-based funding. Basically, let the researcher submit a proposal. If it sounds good(only to eliminate the obviously fake research proposals), give them an  interest concession coupon they can show to a bank. Let the people take loan and do research. Depending on where the work is published, the whole or a part of the loan can be paid by GoI. More than a large grant, most real researchers want working capital, and an assurance that they will at least get back the money they spend. Even those working with government funding roll most of the project money. Money for first project usually comes only when second project is about to get over. The fear of some bill that might get rejected will most likely be ruining their sleep. Even a separate Non banking finance company for the sole purpose of granting research loans is going to be great. Alternatively, GoI could mandate all companies to put some money from their Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR) for underwriting such research. Trust me, many such loans will be defaulted. Researchers don't talk about the hundreds of times they failed. All they can write in their resume is the few times they succeeded.

Predation of researchers and their research potential

To conclude, let's not talk about the quantity or quality of research in India. The average researcher lacks basic resources, adequate funding and time, due to the way we have chosen to measure research. The predatory journals exist because our government policy had created a large market(an estimated Rs. 600 crore market according to some). The skewed policy has resulted in good research never happening. The large number of such papers getting published by mediocre researchers leads to a huge pressure on good researchers to publish in mediocre journals, which in turn promotes more people to publish in mediocre journals. "Publish or perish" is the norm in the world of research. Actually, not only are good researchers expected to publish but their work is also expected to get lots of citations. On top of such an international pressure, the normal researcher doesn't want the pressure of tonnes of junk publications by people forced to do research due to the GoI policy compulsions. Then there is the problem of huge skill deficit. We do not teach students to think because our question papers are meant to improve pass percentage, not testing creativity or problem solving skills. We publish less because our students are not taught to evaluate or create solutions. If we don't create the right kind of environment for research, predatory publications become the last resort to make ends meet. In War and Peace, it's said that the best general just allows the good captains to make the right decisions while making them believe that it was on order passed from above. The publish-or-perish culture is enough of a motivation for those on the top. For those who are not that good in research, it's better to use peer pressure to make them publish than to compel them to publish.


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The author is currently working as an Associate Professor in a reputed college. All opinions expressed are personal and in relation to the article published by Sambit Dash. None of the content expressed reflects the opinions of the author's current or previous employers.

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Ajay relived that dark night again.


Ajay relived that dark night again.



The night was cold. The turbulent winds behind the shack that called itself as a tea stall was even worse.

Fingers ran through the pack of cigarettes, plucked out one and transported it to the quivering lips. The other hand unconsciously traveled to the left side pant pocket, retrieved a match box. The fingers damp with perspiration still managed to take out a match stick, strike and light the cigarette in a single sweeping motion.

Cough! Cough!

Fingers could still travel like it used to do three decades ago, but the lungs doesn't take it like the past. The next puff filled the first urge that had filled his mind.

"Sir, aap ka chai!", the shop-keeper yelled.

Alternating between sips of hot tea and the cigarette that had re-entered his hands, he lived through the events again.
If only, he had just stuck with his plan to just have that one peg of whiskey. But, no! He had to go for that whole bottle. He had to talk about Neha. He had to brag.

The cigarrete burned his finger and he dropped it. Reality hit again. He quickly paid and rushed back to his car.

All he had to do was to say, "Sorry yaar, didn't know she was your wife."

No.

At least, he could have stopped when he shouted, "Ajay! don't kill me!"

The spot in the railway track was still there. Ajay had to do it once more.


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The title is the six word story.
This story limited to 250 words.

Usual disclaimers apply. No, this story has nothing to do with any murder or smoking.
If you are not mature enough to know that smoking is injurious to health, watch this

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

I love my FoS with two squares of restrictions


Freedom of Speech(FoS) is the new drink in the market. It's so potent that ideology seems to not come in it's way. In short, this is all about everyone wanting this drink. But all the folks are debating about how to have this intoxicant.

First a bit about the features about this FoS. It seems, US of America is pretty famous for it. Everyone typically talks a lot about how they even provide the special Flag charred variant of this.  But, no one wants to talk about the hooters there. And that precisely is the difference between US and us. So,let us not talk about them.

Now, coming to the way we Indians prefer our brew. In the good old days(and in some remote villages even now), folks used to compulsorily carry a towel along with them, especially the younger folks hiding from elders(or sometimes, some elders trying to hide from other people). This towel is a very sacred piece of conviction. A conviction that covering a few inches will safely hide the face. (Most of you would have heard only about cats stealing milk by closing their eyes so that no one else knows about it!!) This towelization of FoS is only a natural way for us to have a drink.

Please don't ask: why towel? It's a genuinely tough question. It's tough to explain especially to those who have never had to use the towel. It's like the purdah in that famous song in Amar Akbar Antony. Don't ask why Akbar's(played by Rishi Kapoor) girlfriend had to wear that veil. But the beauty of the Qawwali is in having the veil hiding the face of the lover. These songs typically deal with three things(actually just one hing: love)--love for booze, love for girl and love for God. I'm telling you: all these three loves are pretty dangerous. Interestingly, all three use towels. But, I guess I already digressed a lot. Frankly speaking, I don't mind if you do a bit of hiding behind a towel if the FoS brand is a bit extra feisty. We use towel because that's how we manage to give the freedom to drink without compromising on the tougher task of owning the consequence as well.

There is another thing with FoS. It typically has a...how do you say it...a certain regional twist to it. It's something like bad handia(a local, horribly pungent brew). The other day, i saw a couple of drunkards fighting in the middle of the road. To make matters worse, they were standing in either side. The one on left was not allowing the one of right to move and vice versa. All of us were practically praying that the stop the fight or sober up soon, so that we can move. The worst part of all this: they were actually arguing whose brew is more potent!! I mean, here we have two drunkards. Both are blocking the road. Both smell like shit. No one really cares much about the place from which either have come. But they will block our road. I thought I would myself have joined one of the sides or decide to break up and form my own side if they don't stop. I tell you: no matter where the brew comes, there will be some drunkard who is always going to claim that they make it best in their village or village shop.

The problem with a large country like ours is that we have just too many brews, some even changing from one road to the next. So, especially in an Indian context, it's actually safer to sell the FoS in a dark bottle. I think a dark bottle, or a bottle marked with "Made in India" instead of the place name is the safest bet. I mean, no one is going to throw cudgels if they think it is for the good of the nation, right!

So, that sort of says why i like my FoS with the two restrictions--something to protect me from bloodthirsty fiends and brainless local hooligans.

(Please do read Jay Panda's TOI blog: Hypocrisy on free speech for more about FoS)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Some tips on Income tax

Some tips on Income tax
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(Disclaimer: these are only observations. Please consult a certified financial planner for professional advice.)
(This was posted by me on whatsapp as an instantaneous reaction to someone talking about ULIP to save taxes)

One of the common mistakes many of us (ppl in 10% and 20%) brackets do is to rush and invest over a few "tax saving" instruments without much thought. I am just listing a few things you should seriously consider.

Please note the two most important advices i have received:

Paying tax is better than wasting money on a bad financial instrument.
(For 10% bracket, you pay atmost 25000 rs. For 20% brakect, that is atmost 75k rs)

You should not put money anywhere unless you know all risks(even bank FD has risk), and you have a need for putting money there.

Real option for ppl like us:
1. Best option: get a home loan.
Principal part of home loan comes under section (u/s) 80. Upto 1.5 lakhs limit as of now.
Interest comes u/s 24. For home loans that we can afford, all interest is deductible.

You must get bank certificate in which they will clearly say the principal and loan part.

A decent home loan should cover most of your tax related needs.

Do not forget to insure the loan. The banks will add a small premium, but its worth spending.
(Personal exp: my home loan was in name of me and my father. When my father passed away, i could have got insurance co to pay rest of 6 lakh premium if i had insured by paying 300rs more a year)

2.
LIC term loans:
These are low ticket. If you dont have it, you must get this.
While picking a term plan:
Sum Assured should be at least 30-50 lakhs based on your needs.
Eg: if total monthly family expenditure is 32,000, SA should be atleast for
50 lakhs.
(For a 40 yr old, taking 25 yr term for 50L, premium is about 3500 rs)
 i name only LIC bcoz they are the biggest term insurer. In insurance business, the best one has most customers.

3.
Health Insurance:
A must.
Atleast get the health insurance from Vijaya Bank.
This is one investment where you can put money on one or more insurer.
For the second insurer, go for a health insurance player like Max Bupa, etc. All the good ones are private. Ask your nearby hospital about the insurers that provide cashless facility there. Then only buy. Always prefer family floater(only bachelors need to fall back on individual plan)
IMPORTANT: there is something called "top-up" plan in health insurance. The way this works: we pay money for all expenses beyond a limit, send the bill to insurer and get money refunded.
Ex:
If you have a base plan of 3L and you then go for a topup of 5L with a base of 2L; and god forbid something happened to you requiring a 6L surgery; your base plan can initially cover the 1st 3L. The remaining 3L has to be paid by you to hospital. The bill of this amount should be sent for processing claim in the topup plan. Money will be refunded by them. You can actually show the 6L bill, and ask for topup ppl to pay you 4L rs. You can then give 1L back to base plan.
Point to note: topup plan pays only those bills that cross the base limit.

And, due to this condition(only pay if a base is crossed and no cashless facility), they are going to be much cheaper.

4. PPF
If you dont have, please get one. This is the extra pension that you are saving up. Make sure you put at least 1000 rs in this.

Optionals based on need:
Rest of money should be put based on your age.
I am just listing some of the ones that make sense for ppl earning less than 10L.

Please note: asset allocation is crucial.
(Even though it wont save tax, do your usual gold purchase, bank FDs, etc)

(Important point: when i say risk, it only means that the earnings may not be best. You are going to lose money only when you do emergency sale. In emergency, there will be slight loss in everything.)


A) 5yr Bank FD: prefer putting this in 50,000 or 1L.
Lock in period is 5 yrs. If there is an emergency, you might end up breaking this.
Ideally, start a basic 5yr FD every year.
Risk: interest rate risk.

B) NSS, KVP etc.
Interest rate risk. Policy risk. Put money only if family compulsion is there.

Dont put money in the rest if you dont have atleast 1L in bank FDs(regular and 5yr ones)

C)
ULIP: generally discouraged by people.
Use this with full money on equity. If you are joining, go for atleast 20yrs.
Market risk.
Important: do not put debt component in ULIP if you already have liquid cash of 3L(spread in banks, including short FDs, gold)

D) ELSS:
General rule of thumb:
You can put upto 100-Age% of your free money on equity.
Ex: for a 35 yo, upto 65% of investment can be in equity.
Illustration
If you are 25 yo and earn 40k per month, and you spend 20,000 for household expenditure, 10,000 for personal spend+emergency kitty; you only have 10,000 to play with. At 25yrs, you can put upto 100-25=75% of this 10,000, ie, upto 7500 in equity. If you have a ULIP of 1000 per month, NPS with equity of 3k per year(equiv of 250/month), you can only put upto about 6000 on equity. For this person, i wont recommend anything more than 5k per month as SIP.

ELSS must be invested only as SIP. You may topup when you get unexpected money.

Important point with ELSS or any equity: benefits accrue only on very long term. You are holding for 15-20years or even upto your death.
ELSS makes money bcoz money is invested in top 500 cos in market. On an average, they will aim to make at least 10% operating margin over long term(10 yr time horizon). No matter how market reacts, these companies have to maintain a steady course bcoz owners get to eat kanji only if co make profit. Over any 15 yr period, equity will give returns of 10%.
Someone who started putting money from 1999 in ELSS would have made 17-24% over the 17 yr period(ELSS started in 99)

There are lots more. Its better to pay tax than invest on them(i would not have said KVP and NSS as well if i hadnt seen an attachment for it among baniyas)

For realistic advice on tax investments, read Monika Halan, editor of money section livemint.

http://www.livemint.com/money

Its wiser to lose a few thousand on tax than a few lakhs later on.

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Thursday, May 07, 2015

Reflection on the fall of Dinasaurs

Once upon a time, the dinosaurs ruled the world. It might even be said the dinosaurs were the world. I am not discounting the insects and other basic mammalians that might have been alive during that time. But, all the major life forces were dinosaurs. Some were leaf-eaters, some others fruit-eaters, some stuck to meat, while some others gobbled up everything. But, what happened to them? Now, all we are left with are a few lizards and crocodilians.

Celestial cause


Some people consider that the larger earthlings perished due to act of God. It is believed that a huge meteorite crashed onto Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs. May good Lord be praised for not killing the small mammals! This is a bit confusing: if a meteorite killed a big dinosaur, then why didn't it kill the small mammals as well? Now, this is not the real interesting question. In the land of big lizards, there were smaller ones too. We see snakes, crocodiles and other "old" dinosaurs even today. So, why didn't the meteorite kill the small dinosaurs as well?

It's commonly argued that the mammals survived because of their small size. They were able to hide in small, safer crevices; and that's why they survived. This line of argument looks like the biggest fallacy out there.

A meteorite impact is actually a very local affair. Of course, there are those who argue that a meteor impact does more damage than meets the eye. A large enough meteorite impact might result in large shock waves, leading to massive "earthquake". These shock waves may trigger volcanoes, earthquakes elsewhere. A meteorite falling on an ocean might result in massive tsunami. The meteorite on impact night spew out molten rocks leading to extra damage. Then there is the ash cloud that can block sunlight. There is the heat generated during impact itself.... The list can go on, but so what! There is still one problem with this line on destruction.

If there is a real wipe out, say by the large amount of molten rock falling back to Earth, they are going to fall back in the nearby region. The rock can't fall back on the other side of Earth. The immense heat generated will not only burn the large organisms but also the smaller ones. Whether a large animal or a small animal is subjected to high temperature, both are going to get fried. Heat is not biased against reptiles or plants or insects(don't forget about these older living things) or mammals. Maybe a hornet may get fried at a 47 degrees and a honey bee at 60 degrees; but if a molten rock is going to fall on them, both are going to die.

Let us assume for an instant that the mammals saved their skin because they went underground. A tunnel is not really a safe place during an earthquake. The walls of the tunnel are bound to collapse if the shock wave is large. Then there is the problem of the overheated air above. Hot air will rise and nearby air will take its place. Most of the tunnels build have a natural way of circulating air, otherwise there will be CO2 built-up. If tunnels were built with holes, hot air will enter the safe places where the animal was sitting. Also, how long are these small animals going to survive without eating any food. Food is one thing, what about water. When the temperature rises, these animals who aren't evolved to live under such circumstances are going to dehydrate. At high temperature, water is going to evaporate. Those who live in hot climates know that animals cant hydrate by drinking hot water.Eventually their body temperature will rise and they will get boiled.

In short, looking at the skies is never going to convince anyone on why the dinosaurs perished.


(to be continued)

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Saturday, January 03, 2015

dharma: My understanding(partial)

Having read a lot about dharma, specifically in the context of terming it as religion of Hindu, i am just presenting what i know about this notion. (As a standard disclaimer, i am not learned. Hence my description may have flaws. All mistakes are mine, whatever truth gets uttered are due to my teachers.) Let me first start saying what is not. Then i will try to say what it is.

dharma is not a religion. Merriam-websters defines religion as: the belief in a god or in a group of gods; or an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods; or a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith. dharma is neither of these. dharma doesn't require a belief in any god. Different people may follow different ceremonies; they might have different beliefs related to god(from atheist to monotheist to polytheist); but they do have dharma. there are no rules on how to worship in dharma. dharma is not restricted by a cause, nor by a principle; nor by a belief system. As nothing in the definition characterizes religion, dharma is not religion. Let me try to explain this better.

Water, whether it is taken from well, river, pond, lake or ocean; is just water, or plain old H2O. No matter what you do to it, the molecule of water has exactly two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. The moment it ceases to have these, it ceases to exist as water. So is water from the well sweet, or from the ocean salty? based on the place from which water is taken, will it's taste change? If one accepts that water is the molecule and nothing but the molecule containing the three atoms, it obviously can't have different tastes just because we collected from different places. However, we can sense different taste for different water. Tap water doesn't taste the same as bottled water. To know that it is water, do we need to assign a taste to it? Can one water be more 'water' than another water? I think it is clear from this argument that one cannot distinguish water from multiple sources. Similarly, dharma is not restricted by either belief or non-belief of god.

Water may be flowing down a stream. It might be getting accumulated in a lake; and discharging from the lake through a river into a sea. It might be getting evaporated, getting stored in clouds, and drenching earth in the form of rain. When one looks at a stream or a river, one can perceive the banks that water rarely crosses. One might be able to hear the rhythm of water flowing. One might be able to see the color of the flowing water. Just because we are perceiving through the multiple senses, water doesn't cease to be water. Just because water came down one side of mountain instead of another, it doesn't cease to be water. Just because a person follows a set of ceremonies instead of another, he doesn't stop to follow dharma.

Having seen that dharma cant be restricted by a notion of god or by a notion of customs, ceremonies, etc. let me try to analyze whether dharma has a predefined system. To take the analogy of water again, let us try to look at how water is made. Without going into much of chemistry, we know that water is the result of many reactions. Having made water, will it really matter how the specific molecule of water was made? Similarly, once someone is following dharma, does it really matter how he managed to follow dharma!

Having denied that dharma is a religion, let me next show why dharma is not a definition of a hypothetical ideal person. One of the things that people try to do is to define dharma as an embodiment of a person. You may want to call hero-worship. You may want to call this as reliving the way greats have lived. People-based religion want to emulate the life of their favorite "saint". If dharma is really about conforming to a mold, then there are so many people who claim to be followers of dharma. Why aren't we having replicas of the initial saint? Why are people waiting for the next Moses, the next Jesus, the next Nabi?  If rAma is the ideal man, why are we not molding ourselves into a rAma? Why are we not trying to get one more Adi shankara? The question can also be rephrased as: why did only one type of monkey evolve to be a human while others didn't? Here in lies the difficulty of providing a template to dharma.

dharma, ultimately, is about the individual. I am not denying that it can never be with respect to a collective. The understanding of what constitutes as dharma also evolves with the individual. It is really about understanding what are the choices that a person can make, cannot make, ought to make, ought not make. These are not rules of engagement. These are basically a bunch of frameworks. The choice I was referring is the choice of the framework at the current point of time.

We, as human beings, make a lot of choices. Some of them are very small ones. for example: should i type with one finger or many fingers? Some are "big" choices: do i quit this job? Is there religion behind these choices? Some might want to dogmatically say yes; but we all know that none of these choices have any significance in isolation. How we make these choices depend on dharma.


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