Thursday, September 7, 2017

Equifax data breach

(Updated as I discover more information.)

Just read about this hack -- 143 million Americans just had their personal financial information stolen from Equifax.

Aside from a damage control message, they have offered to sign everyone up for free for their credit monitoring service called TrustedID.  What they don't tell us upfront, in a typical sneaky pretending-to-care-but-really-don't fashion, is that they are offering it only for one year.  This means after the first year we are on our own.  In fact, it's a great sales strategy, because they would expect people to continue to enroll in this service after the first free year, paying out of pocket and helping increase their revenues.

Per the terms of service, if one does accept the free offer, one would waive one's right to participate in any class action lawsuits against them.  Not that those are worth anything for the consumer.

What they should have offered

At the very least, Equifax should instead have offered everyone a choice of free service from their own and competitors' offerings since, at this point, why would anyone want to trust Equifax to do credit monitoring on their behalf?  And it should have been offered for a minimum of 5 years since the data can be misused pretty much forever.

Ethics

Three of their company executives dumped a bunch of stock before the data breach was revealed to the public.

Was your data compromised?

The official link provided by Equifax to check if your data was impacted is here.  Unfortunately, there is no way to tell if the above link is even reporting accurate results.

Freezing credit files

Many folks recommend calling the credit bureaus and freezing your credit files.  Freezing must be done at all of the agencies.  So far, I'm aware of the following:
Most folks are only aware of the big 3 in this space -- Equifax, Experian, Transunion -- but freezing only those would provide only partial protection.

Credit is not the only problem

As noted in this article:
What’s more likely is that stolen information will be used to take over existing accounts, such as banking, brokerage, phone service, and retirement accounts.
And even more as described in this article:
If the stolen information from Equifax gets into the wrong hands, experts say data thieves can open bank accounts, lines of credit, new credit cards and even drivers' licenses in your name. They can saddle you with speeding tickets, steal your tax refund, swipe your Social Security check and prevent you from getting prescription drugs.
What else can be done?

Sign up for a credit monitoring service.

Buy identity theft insurance, preferably from a regular insurance company--the same one that sells your renters or homeowners policy.  Some policies will cover financial losses (it is moot as to whether this is needed because assets are typically restored once it is established that fraud was involved) and pay for someone to fix the issue when it happens.

Simplify your financial life and check all of your accounts often -- bank accounts, credit cards, brokerage accounts. That way, if an account is hacked, one may be able to detect the issue sooner rather than later.

Equifax's free offering

Personally, I will not be signing up for any services offered by Equifax.  Based on the way they have handled the data breach, I don't think they can be trusted.  As this article notes:
Equifax already waited six weeks to tell the world about the hack -- that gave hackers a six-week jump on all of us, Nunnikhoven noted.
The lack of urgency is a clear indication that the management at Equifax is completely clueless about the severity of the problem that they have created for the public.  The information that was stolen can be misused for years to come.

But, worse, they had 2 whole months to fix the vulnerability that was exploited in this attack and did nothing about it as noted in this article:
Equifax told USA TODAY late Wednesday that the criminals who potentially gained access to the personal data of up to 143 million Americans had exploited a website application vulnerability known as Apache Struts CVE-2017-5638.

The vulnerability was patched on 7 March 2017, the same day it was announced, the foundation said. Modifications were made on March 10, according to the National Vulnerability Database.

Equifax said that the unauthorized access began in mid-May. That's a period of two months in which the company could have, and should have, say experts, dealt with the problem.
The long term fix

Longer term, the US needs to come up with a better way for authentication than using social security numbers, as noted in this article:
The Republic of Estonia uses such a system to identify members of its e-Residency program, even with no physical presence. Each e-resident has a public numerical key that serves as a unique identifier, and a corresponding private key that is never revealed. During the authentication process, the private key is used to generate an irreversible digital signature. The signature is shared and verified by the public key without ever exposing the private key.
Additional reading/resources

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The stock market and paper wealth

This post explains what I have learnt about the stock market and the creation and destruction of paper wealth.

Let's a company issues 1000 shares at $10 at its initial public offering.  This means $10,000 of new money enters the market from the sideline.  Thereafter people bid on those 1000 shares.  So let's say someone (Person A) wants to buy 10 of those shares and is willing to pay $12.  They would put in a bid for that price, and if a seller emerges (Person B), they exchange 12x10 = $120 dollars and the buyer of the stock (Person A) now becomes the owner of those 10 shares.  In this process, everyone holding a share of this company now thinks that their shares are also worth $12.  So the collective total of all 1000 shares of the company is now considered to be $12000, even though there was only one transaction of 10 shares at that price.  So if some other person (Person C) that was holding 100 shares of the stock that they bought at the IPO price of $10 (worth a total of $1000), they see their wealth has now increased by $200 because those 100 shares are now worth $1200 even though they didn't buy or sell anything themselves.  Paper wealth destruction happens in a similar fashion.  If everyone tried to sell at the same time and there were no buyers, the value of the stock would drop to nothing (this is what happens in the case of companies that declare bankruptcy).

So many news articles talk about money on the sidelines.  This is very misleading.  Every time someone sells a stock and takes money out of the market, there is someone else that is putting an equivalent amount of money into the market.  The only time money enters the market is during IPOs and secondary IPOs (issuance of additional stock).  The only time money leaves the market is when a company has its shares bought out for cash and discontinues trading.

New money enters the economy through other methods that I do not yet fully understand such as monetary policy, fractional reserve banking, and changes to the money supply.  These methods affect the amount of money that is available to chase assets such as stocks, bonds, and real-estate.

The number of publicly traded companies

The number of publicly traded companies has been steadily going down as reported by Fortune:
37% decline in the number of U.S.-listed companies since its 1997 high. With more companies opting for private fundraising over the hassle of public markets (looking at you, Uber), the number of public companies has fallen to 5,734, about on par with the early ’80s.
This may be a potential contributor to the current overvaluation of stocks because more and more money is chasing fewer stocks.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Glad trash bags

I've been buying these bags for a few years and didn't have any problems. With more recent purchases I found that they leak. I incorrectly assumed it was because I was somehow putting in items with sharp edges. So I started discarding items with sharp edges separately and found that didn't help. I then started double-bagging and found that it helped quite a bit. Yet there were times when even despite double bagging and avoiding sharp edge objects, there were still issues with leaks (minor leaks enough to mess up the trash can and also spill a few drops while transporting the bag to the outdoor trash bin). Finally, I also experienced snapping pulls sometimes resulting in a spill. When I contacted Glad, they offered to send coupons. I refused them. Why would I want to get another set of such bags? It is sad to see how Glad has completely engineered the quality out of these products resulting in significant inconvenience to customers--imagine stuff dripping all over the carpet when you pull it out of the trash can and having to clean up that mess and then having to clean the trash can to avoid getting mold.

Now for some humor--I can imagine a conversation like the following going on at Glad headquarters.

Person 1: We can't raise prices, so let's get creative about how to increase sales.
Person 2: I have an idea. Let's make the bags thinner.
Person 1: What if the bags puncture?
Person 2: That's the whole point! People will start double-bagging and we will have instantly doubled our sales.
Person 1: What if they complain?
Person 2: Most people are too disconnected to complain. For the minority that do, we'll offer coupons for free product. In fact, we'd be known for our excellent post sales customer service.
Person 1: That's brilliant. I love the idea. Why didn't I think of that?
Person 2: You need to get an MBA.  I was taught to think outside the box in business school!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Apple Macbook Pro: 3 failures in < 4 months of ownership

I got a 2016 Macbook Pro non-Touch Bar back in January of 2016.  I have now had 3 failures in less than 4 months of ownership.
  • RAM failure which caused the machine to constantly shutdown.  System board replaced.
  • 'x' key stopped working.  Key fixed.
  • Scrolling intermittently stops working on the touchpad.  Currently in for repair.
Each repair results in about 5 days of lost service--make an appointment at the store, take it in, have it shipped for repair, and have it shipped back--not to mention the inconvenience of needing to perform a backup, and erasing sensitive data before taking the machine in.

The cost of each repair without warranty would be a whopping $475.  Fortunately the machine is still under warranty.

And I really don't like having to give out my machine's password which can be viewed in the clear by Apple employees.  They need to figure out a better way to service machines that does not involve the user giving out their password.

Update:

After I got the machine back following the 3rd repair, the machine would make a "popping" sound when opening and closing the lid.  I took it back to the Apple store and this time I asked for a replacement.  They ended up giving me an upgraded machine in exchange--a max'ed out 13" Touch Bar Macbook Pro.  I've had some graphic glitches with the machine when waking it up, but after a couple of software updates, it seems to be working OK.

Update 2:

I discovered a cosmetic defect on the Touch Bar model and so I ended up returning that and ordering a 2017 non-Touch Bar model.  That has worked out OK so far.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Life at Bishop's boarding school

I decided to write about my experience attending boarding school at The Bishop's School in Pune, India from 1978 to 1986.  I have a bunch of memories bubbling up -- everything from the dormitories, the food, the schedule, activities, etc. and I thought I'd just put them down in writing.  With the passage of time, the school is a very different place today.

During most of my life, I didn't quite view my life in boarding school the same way that I do now.  I always acted like it was a great place to be, but in reality it wasn't.

I'll be writing these in pieces and this is a tentative organization and I might change it moving forward.
  • Introduction
  • Schedule
  • Dormitories
  • Uniform
  • Food
  • Pocket money
  • Classes
  • Activities
  • Discipline and punishments
I expect this to be a very long post and will be updating slowly over time.

Introduction

The school was founded in 1864.  At the time I attended the school, there were roughly 1500 students of which 250 were boarders.  The school went from kindergarten (KG) all the way to 10th standard (which would be the equivalent of the sophomore year of high school in the US).  There were boarder students for all classes/grades from KG to 10th, ages ranged from 4 to 17.  Some students didn't have accurate birth data at the time of joining, so sometimes we'd have students listed as being a lot older than they actually were.

Boarder students came from all over the place -- many were from abroad (good representation of Middle East but also Africa, usually countries without a good schooling system), rural India (again villages often lacked schools that offered instruction in English), and other places in India (I'm not sure why folks chose boarding school in this case, but my guess there were probably some constraints that kept them from having the children with them).

Both teachers and students were addressed by last name.  It actually took me a few years to get used to calling some of my friends from school by their first name after we were done with school!

The campus was fairly large and distributed over a few acres.  There were two offshoots--Framgee dormitory which was about 5-10 min walk away, and Jeejeebhoy dormitory which was across the street from the main campus.  There was a stone wall, probably 6' or so in height, around the perimeter of the school with multiple gates.  The main gate opened to an area where the office building was located, out of which the principal and other administrative staff worked.  Next to that was the Harding Hall (and extension to which house 2 of the classrooms for class 9), a building where the morning assembly and other events such as plays were held.  Other buildings included: principal's bungalow with the adjacent garden, the dining hall, Cambridge dormitory building (which housed the chemistry lab and the Tuck Shop),  the library building (which also had classrooms for class 10),  Jubilee dormitory building (which also housed the infirmary), a separate second infirmary building, Nook dormitory, the primary school building (which housed the New Dorm and all classes for KG through class 4), Lunn Building (which housed Lunn dormitory and all classes 5, 6, 7, 8), the Stationery Shop building (which housed the 3rd classroom for class 9), the New New dormitory building, the servant quarters, the kitchen, the staff common room, and some staff quarters next to dining hall and the Stationery Shop building.  Many of the buildings were old, built in British style architecture.

There was no air-conditioning, heating, or fans, in any of the buildings.  This was not atypical Pune had a relatively mild weather, but summers could be a little hot (high 30's deg celcius) and winters were sometimes quite chilly (single digit degrees celcius), so there was some mild discomfort especially in the winter months.

The campus was located on hilly terrain and this made for some pretty interesting architecture because the buildings were build on non-level ground.  So you have steps to get into the front entrance but the rear entrance would just open up to flat ground (e.g. the dining hall).  Or the front entrance would get you one level of the building and the rear of the building would have a another level below (e.g Lunn Building).

Schedule

The boarding school ran on a pretty tight schedule as follows.  Why do I remember this?  Because I had good handwriting, I was often asked to write up the schedule blackboard which was located outside the library.  There might be a few errors from memory.

Weekdays

6:10 - Rising Bell
6:40 - Morning Tea
7:00 - 8:00 - Study Period for all
8:00 - ~8:20 - Breakfast
8:40 - Assembly
9:15 - 11:00 - Morning classes (3 periods of 35 min)
11:00 - 11:15 - Morning break
11:15 - 1:00 - Mid morning classes (3 periods of 35 min)
1:00 - 1:45 - Lunch break
1:45 - 3:30 - Afternoon classes (3 periods of 35 min)
3:40 - Afternoon Tea
4:00 - Games Parade, loosely followed by shower/personal time
6:30 - 7:30 - Study Period for all
7:30 - ~8:00 - Supper
8:00 - 9:00 - Night Study Period for senior students (classes 8-10)
9:00 - Lights out
10:00 - All lights out

Saturdays

7:00 - Rising Bell
8:00 - Breakfast
8:30 - 9:30 Study Period
10:00 - Games & Town Leave Parade
12:00 - Town Leave Return
1:00 - Lunch
1:30 - 4:00 Rest time in Dormitory
4:00 - Afternoon Tea
5:00 - 7:00 - Town Leave
7:30 - Supper
9:00 - Lights out
10:00 - All lights out

Sundays

6:30 - Rising Bell
7:00 - Tea, followed by visiting place of worship
8:00 - Breakfast
8:30 - 9:30 Study Period
10:00 - Games & Town Leave Parade
12:00 - Town Leave Return
1:00 - Lunch
1:30 - 4:00 Rest time in Dormitory
4:00 - Afternoon Tea
7:30 - Supper
9:00 - Lights out
10:00 - All lights out

I'm fuzzy on the Sunday schedule.

Dormitories

The dormitories were bare.  They were large rooms filled with rows of beds, maybe a couple of feet between beds.

Beds

The bed frames were metal with a flat metal mesh forming the base.   The mattresses were either coir (> 90% of them) or cotton (typically < 10% and very coveted, because the coir ones were prone to bed bugs).  The students were required to bring their own pillow and blanket.  All beds were required to be covered with a bed cover that was in the school color -- maroon with a ~3 inch gold yellow border at each of the short ends.  The beds were about the size of a twin bed, probably a bit narrower.

We'd usually sleep with our keys under the pillow, or for added security with the keys inside the pillowcase, or sometimes tied to a string around our neck (not sure that it really helped that much, for when someone was motivated to steal, they somehow were able to find a way to get those keys).

Lockers

The lockers were made of wood.  In the lower dormitories, the lockers were stacked and each locker only had 2 shelves.  In the upper dormitories, the lockers were standalone and had 3 shelves.  Lockers were secured using a padlock.  "Tiger" was one of the common brands for the padlock.  These locks were very insecure and could easily be opened with a pin with some skill.  For those that lacked skill, these locks came with a number stamped on them, and many locks had the same number.  Locks with the same number shared identical keys.  It was not uncommon to find students walking around with a bunch of keys that could open any "Tiger" lock.  I used to bring my own locks which were more secure, but I'd usually lose my keys some time during the semester and I'd end up having to get the lock cut open (we didn't have skilled locksmiths capable of making complex keys), and then I'd end up having to use a "Tiger" lock which was the only brand sold by the school stores.

At the beginning of the school term everyone would bring their belongings typically in a large metal trunk.  Everything would be unloaded and placed in the locker.  The trunk would be stowed away for the rest of the school term either under the bed or on top of the locker.  At the end of the school term, we'd repeat the process in reverse and head home.

Bathrooms

Most dorms has stall baths with stone floors partial doors.  We took our showers in our underwear.  Getting completely naked in a public bath (even same sex) is not at all common in India.

We'd take bucket baths where we went to a central area to fill a bucket with hot water and then the stalls would typically just have cold water.

There were long sinks with multiple faucets for brushing teeth and washing small items.

Toilets were either western style or Indian style, but the Indian style ones were more prevelent.  There was no toilet paper.  We washed up with water using a mug.

Bathrooms were not equipped with soap, so we just washed our hands with water after being done.

Laundry

We'd wash our own underwear and socks.  We typically use bar soap for this and we'd wash it at the same sinks where we brushed our teeth.  This was typically done either around bath time or at night before going to bed.  We'd dry these by hanging them on the edges of our bed frames.

Everybody had a maroon colored dhobi (linen, laundry) bag hanging on one of the hooks of their lockers.  We'd change our sheets and towels once a week and the soiled linen would be placed in this bag.  All items had to be marked with the initials and roll number of the student (all border students had a roll number, mine was 49).  The bag would be picked up once a week and at the same time laundry of the previous week would be dropped off (washed and ironed).  It was not uncommon to have clothes lost or damaged or misdelivered.  Misdeliveries were easily fixed if the clothes were properly marked.  Damaged clothes were fixed by the dormitory matron (e.g. a broken hook or button).

Uniform

We were in uniform all day all except for when we were in bed. Uniforms were typically bought at Imperial Hosiery or Bombay Swadeshi, two local stores on Main Street (now Mahatma Gandhi Road) in Pune.

Daytime uniform was worn on weekdays from 6 am to lunch time or the end of the school day.  This was a white shirt (short or long sleeve, but short sleeve was more common), white pants (shorts up to 8th standards, long pants optional in 7th standard but required in 8th, 9th and 10th standard), tie that was maroon with double gold stripes, a cloth belt with 3 horizontal stripes (maroon-gold-maroon) and a metal buckle with the school emblem, maroon or white socks, and black shoes.  On days when we had a P.T. period, students were required to wear white canvas shoes.  Daytime uniform was also required to be worn when on town leave.

Games uniform was worn starting after lunch or after school through the games period on weekdays until showering in the evening, and all day on weekends until the showering in the evening.  This consisted of a polo shirt with a cord instead of buttons in the color of one's house, white shorts, white or maroon socks, and white canvas shoes or shoes appropriate to the sport they would be playing (e.g. football/soccer shoes).  In later years some students wore fancier sneakers; the fancier shoes were not OK as a substitute for the white canvas shoes required for the daytime uniform.  There were 4 houses -- Arnold (green), Mansfield (red), Bishop (yellow), and Harding (Blue).  I was in Arnold house.

Evening uniform, sometimes called "Blues and Grays" was worn on weekdays and weekends after a shower.  This consisted of a light blue shirt, gray shorts or trousers (as appropriate by class) and the same belt worn during the day.  Mondays and Thursdays were "tie days" and we were required to wear the tie in the evening.

On cold days we could wear a maroon color sweater or blazer.

Any deviation from wearing the right uniform, or wearing dirty uniforms or unpolished shoes, was a chance for getting punished, sometimes pretty severely.

Food

All meals and tea were had in the dining hall which was adjacent to the kitchen.  The front of the building opened up to to a concrete area where we would line up by table.

The dining hall was a large room with multiple exits on the front and only a single exit on the rear.  There were 12 large dining tables organized in a 3x4 pattern.  Classes KG to 2 sat in the first row, 3 & 4 in the second row, 5, 6, 7 in the third row, and 8, 9 in the 4 row.  Class 10 students were assigned the duty of disciplining the students and were table monitors--a table monitor was assigned to each end of the table.  The tables were long with multiple benches on each of the long edges.  At each end there was a stool for the table monitor.

In the middle table at the end of the hall where the senior most students sat, was the Head Boy.  Before each meal, the Head Boy would say grace at the end of which all the students would say Amen.  The grace went something like this:
Grace
For what we are about to receive
May the Lord make us Truly thankful
Another variant was the following
Grace
For these and all his mercies
May the Lord's name be praised
Following the meal, grace would be said again, with a slight modification.
Grace
For what we have received
May the Lord make us Truly thankful
Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options were provided, but a student had to pick one of them at the beginning of the semester.  Being a non-vegetarian meant having a beef entree with most meals.  Vegetarians could choose to eat chicken and/or fish and/or pork and/or eggs.   Chicken, fish and pork were served very rarely.  Typical meals were as follows:

Morning tea -- Black tea with milk and a sweetened bun.

Breakfast -- An Indian-style breakfast (pohe, upma, etc.), or western breakfast (porridge) with a buttered non-sweet bun, a banana, an optional glass of very watered-down milk, and an optional raw or boiled egg.

Lunch -- A beef entree or vegetarian entree with rice, dal, and a banana.

Afternoon tea -- Black tea with milk and a non-sweetened bun with butter (same as the one served at breakfast) or toast (this was how they preserved bread that was over-the-hill).  On weekends, they'd sometimes serve a lemon or orange drink (squash, not fresh) instead of hot tea.

Dinner -- A beef entree or vegetarian entree with bread, dal, dessert, and an optional glass of very watered-down milk.

Sanitation left a lot to be desired.  It was not unusual to find hair in the food, for the food to be bad/burnt/undercooked, or for the utensils (especially forks and spoons) to be dirty, and to see cockroaches in the kitchen or in the serving vessels (especially the ones used for buns and toast).  They did not have sanitizers for the utensils.

The taste of the food also wasn't good.  Most of the time I left the meal feeling hungry just because the food tasted so bad or there was something about the sanitation that bothered me.

Snacks

On site, for limited hours each day, there were several snack options.
  • Tuck Shop:  A small shop located near Cambridge dorm and sold a bunch of sweets (bulls eye, orange, etc.), Ardeshir band sodas and Thums Up, and some prepared items like chutney sandwiches, vegetarian samosas, and mutton samosas.
  • India Ice Cream: A cart outside the Staff Common Room which sold various iced lollies and ice-creams.  The most expensive ice-cream at the time was the choco-o-bar which was a vanilla ice-cream covered with a chocolate shell.
  • Munjee Pau Vada: A cart that sold things like bhel and vada pau.
  • Outside vendors selling things like corn on the cob or guavas.
  • Various small stalls during the school breaks run by the families of the blue collar staff.
Unfortunately, you had to have money to buy these and most of the time, being a border, I was broke.  We had access to very limited amounts of pocket money.

Other options

When we were older (class 7 and beyond) we were able to go on town leave and eat at local restaurants like Priya or Monafood.

Occasionally on weekend, a friendly just-off-duty security guard would go to town and buy us food from places like Priya or Blue Nile (we'd place an order with him and give him the money for it).  That was a big favor he was doing us because he could have lost his job if found out.

Sometimes day students would share some of their food with boarders.  It was rare and when it happened it was a real treat.

Pocket money

Each week, we'd be given a small amount of pocket money to spend on things like snacks.  This would be given out on Friday afternoon, and it would typically be spent by Saturday evening at the latest.  The following was the weekly allowance by class at the time I joined (1978).
  • KG, 1: Rs. 1
  • 2, 3: Rs. 2
  • 4, 5: Rs. 3
  • 6, 7: Rs. 4
  • 8, 9: Rs. 5
  • 10: Rs. 6
At some point they had adjusted these for inflation by increase the allowance by Rs 1 across the board.  This was the only change over the 8 year period that I attended the school.

In today's terms that is practically worthless, but back in my early days (1978) this is what things cost:
  • A chutney sandwich was about 10 p (paise, 1/10 of a rupee).
  • A samosa was 25 p.
  • The cheapest icecream from India icecream was 25 p, the most expensive was Rs. 2.50.
  • A vada pau or bhel cost 25 p.
  • An Ardeshir soda cost Rs. 1, a Thums Up cost Rs. 2.50.
These prices went up quite a bit over the years, probably doubling over the 8 years I was there.

As we got older many of us would supplement this with an allowance from home which was managed by the dormitory-in-charge staff member.  At the beginning of the term, we'd deposit some amount of money and a ledger would be made as we made modest withdrawals against that each week, typically Rs. 5-10.

Classes

Class periods were 35 min long.  There were 9 periods in a day divided into clusters of three separated by a short morning break and a longer lunch break.

In classes 8-10, we had the following 6 main subjects:
  • English
    • English Language
    • English Literature
  • Hindi (or some other second language like French with special approval; e.g. for non-Indian nationals).
  • Mathematics
    • Algebra, Geometry
    • Trigonometry
  • Social Studies
    • History
    • Geography
  • Science
    • Physics
    • Chemistry
    • Biology
  • Economics or Commerce
In classes 5-7, we had 8 subjects:
  • English Language
  • English Literature
  • Hindi (or some other second language like French with special approval; e.g. for non-Indian nationals)
  • Mathematics
  • History
  • Geography
  • Science
  • Marathi/Sanskrit (Students taking a second language other than Hindi were exempt)
I can't remember the list of subjects before class 5.

In addition, there were classes for P. T. (Physical Training), S. U. P. W. (Socially Useful Productive Work), Art & Crafts, and M.I. (Moral Instruction).  We were not graded in these areas.

Activities

Extra career activities were typically sports.  Based on the season we typically played one of the following sports.
  • Football (i.e. Soccer)
  • Hockey (i.e. Field Hockey)
  • Cricket
  • Basketball
  • Volleyball
  • Athletics -- 50 m, 100 m, 200 m, 400 m, 800 m, 1500 m, long jump, high jump, triple jump
  • Long distance running at the race course -- 2.5 km, 5 km
  • Ping Pong
  • Badminton
Most of these sports were played with little coaching.

One of the dormitories (New Dorm) had a ping pong table.

Discipline and punishments

The school was very harsh with punishment.  One could get punished for doing almost anything out of line including being late for anything (to the dining hall, at assembly, at the games parade), wearing dirty clothes, shoes not polished properly, talking during the study period, general punishment for everyone because the dormitory or the study class was too noisy.

There were many different kinds of punishment:
  • Being beaten (slapped on the face or back of the head, hit on the butt with various objects like cricket bat, hockey stick, rulers, flats, ears pulled, knuckles on the head).
  • Write n lines of "I will do xyz" or "I will not do xyx", where n was anywhere from 100 to 1000.
  • Detention -- this meant spending time in a classroom during hours when one would normally have free time, e.g. Saturday morning.
  • Running or hopping to the wall behind the Harding Hall.
  • Kneeling, typically outside in the sun, but sometimes in class too.
Boarders had it much harder because we were under the supervision of prefects who themselves had been abused when they were younger, and so that is all they knew to do to keep discipline.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

vi tips

To format text removing line wraps:
!}fmt

To mark/delete/paste blocks:
  • At the beginning of the block: ma [mark a]
  • At the end of the block d'a/y'a [delete till a, yank till a]
  • To paste the block: p/P
To change everything from upper to lowercase:
%s/.*/\L&/
To search and replace "text1" with "text2" throughout the file:
1,$s/text1/text2/g

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Miscellaneous fun stuff

ASCII bear (author unknown)
Red Eye by Christoph Niemann
Technology for Country Folk (author unknown)
Top 20 Engineers' Terminology (author unknown)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Movie log

This post will serve as a log of movies I saw and my rating of the movie.  I'll update it with movies old and new that I think are worth seeing.

2017
2016
2015
2012
2011
Youtube movies

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Affordability and assets

A question that often comes in financial forums is the following:  Most affordability numbers are based on annual income, e.g. affordability for a house or car.  What happens if one has a large amount of assets, through a windfall or inheritance, but very little income?

Let's take a hypothetical example.  Someone is looking to buy a house that costs $200,000.  They have $500,000 in assets, but only make $50,000/year.  Can they afford the house?  On the one hand, they have cash to pay for it outright.  But then what about maintenance costs, property taxes, and insurance?  On the other hand, the income is too low by conservative standards because house price divided by the annual income is 4, which is much higher than the recommended 2.5 to 3 times.

A crude way to determine affordability is to look at the assets and see what kind of income it is capable of generating.  This part can be tricky depending on what type of investments one is considering.  As an example, one can use the rate of a 30 year treasury bond to determine how much income can be safely generated.  If we use 3% for that number, then $500,000 is expected to generate about $15,000 per year.  Add that to the original income and we get $65,000.  Now the price to income ratio is about 200,000/65,000 ~ 3.0.  This makes the house appear a lot more affordable.  On the other hand, if we use the current rate for a savings account which is about 1%, the investment would generate only $5,000 in income annually and would increase the original income amount to 55,000.  200,000/55,000 ~ 3.6 which is still a little high.

If one decides to purchase, whether one choose to finance the purchase or pay cash is a different matter than affordability.

Another related discussion that came up was the following.  If one has a portfolio of a certain size, then given that portfolio value fluctuates by 1% on a daily basis, does it mean that 1% of the portfolio is not a lot of money for that person?  Taking an example similar to the above one, if one has $500,000 invested and the portfolio fluctuates by $5000 routinely, does it mean that they person can spend $5,000 without thinking twice about affordability?

The best objective answer that I saw to that question was that daily fluctuations in portfolio should be 100 times larger than sustainable average daily spending.  In this case, that translates to an average daily spend of $50.  This would include meals and all regular daily spending.  Big ticket expenses are fine as long as they are occasional.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

BMWCCA Car Control Clinic

Last year in May, I attended a day-long BMWCCA Car Control Clinic held at Monterey Bay.  The CCC is an event that is geared toward teaching one about how to drive safely by understanding the capabilities of the car and vehicle dynamics such as weight transfer.  I have been to driving events before, but I thought this one was the most thorough.  One is required to take this class before being allowed to participate in higher speed events.  The cost of attending the CCC is very modest (< $100) since one is using one's own car and all of the instructors are unpaid volunteers.  It is a low speed event (max speed < 30 mph), so the wear and tear on the car is not too bad.

The event was held in the parking lot of the Marina airport which provided for a large open area.  We were told to push the car as hard as we could since the worst that would happen would be skidding out of control and hitting a cone.

The details of the exercises are described in this document.

It was raining most of the day of the event, and the event happens rain or shine.  The day started with an inspection of the car.  They didn't really do as detailed of a check as is described in the document.  What they did was a cursory check of the engine bay and then just asked about tire pressures.

Next, there was instruction about seating position (pedal reach, steering reach, seat height), position of the hands on the steering wheel and how to move the hands when turning, and adjusting mirrors.

We then had a bunch of exercises as described in the document above--braking, avoidance, skidpad, and slalom.  During the exercises, we were accompanied by one or more instructors that would make observations about our driving and coach us to do the right thing.  Despite prodding from the instructor, I didn't push the car hard enough to hit my personal limits, so I didn't hit any cones and I didn't skid out of control.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The United fiasco

It's everywhere so I might as well add my 2 cents.

United has had really bad customer service for a long time.  I wrote about that in my post here.  In this particular case, they crossed the line--getting law enforcement to throw someone off the plane instead of sufficiently incentivizing some of the passengers to voluntarily give up their seat.  And had the passenger not protested, but just deplaned silently as asked to, we would never have heard about this incident or how airlines routinely throw passengers off overbooked flights or how badly airlines in general, or United in particular, are treating their customers.

There was a time when airlines took pride in their hospitality but that time is long gone.  I'd be willing to wager, there are a bunch of senior level management folks sitting a meeting room at United's office talking about how to repair the airline's image at minimum cost, rather than actually talking about how to improve the customer experience.  The sad truth of the current economic environment is that most companies use marketing and PR to show they care when, in reality, they do not.

United got caught because they just happen to be at the absolute bottom with respect to customer service.  Most other airlines are only marginally better.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The art of bread making


This a video showing how bread is made in the traditional way sans yeast.  The video was made by a small baker called Artisan Lavinia in Oregon House, California.   

It is rarity to find such a process in use even among those selling so called gourmet products.  Some bakers that use a traditional process are featured in the WSJ article titled Can You Carbo-Load Your Way to Good Health?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

How to die

A morbid topic, but I came across a discussion on bogleheads about how to die.  It posted a link to this article titled How Doctors Die.
It’s not a frequent topic of discussion, but doctors die, too. And they don’t die like the rest of us. What’s unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared to most Americans, but how little. For all the time they spend fending off the deaths of others, they tend to be fairly serene when faced with death themselves. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care they could want. But they go gently.
It's a sobering article worth a read.

Closely related are Death with Dignity laws.  As of this writing, five states -- California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Washington -- and Washington DC have laws for this.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

How long has that food been sitting on the store shelf?

I read with some amusement that there were changes being planned with respect to the sell-by dates on food items.  The changes are being done to allow people to understand it's safe to eat stale food; i.e. don't discard something just because it's past the sell-by date.   Is this a sign of society advancing?

Why aren't manufacturers required to put the date packed on such items?  That would give the consumer immediate information about how long the food has been sitting around.  The practice of putting the date packed is actually quite common in India and it's disappointing that it is not used in the US.

Some products do actually have the packed date encoded, e.g. Manna bread, and it is not uncommon to find product sitting in the frozen section for 9+ months.  I don't care if that's within what the company considers acceptable, it just seems too long.  With all the technology for supply chain management, there should not be a need to have food sitting on shelves that long.

And then I've come across some products sold in the frozen section that have neither a packed date nor a sell-by date, e.g. Berlin Bakery bread.  This one is scary because now we have no idea how long the product has been sitting in freezers at the distributor and then the store.

Some products go above and beyond give you even more information.  Bariani olive oil, for instance, encodes the harvest date and packed date.

I typically pay attention to these dates when buying food products.  Several times I have come across products on the store shelf that are past their use-by date, so even though store staff are supposed to be checking for this kind of stuff, they probably don't.  In this day and age with smart everything, there should be some way to alert store staff that they have stale stuff sitting on their shelves.

The lack of availability of a sell-by date on items sold in bulk bins usually keeps me away from those.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Why do people prefer SUVs?

I don't like SUVs and pickup trucks.  They are too high and if one is in a car behind an SUV, then one's ability to look ahead for road signs, traffic, and curves in the road is severely compromised.  They also tend to be heavier, thus exhibiting poorer braking and handling in emergencies, and also consume more gas than a car.  SUVs are supposedly built to be driven off road, but most of them will never actually be taken off road.  So I started to ask myself the question as to why people prefer SUVs?

One day, I had sort of an epiphany--since the roads are so bad, so ridden with potholes and undulations, even a trip to the neighborhood grocery store feels like an off road experience.  Of course, I happen to live in CA which is a state with one of the worst road conditions.  Looking at the data in the link, I shudder with the thought of what it's like to drive in Washington DC which is reported as having 91% of its roads in poor condition.  Also, as mentioned in the article, these bad roads end up costing drivers hundreds of dollars in repairs for damaged tires, rims, and suspensions.

SUVs with their larger wheels and tires are able to better weather the pothole ridden roads, so perhaps it makes sense that people prefer them.  Their owners probably find the ride a lot more comfortable relative to a car.

The condition of the roads makes me wonder where the tax monies are going.  Around where I live, the average time between a road being repaved/repaired and new potholes showing up is no more than a few months.  It's 2017--surely the technology exists to build longer lasting roads.