Note to recruiters

Note to recruiters: We are quite aware that recruiters, interviewers, VCs and other professionals generally perform a Google Search before they interview someone, take a pitch from someone, et cetera. Please keep in mind that not everything put on the Internet must align directly to one's future career and/or one's future product portfolio. Sometimes, people do put things on the Internet just because. Just because. It may be out of their personal interests, which may have nothing to do with their professional interests. Or it may be for some other reason. Recruiters seem to have this wrong-headed notion that if somebody is not signalling their interests in a certain area online, then that means that they are not interested in that area at all. It is worth pointing out that economics pretty much underlies the areas of marketing, strategy, operations and finance. And this blog is about economics. With metta, let us. by all means, be reflective about this whole business of business. Also, see our post on "The Multi-faceted Identity Problem".

Thursday, May 15, 2014

INNOVATION: Augmented reality lifts awareness of nature preservation

Imagine strolling along a wildlife refuge trail and finding a marker with a symbol of a bison. Pull out your smartphone or iPad and hold it up to the picture. Now look at the screen and see a 3-D bison roam across the landscape.

Through the magic of digital technology, visitors to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (RMA) could click an app and enjoy sightings of rare or endangered animals - albeit virtual ones - in a pristine setting. Augmented reality, as it's known, is gaining popularity as a way to enhance natural excursions - dinosaurs popping up in a forest, for example - or to teach engine repair, surgical procedures and other technical lessons.

Monday, May 12, 2014

ECONOMICS: Why are Indian restaurants in the United States better than Pakistani restaurants?

I had a short email exchange last week with the eminent economist Tyler Cowen. According to Prof. Cowen, Pakistani restaurants in the United States are better than Indian restaurants. He says as much in his book "An Economist Gets Lunch". Which, by the way, made for a very interesting read - the parts that I read, at least [1].
His goal now is to provide a guide to dining well anywhere, while minimizing risk of the Cowen nightmare, a meal that is an expensive bore. His commandments fall into two categories. The first is variations on a general mantra derived from the law of supply and demand. Eat, he urges, where "the supplies are fresh, the suppliers are creative, and the demanders are informed." An ideal restaurant would be a sushi bar near Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, where fresh fish and discerning diners make selling bad sushi unviable as a business. The height of folly, perhaps, would be my own gastroenterologically fateful decision to visit what was then the only sushi restaurant in Villahermosa, Mexico (an unforced error, I must admit). 
The second category is classic Cowen advice—heterodox, clever and preposterously, sometimes uselessly, specific. He advises, for example, looking for Thai restaurants attached to motels (more likely to be family-run and not desperate to make rent). For authenticity, he awards points to Pakistani restaurants that feature pictures of Mecca, since they're more likely to cater to Pakistani clientele. ("The more aggressively religious the d├ęcor, the better it will be for the food.") Find restaurants where diners are "screaming at each other" or "pursuing blood feuds," he says—indications that people feel comfortable there and return frequently with their familiars. 
As to whether Indian restaurants are better than Pakistani restaurants, I beg to differ with Prof. Cowen. I think Indian restaurants in the United States are better. 

My thoughts on why this is so and what the underlying factors might be to follow. In the meantime, follow the link here to access my post on Quora which asks the same question of a wider audience.

[1] Update of May 31, 2014: The intention of that statement was just to clarify that I haven't read the whole book. I have been dipping into a bit here and a bit there of Tyler Cowen's book at the local library because I have been too busy the past few weeks to actually read it in full. Anyway, it looks like a very interesting read, but I wouldn't want Indian readers to get too disappointed with this 'conclusion' on Indian restaurants. I brought up the point with him via email that Indian restaurants in the Bay Area are actually really quite good. Tyler Cower concurred in his email reply. There is enough of a market size in the Bay Area that "authenticity" in terms of Indian cooking preparation techniques is incentivized.

[2] Update of June 4, 2014: The word 'conclusion' is interesting in this context in that there is a flavor of 'concluding' in the word as in ending, as well as a flavor of 'concluding' as in arriving at a final result. Much of economic analysis is not so much about producing a final result as much as about pointing a way forward and talking about "the 80% case" compactly (and, of course, this assumes the 80-20 rule which can, in itself, be an assumption). This is one of the reasons I love to point out Prof. Cowen's ideas even when I have certain disagreements with them because they do point to a way forward. Onward!

Friday, May 9, 2014

MISCELLANEOUS: Re: Your critique of my poems, saikus and a critique of Thomas Piketty

My email to Rakesh Bhandari this morning.


Hi Rakesh,

I want to respond more fully to your mini-poem critiquing/criticizing my poetry.

First, my poetry is akin to the songs of struggle that are found in social movements across the world. Nobody parses the songs sung by the dispossessed Narmada Valley people to see if it meets the standards of the poetry sections of "The American Reader" or the New York Times. I don't know if you know this but the book "The Essence of Leadership"  (reviewed very positively by Stanford's founding father of OB, James March) which I contributed to, develops leadership ideas based on readings from literature.

Second, I have been developing a new type of poetry that I like to call "saiku". It stands for "satirical haiku". Saiku captures in three or four lines the essence of a criticism/critique. I don't know if you were basing your critique/criticism on said poems. They are all over the South Asian Journalists Association's website.

Third, these saikus are enormously effective in that they capture a lot of wisdom in three lines (or less). I could convey my critique of Thomas Piketty (he is the latest fad these days, isn't he?) in three lines. In fact, your own critique of my poetic efforts is an instance of the effectiveness of this compressed criticism technique. It is devastatingly effective at times.

Best wishes,


"Capital in the 21st Century"
Ho hum, what shall we say about this latest fad?
      The emphasis on inequality is misplaced - 
capital has raised more people out of poverty in India and China 
in the last 35 years 
than in the previous 70. 
      The idea of a world tax is unworkable -
The problems facing each country/region have always been particular to that country/region.
They may have roots in particular sectors
e.g. financial sector (Japan), the automobile sector (Detroit),
et cetera.
So only a sectoral analysis would provide any means of a solution.
      What could be done? -
certainly, not a world tax.
Other ideas and proposals must first be explored
      (Read- would each one of us say- those would be my own ideas? :) Say, Digital Green for me? :))
Sorry, "Occupy" people.
has a counterpart.
In an earlier era,
it was
Das Kapital.

Update (11:53 a.m.): To be perfectly clear, what I am saying is not that Thomas Piketty is wrong to focus on inequality (please be careful when I use poetry - I don't intend for it to be read literally). Piketty is good in his descriptive analysis from what I have read so far. Also, from what I understand, his empirical work is very sound and quite good. It is not his descriptive analysis that I fault but rather his prescriptive analysis.

First, the world tax concept proposed by Piketty is not a workable one. I don't see how the mandate for something like that could be obtained. Second, we must keep inequality in perspective. The fact is that the poor in America live much better lives than even the upper class did 200 years ago. They typically own one or two cars, have at least one TV, possess at least one cellphone, and live in a reasonably sized home. In fact, the house of the average poor person in America is larger than the house of the average European. This is not to say that being poor in America is easy. It is just to say that we must keep things in perspective given the economic history of the United States over the past 200 years. Third, taxes are opposed by a significant cross section of American society - even taxes for other Americans. This is a matter of conflicting economic viewpoints or philosophies. If your viewpoint is that the government's role is to provide equal opportunity for all, then you would come to one conclusion regarding the proposals in the book. If you think - as Obama and most liberals do - that the government is within its rights to tax more (or, as some would put it, to engage in 'forced redistribution of wealth' or, again to put it less gently, to seize even more wealth than it already does), then you would come to a very different conclusion regarding the prescriptive proposals in the book. Given what we know about the distribution of political opinion within America, it is highly unlikely that many will take kindly to the concept of a world tax - if at all, they would be for more tax revenues to help other Americans. The fact that so many are opposed to taxes (one of the many of the ideas expounded in the book) simply indicates their political viewpoints on forced wealth redistribution. No matter how you phrase it, everybody knows that means. Nobody is getting fooled.