Monthly Archives: March 2015

Woody Allen: Do Creative Work to Please Yourself, Not Others

Woody Allen: Do Creative Work to Please Yourself, Not Others

Folks find it hard to please themselves because they’re so busy trying to please everyone around them. People pleasing usually comes from a belief that other people’s happiness is more important than your own.

Work to please yourself, not others. Sometimes you may have a difficult boss, difficult customers, or difficult colleagues, or simply face a difficult situation. Make sure you don’t get discouraged and let your standards drop. Get out of your own comfort zone. Carry on working at a level where you feel proud of the work you deliver.

Here’s what Woody Allen had to say about creative work:

I’ve never written anything in my life or done any project that wasn’t what I wanted to do at the time. You really have to forget about what they call “career moves.” You just do what you want to do for your own sense of your creative life. If no one else wants to see it, that’s fine. Otherwise, you’re in the business to please other people.

Source: Woody Allen in an interview with Michiko Kakutani: The Paris Review, The Art of Humor No. 1, Fall 1995, No. 136.

Posted in Philosophy and Wisdom

Architectural Highlights of The Bangalore Palace

Architectural Highlights of The Bangalore Palace

The Bangalore Palace is one of the most magnificent heritage buildings in the city of Bangalore. Though there are hundreds of heritage buildings in Bangalore, this one differs from all of them both in style and exuberance.

Originally it was a private building belonging to an Englishman by name N. Garrett, who was the first Principal of the Central High School in Bangalore, now known as Central College. It was purchased for the Maharaja in 1884 and the palace was built in 1880 at a cost of 10 lakhs of rupees. The total area of the palace is 45,000 square feet. The construction of the palace was started in 1862 and completed in 1944.

Bastion-like Towers in Bangalore Police The importance of this palace lies in the fact that it is built on the model of the Windsor Castle, the royal residence at Windsor in the English county of Berkshire. It is a two storied granite building with fortified towers and turreted parapets which are the characters of the Tudor architecture of England. The resemblance is so marked that many scholars feel that this is an imitated version of the Tudor’s building as if it was transported to Bangalore. It has Roman pointed arches and bastion-like towers. Its layout is rich in pointed recesses which add majesty to the contour of the building. Another attraction of this structure is a large number of projections which result in pleasing geometric patterns of varied designs. The facade of the palace is exotic with a combination of tall watch-towers, spacious walls with square and arch-type windows and roundish structures, showing different levels of the roof.

Living quarters for the Maharani were added in 1890. But they were built in the Hindu architectural style and were connected to the main building by a covered pathway. The interior of the palace is full of decorations, molded and fluted pillars and large arches, walls decorated with floral patterns, intricately carved capitals, patterned cornices … all of a high order befitting a palace. Gorgeous chandeliers of great beauty have added a grace and charm to the interior.

Another attraction of this palace was the vast garden under the guidance of Sri N Venkatasamiraju, whose life-size statue adorns a niche in the palace. The vast open area round the palace in a heavily populated city, has added a great luxury to the edifice which itself is an epitome of luxury and royalty of the Maharajas of Mysore whose name and fame has spread far and wide including foreign lands. Thus this is one of the finest palaces in India.

Posted in Travels and Journeys

How Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Marissa Mayer Process Emails

How Marissa Mayer Handled Email while at Google

How Marissa Mayer Handled Email while at Google In an interview with tech journalist David Kirkpatrick for Fortune Magazine’s “Secrets of greatness: How I work” series, Marissa Mayer revealed how she processes emails. Marissa was then the Vice President of Search Products and User Experience, and is presently the CEO of Yahoo!

I don’t feel overwhelmed with information. I really like it. I use Gmail for my personal e-mail—15 to 20 e-mails a day—but on my work e-mail I get as many as 700 to 800 a day, so I need something really fast.

I use an e-mail application called Pine, a Linux-based utility I started using in college. It’s a very simple text-based mailer in a crunchy little terminal window with Courier fonts. I do marathon e-mail catch-up sessions, sometimes on a Saturday or Sunday. I’ll just sit down and do e-mail for ten to 14 hours straight. I almost always have the radio or my TV on. I guess I’m a typical 25- to 35-year-old who’s now really embracing the two-screen experience.

How Larry Page / Sergey Brin Handle Email at Google

Ever wonder how CEOs of large companies manage and process the hundreds or thousands of emails they receive daily?

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google In a thread on managing loads of email, Quora user David Shin, who previously worked at Google, remembers Page and Brin being asked this question during a Q&A session at Google. When someone asked how they manage their email, one of them (he can’t remember which) responded like this:

When I open up my email, I start at the top and work my way down, and go as far as I feel like. Anything I don’t get to will never be read. Some people end up amazed that they get an email response from a founder of Google in just 5 minutes. Others simply get what they expected (no reply).

Posted in Software and Programming

Union Advertisement Slams Southwest Airlines and asks, “Has Southwest Lost its Way?”

On 25-Nov-2014, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) of America issued a half-page advertisement in USA Today bashing Southwest Airlines management about their baggage handling operations.

Southwest Loses More Bags Than Any Other Major U.S. Airline

Southwest Loses More Bags Than Any Other Major U.S. Airline.

Southwest Airlines, historically known for rarely losing luggage, now loses more bags than any other major American airline, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report, released this month. What happened?

Quite simply, under the leadership of Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines places profit ahead of people and a quality product. The airline now flies larger planes packed with more bags than ever before but doesn’t hire additional baggage handlers and, in the last four years, hasn’t provided a raise to half of its ground workers. More suitcases, larger planes, tighter schedules and an overworked ground crew not only mean lost bags: it means delays for al Southwest customers—even those who don’t check luggage.

This year will be Southwest’s most profitable. During the second Quarter alone, the airline earned nearly a half-billion dollars in profits. Gas prices have fallen, more seats have been filled, revenues have been growing. Wouldn’t it make sense at this time to invest in ground workers and on-time performance?

Southwest’s stock ticker symbol is LUV. But is Southwest still the “luv” airline or is it just a heartless machine? Losing bags is bad—but eventually they find their way home. Losing a successful company culture can be forever.

The TWU posts advertisements which are intended to be perceived as harmful to the airline in order to attempt to extort a better package.

Although the “facts” being displayed in this union-paid ad are certainly up for debate, there’s no doubt that the workload of the rampers has increased because Southwest is the only airline that doesn’t charge checked baggage fees.

This is the latest manifestation of the dramatic evolution that has Southwest over the years, both from external and internal forces. In a nutshell, economic reality is now catching up with Southwest Airlines. The fuel hedges are spent, the network carriers have restructured and merged, and at the same time Southwest has gone from being pretty much the lowest-cost operator in the market to middle-of-the-pack and has high labor costs than ultra-low-cost carriers such as Spirit Airlines.

Southwest Airlines Free Checked Luggage Baggage Policy

Southwest has to control costs somewhere to remain competitive. They’ve probably tried, to at least some extent, to do it through productivity gains, by making rampers do more with less (same workload with fewer rampers, or increased workload with same number of rampers). But that, too, of course, has its repercussions, such as the one detailed in this TWU advertisement.

While paying employees well and treating them with respect will ensure better performance, Southwest Airlines is having to learn to cope in a more challenging economic environment, especially as to cost. Reduce cost, increase productivity – something has to give.

Southwest Airlines recognized this as union propaganda and integral part of contract-negotiation season. To the union bosses, nothing’s ever enough … their workers are always underpaid and under-appreciated. Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Brandy King responded,

Although it’s a common practice, informational picketing does not change the Company’s approach to negotiations. We continue to share the Union’s sense of urgency to secure a fair agreement. Reaching the right deal for both Employees and the Company remains a top priority; and it must be one that is fair to all Employees, enables the Company to grow, and protects our position as a low-cost leader in the industry.

We have a renewed focus and effort on improving baggage delivery and over the past few months, we’ve seen a steady decline in our mishandled baggage rate. In October, we proudly delivered approximately 99.5 percent of our bags correctly and we continue to see improvements.

Regarding the number of bag carried, the packing habits of Southwest passengers haven’t changed. Customers continue to pack the same number of bags since the “Bags Fly Free” campaign was initiated in 2008. What the campaign has done is attract more Customers to Southwest, improving the bottom line. At the same time, the number of bags carried on other airlines has decreased, which improves their overall DOT ranking.

As the number of Southwest Customers increase, we continue to hire in response to that growth. Over the last three years, the annual number of bags handled per Ramp Agent has steadily declined, not increased.

Posted in Airlines and Airliners Management and Leadership

Insights from Tobias Carlisle’s Book ‘Deep Value’

Failing businesses, poor management, and unpredictability often provide the most promising investment opportunities. Tobias Carlisle’s Deep Value offers insight into finding the best risk-to-reward ratio for investors willing to go against intuition and what is normally accepted by the investment crowd.

Tobias Carlisle is the popular blogger on value investing, contrarian thinking, and activist investing. He blogs at Greenbackd (Deep value, contrarian, and Grahamite investment)

“Deep value is investment triumph disguised as business disaster. It is a simple, but counterintuitive idea: Under the right conditions, losing stocks – those in crisis, with apparently failing businesses, and uncertain futures – offer unusually favorable investment prospects,” explains Carlisle. “This book is an investigation of the evidence, and the conditions under which losing stocks become asymmetric opportunities, with limited downside and enormous upside.”

Deep Value provides plenty of research that the ‘cheapest’ shares based upon simple value formulae consistently outperform.

What distinguishes a first-class business from an ordinary business?

Tobias Carlisle - Author of Deep Value on Value Investing In a cruel irony, most good businesses earning high returns on invested capital can’t absorb much incremental capital without reducing those high returns, while most bad businesses earning low returns on invested capital require all earnings be reinvested simply to keep up with inflation. Bad businesses that can only earn sub-par returns destroy capital until they are liquidated. The sooner the business is liquidated, the more value that can be salvaged. The longer the good business can maintain a high return on invested capital, the more valuable the business. What then distinguishes the first-class business from the ordinary business? The differentiator is not simply high returns on capital, which, as Graham pointed out, even an ordinary business will earn at some point in the business cycle, but sustainable high returns on capital throughout successive business cycles. The sustainability of high returns depends on the business possessing good economics protected by an enduring competitive advantage, or what Buffett describes as “economic castles protected by unbreachable ‘moats.'”

On Ben Graham and activism

Graham was a forceful and eloquent advocate for the use of shareholder activism to foment change in deeply undervalued companies. The very first edition of his magnum opus, Security Analysis, published in 1934, devoted an entire chapter to the relationship between shareholders and management, which Graham described as “one of the strangest phenomena of American finance.” “Why is it,” he wondered, “that no matter how poor a corporation’s prospects may seem, its owners permit it to remain in business until its resources are exhausted?” In answering his question, Graham wrote that it was a “notorious fact … that the typical American stockholder is the most docile and apathetic animal in captivity:”

“He does what the board of directors tell him to do and rarely thinks of asserting his individual rights as owner of the business and employer of its paid officers. The result is that the effective control of many, perhaps most, large American corporations is exercised not by those who together own a majority of the stock but by a small group known as ‘the management.'”

He saw deep undervaluation as a prod impelling shareholders to “raise the question whether it is in their interest to continue the business,” and “management to take all proper steps to correct the obvious disparity between market quotation and intrinsic value, including a reconsideration of its own policies and a frank justification to the stockholders of its decision to continue the business.”

Characterizing Price and A Wonderful Company

We know that a wonderful company will earn an average return if the market price reflects its fair value. To outperform, the price must be discounted—the wider the discount, or margin of safety, the better the return—or the business must be more wonderful than the market believes. Wonderful company investors must therefore determine both whether a superior business can sustain its unusual profitability, and the extent to which the stock price already anticipates its ability to do so. This is a difficult undertaking because, as we’ll see, it is the rare company that does so.

Posted in Investing and Finance

The Architectural Medley along a Cruise up Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait

The Architectural Medley along the Bosphorus Strait

“The sea near the coast freezes over, as does the whole of the Cimmerian Bosporus.”
Herodotus, “The Histories”

Istanbul is exceptional—the only city to bestride two continents, divided between Europe and Asia. Old and new, East and West coexist here, and a cruise along the Bosphorus is the perfect way to experience it.

Instead of jumping on the commuter ferries zigzagging frenetically across the river, or cramming onto one of the loads of tourist boats, get away from the crowds and treat yourself to a private boat. Merely hang around at the ferry terminal at Eminonu for a while and enthusiastic touts offering their boats for your leisure appear—then you decide where you want to go, for how long, and when to stop off.

Passing under Galata Bridge, which arches over the Golden Horn, you will come into view to the sight of the 400 year-old New Mosque, Yeni Camii. Boats of all sizes jostle in the water, somehow steering clear of collisions, literally.

Anadolu Kavagi, Bosphorus Strait The melee of architecture along the waterfront is mesmerizing. From sultans’ palaces, like the nineteenth century, neoclassical Dolmabahce Palace, to the wooden waterfront summer residencies (yalis) of the former Ottoman nobility, and the gracefully simple baroque Mecidiye Mosque—the variety is endless.

The ultimate destination of the cruise up the Bosphorus Strait is a fishing village called Anadolu Kavagi on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, at the mouth of the Black Sea. Nevertheless, all along, the Bosphorus Strait fascinates with its architectural medley created by the meeting of Asia and Europe makes the riverbanks unforgettable.

Magical Istanbul—3,000 years old, spanning two continents and a crucible of cultures where East meets West—is a significant Turkish homeport for many cruise ships, and even those casually visiting the city tend to spend a night as this wonderful city offers so much to see and do.

Posted in Travels and Journeys

How Carl Icahn Transformed into an Activist Investor and Mature Corporate Raider

Carl Icahn, Activist Investor and Corporate Raider

Icahn’s progression from arbitrageur and liquidator of closed-end funds to full-blown corporate raider started in 1976 with a distillation of his strategy into an investment memorandum distributed to prospective investors.

It is our opinion that the elements in today’s economic environment have combined in a unique way to create large profit-making opportunities with relatively little risk. [T]he real or liquidating value of many American companies has increased markedly in the last few years; however, interestingly, this has not at all been reflected in the market value of their common stocks. Thus, we are faced with a unique set of circumstances that, if dealt with correctly can lead to large profits, as follows: [T]he management of these asset-rich target companies generally own very little stock themselves and, therefore, usually have no interest in being acquired. They jealously guard their prerogatives by building ‘Chinese walls’ around their enterprises that hopefully will repel the invasion of domestic and foreign dollars. Although these ‘walls’ are penetrable, most domestic companies and almost all foreign companies are loath to launch an ‘unfriendly’ takeover attempt against a target company. However, whenever a fight for control is initiated, it generally leads to windfall profits for shareholders. Often the target company, if seriously threatened, will seek another, more friendly enterprise, generally known as a ‘white knight’ to make a higher bid, thereby starting a bidding war. Another gambit occasionally used by the target company is to attempt to purchase the acquirers’ stock or, if all else fails, the target may offer to liquidate.

It is our contention that sizeable profits can be earned by taking large positions in ‘undervalued’ stocks and then attempting to control the destinies of the companies in question by:

  1. trying to convince management to liquidate or sell the company to a ‘white knight’;
  2. waging a proxy contest;
  3. making a tender offer and/or;
  4. selling back our position to the company.

Read more: the insight that enabled Carl Icahn to become a corporate raider

Posted in Investing and Finance

When Larry Page Wasn’t Talking to Google Co-founder Sergey Brin

When Larry Page Wasn't Talking to Google Co-founder Sergey Brin

The story of Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s liaison with Google Glass marketing manager Amanda Rosenberg, and his subsequent split from his wife Anne Wojcicki are well known in Silicon Valley. Wojcicki and Brin, who had been married for six years and have two children together, are said to be living separately but that they were not legally separated.

Evidently, in the early days of the Google Glass Project, Amanda Rosenberg had spent time with Anne Wojcicki trying to understand how to target mothers with the gadget. They had thus became friends: Wojcicki had given Rosenberg a Christmas present, and Brin and Wojcicki went out to dinners with Rosenberg and Hugo Barra, her now ex-boyfriend and then an executive in Google’s Android team. But in late 2012 Wojcicki “came across messages between Rosenberg and Brin that caused her to feel alarm,” reported an exposing article in Vanity Fair.

What is less known is that Google CEO Larry Page apparently stopped talking to co-founder and long-time friend Sergey Brin after his affair with Amanda Rosenberg emerged. Larry Page, who has been friends with Brin since they first met during a welcome event for graduate students of Stanford’s computer science department, refused to speak to him after news of the affair emerged. According to an unnamed source quoted in the Vanity Fair article, “Larry is so ethically strict. … I heard Larry was insanely upset by this whole situation and wasn’t talking to Sergey” for a time.

Many employers have written or verbal polices on office romances. Employers implemented policies because they realize they aren’t going to stop people from having romantic relationships. They want to best protect the company from a claim of sexual harassment and ensure there’s no favoritism or conflict, which could hurt productivity and impact morale. In fact, Google’s code of conduct does not forbid dating and romantic relationships between employees,

“Romantic relationships between co-workers can, depending on the work roles and respective positions of the co-workers involved, create an actual or apparent conflict of interest. If a romantic relationship does create an actual or apparent conflict, it may require changes to work arrangements or even the termination of employment of either or both individuals involved. Consult Google’s Employee Handbook for additional guidance on this issue.”

Anne Wojcicki, who got a degree in biology from Yale, is one of the founders of 23andMe, personal genomics and biotechnology company that provides rapid genetic testing. She was even featured on the cover of Fast Company magazine as “The Most Daring CEO in America.”

Anne’s sister, Susan Wojcicki, continues to be one of the top executives at Google, where she is currently CEO of YouTube. In its formative days, Google’s first headquarters was located in her garage, and she was one of the first hires by Brin and Page.

Incidentally, Sergey and Anne met in 1998 when he moved off campus with his Stanford computer-science classmate Larry Page to set up a search-engine company in Susan Wojcicki garage.

Posted in Management and Leadership

Doug Kass of Seabreeze Partners is Short Caterpillar


Doug Kass of Seabreeze Partners Doug Kass of Seabreeze Partners is known for his accurate stock market calls and keen insights into the economy. He is a well-known hedge-fund manager and media personality, frequently found on financial television. He became famous for being be Warren Buffett’s handpicked ‘credentialed bear’ and grill Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger at the 2013 Annual Meeting of Berkshire Hathaway.

Caterpillar’s principal end markets are mining, construction, and energy. Consequently, it is exposed to the major themes and events in each of these end markets. Doug Kass is short on Caterpillar and writes,

Caterpillar is one of the finest examples of a company that “over promises and under delivers.” It is also a vivid example of (thoughtless) cheerleading by analysts and in the business media.

Wall Street rejoiced, and CAT’s shares traded near $110 after the third-quarter report last November. There was little meaningful forward-looking analysis or questioning of the results at that time by most analysts or by the business media, which seems to worship the company’s management (an “honor” that’s little deserved).

Caterpillar is another example of a company that buys high (its share price) and sells low (or doesn’t buy stock at low prices). Its capital-allocation policy is among the worst in corporate history.

Remember CAT as a possible template in the future when the media and others rejoice in financial engineering in the face of weak top-line growth.

Caterpillar is the largest construction and mining equipment manufacturer in the world. The company’s brand and product portfolio have been delicately assembled over the last century.

Caterpillar was born in the late 19th century as a steam tractor manufacturer. Still, the brand indeed began to take shape in the 1940s, when Caterpillar’s robust off-road tractors, motor graders, and generators were used to reconstruct Europe following World War II. During this era, Caterpillar’s name became synonymous with bulldozers. Caterpillar now offers wide-ranging product lines and operates in many categories where the company has the biggest or second-biggest market share position.

Posted in Investing and Finance

Laughter is One of the Great Blessings of Being Human

As American writer M. Conrad Hyers points out in his “And God Created Laughter”,

Laughter is One of the Great Blessings of Being Human The ancient Greeks were not far from the truth in classifying human beings as ‘laughing animals.’ A fundamental difference between humans and donkeys, it was observed, was that donkeys can bray but only humans can laugh. If one has ventured to tell a joke, even the simplest of jokes, to one’s dog or cat one senses the importance of the distinction. Animals take everything literally. They have no notion of double meaning, plays upon words, overstatement or understatement, incongruity or absurdity, irony or tongue in cheek. Animals take everything quite seriously…. In C. S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia”, when Aslan creates talking animals, they discover laughter. At first they are ashamed by such ‘queer noises’ and try to repress them. But Aslan says to them: ‘Laugh and fear not, creatures. Now that you are no longer dumb and witless, you need not always be grave. For jokes as well as justice come in with speech.’

Posted in Hobbies and Pursuits