Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tales from SPJCM – IIP final

We were into our last term exams in Dubai and there comes an e-mail saying that we have to give 3 presentations on our IIP. First to the Dean, Dr Sethi (who you must be familiar with by nowJ), Second to a Panel of Professors and an external judge and the Third one to the whole batch. OMG!! Just 3 days to go before we actually play the game in front of 3 eclectic varieties of audiences.

I say, 3 eclectic varieties, because there is a deep thought gone into understanding their behaviour J On one hand, we have the Dean who loves to say a lot many things, but listens only things that sound familiar to him – Research, market research, primary research, SPSS and the likes. Then we have the panel of professors and an external judge who may or may not listen to the topic being discussed depending on their own tastes and flavours. They may ask questions like why are you wearing this particular shirt with this blazer, it doesn’t suit well or may be you spoke well and we liked the way your hands were moving while you presented J It just puts you off when after a heavy technical subject and talk for which you spent sleepless nights you get to hear such comments, instead of worthwhile questions. At the end of it, you feel bad that you spent so many hours preparing for these comments. The third variety is our very own class of folks who are not interested in any presentation or talk that goes on stage. Just the idea of a presentation in the leadership hall gives you a yawn and you tend to get sleepy half way. This motley crowd actually is never interested in any such presentation; more so if it is being given by someone amongst us as we have already had enough of each other in the class and hostel J

Nevertheless, we had to present and there was no running away from this. And somehow, we all knew in our IIP group that we will have to give a presentation to our mentor in Bank of Baroda, so it makes 4 in all for us. By the exams got over, we were ecstatic that we wanted to forget the pains of preparing 4 different presentations but somehow they always came back haunting us, especially after the traumatic semi final we had a few days back and as a result of it, we were asked to do a lot many new things which we had never heard of and never knew of. However, bad it may sound, we knew that we will have to implement at least some parts of the new ideas, if we were to sail through.

3 days break and we planned to do a lot of work then and prepare the presentation. Believe me, it was an ordeal collecting all the 5 of us together at the same time in a single room. Even if we somehow manage to do so, we would never discuss the project, because there were lot many hot things to discuss J Never mind, we knew that we had to finalise on a lot many things and do a lot of work. We divided our work and everyone decided that it will be sent to me for compilation. I and Monty decided to do the presentation as well.

2 days into the work and we hear someone say – “yaar Sharad confidence nahin aa raha hai”…n listening this most of us, especially Sharad got pissed off and there started a small duel with each one of contributing their mite to it. Ranny and Raghu also shouted and Sharad was all ready with Monty to give him the requisite confidence. We were wondering, its just 1 day to go before the mega finale and here we are without confidence on what we have done. There was complete raucous and then I ensued by saying…what the f*** is this and this endangered the whole matter all the more. However, after some nasty discussions and heated arguments, we all sat down knowing well that we all together have to fight it out and emerge winners. And finally we decided something that really brought back some confidence at least into Monty. We finalised to do some of the work that was suggested by Prof Chakraborty on Dr Sethi’s recommendations. And all of us took a sigh of relief as we all had agreed to everything by now and there was no shouting anymore J

I guess this small fight was necessary for the eventual success of the project and our team because this brought us closer to each other and started accepting and believing in each other. Those arguments and those heated discussions brought out a fact that we should do what was asked from us and that saved our lives, at the end of the day.

Presentation was ready and we had decided who would start and knew well what each one of us had to say and present. The next day, we heard that the presentations were going behind schedule and we can take time to reach college. As usual, our very own Brad Pitts, Raghu and Ranny were late and reached the college after the rest of us. Luckily for us, our turn hadn’t come by then and we could still take some time to recollect everything.

Slowly but surely, the presentations before us got over and our time to get honoured came. We entered the room and Dr Sethi was eagerly waiting for us. As we got the setup ready, Ranny was ready to shoot. I was at the computer running the slideshow while the rest of us presented and Ranny actually shot – said “Good afternoon Sethi saab” and we all wondered what was that, did we hear what he actually said. And true to Ranny’s ways he started of in his inimitable style. I still remember those words from him – “Just to give you an idea of the Credit Derivatives Market, the size of the US economy is USD 13 trillion and the credit derivatives running on just AIG are USD 67 trillion”. And we heard all that marketing gyaan from him and we were all smiling from inside J And we all presented, with me closing the presentation by giving him a SWOT analysis of CLNs (just to make sure, it looks like a market research project, you remember)

We ended our presentation and we knew that now the Lion would roar. And roared he, with a smile. He asked us whether we think that this project would have taken us 4 months or not to complete. As we said Yes and complimented it with a comment - Offcourse it took us more than 4 months for the project as we had to analyse a lot of things, alphas, betas, gammas and LEMMAS. Oh man!! What is "lemma" now?? Everyone of us wondered. But as they say...once said is said...nothing can be done then J And he started off with another salvo, what all did we do, where did we got it analysed and then where did you get those contacts that you had shown in the presentation and then he said how did we contact them? As if all this was not enough and he asked us to tell him how our mid term review went and what did he ask us to do. As we told him about what happened then, he asked us whether we implemented what was suggested. We readily said Yes, as we actually did implement all that. He rounded off by saying what our mentor thinks of the project and if he is happy with it. As we returned the honours with the affirmative, he asked us if we were the same group with whom he had a small tussle during the mid term review. Again we said Yes, though this time we were reluctant, but we had to say that. There was no running away from this.

Then he paused for a second or two and our heart pumped heavily, as he hadn’t declared the result as yet. We had already started moving out of the room and we looked back at him in anticipation of some good news, and he asked…what did you think, I am not going to pass your project? You have done a reasonable job and I am satisfied with it. Oh what a moment was that!! We couldn’t believe what our ears heard and tried to see each other to make sure that we heard the same thing and it made sense to us J By now we were out of the room and our happiness knew no boundaries.

Everyone was so overjoyed that I must tell you the real expression on the face of each one of us. We came out and Ranny jumped in the air as if he had won the Olympic Gold Medal for High Jump. Sharad and I were so happy and launched ourselves towards Ranny as we had just won the battle of waterloo. Raghu was so ecstatic and hugged us as we had solved a big puzzle. And our very own Monty cried as if he were a small girl and he had some pent up emotions for so many months and his confidence returned only after we had heard that we had won the battle inside that room. Overall we all hugged each other and had one of more joyous moments of our lives in Dubai. OMG!! What a victory for our group and what a moment! Those moments are etched in our hearts like a mark of stone.

Do you know what actually rounded off this whole eventful IIP Final for us? No its not those emotional and feelings of satisfaction. No, not the feeling of work well done and well appreciated, but a phone call that came after we had all presented and came out winning. Yes, a phone call! That call was from a business contact, whom we had tried to contact for an outside review of our project. This was something that was a necessity to get an individual and independent evaluation of the project and get his insightful views. Though, I spoke to him at length about the whole idea and noted down his views, however, we laughed and smiled a lot as we had never laughed and we would remember this day ever!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tales from SPJCM – Match: IIP semi final & Umpire: Dr. Sethi

We left our last IIP discussion on a serious note and am sure…most of us would have felt something or the other on the strings that were touched there. On a different note, let me bring to you what happened on course our IIP.

You must remember that in IIP, we were a group of 5 – Monty, Raghu, Ranny, Sharad and me. The kinda of folks we were and the experience we had in dealing with Finance in its hard core existence, anyone would know what could be the status of the project by each passing day. However, we still managed quite a lot by our standards and that kept our mentor at the bank quite happy and satisfied J

One fine day, came news that kind of took ground off our feet. The then Dean, Dr. Sethi was to take a mid term review of our projects and would comment accordingly J OMG!! This news was something that would have shaken other groups alike; however, we were all the more confused what to show him. Not because we hadn’t done our stuff, but because of the fact that our project and the modus operandi followed was anything but to his liking. Though we always knew his obsession with Market Research, Cold calling and Primary Research, but our project had anything but this. Now you know what gave us those goose bumps J

Knowing well what was awaiting us in board room in Dubai, we decided on a few mantras to be followed in front of the Dean (Yes, some mantras were required, considering the kind of terror was established by now). Some highlights were:

- Speak clearly in front of him

- Tell him clearly what was entailed of us in the project

- Not to cross anyone while he is speaking

- Try and convince him that what were doing is what the bank has asked us to do and this is known to the college faculty (actually that was the truth J)

Armed with these self designed sutras, we entered the board room and what awaited us, became a part of the SPJCM folklore. Dr. Sethi welcomed us to the room and quickly asked us to introduce ourselves and then move on to tell him the details of the project – the organization, the project scope, what we were to do and what we had done so far. Somewhere in our hearts we were overwhelmed by Dr Sethi’s well known and acclaimed obsessions and knew that those will be talked about sooner than later. And there came the first salvo - where is market research and primary research? He was to ask this question and pat came, by now very famous dialogue of GMBA – “In the world of finance…”

For sometime, somehow, he listened patiently to us and then started off by saying something that threatened us a lot – Why do you have to sell this project to me…don’t do that…and finally he ended up by asking us do you really think this project should take the time it has taken and you have spent so far. That was the most dreaded of them all, as the spectre of redoing the whole stuff loomed large in front of us.

But somehow, “in the world of finance…” worked wonders for us and he readily accepted our claims to IIP greatness and our claims of “world of finance”. He suggested we send our project details and workings to Prof. Arindam and Prof. Chakraborty (which we actually did) and signed off.

Woaaah!! We never knew how we could sail through the tide called Dr. Sethi that day, when we could see that tidal fury for us. At one moment it looked he will ask us to redo the whole project and come back again with some primary research, even though it never fitted the topic and the work that we were doing. But I guess, it was our faith in ourselves, our capabilities and belief in each other that helped us lot in finally delivering what we wanted to and made him believe in the utility of such non-primary research, non-cold calling projects and that students can learn a lot even without these in the projects.

What a day that was!! 3 cheers for the team!!

Hip Hip Hurray!!

Hip Hip Hurray!!

Hip Hip Hurray!!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Began with a bang…hold on…ended in a whine…

Last week saw country’s private airlines dropping a bombshell – demanding a bailout package, failing which they would ground all their flights and start a strike from August 18. However, within 48 hours of this hoax call (I prefer to call this call for strike “hoax”J), the terror had already fizzled and the domestic flyers of the country were happy. This ultimately turned out to be a big PR blunder for these airlines and the Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA) which called the strike.

Such was the nightmarish feeling of such a call for strike, that the common man in the country felt betrayed. Imagine what could have happened to the already booked tickets on these airlines and how would they travel, once these flights are grounded. To worsen it, they wouldn’t have got train tickets (only “tatkal” was the option) and all their schedules would have gone for a toss.

However, I still believe that some of the demands of these private airlines were legitimate. Like the predatory taxation on aviation fuel, high airport costs and other charges. Even then, I think, these airlines were better off calling for an industry wide dialogue (which they eventually have agreed to) with the Government and come to a common understanding and belief on the issues that matter.

I don’t even agree on the National airlines getting the so called bailout packages. These packages are the tax payer’s money, which no one should spend on about sick organizations. These are companies standing on people’s money – taken, but does that justify using more people money to bring them out of the rut? I think the biggest problem with these airlines is the old time management and policies oiled in the pre-independence era. The processes that these companies follow are based on the now defunct management thoughts and operations. In my view nothing plagues more than the bureaucracy and their old age policy and processes. And any financial package can not make them realise these pitfalls. They would again fall into the ditch that they see themselves in now. They require restructuring at every step – from management to policies to processes to operations. Bringing on board experienced professionals from around the world, who have run airlines profitably for years, could be an ideal start. I guess, the Government in planning to do so is the step in the right direction. But still the bailout package can be a failure in the long run.

This financial package should only be used to bring some sanity in the processes, operations and policies. This money should be consumed to bring in international consultants to utilize their experience and knowledge to help these airlines in the long run. They need a complete overhaul in every aspect of the game. The money should be used to call experienced professionals on the management and delivery teams.

Now let’s understand what actually made this strike call a big failure and one of the biggest marketing blooper by the fledgling private airlines industry in the country. The biggest reason was the firm ground on which the Government stood against the militant call by these private airlines. The Government was very clear and articulate in its stand, with the aviation minister disapproving of their decision to suspend flight operations, saying anything causing inconvenience to passengers was ‘not acceptable’.

Second reason was the lack of preparation by the industry body, FIA. The body unilaterally called for the strike with the threat to call off all operations. All this was done without having a consensus among the members – this was evident by the way first Indigo Airlines and then Spicejet announced they were not a member of this strike and they would continue their operations as usual. The FIA didn’t even have a Plan B, a fall back option in case their first plan failed. With no public support in their favour, these private airlines eventually had to come back on track. They realised that their plan had backfired badly and now they just had to try and salvage some lost pride. This they tried by saying that they did not want to threaten the Government and the public but just wanted to apprise them of the problems faced by them.

As said before, some of the demands set out by the federation were not illegal at all, however, the way it went about looking for answers for their problems, botched up for them. I fully agree that taxes on ATF and other charges are really discriminatory and raise the operational costs of the airlines.

The seemingly lack of agreement and consensus in the airline federation was another cause of failure. The smarter, smaller and leaner (SSL J) airlines seem to be doing a much better job than their big brothers. They are able to manage well and run with high load factors. Their costs are less and revenues are higher, hence their balance sheets and PL statements look better. Due to this, Indigo and Spicejet opted out of the strike even before it actually became a strike and Jet and Kingfisher belligerently called for it. This widened the dichotomy and led to the eventual calling off of the strike.

Even the experts from the industry called such tactics a big “no no”. Capt. Gopinath (of Air Deccan fame) said these airlines are themselves to be blamed for the mess they are in today. They haven’t aggressively marketed and pitched to get more flyers on board. This business in a country like ours will look bad unless we get those 98% of travellers who still prefer travelling via train or road on to flights. These airlines haven’t done anything to attract them to fly. They have to cut costs, overheads like freebies to manage operations cost effectively. Unless they do so, they will continue to see no light at the end of the tunnel. He went on to the level of calling this strike a ‘gimmick’.

I would say, managing the costs and trying to bring in more revenues would help these airlines. They have to be innovative and see how best the other airlines in the world have managed in these turbulent times.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Demystifiying Latency in Web Page Request

Since the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web (www) in the last century, till today there have been trillions and trillions of Internet page requests made across the world. However, webmasters feel all the more curious to know how actually a webpage request is being served on their user's computer and to use that understanding to try to speed it up.

Data on the Internet is packaged and transported across in small data packets. The regular or irregular flow of these data packets affect the user's Internet experience. Whenever, one sees a continuous flow of data on his screen, this in turn means that the data packets are moving across smoothly and in a timely fashion. However, if the same data packets move across with large and visible delays, that means that the user's experience is degraded and he may feel frustrated at the poor network connection and speed.
In this article, I seek to demystify all such beliefs and bring parity to our understanding of webpage request. I shall make an attempt creating a better understanding of latency effects of network and low bandwidth on a webpage request.
Lets first develop an understanding of some of the networking concepts to build our follow up understanding of the webpage request and latency. With the advent of networking, it was thought that millions and millions of users would be connected through a common network, hence the idea of TCP / IP model.
The key features of the TCP/IP model is encapsualtion, which is the concept of collecting the data and covering it with a common container for transmission. The common container is called the “IP Datagram”, also known as “IP Packet” or just the “Packet”. This IP Packet is a simple thing, with a header which contains the information used for routing the the packet to the destination and followed by data which is any information sent across.
Lets now concentrate all our energies on understanding another important concept in networking, the OSI model. It was created to lay out the process of turning the application data into something that can be transported through the Internet. The upper layers of the OSI model describe as to what happens within the applications running on the computer. These include the human-machine interface, conversion of the high level language into machine language, encryption, authentication and permissions. The lower layers are the ones where to and from applications are turned into data to move across the network. This is where data encapsulation occurs and the IP Datagram or “packet” is built.
The transport of data across the network is a 3 step process:
1. Data from the source is passed through the TCP/IP stack and wrapped into IP Datagrams, commonly known as “Packets”. These packets are then transmitted by the source computer in the network
2. Packets are passed along the network until they reach the destination computer
3. Packets are received by the destination computer and are passed through the stack
According to Wikipedia, Latency is the time delay between the moment something is initiated, and the moment one of its effects begins or becomes detectable. The most common understanding of Latency is it takes time for web pages to load and for emails to reach the destination inbox. Though, this is a form of latency, however, lets take down latency as the time delay imparted by each element involved in the transmission of data. Lets develop our understanding of what causes latency. The are many logical and physical elements involved in networking.
Application Latency
The need to read and write to disk causes some time delays. The processor could be very strong and highly rated, however, it still has limitations to as to what it can read and write in stipulated time. It takes a finite amount of time to manufacture data and present it. There are a lot of hardware limitations as well, such as the amount of memory which affects application performance.
Serialization Latency
The encapsulation of data (as discussed above) is called serialization and takes a finite amount of time. It is calculated as follows: Serialization Delay = Packet Size in bits / Transmission Rate in bits per second Serialization can lead to significant delays and latency on link that operate on low transmission rates.
Routing & Switching Latency
A network request causes data to flow from point A to point B. This would be simple, if the network was just 2 computers, however, this is not to be. In networks like the Internet, data and hence the packets are transmitted from source to destination through a series of routers and switches connected through circuits, which are hardware devices needed for transmission through the network.
These hardware machines have to manage the Internet traffic causing delays caused by the routing and switching process. This refers to the amount of processing time for a router or switch to receive a packet, process it and transmit it.
These days, with the advancements in the computer hardware technology, these delays have reduced to only a few nanoseconds. High performance routers and switches each usually add upto 200┬Ás of latency to the link.
Queuing Latency
Queuing latency refers to the amount of time a packet spends sitting in a queue waiting for transmission due to over utilization of the link. Though over-utilization of high speed Internet backbone is very rare, but it can be easily seen on lower speed networks. Congestion can cause these delays to become infinite since packets may be dropped when router becomes full. Routers use various queueing management algorights to ensure latency is minimized. The most commonly used WRED algorithms bound queueing latency at 20 ms.
Propagation Latency
Propagation latency is the delay caused by the transmission medium. The amount of slowing down is known as the Velocity Factor (VF). Typically, there are 3 medium of transmission of data across the networks, copper cables having a VF in the range of 40% - 80% of the speed of light, fibre-optic cables leading to a VF of around 70% of the speed of light and the electro-magnetic radio waves having the least possible VF. This delay happens even without considering the amount of data being transferred, the transmission rate, the protocol being used or the link problems.
Transmission Rate and Bandwidth Latency
Transmission Rate is the term used to define the number of bits that can be extracted from the medium. It is commonly measured in the terms of number of bits per second. The maximum transmission rate defines the fundamental limitation of the transmission medium. Generally, Copper links have a maximum transmission rate of 10, 100 or 1000 Mbps. For Fibre-optic links, transmission rates vary from around 50 Mbps to 10 Gbps.
Wireless LANs and satellite links use a modem to convert the bits into a modulated wave and then on transmission convert them back into bits using the demodulator. The limiting factor in these type of links is the limited bandwidth available to these signals. The amount of radio spectrum occupied by any given signal is called its bandwidth. Since radio spectrum is a limited resource, the occupied radio bandwidth is an important limiting factor in wireless and satellite links.
Protocol Latency
Lets now take a look at the network data exchanges. Connectionless data exchange is the one where data is pushed through with any consideration. Here the packet traverses the Internet to search for its destination, however, if something happens to it midway, nothing can be done. This is usually used for streaming music, videos, VOIP. The protocol used is User Datagram Protocol (UDP). It doesn't have any overhead or connection management. There is no retransmission of data as well.
On the other hand are the connection based data exchanges. They rely on the establishment of the connection which manages every packet that is transmitted. The transport protocol used is the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). It provides for the error free delivery of packets and hence the data. TCP connections have 3 phases:
1. Establish the connection
2. Send the data
3. Close the connection
All this adds to the time being taken while the data is transmitted and hence the delay and Latency.
This puts the webpage request on the table and opens it thread bare to clear the air on what goes behind each of our clicks while we are on the Internet connected to the millions or billions of users and trillions of data. We make an understanding of the time delays or Latency and now agree that it is imperative and necessary.
References,
1. What is network latency? and Why does it matter? - http://www.o3bnetworks.com/docs/O3b_latency_white_paper2.pdf
2. Satellite Internet Access - http://www.sisp.net/broadband/satellite.htm

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Tales from SPJCM – My first tryst with Finance

Continuing with my tales from SPJCM, now I write something that only a few people know. I bring to you my very first tryst with “Finance” – a term that bewildered me till very recently. Though I would admit that Finance was not my first choice, but I landed up doing it and eventually did better than I could have ever imagined. Thanks to a few folks and the faculty at SPJCM, I was able sail through the vast and deep ocean with perennial high tides called Finance J

After the initial honeymoon period in Dubai, classes started with subjects like Quantitative Techniques (QT), Financial Accounting (FA) and Organizational Behaviour (OB). A few days into these subjects, I knew QT, I would be able to take care of, with my mathematics and engineering background and OB was like only “Gyaan”, which I guess, has always been easy to me – though I could never cross the ever famous laxman rekha of 5 marks out of 10 in the OB quizzes!! It was only FA that I was very new to, something that I never knew and never heard of. However, the ease and professionalism with which our adorable professor Dr. D V Ramana introduced us to the concepts and gradually built them – all in a span of 2 weeks was noteworthy. I always see him with high esteem as he taught we engineers, accounts, and made us do our assignments and projects individually with a lot of ease.

Sooner or later came a subject called Financial Mathematics (FM). Until the professor came for the first class, I thought it had to do something with mathematics, which I liked and should be able to sail through. And came the first class and then the second one and all my perceptions changed about the subject. As the professor started teaching topics like derivatives and options and terms like put, call, long short resonating the surroundings, I started feeling the pain. I didn’t know why things were not going into my head as I wondered what was wrong – me, my approach or the subject or even the professor.

Past a few more lectures and with terms like real neutral valuations, bonds, arbitrage, futures made we wonder whether I made the right choice of studying Finance and I could feel the anxiety of riding in deep waters of the Atlantic. With each passing day as I was writing the online quizzes and getting scores of 3 / 4 / 5, while my other friends got 9 / 10 or at times 8, I was crest fallen as I thought I could never do good in finance and may be what I was doing earlier to joining MBA program was better. Many thoughts roamed my mind - probably, I would have been better off travelling to UK / Germany for my previous company and enjoy the fun.

One fine day, after one such quiz and pathetic score once again, I was like totally out of sorts. I was dull and was retrospecting that Sharad came to me – knowing well what was wrong. He spent some time with me and a few others who were struggling alike and tried to teach us from the very basics of the subject. I should accept that made life a little easier for me and for the first time in the past 10-12 days I thought that I was getting it. Thanks to Sharad and the other guys with me that I could start the subject afresh and scored cent percent marks in the final online quiz. Bravo!!

Those 2 weeks of pain, struggle from with in and with the external environment and a lot of discussion with friends I could finally get the real taste of MBA and could make myself stronger for the tougher times ahead. Only then I could realise that I can understand finance and do it well. And look what best for me, I got best marks in many of the core finance subjects later on, scored high in my IIP and got the best grades in my dissertation (which was pure finance). All thanks to those 2 weeks!!