Never a boring day


Never a boring day.

Yes, it has never been boring with all the action in Washington DC, mostly caused by President Donald Trump himself.

Last week has been another chaotic week with President Trump causing significant damage to his own Attorney General Jeff Sessions blaming him in connection with his recusal from the Russia investigation. President Trump criticized Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the ex FBI Director in charge of the Russia investigation. He criticized Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who appointed Robert Mueller to the post of Special Counsel. He even went on to say that he can pardon anyone, including his relatives, friends, and even himself! I have not even attempted to cover all that President Trump did to himself in terms of continuous damage over this past week. I can only say with certainty that there were many folks smiling around the world at the funny situation that the President is placing the U.S. in – I was disappointed, as I sincerely had believed that President Trump would be a firm and strong leader with a no nonsense approach to solving not just America’s problems, but also some of the intractable world problems which have been simmering for a long time, and which President Obama could not resolve despite his best efforts.

Now, it has become seriously hard for me to defend President Trump with anyone who has been easy to criticize his indefensible actions and utterances. Honestly, it is not necessary for the President of the U.S. to keep constantly telegraphing his thoughts to the world at large. There are matters which require a deliberate thought process before getting public exposure, and which also require a strong team work within the President’s Cabinet. It is becoming very clear that the President hardly thinks before sending out his infamous tweets on matters of national importance. He needs to urgently realize that running the U.S. Government as its Chief Executive is very different from running his own corporation.

While President Trump has kept the twitterati and the paparazzi scrambling to interpret his tweets and random utterances, he has also continuously pleased with millions of people around the world who are enjoying the fun. Previously the fun was delivered by third world leaders, but now by a first world leader. Why not enjoy it as long as it last?

This will not be good for the image and credibility of the U.S. While President Trump has every right to communicate directly to American Citizens, his treatment of the establishment media can only exacerbate an already rather fragile situation. Since there is some smoke, we cannot fault the news media from their own investigations. President Trump now calls these big news media as “fake news” originators. Even Fox News is slowly distancing itself from close allegiance to the President.

The Republican Party lost its Obamacare repeal initiative in the Senate by not being able to bring it to a vote. It was a huge slap to President Trump, and he could hardly contain his rage against Democrats and a few of the Republican Senators who refused to cooperate.

With all this stuff, it is not unreasonable to think that the U.S. Government business would be at a standstill. Luckily, that is not the case. Things are happening, and decisions are being taken, that is the positive news. It is however apparent that mundane government business is not in the mind of President Trump as he is constantly being challenged on the Russia matter, and he seems to be hating it.

If he stops thinking about it, stops tweeting about it, stops challenging the folks conducting the investigation, stops worrying about what is going to happen to his son and son-in-law and some of his close allies, then everything will get into a better shape. He can bring his extraordinary energy into finding jobs for unemployed Americans, bringing trillions of dollars stashed in foreign shores by U.S. Corporations, rationalizing the complicated U.S. tax regime, investing in the crumbling infrastructure, and many other such initiatives in which he strongly believes in.

However, it has never been a boring day thus far.

Have a great weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd July 2017

The emergence of a global power (again)


You can easily guess, right?

I am going to write about……….

Cannot guess? Of course, you can.

My brackets in the title line should give you a hint.

No, it is not about India. May be that will take another 5 years or so.

It is about………RUSSIA. Yes, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia is again emerging as a global power that needs to be respected and feared about.

It is not about ancient Russian history or the enormity of the Russian geography (it is the single biggest country by geographical size). It is not about Russians, per se. The Russian population is shrinking. It is not about their nuclear power. It is not about their army. It is not about Russian energy industry (the biggest oil producer in the world, neck to neck with Saudi Arabia). It is not about Russian technology.

It is about one single man who has brought Russian pride to the fore. It is Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia.

An inscrutable man, Putin exudes power. He is far more potent than any other politician in power today in the world scene. He is surely more powerful than President Donald Trump of the U.S. He can get things done in Kremlin, that Trump cannot get done in Washington DC today. He is extremely powerful, he is not easily understood, he is not easily accessible, he has over 80% approval rating amongst the Russian public, as against less than 40% for Trump in the U.S.

The inability of other countries (including the U.S.) to make a reasonable guess on what is next on Putin’s Agenda, ensures that his aura remains intact. Putin is investing in his country’s defences, investing in modernising his nuclear forces, enhancing his cyber warfare technology, improving his energy productivity, mining the Arctic Ocean, and doing a number of other things in a concerted manner which should worry the Western nations, especially the European countries. It is critical to note that he is doing everything very fast.

Is there any benefit in provoking the Russian bear?

Not at all. While there is no need to be paranoid about what Putin will do (it is as difficult to guess that as guessing what Trump will do next), it is also very important not to unnecessarily provoke Russia. That is exactly what NATO is doing. It is reasonable for Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland to be mortally afraid of Putin, but that is no reason to bring advanced missiles and tanks to the borders of Russia. Putin has no use for these countries – he just wanted Crimea back (which was donated to Ukraine).

What are these guys smoking (I mean the NATO leadership and the U.S.).? It takes hardly any time for Russia to smoke out many of these countries. It is better to build a strong relationship with Russia on a sustainable basis, invite Russia to participate in NATO deliberations, and coordinate military activities with Russia, rather than to needle it. Russia unambiguously portrayed its capabilities in Crimea and most recently in Syria.

Does NATO want to take a calculated risk? It is not advisable to do so.

Russia has the advantage of surprise element built into all its planning. It has moved its active divisions to its western borders in response to NATO military exercises. It has moved its advanced S-400 missile batteries to Kaliningrad, the location of which is strategic and dangerous to NATO countries. It has its military waiting on the eastern borders of Ukraine. It is surely not happy with Ukraine, Poland and Latvia.

What are the options open to NATO?

Nothing much, except to destroy all of Europe with an all-out war with Russia, which could easily turn nuclear. Russia apparently does not have a nuclear non-first-use policy. And, neither does the U.K. which has Trident nuclear submarines trained on Russia. A nuclear holocaust in Europe would be unthinkable, but that does not mean Russia will not activate its strategic nuclear forces in response to aggressive and provocative actions by NATO. Loading nuclear missiles with active nuclear warheads appears out of line in today’s world, but not impossible given the tensions. While a nuclear war may never happen again, it is best that all nations avoid unnecessary provocation.

So, in a nutshell, NATO needs to sit back and think carefully, and should not get prodded by the U.S. and the U.K. It should use more sober heads in plotting a collaborative strategy. Putin may not be the worst of Russian presidents yet. He may be more reasonable than others in Kremlin. The West is not even in a position to predict who will be the next Russian president!!!

The European people should push the European Parliament and NATO to take a step back in the confrontation with Russia. THINK! Before ACTING RASHLY!!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th July 2017

Charlie’s Counsel


I met with an old friend of mine yesterday who worked with me in Singapore many years ago. He is from the Philippines and was visiting Singapore on business. He is some 7 years younger to me, but is wiser than me and I should say, more broad-minded. I always try to meet up with him whenever he visits Singapore, and has been the beneficiary of his counsel on many matters of life.

He thinks highly of me as well, and shares his views on business and life with me. We know each others’ families, and I have stayed with him in Manila during one of my trips. My views on the Philippines is largely shaped by his commentary on his country.

Yesterday’s meeting was no different. It was a real pleasure to catch up, and the meeting veered towards substantive life issues. Charlie has been impacted by his father’s recent demise. He also described the cancer plaguing one of our mutual friends in the U.S. He mentioned that life is fragile and we all need to do things which we enjoy right away without any undue delay. No procrastination. Spend more time with your family and friends. Do not have regrets.

He asked me a rhetorical question – “is the world going to miss you tomorrow morning if you are gone today”, and the answer was a firm “No”. The world will move on with its business, and a small group of family members and close friends will probably shed tears and express remorse and grief, and that would be all. Things will get back to normal and even close family and friends will move on in life, except for occasional remembrances.

It is kind of difficult to understand and digest this aspect of life. What can we then do today that would impact folks around us? How can people feel the positive impact of anyone in their lives? We are not talking here about the great historical figures who built nations (like Mahatma Gandhi, or Lee Kuan Yew), or who discovered scientific breakthroughs (like Albert Einstein, or Thomas Edison), or the first astronaut who flew around the earth (Yuri Gagarin), et al. Many of these people have had strong impact in the manner in which nations and lives have developed during the 20th Century, and there are hundred of such figures whose names can easily be recalled. But, how about yours? Will anyone outside your immediate circle recall your positive contributions to society? Will anyone even remember us?

If a person has led a good life, causing no harm to others, always wanting to help others especially the downtrodden, and tries to contribute to society in some positive manner, it is not necessary that he or she should be famous with an easily recallable name. The small positive contribution will be recognised by the society. However, the most important effect is that his or her children carry on the same principles in their respective lives, and inculcate similar philosophies in their immediate circles. A small group of people will surely recall how good a person was during his or her lifetime. And, that should be enough.

Coming back to Charlie, he was gazing beyond me yesterday and thinking seriously about the fragility of human life. I told him that I completely synchronise with him on his line of thinking, and suggested that we should spend more time together discussing these aspects of life. It is critical to decipher when one becomes happy, and most of us do not ask ourselves that question – “what makes us truly happy?”. Think about it for a couple of minutes and you will see that the answer is quite complex. There are many happy things that you can do, there are things that you can do which makes others happy, but what exactly that you do that makes you very happy? Think about it.

May be sailing in the sunset with your life partner will make you very happy, or celebrating the arrival of your first grand-son or grand-daughter will make you very happy. But do you become very happy when you receive a huge sales commission or you sell a share for a big profit?

What are you going to do with that money?

We still live on 3 simple meals a day, and our wants are minimal (at least for most of us). One does not need to have huge amount of money unless one wants to donate to charity and help people of Syria, Rwanda, Angola, and other very poor countries.

So, it is time to ruminate your position in the circus of life and whether you are playing it well, not just for your own benefit but for others’ as well. Are people around you happy about you? What are you doing today to positively contribute to the mood at home, or to society at large?

A lot to think for the weekend, I guess.

Have a good one.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th July 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Laptop Procurement Process


For the past 4.5 years, I have been using a Lenovo X230 laptop. I recall the process I went through in selecting the same after my usual exhaustive evaluation, and placing the order just before I was embarking on a trip to the U.S. way back in November 2012. I received the laptop during a training program I was attending at Reno, Nevada in early December 2012.

I still continue to use the same laptop (which is functioning normally) for most of my work. At office, I use a MacBook Air, so I continue to witness the differences between the two operating environments on an ongoing basis. Of course, since our minds speed up due to the world speeding up, everything one possesses seem to be slowing down, and it was not different with the X230 – it appeared to be slow, more because I had cluttered it with lots of useless applications over the years (which I had been doing to all my previous laptops as well, so nothing new here). Sometimes, due to my excessive attention to enhancing the performance or cleaning up the clutter of huge number of trashed files or optimizing the Windows Registry, the Lenovo X230 did not like me. It used to hang, and I had to do a hard reboot (which I do not suggest). Once, I lost a file on which I had done significant work, and I was furious, but could not blame the laptop. I started backing up using the Seagate backup software (with which I struggled a lot before getting it to work properly), and things seemed to be getting fine, with occasional hiccups.

However, my wife wanted a new laptop for herself without my encroachment all the time. Though she had her own Apple MacBook, that was taken by my son on loan and it became his permanent possession. One day, my wife took a strong position on her computing needs and refused to time slice between Lenovo Windows 10 and Apple MacBook. She demanded I get her a new one and did not provide any specifications for the same. I guess she secretly desired an Apple, but I had been consistently under-selling the new range of MacBooks, pointing out battery problems and lack of new processors, etc., I also felt that Apple is not paying enough attention to the MacBook range, instead focusing only on the iPhone. Slowly, I was able to edge her towards Windows 10, with the promise that I will get her the best that is available in the market.

It took me couple of months of intermittent research, but finally I narrowed it down to three choices: Dell, HP and Lenovo. I would be surprised if most shortlists do not have these three names anyway, especially in the Windows world. The Microsoft SurfacePro was also in the running, but I dropped it considering the fact that it was not sturdy enough to be a home laptop. My wife was specific on one thing – she did not want to have a touch screen, and she did not want the funny pyramid or triangle type standing ones.

Lenovo Yoga range and HP’s latest laptop range were indeed sexy with tons of new features. I really liked the Yoga and almost selected a model that fit my specs, but finally chose the Dell. Within the Dell range, I struggled a lot between XPS 13 with rose gold colour and XPS 15. Had XPS 13 been available with 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD, I would have gone for it and saved a few hundred dollars of additional investment, but XPS 13 did not have that combination (at least in the online ordering site of Dell). I was very clear that the new laptop should have the latest Intel Kaby Lake processor, 16GB main memory and 512GB SSD drive. In terms of graphics processors, I preferred the NVidia against Intel’s own. I was fine with 13.3″ screen with no edges (maximum screen real estate) at the minimum and wanted 4K resolution if it was not too expensive. The Dell XPS 15 met all these specs but I downgraded the screen resolution from 4K to 2K as the additional investment was almost USD 400!

I also wanted backlit keyboard and a fingerprint scanner, with all the usual ports. I had to keep raising the budget to meet my expectations, and as always, was surprised that not every “good” feature was available in a laptop that should not cost more than USD 1,200. But, alas, that was not to be. The cheaper laptops (you see these advertised from USD 300 onwards) lack most of these features and surely are not geared to delaying product obsolescence. In electronics, there is no guarantee of not getting obsolete in 12 months time, but I was preparing for something which could stand on its own feet for at least a 2 to 3 year timeframe.

So, I went ahead and specified a 4-year warranty coverage (1 + 3). This substantially increases the cost. As folks who have used Apple would know, the Apple Care protection is not cheap, but it is absolutely a necessary thing – never avoid investing in Apple Care, as repairs are hugely expensive when it comes to maintaining Apple products. Windows laptops from major manufacturers are not far behind from a repair cost perspective, so I decided to invest upfront. I also wanted a laptop which can be purchased in the U.S. (like my own Lenovo) and then transferred over to the country where we live.

So, my wife now has the Dell XPS 15 with a beautiful 15.6″ display and specs which match what I have listed above. It is blazingly fast (of course, since there are hardly any cluttering applications on it – she won’t allow those to be installed anyway), and looks pretty nice, though a bit heavy to carry around. It is an appropriate acquisition for older folks like us with eyesight challenges (wearing glasses, hope she does not read this!!!), with a bigger screen and big font sizes.

I have installed the usual Anti-Virus, Firewall and related software to protect the laptop. I believe this is an excellent choice for the specs I have outlined. I am available for any unpaid consultation for digitally challenged folks who would like to design their home networks and operate a set of devices – not just laptops, but other devices such as Amazon Echo (which I recently installed and will write about soon), and also protect the network from cyber snoopers.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th July 2017

 

 

Chicago O’Hare and Jet Lag


I flew from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Singapore via Taipei last weekend. My Eva Air flight was at 00:30 hours, past Friday midnight and I cleared all formalities by 10:15 PM Friday evening.

I was totally surprised at the level of airport activity – there were passengers, of course, and airport personnel, but O’Hare did not look like a major international airport at all. Almost all the restaurants were closed, except for a lousy coffee shop and a bar with no food. This was Terminal 5, and I am sure there might have been more activity in the other terminals, but we could not leave this terminal and go to the others to check out. My family was hungry and so was I, but the maximum we could get was a brownie and coffee. This was simply unacceptable, and I could not resist comparisons with major Asian flight hubs such as Singapore, Seoul, Bangkok or Hong Kong, which are alive with activities 24×7. You can almost get anything you want in the Singapore Changi International Airport even at midnight.

American airports need to be upgraded with more passenger services and better quality infrastructure. These airports are decades old and appear to have hardly seen a major facelift over the years. I saw one DFS shop open with exorbitant prices for almost everything. But as time went on, the activity levels dropped except around the departure gates. I wouldn’t be surprised if the situation was similar in other major international airports in the U.S.

Well, at least the gate handling was uneventful, and Eva Air departure personnel handled the crowd efficiently, and the flight left on time (except for the short taxiing delay of 10 to 15 minutes). I decided to align my body with the time at Chicago and went to sleep after some food. Many folks were seeing movies. I slept for some 6 to 7 hours and when I got up we were some 70% through with our journey time. It was morning time in Chicago and I again aligned my body with some activities like walking around the cabin, stretching the legs, seeing some movies, etc., keeping awake till the plane landed at Taipei. It was going to be 4 AM in Taipei the next day. And, I felt fresh. It worked for me and I had no jet lag at all even after we landed in Singapore around noon time Sunday.

Of course, I went to sleep pretty early Sunday night and had a good 8 hour sleep, and that brought my body in alignment with the local timing in Singapore. However, my family members were having difficulties with jet lag affecting them for couple of days before they felt all right.

So, the key learning was to ensure sync with the origin location of the flight, rather than the destination. This worked for me. I never felt sleepy during late afternoons upon arrival, and this was different from my previous experiences.

Well, Singapore always looks welcoming when we arrive its beautiful airport, so here we are! It was a wonderful vacation in the U.S. and when I walked around New York and Washington, I felt that I should have worked in these places at least once in my lifetime!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

8th July 2017

 

Catoctin Mountain Park Maryland


While visiting Washington DC earlier this week, we decided to go hiking at one of the nearby national parks. A uniquely American experience, I would strongly recommend taking a hike in any of the national parks. Americans make it a great marketing experience with big support to any visitors – they have a nice visitor centre with all amenities and officers on hand to explain everything about the park.

We chose to visit the Catoctin Mountain Park some 50 miles outside of Washington DC, in Thurmont Maryland, because it was a bit closer than the original selection of the Blue Ridge mountain, and had easier treks for the first time visitors. The drive itself was smooth with much less traffic than we had anticipated, and we reached the Catoctin Mountain Park in about an hour and fifteen minutes. My daughter mentioned that this was a smaller park in terms of area allocated due to its vicinity to Camp David with its high security. You can take a look at the following websites Catoctin Mountain Park and National Park Foundation – Catoctin Mountain Park

The officer at the visitor centre of the park took time to explain the various possibilities for trekking at the park, he also suggested we do the Cunningham Falls trail loop which will be a 2.8 mile round trip, followed by a visit to the Blue Ridge Summit via the Hog Rock. The map provided by him was helpful in understanding the route. We got ready for the trek and went into the dense park of tall trees with cool weather despite the blazing sun outside. It took all of around 2 hours for visiting Cunningham Falls at the end of this trail and return to the visitor centre.

On a scale of 1 to 5, probably this trek would rate at a less than moderate 2 in terms of difficulty. Mostly flat, with some climbing and ground undulations, combined with crossing some fallen trees, made it an interesting though not tough trek. I was wondering if I should have brought my Merrell shoes from Singapore – on this trip I was just wearing the usual walking/running shoes which do not provide good grip while walking on gravel. I have always had problems while coming down from an elevation, as I tend to slip on the gravel; further, going down causes strain on the knees.

The visitor centre brochures covered one dreadful aspect of the trek into this park which is the potential for catching Lyme disease which is an infectious disease caused by ticks. We were a bit scared after reading the printed material, but then chose to proceed anyway. You can read about this disease at Lyme disease .

It was good fun and is a nice bonding time with the family. When I was unstable at some point, my son would stand ready at my back to steady me and make me all right. There were many photo opportunities on the way and at Cunningham Falls. It was a good experience and we all liked the park and its trail that we undertook.

I kept talking to my family about how well the U.S. is organized in terms of infrastructure, provision of assistance (like the visitor centre), the helpful indicators provided while navigating the park, the interest that they create in children and also adults about the importance of such recreational activities (the visitor centre was full of young children when we visited), and the whole approach towards dealing with citizens/visitors which is imbued with a marketing flavour.

I believe that this is what we lack in many other parts of the world, and especially in India. There is rarely such guidance, infrastructure or marketing provided by the governments in many countries which probably have equally beautiful national parks or forests.

In any case, we decided to have such a national park hiking expedition during every visit to the U.S. or Canada in future.

Hopefully, you folks who are reading this post, will also love trekking and take a hike soon!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th June 2017

Coda Di Volpe Review


We celebrated my wife’s birthday at Coda Di Volpe Southern Italian Restaurant located in the Lakeview area on Southport Avenue of Chicago last evening.

It was a fabulous choice with a very attentive service staff and fantastic food. Our family always loved Italian food, but we have not experimented that much with Southern Italian food with its distinctive flavours and superb taste. This was probably the first time that we delved deep into that cuisine, I would say.

I did not drink wine during the dinner (is that not very surprising), but my wife and daughter tried a Pinot Noir, the Terre Nere Nerello Mascalese 2015, which they said was excellent.

Our selection of dishes was amazing – for appetizers we selected the Bruschetta di Burrata (the puglian Burrata cheese is rather enticing) and Vegetable Antipasti. The Antipasti comprised of marinated black and green olives, pickled veggies, eggplant and grilled summer squash – a great choice for wine drinkers, I would say.

For the main course, we ordered two pizzas and two kinds of pastas. The pizzas were Quattro Formaggi and Funghi – both vegetarian, and the pastas were Bucatini Pomodoro and Ricotta Gnocchetti, again both vegetarian. All were outstanding – flavourful, tasty, and healthy. I loved the Funghi Pizza which had roasted mushrooms (I have always love mushrooms), cherry tomatoes, mustard greens, garlic, oregano, fior di latte cheese, and pecorino blue cheese. My son went for Chicken Diavola which he said was very good as well.

Since this was a surprise dinner ahead of the actual birthday, my family arranged with the chef for bringing out a nice cake at the end of the dinner with a candle on it, and my wife was very close to guessing it. However, before any further deliberations, the cake arrived, with again a detailed explanation of the constituents of the cake by the senior service staff member who attended to us throughout the dinner. This is a big difference from anywhere else – knowing that most of the clientele are not well versed with the unique characteristics of the exotic food from Southern Italy, the service staff are trained to explain every nuance of all the dishes in great detail. I believe that such explanations go to serve a greater understanding of what we were having for dinner, and develop a keen sense of appreciation for specific food choices. The knowledge of food makes us wiser when suggesting restaurants or food types to our guests – be it in corporate or private setting.

Overall, Coda Di Volpe was an excellent restaurant with great service. If I have to call out one deficiency, it was the portion size for Pastas – too small for one person I should say. This forces people to order the bigger portion, which is probably the right size for one person!

I would strongly recommend this restaurant to all Italian food lovers.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th June 2017