Spelling Bee Notes

Kavya Shivashankar won the 2009 Scripps Spelling Bee Championship, as has been widely reported. I watched the last few rounds of the contest. The Bee doesn’t sound like an exciting sport to watch, but once you get into it, it can be quite riveting.

The only word that I knew how to spell in those last few rounds was ‘menhir’. Amazingly, it tripped up Aishwarya Pastapur, who tied for second place. Why did I know how to spell menhir? Because of Asterix – that amazing comic book series that is unfortunately not widely available in the US.

Three years ago, I blogged about the unusual success that Indian kids were having in Spelling Bee. The post was titled Indian-Americans and the Spelling Bee Conundrum. Only 1.8% of the college educated US population is Indian-American. But as many as 20% of the top ten finalists from 2001 to 2005 were Indian-American. Obviously, this is way outside the bounds of random variation.

Well, that percentage this year was more than 50%. 6 out the 11 finalists (Scripps list) were Indian-American. There is an interesting interview on NPR of Balu Natarajan, the first Indian-American winner in 1985. He credits this success to the North-South Foundation a non-profit that promotes education in India. NSF organizes a Spelling Bee every year in the US which effectively is the breeding ground for the National Spelling Bee winners. Kavya won the junior NSF Bee in 2004. Incidentally, Balu Natarajan, in 1985 won on ‘milieu’, which would be a softball for today’s contestants.

It is ironic that Indians, whose mother tongues all spell words the way they are pronounced, should excel at Spelling Bee which exists because of the illogical, wayward spellings in the English language.

Rants From Delhi Airport

I’m in a bad mood. I am at Delhi International Airport waiting for my flight back to the US. The flight leaves at the ungodly hour of 330 am and is already 15 mins late. I go through security and learn that the lounge is before, not after security. Since I have three hours to kill (I spared my brother who dropped me off from waking up in the middle of the night) I go through the process of cancelling my security check stamps. And of course, the mandatory entry in a register with the police. I then try making my way back to the lounge but going back through security is not easy. The process wasn’t designed to handle it. I was stopped twice within ten feet by men in khaki who wanted to know why I was going the wrong way. Finally I get to the lounge. Luckily, there’s wifi so I can rant.


Email Scam

I got this email recently. It is clearly the first step in a potential fraud. It caught my attention because it claimed to represent the interests of Byrraju Ramalinga Raju!

—–Original Message—–
From: Jessica Ferguson [mailto:balverson@earnhardtelectric.com]
Sent: Fri 3/13/2009 7:41 AM
Subject: Executive Placement

Dear Executive,

This is a Management Placement on behalf of Mr. Byrraju Ramalinga Raju.

Mr. Ramalinga Raju is looking for an experienced business person/company that can profitably invest monies in excess of Thirty Nine Million US Dollars. The sum will be paid from Zurich Bank International Limited, 43-51 Athol Street, Douglas, Isle of Man, IM99 1ET, British Isles.

Mr. Ramalinga Raju is willing to pay 10% for your role as the beneficiary partner to the funds. Also, a subsequent 10% “Management Commission” will be paid for your advised investment services.

If you prefer to be re-contacted for more express information, please send us your:

[1] Full Names:
[2] Contact address:
[3] Direct Telephone No:

Be advised to visit the following links to be better acquainted with Mr. Ramalinga Raju’s current profile and personality.


We expect your correspondence and our response will be swift. I can be reached on (+447035931859) for details.

Mr. Hock Lai Chan
Chan Law LLC
Bridge House Bridge Street
Isle of Man, IM9 1AX.
Direct Tel No: + (44) 703 593 1859
Fax No: + (44) 700 608 5723


Changes at Gridstone

From tomorrow I will no longer be CEO of Gridstone Research. Once again, as I have done twice before in my career, I step into the unknown.

I devoted the last three and a half years to our journey at Gridstone. We set out to build an important technology company serving the capital markets. However, Gridstone’s market, the investment managment industry, has been going through one of its worse downturns ever. Needless to say, budgets have been slashed and Gridstone had to take cost-reduction measures to adjust to the new reality.


How Tech Savvy is Obama?

officialportraitThe 44th President of the United States was sworn in yesterday. A great speech was made ordinary by the high standards he has himself set and the even higher expectations of the public.

As the new President and his new cabinet swings into action to meet the challenges of this economic crisis that has no parallels since The Great Depression, we ask ourselves the all important question – does Obama have street cred in tech land? Since this blog’s audience is very tech savvy, I am sure they will want to know if the leader of the free world gets it, when it comes to tech.

The short answer is yes. By almost any measure, but certainly compared to any other President. Probably compared to most of the Congress as well.

Everybody who has followed his campaign knows how Obama used the internet to mobilize campaign funds and volunteers. Never has that kind of money been raised in a US election with no strings attached.

Then there’s his blackberry. Apparently, they are inseparable. There is even talk of amending the Presidential Records Act of 1978 to allow him to retain his blackberry in the White House.

His photos such as the one above, and all content on his website change.gov is all under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License which gives unfettered freedom for his photo to be published around the world on blogs such as these.

The Whitehouse website http://whitehouse.gov went live at 12:01, a minute after he officially became President. His entire agenda is up there for the scrutiny of the world.

And like most techies, he won’t wear his jacket a minute more than he has to!

Did I leave out anything that might co-opt him into the tech-savvy crowd?

Have a Great 2009!

Koh Samui
Been away on some R&R to South-East Asia. Thus the slow blogging (slower than usual, I should say).

The vacation was wonderful. Spent a few days in Singapore, Bangkok and then New Year’s at Koh Samui. Everywhere with friends.

To my readers – all the very best for 2009. May you thrive, or at least, weather the storm well.

May you continue to take chances. Seek out new experiences. Invest time in family and friendships. Giving even when you’re not getting.

Happy New Year!

Book: No Elevator to the Top

Friend Umesh Ramakrishnan’s new book is out on November 13 – No Elevator to the Top. If it is anything like spending an hour with Umesh it will be thoughtful and full of useful stuff.

A blog on the book is here.

The book on Amazon is available here.

Economist’s Global Elections for US President

The Economist has a global vote running on the US Presidency. Its design matches the US electoral college system. Each country has a number of electoral votes that are roughly proportional to the population of the country. The candidate who wins the country takes all the electoral votes of that country. The electoral votes are not split in proportion of the individual votes.

The vote of course makes no difference to the actual election, if only to bring focus to what the rest of the world thinks about the candidates who are contesting to be the “ruler of the free world”.

The very early results indicate a strong support for Barrack Obama. The screenshot attached was taken at about 9:15PM Pacific. [You can click on the image to see its details.] At 8 PM when I cast my own vote, John McCain had no electoral votes. Since then El Salvador seems to be leaning towards McCain. Most countries I checked – India, Britain, Germany, USA – had Obama polling over 80% of the votes. Even Israel was over 70%.

These are very early results. The poll was announced in the print edition of this week’s economist. With just the weekend gone, I suspect that the results still represent the voting of the core economist reader. This will change as each party’s supporters will be sent to the economist site to register their vote.

You need to create a user id for economist.com which is free, but don’t have to be a subscriber of the print edition.

Getting Roadside Directions in India

Mumbai RoadsideIn Mumbai again. Yesterday I went to visit a friend of mine in the evening. He had moved to a new place in Khar close to Khar Gymkhana. His directions were somewhat sketchy so we had to stop a few times to get directions. It got me thinking about how different asking for and giving directions was in India.


Online Petition

Infosys’s Mohan Babu’s 4 month old baby tragically died on a flight into India, just minutes before landing. The grieving parents are seeking answers from the airlines (Jet Airways) and the airport authorities. Link to the online petition can be found here.