Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

Why do smart phones freeze (or hang or lock up)?

2014/04/22

Old Nokia phones (also known as dumb phones or features) almost never froze! I had a Nokia phone which froze only once (worked fine after restart) in 7 years of use! That is pretty impressive.

However, most smart phones often freeze. Some freeze quite often while some other freeze only occasionally.

Let us understand why it happens.

All smart phones are mini computers inside. They have an Operating System (OS) which interacts with the phone hardware. Users interact with the phone via application layers.

The core of OS is known as “kernel”. This is low level assembly language core which translates users’ requests (via apps) so that hardware can process it. For example, when you dial a number (via dialler app) the request is sent to kernel which instructs the hardware to perform the phone dialing operation. Both Android and iOS runs on highly customized flavors of Unix OS inside them.

The old dumb phones also had similar concept but there was a big difference. Those phones were only allowed to perform few predefined tasks like dialing a number, receiving phone calls and sending texts (along with alarm, calendar etc.).

But modern smart phones are expected to do a lot of things! As a result, it is often very difficult to predict what each app will request to kernel. There are just millions of instructions possible. When many apps send some instruction to kernel, it may get overloaded (takes too long to process which manifests as phone slow to respond) or just get confused (manifests as phone freezing). The freezing often happens due to kernel going into an infinite loop (and does not know how to come out of that) or just bogged down by too much work.

When you use heavy weight apps in lower end (or budget) smart phones, due to slow CPU and small amount of RAM, the hardware gets overloaded. So, those phones often become slow over times. When you install newer versions of apps, they usually take up more space and thus strains hardware even more!

Different manufactures try to handle this problem in different ways. Apple implements a strict control of what its apps are allowed to do and what hardware goes inside the phone. That’s why iOS is more restrictive and iOS users see less frequent freezing. Internally, iOS apps work in a sandbox mode. Each app gets a space in phone storage and it can’t access anything outside of its own sandbox. Once you delete the app, all its traces are gone. This is also the reason why users can’t access iOS file system (unless you jailbreak). Apple also doesn’t allow usage of external memory card which is often responsible for corrupt file systems and thus causing problems.

Android system (even though derived from Unix) is more like good old desktop Windows OS in its behavior. Apps can often access an equivalent of Windows registry style things. Various apps dump garbage in cache, which fills up phone’s internal storage (like hard disk) and phone becomes slower over time. Even if you install an app in SD card, it still leaves traces in internal storage space due to OS design. Android also allows access to file system (just like desktop PCs) which means users can fiddle with its system and may accidentally delete system files!

Microsoft has taken iOS like “sandbox” approach in its Windows phone system. So, in theory, Windows Phones are supposed to crash less! However, these still allow external SD cards so such issues will remain to some extent. Also, as Windows phones have less market share at present, it is difficult to predict if they are indeed superior to Android or iOS.

From empirical evidence, it can be stated that:

  • Apple phones crash the least. However, internet browsing is often unpredictable and quite often iOS browser just crashes but this does not usually lead to entire phone freezing up.
  • Blackberries and Android phones crash often. Lower end Android models crash more if you fiddle with them too much for the reason described in this article.
  • Less matured OS crashes more. For example, Windows phones OS have good architecture but it is still maturing so it may crash unexpectedly.
  • Poorly designed OS will crash often. This is why Nokia’s Symbian based smart phones were notorious for freezing!

If you are an Android user, make sure you clear cache often, manage your applications so that it does not store too much data in phone’s internal memory and refrain from heavy browsing or playing hardware heavy games. This should lead to less crash, especially in budget hardware Android models.

If you are an iOS user (iPhone or iPad), there is not much you can do to prevent freezing (if that happens at all). Sometimes one or two rogue apps may cause problem. In that case, simply get rid of those apps. Some apps when updated, tend to make use of newer features of latest OS. If your OS is older version, you may see apps crashing (but not entire device freezing up).

Windows phones are still maturing so nothing can be advised at this moment.

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Why rupee always falls against dollar, pound, euro?

2013/06/26
Historically, Indian Rupee always fell against strong currencies like Dollar, Pound or Euro.

 
During mid of 2013, rupee had almost a free fall. It now equals 1 $ = 60 Rs or 1 £ = 93 Rs.
 
So why suddenly rupee fell so low?
 
One reason is better economic outlook in USA. Large scale investors are now expecting better return on their investment from USA. Thus, their funds are going towards USA and less amount is coming to India. For many day to day products, India needs foreign currency (in the form of $, £, € etc.) so less foreign currency coming to India means more demand for $ £ € to buy goods/raw materials from outer world.
 
Incidentally, weakening of rupee should make export much more attractive as same $ will now buy more Rs. However, there is a catch. To produce many of those exportable goods, businesses need to import raw materials from outside India, which requires foreign currency! Since such import is getting more expensive, resulting goods (manufactured in India) is also becoming expensive – thus eroding the benefit of weakening rupee for export.
 
Weakening rupee also sometimes prompt foreign importers (who buy exported goods from India) demanding a re-negotiation on price (as they claim weakening rupee will benefit Indian exporters also we have just seen that may be the case always).
 
Non residents Indians (NRI) are happy because if they send foreign currency to India now they will get much better return (i.e. more Rs for every $ sent). However, such fun is only possible if they don’t want to take money out of India at a later date. If NRIs send money to India and invests in a scheme in India, when they convert money later from Rs to $/£/€, chances are – due to rupee weakening even more, they will get a very poor return.
 
So, in short, weakening rupee is not a good news for investors especially those who want to invest foreign currency in India and then want to convert that to their native foreign currency once their investment is matured. If rupee falls further between the time they invested and investment matured and considering rate of return and inflation, they may even get same/lower than what they originally invested in $/£/€ terms!
 
In theory, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) can intervene by imposing a temporary limit of foreign currency going out of India but that will irk lots of common public and goes against free market economy principle (which India has adopted since 1990s).

Why Apple is suing Samsung?

2012/09/04

Lately it has been a trend to big multinationals suing each other’s over patent infringement cases.  The Apple vs Samsung battle is the latest one. No doubt Apple got a favourable verdict in a court which is just few miles away from their Californian headquarters.

It is difficult to comment how reasonable Apple’s claim is because nowadays most phones look and behave in very similar way.

But what is the real reason for Apple’s move?

Samsung itself is a very big conglomerate and powerful rival to Apple. The executives in Apple are very well aware that Samsung (and other competitors) will come up with many innovations some of which will invariable be better than Apple’s own.

In today’s cut throat consumer market, first movers do not have advantage for long. Within months (if not weeks) competitors can bring out a better model of the gadget. So majority of profit needs to be reaped as soon as the product is released. At least, before a cheaper better clone is released by competitors.  By suing Samsung, Apple at least made sure their competitor will lose some market share (!) in short term.  In current consumer market popular gadgets sale in huge numbers and majority of other models just lag behind (like what Nokia’s Windows phones are doing now).  That means even a very short term but massive market lead can bring billions in profit.

Whether Apple’s strategy is counterproductive or not, only time will tell. The sentiments of posters in social networking sites and blogs indicate that most people are actually favoring Samsung on this case. So this might be a boomerang for Apple.

What is black money in India?

2012/08/13

Black money is a term used (predominantly in India) to indicate money which has not been declared for tax purpose.

Black money occurs in all economies but in few countries, the amount is massive.

Let us illustrate this with an example; if you pay cash to your plumber and he does not declare this in his income statement, the amount becomes a black money. In most countries, this happens in small scale transaction involving small traders. However, in many countries (especially India and surrounding countries) it happens at a mass scale.

For example, one builder sells a flat for Rupees 10 million. When a buyer is found, he offers it to sell for Rs 9 million on the condition that official transaction will be noted as Rs 7 million and then buyer will pay him Rs 2 million separately without keeping any footprint of the transaction. Thus, they will pay tax on Rs 7 million only. Buyer will accept it as he is getting a price reduction of Rs 1 million. Seller is saving on tax as he won’t declare Rs 2 million as income. So in a nutshell, the tax amount is shared between buyer and seller.

This activity flourishes because of two reasons:

1. People believe by dodging tax they are helping themselves

2. In many cases the practice is so rampant that normal citizens do not dare to buck the trend because they believe law will take side of rich people only (even though when these people are actually in fault)

Some analysts estimate that the amount of black money stored by Indians in Swiss bank is over Rs 1 trillion. Indian government did not show any real interest to tackle this problem because many head honchos in political parties are benefitting from this practice by paying little tax.

Why India performs poorly in Olympics?

2012/08/12

When compared to relative population of other countries, India usually performs quite poorly in Olympics.

What is the fundamental reason for this?

This is down to cultural outlook. Parents in India encourage their children to excel in academics rather than sports. Middle class in India aspire for a well paid and secured job. If an aspirating athlete fails in India, the future is pretty bleak. Many athletes often struggle to make both ends meet because of relative poverty.

Sports require investment which is often beyond reach of ordinary citizens without any substantial grant from government. The grants from Indian government is often mediocre at best and even then it is frequently tainted with politics and regionalism. Thus main good talents are lost.

Some rich Indian kids manage to persuade their dream in sports but their numbers are very few.

This is quite contrast to China. Chinese government invest huge amount in sports and candidates ate picked for rigorous training from childhood. Of course, being a communist country, such acts of government is often considered as dictatorship. Whether is is good or bad is debatable but we can’t ignore that China achieved lot more in sports compared to India. Such practice is not possible in democratic India.

Until very recent time, Indian media glorified only cricket and largely ignored in other sports. This also discouraged lots of Indian citizens to come to sports which could have improved india’s Olympic performance.

Having said so, india’s performance in last two Olympic improved and Indian contenders now started winning individual events. So it is expected that in next few olympics India will perform much better.

Why so many empty seats in London Olympic 2012?

2012/07/30

Since Olympic is considered the greatest show on earth, it is assumed that there would be a huge demand for tickets and thus gallery will be full of sports fans.

But we can all see how many of the events in London Olympic so far have got plenty of empty seats!

How did it happen?

First let us understand how Olympic seats are sold. The seats are grouped under different categories. Roughly, there are two major categories – open to public and official allocations. Open to public is a fraction of the total seats. The rest are divided among corporate sponsors, Olympic officials, political dignitaries etc. The sponsors are officials are given a large number of free tickets (in return for their sponsorship or as perks in case of officials). These groups, theoretically, are expected to re-distribute the tickets among their own people.

Clear, this did not happen. After receiving the free tickets, the sponsors or officials often did not bother distributing them to their employees or associated. Even when they distributed, it went to people who were not that interested in the events – so never bothered to turn up in the events.

There is a demand from public that why empty seats are not filled by waiting public then and there. The Olympic organizing committee is yet to announce their plan of how to fill those seats up going forward during the rest of the Olympic session.

This incident surfaced the unethical nexus between Olympic organization committee and corporate sponsors where general public’s interest is sacrificed in favor of corporate sponsorship and officials’ personal agenda.

Why McKinsey consultants do not divulge even their clients’ names?

2012/07/20

Consultants from well known management consultancy firm, McKinsey, is famous for keeping secrecy. So much so, they do not even disclose the names clients they are working from.

McKinsey do not explain any reason why the it is the case. All they say that they do it to protect clients interest. Actually there is a real reason behind the secrecy. McKinsey consultants often advise competing organizations. For example, if Coke discovers that McKinsey is advising same strategy to Pepsi, neither company will be happy. Statistically it means, in any industry, McKinsey can advise only 50% of the companies (the rest will be their competitors). But by hiding their work in secret cloak, McKinsey can work for multiple companies in same industry at the same time!

Remember, as McKinsey charges very high consultancy fees (in the region of $10,000 per consultant per day) from its clients, only very large companies can afford to hire their service. Thus, if they are prejudiced against hiring by their clients (because they discover that McKinsey is also serving their main competitor) then they (i.e. McKinsey) will lose business.

This may lead to an ethical question whether McKinsey is selling one clients information to another client internally. So far, McKinsey claimed that one department in the firm does not know what other department is doing. However, this so called internal Chinese walls are very difficult to verify.

In 2012, McKinsey long standing former CEO, Mr Rajat Gupta was convicted of Insider Trading in US court. It was revealed that, while acting as board director in multiple companies, Mr Gupta leaked information trading information to his friends. Thus, it clearly proved that the firm’s claim of having their right hand not knowing what their left hand doing is quite unfounded.

Junior consultants in the firm may not have the visibility of what other consultants doing, but at senior level, directors do have inter client project visibility and can easily transmit information. McKinsey can immensely leverage their inter-client knowledge base for strategic advise to other clients in same industry in other geographic sectors (most McKinsey clients are multi-national businesses).

Experts say that Rajat Gupta’s case will definitely dent McKinsey’s claim of secrecy but only time will tell whether it will have any effect in firm’s future reputation or revenue.

CERN, Higgs Boson and God particle

2012/07/04

Let’s first explain what is Higgs field. It is something which gives different masses to various sub atomic particles.

Now we explain this in detail.

Imagine a fighter plane moves and a jumbo jet are moving thru air (with similar powered engine). Which one will move easily? Obviously the fighter plane because it is lighter and more streamlined. The air provides more resistance to large and heavy objects. However, if there is no air i.e. they are both moving thru vacuum, they will both get no resistance and their shape will not dictate which one will move faster.

When Big Bang happened, all particles were mass-less and they were flying in all directions symmetrically at speed of light (because nothing was slowing them down). But within one trillionth of a second, a new field (which is Higgs field) was formed which gave mass to particles – some became heavier and some lighter, which broke the symmetry and particles started moving in different directions at different pace. So Higgs field here is analogous to the air (i.e. something which gives resistance) in the example in last paragraph.

Remember, classical physics depend heavily on gravity i.e. how to particles attract each other. However, if the particles have no mass, then gravitational theory falls apart. Simply speaking, it is the Higgs field which gives mass to particles, which in turn causes gravity to work and which in turn make theories of physics stick together.

So how Higgs field exactly give mass to particles? If I could explain that I would have probably received Nobel prize now. But at least I can give you another analogy.

Imagine you are waiting in airport lounge (i.e. among the masses) and you don’t know any of your co-passengers. Suddenly you discover 2 of your old friends and they started chatting with you after sitting nearby to you. Suddenly a well known film star entered the lounge. Many of the passengers instantly recognize her and suddenly a large group of people formed a crowed centering the celebrity. Thus, the celebrity is attracting more mass than you are attracting with your two friends. Thus Higgs field give mass to different particles – more mass to a celebrity particle and less mass to an average Joe particle.

Higgs Boson is a new kind of particle which gives mass to sub-atomic particles. The scientists at CERN have found something which may be Higgs Boson. But they need to conduct lots of experiments to confirm it is really Higgs Boson.

Again I give you an analogy. Suppose you are clearing your loft and discovered an ancient flower vase. This can be very expensive but only an antique dealer can confirm whether it really worth hundreds or you can just throw it away. So scientists still need to verify if they really found the particle or it was something else.

Some media term this as “God particle”. This is because discovery of this particle will explain how particles get mass which is foundation of classical physics.

Why this discovery is important? Because this can open potentially unlimited new horizons. For example, because aircraft was invented you can how move between continents in a day or because of electricity can read this in your computer. Similar way, this discovery can lead to various benefits for mankind in the fields of science, medicine etc.

Let me take this opportunity to explain what CERN is doing with Large Hadron Collider. In simple terms, they are trying to knock two rocks and sifting the debris to discover what is the smallest particle they could find. They are also trying to create a mini Big Bang to discover what happened that very moment. In fact, most of particles of world today were formed within millisecond of Big Bang happening.

PS: This topic is indeed too difficult to explain in simple terms. But I tried my best. Please let me know if you find any error in the explanation.

Why Barclays bank was fined £290 million?

2012/06/28

In June 2012, British bank Barclays was fined £290 million for trying to manipulate LIBOR  rates.

What does that mean?

Just like normal people borrow money from banks; banks themselves borrow money from other banks. They do this for various reasons but often due to cover cash flow in short duration. LIBOR is an indicator or how much one bank has to pay to another bank for borrowing money. In other words, it is a rate at which one bank pays interest to other banks. Just like a customer with good credit score gets a lower interest (as he is considered lower risk), a bank with good reputation gets lower LIBOR rate. How the banks’ credit scores are determined? It is calculated from bank’s financial numbers like how much it is actually costing them to borrow etc.

Barclays actually lied how much it is costing them to borrow. This, in turn, makes them appear lower risk to other banks compared to what might have happened if they quoted their true financial numbers. Thus, they lied to get a lower interest rate from other banks. So, if they had disclosed their true financial data, other banks could have charged more interest to lend them money. Thus investors who lent money to Barclays lost money in interest.

Just like a country’s share index is measured upon how some big businesses are doing, a country’s LIBOR rate is also a measure of how healthy its overall banking sector is. If one bank reports wrong financial figures for its own health, this will affect the overall LIBOR rate. Many financial (both business and retail) interest rates are directly dependent on LIBOR rates. So, wrong manipulation of LIBOR rate is considered a fraud.

Barclays’s traders also bribed and coaxed employees of other banks to make them submit their figures so that it looks better in Barclays favor.

The common British public demanded a full enquiry on this unfair practice as they suspect other banks might be doing this as well. However, so far current British government did not show any move to initiate such enquiry. People believe that this is because wealthy bankers pay hefty donation to political parties and thus neither Conservative nor Labour party are willing to upset their billionaire donors.

What is bailout?

2012/06/06

You must have read in news lately that so many banks and other businesses are seeking bailout from government.

This means they have run out of money for their day to day operation. In brief, this is same as having cash flow problem.

Those who support bailout argues that if these businesses are provided additional cash injection (i.e. bailout) then they can continue with their normal operation in the future. This is analogous to providing loans to an ailing business.

However, those who oppose bailout, claim that the management of those affected companies ran in to cash flow problem because their strategies were wrong and they were incompetent. By bailing them out, it sends a signal to them that they won’t be made responsible for their failure. They also claim how government will decide whom to bailout and whom to not? It is unethical to bailout a large business with tax payers’ money but not doing the same to a small business. The government counter argues that when they (i.e. govt.) provide the bailout money, they also usually own a certain percentage of the company. That’s how some of the UK banks are now partially owned by tax payers. This is a difference between bailout and just a normal loan. There is a catch though, the government might sell their stake later. So this does mean that this is nothing but providing an emergency loan to ailing business.

Banks are considered a special case because if government allows a bank to fail, then it will severely affect consumer confidence and people will rush to withdraw money from all banks even if there is a slight rumor that the bank can fail. This would cause a turmoil in the economy. As banks are also aware of government’s weakness on this front, they try to leverage this by coercing government for a bailout. This action gave rise the to proverb “too big to fail”. This means, very big organizations like banks etc., failure of which can cause havoc with a nation’s finance, security, trade etc. will always be bailed out by government to prevent further damage.