Wednesday, January 28, 2004

What's happening to manufacturing in America?

The cover story of the January 2004 issue of the Industrial Engineer magazine raises the same questions that me and a couple of my friends have been wondering about recently, a time that has coincided with our still unsuccessful job searches. Some of my friends who are completing their Masters degrees in Industrial Engineering have been getting interviews, but then their specializations have been in either supply chain management or their research has involved extensive coding in Java. People whose specializations have been in core manufacturing like me (my specialization is in Production Planning and Control), whose skill sets do not include major programming skills, have not been able to even elicit responses from recruiters, atleast here in Ohio where manufacturing has been in the decline.

In this scenario comes the cover story (download a PDF copy here) in IE magazine. The story, authored by Steven Averett, looks at the various factors that quantify the trends in manufacturing. The accompanying graph presents an interesting picture. While industrial production in the US has been (the obvious decline in the last few years not withstanding) steadily increasing in the last 25 years, while the employment figures have been steadily on the decline.

p. 30

But this scenario is nothing but the effect of better use of the resources that companies have - the 3 Ms in manufacturing i.e. Men, Machine, Money. Companies have been steadily going the lean way, prompting the discarding of positions rendered redundant by the infusion of new technologies. So that picture is accounted for. The next reason is globalization, with countries like India and China being the key areas where companies have been shifting their newer operations, due to lower costs with comparable quality. Again this is nothing new.

However, this rise in production rates is not what it should have actually be possible with the new technologies. If you would look carefully into the production figures of these companies, it would be immediately apparent that they are probably not producing at their maximum possible rates. So is it possible that a turnaround could be accomplished by reducing the effect of imports by actually producing more (decreasing some of the overhead costs due to this increase in the bargain) right here in the US, increasing availability of local products and exploiting the jingoistic tendencies of the average American who would probably buy it over similarly priced foriegn made material. By the way, I am not advocating trade laws against imports. In fact, imposing tariffs on imports from certain countries would only drive importers towards others which are not covered by them, which happened with the steel industry. Instead, proper resource usage could be used to create artificial pressure on the consumer to buy American, by increasing availiability at affordable costs. This could probably effect a turnaround in the manufacturing segment.

However, what strikes me as surprising is the quoting of a survey by a couple of manufacturing research organizations and Deloitte & Touche which postulated that hile the number of manufacturing jobs has declined rapidly in the past few years, the number of qualified fresh grads wanting to take these kinds of jobs has declined too. So there lies the paradox, a classic hen or the chicken question. What decreased first, the number of positions or the number of people wanting those positions? The study mentions that organizations feel that fresh grads do not have the qualities that they require. However the story transfers the onus to the companies saying that they themselves should take it upon themselves to educate the students in this regard via more internships etc.

This last statement seems more or less valid because, I, as someone who has been searching for that elusive position, have noted that almost all the companies call for experienced candidates. This, in my view, reeks of the companies resolve to look for short term gains. I think that if companies could be more accommodative of entry level candidates, this scenario could drastically change. It almost looks as if companies know what they want, but want to get it for free. Don't we all know that there is no such thing as a free lunch?

Monday, January 26, 2004

College Bowl and the Laser show!

It was a busy day, quizzing wise yesterday. I was on a competitive quiz playing for much more than just fun, after more than a couple of years. In 2001, just before I left India, actually just the day before my departure, I spent the most part of the afternoon and evening (much to my parents's consternation), at the Landmark Quiz 2001.

V and D were my team mates at this event which marked the first and hopefully the last time when Derek O'Brien. As was the case in every edition of the Landmark quiz that I have attended, I did not make the finals. Ya... I am not that good. But well, I am hooked to the highs that competitive quizzing offers.

So when I found that my univ has a competetive quizzing (College Bowl) club active again after a gap of 15 years, since last summer, I decided to go to the weekly meetings. I started going, a couple of weeks after the start of the Fall quarter and have been going every week since then. It has been a good time so far and though I don't do much, considering my abject lack of knowledge when it comes to American pop culture (which is one of the main focus areas), I have been able to make their jaws drop sometimes (an example). So much that I, if the official univ finals did not get enough participation, I was to go as the fifth member of the team to represent my univ at the regional nationals.

Well, the univ College Bowl finals was yesterday and I was part of the team (along with D,JJ and K) that won the final match after round robin preliminaries during which each of the three teams faced each other twice. We finished 3-1 in the round robin matches and won the finals comfortably. But I found myself out the top 5 individual performers and hence will not be in the official team for the regional nationals at Albion, Michigan in February. Thats fine, though, cos I am sure I would be excess baggage.

In the evening, the ISA here at my univ had this do for the Republic Day where one of the events was a Laser conducted pot-pourri. FYI, a pot-pourri event is a game comprising of a number of different rounds - quizzes, pictionary (Tinttoretto, for some), Dumb-C etc. My team was picked randomly from a pool of 12 participants (incl. me). The whole thing was an anti-climax with me missing coupla sitters and then having an incorrect answer ruled incorrect with the QM being incorrect too. The luck of the draw proving costly too as we could not get the "Quit India movement" right at pictionary and "Pelican Brief" correct in Dumb-C. Finished third overall.

However had a fun time miming the "Brief" part of "Pelican Brief". I was never a good DumB-C guesser as S and B would vouch, so thought I should mime. Mimed Superman and indicated that he wears whatever should be worn inside, outside. My team mates guessed what i was trying to tell them, but not the exact word. It was fun and everyone was roaring with laughter.

Watched a bit of the movie Sarfarosh and got back home through the second biggest snow storm I have seen in my life. P's car got frightfully stuck on the way up the hill and the car was skidding this way and that way tried to come up the last few meters before turning into our driveway. Scary to see the zero grip that the tires were getting on the icy road up the hill. We, finally got up after 5 minutes of skidding.

However, it was a fun day overall.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Vicks ki goli lo... kich kich dhoor karo!

Shobha's man was caught licking a lozenge on Tuesday as India held on to beat Zimbabwe in a VB series league match. Now the whole world (read Aussie media here) has claimed that Rahul Dravid was trying to tamper with the playing conditions by using his lozenge to shine up the ball. Some of the Aussie beer guts have even claimed to have discovered the reason behind the prodigious swing achieved by the Indian pacemen during the test series. Ya right and Sachin Tendulkar takes advice from me regarding his footwork... Duh!

Prem Panicker has this piece on Rediff and questions whether Dravid has actually committed the crime he's accused of. But whether he did it or not, according to me, is not the point. The point is, whether we need to really talk about it in the Indian press when the Aussie press is itself doing a good job about it. Regardless of Prem Panicker's tone, which absolves Dravid of any crime, Rediff's other features on this issue are pretty damning. Check the title of this reader's poll - Should ball tampering be legalized? And check out this photo feature Roughing it up - a look at instances of ball tampering over the years. And no guesses for the first picture - Rahul Dravid.

Prem Panicker however ends his piece with something I agree whole heartedly. This however is practically a case of Rediff playing to both sides of the coin. Prem's argument is - why are the Australians raising a hue and cry over this issue when practically nothing appeared in the Australian media over the news that the MCG curator, Tony Ware had used loose earth to repair cracks on the 5th day pitch. That, Steve Waugh claimed was a "honest mistake". So going by that yardstick, this was a "honest mistake" too, as Wright and Ganguly have said in Dravid's defense.

In my view, it is cricketer's second nature to lick his fingers and apply spit liberally on one side of the ball to keep it shiny. But what is the amount of spit that is legal. Can I not make the ball heavier (akin to it rolling on wet turf) by spitting more than liberally. I know this is yucky, but ya, nothing prevents me from doing so. And then cricketers chew gum all the time. Have there been any tests that prove that menthol from chewing gum (or the ill-fated lozenge) does not affect the ball's texture and condition etc.? If the answer is no, then there is no question of Rahul Dravid being fined.

But as I have been saying ever since India set foot in Australia in December, why is the Indian media giving space to articles and news that are detrimental to the Indian team - in spirit and in play. A number of Aussie players are allowed to play their mental games (which I think they are bad at, these days) by writing trash in the Indian newspapers. And if u want to know about Indians voices in the Aussie media - practically zilch, barring a couple like Soumya Bhattacharya, deputy editor of the Hindustan Times, Kolkata, working at the Sydney Morning Herald under a Medialink fellowship contributes occasionally to the Herald and that too only articles of public interest and little to do with the actual game of cricket.

As I type this, Steve Bucknor, who is one of the umpires in today's India Australia clash at the SCG, seems to be making a joke out of the whole issue by making rubbing motions on one side of the ball in front of all the cameras. That in my view is as damning as a bowler celebrating without waiting for an umpire's decision. Throughout the ground are posters taking sides in the whole issue and Dravid is being booed as he walks in after Parthiv Patel's dismissal. And Bill Lawry and Tony Greig up the Channel Nine?s box are vehemently claiming that Dravid got off easy and Ganguly should have also being fined because he ?was standing opposite to Dravid and asking him to wipe it even harder?. The a^&#(*!#$! And we as loyal Indian fans are still reading and listening to the shit that these Aussie beer influenced poseurs pass as diaries and cricket commentary!

Follow-up: While Rahul Dravid has not been able to say anything abt this (usual ICC gag order), a lot of people, incl. the ICC match referee involved, Clive Lloyd, have been forthcoming with their comments. Peter Roebuck seems be a certainity for the next Pravasi Bharatiya Divas next year (he has been pro-India throughout this Indian summer), but he moved a step or two away while damning Dravid. He however keeps his foot in the Indian embassy's door by claiming that we need to stop talking about it and let the game get on. Sambhit Bal, seems to be the only person in the Indian media to criticize the Aussie media's double standards publicly. Kapil Dev as usual shoots his mouth off, but in measured tones this time and says Dravid must face the consequences of his action, but adds that he has not seen it on TV, but only read it. But the line that appears at the head of that article is the most damning. So Mr.Kapil Dev, stop spewing shit! And the company that manufactures the Kookaburra balls (incl. the fateful one that Dravid handled) says spit and mint can't do anything to the ball. So why this fuss. Tell that to Lloyd. The man says "It couldn't have been accidental because he's been fined" . Oh ya, Mr.Lloyd, we understand the sarcasm in your voice.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

LoC series? Whoa Whoa....

ARY Digital, who hold the TV rights for the upcoming India Pakistan series, are calling the series - the LoC Series. Well, apparently LoC is Lions of Cricket. Pretty unimaginative, and awfully insensitive! Duh!

Thursday, January 15, 2004

One - eyed Greek monster to Steve Bucknor's aid?

Steve Bucknor must be the most reviled man not just in the Indian dressing room, but in almost every other living room in India in the last few weeks. But as Sambhit Bal makes a case here for Bucknor and his beleaguered ilk, why should we vilify umpires for not doing their job satisfactorily when other people around them are paid much more, but still are not held accountable for their actions. In fact we just tend to brush off mistakes by a Tendulkar or a Dravid as just effects of a bad day in the office.

So shouldn't Bucknor be sympathized with, for his stellar showing even if he is right 90 of 100 situations, which I am sure he is? Of course, those 10 occasions might be match turning situations but then we talk about it only because we see these things repeatedly through the day, courtesy TV replays. In fact, if the opposing team had been like Bangladesh or Zimbabwe, I am sure discussions like this would never come up. So how do we change status quo? By the use of technology or by training?

The latter seems to be a radical term to use when referring to umpires, but it could still be possible for the ICC to train umpires and sharpen their responses just like armies these days do. It is a small matter that most umpires are twice as old as the oldest international player currently active in the game, but some training is definitely possible. So how about the ICC evolving a training regimen for its umpires? Radical certainly, but well, it is possible!

Now for the former - the use of technological aids. This has been a hot topic with mixed opinions. Those pushing for the use of technology point out that the umpire has to watch out for overstepping and then within a split second look at where the ball passes/reaches the batsman's bat/pad/body. So everyone has been talking about the use of devices - actually only one device, the Hawkeye, to help the umpire judge where the ball would have hit/passed the batsmen. But the technology behind Hawkeye (which apparently has been used by ESPN and BBC in their Wimbledon coverage) has also been doubted by both cricketers (mainly Dennis Lillie) and laymen (like our man Maanga here). Others oppose the use of Hawkeye mainly because it takes the human touch out of cricket.

Technology like Hawkeye look at the batsman's side of the pitch. But how about using technology at the bowler's end - something that would signal to the umpire if the bowler oversteps? The ECB seems to have noticed something in this regard sometime after the Old Trafford test match between England and Pakistan in June 2001 when umpires David Shepherd and Eddie Nichols failed to spot at least four no-balls by the Pakistani bowlers in the last day of the test match that got them key England wickets - Nick Knight, Ian Ward, Andrew Caddick and Dominic Cork, causing an England defeat by 108 runs. But when asked about the use of technology for such decisions, David Graveney, the then chairman of the English selection committee, suggested a tennis-style system, but an ICC spokesman said it would be at least November 2002 before something could be introduced. But two years after that deadline, the issue still simmers without a decision in plain view.

As David Graveney suggested, one device that COULD help umpires judge such no-ball calls, while keeping their attention on the batsmen would be Cyclops, the infra red line-call device used at major tennis events like Wimbledon (where it has been in use since 1981) and the US Open (where it was introduced in 1986). Just after that eventful Old Trafford test of 2001, Bill Carlton, the inventor of Cyclops (for all you fellow trivia junkies, Bill Carlton also invented the plastic shuttle cock which has perhaps kept the Chinese White Goose from going the Dodo way), himself commented that Cyclops could be adapted for cricket.

This system seems to be a much worthwhile attempt. Cyclops would probably be a good idea as it would still leave the judgment of LBWs and the nicks to the on-field umpire while no-ball calls need not be worried about (if such a system can be perfected). The umpire can be looking at the batsman without any interruptions right from the time the bowler starts his run up to the time the ball reaches the batsman bat/body. And it would still be unobtrusive enough to satisfy all those advocates who have been crying out at the loss of the human touch to the game of cricket with the use of technology. It certainly seems to be a good compromise.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Fortuna Fovi Fortus

I first saw that slogan or catchphrase or whatever on the rear windshield of a schoolmate's Ambassdor car in India. I think it means "fortune favors the fortunate". Lately I have had instances where I have had some sheer luck at inconsequential times. Prime example was this question last night - Name the city that is the capital of the southern Indian state of Tamilnadu?

There were four other people, incl. the person who asked the question, in the room who had absolutely no idea of the answer. My answer stumped everyone till I explained. Out of the thousands of cities in the world, the question had to be about my own hometown.

But I haven't seen luck of this kind in a long time now in my life. I only wish that I had more of this kind when it matters most. I need it in the coming months...

Tuesday, January 06, 2004


It was most certainly Kumble's day as his 4 for 148 in 42 overs demonstrates, but this sadly did not become India's day. But then, India hardly did anything wrong today while Bucknor did almost everything wrong. Maybe Hawkeye is what we need! But check out the closing comments from Channel Nine - "The series is drawn and India have never beaten Australia in Australia"! What BS...

Sachin's man of the match speech was really cute. As I type this, the Wall's walking up to get his Player of the Series check. References to Steve Waugh again. Bob Merrimen's up next. After him comes up Saurav Ganguly..

Bob Merrimen's back again to pay tributes to Steve Waugh and after a lengthy speech, Steve's asked to come up the stage to receive a special gift and talk (no surprise here!). And a lap of honor on the shoulders of Langer and Martyn - well at least some distance! Adios Stephen...

And lest I forget and thats the irony as this is gonna be forgotten soon - Well done India.....

Monday, January 05, 2004

Kumble's day today?

It is just close to 3 hours before one of the most looked forward days in Indian Cricket unfolds at the SCG. A day, the likes of which hasn't dawned since that fateful day in June in 1986 at Leeds, when England capitulated to lose a Test match (and with it the series) by 279 runs. India has seen half a dozen captains since then who have failed to reach the door where Saurav Ganguly stands now, a door to what promises to be a golden period for Indian cricket. But there is more than just his foot wedged between that door and beyond. The Aussie juggernaut is seeking to shut the door firm on the Indian team's face.

That the team has come so far is itself a tribute to the brilliant game that the Indians have played in the last month or so. But to leave Australian soil without this last win should leave the team with nothing short of heavy hearts and disappointment. For what we have achieved in the last 32 days has been achieved earlier several times in the last couple of years. We have seen solitary away Test victories against a number of teams. But what we haven't seen so far during these series is the end game that would have given us that elusive series victory, a prize that has eluded India during the reign of at least five of Saurav Ganguly's immediate predecessors. I think the team does understand this - the fact that all that they have achieved so far in this Australian sojourn would probably be forgotten as soon as the next series begins. This is why the team has been measured in its public responses since the end of yesterday's play.

So what lies in store for India today at the SCG? Australia faces an uphill task. The 418-7 scored by the West Indians against the Australians last May at Antigua remains the highest score ever made by a team in the 4th innings to win the test match. Can the Indian team prevent a similar happening today at the SCG? Of course we can. Just for illustration, Ladbrokes puts the odds of an Indian victory at a healthy 11 - 4 and the odds of a draw are at 1 - 3 while an Australian win is at 8 - 1.

The key men for India shall definitely be Kumble, Parthiv Patel and to a certain extent, Ganguly. Kumble has proved every critic wrong by taking 20 wickets this series and he has every chance to match or beat Kapil Dev's 25 wickets during the 1992 tour. But to do so, he needs the support of at least one bowler at the other end to keep the pressure up. In the first innings of this test, young Irfan Pathan put his arm up with those quick wickets in the fag end of the second day. He remains my bet to be India's second best bowler in Australia's second innings. But people like Agarkar and Tendulkar (if Ganguly wants to do his part well, he should give Sachin a chance to turn his arm over), have to play their roles well too. Agarkar in particular, should decide not to go Brett Lee's extravagant ways, as he is prone to. Parthiv Patel should raise his level just a wee bit and make sure he concentrates on the job all day. This promises to be a brute of a pitch and Parthiv needs every ounce of his concentration to keep wickets to bowlers like Kumble who skids the ball through sometimes and bounce awkwardly at others (as the last ball of yesterday proved) and Sachin, who seems to turn the ball as much as Warne and his currently tormented understudy, McGill.

For Australia, every batsman needs to fire and fire rapidly. What makes a wee bit different is that this is the last day of a series that they have promised as a parting gift to a leader who has seen them rise to the pinnacles. This thought should be an additional source of pressure. And they need to play Kumble and the other slow bowlers with the same disdain that Katich displayed yesterday. As far as the farewell man is concerned, he has just 2 hundreds in the second innings of a test match and this is indeed a key statistic!

India for their part should attack every ball and should not repeat the mistakes made during the Gillespie-Katich partnerships. In fact the worst mistake India could do today is to settle for a draw from ball one. However going by how aggressive Ganguly's actions have been in the recent past, this scenario seems more or less unlikely. So India would in all probability go for a win, but how they do it will be serious business and will be discussed for a long time to come.

Hayden and Langer have been trying to sweep the Indian bowlers out of the park and this should present a number of opportunities for Kumble and Co. to get on top. However, this series has also seen either of/both the Australian openers get out cheaply to the Indian opening bowlers - especially Langer to Agarkar. Hence this is an avenue that could be exploited. Using Kumble as an opening bowler was a big move by Ganguly to unsettle the openers, but Pathan should be given a go early so that he can exploit the early jitteriness from the Australians. After that it's shaping up to be Kumble's day all the way.

I wish I were at Sydney with the Swami Army! Sydney is the place to be for every Indian cricket fan today. But will the swamis in charge of the weather help us? The forecast for Sydney today is this with chances of showers increasing as the day progresses. But this is opposite to what the Channel Nine commentary team said. So does the Aussie mental warfare include wilfully mis-forecasting the weather?

Saturday, January 03, 2004

NY blues!

I got back last night after two days of wanderings - a journey that took us across three states to the Big Apple. New Year's eve at Time Square and a day of looking around NYC followed and then the journey home. No major hiccups barring me getting separated from everyone else at Times Square, but the astute traveler I am, I had ensured that I had enough change and knowledge of all the proper routes to get back home myself. It is much below me to get lost and I did not. Another hiccup was the speeding citation that we got for going at 80 on a 65 zone around 50 miles from Columbus on I-70, again not too serious as the road was open and we were not being unsafe drivers.

We got to NYC early on the 31st and went to bed at 7 am till around 2pm. We reached Times Square at 6 pm and after walking around, we decided to have dinner and then when we returned to Times Square at 9, we found all roads perpendicular to 7th Avenue were blocked. If only we had decided to stay back at the vicinity of the NASDAQ ticker at 6pm. But we had thought that we could not spend six hours at a stretch there. We had to walk to Central Park and then get back into 7th Avenue. It was almost a mini stampede to get forward into 7th Avenue and the police added to this by not making barricades at every intersection on 7th Ave., with small openings on opposite ends. So it was a zig zag movement with people at the far ends being almost crushed everytime. On the way, on 56/7th, the police stopped me and relieved me of my bag and asked me to collect it later from the same place.

Almost close to 11, we found ourselves in front of Carnegie Hall. We could not get any further as the crowd was backed up to that point. We stood put at the intersection of 7th Ave. and 57th street, a good 10 blocks away from where we were at 6pm, the scene of all the action. We waited for the action to unfold and when it happened, it was almost an anti-climax, but fun all the same. We were so far from the actual crystal ball that we could understand what was happening only from the fireworks and the roar from the crowd.

After the whole thing, I told my friends to wait and made my way back to collect my bag. I got it back, but found my way back blocked. I got separated and after zillions of calls, found myself back with one batch of my friends at the Port Authority Terminal where I went to get the bus back to my friend's place at Hoboken.

In the midst of my wanderings away from the group at Times Square, I seemed to have passed the "Usability King"-sley Jegan on the opposite side of a escalator at the Port Authority Terminal on 42nd/8th in NYC. Waiting for confirmation from the man himself whether it was actually him.

On the whole it was 3 days off from all the hustle and bustle of grad school and from other worries. After our Times Square sojourn on New Year's Eve, we got out early afternoon on the first and saw the Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, the NYSE building, the Grand Central Station, the Empire State building and then took a walk again through Times Square.

I seem to have missed some good cricket from Sachin and Co., but as it always happens, I am not sure whether this good performance would have happened if I was around. Whenever I sit down to see a match, India always seems to do badly. So, I'd rather stay away from the TV and stick to the wretched audio commentary from Channel Nine and Cricinfo's text based offering. Last two days, however, I missed both.

But India has played well so far. It would be nothing short of blasphemy if India were to lose from this stage and I am sure at the end of the tour, we will leave Down Under, if not on a winning note, atleast in a ambivalent mood. That much is certain. As far as the Australian team's performance is concerned, my concerns vis-a-vis Zaheer Khan's comments about overstepping have been vindicated by Brett Lee's performance in this test so far. His 14 no balls have raised hell in Australia's legion of former fast bowlers and his own efforts to reduce this tendency to overstep seem to have done more harm than good to the Australian team strategy which, at Adelaide and at Sydney, seemed to be to dish out the chin music. Brett Lee's reduction in pace did not add anything to this strategy.

Prem Panicker has commented about the no-show of any comments from the match referee regarding the Australia's extra slow over rate. Considering the hullabaloo raised over India's over rates at Adelaide, which was faster than Australia's current rate, it does seem that the old fears about different rules for teams from the sub-continent might be true after all. Anyways there are three more days in this test match, let us see if the match referee comes out with a statement about possible penalties for Australia.