Skype for iPhone

Yes, I’m on vacation but I had to blog about my Skype usage on the iPhone. I was able to download the app via the hotel Wi-Fi and started making calls right away. I’m in Thailand and used Skype to call back to India at 9 cents a minute. The prepaid SIM card rate is something like 80 cents a minute. I love it…now back to my vacation.

And yes, this entire blog entry was done via the open source WordPress iPhone app.

Social Investing in India

Web 1.0 was about commerce and Web 2.0 is all about social.  MoneyVidya is a social stock investing site geared for the Indian stock market. The idea is pretty simple – once you sign up for MoneyVidya you can make stock recommendations, then MoneyVidya tracks the return and riskiness of the stock picks. Based on the aggregate performance of your stock picks, you get a rating based on 1 to 5 stars. The concept makes sense and thrives off the idea that a good portfolio manager can be found anywhere and not necessarily have to wear a suit or show up on CNBC.

However, the timing of the site might be a bit off as many people are turned off by the stock market but that might separate the real portfolio managers from the posers. Gautam Kshatriya, the founder, sums it up best “It would be silly to deny that market conditions have hit us. But we’re going to hang on. Besides, the users that join a site like this in the beginning are ‘passionate’ investors anyway, who are likely to be in the market no matter what.”

Corruption or Arrogance?

treasury_logoOver the past 3 1/2 years while living in India I felt that corruption was one of the bigger threats that could face a nation. In the US, an average citizen does not come across many opportunities to bribe.  In India, corruption is dealt with on a daily basis whether it’s straight forward in business or not so straight forward.  Need a new internet connection? I had to wait over 4 months to get mine, but I’m sure if I bribed the local technician I would have gotten it within a week. Service with a smile as they take your money to grease the wheels.

However, after hearing all the non-sense about the bailouts and latest program from the Treasury the Public Private Investment Program (PPIP). I think it’s arrogance over corruption that takes the cake. Wall Street believes it’s about them. They still believe they can fix the problem which was in part fueled by them. Obama from day one has talked about transparency, yet I’m willing to bet that the PPIP will be hazy in it’s dealings.  The applications for managers are due on April 10, I really hope that on April 12, they provide a list of all the investment managers that applied. I hope this does not turn out to be yet another thinly disguised compensation vehicle for Wall Street. Aren’t the PPIP investments still going to fall in value until the residential and commercial real estate markets stabilize?

This idea of getting Wall Street fixed then Main Street can recover is pure arrogance.  Let’s assume everything is fixed with Wall Street and all the banks are re-capitalized and ready to do business.  Who are they going to loan all this money to: people, companies, state/local governments?  Leverage is what got us to this point and jump starting the banking system to make loans to people that are still financially wounded sounds like another bubble in the making.

There is no silver bullet to this, there are way to many moving parts.  Governments and central banks have to show they are trying to do something but their attempts seem more like swimming upstream.  Some big actions like nationalizing Citibank might help and show the US is serious and bring back confidence.  Once confidence is in place then people might go back to their banks and apply for a loan and get a toaster instead of the other way around.

The Voice of Google

google_voice_logoI finally got around to migrating my GrandCentral account to Google Voice (GV)…feel stupid for not doing it earlier. GV is loaded with a ton of features and takes voice messaging to a whole new level.  The idea behind GV is that you get one phone number issued by Google and hand out that number to people.  Then behind the scenes you connect it to your cell phone, home, work, or Skype number.  Currently, GV is only available for the US and thus you can only get a US issued number. Also, GV does not forward to an international number which is an issue for me so I get around this by using a SkypeIn number. But of course, that means I have to be near my computer to answer calls and that defeats the whole purpose of mobility.

There are several real benefits for me:
– When people call my GV number, the voice message get’s transcribed and sent as an email in addition to the audio MP3 file
– I can use GV to call any US number for free by utilizing my SkypeIn number
– The iPhone interface for GV is slick but good be better

After using GV for the past several days, I’ve realized Google is intent on taking over my digital life.  There are several things that I would like to see before they announce a general launch:
– International numbers
– Forward calls to int’l numbers
– Integrate GV with Gmail for true unified messaging
– Ability to use PayPal and not just Google CheckOut to buy credits

Below are some screenshots

Indian Cricket in Limbo

The back and forth between the Indian government and the Indian Premier League (IPL) came to head on Sunday. The fledging IPL finally decided to cancel having the series in India.  Now the IPL is looking to host the series in a last minute switch to either South Africa or the UK.  The Indian government apparently wants the entire country to come to a standstill during elections. Yes, elections are important but what sort of message does this send to the world that the Indian government cannot handle two events at the same time: general elections and a 6 week cricket series.

Personally, I think it has more to do with money then security.  Let’s be real, Bombay was attacked on Nov 26 and since then no major change in internal security in Bombay. I’m sure several well placed government officials saw how much money was made by the IPL last year and used the security card as way to get access to the IPL money train.

Lalit Modi the man behind the IPL was very diplomatic when speaking to the press and saying “no one was to blame” for the IPL being moved offshore. And, all team owners talked about how great it is that the IPL is going to continue. True, the IPL might continue in another country but that is an option which needed no go ahead from the Indian government, it was a last ditch effort.

The biggest loser so far seems to be Raj Kundra, who back in early February bought a 12 percent stake in the Indian Premier League (IPL) team Rajasthan Royals for USD 15.4 million.

AIG Bonuses Revisted

aig-sign-124Over the weekend, the Connecticut attorney general indicated the bonuses paid to AIG was closer to USD 218 million. I’m a bit enraged the bonuses were paid out, but you have to put the amount in perspective. Over the past 6 months AIG received over USD 160 billion in bailout money with more to come.  The bonus amount is less than two tenths of one percent of the current AIG bailout money. So why is their such little outrage at the other 99.80% of the money? I assume because it’s tough to put a human face to a counterparty like Goldman but if a single person like Douglas Poling receives USD 6.4 million it’s a different story. But even the USD 160 billion for AIG is chump change compared to what the Federal Reserve announced this week: to spend up to $300 billion to buy long-term government bonds and an additional $750 billion in mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It’s official the US Government used their last weapon and early – the printing of money. As a data point, last year the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) printed USD 154 billion in real currency notes based on yearly data provided by BEP.

Back to AIG, although the media talks about AIG to be precise there was a division within AIG that caused all the pain – AIG Financial Products (AIGFP).  You can think of AIGFP as the bad insurer. Towards the end of last year the WaPo had a great three part story on the history of AIGFP: Part 1Part 2Part 3

Another article I found has a quick timeline of the Rise and Fall of AIGFP

Finally, Rolling Stone Magazine (yes, of all publications) has a good story on AIGFP

Apple previews iPhone 3.0

iphone_v3On Tuesday, Apple gave a preview of what new features can be expected in their latest software (v3.0) for the iPhone. The event was a mix between features for end users and also for developers.  Apple said the latest Software Development Kit (SDK) includes over 1000 new API’s and over 100 new features.  v3.0 will be released later this summer (June/July) which is exactly two years from the launch of the iPhone in June 2007. It’s a bit sad that some of basic features in a USD 30 phone are finally arriving such as ability to forward an SMS. Below is my wish list, items crossed off are coming in 3.0.

  • Smart groups in contacts
  • Export Business cards
  • Implement copy and paste
  • Notes program syncs to computer
  • iCal to-do list syncs to iPhone
  • Play DivX files
  • Forward SMS’s
  • Multiple signatures for different mail accounts

Check out Terry White’s massive wish list, it seems Apple still has a long way to go.