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Toby Farms

“Second place goes to the team whose silver on their t-shirts shined….”

We had all been up since 6am and were exhausted. The team didn’t win a prize in any of the categories and were disappointed; we just wanted to go home. But, suddenly, our ears perked up – we have silver on our T-shirts?

The announcer continued calling out “..Team 36052, Toby Panthers..”

The kids went wild, Ms. Ebersole literally fell off the stands, I just sat there in disbelief and the Principal Ms. Garner burst out in tears.

First Lego Robotics Team – Toby Farms Intermediate, Chester, PA

It all started in June when i was cleaning my basement and found boxes of old Lego robotics equipment from 4 years ago when i coached my son’s team.  Just donating equipment has minimal impact – it needs to come with human help.  I remember the kids in our district enjoyed the program, but it was one of many choices and opportunities they have, so it was always difficult to see the real impact.  So I decided to try and start a robotics program at a less privileged school district.

Toby Farms Intermediate  is a middle school in Chester, PA, an under privileged, economically disadvantaged community with the same issues that face some of our inner cities. Many kids face difficult family and environmental issues that get reflected in the school and its performance. With lack of resources, despite the efforts of their dedicated staff, significant challenges exist in the school. Ms. Garner is trying to do everything she can to bring new opportunities to the kids – so when she got my email out of the blue, she immediately responded.  It took us several meetings and logistical challenges to finally get the program started in late September. Then my mother fell sick and I left for India.

We finally got going in October – already over 6 weeks behind most teams.  Working with these kids was a completely new experience.  Most had not even touched Lego pieces before.  Every step of the way had logistical issues – from a space to meet, to bussing issues to arranging a computer and so on.  It was difficult to get a consistent group of kids showing up each meeting and thus there was no continuity – but that was all ok, our expectations for the first year was just to give them exposure.

In November, I found myself back in India.  When I was away, we had to cancel meetings as there was no one else to coach.  In December my mother passed away. It was an extremely difficult time for me and I considered stopping the program entirely, but in the memory of my mother, who lived a very selfless life, I decided to put my grief aside and continue with the kids when I returned.

Three days later i broke my hand!

With the holidays and the loss of days due to bad weather, we were down to a few days before the competition.  But the kids stepped up to the plate and the administration and teachers rallied around them with more practice sessions and support. Still we were barely prepared as the competition arrived.

Getting any prize at the competition would have been immensely satisfying but to come in 2nd overall was almost unimaginable. The entire season sounds like a feel good Disney movie script – from the challenging beginning to all the things that went wrong to the beautifully improbable end.

Winning this prize at the competition means a lot more than most people can imagine for the teachers, administrators and most of all for the students of Toby Farms.  They rarely get such achievements to celebrate. It gives a sense of hope and confidence to these kids that they too are good enough and smart enough to compete with others. We hope it gives them the encouragement and excitement to remain inquisitive and try new things.  The entire school is abuzz with excitement right now.

I want to personally thank everyone at PennFLL for giving us the opportunity to participate in the tournament and for their encouragement and support. We look forward to continue to be part of FLL in the City and hopefully give a lot more kids of Toby Farms exposure to this program.

 

Throttled

The Net neutrality issue is complicated and somewhat misunderstood-  but it is potentially far more important that most people realize. This post attempts to explain the issue.

Imagine if you were driving your new Ford Fusion, about to enter the highway and you were met with a barrier saying “Fords not allowed on the highway – Ford drivers must use local roads”

 

You would be outraged.

Imagine if you were flying your usual airline from NY to Chicago and during the flight it was announced that the flight will take 4 hours as that airline is no longer allowed to fly directly.

You would be angry.

Internet service providers are like the highway or the airways – they provide a medium for transportation. In the case of the highway it is a medium for cars to travel on and similartly ISP’s provide a medium for data to travel on the internet.

We all expect such utilities like highways or an ISP to provide us unbiased access – i.e to be neutral.   As the highway should not decide which car brand should have access, an ISP should not decide which streaming music service should have access or better access than another.   The consumer should be free to decide which brand of car or which flight they choose or which streaming service they want to use. Whether to buy a truck or a sports car, whether to buy a Ford or Mercedes – that is a consumer choice, depending on their needs and budget – knowing that any of them can be driven on the highway.  Choosing a shorter or longer flight, choosing United or American – that is a consumer choice, knowing that both have equal right to fly in the sky.

This is the crux of the net neutrality debate.   The current administration and the FCC chairman, Mr. Ajit Pai, want to undue net neutrality.  What they are proposing is that the ISP does not have to be unbiased – they can decide not to allow a Ford to travel on it, they can decide which service they will give better or worse access to. They can sell access or quality of access to the highest bidder.  They are being allowed to be the highway that denies access to your Ford because Ford did not pay the highway more than another car company.

So as a consumer when you are trying to choose a service, you will lose the ability to make your own choice. You will not be able to choose a service based on its merit or quality or value – as the ability for that company to provide you the service will depend on whether they can pay enough money to the ISPs.  Thus your choice will be dictated and influenced by the ISPs.

Well you can simply dismiss this as “big business” – but this very different. Yes, different companies have different ability to influence a consumer by advertising – but the difference is that the choice is still yours.  If you are not allowed to drive that Ford on the highway, the choice is effectively taken away from you.

Net neutrality is a complex topic and thus somewhat misunderstood.  A wireless company that throttles your bandwidth speed after a certain amount of usage or charges you more – is not a net neutrality issue – those are just the terms of service of that company.  There is still a significant amount of misinformation on the meaning of net neutrality as it is some nuanced and complicated.  Recently Verizon announced they would throttle streaming access and cap certain streaming quality and several articles said that this was an affront to net neutrality.  That is not true at all.   The ISP’s are access companies providing access to content.  Access providers may have different service levels and quality, similarly Content providers may have different quality and service levels – but Access should not be biased to one Content or another.  Verizon’s throttling applies to all streaming content – it does not distinguish between one or another, i.e. it is still neutral.   Verizon is simply making a business decision on their service and pricing, similar to airlines charging different amounts for baggage – they don’t care what the color or brand of your luggage is.

Ajit Pai is not a technologist.  He is a lawyer that worked for Verizon.  He doesn’t really understand technology, he is just thinking about companies like Verizon who are stand to be the biggest beneficiaries of his rolling back net neutrality.  Start up and small businesses lose – as they will not be able to compete with the larger established companies – it stifles innovation.  Imagine if a new innovative video streaming company is launched with a fantastic product.  But they have to pay the ISP a ton of money to allow their service to be delivered at the same speed as an established company – well guess what – as a consumer you will never see the new company’s service.  To you, their service will appear slow as they were unable to buy equal speed of delivery on the ISP.

The common argument I hear is “..so what if one music or video streaming company is impacted…there are more important issues facing us today…”  This is one of the reasons that Ajit Pai is able to try and roll back these regulations so easily – the broader impact is not fully understood.  It is not about music of videos – it is about a much larger issue – the control of dissemination of information on the internet. The media is called the third pillar of democracy – as the media creates checks and balances by providing information to the public.  The internet has become a dominant part of the media, overtaking traditional print and TV. No matter what, we all rely on some ISP to give us access to the internet.  If the ISP can influence what and how information flows through to us, and this can be bought, then we run a major risk of losing control of the media.

Ajit Pai may just be a pawn in a much larger game – a much more dangerous game. One of the first steps in the loss of a democracy, to a dictator, tyrant etc – is the loss of an unbiased media. Once the media can be controlled, it just becomes a propaganda machine.  If the ISP’s neutrality is for sale, it opens up the possibility for bad actors to disseminate their own news and information with priority over others – de facto controlling the media.

The irony is that Ajit Pai’s parents emigrated from India – a country that prides itself on its determination to maintain net neutrality.  A few years ago, Facebook offered free internet access in India with the caveat that FB would control the content that was accessible and it had to be via FB. It was rejected by the people and the government keeping in line with its fierce protection of net neutrality. Ajit Pai should maybe talk to his parents.

Cartoon courtesy Steve Sack, Star Tribune editorial cartoons

Look in the mirror

Just before the elections, I wrote a short note called “My Fears…” and sent it out to some friends.  It described my fears of the implication of a Trump presidency to our society and urged my friends not to vote for Trump. You can read this note here.

The note was partly in response to a sense I had that a larger number of people of South Asian heritage were voting for Trump than expected – a similar trend in with other minority communities.  Over the last several months I have found out that there were many Indian-American voters who actually voted for Trump.  This posting is for them.

To all the Indian-Americans that voted for Trump, I ask you a simple question – where can i buy generic propecia Look at yourself in the mirror and tell me what you see? 

Is there a big sign on your head saying you are a Trump supporter? I doubt it.  But I am sure you see a brown skinned person.  Now think about this – what do you think Adam Purinton or Chester Doles or Richard Lloyd or Deep Rai’s shooter sees?

Trump and his associates like Bannon and Miller have popularized and legitimized xenophobia, racism and hate. As someone aptly said, the stigma of being a racist has been lifted – it is now getting to be “OK” and “cool” to openly spew the vitriol of racism.

Jewish home spray painted with swastikas,   flyers distributed in several neighborhoods with the words, “Make America WHITE again-and greatness will follow”, notes in community center that read “WERE GONNA BLOW UP ALL OF YOU REFUGEES”, Swastikas all over a subway car,  attempted fire in Indian-American grocery saying “run the Arabs out of the country” – the list goes on.  The number of incidents of hate crimes against south Asians has risen to post-9/11 levels, however hundreds of smaller incidents are going unreported. You can read the article and download a report on this here

Across America, the rise in the populism of racism has emboldened certain people to come out of the margins and shadows.  For many years there has been the very slow process of marginalization of racists – however Trump and his gang have disrupted this progress and as Van Jones said, American is facing a “white-lash”.

So when they see a brown person it’s ok to shoot them as they may be muslim who Trump says are bad; when they see a brown person, they can blow them up as they may be refugees, who they are told are not wanted in American; when they see a brown person they can harass them as they may be illegal immigrants whom they are told are responsible for their job loss; when they a brown person its ok to set fire to their store as they may be Arab and should driven out and now it is ok for the police to take in a brown person going for a walk, albeit a respected scientist, for questioning for suspicious behavior  – and it goes on and on.

I have tried hard to understand why any Indian-American would have voted for Trump with this backdrop. The answers mostly seem based on a misguided view that Trump will be better economically and for their bottom line.  Even if that was true (which is highly debatable), what use is a few extra dollars if the society is torn apart, if you have no dignity and safety and are a third class citizen? What will those extra dollars do when your kids are harassed in school or when you are told to get out of this country?

Some of those that voted for Trump were swayed by the rhetoric of Islamophobia.  To those I once again ask – look at yourself in the mirror and tell me what you see.

So once again, to the Indian-Americans out there who voted for Trump, think about that young man in Kansas, who looked just like and me. Think about what kind of country you want to live in and bring your children up in and look in the mirror again – and ask yourself what do they see.

My Fears….

I wrote this on Nov 1st, 2016 and sent it to many of my friends as I was very concerned about a Trump victory and its impact on our society.

Every society and country has its share of bias, racism, bigotry etc. and America is no different.  However here we address and talk about these issues and try to effect change.  Such change may be frustratingly slow, but there is positive change nevertheless.  This is exemplified by Barrack Obama as our President and by men and women of all color, race, religion rising the highest positions in business, finance, education and government – which was unimaginable just 50-60 years ago.  But slow change can easily be derailed and now we sit at the cusp of an event of historical magnitude that could set this country back decades if not generations.

 This progress, the changing economy and demographics, has given rise to some that believe America only belongs to those descending from white European Christian roots. Trump’s messages have poisoned them with racist and xenophobic hate and given them voice, a pulpit, a medium – emboldening them to come out of the margins and openly spread their Trump legitimized hate.

 I fear a Trump America. 

 I fear for Mr. S., a turbaned Sikh who may be harassed in public, despite an illustrious service career in education as a professor in a major American University,

 I fear for Mr. N, a young autistic man who may be made fun of and bullied because Mr. Trump thinks it is funny to ridicule handicapped people

 I fear for Mr. H, an entrepreneur who is now getting hate mail and threats because of his Muslin faith, while through his company he has created thousands of good American jobs in economically disadvantaged areas.

I fear for young women who will be sexually harassed and their private parts grabbed because the President things it’s cool, or be treated just like a “piece of ass” the way he refers to his daughter.

I fear for Mr. D, a Jewish American businessman who may face new uprising of anti-Semitism, despite donating hundreds of millions of his personal wealth for causes around the country (while Trump has given almost none).

I fear for Ms. S, a black mother who now fears that her teenage son’s life will matter less and he will be profiled, randomly searched and not be able to travel the county without worrying about being beaten or harassed or called the “N-word” by white supremacists empowered by the occupant of the oval office.

I fear for Mr. M, small town barber of American of Mexican descent who always has a smile on his face and gives customers a great haircut – he will now be looked upon as a rapist and drug dealer, unfit to do his profession.

I could go on and on. 

But most of all, I fear for my children, who were born and brought up here. They stand up for the American flag and sing the national anthem.  What will I tell them when they are bullied in school or told to go back to their country? I have established roots for forty years, paid millions in taxes (unlike Trump) and contributed to society and I have told them that despite its faults, this is the greatest country in the world. How do I explain to them that the only country they really know may not want them because of the color of our skin?

If we make a mistake on Nov 8th, we could tear the heart and soul out of this country, we would tear apart the beautiful fabric of diversity that this country was built upon. If my fears come true, it could be the beginning of the end of the great American century.

Even if you believe an outsider can shake up Washington, Trump is not the one to do it – he represents all the corruption and abuse of the system that he pretends to be fighting against – and any miniscule benefit will be dwarfed by the potential destruction of our society, 

So please think about this – these fears and not just mine but should be all of ours. And please go out and vote on Nov 8th with a strong sense of human consciousness.

                                      RJ, A proud Indian-American citizen, husband and father of four

        (note: while the examples are all real people, their names have been hidden)

Efficient binomial model

buy original viagra in pakistan A consolidated, efficient and practical model for American options with discrete dividends


Summary

The binomial model for pricing American option is well developed with a tremendous volume of research on the topic.  The original model does have several shortcomings which have been addressed by improvements and modifications.

However majority of the research has focused on independently analyzing one particular area or issue with the model, for example convergence, accuracy of greeks and handling of discrete dividends.

While each of these issues have several reasonable independent solutions, the goal of this paper is to construct one consolidated model that is efficient and accurate. The various models that fix single issues cannot be blindly “stitched” together without possible unintended affects.

Several approaches mentioned below, in particular while addressing the discrete dividend issue, rely on a large number of iterations.  The definition of efficiency is a practical model, that can be used in real time trading and risk applications to calculate options value, greeks and implied volatilities fast.

In this paper, the consolidated model developed will address several issues and suggest a practical, efficient and accurate model.

Click here to download the paper. Consolidated Binomial Model RJ 2015

Skew Vega

Skew Vega is the exposure of an options portfolio to a change in the implied vol skew, e.g. change in the risk reversal level. While teaching my daughter trigonometry, I realized that using some basic trigonometry, I could easily calculate the Skew vega in the case where there is no functional form (parameterized) volatility surface. Here is a simple and elegant model to calculate the skew vega

Calculating Skew Vega model

Factors detrimental to growth of options in India

The Indian options market is touted as a very large, liquid options market. The reality however is that the Indian options market is extremely skewed with a vast majority of the liquidity and volumes only in NIFTY options. The single stock options market remains without depth and liquidity and has not grown as would be expected from a mature market.
Stock options are a very important tool for both investment and portfolio hedging and are actively used by investors and market participants globally. Access to stock options enables investors to mitigate stock specific risk as opposed to simply broad market systematic risk by the use of Index options.
The lack of growth of stock options in India can be partially attributed to certain regulatory factors. This paper discusses these factor and offers suggestions on change.

I presented this paper to SEBI via a brokers association in India as well as discussed this with the exchanges several years ago.  However nothing came of it. I do expect this will be resolved in the years to come.

The full paper can be viewed here:

Factors detrimental to the growth of Stock options for hedging and investing

 

On Wisdom

If wisdom is innate, then by definition, everyone is “wise” – just too different extents based on our knowledge, experience and how we have used both of these to gain wisdom.

So when it suggested that we ask ourselves the question, “…what would a wise man or woman do…,  it begs the question,  how do you define “a wise man or woman”.   If wisdom is innate, then the original question could really be “…what would  I do..”

Since there is no objective and definitive measure of “a wise man” how can we even begin to think of what a wise man would do.  You can get a Phd in Physics and you will be a expert in Physics – this is objective.  But wisdom is relative and omnipresent, if it is truly innate – so the question of what would a wise man of woman do is somewhat impossible or thus redundant.

I have also heard the saying “… everyone is born a genius..”   My interpretation of that has been that every child is born with the ability to learn, to grow, to achieve – given the right nurturing, environment etc.   So if wisdom is innate, then the realization and exposure of that internal wisdom in us, requires the learning from our life experiences.   But one could make the same argument for courage and love.  So why wouldn’t those be considered innate? Or is there some definition of the threshold of stimulation that is required to bring these out in us – which defines which are innate.  The lower the threshold, the more innate?

We often hear about “..a wise old man..”.  That should not be confused with an intelligent person or one with a lot of expertise or knowledge in one or many areas.  Wisdom come from experiences that we learn from and which make us a “better” human being.  The wisdom to discern right and wrong, good or evil, meaningful or meaningless, ethical or unethical and so on.  We are not taught these, they are developed from our experiences and thus the view that wisdom is innate.  But then would the lack of these experiences at any point mean that wisdom is not possible at that point?  Then maybe Locke is right is saying that when we are born we are like a clean slate, a blank canvas.   But maybe wisdom is still there – like white light of the blank canvas. Our experiences over time bring out the colors and vividness on the canvas – but it all started from the existence of an innate wisdom.

On Education

ONE of the several traits, and arguably the most important one, that sets humans apart from the animal kingdom, is our desire for knowledge.   Humans have always had the insatiable need to learn about and decipher the world around them.  The result of this is why we have houses with heating and air conditioning, the reason we can travel by air, the reason we have electricity, the reason we have conquered many disease, the reason we have cell phones and the internet, the reason we have functioning societies and legal frameworks,

Thus we must not belittle the value of learning.   Our schools provide the foundation of such education and learning to prepare us to explore and learn new things as we go through life.  While many children feel that school subjects are pointless and a bore, they actually all have a reason and a purpose.  The sciences help us understand and explain the world around us, the mathematics gives us a sense of order and objectiveness, social studies help us understand society and where we came from and how we got here, languages give us the ability to communicate better with those around us.

Education and learning thus should always be given a priority and importance in your life.  That being said, you may not like every topic or subject you are asked to study, but the only way for one to know what is interesting is to be exposed to many subjects.   The world is extremely complex, and various fields of learning are constantly overlapping and interacting with each other.  Psychologists sometimes need the logic of math; scientists need the philosophical insight and the businessman needs to understand cultures and traditions.  Thus exposure and learning of many subjects is important at the school level.

Obviously there are other traits which set us apart as humans – such as our desire to be creative in music, arts, writing etc and our ability to appreciate this creativity.  No other animal creates varieties of songs and music, shapes and forms, expressionism etc.  And thus the exploration of the creative side is also important.  There are others like the philosophical and the physical side as well.

All these go hand in hand and are not mutually exclusive and the exploration or emphasis on one should not compromise the other.   As we grow, we may tend to focus more on one area of the other and sometimes there may be limitations preventing us from exploring some of these areas – but as human beings we must try not to consciously ignore any of these traits during our lives.

So make sure learning and education remain a priority – make sure you give them their due and your best effort and attention.   If you make learning a part of your life, then you will not see it as a chore or a bother – it is just natural.

In search of the best Vegetarian Dumplings in NY

The best vegetarian dumplings I ever had were in Jersey City at a small basement shop on Grove Street called Ducky’s & Dumplings.  The owner made all the food fresh on demand and the handmade vegetarian dumplings were incredible (as were the scallion pancakes).  But unfortunately the flooding from Sandy took out this restaurant.

So I decided to look for a replacement for my desire of vegetarian dumplings.

Note however that my reviews are limited to vegetarian dumplings.  Some of these places may have other food and dumplings that are far better or worse – but I only care about their vegetarian ones.

chinese-pan-fried-dumplings-recipe

My search started in Chinatown.  I figured if you want dumplings, that should be the place to go.  There are many small, local noodle and dumpling restaurants in Chinatown and vegetarian dumplings are fairly common.  My criteria was approximately 8 dumplings within $10.  Unfortunately I had to skip the real local restaurants as all the menus and signs were in Chinese and no one in those restaurants spoke any English!

My first restaurant was Tasty Dumpling on Mulberry Street.  The name is right – but unfortunately everything stops there.  Typical self-serve type place that is extremely inexpensive.  For $3.50 I got 8 steamed vegetarian dumplings.  But even that was too much to pay for them.  They were extremely “doughy” and very light on the filling, which itself had a lot to be desired from as it was essentially cabbage chopped up.  They tasted like steamed dough balls that just stuck to my mouth. On top of that the soy sauce and hot sauce on the table was extremely watered down.   Definitely do not waste your time at this place

The next week I visited Vanessa’s on Eldridge Street off of Grand. Vanessa’s is extremely busy, with a constant flow of customers  – mostly tourists, mixed in with a few preppie couples from Soho and many hipsters  – but surprising very few Chinatown locals.   This is probably because of Vanessa’s digital footprint – it appears in most internet food sites and has received very good reviews – and deservedly so.  The vegetarian dumplings were green in color due to the spinach infused whole wheat dough,  the filling was a tasty mixture of cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, ginger and some herbs like coriander – and they did not skimp on the filling, The dough was consistent and boiled to the right consistency.  Despite the long wait, watered down soy and hot sauce, I was quite happy with my $4 for 8 dumplings

A few days later, while walking in midtown, I came across Hibachi Dumpling Express on 6th avenue. Fairly new, clean looking place was quite inviting.  So I decided to try their dumplings.  Unlike the vegetarian dumplings in Chinatown, they offered potstickers, i.e. pan fried dumplings.  However making good potstickers is an art.  They have to be panfried just the right amount with care to make sure they are well cooked all around.  While they smelled and looked good and were cheap – they were terrible.   One side was burnt while the rest was under cooked.  The filling was mediocre.  I ended up throwing away most of them.   They clear have not mastered the art yet.

Back to Chinatown.  This time to a Dim Sum and Tea Parlor called Nom Wah on Doyers Street, a tiny lane off of Chatham Square. This was a nice sit down place with table service.  The selection of teas was awesome, but most of all, the service was incredible. Very welcoming with an old school attitude. They made a mistake and under billed me, so when I pointed it out, they thanked me and said “on the house!”.   And their dumplings?  Excellent.  While a little more expensive ($4 for 3), they were noticeably larger.  Made from a tapioca wrapper and filled with a mixed vegetable filling, they were definitely the winner so far.  Topped off with a nice cup of tea made for a delightful and inexpensive meal.

One more stop in Chinatown – Prosperity Dumpling on Eldridge off of Canal.  Tiny hole in the wall, but extremely popular, with people standing outside eating – possibly because of how cheap their food is.  But their vegetarian dumplings had a lot to be desired from – very similar to Tasty Dumplings mentioned above – and right with them in the do not bother category.

Well, time to try some other areas.  I hear of some good places in Sunset Park, Brooklyn – but that’s a bit of a hike for me – so hopefully I will get out there one day.