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Thinking about Africa

I rarely write anything about politics or my view of the world, but Arvind’s post “Africa: why it’s fucked up and what you can do” appealed too much to the armchair economist in me to keep quiet. Particularly interesting is this quote:

The main problem with Africa is petty dictators. Don’t take my word for it — a Ghanaian economist argues passionately for this view in this video. One phrase in particular is worth quoting — “Africa’s begging bowl leaks” referring to the futility of conventional foreign aid because of government corruption. He also explains how Africa’s traditional societies were free markets, even if not industrialized, and what Africa needs is more capitalism, not less.

Maybe the begging bowl is the problem. Africa needs to stop looking towards the West with a begging bowl and start looking towards the East with a photocopier instead. They need to open up their economies, encourage entrepreneurship and emulate what Asia has done over the past 50 years. After all, in countries like South Korea, China, India and Vietnam, economic liberalization has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and that has in turn led to political stability.

Also interesting:

Blue Angels

3rd time’s a charm I guess. I finally realized that the best place to watch the Blue Angels show is from the I-90 bridge when it’s closed. Not Genesee Park, not some random location in Mercer Island, but right there on the bridge. I took my parents to the show today inspite of the fact that I hated it the last two times I went and managed to get the best view of the show that I could have hoped for (without owning a boat or a prime piece of lakeside real-estate). We parked in some spot north of the Bridge, near Martin Luther King Way and walked down to the I-90 bridge just before it closed and managed to get a spectacular view of the show with the planes flying right over us a couple of times.

Here’s a pic I clicked, technically not of the Blue Angels, but of the Patriots Jet Team:

Blue Angels

Cruising the Caribbean

Last week, the Wife & I took our annual summer vacation and headed down south to escape Seattle’s liquid sunshine. We spent a day at Orlando’s Sea World (where Shamu sprayed salt water all over my camera – but that’s another story) and then drove down to Port Canaveral to board Royal Caribbean‘s Sovereign of the Seas for our 4 night Bahamas cruise. This was our first cruise and our first vacation since Napa Valley/SF last September (and no – India trips don’t count as vacations!) – so we were super excited and had been counting down to this trip since we booked it 4 months back!

We reached the port at 11am on Monday and after dropping our car off at the rental company, took a shuttle to the terminal. They had just started boarding the ship and there weren’t many people at the terminal yet – so we checked our bags in and passed through security checks and immigration in around 30 minutes. We boarded the ship around noon and decided to head up to the Windjammer (the ship’s buffet restaurant) for lunch.

Friends who had cruised before had told me that the first thing that strikes you is how huge the ship is – maybe it was because I had heard this many times already, but I really didn’t feel it to be all that big. Most of the time, it just felt as if we were in a large hotel. Anyway, I learnt later, thanks to Wikipedia, that the Sovereign of the Seas was once (between 1988 and 1990) the largest cruise ship in the world. What did surprise me about cruise ships, however, is that they travel only at ~20 knots (~35 km/h). Wikipedia tells me that it’s around the standard speed for ships – even naval ones – but it was surprising nevertheless given the speeds for other land and air vehicles.

Back to our day 1 experience: Lunch at the Windjammer was average – nothing spectacular other than the variety and quantity. After lunch, we headed down to our stateroom on deck 2. I have to admit that I didn’t do enough research at the time of booking – so I didn’t know that deck 2 was a level below where most of this ship’s entertainment and other facilities started – so we had to use the stairs or the elevator to get to just about anything on the ship. Next time, I’ll probably book on a higher deck. The room itself was better than I expected – the forums on cruisecritic had prepared me for the size and amenities in the room – so I knew it was going to be smaller than a small hotel room. Anyway, given that we weren’t going to spend much time in our room over the next few days, it didn’t matter. Our checked in luggage hadn’t reached the rooms yet, so we took our swimsuits from our hand baggage and headed up to the pool on deck 11. Even though most people hadn’t boarded the ship yet, the pool area was already packed! Only one of the pools were open – they were still cleaning the second one but that didn’t seem to stop everyone from lounging around, reading and drinking. So, we did the same – lounged around for a while, read a book, had a couple of drinks while the ships slowly set sail and departed from Port Canaveral. The departure was fun – Caribbean music playing live at the pool, people waving from the beach and the warm sun and strong breeze making for a wonderful atmosphere.

We had dinner that night (and the next two nights) at the Mirage dining room on deck 4. The food in the dining room was awesome all three nights and service was excellent too. I felt that the wine by the glass was a bit of a rip off, especially since alcohol on board the ship was in general priced like a regular restaurant or bar. We had a good table with a view and were seated with a nice couple from Pennsylvania whose flight into Orlando was delayed and managed to board the ship just as it was about to set sail after driving the 55 miles between Orlando and Port Canaveral in 35 minutes! They seemed rather shaken by that and took about a day to relax 🙂

After dinner every night, we attended the shows in the Follies Theater – the first night there was a dance show (‘Dancing through the Movies’) put on by the ship’s entertainers and the next two nights there were Headliner shows by guest artists, including Mario and Jenny(?) from Vegas and Sean O’Shea. The Cruise Director & MC Mike Swakowzki was incredibly funny and he usually followed the dinner shows with a game show of some sort or the other. The Quest and the ‘Love & Marriage show’ on nights 2 and 3 were a lot of fun to partake in –  the former involved performing some rather umm…. embarassing stunts in front of everyone in the Voltage lounge with most of the stunts involving underwear in some form or the other. Rather funny when you’re drunk 🙂

On Day 2, the ship was supposed to tender at Coco Cay and we were planning to do the Jetski tour that day. However, strong winds made tendering at the Island impossible and they decided to swap days 2 & 4 and spend a day at sea instead. On Day 4, the winds were worse and we ended up not going to the Island altogether. This seems to happen every now and then due to the Island’s location and lack of a harbor, so the ship’s crew is well prepared with back up entertainment and activities when this happens. So, though we were a little disappointed we couldn’t go Jet Skiing, we had enough to do on board to not miss it. That day was also formal dinner night, so we dressed up in our suit and dress and headed up to the Dining room for dinner, the captain’s welcome and to get our formal portraits taken.

Day 3 was our day in Nassau – the capital of the Bahamas. We docked at the island early and headed out after breakfast on board. We had booked a snorkeling tour at the Rainbow Reef, so we met the tour guide and headed out of the port and into nearby dock where the tour boat was anchored. Nassau was a colorful little town and the area around the cruise dock was clean and well maintained unlike the rest of Island. The tour boat took us across the harbor between Nassau and Paradise Island. Paradise Island is of course, home to the famous Atlantis Resort  and dozens of celebrity mansions. A piece of trivia – the Bridge Suite at the Atlantis is the third most expensive hotel room in the world at $25000 a night and still have a five year waiting list.

The tour boat took us to Rainbow Reef – which was probably around 10 miles from Nassau and was only around 10 feet deep. The winds were still pretty strong and so were the waves. This was my first time snorkeling or for that matter, even swimming in the open sea so I had a pretty hard time staying afloat and maintaining control and direction. The instructors were pretty helpful and led us through most of the reef where we got to see a few different kinds of fish and a couple of star fish. We had bought some fish food on board the tour boat and it was fun tossing some of it into the water and watching the fish surround you and follow you around. After an hour and a half of swimming around, we got back on the tour boat and headed back to the dock. 

After freshening up on board, we headed back into Nassau for lunch. We ate at this little place called Conch Fritters which was just behind Nassau’s flea market, the Straw Market. The food at this place was just passable and we wished we had eaten on the ship instead. The straw market was pretty cool and had tons of souvenirs at good prices. Bargaining was also the norm here and you could bargain everything down to 30-50% of the original price. We bought a few souvenirs from here and then headed over the Pirates of Nassau exhibit. The Museum had a lot of interesting exhibits and was probably extra popular given that Pirates of the Caribbean 3 was releasing that week.

Later that evening, we took the cab over to Atlantis and spent a few hours there – walking through the casino, looking at the fish in the aquarium and chilling out for sometime on one of their beaches. Atlantis was beautiful, in a Vegas casino kind of way, and the beach was absolutely delightful with turquoise water and white sands. On the way back from Atlantis, Deepti got her hair braided at one of the streetside vendors. That reminds me – there were a large number of streetside hawkers in Nassau who approach you the moment you get out of the port – trying to sell you tshirts, taxi rides, beads for the lady’s hair and even weed! Reminds me of landing at the Bombay airport.. except for the weed 🙂

Day 4 was supposed to be our day at Coco Cay, but that was cancelled again due to high winds – so we chilled out of board the ship for most of the day and had lunch at the dining room for the first time. There were some fun games at the pool that evening and I had a go at the Mr Sexy Legs contest (don’t ask…) after which we just lay in the pool and headed down for dinner again. That night, the winds were pretty strong and this was the first time I could actually feel the ship sway from one side to another.

The next morning, we docked at Port Canaveral and after breakfast, headed down to get through customs and immigration. We had an awesome time on the cruise and were brainstorming all the places we could hide so that we don’t have to disembark 🙂

I didn’t get too many good photos of the cruise since my digital camera suffered from a salt-water incident at Sea World, so I’ve posted all my cameraphone pics at http://www.flickr.com/photos/umeshunni/sets/72157600272803191/.

Copyrights and Plagiarism

Two related articles about the lack of respect for copyrights in Asia that caught my eye today:

via Slashdot:

“Apparently Japanese TV and bloggers have just discovered Disney’s theme park in China, where young children can be part of the Magic Kingdom and interact with their favorite characters (like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and the Seven Dwarfs). The park’s slogan is ‘Because Disneyland is Too Far,’ and there’s even an Epcot-like dome. The only problem? Disney didn’t build it, and they didn’t authorize it. What’s more? It’s state-owned!”


via Ultrabrown:

Bollywood rips with style. Why lift an obscure melody when you can steal chartbusters which everyone knows? It’s like that crappy Akshay Kumar flick, a phrase which exists as a redundancy, which ripped the climactic scene from Crash, on the theory that nobody would notice it’s from the Best Picture winner at the Oscars.

Chakraborty is apparently the Babe Ruth of stealing tunes. This guy has a whole Wikipedia article dedicated to his lifts. There’s his Gangster megahit ‘Ya Ali,’ which Chakraborty claims is completely different from the Arabic song which inspired it — ‘Ya Ghaly.’ There’s the hit song ‘Shikdum’ from Dhoom, a copy of Turkish singer Tarkan’sSikidim.’ And there are more than 20 other songs on that list.

But Chakraborty thrives in a system which pats him on the back and keeps him rolling in guitar picks and muscle shirts.

There’s even a site (http://www.itwofs.com/itwofs.html) dedicated to copied Inspired Indian Films Songs (Eye-Too-F-S get it?)

On a more original note, here’s a rather interesting and surprisingly accurate map of Online Communities by XKCD: http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/online_communities.png

Why Google Reader rocks…

I’ve been using Google Reader as my blog reader/RSS Aggregator for the past few months. This, after trying out Bloglines, Outlook, NewsGator, RSS Bandit, Live.com and countless other desktop, online and mobile RSS readers over the past few years. So, what makes Google reader better than the lot:

1. It’s faaaast. No more waiting for 200 items and images from Engadget to load before I can start reading the first item. GR loads them one at a time.

2. It understands individual items and treats them the right way! Most desktop readers understand the notion of a single item and will mark it unread once you’re done with it, but GR’s one of the few online readers that do the same. I hated the fact that Bloglines marked the entire feed as read after loaded it and read a single item. Google Reader’s also got a quick shortcut to unmark an item as read if you want to come back to it later.

3. Short-cut keys – J for the next item, K for previous item and U to toggle fullscreen mode.

4. List View and Expanded View: And list view expands the item you’re looking at. 

5. Easy subscription: No more hunting around for the RSS feed. Just type in the URL (or use the subscribe bookmarklet) and GR finds the RSS/Atom feed subscribes to it .

6. Shared View: No more mailing out cool blog entries to friends. Just share it out on your Shared Item Page for your friends to follow or even subscribe to!

7. Items can be in multiple ‘virtual folders’ at the same time. Wondering whether to put Slashdot under ‘tech’ or ‘frequent’? Put them in both!

8. Trends and Charts: Need I say more?


So, it looks like I’ve finally found my holy trinity of blogging applications: Google Reader to read, Windows Live Writer to write and Community Server to host. 


Middle of March? Check.

Switch to daylight savings time? Check.

The NCAA in full swing? Check.

Springtime in the Great Northwest? Umm.. not really…

It’s a week away from the official start of spring and the weather’s still grey and dull. VikS & I skied last weekend at Alpental is some rather lousy conditions. It was foggy when we got there, started raining halfway through – with snow and hail at the higher elevations and a gust that brought the windchill

Weekend update

I’ve been lazy with the blog again and it’s only because I’ve been too busy at and outside of work 🙂 Some interesting tidbits from my life over the past few weeks:

  • I wrote a little app called the Seattle Rain-O-Meter a couple of weekends back. The app gives you the probability of rain in Seattle on any given day based on historical rain data from the past 113 years. The tool was even featured on the Seattle Metroblog who said:

This being Seattle and all, it’s not unlikely that there might be some rain during the day. Just how likely it is can be hard to say, but thanks to Umesh Unnikrishnan and the Seattle Rain-o-meter [site] all the work has been taken out of your guesswork for you! Simply select a month and date and you’ll be given the odds of rain that particular day, along with a couple of predictive stats.

So, check it out: http://umeshunni.com/rainometer.aspx

  • I’ve picked up skiing pretty well this year – thanks to the lessons at the Summit and some well meaning friends. I’ve average atleast two ski trips a month and have moved up from the Green to the Blue trails at Summit Central. My updated goal is to atleast try out the black slopes before the end of the year. Sadly, I’ve never carried a camera to the slopes, so I don’t have photos of my adventures. Cameraphone pics just don’t do justice…


  • On the flip side, I’ve done almost no travelling since my India trip in winter. Weekends have been spent skiing, playing boardgames and other sports, planning surprise birthday partieswatching sports and other mundane activities. I’m looking forward to our Bahamas cruise in May, but I’ll probably get sick of staying within the Puget Sound region by then. As the weather clears up, I hope to do some local day/overnight trips, especially in Spring.

PowerShell tricks

Soo… PowerShell seriously rocks! I just downloaded the 1.0 release for Vista today and was playing around with it. Here’re my top 2 features in the couple of hours that I’ve been playing with it…

Cool feature #1: You have the entire .net framework at your disposal from the command line. So, you can instantiate any .net class and call methods on it with no compiler or anything.

Cool feature #2: It natively understands xml. Which means that you can get an xml blob and play around with it at the command line.

Combine the two together and what do you get?

A shell script that prints out the latest woot.com sale item and price:

PS C:Usersumeshu> ([xml] (new-object System.Net.WebClient).DownloadString(“http://www.woot.com/Blog/Rss.aspx”)).rss.channel.item[0].title

Philips GoGear 2GB MP3 Player w/ FM Tuner – $49.99

Or how about the latest headlines from Slashdot:

PS C:Usersumeshu> ([xml] (new-object System.Net.WebClient).DownloadString(“http://rss.slashdot.org/Slashdot/slashdot”)).RDF.Item| select title

Brain Scanner Can Read People’s Intentions

Is Interoperable DRM Really Less Secure?

MIT’s Millimeter Turbine to be Ready This Year

Microsoft Not Dropping Hotmail Name

Mice Cured of Autism

Cisco to Open Source CTA

Windows Expert Jumps Ship

University Professor Chastised For Using Tor

FAA To Free Aircraft Hobbled By IP Laws

Apple’s Windows Apps Not Ready For Vista

Yahoo Pipes

Canonical and Linspire Make a Deal

Indonesia Stops Sharing Avian Virus Samples

Did Gates Fib About H1-B Salaries?

To Media Companies, BitTorrent Implies Guilt

Neat, huh 🙂 More to follow in the weeks ahead I suppose…

PS: Holy @!%*&, it’s been over two months since I last blogged! There’s been too much happening in life and work over the past few months that’s kept me busy, but I hope to blog more frequently in the New Year.