Tuesday, February 27, 2007


The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.

- H. W. Longfellow (The Ladder of St. Augustine)

200 years ago ....

200 years ago on this day (Feb 27, 1807) was born one of the greatest American poets - certainly one of my all time favorites - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

In his memory, here is one of my favorites ...

A Psalm of Life
H.W. Longfellow

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.


There are other favorites too ofcourse - but this one is by far at the top of the list ...

Monday, February 26, 2007

New blog - apnafinance

Just started a new blog a couple of days ago called apnafinance. While its still a solo effort so far, I hope that it will be a collaborative effort with a few more friends actively participating.

I envision the blog to be a common way to share thoughts and experiences about personal finance, stock research, investing, economy, India, outsourcing, and other related issues. I often get into discussions with a few friends over one or more of these topics. So I figured it would be a good idea to consolidate some of these at one location. The name apnafinance may not universally fit everything that is added there, additional blogs may get created as needed.

Friday, February 23, 2007

hours v/s business hours

Yesterday, I was on the phone with a call center representative of my bank. I asked for a change to be made on my account, and she replied that she would be glad to take care of it for me. And once she put in the request, it would show up on my account in less than 72 business hours. So I politely inquired if she meant 9 business days? She 'corrected' me by saying that it turns out to be 3 business days. I decided not to push the topic further and let that be. Then I asked for another change - she made that change, and again added that it would get done in 72 business hours.

At that point, I couldn't help but smile at the situation and thanked her for the help and hung up. All I can hope for is that she realizes the difference soon, and that she is not based in India (she didn't sound like she was - I can tell when the call center is in India, because no non-desi can pronounce my name exactly the way it is supposed to be!).

Friday, February 16, 2007

Cigarette smoking? no problem ... drink chai

A bunch of Bengalis hypothesized that the oxidative stress caused by cigarette smoke could be countered by the antioxidants from black tea. So in order to test this hypothesis, they exposed guinea pigs to cigarette smoke from five cigarettes (two puffs/cigarette) per guinea pig /day for seven days [Yes, in exactly that amount!] and then gave them water or black tea to drink. As a control, they had another bunch of guinea pigs exposed to air instead of cigarette smoke. They measured the lung damage caused by the exposure.

They observed that cigarette smoke exposure indeed caused lung damage (surprise surprise ...!!), and not only that - the damage was prevented when the guinea pigs exposed to cigarette smoke were given black tea to drink instead of water.

Conclusion - lung damage from cigarette smoke can be prevented by drinking chai ...

The results have been accepted for publication in the Journal of Inflammation.

Black tea prevents cigarette smoke-induced apoptosis and lung damage
Shuvojit Banerjee , Palas Maity , Subhendu Mukherjee , Alok K. Sil , Koustubh Panda , Dhrubajyoti Chattopadhyay and Indu B. Chatterjee
J. Inflammation 4(3) , 2007, doi:10.1186/1476-9255-4-3

Newsflash: Major tobacco companies just announced strategic partnerships with Tata Tea and Hindustan Lever to market cigarettes with genuine Darjeeling and Assam tea that will prevent lung damage.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Novartis v/s the Government of India

In my freshman year in college, i had a course on "Perspectives in Society, Science and Technology". It was essentially an introduction to the social and ethical ramifications related to the technology as I started on getting a Chemical Engineering education. It dealt with situations such as pollution, plastics, DDT, cleaner pesticides, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, severe mercury poisoning of Minamata Bay in Japan, the Bhopal disaster, and last, but not the least, the far reaching implications of the Indian Patent Act of 1970. The law had far reaching consequences for the Indian pharmaceutical industry. According to the law:
In the case of inventions-

(a) claiming substances intended for use, or capable of being used, as food or as medicine or drug, or
(b) relating to substances prepared or produced by chemical processes (including alloys, optical glass, semi-conductors and inter-metallic compounds),

no patent shall be granted in respect of claims for the substances themselves, but claims for the methods or processes of manufacture shall be patentable

In other words, this act prevented issuance of product patents in India for pharmaceuticals and drugs, while only processes to make drugs could be patented. This led to the development of India's formidable generics industry, which could reverse engineer manufacturing processes with remarkable efficiency, without having to spend billions to discover the drugs - today, this industry is led by Dr. Reddy's Laboratories, Ranbaxy and Cipla.

While the act ensured that pharma industry in India was sheltered from the fierce competition from big pharma worldwide, India's entry to the WTO has changed all that. The WTO entry has resulted in the adoption of a new Indian Patent Act in 2005 - one which was supposed to spur the generics driven pharma sector from reverse engineering to innovation. While the rise in prices of new drugs was anticipated, it turns out that the new patent act seems to be very carefully designed to take into account the socio-economic situation in india and tries to enforce a lot of protections for the common individual to prevent big bad pharma from coming in and exploiting him. Kudos to the Indian government for ensuring this. I was not aware of this ...

In the aftermath of the new patent act has risen another controversy. Currently in the eye of this storm is the situation with Novartis' drug Glivec, which was denied a patent by the Indian Patent Office. The reason given was that the law does not allow patents for marginally modified drugs, which do not constitute a novel molecule or original invention. In response, Novartis has challenged the ruling and filed litigation against the Govt of India saying that some of the provisions of the new patent act be scrapped, because they violate WTO rules. Indian generic manufacturers are already selling generic versions of the drug at 10% of the price that Novartis was charging for Glivec.

Novartis has certainly stirred up a major situation, given how much the indian generics have managed to impact the availability of low cost drugs in third world economies. In fact - Indian generics companies supply 84% of the AIDS drugs that Doctors without Borders uses to treat 60,000 patients in more than 30 countries. Given this situation, its going to be very interesting (and important) to see how the judgement comes out in this case. The New England Journal of MEdicine has a very good 'Perspective' article on this - its a very good 'plain English' discussion on the situation. This issue has drawn a lot of attention in the pharmaceutical industry and among lawmakers around the world. US Congressman Henry Waxman wrote to the Novartis CEO Dr. Daniel Vasella saying “I do not dispute your right to apply for a patent or appeal a denial. I am concerned, however, that your attempt to influence domestic Indian law could have a severe impact on worldwide access to medicines.” He concluded his letter by urging Vasella, “to reconsider your position in this case.” He highlights the critical role played by the Indian generics industry in providing low cost drugs to the entire developing world, and making health care more affordable to a large number of people.

The case brings to the forefront an important issue - the role of governments in trying to protect the interests of their people seemingly in conflict with their role in driving innovation and development through the protection of intellectual property. Another fact highlighted is the strategy tried by large corporations to ensure that they reach their profit goals even at any cost, irrespective of the consequences. While I have clearly come across as a socialist in this matter, I don't quite disagree with Novartis' right to get appeal their patent denial or even the claim from pharma cos. that IPR protection is needed to spur innovation and improvements in treatments. I am actually quite supportive of the position that Waxman has taken about Novartis' challenge to the Indian law itself. I would however be quite keen to know how folks feel about this issue in general - esp Indians working in the pharma industry in the US.

The progress of the Novartis vs the Govt of India case will be closely watched all over the world, and the outcome will certainly have far reaching consequences on the future availability of low cost pharmaceuticals. I bet this will certainly be discussed in the "Perspectives in Society, Science and Technology" course for several years to come.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


About 6 months have passed since the last post on this blog. A lot of things have happened since, and I really mean a lot. These include
  • Its a new year ...
  • Federer has won another Grand Slam ... this time without dropping a set (he also won last year's Tennis Masters' Cup in Shanghai - giving James Blake a quickie tennis lesson)
  • I had a two month long trip to India ...
  • The BSE Sensex went up and down past 14000 a few times, the Dow has also had a few record breaking finishes
  • Saddam Hussain executed
  • Died - Milton Friedman, Rosa Parks,
  • Google bought YouTube for $1.65B
  • Rumsfeld is out of the Iraq situation
  • Shane Warne retired
  • Payton Manning actually won the Super Bowl
  • A new Windows OS was released - Vista; not only that, Microsoft finally came out the with IE 7
  • An iPhone was showcased by Jobs
  • Blogger has improved, and the blogs at blogger can be assigned tags now!! hear hear ...
If there have been more interesting events, I don't deny it ... these are the ones that seemed interesting at first glance (source Wikipedia of course!). But suffices to say that I plan to post a bit more regularly now ... let's see how things actually pan out ... after all, there is many a slip between the cup and the lip!