Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Stratify acquired by Iron Mountain

I was thrilled to wake up this morning to hear the news that Stratify has been acquired by Iron Mountain! From the press release:

Iron Mountain Incorporated (NYSE: IRM), the global leader in information protection and storage services, today announced the signing of a definitive agreement to acquire Stratify, Inc. for approximately $158 million in cash. Stratify, a leader in advanced electronic discovery services for the legal market, offers in-depth discovery and data investigation solutions for AmLaw 200 law firms and leading Fortune 500 corporations. With this acquisition, Iron Mountain augments its suite of eDiscovery services, providing businesses with a complete, end-to-end Discovery Services solution that efficiently manages paper and digital information for discovery and data investigations, compliance and associated records management, and litigation matters.

That's a really handsome price and I am so thrilled for Ramana, George, Joy, Meena, Hakan, and the rest of the team who worked so hard for 8 year to make this a success! Congratulations!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Good Shake!

Yes, we had a medium sized earthquake a few hours ago. The earthquake, centered around the Alum Rock area near San Jose, measured about 5.6 on the Richter scale and was located on the Calveras fault. We were a home getting dinner ready when I felt the house shaking. Having experienced various earthquakes in the past (including the 1989 Loma Prieta quake), it was easy to recognize the shaking as an earthquake. I grabbed our kids and ran out of the house (my wife was out of town). By the time we got out, the shaking subsided, and there was no damage that I could see.

After we got back into the house, we went on the Web to check out the USGS site showing recent earthquakes. But in the minutes after the quake, there was no sign of it. Our younger daughter was quite scared by the whole incident---not so much by the quake itself, but more by my reaction to it. So we spent the time discussing why earthquakes happen (complete with web images of plate tectonics), how houses in the California are generally well constructed to withstand earthquakes, and how earthquakes have caused significant destruction in poorer countries that can't afford high-quality construction.

Some 15 minutes after the quake, we saw the following image on the USGS site, pinpointing the quake.

This quake seems to have caused little damage. But it is a good reminder to update (or create) ones earthquake preparedness plan. A key part of this plan is to have a survival kit. Such kits can be put together inexpensively, but ready-made kits are available as a convenience. Google handed out a really nice kit to all its employees.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

How to Change the World

I'm part way through reading this wonderful book: How to Change the World by David Bornstein. This is a book about social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs solve social problems on a large scale. Their ideas improve people's lives and these ideas are implemented across cities, countries, and in some cases the world. The book describes the work of many social entrepreneurs:
  • Fabio Rosa took up the cause of rural electrification in Brazil. He realized that poor rice farmers had a big problem: rice needed a lot of water, but the rich farmers who owned all the dams and irrigation channels set the price of water (relative to production costs) at triple the world average. Artesian wells could provide cheap water, but they needed electricity. But Brazil had done a very poor job of rural electrification. So this is the cause that Rosa took up. He systematically attacked all the problems holding back rural electrification (ranging from technical to political). And like a true entrepreneur, he wasn't just about the vision; he delved into the details, always looking for solutions to the problems. And he succeeded in transforming the lives of a lot of poor farmers.

  • Jeroo Billimoria took up the cause of child protection in Indian cities. She set up Childline, a

    ...twenty-four hour helpline and emergency response system for children in distress.

    It started in Bombay in 1996 and spread to 30 cities by 2002. "Childline," says Billimoria, "is not a charity service... It is a rights service." It provides number, 1098 (said as ten-nine-eight), that any child can call with any problem and Childline will help them.

  • Erzebet Szekeres took up the cause of assisted living for the disabled in Hungary. At the time, the only option for severely mentally disabled people in Hungary was to be institutionalized, with all the horrors of such places. Szekeres has

    ...created a network of 21 centers across Hungary that provide vocational training, work opportunities, and assisted living to more than 600 multiply disabled people. Her facilities have shaken up the mental health and disability establishment...

  • And many more stories.
These stories are wonderful and inspiring. But the book is really about the amazing individual that is the common thread to all these stories: Bill Drayton. Drayton invests in social entrepreneurs!

Drayton was profoundly influenced by Gandhi:

What most fascinated Drayton about Gandhi were his "how-tos": How did Gandhi craft his strategy? How did he build his institutions? How did he market his ideas? Drayton discovered that Gandhi, despite his other-worldy appearance, was fully engaged in the details of politics, administration, and implementation.

In other words, it's about the details, not just the vision.

Drayton founded Ashoka, an organization that seeks out and funds social entrepreneurs. In this sense it is a venture capital firm! Drayton believed that seeking out and supporting social entrepreneurs was the key to social change:

The way to promote innovation was to nuture idea champions. "Let's find these people," he said. "We should be investing in them now---when they are shaky and lonely and a little help means the world."

Drayton seems to have mastered the art of finding high quality social entrepreneurs around the world. As a young Ashoka staffer put it:

I saw the Bill had deeply thought through the question: "How do you find these people?"

All in all, an amazing book about an amazing man and the amazing people he's funding. You cannot read this book without wanting to rush out and support Ashoka---we certainly started sending a portion of our donations to Ashoka after reading this book.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Indian poker players

Stephen Dubner, co-author of Freakonomics, asks the question "Where are all the Indian Poker players"? He is mystified because:

Whenever I see a poker tournament on TV or wander through a casino, I am always struck by a particular absence: there seem to be very few Indian-Americans playing poker. Considering that there are so many Indians of poker age in this country who thrive in finance, computer science, engineering, and other fields that incorporate math, probability, risk, etc. — i.e., the kind of fields that produce a lot of amateur and pro poker players — why should this be so?

The blog post includes thoughts on this question from a number of people including from Sudhir Venkatesh, the sociology student featured in Freakonomics who accidentally befriended a drug gang and discovered that such gangs operate like major corporations. Readers have also weighed in with opinions. There are many opinions, ranging from hypothesizing cultural taboos (but Indians have grown up playing other card games) to being risk averse (but what of all the start-ups founded by Indians?). Naturally, there is no agreement and certainly no hard data,.

I don't have a good answer either. I don't play poker, but some good friends of mine do (including some readers of this blog!). What do you think?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

Today, Oct 15, is Blog Action Day. The idea is to highlight a single important issue---the environment.

Every blogger will post about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic.

So I thought I'd add my thoughts on this day. I'm not an environmental activist by any means. Rather, I'm much closer to being a lazy environmentalist. I like the idea of having:

...easy, stylish and super convenient ways to green your lifestyle.

So we own a Highlander Hybrid (okay, it's not a Prius, but it does carry 7, is a lot more spacious for the occassional camping trips, and has 4 WD for our Tahoe trips, all while giving 25-26 mpg). And we're signed up to get our home electricity from green sources (i.e., we pay a little extra and to have our utility increase the fraction of electricity they get from green sources). And I just used a non-toxic concoction (baking soda, white vinegar, and boiling water) to open up a slow drain instead of using some toxic chemicals. And we're considering installing water efficient toilet---either the dual flush Toto Aquia (1.6 gpf/0.9 gpf) or the Toto Eco Drake (1.28 gpf). All these nice "green" things without any sacrifices---being a lazy environmentalist is easy!

The latest thing I'm considering is getting photovoltaic panels on our roof. I'm not yet convinced that having these panels saves money (though there are various rebates and incentives in place). But they do free one from the guilt of using halogen light fixtures that don't take the new CFLs! Have any of you considered photovoltaics? If so, do you find them effective?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Transporting the smallpox vaccine

(I've been very busy over the last month or so and so didn't update this blog. I hope that's changing now so I can write more regularly.)

Tonight over dinner we were talking about which of us would get a flu shot this year. The conversation quickly turned to what vaccines were. I recounted to our kids the story of how Edward Jenner discovered the smallpox vaccine, how smallpox was eradicated, and why unlike the smallpox vaccine we need a flu shot every year.

Through all this, I'm a little ashamed to admit, I had forgotten the name of the smallpox vaccine's discoverer. So I did a quick search and immediately established it was Jenner. I proceeded to browse some of the results, and came across a note on bioterrorism which had this fascinating historical note.

Edward Jenner's original smallpox vaccine was actually the cowpox virus. This was great as long as you had a cowpox-infected cow nearby to get the vaccine. But how does one transport this vaccine?

Absenting cows with cowpox to provide material for inoculation or refrigeration to store and transport stocks of it, people would transfer the vaccine from one person to the next arm-to-arm.

And what is this arm-to-arm technique?

The Spanish brought smallpox vaccine to the New World this way. A group of orphans were recruited for the long voyage, and two children were vaccinated shortly before departure. When cowpox pustules developed on their arms the ship’s doctor would take material from their lesions and use it to vaccinate two more children, repeating this procedure each time new pustules formed in successive children until they reached Venezuela, with yet two more children providing an aliquot of active vaccine for people in South America.

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