Monday, July 29, 2013

a good medical site - and some thoughts

I was just forwarded the link to this very good site ( ) giving the composition of various branded drugs, the generic names of the ingredients, and equivalent brands of the same generics, with prices. Also lists all the information about each generic including what it is prescribed for, side effects, etc. 

Very useful considering that the medical industry is the one that loots you the most, and takes you the cleaners before making you better - actually, whether the butchers in white coats make you better at all is very debatable.

Even a routine visit to the doctor is no longer routine any more. They insist on taking your blood pressure every time (though it beats me what that has to do with a common cold), and will look for every excuse to prescribe some expensive diagnostic tests. There are diagnostic centers opening up on every street, they require a huge investment, and they need to recover their costs. In several cases, the doctors get up to 40% of the test charges as kickbacks, so their incentive to get you tested goes up manifold. Even if I had money to burn, I would not go in for the tests, because the tests will always throw up some things which may be considered "out of range". In most such cases the body is capable of correcting itself, especially if one follows a reasonably healthy lifestyle. By going in for unnecessary tests, you are likely to find non-existent problems, and be asked to drug yourself needlessly. In fact, I firmly believe that one should not go in for a "regular health check up". It's completely unnecessary, and will end up in things like your taking statins since your cholesterol is high or something - one of the many cases where the cure is worse than the disease. Lifestyle problems need to be corrected with lifestyle changes - and not with taking statins or something else. Talking of statins, that is a category of drug which the medical industry likes a lot - the kind of drug which needs to be taken by you for the rest of your life. Lovely, recurring stream of income for the drug companies. 

Back to the visit to the doctor - if it happens to require a visit to the hospital, you are in for even bigger trouble. Hospitals require heavy capital expenditure to build, and the money has to be recovered from the patients, i.e., us. They even have a range of super-specialist doctors, one for each part and each orifice in the body.  The moment you enter, you are put on the assembly line of diagnostic tests, interventions, and still more tests. If you happen to have insurance, the bills are going to be even higher. Again, I don't have so much of a problem with the higher bills, as much as with the needless extra intervention and drugging that goes on. I have never gone in for any kind of regular health check-up, and generally cross over to the other side of the road when I pass a hospital to be as far away from it as possible.

There is another conspiracy afoot in the entire medical industry - that of increasing the number of "diseases" or, in other words, of conditions that require medicine and medical intervention. They made depression into a disease, then all kinds of so-called mental disorders; the latest is that they are labelling obesity as a disease that needs drugs! All it needs is to take the patient off junk foods in most cases, but then, the food industry and the medical industry feed on each other, so the patient continues to gorge himself and become fatter, and then goes in for procedures like stapling the stomach!

And then, of course, there are the pharma companies. They need to grow their profits, so they will incentivise doctors to prescribe more of the expensive medicines. It is doubtful to start with whether a lot of these medicines are required in the first place. But then, who wants to question the doctors? We easily fall into the trap of consuming more and more medicines, which screws up our bodies more and more, requiring more and more visits to the doctor, culminating in more and more medicines - you get the picture...  But then, if you are going to be like that only, at least you better be armed with all the information about the drug you are taking - and more important, know how to get the same drug cheaper. Which is where this site comes in. 

Happy browsing!

PS: Two articles by Dr. B M Hegde that you may find interesting:


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Good NCD issue coming up

Shriram Transport Finance is certainly a good company and a low-risk investment option for NCD's. Worth considering - also go through the two articles - links given at the end, one on NCD's in general and the other on the tax implications. A greater than 10 percent post-tax return is very good in today's context.


Shriram Transport Finance Limited will open its public issue of Secured Redeemable NCDs of the face-value of 1,000 each aggregating up to 375 crores with an option to retain over-subscription upto 375 crore for issuance of additional NCDs aggregating to a total of upto 750 crore ("Issue"). Allotments will be on a First Come First Serve Basis.
The NCD Issue has five investment options and yield is upto 11.15%. The Issue opens for subscription on July 16, 2013.
The NCDs have been rated 'CRISIL AA/Stable' by CRISIL and 'CARE AA+' by CARE. The above ratings indicate high degree of safety for timely servicing of financial obligations and these instruments carry very low credit risk.
Issue Details
ListingBoth on NSE & BSE
Tenure36 months 60 months
Interest Payout AnnualCumulative AnuualMonthly Cumulative
Effective Yield (% p.a.) Individuals10.90% 10.90%11.15%11.15% 11.15%
Non-Individuals9.65% 9.65%9.80%9.80% 9.80%
Redemption AmountIndividuals Face Value + Interest Accrued1,364.33 per NCD 50% face value at the end of 48 months and remaining 50% at the end of 60 months Face Value + Interest Accrued763.37 per NCD at the end of 48 months and 848.48 per NCD at the end of 60 months
Non-Individuals Face Value + Interest Accrued1,318.67 per NCD 50% face value at the end of 48 months and remaining 50% at the end of 60 months Face Value + Interest Accrued726.93 per NCD at the end of 48 months and 798.17 per NCD at the end of 60 months
Company Profile:
Largest asset financing NBFC in India*
Track record of over 34 years
Pan-India presence through widespread network of 539** branches
Total employee strength was approximately 16,178**
AUM of 50,120 Cr as on Mar 31, 2013
Total Income of 6563.59 Cr & Profit After Tax of 1,360 Cr for FY 2013
Capital Adequacy Ratio (CAR) of 20.74% as on March 31, 2013
* Source: D&B Research Report
** Figures as on March 31, 2013
ICICI Securities
Private Wealth Management

Dinesh Gopalan
mob: 9845257313; blog:

My life in the ether

The whole controversy over Snowden and US Government's acts of 'spying' center around metadata. "Data about data" is what they are looking at, along with associated patterns they may uncover. This may sound ok to many - after all, they are not really "reading" my mail, are they? So in what way are they violating my privacy?

Unfortunately what we do not realize is that with an increasing proliferation of devices that we use in our day to day life, we are putting more and more of ourselves out there. Our cellphone records show where we were physically present every moment of our lives; our interactions with other people through any electronic medium over a period of time forms patterns that we are not aware of; our card statements can be used to draw up a map of our buying behaviour, and through that, an analysis of other aspects of our lives, and so on with every piece of data we leave out there with every interaction we have with the world.  

The MIT project (links given below) "immersion" shows what is possible by someone merely accessing your gmail metadata (only the from,to and cc fields, not the mails themselves). The resultant output is pretty scary. I can imagine submitting this request (I have not actually done it, since I delete most of my mails in any case, and I have a great mistrust of these things) and then staring at the resultant output. It will probably feel like taking leave of your own body and staring at yourself from somewhere up there, like they describe in those out-of-the-body experiences. I will probably come to know more about myself than I wanted to know in the first place; I will be forced to confront the real me (in a very virtual sense of course), or, to be more accurate, the real me as looked at through a particular lens, with patterns and conclusions that I never really recognized before. And what is unnerving is that other people will have access to this data, like people working for big governments. Not only to this data, but to all data about me, wherever I have left traces of myself in the digital ether. I think of this, and an involuntary shudder goes through my body. It is quite eerie to think that there is someone or some people out there who know more about me than I do myself, and who have a complete psycho-profile of me. 

Some people are afraid of their own shadows, but the shadow is always one step behind you. Here are people who are like my shadows, but who are two steps ahead of me.  It spooks me out no end. 

So how do we escape this?  I can think of a few suggestions:

1) Do not carry a cellphone
2) Do not use credit or debit cards - use cash
3) Do not use email
4) Do not use facebook, linked-in, instagram, etc. and do not allow your friends to upload your photos or tag you on them - Sadashiv Mankekar (if you have not heard of him, google) is famous for this.

In short, the way to escape this is to go live in the jungles of Denkali with Guran for company. Not a particularly relishing thought, even if Diana agrees to be around.

Or, give up all our pet notions of privacy. Like, with facebook, people have dropped their old notions of privacy, and Zuckerberg and Co. are pushing us more and more into a world where we will want to let it all hang out out there for the public to see. The youngsters are not bothered about the conventional notions of privacy that the older people seem to have. Rather than fight a battle that we cannot win, perhaps we should reconcile ourselves to this new reality. Photograph every moment of our lives and "share" it instantly, use what's app for communicating with others, have all interactions through email only, carry our mobiles with us wherever we go, and stop being worried about ghosts in the dark, like some government computer keeping track of our movements, desires and motivations. 

To hell with it all. Maybe very soon God himself will request the US government for data on us. St Peter could use it for deciding what fate awaits us!

Links to the new MIT project "Immersion" (links courtesy my IIMA87 mailing group) : 

More at:

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Musings on "safety and security"

There is an increasing paranoia about "safety and security" nowadays. As people become more and more urbanized, more and more affluent, and more and more insulated (which I think is a consequence of the other two factors!), there is more and more worry about "safety and security".  This worry manifests itself in many ways. People are unwilling to let their children step out alone or even exit the "complex" where they stay even to go to a grocery shop a few hundred meters away; teenage daughters are advised not to travel anywhere unless in company; and whole communities cocoon themselves inside the claustrophobic confines of a gated community. There is an increasing reluctance to meet the "other" world that lies outside the comfortable confines of what we are accustomed to; our houses are insulated, our cars are a refuge from the world; and our offices are an escape from even knowing what the weather is outside.  I am sure a lifestyle like this that insulates us on a daily basis from everyday reality contributes in a big way to our paranoia on "safety and security".

The other factor is of course, the media. Anything dramatic and full of human interest is what it wants to play up on, and rapes and assaults are as dramatic as they get. Reading such reports being hyped up in the media induces in us a state of mind of being constantly under assault, and we go around fearing for our lives as a consequence. If there were no newspapers and TV, would we not be feeling safer about the world? News, especially the way it is served up nowadays, more often than not fuels needless anxiety.

In general, I feel it is generally very safe anywhere in India. All you need to do is drop your defences, be genuine, and soak in the companionship of the people around you, wherever you are, and there is no need to feel unsafe.

This whole thing about safety and security is a bit over-hyped. I have never felt unsafe in my life - I think it is more a state of mind than a state of actual physical reality. If you have nothing worth stealing on you or in your home, if most of your assets are either immovable or locked up in a vault somewhere, or even better, securely dematted (meaning, it doesn't even exist :-) ), there is nothing to fear from the robbery angle. In fact, I sometimes forget to lock my main door at night, and during the day, when the whole family is out, we leave it merely shut, not locked; for the hassle of everyone carrying keys is a bit too much. We have full-time live-in maids for the last twenty years; their average tenure is two to three years, and never once have we carried out a police verification or any kind of verification before hiring them. Since there is nothing to rob at home, what is there to worry?

As to physical safety, that danger is always there, isn't it? That you will be accosted somewhere and beaten over the head, or maybe sexually assaulted or "eve teased' in case of women. The probability of getting hit by a car when you are crossing the road is far far higher than that. Does that stop you from crossing roads?  Can't stop living life fearing the extreme consequences of a low-probability event.

Paradoxically, I feel that the more you fear such an event, the more the chances are of something like that happening to you. Trust the world, step out, and nothing is going to happen. By not doing that, may be we are missing out on so many other experiences, that it is not worth holding back. May be what I say works only for India and not for some parts of the world; may be some people here may disagree with what I say even with reference to India; may be I am being dumb by not recognising the "dangers" out there.  But I have lived by this philosophy of not ever worrying about safety or security, and have generally been happier for it.

I will make an exception for Delhi of course. I would not advise any  woman to travel alone in Delhi after dusk!  :-)