Sunday, May 8, 2011

An important omission by critics of Airbus A380

Airbus' newest aircraft, the A380 (ignoring the A350 XWB), is often pitched against Boeing's latest aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner. Not directly, since these aircraft aren't comparable, but from a strategy perspective. It has been frequently said by analysts and others that Boeing has made a bet that flying passengers will migrate from hubs towards direct flights between points. In contrast, these analysts say, Airbus' development of the A380 assumes that passengers will migrate towards the model of flying between large hubs, and later taking connecting flights to the smaller destinations.

Who is right? We can't say today, and we'll have the answer only in a few decades. What we do know for sure is that the critics of the A380 aircraft [and these are frequently the same people who favor Boeing's strategy and predict its victory] have overlooked an important point - significant traffic will continue to fly between the most developed, most urban cities of the world.

There is no reason to believe that significant numbers of people will stop flying between these cities. For example, there's little reason to believe that the following routes will get less crowded in the future:
  1. Paris - New York
  2. London - New York
  3. Mumbai - Delhi
  4. Johannesburg - Cape Town
  5. Hong Kong - Shanghai
  6. Singapore - Kuala Lumpur
  7. Paris - Montreal
  8. London - Washington
Which aircraft can best serve these busy routes? Which aircraft can reduce congestion by lifting double or triple the number of revenue passengers in a single flight, all while dramatically reducing seat mile costs? It's the Airbus A380. Because I expect a high volume of air travel to continue between the most important cities of the world, I believe that the respective strategies, if any, by Airbus and Boeing might not amount to a zero-sum game. It's Boeing's alleged strategy that might turn out to be not so correct - Airbus' bet on hub-to-hub travel looks just fine to me. More so, since I haven't even figured the rise of new cities in the above thoughts. The A380's future looks safe.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The best list of tips and tricks for scoring high on the GMAT

This list is not finished yet. I'll add more points to it as they come to my mind.

It also appears that some/many of these tips are "portable", in the sense that they apply to other tests such as GRE, TOEFL, etc.

A month before the GMAT:
  1. Fall ill a month before the GMAT. I know it sounds weird, and is something that isn't exactly under one's control, but when I was down with common cold, fever and a sore throat about a month before my GMAT date, I was actually happy that I fell ill. August and September are the months in which it's easy to fall ill in the North India region. By falling ill a month before the GMAT, my body's resistance to common fevers got refreshed, virtually ensuring that I wouldn't fall ill again till my GMAT date. Of course, you can't afford to be ill close to the date your GMAT is scheduled.
  2. Every question is solvable, given enough time: It's not enough if you can correctly solve questions. Most people can, given enough time. Unfortunately, GMAT doesn't reward correct answers alone - you must get many, many correct answers in a short period of time. So throughout your preparation, focus on solving quickly and correctly.
  3. Adjust your sleep cycle to match the time slot chosen for GMAT: You don't want to wake up too early or too late on the GMAT day. Breaking the daily sleep cycle will cause tiredness, maybe headache, and it'll surely affect your performance. So choose GMAT time slot such that it matches your sleep cycle, so that at the time of the exam, your brain runs like a healthy and well-trained horse.
On the day of the GMAT:
  1. Carry some food stuff with you that's light, nutritious, and stimulating. Consume this during the break to both energize and stimulate yourself. An agile body and an agile mind can sail faster and more smoothly through difficult questions.
  2. Before going to your test center and starting the test, read some news stories to lubricate your brain's information processing systems [this is similar to warming your body before doing a hard workout at the gym]. Also do a few arithmetic calculations in your mind and solve a few easy questions so as to "grease" your mental engine and make it ready for action.
  3. Utilize the tutorial time (before the actual timed test starts, the GMAT software presents a brief tutorial) to make sure that your keyboard and mouse are working properly. Smoothly working keyboard and mouse save valuable seconds and also reduce conscious/subconscious anxiety.
Update [Feb'16]:
  • Does GMAC reveal the identity of an examinee to the readers of the examinee's AWA responses? [link]
  • Questioning the infallibility of solutions provided by GMAC for GMAT practice problems [link]
  • GMAC should convert GMAT Paper Tests into a new book, complete with detailed explanations [link]

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Thoughts on Boeing's win of the KC-X aerial refueling tanker contest

I’ve been avidly following the Airbus vs. Boeing (vs. Antonov) saga for the KC-X tanker aircraft contest for many months now. I’ve gobbled every important development in this interesting competition, and frankly, I’m not too surprised by Boeing’s win. Although I did have a strong feeling that it’s obvious that America would award a prized military contract to only an American company, my feeling was definitely not so strong as to make me predict Boeing’s win on my newly-launched Predictions blog.

I have a conspiracy theory about Boeing's win, explained by the following three points:
  1. It was already decided by the US that Boeing would be awarded this contract. In fact, it was obvious – it’s unthinkable that the Americans would risk depending on a European company for a strategic piece of their defense setup for many decades to come. How the political climate of the world is going to change in the next few decades, nobody can predict. America doesn't know what type of relation it’ll have with European countries in, say, 2035. So, the Americans effectively used EADS North America to squeeze the best deal out of Boeing. They knew they’re gonna award it to Boeing, but they just wanted Boeing to give them the cheapest deal possible. In the end, it’s a win-win-win outcome for America – its Air Force gets the cheapest possible deal, America gets an American company to build the product, and the Americans also get to humiliate the Europeans.
  2. The Europeans knew all too well that Boeing would be awarded this decades-long contract. They participated will full (apparent) seriousness, lost like a hero (and gained sympathy as a result), so as to set a strong pretext for European governments buying only European products in their own subsequent procurements (presumably, by now they're sick of the US talking about free markets and consistently acting in a protectionist manner).
  3. The US Air Force and Boeing were probably sleeping together since the very start of this contract. After EADS North America submitted its final bid, that bid was secretly disclosed to Boeing and Boeing covertly submitted a carefully revised bid, ensuring its victory (and also ensuring that any appeals or complaints by EADS to GAO, etc., are easily won by the updated Boeing offer).
In summary, it was all too clear right from the start that Boeing would be awarded this contract. All those discussions about cost, performance, technology, etc., ignored the most fundamental and most important fact – that Boeing is an American company (and also a jewel in America’s crown) offering the only truly American tanker, and that only an American-made tanker can deliver the maximum economic benefit to the American economy (no matter how much EADS North America trumpeted that its tanker is also truly American, the fact remains that it’s a European product that benefits Europe more than it benefits America, and that the money earned by EADS North America would’ve been sucked back by Europe). Why should an ailing America give billions of dollars to Europe when it can very well give that money to American companies (and thus American people), without compromising in any way? Why should America, a nation that uses every evil tactic to help Boeing sell stuff in the world, buy stuff for itself from a European company?

Equally importantly (perhaps even more), had the US bought a European product worth so many billions, the political fallout in the US would’ve been almost catastrophic. This contract wasn't merely a military contract. It was also an economic and political contract. Boeing's win can be summarized in three words - foreign risk, economic benefit, and sheer politics.

Through this win, Boeing has hurt Airbus in several ways:
  • Humiliation.
  • EADS’ desire to establish a factory in the US for its A330-based freighters is effectively killed for now.
  • Boeing’s dying 767 product gets a fresh life, bringing tremendous commercial benefits (for example, the profits from this contract effectively act as a huge subsidy for Boeing, and will be used against Airbus).
  • Post this win, a rejuvenated Boeing tanker product will compete more fiercely against the Airbus A330 MRTT for worldwide tanker procurements. 
Cleverly, and for obvious reasons, post this win, Boeing’s statements seem to have dropped the words America and American entirely (anyone who is aware of Boeing’s and EADS’ fierce campaigns for this contest is all too aware of Boeing’s overuse of the American-made tanker card in this supposedly fair contest).

Friday, January 7, 2011

A limitation of the "Like" button used by Facebook and others

Would you Like the following photo, if it appeared on Facebook or another website? Some would, but many probably wouldn't, because it feels a bit distasteful to Like this sad photo.

Would you bookmark this photo, if it appeared on some website? I hypothesize that a larger number of people would be comfortable bookmarking it than Liking it.

I believe that the process of hitting the Like button includes two implicit sub-actions - an expression of approval/liking for the item, and a desire to bookmark it, with the former action more dominant than the latter. It appears to me that it's for this reason that some people would refrain from hitting the Like button on a sad/sensitive/unhappy item, because although they were awed/touched by this item, they, perhaps subconsciously, do not want to indicate their approval for the situation depicted in the item, even if they are comfortable with the idea of bookmarking it.

In contrast, although the process of hitting a bookmark button also includes the same two actions, the sub-action of expressing approval/liking for the item is more subdued here, and thus merely bookmarking such a sad photo doesn't appear as an endorsement of the item - neither to oneself, nor to others.

Of course, as search engine experts at Google will probably concur, the Like button and my explanation of its mechanism (in contrast to the mechanism of a bookmark button) is extremely valuable from ranking perspective.

Update [Aug'08; Dec'12]: Similarly, the option to mark a question as Interesting on Yahoo Answers is slightly less neutral, since the word interesting has a slightly positive connotation, but a question that you want to bookmark using the Interesting button might have some negativity attached to it.