Sunday, August 31, 2008

It Happens Only In India

Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group had a vision. He had seen the struggle of the Indian middle-class, a family of four traveling on a two-wheeler. He wanted to provide succor to the millions of such families. He wanted to give them a car that would be affordable, safe, meet pollution norms and of course be fuel efficient. Tata’s brainchild, came to life, christened as “Nano.” Tata accredited this to the teamwork. I agree and look on in awe.

But it did not end there. Nano was confronted with many hurdles. From skeptics in the industry who questioned the feasibility of such a project to environmentalists who cried hoarse about the potential pollution boogey that would rear its ugly head. Tata and his team of young engineers and designers silenced all critics convincingly.

But, they were not prepared for the Singur hurdle. I guess they had shot themselves in their foot by completely depending upon the current West Bengal government.

Majority of the land acquired by the West Bengal government for the factory did not belong to the people who tilled the land. The land owners had rented out the land to laborers and sharecroppers.  Hence, when the government acquired the land, the hardest hit were these laborers and sharecroppers. They had no-where else to go as the landowners got the moolah from the government, while these sharecroppers were left staring at the wrong end of the barrel. Their only means of livelihood taken away, they became prime targets for the opposing politicians in the state. These politicians played on their emotions and caused a civil rift in the small village of Singur and its surroundings.

I can understand the plight and anger of these people whose livelihood was stolen from them. I can understand their fight for their livelihood. But I also understand that these people would end up losing any way. It is the politicians who are playing this dirty game who are to gain from this.

And the biggest losers are the Tata’s. They are currently mulling to pull out of Singur and construct the plant elsewhere. Their initial move to set up the plant in West Bengal was a leap of faith and a sign of their confidence in the leadership in the state. I think they are paying dearly now. The delay would cost them dear. Spiraling steel prices and inflation would make it difficult to sell the Nano at Rs 1 lakh.

But if you would ask me, the real losers are we: Indians. Here was a vision by one man envied by the rest of the world. Yet we, Indians are the ones who are derailing this vision. As someone had rightly pointed out, it happens only in India.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I Felt The Pinch For The First Time In My Life

Though I have come across news articles on how people find it indispensable, consider it as an extension of themselves, how they couldn’t live without it; I have never felt anything like that, towards it. I still don’t even now. That’s the reason why I probably felt the pinch for the first time in my life.

For 24 years I resisted it. I did not want it. I felt free, no responsibilities. People around me couldn’t fathom why. They probably felt that I was missing out on the revolution, which I rather dismissed it as “Mass Hysteria”. They took it upon themselves to hammer the advantages of owning one into my head. I won. They gave up.

I have seen it all. The anxiety of not receiving a message, checking every other minute to see if any near or dear ones have messaged them. Some even couldn’t resist the urge to take it out every now and then to check the remaining balance. One probably felt that in order to look and feel important, one had to own one of those, taking it out of their pockets and follow the rituals mentioned above. I never understood, nor did I try.

But it happened. I was coerced into buying one, and people around me, with a wry smile acknowledged that I had finally entered into the world of “Mobile Phones.”

They looked at me as if I had been lost for a long time and finally made it back to the civilization. Does Rip Wan Winkle ring any bells? Some even chastised me for resisting the urge to buy the so called “god sent gift” to humanity. Some even took it upon themselves to educate me on the modalities, etiquettes, and what not…of owning a mobile phone. I listened, with my ears and not my mind. I hated it and I still do.

But I was slowly getting sucked into the quicksand, and weirdly I did not resist. What is that these little things possess? Slowly I felt enchanted by them. The bug had bitten me for good this time. So with the change in job and a higher salary beckoned me to satisfy the urge to own a classy, sexy high end model.

What the hell, I went ahead and blew my first two months salary on a Motorola Razr 2 V8. It cost me 15 grand. I had no regrets.

Eight months down the line, yesterday I had lost it. It was stolen. My colleagues surrounded me, trying to figure it out, how, who and all that. Time and again, they looked at me and somehow I got the feeling that they were trying to convey their sympathies at losing something precious, something that was an irreplaceable part of my life.

I tried to tell them that I felt all right. Its just a cell phone. But I could not. I felt the pinch for the first time in my life and even now I am not able to put that into words.

This was the first time in my life that I have been a victim of a robbery. This was the first time that I had been careless.

Though I could buy myself another one, probably a better one; I wish I could turn back time and get my Moto back. This was also the first time that I was happy to pay a bribe of 200 rupees to the cop, who registered my complaint, hoping that it would make the cops to do their duty promptly and that I would get my phone back. The cops also ensured that I got an earful from them on how careless people are and how the rising incidents of Mobile Phone thefts have made their life a living hell.

A familiar feeling which I had felt a long time ago coursed through me. It was the feeling of Freedom. I felt that I was free again.

Here’s to freedom, from mobile phones!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Google Is Abandoning Its “Page Creator” In Favor Of “Google Sites”

I got a shocker of news when I was browsing through Lifehacker, which said that Google is abandoning its “Page Creator” in favor of “Google Sites.”

We have extensively used Page Creator to upload images and other information displayed in our blogger templates. When one tries to login to the page creator, the following message is displayed at the login screen:
About Google Page Creator

We are no longer accepting new sign-ups for Page Creator because we have shifted our focus to developing Google Sites, which offers many of the capabilities of Page Creator along with new features like site-level navigation, site-level headers, control over who can see and edit your site, and rich embeddings like calendars, videos, and Google docs.

If you are currently a Page Creator user, you can continue to use Page Creator and your pages will automatically be transitioned to Google Sites later this year. We are committed to making this transition as smooth and easy as possible, and we will post more details as we get closer to the transition time. You can also manually move your web pages from Page Creator to Google Sites or other service providers at any time.

Existing users can continue using the page creator until it is stopped and Google says that the pages will be automatically transferred to the Google Sites. Yes, but what about the URL’s? Will they remain the same. I do not think so.

I guess we will be updating our hosting site very soon. So please bear with us, as some of the images or sections of the current template might not work for a day or two.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Crazy Media Analyst’s Perspective On Blogs And Freedom Of Expression

The so called dot com boom, also known as the web revolution, gave us a new form of media which goes by its popular moniker “Social Media.” People all over the globe reveled in this new find, which gave them the freedom to express their thoughts and ideas to the world like never before.

This gave birth to a phenomenon called “Blogging.” The “freedom of expression” had found another champion promoting its cause. One could post anything under the sun on the net for all who cared, no restrictions. It seemed like the “Holy Grail” for budding writers and casual line droppers, or is it?

I came across an article on the TechCrunch written by Erick Schonfeld titled “Blogging Is Not A Crime.” Apparently he had come across data which said that the number of bloggers incarcerated has been on an increasing trend.

A majority of those bloggers were arrested by their respective governments. It seems that the certain governments couldn’t resist tracking and censoring blogs. Curbing the basic right to one’s freedom of expression seemed to be their favorite pastime.

But the following sentence from Eric’s article caught my eye:

“As blogging expands internationally, so do the risk of speaking one’s mind. (Something many of us take for granted).”

The comment in brackets “Something many of us take for granted” really jolted me out of my senses and I started to do some soul searching. I am lucky to have been born in a country wherein the right to freedom expression is considered as a birth right. Somehow it has been inoculated in my mind that freedom of expression is something we should take for granted.

Don’t we have the right to take the freedom of expression or speaking one’s mind, for granted? For another perspective, see my article on Mass Media And Its Responsibilities.

Yes. People living in countries governed by oppressive governments do not enjoy this valuable right to expression. Keeping that in mind, those who do take it for granted, should utilize it properly; try and become the voice of all those unknown voice-less people living in such countries. We should spread awareness and highlight the issues affecting them.

Social media along with mass media can reach out to mind blowing number of people in a very short amount of time. With this kind of power in hand, we can address a lot of issues. But then again will it really happen, especially in this age of monetization and every given opportunity on the web. Will people still be interested in reading the plight of less fortunate one’s suffering from oppressive regimes. Even if they do, can we bring about a change?

At least we can try. They say it’s foolish to live on hope and build on dreams. But I believe I can. But I can’t do it alone. I am willing to provide the spark. I need you to convert the spark into a raging fire.

Source: TechCrunch

Friday, August 8, 2008

DNA: The New Culprit In Doping

The competitive spirit has been taken so seriously in the world of sport, it really amazes me to see the extent to which any team or an individual would go to gain that precious little advantage which would ultimately result in a win. It’s about winning at all costs.

With the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games 2008 being conducted with all the glamour and jazz in China, I am writing this post trying to lull myself into false sense of security and hope that this edition of the Summer Olympics will turn out to be a clean one.

However, the lead up to the Olympic Games has been anything but rosy. Accusations flying thick and fast about incidents of doping being encouraged by none other than the host nation itself, possibly points to vested interests trying to sully Beijing’s image. I am not a big fan of Beijing’s approach of branding the Olympics as green. (See my earlier article on: Red Dragon Breathes Fire At The Summit Of Mount Everest)

WADA has already set alarm bells ringing by raising concern regarding the use of gene therapy to increase an athlete’s performance. This method of doping is popularly known as Gene Doping.

Gene Doping is defined by the World Anti-Doping Agency as "the non-therapeutic use of cells, genes, genetic elements, or of the modulation of gene expression, having the capacity to improve athletic performance."

Tinkering around with the genes, opens up an un-explored vista which might become an haven for cheats. There is an enormous potential here, wherein genes for increasing muscle mass, increasing oxygen carrying capacity of the red blood cells, energy production, reduction in muscle fatigue; can be taken out from an athlete’s body, duplicated and re-introduced into the athlete making him/her an super-athlete. Since the resulting effects are still natural, it becomes very difficult to distinguish cheats from honest athletes.

There are a lot of skeptics who say that Gene Doping will not work out as it is very risky and simply because no one has yet to set a precedent. But who knows? There might be athletes out there already who are using it.

WADA has established vigorous research programmes to develop new detection methods for Gene Doping.

When I was discussing this issue with one of my colleagues, I was left speechless when he pointed out that the latest molecular biological techniques such as DNA fingerprinting (or DNA Profiling) can be used to identify athletes with favorable genes which might give them an edge in a particular sports. The use of such techniques to screen out athletes might be in place already. “How are you going to stop them? Is it not unfair that an athlete participates in a sport, not because he is passionate about it, but he has a genetic profile which gives him a competitive edge in that particular sport?” I had no answer to these questions.

Funny, that this reminds me of one of the Harry Potter movies, where a hat is placed on the heads of new pupils, and the hat decides which house the pupil will belong to.

Image source: The Official Website of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Mass Media And Its Responsibilities

The extent of reach which Mass Media in this digital age commands, is truly amazing and eye opening; both in terms of viewership and the ability to influence a person’s thinking. But why do I get the feeling that Mass Media is misusing this power, misleading people, creating unnecessary hype to increase circulation numbers. With absolute power comes great responsibility. Mass Media has acquired absolute power, but lacking in the responsibility department.

Let me explain, using an example, why do I have this grouse against Mass Media.

By “Mass Media” I am referring to the most common form of news outlet, the newspaper, which includes both print and online versions. Recently the G8 summit in Japan had concluded, with pledges on the food and oil crises and climate change among other things.

As usual, the summit received its usual share of media coverage. But a few publications such as The Daily Mail and The Washington Times had a completely different take on the proceedings. Food crisis was one of the major issues that was addressed at the summit. But these two publications took it upon themselves to bring it to the public notice that the leaders and the dignitaries gorged upon a 18-course banquet which they had apparently found it hard to swallow.

The headline from The Daily Mail screamed “Summit That's Hard To Swallow - World Leaders Enjoy 18-Course Banquet As They Discuss How To Solve Global Food Crisis.” The article has pictures of the leaders enjoying the extravagant banquet, the menu and a picture of malnourished group of people as a contrast. The article, written by James Chapman lambasts the G8 summit members for treating themselves to a lavish banquet while urging the world to stop wasting food and combat rising prices and a global shortage of provisions. The sarcasm was pretty obvious as you can perceive from the following quotes from the article:

“The world leaders sat down to an 18-course gastronomic extravaganza at a G8 summit in Japan, which is focusing on the food crisis.”

“G8 leaders discussing the world food crisis in Japan raise their glasses ahead of an 18-course dinner.”

Dominic Nutt, of the charity Save the Children is quoted saying, “It is deeply hypocritical that they should be lavishing course after course on world leaders when there is a food crisis and millions cannot afford a decent meal. If the G8 wants to betray the hopes of a generation of children, it is going the right way about it. The food crisis is an emergency and the G8 must treat it as that.”

Here are some excerpts from The Washington Times article:

Lentil soup and a crust of bread as the first, second and third course at a recent G8 summit in Japan might at least have conveyed the impression the leaders of the world's principal industrialized nations were focused on a fast-unfolding food shortage engulfing the entire planet.

Instead, the convivial summiteers feasted on a six-course lunch at a five-star lakeside hotel on the island of Hokkaido, followed that evening by an eight-course heartburning dinner, from Kyoto beef shabu-shabu, to dicey fatty tuna, to clams floating in Shiso, to broiled prawns in Tosazu, to salt-grilled rockfish, to milk-fed baby lamb to G8 "Fantasy Desert," all washed down by wine and champagne vintages from all over the world. To then make global food security a top priority was a tad Pecksniffian.

Year in and year out, the G8 meet in a bucolic setting pleasing on the eyes that tends to act as a soporific on the part of the brain that allows summiteers to anticipate global crises.

In Japan last month, the Eight Big Ones agreed to reconvene in 2009 on the Mediterranean island La Maddalena, nestled in the Straits of Bonifacio between Corsica and Northern Sardinia, one of the last untouched beautiful spots in the world. But they could save their taxpayers a bundle by canceling their reservations now and videoconferencing instead - twice a year.

My grouse is that why focus on trivial issues such as the food that was consumed and the location of the G8 summit. Why not focus on the critical issues such as food and oil crisis, climate change and so on. With the reach that these publications posses, they can put it to good use by spreading awareness on these issues. But instead they chose to focus on the food which the leaders consumed, the menu and gripe about the exotic locations in which the G8 summit would be held in the future.

What did they expect? The world leaders would assemble in a dingy hall and hammer out a solution to the crises that are afflicting the world, munching on plain bread. C’mon. It’s a three day summit where the Head’s of Nation’s assemble. Is Japan to blame for treating them to a “royal banquet?” I believe Japan just upheld its tradition by showcasing its culture and generosity by playing a perfect host to the G8 Summit.

Am I wrong in saying that these publications could have done better? Is my grouse un-justified? Am I biased? Are my views shortsighted?

Source: The Washington Times, The Daily Mail.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Revolutionizing Personal Mobility

I was flipping through the pages of my favorite magazine, Overdrive. There was plenty of coverage given to green initiatives this time round. One that caught my eye was a model of a futuristic looking city where the only mode of transportation would be electric vehicles with docking stations dotting the city.

This also coincided with one of my friend, who is also a blogger here on 80 Feet Road; buying an electric bike.

Again out of curiosity, I started digging for more on the internet. After all; we call ourselves “Crazy Media Analysts.” So here is what I have managed to cull out.

Ultra Motor is a company that develops emissions-free vehicles for the global market. It was founded in 2002 by the Russian inventor Vasily Shkondin and English businessman Ian Woodcock

Joe Bowman, CEO of Ultra Motor and the mayor of Stuttgart Dr. Wolfgang Schuster have announced their intention to make Stuttgart the global pilot city of the LEV City initiative that will see fleets of Light Electric Vehicles made available to commuters.

The LEV City initiative will provide a large fleet of electric bicycles through charging stations to commuters and urban travelers, providing a cost-effective, quick and clean alternative to traditional public and personal transport. Stuttgart would be the first partner of Ultra Motor and the international pilot city of the LEV City initiative.

One of the biggest effects the LEV City initiative by Ultra Motor will have on the City of Stuttgart will be a reduction in emissions caused by traditional public and personal transportation. The LEVs are emission-free and the charging station themselves will be carbon neutral ensuring a cleaner form of mobility around the city. Taking a 30 km trip across Stuttgart requires only 250 watt hours of electricity – the same amount of energy required to heat the water needed for a 2 minute shower.

Ultra Motor’s innovative approach will save commuters time as well as money as LEV City users will be able to navigate their way through heavily congested areas. Also, the electrically powered bikes by Ultra Motor represent an efficient, fast and clean form of individual mobility to prevent global warming.

Source: Ultra Motor