Sunday, September 30, 2007

Office productivity moving online, market suddenly hot

Microsoft Corp. announced Monday its Microsoft Office Live Workspace, a web based extension of Microsoft Office that that allows users to access their documents online and share their work with others including those who do not run Microsoft Office on the desktop.

The beta version of this service, which went online today, allows users to collaborate and comment on documents online, but requires Microsoft Office to run on the desktop if the document has to be edited.

Microsoft has only put a part of its Office suite online, to protect its business of selling software licenses to Office on the desktop. The company is pitching for a combination “software and service” model for the delivery of software in contrast to competitor Google Inc., which offers online office productivity software like a spreadsheet, word processor, and presentation software.

Adobe Systems Inc. is also moving towards an online model. It also announced Monday that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire a company in Waltham, Massachusetts called Virtual Ubiquity and its online word processor,Buzzword, which was built with Adobe Flex software and runs in the Adobe Flash Player.

Microsoft’s move to help its customers access their files on the web from wherever they are, may hence be seen as a nice new feature, but not a dramatic change in business model. A lot of customers in fact favor this dual model, and there have been hints that Google too may offer a desktop version of its office productivity software.

All of a sudden, office productivity, is seeing fierce competition. It seemed like that market had been won and conceded to Microsoft with folks like OpenOffice and StarOffice putting up token resistance.

IBM Corp. launched last month Lotus Symphony, an office productivity suite based on open-source and Eclipse. The company had 100,000 downloads of the software in the first week it was offered. Analysts like Gartner Inc. say that IBM’s Symphony is just a makeover of OpenOffice which was already available for free download or through Sun Microsystems Inc. as StarOffice. Because of remaining compatibility issues, user organizations have to still run Microsoft Office once they start using OpenOffice, according to Gartner.

Related articles:

IBM has 100,000 downloads of Lotus Symphony, but too early to call

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bollywood and the “stupid Indian”

A picture is worth a thousands words, goes the old saw. By that reasoning, the corrosive images coming out from Bollywood, India’s prolific cinema production industry, and its TV soaps must have by now done great damage to the image abroad of Indians.

In a movie from Bollywood, the hero’s falling in love is usually incomplete without a song and a dance. The couple never ever jump into bed, because the official censors in India don’t allow screening that.

But there is enough in the dance sequences to titillate a repressed audience. A favorite of directors is a scene of a fully dressed woman standing under a waterfall or a shower, revealing a lot through the wetness of her clothes. The director also throws in well-choreographed dance sequences, with a large number of over-fed and skimpily clad starlets, known locally as “item girls”, dancing in tandem with the hero and heroine.

The story line is also quite simple and repetitive, exploiting ad nauseam the “ love conquers everything” theme. The hero or the heroine usually come from a poor family, and there is opposition to the marriage, and other obstacles thrown up by villains who suddenly surface in the plot, either in search of profit, or hired by a competing girl friend or boy friend. Pain is exaggerated and so is cruelty and sadness. A gunned down actor could take half an hour to die, while a nail-biting audience watches every gory detail.

It is only recently that producers have started experimenting with new themes, but most are quite improbable in the Indian context. One movie "Nishabd" (Silent) released this year had a top actor Amitabh Bachchan, who is in his 60s in real life and in the movie, falling in love with an 18 year-old girl. The film was not a hit at the box offices.

Realism is also given the go by in popular TV soaps. The heroes and heroines grow older, and have children and grand-children, as the soaps proceeds from one episode to another. But they still strut around with jet-black hair and youthful faces and figures. And they are still caught up in romantic entanglements of their glorious past. In one serial, the widowed matriarch is a great-great grandmother !

Most of the popular soaps center around wealthy business households with spacious homes, and expensive cars. Some aim at being westernized or modernized, by introducing, and subtly glorifying, to traditional Indians and the country’s rural masses, themes of infidelity, extra-marital affairs, and crimes of passion.

Other soaps like "Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi" (Because a Mother-in-law was once a Daughter-in-law too) attempt, in a contrived way, to convey that despite their wealth, the family is still traditional, adhering to the local “sanskar” or culture.

As for the poor, they don’t exist in the world-view of the soaps. The Indian soap is a celebration of the new upper-class hedonism that has emerged as a result of India’s economic boom.

All this adds up to a potential image problem for Indians. If earlier the country was known as a land of elephants and snake charmers, it will now get portrayed as land of social upstarts living in a world of their own imagination.

If Bollywood portrayed Indian men and women dancing around trees or breaking into song, with little by way of intellect or existential concerns, the soaps have gone a step further. They have brought into focus the new Indian upstart. Unlike the love-smitten, song and dance loving hero and heroine of Bollywood, the heroes and heroines of the soaps do unfortunately exist.

But they do not represent all Indians. They do not represent the large number of Indian engineers and researchers who have made a mark, occupying top positions both in India and abroad. They do not represent India’s scholars and Nobel prize winners.

They do no represent India’s large number of poor.

As Indian producers try to take their fare abroad, they will not be exporting real Indian culture, but a new ersatz culture and a new stereotype – the stereotype of the stupid Indian.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Iraq – a war that need not have happened ?

It is now up to the American people to prove to the world that democracy works in the country, that a President and his coterie cannot hold the country’s will and intelligence for granted.

But first the background:

Deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had offered to go into exile, ahead of the US invasion of Iraq, according to a transcript of talks from a meeting between US President George Bush and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in February, 2003 at Bush’s Texas ranch.

Saddam Hussein was prepared to take US$1 billion and go into exile before the Iraq war, said this report in the Washington Post.

"The Egyptians are speaking to Saddam Hussein. It seems he's indicated he would be prepared to go into exile if he's allowed to take $1 billion and all the information he wants about weapons of mass destruction," Bush was quoted as saying at the meeting one month before the US-led invasion, according to the Washington Post.

The transcript was published this week by the Spanish newspaper El Pais. White House spokesperson Dana Perino said at a press briefing, when asked about the report in El Pais, “Well, without commenting on the details or talking about a private conversation between two world leaders and whether or not that happened, if you think back to that time, there were a lot of rumors”.

Saddam Hussein’s attempt to flee the country, ahead of an invasion by the US and its allies, puts on display once again the basic cowardice of despots when they find that the chips are down.

But that Bush did not pursue this offer further is evidence that he wanted to invade Iraq at whatever costs. If Saddam Hussein had to go into exile, he would be hard put to justify the war and the loss of lives.

So intent was Bush on war that, according to the transcript, he told the Spanish Prime Minister that whatever happens, the allies would be in Baghdad by the end of March.

Let’s work out the alternate scenario had Bush and his allies pursued the proposal for Saddam Hussein’s exile. The butcher of Baghdad would have gone into exile, probably naming a successor, or a transitional government in Iraq. Most logically in this situation, the transition would be supervised by the UN, and would not require a US invasion force.

Yes, it would take time, and patience, but the Iraq war and a lot of loss of life would have been avoided. US troops would have been home, and Americans wouldn’t have to bear the pain of the continuous loss of American lives in Iraq.

A lot of Americans and many more Iraqi lives would have been saved if Bush had not decided to play cowboy.

If the transcript is found to be accurate, and it is found that Bush did not pursue the exile option, preferring instead to rush into Iraq with guns blazing, there may be a case for impeaching the US President.

It is now up to the American people to prove to the world that democracy works in the country.

Related article:

Why the US should stay in Iraq

Kosovo dispute highlights the issue of nationalities

Serbia warned the UN on Thursday of "unforeseeable consequences" that could destabilize the world if the breakaway province of Kosovo declares independence unilaterally later this year, according to a report by Reuters.

Serbian President Boris Tadic was evidently self-serving when he warned the UN General Assembly of the consequences of the legal precedent of an unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo. But he would have probably struck a sympathetic chord with a number of other countries, including many in Europe, that are fighting their own separatist movements.

Spain has to worry about Basque separatists, Russia about separatists in Chechnya and other rumblings of separation within the Russian federation, and Turkey about an undercurrent for a greater Kurdistan, spanning Kurd dominated areas in Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. Outside Europe, there are the Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka, Kashmiri separatists in India, and a large number of other smaller and maybe lesser known separatist movements which will may get some encouragement from an unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo.

Nations have been built not only on shared ideological principles, shared culture and history, common language, or by a voluntary association of different groups. Some of them have also been built on the basis of shared ethnicity and/or religion. Pakistan, for example, was partitioned from India on religious grounds alone.

If we go by history, and a sense of justice, there should be no objection to an ethnic group declaring independence. This stand unfortunately only looks good in a treatise on nationalities, meant for academic discourse alone.

If we put it into practice, we could see a large part of the world “balkanized” because every ethnic group or group with nationalistic aspirations could demand independence regardless of its political and economic viability as an independent country. Many of them will likely emerge in haste and violence, without the institutions in place required to be nations.

The problem gets more complicated when we consider that every group with nationalistic aspirations is not the sole occupant of the land that it claims for its new nation. In Kosovo, for example, about 120,000 Serbs still live there, roughly half of them in isolated enclaves protected by a NATO peacekeeping force of 16,000, and the rest in a northern triangle that is closely tied to the Serbian hinterland, according to the Reuters report. Kashmir for example has a large number of Hindus who do not go along with the idea of the independence of the land.

Without the consent of these minority groups, many a newly independent nation will hence be born in bitterness, civil war, ethnic cleansing, and instability, apart from the hostility of the country they have broken from.

If Kosovo declares unilateral independence from Serbia, as it threatens, it could be the first of a large number of new flashpoints around the world.

There is also the danger that once a precedent is established, ethnic groups may consciously choose to populate an area, establish themselves as the majority population there, and then declare unilateral independence. That could mean, say 50 years from now, a slew of new nations that currently don’t exist.

The upshot is that a negotiated settlement between Serbia and Kosovo would in the best long-term interest of the world. Better perhaps that Kosovo gets autonomy with almost all powers over the territory transferred to it.

A solution in Kosovo, that avoids an unilateral declaration of independence, will not change the demands of the Tamils in Sri Lanka or the Basques in Spain. But the UN will avoid opening a Pandora’s box, that it is right now not equipped to handle.

In Pakistan, army rule legalized by Supreme Court

The dismissal by Pakistan’s Supreme Court of petitions, challenging Pervez Musharraf from standing for re-election as President, even as he holds the post of Army chief, at one stroke removed any hope of a legal end to army rule in Pakistan. The 6-3 decision by Supreme Court judges on Friday in fact legalizes army rule in Pakistan.

On October 6, it appears that Pervez Musharraf will stand for President while also holding the post of chief of Pakistan’s army. In effect a victory for Musharraf will be a victory for the army and its continued dominance of Pakistani politics. Government lawyers, who first said that the President would resign from the army post if re-elected, later prevaricated.

The government, the Supreme Court, and the army were in fact rolled into one when under the The Oath of Judges Order 2000 the judges in Pakistan took a fresh oath of office swearing allegiance to military rule. Judges had to swear that they would not make decisions against the military rule.

The struggle for democracy will now move more dramatically to the streets. If earlier, opponents of Musharraf, political parties opposed to him, and the lawyers had hoped that the Supreme Court would rule in their favor, they will now have to take their protests to the street.

Musharraf is seeking re-election from a Parliament whose term ends in October this year, and his party has a majority in this parliament that was elected in 2002 at the peak of the General’s power. Once Musharraf is re-elected, and the army consolidate their rule, they will likely call for a general election, and they and their minions will decide who can contest and who will not. That may include former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, but will very definitely exclude another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

It is only the people of Pakistan who can prevent this bizarre sequence of events from unfolding. Close allies like the US have long ago thrown their weight behind Musharraf, and are evidently proud that their boy has made it past the petitions in the Supreme Court.

Related articles:

US policy in Pakistan hypocritical
In Pakistan, Osama bin Laden more popular than Musharraf
Musharraf: I don't want to be unemployed !

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Olympic Games, and the diplomatic charade over Myanmar

The think tanks have come up with a way to get the army in Myanmar to heel. Get China, which is a large investor in the country, to intervene. If China, declines to intervene, European Union countries should boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Now that gives the Chinese something to think about !

The upshot is that the diplomatic community is passing the buck to China as it finds itself impotent against a repressive regime in Myanmar that at this point cares for nothing else than its survival in power.

The boycott of the Olympics is however unlikely to pan out, because other interests, stronger than the fate of the democratic movement in Myanmar, will come to the fore. Will the US for example agree to a boycott of the Olympics ? It views China as a strategic partner in Asia, far more important than old ally Taiwan, and has turned a blind eye to Chinese repression at home. Nor will the European countries like the UK and France agree to boycott the Olympic games, and give China a stinging rebuke over Myanmar.

The regime in China, and the army in Myanmar know that caught up in their business interests, the world has become impotent to fight against repression. So you will find China making some polite remonstrations while the army in Myanmar gets on with its brutal work. After it is done, it may even announce that it has backed off at the request of the Chinese.

In recommending a boycott, vice president of the European Parliament Edward McMillan-Scott, has shown a large heart. “The civilized world must seriously consider shunning China by using the Beijing Olympics to send the clear message that such abuses of human rights are not acceptable,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

But political decisions by large nations are not from the heart, but conceal cynical long-term calculations. As the nations of the world debate on a boycott, the massacre in Myanmar will be over. So our only option may be to sit back and watch the massacre. We did that in 1988.

UPDATE: Internet connectivity has been cut off in Myanmar, even as the army intensifies its crackdown on protesters. Blogs, instant messenger, and video sharing sites had provided locals an opportunity to get information on the clampdown to the world outside.

Related Articles:

In Myanmar, impotence against a brutal regime
India shouldn’t hide behind diplomatic niceties on Myanmar

With Hotmail, establish your identity online

Microsoft Corp. is offering Indian users the opportunity to have personalized e-mail ids that show up their identity, likes and dislikes, choice of sports, favorite celebrities etc etc.

If users are tired of an email id like, which does not say a lot about them, they now have the option to choose email ids from some 250 domains.

They can have multiple ids each emphasizing one aspect or the other of themselves, or even their moods at any time of the day, such as or or or

Like all other products and services, it appears that email too is moving to becoming a lifestyle statement.

The email ids can be used on instant messenger and other Windows Live services.

“Our research shows that the youth today want their own identity and there are not enough email ids available to truly describe one’s personality. An email id is a part of one’s own identity and since people use email as the primary mode of contact, it is important to have an email id which is unique. This led us to roll out a comprehensive list of free personalized email ids that will allow users more choice in an email id with all the added features of their Windows Live Hotmail account,” said Jaspreet Bindra, Country Manager, Online Services Business, Microsoft India in a statement.

To sign up for personalized email ids, folks have to go to this site, select their domain, and sign up for the email id through Windows Live.

I was looking for but lucked out.

RC2 Corp. recalls toys again, patience runs thin

RC2 Corp., the vendors of Thomas & Friends wooden railway toys, has recalled another 200,000 of these toys, as the surface paints on the toys can contain excessive levels of lead, violating the federal lead paint standard, according to a statement from The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

This recall by RC2 Corp., of Oak Brook, Illinois comes three months after the company recalled 1.5 million toys in the Thomas & Friends series, after finding lead paint on the surface of the products, CPSC said in July.

In both cases the toys, said to have high lead content in their paint, were made in China, adding to concerns about the safety of toys and other products made in China, including those made in China for big US brands.

Mattel Inc., another toy maker surprisingly apologized last week for damaging China's reputation by its recall of toys made in China. 2.2 million toys were recalled over impermissible levels of lead, according to a statement issued by Mattel, though it said that its lead-related recalls were overly inclusive, including toys that may not have had lead in paint in excess of US standards.

Another 17.4 million toys from Mattel were also recalled because of loose magnets, but Mattel put it down to a flaw in its design.

This “mea culpa” by Mattel, exonerating the Chinese, seems surprising, even as companies like RC2 Corp. are still reporting high lead in the paint for their toys.

The fact remains that blue-chip American companies have been shipping products that have been hazardous for the kids who played with them. The toys covered under RC2’s recall of September 26, 2007 include stuff that was sold through toy stores and various retailers nationwide from March 2003 through September 2007 ! That means toys with lead paint were still shipped up to September 2007, even though the company found and recalled other toys with lead as way back as in June, 2007. Wasn’t RC2 supposed to check for lead the whole lot of toys it had on retail shelves ?

A recall does not absolve the companies of responsibility. They have to make sure that these incidents don’t happen again. If there is a problem with the Chinese supplier, please sort it out. If there are problems with your designs, sort that out too, and make sure your designs are foolproof.

Recalls don’t make you good corporate citizens. Prevention does, and in this regard companies were caught napping. Consumer patience may be running out.

Related Articles:

Mattel apologizes for defaming the Chinese !

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

India shouldn’t hide behind diplomatic niceties on Myanmar

India had this to say, even as the army in Myanmar has started a clampdown in the country:

“India is concerned at and is closely monitoring the Myanmar situation. It is our hope that all sides will resolve their issues peacefully through dialogue. India has always believed that Myanmar’s process of political reform and national reconciliation should be more inclusive and broad-based,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said, according to a report in The Hindu, a newspaper in India.

This diplomatic gloss over the repression in Myanmar is an insult to pro-democracy protesters in the Myanmar.

Worried about business interests in Myanmar, India is passing up the opportunity to play a leadership role in the region.

It is too much to expect from India to launch an attack on Myanmar, in the name of supporting the democracy movement in Myanmar. That sets a bad precedent, and unlike in the US invasion of Iraq, India doesn’t have the “weapons of mass destruction” fig leaf to try to justify its actions.

But India could at least come out openly against the brutal regime in Myanmar. This is a time for statesmanship, not political wheeler-dealing with neighbors.

India’s neighbors are looking to it and to China for leadership ! They are looking more to India, because India is a democracy !

Related article:

In Myanmar, impotence against a brutal regime

In Myanmar, impotence against a brutal regime

It is chilling and scary, and a re-run of similar such violations of people’s rights worldwide in our times, and in history. The shocking part of it is that the global community comes across as being as helpless as on most of the other occasions.

Myanmar security forces raided two Buddhist monasteries early Thursday, beating up and hauling away more than 70 monks after a day of violent confrontation with monk-led protesters left at least one dead, Buddhist clergy said, according to a report in the International Herald Tribune.

The army has begun a vicious crackdown against peaceful protesters, that largely include Buddhist monks and students. The army runs that country, and if they decide to beat up and brutalize hundreds of protesters they well can, and will do it.

We can do nothing about it ! Except watch in impotent rage.

We are no worse off than our leaders. The US, the European Union have issued a joint statement decrying the assault on peaceful demonstrators and calling on the junta to open talks with democracy activists. Other countries too have issued their protests. But the army does not falter in its resolve to repress the people’s movement.

It is a sad commentary on the way the world is organized, that the rulers in Myanmar can do just what they want within the country they run.

Something similar happened in 1989 against student protesters in Tiananmen Square in China. It happened before in Myanmar in 1988 when pro-democracy demonstrators were massacred. Is it that international conventions, treaties and laws prevent us from stopping this oppression ? Or is that despots have a better feel of world opinion and our leaders – that for all the proclamations of distress, leaders and countries do not find Myanmar democrats are worth struggling over.

China and Russia, among the few countries with influence over the junta, yesterday blocked U.S. and European efforts in the United Nations Security Council to condemn the regime for its crackdown, according to Bloomberg. India is plain watching from the sidelines. These countries have business interests in Myanmar, and clout with the junta there.

The world has not changed, not at all.

IBM has 100,000 downloads of Lotus Symphony, but too early to call

IBM Corp. has reported 100,000 downloads in one week of the beta version of Lotus Symphony, its free office suite, which is seen as a potential competitor to Microsoft Corp’s Office suite.

Symphony is based on the open source and Eclipse framework, and promotes the ODF for XML (Open Document Format), which is an XML standard approved by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) in Geneva. Microsoft’s Office suite supports Open XML, which failed to get fast-track approval as an ISO standard earlier this month.

Research firm Gartner Inc. however said in a research note that the Symphony release is not as significant as it may seem. Symphony is an IBM distribution of word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications from the suite of productivity applications, much like the StarOffice suite available from Sun Microsystems Inc., and also distributed by Google, it pointed out.

As pointed out in a posting in this blog on September 17, despite IBM’s marketing muscle and a large customer base, the move by IBM may not really cut into Microsoft’s business. OpenOffice has been around free for many years, but its adoption has not been dramatic so far, and comes mainly from open-source die-hards.

Organizations have not widely implemented OpenOffice because their versions of Microsoft Office are still supported (Microsoft supports office versions for 10 years). Also, compatibility is not perfect, requiring some users to run Microsoft Office, Gartner said.

Competition is also coming to IBM and Microsoft from online hosted office applications from companies like Google Inc. Google has hinted at offering both online and offline versions of its software.

Related article:

IBM to counter Microsoft Office, but without a compelling strategy

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Outsourcing outsourcing, or plain spin ?

India is outsourcing outsourcing, according to a report in the New York Times.

Ahead of the US elections, when outsourcing, and the loss of tech jobs in the US, will again likely figure as a big issue, Indian outsourcers have floated the new spin that they are in fact creating a large number of jobs in the US and Europe, nay outsourcing to the US.

Some link the creation of jobs in the US and Europe and other countries to the appreciation of the Rupee versus the US dollar, and staff shortages in India.

However, most of Infosys’ 75,000 employees are Indians, in India, says the New York Times report. India’s large outsourcers have about 60,000 staff each on an average in India, and having a couple of thousand staff in the US or Europe will not make the Rupee appreciation more manageable, or reduce staff turnover in India dramatically.

It is a case of making a large virtue out of a small necessity. Indian companies have been setting up operations in the US, Europe, and Mexico for some time, because their customers are demanding on-shore and near-shore capabilities in Europe and the US. They are also choosing low-cost locations in the US and Europe. When a company like Wipro Ltd. wants to set up operations on-shore in the US it will not go to pricey New York to set up shop, but to locations like Atlanta.

In Europe, which is slowly getting around to the idea of outsourcing, and its variant offshore outsourcing, customers are keen that their employees are protected. That means that Indian companies should be willing to take in staff from a customer – witness the deal between Infosys Technologies Ltd. and Royal Philips Electronics N.V.

So it is not that Indian companies are exporting jobs, or “outsourcing outsourcing”. They are just doing what they have been doing for years --- setting up operations closer to the customer, when required. Most of it used to be called on-site work earlier. As the H1-B visa regime got tighter in the US, or in Europe because of the need for language skills and to absorb staff from their customers, they have to hire locals. Infosys has employed local staff in Brno for over two years for their language skills.

It is hence a trifle arrogant for Indian outsourcers to claim that they are outsourcing jobs to the US and Europe. This is spin for the pols in Washington.

As of now about 85 to 90 percent of their staff are still in India, and it won’t change any time soon. Even after the appreciation of the Rupee and the rising wages in India, these companies continue to hire frenetically in India, because the comparative costs are still lower. Satyam, for example, is hiring 15,000 new staff before the end of the Indian fiscal year to March 31, 2008, according to this report in The Economic Times.

In contrast, Wipro Ltd. plans to hire 500 in Atlanta over the next three years, besides some 900 staff from its proposed acquisition of Infocrossing. Inc.

Spin about outsourcing to the US will not go down well with folks like Washtech who have been complaining that tech jobs in their thousands are moving from the US to India, and sure they have. By coming up with the lame one that they are also hiring a few hundreds in the US, Indian outsourcers can hardly hope to assuage the anxiety of anti-outsourcing lobbies.

Better to take the challenge headlong. Talk about the competitiveness offshore outsourcing is giving to the US. Inform the American people that a large proportion of employees in India are employed by Indian engineering centers of US companies. Tap into unstinted support from folks in the ITAA (Information Technology Association of America). But please, don’t insult people’s intelligence with the “reverse outsourcing” or “outsourcing to the US” spiel.

Related Article:

Indian outsourcers not floundering, not migrating gets onto MP3 music bandwagon Inc. has launched Public Beta of Amazon MP3, a digital music store, signaling competition for Apple Inc.’s iTunes, and eMusic, the two big players in the digital music downloads business.

While iTunes predominantly uses a proprietary DRM (digital rights management) for its music downloads, eMusic offers music downloads in the MP3 format, without DRM protection. Downloads without DRM come without copy restrictions and controls, and can be played on any audio device supporting the popular MP3 format.

Amazon MP3 has over 2 million songs from more than 180,000 artists represented by over 20,000 major and independent labels, the company said in a statement. The downloaded files can be played on any audio device, Amazon said on Tuesday.

Most songs are priced from 89 cents to 99 cents, with more than 1 million of the 2 million songs priced at 89 cents, the company said. Songs on Amazon MP3 are encoded at 256 kilobits per second, which gives customers high audio quality at a manageable file size, according to

Most large music labels have shied away from MP3 downloads, which is the reason why eMusic sells mainly music from independent labels. To make headway in this market, will have to introduce music guides and expert reviews to help users choose good quality music. The term independent labels has often come to mean amateurish music generated by out-of-garage operations, a problem many users encounter currently on eMusic.

Only Universal Music Group and EMI Music Publishing, among the big labels, are currently offering music at the store. announced in May that it would open an online digital music store later this year, and also said that the music would be free of DRM controls. The company also invested in August in a music download firm called Amie Street Inc.

The MP3 music can be downloaded from Amazon here.

Related Articles:

eMusic’s foray into audiobooks may help aspiring writers
Finding gold on the Net is a long shot

Indian outsourcers not floundering, not migrating

Let me start by saying that Indian outsourcers are not floundering because of the appreciation of the Indian Rupee against the dollar. Yes, their rupee realizations will go down because of the appreciation of the rupee against the dollar. After all close to 60 percent of their business comes from the US.

But even as their realizations are going down, their costs of keeping staff on-site at client sites in the US is also coming down. Other dollar denominated costs are also coming down. This is not to say that these companies won’t be affected at all, but expect a few percentage points drop in margins.

As usual the top players like Infosys Technologies Ltd., Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. (TCS), and Wipro Ltd. will report next month robust quarterly revenue and profits growth, that are the envy of their peers in the US and Europe.

Another myth that is doing the rounds is that companies like Infosys, TCS, and Wipro are setting up operations outside India to get around the appreciation of the Rupee. Earlier, it was said that these companies were doing it because of staff shortages in India.

Staff shortage is a real problem, but not as yet so acute as to expect Indian companies to migrate operations abroad. If folks like Infosys and Wipro are setting up operations in Mexico and Europe, it is because they need to offer near-shore facilities to customers to increase their comfort level. Being on similar time-zones with customers also helps. That is also the reason Wipro is setting up an operation in Atlanta.

To bag contracts in Europe, it also helps if these companies are willing to absorb local staff. That strategy has paid off for TCS for example with the contract it bagged from the Pearl Group Ltd.. It also paid off for Infosys when it bagged a business process outsourcing contract from Royal Philips Electronics N.V. this year in return for taking over Philips’ centers in Poland, Thailand, and India. Many years ago HCL Technologies Ltd. got call center business from British Telecom in return for acquiring the Apollo call center in Belfast.

But this does not represent a migration from India by Indian outsourcers. Companies like Wipro, TCS, Infosys have an average of about 60,000 staff each on their roles, and the overseas ventures will likely account for between 10-15 percent of staff.

That percentage of staff abroad is not a good enough hedge against a rising Rupee, and certainly hasn’t eased staff shortages in India. It has however given these companies the right mix of a global presence and distribution of locations for disaster recovery, without sacrificing on the still large cost benefits of delivering from India.

Related Article:

Bangalore paying the price of economic boom ?

Monday, September 24, 2007

A celebration of British colonialism in India !

I have no objection to descendants of Genghis Khan deciding to hold a quiet, prayerful ceremony to commemorate their ancestor.

I have no objection to some British going quietly to Lucknow and other parts of India and paying homage at graves of some of their colonialist ancestors, as a private visit from close relations.

But I object to them making an excursion of it, coming in large numbers to make a spectacle, to commemorate 150 years of a colonial war against the Indians.

Because then they will be walking rough-shod over the sentiments of the people of India, whose ancestors were the victims of these British soldiers.

The decision of some British soldiers and civilians to go to Lucknow to honor soldiers that were involved in suppressing the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, which Indians regard as the first war of independence, has created a furor in India.

The visitors from the UK even “ hoped to install a plaque in a church in Meerut commemorating the bravery of British soldiers at the site of another key flashpoint during the 1857 rebellion”, according to a report by Reuters.

If the British visitors were moved by respect for their ancestors, over 150 years later at that, they could have gone to Lucknow in smaller numbers and paid their discreet homage. They could have done it every year, and nobody would have objected.

Instead they are planning a well-choreographed event. Would the Indians be entirely wrong if they apprehend that this visit is less about homage and more about revisionism in British thinking about its colonial role ?

The history of the West as colonizers is a part of their history that they should do their best to help others to forget. It was a period of untold brutality, and exploitation which people in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East are still trying to come to terms with. It is a period that the British, the French, the Portuguese and other colonialists should also come to terms with in humility and contrition.

Today the West is horrified by the cruelty and massacre of people in the Africa and Asia. They hold their kerchiefs to their noses, figuratively, when referring to people like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. They forget that less than a 100 years ago, the Western colonialists were the butchers of Asia and Africa.

A public commemoration in Lucknow, India would be a celebration of that butchery !

Where are your manners Mr. Lee C. Bollinger ?

Columbia University’s President Lee C. Bollinger today told President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, “You exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator”, before turning over the lectern to him to deliver a speech.

Bollinger’s description of the Iranian President may well be correct. Different people and different countries have different views of political leaders. If US President George Bush were to go to Iran or Iraq, a speaker there may well have told him, “ You exhibit all the signs of an interfering and petty war monger”, and they may have been right too.

But were your remarks to Ahmadinejad in good taste, Mr. Bollinger ? Were they civil ?

Ahmadinejad was invited to speak at Columbia University, and as a guest speaker at the university, your remarks to him were uncivil.

If you thought that the Iranian President was a petty and cruel dictator, you were entirely within your rights not to invite him to speak to your students, which is precisely what demonstrators outside had all along been demanding.

But once you had invited the man, don’t insult him. That reflects on you and the university, in fact on the US.

You also gave Ahmadinejad the opportunity to score points that a number of Muslims may be able to relate to - the President of a Muslim state was insulted at an American university.

Related Articles:

Iran President says no need for nuclear bomb
Why the US should stay in Iraq
Who rules in Iraq today ?

Gandhi dynastic rule inevitable in India

Rahul Gandhi, son of Sonia Gandhi, President of the ruling Congress party in India, has been appointed General Secretary of the party.

The two top party posts are now in the hands of the Gandhi family, confirming that Sonia Gandhi, widow of assassinated Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, is grooming Rahul for the position of Prime Minister of the country.

The current Prime Minister of the country, Manmohan Singh, is largely seen as a place-holder for the Gandhi family. Singh was elected to the post after Sonia Gandhi backed out, following objections to a “foreigner” holding the Prime Minister’s post. Sonia Gandhi, who took Indian citizenship, was born an Italian.

After the independence of the country in 1947, Rahul Gandhi’s great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru became the Prime Minister. Except for three Congress Prime Ministers who were not from the family – Lal Bhadur Shastri, P.V. Narasimha Rao, and now Manmohan Singh, and stints by opposition leaders such as V.P. Singh, and Atal Behari Vajpayee, the top post was held by members of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

After Nehru, Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister after Shastri’s death. After Indira Gandhi’s assassination, her son Rajiv Gandhi assumed power. After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, it seemed for a while that the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty was ebbing, with Narasimha Rao becoming Prime Minister and new power centers emerging.

The dynastic control within the Congress party has been achieved because the Congress has not thrown up leaders of a national stature. Some believe that the Nehru-Gandhi lobby never allowed new leaders to emerge.

India has a strong democracy, and voters have often ousted leaders, like Indira Gandhi, when they over-stepped their limits or failed to deliver. But the country's political parties lack democracy within the parties which has perpetuated family rule in the Congress, and a geriatric leadership in the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The Congress currently runs a coalition government in India with the communists and regional parties. The Gandhis have proven to be crowd-pullers for the Congress, particularly with India’s rural masses. The main opposition, the BJP, is currently in disarray, and does not have a charismatic leader to lead the party in the next election. Rahul Gandhi, who was put in charge of local assembly elections in a key state of Uttar Pradesh earlier this year, was however a disappointment, as the Congress was routed by a local party.

Who rules in Iraq today ?

The U.S. military has arrested in Iraq an Iranian who it says is a member of an elite Iranian unit, called Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force, involved in training and equipping insurgents in Iraq. Yet the country’s President Jalal Talabani has blasted the U.S. for the arrest and called for his immediate release, according to a report in CNN.

Talabani said he is a civil servant who was on an official trade mission in Iraq's Kurdistan region, according to the report.

Talabani may be mistaken, but he is the elected President of Iraq. The appropriate course of action for the U.S. would hence be to release the Iranian detainee, out of deference to the Iraqi government.

The U.S., according to the administration in Washington, wants the elected government to take more responsibilities in Iraq, including reconciling rival groups.

By implicitly acting as if the elected government is a “puppet”, whose opinions are to be disregarded, the U.S. is contributing to the government’s falling credibility, and undermining democracy in Iraq.

Iran has meanwhile closed the border with the Kurdistan part of Iraq until the Iranian detainee is released. The border closure will likely impact economic activity in the Kurdistan region.

Iran President says no need for nuclear bomb

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, Iran told CBS in an interview, ahead of his visit to the United Nations in New York, that Iran does not need a nuclear bomb.

“Any party who uses national revenues to make a bomb, a nuclear bomb, will make a mistake. Because in political relations right now, the nuclear bomb is of no use,” Ahmadinejad said talking to 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley, through an interpreter in Teheran. “If it was useful, it would have prevented the downfall of the Soviet Union. If it was useful, it would have resolved the problems the Americans have in Iraq,” the Iranian President added.

The US and its allies have maintained that Iran is planning a nuclear bomb, and have even hinted at a pre-emptive strike at the country’s nuclear facilities.

Evidently trying to make a case for US hypocrisy in its position on Iran’s nuclear bombs, Ahmadinejad said, “So can you please tell me why the U.S. government is fabricating these bombs? Do you want to provide a more welfare, happiness to the people through the bomb? Are you going to deal with global poverty? Or do you want to kill people?”.

Neither confirming nor denying that Iran is supplying arms to insurgents in Iraq, a claim made by the US, Ahmadinejad said Iran is worried about “insecurity” inside Iraq, as that could pose a threat to Iran. “We are not interfering in Iraq. The Iraqi people are our friends. And the president, the prime minister, the speaker of the parliament are our friends. We don't need to interfere in Iraq,” the Iranian President said.

Ahmadinejad said the US should pull troops out of Iraq because the people there were opposed to the occupation. “First, they said that they want to topple the dictator and find WMDs [weapons of mass destruction]. They didn't find WMDs and there's no dictator there anymore. So the question is: What are American troops doing right now in Iraq?,” he asked.

The Los Angeles Times meanwhile reports that Ahmadinejad has emerged as a hero for Arabs, and has won admiration even among Sunni nations, for making it a point to defy the US and Israel. Iran is predominantly Shia, and is often accused of undercutting Sunnis in Iraq.

On Israel, Ahmadinejad told CBS that the decision for a two-state solution rests with the Palestinians. “We are saying that you should allow the Palestinian people to participate in a fair and free election and determine their own fate. Whatever decision they take, everyone should go with that,” he added.

The President did not however clarify on the contentious issue of whether Palestinian refugees, that were pushed out when Israel was formed, should also be allowed to vote in the election. The Iranian President has called for "wiping out" Israel, and described the Holocaust - the genocide of Jews during World War II - as a myth.

Related Article:

Why the US should stay in Iraq

Saturday, September 22, 2007

That is our child on the advertisement !

At the risk of sounding immodest, I have a cute toddler, and often at malls or other public places, folks pull out their mobile phones, with built-in cameras, and take a snap of the child. Sometimes, they ask permission, which we have never given. But most often they just take snaps surreptitiously.

My concern throughout is what happens if the snap is used for commercial purposes. When are my wife and I going to spot a picture of our child advertising something or the other on the side of a bus or on a bill board or a newspaper ad ? I am sure this is a nightmare for many other parents around the world.

So what would be the legal recourse in this situation ? If we sue the advertiser, he will most probably turn around and say that he has got permission to use the snap because he has bought the copyright from the person who took the snap.

The gray area, on which there is still considerable debate, is whether for a shot taken at a public place, does the advertiser need to take permission from my daughter, or her parents since she is a minor, to use the snap ? Let me emphasize that this is no longer about copyright, but about a person's right to privacy, and the law does not appear to be uniform across all countries.

I think under current rules, the copyright of the photographer is protected but not the privacy of the people who appear in snaps of public places. That is why TV crews can have cameras in Times Square on New Year's Eve, or at the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, and beam the footage worldwide, without so much as a by your leave.

There are those who would argue, and I tend to agree with them, that there would never be any photojournalism if the TV crews or photographers had to take permission of all the folks snapped at every public event they cover, including a visit by the Pope, the swearing-in of the US President, an accident, or on the war front.

But I do believe that, even where the law does not prescribe it, advertisers should take permission from a person that figures prominently, or is featured, in the snap. Even if the person is smiling into the camera, which could imply tacit permission to having a snap taken, it may not mean that the person has agreed to the snap being taken for commercial use.

I am not discussing here misuse of snaps by pedophiles and other underworld types because there are separate laws to deal with that. My concern is about the commercial use of snaps taken in public places, that could offend one or more of the people who are in the snap.

In this connection there seems to be a gray area as is evident from this report in the Sydney Morning Herald that Australia’s Virgin Mobile phone company has been sued by a Texas family, after Virgin put up photos of their teenage daughter on billboards and website advertisements without her consent.

The snap, according to the family, was taken from Yahoo Inc.’s Flickr photo-sharing web-site. It had been put up there by the photographer, the girl’s youth counsellor, using a Creative Commons that allows others to reuse work such as photos without violating copyright laws, if they credit the photographer and say where the photo was taken, according to the SMH report. A link to the counsellor’s Flickr page appears at the bottom of the ad.

It may be argued that the Creative Commons license allowed Virgin Mobile to use the snap. Virgin also provided a link to its source on the Flickr page, which could be construed as giving the photographer credit. But did it do the right thing by the girl in the picture ? Was it correct to use the snap out of its context ? Should the girl sue Virgin or the photographer, who incidentally is a friend ? Who violated her privacy ? To find out how this discussion unfolds, check out this Flickr forum.

Orkut as theatre

Orkut, the social networking site hosted by Google Inc., is surely and quickly emerging more as a well-choreographed spectacle, than as a genuine and spontaneous forum for social interaction.

A caveat at the outset: this is not a critique of Orkut alone, but of all similar networking sites, that were set up with the promise of helping the youth to socialize and make friends.

The way Orkut has shaped out, nay its new raison d'être, is about making members look good to their friends and peers on the site. It is less about spontaneity and more about theatre.

Members upload their best snaps, chronicle their travels with well-selected snaps clicked in exotic locations, update peers on their wonderful new jobs, and generally convey through their sites that everything is hunky-dory and on the upswing at their end.

Social status on Orkut is predicated largely on the number of persons in your friends listing, even if you barely know some of the persons, or didn't exchange a call or a scrap with some of them for months.

Another measure of Orkut status is the number of scraps in your scrapbook, which most folks on Orkut treasure and accumulate, even though Orkut provides a facility to delete scraps.

The best way to increase the number of scraps is to scrap others as frequently as possible, even if they have nothing much to say, or if what had to be said could have been better said on phone. Hence you have husbands scrapping their wives to say they will be late for dinner, or as banal a comment as “Hey nice to c u here”.

The upshot is that nothing serious actually gets discussed on Orkut. If social networking in the physical world is about the sharing of common themes and ideas, bouncing out of new and unusual ideas, and generally trying to build community, Orkut has become by and large about mechanical scrapping and collection of friends.

There aren’t many new, original ideas of singular importance discussed on Orkut. There is nothing online like the “fiercely agonal spirit” described by the political theorist Hannah Arendt. In contrast, Orkut and other social networking is about conformity, being one with the crowd online, and doing your best to get accepted.

There have been frequent attempts to bring in political debate into Orkut, with communities like “I Hate Pakistan” or “Bush Sucks”(login required). But don’t expect a cerebral, well-informed debate on these communities.

On “Bush Sucks”, for example, besides referring to George Bush as responsible for killing thousands of people, members of Orkut said they hated Bush because “he was born”. Another “Orkuter” hates Bush because “he wants the abstinence of sex...before marrieg (sic)”, while still another dislikes the US President because “i don't know... just hate bush”.

The lack of depth in political commentary largely reflects the psyche of the generation that is currently on Orkut –-- they are primarily in their teens or early and mid 20s. This is the MTV generation that grew up with one credo – hedonism even if most of them can’t spell the word. For them Che Guevara is a picture on a T-Shirt to impress your girl with.

Related Articles:

Internet reflects, nay amplifies social problems
Instant Happiness

Friday, September 21, 2007

Mattel apologizes for defaming the Chinese !

In surprise move, toy maker, Mattel Inc, apologized on Friday for damaging China's reputation by its recall of toys made in China, according to a report from AFP in Beijing.

The vast majority of those products that the company recalled were the result of a design flaw in Mattel's design, and not through a manufacturing flaw in Chinese manufacturers, Thomas Debrowski, Mattel's executive vice president of worldwide operations, told the head of China's top product quality agency, Li Changjiang, in the Chinese capital, according to the report.

A total of 17.4 million toys were recalled because of loose magnets, which Mattel put down to the design defect. Another 2.2 million toys were recalled over impermissible levels of lead, according to a statement issued by Mattel. The company is quoted by AFP as saying that its lead-related recalls were overly inclusive, including toys that may not have had lead in paint in excess of US standards.

The recall by Mattel fueled an already growing demand for greater controls over import of toys and other goods from China. Another toy vendor, RC2 Corp. of Oak Brook, Illinois recalled in June a number of its “Thomas and Friends” railway toys, as the surface paints on these toys contained leads, according to this release. There were also other reports of sub-standard imports from China including of contaminated toothpaste.

India’s health minister also told Parliament earlier this month that Chinese toys in the Indian market were toxic as they had very high levels of cadmium and lead.

Related Articles:
Mattel toy recall: a case for banning imports of Chinese toys

Toxic Chinese toys in India too

Why the US should stay in Iraq

On August 22, US President George Bush told war veterans that a US withdrawal from Iraq would lead to bloodshed and reprisals akin to those after the US withdrew from Vietnam.

Bush’s comparison of Iraq with the withdrawal in Vietnam has been described as inaccurate by many historians.

The scary fact remains however that should the US and its allies decide to pull out from Iraq, the country could in fact witness a blood-bath of violent sectarian squabbling.

There is a growing school of thought in the US and other countries that the strife among the Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds is an internal problem of Iraq, better left to the new government in Iraq to solve. Some have even said that the government in Baghdad will move to reconcile the factions, only after it knows it does not have the US to prop it up.

Having invaded Iraq in 2003 with the multiple aims of removing Saddam Hussein, destruction of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that were never found, and to bring democracy to Iraq, the US cannot now wash its hands off the problems that the new dispensation has thrown up.

The country does not as yet have a government in Baghdad that is accepted by all in the country. It does not have a strong police force that is respected and seen as impartial across the country, and is still trying to rebuild an army that was disbanded after Saddam Hussein’s government was brought down.

The Iraq oil and gas law, also referred to as the Iraq hydrocarbon law, approved by the cabinet in February, has still to be passed by Parliament. Under the proposed regulations, oil revenues will go to a central fund distributed to all Iraqis in all regions and provinces according their populations.

The oil law has however become a political battleground between those who favor a more unified Iraq and those who want a decentralized federation where provincial governments have larger rights over the award of contracts and the revenue from the oil and gas under their geographical jurisdictions.

Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia is clearly a key threat to the US in Iraq. But it is facile to blame all the violence in Iraq, and the problems faced by US troops there, on Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia. The violence in Iraq comes from a variety of factors including feuding militias, both Shia and Sunni that have still not come under the control of the government in Baghdad.

Clearly the US has a long way to go in Iraq both on the military and political front.

The political initiatives so far have assumed that Sunni, Shia, and Kurd populations will eventually put their heads together in a pan-Iraqi nationalism. What if they decide to fight, regardless of the consequences, for the control of Baghdad and the whole country ? What if they decide to partition the country, and feud and kill over which land and which part of the oil reserves should go to them ?

Bush has made a lot of the Anbar Awakening, the optimistic name often given to the move by some Sunni militias in Anbar to join Americans in fighting Al Qaeda. The US will surely pamper Sunni militias to counter the Al Qaeda influence, and hope to also nudge them into reconciliation with the Shias and Kurds.

There is however also the possibility that the Sunnis have teamed up with the Americans for arms and cash to be used after the Americans are out. They must be aware that the US administration is under pressure at home to get US troops out of Iraq.

Having played the role of global policeman, and got into this quagmire, the US will now have to stay there. If it pulls out prematurely, and there is civil war, the blame will be pinned primarily on the US. Public memory is short, and there may be some who may even argue that Iraq was better off before the US ousted the butcher Saddam Hussein.

An Iraq going through a civil war will also be to the US’ disadvantage as it will provide opportunities to US enemies like Iran and Al Qaeda.

All in all a thankless task for the US going forward.

When Democrats in the US demand the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, it is very reminiscent of Vietnam. When the going was just too hot, and public support at home waned, the US pulled out from Vietnam leaving behind all the people and interests that had counted on America’s continued support. These included the puppet rulers, but the rest were ordinary people caught on the wrong side.

Didn’t many of the Democrats including Hillary Clinton vote in favor of the Iraq war ? They probably didn’t want to be spectators or protesters during those heady days when images flashed worldwide of a tall statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down. But when the body bags started coming home, they quite naturally lost their nerve.

Both Democrats and Republicans showed lack of foresight on the US invasion of Iraq. The Democrats could do worse by now demanding a premature withdrawal from Iraq.

Related Article:
Six years after 9/11, whistling in the dark

Thursday, September 20, 2007

To: Pervez Musharraf From: Osama Bin Laden

Dear Pervez

I am more of a friend of yours than you perhaps imagine.

You may perhaps ask how I can be your friend when some of our Al Qaeda web sites have been announcing that we will shortly release a video in which we declare war on you and your army of nincompoops.

Come on Pervez, where is your sense of timing ? My threat comes just a couple of weeks before you seek re-election for President on October 6.

If earlier you were maligned by the democrats in your country for stifling democracy, and by your allies like the US for not being tough enough on me and my comrades, now you are the man the world will see as the bulwark against terrorism.

Now that I have declared war on you, you have become definitely more important. Pervez, the infidel Americans will say, must be doing a great job, for Laden to single him out for a video.

That will ensure that the resolve of George Bush to back you will only get stronger ! You can now deport Benazir Bhutto too when she returns on October 18. By then you would have also been re-elected as President. Your other opponents like Imran Khan will grumble and threaten to resign, but that will not shake your position as President. There is no room for democratic niceties during a war against terror.

I heard your lawyer promised your country's Supreme Court that you would resign from the post of chief of army staff after you were re-elected President. Are you silly ? The Americans will not let you, once I have spoken about my war against you and your army.

Before I conclude, thanks Pervez, for going easy on me and my people on the Pakistan-Afghanistan borders. I am not sure it was by design. Maybe it was the sheer lackadaisical approach of your apology for an army which has gone fat and slow in power.

Don’t let your success go to you head. I still have some 160 of your soldiers that we captured without firing a shot. We can continue to be pals, Pervez, but let’s not tell the Americans.

In fact the longer you cling to power, the more ham-fisted your attempts to prove your anti-Islamic credentials, the more disaffection you are generating. Did you see the results of that survey that showed me to be more popular than you in Pakistan.

Your brother

Osama bin Laden

Related Articles:

In Pakistan, Osama bin Laden more popular than Musharraf

Musharraf: I don't want to be unemployed !

US policy in Pakistan hypocritical

Six years after 9/11, whistling in the dark

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

When atheists and secularists want to play God

In India, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, a state in south India, said that Lord Ram, a god in the Hindu pantheon, did not exist. The chief minister M. Karunanidhi heads the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) which has strong atheist underpinnings.

Karunanidhi was reacting to Hindus, the majority community in India, who are opposed to a canal that could damage Adam’s Bridge or Ram Setu between India and Sri Lanka.

The Hindus, quoting from a Sanskrit epic called the Ramayana, believe the bridge, which consists of a chain of limestone shoals, was built by supporters of Lord Ram to reach Sri Lanka, and rescue his abducted wife Sita from the asura king, Ravana.

Where is it said that this Ram was an architect, asked Karunanidhi who described the bridge as “natural” rather than man-made. Protests by agitated Hindus led to the burning of a bus killing two persons.

Move over to the UK. A Hindu woman working at Heathrow Airport, for caterers Eurest, was dismissed for wearing a nose stud, which she said was a mark of her Hindu faith, reports the BBC.

Last year, another Heathrow worker Nadia Eweida was suspended by British Airways for wearing a Christian cross, but later reinstated following condemnation by clerics and politicians, according to the BBC.

These moves violate people’s right to practice their faith. A nose ring or a cross can in no way be considered offensive.

Secularists are getting mixed up between secularism, which means that religion should not interfere in state matters, and the right of human beings to believe in what they want, and wear the symbols of their religious identity.

Last year, the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the wearing of full face veils, called the niqab, by Muslim women was a " a mark of separation and that is why it makes other people from outside the community feel uncomfortable," according to the International Herald Tribune and other newspapers.

Blair was closing ranks with Jack Straw, the leader of the House of Commons, who earlier in the month said he did not believe women should wear the full-face veil.

Earlier, the French parliament passed a law in March, 2004 that bans the wearing of religious symbols, such as the Islamic veil, and large Christian crosses in schools.

Secularists have expressed their opposition to the niqab as a sign of the oppression of women in Muslim society, but a number of Muslim women have said that it is an expersssion of their identity. Which should serve as a reminder that other religious communities and cultures should not be always judged by Western standards.

These remarks and rules also demonstrate that atheists and secularists can at times be as intolerant of other people’s views as fundamentalists and fascists.

To be sure, the secularists and progressive Muslims are within their rights to push for change, but not by law, expuslions, and public pronouncements by officials of the state. That goes against another prized Western tenet – the separation of the State and religion.

Related Articles:

Ram Setu: the importance of religious symbols

A new photo album, and reflections on Hannah Arendt’s “The banality of evil”

The phrase “ the banality of evil” was used by philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt to refer to Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi criminal, arrested and put to trial by a court in Israel.

Arendt, who covered Eichmann’s trial, raised the questions whether evil was something radical, or as banal as people just following orders, playing safe, or going along uncritically with mass opinion.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday unveiled a new addition to its collection -- a personal photo album containing 116 pictures taken between May and December, 1944, chronicling the life of SS officers and other officials at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

The images capture SS guards and Nazi officials relaxing and enjoying time off—hunting, singing, trimming Christmas trees, and more --— all while Jews were being murdered at rates as fast as anytime during the Holocaust. The album was created and owned by Karl Höcker, an adjunct to camp Kommandant Richard Baer, according to a statement by the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

When you browse through Höcker’s album you come across pictures as ordinary, and as banal, as SS officer Karl Hoecker shaking hands with his sheep dog Favorit, SS officer Karl Hoecker lighting a candle on a Christmas tree, Nazi officers and female auxiliaries, called Helferinnen, posing on a wooden bridge in Solahutte, and sing-alongs with an accordion player.

The lives of these SS and Nazi officials is in glaring contrast to the massacre of Jews at Auschwitz-Birkenau. To be sure, these men and women frolicking, indulging in normal human pastimes, must have been aware of the inhumanities, the Holocaust perpetrated by them and their colleagues on the Jews!

Did they not feel guilt for what was happening in Auschwitz-Birkenau ? Were they cruel monsters pretending to lead normal soldiers’ lives ?

Or was it just the banality of evil again – the uncritical following of orders, and going along with the others that Arendt warned us about.

I say warned, because it can happen again, anywhere in the world.

"He did his duty...; he not only obeyed orders, he also obeyed the law,", wrote Arendt in “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil”, a book that emerged from her coverage of the trial of Eichmann for The New Yorker.

A lot of the crimes against humanity today come from such banal people....who were just obeying orders.

Related Articles:

A white Jihadi !!

Osama Bin Laden's seductive new avatar

Google Reader now multilingual

Google Inc. is offering multi-lingual support on its Google Reader, its web-based news feed reader.

Google Reader, which was only available in English, from Sept 18 supports French, Italian, German, Spanish, English (UK), Chinese (Traditional and Simplified), Japanese, and Korean.

The multi-lingual support for Google Reader is in line with the strategy of Google and other Internet companies like Yahoo Inc. to offer multi-lingual support for most of their services and tools, to make their services relevant in non-English speaking markets.

Blogs have also become an international phenomenon, and they are not constrained by language or nationality, wrote Google’s Product Marketing Manager Kevin Systrom on Google’s blog. In fact, blogs have become an important way to bring rise to independent reporters and writers, and there are more and more people who wish to read blogs in other languages, Systrom said.

Germany too will get iPhone on Nov. 9

As part of Apple Inc.’s marketing thrust into Europe ahead of the Christmas buying season, the company said on Wednesday it has partnered with network operator T-Mobile to introduce the iPhone in Germany on Nov. 9, the same date scheduled for the launch of the iPhone in the UK.

T-Mobile is a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom AG. Apple announced Tuesday that O2 (UK) Ltd., a wireless carrier operator in the UK had been selected to offer the iPhone in the country.

As in the US, where it has an exclusive deal with AT&T Inc., Apple has also fixed exclusive deals in the UK and Germany. The popularity of the iPhone gives Apple the bargaining power to get around the insistence of service providers on controlling what software and hardware goes into consumer mobile devices.

The iPhone will however be more expensive in Europe than in the US. The phone will cost €399 (about US$558) in Germany and £269 ($538) in the U.K., with service contracts, ranging from 18 to 24 months thrown In the U.S., the price of the phone was brought down to $399, down from $599 at launch.

Apple is also expected to announce this week that the contract for France has gone to Orange, a mobile phone and Internet access business of France Télécom SA.

A number of hackers have tweaked with the iPhone's software to make it usable with the networks of other operators. These moves don't sit well with Apple's carrier partners who pay whopping fees for their exclusivity in each country. The higher prices of the iPhone, announced in Europe so far, coupled with expensive tariff plans, may provide an incentive to import these phones from the US, and unlock them for use on other networks, some analysts said.

The iPhone will also not be able to take advantage of faster third-generation (3G) mobile networks in Europe because 3G chip sets hog power, The New York Times reported, quoting Apple's chief executive Steve Jobs. By late next year, the iPhone may be able to take advantage of these networks, though in the meantime it could use Wi-Fi, a wireless local area network (LAN) standard, for high-speed Internet.

Related Article:

Apple iPhone will be available in the UK through O2

iPod and the end of conversation

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Advertising in print newspapers on the decline

As more people go online, and news is available for free for multiple sources, will it be a matter of time before print newspapers go the way of the dinosaur ? Will newer sources of news, including blogs, replace the online editions of traditional newspapers ?

Advertisers seem to think so.

Data available from the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) in Arlington, Virginia suggests that advertising in print is on the decline. Spending for print ads in newspapers in the second quarter of this year totaled US$10.5 billion, down 10.2 percent from the same period a year earlier, according to the NAA.

This data seems to bear out the forecasts by many pundits that as print gets less popular, advertising dollars will move away from print editions. But it hardly provides conclusive evidence that print newspapers are dying. It could be just that some advertising is moving to other newer opportunities, including online. It may be just the same as when TV advertising started cutting into newspaper advertising decades ago.

However whatever advertising is moving away from print editions of newspapers is not necessarily going to their online sites.

Advertising expenditures for newspaper Web sites increased by 19.3 percent to US$796 million in the second quarter versus the same period a year ago, according to preliminary estimates from the NAA.

This sounds great in isolation. But the newspapers that saw a decline of about US$1 billion in advertising in the second quarter, witnessed an increase of less than $200 million in advertising from its online properties.

As a result, total advertising expenditures at newspaper companies were $11.3 billion for the second quarter of 2007, an 8.6 percent decrease from the same period a year earlier, according to NAA.

The NAA puts down the reduced advertising revenue for newspapers to cyclical swings in the U.S. economy, as well as structural changes in the businesses of major advertisers, which continue to affect print advertising revenue.

NAA is a nonprofit organization representing the newspaper industry and more than 2,000 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.

Online editions of established newspapers appear to have established their popularity, perhaps because of their strong brands as print newspapers. More than 59 million people (37.3 percent of all active Internet users) visited newspaper web sites on average during the second quarter of 2007, a record number that represents a 7.7 percent increase over the same period a year ago, according to custom analysis provided by Nielsen//NetRatings for the NAA.

As print newspaper move online, they are going to need to learn a new bag of tricks, including embedding video, and offering podcasts from their sites. These technologies would require a totally different set of skills than are what are currently found in traditional print newspapers. All of a sudden reporters, whose faces we rarely saw, and whose voices were never heard, are going to have to metamorphose into sleekly dressed and groomed TV reporters.

Already as print advertising looks shaky going forward, and reader’s preferences shift, a number of publications, including IDG’s Infoworld, have moved online.

A caveat about the NAA data. It is primarily about newspapers in North America. Print newspapers are far from declining in a number of markets, including India, where there has been a sudden rush of new print publications. Established publishing companies, and start-ups have also set up online news sites.

In India, for example, the current transformation appears to be less about the transition by users from print to online reading, and more about more readers getting into the mainstream. As long as Internet usage is limited to urban elites, and is cheaper than buying a print publication, the outlook is very positive for print, analysts say.

Related Articles:

New York Times should make its Times Reader free as well

eMusic’s foray into audiobooks may help aspiring writers

Apple iPhone will be available in the UK through O2

Apple Inc. ended weeks of speculation, by announcing Tuesday that it has selected O2, a leading wireless carrier in the UK, to exclusively offer the iPhone in the UK. The iPhone will debut in the UK on November 9, and comes bundled with unlimited free Wi-Fi access.

Apple sold its one millionth iPhone 74 days after it went on sale in the US on June 29, the company said. In the US, the company has an exclusive tie-up with AT&T for the iPhone.

By appointing exclusive carriers for each country for the much coveted iPhone, Apple is able to get better deals with the operator including better commercial terms, according to analysts.

AT&T, which in the past has demanded control over what software and applications go into end-user devices, had had to concede ground to Apple. In that sense Apple has shifted the balance of power in the mobile carrier market.

iPhone users in the UK will be able to activate their new iPhones using Apple's iTunes software running on a PC or Mac computer, without having to wait in a store while their phone is activated. Once iPhone is activated, users can then easily sync all of their phone numbers and other contact information, calendars, email accounts, web browser bookmarks, music, photos, podcasts and TV shows just like they do when they sync their iPods with iTunes, Apple said.

iPhone will be sold exclusively in the UK through Apple's retail and online stores, O2 and The Carphone Warehouse's retail and online stores. iPhone will be available in an 8GB model for 269 pounds sterling (inc VAT) and will work with either a PC or Mac. Three iPhone tariffs plans will be available from O2 starting at 35 pounds, which all include unlimited anytime, anywhere mobile data usage and free unlimited use of the Wi-Fi network, Apple said.

O2 UK is part of Telefonica O2 Europe which comprises mobile network operators in the UK, Ireland and Slovakia along with integrated fixed and mobile businesses in Germany and the Czech Republic. Telefonica O2 Europe also owns 50 percent of the Tesco Mobile and Tchibo Mobilfunk joint venture businesses in the UK and Germany respectively as well as having 100 percent ownership of Be, a leading UK fixed broadband provider. It is not clear at this point whether O2 will be the carrier as Apple expands in other European markets.

With the November 9 launch, Apple is in good time for Christmas shopping in the UK, where, if the experience in the US is any pointer, the iPhone will figure in a number of Santa's lists.

Related Articles:

iPod and the end of conversation

Musharraf: I don't want to be unemployed !

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf is very worried he may be out of a job as developments unfold in Pakistan. He wants to keep his army job just in case he is not re-elected as President of the country.

The General, now in his 60s, has a wife and family to look after. The Pakistani people have to ensure their leader does not slip at his age into the ranks of the unemployed.

The very reasonable General has, in fact, offered to quit his army job if he gets elected as President.

If elected for a second term as president, Musharraf shall relinquish charge of the post of chief of army staff soon after elections and before taking the oath of president for the second term, lawyer Sharfuddin Pirzada told the Supreme Court today, according to a report by AFP.

Musharraf is facing a petition in the Supreme Court objecting to the President standing for presidential elections in uniform. The country's Election Commission has changed the rules to make it easier for Musharraf to seek a new five-year presidential term while retaining his post as army chief. It removed a rule barring government employees, including army officers, from running for political office.

The offer by Musharraf’s lawyer to the Supreme Court will ensure that the general continues to wield power even if he loses the election, pleasing some of his supporters including the US which believes that Musharraf’s continuation is critical to its war against terror.

In a country where the army has considerable influence and has toppled elected governments, Musharraf will likely wield real power, with a say in running the country.

Musharraf’s current term in office ends November 15. Musharraf’s re-election bid will be voted for by members of the national parliament and provincial councils, where his party has a strong presence. Opposition parties have asked for early parliament elections, after which the President should seek re-election. The parliament elections are due next year.

Related Articles:

US policy in Pakistan hypocritical

Nawaz Sharif deported to Saudi Arabia

Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad

Monday, September 17, 2007

IBM to counter Microsoft Office, but without a compelling strategy

IBM Corp. will be offering online office productivity applications such as a word processor, spread sheet, and business presentation software, according to various reports.

The package, called Lotus Symphony, will be offered free to download to users, starting Tuesday, said The New York Times.

By this move IBM will once again be competing with Microsoft Corp. in the office applications space.

Google Inc. is also offering a software suite including word processing, spreadsheet and calendar management programs. The company is adding soon a business presentation program to compete with Microsoft’s PowerPoint. However the software and the data generated by users on this software remains online.

The software offered by IBM will be open source software from, according to the reports.

Despite IBM’s marketing muscle and a large customer base, the move by IBM may not really cut into Microsoft’s business. OpenOffice has been around free for many years, but its adoption has not been dramatic so far, and comes mainly from open-source die-hards.

Microsoft, planning to stay with its software license revenue model, has pushed a “ software and service” model that requires users to still buy Microsoft Office software and install it on their machines. Microsoft’s Office Live provides online extensions to the software.

Related Articles:

Alert: Microsoft loses anti-trust case in Europe

A little more tolerance Mr. Stallman !

New York Times should make its Times Reader free as well

The New York Times will stop charging from September 19 for online content covered under its TimesSelect program. Until this move TimesSelect content on the newspaper’s online site, including some opinion columns, was charged for separately.

The move by The New York Times reflects how newspapers are trying to come to terms with the online world, and the implicit demand from users that information should be free.

There are reports that The Wall Street Journal, a subscription-only financial news site may slowly move to offering more if not all content free, after it is acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

In the circumstances, newspapers will have to rely more on online advertising for online revenues, while charging only for the print editions. As more readers move online, the revenue mix is getting skewed in the direction of advertising revenue, and away from subscriptions.

The TimesSelect was introduced two years ago by the newspaper in a bid to make some money from readers on select content. But this hybrid model, which combined subscription revenue with advertising revenue online, did not really pay off.

The newspaper made about US$10 million in revenue annually from TimesSelect, but it lost out on a number of readers, including those coming through search engines, who were not willing to pay for the content, but would have been an attractive target for advertisers.

The New York Times also introduced almost a year ago the Times Reader, an offline reader for the online newspaper. Readers can download content into the reader, and then read it offline in an easily navigated and flexible format. The New York Times was offering TimesSelect free with the Times Reader.

With TimesSelect now free, subscribers of the reader may not renew their monthly subscription of $14.95. The Times Reader proposition was not very compelling when the New York Times started charging for it, and is now less so. The Times Reader provides an interesting reading experience, but to many it hardly justifies paying $14.95 per month for it.

The newspaper is better off making the Times Reader also free, making up for lost subscriptions with advertising. The Times Reader would then be a strategic tool in the New York Times’ contest for eyeballs and advertising revenue.

Related Articles:

New York Times should make its Times Reader free as well

eMusic’s foray into audiobooks may help aspiring writers

eMusic’s foray into audiobooks may help aspiring writers

eMusic’s entry into the audiobooks market may help aspiring writers get an audience, though most of the top book publishing houses may stay away from the digital download site.

Starting September 18, audiobooks will be available from eMusic at a price of US$9.99, which is lower than the price for audiobooks at competitor Audible Inc. The music download site will likely try to further offer bargain prices on its audiobooks as it has done with its music downloads.

As eMusic uses the MP3 format and does not support DRM (digital rights management), it will very probably not have support from most of the big publishing companies, a problem that it faced with most of the large music labels, which shied away from offering their music on its site.

eMusic’s strategy around MP3 and DRM did not hurt the company. It is now the second largest vendor of online music downloads after Apple’s iTunes. That was because eMusic focused on small labels and aspiring musicians who were ready to trade DRM for an opportunity to feature on a popular site. Its low price also attracted a large number of users.

Apple Computer Inc. and Audible Inc., which is a large online site for downloading audiobooks, both use DRM technology. The DRM in downloads from iTunes blocks their use in devices other than the iPOD or iPhone.

Opposed for ideological reasons by a large section of Internet users, DRM is also found to be cumbersome by many who would like to rip CDs as often as they need to, and play the downloads on a variety of devices. Music companies, in particular, are seen to be using the online download route to curb the misuse of purchased music. Some of these restrictions are a far cry from the freedom still available to users to rip and mix, and copy to various devices tracks from traditional music CDs.

eMusic may hence be planning a re-run of its strategy with music. They are likely to aim at smaller publishers or aspiring authors some of whom may to start with just focus on audiobooks, rather than more expensive print editions of their books. eMusic has emerged as a filter for people looking for music, and now audiobooks, beyond what is sold by the big brands.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, while promoting lesser known artists, and now authors, eMusic will have to do a much better job than it is doing now in selecting talent, making its recommendations, and generally playing as a mentor to its customers.

eMusic will offer more than a thousand audiobooks from major audiobook publishers including Blackstone Audio, Hachette, Naxos Audiobooks, Penguin and Random House, with hundreds more to be added each week, it said in a statement. Subscribers will find regular reviews of the books by critics from top newspapers and magazines, it added.

Related Articles:

Finding gold on the Net is a long shot

Alert: Microsoft loses anti-trust case in Europe

Microsoft Corp. has lost an appeal against an anti-trust ruling by the European Commission in 2004.

A European Union court dismissed Microsoft Corp.'s appeal against the EU antitrust ruling that ordered it to share communications code with rivals and sell a copy of Windows without Media Player, according to the Wall Street Journal. It also upheld a 497 million euros (US$689.7 million) fine.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Finding gold on the Net is a long shot

Do a search for “reggae” on YouTube and you find a large number of videos put up by aspiring musicians hoping for their place in the sun. Try a search for “Fado”, and you will of course find some clips from the celebrated Portuguese singer Amalia Rodrigues, but you will also find a number of amateur groups playing their own rendition of these songs.

Video sharing sites like YouTube, blog hosting sites like Blogger and WordPress, are a great opportunity for people to unleash their creativity and be heard or read. In a sense, it is “The Long Tail” unleashed, as the cost of putting your stuff out on the Internet has crashed dramatically, and the theoretical reach multiplied.

The Long Tail is the title of an article in October, 2004 in Wired Magazine by its editor-in-chief, Chris Anderson, who later wrote a book by the same title.

The gist of the theory as explained by Anderson in his blog is that as the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers. In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly-targeted goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare, he adds.

Video sharing, blogging sites, and other web sites dispensing entertainment have indeed made it possible for a lot of people, who believe they are creative, to go out and try to make an impact, at a very little cost. Publishing and distributing the content of this blog would have been close to impossible for me say five years ago when we were still tied to the economics of the print world.

But one upshot of the Long Tail is that apart from a few good upcoming musicians or writers or photographers or poets that are visible on the Internet, there are thousands of wannabes with little or no talent. This leads to a whole lot of clutter competing for our attention on the Internet. To find gold on the Internet you have to be as patient as panning for gold in an ocean.

Great, but as yet unknown talent, may also go unnoticed in the deafening contest for our attention. To be noticed and rewarded, the aspiring artist or writer may have to either advertise extensively, spending a lot of money, or yes, go up to one of the record labels or publishing houses, and hope they will sign a contract with him.

To get a break through the Internet, a musician still depends to a large extent on getting backed by the big brands, or some of the mid-range brands that have emerged. If you are a blogger, your chances are far higher if you are hosted, for example, by one of the top publications like BusinessWeek or CNet or Computerworld.

There is one possible way out for wannabes whose pluck more than make up for their lack of funds. Look out for new gatekeepers, that will filter out the chaos and the rubbish that abounds on the Net, and will, in fact, be your new age mentors and guides.

I am talking about folks like eMusic who offer Long Tail music on their web-site. These are the kind of companies that can do people on the Internet as well as upstart artists and writers a favor, by building a list of recommendations for the confused user.

But before they can emerge as effective gatekeepers to the Internet, these folks will have to build their own brands, and their credibility as mentors. eMusic has certainly built a solid brand, made all the more strong by AT&T offering downloads from eMusic on mobile phones. But it still has a long way to go to become a comprehensive source of advice on what music to buy.

Reviews by other users of the site are nice to read sometimes, but they don’t carry the same credibility as eMusic giving a recommendation on a musician, and giving a detailed explanation and reasons for the recommendation. eMusic does it for some of its music, but not all. For the rest you are generally groping in the dark, basing your buy-or-dump decision entirely on the few seconds preview eMusic offers.

If new and credible gatekeepers don’t emerge fast enough to help us find our way through the burst of creativity on the Internet, it will be an opportunity for the big brands again, whether the record labels or publishing houses, to act as arbiters of quality and good taste. After all, these are the brands we have traditionally used and trusted in some measure. But these established brands, with their focus on big hits, will certainly snuff out the creativity of the smaller guys on the net.