Dec 29, 2011

Does solar power eat up land?

One of the popular misconceptions about solar power is that it eats up lots of land..rows of solar power panels eating up valuable land are a common sight in pictures in the media. It is a misleading picture. In a country like India where land is mostly fertile farm land, and population pressure, this is a critical issue.

In reality, solar compares well with coal based power plants in terms of land use. The coal burners need lots of space to store coal, provide water for cooling, waste storage and so on..Plus several square km of land around the plant become practically un-livable because of pollution and other factors.

Here is a quick comparison..

The NTPC run Badarpur thermal power plant occupies about 1,200 acres - and produces 700MW of power, which may increase to 1,000 MW. This is not counting the environmental impact, cooling water channels and their land use, land wasted in coal mines and their own storage area, railway sidings and wasted land on that front, and so many other negative factors

Sempra energy in Arizona, US, has already commissioned 42MW out of the planned 150MW solar plant, barely 6 months after start of the project, the time it takes for an Indian bureaucrat to move a file from Table A to Table B, and the land area acquired, 900 acres, can be used for up to 700MW! The entire project is going to be finished in 2 years - the time it takes to get environment clearance for a thermal project!

I am pretty sure they used the available land quite liberally unlike in India where you would count every inch because it is so expensive and rare. Who knows, we may even find ways to grow crops in the space in between the panels.

As solar cell efficiencies increase, they can replace panels one by one with higher yielding ones, over time..something impossible to do with coal unless you tear down an entire plant.

And not a single cent of land is wasted to mine, store, transport coal.

Or carry the sludge, bring water and so on...

Dec 25, 2011

Updates Google Android vs ROW

Look like Google and the equipment makers like Samsung, HTC, Motorola have more to cheer over the Christmas holidays....all of them are making great progress in the so-called patent wars.

  1. Apple's thermo-nuclear warhead turned out to be more of a dud Diwali cracker.. unless there is more WMDs in Apple's kitty..given their intention of destroying Android and that too quickly, that appears unlikely. A trivial feature that HTC can easily remove is the only 'violation' - NO IMPORT BAN, NO INJUNCTION, NO NOTHING..
  2. Apple's attempt to claim anything that is rectangular and has a screen as its own 'invention' is also facing scrutiny in Germany with the judge likely to throw out the claims.. No ban on Galaxy tab 10" of course..
  3. Microsoft that has managed to 'persuade' many Android device makers into coughing up more for some vague patents than it does for its entire Windows Phone OS, (BTW, this is, in view, M$ acknowledging openly that their OS is not worth that much, something the marketplace seems to agree, given the tepid sales of Nokia's Windows phone offerings) is likely to hit a brick wall too, with most patents barring trivial ones getting thrown out. 
  4. And last but not least, Oracle is facing even tougher time, with more decisions going against it in the US. USPTO is striking out many claims, including MAJOR ones, leaving only less important ones to fight over.

For those interested in competition in the marketplace and open software, even if not free, this is welcome news indeed.

Dec 7, 2011

Oracle's anti-Android lawsuit in serious trouble?

I have been following Oracle's (and others, for that matter) lawsuits against Android and Android device makers closely. I am not a lawyer but then the internet and even well known mainstream media is full of uninformed speculation by quick-on-the-draw journalists and analysts so there is no harm if I add to the mountain of useless opinions..

Furthermore, many good lawyers do not understand software programming, APIs and so forth, and do seem to see that as a disqualification at all, so not being a lawyer should not disqualify a techie from talking about such things anyway. For example, when Linus Torvalds came to the defense of Android recently, some lawyers and bloggers blasted him for not knowing enough about law. How many of these lawyers understand enough about Java APIs and programming principles to make sensible remarks? Let alone understand them as deeply and thoroughly as Linus probably does?

With that long foreword, here we go to the main topic..

Oracle is miffed that Google successfully managed to do what it (Sun) failed pathetically with Java for mobile devices.  Make it mainstream, make it easy to use and make it popular.

So it has sued Google to stop the Android juggernaut on its tracks and claim ridiculous sums as damages. In order to bolster such claims, it produced 'expert testimony'. Anyone that has worked in software marketing or knows enough about the industry knows how 'valuable' these experts are and how easy or difficult it is to get them to write something that suits the person paying for it. I remember an old cartoon in Times of India - the simpleton character that routinely appears in these cartoons is told curtly by his boss - "Mr. Godbole, when I need your opinion, I will give it to you!"

Judge Alsup, it appears has not been tickled by any humorous interpretations of the expert opinion on damages, but has been more scathing. He has accepted (tentatively, subject to challenge, like most verdicts below Supreme Court level anyway are) 5 out of 8 points made by Google and has stricken 'substantial portions' of the so-called expert opinion on damages produced by Oracle.

IMHO, the most damaging part of the tentative order is this:
  1. Oracle is forced to split claims between copied code and 'copied' API package names and structure. Google says the API in of itself is not copyrightable. After all it is a specification. The court agrees that it should be split because if the bigger one (API copying claim) is held not copyrightable, then all that remains is 12 code files, which Google claims are minor and a mistake by some Russian programmers outsourced to do the job. Since Dr. Cockburn did not do this, out goes his entire report if Google does not infringe by using the API specs. It does appear to me (read all qualifications and disqualifications stated earlier) that API specs are simply names and unless one copies code, it is not copying. 
  2. Oracle was asked to split damages by claim (which are parts of a patent) and has failed to do so - it treats entire patent as one piece. Now the court has beaten Oracle in its game - by saying if ONE OF THE CLAIMS is held non-infringed, the ENTIRE PATENT CLAIM IS OUT OF THE DOOR (indirectly and effectively to be precise, because the order says the entire damage for the patent will be assigned to that non-infringing claim) ! That will be the instruction to jury. Obviously you can't have the cake and eat it too!

It will be interesting to watch how this pans out.

In the meantime, it would make a lot of sense for Oracle to realise the value Google is adding to the Java community and its popularity, even if it has forked and modified some of the specs along the way. It would make sense for Oracle to drop this silly lawsuit and discuss with Google how both can work together to make Java better, bigger and more popular. Perhaps Oracle can incorporate the changes and improvements Google has made part of the mainstream Java specs.

Since Oracle has a bigger and more strategic competition problem with Microsoft, there is no point going after Google and Android.

You can download the entire report here, thanks to Groklaw.

Dec 6, 2011

Xoom 2 - Doomed too?

Back in March, I wrote about how Motorola and Samsung are shooting themselves in their foot by overpricing their tablets when compared with the feature rich IPAD.

As it turned out, both have not done well and Xoom has been a big failure.

But now comes Xoom 2 and one would have hoped Motorola, now controlled by Google, would have learnt their lessons.

But big companies, it appears, take much longer to learn simple stuff, focussed as they are on mastering complex technologies and supply chains.

Now Engadget reports that Xoom 2 will cost US$620 for a 16GB version. Some 'features'

  • No expansion slot for micro-SD
  • Still dual core, not quad-core as in Asus Transformer Prime
  • No ICS, still sticking to Android 3.2 which is ridiculous considering Google now owns Motorla!

And you pay $620 for it when Asus is selling far better stuff for less, not to speak of the Ipad 2. And we have not even mentioned Kindle Fire until now which goes for less than $200.

So Xoom 2 is doomed, big time.

And it is not even a 'technology demonstrator' or 'loss leader' as the marketing geeks would try to explain..

Nov 1, 2011

Jobs, Gates and Android

The recently published bio of Steve Jobs (which I have not read) is all over the least interesting snippets of it.

They provide not only a fascinating insight into the mind of a genius but also a clue about his (by extension) and Apple's tactics, strategy and approach to business..

Jobs' thermo-nuclear anti Android tirade and the lawsuits it has spawned is of course, famous by now.

Jobs is also quoted as criticising Microsoft for having 'stolen' Apple's ideas and work in creating the original Microsoft Windows. Precisely the sort of anger that Jobs also expresses against Google's Android. Gates is smart. His counter point is brilliant - and perhaps more correct. Expressed crudely, what he said back then was that if he is a thief, then so is Apple, because the ideas originated at Xerox Corporation's famous PARC lab. Even assuming Apple compensated Xerox for that (I am sure about that), it still does not make Apple an 'inventor'.

Obviously Microsoft did it 'better' at least in the marketplace and not until IPODs, Iphones and later IPAD were selling like hot cakes could Apple recover from the financial blow Microsoft delivered to Apple. To this day, Apple computer, for all its user friendly features and cool design, is a also-ran and would have gone the OS/2 way had Apple failed with its other products.

To that extent, Jobs' sentiments and motives are understandable.

But if this is the sort of crude anger that Jobs can direct at Microsoft, can it also be presumed that he was being irrational and driven more by personal emotions than solid logic and reason vis-a-vis Android?

His comment, this time personal, not business, against Gates provides a clue.

He is quoted as saying Gates cannot invent anything and that is why he is more comfortable being a philanthropist. 

Now, that is as good as saying a philanthropist is one that cannot invent anything, an insult not just to Gates but to all wealthy donors who have made life better for millions through their actions. It also provides a clue as to why Jobs never (at least publicly) donated meaningfully to any cause for a man of such fabulous wealth. Obviously he holds philanthrophers in contempt.

If this is the sort of attitude and thinking he brought to business decisions about Android, one can only hope his successor, Tim Cook will not be of the same mould but would see things more dispassionately, logically and reasonably. Not the 'Oh! It is rectangular and has a screen, so it is stolen' approach that seems to be typical of Apple.

It is not a world of saints out there...Many features of the Iphone (including the famous slide-to-unlock feature for which a dubious patent has been granted in the US, despite proof of prior art shown in European courts) and Apple computers have their origins elsewhere. Palm had touch-screens and many solid features years before Apple thought of making phones.

After all, Apple is paying Nokia for IP, that too after Nokia sued or threatened to sue. What does that say?

Live and let live...

Update 1: (2 Nov 11): 

Just remembered - Creative (a Singaporean company famous for sound cards and MP3 players before IPods conquered the market) founder Sim Wong Hoo paid a 'tribute' to Jobs by taking out a full page ad in the local papers after his death. But that ad was also seen by many as a left handed compliment and a mild rebuke or perhaps a reminder of past victory - because Creative felt Apple had infringed on its own technology and sued, collecting $100 million in the process.

This is what Sim said - "Thank you for bringing a bit of us to the whole world" - clever, subtle but nevertheless easy to interpret..if you know the past history..

Update 2: (2 Nov 11):

Florian at fosspatents reports that Apple not only dared to file a criminal lawsuit against a small Spanish vendor over a design issue (the same sort it is doing against Samsung, though not abusing criminal law) - it LOST! It may end up paying compensation to the little company!. Bravo!

This sad fact shows how big companies, with billions in their bank accounts and an army of lawyers behave in society. It is up to the democratic governments all over the world to stack the chips in favor of the small ones that otherwise get crushed, destroying competition and innovation.

Oct 8, 2011

Steve Wonder

Never judge a person until he is dead...said someone. But then you are not supposed to judge a person that is dead as well. It is not a question of judging but often one gets to know the full impact a person's life has had upon us only when he has departed.

Steve Jobs is one such person..

It is not as if he was an unknown entity while alive. He WAS Apple, he was pretty much everything that Apple did and did well. And what a great success his journey has been...

But then so many technology CEOs and founders are well known, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, Dell, to name just a few.. They are known not just to geeks and industry folks but also to common people - taxi drivers and hawkers for instance. Perhaps not Larry Ellison, but at least Gates.

But then Steve Jobs was a Bill Gates, a Larry Ellison, and then a lot more than that. Because when you talk about him it is not about linear growth or continuous progress, you are talking about disruptive changes, that too across a broad spectrum of industries. Industries with 800 pound gorillas that have been dictating terms to users, consumers and even governments. Industries that were almost immune to change brought on from outside. He brought them to heel by simply threatening their very existence.

Even the most sceptical would have to admit he changed the music industry, the design and creative arts profession, the telecommunication business as well as, of course, the computer and allied gadget businesses. And the publishing business too, with the wild success of the IPAD. We are not even talking about the movie business here, yet another business he contributed a lot to.

He also showed us what matters is not just a laundry list of features but that eclectic mix of clever marketing, slick design, feel good factor, that cool-factor that appeals to adults as much as it does to teenagers and the youth, that cuts across cultures, and a lot of other things that one can analyse to death with hindsight but are so hard to get it right if you are on your own. I have not met a Apple user that worries that his IPad cannot accept micro-sd cards, cannot support flash and so many other cannot's that Motorola tried to exploit in their ad for the Droid. We all know who has been more successful.

And we got to know just how big he was when he passed away - Samsung and Google had to postpone their new product launch. The outpouring of public sympathy across the world was overwhelming. Lots of people  felt sad as if they knew him personally. Me too, though I don't use any of Apple's gagdgets (now is not the time to talk about why, just as it is not the right time to talk about Ice cream Sandwich). Google news that thousands and thousands of pages of links to stories - much more than any other such event.

He remained a very private person too - there were no 'farewells' or public announcements or bulletins of worsening health condition. There were no attempts to garner sympathy by talking about it and sharing details. He quit his job, simply faded if he was waiting for the 4S launch to be over...

R.I.P Steve!

Sep 3, 2011

The HP Touchpad conspiracy theory

First they released it with a lot of fanfare after months and years of preparation...and then they canned it within a month or so..then came the even more weird fire-sale.

Is HP trying to commit suicide? Are they that stupid? Or is it one big conspiracy?

Just take the fire sale to start with - it has led to a run on the device which was somewhat unprecedented. It was sold out in minutes, no one even knows how many units were sold and by what time. Even in super disciplined Singapore where people are long used to queuing up for hours, even days, to book property, collect Hello Kitty dolls and toasters for $5 in warehosue sale, the surge of humanity in the queue created a chaos and a near stampede and the sale had to be called off.

And now comes the even more crazy rumour or news, as you may have it, that the Touchpad may be resurrected!

So that brings us to the main point..

Was it all a planned conspiracy to turn a dud into a cult classic?

After all, even if HP lost $200 for each touchpad sold at $99, that kind of money is peanuts when you consider the amount they spend on marketing, ads and so on.. and I said earlier, no one knows just how many were sold at that price..but it sure hit the front (tech) pages of practically every newspaper in the world. Free publicity you can't buy for a billion dollars!

Now you can bet when the next batch is out, even if it is priced higher, say, $200, there will sure be another stampede...

Then comes the next and the next...

You heard it here first!

Aug 31, 2011

OBL Conspiracy theory - an update

If you recall my earlier post on Osama Bin Laden conspiracy theories, I had posted the following questions that made the 'Joint operation' theory suspect though it had significant points going for it..

  • Why use super-secret stealth helicopters and risk them falling into Pakisani (re-exported to China) hands? If Pakistanis know about it, ordinary ones would do.
  • Why Abbotabad, instead of some remote location in tribal area to preserve Pakistan's honor & dignity?
  • Why deny the whole thing and make Pakistani army look like the chief idiot of the global village?

Now, prominent spyware specialist RJ Hillhouse has provided much needed answers to these questions...actually it is common sense, I should have guessed!

She answers two of the three points, possibly the third as well..
The helicopter crash put paid to the option of faking the location to some remote area to save Pakistan's H&D as it is often called.
They had to deny because that would keep the Saudi's who asked ISI to keep OBL safe and out of trouble happy and provide an plausible theory. 
So, in her words, the Pakistanis were thrown under the bus..

Like I said the third question is also possibly answered -they used super-expensive super-secret helicopters because they obviously did not expect resistance and also obviously did not expect it to crash like it did! 

Now that the whole matter is out in public domain, Pakistan should find playing three powerful countries one against the other and trying to please all (US, Saudis, China, not to speak of Iran) is going to be a tough game to play...result is zero credibility and respect or trust amongst all of them as it seems to be the case already!

Aug 15, 2011

Dial M for Motorola

Google has gone and bought Motorola, or to be more precise its mobile phone arm which got spun out of the larger Motorola. As I posted earlier in July, Google is not stupid, it did not overpay for the Nortel patent for nothing. Because, as it now transpires, it had something even better in the works...

The first question is, how will HTC, Samsung react because they now have to face competition from Google! After all, mobile vendors share their product development plans with Google which in turn shares OS plans and so on, so why would you do that with someone that will also sell what you do?

Logical questions, but the reaction of the phone vendors are worded so alike, they seem to be singing the exact same song - "we welcome Google's commitment to defend Android and its partners'.

Me thinks there is very little chance of any worrying conflict of interest. Firstly, other than Apple, no one, not even Microsoft to Nokia, is willing to grant monopoly to a single vendor. So there is not that much choice.  Secondly, the phone vendors are not saints, they too dabbled with OS, such as Bada. Thirdly for Google,  Android is not a ticket to making money selling hardware, it is something much bigger. It would be foolish indeed to let partners fail simply to sell more Defy II phones. 

And as we remarked earlier, in case you missed, they are not exactly fools

Is $12b too much?

Who can tell? Remember, Microsoft will pay 'billions' to Nokia to get them to make Windows phones. We dont know how many billions. And Motorola as 17000 or so patents as per news reports. Some of them could come in handy dealing with those pesky patent trolls that are digging for gold in Mountain View. 

Aug 5, 2011

Soft skin - when convenient

Yet another radio host suffers from foot-in-mouth disease. Australian radio host Sandilands recently got into trouble calling the Ganges river, considered holy by Indians, 'junkyard'.

As has become usual, this kicked off a storm of protests forcing the host to apologise. Whatever be the intention of the host - be it humorous, condescending, even racist, will those who jump to protest think carefully?

After all, it is not the Australians or Germans that made the Ganga the dirty, polluted, filthy river it unfortunately is today - it is us Indians..

So the host is right, even though he should have been more considerate and positive even while being critical.

If each one of those jumping to protest because it is so easy these days, do themselves and the holy river a great favor?  Instead of wasting time on criticism,

  • Just go to Ganga river shore, pick up a bucket of filth, junk, plastic and other scrap floating in the river, and dispose it safely.
  • Or identify, name and shame one factory that is releasing pollutants into the river without any treatment
  • Identify one community or neighbourhood that is releasing untreated sewage into the Ganges or its branch rivers and do something to force them to change their ways....most likely scenario is they are Hindu Indians, not Brazilians or Aussies.
  • Convince one family to properly dispose of their dead instead of throwing the body into the river to attain 'moksha'. It can be attained by simply throwing something bio-degradable and symbolic instead.

Perhaps Kylie Sandilands would also happily join us and lend a hand..

Aug 4, 2011

Sensible health advise

There are tons of websites that offer all sorts of free advise. If you are like me, you would look at vast majority of them with a sceptical eye even if they are not directly selling something. And if they are selling something, it is better to assume the worst.

How about a website that does sell something but yet offers sensible advise based on medical knowledge, common sense and research? Right or wrong is another story, after all we often hear about 'latest research finding' that prove the exact opposite of what yet another 'latest research finding' proved barely months earlier..

Cut long story short, click here to go to Dr. Ben Kim's excellent website...I am so impressed with the quality of the articles and sheer common sense and folksy intelligence that hits you the minute you start reading...I am reading all the articles starting from the first one on page 78...well almost all of them..

His liberal praise of virgin coconut oil is a great example of common sense and ancient wisdom dismissed by 'science'. So-called "scientists" or to be more precise quacks that had sold their souls to other big edible oil corporates started defaming the oil to sell their own products....My own personal experience has been very positive...with reddish itchy skin condition in one of my legs. I do not know if it was eczema or whatever. Regular application of coconut oil for a month cured a 15+ year problem almost 99%. I say 99% because a small fraction of the old stain caused by the rashes remain, perhaps because I am past the age when skin renews itself completely. The rash itself is long gone.

Interestingly the second best oil according to Dr Kim is palm oil - yet another tropical oil lynched by trade lobbies to the point where it almost became poison - many food items such as chips still bear the label 'contains no palm oil or other tropical oils'...Dr. Mahatir Mohammad of Malaysia who used to slam the 'west' for this, for once had a point even though he too had a commercial axe to Malaysia produces lots of palm oil.

As if all the nice articles and information is not enough he even has pictures of a pretty Korean girl demonstrating some useful exercises..

Read and benefit..

Jul 25, 2011

Singapore shows the way again (Private colleges)

There was a time when education was sacred in India - the 'Gurukula' system of students living with the teacher, learning, for the most part, free of charge and worshiping their teachers almost like God is very well known. The story of Ekalavya who was ready to chop off his thumb at the command of his teacher is also popular - today the students (or their parents) do give an arm and leg, not just thumbs - to get themselves educated.

If the crass commercialisation of education (and that is not the only sacred thing that has been commercialised, ....topic for another day) is bad enough, what is even worse is the proliferation of crooks and looters who start colleges and schools as a short cut to financial nirvana and bring all their genius for cheating and dishonesty and thuggery to the education market. When I was in pre-uni school a private institution run by a 'trust', there was this small strip of land about a fourth of the size of a tennis court next to the boy's toilet. The joke among students was that the land was kept reserved for constructing an 'engineering college'.

Those were the innocent 80s. Today it is not a joke, it is not even reality. Because reality is far worse. You are lucky if your college has a campus at all. Newspaper reports and media in India have exposed private 'universities' operating out of a single room in run down commercial buildings without any teacher let alone campus and class rooms.

No wonder the students coming out of such universities are no better off than an illiterate brick layer or construction worker in terms of academic knowledge and are ironically far worse off in terms of useful marketable skills. That is why automobile, IT and other companies are forced to spend months training campus recruits when the hires are supposed to be trained. Some of them are pro-actively working with good universities to solve this problem at the source. This is not surprising because they anyway have to build roads, generate their own power, run water treatment plants, sewage systems, hotels and provide their own pooled bus or taxi transportation to their staff, all of which the government or the city is supposed to provide at reasonable rates.

Though far better off, Singapore too had its share of runaway colleges that scoot with students money, scam operators and fake degrees. But then the Government has clamped down hard, come out with a set of tough conditions for starting or running private colleges. More important - they have set even higher standards for private colleges admitting foreign students, to ensure that the bad apples do not spoil Singapore's reputation. As a result, the number of such 'colleges' have dropped from about 1000 to 300 and will drop further to about 100. And they will be of good quality.

At one time, Chattisgarh state in India, more famous for leftist violence and backwardness, had 100+ private universities many operating out of hole in the wall offices!

It is time GOI learns from Singapore and regulates the looters and plunderers pretending to be academics in India. Of course, regulation does not mean another 50,000 parasites getting appointed who will demand bribes from colleges and harass students. The state can and should provide quality primary and secondary education free of charge and university education at reasonable cost to anyone and everyone so that there is not much room for scam operators to fleece the public.

The 'rich' can do their part by sending their kids not to US, Singapore or Europe but to local schools and colleges so that there is pressure on them to improve. It is ridiculous to find Indian students spending thousands of dollars learning skills they can easily learn at home for much less cost, and not getting themselves abused, cheated and even murdered as in places like Australia.

Jul 7, 2011

Android patent wars

As we continue to buy Android phones and devices including tablets, e-book readers and what not (your next fridge could have one hidden in its microprocessors), a very interesting patent battle is taking place between Android device makers (HTC, Samsung et al) and companies like Microsoft, Nokia, Apple etc.

The overwhelming consensus amongst the pundits seems to be that Google missed out on recent Nortel patent auctions and is hence stupid. I think we have to credit them with more intelligence and more strategic thinking. May be they know something we don't...may be they don't care because so many competitors are now developing stakes and interests in Android GROWING and not dying..

M$ has been beating up and signing up small and (some) big vendors into paying money for their Android phones because some M$ patents are 'violated' by every Android device. If they manage to do so, they will get HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS each year in royalties and would be fools to let that revenue stream die off! So they may end up becoming dependent on Android, knowing how well their core revenue stream of OS+Office is collapsing. Same may happen with Nokia who are having trouble selling phones, and hence end up living off old patents like a rich man's lazy son.

Enforcement actions that end up killing products or services are rare in the patent world - licensing deals are common. Even amongst sworn 'enemies' like Intel and AMD.

So Android will live on, grow and perhaps over time even find ways to get rid of patent bottlenecks..

IMHO Google will end up laughing last, because their real goal is not Android (which they give away free anyway) but the dominance it brings in other ways...

Jun 29, 2011

Fuzzy logic washing machines..

You must have seen those ads...

About once a month when I get back home from a business trip I like to wash my clothes by hand. Why?

  • I can soak them for more effective washing..and less use of soap
  • I can wash whites and others separately
  • I can soak whites in bleach sparing the coloured ones
  • I can soak socks in disinfectant before washing them separately
  • I know which ones were worn just for a short while in air-conditioned buildings and treat them differently compared to ones I wore through bus rides and train journeys in the rough
  • I can deal with collars and cuffs with extra 'care' with extra soap so overall soap usage (and chemical pollution) is reduced
  • I can dry them in sun or shade depending on color, quality etc.

Above all

  • I can re-use the last rinse water for next round of soaking clothes
  • I can re-use rest of rinse water for the toilet or other purposes

Now when you read about fuzzy logic, when applied to a machine that just rotates mechanically not knowing whether it is washing your blanket or socks, don't you feel marketing spin has been taken a bit too far?

May 6, 2011

OBL - Pick your conspiracy theory

The nice thing about Pakistan is that conspiracy theories are always available in abundance when it comes to our western neighbour...even on a bad news day there is no shortage of them.

So there are tons of conspiracy theories doing the rounds in world media fed by the usual journalistic goal of producing newsworthy news, even if it means being economical with the truth or inventing facts...where none exist.

Let us summarise them here...

Conspiracy theoryIn favour...Against...
OBL is alive, just like Elvis!He has been 'dead' before this...only to reappear later.. We have to ask some sharks and other fish swimming in the Arabian Sea...
It was a joint Paki-US operation
  • Not easy to spend 2 hrs flying through Paki airspace, making a huge racket with helicopters and bombs right next to a major military facility and not have even a local cop drop by to see what's going on!
  • Risk of Pakistani army over-reacting and perhaps dropping a nuke on India, fearing the worst..
  • Why use super-secret stealth helicopters and risk them falling into Pakisani (re-exported to China) hands? If Pakistanis know about it, ordinary ones would do.
  • Why Abbotabad, instead of some remote location in tribal area to preserve Pakistan's honor & dignity?
  • Why deny the whole thing and make Pakistani army look like the chief idiot of the global village?
It was a Paki operation, Americans just collected the bodyThis is Xinhua's version.. This is Xinhua's version!
No one told Pakistan, at least not until job was done or almost done
  • Official US and Pakistan version..
  • Preserves Pakistan's image amongst the beards and jihadis, so more can be sold down the river in future when Americans demand some results..
  • Risk of accidental battle with Pakistani troops or worse..

The good news from Indian perspective is that while the jehadi terrorists inside Pakistan and Afghanistan will believe that Pakistan sold yet another ex-ally down the river for a few dollars, the rest of the world will believe the 'official' theory that they were incompetent or worse - they were hiding bin Laden knowingly!

And the Government is already exploiting the situation cleverly by simply not making a big fuss...because that would allow the incompetent / terrorist-aiding (take your pick) generals to divert attention to India and unite the Pakis in a anti-India coalition.

Mar 17, 2011

When paranoia and irrational hysteria replace common sense

The nuclear crisis in Japan is getting doubt. But something has gotten even worse...scare mongering and paranoia bordering on the ridiculous by mainstream media and some government commentators..

They make the folks circulating fake radiation threat SMSs in Manila and Chennai (India) look quite reasonable and rational.

Take some samples

  • Some are announcing complete scrapping of nuclear plans or shut down existing ones - like someone posted, that is like grounding all A380s because a 1960's DC9 plane crashed. Reactors are of many designs and of many vintage, just like airplanes.
  • US asks troops to stay 50 miles away when a UK expert clearly says 20-30 kms is good enough. Mind you these are supposedly soldiers not kindergarten kids..or sick grandmothers..
  • China stops nuclear plant construction - a country where mining disasters kill hundreds of coal miners on a routine basis...and where pollution is a big issue all over the country.
  • Tokyo airports are full of people wanting to leave!
  • Countries as far away as Canada are issuing clarifications that radiation will not cross the Pacific, travel 8000 kms and reach their shores! 
  • Media freely use terms like Chernobyl, nightmare, nuclear winter, hiroshima and whatever else that comes to their mind, without any logic or reason

Let us hope this absurd nonsense ends soon...

Mar 13, 2011

The Japan Quake,Tsumani and Nuclear power crisis

First and foremost, my prayers for the dead and sincere hope that those injured and suffering will recover soon and rebuild their lives..Japanese are brave, intelligent and disciplined and if anyone can recover from this crisis in the quickest possible time, it should be them. Thankfully they are blessed with adequate financial and governmental resources, unlike other disaster spots like Aceh, Haiti or other poor countries.

The biggest worry of course, is not the Tsunami or the quake, but the incident of explosion and cooling system failure at the two nuclear reactors. The worry is not just for the people living there but for the future of the nuclear power industry.

All sorts of peaceniks, tree huggers, leftist groups (who incidentally allowed their fellow ideological travelers in the ex-Soviet states happily trample and destroy the environment, adopt unsafe practices and lie about it leading to Chernobyl and many other environmental disasters)  and other well meaning but paranoid individuals and groups will now start a hysterical campaign to dismantle reactors, stop new constructions and give up on nuclear power altogether, offering this incident as 'proof' that nuclear power is unsafe. We are hearing ridiculous comparisons with Chernobyl already.

Let us keep things in perspective and hope sense prevails.

  • This quake is of 9.0 magnitude, such quakes don't happen everywhere and even where they do, happen once in a century or so.
  • Thanks to modern technology, despite such a one-in-a-century quake the the reactor itself did not explode or crack, and has (as of this writing) not released any radiation that is deemed damaging in a serious way. 
  • This is so, even though one or possibly two reactors has suffered a meltdown which is supposedly a huge disaster. 
  • There has been radiation over legal limits but such limits are stringent, particularly in advanced countries. That too has come down almost immediately.

In other words, even though there is a significant damage, it is not doomsday.

Let us hope and pray that the worst is over and the situation is brought under control...there is already good news on that front as we write. (8.45pm Japan time on Sunday)

Let us also not try to minimise or trivialise this incident because lessons have to be learnt, applied elsewhere and design, construction or procedural changes doubt responsible experts are working on this already. The political leadership should facilitate that by releasing information promptly and truthfully and not sweep things under carpet. Given the past track record, there are some legitimate concerns on that front.


Let us stop to think for a moment what will happen if we throw the baby out with the bath water and nuke nuclear power in a knee jerk reaction of paranoia.

  • Oil price will surge as one source of competition is wiped out. That would cause significant damage to environment and economies, more than any nuclear accident can do.
  • Coal will continue to be used and its usage will expand, with even more disastrous consequences for the environment. Every other month coal mine disaster kill hundreds of miners in China and elsewhere, sometimes even in advanced countries with higher safety standards..
  • Countries like Saudi Arabia and some other Middle Eastern states that are accused of and known to be funding terrorism with oil money and countries like Pakistan and its evil army that take that money, train their citizens to be religious fanatics and terrorists and provide foot soldiers for jihad and terrorism globally will continue to do so with impunity, on a much larger scale, knowing the world is at their mercy. 
  • Many hundreds, if not thousands more innocent lives will be lost in civilised societies worldwide if there were a spurt in terrorist incidents funded by oil rich countries.

Is that in any way better?

The best way of course, is to cut consumption at source - particularly in developed societies and in developed parts of poor countries such as Mumbai or Delhi in India. It is the rich that consume the most and waste even more. For instance, one environment group in Hongkong has brought out a sobering statistic - in the last 10 years, population increased in HK only 6% but energy consumption went up by 80%. Remember it was not s if 10 years ago Hongkong was living in caves or in ill-lit homes - it was already a advanced society - which means all of that 80% increase can safely be considered wastage.

Staggered electricity rates are probably one solution - for any consumption above average for a family, which can be calculated liberally, the rates should be 5 or even 10 times higher.

Less consumption would mean less demand and less need for polluting or environmentally disastrous power generation, be it coal, hydro or nuclear.

Mar 9, 2011

How not to take on the IPAD

With the benefit of hindsight, we can easily see how Microsoft won not just the OS war but also the Office applications war - mostly thanks to its competitors shooting themselves in their own foot. Wordperfect shot itself to death refusing to deal with Windows, hoping DOS would last forever. Lotus did not do much better.

Now the same history looks like being repeated in the tablet wars...

When faced with a formidable rival with cool design, compelling content, high market as well as mindshare and believe it or not reasonable pricing, what should other tablet vendors do?

Obviously do something equally good or better in each and every department - hardware, software, marketing and above all PRICING.

Now it looks like both Motorola and Samsung are operating under the assumption that users are so fed up with IPAD they would pay any price to get a rival tablet that does not offer much as much content. Unlike Netbooks, tablets are for consuming content, not creating word documents or spreadsheets.

Motorola's ridiculous US$800+ pricing for XOOM, justified simply because it has better hardware (most of that superiority is washed out with IPAD2 anyway) is a good example. Samsung Galaxy tab too costs S$900+ in Singapore, a price that would get you an IPAD with far better features! Even the Series 9 of Samsung laptop, which should compete with MacBook Air is ridiculously expensive.

Why are they doing this? To handover the tablet market to IPAD on a silver plate? To commit hara-kiri?

Hope HP would do better (and drop their WebOS for Android)

Default settings for taxi drivers

You know what I am talking about - software or even gadgets usually come with 'default settings' that should take care of most normal cases. Similarly if one were to create a default personality setting for a taxi driver, it should be that they are talkative, highly informed and opinionated. Singapore is no exception. And until now, I would have said that another default setting can be added to that list - they are anti-establishment.

Over the years I have learnt many useful life lessons and valuable tips from taxi drivers (BTW, they are addressed 'uncle' by most people, even those that are older than the driver). Pearls of wisdom that no google can uncover such as names of condos that are a favorite of Indonesian tycoons' concubines can come only from a taxi drivers' monologue. I once let a taxi driver give me a lengthy trip advise on the 'hot spots' of Batam that a single man can visit, not wanting to disappoint him by saying I am only going for the beaches. I also learnt about a seafood joint that earlier had no sign board and now has a signboard that says 'No Signboard Seafood restaurant'. May be the Japanese chain store MUJI (no brand) got their inspiration from this place..

And as a rule, they have all been anti-establishment. They just have to pass a ERP gantry - enough to start them off on a lecture on cost of living, having to pay and pay and so on...incidentally they don't pay for the ERP charges, the passenger does.

Sometimes I take taxis just to listen to the driver and pass time.

But yesterday I rode with a taxi driver who is very much pro-establishment. Again the 'trigger' was a innocent remark by myself about how development is changing the CBD making me confused about location of taxi pickup points. He said people complain about changes and high cost of living but they should think about what they were 30 years ago and how better off they are today. Change in inevitable...we just have to look at it together and not piecemeal was his point. They come as a package, the good and bad. When I talked about medical costs he had an anecdote too - about how a rich guy earning $12,000 a month refused to pay for his mother's hospital bills instead forcing his sister, who only earns $4,000 to pay for it.  Why should the state bear costs in such cases? He reeled off statistics about how Japan is worse off than Singapore because of low population growth and what will happen to them in 2050 (by which time neither myself nor him are likely to be alive). Once again, I simply listened, at times offering some debate points as sitting ducks to draw him into interesting rebuttals. I usually take the contrarian stand as it makes the conversation, if you can call it that, more fun.

So I realised, they do come in all shapes and sizes...

Mar 1, 2011

Mubarak, Gaddafi and western bankers

There is an interesting piece of exchange in the Bond movie "World is not enough" which most people miss out, focussed on the girls and excitement and violence...

'Swiss banker':  I am just trying to return the money to its rightful owner
Bond: And we know how hard that is for a Swiss banker

Let us consider these snippets:
  • Financial Times reports that UK has frozen about $1.5 billion of Gaddafi funds with more to come and says some estimates suggest it could be 20 billion pounds!
  • And the Swiss freeze Mubarak's assets - several dozens of millions of francs to quote WSJ.
And we all know of Benazir Bhutto/Zardari and other corrupt South Asian politicians holding vast sums in western banks..

Why do these countries allow such investments and deposits in in the first place? After all if it is some unknown Patel or Shah or Mohammad they can pretend not to know (that is not true, it is just 'look the other way' but then that is a story for another day)about possible tax evasion and immoral earnings, but it should be plain as daylight in high profile cases?

And why do they bend over backwards to handover lists of clients to Uncle Sam, violating every principle of secrecy and confidentiality they swear to, when it is not even claimed with evidence, let alone proved, that all the folks in the list are tax evaders,  but hem and haw and quote legal and moral principles (as if they have any) when a poor or weak country asks for well known criminals' and politicians' (I am repeating myself here) records?

The rightful owners of these funds are the people of the countries that have been looted and plundered.

It should be returned to them.

As Bond quips, why is it so hard for a Swiss (or UK) banker to do this?

Feb 27, 2011

Eagles live!

It was great watching the 1970s band Eagles live in Taiwan..I only knew them through their most famous songs like Hotel California and Take it Easy.

Their performance was great because they knew what the audience wanted - hear their greatest hits and some new stuff.  And they delivered. Talking of audience, it was mostly local people, surprisingly young crowd for a band that is from another generation. Another surprise is the almost total absence of  'expat' faces. One would have thought there are many in Taiwan that would love to hear them live. I was, of course, the only Indian perhaps in the crowd!

If the very second song was "Hotel California", I need not say much about the choice of songs..they knew what the audience wanted. "Take it easy" was the last piece and between them there were more than  a dozen numbers, including "Witchy woman" and "Take it to the limit" (Glen said his wife calls it the 'credit card song')...most rendered with a lot of passion and energy for their age. The guitar play was simply superb - Glen, Stuart and the rest.

Un-forgetable...worth every cent I paid..

Of course, having listened dozens of times to Hotel California savaged and ripped apart by lots of Fililpino bar and restaurant singers, not to speak of Karaoke bar 'performers' in S.E.Asia, it was a pleasure to hear the original :-)

Earthquake resistant building

Just recently Christchurch (NZ) suffered damage and casualties as a result of an earthquake. Planners in India and elsewhere should sit up and take notice. Not at the size of the death toll, which is tragic even it if is only one, but at the fact that it is really low for a quake that is considered a 'bulls-eye' - shallow, right next to a big city and 6.3 magnitude. Some buildings collapsed, yes, but aerial picture of Christchurch shows most modern buildings standing unaffected, its occupants shielded by technology and adherence to law.

It is anybody's guess how many a quake of this sort would kill, if it were to  strike a populated city in the Indian Himalayan region (or even Delhi which is vulnerable). The numbers would be too high, perhaps in the tens of thousands. And experts have been warning for years that a big one is overdue.

Reason? Total disregard of building codes even by those with money (leaving aside those that cannot afford it) and ignorance. The Ahmedabad quake showed when even costly condominiums are constructed shoddily.

I had to request and even insist my builder to use concrete columns instead of plain brick work over foundation (which is what 99% of home builders do in my city) and to use good quality steel not the remelted scrap that passes for steel in parts of India.

Look at this building under construction in Taiwan - the shell is thick steel, not the kind of wiry rods we tend to use in India (and elsewhere). The concrete comes later. Look at the closeup shot of the steel - it is so thick and riveted together strongly. I am no civil engineer but something tells me this will take a massive quake and barely budge.

While it will take decades for India to have the sort of living standards and afford-ability that goes with a developed economy, there are many things we can do right now to save lives. There is a lot of low hanging fruit..

Experts should highlight many aspects of quake resistant design that is not costly and can be adopted by middle class or lower middle class home builders. For many it is simply a question of not knowing enough, not a question of cost, even it were to increase building costs by 20-30% or so. After all, many willingly spend hundreds of thousands on toilet fixtures, marble flooring, granite facades, kitchen cabinets and LCD televisions.

Big builders who sell flats for high price should be penalised if they construct shoddily or use unsafe practices. Engineers and owners should be jailed or fined substantial amounts that discourage non compliance.

Academics and intellectuals, who in India most often focus on how to turn kids into future recruits for the communist party should instead impart safety knowledge (including road safety, earthquake preparedness, infectious disease control etc) as part of school curriculum and formal training.

All this takes will..

Or we simply multiply the 200+ of Christchurch by a thousand or more...

Feb 11, 2011

Nokia + Microsoft = Joke of the day

Let me first admit one thing upfront here - I have never used a Nokia phone, nor have I used a Windows phone. That should make me completely unfit and incompetent to comment on this matter.

But I do use phones and do have this blog where I and only I can post here we go!

My first mobile was an Ericsson and I still remember surprising my wife calling from outside my apartment, she thinking I was still in the office. Ever since I have owned Alcatel, Motorola, Palm and various other phones. Right now I am hooked on Android and I have three Android phones - LG GT540, P500 and the Motorola DEFY. I love them all, with DEFY being the flavor of the month.

Nokia, as we all know, has lost the mojo...interestingly so has M$. That's the beauty of all these smartphones that practically everyone owns or wants to own. They sell by the millions and mint money for many but not the usual suspects. They have come with new chips (ARM, Snapdragon), new Operating Systems (Android, Iphone) and from new companies (HTC, Samsung, LG and others) that were never there when Nokia and (remember?) Ericsson were ruling the mobile world..

And what can Microsoft/Nokia do?

Well they decided to team up. Just like Asus-Garmin, Sony-Ericsson, Benq-Siemens and so many others...

A company with a failed operating system (Windows phone) is partnering with a firm with a business model that, in the CEO's own words, is collapsing around it.

What can Nokia Windows phone do that HTC or other makes can't? Your guess is as good as mine. And what can Nokia do to enhance the pathetic mind share and market share that Windows 7 has managed to command, despite endorsement from LG, HTC and others? God knows.

As for me, I would be happy to place my bets on Motorola - it has embraced Android and it has also shown how it is possible to bounce back into contention with cool models like DEFY (I own one) that use 'commodity' Android system and yet keep USP alive and kicking...

After all, Microsoft has taught us one valuable lesson - there is not much room for too many players in the OS market. Perhaps it is time they read the book they wrote.

Feb 4, 2011

Srilanka's visa move

Peace after decades of war is welcomed by everyone. But for financial reasons, the hotel and tourism business welcomes it more than anyone else. Yet, it would seem ironic almost tragic that government of Srilanka chooses to impose new visa rules that restrict tourist flow just when the floodgates are about to open.

I love visiting Lanka and was happily enjoying visa free travel but I do understand where they are coming from..

Srilanka is simply saying this - if you give our citizens visa free entry, we will reciprocate, if not, well, sorry, please join the queue and apply.

Hats off!

India is introducing visa free entry to numerous nationalities though most, if not all, of them don't offer reciprocal benefits. And our economy is definitely less tourism dependent than Lanka's

But it is a wrong solution to a wrong problem.


The problem is not visa - the problem is with the process that goes with it. Getting anything done with any department associated with Govt. of India means waiting in dingy, poorly lit, crowded rooms with a solitary fan, five pages of forms to fill out in triplicate, waiting in endless queues and if you are unlucky, harassment, bribes and what not. I used to joke that it is easy to find poor facilities, delays and poor service in super-efficient Singapore - just visit the Indian High Commission!

If visas can be applied online, processed without question for 90-95% of the ordinary business or leisure traveler, granted electronically, paid for by credit card and without a trip to any agent, tout or the embassy, no right thinking person would object to applying for it. They will happily pay $20 or more to get it done if they want to visit the Taj Mahal or do business in India.

If that sounds far fetched, that is exactly how Singapore visa and has been that way for can be done.

Do that and then impose prior visa requirement on any nation that that does not provide reciprocal benefits. Then we are sending two powerful messages - India is a nice place to visit and an efficient place to do business and is not a banana republic that bends over backwards to earn a few dollars more.

Will GOI learn from proud Lankans?

PS: GOI should immediately grant Lankans visa free entry now that the lame excuse (LTTE) is not valid anymore...I would go further and strongly recommend that Lankans should be able to work and reside in India if they wish, just like it is in Europe..this is one area where GOI should not wait for reciprocity, and show the way forward for South Asia.