Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Friend from Britain

The visit of a family friend from Britain gave me an opportunity to enjoy a short holiday in the midst of hectic work last week. We visited Srirangapatnam and Bylekuppe. That’s the reason I’d almost gone off blogging.

Mr Henry Whitfield has been a fairly regular visitor to India, one of the objectives being to climb mountains in the Himalayan region. This time too he spent some three weeks in the soothing and energising environs of the Spiti valley and adjoining regions of Himachal Pradesh.

Mr Whitfield was my father’s colleague in the chemistry department of Sainik School, Kazhakootam, Kerala, back in 1968. At that time, the government had a wonderful teacher-exchange programme with Commonwealth countries. It was discontinued as the government became paranoid of “foreign hand”.

Though he was a chemistry teacher he used to teach English also. I was a small child then, and I have very vague memories of him. After the completion of his tenure, he and my father kept up correspondence through letters and the relationship has survived the test of time.

It’s not very often one can find a person like Mr Whitfield. He is so unassuming, down to earth, humble and caring: a very simple man who lives in New Castle in the northeast of England. Though his background is chemistry and worked in a technical capacity, now he has given them up all and pursues what is more dear to his heart -- building construction and repairs. At the age of 59 he is fit like a fiddle. He told me he goes on long walks, some 10 miles, twice in a year. There aren’t opportunities for him to trek like he can in India.

What's more; he is an Indophile. He is very knowledgeable about India. In some respects he looks more Indian than some of us. He can understand some of our customs and traditions so well that there’sn’t so much of explaining to do. Having been a regular visitor, he can tell us how greatly we have changed over the years.

The swelling number of people on the streets is what has struck him the most. He had been in Bangalore some 15 years back. He can barely recognise the city. The crowds, congestion on the road and noise are what depress him. He wishes we did something more to keep the public places clean and have better roads.

But he is totally impressed by the technological progress Bangalore in particular, and India in general, has been making. In fact, his visit to Bangalore was not just to meet us and spend a few days with us, but also to pursue his interest in alternative sources of energy. He has been looking for a small wind turbine of 1 to 1.5 KW that he can install on top of his house or a solar module to generate electricity for his house.

He firmly believes that Bangalore, being the Knowledge Capital of India, will help him acquire one which is far better than what would be available back in Britain. He kept telling me that importing something from Bangalore would be far better than getting on in his place. I still can't believe this. His perception is a result of hype or reality?

Right from the day he came, on Wednesday, he and I have been pursuing leads on this. We did lot of research on the Internet and made phone calls. He was amazed at the sort of options that he got in Bangalore. He was successful in zeroing in on one company and plans to follow it up with them.

Next, the trip to Srirangapatnam with him.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Let’s wish Antony well

That will be the best way to face up to the biggest surprise of the Union cabinet expansion on Tuesday, rather than the cynical, “How long will he last?”

One comment I heard was: We need some one like A K Antony -- who has an indisputably clean image -- in an area like the defence, which has lately been muddied by scandals of kickbacks.

But will someone who is so obsessed with rules be able to tackle the many pushes and pulls of the defence ministry? I would prefer not to jump into any hasty conclusion, because I am hoping for a surprise. (His profile by

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Google vs Yahoo

These two words are, I am sure, among the most popular across the world. So how the two companies are doing should also be of interest to the world. The battle between the two pioneer Internet search engines continues; and has also got a bit interesting. (The two have today diversified into many other fields, particularly to mail.)

Their third quarter figures were out a few days back. Google showed a 70% increase in
revenue earnings compared to the same period a year back; while Yahoo's corresponding revenues marked a 19% increase. The net profit of Google increased 92% while that of Yahoo fell 19%.

The performance of Google and Yahoo has to be viewed against the
performance of major newspaper companies in the US. Tribune reported a 2% drop in publishing ad revenue, The New York Times reported a 4.2% drop, and Belo, which publishes the Dallas Morning News and the Providence Journal, reported a 5.5% slide.

Unlike any other product, the main revenue of a media organisation is through advertisements rather than through the selling price. In fact, journals are the only product that is sold at a far less price than what it costs to produce.

The healthy growth of the online publications is very significant: because one view often heard was that companies would prefer to give advertisements to print journals rather than to online journals; which means, print journals will survive while online journals will struggle. But the figures above seem to indicate the opposite.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Blogs in Google News

There have been reports of individual and personal blogs figuring in search results of Google News (which gives links to media organisations). One view is that, this has brought down the quality of Google News search. And this has set off a debate. Should blogs be kept out?

I feel yes. Google News should not include blogs in search results. If at all they do, it should be weblogs of recognised media organisations. Is it an issue of credibility? Not so much: because the website of a particular organisation may not have credible info on it, and conversely an individual blogger could be very credible with the info that he or she posts.

The real issue is more of recognition. Remember, a good number of individual bloggers are on pseudonyms. Even if they reveal their real names, rarely there are addresses, phone numbers and other contact information. That is not the case with recognised media organisations. Being overboard with full contact details brings in, though not necessarily, some about of accountability. I say “not necessarily” because there are organisations which never respond to emails you send them or pick up a call made to a number listed on their site.

One solution is: Google News can have separate links for media organisations and individual blogs. I am sure Google has, or if not, can come up with a technology to do it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Reuters opens first virtual news bureau

Reuters has become the first established media organisation to station a newsreporter in a virtual world -- Second Life. Adam Pasick, a media correspondent with the agency based in London, will serve as the news organisation's first virtual bureau chief, using an avatar - an animated character - called 'Adam Reuters', and will file his stories at Reuters virtual news bureau.

Second Life is a simulated 3D world, created by Linden Lab in San Francisco, where characters can go about their daily business using a virtual currency - Linden Dollars - to shop, work, and generally hang about. According to Reuters, nearly a million people are members of the community with players spending nearly £7 million a year in the virtual world. Linden Dollars can be converted into US dollars at the online marketplace so that players can make real money from their virtual counterparts.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

New freedom for UK journalists

Journalists (in the UK) have won the freedom to publish news articles that contain allegations about public figures without the threat from libel. As long as their reporting is in the public interest, and has been undertaken in a seriously responsible manner, then it can be published without repercussions under English law. Such is the verdict of The House of Lords, which yesterday (Oct 12) found that even if newsworthy allegations later emerge as defamatory and false, journalists can publish without fear of reprisals. (Freelance UK)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Word is Flat, says North Korea

The nuclear bomb cycle has turned a full circle, or at least almost, with North Korea exploding a plutonium device on October 9.

The first test explosion of an atom bomb was at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. The US used it on August 6 the same year over Hiroshima and three days later over Nagasaki to end World War II. The Soviet Union also got its hands on it and the world lived on the brink of a full-scale nuclear war for four decades.

In the eighties, President Ronald Reagan of the US and Soviet leader Michael Gorbachev ended the Cold War during which mercifully N-arms were not used but many smaller countries waged conventional war on behalf of the Big Two.

The end of Cold War left only the Big One on the scene and the field opened out for others to proclaim leadership and power. “If you can have it, why can’t we?” that’s the simple question the US is asked about nuclear weapons. The US reply mostly is: “Quietly we will accept you, if you are a responsible and well-behaved nation.”

It’s on this principle that the US and the UK have been saying that it is okay for India to have nuclear weapons but not Iran or North Korea. Implicit in this is India’s transformation.

In the international comity of nations there is this division of “good guys” and “bad guys”. Of course the parameters have always been set by the US. We were really “bad guys” in spite of all our good credentials till the 1990s. With the same credentials, today we have been shifted (by the US) to the “good” side of the divide. And the shift has brought with it a number of troubles too for us. That’s a different matter altogether.

The real power of a nuclear weapon is not in its explosion, but in its use as a device to bargain, to blackmail and to threaten. India realised this with lot of discomfiture in the May to July 1999 conflict in Kargil and in the build-up of troops on the border following the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament. Pakistan bluntly said it would use the nuclear bomb if India attacked it. India had no answer.

Israel can attack the Hezbollah in Lebanon, because Hezbollah or Lebanon or Palestine doesn’t have a nuclear bomb. The US attacked Iraq because Saddam Hussein didn’t have a nuclear bomb. Iran is possibly developing nuclear weapons capability as a protective measure. Now, North Korea is cleverly using the bomb trick. And the rest of the world is left scratching their heads, and wondering if the many little villains scattered across the globe also get hold of this bomb.

Probably this is also North Korea’s way of telling Thomas Friedman that The World is Flat not just because of information technology.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Google in trouble over Orkut in India

The Aurangabad bench of Bombay High Court has directed the Maharashtra government to issue notice to Google for the alleged spread of hatred about India by its social network service "Orkut". (PTI report in TOI)

Google nets YouTube in $1.65bn takeover

The founders of the video website YouTube last night accepted a $1.65bn (£880m) takeover offer from Google for their 20-month-old venture, which has a big online following but has yet to make money. (Guardian)

Monday, October 9, 2006

YouTube inks more deals

The internet wave continues to revolutionise the way we live. What YouTube, a video-sharing site on the web, has been achieving over the past 20 months since it became operational is amazing. That technology knows knows no barriers has once again been proved by Chad Hurley, 29, and Steve Chen, 28, two former employees of Pay Pal, who founded YouTube.

Thomas Friedman would have to now update his book, The World is Flat, yet again, because YouTube has made an amateur's video equally accessible around the world as a celebrity's -- the world has got further flattened.

YouTube has 60 employees sharing 10 landline telephones in small offices in downtown San Mateo. Stunned by the popularity of the latest startup, IT giants have been lining up to strike deals with YouTube.

Today, we have news coming in of YouTube signing more deals with various companies, like Universal Music and CBS. Warner Music was among the first to sign a deal with YouTube. Google itself is said to be talks to buy it for $1.6b.

The march of technology is amazing.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Fearless war reporter found dead

Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent Russian journalist known as a fierce critic of the Kremlin's actions in Chechnya, has been found dead in Moscow. More from BBC

Friday, October 6, 2006

Are Gandhi’s ideals relevant today?

What a clichéd question! It has been asked a countless times and will continue to be asked a countless times. While it’s always answered as yes or no, some basic elements of the principle that’s being popularised today as “Gandhigiri” are missed out.

The context is so important. For a plant to grow, it’s not enough that the seed is of good quality. It should also be planted in fertile soil, and further it has to be nurtured well for it to yield good fruit.

Let us not be overawed by Gandhi and the path he took. He was a human being like anyone of us, but the big difference was, he was an extraordinary man. He was a genius; he was one in a million. No one could rally around a disparate mass of people like he did. He devised a plan, worked selflessly for it to succeed. The British as rulers of the world had simply no answers to Gandhiji’s posers. An empire, where the sun never set, was humbled. Never before had one single man brought an empire down without spilling blood.

But, there is another side which reminds us that Gandhi was not a God. He was not a Saint. He was a politician. He was a strategist, only that the world hadn’t seen a politician like him. Gandhism had its limitations.

Ultimately, India won its Independence with so much blood spilt. It must have pained Gandhiji so much. His writings reflect his awareness of the limitations of his philosophy. It’s not a philosophy that guarantees absolute success. It doesn’t work everywhere with everyone all the time. How we apply his principles and on whom, how, when and where are equally important.

We didn’t spill blood fighting the British. It’s also important that the British, being what they are, respected Gandhiji, and didn’t allow blood to be split. But we spilt blood fighting among ourselves. We spilt blood, not while driving the British out, but while winning the freedom for ourselves. Gandhian principles worked with the British, but did it work with our own people? Blood continues to be spilt.

Everyone talks only of truth and non-violence; but very few of “spirit of sacrifice”. That, I think, embodies Gandhian ideals the best. Not surprisingly, that’s also the least practised. Probably that’s what is needed for non-principle to succeed, that’s what is needed to ensure that blood is not spilt.

From what I have understood after reading about Gandhiji, is that he is one person who made full use of the “one-step-back-two-steps-forward” principle. He never hesitated to withdraw or retreat, when he was sure he could then rebound much stronger, which would then take him much farther. That was a crucial element of his strategising. And it worked.

The word sacrifice has an aura around it. There’s no need for it. The little pleasures that we give up in our daily lives, the little adjustments that we all make in our daily lives with people around us, are also small sacrifices that make our lives much simpler, happier and worthwhile. Probably, this world can do with a little more of such sacrifices.

I guess, it’s here that we need to understand Gandhiji’s strategies, learn them and apply them in our everyday lives, wherever appropriate. We may or may not be able to change the entire world. But definitely we can, in our own small way, make a small change to the small world around us. The synergy of it works; only that we need to exploit this synergy much more.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Tourniquet: Bad advice for a snake bite?

We have learnt that applying a tourniquet is the first step to be taken in case of a snake bite. But here is a different take on it ....

Mike Edwards, 46, was bitten by a timber rattlesnake while working on his farm. The bite was (very) severe... As Edwards and his wife, Andrea, waited for the ambulance to arrive, a good Samaritan tried to help using advice gleaned from Hollywood -- applying a tourniquet.

But a toxicologist who arrived on the scene said the tourniquet just kept all of the venom in one place, and it swelled, which made it harder for the antivenin to get to it. It could have cost his life. Edwards' condition was critical by the time they arrived at the hospital and his blood pressure was dangerously low, his wife said. Mike said he lost vision at one point and was convulsively twitching.

Middle Tennessee Medical Center's Dr Kevin Beier, who specializes in emergency treatment, said venom is used by snakes to break down the tissue of prey to make them easier to digest. "When you trap the venom, it causes tissue damage and necrosis (tissue death)," Beier said. Beier said there are rare circumstances when using a tourniquet would have helped, such as in the cases of the victim going into shock and to slow the spread of the venom.

But Beier said the method of cutting a wound and sucking out the venom is never recommended. "DO NOT DO THIS," he said. "That's been shown not to have been of any benefit and it can increase the effect of infection or damage." Full story

So, what about the first aid we learnt? May be some doctors could comment on this...