Saturday, March 24, 2007

Hour of National Shame

As the day started on Friday, there was a flurry of activity in our entire campus and sitting at Building 1 of Microsoft's headquarters I didnt have to guess too hard for the reason. It is the India's world cup decider. The desis were moving all around, made all the cafeterias and building lobbies to beam the cricket matches and few conference rooms were totally dedicated for the telecast, people were paying $200 at home for a dish subscription for the series, all the 100+ cricket teams in the campus were busy trying to "learn" from the "masters"... all this to much bewilderment to the non-desis most didnt know what this game is about and people like me were taking great joy in explaining this mediocre game to his Ukrainian office mate. By, afternoon the "campaign" was history and everybody returned back to work in great disgust, agony and shame and our internal mailing lists were flooded with patriotic Indian slamming their lousy team.

In all this, I wonder should we still place much importance to this game, where a water-boy of a third rate team of a game played by less than dozen scattered countries part of a long-dead colonial empire make millions at the cost of his poor fellowmen from the shanty villages and congested cities.

Make no doubt, I am (atleast was) a huge fan of this game and there used to be a time where I used to watch every game from the English County season to Duleep and Ranji Trophies, leave alone things as great as ODIs and Tests. We used to play in the street (and get scolding from homes where we hit the balls into) after every match and used to passionately discuss our hero’s techniques. In the train commute and school, we used to play book cricket, sponge cricket and a dozen other innovations including word games and used to remember every possible statistic about those "heroes" much before internet or cricinfo came. We used to call Vaas with his full name - "Warnakula Pettabente Ushanta Joseph Chaminda Vaas" and celebrate Apr 24 with great pomp.

If I say cricket was a passion, it would be an understatement. It was much more than a religion for us and for years in our secondary school, we couldnt think of an hour we lost track of our gods. We watch matches with passion, then follow the highlights and analysis with even more passion and then wait for next morning newspaper to read every word about what each and everyone think about the game. It was a way of life for us. We used to get up at 2am for the New Zealand based matches and go to sleep at 4am for those West Indies based matches.

And for most Indians - from those poor villagers to army men to auto rickshaws to every common man in the street, cricket is not as big a concern for them as a sport much as much as the patriotism for their nation; they dont care whether Aussies win their Ashes or the South Africans gave their big chase or how classic Lara hits against England. For them India is the dream and Indian matches are their carnival. They dont care whether the batsman keeps the bat straight and hits the drives in the "V"s or whether the pace bowler gets outswing at good length outside the off-stump. They only care whether the batsman and bowler wins for them.

I cant forget the spectacles when I was traveling Calcutta when "dada" was tormenting the lankans at Tauton in WC1999 looked liked as though hanuman was burning the streets of Lanka. And when Tendulkar hit the 143 against the Assies in the pre-Birthday game in 1998, people were wondering whether the storm was from the desert or from the Tendy's bat. And we had nice laughs when Sidhu was in full form saying "Drown a lucky man in water and he will come back with a fish in his mouth" during the legendary Natwest finals with Yuvraj and Kaif. How many can forget the Tendulakar's golden arm in Hero cup match against South Africa, the legendary finals in 1983 that I would have watched a dozen times, the Titan cup splendor when two great nations - SA & Aussie were subdued with great pomp following the winning of a dirty trophy named Gawaskar-Border Test trophy against Aussies. Or how about Ganguly's legendary opening series in England, Assaruddins innings in Eden Gardens and Green park, Tendulkar-Ganguly partnerships, Javagal Srinath's genuine pace bowling... I could keep adding a million more pages if ever I have to recollect what l remember of Indian cricket.

All these golden experiences are blotted by what happened later. The first disaster happened in 2000, when Cronje accepted to match fixing in the Ind-SA series when India took the ODI series and SA took Test series. I wrote a couple of articles to letters to editor in 1998 about match fixing, but never though things would be as ugly and never thought Jadeja and Azar would be a part of it. It was a deep pain for me - as I watched through all the matches even during my crucial board exams and this was a treason to me. Cricket never looked the same like before to me, and even though I watched a lot of matches including the Sachin's power pack against Pak in last world cup, things were never the same.

Even then, as a shameless Indian I was limping to take a look at our TV in the lobby. My ligament was torn during skiing last week and with all bandages I strained through the stairs just to take a glimpse at what was going on. And what I saw was unforgivable. Its not a loss that matters. When Sachin hit that 143 against Aussie in the desert storm, no body in the world mourned for India's loss, and even Aussie's were thinking that they lost much after the match ended their way. It is the way of they play. To see a "star studded" team representing 1.1 billion poor people who pour millions into their pockets and keep in them in the same league as Diego Maradonna and Michael Schumi... making their worst ever performance in the World cups since 1975 (winning just one match against a non-test playing team) and also making Rs.163 crore loss for their sponsors... I think let-down was too small a word. It was treason.

Dear Indians, forget about this shameless team of a mediocre sport and grow up.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Should people be restricted in online media?

Fire in the stove cooks while fire in the roof kills

Should there be regulations to maintain a proper interaction in the web or should the statusquo be maintained? How many of us realize that they could be prosecuted if they write illegal content on a blog or even on an Orkut community or even an "anonymous" Wikipedia entry? If you are a girl and someone puts slanderous content with nude/objectionable pics in an online media, and totally screws up your life should the person doing intentionally or as a prank be let scot-free? If you are a lawmaker and you are seeing terrorists use online forums to recruit and commit crimes against your innocent people what should you do? As terrorists and gullible teenagers utilize the Internet for a lot of criminal activities how should the conventional society respond? Finally, has Internet made the world a better place?

This is one of the question that I was asking myself for a while and I had couple of posts in draft that were later discarded. Let me put more thoughts into this. Our conventional society has done a lot of adhoc things to stop this Internet menace but things are not enough. they either restrict too many things or lets too many things.

Consider the conventional society:
There is a minimum age for driving & drinking, there are processes for obtaining licence and only those who are qualified can drive, for getting a gun you need to be qualified, you can drive only in left/right depending on the country you are driving in, if you insult someone publicly in writing or speech you could be prosecuted for libel or slander, if you kill someone you are jailed or put to death....

When we don't have problems with conventional society having so many rules and regulations that help us mostly though gives some minor nuisance, and is a must for orderliness in the society. How much of those controls exist in the highly powerful online mediums? This is particularly important as young kids write blogs, go to social networking sites and do all sort of activities without even realising the rules of conventional society and a lot of people get burnt. They don't realize that if you create a malicious profile in social networking sites like Orkut intentionally slenderizing people, you could be prosecuted in various jurisdictions including India, China, Brazil and US. This is like giving fully loaded Machine guns to kids and punishing them when they accidentally hit the trigger. The fault lies in the society that had allowed the kids to have accessed the tool in the first place.

Internet like any powerful tool of nature has to be put in place and accessed properly to get real benefits out of it. Fire in the stove cooks while fire in the roof kills. But, I'm appalled to the lack of much regulations and education regarding preventing its misuse. No doubt, the revolution occurred too quickly for lawmakers to take decisive action. A similar process occurred in the world a hundred years ago, when automobile was invented and every tom-dick-and-harry started driving. The result was disastrous and nations quickly responded by issuing driving licences. We need similar things for the online media, lest it gets totally out of control.

Reputed service providers like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have to take first steps and steer the direction for the community and the public should maintain a list of sites that voluntarily implements the steps and block the access to the rest from the corporate domain, parental control list etc. I use the term Internet account to mean the combo package offered by Google, Yahoo, etc that lets a range of services including email, chat, photo sharing, blogging, social networking, etc.

Some of the essential standards are:
1. Provide options for special Internet accounts with proper identification: Currently anybody (including Osama Bin Laden) could open email/blog/social networking account. This has to be slowly moved to a situation where only real persons with provable records and identification should be able to open accounts. In other words, if you need to obtain a Google account (for Blogger, Orkut...) or equivalent Yahoo and Passport accounts, you should be able to produce atleast one identification from the conventional society: Drivers licence, Credit card number, Passport number etc. This is one of the first steps in controlling spam and malicious mails, apart from reducing a lot of different spoofing and other crimes on the net. Though, it is not a cure-all medicine, it will make a lot of people think twice before they could do all those stupid blunders under the guise of anonymity.

2. Ensure licensing in accounts: Schools must start an internet education program and only those have passed them should be allowed to create internet entities including email & blogging. There must be such education and test programs across the society and the individuals wanting to access the specific tools must be able to pass a small exam that makes them liable to their crime. So, if you are kid sending a death threat by email to the President, or insult a person in a blog or create a malicious Orkut account or vandalize a Wikipedia entry you know its consequences. It might even be as bad as killing someone with a jigsaw. If we can suitable have drivers licence program for hundreds of millions of drivers across the world, I don't think why it will be more hard to create education and testing program for hundreds of millions of Internet users in the world.

There are few other steps that could be done for a better internet world, but these alone could make a good start and enable to contain the current anarchy. Initially enforcing them would be hard, but schools & governments should work with internet tool providers like Google and Yahoo to create such standards and punish those companies that don't follow the standards. A lot of governments are very concerned with Internet security and thus, most of the world will agree to those standards and only companies adhering to those standards will be permitted in a lot of school & office campuses. Eventually other companies will start implementing the standards and once most of the major providers of email, news, social networking & blogging join the common standards platform, ISPs could be pressurized to blockade everyone else, and eventually from our ISPs we will get only those websites & content that have proper legal standings. And things like Verisign standards can be extended for many other websites too. And after a while, such international conventions can be agreed upon and all these Internet content will come under the purview of the international law, instead of the current fragmented jurisdictions. And those countries and networks that don't agree can be permanently blockaded from the Internet.

The goal is to bring every Internet user, website or an Internet entity under laws and procedures of the conventional society. Like, how the world agreed upon that killing without a cause is a crime internationally, internet laws should be international standards and it will end the anarchy in the Internet world and pave the world for a better future.

Unbelievable - Where are the hits coming from?

Seeing a spurt in the daily visits (more than tripled to almost 100/day nowadays) for the first time, I browsed through the logs of hits that this site gets, and I was so surprized of the outcome. Most of incoming links are from people searching Web in Google, and only one from Google's blog search, one from another site, and no Technorati or other blog engine hits. This was both worrying and surprizing.... surprizing because Google's web search indexes my blog well and "worrying" because no blog search or web search tool is directing to my site for any query (God burn all search engines other than google).

The kind of google searches that was bringing my blog to the top of Google search was mind boggling:

1. the foreign banks which are entering India in 2009
2. about tamil language in tamil
3.CHANCES IIT GRADUATES IIM gd/pi much gift dollars indian parents children in usa

and the best:
5.rigveda molten lead would be poured into their ears

I dont have an idea of how these hits come to my site and I guess many of the visitors themselves dont know it. Seeing the logs, I found a few good readers spening some time (alteast 5 mins) reading while most had immediately closed or gone to another site. Most of the incoming hits were from XP systems with 1024*768 monitors. The statistics has so much interesting information about who (I mean which IP location) is currently reading what and when it gets wings after a couple of years, I can even cater to those people who read the article to considerable time. Right now I got a work cut out - Make a lot of articles, lot more interesting and relevant as many readers had closed the browser before reading fully :(.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Three Billion New Capitalists

I was reading through Clyde Prestowitz's "Three Billion New Capitalists - the Great shift of wealth and power to the east" that came in 2005. Like many of the books of the same era including the "World is Flat" it describes opportunities and challenges that is unfolding for America given the revolutionary changes that is occurring in India, China, Brazil & the East Europe-Russia. All these countries were warped in some kind of socio-communism till the late 1980's and (almost) everything came down with a thud with the fall of Berlin Wall. East Europe followed Germany into capitalism and USSR collapsed in 1991, India became almost bankrupt in 1991 and turned into a market economy partially due to the fact that its main export destination went down pinching foreign earning, China was forced to become a capitalist with a host of events including the Tiananmen square massacre in 1989 and Brazil became democratic with a new constitution in 1988. By now the concept of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) has become a cliché for international economists.

The globalization process started since the 15th century when Turks captured Constantinople in 1453 closing an important trade route for the West with India. So, starting with Portugal, European countries were sending their great expeditions towards India and unimaginable wealth was found in Asia, Africa & Americas accidentally. This process was accelerated with the industrial revolution and Renaissance and by early 20th century the strains of protectionism-mercantilism that came as a reaction for globalization almost destroyed the world with two great World Wars, along with producing diseases of socialism, fascism, Nazism, communism, Maoism & Fabian (India).

This time the challenges are much more than the earlier rounds of capitalism-globalization that occurred till 1980s. The players were relatively small Japan, West Europe along with the big boss - America together accounting for a population of half billion+. But, the challenges that are posed with the rise of three billion new capitalists (from India, China, Russia, Brazil, East Europe) poses totally different challenges. Of fundamental worry is the Export imbalances caused by curency manipulation by Asian countries that causing dollar to be artificially strong and posing threat to everyone in the system.

The book covers a lot of these aspects and the author puts his vast experience in government commissions and private executive boards to explain how each of these challenges unfold and how US can cope up with them. Some of the interesting observations made by the author are:

1. Linkages between various sectors of economy: A lot of macroeconomists believe economies to be working linearly and free market principles can stabilize systems in almost no-time. For example, you lose an industry to abroad due to productivity difference and this will help you to have cheaper product and eventually you currency will depreciate and cost of labor will go down and you will eventually get equal or better industry. But, a lot of cases such things don’t happen. The author gives an example of how US companies like Ampex lost VCR business to Japan, thereby US lost all the additional things like disk storage & recording etc. and Japan built its CCD industry with VCR revolution and this led to Digital Cameras. Thus, by losing one industry US lost a dozen industries.

2. Economies are ecosystems: While dealing with biological & physical systems we are sometimes so amazed and shocked how important certain minor linkages are. Destruction of certain animals/plants or loss of certain soil & water streams can break an entire system just like how faulty screws could potential bring down great machinery. While biologists and ecologists are starting to appreciate such crucial links, economists are late in the game. The author gives an example of Silicon Valley. It is not just a place of producing h/w & s/w. It is a region watered by the great brains of Stanford & Berkeley, powered by thousands of venture capitalists, lawyers, Research labs and corporations and each are important to other. The corporations need universities for talent and Universities need corps for funding, and both require capital from the VCs & investment bankers. You break one linkage and you collapse the whole system. Thus, US should be careful of what it moves offshore and should make a few industries national priorities just like how biologists designate few animals to be endangered.

3. Currency manipulation & Monetary policy: The world system has gotten to a point, where one part of the world (read: America) is mad consuming while a lot of rest of the world is mad saving. Both cannot continue forever. Over saving is as bad as over consumption like what the great depressions showed. Like fat accumulation in the body, a lot of regions including Japan & China have accumulated a massive reserve of dollars (running in trillions) and they have no sound plans for consuming them. The system is thus very precarious and small moves can bring the entire system to a thud. So, major savers should diversify their savings and move a lot of it for domestic consumption. Major economies like China should move their focus from export-centric to serving their huge domestic markets. Interesting suggestions he gave include bringing Japan into dollar zone (effectively ending currency manipulation) and work with Europe & IMF to bring alterative international currencies to reduce the burden on dollar.

4. Energy security: US is spoilt with a couple of decades of cheap oil that brought new beasts like SUVs into the market. This has put it an unsustainable situation of consumer of more than a quarter of world oil. By a combination of activities including support of energy efficient vehicles, tougher standards for SUVs and support for alternate energy sources like oil from shale, tar and ethanol should be pursued to totally eliminate the dependence on Middle east oil as world oil reserves are going to be extremely pressured with the rise of the three billion people.

5. Focus on Education: Due to the policies that centered on baby boomer generation, US education is in a state of deep shit. There was a time when people could land in life long good employment with a mediocre high school graduation and such laxity has removed focus on a rigorous schooling curriculum. Teachers are underpaid and hence of poor quality, and due to legal action discipline is not properly enforced. Thus US lags the rest of the world in student quality and this must be redressed.

6. End US hegemony: Many of policies of US including the Iraq war are not adding any more friends to the US and now it has been totally isolated. So, it should focus on strengthening international institutions like UN & EU to share its burden and consult with the rest of the world in greater actions. As US is slowly losing its economic superiority comparable changes in defense policy must be made, and defense allocations pruned.

However, I disagree with the some of the observations of the author including his undue fear of wage equalization. Eventually, there will be a wage equalization where US and the rest of the world will come closer. This is because US gotten to where it was, because the great countries of the world were sleeping then. India & China contributed to 75% of world GDP till 17th century and then due to external intervention were totally broke & poor. In the meantime wars weakened Europe, and US got a golden chance to rebuild the world and in the process built a legendary economy. There were more kids and very little old men and so everybody got great safety nets and high school students landed in great jobs. US consumed half of world's major resources with one-twentieth of the population. So, what it reached in early 1980's & 90's were peaks that, in my opinion, can never be reached ever. As other nations start waking up there will be a need for equitable distribution of resources and balancing act will continue. Eventually, US will become like rest of the world consuming what it deserves and that is the best that could be hoped for a nation with scarce history & no ancient culture though they can partially equalized by great entrepreneurial spirit of the 19th & 20th centuries.

But, the challenges that involve the spreading of resources among the old and new owners will be anything but painless and great powers must ensure a smooth transition to ensure the continuity of the world.