India, Pakistan and the Xenophobia

I just read an article in an Indian online

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news service by N. Venkatesh and Ramananda Sengupta. Found it an amazingly stupid article – but surprsingly

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Apple iPad and ebook pricing – disappointing!

Buy brand cialis online (ED) and buy generic cialis online cheap Apple recently announced another great design achivement with their launch of iPad. I clearly am a fan of Apple’s design skills. I am also impressed at the way Apple has ramped up their Supply Chain – recently a global study mentioned them to be one of the world’s best. While they have a rather straight forward portfolio of products, the speed with which they evolve their products – it is impressive. But where I have issue with Apple is the way they treat their customers – esp. the early adapters. I sometimes feel that Apple actually has some kind of contempt for the early adapters. If it were not for their deep fascination for the great designs that Apple brings out and the joy of using it, they would be some of the most unhappy customers in the world. Just take the example of iPad. It already has the space for including a webcam on the front side – which makes logical sense. Now imagine you are one of the first buyers, soon you will be sitting with an iPad that does not have webcam. And the price – it costs Apple USD 270 to make the

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USD 499 iPad. So clearly the price is going to drop as the product evolves. I remember my first iPod – a 10GB model from the second version with the touch sensitive wheels. It was launched in July 2002 and I had it that summer. And by Spring 2003 Apple had introduced next generation and apart from few technical updates, they stopped any updates for the previous version – in just a year. I had similar experience with my iMac. In fact I told myself I will not buy another iPod and will get myself a competitive product as and when they catch up. Now after my 4th iPod and 2nd iPhone I have to say no one has actually done that. So I am still an Apple fan! But I have also come to the conlusion that with Apple best to wait till a product is in its third iteration before you buy it unless you are a die-hard maccie! Ok, now coming to the main reason I wanted to write this post. The launch of iBookstore by Apple and the pricing of ebooks by publishers. I own a Kindle and have been buying and reading lots more books that I have ever in the past. The pricing of USD 9.99 for most books – which translates to around USD 11.99 for those of us outside of US with internatioal Whispernet delivery was for me a reasonable price for buying a book that I cannot share, lent, or resell. Since most books are single use, I felt this was the price that I was comfortable with. Apple, clearly in an attempt to get a headstart over Amazon – and the driver here is the number of books available in the bookstore is damaging the market. By setting the bar at USD 15, which would mean that it would be almost close to USD 18 or 20 for us internationally they are bringing the price of ebooks almost at part with a standard paperback edition that I

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can pick up from the local book store. I am not at all happy with this move. Publishers are comparing the price with that of hardcover editions – but most of us cannot and do not buy hardcover editions. I feel that Apple has wittingly or unwittingly damaged the market and is working against the overall benefit of us consumers. But then as I pointed out earlier – this perhaps is not surprising. Apple certainly did create a new concept of selling songs by the song and not by the album with iTunes. And I do think that they had a good model and had understood the beat of the market. Perhaps it was the first mover advantage. Now in an attempt to catch up with Amazon – purely in terms of number of books on the bookstore they are harming the interest of us customers. I am quite certain that Apple is NOT going to publish the number books sold in their quarterly/annual results announcements, while they would want to advertise the number of books in the bookstore. I hope Amazon is able to put a stop to the run on the price. Else I certainly will reduce the number of books I buy electronically and I would be sad for that.

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Globalisation – is it really a new concept? And if not what should we learn from the past?

I am just about to finish reading a rather interesting book about the history of Samurai (The Religion of the Samurai – A Study of Zen Philosophy and Discipline in China and Japan by Kaiten Nukariya.) It talks about how Buddhism reached China and Japan from India few 1000s year before. How Indian texts were translated to Chinese and then to Japanese and how the original Indian philosophy behind Buddhism was adapted by incorporating Taoism and Confucius philosophy. The only aspect of various forms of Buddhism including Zen that has remained more or less unaltered is supposedly Meditation (I learnt that the word Zen actually is the Japanese way of saying the word Chan, which is the shorter version of Channa, which it seems is the transliteration of

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the Sanskrit word Dhyana – meaning meditation.) I also read recently that the first known instance of presence of Jews in India (Kerala) was around 500 BC. And it is said that the first instance of Christianity in India is known in 54 A.D. I have also been reading a book from 1030 AD (Alberuni’s India – An Account of the Religion, Philosophy, Literature, Geography, Chronology, Astronomy, Customs, Laws and Astrology of India about A.D. 1030) This was written by Muhammad ibn Ahmad Biruni and translated by Dr. Edward C. Sachau in 1910. Alberuni travelled to India from the Middle East and was fascinated by what he saw. And then there are the fascinating temples of Ankor Vat in Cambodia. Now it is not that I am too keen on reading history. I have a fascination for some aspects of Buddhism – including Zen Philosophy and meditation (I try to practice Vipassana) and the description by Alberuni actually answered many of the questions I had that were never answered by the history that I learnt while at School (could very well be that I was not giving sufficient attention.) But the reason I point these out is that I am amazed at the similarity between what happened 1000s of years back and what is happening today – probably one of the best books that describes it is The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas L. Friedman. I am convinced that those days, with the limitations of not having aircraft, internet etc. the world was already quite well connected – in terms of social elements (highlighted by the spread of religions) and economically (evident from the spread of a common mathematical symbology – the numbers.) And I think it is important to understand the similarities particularly because at some period in the not so distant past the societies around the world somehow lost their way leading to a rather long period of war and fighting and when we lost a large part of the knowledge and wisdom that had been accumulated over centuries. Niall Fergusson’s The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World talks about the story of the Spanish after they went to South America, was able to amass huge quantity of wealth as unlike the Inca Empire which had labour as the unit of measure (or money) thought of Silver as wealth and got hold of literally a whole mountain of silver. But just the fact that they had more and more silver meant that the intrinsic value of Silver as a unit of measure kept going down. The recent events in our financial markets – no I am not talking about the masses going and taking the cheap credit which was made available to them – but rather the crisis due to the mega greed shown by the bankers on Wall Street has strong similarities for me to what happened to the Spanish Conquistadors. And I think it is important that we as a society learn from the mistakes of the past and avoid them today (we will make mistakes for sure, but let them be something new – it is more fun, and less stupid than to make the same mistakes over and over again!) While the threshold for global travel has gone down, and perhaps the quality of those travelling around has changed as well (in the past my guess would be that one of the critical skill required would have been fearlessness and physical endurance to live through the travails of long journeys) – the basic tenets should not have changed much. While I strongly believe that we are superior today as a civilisation compared to 2000 years back – simply because we are standing on the shoulders of our forefathers (was it Isaac Newton who said this?) the moment we kick those shoulders away, we start to come down. And I have a strong feeling that during the last 500 – 800 years we probably did a lot of that, which we have successfully started to reclaim over the past 50 or so years (and hence the progress we have been able to make.)

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Innovation in Career Management from UpMo

UpMo (for Upwardly Mobile): I recently came across this website called UpMo that helps develop a road map for managing ones career and tells how to get there. While the content wouldn’t surprise anyone who has taken some effort to start managing ones career – with almost a cult like focus on networking, but the presentation is quite innovative. Especially the way it converts theories into bite sized action items. I also liked the way UpMo has tried to bring in role models and compare their growth with our own – the matching of it with our current timeline was quite smart I thought. It is currently on Beta – do try it out.  I am sure if I actually followed the recommendation it would have a major impact on my career.

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Reservation and the real problem

The story about the reservation saga continues in India. I am sure this will also whimper down like the Mandal Commission protest in 1991. The problem is that there is a problem in India – and we are no where near a solution. Neither having reservation nor not having them will solve. While I personally am against the concept of using special coaching for preparing for entrance examinations (and I did not use them for my preparations for my Engineering entrance!) the following story – forwarded to me by a great mind from Bihar – does show the kind of solution I think we need. And again it is not about starting something anew – but rather this should happen in each and every school in India. That for me would be a solution. Everytime the concept of resservation is talked about – it is self defeating. First because it is accepting the fact that the schools are not up to the mark – they are not delivering what they have to, and secondly because by either lowering the entrance requirement or by forcing uninterested candidates to take up courses we are lowering the overall quality of education. But then in today’s India – I have to say very few are really keen on working hard like the example below shows. Very few indeed. And that is the crux of our problems!

‘Don’t ask us our caste, look at IIT’s merit list today’ :J P Yadav PATNA, MAY 31:Today was a special day at Super 30, the Patna institute which helps students from Bihar’s poorest families clear the IIT entrance hurdle without charging a penny. Twenty eight of its 30 students qualified, including Devyanshu Jha who stood 10th on the All India merit list, and nearly 60 per cent of those who made it are from OBC homes. Continue reading

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A great interview.

For the second time in less than two decades India is having the great reservation debate. While no one questions the merits of the need to solve problems faced by the underprivileged in India, I personally do question the case for having reservations in the format it exists today.

But more than the debate itself, I was impressed at how much better India is as a performing democracy. Whether you like Arjun Singh or not, I can’t imagine an interview like the one below happening for example in USA.

It is long, winding, but quite revealing. As expected no case still exists for reservation and I still feel it is very  unfortunate that the underprivileged are not getting real help to improve their status in the society.

Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to the Devil’s Advocate. As the debate over the reservations for the OBCs divides the country, we ask – What are the government’s real intentions? That is the critical questions that I shall put today in an exclusive interview to the Minister for Human Resource Development Arjun Singh.

Most of the people would accept that steps are necessary to help the OBCs gain greater access to higher education. The real question is – Why do you believe that reservations is the best way of doing this?

Arjun Singh: I wouldn’t like to say much more on this because these are decisions that are taken not by individuals alone. And in this case, the entire Parliament of this country – almost with rare anonymity – has decided to take this decision.

Karan Thapar: Except that Parliament is not infallible. In the Emergency, when it amended the Constitution, it was clearly wrong, it had to reverse its own amendments. So, the question arises – Why does Parliament believe that the reservation is the right way of helping the OBCs?

Continue reading

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Comment Spam

I am again hit by comment spam – so I am closing all comments for the time being. I am sure you will be able to find my email if you have to contact me :-)

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Remembering Shakti – Left me wanting more

Yesterday night I attended concert by Shakti at the Basel Stadt Casino – with John McLaughlin (guitar), Zakir Hussain (tabla), U. Srinivas (mandolin), Selvaganesh (mridangam, ghata and kanjira) and Shankar Mahadevan (vocals). It was a very good fusion music evening. Indian classical music (both Hindustani and Carnatic) sounds packaged in a jazz concert style. The greatness of the musicians were quite obvious in the manner in which blended it all together.

Perhaps I was expecting a huge lot more from the Maestros, the concert left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. Don’t get me wrong, the concert was really great. But a feeling that something was missing. Perhaps the culprit was the sound system – the sound felt flat to my ears and also sometimes the percussion sound was drowning out the rest. So much that at times I felt that Zakir Hussain was striking the drums and the cymbals too hard.

But having said that – it was pure genius at display when it came to the music they produced. Watching Zakir combine his left handed jazz drumming with his right handed tabla play was just amazing. Also Selvaganesh on the kanjira left me feeling stunned. How can someone use such a simple instrument and make it sound so great – despite the sound system!

Shankar Mahadevan on vocals was amazing. I wouldn’t know what experts of classical music might say about the speed with which he sings, but I felt he was great in his ability to integrate his singing with the fusion music – while still keeping the Carnatic/Hindustani flavour to it. He left the crowd gasping for more too. For most of my Swiss colleagues this was a very new style of Indian vocal music.

For me the best of the evening came from Srinivas on his Mandolin and from Selvaganesh. Perhaps rightly so, they would be taking Shakti in to the future. One could feel that John was already slowly moving away from the centre stage. The solos were quite dazzling as well, though the flat sound system made me feel the percussion solos lasted too long. My favourite was the piece "Giriraj Sudha" which introduced Shankar Mahadevan’s vocal skills. The exchanges of short solos between Hussain and Selvaganesh, between McLaughlin and Shrinivas, and a four-way play among Hussain, Selvaganesh, McLaughlin and Shrinivas were great too.

(I felt that the sound system we had for the Shivkumar Sharma concert in Zurich was perhaps better than the one they had yesterday. It could also be that the sound system was not properly configured for the accoustics of the Stadt Casino, which is famous here for having good accoustics.)

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Bright idea offers hope for drinking water

Swiss researchers have developed a biosensor that lights up when it detects arsenic, and have successfully tested it in drinking water in Vietnam.

The award-winning breakthrough could improve the lives of millions worldwide who face serious health problems caused by drinking arsenic-contaminated water.

Read more here

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Fasnacht Diary from Basel

Nick from Basel who is an active Fasnachter this year has written a diary about his experience. I found it very good read – especially as it gave insights to the fun that Fasnachters themselves have. I was lucky myself to participate in a Fasnacht – with costumes and all – though not here in Basel. It was in and around Winterthur, near Zurich in 2001!

I hope to upload some of my own Fasnacht photographs soon.

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