Monday, December 29, 2008

Tech versus Terror: e-security PIL in Mumbai High Court

Noted techie Vijay Mukhi and lawyer Anand Desai have filed a PIL in the Mumbai high court on behalf of Sarla S Parikh who lost her son and daughter-in-law in the 26/11 terror attack.

"This is the first PIL that we know off that outlines a specific 12 point plan that would cost the Government Rs 50 crore. We need to use large doses of technology not only to gather intelligence but also to collect evidence that can be used in courts to convict the terrorists and also convince the world of the country that they come from. We would encourage others to file PIL’s that specify specific steps that the Government should take which are doable and practical."

I have published a copy of the PIL here.

Do get in touch with Vijay if you have some inputs/suggestions or would like to help in taking this initiative forward.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Was This An Indian Army Conspiracy Too?

Indus TV News reporter, Mr Chand Nawab was obviously having a rough time at Karachi railway station while filing this report. A 'PTC' or 'Piece to Camera' can sometimes be tough to do in one take, but Mr Nawab is not one to be deterred.

I had mentioned in a previous post that this channel iTV, with its bizarre conspiracy theories would be an ideal partner for our very own India TV. I stand corrected! Even India TV would struggle to match this. (Though they try very hard...)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Smug Alert!

Both the Mumbai-related Op-Ed pieces in today's New York Times seem to be mirroring my thoughts in the last two posts so am wondering whether to feel vindicated or guilty for (allegedly) being a bleeding-heart liberal in these tense times. I think i'll settle for smug!

Tom Friedman calls out to moderate Pakistanis, some of whom I pointed to in the previous post, while guest columnist Amitav Ghosh warns about reacting to Mumbai in a similar fashion to 9-11 which is on the lines of my argument earlier.

Wits & Twits: Pakistanis on Mumbai Terror

Just like in India, there are both morons and enlightened folks across the border.

Fatima has a great post linking to the best Pakistani blogging during the past few days and in another example of Social Media feeding the mainstream,  the Indian Express article a day after the post, draws heavily on that list.

The morons are easy to find. Just search out some of the Pak newspaper sites or even the big social networks and you'll see lots of vitriolic anti-India sentiment. But special mention must go to a Pak news program called "Brasstacks" which has a wannabe Che Guevara called Zaid Hamid keeping an intensely straight face, while proclaiming that the entire attack was an Indian conspiracy on the lines of "the Jews planned 9-11".  In case you don't have time to check out all the parts of the hour-long programme, the last clip, Part 4 is especially hilarious/disgusting,

I suggest that this channel iTV enter into a content-sharing alliance with our very own iTV aka India TV (unofficial blog highly reccomended) which comes up with "Exclusives" like this:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Battling Terror: Learn from USA, Israel? Not Entirely ...

As the fallout of the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai leads to the inevitable war-mongering and baying for Pak blood from the hardliners, (and of course from 98% of the commenters on it would do us no harm to take a deep breath and act rationally- something that actually seems counter-intuitive right now.
(Pic Courtsey Vinu@Flickr)

There are two major gung-ho schools of thought drawing 'inspiration' from our new partners in the war on terror ie. the US and Israel.

DANGEROUS ARGUMENT No.1: We need to emulate the US' (supposed) hardline response to 9-11.

Answer: Absolutely not! The US has been drawn into two wars that it is losing, an economic quagmire and global isolation. Sure, it has prevented attacks on its own soil but at the cost of countless lives in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as losing moral authority with Guantanamo et al.

Prof Juan Cole has a great piece on his blog, exhorting us not to go down that path:

"Most Indian observers, however, were critical in 2001 (and after) of how exactly the Bush administration (i.e. Dick Cheney) responded to September 11. They were right, and they would do well to remember their own critique at this fateful moment" ... FULL ARTICLE

DANGEROUS ARGUMENT No.2: We need to become a 'hard state' like Israel where every citizen is a commando and which (supposedly) crushes terror.

Answer: What has it got them? The Jewish state is no safer than it was in the last 60 years and in fact risks nuclear annihilation from the likes of Iran and possibly even Pakistan. 

And would you believe it, one of their most hardline, right-wing political icons, Ehud Olmert has done a stunning U-turn on his way out as Israeli Prime Minister and admitted that there is no military solution to the Middle-East crisis.

“We could contend with any of our enemies or against all our enemies combined and win,” Olmert said. “The question that I ask myself is, what happens when we win? First of all, we’d have to pay a painful price. And after we paid the price, what would we say to them? ‘Let’s talk.’ ” ... FULL ARTICLE

So should we line-up troops on the borders once again like the last time around or think about this with some amount of pragmatism? Heck, maybe even re-open the 'debate' started a few months ago by the nation's top columnists (links to both pieces at PressTalk) on 'gasp' considering a trifurcation of J&K and thus finding a real solution to the Kashmir issue.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

PC Magazine: Another One Bytes The Dust!

The venerable PC Magazine is dead, long live the magazine ... All hail!

I guess the only person chuckling about this is "micropersuader" Steve Rubel of Edelman PR who got into a bit of a twitter-tangle last year after admitting that he no longer bothers with the physical mag, much to the annoyance of the Editor, who even threatened a boycott of Rubel's PR firm.

I guess at some level veteran tech hack Alice Hill feels vindicated too, though the irony of the piece she wrote on CNET nearly 10 years ago is that CNET itself couldn't keep up with the Web 2.0 wave and sold out to CBS earlier this year.

So basically, the rise-glory-fall cycle is getting quicker than ever before thanks to them internets! It took a long time for print to get out of fashion, shorter for network television and no time at all on the web. I mean wasn't Jerry the messiah just like ... yesterday?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

iPhone 3G Reviewed!

Well, I thought it couldn't get better than the dream debut but it does! My first gadget review for the paper is none other than the iConic iPhone. Yeah sure, its the 3G version but for us in India its as good as a (slightly improved) regular 'jesus phone' - desi version pic below - and the first one we can use legally!

The review appeared in today's Economic Times and there are three different versions online.

Bhagwan Phone

NEW DELHI: After a few days of playing around with the new iPhone 3G, I'm convinced that Apple's iconic piece of gadgetry is a misnomer. The "mobile phone" is clearly the most unimpressive and probably the most unimportant part of the second generation iPhone. It's a great computer; to be more specific, a great mobile Internet device probably the best ever made - and it's a pity that it's debuted in the country before 3G networks are up and running.

Monday, August 18, 2008

ET tu Nokia?

I couldn't have asked for a better way to debut in the country's largest (and in fact the WORLD's second largest) business paper! A front-page scoop shared with a dear friend who happens to be the nation's crack telecom hack!

Abhi & Joji, 2003

NEW DELHI: Nokia, the country's dominant handset player, is plotting to steal Apple's thunder. The company is set to launch its latest high-end phone, the N96 which Nokia calls a 'killer product' on Tuesday in India, three days before the much-awaited 3G-enabled iPhone's debut here. The N96 was tipped to be launched globally in October and this may perhaps be the handset maker's first global launch in India.

Industry experts say Nokia is rushing the N96 to India to counter the hype associated with the iPhone 3G, which will be offered by Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Essar. While Nokia is expected to launch the product in Delhi on Tuesday, the handset is likely to be available in the market from the first week of September. MORE

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Z back from India? Expect a controversy soon…

Mark Zuckerberg seems to have given the Indian media the slip. Facebook PR assured me that he wasn't giving any official interviews and it seems no one managed to win the TechGoss reward for snaps/info of him in India.

Well, if this was indeed just a holiday/spiritual tour, then history suggests the first thing he'll do, when he gets back, is get embroiled in a controversy! Confused? Hear me out on this one:

1. Steve Jobs visits India in 1974 for some spiritual nirvana and bums around a bit. He goes back to Atari and (allegedly) shafts poor Steve Wozniak while working on 'Breakout'. The incident becomes part of tech folklore...

Steve Jobs photo courtesy

2. Jimmy Wales visits India in January 2008 and after an interview at IIT Bombay, tells me he's headed to the Himalayas for a few days of peace and solitude. He comes back to the US and gets into a mess after (allegedly) trying to influence his (then) paramour's Wikipedia entry.

Creative Commons CC-BY-SA License

(Image courtesy Gus Freedman of Wikimedia Foundation under CC-BY-SA license)

3. Google Founders backpack around India 'like a couple of sophmores' in October 2004. They get back and Google is soon faced with an extended run of controversies.

Image courtesy

So now that we officially have a 'three-is-a-trend' conspiracy theory, expect the Z to be fire-fighting soon (Does this count?) If he takes the advice of a Guru on the IPO as suggested by Joy of Tech, it would definitely be controversial ...

Image courtesy

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Joke's on Airtel!

Tech sites in general and Google products in particular seem to be take April Fools Day pretty seriously (nice roundup of 2008 gags here). had its own line-up for the big day; in fact the update at the end of the top story was added after NASSCOM called to say that reporters were calling them for quotes!

However, I seriously thought that this was an early Apr 01 joke from Google India though I doubted that AirTel was cool enough to pull off something like that. India's biggest telco's ISP landing page is nothing but a google partnerpage which anyone with a domain name can build absolutely free of cost.

Google India, on request helpfully pointed me to a page which has info on a special partner program for ISPs though details on pricing etc. seem to be skimpy. However, the newest version of Google Apps seems to have dropped the ISP Partner section altogether and all the features are available to everybody! I remember trying out Google Apps when it was first launched and it took me exactly 5 minutes to configure something like this. shares the same sentiment, though its pretty obvious that the comments are being seeded by Airtel PR (see comments 2 & 3).

I mean, the least that they can do is basic URL masking so that is all that users get to see instead of The "Register" link in the 'My Account' gadget at the bottom of the left column is broken. I know that Bharti has pioneered outsourcing of all non-core business (to IBM, Nortel, Ericsson etc.) but c'mon, this is totally pushing it!

Anyway, I have two questions:

1) Does anyone really want an email ID when all these services are available for free on gmail or your own domain?

2) Why did so many news outfits actually take this seriously and carry it verbatim???

PS: This isn't the first time Google and AirTel have collaborated! The last time they did, the consequences were pretty disastrous!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

WiMAX Woes

After another frustratingly slow session of "Mobile Internet" using one of them USB data sticks, my thoughts drifted towards WiMax, which seems to be sliding downhill after a prolonged stay at the peak of the hype cycle:

Gartner Hype Cycle

I remember attending a live WiMax demo in Delhi as far back as 2004, though it turned out to be quite comical. The company had invited the tech press and some officials including the Wireless Advisor to the DoT. The latter was furious when he heard that the transmitter had been placed on the terrace of a building across the road and insisted that he had given permission only to place it on the terrace of the same hotel! The red-faced execs had to literally scamper after him with profuse apologies and eventually cooled him down with some hot chai!

Gartner (yup, the same guys who came up with the term 'hype cycle') has just come out with a report titled “Beware of WiMAX Hype in India” (subscription reqd) that predicts only about 218,000 users in India this year and maybe 7 million by 2011:

“In the near-term, the Indian WiMAX market is not very promising. Gartner advises carriers to focus on the enterprise market and high end residential subscribers. At the present time, it is not clear if vendors would benefit from risk-sharing models with Indian operators. Overall, the long term potential of the Indian WiMAX market heavily relies on spectrum allocation, WiMAX ecosystem maturation, and the timeliness of WiMAX and 3G licenses.” more (Press Release)

Well, BSNL (which along with MTNL will get automatic allocation of spectrum unlike the private guys who will have to bid) seems to have massive plans for WiMax, but given its current state of connectivity offerings, it's tough to be optimistic.

I wonder if anyone from BSNL attended the recent WiMax conference in Bangkok, where the CEO of Australia's first WiMax deployer Buzz Broadband, slammed the technology in front of a global audience. Quick Summary:

"disaster... miserable failure... mired in opportunistic hype"

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

You Know There Are Too Many iPod Accessories When…

Case Logic MP3 kit holder

... you need another accessory - in this case a pouch from Case Logic - in which to keep all of them! This MP3 Kit was actually a god send. For those of you who really care, this is what my iPod kit currently contains:

Upper Left Side: USB connector cum AV cable (composite)
Lower Left Side: AC adapter plus two 2-pin connectors (one round & one flat)
Upper Right Side Left: Apple iPod Touch (8 GB), protective skin, cleaning cloth
Upper Right Side Right: Various jacks including audio splitter, airplane seat 2-pin connector, thin-to-fat audio jack convertor etc.
Lower Right Side: A pair of in-ear headphones

I admit, I'm a bit of an organisation freak, but you have to admit this case is pretty nifty. In fact I dare say it NEARLY justifies the outrageously inflated price that Case Logic slaps on its products.

Anyway, lest I be accused of being an iPod fanboy again, do see this very nice explanation of why iPods don't support Bluetooth. One-line summary: "Apple wants to maintain a stranglehold over the accessory universe!"

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Antique Gadgets In A Bangkok Hotel

Spent the long weekend in Bangkok - lovely blend of ancient and modern (See inset of the pic below for view from my hotel room). The tech shopping didn't seem too exciting though - prices were similar and often higher than India - the (unlocked) iPhone being the hottest selling item at around 25k Baht. Thats above Rs. 30k making it way more expensive than the going rate here...

Bangkok Tech

(Note: I didn't have explicit permission to take this pic so no faces!)

But the real tech surprise was my hotel room (see inset of pic below) which had a REAL antique AV setup that I just couldn't get over! A good ol' Sony Trinitron, now officially in its last month of production ...

Bangkok Tech

But hey! What's that whacky looking Hi-Fi next to it??? Closer inspection reveals that it's actually also a VCD player ... check out them buttons!

Bangkok Tech

I couldn't find anything on this CMT-VC1 micro system from Sony's retro-styled "Mezzo" range, except this (See last gadget on the page). If the archiving system of the site can be trusted, Sony apparently launched this in October 2001 - the very same month in which a struggling Apple launched another gadget.

Things were never the same for Apple and Sony since then, were they?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Applying to ACJ?

Its that time of the year again...

As (Indian) grad school application season begins, I get flooded with inquiries about the J-School that I attended, thanks largely to this piece which apparently pops up in online searches. In fact I get so much mail, I've made a block-reply for aspirants - I might as well share it here so that it can show up on the interweb!

Dear XYZ,

Every year, at around this time, I get flooded with enquiries about the ACJ thanks to an article I wrote ages ago on JAM magazine about the college. Apparently the article appears pretty high up on a Google search and my email ID is visibly displayed on it which explains the deluge of mail. However, I'm more than happy to help out aspiring journos and have thus decided it's easiest to make a single block-type reply.

The exam consists of two papers - English and GK. Preparation for this kind of an exam is more or less futile. If you have fairly good written and spoken English, then the first paper shouldn't be too much of a problem - at the most I can advise you to brush up on some basic grammar. The GK paper in my year was rather hard and has got harder in successive years. However, remember that it's all relative and others will find it equally hard. The best way to tackle this is to start reading at least one national daily as of TODAY and keep reading it page to page. Whichever articles have references to issues or people you aren't familiar with, Google / Wikipedia them and have some idea. There's no point mugging up the Manorama Yearbook, but going through the last few issues of Competition Success will be moderately helpful.

As for the college itself, make no mistake - its very good. Brochures usually lie and there are a lot of fraud mass comm courses doing the rounds these days. However the ACJ scores for many reasons. It's backed by extremely credible people, has outstanding faculty and excellent facilities and infrastructure. The downsides are that its expensive and the campus is not residential though they do arrange for fairly swanky accommodation at ridiculously low rates (compared to Mumbai at least) where the atmosphere is almost like a hostel.

One word of caution. This is not a hotchpotch Mass Comm course which teaches you everything from public relations to corporate communications, advertising and marketing, puppetry and Ekta Kapoor style television. It's a hard core journalism school and you have to be pretty motivated about your career choice. I know a fair number of people who were disappointed because they weren't quite sure about the course and couldn't handle the intense curriculum and workload. Others were unhappy about "return on investment" i.e fees versus the salaries they eventually got. Its good to keep in mind that media pays fairly low in the early stages though the hikes and rises are for more rapid than traditional industry. ACJ is a long-term gamble - good contacts and networking for life, excellent grounding in the basics and ethics of the job and very good brand equity that's been built in a very short time and will only get better as Indian media expands. However, definitely NOT a place to "do timepass for a year" after graduating. Be sure that you're in it for the long haul!

Friday, March 7, 2008

8 Years of Tech Un-savviness

One of the world's top blogs Gigaom picked up a Tech 2.0 story on the possible blackberry blackout.

One of the commenters Ashwath seemed to think that the Indian tech media is "notorious in presenting Indian regulators as Luddites" (Full comment here). While to some extent I do admit that reporters get their kicks from poking fun at clueless officials, I would have to say that the latter can't particularly claim to have been unfairly targetted.

I thought I'd do a quick jog down memory lane and pick one instance every year in the 21st century, that India's administrators have been pwned!

2001: The tragi-comic case of India's 'first cyber crime' that was 'cracked' by the Mumbai cops. The lunacy of it all is best summed up in this Wired story. (A recounting of my personal experiences for a column is here.)

2002: Delhi Police arrests noted Kashmiri journalist Iftikar Gilani on charges of spying after finding "sensitive information" on his computer. Their case falls apart after it is confirmed that the documents recovered from his computer were freely available on the Internet.

2003: Yahoo Groups gets blacked out in India. Beeb report here. I had a Jt. Secy in the Dept. of IT proudly telling me on camera, that "If it's anti-national, we will ban it!"

2004: Baazee (now eBay India) CEO gets arrested by the same cops whom he offered to fully co-operate with, in a case of pornographic content being uploaded on the site. He later told me how they tricked him into coming to the police station on a Friday so that they could jail him over the weekend without a hearing till Monday.

2005: President APJ Abdul Kalam (followed by others including the National Security Adviser) wags a finger at Google Earth. While some claim it's a legit concern, I think that anyone seriously interested in planning an attack is not going to sit and look at 3-5 year old maps that are being sourced from freely available satellite imagery.

2006: The Government goes into overdrive on internet censorship and knocks off most of the blogosphere in the process of targetting 17 (at first random looking, but clearly politically motivated) sites and blogs. Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression indeed!

2007: Cops pick up the wrong guy and keep him in custody for 50 days. Apparently the ISP mapped an incorrect physical address to the IP that was posting the anti-Shivaji content. The cops of course weren't concered with the technical details. Thankfully the poor chap is suing!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

We R Like Dis Only!

This is the kind of stuff that gets slipped under the door regularly:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Poked By Evil Capitalists

Every now and then, the opinions expressed in the otherwise excellent Guardian surprise me, with some absolute tripe that would make even the most Luddite left-wing loonie blush.

I thought it couldn't get worse than George Monbiot's ridiculous piece some years ago mourning the 100-year anniversary of the first flight by claiming that the airplane was the "world's most effective killing machine." He was in Mumbai a month later having a gala time while attending the World Social Forum. I have a strong hunch he didn't come by boat!

But apparently it does get worse. A guy called Tom Hodgkinson, whose earlier works on the site include "Why I Gave Up On Email" pens an unintentionally hilarious deconstruction of Facebook with a special focus on its board of directors (read here). You know how seriously to take this nonsense when you encounter phrases like, "Clearly, Facebook is another uber-capitalist experiment."

Anyway, the most incredible slap in the face comes from the editor's note right at the top of the article (which was added two days later):

The US intelligence community's enthusiasm for hi-tech innovation after 9/11 and the creation of In-Q-Tel, its venture capital fund, in 1999 were anachronistically linked in the article below. Since 9/11 happened in 2001 it could not have led to the setting up of In-Q-Tel two years earlier.

Beautiful! A simple anachronism rips his CIA conspiracy (which takes up a few paras of his fantasy piece) theory to shreds. Of course this won't stop more loons from claiming that the CIA was planning 9/11 all along. Sigh.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

To Bubble Or Not To Bubble …

The most interesting part (for me) of an interview with Mahesh Murthy on MicroHoo day was about ads on Facebook in particular and social networks in general. From the (rough) transcript of the interview is Mahesh's response to my question on whether the page view economics of Web 2.0 will scale infinitely:

"I really do not think so. Facebook is the kind of environment, which is very immersive for the viewer. The viewer does not want to click on an ad and get away somewhere else. In Google, as a search engine, you have to go and click on an ad and leave the website. So, as a result the predominant paradigm in the business is click on the ad and get away from the site.

We have run lots of ads in Facebook for a dozen of clients. We find that they work on a branding level. They give you impressions and eyeballs. But you don’t get those clicks through rates. You get that by doing the regular contextual advertising on Google."

This observation from basically the head of India's biggest search marketing firm, seems totally in line with these observations (published a day prior to the interview). Money quote: "Fuck, this is a pyramid scheme. There is no money input into this system except venture capital. I remember a time, long long ago, when tech companies spent their own venture capital on each other, so revenues were all booked from the same small pool of money. Yeah, as I recall, it didn't end well."

But before you start humming to the brilliant Bu-bu-bu, Bu-bu, Bubble video below, do read this rather spirited defence from SuperCIO.

[youtube dr3qPRAAnOg]

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Best 'CEO Wanted' Ad Ever

Best CEO Ad Ever!

Even more ironic: Jindal Aluminum's site has a dead 'careers' link!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Princely Sum

Yup, a pirated edition of the banned book seems to be doing the rounds of Mumbai all of a sudden. Although the book has been listed for quite some time (though currently unavailable), not many people order from Amazon in India, thanks to the high shipping charges. I thought 400 bucks was quite a steal till GE's post made me realise I'd overpaid. Interestingly, I got the contact details of the peddler from a comment/spam ad, that he left on K's blog. Very good targeted advertising - K deserves a cut! I'll probably put up a detailed review on Amazon sometime, but so far it seems that the Ambanis may just have done Hamish McDonald a favour by getting it banned. It's not as excitingly defamatory as contraband is expected to be. First five pages can be read free of cost :-)