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: