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Friday, June 27, 2008

Blogs help catch criminal

Weblogs -- of all hues -- have been around for quite a while, but there's this perennial debate on what purpose do they serve and for whom. Of course, ardent bloggers are least bothered about the debate, only the non-blogging academicians are.

Here's some proof of what good blogging can achieve. In Brooklyn, New York, bloggers helped the police bust a drug racket. ".... peering turned to blogging, and blogging turned to action, as neighbors started filing complaints...." More

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dateline Bangalore

Over the last decade Bangalore -- the once laid-back, quiet, green city -- has been on the throes of change. The speed at which the capital of Karnataka has metamorphosed has stumped everyone; it has been like a teenager outgrowing her clothes.

Being in Bangalore is a mixture of emotions: for some it's the excitement of being transported from a small town to a glitzy fast-paced city; for others it's the pangs of insensitive affluence trampling over human sensibilities; the pleasure and pain a city's shift from anonymity to global stage. They are best captured in the accounts of those who experience them.

Dateline Bangalore hopes to be a collage of those accounts.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Trains cheaper than planes!

AJ, a middleclass 28-year old man grew up in the post-1993 liberalised era. When he landed his first job, India had already entered the era of low-cost airplanes. AJ -- who is earning a sum, his parents couldn't dream of when they were his age -- would fly rather than take a train; most of it company- sponsored. Not without valid reason, since time was, and is, at a premium for him.

Now his company is urging employees to use other modes of transport, like train, bus or car. AJ last week travelled by train after a gap for six years, from Chennai to Bangalore. Yesterday he broke the big news: "Pradeep, train is so cheap...!" He was talking of Shatabdi Express. I don't know if he is aware what the cost of sleeper class ticket is.

What struck me was AJ's amazement. For many like AJ, trains never existed, because on the fast lane of tech-driven life there were only the airplanes.

There was a time when middleclass people only saw planes up in the sky, forget travelling in them. Even for uppermiddle class, a flight was a once-in- a while phenomenon undertaken in times of emergency. During the last decade, it has been a revolutionary change. Even for the middleclass, flights were becoming a norm rather than an exception.

As they say, changes are always cyclic. Only few would have expected the change to happen this fast. Today youngsters are being taught what their parents and grandparents were very good at -- saving and thoughtful spending. The days of reckless, mindless spending are over. At least for now.

Many like AJ are also in the process discovering a whole new world.

Read also: How rich/poor are we?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Copyright - AP takes on bloggers

In journalism there is a concept called "fair use". It's related to copyright. Basically it means, a publisher or an editor can quote from another, usually copyrighted material, in his or her publication to the extent that will be considered fair; or in other words, what is quoted shouldn't amount to deriving commercial or any other type of advantage.

As far as I know, there is no fixed number of words one can safely copy from another person's work, even by giving credit, so that it wouldn't amount to unfair use. For electronic media too I don't think there is rule that says a clipping shouldn't exceed so many minutes. Please correct me, if I am wrong.

Some five to six years back, when blogs exploded on to the mass communication scene, this was a major topic of discussion. In fact, earliest blogs themselves had only weblinks to interesting articles. But as more and more people got on to the blog bandwagon, many people began to blindly copy-paste entire articles from copyrighted, well-known publications. Still you will find many anonymous bloggers who merely copy-paste. The only saving grace is many do give  due credit.

In fact, I too initially used to do that when I had to refer to a particular article. For the benefit of my readers I had, on a few occasions, copy-pasted the entire article, in addition to giving the weblink. But later, I realised that I could probably be putting into public domain an article that is not otherwise freely available on the web. I stopped it, and now I quote only a para, and then give a link to the original article. There are many magazines like India Today and The Economist which have premium content that is available only to subscribers. So, it would definitely be an infringement of law if some subscriber were to copy-paste that material for the whole world to read free of cost. (Link to my blog post on this is given below)

There are two views here: one which says a limit is essential otherwise it makes a mockery of the copyright principle itself. The other view is that freedom to copy-paste actually only gives publicity to the original article, so there should logically be no objection to someone giving free publicity.

The Media and Advertising section of yesterday's New York Times carried story that has renewed the debate. The story talks of the Associated Press news agency (which is widely subscribed to by the media in India too) issuing a notice to the Drudge Report asking it to remove seven items that quoted from AP articles. Following strong reactions, AP has had second thoughts and is reconsidering its actions. But apparently, AP is considering to formulate guidelines on how much of its articles and broadcasts can be safely copied by bloggers and other websites.

There is quite a lot of grey area here. A cap on the number words or duration in terms of minutes is definitely a good idea. But that won't solve the entire problem, since ideas aren't easily quantifiable. Sometimes 200 words may not do as much damage as 20 words. This is what I feel:

-- Some amount of freedom should be given to quote, provided due and full credit is given.

-- There is should be definitely a complete ban on copy-pasting (whatever be the extent) without giving credit.

-- As long as the quoted material is only meant to substantiate or add value to the article, there should not be a problem.

-- But if the quoted material itself is being projected as an article itself then it is unfair.

Links

Monday, June 16, 2008

Track satellites real time

I stumbled upon a site -- n2yo.com -- that helps you track real time the satellites that are orbiting the earth.

One of the pages on the site says it's a website providing mainly satellite tracking Services. "The software used for tracking is using mainly space surveillance data provided by "Space Track", a website consisting of a partial catalog of observations collected by the US Space Surveillance Network, operated by US Air Force Space Command (AFSPC). AFSPC does not make any warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of the data provided..." (Source)

I could locate Cartosat-2A here

Saturday, June 14, 2008

How rich / poor are we?

There are two types of people:

Type I - Mindless spender

They are well-employed with envious amounts of salary, but are always in debt. For example, when in need of medical attention they will try to save a few hundreds rather than go in for good quality medical care for a few hundred extra. Or, they will look for a lender. The same guys won't mind spending a few hundreds on an avoidable outing or a party, or picking up an expensive watch or jeans in a mall when actually they don't need to.

Type II - Thoughtful spender

They are not in highly paying jobs, but always have money to spare for anything urgent. They may not flaunt the latest gadgets or zip around in swank cars, but they are the types who usually won't be found wanting when money has to be spent for something useful.

Which is important: income or expenditure?

We always think it's income, but think again.

A person earning a moderate income with frugal and prudent spending habits could actually be richer than a person getting a fat pay but having extravagant habits.

A few us were recently discussing how difficult it is to buy a house, and how generally life is getting hard on the monetary front. Is chasing a high(er) income job always the best solution? Does high income alone guarantee us enough money when in time of need?

After falling into a bit of tight spot,I have realised over a period of time that a bit of economising can ease the pressure on the purse and can actually work wonders, even while having the same income level. It's not about being a miser or cutting out completely some purchases. One needn't stop seeing movies or eating out or even driving out when petrol prices are going up.

We all need to indulge in a bit of luxury, when we need to splurge without any reason, when need to buy something without looking at the price tag. The key here is how often we should do that.

The trick is spacing out

Couples are told about the need to space out children when they plan family. The analogy works well here with finances as well.

When guys and girls in late 20s, struggle for money even when they are earning around Rs 50K, the paradox is so striking. They need to realise that they have to space out spending before they can think of spacing out kids.

I took the liberty to ask one, "Why don't you space out your extravagance? Instead of going to the pub every weekend, why don't you keep it to the first Saturday of a month? Why don't you take the bus when possible instead of hopping on to the auto always?...

The New York Time's oped columnist David Brooks in an article 'The Great Seduction' on June 10 questioned the spending habit of Americans. He says the morals on which the USA was built is all but gone; the nation having fallen to mindless consumerism.

America is one country that encourages you to spend; in fact to spend more than what you earn. No money? Don't worry, we will lend you some. Can't repay? Don't worry, we will strike a deal that will help you. What the consumer doesn't realise is she is slowly but surely sinking into the quagmire of debt. As a wag sarcastically quipped once: Americans work hard always, not because they love work, but that's only way they can clear their debts! May be one sure way to make lazy guys work!

Young Indians, many of whom now earn more than what their parents earn, are dangerously getting influenced by an American trait that America itself is introspecting over and probably even trying hard to shake off.

With economy in the US slowing down and everyone talking of hard days ahead, it's not the US alone that's hit, but people around the world. I think we all -- consumers as well as entrepreneurs -- should do a bit of scaling down; it's hard but I doubt if there is any other way out.

As they say, don't bite more than what you can chew. Thrift may never get you all the luxuries at the speed of thought; but the chances are high that you may have money when you need the most.

Link:

'The Great Seduction' by David Brooks, The New York Times, June 10, 2008

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Blogroll with Blogger

On June 5, Blogger released a long-awaited improvisation that lets you add a page element wherein you keep a record of weblogs and websites that you follow regularly. The announcement is here.

There are quite a few user-friendly features.

1) The entries can be arranged in such a way that the most recently updated ones are on top;

2) There are options to have not just the name of the site (or name of the blogger) but also the headline of the latest entry, a synopsis of the latest entry and the time when it was published;

3) It is linked to the Google Reader, of which I am a great fan. You can import selectively into the blogroll the feeds that you are tracking on Google Reader.

This looks like a good competition to existing feed aggregators like Bloglines (which I have been using) and Blogrolling (which, I find, is quite popular with many bloggers).

I added this yesterday, along with a change in the template.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

It's now McCain vs Obama

Till now it was a battle between the veteran White woman (Hillary Clinton) and rookie Black man (Barack Obama). The vast contrast made the Democratic primary interesting as never before. Now that Hillary is out, it will be a battle between a White aged, veteran (John McCain) and Black, young, rookie (Barack Obama) -- again the contrast is glaring. There is no fear of this battle getting boring.

The way the candidates involve the media, enables us here in India to follow the election quite closely. In fact, we aren't able to follow our own equally (if not more) vibrant and colourful democratic festival with as much involvement.

Today's New York Times has an insightful article by Oped columnist Frank Rich -- 'One Historic Night, Two Americas'.

An extract:
  • Given the dividing line separating the two Americas of 2008, a ticket uniting Mr. McCain and Hillary Clinton might actually be a better fit than the Obama-Clinton “dream ticket,” despite their differences on the issues. Never was this more evident than Tuesday night, when Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain both completely misread a one-of-a-kind historical moment as they tried to cling to the prerogatives of the 20th century’s old guard.

Read more here.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Hillary Clinton concedes, backs Barack Obama

Finally it has happened; what Hillary Clinton never wanted to happen. The fighter has accepted defeat and thrown her weight behind the winner. It must have been quite a hard task for her. That's evident from the time she took to make the concession speech. Now, all eyes are on Obama: will he pick her as his running mate? (Report: BBC)

Fuel price hike: a turning point?

The crude oil price is inching towards $140. There is an unstated feeling of worry and panic sweeping across the world with ominous hints at the figure of $150 and even $200.

There're protests all across the world. They have become very violent in Europe, France in particular. Vehicles and properties are being set afire. These are not finding any mention in the Indian media. Probably with the good intention of not giving ideas to protesters here.

Remarkably, in India the protests by all opposition parties have been very peaceful, though normal life has been hit by the strikes. Could be that the hike has been cushioned a great deal in India by subsidies unlike in the west. Small blessings we Indians should be grateful for.

It's the sense of frustration that's in danger of breaching barriers and exploding. Most of the anger is directed against the govt, though the issue is global and the govt can do precious little overnight.

Will these days be the beginning of a change in the way we look at life and all that we do? We have always been in a fast-forward mode, little realising that we have in many ways been going back rather than foreward.

Business is one area that will take the most devastating knock. In the name of more and more profit, it has been a race to nowhere (to doom?) We have also taken nature for granted, unabashedly plundering it for selfish gains.

A threat to business could also translate into threat to lifestyle, a threat to the way we look at ourselves and others. It's not as easy as it sounds since the transition that we all may need to make in the days ahead needs a lot of understanding, patience and determination.

Just a thought: are the oil producing giants having the last laugh, getting back at America in the way they know best?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Why fuel price hike is not convincing

The increase in fuel prices today morning was expected. Even the extent of the hike -- Rs 5 petrol, Rs 3 for diesel and Rs 50 for LPG -- wasn't so much of a surprise, though it is the single biggest hike so far, I think. We do understand the compulsions of the government, that global prices have gone up, our oil companies are going bankrupt etc. We also realise that we must take effort to reduce consumption of fuel.

That's all fine. But if the efforts of the government has to be convincing, it has to lead by example. Government agencies are big spenders, and they are completely unchecked. There is practically no accountability.

Tonight Prime Minister Manmohan will address the nation to explain why fuel prices were hiked. Hopefully he will spell out the austerity measures that the government plans to put in place to tide over the crisis.

Let it not be a case of only the people bearing the cross. Let the mammoth government agencies, departments and ministries also take steps to reduce consumption of fuel. Or the whole things is going to backfire badly on the Congress.

Links: