Archive for April, 2009

Google Me

Friday, April 24th, 2009 April 24th, 2009 Priyanka JoshiPriyanka Joshi

Ever had tgoogleMeCard.pnghat itch to alter Google results that the search engine throws up (after you have secretly checked your name on Google for the nth time). Dont’ fret as you are not a lone case. There are millions out there who would love to remove or edit information about themselves from the Google indexes. And Google has read your mind, once again.

As the push toward individual search engine optimisation (SEO) intensifies, so does the penchant to “Google” someone.

To give you greater control over what people find when they search for your name, we’ve begun to show Google profile results at the bottom of US name-query search pages. These results offer abbreviated information from user-created Google profiles and a link to the full profiles. We’ve also added links so it’s easy to search for the same name on MySpace, Facebook, Classmates and LinkedIn. (Source)

Of course, for the new service to actually work for people, they need to sign up for an account with Google and the more information a person shares, the more likely they are to show up on the first page when a person searches for their name. To sign up for the service, Google tells users to simply search for “me.” Google’s Joe Kraus acknowledged that the company has seen an increased demand in the search engine optimisation of individual’s names in search engine results and thinks this is the beginning of the solution. Of course, it is.

How? Simply put, Google Profiles looks to establish singular online identities of users, even linking their various online accounts (say blogs, Google reader, Youtube etc) and offer a singular source for information. This also opens up a plethora of choices for third-party developers to build interesting things on top of these profiles.

But there’s another side to this argument too. Do we really want everything available in one-click access on Google? This includes our place of residence (seen on google maps), the blogs we wrote bitching about someone on Blogger, or interests and hobbies (as registered on various social sites) or even pictures & phone numbers (again from some website online). Of course, you can choose to give none and keep a black profile too.

So, what’s the bright idea that Google is selling here? It’s like you can now control what information should flow to make your profile look good (in case it comes up during search) but this will mean that you give Google a little more access to your life’s data. So I guess, then it’s not so good as there’s already more than necessary information out there.

Long Wait For Tenants

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009 April 21st, 2009 Praveen Bose

“How much longer sir?” my neighbour, who always seemed to have the Midas touch, asked my father. This neighbour, I have always believed, has the knack of sniffing out business opportunities. He and his wife must have half a dozen streams of income.

He was enquiring about the economic slowdown that has seen everyone tightening their purse strings, and has left him holding his head in his hand and wondering how he would be able to pay his Rs 40,000 EMI on a loan he had raised to build his four storeyed building with five flats. He had hoped to rent them out, preferably to vegetarian IT professionals.

He has waited, waited and waited. His query on the slowdown came in utter frustration over the disappointment that few IT professionals were interested in renting his house or none were ready to pay the rent he wanted. “I have custom-built the house for an IT professional” was his argument. It suits them best. I had heard of custom-built office spaces, but this was the first custom-built house for an IT professional.

What about someone else who may be ready to shell out an amount acceptable to him? No sir, he said, “Others cannot understand how to use the electrical fittings I have spent so much on. Many of the fittings are those you find in the US and many of the IT professionals travel abroad and understand their use.”

“I will wait for a month and visit Tirupathi to ask for the lord’s help.”

Now, he is ready for a compromise it seems. Do people from any other industry have such spending power is what he wants to know now. I have been asked to find out who else could afford the rent and of course still are vegetarians.

Indifferent Premier League

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009 April 21st, 2009 Aabhas Sharma

Being a sports freak has a lot of drawbacks. People tend to take you for granted as far as watching sports is concerned. And the magnitude of it hits you the most when the Indian Premier League (IPL) is on.

It’s assumed that you must be glued to your telly watching each and every ball of “the biggest sporting extravaganza”. So conversations with friends revolve around how weak the bowling attack of Rajasthan Royals is and you are expected to pitch in with your views on it.

Relatives will give - and seek your - expert opinion on what a brilliant innings Sehwag played, when the fact is you were busy watching re-runs of Friends (yes I did that a lot during the first season of IPL).

Personally, cricket in its Maggi noodles avatar is something which I am not too bothered about.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think of myself as a snob as far as cricket watching is concerned. I enjoy the occasional drama and edge of the seat stuff that T20 guarantees.

But give me a two-hour session of test cricket where 40 runs are scored but the players are fighting tooth and nail, over a three-hour slam bang cricket where the idea seems to be who can hit the ball longest out of the ground.

Of course, I can understand why the IPL remains such a huge draw. It’s fast paced, requires very little of your time (as compared to test matches or even ODIs), and most importantly for the paisa vasool audience, it’s all about having fun.

I may be an extremist but for me one of the biggest reasons of watching in any sport is to actually care about a particular team winning or losing. In the IPL, I find that majority of the time that goes out of the window.

‘Fans’ of IPL are content with enjoying the action and are somewhat indifferent towards the end result. It doesn’t matter too much if their team lost the match as long as they were guaranteed some action packed moments, something which is a staple ingredient of most IPL matches.

How can you expect enjoy any sport, where winning or losing is secondary and entertainment is primary. At least, I can’t.

As I said at the beginning of the post, being a sports fanatic has many drawbacks. And one of them is that you end up taking sports a bit more (in fact, a lot more) seriously than the rest. Fun and games are good, but sports is a serious business, at least for hardcore sports buffs. And when indifference creeps in, like in the case of IPL, it sadly fails to cut the ice.

Houses Crash

Sunday, April 19th, 2009 April 19th, 2009 Praveen Bose

It was some crash about which I heard today. A friend, I have known since the early ’80s, is in a state of near-shock and, now laughs and cries at the same time, by merely thinking of what’s happened to their investment.

Imagine in investment of yours crashing about 60 per cent in just over an year. She had bought a flat for Rs 75 lakh. It was meant to be an investment. Everything was rosy with the real estate then.

The ‘experts’ in real estate always say “location, location, location” when you consider buying a property. That is precisely what she thought when buying the flat. After-all it was barely 10 or 12 km from the international airport, which is very near to the airport for someone familiar with Bangalore.

About a month or two ago, she tried to find out what’s happened to her investment now that there are frequent news reports about the property market bouncing back. She had missed the opportunity to sell when the market had peaked, she thought. On trying to sell their property. instead of earning a profit, the highest price being quoted was Rs 30 lakh. They had rented out the flat and are now happy with whatever rent they are getting.

That left me wondering what must happened to the ‘investments’ at the other end of the city where there is not even water. The borewells have dried up. Many of them are high-end flats going up to Rs 1 crore or more. Today they got no water and any water they get is supplied on water tankers.

OK, back to my friend. She’s now praying that the hopes of a ‘V’ shaped recovery happens in the property market as many hope will happen with the general economy. But, that could take time in case of the real estate sector.

Sensex may hit new low, post elections

Thursday, April 16th, 2009 April 16th, 2009 BG ShirsatBG Shirsat

Summer looms as a critical period for the local markets due to the political uncertainty following the general elections. In May 2004, the market collapsed almost 30 per cent post elections, when Sonia Gandhi was chosen to lead the congress parliamentary party amid fall of the NDA. This time, the general perception is that the “third front” will emerge as king maker. If that happens, it may ensure the end of the pre-election market rally and bring about a new low thereafter.

Technical analysts say that the current bounce back is being seen as a bear market rally that will be very difficult to sustain even otherwise.  Although the recent gains in stock prices brought some cheer with a 30 per cent appreciation in global benchmark indices, the market is still not out of the woods. Corporate earnings for the fourth quarter may be worse than the third quarter and the guidance for 2009-10 by Infosys Technologies also indicates that corporate outlook may not even in 2009-10.

The bear markets prior to 2000 have recorded eight counter-trend rallies in excess of 15 per cent while the most recent 2000-02 bear market saw three counter-trend rallies of 20 per cent. The current bounce is just the third in excess of 20 per cent since May 2008.

Historically, it is to be noted that in the secular bear market in US commencing 1937, a 64 per cent counter-trend rally ensued the following year before the market eventually took out new lows, indicates Deutsche Bank Global Research.

The current counter-trend is in excess of 38 per cent since the benchmark indices, the Sensex and the Nifty, hit multiyear lows on March 9, 2009. It is also worth mentioning that counter-trend in excess of 24 per cent between October 27, 2008 and November 10, 2008 took more than three months for the October 27 low to be breached. If this pattern persists, a retest of the recent low of 8,160 in the Sensex may occur after the election results if the “third front” become king maker.

God’s own election

Thursday, April 16th, 2009 April 16th, 2009 Bijoy Kumar YBijoy Kumar Y

Last week I visited Thiruvananthapuram for three days. I landed without realizing that the Kerala was about to go to polls in the first phase of the general election. After staying in Mumbai for close to 15 years, I had forgotten how elections are fought the Mallu way. A summer shower had cooled the climate a bit but the heat of the election was simmering around me as I exited the airport. Huge hoardings and cut-outs of candidates welcomed me to the city. There were posters everywhere and corner meetings were on full swing. Slow moving ambassadors with gen-sets in the trunk and loud speakers on the roof blasted off election songs. Every small junction had fully decorated party offices and their very own loud speakers. Colourful  leaflets were being distributed and every one, from little children to great grand fathers with nothing better to do seemed to be participating.
At the family function that I attended people talked about the chances of Shashi Tharoor , the import from UN who is contesting under the Congress banner and the local veteran P.Ramachandran Nair, the CPI candidate. Newspapers were devoted to the election too with candidate profiles stretching across full pages. You could sense the tension in the air. ‘Shashi Tharoor is certain to become a minister if he wins’, thundered my father; ‘But he is an ‘American spy’ said his younger brother as they greeted each other after a long gap. ‘He can’t speak Malayalam properly’, said his sister. ‘So what, he has a ration card’, my mother chipped in.

BJP is yet to win a seat from Kerala and it does not look like they will this time too. Yet  you can’t miss the saffron presence – when I was a little boy Lotus was a flower seen in temple ponds and not on election posters.   
I know elections are colourful affairs in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and some other states but I don’t think you can match the intensity of Kerala. 

Voting would have come to an end as I publish this story and it would take couple of monsoons for the posters with smiling faces on them to peel off. But I think Kerala Tourism should invent ‘election tourism’ to showcase, arguably the most colourful democratic, multi party election held anywhere in the whole world.

What made some companies exit the race for Satyam?

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009 April 15th, 2009 Bhupesh BhandariBhupesh Bhandari

The numbers show the interest Satyam had generated amongst prospective buyers. No fewer than 149 registered first. Out of these, ten submitted expression of interest. In the next lap, three were rejected and three didn’t show up. Cognizant exited the night before the bids were open. Finally, Tech Mahindra bid higher than Larsen & Toubro as well as WL Ross & Co. and bagged the troubled software company.
The question that is waiting to be asked is, why did so many people exit the race? The stock answer is the huge liabilities Satyam faces. There are the 13 class actions suits running in the US, Upaid wants to extract $1 billion on a forgery case, Rajus have laid claims to Rs 1,230 crore that the company owes them.
The first two can be settled out of court. The final damage could be a fraction of the original claim. The Central Bureau of Investigation has said that it found no trace of the money that the Rajus claim to have pumped into the company to plug the hole their misdemeanors had caused. So that too can be contested in a court of law. (Incidentally, companies controlled by the Rajus sent out letters to Satyam the day after Ramalinga Raju made his infamous confession on January 7 claiming the money back.)
One factor that seems to have been missed by commentators is real estate. In the weeks following Ramalinga Raju’s confession, there was widespread suspicion that he had taken money out of Satyam to buy properties for Maytas Properties, a closely-held company of the Rajus. The plan, it was said, was to sell these properties, book profits and quietly put the money back in Satyam. The Union Corporate Affairs Ministry’s plan to supersede the Maytas Infra and Maytas Properties boards just added to that belief.
At least one suitor even made a secret trip to Hyderabad to verify the facts. The import was simple: Anybody who got control of Satyam would also get Maytas Properties. Remember, the valuation of the company for its ill-fated acquisition by Satyam was well over Rs 6,000 crore. Though Ernst & Young, which was quoted as having done the valuation, said it wasn’t for an acquisition, most people felt it wasn’t too off the mark.
 But the cookie crumbled when the Corporate Affairs Ministry could bring no evidence of fund diversion before the Company Law Board. The Central Bureau of Investigation too in its charge sheet said there was no evidence to suggest siphoning out of money. That is when some of them could have lost interest.

Real Estate on a Rise… but…

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009 April 14th, 2009 Praveen Bose

Bangalore’s real estate sector had practically crashed over the past few months. But, now there is talk of a revival, by the experts. They seem to have the most unbelievable of reasons, at least from the point of view of a student of Economics. Hoardings have been put up by real estate brokers, including the biggest one in the city, and builders practically chiding Bangalore’s denizens to buy and screaming “Don’t miss this opportunity. Buy now”. Hence, it is not rare to find many people asking: “Will I miss out on the opportunity, again?”
Then, there is a trend to the real estate sector in Bangalore which has been seen and can be traced back to the last few elections that we have seen. Politics seems inextricably inter-twined with the real estate sector in the sector.
Those in the know of the working of the real estate sector say it can be understood better if we understand how much of a role real estate money plays in politics. Those in the real estate business, say some, end up having to pay the political leaders, moreover, to protect the interests of the real estate sector.

The interest in the real estate sector of the city has been party agnostic. No matter which party, everyone is interested.

This is not necessarily at the time of the Lok Sabha polls alone. Even civic polls have the knack of pushing up the prices, though to a lesser extent. It is just that the incidence of the burden borne by the builder is wholly transferred to the buyer. The realtors just pass on the burden of higher costs brought on by the election.

To know the actual situation in the market perhaps a serious buyer needs to wait a few more months till the elected leaders begin to take their seat in the Parliament.

How it came to this is probably because whenever a sector has seen very high rates of return, political interests try to make the best of it. They feel why not share a part of the big fat profits. Many a time, this takes on the avatar of protection money.

Where’s the Poll Fever?

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009 April 14th, 2009 Praveen Bose

I will be voting on the 23rd of April. It’s April 14 and strangely, there are no posters or banners or canvassing of any sort happening across most of the IT capital, at least in most places. Looks like the political leaders have taken it for granted that they only need to be on the ballot papers and on air on FM radio, and/or canvass through mobile phones by sending an SMS. No banners, no posters, hand bills or any such classical means of canvassing.

Perhaps, Bangalore which is India’s IT capital, has gone the US way. Fr Jose Joseph, a lecturer who had taught me the US Constitution in college, had said: “Politics in the US is seen only on TV and on the radio. There’s nothing happening on the streets. It is so lifeless, the elections.” But, the words were spoken way back in 1994. Have we also taken to that culture is what one may think by what’s happening in the city. Is it that people are so inspired by the Obama election that they are yearning for the US style of politics and the candidates advertise themselves on the FM radio stations just as it happens in the developed part of the world.

Life is being sucked out of the liveliest part of democracy. No noise on the streets, no noisy canvassing. Or, are they cutting costs, with donations too probably having dipped thanks to the recession. The ‘other cash’ flow too would have definitely dipped.

But then, this could also have a positive environmental impact. Perhaps the parties feel that the paper handbills and some plastic canvassing materials would have a negative environmental impact. Also think of the amount of water and energy that would have gone into the manufacture of all that paper and plastic.

Inventors anonymous

Monday, April 13th, 2009 April 13th, 2009 Rrishi Raote

Bronze buckles from an archaeological site in SwedenAll sorts of technological brilliance has gone unrewarded through human history. Who invented bread? The canoe? Lipstick and eyeliner? The saddle? Hair gel? Catgut for musical instruments? Shoe polish? Cured leather? The belt buckle? Vehicle suspension, which makes road journeys almost comfortable? Gears? Bullets? The list is nearly endless, and patent-free.

It’s easy to fantasise about how many of these technological advances came about, to invent clever or practical originary stories. Prehistoric man falls into pond, thrashes about, grabs round log but finds it impossible to sit on, thinks (or grunt-thinks) between swallows of pond water: “Dammit, if this thing only had a seat and an outboard motor…”

Or: prehistoric woman wakes up after all-night sacred fermented beehive eating ritual, sees swollen face reflected in water next morning after lighting sooty breakfast fire, and is so appalled that she rubs her eyes. Voilà, kajal. (This could even have been a man.)

If happenstance or immediate practical necessity is behind much invention, it’s no wonder that many of the most critical inventions are orphans to our eyes. Who knows, while adding a tweak to a tool that makes it more convenient to use, that one is thus enriching the technological inheritance of all humankind?

It’s quite possible that most of us have invented some little shortcut or efficiency tactic that might prove to have significant economic value to someone else. It may be a more efficient route between home and office, or a better kitchen storage system, a particular technique of cooking some stubborn comestible, some software quickly written up for oneself to serve a specific need (hey, lots of IT-enabled people do this for fun), some novel way of using a word or words that feeds new movement in the “coolness” industry… Again, the list is practically endless.

There’s just no way to foresee what will survive. That, and the near-impossibility of figuring out, in our highly viral world, where an idea actually started (if it even had a single source), is why, despite the explosive growth in published words (paper, TV, radio, Net, podcast, iReport…) and the tendency to associate oneself strongly with, and publicise, one’s own successful work — professional or recreational — I suspect the anonymous inventor is far from a creature of the past. And good thing, too.

(The photo above is from here.)