Friday, January 27, 2006

Google China - Don't Be Too Evil

The Google China Story keeps evoking the same reactions from people - it is dissonant with their culture and their virtuous 'Don't Be Evil'.

One reaction is on Desicritics.org - Just Don't Say "Don't Be Evil" and another Damn Ethics, We Do Business. Finally, from Blogcritics.org, Google Does Evil

And the cartoon below.

google

Google Launches Search Website For Sri Lanka

With the registration of google.lk, Google has registered the second level domain names google.assn.lk, google.com.lk , google.edu.lk, google.grp.lk, google.hotel.lk, google.ltd.lk, google.org.lk, google.soc.lk and google.web.lk. This indicates some plan by Google to roll out verticalized search services in Sri Lanka.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Bangalore or ಬೆಂಗಳೂರು.?

Having grown up in Bangalore, I can never see myself calling it Bengaluru, or ಬೆಂಗಳೂರು.. Bangalore is as much Koshy's as it is Majestic.

What does Bangalore mean to you?

[...Desicritics]

Desicritics.org is now live

Desicritics.org is now live - visit and enjoy:)

Desicritics.org is now live

Desicritics.org is now live - visit and enjoy!

Leonine, San Francisco Zoo


Tunya
Originally uploaded by The Cats Jungle.
Great picture!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sunday, January 22, 2006

How to Mail Merge with Microsoft Word and Excel

As part of Desicritics, I've been trying to figure out how I can continue to use my Gmail account for communication and also be able to send individualized messages to the writers' group. This fine and easy tutorial really helped me fathom Mail Merge between Word and Excel

I created a Web Query in Excel to pull the writers' fields - username, email, etc. from the site, and wrote a template message in Word. I also setup my GMail account as a POP account in my Microsoft Outlook. The merge works fine, except that it saves every message in the Outbox. I need to open each and select Gmail as the account to use to send the email because I cannot figure out any way of selecting the From account within the Mail Merge process. It looks like it uses the default email address within Outlook, in this case, my corporate address.

I think I will set the default to GMail whenever I need to do such mass mailings, and save myself some effort:)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Right Way To Peel Bananas

Via Boingboing, an example of how much we have forgotten - peeling a banana is easier if you do it the monkey way.

On Friday, David showed me how monkeys open bananas. They pinch them on the other end. Boy, it's a lot easier.

Shall experiment in the morning.

The Tastes Of Memory

A fine reminscence from a Chinese childhood - capitalist subtext in a bottle of Tang in Communist China, and the relationship between fathers and daughters

...I realized that every dream ended with this bland, ordinary existence, where a prince would one day become a man who boiled orange peels for his family.


I wonder how that television commercial got made, and did the apparently censorious Chinese government think of the social implications of exposure to American life through Tang?

Why I Hate Sports

Sports = A Good Movie Spoiled.

When I was growing up, there was a determined cabal of sports watchers in my home who succeeded in making regular incursions into what was rightfully movie time.


read more | digg story

Thursday, January 19, 2006

2006: A Good Year For Animated Films

2006 is going to be a great year for animated films. Seventeen movies are on the schedule to be released this year alone! - Evaluations and Trailers

read more | digg story

Desipundit Auctions Indibloggies Prizes

Commendably, the guys at Desipundit, who won two awards at the Indibloggies 2005, have announced they are auctioning their prizes and donating the proceeds to a charity, ProjectWhy.

Go bid!

Those New Cell Phones Will Kill You

College students create cell phones that will ruin your life.

The grand prize winner,...The mood phone will do exactly what you think it does, change colors based on a mood. Only this time the mood phone uses computer science to detect your caller's mood and change colors according to their voice.

read more | digg story

Monday, January 16, 2006

Prosecutors Raid Livedoor, Major Japanese Portal, On Securities Charges

Japanese prosecutors raided the offices of the popular Internet portal, Livedoor, and the home of its founder on Monday as part of an investigation of possible violations of securities trading laws. Livedoor is one of Japan's most heavily trafficked Internet portals, offering everything from news and travel tips to a popular blog

read more | digg story

Plane Luck


Plane Luck
Originally uploaded by MexiPickle.
Is that Pac-man?

Interesting site - The US Of Islam

A site, with little text, but much sub-text - the United States Of Islam




The Dream Continues

Much e-print will be shed over Al Gore's seminal speech today. I was moved by the Daily Kos' analogy, "A True People's Democracy"

We were treated today to what I can only think of as a uniquely American experience: A white former future president, a son of privilege, summoning up the words and life of a black minister who rocked this country to its roots with his dream 40 years ago, both of whom referred back more than a century to a rural lawyer who took on the burden of the presidency when this nation's indivisibility and very survival were in doubt.
...
I'm coming to think it takes outsiders to change the world. And that we need to pay attention to these outsiders who have a gift for speech.
I also watched Amistad today.

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Resolutions Of The Zeitgeist

I'm not one for resolutions, allowing change to happen as it does. A somewhat facetious list of resolutions from the Huffington Post caught my eye, though. Perhaps it was because the list effectively encapsulates the zeitgeist, as it were, through a prism of experience.

A few examples:

1) Never go to another Woody Allen movie.

He's well past that cringing stage we had at the late films of Billy
Wilder and Blake Edwards, into a mania that resembles a moth slamming
repeatedly into the naked light bulb he wrote about all those decades
ago.

5) Enjoy the success of others.

Think it's easy? Go ahead. You try it.

10) Not to panic.Ever since a certain brilliantly clear autumn day back in 2001, I
have tended to view every development in human events as a portend of
the apocalypse.





Tragedy and hope.

G I V I N G. Badami


G I V I N G. Badami
Originally uploaded by Claude Renault.
This guy's photographs are marvelous, and reminscent...

Democracy In Emergency

Vox Populi, that fickle beast, yearns to find an adept master, able to harness the power inherent in the people's wishes. This is the essence of democracy, and often why it falters, as after the French Revolution. Metafilter, among others, points to Al Gore's speech today in Washington, with a paragraph that brings back memories of tales told me by my father of the Indian Emergency.

"As the executive acts outside its constitutionally prescribed role and is able to control access to information that would expose its actions, it becomes increasingly difficult for the other branches to police it. Once that ability is lost, democracy itself is threatened and we become a government of men and not laws."
Justice V R Krishna Iyer, writing on the Indian Emergency,


Prisoners of Conscience, 1978
?nand Patvardhan



Much food for thought.

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

My Darling Clementine


Clementine consumption #2
Originally uploaded by simpologist.
Yum! If my son sees that, he'll probably reach for it:)

I'm A Programmer, Not A Computer Guy

This is a funny article showing that just because someone can program a computer doesn't mean that that makes them a "computer guy." This is to programmers what printers and copiers are to computer guys.

read more | digg story

Morning rays


Morning rays
Originally uploaded by anitabora.
Lalbagh, Bangalore - memories of a city, memories of a park.

I remember picnics, flower shows, boomerang throws, painting competitions on Independence Day, walks up the hill, shopping for plants at the botanical store, the deer in the evening, romancing under the trees, and early morning walks, though very few of the last.

W A T E R. Hampi


W A T E R. Hampi
Originally uploaded by Claude Renault.
Hampi is in Karnataka, India

A very well-composed photograph, methinks.

Kim Checks Out China - North Korea In Transition

The BBC reports that Kim Jong-Il, the leader of North Korea has been touring Southern China, with it's booming towns and hi-tech firms, particularly in Shenzhen. They pick up on footage from Japan's Kyodo news agency, noting, "The footage broadcast by Japanese television shows a man with Mr Kim's dark glasses and bouffant hair leaving a hotel in Shenzhen."

North Korea is probably one of the world's only autarkies(αὐτάρκεια), doing next to no trade with the outside world, and running a near-self contained economic ecosystem. North Korea terms this economic model Juche or self-reliance. The principles are close to Marxism and Stalinism, but Kim claims it is new and was defined by Kim Il-sung, his father. Kim Jong-il is the ultimate interpreter of Juche, and his words on the Juche idea are final.

The idea has not worked very well, given the state of North Korea's faltering economy. It lost much ground following the fall of the East European communist regimes, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, all key trading partners of North Korea. Trade with South Korea has expanded in the last few years, although there is more black-market trade than official between the two countries. Apart from a few links with China, North Korea is almost entirely isolated. There are chronic food shortages and a heavy reliance on local agriculture. North Korea went through a modernization program in the 1970s, but was unable to service it's debt, defaulting on most loans in the 1980s. The national debt stood at approx $12 billion in 2000. North Korea's GDP using Purchasing Power Parity was approx $23 billion in 2003, and had a real growth rate of 1%. This translates to about $1300 per capita GDP. Total exports were only about $1 billion and imports around $2 billion. Compare this to South Korea's numbers - a per capita GNP of $22,000 in 2005, a growth rate of between 4% and 5%, actual GDP of ~$1 trillion, exports of $200 billion and imports around $180 billion.

For Kim to take an interest in China's economic boom is a good sign. China is investing about $200 million in the North Korean economy and a glasnost-style remodeling of North Korea is the only non-militaristic or anarchistic way out for the benighted country. Mr Kim could do little better than to emulate the Chinese model, and may be indicating via the itinerary of this trip that he is ready to introduce reforms.

On the militaristic front, things are not so good. Autarky tends to translate to paranoia, as evidenced all through history. North Korea has very close militaristic ties with Pakistan and China. The Pakistani Ghauri missile is a rebadged North Korean Nodong, much like we buy Taiwanese rebadged hard drives. North Korean observers were reportedly present at the Pakistani atomic tests. North Korea may be emboldened by Iran's nuclear ambitions, although non-proliferation is as close to a walking dead horse as any international policy is likely to be.

A North Korean screen-saver

North Korea's first satellite - and a song by Kim Il-Sung

Nine Commentaries On The Communist Party - Part 1 (China)

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Firefox popups working again - problem solved

I was able to fix my earlier problem with no popups appearing in Firefox

I went to Tools - Options - Content and unchecked "Block Popup Windows". I then closed and reopened Firefox, went into the Tools - Options- Content menu and checked "Block Popup Windows" again. The Block Popups functionality now works as expected. It allows popups when I click on a button or link that should produce a popup, and blocks any stray ones from a website I visit, providing a warning link bar at the top of the window.

Not sure why the problem occurred, but I'm glad it's solved.

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Urban Monotony in Amman


Urban Monotony in Amman
Originally uploaded by charlietyack.
There's no place like home, even if every one's the same

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Middle East - Changing Of The Guard

"The old order changeth, yielding place to new;
And we that fight for our fair father Christ,
Seeing that ye be grown too weak and old
To drive the heathen from your Roman wall,
No tribute will we pay:' so those great lords
Drew back in wrath, and Arthur strove with Rome." (Tennyson, Idylls Of The King)

The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, has gone to his virgins and olive trees in Paradise (Jan 15, 2006). He was the 13th ruler of a 265-year old dynasty, and was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991.

A number of Middle Eastern states have experienced changes of leadership in recent memory - from the Emir of Dubai's death to the passing of the King of Saudi Arabia. The King of Bahrain passed away in a tragic car accident in January. Yasser Arafat fired his last shot in 2004, and Ariel Sharon's hovers between life and death. Saddam counts sheep in a cell somewhere. Lebanon experienced the Cedar Revolution last year. Iran's Ahmadinejad came to power last June, and his Islamic populism disconcerts global security watchers.

The level of simultaneous flux in one region, and that too, one critical to global security and energy, is interesting, to say the least. Apart from Egypt under President Mubarak, the Assad regime in Syria, and Qatar under Sheik Al-Thani, most other states in the region seem to be experiencing a change of leadership. One would hope that such change might lead to paradigm shifts, especially given the Westernization of the Young Turks, to borrow a not-inappropriate cliche.

As a matter of fact, excluding the over-confident Persian theocracy, most of the Middle Eastern states are experiencing an increased degree of openness and newthink, to a measure rarely experienced by their citizens. Media sources are providing greater transparency and some governments recognizing their role as custodians of an evanescent wealth. The Islamicists are in the decided minority in every country in the region, despite Western perceptions. Covert and overt support of the chimera-like madrasas by various governments in the region continues, but as illustrated by the recent Foreign Policy article (link unavailable), most madrasas are in fact conducive to learning and slowly opening to change, thanks in part, to the flush of funds from the same regimes.

The death-knell for the International Islamic Front (IIF) can only come if their recruiting grounds in these countries are blocked, and their regimes de-fund their protection rackets. Jihadis find recruitment easy currently because of the malaise of alienation in their host countries. With a new guard, one can hope this may be in the realm of possibility. Unfortunately, one can only hope.

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Call Center - Dilbert



Heh

Most Appropriate Boobies Link Ever - Adrianne Curry

From the Opie and Anthony Radio Show, via TotalFark

Firefox popups not working

For some reason, no popups are appearing when I click on links/buttons that ought to produce them - when I'm browsing with Firefox. They are not blocked - there is no message - they just don't appear. This started today, I believe.

This is very frustrating, for a number of sites I depend on use pop-ups for various actions, forms, etc.

I'm using Firefox 1.5

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The Rites of Spring


First this year ?
Originally uploaded by Robert Silverwood.
Rebirth, regeneration, newness

Indibloggies 2005

India Uncut has been announced as Indiblog of the Year in the Indibloggies 2005. Amit Varma is a Desicritic and his writing style and perspectives are truly original. He is currently in Pakistan, reporting on the India-Pakistan cricket series, and the scrumptious food there.

Also winning,
Much fine international reading there folks. Congratulations to all the winners and nominees - and stay tuned for the launch of Desicritics.org - Jan 26, 2006

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Where is Jesus

Try this Jesus hunt - I am an abomination before the Lord. I must seek again



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Warren Ellis' FELL #1 - Available Online

Graphic Novels are an absolute joy, when well-done. One of my favorite illicit pleasures is reading graphic novels in stores like Barnes and Noble, mainly because they are grotesquely over-priced in comparison to other media.

Boingboing points to the exquisitely well-drawn FELL #1 graphic novel from Warren Ellis, available online for free - but available in stores for just $1.99 (Interview with Warren Ellis) Apparently FELL is "an experiment by Ellis in order to create a more affordable comic by producing a lower page count than normal. This is balanced by a format of nine panels per page in order to compress the story into the smaller size. Each issue is also a self contained story, supplemented with a text section where the author expands the story's background, provides excerpts from the script, and (tentatively) answers reader e-mail."(Fell on Wikipedia)

The plot line is very noir, in keeping with much of graphic novel tradition.
FELL
Detective Richard Fell is transferred over the bridge from the big city to Snowtown, a feral district whose police roster numbers three-and-a-half people (one detective has no legs). Dumped in this collapsing urban trashzone, Richard Fell is starting all over again. In a place where nothing seems to make any sense, Fell clings to the one thing he knows to be true: Everybody's hiding something. Even him.



This is the first in a week full of #1 issues being brought to readers by Newsarama

Warren Ellis is a noted British graphic novel author, with a fine pedigree, including work at Marvel and the Transmetropolitan series. He is quite active online, moderating various online forums under the moniker "Stalin", and he has a MySpace, LiveJournal and Friendster account.

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I Love Google Video

A response to the Register article which dissed the Video store - some cool clips included

Excerpt:

Google's new video store may lack the sophistication of the AOL Video Hub, yet it is far from being an embarrassment of a video store as The Register would have us believe.

The beauty of this feature lies in its free use of Google bandwidth, where we can upload our own videos and share the movies with millions of people.

read more | digg story

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Blogger's Dictionary

Some samples:
BLOGGER: (1) A diarist in search of an audience. (2) A patient in search of a therapist but unable to pay by the hour.
GOOGLE: Christ or Antichrist, depending upon one's religious predilections.
SEX: An extinct behavior now experienced vicariously on the Internet.

Hilarious

read more | digg story

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Caress


Caress
Originally uploaded by mhatilda.
Visually stunning

Elvis has left the Building


Elvis has left the Building
Originally uploaded by SophieMuc.
The title says it all - that car, the afternoon motor inn feeling - a frisson of delight and memories of a time not lived

Monday, January 09, 2006

Ahmad Kazemi, Top Iranian Commander Killed In Plane Crash

Ahmad Kazemi, the commander of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards Ground Forces and at least ten other senior officers were killed when their plane, a Falcon, crashed near Oroumieh, 900 km north-west of the capital, Tehran, in bad weather conditions.

Reports are that both of the plane's engines failed.

Iran's civil aviation is apparently in poor shape due to US sanctions. Last month, a military transport plane crashed into an apartment building in Tehran, killing 128 people. In 2003, another plane crashed, killing 276 officers and soldiers.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, also known as Sepah or Pasdaran was formed in the revolution of 1979, loyal to the Grand Ayatollah. The Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was a member of the Guard himself. It is 125,000 strong and is considered the designated guardians of the revolution. The href="http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/iran/pasdaran.htm" was intended to protect the Revolution and to assist the ruling clerics in the day-to-day enforcement of the new government's Islamic codes and morality. It maintains a formidable presence in naval, ground, and air operations, although since the 1990s, apparently newer aircraft have gone to the regular Iranian Air Force.

Iran resumed its nuclear projects today as well, following the collapse of talks with Russia, breaking UN seals and announcing the resumption of research activities. Ahmad Kazemi was a friend and ally of the President. He said, in memoriam, the armed forces “must become symbols of resilience and honour by awaiting the return of the Mahdi [the Shiite messiah] and obeying the Supreme Leader”.

Also of note, and related: Iran Calls for Holocaust Conference



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Kunwar Narain, Hindi Poet

From Poetry International,

Born in 1927, Kunwar Narain has been a stalwart presence in the field of Hindi poetry for five decades. Since his first book, Chakravyooh, in 1956, this Delhi-based poet has published five books of poetry, one collection of short fiction, a long narrative poem, three works of literary criticism and several translations of the poetry of writers such as Cavafy, Borges, Mallarme, Walcott, among others.

I just discovered this fine poet, who unfortunately does not have a Wikipedia entry yet.

A few samples:

Description of the Missing One
Wheat-coloured, a peasant’s ways,
scarred brow,
height not under five feet,
talks like he’s never known grief.

Stammering,
if you ask his age, he’ll tell you –
several thousand years, give or take a few . . .
seems crazy, but isn’t.
Has fallen off high places more than once,
and got all broken up, so

looks glued together,
like the map of India.

Another poem will suffice to demonstrate his fine work (all poems from poetryinternational.org, and copyright the poet, Trans from Hindi)

A Shop That Sells Peace

He sells peace in the neighbourhood.
His shop
of loudspeakers
is right next to my house.

I pay him a hundred rupees a month
for not playing the loudspeaker
two hours before sunrise.

He knows that I am
one of those unfortunate people
who cannot live
without peace!

He knows
that in the days to come
peace will be even scarcer
than clean water and clean air.

He knows that
the age of revolutions is over
and in order to fill his stomach
he must sell
peace.

I am grateful to him.
In a country like India
where prices have skyrocketed
a hundred rupees a month
for two hours of peace
is not expensive.

Woot!


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Friday, January 06, 2006

The Starbucks Short Cappucino

Slate provides us the froth on how to have a good Cappucino at Starbucks, everyone's favorite caffeine pusher

The secret - order a "short cappucino" - 8 ounces tall. Apparently,

The World Barista Championship rules, for example, define a traditional cappuccino as a "five- to six-ounce beverage." This is also the size of cappuccino served by many continental cafés. Within reason, the shorter the cappuccino, the better.

The problem with large cappuccinos is that it's impossible to make the fine-bubbled milk froth ("microfoam," in the lingo) in large quantities, no matter how skilled the barista.

Slate goes on to explain the reason for the under-the-radar visibility of the short cappucino, despite it's better taste. Lower price, lower margins on the short cappucino mean the store would rather sell the more 'visible' tall/grande/venti sizes. Giving even more insight in price fixing, the article explains,

"The more market power firms have, the less attractive they make the cheaper products."
The Starbucks fix is addictive, and costly, but only if you're thinking about the price. My favorite Starbucks coffee is the Starbucks misto, better known as the cafe au lait a tall shot of espresso and steamed milk, another item not on the menu that's divine. My wife can't do without her fix of extra-hot Tazo chai - almost the taste of masala chai, desi-style. When I was in China, we searched out avidly for branches of Xing Ba Ke, the Chinese version of Starbucks. Now, one drives 5-6 miles every other day to use the closest Starbucks drive-through.

Such is post-modern price-blind life.




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Desicritics.org Launch

I am pleased to report the following news - the launch of Desicritics, the first franchise site of Blogcritics, the leading source of news and opinion is on January 26,2006.

Eric Olsen, editor and publisher of Blogcritics.org, puts it well,

I am very proud and excited to announce the impending launch of
Desicritics.org, which will be the first Blogcritics.org "franchise" site and will cover media, popular culture, politics, sports and much more with a South Asian focus.

Desicritics.org will be led by Blogcritics.org editor Aaman Lamba, whose perspective, knowledge and experience wonderfully transcend the Western and South Asian milieus.

Desicritics.org will be an English-language online magazine where South Asian bloggers, writers from the diaspora and those simply with an interest in South Asia, can create news, commentary, reviews, and interview content as the basis of a global community where writers and readers alike can interact, inform, discuss, dispute, make purchases, etc. - much as they do now on Blogcritics.org.

The colloquial term for people from South Asia is "desi." This has rich connotations and familiarity for South Asians. In an article about the South Asian party scene in the Big Apple, New York Times reporter Somini Sengupta described the word as a "Hindi version of homeboy or homegirl" (NYT, 6/30/96: "To Be Young, Indian and Hip").

The wave of globalization has increased the visibility and importance of regions like South Asia, but at the same time, the cultural milieu is poorly understood globally and the facts on the ground remain abstract for many. Thus, the insight into the South Asian dynamic afforded by Desicritics.org will be of vital interest across the planet.

We expect to launch on January 26, 2006, with over 50 writers and bloggers of note from the worldwide South Asian blogosphere. Thank you for joining us on this very exciting ride!

Eric Olsen


If you would like to write for desicritics, or contribute in any way, or require information, please email me.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Ariel Sharon - The Clouds Gather

Obituaries are being prepped, knives honed and mourning clothes ironed.

All for a man who exerts as much magnetism on his likely deathbed as he did for a nation still in the process of defining it's identity.

Ariel Sharon may have been a monster or a leader of men, but he was able to embrace paradigm shifts like few leaders have done - shifts that meant the sacrificing of sacred positions as well as the aggression of neighbors to hold fast a dream. The imprisonment of Yasser Arafat may have hastened his end, or it might have been merely the fading of a generation. What lies ahead is as hard to predict as what went before, were one to travel back in time to the birth of the Israeli nation.

The steersman is away from his tiller.
The hyenas are laughing their sinister song
The desert is silent and dark
The old men are encircled in their secret councils
Arik is in his winter retreat
A winter after his enemy went to the sunset land


Worthy of note: Christopher Hitchens's opinions on The Bulldozer
My memoriam to Yasser Arafat last Armistice Day (my first article on blogcritics)
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Press Mentions - Aaman Lamba

It's always nice to be noticed, especially for one's writing. Occasionally, it might be for something one would rather have not written at all.

I received two mentions in the Press recently.

The first was in connection with the unfortunate mining disaster in West Virginia, and the confused reportage around it. Who jumped the gun? Who followed suit? Could it have been avoided? The media and the blogosphere have been abuzz with these and similar questions, which have no easy answers.

Agence-France Presse(AFP) carried a story titled "Fingers pointed at media after tragic twist in US mine disaster" which begins,
The tragic death of 12 workers in a West Virginia mine put the US television and print media in a critical spotlight, following initial reports that the miners had been found alive.

A foggy cocktail of miscommunication and looming deadlines resulted in the morning editions of many major newspapers trumpeting the miners' survival as a "miracle" on their front pages.


The article goes on to describe how the media rushed to print and then correct the news that 12 miners were dead in the accident. It ends with the note,
Other bloggers acknowledged that the media, including Internet-based information gatherers, had been left with a "black eye."

"They rushed to print/e-publish the news -- myself included," admitted Aaman Lamba on blogcritics.org.

"The need and desire to communicate good news very likely obscured good judgment at various levels," Lamba added.


True - I wish it had not happened, but good news has a force its own, and news must out.

A second mention, more comfortingly in this case, came from Slate. In an article reviewing blog coverage of the news, titled "False Hope in Appalachia", the following section was included:

A new five-year plan: Bloggers are also by and large glad Russia and Ukraine reached a five-year deal on natural gas exported to the former Soviet satellite after pipelines to Kiev had been shut down by the Kremlin on Jan. 1. They're casting the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom as the chief villain in the dispute.

One Eyed Cat at the Ukrainian reform-minded Orange Revolution analyzes the energy fracas, with Russian President Vladimir Putin appearing ever more the paper tiger: "Russia is dangerous due to its weakness. They have shown their true face to the west. Western democracies promptly slapped them down. Ukraine, however, is not a free country. The need for reforms is great. The need for energy diversification is now acute. Make no mistake about this, however, Russia declared war on Ukraine and lost."

Aaman Lamba at the multi-interest news roundup site Blogcritics.org isn't so sure. "What was probably overlooked in the battle of the giants was that Gazprom cut off supplies to smaller Moldova as well, demanding a price of $150 per 1000 cubic meters," he observes. "In 2004, Gazprom cut supplies by a day to Belarus, affecting Poland and Germany. Russia may have damaged its reputation as an energy supplier and a fair player in the global community, but in a seller's market, it may be the short-term winner."


Stay tuned!:)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Film Reviews

Reading and writing about films is almost as much fun as watching them, especially for a cineaste. One will expand on this later - just wanted to point to a couple of fine reviews.

Crash, a great film from the 21st century is about race, discrimination, and stereotypes - it is reviewed by Scott Butki.


Alan Dale, a structural film reviewer evaluates and compares Pride & Prejudice and Oliver Twist



Happy trails!

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Energy Wars: Russia Settles Ukraine Gas Dispute

Russian energy giant Gazprom agreed to sell natural gas to Ukraine for a period of five years, ending an energy crisis between the two countries. Russia had cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine on January 1, 2006 after it's ex-Soviet neighbor, the Ukraine refused to accede to a four-fold price increase.

Most nations in Europe were hit hard by the energy supply crunch, and oil prices rose through the world. Oil prices gave back a little way in London on Wednesday. London Brent Crude fell at least 62 cents after rising $2.37 a barrel on Tuesday.

The energy shock brought home many fears of the impending global energy crisis. Oil prices have risen significantly over the last year, and prognosis is not good for the near future.
oil

Naftogaz, Ukraine's energy company will pay $95 per 1,000 cubic meters for natural gas supplies for the next five years, up from $50 under a previous arrangement with Gazprom. Russian ga s will be mixed with cheaper gas supplies from Central Asia to arrive at the pricing level agreed upon by the two countries. Gazprom will sell gas to a joint venture between itself and Austria's Raiffeisen Zentralbank Oesterreich AG for $230 per 1,000 cubic meters. RosUkrEnergo AG, will in turn sell the fuel to Ukraine for $95 per 1,000 cubic meters.

What was probably overlooked in the battle of the giants, was that Gazprom cut off supplies to smaller Moldova as well, demanding a price of $150 per 1000 cubic meters from them. In 2004, Gazprom cut supplies by a day to Belarus, affecting Poland and Germany. Russia may have damaged it's reputation as an energy supplier and a fair player in the global community, but in a seller's market, it may be the short-term winner.

Thus everyone is satisfied, in principle, but the rise in gas prices will doubtless have a ripple, or perhaps, tsunami effect on the rest of the world.

Strange Timestamping

For some odd reason, possibly related to the Performancing plug-in I use to blog, the time-stamps in the stories below are messed up.

I don't know how to fix that in Blogger

Update: I found out it was because Performancing seems to create a new post every time one edits an already published post. There is probably a way to avoid this, but it is poor usability to not have thought through this or made it blindingly obvious.

Oh well.

Anderson Cooper Never Sleeps

Anderson Cooper was reporting at 3 AM live when the tragic news about the mining disaster came out. He is truly dedicated and a true icon

IMHO, CNN is still the best source of news around

Tragic Update: Only One Miner Is Alive, Twelve Dead In West Virginia

Update on the news earlier: tragically, twelve miners are dead in the mining disaster in West Virginia, and only one has survived thus far.

Randall McCloy is alive. All twelve other miners are dead - the families are doubtless devastated.

The media and the blogosphere may have been hasty in breaking the story, but they relied on on-the-ground information, which was apparently based on cell-phone conversations that were inaccurate.

Learnings from this event are manifold, and will take time to emerge.
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Twelve W. Va. Miners Found Alive

Update:
Tragically, only one miner is alive and twelve are dead


In a fortitutious turn of events, the majority of miners in West Virginia who were buried by a mining disaster have been found alive. 12 people are alive, but one miner perished in the explosion, which has caused much 'fingerpointing'.

Mining is at least 43,000 years old. The oldest known mine is the "Lion Cave" in Swaziland, which was a haematite mine, used to produce ochre. Mining disasters are still common even in these safety-conscious times. Barely a year goes by without hearing of mining disasters in the mines of Bihar and West Bengal in India. Often enough, poor safety records of the mines are to blame. Antiquated equipment and uncertain weather are other causes.

Mining disasters have some sort of grotesque horror associated with them - the womb-like terror of being trapped underground is surely a reasonable phobia, and we can easily picture ourselves in the place of the miners, unlike say, other disasters like shipwrecks or volcanic eruptions, which seem cinematic in description.

As the MSHA notes,

Historically, large-scale mine disasters have stirred the fires of reform and provided the impetus for legislation to provide the miner with a safer working place.

Thus, it happened in 1907 when the Fairmont Coal Company's mine at Monongah, West Virginia exploded killing 362 men and boys. Congress reacted to the disaster at Monongah by passing and toughening mining laws.

In 1910, following a decade in which the number of coal mine fatalities exceeded 2,000 annually, Congress established the Bureau of Mines as a new agency in the Department of the Interior. The Bureau was charged with the responsibility to conduct research and to reduce accidents in the coal mining industry.
A celebrated song of the Bee Gees brings home some of the thoughts miners might endure in their tense times underground when things go wrong.

Have you seen my wife, Mr. Jones?
Do you know what it's like on the outside?
Don't go talking too loud, you'll cause a landslide, Mr. Jones.

I keep straining my ears to hear a sound.
Maybe someone is digging underground,
or have they given up and all gone home to bed,

thinking those who once existed must be dead.



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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The New Seven Wonders Shortlist Announced

Benard Weber's New 7 Wonders Organization has been running a worldwide campaign to define the world's top wonders in the modern age. We reported on these New 7 Wonders in blogcritics a year ago in a post which saw many partisans of the Meenakshi Amman temple in Madurai, India. Unfortunately the fans of the Temple were voting on the wrong site.

The organization has announced the shortlist of 21 global landmarks from a series of global votes. This shortlist will now be subject to another year of online voting to select the final New 7 Wonders of the World. The shortlist of landmarks is an inspiring list of fine places to visit:


Only the Great Pyramid of Giza featured in Philon of Byzantium's original list of 7 Wonders of the Ancient World survives today, and is on the shortlist. Agents for the Pyramid could not be reached to comment on it's involvement in the next season of Survivor.

"I believe that after more than 2,000 years it's time to redefine the world wonders," Weber said. "Thanks to internet and the telephone, for the first time in history the whole world can take part in this process."

19 million voters participated in the first round, about .31% of the world's population. All the same, it's an impressive involvement and possibly a harbinger of grassroots democracy. Similar responses were observed in the Miss World 2005 pageant, which saw SMS/online voting.

Voting continues through till January 1,2007, when the final list will be announced. The website for the New 7 Wonders is currently unavailable, as it often is.
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Monday, January 02, 2006

The Blogosphere - Echo Chamber Or Incubator?

The blogosphere has expanded beyond the human noosphere. Like all art, it encompasses the real, the surreal and the unreal. This creates some challenges for it's denizens and those who believe themselves apart.

Dilip D'Souza speculates on how the Watergate story might have transpired in the current time, with blogs, google, et al:

We do things differently now. The first thing we did was, we Googled "Watergate", and guess what? It didn't give us anything much. But we're fixing that fast. What we're doing is, we're mentioning "Republican" and "Watergate" and "bugging" on our blogs, and we're telling every other blogger we know to do the same, then we'll all link to each other's blogs like crazy. Pretty soon, when somebody Googles for Watergate, wham! The first hits they'll get will be ours, and they'll know that the Republicans bugged the place.


He misses the likelihood of the source being traced down and exposed as coming from a fax machine in Middletown, Ohio, with a trail back to the Rove King.

In another column that was widely syndicated and panned, Kathleen Parker recently opined that the blogosphere was best ignored. She noted,
Bloggers persist no matter their contributions or quality, though most would have little to occupy their time were the mainstream media to disappear tomorrow. Some bloggers do their own reporting, but most rely on mainstream reporters to do the heavy lifting. Some bloggers also offer superb commentary, but most babble, buzz and blurt like caffeinated adolescents competing for the Ritalin generation's inevitable senior superlative: Most Obsessive-Compulsive


In another trenchant comment, she noted,
Each time I wander into blogdom, I'm reminded of the savage children stranded on an island in William Golding's "Lord of the Flies." Without adult supervision, they organize themselves into rival tribes, learn to hunt and kill, and eventually become murderous barbarians in the absence of a civilizing structure.


Her sense of historicity should tell her that all human endeavors pass through similar phases of organization - beginning with chaos, then self-determined order, followed by centralization and again, dispersion. The blogosphere has proved remarkably adept at allowing numerous models to co-exist, from the rigid media-controlled blogs and *.cn to the anarchy and community of Xanga, MySpace and digg.com

What the blogosphere has indubitably provided is a channel for the reader to be a writer, nowhere more so than in wiki-style writing, like Wikipedia This might not be a good thing for the establishment, and antidisestablishmentarianists like Kathleen, but for most people, this is manna from communication heaven. The Signal to Noise ratio is decidedly skewed, but one posits no more so that other channels like tabloids, fine art, and television.

The real damning slur against the blogosphere is the low levels of originality generally available. Whether it is the political spectrum or Pretty Ricky, there's not much there that cannot be intuited with a little thought. All the same, many fine ideas and world-changing events have incubated in the blogosphere, and the tide is hopefully turning against big media and their conformist communication rhetoric.

One hopes.

Note: I used Dilip's comments in an earlier post.

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Energy Wars - The Russian Natural Gas Crisis

Carrying through on their threat, Russia cut off natural gas supplies to the Ukraine, after price negotiations fell through. Russia's energy giant, Gazprom wants a quadrupling of prices, which Ukraine has thus far refused.

This has meant a great deal of uncertainty in Europe, since Ukraine is a key conduit to the West, and brought back memories of a dozen war games gone bad in the now halycon days of the Cold War. Russia has also accused Ukraine of diverting gas meant for other countries in Europe, further fueling the crisis.

Several European countries have reported problems and looming shortages in the low days of winter. Hungary, Slovakia and Norway are all facing a crunch. President Viktor Yushchenko flatly contradicted Moscow's claim that gas from the Central Asian republic was no longer reaching his country via Russian pipelines.

The Ukraine's other key gas supplier is Turkmenistan. Most countries like Germany and the UK are not taking sides in the gas war, possibly due to fears of retaliation. Germany imports 35 per cent of its total natural gas from Russia.

The cut-off of Russian gas to Ukraine was not an overnight decision. Russia's state-owned Gazprom wants Ukraine to immediately start paying normal market prices for natural gas. Critics of the Kremlin relate this fracas to the Orange Revolution of 2004, which aspired to take Ukraine out of the sphere of Russian/Putin influence. Ukraine is heavily dependent on Russian energy supplies, and it's GDP has fallen signficantly since 1991. There has been significant economic growth in the 21st century, primarily due to steel exports to China. Ukraine de-nuclearized post the Soviet Union, the only country, apart from South Africa to have done so.

Natural Gas is the next battlefield in the global energy war. The biggest natural gas field is located in Urengoy, Russia, with a reserve of 170 TCF, In comparison, the next largest gas field is probably the Slochteren in the Netherlands, with 66 TCF. The rise in oil prices has made natural gas seem attractive, but it remains to be seen which is the lesser of the two evils.

Science Fiction Worth Reading

Infinite Matrix goes out of business this week, and leaves us behind much fine reading, including a short story by Rudy Rucker, Cory Doctorow, Robert Sheckley (!) and upcoming stuff from William Gibson, Charlie Stross, and more. Additional sci-fi to read: The latest issue of Futurismic

Also, Emerald City's December issue gives us opinions like "Literary Fiction For People Who Hate Literary Fiction", reviews of "The Cuckoo Boys", "An Occupation of Angels", and "Demon Download". Also from emcit, a thought on the recent Narnia walk-out of the WTO trade talks, reported here

the interesting question is, if Aslan really is Jesus, does this mean that He’s fed up of being bullied by Dubya?
Samit Basu's new book, "The Manticore's Secret" is out in India, and doing well, one hears. It is a sequel to "The Simoqin Prophecies"

My own shelf is pretty packed. In the science fiction realm, I'm currently reading Harry Turtledove's "Drive To The East" and have Kim Stanley Robinson's books, Ashok Banker's stuff and a couple more queued up.

Chris Muir's Cartoons - America's common man

Chris Muir can be mostly relied on to produce a laugh or two, albeit a wry one, with trenchant social relevance. In this sense, he is like R K Laxman, India's common-man cartoonist. Today's cartoon by Chris Muir is one such apt reference to current events.

Of course, he is not the first or the only fine cartoonist America has to offer. Cartoonists are like poets in various ways. They are available on almost every street-corner, appeal to the emotions rather than the intellect, and very few of them make it big. Did I mention most are almost penniless?

Ah well, it's always good to begin the day with a laugh


Sunday, January 01, 2006

A Miilion Dollars Worth Of Pixels

Alex Tew literally has a million dollar homepage.

He has been selling ad space on this webpage in 10x10 pixel blocks for a dollar per pixel. He is doing this for no reason other than to not have to take out student loans, send his parents on holiday, and get a decent pair of socks. The usual cabal of shysters and gimballed inhabitants of the Internets like poker sites, car salesmen and dating services has snapped up space for no reason other than because it is there. The site is ostensibly marketed as a time capsule for the Internet. He has seen an Alexa rank of upto 127, a Google PageRank of 7, and much publicity.
milliondollar
As part of this gimmick, he is now auctioning the last 1000 pixels on eBay UK, open only to pre-registered bidders. Bidding is up to approximately $1825 and there are nine days left in the auction.

Various imitators have sprung up in this hopefully short-lived genre of internet publicity. Altruistic critics opine that this could be an innovative way of raising money for worthwhile causes like poverty, hunger, or dinner with Paris Hilton. One man's meat is another's poison, and as the history of advertising proves, if one builds a billboard, it will be sold.

Technically speaking, advertisers are buying less than a pixel each. Since most browsers will be visiting with their phasers set to stun, and their resolution at between 800x600 and 1024x768, the most common set of pixels visible will be between 480000 and 786432. Thus some of the advertisers will be squeezed into a smaller space. Further, as most people who have bought a digital camera know, a megapixel is the unit of measurement, which is commonly considered one million pixels, although it is actually 1048576 pixels. A relevant essay is "A Pixel Is Not A Little Square" by Microsoftie and graphics pioneer Alvy Ray Smith.

If you've got a penny, I can sell you a pixel on my web-page. I promise to nurture it. That pixel could be worth at least two dozen CNN pixels in a few years.

The Onion's Top Ten Stories of 2005

#1. Bush Elected President of Iraq.
Bush, who surged in the polls after all of the other candidates were killed by either coalition forces or insurgents in the final week leading up to the election, characterized his victory as the dawn of democracy in the Middle East, and proof that the system works.

...
#3 Pope Died As He Lived, Propped Up For Public Viewing
...
#6 Prince Charles Weds Longtime Horse
"Her Majesty is happier still to announce that the new Duchess Of Cornwall possesses a strong carriage, healthy teeth, and an unimpeachable bloodline." Following the ceremony, the reclusive couple retreated to the Birkhall Estate near Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where they celebrated their new union by posing for photographs and going for a brisk trot in the courtyard.

...
#9 White House Celebrates Fifth Straight Year Without Oral Sex
"I can assure that no one—including myself, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, 'Scooter' Libby, or Condi Rice—has been the recipient, or provider, of the kind of unnatural, depraved, and frankly gross sexual act that, not too long ago, disgraced this office in the eyes of the world." Bush was then joined on stage by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and Tom DeLay to cut a perfectly square, frostingless vanilla cake made especially for the occasion.


And So It Goes

read more | digg story

More Satire choices at blogcritics
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Watergate - The Blog

Dilip D'Souza speculates on how the Watergate story might have transpired in the current time, with blogs, google, et al

We do things differently now. The first thing we did was, we Googled "Watergate", and guess what? It didn't give us anything much. But we're fixing that fast. What we're doing is, we're mentioning "Republican" and "Watergate" and "bugging" on our blogs, and we're telling every other blogger we know to do the same, then we'll all link to each other's blogs like crazy. Pretty soon, when somebody Googles for Watergate, wham! The first hits they'll get will be ours, and they'll know that the Republicans bugged the place.
He misses the likelihood of the source being traced down and exposed as coming from a fax machine in Middletown, Ohio, with a trail back to the Rove King. (Tip-off: Desipundit)

Burritos, Hunger, and Taurean Men

Elsa gives us a brief and interesting anecdote about greed, lust and food

I ordered the vegetarian burrito, and he ordered the chicken. I saw
him very slightly raise his eyebrow at me and I knew he was thinking I
lacked taste.

So our food was served and mine was twice as big as his. I saw the
shock and horror cross his face before he was able to collect and
console himself. I could tell what he was thinking too, that surely his
would be more flavorful.




Read on.

Narnia And Faux News - WTO Talks

Writing, Freedom And Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow becomes a full time writer today. As someone who has at least flirted with the thought, it is a tempting one, and scary, as Cory notes. He also talks about the Electronic Frontier Foundation and their role as 'canaries in a coal mine'. He will be a Fellow of the EFF, a role that should see greater involvement in critical e-freedom issues.


So what am I going to be doing now that I don't have a day-job? Well
for starters, I'm going to be getting a full night's sleep every night.
I'm going to stop travelling three weeks a month. I'm going to join the
gym and get the hundred and a half household chores I've neglected
while working three full-time jobs for the past two years done. I'm
going to get a checkup and have my teeth x-rayed. All that overdue
stuff I've put off and put off and put off.


Most importantly, though: I'm going to write. More
blog posts, and longer ones. I have three novellas in the pipe. I'm
tripling the pace of work on Themepunks, my fourth novel, and plan to
have it in the can by early spring. I'm going to do a fix-up novel with
Charlie Stross, completing our "Huw" stories (Jury Service and Appeals
Court) and publishing them between covers. My podcast is going thrice
weekly. I've got articles in production for a bunch of magazines and
websites.

Feel the force! It is strong! The writing force - methinks this muse is the most powerful, or is it Clio? Good luck, Cory.


Performancing For Firefox - Blogging Plugin

I love Performancing for Firefox It's a plug-in to allow you to do blogposts whereever you are - better than Flock.

There are a few problems even with this plug-in - cryptic errors when one tries to publish sometimes. These may be due to the ATOM API, apparently.


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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader