Thursday, March 27, 2008

Tata Buys Jaguar & Landrover - Is the Deal Ok?

Tata's deal with Ford has many skeptics. For one, what will be the effect of looming global economic downturn on the market? Then there is the troubled history of UK auto industry - particularly the labor trouble. While on one hand whole nation (except, perhaps the stock markets) felt jubilant after the deal, real success of the deal will hinge on how skillfully Tata's balance the demands of changing economic situations and demands of profitability. Read a Fortune story about the deal below. The story is aptly named 'Tata buys into 40 years of trouble'.
Tata also doesn’t seem all that concerned about instant profits – just as he doesn’t expect instant returns from the tiny Nano car he hopes to launch by year’s end. Instead, he is expected to use the brands and their U.K. plants, executives and labor to help build Tata Motors, which had $7.2 billion sales in fiscal 2007, into a global car company. He’s been on this mission for several years, buying Britain’s Tetley Tea in 2000, a Korea-based Daewoo truck plant in 2004 and steel giant Corus (previously British Steel) last year. Ratan Tata’s hands-off ownership could win him crucial support as he tries to fold the Jaguar and Land Rover brands into Tata. Mark Norbom, the head of General Electric in Japan, wrote recently in the Financial Times about the importance of the “soft side” of a takeover deal. The “look in the eyes that (the buying) company is worthy” has special value, said Norbom, and is something that “does not come naturally to the typical western-trained dealmaker.” Well, it seems to come naturally to Tata and his people. It was evident in the Corus deal, and it seems to be at work again in their Jaguar and Land-Rover plans. This could, of course, mean that Tata is seen - especially by British trade union leaders - as a soft option who will let workforces carry on as usual. Land Rover has had three years of record sales for Tata to build on. But there’s no telling how long the status quo can last, especially if demand slackens in the United States and elsewhere and Ratan Tata has to institute cutbacks at the luxury car makers.


Riding the Elephant Tata buys into 40 years of trouble «

Used-Car Bargain - Economist
(Update to original post)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

French Stereotypes...Funny Article

Every nation has some peculiar characteristics which sound very funny when looked from outside. This is a very good and funny article in NY Times - well written by Elaine Sciolino. One peculiar characteristic of French people is the love for anniversaries; then there is the the 'french' kiss. Read On...
No anniversary is too minor to celebrate. In my time here, France has marked the 20th anniversary of France’s sinking of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior, the 200th anniversary of the high school baccalaureate diploma, the 60th anniversary of the bikini and the 100th anniversary of the brassiere. For the 100th anniversary of her birth in January, Simone de Beauvoir was celebrated with half a dozen biographies, a DVD series, a three-day scholarly symposium and a cover of the magazine Le Nouvel Observateur with a nude photo of her from the back.


A Guide to the French. Handle With Care. - New York Times

Cricket!!!


Cricket!!!
Originally uploaded by ganeshkulkarni
This is actually a play ground meant for Hockey - the white banner in background says so. But this also happens to be India - where Cricket rules hearts of people

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Wall Street Online 30 Days Trial? Sleeping Webmasters...

Today when I tried to visited Wall Street Journal's website - WSJOnline.com, I was presented to this page...To my surprise, it offered 30 days free access to WSJOnline.com's premium content.


When I clicked on the link, this was the page -


What's this?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Governance 2.0 - Wiki Way of Governance

Stanford Law Professor Larry Lessig Bets 'Wikipedia' Approach Will Transform Congress | Wired.com
Lessig, known for his decade-long role in trying to loosen the entertainment industry's vice-like grip on popular culture by shaping copyright law, is betting that the energy and dissatisfaction exhibited by voters against the status-quo in Washington DC, and the emergence of collaborative software that enables vast numbers of geographically-dispersed citizens to become politically active on their own schedule, will enable a new kind of transparency and accountability in political campaigns. "The problem we face is ... the problem of crony capitalism using money to capture government," he said on Monday during the launch of his project in Washington, DC. "The challenge is whether in fact we can change this. The political experts tell you that it can't be done, that process always win over substance." Lessig and Joe Trippi hope that their project will bring the beginnings of this change by getting voters to challenge their members of congress to commit to Change Congress' four pledges. The project will rely on engaged voters to record and map both the responses by, and the positions of candidates who are running for open seats. The idea is to make what seems like an abstract idea visually tangible through a Google mash-up. The professor wants legislators to promise to do four things which he says will reduce the influence of money on policymaking: To promise not to accept money from lobbyists and political action committees; support public financing of elections; commit to passing legislation to permanently ban the funneling of money to their districts' projects of questionable worth; and to commit to "compel transparency in the functioning of congress." Candidates can signal their intentions to take any one or all of the pledges by filling out a form at the organization's web site, which then formulates code that provides a graphic that the candidates can then place on their election campaign web sites. The Change Congress project hopes that citizens will track congressional candidates' positions on these issues by reporting on them at the web site.


Will this effort have real impact on governance? Or, will it have only a symbolic or pressure group like effect?
Would this kind of effort be successful in India?

Change Congress Homepage
More news about Larry Lessig

Indian Premier League Fever


Cricket in India: Moving Into a League of Its Own - India Knowledge@Wharton
"Yes, priorities have changed for a segment of the population," says Sridhar Samu, professor of marketing at the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad. Adds Bamzai: "Cricket today is a metaphor for change." According to Ashish Kaul, executive vice-president of the Indian Cricket League (ICL), a rival to IPL: "We as a country have reached a stage where entertainment is a basic necessity and not a leisure activity. Cricket is the lowest common denominator of this country and perhaps the largest entertainer."

Corporate India -- in the form of the new cricket leagues -- will give the fans all the change they want. The game in its Twenty20 format has metamorphosed a great deal from its traditional five-day test match version. The first innovation -- the 50-over-a-side, one-day variety -- offended the purist; Twenty20, for them, is sheer slam-bam. But so what? "People anyway watch only the last 20 overs of a one-day match," says Modi. "We are giving them concentrated cricket, concentrated entertainment."

The franchisees are working overtime to ensure that the new format works. In Hyderabad, Deccan Chronicle is talking about hiring special trains to bring in fans from the hinterland. The train ride will be an experience in itself, with marketing men salivating at the thought of such a focused and captive audience, which also has time on its hands during the journey. In Kolkata, Shah Rukh Khan is planning a special women's stand, while he makes the occasional guest appearance. Meanwhile, the Delhi team has hired an Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad) alumnus, a 45-year-old former colonel in the Indian Army, as assistant vice-president (operations). Corporatization and professionalization are clearly the watchwords of the day.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Open Source Trouble at Wikipedia?

Until recently, however, Wikipedia was run more like a storefront community center than a digital-age powerhouse. What was a nine-person operation — a top 10 Web site had a paid staff of less than 10 — has just recently grown to a 15-person operation. Last year’s $2.2 million budget grew to $4.6 million this year.

“A surprising number of people don’t even know it is a nonprofit,” Ms. Gardner said. “They say, ‘How do they make their money, anyway?’ They assumed there were ads or some other way.” In fact, the project relies on fund-raisers, and its latest one, Ms. Gardner said, received donations from 45,000 individuals, with a $30 average contribution.

Mr. Wales and the board of the Wikimedia Foundation have tried to professionalize the project, moving its offices from St. Petersburg, Fla., to San Francisco, to be near the talent, entrepreneurial spirit and wealth of Silicon Valley. The board of seven trustees, made up of appointed and elected members including Mr. Wales, has brought in new administrators, beginning with Ms. Gardner, a former journalist who had run the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s Web site.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dollar Bleeds Indian IT - BPO Industry

The Indian success story in ITES was, according to me, a major factor that boosted the confidence levels of Indian business captains. The revenues of IT companies, their liberal HR policies were talk of the nation for a long time. But this is going to change - if the US Dollar downfall continue. Lot of my engineering batchmates were employed in biggies like Infosys and Wipro, and were paid hefty pay-packages for doing nothing. I came to know later that it is a common practice in IT companies whereby they inflate their manpower strength and win contracts. These people were called benchers. Literally, many of them do not have a permanent place to sit in the company premises. But this is going to change now. Not that they will be having permanent place to sit; These benchers will not exist now on, thanx to weakening grip of US Dollar. Indian software firms mostly depend upon US software exports and US Dollar weakening means that the value of exports to US and hence the profits are going to suffer. First blood in this gloom will be of the benchers. read this Times of India story -
It looks like many more technology professionals and BPO executives are going to be pink-slipped this year. Companies normally ask around 10% of their bottom-level performers to quit after appraisals every year. But this year, the rupee appreciation and the widely expected US recession are likely to push this number up to 20%-25%.

Several providers are being told by their clients overseas to cut employee-cost, which has increased by 15% to 20% in the last 18 months. Enterprises are also being pushed to cut drastically or eliminate their bench-sitters. In other words, the industry is clearly heading towards a forced-attrition regime.

''You can't actually term it as downsizing. It will be an overall rationalization exercise, wherein we will also get rid of benches. Every corporate action is dictated by market dynamics,'' said the president (HR) of a leading IT firm.

Global banks have been writing-off billions of dollars due to the sub-prime crisis. Other clients have started cutting or cancelling contracts. Consequently, domestic IT providers are already tightening their belts. Expenditure towards travel, employee entertainment including outing and dinners, birthday/wedding anniversary gifts/vouchers, reward programmes, free holidays and phone calls have already come under the scanner.
More pink-slips for techies this year-India Business-Business-The Times of India

Another great coverage about US Dollar downfall comes from Reuters. Read it here.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Human-Computer Interaction to Get Revolutionised



Here are links to 3 BBC articles which talk about the new & revolutionary ways of human-machines interaction -

Has touch technology come of age?
Technology is going touchy-feely as products appear which threaten to replace the humble mouse with finger-touch computing...

Brain control headset for gamers
Gamers will soon be able to interact with the virtual world using their thoughts and emotions alone.
A neuro-headset which interprets the interaction of neurons in the brain will go on sale later this year...

Beyond the keyboard and mouse
Earlier this week the front page of the Austin Chronicle featured a picture of the band the Guitar Zeros - a group of musicians who perform using hacked versions of the Guitar Hero video game controller.
It's an extreme example of how popular the game and it's guitar style interface have become.

"It's pretty amazing we took something that was real and made it fake and they took something fake and made it real" said Kai Huang, CEO of RedOctane who created the game.

But while games like Guitar Hero and the Nintendo Wii are exploring new kinds of kinetic interface, in our work lives most of us are stuck with the Qwerty keyboard and the computer mouse: inventions that date back 134 years and 24 years respectively.


Photo originally published on Daily Galaxy.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Citydwellers or Citizens?

Urbanisation has been a subject of constant interest to me. Now since half of the world will be urban by 2025 - as par an UN report, Urbanisation and urban centres escalate on the agenda of policymakers and on to the public conscious. I live in Pune, a city which is on verge of becoming the new IT destination of India. With a network of quality educational institutes, large student population, good traditions, and nearness to Mumbai, Pune is expanding at an explosive rate (the best indicator of a city's growth is the property rates - in Pune, the rates have quadrupled in a short span of 3 years!). But, on the other hand, the infrastructure issues in Pune are rising at an unbelievable rate. Traffic, housing & pollution are the case in point. I won't say as to what is ailing Pune...it's the burgeoning population, an easy guess. Rather, I would say 'what can change this situation?'. The answer for me is the citizens. However, in city, you 'dwell' not 'live'. My thoughts are echoed in this well-thought article in Live Mint. The writer is Ramesh Ramnathan.
However, while these debates about infrastructure, public transport, water and sanitation, affordable housing, environment and urban planning are critical, they miss one key ingredient: the identity of the urban citizen.Our urban centres do not have an essential rooting, an organic connection between the urban citizen and the city she lives in.Examples abound: There is no mechanism to stop the illegal violation of the neighbourhood park, no system to prevent the neighbour’s residence from being converted into a hospital that could soon dump toxic waste in the storm drains, no opportunity to participate in decisions on local development, no grass-roots answer to manage the voter roll errors which are upwards of 50%, no space to even vent one’s frustrations.While the urban resident can see herself as a producer of urban goods and services, or as a consumer of urban comforts, she cannot so easily see herself as a citizen.These gaps exist for everyone, even for those working in government. Be it a Supreme Court judge, a cabinet secretary or an employee of the railways, they know all about the empty edifice of citizenry and often come to terms with their civic emasculation by leveraging their positions and titles. Even for the elite, this same sense of disconnection prevails: the industrialists, the writers, the media, the film-makers, the intellectuals, and even the activists. None of us can individually survive in the city without the coping mechanisms that our particular position offers us—our networks, our identities. Strip away these identities, and the hollow shell of citizenry provides cold comfort. Imagine if this is true for the “empowered” urban Indian, what it could be doing to the 35% and more of the urban dwellers who are the urban poor. They are twice forsaken, once because of their state, and once by the state.
A second-class citizen - livemint
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Monday, March 10, 2008

India's economy | What's holding India back? | Economist.com

But over the past 15 years it has been transformed into a far more powerful beast. Its companies have become worldbeaters. Without India's strength, the world economy would have had far less to boast about.Click here to find out more!Sadly, this achievement is more fragile than it looks. Many things restrain India's economy, from a government that depends on Communist support to the caste system, power cuts and rigid labour laws. But an enduring constraint is even more awkward: a state that makes a big claim on a poor country's resources but then uses them badly.
India's economy | What's holding India back? | Economist.com

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Last surviving U.S. World War I veteran - CNN.com

Soon, he was deployed to war and headed overseas on the Carpathia -- the same ship used in the rescue mission of the Titanic.art.buckles.cnn.jpgWorld War I veteran Frank Buckles entered the Army at age 15. "I didn't lie," he said with a laugh this week.Click to view previous image1 of 4Click to view next imageHe drove ambulances in Britain and France for soldiers wounded during World War I.A few decades later, Buckles was in the Philippines as a civilian, on December 7, 1941, the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. He was taken as a prisoner of war for 39 months in Manila, eating his meals out of a single tin cup.More than 60 years later, he still clings to that cup, the one that sustained his life. Weathered with age, the cup has flecks of white paint chipped off. He keeps it as a reminder of his sacrifice for the country he so loves. He also still has his dog tags.At age 107, there's not much the war veteran, POW and West Virginia farmer hasn't seen. But this week, this quietly accomplished man was humbled.Buckles, the last known surviving World War I U.S. veteran, met the president of the United States and received a standing ovation at the Pentagon.
Last surviving U.S. World War I vet honored by president - CNN.com

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Commision for Excellence - Students are Human Resources Too...

Declining standards of education have always been a cause of worry for educators and parents world over. In countries like India, the classrooms crammed with children and non-performing teachers is a regular feature (apart from teacher absenteeism in rural and remote areas). 'How to make the teachers perform?' is the question of the millennium for policy-makers. One simple to imagine way-out can be incentivising the teachers for good performance. If the passed students' percentage is above mark, then the teacher becomes eligible for bonus. In USA, the educators are playing with a new idea - kind of idea which seems simple enough only after you hear it. Why not incentivise the performing students? This is actually a natural corollary of bonuses for teachers. If my students are performing well and if it is due to them that I am getting bonus (after all even after a dedicated teacher, a spoilt child can spoil the spoils!), why not passing on the benefits? The issues involved will come to fore only as time passes, but...read on this NYTimes piece about an innovation -
If students show marked improvement on state tests during the school year, each teacher at Public School 188 could receive a bonus of as much as $3,000.School districts nationwide have seized on the idea that a key to improving schools is to pay for performance, whether through bonuses for teachers and principals, or rewards like cash prizes for students. New York City, with the largest public school system in the country, is in the forefront of this movement, with more than 200 schools experimenting with one incentive or another. In more than a dozen schools, students, teachers and principals are all eligible for extra money, based on students’ performance on standardized tests.

Each of these schools has become a test to measure whether, as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg posits, tangible cash rewards can turn a school around. Can money make academic success cool for students disdainful of achievement? Will teachers pressure one another to do better to get a schoolwide bonus?

So far, the city has handed out more than $500,000 to 5,237 students in 58 schools as rewards for taking several of the 10 standardized tests on the schedule for this school year. The schools, which had to choose to participate in the program, are all over the city.“I’m not saying I know this is going to fix everything,” said Roland G. Fryer, the Harvard economist who designed the student incentive program, “but I am saying it’s worth trying. What we need to try to do is start that spark.”Nationally, school districts have experimented with a range of approaches. Some are giving students gift certificates, McDonald’s meals and class pizza parties. Baltimore is planning to pay struggling students who raise their state test scores.

Critics of these efforts say that children should be inspired to learn for knowledge’s sake, not to earn money, and question whether prizes will ultimately lift achievement. Anticipating this kind of argument, New York City was careful to start the student experiment with private donations, not taxpayer money, avoiding some of the controversy that has followed the Baltimore program, which uses public money.
Next Question: Can Students Be Paid to Excel? - New York Times

Zen Habits interview with Stephen Covey

Zen Habits is one blog which churns out most useful content day after day. Mainly focussed on welbeing and productivity, this blogs is one of the best and most useful resources on this subject for a common man. Recently, Zen Habits interviewed Stephen Covey, the famous writer of '7 Habits of Highly Effective People'. Here is one answer which I liked very much (especially, the quote - "The greatest battles of life are fought out every day in the silent chambers of one’s own soul."). Read on -
ZH: To give us some insight into your life, what is your typical morning routine on a work day, that incorporates some of your principles into your everyday life?Covey: I make an effort every morning to win what I call the “private victory.” I work out on a stationary bike while I am studying the scriptures for at least 30 minutes. Then I swim in a home pool vigorously for 15 minutes, then I do yoga in a shallow part of the pool for 15 minutes. Then I go into my library and pray with a listening spirit, listening primarily to my conscience while I visualize the rest of my entire day, including important professional activities and key relationships with my loved ones, working associates and clients. I see myself living by correct principles and accomplishing worthy purposes. One of my favorite quotes is, “The greatest battles of life are fought out every day in the silent chambers of one’s own soul.” (David O. McKay) Much of this listening and visualizing work is very challenging, so I win the private victory when I have made my mind up and commit to live by correct principles and to serve worthy purposes.
Zen Habits
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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Putin Out - Medvedev In (Putin In)

When Vladimir Putin came to power, on New Year’s Eve, 1999, we learned that he was a judo expert, that he had a poodle named Toska, and that his grandfather had been a cook for Lenin. But the most salient fact about him was that he was a career K.G.B. agent. And, in eight years as President of the Russian Federation, Putin has been as true to his school as any Old Etonian. According to Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a well-regarded sociologist in Moscow, who studies the biographies of the Russian √©lites, Putin has filled the leadership ranks with former officials from the K.G.B. and the F.S.B. As he once told an assembly of officers at Lubyanka, “There is no such thing as a former agent.”The most salient fact about Medvedev is not that he will have been elected by the Russian people to be their President but that he was selected by Putin to be his junior partner. Medvedev, of course, understands his role. In the speech in which he announced his candidacy, he thrilled the spies, bureaucrats, and corporate barons who depend on Putin for their status and their wealth by declaring that, if, perchance, he was lucky enough to win, he would make Putin his prime minister. It was at that moment that Dmitry Medvedev became five feet three.
Smoke on the Water: Comment: The New Yorker

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Economics of IPL - The Indian Premier League

While searching on Internet for the economics of IPL (the Indian Premier League, which is roughly modelled on EPL and NBA), I found this wonderful article in Deccan Herald. Read On -
How much BCCI will earn?
* The bidders pay only 10 per cent of the price they offered to buy each team, which means Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Group needs to pay a little over Rs36 crore for the first year, with similar amounts for the next 10 years.
* Of the total Rs 2,894 crore bid amount for the eight teams, the board will get about Rs288 crore each year.
* The Board also earns money raised from the sale of TV rights (Rs 4,000 crore put up by Sony and World Sports Group). That amount is also to be paid over 10 years.
How do the franchisees make money?
* Of the amount raised as TV rights each year, approximately 60 percent is distributed among the eight franchise owners as their income from TV rights.
* The franchisee also gets gate collection money; can raise further revenue from logos on T-shirts,merchandising and other promotions.
How much do teams earn?
* The tournament, involving teams based in eight cities, will be held in eight cities under floodlights for 44 days beginning April 18. The prize money will be approximately Rs 16 crore.
* Each team will play 14 matches, seven at home and seven away.
What’s in it for the players?
* The auction money may range from a few lakhs to a few crores. For example the Icon Players -- Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh -- will get 10 to 15 per cent more than the other highest paid players.
* Minimum salary to be paid for a player around Rs 8 lakh per year with a contract of minimum of three years. The salary can shoot up to Rs 1.6 crore (Shane Warne’s reported fee).
* Even Anil Kumble, who has retired from the shorter version of the game, will get around Rs 1 crore. Harbhajan Singh too will cost around while Irfan Pathan will be cheaper by around Rs 30 lakh. The T20 stars like Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag will cost a neat Rs 80 lakh.* Players can also earn from individual endorsements deals.
Deccan Herald - On super highway to super power

Also see the details of auction of players here.

Monday, March 3, 2008

China to Change One-Child Policy?

Taking clues from the Malthusian logic, China successfully enacted the One-Child policy to control the burgeoning population. However, over the years, this compulsion is showing more ill-effects than the benefits. There is a news that China is muling over a change in this policy. May be China look at her neighbor - India. In India, sometime ago there was a debate as to how to reign in India's population growth. India took the route of non-coercive policy measures for achieving the same result. In India, the process of slowing down population growth is painfully slow - it relies more on public education, awareness creation and most importantly woman empowerment. However, one benefit of this slow progress is that there is a lot of progressive fine tuning happens and this is beneficial in long run. Anyways, China is now waking up to the unintended consequences of a coercive regime. Read on...
"Under the current mandate, Beijing limits most urban couples to one child and rural couples to two to conserve scarce resources. Critics say the policy has led to forced abortions, sterilisations and a dangerously unbalanced sex ratio due to a traditional preference for male heirs that has prompted countless families to abort female foetuses.Southern China's Hunan province has had nearly 1,400 cases in the past three years involving illegal use of ultrasound to determine a foetus sex and abortions of female foetuses, the government's Xinhua News Agency reported.More than 1,100 people received party discipline or administrative punishment, the report said. Seventy-five doctors lost their licences.Potential changes in the family planning policy also stem from concerns about China's aging population, with those aged 60 or older expected to top 200 million by 2015 and 280 million by 2025, according to the government."
China reviewing one-child policy - World - smh.com.au

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Is Indian BPO Inductry Losing Its Sheen?

Sramana Mitra thinks so. In her Forbes article she has focused on the thinning competitive advantage that India has in terms of lower wages. She predicts that by 2015, this wage difference will disappear and so will be the BPO's in India. Interestingly, she doesn't talk about the quality of workforce in India. Combined with lower wages, the highly qualified taskforce is India's competitive edge; not lower wages alone. That's the reason why India is moving from BPO to KPO (Knowledge Processed Outsourcing). However one thing is sure that in India we do have Infosys and Wipro's but India still does not have Microsoft & Google & SAP. Barring Zoho, I don't see a single Indian company which is into products.
Read on the original piece -
"Forbes recently published some scary statistics on wage inflation in India. (See "Indian Employees Enjoying Swift Pay Hikes.") Salaries rose 15.1% in 2007, up from 14.4% the previous year. The 2008 forecast: 15.2%. This would be the fifth consecutive year of salary growth above 10%.Add to that the appreciation of the rupee against the weakening dollar, and its impact on the labor arbitrage market.Is the death of Indian outsourcing all that far off?Assuming a 15% year-to-year salary hike rate, and a 2007 cost advantage of 1:3 in favor of India, if U.S. wages remain constant, India’s cost advantage disappears by 2015. Then what?"
The Coming Death Of Indian Outsourcing - Forbes.com