Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Indian Foreign policy

Recently read this interesting article in the Reuters blog. It got me thinking about the challenges that Indian government is gonna be facing in the years to come. We need a strong foreign policy. It is time, we move on from free TVs to how to tackle china. I strongly believe, that India should take a leading role in the world. Afterall, we are one of the worlds fastest developing country. Unlike china, the growth of India is completely internal. We dont have a bunch of smart technocratic geniuses working in our capital for the betterment of the country. (Maybe we can hope to see that in the next 5 years) 

We badly need a foreign policy(I dont think we have one, except for a policy towards Pakistan. On a side note, i recently read, the Pakistan government has 64 nukes pointed directly at India) Pakistan is completely unstable now. No doubts there. They have a nuclear weapons programme that gets constant support from the people and the government. I dont think Pakistan people and the politicians get the idea that India is lot bigger now to worry only about Pakistan. 

Last few weeks, we have been getting Time Magazine in our home. Though you can read all the articles for free online, nothing beats reading the real magazine itself. On average, you can see  2 articles in every issue of Time about Pakistan. People in the west are really scared about Pakistan and most importantly about its nukes. US is already in too much trouble. Add to that the Pakistan nuke problem, Iran's Ahmadinejad and N.Korea's Kim Jong-il. The press is going crazy. 

My worry is this. Pakistan is getting so much support in terms of money, weapons and technology from the US for the time being. I dont wanna comment on the imminent threat that might post to the Indian stability. But I feel that the Indian government shuould be ready to tackle the military nightmare this advancement can pose in the later years. Indian army is one of the biggest in the world, with respect to manpower. But not in terms of technology. We are still far behind. The number of nukes, air-craft carriers, submarines we have can be counted. That is not a good thing. 

In every possible aspect, India should focus on how the future is going to be. I mean the future 10-20 years down the line. We are not a small under-developed third world nation anymore. With the US, Europe in shambles, it is time, we and other BRIC nations take responsibility in the global stage. 

It seems like China is already ready to do that. Their relations with many countries are constantly improving. China is funding billions to other nations, including countries in Africa and srilanka. They are constantly voicing their opinions against the Americans. Chinese premier recently called on to create a new currency that will replace the green back. Do you know what will happen, if that was made possible? With people dumping the US dollar, the dollar exchange rate will go down and the US government wont be able to afford anything, let alone the bailouts. 

And one more strategic thing is that, the Americans are getting more dependent on China and its exports. Add this to the fact that Pakistan is also getting close to the americans. Given this scenario, there is a very high probability that India could be left out. 

The new congress government should ensure this doesnt happen. They have enough smart people in the cabinet and hopefully they should realize what India should become in the future and act accordingly.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Project Madurai

For people who dont know about Project Madurai, here is the wiki page that gives all the information. Click here to go to their home page. In short, it is a project aimed at using the power of internet to spread the greatest language in the world, Tamil. (I am a Tamilian, what do you expect?) Greatness of Tamil cant be discribed in few paragraphs. Tamil manuscripts were recently discovered in Egypt and the inscriptions date back to 1st century BC. One of the oldest languages in the world is under threat. UNESCO lists Tamil as one of the few languages that could vanish in 50 years(source - Ananda vikatan). 

People gotta understand. Noone is forcing you to abandon English. Learn English, learn chinese, but not at the expense of Tamil. I recall a recent argument in Neeya Naana, where there were few tamilians who were born and brought up in Tamil Nadu, who sincerely felt, learning tamil was a waste of time. I was seriously upset, that there are people who find their own culture and language to be inferior. If you dont respect yourself and your culture, how will a third person respect you?

The project was started and supported by the Tamilians living abroad, not the people in Tamil Nadu who call themselves தமிழ் தாயின் புதல்வன். If you check the list of people who have contributed for the project, there are loads of people from the US, UK, etc. I also saw few professors from NUS including Dr. Ulrike Niklas, and prof Thinnappan, from the faculty of arts. And ya, Dr. Ulrike Niklas is not from Tamil Nadu. I am really impressed.

All the so called Sons of tamilnadu, please re think your strategy to save our mother tongue. Naming lousy tamil movies in Tamil is not going to spread Tamil.

Check out the list of the books that are available in pdf format. It ranges from agananooru, purananooru up until Jeyakanthan sirukathaigal. Only one thing is missing. If someone would take time in explaining the old tamil poems, it would be really helpful for people like me, who want to learn, but find the sangathamil and senthamil really difficult to understand.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Congress Govt

India is the world's biggest democracy. The monumental 1 month long election itself is fascinating. Somehow the Congress government managed to win with a majority. I should say they deserve the victory. We have been through a very rouch ride, with the food crisis, economic crisis, Mumbai terror attack and numerous other small terrorist plots, etc etc etc. But India is in a far better shape than any other country.GDP growth is less, but we are not going to face a recession. Our banking system is pretty stable, thanks to RBI. 

I am actually glad, that the congress government is being elected with a full majority. There are no communists around to stop every possible growth. Without them in the picture, it is actually a good chance for Congress to come back and do something good for the country. 

These are the people who are completely responsible for India's growth today. They opened up India for foreign investments. They demolished the License Raj. Hopefully Mr.Singh's team should do a decent job in the next 5 years. I read an interesting article today in the India Today magazine. You can read it here. It is about what needs to be done in the next 5 years. 

Because we all know this term is going to be even more crucial for the congress government. They have to make an impact and make way for Rahul Gandhi to take over next time. When you look at him, Rahul is just an exact photocopy of Rajiv Gandhi. And that similarity alone is enough to make him the next PM. And it seems like he made a big impact in the UP elections this time. Remember, no party has ever captured power and formed a government in the central without winning UP. Even after breaking UP into 3 states, UP is still a big deal in India. Sadly, it is one of the most under-developed state too. One of the many reasons why the US presidential system wont work in India. 

Coming back to the point, this congress government is filled with great and smart people. First of all, our PM, Mr.Singh. One of the most respected politicians in India. Easily the most honest man in Delhi. It is an added plus that he is a finance genius. I personally admire Sonia Gandhi. First of all, she could have peacefully lived in Italy. But she chose to come to a chaotic country, India and lead a political party that was in a very bad shape. Second of all, she passed the PM post to Manmohan singh twice. Say whatever reason you want. When Mayawati wants to be a PM, what wrong can possibly arise from Sonia being the PM. But she didnt. That requires lots of courage and wisdom. That is a great political move, which won her respect among people and even the opposition, who have not made a single comment about her being a Italian born woman, during the last election. 

And then, P.Chidambaram. Another brilliant politician. The one and only Harvard educated politician in India. You should see the way he handled the shoe-throwing incident. A very composed and smart person. Am glad he is the home minister. We need some changes with respect to our attitude towards Pakistan. 

Shasi Tharoor. Have you seen his speeches? (lots available in youtube) He is another damn smart politician in the current Indian government. I was hoping he would be given the External affairs ministry. But sadly SM Krisha got the portfolio. But it is ok. Shasi Tharoor has been given the minister of state role for the external affairs ministry. Hopefully in the next term, he should become the cabinet minister. That would be awesome. 

Another disappointment with respect to portfoli allocation is Dayanithi Maran. He is obviously good at IT. But he was not given that portfolio, instead Raja got it. Really sad. I think it is our honourable CM who should have interferred and made sure that Maran didnt get IT. But lets hope Maran can make a big difference in the textile industry. 

I dont trust Pranab Mukerjee as the Finance minister. But lets wait for the first interim budget. Another disappointment was Kamal Nath. I thought he will get the commerce ministry. He did a great job last time. 

Anyways, lets hope the current cabinet can make an impact for years to come. Here is a great speech by Shashi Tharoor, in New York while releasing his book, "The elephant, the tiger and the cellphone". 

Shasi tharoor on the growth of cell phones in India. (below)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Book Review: Planet Google by Randall Stross

I have always admired Google, as a company. The growth of the company is staggering and that is not a surprise. Their business model is completely different. Unlike Microsoft, they will give you everything for free, but they will continue innovating. Surprisingly this business model is working perfectly for them. Microsoft has been trying to catch up with the Google search, but they are not even close. Their new search engine, sorry decision engine, Bing sux big time. A friend of mine had this status message few days ago, "Bing - But It's Not Google". So true. One important lesson that we need to take from companies like Yahoo is that, in Silicon valley, if you dont innovate and change according to the market, you will vanish. It seems like google has learnt that lesson. They have effectively moved onto the mobile market now, while constantly changing and innovating their existing services. I always read something new in Gmail labs or addition of new features in Google docs or introduction of completely new products. Quite often i get new and cool mobile apps from google as well, for my G1.
The above book by Randall stross is good. It gives a first hand report of how google emerged from a small dorm room to a world dominating company. The narrative style is very good. And this is not another book about statistics. the thing i like about the book is, the author has given a detailed analysis and its implications. So it doesnt feel like reading a history book. It seems like the author was present in every meeting that google ever conducted. It gives first hand report of why and how Google created an empire around its search business. It feels more like a novel. A rags-to-riches-story, that we all love.

Reading the book, i learnt how the google founders made use of every oppurtunity they got. Main reason for the success of google is, they were right-place-at-right-time. After the dot comm bubble, they literally paid pennies to buy huge data centres. When every other competitor of Google had invested millions and millions on Super computers to do the search, google on the other hand used the power of thousands of personal desktop computers. This, according to the author was a bold move by the Google founders which paid huge rewards later, both with respect to cost and technology.

The author recalls one incident during the intial days of Google. This happened many years ago. Marissa Mayer was a new employee (She was employee number 20 in Google, by then a unknown startup). When the company was still in very beginning stage, they didnt have enough programmers or computers. They struck a deal with Netscape, which agreed to divert every one of the five search requests it got from its user, which was so minimal in number compared to the number google is handling right now. But what happened was, the google servers couldnt manage the load and they went up in flames. Sergey brin and Larry page were devasted. After few mins, noone could find the founders. Marissa Mayer went searching for the founders and she found one of the founder in the nearby coffee shop, sitting in a corner. She asked him, why he was sitting there alone. And he said, "I am hiding". Marissa Mayer recently recalled in an interview, that she said to herself that the company would go bust in 2 months. But who knew then, that Google will become a multi-billion dollar empire.
If there is something that i learnt about Google from this book, it is their planning and dedication to quality and innovation. I shall give a small example. Google is offering a free service called, Goog-411. This service apparantly involves so much money and time. But Google did provide this service for free. When it was released 2 years ago, there were few critics who said, this is waste of time. But do you know why Google released this free service? It is to collect voice samples from people. During the last few years, the number of people in the US, who used this service increased in exponential terms. They collected so many millions voice samples, which was fed into an algorithm which used these voice samples to perfectly convert people's voice into text. This algorithm that google has is ten times effective as any other voice recognition system. Do you know what google is planning to do with these voice samples? To index audio content and Google Voice, which is their new service for mobile phones. Read up on Google voice. It is just stunning. Critics say, Google voice will completely change the way we use telephones and mobile phones.
But there could be potential problems with one company controlling all the information in the world. Google's motto is "Dont be evil". But for how long can they be not-evil? Recently in China, Google had two options.
1. To allow any search request irrespective of pro-communist party or anti-communist party. As a result they will be banned by the Chinese government and loose revenue.
2. They had another option to accept the terms of the chinese government and block loads of anti-communist party webpages. By this they can earn loads of money.
If Google should stick by its motto, they should have taken option number 1. But they didnt. Things like this make people wonder what Google is becoming.

Currently, they know all my mails. With the Google search, they know what i am interested in. With my android phone, all my contacts and their phone numbers are all saved in google servers. All my SMSes are stored in Google servers. With google voice, they can also know who i talk to and what i talk about. They know which stocks i am interested in thru Google Finance. they know my family and friends thru picasa and orkut. they know what i am doing today or two weeks down the line thru Google calendar. They know my current location using Google latitude. They also know what videos and news content i like. So literally Google knows everything about me. This is a serious privacy concern.

I recall an interview i read recently, where the VP for search in Google said, they have only indexed 5% of the world's information. Their ultimate aim is to make Google so ubiquitous that you can go to google.com and type, "What shirt should i wear today?" or "Which job should i take?" and Google will give you an answer. Google has created a brand value which is based completely on trust. So I sincerely trust Google and same goes for so many million people who use Google services everyday. Lets all hope, Google sticks by its motto, "Dont be evil".