And the meek shall Inherit

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Blog Day


This being Blog Day and all let me do my bit and recommend five blogs that have captivated me in the recent past

  • Shoefiend: A witty, intelligient advertising newbie in London who writes about all kinda crap .

  • Sujatha: Hell, she's a DJ in Bangalore, and doesnt play Britney Spears or Richard Marx or Backstreet Boys on the radio. Is she for real?

  • Sakshi: Don't quite dig the doggie characterisations, but everything else here rocks.


  • Deep Griha: Meant to be 'Deep' as in lamp, but the work these guys do is deep. Support them, will ya.
I have been meaning to update my Blogroll for a while now, but just got busy, doing nothing.

If the Shiv Sena would have its way Blogday will not see the light of the day, at least in India, next year. So I will make the best of it now and wish the 4 people (2 of who are my siblings) reading this piece, the best of blogging. Blog away, blog away.

Monday, August 29, 2005

US Bloggers Meet

They are meeting in droves all across the globe, the bloggers i.e. Bloggers are meeting in Bombay , Chennai , Bangalore , Calcutta , Delhi , London and every other imaginable place where two or more bloggers coexist. Hell, even pre-pubescent Porki’s in SriPerambadur have met over ‘kapi’ to discuss “free-market” fallouts and juxtaposition of the new world order in which Salman Khan is bereft of a phone connection and Pat Robertson is now a keeper of the “900 Club for Men Only”. These meeting are happening as you are fritting away your life reading these very words, except in the US. Sigh!

Well at least, I have been blissfully ignoramus, about any bloggers meet in the US until now. Now it could be entirely plausible that the meeting could have occurred and yours truly could have been passed by the wayside, since even my bitter half incessantly complains that I never have anything interesting of note to contribute to the world! Bloggers being an extremely narcissistic tribe, could jump to this judgment fairly quickly. I can see that happen.

That being said, let me err on the side of naivety and assume that no such meeting has taken place. Pray why I ask, why indeed, no bloggers meet? Such diverse opinionated, brilliant minds, stimulating posts amongst the eclectic bloggers in this great land of USA and yet why no bloggers meet ? Baffles me. In the great Yoda’s words, all the US bloggers will meet, shall we?

But how, is the next obvious question ? Unlike the Bombay, Bangalore or Chennai bloggers, we in the US, would meet across multiple time zones, across the vast topography of the great land of the Buffalo soldier. Across the plains, the mountains, the great cities and metros, the canyons and rivers we shall endeavor to meet. Not such an easy task you see. Who would coordinate such a massive undertaking? Not a feat for any poor single sod. It would need a whole team of dedicated organizers, to coordinate and facilitate, to cajole and dominate, to grovel and to instigate, to bring order and crush dissent, if any. So the first order of business would be to anoint organizers for this mammoth undertaking. With that added to the check list, what’s next ?

What about an appropriate moniker for this undertaking ? Maybe ‘Blo US’ or since this happens to be the first Bloggers meet I’m partial towards the wee bit scurrilous but rather apt ‘First Blo Me’ convention name. Then again maybe not, we need to get consensus on this. Moniker, check, what’s next ?

How and where do we meet ? Hmmm…now that’s a tough question and needs a fair bit of overhaul of the grey matter.Hmmm…hmmm…hmmm….thinking. Well thanks to the advancement of technology we have emails and Instant Messengers and something new they call Net Meeting , I’m told, at our disposal. So why not put technology to good use here? Oh, I ought to know since I make my living working in the so-called-technology arena.

How about each one of us share digital pictures of each other and then discuss topics over emails to each other, or to the entire group, at a specific time ? Or maybe instant message each other at maybe um, let’s say 6 PM EST on a chosen Saturday evening. Sounds good? Yes. Let move on. BTW, I really do look like John Abraham !!! Meeting medium, check.

Most importantly who all need to be invited to the ‘First Blo Me’ extravaganza? Well protocol mandates all the illustrious desi bloggers who have lit up the blogosphere with their wit, sarcasm, creativity and eclectic perspectives have to be present. In no specific order these would be the primary attendees and the topics they would discuss:

To lead the pack our very own Jon Higgins, the excellent but unrelated, I’m assuming, blogger Michael Higgins who has so successful managed to incur the wrath of a 100 Finns , can now provide an insight into who next he plans to irk. The Swedes, Fijians or maybe the Icelanders. Bork anyone ???

One of the best desi bloggers in the cyber world, Sunil Laxman can elucidate on sensual Kalidasa poetry while straddling his cuppa of Venti latte, seated at his favorite Seattle coffee place. Or maybe, he could just take a walk.

The always insightful but side-splittingly funny Greatbong could review Mithun movies, Main aur Mera Haath (or was it Haathi?), Boxer and yes Gunda as well as the 40-year old Virgin (um, I mean Mamta Bannerjee ).

And the fabulous ‘Famous Five’from Desipundit , Patrix , Ash , Vulturo , Kaps and Vikram , who scourge the cyberspace amidst hundreds of undeserving articles, such as this, to bring us the true gems from the blogosphere, again, unlike this article. Thanks guys for the yeoman task, tis much appreciated. One stop shop for the best of the bloggers.

What meet can be complete without CuriousGawker and his refreshing brand of liberal and expletive laden humor? CG on Christopher Walken 2008 or maybe Tom Delay 08 ? Ummm, maybe not.

The gang from Sepia Mutiny who can provide insights from social happenings in the Big Apple to pretty much everything else under the sun.

The cerebral Professor from Leigh, Amardeep Singh can elucidate about Indophilia as well as the finer nuances of English lit, maybe!

Of course, @mit from ‘What is Happening’ will be on hand to review the blogs of the more illustrious bloggers amongst us for his blog India Blog Review

I would be remiss to forget my fellow Michigan bloggers Anshul , Sumedha and Parag who are all keepers of fine fine blogs.

Contributions from Falstaff and Ashish Hanwadikar to raise the intelligence quotient at ‘Blo US’ significantly.

To lure cricket fanatics by the thousands, we just need the views of Prem Panicker on the ongoing enthralling Ashes series between England and Australia.

Not to forget our favorite overseas bloggers Uma , Dilip , Anand , Amit , Charu and Sujatha , for some of who, at 3:30 AM in the morning, may interfere with their post coital bliss and will definitely cut into their bhajan duties, but trust me, this endeavor would be well worth the effort. So come one, come all, all ye US bloggers , my apologies to all who didn’t get a mention, please pass the word around since forgiveness will not be forthcoming let any you should miss out on ‘First Blo Me’ in the US of A.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Eggs, Sperms and a New Arrival

On my way to work this week, listening to NPR, these stories intrigued me greatly.

According to one report:

Some fertility centers are now offering egg freezing to young women who want to put off motherhood. Because of uncertainties surrounding the procedure, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends against it.

This report was how some women preferred to defer child birth by having their eggs frozen, so that they go thru their careers, boyfriends and when the time is right and the mate is right, they will artificially inseminate the frozen egg or choose to deliver their child naturally. Call me old fashioned, but this totally creeped me out. I cant really articulate why, but does’nt sound right to me, unless someone is afflicted with a terminal disease.

Listen to the report here

In another report:

In an effort to prevent unwanted pregnancy, researchers continue working to develop new safe and effective methods of contraception for men. In one approach men, ironically, are injected with testosterone -- the hormone that helps make sperm.

Check out the report here.

Friday night action, a dose of Viagara to get it up and then a shot of testosterone to get it down, the sperm count i.e, and bonk away merrily ever after.


While on procreation, Wasghington zoo has a new arrival, a baby Panda. Check this out

The infant panda in the Washington Zoo went in for its first month checkup -- panda pediatricians say it's a boy. The cub was born hairless -- about the size of a stick of butter. Now it's close to two pounds, a foot long, healthy, fuzzy, fluffy and very cute, with big black rings around its eyes. A good thing in a panda. He's still baby whatisname --- we'll let you know when the zoo picks a name.

You can watch live cam of the baby Panda right here. Check it out, its really mesmerising.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

This just in...I need Cialis,er, I think

I received this spam comment to one of my article today morning

I'm waching blogs all day long and I found yours one which is really nice:)
buy cialis (links to a CIALIS peddling site)

What the…..? Who now has been watching my “blog”, and all day while they are at it, and watching it enough to discern that I need to buy Cialis? Wow. That immediately raised a few questions in my mind, and in no specific order they were….

Isn’t my “blog” satisfying enough for its readers?

What does that tell me about the quality of my “blog”?

Do I need longer write-up’s on my “blog” ?

Doesn’t my “blog” provide you with the adequate rise and gratification that you are looking for?

What do I need to do to make my “blog” better? Obviously buy Cialis

Let’s say I did go ahead and buy “Cialis”, then what ? How will this potentially help me ? Will my “blog” then light up the blogosphere for 36 hours and then fade into oblivion and anonymity that its always lived under? Is 36 hours good enough time frame to drink from the fountain of the right time? Can I do all that I need to do and reach out to everyone I wish to reach...in 36 hours? 36 hours....tick tock, tick toc, tick toc.......

All these questions…Do you have any answers?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Review: Sehar, India's answer to Untouchables

Watched the excellent movie ‘Sehar’ over the past weekend and also the eminently forgettable Oliver Stones epic ‘Alexander’. Bad news first, about ‘Alexander’ the only recommendation that I can offer is ‘Please don’t waste your time’, unless you are a die hard Angelina Jolie fan like me or unlike me, a die hard Colin Farrell or Oliver Stone fan. Either way it’s not worth your time, so lets just move on to the good news.

Now ‘Sehar’ is another cuppa tea. This has been done in the Indian style Kevin Costner/Sean Connery/Robert De Niro starring Brian De Palma’s super-hit movie ‘Untouchables’ movie. In Kabeer Kaushik’s ‘Sehar’, Arshad Warsi an his team of STF policemen take on the organized crime ring in UP. The story has been set in Lucknow and the film proceeds at a brisk pace, with enough body bags to fill up a morgue within minutes, pausing only when Mahima Chaudry flits into the scene with her multi-hued saree’s, coy demure looks and the breeze gently blowing her tresses, no matter where she is or what time of the day or night it is. Now why couldn’t they get the excellent actress Chitrangada Singh for this role instead of the expression-less non-actress Mahima Chaudry? Fortunately she doesn’t hang around for long and does not have a role of any significance in this movie.

The extremely talented Arshad Warsi plays Ajay Kumar, the ASP who has been posted to UP, to fight the rising crime in the state is believable and sincere. The main antagonist, played by Sushant Singh came across as too robotic and extremely intense. Overall the film is excellent and the supporting case led by the ever-dependable “Karamchand jasoos” Pankaj Kapur delivers big time. The dialogues in the movie are excellent and with the Lucknowi Hindi dialect, which is oh-so-pleasing to the ears, one can’t miss. Watch this one, as it will be well worth your time, if you like police movies along the lines of ‘Ab Tak Chappan’, Khakee (minus the melodrama), Maqbool and those genres of movies. Well, don’t just take my word for it, check out Uma’s review about the movie here and the review from Mid-day here .

It is heartening to note that despite the Chopra-Johar proliferation of crap from Bollywood, there have been numerous remarkable, well made, sensible movies like Swades, Hazaron Khwaishaien Aisi, Parinita, Page 3 and the kind. For Bollywood, there is hope, after all.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Home

ET had us at ‘ET go home’, with a forlorn look on his face, pointing towards the sky with his magic-tipped finger. Or when Scarlet O’Hara in ‘Gone with the Wind’ realizes at the height of chaos of the American Civil war that what she really wants to do is to go home to her beloved home Tara. At end of the novel when Melanie lays dieing, she really wants to go ‘Home’, Home to Rhett Butler and the warmth and comfort that it provides and everything else would be all right.

What is it about Home that is innate to all living creatures? Listening, on the radio, to the Jewish settlers getting uprooted from their homes on the Gaza strip, , the meaning of a home and what they mean to mankind were foremost on my mind. All the politics aside, yes they live on usurped land since 1967, yes this evacuation is pivotal to the Middle East peace process and yes the Palestinians need a place to live too, but what about the families that are directly impacted? About approximately 9000 settlers. Families that have lived there for 30 years, for three generations, have now been asked to fold up and move. To a newer surrounding, to uncertain futures, to capricious tomorrows that’s ripe with trepidation for these families. One can only empathize with what these settlers must be going through, being uprooted from their homes and all. Check out the story from CNN here .

The home is a sanctuary for all living creatures and at the end of the day, this is where we ultimately want to be. In our homes, we are the masters of our domain (not in a Seinfeldian kind of way). Whenever we have taken long vacations, no matter how exotic a vacation place it might be, or to India visiting family, or even to someplace where we have been long looking forward to for a long time, there comes a stage where we wish we could just be back home. Stretch the legs while resting on that battered old couch, chair or loveseat, dressed only in your bare essentials, the mind is finally at peace at home.

What is it about our homes that we are so inexplicably drawn to it ? A sense of security, sense of independence, the ability to do or not do what one wants without being told by people around us? This could be true for any kind of house that you live in, a palatial mansion, a rundown shack or a Unabomber’s hermit-like modest log cabin. I’m sure George Bush is much at home on his ranch in Crawford, Texas than in the White House. Our house, is where we tie back our memories, good and bad. It is a safe haven, away from the maddening crowd, away from the rat race, safely ensconced with people that you really want to be with (well for a lot of us). On the flip side owning a home comes with own set of problems and headaches. Yards need mowing, the shrubs need trimming, the weeds need pulling, winterizing, de-winterizing, gutters to be cleaned and on and on and on. Unless you outsource it all and sit back with the beer and just chill ! Whatever works for you. Either way, there’s no place I’d rather be but home.

Anshul, Pratibha and Shantanu, we sincerely wish you guys many years of happiness, prosperity and success in your new house.

Lyrics from Simon & Garfunkels excellent song ‘Homeward Bound’.

I’m sittin’ in the railway station
Got a ticket for my destination
On a tour of one night stands
My suitcase and guitar in hand
And every stop is neatly planned
For a poet and a one man band

Homeward bound
I wish I was
Homeward bound
Home, where my thought’s escaping
Home, where my music’s playing
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Travails of the Fresh off the Boat (FOB) Desi

Long has the desi FOB been the butt of 7-11, Gandhi, Apu and Quickie Mart and horrendous accent jokes. Needless to say, most of them, ahem, are true. From the minute the unsuspecting desi FOB walks into Burger King and places an order for well, ’One Burger King Please’, his days in “Amreeka” are doomed forever as hilarious punch lines or the sad caricature that he is made out to be.


Most hilarious amongst the FOB lore is the one where he walks into McDonalds and demands a large ‘COCK’, with no ice, to wash down his meal of veggie burger and fries. Imagine the consternation of the 6’2” 300 lbs black dude behind the counter who can only roll his eyes and mouth a loud ‘Say WHAT now ???’. Poor Vadapatamudumbi Ramajulu Balamuran can only cower while retorting “I mean the trink (drink), I mean the trink”. Maybe some of us desi bandhu should stick to ingesting only Sprite, Pebhsi or Waatter, since pronouncing COKE can sometimes come uncomfortably close to being enrolled for a Richard Simmons class.

Imagine my consternation when on a flight from Bombay to Chicago, I open the door to the loo, only to find Maniben Kantilal Patel perched precariously “on top” of the toilet bowl, with her hands pressed against the toilet walls, and a deer-in-the-headlights look, taking care of business in the age-old desi ishtyle “paikhana” fashion. To this day, I don’t quite remember who was screaming more, as I fled closing the toilet door behind me.

Most Walmarts and K-Marts (well Sears essentials now) are just hubs of wall-to-wall desis, each one trying to get the next best “deeeal”, the $25 DVD player or the $1.25 near expiry tub of yogurt. God forbid should one of them ask a passing store employee “Aarey , bhot is rhibbed (ribbed)?”, while checking out the Trojans, and the store employee mistakes you to be the one who asked that question. There are a few other desis, of the desperate kind, who try and ensnare poor unsuspecting victims to lure them the dark side i.e. Amway or Quickstar or whatever avaricious moniker it goes by now. You can spot these kinds a mile away, with their surreptitious nods and permanently fixed smiles at fellow shoppers and unsuspecting recruits. Be warned, these kinds will charm you into parting with your first born to them.

Every once in a while you come across the ever dutiful husband in the ‘Feminine Hygiene’ aisle of the supermarket yelling into his cell phone for all and sundry to hear him scream, ‘So what size of sanitary napkins should I buy ? I will get the extra large or the one with wings no. These are $2 off this week no. Anyway these month there is heavy mensus (whatever that means) no ?. So I will buy the large one no ? OK no ?’. Yeah, it really happens, trust me.

Sears Towers or the Grand Gaanyon just infested with desis and their Canons SLR’s, which everyone gets at a good “deeeal”. The man of the house has white shorts starched and creased and all the way to his knees, spotless white socks pulled up to his thighs and golf tees with Rayban shades. The obligatory camcorder/camera bag hanging off his slender shoulder while the poor wife and kids are tag behind lugging the 50 gallons of water and a mini restaurant. In the Gaanyon, during the hike down, some of them, the most out of shape of the lot, park themselves after every 50 yards, huffing and panting, and out comes the can of water and gathias, potato chips, theplas and parathas. Or idlis, murukus and lemon rice as the case may be. “Ayyo Ayyo, this trek is very difficult. Not like walking along the Marina” is the comment you get to hear the most as you hike down Grand Gaanyon. Or if its from the rotund, delicate bitter half then something along the lines of “Muruga, Muruga, why are you trying to kill me by dragging me into this great big hole in the earth”, while the poor embarrassed husband looks on with a sheepish look on his face awaiting divine intervention from Muruga, er the divine one i.e., and not the fowl.

Actually all ribbing aside the desi community in Northern America must be one of the most affluent ethnic minorities around. Scores of doctors, engineers and Institute of Technology or Jamia Mamia University manufactured software engineers and Patel\Shah Motels dot the landscape of this great country, each contributing to the healthy Forex back home. Had it not been for the machinations of the desi entrepreneurship, many a crime branch services would not have needed inventing. Ingenious is the lowly desi brother who let the mighty USPS have it by foxing them to carry his letters for free. How you might ask ? By simply juxtaposing the To and the From addresses. Still don’t get it ? Arrey baba, just put your own address in the To section and the recipients address in the From address section and post the letter sans postage. The post office, will default the mail and deliver it to the sender, who is actually the intended receiver. The royal amount of $0.37 saved. Kachinggggg…..This is one of the simpler desi tricks from the scores of creative rackets that we drum up that make us the envy of all and sundry. I’m not sure if this still works though.

And more and more desi brothers are getting into sports these days not wanting to give up the generous dollops of desi ghee on their parathas, uttapams, theplas or chapattis. So they show up at the local YMCA basketball courts all across the country, usually wearing two pair of shorts, the outer shorts slipping well below the inner shorts, not to be outdone in hipness by the “kallus” on the courts. And of course, with the obligatory hat turned backward to complete the cool, with-it, desi image. Now for the ball handling skills, that’s a story in itself for another day. The affluent or pseudo affluent ones can be found on the golf courses too, knocking many a serious golfers over with the golf balls since who would possibly understand some git yelling “Phore”, “Phore” on the seventh hole. At the local gyms all the 5-15 pound dumbbells have been monopolized by the desis, building up those biceps and triceps alone you see, with scant regard to the protruding rotund belly. And you can be sure as hell that the chap who takes the longest time in the shower, using up all that free shampoo, and walking out clasping the towel around his waist like the impregnable chastity belt, is our very own Balu or Ghanshyam , Tiwari or Pedulu Vishwesharayya Kottaswami. I’ll bet my entire paycheck on it.

But all jesting aside at the end of the day which community, collectively, which minority has the most moolah locked up in CD’s, mutual funds, and kids away at Yale, MIT and Harvard, mortgage all paid off and propensity to go after the next big things that’s out there ? It’s the desi bandhu, yaar. So to preserve this facet of our lives, if we have to trade-off the obligatory rare Apu jokes, envious stabs at curry smells and accent bashing, then I’d say so be it. We have our motels to run, patient’s to attend to, businesses to fix and lines of code to parse. If all the desi bashing does get to you sometimes, my only advice would be ‘Jaane bhi do yaaron. Ab Dil pe maat le yaar. This too shall pass.’.

PS: All names used above are fictitious. Any resemblance to anybody, living or dead, is purely, er, cultural.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Dadda Donkey

Seemz while giving Sidharth his morning bath was singing him a song

'Inky Pinky Ponky,
Father had a donkey,
Donkey died, father cried,
Inky Pinky Ponky'

During this song (or maybe just to make his mother stop singing) Sidharth asked his mother for Dadda

She responded "Dadda jogging, Dadda jogging"

Hoping that he had added a new word "jogging" to his vocabulary, Seemz quizzed him

"So where is Dadda"

Sidharth answers "Dadda Donkey"

Copyright Laws

A colleague of mine was asking me about the P2P site Limewire and if there was software out there to convert MP3’s to WAV formats. Thus we began discussing about software for converting from one format to another and iPod's formats and bit Torrents and the like. Just then someone who we work with passed by and asked us what we had been discussing so intensely. Mentioning “Limewire” immediately transformed our colleague into a veritable livewire. Arms started flailing, voices were raised and people began turning their heads as we got embroiled into a full bodied, heated argument about copyrights.

The gal who downloaded songs from Limewire thought nothing of downloading music for free from the internet and I didn’t either. So there we were arguing heatedly about immorality of the whole act of copying, stealing from artistes, the principle behind the whole download issue blah blah blah. At the end of a heated argument we agreed to disagree and dispersed.

I strongly believe in the whole open source way and also believe that this entire copyrights shenanigan is brought about by the avarice of recording companies. Just because they want to maximize their profits, that’s it, period. Not that there is anything wrong in increasing profits for yourself and your stakeholders. But if you are that concerned about people stealing your products, then you very well take all measures to prevent any piracy. Don’t make it child’s play to copy CD’s and then expect people not to do it.

Top tier artistes are decadently overpaid anyway, which I feel they don't deserve. Record companies are making decent profits on the sales of their CD’s, well maybe, not all CD’s but overall they are raking in profits. The production cost of a CD is closer to $1, which in turn gets sold for approximately $22. If this isn’t gouging, then what else? The record companies have been at it for years. All these years we were forced to buy an entire CD, for a few mellifluous songs that we really covet. This too the recording companies have been at it for years. Which may not entire justify stealing from them, but I will still not lose much sleep over it. To begin with if the prices of CD’s and songs were priced correctly, piracy would not have been the issue that it currently is. Fifteen year olds would not have been dragged to courts by recording companies and burning CD’s would not have gained the same level of notoriety on college campus.

Ergo, downloading songs from P2P sites, for personal use, in my mind, at least, is justified. Though personally I am yet to downloaded songs from the internet myself. During our office argument, I was siding entirely with the gal who was helping herself to songs from Limewire. Until she said, that it was Barry White songs she was downloading. All this for Barry White !!! That’s when our argument ended and we went our separate way.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Thank You...Uma

Uma, who writes and maintains an excptional blog requests help from readers for recommendations on Childrens books for a NGO. All that's well and good, and the deluge of response that followed this request was stupendous.

The best part of her request is that she has taken the time and effort to thank and acknowledge everyone who responded to her article, some 50 odd people. Nuggets on display, of character. So Thank You Uma, for doing what you do so very well, and above and beyond.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Ghost of Netscape

This article, by Rich Kaarlgard, appeared in the WSJ yesterday. Normally I do not like to cut and paste newspaper articles, but this one brought back lots of old memories. Does anyone remember the internet gold rush days ? What was that Greenspan quipped, ah yes, irrational exuberance. Now I find myself nodding my head reading about the amazing IPO ride of Baidu.com. Seems like Groundhog Day. Read on......

What a short, strange trip it's been.

Ten years ago today, the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia died of a massive heart attack. His last words were rumored to be: "Netscape opened at WHAT?"

We all felt the shock. Morgan Stanley's top tech banker Frank Quattrone, a poor south Philadelphia kid with a gambler's heart, had priced Netscape's IPO at $28 per share. This price was thought nuts. Typical for tech IPOs, then and now, is around $15 per share. But all summer the heat had been building for Netscape. A pre-thunderstorm sauna it was: Netscape had not reported one profitable quarter.

Netscape, of course, didn't open at $28. It burst into the public realm at $71. A few minutes later the stock peaked at $75, then closed the day at $58 -- for a $2.7 billion market cap. The great Internet gold rush was on.

[Jerry Garcia: 'Netscape opened at WHAT?']
Jerry Garcia: 'Netscape opened at WHAT?'

Ten years later, what can we say about Netscape's IPO? Was it to Nasdaq as Mrs. O'Leary's cow was to the history of Chicago -- a bit actor touching off a great blaze with grave economic consequences? (Like the cow, Netscape the company is no longer with us.) Or did Netscape's Web browser alter the world in thrilling and still unforeseen ways?

The answer is yes -- on both counts. Let's talk about the Nasdaq bubble first. My favorite list of "Screaming Internet Top Signs We Missed" includes:

  • Yahoo, a chief beneficiary of Netscape's browser but only episodically profitable during the late 1990s, hits a market value of $104 billion in March 2000. This is more than the entire U.S. auto industry, parts suppliers included.
  • Consultant Geoffrey Moore, in early March 2000, creates a betting pool. The wager is when the Nasdaq index, then 5000 and growing, will overtake the Dow Jones Industrial Average, then 10000 and wobbling.
  • Venture capitalist Geoffrey Yang, gloating about his industry to Fortune magazine in late 1999, says: "If the company doesn't work out, we'll sell it for $150 million. If the company kind of works out, we'll sell it for $500 million. And if it really works out, it'll be worth between $2 billion and $10 billion. Tell me how that's risk."
  • Analyst Bill Gurley sends out a spoof email. After noting the history of deteriorating valuation benchmarks, from cash flow, to EBIT, to EBITDA, to "price-per-click," announces the ultimate Internet valuation benchmark: EBE, or "earnings before expenses." Most readers don't realize Mr. Gurley is joking.

On Sept. 17, 2001, the Nasdaq closed at 1579. On Oct. 9, 2002, the tech index hit a low of 1114 -- the 79% drop from a high of 5132 was the biggest index plunge since the Dow fell 89% from 1929 to 1932

Yet the Internet, invented in 1969 but sparked to life by Netscape's 1995 browser, really has reshaped business and the world. The rise of China and India is impossible to imagine without the cheap communications medium of a browser-based Internet. China will surpass the U.S. in numbers of Internet users next year or soon after. When Beijing figures out Internet use creates national prosperity, censorship will begin to melt away. During the mid-'90s, Singapore restricted citizen Internet use. Then the country discovered its best scientists and engineers were leaving. Now Singapore is wide open.

The Internet has had a positive effect in the U.S., too. The speed with which the U.S. economy recovered after the quadruple blast of Fed tightening, a stock market collapse, a recession and terrorist attacks, could not have happened without an Internet immune system. Key to recovery from financial cock-ups is rapid repricing between sellers and buyers. That is how inventories get soaked up. That is how new markets are made. During the grim year of 2002, Sun Microsystems discovered its chief competitor was its own used Sun servers selling on eBay for a dime on the dollar by cash-starved dot-coms and telecoms. But "clearing" is how an economy heals. After the 2001 recession, the American economy had cleared within a year. It has been growing at a 3.5% clip since.

America should be growing faster. After all, we're the country that birthed the Internet and the Web browser. But in one critical area, America has stumbled. Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, anticipating an investor binge caused by Netscape's famous IPO, a year later made his "irrational exuberance" comment. Of course he was right about investor silliness. But Mr. Greenspan was wrong to attack it with aggressive rates hikes. In doing so, he crib-killed the brand new Internet-based telecom industry.

Telecoms, unlike dot-coms, are capital intensive businesses. Beyond the scale of small venture capital backers, telecoms need to tap bond markets. Problem is, debt-fueled enterprises are vulnerable to interest-rate shocks. Even when gold prices had sunk into the $200s by 1999, shouting deflation, Mr. Greenspan (insomniac from dot-com excesses) kept hiking rates. Thus he killed new-era telecom. Today America finds itself out of the world's Top 10 in broadband per capita. Behind South Korea, Finland, even Italy.

But no worries -- it's still the very early days of the Netscape revolution. The most astonishing fact about the 10th anniversary of Netscape's IPO is that number -- 10. Think about the airplane in 1913, the personal computer in 1984.

The history of the PC suggests where the Internet is going. In 1980, Apple Computer went public, making centimillionaires of its founders, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. In 1982, Time magazine named the PC its "Man of the Year." During early 1983, venture capitalists went crazy, funding dozens of lookalike PC and disk drive companies. The bust came in late 1983 and lasted for three years. Many danced on the PC's grave. One was Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation and considered the father of the minicomputer industry. He said PCs had little use in serious business.

Mr. Olsen was wrong. By 1986, PCs were fast enough that graphic displays now worked. New software appeared, such as desktop publishing and computer-aided-design. Microsoft went public in 1986. The same year Intel turned itself back to profitability. The PC, once a novelty, was now a real business machine. By 1990, Microsoft and Intel were unstoppable. Digital, Wang, Data General, and even mighty IBM suddenly were in big trouble.

Ten years after Netscape's IPO, the Internet is where the PC was in 1990. What a short, strange trip it's been! Google, only seven years old, is wildly profitable -- and menacing. Bill Gates, the PC era's winner, pulls his hair in frustration. Large local newspapers, their classified ad sales going to Google, Monster.com, and Craig's List, are in steep decline.

Netscape's Big Meteor of 1995 dooms any nation or business that can't adapt. For the nimble and quick, thrilling days lie ahead.

Mr. Karlgaard is publisher of Forbes magazine and author of "Life 2.0" (Crown Business, 2004).

Monday, August 08, 2005

Downfall (Untergang, Der)

We watched this amazing German movie over the weekend and have to rate this as amongst the best WWII movies right up there with The Longest Day, Schindlers List and Battleship Potemkin. This movie recounts the last days of the Nazi Reich and Hitler’s last days spent bunkered down in Berlin, bouncing between bouts of rage, loathing, loneliness and depression. The story is narrated from the viewpoint of a young secretary to Hitler, Traudl Junge, who is ensnared in the Nazi propaganda and is drawn by curiosity towards this rather prestigious assignment. There are two other characters as well around which the screenplay has been woven, a young 10-12 year old boy who joins the party to defend Berlin against the Allies and a doctor who works for the government, but can’t really make sense of all the madness around him.

Hitler is just one of the characters amongst 10-15 central characters depicted in the movie, but easily the most riveting character and acted superlatively by Bruno Ganz. Watch this movie which elucidates the futility of war. Watch this movie for the competent screen play. Watch this movie to understand how heroes get built, deified and then are held accountable for other peoples dreams and aspirations when things don’t go the way they are supposed to. Watch this movie because it drives the point home that we are still not too far away to give up our life as we know it, and can anytime be plunged into the deep dark eddies of death and destruction that we bring upon ourselves.

Amidst the incessant shelling by the Russians, Hitler sits in his bunker, hunkered down with his Generals, plotting his next move. The tremor in his hand, from the Parkinson’s that afflicted him, is quite pronounced, as he sits as his desk and watches the enemy advance on the map. As Germany crumbles and the Russians advance closer to Berlin, Hitler get more delusional and out of touch with reality. The scenes where he rages about the German army getting in the way of his plans or at Goering who wants to assume command of the Chancellery and at Himmler when he joins hands with the Allies are superbly enacted. Brune Ganz oscillates between lunacy and benevolence while dealing with his secretarial staff or his beloved dog Blondie. Dr. Goebbels, who was second in command after Hitler, watches his Fuhrer lose control of his senses, but is committed to Hitler. Albert Spreer, Hitler’s confidant and architect, is one of very few men around Hitler who is not in awe of him. Spreer pleads for Hitler to surrender, to alleviate the suffering for the common man, but Hitler is too arrogant and proud to surrender. At the cost of loss of ordinary German lines, he is willing to fight back, because that is what, he believes, the Germans have signed up for and they cannot escape their destiny.

Joseph and Magda Goebbels who are encamped in the bunker with their six young children, believing that Hitler will flee Berlin, taking with him the hopes and dreams for their redemption. Magda Goebbels is ready to let her children die, because according to her, the children are too good to be bought up in an environment without National Socialism. The scene where she poisons the children to death has obviously been played out for the appropriate cinematic effects to gnaw at the heart strings, and it is gut wrenching.

There are several surreal moments in the picture, when Eva Brown and the secretaries come out for a walk, during a respite from the bombings, Eva Braun’s letter to her sister requesting her to collect her diamond necklace from the jewelers, the young Nazi boy fleeing for his life when the Russians enter Berlin, the look on Hitler’s face when he is dictating his final testament. The best part about this movie is that the director did not portray the Nazi regime as satanic nor glorify it in any means. Reality of the last days of the third Reich couldn’t have been farther from what the movie depicts. Overall this movie is excellent stuff and I would recommend it highly for purveyors of good cinema.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Prayer for Africa

Africa, the cradle of civilization, the Dark Continent, where homo sapiens as we know today are supposed to have originated to occupy the far recesses of earth, is in dire straits today. Famines, riots, starvation, floods, droughts, locusts, ethnic cleansing has left her as the worlds begging bowl, wrought with death and depression. Yet the world doesn’t seem to either notice or care much. Despite a few aged Rock Stars trying to capture a slice of their glory days via the manic ‘Live Aid’ concerts, relatively very little is being done by the world community for the African quagmire. If the truth is told Africa can blame no one but herself and her avaricious and spineless leaders for her current state of affairs. Over decades there seems to be a ‘Groundhog Day’isque situation with African countries, be it famine, floods, starvation and droughts in Somalia, AIDS in South Africa, tribal killings and genocide in Sudan or Rwanda, corruption in Kenya and Nigeria, locusts in Niger or just plain dictatorial excesses in Uganda or Zimbabwe. Africa, at least in my mind, falls short on hope.

About 3.6 million are in danger of death because of starvation in Niger today, and most of them are supposedly children. Check out the article from CNN here. 3.6 million and not much tom-toming by the world media about this monumental tragedy. Ditto with Darfur.I wonder why? Maybe because Africa isn’t oil or plutonium rich? Maybe because we have resigned ourselves to the fact that this beautiful but bereft continent is doomed forever and there is no point even trying? Or maybe this has been a routine travesty with African countries? I don’t know why, but for decades its some force of nature or misdoings of man and lost lives in the hundreds of thousands or even millions, maybe.

Almost 1 million people died in Rwanda and the entire world stood in muted silence. Darfur is gathering attention only in universities and the amongst the elite activists in the West. Its true the aid to Sudan over the past years has steadily increased to the tune of almost a billion dollars now, but that has been a case of “protection money” payment for shutting out Al Qaeda, rather than real aid. World Bank has forfeited billions of dollars in loans to African countries for decades now, but the situation is far from improving. Non-profit organizations like Oxfam, Red Cross and Medicines Sans Frontiers do what they can, but that is hardly enough. What really ails Africa we don’t know. What we do know is that it doesn’t look too good for this continent at the present moment. Asia, Central America, the Balkan Republicans, heck even the Middle East show signs of progress and better quality of life for its citizens, but no such promise for Africa. Without helping this great continent out of its current state, the world cannot go to bed at night with a clean conscience. Its time that something radically different is done, a la CAFTA or NAFTA for African countries, but for this to happen Africa needs to get its act together. Cleaner administrations and clearer vision for the days to come. Will it really happen, one can certainly fervently hope so,

If possible please donate to a charity like Oxfam who are doing exemplary work in Niger and other afflicted areas in the world. Maybe it’s a donation equivalent to a dinner fare at a restaurant or a new pair of shoes, a box of candies, or something substantial. It will make a huge difference to starving children in Niger. Hopefully. Check out their relief activities in Niger here.

Changing tracks to an entirely different topic, check out this article by Anil Thakraney in Mid-Day on the Mumbai rains. Like Uma’s excellent piece ‘Celebrate. Grieve’ on her blog, this piece is evocative, thought provoking and is guaranteed to get your bile rising. At least it got mine rising, er bile i.e. Check it out here.

Tomorrow is when I lose three of my wisdom molars, yanked out by the oral surgeon, while I am knocked out under general anesthesia. So if after tomorrow , my blogs suddenly seem more appealing and attracts more than one visitor, and that visitor isn’t a blood relative of mine, then I know what to attribute the popularity to. Those rotting, ill-formed, hard to clean wisdom teeth.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A Trip to Mackinac Island

Over the past weekend we tarvelled north to Mackinac Island, located between Michigan and Upper Penninsula. We spent Friday night at a city south of Mackinac called Gaylord. On Saturday morning we drove to the island.

The Mackinac Bridge, as viewed from the ferry to the island. This bridge is a suspension bridge, supposed to be the longest suspension bridge, and stands over the confluence of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

A picture of Fort Mackinac, where they have scheduled toures, rifle firing sessions and all that good stuff. The Michigan governors summer mansion is located next to Fort Mackinac.


Seema and Sidharth in front of Devil's Kitchen


No automobiles are allowed on the island and the primary mode of transport is either by bicycles or horse carriages. We rented a tandem bicycle and a baby seat for Sidharth behing. The ride around the island is about 8 miles. The little guy was not too enthused about wearing the helmet, but fell asleep 2 miles into the ride.

We lunched at a restaurant called European House on crepes, pasta and 3 pints of beer for me. After a good beer buzz, we got back on the bicycles, this time renting a small covered buggy for the kid. Along the way we stopped for a dip in the cool waters of the lake, which Sidharth greatly enjoyed. All in all in was a good day, with the weather just perfect for bicycling around the island. The kid was not too grumpy either. Highly recommend this to anyone travelling to Michigan.

Link