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On Story Telling

Got this gem from Natasha Badhwar, who is a gifted story teller herself, on Twitter (follow her now). The quotes below are from Steve McCurry‘s (of the iconic Afghan Girl photo fame) wonderful blog.

The story was the bushman’s most sacred possession. These people knew what we do not; that without a story you have not got a nation, or culture, or civilization. Without a story of your own, you haven’t got a life of your own. — Laurens Van der Post

People did not wait until there was writing before they told stories and sang songs. — Albert Bates Lord

To be a person is to have a story to tell. — Isak Dinesen

Reminded me of a chapter from the wonderful book, “Soccer in Sun and Shadow” by Eduardo Galeano.

Have you ever entered an empty stadium? Try it. Stand in the middle of the field and listen. There is nothing less empty than an empty stadium. There is nothing less mute than stands bereft of people.

At Wembley, shouts from the ’66 World Cup which England won still resound, and if you listen very closely you can hear groans from 1953 when England fell to the Hungarians. Montevideo’s Centenario Stadium sighs with nostalgia for the glory days of Uruguayan football. Maracana is still crying over Brazil’s 1950 World Cup defeat.

At Bombonera in Buenos Aires, drums boom from half a century ago. From the depths of Azteca Stadium, you can hear the ceremonial chants of the ancient Mexican ball game. The concrete terraces of the Nou Camp in Barcelona speak Catalan, and the stands of San Mames in Bilbao talk in Euskera.

In Milan, the ghost of Giuseppe Meazza scores goals that shake the stadium bearing his name. The final of the ’74 World Cup, won by Germany, is played day after day and night after night at Munich’s Olympic Stadium.

The stadium of King Fahd in Saudi Arabia has marble and gold boxes and carpeted stands, but it has no memory or much of anything to say.

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News

Manmohan vs Modi

Disclaimer: I know I might get shit for this post (from the five of you reading it) so here goes – I do not condone Modi’s actions during the Gujarat riots, and very sincerely hope that he never becomes the Prime Minister. 

Comparing Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi is not an easy task, nor is the comparison fair.

On one hand we have PM Singh, the man who ushered in economic reforms in India, and led us to the path of growth which got us to where we are today. Yet for the past seven plus years, so terrible has been the management of the country that some even wondered if PM Singh actually does anything. However, through all the muck, PM Singh hasn’t had a single direct accusation of corruption against him.

PM Singh has allowed the country to be so magnificiently plundered by his party members (in name of coalition adharma) that it might just turn out to be India’s lost decade of growth. The situation is such that the CAG unearths a scam almost on a daily basis, and people rose in unison to the call of Anna this summer even though his demands weren’t the most democratic ones. Plus the epic mishandling of the situation betrayed the competence of such a qualified man. From CWG to 3G, billions of dollars have been siphoned off by politicians. Money that could have pushed development. Money that could have saved lives. Money that belonged to us, the people of India.

Just like the scams, terrorist attacks have become a regular event. Mumbai, which has been the location for most of these, has witnessed 3 major attacks since 2006, claiming the lives of more than 400 people. Delhi, Pune, and other parts of the country have been similarly affected. I remember the year I spent in Mumbai, and how I would eye every unattended bag on the trains with suspicion. No one feels safe anymore. Plus we have politicians (read idiots) in Tamil Nadu who believe that the killers of Rajiv Gandhi (an 14 others) be not given a death sentence. While Indians die on a regular basis, we keep delaying the execution of two known terrorists, as sentenced by the Indian judicial system.

One the other hand is Narendra Modi. The man who bungled in epic proportions in 2002, but since then has unleashed such a wave of development work that (at least) some believe that he should be the next PM.

He watched, and some say even instigated, as violent mobs swept through Gujarat killing innocent Muslims in one of the worst riots India has seen over the last couple of decades. I do not believe that anyone who allows the citizens of the country to be killed should ever be allowed to lead it.

However, he mended his ways since then, and such has been the development and growth of Gujarat, that The Economist said – “So many things work properly in Gujarat that it hardly feels like India.” On the security front, Gujarat hasn’t had a single incidence of terrorism since the Akshardham attacks – attributable to good policing, considering Gujarat would have been high on almost all terrorist organizations targeting India.

We live in a democracy, and all said and done, we do place our faith in the election process, and Gujarat has given him a mandate, twice.

So here is the dilemma – who would you choose, and why. Manmohan did good work, and then allowed India to be looted, and its citizens to be killed (even if through inaction). Modi allowed people to plunder and kill, and then did good work.

PS: I know that “coordinated” riots and terrorism are not the same thing, but the root cause of both have either been deliberate inaction (in both cases) or mismanagement. A PM can’t wash his hands off the responsibility of keeping people safe. 

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Tech

Patent Wars!

I am back. After almost four months. And lots has happened in the meanwhile. Baba Ramdev, Anna Hazare, India in England, Wimbledon, and much more. On a personal front, I have changed jobs and cities, and am back to Gurgaon.

Amongst all the other noise, one of the most fascinating, and disgusting, events has been the patent wars. From Lodsys to Nortel to Novell and now Motorola Mobility. If the 80s was marked by the Cola Wars, the current decade will be marked by fierce patent wars. The Google-Motorola deal has been analyzed to death over the past couple of days by people way more knowledgeable than I am. The value of key patents, the impact of the deal on Android handset manufacturers (Samsung and HTC), the regulatory approval, the breakup fees, will it actually be a deterrent, and much more.

Some have even gone on to analyze winners and losers. That is where I have a problem. This was a simple analysis.

Winners: Motorola/Jha/Ichan.

Losers: Everybody else.

Warning: If you don’t want some boring speculation on tech, please stop reading now!

Here’s why. People now think that making money of patents is easier than slugging it out and making products. Case-in-point: HP. The once poster child of Silicon Valley wound up its touchpad business and thinks it can make more (and easier) money just licensing patents! This is such bullshit man!! And Kodak. And Nokia. And many more to come. What people don’t realize is that eventually everyone is going to stop making things. Then you will be left with trolls and no one to sue.

Over the past couple of months, Google, MS, and Apple have spent close to $20 bn in byuing patents to gaurd themselves against each other, and I don’t think that the spending binge has come to an end. Let’s analyze each company in detail.

Microsoft:

The company has nothing to show for, in any domain other than OS, Office, and Gaming. Its web presence is almost negligible, however much Bing-ho they are about it. And its mobile OS and deal with Nokia, a footnote in the mobile chapter. It also has one of the largest patent arsenal amongst the key players. It knows it can’t deter trolls using the patents – it doesn’t work. Also, its existing patent portfolio should have helped protect itself (and key sources of revenue – OS and Office) from other companies. Also, not too many company can sue MS for large amounts in these two areas.

However, the Nortel patents was almost a pocket change for a company the size of MS. What it does destroy is the notion that MS would only use its portfolio defensively. Its a clear signal of MS’ growing ambition of generating revenue from IP – which it already does from Android manufacturers. Maybe MS can spin off an entity to do this for it. Maybe it can be named, I don’t know – IV?? Since then, MS has expressed a passive monetary interest in the Mosaid-Nokia deal, another IV in making.

Its a shame to watch a company as big as MS doing this. Money that could have been better spent on development. On XBox. On Office. On Windows. Wasted. And a bad signal being sent to developers. The company doesn’t have better development projects to spend the money on. #FAIL

Apple:

The company that single-handedly changed the smartphone scenario. The company that changed our expectations from our phones. The company that has almost $80 bn in cash.

Did Apple panic at the pace of growth of the Android OS? They shouldn’t have. Apple should have learnt from MS and Intel (and Google in search recently) that monopolies are not good for business. A good competitor not only keeps the regulator away, but also keeps the company on its toe on the tech front. Example, the malaise that set in MS OS development when it had no competition. The rebirth of the Mac OS changed that.

The logic of trolls doesn’t stand here either. So the only reason for Apple to buy patents was to sue the ass off Google Android. Not a smart strategy. What it has done now is pushed Google in to a corner, and forced it to do something stupid. A pissed off, and technically and financially well-off, competitor is not what you want.

Additionally, time, money, and focus that would be spent on developing new products will now be wasted on litigation. Not prudent according to me. The problem is Apple doesn’t have much else up its sleve other than iPhones, iPads, iTunes. If Google goes for a “scorched earth” strategy, a ruling against Apple’s handheld devices business would impact its main revenue source, and it would still have nothing to hurt Google’s search business – so far as I know.

Google:

Stupid. Plain stupid. Brave, yet stupid.

You just spent $12 bn (and another billion on IBM patents) on protection you could have had (or made more expensive to Applesoft) for say $5 bn. We all agree with your commitment to Android, but this is just insane. We know mobile web is the future and that your ad revenue will be based on your ability to play in that field, but why not team up with HTC, Samsung, and other partners to do the same. That would have given them more confidence in your support for Android. Buying a handset all on your own will just scare the shit out of them. Or you could keep the patents and sell off the rest of the company to your allies – call Ichan.

Will you go offensive – defies your “do no evil” motto, or just use it as a defense – in which case its a helluva price to pay.

Asides:

In this age of legal outsourcing, do you know what a billion dollars would have gotten you? At the very least 10,000 man years of patent searching time from some of the best talent looking to invalidate a lot of the rubbish that has been patented in the name of software patents. And believe me that is at least enough to invalidate close to 50,000 patents, if not more.

And I wish Google had the balls to do something like Fark did.

Interesting infographics on patent wars: One, Two.