beginnings and ends

hope is deadsome sayfifty years hopelessa hundred years more withoutfor an identityas true or false as anyuntouched by the cosmopolitan mergethat civilizes manytorn by a rage against a motherlandhated beyond hatetorn by the yearning for a memorythat never wasfuelled by a grief one should never knowall for an identity that never was nor will befor ever morethe World changedas she slumbered under occupationnow she awakes tofind hope with no otherhope for herself is lost tooas also the will to reconcile truewhat the future holds for this landi do not knowwhere shall the memories ofhate and hurt go?time is a healer, trueas is the end of it;but which shall come firstfor this burning paradise now?will it be India or Pakistanor an independent Kashmir?who knows?i fear none of them, for they willnot allow a peace to endure.stranger things have happened, i know,the Iron curtain did fallbut we know not yetits complete usewhich way forward?which way back?which will lead us onthe right track?where pride is involved,and territory and identity,i fear we shall walk this countryhand in hand with miseryfor a while longer before the tide turnswhen will it turn?one can never knowmaybe at the end of historyor of all timewe will find outwhen the time is rightlet it not bewhen time itself runs outrather soonerwhile we still lightthis life.- aditya

OK Computer

  1. My Iron LungThere are two legacies of the modern PC world that we can link back to IBM… the first of course, are the dull, meandering, clunky boxes that a majority of manufacturers produce to this day.This legacy has been particularly hard to shake off. White has replaced gray, and then black did, with the occasional pinks and oranges, but most computers today still leave a lot to be desired in both design and function. Very few have threatened to break the mould – Sony’s Vaio range of desktops could classify, as could Hewlett Packard’s renewed line. For coolness, though, you still have to go to third party developers – like Alienware, or otherwise, go Mac.The second, less obvious legacy, owes to a move made by IBM in 1969. It was then, that IBM separated its hardware and software sales units—in effect, “creating” the market for the software (and Operating System) industry. It was at this juncture, that IBM split its software division into two – from what had essentially been all free software, we now had two groups – Systems Control Programming, and Program ProductsDo you see where this is going?—It really was this move that opened the door to Microsoft’s rise to prominence many years later in the Desktop Operating System and Desktop Publishing market – what led to Windows, and Microsoft Office, Adobe, Macromedia and the like.
  2. Fake Plastic TreesSteve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple in 1976 – like most companies of the modern computing era in a garage… Jobs was more the personality and the businessman, while Wozniak was the more withdrawn, engineering mind of the two (this is a story you see repeated, from Gates and Allen all the way up to Brin and Page).1984 was a year of prophecy for George Orwell, and the Ridley Scott-designed 1984 commercial for Apple promised users a completely new computing experience. Apple II had met with great response, and 1984 introduced the Macintosh – the first GUI based computer in what was then a text-input dominated world. Adding to the Macintosh with LaserWriter (the product associated with saving Apple in its later crisis, since it was what made the Mac the industry standard for Desktop Publishing) and the Powerbook range of portables, Apple looked set for the big time.Market observers said at that time, that the Macintosh did as well as it did, because it was the first computer that made you want to hug it. Like an R2D2 with a keyboard.But of course, we all know how history was written. At the dawn of the ‘90s, Microsoft opened Windows to the IBM PC market, and thus gained access to all computer manufacturers, soon becoming the worldwide numero uno in desktop operating systems… and Apple, with its locked hardware-software combination fell back into relative obscurity for years after.The love affair it had with its customers though, would be its saving grace in its second coming, with the 5-flavored iMacs of 1998.
  3. Everything in its right placeSteve Jobs showed Gates a copy of the Macintosh operating system some time in 1981, in order to develop software like Word, for the Macintosh’s upcoming 1984 launch. Gates as we know, infamously adopted the “Start” bar from the Macintosh, and Windows 1.0 was announced in 1983, and released in 1985. Microsoft had already been shipping MS-DOS with IBM-PCs since 1981, and the first version of Windows was largely an extension of DOS, and in many ways problematic.One of the reasons for this was the legal challenge from Apple, who believed “windows” — i.e. an interface which allowed for the overlapping of multiple windows — was intellectual property of Apple, as was the trash can (now called the Recycle Bin on Windows). This issue was sorted much later in a licensing agreement reached between the two.It was however, two iterations later — in Windows 3.0, that Microsoft found a strong challenger to the Macintosh. Windows had finally shrugged off many of the problems 1.0 and 2.0 had suffered from, and the hardware had improved substantially till then.It was also this period that divided the World into two parts — the (rather small) Apple corner, and the vast majority of the computer World, which would come to run Windows.
  4. Paranoid AndroidAndy Grove, one of Intel’s founders, and CEO for the longest time, is one of the men credited with pushing the Computer industry forward to this day. In many ways, he also gave words of wisdom, not just for technologists, but for all businesses. Most famous for his quote — “Success breeds complacency, complacency breeds failure… only the Paranoid survive,” — Grove was a business genius. It was his company — Intel’s — processor wars with first Cyrix, and then AMD and PowerPC that pushed the industry forward at the break neck speed it did. First with clockspeeds, then with chip efficiency and multi-tasking, Grove’s Intel can be credited as being the thought and performance leader in the World of Personal Computing.The second important contribution by Grove (among his many others) was his writings on business. In 1996’s “Only the Paranoid Survive”, for example, Grove admitted that had Intel’s management listened to their front line Sales managers, Intel would’ve concentrated their efforts on Processors (from Memory) much earlier. In addition, he brought up concepts like “Inflection points” — i.e., the point at which a firm’s products (sales-wise and interest-wise) begin to flatten being the point where the firm needs to decide to renew or kill the product.This is important, as Grove was then among the first to suggest a move away from purely technology-centered design (“what’s the most that can be done?”) to customer-focused design (“what does the customer need?–what can help them with their productivity?”). One could argue that the modern computing and consumer electronic markets are founded (at least in theory if not always in practice) on this paradigm shift in the tech business.
  5. Where I end and you begin.Larry Ellison, Scott McNealy, and Linus Torvalds are three personalities who will only get a brief mention here, for while the have played large roles in both the business and in Media, their contribution to Personal Computing is somewhat limited. Ellison is from Oracle, McNealy’s claim to fame is strong networking products and of course, Java. Torvalds was the creator of Linux.These three get mention primarily for the challenge they posed to Microsoft in the 1990s and early 2000s. One could credit Ellison and McNealy among others (Netscape, for example) for fighting Microsoft and facilitating the creation of the legal awareness that led to Microsoft’s anti-trust trial. It is hard to forget that press conference a few years ago, when Larry Ellison said he had documents from Microsoft to prove their abuse of their monopoly.A few well phrased questions revealed he had come by that information via detectives going through Microsoft’s garbage, piecing together shredded documents. Apart from having been pivotal in feeding the uproar against Microsoft, it was also rather entertaining for this observer of the technology industry in the late 1990’s, early 2000s.
  6. Karma PoliceIt was a historic day in November 2000, that Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson of the U.S. District Court found Microsoft guilty of monopolistic activities (loading Internet Explorer with Windows, suggesting internally that they wanted to “extinguish” Netscape,) and ordered the break-up of Microsoft into two separate decisions. While his judgment was questioned as being harsh, and some suggested that he was prejudiced against Microsoft, an appeals court upheld his findings against Microsoft, if proposing less drastic measures. In 2001, with the Bush Administration coming to power, the US Department of Justice chose to settle with Microsoft rather than pursuing its break-up.Of his “supposed” prejudice, Judge Jackson said of Microsoft executives (including Gates), that they had “proved, time and time again, to be inaccurate, misleading, evasive, and transparently false. … Microsoft is a company with an institutional disdain for both the truth and for rules of law that lesser entities must respect. It is also a company whose senior management is not averse to offering specious testimony to support spurious defenses to claims of its wrongdoing.“Since then, Microsoft has had further action taken against them, first against Windows Media Player, and later by the European Union on both Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player. The European Courts have also seemed more willing to take action against Microsoft (such as prescribing fines, the opening of the Windows source code, and the shipping of a version of Windows without Media Player loaded — called “Windows XP N”). Fines so far have amounted to about 800million euros, or approximately US$1.2 billion.
  7. ScatterbrainMost of this happened at the height of the tech bubble — Jerry Wang of Yahoo, Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, Jeff Skoll of eBay being some of the most prominent figures of this period. Google was in its infancy and still not so mainstream at this point, and the internet was truly in its first wave as a global phenomenon. This was the Wild West period of the Internet, where Venture Capitalists pumped money into companies without assessing possible successes or failures completely through, and of course, the period where we saw many companies go public (list on the stock exchange) without proper business models, sources of income, or due diligence in numerous other activities.Yahoo, Amazon, and eBay are the three (strongest) survivors of this era. Yahoo has threatened to come back strongly, with acquisitions such as Flickr, a new search algorithm, and rise to number 1 portal in the World; eBay has since grown larger and become the preeminent online marketplace for deal-searchers, while Amazon.com is likely to become one of the World’s largest retailers (certainly in the online space) over the next few years.
  8. Life in a Glass HouseWe’ll take a breather from software for a bit, and talk about hardware now. Michael Dell had a simple idea when creating Dell — cutting out the middle-man. Dell would create highly customizable personal computers, and sell directly to both businesses and private consumers. This was a powerful idea in an age where customization options were few and far between (you usually had to do alterations yourself or get an engineer to do them AFTER you had bought the computer…)Dell introduced a brilliant supply chain rule, too, called the 10Square. It implied that the total inventory a factory held never needed more than 10square feet to stash — this reduced the need for huge godowns and transportation and distribution costs (since these were all direct now). It also allowed Dell to update inventory or switch configurations, and react to market prices on the fly.The problem with Dell’s performance advantage here was (Dell gained prominence as HP declined, struggling to establish difference and consistency with the Compaq brand that it had bought over) purely a business process. And all business processes can be replicated. So today most manufacturers in the West offer customization options comparable to what Dell does, and sometimes even better. Dell has however helped make the computer market even more consumer friendly, as it allowed the customer to (for the first time, really) pay for exactly what they wanted, nothing more, nothing less.
  9. Hail to the Thief!Napster was the first, and then there was Kazaa, the Gnutella network, eDonkey, Bittorrent, and so on. Shawn Fanning (Napster), and Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis (Kazaa), and Justin Frankl (Gnutella) were at the forefront of this software revolution. All of these software mentioned were renditions of the same concept – peer to peer – small bits of files among multiple computers being downloaded by a single one. The more computers that shared the file, the more efficient a download would be. The idea was to take advantage of “swarms” of data in order to work around the bandwidth limitations of any single party and give access to the largest number of people.The problem was legislation. The primary legal avenue for using such software would have been for companies distributing software.Swarms are theoretically faster than http downloads, and more efficient than ftp (file transfer protocol) or smb (Samba – Windows File Sharing) downloads, as they are run by download management software, implying that a temporary loss of connection or other glitch doesn’t require the download process to start from the beginning.What this concept was eventually used for, as we’ve all come to know, was “illegal” file-sharing. The “illegality” is a curious case, as it aims to extend much further than most of us realize. You see, by the record or movie industries argue, that purchasing a music CD or DVD does not result in the “actual purchase” of the song/movie (viz. the copyrighted offering). Instead, you buy a “single-use license” to play that song or film for your self. The broader implication is, that if you buy a CD or a DVD, and want to play that song or film on your iPod for example, ripping is illegitimate, as you really should be “paying” for a separate license, for what is effectively a separate format of the same copyrighted material.This is, while the accepted norm in the industry, rather idiotic, and certainly not consumer friendly–but then it isn’t designed to be consumer friendly, the beneficiaries of such laws are meant to be the record labels and media houses, and the producers of content, not the buyers. This model however, is archaic, and artificially upheld (since the buyers don’t really get to choose the price they are willing to pay as it happens in many industries.) Instead, the entertainment buying business is divided into the World of the fleecers (those who download illegally for free) and those who get fleeced (the ones who end up paying for every format they buy, or high prices for what they buy for that matter…)An interesting change is Radiohead. For their upcoming album, Radiohead have given fans the option of paying whatever they want for online downloads of the album (plus a 0.42 pound credit card processing fee… early buyers have confirmed being able to place their orders for a total of 0.43 pounds – 0.42 for the processing fee, 0.01 for the album) while paying a full 40 pounds if they want a special edition version of the album loaded with extra DVD footage and other offerings…As a side note, Zennström and Friis have since gone on to invent Skype – the VoIP calling solution recently bought by eBay.
  10. A Wolf at the DoorIn more recent times, we have seen Apple’s rise to prominence with the iPod, and its sister service — the iTunes Music Store. Together, they form a formidable challenge to the existing media business. The iPod is the World’s most popular personal media player — controlling the majority of the market (the next 5 largest competitors together have about 16% of market share). The iTunes Music Store, which charges a flat $0.99 per song, has now sold 3 billion (that’s right, B-I-L-L-I-O-N) songs so far, and as of this year, is the third largest seller of music after Walmart and Best Buy, two rather large mall chains.Apple has become renowned in the Media Industry for being a tough negotiator (songs @ 99cents, TV Shows and music videos for $1.99, films for $9.99 and $14.99, all of which are independent of other material — so if you just want a song from an album, you won’t have to pay for all of it) and has almost single-handedly changed the tone of the Media Industry, striving to make it more consumer-friendly. One might argue in fact, that Apple’s iTMS endeavor has brought otherwise would-be downloaders into the legal fold, providing them a good (and cheap) alternative with an efficient delivery system (iTMS) and a great end-usage experience (the iPod)And then there’s the Apple iPhone. A beautiful piece of machinery that has promised to redefine multiple industries. Not the last of the old convergence products, but the first of the new ultra mobile personal computers — that, which will in another two years merge into Intel’s “Ultra-mobile PC” initiative (processors tentatively labeled “Moorestown”, rumored to be capable of hitting 2Ghz clock speeds in dual-core configurations, with built in graphics and WiMAX support too!)It’s not just Apple and its line of products though… In the here and now, you already see the first manifestations of UMPCs – we have Microsoft’s Pocket PC based phones, Nokia already called their Symbian based N-Series phones “computers” now, and there are numerous smaller players like HTC (formerly dopod) of Taiwan and O2 which have gained market share in recent times.In addition, the growing popularity worldwide of 3G (UMTS – Universal Mobile Telecommunications Systems, also known as 3GSM) and its updated avatar 3.5G (HSDPA – High Speed Downlink Packet Access), along with the increase in Wi-Fi hotspots across the World, promise a better infrastructure backbone for these new UMPCs, and so promise to change the way we live and interact with others all over again.What remains to be seen of course, is how the market develops, the costs of production, sale, and use of these devices and networks, and the penetration they are able to achieve in the global marketplace.
  11. Knives OutAnd then you have the Media industry. More specifically, television show producers, and music and movie houses. A woman in the US was recently fined US$220,000 for downloading 24 songs illegally – that’s US$9167, or about Rs. 3,67,000 PER SONG. Some (rather wrong) estimates put the illegal downloads of music, movies and TV shows at some 20 billion illegal downloads.In defense of illegal downloaders, (and in attempting to predict the future of the Media industry, reading the situation playing out today,) you come to the following conclusions (for the US Market, we’ll get to global implications in a bit)1. People want the freedom of choice, to buy a whole album, or individual songs.2. People want this freedom offered at what they consider a reasonable rate – which you can take as between 85cents (Amazon.com’s new Music Service charges this), or the hugely successful iTMS rate of 99cents.3. People want complete ownership and transferability of these songs – i.e., no DRM, no computer usage restrictions (song cannot be shared), no format conversion restrictions (song cannot be used on other media players, written to CDs, etc)4. People want similar freedoms with TV Shows and Films to add two more points from an international perspective,5. People believe that the onus is on producers to provide access to these products in a timely fashion (like global film releases, simultaneous TV broadcasts)6. Producers should accept the price performance difference in various markets.Any producer seeking to please a market will eventually have to fulfill these demands, or face piracy on the scale witnessed today. This is not a “new” rule of the internet – informal markets – i.e. “gray markets” – exist for this very purpose. When tax and exchange regimes make for artificially high (and consumer-unfriendly) prices, gray markets and illegal sales flourish.If you look at the history of the cell phone market in India, for example, you see that gray markets have declined only with a drop in Indian cellular prices to comparative global levels. Indeed, you by-and-large see the sale of smuggled goods in products that are priced artificially high.You have today, for instance, many countries attempting to overturn Intellectual Property protection for life-saving drugs like those used in AIDS treatment, and the production of generic royalty-free drugs. The premises for these challenges of copyright are not merely humanitarian. They are established also on a firm economic basis – prices need also to be in accordance with what markets can afford to pay.This analogy, while an extreme one does demonstrate that the arbitrary or illogical setting (not taking into consideration local market conditions) of royalties (that boost prices) cannot be independent of they markets they serve (which in the age of the internet is one global distribution channel with location dependent price requirements), and that governments and the judicial process should be looking to protect the consumer in this – rather than the producer. This can be no different for any other IP-protected material. The future of Intellectual Property is bound to be hotly debated in the years to come.
  12. You and whose army?P2P and Web 2.0 are the last, but certainly not the least, in this series. This year, Time declared its Person of the Year as You, (yea, we get the who me? No you? you? yes you! jokes, etc~) and for very good reason. If you’ve heard anything about the internet over the past year, you’ve definitely heard of Web 2.0, and likely even interacted with some of its avatars.While blogs may have started it all, and continue to be the most active forms of Web 2.0, websites with consumer-driven content vis-à-vis Youtube, MySpace, Facebook and Flickr are all Web 2.0 driven, as are aggregation and popularity systems such as technorati, digg, del.icio.us, and so on. (Arguably, ecosystems like Facebook or MySpace function exactly like blogs, but with much greater interconnection…)Google is an important driver of the online revolution today, as Wikipedia is becoming for knowledge and idea sharing. The interlinking and cross-referencing across these sites is taking place at such a rapid pace, that they are oftentimes replacing existing social behavioral patterns with new ones.Games such as Second Life are leading to actual businesses to go online – some politicians in Europe took their campaign online into Second Life, even, to interact with the deeply immersed audiences there – and this is leading to a rush from traditional media companies to buy up these new media initiatives. Yahoo bought Flickr some time back, while Newscorp. (Rupert Murdoch’s international conglomerate) bought MySpace. Facebook recently rejected an investment proposal from Microsoft that would have valued it at US$10 billion (that’s 10 billion for a company with little face value, and no established revenue model), saying it was likely worth much more (some news sites reported that Mark Zuckerberg (of Facebook) suggested that if Microsoft was willing to pay $10billion, Facebook may be worth 15, while other sites reported he suggested Facebook was worth 50 billion.Why is this all relevant? Two reasons… One, what happens when these services, once they have users heavily invested, decide to charge users for staying on their networks? There rarely is such a thing as a free lunch, though the internet does throw them up on occasion! To be honest, one would imagine that free accounts will always exist in order to keep customers, but that doesn’t help us much in understanding what business model any of these companies might follow otherwise, to remain profitable.Secondly, of course, how will these technologies affect our lives in the road ahead?While few answers have been forthcoming, one that has, is that we, the people will have a greater say in the direction the internet does take, and that companies take, because of the sheer collective power we gain from a platform as powerful as the internet.Bloggers have show this already, forcing companies to withdraw products, issue apologies, and making politicians more honest. The internet is looking to foster a new era of openness – indeed, having been born with freedom and openness in mind, freedom is the internet’s greatest strength.It is the World’s newest and perhaps greatest Continent – an invisible continent that reaches into all others, and it is one that will not be kept out.Of the people, for the people and by the people. Welcome to the new Internet. The future looks very interesting.

c o n f e s s i o n s

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c o n f e s s i o n s
Originally uploaded by sesquipedalophobic

“With justice definitively separated from innocence — the latter on the cross, the former in the cupboard — I have a free hand to work according to my convictions. I can in all good conscience exercise the difficult profession of judge-penitent on which I have settled after so many disappointments and contradictions.”

– Jean-Baptiste Clamence (Albert Camus, The Fall)