Monday, March 31, 2008

How Google News was created ...

This is a story of how breakthrough new products can emerge from the most unlikely of places.

‘After September 11th, one of our researchers, Krishna Bharat would go to 10-15 news sites everyday looking for information about the case. And he thought, why don’t I write a program to do this? So Krishna, who’s an expert in artificial intelligence, used a web crawler to cluster articles. He later emailed it around the company. My office mate and I got it, and we were like, this isn’t just a cool idea for Krishna. We could add more sources and build this into a great product.

That’s how Google News came about.’

Marissa Mayer, VP of Search Products & User Experience (as quoted in Fast Company, March, Page 79).

I like this story for a number of reasons:

1. Breakthrough ideas, insights and products often come about by accident. This is not to say that many stage-gate, formal processes are not useful but their importance is over-rated. What is more important is to have creative, passionate people that are willing to try new things.

2. Creative organisations like Google (rated the world’s most innovative company) are places and spaces where not only great ideas are produced but there is a culture of idea receptivity. In my work with leaders I constantly stress the need to encourage idea production at the same time as idea openness. An open door policy does not always translate to an open mind policy.

3. Google also has a policy of encouraging its engineers to spend 20% of their time on working on things that interest them. The actual percentage is not important nor is how it is implemented of much more value is the notion that people work at their creative best when they are passionate about what they do.

What are you passionate about?

4. Creativity is also found at the most unexpected of places, people and times. The lesson? Don’t make any assumptions about who you should invite to a meeting for example. Have the experts mix with the newcomers and see what happens.

Microsoft's Bid for Yahoo Is All About Big-Budget Brand Advertising

Sure, there's bad news out there, what with the panicky Fed and people whispering the R-word. But somehow, the wired world continues to churn out smart, useful, occasionally game-changing ideas.
From the rise in instant manufacturing to the growth of open-source business models, these trends show that innovation can bloom even in a grim economic climate.
Here's a look at nine trends driving business in 2008 — and a deeper explanation of the surprising secrets to Apple's success.

The search wars are over, and Google has won. Despite years of effort, Microsoft and Yahoo together account for just a third of US Internet searches and even less of the $8 billion market for search-related advertising. But the good news for all of Google's rivals is that online advertising is about much more than search. The new battleground is display — the kind of graphics-intensive spots that were left for dead after the Internet bust — and the emerging category of video. And the latest salvo in that war was Microsoft's $45 billion bid for Yahoo.

There are other reasons to buy Yahoo — its wealth of top-notch Web services, for example — but ultimately it comes down to advertising. Web advertising is in the midst of a metamorphosis. As television implodes, marketing chiefs are turning to the Net to create branding initiatives. They know you can't build a brand with little text ads that pop up next to search results. But you can with video and display, especially now that display has moved beyond static banner ads to include Flash animation and sound. Web advertising, which passed $20 billion last year in the US, is expected to surpass $60 billion in four years, and display and video ads will account for more than a third of the total. That means there's an opportunity to make money by dominating those categories the same way Google dominates the search market. "The race is on," says Mark Kingdon, CEO of digital ad agency Organic.

Google is already off and running. In February it rolled out AdSense for Video — an early attempt to bring video advertising to the thousands of sites it now delivers text ads to. What Yahoo brings to the table is numbers: It is the world's most popular Internet publisher, delivering Web pages to nearly 140 million people a month in the US alone. Yahoo also delivers ads to a vast network of independent sites, increasing its advertising reach to 85 percent of US Internet users, according to comScore. Microsoft reaches 56 percent of the US Internet population through MSN and Windows Live, but it still lacks credibility with Madison Avenue. Put it together with Yahoo, however, and you have a scale that even Google can't match.

Even if the Yahoo purchase goes through, a company like Microsoft needs more than reach. It also needs the technology to deliver the right ads to the right eyeballs at the right time and come back with a precise measurement of the results. But as Tim Hanlon of digital consultancy Denuo observes, "The best stuff is not coming from the leviathan players." One of the biggest advances in advertising technology, behavioral targeting, was pioneered by little firms like Tacoda (before it was bought by AOL) and the Drivepm unit of aQuantive (before it was bought by Microsoft). Behavioral targeting tracks surfers as they traverse the Web, making it feasible to deliver automobile ads, say, not just on auto-related homepages but on other sites visited by someone who's shown an interest in buying a car. That has opened up vast new quantities of inventory — Web pages that previously would have been a tough sell to advertisers but now make sense. "There's a lot more innovation to come," Hanlon says. The irony is that it probably won't be delivered by Yahoo, whether or not it's acquired by Microsoft. After all, this is a company that fumbled every opportunity in search. "It's a classic case," Hanlon adds. "Do two wrongs make a right?"

Bhutia says no to torch relay

This is the time for all those who feel for the Tibet cause to stand tall against the injustice Tibetians have been subjected to over the years. The dream of living in a free country is noT a crime under any law, but the Chinese Oppression is ceratinly the most heinous crime. China must respect the integrity and sovereignty of TIBET & TAIWAN and respect their culture and traditions.

The flame of protests seems to be raging mightier than the Olympic flame itself with protestors from over the world doing their bit to highlight the Tibetian point of view. In a shock for all, India football captain Baichung Bhutia refused to run with the flame when it reaches New Delhi on April 17.

The decision to not carry the flame was informed to the Indian Olympic Association on Monday through a fax after he had been bestowed with the honour of carrying the Olympic torch on the India leg of its journey.

Talking to a leading newspaper, Bhutia, a gifted athlete and a devout a Buddhist, said, ‘‘I sympathize with the Tibetan cause. I have many friends in Sikkim who follow Buddhism. This is my way of standing by the people of Tibet and their struggle. I abhor violence in any form.’’

The star footballer emphasized that he had not been requested by any group to pull out of the torch run. ‘‘This is an absolutely personal decision. I feel what’s happening in Tibet is not right and in my small way I should show my solidarity.’’

Bhutia is among a growing list of celebrities who have refused to carry the Olympic flame as a mark of protest against the violence done against Tibetians.

In February, Hollywood director Steven Spielberg withdrew as an artistic adviser to the Olympics over China’s support to the Sudanese government at a time when the regime had been charged with massacres in the country’s Darfur region.

Last week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he did not rule out France boycotting the games if the situation in Tibet worsened.

Suresh Kalmadi, president of the IOA, had apparently not received any intimation of Bhutia’s plans. ‘‘The fax has not reached me as yet since I’m not in my office,’’ he said. Kalmadi added that there were a plethora of top athletes like PT Usha, Milkha Singh and Gurbachan Singh Randhawa have been invited for the event.

Although Bhutia is known for not having strong political views, he has made up his mind to side with Tibet for their cause. Perhaps this stems out from the fact that even the most gentle of souls can be stirred beyond the point of being submissive when their core ethics are challenged.

Battle for minds - A review by Nalini Taneja

The essays in the book analyse and reflect on the “incomplete” efforts to arrive at an alternative modernity in India.

This book is part of the series “Collected Essays” that the Oxford University Press has been bringing out for some years to make accessible in one volume some of the works of eminent scholars, which are otherwise scattered in journals and anthologies and not available for a wider readership. Such collections, while attempting to achieve thematic unity, may include only an author’s specialised essays, leaving little scope for the expression of his/her larger concerns within the broader discipline. As a result, they do not reflect the entire range of an author’s intellectual personality and his/her dialogue with the world beyond their research themes. And then there are collections that are so watered down by including everything that they do not convey the essential strength of the scholar’s major works.

However, the essays in this volume Colonialism, Culture, and Resistance are properly representative of the breadth and the depth of K.N. Panikkar’s scholarship and his concerns as a public-spirited intellectual. They reflect the changes in his research concerns, thematically and theoretically, over a period of time beginning with his doctoral work in the 1960s. They reveal that his civic engagement has strengthened his craft as a historian and contributed to his scholarship.

All the essays in the book deal with the past but they speak to us in the present. All except one, which deals with the change of school textbooks during the National Democratic Alliance regime, deal with resistance to colonialism, but the manner in which he has dealt with them reflects an engagement with issues that are of utmost concern in the present.

The connecting threads through the essays, which make the present reverberate through the book, are those that preoccupy all concerned citizens today: the making of colonial hegemony and its pervasiveness through a long period of India’s history and the need to break out of it; the urgency of an agenda for cultural action, which is integral to political struggles and without which secularism and democracy remain incomplete; and the need to transcend the concerns of middle-class nationalism, which is exclusionary in its relationship with the majority of the people of the country and compromising in its relationship with imperialism.

As a historian, he is deeply disturbed by the “the failure of [an] alternative modernity” in India, which, in his opinion, has “led the way to the uncritical acceptance of globalisation and to sympathetic response to cultural revivalism” during the past two decades.

The essays in the book analyse and reflect on the “incomplete” efforts to arrive at this alternative modernity, which he traces to the vicissitudes of the resistance to colonial rule.

Independent cultural expression as a vital force free from the constraints of both colonial hegemony and the shackles of tradition, could have emerged from a creative dialogue between the spirit of rationality and universalism derived from Renaissance and Enlightenment on the one hand and an equally enlightened choice from within the tradition on the other. This did not happen, he shows, because the intelligentsia largely saw these as separate, as two distinct choices. The limits of colonial modernity were not transgressed because the efforts to transgress them were “influenced partly by the way power was exercised by the coloniser” even within much that came to be seen as tradition under colonial rule. Unlike in Africa or South America, the colonialists hegemonised Indian society by both expropriating and appropriating many traditional cultural symbols.

The consciousness about an alternative formed very slowly during the colonial period, he says, primarily because the intelligentsia, to begin with, tended to identify colonial rule as an agency of liberal dispensation. When they did seek to transgress it, their political perspective remained circumscribed by liberalism, and then increasingly came to accommodate tradition in the same way that colonialism did: this created a cultural crisis for the intelligentsia. Panikkar explores this trajectory in some depth through the studies on different forms of cultural articulation of the 19th century mainly, but also the early 20th century.

The themes through which it is explored cover three broad categories – armed resistance, intellectual preparation and cultural practice – and range from the formation of cultural consciousness to questions of cultural pasts and national identity; matters of dress and manners and social reform in the context of tradition, power and concern for legitimacy; literature, literacy and educational initiatives, the expansion of print media and creation of new cultural tastes and notions of nation; indigenous medicine and coming to terms with new knowledge and colonial hegemony; and the early armed revolts and peasant resistance in the backdrop of the agrarian legislation of the time, specifically as reflected in the revolts of Velu Tampi and of the Malabar peasantry. This is a wide range of themes that allows for a nuanced study of the different dialogues that the intelligentsia and the Indian people as a whole were engaged in through the resistance to colonial rule.

He argues that resistance in all these arenas was crucial to the formation of political and cultural consciousness, and cultural expression in turn was inextricably connected with the colonial reality. British paramountcy at the ‘local’ level had unsettled the given equations everywhere and in all fields of life. “Colonial domination and resistance to it occupied the centre of historical experience” during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, he says, and colonial rule was unacceptable to the Indian people, both because it was foreign and alien and because it was oppressive.

The cultural arena was very much a political arena: it did not constitute an apolitical space. Panikkar is keen to emphasise its centrality to politics and the efforts to transform Indian society. This comes out through the varied themes he has chosen to study, the propositions he makes with regard to them and the suggestions he sees as emerging from them.

A number of essays are devoted to questions of cultural change in the context of colonialism. The processes of formation of cultural consciousness, the role of culture in the making of nationalism, and the articulations of cultural pasts and national identity, all come in for interrogation. The possibilities, and the fate and limitations of the 19th century renaissance are discussed in essays titled ‘Whatever Happened to the Renaissance in India?’ and ‘Creating a New Cultural Taste’. A very large section of the intelligentsia participated in this endeavour, often on borrowed ideas and arguments, he says, but nonetheless interrogating issues vital for the quest for modernity. The debate and dialogue, carried on mostly in the print media, the new mode of communication that spurred the production and dissemination of ideas, was impressive. The debates, carried on with intense involvement, revealed considerable internal differences in understanding and developing a perspective about the past and the future – about the role of tradition, the role of modernity and enlightenment. But although it enabled the questioning, if not overcoming, of irrational and superstitious prescriptions, “there is no denying that it did not succeed in bringing about a fundamental transformation of social and cultural mores”. In fact, according to Panikkar, such change was not part of its agenda, and could not have been otherwise, given the nature of social support it received from the colonial middle class, besieged with self doubt and ambiguity (page 133). Throughout the colonial era, both renaissance and revivalism were integral to the search for identity, and colonial cultural interventions did not mean a departure from the traditional pattern of life.

The relationship between religion, culture and concepts of nation is delineated more specifically in the essay on Renaissance, which refers to the ‘semitisation’ of Hinduism following the 19th century privileging of religious texts as infallible authorities for religious life and social reform, and in the one on the role of culture in the making of nationalism. The internal differentiation in society, particularly of caste and religion, raised the question of culture in relation to the making of the nation. The early resistance to colonialism was articulated in the cultural terrain, in which nationalism sought to claim its voice. This relationship between culture and nationalism, in which both hegemonisation and counter-hegemonisation were subsumed, was extremely complex (page 77), although broadly there were two strands in conceptualising the relationship between culture and nationalism. “One linked nationalism with the plural cultural tradition, whereas the other traced nationalism to a culture identified with religion. The former led to secular-territorial nationalism, while the latter lent sustenance to religious nationalism and communalism” (page 84), and contributed to religious communities as sites of identity.Middle-class aspirations
Anti-caste movements, ironically, “almost invariably transformed into caste solidarity movements”. This was a change inherent in the nature of these movements – social transformation led to the emergence of a middle class within these castes which universalised their interests with those of the entire caste, and therefore were subject to the limitations of middle-class aspirations. This has some similarities with what caste and religion-based political parties are doing today (page 49).

Education became an important arena of struggle and articulation of middle-class aspirations, whereby these classes were both raising demands and objectively fulfilling a legitimising role for colonialism. His analysis of the Malayalam novel Indulekha and the ‘Great Shoe Question’ reveal the complexities of contestations over cultural symbols and self-perceptions of individuals in the context of colonial hegemony and the need for traditional legitimacy.

Moreover, according to him, there was the lack of integration between political and cultural struggles, a factor of considerable significance. A major section of the nationalist intelligentsia was not only interested in keeping political and cultural struggles divorced from each other, they were also keen on assigning precedence to one over the other, a situation that underwent change with the freedom movement acquiring a mass base (page 52). Yet, even so, what largely happened in India with growth of mass politics is that cultural struggles took a back seat. “What happened in India was not an integration of cultural and political struggles, but rather an intrusion of culture into politics. Instead of politics transforming backward culture, politics was vitiated by cultural intrusion” (page 53). He gives the example of Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s Ganapati festival and Gandhi’s Ram Rajya. There was a reinforcement of religious and caste loyalties with the emergence of mass politics, rather than the other way round. Question of religion

Panikkar argues that a critique of religion is essential for the battle for transformation of consciousness for a social revolution. And he shows that this critique not only remained weak, but that the ruling classes were complicit throughout the colonial era in not carrying through a battle for reason. This has had serious implications for secularism in India, for the secularisation of mentalities and the development of a secular society are inextricably linked with rationalist and humanist thought.

He is very critical of a nationalism solely based on the contradiction between ‘the people of India’ and colonialism. For him, such a conceptualisation “hardly comprehends all the essentials of nationalism”. From Ram Mohun Roy to Jawaharlal Nehru, mainstream nationalism was characterised by this truncated view, overarching in a way that it overlooked the internal structures of exploitation – economic, social and cultural – and excluded the overwhelming majority of the people from the resources of the nation (page 81). Foregrounding this exclusion and imparting a broader meaning to nationalism, in the process integrating political and cultural struggles, were Jyotiba Phule, E.V. Ramasamy ‘Periyar’ and Bhimrao Ambedkar on the one hand, and Bhagat Singh and the communist parties on the other. It is this legacy that he sees as significant in the present context.

Finally, Panikkar is able to put across complex ideas in a language that is at once serious and friendly. This has been a hallmark of his scholarship all through: he has never believed in dazzling or intimidating the reader with his discourse, but has nevertheless been persuasive and effective. One can learn a lot from this in these days of academic volubility and ambivalence. This is what allows those who have heard his public lectures or read him in the newspaper pieces to graduate from reading his popular writings to his more scholarly works. The present collection opens a window on both.

Strike power - Indias remarkable feat in achieving the Triad status...

The successful launch of Sagarika, or K-15, demonstrates India’s submarine-to-surface missile capabilities.

IN missile technology, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has arrived. In the past few months, it has had a phenomenal run of success with its various missiles, and it proved on February 26 that it had acquired the capability to launch ballistic missiles from under the sea. On that day, a ballistic missile named Sagarika, or K-15, blasted off flawlessly from a pontoon submerged to a depth of 50 metres in the Bay of Bengal off the coast of Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. It knifed upwards as the water around it sizzled, rose into the sky, traced a parabola, and reached its full range, a point more than 700 kilometres away. The pontoon simulated the conditions of a submarine.

India thus joins the select club of countries, which includes Russia, the United States, France, China and the United Kingdom, with submarine launch capabilities. What affirmed India’s entry into this league was that this was the fifth launch of the Sagarika missile from a submerged pontoon and, according to DRDO missile technologists, all the five were “consistently successful”. While the previous four launches were kept a secret, the DRDO did not fight shy of revealing the launch date of the fifth mission. Sagarika is a submarine-to-surface ballistic missile that can carry nuclear warheads.

The top brass of the DRDO and the Navy monitoring the missile’s flight from a naval vessel included M. Natarajan, DRDO chief and Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister; A.K. Chakrabarti, Project Director, who belongs to the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), Hyderabad; and Prahlada, Chief Controller, R&D, DRDO. A top DRDO official called it an “excellent mission and a copybook flight”. Another missile technologist called it “a thumping success”.
The successful launch takes India closer to its plan of completing the triad, that is, the launching of missiles with nuclear warheads from sea, land and air, as part of establishing a credible, minimum nuclear deterrence. India has already acquired the capability of launching nuclear-tipped missiles from the ground (that is, surface-to-surface missiles) with its Agni-II, Agni-I and Agni-III types of missiles and its Prithvi-I and Prithvi-II missile variants. The Indian Air Force’s Mirage and Sukhoi-M30 fighter aircraft are capable of delivering nuclear weapons. “It is a great day for the country’s missile technology and national defence capability,” said a missile technologist. “We are getting into the possibility of completing the triad. This successful launch will give us the sea capability.”

If things go as planned, in about two years India will launch the Sagarika missile from a submarine reconfigured for the purpose and later from the nuclear-powered submarine that is being built at Visakhapatnam and at Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu. The indigenous nuclear-powered submarine project is called Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV), and the partners in that programme are the DRDO, the Navy and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).

Admiral Sureesh Mehta, the Chief of the Naval Staff, said in December 2007 that the ATV would be ready for sea trials in two years. It was the first time that a top-ranking official had gone on record about the highly classified ATV project. The Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted Mehta as saying: “Our scientists have confirmed that they would have the Advanced Technology Vessel project ready for trials by 2009…. Placing of nuclear weapons under the sea is the third [leg of the] triad, which at present we don’t have and we hope at one point we will.”

Sagarika is a product of the DRDO’s missile complex at Hyderabad. The missile complex consists of the DRDL, the Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL) which is headed by Avinash Chander, and the Research Center Imarat (RCI). Sagarika is a versatile missile that can be launched from different platforms: from submarines, from the ground and from mobile launchers. It is about 6.5 m long and weighs about 7 tonnes. It can carry nuclear warheads weighing up to 600 kg. According to another version, it is 10 m long. It is a single-stage missile powered by solid propellants. DRDO officials describe it as “light and short”. It was miniaturised and canisterised. It has advanced avionics, propulsion, control and guidance, and inertial navigation systems. While its underwater booster propels it out of the water, its powerful air booster fires and can take it over a distance of more than 700 km.

On the launch day, there was no one aboard the pontoon when the missile was fired. A naval ship was positioned several kilometres away, and the missile’s fire-control systems were in place on this ship, which was linked to the pontoon by an underwater cable and through wireless communication. So the test-firing was a remote operation. Several naval vessels were in position to track Sagarika’s trajectory. The Integrated Test Range had moved some of its equipment from Balasore to Visakhapatnam to track the missile.

The DRDL designed and developed Sagarika and the ASL contributed to its propulsion systems, including its powerful motors. The RCI contributed to its avionics, including control and guidance and inertial navigation systems. Sagarika is similar to Agni-I, which is also a single-stage missile powered by solid propellants and with a range of 700 km.

The mood is upbeat in the missile complex because Sagarika’s success closely follows India’s demonstration of its capability to defend itself against ballistic missile attacks. India fired a hypersonic interceptor missile that intercepted and destroyed an incoming target missile in a direct hit over the Bay of Bengal on December 6, 2007. The interception took place at an altitude of 15 km, in what is called the “endo-atmosphere”. What was outstanding about that mission was that it was a “hit to kill”. The success gave India an entry into the club comprising Russia, the U.S. and Israel, all of whom have missiles that can block incoming ballistic missiles.

In November 2006, India demonstrated its air defence capabilities against incoming ballistic missiles when it shot down an “enemy” missile in the exo-atmosphere, that is, 50 km above the earth. That too was a hit-to-kill mission. In April 2007, the DRDO successfully fired its Agni-III missile, which has a range of more than 3,500 km and can carry nuclear warheads weighing 1 tonne. Akash, the surface-to-air missile, underwent a series of “drills” in December 2007, and the IAF was pleased with its performance.

On February 22, four days before the Sagarika launch, former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, one of the architects of India’s missile programme and the founder of the RCI, pointed out that India had conducted two tests of interceptor missiles in the exo-atmosphere and endo-atmosphere.

“From the results of their performance, I can say we really have the capability” to intercept any foreign object at an altitude of 200 km, he said. “Of course, they [the DRDO] have to do more tests. They have definitely arrived. Their technology is reliable,” Kalam added. He was speaking to reporters at the RCI on the sidelines of an international conference on “Avionics systems”. He made this observation in response to a question on the U.S. launching a missile from a naval vessel on February 21 to destroy a non-functioning satellite about 247 km above the Pacific Ocean. Dr. V.K. Saraswat, Chief Controller (Missiles and Strategic Systems), DRDO, chipped in to say that India had the capability to destroy both an adversarial missile and a wayward satellite. “We have the technological strength to obstruct and destroy them,” he said.

As far as India’s missile programme was concerned, Saraswat said, the Agni-II and Agni-I ballistic missiles were already in the inventory of the armed forces. There have been two flights of Agni-III. India will soon go in for “the next level of Agni-III flight”. Akash was ready for induction into the IAF. The process of its production was under way.