Category Archives: World

What Social Media? Pt.-IV

The outcome of the political struggle in Egypt is a strong evidence of how quick and powerful a message that touches the right chord with the target audience can  become on social media.

Welcome “Facebook Revolution“!

Hosni Mubarak may have dismissed the whole thing as a computer mumbo-jumbo but that itself became a major force leading to his ouster. After police and army started rounding up people and protesters went “missing“, people started using Facebook and age-old social networking medium aka Friday prayers to garner support for the movement.

The success of the Egyptian movement has also raised hopes in our countries like Libya, which is witnessing the most recent and arguably also the most violent movements in recent time. If Gaddafi and his likes think that they can push people aside and have their way, then they need look no further than Egypt for results.

 

Stop or I Will Tweet

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2010 Review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

About 3 million people visit the Taj Mahal every year. This blog was viewed about 55,000 times in 2010. If it were the Taj Mahal, it would take about 7 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 8 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 101 posts. There were 12 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 314kb. That’s about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was April 22nd with 427 views. The most popular post that day was Maldives presents a glimpse of the scary tomorrow.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were 74.125.67.100, en.wordpress.com, search.aol.com, images.yandex.ru, and tumblr.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for maldives, pollution, usaf, sausage, and us air force logo.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Maldives presents a glimpse of the scary tomorrow October 2009

2

Rich-Poor divide leaves climate talks in a fix November 2009
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3

Germans eat out more than 1000 animals in 1 lifetime October 2009
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The Power of FaceBook

Visualizing Friendship

FB Borders

Source: Visualizing Friendships Image

A map of Facebook users depicts how FB’s 500 million users across the globe are connected to each other.

The most fascinating part about Paul Butler‘s map of the world is that it in a way neatly shows that FB user base is dependent on at the most internet penetration (except for in China of course!).  This FB intern used data from FB database to create a map of people’s friendships across the globe and to see how they related to geographical and political boundaries. After experimenting with different techniques, he ended up using arced, weighted lines to connect cities based on the volume of the Facebook friendships between them. He used open source program called “R” to simulate his model.

This is what we have from the Horse‘s Mouth:

Visualizing data is like photography. Instead of starting with a blank canvas, you manipulate the lens used to present the data from a certain angle.

When the data is the social graph of 500 million people, there are a lot of lenses through which you can view it. One that piqued my curiosity was the locality of friendship. I was interested in seeing how geography and political borders affected where people lived relative to their friends. I wanted a visualization that would show which cities had a lot of friendships between them.

I began by taking a sample of about ten million pairs of friends from Apache Hive, our data warehouse. I combined that data with each user’s current city and summed the number of friends between each pair of cities. Then I merged the data with the longitude and latitude of each city.

At that point, I began exploring it in R, an open-source statistics environment. As a sanity check, I plotted points at some of the latitude and longitude coordinates. To my relief, what I saw was roughly an outline of the world. Next I erased the dots and plotted lines between the points. After a few minutes of rendering, a big white blob appeared in the center of the map. Some of the outer edges of the blob vaguely resembled the continents, but it was clear that I had too much data to get interesting results just by drawing lines. I thought that making the lines semi-transparent would do the trick, but I quickly realized that my graphing environment couldn’t handle enough shades of color for it to work the way I wanted.

Instead I found a way to simulate the effect I wanted. I defined weights for each pair of cities as a function of the Euclidean distance between them and the number of friends between them. Then I plotted lines between the pairs by weight, so that pairs of cities with the most friendships between them were drawn on top of the others. I used a color ramp from black to blue to white, with each line’s color depending on its weight. I also transformed some of the lines to wrap around the image, rather than spanning more than halfway around the world.

After a few minutes of rendering, the new plot appeared, and I was a bit taken aback by what I saw. The blob had turned into a surprisingly detailed map of the world. Not only were continents visible, certain international borders were apparent as well. What really struck me, though, was knowing that the lines didn’t represent coasts or rivers or political borders, but real human relationships. Each line might represent a friendship made while travelling, a family member abroad, or an old college friend pulled away by the various forces of life.

Later I replaced the lines with great circle arcs, which are the shortest routes between two points on the Earth. Because the Earth is a sphere, these are often not straight lines on the projection.

When I shared the image with others within Facebook, it resonated with many people. It’s not just a pretty picture, it’s a reaffirmation of the impact we have in connecting people, even across oceans and borders.

Source: Paul Butler’s Note

This surely gives us an idea of the penetration FB has and why it is gaining so much power. This power on one hand made Mark Elliot Zuckerber, the Time – 2010 Person of the year and on the other is making consultants, researchers and marketers all over the world, scratch their head to understand how to harness it’s power to make moolah.

From simple fan pages to intricate listening platforms, its all about money, honey!

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The (Un)Common Misadventure?

CWG-Delhi-2010

Abraham Lincoln once said:

God must love the common man, he made so many of them.

It seems that God did not like the Indian common man as he made so many politicians and bureaucrats to make their life tough if not hell.

Amidst rising inflation, poverty and lack of basic amenities plaguing the common man, politicians are busy playing the game they play best: mudslinging.

The latest example is the (non-)issue about the CommonWealth Games (CWG). Two of the top-notch politicians of the ruling coalition are busy mudslinging at each other while the repute of the nation is at stake. The worst part is the truth that billions have already been spent, overshooting the initial budget and still things are chaotic. All this at the cost of hard earned money of the poor common man.

This speaks of amongst other the following failures:

Old time arch-rivals senior Congress leader, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Suresh Kalmadi, Congress leader and Chairman of the organizing committee of the CWG, are busy making accusations against each other while the preparations for the games are in a limbo. To give the matter an even more shameful flavor, the recent revelations by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) ranging from allegations like:

  • Award of works at higher rates – One of the accusations here are:

In the bid of L1, rates of some items and discount offered by the firm at the end of BOQ were tampered either by cutting or by overwriting in the price bid after opening in order to increase the quoted amount to avail the difference of Rs. 3,62,72,229/- between the next higher quoted amounts without changing the overall status.

  • Poor quality assurance – One among a list of eleven accusations CVC’s inspection note reveals :

Lot of deviations taken from the approved scheme of the Government without obtaining the approval of the competent authority. Specially poles of 12 meter length (Agreement rate of Rs. 28,358/-) and 10 meter length (Agreement rate of Rs. 28,974/-) have been deviated in such a manner which is beneficial to the agency with extra burden of about Rs. 1,13,32,464/-.

  • Award of work to ineligible agencies – CVC’s note states in one case:

Work finally had to be terminated which resulted into time and cost overrun

    Source: cvc.nic.in

    What is even more shocking and disturbing is the CVC revelation that the materials used in the construction failed “stress-test”. Basic safety norms are being openly flouted. Electricity installations remained to be tested for common checks like insulation test. With rains pouring and large crowd expected for the event, it is a dangerous proposition.

    As different parties peg the amount spent on the games at different levels, everyone agrees that it has zoomed way past the initial estimates and the whole proposition to organize the games is being questioned. A Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports, Government of India press release dated July 29, 2010 pegs the figures as below:

    • Expected Income as per the CWG Organizing Committee (OC)  – Rs. 1,708 crore
    • Expected Expenditure on condust of the games – Rs.2,394 crore (includes Overlays, Timing, Scoring, Result System and Games Time Sports Equipment)
    • Indian Olympic Association (IOA) estimate of expenditure (2003) – Rs.655 crore
    • Current estimates – Rs.11,494 crore (apart from expenditure of Sports Infrastructure and Conduct of the Games, also expenditure on Security, Broadcasting, Telecommunication, Training of Sportspersons, allocation to Government of Delhi etc.)

    Some sources peg the amount at Rs. 35, 000 crores (close to USD 8, 000 millions, Indian per capita GDP– USD 3, 100).  Mani Shankar Aiyar also alleged that India had bribed the various nations to take the game.

    “To take the Games, the Olympic association of every Commonwealth country was given $1 lakh ($100,000); it was given to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Britain. Those countries did not need this money,” he said. “I would call it a bribe, I don’t know what it is called from the legal point of view.”

    Source: EconomicTimes.IndiaTimes.com

    Aiyar openly declared that he would be happy if the “Games are spoilt”. Organizing such games and events are a good way to showcase the growth and cultural diversity of a nation to attract investment and tourism but the way this event is being managed, it will raise more doubts about Indian acumen and competence rather than creating a positive impact.

    “I am very happy with the rains, firstly because it will ensure a good agriculture for the country and secondly because it will ensure that the Commonwealth Games are spoilt,” Aiyar said candidly.

    Source: EconomicTimes.IndiaTimes.com

    As of now the CWG seems to have become a White Elephant which no one is ready to own. Games OC Chairman, Kalmadi has already wiped-off his hand from allegations of corruption.

    As the countdown clock on the games official page happily ticks away to the D-day, organizers are feeling the heat. CVC as well as the opposition parties and now even constituents of the ruling coalition are raising doubts on the successful conduct of the games. Delhi Finance Minister and a member of the Delhi government Commonwealth Coordination Committee, AK Walia has also gone on records, stating that he was not sure if all stadiums would be ready by the August 15 deadline for the Games.

    Come October 15, 2010, the day the games begin: the world is watching.

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    Children of Taliban

    Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist who has been working in Pakistan and Afghanistan documenting the rise of the Taliban and other radical factions since 2001. She is working on a pilot project to counter radicalization in Pakistan and is writing her first book. TED, a nonprofit organization devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading,” hosts talks on many subjects and makes them available through its website.

    Source: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: Inside a school for suicide bombers

    Sharmeen speaks at a TED event about the dynamics of the suicide bombers and terrorism with a different perspective.

    Sharmeen’s full interview with CNN is here.

    The Taliban are running suicide schools inside Pakistan, preparing a generation of boys for atrocities against civilians.In my documentary on the subject, “Children of the Taliban,” I came across the cases of many young men who were committed to giving up their lives for what they believed to be the glory of Islam. Fifteen-year-old Zainullah blew himself up, killing six people. Another boy, Sadiq, killed 22 and Masood killed 28.

    Since more than 60 percent of the population of Pakistan is under age 25, it seems there will always be a steady supply of recruits waiting to create havoc in the country.The Tehreek-i-Taliban and the various extremist organizations that have been allowed to fester across the country have now joined hands, increasing the reach of their network, sharing recruits, plans, training centers, materials and safe houses.

    It was only a matter of time before this would happen, since the Pakistani government’s flawed policy of fighting “Bad Taliban” –those who carry out attacks inside Pakistan — and turning a blind eye to “Good Taliban” — those who carry out attacks outside Pakistan — was bound to come back and haunt them and it has.

    Since 2003, the number of suicide bombings has grown exponentially across Pakistan. In 2009, 78 attacks occurred across the country; this year more than 29 attacks have taken place. The Tehreek-i-Taliban is boasting that they have an army of suicide bombers waiting in the ranks to carry out more attacks at their command — and I believe them.

    This is no ragtag army fighting in the mountains of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, until recently called the Northwest Frontier Province. These people have a vision, are well trained and their recruitment process is tried and tested.

    In urban centers, the Taliban recruit from two fronts, Islamic madrassas and low-income neighborhoods. They have a network of sympathizers who run radical Islamic schools, providing free education to the very poor. Typically, older Taliban fighters or recruiters spend an evening at one of these schools, glorifying the front lines, showing students videos of their heroics, and talking to them about paradise and the afterlife.The students they address have already been primed by years of brainwashing; they have no access to entertainment, sports, books or even their family. The madrassa is the only home they know, they are often beaten by their teachers, told to study the Koran for hours at a stretch in Arabic, a language alien to them. They are frustrated and suddenly, they are provided with an opportunity to give their life up in the name of Islam and earn glory.

    They are promised lakes of milk and honey and virgins in the afterlife. The young boys I speak with say to me: Why would I want to live in this world — where they rely on charity, dry pieces of bread and water, where they are subjected to harsh treatment, when they can be free and be the envy of their colleagues in the afterlife. They are only too eager to sign on the dotted line and join the ranks of the Taliban.

    In the past few years, the Taliban have relied on other radical organizations, like Jaish-e Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, to recruit young men from low-income neighborhoods in smaller urban centers.

    These organizations have had a presence there for years; first they recruited young men to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviets, then in Kashmir against the Indian Army. The Taliban have just re-activated these lucrative networks.

    Smaller urban centers tend to have high levels of unemployment and the youth have fewer outlets to expend their energy. These radical organizations lure in young men from mosques after Friday sermons, from college campuses and through local neighborhood recruiters.

    The young men who show slight interest are invited to selected safe houses where trained recruiters begin brainwashing them. A young man I met in Karachi described the process to me, telling me that in the end he could not carry out the attacks, but that almost everyone he knew from his group was now working for the Taliban and their affiliates.

    Once inside the safe house, the young men are provided literature, so-called proof, about the atrocities supposedly being committed by the government of Pakistan at the behest of the United States.

    Then, lengthy discussions ensue about their future. Will they ever have jobs, will they be able to provide for their families in this corrupt environment? Would they not want to be part of a process that changes the country and brings accountability? They are promised money, their families are promised compensation and the radical organizations then begin the next phase — training.

    A number of young men who had gone through this ideological brainwashing period told me that training to be a bomber was their best option to get out of poverty. They said that they believe in the cause, because these people understood their needs, and provided them with opportunities, while the rest of society shunned them. Weeks of brainwashing also convinced them that they are fighting an evil and are working toward creating a just ideal Islamic society.

    There is very little deterrent to suicide bombings, especially in a Third World country like Pakistan. Fighting the Taliban and the various radical organizations on the front lines is like adding a Band-Aid to a cut, it may stop the bleeding but unless you clean it with antiseptic, the germs stay and multiply.

    The Pakistani government and its allies must overhaul their policies in Pakistan. They must tackle the madrassa system of education head on and they must look to provide alternate avenues and employment for the youth.

    Thousands of civilians have lost their lives to terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, and thousands more will — because, unlike the Pakistani government, which has no coherent policy to deal with the radicals, the Taliban have one to deal with Pakistan and its citizens.

    Source: CNN.com

    As Sharmeen truly points out, its a lot of socio-economic variables as play. Raw power cannot succeed at rooting out terrorism and this has been proved by the experience of US and allied forces not being able to root out Taliban from Afghanistan. In fact leveraging religious fanaticism, Taliban is gaining grounds elsewhere in various forms and formats. Be it in developing nations like India through organizations like LeT (or by any other name) or in nations like Yemen where religious belief as well as internal instability fuel its growth.

    So while our security forces battle it out with terrorists, government and other development agencies need to figure out more inclusive growth policies. The sooner the better.

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    BP (mis)handles Gulf of Mexico Oil Spew

    Beyond Petroleum?

    The recent industrial accident in the Gulf of Mexico due to the oil well rupture from the British Petroleum (BP) has raised global cries against the petroleum giant and it’s claim of acting to contain the damage. While BP has gone on a PR war to contain the damage to it’s image, gulf residents and environmentalists are up in arms to take the fight to BP’s door.

    Not many would remember the 2007, exit of the then BP CEO, Lord John Browne, who was removed owing to his sexual preferences and private life being exposed. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld in BusinessWeek had written an article which claimed to bring out “the real scandal at BP“. The article leveled a wide array of charges against BP ranging from PR misadventures to wrong business decisions being made by the BP boss.

    Browne himself set the bar high. In addition to acquiring Amoco and Arco, he launched BP’s $200 million image campaign with the tagline that BP stands for “Beyond Petroleum”–embodying principles such as “delivering performance without tradeoffs” in areas ranging from worker safety to the environment. But two years ago, examining actual expenditures in alternative energy, Greenpeace gave Browne an award for the “Best Impression of an Environmentalist.”

    Source: businessweek.com

    The reason Browne’s memory comes to forth is the recent incident where environmental concerns and PR mismanagement are visible.

    Demonstrators claim that the Worldwide BP Protest Day will be marked in over 50 cities in 5 continents on Saturday, June 12, 2010. Protesters are using any and every mode of communication possible. Social media and networking sites are flooded by such communities. The worst thing for BP is the fact that such protests are getting a lot of support.

    • The Facebook Worldwide BP Protest Day page
    • The CODEPINK protest page
    • Boycottbp.org
    • The Financial Times list top-10 online and offline protests:
    • 1 Million Strong Against Offshore Drilling: FB Page started by 350.org,the group is growing steadily with 135,000 fans and counting.
    • Boycott BP: Unquestionably the fastest-growing online movement, Boycott BP started as a Facebook group and is now expanding to multiple international websites. The group asks the public to boycott all BP stations including Castrol, Arco, Aral and AM/PM. The group’s followers have swelled to 450,000.
    • BPGlobalPR: The satirical Twitter feed @BPGlobalPR. (Latest one reads: “Having a conscience was definitely not in the job description when I took the position. ^Tony“)
    • Public Citizen arrest: On June 4 a coalition of nonprofit organizations gathered in Washington, D.C., to make a “citizen’s arrest” of an effigy of BP CEO Tony Hayward. The coalition is now calling for a three-month boycott of BP.
    • World BP Protest Day: June 12 will mark a worldwide protest of BP. Also being organized on Facebook, the group now has commitments for a march in 33 cities.
    • Code Pink: You have to love the brave and impassioned Code Pink Women for Peace.
    • Seize BP: The group wants the U.S. government to seize all of BP’s assets and use them to pay back the damages from the oil spill. Not likely, but they make their point!
    • Change.org’s full debarment plan: Change.org is asking to push the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recommend a full “discretionary debarment” of BP, which means no more U.S. government contracts, no new leases in the U.S. and all existing leases canceled. The EPA was already investigating the possibility for debarment and it is expected the agency will open the issue to public comment in the near future.
    • Beyond Oil
    • Hands Across the Sand

    Source: FinancialPost.com

    It’s clear that BP had never expected as much public outcry on this issue. Now that it has muck flying from every corner, BP is going all out to control the damage, at least the BP damage. It’s home page is splashed with the damage control initiatives it has taken and is being updated constantly.

    Politicians in US too are not behind. While they may be honest about their concerns or just trying to gain some political mileage but the fact remains that BP’s mismanagement and misrepresentation about the extent of damage have led to questions being raised on it’s integrity.

    BP misrepresented what their technology could do,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday. “They misrepresented the amount of oil that was being spewed forth into the Gulf and continued to do so.”

    This is a matter of integrity,” Pelosi said. “BP stated that they had the technology to drill deep, to prevent a blowout and that they had the technology to clean up, and none of these things happened to be a fact.”

    Source: CNN.com

    On one hand while the world is ready to go all out against the global petroleum gaint, billionaire and Mayor of the New York City stood by the company. In a statement on a radio show Bloomberg went on record to support BP.

    “The guy that runs BP didn’t exactly go down there and blow up the well,” he told a radio program. “And what’s more, if you want them to fix it and they are the ones with the expertise, I think I might wait to assign blame until we get it fixed.”

    Source: CNN.com

    The British PM David Cameron too had similar sentiments which seemed to be fueled more by “economic” motives.

    The prime minister explained that he was frustrated and concerned about the environmental damage caused by the leak, but made clear his view that BP is an economically important company in the UK, US and other countries,” the spokesman said in a news release.

    He said that it is in everyone’s interests that BP continues to be a financially strong and stable company.”

    Source: CNN.com

    While officials, protesters and other interest groups are fighting a pitched battle, oil continues to leak. BP is taking measures to contain the damage but would it be enough?

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    India to buy 145 US built howitzers for $650 mn

    Bofors 155 mm Field Howitzer

    Bofors 155 mm Field Howitzer

    The Indian Army is all set to procure 145 US made howitzers in a direct government-to-government deal. The howitzers are M777 make which are 155mm light-weight which can be swiftly deployed in forward and inaccessible areas by helicopters and aircraft. The guns are fitted with laser inertial artillery pointing systems and other equipment.

    The American Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified the US Congress of the decision made by the U.S. federal government. It also asserted that the sale will boost ‘interoperability‘ between Indian and American soldiers and marines.

    “It will also improve the security of an important partner which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in South Asia,” added DSCA.

    The Indian Army is generally opposed to such purchases through the Foreign Military Sale (FMS) route, as it bypasses the competitive bidding process used to procure arms and ammunition for the armed forces in India as it rules out any comparative trials and price negotiations.

    The bid is contract is speculated to be awarded to the U.S. manufacturer BAE Land Systems.

    The ultra mobile howitzers will help India strengthen its capabilities to react to any emergencies at a short notice. The guns are used by U.S. forces as a primary weapon for indirect fire. The all-weather howitzers, which have a 25-30 km range, will also be useful for supporting Para-Special Force battalions while they operate behind enemy lines and in ‘out-of-area contingencies’.

    India had tried to procure such guns on two previous occasions also but the attempt failed. During the first attempt the South African gunmaker, Denel, was shortlisted but was later found to be indulging in corrupt practices. In the case of lightweight howitzers, ST Kinetics a Singapore based firm was indicted for similar practices where Sudipto Ghosh, the then Chairman of the Ordnance Factory Board was implicated.

    The U.S. has been eyeing the lucrative Indian defense market like other nations in the fray with the Indian government’s decision to modernize the army at a whopping cost of INR 20,000 crore. India also seems all set to approach Washington for another FMS deal to acquire ten C-17 Globemaster-III giant strategic airlift aircrafts priced at over a $220 million apiece.

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