Thursday, September 28, 2006

Links du Jour 

Financial Times of London now has a dedicated India page at IndiaFT.com.

Fantastic interview with Richard Dawkins on Newsnight bookclub promoting what seems like an excellent new book, The God Delusion (via Boing Boing).

Quote du Jour 

(Via Thomas) "I suppose some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers."

-- T.S. Eliot

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Is this for Real? 

According to several news sites, Pakistan has just announced a visa-on-arrival scheme for Indian tourists. I am still trying to figure out where the joke lies, but it seems like there is none and the Pakistan tourism minstry is serious about this. Good for Pakistan. It also is a fantastic opportunity for many more Indians to take in stuff like Mohenjo-Daro, Taxila, Anarkali Bazaar etc, not to mention K2 and the Karakoram ranges in general. I certainly hope a lot of Indians take advantage of this opportunity not just to see the fabled sites of the old Indian civilizations, but also to build the vital people-to-people bridges. The unfortunate part is that I am not sure India can reciprocate on the visa issue, given the terrorist violence that emanates from Pakistan currently.

Nonetheless, as I have harped on this blog several times, I think it would be fantastic if India would unilaterally dismantle all visa controls on all countries bar Pakistan and Bangladesh. I personally find it embarassing that even the Chinese have relented and it's much easier for an Indian to visit China than vice-versa. Visas belong to an earlier time and the potential upside in the tourism/business sector alone should be reason enough for unilateral steps in dismantling the mother of all non-tariff trade barriers.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mobile Phones Continue Explosive Growth 

One of the worst business decisions by AT&T (the Ma Bell version) was to fold up its mobile phone business in the early 80's, having been advised that the total number of mobile phones in existence in the year 2000 would not exceed 1 million. As it turns out, they were only about 699 million subscribers off. Mobile phone users crossed the 1 billion mark in 2002. It took 3 years for another billion users to be added. And now comes news that the number of users has crossed 2.5 billion. In other words, 500 million users have been added in less than 12 months, which means we ought to reach 3 billion users by end-2007, which is truly astonishing. 20 years to get to 1 billion, 3 years to get to 2 billion and less than 2 years to get to 3 billion. Most of the new connections are being added in developing countries, with China and India alone adding 5 million new users every month. This sort of exponential growth is unprecedented in the annals of technology. I cannot think of any other technology which grew quite as rapidly, or for that matter one where growth was driven by phenomenal adoption in developing countries. Can you?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Starbucks Picks an Indian Partner 

For ages, there has been a guessing game afoot as to who Starbucks was going to join hands with, to enter the Indian market. Given that Sequoia had invested $20 million in Cafe Coffee Day to scale up dramatically, and the trouble Barista has been in, I could have sworn Starbucks would come in via a Barista takeover. However, their choice of Indian partner has been a complete surprise to me. Starbucks has chosen to partner with the RPG Group, which owns Spencer and Musicworld, according to the Financial Express.
Though the fine print of the deal is still being worked out, Starbucks is likely to take 51% stake (the maximum allowed in a retail venture so far) with RPG retaining 49% in a joint venture that will also be the Seattle-based firm’s master franchisee for India. RPG will appoint a chairman to the JV and the CEO will be chosen by Starbucks, according to sources involved in discussions. RPG vice-chairman Sanjiv Goenka, who handles the group’s retail business, is expected to be the chairman.

The Truth About Airline Safety 

On my very first day on ZS, back in 2003, I had blogged my general annoyance with airplane announcements that were fundamentally rubbish, especially the one about landing on water. I just noticed the Economist had picked up on the theme a couple of issues with a hilarious editorial about Veritas Airlines, the hypothetical airline that tells you like it is, minus the egregiouos bullshit we all have put up with, at some time or another.
At Veritas Airways, your safety is our first priority. Actually, that is not quite true: if it were, our seats would be rear-facing, like those in military aircraft, since they are safer in the event of an emergency landing. But then hardly anybody would buy our tickets and we would go bust.

Your life-jacket can be found under your seat, but please do not remove it now. In fact, do not bother to look for it at all. In the event of a landing on water, an unprecedented miracle will have occurred, because in the history of aviation the number of wide-bodied aircraft that have made successful landings on water is zero. This aircraft is equipped with inflatable slides that detach to form life rafts, not that it makes any difference. Please remove high-heeled shoes before using the slides. We might as well add that space helmets and anti-gravity belts should also be removed, since even to mention the use of the slides as rafts is to enter the realm of science fiction.

Please switch off all mobile phones, since they can interfere with the aircraft's navigation systems. At least, that's what you've always been told. The real reason to switch them off is because they interfere with mobile networks on the ground, but somehow that doesn't sound quite so good. On most flights a few mobile phones are left on by mistake, so if they were really dangerous we would not allow them on board at all, if you think about it. We will have to come clean about this next year, when we introduce in-flight calling across the Veritas fleet. At that point the prospect of taking a cut of the sky-high calling charges will miraculously cause our safety concerns about mobile phones to evaporate.
That's exactly right. When will the airlines finally learn to spare us the BS? And while we're at it, will someone please petition the airlines to let us carry alcohol on board again? The wine in India is good, but not anywhere near as good as the stuff from France, California, South Africa etc. Thank you.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Economists as President? 

It seems to be the season for promoting macro-economists to presidential roles. First, Ramachandra Guha wrote a well-reasoned piece on why Amartya Sen should take over as the next president of India. Now, Marginal Revolution points to an ongoing effort in the United States to recruit a certain macroeconomist we all know well to replace Mr Bush in 2008. Maybe some of you will have to wait a little longer to heave that sigh of relief you were expecting in 2008 :)