Blog Software Compared

Here – a comparison of b2Evolution, bBlog, Blojsom, Blosxom, Expression Engine, MovableType, Nucleus, Pivot, pMachine Pro, Serendipity, SPIP, .Text, TextPattern and WordPress. Didn’t realise there were so many options!

Wireless World

Newsweek writes: “Between our mobile phones, our BlackBerrys and Treos and our Wi-Fi’d computers, we’re always on and always connectedand soon our cars and appliances will be too. While there’s been considerable planning as to how people will use these tools and how they’ll pay for them, the wonderful reality is that, as with the Internet, much of the action in the wireless world will ultimately emerge from the imaginative twists and turns that are possible when digital technology trumps the analog mind-set of telecom companies and government regulators.”

Glenn Fleishman picks the one sentence to summarise it all: “The ease of distribution becomes a force in itself, pushing networks to handle more bandwidth.”

A related article discusses how the phone is becoming our next computer:

Sales of mobile phones dwarf the sales of televisions, stereos, even the hallowed personal computer. There are 1.5 billion cell phones in the world today, more than three times the number of PCs. Mobile phones are so integral to our lives that it’s difficult to remember how the heck we ever got on without them.

As our phones get smarter, smaller and faster and enable users to connect at high speeds to the Internet, an obvious question arises: is the mobile handset turning into the next computer? In one sense, it already has. Today’s most sophisticated phones have the processing power of a mid-1990s PC while consuming 100 times less electricity. And more and more of today’s phones have computerlike features, allowing their owners to send e-mail, browse the Web and even take photos; 84 million phones with digital cameras were shipped last year. Tweak the question, though, to ask whether mobile phones will ever eclipse, or replace, the PC, and the issue suddenly becomes controversial. PC proponents say phones are too small and connect too sluggishly to the Internet to become effective at tasks now performed on the luxuriously large screens and keyboards of today’s computers. Fans of the phone respond: just wait. Coming innovations will solve the limitations of the phone. “One day, 2 or 3 billion people will have cell phones, and they are all not going to have PCs,” says Jeff Hawkins, inventor of the Palm Pilot and the chief technology officer of PalmOne. “The mobile phone will become their digital life.”

In the near future, at least, new phones won’t look anything like PCs. “The industry is figuring out that a wireless handheld is a different beast,” says Mark Guibert, marketing director of Research in Motion, maker of the popular BlackBerry e-mail device. Mobile-phone watchers say that handsets in the next few years will pack a gigabyte or more of flash memory, turning the phone into a huge photo album or music player and giving stand-alone iPods a run for their money. For several years the industry has also talked about “location-based services,” built around a phone’s ability to detect its exact location anywhere in the world. With this capability, phones will soon be able to provide precise driving directions, serve up discounts for stores as you walk by them and expand dating services like the one Christoph in Frankfurt enjoyed.

But not all mobile technologists think the ultimate promise of the mobile phone ends there. Could your phone one day actually perform many of the functions of the PC, like word processing and Web browsing? PalmOne’s Hawkins thinks so. The inventor of the Palm Pilot and the Treo keeps a desktop PC and a thin Sony Vaio laptop in his office. Yet he waves at both dismissively, as if they were heading for the dustbin of history. Within the next few decades, he predicts, all phones will become mobile phones, all networks will be capable of receiving voice and Internet signals at broadband speeds, and all mobile bills will shrink to only a few dollars as the phone companies pay off their investments in the new networks. “You are going to have the equivalent of a persistent [fast] T1 line in your pocket. That’s it. It’s going to happen,” Hawkins predicts. The computer won’t go away, he says, but it might fade to the background, since people prefer portability and devices that turn on instantly instead of having to boot up.

Pixar’s Pinnacle

Wired has a cover story on Pixar, Steve Jobs’ other company:

By any standards, Pixar Animation Studios has reached infinity and beyond. From 1995’s Toy Story – the world’s first all-CG feature – to last year’s Finding Nemo, Pixar’s five hermetically crafted movies have grossed a staggering $2.5 billion at the box office, making it the most successful film studio, picture for picture, of all time. “You have to take your hat off to them,” says Neil Braun, head of CG-animation company Vanguard and former president of the NBC Television Network. In the history of film, there’s just one precedent for this level of economic triumph, this ability to add to the American childhood’s beloved cast of characters: Disney Animation Studios.

Pixar hasn’t just turned into the new Disney. It has out-Disneyed Disney, becoming the apprentice that schooled the sorcerer. Pixar’s most talented animators grew up admiring Disney, worked at the sketching tables in Burbank, and went on to crib the company’s DNA. Pixar’s story development process as well as its internal lexicon – including sweatbox, when the director critiques individual animations, and plus-ing, heaping more and more good ideas on a structure that’s already working – come directly from the House That Mickey Built. Both companies are technical pioneers: Disney imbued 2-D cel animation with comedy and heartbreak; Pixar coaxed empathy from digital effects. Now the flipbook animation style that made the Magic Kingdom a powerhouse is fading to black: Disney’s Home on the Range, released in April, is the last fully 2-D production for the studio, and competitors like DreamWorks are retraining illustrators to be 3-D mouse jockeys. Pixar’s digital animation is the wave of the future.

As Disney did in its heyday, Pixar has created an assembly line of wonder: Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo. While the rest of the film industry depends on inherited properties from popular media (Mystic River, Starsky & Hutch, even The Passion of the Christ), each Pixar story is sui generis. “What Pixar is so great at is developing wholly original ideas,” says Chris Wedge, the director of 20th Century Fox’s Ice Age and next year’s Robots. “And it’s not just the idea – it’s the story, beat by beat, and the characters and relationships. That’s the real hard part.”

Value of the RSS Feed

Fred Wilson writes:

Ive got two to three times as many people who read my feed as those who read my blog. And the ratio is going up every day. Ive put all this time and energy into my blog page with House Ads, Adsense, Blogrolls, etc and its a total waste of time and energy. Because by the end of this year, the number of people who actually visit my blog will be less than 10% of my total audience.

So, this means that the smart money is going to go into the feed space. Because thats where the action is. Forget AdSense. I need contextual ads built right into my feed. Forget Typepad links, I need the links built right into my feed. Same with comments. And the feed needs to be two way. Atom has that capability I am told. So let me comment right in the feed. Thats a hell of lot better than Trackback.

For all the creativity that blogs have unleashed, its just the tip of the iceberg. RSS is a fundamental good technology (ie open and extendable) that is going to impact the Internet in the same way that open standards like HTTP, HTML, and MP3 have.

IHT now printed in India

Starting Monday, the International Herald Tribune is now printed in Hyderabad. Owned by the New York Times, the IHT has excellent international coverage. The advantage of the India printing (in Hyderabad, probably by the Deccan Chronicle group), is that we now get it the same day, rather than a day later. In addition, the cover price has come down from Rs 96 to Rs 30 (which is still 10 times what the local newspaper costs). Hopefully, the IHT will soon start getting local ads and be able to reduce the price further.

In case you want to subscribe, call 040-2780 3930 x309 or email midram-AT-deccan.com. (I hope they adjust the money I’ve paid for my subscription!)

So, when will we see a locally printed Wall Street Journal and Financial Times? I only hope that as the printing gets done locally, they do not dilute the content – I am not as much interested in India news so the global perspectives. I get plenty of India news from the other papers!

India’s Money Challenge

Business Week wonders how India’s coalition government will fund the promises it is making:

So far, the government hasn’t answered the biggest question: Where will the money come from? Federal and state governments are staggering under fiscal deficits equal to 9% of gross domestic product, one of the highest levels of government debt in the world. Yet Congress already has ruled out two obvious sources of new revenue: major sell-offs of state assets, which last year netted $3.5 billion, and tax increases. Protectionism is out, too. “In today’s environment, one can’t increase taxes or hike import tariffs or close the doors to foreign direct investment,” says Jairam Ramesh, the party’s economic adviser. What’s more, with interest rates and oil prices rising and investor sentiment for emerging markets on the wane, the global climate isn’t as friendly to India as it was in 2003.

This is why analysts anxiously await the budget that Chidambaram, who helped put India on firmer footing during a previous stint as Finance Minister in the mid-1990s, is to unveil in July. So far, Congress officials have released few details about how they will finance greater social spending. Observers aren’t expecting miracles. India has lived with high budget deficits for 15 years, and neither the BJP nor Congress before it made much headway in reducing them. “The problem with the budget is hard to fix because it’s structural and has a lot to do with the political dynamics of India,” says Gregory Fager, Asia/Pacific director at Institute of International Finance Inc., a Washington think tank for the banking industry.

New Delhi can do many things to whittle that problem down, though, if Congress has the political will. For example, it could trim generous food and fertilizer subsidies, slash overstaffed bureaucracies, and use federal fund transfers to coax spendthrift states to do the same. The government also could find ways to get more companies to pay taxes without chilling investment. Despite a maximum 35% rate for corporations and 30% for personal income, India collects just 14% of GDP in taxes, a skimpy rate by world standards. That’s because most farmers, small businesses, and rapidly growing service companies pay little or nothing, thanks to exemptions or evasion. As a result, the heaviest burden falls on salaried employees at big companies and on manufacturers. The government is starting to tax information technology companies on domestic earnings and will soon tax exports. But to get more companies on the rolls, it must overcome powerful lobbies and implement better systems to monitor small businesses.

New Delhi could make a bigger impact if it introduced a value-added tax, which imposes levies on the production and distribution of goods and services. In Europe the VAT raises more revenue than would sales taxes. A tax-reform commission headed by Finance Ministry official Vijay L. Kelkar in 2002 endorsed the VAT.

Deficit hawks are more worried about profligate state governments. A day after the election victory, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, the new Congress chief minister for the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, promised free electricity to farmers. Economists estimate that would boost power subsidies by 20%, to $475 million. Politicians in neighboring Tamil Nadu then hiked power subsidies by one-third.

There are some bright spots. The Congress coalition inherited a strong economy with $114 billion in foreign reserves, up from $40 billion three years ago. India has a relatively high savings rate of 23%. And last year, low interest rates helped states retire $14.2 billion in loans owed the central government. This trimmed the deficit a bit. And although India’s public debt load is high at 82% of GDP, it has been able to finance it through local institutions, rather than rely on foreign markets. “The banks are flush with liquidity,” reasons Standard & Poor’s sovereign ratings analyst Joydeep Mukherji. “So there’s no risk of a crisis.”

Chidambaram is likely to present the Budget in the first week of July.

TECH TALK: Good Books: Investing: The Last Liberal Art (Part 2)

Perhaps the best section in Robert Hagstroms book Investing: The Last Liberal Art is the one on Literature. Hagstrom takes us on a visit to St. Johns College in Annapolis, Maryland. The college is known for its Great Books Program. Hagstrom elaborates:

The entire curriculum is devoted to reading and discussing the great books of Western civilization; there are no separate disciplines or departments, and no electives. Over the four years, the students will read classic works in literature, philosophy, theology, psychology, science, government, economics, and history, and discuss them intensively in seminars of eighteen or twenty students. In smaller classes, they also study music, the visual arts, languages (Greek in the freshman and sophomore years, French in the final two years), mathematics, and laboratory science.

The curriculum design follows an approximate chronological sequence. In the freshman year, students focus their attention exclusively on the great thinkers of ancient Greece. The second year covers the Roman, medieval, and Renaissance periods, and also includes classical music and poetry. In the third year, students read major works of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century thinkers. Seniors move on to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

One of the regrets that I have in life that the education system in most Indian schools and colleges (especially in the sciences discipline) de-emphasises the liberal arts. It is only later in life that one realises the need for a broader set of ideas and mental models. For many of us, it is probably too late then. Reading Hagstroms book, I wished I would go and spend four years at St. Johns! Perhaps, we can create such a college in India?

The Literature section of Hagstroms book also has a section on how to read a book, based on ideas outlined in Mortimer Adlers How to Read a Book, published first in 1940. Writes Hagstrom:

The central purpose for reading a book, Adler believes, is to gain understanding. That is not the same as reading for informationClearly, information is a prerequisite for enlightenment, but the trick, says Adler, is not to stop at just being informed.

Reading that makes you stop and think is the path to greater understanding not solely because of what you are reading but because of the process of reflection in which you are engaged. You are learning from your own thinking as well as from the authors ideas. You are making new connections. Adler describes this as the difference between learning by instruction and learning by discoveryAchieving real understanding requires you to work, to think.

Hagstrom is a great teacher. The book is like going back to school and learning the same principles that we once learnt only to excel in exams. Only this time, we are doing so for enriching our lives.

Tomorrow: The Toyota Way

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