Frequent-Flyer Miles

The Economist answers things I’ve always wanted to know about airline frequent-flyer miles:

Calculations by The Economist in January 2005 suggested that the total stock of unredeemed miles was worth more than all the dollar bills in circulation…The biggest collectors of miles today are not frequent flyers but frequent buyers. More than half of all miles are earned on the ground, notably on credit cards linked to airlines’ programmes or on telephone calls.

On most airlines, one mile is earned for every mile flown. But what is a mile worth? Airlines sell them to credit-card firms at a rate of between one and two cents a mile. Yet if you make the best use of your miles, such as flying business class across the Atlantic, the market value can be up to 10 cents per mile. In 2004, over 20m free tickets were issued, and on a typical flight 7-8% of passengers were travelling on such tickets. You can also use miles for hotel rooms, car rental, holidays, restaurants, CDs and magazines, but these account for a small fraction of miles spent.

Broadband over Power Lines

WSJ provides an update from the US:

In a deal that could pose a new threat to cable and phone companies, Current Communications Group LLC and TXU Electric Delivery, a unit of TXU Corp., said they plan to offer high-speed Internet over electric power lines to more than two million customers in Texas.

The move marks the biggest deployment of broadband over power lines in the U.S.

Under the terms of the agreement, TXU, the biggest utility company in Texas, will sign a 10-year contract for $150 million to use Current’s technology to get instantaneous alerts about outages and to gather information about its electrical system. The technology eventually could be used to read meters and even to remotely shut off or turn on power, eliminating utility jobs.

Broadband over power lines, or “BPL,” has had technical difficulties, and ham-radio operators have objected to spectrum interference. (Current says its service doesn’t interfere with ham radio.) But the technology is regarded as a potentially powerful tool that could reshape all sorts of businesses in addition to utilities and Internet service. Because any electric outlet becomes a two-way communications portal, it could give regular appliances a communication capability. Soda machines, for example, could tell a distributor when they’re running low on cans, changing restocking routes.

Forbes on Rediff

Forbes writes:

In the world’s second most populous country more Indian people go to Rediff.com for e-mail, online shopping, dating and blogging than anywhere else. Bolstered by this impressive user base, Chief Executive Officer Ajit Balakrishnan believes that Rediff can compete in an international “portal war” with the likes of Yahoo and Google. “There are five or six or seven companies in the world who are now neck-and-neck in competition in this area,” he says. “We consider ourselves to be one of them.”

Two problems, however: The 40 million visitors a month to Rediff’s various sites equal the total number of Internet users in the nation of 1.1 billion. And they spend a paltry number of rupees in the process. Both Yahoo and Google had more than $3 billion in sales last year. Rediff brought in 581 million rupees, or $12.6 million.

Microsoft and the iPod

Barron’s discusses whether Microsoft may build its own device a la the Xbox 360:

Last week, the company announced that it had joined with Viacom’s MTV Networks to launch a digital music service that will be built into Windows Media Player, to compete with Apple’s iTunes. The network will be called Urge.

Then came news, by way of a Microsoft memo described in the Wall Street Journal Thursday, that Microsoft was consolidating its consumer businesses (music, movies, videogames and TV) under Robbie Bach, a leader in developing Microsoft’s successful Xbox video console, to date the company’s main foray into hardware.

[SG Cowen’s] Brosseau thinks Microsoft strongly wants to enter the online music business and to explore the software/hardware/service nexus. The analyst also points out that, with the recent release of the Xbox 360, Microsoft has a hardware-design group with time and energy to spare until the next videogame hardware cycle.

TECH TALK: The Best of 2005: Moreover

There were a few other outstanding articles which didnt really fit into a specific category, but I wanted to make sure I mention them.

17. Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement address

Steve Jobs of Apple and Pixar gave a speech on June 12 at Stanford. Here are a few excerpts:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

18. Atanu Dey on the Future of Energy

In a year where rising oil prices brought the need for alternative energy to the fore, here is a standout post in September by Atanu Dey in conversation with a (fictional) CJ:

The heavy elements which power nuclear fission reactors originated outside the solar system. But the rest are solar. In fact, fusion could be considered extra-solar as well. Anyway, perhaps now we will move beyond fossil energy. I think that the age of what I call the Direct solar energy age is here.

Instead of photosynthesis, a process which involves carbon dioxide and has its attendant problems of global warming and such, you have to go directly to solar energy. Photovoltaics is going to get a boost. I think the slogan I would promote will be Photovoltaics, not photosynthesis. Get some t-shirts printed with that logo, will you?

I agree that cutting out the carbon from the middle and going directly to tapping solar energy is a good idea, CJ. But it will take too long. What happens in the meanwhile is what bothers me.

The meanwhile will not be a such a long time. The pace of technological change is accelerating at an accelerating pace. Second order acceleration, if you can get your mind around it. It boggles the mind. The smart money will be on developing direct solar energy solutions such as photovoltaics and a few somewhat indirect solar energy solutions such as wind energy. I would say that in the next few years, you will see a gradual shift to alternate technologies available commercially.

And that would be good for India? I asked.

Actually this is great for all economies that currently depend on imported fossil fuels. Indian movers and shakers dont have the foresight to actually develop alternative energy solutions. India should have done so years ago. After all, India is a large economy with the energy bill annually running into several tens of billions of dollars. Imagine that India had invested massively in direct solar energy (DSE) research and development. Just a few billion dollars well spent on energy research would have paid enormous returns. A huge domestic market is a given, of course. And the conditions are such in India280 sunny days a year on averagethat direct solar energy makes a heck of a lot of sense.

I know what you mean. Investing in DSE research would make a lot more sense than lets send an Indian to the moon by 2010. But I suppose Indians lack imagination, primarily. The US has cars and the US has highways and the US has sent people to the moon. So we in India have to have cars, and we have to have expressways, and we have to send a man to the moon. That we should have a good public transportation system instead of cars, a great rail system instead of expressways, a national goal of developing alternate energy source by 2010 instead of sending a man to the moonthat is not part of our thinking. Of course, if I say that I think Indians are collectively stupid, I get called names.

Next Week: The Best of Tech Talk

Continue reading