How the iPod Won

The Observer writes:

[The iPod] puts you, not them, in control. Basically, the record labels are devotees of the Henry Ford business model: ‘You can have any music you want so long as it’s what I want to give you.’ But using the cyberspace jukebox, you’re no longer at their mercy. You don’t have to pay for the four filler tracks on every album. You don’t have to buy albums at all.

And you can play them in the same way. Indeed, by plugging the iPod into a pair of speakers, many people are dispensing with a traditional home hi-fi set up altogether. The sound quality isn’t as good (purists say), but it’s good enough, and for many – perhaps most – of us the gain in control and simplicity easily outweighs the disadvantages. So the iPod signals the end of another, if less malign, producer tyranny – hi-fi manufacturers beware.

Vinod Khosla and Ethanol

ZDNet writes about an interview of Vinod Khosla by Walter Mossberg at the D conference:

There are plenty of acres to grow corn and collect biomass, called cellulosic (made from woodchips, orange juice pulp, grasses, corn stalksany plant waste that will produce carbohydrates and sugar) to distill ethanol economically. Estimates vary, he said, as to how many acres of farmland would be needed. His estimate is that about 40 million acres are needed to replace all the gasoline used in the U.S., and that farmers would benefit economically as well. Forty million acres is as much land as we pay farmers not to grow food on today, Khosla said.

In fact, many in the energy food chain would benefit. Ethanol is less expensive to develop than hydrogen, which is nice for automakers. The farming industry has a new cash crop and less pressure on subsidies. It’s lower risk and a more rapid path to efficient and green energy. Oil companies could become distillers and avoid the high risk oil patches.

Google’s Power – or Not

Foreign Policy has a commentary by David Wise who authored a book on Google recently:

Around the world, Google faces tough obstacles. In developing nations, the Web is inaccessible for all but a wealthy few. In technologically advanced countries, Google faces the emergence of government-backed rivals. The competition in Asia is especially fierce. In Japan, Yahoo leads the pack with its millions of registered e-mail users. The leading search engine in China is Baidu.com, which enjoys strong government support. And, though Googles popularity in China is increasing, it cant seem to gain any traction in nearby South Korea. There, the government has invested heavily in making high-speed Internet service widely available, as well as facilitated the creation of a number of domestic Web search firms that are the market leaders. Google has become so frustrated by its inability to crack the Korean consciousness that it has done the unthinkablespent money to promote its brand name, something the online giant has rarely had to do anywhere else.

MySQL and Distributed Working

Fortune writes:

Few businesses are as spread out as MySQL, which employs 320 workers in 25 countries, 70 percent of whom work from home.

How on earth do these virtual organizations get anything done? Management gurus have been preaching since the early days of Peter Drucker that workers must be organized into corporations with strict boundaries (between, for example, employees and customers) and a centralized physical plant (the headquarters). Based on those criteria, a remotely controlled entity such as MySQL begins to look no more managerially sophisticated than, say, your average garden club.

But peer inside such an oddly configured company, and you’ll find someone at the top who has thought very deliberately about how to execute effectively in the virtual world, managing communications resources and human ones in such a way as to keep participants feeling valued and connected. As pioneering as those folks may be, they are hardly soft-headed idealists.

WiFi Mobiles

Lifeblog writes:

Risto Koski, a colleague from Nokia, and I were having a deep discussion when he naturally suggested that why bother making phones with both WiFi and cellular connectivity (now being called dual-mode).

Y’see, you could just have a WiFi phone and when you wanted to make a call, just go around looking for a WiFi access point.

Of course, if you are a regular 21st century person, this suggestion should shock you. You must be thinking: Who is going to be looking around for a place to call from?

Well, before mobile phones, such behaviour was the norm – to make a call, we would look for phone booths.

This suggestion has all the hallmarks of a disruptive situation.

TECH TALK: Education and Reservation: Other Comments (Part 3)

Sachin Pilot, a Congress Member of Parliament, wrote in the Indian Express:

When talking of reservation in educational institutions, I believe we have to create a situation where no deserving student is denied an opportunity to get educated. Unfortunately we are nowhere close to this ideal situation. In fact what we have is a situation where the demand far exceeds the supply in almost all fields of study, be it medicine, engineering, management or law. Our goal should be to have so many vacancies that reservations become irrelevant. Just think back to the time as late as the early 90s when LPG and phone connections were tough to access because of supply shortages. Once they were available in abundance, the premium (and black market) for them also disappeared. Similarly, having enough number of good institutions that can absorb all those who wish to pursue higher degrees will rid us of the problem of having to ration admissions.

The solution lies in expanding our educational infrastructure starting right from primary school upwards and we ought to do this on a war footing. Why cant we create more Manipals and Punes? Why cant each state in India have two IITs and three IIMs?

Another challenge is in ensuring that only the truly needy make use of these reservation opportunities. If an individual has availed himself of the benefits of reservation and prospered, then his dependents should not be entitled to any reservation privileges. Therefore, even though I belong to the OBC community, it would be improper for my children to be admitted to an institution on grounds other than merit because they would have had all the necessary resources at their disposal to secure their own future. I think the solution lies in finding a middle ground between meritorious students not getting left out and a situation where those who have been neglected for centuries are given the systemic support to realise their dreams and aspirations.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta resigned from the Knowledge Commission set up by the Prime Minister in protest over the issue. The Indian Express carried his resignation letter in which he wrote:

These measures will not achieve social justice. I am as committed as anyone to two propositions. Every student must be enabled to realise his/her full potential regardless of financial or social circumstances. Achieving this aim requires radical forms of affirmative action. But the numerically mandated quotas your government is proposing are deeply disappointing

As a society we focus on reservations largely because it is a way of avoiding doing the things that really create access. Increasing the supply of good quality institutions at all levels (not to be confused with numerical increases), more robust scholarship and support programmes will go much further than numerically mandated quotas. When you assumed office, you had sketched out a vision of combining economic reform with social justice. Increased public investment is going to be central to creating access opportunities. It would be presumptuous for me to suggest where this increased public investment is going to come from, but there are ample possibilities: for instance, earmarking proceeds from genuine disinvestment for education will do far more for access than quotas. We are not doing enough to genuinely empower marginalised groups, but are offering condescending palliatives like quotas as substitute. All the measures currently under discussion are to defuse the agitation, not to lay the foundations for a vibrant education system. If I may borrow a phrase of Tom Paines, we pity the plumage, but forget the dying bird.

Tomorrow: My Views

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