Saturday, August 14, 2010

Snow Golf in the ¨End of the World¨

Snow Golf Tournament... when I saw the news, I said ...Oops.
I thought.. hmmm.. there are golfers crazier than me. When I reached the golf course today, there were 43 more crazy golfers.

It was the 4th time the Snow Golf tournament was organised in Cerro Castor ski resort. It is in Ushuaia, the southernmost city and also called as End of the World (Fin del Mundo).

The golf course had 9 holes at the base of the ski resort. There was one five par while the rest were par 3 and par4 for a total of 30. The Green was compact snow with a blue coloured circle around.
Here I am with Juan Carlos Begue, the owner of the ski resort

Twenty out of the 44 players were from Buenos Aires while the rest were from the End of the World. There was even a women´s foursome. In Ushuaia there is a 9 hole course which is open in summer.
The snowgolfers listening to the instructions and rules by the pro.

The Snow Golf advisory said
- dont put heavy jackets which will hinder the swing
-put on snowboard shoes
-coloured balls would be given by the organisers
-bring half a set with maximum of 7 clubs including putter.

We used tees on the fairway, which was compacted and was fairly narrow. Either side of the fairway was rough and there teeing up was not allowed. In the rough one has to blast it out like a sand shot. One can bring it to the fairway but with one stroke penalty. If one is unlucky the ball would fall into the snow and disappear under. In that case one can drop another ball and play with one stroke penalty.

It was a Lugunada tournament, which means best score of the four players in each hole. I started off with a par at the 220 yard first hole and birdied the 270 yard. I had two more pars and my partners also contributed. We had a total of 4 under. Hmm... we came fourth. The winners played 7 under...the second and third position went to those who did 5 under.

There was water hazard in two holes with a stream running to catch the sliced balls. Here it is...

The ball does not run on the snow, obviously. So one has to hit a high ball and play a longer club. Even while putting, one has to hit the ball hard. If not, it will get slowed down and get turned to right and left.

Golfers are known for craziness. I had played in a desert golf course in Libya where the fairway was all sand. The ball would fall on the sand and disappear. We used mats or tees to hit the ball on the sand. I had played at 42 degrees centigrade in Delhi Golf club. Someone commented that I was able to withstand the hot sun due to the thick skin developed in the course of thirty years of government service..
Prize distribution ceremony..

Today we were lucky with the weather. It was a sunny and beautiful day with a maximum of 9 degree centigrade. I was worried about the fierce Patagonian wind which could pierce through one´s skin, flesh and bones. Fortunately the wind started only towards the end of the game and it was mercifully mild.
After the game we had wines from the Fin del Mundo winery from Patagonia followed by a lunch in which they served the delicious Patagonian lamb.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Anna: The Life and Times of C.N. Annadurai by R. Kannan

This was the book ( published in February 2010 ) which accompanied me through the train journeys from Frankfurt - Prague – Krakow-Belgrade-Thessalonika- Athens last month.
It is the biography of Anna, who has transformed the politics and society of Tamilnadu as a politician, thinker, reformer and writer. Anna developed a brand new politics of brotherhood with his Thambis ( younger brother) and inspired a whole new crop of leaders, writers and the masses. He combined astutely politics with literature, films and newspapers and awakened the tamil society, reformed it and lead the movement to power peacefully and democratically. His leagcy continues in the form of rule of his Thambis and the irreversible changes in the Tamil society. Anna was inspired by Periyar´s call for reforms of the society and fight against injustice and superstitions. Anna went beyond Periyar, mobilised the masses, took to the path of elctoral politics and captured political power. After this, Anna realised the need for building bridges with New Delhi and saw a better future for Tamils within the framework of India, shedding his earlier calls for a separate Dravida Naadu and Tamilnadu. At the same time he resolutely fought against the imposition of Hindi and thereby saved the whole country from Hindi fanatics who had the potential to break up the country. If Tamilnadu is doing well as a state and Tamils are shining in IT and in the coalition governments at the centre, the credit for this goes to Anna who laid the foundation and set the course of progress and new mindset.

Author Kannan has put the evolution of Anna as a leader in the context of the politics and other leaders at that time. Periyar was, of course, the greatest influence on Anna as well as in Tamil society in that period. While Anna started as a loyal disciple of Periyar, it was ineveitable that Anna had to move away from his mentor and start DMK. Periyar never wanted to become chief minister or aspired to any such position of power and would not let others. He was always a kind of anarchist and activist fighting for his radical beliefs outside the government system. Periyar´s eccentricities and rigid unrealistic approach to many political issues limited Dravidar Kazhagam´s growth.

Kannan describes the situation of Congress party which was feudal and did not take Anna and his Thambis seriously. Rajaji who rose to national level politics and fame played his hands wrongly and left the field for DMK to capitalise on his mistakes.

Kannan has given an objective narration and comments on all the players and parties– brahmins, non-brahmins, actors, congresswalas, Periyar, Anna, Kamaraj and Rajaji. He has quoted the comments of all the parties and let the readers judge them. He has let the writings and quotes of Anna and his adversaries speak for themselves. This is remarkable for a Tamil author. Most of the views and comments about Anna or for that matter any of the Tamil leaders are partial, emotional and subjective. I was surprised by the caustic and rabid remarks of Jayakanthan on DMK leaders calling them as Porukkis ( loafers). I am an admirer of Jayakanthan as a innovative writer and thinker and I am surprised even he has succumbed to partiality blatantly. Kannan has successfully managed to overcome this Tamil weakness of extremes …hero worship and demonisation of opponents.

I wish more such objective and neutral books are written in English on Periyar, MGR, Karunanidhi, Jayalalitha, Kamaraj and Rajaji. This will help the world to have a proper understanding of the Tamil society. Foreigners get confused by the giant cut-outs in Mount Road, the filmi politics, the contents and hollowness of kumudam and anandavikatan and the culture of Amma, Anna and Thambis. The books need to be translated in Hindi to educate those northeners who condenscendingly call all those beyond vindhyas as Madrasis.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

America’s Real Dream Team...article by Tom Friedman

I am reproducing below the article by Thomas Friedman in Newyork Times of 20 March. He is one of my favourite American writers sparkling with new theories, ideas and most importantly showing respect for Indians and others...The current article shows the new reality and new hope for Indians...

Went to a big Washington dinner last week. You know the kind: Large hall; black ties; long dresses. But this was no ordinary dinner. There were 40 guests of honor. So here’s my Sunday news quiz: I’ll give you the names of most of the honorees, and you tell me what dinner I was at. Ready?

Linda Zhou, Alice Wei Zhao, Lori Ying, Angela Yu-Yun Yeung, Lynnelle Lin Ye, Kevin Young Xu, Benjamin Chang Sun, Jane Yoonhae Suh, Katheryn Cheng Shi, Sunanda Sharma, Sarine Gayaneh Shahmirian, Arjun Ranganath Puranik, Raman Venkat Nelakant, Akhil Mathew, Paul Masih Das, David Chienyun Liu, Elisa Bisi Lin, Yifan Li, Lanair Amaad Lett, Ruoyi Jiang, Otana Agape Jakpor, Peter Danming Hu, Yale Wang Fan, Yuval Yaacov Calev, Levent Alpoge, John Vincenzo Capodilupo and Namrata Anand.
No, sorry, it was not a dinner of the China-India Friendship League. Give up?
O.K. All these kids are American high school students. They were the majority of the 40 finalists in the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search, which, through a national contest, identifies and honors the top math and science high school students in America, based on their solutions to scientific problems. The awards dinner was Tuesday, and, as you can see from the above list, most finalists hailed from immigrant families, largely from Asia.
Indeed, if you need any more convincing about the virtues of immigration, just come to the Intel science finals. I am a pro-immigration fanatic. I think keeping a constant flow of legal immigrants into our country — whether they wear blue collars or lab coats — is the key to keeping us ahead of China. Because when you mix all of these energetic, high-aspiring people with a democratic system and free markets, magic happens. If we hope to keep that magic, we need immigration reform that guarantees that we will always attract and retain, in an orderly fashion, the world’s first-round aspirational and intellectual draft choices.
This isn’t complicated. In today’s wired world, the most important economic competition is no longer between countries or companies. The most important economic competition is actually between you and your own imagination. Because what your kids imagine, they can now act on farther, faster, cheaper than ever before — as individuals. Today, just about everything is becoming a commodity, except imagination, except the ability to spark new ideas.
If I just have the spark of an idea now, I can get a designer in Taiwan to design it. I can get a factory in China to produce a prototype. I can get a factory in Vietnam to mass manufacture it. I can use to handle fulfillment. I can use to find someone to do my logo and manage my backroom. And I can do all this at incredibly low prices. The one thing that is not a commodity and never will be is that spark of an idea. And this Intel dinner was all about our best sparklers.
Before the dinner started, each contestant stood by a storyboard explaining their specific project. Namrata Anand, a 17-year-old from the Harker School in California, patiently explained to me her research, which used spectral analysis and other data to expose information about the chemical enrichment history of “Andromeda Galaxy.” I did not understand a word she said, but I sure caught the gleam in her eye.
My favorite chat, though, was with Amanda Alonzo, a 30-year-old biology teacher at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, Calif. She had taught two of the finalists. When I asked her the secret, she said it was the resources provided by her school, extremely “supportive parents” and a grant from Intel that let her spend part of each day inspiring and preparing students to enter this contest. Then she told me this: Local San Jose realtors are running ads in newspapers in China and India telling potential immigrants to “buy a home” in her Lynbrook school district because it produced “two Intel science winners.”
Seriously, ESPN or MTV should broadcast the Intel finals live. All of the 40 finalists are introduced, with little stories about their lives and aspirations. Then the winners of the nine best projects are announced. And finally, with great drama, the overall winner of the $100,000 award for the best project of the 40 is identified. This year it was Erika Alden DeBenedictis of New Mexico for developing a software navigation system that would enable spacecraft to more efficiently “travel through the solar system.” After her name was called, she was swarmed by her fellow competitor-geeks.
Gotta say, it was the most inspiring evening I’ve had in D.C. in 20 years. It left me thinking, “If we can just get a few things right — immigration, education standards, bandwidth, fiscal policy — maybe we’ll be O.K.” It left me feeling that maybe Alice Wei Zhao of North High School in Sheboygan, Wis., chosen by her fellow finalists to be their spokeswoman, was right when she told the audience: “Don’t sweat about the problems our generation will have to deal with. Believe me, our future is in good hands.”
As long as we don’t shut our doors.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The new age of innovation – book by CK Prahalad and MS Krishnan

Prahalad had caught my attention with his other book ¨Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid¨, which was an eye opener for me. His innovative connection of business profits to emancipation of poor people is brilliant. I had also listened to his lecture in India and I was fascinated by his cool and calm approach to the high decibel world of business management. I was therefore keen to read this new book on innovation.

As I had anticipated, the book has new insights and ideas for the new stage of business these days. Business has been transformed from firm and product centric approaches. Earlier the companies produced what they believed the consumers needed. The Model T car by Ford Motors was the best example. Ford said that the consumers coould choose any colour as long as it was black. Now the consumers have got on to the driving seat as copilots. They cocreate value and look at products as a personalised experience. To cater to this emerging trend, the companies need to be more innovative and deploy their technology assets towards this new value of cocreation. Even when producing for millions of customers, the companies need to create platforms for the customers to cocreate their own experiences. For this, the companies need not go in for acquiring new assets of technology and talents. There is no need for firms to own all the resource bases they need. They should simply have the capacity to access the vast global network of resources. They should focus on how to access and influence them rather than ownership and control. They should also make use of the new copilots. This is the message of this book.

Here are some of the interesting things I found in the book:

Consumers are increasingly becoming a source of competence. They offer advice, suggestions, new concepts and evaluation of existing products.

Foresight, not hindsight, is of value in this time of fast changing competitive environment. Experience of the past is becoming less and less relevant. This means that the business process and analytics should be flexible and dynamic to anticipate trends in technology and consumer trends.

Digitisation, connectivity and globalisation have radically altered the nature of the firms and have impacted even traditional industries such as education, insurance, healthcare, automobiles and footwear.

An example of cocreation of value by customers is TutorVista, a company which gives online tuition to thousands of students. In this business model, the students decide the teacher, timings and pace of tuition as suitable to them. Even shoe and shirt companies have started providing platforms for customer driven production. The customer goes to the shop and gives the measurement which goes to the factory and products are made as per the exact measurement of the customer and his choice of design and colour. The customer does not have to be disappointed with the limited standard size of seven or eight. Even a tyre company is offering tyre as a service in the longterm rather than as a one time sale. They monitor the tyre wear and tear through sensors and advise the driver and the fleet owner. Fedex allows the consumer to be a part of the operations experience by sharing its databases and applications so that individual consumers can track their packagaes. This inspires more confidence in the consumers besides saving the expenditure on call centres to answer the anxious enquiries for Fedex which handles six million packages a day. UPS which handles 15 million packages a day has developed an ICT system for picking up packages in a customer friendly way and moving the trucks efficiently.

The need for innovative business process and ICT for success is evident from the example of Walmart. The core elements and strategic assets of this giant corporation which delivers value for money to 100 million customers in a week through its global supply chain are its business process and ICT capability with its 500 terrabytes database.

ICICI bank in India which started operations as late as 1995 has become a leading player in India by the use of technology. It has created a trading platform, the third largest in the world, which is used by the customers to buy and sell stocks. It records 300,000 to as much as one million transactions per day. The Bank also innovated new business process for rural banking, microfinancing, internet banking and for remittance by non-resident Indians. ICICI uses only very few packaged applications and customises most of the applications. For example it has customised even ATMs for rural markets

The new emerging companies from India and China have a significant advantage over established large companies from US and Europe, which have inherited large and old systems. The big US corporations use over 70 percent of the IT budget for maintenance of legacy applications and only less tahn 20 percent for innovation. In contrast, ICICI bank of India uses 80 percent of its IT budegt for innovation while spending only 20 percent on maintaenance. This means that the new companies can grow very fast, leveraging new technologies and business processing while the biggies like GM and Cargill are bogged down with their baggage of the past.

The technology and business process innovation are not only for the corporations but also helps rural development in India. The best example of this is the eChoupal centres established in the villages by ITC. These centres help the farmers to know the prices, weather and trends of the markets and enable them to make the right decisions about growing crops and getting the best price for their produce. This is a challenging and rewarding work for ITC and Ramco, the IT company since they had to design a system for easy use by the villagers of India speaking different languages. This experience gives a unique advantage to the Indian companies who can simply repeat the business process to multinational companies operating in many markets.

The growing importance of business process and technology for corporate success is good news for India. This opens up more opportunities for Indian IT companies which are going up in the value chain of BPO business. It is no surprise that TCS is the technology partner of Ferrari for its next version of racing car. The R and D team of this project has a total of 52 out of which 23 are TCS techies, most of whom work onsite at Maranello, Italy. Ferrari is leveraging TCS´s resources in multiple domains including enterpriseIT, vehicle elctronics and aerodynamics. Lenova, the Chinese computer company does its global marketing from Bangalore using the Indian professionals of O and M. This Indian hub supports marketing in 25 languages in 60 countries.

It is not only the lower cost of India but the large pool of skills and competence of the Indians which are being increasingly leveraged by multinatinal corporatins to remain globally competitive. For example, Honeywell the aerospace and automation controlls company has a R and D unit in India which carries the complete responsibility for new products from concept to market. The business rationale for this unit has shifted from cost saving to new products and business development.

The Indian firms have also outgrown their original approach to a total cost arbitrage- based business model. Innovation, anlytics, enterpreneurship and domestic opportunity are the new mantras of Indian IT companies.

In this book Prahalad and Krishnan have not only shown the way for global corporations to suceed through new innovations but have also highlighted the competitive advantage of the Indian companies to grow faster. This makes the Indians to believe strongly in the new projections about India becoming a global economic and technological power.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Hot,Flat and Crowded - book by Thomas Friedman

The full title of the book is
¨ Hot, flat and crowded- why the world needs a green revolution and how we can renew our global future¨.

In his previous book ¨The world is flat¨ Tom Friedman explained how the world is becoming flat through globalisation and internet. In this book, he has dealt with the issue of global warming (hot) by increasing consumption and consumers (crowded) . He says that this new Energy- Climate Era needs a new approach. He points out rightly that the issue is not just about regulation but throws open an opportunity for innovation for a smarter and sustainable way of living in the future. He calls for innovation of cleaner technologies for which the governments need to have the right kind of policies, incentives and support for research and development. He warns that the rate at which caron dioxide is emitted and earth is pollutted is a cause for serious and urgent attention and says that the world cannot afford any more delay in addressing the issue.

He has analysed the issues from political, economic, social, technological and more importantly from the American points of view. He has interviewed a variety of experts and brought in their perspectives. This is useful since average people get confused by the alarms raised by greenpeace types and the opposite energy politics in America driven by oil and car companies. Even the scientist are divided over the extent of global warming and their prescriptions to deal with the issue. Tom Friedman brings some clarity and widens the debate on the energy-climate issues saying that ¨Green is no longer a boutique statement, green is no longer something you do to be good… Green is the way to grow, build, design, manufacture, work and live…because it is the smartest, most efficient and lowest-cost way¨ He wants everyone to become conscious of a ¨new world with energy, environment and economy in balance¨

Here are some interesting observations by him:

-Quoting an expert he says that coal, oil and natural gas are fuels from hell because they polute, come from underground and are exhaustible. Fuels from heaven are: wind, solar, hydroelectric and tidal wave. These from the surface are clean, renewable and inexhaustible.
- Lot of energy can be saved by reducing wastage and inefficiet use of energy and innovation of energy- saving and energy-efficient devices. These measures are as important as setting up new power plants, since energy saved is equivalent to energy produced.
-In the current system of production and distribution of power by utility companies the emphasis is on greater consumption for greater profit margin for the company. This approach can be sustained only at the peril of the society. There is need to introduce Smartgrids which will give only that much power needed by individual customers and appliances and charge only for that with varying prices for peak consumption and low demand time. At the same time, the consumers should install solar panels and windmills to generate energy which should become part of the grid and the consumers will supply their surplus production into the grid. Friedman calls this as Energy Internet. He gives a vision of how daily life will be in the future when renewable energy is produced and consumed smartly.

-The high prices Americans pay for the gasoline end up as excessive wealth of unstable and undemocratic petrodictator sheikhs in middle east who use the windfall to build madrassas which produce fundamentalism and terrorists. More gas-guzzling SUVs in America generates not only pollution but also enemies ( fundamentalist terrorists).
- Quoting another expert Friedman calls the American system of policy making on energy and other matters as the ¨survival of the fattest¨- those with the biggest lobbies and deepest pockets make the policy. He points out the absurdity of American antidumping duty on ethanol imported from Brazil to protect the domestic corn ethanol industry despite the fact that sugarcane ethanol is more efficient than corn ethanol. On the other hand, the oil lobby has succeeded in preventing imposition of higher import tariff or taxes on gasoline imported from middle east, thereby contributing indirectly to terrorist enemies.
-China is moving ahead of USA in the energy- climate issue. China has set a target of producing 16 percent of its total energy from renewable sources by 2020 from its current level of seven percent. The Chinese have adopted world class mileage standard for their cars. One of the richest men of China is a green technology enterpreneur Shi, the founder of Suntech Power company, which is one of the top four solar manufacturers in the world. Tom Friedman contrasts this with the Americans who are mired in energy politics unwilling to formulate a sensible energy policy.

- Friedman calls on America to lead the world in the innovation of green technologies and products as part of its strategic policy of maintaining its leadership in the world.

The book is educative, informative and provocative. This is a useful read for government policy makers and businessmen and for anyone who wants to understand the issues of climate change and sustainable development.