Monday, November 24, 2008

Bio fuels: Are they really our saviours?

Bio-fuels are constantly in news these days. Newspapers and magazines are filled with articles relating to new discoveries in the field of bio/alternative fuels, governments increasing the funds and subsidiaries for projects on environment friendly fuels. The use of bio-fuels certainly seems to paint a rosy picture now. But are they really what they seem? That is the question many are voicing today.

Theoretically bio fuels can be prepared from any biological carbon source, the most common being photosynthetic plants. The modern use of bio fuels can be dated back to the Second World War when the severe demand for oil forced Germany to start using alcohol, fermented from potatoes, along with regular fossil fuels to power its vehicles. That gave the first impetus to bio-fuels as the alternative fuel to petrol and diesel. But after the war, the price of oil eased and the concept of bio-fuels faded away from limelight. The Energy crisis of 1970’s saw renewed interest in Bio-fuels but did not last long. But bio-fuels have been given special attention since the dawn of the new millennium as experts predict that fossil fuels would dry up by the end of the century.

Multinational companies and developed countries started investing heavily in developing bio-fuel believing that it would be the redefining technology of the future.

This resulted in a situation similar to the Gold Rush of 19th century and there was a feverish search for new bio fuels. With investors rushing in to fund projects this led to a series of unwise and hasty decisions. With massive help from the tag ‘eco-friendly’ bio fuels are given a free hand. But some major concerns remain unaddressed. The chief among them is the Food vs. Fuel Debate. If growing bio fuel crops becomes lucrative because of better subsidiaries and support price from government, then the chances are high that any average farmer would start cultivating bio fuel and that production of food crops would fall resulting in increase in their prices. This would lead to inflation and large scale mal-nutrition, especially in the Third World countries.

The second challenge is that cultivating in large tracts of land would result in loss of habitat of animals and plants. This would put huge pressure on the already fragile ecosystem and bio diversity of the planet. And the third most pressing problem is the whole question of how effective bio fuels are, in controlling carbon emissions. Because it is yet to be conclusively proved that the entire process of growing, processing and burning of these fuels is more carbon efficient than conventional sources like fossil fuels.

No doubt, the world needs alternative fuels fast to meet its burgeoning energy needs. But it would not be prudent to consider bio fuels our saviours before addressing the major challenges and questions raised by their use.


Physicists from all over the world are racing to prove the existence of a particle that's surmised to be at the heart of the matter. Literally. Two months ago, the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) experiment at CERN dominated the news headlines across the world, but today, that ‘honour’ has been taken over by Sub Prime Crisis.

The LHC is a 27 Km long tunnel built 150 meters underground on the French-Swiss border. Its purpose is to smash sub atomic particles at the speed of light and detect a certain Higgs Boson particle. Scientists from close to 20 countries, including our own, were involved in a multibillion dollar race to find the Higgs Boson particle. Dubbed the ‘God Particle’ by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman, Higgs is a controversial particle which is believed to bestow mass to all particles. The particle plays a key role in Standard Model of Physics, the theory on which physicists base their entire understanding of matter of the Universe. And proving the existence or absence of this particle would have vast implications, as the particle is the only explanation scientists have for the existence of Mass. The purpose of LHC is simple but ambitious: to crack the code of the physical world; to figure out what the universe is made of; in other words, to get to the very bottom of things.

Now, at the beginning of my post I referred to the experiment as a “Multibillion Dollar Race”. That’s because the experiment costs could be compared with the annual GDP of many third world countries! Another reason is that the race is akin to the ‘Space Race’ of the Cold War period when the two superpowers were involved in a fierce battle to explore the frontiers of Space. But in this post Cold war era, bi-polar world has been replaced by a multi-polar world and Space exploration has been largely replaced by exploration into the hidden secrets of atoms and its nature. Now, almost every country seems to want a piece of the pie and are racing to find the ways and means of cracking the atomic code. With the launch of LHC at CERN in Europe, USA has gone public with its Fermilab in Chicago and China has unveiled its plan to build a 35 Km long Collider.

Many feel that science has lost its sheen and that the world with all its technical advancements has stopped focusing on science and looks more into economic prosperity, but if you ask me the true potential of science is yet to be unlocked. We live in a civilization shaped by physics. The laptop computer on which I'm writing uses microprocessors that would not exist had we not discovered quantum physics and the quirky behavior of electrons. World Wide Web was invented, at CERN, by computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee. IPods, wouldn't exist but for something called "giant magneto-resistance."

Although the LHC seems to have run into trouble now, (Helium gas has leaked into the ultra vacuumed tunnels) it is expected to be back in operation by the next April, so the world could look forward to a summer when many secrets of the sub microscopic proportionality would be revealed. But 100 years of particle physics has taught us that even the LHC is only a small step towards unraveling the secrets of nature.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

How Companies Got Their Names (Interesting..)

Apple - for the favourite fruit of co-founder Steve Jobs and/or for the time he worked at an apple orchard. He was three months late in filing a name for the business, and he threatened to call his company Apple Computer if his colleagues didn't suggest a better name by 5 p.m. Apple's Macintosh is named after a popular variety of apple sold in the US. Apple also wanted to distance itself from the cold, unapproachable, complicated imagery created by the other computer companies at the time had names like IBM, NEC, DEC, ADPAC, Cincom, Dylakor, Input, Integral Systems, SAP, PSDI, Syncsort and Tesseract. The new company sought to reverse the entrenched view of computers in order to get people to use them at home. They looked for a name that was unlike the names of traditional computer companies, a name that also supported a brand positioning strategy that was to be perceived as simple, warm, human, approachable and different.

Nero - Nero Burning ROM named after Nero burning Rome.

Nokia - started as a wood-pulp mill, the company expanded into producing rubber products in the Finnish city of Nokia. The company later adopted the city's name.

Mitsubishi - The name Mitsubishi has two parts: mitsu means three and hishi (changing to bishi in the middle of the word) means water chestnut, and from here rhombus, which is reflected in the company's logo.

Nike - named for the Greek goddess of victory.

Pepsi - Pepsi derives its name from (treatment of) dyspepsia, an intestinal ailment.

Xerox - The inventor, Chestor Carlson, named his product trying to say `dry' (as it was dry copying, markedly different from the then prevailing wet copying). The Greek root `xer' means dry.

Yahoo!- a "backronym" for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle. The word Yahoo was invented by Jonathan Swift and used in his book Gulliver's Travels. It represents a person who is repulsive in appearance action and is barely human. Yahoo! founders David Filo and Jerry Yang selected the name because they jokingly considered themselves yahoos

Sharp - Japanese consumer electronics company named from its first product, an ever-sharp pencil.

Qantas - From its original name, Queensland And Northern Territory Aerial Services.

McDonald's- from the name of the brothers Dick McDonald and Mac McDonald, who founded the first McDonald 's restaurant in 1940.

Lotus Software - Mitch Kapor got the name for his company from 'The Lotus Position' or 'Padmasana'. Kapor used to be a teacher of Transcendental Meditation technique as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Hyundai - connotes the sense of "the present age" or "modernity" in Korean.

Bridgestone - named after founder Shojiro Ishibashi. The surname Ishibashi (??) means "stone bridge", i.e. "bridge of stone".

AT&T - American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation officially changed its name to AT&T in the 1990s.

Accenture - Accent on the Future. The name Accenture was proposed by a company employee in Norwayas part of a internal name finding process (BrandStorming). Prior to January 1, 2001 the company was called Andersen Consulting.

Coca-Cola - Coca-Cola's name is derived from the coca leaves and kola nuts used as flavoring. Coca-Cola creator John S. Pemberton changed the 'K' of kola to 'C' for the name to look better.

DHL- the company was founded by Adrian Dalsey, Larry Hillblom , and Robert Lynn , whose last initials form the company's moniker.

Fanta - was originally invented by Max Keith in Germany in 1940 when World War II made it difficult to get the Coca-Cola syrup to Nazi Germany. Fanta was originally made from byproducts of cheese and jam production. The name comes from the German word for imagination (Fantasie or Phantasie), because the inventors thought that imagination was needed to taste oranges from the strange mix.

Hotmail - Founder Jack Smith got the idea of accessing e-mail via the web from a computer anywhere in the world. When Sabeer Bhatia came up with the business plan for the mail service, he tried all kinds of names ending in 'mail' and finally settled for Hotmail as it included the letters "HTML" - the markup language used to write web pages. It was initially referred to as HoTMaiL with selective upper casing. (If you click on Hotmail's 'mail' tab, you will still find "HoTMaiL" in the URL.)

LG - Combination of two popular Korean brands Lucky and Goldstar.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Memorable Meeting with a Charismatic Cop..

I’m a big fan of police force, their exploits & achievements. I have a huge collection of Hollywood action movies based on cops, and oh yes, of course not to forget our very own Khaka Khaka and Vettaiyaadu Velaiyaadu. But to meet a real time heroic cop, whose achievements even surpass those shown on celluloid is a dream come true.

In relation with our college management fest Daksha 08, we were mooting with the idea of inviting Mr.K.Vijay Kumar I.P.S , Director General of Police (Training) for the inaugural session. The grounds on which we decided on a cop for a management fest is, apart from being an IPS officer he is an MBA graduate too. Now, with leadership and strategy formulation being the top priorities for a management student we thought it would be prudent for a highly successful person, who has proved his leadership credentials and ace strategic skills time and again, to inaugurate and inspire us with his leadership mantras. But, it turned out to be an increasingly difficult proposition with Mr. Vijay kumar getting promoted to Director General of Police, the highest rank in Police force, just 10 days back. But finally we did manage to get an appointment with him on 19th September.

My friend Archana, who was instrumental in getting the appointment, and I met Mr. Vijay Kumar DGP at his office in Police Training College in Ashok Nagar. He welcomed us with a warm smile. Once we introduced ourselves, he could immediately identify SSN as educational institution founded by Padma Bhushan Shri. Shiv Nadar. We spoke in detail about the college management festival which is scheduled for 17th of October and requested him to grace us with his presence and inspire us with his inaugural speech. He listened intently and seemed to be interested but also expressed his inability to confirm immediately as he had two tours coming up in October. He then went on to ask about the papers we study in our first semester and once we mentioned Legal Aspects, he spoke of the different laws and with regard with to Organisational Behaviour he pointed out of the various theories. We stood in speechless surprise. Here was a man who created history by eliminating the country’s most dreaded bandit, Veerapan, was part of the Special Strategy team which ensured Indian Army’s victory at Kargil, and no one could forget his stint as Chennai’s Commissioner during which he weeded out many antisocial elements by means of encounter, his list of achievements is long and impressive, talking to two college students without assuming any airs with childlike enthusiasm. But there is this invisible aura of authority and great power around him which immediately demands respect and honour. While it was time to leave, he wished us good luck for our MBA programme and made a note of my mobile number and said he would get back to us in 2 days after checking his schedule. I sincerely hope that this charismatic and distinguished personality manages to grace Daksha and make it even bigger.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

AMBY-Perfect Illustration of Class & Power..!!!

One of the earliest passions, or rather celebrated fantasy, of my childhood was the white Ambassador Car at my grandmas’ place. I used to visit her during holidays, and as a child I was into the habit of drawing up a list of all the things I intended to do during my stay there, and invariably, on top of my ‘to-do’ list would feature "A Ride in the Amby" (What a cute name for a ‘colossal’ machine-Ambassador!!).

Now, I can come up with numerous reasons as to why I fell in love with the car, the simplest being, I like things to be big and strong and Amby fits that description perfectly. My appreciative fervour for this automobile piece of art refuses to bog down. It was such a stupendous and awe-inspiring car, that I used to feel that it was car fit for the rich and the powerful. (Wonder which genius came up with the brilliant idea of turning Amby into the official car of Indian political and bureaucratic leadership.!!! ) Now for a little background information on my favourite car.

Ambassador is based on the Morris Oxford model and was designed and manufactured by a British Automobiles Co. Morris Motors (started by William Morris, a bicycle manufacturer). Production started in 1957, by Hindustan Motors and was initially (& rightfully too) called Landmaster. A year later it was christened Ambassador, and in the subsequent years, improved models of Mark I, Mark II, Mark III, Mark IV were launched. The final upgrade was launched in 2003 and was called Avigo. Ambassador ruled the Indian roads for a period of almost 40 years before being taken over by the sleeker and compact models (With ‘Being Thin’ becoming the latest fad, even for cars ). With its characteristic musclepower and class, Amby was soon adopted by the corridors of power and is still the most preferred car for official use, so much so that car itself is a pseudo password for access to enter restricted government establishments. That factor was completely exploited by the terrorists who attacked Indian Parliament in 2001 in a Ambassador car with Home Ministry and Parliament labels .

Even to this day, when I see a Amby on the road, Im filled with nostalgia and am sure a lot of people would have fond memories with this particular car, which immediately reminds us of the time when our roads were less clogged and traversed only by the relatively safer Amby along with few of its other contemporaries chiefly-Maruti 800 and Fiat.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

SINGUR: Taking TATA NANO for a ride.!!!

A lot has been spoken and written about the TATA’s wonder car-NANO.
And why not, a car for Rs.1,00,000 .!!! NANO had not only managed to captivate the imagination of the whole nation, but that of the world at large. Im not prognosticating here, but going by the projections and the promise this car holds, it is about to revolutionize the automobile industry and the concept of ‘small cars’ is set to be the next big thing after the advent of hybrid cars. With input prices soaring, crude prices hovering above the 100 dollars per barrel mark (with no indication of prices dropping in the near future whatsoever) and roads increasingly growing smaller, it is not difficult to discern that small cars akin to NANO are to carve an especial niche market. I am particularly proud of the fact that an Indian MNC like TATA is the first to have conceptualized the idea and have made the world sit up and take notice.
Mr. Ratan Tata had promised in January 2008 that the first NANO would role out by October end. But that situation looks bleak now, thanks to M/s Mamata Banerjee, who is the self proclaimed ‘protector of human rights’ and ‘champion of social cause’ in West Bengal. She has managed to single handedly hold the WB state government (which IMO has no backbone!!) for ransom and has sabotaged the image of the West Bengal which was trying head over heels to come across as an industry friendly State. Our politicians are well known for their vast and vague aspirations and opportunistic stance, and M/s Banerjee is a classic example of a politician hijacking an amicably settled issue and turning it into a political melodrama.
Her party has employed cheap tactics like threatening and at times even physically assaulting employees working at the TATA project site to disrupt and derail the NANO project. She claims her real concern lies in providing justice for the villagers who have been displaced and whose lands have been ‘forcefully’ acquired by the government. But if one watches closely, her real intentions lay bare for one and all to see. M/s Banerjee’s words and actions are wrapped by personal pretensions and she seems to have a two-point agenda:
1) Gain national prominence as a champion of the downtrodden and create a fake image of being a true leader of the oppressed.
2) Hold TATA to ransom but stalling their work in the last minute and try to leverage monetary benefits.

But ultimately, if the TATAs decide to leave Singur, it would be a death blow to the future of industry in WB and M/s Banerjee’s actions, wholly devoid of national and public interest, would backfire and she would have to bear the ire of the people of State, who stand to gain a lot if the NANO project does go through successfully. I wish the TATAs and the people of WB good luck. And like the rest of the world, I’m eagerly awaiting the NANO.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Life at SSN...

I decided my first blog would rather not be the stereotypical 'why i chose blogging' and straightaway list reasons but would be about my life as a MBA student at SSN SoMCA. Truly the last few days have been eventful and have enjoyed myself completely here at SSN. I would write more on my profile and related information in subsequent postings.

Everyone is aware Post Graduation can get hectic but here learning is fun. I was impressed with the teaching practices here and the faculty. Due importance is given to overall development and students are encouraged to make the best use of the infrastructure (which is as good as the ones in IIMs or IITs). Guest lectures are often arranged. On the very first week we had the opportunity to interact with Mr.Anand Pillai,Sr VP from HCL Tech. The BLUE OCEAN STRATEGY formed the crux of his speech. (For those who are not aware, Blue Ocean Strategy is a business Strategy which focuses on making the competition irrelevant by venturing into uncharted waters i.e. to exploit the untapped unknown market space. For more info check out )
His speech was loaded with information snippets, dealt with various case studies and most importantly dosed with the perfect dose of humour.

Hostel life: Now, since MBA here is a residential program, reluctantly I chose to stay in hostel, which is a first-of-its-kind experience for me. But then, that turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. And trust me when I say hostel life is the best, I really mean it. Am sure anyone who has stayed in a college hostel would agree. After college hours, our hostel block is literally a 'fun house'. Evening time just evades into vacuum. Birthday celebrations are a specialty here and a conscious effort is made to turn the birthday party into the most messiest affair. A 'toxic' cocktail of rotten eggs, tomatoes, cough syrup, oil is prepared and the bday baby is given an extensive, exotic 'treatment'. Then comes the usual bday bumps.

More in my next blog....