Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Tata stake in Landmark book shops

Business Standard says: Tatas take a 76% stake in Landmark

In a disappointing news today, Landmark has sold out 76% stake to Tatas for Rs. 103.6 crores. Only a few months back there was a news item about Kotak iinvesting money in Landmark to help Landmark grow in other metros. However, that deal must have fallen through as there is no mention of that in the current news item.

Selling 76% stake at this stage and cashing out now indicates that the promoters (Hemu Ramiah and family) are not interested in independent control and aggressive expansion strategy.

In any case, Landmark has been moving away from a dedicated book store to selling just about everything - almost a supermarket. Very soon they may as well become just another Tata Super or Hyper market label.

India desperately needs sensible, country-wide dedicated bookshop chain, which has a presence in the top 100 cities and towns. I somehow doubt if Tatas would be interested in that.

We now have to look forward to Crosswords (majority owned by Shopper's Stop) and Corner (majority owned by DC Books) to provide this.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

What have IITs contributed to India?

From The Hindu: Brand IIT: the people behind the image

Dinesh Mohan, a faculty with IIT Delhi has written the centrepage article in The Hindu, explaining IITs' contribution to India.

The article first talks about how strong the IIT brand is and that even sarkari staff understand the value of IIT faculty that they give priority to them! Then he goes on to state that the IITs are more than the undergrads, and through some limited statistics demonstrates that at best the 'brain drain' would have been 20% if you take all the graduates produced by the IITs. Then he quotes "a Department of Science and Technology sponsored study" to show that "a majority of those employed in the R&D departments of the top 20 public and private sector companies were Masters or PhD products from IITs. Similarly, a significant proportion of those working as teachers in engineering colleges received their higher degrees from the IITs." Rather than giving clear details such as the companies studied and the percentage of IIT graduates, mere use of words like "majority", "significant" dilutes the argument. By "majority" do we take it that it is at least one out of every two? Is it indeed true that every second person in top engineering R&D staff in India is an IITan? What is "significant"? Out of the 1,000 or so engineering colleges in India (including the IITs), how many faculty members are IIT graduates? We have no answers, but the author assures us that the numbers are "significant".

Then the author proceeds to say that IITs and IISc are the only institutions from India that figure in top 500 research institutions in Asia. But exactly where these colleges are ranked is not mentioned. At the very top? At the very bottom? What is the highest ranking that an Indian institution has achieved in this list? When I started searching around for this, the results were shocking. While I do not understand enough to accept the methodology employed by the researchers (Professor Nian Cai Liu and his colleagues at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China), I can say that Prof. Dinesh Mohan has hidden a lot of things.

The results are available on the web. From India, three institutions appear. IISc at 215, IIT Kharagpur at 421, University of Calcutta at 461! In other words, no other IIT is seen there (like, for example IIT Delhi), there is an institution other than an IIT and IISc. If IISc is not included (which anyway is not an IIT and hence doesn't come under the purview of what Dinesh Mohan is talking about), the standing is rather abysmal.

However, finally the author says that "a dispassionate analysis would show that we have done better than most people think, but are not good enough yet."

That is it. IITs are not good enough yet, as research institutions. A lot of engineering colleges in India can produce good engineers. We expect a lot more from the IITs. I would have been happy if Dinesh Mohan spent the space made available to him to discuss how IITs could be made into world class research institutions. Instead he tamely ends the article with
... there must be a restructuring and reinventing of the IITs with a vision of the future, not the narrow immediate needs of today. And for this, there must be debate and discussion that captures the aspirations and dreams of the young Indian researchers in India and abroad.
We want a roadmap now! Aren't we already late?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Low cost computing internet?

[Via Narain over phone] Business Standard reports PC, software and broadband connection for Rs 499 a month

This is not a done deal yet. Bharti and HCL, I think were planning on a similar deal, and it was talked about at least an year back. Basically a hardware vendor and an broadband provider come together and offer a bundled leasing deal for a client. The OS and software vendors may also have to brought in as the lincesing deal on the OS may not allow sub-leasing (or does it?).

The sinister thing in the above news is Microsoft pushing this through. They have no business to be there. It must be a deal fronted by the ISP, with the second largest partner being the hardware vendor. In fact, instead of a single hardware vendor, the ISP should aim to get a bunch of hardware vendors - a consortium, and even vendors who offer thin clients such as Rajesh Jain's Novatium.

But, Microsoft clearly understands the threat they are facing by the low cost PC movement which cuts out the Microsoft OS and bundles Linux OS to pare the cost down drastically. So Microsoft has to think of a clever marketing deal. And leads the pack. BSNL of course cannot think of such schemes.

I hope someone sensible in the BSNL higher management decides to handle this directly and cut Microsoft out from the deal. They have nothing of value to offer in this deal.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Peru judge orders GE's Immelt, Jack Welch arrested

Reuters says: Peru judge orders GE's Immelt, Jack Welch arrested

In the globalised world, with MNCs operating in multiple countries with completely varying laws, amnesties, protections and extradition treaties, we may see more such cases. India had unsuccessfully tried to get the boss of Union Carbide to stand trial in India in the Bhopal gas-leak case. It never happened.

I can't see USA extraditing Immelt and Welch to stand trial in Peru.

Let us see.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Adidas acquires Reebok, second largest after Nike

The Hindustan Times says: Adidas did it; acquires Reebok to challenge Nike

Some consolidation in the high end footwear market, with Adidas and Reebok combining to take on Nike.

This may not have too much of an impact in India, where the local players rule the roost.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

HCL Info launches PC for Rs 9,990

The Times of India says HCL Info launches PC for Rs 9,990

This is the usual lie computer companies resort to. The landing price is not sub 10k. A small asterisk will lead you to fine print that says you are expected to caugh up another Rs. 1,250 for various other services including the first year maintenance - compulsorily. So it is over Rs. 11,000.

"The PC has 1 GHz processor from Taiwan" says the news. So I suppose that is Via Technologies Chip. Nothing wrong with that. It works quite okay. I have one (lower than 1 GHz) and it has been working quite well under Windows 98. I found Linux struggling, particularly with the built-in sound. But that should have been resolved by now.

With poor power supply, as of now, we require an UPS as well to go along with this. That would cost another Rs. 2,000+. So in all, we would end up paying Rs. 14,000 for the computing machine system.

There is more work to be done in this area.

Foreign Pilots find India a lucrative destination

The Times of India says Pilots from across the world fly in

Trained aeroplane pilots from around the world are finding India a good destination, says the above article. And that they are willing to work for less than what Indian pilots demand! There is also a hint that India may come up with a legislation insisting that at least one of the two pilots in the cockpit must be an Indian, and that the Airline industry may lobby to knock it off.

I think Indian youngsters should seriously take to flying courses. I suppose there are enough qualified academies around in India? The salaries seem fabulous!