Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Volunteer Drive for new Library at Shantabai Ladkat School, Nanapeth, Pune

Hi everyone,
I’ve been volunteering at the Shantabai Ladkat English Medium school in Nanapeth, Pune where TFI (Teach For India) fellows Kaushik, Gunvant, Moiz and Sarika are teaching 3rd and 4th Grade. Helping out in teaching or just taking care of the class or playing games with the kids, it’s been a wonderful time and I’m loving it!
67802_146850762034204_137066453012635_265757_4835301_nRecently, our school got a huge consignment of childrens’ books donated by expatriate Indians living in the Gulf countries. We’ve received around 1400 books stuffed in 14 cartons, and everybody’s overjoyed!
With this, a new library is being set up in the school so the kids can make full use of the new resources and frog-leap in their reading skills and general knowledge.

163051_146850862034194_137066453012635_265758_7731939_nAnd that’s where YOU come in! We’ve got so many amazing books for kids of all levels – right from books with under two lines a page, to the complete set of World Book Encyclopedia! We need to grade these books by reading ability, by color-coding them using a scheme we refer to as “GROWBY”, serial-number them and finally cover them in plastic to make sure they last loooonngg!

So, starting Tuesday, 21st December 2010, we’re having a week-long Volunteer Drive – call us up, get your friends together and come in anytime over the whole week to help out in grading the books! Even if you can spare just an hour, it’ll be make a huge difference and really help us to speed up the books-encoding process!
This drive will continue from Tuesday through the week and even over the weekend of 25/26 Dec, so please find a time slot in your calendar and come! Our aim is to gift the school kids a new library for Christmas / New Year!

Time: Any time between 8am to 1pm which is the normal school hours, but if you’re in a big enough group then we will create the time slot suitable to you. Make sure you call one of us so we can co-ordinate!

Contact persons:
Moiz : +91-9819117826
Gunvant : +91-7798408929
Kaushik : +91-9823223209
Nikhil : +91-9665831250

Google Maps 
Location: Shantabai Ladkat School
Sadar Bazaar, Nanapeth
Pune, Maharashtra, India
Show on Google Maps

Here are some pics of the kids you’ll be helping out!
DSC02593 DSC02627 DSC02577 DSC02597 DSC02634
>the last one : I was able to install Wikipedia for Schools offline edition in our school’s computer lab (which doesn’t have internet, of course) and in two of the Fellows’ notebooks last week! So the kids now have the world’s knowledge at their fingertips! Smile
Find more pics on the school’s Facebook Page! Spread the word around, tell all your colleagues and your friends and let’s do a fun Library Drive for the kids!

UPDATE: 23 Dec 2010:
We've had an awesome 3 days of browsing through and sorting 100s of books - right from simple word pictures all the way to Shakespeare; right from simple books on grammar all the way to World Book Encyclopedia!

On Day 1, we separated 2/3rds of the books by fiction and non-fiction ones. On Day 2, we categorized them further by subject - short stories, young readers and rhymes in fiction; and science, social science, english, maths, activity, reference, magazines and vernacular.

On Day 3 (Thursday 23rd Dec 2010), we took all the short stories books and color-coded them using a “GROWBY” scheme that’s being used for the current books in the school. In that, books of 2 sentences or less per page are under G – Green; and this stretches to Y –Yellow for books that have more than 10 sentences per page.

In all this, volunteers as well as students have played a pivotal role. On all the days, during library period (each standard has library period 1 day a week), we got the students to do the categorization, transport, handling and arrangement of books en masse, while the volunteers, ahem, supervised! The students have done a stellar job and showed brilliant teamwork and dedication; while the volunteers have energetically helped and guided them every step of the way! A big thanks to everyone!

Much more to do now : We have to serial-numberize the color-coded books and cover them in transparent plastic so they stay good! Along with serial numbering, we will enter the titles in computer/laptop so that we have a database ready.

Oh, and bonus for the volunteers coming on Day 4 – Fri 24th Dec’10 : The school is celebrating Christmas Party! Also, we’ve recently acquired a Projector thanks to some generous friends, and so there’s going to be movie screenings as well – you can come help out, as well as enjoy the festivities 7.30am onwards, at Shantabai Ladkat English Medium School (SLEMS!) in
Nanapeth, Pune~!


DSC02640DSC02641DSC02642DSC02643DSC02644DSC02645Nikhil and other volunteers with the studentsThe sorted books 2The sorted books

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire

Got this Forward by email: very interesting read. But I find it is too male-hormone-dominated and doesn't take into account the rise of feminine values and strategies, or the come-uppance of NGOs and peer-to-peer non-profit movements that will counteract many things. He also fails at estimating the true power of renewable energy and the role it will play. Just my opinion! Even so, a really informative and compelling piece that combines past, present and future together.

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire

By Alfred W. McCoy

December 11, 2010 "
The Nation" - - A soft landing for America 40 years from now? Don't bet on it. The demise of the United States as the global superpower could come far more quickly than anyone imagines. If Washington is dreaming of 2040 or 2050 as the end of the American Century, a more realistic assessment of domestic and global trends suggests that in 2025, just 15 years from now, it could all be over except for the shouting.

Despite the aura of omnipotence most empires project, a look at their history should remind us that they are fragile organisms. So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly bad, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, 11 years for the Ottomans, 17 years for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, 22 years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003.

Future historians are likely to identify the Bush administration's rash invasion of Iraq in that year as the start of America's downfall. However, instead of the bloodshed that marked the end of so many past empires, with cities burning and civilians slaughtered, this twenty-first century imperial collapse could come relatively quietly through the invisible tendrils of economic collapse or cyberwarfare.

But have no doubt: when Washington's global dominion finally ends, there will be painful daily reminders of what such a loss of power means for Americans in every walk of life. As a half-dozen European nations have discovered, imperial decline tends to have a remarkably demoralizing impact on a society, regularly bringing at least a generation of economic privation. As the economy cools, political temperatures rise, often sparking serious domestic unrest.

Available economic, educational, and military data indicate that, when it comes to US global power, negative trends will aggregate rapidly by 2020 and are likely to reach a critical mass no later than 2030. The American Century, proclaimed so triumphantly at the start of World War II, will be tattered and fading by 2025, its eighth decade, and could be history by 2030.

Significantly, in 2008, the US National Intelligence Council admitted for the first time that America's global power was indeed on a declining trajectory. In one of its periodic futuristic reports, Global Trends 2025, the Council cited "the transfer of global wealth and economic power now under way, roughly from West to East" and "without precedent in modern history," as the primary factor in the decline of the "United States' relative strength—even in the military realm." Like many in Washington, however, the Council's analysts anticipated a very long, very soft landing for American global preeminence, and harbored the hope that somehow the US would long "retain unique military capabilities… to project military power globally" for decades to come.

No such luck.  Under current projections, the United States will find itself in second place behind China (already the world's second largest economy) in economic output around 2026, and behind India by 2050. Similarly, Chinese innovation is on a trajectory toward world leadership in applied science and military technology sometime between 2020 and 2030, just as America's current supply of brilliant scientists and engineers retires, without adequate replacement by an ill-educated younger generation.

By 2020, according to current plans, the Pentagon will throw a military Hail Mary pass for a dying empire.  It will launch a lethal triple canopy of advanced aerospace robotics that represents Washington's last best hope of retaining global power despite its waning economic influence. By that year, however, China's global network of communications satellites, backed by the world's most powerful supercomputers, will also be fully operational, providing Beijing with an independent platform for the weaponization of space and a powerful communications system for missile- or cyber-strikes into every quadrant of the globe.

Wrapped in imperial hubris, like Whitehall or Quai d'Orsay before it, the White House still seems to imagine that American decline will be gradual, gentle, and partial. In his State of the Union address last January, President Obama offered the reassurance that "I do not accept second place for the United States of America." A few days later, Vice President Biden ridiculed the very idea that "we are destined to fulfill [historian Paul] Kennedy's prophecy that we are going to be a great nation that has failed because we lost control of our economy and overextended." Similarly, writing in the November issue of the establishment journal Foreign Affairs, neo-liberal foreign policy guru Joseph Nye waved away talk of China's economic and military rise, dismissing "misleading metaphors of organic decline" and denying that any deterioration in US global power was underway.

Ordinary Americans, watching their jobs head overseas, have a more realistic view than their cosseted leaders. An opinion poll in August 2010 found that 65% of Americans believed the country was now "in a state of decline."  Already, Australia and Turkey, traditional US military allies, are using their American-manufactured weapons for joint air and naval maneuvers with China. Already, America's closest economic partners are backing away from Washington's opposition to China's rigged currency rates. As the president flew back from his Asian tour last month, a gloomy New York Times headline  summed the moment up this way: "Obama's Economic View Is Rejected on World Stage, China, Britain and Germany Challenge US, Trade Talks With Seoul Fail, Too."

Viewed historically, the question is not whether the United States will lose its unchallenged global power, but just how precipitous and wrenching the decline will be. In place of Washington's wishful thinking, let's use the National Intelligence Council's own futuristic methodology to suggest four realistic scenarios for how, whether with a bang or a whimper, US global power could reach its end in the 2020s (along with four accompanying assessments of just where we are today).  The future scenarios include: economic decline, oil shock, military misadventure, and World War III.  While these are hardly the only possibilities when it comes to American decline or even collapse, they offer a window into an onrushing future.

Economic Decline: Present Situation

Today, three main threats exist to America's dominant position in the global economy: loss of economic clout thanks to a shrinking share of world trade, the decline of American technological innovation, and the end of the dollar's privileged status as the global reserve currency.

By 2008, the United States had already fallen to number three in global merchandise exports, with just 11% of them compared to 12% for China and 16% for the European Union.  There is no reason to believe that this trend will reverse itself.

Similarly, American leadership in technological innovation is on the wane. In 2008, the US was still number two behind Japan in worldwide patent applications with 232,000, but China was closing fast at 195,000, thanks to a blistering 400% increase since 2000.  A harbinger of further decline: in 2009 the US hit rock bottom in ranking among the 40 nations surveyed by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation when it came to "change" in "global innovation-based competitiveness" during the previous decade.  Adding substance to these statistics, in October China's Defense Ministry unveiled the world's fastest supercomputer, the Tianhe-1A, so powerful, said one US expert, that it "blows away the existing No. 1 machine" in America.

Add to this clear evidence that the US education system, that source of future scientists and innovators, has been falling behind its competitors. After leading the world for decades in 25- to 34-year-olds with university degrees, the country sank to 12th place in 2010.  The World Economic Forum ranked the United States at a mediocre 52nd among 139 nations in the quality of its university math and science instruction in 2010. Nearly half of all graduate students in the sciences in the US are now foreigners, most of whom will be heading home, not staying here as once would have happened.  By 2025, in other words, the United States is likely to face a critical shortage of talented scientists.

Such negative trends are encouraging increasingly sharp criticism of the dollar's role as the world's reserve currency. "Other countries are no longer willing to buy into the idea that the US knows best on economic policy," observed Kenneth S. Rogoff, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund. In mid-2009, with the world's central banks holding an astronomical $4 trillion in US Treasury notes, Russian president Dimitri Medvedev insisted that it was time to end "the artificially maintained unipolar system" based on "one formerly strong reserve currency."

Simultaneously, China's central bank governor suggested that the future might lie with a global reserve currency "disconnected from individual nations" (that is, the US dollar). Take these as signposts of a world to come, and of a possible attempt, as economist Michael Hudson has argued, "to hasten the bankruptcy of the US financial-military world order."

Economic Decline: Scenario 2020

After years of swelling deficits fed by incessant warfare in distant lands, in 2020, as long expected, the US dollar finally loses its special status as the world's reserve currency.  Suddenly, the cost of imports soars. Unable to pay for swelling deficits by selling now-devalued Treasury notes abroad, Washington is finally forced to slash its bloated military budget.  Under pressure at home and abroad, Washington slowly pulls US forces back from hundreds of overseas bases to a continental perimeter.  By now, however, it is far too late.

Faced with a fading superpower incapable of paying the bills, China, India, Iran, Russia, and other powers, great and regional, provocatively challenge US  dominion over the oceans, space, and cyberspace.  Meanwhile, amid soaring prices, ever-rising unemployment, and a continuing decline in real wages, domestic divisions widen into violent clashes and divisive debates, often over remarkably irrelevant issues. Riding a political tide of disillusionment and despair, a far-right patriot captures the presidency with thundering rhetoric, demanding respect for American authority and threatening military retaliation or economic reprisal. The world pays next to no attention as the American Century ends in silence.

Oil Shock: Present Situation

One casualty of America's waning economic power has been its lock on global oil supplies. Speeding by America's gas-guzzling economy in the passing lane, China became the world's number one energy consumer this summer, a position the US had held for over a century.  Energy specialist Michael Klare has argued that this change means China will "set the pace in shaping our global future."

By 2025, Iran and Russia will control almost half of the world's natural gas supply, which will potentially give them enormous leverage over energy-starved Europe. Add petroleum reserves to the mix and, as the National Intelligence Council has warned, in just 15 years two countries, Russia and Iran, could "emerge as energy kingpins."

Despite remarkable ingenuity, the major oil powers are now draining the big basins of petroleum reserves that are amenable to easy, cheap extraction. The real lesson of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was not BP's sloppy safety standards, but the simple fact everyone saw on "spillcam": one of the corporate energy giants had little choice but to search for what Klare calls "tough oil" miles beneath the surface of the ocean to keep its profits up.

Compounding the problem, the Chinese and Indians have suddenly become far heavier energy consumers. Even if fossil fuel supplies were to remain constant (which they won't), demand, and so costs, are almost certain to rise—and sharply at that.  Other developed nations are meeting this threat aggressively by plunging into experimental programs to develop alternative energy sources.  The United States has taken a different path, doing far too little to develop alternative sources while, in the last three decades, doubling its dependence on foreign oil imports.  Between 1973 and 2007, oil imports have risen from 36% of energy consumed in the US to 66%.

Oil Shock: Scenario 2025

The United States remains so dependent upon foreign oil that a few adverse developments in the global energy market in 2025 spark an oil shock.  By comparison, it makes the 1973 oil shock (when prices quadrupled in just months) look like the proverbial molehill.  Angered at the dollar's plummeting value, OPEC oil ministers, meeting in Riyadh, demand future energy payments in a "basket" of Yen, Yuan, and Euros.  That only hikes the cost of US oil imports further.  At the same moment, while signing a new series of long-term delivery contracts with China, the Saudis stabilize their own foreign exchange reserves by switching to the Yuan.  Meanwhile, China pours countless billions into building a massive trans-Asia pipeline and funding Iran's exploitation of the world largest natural gas field at South Pars in the Persian Gulf.

Concerned that the US Navy might no longer be able to protect the oil tankers traveling from the Persian Gulf to fuel East Asia, a coalition of Tehran, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi form an unexpected new Gulf alliance and affirm that China's new fleet of swift aircraft carriers will henceforth patrol the Persian Gulf from a base on the Gulf of Oman.  Under heavy economic pressure, London agrees to cancel the US lease on its Indian Ocean island base of Diego Garcia, while Canberra, pressured by the Chinese, informs Washington that the Seventh Fleet is no longer welcome to use Fremantle as a homeport, effectively evicting the US Navy from the Indian Ocean.

With just a few strokes of the pen and some terse announcements,  the "Carter Doctrine," by which US military power was to eternally protect the Persian Gulf, is laid to rest in 2025.  All the elements that long assured the United States limitless supplies of low-cost oil from that region—logistics, exchange rates, and naval power—evaporate. At this point, the US can still cover only an insignificant 12% of its energy needs from its nascent alternative energy industry, and remains dependent on imported oil for half of its energy consumption.

The oil shock that follows hits the country like a hurricane, sending prices to startling heights, making travel a staggeringly expensive proposition, putting real wages (which had long been declining) into freefall, and rendering non-competitive whatever American exports remained. With thermostats dropping, gas prices climbing through the roof, and dollars flowing overseas in return for costly oil, the American economy is paralyzed. With long-fraying alliances at an end and fiscal pressures mounting, US military forces finally begin a staged withdrawal from their overseas bases.

Within a few years, the US is functionally bankrupt and the clock is ticking toward midnight on the American Century.

Military Misadventure: Present Situation

Counterintuitively, as their power wanes, empires often plunge into ill-advised military misadventures.  This phenomenon is known among historians of empire as "micro-militarism" and seems to involve psychologically compensatory efforts to salve the sting of retreat or defeat by occupying new territories, however briefly and catastrophically. These operations, irrational even from an imperial point of view, often yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the loss of power.

Embattled empires through the ages suffer an arrogance that drives them to plunge ever deeper into military misadventures until defeat becomes debacle. In 413 BCE, a weakened Athens sent 200 ships to be slaughtered in Sicily. In 1921, a dying imperial Spain dispatched 20,000 soldiers to be massacred by Berber guerrillas in Morocco. In 1956, a fading British Empire destroyed its prestige by attacking Suez. And in 2001 and 2003, the US occupied Afghanistan and invaded Iraq. With the hubris that marks empires over the millennia, Washington has increased its troops in Afghanistan to 100,000, expanded the war into Pakistan, and extended its commitment to 2014 and beyond, courting disasters large and small in this guerilla-infested, nuclear-armed graveyard of empires.

Military Misadventure: Scenario 2014

So irrational, so unpredictable is "micro-militarism" that seemingly fanciful scenarios are soon outdone by actual events. With the US military stretched thin from Somalia to the Philippines and tensions rising in Israel, Iran, and Korea, possible combinations for a disastrous military crisis abroad are multifold.

It's mid-summer 2014 and a drawn-down US garrison in embattled Kandahar in southern Afghanistan is suddenly, unexpectedly overrun by Taliban guerrillas, while US aircraft are grounded by a blinding sandstorm. Heavy loses are taken and in retaliation, an embarrassed American war commander looses B-1 bombers and F-16 fighters to demolish whole neighborhoods of the city that are believed to be under Taliban control, while AC-130U "Spooky" gunships rake the rubble with devastating cannon fire.

Soon, mullahs are preaching jihad from mosques throughout the region, and Afghan Army units, long trained by American forces to turn the tide of the war, begin to desert en masse.  Taliban fighters then launch a series of remarkably sophisticated strikes aimed at US garrisons across the country, sending American casualties soaring. In scenes reminiscent of Saigon in 1975, US helicopters rescue American soldiers and civilians from rooftops in Kabul and Kandahar.

Meanwhile, angry at the endless, decades-long stalemate over Palestine, OPEC's leaders impose a new oil embargo on the US to protest its backing of Israel as well as the killing of untold numbers of Muslim civilians in its ongoing wars across the Greater Middle East. With gas prices soaring and refineries running dry, Washington makes its move, sending in Special Operations forces to seize oil ports in the Persian Gulf.  This, in turn, sparks a rash of suicide attacks and the sabotage of pipelines and oil wells. As black clouds billow skyward and diplomats rise at the UN to bitterly denounce American actions, commentators worldwide reach back into history to brand this "America's Suez," a telling reference to the 1956 debacle that marked the end of the British Empire.

World War III: Present Situation

In the summer of 2010, military tensions between the US and China began to rise in the western Pacific, once considered an American "lake."  Even a year earlier no one would have predicted such a development. As Washington played upon its alliance with London to appropriate much of Britain's global power after World War II, so China is now using the profits from its export trade with the US to fund what is likely to become a military challenge to American dominion over the waterways of Asia and the Pacific.

With its growing resources, Beijing is claiming a vast maritime arc from Korea to Indonesia long dominated by the US Navy. In August, after Washington expressed a "national interest" in the South China Sea and conducted naval exercises there to reinforce that claim, Beijing's official Global Times responded angrily, saying, "The US-China wrestling match over the South China Sea issue has raised the stakes in deciding who the real future ruler of the planet will be."

Amid growing tensions, the Pentagon reported that Beijing now holds "the capability to attack… [US] aircraft carriers in the western Pacific Ocean" and target "nuclear forces throughout… the continental United States." By developing "offensive nuclear, space, and cyberwarfare capabilities," China seems determined to vie for dominance of what the Pentagon calls "the information spectrum in all dimensions of the modern battlespace." With ongoing development of the powerful Long March V booster rocket, as well as the launch of two satellites in January 2010 and another in July, for a total of five, Beijing signaled that the country was making rapid strides toward an "independent" network of 35 satellites for global positioning, communications, and reconnaissance capabilities by 2020.

To check China and extend its military position globally, Washington is intent on building a new digital network of air and space robotics, advanced cyberwarfare capabilities, and electronic surveillance.  Military planners expect this integrated system to envelop the Earth in a cyber-grid capable of blinding entire armies on the battlefield or taking out a single terrorist in field or favela. By 2020, if all goes according to plan, the Pentagon will launch a three-tiered shield of space drones—reaching from stratosphere to exosphere, armed with agile missiles, linked by a resilient modular satellite system, and operated through total telescopic surveillance.

Last April, the Pentagon made history.  It extended drone operations into the exosphere by quietly launching the X-37B unmanned space shuttle into a low orbit 255 miles above the planet.  The X-37B is the first in a new generation of unmanned vehicles that will mark the full weaponization of space, creating an arena for future warfare unlike anything that has gone before.

World War III: Scenario 2025

The technology of space and cyberwarfare is so new and untested that even the most outlandish scenarios may soon be superseded by a reality still hard to conceive. If we simply employ the sort of scenarios that the Air Force itself used in its 2009 Future Capabilities Game, however, we can gain "a better understanding of how air, space and cyberspace overlap in warfare," and so begin to imagine how the next world war might actually be fought.

It's 11:59 p.m. on Thanksgiving Thursday in 2025. While cyber-shoppers pound the portals of Best Buy for deep discounts on the latest home electronics from China, US Air Force technicians at the Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) on Maui choke on their coffee as their panoramic screens suddenly blip to black. Thousands of miles away at the US CyberCommand's operations center in Texas, cyberwarriors soon detect malicious binaries that, though fired anonymously, show the distinctive digital fingerprints of China's People's Liberation Army.

The first overt strike is one nobody predicted. Chinese "malware" seizes control of the robotics aboard an unmanned solar-powered US "Vulture" drone as it flies at 70,000 feet over the Tsushima Strait between Korea and Japan.  It suddenly fires all the rocket pods beneath its enormous 400-foot wingspan, sending dozens of lethal missiles plunging harmlessly into the Yellow Sea, effectively disarming this formidable weapon.

Determined to fight fire with fire, the White House authorizes a retaliatory strike.  Confident that its F-6 "Fractionated, Free-Flying" satellite system is impenetrable, Air Force commanders in California transmit robotic codes to the flotilla of X-37B space drones orbiting 250 miles above the Earth, ordering them to launch their "Triple Terminator" missiles at China's 35 satellites. Zero response. In near panic, the Air Force launches its Falcon Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle into an arc 100 miles above the Pacific Ocean and then, just 20 minutes later, sends the computer codes to fire missiles at seven Chinese satellites in nearby orbits.  The launch codes are suddenly inoperative.

As the Chinese virus spreads uncontrollably through the F-6 satellite architecture, while those second-rate US supercomputers fail to crack the malware's devilishly complex code, GPS signals crucial to the navigation of US ships and aircraft worldwide are compromised. Carrier fleets begin steaming in circles in the mid-Pacific. Fighter squadrons are grounded. Reaper drones fly aimlessly toward the horizon, crashing when their fuel is exhausted. Suddenly, the United States loses what the US Air Force has long called "the ultimate high ground": space. Within hours, the military power that had dominated the globe for nearly a century has been defeated in World War III without a single human casualty.

A New World Order?

Even if future events prove duller than these four scenarios suggest, every significant trend points toward a far more striking decline in American global power by 2025 than anything Washington now seems to be envisioning.

As allies worldwide begin to realign their policies to take cognizance of rising Asian powers, the cost of maintaining 800 or more overseas military bases will simply become unsustainable, finally forcing a staged withdrawal on a still-unwilling Washington. With both the US and China in a race to weaponize space and cyberspace, tensions between the two powers are bound to rise, making military conflict by 2025 at least feasible, if hardly guaranteed.

Complicating matters even more, the economic, military, and technological trends outlined above will not operate in tidy isolation. As happened to European empires after World War II, such negative forces will undoubtedly prove synergistic.  They will combine in thoroughly unexpected ways, create crises for which Americans are remarkably unprepared, and threaten to spin the economy into a sudden downward spiral, consigning this country to a generation or more of economic misery.

As US power recedes, the past offers a spectrum of possibilities for a future world order.  At one end of this spectrum, the rise of a new global superpower, however unlikely, cannot be ruled out. Yet both China and Russia evince self-referential cultures, recondite non-roman scripts, regional defense strategies, and underdeveloped legal systems, denying them key instruments for global dominion. At the moment then, no single superpower seems to be on the horizon likely to succeed the US.

In a dark, dystopian version of our global future, a coalition of transnational corporations, multilateral forces like NATO, and an international financial elite could conceivably forge a single, possibly unstable, supra-national nexus that would make it no longer meaningful to speak of national empires at all.  While denationalized corporations and multinational elites would assumedly rule such a world from secure urban enclaves, the multitudes would be relegated to urban and rural wastelands.

In Planet of Slums, Mike Davis offers at least a partial vision of such a world from the bottom up.  He argues that the billion people already packed into fetid favela-style slums worldwide (rising to two billion by 2030) will make "the 'feral, failed cities' of the Third World… the distinctive battlespace of the twenty-first century." As darkness settles over some future super-favela, "the empire can deploy Orwellian technologies of repression" as "hornet-like helicopter gun-ships stalk enigmatic enemies in the narrow streets of the slum districts… Every morning the slums reply with suicide bombers and eloquent explosions."

At a midpoint on the spectrum of possible futures, a new global oligopoly might emerge between 2020 and 2040, with rising powers China, Russia, India, and Brazil collaborating with receding powers like Britain, Germany, Japan, and the United States to enforce an ad hoc global dominion, akin to the loose alliance of European empires that ruled half of humanity circa 1900.

Another possibility: the rise of regional hegemons in a return to something reminiscent of the international system that operated before modern empires took shape. In this neo-Westphalian world order, with its endless vistas of micro-violence and unchecked exploitation, each hegemon would dominate its immediate region—Brasilia in South America, Washington in North America, Pretoria in southern Africa, and so on. Space, cyberspace, and the maritime deeps, removed from the control of the former planetary "policeman," the United States, might even become a new global commons, controlled through an expanded UN Security Council or some ad hoc body.

All of these scenarios extrapolate existing trends into the future on the assumption that Americans, blinded by the arrogance of decades of historically unparalleled power, cannot or will not take steps to manage the unchecked erosion of their global position.

If America's decline is in fact on a 22-year trajectory from 2003 to 2025, then we have already frittered away most of the first decade of that decline with wars that distracted us from long-term problems and, like water tossed onto desert sands, wasted trillions of desperately needed dollars.

If only 15 years remain, the odds of frittering them all away still remain high.  Congress and the president are now in gridlock; the American system is flooded with corporate money meant to jam up the works; and there is little suggestion that any issues of significance, including our wars, our bloated national security state, our starved education system, and our antiquated energy supplies, will be addressed with sufficient seriousness to assure the sort of soft landing that might maximize our country's role and prosperity in a changing world.

Europe's empires are gone and America's imperium is going.  It seems increasingly doubtful that the United States will have anything like Britain's success in shaping a succeeding world order that protects its interests, preserves its prosperity, and bears the imprint of its best values.



Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wikipedia Meetup in Pune on 13 Dec 2010

Update : Read about what happened there below
Wikipedia:Meetup/Pune/Pune3 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Date: : Monday, 13-December-2010 6:30 PM IST
Venue:: SICSR, Atur Centre, Model Colony. Room No 707. 7th floor

See the Article about it on PuneTech


The Wikipedia/Wikimedia Pune meetup is a get-together of wikipedians /wikimedians (contributors and users) to meet up, discuss, share experiences, reach out and advocate for wikipedia and wikimedia. Erik Möller,Deputy Director,Wikimedia Foundation, Danese Cooper, Chief Technical Officer, Wikimedia Foundation, Alolita Sharma, Engineering Programs Manager, Wikimedia Foundation will be attending the meetup.

Intended Audience

Anyone interested in Wikipedia/Wikimedia is welcomed to join, regardless of the language or the project including Past, present or future contributors. Anyone supportive or interested in the Wikimedia movement is invited to join us for a casual meetup over coffee. Please add your name to the list below and join the india mailing list.

Post Event:

WHAT AN AWESOME EXPERIENCE! Coming face to face with some amazing people, who, as it turns out are just as ordinary as you and me! It was amazing to see so much complexity and sophistication emerge out of simple efforts. We explored a whole range of topics not just limited to wikipedia but exploring anything that's open - Open Street Maps, subject-specific sites on Wikia (I got the toastmasters site up on the screen), volunteering, how we can get our grandparents to contribute... just amazing.

One huge takeaway for me was the revelation that the ENTIRE wikipedia, as well as any customization of it, was readily available for Download and we can actually empower all the non-internet-connected computers with this amazing information resource - with great update facility as well! I've now got a project at hand - get the best possible form of wikipedia offline that I can deploy in the school I'm volunteering at, and to make it as student-friendly (these are 3rd and 4th-graders we're handling) as possible. Will post more on it later. Search for "kiwiks" or something like it.

Oh, we also got a free Wikipedia T-SHIRT and a cool round BADGE!
I'm a Wikipedian now  ~:)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Notion Ink Adam available on Pre-Order - anybody wants??

FIAT LUX! « Notion Ink

The FANS who were loyally following their blog and commenting from beginning have been given the opportunity to pre-order the Notion Ink Adam Tablet!!

And I'm one of them! Found the email in my Spam folder just now!
Only 6 hours of tonight to decide... to take or not to take??

Well, at least I can blog about it!!

The highest variant (daylight display, 3G) is for

550 U.S. dollars = 24 848.6491 Indian rupees

as per google...
And the lowest variant (LCD display only, no use in sunlight, WiFi and no 3G) is for

375.33 U.S. dollars = 16 957.17 Indian rupees

Cheap for a full-fledged Tablet personal computer, right? But this cheap variant doesn't have the thing I want most - the transflective PixelQi display that makes it possible to read with min strain, ultra-low power usage and in Sunlight. Plus with 3G coming in a big way, the top variant seems the only real way to go.

Taking it could go in two ways :
1. The price goes crazy due to extreme demand and I can resell it for a windfall, but then that would be because the product's just awesome and I wouldn't want to let it go then.
2. The product turns out to be not-as-awesome as hyped, price drops and I'm left with a bad investment and can't even sell it off.

Now 2. is a tad pessimistic and I don't believe in it coz I've been following these guys since a year now and BELIEVE in them. (Plus it's open source so any software stumbles will be easily tided over. Unlike some Fruity friends of ours!)

Plus, because they've spent so much time setting the whole thing up, it can be expected that after the initial few months of frenzied demand, things will settle and it will come in supply at these prices or maybe lower with mass-production again.

So not sure what to do!!

Still, feeling privileged!

To gauge a sense of the attention around this product, get this : This blog (theirs!) has just ranked no.2 in Wordpress in unique visitor hits. They are only behind... Oprah Winfrey.

Friends : If anyone wants to get his hands on this thing and is willing to pay me the amount above, CALL me ASAP on +91-9665831250. Don't email - call straight away even if it's international call. It's past 1 AM here and I'm sleepy as hell. My pre-order window opens ...NOW (1:30am Indian time or 12pm Pacific time ) and is open for 6 hours only, so till 7:30pm Indian time.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Request to Notion Ink for giving Adam tablets to TFI / other nonprofts

Comment posted on Week-End Special – XI « Notion Ink

Request : Please earmark a small number of Adams for educational donation / subsidized sale to nonprofits. You can hook up with Wipro - they've announced they're putting $2 billion into education in India and I'm sure many such funds and NGOs will be happy to participate. Why I'm asking for this is : Because it is THIS sector that will benefit the maximum from Adam. Outdoor operation, easy touch-based data collection and photo/video, easily usable in any way and 3G connectivity - it's like a match made in heaven. Once we have Adam in the hands of a few social workers / teachers and videos of it being used by them surface, you can be sure to have a (free!) publicity blitzkrieg the likes of which has never been seen in this category.

If it helps, please take my pre-order model (yikes I can't believe I'm pledging this) and give it to a non-profit in Pune - preferred is Teach For India. I'll be happy to put in up to Rs.5000 pro bono - the rest, we can gather the necessary funds. What say?

Nikhil Sheth, Pune, India
Facebook page : http://www.facebook.com/nikjs

Site of Notion Ink's revolutionary Adam tablet : http://www.notionink.com/

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why The Wikileaks Document Release Is Key To A Functioning Democracy

Why The Wikileaks Document Release Is Key To A Functioning Democracy

Fakes and lies are the length of soundbites - small, non-referenced, catchy, easy to hear. The TRUTH is detailed, long, referenced, exhaustive and inconvenient to all. So the argument that "we can't make out truth from lies" is that of idiots who don't know how to perceive.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Report on the Toastmasters District Semi-Annual Conference - I

From: Prasad Sovani
Date: Tue, Nov 30, 2010
Subject: Report on the District Semi-Annual Conference - I

Dear Toastmaster friends,

Hi! I returned from Mumbai late on Sunday night and was busy in pending work, hence the delay in sending this mail.

It was fabulous experience at Reverberations 2010.
I was quite happy with the quality of contests and felt that it has improved over the years.

First the headlines:
Our contestants rocked, and narrowly missed out on winning one of the top 3 positions, but were good enough to win the semi-finals and enter the finals.
Both Mario Rozario(Evaluation) and Ramakrishna Reddy(Humorous) did us proud by giving their best shot!
So though they have not won a medal, they were GOOD!

The next District event is Annual District Conference in May 2010 at Mysore and I' like to have each club from our Division represented over there. So, if the clubs are represented on Thursday 12 May 2010,(For Semi-Finals to support our contestants) and onwards, it might be great for all of us.

I shall now give report of only day 1 in this mail.
We reached there at 1.30 pm on Friday and straightaway I had to attend the District Executive Committee meeting.

Our Division is vibrant & vivacious! We were the best Division of District 82-N. We have added 4 new clubs against the target of 6 and we are expected to achieve at least 10 new clubs by June end.
Plus when I talked about what is happening in our Division, all the present people applauded vigorously and commented during the break that Div M is different!

FYI, we are unique in 6 ways. 1. Forming new community clubs by splitting (The 'Prasad Sovani' model or Pune model) It was requested by some Division Governors that I talk about this. 2. Monthly dinners for Presidents & Div Council, to bond well 3. Training for Presidents on a regular basis to groom future leaders, 4. Mentoring rigorously as was evident in substantial improvement in Ramakrishna's speech, 5. Division newsletter & Wikia, 6. Lot of coverage in print media

That evening, we had the inauguration & while there were many programmes, I was touched by Frank Storey's speech.
Frank joined Toastmasters after repeated requests by his colleague. After his first meeting, joined straightaway, and same month joined 5 more clubs to practise more! Later, he went on to be District Governor in USA.

I have some take-homes from PDG DTM Frank Storey's speech and I feel that it certainly added value to me:

1. Never give up and invite people persistently. Frank himself was invited several times before he attended and went on to serve Toastmasters International as a District Governor!
I (Prasad Sovani) invited rigorously in Singapore and am doing so in Pune, but these words re-enforced my thoughts.

2. The domino effect: A brings B in to TM club and B goes on to sponsor 10 new clubs, one of which produces DGs! Amazing, isn't it? So always keep bringing new guests, you never know who will go on to become a Frank Storey, or a Nagaraja Rao or a Prasad Sovani!
You would have pleasure knowing that the person you introduced to TM, went on to become someone who served a far greater cause!

3. A little praise for a new TM goes a long way in making him feel interested in the movement! Frank was praised by someone initially as a Rising Star and he worked hard to prove those words.

4. I liked this the most--- Your club may not need additional members, but the members need you (movement), so keep adding members!

There was a cultural show and dinner but I had to stay in town at a family friend's home (Dalvi) and needed to be there in time for a decent chat and reach at a reasonable hour, so left earlier!

But, I invited my friend from the Dalvi household to join TMC in Mumbai and he may indeed do so! & who knows what he can accomplish as a TM ...........

Warm Wishes
-- Prasad

Prasad Sovani, Distinguished Toastmaster
Division Governor, Division M, Toastmasters International Dist. 82
Immediate Past President, Rotary Club of Pune Lokmanyanagar,
Professional Corporate Trainer & Economist,
GSE Scholar, The Rotary Foundation, 2005-06
Prasad Sovani,

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Water levels plunging down | India Environment Portal

Water levels plunging down | India Environment Portal

My dear modern, proud India,

You can buzz about the latest gadgets and swankiest cars,
You can pride yourself with all your high standard lifestyle,
You can claim the right to consume and have a good life,

But will all these things matter when
you don't have the water to brush your teeth one morning?

Will the softdrinks and the fine wine
help you wash and clean your body?

Will the awesome interface on your gadget
quench your thirst when the water runs out?

What good is all this prosperity if it cannot guarantee the survival of your children?

When was the last time you asked someone,
"Where does this water I'm using come from?"
"And how long will it keep coming from there?"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bans don’t always work the way you want them

A Note in Facebook page of…. Dr. Manmohan Singh

(wow, they’re all on FB now. That’s a good step.)


Ban on Import of Second Hand Computers

Excerpt: “Earlier, the import of second hand computers including personal computers/laptops and computer peripherals including printers, plotter, scanner, monitor, keyboard and storage units as donations by certain categories of donees was freely permitted but as per the Directorate General Foreign Trade (DGFT) Public Notice dated 13.5.2010, this provision has been deleted.”

I’ve posted a couple of comments there… just making a record here, coz I expect them to be removed from there!

First one:

This law's terminology must be modified to ensure it doesn't get outdated in the next few years. Or else we will have to waste more taxpayers' money in a long and tedious process later.
1. Does this cover any used computer one buys on ebay and other such personal shopping sites on an individual level? And how will you exclude people who are bringing their personal/work   laptop/PC/storage device with them when entering India? Are we going to ban pendrives now??
2. Does this make any difference between real e-waste and computers that are readily re-usable with years more of shelf life?
3. This decision is going to hurt millions of lower income families who are planning to buy a working condition 2nd hand comp to better their children's future. What are the provisions for compensating them?
4. Why is law not covering mobile phones which are an even bigger second-hand market and which produce more e-waste than computers do? They use the exact same chemical materials as well. What are we using to differentiate between mobile and computer, seeing that these are going to fully converge over the coming years? If the Indian Govt was really interested in environmental safety, why are a whole range of chemically similar goods not being banned as well?
5. There is a growing movement in the production of environmentally safe computing devices and companies that are tracking the full product cycle by taking back used and not-needed goods and recycling them. These practices may eventually be mainstreamed. Will this law still enforce the ban then, even when certain second hand products are guaranteed not to pollute India?

Please address these concerns, and let's have a law that's visionary and future-proof rather than reactionary.


And another comment to give an alternative:

With all due respect, if we really want to prevent toxic dumping in India, then we simply need a law that bans the entire laundry-list of hazardous materials (at their most basic description) from coming into the country without an exit path.
Ex: "Any goods containing more than x grams of mercury and so-and-so compounds containing mercury are banned from second-hand imports. These may comprise the PCB's in Computer devices and peripherals, etc etc".
This will then prevent the importers from dismantling the computers and re-branding their components, like "TV" for CRT monitor, for instance. It will also then directly provide an incentive to all companies to switch to environmentally benign PCB and component manufacturing. This law in present form is going to fail to deter the polluters, and will just prevent the aspiring common man form improving his life.


Seeing how there’s really no other critical feedback visible, I fully expect my comments to be deleted in a short time. Well, you saw them here!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Where no wire has gone before

Edit, 16/2/14 : Sheesh, so naive I was! There's much much more to problems-solving than 3G.

3G mobile services are poised to come in a big way into our lives. The sort of internet speeds that were previously available only with a fixed, somewhat expensive and inevitably limited infrastructure, will now be available in the places that wires would only have dreamed of venturing to.
So the questions going around everywhere : "What will 3G mean to you" and its variants. A lot of techies, geeks, bloggers, gurus, industrialists, and what not have jumped in with their answers.

But I think we've committed an error here.
We haven't asked the right people.

Flashback : Dawn of the internet
In the very early days of the internet, it wasn't available to the breadth of the world's population that enjoys it today. Only a limited section of people in developed countries who were already well-connected to modern technology, could use it. If we created a time machine and went back then and asked the question "What will the internet mean to you" to only those people who were already well connected, do you think their response would have been any reflection of what the internet has really turned out to be? Would they have predicted the amazing transformation that has happened in the last two decades due to the internet?
I doubt it. Because the internet has brought the maximum transformation to the lives of those who, till then, didn't enjoy all the benefits of being connected to the rest of the world.

Back to the present:
So back to the question : What is 3G going to mean to... whom should we be asking, to get the best answer?
The welll-connected netizen? Nope. For him/her, at least at the beginning, it will simply be a substitution or at best an upgrade.
The people whose lives are REALLY going to be transformed by 3G, are the ones whose lives haven't been transformed by the power of the internet yet.

I'm talking about the last mile, baby. The places where no wire has gone before.
That's right. The rest of humanity that we haven't been able to reach till now.
With a 3G-enabled phone, or better yet, a 3G-enabled tablet like Adam, anyone, anywhere, gets access to the rest of humanity.

Across the seas, plains, hills and valleys, into the depths of countries where you can't even find a fuel pump let alone a Starbucks, that's where 3G is going to take full-blown communication to.

Children who have never seen a textbook will suddenly be able to educate themselves from KG to Phd, accessing the contents put forth by the best educational institutions on the planet. Farmers who were limited by what they knew will now know more than any middle man or moneylender would have ever allowed them to.

Masses in economically backward sections will get full access to the detailed track records of the politicians vying for their vote banks. A world of opportunities beyond their wildest dreams will open up before them.

Who knows? A boy in a village in Africa may collaborate with a girl in the hinterlands of India and together they might set up the next Google!

Of course, it looks far-fetched. So did the internet, remember? Never underestimate the power of communication. Right now it's not cheap or convenient enough to have the effect, but 3G services are going to change the game.

This post is an entry for the 3G Life Blogger contest.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I had a crazy thought last week.

Actually, I have crazy thoughts everyday. Anyways, back to this one..

I was locating the venue for the TMCP-West meeting and pondering about how the hell I’m going to get there. My bike was, as usual, in servicing (my own laziness – I was supposed to get something done and hadn’t). Autos are too expensive and I can’t afford to make a habit of them for long distances like this one. And bus.. I haven’t been on these routes, it probably involves bus-changing, there’s no telling how long one has to wait at some spot. Pune’s traffic can really slow things down. So I’m pondering at the map…

kothrud route

… And it struck me that the distance between the venue and my home is almost the same as the distance we have to run at the Mumbai Dream Run coming in Jan. I had slacked off in running/walking since half a year or so now. So why don’t I use this opportunity to walk! Going.. nah, not enough time and I have to play General Evaluator role there. Coming back – ya, definitely. The weather was pretty good too!

So, decided : I’ll WALK from Kothrud all the way to Sahakarnagar-2 tonight! Getting there, I took an auto, and to save money + test myself a bit, I got off at Nal Stop (2/3rds way) and walked from there to the venue. Not bad at all, made it in under half an hour!

After the meeting, I started off… and it’s weird how after such a lull I was able to cross the whole way with full energy. See the map on top? I had blue-toothed to my phone – was able to track my way perfectly! And best part is – at no point did I need to turn on my cell’s mp3 player. I don’t know why other people go everywhere with headphones on – I prefer hearing the world around me. It’s got so much more depth, and you can really experience the outdoors. It’s esp good when you pass by and eavesdrop on bits and pieces of other people’s conversations. It’s like a table topics session! I was even talking to myself, thinking clearly, pondering about the next few blog posts – all with a spring in the step!

So, conclusions :

  1. I can now cross half the city on foot, at a speed of 7kmph.
  2. I need to get newer running shoes – these are ageing finally.
  3. It’s more fun when you do NOT put on stupid headphones.
  4. If a lot of people walked, we would pass through the in-between places, recognize which places need attention and the impact of garbage mismanagement and ultimately make our city a better one for our children.
  5. Men piss everywhere. But only those tracts of road stink (eww!) where there is NO GRASS OR SHRUBBERY. These green things absorb and recycle it all, and that is much cheaper than transporting the filth in sewage. So, we should line the SIDES of our streets with greenery, rather than the middle!

Monday, November 1, 2010


I came across a great website that has aggregated over 150 different noble-cause organizations from around the world for an online competition to win a grant of USD 15,000.


The site depends on the online community to pick its finalists in each category - the categories range from Education to Peace to Sustainable Living and much more.

You can register for free using your email address or facebook or gmail login, and are able to cast 3 votes in each category. The voting closes today or tomorrow so hurry up!

Some examples of projects that are in the fray:
World Social Forum 2.0
Teach For India
Vertical Greenhouse
…and many more projects in some or the other sector with a noble initiative.

Best thing is - so many projects have come together in one place so it’s much easier for wannabe do-gooders like me (and you too!) to find them, and it's amazing what people can do through collaboration and creativity!

Friday, October 29, 2010

How To publish direct download links to your Google Doc

google_docs_logoScenario: You have a google doc whose contents you’re sharing with your friends and the world (ie, it’s publicly viewable)
This is a great alternative for publishing or sharing something big when you don’t have web designing skills or the time to set up something like a blog, or in sharing something among members of a team like the minutes of a meeting, or if it’s a one-off thing.
In case the document (can be a spreadsheet or presentation or drawing too) is big and you want to give the opposite person a way to save it for seeing later, then here’s how. Click on the expand link below to see the step-by-step procedure.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Notion Ink

Notion Ink - makers of the Adam tablet - widely hailed to bring a potential revolution to the world of computing.
The first company I'm coming across - that too being a tech startup in India wih no prior experience like this, which is making full use of crowd-sourcing - from colors to logos to feedback on construction and design, they've gotten thousands of fans (and eventual die-hard loyal customers) from across the globe involved with the Adam Tablet long before production!

Whether they actually conquer the Tablet Wars or not, Notion Ink will long be remembered and respected for making this paradigm shift in product development - to involve the end consumer and being open about everything right from the beginning.
Godspeed, Notion Ink!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The TED Talks Torrents Project

"There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? 
I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?" - Robert F. Kennedy
Problem: TEDtalksTED.com Talks pages don't load up many times from my home
internet connection now. (Pune, India, BSNL broadband in case anyone wants to analyze). I have to refresh the page several times just to get it on. But their direct Talks download links from the RSS/podcast feed works fine. I’m not sure of the max download speed you can get on them, though. It’s upto 60KB/s which is the max my connection can take. I wonder what’s the speed for someone downloading them on 8mbps or higher connections. If you can clock it, please post it as a comment here along with which ISP you’re using like I’ve mentioned. Back to the problem, could it be that TED website is getting inundated with the increasing viewership??

Casual comments: They ought to start releasing all their Talks through torrents now, so that new converts (read: people who just came across it and gotta catch ‘em all) can download the/a whole bunch using a torrent, without affecting the performance of TED.com’s servers. Already we have an aggregated list (though it’s not exhaustive) – this should go one step further. If TED doesn’t, then some teenager somewhere will create a code to spider through the list of Talks, trace down the videos attached to them and download them en masse. I haven’t seen anything like this yet (I haven’t looked), but just saying this is a logical consequence and is bound to happen at some point.

Foresight: Once this code gets out and gets thousands of users, it’s surely going to crash TED’s servers in a few days or just hours. Compared to all the costs involved in fixes and downtimes and IP-restrictive patches (a retrograde move, denying a user more Talks after a quota has been consumed- like you’re limiting knowledge! People will walk away!) and the cost of massive expansion on bandwidth capacity, just making a Torrent of all the Talks and having the whole world share them peer-to-peer, will cost next to nothing!

Ponderings: Technically, the Talks ARE released under Creative Commons license – the video files can be reproduced and shared all over as long as the actual content isn’t manipulated. But someone like me or you doing this independently wouldn’t be able to include, or would have to work too hard at, the features I want in that torrent:
  1. With the Talk’s video file there should be an accompanying HTML/other doc, documenting whatever info is there on the website, including description, links to the speaker’s bio and his/her contact links, and full transcript. Also maybe a separate XML having meta information (ex:tags) that’s easily readable by programs. 
  2. The subtitles feature is present only for TED’s web player. When we download the Talks, no subs! Someone has made a site where you can get the subs, but it’s too cumbersome to do for so many Talks I’ve already downloaded! TED.com has the database linking each of its talks with the relevant subtitles. The Torrent feature would include the subs with the Talks just like they do in DVD’s.
  3. All versions of the Talks : mp3, low-res FLV, ipod-level mp4 and HD – should be made available in the same place.
How great would this be! It would easily become the biggest and most downloaded and shared torrent on the web, replacing all the allegedly illegal ones! (I maintain my neutral stance – I have objections to modern copyright laws.) Initially TED could host it on a drive of its own, and then in a few weeks as more and more people download and share it,TED could just close off and not need to bother about past Talks anymore!

Proposal: With this, I’m going to propose: the TED Talks Torrent project – what I want the fascinating team at TED, or a bunch of volunteers, to get working on ASAP!
  1. Just like their amazing success with the multi-language subtitles, launch an initiative to have a definite .torrent, with a magnet URL, created for every TED Talk. The torrent should contain all the Talk’s audio as well as all available video versions (typically FLV, Ipod MP4 and HD), plus a text or html file having links to the speaker’s bio, the Talk’s short description as appears on the website and video feed and the full transcript. And of course, all available subtitles in the best available format (.sub? .srt?)
  2. Suggestion: The TED website’s backend team can code an automated script to parse the database and do all of this for them in a short time, as they already have it all linked together in each Talk’s webpage. It’ll be easier to do this internally rather than having a regular visitor deploy a spider that can easily make mistakes and waste time. Nevertheless, if they don’t, we will.
  3. As in the subs project, an army of volunteers can be recruited for free from the site’s visitors to audit all the torrents, raise flags and make corrections wherever needed.
  4. Now at every Talk’s page, in the layer that appears when one presses the download button, simply include a link to the .torrent file, or the magnet URL or both! They seem to have space over there for that anyway!
  5. Also create a unified torrent that has all the Talks, possibly split among folders by event, category etc. Have some way of automatically updating that torrent every month or so as new Talks are added to the hive. Maybe we could have a script running which aggregates all the .torrent files together, same way RSS feed aggregators work.

What’s in this for TED?

Coquo Ergo Sum

"I cook, therefore I am"

DSC02278Humanity’s first technology : This decidedly separates us from all the animal species : Cooked food!

How old is it? Well, all our teeth don’t have specialized canines or the herbivorous types – they’re much weaker and simpler, designed for consuming soft mushy food. Our digestive systems too don’t need to be half as powerful as other animals’ need to be. Why? It’s because with the onset of cooking, humans’ bodies stopped needing over-specialized teeth or digestive parts. So seeing how many generations it would take for these evolutionary changes to happen : Quite old! We can actually use this to document how a technology has shaped the path of a species’ evoluton. Yet, there’s more to this. Something even more significant.

Human brains are very large compared to any other animal, right?

This brain was able to expand because it had more energy available to it than usual.

The reason why the human body was able to provide more energy to the brain than what other animals could provide their brains, is…


The technology because of which vastly greater varieties of food could be taken, transformed and consumed as edible sources of energy! In one fell swoop, a human could provide its brain far more energy than any other animal could! Cooking, paved the way for human intelligence and civilization!

This, and more, demonstrated in Heribert Watzike’s TED Talk : The brain in your gut

Funny how this emerged right when we’re seeing so many cooking contests suddenly taking over the reality TV scene!

My take : Every single community, race, sect, country, and any and all groups of humans on this planet, cooks their food. If what Heribert and others like him have asserted is true (and at present I can’t find anything that opposes the logic), if we can fully grasp the significance of how it shaped civilization as we know it, then I now have for you a religion that could potentially unite all of humanity, with the kitchen as the temple, and the traditional cook of the family the priest. Suddenly, we can put religion back in the hands of women – the original Creators, and in one fell swoop eliminate all religious conflicts on the planet.

Think about it.

Order from Chaos: Taking everyday materials and creating something from them that is more than just its sum parts – not through just simple proportions, but through a mixing of energy and mass that transform each other, to create something unique and divine.

Life begets life: whether vegetarian food or non-vegetarian, living matter is broken down to its constituents to fuel more life. By recognizing the circle of life we are a part of instead of seeing a linear chain of consumption, our attitude towards our own waste and byproducts could undergo a sea change, taking away most of the planet’s pollution and waste problems with it.

A change of priorities : We would recognize the fact that when provided with surplus energy, human evolution chose to redirect it to the brain instead of the muscles – in effect giving higher priority to creativity and thinking than to brute strength and power. If our own body’s cells placed creation higher than destruction, then our collective’s policies could follow suit as well. We might just evolve out of war!

It’s always good to think of new ways to solve old problems, eh!?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Avaaz : We're winning...

Email sent from Avaaz.org - a global online community dedicated to making our world a better place for all:

Dear Avaaz community,

Make a Comment NOW! Avaaz is on fire, growing like never before and winning amazing victories across the world. From Canada to Brazil to Italy to South Africa, our community is not just speaking out, we're winning, time and time again. Click below to read more and join a global live-chat to celebrate and dream up what comes next:
Something serious is happening. Not only is our community growing by 100,000 people a week, taking more than 25,000,000 actions online, and causing a stir like never before. Not only is the level of enthusiasm and appetite we're seeing for Avaaz sky high.

We're also winning. Time and time again.

Often we're choosing impossible battles, with very little time to win. But the rush of sudden, overwhelming engagement of massive numbers of citizens is, issue after issue, making the difference between success and failure. From the Economist to Le Monde to Al Jazeera, the media is remarking upon our "spectacular successes" that are capable of ushering in "a political revolution". Here are some examples from just the last several weeks:
  • Canada (420,000 Avaaz members), we just took on an alliance of a media empire and a prime minister to subvert the independence of the country's media in their favour, and won. 
  • Brazil (730,000 members) we took a civil society movement online and drove an anti-corruption law through congress that is putting large numbers of corrupt politicians out of a job - widely hailed as a political revolution. 
  • Italy (240,000) we rallied opposition to the Prime Minister's bill to tie the hands of Italy's corruption investigators - commentators hailed the victory as the first time in Italian history online mobilization had shifted the parliamentary agenda.
  • Argentina (60,000) we surged to protect crucial glaciers from what looked like certain destruction by mining companies, and won. 
  • South Africa (70,000) we built a massive public outcry against sweeping new censorship powers over the press, forcing the government to alter its media regulation law.
  • Germany (480,000) thousands of last-minute phone calls from our members helped stop the government from drastically cutting its aid budget. 
See more details on these campaigns below this email, or click below to read more, see press clips, and leave a comment on our global live-chat tool:


These were just the victories - in the last several weeks Avaaz also responded within days to the tragedy in Pakistan by donating over $1.1 million and granting it to local organizations to provide nutritious biscuits and milk to 30,000 children for 2 months, and help provide safe drinking water to over 3000 families. In Europe, Avaaz members made history creating the first 1 million strong EU citizens initiative (a democratic mechanism in the new EU constitution) seeking to freeze all genetically modified crops pending further health and safety research.

All this in just weeks, and following other serious victories in 2010 on protecting the bans on whaling and ivory trading, establishing the world's largest ocean preserve and much more. It's all proof that, when citizens stick together and take smart, strategic actions, democracy works!

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