Heaven on Earth?

A link from Atanu’s blog led me to some fascinating facts about a place I’d known of for quite a while…

  • World’s first democracy: the first in which all women joined men in having the vote for Government: 1893.
  • Has long since virtually eliminated poverty.
  • One of the world pioneers (since mid-1930s) of the welfare state, along with Sweden and Norway.
  • From about 1938 to early 1970s, 100 per cent full employment. Even now, national unemployment well under 4 per cent.
  • (Has a) robust grassroots democracy. Every school, public and private, is elected by the school’s parents, with minority board-posts elected by teachers, and, in high schools, by students too… General election turnouts for most of the last half century have regularly topped 90 per cent, although have dropped slightly below that in some recent years.
  • In the mid-part of the 20th century, consistently in the world’s top five countries to lead the world in productivity.
  • Among the world’s top-book-buying and reading nations.

What an impressive set of indicators for an outstanding quality of Life, wouldn’t you agree?  No wonder, I’ve been wanting to move to New Zealand, for as long as I’ve known of it!  (Thanks for the reinforcement, Atanu)

Read the complete list here.

Nano Reality

The last few days have been nothing short of historic, for the great nation of India: At the biggest Auto Expo of the country, Tata Motors finally unveiled the much-awaited “one-lakh” car – the Nano.

As promised, the Tata Nano is priced at Rs. 100,000… or, as some folks in the media have so eloquently noted, a car that costs the equivalent of a DVD player in a Lexus or the side mirrors of an E class Mercedes!

According to the Times of India, on prices adjusted to 2007 US$, this is how the Nano fares, as compared to other legendary advances in the world of affordable automobiles:

1. Model-T Ford | 1908 | $ 19,700
2. VW Beetle | 1956 | $ 11,333
3. Mini Cooper | 1961 | $ 11,700 and
4. Tata Nano | 2008 | $ 2,500  (approx. Rs. 100,000)

The car was always intended to provide a safe, comfortable and elegant means of transport for the masses of India.  According to Ratan Tata, his inspiration behind the project was the vision of “a man on a two-wheeler with a child standing in front, his wife sitting behind, add to that the wet roads — a family in potential danger.”  Even when he first announced the ambitious goal, there was no shortage of those who said it couldn’t be done… it shouldn’t be done!

Today, and in spite of all the odds faced throughout its development, that dream has turned into a reality.  It does not compromise on quality or style or engineering.  It does not cost the earth in running costs or maintenance.  It’s not an apology, it’s a car.

And, already, it has received more than a fair share of criticism from all quarters… Large metropolitan cities do not have any roads on which to accomodate more cars.  Where will all the new cars be parked?  More cars on our roads will mean more pollution in the environment… Even its brand name is being touted as unsuitable for the target audience it is aimed at (semi urban, rural markets and two wheeler owners with a family of four)!

Sure, some of these arguments are valid.  But, so are the dreams of the common man.  I have experienced, first hand, the perils faced by two wheelers on our cities roads, and always wished there was a better alternative.  Now, there is.  And it’s called the Nano.

Doesn’t that count for something?  Not to mention the remarkable feat of engineering in ensuring such a project sees the light of day in a road-worthy automobile?!

Yet again, I am reminded of Albert Einstein’s famous remark: “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”  Good luck, Mr. Tata.  And, thank you!

Read More : | Tata Nano | Coverage: | NY Times | MSNBC | Reuters | Google Blog Search |

Platform Power

I am a big believer in going against the grain… standing out in a crowd… rocking the boat… being “different”… In fact, this entire blog has been dedicated to writing about the “other” point of view!  Lately, however, I have become increasingly aware of the benefits of staying with the crowd, at least where Technology is concerned.

Allow me to explain:  Buy a not-so-popular mobile phone, and you find yourself stranded in situations when you need a charger and no one else can lend you one.  Sign up for an obscure email service and your friends and family will find it difficult to remember your email address.  Got a no-name MP3/MP4 player?  I’m not sure if it will read your music files without needing conversion!

Many of us must have dealt with some or the other version of the above.  The bottom-line is that there is comfort in numbers.  Not to mention, the “Network Effect” that kicks in!

It’s not a problem that plagues individuals, alone.  Apple has historically lost the “PC” war on account of not making its hardware and OS “open” to developers.  The result?  Microsoft came and swept the desktop world, with millions of small and big developers writing applications for a platform they could easily work with.  Sony lost the video-cassette battle to the VHS standard.  As a result, its superior Betacam format was restricted to a niche place in the industry.  Most recently, a fierce war is being fought over DVD standards with entertainment majors like Sony and Toshiba on opposite sides of the BluRay and HD bandwagons.  In each such case, there is major money to be made by the organization that backs the right horse… its survival may just depend on that decision.

For an individual like myself, this “platform power” yields some very powerful and exciting benefits.

A good example is the iconic iPod which has now spawned a whole world of related technologies (e.g. podcasting?) because of its sheer popularity.  Some of the gadgets I own, or services I subscribe to, are no different.

The bluetooth device I own (Jabra BT250) has worked seamlessly with the last six mobile phones I purchased.  The MP3 player in my car (iPod Nano) is loaded with podcasts from Harvard Business School and the NY Times TechTalk.  My blogging service (WordPress) sports widgets that integrate beautifully with my other subscriptions from industry-standards like Feedburner.   And, it doesn’t stop there… Even my state-of-the-art Digital SLR (Nikon D40) is designed to work with any Nikkor lens manufactured by Nikon since the 1970s!!!

Once you begin reaping the benefits of the “platform”, it doesn’t make sense going back, does it?