Thursday, July 29, 2010

The world's largest tent Khan Shatyr has debuted in Kazakhstan's capital city, Astana.
The nearly 500-foot tall structure is host to a variety of exciting green features, designed by Foster And Partners, who are known for implementing inspiring sustainable techniques in their other creations, like the Virgin Galactic Spaceport and the Queen Alia Airport.
Inhabitat reports that the arid region of Astana is subject to drastic shifts in temperature, so the Khan Shatyr is designed to remain between 60 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, even when the outside atmosphere can vary from -30 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
The tent accomplishes this climate control in an efficient way by utilizing three translucent layers of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (EFTE) fabric. Take a look at lush greenery inside of Khan Shatyr basking in the sunlight brought in from the illuminating material in this photo.
In the winter, this exterior channels light and warm air to prevent condensation. In the summer, the cool air displaces the hot air which is vented through the top.
A 492-foot tripod column runs up the center of the tent, supporting a web of cables attached to the EFTE skin, stretching out to a radius of over 650 feet. Take a look at this incredible photo that shows the central tripod stretching from the uppermost peak down to the bustling visitors below.
With over one million square feet of space provided inside for the people of Kazakhstan to enjoy, the Khan Shatyr contains everything from a water park and garden to a shopping mall and movie complex. And of course, there are plenty of restaurants!

Theo Albrecht, secretive co-owner of Trader Joe's, dies at 88

Theo Albrecht, the secretive co-founder of Germany's worldwide discount supermarket chain Aldi, a co-owner of Trader Joe's in the United States and one of Europe's richest men, has died at age 88.
The retail machine that Albrecht built with his brother Karl has won over German consumers with their no-thrills but super-cheap offer, making billionaires of the two and spawning imitation "hard-discount" stores across Europe.
The company's Aldi Nord division said in a statement Wednesday that Albrecht was the driving force behind Aldi's internationalization, expanding stores to France, Spain, Portugal, Poland and the United States, among other nations.
The company said he died Saturday in his home city of Essen, but gave no cause of death.
Even that bare-bones statement marked unusual openness for a company known for its extreme secrecy.
When Forbes featured the brothers in 1992 as two of the world's richest men, the magazine had to uses silhouettes rather than photographs to illustrate the article since no pictures of them had been published in many years.
The German Retail Federation said the country had lost one of its greatest entrepreneurs.
"There are only a few people who have stamped their mark on an entire business sector of the economy. Theo Albrecht achieved just that," the federation's managing director, Stefan Genth, said in a statement.
Albrecht and his elder brother Karl both served as German soldiers in World War II then returned home to Essen and took over a grocery store their parents owned.
They flourished as the German economy, in shambles after the war, came back to life in what is often called the "economic miracle."
By 1950, they were already running 13 stores and five years later, they had expanded throughout Germany's western industrial Ruhr basin.
The first Aldi stores -- an acronym standing for "Albrecht Discount" -- opened in the early 1960s under the motto: "concentrating on the basics: a limited selection of goods for daily needs."
It was a formula that sold well: Aldi carries a limited selection of fastest-selling, nonperishable consumer items, a strategy that allowed them to increase order volume, cut handling costs and waste, and buy their goods cheap — savings passed on to the consumer.
Aldi now has more than 4,000 outlets in Germany alone, where it is known for its no-frills shopping environment, streamlined processes and a limited range of discount products.
The two brothers in the 1960s decided to divide up what was then West Germany, with Theo running stores in the north. However, they used their combined bargaining power to lower purchasing prices, enabling them to garner higher profit margins while keeping prices low.
As their concept proved successful, Aldi started to expand around the world. In the U.S. alone, the company says it now has about 1,000 shops.
Aldi does not publish sales or profit figures. Aldi Nord says it employs more than 50,000 people around the world but will not reveal how many stores the company has worldwide.
In 1979, a family trust established by Theo Albrecht bought the U.S. specialty grocery chain Trader Joe's. In keeping with Aldi's culture of secrecy, Trader Joe's refused Wednesday to comment on Albrecht or Aldi, even refusing to confirm that the chain is owned by the Albrecht family. The business information provider Hoover's confirms that billionaire brothers bought the U.S. company in 1979.
Albrecht quietly managed Aldi Nord until 1993, when he stepped back from its day-to-day operations. But he still wielded huge influence as chairman of a foundation that holds the biggest stake in the company.
The publicity-shy Albrecht — of whom barely any photos exist — kept a very low profile. In 1971, he was kidnapped in Germany and released after 17 days after paying a ransom of 7 million German marks.
The Albrecht brothers have regularly led lists of Germany's richest people.
Forbes magazine's 2010 list of the world's richest people estimated Theo Albrecht's fortune at $16.7 billion, making him one of the wealthiest people in Europe. Karl Albrecht, 90, is said to have an estimated wealth of $23.5 billion, making him number ten worldwide.
Albrecht is survived by his wife Cilli and his two sons, Theo and Berthold. German media say he was buried on Wednesday in a small family ceremony.

Google, CIA Invest in ‘Future’ of Web Monitoring

The investment arms of the CIA and Google are both backing a company that monitors the web in real time — and says it uses that information to predict the future.
The company is called Recorded Future, and it scours tens of thousands of websites, blogs and Twitter accounts to find the relationships between people, organizations, actions and incidents — both present and still-to-come. In a white paper, the company says its temporal analytics engine “goes beyond search” by “looking at the ‘invisible links’ between documents that talk about the same, or related, entities and events.”
The idea is to figure out for each incident who was involved, where it happened and when it might go down. Recorded Future then plots that chatter, showing online “momentum” for any given event.
“The cool thing is, you can actually predict the curve, in many cases,” says company CEO Christopher Ahlberg, a former Swedish Army Ranger with a PhD in computer science.
Which naturally makes the 16-person Cambridge, Massachusetts, firm attractive to Google Ventures, the search giant’s investment division, and to In-Q-Tel, which handles similar duties for the CIA and the wider intelligence community.
It’s not the very first time Google has done business with America’s spy agencies. Long before it reportedly enlisted the help of the National Security Agency to secure its networks, Google sold equipment to the secret signals-intelligence group. In-Q-Tel backed the mapping firm Keyhole, which was bought by Google in 2004 — and then became the backbone for Google Earth.
This appears to be the first time, however, that the intelligence community and Google have funded the same startup, at the same time. No one is accusing Google of directly collaborating with the CIA. But the investments are bound to be fodder for critics of Google, who already see the search giant as overly cozy with the U.S. government, and worry that the company is starting to forget its “don’t be evil” mantra.
America’s spy services have become increasingly interested in mining “open source intelligence” — information that’s publicly available, but often hidden in the daily avalanche of TV shows, newspaper articles, blog posts, online videos and radio reports.
Secret information isn’t always the brass ring in our profession,” then CIA-director General Michael Hayden told a conference in 2008. “In fact, there’s a real satisfaction in solving a problem or answering a tough question with information that someone was dumb enough to leave out in the open.”
U.S. spy agencies, through In-Q-Tel, have invested in a number of firms to help them better find that information. Visible Technologies crawls over half a million web 2.0 sites a day, scraping more than a million posts and conversations taking place on blogs, YouTube, Twitter and Amazon. Attensity applies the rules of grammar to the so-called “unstructured text” of the web to make it more easily digestible by government databases. Keyhole (now Google Earth) is a staple of the targeting cells in military-intelligence units.
Recorded Future strips from web pages the people, places and activities they mention. The company examines when and where these events happened (“spatial and temporal analysis”) and the tone of the document (“sentiment analysis”). Then it applies some artificial-intelligence algorithms to tease out connections between the players. Recorded Future maintains an index with more than 100 million events, hosted on servers. The analysis, however, is on the living web.
“We’re right there as it happens,” Ahlberg told Danger Room as he clicked through a demonstration. “We can assemble actual real-time dossiers on people.”
Recorded Future certainly has the potential to spot events and trends early. Take the case of Hezbollah’s long-range missiles. On March 21, Israeli President Shimon Peres leveled the allegation that the terror group had Scud-like weapons. Scouring Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s past statements, Recorded Future found corroborating evidence from a month prior that appeared to back up Peres’ accusations.
That’s one of several hypothetical cases Recorded Future runs in its blog devoted to intelligence analysis. But it’s safe to assume that the company already has at least one spy agency’s attention. In-Q-Tel doesn’t make investments in firms without an “end customer” ready to test out that company’s products.
Both Google Ventures and In-Q-Tel made their investments in 2009, shortly after the company was founded. The exact amounts weren’t disclosed, but were under $10 million each. Google’s investment came to light earlier this year online. In-Q-Tel, which often announces its new holdings in press releases, quietly uploaded a brief mention of its investment a few weeks ago.
Both In-Q-Tel and Google Ventures have seats on Recorded Future’s board. Ahlberg says those board members have been “very helpful,” providing business and technology advice, as well as introducing him to potential customers. Both organizations, it’s safe to say, will profit handsomely if Recorded Future is ever sold or taken public. Ahlberg’s last company, the corporate intelligence firm Spotfire, was acquired in 2007 for $195 million in cash.
Google Ventures did not return requests to comment for this article. In-Q-Tel Chief of Staff Lisbeth Poulos e-mailed a one-line statement: “We are pleased that Recorded Future is now part of IQT’s portfolio of innovative startup companies who support the mission of the U.S. Intelligence Community.”
Just because Google and In-Q-Tel have both invested in Recorded Future doesn’t mean Google is suddenly in bed with the government. Of course, to Google’s critics — including conservative legal groups, and Republican congressmen — the Obama Administration and the Mountain View, California, company slipped between the sheets a long time ago.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt hosted a town hall at company headquarters in the early days of Obama’s presidential campaign. Senior White House officials like economic chief Larry Summers give speeches at the New America Foundation, the left-of-center think tank chaired by Schmidt. Former Google public policy chief Andrew McLaughlin is now the White House’s deputy CTO, and was publicly (if mildly) reprimanded by the administration for continuing to hash out issues with his former colleagues.
In some corners, the scrutiny of the company’s political ties have dovetailed with concerns about how Google collects and uses its enormous storehouse of search data, e-mail, maps and online documents. Google, as we all know, keeps a titanic amount of information about every aspect of our online lives. Customers largely have trusted the company so far, because of the quality of their products, and because of Google’s pledges not to misuse the information still ring true to many.
But unease has been growing. Thirty seven state Attorneys General are demanding answers from the company after Google hoovered up 600 gigabytes of data from open Wi-Fi networks as it snapped pictures for its Street View project. (The company swears the incident was an accident.)
“Assurances from the likes of Google that the company can be trusted to respect consumers’ privacy because its corporate motto is ‘don’t be evil’ have been shown by recent events such as the ‘Wi-Spy’ debacle to be unwarranted,” long-time corporate gadfly John M. Simpson told a Congressional hearing in a prepared statement. Any business dealings with the CIA’s investment arm are unlikely to make critics like him more comfortable.
But Steven Aftergood, a critical observer of the intelligence community from his perch at the Federation of American Scientists, isn’t worried about the Recorded Future deal. Yet.
“To me, whether this is troublesome or not depends on the degree of transparency involved. If everything is aboveboard — from contracts to deliverables — I don’t see a problem with it,” he told Danger Room by e-mail. “But if there are blank spots in the record, then they will be filled with public skepticism or worse, both here and abroad, and not without reason.”

Mumbai's Underworld

Post-Independent India was a land of golden opportunity. And one of the many hands that grabbed that opportunity was a man who toiled for 12 hours a day at the docks in Bombay. The man we grew up to know as Haji Mastan. In the early 70s, dons like Haji Mastan ruled the roost with the pure intent of making money. It was a profitable era devoid of supari killings, gang wars and shoot-outs.Born to a humble family of farmers in Tamil Nadu, Mastan Haider Mirza first came to the city in 1954 in search of greener pastures. He joined as a daily wager at the docks earning a paltry sum of Rs 5 per day.Frustrated at the hand-to-mouth existence and his inability to earn money, Mastan turned to smuggling imported watches, radios and gold biscuits from the docks. The money started flowing in and soon he began roping in more coolies to handle his operations.

In the late 50s, the state government imposed a prohibition on alcohol and that created the perfect opportunity for Mastan to cash in. Rampant smuggling of liquor ensured profits for everyone involved in the process, right from the hands that smuggled the bottles to the hands that poured it in glasses across the city. Mastan was a peaceful person and never advocated violence in his business. He believed in the concept of making money and sharing the spoils with the chain of people involved in the game.It was a smooth ride for the smugglers as there were no murders or shoot-outs and therefore no criminal cases were registered. The cops were happy with the weekly under-the-table arrangement and never came knocking at their doors.However, that era of thriving business was soon replaced by a bloodbath on the streets with the advent of dons like Dawood Ibrahim, Sayed Batla, Amirzada, Rama Naik and Babu Reshim.

One particular incident that sounds right out of a Bollywood masala flick was when Sayed Batla, a dreaded gangster stormed into Mastan's office and threatened the ageing businessman."Batla kisi ka ghulam nahin hai, ke uske galey mein patta dal do," he screamed from Dongri at Mastan. Mastan understood that the time had come for his business to move ahead and needed the likes of Batla. The end of the 'business' era was here. There were other businessmen who specialised in supplying smuggled goods to traders at Musafirkhana -- a hub of smuggled goods. Smugglers like Karim Lala hired Batla's nemesis Dawood Ibrahim and his elder brother Sabir. Most of these toughies were used as recovery agents to collect money from defaulting traders at Shuklaji street and other pockets where smuggling goods were sold in large quantities.

However, events took a nasty turn when Dawood crossed swords with members of the Pathan faction led by Amirzada over a recovery from a Customs agent. The tiff resulted in the Pathan brothers killing Dawood's brother Sabir in 1981.The murder launched a bloodbath that resulted in over 20 high-profile gangsters being gunned down, including Amirzada inside the Sessions Court in September 1983.While Dawood had the support of gangsters like Rama Naik and Babu Reshim, the Pathans formed their own group. It was a war between the Konkanis and Pathans.The killings marked the end of the smuggler's era, most of whom had never fired a round or stabbed an adversary. Soon after Dawood took over the smuggling business, most of the businessmen went into hibernation.Mastan began dabbling with film production and distribution. He also floated a political party Dalit Muslim Surakhsha Maha Sangh in 1985. He continued to be a social worker until his death in 1994.

One of the shrewdest real estate dons in the Mumbai underworld, Yusuf Patel had mastered the art of creating construction space out of thin air. While slumlords extended their empire horizontally, Patel has the dubious distinction of pioneering the acquisition of illegal Floor Space Index (FSI), to send his buildings skyrocketing into space.By the 1980s, the underworld was settling into the city's landscape, modifying it in subtle ways. Gangs began to feed on the growth of slums, using them to find new recruits, new proving grounds and to wriggle their way into politics. The explosive growth of slums coincided with the alarming rise of organised syndicates. Gangs were offered Rs 3,000 per hut -- money which was shared by the underworld, police and civic authorities.Patel's contemporary Vardharajan Mudaliar alias Vardhabhai collected around Rs 2 crore from the slumlords in and around Dharavi and Sion-Koliwada. Most of the collector's land along the creek was encroached upon by the don's henchmen.

While most of the gangs were providing protection to the slumlords, Patel went one step ahead and performed the feat of grabbing additional FSI illegally. The art has, since, been perfected by other dons and even builders.Patel's FSI scam was perpetrated so subtly that it took the civic authorities 16 long years to find out that the don had tampered with land records.Born Abdul Majid Abdul Patel, a Memon Muslim, he got involved in smuggling textiles and silver with Haji Mastan around 1963. However, the alliance did not last long because of financial disputes with the syndicate.In 1977, Janta Dal leader Jai Prakash Narayan offered amnesty to all smugglers. Patel jumped on to the bandwagon and everybody in the underworld thought he had shunned the life of a criminal, that the docks and the goons were things of the past for him. While others forgot his dubious past, Patel launched his own construction company and began operating from Pydhonie. And, while the other dons were still dealing with the police, Patel began grabbing additional FSI, fetching himself multi-crore deals. A few buildings, including a hotel near Nagpada junction, were part of his deals in South Mumbai.Everything seemed normal on the surface until an upright BMC official discovered that a large number of land records from several ward offices had been tampered with Prima facie, investigating officials discovered that Patel had manipulated the deals of two buildings in Tardeo and three in Byculla. They would soon discover that there were 50 other cases of gross manipulation of land records, which were carried out in connivance with civic officials.By the mid-80s, Dawood Ibrahim had also learnt the art of FSI grabbing. He brought in a team of 'white collar' associates to specialise in tampering with land records and corner the lion's share of income from real estate in South Mumbai.Patel's keeping away from the docks and goons proved to be a blessing in disguise because when things started to get ugly in the Mumbai underworld, he managed to avoid direct confrontation with Karim Lala's nephew Samad and gangsters owing allegiance to Dawood.

It is the 'don' of a new era as the underworld is abuzz with who will be the next kingpin to rule the high seas, a coveted area of operation which is not only lucrative but also dangerous across the seven islands. The daylight murder of Chand Sayed Madar in September was an indicator that he had outlived his utility. Chand was also involved in paani ka kaam or working on the high seas. The booking of Mohammed Ali for Chand's murder was like killing two birds with one stone. Ali had become too big for his boots and crossed swords with some local politicians and senior police officers.

New Kingpin

Even as the Crime Branch's investigations revolve around the murder, the motive could be linked to taking over the business from Madar or Chandbhai, as he is known. It could also mean installing a new kingpin, which often happens with the blessings of some corrupt cops. The new kingpin could be Paaniwalla Sadru. There are others like Rafiq, Battiwala, Munna Maldar, Murugan, Santosh and Sadiq who are all trying to corner the lion's share of income from diesel smuggling. Then again, the next man could be a D Company nominee. The gang not only wants to control the Rs. 1,000-crore diesel business, but also the smuggling of contraband to the grey market hubs at Manish Market and Musafirkhana. Tonnes of goods are transported across the Carnac Bunder Bridge to hundreds of dingy kiosks.Pivotal armPaani ka kaam is one of the most important arms of Mumbai's underworld. For the gangs, it means controlling the littoral waters and landing of contraband into the city. A stark reminder is the arms and ammunition, which was dumped by Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon's associates along the Raigad coast resulting in the serial blasts in 1993. Paani ka kaam or smuggling on the high seas is a very lucrative business estimated at Rs. 1,000 crore annually, but, like anything with high returns, the risks are high too. It is also one of the most dangerous areas for the underworld to operate within.

One of the earliest paani ka kaam wallahs was Haji Mastan in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was soon ousted by Dawood Ibrahim who was launched by Mastan in the smuggling business. Another case in point is Yusuf Kasargod alias Yusuf Handsome. He was forced to leave Mumbai and head for his village in Kerala. The list is long. Paani ka kaam on the high seas has always attracted members of the Dawood Ibrahim gang. Even the explosives used in the 1993 serial blasts were smuggled through the sea route in Raigad district.Deadly duoA new theory gaining ground in Mumbai's underworld is that a pair called Tingubhai and Langdabhai is interested in paani ka kaam. The duo was considered close to Dawood Ibrahim's right-hand-man, Chhota Shakeel. The Tingu-Langda duo decided to take over paani ka kaam from most of the small timers. They want to buy up all the redundant boats and barges needed for paani ka kaam. Slain Chand was an obstacle. Despite the mounting police raids, he did succumb to pressure tactics of the thugs Tingu and Langda, both white-collar lieutenants. The majority of the paani ka kaam wallahs found favour with Dawood's younger brother Anis. Tingu and Langda were aligned to the Shakeel faction.Marking territoryEven as various gangs were marking their territories, Additional Commissioner of Police (south region) R K Padmanabhan stepped up patrolling along the coast. This seriously affected the paani ka kaam in the Mumbai harbour. As a fallout of this increased patrolling, business shrunk. Chand though, continued to hold on to his alleged shipping business with the help of his cronies. "We are checking all possible angles," Padmanabhan told MiD DAY when asked about the murder.Changing fortunesThough the seas are tinged with blood, paani ka kaam has changed the fortunes of many. While some involved were hardcore underworld operatives, others operated from the fringes without getting dragged into sinister crime. It is the proverbial rags to riches story for most. People who started as 'apprentice' killers (a gory label but necessary to understand the hierarchy of the crime world) have ended up as rich owners of 200 or more tankers.

For more than three decades, the walls of the Mumbai docks have witnessed the rise and fall of Mumbai's mafia kingpins. If docks could speak, they would whisper about dubious triumphs and downfalls, truth and betrayal, life and death... Cartons to containersIn the early 1970s, when the tonnage of goods in the Bombay Port was steadily rising, there was enough work for the 1,000 odd workers as well as enough overtime, to keep port workers happy. It was common to see about 100 coolies eating snacks together after work. Hectic work and the extra money was a windfall to the dozen restaurateurs operating in the Carnac Bunder area. Unknown to the port workers though, a motley group became active those days, after the workers had returned home. First, they jumped over the walls and broke into petty consignments, beginning with lifting small parcels, and then slowly getting more ambitious. Soon, the thieves were looting cartons and later, entire containers.Restaurant watchPolice sources say that Haji Mastan and his trusted lieutenants headed the group.

Particularly promising amongst them was one Paul Patrick Newman. Slowly, stealthily but surely Mumbai's underworld was being nurtured. Mastan's men operated out of the Crescent House, off the docks. The cluster of the buildings in the area became an ideal spot for handling stolen goods and loading them onto tempos to be dispatched onward to their destinations across the city. Most of the activities were monitored from a local restaurant in the area.Textiles & tape recordersIncrease in the tonnage in the port operations saw adequate underworld recruitment too. Small-time thieves and hooligans joined Mastan's team, almost gaining a free run in the 720-hectare land in the port zone. But the 1980s tonnage in the port shot up to more than 1,70,000 dead weight tonnes per annum. The volume of pilferage rose too and truckloads of contraband were being delivered across Carnac Bunder to Musafirkhana and Manish Market. The smuggled cargo mostly comprised beer cans, textiles, tape recorders, cigarettes, perfumes and automatic watches. The goods could be easily traced to Musafirkhana, some shops in Heera Panna and many customs notified shops across the city.Dons line upThe money from the docks' prosperity saw the once sleepy business district of Ballard Pier in South Mumbai morph and get a dubious vivacity. It became an area where hotels did brisk business and nightlife grew, with prostitutes lining up at the corner.

Soon, a strong competitor to Mastan emerged in the form of Afghan national, Karim Lala. After the duo divided their business, Mirchi Seth joined Lala. There was huge money in drugs smuggling and Dawood Ibrahim then made an attempt to corner a lion's share of the income. Lala had the backing of the Pathan brothers, Amirzada and Alamzeb. Dawood had to seek the help of the Byculla Company, particularly Babu Reshim. Dharavi-based don Vardharajan Mudaliar alias Vardhabhai and his henchmen also threw their hats into the ring. Urban dacoit Manya Surve also joined the fray.Switch neededBy the '90s, smugglers found safe landing sites in the mangroves of Sewri-Wadala, Worli and Mahim. Some of the contraband was loaded onto small ships and ferried to distant jetties like Versova, Gorai and even Ratnagiri. With the opening of the economy, foreign goods were easily available in Indian markets. The demand for branded goods diminished. Cloth from the state-of-the-art textile mills replaced Boski and Stretchlon fabrics, which were in great demand till the late 1980s. Dawood Ibrahim and his cronies were left with very little choice but to shift their business to new areas like diesel smuggling.

New operators like Chand and Sadru and jumped on to the bandwagon.Now, dieselMerchant vessels plying in and around Mumbai bring in a windfall to the smugglers in the city. Diesel from merchant vessels is smuggled in connivance with the ship's master (captain) and other senior officers. The agent clinches the deal even before the ship reaches Mumbai harbour. Some shipping companies from countries like Indonesia and Philippines have agents in Mumbai. The agent acts as a point man and also helps in negotiating with the racketeers. They work on commission. Austerity driveWhat is worrisome is the fact all the payments are made in dollars and this gives a fillip to the burgeoning hawala trade in the city. Ship owners usually sanction a specified quantity of diesel for running the engine and other auxiliary machinery while sailing. The captain of the ship and a few senior officers go on an austerity drive to save fuel. Marine logbooks on the ships are fudged by crewmembers to show a high consumption pattern. Generally, air conditioners and other machines are switched off to save fuel. The purloined diesel is bought at around Rs. 12 per litre and sold at profits between Rs. 6 to Rs. 8 per litre. Towards LonavalaInvestigations carried out by MiD DAY indicated that consignments are smuggled to makeshift jetties in Navi Mumbai. Diesel is immediately loaded on to waiting tankers which head towards Lonavala, Pune, Kolhapur and up to Belgaum. The drivers of the tankers are provided with fake bills, a precaution if intercepted along the route. In most cases a sizeable hafta is ensured for officials of the channels through which the consignment is passing.Mafioso linksThe mafia has strong links with dubious petrol pump owners. The stolen diesel is dumped into the tanks of the petrol pump under cover of darkness. "Since diesel is sold clandestinely at cheap rates, it is a great loss to the state exchequer," said an excise officer, who did not want to be named. The routeThe sea-going tugs used for smuggling diesel sail out of the harbour in darkness and head for 'Bravo' anchorage, about 20 nautical miles off Mumbai harbour. The consignment is offloaded in less than an hour. The diesel-laden tugs and similar vessel head for sensitive Raigad coast through Murud-Janjira. The consignment is transferred in 200 litre cans, which is later filled into dredger and small crafts. Thus, goes on the most dangerous, coveted and lucrative businesses of the underworld where human life is cheap, the crash of waves drown out the gunshots and ghosts of the dead stay buried 20,000 leagues under the sea.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Australian plastic boat completes epic voyage

A sailboat largely constructed from 12,500 recycled plastic bottles was docked in Sydney Harbour on Monday, after four difficult months crossing the Pacific Ocean on a journey meant to raise awareness about the perils of plastic waste.The crew of the Plastiki, a 60-foot (18-meter) catamaran that weathered fierce ocean storms during its 8,000 nautical miles at sea, left San Francisco on March 20, stopping along the way at various South Pacific island nations including Kiribati and Samoa."This is the hardest part of the journey so far -- getting it in!" expedition leader David de Rothschild yelled from the boat as the crew struggled to maneuver the notoriously tough-to-steer vessel into port outside the Australian National Maritime Museum. A crowd of about 100 erupted into cheers after the Plastiki finally docked. De Rothschild -- a descendant of the well-known British banking family -- exchanged high fives and hugs with his crew, pumping his fists into the air in victory.
"It has been an extraordinary adventure," he said.De Rothschild, 31, said the idea for the journey came to him after he read a United Nations report in 2006 that said pollution -- and particularly plastic waste -- was seriously threatening the world's oceans.He figured a good way to prove that trash can be effectively reused was to use some of it to build a boat. The Plastiki -- named after the 1947 Kon-Tiki raft sailed across the Pacific by explorer Thor Heyerdahl -- is fully recyclable and gets its power from solar panels and windmills.The boat is almost entirely made up of bottles, which are held together with an organic glue made of sugar cane and cashews, but includes other materials too. The mast, for instance, is recycled aluminum irrigation pipe."The journey of the Plastiki is a journey from trash to triumph," said Jeffrey Bleich, the US Ambassador to Australia, who greeted the team after they docked.During their 128-day journey, the six-member crew lived in a cabin of just 20 feet by 15 feet (6 meters by 4.5 meters), took saltwater showers, and survived on a diet of dehydrated and canned food, supplemented with the occasional vegetable from their small on-board garden.Along the way, they fought giant ocean swells, 62-knot (70 mile-an-hour) winds, temperatures up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) and torn sails. The crew briefly stopped in Queensland state last week, after battling a brutal storm off the Australian coast.Skipper Jo Royle also had the particular challenge of being the only woman on board."I'm definitely looking forward to a glass of wine and a giggle with my girlfriends," she said.Vern Moen, the Plastiki's filmmaker, missed the birth of his first child -- though he managed to watch the delivery on a grainy Skype connection. He met his son for the first time after docking in Sydney."It was very, very surreal to show up on a dock and it's like, 'here's your kid," he said with a laugh.Although the team had originally hoped to recycle the Plastiki, de Rothschild said they are now thinking of keeping it intact, and using it as a way of enlightening people to the power of recycling."There were many times when people looked at us and said, 'you're crazy,'" de Rothschild said. "I think it drove us on to say, 'Anything's possible.'

Advanced Air Defence interceptor missile successfully test-fired

India's indigenously built Advanced Air Defence (AAD) interceptor missile, capable of destroying hostile in-coming ballistic missiles, was successfully test-fired from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Wheeler Island off the Orissa's east coast on Monday."The interceptor destroyed target missile at an altitude of 15 km," said Integrated Testing Range Director, SP Das.The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) also sees it as a major success for India's indigenous air defence system.However, the defence sources said that "the trial, scheduled in last mid-March 2010, was abandoned in the last hour twice (on 15th and 16th March) due to some problems".
Today's test-fire was carried out from two different launch sites of the Integrated Testing Range (ITR).The target missile, a modified indigenously built "Prithvi", was first lifted off from a mobile launcher from the ITR's launch complex-3 at Chandipur-on-sea.Minutes later, the interceptor missile getting signals from the hostile missile immediately reacted and swept in to action from the Wheeler's Island, to intercept it at an altitude of 30 km in mid-air over the Bay of Bengal off Orissa coast.Yet to get a formal name, the new hypersonic interceptor missile is only called 'AAD' (advance air defence) and is meant to be used in 'endo-atmospheric conditions' (with in 50 km altitude of earth's surface).The seven-metre long 'AAD' interceptor is a single stage solid rocket propelled guided missile equipped with an inertial navigation system, a hi-tech computer and an electro-mechanical activator totally under command by the data up-linked from the ground based radar, the sources said.The missile has its own mobile launcher, secure data link for interception, independent tracking and homing capabilities and its own radar.The DRDO has already test fired the interceptor missile thrice - November 27, 2006, December 6, 2007 and March 6, 2009 - from the Wheeler Island.

Desert Kingdom Plans to Build World's Solar-Powered Desalination Plant

In the hot desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia, finding fresh drinking water has always been a great challenge. For decades now, the state has been providing clean water by converting millions of gallons of seawater via desalination plants that remove salts and minerals from the water. Now the country plans to use one of its most abundant resources to counter its fresh-water shortage: sunshine . Working on a joint project with IBM, Saudi Arabia’s national research group King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) has announced that it will open the world’s largest solar-powered desalination plant by 2012 in the city of Al-Khafji. The pilot plant will not just supply 30,000 cubic meters of clean water per day to 100,000 people, but will also reduce operating costs in the long run by harvesting energy from sunshine. Saudi Arabia, the top desalinated water producer in the world, uses 1.5 million barrels of oil per day at its plants, according to Arab News. In the new desalination plant, the Saudis hope to slash energy costs by deploying a new kind of concentrated photovoltaic technology, which uses lenses or mirrors to focus the sun’s rays onto solar panels. The technology will concentrate the sun 1,500 times on a solar cell to boost efficiency. That’s about three times the solar concentration of most concentrating photovoltaic panels currently in operation. The system’s upgrade is due to a device that IBM came up with back when the company was designing mainframe computers and trying to ensure that they didn’t overheat. The device, called a liquid metal thermal interface, uses a highly conductive liquid metal to transfer heat away. In the desalination plant, the devices will serve as heat sinks to prevent the photovoltaics from breaking down under such extreme, concentrated heat. The energy generated by these solar arrays would then power the plant’s desalination process, which will be accomplished via reverse osmosis. In this technique, seawater is forced through a polymer membrane at high pressure, which filters out salt and contaminants. The Al-Khafji plant will use an advanced nano-membrane that IBM and KACST developed, which researchers say allows water to flow through 25 to 50 percent faster than conventional membranes used in desalination plants. The Al-Khafji desalination plant is the first of three steps in a solar-energy program launched by KACST to reduce desalination costs. The second step will be a 300,000-cubic-meter facility, and the third phase will involve several more solar-power desalination plants at various locations.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reports From the Ground in Afghanistan

The Conflict in Afghanistan

1979 The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan. Mujahedeen — Islamic fighters — from across the globe, including Osama bin Laden, come to fight Soviet forces.

1989 Last Soviet troops leave Afghanistan.

1996 The Taliban take control of Afghanistan, imposing fundamentalist Islamic law. Mr. bin Laden takes refuge in the country.

Sept. 2001 After the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush gives the Taliban an ultimatum to hand over Mr. bin Laden; the Taliban refuse, and in October the U.S. leads a campaign that drives the Taliban out of major Afghan cities by the end of the year.

2002 Hamid Karzai becomes interim president of Afghanistan. The Taliban continue to wage guerrilla warfare near the border with Pakistan.

2004 New constitution is ratified, making Afghanistan an Islamic state with a strong president. Later, Mr. Karzai wins the country’s first presidential election.

Feb. 2009 President Obama orders 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

Aug. 2009 President Karzai wins re-election in a vote marred by fraud.

Dec. 2009 President Obama issues orders to send 30,000 troops in 2010, bringing the total American force to about 100,000.

A six-year archive of classified military documents made public on Sunday offers an unvarnished, ground-level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is in many respects more grim than the official portrayal.
The secret documents, released on the Internet by an organization called WikiLeaks, are a daily diary of an American-led force often starved for resources and attention as it struggled against an insurgency that grew larger, better coordinated and more deadly each year.
The New York Times, the British newspaper The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel were given access to the voluminous records several weeks ago on the condition that they not report on the material before Sunday.
The documents — some 92,000 reports spanning parts of two administrations from January 2004 through December 2009 — illustrate in mosaic detail why, after the United States has spent almost $300 billion on the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban are stronger than at any time since 2001.
As the new American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, tries to reverse the lagging war effort, the documents sketch a war hamstrung by an Afghan government, police force and army of questionable loyalty and competence, and by a Pakistani military that appears at best uncooperative and at worst to work from the shadows as an unspoken ally of the very insurgent forces the American-led coalition is trying to defeat.
The material comes to light as Congress and the public grow increasingly skeptical of the deepening involvement in Afghanistan and its chances for success as next year’s deadline to begin withdrawing troops looms.
The archive is a vivid reminder that the Afghan conflict until recently was a second-class war, with money, troops and attention lavished on Iraq while soldiers and Marines lamented that the Afghans they were training were not being paid.
The reports — usually spare summaries but sometimes detailed narratives — shed light on some elements of the war that have been largely hidden from the public eye:
• The Taliban have used portable heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft, a fact that has not been publicly disclosed by the military. This type of weapon helped the Afghan mujahedeen defeat the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
• Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.
• The military employs more and more drone aircraft to survey the battlefield and strike targets in Afghanistan, although their performance is less impressive than officially portrayed. Some crash or collide, forcing American troops to undertake risky retrieval missions before the Taliban can claim the drone’s weaponry.
• The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary.
Over all, the documents do not contradict official accounts of the war. But in some cases the documents show that the American military made misleading public statements — attributing the downing of a helicopter to conventional weapons instead of heat-seeking missiles or giving Afghans credit for missions carried out by Special Operations commandos.
White House officials vigorously denied that the Obama administration had presented a misleading portrait of the war in Afghanistan.
“On Dec. 1, 2009, President Obama announced a new strategy with a substantial increase in resources for Afghanistan, and increased focus on Al Qaeda and Taliban safe-havens in Pakistan, precisely because of the grave situation that had developed over several years,” said Gen. James L. Jones, White House national security adviser, in a statement released Sunday.
“We know that serious challenges lie ahead, but if Afghanistan is permitted to slide backwards, we will again face a threat from violent extremist groups like Al Qaeda who will have more space to plot and train,” the statement said.
General Jones also decried the decision by WikiLeaks to make the documents public, saying that the United States "strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security."”
“WikiLeaks made no effort to contact us about these documents – the United States government learned from news organizations that these documents would be posted,” General Jones said.
The archive is clearly an incomplete record of the war. It is missing many references to seminal events and does not include more highly classified information. The documents also do not cover events in 2010, when the influx of more troops into Afghanistan began and a new counterinsurgency strategy took hold.
They suggest that the military’s internal assessments of the prospects for winning over the Afghan public, especially in the early days, were often optimistic, even naïve.
There are fleeting — even taunting — reminders of how the war began in the occasional references to the elusive Osama bin Laden. In some reports he is said to be attending meetings in Quetta, Pakistan. His money man is said to be flying from Iran to North Korea to buy weapons. Mr. bin Laden has supposedly ordered a suicide attack against the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. These reports all seem secondhand at best.
The reports portray a resilient, canny insurgency that has bled American forces through a war of small cuts. The insurgents set the war’s pace, usually fighting on ground of their own choosing and then slipping away.
Sabotage and trickery have been weapons every bit as potent as small arms, mortars or suicide bombers. So has Taliban intimidation of Afghan officials and civilians — applied with pinpoint pressure through threats, charm, violence, money, religious fervor and populist appeals.

Rashtrapati Bhawan, now a certified 'green' building

The President's Estate today became the first urban habitat in the country to be ISO certified following introduction of solar power and waste management system among other energy-efficiency measures under the project 'Roshini'."The ISO 14001:2004 certification means the standards set by the International Organisation of Standards (ISO) for Environmental Management Systems are now in place in the 340 acre President's Estate," a statement released by Rashtrapati Bhavan said.The certificate was handed over to Christy Fernandes, Secretary to the President by R K Sharma, Director, Bureau Veritas Certification India on Sunday. Incidentally, today also marks the completion of three years in office for President Pratibha Patil and second anniversary of the launch of Project Roshini. The project is an initiative that aims at making the President's Estate a green and an environment-friendly habitat in which good practices of conservation and efficient use of resources are encouraged, Fernandes said.

The Estate has seen a host of energy saving measures been initiated under Roshini. This includes electronic synchronisation of street and security lights with sunrise and sunset, use of energy efficient pumps, lights and equipment besides use of renewable energy sources like solar energy, bio-gas plant, piped natural gas among others. As per the statistics of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, during January-June 2009, 78.95 lakh units of electricity was consumed in the President's Estate. "Due to the energy efficient measures, the corresponding electricity consumption from Jan-June 2010 has come down to 64.03 lakh units, which is a reduction of 14.92 lakh units saving more than Rs 90 lakh," the statistics report said. The certification was one of the goals of the Roshini Project, inaugurated by Patil in 2008. Patil who spoke at the certificate handing over ceremony, congratulated everyone involved in the project. She said, "Don't sleep as you have to continuously work" as after one year another survey would be done and three years later there would be a re-certification process.Also present on the occasion were Union Minister of Urban Development Jaipal Reddy, Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and Tourism Kumari Selja, Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath and Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit. Patil also gave away awards to winners of a painting competition organised recently within the Estate.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Almost invisible mirrored tree house built in Sweden

The four-meter glass cube looks as spectacular in reality as it did in the rendering. Kent Lindvall, co-owner of the TreeHotel, has been quoted as saying:
Everything will reflect in this -- the trees, the birds, the clouds, the sun, everything. So it should be invisible nearly in the forest.

The units are constructed from sustainably harvested wood and have electric radiant floor heating and "a state-of-the-art, eco-friendly, incineration toilet"
(Although I've owned an incinerating toilet, and it wasn't that eco-friendly. It used a lot of electricity and created noise and some smells. But perhaps they've improved.)
But other than that minor quibble, this appears to be a truly "eco" resort. The owners say in Designboom:
"This is untouched forest, and we want to maintain it the same way. We decided, for example, to not offer snowmobile safari which is very common up here," says Selberg. Instead, wilderness walks will be offered.

They said it couldn't be done. When we first wrote about the almost invisible tree house to be built in Sweden by Tham & Videgard, 899 commenters thought it was computer-generated eye candy, impossible to build, and death for birds.
But the architects built it, one of six units in a "Treehotel," which recently opened 40 miles south of the Arctic Circle in Sweden.

And what about the birds? According to Designboom, Lindvall says that a special film that is visible to birds will be applied to the glass.

India unveils prototype of $35 tablet computer

It looks like an iPad, only it's 1/14th the cost: India has unveiled the prototype of a $35 basic touchscreen tablet aimed at students, which it hopes to bring into production by 2011.
If the government can find a manufacturer, the Linux operating system-based computer would be the latest in a string of "world's cheapest" innovations to hit the market out of India, which is home to the 100,000 rupee ($2,127) compact Nano car, the 749 rupees ($16) water purifier and the $2,000 open-heart surgery.

The tablet can be used for functions like word processing, web browsing and video-conferencing. It has a solar power option too — important for India's energy-starved hinterlands — though that add-on costs extra.

"This is our answer to MIT's $100 computer," human resource development minister Kapil Sibal told the Economic Times when he unveiled the device Thursday.
In 2005, Nicholas Negroponte — co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab — unveiled a prototype of a $100 laptop for children in the developing world. India rejected that as too expensive and embarked on a multiyear effort to develop a cheaper option of its own.
Negroponte's laptop ended up costing about $200, but in May his nonprofit association, One Laptop Per Child, said it plans to launch a basic tablet computer for $99.
Sibal turned to students and professors at India's elite technical universities to develop the $35 tablet after receiving a "lukewarm" response from private sector players. He hopes to get the cost down to $10 eventually.
Mamta Varma, a ministry spokeswoman, said falling hardware costs and intelligent design make the price tag plausible. The tablet doesn't have a hard disk, but instead uses a memory card, much like a mobile phone. The tablet design cuts hardware costs, and the use of open-source software also adds to savings, she said.
Varma said several global manufacturers, including at least one from Taiwan, have shown interest in making the low-cost device, but no manufacturing or distribution deals have been finalized. She declined to name any of the companies.
India plans to subsidize the cost of the tablet for its students, bringing the purchase price down to around $20.
"Depending on the quality of material they are using, certainly it's plausible," said Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research. "The question is, is it good enough for students?"
Profitability is also a question for the $35 machine.
Epps said government subsidies or dual marketing — where higher-priced sales in the developed world are used to subside low-cost sales in markets like India — could convince a manufacturer to come on board.
This and similar efforts — like the Kakai Kno and the Entourage Edge tablets — show that there is global demand for an affordable device to trim high textbook costs, she said.
If it works, Epps predicts the device could send a shiver of cost-consciousness through the industry.
"It puts pressure on all device manufacturers to keep costs down and innovate," she said.
The project is part of an ambitious education technology initiative by the Indian government, which also aims to bring broadband connectivity to India's 25,000 colleges and 504 universities and make study materials available online.
So far nearly 8,500 colleges have been connected and nearly 500 web and video-based courses have been uploaded on YouTube and other portals, the Ministry said.

There is so much content that is available today through so many outlets. However, in order to truly reach maximum market penetration, this content would have to be readily available to each and every human being on earth. While you may argue that it is, individuals in impoverished nations obviously aren’t going to be shelling out $500 for an iPad just so they can read the Sunday New York Times. However, if they are a student in one of those developing nations, the thought of owning an iPad or other tablet computer to use for educational purposes may be very tempting.

The iPad isn’t the only tablet computer that is priced high as just about every competitor we’ve seen come to the fore front has been priced equally as high. This means that an extremely large percentage of the population not only won’t have one, but won’t ever have the chance to get one.
With such a roadblock in the way, this puts a damper on the move towards a paperless future as in order for this to work, everyone would need to have access to it. Lucky for us, an Idian company has come forth today to show us their solution to the debacle.
What you see in the above picture is their unnamed tablet computer. This device is said to have 2GB of RAM, WiFi, the ability to watch YouTube videos and display PDFS, all powered by a version of Linux (not Android, unfortunately). The best part of this device is that the Indian government says it will be priced at just $35 during its initial production run. Even better, they say that they will be subsidizing the device, bringing it down to just $20 with future plans of the device going as low as $10 in the pipeline.
I have to say, based on previous reports, the chances of this actually happening don’t seem very good. However, if/when it were to happen and the device saw an international release, the benefits would be bountiful.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

SBI raises $1 bn via bonds issue from US markets

The country's largest public sector lender, State Bank of India, has raised $1 billion (about Rs 4,700 crore) through an issue of bonds to qualified institutional buyers.State Bank of India, acting through its London Branch, successfully priced an offering of USD one billion of senior unsecured bonds due 2015, the bank said."This is a signature deal, despite market turbulence and volatility. In terms of deal size, order book multiple, diversification into new investors in the US, and number and quality of investors, we achieved our objectives with this issuance,""We believe the success of this transaction will also allow Indian issuers to more easily access the US markets," SBI Chairman O P Bhatt said.SBI's debut issuance allows it to broaden its debt investor base and to access large, highly capitalised US institutional investors in the private placement market, the bank official added.The offering was priced at a coupon rate of 4.50 per cent per annum. In terms of allocations, US-based investors received 55 per cent of the allocation while Asian investors were allocated 28 per cent and the balance 17 per cent across European investors.In terms of investor type, asset and fund managers subscribed for 63 per cent of the deal, commercial and investment banks subscribed for 9 per cent, private banks subscribed for 15 per cent and insurance/pension funds subscribed for 4 per cent.Strong interest from the US-based investors underscores SBI's strong credit profile and its position as India's largest bank.

Ford will offer hybrid at same price as gas model

For the first time, an American automaker plans to sell a hybrid car for the same, lower price as its gas-powered counterpart, removing at least one obstacle for drivers who want a greener ride.
At a little more than $35,000, the 2011 Lincoln MKZ sedan won't be cheap, but the decision by Ford to match the prices of the two styles could lead competitors to follow suit with future models.

The hybrid MKZ, debuting this fall and running on both gas and electric power, will be a bargain after factoring in savings at the pump. It gets more than double the mileage of the traditional version in city driving.

While automakers won't reveal what they spend to install a hybrid system in a car, the final product usually costs several thousand dollars more than a gas-powered version of the same car.
The Lexus HS 250h, the MKZ's closest competitor, costs about $2,500 more than the Lexus IS, a similar, small, gas-powered sedan. Ford charges $8,840 more for the hybrid version of its Ford Escape SUV.

The MKZ can still make money even if Lincoln doesn't charge more for the hybrid, said Erich Merkle, president of the consulting company Luxury cars are sold at a significant premium, he said, ensuring a profit for Ford.

Lincoln can also borrow the hybrid system from the Ford Fusion, its corporate twin, and save on development costs.

"Conventional wisdom is that the hybrid should be priced higher, but there's not really anything to say that a hybrid has to command a higher price," Merkle said.

Besides, Ford had to keep the price down, said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst for If it had sold for more than $40,000, it would have faced tougher competition from luxury cars like the Mercedes E-Class or the Audi A6, she said.
"It's going to take moves like this one to break into the luxury market," she said.
Other automakers may not try to match Lincoln's move if it is limited to the MKZ, but they will have to take notice if Lincoln uses the same strategy with future hybrid models, said Aaron Bragman, an analyst with IHS Automotive.

John Felice, Lincoln's marketing manager, said pricing strategy is an opportunity to get buyers interested in the Lincoln brand. Even after a complete revamp of its cars in the past few years, Lincoln still lags behind other luxury brands. Lincoln sales were up 7.5 percent in the first six months of this year, compared with 17 percent industrywide.

Lincoln is also trying to make up for the sales it is losing by phasing out its Mercury brand, which includes two hybrids.

The MKZ is one of most popular Lincoln models, but its sales have fallen 5 percent so far this year.

The MKZ will get 41 mpg in the city and 36 on the highway. That beats the Lexus HS 250h, which gets 35 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway. The gasoline version of the Lincoln MKZ gets 18 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway.

The new hybrid system isn't the Lincoln MKZ's only nod to the environment. Its wood trim comes from well-managed forests, while the leather seats use a chromium-free tanning process that makes them easier to recycle, Ford said.
Lincoln MKZ buyers are not eligible for federal tax credits for alternative-fuel vehicles. Federal law limits the credits to the first 60,000 buyers of a company's hybrids, and Ford hit that number on March 31.

Ford is the first U.S. automaker to offer a hybrid and conventional version of a car at the same price. Industry analysts say they are unaware of a foreign automaker doing it, either.
Even if Ford were to lose money on the MKZ hybrid, it would probably be willing to make the trade in exchange for marketing value for the Lincoln brand, said Bruze Belzowski, assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
"Lincoln might say, 'We're going to take a hit on this,'" Belzowski said. "They may say something like 'We're willing to take a hit on this because the marketing value is going to outweigh the cost.'"

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mukesh Ambani made part of UN advocacy group

Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani has been named by the United Nations to a key advocacy group on Millennium Development Goals(MDG), whose mandate includes finding ways to fight socio-economic evils such as poverty. Ambani is the only Indian to be a part of the MDG Advocacy Group that comprises eminent international personalities including Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, philanthropist Ted Turner and Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, among others. Ambani is expected to focus on a global partnership for development that will include development of an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system. UN said the top Indian industrialist will also look at the special needs of the least developed countries (LDC), as well as landlocked developing countries and small island developing states. The MDGs are eight international development goals that all 192 United Nations member states and at least 23 global organisations have agreed to achieve by the year 2015. These include reducing extreme poverty, reducing child mortality rates, fighting disease epidemics such as AIDS and developing a global partnership for development. The MDG Advocacy Group will support the UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon in building political will and mobilizing global action, says the world body. One of the first tasks of the Advocacy Group is the preparatory process for the MDG Summit in September this year. The MDG Summit is being seen as a turning point in the collective effort to achieve the goals by the 2015 target date. Ambani's appointment to the advocacy group comes at a time when the 2010 Millennium Development Goals report card paints a dark picture for South Asia, including India. Ambani is a member of the Prime Minister's Council on Trade and Industry, government of India, and the Board of Governors of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, New Delhi. He is also the Vice-Chairman of The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a CEO-led, global association of some 200 companies dealing exclusively with business and sustainable development. Apart from being a member of the Indo-US CEOs Forum, Mukesh Ambani is also on the International Advisory Board of Citigroup, the National Board of Kuwait and the McKinsey Knowledge Advisory Council.

Abhilash P Ninan. BE(IT).MBA(Finance&Marktng)PSG Tech.
Phone: +001 415 298 4477 (U.S.A)

Belekeri: Heart of the mining storm

An otherwise minor port on the coast of Karnataka, Belekeri tossed into headlines as it emerges as the epicentre of what could be the biggest mining scam in the country.Political interference into the inquiry caused Lok Ayukta Santosh Hegde to resign in June.Hedge has taken back his resignation, but now the Opposition is unwilling to withdraw its protest in the Assembly till investigators get to the root of the alleged nexus between politicians and iron ore miners, draining the state dry.Preliminary estimates peg the ore smuggling at Rs. 10,000 crore every year.
In August 2009, the Lok Ayukta began looking into allegations of smuggled ore making its way to Belekari, from the mines of Bellary, on fake permits and then being exported to China.Halfway through the inquiry, ore seized by the Lok Ayukta vanished.Belekeri Port is the epicentre of Karnataka's mining controversy. This is the port from where five lakh metric tonnes of seized iron ore went missing. Locals say, it's not unusual, but the fact that it happened after the Lok Ayukta's inquiry began means it could not have happened without the blessings of the powerful.''Belekeri is a clear case of violation of every kind of law. When our Lok Ayukta officials went there to conduct raids, they seized six bags of forged and fake documents,'' said Lok Ayukta of Karnataka Santosh Hegde.Between Bellary and Belekeri, there are 10 check posts of the Departments of Forest, Mines & Geology, Road Transport, Customs and Port Authority. At each point, truckers have to enter mining lease, permit and load details.It's obvious then that thousands of tonnes of illegal ore can't pass through, unless all these government departments are involved in the smuggling.Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa, stung by the allegations, has ordered a CID probe.''I will also give the Lok Ayukta all powers to inquire into the Belekari scam,'' said Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa. What's makes Belekari, a tightrope walk for Yeddyurappa is that the biggest miners under the scanner, are the Reddy brothers. Top-ranking ministers in his Cabinet, who has shown in the past that they can bring the government to its knees.

Divers find 230-year-old champagne in Baltic shipwreck

Divers have found bottles of champagne some 230 years old on the bottom of the Baltic which a wine expert described on Saturday as tasting "fabulous." Thought to be premium brand Veuve Clicquot, the 30 bottles discovered perfectly preserved at a depth of 55 metres could have been in a consignment sent by France's King Louis XVI to Russian Tsar Peter the Great. If confirmed, it would be by far the oldest champagne still drinkable in the world, thanks to the ideal conditions of cold and darkness. "We have contacted (makers) Moet & Chandon and they are 98 per cent certain it is Veuve Clicquot," Christian Ekstroem, the head of the diving team, told AFP.

"There is an anchor on the cork and they told me they are the only ones to have used this sign," he added. The group of seven Swedish divers made their find on July 6 off the Finnish Aaland Island, mid-way between Sweden and Finland, near the remains of a sailing vessel. "Visibility was very bad, hardly a metre," Ekstroem said. "We couldn't find the name of the ship, or the bell, so I brought a bottle up to try to date it." The hand-made bottle bore no label, while the cork was marked Juclar, from its origin in Andorra. According to records, Veuve Clicquot was first produced in 1772, but the first bottles were laid down for ten years. "So it can't be before 1782, and it can't be after 1788-89, when the French Revolution disrupted production," Ekstroem said. Aaland wine expert Ella Gruessner Cromwell-Morgan, whom Ekstroem asked to taste the find, said it had not lost its fizz and was "absolutely fabulous." "I still have a glass in my fridge and keep going back every five minutes to take a breath of it. I have to pinch myself to believe it's real," she said. Cromwell-Morgan described the champagne as dark golden in colour with a very intense aroma. "There's a lot of tobacco, but also grape and white fruits, oak and mead," she said of the wine's "nose". As for the taste, "it's really surprising, very sweet but still with some acidity," the expert added, explaining that champagne of that period was much less dry than today and the fermentation process less controllable. "One strong supposition is that it's part of a consignment sent by King Louis XVI to Tsar Peter the Great," Cromwell-Morgan said. "The makers have a record of a delivery which never reached its destination." That would make it the oldest drinkable champagne known, easily beating the 1825 Perrier-Jouet tasted by experts in London last year.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The World's Most Beautiful Cars

Working With Vintage Design

Another four-door winner, but with a more staid bearing, is Bentley's new flagship, the $285,000 Mulsanne. Seen from a distance, the car's long, flat hood and imposing grille communicate a healthy dose of motoring authority, and its 6 3/4-liter, V8 engine (it has 505 bhp and goes from 0-60 in 5.1 seconds) bolsters that authority with actual performance on the road. Inside, exotic woods, specially tanned leather hides and solid stainless-steel brightware are hand-crafted for maximum luxury, while the signature bulls-eye air vents and glass-like switchgear give a vintage feel.
The Mulsanne was inspired by the company founder W.O. Bentley's "crowning achievement," according to Bentley: an 8-liter coach first shown at the 1930 London Motor Show. But that car has been translated in a way that merits new attention.
Go Tryke's Tamara Warren says that for old-is-new cars like the Mulsanne and Mercedes' SLS AMG (based on the 1950s-era 300SL), modernizing a design is largely a matter of material. "With the advent of lightweight materials like carbon fiber and recycled aluminum, designers can incorporate renaissance design cues with sleek, well-proportioned contemporary shapes that are aesthetically pleasing to the eye--and still capable of responsive performance," she says.
Another throwback on our list is the $43,680 Dodge Challenger SRT8. It costs much less than, say, the $301,000 Alfa Romeo 8C Spider, and its V8 HEMI engine and brawny attitude (angled center console, pistol-grip shifter, dual round headlamps, flared hood) don't scream refinement. But that's not what muscle-car lovers want anyway, Caudill says.
"What's so cool about that car is that if you want a retro muscle car, you don't need to buy a 1964-and-a-half Mustang when you can buy a 2011 Dodge Challenger and get that same home-grown American feel," he says. "It's real American muscle with a retro throwback, big old motor in there."
Of course, much like the XJ, the Challenger isn't as flashy as a Ferrari or an Alfa Romeo. But it does hold a legitimate place in the chronicles of design. After all, beauty depends on the eye of the beholder.

A Perfect Four Door

The $197,850 Aston Martin Rapide received multiple nominations from our judges. Its "swan-wing" doors (they open up and out at a 12-degree angle, for ease of egress), low roofline and 20" rims expertly give a sporty edge to an otherwise elegant four-door sedan. Other notable design features include a broad rear end and the B-pillar-less sides, which actually make it seem more like a coupe. Inside, a swooping center console moves from front to rear, wrapped in hand-stitched leather and flanked by brand-new sport seats in the front of the vehicle.
Gotham Dream Cars' Noah Lehmann-Haupt, no stranger to stunningly beautiful rides, says Astons, in general, are the most beautiful cars ever made--and the Rapide doesn't disappoint. "One thing Aston has nailed time and time and time again is the look of their cars," he says. "The Rapide is just a perfect four door."

Looks aren't everything. Given a rainy day on a pock-marked street, even a luxury roadster will look and feel less than stellar.
But when it comes to attracting attention on a showroom floor, appearance does matter--a lot. Take, for instance, the case of Jaguar's new XJ sedan.
"From what we hear from our customers, the styling is really what gets people into the door for that vehicle," says Gary Flom, president and CEO of Manhattan Automobile Company. "And the XJ is a revolutionary car in terms of beauty, aesthetics and styling. It's a remarkable car that absolutely makes a huge difference for Jaguar--and I think sets a new benchmark in terms of the styling for a long, large sedan."
The $113,000 XJL Supersport is just one of 10 cars on our list of this year's most beautiful. Others, like the $240,000 Ferrari 458 Italia and $183,000 Mercedes SLS AMG, are much more sporty than Jag's large sedan--but they all have an allure that's hard to resist.
To compile our list of this year's most beautiful cars, we asked some of our best luxury-car experts for their nominees: Manhattan Automobile Company's Gary Flom; Tamara Warren, a longtime automotive journalist and creator of the car and design blog Go Tryke; Mike Caudill, the automotive analyst for Driven Media; and Noah Lehmann-Haupt, CEO of Gotham Dream Cars. Cars nominated for the list must be in production for 2010--no pre-production models are allowed, like the admittedly beautiful Fisker Karma, or the sleek new Range Rover Evoque.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Zimbabwe to flood diamond market

Zimbabwe's president said Tuesday his nation will sell its massive reserves of diamonds despite not receiving authorization from the world's diamond control body.
A defiant President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday told lawmakers diamond sales have "huge potential" to revive the shattered economy. He said Zimbabwe can account for one-fourth of the world's diamond supply.
The Kimberley Process diamond certification scheme has not authorized international sales amid allegations of killings, human rights violations and corruption in the massive diamond fields discovered in eastern Zimbabwe in 2006.
"No one should doubt our resolve to sell our diamonds," Mugabe told lawmakers at the ceremonial opening of the Parliament in Harare.
Criticism by Western nations and human rights groups deadlocked a Kimberly Process meeting in Israel last month that sought approval for the sales after a regional monitor of the control body reported Zimbabwe had met minimum international diamond mining standards.
Mugabe said Zimbabwe's Western adversaries wanted "absurd" conditions put in place to block the diamond sales.
"We have to remain rooted in the reality we are the sole guarantors of our economic emancipation," he said.
Critics of Mugabe say his economic policies have contributed to precipitous economic decline in a decade of political turmoil that included the often violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms that disrupted the agriculture-based economy.
Mugabe acknowledged Tuesday that key infrastructure -- including power and water utilities, roads and transport services -- had fallen into disrepair and housing programs had come to a standstill over the past decade.
Mining experts estimate that Zimbabwe's diamond fields, sealed off by police and troops in the districts of Marange and Chiadzwa near the eastern city of Mutare, are likely the biggest deposits found in Africa since the Kimberley fields were discovered in neighboring South Africa a century ago.
The mines ministry says it already has about $1.7 billion of diamonds in storage ready to be sold. Zimbabwe's total international debt is estimated at around $5.5 billion.
Consignments of diamonds have been sold illegally. Earlier this year, one shipment was detected in Dubai and police in neighboring Mozambique reported arresting alleged diamond dealers carrying more than $1 million in cash hidden in their car near Zimbabwe's porous eastern border.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti, a top official of the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change in a fragile coalition with Mugabe's ZANU PF party, said Monday many Zimbabweans were still suffering from malnutrition despite the potential for the country's diamond wealth to restore collapsed social, health and education services and repair the country's agricultural infrastructure.
Zimbabwe's diamond producer status is scheduled to again come under review Wednesday at a meeting of the World Diamond Council in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The mines ministry, controlled by Mugabe's party in the coalition with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the former opposition leader, denies wrongdoing and accuses human rights groups of "peddling falsehoods" over rights violations.

MoD unveils unmanned fighter jet 'of the future'

An unmanned jet capable of striking long-range targets has been dubbed the "combat aircraft of the future" by the Ministry of Defence.
The Taranis -- named after the Celtic god of thunder -- was unveiled at a ceremony at BAE Systems in Warton, Lancashire, on Monday.
The £142.5 million prototype is the size of a light aircraft and has been equipped with stealth technology to make it virtually undetectable.
In a press release, the MoD described the Taranis as "a prototype unmanned combat aircraft of the future."
It is built to carry out intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions while its crew stays safely on the ground and can control the aircraft from anywhere in the world.
The unmanned fighter jet can also carry bombs and missiles and, if the trials prove successful, the MoD said it should "ultimately be capable of striking targets at long range, even in another continent."
The current generation of propeller-driven drones -- such as the Predator and Reaper -- are capable of carrying missiles, but these unmanned planes can only be used in areas where the military has air dominance, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
The first flight trials are due to start next year.
"Taranis is a truly trailblazing project," said Minister for International Security Strategy Gerald Howarth.
"The first of its kind in the UK, it reflects the best of our nation's advanced design and technology skills and is a leading programme on the global stage."
The Taranis was created by the MOD in partnership with BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, QinetiQ and GE Aviation.
"Taranis has been three-and-a-half years in the making and is the product of more than a million man-hours," said Nigel Whitehead, group managing director of BAE Systems' Programmes and Support business.
"It represents a significant step forward in this country's fast-jet capability.
"This technology is key to sustaining a strong industrial base and to maintain the UK's leading position as a centre for engineering excellence and innovation."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Land wars delay India's rush to industrialise

It doesn't look like he's won much from industrialization. Take his face, weathered beyond his 30 years, or the earth stuck to his bare ungainly feet.Jaisar Khan Pathan, one in a long line of farmers, is simply too scrawny.But Pathan, and scores like him who live in the shadow of a new factory built by Tata Motors to make its ultra-cheap Nano car, are the beneficiaries of the race to transform India from a nation of small farmers to an industrialized power.They are part of a tectonic shift as millions move off the land into an uncertain future, even as others wage land battles that have blocked some of the world's most powerful companies from building power plants, mines and factories.The conflict over land has fueled a violent Maoist insurgency across much of India's least developed regions. The insurgency, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called India's top internal security threat, claimed 908 lives in 2009 and rebels were blamed for a May train derailment that killed 145 more.Some say India is trying to industrialize too fast, without the education and infrastructure in place to give the rural poor a fighting chance."How long did the industrial revolution take to be implemented in the West? Two hundred years. You want to replicate the same model and squeeze it into 20 years. That's not possible. The fallout will be massive," said Bhaskar Goswami, an economist at the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security in New Delhi.Against this backdrop of strife, Pathan's story is the ideal of what could be achieved if the more than 50 percent of Indians who live off the land get a real stake in the new economy. It's a principle that advocates of market capitalism and human rights activists can agree on, but that often fails to materialize across rural India, where stories of powerful business interests and corrupt officials conspiring to throw poor farmers off their land are all too common.Around the Tata plant in Sanand, in the western state of Gujarat, people have begun to talk of the "Nano effect."Go down a narrow lane that runs to dirt not 15 minutes from the factory and amid the gamboling goats of Chharodi village, you will find 25 new homes.Property prices have risen sharply — from 50 to 400 percent — and men are making fortunes brokering land deals.The village head says three dozen of the 3,000 people in Chharodi have gotten work from contractors. The Nano factory hasn't given them jobs directly, but it has offered a toehold in the industrial economy. They remain farmers, but a growing part of their income comes from informal business ventures or work for contractors.Pathan and his three brothers sold the government one-third of their family farm to make way for the Nano plant. They were paid 20 million rupees ($432,900) — a fortune even in Gujarat, one of India's richest states.Ask the Pathan brothers what they did with this money, and they grin like schoolboys.They bought 2.7 hectares (6.6 acres) of land — more than doubling their initial landholding — two miles (three kilometers) away, where they are preparing to plant their first crop.They bought seven tractors and three Bolero jeeps, which they use for contracting work at the Nano site, raking in 455,000 rupees ($9,848) a month.They are rebuilding their family home. Gone is the mud and thatch. Today their angular concrete two-story is the biggest on the block."You've done a damn good job out here," Pathan says of Ratan Tata, who heads the Tata group's sprawling industrial empire.The "Nano effect" can be attributed, in part, to the state's scrupulous care in avoiding conflict with the high-profile project.The Nano factory and adjacent vendor park sit on 1,100 acres (445 hectares), most of which belonged to a government agricultural university that used it for grazing and experimental farming. Just seven families sold off a portion of their holdings to make way for an access road. The value of the rest of their property skyrocketed after Tata Motors came to town.Those who sold got a decent price and, living up to Gujarat's renowned business savvy, demonstrated more entrepreneurial zeal and money management skills than the average subsistence farmer.State officials also scuttled plans for a 68 square mile (177 square kilometer) industrial zone around the factory after locals protested. They now plan to put it on fallow land about six miles (10 kilometers) away.___Elsewhere in India, powerful multinationals, including South Korean steel giant Posco, India's Tata Steel, and U.K.-listed Vedanta Resources are all embroiled in land fights.Violent farmer protests over land, led by opposition politicians, forced Tata Motors to move the Nano factory site from West Bengal state to Gujarat, delaying full-scale production by nearly two years.Even business-friendly Gujarat is vulnerable to land fights. Farmers opposed to a cement plant they say cuts off a crucial irrigation pond complain of harassment by police and stone-throwing company goons. A proposed nuclear power plant has come up against opposition from locals who say it would displace 10,000 families. Others protest that a proposed special economic zone would destroy 7,400 acres (3,000 hectares) of mangrove trees, which protect the coastline and support a local fishing industry that employs 10,000 people.Indian policymakers are trying to figure out how to broaden the "Nano effect" and help land losers across the country become stakeholders too. Critics say their failure so far to do so has dragged down India's growth and left the mass of poor rural Indians with little to show for their nation's progress.Too often, farmers who sell their land to make way for industry quickly spend that money, then struggle to make a living with outdated skills."The compensation is usually for consumption. Within no time the money is used up," said Nayan Raval, a top adviser to the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation, which promotes business development. "Only a few enlightened farmers invest it."Biswajit Mohanty, a lands rights activist in the eastern state of Orissa, says that in poorer areas, land acquisition rules are twisted to accommodate business interests, usually mining conglomerates, which often force farmers to give up their land for a pittance."In most cases, the government does not follow the procedure, and village councils are manipulated or threatened to agree to sell land," he said. Anger at the expropriations has helped the Maoist rebels recruit new cadres to fight the government.Two proposed national laws, drafted in response to clashes over land acquisition, would introduce minimum protections for the displaced. Some states, including Gujarat, give farmers back a fraction of the land they've vacated after it has been upgraded with roads and electricity, or give preference to original land owners when allocating new industrial zones."Land is a finite resource," said Arvind Agarwal, managing director of Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation. "Sixty percent of Gujaratis and 70 percent of the country depend on land. You have to meet their aspirations."But many say such measures can only help some people, some of the time.Even industrialization's staunchest advocates acknowledge that the transition out of agriculture — or for tens of millions of nomadic tribal people, a pre-agricultural lifestyle — typically takes generations.Even in Sanand, few have made a direct leap from farm to factory without a helping hand.Tata Motors, which declined comment for this article, says 95 percent of the factory's 2,400 employees are locals, most trained at government technical institutes.Gujarat officials enrolled 1,500 young people from surrounding villages in a skills training program it launched the same month the Nano deal was signed.While the entrepreneurial skill of the Gujarati people and the state's care with training and land acquisition surely contributed to the "Nano effect," so too did infrastructure. Without roads and electricity — absent in swaths of India — the villagers of Chharodi would not be able to ply their new trades."People who lose their land have to be stakeholders," said Swaminathan Aiyar, a columnist and fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington D.C. "All disruption has short term big disadvantages. The question is what happens in the long term. If there is infrastructure and electricity, there are so many opportunities."Just ask farmer Pathan."Bring more companies," he says, grinning.