Saturday, November 27, 2010

Kochi owners reach consensus, likely to survive axe

The BCCI on Sunday allowed the squabbling Kochi franchisee to participate in the fourth edition of the Indian Premier League, ending the suspense over the team and ensuring that at least eight sides will be part of IPL 4 next year.The IPL Governing Council, which had given a third deadline to Kochi last week after the consortium's investors reached a last-minute agreement over their shareholding pattern, on Sunday approved their ownership structure and took it in its fold."At their meeting today, the IPL Governing Council confirmed that the Kochi Franchisee had satisfactorily responded to the notice issued to them by the BCCI, and decided that the franchisee Kochi Cricket Pvt Ltd, would play in the IPL from 2011 onwards," BCCI Secretary and President-Elect N Srinivasan said in a release.BCCI vice-president Rajiv Shukla said the Board's legal team was satisfied with the ownership structure of Kochi franchisee."Today, the Governing Council decided to approve Kochi as the eighth franchise of IPL and it will play in IPL 4. This decision was taken after examining the shareholding pattern Kochi submitted and the response (to the notices) they had g4en to the BCCI. It was legally examined. The GC found it appropriate," Shukla told reporters in Delhi.The Governing Council's decision comes on the backdrop of the legal developments involving the BCCI and expelled IPL franchisees - Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals.Relieved by BCCI's decision, Satyajit Gaikwad, CEO of Rendezvous Sports World Pvt Ltd that represents the promoter group, said the the franchisee will now get down to business to build the side for the Twenty20 event."Differences (in the franchisee) are now things of the past. Earlier we were consortium partners. Now we are a family of IPL Kochi Private Limited," Gaikwad said."We will have a Board meeting as soon as possible, may be tonight or tomorrow to decide the future course of action and team building. We are very sure that we will rise up to the expectations of cricket fraternity of Kerala and India," he said. Gaikwad said that Rendezvous held only sweat equity and it was not paid up (equity shares given without receiving payment for effort).Mukesh Patel of Parinee Developers, one of the investors in the franchisee, expressed happiness over the BCCI's decision and said that there were no problems in the franchisee now."There were some internal issues. There are differences of opinion in every company. But that has now been sorted out. Now we will work as a team," said Patel who was here for the IPL Governing Council meeting.Refusing to divulge the new share-holding pattern of the outfit, Patel said its managing committee will now take decisions related to its future operations.Barely seven months after becoming the second most costliest team in the Indian Premier League, Kochi was on the verge of being thrown out of the event.But the owners of the beleaguered franchise made a last ditch attempt to save the outfit by reaching a compromise.Before the compromise, the investors of the franchise, which was bought for a staggering sum of Rs 1533.33 crore, had written to the BCCI informing them of their intention to withdraw from the IPL.That letter was sent after the BCCI, which had on October 10 expelled Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals for allegedly violating contractual agreements, gave a termination notice of 30 days to the franchise to sort out internal disputes regarding the shareholding pattern.The investors in the consortium - Anchor Earth, Parinee Developers, Rosy Blue and Film Wave - had earlier held 74 per cent of the equity.The remaining 26 per cent was with the Gaikwad family - Shailendra, his brother Ravi and their parents, all part of Rendezvous Sports World - as free equity for services rendered while bidding.It was this 26 per cent which became a bone of contention among the stakeholders as the investors were in no mood to give free equity to the Gaikwad family.The Gaikwads, on their part, initially refused to part with the equity but later agreed to accept just 10 per cent sweat equity after the investor group threatened to pull out of the franchise."We (Rendezvous) have done everything to facilitate the team to survive," Gaikwad said.The BCCI has maintained that eight teams will take part in the fourth edition of the league scheduled from April 8, just six days after the World Cup.However, this looks uncertain as Justice B N Srikrishna, the arbitrator appointed by the BCCI and Rajasthan Royals to resolve their case, stayed the termination of contract of the Royals after terming it illegal on November 30.The Cricket Board has moved the Bombay High Court against the arbitrator's stay.In the case of Kings XI, Justice Srikrishna recused himself from the proceedings as the BCCI expressed reservations after he disclosed that he had once represented (as a lawyer) Bombay Dyeing, whose owner Ness Wadia has a stake in Kings XI.The Bombay High Court has also extended the deadline for the IPL franchisees to sign up their respective "marquee" players till December 8.

In a dramatic turnaround, the Kochi franchise it seems has survived the axe as of now and will take part in the fourth edition of the Indian Premier League, to be played in 2011.Sources have told NDTV that the owners of the Kochi franchise have come to an amicable settlement over the sweat equity issue and hence have now sorted out their differences.Satyajit Gaikwad, CEO of the franchise told NDTV that they have given a few options to the BCCI and are now awaiting its response.The final decision will be taken by the IPL Governing Council which is presently meeting in Nagpur.Till yesterday it was believed that the Kochi franchise would not be allowed to participate in the IPL 4 and the BCCI would float a new bid for an eighth team as the owners had not been able to settle their differences over the ownership pattern.The 30-day deadline given by the BCCI to the franchise owners expired on Saturday and the investor group of the franchise, which was bought for a staggering sum of Rs. 1533.33 crore, had written to the BCCI informing them of their intention that they wanted to withdraw from the IPL two days before the expiry of the 30-day notice period, issued to them by the Cricket Board to sort out their internal differences.According to the initial set up, the investors in the consortium -- Anchor Earth, Parinee Developers, Rosy Blue and Film Wave -- hold 74 per cent of the equity.The remaining 26 per cent lies with the Gaikwad family -- Shailendra, his brother Ravi and their parents all part of Rendezvous Sports World -- as free equity for services rendered while bidding.BCCI vice-President Rajiv Shukla had said the Board has received "certain letters" from the consortium's stakeholders.

The Kochi IPL franchise saga took a new turn on Sunday as the BCCI deferred its decision on the franchise's fate to December 5. The IPL Governing Council which met in Nagpur on Sunday was supposed to take a final decision on Kochi's fate, but has now decided to extend the deadline as the owners have come to some sort of a settlement."They have disclosed their ownership pattern. Our legal experts will study the papers. There was no discussion with the investors because we are not legal experts. BCCI will take a decision on December 5 in Mumbai," BCCI President Shashank Manohar told reporters after the meeting.Till Saturday it seemed that the franchise's future was doomed with many of the investors writting to the BCCI, clearly mentioning that they wanted to withdraw from the Indian Premier League.With the 30-day deadline to sort out the sweat equity matter ending without any proper response from the Kochi owners, indications were there that the BCCI will scrap the franchise and float a new bid for the eighth IPL team which would participate in the 2011 edition of the cash rich T20 leage.But hours before the meeting, the owners of the franchise were able to arrive at an amicable settlement and thus forwarded a few options to the BCCI.Satyajit Gaekwad, the acting CEO of the franchise told NDTV that they have reached a consensus and the following options have been forwarded to the BCCI.

Present scenario
According to the present shareholding pattern, the investors in the consortium -- Anchor Earth, Parinee Developers, Rosy Blue and Film Wave -- hold 74 per cent of the equity.The remaining 26 per cent lies with the Gaikwad family -- Shailendra, his brother Ravi and their parents all part of Rendezvous Sports World -- as free equity for services rendered while bidding.It is this 26 per cent which became a bone of contention among the stakeholders as the investors were in no mood to give free equity to the Gaikwad family.

Proposed scenario
In the new formula worked out by the owners, the Gaikwad family has agreed to bring down their equity stake from 26% to 10%. They are further ready to buy out 5% of the 10% equity as well.They have also reached a consensus over the control of the team with the other investors. The company will now be called the Kochi IPL Cricket Pvt. Ltd.As a result the BCCI has now decided to study the entire matter and would take a final call on the fate of the franchise on December 5.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Scientists propose one-way trips to Mars

Invoking the spirit of "Star Trek" in a scholarly article entitled "To Boldly Go," two scientists contend human travel to Mars could happen much more quickly and cheaply if the missions are made one-way. They argue that it would be little different from early settlers to North America, who left Europe with little expectation of return. "The main point is to get Mars exploration moving," said Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Washington State University, who wrote the article in the latest "Journal of Cosmology" with Paul Davies of Arizona State University. The colleagues state -- in one of 55 articles in the issue devoted to exploring Mars -- that humans must begin colonizing another planet as a hedge against a catastrophe on Earth. Mars is a six-month flight away, possesses surface gravity, an atmosphere, abundant water, carbon dioxide and essential minerals. They propose the missions start by sending two two-person teams, in separate ships, to Mars. More colonists and regular supply ships would follow. The technology already exists, or is within easy reach, they wrote.
An official for NASA said the space agency envisions manned missions to Mars in the next few decades, but that the planning decidedly involves round trips. President Obama informed NASA last April that he "'believed by the mid-2030s that we could send humans to orbit Mars and safely return them to Earth. And that a landing would soon follow,'" said agency spokesman Michael Braukus. No where did Obama suggest the astronauts be left behind. "We want our people back," Braukus said. Retired Apollo 14 astronaut Ed Mitchell, who walked on the Moon, was also critical of the one-way idea. "This is premature," Mitchell wrote in an e-mail. "We aren't ready for this yet." Davies and Schulze-Makuch say it's important to realize they're not proposing a "suicide mission." "The astronauts would go to Mars with the intention of staying for the rest of their lives, as trailblazers of a permanent human Mars colony," they wrote, while acknowledging the proposal is a tough sell for NASA, with its intense focus on safety. They think the private sector might be a better place to try their plan. "What we would need is an eccentric billionaire," Schulze-Makuch said. "There are people who have the money to put this into reality." Indeed, British tycoon Richard Branson, PayPal founder Elon Musk and Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos are among the rich who are involved in private space ventures. Isolated humans in space have long been a staple of science fiction movies, from "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" to "2001: A Space Odyssey" to a flurry of recent movies such as "Solaris" and "Moon." In many of the plots, the lonely astronauts fall victim to computers, madness or aliens. Psychological profiling and training of the astronauts, plus constant communication with Earth, will reduce debilitating mental strains, the two scientists said. "They would in fact feel more connected to home than the early Antarctic explorers," according to the article. But the mental health of humans who spent time in space has been extensively studied. Depression can set in, people become irritated with each other, and sleep can be disrupted, the studies have found. The knowledge that there is no quick return to Earth would likely make that worse. Davies is a physicist whose research focuses on cosmology, quantum field theory, and astrobiology. He was an early proponent of the theory that life on Earth may have come from Mars in rocks ejected by asteroid and comet impacts. Schulze-Makuch works in the Earth Sciences department at WSU and is the author of two books about life on other planets. His focus is eco-hydrogeology, which includes the study of water on planets and moons of our solar system and how those could serve as a potential habitat for microbial life. The peer-reviewed Journal of Cosmology covers astronomy, astrobiology, Earth sciences and life. Schulze-Makuch and Davies contend that Mars has abundant resources to help the colonists become self-sufficient over time. The colony should be next to a large ice cave, to provide shelter from radiation, plus water and oxygen, they wrote. They believe the one-way trips could start in two decades. "You would send a little bit older folks, around 60 or something like that," Schulze-Makuch said, bringing to mind the aging heroes who save the day in "Space Cowboys." That's because the mission would undoubtedly reduce a person's lifespan, from a lack of medical care and exposure to radiation. That radiation would also damage human reproductive organs, so sending people of childbearing age is not a good idea, he said. There have been seniors in space, including John Glenn, who was 77 when he flew on the space shuttle in 1998. Still, Schulze-Makuch believes many people would be willing to make the sacrifice. The Mars base would offer humanity a "lifeboat" in the event Earth becomes uninhabitable, they said. "We are on a vulnerable planet," Schulze-Makuch said. "Asteroid impact can threaten us, or a supernova explosion. If we want to survive as a species, we have to expand into the solar system and likely beyond."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Top 10 firms shed over 1 lakh crore

Amid the Sensex tumbling over 4 per cent in a week, the 10 most valued companies witnessed a wealth erosion of a whopping Rs. 1 lakh crore last week, with the country's largest lender State Bank of India (SBI) emerging as the biggest loser.
The Bombay Stock Exchange barometer Sensex declined by 4.03 per cent or 848 points at 20,156.89, making the top 10 firms in terms of market capitalisation lose Rs. 1,05,271.24 crore.
SBI was the worst hit with a value erosion of Rs. 29,155.57 crore last week; it slipped to the fifth spot from the third position in the elite club of 10 most-valued firms.
On Friday, the reports of Reserve Bank of India degrading the SBI to B- from B amid a sluggish broader market dampened the investor sentiment and the shares of SBI ended with 4.55 per cent loss at Rs. 3,030.40, making its investors poorer by Rs. 29,155.57 crore.
The bank's m-cap has plunged to Rs. 1,92,427.37 crore from Rs. 2,21,582.94 crore.
The third spot is now occupied by the software giant TCS with an m-cap of Rs. 2,06,944.54 crore. With a market capitalisation of Rs. 3,47,477.67 crore, the country's most valued firm Reliance Industries continued to dominate at the first place despite shedding Rs. 14,758.43 in its valuation.
RIL was followed by the oil and gas giant ONGC at the second spot with a total valuation of Rs. 2,79,507.53 crore. The company's m-cap declined by Rs. 15,474.73 crore.
Even as m-cap of Coal India, which made a spectacular entry in the top-10 club last week, declined by Rs. 1,8791.17 crore, it managed to maintain its fourth position with an m-cap of Rs. 2,02,060.36 crore.
IT bellwether Infosys Technologies at the sixth spot, shed Rs. 4,623.8 crore in its total valuation to Rs. 1,72,168.95 crore. It was followed by NTPC at the seventh place, whose valuation slid by Rs. 3,339.42 crore to Rs.1,58,436.51 crore.
Private sector lender  (eighth spot) and the FMCG giant ITC (ninth spot) saw their respective valuations decline by Rs. 7,709.63 crore and Rs. 2,574.85 crore.
Besides, the infrastructure giant Larsen & Toubro re-entered the elite club at the tenth position, replacing the state-run trading firm MMTC. However, L&T's m-cap dipped by Rs. 4,899.79 crore to Rs. 1,26,410.24 crore.
MMTC fell to the 11th spot, with a loss of Rs. 5,690 crore in its m-cap at Rs. 1,26,335 crore.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Believe the hype about India

A leading daily carried a small news item the other day that, depending on your perspective, is good news or a sign of the apocalypse. It reported that a Nepali telecommunications firm had just started providing third-generation mobile network service, or 3G, at the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain, to “allow thousands of climbers and trekkers who throng the region every year access to high-speed Internet and video calls using their mobile phones.”I can hear it already: “Hi, mom! You’ll never guess where I’m calling from ...”This is just one small node in what is the single most important trend unfolding in the world today: globalization — the distribution of cheap tools of communication and innovation that are wiring together the world’s citizens, governments, businesses, terrorists and now mountaintops — is going to a whole new level. In India alone, some 15 million new cellphone users are being added each month.Having traveled to both China and India in the last few weeks, here’s a scary thought I have: What if — for all the hype about China, India and globalization — they’re actually underhyped? What if these sleeping giants are just finishing a 20-year process of getting the basic technological and educational infrastructure in place to become innovation hubs and that we haven’t seen anything yet?Here’s an example of why I ask these questions. It’s a typical Indian start-up I visited in a garage in South Delhi, EKO India Financial Services. Its founders, Abhishek Sinha and his brother Abhinav, began with a small insight — that low-wage Indian migrant workers flocking to Delhi from poorer states like Bihar had no place to put their savings and no secure way to send money home to their families. India has relatively few bank branches for a country its size, so many migrants stuff money in their mattresses or send cash home through traditional “hawala,” or hand-to-hand networks.The brothers had an idea. In every Indian neighborhood or village there’s usually a mom-and-pop kiosk that sells drinks, cigarettes, candy and a few groceries. Why not turn each one into a virtual bank? So they created a software program whereby a migrant worker in Delhi using his cellphone, and proof of identity, could open a bank account registered on his cellphone text system. Mom-and-pop shopkeepers would act as the friendly neighborhood local banker and do the same.Then the worker in New Delhi could give a kiosk owner in his slum 1,000 rupees (about $20), the shopkeeper would record it on his phone and text receipt of the deposit to the system’s mother bank, the State Bank of India. Then the worker’s wife back in Bihar could just go to the mom-and-pop kiosk in her village, also tied into the system, and make a withdrawal using her cellphone. The shopkeeper there would give her the 1,000 rupees sent by her husband. Each shopkeeper would earn a small fee from each transaction. Besides money transfers, workers could also use the system to bank their savings.Since opening 18 months ago, their virtual bank now has 180,000 users doing more than 7,000 transactions a day through 500 “branches” — mom-and-pop kiosks — in Delhi and 200 more in Bihar and Jharkhand, the hometowns of many maids and migrants. EKO gets a tiny commission from the Bank of India for each transaction and two months ago started to turn a small profit.Abhishek, who was inspired by a similar program in Brazil, said the kiosk owners “are already trusted people in each community” and are already in the habit of extending credit to their poor customers: “So we said, ‘Why not leverage them?’ We are the agents of the bank, and these retailers are our subagents.” The cheapest cellphone today has enough computing power to become a digital “mattress” and digital bank for the poor.The whole system is being run out of a little house and garage with a dozen employees, a bunch of laptops, servers and the Internet. The core idea, says Abhishek, is “to close the last mile — the gap where government services end and the consumer begins.” There is a huge business in bridging that last mile for millions of poor Indians — who, without it, can’t get proper health care, education or insurance.What is striking about the small EKO team is that it includes graduates from India’s most prestigious institutes of technology who were working in America but decided to come home for the action, while the chief operating officer — Matteo Chiampo — is an Italian technologist who left a good job in Boston to work here “where the excitement is,” he said.India today is this unusual combination of a country with millions of people making $2 and $3 a day, but with a growing economy, an increasing amount of cheap connectivity and a rising number of skilled technologists looking to make their fortune by inventing low-cost solutions to every problem you can imagine. In the next decade, I predict, we will see some really disruptive business models coming out of here — to a neighborhood near you. If you thought the rate of change was fast thanks to the garage innovators of Silicon Valley, wait until the garages of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore get fully up to speed. I sure hope we’re ready.

NASA's quest to send a robot to the moon

For $150 billion, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration(NASA) could have sent astronauts back to the Moon. The Obama administration judged that's too expensive, and in September, Congress agreed to cancel the program. For a fraction of that -- less than $200 million, along with about $250 million for a rocket -- NASA engineers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston say they can safely send a humanoid robot to the Moon. And they say they could accomplish that in a thousand days.

The idea, known as Project M, is almost a guerrilla effort within NASA, cooked up a year ago by Stephen J Altemus, the chief engineer at Johnson. He tapped into discretionary money, pulled in engineers to work on it part time, and horse-traded with companies and other NASA units to undertake preliminary planning and tests. "We're doing impossible things with really very little, if any, money whatsoever," Mr Altemus said. A humanoid dextrous robot -- at least the top half -- already exists: Robonaut 2, developed by NASA and General Motors, is packed on the shuttle Discovery, scheduled for liftoff on Wednesday.

Bound for the International Space Station, it will be the first humanoid robot in space. It is to help with housekeeping chores at the space station as NASA learns how astronauts and robots can work together. Eventually, an upgraded Robonaut is to take part in spacewalks. Project M also draws on other NASA projects that were already under way, including rocket engines that burn liquid oxygen and methane -- a cheap and nontoxic fuel combination -- and an automated landing system that could avoid rocks, cliffs and other hazards. Integrating the technologies into working prototypes sped up development. "That's the magic," Mr Altemus said. "A lot of times technologies end up in the lab cooking, and then there's this valley of death where they never get to maturation or to flight."

Project M's planners say that a robot walking on the Moon would capture the imagination of students, just as the Apollo Moon landings inspired a generation of scientists and engineers 40 years ago. "I think that's going to light a few candles," said Neil Milburn, vice president of Armadillo Aerospace, a tiny Texas company working on Project M. But as NASA's attention turns away from the Moon -- "We've been there before," President Obama declared in April -- the prospects for sending a robot there are at best uncertain.

The quandary over Project M encapsulates many of the continuing debates over the future of the space agency: What should NASA be told to do when there is not enough money to do everything? What is the best way to spur advances in space technologies? And given the costs and dangers, how important is it to send people into space at all? "The tricky part is whether it fits in the agency's framework for exploration," Mr Altemus said. Last year, a blue-ribbon panel was reviewing NASA's human spaceflight program, in particular an ambitious project called Constellation to send astronauts back to the Moon.

Although NASA has spent $10 billion on Constellation, most of the program is to be canceled when Congress finishes work on the 2011 budget. Mr Altemus, for one, was frustrated by criticism of NASA that emerged during the Constellation debate and elsewhere. "I always felt like our organization was a Ferrari, and we were never allowed to drive with our foot on the gas," he said. "We were kind of at idle speed all the time." Talking to his son at his kitchen table, Mr Altemus wanted something that was exciting but not so big that it would require years of deliberation. The idea popped into his head: a walking robot on the Moon, one that could send back live video, in a thousand days.

Mr Altemus took it to his staff the next day, telling them, "Let's do something amazing." He recalled: "I said, 'Will you get behind me if I put this into the organization? I don't know if we can do it. I don't know if we'll get the money for it or will get approved -- let's try.' And so we just started, and it caught like wildfire." Sending a robot to the Moon is far easier than sending a person. For one, a robot does not need air or food. And there is no return trip. The thousand-day deadline was arbitrary, said R Matthew Ondler, Project M's manager. "It creates this sense of urgency," he explained. "NASA is at its best when it has a short time to figure out things. You give us six or seven years to think about something, and we're not so good. Administrations change and priorities of the country change, and so it's hard to sustain things for that long." For the purpose of aiding science education, a thousand days fit easily into the four years that a student spends in high school or college.

By contrast, even if NASA achieved Mr. Obama's stated goal of sending astronauts to an asteroid by 2025, a 7-year-old today would have already graduated from college. To get the parts they need, Mr. Altemus and Mr Ondler have resorted to barter. Boston Power gave them a $300,000 prototype of an advanced lithium battery in exchange for engineering help on battery management issues. "It was an easy trade, so we made several deals like that," Mr Ondler said. Armadillo provided a prototype it had built for a lunar lander competition, and NASA exchanged engine technology and access to test facilities.

NASA also paid Armadillo about $1 million, but NASA's traditional development processes would have cost more and taken longer. In six months, the lander flew 18 times under tether and twice in free flight. Not all the flights went perfectly, which was the point. "It's OK to put a hole in the ground once in a while," Mr Ondler said. "It's OK to have flame coming out of the wrong end of the engine once in a while, as long as we're learning quickly and building and iterating." Mr Ondler told the story of an engineer going to Home Depot to buy about $80 worth of materials to test whether fuel sloshing in the tanks could destabilize the lander during descent. "From that, we were able to confirm our math models and design the full-scale test," he said, all in two weeks. Project M slipped under the radar of everyone else in NASA, including the administrator, Maj Gen Charles F Bolden Jr.

 In February, in response to a question about projects that NASA might undertake with other nations, General Bolden cited a two-legged robot that the Japanese space agency wants to send to the Moon by 2020. "Do I think I can do that?" General Bolden said. "Probably not." At that time, the Project M team was hoping to get a go-ahead to start in March and accomplish the robotic Moon landing by the end of 2012. Despite the sophistication of the project, the robot's capabilities would be slight compared with what a human could do on the lunar surface. Project M was conceived as a technology demonstration, not a scientific mission. One of the main tasks envisioned for the robot would be to simply pick up a rock and drop it, as part of an education program broadcast to schools.

Students could do the same and compare the relative gravity of Earth. Work continues on Project M, which has cost about $9 million so far. Armadillo is building a second prototype lander, but there is no money for other aspects, like finishing the legs for Robonaut. Mr Obama's vision for NASA called for investing $16 billion over five years for space technologies, but the compromise blueprint drawn up by Congress shifts most of the money to a heavy-lift rocket. The project did spark interest among the International Space Station managers, which is why a Robonaut is heading there. "I'm excited to see how we can evolve the technology in space and actually have a pair of hands and a working humanoid dextrous robot on the space station," Mr Altemus said. "It's a big move forward for the agency." But for now, the plans for sending one to the Moon are on the back burner.