Monday, April 30, 2012

Social gifting: The new buzzword in e-commerce

Last year, the buzzword in e-commerce was Groupon Inc and its myriad of competitors that offered daily online coupons to entice shoppers in a down economy. Now, the latest fashion in retail is social gifting, where people get together on Facebook to buy each other gifts.


Start-ups such as Sweden-based Wrapp, which is launching its U.S. business on Monday, are getting millions of dollars in venture-capital funding, and retailers like Best Buy Co Inc , Gap Inc and Starbucks Corp are scurrying to be a part of it.

"Brick-and-mortar retailers are all looking for new, more efficient ways to drive sales into stores without diluting their brands ... we wanted to really see how retailers can leverage the megatrends of smartphones and social networks," said Hjalmar Winbladh, chief executive of Wrapp.

Wrapp is essentially an app that can run on smartphones, tablets and computers. It allows Facebook friends to buy each other gift cards from participating retailers either individually or by teaming up, which they can store on their mobile devices and redeem either online or inside physical stores. Retailers like it because there is little marketing cost and because customers often end up buying more once they are inside the store.

Since mid-November more than 165,000 active users have given over 1.4 million gift cards that can be redeemed in some 50 major retail stores across Europe, according to Wrapp.

"The thing that struck me as unique and interesting about Wrapp is that it is kind of the intersection of three trends: gift cards, social networks and mobile (shopping)," said Reid Hoffman, a cofounder of LinkedIn and a partner at Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Greylock Partners.

Wrapp has received $10.5 million in funding from Greylock and technology VC firm Atomico. Hoffman serves on Wrapp's board, as does Skype co-founder and Atomico founder Niklas Zennstrom.

In the United States, the Swedish company has tied up with retailers including H & M Hennes & Mauritz AB , Gap Inc , Sephora and Fab.

E-gifting - or people buying gift cards from a retailer's website - is still in its infancy, accounting for only $1 billion of the $100 billion gift card industry last year, according to Brian Riley, senior research director at CEB TowerGroup. Of that $1 billion, social gifting made up only about 5 percent or $50 million.

Technology is naturally progressing toward platforms like social gifting, said one industry player. "E-commerce platforms are becoming inherently more social with the inclusion of comments, recommendations and purchase history from each person's social graph," said Randy Glein, managing director at venture capital firm DFJ Growth.

The retail lineup

Starbucks expects social gifting to make up about 20 percent of its gifting business in the near future.

"Customers can connect from our site to their registered Facebook account to view upcoming birthdays of Facebook friends, send them e-gifts directly, and share the news on their Facebook wall," said Alexandra Wheeler, vice president of global digital marketing at Starbucks.

Bridget Dolan, vice president of interactive media at Sephora, said conversion rates - measuring the amount of customers who actually come to stores to redeem the vouchers - are likely to spike on holidays like Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and just before Christmas.

This optimism has a host of startups like CashStar, SocialGift, Groupcard Apps and DropGifts rushing in to be the early birds in the sector.

CashStar, for example, works with more than 200 retailers for their e-gifting businesses, and has seen sales grow 463 percent in the latest quarter. Nearly 10 percent of CashStar's retailer network uses social gifting, CashStar Chief Executive David Stone said.

"Facebook commerce is still very nascent; it is a small, small world. Within that, social gifting is one area where we can potentially build sales," Stone said.

While there are high hopes for the future of social gifting, it may be appropriate to remember last year's darling, Groupon.

As a private company, Groupon was one of the fastest-growing businesses in history and in November pulled off one of the largest Internet IPOs of the past decade, valuing the company at well over $10 billion. But since the stock market debut, the shares have fallen around 40 percent on concern about the sustainability of that growth and the company's accounting.

What's in it for them?

Retailers view social gifting as an opportunity to reach out to their target buyers and promote their brands at almost no extra cost.

Wrapp, for instance, charges retailers nothing until a transaction is made. It bets on the premise that most shoppers will end up spending more than the gift card's value once they are in the store.

"As marketers, we want to be where the consumers are, and they are all on Facebook," said Bradford Robinson, gift card manager for Chili's Grill & Bar.

Wrapp, which works with companies like home improvement chain Clas Ohlson and Dixons Retail -owned consumer electronics chain Elgiganten in Europe, said users reportedly spent 5.2 times the value of the gift card when they came to claim their gifts.

"I have no doubts that because of the FB platform, these things can grow very quickly and get a lot of users in a short period of time," said Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst with Forrester Research.

But she also has a word of caution.

"It is new, and there is a lot that remains to be seen. It could be a very powerful form of marketing (and) drive incremental value. But the challenge is that there is a promise and there is a reality ... you can't just introduce a platform like this and expect it to deliver gold to everybody," she said.

$195 million Sea Shadow stealth ship for sale.

The U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has placed its famous Sea Shadow stealth ship up for auction. And while the high-tech military sea vessel cost more than $195 million to develop, its opening bid was for the relatively tiny sum of $50,000, with only a $10,000 deposit required.


The Courier Mail reports that the ship was made famous to a broader audience when it served as the inspiration for the home of James Bond's villainous foil in the film "Tomorrow Never Dies."

The General Services Administration auction for the ship is scheduled to end this Thursday, with the current bid at the time of publishing up to just over $100,000.

However, before you begin finalizing your plans for global dominance, there is one major catch to the auction: The ship will be dismantled and reduced to scrap before being handed out to the auction's eventual winner.

"The ex-Sea Shadow shall be disposed of by completely dismantling and scrapping within the USA," reads the item's description on the GSA website. "Dismantling is defined as reducing the property such as it has no value except for its basic material content."

The 164-foot experimental craft was first constructed in 1983 by Lockheed for the U.S. Navy and contains the same stealth technology used by its more famous aerial counterparts. Although it appears almost flimsy on the surface, it actually contains two submerged twin hulls and is specifically designed to withstand very rough ocean waves of up to 18 feet.

Facebook billionaire shuns luxury for startup life

Facebook co-founder and former Mark Zuckerberg roommate Dustin Moskovitz is by many accounts the world's youngest self-made billionaire. But the 27-year-old isn't sipping champagne in the Caribbean.


Instead he's thrown himself back into San Francisco's startup mix, even as Facebook's looming IPO seems likely to send his wealth spiraling even higher.

Moskovitz and his friend Justin Rosenstein, a former Facebooker himself worth $150 million, head a company called Asana, which just launched the first paid version of its online project management service. During a recent interview at their inconspicuous Mission District offices, the pair said they come to work every day because, their fortunes already made, they still have to do something with their lives.

"When we think of work, we think of work as an act of service, as an act of love for humanity," said Rosenstein, 28.

Added Moskovitz: "If we were just retired, we wouldn't be serving anyone."

While such idealistic sentiments might sound too easy coming from two guys who never have to worry about money again, they both do keep working even though they'd never have to again. And like Zuckerberg himself they seem uninterested in the flash and status-hoarding that great wealth makes possible.

In keeping with the recent startup trend of shunning hierarchies, the pair do not have separate offices but sit among the other employees at Asana, which numbers 24 in all. They don't have an entourage. Rosenstein likes to cycle (he recently had his bike stolen).

Also like Zuckerberg, they dress down, Moskovitz in an untucked shirt, Rosenstein in a sweater and Chuck Taylors. On the streets of their neighborhood, which brims with twenty-something hipster geeks, they'd blend right in.

What sets them apart, they acknowledge, is their absolute freedom to pursue their particular vision of how to change the world. And they seem to have no doubt that their software will do just that. After all, as some of Facebook's earliest engineers, they've seen their code change the world once already.

Asana will speed human progress by changing the way people work together, Rosenstein said. Too much time at work is spent doing "work about work," Moskovitz said. They say Asana will free people up to do more important things.

"We could go work on curing cancer. We could go work on building spaceships. We could go work on art projects," Rosenstein said. "What's fun about working at Asana is we get to work on all of them at the same time." Or as Moskovitz, the more circumspect of the two, said, "We're working on a meta-problem."

Whether Asana's world-changing potential exceeds that of competitors in the crowded project and task management software marketplace remains to be seen. Like other similar products, their software lets users set up Web-based to-do lists that any group focused on a common goal can use to assign jobs and keep track of what gets done.

The pair believe Asana will win out on its speed, versatility and ability to maintain the flow alluded to in its name, which in yoga refers to the poses meant to aid the flow of spiritual energy in the body. (Regular yoga sessions are among the perks of office life at Asana. Other benefits include an in-house chef and $10,000 for new hires to set up their desks with whatever computing gear they want.)

Several marquee tech companies have embraced Asana, the company reports, such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare. Individual backers betting on Asana include venture capital celebrities like Peter Thiel and Mark Andreessen, as well as several of Facebook's earliest employees.

None go as far back as Moskovitz, however. He spent two years at Harvard where he helped Zuckerberg start the site before they dropped out and moved to Palo Alto. He left Facebook in 2008 and started Asana with Rosenstein.

According to Facebook's pre-IPO filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Moskovitz holds nearly 134 million shares of Facebook stock, giving him a 7.6 percent stake in the company. Based on the value placed on Facebook's stock in its $1 billion cash-and-stock deal for Instagram, Moskovitz's pre-IPO net worth stands at more than $4 billion.

Like many of the richest Americans, Moskovitz has signed a pledge initiated by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett to give away most of his money. His wife runs his philanthropic foundation, which is still getting off the ground.

For now, he said he's focused "110 percent" on Asana. To hear Moskovitz tell it, the choice of coming to the office doesn't come at the expense of some wished-for life of luxury.

"It feels very much like a default. Of course you do that," Moskovitz said. "We're fortunate not to have things that would distract us from being able to act."

Kalpakkam N-plant close to completion: Official

The 500 MegaWatt (MW) prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam will soon get its first lot of fuel assemblies - used to build its nuclear fuel core, a senior official has said, adding that 86 per cent of the "physical work" on the plant has been completed.


The Rs. 5677 crore project is being built by India's fast breeder reactor operator Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Limited (Bhavini). Kalpakkam is 80 kilometres from Chennai.

"We will soon start getting the fuel assemblies in several lots from Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) while welding of blanket fuel assemblies was flagged off by Atomic Energy Commission Chairman (Srikumar Banerjee) Saturday here," Prabhat Kumar, Director (construction) and project director, told Indo-Asian News Service (IANS).

The finished fuel rods are grouped in special fuel assemblies that are then used to build up the nuclear fuel core of a power reactor.


About the project status, Mr Kumar said that 86 per cent of the physical work has been completed and by the end of this year all the mechanical work would be completed.

The reactor is wholly designed by Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) located at Kalpakkam.

The fast breeder reactor, which breeds more material for a nuclear fission reaction than it consumes, is one of the key projects of India's three-stage nuclear power programme. In 1985, India became the sixth country to have such a technology.

The supply of fuel assemblies for PFBR signals the comfortable position of Indian nuclear establishment with regard to the availability of uranium to run the atomic power reactors.

According to Mr Kumar, the PFBR will have 181 fuel assemblies and 120 blanket assemblies.

The PFBR will be powered by a mix of plutonium oxide and depleted uranium oxide called MOX fuel.

"Blanket assemblies contain depleted uranium to absorb the excess neutrons that are generated from the nuclear fission that happens at the reactor core. After a few years, the blanket assemblies are reprocessed to extract plutonium for the initial feed of future fast reactors," P Chellapandi, Director, Nuclear Design and Safety at IGCAR, told IANS.

While the fuel assemblies will be placed at the centre of the reactor vessel, the blanket assemblies will be kept surrounding the former, Mr Chellapandi added.

Mr Kumar said that the dummy fuel (fuel similar to the real one in terms of specifications minus the fission material) is expected to be available in a couple of month's time.

"This is the first of its kind reactor for India. We want to be sure about every aspect of the reactor before taking it to criticality. The fuel loading will be done only when we are very sure about the reactor performance and safety," Mr Kumar said.

He said that the project capex would not exceed Rs. 5677 crore but there will be some sizeable savings.

"A total of Rs. 3800 crore has been spent so far on the project," Mr Kumar added.

Cable TV digitisation: Top 10 facts

In December last year, the Lok Sabha passed a Bill to make digitisation of cable television mandatory in India, starting with the top metros on or before June 30, 2012 and pan-India by 2014. Households in the four metros - Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata - will be the first to benefit from this new rule. Here are the top 10 facts on what this could mean for TV viewers in India;


1. The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2011 mandates that all cable TV operators will have to transmit TV signals in an encrypted format through a digital addressable system. This will be done through the installation of a set top box in every cable TV home.

2. Consumers will now be able to enjoy better picture and sound quality, enhanced services such as high definition and video on demand content.

3. Viewers will be able to choose and pay for only those channels that they want rather than having to pick from packages with fixed prices. The Bill will prevent Local Cable Operators (LCOs) from bypassing the digital set-top box, and deciding the mix and price of channels according to locality and customer base. The bill will also shift the balance of power away from LCOs to cable service providers and TV broadcasters who will now be able to monitor their subscriber base and control the flow of revenues.


4. Digitisation, experts say, will increase the broadband penetration in India, and will do so at a much lower cost. Analysts suggest a 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration will increase the GDP by 1.5 per cent.

5. Broadcasters will now be relieved from paying huge sums as carriage fee, thereby increasing profitability and enabling them to focus on better content creation.

6. Subscription revenue will increase for the broadcaster and make them less dependent on advertising and drive higher value creation.

7. Niche and specialist channels will now be able to launch and grow since the artificial shortage of bandwidth created by cable operators will no longer hold true.

8. Transparency in the entire system will ensure accurate reporting of subscriber numbers and revenue, thus creating higher value for the exchequer and preventing the fueling of the black economy. Currently, broadcasters claim cable operators and distributors gain disproportionate revenues through under-declaration of subscribers.

9. Higher growth in profitability for the broadcasters and Multiple System Operators (MSOs) will ensure creation of higher value jobs and drive value in the industry.

10. Cable and broadcasting will become a more interesting option for private investment due to the organisation and transparency. Advertisers too will now be able to create targeted campaigns due to higher visibility into the viewership patterns of users.

Maruti's cumulative exports cross one million mark

The country's largest car maker Maruti Suzuki India today said its cumulative exports have crossed one million units with the milestone car headed for Denmark.


The company said the one millionth vehicle, a red colored A-star, left the Mundra coast line along with 2,200 other vehicles for various international destinations.

This includes Switzerland, Malta, Sweden in Europe and Algeria, Egypt and Morocco in the non-European destinations.

The millionth car will be sold in Denmark, it added.

"A million cars in overseas markets is a significant milestone for us," Maruti Suzuki India (MSI) Managing Director and CEO Shinzo Nakanishi said in a statement.

He said the company's ability to explore markets other than Europe has helped in keeping its exports volumes up. The A-star, marketed under 'Suzuki Alto' and 'Suzuki Celerio' badge in international markets was doing well, he said.

"Two years back, Europe was a strong destination for us. We have aligned our exports strategy in line with the changed scenario in exports market. The market for us has shifted significantly from Europe to non-European countries," Nakanishi said.

"This strategy worked in our favour and helped us retain our export numbers after European nations withdrew the scrappage incentives," he added.

With today's shipment, Algeria also attains the landmark of being the only country to import over 1,00,000 units from Maruti Suzuki, the company said.

In 2009-10, Maruti Suzuki's total exports were over 1.47 lakh units of which over 75 per cent were to Europe. By 2011-12 the share of non-EU export sales shot up sharply from 23 per cent to 66 per cent.

In the last fiscal, MSI's total exports stood at 1,27,379 units, as against 1,38,266 units in the previous year, down 7.9 per cent.

In coming times, MSI said it plans to expand presence in newer markets, including the ASEAN region. Currently, the company exports its cars to over 125 countries across the globe.

The A-star is the company's flagship exports model. Within 38 months of its first shipment in January 2009, it has clocked exports of over 3,00,000 units. With over 136 variants, A-star is exported to over 100 countries across the world, MSI said.

In cumulative sales, A-star is followed by Alto with over 2,50,000 units and Maruti 800 with 2,26,000 units, it added.

Standing Committee on Defence report tells Government to build defence capabilities urgently

A report by the standing Committee on Defence, which was tabled in the Lok Sabha today, said there is an urgent need to build defence capabilities to face any challenge including a "two-front war". The report, which said that India's defence expenditure was lowest compared to countries like China and Pakistan in terms of GDP, highlighted huge gaps between the required and existing force levels. In its report, the Standing Committee on Defence said there was a need to allocate adequate budget for the three armed forces.


The report stressed on faster acquisition of planes for the Indian Air Force due to a critical shortage of aircrafts. The report said that level of criticality has been reached and there is an urgent need to ensure that acquisitions are put on fast track. The Committee's report pointed out that the Air Force currently has 34 fighter squadrons against the sanctioned strength of 42.

On the Army, the report said if the sanctioned and existing strength in the aerial arm of the Army is compared, "There is shortage of 18 Cheetah, 1 Chetak, 76 ALH Dhruv and 60 ALH (Weapon Systems Integrated) with Army Aviation". The report also said that the Indian Army is facing a shortage of 10,526 officers.

The report also recommended more funds for the Indian Navy.


Earlier this month, the standing committee, which is headed by Congress MP Satpal Maharaj, met the heads of the Army, Navy and Air Force a day after the combined commanders conference, where the country's overall defence strategy was analysed.

Microsoft, Barnes & Noble team up on Nook, college businesses

Barnes & Noble Inc. and Microsoft Corp. say they are teaming up to create a new Barnes & Noble subsidiary that will house the digital and college businesses of the bookseller and include a Nook application for Windows 8.


The companies say they are exploring separating those businesses entirely. That could mean a stock offering is in the works. Microsoft will make a $300 million investment in the subsidiary for an approximately 17.6 percent stake.

Barnes & Noble will own about 82.4 percent of the subsidiary, which has yet to be named. The companies say the subsidiary will help to speed the transition to e-reading.

Barnes & Noble sells the Nook e-reader. The Nook app will make Barnes & Noble's catalog of e-books, magazines and newspapers available to Windows customers
 
Microsoft will invest $300 million in Barnes & Noble’s digital and college businesses, valuing them at $1.7 billion. Shares of Barnes & Noble jumped 79%.


Microsoft will get a 17.6 per cent stake in the new unit, while Barnes & Noble will own about 82.4 per cent, the companies said in a statement on Monday.

The business, whose name has not yet been decided, will have an ongoing relationship with Barnes & Noble's retail stores.

Barnes & Noble, the No 1 US bookstore chain, said in January that it might spin off its digital business, which includes its Nook e-reader.

The companies will introduce an application for the Nook on Windows 8, the upcoming version of Microsoft's operating system.

Barnes & Noble is investing heavily to develop its popular Nook devices and the e-books sales they generate as readers move away from traditional books.

Barnes & Noble and Microsoft have settled their patent litigation, the companies said.

Shares of Barnes & Noble were up 79% at $24.50 in premarket trading. The company was valued at just above $823 million at Friday's close.

Microsoft shares rose 0.7% to $32.19.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Google online translation tops 200 million users

Google Translate marked its sixth birthday on Thursday with news that more than 200 million people use the free online translation service monthly.


"In a given day we translate roughly as much text as you'd find in one million books," Google Translate engineer Franz Och said in a blog post.

"We imagine a future where anyone in the world can consume and share any information, no matter what language it's in, and no matter where it pops up."

Och worked at US military research arm DARPA before joining California-based Google in 2003 to be part of a team of engineers ramping up the quality of computer-driven language translations.

Google Translate, which lets people paste or type text in an on-screen box to have it quickly converted into a language of their choice, rolled out in 2006 with English, Chinese and Arabic.

"We can now translate among any of 64 different languages, including many with a small Web presence, such as Bengali, Basque, Swahili, Yiddish... and even Esperanto," Och said of the service at translate.google.com.

Traffic to Translate from smartphones has been growing exponentially, and more than 92 percent of the users are from outside the United States, according to Google.

"What all the professional human translators in the world produce in a year, our system translates in roughly a single day," Och said.

"By this estimate, most of the translation on the planet is now done by Google Translate."

Light Combat Aircraft 'Tejas' to be inducted in Air Force this year: DRDO chief

Indigenously developed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) 'Tejas' will be inducted into the Indian Air Force this year, DRDO chief V K Saraswat has said.


"With 'Tejas' completing almost 1,855 flying hours (flight tests) and all problems it encountered during the initial operational clearance having been solved, it is ready to enter into the final operational clearance phase. With production also having taken off at HAL... we are now at the verge of writing history as far as aeronautics is concerned," he said in Hyderabad.

"LCA will be inducted this year in the armed forces where our own squadrons of Air Force will be flying this aircraft," he said.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) director general was speaking after inaugurating the 'Aerospace Luminary Lecture Series' organised by Hyderabad chapter of Aeronautical Society of India last night.


Referring to the recent successful maiden flight of the Naval variant of LCA, Saraswat said, "The first flight trial of LCA Navy achieved capability, particularly on take off and landing, from an aircraft carrier. The Naval variant will certainly be a force multiplier for Indian Navy."

The LCA has been conceived and designed by DRDO's Aeronautical Development Agency and manufactured at Bangalore- based Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

Mr Saraswat said April 2012 will go down as a historic month as it saw successful launches of Agni-V, RISAT-I (radar imaging satellite) and first flight trial of LCA Navy.

India today has a potent long-range ballistic missile system, said Saraswat, who is also the Scientific Advisor to Defence Minister.

Nuclear capable Agni-V ballistic missile, with a strike range of over 5,000 km, was successfully test-fired on April 19.

Agni-V is a game changer in terms of technology, the DRDO chief said, adding, "it has taken the country to a higher pedestal in terms of deterrence."

"We have joined a select group of countries who have this technology and capability," Mr Saraswat said.

"Agni-V has allowed us to take this technology to higher level, be it for anti-satellite mission or launch of satellites on short notice."

However, there is still a long way to go for programmes related to UAVs, advance medium combat aircraft and a variety of long-range missiles, he said.

There was a need for almost 400-500 engineers every year to accelerate and complete the ongoing projects/programs, the top defence scientist said.

"If we don't have that kind of manpower... we are going to lag behind. The moment you're are not in a position to provide systems on right time, with right quality and right numbers, there will be pressure on us to allow their imports.

And once you have imports, our goal of self-reliance will take a beating," Mr Saraswat noted.

"Our goal is to provide self-reliance in the area of aerospace, aircraft and defence equipment. If we can have great designers and production centres, I think this country can become self-reliant and master any technology."

Friday, April 27, 2012

Space shuttle Enterprise hitches a ride to New York

Enterprise, the prototype for the space shuttles, flew over the New York City area, riding atop a specially equipped 747 jet, before landing at Kennedy International Airport at 11:22 a.m.


And, perhaps in a scenario familiar to many air travel passengers arriving in New York, the shuttle appeared to be taking its time meandering over the area.

Crowds of people lined various vantage points across the area to get a glimpse of the shuttle, which flew up from Dulles Airport near Washington on Friday morning.

The 150,000-pound shuttle soared over New York Harbor, past the Statue of Liberty and up the Hudson River. After passing over the George Washington Bridge, the flight continued north to the Tappan Zee Bridge before making another pass over the city. And then it made the same loop, heading back up the Hudson again.

The flight is supposed to be the last time in the sky for Enterprise, which never flew in space but did glide to the ground on its own several times a few decades ago. The prototype is eventually destined for the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, which is paying the National Aeronautics & Space Administration more than $9 million for the delivery. NASA awarded Enterprise to the museum last year when it was giving away all of the remaining orbiters after ending the shuttle program.

Last week, the same old 747 ferried the shuttle Discovery to Dulles so that it could replace Enterprise at the nearby satellite site of the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. Once Enterprise is lifted off the 747 by cranes - a process NASA calls "demating" - it will be loaded onto a barge this summer and floated from Kennedy to the Intrepid, a retired aircraft carrier docked in the Hudson in Midtown Manhattan.

In short, an antique airplane is carrying an antique spacecraft to New York, where it will wind up on the deck of an antique warship.

Datawind launches two new tablets, starting Rs. 2,999

UK-based Datawind, which had bagged a contract for supplying low-cost tablet 'Aakash' to the government, launched two new tablets in the price range of Rs. 3,000-4,000, considered to be amongst the cheapest in the market.


Dubbed as UbiSlate 7 and 7C, these tablets feature a 7-inch display, 256MB of RAM and are powered by Cortex A8 800 MHz processor. The tablets also come with a 3200 mAh battery and are powered by Android Gingerbread (v 2.3). In terms of connectivity, both support GPRS as well as Wi-Fi.

The only difference between these two devices is that UbiSlate 7 comes with a 2GB of internal memory and has a resistive touchscreen, while the UbiSlate 7C has 4GB of internal memory and comes with capacitive touchscreen.

Datawind, which had run into problems with the IIT Rajasthan and its sub-contractor Quad Electronics for the much-touted 'Aakash' claimed that it has already done 30 lakh bookings for the new tablets launched in the commercial market.

"We will first deliver pre-bookings, which are over 30 lakh ," Datawind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli told reporters here.

Tuli did not agree with the perception that the tablet market in India was not growing.

"We are getting around 8,000 orders...". When asked whether all these bookings are genuine purchase orders, since no advance payment is required, he said "conversion (from pre-to-firm bookings) is 88 per cent".

Datawind had hit headlines in October last year when it unveiled 'Aakash', touted as the world's cheapest tablet to be supplied to the HRD Ministry at Rs. 2,276 a piece. The government, in turn, had to give about one lakh of these tablets to the students at ubsidised price Rs. 1,100-1,200 each. However, the IIT-Rajasthan, the nodal agency for the 'Aakash' project, had rejected the tablet for not meeting performance criteria and the project had to be shifted to IIT Bombay.

"We will provide (upgraded) Aakash to the government for approval and after getting it, we will then deliver the one lakh tablets," Tuli added.

Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal had recently said that the upgraded version would be available in May.

For the tablets launched commercially today, Datawind has tied up with mobile service provider Aircel for voice and data services, which is offering Rs. 100 unlimited plan for internet usage.

India's new frigate INS Teg to be inducted into Indian Navy today

India's latest stealth frigate, INS Teg, will be commissioned into the Indian Navy at the Yantar shipyard at Kaliningrad in Russia today.

Armed with the 290-km BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, among other weapon systems, the 3,970-tonne warship can operate an anti-submarine or early-warning helicopter from its deck.

The 125-metre-long INS Teg is the first of the three frigates being built in Russia as a follow up order to the Talwar Class frigates commissioned some years ago. India's order for the Talwar-class ships was placed with Russia in 2006 for $1.6 billion.

INS Teg will be followed by the induction of INS Tarkash and INS Trikand in the next one year or so.

Russia had taken out INS Teg for sea trials earlier this year in the Baltic Sea and completed the tests between March 5 and April 7 this year.

The Yantar shipyard had said earlier this month that all on-board systems on INS Teg, including armaments were tested in the presence of Indian Navy officers and the frigate proved to be fully ready for final stage of acceptance trials.

INS Teg was laid down at Yantar in 2007. INS Tarkash and INS Trikand are at various stages of construction.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

ISRO launches 'spy satellite' RISAT-1

After a highly successful launch of the Agni V, India today launched its own 'spy satellite' RISAT-1. It was powered by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from Sriharikota at 5.47 am this morning. The indigenously made satellite will have day and night viewing capability and will be able to see through cloud cover.


The total cost of the mission is about Rs. 500 crore and is probably the most expensive and most complex mission to be launched from India till date, says Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

The 321 tonne launcher, in its most powerful configuration, will endeavour to put India's heaviest satellite till date in orbit. Weighing at 1528 kg, the satellite's main purpose will be to monitor crops and forecast floods during the Kharif season, said ISRO.

The project for India's heaviest microwave satellite is being directed by N Valarmathi. She is the second woman to be the satellite project director at ISRO, and the first to head a remote sensing satellite project.


This all-weather surveillance tool is sometimes referred in common parlance as a spy satellite
India already has another powerful spy satellite called RISAT-2 acquired from Israel and launched using the PSLV in 2009.

After a highly successful launch of the Agni V, India today successfully launched its own 'spy satellite' RISAT-1. It was powered by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from Sriharikota at 5.47 am this morning. Here are the top 10 facts on RISAT-1:


1. Weighing at 1528 Kg, RISAT-1 is the heaviest satellite ever launched by India.

2. It will be powered by a 321 tonnes rocket, the most powerful Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

3. This is the third time that ISRO is using a PSLV-XL (Extra Large) rocket. It was first used in October 2008 to put Chandrayaan-1 in orbit and again in July 2011 during the communication satellite GSAT-12 launch.


4. The indigenously made satellite has day and night viewing capacity and will not be blinded by cloud cover.

5. RISAT-1 will help in crop monitoring and flood forecasting. It will give India the ability for continuous surveillance.

6. The satellite carries a C-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) payload, operating in a multi-polarisation and multi-resolution mode to provide images with coarse, fine and high spatial resolutions. It has a best resolution of up to 1 m

7. It has taken ISRO 10 years to make this sophisticated satellite. So far PSLV has consecutive 19 successful launches.

8. The total cost of mission is about Rs. 500 crores. While the cost of the rocket is about Rs. 120 crores, the satellite costs around Rs. 380 crores. However, none of them are insured.

9. The project Director N Valarmathi, is the first woman to head a remote sensing satellite project, and the second to be the satellite project director at ISRO.

10. Apart from RISAT-1, India already has another spy satellite RISAT-2 acquired from Israel which was launched in 2009.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Google unveils new Google Drive cloud storage service

Google on Tuesday launched a long-anticipated "Drive" service that lets people store, share and collaborate on digital files in the Internet "cloud."


Google Drive accounts with five gigabytes of storage were available free at drive.google.com and upgrades to more space on servers in the California company's data centers were available at rates set by size and country.

"The model is really designed at the core to help people live their lives in the cloud," Google vice president for Chrome and Apps Sundar Pichai said on a conference call with reporters.

"Google Drive is something we see as central to the online experience at Google."

Google Drive software has been tailored for Windows and Macintosh computers as well as smartphones or tablets powered by Google-backed Android software.

A version tailored for Apple mobile gadgets will be released soon, according to Pichai.

"We want to make sure that all our users' data are available where ever they are," Pichai said.

Google Drive data can be reached from various devices, and deleting it from one deletes it from all. Scanned letters can be saved. Fax messages can be sent or received at Drive.

Apple revenue jumps, beats Street view

Apple Inc on Tuesday reported quarterly revenue that handily beat Wall Street estimates, driven by strong demand for its iPhones and iPads, sending its shares 3.5 per cent higher.


The consumer electronics giant said its fiscal second-quarter revenue rose to $39.2 billion, better than the average analyst estimate of $36.8 billion, according to Thomson Reuters.

Shares of the world's most valuable technology corporation resumed their rally after Apple revealed that 35.1 million iPhones - its flagship product - were bought in the March quarter, outpacing the 30 million or so expected by Wall Street analysts.

Apple sold 11.8 million iPads, the latest version of which hit the store shelves in mid-March.


The strong results came as the company's stock fell 13 percent - an unusual move - in the last couple of weeks in volatile trading. The shares have long been considered a must-have in most U.S. equity portfolios.

"When you have a strong rally in a stock it often sells off for no better reason than uncertainty. I think you're going to see the naysayers go away," said Michael Yoshikami, CEO of YCMNet Advisors.

Gross margins in the fiscal second quarter came to 47.4 percent, above Wall Street's average forecast of 42.8 percent.

Net income rose to $11.6 billion, or $12.30 a share, from $6 billion, or $6.40 per share, a year earlier. That also outpaced Wall Street's target of $10.04 a share.

Apple's shares gained more than 5 percent to $590, from a close of $560.28 on Nasdaq.

Facebook now boasts 901 million users, reports Q1 earnings

Facebook Inc reported its first quarter-to-quarter revenue slide in at least two years, a sign that the social network's sizzling growth may be cooling as it prepares to go public in the biggest ever Internet IPO.


The company blamed the first-quarter decline, which surprised some on Wall Street, on seasonal advertising trends.

"It was a faster slowdown than we would have guessed," said Brian Wieser, an analyst with Pivotal Research Group.

"No matter how you slice it, for a company that is perceived as growing so rapidly, to slow so much on whatever basis - sequentially or annually - it will be somewhat concerning to investors if faced with a lofty valuation," Wieser said.

Facebook is preparing to raise at least $5 billion in an initial public offering that could value the world's largest social network at up to $100 billion.

The company, founded by Mark Zuckerberg in a Harvard dorm room in 2004, surpassed 900 million monthly active users in the first quarter and said its full-time staff grew by about 1,100 to 3,539 employees in the past 12 months, according to an updated filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday.


Facebook also disclosed that it has agreed to pay Instagram $200 million if the company's recent deal to buy the photo-sharing start-up for $1 billion does not go through.

Facebook said it paid $300 million in cash for Instagram, along with 23 million shares of Class B common stock. It said the fair value of its Class B common stock was $30.89 per share as of January 31.

Spending roughly doubled over the past 12 months, outpacing the 45 percent revenue increase during the period.

Net income slid 12 percent to $205 million in the quarter, from $233 million a year earlier at the rapidly expanding company.

Facebook said its advertising business, which accounts for the bulk of its revenue, typically slows down in the first three months of the year. The rapid advertising growth may have "partially masked" such trends to date, and seasonal impacts may be more pronounced in the future, it noted.

Revenue, which totaled $1.06 billion in the three months ended March 31, declined 6 percent from the fourth quarter. It was the first quarter-on-quarter drop since at least 2010.

"It was bound to happen. You are going to see a slowdown," said Anupam Palit, an analyst at GreenCrest Capital LLC, noting that it is harder to double revenue when the base is larger.

But he also said Facebook has not worked out how to make more money in some international markets where it is growing the fastest, such as Brazil, India and the Philippines.

"They have not cracked international markets yet, while others like Google do very well internationally," Palit added.

Apart from slowing growth, Facebook is also grappling with other issues. Yahoo Inc is suing it for patent infringement even as the social networking company tries to beef up its intellectual property arsenal. On Monday, it said it would pay $550 million for hundreds of patents from Microsoft Corp .

Monday, April 23, 2012

China allows import of Indian basmati rice

China has finally allowed import of basmati rice from India, which comes as a big boost to exporters who would now get access to a huge market of 1.3 billion people for their about 4.5 million tonnes of aromatic rice.


It is a very positive move by China ... We are in touch with basmati producers back home to see how to take this forward," Indian Ambassador to China S Jaishankar told PTI.

China had banned imports of several Indian agricultural products, including basmati rice, because of the issues of pest control and monitoring of quarantine pests in processing and storage houses in India.

The approval came after passing through testing procedures of the Chinese official bodies. The Indian Embassy is planning to conduct a publicity campaign to push basmati rice into the Chinese markets.


The diplomats here regard it as a diplomatic success considering that Beijing was found dithering ever since New Delhi formally sought an opening for India's top rice in 2006.

Experts opined that to start with, India exporters should aim for star hotels and Indian restaurants which are mushrooming all over China to take advantage of steady increase of Indian and foreign travellers here.

"It is good news for us. We are getting our basmati so far from Hong Kong. We can now directly buy it," M H Pastakia, owner of Taj Pavilion restaurants in Beijing said.

The move would also help in bridging the ballooning trade gap between India and China which stood at about USD 20 billion

India is looking at China, Mexico and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as new markets for its basmati rice, with a view to expand its share in global trade.

The country's share of the global market for basmati rice is nearly 60 per cent, while Pakistan accounts for the remaining 40 per cent. This high quality rice is mainly grown in these two countries.

In India, the annual production now stands at around 4.5 million tonnes. It fetches about USD 1,100 per tonne in the global market.

Indian basmati is sold to over 100 countries, including the US, the UK, the UAE, Iran, Kuwait and Europe.

However, K Nagraj Naidu, Trade Consular of the Indian Embassy, said that it is a challenge to enter the market here as Chinese eat sticky (glutinous) rice which is easy to take it with chopsticks.

It is not going to be easy to penetrate the market and efforts would have to be made to introduce India's aromatic rice in a big way, Naidu said.

In its absence, Pakistani basmati rice is widely used in all over China -- the world's largest rice market.

Islamabad had no such problem in securing permission earlier to market its aromatic rice taking advantage of the strategic friendship with China.

Further some traders pointed out to the case of Indian mangoes for which China has granted export permission in 2003, not a single mango was shipped.

Embassy officials too has said that it would be a tough task for Indian traders to penetrate into Chinese market dominated by Thai and Pakistani rice.

China last year imported about USD 387 million worth of rice. "It is a market of billion plus people who are basically rice consumers. It all depends on how our producers and exporters could take advantage of it," Naidu said.

The neighbouring country has banned imports of fruits and vegetables.

Microsoft, Facebook announce $550 million patent deal

Patents are the hot trade in town these days and everyone is just jumping in to grab a few of them. The latest firms to join the mix are Microsoft and Facebook.


According to a press note issued today, Facebook will be paying $550 million to Microsoft to acquire a portion of patents that Redmond is getting from AOL. Facebook will be receive the ownership of around 650 patents and applications; however Microsoft will still have the licence to these patents.

"Today's agreement with Facebook enables us to recoup over half of our costs while achieving our goals from the AOL auction," said Brad Smith, executive vice president and general counsel, Microsoft.

"Today's agreement with Microsoft represents an important acquisition for Facebook," said Ted Ullyot, general counsel, Facebook.

To remind you, Microsoft paid $1 billion earlier this month to acquire approximately 925 U.S. patents plus a license to 300 additional patents that are not for sale from AOL. After today's deal, Microsoft will retain ownership of approximately 275 AOL patents along with license to 950 patents.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Chip lets smartphones see through walls, clothes

Researchers at a Texas university have designed a chip that could give smartphones the long-envied ability of comic book hero Superman to see through walls, clothes or other objects.


A team at University of Texas at Dallas tuned a small, inexpensive microchip to discern a "terahertz" band of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The design works with chips made using Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor technology behind processors commonly found in personal computers, smartphones, televisions and videogame consoles.

"CMOS is affordable and can be used to make lots of chips," electrical engineering professor Kenneth O said in a statement on Friday.


"The combination of CMOS and terahertz means you could put this chip and a transmitter on the back of a cell phone, turning it into a device carried in your pocket that can see through objects."

To assuage privacy worries, the professor and his team at the Texas Analogue Center of Excellence are limiting their study to what the chips can make visible at distances of four inches (10 centimetres) or less, according to the university.

The terahertz band has wavelengths that fall between microwaves used for mobile phone signals and infrared that is employed for night vision goggles.

The chip designed by Mr O's team detects terahertz waves and shows the resulting imagery, perhaps on a smartphone screen.

Mr O's team highlighted potential medical uses such as enabling doctors to peer easily into patients' bodies and practical applications along the lines of finding studs in walls.

"We've created approaches that open a previously untapped portion of the electromagnetic spectrum for consumer use," Mr O said.

"There are all kinds of things you could be able to do that we just haven't yet thought about."

Wheels begin to turn in India's farm revolution

As a shiny red harvester bounces across the black earth into the first row of sugar cane, excited schoolchildren run after it and several dozen men stand gaping in the wake of its swift progress.


It's the first time that Perle, a village on the banks of the Krishna river in Maharashtra, has seen a machine used for cutting the tough cane.

"This machine will harvest my entire field today," says Prashant Kadam, the young owner of the compact two-acre plot. "Had it been harvested by labourers, they would have taken at least a week."

A short drive away in a field where the sun is just getting hot enough to halt work, a team of 12 couples cut cane the way it's been done for centuries -- with machetes. They load the cane into carts each pulled by two white bullocks with gaily painted horns and head for the local mill which dominates this sugar-growing valley some 300 kilometres south of Mumbai.

It is a way of life that is fast disappearing in the world's second-biggest producer of rice, wheat and sugar. India is finally embracing mechanisation after centuries of farming with methods the United States threw out with the British.

Interviews with farmers, tractor salesmen, economists and agricultural officials show a country on the cusp of deep change. Indian food consumption is rising and farmers are under pressure to produce more, faster and cheaper.

Yet Indian farms traditionally use far fewer farm machines than their peer nations, partly because their acreage is so small.

Lately however, farmers have been buying new tools and machines to cope with a labour shortage triggered by government policies aimed at promoting non-agricultural work.

Tractor sales have increased 42 percent in India over the last five years to an estimated 552,434 in 2011/12, according to industry figures.

The consequent boost to their productivity is helping them sustain more expensive lifestyles and that could spur India's cantering growth, averaging 7-8 percent a year.

The sweeping changes are crucial as India adds the equivalent of an Australia to its 1.2 billion people every year. Many of them are too poor to feed themselves and rely on government subsidised grains. At the same time, the swelling middle class of Asia's third-largest economy is demanding more and better quality food.

By 2020-21, Indians will consume 280 million tonnes of food grains a year, compared with a record output of 241.6 million tonnes in 2010/11, said V Venkatachalam, special secretary at the Farm Ministry.

At the moment, India still uses under half the amount of power on farms that rival Asian giant China does and a tenth that of Japan.

WHEELS ON HIRE

It was Sangramsingh Jayanvantrao Jadhav's father who bought the harvester that caused such a sensation in Perle, where cane has grabbed more than 80 percent of cultivatable land.

Jadhav takes the harvester around to neighbouring farmers, such as Kadam, who can work late into the night and through the noon-time heat in its air-conditioned cab.

"The harvester is new for the farmers. So we are convincing them about its benefits," says Jadhav. "From next year, we will be working in full swing."

Renting out equipment makes sense for many farmers in India, whose plots and income are too small to justify outright purchases of expensive vehicles and tools.

Farm Minister Sharad Pawar has thrown his support behind custom hiring and the Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering (CIAE) says renting equipment could be the best way to boost production in India.

"Small farm holdings mean every farmer can't have the equipment. So what we are saying is let there be intermediaries who could purchase the equipment and then provide it on a custom hiring basis," says Pitam Chandra, who heads the CIAE.

Jadhav, who earned an MBA in agriculture and works in a bank, says he spends as much time as possible working with the harvester "because I like to be here".

At an office in a showroom for Mahindra's Swaraj brand of tractor in Satara, just 30 kilometres away from Perle, Sachin Sambhaji Shelke points out that small tractors are more cost-efficient than the traditional bullocks.

"A pair of bullocks costs Rs 1,00,000. You use them only during the season, but you have to take care of them the entire year. With a tractor, if there's no work, you don't have to look after it," says the 36-year-old, who runs the business set up by his father in 1984.

While India is one of the largest markets for tractors, their use is limited -- mostly on construction sites or for ferrying anything from wedding decorations to field labourers.

That's partly because farm sizes remain so small -- more than 83 percent of India's farms are on less than 2 hectares per capita, well below global averages of 3.7 hectares, according to advisors KPMG. As a result, small-size tractor sales are booming.

"Most of the manufacturers are shifting their focus to smaller and low-cost tractors and specialized tractors to attract the marginal farmers," says Vishal Srivastav, deputy manager at Credit Analysis and Research Ltd (CARE).

CANE AND CASH

Sharply higher labour costs are also helping to make using machines a more attractive option.

In Maharashtra, government efforts to ensure a minimum wage for rural households have pushed up labour costs nearly 40 percent in the past year.

Urbanisation is also pushing up labour costs. The latest census shows city populations jumped 31.8 percent from 2001 to 2011 against growth of 12.2 percent in rural areas.

"The new generation is not interested in farming," says Vasant Nathu Rajpure, who grows turmeric near Shahbag village, about 250 kilometres south of Mumbai."My children are studying. Their aspirations are different. They don't like laborious farm work."

Sugar cane is the dominant crop in this region, after the arrival of cheap motor pumps and electricity around three decades back allowed farmers here to make better use of the river and grow the crop, which needs huge amounts of water.

Sampant Vishnu Chavan, a 77-year-old whose son cultivates sugar cane on most of his land in Perle, says focusing on this crop has meant farmers have switched to a cash economy from largely barter.

"Around 50 years back ... we were giving grains to the carpenter, the goldsmith, the potter and farm workers for their service ... But sugar cane changed this practice. We sell cane to the factory. Now we pay them money."

With this move to cash and cane comes higher income for farmers and increased discretionary spending.

"They are building concrete houses. They are buying modern electronic equipment like televisions, fridges," says Mohan

Patil, cane development officer at the Sahyadri co-operative mill, who has worked with local farmers in Perle for over three decades.

Just two months ago, turmeric farmer Rajpure bought a new Maruti Suzuki Swift Dzire sedan, worth about Rs 5,00,000. In the last year, the 52-year-old has bought three motorbikes for family members and an LCD television.

CRAFTING CHANGE

Sitting in his backyard, carefully removing the stitching on fertilizer bags to turn them into a waterproof cover for crops, the white-haired Chavan points to a tractor parked outside a neighbour's house.

"Tractors have changed everything," he says. "In the old days ... four pairs of bullocks were taking a day to plough an acre of land. Now, a tractor ploughs an acre in two to three hours. Farmers don't need to keep bullocks," he says.

Around half a century back there were 150 pairs of bullocks in Perle village, but now the number has come down to 20, he says.

Pitam Chandra at the CIAE estimates animals are now used for about 300-400 hours a year compared with over 1,500 hours in the 1960s.

"Animal power is going down because the cost of maintaining animals is going up and we are not employing them throughout the year," he said.

Reducing the number of animals has had a knock-on effect on fertiliser use, however, costing the government dear in subsidies as it tries to hold down prices in the face of 20 million tonnes of annual imports.

"From animals earlier we were collecting dung, which we were using as fertilizer. Now since we have only one cow, we are not getting sufficient manure. We have to buy chemical fertilizers in large amounts," says Sambhaji Chavan, a farmer from Perle who sold his bullocks and hires a tractor to do their work.

As he patiently crafts a wooden grip for a cane-cutting machete, 61-year-old Dadaso Khashaba Sutar reflects on the need for him to change his skills as tractors take over.

"My father taught me techniques he learned from my grandfather. Those skills are no longer required. Few tools (for use with bullocks) are in use and very soon they also will be replaced by new machines," he said.

One of Sutar's sons has migrated to Mumbai for a job, while his second son is now working in the construction industry.

"I am doing some work, but that will also vanish in the next few years. With me, our tradition of serving farmers will disappear," Sutar says with a smile.

He shows off the old tools he keeps which were in use some 30-40 years back in Perle. The current generation of farmers does not even know the names of some of these, he says.

Sutar now spends half his time on a new branch of carpentry. "I have started making furniture. I am making doors, for them there is good demand from farmers as many are building new homes."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Agni V, India's first ICBM, successfully test-fired.

It's Mission Successful for India - Agni V, the country's first Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), has been successfully test-fired. The missile was launched from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Wheeler Island off the Odisha coast at 8:07 this morning. The test launch was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but was postponed due to bad weather.
"The mission was successful. The missile hit the target in the Indian Ocean in a perfect way," Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) chief VK Saraswat declared moments after the launch.

The indigenously developed, nuclear-capable missile has a strike range of 5,000 kilometres. It is about 17 metres long, two metres wide and weighs around 50 tonnes. The sophisticated missile travels faster than a bullet and has the capacity to carry 1000 kilograms of nuclear weapons.

Only six countries - including the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, China and France - so far possess this technology. India will break into this exclusive ICBM club once the Agni-V is ready for induction by 2014-2015 - after several more tests.
Tipped to be a "game changer" by experts, Agni V will extend India's reach all over Asia, parts of Africa and parts of Europe. The Agni series of missiles, including Agni V, is crucial for India's defence vis-a-vis China since Beijing has upped the ante in recent times by deploying missiles in Tibet Autonomous Region bordering India.
Agni V can be configured to launch small satellites. It can also be used to shoot down enemy satellites in orbits. Once fired, it cannot be stopped. It can, however, be launched only after a decision by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).

After the test flight of the missile was declared successful, Defence Minister AK Antony called the DRDO chief to congratulate him. "The nation stands tall today. We have joined the elite club of nations (who possess the ICBM capability)," the minister reportedly told him over the phone. "The immaculate success of Agni V is a major milestone in the country's missile research and development programme," he added.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too called Mr Saraswat and congratulated him for the feat. He also praised DRDO scientists for their "tireless efforts". "The nation stands together in honouring the scientific community who have done the country proud," he conveyed via twitter.

"DRDO and other organisations have worked tirelessly in our endeavour to strengthen the defence and security of our country. Today's launch represents another milestone in our quest for our security, preparedness and to explore the frontiers of science," he added.

Now that the initial euphoria of the successful launch of India's longest range missile (call it IRBM, ICBM, doesn't matter) Agni V is over, congratulatory messages from Prime Minister downwards delivered, scientists and India's strategic community must concentrate on the next steps in fully developing and operationalising the strategic deterrent asset.


As the Prime Minister said in a statement: "I congratulate all the scientific and technical personnel of the DRDO and other organisations who have worked tirelessly in our endeavour to strengthen the defence and security of our country. Today's successful Agni V test launch represents another milestone in our quest to add to the credibility of our security and preparedness and to continuously explore the frontiers of science. The nation stands together in honouring the scientific community."

Without doubt, Agni V represents a major technology breakthrough for Indian missile scientists but it will require several more tests before Agni V can be seen as a credible deterrence.

Although the full telemetry data will take some time to be evaluated, scientists have reported excellent results of the missile's maneuverability terminal guidance system. Indian Naval ships, stationed in the path of the missile's trajectory, would have recorded its journey and picked up all the relevant data.


Built at a reported cost of over 25 million dollars, the 17 metres tall, 50-tonne Agni-V's three stages were powered by solid propellants. It has a capacity to carry a nuclear warhead weighing over one tonne.

While the missile is at least four years away from full induction in the armed forces, its successful launch has sent out a message to Asia and the world at large that India now has the capacity to manufacture and launch a highly complex system which only five other nations possess.

In Asia, only China has the capability and better arsenal than India.

In any case, India should not aspire to match China missile for missile.

Agni V however will allow India to possess a credible N-deterrence which is what India is looking for given its No-First Use Nuclear doctrine.

Expectedly, Chinese commentators, or least some of them, have mocked the test. Global Times, the English daily from Beijing headlined the News item: "India being swept up by missile delusion" and went on to comment: "India should not overestimate its strength. Even if it has missiles that could reach most parts of China, that does not mean it will gain anything from being arrogant during disputes with China. India should be clear that China's nuclear power is stronger and more reliable. For the foreseeable future, India would stand no chance in an overall arms race with China."

On a day when India has crossed an important technology threshold, these comments are at best ignored.

Nations have national interests and each nation should act and behave by the dictates of its own national interest without bothering what rivals and neighbours are saying.

India should do exactly that.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gov‘t Backed ’Green’ Light Bulb Meant to be Affordable Costs $50

The U.S. government last year announced a $10 million award (the “L Prize”) for any manufacturer who could create a “green” but affordable LED light bulb, The Washington Post reports.


Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the prize would encourage companies to find a way to make the expensive LED lights more “affordable for American families.” The administration was also careful to inject a “buy American” element into the prize deal – potions of the light had to be manufactured in the U.S.

The prize was awarded to Phillips, the bulb was developed and built, and it’s ready for market. It costs $50.

Wait. $50 dollars for a light bulb?

Unsurprisingly, several analysts say the Philips-manufactured bulb is way too expensive to appeal to a broad audience. Think about it: similar LEDs sell for half that price, as the Post points out.


“I don’t want to say it’s exorbitant, but if a customer is only looking at the price, they could come to that conclusion,” Brad Paulsen, merchant for the light-bulb category at Home Depot, the largest U.S. seller of light bulbs, told the Post, “This is a Cadillac product, and that’s why you have a premium on it.”

But wasn’t the entire purpose of the “L Prize” to encourage and incentivize manufactures to build an affordable LED light? How does this make any sense?

“A Philips spokesman declined to talk in detail about the bulb or its price because the product has yet to be formally launched,” the Post reports, “It is expected to hit stores within weeks and is available online. But the spokesman said the L Prize bulb costs more because, as the contest required, it is even more energy-efficient, running on 10 watts instead of 12.5 watts. It is also brighter, renders colors better and lasts longer.”

But still, doesn’t that undo the point of the “affordability” guidelines set by the “L Prize”?


Manufacturers were “strong­ly encouraged to offer products at prices that prove cost-effective and attractive to buyers, and therefore more successful in the market.” The target retail price, including rebates from utilities, was to be $22 in the first year, $15 in the second year and $8 in the third year, the Post reports.
To put it plainly, Phillips comes nowhere near these numbers.


“This bulb is pretty amazing,” says VP of Merchandising Chris Weber, according to Market Watch. “It is really hard to believe that you can get the equivalent of 940 lumens of warm, ambient light from a bulb that only uses 10 watts.”

“Philips has done it and we can’t wait to get this bulb into the hands of our customers,” he adds.

But we just can’t get around the fact that $10 million was awarded to develop an “affordable” LED and Phillips came up with a $50 bulb.

“You keep using the word ‘affordable,’” Cato‘s Aaron Ross Powell writes, addressing the Obama administration, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Top 10 facts about Agni-V

A big day for India's missile program. The country is getting ready to test fire its first Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) called Agni-V. A nuclear tipped three-stage missile - designed and developed by India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) scientists will be launched off the Odisha Coast in Wheeler Island shortly. Here are the top 10 facts on the missile:


1). India will break into the exclusive ICBM club of six countries including the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, China and France once the 50-tonne Agni-V is ready for induction by 2014-2015, although some others say unless India acquires an 8,000 km range missile, it cannot become a part of this club. But DRDO scientists are sticking to their claim.

2). The Agni series of missiles, including Agni-V, is crucial for India's defence vis-a-vis China since Beijing has upped the ante in recent times by deploying missiles in Tibet Autonomous Region bordering India.

3). Tipped to be a game changer by DRDO Chief Dr VK Saraswat, Agni-V will extend India's reach all over Asia, parts of Africa and parts of Europe.


4). Once fired, it cannot be stopped. It travels faster than a bullet and can carry 1,000 kilograms of nuclear weapons. It can be launched using a special canister. Why, it can even be launched from a roadside!

5). With a range of 5,000 km, Agni-V, once validated and inducted into the armed forces after several more tests, will be India's longest-range missile to carry a nuclear warhead. It will have the capacity to carry a nuclear warhead weighing over a tonne.

6). Agni-V will give India the technological know-how to launch many nuclear warheads using the same missile.

7). Agni-V can be configured to launch small satellites and can be used later even to shoot down enemy satellites in orbits.

8). The missile can be launched only after a decision by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).

9). Seventeen metres tall, Agni-V's three-stages are powered by solid propellants. The first rocket engine takes it to a height of about 40 kilometres. The second stage pushes it to about 150 kilometres. The third stage takes it to about 300 kilometres above the Earth. The missile finally reaches a height of about 800 kilometres.

10). This will be India's first launch of a 5,000 kilometre range missile.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Agni-V, India's ICBM, to be launched today

Today, India may join a select club of countries that possess or are about to possess an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) as hectic preparations are on for the launch of Agni-V missile from the Wheeler Island off the Orissa Coast.


Designed and developed by India's Defence Research And Development Organisation (DRDO) scientists, the three-stage missile is scheduled to be launched from a mobile launcher.

With a range of 5,000 km, Agni-V, once validated and inducted into the armed forces after several more tests couple of years down the line, will be India's longest-range missile which can carry a nuclear warhead.

Seventeen metres tall and 50 tonnes in weight, Agni-V's three stages are powered by solid propellants. It will have the capacity to carry a nuclear warhead weighing over one tonne, DRDO scientists have said.


The Hindu newspaper quoted Avinash Chander, Chief Controller (Missiles and Strategic Systems), DRDO, describing Agni-V's technology as a "game-changer" for strategic options. Except the US, Russia, France and China, no other country had designed and developed this range of systems, he said.

Earlier last month, DRDO chief, Dr VK Saraswat had told reporters that India will break into the exclusive ICBM club once the 50-tonne Agni-V is ready for induction by 2014-2015. The Agni series of missiles, including Agni-V, is crucial for India's defence vis-a-vis China since Beijing has upped the ante in recent times by deploying missiles in Tibet Autonomous Region bordering India.

DRDO is also aiming to operationalise a Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) by 2013 and a missile shield for Delhi by 2014, Mr Saraswat said.

"The K-15 SLBM is now getting ready for the final phase of induction after its two recent tests (from submersible pontoons) were successful... we have done over 10 flights of it so far," the DRDO chief said.

Once the 750-km-range K-15, and the 3,500-km K-4 become fully operational, they will be inducted onto India's indigenously-manufactured nuclear submarines. The first home grown Nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, scheduled to undertake sea trials this August, will need these SLBMs to complete what is called nuclear-triad.

After a rare failure of Agni III missile test is Agust 2006, the DRDO has been on a roll with the tests of the two-tier ballistic missile defence (BMD) system, designed to track and destroy incoming hostile missiles both inside (endo) and outside (exo) the earth's atmosphere, scheduled to be completed by 2013. "We will test the exo-atmospheric interceptor at 150-km altitude this year, which will be followed by an endo-atmospheric test at 30-km altitude," Dr. Saraswat said.

All eyes are now on the launch of Agni-V today.

Six budget tablets compared



It seems every week a new budget tablet is announced. That's great news for you, the customer, because you have more choice than ever before. From big companies like Micromax and HCL, to relative unknowns like Zync, everyone's throwing their hat in this increasingly crowded ring.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Apple, Facebook threatening Web's open foundation - Google co-founder

The principles of openness and universal access that underpinned the Internet's creation are facing their greatest-ever threat, the co-founder of Google Sergey Brin said in an interview published by Britain's Guardian newspaper on Monday.
Brin said the threat to freedom of the Internet came from a combination of factors, including increasing efforts by governments to control access and communication by their citizens.

Brin said attempts by the entertainment industry to crack down on piracy, and the rise of "restrictive" walled gardens such as Facebook and Apple , which tightly control what software can be released on their platforms, were also leading to greater restrictions on the Internet.

"There are very powerful forces that have lined up against the open Internet on all sides and around the world," Brin was quoted as saying. "I am more worried than I have been in the past. It's scary."

He said he was concerned by efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor and restrict use of the Internet.

Brin said the rise of Facebook and Apple, which have their own proprietary platforms and control access to their users, risked stifling innovation and balkanising the web.

RCOM partners with Google, offers free data with every Android device

Reliance Communications has entered into an exclusive partnership with Google wherein RCOM will be marketing the Android devices to promote the usage of Android platform in India. As a part of this deal, company will also provide 1GB of free 3G data with every Android purchase in the country.


This offer will be valid on Google branded Android devices from companies like Samsung, HTC, Sony Ericsson and LG. RCOM has stated that the free data will be available only for one month and can only be availed in the company's 13 3G circles, which include Delhi, West Bengal, Mumbai, Himachal Pradesh, Kolkata, Bihar, Orissa, Rajasthan, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and North East.

It also plans to introduce expert customer care, carrier billing, exclusive apps and content in addition to the dedicated Android experience zone at Reliance retail outlets across the country.

Similar tie-ups have been seen in the past where companies like Aircel and Bharti Airtel exclusively launched Apple's iPhone in India.

The company has also launched a huge marketing campaign for the Google Android products in India which is expected to be supplemented by a similar campaign from Google.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

India set to test new Agni V missile next week


Scientists are preparing to launch the nuclear warhead-enabled Agni V, with a range of more than 5000 kilometres (3100 miles), between April 18 and 20, a Defence Ministry official with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Friday on condition of anonymity.


Only the permanent members of the UN Security Council - China, Russia, France, the United States and the United Kingdom - along with Israel, are believed to have such long distance missiles.

The launch will be closely monitored by India's nuclear-armed rivals China and Pakistan and by Western countries, but is unlikely to draw the kind of criticism aimed at North Korea after its own failed long-range rocket launch on Thursday.

India has a no-first-use policy and says its nuclear weapons and missiles are for defensive purposes only.


"India's missile programme is not directed against any country. The missiles are purely for the purpose of deterrence," said Ravi Kumar Gupta, a senior scientist and director at the government-run Defence Research and Development Organisation that developed the rocket.

"No first use has always been our policy," he said.

The Agni V is designed to be the most advanced version of the indigenously built Agni series, the defence ministry official said. It is powered by solid rocket propellants and can be transported by road.

India has tested several missiles in the past few years as part of its programme which started in the 1960s.

Friday, April 13, 2012

India places order for Electronic Warfare system with a Canadian company

In a bid to strengthen its Electronic Warfare (EW) system, Bangalore-based Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE) has placed an order with a Canadian company for supply of high tech electronic equipment.


DARE has placed the order, worth USD 3-4 million, to Montreal-based Ultra Electronics TCS to supply a shelter-based, mobile simulator system including an integrated antenna array and Ultra EAGLE 0.5 40 GHZ ELINT receiver.

"We are very pleased to announce this award and anticipate follow-on business, given the growing demand for both EW and tactical communications equipment in India.

"Ultra TCS's EW systems are ideal for markets requiring state-of-the-art, competitively priced equipment," said Iwan Jemczyk, President of Ultra Electronics TCS, said in a statement.


The complete system would be used in a test environment to evaluate aircraft EW radar capability and provide an opportunity for pilots to assess the equipment's functionality, specifically the effectiveness of countermeasure techniques.

The EW system would be integrated at Ultra TCS facility in Ottawa and then shipped to the DARE facility in Bangalore in late 2013.

Ultra Electronics, TCS, part of the Ultra Electronics group, is a global leader in tactical communication systems, including high-capacity radio communications and electronic warfare (EW) systems.

Ultra TCS supplies dependable, reliable and powerful communications equipment for tactical military and defence system applications.

AICTE becomes Microsoft's biggest cloud computing client

Microsoft announced its biggest-ever customer for cloud computing - software that it hosts on behalf of clients and delivers over the Internet - after winning a contract to provide free services to the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).


Microsoft, which was built on the sale of expensive software that is installed on individual computers, has been forced by competition from Google and others to branch out into the fast-growing world of cloud computing.

The U.S. software giant said on Thursday it would provide its Live@edu communication and collaboration software to more than 7 million students and half a million teachers through a deal with the AICTE.

The service, which Microsoft is providing for free as part of its education initiative, includes email, Office Web applications, instant messaging and storage.

For users, cloud computing is inexpensive and simple, because it removes the need to spend time and money on installing software and managing servers.

Large government departments are prime targets for vendors such as Microsoft and Google.

Last June, Microsoft unveiled a revamped online version of its hugely profitable Office software suite.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

India one of top performing clean energy economies: Report.

With Indian receiving $10.2 billion investments in clean energy, the country has emerged as one of the top performing clean energy economies in the 21st century, an eminent American non-profit organisation said in a report.


The Pew Charitable Trust, in its report, said India's clean energy sector continued to flourish in 2011, with private investment increasing 54 per cent to $10.2 billion, placing the country at number 6 spot among the G-20 nations.

This was the second highest growth rate among the G-20 nations, The Pew Energy said in its research report released here on Wednesday.

"On a number of measures, India has been one of the top performing clean energy economies in the 21st century, registering the fifth highest five-year rate of investment growth and eighth highest in installed renewable energy capacity," said Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew's Clean Energy Program.

"The country holds great potential in the Asia/Oceana region and will continue to be a top destination for private investment this year," she said.

Clean energy investment, excluding research and development, has grown by 600 per cent since 2004, on the basis of effective national policies that create market certainty, Cuttino added.

India's " National Solar Mission", with a goal of 20 GW of solar power installed by 2020, helped drive the seven-fold jump in solar energy investments, to $4.2 billion, the report said, adding the country received $4.6 billion and an additional 2.8 GW of capacity was installed over the course of the year.

India now has 22.4 gigawatts of installed clean energy generating capacity, it noted.

"The clean energy sector received its trillionth dollar of private investment just before the end of 2011, demonstrating significant growth over the past eight years," said Michael Liebreich, CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Pew's research partner.

"Solar installations drove most of the activity last year as the falling price of photovoltaic modules, now 75 per cent lower than three years ago, more than compensated for weakening clean energy support mechanisms in a number of parts of the world," Liebreich said.

Globally, investment grew to a record $263 billion in 2011, a 6.5 per cent increase over the previous year, the report said.

The US reclaimed the top spot among all G-20 nations and attracted $48 billion. However, with $45.5 billion in private investments, China continued to be a hub of clean energy activity - leading the world in wind energy investment and deployment as well as wind and solar manufacturing.

Germany received $30.6 billion ranking third among G-20 nations.

The combination of falling prices and growing investments accelerated installation of clean energy generating capacity by a record 83.5 GW in 2011 bringing the total to 565 GW globally.

This represents almost 50 per cent more than installed nuclear power capacity, the report said.

6 startups that could be the next Instagram

Facebook's willingness to pay $1 billion to buy the 12-person start-up Instagram has Silicon Valley venture capitalists happily re-doing their math on the potential value of hot young companies.


The fact that Facebook was the buyer is itself seen as a big plus for the valuation of startups that may be adding subscribers rapidly but in some cases are still far from being profitable or ready for the public markets.

Until now, "it's really just been Google ," said Jeremy Liew, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners who backs LivingSocial and others. "You really can't get an auction with only one bidder."

The price paid for Instagram, a company with no revenue, will also make it easier for potential acquirers to justify spending big for something perceived as strategic, according to Jeff Clavier, managing partner at SoftTech VC.
Some venture capitalists think Instagram was a one-off. "It's certainly an outlier from a valuation standpoint," said Matt Murphy, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers who manages its $200 million iFund. "There was a big strategic concern or threat there" for Facebook, he said.

Investors also caution that the dynamics that enable so-called Web 2.0 companies like Instagram to gain huge numbers of customers very quickly can also cut the other way.

One need only look at Highlight, a location-based social application for iPhones that was all the rage early last month and is now almost forgotten, or even Turntablefm, which lets far-flung friends listen to music together and has lost buzz after acclaim last summer.

Still, companies with certain characteristics -- massive growth in users or a competitive edge in mobile applications, for example -- could be in the hunt for a 10-figure payday. Here are some of the hottest prospects:

PINTEREST

What it is: A virtual pinboard that lets people easily assemble pictures and other bits of content online. Users follow each other, Twitter-style, and comment on each others' pins, which can include anything from hot cars to vacation destinations. The nature of the content makes it e-commerce-friendly, and tremendous growth over the past six months puts it at the heart of the social networking revolution.

"If anyone wanted to make a counter-statement to Facebook, Pinterest would be a good way," said Clavier, who is not an investor in the site.
Funding to date: $37.5 million from Andreessen Horowitz, Bessemer Venture Partners and others.

An investor told BusinessInsider last month the company was now worth $1 billion, up from the $200 million valuation it claimed in October at its last funding round.

Key fact: User base has grown to 19 million from 2 million in just six months, according to comScore Inc.

Who are these guys: Founders Paul Sciarra and Ben Silbermann met at Yale. Half the 200 emails Silbermann sent to his friends asking them to join Pinterest at its launch went unopened.

TUMBLR

What it is: A blogging service that allows for mixed media posts, such as pictures with short captions.

"It's in the same space as Pinterest," said John Lilly of Greylock Partners, who worked on the $50 million funding round that Instagram wrapped up just before its sale to Facebook. "But it's significantly bigger than Pinterest is on almost every single metric."

Funding to date: $125 million from Greylock, Sequoia and others.

In September 2011, Tumblr was valued at $800 million.

Key fact: High level of engagement, with users creating 14 original posts each month on average, Tumblr says.

Who are these guys: Founder David Karp, doing Harvard drop-outs like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg one better, quit the Bronx High School of Science at age 15. Spark Capital and Union Square Capital were two of Tumblr's earliest investors, as they were at Twitter.

EVERNOTE

What it is: Software that lets users take notes -- including written text, copies of web pages, or photos -- and then access and search them from anywhere, including phones.

Evernote would make a good acquisition for a company that needs to bolster its cloud capabilities, such as Hewlett Packard Co , said a venture capitalist who did not invest in Evernote but wishes he had.

Funding to date: More than $95 million from DoCoMo Capital, Sequoia Capital and others.

Around the time of its funding round last summer, the speculation was that Evernote would join the $1 billion valuation club, but according to TechCrunch it did not quite make it.

Key fact: 26 million users.

Who are these guys: The research team is led by Stepan Pachikov, who once worked on the handwriting-recognition technology in the Apple Newton. Internet maven Esther Dyson and PayPal cofounder Max Levchin have sat on the board since 2006.

DROPBOX

What it is: A service that allows users to store and share files easily online.

Like Evernote, Dropbox could be a good acquisition for a company that has fallen behind in cloud-based services, but it would be a lot more expensive.

Funding to date: $257 million from Index Ventures, Greylock Partners, Sequoia Capital and others.

Dropbox's last funding round in October valued the company at around $4 billion, according to media reports.

Key fact: 1 billion files are saved every 3 days on the service, the company says.

Who are these guys: Co-founders Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi both attended MIT; Ferdowsi dropped out.

PINGER

What it is: A free text and talk service that operates independently of wireless carriers. The service provides a telephone number when you sign up to make phone calls; the number can connect to public telephone networks.

Pinger works across platforms, including Apple Inc's iOS and Google's Android. A disruptive technology in the telecom sector, Pinger could be an attractive buy for a major carrier such as AT&T or Verizon .

Funding to date: $19 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, DAG Ventures and Deutsche Telekom.

At its last funding round earlier this year, the company did not disclose a valuation.

Key fact: One of the top five installed apps on Apple's iOS platform.

Who are these guys: CEO Greg Woock used to work for the Virgin Group's Sir Richard Branson; a representative from T-Venture, Deutsche Telekom's venture-capital arm, sits on Pinger's board.

SPOTIFY

What it is: An online music service that was launched in Europe before coming to the United States. Spotify offers free accounts that allow users to play specific songs -- unlike other music services that only allow users to pick stations or genres -- as well as premium subscriptions.

Some are disappointed in Spotify's sales of premium subscription, but others say value lies in its reach. Amazon.com or Google could be potential acquirers.

Funding to date: $189 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Accel Partners and others.

Spotify is raising money now at a valuation of more than $3 billion, according to media reports.

Key facts: 7.5 million U.S. visitors just a year after its U.S. launch, according to comScore. Partnered with Facebook for a streaming music service.

Who are these guys: CEO Daniel Ek founded his first company at age 14, building websites for small businesses. He and co-founder Martin Lorentzon built up Spotify from their native Sweden. Sean Parker, the Silicon Valley consigliere who guided Facebook and co-founded Napster, has played an active role and sits on the board.