Monday, December 12, 2005

After a long break...

It feels good to be back blogging. I do not intend to blog about my work, but work and leisure and everything else is so interconnected that it is hard to keep one from affecting another. I am a grad student and at this point I feel kind of stuck, not going anywhere. I am at a point in my studies where a difficult transition needs to be made and things are a bit stressful. Anyway, I hope to keep a good pace of postings here on.
Last Monday I had the chance to visit Michael Mazgaonkar here at our local A.I.D chapter. He had come to give a talk about his work. Michael has been living with Vasava tribals in Gujarat for last 14 years. Becoming one with their life and culture he and his wife are trying to maintain things that are wholesome and nourishing for their culture and introduce things that will make their life more easier. Sunil has a couple of posts that describes Michaeal's work very well (here and here). This article also summarizes their work very well. The day after the talk, I and another volunteer from our chapter had the chance to accompany Michael to visit a Ted and Kathy Carns. Ted and Kathy live in Laughlintown, PA. For last twenty something years, they have been living completely off the grid. They power their home with wind and solar power. They heat their home with wood. They grow a better portion of their food themselves. They drive their vehicles on ethanol made from maple syrup Ted collects from their trees and some waste sugar they get from a local pie factory. Their home is built from local stone and wood. Ted has a sawmill that he powers with the ethanol too.

Visiting this couple was like visiting another world. The extent to which they refuse to be dependent on things which we kind of take for granted is really amazing. Their whole life is just one big experiment in living in a non-conventional way. Another thing that struck me about them is the amount of creativity that goes in living a life like this. A lot of the things Ted has installed come from things that would otherwise end up as junk. They buy a lot of stuff from flea markets and yard sales. In Ted's words they are living off of the "great American excess". They themselves generate very little waste in their home.

Ted learnt most of his skills from his father while growing up. Without any professional training he has managed to learn just about everything that is necessary to find solutions to problems he has faced. When faced with a problem or when he has a new idea, he pursues it by digging up books and researching the internet for solutions.

I was so stuck in this top-down perspective of education that I found it very difficult to believe how this could be done without having some sort of training first. I felt that there is always a need for a teacher and student, a leader and a follower. Ted believes that it is just a matter of overcoming the fear of doing things on your own. Once you overcome the fear, learning comes naturally. This was such a big change of perspective for me that I can't even begin to describe my thoughts about it.

One aspect of Ted and Kathy's life interests me most as an engineer is the low-cost innovation. Simple innovations which are low cost and which can be easily implemented can have very huge impact. An example from Michael's work is the LED flashlights they have developed which are powered by the windmill. As an engineer I feel there is a lot I can contribute to this. By making these low-cost innovations open-source, there is a possibility to spread them effectively to areas (such as rural India, Africa etc.) where they are really needed. Initiatives like ThinkCycle have been experimenting with this process for a while now and it will be wonderful to see where this "open source design" concept goes.
Talking about open source, I tried Open Office 2.0 and totally loved it. I plan to make a complete switch to it as soon as I can. I am really impressed by all the amazing products the open source movement has brought forth (all the Mozilla applications, Open office and all the the publishing platforms like Wordpress etc. and whole host of other things). I want to try Linux (I am a total dummy in that regard) and some other open source products now.

Anyway, that about sums up a lot of things that happened in the break...

Happy Holidays everyone!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Can Markets Protect the Environment?

It has only been a short while since I got really interested in environmental movement and issues related to it. Till now my interest and involvement had been only superficial and will stay on that way for a while. Until now I have been more of an environmental "sympathizer" rather than an activist. In my opinion you have to "proactively" try to change things in your life and your immediate environment to be an activist. Blogging about it or reading about it doesn't count. I am however trying to use my blog as a meeting place of ideas I encounter and post about things I have learnt. One of the ideas that I have recently come across is "Free market environmentalism" [FME].

Proponents of FME argue that current methods pursued by the environmental movement focus too much on the government taking care of the environment. This means lobbying for new laws and stricter regulation for protecting the environment. FME proponents say that the government is very inefficient in doing the job and it can be better accomplished by utilizing the power of free markets. FME advocates propose market based measures like use of well specified property rights for protection of natural resources. Nature Conservancy is one of the leading organizations which is using such measures. It has purchased large areas of property (more than 117 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of river around the world) which are ecologically important for conservation.

There are many other market based approaches which are being tried. Some of them are trading of carbon credits to reduce CO2 emissions, Socially responsible investing [SRI] or green investing. Green investing is really interesting because it gives people the power to invest in companies which have implemented socially and environmentally responsible practices and in companies which are developing alternative energy sources. SRI philosophy does not stop at simply screening companies on the basis of their policies. SRI also advocates community investing and shareholder activism as further steps. As shareholders of a company you get to vote on the policies and direction of the company. A large number of environmentally conscious shareholders can then influence the company policies. Sierra Club has started its own green mutual funds to foster this idea.

There was one thing that struck me while reading about FME. The wikipedia entry on the subject lists several objections to the concept. One of the objections goes as follows:
The conservation of endangered species not necessarily achievable using the free market, especially where there is little economic value in the species in question. For example: there might be only limited profit to be made from a piece of land by maintaining it as the habitat of a rare beetle, whereas alternative economic uses for that land (which might be deleterious to the welfare of the beetle) - such as building a parking lot on it - might yield a greater profit. This objection (impliedly) assumes that the beetle has some innate value (even irrespective of its role in the ecosystem which, by definition, must be limited), an assumption which is not unproblematic, relying as it does on a conception of natural rights which has been comprehensively rebutted by thinkers such as Jeremy Bentham (who famously described the idea of inalienable natural rights as "nonsense on stilts").
I strongly believe that ecological niches which harbor rare species have innate environmental value even if they may not have "economical value". It may be because of my philosophical beliefs, but I find it very hard to deny any sentient being the right to exist simply because it does not have any economic value to humans.

I recently came across an article in India Together by Rajani Bakshi, about Green Investing in India. Although the idea is in its infancy in India, it is slowly growing roots. Bakshi gives a nice analogy for the slow transformation of the market through SRI or "mindful markets" as she calls it. It is the analogy of transformation of the caterpillar into a butterfly. Here it is in her own words:
"Let us reflect a moment on that phase when the caterpillar has turned into a seemingly inert and dull chrysalis. But inside that chrysalis an incredible revolution is taking place. Within the amorphous pulp of the erstwhile caterpillar new kinds of cells begin to appear which some scientists call imaginal cells. It is these cells which carry the code, the pattern of the yet to be formed butterfly. The old caterpillar cells, naturally resist these alien cells and fight back. But the imaginal cells are determined little fellows. Gradually, the old cells get the message that they are not being threatened with destruction. Instead the imaginal cells are an invitation to be transformed into an incredibly beautiful new creation. Thus the butterfly comes into being.

The striving to foster Mindful Markets is today akin to those imaginal cells. So it is perfectly understandable if, at first, the idea of fundamentally re-programming markets seems destructive, anti-profits, some kind of fluffy romantic non-sense."
Truly beautiful!

While I agree that markets and market based approaches will definitely be needed to further environmental causes, I don't agree that relying on the power of free-markets "only" will lead to all the solutions. An ideal free market may indeed be able to protect the environment in the most effective way and to the fullest of human ability but even in the "free-est" of countries markets are far from ideal.

Some good blogs I came across regarding this topic: The Commons blog, Environmental Economics

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Decentralized Energy Production in India

I came across two posts about decentralized energy economy on EnviroPundit and Event Horizon. Both of them are featured at the first edition of the Carnival of Greens. Decentralized energy production means
"single (or small groups of) households/businesses produce their own energy through a variety of small localized sources (like small wind turbines, solar panels, fuelcells etc.)."
Both of these posts outline the concept very clearly and in detail. The main factors which make such a concept more and more feasible are:
  • Development of alternative energy sources which have high efficiency.
  • Development of high efficiency energy storage systems.
  • Developments in lighting, heating and air-conditioning equipment which are efficient, use less energy and can work on alternative energy sources.
  • Increased cost of conventional energy. This is providing the economic incentives to consumers to switch to alternatives.
  • Rising threat to energy security from terrorism. A centralized energy generation/distribution structure is more vulnerable and the effects of an attack can be widespread.
In the US and Europe large centralized distribution grids are already in place and this may have some drag on switching to a decentralized structure. In developing countries like India, where the grid has not even reached many areas, decentralized generation shows great promise. Efforts are already underway in many areas. Here are some examples:
  • I came across this post by Sunil which talks about Michael Mazgaonkar's work with the Mozda collective at Juna Mozda in Gujarat. Living with the villagers in Juna Mozda for past 12 years, Michael and his wife Swati have done some remarkable work. Now they have built a small wind turbine to provide electricity to the village. [Mozda Collective website, India Express article]
  • A small micro-hydel power generation project in Bilgaon in Maharashtra, which was funded in part by A.I.D (an organization I work with). Bilgaon is a small village in the Narmada valley. The villagers assisted by activists from NBA (Narmada Bachaon Andolan) built a micro-hydel power plant. (This was in part an inspiration for the story line in the Hindi movie Swades). [Frontline article]
  • The tribal energy project by SuTRA (Sustainable Transformation of Rural Areas) to generate energy locally using biofuel - straight vegetable oil (SVO) produced from Honge seeds (Pongamia Pinnata, 'Karanji' in Hindi) which is also available locally. [Articles 1, 2 in Good News India]
All of these projects are in deep rural/tribal areas where the state grid has not reached. They demonstrate the potential for localized generation. These projects have materialized due to the efforts of small NGOs who are dedicated, who have worked in the area for long period of time and developed a bond with the local people. The local people in each case took initiative and stepped in to pick up part of the cost of implementing the projects. In all these project the local people also contributed by means of "Shrama daan" (work donation), which means they provided free manual labor for these projects.

The power distribution in India is controlled by state electric boards. There is shortage of power everywhere in India and there are rolling power cuts. In past these power cuts used be random and businesses and households were at the mercy of the electric boards. Recently the electric boards started publishing a time table for the power cut in the local newspapers. Businesses typically have small generators which run on petrol or diesel to use during the power cuts. When I went to India this summer, I noticed that many people have installed batteries and inverter in their homes. They charge the batteries when the power supply is good and run the inverters during the power cuts. The unreliable power supply is already supporting a small industry which produces generators, batteries and inverters. In cities decentralized production can be made to work and I think there is whole industry that can grow up based on this.

As the cost of renewable sources goes down, individual households, businesses or even housing societies and colonies can implement small projects which will meet their energy needs. Each location will need a different and customized solution based on their needs. There is huge business potential for companies which can provide a full suite of energy generation systems (wind, solar, biofuel, fuel-cell etc.) along with appropriate energy storage and distribution systems. Companies producing the components of these systems such as wind turbines, generators, solar panels, batteries etc. have a huge room to grow. There is a potential for a service industry too, to maintain such systems in good condition.

The main hurdle (and most important one too) is the economic incentives. The main incentives are the saving in electricity bills and reliable continuous power supply. The cost of implementation for these projects is relatively large. So initial projects will have to be targeted towards housing societies or small industrial parks etc. Pilot projects which demonstrate reliability and cost savings can help to attract more people towards such schemes. Companies can tie up with builders and housing developers to implement these projects as a part of new housing schemes.

There is huge scope for innovation in this area. If it is money lying on the sidewalk, "Why hasn't someone picked it up?", I wonder!

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Friday, November 11, 2005

State College Starbucks Rises Up To The Challenge

Fair Trade Blend
The Starbucks challenge [::] is now in 26 states in USA, 12 countries across the world. As many as 164 challenges have been taken and 145 bloggers participating [ feed]. Read more about the challenge and regular updates on what action Starbucks is taking on the issue, on Green LA girl's blog.

As for my part, I would give the State College Starbucks (located at the corner of Burrowes st. and College ave.) a good grade. I took the challenge three times this past week, including one this afternoon. The first time the barista (who probably was new) blurted out the list of blends they were brewing at that time. But another barista behind him quickly intervened. "But we can make a French pressed cup for you if you want", he said. So the new barista asked me which blend I wanted and I showed him the Cafe Estima blend, which BTW they had been displaying prominently for a few weeks now. The sad part was they didn't have the French presses in the store at that time. They had some meeting of some sorts and all the French presses were taken to make some coffee at the meeting. So after about 10 minutes of wait the barista graciously offered me a free coupon for any drink I wanted and a cup of regular coffee, which I gleefully accepted.

The second time, I was with a group of friends. One of them never goes to Starbucks but we had dragged him along. He drinks nothing but fair trade. I told him about the challenge and he agreed to try it with me. So we both asked for fair trade coffee. This time there was NO PROBLEM at all. The barista told us that she'll have to make a French pressed cup and it would take four minutes (just as they are supposed to according to Starbucks memo). Few minutes later we had steaming cups of fair trade served at our table.

Fair Trade BlendThe third time, the store was really crowded. Initially I was inclined NOT to ask for fair trade coffee. There was only one barista working the espresso machine, another one at the register and a third one was taking orders down the line. But by the time she came to me, another barista showed up at the register. So I decided to go for fair trade. The barista asked me if I wanted the beans or coffee to drink. I said I wanted a tall cup to go. There was no problem, she asked me to wait till she makes the French pressed cup. Then she went around the store looking for the coffee bag. I had spotted it while I was standing in the line. They are not displaying the cafe estima blend anymore. It has been replaced by "Christmas Blend"... holiday season is here! She came back to me and said they don't have the fair trade blend in the store. Apparently the barista was looking for the actual "Fair Trade blend" Starbucks' only certified coffee until recently. I picked up the bag of Cafe Estima and showed her the fair trade label. "Oh! You want the Estima blend", she goes. I got my coffee five minutes later.

Estima BlendI dunno if any other challengers have faced this confusion. Starbucks online store says that they have only ONE fair trade certified coffee [link], the Fair Trade blend. The online store does NOT say that Cafe Estima blend is fair trade certified. I guess many people don't know about fair trade label and there is more confusion because of the actual "Fair Trade blend". As far as I am concerned it doesn't matter. As long as it has the fair trade label, any coffee is OK. Is there something Starbucks can do about it? May be tell their employees about the label and what it means. In general as the awareness about fair trade grows this problem will go away on its own.

From the latest posts by Green LA girl, it seems that the message from Starbucks memo hasn't trickled down to a lot of its stores. But here in Nittany Lion country it seems like they got it right away and they are following it to the word. Good job! Starbucks State College. If Cindy from Starbucks is reading this, please give the people in this store a pat on the back, so that I can continue to have great service and nice fair trade coffee!

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Climate Change & State of Confusion

Global WarmingI completed reading State of Fear a week ago and was for a while at least in a 'State of Confusion' about the whole climate change/global warming issue. After a lot of wrestling of ideas in my head and lot of reading things on the internet, I want to put forth my thoughts just so that I clear up some of the confusion and try to achieve clarity.

First of all, about the novel itself, I wouldn't really rate it as a great thriller. The plot is pretty straightforward without any major twists. The story in short is -
'An environmental extremist group is trying to trigger a string of catastrophes across the world to turn world attention towards global warming. This group is being funded by a lawyer, Nicholas Drake (*the villain), who runs an environmental organization. The villain lawyer is trying to get a well meaning wealthy philanthropist, George Morton, to finance his evil schemes. An MIT professor who is also an undercover agent (*the hero) tells the wealthy philanthropist about the villain lawyer's plot. The philanthropist suddenly gets killed in an accident. The undercover agent/professor along with another lawyer, Peter Evans (*the Prius driving, well meaning common man who has been duped and brainwashed by the global warming hype) and a hot secretary (both working for the philanthropist) try to foil the plot (successfully!)'
There aren't any surprises or any great turns in the story that I expect from a thriller. So as a novel, it is not so great.

The MIT professor turned undercover agent is the "clear headed realist". He is the vehicle Crichton uses to drive home his opinion about climate change. In between fighting the bad guys in Antarctica, Arizona and some remote island in the Pacific, the professor tries to educate everyone about the reality behind the global warming hype. He is a walking encyclopedia of studies to quote from and statistics to cite. Crichton actually gives references to scientific studies as footnotes in the novel. (here is a good article about those footnotes BTW)

He has added an author's message and 2 appendices to further elaborate his points. Here is my attempt to summarize the message the novel sends:
  1. The global warming theory (rise in global temperatures due to increase in greenhouse gases) is not supported by hard scientific data. Global data show many contradictions which do not consistently support a warming tend. Sea levels aren't rising as predicted. Global climate models are in wide disagreement about how much the temperatures will rise globally (which in Crichton's opinion is further proof that we know zilch about this stuff).
  2. Overzealous scientists have used selective data, unverifiable computer models and speculation to perpetuate the hype that global temperatures are indeed going to rise.
  3. Politician, lawyers and the media are now using the hype to control the population by keeping it in a "state of fear".
    "In reality, for the last fifteen years we have been under the control of an entirely new complex, far more powerful and far more pervasive. I call it the politico-media-legal complex. The PLM. And it is dedicated to promoting fear in the population - under the guise of promoting safety"
    ... says a character, who is also a professor, in the novel. The latest fear on sale - 'the global warming hype'.
  4. The universities have been hijacked by the PLM complex and have now become exporters of new fears to feed the public.
In Crichton's opinion environmental organizations have turned into fearmongers, perpetuating the hype of a global warming doomsday scenario to raise funds.
"You can't raise a dime with it, especially in winter. Every time it snows people forget all about global warming. Or else the decide some warming might be a good thing after all. They are trudging through the snow, hoping for a little global warming. It's not like pollution, John. Pollution worked. It still works. Pollution scares the shit out of people. You tell 'em they'll get cancer, and the money rolls in. But nobody is scared of a little warming. Especially if it won't happen for a hundred years."
...says the villain lawyer, Nicholas Drake, who heads the environmental organization NREF in the novel.

So where do I stand on these things? Do I fully understand the issues the novel raises? Should I take Michael Crichton's word on this issue? Let's think of this some more...

I don't agree with the complete message of the model (as explained above). Michael Crichton has a big and obvious incentive to exaggerate his basic thesis so that the novel sells. So, I don't really buy that we are living under the control of PLM complex or that universities have turned into fear factories or that environmental organizations have formed a nexus with fund seeking scientists. I think all that stuff in the novel is just to sensationalize the thing.

In my opinion the people who want to debunk the theory (oil companies, loggers, miners etc.) have lot more money than environmental groups. So why is the theory still being discussed? If money was all that was needed to buy scientists and get them produce results to agree with your opinion, we wouldn't have been discussing global warming at all. We would instead all be driving Hummers through Yellowstone.

The basic argument is about the theory of global warming. It all boils down to a few basic questions:
  1. Is there accurate data that warming is indeed occuring?
  2. How much warming can the rising level of carbon dioxide and other green house gases cause?
  3. Since the previous question can only be answered by computer model predictions, how accurate or reliable are these models? Can they reliably model past data?
  4. Is the warming occurring due to natural causes yet unknown to us? How do we know for sure it is/ is not?
  5. If the temperatures are indeed rising what steps we can take towards stopping it? How effective these steps can be?
I do not have the expertise to answer these questions and am seeking the answers myself. There are however many fine sources out there which can give answers to these question. Two of them that I found recently are Real Climate and Climate Science. Real Climate actually has a couple of posts regarding the novel [1 , 2 , 3]. These blogs are by scientist in the field, who (I believe) know much more about the issue than Crichton does.

BUT, in my opinion there is another very very important question that I ask myself and to you.
IS global warming and the FEAR of a doomsday the only reason for us to care about the environment? Is fear the only motivating factor behind going green?
I believe the answer to that is "NO". I consider myself as someone who cares about the environment. I believe that we should act to change our lifestyle, consumption patterns and philosophy such that environment we live in and ecosystems of which we are a part, are taken care of and sustained. BUT I don't think my desire to do so is motivated by a fear of a global warming doomsday.

Imagine whole populations of China, India and Africa consuming resources at the rate at which the average American consumes. The energy demand will be gigantic and our current means of supplying such a demand are inadequate. Even if we could supply so much energy through conventional means it would cause huge and irreversible damage to vast ecosystems across the globe. What effects will such a damage have on the world? Will we be able to live with such a damage? Will these effects be necessarily harmful? Will they cause a doomsday?

Even if we don't know the answers to these questions, wouldn't it be wise to looks for ways which don't cause the damage in first place? Doesn't it make sense to look for long-term, sustainable alternatives? Doesn't it make sense to find solutions which won't cause large irreversible harm to the environment? I believe it does. The reason it makes sense is because it gives us (and by us I mean ALL of us - humans, plants, animals... everyone) a hope for future.

Crichton however, doesn't believe in that resource crunch stuff.
"I think for anyone to believe in impending resource scarcity, after two hundred years of such false alarms, is kind of weird."
..he says in his author's message.

I think if we invest in alternative technologies and sustainable practices, there is a very good chance that we will indeed never have a resource crunch. But for that to happen, action is necessary on our part. There may be groups out there who are putting up billboards saying: "REPENT! global warming is coming". Their hearts may be in the right place, but I don't think selling fear is helpful. I think all those out there who are taking concrete steps towards cleaner-greener alternatives are messengers of hope. They are people motivated by hope not fear! I hope to be one of them.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Monday, November 07, 2005

Blogging Evolving

I was just going through some of the first posts on my own blog. So much has changed about this blog since I started blogging in February this year. Observing the process of evolution of my own blog and also observing myself change as a blogger is fascinating.

A lot of things have changed in the technical sense. I played with different templates and finally settled on this one (mainly because it has a lot of room for future change). I started tagging my posts with technorati tags. I can now monitor the traffic and see what people are reading on my blog. Speaking of technical stuff, there are some things I wish blogger should have. So here is my wish list:
  • Categories: Blogger should definitely introduce categories. It helps organize posts much better. I checked out a couple of hacks which say it can be done. But I didn't like the round about way of doing it.
  • Comment posting: I like blog conversations. I like to respond to comments by posting a comment myself. But I wish there was a way to do this without having to visit my own posts. I wish I could post comments (as replies to comments by others) the way I post... posts! If Blogger introduces something like that it would be cool. I know that there is a comment moderation thing now but that's no good (at least for me!).
  • Feed: Blogger should definitely update the default atom feed. I have started using feedburner but the feed validator says the original feed is an older version. Not that it is causing a great problem, but since this is a 'wish' list...
  • A blogroll: Currently I am using blogrolling, but it would be great if blogger has an inbuilt blogroll and link roll.
Many things have changed in subtle ways too. I feel my style of writing is slowly changing and evolving too. I want to use my blog as a tool to organize my thoughts. When I get interested in an issue I go out and read about it and learn more about it. This generates a lot of ideas in my head. I want to use my blog as a meeting place for my ideas.

I am going to try and experiment with this. I am going to pick issues that interest me and write posts on them. I already go and read about things that interest me. Writing about them will add another layer to this process. It will help me connect things into a coherent picture.

Well... just a quick look back and now going forward again.

Technorati Tags:

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Proud (Foster) Parents

... of a baby elephant. She's on TV!
Lualeni with the Keeper

Here is a photo of Lualeni with her keeper. For more photos click here.

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust [::] runs a nursery and a fostering program for orphaned elephant babies in Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. We fostered a little baby elephant, Lualeni, as a gift to my wife on her birthday this year. Lualeni was only 4 months old when she was found abandoned and wandering alone, rejected by other herds. Her mother was probably a victim of poaching. Lualeni, who is now 7 months old, found a new home with the family of orphan elephants being cared for by the trust.

The BBC featured the work of the trust in their documentary "Elephant Diaries", [website | watch trailer] which followed the progress of these elephants over the course of a year, documenting their steps back into the wild.

A clip [watch it here] from the documentary, which features our little baby Lualeni has now been nominated for best TV moments for the year 2005. It is about a football (soccer) game that these elephants play to bond with each other. It's really amazing. Please vote for this clip here (look under clips for the months July & August '05). The documentary will also be shown on Animal Planet in March 2006 as a 90 minute program. (more details)

While little Lualeni is happy with her friends, enjoying her daily forays for feeding and mud-baths, we are happy and proud to see her do just that! I am sure she is gonna grow up and be a matriarch of a big herd!
Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Update! Update!

:: The IIPM story and the 'blog war' that followed gets more coverage in mainstream media and it is now producing some sensible results.
  • Mark Glaser of Online Journalism Review[OJR] has a detailed article in which my post about the string on institutes associated with IIPM gets a mention.
  • Business Standard has an article by Kanika Dutta.
  • The New York Times[NYT] carried the IIPM story [same story also on CNET news here] in its Technology section.
  • CNBC-TV18 ran a story in India which stated that IIPM didn't have permission from the University Grants Commission [UGC] to offer BBA and MBA degrees. This story brought IIPM under the UGC scanner [read details here]. AICTE too has issued a notice to IIPM. The blog noise has finally created some real action and hopefully IIPM will learn a lesson and clean up its act.
[More about IIPM story in the media here, here and here.]

:: Meanwhile here in the US, the Starbucks challenge awards were announced and version 2.0 of the challenge has been launched. At PennState I learned today that Higher Grounds cafe in the HUB serves shade grown, organic, fair trade certified, Seattle's Best coffee everyday.

:: The Carnival of the Greens is now on [read details about submitting entries here]. A lot of carnivals are going on around the blogosphere currently. Some interesting ones from the Indian Blogosphere are Bharateeya blog mela and SCIAN melt. Do check them out.

:: Over the weekend I saw a piece of standup comedy by an amazing desi comedian, Russell Peters. Check it out online (you may need a hi-speed connection for this). This guy is hilarious! Haven't laughed so much in a long time.

:: Finished reading State of Fear and will post about it soon. It made me think a lot about nature, environmental movement and whole host of other issues. For a while after reading the book I was definitely in a state of confusion about these things. Hopefully as I try to gather my thoughts and build my opinion about it, the confusion will reduce and clarity will emerge. In the meantime here's a funny post from Arzan's blog.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

Friday, October 28, 2005

Currently Reading: State of Fear

State of FearWell, I was actually reading "Naked Economics" and I'm not yet done with it. So why the change you ask? Here is the story in short.

A couple of weeks ago, I had read this article in BBC magazine about "State of Fear", Michael Crichton's latest novel. This one ran into some sort of a controversy. Crichton apparently argues in the novel that "climate change" is just another hoax perpetrated by few overzealous scientist and environmental extremists. Crichton believes in his theory so much that he has added footnotes citing actual studies in the novel and has added a 32 page "appendix" where he explicates his views on "pseudo-science" behind the climate change. Opponents of climate change have been quick to recruit Crichton to their camp. He was also invited to testify before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works about his views on climate change (yup! That's what it has come to... a fiction author testifying about climate change).

It sounded crazy enough to give it a try. So I went to my local library to check out the book. Turns out ALL copies were taken and I was put on a waiting list. Well... a couple of days ago my turn came and I have 3 weeks to read the whole thing. So my economics lesson is on the hold for a while and "State of Fear" is "ON" Tags: ,

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Blog Quake Day: Shake the Blogosphere

Blog Quake DayDesipundit has announced a new blogosphere initiative to help raise funds for the victims of recent earthquake in Pakistan and India. There are many organizations which are providing relief to the victims. You can find a list on this post on Desipundit. PLEASE spread the word by posting about this effort on your blog, on your emails lists and donate to one of these organizations.

Here is a partial list of links:
I work as a volunteer with A.I.D (Association for India's Development). AID-India is also actively involved in earthquake relief efforts. AID-Delhi chapter is participating in the relief work by teaming up with local organizations and NGOs such as Goonj, Sadbhavana Trust, Asha Ashram to send relief supplies, tents, medicines etc. to J&K. AID has already sent $ 15000 for immediate relief supplies.

We are also raising funds for long term relief and rehabilitation efforts. AID-India has substantial experience in disaster relief and has supported many relief and rehabilitation projects in Gujarat after the Bhuj earthquake and after the Tsunami.

Do visit AID website to learn more about our relief efforts.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Starbucks Challenge Update

Starbucks ChallengeThe Starbucks challenge started by Green LA Girl and CityHippy is in its final week. I am really impressed by the efforts put in by Siel (green LA girl) and CityHippy into organizing and coordinating this. It inspired me to read and educate myself a bit more about fair trade movement.

The way the challenge unfolded has been amazing. Here is how it turned out:
October 4, 05: Starbucks challenge announced by green LA girl and CityHippy

October 6, 05: "No fair trade for you". I challenge the local Starbucks without luck. Meanwhile many other bloggers all over US and UK join the challenge and visit their local Starbucks to get a cup of Fair Trade coffee.

October 7, 05: Cindy from Starbucks' corporate social responsibility department contacts Siel

October 7, 05: I challenge the local Starbucks again. This time I specifically ask for a French pressed cup. Success! I get my fair trade coffee but have to pay the venti price (by default) when I specifically asked for a tall small cup.

October 9, 05: Lot of bloggers are joining the challenge (tracked by feed here) and reporting similar patterns in the response from baristas.

October 10, 05: Starbucks press release says that the week (Mon 10/10 - Sun 10/16) is Fair Trade week. Cafe Estima (Starbucks' only fair trade certified blend) will be brewed the whole week. True to their word I did get fair trade certified coffee in the local Starbucks that week.

October 10, 05: Siel has her first chat with Cindy from Starbucks.

October 15, 05: In a communication with Siel, Starbucks admits a breakdown in customer service regarding serving fair trade coffee.

October 24, 05: Starbucks challenge enters its final week. 69 bloggers have joined and posted their experiences about 89 challenges. ( feed here)

October 25, 05: Starbucks sends email communication to all its US stores reminding them about the "coffee press on request" policy. (Siel's post). I am really impressed with the local Starbucks. I went there on the 24th and asked for fair trade again. This time there was no problem, the barista promptly told me to wait for a few minutes and I was able to get my cup of fair trade coffee without any problems. I didn't have to pay the "venti" price by default.

October 26, 05: Today! The last I checked the feed was tracking 178 links.
So there you go! A simple initiative shows how blogs can be used effectively as a medium for collective action. It shows how such action can be well coordinated (kudos to Green LA girl and CityHippy) and effective. So if you haven't challenged your local Starbucks already, challenge on!

If you were not aware about fair trade coffee and related issues, here's your chance to educate yourself about it. Find out if any of your local coffee shops serve fair trade coffee. In State College e.g. Webster's bookstore and cafe serves "shade grown, organic, fair trade certified" coffee year round. That's the ONLY coffee they serve (and at a price far more affordable that Starbucks I would add).

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Flying Spaghetti Monster is Coming!

It's amazing the crazy stuff you may find while browsing the wikipedia...

image credit:

Pastafarians believe that the universe was created by the supremely intelligent Flying Spaghetti Monster. This is the oldest known depiction of the Flying Spaghetti Monster [FSM] creating the world as we know, starting with mountains, trees and midgits. Bobby Henderson, a Physics graduate from Oregon is the prophet of Pastafarianism and has taken it upon himself to spread the message of the Noodly Lord.

Henderson claims that there are 10 million believers of his faith. He also wants his version of creation to be introduced in school as an "alternative view" along with intelligent design. In an open letter sent to the Kansas School Board Henderson says:
If the Intelligent Design theory is not based on faith, but instead another scientific theory, as is claimed, then you must also allow our theory to be taught, as it is also based on science, not on faith.
Pirates hold a very important place in the history of Pastafarianism. Henderson shows that the rising global temperatures can be correlated directly with the dropping number of pirates. He demands that their beliefs be taught in "full Pirate regalia", citing that the Monster gets really angry if we won't.

Pastafarianism is slowly becoming quite popular. Pastafarians have sent letters to school boards of many other districts requesting them to include their creation theory in the curricula. Other elements of the faith are not yet very clear and would probably become clear soon, once the transmission for the Noodly Lord is received. Pastafarians strongly believe that the Monster continues to guide humanity with His Noodly Appendage. Prayers to the FSM are typically ended by a rousing "Ramen" instead of the traditional "Amen". True believers cite many reasons to join their ranks including these:
  • Flimsy moral standards.
  • Every Friday is a religious holiday. If your work/school objects to that, demand your religious beliefs be respected and threaten to call the ACLU.
  • Our heaven is WAY better. We've got a Stripper Factory AND a Beer Volcano.
After I stumbled upon this stuff my first reaction was, "Who is this nuthead?" Actually Henderson has found a clever way to oppose the introduction of "intelligent design" in school curricula. His idea is, "If you can't beat 'em join 'em."

Do check out the website!



Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Half Bad Job at Covering the IIPM Story

I am not a pessimist. I like to say that the glass is half full, but in this case it simply was not meant to be. So lets look at the "half full" part first. The coverage of the story in the mainstream media [MSM] so far has been really bad. Today Outlook-India covered the IIPM story today in an article by T. R. Vivek.

This is the most detailed portrayal of the IIPM affair in the MSM so far. The bloggers who uncovered key facts about IIPM founder, M.K. Chaudhuri's background and about IIPM's sister concerns [1, 2] are also mentioned, including a screenshot of Gawker's blog.

Then, halfway through, the article takes a curious turn and focuses on the bloggers. Mr. Vivek offers a lot of insight into the mindset of the Indian bloggers. He says:
The Indian blogging community (or blogosphere, as it likes to call itself) is essentially a bitchy, self-indulgent and an almost incestuous network comprising journalists, wannabe-writers and a massive army of geeks who give vent to their creative ambitions on the internet. Given that the average blogger-age is 25 years, it's clear bloggers love to indulge in hearty name-calling and taking college-style potshots at others. This is probably why some of them get into trouble.
To me this sounds like an utterly baseless generalization, made without taking a serious look at the "Indian blogosphere". Mr. Vivek is however entitled to his own opinions. He should also check the facts though, especially when he uses them to support his claim. He uses two examples, the first one is that of the Swiftboat veterans for truth thing. The other is the CBS - Dan Rather - incident, about which Mr. Vivek says:
In another instance, bloggers questioned CBS News' credibility over the memos purportedly alleging preferential treatment towards President Bush during the Vietnam war launching a flurry of discussions across the country.Dan Rather, the blogger, had to soon apologise for the story.
I guess he forgot to check if Dan Rather was "the blogger" or CBS news anchor. Actually, didn't the bloggers expose that the memos were fake? "Google skills" crash course Mr. Vivek?

Here are some observations:
  1. None of the journalists in the MSM have actually tried to investigate IIPMs claims in the advertisements so far.
  2. All the reporting covering IIPM story has raised questions about the role of blogs, whether they come under the IT act, etc.
Though concerns about role of bloggers are legitimate, it seems that the media is trying the make bloggers the focus of the story for a reason. That way, while taking the credit for covering a sensational story, it doesn't have to go after IIPM and verify the claims made in the advertisements. The media want to have it both ways and that is simply tragic.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Friday, October 21, 2005

Astrologer defies death, kills his business instead.

Ok! So I had read this story about an astrologer in India predicting his own death, in the Reuters' "Oddly Enough" section. Today I read in the same section that the said astrologer actually did not die. This astrologer, Kunjilal Malviya, is apparently very good at his work. Testifying to the accuracy of his predictions, his son was quoted saying:
"My father had predicted the death of my grandfather 15 years ago and it came true exactly like he calculated."
Police were posted to prevent this man from killing himself. Hundreds of people had gathered to to see if his prediction would come true. Now, who are these sick idiots who flock to see if a man really dies or not? Although some of them were there to pray for his life, others probably gathered to bolster their belief in astrology. Kunjilal's family later said that he defied death because of the prayers offered by people.

While the astrologer managed to evade death he definitely killed his own business once and for all, when his prediction did not come true. Although I am happy for the man and his family, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed by the outcome. Don't get me wrong... I am not wishing ill for the man in any way, but if indeed he had died it would have been the first time I actually witnessed an astrologer's prediction coming true. So far it has always been, "yabbut... my friend's friend did actually fracture his leg as predicted by the jyotishi."

Astrology has a very strong hold on people in India. Having ranted about astrology before on this blog, I will simply say this, "I hate astrology". I don't mind people who have "faith" in astrology or other assorted pieces doo-doo. A man can have "faith" in any damn thing he wants and believe me there's all kinds of crap going around the world. There are people who believe humans were planted on earth by aliens and all the stories about Gods and demons in various mythologies are actually about the alien overlords. There is this Time Cube guy, Gene Ray, who believes that there are 4 simultaneous days in one single earth rotation. He has even offered $10000 to anyone who disproves him! These things are simply impossible to prove or disprove. So the only basis to believe in them can be faith.

What irks me about people who believe in astrology is that they are always trying to prove how it is a real science. IT IS NOT A SCIENCE. If only it was so easy to settle the debate about this by simply blogging it. Inspite of the actions of organizations like the Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (committee for eradication of superstition) [ANS] in India, this scourge is not going to go away any soon.

BTW, Amit Varma of India Uncut has a post on the same subject. Also check out his other posts on astrology that he has linked from his post today.

Oh! and the article says at the end:
But in the past, crowds have beaten up astrologers when their predicted demise failed to occur.
Apparently these people believed in astrology so passionately, that they took it upon themselves to bring the predictions into reality. Mera Bharat Mahan!

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bloggers or Journalists?

India Together has an article today by Darryl D'Monte about the role of bloggers. "Are bloggers parked, or driving media in new directions?", asks Mr. D'Monte. Blogs are popular in the west but in India their popularity is limited. A very small percentage of population has regular access to the internet and only few of those write or read blogs regularly. Among those who have simply heard about blogs, there is a perception that blogs are simply an online "journal" or a "diary" where people talk about mundane stuff and occasional "dear diary" moments. The reporters and journalists are slightly more aware and some of them are bloggers themselves.

In India too however, bloggers are doing things which mainstream media[MSM] generally doesn't. Mr. D'Monte in his article talks about Dina Mehta (blog), a blogger from Mumbai, who through a blog she helped create, was able to help the victims of Tsunami in Asia and more recently the victims of hurricane Katrina. She used her blog to help put those who wanted to provide aid, in touch with those who needed it. Outlining the importance of the blogs in the article, Mehta says:
"It's technology with a heart. We don't actually give help - we provide information and communication. We're not even an NGO, in that sense. We offer Communication, Coordination, Collaboration and Community."
Mr. D'Monte acknowledges the growing importance of the blogs in his article. He say:
" is true that with the mainstream media dumbing down with a vengeance and looking to their bottom line rather than people who live at the bottom, bloggers are very much in business. They are telling it like it is, rather than what media barons decide is politically or commercially more convenient."
He also talks about the recent IIPM incident and the blog war that followed to highlight the growing importance of blogs. It is true that bloggers are doing things that investigative journalists are supposed to do. During the IIPM incident bloggers unearthed important facts about IIPM's international claims, its sister concerns(1, 2) and about the background of its founder. Why didn't the journalists do it? I have a theory about it. Here goes...

My newly acquired (and half baked) understanding of economics says "incentives matter". A journalist has to weigh the costs of doing a story (time and efforts invested) against the returns (increased readership). The cost of doing a full fledged investigation is large and so are the returns. However the journalist can keep turning out stories which do not require as much investment of time and efforts as a full fledge investigation and still get a reasonable readership. That way the journalist can also cover a lot more stories (because each story takes less time and effort). Full fledge investigation may also carry hidden costs like defending yourself against claims of slander and possible threats to burn down stuff. The returns on a full fledge investigation may be high but maybe not so high as to provide a good incentive to the journalist to pursue it.

Bloggers on the other hand are not journalists (i.e. we have day jobs to pay for food etc.) But once in a while they can and do act like journalists and go out and hunt down facts. They have a big incentive to do the investigative stuff. It increases the traffic to their blogs manyfold. Also bloggers do investigative things when they believe in a story and are motivated to support a cause.

At least in India the mainstream media has a chance to use this in their favor. Their greatest advantage is their reach. TV, Radio and newspapers reach far more people than blogs do in India. So keeping track of the blogosphere and picking up stories like the recent IIPM story can work to MSM's advantage. The media till now however has not realized this I guess. The reporting of the IIPM story was just plain bland in Indian media. They tried to play it safe I guess and didn't go and actually check the claims made by IIPM in their ads. Some did not even mention the article by JAM, which was the cause of the whole thing.

I don't think MSM is going to go away because of blogs. It is definitely going to change a lot, in many ways which I can't even imagine. So to answer your question Mr. D'Monte:
Bloggers aren't parked. I don't think each individual blogger is blogging to drive anything anywhere, but collectively we are surely going to drive a lot of things (?)... including driving many people nuts.
BTW, this just in through Gawker's post today: Here's what InstaPundit and DNAIndia have to say about this stuff. Also check out The Hoot's take on it.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Truth is ONE

I read an article about Dr. David Suzuki in the NYT today. Being a novice to a lot of things related to the environmental movement ("a tender green" if you will...), I had never come across his name or work. It's amazingly inspiring! Another accompanying article, [may require free registration to NYT] about 10 steps recommended by Dr. Suzuki for reducing our ecological footprint is also good. My curiosity was aroused enough to go and check out the website of ::David Suzuki Foundation. It is a nice website with a lot of information. One thing I found particularly interesting is "::The declaration of interdependence".

I read a lot of Zen philosophy in the last couple of months. I noticed that the declaration of interdependence has a lot of similarities with zen teachings, especially those of ::Thich Nhat Hanh. The ::5 mindfulness trainings of Thich Nhat Hanh summarize the zen ethics derived from the principle of interdependence or 'inter-being' as Nhat Hanh puts it.

The declaration is also very similar to the ethics of ::deep ecology. I am not sure if Dr. Suzuki based it on the ::principles of deep ecology, but deep ecology has very strong connections with the environmental movement. So there may be some relation there.

It also reminded me of the following quote attributed to Chief Seattle:
This we know: All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself.
I came across this quote while reading the book "The Web of Life" by Fritjof Capra. This quote also talks about the same basic idea: the deep interdependence of all things living and non-living.

Isn't it wonderful how different people: a biologist, a Buddhist monk and a native American leader, all basically talking about the same idea, basically discovering the same "platonic truth". A Sanskrit hymn goes:
एकम् सत्।
विप्रा बहुदा वदन्ती॥
which translates roughly as, "The truth is one. The wise address it with different names". These different statements about "interdependence" are a glaring proof.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Monday, October 17, 2005

Currently Reading: Naked Economics

Naked EconomicsNaked Economics by Charles Wheelan lives up to its pitch: "Undressing the dismal science".

I studied a subject called "Economics and Industrial Psychology" in my undergraduate study in India. It was a really really boring. The textbook was amazingly dull and could have worked very effectively as a sleep aid for an insomniac. The lectures used to be... well I don't know how they were... coz I don't remember attending them ;-). The only thing I do remember is barely scraping through the exams.

Anyway, so economics somehow never registered as an interesting topic in my memory. But my interest was aroused by some of my latest readings on the fair trade movement. I realized that many of the terms thrown around didn't ring any bells. Terms like "market based solution" and "inefficiencies in the market" and "market barriers" only symbolized indecipherable financial lingo used by well dressed "analysts" on TV. So I went to my local library and hunted down a book that will explain "economics in plain English". So far this book has done just that in a very very readable, entertaining style. Still reading the book, but will point a couple of interesting things here.

:: The author, Charles Wheelan, is the Midwest correspondent for The Economist. So checked out the website for The Economist. Now this is a weekly magazine which you can subscribe to. So you need to be a subscriber to access the premium content online. But the website gives you an option to view an online advertisement and get a free one day pass to the premium content online. You can do this pretty much every day. This, according to my recently acquired knowledge of economics, is aligning the incentives of the advertisers to those of the readers. I had to click through three pages of the ad to reach the homepage. This amply ensured that the stuff being advertised (CISCO products) registered in my brain. In return I got to read all the premium content. I wish NYT would follow a similar model instead of the 50 bucks a year "Times Select"

:: My second observation: The author, in the third chapter, tries to explain "externalities" associated with economic decisions (in this case, his purchase of a SUV). He says:
"...Nor do I have to compensate asthamatic children who will be made worse off by the exhaust I generate as I cruise around the city getting nine miles to the gallon. And I have never mailed a check to the people of New Orleans who may someday find their houses underwater because my CO2 emissions are melting the polar ice caps. Yet these are the real costs associated with driving a less fuel-efficient car."
This book was published in 2002. I wonder what kind of shock he must have felt when he saw the horrible aftermath of hurricane Katrina this September. It must have been terrible to see ones own written word come true so literally. I still haven't read the whole book, but Charles Wheelan does appear to be sensitive to many of the environmental issues of the day.

So far, an all round good read about economics. Suggestions about similar books on the topic would be welcome.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Carnival Comes to Bloggersville

Carnival of the CreenCity Hippy and TriplePundit bring to us ::The Carnival of the Green. A carnival is an event that takes place periodically among blogs with shared subject matter. You can read more about the details about this carnival here and here.

My experience with Starbucks challenge and the recent IIPM matter on Indian blogs is that collaborative efforts on the blogosphere can draw attention to a particular issue. Many times people who do not know anything about an issue will stumble across it when a large number of blogs are posting about the issue. There is strength in numbers indeed.

Such collaborative efforts all help to increase knowledge about the issue. My own experience with Starbucks challenge helped me learn more about fair trade movement. I will be following this carnival of the green closely and hopefully host it on this blog someday.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

All Shades of Green

A random walk through the green blogosphere.

It would be a shame if your aren't familiar with the term blogger by now! The term Green needs a bit of an explanation here. I have no special attraction to that color (or any other color for that matter). I am in no way affiliated to political parties named after this color or religious groups symbolized by the color. It just so happens that vegetation (meaning trees, shrubs, bushes and such) which is (and hopefully will be) widely prevalent on this here earth, comes mainly in motley shades of green. It turns out that such vegetation is a VERY important link in the web maintaining all the other life forms.

Therefore Green is the epithet applied to all things (even remotely) associated with the protection/preservation of the natural environment. Ergo the following hodge podge definition:
Green blogger (noun adjective combo!) Homo sapien privileged enough to access the world wide web, using their spare time to write about environmental issues, sustainability, green lifestyle, environmental activism, sustainable energy etc.
Not surprisingly, I found out that the crop of bloggers writing about all things related to the natural environment also come in all shades of green.

I am just starting out as a blogger and wanted to find out other blogs related to topics of interest to me. In my search for green bloggers, I first came across GreenThinkers [GT]. I liked their idea that their blog is a place or forum to think is discuss "all things green". Next I came across Sustainablog, by Jeff. It is a nice blog that has links to many other green bloggers. While posts on GT tend to be small interesting bits pointing out to green events happening around the world or in the green blogosphere, Jeff's post on Sustainablog are more involved and detailed. Jeff posts on many aspects of the environmental movement. For a while I was just following the posts on these two blogs.

Then one day, I came across a post on Sustainablog about the Starbucks challenge, presented jointly by greenLA girl[GLG] and city hippy. So I visited these blogs to find out more. GLG's blog is mostly about fair trade & organic movement and ethical consumerism. City Hippy describes his blog as "The diary of our struggle to live a green and fair life." I found these blogs to be really interesting. Inspired by them I took the Starbucks challenge myself. I found that collaborative efforts like the challenge, promoted through blogs to be really effective. The Starbucks challenge generated a substantial response from bloggers all over. Eventually Starbucks also took notice of it. You can read the details on GLG's blog post.

Ethical consumerism is a new term that I encountered on these blogs. Some blogs post regularly on "ethical consumerism" basically about 'how you can make choices as a consumer which will be consistent with the objective of preserving the natural environment'. City Hippy's posts are many times related to this. Another blog TreeHugger that I now follow fairly regularly also posts on this. LazyEnvironmentalist is a blog that is dedicated solely to ethical consumerism.

There are many more green blogs out there focused specifically on specific issues. Like the alternative energy blog or the Greenpeace blog (which has really amazing posts from their ongoing campaigns). I plan to follow some of them (depending on how much time I can spend).

But overall, I think my first foray in the green blogosphere has been really productive. I have learned a lot and found out that the world "live" web has a lot more to offer than simply hot air from a bunch of people working their keyboards.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Media Picks Up the IIPM story

The mainstream media has picked up the IIPM story. They have been very slow and they have done a really bad job of covering the story.

Here is the Indian Express story. They didn't even get the complete picture and don't mention the JAM article at all. Same goes for the Delhi Pioneer article (accessed through Google cache). The Hindustan Times article does a better job. Incidentally, Delhi Pioneer and Hindustan Times seem to have contacted the same lawyer to weigh in on the issue. NDTV story does mention JAM article fleetingly. NDTV also featured the story on its TV channel.

All this is good but these stories are appearing in city editions and obscure places where very few people will read them. Further none of them actually try to check veracity of IIPM's claims in the print ads, which is what mainstream media is actually supposed to do - unravel the truth. Instead they are simply narrating a bunch of events.

All the blog posts (including this one) are fine. All these posts will ensure that anyone searching for any information online about IIPM will come across this story. What will really change things though, is some mainstream newspaper or TV channel verifying the claims made by IIPM in their ads. Irrespective of the outcome of such a fact-finding enterprise, it will take this story to its logical end by bringing the facts out in the open. Sadly Indian media doesn't seem to be ready for such a thing yet!

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Thursday, October 13, 2005

A Web of Deception?

Gawker continues to explore new aspects of the IIPM story today and has a post about a string of schools in Europe associated with International Management Institute [IMI], which IIPM calls its partner. Gawker noticed some curious similarities in the websites of IMI and its partner organizations namely; Barcelona Business School [BBS] and European Business & Management School [EBMS]. In fact these websites were so similar that Gawker had to conclude:
"Eerie? Hell yeah! I don't know about you, but I sure think this daisychain of interconnected institutes, each existing ambiguously on the internet with no information other than the fact that they claim to churn out a large number of high quality MBA graduates seems extremely suspicious to say the least."
The degrees offered at IIPM are actually conferred by IMI and do not come under the purview of AICTE, UGC or other state acts, a fact brought to you by the JAM article.

All this sounded really fishy, as aptly put by Gawker. So I decided to scrutiny the websites of these three institutes (IMI, BBS, and EBMS) further. Gawker had already pointed out similarities in faculty pages for IMI, BBS and EBMS. In fact they are the same word for word, except the names of the schools. None of them list any faculty with names and contact information. Here are some more facts I found:

The "Studying at IMI", "Campus" page at BBS and "Students" page at EBMS; all have exactly same content.

The teaching philosophy pages are also the same for the three schools. Check it out for: IMI, BBS, EBMS

The program descriptions are also similar (word for word). E.g. check out the description of the BBA program at the these schools: IMI, BBS, EBMS

The courses for the BBA program are also the same. The names of courses... everything is same: IMI, BBS, EBMS

Well, these schools are partners so they must be sharing the same course materials, same programs and same teaching philosophies etc. There is no big problem with that right? I guess so.

But hold on... IMI and EBMS both have same contact address, phone numbers and both have campuses in Antwerp and Brussels, as we can see from their contact pages (IMI, EBMS). So, could it be that there is just one school with two websites and two different names? Why? I don't understand this.

Now you will say, "So what? What about BBS? It is physically at a different place (Barcelona) and has a different name too." Very well. I presume it must be having different students too. I think it is highly improbable that these schools located at different places can have the same students. But guess what... different students studying at different schools have surprisingly come up with "exactly the same" testimonials [IMI, BBS, EBMS] singing the glory of these schools. Or was it that "BA graduate from Russia" simply attended all of these schools and found that they are really the same. Curiously none of these students seem to have any names or addresses.

So what? Maybe students didn't come up with good testimonials. So these schools decided to come up with their own and share. What's a little sharing among partners?

Actually I am pretty much convinced that IMI and EBMS are actually one and the same... two names, two websites... one school. Their students look awfully similar to each other as ascertained by links to the same student party pictures from both websites (here and here). Same for their Egypt tour 2004 pictures. But what about BBS then? Do they have similar looking students? Well I dunno about that, but their Turkey 2005 trip seems to have gone on exactly the same route, with exactly the same people as IMI's Turkey trip.

Now either these schools are taking the meaning of "partners" to a whole new level by sharing student photos, testimonials and all the other stuff on their websites OR they are up to some sort of a scheme here. I don't know how IIPM chose IMI as its "partner" but they surely seem to have one similar quality. Both of them are using some really suspicious information (in their advertisements - for IIPM and on their website - for IMI) to catch students and rake money.

IMI, BBS, EBMS, IIPM: all partners in a web of deception? I leave that for you to judge.

My posts on media coverage of the IIPM story: [1] [2] [3] [4]
IIPM in the media: [I.E.] [Pioneer] [H.T.] [NDTV] [IndiaTogether] [Outlook] [Business Standard] [CNBC-TV18 online news: 1, 2] [New York Times]

Technorati Tags: , , ,