Thursday, October 1, 2009

Facebook Invades Orkut the Google Run Social Network

The Google run social network, Orkut is by far the most popular social network in India. It's where high school and college students, and young professionals hang out. According to Alexa Orkut is #4 top most visited site from India with Facebook at #5 trailing closely behind. Facebook gaining promenence in India is very recent. A lot of people did not want to get on Facebook, and there are still some who are not on Facebook. All this can change with the Orkut connect via Facebook.
I logged into my Facebook account to find that I can connect to my Orkut friends on Facebook with three easy steps. Here are the steps:

Facebook steps to add Orkut friends.There was a big message on top of my profile to connect with friends from Orkut and it seemed easy enough when I clicked on the link for the steps. The tools to connect to Orkut friends from Facebook has been there for a long time, like through the Friend Finder API as seen on the Lapnol blog. Now those friends who are in Orkut will also be a part of your Facebook as well, you just have to click!

It's only a matter of time before more Orkut users switch to Facebook. I'm pretty sure Facebook can take over the #4 seat from Orkut once more people from India use and get more of their friends to join and stay on Facebook. What's ironic though is it's a Facebook API that runs on Orkut site and matches those users on Facebook and connect friends together.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Understanding Myanmar

Following Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's trial as a Burmese made me mad, hopeful, happy and sad all at the same time. I regularly follow stories about Myanmar but I've paid special attention to this story since it broke in May. I wanted to see more news analysis, coverage, and understand the issues behind it before the verdict. I couldn't really find proper posts or articles that gives the big picture and puts the story in context. Disappointing -- yes, but not surprising. Coverage surged after the verdict because of the reaction of world leaders.

Myanmar is a country that exists in a glass dome. Isolated from the world, it almost has its own laws of physics. "Burma experts" are an entirely different species even in the academic circles. The country's laws, rules, customs, and culture is not easy to comprehend. Add to that, everyone has their own notions or opinions of Myanmar. I know a lot of you are saddened and angry at the verdict but for those of us who know the country, this is no surprise. Here's a break down of what happened.

The Context
Myanmar is in the midst of government led 'reforms'. Assemblies have been drafting the constitution since I was a kid in the '90s. That constitution was voted in as a referendum in May, 2008. Miraculously, it was approved with 99% votes in the middle of the the biggest natural disaster in the nation's history. Because of this referendum, we now have a constitution, which means the election process can start. The elections are scheduled for 2010. If Suu Kyi runs for the election, or even help the NLD it can mean chaos in the nation. Technically, she can't run because she was married to a foreigner. We've all known about the clause in the referendum since the late 90s.

John Yettaw
There's a lot of people who are angry that some American came out of the blue because of a 'vision'. Most Burmese will not say it out loud because they're polite, diplomatic, or don't want to taint relations with Americans. The timing's so perfect that conspiracy theorists are saying that it might be all planned. He's a perfect instrument for the government to use so that there's a rift between the pro-democracy movement and their American supporters. Most pro-democratic funding does come from America and Europe. Dropping him like a hot potato was no surprise either. We don't want attention, and worse yet, with his fragile health, we don't want him to die in captivity. Besides, we can't treat him for his PTSD, bi-polar, or anything else he might have. Releasing him was the best solution for all parties involved.

The Law
No matter how ridiculous it may be, the law for reporting overnight visitors is very clear, and very serious. You're required to report overnight visitors with proper ID etc. at the ward or township offices because it's a risk. It's a way to deter harboring terrorists or rebels. Besides, anything can be a 'technicality' in a political case. If the government can outlaw an entire constitution, what is a small section of a law going to do?

The Trial
August is a hot political month for Myanmar. BBC reported that there were in-decisions within the leadership, the matter is not as simple as that. The historic 8.8.88 uprisings happened in August, which placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest to begin with. If the verdict was held anywhere near that date, the government had uprisings to worry about. A lot of twitter folks were surprised that she was found guilty. Do you really think they'd let her lose in the middle of a highly anticipated election? Were we surprised that she got it easy. The whole deal about clemency was the government's way of saying to the world: "We hear you, but we're not going to bend our ways just because you want them to. We still run our own country."

The Coverage
I was surprised to see BBC reporting live, having in-depth commentary and making it into their feature story. Folks online really didn't care until UK came online. That's the only reason why "Aung San Suu Kyi" became a trend on Twitter. It wasn't trending when the story initially broke because people were still getting out of their beds. UK is #2 country that use twitter most, with London (where a lot of activist organizations are headquartered) being the top city. I was expecting only a couple minutes on the headlines. I was disappointed however, that the Indian media almost missed it. It came on the headlines only after it became a popular news story, and only for the 15 second headline blip spot. I don't blame the TV producers for it, it was those dissidents who were in cities like Delhi or Kolkata who should've been more prepared. They should rely less on the west and start concentrating on having the message heard in the east and global south more -- especially in ASEAN nations. If any change is going to come, it needs to be with the help of these nations. We have the closest trade and diplomatic ties with them.

If you want to read more of my rants on Myanmar here's another post.

Use Social Media to Fight Plagarism and WIN!

Dark ComputerI wrote about plagiarism and how it is so common in the work place a couple of weeks ago. Sure enough there was another big story on the horizon. There's a very popular food blog in Delhi, Eat Out in Delhi that's run by Hemanshu Kumar. We've heard about it because we've read the reviews in Time Out Delhi. Being big foodies, we love reading, watching, and talking about food. I personally love the fact that the Delhi National Capital Region has more things available (which are even delivered to your doorstep).

The story of plagiarizing EOiD blog started with a classic Indian outsource scheme. SpiceJet outsources its content needs of their in flight magazine, Spice Route to Maxposure, which then outsourced it to Hirak Gautam, who is a freelance writer, who happens to be a 'chef' at a Delhi hotel (I'm assuming it has some stars). The supposed author, instead of doing his own homework searches reviews on Google (or directly went to EOiD site) and manufactured his own version of reviews, et voila, there's an article made! Easy right? After all, what are the chances of people reading 'print' on a flight reading 'online' articles or blog posts?

Last week, a regular reader of EOiD found the article on Spice Route. It was practically copy-pasted from the EOiD blog, without credit to Hemanshu or EOiD. The reader then took a picture and informed Hemanshu. He posted the story on EOiD and there was an immediate out cry in the Indian twitterverse. With comments going up on EOiD post about the case. Hirak Gautam, the so-called "author" was forced to set up his own Twitter account and reply for his mistake. The excuse? He was on a deadline. A representative from Maxposure also commented on the EOiD post saying, "strict action will be taken on this issue". The next day, Mail Today published a story on EOiD about the SpiceJet fiasco. According to the article, Hemanshu is demanding compensation and a published apology. You can read more about the story here.

We were all excited and spoke about the case extensively at the Gurgaon tweet up last night. We were more excited because we watched the story happen and tweet and spoke about it to our online friends, and twitter followings, in a sense we WERE part of the story and community.

The three lessons I take from this sorry mess:
1. Plagiarism gives freelancers a bad name. It gives India a bad name. It gives outsourcing a bad name. There's a lot of talented writers, chefs, and Indians out there and they all write their own original pieces. Not everyone is a horrible lazy writer (aka douchebag). If you are, you should change your profession -- I don't care if you're a kickass chef with connections. You should just remain a chef. (No offense to my kickass friend chefs who write their own pieces, you know who you are.)

2. Editors in India need to be proactive. Spice Route does have editors ya? What were they doing? Don't they check facts or check the copy? Stop being cozy in your 9 to 5 job and start checking the damn copy for real. You're as accountable as the guy who copied it. The article would've never gone to print if the so-called editors were doing their job. There IS a "job" attached to the title you know. (Frankly, I'm surprised that EOiD was as polite and peaceful as they've been in handling this. If it happened in my friend circle, the people/companies involved would've been flamed, torched, and burned left and right.)

3. Things can change, they have. And yes we can! As consumers of social media, it is our job to inform the community when we spot stuff. If the reader who was on the plane didn't inform EOiD, the story would've never gotten out. We can use the power of social media to improve our world.

Jeanne said last night that, "As consumers of social media, we shouldn't be tweeting for tweet sake but help bring about awareness and change." This is what open web should be doing.

We're still waiting on how this story is going to resolve itself. The ball is in Maxposure/SpiceJet's court now. Keep your eye on @eoid for updates.

Photo by: Rebecca Jackson

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What makes your readers click through?

Reading the Newsweek article about a study on how being right handed or left handed affect our decision making process had me thinking about placing buttons and links on a website so people click. There is a reason why people click on certain links and not others. Take a moment and think of those annoying pop-up ads. Have you ever clicked them by accident then realize a moment later and go, "DOH!" -- that's when your brain automatically takes over because you're so used to clicking certain messages on your computer. Of course, the word that you're linking counts, too. Read this Copyblogger post to know more about that.

When I took over the newsletter department for a job, increasing clicks was one of the biggest challenges. I had been managing blogs and knew nothing about email marketing. Our boss wanted a huge increase in clicks, my immediate boss, a veteran in the industry thought it was near impossible. Both of our jobs were on the line. I had a theory that colors played an important role in click psychology, not just words. For the demographic I was working with it was easy to know what colors will get most amount of clicks, all I had to do was look at magazines like Martha Stewart Living. Proving my theory to both my bosses was another challenge. Working with a legacy template, I had to literally cajole tech to track individual links so we knew what each link was doing. Or else we would be flying blind for any changes done to the template, no matter how subtle it seems to the end user. I went under the radar, hand coded each newsletter, stripped legacy junk coding that got the email stuck in filters. Sometimes you have to fly under radar to get the job done.

Once the figures came in though everyone was happy. Clicks increased, some weeks better than others but it was an upward slope. Eye balls and clicks means dollar signs in Internet marketing. Your content writer or web editor should be aware of what's going to bring in clicks and more visitors whether you're writing a web copy, email copy, or a simple blogpost. And if they make it work, they can not just recover the cost of your email marketing operations but can literally float their own salaries.

Same thing goes with social media buttons, where are you placing them so that you get more tweets, bookmarks, and eventually more traffic? Is it on the right hand side or left hand side? Bottom of the post or the top, or both? Are the colors, font, and images recognizable or is it becoming noise to the reader? Think carefully but don't put buttons everywhere and over do it. Sometimes too many buttons and too many ads can be a turn off.

Photo by: Jared

Monday, August 10, 2009

Blog Management: Managing Comments Pt. 2

Photo of Comment BoxComment management tools help you save time and weed out spam comments and spam trackbacks. Some tools also help you promote your blog across multiple sites like Twitter, Facebook, etc. They help you verify the identity of the person who comments by having them log in through OpenID or Google. If you don't already have comment management system on your blog and you're thinking of installing one, you should keep the following in mind when you're choosing a system.
1. Make sure you're familiar with the system because you're going to be the one handling it, unless a site admin does it for you.
2. See if the company you're going for is going to be there for a while and not shutdown shop a couple of months down the line.
3. If you're satisfied with the system that comes with the blogging platform you have, you don't really have to change. Just because everyone is doing it doesn't mean you have to do it, too.

Having said all that, if you want to still put them in your blog, here are the five tools that will help you manage your conversations. First thing I did was to check them against each other so that I know how popular they are. Here's a snap shot of what the figures say:Comment Management Tool StatsI encourage you to check their sites and play around before you change your blog. Don't forget to back up your blog before you change things!

1. Disqus
I use Disqus to manage comments on this blog. According to it's the most popular tool compared to the other four. It had a steady incline in traffic and seems to be doing very well. It works on most blogging platforms and it didn't take a lot of tech skills to get it installed on this blog. I like the fact that you can integrate a lot of services like Facebook Connect, OpenID etc. It gives my users a lot of options as to where they want to login or not and comment.

2. JS Kit
I found JS Kit through Jeanne's blog actually. It had a lot of visitors a couple of months back but it seems the traffic has decreased. Just like Disqus, you can login using your OpenID, or Twitter account to comment. It's tied up with one of the biggest blogger networks: Blog Catalog - which can explain why it's so popular.

3. BackType
I was really surprised that BackType isn't doing so well. I heard about it from Robert Scoble. I think the reason they're not getting a lot of visitors is because they're not compatible with platforms like Blogspot. I think BackType's developers are working on it though. Blogspot users tend to be folks who have been blogging for a long time, and those who focus on content rather than the bells and whistles of coding.

4. IntenseDebate
I've seen IntenseDebate here and there but mostly on Wordpress blogs. Besides the usual features of a good comment management tool, the have a neat little voting system so that the best comments are moved to the top. I thought that was interesting. Who wants to read 20 comments if you can just read the top best ones right?

5. coComment
I used to use coComment when I had to track a lot of blogs/personalities. It was the only management tool that I used then. Frankly, I'm surprised and disappointed that they're traffic isn't anywhere near Disqus -- but that can change depending on what kind of services that they're incorporating in the future.

Photo by: massdistraction

Tools for Your Blog: Managing Comments Pt. 1

Funny Blog comment Photo by Scott Beale/Laughing Squid
Comments and conversations are the building blocks of social media. They happen on any site you logon. They happen on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. They used to happen as IRC, forums, MySpace comments, and blog comments. It's the way people interact, share stories, have flame wars, introduce themselves, meet new people -- and generate ideas. Conversations also build community, reputations, brands, and spread awareness of whatever that you're doing or promoting.

Comments are an integral part of any blog no matter where the conversation happens. Most of the conversation on this blog happens on Facebook and Twitter. No matter where your conversation ends up happening, the starting point is always your blog.

If you're thinking of starting off in building a community around your blog, here are 8 Steps to Growing Your Blog Community one Person at a Time by Ben Yoskovitz. It's an old post written even before MyBlogLog was bought by Yahoo. But the principles still hold true and you can apply them for Facebook, or Google. Fast forward to the Twitter age -- we still need conversations despite having them in 140 characters or less at a time. So how do we plug into the stream of conscious with all these sites and all these conversations happening at the same time? What if we don't have time to manage an influx of spam comments? Simple: get a comment management tool.

I was going to write just one post on this but there's a lot of topics to explore. Next up is, which blog comment management tool you should be using. Stay tuned.

Photo: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Online Reputation Management Service RapLeaf Changes Features

RapLeaf Logo
When I checked my email this morning, I got an email from RapLeaf saying that they're phasing out one of their features on the 17th "due to low demand". They gave me an option to opt-out.

RapLeaf started out as a personal online reputation management tool and evolved into a service that gets information about people on the web for businesses and consumers. I signed on it reluctantly in June, 2008 because I didn't really have a choice -- they had my information up already without my permission. After I "claimed" my profile, I forgot about them until today. My first impression was that they were a bogus company since they just copied my information on LinkedIn.
I don't really like seeing my info up without my permission. These days it's pretty easy for a company to get or make a program that traverses the Internet and use it in their own service.

By December, 2008 RapLeaf changed their policy but my initial opinion of them remained, even though they had great press. Maybe a lot of folks who heard about them came through them the same way, maybe this is the cause of their low demand. It can also be that a lot of people are satisfied with having just a LinkedIn profile. Having a lot of profiles can be taxing on time and energy. If the user doesn't find a need to use the service, most likely they won't bother using it or even put up a profile on it.

New web services need to start thinking about harnessing people's profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter and provide additional tools. It is crucial that the user understands a need or else it'll just be another clone site. Which tools do you use to manage your online identity, profiles, and reputation? Why do you stick with them?

Friday, August 7, 2009

12 Ways to Combat Twitter Withdrawal

Twitter Fail Whale CookieTwitter is down, slow, or not working and you're starting to get the jitters, twitches, or go New York on everyone you see...

Take a DEEP breath. Inhale all the way and exhale slowly through your mouth.

Calm down, it's not the end of the world. Here's what you can do to combat your Twitter withdrawal. Feel free to use one, all or just some of these tips, in any order that suits you.

1. Pick up a phone and talk to a friend. Maybe someone you haven't spoken to in ages.

2. Walk the dog or pet the cat. (You can talk to them too but they'd probably be thinking, "Oh no, there she goes again about Twitter.") If the dog sighs, I suggest you change the topic. The cat might just run away or wag his tail slowly, in anticipation of the end of the conversation.

3. Open a window or door and look at the sky.

4. Play on your PSP, Wii, or an iPod game.

5. Get to your record or CD collection and play something old. Remember that song you always listened to in high school? They didn't have Twitter then. (@epandu: not for you, since you tweet FROM school. Go do your homework or pay attention to the teacher.)

6. Cook yourself or your love something, even if it's just eggs and beacon. He'd still appreciate it. Or bake a cookie, she'd really love that.

7. Talk to your roommates (Even if they don't live on Twitter, they're people, too.)

8. Watch TV. It's ok, you don't have to tweet about it. Don't cheat and look for news about Twitter either.

9. Go out to a movie. You don't need to tweet about that either.

10. Buy yourself a little present like a box of chocolates or a new pair of pants. You'd be helping the economy anyway.

11. Read a book, newspaper, or a magazine -- anything on paper -- even the ingredient listings on cereal boxes would do.

12. Write something, a haiku, free write, describe your cubicle, room, computer etc. Remember that screenplay, treatment, article, or letter you always wanted to write but didn't have the time? Explore writing that is not bound by 140 characters.

Bonus: Write a blog post about how you combat Twitter withdrawals and share it with the world by linking to this post. ^_^!

Photo by: srqpix

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dealing with Dirty Cops in India

Indian Police StandingIt's a big coincidence that BBC broke the story on police brutality in India yesterday morning because I was going to write about my experiences with them the day before. It's not news that police in India are corrupt. Offenses go from asking small bribes such as “chai money” to beating people and killing them. While it's understandable that police harass and ask for bribes because they're not paid properly, it is still annoying to the general public.

I would've let it go if it was a one time case but this is the second time the police picked on my driver. First off, I don't really have a great opinion of the police force in India. The only people I respect are the ones who are higher up officers – because they believe in justice and getting the perps to face consequences. I've also seen them in action on a stake out so I know how they behave. I've heard so many stories of what cops do to get bribes and have personally witnessed such things. It's really ugly and disgusting.

Since it was Tuesday, most of the markets and shopping centers in Gurgaon were closed. There wasn't much traffic on the street. I went to Galleria Market to run some errands and told the driver to pick me up after an hour. I called him up after I was done when I got to our pre-arranged pick-up spot. He said he was coming but I didn't see him at all, so I started walking the block and kept an eye out. In the distance, I saw a white car that looked like the car we came in and two cops surrounding it. Now, my eyes are not in a great condition – due to the over use of electronics such as the computer, iPods and PSP, I can't really see that far. And since my pup chewed both of my glasses, my eyes seemed to be working fine until two days ago. As I approached the car, I saw that it is really our driver and the cops are really talking to him. The driver was behind the steering wheel calling the guy who runs our car service.

Our driver happens to look Asian because he's from Sikkim a state in the Northeast part of India. We like him because he's on time, prompt and knows where he's going most of the time. If he doesn't he'd check with the guy who runs the service. We like this service because it's very efficient, and we have a great deal with them. They'd replace the car if the AC's not working, they get you to the place you need to go on time, and they're available for pick-ups and drops at odd hours like 1 am for the airport etc. The guy who runs it is flexible and it's pretty much a two men operation with two cars or so. They both don't speak much English but we get by. I like the driver because he's aware of security issues, protective and can maneuver out of bad situations. (More on that later.)

I immediately looked at the cops – a skinny tall one and a fat short one. I recognized the skinny cop with khaki uniform because he tried picking on us last week until I came out of the ATM and asked him whether I can help him. He said something about parking and let us go. This time again, I asked them what the matter was. One cop said he was on the cell phone, another said, it's because it's a no-parking area. The skinny one scrammed immediately right after that. I guess he realized it's no use dealing with me. He also had his name tag on his uniform. I tried reading it and tried memorizing it. The fat short cop, also in khaki didn't have a tag. He seemed like he wanted some money out of this deal and told me to sit in the car. I sat, put the bags that I was carrying away and assessed the situation. The fat cop then got into shot gun position and we drove three feet down the road where other cops where sitting.

There were two cops in khaki on a Gypsy (great little jeep car that's used mostly by police and government officials) and two traffic cops on plastic chairs in front of the Gypsy. I knew that already because I just passed by them. The fat cop got out and handed the papers to the traffic police. You can tell they're traffic police because they wear white and blue uniforms. I called Will at home and spoke to him about the situation. I just wanted to be on the phone and talk to someone about it. He asked me if I wanted him to come down to Galleria. I was a bit alarmed because this is new territory for me. I've heard enough horror stories of Gurgaon cops. At least officers in West Bengal spoke English. I told him that it was not necessary and that I'll be calling my lawyer friend soon. I got out of the car while I was still on the phone and walked over to the traffic police. I got off the phone, I lifted my sun glasses and told them, in English that he was on the phone because he's picking me up. I told them that I just passed by them and that they did see me. (I know they were watching me because I look like a foreigner. Nobody wears all black in India, especially not tourists.) Besides, people stare at people all the time here, especially if you're a woman and obviously a foreigner or worse yet, you're white. One of the traffic cops on the chair mumbled something about parking and looked at the papers. I looked at the cops on the Gypsy and they didn't seem to care about what's going on in front of them. Only the fat cop seemed eager to squeeze something out of the situation.

I walked back to the car to get my lawyer friend's number and called her up. She's handled mostly human trafficking cases but she's familiar with dealing with the police and procedures. I walked back in front of the cops while I was on the phone again. I spoke to my friend about the situation, and told her in front of them what has been happening. I made sure they heard me even though the conversation was all in English. The fat cop looked up, worried. Then they let us go, my driver called and I was back in the car as she was telling me what to ask for from the cops if they asked for money. They didn't even get to that part and let us go. By that point I told her that we're on the way and that they've let us go because I've been stern and have been on the phone a number of times. I also told her that this might be racially motivated since the driver is Asian and this is a second time we've been stopped in the same area. Indians are very race conscious and if you're white or Asian you tend to stand out.

My friend said that if they ever asked for money, ask for a slip or receipt of some sort. Tell them that you're willing to pay the fine but you're not willing to pay through illegal means – that you'll pay through the proper channels. She also told me to learn Hindi fast so I can yell at them properly. It's just another day dealing with dirty cops as far as I'm concerned. But it's a widespread and well known problem. What the Naureen Shah from Human Rights Watch said was right, India needs reforms for its police forces if they want to be a proper “democracy” and properly modernize the country.

Photo by: mvcorks

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What Customer Care 2.0 Should Be

Web 2.0 will save us
I have a bad habit of typing whatever there is on my head on Twitter. I'm not as 'chatty' in real life as I am online. If you know me, you know that I'm actually a quiet person. I don't talk much. I spoke very late in life, so late that my mother thought I was a mute kid. This week I've been rambling off about my wishes on Disqus, and a new TV commercial of Sula Wines. I actually said something bad about Sula Wines. I thought no one was listening. @sulawines immediately replied and said that I should try their premium wines. If they didn't call me on it I wouldn't know that they had premium wines. I'm willing to try it out now even though I haven't liked their older wines. Some of my expat friends drink Sula. I just haven't developed a taste for it but their new line might make me change my mind.

As for Disqus, there was something wrong with the connection and a comment got posted twice. I wanted to delete it. It was more of a wish to be able to delete your own comment than a complaint. It was cool that @disqus got back to me immediately. I'm so used to complaining about Airtel or electricity that I didn't expect reaction from the Twitterverse. They were both nice pleasant surprises. Now I just wish more companies, especially from India are on Twitter and are listening. It can boost their brands to another level and gain not just customers but brand ambassadors as well.

Airtel are you listening? Stay tuned for my next post on my Airtel nightmare experience.

Graphic by: Ben Sheldon

Reading Newspapers - A Lost Art in America?

stack of newspapersI watched Obama's inauguration with two American friends in Kolkata. I think we watched it on BBC because we didn't like the commentary on CNN or something. All of a sudden, the news presenter mentioned Howard Dean. Both of my friends passively asked, "Who's Howard Dean?" Shocked, I stared at them for a moment and asked with my accusatory tone, "You don't know who Howard Dean is?" I didn't wait for their response, "He's the chairman of the DNC, which is like the governing committee for the Democrats."

"Well how are we supposed to know that!" was my friend's reply. Then she said, "We have three people here and the only person who knew about Howard Dean is a non-American. That just tells you how much we know about our country..." Sometimes it is true that people outside America know more about what's happening in America than the average American. We often joked about how rickshaw wallas in India read newspapers everyday and knows what's happening around the world. For some taxi drivers in Kolkata, they make it a habit. Even if they can't read in English they'd read the newspaper in Bengali. There would be boards on the street with papers posted so that people who pass by or folks who can't afford them can read. Usually these are posted by party cadre of a particular ward.

For those taxi drivers who can, they would read the paper in English. In the beginning it surprised me to see an English paper in a cab, but later it became almost a norm. It's also one of the ways I can identify whether the taxi driver is from West Bengal or new from Bihar -- a state in North India that has the most migrant workers. Never mind how accurate or not the paper is, what matters to them is that they learn how to read, practice their English, and are in constant contact with the world at large.

I made my dad subscribe to New York Times and the Nation when I was in high school. It was one of those things I just had to do as a nerdy, goodie-two-shoe student council kid. But my paper reading habits have been really bad since I left New York (and I'm no longer 'goodie-two-shoe'). I have a feeling my attention span is also shorter -- thanks to social media. I still read NYTimes, but it's all online. I'm trying to get back into the habit of reading newspapers but it's been tough. We subscribe to two papers here -- Times of India (which I don't really like but it has Soduku, and a relatively reliable schedule for movies), and Economic Times (because that's the only paper that seems to edit their stories, and it has Dilbert and the exchange rates). I'd also recommend Hindustan Times. I'm more into magazines because I like the style of writing. I prefer in-debth coverage to run of the mill regurgitated press releases. I've heard more than once from folks who write press releases of how "journalists are lazy" -- well you should come here and really see to what extent it can get. Case in point: a recent coverage of the American in Delhi blog. The reporter almost copy-pasted an entire post and did no leg work. She wrote whatever it is that she found on that blog. The blog isn't hard to find, it's #1 on Google for... you guessed it: "american in delhi".

As of April this year, according to New York Times, circulation numbers have been dropping in America. It's because of budget cuts and the fact that people are moving online to read papers. One thing about online reading though is it's up to the user. They'd choose which sections to see via email or RSS feed and completely disregard other sections. News is more funneled and gets viewed only when it becomes popular. It's up to to the user now to figure out to what extent they want to know about the world. So if you just follow popular celebrity news, you might be an expert on Michael Jackson but won't know what the heck ASEAN is or even think Burma is a province of China. (Oh believe me, I've come across those people more than once.)

I don't blame them. I don't usually get mad either, I just find it funny. Occasionally I'd retort, "Well, it's almost like a province of China." (But that's an inside foreign policy joke.) I also have my own weaknesses -- just because I know who Howard Dean is doesn't mean I know every famous or semi-famous American. I don't know all the governors in all the states. I also wouldn't be able to identify American Idol contestants or winners. An average American might be able to identify Linsay Lohan from a mile away. I wouldn't, whether she's naked, clothed, running, walking, sober or high. I can't even spell her name right the first time.

What about you? Do you still read physical newspapers or does your life revolve completely around the Internet?

Photo by: DRB62

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What's the Meaning of a Solar Eclipse In Burma?

Bad luck. Burmese society is extremely superstitious. Folks take unusual disturbances in nature or heavenly objects to be 'a sign'. Historically, it's always been bad. Take 1988, there was a solar eclipse in March. Elders often talk of the fact that the eclipse was some how a warning for the 1988 uprising and bloodshed. From then onwards, the country became pretty much isolated from the world. There's not a lot of stuff written online about Burmese culture and solar eclipses but I found this Burma forecast from an astrologer. Astrology is a BIG DEAL in Myanmar. Children are named according to the day that they were born and their characteristics determined. Star charts and various rituals are preformed for almost every phase of life. The people who rule the government are extremely religious and adhere to strict rituals as well.

When Cyclone Nargis hit, it coincided with the voting for the national referendum on the new Constitution. Rumors spread throughout the nation that it was "god's punishment" or disapproval. People often joke amidst the destruction on how even the storm wanted to vote for "their election". Miraculously however, there was a 99% vote on the approval of the referendum.

In a couple of hours there will be another solar eclipse -- an eclipse you can see from Myanmar but not Thailand. In two days time on July 24th, the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's verdict is supposed to be heard in court. Fascinating coincidences that we'll just have to brace ourselves and see what happens.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Spymaster: New Twist to Flames & Cyber Bullies?

Photo: Spy vs Nerd Wired CoverSpymaster is the latest sensational Twitter game that was just recently launched on Facebook as well. Ben Parr wrote on Mashable that, "Spymaster has become the standard in Twitter games." I got invited a while ago from one of the people I was following on Twitter. I didn't get around to try it out until yesterday. I loved the interface, the premise, and the connections that I can make to my friends. By this morning I was hooked. Just like I get into World of Warcraft or Westnoth (the open source, turn-based, tactical strategy game) I started carrying out espionage tasks as much as I could.

I left my Twitter followers alone though. I figured there would be a ton of auto-tweets and messages if I played it. I know to what point my obsession can run with RPGs. (And no, I'm not too old to be playing games, thank you.) I lucked out that the Facebook invasion was launched last week. My Facebook posse (though weaker spy ring) is more tolerant with game messages since they also play games. They're also friends who I've met, who can control what they see as opposed to the Twitter crowd who I talk to mostly for professional exchange of ideas.

So today I explored other parts of the Spymaster universe. I read the Directorate's blog and signed myself to the Spymaster Fan site, which is using the Ning custom social network platform. There's also a Spymaster Fan group on Facebook if you want to network with other spymasters.

What I saw in the forums at the Spymaster Fan site didn't surprise me. There was a woman who said she'd be quitting because another spy master had been assassinating her, winning, and getting her assets. She equated her losses to be a case of harassment and bullying. Those who replied to her SOS post (including me) wanted to gang up on the fellow and assassinate him in return. After all, making and helping allies is a part of the game.

Apparently picking on certain spy masters as target to be assassinated on a schedule is used by some as game strategy. It's not a bad game strategy, but it's a boring strategy. It takes the fun out of the game. I've picked on lower level newbies from time to time but never the same target. That's just really really boring. Plus we have the whole of Twitter and Facebook universe to explore, which means two hundred million or so potential spy masters are out there.

While it's not really nice to be picking on just one person because you know the odds are in your favor, it's not really the case of cyber bulling either. Cyber bully implies that you don't really have any choice and you're psychologically attacked. Here you have groups to turn to for help and other spy masters who are willing to help you. It's also the premise of the game. After all being a spy means you'd be at risk for assassinations and psychological warfare. You should also know that you've already agreed to notifications etc.

Here's a screen shot of the 'dossier' of the spy master who had been attacking the woman spy master. Judging from the messages, it has both the 'assassin' and the 'victim'. And maybe other spy masters as well.
Screen shot: spymaster dossier
In dossiers screen names don't come up like regular messaging boards because they're not supposed to be a wall or a messaging center. It's a heated discussion. There will be more heated discussions over wins and losses. And there will be wars between groups. I'm interested to see addition of new spy group affiliations other than the Russian, CIA, and MI6. Personally I'd like to see Mossad and RAW (Research and Analysis Wing - India).

As to controlling cyber bullies on Spymaster, ground rules should probably be developed. In certain games there would be ground rules or pre-defined system settings. But this is a spy game -- you ARE supposed to be killing each other. Maybe people are taking their role playing too seriously. (Another thing that is so common in RPGs or MMORPGs.) Maybe Spymaster should develop algorithms or "cooling off periods" in place for spy masters. What's your take on this?

P.S. If you are playing the game you can add me to your spy ring by sending me a friend request on Facebook. Send the message "Spymaster" along with your request. If you're on the Fan site, you can go ahead and add me as a friend. If you're in the CIA, you can join this group. ^_^!

Update: Here's a great post on Spymaster and why people play it. You'll understand more.

Photo by: Whiskeygonebad

Monday, July 20, 2009

Plagiarim: a National Pastime?

Photo by Esther_GBad writing is one thing, straight off plagiarism is another. I'm really tired of seeing this happen over and over, especially in India. And just because you give the person credit as a name doesn't mean you have the permission of that person to post it. You need EXPLICIT PERMISSION or some sort of an agreed license like the ones from Creative Commons.

Here's a bad case of copy-pasting that I came across recently:

On July 17th, a twitter by the name of @ruplal sent me a message a brand new site to take a look. The site was: I think I had been tweeting about my concerns of riots in Kolkata and how work would be interrupted that day. A lot to my friends are in Kolkata, a portion of that friend circle is in tech. I checked the site, which happened to be a blog that doesn't seem to be proof read. Indian English is fine, and typical, but then I saw a familiar name: Angsuman Chakraborty -- an acquaintance who runs a company in Kolkata. We've met a couple of times at BarCamp and other tech network/unconferences. I thought, well, it's about time someone starts writing about the Kolkata tech scene since it badly needs to start moving and growing.

I thought Angsuman was starting a new blog, but it was very unlike him since his core audience is not really Kolkata. He wouldn't limit himself for just Kolkata. (It's not economically viable.) I checked the other posts and it seems the blogger(s) has been "borrowing" content from other folks. I thought, maybe it's a syndicated blog of some kind. I sent @ruplal a message, checked profiles on LinkedIn of the co-founders of the site. And checked back with @augsuman on Twitter. I asked him whether it was a new site he was putting up or just random copy-pasting. I really didn't think it was. Angsuman replied this morning that it actually was a copy-pasting job using his name on a post about Google Chrome.

I wasn't surprised but I was a bit disconcerted -- 'pissed off' might be the term. Copy-pasting happens ALL THE TIME in India. I've seen a very unethical boss do it, colleagues do it, I see it on blogs again and again. There are instances where I've refused candidates to join my team after evidence of plagiarism in their sample writing. It's a sin that has no redemption. It gives India a bad name. It gives writers in India an even worse name. Plagiarism might not get you in court in India, but you're still breaking international law. If morals and ethics don't appeal to you, as a blogger you should know that Google will penalize the blog for duplicate content -- it will hurt you in the end. If you don't have the time, resources, or talent don't bother running a site.

Have you seen cases of copy-pasting and plagiarism? Do you confront it or just ignore it because it's so common?

Photo by: Esther_G

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Google will follow your link from here!

You Comment, I Follow Graphic modified by Yu Yu DinI've been a big fan of the 'Do-Follow movement' since I found out about it on the Instigator Blog back in 2007. Back then I wasn't able to concentrate on my own blog or personal projects so I haven't made any tweaks to any of the blogs that I was running. Now I have the time so I'm changing a couple of things on this blog. You'll probably notice that this blog has been undergoing some design changes. All the major design changes should be finished by Monday. But I'll still keep tweaking things here and there, but hey, that's just the way I am.

Just because I'm a Do-Follow blogger doesn't mean I don't have some sort of policy. It's pretty simple, there are three rules to you commenting on my blog:
1. If you comment and leave a link to your blog, Google bots will come from my blog to yours. (If you leave interesting comments, people will come too.)
2. I will check comments on a regular basis and yours will be deleted if you're spamming me.
3. Grow some balls and use a proper user name if you're commenting. Anonymous commenting is allowed but discouraged.

Now that the air is clear, let's get back on track:
The Do-Follow movement have taken off to a whole new level these days. It was started by Randa Clay design where you'll find great buttons to add to your blog. It doesn't matter whether you blog with Blogspot, Wordpress, or Typepad. Check out her post and you'll find guidelines for your platform. Plus you can get great buttons there.

Do-Follow blogs now have their own directories, in case you want to talk to fellow do-follow bloggers. You can either find them on, the Follow List, or Blogs That Follow directories.

Of course, the Do-Follow blogs are on Twitter too. Read this post by I.C. Jackson. Tag your tweets with #ucif and the Do-Follow bloggers will take notice.

Keep in mind, do-follow bloggers aren't a bunch of wussies afraid to kick your butt if you abuse the system. Read this Dosh Dosh post so you get a couple of ideas to get you started on how to go about commenting.

And don't forget to have fun. If you want the graphic post it note, you can download it here. It's modified from Peter's Post It Note under Creative Commons' Attribution-NonCommercial Share Alike License. Happy commenting!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Twitter Combats ID-squatting but is it enough?

Twitter Verified Logo
Any of us who use Twitter on a daily basis who get bogus followers and femmebots know what a pain in the butt fake profiles can be. On June 6th, Twitter announced on their blog about the Twitter verification process. It seems they've been moving through the celebrity tweeple for now because I saw it as I was checking out @wilw's twitter profile. (If you don't know who Wil Wheaton is, he's the actor who played the doctor's kid, who became an ensign on Star Trek Next Generation series.) I checked some other personalities like @WilliamShatner and his account was verified, too. I think they're moving through the twitter elite first before the program it's available to us mortals. If it's ever available.

With hacks, security lapses, and impersonations galore, folks will want to be verified. For people who work and live online, our identities are priceless. We take years building up profiles. Our accounts, data, and networks are very important to us. Brands or even fake personalities like Bruno wouldn't be able to market and pull off campaigns if there were others hijacking or using the names. ID-squatting can not just damage reputations but can lead to financial losses.

I use OpenID via ClaimID but it takes a while for an average user to figure out the system. Steve Rubel calls it "geeky". Right now, there's no real unifying process across all social networks unless it's passing info to that specific social network. New apps pop up every day and new sites come online. The average Joes and Janes are moving onto social networks to interact with friends and family. They're not going to think twice about protecting themselves online.

Privacy is an after thought, no one really looks for that little button that limits views of your profile. Case in point: Facebook and MI6: MI6 chief's wife posted family photos and details of their home. For ordinary people, that's a simple fun thing to do online. Everyone does it. But for an MI6 chief, it can be life threatening. Same thing goes for diplomats. And diplomats' wives do blog, if you know where to look or who to look for.

Social networks are moving so fast and becoming popular that governments, and companies can hardly keep up. There are no manuals on how to protect your online identity or even awareness campaigns on why we need to protect our IDs. We're also not developing tools fast enough to combat this problem. Once a system is in place, there will be less femmebots, fake profiles, and spammers. Just like ISPs and email marketers have come up with strong systems to block and punish those who abuse the system, there has to be a way to control it in the social media arena.

There has to be a balance, to let people have fun while protecting their privacy. What are your thoughts?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Re-Sparkling The Inner Writer Spirit

Photo: write by the trialI admit, I've been in a very bad rut as a writer lately. After writing a lot when I was working, I almost totally stopped writing after I quit. Then life got in the way like trainings for solar panels, travels, moving to a new city, not having time for/by myself, trying to fix Internet and electricity problems, battling Twitter withdrawal... you get the picture. You sink into that dark hole of uninspired procrastination that some writers call 'the block'. I can write a dozen excuses but that'll make me just more depressed. It's true, I get depressed when I'm not being creative. There are a couple of things to make me inspired again, maybe you can use some so here are my techniques:

1.Writing needs inspiration: take a walk outside and observe.
I live in a great place where I can see wild peacocks, woodpeckers, other birds Southeast Asian birds I can't name, cute squirrels, plus the occasional street dogs and cats. I usually walk the dog in the morning after everyone leaves. Go over to the park across the street and look at every little detail of grass, creatures, and plants all around. The bird songs and squirrel squeaks for cautioning their scurry are really amazing. When Grace and I walk into the park all the creatures go on high alert. They're not used to seeing a Greyhound and a short Asian woman roaming around. Being two feet away from a pair of woodpeckers hunting for insects makes me really happy, makes Grace (the dog) happy too because she gets to sniff the grass and roll around. When we have our fill, we head back home to write and Grace to move pillows around and become the queen of the bed. Sometimes being out and about, meeting new people and experiencing new things will inspire you to write.

2.Get in the writing mood: listen to music.
I got this tip when I was working with Trayce Gardner, the founder of Brooklyn Young Filmmakers Center. She works on her script or editing her students scripts with the perfect sound track in the back ground. It really worked for me later when I came to India and had to work in a very chatty office environment. We were elbow to elbow on our workstations (it's normal here) and the only thing that kept me sane and focused was my music. You can have playlists set up for different occasions and different moods you're setting up in your scenes, articles etc. Punk always wakes me up in the morning and techno/trip hop keep that energy level up. I transition into a more mellow Norah Jones, Ani Difranco type in the evenings and even venture into classical at night. Find the music that inspires you, put you “in the mood”.

3.Focus (which I don't do enough of) on the matter at hand.
I have too many ideas when I sit down and start writing. I always need an outline, formula or plan. I also tend to get back to the top and edit and re-edit. Half the time, writing is about sitting down and following a habit, practice or a discipline. Folks don't always see this boring side of writing. While editing is a good habit, you need to let go and have the writer in you do his or her own thing first before you start moving things around. (Yes, I'm writing this to remind myself.)

I think Syd Field wrote the best technique on how to deal with the problem of too many ideas. In his book, Screenplay, he wrote that a screenwriter will have another plot or film in mind when he or she starts writing. He said that you should take time and write out those ideas elsewhere then come back to your original story. Focus and do one thing at a time. Don't just write, write with a purpose and a plan. Don't get up until it's done, or until you're ready to look at something else, do something else and come back for editing. Once you're done with that go back to the other thing you had in mind and finish that off.

4.Find the right writing tools for you.
The fact that I've spent most of my adult life in trendy social media sites doesn't stop me from being an old fashioned writer. Plus I'm a huge pen snob. I have a particular brand of note pads, note books, and particular pens I write with. In India I found Nightingale and Matrix brand stationery to be the best to write long stuff in and small, blank paper note pads for taking notes and brainstorming. I carry that everywhere. You need to look for the tools that inspire you. Is it a slinky? Is it a Staedtler pen, or a Sharpie? A fountain pen, a ball point pen, mechanical pencil? Is it candy? Do you write best straight on the computer or are pens and papers better for you? You need to explore your options and pick the best tools for your own tool box.

5. Ask yourself hard questions about your writing.
What makes you stop? What makes you lose focus? Is it the way you fuss around with words? Retweeting or replying on Twitter all the time? Too many tabs open on your browser or too little? You're not getting enough time? Not the right environment? If you want to be a writer and stay focus, you need to ask these questions and make the environment right for you.

6.Tackle your weakest links.
Once you've asked the questions and experimented around with answers, you'll be able to re-spark that kick ass writer in you. But being a writer doesn't end there. Keep exploring, keep reading about writers and what they do to keep going. Read Screenplay by Syd Field -- even if you're not a screenwriter. Download and read How to Motivate Creative People (Including Yourself) by Mark McGuinness follow Copyblogger's blog. Follow fellow writers on Twitter. Who's your favorite writer? What does he or she do to get the ball rolling?

I know first hand that being a writer is a lonely job but there's nothing like feeling accomplished and satisfied at the end of the day. Are you a writer? How do you keep yourself motivated and inspired?

Photo by: the trial

Friday, July 3, 2009

Indian Cultural Sexual Identity

Bangalore Gay Pride Parade By lighttripper on flickrYou probably heard about the landmark, historical case about decriminalizing the Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 377. Where “India becomes the 127th country to take the guilt out of homosexuality,” according to The Times of India.

IPC Sec. 377 itself is a tricky law to tackle. I first heard about the gay rights movement and how Sec. 377 is a farce in an LGBT Film Festival in Kolkata a couple of years ago. Sec. 377 didn't just criminalize homosexuality, it criminalized penetration of any kind that was “unnatural” more specifically, penile penetration. That leaves out abuse by other means sexually (to children, non consensual etc.), it also left out the fact that 'hetrosexual sex', if it's not “natural” is criminalized. Sec. 377 is used throughout India by cops to pick up any suspicious couples, be it opposite sex or same sex to get bakshish or bribe money. It's a law that cops use to bully people into giving money. Once the bribe is given, you're let go. It's not like in the west back in the days when people would be arrested, jailed or assaulted. India has a different take on this all together.

India culturally, is very fluid. There are whole colonies of hijaras or transvestites/hermaphrodites throughout India. The way Indians view sexuality is different. The first thing that shocked me when I came here was seeing men hold hands in public. It doesn't make them “gay”, they cry and laugh and that's a cultural norm. It made me uncomfortable because I was conditioned differently. They also wear large flower prints, which I as a woman won't ever wear. The 'shiny shirt syndrome' is also rampant. Men and women have very fluid gender roles in India. The experience of coming out varies by family but it doesn't usually end up in psychotherapy or death. The Hindu scriptures themselves contain accounts of homosexuality. The ancient Kamasutra texts were believed to contain 'gay sex' as well, until the British came. That was also when they enacted Sec. 377.

For some in India, this is all about reversing what the west imposed and going back to the Hindu heritage. For others it is about India joining the 21st century. India is on the road to progress and prosperity. The government projects the economy to grow at 7% for FY10. It is a nuclear power, it's the world largest democracy, and it is trying desperately to be liberal just like Europe and America. So it is only natural to have liberal laws that allow folks to have their sexual freedom. I was talking to my friend Zaid Al Baset, who is a sociologist and a lecturer at Kolkata's prestigious St. Xavier's college two days ago about Sec. 377. I told him how some might see it as a trendy thing to do for India to decriminalize homosexuality. For the past two years, I've seen that it's been cool to be queer and folks are more open than when I first came here seven years ago. There is also a new generation, a more affluent and liberal young people enrolled in colleges. This generation tends to be more out going and accepting compared to the stay-at-home folks two generations ago. Zaid agreed with me about the trend. He's been studying literature and films that cover the subject of homosexuality and there has been a new wave that explores the subjects in the Indian popular culture. Even two days ago we both doubted the decriminalization. I told him that nobody wants to be remembered as the administration or the legal body that made “homos legal”. I was wrong.

This is only the beginning. There are religious groups – mostly Christian and Islamic, which are already objecting to the ruling and would be taking the case to the Supreme Court. It will be interesting to see what India does in terms of gay marriage and so on. And what would happen in practice in terms of health care and taking care of children? Zaid suspects that it'll be another couple of decades until India legalizes gay marriage. Then again, it might arrive a lot faster, too.

Photo by: lighttripper

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Myanmar - US - China Relations and my two cents

@nabejero sent me a link via Twitter about the new US-Myanmar relations and how China sees it. I've been wanting to put my two cents out there, so here goes...

The story was about Stephen Blake, the Director of the State Department's Mainland Southeast Asia Office vising Myanmar, in order for the Obama Administration to start talks and rekindle better diplomatic relations between the two countries and how China is feeling threatened. Blake visiting Myanmar is a BIG DEAL because this is the first in almost seven years an envoy is sent. This would've never taken shape under the Bush Administration (might be because they didn't know where to point to on a map). It might also be because we were on the "Axis of Evil" list, for all we know, we might've been invaded right after Iran. I know a few folks were hoping for it but I still like our independence and wouldn't want a cowboy leader ruining my beautiful people and country.

Dr. Junbo, the author of the article goes on to say that China and India's influence on Myanmar is going to be reduced or even end. I don't think that will be the case. We have very good relations with both India and China. I've seen it behind the scenes. This relationship is going to continue to grow in terms of trade, travel, transport, and even in sharing/trading energy resources like gas and electricity etc. There's a lot of things that happen, we're co-dependent nations here in South Asia. Our people's histories are intertwined and we need each other's support.

I've been following what the new administration has been doing, and I like their style. I think they're headed to the right direction when it comes to Burma. Why would I want better ties with the US? First off, if you really think we're a "rogue nation", you should be talking to us. If you don't, you'll just alienate and compromise more on security.

Second, we're rich in natural resources. We got natural gas! We've produced our own food and export rice until Cyclone Nargis hit last year. That's when the world's food prices shot up, too. So you know we impact the world in some way. Within a year or so we'll be producing our own rice again and probably export. We export other stuff like fish to China, pulses and beetle nuts to India etc.

Third, we need each other. Right after Cyclone Nargis the Burmese government didn't let any aid in from the US for the first two, three days. I was at home when USS Essex was a couple of miles away. The the US and Myanmar government had a big stand off and a lot of people suffered for no reason. I was proud that we stood up and gave the diplomatic middle finger to the world's largest super power, but I felt sad that our people are being hurt because of an ego problem. I couldn't believe my eyes when I was leaving the country to see a US air craft land on Burmese soil. That must've been the first time since World War II.

Fourth, I have a lot of American friends, I want them to be able to visit Burma without having to be a diplomat or hold a UN passport. You guys don't know what you've been missing.

Here's a brief guide to the Burmese if you're not familiar with the country:
Myanmar is not North Korea!
North Korea doesn't have much of diplomatic relations with the US. We've never cut off relations with the US. We've always had embassies and consulates, the US never closed its embassy in Rangoon either. (They're not moving to the new capital, Naypyidaw, but that's another issue. They're not the only ones not moving.) This means that at least there's some grounds for officials to come and go and the Myanmar government at least will talk to certain people about certain issues/concerns.

Burmese are proud, egoistic, and we don't like interference.
Whatever we do inside our country is our business. It's like the Burmese captain in the last Rambo movie said, "This is our land, we have the right to shoot you." Of course, it was said in Burmese and was lost in translation. But he was right. Go to any ranch in the south of the US and you'd probably get shot, too. We've always been a proud member of the non-aligned movement (NAM). We're also in ASEAN, UN etc. Those member countries need relations with us and we need it too. We're also very stubborn and have a zeal to stick it through rough times.

Sanctions against Burma won't work.
It didn't work in Iraq, it's not going to work in Myanmar. No matter what people say, sanctions hurt the people. The powers that be will still be there no matter what. Even Hilliary Clinton realized this by calling the sanctions "ineffective". We've been under sanctions since the Clinton Administration and nothing really changed, except the fact that the poor became poorer and people are pushed below poverty lines. (EDIT: Don't just take my word for it, check out this Washington Post article.)

Myanmar is a unique country.
Some folks have said that Burma is the 'Southeast Asia's Darfur', some even advocated for invasion right after Iraq was invaded. That's not going to get what people want. It needs a unique solution. The government and the opposition needs to talk things out in order to improve things. The Burmese people are tired of the economic hardships they've faced. They want things to improve but the food prices just keep on sky rocketing. They want some form of stability.

Burmese are peaceful, peace loving people.
When the media portrays us or the popular stuff you see on YouTube, the snippets you see are either monks getting beaten up, students shot, or refugees in border areas. 80% of the Burmese population are Buddhists. They're the most peaceful people on earth. They co-exist with others who are Christians, Muslims, and Hindus. We're also very diverse, having 150 different ethnic groups and as many languages and dialects. We don't have guns on the streets or violent fights and stuff.

I'm interested to know what Obama-Clinton led foreign policy would be in the next coming months. I can tell you from this side that great diplomats are working on this, whatever the deal is going to be. No, Burma won't get democracy overnight, but there might be some form of dialogue. We'll probably move ahead with the referundum/new consitution a little bit faster than before. Provided there's the dangling carrot of some form of opening in trade relations.

Solar Panels to Burma via Renewable Spirit - Short update

I love twitter, and I miss it. There's a lot of people who think I'm in Bangladesh or Myanmar or somewhere else because I've been quiet online. I got your messages, and thank you for looking out for me. I appreciate your attention. The reason why I've been off grid is that I've been pretty busy with training on solar panels and getting that off the ground so haven't been online much. I also don't have Internet at home. Somehow the ISP didn't work with my new Ubuntu netbook, oh well, I'm dropping their service.

Plus I've decided to move to Gurgaon after all. It's a quiet technopolis near New Delhi. There's nothing but malls there but I think I'll like it. I'll still have Kolkata as a base though, because the main operations is here, that I'm totally convinced of. I've just finished drafting out the Memorandum of Association -- which is what you need in India to form an NGO. This is going to be the sister organization to the project on the ground in Burma. A normal person would've had a lawyer do it, but this is my baby, so I'm doing it myself with the help of my advocate friend, Eliza. (She kicks bad guy ass!) The organization in India is going to support in terms of the grassroots fund raising that we do like getting funds out of Amazon, Cafe Press, PayPal etc. Those facilities are not available inside Myanmar. They will directly pay for the solar panels, and some of the equipment that needs to be sourced from West Bengal, plus the transportation from factory to the port of Yangon. I'm researching on EC (European Commission) funding and other funding sources but I want to get an umbrella NGO to sponsor the project before I start writing proposals. These funds will be used inside Burma.

We also have a name: Renewable Spirit, plus a logo, and a domain. :-) That couldn't happen without Jeanne and IDG backing my behind.

My solar panel training was awesome. Half of the lectures were in Bengali but I seemed to have acquired some sort of heightened understanding for the language. I still claim I don't know Bengali. It takes a lot of brain power to decipher it, especially when folks are talking in pure science lingo. The whole training deserve a couple of posts so stay tuned!

Overall, the pieces of the puzzle are falling in place. A month ago, I didn't know anything except the fact that I want to get solar panels to Myanmar and that it is possible. All I had was my support network of friends who had connections and some willing to contribute to the project anyway they can. Resources, specifically for renewable energy is something that the Burmese people, especially the victims of Cyclone Nargis need. Now, I know where to get solar panels, how to install them, what equipment I need, and what the renewable energy industry is like in India. I even know that it won't end with getting solar panels to Burma, it's just the beginning. Getting people educated and aware of the rewards of renewable energy is going to be really fun.

I'm really psyched about all this. I can't wait to get to Burma and survey the villages there!

Monday, March 9, 2009

How Marketers Can Get Things Wrong

Marketers are not perfect, we make mistakes, and sometimes we can get it so totally wrong. I got an email a day or so ago from a Facebook API telling me to send ecards to my women friends "that are designed to make them feel 'beautiful'" -- the word beautiful was inside double quotes. The editor alarms inside my head went off, that means so many things! After I managed to ignore the quirky punctuation, I came back to the sentence. I thought International Women's Day was about the exact opposite of that. In fact, this year's UN theme on International Women's Day 2009 is "Women and men united to end against women and girls," I think that includes mental abuse and pressures against girls to conform to standards of "beauty". Unless we want all girls to be anorexic.

Today in the afternoon, I went to a Barista, which is the closest thing to Starbucks out here in Calcutta and my friend sees a small poster saying: "Celebrate Women's Day with size zero." He started laughing. Now this can't be right. Encourage more women and girls to fit in the norm and feel less secure about themselves and lower their self-esteem and self-confidence? That's how you're supposed to celebrate International Women's Day?

All my women friends ARE beautiful, thank you very much. And you can be in all sizes, shapes and forms to celebrate Women's Day. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a bra-burning feminist. In fact, I don't like the label. I don't really care about dates and holidays either except for Mother's Day and Father's Day. Christmas, I think is the best way that the Christians back in the days of Constantine marketed their religion. There's no better way of taking over a pagan holiday by saying Christ was born at that time, too. But marketing on a day like this without the depth of what it's all about is just a lost cause. The most ironic thing I find in all this is that capitalists are using a day that began in the Soviet Union to further their causes. It's just the wrong way of going about it. There's nothing wrong with marketing the event and promoting your business, but marketers should at least be sensitive to cultural and social issues that surrounds the event. It looks to me like 'cause marketing' gone haywire.

That's my two cents, what's your take?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Twitter Follow Friday: 10 Writers to Follow

Twitter follow friday: Writers - Pen, glasses, and notepadTwitter is the one of the best tools for a writer. I mean, where else will you learn how to write short, precise sentences? If the 140 character limit doesn't force you, nothing will. Being a writer of course also means that you should be following other writers. I do it to learn more, get tools and share my writerly woes. There's a bunch of great writers on twitter so this can be a never ending list but this is my top favorite writers to follow on twitter.

Joanna Penn is a self published author. She tweets a lot about how to get your own book published and what the resources you'll be needing. If you're thinking of putting a book out there by yourself, she's definitely the person you should be following.

If you think the pains of being a writer or the joys are experienced just by you, you should think again. Julie Roads writes about life as a writer and she can connect it to everyday life. She imparts wisdom and what to do or not to do as a writer.

Brian Clark of course is like the god of copywriting. I think the past three years of my career wouldn't happen if it wasn't for his blog. Although he doesn't tweet in the same frequency as other folks, he's still great to follow on twitter.

Fellow expat-writer Saskia is from the down under Aussie land, but she's living in Silicon Valley now. I like meeting fellow expats and it's great to have folks who are not just expats but writers, too. She's really involved with the LA politics so sometimes I forget she's originally from down under. She's a great source for inspiration when you need that extra boost to jump start your writing.

Dan Christensen keeps a blog about the life of a bus driver. I like reading his stuff because it's so random and so funny. I mean, how often have you boarded a bus and dismissed the bus driver immediately? I think they're really under appreciated in cities. Dan will give you a whole new perspective on that.

Judy and I go back and forth about food, and how technology has changed so much in our lives. We struck a conversation about VHS machines and 8 tracks. Frankly, I want to know how her book is turning out to be 'coz she's writing a book about housing for baby boomers. She's a great conversationalist too!

Best thing about Kenneth is his last name Yu ^_^! Jokes aside, best thing about Kenneth is he got attitude. Most of the time it makes me smile, but sometimes I go "Huh? How does he get away with it?" I really like his tweets especially the questions he throws out from time to time.

Another expat writer, (I heart expats!) Amanda van Mulligen tweets from the Netherlands (a place that's on my list to visit since age 11) she writes about being an expat, especially an expat woman and how life is to live and work in a different country.

Meg is really funny. She an all round the-Internet-is-where-I-live-gal. But her physical address is in Vancouver. I love her quirky sense of humor. Head over to her blog for a warm and fuzzy feeling inside your stomach.

Amy Lupold Bair is one of rising starts in the social media sphere, I can't wait to see what she does next. I mean she brings the whole Mom 2.0 a new meaning. Plus she's a writer!

Photo by: Bright Meadow

Thursday, February 26, 2009

BarCamp Delhi 6 Here I Come!

I'm off to Delhi for BarCamp Delhi 6. Very excited to meet new people and for traveling. Haven't done that since, let's see... December! That's a long time. I hope I get to compare marketing notes with @jayantabanerjee. He's one of the unsung heroes of online marketing in India. He's not that "known" because he's always putting the company or project before himself. I can't fit everything about him on this post but I'll tell you more about him later, promise.

If you can't come to, BarCamp Delhi, you can still write a blog post about it. In fact, you can win pretty nifty prizes from Media Redefined. Click here for contest details.

I'm sticking to my sorta resolution of traveling more often in 2009. I think I'm doing good so far, I plan to hop over to Dhaka, Bangladesh in late April and get to Myanmar. Yes, I'm very very very happy. ^_^!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Will Tweet for TV: Trends for Twitter

TV photo by videocrabFor those of you who don't know: I don't own a TV. I used to make films and documentaries, radio shows and taught girls younger than me about media and using it to tell their own stories. After all that dissection of the media, I really don't feel like watching TV, instead, I'm on the Internet most of my waking moments during the day. (Incidentally, my mentor's name is News Dissector.) But I like movies, and ya, I miss shows like CSI, Brothers and Sisters, and stuff on HBO. With Twitter, you don't really feel you're missing the action. I wrote about Twitter citizen journalism a while ago about the Mumbai blasts.

Case in point: Oscars. The word "Oscar" started trending since Friday but at the bottom. Now, we've tried this before, it doesn't take much for a word to start trending in Twitter. You need about 10 to 15 tweeple tweeting constantly with the same hash tag or specified keyword. You can check out the trending 10 topics on twitter by going to: (I can't wait until the search is improved.) It's a pretty useful nifty tool if you like tracking trends. Keeping the word in the top 10 list however require a bit of critical mass. You need a lot of folks to be talking about the topic with that keyword as a hash tag or with the word in the tweet. You can't have a big time lag between tweets either. Sure enough, Oscar slowly rose the top 10 list and became #1 when the real red carpet action started. It's because everyone's watching and they're tweeting about it.

Best thing about twitter trends? It's real time, it taps into the collective stream of conscious of tweeple. It's a pretty good sample/focus group if you believe what Pew Internet research said, that one in ten Americans tweet. It happens in the now, it's not like Google Trends, or Yahoo Buzz, even those have time lag. If you want an overview analysis of trends over a period of time, check out Word Tracker.

With all said and done though, if you're thinking of Internet marketing or viral marketing don't forget to keep Twitter in your marketing plan(s). Twitter has the potential to become a great viral marketing vehicle -- if you know what you're doing.

Update: If you like tracking trends make sure you check out It gives you all the trending topics on one page. Neat site, I just found it.

Photo by videocrab

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Twitter Follow Friday - 10 Tweeple You Should Follow, Too.

Twitter: I send pointless little messages
Twitter's 140 characters just won't do when I have to explain why I follow certain people and not others. When someone follows me on Twitter, I don't usually follow blindly back. In that sense I'm pretty much a twitter snob. But those who I do follow, I check them out, their profiles, landing pages, LinkedIn if I'm really interested and so on. So here's ten tweeple that I follow and why I follow them for this week:

Calvin Lee posts the most interesting links for designers. You should check out his blog and read up on how to set up a design business. There's a wealth of information there. He's also #5 of Twitter Elite in LA.

I've been following Paula Thornton for a couple of months now. She's very engaging and interactive, she'll usually respond to your tweets if you engage her. You should check out her blog at FastForward where she blogs about business 2.0 and how design integrates with marketing.

Chris Garrett needs no introductions. I started following him because well, I work in the social media and Internet marketing field. I think he's one of the best new media gurus out there. Recently, he's been tweeting a lot about green stuff and renewable energy -- which is what I'm getting into, too. So I'm totally psyched to read more of this tweets.

Graham Smith is the director at the JustCreative Group, they develop brands and brand identity. I always believed that branding is the first step to marketing -- holla me if you agree or disagree. If you're a designer, or just starting out you should totally be following him.

Laura Fitton is funny and insightful. You can't just enjoy 140 characters of her tweets, you need to check out her blog, too. Frankly, I don't know how she keep track of her 19K+ followers.

I started following Jeanette Fisher because of her profile. I was curious on what a "design psychology expert" does. What she does is really interesting, and I'm not into the whole Martha Stewart thing. If you're into interior design and stuff you should totally check out her profile. Remember, to check out Bamboo Women too. It will definitely inspire you.

Jack Bastide started following me a week or so ago. At first I thought he was one of those MLM spammers. Then, I read his twitter bio and I got hooked. That's what a good marketer should do right? He's funny, and he kicks major ass.

Besides tweeting and blogging from my favorite corner of the world, Brooklyn, Damien weaves in how social media fits into business, life and music. He's one of the rising stars of social media. While you're at it, make sure you check out his background pic on the twitter profile. It's really funny. ^_^

I got to Dr. Mark Drapeau via some retweet. I was curious to know what the Department of Defense is going to do with social media. Of course, revolution is possible through twitter given the right elements. In fact, even years before twitter came online techies have been discussing about social change using technology like P2P networks and shared servers etc. No, I'm not going into politics here but yes, we need some changes. And yes, I believe stuff like getting the Berlin Wall to come down or stopping Apartheid can happen with tools like Twitter. Federal, state, and governments officials are already using twitter here's a comprehensive list of government tweeple. We can apply the technology for disaster relief, early epidemic detection, tsumami warning etc. Let me stop here cause I can go on and on about this... Check out Cheeky Geeky's recent interview about Twitter here and you'll learn more.

If you haven't followed MrTweet you should totally start NOW! Well, what are you waiting for? I've been following MrTweet since it launched and I love following the changes and evolutions that it's going through. It's perfect for twitter newbies because he'll suggest whom to follow on this vast network of tweeple. He'll give you insights to who your followers are and who the influencers are in your network. MrTweet is developed by @mingyeow and @ambivalence.

Graphic by jmilles.