Grateful Dead Videogame

<Grateful Dead Comix 2

The Wall Street Journal reports on a new online video game being developed about the Grateful Dead:

The developer, Asheville, N.C., based Curious Sense has permission to use any material from the band’s deep archives, which includes three decades’ worth of film and video and thousands of live concert recordings. For instance, Curious Sense founder Adam Blumenthal says he’s itching to repurpose an animated sequence from 1977’s “Grateful Dead Movie,” featuring a cosmic pinball game. His company can also tap the Dead’s vivid album cover art, as well images of the band members.

The game project is in its earliest stages, with developers currently mapping out which elements of the Dead universe to incorporate. Blumenthal says some songs are particularly conducive to gaming because of their narratives (“Terrapin Station”), imagery (“Dark Star”) or characters (“Cosmic Charlie”). Such elements will be molded around templates common to casual games, such as hidden-object hunts and so-called “tower defense” games. “Think of the song ‘Samson and Delilah,” Blumenthal says. “Maybe we can make that into an Angry Birds kind of game?”

And more about Adam:

Not surprisingly, Blumenthal is a deadhead—he drew the name of his company from a line in the Dead song “St. Stephen.” It’s not an overstatement to say he’s been working toward this job his whole career. In the early 1990s, while he was a student at Ithaca College, he pitched his services to Phish, helping the young jam band dip into the burgeoning field of interactive media.

I actually know Adam from his days at Ithaca College. He and I met while enrolled in the first of several multimedia courses we took at the Communications Department at Cornell. We ended up working together on our course projects and I am particularly proud of our final collaboration - an interactive installation on the art of Chuck Jones, creator of Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Pepe Le Pew and Daffy Duck amongst others. This was, sadly, just before the meteoric ascent of the World Wide Web, so the project, written in the then hot Supercard authoring system on an Apple Quadra, has now ascended to the Great Bit Bucket in the sky. Anyway, it was obvious even back then that Adam was someone special and I couldn't be happier at this amazing opportunity he's created for himself. Congratulations!


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- January 13, 2011 10:49 PM // Music , Technology

Guru, Naan, Pundit, Curry, Bollywood

Here's a random collection of Indian-esque words (Guru, naan, curry, yoga, India, pundit, Bollywood) plotted on Google's NGram Viewer. Clicking on the image below will take you to an enlarged version.

Guru Naan Pundit Curry

The frequency sizes are too small for deducing meaningful trends. 0.00080%? However, it is somewhat interesting to observe the rise and fall of "India". Perhaps obsession peaked during Victorian times? More likely, it's a function of the types of books in Google's digitized database. The relentless rise of "guru" and "yoga", particularly from the '60s onwards, perhaps require less explanation.


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- January 2, 2011 12:06 AM // Technology

Why Ask Why?

Google's Search Autocomplete feature at it's not-so finest:

google technology

PS - Hat tip to Rob McCool.

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- September 3, 2009 8:40 PM // Technology

Doubtsourcing: The Sitcom

I'd first heard about doubtsourcing, the comic strip, in a techcrunch writeup. I think all desis with a) an internet connection and b) a funnybone are well familiar with the output from Badmash and this latest offshoot from one of the core group members, Sandeep Sood, seemed to have hit the ground running. Then I stopped hearing about it and the website stopped responding (it's down as of the time this post was written).

What happened? I figured with the US recession going global and a rise in forecasts for the decline in outsourcing, perhaps Sandeep's strip itself had fallen victim to the ongoing trends.

I was wrong. I caught this ad on craigslist looking for voice talent:

Male Voice Actor needed for Animated Sitcom (berkeley) Reply to: gigs-940863403@craigslist.org [?] Date: 2008-12-01, 12:56PM PST


Badmash.tv is an animation studio working on its first animated sitcom, called Doubtsourcing.

We are looking for a voice actor to play the part of Jamie.

Further web hunting revealed a slew of such ads, a Sepia Mutiny comment:

As for the studio, we are working on an animated sitcom called Doubtsourcing (should have the pilot done in a few months)

and this interview:

His most visible success, though, has been the "Doubtsourcing" comic strip and it caught the attention of a venture firm in the Valley. His potential investors suggested that "Doubtsourcing" be developed into a full fledged animated series, a sort of The-Simpsons-meets-The-Office. With Badmash already making a foray into developing an animation studio in India, it seems like a natural progression.

I found the last part of the interview to be particularly interesting:

Where do you plan to air the show? Here in the US or in India?

SS: That is an open question. We are negotiating with a few different channels including the more mainstream ones like Warner. There’s also the option of bypassing TV altogether and going straight to the web.

The italics are mine. With pundits proclaiming online video to be the killer app this year (and my day gig reliant on that fact :-), the timing for a straight to internet play couldn't be more appropriate. The recent successful VC rounds of sites like funnyordie and jibjab show the interest in generating online original humor content. There are plenty of risks with this type of endeavour, however, particularly when relying on content to go viral. As Sandeep noted himself when commenting on another piece:

There’s a ‘Jib-Jab’ effect to these types of animations. Your first piece is totally fresh, delightfully amateurish, and funny as a result. Then, unless you come with something totally new, it’s hard to recapture the same buzz again.

This is something we’ve learned first hand at badmash - if you’re trying to be purely viral, you can’t ride the same idea or style for too long.

With the badmash crew leading the way in this space for the desi diaspora, it'll be fascinating to track their approach to promoting the latest incarnation of doubtsourcing, their revenue model and, most importantly, how well it catches on. Fingers crossed. One thing is true though: with fiascoes like Satyam's going on right now, there certainly won't be any lack of material or interest on this topic!

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- January 10, 2009 7:44 PM // Diaspora , Humour , Technology

Hollywood vs Bollywood

It's always fun to speculate how the two compare - at least in public consciousness, if not in global box office receipts. Consequently, the recent announcement of Google Insight for Search, provides a wonderful tool for tracking mindshare. By aggregating and presenting search data from over the years, Google has provided the best example yet of its ability to be our collective database of intentions. So then, what are the trends for searches, direct and related, for "Hollywood" vs "Bollywood"? Culling data from Google Insight (bollywood, hollywood, hollywood vs bollywood), we get the following data nuggets. First, an overall comparison of search volume since 2004:

Photobucket

Hollywood is clearly the dominant leader worldwide. However, if you look at the overall search trends plotted year by year, an interesting picture emerges (red for Bollywood, blue for Hollywood):

Photobucket

Search volume for Hollywood has essentially oscillated in a single band - there's no discernible trend upwards. However, Bollywood related searches, while less than half the Hollywood volume, seem to be growing. Perhaps this could be due to the increased connectivity in the subcontinent. As more people come online, their preferences correspondingly skew the search volume.

More data: here's the regional breakdown of search volume. First, Bollywood:

Photobucket

Not too many surprises here: the searches tend to be clustered in the subcontinent, as you'd expect. However, there's interest in Europe, Canada, Australia and USA. Brazil from South America caught me by surprise, however.

Here's the regional breakdown for Hollywood:

Photobucket

More coverage on the map, obviously. However, I wasn't prepared for the extensive degree of interest emanating from the subcontinent. Actually, if you list the countries in order of interest, a startling picture emerges. First, Bollywood:

Photobucket

I was not prepared for Pakistan and Fiji heading the list above India. Clearly, Google's measure of interest is not by search volume only, rather it's normalized by population. Still, it's odd to see India's subcontinental neighbor more obsessed by Bollywood than itself. India's remaining neighbors and Afganisthan form the remainder of the top ten. Tanzania's presence is rather a surprise too. Moving on, what's the countrywide breakdown for Hollywood?

Photobucket

I was stunned to see Pakistan head this list too followed by Nepal, India and Bangladesh. The US was fifth! I didn't realize the extent of entertainment obsession in the subcontinent, particularly Pakistan. No wonder Hollywood is so interested in making inroads into the subcontinental market. The phrase "get a life" comes to mind, but hey, I am tracking the compulsion, so where does that leave me? :-)

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- August 7, 2008 10:27 PM // Bollywood , Technology

Back From LA LA Land

Just returned from a four day stay in LA. Some desi related flotsam and jetsam:

Jamie Masada (of Laugh Factory) and Jon Lovitz Yuk It Up At OnHollywood 2008

This was a session on the current state of online comedy. I was surprised to hear numerous references to desi-Canuck comedian Russell Peters. Apparently, his shows sell out regularly everywhere and it's all because of The Internets!


Holy Cow Restaurant

Near to West Hollywood where we were staying. Love the name and the logo. Food was just OK though.


Tattoo Stand Picture - Venice Beach Boardwalk
Omammary

"Om" has many meanings, one of which is "Welcome to the Gods." Can the location of this particular one be taken to mean "Welcome to My Mammaries?"

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- June 14, 2008 4:47 PM // Food , Technology , Travel

Put A Sock In It

From Valleywag comes this tidbit: apparently email startup Xobni is having trouble recruiting. In order to turn their cool-o-meter to 11, they homebrewed this video spiel:


The coup de grace comes halfway through the clip when we get to meet the best programmer in the company: apparently that would be a sock puppet with a bad Indian accent who is so efficient, he "singlehandedly reduced the indexing time by half." Come on fellas, if you're trying to recruit desis this is not the way to do it. Cliched German stereotypes and gratuitous use of Bill Withers ain't going to cut it either.

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- October 2, 2007 9:22 PM // Technology

Apple/Apple

Apple Records

vs

Apple Computer

It's a business concerning records, films and electronics, and as a sideline whatever it's called ... manufacturing whatever ... but we want to set up a system whereby people who want to make a film about anything don't have to go down on their knees in somebody's office, probably yours ..

John Lennon
Apple Press Conference
New York 14th May 1968

I was making my way through the Beatles Anthology series when I caught this. Lennon's thoughts on the manifesto of the corporation that he and the rest of the Beatles had formed are rather ironic when you consider that it is Apple Computers that has actually fulfilled their original charter rather better, lawsuits over names notwithstanding.

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- April 29, 2007 6:07 PM // Technology

Keepin' It Surreal, Desi Style

From Valleywag/PEHub comes this sad tale:

Sequoia Capital obtained a restraining order against Anand Lyer Vaidyanathan, an Iowa man who repeatedly tried to gain access to investor Michael Moritz at the firm’s Sand Hill Road Offices and later claimed he worked there.

Vaidyanathan went to Sequoia’s offices five times during the last week in October and the first week of November 2006, according to testimony from a private investigator hired by the firm. On his first visit, Vaidyanathan asked to meet with Moritz about an investment opportunity. On subsequent visits, he asked about employment at the firm. The receptionist asked him to leave, but he often remained in the lobby for extended periods of time.

Vaidyanathan returned on November 27, handed the receptionist his bank deposit slip and waited in the lobby while the Sequoia team called the police, according to the PI’s testimony. The police arrested Vaidyanathan for trespassing. At the time of his arrest, Vaidyanathan told police the receptionist had made a mistake: that he was actually an employee of Sequoia Capital, according to the PI’s testimony.

Given the rush of VC firms to invest in India lately, perhaps Mr. Vaidyanathan might have had more luck at Sequoia Capital's India offices in Bangalore. Uttering the magic words "middle class", "mobile" and "wi-max" seems to open quite a few doors in the overheated market down there ;-)

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- February 27, 2007 10:46 AM // Bay Area , Technology

Netflix, "Watch Now" and Bollywood

Netflix made waves last month by launching "Watch Now", their snazzy Video On Demand feature. The New York Times reports

Netflix-by-Internet, in other words, is deliciously immediate, incredibly economical and, because it introduces movie surfing, impressively convention-shattering.

It will not, however, change the way most people watch movies in the short term, for many reasons.

First, it works only on Windows PCs at the moment; a Macintosh version is in the works.

Second, only 1,000 movies and TV shows are on the Play list. There's lots of good, brand-name stuff here -- ''Zoolander,'' ''Chinatown,'' ''Jaws,'' ''Sleepless in Seattle,'' ''Twister'' and so on -- but Netflix's lawyers and movie-studio negotiators have a long way to go before the number of movies online equals the number of DVDs available from Netflix (70,000). Still, the company says that at least 5,000 movies will be on the list by year's end. So far, the sole holdout among major movie studios is Disney, perhaps because of its partnership with Apple's movie service.

Netflix is rolling out the service over several months, so not all subscribers can access it the first time around. For those wishing to jump the queue, however, Hacking Netflix describes a possible workaround. It worked for me and I was able to check out the service. First, kudos to Netflix for an impressive start and a very cool online viewing model - I've now upped my subscription level to five discs out at a time. Next, Netflix wasn't kidding when they said the number of online titles are limited. I actually counted them last weekend (my list of all the "Watch Now" titles are here) and it came to around 750. This includes such classics as Mulva 2: Kill Teen Ape! and Bad Movie Police Case #2: Chickboxer. Okay, okay, I'm kidding! As NYT points out, there is good stuff (and many documentaries and old Doctor Who episodes) in there. The good news is Netflix is continually adding new titles. Consequently, this week I see new items such as Round Midnight that I didn't find last week. I was surprised, however, by the Asian fare on offer. Here are the Indian related films I could find on the "Watch Now" list:


Aadmi Sadak Ka (1977)
Aamne Saamne (1967)
Aas (1953)
Abhimaan (2000)
Barsaat Ki Raat (1960)
Basant (1960)
Baton Baton Mein (1979)
Bhagam Bhag (2006)
Bollywood / Hollywood (2002)
Charno Ki Saugandh (1988)
Charulata (1964)
Chhalia (1960)
Chhote Nawab (1961)
China Town (1962)
Chirag Kahan Roshni Kahan (1959)
Dayar-E-Madina (2006)
Dharkan (1972)
Door Ki Awaz (1964)
Dus Lakh (1966)
Ek Mahal Ho Sapno Ka (1975)
Ek Phool Do Mali (1969)
Ek Ruka Hua Faisla (1986)
Ek Saal (1957)
Ghar Ek Mandir (1984)
Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani (1970)
Howrah Bridge (1958)
Immaan Dharam (1977)
Inaam Dus Hazaar (1987)
Jaali Note (1960)
Jai Santoshi Maa (1975)
Joi Baba Felunath (1978)
Kapurush (1965)
Kitaab (1977)
Lakhon Ki Baat (1984)
Lakhtar Ni Ladi Ne Vilayat No Var (2006)
Maa-Baap (2006)
Madhubala Song Compilation (2006)
Madine Ki Galian (2006)
Mahal (1949)
Mahapurush (1965)
Mamta (1966)
Meharbaan (1993)
Nanha Farishta (1969)
Nayak (1966)
New Delhi (1956)
Night in London (1967)
Prem Geet (1981)
Pyaar Ka Saagar (1961)
Pyar Mohabbat (1966)
Ram Aur Shyam (1967)
Rishta Kagaz Ka (1983)
Sara Akash (1969)
Saraswati Chandra (1968)
Swarg Narak (1978)
Swarg Se Sundar (1986)
Swayamwar (1980)
Thodisi Bewafaii (1980)
Us-Paar (1974)
Vachan (2006)
Zahreelay (1990)

That's about 61 titles out of 750, or about 8%. Not too shabby, particularly as the number of non-desi Asian titles on offer are minimal. As a matter of fact, I only counted Ghost In The Shell and Ninja Scroll but there could be more by now. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised by the Satyajit Ray films available online (Nayak, Kapurush, Mahapurush, Joi Baba Felunath, Charulata). The print on these will, hopefully, be better than the scratchy VCD transfers.

Look at the Bollywood titles, however, and a pattern starts to emerge. There are some real oldies here. Don't be fooled by the release dates on some of the titles - those aren't correct. In fact, there's nothing here from the past ten to fifteen years. Other than Abhimaan and the Satyajit Ray films I didn't see very many of what you would call classics either. In fact, it's mostly filler.

I'm sure a lot of this is due to the difficulties in obtaining broadband rights from the distributors. However, as I noted earlier, desis tend to be tech savvy in these things (just check out some the desi torrrent sites if you don't believe me) and, in fact, were early Netflix adopters. "Watch Now" can be a real trendsetter here too. If I was a desi grocer depending on renting out Bollywood titles for a lot of ancillary income, I wouldn't be worried just yet. But that could change soon if Netflix play their cards right.

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- February 10, 2007 7:56 PM // Bollywood , Diaspora , Film , Technology

Colbert vs Bollywood & Viacom vs GooTube

A couple of days back, I posted two clips where Stepher Colbert of The Colbert Report ran through a celebrity matchup between the Big B (Amithabh Bachchan) and King Khan (Shahrukh Khan). Now, as it happens, The Colbert Report happens to be a show on Comedy Central which is owned by Viacom . The clips in question were posted to YouTube.

Unless you're tuning in from Ulan Bator, you can see where this is going. On Friday, Viacom asked Google owned YouTube to remove a whole bunch of clips from their site. YouTube evidently has complied. Speedily actually. The clips I linked to are no longer available. If you click on them, that's what it says. The funny part is this: as of the time this post was written, you can still find the same clips on Google Video! Here goes:


and ...

Nice. I wonder how many of the other clips that YouTube have taking down can still be found on Google Video? I'm sure GooTube can claim they are complying with Viacom's request - after all, Viacom asked clips to be removed from YouTube, not Google Video. Still, Google owns both services, so it can't be that difficult to remove titles from the in-house one, can it? Perhaps it's just the principle of it - after all, Google's position is they are doing nothing wrong, so why should they delete anything unless they are specifically asked to? Or perhaps they just haven't gotten around to it yet.

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- February 3, 2007 7:04 PM // Bollywood , Technology

Back In Business ..

Phew, that was a month and a half! After sifting through oodles of hosting providers and picking one, the next step was the most daunting: moving the blogging platform. Alas, it was a step too far. I thought long and hard about leaving my long time partner (Movable Type) for a newer, sexier model (WordPress). It wasn't an easy decision. Reliability, sturdyness? Or prom queen popularity, glamour, glitz and user contributed goodness?

Okay, I admit it - I walked out the door. I took a test drive with my new trophy wife to be and I didn't want to come back. I shacked up with her for a week. But the highway of love is a lot tougher than it looks and rude reality butted in. What about custody rights? Styles? Themes? HTML code? There was no easy transfer, no quick solution. The manual was misleading. My new lover had led me on.

Beaten, I did the only thing a real man would do. I came crawling back. But would my forsaken lover take me back? Only, she'd taken care of herself while I was gone. She'd upgraded herself as well. She had other options too. It wasn't easy but an exhaustive nine hour session of pleading finally did the trick. I was back in.

Now, we're together again, ready to start the next phase of our life together. Sometimes though, I do stare out the window and wonder what could have been. Then, I think, well there are always dalliances elsewhere. My other site could use a new coat of paint ...

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- January 27, 2007 12:31 PM // DishumDishum , Technology

Bollywood On Demand - The Sequel

I wrote last year about Bollywood dishum dishum being available at a set top box near you if a) you were so inclined and b) lived in a select market such as the Bay Area. This was a pilot program launched by Comcast in conjunction with BODVOD, owned by [212]media, a NYC based company.

So, how is it doing? A recent press release from [212]Media provides the answer:

Our movies, mostly Bollywood, are available in over 11 million digital cable households and we've been seeing a major uptick in the number of transactions over the last 6 months.

Not too shabby, eh? That's a lot of masala down those cable pipes! Hopefully, the internet tubes won't get too clogged :-) And, there's more on the way:

After a recent trip to India, we've secured the latest content as well as the classic movies. This month, we're airing 'Rang De Basanti' and have 'Bluffmaster', 'Swades', 'Deewane Huye Paagal' and 'Krrish' all scheduled to air this Fall. The rise in interest for Hindi film has also convinced Cable Operators such as Time Warner to invest in the marketing of these movies through buying ads in print, television and the Web. You'll also notice the 'Bollywood' category on Time Warner's International Movies on Demand Channel (Channel 500) here in New York has more films available than any other category.

This is a turning point of sorts for us. Everyone already knows that Hindi movies are only shown in about 80 theaters across the country and people can't purchase DVDs at Barnes & Noble or Best Buy.

The point about availability is particularly important. Renting DVDs from my friendly local desi grocer is becoming less and less of an option - the film transfer is frequently horrendous and popular titles turn out to be too scratched for smooth playback. Netflix? Forget it - the wait is way too long and their inventory is still too limited. For a company who relied on Bollywood rentals in their early phases, that's a damn shame. In any case, there's a market opportunity here and [212]media (not to mention Time Warner and Comcast) seems well placed to capitalize.

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- September 17, 2006 8:58 PM // Bollywood , Technology

Web 2.0 Error Messages

In the nascent days of Web 1.0, visiting a web site that was down, or traipsing a link that no longer existed usually resulted in a plain plage coldly informing you of "404 - File Not Found" or "500 - Internal Server Error." Okay then - journey over - time to try again on Alta Vista! Soon enough though, enterprising product managers and engineers figured out a way of extracting some value out of the thwarted visitor. Consequently, these pages evolved into search boxes surrounded by navigational links trumpeting the content available elsewhere on the site. "Sorry, we don't host the original link BUT look at the other goodies we have! Try a search! Look at some ads!" In essence, a 404 became a biased 411 - a free plug for the rest of the site. After all, those eyeballs were too precious to lose.

This remained the state of the art for the longest time - still is in most places. Try this, this or this, for example. However, the next gen web companies, particularly those involved in the business of user communities, are taking a lighter approach. This goes with their fun image. Just look at their overall design and color schemes (pastels, hot pinks, baby blues). It makes sense - why be a sourpuss if you're a social networking site and trying to attract visitors? Even morticians like to have fun now and then! Perhaps it's not all that surprising that this playfulness extends to their error messages as well. So, do join me while I tour some of the better parties on the web.

We begin with Technorati:

Invoking the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a fine way of getting the festivities started. Bonus points for "leave a quarter on your way out," a sly dig at those web 1.0 titans who still view an error page as a monetization opportunity.

Our next destination is YouTube:

Will those zany guys stop at nothing for a laugh? "Zapping the gremlins" pokes fun at the IT/Unix guru nerd set and their habit for all things hobbit. It's also a reference to the behind the scenes sorcery necessary to run sites like this, the black box nature of which is illustrated by the "layman's explanation," a real hoot. The tequila is really starting to flow now!

Moving on to Google, we have this:

Javascript magic running dry at Google? Say it ain't so! And yes, there's the reference to the black arts again. Even Merlin can only stay up for so long apparently. So, let's tiptoe out of there and look for louder pastures. How about web 2.0 darling, FlickR?

Yes! "Highly trained monkeys" are in da house! The clincher is the "include the following information in your error report" bit, a dig at the endless applications and websites that ungraciously crash, usually when you're trying to save something critical to the existence of the free world, and then have the cheek to request that you send an e-mail with an unwieldy huge stack dump as debugging information. Why, anybody would think us users were nothing but beta testers. Oh, wait ...

Ah, we're having such a good time here, let's stay awhile and sample some more of that sangria:

Oooh, a massage, a confession and a get-out clause ("in the grand scheme of things it's no big deal") - these folks are real veterans of the dating scene. Tough to leave this party, but depart we must. Let's drop by Google on the way back to see if they've woken up and, by jove, they have:

Aha! In their typical pithy way, these boys have summarized the entire ethos of the error message in one succint sentence: "Oops. That wasn't supposed to happen." Bit of a buzz kill, but that's a great haiku for life in general, if you think about it. It's also a fine way of rounding off the evening.

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- September 10, 2006 2:52 PM // Technology

Web 2.0 Logo Parodies

This is hilarious. A bunch of folks on this design site are busy web-2.0-ifying corporate logos. Enjoy!

Perhaps we'll see logos for wipR or rediffr soon enough :-)

PS - Thanks to John Battelle for the tip!

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- July 27, 2006 12:20 AM // Technology

Beyond PageRank

In their WWW2006 paper, Beyond PageRank: Machine Learning for Static Ranking, the authors Matthew Richardson, Amit Prakash and Eric Brill, all from Microsoft, demonstrate that for static (query-independent) ordering of Web pages, machine learned link independent page features perform significantly better than Google's PageRank (tm). But enough with the geek talk, I just wanted to highlight the following paragraph from the introduction:

Google is often regarded as the first commercially successful search engine. Their ranking was originally based on the PageRank algorithm [5][27]. Due to this (and possibly due to Google's promotion of PageRank to the public), PageRank is widely regarded as the best method for the static ranking of Web pages.

Though PageRank has historically been thought to perform quite well, there has yet been little academic evidence to support this claim. Even worse, there has recently been work showing that PageRank may not perform any better than other simple measures on certain tasks.

Perhaps more of a rimshot than a potshot... You can read the rest of it here. Good stuff for those so inclined.

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- June 14, 2006 5:59 PM // Technology

video.yahoo.com

Yahoo upgraded their video service late last week - a big feature is the addition of video uploads. I was able to inject some stuff from DishumDishum over there. I was just expecting a couple of views, so imagine my surprise, when Match.com was featured on the front page over the weekend. When the gates to the new system opened, I was watching the view counter trickle up. Suddenly it jumped from 32 to 500 in a matter of minutes - I went to the front page and voila! I took a snapshot of our moment of glory before it went away completely:

Yes, I know this is still not on the same stratospheric levels with YouTube, but it's exciting regardless! My video channel is here - so far, I have 88 subscribers. Scary strange :-) My latest upload is an extended version of a clip previously featured on this site (Definition of Dishum Dishum), now renamed to Action, Old School Bollywood Style I. Go on, click it. You'll be glad you did!

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- June 8, 2006 9:05 PM // Technology

Google's Amitabh Valuation Part II

Some followup up thoughts to How Much Does Google Value Amitabh Bachchan?:

  • I omitted USA from my list of countries in the initial version of the article when I did include it in the list of territories covered by AdWords. Courtesy an alert reader, that's fixed. Thanks Arnav!
  • Desi stars are still cheap. Grab 'em while you still can! Even the Big B, barely compares to the average keyword price which, according to Fathom Online's quarterly roundup, is $1.39. As DesiPundit noted, he's still cheaper than "asbestos."
  • One reason for the actresses costing more than male stars on average could simply be prurience. If you don't believe me, try searching your favorite web search engine for "Aishwarya Rai" with and without the adult filter turned on. Now repeat for "Amitabh Bachchan" - see the difference? These adult web site owners know something about search habits. That, of course, still doesn't explain why Shabana rules the roost.
  • Wondering whether my ego could handle the bruising and aiming to get a baseline value, I tried finding out the value of my own name. Alas, Google gave me an Online Pharmacy ID Required warning. Apparently, "Soam Acharya" appears to contain pharmacy-related content while targeting the United States.. Most excellent! Consequently, despite her protests, I punched in my better half's name. I won't tell you what value came up but Sunil Shetty and Paresh Rawal can surely cheer up a little. I had to spend considerably more than that on flowers though - hopefully she'll start talking to me again soon.
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- April 25, 2006 9:59 PM // Bollywood , Diaspora , Technology

How Much Does Google Value Amitabh Bachchan?

Thar's gold in them keywords, son.

Ever wondered how Google (and, to a smaller extent, Yahoo) get a large chunk of their revenue? Well, you don't have to look very far. Take a look a closer look at your results the next time you do a web search - those little ads that dot the top and side of the page add up to an awful lot of money. "What does any of this have to do with Amitabh?," I hear you say. Well, the ads that show up here are usually related to your search query. For example, if you are searching for Amitabh, there are advertisers willing to pay Google (or Yahoo or MSN) for the privilege of showing up alongside the search results. If you should then happen to click on the ad, the advertiser will pay Google a fee, perhaps a relatively small amount but over the course of many many clicks, it adds up.

Exactly how these prices are determined vary from search engine to engine but popularity plays a big part. You are much more likely to search for "Sachin Tendulkar" than, say, "Robin Singh." No offense to Robin who served India most honorably indeed but Sachin just happens to be one of the most popular cricketers on the planet. Consequently, his name is more likely to be searched, hence there are more advertisers (say sports sites) competing against each other to pay for a higher ad placement on Google resulting in a higher price for Sachin. There are other factors involved, hence a fatter wallet is not a guarantee of top placement, but it certainly doesn't hurt! The upshot is this: words now have monetary value. And what is in a name? A lot of money indeed, particularly for the right one.

Now that we have a mechanism for measuring relative worth, I, of course, had to zoom in on Bollywood. I was curious - who was the most expensive fillum celebrity in the virtual firmament? Did any of our diaspora actors and actresses even rate? I devised a method to find out. I started off by going to Google's start page for advertisers. Once there, I picked the standard edition which allows you to select the territories where you'd like your ads to appear. In addition to the subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh), I added countries with high desi populations (USA, UK, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia) as well as a sprinkling of smaller territories (Fiji, Qatar, Hong Kong and UAE). Next, I created a fake ad with the title "Come to desi talk." and description "Come to a site to find news about desi celebrities." I provided Dishum Dishum, as the destination url. The penultimate step was selecting keywords for my ad. I entered my celebrity name here and Google then whispered, "want to purchase the most clicks possible?" This was Google's recommendations as to the budget and price per click (ppc) necessary to place my blurb near the top position for all possible impressions. Bingo! The ppc was the value I wanted. I started off with male actors. Here's the resulting list:

Desi Male Actors

Amitabh Bachchan $1.36
Kal Penn $0.40
Om Puri $0.36
Naveen Andrews $0.36
Shahrukh Khan $0.34
Salman Khan $0.28
Anil Kapoor $0.25
Naseeruddin Shah $0.21
Aamir Khan $0.20
Abhishek Bachchan $0.20
Sanjay Dutt $0.20
John Abraham $0.18
Nana Patekar $0.15
Boman Irani $0.10
Sunil Shetty $0.07
Paresh Rawal $0.05

Well, they don't call him the "Big B" for nothing! Amitabh extends his dominance over all things desi in the cyber arena as well. His name is worth as much as $1.36 a click. That's more than double the next contender, Kal Penn's rate of forty cents. Additionally, Kal "Kumar" Penn has Shahrukh, Salman, Aamir and all of the other Bollywood stars beat. What's more, the Khans are actually behind Naveen "Lost" Andrews and character actor Om Puri as well! What's going on here? If I had to guess, it would be that barring the diaspora, internet penetration (and consequently search based marketing) is still relatively low in the subcontinent. A lot of searches for desi terms is still going to come from the internet population at large - i.e. USA, UK and so on. Hence, diaspora actors who have made a name for themselves in the Western hemisphere but who are still relatively unknown in India will still be worth more. Perhaps Om Puri, by also having an international career (Salon wondered whether he was our greatest living actor?") in addition to his Indian one, avoids this sidelining as well. The Big B, of course, is in another plane entirely.

Some other observations from the list:

  • Old stalwart Anil Kapoor is hanging in there despite all the competition from young blood.
  • Aamir Khan is tied with Abhishek. Bluffmaster has a ways to go before we can start comparing him to his dad. But we knew that already, didn't we?
  • Old stars just refuse to fade away, don't they? Sanjay Dutt, recent bomb blast court case problems notwithstanding, continues to rate. Does Munnabhai have it in him for another charge up the charts? Stay tuned.
  • Young gun John Abraham has yet to completely escape the character actor ghetto occupied by Boman Irani and Nana Patekar. Nana's recent exploits in "Taxi No. 9211" haven't been enough to drive him up the ppc sweepstakes.
  • Spare a thought for poor Sunil Shetty and Paresh Rawal, occupiers of the cellar. Mr. Shetty's Bollywood profile has been pretty low for a while but I would have thought Paresh "Malamal Weekly" Rawal had done enough to escape the dungeon.

Moving on to actresses, we have:

Desi Actresses

Shabana Azmi $0.69
Rimi Sen $0.50
Rani Mukherjee $0.43
Mallika Sherawat $0.40
Lisa Ray $0.40
Sushmita Sen $0.30
Lara Dutta $0.30
Parminder Nagra $0.30
Aishwarya Rai $0.28
Kareena Kapoor $0.25
Preity Zinta $0.23
Archie Panjabi $0.21
Priyanka Chopra $0.20
Riya Sen $0.20
Bipasha Basu $0.20
Neha Dhupia $0.20
Purva Bedi $0.20
Sheetal Sheth $0.20

This list draws more questions than answers. How on earth is Shabana Azmi topping the list? Her ppc of $0.69 is actually more than all the male actors barring Amitabh! How does Rimi Sen manage to beat out reigning Bollywood queen Rani Mukherjee? What's Aishwarya Rai doing in the middle of the pack? My previous high-international-profile theory might explain Shabana's preeminence but, by that logic, Aishwarya should be topping the list. She isn't. On the other hand, Mallika Sherawat, despite having starred in a fair number of bombs of late, continues to rate. The diaspora actresses, although virtually unknown in India, are hanging tough as well. Over to you - let me know if you have any theories that fit the bill.

Disclaimer:. This article is for entertainment purposes only. Hat tip to a fellow Yahoo, Amr Awadallah - his original post inspired this article.

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- April 22, 2006 5:17 PM // Bollywood , Diaspora , Select , Technology

FUSE THIS

Yes, I've been away for the past week or so but all for a good reason. You see, I was commissioned (ie. "volunteered") to re-design the lobby at my workplace. The other floors in our campus were in the hunt too with a grand prize of $3000 going to the best defacement. Anything went. Carte Blanche and all of that good stuff. The only caveat? It had to fit the company theme: FUSE (Find Use Share Expand). Last Thursday (April 6th), everybody walked up and down the floors, surveying the extent of the damage in each lobby. Some enterprising folks had converted theirs to a Hawaiian bar. Another lobby had transformed itself into a London underground station. Still another had a live band cranking out oldies. I didn't wait around to see if they were taking requests.

And what did we do? Well, my co-conspirator Maya D. and I took an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to the whole thing. Many hours of sweat, swearing, toil, head scratching and last minute pitching in by many people on our floor produced the following:

  • Three purple balls for unwary visitors to bump their head against as they came into our lobby.
  • One wheel of fortune game with categories from one of our own properties.
  • Purple filter gels to cover the lobby lights and give it that Prince-like ambience.
  • Whiteboard panels covering most of the lobby walls complete with pictures and markers for visitors to make comments. Create your own content indeed!
  • Hundreds of jello shots
  • Even more home baked cookies
  • Video projector 1 complete with webcam showing time delayed footage of people wandering through. This was projected on the ceiling.
  • Video projector 2 looping edited interviews of folks on our floor. Also projected on the ceiling.
  • Best of Green Day blaring from the speakers.
  • Streamers and our theme sign, "FUSE THIS," hanging from the ceiling.

Add in numerous bemused and amused partygoers plus webcam, do severe time lapse processing on resulting footage and you have this video below. Hours of mayhem reduced to a 1 minute and 48 second clip courtesy Rob McCool and Rajesh Shenoy. And if you haven't guessed my workplace by now, the little logo at the center of the Wheen of Fortune in the video should give it away. Enjoy!

Launch in external player
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- April 9, 2006 7:46 PM // General , Technology

Tracking Cattle

On heavy rotation on CNN (US version) earlier this week, there were two RFID related stories. The first dealt with implanting RFID microchips in cattle for tracking purposes. The setting? New Delhi. I couldn't find a link on CNN but the San Francisco Chronicle has the scoop:

With the Indian economy's expansion in the last 15 years, driving Delhi's modern makeover, the presence of snorting livestock has become intolerable, many here say. "Everyone should be in their own natural habitat," said Meera Bhatia, a lawyer who filed a suit to compel the government to fix the cow problem. "It's not that complicated."

The Delhi cattle roundup is part of a nationwide trend. India's cities have in recent years sought to shed what some see as a medieval image that is inconsistent with the country's superpower ambitions...

Delhi's High Court ordered the city to address the cattle menace in 2002. "The capital city of Delhi should be a show window for the world," wrote judges R.S. Sodhi and Anil Dev Singh in their ruling. "The stray cattle on the roads gives a wrong signal."

Authorities tried a series of failed schemes: small fines, a threat to cut off cattle owners' electricity, a $50 bounty offered to the public for captured cows. The new plan -- involving a beefed-up staff of cattle catchers, microchip tracking devices and a massive new dairy farm -- is foolproof, say several people involved in its planning...

The linchpin of the strategy is the use of microchips implanted in the bellies of the city's cattle...

As many as 7,000 of Delhi's cattle have so far been micro-chipped, and officials plan to have them all tagged within 18 months.

This brings us to story #2 on CNN. Being an advanced economy, the USA, naturally, has to stay one step ahead:

CHICAGO: Say you have a high-security workplace and worry about the wrong people getting in.

Forget badges that can be lost or stolen. Why not tag employees with a radio-transmitting chip.

From about a foot away a special device will read the implanted chip's 16-digit number _ and zap, doors open and close.

That Orweillian-sounding idea is exactly what an Ohio security firm's boss has done with two of his workers and himself.

"We wanted a way to say, `Hey, we are a little different in the way we take our security,'" explained Sean Darks, chief executive of CityWatcher.Com in Cincinnati, who also is wearing a chip. "I wouldn't have my employees do something, if I didn't do it myself," he added.

His glee is not shared by workplace and privacy experts, who shudder at the idea that Corporate America might decide to brand employees with the latest technology, known as Radio Frequency Identification Device.

"This may be appropriate for cattle, pets or packages, but for humans it is a very different issue," said Lee Tien, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a technology and civil liberties group in San Francisco, Calif.

The temporal juxtaposition of the two news stories raises certain connotations. In addition to the workers as cattle meme, it brings up issues of tracking. Imagine if there was a nationwide sensor network: no more calling in sick, you better have a really good excuse for your boss that maps precisely to your movements! Imagine the resulting efficiency gains! The US would maintain its lead as the country with the most productive workers. And unwanted employees? Why, just put them out on the streets to be rounded up later by the city cattle pound!

Anyway, if you read the second story further, it turns out the US is actually behind other countries in human chip implantation:

Workers at the organized crime division of Mexico's Attorney General in Mexico City, for example, wear the chips to try to maintain top security.

So do about 2,000 patrons of nightclubs in Barcelona, Spain, and Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The chips allow them to avoid long waits in lines and to even run tabs at the clubs, which are owned by the same firm. Waiters scan the chips and a computer automatically draws the amount due from their checking accounts.

Scary.

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- February 17, 2006 7:27 PM // Technology