“Stunning Fail”

On reading this article, many things come to mind; and not just how it screams “sensationalism” and “nay-sayer” out loud.

Stunning, indeed!

Musk is headed for a “stunning fail” – Edward Niedermeyer.

Mr. Nostradamus takes a series of arguments, adds layers of “if this then that” on top, and tries to create a straw man. Even in my sleep I could smell oil on this article.

Musk was a newcomer into the payments industry and he re-invented things with PayPal. SpaceX is the first private company in the world that has been able to successfully go farther than government agencies like NASA, and at a cheaper cost.

People said the idea that Tesla could begin shipping the Model S to customers in 2012 was absurd, that they were naive and didn’t understand the complexities of building a vehicle like Detroit does.

Before that, everyone said nobody would buy electric vehicles because (a) you can’t get them over 100 miles in range, and (b) because there is no charging infrastructure.

I would rather live in a world where a man like Musk is pushing the realm of possibilities to the next level as opposed to one in which he joins the rest of us hoping for some miracle to come out of the behemoth car (or any other) industry which hasn’t really done much to innovate in fields like energy.

Even if it happens to be a “stunning fail”, it would be more glorious and would have changed the world more than most others in their entire lifetime.

Facebook buys Whatsapp

$19 billion.

This is the amount of money Facebook is paying (stocks + cash + RSUs) to acquire WhatsApp.

I’ve not been able to process it yet.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not questioning the worth of WhatsApp. It is a great messaging app which provides a simple, no-frills and reliable way of communicating with people, sharing images, videos, music etc. I have tried using a couple of other messaging apps and every time came back to WhatsApp. That is how good it is.

And ~500 million customers without any marketing is a huge deal that speaks volumes for the product.

But something does not add up. Or maybe I’m too naive to understand it yet.

WhatsApp supposedly deletes messages from their servers once they gets delivered. And they want nothing to do with advertising. Two things that Facebook is big on: data and advertising. Which leaves people’s contact list, which Facebook already has, in most cases by virtue of being installed on almost every Android/iOS phone out there.

Also, WhatsApp’s founder has promised to keep the product and services running as is, without ads. So what is Facebook really getting for $19B?

WhatsApp has become the app which has almost entirely replaced SMS and other messaging services for most people I know (speaking for student and professional crowd in India). By becoming the de-facto communication standard of sorts, and being present on every mobile device with a data plan, they have disrupted mobile messaging. Add to it the ability to create groups, and you have a pretty solid product. Not to mention that you save a lot of money, which is probably why I would be willing pay $5 or even $10 instead of $1/year. I think the fact that it is a private social network with a deep reach (across multiple platforms including Symbian) is a big thing. Also, there is zero effort on the user’s part to get started, besides installing the app. You can choose to share content with one or many people, and you only get to see what people directly share with you. It keeps the noise away. This, in addition to absence of advertising, makes it a good experience for one-to-one or one-to-many interactions.

On the other hand, it makes me think that this belittles the value of the hard sciences, medical and life saving research that people put their lives into. But then, Facebook was also valued at $100 billion+ , right?

Amusing ourselves to death

Two prophecies. Neither came true; or both did.

On the Path of Knowledge

This is perhaps one of the most striking passages I have read for a while. It describes the modern world with startling accuracy. In our fear of an increasingly authoritarian rule, we have allowed a far more dangerous vision to come true: heedlessness

Below is the foreward of Neil Postman’s book “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business“, accompanied by a comic illustration of the two ideas. It gives a concise comparison of the two authors views and what they foresaw society will become. But perhaps the remarkable part of this whole story passage lies beyond its lines with us:

Most of us will read this and continue living our life exactly the same way as before

…wake up


We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves…

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The NSA has programs that collect data on US Supreme Court Justices and elected officials, and they secretly provide it to Israel

Latest Snowden revelation makes things look as if the NSA was being run by Israel all along.

Thanks to Snowden, we now know the NSA:

  • Had James Clapper lie under oath to us – on camera – to Congress to hide the domestic spying programs Occured in March, revealed in June.

  • Warrantlessly accesses records of every phone call that routes through the US thousands of times a day JuneSeptember

  • Steals your private data from every major web company (Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, et al) via PRISMJune and pays them millions for it August

  • Pays major US telecommunications providers (AT&T, Verizon, et al) between $278,000,000-$394,000,000 annually to provide secret access to all US fiber and cellular networks (in violation of the 4th amendment). August

  • Intentionally weakened the encryption standards we rely on, put backdoors into critical software, and break the crypto on our private communications September

  • NSA employees use these powers to spy on their US citizen lovers via LOVEINT, and only get caught if they self-confess. Though this is a felony, none were ever been charged with a crime. August

  • Lied to us again just ten days ago, claiming they never perform economic espionage (whoops!) before a new leak revealed that they do all the time. September

  • Made over fifteen thousand false certifications to the secret FISA court, leading a judge to rule they “frequently and systemically violated” court orders in a manner “directly contrary to the sworn attestations of several executive branch officials,” that 90% of their searches were unlawful, and that they “repeatedly misled the court.” September September

  • Has programs that collect data on US Supreme Court Justices and elected officials, and they secretly provide it to Israel regulated only by an honor system. September


The end of privacy as we know it

I remember Eric Schmidt saying something to the effect of “if you don’t want something to be publicly known, don’t post it on the internet”. But as we have seen with the deeper proliferation of ‘social media’ on our lives, we can’t stop but share every moment of our lives online. There are specialized channels for us to share different types of content.

I’m not here to rave about how the definition of words ‘share’, ‘like’ and ‘social’ has been perverted changed over the last few years. There are enormous psychological and social effects of social media about which tons has already been written.

This post has been motivated by what we have lately learned about all that has been going on in the past many years unbeknownst to mere mortals outside the high echelons of the government and corporates that we so willingly give all our information to.

The latest revelation regarding what governments are keeping from their citizens was done by Edward Snowden who sought refuge in Hong Kong and is currently in Russia. The US government has charged him with Espionage Act, among others.

Previously, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks (also see: The Fifth Estate) have been charged with accounts of passing private information to the enemy.

While I am no one to judge the ramifications of what they have done, I do have one question. What about James Clapper, the head of the NSA, who lied to the Congress about the existence of PRISM, the gargantuan data-collection program which the NSA is using to collect data from various software companies’ servers; which in turn, happens to be data of every individual, US citizen or not, who uses websites and services of these companies.

This week a new incident followed the already snowballing set of activities in this space. The founder of Tor network was arrested after the government agencies intercepted and added malware to the Tor network and Freedom Hosting using infected nodes. The Tor client, which was Mozilla Firefox ESR 17, had a vulnerability which was compromised in this attack.

Here is the source code of the malware.

Apparently this malware was collecting data and sending to an IP which was one of the many IPs assigned to the government agencies. Exactly who was controlling it, is not yet clear.

Security expert Bruce Schneier has this to say about the NSA surveillance.

I used to have a lot of respect for America because of what it stood for. Those values seem to be decaying. The ‘land of the free; home of the brave’ is the one which is now headed to prosecute the people who told the public what their government is secretly doing with their personal data. This sounds a lot like ‘shoot the messenger’ to me. As Carlin used to say, the only American value that has remained, is buying things.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, I will leave you with one word: 1984.

What if Google starts doing it?

This has been a question I have come across many times, and must say, is not a pointless one. I have been asked this by my friends many times I discuss an idea with them, and Google told me that many VCs do it too.

I have always loved Google. For their culture, for the simple UI of their products, for supporting open technologies, for providing high-quality products (mostly) for free, unless you are a power user; and for tackling big problems.

Theoretically, many of those things are still valid. But there is a problem. I am no longer a student, and when I pick a product, especially for professional use, I have to know that it will work, I will get the support in case I need it; and most importantly, it will still be around 6 months or 2 years from now. That is where this argument has started faltering lately. I’m sure Google is not abandoning mail anytime soon. But can I be certain about things like Blogger, Calendar, or Feedburner? Not with certainty, I suppose. They’ll notify us in their Spring Cleaning updates and give time to export the data, but I still don’t see why shouldn’t I just stick to a company that is focused on that one product.

If you want to do something they are already doing, I think you should not let this fact be the sole deterrent, as long as you know there is a market and you know that you can provide a solid product and good support.

The Real Story Behind Facebook Moderation and Your Petty Reports

The other perspective.

The Internet Offends Me

Imagine going to work every day and at the start of your day, with your first cup of coffee, you sit down to glance at beheadings, children in the process of being raped, human bodies in various stages of decomposition, the living and dead results of domestic violence, hanging bodies of 10 year old boys accused of being gay, real-life snuff films and bloody dog fighting rings and their subsequent results. Can you think up a human horror? I’ve probably seen it or a picture or video of something very similar. It’s fair to say that some of the people who work around me do not fare so well. Often they end up suffering from the endless barrage of horror they witness 8 to 12 hours per day. Did I share that *most* of these people make around a dollar per hour to do this job? That’s the truth. Not…

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