Aug 16, 2008

World - Iran & Refugee Crisis

Iran’s rugged frontiers with Afghanistan and Pakistan have, for centuries, witnessed a regular flow of people and goods. Cross-border ethnic, tribal and cultural linkages forged before the demarcation of national boundaries have taken root, and continue to influence events in all three countries. However, growing instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, enmeshed in intense geopolitical rivalry, is posing serious new threats to Iran’s internal cohesion and external security.
The recent spike in violence in Afghanistan has triggered a fresh wave of refugees into Iran. “The situation is becoming alarming again. Every day, 2,000-4,000 refugees are entering Iran from Afghanistan. That amounts to a monthly addition of 1,20,000 refugees,” Carlos Zaccagnini, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Iran, told The Hindu recently.
Besides, a bumper poppy harvest in Afghanistan is posing new challenges as Iran is the gateway for transit of narcotics into Europe, the Persian Gulf and West Asia. Besides, smuggling of contraband has serious domestic implications, with drug abuse among youth becoming rampant. The escalation of violence in Iran’s Sistan-Balochestan province, which in large measure is attributed to the smuggling of drugs, has also become a major source of tension along the Iran-Pakistan border.
Mr. Zaccagnini pointed out that Iran had faced at least three waves of refugees from Afghanistan since 1979. They first began pouring in when Soviet troops moved into the country. The second wave started in the mid-1990s, when the Taliban established itself in the country. Many of the refugees were ethnic Tajiks and Hazaras, who have traditionally been influenced by the Persian language and culture. The third wave, which began recently, is the result of the deteriorating security situation yet again. “The world is refusing to recognise that once again, Afghanistan has become a refugee-producing state. Unless this mental block is removed, a fresh approach to meet this huge challenge will not be conceived,” Mr. Zaccagnini observed.
Iran’s approach to tackling its refugee crisis has been avowedly rooted in Islamic principles. After the 1979 revolution, it pursued the ideology that Islam has no borders and, therefore, all Muslims are welcome in Islamic lands. As a result, nearly four million Afghans poured into Iran after Russian soldiers pushed into Afghanistan. However, practical considerations forced Iran to modify its approach towards refugees in later years, notwithstanding its commitment to ideological tenets.
For instance, Iran simply did not have the finances to bear the burden of such a large inflow of refugees. Western hostility to the Iranian revolution has also meant inability to secure significant humanitarian aid from abroad. Mr. Zaccagnini pointed out that there was no problem in getting international aid for Afghanistan and for refugees in Pakistan. But in the case of Iran, it has been an entirely different story. Cultural factors, too, have inhibited the flow of humanitarian assistance to Iran. The Iranians are too proud to ask for aid. But there is a view in Tehran that Iranians resent the fact that the world has not acknowledged the Herculean task they have performed virtually single-handed.
Iran has absorbed almost a million Afghan refugees into its workforce, many of them engaged in construction activity, on farms, as municipal workers or as housemaids. However, the fate of nearly two million Afghans who have not been registered continues to remain uncertain. Without external support, Iran is finding it difficult to register additional refugees, as this gesture would entitle them to rights which have significant financial implications. So, Iran in the past deported unregistered refugees, leading to harsh international criticism which many, in the prevailing circumstances, see as unfair.
Human rights groups in Iran have been active in seeking fair treatment for refugees. Rights activist and Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi has been advocating that refugees, who have married in Iran or have had children there, be provided with full legal status. UNHCR officials say children born of an Iranian father and an Afghan mother have not faced significant problems with social integration. But children born of an Afghan father and an Iranian mother face an uphill task. Recently, the government decided that their status be legalised after they turn 18.
Dr. Ebadi is opposed to forced repatriation. However, taking a comprehensive view of the problem, she strongly advocates better border management to ensure that the Afghans who voluntarily seek repatriation do not return. Given the paucity of international humanitarian aid and the difficult security situation in Afghanistan, she has also urged foreign, mainly western governments, to accept in greater numbers, refugees stranded in Iran.The drug menace
Iran is on the frontline of the war against the international flow of drugs originating from Afghanistan. Opium production in Afghanistan in 2007 hit a record high of 8,200 tonnes, amounting to nearly 92 per cent of the total world output. In poverty-stricken Afghanistan, the export of opiates fetches an astounding $4 billion in the international market. Nearly 66 per cent of opium is produced in southern Afghanistan, with the Hilmand province producing the bulk.
Iran is part of the Balkan route that includes Pakistan, Turkey and the Balkan countries, used for the export of drugs. Its prominence is evident as nearly 80 per cent of opium seizures in the world have been made in Iran. Adopting a proactive stance, Iran has mounted a major effort to confront drug barons offloading Afghan supplies into the world. It has suffered heavy losses in the process — about 3,700 Iranian security personnel were killed and 11,000 disabled between 1989 and 2003 in battles with the drug gangs. Fighting has been intense as private armies attached to the drug lords use sophisticated weapons, including rocket launchers, heavy machine guns and Kalashnikovs in their engagement with the Iranian forces.
There are social factors which add to the complexity of interdicting the flow of drugs through the Sistan-Baluchestan province, one of the natural gateways for export. Unlike in other areas, the drug barons are socially well networked here. Baluchi and Sistani tribes, with active contacts with each other, are spread across the geographical frontiers of Pakistan and Iran. Averse to recognising geopolitical boundaries as part of an ancestral tradition, prominent sections within these tribes have been engaged in a sustained combat with the Iranian forces. While many are directly involved in trafficking, including providing logistics, others have generally been supportive of this trade.
Fighting in this area has been focussed around the cross-border routes used for trafficking. Iranian law-enforcement agencies have mapped 50 smuggling routes in the Sistan-Baluchestan province. Key locations in the smuggling trail include Mirjaveh, Zahedan and Iranshahr. Zahedan, capital of the province, is the nucleus of two major smuggling routes, with the historical city of Bam as an interim destination. From Zahedan, one route heads for Bam after passing through the Roodmahi ranges and the town of Narmashir. Another breaches the Kabody mountains before reaching Bam via Noosratabad.
Organised gangs, which do the bulk of drug trafficking, use motorised convoys, usually consisting of several vehicles. Smaller quantities are smuggled out by individuals called “Barduks” who undertake cross-border journeys . With their trans-national tribal networks, Barduks usually travel from Iran into Afghanistan and Pakistan with small loads on their shoulders. On return, some may carry heroin or opium, usually not more than five kg.Emergence of Jundallah
Iran’s security involvement in the Sistan-Baluchestan province has acquired another dimension with the emergence of Jundallah — a militant group apparently demanding greater rights for Sunnis and ethnic Balochis. The group, which Tehran accuses of receiving support from the Americans, captured 16 Iranian border guards at a checkpoint in the town of Saravan on June 12. It has since announced that it has killed four of them, and threatened to execute the rest of them unless Iran releases 200 of its fighters.
Iran views the turbulence beyond its borders and its fallout as posing a severe challenge to external security and internal stability. Tehran sees the positioning of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan along with the flare-up of violence in the Sistan-Baluchestan province as an attempt to undermine its security through a sustained attempt to encircle the country with hostile forces. The flood of refugees and drug trafficking pose a serious challenge to its economic and social well-being.
However, given Iran’s focus, tenacity and adoption of a proactive approach, it is inconceivable that it will cave in to external and internal pressures. On the contrary, considering Iran’s capacity to exert its influence through a sophisticated religious, social and intelligence network that reaches far beyond its borders — in countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories — the West may be running out of options other than engaging Tehran in a sustained dialogue.

World - Technology at the heart of Beijing Games

This year’s Olympics perhaps more than any other are about far more than the goal of pushing the human body to excel in sporting competition. Embedded in the multiple narratives of the Beijing Games, technology stands out as one strand deserving of some unpacking. Both the Olympics and the experience of their audience are increasingly shaped by technology which has begun to exert a profound impact on our ontological certainties.
Take the most anticipated and watched episode of the Games as an example: the opening ceremony on the eighth of August. The show was a technological marvel of jaw-dropping sophistication, featuring 15,000 performers who transformed the National Athletics “Bird’s Nest” Stadium into a scroll upon which 5,000 years of Chinese history was enacted with perfectly coordinated precision.
Watched on TV sets by over two billion people or around a third of the world’s population, according to global media market research company Nielsen, the opening ceremony was clearly designed for audiences at home rather than the mere 90,000 spectators actually present at the venue.
The bird’s eye views of the unfolding spectacle afforded to TV audiences would have been impossible for those physically present to take in, as would have the zoom-ins to the dimpled face of nine-year-old Lin Miaoke singing “Hymn to the Motherland” when the Chinese flag made its entrance into the stadium. The experience of following the fountains of firecrackers exploding in seamless waves across the city was likewise a privilege reserved for those who were far away rather than up close to the ceremony. Controversy
The fact that large, live performances are increasingly catered towards TV audiences is no longer a novel enough phenomenon to generate much social anxiety or discussion. However, certain details that have subsequently emerged regarding the technologically “enhanced” nature of the opening ceremony in Beijing have stirred much controversy within and outside of China.
To begin with it was revealed by Beijing Games Executive Vice-President Wang Wei that certain parts of the televised footage of the ceremony had been pre-recorded and digitally created for maximum effect. These included the 55-second sequence of fireworks “footprints” exploding in consecutive ripples along a south-north axis across Beijing from Tiananmen Square to the Bird’s Nest.
The newspaper Beijing Times further quoted Gao Xiaolong, a member of the video team for the opening ceremony as saying that the sequence was “mostly an animated three-dimensional video that was made over a year. It was not actually live footage except the final stage,” at the stadium itself. Mr. Gao explained that the decision to replace the originally proposed live broadcast with a recording was made due to flight restrictions on the helicopters required to film it, and the timing and complexity of the challenge.
What needs clarification is that the fireworks in question were actually burst at the opening ceremony and witnessed live by tens of thousands. However, what television audiences saw was a pre-recorded version.
Fireworks aside, an additional revelation has come to light. The little girl Lin Miaoke whom the China Daily newspaper declared to have captured the “heart of a nation” with her singing, was in fact merely miming to the voice of a younger seven year old, Yang Peiyi.
Yang’s uneven teeth apparently had the organisers deem her appearance as unsuitable. The musical director of the ceremony Chen Qigang told Beijing Radio on August 10 that the decision to use Yang’s voice and Lin’s face was taken because “It was the image of our national music, our national culture. And especially since it accompanied the arrival of the national flag in the arena, this was an extremely serious matter.”
Both these disclosures have led to outrage in China with tens of thousands of netizens posting comments on chat sites describing feelings of having been “duped” and “cheated”.
On the one hand such reactions seem but natural. They should however also lead us to ask the question why logically speaking we feel the way we do. The very fact of watching a show on TV or the Internet in itself means that our experience of the event is technologically enhanced. Moreover, the fireworks in question did go off at the opening ceremony, even if what was broadcast was a pre-recorded semblance.
The philosophical issue raised by the “fake” bits of the opening ceremony has to do with the assumed intrinsic value we seem to ascribe to authenticity. But is the authentic always “better” than a replica? If the pleasure derived from viewing a fake is as much or perhaps even greater than that drawn from the original, is the authentic still of more value?
Objectively speaking “authenticity” is ethically ambiguous or neutral. It has no superior moral value in itself. Indian visitors to China are often horrified to discover “authentic” Chinese food and experience far greater pleasure from gobhi Manchurian than bona fide chicken feet.Issue of authenticity
The issue of authenticity also problematises the relationship between sports and technology as a whole. The idea of pure human endeavour unsullied by technological intervention is widely accepted as a chimera. Who wins at the Olympics has as much to do with individual talent or “natural” athleticism as it does with high-tech training, scientifically-monitored diets and cutting-edge equipment. To compete at the Olympic-level sportspeople today must be technothletes.
At the swimming competitions in Beijing this year for example, world record after record has tumbled. But does this have to do with talent or the new Speedo LZR Racer streamlining body swim suits that the majority of the swimmers have begun to wear?
Technology is at the heart of nearly every aspect of this Olympics. These are the first Games to be broadcast live on the Internet. Virtually every device that can receive a signal is receiving them from Beijing — as podcasts, RSS feeds, e-mail alerts and videos. The American network NBC that has bought broadcasting rights to the Games will present more than 3,600 hours of Olympic coverage in total, more than the sum of all the hours of Olympic TV coverage ever.
People around the world are moving beyond spectating and actually participating in the event on web blogs and other virtual communities. Individuals who have never met in the “natural” world are busy interacting in cyberspace, swapping, buying and selling tickets.
Regardless of where one stands on the authenticity debate, what the 2008 Olympics really drive home is how enmeshed technology is today with both sporting talent and the experience of its audience. For worshippers of the “authentic” the Olympics can only disappoint.

World - Tsunami reconstruction to destroy homes

Fishing families in Aceh who survived the 2004 tsunami that struck the northern tip of Indonesia and washed away every home in their village, and most of the land, face the prospect of seeing their community devastated a second time.
Months after new quake-proof homes on stilts were built, almost half could be torn down to make way for a coastal highway billed as the U.S. government’s signature project for tsunami reconstruction.
Even as the 118 homes in the village of Kuala Bubon were being designed and built, plans were being laid for the road from Banda Aceh to Meulaboh, west Aceh, funded to the tune of £125m by USAid, the American government’s international relief and development agency.
But the highway route that will scythe through the village could see the demolition of up to 50 of the houses that were built with £750,000 of money donated by Christian Aid in the U.K. and Lutheran churches in the U.S. Absurd
“It’s so absurd,” said Rebecca Young, tsunami liaison officer for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in Aceh. “Funds from American churches were used to build these houses. Now American taxpayers’ money is going to knock them down for a road the people don’t really want. But USAid said it is not going to bend.”
Locals had finally begun piecing their lives back together after 219 of 928 villagers were killed by the Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed 168,000 lives in Aceh alone. Villagers, helped by the Yakkum Emergency Union (YEU), a non-governmental organisation, wrote to Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, saying: “In general, we do not reject this road construction” and just wanted it rerouted to empty land 30 metres to the north.
Indonesia’s national commission on human rights is reviewing villagers’ grievances and is due to visit the site soon. But USAid maintains the road must stick to the route selected by Jakarta after it bought the land in 2005, making any houses built on the land after that illegal.
BPN, Indonesia’s national land board, estimates 50 houses will be lost to the road, while YEU says at least 22 homes are to be razed to make way for the four-lane road and bridge that will tower over the surviving properties on either side.
Villagers admit they agreed to the plan when they were shown the route by USAid planners last year. But opponents say officials used old aerial photographs that failed to show that two-thirds of village land had been washed away.

India - Facts about Jana Gana Mana

Sept. 11, 1942: Jana Gana Mana played as the official national anthem in Germany in 1942, reveal India’s national archives
* Jana Gana Mana was performed, not sung, as the official national anthem for the first time in Hamburg on September 11,1942.
* A document in the private collections of the National Archives says it was performed by the chamber orchestra of Radio Station Hamburg before an audience comprising Subhash Chandra Bose, Governor Kaufmann, Mayor Krogmann and prominent citizens of the city.
* Venue was Hotel Atlantic and the occasion, foundation of then Deutsch-Indische Gesellschaft (Indo-German Society).
* The document says: “Subhash Chandra Bose, who always attached importance to all spheres of India’s growing consciousness as a nation, has personally decided in favour of Jana Gana Mana as the national anthem.”
* “According to press reports, Jana Gana Mana was played for the first time before a larger public officially as the national anthem of Azad Hind,” it said.
* The function was addressed by Subhash Chandra Bose, Governor Kaufmann and Mayor Krogman.

Columnists - Barkha Dutt

First — since there’s no way of putting this lightly — here’s how bad it is. Jammu and Kashmir is standing on the precipice of partition. The danger of disintegration is no longer just the lament of worried columnists. The faultlines of rage running through the state have the force to rip through its centre and tear it apart into small pieces. And while we Zre legitimately all hot-faced about why Pakistan is meddling in our problems instead of mopping up its own mess, here’s the sad truth. India has only itself to blame for the current crisis. A strange combination of passive inaction and blundering aggression has taken us to the brink, and not even one political party seems to care.
There is, to start with, the impassive and infuriatingly languid response of the UPA. When Jammu and Srinagar were first ablaze with tension, the government was too busy lobbying for its own survival. If even a fourth of the energy that went into saving the nuclear deal had been diverted northwards, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this mess today. Instead, the government sat paralysed for more than a week when the Valley first erupted into violence. And when the new Governor tried to undo the mess created by his bumbling predecessor (by letting the state government take charge of the 40 hectares of land initially transferred to his office), no one thought it necessary to explain the decision to the people of Jammu. It was another month before violence on the other side of the Pir Panjal range shook the Centre out of its stupor. And by this time, the regional divide was complete and the protests on either side had very little to do with land.
Even beyond the alarming delay, the Home Minister and his team have a lot to answer for. Shouldn’t the obvious decision have been to start talks with both the separatists in the Valley and the protestors in Jammu? So what if the Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti is peopled by members of right-wing groups like the VHP? Or that some protestors in the Valley question allegiance to India? Once they become the face of the agitation in either region, the Indian State needs to find a way to do business with them. If there is one thing that the otherwise polarised state agrees on, it is the unresponsiveness of the government.
It may, at first, seem innocuous that the all-party delegation left the Valley without meeting fruit traders who had waited for two hours to get a mere audience. But when you consider that the traders had pleaded for a meeting on the eve of their protest march to the Line of Control, you have to wonder how many more acts of self-destruction we will witness. The Governor has now promised investigations into the use of ‘excessive force’. But surely everyone should have understood that shooting a separatist was only going to be a force-multiplier for further conflict?
The fact is that there was a complete misreading by policy-makers and intelligence sleuths on how deep the anger and alienation is on both sides. The government did not think that Jammu would have the gumption to sustain a violent agitation. Nor did its advisors anticipate that in the Valley, a sea of protestors would move in waves to protest what they allege is an ‘economic blockade’. The Army may have swiftly taken charge and ensured that the national highway is open for trade and traffic, but the mutual suspicion between the two regions is now so acute that fear itself is the blockade.
LK Advani may describe this clash of identities as a collision between “nationalists and separatists”. But here’s the question. For a party that has always pitched itself as the macho alternative to the Congress’ more effete nationalism, and for a man who has cast himself in the role of the ‘Ironman’ who will keep India safe, don’t he and the BJP understand that they are playing dangerously with the country’s national interest? The conflict within J&K was always isolated within a geographical context. The pro-azaadi voices in the Valley have never found a chorus among Indian Muslims. And we have always cited this as a testimony to our secularism.
We are all ashamed of the forced exile of the Kashmiri Pandits. Still, we have always attempted to see the conflict in the state through a political prism, rather than a religious one. To now mobilise a pan-Hindu anger – over what is essentially a regional conflict (though admittedly tinged by religion) rooted in decades of complicated history and perceptions of discrimination on both sides – is to create monsters that could come back to devour us all. It was Advani who officially dismissed the proposal to bifurcate the state when he was Deputy Prime Minister. It was Vajpayee who first promised everything “within the boundaries of humanity” to the Kashmiri people. History recognises the BJP as the architect of the peace process within the state. But now, every day that extremist anger in either region feeds off the other, it only strengthens the opponent across the border. Does the BJP not see that?
And what of the homespun political groups? In the Valley, there is now a dangerous blurring between mainstream and separatist groups. Their agendas are almost indistinguishable as the state prepares for a volatile and bloody election. But they have a responsibility to their own people as well. For years, they have claimed that their demands are ethnic and political and not communal or religious. Well then, this is the time to reach out across the divide and prove that. Instead of marching toward the Line of Control, let them march to Jammu. Let them defy the curfew if they must and break down the blockade that stands between their people. They can’t always paint New Delhi as the villain and themselves as the victims. Their credibility is as much on test.
Finally, we now know that the PM can be single-minded about things he cares about. Can he please spare some of that obsessive passion for Jammu and Kashmir? He can no longer leave this to bureaucrats and naysayers within his government. He needs to make an imaginative and personal intervention. Before it is much too late.
Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV

Sports - Light on Olympic Torch Design

BEIJING: Why did the flame seem to be extinguished in the first three seconds when final torch bearer Li Ning was lifted up to light the main cauldron at the opening of the Beijing Olympics?
“The flame was not put out — it was just burning inside the torch and wasn’t visible to the audience,” said chief torch designer Huang Qijun, revealing the secrets of the design in Friday’s Beijing News. It was designed to allow the flame to be seen when the bearer held up the torch at a 30-degree angle.
“At the opening ceremony, it took a few seconds for Li to make the right pose. That’s why the flame seemed to have gone out,” he said. To make sure the flame would continue burning in a strong wind during the “flight” around the Bird’s Nest on August 8, the designers tried a variety of features.
“The last torch has more and bigger vent holes than the others so enough air will flow through,” said Mr. Huang. Each vent hole was 1.5 mm in diametre, compared to 1.2 mm on the standard torch, and the last torch had 600 holes compared with the standard 430. A special grip helped the bearer to hold on to the torch during his spacewalk-like flight at a height of 50 metres.
An extra aluminium insulation plate inside the torch protected his hand from the heat, reducing the temperature on the surface of the torch to about 40 degrees Celsius, but adding two to three grams in weight. “To keep the lighting plan secret, I was informed about it on July 24. We had only 10 days to develop the torch, which was tested on August 5. Then we only made three of them,” he added. According to the IOC rules, the mould that produced about 26,000 Beijing Olympics torches would be destroyed after the Games, he said. Though the flight around the stadium lasted only about three minutes, it was difficult for Mr. Li to hold up the torch all the way so the engineers fixed another wire to his arm as well as the two on his body, said Mr. Huang.
The impressive spectacle resulted in Mr. Li “flying” with his torch to send a torrent of flame spiralling upward to light the Olympic flame in a huge cauldron overlooking the stadium. — Xinhua

Aug 14, 2008

World - Japan & Socks ( V.G.Read)

One of the first things the foreign visitor notices in Japan is the immense importance attached to socks - and the vast range of foot coverings available in every shape and form.
Molly Tanahashi, a Japanese American who moved to Tokyo from Honolulu, says the first year spent in her new locale was the year she spent "worrying over socks."
"Everyone knows the Japanese don't wear shoes in the house," Tanahashi said, "but I had no idea there would be so many instances outside the home where I would be asked to take my shoes off."
In restaurants and hair salons, in bars and even trendy boutiques, Tanahashi was made, inadvertently, to expose her feet. Within a week she caught on. "Bare feet are considered unsanitary and impolite, so I was always careful to wear socks but then I worried whether they were socially, culturally or fashionably acceptable. The worst of course, is when after a long day I take off my shoes in a restaurant and there's this big hole around the toe. VERY embarrassing."
Many Japanese will sympathize with Tanahashi - we all know how Bad Socks Days can be. On the other hand, wearing great socks is a good way to boost morale. By great socks the Japanese mean they must be functional, lovingly made, attractive and comfortable.
To the Japanese, the feet are a separate entity from the rest of the body, an appendage with special guest status that must be treated with care and respect: "This is because so many Japanese traditionally suffer from foot trouble," said Masami Domoto, a physical therapist. "Flat feet, for example, are rampant among men. And one in every three women over the age of 20 suffer from some degree or symptom of a condition known as hallux valgus," or bunions, "when the big toe is deformed and is twisted inward."
Domoto works at a reflexology clinic in the Aoyama district and treats many "young women who come in dragging their feet in pain. The combination of high heels and long commutes, plus working 8 to 10 hours a day in air-conditioned offices are murderous on the feet," she said. To combat these ills, she recommends wearing flats instead of heels, soft suede instead of hard leather. And above all, she advocates wearing socks instead of panty hose.
The operative word is circulation. Alert to the fact that good socks enhance blood flow, relieve fatigue and prevent athlete's foot, sock makers throughout the country, from major companies like Fukusuke and Gunze to small but innovative companies like Takeda legwear, have launched one innovative sock after another, with the famed "five-fingered sock" topping the list.
Designed to encase each toe with snug precision and ease the pressure that comes from standing in commuter trains or pounding pavements, the five-fingered sock is a coveted item among men, and among male and female athletes. "I'm out there stomping the streets five or six hours a day and I look upon these things as comrades in arms," said Minoru Uehara, who works as a salesman for Nissei Life Insurance.
A colleague, Hisami Tanaka, said that although she appreciates their "amazing functionality," she tends to go for socks that are more decorative, humorous or just beautiful. "My own comrades are the pumps socks," she said, referring to the socks designed to wear with high heels. These are elegant contraptions that cover the toes and heel and are held together with thin strips of lace or ribbon that make them resemble ballet shoes. "I love them because they're both casual and formal, acceptable for any occasion," said Tanaka. "In my teens I used to wear mules on bare feet and endure the pain but those days are long gone!"
Japanese socks evolved from the "tabi," a sock split at the toe and hooked up in the back, at the Achilles heel, that encased the foot like a soft boot. Functional and beautiful, the tabi went out along with the custom of wearing kimonos, with which they were always worn. But now they're back - albeit in a much trendier mode - thanks to the efforts of a Kyoto-based company called Sou Sou. The brand, headed by Katsuji Wakisaka, updates traditional Japanese kimono-related products like tabi and obi sashes, by combining old functionality with new designs and textiles. From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s Wakisaka was on the design team of the Finnish textile company Marimekko and the textiles he creates now are bold, clean and unsentimental.
Sou Sou is also renowned for its mix-and-match approach; the company has come out with a collection of quirkily patterned sneakers in collaboration with Le Coq Sportif, while continuing to cater to the tastes of kimono-lovers and classic tabi fans. "Sou Sou products are one of the things that make me glad to be Japanese," said Miwako Okuno, an enthusiastic customer. "This is one company that knows the value of pampering one's feet."

Mktg - Targeting women

Heather Armstrong's wickedly funny blog about motherhood, Dooce, is more than just an outlet for the creativity and frustrations of a modern mom. The site, chock full of advertising, is a money machine, so much so that Armstrong and her husband have quit their regular jobs.
J.C. Penney and Crate & Barrel, the U.S. retailers, hawk their furniture and offer decorating tips alongside notes of Armstrong's talks with her 4-year-old daughter, Leta. Walgreens touts its photo-printing services next to pictures of her dog. Starwood's W Hotel chain brags about its Internet-friendly rooms on the Dooce home page.
All of these advertisers are eager to influence the 850,000 readers, mostly women, who avidly follow Armstrong's adventures. Although Armstrong won't disclose exact numbers, Dooce's revenue this year is on track to be seven times what it was in 2006, according to Federated Media, which sells ads for the blog.
"Advertisers want more inventory than we can give them," said Chas Edwards, chief revenue officer and publisher of Federated.
Dooce is hardly alone. Sites aimed primarily at women, from "mommy blogs" to makeup and fashion sites, grew 35 percent last year, faster than every other category on the Web except politics, according to comScore, an Internet traffic measurement firm. Women's sites had 85 million visitors in May, 42 percent more than the same month last year, comScore said.
Advertisers are following the crowd. They showed 4.4 billion display ads on women's Web sites in May, more than on sites for kids, teens, and families.
"Moms are the decision-makers of the household as far as purchases are concerned," said Chris Actis, vice president and digital director at MediaVest, an ad agency.
The rapid growth in advertising and traffic to women's sites has also attracted attention from major media companies and venture capitalists, which are rushing into the sector.
Last week, the cable giant Comcast bought the shopping and entertainment site DailyCandy for about $125 million.
Comcast's other Web properties, Fandango, Fancast and, also have a primarily female audience, and Comcast said it planned to share content across sites. In July, Peacock Equity, a venture partnership of NBC Universal and General Electric, and Venrock, a venture capital firm, invested $5 million in BlogHer, a network of 2,200 blogs by and for women.
In March, Yahoo created Shine, a site that publishes original content, blog posts from readers and articles from publishers Hearst, Condé Nast and Rodale about sex, health, fashion, beauty and parenting. Also in March, Turner Media Ventures, part of Time Warner, started The Frisky, a racy site about love, sex and pop culture.
Glam Media, a network of 650 women's sites, has raised $114 million from several venture firms and investors including Accel and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Sugar, which publishes a group of 17 blogs anchored by popular celebrity gossip site PopSugar, is backed by NBC Universal and Sequoia Capital, an early investor in Google.
"Women are more than half the population and they do most of the shopping," said Tim Draper, founder and managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson. "We are constantly looking for more sites that cater to women."
In addition to Glam, the firm has invested in CafeMom, MyShape and NearbyNow, all sites with a female audience.
Other newcomers include SmartNow for women over 35, started with money from angel investors; and Jezebel, a site from Gawker Media that features vitriolic posts about traditional women's magazines. And wowOwow, for women over 40, which was seeded with $1 million from its co-founders.
Although men are heavy users of the Web, they do not visit gender-oriented sites the way women do, at least not explicitly gender-oriented sites. AOL's Living channel for women had 16.1 million unique visitors in June, while its Asylum site, a top men's destination online, had only 3.3 million. ComScore does not even track men's sites as a category.
Joni Evans, the literary agent who has found a second career as chief executive of wowOwow, said the gender disparity comes from the fact that women thrive on sharing anecdotes.
"Women love to reach out and talk; it's just the nature of women," and the Web is perfectly suited to that, she said.
Advertisers are betting that the trust and intimacy that comes from conversing about sex after motherhood or reading about a blogger's battle with postpartum depression will translate into sales of products discussed on a site.
Some are also working with women's sites to create sponsored content in a collaboration that would stun some traditional print editors. At CafeMom, for instance, Wal-Mart Stores offered bloggers gift certificates for Wal-Mart's green products in exchange for writing about what they bought.
For another Wal-Mart campaign, Glam, which touts its "custom content creation" to advertisers, wrote a quiz, "What's Your Steak Style?" to help a reader determine whether her "palate personality" is casual, healthy, decadent or gourmet. Each page featured an ad for Wal-Mart's new steak line-up. Glam also published features with headlines like "Barbecue on a Budget" that looked just like articles but sent readers to Wal-Mart steak ads if they clicked on them.
Other advertisers are taking a less direct approach. When J.C. Penney wanted to tell mothers about its Chris Madden bedding and furniture collection last fall, Federated Media built a new Web site called Fall Shopping Guide, sponsored by the retailer, that placed ads for the new designs around content about home decorating borrowed from 10 parenting bloggers in Federated's advertising network.
Ree Drummond, author of the popular blog Confessions of a Pioneer Woman, was remodeling her bathroom that month, and her posts about the remodel appeared on the new site. Even though she did not mention Penney, some commenters connected the ads with the blog anyway - an advertiser's dream. "Love you pioneer woman!" wrote one commenter. "I also heart JCPenneys." J.C. Penney liked the results enough that it just started a new campaign with Federated for its Linden Street line. Armstrong of Dooce, Pioneer Woman and others are writing blog posts about home decor for the site.
Of course, the notion of building a Web business around attracting women is not new. A decade ago, iVillage, and a number of other sites thought that the women's market would be their ticket to riches. Instead, the sites struggled to find an audience - and advertiser support.
One reason was that brands that market to men, like car and technology companies, were more comfortable advertising online earlier, said Edwards of Federated Media. Brands that market to women are now catching up.
But, to the disappointment of some women who want to focus on serious issues like politics, advertisers are not interested in all kinds of women's content. They gravitate to the tried-and-true topics of women's magazines: fashion, beauty, celebrities and love life. That is also where the heaviest Web traffic is.
"Time and time again, women are happy to see their relationship with their food, their clothes and their relationships externally manifested in entertainment and how-to content," said Lauren Zalaznick, president of NBC Universal's women and lifestyle entertainment networks.
Yahoo's Shine initially vowed to cover current events and avoid the typical women's magazine fare of sex and diet tips. The most popular stories on a recent day, though, were about racy photos of the teenage star Miley Cyrus and whether women are attracted to men with beards. Brandon Holley, Shine's editor in chief, said she had been surprised by the popularity of stories on celebrities. "We tried pure news, and sometimes it doesn't work," she said.
Holley was most recently editor in chief at Jane, the Condé Nast women's magazine that closed down in July 2007. Jane struggled with the same problem - how to offer an irreverent, feminist take on women's topics, and ultimately failed to attract advertisers.
Armstrong of Dooce said readers come to her because she is more honest than glossy women's magazines. "It's really raw and unfiltered, not run through a committee of 12 people who need to approve what you say," she said.
That does not always go over well with advertisers. When Armstrong used a lewd phrase in the subtitle of her blog, two family entertainment companies pulled their ads off her site.
"I thought that was awesome," Armstrong said. "I knew an advertiser would pull out, but I think advertisers are beginning to understand that people come to my Web site because I do that - the reason I have eyeballs is because of my irreverence."

World - Laos,Big,Busy,Traffic Plagued,Expensive

The governor's son sits hunched at the bar, contemplating his nearly empty bottle of Hennessy. On the dance floor, the airline director's daughter sways back and forth to a hip-hop beat. Nearby, the star soccer player, just in from London, tries to squeeze past his growing circle of fans and hangers-on. In the center of the club, the oil magnate's son gets on top of a table and takes a swig from a bottle of Dom Perignon.
Just another Saturday night in Lagos, one of Nigeria's and Africa's money- and contrast-rich boomtowns. Already a city of superlatives (it has variously been deemed Africa's most traffic-plagued, most populous and fastest-growing megacity), Lagos has a new title to add to its mantle: most expensive.
Lagos has always been one of the most powerful commercial hubs in West Africa, ever since slaves were first shipped from here to Europe and the Americas. But because of the rising price of oil, the declining dollar, the relocation of foreign workers from the oil-rich but kidnapping-prone Niger Delta, large privatization efforts and a mad dash for the city's remaining plots of land, Lagos is more flush with cash and full of glitter than ever.
A recent study of the most expensive cities for expatriates by the consulting firm Mercer found that Lagos ranked 30th, making it only slightly less costly than New York but considerably more expensive than Los Angeles, Miami and Washington. Lagos moved up seven places from the previous year's ranking, while most African cities moved down.
Even European cities like Stockholm and Barcelona were found to be more affordable - and in Lagos the high prices are that much more eye-popping because the average Nigerian survives on less than $2 a day.
Evidence of vast amounts of money floating around the "islands" - two small pieces of land poking into the Atlantic that anchor the city's economic activity and are home to banks, foreign consulates and oil and telecommunications companies - is everywhere. Dinner for two at an average restaurant costs more than $200. A cocktail costs more than $15. A box of cereal costs $12 at a supermarket. Hotel rooms under $400 are difficult to find.
In the aisles of glistening new malls, expatriates and wealthy Nigerians browse for - and often buy - $10,000 watches and $5,000 cellphones. New BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes and Bentleys plod along through grinding traffic, bumping over rocks and weaving around potholes.
Multimillion-dollar yachts speed up and down the creek separating the two islands. (The creek was recently determined to be too shallow for the biggest yachts, so a dredging project has been started to deepen the waterway and make it accessible for the more lavish boats.)
Apartment rents on the islands start at $3,000 a month, but rents of $6,000 to $7,000 a month are common here, and renters are required to pay two or three years of rent in advance.
But high prices do not always mean high quality. The city was built to accommodate fewer than 100,000 residents, but it is now home to an estimated 14 million people or more, according to the state government. So no matter your station in life, it is impossible to avoid the city's traffic or its lack of reliable water and electricity. Most homes and businesses on the islands run on diesel-powered generators nearly 24 hours a day, resulting in thousands of dollars in energy bills.
Tayo Emden, 33, a British-educated Ghanaian who has lived in Lagos for five years as a director for a telecom company, said the costs were just too high to stay. "After living in London with colleagues, we thought Lagos would be nice and cushy, but we're having second thoughts," Emden said. "You used to get a lot of bang for your buck, but that's not the case anymore."
Several efforts have been made to create economic hubs away from the islands to reduce traffic and lessen the burden, but none have been successful. So at least three million commuters fight their way through hours of traffic to the islands every day. Many leave before 5 a.m. to beat the traffic, and many do not return home until after 10 p.m.
Moreover, most Lagosians do not enjoy the privileges of the city's new wealth, and perhaps no economic division cuts deeper than housing.
On the islands, plots of 60 square meters, or 645 square feet, sell for millions of dollars, and houses built on the plots are subdivided and rented out to wealthy Nigerians or expatriates whose companies do not bargain down.
"Living in Lagos is tough, that's the bottom line," said Bola Sobande, the general manager of the popular Palms shopping mall. "But Nigerians are survivors. We survive against all odds. Until something else comes up, we'll just hang in there."
More than 70 percent of the city's residents live in informal housing, crammed into slums with no electricity or water, according to Felix Morka, the executive director of the Social and Economic Rights Action Center, a local economic rights group.
"Only the superrich can compete in this market," Morka said.
"Most people are looking for a small plot of land where they can build a shack, or to rent space in what are known as 'I See You, You See Me' buildings with no facilities at all. That's what people can afford.
"The oil companies can afford to rent out huge complexes for all their staff," Morka said, "so why would a landlord want to rent out to the Nigerian teacher who barely is even assured of a salary at the end of the month?"
Because of widespread corruption, the vast amounts of money coming in rarely trickle down in Nigeria. Still, more and more people stream into the city every day, drawn by the prospect of wealth absent from most of the rest of Nigeria.
"People are moving to Lagos because you can find work, you don't need to know anybody or have anything," said Francisco Abosede, the Lagos State minister for public planning.
Early Sunday morning, as the rich and famous begin to stumble out of clubs and into the hazy light, they are quickly surrounded by dozens of young boys acting as informal parking attendants or hawking chewing gum, mints and phone cards. The boys are paid little mind, but if they are lucky, a small bill may be handed to them from behind the narrow slit of a tinted window of a departing BMW.

Columnists - Friedman

Eight Strikes & You are out

John McCain recently tried to underscore his seriousness about pushing through a new energy policy, with a strong focus on more drilling for oil, by telling a motorcycle convention that the U.S. Congress needed to come back from vacation immediately and do something about America's energy crisis. "Tell them to come back and get to work!" McCain bellowed.
Sorry, but I can't let that one go by. McCain knows why.
It was only five days earlier, July 30, that the Senate was voting for the eighth time in the past year on a broad, vitally important bill that would have extended the investment tax credits for installing solar energy and the production tax credits for building wind turbines and other energy-efficiency systems.
Both the wind and solar industries depend on these credits - which expire in December - to scale their businesses and become competitive with coal, oil and natural gas. Unlike offshore drilling, these credits could have an immediate impact on America's energy profile.
McCain did not show up for the crucial vote July 30, and the renewable energy bill was defeated for the eighth time. In fact, John McCain has a perfect record on this renewable energy legislation. He has missed all eight votes over the last year - which effectively counts as a no vote
"McCain did not show up on any votes," said Scott Sklar, president of The Stella Group, which tracks clean-technology legislation. Despite that, McCain's campaign commercial running during the Olympics shows a bunch of spinning wind turbines - the very wind turbines that he would not cast a vote to subsidize, even though he supports big subsidies for nuclear power.
Barack Obama did not vote July 30 either - which is equally inexcusable in my book - but he did vote on three previous occasions in favor of the renewable-energy legislation.
The fact that Congress has failed eight times to renew them is largely because of a hard core of Republican senators who either don't want to give Democrats such a victory in an election year or simply don't believe in renewable energy.
What impact does this have? In the solar industry today there is a rush to finish any project that would be up and running by Dec. 31 - when the credits expire - and most everything beyond that is now on hold. Consider the Solana concentrated solar power plant, 70 miles southwest of Phoenix in McCain's home state. It is the biggest proposed concentrating solar energy project ever. The farsighted local utility is ready to buy its power.
But because of the Senate's refusal to extend the solar tax credits, "we cannot get our bank financing," said Fred Morse, a senior adviser for the American operations of Abengoa Solar, which is building the project. "Without the credits, the numbers don't work." Some 2,000 construction jobs are on hold.
Roger Efird is president of Suntech America - a major Chinese-owned solar panel maker that actually wants to build a new factory in America. They've been scouting the country for sites, and several governors have been courting them. But Efird told me that when the solar credits failed to pass the Senate, his boss told him: "Don't set up any more meetings with governors. It makes absolutely no sense to do this if we don't have stability in the incentive programs."
One of the biggest canards peddled by Big Oil is that, "Sure, we'll need wind and solar energy, but it's just not cost effective yet." They've been saying that for 30 years. What these tax credits are designed to do is to stimulate investments by many players in solar and wind so these technologies can quickly move down the learning curve and become competitive with coal and oil - which is why some people are trying to block them.
As Richard K. Lester, an energy-innovation expert at MIT, notes, "The best chance we have - perhaps the only chance" of addressing the combined challenges of energy supply and demand, climate change and energy security "is to accelerate the introduction of new technologies for energy supply and use and deploy them on a very large scale."
This, he argues, will take more than a Manhattan Project. It will require a fundamental reshaping by government of the prices and regulations and research-and-development budgets that shape the energy market. Without taxing fossil fuels so they become more expensive and giving subsidies to renewable fuels so they become more competitive - and changing regulations so more people and companies have an interest in energy efficiency - we will not get innovation in clean power at the scale we need.
That is what the U.S. election should be focusing on. Everything else is just bogus rhetoric designed by cynical candidates who think Americans are so stupid - so bloody stupid - that if you just show them wind turbines in your Olympics ad they'll actually think you showed up and voted for such renewable power - when you didn't.

Tech - Closer to making the invisible Cloak

Using tiny wires and fishnet structures, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have found new ways to bend light backward, something that never occurs in nature.
This technology could lead to microscopes able to peer more deeply and clearly into living cells. And the same kind of structures might one day be adapted to bend light in other unnatural ways, creating a Harry Potter-like invisibility cloak. "This is definitely a big step toward that idea," said Jason Valentine, a graduate student and a lead author of a paper being published online on Wednesday by the journal Nature. But scientists are still far from designing and manufacturing such a cloak.
The work involves materials that have a property known as negative refraction, which means that they essentially bend light backward.
Once thought to be pure fantasies, these substances, called metamaterials, have been constructed in recent years, and scientists have shown they can bend long-wavelength microwaves.
Negative refractive materials can in principle lead to fantastical illusions; someone looking down at a fish in a pool of negative refractive liquid would see the fish swimming in the air above.
Two separate advances are described in two scientific papers, both out of the research laboratory of Xiang Zhang, a professor at the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center in Berkeley.
When a ray of light crosses the boundary from air to water, glass or other transparent material, it bends, and the degree of bending is determined by a property known as the index of refraction. Transparent materials like glass, water and diamonds all have an index of 1 or higher for visible light, meaning that when the light enters, its path bends toward an imaginary line perpendicular to the surface.
With the engineered metamaterials, scientists can create refractive indices less than 1 or even negative. Light entering a material with a negative index of refraction would take a sharp turn, almost as if it had bounced off the imaginary perpendicular line.
In the Nature paper, the Berkeley researchers created a fishnet structure with 21 layers, alternating between a metal and magnesium fluoride, resulting in a metamaterial with a negative index of refraction for infrared light. The researchers said that by making the fishnet structure even smaller, they should be able to do the same with visible light.
In the second paper, to be published in the issue this Friday of the journal Science, a different group of scientists in Zhang's laboratory used a different approach, building an array of minuscule upright wires, which changed the electric fields of passing light waves. That structure was able to bend visible red light.
One application of negative index materials could be a "superlens." Light is usually thought of as having undulating waves.
But much closer up, light is a much more jumbled mess, with the waves mixed in with more complicated "evanescent waves."
The evanescent waves quickly dissipate as they travel, and thus are usually not seen. A negative refraction lens actually amplifies the evanescent waves, preserving detail lost in conventional optics, and the hope is to eventually build an optical microscope that could make out tiny biological structures like individual viruses.

Tech - Nokia adds GPS to its cellphone

Since its inception, the mobile phone has been usurping the roles of other electronic devices in a bid to become the universal, do-all gizmo.
First the fixed-line phone came under attack, followed by the watch, the radio, the MP3 player, the game console, the computer and, most recently, the GPS device. But while GPS-equipped mobile phones have become common, functionality has remained limited. And it has been difficult to get the data off the phone and onto a computer, where it can be easily charted and viewed.
Nokia has been working on smoothing out those problems. Its new software, called Sports Tracker, collects GPS data and uploads it over a wireless network to a Web site.
It was balmy near Lake Como last Sunday when I put Sports Tracker to the test, in an effort to see how far cell phones had come in marrying their wireless possibilities with GPS.
I decided long ago to leave my watch at home in daily life, but I still have been wearing one when I go hiking, where its altimeter, barometer and compass come in handy. Now it was time to see if my hiking watch could be retired, too.
Armed with my Nokia N82 - Sports Tracker works with about 40 other Nokia GPS-enabled phones - I set out on my favorite day hike near Milan, where I live. It is a 35-kilometer, or 22-mile, undulating trail that crosses the mountains from Como to Bellagio with views down to Lake Como, across to Switzerland and over to the Alps.
As I began walking, I turned on the phone and started up Sports Tracker. I had downloaded the free software to my computer and then transferred it to my phone, using a USB cable (you can also download directly to the phone).
Sports Tracker shows the distance traveled, the altitude, the average speed and a host of other data that can be accessed during and after the activity. With a few clicks, everything is sent to, where a line tracks the route on Google maps, and the photos and videos appear pinned to the map at the spot where they were taken. The activity can be tracked on the Web site if you choose to make it public, and a Sports Tracker box can be added to a Facebook page.
Though fully operational, Sports Tracker is still in its testing stage.
"We developed Sports Tracker for conventional sports like running, cycling and walking, but we're seeing it used by people doing all kinds of activities," said Jussi Kaasinen, who created Sports Tracker for Nokia with Yka Huhtala. "Some guys use it for paragliding, and they have special requirements for their GPS device, so they let us know and we added that."
There are similar, competing programs, including iTrail for the Apple iPhone (which costs $2.99), but Nokia's Sports Tracker collects more information, which is then easier to move to a computer. Sports Tracker is not without limitations, though; as with many GPS units, altitude measurements are sometimes erratic, especially when in a forest or among tall buildings.
The biggest limitation might be the GPS unit's power consumption. Two-thirds of the way into the eight-hour hike, my phone went black, even though I had not made or received any calls and had taken only a handful of photos.
"We're constantly working on improving the program, and power consumption is one of the things we are looking at," Huhtala said.
Kaasinen and Huhtala would not specify how many people had downloaded Sports Tracker, though Kaasinen did say "we're talking about seven-digit numbers."
Given a little more time to refine Sports Tracker and reduce its battery demands, Nokia may win another battle in its drive to make the cellphone the universal device. But I'm not ready to retire my hiking watch just yet.

Lifestyle - Rising in Dubai;Tall & getting Taller

Just over a year ago the office, hotel and condo tower known as the Burj Dubai became the tallest building in the world. But when its developer, Emaar Properties, announced that the Burj had surpassed the 509-meter Taipei 101 Tower in Taiwan, it refused to say how much higher the building would go. That set off a guessing game among architects and developers who follow the tall buildings equivalent of the arms race. A spire that is being built inside the tower has yet to be unveiled, according to Emaar, which hopes to keep the guessing - and marketing - game going until the building opens next year.

But in Chicago, Adrian Smith, the building's lead designer, says that the Burj Dubai is already "in the past." He predicts that a taller building will surpass it within five years. And when the Burj Dubai cedes the title, it may well be to another building by Smith, a blond bear of a man whose firm, Adrian Smith & Gordon Gill Architecture, has made a specialty of designing "supertall" buildings, some as high as the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building put together.

Already he is designing six other buildings more than 330 meters (about 2,000 feet) tall in the United Arab Emirates, including a futuristic three-pronged tower with so many curving surfaces that it required technology created for Frank Gehry.

Thanks to his oil-rich clients Smith has the chance to create mammoth landmarks that will long outlive him; the risk is that these buildings, which are freed from nearly all stylistic constraints, will look ridiculous, like alien spacecraft that landed in the middle of the desert.

At 63, Smith is performing this high-wire act while building a big architecture firm essentially from scratch. When he led the team that created the Burj Dubai, he was part of the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the blue-chip firm behind many of the world's most famous skyscrapers, from Lever House in New York to the Sears and Hancock buildings in Chicago to the pagodalike Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai.

But after 39 years at Skidmore, including a stint as chief executive from 1993 to 1995, Smith left in 2006 to start a competing firm. That set off a struggle over bragging rights to the Burj.

Emaar lists Smith as the building's architect on its promotional materials. "They were buying Adrian Smith as a brand," said Carol Willis, director of the Skyscraper Museum in Manhattan. She described Smith as "a true artist." But when her museum, which occupies a space that Skidmore designed pro bono, organized a lecture series on the Burj, Smith was not included. (William F. Baker, a structural engineer from Skidmore, was the keynote speaker.)

Smith concedes that years of acrimony preceded his departure from Skidmore. But ultimately, he said, he left because the firm requires partners to retire at 65, and he was not ready to stop designing.

Today his Chicago firm is working on two dozen projects. The one closest to home is a proposed retrofit of the Sears Tower, a Skidmore landmark just a few blocks from his office. Smith is investigating ways to reduce energy and water use with a new glass skin and new mechanical systems.

Otherwise nearly all of the firm's work is in the United Arab Emirates. As for his clients' penchant for supertall buildings, he said it is less about egomania than real estate savvy, a way of creating value in the middle of the desert. Emaar, he said, may never make money on the Burj, but it will profit from all of the buildings that surround it - including at least three by Smith. The developer has already commissioned Smith to design three condo buildings with views of the Burj.

Like many architects, Smith - who collaborates with his partner Gordon Gill on all of the firm's designs - is fond of saying that he wants to make buildings responsive to their context. That can be a problem in the Emirates: most of the time, he concedes, there is no context, at least in the form of surrounding buildings, to respond to.

As a result he has turned to a larger context. He explains the buildings' architectural features as responses to geography, geology and climate and is consumed by the notion of making supertall buildings "green."

Hauling vast amounts of steel and concrete into the desert to create an edifice that needs to be heated, air-conditioned and supplied with huge amounts of water hardly seems eco-friendly.

But Smith casts those projects as an opportunity for environmental innovation. Several of the towers he is designing have wind turbines that can take advantage of their elevation - winds are stronger at high altitudes than near the ground - to generate electricity. And cool air surrounding the top of a supertall building can be pumped to the lower levels, reducing the load on the air-conditioning.

Many of the buildings Smith is working on will be double walled, meaning that a gap of 20 centimeters, or 8 inches, or more between layers of glass will allow heated air to be directed toward the outside of the building in the summer or toward the inside in winter.

One of Smith's projects, the centerpiece of a development in Abu Dhabi called Masdar City, will have double walls as well as wind turbines and photovoltaic panels, which can convert sunlight into electricity.

But there is a risk that the green features will be more about good intentions than about results. Chris Twinn, a director of the energy sustainability team at Arup, the London global engineering firm, said that a wind turbine "may be worth its weight in gold" in terms of drawing attention to alternative energy sources, but that it "certainly doesn't generate a significant amount of the energy the building uses." As for solar energy, he said, it would take vast arrays of photovoltaic panels to power a supertall building in Dubai because of its reliance on air conditioning.

Twinn said that the only thing inherently green about a skyscraper is that it permits high-density development, which can encourage the use of public transportation. But that benefit diminishes, he said, when a building goes supertall, since the abundance of elevators and other mechanicals takes up a lot of usable floor space.

And then there's the possibility that the building won't serve much of a purpose in the first place. Smith isn't clear on who will be filling his towers in the Middle East.

Smith started work at Skidmore while still a student at the University of Illinois, Chicago. In later years he designed Modernist towers, most of them for corporate clients in Chicago, Europe and the Middle East. But around the time he made partner at Skidmore, in 1980, architecture was entering its Postmodernist period, when historical detailing was de rigueur.

One of his largest buildings for Skidmore, the AT&T headquarters in Chicago, completed in 1989, is a perfect illustration, from the huge bronze lanterns over the entrances to the granite in Art Deco-inspired patterns in the lobby.

Walking through that lobby on a recent afternoon Smith said that, viewed in hindsight, the building "related too much to the past." But he is not regretful: "Each building becomes a part of who you are."

As Postmodernism petered out, Smith returned to designing glass-and-steel buildings that were sleek but often bland.

An exception is Skidmore's Jin Mao Tower, which resembles a glittering stack of pagodas. But even as Jin Mao was rising on the Shanghai skyline, becoming the tallest building in China upon its completion in 1998, Smith's influence at the firm was waning.

The decision to leave was a hard one, he said, since he could only continue to design large buildings if he had a large staff. He and Gill, then a young associate partner at Skidmore, and a third partner, Robert Forest, invested over $3 million in the new firm, Smith said.

Many of their employees work on the top floor of a 1957 building in Chicago's central business district that has all the hallmarks of exuberant postwar corporate Modernism - walls of dark green marble, aluminum-sheathed columns and gurgling bronze fountains.

It is classic Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. That Smith's offices would occupy a space designed by the firm he left, and now competes with, isn't a coincidence.

"I like S.O.M.'s stuff," he said, explaining why he chose the space. He also liked its location, in the center of the city's business district, known as the Loop, surrounded by important buildings from the 19th and 20th centuries. They are a constant reminder, he said, of his desire to create an urban fabric.

World - Experts ponder hazards of using Technology to save the world

Last year, a private company proposed "fertilizing" parts of the ocean with iron, in hopes of encouraging carbon-absorbing blooms of plankton. Meanwhile, researchers elsewhere are talking about injecting chemicals into the atmosphere, launching sun-reflecting mirrors into stationary orbit above the earth or taking other steps to reset the thermostat of a warming planet.
This technology might be useful, even life-saving. But it would inevitably produce environmental effects impossible to predict and impossible to undo. So a growing number of experts say it is time for broad discussion of how and by whom it should be used, or if it should be tried at all.
Similar questions are being raised about nanotechnology, robotics and other powerful emerging technologies. There are even those who suggest humanity should collectively decide to turn away from some new technologies as inherently dangerous.
"The complexity of newly engineered systems coupled with their potential impact on lives, the environment, etc., raise a set of ethical issues that engineers had not been thinking about," said William Wulf, a computer scientist who until last year headed the National Academy of Engineering. As one of his official last acts, he established the Center for Engineering, Ethics and Society there.
Rachelle Hollander, a philosopher who directs the center, said the new technologies were so powerful that "our saving grace, our inability to affect things at a planetary level, is being lost to us," as human-induced climate change is demonstrating.
Engineers, scientists, philosophers, ethicists and lawyers are taking up the issue in scholarly journals, online discussions and conferences around the world.
"It's a hot topic," said Ronald Arkin, a computer scientist at Georgia Tech who advises the U.S. Army on robot weapons. "We need at least to think about what we are doing while we are doing it, to be aware of the consequences of our research."
So far, though, most scholarly conversation about these issues has been "piecemeal," said Andrew Maynard, chief science adviser for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. "It leaves the door open for people to do something that is going to cause long-term problems."
That's what some environmentalists said they feared when Planktos, a California company, announced it would embark on a private effort to fertilize part of the South Atlantic with iron in hopes of producing carbon-absorbing plankton blooms that the company could market as carbon offsets. Countries bound by the London Convention, an international treaty governing dumping at sea, issued a "statement of concern" about the work, and a UN group called for a moratorium, but it is not clear what would have happened had Planktos not abandoned the effort for lack of money.
"There is no one to say 'thou shalt not,"' said Jane Lubchenco, an environmental scientist at Oregon State University and a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
When scientists and engineers discuss geoengineering, it is obvious they are talking about technologies with the potential to change the planet. But the issue of engineering ethics applies as well to technologies whose planet-altering potential may not emerge until it is too late.
Arkin said robotics researchers should consider not just how to make robots more capable, but also who must bear responsibility for their actions and how much human operators should remain "in the loop," particularly with machines to aid soldiers on the battlefield or the disabled in their homes.
But he added that progress in robotics was so "insidious" that people might not realize they had ventured into ethically challenging territory until too late.
Ethical and philosophical issues have long occupied biotechnology, where institutional review boards commonly rule on proposed experiments and advisory committees must approve the use of gene-splicing and related techniques. When the U.S. government initiated its effort to decipher the human genome, a percentage of the budget went to consideration of ethics issues like genetic discrimination.
But such questions are relatively new for scientists and engineers in other fields. Some are calling for the same kind of discussion that microbiologists organized in 1975 when the immense power of their emerging knowledge of gene-splicing or recombinant DNA began to dawn on them. The meeting, at the Asilomar conference center in California, gave rise to an ethical framework that still prevails in biotechnology.
"Something like Asilomar might be very important," said Andrew Light, director of the Center for Global Ethics at George Mason University, one of the organizers of a conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, in April on the ethics of emerging technologies. "The question now is how best to begin that discussion among the scientists, to encourage them to do something like this, then figure out what would be the right mechanism, who would fund it, what form would recommendations take, all those details."
But an engineering Asilomar might be hard to bring off.
"So many people have their nose to the bench," Arkin said, "historically a pitfall of many scientists."
Paul Thompson, a philosopher at Michigan State and former secretary of the International Society for Environmental Ethics, said many scientists were trained to limit themselves to questions answerable in the real world, in the belief that "scientists and engineers should not be involved in these kinds of ethical questions."
Researchers working in geoengineering say they worry that if people realize there are possible technical fixes for global warming, they will feel less urgency about reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
"Even beginning the discussion, putting geoengineering on the table and beginning the scientific work, could in itself make us less concerned about all the things that we need to start doing now," Light said.
On the other hand, some climate scientists argue that if people realized such drastic measures were on the horizon, they would be frightened enough to reduce their collective carbon footprint. Still others say that, given the threat global warming poses to the planet, it would be unethical not to embark on the work needed to engineer possible remedies - and to let policy makers know of its potential.
But when to begin this kind of discussion? "It's a really hard question," Thompson said. "I don't think anyone has an answer to it."
Many scientists do not like talking about their research before it has taken shape, for fear of losing control over it, according to David Goldston, former chief of staff at the House Science Committee and a columnist for the journal Nature. This mind-set is "generally healthy," he wrote in a recent column, but it is "maladapted for situations that call for focused research to resolve societal issues that need to be faced with some urgency."
And then there is the longstanding fear held by scientists that if they engage with the public for any reason, their work will be misunderstood or portrayed in inaccurate or sensationalized terms.
Francis Collins, who is stepping down as head of the government human genome project, said he had often heard researchers say "it's better if people don't know about it." But he said he was proud that the National Human Genome Research Institute had from the beginning devoted substantial financing to research on privacy, discrimination and other ethical issues raised by progress in genetics. If scientific research has serious potential implications in the real world, "the sooner there is an opportunity for public discussion the better," he said in a recent interview.
In part, that is because some emerging technologies will require political adjustments. For example, if the planet came to depend on chemicals in space or orbiting mirrors or regular oceanic infusions of iron, system failure could mean catastrophic - and immediate - climate change. But maintaining the systems requires a political establishment with guaranteed indefinite stability.
As Collins put it, the political process these days is "not well designed to handle issues that are not already in a crisis."
Or as Goldston put it, "with no grand debate over first principles and no accusations of acting in bad faith, nanotechnology has received only fitful attention."
Meanwhile, there is growing recognition that climate engineering, nanotechnology and other emerging technologies are full of "unknown unknowns," factors that will not become obvious until they are put into widespread use at a scale impossible to turn back, as happened, in a sense, with the atomic bomb. Before its first test, some of its developers worried that the blast might set the atmosphere on fire. They did not anticipate that the bombs would generate electromagnetic pulses intense enough to paralyze electrical systems across a continent

Business - Take stock of her share

The stock markets are giving the poor unsuspecting investor the jitters. Dalal Street, home to the benchmark Sensex, seems to be in a state of shock. Yet there seems to be an air of peace and tranquility about Deena A. Mehta, Managing Director, Asit C. Mehta, a well known financial services company.
Deena should actually know all about the stock markets which have raised people to dizzy heights and hurled them to bottomless depths with equal dispatch. She was the first woman to hold the prestigious chair of President of the Bombay Stock Exchange, albeit for a truncated period.
But life wasn’t all about bulls and bears for the young Deena who actually nurtured dreams of wanting to be an engineer. Her parents dismissed this idea and Deena went on to pass her Chartered Accountancy exam by the age of 20 and proceeded to add a post-graduate degree in management thereafter to her educational qualifications. Her induction into the world of finance was modest. “I started by writing my husband’s book of accounts,” says Deena, while applying for membership to the Bombay Stock Exchange.
Once she was inside the precincts of the stock exchange, there was no stopping Deena. “I am most happy solving problems, and have a nose to spot a mess. Then I go to the root of the problem and come up with solutions.”
Well, there were problems galore in the stock exchange in those days. She is credited with analyzing the problem with reconciliation of settlements and coming up with a triplicate-slip system that managed to compress the 15-day settlement period into a mere four-day affair. This was to be just the beginning of Deena’s problem-solving phase.
Addressing the problem of inter-member objections that had mounted to a daunting 38,000 complaints, Deena tabulated all the complaints into 13 categories and then proceeded to spell out a settlement procedure followed by an arbitration procedure to solve the problems created by these complaints. To her credit, every single complaint was settled.
The young Deena worked with a broking firm and became the first ever woman to enter the famous trading ring. The stock exchange viewed her application to enter the ring with trepidation and subjected her to a gruelling two-hour interview before succumbing to the inevitable. This was to give her invaluable first-hand experience in every aspect of stock broking and was to hold her in good stead when she and her husband began operating under the name and style of Asit C. Mehta in 1986.
By 1994, hers was the first “limited liability corporate member” of the Bombay Stock Exchange. In the meanwhile she was an active member of the core committee on computerization in the stock exchange and in all her various roles in the stock exchange, including that of the first woman Vice-President, earned the respect and trust of her peers. Trust that saw her sitting on almost 1,000 arbitration cases. “Integrity, knowledge and perseverance are the key attributes that I have endeavoured to have” says Deena.
“What about the glass ceiling?” I ask, wondering how this lady broke through in a completely orthodox male-run environment.
Deena is candid as she replies: “ So long as you are a peer, there is no problem. The moment I was perceived as a boss, there was active resistance from some quarters.” She hasn’t let that bother her though. “I’ve just been myself,” she declares with confidence.
Yet, there is so much more than stocks and shares to this peppy woman. She has been a trustee of the Prempuri Ashram for about six years and plays an active role in this spiritual institution that organises a plethora of programmes every year. This includes a TV serial on Sanskar channel where she delivers talks on spirituality and management. “I am not ritualistic. I am spiritual,” says Deena. “I listen to my conscience and stick to what is right.” She attributed this trait to the inspiration she draws from her husband whom she describes as “fearless”.
“Our biggest wealth is our potential. We are happy with what we have. God gives you what you need and what you deserve. If it goes, you probably didn’t deserve it,” says Deena, who, incidentally, was officially the highest woman taxpayer in the mid-Nineties.
There is a community-welfare-side to Deena too. Her company has surveyed 250 villages in Kutch and all the physically challenged people there have been identified. As a follow-up, 1,500 people have been medically examined, 90 surgeries have been performed and hundreds have been given callipers and wheel-chairs. This is an on-going programme with a target to cover 980 villages.
“Where do you find the time for all this?” I enquire. Her answer is revealing. “We all have 24 hours in a day. We need to prioritize!” And it’s not that Deena is all work and no play. She loves travelling and has visited almost every part of the world except South America.
Deena avers that good management is a game of patience. One should not just build up steam and get burnt out. It is more important to run the course. She advises young managers to stay relevant, and concentrate on building a career slowly and steadily. She does not recommend jumping jobs for those few extra bucks.
“If you are offered more money ask yourself if you will be adding more value. If not, you are no better that the man who diluted your milk with water or adulterates your rice with pebbles”.
Tough words indeed. At the end of the day Deena advocates humility at all times. And practices what she preaches. As I leave I couldn’t resist asking her for her forecast on the state of the markets. “It will take six months more for us to be on the right side of the U curve,” she says readily. Well, I think to myself, Deena has always advocated patience.
(Ramesh Narayan is a communications consultant.)

Mktg - Higher,Faster,Further

The Olympics! The very epitome of human physical achievement, as exemplified by that glorious clarion call citius, altius, fortius. These games have always pushed humankind to stretch the very limits of what is possible. Right from the perfect ten that a diminutive Nadia Comaneci pranced her way to at Montreal, to the seven gold medal blitz Mark Spitz gave the world to savour at Munich or the enduring legend of Jesse Owens so magically replicated by Carl Lewis to the mesmeric stick wizardry of our very own Dhyan Chand. On the face of these memories it might be very tempting to classify the Olympics as a true celebration of winners and champions but that only captures the truth partly.
The Olympics eventually at the core celebrates the indomitable nature of the human spirit and that is where these games are at their most potent and endearing. That is where this magnificent event has lessons to teach us even in the seemingly distant world of marketing and brand building. As always the questions that rich human experiences throw up might have some very interesting implications for brand thinking.
The winner takes all? Well, not quite.
While traditionally the laurel wreaths and the accolades have always been cornered by the winners, the Olympics do provide a climate where the underdog is adulated as well.
One only has to think of Eric ‘the eel’ Moussambani’s exploits at the 2000 games at Sydney. Coming from Equatorial Guinea, a country with absolutely no swimming infrastructure or heritage, Eric took a full minute and several seconds more than any benchmark time (or competitor) in the 100 meter freestyle, traditionally the sprint event of the pool, and yet people cheered him on even as he laboured to a finish. He was one of the stars of those games, only because people anywhere across the world really relate strongly to the underdog.
Yet the underdog status in the brand and marketing world is rarely embraced. In this mad rush to reach the top positions in the market (the medal positions), are we missing a trick by burning down the opportunity of building deeper emotional bridges? Volkswagen, perhaps, began in America in glorious ‘underdog’ fashion and we all know what happened. What if brands were more candid about where they stood and faced the market with open arms?

Nostalgia is a thing of the past?
There is always a buzz around the younger upstarts who are lurking close to great achievements before any games, but this time around there is a refreshing change
It comes in the shape of the 41-year-old super mom, Dara Torres. A multiple gold medallist from before, she has really given hope to many people across the world by challenging age-endowed physical constraints. Whether she triumphs actually in the pool or not, her very presence is a wonderful tribute to the resilience of the human spirit
Likewise are there ‘any blasts from the past’ that we cursorily overlook in this quest for the new and enhanced?
Previous brand champions have a certain undefined charm to them that might just get a lot of attention and emotion going their way. One only has to recollect how Coca-Cola was forced to get back the ‘real thing’ after experiments to move on. Even in advertising terms closer home, wasn’t Onida forced to restore the devil after a brief divorce?
Is it time to ‘re-’ introduce some brands that were phased out? Like Dara they just might prove that the new might be improved but that old is still gold.
A rival? Or a friend in need?
The Games at Berlin 1936 saw one of the great moments not just in sport, but perhaps in human history. In that arrogantly intimidating arena of Aryan supremacy, two fierce rivals Jesse Owens, a black American, and Lutz Long, a blond, blue-eyed, ‘true’ German forged a friendship during the long jump competition that not just gave the word hope but lent true meaning to the brand called the Olympics. Even though Owens won the gold eventually after a keenly fought contest, really everyone won that day, except perhaps the watching Hitler.
On that note, is there a call for increased co-operation between rival brands? Far out as it might sound, Novell had wonderfully formalised this idea coining a term ‘co-opetition’, that is to cooperate and compete at the same time. At a time when the economy is poised to take promising turns and opportunities are manifold, does corporate India needs to revisit this philosophy? Markets overseas might present interesting common challenges which might make coming together a truly effective way to play the overseas game amongst others.
In conclusion, the Olympics are upon us and the Beijing edition is guaranteed to be a high-voltage event. But even as the spectacle unfolds, do keep an eye out for the interesting ‘human’ stories that emerge. They just might give us inspiration to take the world of brands, higher, faster and further…
(The author is an independent strategic and ideation consultant. He is also the patron saint of Juhu Beach United, a footballing movement that celebrates, ‘the unfit, out of breath, working professional of today’.)

Mktg - Interview Titan Head

Fifty-three-year-old Bhaskar Bhat, Titan Industries’ dapper Managing Director, has been with the company virtually since inception in 1986. Along with the company’s erstwhile legendary founding Managing Director, Xerxes Desai, Bhat had moved from Tata Press for the initial spadework on the watches-to-jewellery maker and now eye wear retailer. Having seen the company transition from its initial success to a difficult time in the early part of this decade, Bhat says Titan, a joint venture between the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation and the Tatas, is on a strong wicket now and is ideally positioned to take advantage of the huge demographic and lifestyle changes the country is undergoing. BrandLine stopped Bhat’s watch for an hour in his busy day for a candid overview of the company’s plans and the direction it is taking. Excerpts:
There was a time in the early part of this decade when Titan seemed to be in a state of stasis. Foreign brands were entering at a quick pace but there didn’t seem to be much innovation coming out of Titan. Observers thought it was time up for Titan. You were also saddled with huge losses from your European ‘mis-adventure’. How did Titan bounce back?
For our European business we had committed to a 11-country launch; costs were high while our products too were not easily accepted, primarily because of the country of origin issue. Then in 2000-01 because of the problems of profitability we had cut back on innovation and brand investments and that was when the brand began to drift. The fundamental assumption we made was that these foreign brands will develop the market and we will ride the wave because we are a dominant brand. That doesn’t really work; when you are in the driver’s seat you have to drive, you can’t let somebody else do the job. I think we abdicated a bit at that time. Fortunately, the result was not too harsh because the competition truly was rather inept. Global brands can’t struggle for ten years and end up with 1.5 lakh watches sales a year unless for strategic reasons you occupy the high ground.
When did the process of course correction start?
In 2002, the year we had to revisit our entire fundamental operating principles. We had a high wage island in Hosur (where Titan’s main factory is located), high interest costs, high debt equity ratio and a flagging Titan brand while the jewellery business too was not making money — Tanishq was just out of the red, it didn’t make money for seven years.
Then we did a cost compression, engaged McKinsey and developed a very focused approach on improving business performance, which is the sheer matrix of the business. But we were clear that we should not cut back on two things — one is investment in brands and investment in employees. If you see, during that period nobody jumped ship. Our people made the big difference.
In today’s market with raging inflation, do you see an impact on the brand and consumer spends?
There is no question about impact on consumer — they are affected, how much that impacts your brand is the next thing. If your brands are strong, and strength to me means not just brand image, but a desire to acquire, we’ve got to generate demand, with an increased pace of new product introduction that creates desire for consumers to own a Titan. The second is providing access by opening more stores. Are we better than the next shirt guy, the shoe guy or the wellness clinic? I’ve got three stores around Indira Nagar (a shopping and residential district of Bangalore), so we’ve got to catch the consumer somewhere. This (store network) is helping today.
Gold prices have been volatile, how has that affected the Tanishq brand?
While the market has dropped by 50 per cent in plain gold jewellery the decline is only 4 per cent in Tanishq and we have grown in top line and margins. When prices were $970 a troy ounce it was a difficult price but it’s coming down. The gold prices are passed on to the consumer, and because of the high prices there has been a 50 per cent decline in (purchase of) plain gold jewellery. However, our diamond jewellery has seen 28 per cent growth in this quarter.
While the Tanishq brand is twice the size of Titan, the margins are still low … do you intend to correct that?
Correction is a gradual process, we can’t transform the market from plain gold to diamond jewellery, margins are better now. We are investing in diamond jewellery growth; our return on capital (ROC) is very high at 60 per cent; in watches and jewellery ROC is the same and the potential is much bigger.
What about your other businesses, in precision components manufacturing and eyewear?
In precision components we have an order book far higher than last year; we will cover this year’s target. It’s small still — Rs 56 crore out of Rs 3,000 crore; this year it will be about Rs 85-100 crore. We should have been about Rs 225 crore, by now but we are two years behind because of the processes in that industry. We are supplying to the aero space and automation business; word has to spread since it’s an industry application, we need to have feet on the street and tell people that we can deliver solutions. It’s not yet making money. In eyewear we will be about Rs 50 crore this year. We have 20 stores and should have 80 stores or so by the year end.
While you seem to have a watch for every segment how come Titan is not looking at the kids’ segment?
We are exploring, we had a brand called Dash; at that time it was still not making money but potential for sale was there and that window was not going to close. Not that someone could come and dominate the market. We postponed it but now people are willing to spend a decent amount on kids — this year will see a kids’ brand.
Would you look at tapping clients from outside for your design studio, to leverage your design strengths?
We could, but frankly speaking, our effort even today is to be able to bring out exceptionally good designs for the Titan stable and deliver it on time. However, the opportunity is there to go out. You won’t see it happen this year, perhaps next year or the year after.
Would you say that Titan today is rightly poised to take advantage of changing demographics?
Completely ... if there is any company that can take advantage of that it is Titan. We have a youth brand, we will soon have a children’s brand, we are in the mass market with Sonata, we have a women’s-only brand in Raga, mid-market with Titan and high-end Xylys, and we are fantastically distributed. We appeal to the Indian habit or Indian way of dealing with products providing them very good after sales-service. The importance of this is not known, this is a below-the-watermark kind of advantage — other brands don’t have the access points such as Titan. We don’t gyp people or cream the market.
You feel the foreign challenge will be restricted only to the top end?
I think so. You see, no one wants to come into the Titan space. It’s too difficult to emulate the Titan network and the width of offering — it’s very tough. Below Titan the margins don’t afford, above Titan it makes sense. Between Sonata and Titan we dominate in the Rs 1,000 to Rs 10,000 watches market.
You already retail licensed brands such as Tommy and Hugo Boss. Any more in the pipeline?
We may bring in a couple more — that’s to complement our range — pure play retail, buy and sell. It’s doing very well for us. We don’t have space in the store, so we may have only a few more. We don’t want to be unfair to the brands. We have been talking to Lacoste, D&G, but nothing is finalised. Not a clear yes yet.
Looking at your numbers you have shown strong revenue growth despite costs going up...?
It’s our access and brand strength. Despite inflation if you look at the individual customers they are so widely spread — if we were present only in the cities perhaps we would have got hit more. We are in 60 towns and jewellery is so intrinsic to our culture that during festivals people will buy. While jewellery contributes 70 per cent to revenues profits are almost equal between watches and jewellery.
What would you say are Titan’s strengths and weaknesses, and what are the opportunities you can look at?
Our strength today is our combination of owned brands and retail; we earn profits on account of being in the retail space which is booming but we are doing it our way because we own our brands, so we get the benefit of both. And, we manufacture our own products so we get a manufacturing margin which retailers don’t. We are highly risk diversified, even in our distribution the business model is of franchising and as a company too we are in multiple businesses.
I would say our balance sheet is a weakness. Opportunities are huge. While we are an India-centric company, and that is a strength, it is also a weakness as we are not sufficiently globalised. Our success in a way is a threat; we dominate the market, the number two brand is minuscule so we are likely to get complacent. The other problem is that we attract competition; people look at the extraordinary multiple that Titan is getting and see our margins, and everybody wants to get into the act. The moment we get into eyewear everyone wants to get into the business. Overall our biggest strength is our extraordinarily committed people and their talent

Mktg - The TITAN way

It couldn’t be more typical than this for Monday-morning blahs. It’s 10 a.m. and traffic on the (now old) Airport Road in Bangalore is bumper-to-bumper. Looking at the time on your watch — Titan, of course — you wonder fiercel y whoever said traffic would be less now that Bangalore has got its spanking new airport on the city’s edge. After what seems like eternity one manages to rattle into Golden Enclave where watch-to-jewellery maker Titan Industries’ corporate office is located.
Away from the hurly-burly of the traffic, and ushered into Titan’s Design Studio you find Titan’s Business Head of Design, Revathi Kant, calmly exultant. And why wouldn’t she be? Two of Titan’s top designers, Neil Foley and Abhijit Bansod, have just bagged the Future Group-BusinessWorld-National Institute of Design award for best designs in the lifestyle category for their Titan Aviator and Heritage collections. And, Bansod has also been named designer of the year to boot as was Foley last year. A recognition of the avant garde design that Titan has been putting out in the market of late. Declares Kant, “It’s been a rediscovery of design at Titan; while design has always been Titan’s forte what we have done now is to bring design far more on to centrestage, more strategic and with a lot more of discipline and consistency.”
If in the early part of this decade, Titan, still recovering from a Rs 119-crore loss in its European business appeared to be dormant with hardly any cutting-edge design to show, in the past few years the company has put the zing back in, manifest in its artfully designed watch collections.
With a 20-member-strong team of designers, NID- and NIFT-trained, Titan’s core idea in watches is to create collections. Whether it’s the 10-watch Aviator series, created by Foley, which takes off, literally, on the World War II planes, or Bansod’s Heritage, inspired by the architectural splendour of India or the recent chunky Octane series which resembles the dashboard of a racing car, elaborate stories are woven around these collections into which customers buy. As Harish Bhat, Chief Operating Officer (Watches), says, “One of the key routes for watches to grow is really to get people interested in owning multiple watches. And if I have to do so, each of the watches has to look different and design has to do that. Buying a watch is no longer about a time-keeping device. Today, a watch is very much a lifestyle statement and you are buying a story more than the product itself. The story becomes more interesting if you are buying into the intellectual property behind the watch and there again the design element becomes the key.”
This trend of consumers’ buy-in into the story behind a brand, says Bhat, is not just in watches but across categories, whether they are apparel or other lifestyle products. With this insight gleaned, last year Titan launched 15 collections, with 10-12 cases in each, with a number of variations, and this year too could see around the same number, which, as Revathi Kant points out, could translate into 800 watches at least.
While Titan already straddles most segments of the Indian watch market — Sonata for the economy segment, Fastrack for youth (recording for the third year in succession an annual growth of over 50 per cent), the Titan brand for the mid-segment and the Swiss-made, Titan-branded Xylys at the top end, along with Nebula, Raga for women — like the tag line Be More in its recent ad campaign, Titan plans more offerings in the market. This year will see it revisit the market for kids’ watches, while it also plans an eco-friendly solar watch and at the top end, automatic winding watches, keeping with the trend the Swiss brand watches have established. And, right at the lowest end a recent launch has been that of Sonata Super Fibre – plastic watches to be sold in the price band of Rs 275 to Rs 550. Sourced from Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, these watches will take on cheap imports and spurious quality watches from China. The SF watches are a combination of analogue and digital watches and target the youth segment in the age group of 16-20 years. In trendy and sporty designs they would be available across 12,000 watch outlets and non-traditional chains. Titan expects to sell four lakh SF watches this year.
The Indian watch market is estimated at 42 million watches (60 per cent of this unorganized) in fiscal 2007-08 which registered in value terms a growth of 12 per cent. It is estimated that 55 global brands of watches are being marketed in the country. However, as Ajoy Chawla, Business Head (Titan & Retail), points out, in the bread-and-butter price segment of Rs 2,000 to Rs 10,000 it is Titan which dominates with a 74 per cent market share through its multiple brands. Driven by a strong brand-product and retail strategy, Titan, says Chawla, has been growing at 22 per cent, higher than the market growth of approximately 15 per cent. Its World of Titan outlets too are being scaled up from 245 to at least 300 by year end with larger flagship stores too planned to showcase the whole watches range.
Indeed Titan had its best ever year financially in 2007-08 where sales income stood at Rs 3,041 crore (Rs 2,136 crore in 2006-07) and profit after taxes (PAT) at Rs 158.29 crore (Rs 94.33 crore). In 2001-02 it had registered sales of Rs 725 crore and PAT of Rs 13.09 crore, pretty much at its nadir.
As a former senior executive of the company points out, in the early part of the decade, the losses in Europe prevented investments in the Titan watch brand, putting it in a somnolent mood. Added to it were the losses from the jewellery business (launched in 1996) which finally broke even only in 2004. Also, Titan was dependent on its own factory production. However, with trading allowed now, almost 25 per cent of its watches sold are sourced globally and all this has helped boost Titan’s financials. Also, fresh investments in the higher-margin watches business helped the brand bounce back. “Titan has been able to build an unassailable position with its retail distribution. However, an inability to grow the watch market could be a threat as the younger generation has to perceive watches as a fashion accessory where you are competing with a lot of other devices and brands,” he says. And, the other danger for Titan is consumers looking to make a fashion and lifestyle statement with a global brand.
Nikhil Vora, Managing Director, of IDFC-SSKI Securities, in a report published after the FY 2008 results, says he remains positive on the Titan business model of piggybacking on the lifestyle boom as well as its strong brand franchise. “However, our concern stems from the soaring gold prices and the volatility.” The lower-margin jewellery business growing ahead of the watches business and accounting for two-thirds of overall revenues is a matter of concern for the company, says Vora, as it would adversely impact the margin profile of the overall business as indeed the returns profile. However trite it may sound, in this case, time will tell.