Interview: Dave Evans (Cisco)

Sitting across the table, some 13000 kms away in San Francisco, was the man of the future, Dave Evans, chief futurist, Cisco. Through the enclosing Telepresence screen, I could almost feel the glare of his peering eyes. But then, that’s the side-effects of dealing with a futurist, who’s job profile involves looking always over the horizon. Dave is just the man for it.

The best thing about him is that he does not confine himself, solely talking about networking and hardware (which could be expected since he draws his paycheck from Cisco), but he can shed light on a variety of topics. For instance, a good 15 minutes of our time in the interaction we spent discussing how the human society will evolve, will ever have a scenario like that poignantly imagined by HG Wells in the Time Machine, a division of the human society of lazy Eloi (the haves) and the wily Morlocks (the have-nots).  Well, he charted the division from the digital divide perspective and seemed wary of how it might widen in the future.

Nonetheless, we did speak much on technology and here is what he had to say on various things.

Just one thing, don’t forget to read Dave Evans 25 top tech predictions at the end of this interaction. In fact if possible, read it first before diving into the Q&A.

In one of your prognosis, you have spoken about data explosion. How critical is the issue?

Data explosion is one of the biggest issues that will hold sway in the days to come and that is simply because we are generating information at an exponential rate. To give you an idea, the Internet in the US at 2015 will be 50 times larger than in 2006 because of the huge volumes of data uploads. Even as we talk now, the Internet is growing fantastically, savour this, everyday some 10 billion email messages are sent, close to 20 hours of video is being uploaded on YouTube every single minute. So in a way, we are drowning in this sea of data that we ourselves are creating.

This explosion has led to the realisation that data is not knowledge, and we need to be careful and not err in believing the same. The difference is essential as today companies across the world are digging deeper into the vast loads of information they have to find nuggets of consumer insights and thereby build up business. Thus, it is very critical for an enterprise to chalk out a strategy on how to deal with data explosion.

You have also spoken about instantaneous communication in the future, how will that have an impact?

In the years to come, thanks to wonders like quantum computing, etc. instantaneous communication will indeed be a reality. But even today, the world has more or less flattened when it comes to communication as the Internet has enabled communication with everyone in a matter of few seconds. The impact is huge, for instance, a few centuries back if I had to share knowledge with you, I would have to go through the arduous old trade routes and it could take anything between a few weeks to months for us to get together and exchange words. And here we are today in different part of the globes, sitting across the table and conversing in real time. This ability to share knowledge instantaneously will have a huge impact in the days to come, business models, revenue models; everything will change under its wake.

You also used the term ‘flattening’, what are the implications of the same?

Huge and we are already witnessing the impacts of the same. You see, the flattening, so as to say, has not only resulted in an agile workforce, but has also turned the world into a sort of global marketplace. So any company located anywhere in the world can sell anything to anyone located elsewhere. That’s why countries like India and China are blossoming. They are becoming tour de force vis-a-vis the US. This is a huge challenge for enterprises and even bigger opportunity for them.

Do you think the networking and communication capabilities be able to cope up with this growth? Continue reading

Interview: Dr RK Pachauri (IPCC)

“Is the climate change situation as dire as you make it sound?” Is invariably the first question that any interviewer puts to Dr. Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the director general of The Energy and Resources Institute. Ever since 2007, when Pachauri came out with earth shattering commentary that our planet was moving rapidly towards an ecological disaster of gargantuan proportion, somewhat of an Eco-Armageddon and it was human activity that is responsible for the same; he has been hailed as a hero and reviled as a villain across the globe. Since, then Pachauri has been asked above question over and over again, and yet the environmental Nostradamus always answers the question calmly and lists down all the dangers that confront us in a solemn demeanor.

For western nations like the US that after years of releasing obnoxious pollutants in the atmosphere and wanting other nations like India and China to take a commitment first, Pachauri is a somewhat of a bogeyman. Nonetheless, he has taken a strong stance on what the world needs to do forestall the doom and how the developed countries should not merely shift the onus and blame to developing countries. In recognition of his efforts and those of IPCC, the Nobel Committee conferred on IPCC and Al Gore, the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. In his acceptance speech on behalf of IPCC, Pachauri had invoked the Sanskrit adage, vasudev kutumbakam (the whole universe is one big family) and asked everyone to contribute to the fight against climate change.

Post Nobel, Pachauri turned into the most recognized face of climate change and he continues to invoke the same vasudev kutumbakam principle to ask all to join in the challenge. In a special discussion, he talks about the ways in which Indian corporate sector can play a significant role in battle, on CSS, nuclear energy and so many other things.

Whenever, we talk about climate change it is often from a macro perspective, namely what the governments can do on it. Do you think that at a micro level, say enterprises too have a certain amount of responsibility and can work towards a better world?
Indeed it is so. There is a whole range of things that companies and enterprises can do. The impacts of climate change are going to be very diverse, they are going to range from an increase in extreme climate events, to heat waves, drought, and also changes in precipitation pattern so the availability of natural resources like water is going to be definitely affected and it is going to impact on the working of the corporate sector. So companies need to start looking at how they need to adapt to these extreme events, for instance if there is an company that uses a large amount of water like a semiconductor fab; the water is not going to be available in the manner and to the magnitude they need in the future. So probably they need to think in terms of recycling of water, using processes that are less water intensive, etc. So these are adaptations measures that they can. And this will not only benefit the company but also go a long way in the fight against climate change.

What do you think about the eco-consciousness of the Indian corporate sector?
Well, it is growing, it is still not where it should be but I think the consciousness is growing. What is important is that there is desire to understand and to find out what they can do. But not all of them are not well informed on what the impact of climate changes are and how they should respond to it. I want to highlight the fact that the need to reduce the emission of green house gases (GHG) is also linked to energy supply because energy is going to be an issue that will affect countries, corporate entities, and even individual. The security of energy supply is certainly in question as far as the future is concerned. So to the extent that corporate sector can use energy more efficiently, perhaps to shift as much as possible to the use of renewable energy. There own security about the supply of energy will enhance. And while doing all that they will also be able to cut down on costs. They will have to carry out some due diligence, exactly define what they can do. The corporate sector in India needs to wake up to the challenge of climate change.

Right now, most of the green initiatives carried out by the corporate sector are clubbed under the CSR tag, what do you make of it?
You know, I think by and large a lot of corporate organizations treat CSR as a kind of a cosmetic effort. I don’t think that is the right spirit. CSR should be mainstream, after all if a company has to succeed it alsoRK Pachauri 1 has to ensure that the society succeeds as well. And hence, for that to happen companies need to start looking at some of these initiatives as part of their overall operating strategy, not something that you do external to the enterprise. Hence, it is essential to integrate the two.

Due to your association with TERI, you have been privy to a lot of information about the various sectors of Indian industry; what do you think about the eco-consciousness of the IT industry vis-à-vis the rest of the sectors?
Some of the IT companies are indeed getting conscious of the fact, but I am not sure whether they are doing too much about it. Even if you look at some of the buildings that they construct, they have not really paid any attention by and large to energy efficient design, reducing energy in a way to make it sustainable in terms of supply opportunity in the future. And I am not too sure whether most of them are looking at even at the hardware and the software that they use being focused on energy efficiency. So I still think that there is a long way to go and I am not singling out the IT industry, every industry and enterprise needs to gear up for the challenge. Continue reading

Interview: Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia)

‘Jimbo’ is how Jimmy Wales is quite wellknown within the cyber community and there is an interesting story as to how he got this nickname. Years back, when Jimbo was kick-starting the community project (predescessor of Wikipedia), he was looking for a user name or a nickname, since most of the permutations involving his first name i.e., Jimmy were unavailable, he decided to settle on Jimbo, the one nickname that was not. And it has stuck with him ever since.

Over the past few years, there have been quite a few occasions that I got to interact with Jimbo, but due to some odd karmic coincidence, I never got around interviewing him for Dataquest. Thus, when one such opportunity presented itself, I jumped on it. And Jimbo too was kind enough to spare around an hour for a tete-a-tete.

When I called him at his San Francisco home, Jimbo was busy playing some a game on the computer with his daughter and seemed a wee bit unhappy at the onset on being gleaned away from the fun-thing. But as the interview progressed, he sort of warmed up; talking about different aspects of Wikipedia and how the future might pan out for the world’s leading collaborative encyclopedia project. Here is the interview of the Wikipedia man, as it was published in Dataquest.


The Power of Collaboration

You was what the Time magazine chose as the Person of the Year for 2006. The choice underlined the emergence of interactive Web or what is more popularly known as Web 2.0; a universe where millions of users communicate and collaborate seamlessly. Of the three instances of Web 2.0 services that were cited, Wikipedia was one of them (the others being YouTube and MySpace). In the intervening years, Wikipedia has only grown in strength, today it is one of the 4th most visited websites in the globe. Every month close to 280 mn people look up Wikipedia for information or to edit the pages.

Jimmy Wales co-founded Wikipedia in January 2001, as an online encyclopedia that could be edited by anyone. Over the last eight odd years, Wales has become an icon for Web 2.0 and has been recognized at various forums as a thinker and an activist. In 2007 the World Economic Forum recognized him as one of the Young Global Leaders that are having a positive impact on the society at large, while numerous other lists have pegged him as one of the most influential thought leaders or scientists.

But, there is no dearth of detractors to Wikipedia as well, with numerous people pointing out flaws in its liberal editing model, or the fact that the information is not really authenticated. Wales has also been targeted time and again for his personal traits, be it the person he is dating or the page he is deleting. Nonetheless, he continues to be a vociferous mascot for Wikipedia, touring across the globe and spreading the message. In an interaction with Dataquest, he speaks about what makes Wikipedia tick and how not only individuals but also enterprises could use it as one of the information sources. Excerpts:

Recently, Wikipedia successfully raised some $6 mn through contribution for running its operations and you also made a very personal appeal in that regards. What really necessitated the personal appeal? Has the downturn had an impact on fund raising?

Fund raising is not something unusual as we do it every year, where in funds are raised for the following year. As we follow a non-profit root, we are dependent on charity from the normal public to run our affairs, so that is pretty usual for us. As far as the personal appeal goes, I make it every year, so that is not something different either.

To be honest, I did not see any specific instance of economic conditions affecting our fund raising. Our users across the globe understand that we need money to survive and hence they donate in whichever way possible. I am very grateful to all those who did, be it slowdown or not.

It has been some eight years since you launched Wikipedia, and it has grown immensely in these years. What is the road ahead for Wikipedia?jwales

Though it has been eight years, I strongly feel that we are just at the beginning of community driven projects online, where thousands of new things evolve over time and we are going to see a lot more projects of this nature over the coming years. People across different fields are getting together to create things and this trend will only increase. So you just wait, there will be a lot more Wikipedia kind of projects in the years to come.

Wikipedia is renowned as an exhaustive source of information but is there a physical limit to the growth, ie, is it possible to get any and every information on Wikipedia?

Well, to start with, there are very different limits to what can go in Wikipedia. First and foremost lets remember that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, which directly means that there are scores of things that Wikipedia is and is not. Also, we have a strong focus on good quality and that is not possible unless you have good references. Sadly good references are not in abundant quantity, so that puts a limit to what can be achieved or not. Continue reading

Interview: Sundar Raman (CEO, IPL)

In an interview, IPL’s CEO Sundar Raman spoke about how technology has really impacted the sport of cricket and how technology and IT has helped making IPL the kind of show that it is. This interaction was published in the Dataquest Magazine.


DLF IPL has revolutionised the way the Cricket is watched and followed in India and the world

Without doubt, IPL is the biggest sports extravaganza in the globe with a turnover running in some Rs. 7000 crores. But not only as a cricketing innovation, IPL has also been embroiled in a host of controversies. At the very center of it all, is the CEO of DLF IPL, Sundar Raman. He was appointed last year to give a professional touch to the game, prior to this Raman had been associated with the WPP group for over a decade. 

Raman’s biggest challenge came when the game was abruptly shifted to South Africa due to election and political issues in India. It was a logistical nightmare, considering the short time frame. But Raman and his team have done their homework and thanks to investment and knowledge of IT solutions, they were able to ensure that all goes according to plan without a hitch. Caught up with the rigmarole of the upcoming event, Raman took some time out for an exclusive interaction with Dataquest, wherein he talks about how the game has been revolutionised by the 20-over innovation and how technology is helping it make a success. Excerpts.  

In IPL2, what will be the additions over the very successful IPL 1?

The inaugural season of the DLF Indian Premier League was a huge learning for the BCCI and our team. For starters it helped prove that India can sustain a franchise based model in Sports and quite profitably. But perhaps more important was the fact that we were able to help create a model that has helped grow the game at the grassroots level and significantly enhance the infrastructure across India through private participation. Drawing in the crowds through a mix of world-class action on the field and entertainment, were critical elements in the success of the IPL. That aside we made some unique additions to the quality of cricket played through innovations like the MCC Spirit of Cricket Charter, the Purple Cap for the Best Bowler and Orange Cap for the Best Batsmen.

In the second season, we have explored similar opportunities and avenues to create excitement for the fans and help improve the quality of on-field action. The five minute ‘strategy break’ is on such strategic innovation in the sundar-ramanlong line of innovations that the league has pioneered from the start. We did a calculation last year and 100 per cent matches went over an hour beyond their schedule time. It was just one delayed game after another and this inspite of the fact that we had enforced extremely high penalties. What we discovered then was that a majority of the time teams were ready to pay the money because the coaches and captains/players were consulting one another as the playing situations evolved on-field to fine tune their strategies. It is because of this discovery that we attempted to innovate with this new ‘strategy break’ at the end of 10 overs.

That aside we have identified areas of improvement around spectator comfort and the in-stadia experience, which we will rigorously implement in the upcoming Season 2009 in South Africa.

Then there will be the non-stop Cricket and Entertainment Carnival that we have planned throughout South Africa for the coming 36 days. No efforts are being spared to ensure that the fans in India and the Rainbow Nation are privy to a sporting spectacle the likes of which have never been experienced before. Season 2009 will be an expansive and grand celebration of cricket with a dash of Bollywood and local South African flavor added into the mix for good measure. More importantly, we are expecting strong support from our Indian fans, arriving in South Africa, to make their presence felt and display their solidarity towards their favorite teams. We believe that the kind of interest the DLF IPL has generated over the months and days—right from the time it was announced till today—will channelize into stadia’s across South Africa packed to capacities during the league. 

What would you term as the enhancements to the game brought about by IPL. A lot of purists are balk at the comparison made between traditional cricket matches to IPL ones? Continue reading

Interview: G Madhvan Nair (ISRO)

Getting to speak to Mr. G Madhvan Nair is an opportunity that I pride on. Hopefully some years down the line, I will be telling incidents to my grandchildren of how India had made a beginning with space exploration in 2008 by launching the Chandrayaan and how I interviewed the chairman of the agency.

But beyond the historical trappings, Mr. Nair came across as a very down-to-earth person, who took pains to explain the nitty-grittys to me on different aspects. Scientists are renowned to be bored of general journalists, as both talk on different planes. Yet, Mr. Nair, even while he was on other plane, ensured that I at least could understand for myself what he was talking about. Considering the kind of time pressure that he works in, it is no mean achievement. Here is an interview of the man behind India’s moon mission (as it was published in Dataquest).


The Moon and Beyond

On a foggy wintry November evening last year, a 34 kg instrument after traversing some 400,000 kms journey plunged on to the lunar surface and painted it with the Indian tricolour. In its short 25 minute descent the Moon Impact Probe or MIP collected crucial data with its C-band Radar Altimeter, Video Imaging System and a Mass Spectrometer. All this data collected would be critical when the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launches the second Chandrayaan mission that would carry with it a moon rover. With Chandrayaan, India became a member of a very select club of nations that have planted their flags on the lunar soil. Overnight, the world woke up to the space technology might of India and the nation became a power to reckon with in the arena.

The credit for this success solely lies with ISRO that will complete 4 decades of existence in this calendar year. These years have been very eventful in Indian history, from launching INSAT satellites on Russian Soyuz Rockets to launching ESA satellites on PSLV and GSLV rockets, the transition has been phenomenal.

One of the many people who deserve accolade for ISRO’s success is, G Madhvan Nair, a leading technologist in the field of rocket systems and also the current Chairman of ISRO. Over the years, Nair has played a significant role in development of the space program, for instance he was the project director for the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) development program. He was   also the director of ISRO’s largest R & D Centre, the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, and oversaw India’s Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) successfully coming to fruition.  Recently, Nair, who is also the Secretary to the Department of Space and the Chairman, Space Commission, was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honour. In a tete-a-tete with Dataquest, he talks about how technology is shaping the future of India’s space program. Excerpts.

First and foremost, in light of the successful Chandrayaan Mission, what would you term as uniqueness of the mission in terms of new technology employed?

At the onset the Chandrayaan spacecraft was itself a very complex one. The payload of the mission contained instruments like Terrain Mapping Camera, Hyperspectral Imager, Lunar Laser Ranging Instrument, High Energy X-ray Spectrometer, etc. development of these systems were one of the challenges. But more important than that was the fact that to travel beyond the earth gravitational field to the distance of around 400,000 kms, which were doing for the first time, once we get out of the gravitational field of the earth, the forces that influence the course of the aircraft are very many.  Of course when the spacecraft travels long distance, the telemetry and telecommunications systems all become very important and for the same ISRO developed the Deep Space Network. These are just a few instances of the very many challenges that we successfully faced.

The annual budget of ISRO is merely a fraction of what is available to the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration or to the European Space Agency, how do you manage to stay ahead of the technology curve even by spending less? Do you feel constrained? Or does this limitation compel you to be more innovative?

No, we have actually worked out a very innovative way of developing new systems, pressure of regime of technology denial by advanced nations this has been one of the major motivational factors and our scientists put in extra effort which is needed to achieve self reliance in the area. Of course the basic thing is that almost every skill that is required for space research is available under one roof, so the next result is that our overheads are minimum and since our efforts are also concentrated on a mission mode approach we are able to achieve the results with minimum costs.
Continue reading

Interview: Bob Rickert (CIO, Barclays)

In an interview, Barclay’s CIO Bob Rickert spoke about his own experiences with IT and banking. This story was published in the Dataquest Magazine.

I am willing to outsource the doing but not the thinking

For Bob Rickert, cooking is more than a hobby. In his free time, he can be seen in his kitchen tossing up salads or fashioning up new cuisines and dishes, especially so for his 15-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter. The best thing about cooking is that you get to know immediately whether you did a good job or not because people will either eat your dishes or they wont. There is no two-ways about it, says Rickert.

Rickert uses the same fundamentals of feedback and response as he heads the IT department of one the top twenty companies, according to Forbes Global 2000 rankings, Barclays. He is CIO, Global Retail and Commercial Banking (GRCB) Technology, Barclays. Rickerts responsibility is to lead 7,000 IT colleagues globally to deliver IT capabilities and support for GRCB.

Starting his career at IBM, Rickert has taken up quite a few challenging roles in the design and development of technology before switching over to manage the IT systems at KeyCorp, the eleventh largest bank in the US. It has been around two years since Rickert has joined Barclays and is leading the charge in terms of making the organization more oriented toward customer needs and wants. To be successful, we need to understand that the reason we exist is to support Barclays customers and all the great technical wizardry is of no use if it is not creating value for our customers, he adds.

In an extensive interaction with Dataquest, Rickert talks about different aspects of IT management and what it takes to lead a major financial institution like Barclays. Excerpts

How do you think has the banking sector embraced technology? Was it willingly or was it coerced, due to legislations, etc?
The banking sector has embraced technology very aggressively and willingly. Many vendors would say that financial institutions are leaders in terms of technology adoption and usage. We at Barclays are focused on providing great service to our users and given just the volume of transactions, one would want to automate as much as possible. A company would like to maintain a consistent quality of service, which is hard to get if you rely on manual processes. This sort of philosophical approach is universal across the financial services industry, hence, banks and their likes are very much leaders in technology adoption.

How strategic is IT to the change management process, considering that the company has a history that goes back four centuries? Continue reading

Interview: Peter Dengate Thrush (ICANN)

As it is, interviewing a lawyer is a tough task. And if the lawyer heads an organization that is often embroiled in controvresies, the task becomes more oneros was my dilemma, as I started my interaction with Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of the board, ICANN. The Kiwi Barrister had come down to India for an ICANN event and I met up with him at one of the seminars he was attending. He is one of the rare people, who genuinely was eager to attus. Thiend all the sessions at the seminar (more so because he was the keynote speaker). Thus, I had to time the conversation between two sessions and he sat down with a cup of coffee.

Now, ICANN as an institution over the past decade has been involved in lot many controversies, some of its making and a majority of them not. Thus, as I would put forth those questions, Thrush would thrash them away in his characteristic ‘lawyerly’ way. Certain questions, he would make me repeat, then a few times he would ask me to elaborate and sometimes he would just dismiss them altogerther. Everytime he WAS ready with his defense and ready it to back it up. As the interview proceeded, he softened a bit and that is when the conversation,in a sort of way, took off.

While researching on Thursh, I had come across this very tragic incident in his life, wherein he lost his father, wife and brother in a car accident. I wanted to ask him about the foundation that he has set up in the memory of his wife and family, but I let it be. I really didn’t wish to remind him of those traumatic days.

Here is Barrister Thrush defending ICANN on all the diiferent issues that I could think of. Believe me, he did a jolly well job.


‘US is not controlling Net Resources’

It has been nearly a decade since Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) came into being at Marina Del Rey, California. Set up as a non-profit corporation to oversee a number of Internet-related tasks previously performed directly on behalf of the US Government by other organizations. The chief task of ICANN is to manage the assignment of domain names (over 145 million domain names) and IP addresses, popularly referred to as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) function. Yet, over the years, ICANN has been embroiled in controversies, be it political or technical in nature. The main grouse many seem to have with ICANN, is that it seems to be a trifle more conscious to the whims and fancies of the US Government.

In the past few years, there has also been an increasing chorus asking for either ICANN to be freed from its obligations to the US Government, or all together stripped of the role it plays. Nonetheless, the ICANN boat seems sail quite merrily, recently it launched the .Asia domain name with much fanfare and also announced the shift to IPV6 from IPV4. In midst of all this jumble-tumble, there was also a change of guard at ICANN, Internet pioneer Vincent Cerf was replaced by barrister Peter Dengate Thrush as the chairman of the board. It has been a significant move, as many argue that by appointing a New Zealander the Board is trying to play down its association with the US Government. Whatever be the reasons or compulsions, one thing is for sure, Thrush is completely in control with the developments at ICANN. It is almost impossible to pin down this suave barrister, he seems to be ready at all times with facts, figures and arguments to prove his contention.

Recently, Thrush had come down to India to attend the 33rd ICANN conference held in India. Taking some time out, Thrush spoke at length to Dataquest on the different controversies that surround ICANN and what he feels about the coming years. Excerpts.

How does it feel about fitting into Vincent Cerf’s shoes?
It is a big honor really, to follow someone who is such a pioneer and rightly rewarded for his work. I remember mentioning in my speech that he was ranked at number 11 in the list of 40 most influential technologists. I was elected unamiously by the Board, thus I have got the confidence of the rest of the Board. I have been on the Board for years, and know what the expectations are and how it functions. SO I have to just press on and execute the responsibilities that I have been given.

What will be your main tasks as the chairman of the Board?
Rather than main tasks, I think that there are a whole lot of tasks, starting with the most obvious one, i.e., to chair the meetings of the board to ensuring that the right direction is given to the corporation. Thinking strategically, being aware of the opportunities, obligations we have to the environment and the society at large, are some of the major responsibilities of the chair.You recently spoke about the fact that ICANN had outlived the Joint Project Agreement (JPA)?What I had stated in fact was that JPA had itself outlived itself, it only had a limited life, and it was put in place for only three years. With a very clear indication that it should be reviewed half way through. The point about JPA is that sets up a number of conditions, which if ICANN completes them, it would have done the work that is necessary to be the trusted coordinator of resources and the Board thinks that those things have been done. We have to be careful though, as some of those things can never be really done, as they are never ending, it is a sort of journey not arrival. The question is whether we are doing it well enough. And the feedback that I have been getting from the community is that we are doing those things well enough to be allowed to continue to do.

There is often this perception that the US government is controlling all the resources of the Internet, discreetly or overtly. Your views.
First up, it is a wrong perception that the US government is controlling the Internet resources. There are some very specific roles of the US government used to play for historic reasons. Most people are very grateful that they did that and that they continue to do that. And we are talking about transition out of a set of controls. The JPA doesn’t really provide any control and the removal of the JPA would not affect the control mechanisms that are in place. There are a number of key control mechanisms currently in place, and the most important one is the contract that the US government gives to ICANN, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) function. It is in fact the IANA function that actually controls what goes into the root.

And there is still a continuing role, in terms of changes to the root by the US Department of Commerce. Now we recognize that is in regards to what the other governments particularly in terms of changes to the country-code top-level domains (CCTLDs) for example, find difficult that the US Department of Commerce official actually has a role to play changing something which, for better or for worse, countries see as something that is very close to their own sovereignty. That isn’t actually going to change by the JPA coming to an end. JPA is much more about forming and building ICANN, the rules under which ICANN runs will continue to be as they were.

If you consider the following, it will be obvious that the US government does not interfere in the functioning of ICANN as the chairman of the board is from New Zealand (Thrush), the vice chairman is from Italy, the CEO is from Australia. We are gradually moving to a different environment, where our accountability will be to the Internet community of the entire world rather than to any one government.

According to Prof. Milton Mueller, in the past ICANN has been ‘generally willing to go along with US control’. What do you say to that?
Milton is a good friend of mine, and we disagree on a number of things. I am not quite sure of what you are referring to but what ICANN is prepared to go along is a number of things that I mentioned earlier. First of all, we are very happy to be a California registered corporation, as a result of that we get tax advantages in the US, which we are very happy to have, so we are prepared to meet the obligations of being a US corporation to get that advantage. We are delighted to have the contract from the US Government on the IANA functions and we are prepared to live with the obligations of that creates. We work closely with the US Department of Commerce in relation of the World Summit of Information Society and the committee that came out of that, the working group on Internet Governance (WGIG). So we have a close relationship with the US government. That said, that government has no greater say in the policy issues that come in front of us, for e.g. the debate on whether or not to introduce .XXX into the root.

There is speculation that the US government played a more influential role than the other governments, but as a member of the Board at that time and someone who voted in favour of .XXX for entirely different reasons, I was unaware of any untoward pressure from the US government.

In the end, we are very clear about what the issues are, we are a US corporation at the moment that brings with it, obligations and responsibilities, so if you are talking about that then there is no problem. The US connection is something that the media is much keener to focus on than anyone else. The reality is ICANN is enormously international, with 21 members of the board, a vast majority of those who come from outside the US. There is staff spread all around the world, the meetings are held almost anywhere but the US. Probably I think it is more of a media issue than a real one.

In such a scenario, what do you see as the role that various governments continue to play in the functioning of ICANN?
I think a strong Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) is seen as essential to the wellbeing of the continuous survival of ICANN. ICANN has to be the place where all the interested stakeholders come together and much of what we have done over the past 10 years is building a structure in which all those different people can come and can have their voices heard, and for a balance to be struck in all the competing interests. My first 4-5 years at ICANN, went fighting on the behalf of one of those voices, the country code managers, and there is now a place in ICANN in terms of CCNA for country code managers to come and talk to each other about whatever they want, talk to ICANN when they need to about crucial issues for country code management. Similarly for the GAC, there is the place for governments to come, band together, and sort out amongst themselves firstly whatever their issues are and finally when they are more or less in agreement to bring those issues forward as the governments of the world. Hence, their role is as crucial, as it for all the other components, probably more if you take the collective influence governments have worldwide.

There is a constant criticism on ICANN on issues of transparency, i.e., there hasn’t been sufficient public disclosure, ‘too many discussions take place out of the sight of public’. Your comments.
I don’t think that is a fair description of the criticism. That is a transparency problem, and I think that ICANN is reasonably transparent in terms of its processes do go on in public. In fact, we recently were audited by a global body that found that we had very high levels of transparency. That said, we can always do better. We are doing more, we have got a manager of public participation who is doing a great job of running alternative methods of making information available. We are working towards substantially improve the quality of the website, where you can find things all that has been published in the past and we are working towards making the website much more user friendly. We have got blogs running. It will be fair to say that we genuinely accept that we want to run a transparent way, the reality is that if we don’t do that, then we need to stop and go back and explain and get the community behind us again on a particular issue. That will be much more complicated and time wasting than if we just take the trouble to be clear about what we are doing. So first and foremost, I think it is a passion for most of us to make sure that things are done in a transparent way. From a business perspective as well, it is the best way to run a business, keep the community informed and moving in the same direction.

I think that the objection, I believe it to be fairer one, is that there are insufficient accountability mechanisms and again we take it seriously and are exploring ways at making sure that the individual components of ICANN are responsible to their communities and that ICANN itself is collectively responsible to the whole of the community. We are having a particular debate about how under certain circumstances, the Board itself might be able to be recalled in case of substantial community discontent on a particular decision. As you might know, currently, it is rather difficult to remove a director. Most of us think that it probably isn’t appropriate and think that director should be responsible and accountable as they are in other commercial corporations. What we are working on now, is a mechanism to do that in a reasonable way.

There also seems to be much debate and discussion on spending by ICANN. Consular of European Top Level Domain Registry had apparently accused ICANN of lack of financial prudence, stating that, the organization set for itself ‘unrealistic political and operational targets’.
Again, that is quite interesting, as I not quite sure where that quote came from. But the answer to that is you tell us which part of the budget you don’t want us to do and then we will stop spending that money. We have just published our budget, with operational planning coming closely behind it. All the things in it, are the things that have been asked for, if not demanded by the Internet community. They want these services, they want these things provided and someone has to pay for it.

What do you make of the increase in domain registration rates by Verisign, as part of the settlement ICANN had with it. I think it is a commercial matter for Verisign and I am not sure if I in the position to comment on it.

The cost of domain registry is pretty much high, especially for the developing world like India when you factor in the per capita income..
I think you should do more research on that, because the cost of registering a domain name ranges from free, because many people give them away, to extraordinary prices. So it is a question of doing the marketing. You also could be talking about Indians purchasing the generic top level domain names, namely in the .com space. What you should be comparing is the cost of registering .in space or any other space. I think there is an extraordinary range, no one ever requires that you register a .com domain name and in came they want to register a .com. there are very many cheap providers.

But then .in is equally priced vis-a-vis a .com domain name, so it doesn’t really make a difference. Also the fact .com domain names are more popular and one is able to relate to them very well, as .in isn’t as popular here.
Well, then there is obviously a perceived value that you must be prepared to pay for, if you think the value a .com brings. I am not sure if you can have something that you perceive to have more value and then get it for nothing.

There has been much criticism of the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) as well, what do you make of it?
UDRP has worked very well for what was its primary purpose at that time, which was to provide a very fast and easy mechanism at a reasonable price and in a short time frame to get rid of the egregious cases of cyber squatting. I have acknowledged in a couple of board meetings that UDRP is due for review that was part of the originals things. In the main, I think it has worked substantially well for its purpose. There have been suggestions that its scope should be expanded, that has been rejected by all of the ICANN community unanimously. But yes there are things that can be done make the UDRP better.

There is also the discussion doing round, that decisions at ICANN are not driven bottom up and that the organization is not paying real attention to the Internet user community at large…
I think if that were true, we would all be very concerned. In fact, it seems to be on the contrary take the recent example of the IDNs, there has been huge pressure for that from the bottom up, it has been dealt appropriately by referring to that as a technical matter affecting the substrate, going deep into the engine and we do that with considerable caution. So the Internet Engineering Task Force, has been developing the appropriate protocols and we have taken time to test those and given feedback to the community. I think these are the kinds of things people say, with an outcome that they don’t like. It is a very easy challenge to make. But if you analyse most of the process at ICANN, I am not suggesting that they are perfect, they are done substantially bottom up way.

Sometime back during an interaction with Dataquest, Sir Tim Berners-Lee had stated that Internet can happily survive for the next 10 years without an introduction of a new Top Level Domain name. What do you feel about it?
I concur with Sir Tim, we only need one. We don’t actually need multiplicity of top level domain names. We could only do with one, we don’t need country code domain names, and other domains as well.

But then it is not the question of need, it is a question of want. My view is that, the market wants it, provided it does no harm, then they should have them. Why not create facilities for people, what we have seen is that each time we have introduced a new top level domain name, there has been a great amount of unexpected response from the Internet users. To my mind, it is the classic let the market decide.

How has been the response so far to the introduction of .Asia, .EU, and others?
I don’t have the numbers, but talking to the .Asia people, they seemed to be very pleased with the way their launch has gone. .Eu is also raking substantial numbers of registrations. There are a numbers of measures of success , large numbers or large revenues may not be the best criterion to judge success. For instance, some of the chartered domains like .museum, we will always going to have a very limited amount of museums. So different top level domains are created for different purposes.

Is there a need for an alternative to ICANN, could UN play the role?
The results of the World Summit on Information systems, eventually there was the conclusion that ICANN was the appropriate body for managing the Internet’s technical resources. So that has been thoroughly thrashed out over the years. We are substaintial financial sponsors of the Internet Governance Forum, we support and appreciate the work done by IGF but that should not be confused by the technical job done by ICANN.

The key outcome of the working of the IGF, this is not a function that can be done by a government and that the UN organization is completely not suited to deal with this particular technology. The model that ICANN represent s which is a multi stakeholder model. Remember that the participants of the UN are representatives of governments that is not the appropriate bunch to manage the Internet. That is not my conclusion that is the conclusion of the working group on Internet Governance, which the multistake holder model which brings together the technical community which provides it and the operators who run it domain name registers and the businesses and others. To make this work, you need to have everybody in the room, and that’s inconsistent with most of the UN model.

What are your views of domain name trading?
I think it is tremendously exciting, the market is vibrant and expanding. Trading creates jobs, it creates wealth and it is part of our charter to create competition, and it is one small aspect of the same.And cyber squatting..Remember my original training is as an Intellectual Property lawyer, so I share a greater concern about some of those aspects than other members of the board. In general, we all take infringement of legal rights very seriously. We have to ensure that we have the proper mechanisms to deal with that, what we can’t do is tread into areas where national laws are applicable. So we have to tread carefully.

What is ICANN’s commitment to multilingualism?
We are extremely committed to multilingualism. Again it is a question of budget, we haven’t been able to afford it but at the last meeting at Los Angeles, for the first time we had simultaneous interpretation in 6-7 different languages, and it was hugely beneficial to non-English to be able to understand and participate in our meetings. Most of us thought it was a tremendous advance, so there is a commitment to multilingualism. We are working at making our website multilingual, all our documents should be available in different languages. But you need to bear in mind that it comes at an enormous expense. You have to start having the budget of United Nations to start operating in a UN way. But we do what we can.

What about domain names in non ASCII characters?
We are delighted with the work that has gone on to make the computer be able to read non ASCII script. We are going beyond that, we are talking about hieroglyphs and that will be available in domain names in the future. That hasn’t of course held up, content available in different languages.

What could be India’s role at ICANN?
India’s most visible role at the moment has been with providing the secretariat to the GAC, and we are very grateful for the same. There has also been some financial support for the meeting conducted in New Delhi recently.As India’s economy grows and as the Internet user base widens, as companies become more and more active. ISPs could join hands with ICANN in places like the ISP committee and businesses with the business constituency. There so many places at ICANN, where we would be more pleased to see greater Indian participation.

What is the need to shift from IPV4 to IPV6?
The driving factor has been the fact that by about 2011, we would have exhausted easily accessible blocks of IP4 addresses. Partly because nobody really understood at that time, when 4.5 billion of those were created what the demand was going to be at that time. Internet at that time was used by a few techies sending files from one university to another, who knew that we would have the enormous commercial application since achieved. The new system will have 340 trillion trillion numbers which most of us think is going to suffice for at least the next few months (laughs).

Your views on .XXX
That was a particularly interesting legal situation. Wherein the conditions that were set by the board for creation of new GTLDs had to be met by a new applicant and the debate that the board had was almost entirely whether this applicant had met the conditions and we split on whether or not. And I after working on hundreds of hours over the voluminous documents, averred that the applicant had met the set criterion and the majority board members felt that they hadn’t. It had very little to do with the nature of the content they wanted to provide, except as to have that related to conditions that we imposed on running that particular domain name. So I don’t think so, there was anybody for example on the board, who thought that adult content was bad or good, it was nothing to do with the merits of the content. It was with the safeguards that we require and the operating rules, systems. Under those proposals you had to actually produce a community that you said was going to be served by this proposal. One of the arguments was that the applicant had not demonstrated that supported any community. So there was a considerable debate on what support means, what sufficient levels is, and whether this applicant had met those conditions, that the kind of things reasonable people can disagree on. And some of us thought that they had proved it and others thought they had not. And it had to do very little with the actual nature of the content, it was the nature of the community.

Interesting, though it seemed like a very moral kind of a decision.
I think that’s a mistake, what needs to be reminded that the content they were talking about was moral and legal. I don’t exactly understand the moral aspects, but it was certainly legal. Pornography is legal in most countries, and this applicant was quite clear that he would only be providing legal content . So I think most of us, got past that reasonably quickly, had there been any suggestions about illegal content than the application would have been killed immediately.

It has been close to 10 years of ICANN. What do you make of it?
I think the 10 years have been longer than anyone of us had expected in 1999, when we were arguing about the bylaws and that’s reflected on the fact that MOU with the US government while building of ICANN and what needed to be done was set for 2 years. And we were completely confident completely wrongly that things were completely under control. It was only later that we realised that we had almost all of the things that had been listed in the original document, sort of blueprint set out on a whitepaper. The huge challenges that we faced in 1999 we have tackled them all. So I think we move into the next decade with much confidence.

Shashwat DC

Interview: Jim Rygiel (Three times Academy Award winner for LOTR)

Now, as I was posting my VFX story (right below this one), I remembered an interview that I had done with Jim Rygiel, who was the VFX supervisor for the LOTR trilogy. It was my biggest international story at that time. And it was an amazing feeling interacting with Rygiel, as I am a great fan of his work, especially in LOTR. Not to miss out the fact, that he was very candid and would not shy away from calling a spade a spade. He even spoke about the future of Indian VFX. The story was published on CIOL: (
The Lord of Visual Effects on VFX!

The excitement came back in the movies sometimes in the early eighties, a time when Star Wars, Jaws, E.T., scared, spooked and thrilled audiences worldwide. Steadily computer took its rightful place in movie industry, making the impossible very much possible.

Over the years, the aliens became creepier, the monsters monstrous and extraordinary events became more lifelike. Real and Big are the two words that come to mind when one thinks of computer generated (CG) effects, everything seemed so very real and that too on a big scale. And the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy epitomizes the progress of visual effects industry, it is a landmark, something that can be compared to Armstrong’s landing on the moon. Jim Rygiel was the visual effects supervisor for the three films directed by Peter Jackson. He was awarded the ‘Best Visual Effects’ Academy Awards (or Oscars) for three consecutive years for LOTR, a record of sorts.

Jim started his career in the 1980 by joining Pacific Electric Pictures, one of the earliest companies to employ computer animation for the advertising and film markets. He has worked as a visual effects supervisor in films like Species, Outbreak, Air Force One, Cliffhanger, Batman Returns, Alien III, Ghost, Anna and the King, 102 Dalmatians and of course the LOTR trilogy. He holds a degree in architecture and a master of fine arts (MFA) degree. He is currently working on films like Click. Jim speaks about how visual effects industry is shaping up, what goes behind the screen (especially in the LOTR) to Shashwat Chaturvedi from Cyber Media News in an email interview. Excerpts.

You are from the fine arts background, how does visual effects fit into your profile? In visual effects, one is constantly trying to make the fantastical as believable as possible, more monsters, more real dragons, etc. Would you refer to visual effects as an art form?
I have always had the concept that anything I do in life is art. The craft and aesthetic of painting a house, cooking a fantastic diner, or even doing ones finances takes special talents and skills that is crafted over time (is like art). Similarly, visual effects is a combination of art, science, mechanics, and even some politics!

The Lord of the Rings trilogy has been heralded as the hallmark movies of the generation, how hard was it to make it a reality? What was the single most arduous task involved?
It was interesting working on Lord of the Rings, when I first approached it I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that I could not possibly do the movie in New Zealand, and planned to take it all back to Los Angeles. However within the first 45 minutes after landing, I was swayed with the technical advancements and filmmaking skills that Peter Jackson had built in New Zealand. The biggest task was to get the entire crew moving forward in production mode.

In LOTR there was a lot of innovative technology that was used, right from motion animation, keyframing to the usage of proprietary software Massive (developed by Weta Digital). Can you briefly describe the various techniques that were used and what were the challenges in implementing them?
Well, we always tried to push the technology, we used virtual reality cameras (based on motion capture) to help us pre-visualize sequences. Motion capture ran for about 3 years straight as we had to capture thousands of motion for all of the different characters, in all of the 3 films. The motion capture was then applied to the Massive software, which drove the many different captured cycles. Our miniature dept ran for approximately 1000 days, shooting all of the various pieces, which would be composited with our live action and CG effects.

You have been supervising visual effects in many Hollywood blockbusters like the Last Action Super Hero, Cliffhanger, Batman Returns, Outbreak, etc. How has your experience with LOTR different from these?
Usually when you work on a film there are 1 or 2 different types of effects, for instance in Batman Returns, we did some digital penguins that performed a few moves, and we also did some digital compositing, but it was basically the same thing. With LOTR almost every shot had something different going on with it. Cave trolls, flying fell beasts, Giant Mumakil elephants, miniatures, live action, CG effects, it had it all!

What was the experience of creating Gollum (Speagol)? Was it completely based on motion-capture of actor Andy Serkis?
Gollum was an evolutionary concept, when we first started thinking about him we had a completely different vision for him. He was a bit more alien looking than his current self. As the shooting progressed Peter Jackson felt he needed someone to play the eyeline character for Frodo and Samwise so he got Andy Serkis. Andy began to play the eyeline character, and slowly start to recite the lines back during the actor, Andy honed his part and was eventually reciting all of the lines for Gollum, so Peter said hey, lets use Andy’s voice for Gollum since he was doing it so well, as Andy got more into the part, he started hopping around like Gollum, as Peter was editing the film Andy was so amazing as Gollum that Peter asked us to copy his motions as closely as possible because he was perfect for the part. So we did a bit of what we call rotomaton, which is a process where you bend the digital character to match frame by frame to the real character (Andy), we also did some motion capture, and keyframe animation , but I believe the best performance came out through the use of rotomation.

Of the Cave Troll, Gollum, Treebeard, and Shelob, whom do you find the most fascinating and why?
Well, Treebeard and the Ents gave us some struggle in creating the characters, the animators had to bring forth the age-old grandfatherly wisdom of the giant trees, and yet they had to have great strength, and a bit of whimsy. However it was the Balrog in the first film that was the most challenging and fascinating in terms of technical execution.

To get the feeling that 30-foot waves of fire and smoke were emanating through the character, we shot small flame elements and then used a particle system to create the 30-foot wall of fire that moved with and around the Balrog.

What is the software that you used for LOTR? What was the hardware? What were the kinds of innovations involved, like props, etc.? And how big was a challenge to supervise a big and diverse team of visual effects artists?
We used Maya software for our animation, particle systems, and general scene setup. Shake was primarily used for compositing the elements together, we had farms of Intels and IBMs (about 6000 on the last film) for our rendering power, and we used Renderman for the final rendering of the CG effects. The Artists themselves were fantastic, there was a great diversity from around the world. On the last film, I supervised 450 global artists (we called ourselves digital migrant workers) as many of them went from job to job around the globe. Language was a barrier but we all spoke a global CG language (Maya, Shake).

What is your views about the trouble with audience habituation, people are becoming so accustomed to special effects in films like War of the Worlds, Jurassic Park, King Kong, etc. that the effect-wizards are locked in an upward spiral of an endless special-effects arms race, with demands for bigger explosions, uglier villains, and ever expanding battle scenes?
From a job standpoint, I love it as it keeps me employed. But in my book story is always the king! In all too many films we have seen amazing crazy mind bending effects that have either gotten lost or suffered because of the lack of story. I love working on mega blockbusters, as well as the small intimate films, in both types of films my job is the same that is to help the director tell his story.

You have been in the industry for over two decades now, where do you think is the special effects/animation industry headed? What is the road ahead so as to say?
The nice thing about digital filmmaking is that, it is limitless. Anything that can be thought, can be achieved. There will be new venues, audience participation films, virtual reality films, and in the future who knows maybe even holographic films. Things are definitely getting more exciting in the visual effects world.

Tell us about your interactions with Peter Jackson, how was it working with him?
Well its amazing when you are working with a genius, Peter is as nice in person as he is in interviews, he absolutely knows what he wants and lets you know exactly what that is, there is no beating around the bush. He is very attentive to your feedback as an individual. It was truly amazing to work with a man like him.

Which movie has impressed you the most (special effects) and have you seen a film where special effects are too overwhelming and in the end losing the plot?
I guess I would have to say 2001, even though it was very simplistic in its approach, (It was basically flying matte paintings). It was earth shattering at the time in terms of its look, we were brought up on bad 50’s sci-fi films and then along comes a movie that actually showed us what living in space is going to be like, it was bringing the mundane-ness of everyday life into space. For instance a Pan-Am spaceship bringing you up to a Howard Johnsons Hotel in space and the AT&T space phone.

The Matrix 2 and 3 became overwhelming for me the effects were fantastic but it became too much of a good thing. I think it was a problem again with the story vs. the effects.

Have you ever seen an Indian movie, if yes, what are you views on the same?
I have never been to India but would love to come over there sometime. I occasionally turn on the Indian channel on television , and watch the spectacle of the Indian film, I have no idea what is going on, but it is quite beautiful to watch all of the dances and costumes.

Indian is renowned for its IT prowess globally; do you think India can ever replicate the kind of work done by Weta in New Zealand?
Yes absolutely! However the machines are nothing, so that makes all of the IT power in the world worthless, unless you can get good artists to run those machines. The aesthetic needs to be addressed, much like the difference in aesthetics between the Indian film and the Hollywood blockbuster. However, I feel that the world is getting smaller and I am actually doing some work in Mumbai, with a company called Frame Flow, I used the same Indian producer for some work on Lord of the Rings.