Sunday, June 5, 2011

Robert Pattinson and his Royal Connections!


Here are a few ‘what the hell’ (to put it mildly) genealogy discoveries of our time:
Oscar Wilde’s descendant is a computer programmer, Adolf Hitler’s descendants are spread across America and live under assumed names, and according to rumors, they have also been strictly warned by the FBI not to procreate, and Ernest Hemingway’s grandson dropped out of college to make a living as a mason.

If you find these facts surprising then it is time for things to get seriously bizarre.
Robert Pattison is related to Dracula! Yes, the British Actor who has played the role a vampire in three blockbuster Hollywood movies is related to Dracula. For those who’re just out of prison or haven’t been able to keep up with pop culture news for other reasons, Robert Pattison plays the role of a vampire in the movie series ‘True Blood’.

And, if you’re still getting over the fact that Santa doesn’t exist, we have more bad news for you, Dracula, as you and I know him, never existed; except in the imagination of author Bram Stoker who wrote a book around a ‘fictional’ vampire, and called him, Dracula.

In fact, Dracula was not a vampire but a King who lived in the 15th Century. Unfortunately, he has just as bad a reputation as a vampire could have. Vlad III Dracula (yes, that’s his full name) ruled the area of the Balkans and is known to have been an extremely strict moralist. Anyone who transgressed his code of conduct was impaled on the stake. He is said to have thus killed over 40,000 people! In fact, it is this very history that influenced Bram Stoker to name his vicious, vampire character, Dracula.

A while ago, Robert Pattison had joked about how he used to tell people in LA that he knew the Royal Family well. The British actor convinced people enough that they began to spread his lie. Ironically, turns out, that Pattison is related to the British Royal Family. To make the connection, we bring in the experts.

Speaking to People Magazine, Anastasia Tyler, a genealogist at Ancestry.com, said, "Tracing Pattinson's family back to Vlad was difficult research, but the pieces that unraveled created the perfect accompaniment to the Twilight Saga. Without any myth or magic, we find royalty and vampires lurking in Pattinson's life -- making his story just as supernatural as the one he's playing on screen."

Robert Pattison’s joke about ‘knowing’ England’s Royal Family was true after all. To Prince William’s, Harry’s and the rest of the family’s embarrassment, they are all descendants of Vlad Dracula, according to modern genealogy reports. This makes, Pattison, the Princes, William and Harry, distant cousins! Unfortunately, despite the connection, Robert wasn’t invited to the much-talked about Royal wedding.

As most Twilight fans and non-fans, due to the media overkill on the subject, know that Twilight was written by a Mormon Arizona mother and housewife, Stephenie Meyer. Now, genealogy research has shown that she too is related to Vlad Dracula.
Robert Pattison’s latest movie, Water for Elephants. is just out and receiving much acclaim. Interestingly, Pattison’s co-star Reese Witherspoon is the descendant of John Knox  The Divine, the founder of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland.

The whole story of Pattison being related to Dracula, along with the author Stephenie Meyer, and the timing of the release of this information – just before the release of the third Twilight movie – make us wonder if this wasn’t just a publicity stunt. Either way, it got us thinking about a whole lot of royal connections.

Here’s to genealogy and more bizarre descendant stories! 

No Osama, President Obama and the vagueness of hope


Please forget Osama for the moment.

After eight years of George Bush’s administration, the United States was more than ready for change. After a decent first term, Bush’s popularity began to wane the second time around and seriously dipped towards the end. Worsening complications in Afghanistan and Iraq, and early signs of the soon-to-come serious economic downturn paved the way for a voice of hope. One that bounded with enthusiasm, honesty and faith. Obama’s election campaign embodied change, a huge symbolic aspect of this was his race. The country knew it wanted a different administration, and a different President. One vastly different from the previous one, who had become a global political caricature.

In 2008, it seemed like the United States had gotten into too much of a mess, one that seemed just too impossible to get out of. But the Obama campaign’s overriding theme seemed to promise that even the most seemingly insurmountable obstacle will be overcome. ‘Yes We Can’ became the theme all through Obama’s Presidential campaign. Although ‘Change we believe in’ was his slogan, Yes We Can was a resounding chant that followed the Obama campaign trail. The chant is inspired by a United Farm Workers movement, where the workers used a Spanish version in a 1970
s movement.

As Obama’s term-end comes close, he will have to prepare for another grueling 2012 election campaign, and many doubt if he will be reelected. To start with, there have been too many unfulfilled promises and then, there has been an overwhelming feeling among supporters that there was too much hope with unsubstantiated reasoning, and that they were somehow ‘hoodwinked’ into voting for fluff not backed by substance.

The reality will continue to unfold as long as the President is in the Oval Office, but this   popular perception is growing.

A trail of broken promises

During the election campaign, Obama promised change across crucial areas. From closing the Guantanamo Bay, where Human Rights abuses were rampant, to ending the Iraq War and promising affordable Health Care to all. If President Obama really meant them, the promises have been way too hard to deliver.

The Guantanamo Bay for instance, can’t be shut overnight. Many of the countries, whose citizens are in the prison, refuse to take them back. The Health Care system needs a long-term overhaul that just can’t be achieved without Republic support, which has been not forthcoming. But to many, Obama’s failed promises seem like a failure of will, rather than a systemic problem. On the other hand, those who do understand that it is not easy to tackle the tough areas he had proposed to act upon, see childishly hopeful optimism during the campaign and after, which by itself is not enough to change a nation.

 This March, Obama signed in a deal that agrees to resume the military trials in Guantanamo. What this means, essentially, is that the terror prison is not set to close anytime soon, as the trials could take time, besides, it makes the very existence of the prison, legitimate, despite some very public accusations of human rights abuses, an antithesis of what Obama’s ‘Yes We Can’ electoral campaign had stood for.

This is what he had said in 2007, during the campaign.

“As President, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists.”

Old bottle, new wine

During his Presidential Campaign, Obama had famously praised the power of technology and had used the internet to generate millions of dollars of funding for his campaign. In the lead up to his 2012 campaign, it is unfortunately, the internet that is offering citizens a check list of Obama’s failed and fulfilled promises.  At every milestone, beginning with his 100-day term completion at the White House, bloggers, webmasters, critics and even supporters have been making checklists of words taken seriously and those allowed to fall by the wayside.

As much as Obama is a conservative Democrat and has come head-to-head with the Republicans on key policy issues, many political observes, especially internationally, have wondered over the last two years if Obama is not fulfilling a self-serving American agenda, just like his predecessor, the Republican George Bush.

The Iraq war, for instance, one of Obama’s key promises, was too difficult to exit because of various ‘strategic’ American interest in the region, one of them being oil.
A resounding global voice is now describing America’s efforts in Libya, to bring Gadaffi down, as the beginning of Obama’s Iraq.

The electoral candidate’s sugar-coated promise of change and hope was too hard to deliver in reality as the President. But many say that Obama inherited a brutally tough economic and political situation from his predecessor. And like his rant to a closed-democratic gathering, which was recorded by CBC news reporter last week showed, the Republicans have played serious ‘stalling’ politics. The President mentioned the key areas in his rant, Climate Change and Health Care, among others, where the Republicans haven’t allowed new policies to come into place.

They say an objective take on a President’s performance can only happen in hindsight, but many already feel they have an accurate assessment of Obama’s term – too many promises were made, most failed and a few half-passed.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Scoutmob vs Groupon - Is there Competition?


Groupon is one of the most popular "social group coupon" merchants in the marketplace today. The name Groupon itself originates from group coupon. Although I like its concept of offering one coupon per day in each of the markets that it represents, I believe it could have a short shelf life. Now, I don’t mean that it is unsuccessful but it is a lot unlike its so-called competitor; ScoutMob.

This is mainly because ScoutMob does not need any upfront payment for its coupons like Groupon does. The ScoutMob’s modus operandi is that its coupons are held in your mobile phone application module and it is easy to redeem this at any point of sale, similar to a paper coupon. To put it simple, Scoutmob is more of a flash commerce company that is involved in leveraging local deals and content on mobile devices so as to drive new customers to local businesses. Obviously, businesses pay for the service in the form of a flat fee on any single coupon that is redeemed.

However, given the position that Groupon is at present (market value is $6bn which is further projected to grow to $25bn!), it is not that easy to write of Groupon.  I was further shocked to know that it services more than 150 North American markets and over 100 European, Asian and South American markets with a total user base of close to 35 million. Now, Scoutmob is nowhere close that figure, but it has the potential to reach somewhere close.

The bitter fact is that Groupon consumers are not very amused by the bunch of discount offers that hit their mailboxes on a daily basis. This is primarily because, most of the enthusiasm will die down once the economy picks up and chances are that they may not find the discount offers are not that great.

As Groupon is a medium to get discounts from the local store to the consumer, the stores will be interested in Groupon, if the stores can convert a Groupon customer into a repeat customer. If this does not happen, then the business itself will stop supporting Groupon. In such a scenario, the Groupon thingy will likely fade away or it might even just burst. As the coupons are coming from the establishments or business houses, Groupon should help these business houses and for this they need to get their customer service act together very quickly. In fact, in certain parts of Europe the Groupon bubble has almost lost its shine. However, this may not happen in the US markets as they have enough critical mass so as to have the staying power and further consolidate. I think that in the next couple of years they will fall back to the market segment that Groupon was created for. There will always be people looking for bargains but not on the scale we are looking at the moment.

On the other hand, ScoutMob is quite a cool concept and better still they have their act together and have executed their project plan rather well.  However, what they really need to project is that their module leads to repeat business and naturally customer loyalty. The only problem that I can envisage is that most business house would evidence that these deals would perform and lead to repeat businesses. In such a case, any business house would be willing to invest further in customer acquisition. They need to come up with some form of a digital loyalty card thingy that would keep track of repeat businesses. They would also need to make it quickly recognizable and omni-present, somewhat similar to Groupon.

Bottom-line is that there is still plenty of room for growth in this market space. I don’t see any sign of real competition unless there is a real site with about fifty million users.

As long as Groupon maintains its six month exclusives and maintains its deals, it should be smooth sailing for them. In other words, unless there are some solid joint ventures between similar business houses that could generate a content database to the tune of over fifty million users, Groupon is in safe hands.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Creative Process

Guest Post from Writer and Musician Mark Siet

Mark Siet is the author of three books on Amazon, Thought Into Form, 360 Degrees of Good, and Reach For the Sky.  In addition he writes a daily column for the LA Kabbalah Examiner.  He is also a professional Jazz guitarist working in the So California Area.  He lives in San Clemente CA with his wife and two cats. 


The creative process begins with a question.  What is it that I am going to discover?  Whether you are beginning a novel or a simple article about growing peas you are going to face that most important question the answer to which will determine where your next steps are being taken.  For example:
You are walking along a pathway you have never traversed before and the road sweeps left and right.  There is a mist covering both pathways at first but then as you look more closely to the right mist lifts a bit revealing a seascape and a winding road leading to a quaint village below.  You pause and consider.  As you do so the mist returns and now you look to your left and the road rises where a magnificent mansion appears suddenly out of the gloom.  It looks exciting but foreboding.  Which way do you turn?

These are the kinds of choices every writer faces and for many it can be a paralyzing experience.  Each way you turn offers uncertainty and yet you are intrigued which is why you have decided to write in the first place.  What advice can we give here?

Focus on the left or the right but once you head down that road either way have no regrets.  Trust that the journey will be just as full of adventures either way you go.  The process as we mentioned initially is one of discovery in the moment.  After all that is what really matters.

There is a curious effect that takes place almost as though you were building that road ahead of you as you simultaneously dream up imaginatively where it is going.  In any creative process that is where your inspiration comes into play.  It is the driving force behind all momentum and the recognition that both beginning and end are a part of the same unity of purpose.  You have something to say and it does not become complete until you express it.  It is in that expression that all life and light are working overtime for you.  Continue on.  You never know what you will find but it is guaranteed to be amazing!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

CyberCrime: May be in Online Dictionaries but Paperbacks??

When a lot of us were mere kids or adolescents, or for that matter, even adults (oops!!), the word cyber crime did not exist in the dictionary. I am not sure if it still does in a majority of the big dictionaries. Our Enid Blytons and Agatha Christies had no inkling of it. Then for a while it was a fairy land with its esoteric witches. Now it is an irksome and awful part of our daily mundane life lived out in the virtual space. It is, in fact, now a thriving multi-billion dollar industry at the expense of the taxpayer and the exchequer. We ourselves, or some of our friends or acquaintances, have been waylaid by these highwaymen of the cyber-world. So, let us eschew all talk about the ‘whats’, ‘whos’, and ‘wheres’ of it, and cut straight to the heart of the matter taking the devil by the horns in the bullring of the courtroom, literally and figuratively.

The trick here lies in the how of the matter. Being of recent birth, the jurisprudence of cyber-crime is still nebular and evolving. As in any other like case, ‘know thine enemy’ is the dictum here as well. So, to begin with, we shall use the brief space here only to acquaint ourselves with the subject matter. It helps to know the thing in its quantity and differentiate. It would enable us to categorically identify the type of cyber-crime.

Since the spot of a cyber-crime is an intangible globally connected space, the alpha of the matter consists in sorting out the jurisdictional issues. And then, it is important to pick the right personnel for the job i.e. the task of determining who will fight the case. A successful conclusion of this sort of case calls for variegated expertise ranging the gamut from legal to technological. Only a well-organized team exerting a concerted effort can nab such clever, inconspicuous, and anonymous criminals.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Therefore, it is important to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the various technological and other aspects of the matter. For instance, the people involved. Be it the criminals themselves or the victims and the investigators. Apart from the technology, it helps everyone (the criminals themselves not excepted!) to be familiar with the investigation process. The whole forensic paraphernalia, in short: the hardware, the software, and the methodology; the acquiring, the duplicating, and the recovering of the deleted files, and so on.

Even within the compass of cyber-forensics, blackberry, cell phone, ipod etc make for special cases with their own unique technological modalities. Also, the level of public knowledgability with respect to the subject leaves much to be desired for. It is imperative, therefore, that one educate oneself about what constitutes cyber-crime, so as to protect oneself better. Basic issues like network attacks and intrusions, child pornography, email and internet crimes need to be understood. We also need to appreciate the significance of our passwords and assess their susceptibility to exploitation.

And last but not the least, as the old adage goes, prevention is better than cure. It pays to inculcate a proactive approach towards cyber-usage. There are efficient and reasonable technologies a galore for early detection and security purposes. Like any other thing of utility, cyber technologies also require some tending to. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

As They Say - Art is Everywhere!!!

Guest Post from Art and Theater Critic Melissa Hall


My name is Melissa Hall and I'm a theater critic in the Midwest. I'll be discussing the importance of arts in our culture. Please visit my blog, Stage Write, if you'd like to read more on the theater in the Midwest. 

I remember the first time my parents took me to see a play. We saw Brigadoon at a local dinner theater and I was completely captivated. At only 8-years-old and I began a lifelong love affair with performing arts. After that first show I saw Peter PAn, The King and I, symphony performances and even an opera. 

Whenever economic times are rough, the first thing to get cut is arts programs. I don't disagree that feeding and clothing our kids is more important than taking them to the symphony, but I don't think that sports are necessarily more important and athletic teams never seem to lose their budgets. 

The arts feed our kids' souls in a completely different way. They teach them about beauty. They tell them stories through paintings, performances and music. They challenge them to think about the world and the people in it, who are experiencing life in a way that may seem foreign at first. 

Study after study has proven that music and theater force kids to use essential parts of their brains, not often stimulated in other ways. They increase academic performance across the board, in both math and english courses. Teaching kids to appreciate the arts at a young age spurs creativity and it frequently becomes a continued interest, enriching the lives through adulthood. 

When we take arts out of the equation we are denying our kids the thing that is quintessentially human, the ability to create. That create may inspire them to design buildings, invent new technologies or become an artist, but it's the act of creation that is sacred in the end. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pseudo-Spiritualism: A Rendezvous with Spirituality

We drink instant coffee and eat instant-noodles. The mobile phone has morphed from being a mere phone-on-the-move to our office-on-the-move. We seek instant results and gratification. Patience levels are running thin. The noise pollution due to blaring horns in our traffic-ridden days is testimony to that. Our approach to spirituality is the same as our approach to modern life - fast and furious. We need instant peace. We need 2-minute stress relievers. We look for modern variants to ancient yoga (read power yoga). And there is no dearth of modern day Gurus to cater to the needs of the modern day man with his infinite number of self-created problems. The astrologer who always has an answer to what is going to happen tomorrow to the intellectual speaker who interprets ancient scriptures according to modern needs are bane of the spiritual society today.

Trying to give a quick-fix spiritual solution for everything is pseudo-spiritualism. Trying to create a revenue model out of dishing out quick fix solutions is pseudo-spiritualism. Conning people into believing that traditional spiritual approaches that have withstood the ravages of time are useless in modern day and inventing new age practices just to cater to the market is pseudo-spiritualism.

The ancient scriptures defined the qualifications of the disciples – and Gurus alike! The spiritual seeker should have a controlled mind and senses. The Guru should be a Knower of the Truth and well versed to guide the seeker. Neither the modern day disciples nor the new age Gurus seem to fit the bill. Religion is the path to spirituality. Religion deals with the path and spirituality is the goal, a state of being. However, we seek shorter and easier paths. Religion, with its set of defined rigors and rituals, helps us prepare for living a higher life. There are many Do’s and Don’t’s that help a person gradually climb up the ladder of peace. However, we “Do” all the “Don’ts” and “Don’t do” all the “Do’s”! We live paradoxical lives.

Religious organizations making money is not pseudo-spiritualism. Monks in ancient times renounced everything and walked about spreading the teachings but today you find monks traveling in expensive cars. That too is not the problem. If they sit in caves enjoying their inner bliss, we complain that they don’t contribute to society. If they move around, we find faults in their ways. A religious organization is after all an organization. It needs funds to survive. It needs money to reach out to thousands of followers. There is nothing wrong in that. But using that money to pretend what it is not is the problem.

So what is the solution? The problem is not outside. We are the problem. We have to reduce the frenetic pace at which we are running daily. And when the calmness settles in, we have to become genuine seekers. We need to seek the answers to life, to the paradoxes that we have become. And as the saying goes, when the student is ready, the true master arrives.