Image by Rezwan

Overcrowded passenger ferry capsized in the Padma River in Munshiganj, Bangladesh

The World Cup Goal-E Project

This street in Bangladesh has a colorful world cup celebration

New Chum Hill Ruins

Remnants of Kiandra gold mine at New Chum Hill, #nsw #australia

March 31, 2010

On Writing

Sharing a poem of a fellow Bangladeshi blogger:


- Jerome D'Costa

I want to write.
I will write.
I will definitely write.

But I can't write.
I just cannot write.
I cannot write at all.

Via: Bangladesh Canada And Beyond

March 27, 2010

Earth Hour 2010

Earth Hour in Abu Dhabi.

Show your support for earth hour 2010.

Jakarta, Indonesia:

Indonesia has plunged into darkness for Earth Hour with the National Monument, Yogja Monument, Pemuda Statute and Arjuna Wiwaha Waterfall among the major Indonesian icons flicking the switch for climate change. Famous musicians Nugie and Katon Bagaskara, the official Earth Hour Ambassadors for Indonesia, recorded a song for the global initiative titled Jika Bumi Bisa Bicara - literally meaning “If the Earth Could Talk”.

Machine Readable Passports: Yes Bangladeshis can travel abroad during April 2010 and beyond

There is much confusion and rumor among Bangladeshis about the delay in implementing machine readable passports by the Bangladesh government.

The rumor revolvs around a deadline - that after April 1, 2010 every Bangladeshi has to posses a machine readable passport to be able to travel to other countries. We all know that Bangladesh government has failed to meet the target of issuing the machine readable passports by April 1, 2010 due to a lot of reasons. Actually we are hearing about this from 2006 but for bureaucracy and change of government the project did not materialize in due time.

However a quarter is using this to spread rumors that no Bangladeshi can travel abroad during April 2010. Salahuddin Shoaib Chowdhury's Blitz News weekly is one such example of yellow journalism which is misleading many Bangladeshis.

So what is the truth? What is the fuss about it? Actually the deadline was proposed by The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a major agency of the United Nations. It codifies the principles and techniques of international air navigation and fosters the planning and development of international air transport to ensure safe and orderly growth.

According to the ICAO, all member countries of the organization would have to issue Machine readable passports and Machine readable visas (no more stamps) by April 1, 2010.

However the Blitz weekly and many other rumor mongers missed this part of the deadline:

All traditional non-MRP passports must be withdrawn from circulation by 2015 - November 24, 2015 to be precise.

This is also applicable for many other countries such as Philippines.

And people forget the fact that ICAO does not dictate which travelers to bar. Actually its the individual countries who set the requirements of entry. For example USA tried to introduce mandatory machine readable passport requirement for visa waiver countries (travelers who do not require visas -not Bangladeshis) back in 2003 which was postponed several times to present days. However non-MRP holders from visa waiver countries can still enter USA with a prior visa. So actually it depends from country to country what the requirement is.

The good news is that Bangladesh is finally implementing the MRP project from next month. The problem with Bangladesh is that it needs to overhaul its existing infrastructures to enable issuing of machine readable passports and visas. According to news:

The government will set up 85 new passport offices and six visa cells at home and abroad for issuing Machine Readable Passports (MRPs) and Machine Readable Visas (MRVs) by April this year.

Of the proposed offices, 66 passport offices will set up at 66 Bangladesh missions in abroad, 19 in the district headquarters of the country and six visa cells will be established in the six divisional headquarters, sources in the home ministry said yesterday.

All the offices and the cells, which would be set up at home and abroad, will be controlled by the home ministry.

The start of the process can delay for a few more months it seems. There are 6.6 million passport holders of Bangladesh. Replacing all will take at least 3 years. However that will still be within the ICAO deadline of 2015. I think it will be wise for Bangladeshis to replace their existing passports with MRP ones as new requirements from countries may emerge and they will have to face queues etc. during travel if they do not switch. But I do not think that they will be barred to travel.

The sad part is that the next technology - Biometric e-passport with RFD chip is being implemented by many countries. Bangladesh is surely going to face another deadline within a few years to switch to e-passport. So one wonders whether Bangladesh could have tried to implement the e-passport instead of MRP.

Update: From The Daily Star (March 29, 2010):

* The fee for emergency machine-readable passport (MRP) has been fixed at Tk 6,000 while Tk 3,000 will be charged for a normal MRP

* The fees for the MRP to be issued in foreign missions of the country will be different. Fee for an emergency MRP is $200 while $100 for normal ones in abroad.

* The 84-page new passport will be valid for five years.

* The department of immigration and passport (DIP) has decided to issue MRP from its 10 regional offices. The rest are yet to be ready.

* People can collect the forms free of cost from the 10 offices. It will also be available in the Department of Immigration and Passport (DIP) website: www.dip.gov.bd

* The present manual passport can also be renewed in the country and the foreign missions till March 31, 2011

* Fee for an emergency hand-written passport has been fixed at Tk 1000 while the amount will be Tk 500 for emergency renewal or endorsement of a passport. For duplicate emergency (hand-written) passport the government will charge Tk 1000. In abroad, fee for an emergency manual passport is fixed at $30 while emergency renewal or endorsement of a passport will charge $15. Duplicate emergency (hand-written) passport will cost $30.

* Those who have applied for hand-written passport will have to apply again for MRP if they are not provided the manual passport before April 1, 2010.

Image: Courtesy Wikipedia.

March 23, 2010

Is Bangladesh Becoming A Police State?

Some days ago I wrote about Drik's upcoming exhibition on cross fire or extra judicial killing by the police and RAB of Bangladesh. One could predict that the authorities might be reacting, especially when we have a precedence that the Tibet exhibition in Dhaka (also by Drik) was stopped by police.

Here are the Twitter messages by Shahidul Alam from Yesterday:

Mar 22nd 4:07 PM police at Drik. Demanding "Crossfire" show be stopped.

Mar 22nd 4:07 PMEarlier RAB media cell rang saying we needed special permission to show pictures related to RAB. Livestreaming at www.drik.tv

The event was being inaugurated yesterday by Indian writer and human rights activist Mahasweta Devi, along with Nurul Kabir, editor of the New Age, M Hamid, chief executive officer of RTV and Jorge Vilacorta, a curator from Peru. According to the police the exhibition would create ‘unrest.’

The 'Crossfire' gallery was closed around 3:30pm yesterday, which was scheduled to start at 4:00pm.

Drik said that the Police could not show any warrant, court order or any executive order.

Shahidul Alam who set up the exhibition said," Police asked me whether I have permission for the exhibition. Crossfire for which police do not need permission, then why should I have permission for the exhibition?"

Now the question is what is the rule of law say? Does every exhibition require prior police permission? If so why the rule is applied in specific circumstances and not for all? And will RAB ever give permission if they are the guilty ones? Who will police the police? Is there any accountability of the police forces? Or is Bangladesh becoming a police state?

March 17, 2010

In Berlin

After 9 months I am again in Berlin to attend a conference. I have neglected the blog for long because of lack of time. I don't have roaming and the local SIM I bought do not have internet connection. So it was not possible to update via phone.

Its great to revisit all the places and to do things I have missed during my 3 years in Berlin. Will be posting pictures soon.

March 16, 2010

Cross Fire

Cross Fire or encounter killing is a well known term in the Indian subcontinent. Its the killing of people under custody of police/RAB and making a story like they wanted to escape and was shot in the back while fleeing. However its ironic that no member of police/RAB was killed in the cross fire.

Sultana Razia, a researcher with Odhikar sheds a light on the history of encounter killing in Bangladesh:

In 1972, the paramilitary group Jatiya Rakkhi Bahini came into force and had become infamous for its extrajudicial executions until it was absorbed into the army in 1975. Now, since the formation of the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in March 2004, such killings are again on the rise and are being categorised under a new vocabulary of "crossfire," "extrajudicial killings," "encounters," etc.

"Crossfire" is an extrajudicial execution that is in flagrant violation of Bangladesh's constitution and the international human rights conventions of which the country is a party.

Although some people believe that extrajudicial killing of hardened criminals helps ease the problem of "terrorism," in reality, it encourages lawlessness and aggravates "state terrorism." In different countries across the world, people in power have created an impression that killing "terrorists" without bringing them to justice can help curb "terrorism," but such extrajudicial killings, in fact, can neither bring peace nor eradicate "terrorism."

Since the formation of the RAB, there has been a rising trend of "deaths in crossfire." The number of deaths in RAB custody is also alarming.

Renowned photo journalist and blogger Shahidul Alam of Drik is organizing a photo exhibition on Cross Fire which will take place from 22-31 March in Drik Gallery, Dhaka. In an article in BDNNEWS24.com Mr. Alam accuses the BNP law minister Moudud Ahmed of defending extra judicial killing:
রেবের উদ্যোক্তা মওদুদ আহমদকে অস্ট্রেলীয় সাংবাদিক জন পিলজার ‘ভদ্র ও সাহসী’ মানুষ বলছিলেন বলে আমি খুব বিরক্ত হয়েছিলাম।

মওদুদের কথার পরতে পরতে ছিলো ন্যায় বিচার অগ্রাহ্য করার সুর।

“যদিও আপনারা টেকনিক্যালি একে বিচারবহির্ভূত বলতে পারেন। আমি কিন্তু বলবো না হত্যাকাণ্ড, বলবো বিচারবহির্ভূত মৃত্যু। মৃত্যু আর হত্যা কিন্তু এক জিনিস নয়… যাই -ই বলুন মানুষ কিন্তু খুশি।”

দুর্নীতিগ্রস্ত একটি পুলিশবাহিনী ও দুর্বল বিচার ব্যবস্থার অজুহাত দেখিয়ে আইনমন্ত্রী এরকম একটি বাহিনীকে ন্যায্যতা দেওয়ার চেষ্টা করেছেন।

He criticizes the current government of ignoring their electoral pledge that they will stop the cross fire. Howver the current home minister has denied that such cross fire exists in Bangladesh. Perhaps she needs to look at these incidents mapped in Google map.

March 15, 2010

Facebook In Asia - Indonesia leads

Here is an interesting statistics of Facebook users in Asia which has the latest figures.

(Image courtesy Budiputra, COuntry director Yahoo Indonesia)

An interesting comparison:
Indonesia 19 mill (8% of population)
Phillipines 10.5 mill (11.5% of population)

India 7 mill (.6% of pop)

Bangladesh 750000 (.5% of Pop)
The Bangladesh figure is  surprising as the number of active internet users are about 1 million.But one has to count the millions of Bangladeshi diaspora in question. I recon the half of the users are from the diaspora.

Most Corrupt Country In Asia Pacific

According to Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC), Indonesia is the most corrupted country among 16 countries in the Asia Pacific. Here is the list.

If you have any doubts, I can vouch from my personal experiences.

Quote Of The Day

Hurt Locker is neither adventurous nor cutting edge, and not much better aesthetically than a TV show like CSI. Ultimately it’s a really boring movie with bad dialogue that poorly fleshes out a series of tension and release sequences that draw on music video and video game aesthetics. It is full of cliches about poor American soldiers who cannot make sense of a chaotic environment not of their choosing as they enter the labyrinth of a surreal war landscape populated by an alien Other. Framed as an “American tragedy,” once again an invaded country becomes a purification drama for Hollywood’s liberal consciousness.

- Mediacology

March 13, 2010

The Future Of Bangladesh Cricket

Pessimists predict that this can be the future of Bangladesh cricket - when everybody will lose interest in the game and the cricket bat, ball and stumps will be put in good use - nothing will be wasted.

However, lets hope that this never happens.

(Image received in a chain mail)

March 12, 2010

India: The IPL Extravaganza

The game of cricket is now almost a religion to the Indians. The glorious era of Indian cricket started from its 1983 world cup win. Other popular games like hockey and football lost their popularity and cricket become a widely loved and followed sport in the country. In 2007 India became the world champion of the shorter version of the game - Twenty20 cricket. The result of this victory prompted Indians to take a great interest in this format of the game. India pushed Twenty20 cricket to next level by organizing a domestic tournament containing international stars called The Indian Premier League (IPL), which was initiated by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and supervised by BCCI Vice President Lalit Modi, Chairman & Commissioner for IPL.

The tournament started in 2008 in India but in 2009 the venue of the 2nd season was shifted to South Africa for security reasons. In 2010 IPL has come back to India and the 3rd season was inaugurated today with a spectacular opening ceremony.

Indian bloggers have been abuzz about this extravaganza much before the tournament as it created a number of controversies with incidents like ignoring Pakistani cricketers in its first auction and irking the media people. Many Netizens were eagerly waiting for the tournament.

Kunal Mudgal at Just a slice of life writes:

Its time for the madness to begin!!

IPL is back in its 3rd season. Its bigger, better and now back in India. This year will be the true test of this carnival on whether it can sustain itself in this format.

When IPL started out, it was a unique concept in India. But in essence, it was trying to recreate the fanaticism found in football leagues across Europe.

Greatbong at Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind weighs on the entertainment part the tournament offers and asks:

Will all this be worth the Rs 1200 I will shell out for my ticket—-around the same price one would pay, once upton a time, to watch 5 days of Test cricket?

Shubhashish is at the stadium to watch the opening ceremony and the first match between Kolkata Knight Riders and Deccan Chargers. He posts this picture at Twitpick.
At #ipl!!! on Twitpic

Abhinav notes the IPL craze in India:

TV, Internet, Newspapers… Every medium is flooding with DLF IPL, a private event; that above all, explains the success of Indian Premier League. For a private event, entire media is fighting to give free of cost coverage! Strange, but Interesting!

The bloggers lists the marketing and branding strategies which have worked in favour of IPL to hype this craze. To highlight a few:

  • “Packaging of the Event” from day 1 as entertainment is the biggest strategic hit. Cricket just happens to be there!
  • To keep it focussed in 20 overs and inviting International players, not only enhanced the entertainment value but also factored in the fastest growing segment of high income youth.
  • Attracting the movie stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty along with highly placed industrialist as team owners, ensured ample media and public interest which further contributed to the success of the event.

Prem Panicker at Smoke Signals sheds a light on IPL auction’s bidding process and the various pros and cons of the process.

JS tells everybody to enjoy IPL shunning all controversies:

Nothing other than the ODI and T20 World Cups, not even the Champions Trophy, has maintained the anticipation levels as high as the Modi juggernaut called the Indian Premier League (IPL). And if we may take the liberty, even the ODI World Cup has its interest dwindling since the last couple of editions, albeit ever so slightly.

But it’s not the time to ponder anything else; rather just grab a drink, dig into your couch and get immersed into the IPL. It’s that time in the cricketing calendar when all the soaps take a backseat and the desperate housewives either get remote-controlled or join the gang.

Youtube IPL channel

WATBlog reports that YouTube is promoting IPL by showing all 60 matches live via its official IPL channel and it has already bagged 200 million Indian Rupees (4.4 million USD) from sponsorships.

Yesterday at the digital media awards night I was part of a discussion with a couple of agency folks who updated me that Youtube was doing exceedingly well when it came to sponsorship monies. One of them stated that Youtube had garnered 20 crores worth of sponsorship for the entire IPL series with individual sponsorship amounts from some sponsors going upto 2 crores as well.

This makes youtube more expensive from a cost per reach perspective when you consider the number of viewers TV will reach vs the no of viewers youtube will reach in India. All in all most agency folks said that this was a big win for digital in India and a lesson for all of us in how to sell digital.

Meanwhile, IPL became a trending topic in Twitter today. Here are some of the Twitter reactions especially highlighting the opening ceremony which featured live performance from international rock stars like UB40, ABBA, Lionel Richie etc.

smokeysunny: The Official #IPL Community created by #ORKUT http://www.orkut.co.in/Main#Community?cmm=99087253

seopatel: #IPL #MATCH #CRICKET #MUMBAI are in the latest top 10 trends on twitter. India really uses twitter.. do you?

gynelwazlib: The DY stadium looks so beautiful. Feel uncharacteristically proud right now. One of those chairs is my indirect contribution. #ipl

pradeepto: OMG! An #UFO!!! White floating Ufo sighted at DY Patil stadium. #Aliens with funky fluorescent head-wear walking around the ground! #ipl

cricscoreapplet: #cricket #ipl Bollywood beauty, the sizzling Deepika Padukone is on stage now, sending the crowd into a tizzy with her moves

raknair07: Like always..what a crappy opening ceremony ...how much more do i have to bear this :( #fail #IPL


vedantvarma: Am thrilled with the IPL bashing so far. Sheer bliss. :-) they deserve it #ipl

The Indian blogosphere will continue to be flourished with IPL related stories. There will be regular predictions, analysis and gossip among other things. Amidst all the money, controversy, media hype and entertainment, here is hoping that cricket does not become second fiddle in IPL.

First published in Global Voices Online.

March 07, 2010

The State Of The Twittersphere 2010

After the state of Blogosphere here comes the state of the Twittersphere.

HubSpot released a new report that captures the state of the Twitterverse, opening a window that instantly transforms speculation into analysis and setting the stage for informed discourse and exploration. (Via Brian Solis)

Some salient features of the report:

  • Twitter’s user growth peaked at 13% in March 2009 falling to just 3.5% in October 2009.
  • The average user is following more people, followed by more people and posted more updates.
  • Although user adoption is slowing, existing users appear more engaged.
  • The average user is following a greater number of people and earning a greater reach through an increased number of followers. Existing users are also posting more content.
  • Twitter is a rich network of opportunity to increase stature as measured through online social capital. Experienced users realize that the value of participatory media is powered by so much more than just simple tweets or conversations.
  • Users are self-branding by presenting ourselves through bios, locations, and outbound profile links
  • In July 2009, mainly the US, UK and Australian locations of Twitter users made it in the top 20. In Jan 2010 report we see many countries going up in the top twenty, notably, Brazil, Germany, Singapore, Indonesia and India.
  • 82% of Twitter users maintain a network of less than 100 followers and 91% follow less than 100 people.
  • Thursday and Friday are among the most active days on Twitter, with each accounting for 16% of total tweets. Furthermore, 10 – 11 p.m. is the busiest hour on Twitter, accounting for 4.8% of the tweets in an average day. 
  • In 2007, Twitter hosted 5,000 tweets per day. In 2008, the number climbed to 300,000 per day. In 2009, Twitter was publishing an astounding 2.5 million per day and over the course of the year, it soared to 35 million, up 1,400%
  • Today, we are seeing 50 million tweets per day—that’s an average of 600 tweets per second.

  • Twitter is now serving more than one billion tweets per month – crossing over for the first time in December 2009.
  • In the last three months, Twitter experienced month-to-month growth close to 17%.

March 06, 2010

Photo Of The Day

Mall Culture: Mall Of Indonesia, Jakarta

"One can say that malls have replaced churches, community centres and brothels all together." - Sunday posts

March 05, 2010

England vs. Bangladesh 3rd ODI in Chittagong

Click here for live cricket. (Embedding disabled because of annoying popups)

March 04, 2010

Bangladesh Police Arrest Facebook stock tipster

I know many would raise their eyebrows reading this news:
A Dhaka-based Facebook stocks tipster with over 10,000 followers has been arrested on charges of illegally manipulating Bangladesh's overheated stock exchange, police said Thursday.

Mahbub Sarwar, 26, a prolific blogger who provided online stock tips through the popular social networking site, will be charged with market manipulation, Mohammad Sohel, spokesman for the Rapid Action Battalion police force told AFP.

'His Facebook account has 3,000 members and he has a number of blogs... we believe around 10,000 or more people have been acting on his tips for the last few months,' Sohel said.

'His tips could trick thousands of people into buying certain shares on certain days,' he said, adding that Sarwar would also be charged with providing market advice without a license.

Regulators said they had been investigating Sarwar for months. Membership of his Facebook group costs up to 70 dollars a month and he would also charge for individual tips, police say.

He is also accused of running an unauthorised portfolio management services company - advising clients on which investments to make - for which he charged 20 percent of profits.
However this news has some anomalies which even a reputed news agency like AFP did not verify. I think the journalist who reported do not use Facebook - so it is unknown to him that there is no facility in Facebook to earn money from group subscriptions (what was the basis of the 70 dollar fact - how the money was realized?). There is an option of a secret group by choosing individual members, but that group do not appear in the search engine - so there is no question of influencing thousands by it.

While searching Facebook I found Mahbub Sarwar's account, whose nick name is Shoikot. He has a blog, where I see posting of some stock related news. In his blogs he states that he is a capital market investment analyst and he provides some value added service and monitoring for clients (for apparent fees).
Its a personal blog created to educate the capital market investors of Bangladesh and to share the blogger's personal views on different issues. Is Mission is to develop an educated and learned investors community. (source)
So in fact he is actually gathering stock exchange related news from online sources and sharing it with public. Now what has he done to deserve this arrest? How his tips could influence thousands of people with those 2nd hand data which is anyway available in the internet? If it is for his value added personal services - I have no comment. But why making Facebook and his blog the villain? He is just expanding his client base using social media (traditional brokers - take note).

He has 2697 friends and he has a Facebook page containing mainly feeds from his blog posts where some his 743 fans are sporadically asking "what can i buy tomorrow?" "what abt gp today????" etc.

Now the question is all of this is public. You and I can see those. How he has influenced some and not all of us? And by providing Market information to public whom has he hurt? The professional brokers? Is there a group trying to keep the information away from public?

According to the news:
Bangladesh's bourse, one of Asia's smallest, is vulnerable to manipulation and regulators have struggled to stop a slew of online scams, publicly warning investors in January of a rogue Facebook group providing bogus tips.
So an alert was on. If the public still falls for alleged bogus tips (for money or free?) then who is to blame? There are other Facebook group like Dhaka Stock Exchange who are providing stock related tips (its a public group - you can join and participate). So why Mahbub Sarwar only?

I think the authorities got the battle wrong. They need to bolster their online presence to protect the investors. They have got a static page with databases. But there are no news aggregators, no presence in the social networking sites, no interactivity with the potential investors. It must be noted that they do not have Bangla version of their site which can target a lot more audience.

I have seen a few efforts online to educate the Bangladeshi investors, like this blog post where an analyst writes how to minimize risk in trading. The authorities should stop seeing devil in the Internet and act wisely.

I think the arrest of Mahbub was the result of some personal rivalry. Any attempt to control public information is a direct violation of freedom of speech which is protected in our constitution. Today there is Mahbub and tomorrow there will be more people harnessing the power of social media to inform people (or to manipulate to some extent). If the authorities do not joint the bandwagon of social media, they will never win the battle.

March 03, 2010

Trolley Bags of domestic helps from Jakarta bound to Jeddah