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Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg can’t just jeopardise a billion dreams



Elon Musk Mark Zuckerberg

The past few weeks have witnessed some bizarre and never-before-seen occurrences in the world of technology, and the credit, if you want to call it that, goes to Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Facebook Founder-CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Both are super-famous — and blue-eyed boys of Silicon Valley. Stubborn and arrogant to an extent, the duo has proved newer ideas can take shape despite challenges, and have created brands that touch humanity at its very deepest level.

That they seem to be somewhat losing it and behaving in a manner that has caused unease among their workforce, customers, users and fans, is worrisome.

Let’s first talk about Musk, the man behind several successful ventures — PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX and SolarCity, each of which has sent shock waves throughout businesses and industry. But tweeting irresponsibly almost every other day, smoking marijuana on a live show and abusing people (his “pedo” remark for a diver) has made not only a dent in his image but his brands too.

In the book “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” by veteran technology journalist Ashlee Vance, Musk says that he would “like to die thinking that humanity has a bright future”.

“Mass market electric cars have been my goal from the beginning of Tesla. I don’t want and I don’t think the vast majority of Tesla customers want us to do anything to jeopardise that objective,” the book says, quoting one of Musk’s emails.

Unfortunately, he has been doing things that do “jeopardise that objective”. The August 7 tweet about taking Tesla “private” that misled his investors, and then reversing gear after few days to stay public, did more harm than good.

Coming under pressure from his lawyers and investors of Tesla, the tech billionaire on September 29 agreed to step down as Tesla chairman for three years and paid a $20 million fine, in a deal with the US stock market regulatory authority, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), to resolve securities fraud charges.

Tesla paid another $20 million to the SEC, despite not being charged with fraud. So a tweet worth $40 million!

Even after all this, Musk mocked the SEC within five days of the settlement, calling it the “Shortseller Enrichment Commission”.

A Twitter user who goes by the name Drew G. wrote to Musk on Saturday: “I don’t have much, but I believe in you and your vision. Unfortunately, I invest what little I have into @Tesla and I continuously lose months worth of savings due to your tweets. Please think of us small people.”

Amid his eccentric behaviour, the great Tesla cause — to provide people across the world a mass-level electric car that will help control pollution, save money and enrich the environment — has somewhat been lost.

Musk knows he can deliver on that. Despite a tumultuous career — saving his start-ups from the brink of bankruptcy several times — he is one of the most promising tech entrepreneurs today. The realisation has to come fast though.

On the other hand, Zuckerberg with his my-way-or-the-highway approach towards monetisation and making profit at any cost, has started hurting Facebook, both externally and internally.

The social media giant, that has become a medium for billions to connect, share and help one another via communities, is reeling under a plethora of data breaches (beginning with Cambridge Analytica) that has affected its user-growth, its reputation as well as revenue streams in the second quarter (April-June) this year.

According to online statistics portal Statista, Facebook added no daily active users in North America and Europe in the second quarter. It actually lost three million users in Europe.

Facebook also slipped to 9th spot in the world’s top 100 brands’ list by global brand consultancy Interbrand this week.

Internally, Zukerberg’s goal to monetise WhatsApp has forced the social media messaging service’s co-founders to leave the company.

One of them, Brian Acton, told Forbes that Zuckerberg was in a rush to make money from the messaging service and undermine elements of its encryption technology. “Targeted advertising is what makes me unhappy,” Acton said.

Four years after its acquisition by Facebook for $19 billion, WhatsApp, which now has over 1.5 billion users (against Facebook’s 2.3 billion), will reportedly carry targeted ads from 2019 — on a platform that has been ad-free till date.

Facebook got another jolt last month when Instagram founders Mike Krieger and Kevin Systrom quit the company, also reportedly due to disagreements with Zuckerberg.

Both Musk and Zuckerberg are bright, young entrepreneurs. Their goal should be — and remain — to ensure their platforms enrich people’s lives, especially in developing and under-developed countries.
As their contemporaries — Apple’s Tim Cook, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Google’s Sundar Pichai and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos — plan for a tech-driven future without tantrums, the duo must also listen to what their customers and users want: A safe and sound ride, be it electric car or personal data.

(Nishant Arora can be contacted at [email protected] )


Probe irregularities in 5 UAV Rotax engines’ purchase: CAG




UAV Rotax engines

New Delhi, Sep 23 : India’s government auditor has pulled up the Indian Air Force (IAF) and an Israeli drone manufacturer for financial loss in procurement of UAV Rotax engines and recommended a probe into the matter to fix the responsibility.

The Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) Audit Report on Air Force – Defence Services, tabled in the Parliament on Wednesday, flagged irregularities in purchase of aero engines for Unmanned Aero Vehicles.

“IAF concluded a contract in March 2010 with M/s Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) for supply of five 914F (certified) UAV Rotax engines at a cost of Rs 87.45 lakh per engine,” it said.

The audit, however, noted that the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), under the Defence Research and Development Organisation, had, in April 2012, procured the same variant of Rotax engine at Rs 24.30 lakh per engine.

Also, the average price of this engine in the international market ranged between Rs 21 lakh and Rs 25 lakh.

“As a result, the vendor gained an undue benefit of Rs 3.16 crore as it supplied the five contracted UAV engines at more than three times the market price or the price offered to the DRDO unit,” the CAG stated.

The audit also noted that the vendor resorted to mislabelling and supplied uncertified engines to the IAF instead of the contracted certified engines.

“There were many reported accidents involving these uncertified engines including loss of one UAV in a flying accident,” the report stated.

The auditor recommended investigation into the matter and fixing of responsibility for wrongful supply and acceptance of mislabelled engines by IAF.

About upgradation of medium lift helicopters, the CAG stated that the upgradation of Mi-17 helicopters, proposed in 2002, to overcome the operational limitation of these helicopters could not be achieved even after 18 years.

As a result, these helicopters were flying with limited capability, thus compromising operational preparedness during these years.

Due to poor planning and indecision at various stages of procurement, the Defence Ministry took 15 years to enter (January 2017) into the upgradation contract of 90 Mi-17 helicopters with an Israeli company.

The contracted delivery of these upgraded helicopters was to start from July 2018 and be completed by 2024.

The CAG noted that after upgradation, 56 of these helicopters would be left with less than two years of life and would be phased out by 2024.

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Oil Ministry yet to recover $510 mn from contractors under PSC: CAG




Dharmendra Pradhan

New Delhi, Sep 23 : The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has said that the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has not recovered $510 million as cost of unfinished minimum work programme (CoUMWP) from contractors in respect of 45 blocks.

The CAG report on Union Government (Economic & Service Ministries-Civil) – Compliance Audit Observations, which includes important audit findings, was presented in the Parliament on Wednesday.

It noted that the government awarded 254 blocks during the New Exploration and Licensing Policy’s (NELP) I to IX rounds for exploration of oil and gas. As per the terms and conditions of Production Sharing Contracts (PSC), contractors are required to pay the cost of unfinished minimum work programme, if the block is relinquished or terminated by government.

However, contractors of 54 relinquished blocks failed to pay the CoUMWP as specified in the PSCs.

“An amount of $510.79 million (Rs 3,652.64 crore), which was 77 per cent of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas’s (MoPNG) approved amount of $664.67 million (Rs 4,753.03 crore) on account of CoUMWP in respect of 45 blocks still remained unrecovered (September 2019),” the report said.

It added that the CoUMWP for nine blocks is yet to be worked out by Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) or yet to be approved by the ministry.

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Lok Sabha passes Major Port Authorities Bill, 2020



Lok Sabha

New Delhi: The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the Major Port Authorities Bill, 2020 that looks to reorient the governance model in central ports to landlord model, whereby port infrastructure is leased to private operators.

The bill aims at decentralizing decision making and to infuse professionalism in governance of major ports. The landlord model of port operation is widely followed globally.

Of the 204 ports in the country, 12 are major ports, including Deendayal (erstwhile Kandla), Mumbai, JNPT and Cochin.

“I am introducing the major port authorities bill with the vision to make major ports competent and improve their efficiencies,” shipping minister Mansukh Mandaviya said in the Parliament.

The bill is expected to help impart faster and transparent decision making benefiting the stakeholders and better project execution capability.

The role of Tariff Authority for Major Ports (TAMP) has been redefined in the bill. The port authority has now been given powers to fix tariffs which will act as a reference tariff for purposes of bidding for PPP projects. PPP operators will be free to fix tariffs based on market conditions.

The Board of each major port shall be entitled to create a specific master plan in respect of any development or infrastructure established or proposed to be established within the port limits and such master plan shall be independent of any local or state government regulations of any authority whatsoever.

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