Thursday, 17 February 2011

From Amma, with Love

My maternal grandmother (Amma) passed away recently, at the ripe old age of 84, physically crippled but a mental athlete, i shall miss my long existential conversations and theological debates with her.

My father also shared a deep bond with his mother-in-law, my Amma, and she would go to my parents in Calcutta - her winter capital during the coldest months of the year... this year, for the first time in 6 years, she stayed on to brave the Delhi Winter...

During one of my many conversations with Amma, this one happened to be on Christmas Day last year, when she was fondly remembering Granny - my  paternal grandmother, Mrs. Venetia Noorjehan Seth ( née Hussain) and asked me to Share this article with my father, that she read out to me... From the Times of India dated  24 December 2010

Many faces of ISLAM

The different ways in which Sunnis and Shias observe the current month of Muharram, point to the factions in the Muslim world. Despite Quranic injunctions that Muslims should not create divisions among themselves, the community split. TOI looks at some of the contemporary sects and sub-sects in Islam
Mohammed Wajihuddin | TNN 

    Sunni Muslims are the largest sect of Islam. Derived from the word Sunnah, which means the examples or actions of the Prophet, Sunnis are those who follow the Sunnah. They believe in the legitimacy of the four caliphs — Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Hazrat Ali. The caliphate is collectively called Khulfaul-Rashidun (the rightly guided caliphs). The four caliphs were democratically elected. But after the death of Hazrat Ali, the caliphate degenerated into dynastic rule. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s, the caliphate formally ended. Sunni Islam is divided into four schools of law or fiqh (religious jurisprudence): Hanafi, Shafi, Maliki and Hanbali. There are minor differences among these schools of law. Hanafi: Followers of Imam Abu Hanifa, the Hanafis see Quran, the Sunnah, the ijma (consensus) and qiyas (deduction from analogy) as the sources of law. Hanafis are based mostly in the Indian subcontinent, Iraq, Turkey and the western world. Maliki: Followers of Imam Malik, the Malikis lay great emphasis on istadlal — juristic deduction. It is practised mostly in North and West Africa. Shafi: The Shafis are the followers of Imam Shafi and give emphasis on ijma (consensus). Hanbali: The Hanbalis are followers of Imam Hanbal. 

The Shias are the second largest sect of Islam. Followers of Hazrat Ali, the fourth Caliph and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, the Shias oppose the institution of the caliphate and follow imamate (divine appointment as imams among the descendants of Hazrat Ali). The Shias believe that the Prophet’s family (Ahl al-Bayt), including his descendants known as Imams, have a divine right to rule over the community. Though a minority in the Muslim world, the Shias are in a majority in Iran (70 million). Over 90 per cent of the population in Iran is Shia while the minorities comprise Sunnis, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians. The differences between the Shias and the Sunnis were accentuated by the murder of Ali in 661 AD. His chief opponent, Muawiah, became caliph. Caliph Muawiah was later succeeded by his son Yazid, but Ali’s son Hussain refused to accept his legitimacy and differences between the two erupted. Hussain and his followers were massacred in battle near Karbala and this gave rise to the Shia cult of martyrdom. To this day, the Shias and Sunnis have a schism. Shia and Sunni militias have fought pitched battles in Iraq. The Shia militia led by Muqtada al-Sadr has tried to gain control over several areas in Iraq. The Shias of Iraq and Lebanon are believed to receive support from Iran. 

    Shia Islam has several branches. 

The Twelvers (Ashna Asari): Named after their adherence to twelve imams, is the largest group of Shias. These imams are: Hazrat Ali, Imam Hasan, Imam Hussain, Imam Zainul Abideen, Imam Al-Baqir, Imam Jafar-us-Sadiq, Imam Musa Al-Kazim, Imam Ar-Riza, Imam Al-Jawwad, Imam Al-Naqi, Imam Al-Askari and Imam Al Mahdi who mysteriously disappeared. The Shias believe that the last Imam is alive and in hiding and and will reappear to establish true law. 

The Akhbaris: A sub-sect of Twelvers or Ashna Asari, the Akhbaris believe that the learned divines are to be regarded as representatives of imams. 

The Usulis: Also a sub-sect of Ashna Asari, the Usulis hold that the believers can themselves follow law in the light of reason without the intervention of the learned divines. The Zaidis: Followers of Zaid, son of Imam Zain-ul-Abdin, the Zaidis, unlike other Shia sects Shias, believe that people can choose their imams from among the descendants of Hazrat Ali. 

The Ismailis: Followers of Imam Ismail, son of Imam Jafar-us-Sadiq, the Ismailis believe that the imamate fell on Ismail’s son Al-Maktum, and not on Jafar’s son Musa Al-Kazim as held by other Shias. 

Nizaris: An important sub-sect among the Ismailis, the Nizaris are the only Shia group to have a temporal leader in imamate. After the death of Fatimid Caliph al-Mustansir in 1094, his eldest son Nizar was dethroned by his brother Al-Mustali. It led to the birth of the Nizari sub-sect which believes that the imamate descended differ to Nizar and his descendants. 

Khojas: Primarily Ismaili Shias, the Khojas are concentrated in South Asia. Derived from the word Khwaja, most Khojas in India live in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajsathan. They are sub-divided as Ismaili Khojas, twelver Khojas and Sunni Khojas. Pakistan’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and his sister Fatima were twelver Khojas.
Mustalians: They believe that after the death of Fatimid Caliph Al-Mustansir, the imamate vested in Al-Mustali and his descendants. Dawoodi Bohras: A Mustali sub-sect of Ismaili Shias, the Dawoodi Bohras are based mostly in India. The spiritual head of the Dawoodi Bohra community is called Al-Daial-Mutlaq (summoner with comprehensive authority). Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, 98, is the 52nd Al-Dai-al-Mutlaq. The Dawoodi Bohras believe that the 20th imam, Mansur Al-Amir, instructed his grand emissary Syeda Arwa Binte Ahmad to establish the office of the Al-Dai-al-Mutlaq. The Al-Dai-al-Mutlaq enjoys full authority to govern the Dawoodi Bohra community. He chooses his successor. It’s said that the word Bohra is derived from Gujarati vehwhar, meaning trade. Small wonder that most Bohras are successful traders and entrepreneurs. Dawoodi Bohra men wear a traditional white three-piece outfit, and a white gold cap and the women wear the rida, a distinctive form of burqa. It’s different from the common veil in that it can be coloured and with patterns. A closely-knit community, the Dawoodi Bohras seek advice from the Al-Dai-al-Mutlaq in all matters spiritual and temporal. 

    This religious group is called Heterodox as it is not recognised as a part of Islam by mainstream Islamic faith. Followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadiyan (1835-1908) who claimed to be the awaited messiah, the Ahmadiyas believe that their form of Islam is purest. Headquartered in Qadiyan (Indian Punjab), the sect has adherents spread across the world. But they don’t proclaim it openly for fear of persecution. The majority of mainstream Muslims consider them to be non-Muslims and in many parts of the world, especially Pakistan, the Ahmadiyas are persecuted. Many Muslim clerics in Pakistan have declared Ahmadiyas wajibul qatl (to be killed justifiably). But some scholars denounce killing of Ahmadiyas.

I offer this post, as an oblation to God to give my Amma & Granny eternal peace

Thank you for being part of my life

I miss you

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Apple doesn't get social? Wait a minute... think again...

Meet Apple’s secret family: The people Steve Jobs wishes you were  

- by Electricpig staff 

Steve Jobs is disappointed in you. Maybe he always will be. No matter how many iMacs, iPads and iPhones fill your home, and it’s all because you’re not one of these people.
Meet Apple’s secret family. They’re the finely honed faces of Apple’s marketing drive. Used to humanise Apple products, they’re seemingly fictional, and completely perfect in every way. Except, well, they’re not.

After consulting branding and social media experts, and even a prominent psychologist, we’ve uncovered a few chinks in the armour of Apple’s marketing machine. Read on, meet the family, and we’ll show how they highlight weaknesses in Cupertino’s otherwise faultless promotional prowess.

Apple’s family: The perfect adverts

Take a looksee at Apple’s marketing material and you’ll see countless happy faces beaming back at you. But those pictures don’t get there by accident, and neither does the wording Apple uses. Those faces are carefully chosen, and the language used to communicate with gadget fans even more so.

Nowhere is this clearer than in its TV ads for the iPhone 4. It was while watching the one titled ‘Every’ that we noticed a clutch of characters on-screen, showing up in a twitter feed perused by the faceless user. After a bit of digging, Apple’s perfect family is emerging. Even more intriguingly, you can meet them yourself: their profiles are still active on Twitter.

Say hello to the family
Neatly inter-linked as both followers and followees, Apple’s family is a tight-knit group. There don’t seem to be any strangers in their midst. To save you wading through all their profiles in detail though (there are at least six of them, and seven more that are mysteriously closed to public viewing), let us introduce you…

Kevin Dolan
Kevin Dolan is the only member of Apple’s Stepford creations that isn’t comprehensively dull. He likes sushi, but is a bit cack handed on the keyboard. Apple didn’t quite get the hip guy-with-an-afro thing down to a tee though, as Kev tweets quite a lot of bizarre updates, including “What upzzzz”. No, us neither.
He’s hard working though, or maybe hard playing… on September 2nd last yearhe pulled the second of two consecutive all-nighters. He’s a wild one.

Katharine Johnson
There’s no polite way to phrase this: Kate’s a bit of a dullard. She tweets that she’s “excited to see her sister” and that she ran 10k. Repeatedly. Although we wonder what she was talking about on September 2nd when she tweeted: “did anyone just feel that?” Maybe it was Kevin slamming the door after that second all-nighter…

Janielle Penner
Meet Janielle Penner. She’s an incredibly light tweeter, apparently because she’s too busy pulling a string of “all nighters“. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Either Apple’s marketers are getting lazy and hammering the copy and paste buttons, or her mate Kevin is a bad influence. Our money is on both: She’s even copied Kevin’s wording exactly.

Pete Figel
Pete’s a ladies man, only sending messages to female contacts and, seemingly trying to schmooze them at the same time. Sure Kate, Pete is wishing you well on your midterms, but what’s he really after? And does he know we can all see through his thinly veiled chat-up routine on a public Twitter page?

Alex Newson
Alex is a sports fan, and he’s also an optimist. Another light tweeter, posting just one message on September 2nd (just as Katharine felt the earth move and Kevin was stumbling back from an all-nighter). Still, at least he sees the sunnier side of life… Is that something Apple explicitly requires from its family members? We wouldn’t be surprised…

Julie Stumbaugh
Julie is an oddity. She seems to share the same appearance as two other people in Apple’s family. She, Gage Bock and Sarah Crosswell all look identical. Are there triplets in Apple’s idealised clan? Let’s hope not all of them are dreaming of Alex Newson.

And meet the black sheep…
There are also the following Twitter users linked to the accounts above, as friends, followers or followees. They, however, have their tweets protected. Still, we can tell they’re mostly the work of Apple’s marketers: some of them share the same profile pictures as our Apple family above.

Anne Oburgh
Sarah Crosswell (who now seems to have been deleted)
Brandon McGraw (who has the same profile picture as Alex Newson)
Todd Hind
Gareth Coffey (he’s in Sydney, but that’s all we know)
Melina Polly
Gage Bock (who has the same profile picture as Sarah Crosswell and Julie Stumbaugh)

As you can see, Apple’s built quite an intricate group, with different genders, ethnicities and interests. The question then, is why? Simply to plug gaps in the twitter app on its advert? It seems doubtful, as one of our experts explains later on, that could have easily been done by a designer. And why leave the profiles open, or even public at all?

The family psychoanalysed

To get to the bottom of things, we consulted a range of experts. The first is Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a Reader in Psychology at Goldsmiths and the founder of, a social networking site that explores the connections between personality and musical preferences. He’s a renowned expert on personality, intelligence, creativity, social networking and consumer behaviour. You might also have seen him pop up on Big Brother, analysing the contestants.

We asked Dr Chamorro-Premuzic what he made of Apple’s family, and his response blew us away: “The key question is whether we (the audience) can successfully pick psychological cues (like personality, preferences, values, and brand identity) from a photograph. And the answer is astonishing: even the average layperson can read the social, emotional, and personal cues displayed by pictures of strangers, with the same accuracy as a trained psychologist!”

So those faces you’ve just met aren’t random at all, or even picked on their good looks alone. They’re designed to make you think happy thoughts about Apple’s products.

“The reason why marketeers have picked up on this is because we are living in the era of “conversational capital”, where word of mouth and “you-vertising” are the preferred mechanisms for brand and product promotion,” Dr Chamorro-Premuzic explains.

“[The Apple family] all refer to people who are young, urban, trendy, and also quite unique (there comes the Sushi). They are saying “we embrace individuality” (and Twitter is an individual platform) whilst focusing on a few rather obvious psycho-graphic and demographic types.”

Still not convinced a photo and a few words can convey that much meaning to you, even in a few seconds of an iPhone ad? Think again. Dr Chamorro-Premuzic explains Apple’s marketers will most likely have tested the profiles listed above before placing them into their commercials.

“The best way to analyse whether their strategy works is to have 20 or 30 naive viewers rate each profile in terms of certain personality characteristics and values (how smart, how friendly, how creative, etc), and then aggregate their perceived personality profiles for each trait… this is what their bosses probably did already (even if intuitively, as marketing often proceeds that way.)”

A brand in microcosm

So now we know the messages Apple’s family are designed to convey about themselves, what do they tell us about the Apple brand? We asked Jonathan Gabay, a creative branding exert, and founder of Brand Forensics to give us his take on the Apple family.

One of the first things that Gabay pointed out was that while the Apple family’s profile pictures span a multitude of skin tones and hair colour, they don’t cover a variety of age groups. Everyone in the Apple family is, unsurprisingly, young and beautiful.

“They’re perfectly framed faces,” he said. “That’s interesting. Look at the people who are following you [on Twitter] – not many of them have full, perfectly framed faces… They’re too perfect.

“It’s like the Tommy Hilfiger family – they’re all just so cool and good looking. It’s one thing to be aspirational but it’s got to be something that people can achieve. I find myself asking: do these people look genuine? Do they seem genuine?”

Scrutinising the Apple family in detail, Gabay singled out Kevn Dolan for critisism. His tweets of “what upzzzz!” and “lalala” triggered Gabay to claim: “The trouble with “What Upzzz” is that even for an old fart like me it’s outdated. We don’t say that anymore. It might seem I’m being facetious, but if it’s been carefully planned, then why is he saying something like that?”
Gabay agreed that when it comes to the detail, the Apple family is out of character with Cupertino’s usually pin sharp branding. Kevin Dolan tweets “lalala” twice, and if we’re honest his profile is bizarre. Is it an advert for Apple’s brand? Hardly. We’d even suggest it gives out a negative message: it looks lazy.

In general, the tweets of the Apple family are badly thought out, repetitive, and often don’t make sense. Even purely as a tool to create promo shots for the iPhone, Apple is shooting itself in the foot.

As Gabay explains: “Apple should be giving [its family] something more interesting to say.” This is a key point – shouldn’t Apple be leveraging these Twitter feeds better, and shouldn’t the tweets be more cohesive? Have we found the one area where Apple has done a half-baked job of its branding? 

What social media means to Steve Jobs

It should come as no surprise that the social media experts we spoke to weren’t too impressed with Apple’s fake Twitter avatars and sporadic updates.

“Aside from being lame, these fake accounts are OK as they’re not promoting Apple’s product,” said social media strategist Aurélien Fonteneau. “Nevertheless, they should update the bios on these accounts and explain that they are run by Apple for advertising purposes.”

But the decision to leave its profiles live mystified our experts. “I really don’t understand why they’re creating fake accounts when they could simply ask an in-house designer to create fake Twitter pages,” Fonteneau said.

“But I guess that this “silence” strategy is part of Apple’s arrogant communication strategy. And they’ve proved in the past that their responding process isn’t adapted for social media,” he added, citing Apple’s handling of the iPhone 4 scoop by Gizmodo, and its fallout.

And Fonteneau wasn’t alone in criticising Apple’s social media strategy. “Apple doesn’t understand social,” says Farhan Rehman, a social media strategist at London agency Total Media, and advisor to the Social Media Week London event taking place this month.
“The people that put that together don’t understand social or how it’s being used by people. All they’re trying to do is show the features of their technology by showing something that looks human, but isn’t real.

“There was a huge opportunity there that they completely did not use, in terms of promoting real people, either celebrity, or causes… Potentially if Apple had chosen to use that advertising space for something other than self promotion, they could have orchestrated it with a couple of partnerships, and constructed the conversation between accounts that were actually being used.”

Rehman concedes that fake accounts work in the context of the print and video ads they appear in, but says Apple’s missing the point and failing to demonstrate an implicit awareness of the technology it is promoting: “OK, yes people might say things like this, it works for the purpose of their advert. But in terms of anybody who is curious and wants to know a bit more…it talks again about the disconnect Apple has with how people use social media.”

Apple’s family: What’s next?

We know what you really want to know from Apple’s family though. It’s not to do with sushi, or family, or pulling all-nighters. You want to know when the iPhone 5 and iPad 2 will be here, and you’re in luck: There are some clues about what’s coming next from Apple hidden deep within their behaviour.

Kevin Dolan and Gage Bock’s accounts have been discussing concert photos with each other a lot, but curiously those pictures keep disappearing. That could tie in with the rumours that the next generation of iOS devices will come with new photo sharing smarts to hijack the buzz from services like Instagram and Foursquare.

Likewise, the family’s fitness fixations could indicate more running and fitness features coming in future Apple devices, in the wake of Nike+. Many of the Apple family talk about their running exploits and boast about them to each other. Most family members bang out 10k runs with startling regularity. There’s no space for slackers obviously.
There are also many, many shy members of the Apple family who are on Twitter, but lurking behind locked accounts. Is that because they’re discussing or testing Twitter-enabled features Apple would rather we didn’t peek at?

Those Apple family members with open accounts have found themselves racking up followers despite their low tweet counts, with their composition split between other Apple accounts, confused civilians and that old Twitter reliable: pornbots.

Apple has been here before: The extensive family tree

This isn’t the first time Apple has dabbled with fictional characters, designed to shift units from stockroom shelves. Before the days of Twitter, Kate and John Appleseed paved the way for the Apple family we know today. They’re essentially the grandparents of Kevin Dolan and all his pals, and occasionally make guest appearances too. More recently, we’ve seen Jane Appleseed pop up on iPhone 4 promo shots.

Occasionally, when Apple needs someone to call in an ad, or to feature in a FaceTime still, John, Kate and Jane are usually its go-to folks.

The real John Appleseed (aka Johnny Appleseed) was an American pioneer who introduced apple trees to large swathes of Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. He became legendary for his generosity and, most importantly for Apple, the symbolic power he gave the fruit.

While John Appleseed’s ancestry is deep rooted in American history, the identity of other members of the Apple family isn’t as clear. Back in 2007 journalist Erica Sadun claimed that she had traced Apple’s family naming source to a small Australian High School in New South Wales. She found a host of names featured in Apple adverts there. There was a John Appleseed, a Shaun David Taylor and a Sharon Anne Diversi whose name she claimed Apple had turned into Anna Haro.

However, that theory doesn’t necessarily hold water, and there’s every likelihood that the current and past members of the Apple family (besides good ol’ John Appleseed) get their names from a random name generator.

Interestingly, Apple has been creating fully functioning accounts for John Appleseed. When the first generation iPhone launched in 2007, it was possible to call John Appleseed’s number and receive a recorded message that said: “Hello, you’ve reached the brand new iPhone of John Appleseed.” You were then pointed back to It seems John Appleseed is as serious about his privacy as Steve Jobs who, incidentally, isn’t on Twitter. Unless he’s Pete Figel in disguise.

Reporting by James HollandBen SillisJennifer Allan and Mic Wrigh