Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Ships that Cunard sailed

As a young boy, I was given an assignment to write on the topic "My ambition". I was then in primary school (that's elementary school in some other parts of the world). Without much hesitation, I penned a short essay on being a sailor when I grew up. There was much to commend about this ambition.

First, you get to see the whole world. I was at an age where you long to see something outside of your home and school. Second, sailing evoked adventure, and that's what every boy likes, especially when he has been fed on story books such as R.L. Stevenson's Treasure Island, Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Alfred Hitchcock's tales of adolescent mystery and suspense. And did it help that I was staying in the British Naval Base (Dockyard) in Singapore at that time? Watching large man-of-wars was within walking distance from where I lived.

But that's the world of fantasy. Fast forward to Cunard - a name that brings to mind large large ships that sailed across the Atlantic, and occasionally, the world. What's more, you also hear that these ships are luxurious and probably only the rich and famous can afford to sail in them. At that time, I had yet to hear of the Titanic. I wasn't rich nor famous and therefore never stepped onto a Cunard. I could only read about them.

Cunard is still very much around, and it has been so for the last 165 years. Recalling my adolescence, and still not yet rich nor famous, I picked up the book "Cunard - A Photographic History" by Janette McCutcheon to re-live its glory years. This is a table-coffee book of 96 pages. Something light to hold in your hands while you sip your coffee. It is full of pictures to dazzle your eyes and bring back memories of bygone years. Its an easy read too, although the narrative seems a bit halting, but this is to be expected. The pictures are, after all, the main attractions. The narrative informs the reader about the history and significance of each picture in the book and about the social and historical context. Every page is filled with photographs of the various Cunard ships from the time when Samuel Cunard first built his Royal Mail ships that, by the way, also carried passengers. Divided roughly into three parts, the book traces the history of the company from its founding to the First World War, the years between the world wars and period after the Second World War till the present.

At the end of it, you get an appreciation not only of Cunard's history, but also of how circumstances and inventions of the day can affect the prosperity or survival of a company. For example, after World War II, Air travel by Jet became popular and that took away Cunard's ertswhile business of ferrying passengers across the Altantic. It eventually had to focus on the Cruise Liner business, for which it is best known today, at least for the holidaying crowd. However, you will want to read about its shipping business from the early days, and look at the marvellous ships it once used to own, including its Carpathia, which picked up 705 passengers from the sinking Titanic in 1912 and the Lusitania, Mauretania and the Aquitania - the fastest and biggest ships of its days.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Best free journal on the web

Strategy+Business" (s+b) is a quarterly print journal/magazine from Booz Allen Hamilton. Its a great magazine targeted at business leaders, academics, and anyone else interested in what is happening in the world of business today, and possibly what will happen tomorrow. The content is varied and, best of all, its freely available on the World Wide Web. Unlike its rival, The McKinsey Quarterly (MQ), all content that are in print is available without charge on the internet at the same time that the print edition is out.

MQ used to offer all its content for free on the web too, but switched to providing premium content for a fee. Some content remains free, but you feel crippled when you can't pursue an interesting topic that is featured because the content is considered premium. I used to refer to MQ quite a lot when I was pursuing my Masters degree in Technology Management a couple of years ago. Needless to say, it was then free of charge on the web.

In any case, s+b is just as good and its still free on the web. You can also get it to send you e-mail updates as and when a new issue is available. You won't miss an issue like that.

Highly recommended.