Internet Nostalgia

The year is 1995. It is past 9PM. Our typical tam-brahm household in Chennai has started ramping down for the day. Mom is clearing the kitchen and setting up for next day. Dad is finishing up watching the long form news (yes, the DD news that aired between 8:30-9PM ; there was a short form news between 730-745PM). I am generally vetti (vella, jobless, whatever) – a generally acceptable state for an engineering student in my second year of college.

I may look vetti, but excitement inside me is rising. The time is approaching. Half hour more. You ask for what? I will tell you what. INTERNET TIME.

I finish up my nightly glass of milk and run to my dads computer – a clunky X86/486. Dad had always been up-to-date on computers. For formality sakes, I run up to each family member in the family and tell them I am ‘going to the internet’ – not because they will miss me, but when I am ‘in there’, there will be no phones that will come in. *Pause for dramatic effect*. Yes, no incoming phone calls. And there was only one phone in the house – no mobiles then. So I basically cut off the primary communication channel to the home. On hindsight, I am thankful for family to have even let me do that!. Wow thats huge. If my son tells me, he is going to muck with my internet for a school project, I am not sure if I would be OK with that. (I would probably get him another Docomo stick or get myself one).

But I digress. I switch on the computer. (Yes, those were times when you switched on your computers only when you needed them). We had a choice. You could use the VSNL dialler or if you are adventurous, you can open up Windows Hyperterminal and could control the modem using the ATDT commands. The Zyxel modem used to be pretty much the same size as our cable modems now. I guess that has not really changed much.

Tariff:

vsnl

Dang. It was expensive. I had a student account. 500 bucks a year. And I got a low speed terminal access account. My email was gcmouli@giasmda.vsnl.net.in. GIAS was the Gateway Internet Access Service. The only window from India to the world.

vsnl3

You get this screen and you fistpump. You made it. There were a fixed number of dial-up connections that could be opened up. So you keep trying. Most used keys were up-arrow and enter. Repeating the ATDT for redial. And then you would hear the screeching noise of the modem and then the busy tone. Up-arrow and enter. More screeching. And then you hear a different screeching sound. And a dramatic pause later, NO CARRIER. Dang. Up-arrow and return. Now you see why, when you see the above screen, you fistpump.

After we got into the internet, we had a grand list of 10 things you could do.

vsnl4

Three of them were most popular. Email. Lynx. UNIX prompt. And you typically went to the UNIX prompt to fire up IRC and chat with folks. There used to be a Madras Chat Room. There used to be a room with SVCE (our college) folks. Fun Fun.

But yeah, we got only a terminal.

And then entered Ranga, who wrote a software called BlueSpec (I think – dont fully remember the name of the software!), which could bring up a TCP-IP connection interface (that is what we used to call an internet with pictures :)) with a shell connection. You downloaded Mozilla (or got it from the free CD in PC Quest – remember??). You fired up BlueSpec only if you wanted to see pictures. It used to be terribly slow though. The shell connection was faster. So lynx it was. A site was considered good if it opened up clean in text and in a browser. That was the ‘responsive’ design of yesterday.

And then you would continuously be looking at the clock. You also had a limited number of hours – remember – 500 hours per year. So an hour a day would be comfortable – so that some time is remaining for ‘emergency’ internet times.

Those were the days. Good days. Nostalgia.

All screenshots courtesy: (http://guide2net.net/bookweb/dnload/guide.pdf)

GPS directions in ‘Madras tamizh’

I use GPS directions in two ways. I have a MapMyIndia ZX 250 which I forget to take most times, and during those times when I forget to take the GPS device, I use Google Maps.

Recently, Google Maps surprised me with an Indian sounding voice. Very nice. That set me thinking ofcourse, of how it would be if the Directions were given in ‘Madras Tamizh’ or Madras Baashai as it is sometimes called. For those not in the know, this is mostly the tamizh that the auto drivers use, and mostly made famous by ‘Loose Mohan’ in tamizh cinema.

Iruba .. Route pudikaren == Syncing satellites

Nera poyikine iru  ==  Go straight on

Rightla cut pannu == Turn Right

Leftla cut pannu == Turn Right

Leftla cycle gapla pooru == Turn Slightly left

Rightla cycle gapla pooru == Turn Slightly right

Vutla soltu vantaya == Navigating to home

Aprom paaklam ba == Shutting down

Dei Dei Kasmalaam Turning-a vuttaya dei behmani == Rerouting

If you have any more, let me know in the comments …

Why do I honk?

You ask me, “Why do I honk?”. I will tell you why I honk.

And no, I do not honk incessantly like the cabbies, but you got to be super pretentious to claim that in India, you can drive without honking. Sure, I will reduce and have reduced honking, but if I do not honk, the following classes of living beings would probably get killed, if not seriously injured:

  1. The college kid with the backpack talking on her phone looking at the wrong direction while crossing the road
  2. The old uncle in his smokey scooter who claims that old scooters have the right to drive in the middle most lane
  3. The real estate agent who is talking on the phone which is resting on his shoulders and his head bent at an impossible 90 degrees to keep the phone from falling down.
  4. The style-bhai on his Yamaha FZ-whatever who feels that he is driving faster if he makes more noise and if he challenges the center of gravity of his bike to the maximum.
  5. The auto-wallah who brakes in the middle of the road to enquire where the passenger on the road wants to go, only to shake his head and go on.
  6. The occasional suicidal canine.
  7. The callous bovine whose business it is not, to realize that it is in the middle of the road.
  8. The aunty crossing the road holding a kid in each arm hoping for divine intervention to stop traffic when she crosses the road. (She did not get the memo that, the traffic might seem like a sea, but she is not Moses).
  9. The gush of humanity that drains out of a buses door when the bus stops at a bus-stop – even if the bus stopped in the middle lane.
  10. The IT dude in the car right in front in an intersection, who is checking email on his jazzy smart phone.

If you have more ‘characters’ for whom the ‘horn’ in our cars and bikes still serve an existential purpose, let me know in your comments.

Book Review: Arjuna

arjuna-saga-of-a-pandava-warrior-prince-400x400-imadgqfhrxh95s5n

This book by Anuja Chandramouli starts off at a good pace and keeps the reader engaged until about a quarter of the book. The Mahabharata is a story of epic proportions. Even though the core is the 18 day war, the build up to the war, and the culmination of the characters is elaborate. Given the book is so huge, and the fact that there are innumerable complicated sub stories woven into the epic, this book tries to extricate out the stories of one of the main characters – Arjuna.

While the attempt to experiment is much appreciated, it is difficult to do something like this and sustain interest. The Mahabharata is what it is, because of the complex interweaving of plots. It loses its magic touch when you bring out the stories of only one of the protagonists.

Very soon after the first quarter of the book is over, the reader is faced with the problem of sequencing. While telling only the stories of Arjuna, the book runs like a kid having control of the rewind and fast-forward controls of a cartoon movie. I was bewildered and let confused multiple times, about whether a certain event happened before or after another. The fact that most of us know this story in a sketchy manner makes it even more difficult. Perhaps, if I did not know anything about the Mahabharata then, it could have been easier on me.

When you choose one protagonist over others (there are 4 other brothers and Krishna himself), the other big problem is that of justifying why this character was chosen. Again, this is a problem only because a big subset of the readers know the original story. So when sub stories are told about Arjuna, the sub conscious mind is thinking – “so what, Bheema did stuff even better, Yudhishtira is equally good, etc…”.

To be honest, the book did not sustain my interest past the 75% mark. And this is one of the very few books, where I have kept a book down without completing. It had started to drain me. It had started to feel like a chore to complete the book, and that is when I stopped.

You may like this book if you are die-hard Arjuna fan. If so, get the book here.

I would rather recommend Devdutt Patnaik’s Jaya – An Illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata. Devdutt does a far better job in retelling the Mahabharata as it is. [ebook] [paperback]

 

Johny Ive on Xiomi

homescreens

http://mashable.com/2014/08/19/miui-6-ios-7-compared/

“Its theft and its lazy, if you ask me.” — Johny Ive

This was the statement that Johny Ive when asked about Xiomi. There has been considerable discussion online about how the MIUI layout and design is very similar to iOS. And this is making Johny nervous and irritable. But is this the mature way of handling it? Isnt everything like that?

A person or a company typically invents (or produces) a concept or a product after a lot of hard work, and then it becomes a success. Then there are others who try and ‘copy’ or ‘emulate’ if you will, to see the copied version can become a success too. There are times, when it does, and times when it does not.

Famously, Steve Jobs (once Ive’s employer) quoted the great artist Pablo PIcasso:

Good artists copy. Great artists steal.

If you read Steve’s biography and listen to some early tapes of his, you would see why he said that. His escapades around ‘stealing’ ideas from Bill Gates or more famously from Xerox PARC. Did the world cry fowl then? No. The capitalist philosophy is that, it does not matter if someone invented it. If someone can turn what was invented into what can make money, then that is success. A small town inventor who invented a great way to pump water from a borewell is considered a success in his neighbourhood. Someone who gets inspired by it, and makes it a production product and sells it to a hundred thousand farmers across India, becomes a resounding success.

See, Ive should understand that, just because you put in years of hard work into creating something very nice (and I agree, design wise, apple is probably way higher than any other company) does not mean that he can cloak it and keep it in his safe forever. It is a public product. This is a free world. He should probably feel proud that, there is another product which is considering his design as a role model and emulating it.

On a side note, Apple should probably feel good that, a company is atleast releasing this as something different (and is inspired by iOS) and not creating a fake iPhone and cheating others. By the way, that also happens. Come to India and see. You will hear talk about real iPhone vs Chine make iPhone.

And lastly, going by the track record of Apple, there will always be a fan-boy-club for Apple, who will always buy only Apple, even if they can get something that looks and feels exactly like Apple for half the price. So Apple, why do you worry? Or are you noticing the fan-boy-club dwinding? The numbers do not seem to say so.

Fear factor

flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thejcgerm/

flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thejcgerm/

Quite contrary to what most of you might be thinking, this is not about any reality show, but is a part 2 of my previous post on random policing to deter minor traffic offenses.

I am originally from Chennai. My parents still live there and I make occasional trips to this beautiful city (Singaara Chennai, as we call it — beautiful Chennai). This post is about 2 observations and my take on how they could be connected.

First observation is the general talk (or sometimes lack of it) about the reduced petty level crime on the streets. I keep hearing that the police is also very sensitized to crimes like eve teasing, chain snatching, and the likes – which I shall term (very loosely, since I am not a law) petty crime on the streets.

The second observation is a more personal one – something that I have been seeing in the last 2-3 visits. Chennai Police seems to have procured a large number of interceptor vehicles. And no, I am not talking about the old ‘Police Jeeps’. I talking fancy Innovas, Xylos, and the likes. And these interceptors have the blue and red flashing lights mounted on top of them – very much like the Interceptors in the US have. Firstly, I am seeing a large number of them on the road – randomly policing, parked in sensitive corners (near the auto stand in Chennai Central and T.Nagar Pondy Bazaar are two examples). Secondly, these vehicles are standing there with their flasher lights on. This makes them visible from at least a km away.

cop1 cop2 cop3

So this brings me to the fear factor. When these police interceptor vehicles are ubiquitous and very visible from a large surface area, there is a sense of safety for the common man, and a sense of fear for the offenders. I believe this is probably the link between the two observations. I have also seen these interceptors ‘prowl’ areas – smaller streets, bigger avenues, you name it – I have seen them there. This probably also has an effect for petty crime – the fact that, at any time an interceptor might turn up.

As a side note, I am one of those who firmly believe that, if the Police Department is funded well (by means of equipment and salaries), the corruption would definitely reduce (note that I said reduce, for nature will also bring forward some bad apples to surprise you). When the corruption reduces, there is more respect for the police, and in turn towards the law. I really hope the governments look into this as well.

Net-net (as we say in tech circles sometimes), I believe this improve policing is step in the right direction towards a safer future. Kudos to Chennai Police. I really hope other Police Departments pick up the cue and take this to their cities too.

 

Random Policing and Minor Traffic Offences

(Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eirikref/)

(Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eirikref/)

This is something that I have been talking about for quite a while with friends and family. With the Bangalore Police getting more and more social savvy, I thought, I would try and pen down my thoughts here, and maybe point them to here.

This here, is an experiment based on human psychology, which has been very effective in traffic offense management in other countries. My experience is in the US, but all I have unfortunately, is anecdotal evidence and no formal numbers. Still, it is worth a try.

The principal premise of this experiment is that, if there are random checks and apprehensions of traffic offenders in a certain spot, drivers tend to be a little more careful, fearful of being apprehended in that spot.

Let me explain with an real life example of what I saw in the US.

There are certain areas in the US interstates, where it is known that there are hidden cameras catching traffic offenders. There are also certain pockets where there is ‘mostly’ a cop car hidden in the bushes waiting to nab a speeding vehicle. Over a period of time, drivers tend to know this, by either learning the hard way or through word of mouth, and these areas become very cautionary zones. After a little while, even if the cop car is not there, or if the camera is not there, this zone becomes a relatively safe zone.

I do have to admit that Bangalore police (and other state police) have attempted similar strategies and have had marginal success. I believe it is just that, this needs to be done more consistently and the net spread wider. For example, the Intermediate Ring Road in Bangalore. Drivers know that during non-peak hours, it is best not to over speed, since there is a good possibility that there is an interceptor with a radar speed gun at one of the invisible turns. So a lot of regular drivers in that area, are careful. And let me be honest, I learnt it the hard way too. I have seen similar exercises on the Delhi-Noida-Delhi (DND) express way as well in the NCR region.

What do I mean by widening the net? I recommend installing cameras at obscure junctions where there is very repetitive signal jumping or turning at no-right-turns. Or, in a less tech savvy experiment, have a hidden policeman, noting down numbers and pictures using the cameras given to the traffic police. Challan offenders continuously and consistently for a month. Then move on to the next junction. The same effect as what happens in Intermediate Ring Roads would extend to junction after junction. Drivers would start ‘fearing’ hidden cameras or policemen. You would start people looking around for cameras and hesitantly start following rules. Get news media (social and print)  to cover this.

We would need patience to see large scale effect of this experiment. But then, neither was Rome built in a day, or for that matter, neither did all Americans drive with fear of the law, in a day. The world’s oldest democracy probably took quite a while to get this state. It is just that it is not publicized.

This is, in my humble opinion, a relatively low cost, low effort, experiment to start instilling road sense into drivers. It starts off with “fear of being challened”. But then, when people start seeing the effect, I am sure fear would turn into respect and appreciation, and it would sustain.

Signed,

Eternal Optimist.

 

 

What did Modi ‘actually’ accomplish in the US?

Modi - the redeemer :)

                                                Modi – the redeemer :)                                                (Reuters)

Setting up disclaimers as usual. What I write is purely my opinion. The opinion is that of a lay person not very well versed in the political sciences.

As you can see the media coverage and the general energy of the public, there is quite a bit of song and dance surrounding the PMs visit to the US. So what exactly is he accomplishing here?

Change the impression: India used to be called the land of snakes and snake charmers. Quite obviously, this pisses off a large populace . The only change in perception/impression that we have made to this is, now, India is looked at a land of cows, software engineers, and call centers.

India is considered an extremely difficult place to do business. It is considered a ‘dirty place’. (Yes, it hurts me to say this, but please drive down to the passport office in Koramangala, Bangalore and look across the street. You will know what I mean). Owing to the perception of call centers and the large scale monotonous work that we did during Y2K, we are not quite looked at where there is innovation and breakthroughs. Folks in the US still consider that the Indians in the US are super brilliant because they are ‘away’ from India.

Modi’s speeches in the US and his interactions with congressmen and leaders of businesses have revolved around allaying their fears around these factors (and probably more). I believe his trip is trying to prove to them that his new government’s top priority is to fix these basic infrastructural problems. He is probably also asking their opinions on what they consider as a problem; and if there is a large scale need for any specific SOPS he will probably do it.

Market Make in India: This whole concept has multiple facets in itself. Bring investment into India – which in itself is a big thing. This would improve the job situation in India. Also, Modi has been talking a lot about Public-Private-Partnership (PPP). Almost every MNC has money allocated for community service. That is one half of the PPP problem instantaneously solved. I read somewhere that he is already talking with Google and the likes for the Clean Ganga project. The third important factor is, as more and more product manufacturing companies come into India, their products would start getting sold in India. Goods made in India and sold here typically are also available at a lower cost. (case in point – Nokia phones, Ford cars etc). It is a win-win for the companies (expand the market) and India (lower costs).

Get some international publicity:  We need this. We need this bad. Let us accept the fact that, if you make a lot of noise in the US, it gets heard world wide. If you go and make a lot of noise in SriLanka or Thailand, no one even notices it – maybe your SAARC partners would, but no one else). This is free publicity. The “May the force be with you” starwars ending line may have sounded corny coming from the PM, but it surely got the attention. For heavens sake, John Oliver made a segment out of it in his HBO Last week Tonight show.

Thank folks for the $$: From what I hear, there was quite a bit of contribution from the Indian diaspora in the US for the Modi campaigns – monetarily. The PM needs to thank them and assure them that there would be the change that they had all contributed towards. If not for anything, he would require their support for 2 more terms (if all goes as per his plan :)).

These are the four ‘real’ reasons why I think Modi’s visit is significant. Any other thoughts, please write in the comments section.

 

 

 

 

Indian Americans and claiming credit …

This here, is a controversial article, where I am going to let what pulses through my heart, straight to the fingers on the keyboard – aka no thinking. I will set up my disclaimers shortly, and I would also like to say that, I am willing to stand corrected if your contra opinions have data enough to convince me.

First the disclaimers. I am a huge Modi fan. So even if there is something that seems to echo that what Modi is doing is wrong, is definitely a fault of the English language (which is a funny language, you know!). I have lived in the US, interacted with several first generation Indian Americans (who settled there in the 70s) and second generation Indians (American citizens born to first generation American Indians). In fact, I do have one very close friend of mine, who is a second generation American Indian, and we have had several talks on how they feel, the hardships they feel, and largely the search for their true identify (some have come to terms, and some have not, believe it or not!).

With these disclaimers out of the way, let me state my controversial rant first, and then see if my fingers can build around that (see, I am setting up my fingers for the blame, so if you do not like what I am saying, ‘talk to the hand’ or the ‘fingers’ to be precise). I take objection to the fact that several American Indians and unfortunately several Indians (and media too!) are stating that, Indians went to the US to ‘save India’. It is because of all their money that got pumped into India, that we are what we are now. Someone on FB (I think the guy was one of the organizers of the event at Madison Sq Garden) even gave an example of how, since they could not physically come and show their love and affection to their parents, they sent the money to buy a new couch – which apparently satisfied the parents even more than their children coming home (really???). And that apparently the money that the parents spent on the couch went into building the economy of the country.

Anyways, Indians have been going to America for a variety of reasons, and the reasons have evolved over time. In the early 60’s and 70’s there were the Indians who went to the US because it was the land of opportunity. I personally know of folks in my family who went there because their immediate family was in ‘need’. These folks had it real hard. Racism was rampant. They did not have the number of ‘Indian stores’ that exist today. They struggled. They struggled to make ends meet for themselves and they still had to send back money. And they did. They worked at gas stations. They worked at grocery stores. The works. The admirable thing about these people (in my humble opinion) was the fact that they did not make a pretense of trying to return to India. After all the struggling, they said, they were going to settle there and be there. They still were comfortable coming to India once in a while, but that was it. Home was the USA. Why do I admire them? Atleast they are not making a hypocritic pretense. They are clear.

Then came the 90s. Youngsters (including yours truly) went there to the US, because the universities were great. You would find folks saying they are going to the US for ‘higher education’. Cue: You would not hear folks saying to make ends meet for their family home. These folks did not have that much of a struggle (if you ask me!). A large portion of these folks either got financial assistance from the university or got some ‘on-campus’ jobs as we used to call it. By this time, atleast folks in the universities (thanks to the first generation folks whom we spoke about in the last paragraph) had a good opinion of the Indian students. They were hard working, smart, and could understand/speak fluent English. And hence these jobs came by. No one got paid boat loads, but got enough for sustenance. Few sent back money home. These were folks who had taken educational loans to take care of their first semester tuition and living expenses. But thats it. By the end of 90’s, the tech bubble was at its peak. By this time, not only were the Universities aware of the smart, hard working, English speaking Indians, the companies got to know as well. And they started hiring. Indians got in early and made it big. These guys sent some money home – perhaps paid for the renovation of the home that was long due – but I would not call it the revival of the economy due to them. They were settling in too. The bought a car, a house, and material comforts to lead a comfortable enriching life.

At the risk of alienating some of my batch mates, I will make another boisterous uncomfortable claim. There are clearly some of them who are clear that they are going to stay there in the US. They try and get their parents to the US once a year for a few months etc. They do ‘something’ for better living in India (perhaps buy them a couch like the Organizing person said), but essentially did all they could to make their and their parents life comfortable. I see nothing wrong with this crowd. Honestly, I am pretty proud of this crowd. Hey, their head is screwed on to the right place. They know what they want to do. They do what they can. The ones that bug me to no end are the ‘n+1′ folks, who claim every year that they would come back the next year. These are the folks who contribute to a lot of hypocrisy in the American Indian Community. These are the folks who talk about the ‘mother land’ in every party there. These are the folks who send money to Indian election campaigns here. These are the folks who claim that they are doing all this because they are going to return back to ‘desh’ once it gets better. Once it gets better. Hmm. Hmm. Ok then.

Let me move on now. The last set of folks who are in the US – perhaps now, as I write this long winded boring post, are the folks who have reached the US in the last few years. I have been observing a large number of these folks go to the US by funding themselves. “The wha ….”, you might say!. Yes, you heard me right. These guys fund their own tuition, their living expenses and everything else. From what I hear and understand, about half of these guys would defenitely come back to mother land and work in an ‘American’ company in India; and the rest would get assimilated there. Again, how many of these would claim that they would come back vs they would settle there, I do not know. Time will tell.

With these three categories, epochs if you will, of folks who immigrated in to the US, excepting for the first set of people who genuinely ‘pumped’ ‘some’ money back into India, I do not see the recent claim that the Indian American community is pumping ‘dollars’ into India to revive India. Really? Is that because of these guys that Infosys has become so big? HCL? TCS? CTS? They might not be the hot-rod startups of Silicon Valley, but boy-o-boy, do they bring in revenue or what? Revenue that brought prosperity to the folks who work in these companies. Revenue to the Government in terms of tax. There is also data somewhere (I dont recall where), that the NRI community does not even pump in that many tourist $ into the country. More $ is spent by European and Japanese tourists.

I should be fair, and should acknowledge the one data point that is in favour of this argument. There are a few handful of companies based out of America, who have come and started their Indian operations because of the initiatives by Indians in the management of these companies. They have been able to convince their American counterparts that there are smart, hard working, fluent English speaking folks back in India too. I say a handful, because, it is only a handful that came because of the Indian community there. The rest came because of capitalism. “Hey, we hire a lot of Indians here in the US, and they are getting expensive. Lets go in search of the source. Bingo. We can hire three Indians in India for the price of one in the US.”

So where is this ‘India is what it is because of the NRI community’ claim coming from? If that is what it is, then why is Modi there and introducing all these reforms in immigration? Why is he asking afresh to contribute? The VISA on arrival is not for the Caucasian Americans. It is for the US citizens born of Indian Immigrants. He said a lot of stuff indirectly. Let me try and say it in direct words here – “I am sure most of you here are not going to return back. And that is fine. But I want you to come and go freely. I want you to come and stay long periods of time. I want you to give ideas on how to improve (from your observations here in the US and elsewhere). I want you to contribute in whatever way you can.” You should notice that he did not say “you can Western-Union money to this account here to save my country”.

I am done with this long rant, but this is something that I wanted to share and probably get some conversation and opinions on. We are not perfect. We need all the help from everyone, from everywhere across the world. Modi has a vision. It is up to each one of us to realize it.

Bhaarath Maata ki Jai.

PS: I did not intend to hurt anyone’s feelings by this rant. I am just using Freedom of Speech and all that. I would love to stand corrected, if you have sufficient data to counter my data-less claims :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An afternoon with the trains …

The kiddo and me (both Railfans) were at the Bangalore Cantonment station for about 1.5 hours and we caught some nice action – about 7 trains. Pics below for public enjoyment :) (Hover over the pictures for the caption)