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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

If you find 10 crore one day…

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Don’t ask me how. Assume that you did. Maybe you found diamond treasure in your backyard, or your long lost relative left you all his wealth, or may be one of those Nigerian scams actually paid. Also assume that you don’t have to be bothered about taxes, government share, your safety and money’s theft. You are rich and all is well with the world. With 10 crore rupees, you can live quite luxurious life at interest income of crore or so a year. Would you still want to work?

It seems everyone I ask this question says they would : having money is alright but life without work is just too much bore. All rich business tycoons also work despite there being no need for it. Why can’t Bill Gate sell his share in Microsoft and retire? In fact, one of the requirement of earning lots of money seems to be relatively less need to spend it and more need to earn still more. I guess not doing anything will bore the person to death. Of course, not doing means not doing productive work. People can still become couch potato, or travel the world, or buy all kinds of things that only money can buy. But that doesn’t count as work. Perhaps there is a need for having higher purpose to existence.

Problem is I think I could easily not do anything and be happy.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

No upside to honesty

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Few things are certain in life: death, taxes, and getting cheated by auto-rickshaw drivers. I've lived in about five cities in India so far, and I haven't found any which has honest auto-rickshaw drivers. Experiences of others suggest that there doesn’t exist any place in India where this is so. While Mumbaikers claim theirs to be the best of the lot and Chennai-ites beg the award for the worst, it's mere matter of degree of dishonesty. By honest I simply mean driver asking me fair money for my trip. In most cases there is regulated metered fare and in other case there is competitive established market price.

My understanding says that fair price cannot evolve into this market because there is no way to build consumer loyalty. Rickshaws are need based services and unless someone takes regular trip from same place to another place frequently, one is not likely to encounter same driver next time. Consequently, they have no incentive to be fair because it will not help them in getting more business. On the other hand, dishonesty has all upside and no downside. They can ask more, which they will get sometime, and worst they will get is fair price, if passenger is knowledgeable. Honest drive will always get fair price but no more. Clearly, it make sense for auto-rickshaw drivers to be dishonest and cheat their passengers.

If we were to counter this then economic incentives will have to be reversed. This can be done with punishment for dishonesty in form of police fine or chalan. This is, however, not practical due to non-response by Indian police on such issue, problem in proving crime, additional efforts and time involved in going through the procedure, and triviality of such crimes against bigger issues which police can devote resource to. If we cannot negatively incentivize dishonest drivers then we can positively incentivize honest drivers. This is what I do, and this will work only if most of the people start doing it.

Often but not always, if I find that driver is asking me more than fair price then I hand him only fair price (only possible for metered fare). If driver is asking me only fair price then I hand him fair price plus a tip, along with the reason of that tip. I think he needs to know that it makes sense to be honest and that people care about it. Or may be I am just over thinking and he is perhaps laughing at me. Of course, passengers need to be educated to know fair price in the first place for this to work. I can't think of any other effective way, can you?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Trinket sellers revisited

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Yesterday’s post was high on emotional quotient but it was also genuine appeal from my heart. Because seeing working people make less money than beggars hurts me.

Thing is, solution proposed (buying from trinket sellers even when you don’t need any item) is not a long term sustainable solution. Suppose everybody does so then sellers start earning more than beggars, which is what we want. Then we will see more people entering into vendor business and less people entering into beggar business. Overtime, since real demand for trinkets is same, market share of each seller will go down thus reducing their income and forcing some to move out of business. Your artificial spending can go up to support larger market, but that’s not practical solution. Why should you buy more and more of what you don’t need because there are more sellers? At some point, their requirement will exceed your combined budget to trinket sellers and beggars.

I don’t know what is long term solution apart from grandiose statement of skill development and so on. But my appeal remains valid as long as few people are doing this, which is likely to be the case since I am not Mahatma Gandhi that everyone will do what I say anyway!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Trinket sellers

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Next time you come from market, mela, or some public gathering; pause, reflect and think the following.

Have you ever seen that little boy waiting by his weighing machine expecting you to pay one-rupee to know your weight? Have you noticed that little girl who is selling cheap imitations of jewellry and pestering your to buy them? Did you not fail to overlook that old man selling balloons in the corner? What about that lady with young baby trying to sell cheap plastic toys on the tattered rug? Did you happen to catch the plea in her voice when that old woman urged you to look at those ten rupee handkerchiefs and wallets?

Of course, you don’t need those things. You are not here to buy those things. You are, after all, not running a charity for world’s poor. Why should you bother about what’s not of interest to you? Wait, did you just gave that beggar ten rupees of alms? Of course, you did. You do, often. What can you do, they are so pestering. They knock on windows of your car. They stretch their little palm in your face. Then incessantly rant. They make you feel guilty about your fortune. You cannot bear to look at the skeleton of that famished baby. Moreover, you can afford it. What’s ten rupees to you anyway. Less than price of a samosa in multiplex theatre.

Did it occur to you that those who are trying to sell useless trinkets to you are trying to make their living by working and not begging? That they could as well wind up their little inventory and stretch their palms in your face? That their pride in their work and self-esteem is only thing that’s stopping them from joining million others who beg? I am sure you know that many beggars in India are professional beggars with lakhs of annual income and multiple flats in their name. I am sure you know that begging zones are mafia controlled and auctioned in underground market. You also perhaps know that that beggar at Mahalaxmi temple or Hazi Ali is probably wealthier that you.

How can people like you and me who ignore petty hardworking sellers and succumb to emotional blackmail of beggars can live with conscience? I know that not every beggar is fraud but isn’t ten rupee spent on someone who chooses to work rather than beg is better use of that money? For you and for him, both? Will you, then, not ignore her sales pitch next time you are in the market? Will you buy that map which you can throw right away? Will you please stand up and let the society know that it’s (economically) better to work and not beg? I hope you do. I seriously do. Or else, what lessons will they draw when they compare their change at the end of the day?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

15 minutes of Ghajini

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Short-term memory loss from Ghajini (2008) is latest movie-decease of the masses after Lymphomania of the Intestine from Anand (1971). We've been told million times that character cannot remember longer than 15 minutes but nowhere have I been informed whether it's rolling 15 minutes or packets of 15 minutes. From what movie suggests though I suspect it's packets of 15 minutes. Does any decease like this really exists?

Not late enough

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Indian Standard Time, so as the saying goes, is one hour behind Indian Standard Time. In culture where running late is considered fashionable and sign of importance, punctuality is thing of dreams. Ironically, lateness is an sin which punishes those who don’t commit it. Those on time in class must bear professor’s rage on those who aren’t on time. Those who are punctual in a meeting must waste their time waiting for others to join and work to start. Why we take pride in our lateness and cannot make an appointment in time is something I cannot know. What this does, and this is how vicious cycles goes, is that people who are punctual also learn to be late, for what will be they do being on time?

One thing that I admired most in USA was observance of time. A person who is five minutes late profusely apologies. When I returned to India I knew that this is price I must pay for being in my own culture. I knew it and I accepted it. Initially, always in false hope which was always shattered, I used to reach on time. Then I started going late. But I guess it’s not in my genes or something. However late I go, I seem to be one of the earliest and others go even later. Even when I have given up scruples about violating punctuality, my mental timing always makes me earlier than others. Consequently, I am always not late enough. I want to correct this notion of time in my mind, but cannot. Do you have tips? I honestly don’t care about going on time, but I don’t know how late I am supposed to go.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Virtue or lack of opportunity?

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In moments of reflection, I feel sorry for unfortunate people around me. I feel sorry that world is this way. I feel sorry that things don’t improve. I feel sorry that there is not much that can be done by me individually. I feel sorry that poor and powerless are always at receiving end of cruelty inflicted by nature and powerful. I feel sorry that they didn’t do anything to deserve this. I feel sorry that their goodness is exploited. But then…

Mankind is composed of many classes of people. We can define a class based on national border, religious faith, personal wealth, physical health, colour of skin, class of birth, or in many other different ways. Conflict between classes has come to being inevitable. It need not be so, but that utopia is not within sight in next few generations of humanity. If conflict is inevitable, and one class is going to be suppress another class, then would you prefer be suppressed or suppressor? As I said earlier, middle option is not possible. You can either suffer or make other suffer. Looking from this vantage point, injustice to powerless sections of society doesn’t seem cruel but inevitable, unless one prefers to be at receiving end of that injustice.

Main premise of this argument is that middle ground of peaceful coexistence is not possible. This is purely observational hypothesis of mine. We see around us that those whose rights are violated also violate someone else’s rights. If tables are turned, they are not better because they know pain of injustice. Untouchables of Hindu community practice severe untouchability within their own sub-castes. Minority Muslim community seeks special favours until they are majority when they start discriminating against erstwhile majority. Blacks in United States discriminate against homosexuals even when they themselves got out of discrimination mere decades ago. Mayawati’s political agenda is not equal treatment of all castes but revenge against upper caste. More rights to women have meant reverse harassment in form of more false rape and dowry cases. Slum dwellers sell their freely government given flats so that they don’t have to pay for water and electricity. Servants in households murder their generous masters and run away with money. Beggars on street throw back those one-rupee coins you handed them. Farmer who couldn’t fill his stomach till yesterday refuses to sell his land even at prohibitive prices when he sees opportunity to exploit. Policeman who complains about exorbitant bribes by schools for his ward’s admission doesn’t even register a FIR without chai-paani. Maid in my house, even though she works at measly 5/- per hour, doesn’t improve her quality of work even when her salary is doubled.

When in moments of reflection I feel sorry for these people, I also remember that that these victims are not just virtuous people who are exploited by society and powerful. They are just unfortunate that they are not in position to exploit others. They lack opportunity but not intention. Given chance, they will do unto others what is done to them. If they can only be suppresser or suppressed, they why should I feel sorry for at them at all?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Internet runs on idiots

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Having been using internet regularly for last nine years, question that has puzzled me often is that how do internet companies make money. Internet has brought such fundamental changes in public mindset that users consider demanding something free as their birthright rather than a thankful opportunity. Almost every software and application on internet has free, and in most cases, better substitute. Having email, photo sharing, blogging, voice or video chatting, social networking, document editing, classifieds and various other things for free has spoiled a typical internet user so much that even newspapers who have been charging in print for eons are protested against when they charge online.

Of course I know that most internet companies make money by advertising. Few charge money for using premium services but significantly most don’t. Whole lot of Google services are funded by contextual advertising links though there are many places such as Blogger and Picasa where it doesn’t advertise yet. Nevertheless, in my decade of usages I never remembered clicking any advert on any webpage or clicking any link on any spam mail.  Still, there must be people who are clicking those advertising links and banners. There must be people who are clicking and ordering services from spam mail. Sending bulk email on internet is so cheap that with even one hundredths of a percent of people falling for spammer, it would make marketing efforts worth the cost. And there must be those fractions of humanity who are making spam grow at such as fast rate. Here is a latest example (via). Yes, in this day and age. By the way, here is a mindboggling statistics: Number of spam messages sent everyday are around 176000000000 (176 billion or 1.76 kharab)

We all should be thankful to those idiots who click on spam mail and contextual advertising links on web pages. They are morons who keep things free for rest of us. Their contribution cannot be discounted. Perhaps that’s why we should forgive their temporal intrusion into internet arena because but for those where would you and I, the freeloaders, be?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Irritating phrases

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Oxford University compiled a list of top 10 irritating phrases. These phrases were deemed irritating because they were repeated too often. I personally don’t think that just because a phrase is used often it becomes irritating. With all due respect to Oxford University, a phrase may be used often because at this moment in time it represents fairly unique phenomenon with no proper substitutes. At the end of the day what matters not that a phrase is used 24x7 by someone who shouldn’t of used it, but that it absolutely and clearly represents what it is supposed to. It’s not a rocket science to invent new phrases which will replaces these supposedly irritating phrases but it will be a nightmare to make public adopt those as much as it has done these.

Very soon readers pointed out their own 20 irritating phrases. Actually, I can’t seem to get my head round it. You know, all these phrases which these people say are irritating are very useful for some others. Basically, what’s point of relegating a phrase to be irritating without suggesting appropriate substitute for it so that others can use? After all, they shouldn’t just talk the talk but also got to walk the talk. To be fair and to be honest, readers have reasons to be irritated by these phrases. Let’s face it, these phrases are annoying not just because of their repeat uses, but the fact of the matter is that those who use them don’t use them in correct context. I am not being funny but frankly it’s not the phrases that are irritating but their users who use them incorrectly. Of course, reason being that people learn uses from people around them and when they sing from same hymn sheet, they are going to sound all the same. Clearly, a misuse has potential to snowball unless lessons are learned. Going forward, I believe that we must make 110% sure that people touch base with actual, real and contextual meaning of these phrases in their school. Perhaps a raft of proposals is required to be rolled out to implement such inspection of published text in learning phase and in use phase in published content. May be proposals are already in the pipeline and we may results by the end of play today itself, what say?

Clearly, it was corny attempt, which you saw through. Still, first paragraph wasn't so bad, was it?

My personally most irritating phrase is “literally” not because phrase is wrong but because people almost always use it wrong. “Literally” is opposite of “figuratively” and is supposed to emphasize literal meaning of something when figurative meaning is more common. For example, ‘I could die from work today’ doesn’t mean that my life element will cease to exist because of amount of work I have (literal meaning) but that I have too much work (figurative meaning). Sometime, there is need to point out real meaning by use of “literally” such as in ‘this movie was emotional, I literally cried’. Ignorant people use phrase to emphasize their figurative meaning which is “literally” is not supposed to do, literally speaking.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Behan Ji

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If you want to address a stranger of about your own age as grown up in India, you would mostly call him Bhai Sahab and call her Behan Ji. At least, you could, till few years ago.

Indians are very fond and proud of iconic speech by Swami Vivekananda in Parliament of World’s Religions in late nineteenth century in Chicago where he represented Hinduism and shocked the western civilization by addressing his audience as “brothers and sisters” against the prevailing “ladies and gentlemen”. Notion that people around you can be treated as family members was, and still is, unfamiliar to occidental world. In Hindu philosophy notion of world as large family is evident in Vasudhev Kutumbkam shloka of early scriptures. Students in schools are still made to pledge that India is our country and all Indians are our brothers and sisters. “Except one”, students would mostly add under the breath, to maintain possibility of their potential matrimony.

As is customary with all good Indian things in India, we discarded address of ‘brothers and sisters’ and adopted ‘ladies and gentlemen’, unless, of course, western world adopts it, in which case we will be eager to adopt again and happy to claim our heritage, as we did in case of Yog. Tendency to delegates things Indian to things inferior made Bhai Sahab and Behan Ji a sign of illiterate buffoonery. These were replaced by Sir and Madam, in line with our British historical precedent.

For some reason, I am not sure why, but I blame umbrella term “modernization”, Bhai Sahab didn’t suffer as much as Behan Ji did. If you are a man, you would typically not call a man Bhai Sahab, but it would still be okay if you did. If you are woman, you will mostly call a man Bhai Sahab. It’s our way of forewarning and drawing boundaries by relationship association. Whether you are man or woman, you definitely would not call a woman Behan Ji unless you really want to loathed by her. Who knows who was to start this but somehow such term of gentility, purity and respect has come to mean traditional, conservative, un-cool, unbeautiful, and non-modern woman and is matter of laughing stock in urban youth.

Deepti Naval (youtube link) in Angoor (1982) is one good example of what is considered Behan Ji these days. What a grace and what demeanor she had! We always seem to abandon wrong part of our culture.

Monday, December 22, 2008

What happened in March?

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If you are part of any social or professional network which shows upcoming birthdays of your friends, would you check and let me know if you don’t see any disproportionately large number of birthdays in December/January? I always notice this and wonder why. Is it phenomenon India specific or global? Something to do with weather or end of education and fiscal year? I could do some research with monthly birth data worldwide but I am too lazy for that.

Mowgli

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Anyone who was child in India in early nineties will undoubtedly have fond memories of Jungle Book and its protagonist Mowgli. Its title song is anthem for memories of childhood nostalgia. At its peak, song was so popular that it used to be played even at weddings despite no connections whatsoever. Animation series shown in India was dubbed version of Japanese Anime based on 1894 book of the same name written by Rudyard Kipling. Here is it for your kind perusal:


(You Tube link)


जंगल जंगल बात चली है, पता चला है ॥२॥
अरे चड्डी पहन के फूल खिला है, फूल खिला है ॥२॥
जंगल जंगल पता चला है,
चड्डी पहन के फूल खिला है ॥२॥

एक परिंदा है शर्मिंदा, था वो नंगा!!
हाय इससे तो अंडे के अंदर, था वो चंगा!!
सोच रहा है, बाहर आखिर क्यों निकला है?
अरे चड्डी पहन के फूल खिला है, फूल खिला है
जंगल जंगल पता चला है,
चड्डी पहन के फूल खिला है ॥२॥
It’s well known in all forests, its talk of all forests that a flower has blossomed with shorts on

A bird was embarrassed because he was naked
Oh, he would have been better inside the egg
He is wondering why did he came out in the first place?

This enchanting nonsensical song was penned by Gulzar and was composed by Vishal Bharadwaj. Original book can be downloaded from project Gutenberg.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Glass half full etc.

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Following is not my thought but still worth sharing. I cannot quote reference because I don’t remember now.

If an optimist is one who sees glass half full and feels good about it, isn’t he a pessimist actually because he expected glass to be empty to begin with and is happy with whatever he got? If person who sees glass half empty and feels sad about it, then he is actually an optimist because he expected glass to be full to begin with. Whether we are optimist or pessimist depends on what we expect from the future, right?

Changes the whole perspective, doesn’t it? That’s life. What can be taken at face value? Age old wisdom stands overturned.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Winter vacations

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Winter break necessitates me to say farewell to you. I shall return on 22nd December. If you miss me, you can go through the following:
  • Archives of this blog, or click “random article” link on right
  • Interesting pages which I shared on Google Reader here
  • Fun pages on internet and best of Onion News here
  • Collection of funniest forwarded jokes over the years here
  • Other time pass pages here
And do subscribe to RSS feed or Email newsletter so that you are informed without having to visit. Links are on right column at top.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Holier than thou Mumbai

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It’s really not the time, I know. It will hurt, I know that too. But I have to get it off me because people will not be able to listen directly to me otherwise. If you are passionate about Mumbai, don’t read further. I don’t mean disrespect, but I have to tell this.

Attack on Mumbai was atrocious. It was devastating because it killed so many, because it went for so long thus emotionally draining us, and because it was ruthless in its implementation. I am as connected to Mumbai as most of non-Mumbaikar are: I’ve visited the city for a while, I know it as financial and entertainment capital, and I have enjoyed my stay there. However, lets not get carried away in holier than thou attitude toward Mumbai in our desperation, ignoring rest of the India. Emphasis: Mumbai is important, so is rest of India.

Suketu Mehta wonders what is so special about Mumbai that attracts terrorists? He concludes that open nature and entrepreneur spirit of Mumbai is unacceptable to destroyer of Indianness. It’s nice thing to say except that terrorist attacks have happened at many many other places too, not just Mumbai. They’ve happened too frequently in New Delhi too. A city is spirited and open nature by its people, and not by itself. All cities of India are very open and entrepreneur, everyone is welcome anywhere to try his luck. But most chose to come to Mumbai, because, obviously, and this is what Tim Harford implies in his book, cities support interconnections. So it’s true that Mumbai is city of dream but it is just because it is and not because no other city can be. It’s all historical, who settles where and who pulls whom next. Easier answer is terrorists chose Mumbai and other places because they think it will make good news and cause great harm. And they aren’t that fond of Mumbai as he would like to believe, which is, of course, a good thing.

Often after tragedy, there is talk about resilience of city. How Mumbai recovers so fast from disaster. Bluntly, it doesn’t. It is forced to. Could a person who supports his family hand to mouth afford to be afraid and sit at home? No, he will die of hunger if not terrorism. So does every other city. It’s same everywhere in India. Nothing special about Mumbai. It’s all special about people. Similarly there are so many articles saying that Mumbaikars are so helpful. They run towards disaster, not away from it. Of course, they do. So do people of other cities. It’s about people, silly. There are brave and helpful everywhere, so are there afraid and exploitative. Everywhere we can hear stories of courage of people giving shelter, food, transportation, saving lives after any natural or manmade disaster.

Can we just stop calling it “India’s 9/11”. For starters, lets get our own name and stop tagging to someone else’s branding. For next, what about hundreds of attacks earlier? Was London subway bombings called UK’s 9/11?

At these times, and earlier too during Mumbai floods, many people raise demands that Mumbai should be separate state. That Mumbai contributes disproportionately large portion of India’s taxes and doesn’t get equivalent grants in return. Two things disprove this stupid logic. First, it is power of state to collect taxes and use them irrespective of their origin. Hey, I never got as much money back for my development as much as I contributed in taxes. Second, Mumbai contributes to large taxes only because all rich people chose to live there, not because all money is coming from there. When ‘Om Shanti Om’ became hit, Indians across nation put money in the kitty, but because Shah Rukh Khan lives in Mumbai, he files taxes there. Mumbai didn’t contribute all money its own. When Reliance files its taxes from Mumbai, it is filing on all India revenue. And so on and so forth. Money is coming from all India and if Amir Khan shifts his home to Tripura next day, Mumbai’s contribution will drop instantaneously.

Here is an excellent piece arguing against common phrase that attack against Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was attack against India’s pride. Except uncalled for rich bashing, article is spot on in mentioning that CST is real icon of India (movies confirm that!) which has been least focussed upon in news.

I have nothing against Mumbai. It’s been on my mind last week as you can see from topics of this blog. But I just wish people of Mumbai stop looking down upon rest of us. It’s not that different from other cities as they come.

Why dear God, why?

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pulling-out-hairThis thread on Orkut has spawned over 300 posts. I mean, seriously, I mean, really very seriously, what on earth is wrong with humanity? Imagine me, if you will, with look of utter incomprehension, bewilderment and frustration clinching my teeth and fists, with drops of perspiration on my wrinkled forehead, trying to control violently pulling away my hairs. That’s me, on the right, when I saw this, and see such others. Some of these people are my real friends and capable of beautiful thoughts on their blogs and in person. Here they are trying to guess whether next poster in thread is going to guy or girl, and even outsmarting themselves. Why? How? Is it even fun? Million monkeys trying to compose Shakespeare's Othello will produce more interesting text. If it were up to me, this would qualify as test for letting live. See also: Wisdom of the Crowds.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Need for coherent compensation structure

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When a tragedy strikes in India, there is often offer of ex-gratia payment by government bodies. Tragedy can be fire, train/road accident, riot, terrorist attack, flood, killer spree, building collapse, earthquake, disease outbreak, tsunami, or any other disaster. Few things determine amount of compensation a dead, seriously injured and injured party gets. The most important of these is the size of news it makes. Other factors are number of people affected, class and creed of people affected, public outrage at the event, presence of competing tragic event to divert mind, and richness of government where tragedy happened. Who gives compensation, such as central government, state government or even private corporation also depends on these factors. I have seen no one raising any objections about this ever but it always shocks me, in very disappointing way, how same human life is valued differently in different context.

When a single young boy named Prince fell into a well, it was news for three whole days. He was promptly rescued with help of army and engineers and was given few lakhs of compensation and free life time education among other things. Soon after hundreds of farmers died in flood in Bihar. I don’t know if they got any compensation but if they did, it would have been customary one lakh per person. When Delhi blasts on eve of Diwali made news in Media, both central and state government rushed to offer substantial ex-gratia payment, unlike passengers of train accident in Kerala soon after which were offered nominal amount. Soldiers who died in fighting terrorists in Bombay got five times their salary every month until their child turns 21 from a private company Sahara, unlike soldier who died fighting routine intruders crossing the border from Pakistan or soldier who was skinned by Bangladesh. It may be discomforting to you to place monetary value on life of people, but it is more discomforting to me to place uneven value on life of same people in different situation.

Whenever I hear such news only thing that immediately crosses my mind is the thought process in mind of victim’s family. Was that fault of that poor couple that their son didn’t fall in the well, and hence lost plateful of goodies for lifetime? Was the soldier who died defending us on border less brave, or was he at fault that he didn’t get opportunities to fight terrorists in Bombay, which if he had, he would have been equally brave? Was victim of train accident to due to sloppy infrastructure on governments part or accident of nature any less unfortunate than victim of bomb blasts in Jaipur or any other place? I refuse to discriminate between lives lost doing same thing at different places just because they happened to be part of different events which affected public emotionally differently. Would your death mean more if you were alone to die versus you die along with hundred others? Does Marathi life becomes more valuable since Maharashtra is richer than Bihar?

I would like government to design a coherent national compensation structure which would take into account voluntary (such as soldier or police) and involuntary (such as bomb blast victim or train accident victim) element of death or injury but which would be independent of size of news, solidarity of public, and other irrelevant factors mentioned earlier. Every dead/injured should get similar compensation for given type of tragedy and that should be coded nationally rather than leaving it to whims of politicians at the moment. I don’t think there is any way to regulate what corporate do but I wish they would stop playing on emotion to discriminate lives of one versus another.

It is probably cruel to think so, but it is also very real. Maid in my house rued that people who were injured in blasts in Ajmer Shareef were given fifty thousand ex-gratia payment, a fortune for her. There would be some people who might wonder if they were unlucky not to have been injured and missed a windfall? After all, we hear people who sell their kidneys and blood for money in desperation. Of course, we hope that fraction of such desperate and poor population is less, and in any case, there is no way we can solve this problem and start giving payment based on had-it-been-me.

Less said about the corruption involved in really cashing the compensation the better. Amount of paperwork required to prove that your party really died or injured, and that you are really legal next of kin, apart from processing delays and mandatory cut in compensation for bribe at emotionally vulnerable moments is heart wrenching reality of Indian machinery.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Reflections

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I am sorry if you are overwhelmed about reading about Bombay attack everywhere. Mood around here is such that these topics are at forefront. Some of these views are longstanding so it’s as good time for me to express them. Few commentaries:

More I think about it more it appears that there could have easily been more than 10 terrorists. They were free for a significant while before they were holed in. Nobody knows how many came and where all they went. If so, then next doomsday is imminent.

When Bombay changed its name to Mumbai in early 1990s, lot of people were disappointed in expensive ego soothing by politicians by superficial change. They decided that they’d keep Bombay alive if not in official papers. As time as passed, seeing Mumbai in print so often, it is inevitable that I slip Mumbai for Bombay. I feel slightly ashamed at being able to be manipulated by political class and not being able to be true to my original promise. Same for using Chennai for Madras. Kolkata for Calcutta. Bangaluru has not replaced Bangalore yet but it’s matter of time.

As much anger as is visible in public, somewhere I know that nothing substantial is going to happen this time too. I hope I am very wrong.

Media ethics

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Many people raised questions about unethical means media employed while reporting recent tragedy in Bombay. Not only were they unethical, insensitive, crude and sensational, they also hampered counterstrike and may have resulted in more lives lost. One would have excused if they were not aware of their own stupidity, which, of course, should not be the case, but their blatant violation even after Ministry of I&B sent them a decree clearly showed a lack of conscience on media’s part. A general appeal in private and mainstream media is for better treatment of information pertaining to such incidents. No one, so far, has offered any solution though.

As I have been repeatedly emphasizing on this blog, expecting people to act on moral grounds by their own volition is model but not practical solution. People and organizations are going to act based on (dis)incentives they have and not based on their own consciences, as much as we would like to have this in the world. I’ve been trying to think of what penalty we citizen can inflict to tilt balance of incentives in favour of more ethical media management. A government body which penalizes these channels either on grievance complaint or active monitoring is one way to go. However, recent attempts by Ministry in developing code of conduct have been vehemently opposed by media who would like us to believe that self-regulation is way to go. If only they had regulated self. Recently created News Broadcasters Association (NBA) in India has developed a set of non-binding guidelines which are obeyed in violations mostly. Since self-regulation failed miserably and is an oxymoron to me in the first place, Ministry can try to bring legislation to the effect. After all, why would media have problem with legal regulation if they really wanted to follow their own self-regulation, unless that was hogwash which it what it appears to be?

Alternative is for us to boycott these channels and let them know why we do that. I’ve been proponent of power of public in most cases in teaching lessons be it to corporate, government and private sector. But again, what we do says more than what we say, and people of India are not going to stop watching sensational news channels just because they claim they don’t like sensationalisation. If they really didn’t, would these profit driven media be stupid to serve that? More and more I think about it, more and more problems for which we like to blame politicians, government, corporate and lobbyists are because of what we do. A newspaper whose top five stories always comprise of glamour and sex is largest selling English daily in the world. Reality shows which show blatant humiliation and meanness gross highest TRPs every week. Doordarshan with its clean and unsensational news is least watch television channel among people who have access to cable. As much as anybody would like to think otherwise, because it is easy to blame others than look self-ward, we too have a blood on ours hands.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Good time for that white shirt

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Do you know what’s latest? It’s time of year month when people of India come out in large numbers wearing white clothes/black clothes/black armbands/red armbands and organize in mass prayer/candle light vigil/public solidarity/silent march and what not. Go my India go. Show them stupid terrorists that when they kill hundreds of ours, we still dare to come together and show publicly what a bunch a morons we are. After all, when has God listened to a prayer unless accompanied with grand display in public which disrupts normal traffic? And your display is sure to melt hearts of those hardened murderers. Don’t go to the victim’s house and give a shoulder to cry. Don’t commit your money to feed a family whose only breadwinner is gone. Don’t help them file the paperwork which will help them transgress bureaucracy to get whatever compensation is promised. That will be too much work and no one will see you. Go out with lighted candles so that only people who benefit from your act of solidarity are candle makers. May be you will get photo in the newspaper, isn’t that why you inform media before your public display of sympathy? Hey, don’t you know that candle light vigils are latest fashion in showing sympathy, pioneered by human right activists across the world and popularised by movies like Rang De Basanti.

You may not, of course, be at place where you can directly act. You may have already given your money to relief fund and blood to donation agencies. But you know what, you can do one thing that matters beyond all those armbands and candle light vigils. Go out and vote. Yes, it’s actually very simple. You even get a paid holiday to vote in India, and you can easily spare few hours. I am sure you know that voting percentage in India fluctuates between 40% to 60%. You also know that people like you vote least. Voting is only thing that will matter because that’s only language decision makers listen. Not your blog posts or newspaper editorials. Hey, but I know that’s better to spend election day at home watching movies. Why would you want to bother with voter registration when you can simply do duty for your nation by wearing that white shirt to work?



Lots of people, in rage mostly, ask what can they do. They display their helplessness. I’d say we can do many things but we don’t want to do. You can join army, police, security agencies (paid or unpaid); you can become informer to police; you can patrol our borders; you can infiltrate terrorists organization; you can lobby our government for suitable laws; etc. List is endless and limited by my imagination only. You may not be able to do all that but you can try. It will be risky, you will lose your current lifestyle, but didn’t you ask what can you do? You may not want to do any of these but next time don’t just ask what can you do because you know what can you do but you will not do it. Accept it and just shut up. Easiest is, you can vote, and that at least you should do.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Conspiracy theory and a Poem

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How Mumbai attacks was planned by India and how WTC attack was planned by US, must watch, guaranteed laughter

(Youtube link)

Hindi veer-ras poem on pain of Kashmir by poet Hari Om Pawar, must watch, very moving and angry

(Youtube link)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Smileys

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Smileys were introduced to world wide web to supplement lack of body language into typed communication. Since typed words don’t differentiate between tone, humour, sarcasm or insult, it was useful to add appropriate smiley to signal real meaning. It’s been mostly used in right way too, which means to signal that you really are just pulling leg when you might appear taunting, or that you mean well in friendly way when you might appear condescending. Obvious possible drawback, as is case with body language, is the incongruity of smiley and the written content. Smiley can turn a sarcasm into a humour but it cannot turn an abuse into sign of goodwill.

What things have come to being is use of smileys to soften the blow while hitting harder and harder. So you can say all the mean things you want and append with an smiley. If other party retaliates, just point to smiley to show that you didn’t mean it, and he is overreacting. Thus you can have your cake and eat it too. Such double standards in word usage and weakness of commenter to be able to bear result of his accusation and unwillingness to entertain counterarguments are irritating at the best.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

This and that

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That killed 150+ and this killed 100+. That was done by violent outsiders and this was our own mismanagement. That will get lot of mention and this will be promptly ignored. But a life lost is life lost, no? Last time too when Delhi blasts happened, a train wreck in Kerala killed more. When Jaipur blasts happened, rampage in Jodhpur temple killed more. Who got more compensation (Delhi) and why (more dramatic) versus who should have got more compensation (Kerala) and why (direct government failure). Irony?

01/12/2008 11:50AM Edit: Sahara announces generous compensation to families of security persons. As much as I am happy with the move, I am also little dismayed. Did the soldier who was not deployed in Bombay but died in regular skirmish along border any less brave?

What to eat first?

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A question which has perplexed great minds since forever when given two objects to eat is what to eat first? Many a times in life one is given two perfectly acceptable and palatable eatables, one of which one likes more than other. Such situation can occur in choosing a food item in party, in taking a lunch in office, or in being forced to eat by parents. One would have to eat both, but one would have a clear priority and order of preference for each.

Eating what you like first is advantageous in that you eat when you are most hungry, thereby enjoy your favourite item best. You also avoid agony of waiting and not eating your favourite dish. In some cases, specially when mischievous siblings/friends are around, you also avoid the possibility of your dish being confiscated or robbed from you by said sibling. You would typically also avoid chance of time crunch necessitating less than comfortable way of enjoying. Disadvantage of this plan is that you will eat other stuff after your favourite stuff, thus washing away all the good taste in mouth.

Eating what you like last is advantageous in that you may have more time to savour it without queue of rest of the dishes waiting to be finished. You also end meal with long lasting favorable after taste, assuming you don’t rinse your mouth too much, thus increasing pleasure period. In some ironic way, knowing that your best dish awaits your may also provides pleasure of anticipation and hence more pleasure from eating. Disadvantage of this move are possible time crunch, confiscation, reduced hunger and subsequent reduced pleasure at later stage of eating meal, or agony of waiting if anticipation doesn’t please you.

I’ve been following second option so far, but now when I listed them both here, I am thinking that I may have to reconsider my life’s fundamental strategy.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Colours

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Colours are strange notion. What light we see is probably some random accident of evolution. Colours are merely different sizes of wavelengths. Yet, colours define our lives. Happiness is bright and sorrow is grey, wedding is red and funeral is white, red rose is love and yellow rose is friendship, etc. Green of greenery sooths us, and blueness of ocean calms us; bright red invokes danger, and dark night frightens us. We’ve internalized colours so much that we have given meanings to arbitrary difference is shades of light. Cultures have defined colours and colours have defined limits of cultural thinking. More developed a culture is, more names it has for colours. Ancient Greeks just knew four colours: red, blue, green and white.

Even though humans everywhere on earth can see all colours, not all languages have words for all colours, and if there isn’t a word for it, it isn’t really. To give common example, if a man cannot tell cyan apart from sky blue, does he still sees them differently? Scientifically, when asked specifically, yes, but not really in everyday life. Ask him to locate cyan wool and he will come home with sky blue. On the other hand woman can, and for her, world is different. Isn’t it interesting that our understanding defines our language but our language also defines our understanding. People who don’t have words for it find a notion difficult to comprehend. 

A research about words for colours in different cultures lead to following fascinating hierarchy:

  1. All languages contain terms for white and black.
  2. If a language contains 3 terms, then it contains a term for red.
  3. If a language contains 4 terms, then it contains a term for either green or yellow but not both.
  4. If a language contains 5 terms, then it contains terms for both green and yellow.
  5. If a language contains 6 terms, then it contains a term for blue.
  6. If a language contains 7 terms, then it contains a term for brown.
  7. If a language contains 8 or more terms, then it contains a term for purple, pink, orange, gray, or some combination of these.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bombay attacks

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How do you fight an enemy who is not afraid of dying and instead covets death?
How do you yield or reason with with enemy whose only demand is world domination (khaliphate) and unconditional surrender of rest?
Is there a way out except wait to die?

Twitter search ‘Mumbai’Twitter BeakingNewsOn - Google Map Places of AttacksWikipedia entryIndiamike updatesContact Numbers

Blue domination

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Out of the blue...Why do we write in blue ink only?

I am referring to hand writing where blue pens and blue ink is most common colour. Sure, black is also used, and so is red, though much less frequently. Other colours are limited to only decorative usages. But why only blue? What’s special about blue ink? Internet search couldn’t help me but probably because I couldn’t search better because answer must be out there somewhere. Was blue cheaper to manufacture in early history of penmanship? Is it still cheaper or we are caught in web of historical convention? Is there any scientific proof that blue looks best on white paper, or was that mere unproven social wisdom in early history? Does it have to do with physical properties of blue ink? Are ingredients of blue most easily obtained, or blue was only ink early man could make? Was it accident of history with no reason, strengthened over time in convention, much like why we have red light for stop and green for go*?

*Even though red and green are colours most easily confused by a colour blind person, which is about one in every ten.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Post Secrets

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There is this blog called PostSecrets where people post anonymous postcards with their deep secrets. It’s good place to find weirdest thing people do, have, or think. It’s also a good place to reconfirm yourself that your habit of biting third page of a book isn’t unique and there is at least one person who does that. Humans are surprisingly alike in terms of things they think that only they do and nobody else does. For some, finding company is relief; for others, novelty lost.

However, what this blog is turning out to be, specially in last few months, is a showcase of evils in people. Earlier secrets seemed genuine, now they seemed to be specially made to able to send to PostSecrets, or are secret not in real life but are about PostSecrets itself. Looking at these secrets is like looking dark deep evil inherent in human heart. Normal looking people doing intentionally mean things to others and finding pleasure in them. One can say that knowing depths of evils of normal people is good thing in the sense that one can prepare better. I feel it is destroying whatever small remnants of my faith in goodness of people. It feels bad to know that such people exist and it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

I can, of course, stop reading that blog but I cannot really bring myself to do so. Maybe because knowing others’ secrets is human curiosity, electronic form of snooping, perhaps. Now they have even brought out many books. You can never be too amazed by what people can make money on internet from. First it was milliondollarhomepage, then stuffwhitepeoplelike and now postsecrets. These guys are not even producing their own content! Gone are days of working hard to rise up in the society. These days people can be world champion in solitaire and win million dollars. May be I should take two year sabbatical and think of an idea which will make more money than years of toil and education.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Compelled to read

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I have this peculiar problem. Whenever wherever I come across any readable written text, I will read it, involuntarily. I mean, I can escape it, but I will have to consciously avoid reading. And wherever means wherever in line of my vision: on road, on walking, anywhere. Bill boards, notices, newspaper headlines, piece of trash, anything. This itself is a problem in the sense I read lots of junk which I don’t want to read, will never use, and this unnecessarily consumes my time and mental resource, trifle as they may be. Problem gets worse when I encounter same text multiple times. Examples are writing on front of my notebook, notice at gate of my bathroom, pamphlet at community notice board and so on. It is irritating, tiring and discomforting to repeatedly read what I’ve known by rote by then. I cannot seem to just see and not read any written content in front of me. Does this disease have any fancy name or do I call myself plain old crazy?

Monday, November 24, 2008

With me or get out

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If I come to your house and disagree with you, you can at best throw me out. If I come to your website/blog and do the same, you can probably, technology permitting, ban me there. The problem is, your house is yours, but your blog is public space, unless limited to selected readership. You are owner of your blog to the extent of what to write and how to maintain and frame policies, subject to laws of civil society. Triggered by this, two things irks me about blog owners:

First, those who disallow comments on their blog. It’s like speaking aloud something in public, but closing your ears. You may not have time or interest to read comments but disallowing is just too rude frankly. It is implying that what I am saying is important but what you say I don’t care. I know that one wouldn’t listen to such speaker in real world, but many seem to read in virtual world. One of the most prominent blogger of Indian blogosphere falls in this category and there are many less famous ones who do that too. Blogs are supposed to be interactive communication and if one so absorbed in his arrogance then she should write a private journal. And his response to this comment is my second, and bigger, peeve.

Second, those who reply to disagreement with ‘If you don’t like what you are reading, why are you still here?’ Hey, I can shout and abuse you in public, but if you don’t like what you are hearing why are you still hearing and responding back it. Of course, reading blog is choice than happening to hear someone in public, though if it’s on web, much like words in the air, knowing them is inevitable and notion of choice is diffused one. And one has right to reply back if he doesn’t agree notwithstanding original intention of speaker, since words are targetted at public at large. Again, if one doesn't want people who disagree with him to read then he shouldn't write in public. As long as your blog is open, it's as much my right to read and respond.

I think it is related to domain of what is extent of blogger’s right over his blog. If it’s in public, does he still maintains rights for not hearing or throwing out others?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Congo

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Congo Crisis These images from Congo Crisis hurts my heart so bad that only solution seem to be to just forget. Indeed, world has. And at such moments I wonder if it’s worth just to take over a country and run it from inside instead of just sending help from outside. Which country would want to do that, and will that work? My next thought is immediate annihilation of the world, for that’s only sure shot way I see sufferings of people can be eliminated. We, humans, are not worth living if this is how we treat ourselves. Also see ‘if you think life is tough?’

If you met God one day

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He says that he met God the other day. You know that he must be lying. You are intrigued, you hear about their conversation, but you are skeptical. Conversation seems plausible but somewhere you detect hint of fiction and some agenda behind narration. You finish by concluding it was nice story but you are certain it was a fiction.

The problem is what if it isn’t? Most people of world believe in some sort of superpower. Many are certain of His* existence, they are not fanatic, but are very religious. Few are fanatic, but then, it’s not about God for them anyway. Even then, you wouldn’t believe that someone met God. You wouldn’t even believe that you met God even if you just didn’t know why. It just seems impossible, ridiculous, filled with trickery, imagination and too weird. Of course, there are few who would see signs of God in fish, goat, almond or rock; will experience Him in prayer, peace, smile or nature; will feel Him in their life; but even they will not trust Him if they ever come face to face with Him. Is it not ironical, that even after so much belief, we are certain at some level that He just couldn’t possibly come face to face with us. All religions of the world have history which has God, or His representatives, walking on earth, yet none really believes that it could happen now. We trust His symbols and instructions, find inferences and meanings in random things, but we won’t trust someone, or ourselves, that He could come on earth and meet us.

Is belief really real? In an excellent Tom Hank’s movie The Green Mile a man has superpowers associated with God but he doesn’t fit the neat classification and imagery we’ve built on and is sent to electric chair for child murders. What if the story was true; we are most likely to do the same again. How exactly is God supposed to convey to us that He really is, if we just don’t believe when He Himself says so.

*I don’t think God is He necessarily, He can be She, It or something unclassifiable.

Rocket Girl

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That’s a name of Hindi movie from 1962. Can I be pleased at our progressive name from that era or balk at stupidity of the same? What does it mean anyway, and if anyone has seen the movie, let me know how does title relate to movie. My most vivid imaginations fail me.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Travelling solo

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What’s fun when you are watching a lovely sunset and think “it’s a wonderful view, isn’t it?” and there is no one to answer, “it sure is”?

Why would anyone want to travel half-way around the world, to spend couple of weeks worth of vacation, and come by himself alone? I am sure it depends on person to person but if people on popular India travel forum indiamike.com are any indicator then western tourists like to travel alone more often relatively speaking. I feel half the fun of trip is in the company. Any trip, not just international trip, in fact. Sure, travelling in group implies compromises about where to go and what to do, so smaller group size of 3-4 is preferable but wandering singleton seems overkill. Talking to strangers can be fun but that’s not excluded in group anyway. Could not being able to find a partner to travel be real reason, since travelling to India is not like hopping to Vegas anyway?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Being bigger just got better

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Supreme Court of Canada ruled that obese people should get two seats on airplanes for price of one. Court maintained that obesity is disability beyond one’s control and one-person-one-fair policy should be maintained. Their point is fair, though opposite side is fair too. Why should airline loss money for someone’s personal problem? Court has managed to fit obese person breadth wise but depth wise fitting is still up to individual!

Emotional intelligence

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It seems awfully true that people don’t want to be proven wrong or corrected often, even if it is in unbiased objective manner without meaning to belittle them. Of course, this is another thing a rational person cannot understand about people. At some level of rationality, one may as well have to realize that humans are not logical machine but emotionally driven characters.

From Slate:
Q: My boyfriend and I…have a really strong relationship in almost every way. But here's the rub: My boyfriend is…always honest and rational. Unfortunately, these last two qualities have caused a bit of strain. […] sometimes his argumentative style and calculating rationale are applied to our relationship. In many situations, I feel as though I am the one who has to compromise because he always wins the argument. I know my positions are reasonable, but I just can't articulate them as well as he does. I have talked to my boyfriend about this, but I think he has a hard time seeing my point of view — that though my feelings may not always be logical or rational, they are still valid. Am I being unreasonable for wanting a little bit of slack […].

A: I don't know what his IQ is, but his emotional intelligence comes in somewhere around "dolt." […] take mine [word] that he's an arrogant twit who's got you confusing bullying for brilliance. It's also possible he has some kind of disorder that leaves him unable to process the feelings of others. If so, he should be seeking help, or else he is destined to go through life alienating co-workers, friends, and loved ones like you. …[he] seem[s] human, [but his] lack of emotion and empathy means [he isn’t] quite. So give your mastermind a copy of Emotional Intelligence and tell him it's about a subject in which he's deficient, but it's important for the two of you that he learn.

I don't agree with her answer but I understand essence of what she is saying.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

New features

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ScreenShot00028 Few admin announcements. You can now subscribe not the just the RSS feed but also through daily digest email (link on right) which will look like this. If you are new, then “Click for Random Post” link on right is a interesting way to browse through past archives. Bookmark icons lets you bookmark this blog in various offline and online services and Subscribe icon lets you subscribe feeds into reader of your choice. I’ve added translation flags at the top so if you want to try, you can read this blog in odd nine languages. If your language is not reflected, let me know. I have also added a real time voting type feature called “reactions” which is at the bottom of each post. If you like what you read, please vote with a click so that I know your tastes.

Translations Reactions

JEE exam

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Living a significant part of my life in Kota, the epicenter of JEE in India, makes it difficult for me to be immune to vagaries of juggernaut that is IIT-JEE. Whole economy of city is shaped by coaching institutes and allied services mushrooming to cater to large number of students. Internet cafes and game parlours, sweet shops and snacks corners, alcohol and drug peddling, late night restaurants, student food catering services and student hostels and guest houses are some of the new industries that have flooded the city in last 15 years. City’s layout, events, culture, crime scene and environment is shaped by crowds of teenage boys and girls. Combine this with the fall of traditional cement and power industries in Kota, and everyone is itching to get a pie of the money flow which these students bring. Hard earned money of parents, spent without reservation, many times by taking loans, in hope of better future for their wards, but spent mostly carelessly by students, revitalized and fuelled many of these industries.

JEE season was season not to be missed. Everyone and their uncle had someone in family taking JEE or planning to take one. Middle or upper class neighbourhoods boasted multiple aspirants in each street. And before JEE ruled out multiple attempts, competition was even fiercer. Days before examination, air would be tense and final results brought both jubilations and sorrow. Lucky few who managed to crack JEE became superstar overnight. They were actively sought by aspirants for tricks and tips to bell the cat, and often found themselves at loss at what to say, which was, of course, not an acceptable answer. The Kota phenomenon, and the fact that I and both of my brothers undertook JEE within span of five years, kept me in loop about JEE for long. That JEE was also my life’s biggest success did help in keeping sweet memories about whole experience. Every JEE pattern change, treatment of Kota by JEE administration, dynamics and politics in coaching institutions, JEE cut-offs and hits and misses, tragic stories of people who cleared JEE but failed 12th, etc. were animatedly debated and discussed in the home. These reasons accounts why I still have fascination, anxiety, goose bumps and whatnot about reading or hearing about someone taking or clearing JEE. Never before though, had I known what goes on inside JEE results.

Recent years have seen some interesting information about JEE ranking procedure thanks to Right to Information Act. One fact that lead to this post is 2007 decision by JEE administration to keep subject cut-off to 20%ile marks in each subject. Due to negative marking and tough nature of examination, cut-offs were often in single digits. Final ranking was based on aggregate total marks in all three subjects. So some scoring 5% in one subject but aggregating 90%ile will have better shot at clearing than someone with respectable 50%ile in each subject but poor overall percentile. Some say, it’s wrong, others, don’t. While I don’t really feel like analyzing it much (for which you can go here, here, here, here, and here) I think that a more respectable cut-off but not as high as 80%ile suggested by some would do better. In lieu of this, cut-off for 2009 is made average at 50%ile. But it seems more like knee-jerk reaction rather than consistent and fair evaluation. On the other hand, we’ve to understand that JEE is not 10th class and 5% is JEE cannot be compared with fail marks in 10th. Another thing is that JEE would be better by taking people who are genius in some subjects and stupid in others rather than who are average in all. That is the difference between good engineering and good school education. Assuming, of course, that JEE differentiates between smart and dumb, than merely between lucky and unlucky.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

If you didn't click it, did you really do it

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If a tree falls in the jungle and no one hears it, then did it really fall? If you visited a place for tourism and didn’t take photographs, did you really visit that place?

I wished to write a full blog post on this topic but I found it difficult to verbalize what I wanted to say. There is this strange nagging feeling in me which says what is a point of visiting a place when you cannot photograph it for later. Thing is, with internet and television documentaries, visiting a place for seeing something is least important since that can be done at comfort of home. It is more about outing, socializing and experience. I know that something is wrong in that but I still feel that way. I don’t know if I am weird or unique in this. And it’s not about showing to others too.

Not down the drain

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I think organ and blood donations are the best donations one can give. To donor, they are cheapest thing to donate. They are not hard earned but freely given by Almighty. Blood replaces itself fairly quickly without any additional effort on donor’s part and organs (eyes, liver, kidney, etc.) are practically waste for donor after death. Any use is better than being burned or burried*. Blood donation requires very minimal pain and time and organ donations doesn’t even require that. To recipient, they are gift of life, one of the most valuable gifts anyone can give to anyone else, and way more than valuable than typical sums of money one can manage. It’s like giving your garbage to someone who uses it for their life support system.

For some reasons of sanctity of dead body and various myths prevailing about it, organ donations remain very low, even in advanced countries. Similar rumours float abound for blood donation. I have convinced myself about fallacy of these rumours and decided to donate blood as and when possible. One thing though bugs me, and I am not sure whether it should. In India, donated blood can get spoiled due to improper testing, refrigeration and storage facility and I dread my donated blood flowing down the drains rather than in the veins. I am sure of sanctity of the act and still I somehow love my blood enough to not want it to go waste. Why should that be so? Some part of me says that even though it’s free, my blood is my stuff not to be given up so easily. I think I should take that remote chance for general usefulness of donated blood.

*Zoroastrians (Parsi) of India believe in this thought and hence they dispose their dead bodies by leaving it on "death towers" to feed crows, eagles and other predators. They believe that that's the best use of corpse in feeding to others.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Agreeing to Disagree

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If you have even ventured in any argument, then it's inconceivable that you would not have encountered the phrase “let us agree to disagree”. What it means is that both parties decide that they no longer want to continue the argument to persuade other party to change its opinion and that both decide to end the argument without reaching the conclusion knowing that differences exist. What it might really mean is that one who proposes to ‘agree to disagree’ thinks that other party is so stupid that talking to that it is like talking to a piece of wood and time can better be spent elsewhere than trying to bring some sense into other party. Or in simpler words, discussion is pointless.

Logic is, after all, logical. There are facts and there are premises. There are unstated premises called assumptions. Following well established rules of deduction, conclusion arises from facts, premises and assumptions. If both parties to a argument are rational and logical, then both must agree to conclusion, given that they agree to facts, premises and assumptions. If they don't, they can construct another argument whose conclusion will be that piece of disagreement. Hence going sufficiently backward, logically speaking, one can reach a point when both parties agree to common starting point.

Hence, a logical argument must end at some point in time and at that time, both party must subscribe to same point of view, which could be original position of either party, or third completely different position. There cannot, however, be a position when two parties can ‘agree to disagree’ in purely logical argument except when they don’t agree on some fundamental assumption. This deadlock typically arise when one party deviates from logic and doesn't admit to conclusion arising from agreed upon premises, facts, and assumptions. Hence, the moronic implication of real meaning of agreeing to disagree.

Actually, I've not been completely fair. Sometime time constraint or mere futility of proving a point may prohibit both parties from continuing to construct arguments to prove premises and assumptions. However, most typical use of the phrase is not because of time limitation.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reflections from The Wonder Years

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These days I am going through seasons of 1990s serial The Wonder Years. It’s a simple story of a kid in American suburb set in 1970s. It’s about his family, his friends, his exploits at school, his love interests, and challenges of young adolescent life, and I like it very much. I noticed few things and I take this opportunity to generalize about American family system that I’ve observed, contrasting with my own experience in India in 1990s. Things have most likely changed in India, probably towards American way. Clearly my experiences are limited to small town schools I’ve attended and there are more generalizations in this post than one can handle so proceed with caution.

Sibling rivalry is well documented social concept however it seems to me that extent of it is much higher in US. I mean, impression I get from people, movies, news and books is that siblings almost always hate each other in American household and while their may be real love deep inside, for all practical day to day purpose there is no love observed in terms of helping, caring, or playing but interaction revolves mostly around taunting, ridiculing and isolation from each others’ concerns. Siblings do, of course, fight in India, but they are not in position to not be able to stay in room for long without taunting each other and involvement in each others’ activities is more. This isolation grows as they grow up and move out, and like with their parents, meetings are generally limited to Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Related issue is about hating parents. Life cycle of relationship of a American kid with his parents follows many ups and downs. Usually, a child starts by admiring their parents to be the best people in the world, soon to find them the worst people in the world in his teens, to find them slightly irritating appendage to his normal life in twenties, to come back to realize their normality in his later years. Discontent between teens and parents in universal, because of generation gap and difference in level of maturity reflected in wants and needs. Yet, the way most American adolescents hate their parents to the core seems way harsher. They cannot see eye to eye each other on almost any issue, consider involvement as interference, don't want to appear in public with them, and in general, want to minimize relationship to basic provision of shelter, money and food. There is cultural element of respecting elder people and hierarchy in India, but still, difference is too large to be explained by merely this.

Popularity in school seems to be goal in life of a teenager. School I went to had its share of popular people but there was no cut-throat race to be popular or ‘cool’ nor there was any stigma or ridicule with not being popular. Probably because in India dating scenario and concept of football captain and cheerleaders is non-existent at this young age. Yet, kids as portrayed in US are seem to be obsessed with coolness and would do anything to become popular such as drugs, drink and smoke. Concept of school factions is not far behind. American schools seem to have clearly identified labelled factions of students such as nerds, cool kids, rich kids, bullies, losers, sports studs, etc. I am sure my classification is mostly wrong but what I want to impress upon in strong desire of a student to belong to one or many of these ‘clubs’ which typically have very codified rules of membership and are generally exclusive in nature with regard to their interactions with students outside the group. I don’t recollect such phenomenon in Indian schools where friendship was based on mutual agreement rather than group charter.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Suicide: Bravery or Cowardice

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Is suicide, volunteer infliction of certain death on self, the greatest act of bravery on part of an individual or the act of cowardice?

Former view arise from the intense human desire to live, even amidst worst of the circumstances, even after bearing numerous hardships, because of natural instinct to survive at any cost. We see this among people who suffer throughout their lives but still continue to live on, among people who lived for days drinking their own urine and eating whatever they can lay their hands on, among people who commit unspeakable act to sustain themselves. Of course, there are people who sacrifice themselves for their country, for their faith, for their family or fellow human beings, but nobody killed himself but for greater good, at least in his eyes. Therefore, suicide can be considered ultimate act of courage.

Later view arise because of choice of suicide as act of last resort, naturally. Person committing suicide has somehow decided that living is not something he can easily continue due to too much pain it inflicts on him. Since he is escaping the pain of living, instead of braving it, he is choosing easier option of ending the life, therefore, by definition, continue living would have the greatest act of bravery, and suicide cannot be the same. Suicide is thus an act of cowardice, not at all the biggest in any way, and way braver than in most circumstances.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tiranga on Moon

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As much as I’d love to be pleased by planting Indian National Flag on moon, hitting moon with metal probe painted with tricolour is not what I had in mind. So if you had vision of cloth/plastic flag fluttering on the moon (from vibration impact, not wind), I am sorry to disappoint you. ISRO informs that:

The Indian flag was painted on the sides of Moon Impact Probe (MIP), one of the 11 payloads of Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, that successfully hit the lunar surface today at 20:31 hrs (8:31 pm) IST.

Racial intelligence

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Followers of this blog would have realized by now my nature to ruminate upon strange topics and try to take a position on them. One of the fascinating topics of this nature corresponds to question whether difference races differ in their inherent intelligence level. Since affirmative answer is going to spark off debates about discrimination and racial superiority, official answer remains inconclusive.

There is this phenomenon in scientific research which goes something like this. When a scientist does an experiment on controversial unsettled problem (viz. global warming, gender difference), he is wary of his results if they come out against popular understanding or politically correct notion. He will most likely recheck his data, hypothesis and methodology, and may even redo the experiment before publishing it. Since scientist is a a part of society, he fears repercussions for his unorthodox findings and need continuing government funding to carry his research. If results come out confirming the popular view, scrutiny is less and publication is faster. Consequently, one can see many results clustered around well known view with only few outliers. For example, any report declaring woman more intelligent than man is going to get published faster than one claiming otherwise which may never see light of the day (source1, source2). This is not to say that scientists always bow to public pressure or science is not self correcting, but correcting a popular notion is fraught with risk and slow compared to correcting a non controversial notion. These are very reasons, I believe, that official answer to intelligence difference in races is indeterminate. While I leave you to read this Wikipedia link to go deeper into various arguments for and against, I present my simplistic understanding.

Human race has originated from Africa and slowly travelled to rest of the world (see this nice graphics). In generations it took for early humans to move from one continent to another, evolution must have been happening, however slowly. Hardships of travel would also have eliminated weaker members of the group. So while all people of world are homo sapiens, it is reasonable to think that continents inhabited later were inhabited by people who are evolutionarily better human beings. Among other things, human evolution would have had something to do with brain size and intelligence. Therefore, difference races must have different inherent intelligence ceteris paribus, however small. Of course, this is all true in generic term and gives you no excuse to consider person next to you more or less intelligent than yourself. Plus, education, development, diet and many other things might compensation or even hide the minute inherent difference. Lastly, all things may not have remained same.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Damn you SRK

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With repeated utterance of a common everyday phrase Main Hoon Na in your blockbuster of the same title, you’ve completely ruined the phrase for common man. Now whenever this simple phrase is it spoken, instead of emphasizing the conviction of speaker, it appears cheap imitation of the movie dialogue.

Betterment of Human Race

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Eugenics is science of betterment of human race through selective breeding by accelerating the natural process of survival of species and adaption to changing environment. We can all agree that human race, while the most intelligent among all species, has not achieved its true potential due to presence of some less than desirable elements in the society. Call what you want them: genetically defective, mentally unstable, criminals, psychopaths, self serving; but world would be a better place without some of them. And more importantly, a better place with more people with desirable traits, such as intelligence, philanthropy, fairness, empathy, call what you want them. However, natural selection running its course is extremely slow and can be actively interfered with like what humans have done when developing better variety of tomatoes or chicken. Ethical question of day is whether eugenics is acceptable or not.

Negative eugenics proposes forceful elimination of undesirable elements and forceful/volunteer development of desirable elements. What is desirable is perhaps not so much matter of consternation than what is undesirable. Not only there is angle of empathy and humanness with fellow human being, there is whole subjective issue of where to draw a line. If mentally ill is undesirable then is stupid not? On the one hand there is purely scientific and social enquiry of defining (un)acceptable traits, on the other hand there is issue of implementation. As experience tells us, any subjective law in hand of government becomes a tool for persecution of some group by some other more powerful group sooner or later. Yet, some traits can be inarguably considered undesirable. Will you then support?

Positive eugenics proposes only volunteer development of desirable elements. This is done by active counselling and support provided to people with desirable attributes to facilitate their mating and procreation. What is desirable can in general be accepted but then question of love is not far behind. Will human beings accept artificial selection over natural instinct? There is another question of impact of positive eugenics without negative eugenics. One view is that positive eugenics alone will not help world much since there are so few of people with desirable traits while whole world is replete with people with undesirable or non-useful traits. Contrarian view suggests that we need only one genius to propel development far beyond what many stupid people can hold back to. In either case, would you prefer this?

Is there merely an emotion angle to whole issue or some icky factor about playing god? We seem to have played god with everybody but ourselves lest we open Pandora’s box. Or may be not, as use of death penalty and rules of monogamy suggest? See more interesting stories about past developments and experiments in eugenics in this damn interesting article.

See comments on this post for further clarification of my views.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Financial crisis

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It must be it, for what other reasons do poor girls have to not been able to afford skirts longer than knee length for interview dress for summer internship placements at IIMA?

It’s that time of year in business schools of India when first year students vie apprehensively to gain an internship opportunity in world’s top finance, consulting and marketing firms. It’s also that time of year when being girl suddenly becomes way more useful. I am not sure though if that’s a good thing for ladies themselves because if they are given lucrative opportunity because of what gender they belong to, their use still remains age old and conventional, though masked. Of course, use be damned if job can be secured in this economy, is still not a bad objective. Of course, all this assuming big IF holds.

Century

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This is this blog’s 101st post, and the biggest number ever for any blog that I’ve ever attempted writing. This post is here to freeze state of the blog as of today for future reference. In last 102 days since the beginning — of which I was on holiday for 26 — I have written under 30 category heads with highest share, obviously, that of my opinion. Category Count If wordle.net is to be believed, then I seem to write most about “people”. Results seem suspect to me, though! ScreenShot00022 Tocloud.com has more comprehensive but less visually appealing word cloud. Though comparison is not fair due to time frame involved, my top 5 posts by page views have been:
  1. Mirror cracking material
  2. History and psychology of clapping
  3. Alcohol as legalized drug
  4. Adultery should be criminal offense
  5. Observation from loo

To salvage the your visit to this narcissist page, let me present to you few of the pictures that have me in split. Click to enlarge.

Pi and iota Rule and Rock Too much work?
Angular MomentumMain tumhare pair pakadta hoon, mera sir mat khao!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obligation of contact

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Recently I was witness to a musical stage show on Dussera evening. Show was very bad and people were soon disappointed. Showman was trying to engage audience by asking them to chant with him, raise their arms, clap, sing along, and repeat after him. While people in general found show flop, people in front rows near stage complied with his requests way more often than people in back rows, and one can see gradation in audiences’ response. One possible explanation is that people who bothered to sit in front were more excited and enthusiastic than others because of which they either came early to occupy front rows or made their ways to front later. This may explain initial enthusiasm but doesn’t explain continuing enthusiasm after show went on for a while and proved itself total disaster. To believe that front seaters found show more appealing than the rest doesn’t make sense unless an extraordinary coincidence of nature put together people with high enthusiasm and low threshold of acceptance together on that particular evening.

Alternative explanation, which I believe is more plausible, is that people in front were close to showman, and thus more in ‘contact’ with him than the rest. They were better equipped to see him and his antics in full, could catch his facial expression, and occasionally make an eye contact, specially when is urging them. Such close contact brings itself with obligation to comply. Even though both were stranger and non response wouldn’t entail future repercussions, natural human instinct forces one to comply with requests of other when made under eye contact. It is same instinct which forces one to smile at stupid joke of stranger and answer a question asked in general but looking at one in particular (viz. in classroom). Same instinct forces us to avoid eye contacts when we want to ignore someone. It would have been hard to ignore someone who so passionately asks you to raise your arms and sway when directly looking at you.
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