Thursday, April 30, 2020

Good old days?

           In the late 1990s , I was preparing for the final stage of the NTS exams, and had taken a short course.One of the professors at the DG Ruparel college, who was teaching us, was discussing about the internet and how protocols were developed.

        Mind you, this was a time when internet was limited to email via a pine client and chat via irc, all done through a command line interface, and the cost of internet was about Rs.25 per hour which was pretty expensive given the standards of living then.

        The professor explained to us the structure of the internet, a bit about internet protocols , but then he went into the various applications that existed then , the ability to send emails instantaneously across the globe, being able to read news from around the world, and a cheaper , faster way of two-way communication (then chat) to any part of the world (some of it mentioned in this old post ). Of course, in the light of the iphone, the social networks, the broadband speed and the decreasing costs of 3g/4g internet, this might seemed small, but in the late 90s, being able to send a message to the USA free of cost seemed like a dream.

         But at the end of the technical discussion, the professor said something philosophical which resonates with me a number of times, and especially relevant now. He said , next time your old uncle speaks of the "good old days", explain to him the struggle of not having a search engine, not able to get news and updates regularly, and the pain of one way communication using letters.

         Which brings me to the main point. Imagine if the same pandemic had hit us in 1990. How different would life be?

         " You take the train home , as you reach your house, you wait patiently for the 8:40 news in Hindi. There is some mention of the pandemic , the entire family listens attentively and wonders what is in store for us. You call up your doctor on his landline but it is continually engaged as he is receiving calls from his various patients. The news at 10 in English confirms what has happened in Italy could happen to you.

          You step out for work the next day, newspapers are carrying reports of the pandemic. The reports are bringing in only little information that the editor was able to procure over the bad quality, super expensive ISD call with his US friend. The information still does not speak of the extent of the crisis and how it is going to affect you. You go to the STD booth and speak to your brother in another city in India . There's a line of people and you get to your turn after half an hour.

           You leave from work and head back home, rumors of a shutdown are already doing the rounds. You pick up grocery for a few days and go back home. The prime minister announces the shutdown that night. For the next 30 days ,you are at home. No going out. No playing. No gathering.

           Money aside, imagine spending 30 days without communication, the phone being the only source of communication which is expensive , and will probably be unreliable given the load. Doordarshan will put some movies , which you probably won't like. Kids will play inside the house, getting bored to the hilt . You have a limited supply of books you can read .

          There's a lot of confusion about how to use masks. The kirana store guy sells masks at 20 times the original price. He becomes the "I-know-it-all" guy about masks, forcing you to buy multiple when you might need one. He also starts off with the "Drink the cow urine" and "KEM ke hospital ne bola hai" With no way to verify information, confusion hits an all time high .

       Five days on, the world is hell. The books are done. Newspapers are not coming. Your curry still does not taste good even after trying 5 times from the partly torn recipe book with masala stains all over it. Doordarshan is showing it's true colors  all day long.

       Businesses have come to a standstill. Factories have stopped production since they need manual intervention in everything. Food, medicines, everything is in shortage. Lack of awareness is leading to more deaths. Rumors are doing the rounds. Cash has dried up completly."

      The Coronavirus pandemic is one of the most extraordinary global situations I have seen in my lifetime. I do imagine the world wars to be worse , and maybe even the great depression, but still a global pandemic has shown us that while we have made strides in science, nature reminds us that we are it's creation and we should respect it (or 'aukaat mein rehne ka')

        But, there is no better time to thank technology strides made in the last 30 years, thank Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn and all the technical visionaries who have got us to a state where our life is not impacted.

       The old days were certainly good, but thank you technology for making these days better. Hope this will pass soon.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Yeh un dinon ki baat hai

Growing up in the 1990s is a surreal experience . I always feel that as a generation, we have been very lucky to see technology grow with us . It is a golden mean between my dad's generation in the 70s who really got wonderful things very late in life to the people born in the 1990s and later for whom a lot of things were taken for granted

The first and the best thing about those times was the 'It's OK to be middle class'. My schooldays were a lot of fun. And while there were kids around me who were richer and had access to some really cool stuff (some examples I can think of are Action shoes with lights, funky school bags, pagers on which you could see cricket scores) and also not as rich , it did not seem to make a lot of difference.

It was assumed that some things were unaffordable, even impossible, and we never felt sad about it.
In the pre-information age, even information was considered to be an asset. Like the guy in our class who saw that one cricket match we had all missed. Or that girl who had Madhuri Dixit's phone number and she would flaunt "mere paas uska number hai, pata hai?". Without any validation or attempt to see how easy it was to get it, such things were basis of one-upmanship

I think my parents were indeed pioneers in getting us exposed to computers and technology and it's a gift that was always amazing.

But I guess somethings that are fairly unusual today might have been so usual then:

1. It was rather usual to walk around without a single penny in your pocket as schoolchildren
2. Time seemed to be always abundant. In fact in 1993/4, I remember an ad about the "Hero Cup" and it was 100 days away . I was counting each day as it came.
3. Things were valued more. Pencils, Erasers, Toys, cricket balls. I recently saw someone go to Tennis practice with about 40 balls and I felt a little lump in my throat
4. Simple picnics were fun. No out-of-India trips. Going to Matheran every year seemed to be a top luxury.
5. Getting lost was the scariest thing ever. In my childhood, I always feared that if I let go my parents' hand, I would end up searching for them the rest of my life. There were no announcement booths to announce "lost children". Every outing was associated with mom's instruction to meet at one pre-decided place if you get lost
6. Trust was more. Everywhere. Banks, shops, friends, relatives.
7. Asking for help was considered totally fine. Relatives would babysit for you,  dropping onto people's home for dinner or even staying over was very very normal . Asking people on the street to help you with a chore was also considered normal
8. Valuing money was not considered bad. It was OK to not go for a picnic or a movie citing costs.
9. Entertainment was less, not all was good quality but all entertainment was well respected.
10. Access to information was limited. It was never possible to google and check something. The limitation of books in this regard was almost frustrating at times.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Funny but interesting mini-post

Just felt like blogging this.

It's a really hot day. Sitting inside the house is very muggy, warm, and sweaty.

What did I do?

1. Keep complaining and thinking how hot it is and how bad I am feeling
2. Thought twice about complex ways like turning on the air conditioner or picking up a fan from another room
3. Thinking about having a cold (sugary) drink.

What I eventually realised?

There's a sliding door right next to where I am sitting. Slid it open and the cool breeze came in and solved all my problems

The solution to the biggest problems in life might be right next to you, but you don't see it :) . 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The story of Amerium

In the late 18th century, a platinum-typed shiny element was suddenly found in South America. It was soon named Amerium and started getting very popular . It’s color was platinum but it had a sharp shine in the sun and was very different from all the elements found then. It’s mining needed a special technique which only a few miners knew first , but they taught others and people started catching along.The early miners started making ornaments of it and it also became a symbol of wealth. 

The Europeans heard of this element and a number of voyages began. They too learnt the technique, although they paid a price to the miners who were getting richer due to the growing popularity of Amerium. Soon the reserves of Amerium started depleting and mining them became tougher. The early miners realized this and started spending a lot of money in securing their Amerium and also selling small quantities of it at huge prices. Every new batch of Amerium mined was sold off at premium prices soon after.

News of this spread across Asia, Europe, North America and Africa and soon everyone tried to buy this from the early miners. The early miners still held on to their reserve, selling only parts of it, enough to make them survive, but saving their best for the last, and thus expecting a spectacular exit which would not only make them the richest people then, but maybe the richest people in history. 

People were trading land, food grains, gold , silver for the smallest bits of Amerium sold.Slowly Amerium started replacing gold and was used as an exchange for goods and services.

At this point, the miners opened up their reserve and became the wealthiest people on earth. They knew that by selling their Amerium, they could barter for anything. They could probably buy land worth the entire area of a country. 

One of the miners was walking on the street when he noticed a man standing with a huge cart of fruits. Proudly, he walked and said ,“I’ll buy you and your entire cart, Here’s the payment” , handing over a grain sized quantity of Amerium. 

The man said, “Well, just because you mined this piece of metal first, does not make you rich. Get me something more worthwhile to exchange, I’ll not give you anything for Amerium”

The miner threatened to wipe the fruit-seller away , and almost did so, and in his effort, the news of the fruit-seller spread. And everyone started asking the same question “Why should the early miners get an unfair share of the wealth? Finding Amerium was great, but that should give them a reward, not half the wealth of the world” 

People stopped accepting Ameriums for food, land or gold. The miners were left with Amerium and nothing else to do but use up their food and riches while it laster. People who had bought Ameriums at premium prices eventually gave up on them. The world shifted back to a barter system and Ameriums are nicely displayed at the museum in DC .

Sunday, October 11, 2015

NaMo NaMo

I had the honor of visiting Narendra Modi's lecture in person at the SAP center yesterday. While there's enough controversy surrounding him, something now makes me think that Modi becoming PM was one of the best things to happen to India.

There's been enough talk about two things - one being his past, and one being if he delivers on his promises. Lot of people still speak about Gujarat riots, and there is an equal amount of emphasis on whether foreign trips are going to solve India's problem.

But the whole point of hearing him yesterday - was that the fundamental attitude of India should change.  We elect a leader , he gets a salary and amazing benefits from our taxes, he gets to decide on what we should or should not do, he is responsible for ensuring our security and freedom. Personally, I have always felt that religion, caste, economic status is really not the criteria. Even the fact that Narendra Modi is Gujju should only be perceived as him having a true Gujju business mindset.

There are many opinions, but two sections of population  have really caught by eye.

The first is obviously, people who blindly believe in him and can't hear a single wrong thim about him. I don't fall in that category - I am sure he is human, and in the wake of political ambitions or otherwise, I don't agree with some of his actions

The second is the people who bring Gujarat 2002 to every debate and discussion. They might have some arguments to back it , but given that the supreme court has exonerated him, I personally believe we should give him a break.

There's a third set of people - mostly who are highly educated (techies, NRIs, MNC employees, professors) who kind of look more objectively , the kind of people who don't believe anything till it is proved. I feel I fall among them, and obviously I see some fallacies in the Modi mania (like was the Gujarat model really as successful as advertised).

But over the last year or so, I would think Modi is the best thing to happen to India given the times. Why? Here's why:

1. A Leader, finally

Having stayed in the US for many years, one thing I have liked is the importance of the President when it comes to Govt elections. It's about the man, maybe the Vice President as well, but you know whom you are voting from. For far long, India had not had that opportunity. If an opinion poll was conducted when Deve Gowda was PM, asking how many people wanted him to be PM when they voted , a heat map would have strongly proved this point. I am sure the same thing would have applied to the likes of Manmohan Singh, and IK Gujral for that matter. In Modi, we've seen a leader, someone who speaks for himself (unlike Manmohan Singh's favorite "theek hai" comment). Also he knows what concerns people have and brings it up in his speeches. For an educated audience, he brought some important points (like the PIO/OCI card issue in NY)

2. Reputation

No, I am not talking about the Gujarat model. Although there might be rights in that, there are a lot of people questioning it , and I don't have substantive proof to defend it (although I would love to believe it). But here's a CM who ran a state like Gujarat for 12+ years, in spite of opposition,controversy. This should give him extra points on a lot of people, esp Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal (who I think resigned as Delhi CM way too soon), In the US, every person who stands for elections is asked about "what have you done before?". If all candidates were asked this, I am sure Modi would have won hands down

3. Feedback

I can't believe that a huge party like Congress never had strong PR people telling Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi what and what not to do. Even in corporate America, people have speech writers, debate helpers, personality makeovers. Every keynote in Silicon Valley is conducted so that it appears as if the speaker is speaking to the public and not merely reading out of slides. Modi achieved this. He probably had a team that gathered information about the Gadar party/ Bhagat Singh/ what do desis in the silicon valley like or not. Educated or not, the truth is people like leaders who speak what they want to hear. End the speech with the announcement of a non-stop flight from SF to India was really something the people wanted to hear. Making the PIO process easier was what desis at Madison Square garden wanted to hear. It's almost basic intelligence and wisdom that a leader should have. And Modi does.

4. CEO material

I have always felt, that India needs not a politician but a CEO. Let's accept it , the 'Nayak' style Anil Kapoor is ideal but not practical. If someone suspends his entire government for being corrupt, it might look great to begin with, but will not solve the problem. We need someone to systematically clean the system, have tougher measures, take a lead but not go into every minute detail. Another factor of Modi is his fearlessness, not afraid to take a stand on certain issues.

5. Ability to Turn Around things.

To be frank, I wasn't a fan of Modi. Like a lot of people, I had thought that he was communal in some sense. The US categorically denied him a visa inspite of he being the democratically elected Chief Minister of a state of almost 60 million people. The media had not been his best friend. From such a point, to actually win an election with absolute majority, turn around the US attitude (Obama coming to the Indian republic day) and meeting Modi thrice in a year, to changing people's attitude towards him (me included), he has shown that he can achieve what very few Indian politicians have been able to achieve

I personally believe, that people who are opposed to him should give him the chance. After a long time, India has had a leader whom people truly believe in - and this is Modi's biggest strength. I haven't seen an Indian leader in my lifetime who has so much of popularity among the people. And his agenda of growth , with a combination of good administration and people participation might be our biggest strength !

Here are some pictures of the event

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Format for a fairer world cup

World Cup Reformat

Current scenario:

The ODI Cricket world traditionally consists of eight historically great teams in Aus,Eng,NZ,WI,India,Pak,SL and South Africa. There's little doubt that these teams are much better than the rest. Then there are teams like Bangladesh,Zimbabwe,Ireland,Kenya which have shown potential but still are a lap behind the top eight. And then there's a bunch of new teams trying to make their mark.

Main requirements:

1. Associates should get international exposure of playing against top teams
2. A world cup would not be great if a top seeded nation drops out in qualifying stages (unlike Tennis or Soccer) - as shown by India and Pakistan's exit in 2007
3. The World Chess championship has an interesting format where the world chess champion only competes with the winner. In short, if we implement that format, in the next WC, all teams except Australia (the current champion) will play a qualifier, and the winner will challenge Aus in a 5 match competition. Fair as it may sound in chess, it'll not work to have a champion team not play the world cup!

It is widely apparent that the group stages are not interesting, since more often than not, they don't matter much. The top 8 teams will generally qualify for the QF (as they did in 1996 and 2011 and narrowly missed by England in 2015. So for most teams, the initial group stage did not matter much. It was less seen in 2015, but in 2011 and 1996, the top team of one of the groups was defeated in the QF. So , basically a team playing really well can have one bad game and exit the tournament. Sad but true. Unfortunately, SA has had it's max share of this and there's a hint that giving top 8 teams fairly equal opportunity does not make sense. Also, there's no pressure of qualifying, making the group stages unimportant

So summarizing:
1. Current format: Top 8 teams get to play lot of matches, associates get exposure, but early leaders have zero advantage
2. Super six (99,03) : Good that top 8 teams get to play lot of matches, associates get exposure, but gained a bad reputation because of team carrying forward points. That led to teams deliberately allowing other teams to qualify, which was not perceived well. Goes against the basic spirit of cricket and sports in general. Noteworthy , however , is that in sports like F1, this is considered to be a valid thing - like Barrichelo losing to Schumacer on the last lap on Ferrari's orders.
3. Tournament like 1992: Most fair world cup, all teams play each other and top teams qualify for the semis. The disadvantage is to not include
4. The most fair format would be one that does not involve a final or a knockout game. While this would be a blessing for SA - a tournament without a final does not sound that great. The format would be to just play round robin and the winner is the one who tops the table. Very fair, but quite less exciting. Interestingly if this format was followed, following teams would have been the winner:

1975: WI or England
1979: WI or England
1983: WI or England
1987: India or Pak
1992: New Zealand
1996: Sri Lanka or South Africa
1999: Pakistan  or South Africa
2003: Australia or Sri Lanka
2007: Aus,Sri Lanka, NZ or WI
2011: Pakistan or South Africa
2015: NZ or India

Obviously, this system does not like people who come back from being behind in the lot and surprise everyone, so while it is fair, it is not exciting. More so, no final?  Does not look like a WC.

So let's say what the most important things are in deciding the format of a World Cup

(1) Fairness - Obviously, the best team should win. The two best teams should have a chance of meeting in the final
(2) Giving exposure to associates with matches against top teams
(3) Ensuring that top teams (or atleast the money bank India ) get enough matches to play and are not eliminated early. 2007 was the most obvious example of how a highly anticipated "India vs Pakistan" became "Ireland vs Bangladehs"
(4) I want to add an advantage to the teams for doing well in the group stage. This will make the group stage even more interesting and will also reward teams who do well early on
(5) While the 2011/15 world cups had all of this, they missed what I think is a very important point- which is , all matches should have some part in the final outcome. In that manner the 1992 world cup was a great example. No team should be able to take any match lightly.

Two format suggestions:

12 or 14 team world cup.

Two groups of 6/7 teams each:

1.Top 3 teams qualify for the next round. - This removes the obvious assumption and makes the first round exciting
2. The top team from each group qualifies for the final directly. The other teams play an eliminator game. So

Eliminator: A2 vs B3  and  A3 vs B2
Semi Final: A1 plays (winner of A3 vs B2) and B1 plays (winner of A2 vs B3)

So this means it could be an A1-A2,A1-B1, or B1-B2 final, which satisfies the Fairness. It also gives exposure to the associates but still maintains importance of group matches.

Also this is a huge incentive for teams to finish top of the group. It's a direct entry to the SF without playing a knockout game

10 team world cup with a qualifier to select the last 2 spots
Top 4 teams get to the semis

This is similar to 1992 format, but it will chop out associates. The qualifiers will obviously have less attendance and teams like Ireland might still miss out on exposure with the top teams if it's not their day. I would also suggest an IPL-like modification to reward the teams coming out tops.

Team 3 vs Team 4 play the eliminator
Team 1 vs Team 2 play the qualifier

The winner of qualifier goes into the final. The loser of qualifier meats the winner of the eliminator  to have a second chance to go into the final .

The plus is that such a world cup will actually have so many quality matches. A tournament in which every player plays against every other player will have some great battles lined up. And it'll mean that every match will be important. For example, in 1992, Pakistan's entry into the semis was blessed by Aus defeating WI in the last league game. Makes things exciting!

Blogs - Kal, Aaj Aur Kal..

My blog has been fairly inactive for quite some time. There are some posts, fewer people reading and even fewer comments. Initially, it could be attributed to lack of time, lack of subjects, less creativity and people having less time to read the blog . And inevitably, it looks like my blog is dead.

The   first sign of it had already come in 2010, which is pretty much a normal path for people who are average in terms of content and language , and miserable in terms of people following, but soon enough I have realized that most bloggers who used to blog around have also stopped. And I think I know why.

Kind of dates back to why blogs became popular, When I first came to the USA, there were so many new things I saw. A time when calling cards were expensive, there were no social networks (Friendster was there, but I did not know about it, and honestly , when someone described it to me, I felt "what's the big deal about it :) ? ") . While I was making new friends, I missed some of my buddies and felt I should share the interesting things that are not mentioned in news. Some things that you should know about.  So I wrote this email to a bunch of friends. People who were kind enough to tolerate the spam and appear to appreciate. Fueled my enthusiasm a little more, and more emails came by. Like this incident . Before blogs, brief replies to emails meant so much. It was actually a huge acknowledgement that maybe what you are writing isn't as boring . And before long, I wanted to archive these things, all emails, all replies, just for the satisfaction of it.

And then I saw blogger. I don't remember, but it probably came from Animesh's blog . Well, I too want to do something like that. And so the journey started. Lot of factors contributing to it . It was the time when everyone wanted to blog. I think all of us have 10 random topics on which we have an opinion and we want to voice it. So well, let it into the blogosphere. It's free, it's easy, and let the people decide if it's good content or not. The problem though is that all of us don't have more than 20 such things. And the literary / comic ability to make it sound nice. So slowly blogs decline.

However, I think this is not the reason blogs died. The reason was probably the advent of microblogging, transformation of social networking sites to be a means of microblogging, immediate response in the form of 'likes', and ease of using them as hand held devices became faster, cheaper and increasingly common.

One great example:

This post in 2005

There was a fire in SF near my workplace, and well, I blogged about it. Now , it's interesting to imagine,

Or , when I first discovered this great idea .

So in 2006, I blogged about it. In 2015, I would have shared it on facebook, and tagged it, people would like it , reshare it...

Unfortunately, though, this means the decline of something we thought was so cool a decade back :). It was like a good friend when you needed someone to share your thoughts with.

So goodbye, blogs - we'll be in touch of course :D. And of course, I'll put this on facebook so people like it and contribute more to the demise of it :P .

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Brilliant ideas in real life

1. Re-organize - A robot that would automatically sort your room. I don't like my things dirty, but there was a time when things spread across the room was kind of common. The floor was clean, so no problems of hygiene there :P . But how I wished for this!

2. Search - Actually doable with non-invasive bar codes / tracking devices. An app to which if you ask "Honey, where's my watch?". It returns by making a beep sound or pointing to the exact location rather than "Why don't you keep your things correctly at the first place?"

A better bet? Iphone/Android app for the same

I thought that this must have been actually developed though not popular and turns out it is. Found a few of them here and here . I am sure this is a thing for the future

3. Personal lie recorder
"A recorder that records all conversations you do with people - at least your own voice " - so you never go "What did I tell him about why I can't come to his stupid dance performance?"

4. Personal wearable call assistant- Siri and Google goggles are almost there, but something that'll call people at one say and on a wearable device

5. Personal wings set - what better than jet airplanes / hand gliders and skydiving parachutes- simply a set of personal wings that you can ride around like a bicycle or motorbike. This is something that is probably already in experimental mode, but I am wondering if someone finds out a way to make them for $200 and make them available to everyone. Seems too cheap? Well , that's what people said to IBM about computers!

(Image courtesy : National Georgraphic)

6. Smarter Crowdsourcing apps

There are a bunch of crowdsourcing apps in the market. But think about how divine you would feel if you had a google-esque system that whenever you need something, there might be someone offering to help you out. Like , you are waiting for a train and need to reach your office well in advance. A quick app allows you to find someone who'll take you in their car and charge you a nominal pre-fixed fee? OR , you are looking for that elusive technical spare part which is the last piece of a puzzle you are trying to solve and instead of getting it shipped from thousands of miles, you find that your neighbor has a box of it lying in his attic? While this is going to affect taxicabs and service providers, an amazingly smart thing for the future. In fact, I would be very excited to know how well it would work in India, a country which progressed slow during the initial computer revolution but suddenly took leaps and bounds during the internet and mobile revolution. On a lighter note, I am thinking one use would be to look for a 'bai' to come and clean your vessels on the day your maid took a day off :P

..more to come hopefully :)