A world where all is free
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Retiring on 92

Inspired by the conventional wisdom about retiring while at the top, I hereby announce my retirement from blogging (after this, the 92nd post). I shall now focus my energies on something else, till the next big thing hits the Earth.

Retirement is clearly a difficult decision. This is especially difficult in an Indian context as Veer Sanghvi's article nicely describes, though in the political arena. I could easily extend that to virtually all other aspects of life (cricket, entertainment, business and so on) and you will see how difficult we find it to make a dignified exit. In this context, Infosys seems to be a remarkable example where the senior management seems to step out just when they seem to be irreplaceable.

Anyway, now my time has come to move on from this medium. I have been looking to improve upon the format for a while now, but haven’t quite succeeded, hence my decision. In any case, I believe the blogging mania on this planet has come to an end. Another year from now we will be cracking jokes about this format.

So long.

P.S. As a parting note, let me refresh your memory of the early 90s MTV with this video.

Friday, April 20, 2007
Al-imentary my dear

I realise that I have been highly opinionated and judgemental of late which means this is the perfect time to change the mood of this webpage. For your entertainment, I provide below 3 links to Weird Al videos which are guaranteed to perk you up irrespective of your state of mind (well ok, no one can guarantee 100% satisfaction, but still).

But first, a quick recap - Weird Al is a well known parody-ist who has been around for the last 20 odd years, writing songs with social and unsocial messages. (Almost) No one has been spared Madonna, Nirvana, Michael Jackson, Queen, Billy Joel, the list is endless. He has a few originals too.

But he's not just any parodyist. He's a versatile musician and actually extremely talented. Has a great voice and does not restrict himself to any one style, though I get the impression he prefers the alternative grunge scene. On top of this he's extremely witty and his lyrics are gems. Add to that the videos and you find yourself rolling on the floor. Check for yourself.

1. Amish Paradise - an absolute gem, and a must see (except if you don't know who the Amish are). And remember, his opinions are his alone :)
2. Bedrock Anthem - a crash course on the Flintstones. Especially enjoyable if you know the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
3. A Saga Begins - This one's for Star Wars fans, about Anakin Skywalker as a kid and his journey to Jedi-hood on his way to becoming Darth Vader. You may also enjoy this even if you don't know Star Wars since Don Mclean's American Pie is rather catchy :)

There are numerous others, and these might not be the best ones for you - there's a large repertoire to choose from. If you need more recommendations, just ask.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Rediff-ining news
Rediff seems to have successfully built upon the commonest possible business model on the internet, i.e. generating traffic by allowing readers to freely post lewd messages in response to any article on the website. The content of the article doesn’t matter. Often Rediff posts a headline with a couple of leading statements, and the readers do the rest. I have followed these comments over the last few months, sometimes in amusement, mostly in annoyance, and often in anger. I have even sent a mail to Ajit Balakrishnan (after all, he is an IIMCal Alum) expressing my disgust at the complete lack of accountability on Rediff’s part to moderate these distasteful comments. Of course, I have not received a reply.

I have two points to make. First, by taking no ownership for what appears on the site, Rediff has positioned itself as vulgar media. Their wish. Second, the Indian general public is violent, cynical, communal and lewd. Very disturbing. (note: please refer to disclaimer)

Just about every article is a case in point, with reader comments ranging from “You can never trust these Pakistanis, they can kill anyone” to “Everyone knows Inzamam is the murderer” to “These Muslims are causing riots” (read disclaimer) to open comments on women’s anatomy to Sania should not wear shorts, because (sic) “What impact on Performance that a short skirt has for winning the game of Tennis. If she wears a full pant and play, she will lose or what. I think the wearing short skirt impacts your game by 1 % or less, so I beleive that the purpose of a short skirt is just a show-off and it is not much functional to the game” .

By the way, rediff does provide readers with the option to “report abuse” but given the kind of messages that do not get reported, I shudder to think about the ones that do.

You may criticize me for visiting this site if I indeed find all this so disturbing, but the issue is not about me, it is about the inciting nature of these remarks going completely unmoderated. These could have really drastic consequences, converting opinions into facts by repetition and confirming prejudices (a la Orwell). This is especially dangerous when the comments are communal or racist or sexual (one person's obscenity is justified because apparently "everyone does it").

I would compare this situation to Channel 4's reaction during the Shilpa Shetty incident - they were clearly embarassed about appearing to support racism and did a whole lot to counter that. Rediff continues unabashed. I sincerely hope they take note and reposition themselves as responsible media.

Disclaimer: please do not accuse me of generalising - of course I know that every Indian is not like this. Also, I have not repeated the comments verbatim since I have not bothered to store them - but what I have mentioned is approximately what the messages meant.

By the way, I am not the only one unhappy with Rediff.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
A Disturbing Trend
The dramatic debacle at the World Cup has revealed to me a rather disturbing
trend. I am not sure if this is accurate, and would like to be challenged, but it
seems to me that India is running out of role models. Most of the people we look
up to have been around for at least 7 odd years, if not more.

Starting with cricket, the great tragedy has not been the fact that we have lost.
The great tragedy is that we actually found ourselves in a position where we had
to turn back to yesterday's superheroes. A lot of us feel depressed at the sight
of a helpless Sachin for we have effectively grown up with him, having seen him
battle through his first two one day innings scoring a duck each and so on (won't it be an
outrage if the SriLanka innings ends up being his last, in which
case he will have a duck in his first and last innings), all this while
treating him like a man from Krypton, feeling a sense of awe at his ability to do
unimaginable things. It appears to be a highly tragic end to this amazing fairytale and I would like to remember him for the awesome 15 years through which he amazed us
and nothing else. Yet, I hate to say this, but this emotion is not good for
India. What India needs is someone who can upstage this remarkable man the way he
himself upstaged Kapil Dev who was then going through a similar phase. We have
had (apparently) false starts, like Dhoni and Sehwag and Pathan, but we just
haven't found someone who can make us forget Sachin. Yes, Ganguly, Dravid and Kumble have
had their moments, Yuvraj may be the future but they are not quite Sachin, Kapil or Gavaskar, and besides, have been around for rather long as well.

Moving on to movies, the trend becomes even more evident. All our heroes are in
their 30s, 40s and 60s. You may argue for Hrithik, but then, he's been around for
8 odd years, and well, hasn't proven himself to be an Amitabh or a Shahrukh. Not
yet, at least.

What about music? We have not found someone who can make us forget Rehman.
Shankar Ehsaan and Loy have been a good distraction, but they have not made
people cry with their genius, have they? Wonder if this is the fallout of the
Indian Idol approach, but we just don't seem to be finding artists who bring
something dramatically fresh and new.

Moving to business, where we do have reason to feel euphoric, we encounter the
same trend - we have not found a Narayanamurthy, Azim Premji or even Sabeer Bhatia in
the last 10 years.

In politics, we saw a glimmer of hope with a lot of younger, good looking, well
behaved politicians appearing around the last election. But again, no one has
really stormed in capturing everyone's imagination. Buddhadev B did seem to be
filling the gap created by the absence of Chandrababu Naidu (whether good or bad)
but he seems to have been upstaged by the overgrown complainer Mamatadi. We do
not even have an Atal Behari or a Manmohan Singh to look up to anymore. Abdul
Kalam is around, but with his tenure ending, who knows what the political scene
will look like (peering very superficially of course).

Looking into other sports and walks of life, the trend continues. We are still
following Vishwanathan Anand, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. Sania Mirza is
one exception, and am I thankful for that. We had our hopes in Karthikeyan and
the shooters and so on, but clearly there is scope for a lot more visibility for
these guys. For gods sake, even our commentary teams have not changed - we
launched a vigorous campaign for "Harsha ki Khoj" a couple of years back, but no
one really seems to have taken his place.

Or at least so it seems to me.

I am not trying to undermine the leaps and bounds in the Indian economy, the
Indian psyche and general standard of living (subject to the urban-rural
argument), and this is not an outburst following a general negative sentiment as
a result of the cricket. In fact I believe the overall depression is a lot
overdone since it would have been exactly the opposite had we managed to win the
game against Sri Lanka. We would have all been worshiping our cricketers for
"getting out of jail".

This is just an observation that I have made, and if it is
true, and if indeed we are entering a decisive decade, I believe we are in the
desperate need of a few superstars in the next 2-3 years, without whom our
national shoulders will droop and we will begin to lose all of this relatively
new confidence built painstakingly over the last 10 odd years. And if we have indeed been part of a revolution over this period, there should be hundreds of them lurking somewhere just waiting to emerge in the open. Or am I dreaming?
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Market re-search
It was a freezing morning today with sleet and snow flurries forecast for bulk of the day, accompanied with bonechilling gusty northerly winds straight from the Arctic ocean. Under these circumstances, as I stepped out of a fairly warm train into a wall of cold air threatening to shove me right back into the train not unlike the multitudes at Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, I noticed from the corner of my eye through a veil of wind-induced tears, a poster inviting me to visit India because India has snowclad mountains.

Or at least that is the message that I got. The poster had a large caption proclaiming "Incredible India!" and an even larger white mountain as its dominant image. If you paid closer attention to the poster you may spot a serene lake and a boat by the white mountain, but under the circumstances I kind of missed that bit.

So let me get this straight - after living through cold dark months (ok it wasn't as cold this year as it could have been but it was dark nevertheless), the Indian tourism department is inviting the general British public to vist India to see some snow? Imagine this - a Mr Jennings steps onto a wet platform with an umbrella that barely succeeds to stay open without turning inside out, sees this picture while his coat flaps violently around his legs and thinks to himself "Aha India! This is where I want to go ... to see some snow! Must propose this back home, it'll make me popular with the wife and kids!"

Well here's the catch - while the poster sent a shiver down my spine with the inopportune image, I realised in due course, as my brain thawed slowly following internal neural activity triggered by extreme confusion, that the actual message that the ad agency was trying to pass on to Mr. Jennings was that he should visit India this summer. At least there was a small caption that said so.

In other words, the ad agency is inviting Mr Jennings all the way to India this summer to actually catch some cold weather and relive his fondest frostfilled memories. Or maybe it isn't - in which case the invitation is actually to ignore the image and come over for a lovely 40 degrees in the shade holiday in India the way summer is really meant to be. In either case, I doubt Mr Jennings is likely to be particularly excited.

Clearly the department of Incredible India needs to ask its market research agency for a refund. If anything, better hotels, roads, booking facilities and security measures might excite more visitors to what is actually an incredible holiday destination. But that doesn't seem to have crept up in the market research.

But I really have to insist this failure to understand its market cannot be attributed to the fact that this is a government agency building a marketing campaign - in fact when it comes to government agencies, this is a spectacular piece of advertising - there are some mindbogglingly ridiculous ad campaigns government agencies launch here - for instance the income tax ad for "time is running out" with a man walking inside a sand clock and sand slowly slipping under his feet which might actually have been a good clear message had the execution not been so bad- or the local tube ad claiming that "one of the many improvements in your DLR - a new uniform for the staff!" which clearly isn't a good clear message (though is very well executed with the image of two giant railway staff nattily dressed in lovely green uniforms overlooking a bright red Dockland Light Rail enter a station) especially when severe delays are occuring on your way to work right across the line due to a signal failure at Gallions Reach?

It isn't only government agencies that are clueless about the market - most corporates are ultra-mega clueless too.

Most car ads fall into this category - I have observed car ads at close quarters in India, the UK and the US and they all astound me with the mind-numbness of it all. There is this ad in which a car turns into a giant robo and starts roller skating through streets before converting back into a car ... and then there are countless ones in which a car undertakes the bumpiest ride imaginable outside of Bangalore for instance through a mountain stream or an arctic landscape or whatever.

A lot of bank/insurance ads fall in this category as well - either they try to impress you with something that leaves you completely confused (e.g. what does the HSBC clone ad have to do with my savings account?!) or they try to entice you with spectacular deals (e.g. move your credit card balance at no cost to our credit card so that you can then move the balance from our credit card to another credit card and so on till everyone is confused about your actual liabilities).

You may argue that this is because of the nature of the product - which I find very hard to buy. Even within these products some ads can be more specific than others - e.g. the 2599/pachis ninetynine campaign of Maruti vs the Josh machine...

The bottomline is that I feel very angry with anyone who makes a bad ad, which seems to be the order of the day mostly. Hence I suggest market researchers try re-search. It might just help.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
Not Mine *shrug*
An SEP field is a generated energy field which affects perception and is a cheaper and more practical alternative to an invisibility field [1].

Entities within the field are perceived by an outside observer as "Somebody Else's Problem", and will therefore be effectively invisible unless the observer
is specifically looking for the entity. This effect is greatly heightened if the entity within the field is already unexpected or out of place.

Yes, this is another masterpiece of scientific thought first published in the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy series (the famous trilogy in five parts).

A solved example is provided in the second part when a spaceship built to look like an upside down bistro utilizes an SEP field to land unobserved in the
middle of Lord's Cricket Ground.

A more practical application is to extend the field in stifling situations - e.g. if on the moon, the field can make you
fail to notice the fact that you cannot breathe; or if you are Bruce Willis in Armageddon, the field can ensure that you do not realise that the asteroid you
are standing on does not have enough gravitational force (thus you can successfully stand on it and plant the nuclear bomb and save planet earth (not before
delivering a sentimental speech to Liv Tyler via video conferencing facilities)).

I have been observing this in real life over the last few days. There is a large green plastic orb with a lid (that is locked) just outside my local tube
station. Since this orb looks like a large dustbin, every now and then enthusiastic neighbours carry their daily trash on their way to work only to realise
their folly. And not knowing what to do with the bag of trash (given that they are already running late and this blasted lid is locked), they end up dropping
the bag next to the "bin". And so the bag stays there all day. And the next few days, and in certain cases whole weeks go by - I suspect it stays their till
London is hit by one of those cold windy-galesy days that make Wimbledon and cricket here especially enjoyable, to be blown away and deposited in the next
non-windy location, say, Antarctica. And then it is time for another neighbour to drop a similar bag in the vicinity; through all of this a million
travellers walk by (including me) but this bag stays on. A classic SEP field problem.

In one particular instance a banana peel stayed outside the bin for such a long time that it ultimately became indistinguishable with a dried maple leaf
casually floating next to it, in search of a mate, perhaps.

But the unresolved mystery is this - why on earth is this green orb lying there and why is it
locked? I have seen contraptions like this all over - for instance at the railway station when you desperately need to drop your 3/4th empty cup of
hot-chocolate-gone-cold - and THERE ARE NO DUSTBINS but there are these large black boxes on wheels with enormous lids and, yes, giant locks. I also remember
a box next to my first house in London which said "GRIT" in a large embossed font - it was not a dustbin but something with a lot of cobwebs and a secret
opening in the bottom.

I wonder, therefore, why are there such few dustbins in the world? Well, maybe thats someone else's problem.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somebody_Else%27s_Problem_field
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Parasite of the Day
The Gordian Worm (also known as the horsehair worm) is, as a toddler, parasitic upon cockroaches and the like. Fully grown, it is free living, growing at an average to a length of 1 metre with a thickness of 1-3 mm. Pause for a while and imagine this - 1 m long and 3 mm thick - thats essentially something that looks like your hair but actually survives and partakes in the pleasures of conscious life.

The exciting part is the period of transition - when the larva is old enough to leave home. At this stage, it effects the host's brain in a narcotic fashion, and causes the host (assume, for the sake of illustration, a grasshopper) to believe its Nirvana lies in locating the nearest source of water and taking a dip. Unfortunately, the grasshopper does not realise that it did not learn swimming as a child and duly drowns. The worm then escapes from the body into the water and lives happily ever after to a life of debauchery and orgies, giving birth to numerous juniors that go on to provide future generation of grasshoppers with that amazing high.

Check out this quick footage of a cricket committing suicide in the interest of the Gordian community.

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