Friday, January 28, 2011

Emotive, Shallow and Forgotten

A while back, the media was full of concerns of farmers committing suicide - possibly because of using BT cotton. Over 17000 farmers killed themselves in 2009 though the figure emphasized often is 200,000 since 1997. The coverage of the suicides was extensive and emotive. Quite possibly, the victims' families even received help. But what about the families of the others who did not opt out?

Micro-finance wasn't working either - again reported widely because of farmers suicides

Hence, I was struck by this news of suicides by American soldiers being greater than their deaths in combat. I am pretty sure that the number of farmers in India is far more than 36 times the number of American soldiers; so what does it mean for the analysis of suicides by farmers?

Sadly, with all the reporting and 24x7 channels, I do not feel any more knowledgeable only emotionally exploited.

It disturbs me that in-spite of so much content, shows like Bill Moyers Journal which were not shallow or superficial are missing (or extremely hard to find in spite of google and all the social media).

Why do I dislike Facebook?

I  am puzzled by my dislike for facebook. It isn't because of privacy. Though I may decide to un-like Bob Dylan because I like his music but am not interested in knowing about his concerts. Since Dylan's concerts are few, the decision to un-like is not so easy.

I think it has to do with my anxiety that Facebook represents the 'future'. I fear what has happened on TV will happen here. Even BBC Entertainment has started half a dozed interruptions in an hour - including some commercials. To make matters worse, their ads are the ones which make my blood boil - aimed at women wanting to look fair and young.

In order to keep people glued to the sets, commercial tv gives an increasing doze of grossness - for example "reality tv" . So, even if Facebook collapses under its own success, it is bound to be replaced by something even more 'appealing' to humans as determined by the advertisers.

By contrast, Google seems to be geared towards what we need. Will it survive? Will its unobtrusive ways give way to intrusive ways? I fear it will -  may be after the founders leave.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Toll Highway

While driving from Chandigarh to Jalandhar, once we crossed Ludhiana, I was delighted to find that it was a toll road. The toll was Rs. 85 for about 50 KM stretch. The road upto toll booths was great.

I crossed the toll booth and started to accelerate - only to brake. It appears that the toll is not for using the road. It is for constructing the road. I suppose one should be thankful that thanks to the toll, side roads and diversions are usable.

On short stretches one could even get glimpse of the future - 3 lanes going is each direction. After driving a few seconds at 90KM/hr, one is faced with a sign - Diversion Speed Limit 20!

Driving by Convention - 4 lane highways.

We will assume that the highway is divided so that there is no worry about oncoming traffic.

The loaded trucks do not like to change lanes as they may topple and cause accidents on the highway. Even empty trucks have a problem changing lanes. A truck may not be able to shift from the slow lane to the fast lane as the fast moving traffic will just not let it.

Hence, the convention. Trucks will move in the fast lane at their speed. You must be prepared to overtake them from the wrong side. Do not expect the truck to move and make way for you. No one will give a signal to change lanes and none is expected. The movement has to be fast and swift. There just isn't an extra millisecond for signalling.

If you are nervous about overtaking on the wrong side, you may horn and make the truck driver's life miserable. In the unlikely event, the truck driver changes lanes, you may actually cause an accident for the cars behind you. They will assume that the truck will not budge and will overtake both you and the truck on the wrong side. The unexpected following of the rules by the truck driver can be an unnerving experience for them.

In case you are wondering what could be slower than the truck - more often than not it will be a tractor, often loaded with hay so that it is broader than a truck. In addition, there are a variety of vehicles which are even hard to describe but often on three wheels.

Driving By Convention - 2 lane highways

Yesterday, I think I discovered that the driving in north India does have a logic. It may not follow 'rules' but that is simply because the rules are inconsistent with the conventions.

We have to realize that the two lane highway will convert to a 3 lane highway - when needed. Hence, you should overtake without worrying too much(see qualification below) about oncoming traffic.

The vehicle on your side and the one coming towards you will shift to the sides - creating an additional lane for you.

Of course, this is contingent upon the vehicle you are overtaking and the one coming towards you are smaller in size than your vehicle. Hence, make sure that neither of them is a truck or a bus.

The other point to bear in mind is that at the same time, a guy from the other side may also decide to overtake a vehicle. At that point, it is a game of chicken. All bets are off.

You also need to watch out for the guy who has not understood the convention. He will drive part way into the next lane in an attempt to overtake the slow vehicle. If he sees oncoming traffic, he will go back into his lane and try again. This is positively hazardous driving. The cars will pile up behind him and, sooner rather than later, someone will become impatient. This is when you may find yourself facing two and a half lanes of oncoming traffic and that can be unnerving.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Importance of Ma and Pa

The extract from Patrick French's book in a way was like the Wikileaks. It seemed to be something we knew - that children of politicians are the ones who get party nominations. The extent of the nepotism did surprise me as I had thought that the media naturally projected the well connected young MP's - who communicated well because of their education.

I  found it disturbing not for what it exposed, which did on shock or even surprise, but that in spite of our many magazines, the so-called free press and a ridiculous number of noisy, hyper-excited 24x7 news channels, the analysis had to be done by a British author.

Another analysis worth doing would be to see the connections of the entrepreneurs. I am pretty sure that role of nepotism in starting even new businesses is likely to be surprisingly high.

May be one day may have something!

From a link on that site: the news - Many parties are being floated to launder money, warns EC - was new. I suppose a solution had to be found for all the cash transactions which seem to be prevalent.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Would Google TV be the solution

My television viewing has come down over the years. One of the major reasons is the ads. I checked that in an hour's show, the show time is less than 40 minutes with the ads and announcements making up the over twenty minutes. (I wonder if the channels cut parts of the show or were the original shows as bad.)

I have not been fond of Tivo-like solutions because chances are that I will record and never watch a show - just because it can be done any time. A number of dvd's stare at me - unseen for a year or more.

There is another possibility. I could start recording a show but start watching it half an hour later and skip over the ads. May be one day, I may actually change my subscription.

Or Google may make it irrelevant. I can see the potential of Google TV if the ads inflicted on a viewer are reduced. I estimate that over 90% of the ads on tv today have absolutely no interest or relevance to me. If the ratio holds true for others as well, it would imply that Google (internet) tv could reduce the ads by a factor of 10 and retain the same interest/relevance level for an individual user.

Exiting Social Networks

There was a statement that religion, politics and other emotive posts are a major reason why people 'unfriend'. I found myself getting needlessly irritated by posts on a forum of ex-colleagues. Instead of tech or general topics, a number of ex-colleagues often hi-jack the list for their personal, strongly held beliefs.

I was going to remove myself from the list. Unfortunately, my wife found these discussions at times amusing. So, the messages from the list are filtered and forwarded to her and trashed in my mailbox.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Devaluation of words

I think we need to find a new word for 'friend'. After facebook and similar sites, I wonder what it means any more.

Evolving to impersonal communication

What should we do about mailing lists, especially like the Linux users group which cater to people with a common interest?

So, a discussion about posting on one often enough to keep it alive and kicking, made me feel a little guilty. Sharing on mailing lists is quite focused; but sharing on Google Buzz is much easier. The people on my buzz list and the mailing list partially overlap; hence, sharing on both seems like spamming the people I know. Although I use Buzz and even Facebook, I do not like it.

At least on a mailing list, one would write a line or two about why we were sharing a link. An email was even nicer and more personal. With buzz or facebook, it is an impersonal broadcast.

Yet, we have moved on to sharing over far more impersonal channels of communication. We have to click 'like' or re-share instead of saying thanks for sending it and thinking of me.

I suppose this  Tech-Comics-Meeting-a-Facebook-Friend is indeed a reflection of our times.