I dutifully finished my first Massively open online course. Even though I had signed up for many open courses before, I couldn’t find the time or the motivation to finish any course. Turns out that a very few number of people enrolled actually complete a MOOC. This course, an Introduction to Music Production, happened to be so unique, that I couldn’t pick it up from a book. Nor could I afford to learn it from an institute in my city. These constraints aside, it was finally my involvement and eagerness to learn that motivated me to finish this course and get a good grade.
The course clearly mentioned that it would take 7 hours a week. And I now have a new found respect for those 7 hours in a week.
I scored 94.2% on the course. I even got certificate of accomplishment for finishing the course.
A method for determining the steady state of objects on the road during real world driving conditions.
I write this post with great excitement. In my opinion, we, the citizens of India, are at the helm of a great period of economic growth, crazy experimentation and lots of entrepreneurship. I have been trying to rationalize my decision to become an entrepreneur and I have seen dozens of entrepreneurs doing the same over the last 5 years. I notice something radically different.
I recently saw a video of a graduating batch of a suburban, middle class school kids who went on to narrate where they saw themselves 10 years after graduating. Exactly 13 years ago, I graduated from a similar school in Bangalore. Even though we didn’t have a video of ourselves narrating our career aspirations, I know it was drastically different from the kids now. Everything was different. These kids didn’t see themselves as engineers or doctors. They saw themselves in professions that I wouldn’t dare utter in front of my family. A bunch of them wanted to study music, some of them fine arts, some wanted to be DJs and others wanted to start their own restaurant or fine arts institute. There were also kids who wanted to be wildlife photographers or rally drivers. Most of these occupations were unheard of when I graduated.
Then it dawned on me. These were kids from the post deprivation India. I think the kids of the 90′s broke the stereotype of public sector jobs and our generation is slowly trying to do different things. But these kids were fearless. Their confidence was impressive. Their focus and determination was admirable to say the least. There were also collaborations; a group of kids wanted to start a dance institute together.
Our generation was what I called the first of the privileged generations in India. We were the first ones to get cable television, American media and fast food outlets as kids. We were also the first to reap the fruits of economic liberalization of India. We took that mixture ideals and values and crafted a life around it. Not a single person took up a public sector job in my gradtuating class. But I also remember the days where there was only DoorDarshan(DD). Most, if not all, shows on the national television was around poverty or poor families. Where living in India was not considered a great thing. Most of my relatives would urge me to seek a job abroad. Our generation is what I term the privileged post deprivation era Indians.
The people born in the late 80′s or early 90′s didn’t know the era of DD. These kids are now graduating and are trying to shape their future in meaningful ways. A lot of them are choosing entrepreneurship and that means great things for the country and the economy. I don’t know too much about post depression America but I can only assume it was similar. I forsee (I don’t like the word) great things happening in India in the next two decades. I see steady economic growth and a big indigenous market. There are tons of problems that need solutions and poverty is the big challenge but there are also thousands of Social Entrepenuers mushorooming trying to tackle these challenges. I see a great nation taking shape. And before you comment about it, NO, I am not a patriot.
Visited a priest yesterday who was really modern, in every sense of the word. I remember the days my dad and I would walk through the dingy back alleys of temples to find our priest who would perform all our ceremonies. This modern day godman boasts of a plush Air Conditioned office, bell boys, printed inventory lists for almost every cermony in multiple languages and many such awe inspiring paraphernalia. From the table where I was sitting, sipping freshly squeezed orange juice from a crystal (with a coaster), I could see a 42 inch flatscreen, an iPad (probably as a reference for all the mantras, replacing old silverfish infested books that look like they survived an apocalypse), couple of laptops and a smart phone.
The priest also spoke impeccable english and was patient enough to explain to us the details and significance of each ceremony. Given the times we live in, I think this evolution of the priest was inevitable and much needed.
Every single time I mess up and feel bad, I take a look at this image. I realize my place in this grand scheme of things and realize – ” All that doesn’t matter. I less than miniscule in the universe”.
This photo is the result from the Hubble being pointed at a section of the sky for 4 months, 1/10th the size of what the moon appears to us in the sky. There are 10,000 galaxies in this picture.
The political scene in Karnataka is pitiful to say the least. The cabinet has been reshuffled at least half a dozen times in under two and a half years. Most ministers have been ousted due to their alleged involvement in Scams and fraud. The Hon Chief Minister of the state himself is embroiled in a property scam which involved denotifying land under litigation and then buying it at a throw away price. I returned yesterday from my native town of Shimoga, which also happens to be the Chief Minister’s constituency. Almost every alternate piece of land was called out to be owned by the Chief Minister or one of his family members. The road to an Engineering college, owned partly by our CM, is wide, pothole free and flat. Just 3 kilometers away, the road becomes half its size, is unkempt and is ridden with potholes. Almost every minister in the current cabinet has been busted being a part of some fraud or scam. The government almost fell thrice due to supporters switching sides. The Chief Minister’s son, during the course of the investigation around his involvement in property fraud decided to sell a questionably acquired piece of land for the sum of Rupees forty five Crores. What was hilarious was that the CM, apparently summoned and threatened the person who was doling out this information to people as per the Right to Information act. Despite proof about fraud, nepotism, immoral behavior and attitude, the Chief Minister and his cabinet are still intact and in Power. When asked to justify his actions, he simply referred to incidents where ex chief ministers were involved in similar situations, and said he will not be singled out. Truly exceptional, I must say.
This brings me to the role of Wikileaks in the international political scene. The amount of Buzz that is created by Wikileaks is tremendous, but when it comes to acting on the information that is available at hand, the response from the respective Governments is really really poor. As is the case with our current government in Karnataka. Despite mountain loads of proofs against the CM and his cabinet ministers, they still are in power trying to maximize their profits while in office. What is the point of information in the public domain if its not going to be put to any use. Is bringing confidential documents into the public domain enough to stop the wrong doings ? Here’s a question I always wonder about; Once a minister is proved to have made say X amounts of money in a scam, is the minister liable to pay that money back to the Government or the treasury? I haven’t of such a thing happening. He/she falls in disgrace, but he/she falls an extremely wealthy person.
Karnataka’s Anti Corruption bureau, the Lok Ayukta is akin to WikiLeaks in Karnataka. They catch people red handed and set up a detailed enquiry or an investigation on the matter at hand. Its a pity they do not have prosecution powers. I guess, bringing the information to people is definitely a start and it should continue, but it also lead to concrete results and punishment.
I never cease to be amazed by our everyday life in India. Its better than any reality game show I know of. Every single day is filled with situations, what I call tasks, which require solutions which are counter intuitive and complex. Surely anyone claiming to be bored by their mundane lives are not looking at their lives, and complex task solving capabilities, enough. In India, at any given time, if you are dealing with another person or an entity, you are constantly solving a very complex task. How do I get out of this situation without being cheated. Transactions of all forms force us to use concepts of Game Theory to ascertain we are not being ripped off. We look at everything as a Symmetric Game. We always put ourselves in the shoes of the other person and think, “What would the despicable me do”.
Lets take the example of the most rudimentary of chores, filling fuel at a gas station. I have lost count of the number of times I got cheated by one (or more) of the station attendants. Some of their vile tricks include: The flick of the fuel gun switch to jump to an older higher value, the called out “zero sir” jumping directly to 100, the accomplice distracting me on the pretext of payment while the attendant finishes before the full amount and resets the meter. The most despicable one I almost fell for was the old switcharoo. Two attendants shout out the amount of fuel each person has requested for, then both switch the guns on either sides of the pump, they start filling almost simultaneously and end at wrong figures . Confusion then follows an attempt at correction all the while one person is being led to believe that he/she has had their full share of fuel. There is plenty more.
Lets take the city bus as another example. A well dressed person who pays Rs 10 for Rs 8 ticket never gets back the remainder Rs 2 unless he/she demands it. A large take away order at a hotel always has one or two items lesser than requested for. A large group of people at a restaurant always get billed more than they consumed because they couldn’t remember how much they ordered. The billing clerk at the mall zaps the item on the bar code reader twice when the person is distracted by some free samples or is looking for money to pay the bill. Auto-rickshaw drivers rigging their meters to over charge people. A bunch of my friends even launched a product to combat the Auto Driver menace, checkout Suruk. The regional transport officer who gives you the driving test fails you at least 3 times if you don’t go via a middle man or a driving school. You could be Micheal Schumacher , but you cannot pass the driving test with a clean conscience. Old folks at the pension office have to bribe the pension official 10% of the pension amount for their own money to be released. Shopkeepers selling their wares showing you one thing and selling you a (already known) defective item. People slipping in a torn currency note amongst many notes in the hopes that you wont notice.Your domestic help stealing from you when you are not around. The taxi driver who hasn’t been hired the entire day boxing you in forcing you to hit him so he can walk away with damage money. A random person knocking on your door claiming to be the milkman, paper boy etc and asking for the monthly charges. Your car or bike mechanic replacing new parts in your vehicle for old ones. You cannot get any government document, be it a birth certificate, marriage certificate or even death certificate, without paying a bribe. Meritorious students who get scholarships from the government have to pay a bribe to get their rewards. And almost no relief money reaches any victim. These are just some of the countless situations that one faces in everyday life.
Its no wonder people are double cautious when it comes to any form of a transaction. So much so that even altruism takes a beating, charities cannot get donations because of the numerous fake charity agencies cashing in. One has to be at the top of their game if they have to ensure a just and fair deal. There is never a dull moment when I transact with other people. This behavioral characteristic has a severe impact on businesses. The dismal adoption of online shopping, (why! my mom doesn’t believe in online banking), shopping malls, glitzy showrooms etc are proof that this disturbing characteristic is guaranteeing us sub standard experience in everything. I cannot even dream of buying electronics online, self filling gas stations or a corruption free government departments in India. Let me not even talk about the polity in the country. We probably have the most independent and cognizant judiciary, completely isolated from the legislature, but at least 50% of the politicians in any state have cases against them. Why, you can even contest and win elections, and secure a seat in the parliament, all while being incarcerated.
It is unfortunate that we have to be subjected to such treachery and malice in our everyday life. But hey, that’s the circle of life isn’t it. They do it to us because someone else does it to them. The ones that suffer the most are people like us, the ones who try to be ( and I say try to be) fair and just. Screw reality shows.
As I grow older and begin to recognize the fallacies and contradictions in my belief system, I begin to think hard about my stand on lots of moral issues and indoctrinated beliefs I may have held. One such issue that has been bothering me is the issue of using a person’s work without the their consent. Consent is a powerful thing. It has the power to determine if a particular action is justified or not; It also has unnecessary repercussions.
I shall state my predicament using an example.
Person A claims that a popular Media Company has used their photograph without properly citing the source. Person A also claims that all rights on the image were reserved.
This is usually followed by about 1000 Retweets of this until the guilty party is either forced to take down the material or print an apology of sorts, and cite the proper source. I agree with Lawrence Lessig, who in his book claims, that most new mechanisms of delivery and production of content provide a very hazy boundary about what information is free for consumption vs what still obeys traditional property rights. In the 70′s, using another photographer’s photo would mean either making a physical replica or using a photo-of-a-photo and painfully reproducing the content. Move 40 years ahead, a search on your popular search engine gives you a never ending list of professionally shot photos , most of which can be appropriated for any purpose with ease. Its again a difference between the mechanics of committing a crime. In the 1970′s plagiarizing a photo would be a long and arduous process that would make the person involved feel like he/she was committing a crime. In the present, using a stock image or an image found on popular sites like Flickr, Picasa etc is trivial. It is so quick that people do not feel guilty about what they are doing. We also don’t look at any activity that we perform on an everyday basis as a crime. Here are some questions we need to ask :
- Are we wired to think that downloading and using a photo available on say a Google/Yahoo website as a crime.
- Do you think twice about copying movies or music from some friends hard disk?
- A simple act of adding a quote to your email signature, writing a philosophical status update on facebook, quoting a poem excluding the author is in itself a violation copyright.
- What about retweets? Don’t you see a rationale as to why twitter introduced the new ReTweet architecture where the tweet appears along with the original user.
We are not wired to think of any of the above acts as a criminal activity. We are in fact surprised when we are unable to download music from an iPod back into a PC. I shall now try to formulate my question:
Should the person X , who claims person/organization Y has used his/her copyrighted work, be allowed to take the moral high ground in the information age?
This would be morally justified if the claimant has never used a stock image, downloaded music or movies, copied stuff to/from an external Hard Disk, watched pirated movies, uses genuine software (Windows, Office, Games etc) . Is such a claim even verifiable?
Creative Commons is a very good effort in this direction. But the enforcement and delivery mechanism of these licenses are pretty poor themselves.Lets take a small example: A random search on google images throws up this page. Lets look at how Google informs the user about the risks of using this image.
This isn’t an attack on Google. Almost all photo sharing sites , image search sites have such enforcement and/or awareness policies. The only sites that do protect images are the ones that sell stock photos. But people are experts at getting rid of the digital watermark.
My 2 cents: There are a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to property rights in the context of digital media. There are also people who believe that they should be credited for work that is inspired by their work. If such an extremist statement were to be considered we would not have movies like Ghajini made, or musicians like Anu Malik and Pritam. We need to find answers to these hard questions, fortunately we have code thats on the side of the enforcers. We can deliver photos and videos in a way that cannot be plagiarized. We can build enforcement mechanisms to stop the so called abuse of digital media. But, please, all you people who outraged at TOI using an uncredited image, please look at your own information consumption habits. In a fair democracy, no one person is greater than the other. One person’s needs, responsibilities and actions are not more important than the others. In my case, taking a stand on this issue will be tough. Until I can decide what side I am on, I shall stay quiet. Oh wait!
Update : I forgot to mention Yahoo’s Image Search platform that provides filters to only show images where the “Author allows for ReUse” and in that for commercial and non-commercial purposes. Great utility.
My neighbors were talking about how a temple recently had a meeting to discuss the fall in the number of visitors and donations. This was surprising considering religion is one of the biggest industries in India is now seeing a decline. Tirupati, a religious destination, second only to the vatican in terms of donations received, has seen a sharp decline in the number of visitors and donations. (blame the telengana debacle also for this). In the metros there is a sharp increase of people who are turning atheists and there is also a significant number of people who don’t have any incentive to be religious anymore. In the older times, a typical Indian office would be characterized by a gigantic Idol of the Lord that had a Lamp and incense sticks burning all day. There was the infamous cash box or the safe, that was worshiped everyday as well. Most managers had big pictures of the various Gods and deities and it was always a good idea to spend a fair amount of the company’s budget on a religious celebration (something like a Gana Homa or a trip to not so close Temple). Being religious had serious incentives when it came to being on the favorable side of your Boss or promotions.
Lets move to 2010. Most offices are characterized by large glass and wood facades, plush and contemporary furniture and central air conditioning. Idols and Photos of deities are replaced by an abstract art painting or some motivational poster. Company budgets are spent on a either short adventurous trips or on expensive wine and dining. I would dare someone to suggest going to Tirupati for their team outing. Nobody discusses religion primarily because of a multilingual , multicultural and multi religious nature of most teams. There is absolutely no incentive in being religious ( at least in companies like mine; I don’t know about the strong Brahmin dominated 100,000 plus employee companies). All in all, religion is not as inter twined in our society as its used to be.
Here’s another thought, exposure to literature from around the world, videos of people right from eminent scholars like Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins to standups like George Carlin have changed the way people think about religion. Consequentially, we have a growing population of people who are questioning indoctrination and age old beliefs. Then there are the others, who between their farmville activities, twitter, youtube , facebook and pub/mall hopping, dont find time to be religious. Why would they? It pays more to have seen Susan Boyle in Britain’s Got Talent than being religious in today’s social circle.
Most people who used to cash in on the religious phenomenon are being hit bad. Lets take the million dollar Agarbatti (incense) industry. Agarbatti served a dual purpose, apart from being a symbol of worship, it would also serve as a room freshner for many people. You cannot even dare light a match, let alone an agarbatti, in a modern office. Add to this that most premium agarbatti makers (like the one shown below) cashed in primarily due to exports and metros. So what do they do? Market agarbatti as a natural room freshner? Nah, Room Freshner sprays would beat them by a long shot. So they go make an advertisement. The one which has very satisfactory scientific explanations about the divine phenomenon. Surely, even the divine is based on some scientific principle, even if its weakly rooted in fact.
I recently was part of an interesting debate about “Obsession with looking/being fair and impartiality based on color” and here are my thoughts. A fellow colleague even pointed me to this book Fair Women, Dark Men : The forgotten roots of Racial Prejudice. (Yes, I pinched the title from it) The book documents the findings of an antho researcher who studied different cultures and their preferences when it came to skin color. Here are some of the interesting results:
- Although virtually all cultures express a marked preference for fair female skin, even those with little or no exposure to European imperialism, and even those whose members are heavily pigmented, many are indifferent to male pigmentation or even prefer men to be darker.
- The author reports that out of 51 different cultures in the anthropology profession’s famous Human Relations Area Files, 44 cultures favored lighter complexions on either only women (30) or on both sexes (14). In only 3 cultures was fair skin preferred on men only, and in just 4 cultures was darker skin desired.
- Lighter ladies were favored in many countries with little exposure to Western beauty standards, such as medieval Japan, Ethiopia, Aztec Mexico, and Moorish Spain, where the dominant culture was darker skinned than the conquered natives.
Of course, my first thoughts were : could this all be social class prejudice? Well, my claim is that the answer is not so simple. My colleague made the point that preferences based on color were more of an evolutionary trait rather than a product of social sanction. Even though I am no expert on evolution, I would think evolution would ensure (genetically) passing of only those traits that would aid in survival. All characteristics of human beings like the ability to walk on our hind legs, herbivorous diet, even the gestation period points in that direction. Could preferences of color be another similar trait? I have read about men preferring voluptuous women and women with wide pelvic bones, because they see them as fertile and being better equipped for child birth. This is something that seems like a characteristic passed genetically. But color based preferences .., I dont know.
I will quote Jared Diamond when he says, the whole world looks at life/society through western goggles, primarily because they were the ones that first to put indigenous technology to use. Would the preferences have been different if people from the sub saharan region of Africa were the most wealthiest, technologically equipped and the most powerful people on earth. The balance of power, at least in documented human history, has always been in favor of western civilizations. Given that people from western societies were the first to explore the world via the high seas, they could have very easily exported a powerful social prejudice. The fertile belt, where most of modern civilization is said to have originated, lies mostly in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean region. These regions are surrounded mostly by Africa and the middle east, most of which are tropical and are home to people with relatively darker skin tone. Its not hard to imagine that “different looking” people were treated as hostile and alien and eventually this turns into social prejudice. Could this be a simple explanation to a very complex question?
In the classical world calling a woman white or fair was a compliment. People were more ambivalent about color in men. In the Old Testament Ham saw his father drunk and naked and was cursed with darkness. This is the biblical theory of the origin of human races. Thousands of years later original Christians were Medeteranians/Semites of an intermediate color between Northern Europans and Africans. “Ethiopians,” as they called black Africans, were used as the symbol for ugliness and sin. An early Christian wrote “What is more lowly, what is more like Ethopia, than our bodies, blackened, too, by the darkness of sin?” Satan would often appear as an Ethiopian. The black woman was the antithesis of beauty. A story reaches us about monks wanting to turn themselves off sex. They were encouraged to think of something disgusting. One thought of the Ethiopian woman.
Given that our societies are becoming muti-racial it will be interesting to see what will be of these preferences. My take , even if evolution did have a part to play, our generation must get over such prejudices and hopefully aid evolution( a sort of induced evolution) to rid people of this preference. It will be interesting to hear some of your thoughts on this topic. Comment away.