Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Of traffic, teams and companies

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"The grand unification theory is nought but analogies connecting seemingly unrelated things"

When you drive through Bangalore traffic, more often than not, you are not driving... You are probably waiting at traffic junctions or trying to wiggle through evanescent worm holes.

The strange fact about driving is that it becomes automatic after some time - You don't even pay attention while changing gears or switching between the accelerator and the brake. And since that frees up your mind, it tends to wander into the realm of contemplation...

As I watched vehicles around me, I drew some parallels that I wanted to list out in this post.

1) Among motorbikes, cars and buses, bikes are the fastest when it comes to rate of picking up speed or accelerating while buses are the slowest. However, once all vehicles start accelerating, bikes soon get left behind as cars and buses zoom past them. Companies are also of these types small caps (start-ups), mid caps and large caps. While start-ups can grow very quickly, larger companies with their higher muscle power - both in terms of finance and man-power can quickly outpace smaller companies

2) Bikes cannot sustain long distance like cars and buses. While on a long distance drive, riding a motorcycle is least comfortable of the three and can make you sore. The fuel capacity also is quite limited and needs constant refuelling to reach your destination. Cars and buses are much more comfortable and needs lesser refuelling. Companies are also similar in terms of funding.

3) Bikes are more agile, then comes cars and finally buses. This is something that you have definitely noticed in traffic. You can quickly manoeuvre a bike and ride through that narrow space between a car and a bus. Cars are much less easy to manoeuvre while buses simply cannot move. Companies are also similar with start-ups being significantly more agile with less bureaucracy and fewer meetings before decisions are arrived at and plans are put into action. Large companies are behemoths that take forever to make even the smallest change in course.

4) Bikes are more unstable and can severely injure the rider in an accident when compared to cars and buses. Start-ups can vanish overnight unlike larger companies

5) When a bike goes down, very few people die unlike in cars and buses. Just like how many people lose their jobs when larger companies go down unlike start-ups.

6) If a bus crashes into a bike...

7) There are bike clubs. I have not heard of bus clubs... There are also biker chicks ;-)

8) Riding bikes are definitely more thrilling than a bus ride. Enough said.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Knight's Tour

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"The dark knight can never be blocked... nor can the white knight"

The Knight's Tour is a mathematical puzzle which I had played on a Windows Phone game called Doors. I didn't know it was called Knight's Tour till I watched this Numberphile video. I had some time to spare and wrote a simple version of it that you can test out below.

The objective of the game is to make sure that every square of the board has been occupied by your knight once. Click on any valid square to make your move

Programmers: Do you think you can write a program to find solutions?

Knight's Tour

Move the knight and cover every single square without repeating a square

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Yellow Journalism

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"That moron asked me not to be judgemental about him"

We love watching movies and I am sure that you have watched this scene that appears in several motion pictures; The protagonist walks into his house and is shocked to see a dead man with a knife sticking out of his stomach. He drops whatever he was holding and rushes towards the slumped body he has identified as his father, an eminent lawyer who fought injustice with a fiery passion. It is obvious to the son that his father was murdered by some land baron / politician who was rubbed the wrong way by the deceased, but he puts those thoughts aside for the moment. He has a slight glimmer of hope that his father might still be alive and worries that he is in pain. He crouches beside his father and pulls the knife out of him. At that exact same time, a police inspector and a couple of constables arrive at that scene on a supposed tip-off. "Hands up, you are under arrest" he shouts as the constables proceed to hold down the grief stricken man. "I have done nothing, I am innocent. Oh father!" yells the protagonist as he is dragged away handcuffed. Upon investigation, it is found that the hero's fingerprints are found on the knife. They also find the lawyer's blood stains on the son's clothes. "It has been done for property" announces the public prosecutor with a flourish after systematically placing the "facts" in front of the court. The court announces that a remorseless greedy son such as him deserves to languish in prison for 14 years. The land baron shouts "Cheers" immediately in the next scene as his cronies join him in raucous laughter...

We feel sorry for the protagonist. Of course, it is a movie and you know sooner or later, the evil people are going to pay their dues while the hero winds up with that beautiful heroine. However, the truth is that the hero was falsely implicated by prima facie evidence. It is only that WE know that it is a movie and that WE know that the hero was innocent that we aren't worried about it...

But does real life work like this? Unfortunately, the answer is no. People, in general, arrive at conclusions based on prima facie facts only - That is, they arrive at conclusions based on what is presented to them and don't analyse deeper. Let's have a look at this example.

Yellow journalism

This is a newspaper article from Times Of India, dated October 21, 2015

Click on the image to enlarge the image and read the article. Now, from the headlines, it is very obvious that this is some sort of hate crime. Poor Dalits - that too kids - were burnt alive by vicious thugs from upper caste.

Immediately people will start fortifying thoughts that they have had in the past - India will never grow because of casteism. That's right, this stupid system has been a dark spot in the face of India's cultural past. Then some "intellectuals" will start talking about "blot on democracy" and "fabric of society" while moron Congress supporters will start saying "Oh, so this is the Acche Din promised by Modi"

Alright, what happened to those kids is really unfortunate. However, please read the article carefully - Do you see any reason for the killing? The only point mentioned here is "confrontation over a murder" which is not clear - Who murdered whom? They have also mentioned that "a religious programme was held which helped the attackers" - How? Atheists will now talk about how religion and caste is responsible for all sorts of problems...

Alright, now let's look at the exact same incident from Times Of India's mobile app - previous day

See the highlighted section? Police inquiries show that a piece of property was the reason for the hatred between them. Clearly, the Dalit and Upper Caste Rajput had no role to play here. The dispute was because of some property. If that is the case, why is it that the story is projected in a different way? Also, why is it that there is no mention of "property" in the print version?

Here is another news item - Again, Times Of India

Dalit girl gang raped - What kind of headlines is this? Shouldn't it have been "14 year old girl gang-raped"?

The point of putting the word "Dalit" in the headline is justified if she was raped because she is Dalit. But if you read the news item, there is no mention of the reason. So she was raped like any other girl was raped - because of the rapist's perversion and not because she is Dalit. Does the newspaper write "23 year old Madhwa Brahmin girl gang-raped"? Does that make any sense?

You see, these journalists understand exactly how to play on our sentiments. By showing only bits of information and presenting it in a certain fashion, it is very easy to play with people's minds. Take the case of Dadri beef lynching - It is amazing how people quickly spoke about the safety of Muslims in India. I even read some ridiculous comments equating Indians with ISIS because of some sporadic killing.

While I observed great commentaries on the regrettable killing of a couple of men over beef, I rarely see any voices against the systematic holocaust of Kashmiri Pandits. Why do we not read about them in the papers? Why do we not hear debates about them? Why is there no anger?

I specifically mention this because people vehemently oppose painting all Muslims with the same brush because of the acts of a few terrorists - absolutely agreed. A few bad eggs don't necessarily define the entire religion - and yet, "intellectuals" who claim to be the voice of reason because they are also atheists write things like...

"Great going hindus..."

Before you arrive at any conclusion, make sure you have all the facts ready. Just because you are reading some printed material, don't jump to the conclusion that the material is 100% true. History is often tainted and historical records of the so called great kings should only be taken with a pinch of salt because those records were written under the aegis of the very king they are describing - Who would dare call a king a moron when he has the ability to hang you or drive a spear through the heads of your entire family?

Similarly, journalists also have ulterior motives. They like to sensationalise and stir emotions of the masses. It's imperative as educated people to invest more time and energy into uncovering the truth before branding things and drawing conclusions and judgements. More importantly, we should develop an understanding that things don't need to be exactly the way in which it was presented to us - The hero was indeed caught holding a knife that killed his father... But he was innocent all the time. Do not judge before you know the full facts.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Playing old DOS games

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"Only 90's kids will understand this"

Remember the good old days of Dangerous Dave, Doom and Commander Keen? I remember spending countless hours playing all those games - Jazz Jackrabbit, Cosmo's cosmic adventures, Hocus Pocus, Prince of Persia... the list is endless.

I recently stumbled upon a great way to play those old DOS based games on your modern computer. I thought of sharing it with you guys.

Install DosBox
The first step is to download and install DosBox, a DOS emulator.
Download DosBox

Download Games
The next step is to download games. There is a wonderful site that hosts all these old games. You can search and download the games of your choice from here.
Download Games

Make games available on DosBox
After you download games, unzip the files
Create a dedicated folder to put all your downloaded games. Like, C:\dos_games or ~/dos_games.

Now, run DosBox. You should see the terminal. Run the command below:
mount c C:\dos_games or mount c ~/dos_games as the case might be - replace the path with whatever is your path.

Here, the 'c' that comes after 'mount' is the drive to which you are mapping your local disk. So, you can say 'd', 'e' or anything else to map subsequent folders.

If it goes through successfully, you should see the success message. Now go to C drive in the DosBox (or whichever drive you mounted to) by typing C: and pressing enter. Run the dir command to list your files and the folder(s) should be visible. That's it, start playing!

Saturday, 4 July 2015

The Kannada Hater

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"Keep an open mind about everything in life"

"There are more Indians in the US than within the borders of India", he said. "What in heaven's name do you mean?" I asked. He replied, "Yes, in other countries, there are many Indians. But within India, you have a Bihari, a Madarasi, a Tamilian, a Telgite, a Kannadiga, Hindu, Muslim etc. but no Indians"

It's an old SMS forward that I paraphrased above. But a deep one nonetheless

I was absent-mindedly scrolling through the infinite curated posts on my Facebook wall the other day when I stumbled upon a post. What caught my attention was the fact that my junior from college had 'liked' it, but the photo of the guy in the post was my former colleague. What was the connection? I then paid a little more attention and noticed that it was a photo accompanied by a write-up of some sort. I clicked on it to expand the content and read something as follows:

(Clearly not the original content - but something along these lines. Narrated like a play by the Original Poster [OP] )
The scene is set in a bus. Characters are bus conductor, bad man (my former colleague) and hero (the narrator) [words chosen by OP] 
The bus was relatively empty. The bus conductor approaches the bad man and tells him "You are sitting in a seat reserved for conductors. Please sit somewhere else." To this, bad man responds "No I am comfortable here. Sit somewhere else" To which conductor again politely says something similar in Kannada (because apparently he can speak only Kannada and passable English) to which bad man arrogantly replies "You Kannadigas are fools. Why can't you learn other languages like English or Hindi" The conductor keeps quiet at this retort while the remaining people in the bus also don't react. 
How can he, a person who came from somewhere else talk about Kannada like this? The hero got seriously offended and felt like he was slapped on his face by a slipper. So he decided to fight for justice and for Kannada and started abusing the bad man, left right and centre, giving the usual "All languages are important" speech. Then bad man learnt he was defeated and eventually scurried away like the rat that he is. This is followed a long set of bullet points about equality and all that jazz.

This post became viral with thousands of likes and hundreds of shares. Many people left comments of their opinions of the matter - Some verbally abusive, some calling him names, some pitying the state of affairs, some saying Kannadigas are too nice and thus get into this situation and so on. One person grossly generalised saying all Biharis are rapists, all Malayalees go to the gulf and work instead of in their homeland and so on...

Alright, I am not saying you should not get offended. What I found strange was that nobody actually took some time to see if what the Original Poster (OP) is saying is true or not. He has written his account of the story. The question is, is that to be taken as 100% true account? Is that how it must have happened? How do we know that he has not glossed over details?

My former colleague (who has apparently quit Facebook now) is from somewhere in the North, probably Delhi. Do you think it is possible that he comes down to Bangalore, sits in a bus surrounded by locals and abuses the local language? Do you think that this is a remotely plausible situation? Do you think someone from Bangalore would go to, say Tamil Nadu, and yell "Tamil sucks"? Anyone with a little bit of common sense knows that you will get beaten up. Do you think someone would go to Saudi Arabia and say something like Islam sucks? Think about it. The idea of going to a different place and abusing locals is not something anyone with basic common sense does.

Secondly, nobody starts abusing in the second sentence - especially, when he asked him to change seat, why would he abuse Kannada? That too in the second sentence? It doesn't fit...

What must have happened is - The conductor must have asked this guy to sit somewhere or must have repeatedly tried to have a conversation in Kannada. Talking to a non-Kannadiga in Kannada is as bad as talking to a non-Malayalee guy in Malayalam or talking to a non French guy in French. The other guy simply doesn't understand what he is talking and must have asked him to talk in a common language. I am, of course, guessing because this makes more sense to me. I am not saying that "Bad Man" was polite - I don't know what happened. But I am sure that the story didn't happen as narrated above, because it is not logical.

However, what interests me more is the reaction. The furore in the "Hero's" wall is something to be seen to be believed. The snowball effect made it appear like they would go up in arms and butcher him if he was around. And this is precisely how the media controls public opinion. They selectively release information in ways to sensationalise incidents. People lap up stories as they arrive without paying heed and start sharing them. Every story has two sides - and we must make conscious attempts to learn the other side.

[Click on the image to enlarge]

This is also why history should always be taken with a pinch of salt. Remember, it is the victors who write stories very often. Whether great kings of the past were truly great or barbaric is something we cannot be sure of from the writings of people from their era. They would write it in that way to win the favour of the king rather than earn his wrath - for the king could have them executed because he felt like it.

To summarise, one should not jump to conclusions based on one sided accounts. Every dispute has two sides and one should listen to both sides before arriving at conclusions. Perhaps the bad man was bad after all, but it is too early to jump to that without hearing what he has to say. Don't be like the media-persons who act like they are judges and juries unto themselves, who frame and blame and run trials on their own account, who fabricate stories and give partial one-sided accounts.  Keep an open mind about everything in life. Don't get biased.

Comments from Facebook

  • Chandan Siddaiah Good blog!! Ur points to be noted.. smile emoticon
  • Narayan Jalan Thank you so much Nikhil for writing this. I was also planning to put exactly same message on that post that how could someone already proclaimed the heroism, felon in their story telling. Let that be decided by reader. Nevertheless, You made it all in good phrase . thanks once again smile emoticon

Friday, 19 June 2015

The Population Effect

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"Battles won are inconsequential when the war is lost"

"Indians don't have any civic sense. Look at the way people drive! Look at all the garbage being strewn around. Tchah! That's why everyone moves to America and Europe. Things are so much cleaner there and people are so much better too. Not unlike here..." is a complaint that is often heard during moments of frustration - especially when that pesky autorickshaw driver cuts you off or comes in the wrong way in a one way road.

I had often wondered if these claims are true or not. On a trip to the US, I decided to make comparisons and make some mental notes. My first stop had been the West Coast of the US - San Francisco and the Bay Area predominantly. I found that people drive in a very disciplined manner - There's lane discipline, people don't cut other people off, traffic signals are followed religiously and the distance between two vehicles is enough to fit another vehicle between them. People drove at high speeds without worrying about random people (or animals) crossing the street like in a video game to test your reflexes. Pedestrians crossed the streets at zebra crossings, drivers waited till pedestrians crossed the street. Some even waved me across despite my insistence that they drive away. Yes, those claims are indeed true, aren't they? My friends also said that driving wasn't stressful at all. I didn't find garbage strewn all over the place. So I began to wonder if the conclusion that the mentality of people in the US is significantly better than Indians is true after all - Of course, I am talking about driving and garbage and not making broad generalisations.

Then I went to New York City. I hailed the famous yellow cab and told him my destination. I had hardly settled down in the taxi and the car made a wide turn very quickly pushing me against the door. I found that the driver was trying to overtake another cab - and he cut him off - exactly like a Bangalore autorickshaw driver. There was no indicator, no request, no permission, no thank yous... just plain brute force. I was suddenly reminded of Bangalore. A few minutes later, I was in the middle of a crowded street, with several vehicles all around. My taxi was on the leftmost side and the driver in front of us suddenly stopped the car and got out. Our cab was so close to his car that a person could have barely crossed across through the gap. The driver put his head out and yelled at him. The man apologised but did nothing to rectify the situation. My cab driver yelled out the famous American expletive "Asshole" and started backing his car as the one behind him honked. After a lot of manoeuvring, the cab continued to inch forward as a wistful smile appeared on my face... Just like Bangalore, I thought, thus restoring faith in humanity in an ironic way.

It is the same American people - How is it that the mindset is so different? The major difference between Bay Area and NYC is the population. Bay Area is very sparsely populated. At one point of time, I could see not a living soul till the horizon and I was in the middle of the town - I have a picture to prove that this is not an exaggeration. NYC is like any major Indian city with people everywhere. That's how I concluded that population is the driver for aggressive behaviour. Let's see why.

When everything is alright, life is stress-free. If you have an appointment at 5 and the time is 3 and you are less than a kilometre away on a pleasant day with nothing to do till then, you are not stressed out. When you are hungry and there is plenty of food around in your house, you are not stressed out. Stress is when you are not in control of the situation - Like being over ten kilometres away from your meeting place with under an hour remaining before the meeting starts and you find yourself in the middle of a terrible traffic jam. You curse all animate and inanimate things around you, praying for lightning to burn all vehicles around yours and clear a path for you...

When you have limited resources and too many people competing for those resources, there is stress. If there is one job and 50 people trying to get it, you are nervous - There is a high chance of finding a better candidate than you. If there are 50 jobs and 3 candidates, you are relatively stress-free. Think of all the places where an increase in the number of people attempting for a limited resources makes you get aggressive - Roads are limited resources, just like movie tickets, seats in a restaurant, seats in a college, jobs, bus etc. And when you see a queue in front of the theatre counter, you wonder if you will get a good seat or even get to see the movie, people standing around waiting to be seated in the restaurant makes you nervous and wonder if you will get to have a decent meal that day before you start getting that hunger headache. Let's not forget stressful times during seats in colleges or a bus even.

And so it is natural that you will do whatever it takes to win - "After all, it is survival of the fittest. If you do not do what it takes to win, someone else will do it... Why not you do it?" reasons one person and fires the first salvo. He takes more food as he passes through the buffet queue fearing that he may not get it later. He tries to shove others in a bid to get into the bus first so that he may get a seat. This shoving and his subsequent success in getting the seat teaches the same lesson to others - "If you do not do what it takes to win, someone else will do it". And thus it spreads like an infection in an air-conditioned room, and it mutates along the way resulting in students from well to do families using caste based reservation because "If you don't do what it takes to win...". Gaps between two cars get filled by two-wheelers at odd angles causing problems to cars - this results in cars closing the gap between themselves and the vehicle in front of it.

The other disadvantage of population is the multiplication effect. Jerks are jerks and jerks are all pervasive. It is not that America is jerk-free. When the population is higher, the number of jerks also get multiplied by a factor, and considering jerk behaviour is contagious, my guess is jerk behaviour grows exponentially. Also, jerk behaviour can be taught to others like lessons - like life hacks.

So to summarise, there are problems everywhere and jerks everywhere and no country is perfect. It is just that an increase in population increases competition and makes some people feel that you have to be creative in problem solving - Things are more apparent when you have too many people doing it. The problem is hard to fix because these changes have to come from within and that's a challenge. Countries like the US solve this effectively by imposing very high fines, such as around $650 (more than Rs 40,000) if you are caught littering or urinating or a couple of hundred dollar fines for traffic violations. This is a huge deterrent. Also, fewer people are easier to manage making enforcement easier. In India where people outnumber enforcers by a large margin, enforcement is harder - Although high fines with enforcement in some areas and slowly spreading out should help in culling annoying habits. Do you agree with this? Or do you think I am completely off the mark? I would like to hear your opinions

Related Post:
One shoe doesn't fit all - Before judging, read this post

Friday, 22 May 2015

The Javascript Closure Problem

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"Closure is very important in broken relationships... Also in JavaScript"

I was trying to write a fairly simple piece of code where I would create an array of functions in JavaScript. There was a loop and a function would be generated in each iteration such that the body of the function had a dependency on the loop counter. What happened finally was that every function in the loop was the same as the last function. I was bewildered. I understood that it was because of some reference issue but could not come up with a solution easily.

Here is a simple piece of code:

I was expecting a[0]() to give 0, a[1]() to give 1 and so on. But I was getting 3 each time. How do you solve this?

After breaking my head for some time (despite knowing it was something to do with Closures) I posted the question on Stackoverflow. Try solving this problem by yourself before seeing the solution.

Here's the solution:

Friday, 24 April 2015

Vintage Whine

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"With great ownership comes great sense of responsibility"

Expectations vs Reality
We like things to be perfect. We have a certain set of ideas of what perfection is. These are expectations. Then there is reality. The greater the gap between reality and expectation, the greater the disappointment. When there is disappointment, there are four things that can be done.
  1. We can sit quietly and remain disappointed. 
  2. We can try and do things to bridge the gap. 
  3. Change expectations
  4. Whine about it.

Sitting quietly and remaining disappointed is not a great option. It quietly sucks out your morale and eat you away from within. There are many who do this; they end up feeling worthless. They resign to their fate. A good example of this would be women in Saudi Arabia. The society in which they live is in a certain way and they are, or feel, so powerless to change it that they have accepted their fate.

Changing expectations is what Buddha suggested - specifically, he asked us to not have any desires or expectations. When you expect something and you don't get it, it leads to disappointment. Having no expectations automatically removes the possibility of disappointment. However, the state of mind required for having no expectations and no desires is much harder to reach than one can imagine.

The option "Whine about it" is the one that most people prefer to pick. It is a very easy option. And with the increased use of social media, the whines can spread quite a lot. The biggest problem with whining combined with social media is the enormous negativity that it can spread. When you hear a complaint, you feel that there is something wrong. If you hear complaints day in and day out, that feeling gets reinforced. It may initially seem like a good idea. You may feel that you are spreading awareness. But you should also remember that men of action would not resort to talking a lot about it and most of us are not men of action. Most of us are armchair activists. Therefore, the effect of spreading the word is just "raising awareness" of how bad the situation is and nothing more than that. It does not accomplish anything beyond increasing a feeling of negativity.

This causes a feeling of resentment. Let me give you a simple example. Imagine you work in an office where one of your colleague has a squeaky chair. Every time he bends back or shifts his position, the chair makes a squeaky noise. It's a very irritating noise, one that makes you lose your train of thought. The first few times you turn your head around and glare at him while he nervously apologises. But after some time, one of two things happen - either you resign to your fate (Yeah, the chair makes noise, nothing that can be done about it) or you start complaining. You some times wonder why that guy needs to adjust his position so often. It is very rare that you would take steps to fix the problem, perhaps apply a drop of oil or ask the maintenance staff to have a look at it.

While the above example might seem like a trivial issue, the same attitude can be seen across issues of all proportions. I believe that the root of this is "Ownership". Or rather, the lack of ownership. When something belongs to you, you are always very careful and protective of them. Think about it. If your mother met with an accident or your car got a dent in traffic, you would move quickly. It's yours and you will do whatever you can to resolve the problem. If your maid has gone to her hometown, you will not let your house become a pigsty. You will sweep and clean up your house. You won't resign to your fate and say "Well, it cannot be helped, the maid isn't here"

The same isn't true when things are not happening in your immediate circles. Your interest in others' problems decreases as the radius of the circle increases. If someone drove rashly and dented a stranger's car, we are going to be mere spectators. We tell ourselves, "Too bad, but let's watch and see how the situation develops" perhaps with a sense of schadenfreude. The reason is that we do not identify with them.

"It's not my problem. Why should I care?" - This train of thought is the number one reason for failure of development - Whether you are writing software or trying to live in a society. If your neighbours are throwing garbage in a vacant plot of land near your house, the garbage will only accumulate over a period of time. If your neighbour was throwing garbage into your yard, would you keep quiet? But when it's someone else's yard, you complain to your friends saying that the neighbour in question has no civic sense. You whine and you rant. And then you forget about it. You don't feel it is your problem. Perhaps it is the job of the land owner or the civic body or govt. Why should I get involved?

We always talk about collaboration, but how much do we really collaborate? In the critically acclaimed book, "Vedanta Treatise", there is a paragraph that talks about identifying the quality of people.

  1. Those who think only about themselves  (Worst)
  2. Those who think only about them and their family
  3. Those who include their clan
  4. Those who include their country
  5. Those who think of the entire world (Best)

You might notice that the majority of us fall in the block "About themselves and their family" - How do we increase our salary, our savings, our trips, our cars, etc. remains our primary concern

Here's another example. In the midst of bad traffic, people are in a hurry and end up forming deadlocks. Then they end up making deadlocks worse by trying to get out of deadlocks. The thought process here is - "Let ME get out of this mess first. Let the others figure this out themselves, what do I care?" Wouldn't it be nicer if people waited and let others go first?

Take action
The irony of this post vis-à-vis the whining and ranting is not lost to me.

That being said, I would like to quote Lord Krishna - "Action is always better than inaction".

The first step towards improving society is to take ownership - of whatever it is that you are trying to improve. We are very busy building our career and improving our standard of living - and I am, at no point of time, saying that we should all become social workers or renounce everything and become monks. But, if we are not taking steps towards improvement, how can we expect our society and country to reach its maximum potential?

Let me give you some simple things that you can do immediately after reading this post.

Many of us always talk about women empowerment, but few actually take action. Why not head over to Milaap? Milaap is a site where you may lend out small amounts of money to people who are trying to build small businesses. And you will be amazed how many women are trying to stand up on their own. You can donate very small amounts too, but the difference it makes in their lives is huge. Something as low as Rs. 2500 (or maybe lesser)

While I frown upon NGOs, Akshayapatra is perhaps the only one I swear by. You can donate amounts as low as Rs. 750 and that's enough to feed a child for a year! That's ONE meal for us at times...

It's not about donations... It's about Nationalism
While I did appeal to your philanthropic side, my interest lies in increasing nationalism. Nationalistic pride is very important and this has to be inculcated in people right from their childhood. If you do not identify yourself with your society and your country, you will not have ownership. And when you don't have ownership, you do not care enough to make a difference. You will not put in that requisite effort to make things better. You will not have pride.

You don't have to donate money to improve society. You can come up with clever solutions too. Think about various problems that we have around us. Maybe living in cities doesn't give you the full impact of real problems, such as insufficient electricity or lack of clean drinking water. If we can come up with ways to ease garbage disposal, you will create a cleaner society. If you watch TED videos of various simple inventions that kids in Africa are coming up with, you will know what I mean - using simple LEDs to drive away lions, for instance. They have real problems, and they are solving them with simple yet ingenious solutions. What if we spend an hour or two to think of solutions for these problems?

Instead of making 'settling in the US' our life's ambition, we should think about ways of giving back to the society in which we grew up and improve it.

Remember, this is not some idealistic nonsense. This is like crowdfunding - small steps by everyone can make a huge difference.

The mantra is simple - Ownership and Identifying Oneself With The Society. If you do not identify yourself with your society and think only about yourself and your family, we will never ever grow together as a society. We should identify ourselves with others, and grow together. Only then can we truly grow as a society, as a country and eventually lead to the growth of humanity.

Ownership... Think about it...

Related Links:

Vedanta Treatise
This is not some random book that gives you a lecture, but is one that makes you think and explore on your own. So don't think of this as some sort of right-wing propaganda. It's a fantastic book. Do read the reviews
Amazon Link

The Ugly Indian
A fantastic talk by an anonymous Bangalorean who talks about DOING rather than complaining - How they clean up garbage in Bangalore

Richard Turere
In the Maasai community where Richard Turere lives with his family, cattle are all-important. But lion attacks were growing more frequent. In this short, inspiring talk, the young inventor shares the solar-powered solution he designed to safely scare the lions away
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Monday, 13 April 2015

The Quota Paradox

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"Some see the glass half empty, others see the glass half full"

The reservation system in India is one of the most debated topics among people. I, for one, strongly oppose caste based reservation system. To deny meritorious students of seats in good institutions (and jobs) simply because certain seats are reserved for people who belong to a particular caste is as unjust as people looking down upon a certain caste because they belong to that caste.

While many of you may agree with my argument above, I would like to pose a series of situations before you and ask you for your opinions and thoughts.

I read a news article that spoke about the situation of daily soap opera makers of Tamil Nadu. 50% of Tamil Nadu's serials are local shows made by people of Tamil Nadu while the remaining 50% are Hindi series that are dubbed to Tamil. A lot of Tamilians feel that this is unfair because other serial makers are unable to compete against big budget Hindi production houses. In fact, they are running into losses and one debt-ridden director apparently committed suicide. Local technicians and artisans are not getting jobs, they claim. There are several strikes & protests happening in TN now asking for some sort of reservation. Andhra Pradesh allows for only 30% dubbed series while Karnataka has completely banned dubbed series. You can read the entire article here. The question now is - Do you think that this fair?

One the one hand, if the local artistes are not making quality series, we don't have any options and are stuck to watching whatever tripe they churn out. You may argue saying that you should dub Tamil series to Hindi and take it to their backyard. What's preventing you from doing that? On the other hand, it's easier said than done when it comes to spending and outspending. If local artisans get wiped out completely, is that good? What are the long reaching repercussions? Something to think about. Before we answer this question, let's move on to the next topic.

The hot topic of recent times, net neutrality. Essentially the debate revolves around Airtel's new scheme where companies that are willing to become their members gain the advantage of having their customers not paying for the internet to use their apps as long as they are Airtel customers. While customers seem to benefit from this outwardly, several people see many things wrong with it. While we shall refrain from debating the wrongs and rights of the topic, it is clear that the membership is offered to those who can afford to shell out huge amounts of money to Airtel. And clearly all companies cannot afford that - Companies such as Flipkart will gain an unfair advantage over others, is the claim being made. Too bad that you couldn't pay more... You don't think it's a level playing field? Who's stopping you from paying and joining, Flipkart and Airtel may ask...

Now let's come to the last case of our little discussion - It's perhaps easy to say that merit has to win in the cases of education, series and movies. How about China vs India? Chinese manufacturing is known for producing products at extremely low costs. Their costs are unbelievably low. To give you an example, an RFID tag costs Rs. 100 in India and Rs 10 when obtained from China. That's a 10:1 difference! It's no wonder why many businessmen heavily incline towards Chinese manufacturers - imagine the difference it makes to their revenues. However, as a result of this, Indian manufacturers and companies will not be able to withstand this Chinese onslaught. Many companies shut shop for this same reason. Now, one might argue for free market and say, "Too bad, you were not good enough and thus you died" and notice that this is similar to survival of the fittest. However, this systematic destruction of Indian industries can have a detrimental effect in our long term goals of becoming a superpower. The ability to produce and manufacture indigenously is extremely important and one cannot rely on a foreign country, a rival in our case, for products. As you can see, a quota system to stem the Chinese doesn't seem like such a bad idea now, does it?

Remember, the rule is always simple; The playing field should always be level and only then one can say - May the best man win. But can we simply stick to that rule in a one shoe fit all manner? If you defended India in India vs China, think about the case of Tamil Nadu vs Hindi serials... Do you see a similarity? Something to think about. What are your opinions about quotas in each of these cases?

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Greenpeace, NGOs & WYSINWYG

Swami Gulagulaananda paraphrased Jacob Braude:
"The duck seems calm and unruffled at the outset, but paddles like crazy under water"

In the good ol' days when I was trying to learn HTML, there were a set of editors called WYSIWYG - What You See Is What You Get, where you could visually design web pages as you would write a Word document without writing a single line of code, and the final page would look as it did in the editor.

However, a majority of the times, life is not WYSIWYG (pronounced wee-see-wig). It is the opposite of that - thus WYSINWYG.

Several years ago, before Facebook (and perhaps before Orkut) became a rage, I had a chance encounter with a website called Greenpeace. I was very young and I didn't know anything about them. The page I was looking at was campaigning for turtles against an industrial conglomerate. I immediately decided to join the fight - My reasoning at that time was simple: I love animals, I know turtles are getting extinct, industrial conglomerates are evil; Greenpeace sounded like an amazing organisation, a small group of people fighting a large evil organisation. Even the name Greenpeace had a nice ring to it - Green, for the bountiful prosperity and nature that we have come to associate it with, and of course, peace, for we are all supposed to be peace-lovers...

Without even knowing anything about Greenpeace or their arch enemy, Tata & Sons (the industrial conglomerate they were against), I decided to sign their petition and join the fight. I felt very good for fighting evil. Now, however, I can easily tell that my reasoning at that time was completely immature and wrong. I have heard that youth is a period of idealism - and I think it was this idealistic notion combined with lack of knowledge and understanding compounded with immaturity that got me so wrong. It's a different story that I marked them as spam for bombarding me with newsletters.

First of all, the idea that all industrial conglomerates are evil is not necessarily correct. Second, the idea that all turtles are getting extinct is not correct. It's true that they had mentioned the species of turtle - but I hadn't bothered to check if that particular species was in the place that Tata intended to build their factory (or something) and if Tata's factories would indeed cause harm to the turtles. I also assumed that Greenpeace was a small organisation because I hadn't heard about them while everyone knows about Tata. Another mistake. However, I was very incensed at that time - I was completely convinced that an industry was destroying an entire species of unique turtles.

Let's take a look at another story that has allegedly happened in Bangalore. A lady from Delhi boarded an auto - the driver agreed to a certain rate and some time later asked for a higher rate. The lady apparently questioned this and the driver suddenly turned around and climbed up behind and started hitting her, got out of the auto, pulled her by her wrist and started beating her etc. On questioning his atrocious behaviour, he started claiming he is from Ola Cabs and that was supposed to be some kind of a threat. Eventually she called up the police and they didn't respond well, nor did the local public etc. She posted it on Social Media and immediately people reacted to it, linking and threatening Ola with poor ratings, linking Bangalore Police etc. and sharing it and making it viral. I even saw some lady from the press asking her if she wanted to publish this in the papers to increase pressure.

The beauty of this little narrative is that we immediately side with the lady without knowing facts on the ground. We don't know what happened in reality and if what she claims is even true. We are inclined to agree with the lady because auto drivers have a history of being a rude lot, the police are believed to be insensitive to the plight of the general public and that there is a strong inclination to believe "victims" - everyone loves the underdog and this is especially true if the victim is a lady. Have you ever stopped to wonder if this lady is partially telling the truth? For instance, I don't see why Ola Cabs is supposed to be a threat - it's just another company that provide cabs. It doesn't even make sense for him to say it. Secondly, just saying, "You are reneging on our earlier agreement" resulted in the man becoming that violent also sounds sketchy to me.

In fact, I believe there is a lot of omission of details here - She might have been beaten up and this is no way a justification of his actions. Also, perhaps her narrative is 100% true. What I am questioning here is our reactions to such stories. We immediately take sides and don't do a thorough investigation before choosing sides. This is a huge blunder because if pictures are painted in a certain fashion, it is very easy to sway public opinion.

This is very well understood by countries such as the US. Now imagine a situation - India starts to realise that there is severe power shortage and decides to put up a nuclear power plant. If India gets more power, it can result in boosting of industries. This will result in less dependence on imports, thereby resulting in strengthening of the nation. On the other hand, this will hit the exports of other countries who are generating revenue from us. Assume a group of locals are paid a lot of money by a foreign country to organise protests. They start holding placards, shout out slogans and send out email newsletters to "educate" the masses. The media (presstitutes) are known to be heavily biased (allegedly :P) towards people who pay more money and they immediately start to cover this. Ordinary people now start believing that there is going to be destruction of natural treasures, forests, death of animals, possibility of radiation leakages etc. By repeatedly showing these telecasts, we start thinking that the govt. is indeed working towards some self-annihilation. "Use renewable sources of energy instead!", people say. Have we done enough research to compare costs and output and compare it with need? Have we taken time to build into consideration? We simply blurt out suggestions without applying deep thought. Considering the entire movement is spearheaded by a lovely organisation like Greenpeace, you probably might begin to have more faith in all this. The more the protests, the slower the development and you know what can happen. At the outset, we do not see any connection between a foreign country and people protesting...

There is also this other post that talks about the indifference of Jet Airways after their plane was made to land in Muscat instead of Dubai due to sandstorm - The narrative talks against the crew and paints a beautiful picture of gross indifference and apathy. People are writing comments supporting the writer without knowing full facts. Just because you are not privy to all details doesn't make you an expert on the matter.

To summarise, it's extremely important to analyse and research every single article or news item that we come across before taking sides. We shouldn't take them at face value. If the media was truly unbiased, perhaps, this would not have been necessary. They are clearly biased and they take sides. This is one of the main reasons why I hate Times Of India's "Times View" - They shouldn't have views - they should just report information (White Hat) in an unbiased manner. By carefully omitting certain details and portraying half-truths, it is possible to swing public opinions in certain directions. This is why videos like Deepika Padukone's dumb "My Choice" video was hailed by some - they truly believe that women are given second class status and that the video is a true reflection of what needs to happen. This is especially true when media depicts "minority" religions getting stamped on. It's a load of balderdash when you do more research.

Analyse everything and don't take things as they seem... For the duck seems calm and unruffled at the outset, but paddles like crazy under water

Comments from Facebook:

  • Bhargava Aswathanarayan Soopar Writing. As for these thugs, you should read the suspension order (Available here In one of the audits, starting balance (from foreign funds) was mentioned as NIL while it actually was 6.6 crores. When questioned, the thugs said it was a typo...yes TYPO
    Apparently a drone was used for filming in Mahan forest without prior permission from the defence ministry. This is not a trivial matter..its a threat to our national security. What stops them from doing shit like these in the future ?
    Its not for nothing that these thugs have been called out in places like Canada and South-Korea. Its high time we weed out these pests
    4 hrs · Edited · Like
  • Bhavana Rangaraj Yes correct!!! I had a bad experience with Greenpeace.. I had donated 3000 rupees once as their annual donation.. The guy came to my office , made me sign forms and also took card details.. I should have not shared details but I was naive.. They continuously cut money from my account for 3 months, I happen to neglect second thinking they cut for next annual fee.. Its when they cut 3rd month I changed my cars details and emailed them for refund.. No one bothered and then after almost a year they started calling me and telling they can repay and all that.. They are big fraud
    2 hrs · Like
  • Aditya Kiran You should start making podcasts 
  • Nikhil Baliga That's not a bad idea  maybe I will. Thanks maga
  • Goutham Kamath Or start a website which only publishes unbiased true story. Will research hot trending topics and try to establish the true story and keep updating. It will be one stop for anyone to get real story of any topics. It is hard to research on any topics these days especially if you are remote. I am not sure if there is one. Nice writing btw and your story telling aligns with that of Malcom Gladwell