06-Jul-2009

I have moved.

I have done a lot of moving in my real life since the time the last post was up. I have changed jobs, cities and changed jobs again. I have given up a salaried existence and changed myself into an unpaid volunteer. While this blog has not really seen much traffic because of my negligence I have also let it languish because its design seemed horribly broken in all browsers that I checked.I decided to give up blogging here as I wanted my own personalized domain and snagged a hosting offer.

So I have shifted over to www.bhaskars.net. Do drop in there.Adios, amigos un amigas

15-Oct-2008

Living out of poverty

Today is blog action day and the topic for this year is poverty.

In case people doesn't know Blog Action Day is a global initiative where bloggers from all over the world contribute to a conversation about a particular topic. You can read more about this here, on their official site.

Poverty, despite all the talk about beggars being happier than the rich folks, is dehumanizing. It robs people of their dignity, takes down the quality of life by several notches and prevents them from using their talents for betterment of the individual, family and society. Being poor sucks.

But how do we wipe out something as intrinsic to human society as poverty? After all at no point of time in human history has poverty been totally absent. One basic rule is that whatever the time and the place, there will always be haves and have-nots. But what can be done is reduce the disparity between these two classes to the maximum manageable level.

There has been different ways in which this has been attempted across various places and in different times, with varying levels of success. Communism has attempted it, socialism has attempted it, the capitalists, the globalists, the nationalists: all have their stated aim as preventing poverty. With rare exceptions, most of these experiments have not delivered the results. Now the latest thinking is use of technology to combat poverty.

Take an example. Kiva is a social networking site where people, instead of making friends fund needy entrepreneurs in third world countries. A struggling cosmetic seller in Nicaragua, a chicken farmer in Thailand, a jam maker in India...all have benefitted from this website. Usually their loan requests are small (less than $1000) and they can't borrow from formal channels. Kiva has partners, mostly NGOs in different countries who put up the profile of the entrepreneur on the site and solicit funds. The process is transparent as the repayment record is tracked online. In this way Kiva has disbursed over $46mn in funds. It might seem small but when you consider the fact that most of the donors are individuals and rarely donate above of 2 figures (in USD), that's a monumental effort.

The way ahead to combating poverty is, according to me, using the Internet. Organizations, individuals and governemrnts need to leverage the power and each of the Internet in creative ways. Too often corruption and poverty exists in a vicious circle. The Net can be used for reducing the incidence of corruption too- the Central Vigilance Commision in India used to put up the names of corrupt officials in its site.

The poor does not need empty promises by politicians, they need solid initiatives. In the context of India they need, perhaps, for governments to adopt a hands-off approach.

14-Oct-2008

Chandigarh churnings

What has a city got to do with your state of mind?

My answer would be, pretty much everything. Shift your place of life and work and your outlook towards life changes.

Take my example. I live and work in Bombay, one of India's busiest cities. From the top the whole city looks like a sprawling and a very crowded colony of ants. Entire families spanning across generations live in a single rooms. Suburban trains run across huge distances ferrying millions of people daily. There is no time to rest here, no time to feel the pulse of nature, to time to contemplate life's mysteries, no time to introspect. It's basically a very shitty way to live especially if you come from a small town.

Now for the last week or so I have moved into Chandigarh, I understand how Bombay has been affecting me, in ways that I could never have imagined. Chandigarh is India's first planned city, and was laid out by Le Corbusier. Therefore it has managed to avoid a lot of problems that typical cities in India face: unplanned growth, chronic overcrowding, traffic snarls et al. The roads are ridiculously empty even during so called rush hours and there is plenty of greenery. I can say that almost 90% of the roads here are what can be qualified as leafy boulevards.I have seen another funny thing: even at 10.30 in the night, when the roads are all deserted the traffic lights work and drivers stop at the light. Totally un-Indian like behaviour.

Therefore, what I imagine is driving on these roads is a breeze. You get almost zero pollution, you have disciplined drivers and you get empty streets. In fact it is a shock to some one from a messy place like Bombay and almost creeped me out the first time. Now that I have gotten used to it I wonder how it would feel when I would be plonked into the horrible Bambaiya traffic snarls.

I will leave off now. If I praise Chandigarh enough it might suffer from the Evil Eye syndrome.!!! I still have a lot more, but it is a bit personal and I will probably say it later.

Oh and my office is 5 minutes walk away from my room, compared to a torturous and crowded 45 minutes bus ride (lesser of the two evils. Forget the locals). Take that, Bombay

16-Aug-2008

After a month

The last 40 days I have seen and learned a lot about human nature. About organizational hierarchies. About processes and systems. About laws and procedures. And I have started to understand why large organizations, steeped in bureaucracy will never be able to innovate.

My job is an Information Security Auditor. Sounds pretty fancy, right? This job is part grunt work, part great work. I spend my time either at client sites poring over their documentation, interrogating the various employees about business procedures and policy shortcomings and raising questions like why in tarnation do they store their financial data backup in a safe with the family jewellery.

The last mentioned accident happened at a broker office.This was a small firm, with the office and the residence of the CEO two buildings away. Every night the daily logs were taken on a portable HDD and kept in the CEO's safe. When we questioned the practice he gave a look reserved for imbeciles and started a long, entertaining, rambling lecture. It began with the cribbing about fire safety regulations (what will they do to the data if there is an atomic explosion? tell us to keep the data in lead lined boxes???), went on info about how to save yourself from a thief (kick the low life in the penis!!) and ended with his guns (I have a Mauser and an elephant rifle and practise regularly on the shooting range. There is no bastard born who leaves my place in one piece after a robbery). Phew. Wonder how many rascals he had killed. He also swore that when he gets on the governing body of the exchange he was going to shake things up.

Take it easy, man.

While I may come across a guy who loves to pick faults and mistakes, a well run IT shop would get my highest praise. People just need to get out of their comfort zone and get more educated about their work, especially those who work in sensitive posts. Start ditching IE 5, don't plug in USB drives in production computers, don't use the name of your family dog as the password. Surely that can't be hard, eh?

UPDATE: The lines above this post were written about a month ago....somehow I never got around to posting them. So the title makes change. Right now I am in green and clean and cool Chandigarh, enjoying the life that moves a bit slowly. More on Chandigarh in a later post.

14-Jul-2008

Adios

One phase of my life is over, another is about to begin. Professionally, that is. Personally I have already got into another territory altogether, a state of mind where people get blind and go around the world.

The thing is, I am no longer employed. I quit my job at Digit and now am searching for another job. I will get one eventually but there is going to be a wait. The one question, actually two questions I have been getting are: Why? and Why didn't you wait until you had an offer?

Why indeed? Sometimes it happens that you loose the will to work. Life becomes a routine and feels monotonous. You don't want to wake up in the morning, you don't want to do your daily routines and go for work. You lose that fire inside you when you feel that you are being cheated, that you are wasting your time.

Right now things are normal on the surface. I am serving out my notice period and there has been no change in the daily routine. I still come in, do my research, write out the articles, talk to people and go home late in the night. What has changed is the fact that I will be getting out of my comfort zone and learning some new stuff. Good stuff and exciting stuff, I hope.

08-Jul-2008

On leaving my mobile...

Something bad happened. I left my mobile phone at home today.

I am not one of those gadget freaks who are in love with any device that has an LCD screen and a microprocessor. I also really didn't depend on the mobile for my livelihood, as I was neither a doctor on call or a stockbroker in the middle of a bull run. I am just one of those regular guys that use the mobile phone to keep in touch with friends and family.

When I first came to know I was scared. How would I survive without the cell? A minute or two later I felt an emptiness. And then was the concern about missing all those calls, and missing that one important call which could change your life. Y'know, something like a job interview.


So why I was distressed by the loss? Simply because it has become a part of me. Look around you: apart from wallets and purses the one thing common to all people would be a cell phone. Often, in a city where you are alone in the crowds the cell phone is the only lifeline to the warmth and companionship of a drawing room, or a primeval campfire. I am missing you, my Nokia 3110.

However I am also a bit peeved at how much we have started to rely on something that is so easily misplaced or stolen. Take the ability to remember things, for instance. Our memories are so full of holes that we can't recall even 5 phone numbers if our lives depended on it. Every time we are doing something or the other: playing inane games, reading or sending SMSes, clicking photos or listening to GB worth of music. I am no Luddite but I think that we are in the danger of becoming too dependent on technology, too much for our own good.

So this is what I am gonna do: Remember at least 5 numbers everyday, numbers that I think would be important. I am also going to check my pockets everytime I leave home so that I don't forget my mobile anymore.

These two things should do the trick.

18-Jun-2008

Mozilla says thanks



And I am much obliged.

Today is Firefox Download Day, when Mozilla Foundation attempts to set a world record for the maximum number of downloads of a particular software within a specific time period (24 hours). They even set up a site where people signed up to pledge to download the browser. This was given wide publicity by the Internet and users from all over the world have been waiting with bated breath for the new version of Firefox (it's 3) to be uploaded on the homepage.

With more than one million pledges Mozilla looked like it needed to hire additional servers to handle the strain once Download Day kicked in. They might have made some arrangements but I don't think it was enough. People all over the internet have been complaining about how slow or unresponsive the servers have been once the clock started ticking. And folks have been hitting the servers with gusto. For, at the time of writing this post (7 pm IST) there have been 6,757,833 downloads, with approximately 3 hours for the cut off time. Rounding the figure off to 6 million in 24 hours, this means 70 downloads every second from every corner of the world. And when you consider that it is a free and open source web browser that is not backed by big money, the effort is phenomenal, and once of the best illustrations of why power of the crowds can no longer be ignored.

A big Firefox fan since its 1.5.x.x days I was more than happy to participate in this effort. I duly downloaded the executable from the site though there was nothing new in its features for me. You see, I have been using the betas and release candidates since the last two months and I have been more than pleased with the new shiny version. In recognition of my "efforts" I got this record certificate to flaunt. I don't know if the link would still stay active after D-Day, but this is where you would go if you want your certificate. Try your luck.

For folks who want to know what the brouhaha is all about here is a handy guide to Firefox 3 by the fine folks at Lifehacker, one of the best in the business of tech journalism. Read in your free time.

On a parting note, here is some fun stuff. Open a new tab and type about:mozilla. You might also try this Firefox 3 specific Easter egg - about:robots. Have fun with your new browser and rediscover the web.

UPDATE: The Firefox downloads have crossed the 8 million mark in 24 hours. Which means that after I posted there were more than 1 million downloads in 3 hours. Freakin' awesome.
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