Thursday, January 31, 2013

Intelligent Calendar please

A few years back, we were all celebrating the arrival of Web 2.0 which was an improvement over Web 1.0. Static websites were dead, dynamic was in. The web was pronounced to be ‘intelligent’. And then came the app wave – which we are in now. And the logical next step is supposed to be internet of things. But there is some more intelligence that can be built in – in some small simple ways. Take a calendar for instance. 

In my view, that calendar which we use in most web apps is one of the remnants of the dinosaur age of the internet and needs some tweaking.

In most websites – travel booking websites – the calendars are still organized monthly. As in, let us say, that today, 31st Jan, I try to book a ticket – the calendar will show me static months. Some websites have the provision of multiple months nearby, but this is not the same thing as being able to move your mouse and change the month. Or in a mobile phone – when I click calendar, I should see, logically, date starting from today – and showing me a slightly longer perspective than the current month with the next 2 days and a greyed out February first week. Question is, why cant these calendars be ‘intelligent’?

Or, better put, why do calendars still follow a frozen monthly pattern as we used to see in paper based calendars. There, is actually, no calendar designed for the internet – not that I have seen one yet. Is there a better calendar, an intelligent one, designed for the internet?

The curious case of Daood Gilani

Daood Gilani, aka, David Headley was a tourist to India. When the history is written, he will have been among the first terror tourist to India - and perhaps he will open a new vista of tourism like medical tourism in India.

Pardon the satire, but this tourist made 5 visits to India between 2006 and 2008 (though the NIA chargesheet details many more). From the wiki link, is this,

"Headley said Iqbal gave him $25,000 to set up a front company in Mumbai as a cover while conducting reconnaissance for the attacks. Headley spent months scouting the Taj Mahal Hotel and other targets for Mir and Iqbal. The latter also sent him on separate missions to gather intelligence on an atomic research center and military sites around India. Iqbal contributed advice about tactical issues to the Mumbai plot: escape routes for the gunmen, setting up a safe house, hijacking an Indian vessel at sea." [wikipedia][specifically read the section, Participation in the Mumbai 2008 Attacks]

This man was charged with about 35 years in prison a few days back.

Now in all of these visits, the man had a few friends in India - some who we know and many we dont. B Raman, thinks that the latter is a part of the puzzle, Indian authorities have been reluctant to piece together.

He calls Headley and Rana as the tip of the iceberg even as he writes,

7.The hidden iceberg itself consisted of the contacts of Headley and Rana in the Indian Muslim community who facilitated their frequent clandestine travels to India for helping the LET leaders in Pakistan and the ISI in planning and executing the 26/11 strikes. Surprisingly, neither in the narrative of the FBI nor in that of the NIA is there much reference to the Indian cells of Headley and Rana. No attempt has been made to identify them and question them.[Raman  Strategic Analysis]

In another blog post, he writes:

7. From the moment Rana was arrested, I have been pointing out that while extradition may be difficult in the case of Headley, it may not be difficult in the case of Rana and that we should press for it in order to collect details of the Headley-Rana network in India. Again intriguingly, this option has till now not been vigorously pursued by the NIA, which works under the MHA. At least now, we should try for his extradition.[Raman Strategic Analysis]

I cringe having to link to this Praveen Swami article, after his latest apology of an article, but well, this one is good.

If  you see the level of detail that has gone into the video recordings made for Mumbai - many hours worth of video - that is no mean thing.

Early last December, interrogators from the Mumbai Police and Intelligence Bureau listened patiently as Mohammad Ajmal Amir “Kasab” described just how he knew his way around a building he had never seen, in a city he had never visited.
Like the other nine members of the assault team that killed 163 people in Mumbai last November, Amir explained, he was shown hours of videotape of his target — the Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus station.  
Headley, the documents filed by the FBI state, “was instructed to take boat trips in and around the Mumbai harbour and take surveillance video.”  [The Hindu]

This piece states how he stayed with his wife at the Taj and the Trident (both of which were targets for the November 2008 massacre.

The chargesheet alleges that Headley was instructed by his handlers based in Pakistan to carry out reconnaissance of the 2nd floor of the Taj Mahal hotel, particularly the ball room and conferences halls. On the instruction from his handler, Headley and Faiza first stayed at Taj Mahal hotel for three days and then checked into Oberoi Trident on April 30. The two stayed at Trident till May 2, 2007 and again checked into Taj Mahal hotel on May 3, 2007 where the couple stayed for a few more days, according to the chargesheet.

The NIA has also brought on record the travel details of Faiza from Pakistan and Headley who was on his sixth visit to India when he carried out surveillance of the two hotels.

The NIA chargesheet claims that Headley made eight visits to India before the 10 terrorists carried out the attacks. The first visit by Headley was made in June 2006. [Financial Express

Now, there has been a lot of debate about whether there was any local support or not for the entire operation. To me, it seems intriguing that for the Mumbai attacks, just a few people have been arrested so far. And that this chap David Headley was tried in the US. One terrorist captured alive -was executed a few weeks back. Those being tried in Pakistan have as much chance of being proven 'guilty' by their legal process as much as Javed Miandad had of being declared lbw in Pakistan.

Incredibly no one, absolutely no one in Pakistan has been punished for this crime (as far as I know and despite all those dossier bombings by India).

Dont know about you, but I need a guide for sightseeing tourist spots - atleast in my first visit. And if you talk of extensive recces at any place spread over months, all that requires a fair amount of local knowledge - that is not even available in your lonely planet guides - you dont get it unless you spend time locally and with people. If so, the terrorists would have just walked in with a lonely planet guide book no? But anyway, nobody in India has helped these terrorists in any way - atleast going by the arrests so far...not even the lonely planet guide book.

Related Links: Propublica has been covering this topic extensively. 

And this great one hour video as well, which I had written about...

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Whatsapp disrupting carriers

Every festival time, our great mobile carriers hike their SMS rates. Even for those who have paid for an 'SMS Plan'. They send us a helpful note saying, for the next few days, we will charge you a bomb for SMS - your plan will not be applicable.

But right under their noses, there is a service called whatsapp - which is a platform agnostic messaging service that works across Android, iOS and Blackberry. And this year, most of the wishes I received were over whatsapp.Perhaps it made a dent in the service providers revenues, perhaps it did not, but it is disrupting the market bigtime.

As a service whatsapp is far more richer than SMS among other things. Cost is lower and offers a far greater user experience. As more and more people buy smartphones, and people take up mobile internet, the old SMS could soon be a thing of the past, except for perhaps service alerts and suchlike.

Now here is what service providers could do. First, is the obvious, hike their tariff on SMS even more. Or hike their internet charges (this I think is anyway happening, very soon, one way or other). But if they thought of it, they could perhaps create their own messenger service across platforms or even look for a tie up with whats app. Or drop their SMS prices really low. Or whatever else. But mostly, they will do the obvious.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Washing Powder proposal

Presenting Rain (Barkha in Hindi) brand washing powder. 
Best when used on certain propaganda machines, but works over other friendly machines too. 
Caution: Works only for 'secular' dirt. 
Slogan: Secular daag achche hain

Services offered by New Dhulai Tele Washers (one of two exclusive sale outlet of Rain washing powder): 
Ticker Services: First, we ignore the dirt. Then, if it spreads too much, we use a little washing powder strip to clean it locally over a small area. Only if it does not work, we recommend other solutions.

Long Cycle wash: Image sullied? Ticker did not work? No problems. Check into our laundry where over an interview, your image will be washed clean of all daags. A few tears may be needed to soften the image later, but the laundry can handle that – technology is no problem here.

24x7 service: Need a quick image makeover? Let us know. We will send over our specialist technician diva to come over and redo your image over a thread by thread cleaning. Even at midnight. Charges, will, of course, vary, but surely, for an urgent image fix, charges should not be a  factor.

The Duck Stops at your Home: We will come to your home, in your garden (err...why is that relevant) and do an interview at your place while your image gets washed. We will assure you the softest treatment of your image and deliver it at express speed across any friendly channel you desire - though Now-adays, at Times, it does not work.

We, the washerpeople: Sustained cleaning by a larger set of dhobis, used to clean images not cleaned by normal, local washing.

1.40 rupee sachet: Quick image washing services for 1.40 rupees only. Again, open 24X7, even when we are closed for other services. Offer open only for VIP customers. Direct Messages accepted. Multi-use recommended for sustained instant image cleaning.

Fan Services: On sending an appreciative note, a free 1.40 sachet will be delivered almost instantly. No guarantee or warranty. Multi-use may not work.

Life Time Service Agreement: Currently this offer is closed. And cannot be availed. Limited customers only, by invitation.

Country Level Agreement: Currently closed. Periodically offer opens to 'secular' nations, 'secular' protests.

Also, available, Chalta-Bakta (loosely, translated, walking-talking) services for portable use.

Caveat Emptor: Works with secular dirt only, not communal dirt. Even a small fleck of communal dirt will be magnified by the use of this product.

Proposed Hindi Jingle:

Washing Powder Barkha, washing powder Barkha
doodh si safedi, Barkha se aaye
jaldi se 'secularon' ko safedi mil jaaye 
(sing to the tune of a familiar old washing powder ad)

(This is satire, what did you expect?)

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Strategic Trap

With Pakistan, India seems to have fallen into a strategic trap of its own making. These are the two most popular strategic theories that go along are something like this.

Strategy 1: ‘The two countries are armed with nuclear weapons. Therefore, if India does something, we run the risk of it escalating it into a full scale nuclear war.’
Strategy 2: ‘There are elements within Pakistan who want to destabilize the peaceful relations with India and Pakistan. Therefore, we need to not play into their hands by doing they want us to do – which is fight, hence, we will sit tight regardless of what Pakistan does’

If I translate this into street language, it means, in situation 1, Pakistan can do anything, if we retaliate in any way, they will nuke us. Exhibit: Kargil and yesterday’s mutilation of soldiers, where we remained spectators and in Kargil we bombed our own territory.
Situation 2 is a subset of 1 – which is that Pakistan can do anything and claim some non-state actor did it and therefore we must sit tight and let them get away with murder, literally. Exhibit: 26/11 (worst case so far).

Both of these are Strategic Traps. In this current line of thinking, we seem to believe that the only option available to us is non-retaliation. And we seem to have taken this very seriously. We believe in engaging with Track II diplomacy, we believe in people to people crap, relaxing visa restrictions, we believe in playing cricket matches, we believe in allowing their artists to perform here and in allowing trade delegations here. This is apart from planning to build pipelines through Pakistan or supplying locomotives or diesel or electricity or relief material or something.

Essentially, this means, that the thief next door can keep stealing chickens from our house, but we pretend that nothing is happening and maintain normalcy, because if we do, he might bring out his big knife and stab us. We seem to forget that we have a bigger knife in our home and we are bigger and stronger – and that we can use it.  But he has become so brazen that he keeps stealing chickens and we keep behaving like one.

How can this be broken? I don’t know how the policy makers that be can be shown a different door to walk through, but I can see a few things.

One, ban all this track II diplomacy crap. Stop supplying locomotives and diesel and such things. Stop engaging with their cricket team (by the way, exactly the way Pakistan does with a certain country by the name of Israel), their artistes. And yes, please build a counter strike (covert and overt) capability – better than the way they have with us. And use it, disproportionately, once. And watch them cringe. The beauty is India needs to do this just once. That will shut them up. If they dont, well, we can take some damage and live to tell the tale.

Recognize that their entire country is gone – gone to the dogs. Those so called brothers are ours have died or senile and a new generation  of fundos have taken over. Start from Salman Taseers assassination and how his assassin is being treated to Hafiz Saeed and Malala. There is no living breathing exhibit of tolerance or mutual respect emanating from that country.

Retaliate. Do what it takes. And there are many options. From water to diplomacy to banning sports and music and a million other things. Indians are not missing Pakistani artistes or cricketers or shawls or rice. Let them keep it with them alongwith their terrorists and their poisonous ideology.

And I have been saying this for years. Heres, Big Shi(f)t from 2010
September 2009: What you build is where you go

Jan 2009: Are you bored

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Do you still get your news from newspapers?

Each day morning, a newspaper lands up at your doorstep. Sometimes many. News is delivered at your doorstep - the fag end of a process that begins with a tree being cut someplace. A tree is cut so that you can read on paper made from the tree about how important is it for you to be eco-friendly. Among other things of course. And the newspaper is part of the new media that originated in the 17th century - thanks to the spread of the printing press.

The printing press made it very easy for people to access news, books, ideas - which prior to that was transmitted mostly by word or handwritten scrolls and suchlike. So, the printing press was the beginning of, loosely, the internet of the 17th century and until the digital internet came along in the late 1990s. But the medium survives. It has survived, by and large, the first digital media invasion - that of television and radio prior to that. But suffice it to say that, the newspaper is, well, a 17th century relic

Today, when you see newspapers and television anchors lament over the crass and rash social media, they aren't doing anything new. They are doing what anybody does in their position. Resist. Why, Socrates, the great philosopher, thought writing would wreak havoc on the powers of the mind. This comes from this lovely article in Wired...

When in doubt, blame the latest technology. Socrates thought the advent of writing would wreak havoc on the powers of the mind. Christian theologians denounced the printing press as the work of the devil. The invention of the telephone was supposed to make letter-writing extinct, and the arrival of the train — and later the car and plane — was going to be the death of community. [Wired]

There is a huge infrastructure that delivers this news to you. An entire infrastructure of people who collect news, another set of people (the editors and others) who decide what goes into print and sometimes yet another set of people over them who decide even prior to that, by way of policy, of whether to let certain news past their gates. Essentially, they decide what they think you should see - whether it is TV or Radio or Newspaper. And then somebody has to pay for them - mostly advertisers - who pay for the circulation of the newspaper - by way of them getting 'eyeballs'. Until, of course, newspapers discovered that some news also can be paid for and there is a potential for quid pro quo by publishing the 'right things'. Thus, newspaper editors got 'influencing power' and often that led to transactions of a not exactly ethical nature. But let us leave ethics aside.

So, what you get to see each day, is a mix of advertising power, what the editors think you should see and some amount of give and take between the powers that be. And not to forget demographic diversity, political correctness and various other such factors.

Earlier newspapers were used to spread ideas as well or test the waters for something. Not any longer. Almost all authors put their writing or ideas on a blog these days - much before their book gets published - which is much before a review of it appears in the newspaper.

Newspapers also carried weather reports - which, well, is available on the internet very easily these days and that too, 24X7., does it better than most others!

Newspapers gave you breaking news - they worked all through the night while you slept and thus, what they delivered to you was unknown to you until morning. But, now, their websites are ahead of their print edition by approximately 5 hours at the shortest point and by about 24 hours at the longest. And I am not yet talking about Twitter.

Newspapers carried sports news. While there are entire sites dedicated for one sport with minute-by-minute live updates and analysis and interaction and statistics and some great writing as well. Sehwag interview for example. Well, I rest my case.

The New York Times, byline says, even today - All The News That's Fit to Print.

For each newspaper, there is a 'committee' out there that decides what is fit to print. Add another constraint because there is a size limitation of a few pages for each section. So, getting printed was a big deal. In the limited space of the newspapers, a god committee would decide what goes in. (The inquisitive mind will know that blog has a tag called 'print' that captures all the stuff that this author has managed to get through various such committees into various limited spaces with pride - an example of an old mentality.)

With the advent of the internet, especially the mobile internet, anyone at the stop of a news can theoretically, create news. With the invention of blogs, people like yours truly have a platform for 'publishing' news, views or their opinion. And once upon a time, getting printed in a newspaper was a great thing - no longer. Some articles on the internet have a much longer shelf life and accessibility. Also, no newspaper wants a columnist to be bigger than themselves - the internet has no such threat to itself.

And about committees of editors, the less said the better. My twitter timeline for example has a bunch of great editors who scan the internet and the physical world for each other and share the news that they see themselves. I also know that their interests match my own - so I get to read what I want to read, not what some exalted committee thinks I should read.

At the end of this, a tree is sacrificed to deliver news at your doorstep - when all the news is already there on your computer, your mobile phone and your twitter timeline. Yes, the news is already stale by the time it is at your doorstep.

Now, do you really need a newspaper? (And you wont see this article in a newspaper.)

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Goodbye newspapers

Starting 2013, I took the decision of stopping a dead tree newspaper from being delivered to my home. Why? A bunch of reasons, a small fraction of that was environmental, a small fraction political, but the large part of it was irrelevance of the newspaper in these days of pervasive media and news and the way a newspaper is created.
The newspaper (and the New York Times says - all the news that is fit to print), is created by a set of people who decide what the big story of the day should be. Whether that is a nuclear disaster in Japan or Barack Obama winning in USA or yet another cricket match. And so on. Ultimately, I get to see news that is decided by a set of people as 'deemed' news. In these days of social media and the internet, that is passe. And remember, the internet has no size restriction, like pages nor an advertisement roadblock - and it has a memory. What better place for a news junkie? Ultimately, a newspaper is but a small segment of news that is available out there, out of which a smaller portion serves my interests. And other than that, it is a lot of  'paid news and advertisements' and page 3 junk that I can do without.

My twitter feed and my google reader largely serves my news puuposes and over the past couple of years, I have seen that newspapers are way behind this curve.

If you are looking at a newspaper for ideas, well, those ideas have long since made their appearance on social media, on blogs before finding their way to a newspaper.

And news, well, the newspapers production cycle lags behind even their websites. So, news and ideas are stale.

What is left? Marketing. Well, that is something I can do without.

Opinions and Editorials - well, frankly, the internet is a far better place to get editorials and opinions - direct and indirect. Over the last few years, quite a few good blogs and great twitter feeds have educated me far more than a newspaper. Two sites of interest, Centreright and Niticentral, among other things.

The last, and perhaps most important point, is that a lot of places on the internet, serve the news in a far more unbiased manner than newspapers purport to bring out. Newspapers and those who run it, over the past few years, have demonstrated  that their interests lie in serving their advertisers and the political powers that be than in really, printing the truth. Of late there have been instances, where newspapers also refuse to call out lack of journalistic ethics in another publication or lack of ethics by a member of the journalist fraternity or refuse to cover misdeeds of relatives of powerful and influential politicians or advertisers. The list goes on and on...

And for all this, do I need a dead tree delivered at my doorstep each day? So, it is end of an era of newspapers delivered at my door...