Thursday, July 14, 2016

Basic issues with Free Basics



 Facebook trying to introduce Free Basics in India 

What Indian states are good at ?


I was thinking of documenting a topic visually backed with data. It turned into a re-discovery of India. It was fascinating to learn, that there are still tribal folks living in Andaman and Nicobar Islands from Stone Age (12,000 to 2 million years old). That, our states are the size of countries. UP is the size of Brazil !

The final result is the visual below and the data collected can be found here.
States Visualized (Click to enlarge)


Goa is number 1 (per capita)- in GDP, in Industry and manufacturing. Number 2 in services and in the extent of tree cover, with a good 60% of the state covered in forest. I was about to label it the nicest place to live; but did not, because of this statistic : In crime against children it is no. 2 after Delhi(Oh oh). Similar is the case with Kerala; ahead in literacy, Female sex ratio, tree over, but #1 in total crimes committed.
Sikkim's high GDP growth rate over last 10 years was a surprise, so also that it is -per capita- 2nd in industry and 3rd in manufacturing.
People from south are more prone to do it. Women threaten to do it more often, but the number of men doing it is twice that of women. I am talking of.. Suicides and Puducherry leads the pack with 36 per lakh.
Speaking of Puducherry, I think there is scope for reorganizing the small geographically dispersed territories. Managing them must surely be a challenge. These union territories could be merged with the nearest states. The strain shows in the issues they face; high rate of suicides(Puducherry, D & N Haveli), low Female to Male sex ratio(Daman and Diu), poverty(Dadra & Nagar Haveli).
Gujarat is the biggest spender on vegetables. In fact many states in the north MP, UP, Haryana etc.) have very high proportion of pulses, vegetable, milk product consumption and very low expenditure on eggs, fish and meat.
Location matters. There are clusters of development, backwardness and other traits in the country. Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala of economic advancement. In the east Orissa, Bihar, kharkhand Chattisgarh form a cluster of poverty. In the center Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh of.. doing inefficient farming and so on.
North is more polluted than the south, Smaller the states less poverty there is. There are innumerable insights to be gained from the available data. Another surprise is the abundant availability of data.

Methodology followed:
Select an interesting topic - States of India. Keep an open mind and collect current data on each state. Wear a journalist hat and think of what i want to convey. Filter and select one label for a state. Visualize it in a picture.
A single label for a state the size of a country is unfair. (All labels are unfair!). But it does show some characteristic of the state.

Another aspect of data driven reporting is about accuracy of data. For e.g. in case of Crime statistics there are chances of under reporting. Ensuring complete gathering of data and ensuring its accuracy is something which needs to be insured but is out of our control. 
(Originally published in Jan 2016 on the site smacpress.in)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

How Digital can save the world

It was 25 years ago, in school, when I saw my first BASIC program on a Macintosh. Leaving aside PAC-MAN I did not understand what the device was doing; few classmates like Salim and Kishore did. Ten years later my father bought me a computer which he could barely afford. With my repressed hormones raging, I promptly connected to dial up internet, fired up a text only browser and searched for actresses’ pictures. So, I was not a prodigy in area of computers, by any stretch of imagination.
But for the next 15 years I worked in the Information Technology (IT) industry, travelling the world, developing, testing, supporting and selling software products and services. Few did well, few blew up spectacularly. But some great innovative individuals in the IT field helped transform one industry after another. Digital revolution slowly engulfed each and every industry and made businesses and life more efficient.  But, having said that; are we also happier now, than before? I think the answer to that, unfortunately for most people, would be a No; and the one thing I believe this revolution lacks is: A digital rebellion on a wider scale. I will come to what I mean by it.  
But first, let’s float in a little bit of technology bliss! 
In this post industrial, Digital age, we don’t need to go to banks any more, nor stand in queues to pay bills. We can telecommute to office; get service from e-government and municipal corporation portals more quickly. Any information needed is available at our service – on health, wealth, travel etc. We are connected like a web, getting news, entertainment, from people and information outlets all over the world. We can shop, sitting at home from a big inventory available to us. Lot of efficiency and automation has been created.
This revolution has made our life easier, but still old habits from industrial age have been hard to break; digital is still not a way of life on a wider scale. Telecommuting is not as widespread as it can be, nor is teleconferencing and video conferencing. Majority still read newspapers, magazines and books the old way on printed paper: which has been sourced from cutting trees. Unless they are printed for a community place like a library, for shared use; does, printing a hard copy of the above items, for individual use, make sense in this age? Does anyone really need a wrist watch – other than as an ornament- to just see time, when we can see it on the computer screen or mobile phone?
Meanwhile world has come to this: An unprecedented rise of carbon and other harmful gases in the atmosphere due to human activities with unwelcome climate change
Who is going to absorb the greenhouse gases spewed by those stuck in the industrial age? How can we transition to a saner new world and not have economic and technology development coincide with increase in Greenhouse gas emissions; as has been the case so far? A digital way of life has the ability to affect many sectors positively – Industry (Media, Entertainment, Publishing, Finance etc.), Transport, Buildings and Electricity and other energy production (through Smart City initiatives by suppliers and individual digital demands from customers.
On the other hand, those who have leveraged digital to some extent, have a different issue; of being overwhelmed by technology. With more time on their hands, they have tended to do more unessential things. Multi task, do more irrelevant shopping, read more irrelevant updates or news, living in a distracted state, doing unessential things. Staying glued to screens, reading messages pushed to them, or watching entertainment broadcast on the idiot box from 100+ channels is a common sight.
So on one hand significant part of the world has stuck to old habits, on the other, there are many folks using technology in a not so aware way. Till one year ago I was reading news both from the one printed and delivered to my house and one from the internet. It was a prolonged mental struggle for me to tell the newspaper vendor, to stop delivering the paper to my doorstep; which he was doing without fail, every morning since my childhood, and which had got bulkier and bulkier even though I was reading it lesser and lesser. 
According to me, like in case of any development, if our awareness does not develop as much or more than the technology, we are going to be used by the automation in technology, rather than we using it to run or even better our lives. Getting overwhelmed one push message at a time, by big data, by too many options and too many needless things to do; harming ourselves, harming the environment in the process. My solution to the problem is 3 fold:
  1. Analyse current state: After saying no to the newspaper vendor, I created a list of all items used by me in daily life, and re-evaluated whether; I really need them, need to replace them with something else or stop using them altogether. Here is a link to my analysis. I suggest you create a list of your own if not already done so and keep it updated.
  2. Introduce digital in life: Be it work, or leisure – telecommuting, telecommunication, eBooks, digital movies, services, all have low carbon footprint compared to the old equivalents. Most paper can be replaced by digital equivalents. If you check my spreadsheet above, I have gone for a minimalist approach, avoiding packaged products and non-digital products, reduce travel, preferring low carbon footprint way of doing essential activities.
  3. Control: One needs to stay alert to prevent technology from overwhelming us. Turn off needless push notifications. Turn off all technology when not needed. Being the master, treating technology as just a tool and prevent technology itself from becoming a problem.
I would like to conclude by inviting people from different sectors to be a part of this digital revolution and rebellion; as a worker and as a user. 20 years back, only computer engineers could work in the technology sector, and then it was turn of those with any engineering background, than turn of those from non engineering background. Now with advances like Software as a service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), any rational human being can jump in and be part of this juggernaut. It’s a world where standards are defined collaboratively, technology created in a community environment. Where any kind of skill you have – be it logical, analytical, design, architecture, communication, artistic etc. – will be put to good use if one is ready to change, keep learning and collaborate. Let’s all go digital with awareness and save our world, before time runs out. 
Please share your views, on how we can use new technologies with awareness to better our lives, in comments below.  

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The growing up ~ part 2

This is a sequel to The growing up ~ part 1


At home - Eleventh Standard

It was evening time and with nothing to do, I was browsing through my cupboard. Looking at the cricket bat inside, I could not help but wonder, when was the last time it was used. It had been a long time. I pulled the bat out and something else fell with it. My eyes lit up at the sight of a pair of old canvas shoes. Seeing them, my thoughts went back to a hot summer day when school had not yet begun and I was at Kishore's house.

Flashback - School Summer Holidays

We were in the balcony and excitedly looking at the new telescope that he had just bought from Nehru Science Centre.
"It has 30x zoom and we can see mountains on the moon’s surface with it” He said proudly, as I peered into the eye-piece, adjusting the focus.
“Really ?” I asked.
“Yep, also rings of Saturn.”
“But only at night, right?” I said and pointed the telescope to the window of a nearby building.
”Wow” I exclaimed.
“What can you see?” he asked
“I will tell you later” I replied as his mother called out to us to come inside. We went in.
“Aunty, the telescope is very nice” I said sitting on the small bed-cum-sofa. 
“Yes the father and son keep bringing these, all sorts of objects. His father also bought special glasses from his company to look at the solar eclipse next week. Any ways, do you have canvas shoes for school next year?”
“No not yet. My shoes are a bit tight but I think will be using them next year”
“OK, try out these shoes, they no longer fit Kishore, so he will need to get new ones,” saying this she brought out a pair of shoes which almost looked brand new”. I tried them on and they fit better than the ones I had, but I did not know whether I should take them.  Sensing the hesitancy, “Take them” she said “Are you also not like my son”
I took the shoes and came home. If there is any failure in my life it is in not creating more moments like these. Having received such affection; not passing it on. 


Back at home

The phone rang and I was brought back to the present. I kept the shoes back in the cupboard and answered it.
“Hi this is Vishal here. What are you doing? Are you busy studying?”
“No way, this is 11th standard. Who Studies?”
“Great” he replied. “Then let’s play, we will come to Shastri nagar ground and we can play cricket. I have spoken to the others and will be bringing some of our school friends, including some from Patkar College. You might know some of them they were in Gonsalves classes.
”Ok” I said. ”I will be there at the ground in 30 minutes.”       
I reached the ground to find everyone sitting in a circle near the pitch waiting for someone to bring the stumps. I joined them. 
Vishal was speaking
“You won’t believe whom I met the other day.” No one replied and he continued excitedly “Sindhu! I was going to see a movie when she hailed out to me, from across the street, introducing me to her mother and sister, who were with her. Spoke very nicely. Though, I wish she was as friendly in school. Also she has lot of pimples now,” he ended on a somber note. The appearance of spots had led to disappearance of half of his interest.
I remembered the good looking classmate, who had never ending hair tied in loops, with whom; I had once bonded over an adventurous Enid Blyton book. Otherwise we were separated by marks, class many things. She was soft spoken and I was stupid.
“Which movie did you see”, Gaurav asked, trying to move the conversation away from pimples.
“Aankhen”, he replied, giving a detailed positive review of the movie ending with “…Shilpa  Shirodkar has also done a great job in it.” She does not have pimples, I thought.
“I think, she is a bit cheap.” Gaurav said.
“But, public only likes such things, these days.” Vishal replied, projecting again, others preferences onto his views. I thought he would be good film reviewer some day. 
“I don’t think, we should go by others opinion. Our liking might not be same as someone else’s. It’s possible that even our parents might not like what we like.” He continued in rebellious mood, “The other day I was speaking to girlfriend on phone, with my mother sleeping nearby. I was telling her you have such beautiful long hair, which look so good on you’. It turned out my mother was listening and later scolded me for talking like this. Parents can sometimes have such a limited view.” The conversation was broken by the news that stumps had arrived, so we went onto the field, finally to do something that we understood and enjoyed – play cricket.  
   I was in the fielding side and was parked onto the offside. If you have played cricket you would know it can be a long wait with most batsmen preferring to heave over the leg side. I observed as each bowler ran in - past Kishore who was the umpire - and bowled; each one, with a distinctive action of his own, each one a personality, unique. We were all, already unique but oblivious to the fact we were still trying to be different, to be unique to stand out at that time. With the ball hardly coming my way my thoughts drifted to the afternoon time when I went to college even though I had decided to go somewhere else.  


Flashback – That day at college


I had got up in the morning and reluctantly gone to my college in Andheri. It was friendship day, and during the break as I climbed down the stairs of the college building, I saw some familiar faces. They were all lining up to have a friendship band tied by a boy. I asked why this boy is so much in demand.
“His name is Snehal,” my friend said “it sounds like a girl’s name hence we want to have his name on our wrist to show off.”  I felt the already low bar of under-performance in my small college friend circle sink even lower. Something needed to be done. A real victory was required in these despondent times. Studying in a co-ed had at least taught me that girls were not from a different planet. I slipped past my group of friends and saw Abid Ali my school friend, walking in from the gate.
“You are late and where were you all these days” I asked.
“I had gone to Nepal, let’s talk over lunch”, he said. We went outside the college to CafĂ© Alfa near Andheri station. We ordered Chicken Afghani for him and Palak Paneer for me. Over lunch he mentioned about how he was involved in some business and had to travel.
“You went there alone by flight?”  I asked unbelievably, having never sat in an airplane myself.
“Yes and have done such business trips many times before. Listen, I will give you a tip; when on a flight you can ask for multiple cans of coke and take them with you, in your handbag and have it later. Saves money”
“That’s great and you seem to have got a handle over doing business pretty fast,” I said.
“Yeah, I have multiple interests, you know about the stock market?”
“Not much, you buy shares?”
“No, I just take the big pile of free application forms lying around and sell it to the junk dealer. “
By this time we had finished lunch. We came out of the restaurant and I said good bye to Abid. I was very impressed by my high flying friend who seemed to have figured out how to travel, do business e.t.c. while I was stuck with a question mark over everything. Starting with, “Where should I go now?”
I got onto the local train and when it reached Goregaon station, decided to get out from Goregaon East side instead of west, where I lived. Reaching a buffalo stable, near a railway crossing. I asked the man sitting there where abc’s building was. He pointed to an unpainted, single floor old structure right in front. Dreams had met reality and it was not pretty. I had imagined her staying in some swanky place. Why is the building near railway tracks, don’t they get disturbed? Why is she staying near a Buffalo stable? She has a buffalo stable view instead of a garden view? Questions buzzed in my head, my mind conjuring up excuses to back out.
But still I gathered courage, Took out my notepad and pen to act like surveyor, and reached to the bottom of the building. I asked a boy standing there, where abc stayed, taking her last name. He led me to the back of the building where there were many guys, some washing utensils, maybe working for a restaurant. Are they in restaurant business? I thought. There was a lot of commotion. Or maybe the commotion was in my head. My head had started to reel by now.
"Here," he said pointing to a door and before I could have said anything, he knocked. My mind was making plans to turn and run. But before I could do that, the door opened and there stood a guy, who looked older than me, having the same cat eyes as abc. I guessed he was her brother.
“He was looking for you” The boy who had brought me here said pointing to me. I stood there utterly speechless. My school elocution attempt on stage flashed before my eyes, when I had not been able to utter a single word.
“Yes, tell me” he said. All of my fairy tale plans had gone for a toss. Here I was in a house which was shaken up by passing trains, every few minutes, with a buffalo stable in front, confronted with her brother, with no words coming out of my mouth.
“I... Well  ...” “I think I  ... got the wrong house, this is not the right person” I finally blurted out while simultaneously turning around “What  ...Wait” I heard “Sorry got the wrong address” I replied without turning back, my walk, turning into a jog, to a run.

Back at the ground

“Catch it!!” I heard a loud voice.
The batsman had hit the ball very high in my direction. I was jolted back to the present. When a ball is hit in the air and coming towards you, all the thoughts in the mind vanishes.There is only one thing in the world the ball, nothing else. It is like a moment of Zen, the elusive, being in the moment experience. No questions, no exams, no troubles. I got into position to catch the lofted ball, The rubber ball came down in an arc, making it even more difficult. I lost balance and lay flat on the ground. I had spilled the catch. A straightforward chance; I had made it look difficult, with my ridiculous attempt. There were shouts of disapproval. Actually, my sense of balance was never quite right, ever. 

Life situations keep telling us so many things, but we ignore it. Here it was telling me my eyesight is not up to the mark, nor my sense of balance. This should have been a good indicator for what I should be doing in life. But I never learned and this led to some ridiculous desire to join the military later. Basically, I should have realized sooner what i was good for - sitting and doing nothing.

The batsman was living dangerously and the next ball he again tried to hit for four, but missed and the ball hist his leg. Then it happened! Kishore, very clear about, where the ball was headed, lifted his finger and gave the batsman out leg before. The team batting, erupted into a spontaneous protest, the fielding side was bit puzzled too. Never before in our history of rubber ball cricket, had anyone been given out leg before wicket - LBW. LBW decisions were too complicated.

Fig 1: It was not as plumb as this
The controversial decision stayed but resulted in the change of the decision maker; the umpire was replaced. The game went on well past bad light and we had to stop when there was almost no light. The sun set and we called it a day. Everyone left, just me and Kishore remained on the ground. We lay on the grass looking at the stars which filled the sky.

“You are too much” I said, referring to the LBW decision.
“He was out. I can show what the LBW rule says in the encyclopaedia Britannica.” Still convinced he had done the right thing.
 “Look” he said pointing to the sky. “That’s a satellite.”
“You can see satellites, with the naked eye?” I asked, straining to catch anything moving, in the maze of stars. But gave up, and wondered what else was out there, hidden.
“What is at the end of the world?” I asked, half expecting a reply
“Quasars,” He answered. He seemed to have an answer to everything
I remembered the afternoon time and suddenly looking up that night, my questions 
disappeared, science disappeared, objectivity disappeared only subjectivity was there, the night sky looked alive and the moon luminous. People say love is blind. But isn't it true that only love has eyes, everything else is blind?
Our pondering's were interrupted by a familiar voice, calling out from a distance, 
"Kishore.. ” It was Kishore father approaching, who had come searching for him.
"What are you doing here so late?"
"Nothing," he replied. We got up dusted ourselves and walked a weary walk back home. It was a long eventful day, cut short by mundane needs; having dinner and going to sleep. But there would always be another day - to play, to love and go deeper into the mysteries of the universe. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The growing up ~ part 1

It was 11th standard and all hell had broken loose. We had changed apartment one more time and the stability, the only continuity in life –School- had ended. Waters of innocence were beginning to clash with rocky realities. Time spent in reading abstract books, was now spent in doing trial and error with real life situations. Quadratic equations, Boyle’s laws, Thermodynamics, Bunsen burners, periodic tables, tundra region, dadabhai naoroji; nothing taught in school was of any use. Plus it felt strange being a teenager and at the same time being in college, amongst people, I knew little about. So to escape the not so pleasant reality my mind tried going into the future or to the past. Future was unknown, maybe 12th standard and more studies, so past it was!

One rainy day, sitting at home, having bunked college again, I was browsing through my telephone diary and there in front of me was the telephone number of a schoolmate, which I obtained from a common friend. Mentally, I had put her in the good looking bracket. By the 10th standard, the list had grown and there were about 10% of girls in the good looking bracket; the ones of more interest were the ones who were approachable, a little independent,

I had been thinking about her since a few days, today I just picked up a notebook and started writing my feelings. Finishing the write-up, I closed the notebook with a sigh and an urge to know more about her. So I picked up the phone and dialed her residence number. She picked up, and said “Hello?”
“Hello Good afternoon, I am calling from MTNL” I replied speaking in a deeper voice, in an attempt to sound older. “We are doing a re-validation of customer details, and going through the records we found that your address is not updated in our records….”I said pausing. “So, please give your address”. I concluded unconvincingly.

“What?” She said and then started conversing in the background with, who I believe were, her sister and mother, in her mother tongue, which I did not understand, but surely they must have discussed the validity of this odd request, coming out of nowhere. My heart beat faster. But then she said “Ok. Write down “.... Goregaon, Mumbai”. I wrote down as she gave her complete address, smiling to myself thinking, how I had got what I wanted. Maybe the thought of MTNL personnel turning unfriendly made her give out the details. Whatever her reason, but it was a lesson that lying and boldness makes it easy in this complicated world.   

Later that day, as the rain stopped, I walked a few blocks and reached the apartment complex of Kishore; my school friend since many years, and now my one link to solidity in a, now, liquid, changing life. Some called him a scientist and thought his knowledge was of no practical use; their interests confined to non-intellectual fun pursuits; games, girls, movies etc. Me on the contrary appreciated the knowledge he possessed and shared. His bookshelves were as full as mine were empty.

I whistled the unique whistle which only we knew. His head peaked from the grills of his third floor apartment and disappeared.  He came down. His mother was watching from above. We sat down under the coconut tree.

“I just read that 150 people are killed by falling coconuts every year” he said patting the stray dog which had started to linger around his legs. There were some coconuts on the tree; we decided to go for a walk, the dog followed us through the winding streets lined with small apartment complexes of  2-3 floors.
Our talks had no limits it covered the neighborhood to faraway stars, no topic was off limits.
“You know I am in love.” I exclaimed feeling a load lift from my heart, having expressed the inexpressible. 
“With whom? “, he asked
“xyz”, I replied
“The girl from our school, wow, since when?” he asked surprised.
“I realized this only after leaving school. I have written a letter too”, I said bringing out a crumpled handwritten page torn from a notebook. He read it

*******
“Dear abc,

You would be surprised to read this. But I have to confess that I have always been fascinated by you. But, I could not admit it earlier, as I was leading a double life in school.

I wanted to participate in elocution competition. But I did not. I just fooled around with those who wanted to do the same thing. I DID participate in quizzes. I also wanted to participate in debates. But I did not.
In the adrenalin rush, I conveniently forgot that on my first try, on stage I had forgotten the elocution topic itself. The odds of me being hit by lightning were more than me becoming a debating star.


The letter went on mentioning the great and respectable things I wanted to do but could not, trying to clear up my image in one go- which was at best that of a joker- and in the end concluded with 
“..I was a joker but that was not the real me. The real ‘me’ loves you. “

Yours truly,

Satish

********

This letter would redeem me.

“Is this a LOVE letter, this is a SUICIDE letter?” Kishore said, utterly disgusted with the content. I was rudely awakened from my hormonal daze by that harsh feedback. Also surprised as, I thought, he was not really a top authority on the subject. But maybe he had read tons of books and had significant knowledge on the topic who knows?  He continued “You are admitting to having a dual personality. From my point of view that’s ok since many have multiple personalities you have only two. But write something else in the letter, it needs more work. Anyway, what are you going to do?” he asked.

“I have her address, “I replied triumphantly, recounting the clever way I got her address, concluding with “I plan to go visit her house”
“And do what?” he asked.
“I will say I’ve come to take this household survey, and then act surprised that it is her house I stumbled into! I will elaborate that I do this survey thing along with my studies.” I said, furthering my sincere & non-jokerish credentials.
“I don’t know what company you are keeping in college” he said shaking his head. 
“Of all kinds of interesting people, accept lecturers.” I replied. Many years later I realized they were potential gangsters, and I would become a mini don if I had continued with them.
“Next, what, go selling washing powder door to door?”
 “Now stop that, this is serious.” I asserted.

We had reached back, near his building, after taking a walking tour of the area. His mother called out “Raju” his pet name. “Its dinner time, I have to go, see you later and all the best”.

Saying he vanished, leaving me to think about what best I could do. I would skip college tomorrow as well, I decided - there were more important things that sought my attention- and go to a new-found address.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Heart~ache

Each heartache,
Every tear,
is the compromise
one has done in life