Friday, December 19, 2008

Dumb quote awards

Winner:

Miss World Pakistan. Because she wants India and Pakistan to get together and CONDONE the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

image src: Miss Pakistan world website

http://edition.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/world/2008/12/14/coren.intv.paracha.world.cnn.html

I guess beauty has no boundaries. Nor does stupidity?
Miss Teen USA South Carolina
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WALIARHHLII

Honorable mention:


RIAA President Cary Sherman, for using language he didn't understand.

logarithmic growth

"If you can go back to that time in your mind and remember that file sharing was growing at logarithmic pace," Sherman said referring to 2003, not long after file-sharing service Napster had triggered a music-swapping frenzy. "It was unbelievable how much infringement was going on and there was no sense that it was illegal. There were no legal cases or precedent, nothing to discourage people from this kind of behavior."


Umm.. yeah... "logarithmic growth" means "growing as the logarithm of something". If that something is, say n, then logarithmic growth, Gl = log(n). Which is much much smaller than just the quantity itself (n). E.g if n = 100, log10(n) = 2, if n=1000, log10(n) = 3 << 1000, and so on. He should've said "exponential", or better yet, he shouldn't have used terminology he did not understand.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mumbai Terrorist Attack: the face of terror

While watching the news online earlier today, one channel showed a frame grab of a terrorist wearing what seemed to be black t-shirt with "versa" visible on the front. I assumed this meant "Universal". His shoulder seemed to support a blue backpack and seemed to be carrying an AK (very dark, couldn't make out). I don't remember which online stream it was, but it was one of NDTV, MSNBC, CNN or Reuters. I'm surprised, very surprised, that this image hasn't been flashed across the screens more. Where is this image? Who is this guy? Why are we NOT seeing this all over the place? Who took the picture? Are they alive or gunned down? Have the authorities made an attempt to contact said photographer for details on the attacker?

Update (2008-11-26): adding picture from TOI website


Who is this guy? Let's find him.

Btw, now that I look at this image more, this has been altered from the one I remember seeing. There is definitely some processing done to try to brighten up the image, but apparently at the sacrifice of detail. I remember the original not being this "washed out". The red band on the terrorist's right hand wasn't this prominent. Most importantly, his facial features were visible, despite the red-eye glares. In the current form, I can barely make out the facial features. ID-ing the guy on the basis of this, would be difficult.

Upated: more photos





Updated 2008-12-04:


photo obtained from here

He is the same person in the first photo on this page. Ironic that he's the only terrorist caught alive. Amir Azam Kasab aka A.A. Qasab, Mohammad Ajmal, Mohammed Amin Kasab

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Protection clause for Bloatware/ Malware in Zune!

From the Zune EULA


Potentially Unwanted Software

If you remove or disable "spyware," "adware" and other potentially unwanted software ("potentially unwanted software"), it may cause other software on your computer to stop working, and it may cause you to breach a license to use other software on your computer (such as where the other software installed the potentially unwanted software on your computer as a condition of your use of the other software). By using features of the service intended to help you remove or disable potentially unwanted software, it is possible that you will also remove or disable software that is not potentially unwanted software. If a feature of the service prompts you before removing or disabling potentially unwanted software, you are solely responsible for selecting which potentially unwanted software the service removes or disables. Before authorizing the removal of any potentially unwanted software, you should read the license agreements for the potentially unwanted software.


NOTE: Emphasis added.

I wonder if this means Zune market place can push "unwanted" software as pre-condition to using the Zune software. In which case, customers would be paying to have their music / media held hostage and be forced to accept use of unwanted software. What if this software requires extra payments or is of a thoroughly insidious nature??

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Inevitable eventuality due to net neutrality

Just read in the news today that Netflix has teamed up with Starz to stream 1000+ new movies through the "Watch Now" feature. Just logged in to Netflix to confirm that these are already available! So what happens now?

As I had alluded to in my article about net neutrality about two years ago, Comcast and other domestic entertainment delivery companies are under tremendous pressure to shore up their pricey offerings against cheaper (perhaps even better) alternatives. Even discounting the ever present and growing Torrent and Usenet downloads, Hulu and Youtube already offered savvy customers several alternatives to Comcast's fare. Also Vonage was eating into Comcast and AT&T's lunch. But Netflix's deal with Starz, might be really huge.

Most cable providers earn their bread and butter from the pricey entertainment "packages" such as HBO, Starz, Cinemax, and Encore. They also earn from special sports packages such as NFL, college football etc. NFL recently has decided to make Monday night games available on the Net. Other sports and franchises are expected to follow suit soon.

A possible way out of this mess (from Comcast's perspective) was to prevent these data from reaching the customer: hence the preferential blocking and the net-neutrality debate. However, the FCC also has recently (and rightly) reprimanded Comcast for interfering with TCP packets (which Comcast suspected were Torrent downloads).

This leaves Comcast and its cohorts with a very grim realization: they are going to lose their biggest source of income: their lousy yet exorbitantly priced, inflexible programming packages.

This leads me to believe that the days of "all you can eat" internet are over. Brace yourselves for a realignment in Internet service costs as the cable subscriptions begin to dry up. Also, as costs climb, so will public resistance: look for ramifications in price plans. Tiered service and limits on data transfer seems inevitable. I expect the service to resemble (yuck!) cell-phone plan offerings.

Stock losses for about 6 months in service providers, gains for companies like Netflix and Microsoft. If DRM remains reasonably secure I see Microsoft winning over Apple, XBox over PS3 and Wii. Also if DRM remains secure, DVD sales should start falling (much faster) which means loss of revenue for stores like Walmart, but gains for studios who now don't have to move inventory.

Look for intense lobbying by all these companies who have lots of money to lose, and by companies (such as Cisco) that stand to gain if net-neutrality is defeated. If net -neutrality is shot down in Congress, watch for a bump in Cisco's price as its routers and packet inspectors will be used to enforce the service provider's hegemony.

Stocks on the up: MSFT, CSCO, NFLX, INTC, TWX
Stocks on the down: CMCSA, SNE, AAPL, GOOG, T

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bilked in Mumbai and loving it

Day 4 in Mumbai. The intense May heat had spilled over in to June. The first two days had been a challenge, a baptism by fiery pre-monsoon temperatures. The benevolent early morning sun quickly surrendered to a glowering, merciless inferno; the soothing early glow supplanted by unforgiving, scorching rays. The water steamed, the earth baked, the dust filled air sizzled, and yet, the hardened, sweaty souls of Mumbai braved on.

Ensconced behind air-conditioned windows, I watched with fascination, admiration and horror, the dance of the city that bore me, raised me and watched me leave its shores to seek fortunes in distant lands. I felt the city dote over me each time I returned; a forlorn mother at once reunited with its estranged cherished cherub. Each time I disembarked at Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport, I felt the city’s warm embrace: a unique, captivating, miasmic blend of humidity, pollution, disinfectants, cigarette smoke, sweat and the uplifting, endearing reminiscence of childhood. The embrace usually lasted till I was united with my loving family, my doting parents, my beloved sister, my adorable nieces and the cool comforting cover of air-conditioning.

Each day in Mumbai is usually a surprise and a different challenge. Day 2 did not buck the trend either. As I sat contemplating about the heat and the warm people of Mumbai, the A/C died. I looked around in puzzlement only to realize that a banished devil had returned: power shedding. Just the day before, I was elated to learn that for the past month, the dreaded and inconvenient electric load shedding had been brought under control. The Honorable Prime Minister himself had alluded to Mumbai’s problems and had promised away the problem to oblivion. And for over a month, I was told, his will had been done. Till 3 p.m. on Day 2, that is.

Without any AC or ceiling fans, I now sat in an encased house, with the cool air stagnating and the merciless heat clawing at the windows. As the paucity of electricity continued, the citadel of coolness was breached. The household help, under the expert direction of a concerned mother, tried valiantly to cool the floors by sprinkling water in strategic spots, but the inexorable heat was dominating the protracted battle. The rising temperatures changed the water to humid vapor and turned our defense against us. We were forced to abandon fort, brave the elements and seek refuge in the controlled climes of a neighboring mall.

In true Mumbai fashion, Day 3 brought surprise and relief. Mid-morning, the clouds gathered, masked the harsh Sun and rained relief. The dust settled, rivulets of joy streaked across the slaked earth and the thankful denizens of Mumbai scampered to enjoy the rain and avoid the muck filled puddles. I stayed at home, despite the power shedding.

Day 4, today, was much like yesterday. A sanguine sun, bustling bodies, croaking crows and honking horns welcomed cloudy skies and warm balmy showers. Only today, I was outside. By mid-day, I was headed to my destination in the South of the City. South Bombay: the bastion of the hep and the clueless, the parvenus and the paupers, the aboriginals and the immigrants, the Lords and the peons, the Mistry’s and the Joshi’s. I was a suburbanite, a “’burbie” on an excursion in to town, the heartland of the “townies”.

An hour and a half into my trek, I was still in a cab, staring at the overcast skies. I had the windows partially raised to keep the drizzle out, but cracked enough to let fresh air, mingled with the exhaust from a million vehicles, prevent the air from stagnating in the cab. I was not protected by air-conditioning here, only the hardy resolve of the Mumbai middle-class. The road ran parallel to the shore of the Arabian Sea here at Haji Ali and the sea breeze added a salty, misty flavor to the drizzle. The cabbie honked vigorously to voice his disapproval of the sea of traffic which mirrored the waters by the shore. A million stagnant vehicles, from every direction, petulantly concurred.

Presently, an entreating face appeared outside my window. The earnest, beseeching countenance of one of Mumbai’s many squalid impecunious hapless, I thought. Heart wrenching. It reminded me of a time when I gave generously, when I felt that every little bit helped, when I both thanked God for my parents and their providence and questioned the justice of a purportedly caring, magnanimous God. Ironic that one witnessed God’s injustice in such propinquity to a shrine of one his most celebrated disciples. That the enshrined was a Muslim and I a Hindu didn’t matter. A benevolent and just God cared for all, equally. Perhaps this was a test, I used to think. Perhaps I’m supposed to give, I would reason.

The face also reminded me of a later time; when I argued with my date, at the very same location, about giving to the needy. Only she gave and I argued against it. She reasoned that every little bit helped and that a few Rupees hardly mattered to us, but meant several meals to the outstretched hand. I contested in her, my own erstwhile stand. I channeled Jacob Riis when I reasoned about the moral hazard of giving to the poor “perpetuating the problem it sought to solve, by attracting still greater swarms.” I told her that had the almswoman been selling merchandize, and not just cadging, I would have bought her wares. Even overpaid for it. Because then she would be self-reliant, adding value to her labor and might actually have a faster way out of poverty. Needless to say, her noble emotions disagreed with my Draconian capitalistic logic. Was she dismayed because her beau didn’t echo her feelings or because she failed to discern this side of her beau earlier? I never bothered to find out.

The knocking at the window snapped me out of my reverie. I looked again at the face and noticed a bundle of books next to it. The books were wrapped in cheap cellophane to keep the rain out and the book titles visible. Mumbai had pleasantly surprised me yet again. “Saab, which book do you want Saab?” the adolescent face asked earnestly. In English!

“What do you have?”

“Jack Welch, Saab, Winning”

“What else?”

At which point the bedraggled boy pressed 5 wet, but cellophane protected, books to the window. None of the books were super interesting. Plus I hadn’t kept up on my reading, so didn’t know the latest fare.


“Salman Rushdie, Saab”, the boy offered

“Salman Rushdie, Enchantress of Florence… how much?”

“500 Rupees, Saab


I loved it. Mumbai, my hats off to you. I couldn’t help smiling at the boy.


“That’s about $10”, a part of my brain computed. “No way is that cheap-printed paperback worth that much. Even in an upscale store like Strand or Cross-Roads”, I counseled myself. “But he is performing a service. You know you will have to wait where you are going and you were thinking to yourself about brining a book from home. He’s saving you the boredom and the trouble of trying to find reading material. What do you value that service at?”


The lights had apparently changed and the ocean of vehicles surged ahead. As my cab gathered steam, the face kept pace with it, the Salman Rushdie sticking to the window.


Saab, it won’t be more than twenty rupees, Saab”, the cabbie advised. “Let it be.”

The traffic was speeding and the boy kept through it. “This is a risky service! Risk must have reward”, a voice echoed in my head.

“Give whatever you want to give Saab. Haven’t sold a book all day,” the determined boy implored as the drizzle and the sea spray sprinkled down his face.

I asked the cabbie to slow down and lowered the window. The boy, now panting, caught up with the cab and thrust his drenched arm through the window, holding on to the bottom half of the soaked book. I held out two Rs. 100 bills. In a smooth practiced motion, he dropped the book in my lap, snatched the bills and was on the embankment out of the traffic with a smile on his face.


Cab ride to the city: $5

Wet copy of a cheap print Salman Rushdie: $4

Smile on that kid’s face: priceless

Friday, July 18, 2008

India's Infrastructure Nightmare

Came across an old acquaintance's blog today regarding India's infrastructure night mare.

[ quote ]
...

As of today the inflation in India stands at 11.4% (almost triple of that in January). Oil prices have gone up from USD 128 per barrel in May to USD 145 per barrel today (and India has oil subsidies still in place). Sensex is down 24% since then and 36% since January 2008 (with a lot of retail investors having lost most of their savings).

...

hus while we say that India needs USD 500bn over the next 5 years in infrastructure spend, I am not sure if that number holds any significance any more. The opportunity exists. However, it needs to be reassessed for quality and quantity. This new study will then define what the infrastructure opportunity is truly in India.

...

... we now have to acknowledge that the development we think should take five years can now actually take seven to ten years. This acknowledgment should be accompanied with the acceptance that there is a cost of raising capital and despite being a family owned business economy we need to part with some of the wealth closely held to our chests. Otherwise the gloom and doom will only deepen and the infrastructure deficit will be ours forever.

[ /quote ]

Presented below is my thesis on why ramping up on education (not just literacy) and population control is truly the key.

---- begin comments ----------
The Indian Infrastructre Dream or Nightmare!

hi Tanushree, you have a very articulate blog here. I read one article and couldn't keep myself from reading others even as I formulated a few supporting and contrasting arguments.

The Indian infrastructure nightmare has been ages in the making. It is something that we have always felt growing up, but never could realize how wrong things were till we saw an alternative. While much has changed in the past 61 years, much of the population is still devoid of the alternative perspective.

It is ironic, yet almost predictable by the tenets of economics, that our impecunious, yet English educated, burgeoning masses are the true drivers of the breakneck growth we have seen the past few years. The problems we face today are not new, and I believe are going to worsen irrespective of the financial market conditions.

The lack of infrastructure is understandable for a fledgling nation trying to recover from centuries of pillaging. It is also understandable and readily expected that such a situation leads to a minimalist thinking and a distinctly subsistence policy.

As Adam Smith had observed nearly 200 years ago, lack of education fueled a population growth. Subsequent improvements in basic health care prolonged the life-spans of an prolific population. Lack of commerce, depleted reserves, rampant mismanagement of available resources and consequent dearth of jobs exacerbated the vicious cycle of penury of the proletariat.

In return for its plundered wealth and ravaged humanity, India inherited at its inception an administrative model designed to gum the works and prevent efficient private enterprises from germinating and thriving. Our founders chose (perhaps through benevolent ignorance) to focus on agrarian accumulation and political solidarity rather than revamping an opportunistic civil service. We enthusiastically and euphorically replaced foreign despots with home grown tyrants.

Despite its numerous and flagrant faults, the initial Indian leadership must be credited for its vision of literacy. It is again ironic , yet in hindsight predictable, that our nation chose to unite itself under a foreign language whilst the native tongues served only to divide. It is the English based education that enabled a diaspora to prosper in foreign lands and bring back prosperity back to its ancestral shores.

Indian infrastructure has remained inadequate despite inevitable incremental improvements because the population has geometrically outpaced the quasi-linear development of infrastructure.

In today's India, the promotion of a tiny percentage of the population to middle class has served to spread euphoria and fillip an already exploding population. I believe this is the real challenge that faces us today.

The solutions to India's infrastructure problem are unfortunately inherently slow. No amount of external cash infusion and knee-jerk infrastructure development will help unless we dampen the exponential augmentation of our teeming billions.

Education, not merely literacy, is the key. We must concentrate on educating ourselves about the effects of our numbers on our resources and quality of life. We must educate ourselves about the benefits of well managed deregulation and the positives of a vibrant free market economy. Only the Invisible Hand of commerce and the voice of an educated, engaged populace will realize Milton Friedman's democratic, progressive society.

Short of this, I see an ineluctable resource crunch leading to vehement and violent strife within and without our borders. This too will serve to bring the population in balance with the extant infrastructure, but the consequent cost in human and fiscal terms is neither easy to imagine, nor morally conscionable.
---- end comments ------------

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Real Inside Man

SPOILER WARNING: plot details below.



Image source: http://www.moviemaker.com/screenwriting/article/brains_balls_and_luck_2507/

Just saw “Inside Man” starring three of my favorite actors: Jodie Foster, Clive Owen and Denzel Washington again today. I had enjoyed the movie when I saw it the first time in the theater and enjoyed it again. Today, however, as I was waiting to fall asleep, I ran across the program “Mastermind”. I have enjoyed this program before because it simply amazes me how observant and smart these deviants are. They notice the everyday things that people usually just see and ignore. These are determined, courageous individuals albeit with a most unfortunate predilection towards bucking society and its norms.

I was very surprised to learn about William Smarto (and his brother) and their modus operandi for breaking into lockers. William Smarto and his brother used human engineering to scope out the bank and its employees.

The Smartos noticed that the employees only checked who they let in, not who left and when. They also specially selected a bank that had false ceilings and perpendicular disjoint rows of lockers that created a void space. Smarto used a locker he rented in here to hide his tools used for breaking into the other lockers, he used the false ceiling to meticulously stow away supplies he would need later for robbing the lockers, and most interestingly, he used the 2’x2’ gap between the walls and the locker rows to disappear into.

William stayed there till the bank closed and the auto time lock for the bank vault kicked in. He then came out and broke in to 70+ lockers and before the bank opened again the next morning, went back into his hiding place. The next morning after the vault opened again, he simply walked out the front door with his loot!

And this struck me as startlingly similar to the heist in Inside Man. I wonder if Spike Lee’s opus adopted the story from this real-life incident. Perhaps we should count this as another instance of art imitating life.