Friday, February 26, 2010

Railway Budget 2010-11

Imagine an inefficient software which takes more time to do a job than what it commits to take. As a software developer, your solution would probably be to look into where the inefficiency is coming from. Are there some bottlenecks which is taking a lot of CPU cycle? Is a lot of thrashing happening because of memory leaks? Are 'exceptions' happening just too often? Or is there inadequate synchronization between multiple threads?

The developer has two solutions. One is to look at the above issues and see if some optimizations can be done, perhaps by using better algorithms, better thread synchronizations to eliminate bottlenecks, or by redesigning the code. Another is to ship an extra piece of RAM and a better processor chip along with the software. A yet another - third - solution is to live with the issues.

As a developer which one do you think your client would be most satisfied to receive?

Hold that thought. Let's come to the Railway Budget 2010-11. This years budget was comparatively good. Apart from the usual increase in trains, there were some really good initiatives like - installation of bottling plants, pilot on smoke and fire detection, pilot on collision prevention, construct 1000km of rail line, etc. I don't claim to be exhaustive here - as there are umpteen other, probably more significant, provisions in the budget which i have not covered.

But then, India is a democracy.

If you ask an average Indian, what would you want out of railways and he would say - better facilities, more trains and cheaper fares. And that is what the governments have been giving them. This time also, Mamata Banerjee has budget for revamping the stations, creating employment by upgrading various locomotives factories and new trains. This is all very good and much needed.

There is one thing which most of us have taken for granted - delays. Have you ever reached 'on time' while traveling by the Railways? We have learned to plan things accordingly. We assume that a 20-hour journey would be around 3 hours late. Yes, we do get upset if it gets 7 hours late - which, you would agree, is not very uncommon. However a couple of hours here and there are fine. Since, the delay in trains doesn't really bother us, it doesn't really bother the government either.

Budget should be allocated to research on the current railway architecture and redesign it such that the delays in train are minimized. If need be, estimates for the time taken to go from one place to another should be revised - but once done, it should stick to it. Railways was designed by the Britishers. And though more than 90% of their trains run on-time, it's almost the reverse in case of India. The fun part is that i couldn't get hold of any data on the punctuality of Indian railways. All this only goes to say that punctuality of railways is very low on the priority list for the railways.

But efficiency is not low on priority to the software engineer described above. He cannot offer his client a free RAM and CPU to support his inefficient code. He would, rather, go about looking how he can optimize his code to meet the requirements. The same is with Railways. It needs to be punctual and hence efficient.

The advantage of having punctual Railways is manifold. Apart from the customer satisfaction (which no one cares of), the operating costs of Railways would decrease. The usage of resources - water, electricity, platform, etc. - would decrease. And as they say - money saved is money earned. The accidents due to untimely running trains may also decrease. On the other hand, the budget required in the research would not be prohibitive. Human labor in India, unfortunately, is cheap. Getting the right people to look into it should not pose a problem. What is required is a will.

However, it's not an easy task. There are practical problems which would not be easy to address. The fog in some places during the winters is too prohibitive. But i am sure, given the scientific advancement, it is solvable. The naxalites digging up the rail line is also a problem - but it is a different topic all together. Earthquakes and people committing suicide on railways are also challenges in making the railways punctual. But, it's not impossible. It's doable and has been done elsewhere in the world.

In democracy, things do not always work out in a top-down approach. Things work bottom-top. It's only when people start asking for things would they start getting things. We have started becoming more punctual ourselves and become more aware of the importance of punctuality. Having a commitment for working on a financial model for the railways projects in this budget i see light at the end of the tunnel. We will have a punctuality of trains in public debate some day. I am hopeful. Deep in my heart, I do believe that we shall have punctual trains some day. 

At the end of the day, it's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bloggers By Choice

Man, being a social animal, always tries to associate with different people on some common ground which gives rise to communities. We have communities on the basis of religion, occupation, caste, skin color, political ideologies, etc. The increase of the number of people writing anything and everything on the web has given rise to something called 'blogosphere' and a community of bloggers. Indiblogger organized a real meet of people who produce virtual content at Kyra. This was my first ever bloggers' meet. Though i don't take social lubricants (which was sponsored by Kingfisher), it wasn't difficult to 'network' with the bloggers.

As expected, a lot of issue concerning bloggers and blogging were discussed. I'll blabber on a couple of those topics which i think the readers of Mundane Journey would find interesting.

One of the issues discussed there was how to solve the problem plagiarism. With the content being online, it just takes a Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V to copy an original content from one blog to some other form of media. One of the attendee's blog post was copied by a media house without giving the due credits as required by the License. Given the effort involved in taking legal action and given the giant media house in this case, it would not be practical to take a legal action. One of the thoughts was to use twitter for spread awareness. i think (and as i expressed it in the meet) that one way to solve this would be to blog about such plagiarism. The author can show to his readers his original piece and the one copied by someone else. The blogging community in-turn can join hands to create awareness about the issue. Given the reach of the blogs (though it is minuscule compared to other form of media) substantial awareness can be created. Given the way free media work, its competitors may pick this up as well. In India, things do not necessarily work in top-down way. A lot of times, the push from the bottom creates stir in the top to make then take action. We have seen the power of media in the Jessica Lal case. The same tool can be used to reduce plagiarism. That's the beauty of blogosphere - it's self healing!

Another topic of discussion was whether or not bloggers should be concerned about monetizing their blogs. This gave rise to other sub-topics like marketing and whether a blogger should care about the number of readers, hits or comments. A few were of the opinion that blog is supposed to be a manifestation of the feelings and thoughts of a blogger. He shouldn’t be bothered with money. Another was of the opinion that one cannot do full time blogging as there is a lot of uncertainty in monetizing. He said that Paypal stopped catering to Indian clients and that impacted his revenue from the blog.

I agree that blogging is a way to express your thoughts. However, I take blog as a product whose aim is to carry the opinion of the blogger to the widest possible audience for that content. So, I think I wouldn’t compromise on the content part as it is the core of the product. However, I wouldn’t mind experimenting on the ‘style’ of writing to make it more interesting. Now, to reach out to the audience, marketing is very important. The reason why one has a public blog and not a personal diary is that he wants to ‘share’ his opinion and probably get feedback on the opinion to refine he own thoughts. As someone rightly mentioned in the meet, a post along with the comments make a complete piece. In this endeavor, if the blogger earns a few pennies, then there is nothing wrong with it. This was about ‘casual’ blogging. What’s wrong if a full time professional blogger wants to earn from it? The blogger is providing service to the readers who are getting benefited from it. I think, it’s only fair if an author earns money for the service he offered. A little unrelated example is that of Kyra and Kingfisher. As I mentioned in the TJY post, that is Kyra and Kingfisher is getting some publicity by sponsoring the event (like, I wrote this post!). It’s win-win for all.

Anyway, it was a good discussion session. But there is no constraint of time here. We can take this discussion further and to a wider audience. Do pour in your thoughts on what you feel about the above topics – plagiarism and monetization.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My Name Is Khan: After-thoughts

Reviewers are alleged that they don't take the movie as is and try to figure out what it could have been. I have almost always reviewed movies the way they are. I'll, however, review My Name is Khan in two parts. First, the way the movie is. And second, what the movie could have been.

I found the movie between good and average. I tried to find a reason to it. I tried looking at what made the movie 'average' but couldn't find anything tangible. I wondered why Rizwan Khan, (pronounced from the epiglottis - this is not only for the Americans but also for some friends from the southern part of India) played by Shah Rukh Khan, is going after the President when his wife Mandira (Kajol), in her grief of losing her child, asked him to do so. But then i read that people having Asperger's Syndrome take things at their face value. Then i wondered, why Mandira didn't try to find him or get him back once she was out of her anger. Then i realized that she had lost her son - whom she loved the most. It may not be easy for a mother to forgive a person whom she thinks is somehow responsible for her son's death. I also found the "communal" angle to Sameer's (Mandira's son) death skewed. Nevertheless, i could understand the societal situation after 9/11 - almost anything was, perhaps, attached a communal connotation. Essentially, i couldn't find any logical flaw in the movie.

But, a movie is not a back-end software. It's not only logic. My Name Is Khan, somehow, couldn't strike a chord with me. 3 idiots, on the other hand had a lot of logical flaws in it. However, I loved 3 Idiots. Here, in My Name is Khan, i felt something was missing. I guess, the emotions could not be conveyed properly. There was a lack of finishing-touch. Feels were left 'half cooked'.

Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai is one of my all time favorite movies. I also liked K3G a lot. So, probably, my expectation from My Name is Khan was a bit too much which it couldn't live up to. I know it's not right to compare the movies and have presumptions. But, i couldn't be neutral when it came to a movie which my favorite trio was making. There is one thing which ties the three movies together - use of well-known songs. Kuchh Kuchh used Raghu Pati raghav. K3G used Jana Gana Mana and Vande Matram. My Name is Khan used Hum Honge Kamyaab and We shall overcome.

There were a few things about My Name Is Khan which I really liked. The first and foremost being the title itself. Given the story of the movie, i don't think it could have a better name. Names like Kuchh Kuchh and K3G are too generic and could be applied to most Bollywood love stories. My Name is Khan is unique in that sense. Quite a lot of miseries which they face in the movie was because the name of the protagonist was 'Khan'. The whole movie revolved around it. The appropriateness of the title is commendable.

I also liked putting-into-perspective of a lot of traditional beliefs - like the sacrifice of Ismail and wearing a Hijab. I don't know what the 'right' interpretation is. But the one given in the movie seemed logical to me.

Another good part of the movie was the Indian Shaadi sequence. Though, it didn't really fit into the story, it was good! Also, the Wilhelmina sequences were by far the most interesting sequences of the movie. They were really fast paced.

The performances by all the actors were outstanding. Kajol did a good comeback. I, especially, liked the acting of Tanay Chheda as the young Rizwan Khan. Zarina Wahab, Jimmy Shergil and Katie Keane did their part well. The music, by Shankar Ehsaan Loy, was also good and relevant.

Despite all the tangible 'goods' i described. It was not good enough. Movie making is an art and there is no formula to it. As said in 3 Idiots, and coincidentally by Paulo Coelho, that one should do what one likes (and, hence, is good at). Karan Johar is good at conveying human emotions. He should stick to that. I would have loved another love story from him. Just like everyone in India wants to be either an engineer or a doctor, every director wants to make a movie either on some disability or communal tension. One must not get into the herd-mentality and stick to one's core competency. Aditya Chopra did that with Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi - he stuck to his competency.

Anyway, now my chance to give my unsolicited comments on what could have made a better story.

We have Rizwan Khan desperate to meet Mr President. He was following him everywhere. Now, the obvious thing is that the FBI or the American Intelligence would sense this pattern of a person following Mr. President. Isn't it? I guess, they should have caught him as a 'usual suspect' and, perhaps, imprisoned him. I would have ended my story there. In the end, Mandira gets back to her life alone. Rizwan is imprisoned. But, anyway, these are just my thoughts.

Overall it's a good-to-average movie. And wouldn't hurt anyone. However it's not one of the best movies by SRK, Kajol or KJo.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

MJ-LOTD: A New Genre Of Dance

[For new readers, MJ-LOTD stands for Mundane Journey - Link of the Day]

Society and culture are not disjoint from people. Rather, by definition, they are connected to people. There was a time when people found it difficult to take off for five days to watch a cricket match and so was born 'One day' version of the game. And then came the T20 version which addressed to people's impatience and busyness. From the participant's perspective - we have 'galli' cricket, terrace cricket and parking area cricket - where we have innovative rules like - bat-touch-run, single-hand-single-drop-catch-out, no-drop-crossing-compound-out, etc. We need not know how to play as well as the Tendulkars and the Gangulys.

A similar thing is now coming up in the field of dance. There was a time when people had to dance in the conventional style regardless of whether or not they knew it. Remember Sunny Deol, Dharmendra, Kishan Kumar and the umpteen others who, because of not having a famous second name, couldn't make it to the screen?

For such 'dancingly challenged' people - below is the new genre of dance.

Though the whole sequence is to behold, check the following milestones:

1:50 - Clever usage of homophone, 'do' which, in Hindi, means "two" and "give".

3:38 - Clever usage of another homophone, "hi" which means "greetings" in English and refers to an expression of grief (or of relief) in Hindi.

5:09 - The only girl in the video (on the right-hand side) couldn't stand the 'Govida dance' of the men and fell down.

I wouldn't be surprised if we have dances in the above format in corporate, college and school fests. And when this would be happening, the Reality TV wouldn't be far behind in making a 'Boogie Woogie' for this dance form.

BTW, for those intrigued by the above video, here's the forefather "film version" of it. [Caveat: Watch it at your own risk.]


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