Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Delhi's Uber, rape and the ban

First, it was the outrage against the rape of a young woman by the driver of a cab she hired using the Uber app in Delhi on Friday night.

Now the outrage is against the banning of some of the cab services in Delhi.

If the authorities act, they are damned.

If the authorities don't act, they are damned.

Will we get anything right, ever?

AN OUTRAGEOUS CRIME FOR 3 REASONS

One, Delhi, and the rest of the nation, had only in the recent past -- in December 2012 -- witnessed a massive outpouring of frustration and anger over the dangers women face, following the rape and murder of Nirbhaya.

The driver involved in Friday's incident, Shiv Kumar Yadav, would obviously have known about all these. He should have known what is okay and what is not okay. He should have by now learnt to behave himself. And, he should have also known what lies in store for him, if he doesn't. So, what explains this incident, in spite of all that happened over the past two years?

It may be a very cynical and pessimistic thought: but I think how much ever tough the law is, for the determined criminal nothing is a deterrent. He commits the crime and shows no remorse. While we have tough laws on one side, the onus also lies on us to be careful. (This is not to suggest, that when accidents happen it's the victim who has to be blamed. If anyone has to be blamed, it's the perpetrators of the crime.) Our society isn't a safe one. There seems to be danger lurking in every corner. Good souls are exceptions rather than the rule.  

UBER FELL SHORT OF EXPECTATIONS

Two, the young woman in her mid-twenties had used a safe (or what we always thought is a safe) method to book a cab -- the Uber app. The San Francisco-based company had of late attracted a fair amount of admiration for their innovative method of running a taxi service, which is highly technology driven, with very less human intervention in the operations. For its highly customer-friendly approach, Uber has also attracted criticism from established taxi services especially in the UK, and to some extent in India.

I know many people, especially women, who repose lot of faith in Uber because they think the service is not only very customer-friendly, but being one headquartered in the Silicon Valley, it will have the best practices in place, especially regarding safety.

I don't think the company understood the extent of trust customers reposed on it. Definitely not. If it had, it would have also ensured that its cabs were not run by any Tom, Dick and Harry -- the one in question was run by a criminal.

Uber should have ensured that the drivers matched up to the standards the company has set for itself. Did Uber forget basic issues of safety in its race against competition?

Three, where was the GPS tracking of the cab? All bunkum. What is the point of talking of great technological innovations, if you can't put them to real-time use?

RIGHT DECISION TO BAN SOME CAB SERVICES

Yesterday, the Delhi governent discovered that Uber, Ola, Taxi for Sure and TaxiPixi, have not been recognised by the Transport Department to run taxi service. Only Meru, Mega, Chanson, Yo, Air and EasyCabs have the permission.

So, Uber, Ola, Taxi for Sure and TaxiPixi have been banned. This is being described as a needless knee-jerk reaction. I don't think so. The government did the right thing. If the cab services didn't have the permission to run, how could they be operating the service?

To argue that ordinary black-and-yellow taxis or autos are not banned when a crime happens in them, is a totally misplaced argument. There's a certain amount of trust and credibility one associates with Uber and other well-known branded taxi services.

In fact, this tragic incident should be taken as a wake-up call and other State governments should summon the operators of all taxi services and ensure they are functioning within the confines of the law.

TRANSPORT DEPT TOO OWES AN EXPLANTION

This is not about a "blanket ban on all services", or akin to "throwing the baby with the bathwater". This is about banning somthing that is unlawful. Indeed one shouldn't ban something that lends itself to subjetive interpretation. But here it is not so. It's about not being on the right side of the law.

While the government has acted, belated though, it owes an explanation on how it allowed thousands of cabs that didn't have permits to run. It's also amazing that no one raisesd this point ever. Probably becaues everyone was benefiting from it. Then, at least the authorities should have woken up earlier, and regulated the cab service system, and updated the laws.    

LAW HAS TO KEEP PACE WITH TIMES

Law needs to be clearer on what cab services or radio taxis are. And, it needs to keep pace with technological innovations that are changing the public transport landscape.

Different taxi companies have different methods of operation. There are companies that own cabs and employs drivers to run them. Drivers are paid a salary, besides a proportion of the fare.

The revolution that Ola brought about was the concept of aggregation. The company doesn't own any cab. Individual taxi drivers get registered with them, and companies like Ola, only function as a platform to bring the cab driver and the passengers together.

But what is extent of ownership that the company takes to ensure the safety of the traveller? Not clear. Matrimonial sites and dating sites, prominently carry a disclaimer saying they are in no way responsible for what comes out of the users' interations.

The innovation that Uber has brought in is in the technology sphere. There is minimal human intervention -- from booking the cab to paying the driver.

WAY FORWARD

1. Bring absolute clarity to the burgeoning cab service in India.

2. Update the laws so that customer-friendly operating models like that of Ola, TaxiForSure and Uber too are also recognised as legitimate taxi services.

3. Irrespective of the method of operation, basic safety guidelines have to be put in place.

4. There has to be continuous, random and surprise checks on cabs to see if they are complying with laws or not. Violators have to be booked.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sainik School doctor-alumni lend a caring touch

(From Mathrubhumi TV Channel -- watch the video)

Responding to misery beyond the call of duty a band of 15 physician-alumni of Sainik School, Kazhakuttam trooped to Vallikunnu Village PHC in coastal Kadalundi on Sunday.

They were attending a medical camp organised as part of CSR activity of National Institute for Research & Development in Shipbuilding {NIRDESH}, initiated by its Project Director naval Capt. (Retd.) Ramesh Babu and Dr. K P Sreekumar.

Dr. K P Sajeev, Prof of Cardiology in Calicut Medical College said the choice of the interior made him attend.

The youngest, Dr. Asish Bens came with family, as did retd. Col Josey Joseph from Bengaluru. The 641 people who turned up were given medicines supplied by other alumni.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Names of cities haven't changed

From November 1, Bangalore is written in all English communication as Bengaluru.

Besides the capital city, 11 other cities too have dropped their English names for the actual name.

They are: Mangalore to Mangaluru, Bellary to Ballari, Bijapur to Vijayapura, Belgaum to Belagavi, Chikamagalur to Chikkamagaluru, Gulbarga to Kalaburagi, Mysore to Mysuru, Hospet to Hosapete, Shimoga to Shivamogga, Hubli to Hubballi and Tumkur to Tumakuru.

I doubt, how right it's to say that the names of the cities have changed. The cities are in Karnataka, and they have always been known by their local Kannada names. In Kannada, no one said Bangalore. All India Radio always said Bengaluru and Mysuru. Kannada newspapers have always written Bengaluru. So, too government communications and signboards in Kannada.

Thanks to our British rulers, officially the cities were referred to in English by their Anglicised versions. Now, the government has issued a gazette notification saying officially too the cities will be known by their actual names.

More precisely, post-November 1 in English communication too, the names of the cities will be known by their local original names.

The names of the cities haven't changed, have they?

Similar was the case of when Madras became Chennai or Calcutta became Kolkata or Trivandrum became Thiruvananthapuram.

The name of the city was and is Chennai. The British in their English communication called the city Madras. Just because many people referred to the city as Madras didn't mean the name of the city was Madras. So is the case with Thiruvananthapuram, or Kochi or Kolkata.

So, let's get this right -- the names of cities don't change. What changes is the way the city is referred to in English.

Friday, October 31, 2014

30 years ago, this day

It's 30 years today since Indira Gandhi fell to assassin's bullets, when an era also ended.

I was in the classroom in St Xavier's College, Thumba, Thiruvananthapuram, where I was doing my undergrad course in Chemistry. Around 11 am or so, a group of Kerala Students Union members came into the class to tell the professor that classes need to be suspended, as Mrs Gandhi has been shot at. There was hushed silence as we eagerly sought more details of what had happened.

There were not many details. The students themselves had got to know about it from someone in the State Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram. Those were the days when terrorists managed to break through the security and strike at prominent personalities. And then, it was just four months after the sensational Operation Bluestar when Mrs Gandhi ordered Indian Army into the Golden Temple in Amritsar to flush out the militants.

Classes were suspended and we all streamed out discussing among ourselves what may actuallly have happened. Then, someone broke the startling news that her own security guards had opened fire at her. That was unbelievable, too shocking to be true.

Our effort was to get a transistor and tune in to BBC. There were two classmates who stayed in hostel, within the college premises. One of them, not sure if it was Stephen or Thomas, got a radio, to the staff room. I was the radio buff, so they handed it over to me to tune in to BBC.

We listened to 12.30 pm news. BBC announced that Mrs Gandhi had been assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards. We were all stunned to silence. She had been riddled with bullets pumped into her from very short distance. She was taken to AIIMS but she would have passed away immediately.

She was walking from her house to be interviewed by Peter Ustinov. She was shot when she was at the wicket gate by the guards. Beant Singh was killed by the ITBP guards and Satwant Singh was arrested.

After listening to the news I left for home. Quite puzzlingly All India Radio news at 2 pm did not say that she had been assassinated. The news only said she had been admitted to AIIMS after being shot at.

We later realised that President Giani Zail Singh was in Zimbabwe at that time and was flying back. Vice President too was not in the capital. Apparently the news was not officially announced on AIR because of the power vacuum in Delhi. Her son Rajiv too was away in Kolkata and got to know of the news from BBC.

The news was broadcast only in the 6 pm AIR bulletin. We then started hearing on foreign radio stations that riots had broken out especially in Delhi.

Next thing we looked forward to was who will be the next PM. Rajiv was elected unanimously. Pranab Mukherjee who was the natural choice was edged out.

Next came Rajiv's address to the nation. And the infamous reference to riots.. to the effect that.. When a big tree falls the earth is bound to shake.. But then few understood the enormity of the backlash against the Sikhs that unfolded.

Indira Gandhi was definitely a strong PM India had. She meant business. And things moved, though we may disagree in which direction it was. She was variously described as a dictator, tough task master, visionary, nationalist etc..

India hasn't had a PM like her since then. Of course the world too changed in many ways later.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

5.9 inch Nexus 6 on Android L launch expected in October

In the last 24 hours there have been more information trickling out about the much-anticipated next Nexus phone. (Though Moto G and Moto X created lot of excitement because of stock Android, Nexus still spells magic.)

An earlier post on the next Nexus phone is here.

One of the first things I look for is the screen size, because I read a lot. At 5.9 inch, Nexus 6 will be a giant phone. Incidentally, HTC One Max has the same screen size. A phone of this size will be difficult to hold. I would have preferred a maximum of 5.5 inch. May be reading experience would be better.

That reminds me: When Galaxy Note (now referred to as Original) hit the market end of 2011, an enthusisatic sales guy tried his best to make me buy one. But I found the screen size of 5.3 inch too big. I even remarked to that guy, who would buy such an huge phone!

In Jan 2013, at one of the elctronic stores, when I saw the same Galaxy Note, I was surprised seeing the size of the screen. I asked the sales guy, "Is this really Galaxy Note, the original one?" (By then Galaxy Note 2 was in the market.) He said, yes. I thought the size of the screen looked smaller than what I thought it was. Of course, it was just perception. 5.3 inch in 2011 was huge. The same 5.3 inch in 2013 looked quite normal.

So, though now I think the Nexus 6 screen size of 5.9 inch is huge, may be I will have to revise my opinion a couple of years later, when most phones would be of around 6 inch!

Nexus 6 will have top resolution of 2560x1440.  LG G3, Oppo Find 7 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4 have similar resolution. Galaxy S5 has 5.1 inch screen with display of 1920x1080. Galaxy Note 4 has 5.7 inch screen.

Another spec that I look for is the processor. Nexus 6 is rumoured to have Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 chipset, and will pack 3GB RAM.

Some other features are: 13-megapixel rear camera with optical image stabilization and a 2-megapixel front camera. The battery will be a 3,200mAh one, and it's said, a mere charging of 15 minutes will give it a life of 8 hours. That sounds simply unbelievable.

Like HTC One M8, Nexus 6 is rumoured to have front facing stereo speakers.

But the best part is it will run on Android's latest operating system, now called Android L, the successor of Kitkat. That will kickoff the Android 5 version.

The launch of Nexus 6 and Android L is said to be in a couple of weeks, in mid-October.

Now, we just wait for more clarity on all these rumours.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Jayalalithaa gets 4 years jail term; Rs 100 crore fine

1830: Jayalalithaa barred from contesting elections for 10 years.

1734: Jayalalithaa disqualified as MLA

1730:  Jayalalithaa will have to be imprisoned immediately, it's said. 

1720: Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa sentenced to four years in jail and Rs 100 crore fine

1700: There were lot of fears of violence in Bangalore. But the city is absolutely peaceful.

1600: The arguments for sentencing still on.

1426: Jayalalithaa convicted of all charges.

1400: Conflicting views on what's happening inside court room. Lack of official information fuelling rumours.

1333: Hope there won't be any violence in Bangalore after the verdict is pronounced.

1330: The timeline of this case

1313: Before we know the verdict, first AIADMK celebrated, and now DMK is celebrating.

1303: Rumours of Jayalalithaa being found guilty.


1250: AIADMK workers are running berserk near Hosur on the border as well.


1241: Even before the verdict is pronounced, there is lathicharge outside the court premises. Now imagine, what will the situation be after the pronouncement of the verdict?


1230: Police will have tough time controlling DMK and AIADMK workers, irrespective of whichever way the verdict goes.

1215: Really strange that AIADMK workers are bursting crackers and distributing sweets. But the verdict isn't out yet.


1200: Now the wait gets longer as the court has put off the verdict to 1pm

1130: Even if she is convicted, I doubt anything much will change in Tamil Nadu. She will have a trusted confidant to step in

1110: The verdict was supposed to be pronounced at 11 am.

1030: The entire news media have descended outside the special court premises.

What this case is all about:

It's that Jayalalithaa acquired wealth worth Rs. 66.65 crore while she was the chief minister from 1991 to 1996, that she was abetted by her aide Ms. Sasikala along with tow of her relatives, V.N. Sudhakaran (Jayalalithaa’s ex-foster son) and Ilavarasi. The case was filed by the DMK in 1996. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Successful Mars mission and unsuccessful earthly missions

The nation erupted in joy yesterday as India's Mars Orbitor Mission decelerated to the right extent to descend to the Martian orbit.

It would have been a failure if the Orbitor didn't slow down enough. Then, it would have shot past the planet.

It would have been a failure if it had slowed down too much. Then, it would have crashed into the planet.

How much the speed should be, and when it should begin to slow down and many other related actions of the Orbitor were calculated and uploaded by our scientists about a week in advance -- on September 14 and 15.

What we saw yesterday was a vindication of the ability of our scientisits to plan so many complicated calculations and manoeuvres in advance so that they got executed precisely, not anywhere closeby, but 65 crore kilometers away.

It's not a surprise therefore that the unparalleled success of the mission in our first attempt, also attracted a few cynical reactions. Some said this achievement has any real meaning, only if we are able to plan and executive our actions on Earth, in our neighbourhood. Let us first succeed on Earth, they let us look at Space. When we aren't able to have good roads, water supply, electricity, food and shelter for all, clean surroundings, good healthcare, good administration etc etc., what do we gain by spending crores of rupees sending an object to Mars. ... So went their arguments.

Of course, it is true that we are way behind in having basic amenities for our citizens. We are indeed one of the poor countries in the world; only a small segment of our country is rich.

There are a few reasons why our missions in space are a great success, but our missions on Earth aren't.
  • The task and the road map are clear.
  • There's an unhindered way ahead when it comes to space missions.
  • There are no bureaucratic redtape or politicking.
  • There is a strict timeline and scientists put in best to achieve the objective. Many of them haven't taken an off day for last 15 months. Such has been there commitment to achieve their goal.
  • There is a sense of national pride when it comes to space projects.
But, consider our earthly missions. Be it any project concerning social welfare, healthcare, or electricity or transportation or industry or agriculture. The path to realise the objectives when it comes to these projects aren't often clear. There is no timeline, no accountablity, no national pride, no dedication or sacrifice; and to complicate matters there are some lumpen elements who will sneak in, and spoil the entire show only for thier own benefit.

If our space missions have been a success, there are reasons for it.

If many of our earthly missions have been a failure, there are reasons for it.

Our scientists have quietly sent out a message -- if a project has to be a spectacular success there is a price to be paid. 

They paid that. They got the result.

Applaud them. Don't take credit away from them for our failures.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Too much hype: Android One is not one of its kind

Spice Android Dream One
Photo from Flipkart
Yesterday at a much-publicized event in New Delhi Google unveiled its Android One phones in India. There is quite a hype about it. Understandable. Don't be surprised if Android One gets dubbed as the poor man's Nexus or Moto X, as it has stock Android.

But there are other phones in the Android One category.

To begin with there's nothing so great about stock Android. What it means is that, those phones with stock Android will get the software updates directly from Google as and when they are released. In all other phones, the manufacturer like Samsung or Micromax will have release it for you. Phones with stock Android are Nexus, Moto G, X and E, and now the Android One.

For all practical purposes, these updates and upgrades aren't going to make any huge difference as far as the routine uses of a smartphone are concerned. All the common apps function perfectly well even on an Android 4.1. There are some apps that run only on the newer versions of the OS. But now all phones give you at least a 4.3.

Even if you thought you needed a stock Android phone, there is already one for around Rs 7,000. That's Moto E.

Now, let us weigh some of the specs of Spice Dream Android One phone, with Moto E, Samsung Galaxy S Duos 2 and Micromax Unite 2. All four of them are in Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 range.

* All four have dual SIMs. Spice Dream and Moto E have micro SIM.

* Spice Dream, Moto E and Micromax Unite 2 have Android 4.4 but the other has Android 4.2. But that should not really matter, unless you badly want to be with the latest version of Android, and you want to download some niche high-end apps.

* Duos 2 has 4 inch screen, Moto E 4.3, Spice Dream 4.5 and Unite 2 4.7 inches.

* Dream and Unite 2 have 1.3GHz quad core processor, while Moto E and Duos  have 1.2 GHz dual core. So, all are fairly powerful.

* All have 5 mega pixel camera. Only Moto E doesn't have front camera.

* All have 4GB and option to expand memory.

* Regarding battery, while Dream has 1700mAh, Unite 2 has 2000mAh, Moto E 1980mAh and Duos 1500mAh.

So, basically Android One is not one of its kind. I randomly looked at three phones for comparison, but any e-comm site will give you options of many other phones with good specs in the same category.




Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Kerala Diary 4 - Jew Town, Dutch Palace and boat ride

I have been planning a visit to the Jew Town in Mattancherry for long. Since it was bandh yesterday, we rescheduled it for today. As it was pouring since early morning, we abandoned the plan to go by boat, and instead hired an autorickshaw.

Mattancherry is about 15 km from Elamkulam. We started at 9.15 am and reached there at 10 am. Bordering the coast, Jew Town is a relatively quiet area. The roads were neatly asphalted and the building architecture of days of yore. On either sides of the road are showrooms selling curios, artefacts, clothes and antique materials.

One of the primary attractions is the Synagogue. It's known by various names: Cochin Jewish Synagogue, Mattancherry Synagogue or Paradesi Synagogue (called paradesi because it was built by Spanish-speaking Jews, and was primarily used by Sephardim, the Jews of Spanish-Portuguese descent. These settlers were known as Paradesi Jews).

The synagogue was built in 1567 on a piece of land to given to the Cochin Jewish community (also called Malabari Yehuden community) by the Raja of Kochi, Rama Varma. This is the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth, and is one of the seven places of worship of the Cochin Jews, who are the oldest group of Jews in India. The first batch of Jews came to Cranganore (now called Kodungallur) in the year 70.

The Cochin Jewish traditions have been influenced by Hinduism, and they have no rabbis, instead are led by elders.

The synagogue is open from 10 am to 12 noon and from 3 pm to 5 pm on all days except Friday, Saturday and Jewish holidays. There is a ticket fee of Rs 5 per person. Visitors have to enter barefoot. Photography and videography are banned.

Dutch Palace

Adjacent to the synagogue is the Mattancherry Palace or the Dutch Palace. It was built by the Portuguese and gifted to the Raja of Kochi in 1555, in order to please him after a nearby temple was plundered. In 1663, the Dutch renovated it, giving it the name.

In the courtyard of the palace, there is a temple dedicated to Pazhayannur Bhagavati, the goddess of the Kochi royal family.

The palace houses the portraits of all the kings of Kochi from 1864, the ceremonial dresses, ivory palanquin etc. It also has very impressive mythological murals.

There is an entrance fee of Rs 5. Photography and videography are banned.

International Tourism Police Museum

This is a unique museum, which can do some publicity. It shows the evolution of the Kerala Police. It has a good collection police uniforms and weapons that date back to the colonial and Travancore State days. It's well maintained and functions as a police station too. There is no entry fee.

Willingdon Island

There is boat jetty in Mattancherry from where there are tourist boat rides as well as a Kerala government transport department's boat serivce for passengers. The first one is available for different durations and takes you to different tourist locations along the coast. The second one plies to Ernakulam via Willingdon Island and Fort Kochi.

Since the weather had cleared we decided to return to Ernakulam by boat. We did it in two legs. First we went up to Willingdon Island.

Willingdon Island is an artificial island created using the soil dredged out while deepening the Vembanad Lake for the construction of Kochi Port in 1936. It's named after Lord Willingdon, the then governor of Madras. The island belongs to the Cochin Port Trust and the Indian Navy.

We walked around a bit to see the place, and returned to the jetty to board the boat to Ernakulam.

Thanks to the crowded and poorly maintained roads, the water transport on this stretch is still very popular. It takes less than 30 minutes to travel between Mattancherry and Ernakulam, while it takes anywhere between 45 to 90 minutes by road.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Kerala Diary 3 - Modiji, please end the bandh culture

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Japan on a day when his party has shut down Kerala. In Japan, people work hard on any normal day, and work harder when there is a reason to protest.

Today's snap state-wide bandh is in response to the killing of an RSS worker in politically sensitive Kathirur near Thalassery in Kannur district, allegedly by CPM workers, yesterday. The region has a long history of tit-for-tat violence between the RSS and the CPM.

Incidentally, BJP president Amit Shah's arrived in Kerala yesterday to reinvigorate the party in the state where his party hasn't been able to do well.

No one likes bandhs. Political parties too know that. No one knows what bandhs achieve. At best, parties only have a misplaced sense of power. Vehicles keep off roads, and shops down shutters because of fear of being attacked for disregarding the call. Bandhs are clearly a lose-lose proposition.

Though forceful shutdown of a city or nation is disruptive, I do agree that parties and people are fully entitled to organize peaceful protests on any issue of public importance. Supreme Court has upheld this right. But what matters is how and when it is organized.

Bandhs are most disruptive and most annoying when organized without any advance information. Most bandhs in Kerala are snap decisions. Yesterday's is a good example. Originally, the bandh was planned only in Kannur district. By late evening, it became a state-wide shutdown. How it happened, no one clearly knows.

I am furious. I am stuck at home today. We had planned visits to tourist spots, and homes of relatives and friends. The plans have been ruined.

Modi keeps talking about making India a powerful nation and bettering the standard of living of every Indian. I am told he works very hard, and expects others to work very hard too. I am sure, he will abhor the culture of bandhs, not just in Kerala (where it is a fairly frequent phenomenon), but anywhere else in India.

Every party is equally guilty of organizing bandhs and even indulging in associated violence. Can Modi make a difference? Fresh from Japan, can he prevail upon the party to unilaterally declare a moratorium on  bandhs? Can he get the party to say, "Bandhs don't serve any purpose. It only ruins the economy. BJP is declaring a moratorium on bandhs and disruptive strikes. We will not call for a bandh, even if other parties do."

Modiji, can you walk the talk?