Sunday, July 24, 2016

Talking to myself

The other day I was walking along the road talking to myself.
Suddenly, I realised the presence of a man walking beside me, on the right.
I looked at him.
He too was talking to himself.
I actually ventured to say Hello to him.
He didn't respond, but noticed that I had said something to him.
I saw him remove his earphone from his right ear.
Sorry, I was talking on the phone, he said.
Caught on the wrong foot, for a moment I didn't know what to say.
I said, Hello.
He had a broad smile on his face.
And replied, Hello.
We moved on.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Two surprises

A few days ago, I wanted to withdraw some cash and reached the ICICI Bank ATM in Kasturinagar.

It was the third one I was coming to that morning: one wasn't working, and the other had a long queue. 

There was one person already waiting, and another was inside the kiosk.

On seeing that there wasn't anyone in front of the SBM ATM, which is very close by, and I went there. But the sensor on the screen didn't seem to be working. I came out, and headed back to the ICICI ATM.

The man who was in the kiosk was still inside. Probably, he was making multiple transactions, or facing some problem. Anyway, a couple of minutes later, he came out, and it was the turn of the person who had arrived before me, to go in.

But that young man surprised me with this suggestion: "Why don't you go in? I need to generate PIN, and it might take some time ..."

Though I was taken aback, I told him, "Thank you so much. You are very kind," and I walked in.

It didn't take me more than a minute to withdraw some cash.

As I stepped out and exited, I thought, there was no need for him to make that offer. He could have gone in, and I would have waited for, may be, a few more minutes.

Parking fee

Yesterday evening, I had to make a few purchases, and I parked my car at a paid parking lot in Kamanahalli. I was handed a small red slip of paper with the time written on it, by a young man who guards the place. The fee is Rs 10 per hour for two-wheelers and Rs 20 per hour for four-wheelers.

I finished my shopping and was back in 15 minutes. Just as I was giving the attender Rs 20, he said, "Rs 10."

I was surprised. He then said, "You just came.. " Meaning, I had parked the car for only a short time.

I said, okay, and put back the Rs 20 in my purse and gave him Rs 10.

As I drove back home, I wondered: he could have taken Rs 20. What was the need to give me a concession?

Or should I have insisted on going by the actual rate, and paid him Rs 20, instead taking a discount?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

What Orlando shooting means

Worst mass shooting in the history of the United States. Fifty killed and scores wounded, many critically.

The victims were in an LGBT nightclub Pulse. The killer also swore his allegiance to Islamic State, in a call to 911.

Thus this is a homophic, terror attack. First time we are seeing one like this.

Since the killer has been killed we don't know what exactly his motive was. He has been identified as Omar Mateen, an American citizen of Afghan origin. It is no-brainer to figure out in which direction the needle of suspicion would point.

The fact that the target was an LGBT congregation makes one suspect if the killer was homophobic. In fact, CNN is now quoting sources to say that the family of Omar told police that he had anti-gay feelings.

Since this single shooter opened fire on an LGBT club, it also raises doubts their security. Freedom to be oneself, and to live and let live, also seems to be under threat.

Security sources are saying that the killer has been on an FBI list of IS sympathizers. But apparently there wasn't anything to indicate that he was about to commit such a crime.

If the terrorist connection is established, there will be a whole lot questions asked. If he was on a watch list, why did he go unmonitored?

But having said that it's also practically impossible to keep a 24/7 watch on a huge number of people who could be on such lists.

Apparently the killer called 911 during the attack and said he has been inspired by IS. CNN also says he referred to Boston bombers.

The terror link also gives an implication that this is an attack on American homeland and an attack on the values that Americans cherish.

There will also be questions raised on the ease with which people, especially those with suspect credentials, can obtain deadly arms. Once again there will be a debate about the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution that gives right to carry arms.

This being the second worst terror attack after 9/11, one can expect some tough restrictions coming into a liberal and tolerant American civic life.

Someone said the killer could have been inspired by radical ideology. If that is true, we should seriously introspect as why such radical messages are finding followers. And we have seen that some of the people getting swayed are people who are financially well off and also who are well educated. Really something is wrong somewhere.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

How to handle examination-related stress and fear among students

Another girl has tried to end her life, frustrated over her school examination tribulations. This happened in front of The Goa University Vice-Chancellor yesterday. The V-C declared the examination the students took null and void, as they didn't have the requisite attendance in classes.

Attendance issue is a common problem. But if the way the problem has been handled has led to a student trying to commit suicide, then there is something drastically wrong in the way in the whole manner the issue was handled.

It is not the first time, that students have attempted suicide. Mostly it relates to poor performance or fear of examination.

According to this news item in Huffington Post earlier this month, 57 young students have taken their lives on Kota. That is the city in Rajasthan which is renowned for the private education centres that coach students who are preparing for various competitive examinations in order to get into prestigious institutions like IIT, IIM etc.

Here is another news item from May 2008, which says that exam pressure is leading students to commit suicide.

Hopefully the one that happened in Goa will be the last.

Examinations, especially in school, are notorious for the amount of stress they give not only for the student but also for the parents, who take leave from office when their children have examinations.

I am not trying to argue that parents need not bother about their children's academic performance or they should just turn a blind eye when kids get very low scores.

What is driving mad these children is not the examination but the amount of pressure parents, relatives and the immediate friends' circle puts on them.

They all should help children rather than torment them. For example, if kids aren't interested in studies, parents should explore ways to get them interested. And also tell them, nicely but firmly, that studies and examinations are important, and shouldn't be ignored.

Parents should not force children to get high marks. Different children are endowed with different capabilities. Every parent should know their children very well.

High marks are good. But if a child doesn't get high marks, that doesn't mean that her future is doomed. Most parents, wrongly and with disastrous consequences, convey that view.

If children get low marks, parents, instead of shouting and screaming at them, should be with them, helping them out. Tell them, "You have done your best. It's not the end of the world. We shall see where and why you lost marks. We will make up, and show everyone, that I am able to get good marks."

If parents think that they aren't able to handle the situation, they must reach out people who can assist them. There are plenty of professional counsellors who can help. Sometimes, children tend to listen to what some others say rather than what their own parents say.

Let us hope that this alarming trend tapers, and finally no child ever has to take her or his life because of examinations.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

RIP, Muhammad Ali - Greatest boxer, champion of human rights

It is just about an hour since news broke that Muhammad Ali is no more. And it is already trending on Twitter and Facebook. I thought the present generation, the ones who are mostly on the social media, might not know much about who this great man is. But I am wrong.

Muhammad Ali was a name that many in my generation grew up with. That he was a World Heavyweight Boxing Champion was just one of the reasons. He was Black. And like any Black in those times, had to face huge struggles to live like a normal human being.

Photo credit: BBC
We all kept hearing and reading stories about how this man, who was born Cassius Clay, stood up for people who were being persecuted merely for the colour of their skin. He converted to Islam, took the name, we all now know him as. And most famously refused to join the US Army to fight against Vietnam. He was later stripped of the World Boxing Championship title he had won.

He set the trend for many Black American sportspersons. He taught them that their colour wasn't anything to be ashamed about. He taught them to look beyond such things and believe in their sporting skills.

He later came to be celebrated as a great human being, feted by George Bush in 2005 with America's highest civilian honour.

Muhammad Ali's India connection

Boxing in my school

In school, we had boxing as a sporting event. In fact, my alma mater Sainik School, in Thiruvananthapuram, was the only school in Kerala that had a professional boxing ring. All of us had to learn boxing as a part of sports, and take part in bouts. The best among us represented the House in the Boxing Championship. There was such aggressive competitiveness in that tournament every year that it became so prestigious. And, we were all inspired by Mohammad Ali in some way.

Rest In Peace, The Greatest

Signing off with one of the popular songs on Mohammad Ali. I love this so much.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

ESPN launches multi-sport India-specific website and mobile app

Sports websites are dime a dozen; and one of the popular ones is ESPNCricinfo. But it is only about cricket. Early today, ESPN launched an India-specific, multi-sport website and mobile application.

The website is branded SONY ESPN but the URL is and the app, available for now on Android and iOS, is called ESPN.

The ESPN mobile app existed before. What has changed today, with an update, is that it's got India-specific content too, besides the hitherto, predominantly American content.

It's like the ESPNCricinfo website, but it has got a much sleeker look, and has got a whole lot of content, drawn from the huge data repository of ESPN, which has only gotten much larger after its collaboration with Sony. So besides cricket, football, tennis, there are also NFL, NASCAR, shooting, chess, hockey, badminton, wrestling, kabaddi, etc.

Like all good websites and apps, this too can be personalized. Once signed in, we can choose our favourite  sports, leagues and teams. We can go to the favourites tab and follow scores, news, images, videos etc related to them. And like all the other good websites and apps, the selections sync across all the other devices -- mobile, tablet, laptop, desktop.

Besides all this, both the website and the app, will stream live sports events for which Sony has the broadcast rights. This is in association with Sony LIV. We can look forward to live video of the UEFA Euro 2016 on the website and also on the app, besides of course Sony ESPN TV channel.

ESPN International has 26 television networks and additional businesses like radio, print, internet, broadband, wireless, consumer products, and event management, in over 61 countries. Globally, it is headquartered in Bristol, and in India it is headquartered in Bengaluru, with offices in Mumbai and Delhi. ESPN is 80 percent owned by ABC, Inc., which is a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. The rest is held by The Hearst Corporation.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Tony Cozier: the authoritative voice of West Indian cricket

With the passing away of Tony Cozier in Barbados yesterday, the world of cricket commentating has lost a grand, melodious voice.

He was one of the great commentators who made up the BBC Test Match Special team. And, I grew up listening to him, among other like Brian Johnston, Don Mosey, Henry Blofeld, Christopher Martin Jenkins, Johnathan Agnew etc. I still listen to Test Match Special.

Tony Cozier, being from Barbados, had the typical accent of that region, referred to sometimes as the Bajan accent. It was a pleasure always listening to him commentating, be it when a batsman cracked the willow and the cherry flew over the ropes, or when the bowler was right on target and blew the stumps away.

Here is a clipping, via Sound Cloud.

Tony Cozier had a phenomenal knowledge of cricket, and it came through in all his writings and commentaries.

West Indies cricket has a romantic charm about it, the Calypsos just being one part of it. Tony Cozier took us closer to that wonderful land far way from here, and entertained us. He was there when West Indies cricket was on top of the world, with Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Gardner, Colin Croft etc. He was there when the great team began to slide, and plummeted to embarrassing lows.

Tony Cozier's voice will forever resonate in memories.

Rest in Peace. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

More Railway stations get high-speed Wi-Fi connectivity

There are now 15 railways stations in India that have free high speed Wi-Fi connectivity. Interestingly most of them are not the big cities. There is no Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata, so far.

Other than Mumbai Central, where the service was inaugurated in January, none of them are very big metros.

After Mumbai Central, the stations which got the service are: Pune, Bhubaneshwar, Bhopal, Ranchi, Raipur, Vijayawada, Kacheguda, Ernakulum Jn, Vishakhapatnam. From yesterday, people passing through five more stations benefit: Ujjain, Jaipur, Patna, Guwahati and Allahabad.

Google keeps it word

It's interesting to note that Google is, not only focusing on mid-tier cities and towns, but also, more importantly, Google is keeping its word; unlike most pronouncements by the governments and politicians.

The internet major promised in December last year that it will in association with RailTel, the telecommunication wing of the Railways, set up free Wi-Fi in 100 railways stations by the end of the year.

This announcement followed an earlier one in September by Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the company's Mountain View headquarters, that the company plans to enable 400 railways stations with free Wi-Fi.

Google now plans to extend the project to cover key suburban Mumbai stations, like Dadar, Bandra Terminus, Churchgate, Thane, Kalyan, Panvel, Vashi, Kurla, Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus, Borivali and a few others.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Uber drivers in Austin have to undergo fingerprint verification

A law in Austin, Texas, regulating the way Uber and Lyft cab services are run mandates, inter alia, that drivers have to take a fingerprint-based background verification, and wear 'trade dress'. It was put in place by the City Council in December 2015.

But there has been strong opposition to this strict security measure, from various quarters.

Proposition 1 -- to take down the law -- was put to vote and the results have come in. The people have voted to keep the fingerprint verification.

In response to it, Uber and Lyft have now suspended their services in Austin. Their argument is that their own screening is good enough, and a screening by a governmental agency will only make it harder for part-time drivers to operate.

Though this is a very local development in Austin, it's interesting, especially in India, where Uber services are very popular, though not always without controversies.

Drivers running cabs for Uber have got into many criminal cases, in not only in Bengaluru, Delhi and some other cities of India, but also in many places in the US, Europe and Southeast Asia. Though personally, I have never had an issue with a Uber driver, I have heard of people, especially women, having problems.

Secondly, Uber and Lyft had jointly spent $8 million in campaign advertisements urging people to support the proposition (against the law). On the contrary, a group that is opposed to the proposition spent just $100,000.

The results show that the people value their security much more than anything. Expensive advertisements may not really help. When it comes to issues that affect people directly they take independent decisions.


In Forbes, Daily News, TechCrunch

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Celebrating Bengaluru's Namma Metro

The way we (Bengalureans) are celebrating the opening of the full stretch of the East-West corridor just shows how frustrated we are about the traffic. It was inaugurated on March 29, and it was thrown open to the public the next day.

Finally, the bogies are running to packed capacity. Not surprising, considering it runs across around 18 km from one end of the city to the other end, touching key spots like Indiranagar, M G Road, Vidhana Soudha, City Raiway Station etc. It's also proving to be a good feeder service for the Indian Railway and Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation,

I only wish the remaining portions of the Phase I are also completed as quickly as possible. The government has said that it will be over by November 1. That would mean the North-South Corridor also be fully functional. And a good segment of the fledgling city will be covered.

Mercifully there are fewer protests against the Metro now, compared to the run-up to the completion of the very first segment from Baiyappanahalli to MG Road, which was inaugurated on October 20, 2011.

After so much dithering and long discussion on the pros and cons of having a metro, the detailed project report was submitted in 2003, work should have begun in 2005, but the final clearance in the form of Union cabinet approval came only in 2006. Then, followed endless protests and court cases. And for the construction of mere 6 km stretch of railway it took five years! Not that it could be done in a jiffy. But lots of time and money was needlessly wasted. Delay means cost escalation.

After the first phase was inaugurated, there was much less protests. Probably, many people understood that the metro is after all good for the people.

But still there are vested and selfish people stalling the project, on some silly issue or the other. Like, who should decide how many trees should be cut.

When we all know that the metro has to come one day or the other, why don't we get the thing up and running fast?