Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Vanishing ballpoint pen refills

You don't get them in most stationery stops.

"That's weird," my friend exclaimed, when I told her about it. "Students still use pens, so you should get it everywhere no?"

Though near the place where I stay, there is a well-known college and a school, the stationery shops there don't sell them.

Lack of replacement refills has led to accumulation of unusable ballpoint pens in my house.

So, today I took them all to the Supreme store near Ulsoor bus stand. The shop is popular as they sell stationery and binding material at very affordable rates.

But, even he has only refills for Reynolds.

I asked my friend's question to the shopkeeper. This is what he said, "When there are cheap use-and-throw pens, no student will bother to go around hunting for refills. And many college students use Gel pens."

These one-time-use ball pens come for as cheap as Rs 3. And if you buy in bulk, you get it cheaper. These may not be stylish, but they are good, and serves the purpose.

So, no surprise it's very difficult to get ballpoint pen refills.

The flip side of use-and-throw pens is environmental degradation. But when did anyone put ecology ahead of convenience?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Steve Jobs - a paradox

Steve Jobs: an Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson is a well-researched life history of a rare icon of the software industry. The author has interviewed hundreds of people -- ranging from Jobs' relatives and friends, to colleagues and competitors -- for this book, and not surprisingly the book has lots of details about Jobs: the person and entrepreneur.

My knowledge of Jobs was all picked up at random from articles on him, especially a surfeit of them that appeared when he passed away four years ago. But nothing to beat this book in terms of the depth of details.

The book is worth reading because of the innumerable anecdotes and quotes that reveal who the real Steve Jobs was.

I found Jobs a paradox. Because, he had traits that were quite conflicting. He had plenty of negative habits in his personality, that we all associate with sure disaster. But probably because of the strength of his positives, Jobs was able to not only get away with all that, but even reach commanding levels of success.

In many ways, Jobs isn't the typical role model. Rarely showered, and had a strange belief that if you are a vegetarian the body kept itself clean. He had erratic food habits -- sometimes he starved himself, sometimes he indulged in a few chosen food which he abandoned altogether later.

He had a fiery and unpredictable temper; and was very bad at managing people. Very often he was curt and rude. He could easily make people dislike him rather than like him. He curtly rejected new ideas for no rhyme or reason, but accepted them later when it came from someone else. Worse, he sometimes appropriated as his own, some ideas of others.

What made him successful in spite of all these, was his sharp focus and determination to achieve his goals. He wanted his creations to be different, and he was obsessed with details, with a sharp eye for design.

He was a shrewd businessman, and knew which side of the bread was buttered. He was fiercely protective of his products which he wanted to look good as much as efficient. He had near contempt for anything other than Apple. He wanted the users of his products to get everything from the Apple ecosystem. He hated to let anyone else in to the Apple Store.

Jobs differed with Microsoft's route of licensing Windows. He also had contempt and strong hatred for Google's philosophy of open source. That in fact laid the groundwork for one of the most intensely fought software battles. The world is divided on those lines: to be open and accessible to everyone, or be protective, exclusive and privileged.

The book also deals at length with Jobs's struggle with cancer. Even while he was losing the battle there was only one thing that brought a sparkle in his eyes: Apple.

Jobs was a completely complex personality. Definitely one of a kind. He knew often he wasn't being fair in the way he was dealing with people but he didn't know any other way to deal with people.

But at the end of it all, he created products that achieved cult status, products that dramatically changed the way people read books, listened to music, communicated with each other.

Isn't that a great legacy?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

AAP landslide victory: random thoughts

Surely even Arvind Kejriwal and AAP supporters never thought they would win all but 3 seats in the Assembly. That's almost 96% of seats. Is that a record for any election in India? Remember, AAP didn't win a single seat in Delhi in the Lok Sabha elections.

This is what the voters said: "Dear Aravind, you asked us to pardon you. We have done that. You said we didn't give you a clear mandate, last time. We have given you that now. Let's see how you deliver on your promises."

Kiran Bedi and BJP leadership in no small way contributed to the party's rout. She was crticising BJP and Modi till a few months ago. She walks in to that same party, heaps platitudes on the party and Modi; and gets anointed as the party's chief ministerial candidate. Huge goof-up by party leadership.

This is not the first time voters have spoken decisively. In 1977, Indira Gandhi was swept out of power, and totally untested Janata Party came to power. When people saw that the alternative simply didn't work out, in the first available chance, in 1980, they voted her back to government.

Another example is the defeat of the urban-centric trio of Atal Behari Vajpayee at the Centre, Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh and S M Krishna in Karnataka in 2004. Anyone following the media -- that was bristling with the India Shining campaign -- would have felt that these three would easily come back. But it was not so.

Even now, the voters have said that they know clearly the difference between Central government and State government. Many, especially the BJP thought that having won the Lok Sabha election, it should be a cakewalk in Delhi. Complacency has done them in.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Adultery by Paulo Coelho

The book is about Linda, a 20-something journalist, who is extremely successful in her career. She has a loving and caring husband and two children. But deep within her, she has a very unsettling void. The fissure is filled by images of a steamy relationship in college days. She goes chasing those images, which only drives her crazy, forces her to do weird, immoral and at times illegal things.

The theme is indeed adultery, and the narrative has a few graphic descriptions of sexual encounters. But it's not just about that. It's also about peace, love, happiness and contentment. Or, rather the lack of them. She is on a journey trying to find out why she is feeling let down by herself.

This is the second book of Coelho I am reading. The first one being the much-acclaimed Alchemist. This doesn't fall in that league at all. This easy-read book is not a classic either. It's all about Linda's introspective conversations, and her interactions with friend and her husband. The book captures a widespread reality. But only Linda's emotions are described in great detail. So you get a feeling that it's all from her perspective. I felt that the book fell just short of making an emotional impact.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Serendipity of a musical kind

I was in a train travelling from Kozhikode to Mangalore today morning. I was lying down on the upper berth. Just when the train was pulling into the station, I was struck by a very rhythmic music. I looked around to see who was playing it. In fact, instead of getting irritated, I was only getting more curious.

Soon, I found that a boy aged around 5 on the upper berth beside mine playing it on a mobile phone. He was blissfully enjoying it and playing it over and over. I sat up to see what it was. It was an animation clip. The music was so captivating; but I had no clue to what it was.

Just when I was about to ask him about it, his parents began scrambling the luggage, and the boy was summoned down. He was carefully descending the steps from the upper berth. Later, he began talking to his mother even while keeping that music on. There was no way I could interrupt them with my question. That would have been very odd.

I was reminded of a similar incident many years ago. When I had gone to a mobile store, I heard a very nice Tamil song. I asked the person who was playing it what song was it. He said it was some Tamil song; and he wasn't quite sure of the first line either nor the movie.

I never heard that song anywhere else; and it was lost forever.

Today, I didn't want to make that mistake. So, I quickly took out my mobile phone and recorded a small clip of it, so that I could play it to someone who could then tell me what song that was.

At my friend's house, later in the day, I played the music; and she knew what it was. "It's Cleopatra Stratan's famous Zunea-Zunea."

Here's the original song from YouTube.

Here is a Wikipedia entry on Cleopatra Stratan.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

House for Rema - Sainik School Alumni Social Project

Rema being interviewed
Destiny is not just about misfortune. It can also be about good tidings. Rema, a young budding poet in a remote Pallikkar village in Payyoli of Kozhikode district, knows.

For this youngest of seven siblings, first, it was misery in the form of family squabbles, physical infirmity and emotional trauma. All of that ended in she and her TB-inflicted father being reduced to a nerve-racking state, and forced to live in a shed on a piece of land susceptible to waterlogging.

The Malabar chapter of my (Sainik School, Kazhakootam) alumni association got to know of her plight from media reports, and drew up a plan to build a House for Rema, as its second Social Project. The first project was a free medical camp conducted by all the doctor-alumni from in and around Kozhikode, a few months ago.

The House for Rema
The House for Rema project was taken up in May last year. After surmounting innumerable hurdles of different kinds during the next eight months, the house, the dream the talented young girl nurturned for many years, was ready for occupation.

Hari Ashwin handing over key
to Rema. Behind to the left
is Mr Poonacha and to the
right Capt Ramesh Babu.
She took possession of it at a simple ceremony today evening. The key was handed over to her by Hari Ashwin, a 6th standard student of Sainik School. He was there for Christmas vacation. There was a crowd of around 250 people, including 23 old students, five current cadets, and former Geography teacher Mr M K Poonacha who as the chief guest unveiled the plaque. Rema acknowledged the effort by reciting a poem, that moved many to tears. The entire project was driven by a group of alumni led by Capt Ramesh Babu.

We may not be able to help each and every needy person. But all of us can make some effort, in our own way, to help some people.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year To Do List

The first day of another new year. Woke up around 7 am to a strange sound. Rain? Looked out through the window. Indeed it was the pitter patter of the rain drops. Very unlikely on a New Year Day.

Last year was a significant one. I changed my job. This year too will be momentous. Because I will pass a milestone in my life. More about that some other day.

New Year resolutions? No. Never believed in them. I think in school, I used to have them. But they never worked out. Probable reason: they were decisions I was forcing myself to take because it was January 1. So, no ambitious goals. I am restricting myself to small tasks. I have made a list of things to do in 2015. Easier to keep track, accomplish and feel gratified. What are they? That will be the subject of my end-of-year post.

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?


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.  


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?


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.


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 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.


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.