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?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Book Review: Beyond Love Lines: Do You Know Jeevan Who Loved Nancy? by Krish

Beyond Love Lines: Do You Know Jeevan Who Loved Nancy?
The disclaimer is that author, Krishna Raj, is my schoolmate. Last month, we had an alumni meet, and during the event, he got a few copies; and all of them were sold out among the alumni.

The book revolves around the life of Jeevan, who had a crush on his neighbour and childhood friend Nancy. But he reads too much into every action her or absence of it, and mistakes them as love. There are many other characters too who come into the story.

Half way into the book, I realised how apt the title of the book is. The story is not actually about the love/ infatuation of Jeevan and Nancy. It is all about the militant uprisings in Kashmir and how Jeevan as an officer in the Indian Army deals with it. The entire relationship issues of Jeevan and others are narrated as flashback.

The author has done well weave the plot and many subplots, the present and the past, without confusing the reader too much. Probably, at a few places, the flashback portion could have been separated with asterisks, as has been done in a few other places.

The story also juxtaposes the ironic difficulty of Jeevan to deal with emotional turmoils with the life-threatening situations in the valley to which he squares so boldly and effortlessly. The novel is truly all about love lines and what lies beyond them.

I found the initial portions a bit slow and lumbering. The narrative is a very easy one, without heavy literary expressions or syntax. A good start for Krishna with his first book.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Monday, March 28, 2016

The lady and the coin

A few days ago, I wanted an envelope to place a small gift in it and give it to a friend, at a farewell function. So, I went to a nearby gift store to get one.

On my return, after buying the envelope, just as I entered my apartment block, an elderly gentleman asked me which was the exit in the building. No sooner I had pointed at the door than he asked me where he could get an envelope. (It turned out that he too was heading for the same farewell function, and he too needed a gift envelope.) I told him there is a shop behind the apartment complex. And that I am just returning after buying one for myself.

While I walked a few steps towards the exit to show him the direction to the store, he popped a question: "Could you just come with me?"

The gentleman, who must be in his sixties, was very apologetic. I agreed to to go to the shop with him, but I also suggested he could use the envelope I had bought, and that I shall quickly go back to the store and get another one. Why should he walk all the way to the store, I thought.

But he said no, and cheerfully agreed to walk along with me. As we walked, I told me where he had worked in Bengaluru, and asked me where I lived, where I worked, how long I have been in the city etc. We just quickly got to know each other.

Back at the store, I asked the lady at the counter for anther envelope. The lady is the wife of the man owns the shop.

"Give me a simple cover," the man told the lady, who then offered one which cost Rs 3.

Seemingly satisfied, he took out his purse and offered her coins of Rs 2 and Re 1.

However, a few other coins too dropped on the desk, and the woman's eyes fell on a shining one.

"What is that coin?", she asked.

Before he could reply, came another question: "Can I see it?"

A bit taken aback, he put the coin hurriedly back in the purse.

But the woman was insistent and assured him that she won't take it, but only wants to just see it.

Then he took it out and handed it over to her. She examined it.

"Is it a silver coin?" she was curious.

"No, it's an American cent, a penny," he explained.

She didn't seem to have understood. So, I said, "It is a coin of a foreign country, and not ours."

Then in a sudden turn around, she asked, "Can I have it?"

Why she abruptly wanted to own it, I wondered.

I asked her, "I wonder if it's right to ask for something personal from a customer in this manner!"

She then turned a bit apologetic, and reasoned out. "When I go to Rajasthan, I can show my friends the foreign coin."

"But still, isn't it a personal thing?" I asked her.

She then quickly said, "Uncle might have more such coins at home."

The elderly man, probably not wanting to have with him something that someone is longing for, readily parted with the penny, saying there are many more such coins at home, and that his son works in the US.

As we walked back, the incident left both of us thinking why she suddenly wanted to have the coin for herself.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

It is back to cloth bags

No more plastic carry bags in Karnataka. The ban came into force on Monday, March 14.

I am happy that the government is enforcing this rule very strictly, to the extent that corporation officials are visiting shops and confiscating the bags they have. Many shops have put up boards that it's illegal to use plastic bags.

Look at the plastic bags in garbage piles on roadsides. In fact, two years ago, the Supreme Court had urged people to be sympathetic to animals and called for a complete ban on plastic bags, as stray cattle ended up consuming them.

According to the The Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, 15, 000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day, out of which 9, 000 tonnes is collected and processed, but 6, 000 tonnes of plastic waste is not being collected.

Efforts like the recent one, wherein the Union government increased the minimum thickness of plastic carry bags from 40 microns to 50 microns, aren't really going to help. The government brought in this change because the thicker bags will be costlier, so that will be a trigger for people to switch to green products. But such efforts aren't going to yield any result. People will just start using the thicker version.

OTHER STATES TOO

In Gurgaon, the municipal corporation is offering discounts for people who shop with cloth bags, under 'Bring your own carry bag' drive.

Two years ago, California became the first state in the US to ban single-use plastic bags as a way to address litter, primarily in waterways.

Punjab and Tripura have banned plastic carry bags.

CLOCK COMES FULL CIRCLE

In a way, the clock has come one full circle. You remember the days when plastic carry bags weren't this popular, and all of us carried cloth bags, before we stepped out to shop?

Then, it was a more organized lifestyle too. No one shopped just because there wasn't anything else to do. Most people shopped because they wanted to buy something, not because they wanted to spent money.

Earlier, many people had a fixed day or a couple of days every week when they made the purchases, and they went prepared for it with a cloth bag. Today, we buy stuff randomly as and when we remember. That could mean shopping on way to office, or way back from office, or at any random time. Needless to say, we wouldn't have a bag to carry stuff back home. And quite naturally, the plastic bag culture set in with our haphazard and erratic shopping culture.

Not all shops have green alternatives, so we have to first remember to have a cloth bag in hand before we step out to the nearby provision store.

Just wondering if the ban will end up in increased online shopping.

Friday, March 11, 2016

DataWind sold more tablets than Samsung in India

DataWind quotes an IDC Report to say that it shipped more tablets in India during the fourth quarter of last year, than its competitors.

As many as 20.7% of the tablets sold in India during that period were by this Canada-based company that makes computer hardware, mainly for emerging markets. It had hit headlines in October 2011, when it manufactured Akash tablets for Government of India priced at just $60, under Rs 3,000 during that time.

According to the report, DataWind was followed by Samsung (15.8%), Micromax (15.5%), Lenovo (13.8%), and iBall (10%).

DataWind quotes another study to say that the company holds 58% market share in the sub-Rs 5,000 tablet segment (approximately $75).

An obviously ebullient Suneet Singh Tuli, president and CEO of DataWind, says the IDC report "demonstrates how our transition to local manufacturing and improvements in our sales channelshas allowed us to meet the phenomenal demand”.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Will you shop online if there are no discounts?

Most of us have shopped online - either on Flipkart or Amazon or Myntra or any other e-commerce site. But why do we shop online? Everyone says it's convenient. But my gut feeling is it's the price factor.

If we plan to buy something, most of us check the online price. The general impression is it's cheap online. Most of us fall for the discount (even if it'sn't very substantial), and click "buy".

Many people buy something online (even if they don't need to buy it) only because they have got a good deal. I know a few friends, who keep looking for them.

After giving lots of discounts, most of these sites, aren't making profits. They are just managing to stay afloat, aided by funds from venture capitalists, who are investing based on extrapolated growth curves.

The moot question is: if the online price is the same as offline, or not considerably less than offline, or if there were no more "daily deals", will people still shop online?

What is your take on this?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Li-Fi: Connect to the Internet using an LED bulb

Imagine an LED bulb doubling up as an access point for connecting to the internet and ordinary light being used as a medium to carry data.

A whole new world wherein a bulb would not only give us light but also help us access the web might not be too far way, if a new technology called Li-Fi (or Light-Fidelity) goes mainstream.

Prof Harald Haas of the University of Edinburgh, who coined the term Li-Fi in 2011, demonstrated the new technology to a packed auditorium at the Wipro’s Electronics City campus on Wednesday. He streamed a video from the internet on a laptop using light from an LED bulb to access the web.

Prof Haas said Li-Fi is a disruptive technology that could transform business models, create new opportunities, and is poised to be a $113 billion industry by 2022.

He said that the RF (radio frequency) spectrum will not be enough considering the rate of growth of wireless data communication. The visible light spectrum is much larger. The use of the light spectrum for Li-Fi overcomes the issues in traditional wireless communication, like the shortage of spectrum and network disruption because of interference.

In Li-Fi, anyone who has access to light can access the internet. The system also allows users to move from one light source to another without losing their network connection. What about connecting to the internet in the night? The stream of photos can be reduced to a minimal level that won’t produce visible light but enough to carry data.

Prof Haas said though Li-Fi was poised to compete with Wi-Fi, it is not meant to replace it. “We are not looking at an either-or situation.”

Though the inability of light rays to pass through walls and similar structures is seen as a major drawback of this technology, Prof Haas has a totally different view. He said it’s an advantage since restriction by walls provides more security to the network and eliminates the risk of the signal leakage to eavesdropping.

The Li-Flame, described as the world's first true Li-Fi system, was displayed at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in March last year. The third generation of products have now been developed and will be on display at the MWC later this month.

WHAT IS LI-FI

Light-Fidelity is a new technology that uses light waves, instead of radio frequency waves, as a medium to carry data. An improvised LED bulb functions as a router

HOW DOES LI-FI WORK

  • An ordinary off-the-shelf LED bulb connected to an device, which in turn is connected to the internet.
  • Internet data flows in via the device into the bulb, and is carried by light waves.
  • At the other end, light waves carrying internet data falls on a receiver or a dongle which is connected to the computer.

BENEFITS OF Li-Fi
  • Visible light spectrum is available in plenty, unlicensed and free to use.
  • Double benefit of a bulb giving us light as well as internet access
  • Low interference leads to very high data speed
  • Li-Fi works under water as well
  • Not harmful, unlike RF that can interfere with electronic circuitry
  • Light won’t pass through walls, making eavesdropping nearly impossible
  • LED illumination is already efficient and data transmission needs very little additional power.
  • It can achieve about 1,000 times data density of Wi-Fi, since light can be contained in an area

PROGRESS CARD
  • July 2011: Prof Harald Haas coins Li-Fi at TEDGlobal
  • Jan 2012: PureLifi founded
  • Sept 2013: Launch of first product Li-1st
  • Dec 2014: Second product Li-Flame developed
  • Nov 2015: Prof Haas demonstrates Li-Fi using solar cells at TEDGlobal
  • Dec 2015: Latest product LiFi-X developed

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Book Review - 101 Amazing US Presidential Facts

101 Amazing Presidential Facts: Fun trivia about every American President from Washington to Obama! (American Presidents Series)
This is the Presidential election season in the United States, and that's one reason I picked up this small book of trivia. Good fun reading lots of interesting things about all the US Presidents, right from George Washington to Barack Obama. This can be a good resource for people who are interested in quizzing. It talks of:

  • The first President to actually live in the White House.
  • Presidents who have died on Independence Day.
  • The President who died within one month of being sworn in.
  • The first President to wear a blue jeans to the Oval Office
  • The President who got a speeding ticket because he drove the horse too fast
  • The first President to use a telephone in the White House
  • The first President to ride in an automobile. But more interesting is what was special about that journey
  • The President who is related to 11 other presidents by blood or by marriage
  • The first President to run a full marathon.
  • The President who gets hair cut every week

And so and so forth...

101 Amazing Presidential Facts: Fun trivia about every American President from Washington to Obama! by Children's History Press
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Book Review - Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me
I received an Amazon gift coupon for Rs 200 recently, and I began looking for a book to buy. I zeroed in on 'Between the World and Me' by Ta-Nehisi Coates for a few reasons.

One, the book deals with a subject (race) that is at the heart of contemporary social fabric of the US. We wish the country has moved on, but regularly we get to hear of issues and events that only point to the contrary.

Two, the author is a well-known journalist. He works for The Atlantic.

Three, this book, his second, is a very recent one, and the news of its publication is fresh in memory.

The book is in the form of a letter to his 14-year old son, about what it means to be black in the US. Apparently, the book came about after Coates asked his editor why no one wrote like James Baldwin (whose The Fire Next Time, is in the form of a letter), and the editor told him to give it a try.

Drawing a lot from his childhood in Baltimore and many other personal experiences, Coates brilliantly paints a haunting picture of violence. References to brutality are powerful enough to linger in our minds for long. He constantly refers to the body that is always under the threat of being harmed, his feelings of being in a country that has been built by whites with the labour of blacks.

I haven't been in the US long enough to know first hand how race relations play out in everyday lives. I have heard both versions: one, that the country has moved far, far ahead from where it was once; and two, there is still lot of racial ill-will among the whites for the Afro-Americans. Segregation may not legally exist, but in reality it does still, if not so much on the ground, definitely in the mind.

The book paints a very pessimistic picture: almost tells you there is just no hope of anything getting better. I got a feeling that he was going on and on. The bleak tenor was off-putting. One shouldn't be taking so much pains to explain and convince why something will not improve; it should be for the contrary, why there is still reason for hope.

Nevertheless, Coates's autobiographical accounts and his arguments on why he doesn't see much hope, is a good read, giving us a frame of reference to understand the complex topic of race relations in the US.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Interesting US presidential poll season ahead

So it's Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders who are hogging limelight after the Iowa caucuses yesterday.

On the Republican side, while I can understand the sentiments that are bringing in the numbers for Donald Trump, his radical thoughts are unnerving. Between the two, Cruz is preferable.

On the Democratic side, my choice is Hillary, mainly because of her overall career record and experience. Bernie Sanders isn't appealing. He is talking of a policy line that is far too Leftist that one can imagine would work in the US. Barack Obama's policies themselves weren't going down well.

This US presidential poll is promising to be very exciting.