Saturday, March 30, 2019

Using technology to cut food waste

We Are The World Blogfest
It has been estimated that huge quantity of food goes waste around the world in a year -- millions of tons, going by estimates made by various research agencies. To counter this, scientists and startup enthusiasts are making use of modern technology.

More than at home, it's in restaurants where the wastage occurs most. People order food without having a clear idea of what they are going to eat. Usually, the menu has no information on either the ingredients or on how the food has been prepared. With the result, many people tend to waste what they have ordered.

Gunjan Mehrish, Monica Narula and Noopur Tiwari have come up with a solution -- video menus, called Fideos.

These are short 10 to 30-second videos that show "how a food dish is prepared and where the ingredients have been sourced from. They are transparent and give the customers a fair idea of the sumptuous dishes on offer", says this report in The Better India. They are now collaborating with many popular restaurants, in Delhi.

In Britain, IKEA has deployed a solution called 'intelligent bins', which aims to cut the amount that chefs throw away in the bin. The bins take a photo and learn to recognise what has been thrown out. The bin weighs it and calculates the cost. Chefs then understand the optimum amount that needs to be used in order to reduce waste, says this BBC report. IKEA says during the first year they have been able to achieve a 32% reduction in food waste.

(This post is a part of the We Are The World Blogfest, a series that celebrates good news.)

Sunday, March 24, 2019

A to Z Challenge - Theme Reveal
This is only my second time here. Last year, I blogged on random subjects, this time around I thought I must pick a topic.

It will be on journalism jargons. There are a couple of reasons for this choice.

One, thanks to internet-linked gadgets and multiple social media platforms, quite unwittingly, everyone is now doing what once only professional journalists did -- that is, putting information, of interest and implication to people at large, in the public domain -- the democratisation of publishing and broadcasting, as it is very commonly referred to.

Two, this has played no small role in bringing about some amazing transformations in our lifestyle. So, I thought it would be interesting to demystify some of the common expressions.

I am looking forward to reading posts of other participants of the challenge as well.

See you! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

No more waiting, for anything


* All my school and college life, I lived in the Sainik School campus. It is near a village called Chandavila, about four km from the small town of Kazhakootam, and 30 km from the city of Thiruvananthapuram, in Kerala. If I had to go to the city, I had to rely on just one bus that came from a place called Kattayikkonam and passed through Chandavila. It plied just three times a day: at 7.30 am, 2.30 pm and 5.30 pm. If I had to go to the city, I had to wait for this bus.

Now, no more waiting. There is a public transport of a different kind (called Uber Share or Ola Pool), which picks me up from wherever I am and drops me wherever I want to go.


* I was a news freak right from my school days. My portable transistor radio was my friend. Listening to news gave me a picture of the world that we live in. Every day I waited for news thrice a day: in the morning, afternoon and night, to know what's the latest. Listening to the BBC World Service news at 7.30 am, 1.30 pm and 8.30 pm, and the All India Radio news at 8.15 am, 2 pm and 9 pm, was a part of my daily life, for as long as I can remember. Besides this, I had to wait for the morning to read a newspaper.

Now, no more waiting. The newspapers, radio and television are all on the palm. Always there are at least a dozen news apps on my phone. The latest news arrives with a beep, as and when it happens. (Anyway, I can't wait now, since tracking news is a part of my job.)


* I enrolled as a member of the British Library in Thiruvananthapuram in 1980. (It closed down in March 2008.) Members were allowed to borrow four books and three magazines for a period of 4 weeks. So, I had to wait for a month to borrow and read a new set of books, and newspapers and magazines like The Times, The Telegraph, The Economist, The Spectator, and The New Statesman.

Now, no more waiting. There are multiple bookstores (Amazon and Flipkart to name just two) of millions of books on my phone. I can buy any one of them at any time of the day. There is a library of a different kind (called Kindle Unlimited on Amazon) that lets me borrow 10 books at a time for any number of days for a fixed annual fee.


* Till the early 1990s, India had just one television broadcaster, called Doordarshan (a government-owned one) for the whole country. It showed movies, but one once a week; later it became one a day; and television serials, but again one a day, at 9 pm. There were great serials like Nukkad, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, and Hum Log. But I had to wait for a week to see the next episode.

Now, no more waiting. Successive episodes of all serials are on the phone and can be watched one after the other on Netflix and Amazon Prime. So much so that we have something called binge watching.


* We had to wait for three to four days to know the result of the national election to the Lok Sabha; because it was all paper ballots. Considering the size and population of India, even with round the clock counting of votes, it took that long.

Now, no more waiting. Even before elections, there are many pre-poll surveys which give us an idea of which way the wind is blowing. After all the phases of elections are over, there are exit polls by multiple agencies, giving us an idea of what to expect. Since it is EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines), on the day of counting it is all over in about three to four hours.


* At home, if we ever ran out of any household item or grocery, there was no alternative but to go without it. We went shopping only once a week, it was Friday for a long time. The reason, the closest market was some 5 km away. So I waited for the shopping day to buy anything I wanted.

Now, no more waiting. Open the phone, a few taps on the screen to purchase whatever I want, and it's all delivered at my doorstep. What more, I can even tell the seller when to bring them.


Now, I have new problems:

* My laptop is taking too long to turn on ... I have to wait ... for like 1 or 2 minutes!

* The website is forever buffering! And the app is forever crashing! It is so frustrating!

* I finally managed to order some food for the night. The delivery boy was supposed to come at 9, and it is already 9.15 and there is no sign of him!

* My call to helpline is just getting passed from one automated answering machine to another. Aren't there any human beings I can talk to?!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Great Indian Festival of Democracy

Among the many features of India that the nation and its people can be truly proud of is how deep-rooted democracy is. 

The nation won Independence from the UK in August 1947. (India was referred to as the Jewel in the British Crown.) Ever since that, the nation has regularly held elections to the national parliament, and to the Assemblies of each State. 

The First General Election was held in 1951. Now, the 17th one will be held from April 11 in seven phases.

Elections are an inalienable part of democracy and every single time an election is held in India, the results have been accepted graciously and magnanimously by the losers. Of course, there have been many occasions when losers have contested the result, but that is by going to the court. The court's decisions are respected and accepted by all without any reservation.


The only setback in India's democratic journey was in 1975 when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi used a provision in Constitution to declare Emergency, resulting in the suspension of many democratic rights of citizens. It was not only widely considered as an unjustified move but it had led to large-scale misuse of various provisions to target political opponents.

Ironically, it was her belief in the strength of India's democracy that led her to lift the Emergency, which lasted 21 months. In the elections that followed, she and her party, the Congress, was routed massively, once again demonstrating how deep-rooted democracy is in the country.

India has had many occasions of horrible political instability. But it has always got sorted out in the way it should be, and governments formed.


The elections in India must be one of the very few in the world where the whole process is electronic. Voting machines were first used in 1982 in the North Paravoor constituency of Kerala Assembly. But the use of EVMs was struck down by the court as the machines had been used without creating a legal provision for it. It was then properly introduced in a select manner from 1999 in state assembly elections. The first time a Lok Sabha election was held using only EVMs was in 2004.

The elections will be held in seven phases on April 11, 18, 23, 29, May 6, 12, 19. 

One reason elections are staggered over many days is because of the large number of voters (900 million), spread across the vast area of the country (3.287 million sq km). It is a great logistic challenge: a large number of polling officials, electronic voting machines, security forces etc.

The previous election in 2014 was the longest ever, it was held over nine days between April 7 and May 12.


All the talk in India is whether Narendra Modi and the National Democratic Alliance will retain power. The situation is not the same as in 2014. Then, Modi was a new player on the national political scene, who came in with some fresh ideas to counter the then ruling party Congress which was very unpopular due to a string of corruption allegations. 

Today, Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi are trying hard to regain the lost ground. Some, who voted against them in 2014, might be inclined to give them a chance this time. But though Modi and his government might not have done anything spectacular to assure itself of an assured big win like in 2014, the fact that they haven't done too badly to be voted out will be a great challenge for the Congress and allies.

Election season in India resembles a festival, in the sense of the excitement it causes among people. Right now different parties are finalising their candidates for different constituencies. Soon electioneering will get into full throttle, with public meetings in every nook and corner of the country. Colourful posters, banners and flags, loud music and songs, entertaining street theatre ... the nation will soon be gripped by the intense battle of the ballot.