This Week in Bullshit

There is three types of multimedia advertising in this world: 1. That I like, especially those “banned commercials” for they’re funny and mostly have carnal undertones (or the other way around — those are funny because of their reference to certain taboos). 2. That I do not take a note of, 3. All ads have some degree of foul crap in them, but this is the category that is known as complete, utter bullshit.

The following series of adverts with gorgeous backdrops is in the third category. Take a look:

If you’re not convinced yet, please get an Airtel 4G connection in Bangalore, or any Airtel “G” connection for that matter, for it’ll make me feel better! I will have 1. another fellow sufferer, 2. one more to curse and yell at Airtel customer service/care; Airtel needs all it can get as customer outrage for it to change things for good.

Coming back to the ads, I hope for the future that Airtel marketers would be competent enough to hire a competent ad agency that does not think that the rest of the world is not as smart as they’re, and could at least have made those little films more realistic than showing bunch of people watching a prerecorded video with “Airtel 4G bar” pasted on top. I mean, REALLY?!

Enough of my bullshit… Someone please integrate WordPress and Twitter better, so that I can directly tag Airtel India’s Twitter handle here, rather than making a reference to this post in a separate tweet tagging them.

An Open Letter to Graduating IIT Students

Dear student,

After getting your first corporate job, your subconscious thinks, “Okay. I’m half-settled now. I shall live in Bengaluru, have a car, party hard every weekend, work hard on weekdays, hit on female (male) co-workers… who knows I may get along with a beautiful (handsome), intellectually capable one and get fully settled.

Well… my hearty congratulations! I agree with you on every single bit if the change excites you. Been there, done that — barring the fully settled part.

Newsflash 1! What your subconscious does not know is that half of that is never going to happen! I seriously hope it does not happen to any of you, but let us not get my high hopes of you get you delusional. When the truth strikes, you’ll find yourself frustrated or worse, and would want to go back to books/computers/college. At that time, some of you may realize how important it was to attend those last few months of classes that you safely ignored for that joker standing on the dais (as you may think) could not afford a life near TGIF, Airport Road, Bengaluru and most of what (s)he says is never going to work out in real life, especially if (s)he talks mathematics, philosophy or computer science theory.

When your wings are shot down by the drudgery –yes, that what you’d call “life”– and you hit the ground of reality, you’d ask yourself if this was what you wanted to do — write web-apps and test and debug software written by much more decisive people (read ‘academics’). Most of you would not have the courage to quit those fat salaries for some college’s meagre scholarship–irrespective of how deep red your heart bleeds–as your “loved ones” have gotten used to that life-style. Sorry. You’re finished! Live it. Become a VP of Sales in next 10 years, and may be the MD or CEO in next 20 years. Even then, you’d think why I didn’t jump off the sixth floor of the Administrative block in college days.

Some of you, mostly the “non settled” ones, would have the courage to go back and fulfil what they dreamt in those last few days in corporate life.

Well. Been there, done that as well. If, at this point, you’d think you’d be that “lucky one”, hold on to that thought for a moment.

In the graduate school, you’d keep high hopes of yourself. Well, why not? You were an IIT graduate after all, so it is your duty to settle ‘P vs. NP’ once and for all.

Newsflash 2! You’re too old by now. In the college, you’d curse yourself for not getting a long-time girl (boy) friend or a wife (husband). You’ll see beautiful new faces and bodies in hot pants and tank tops. Your hormones will rage, but no use. The “kids” won’t even look at your “mature” outlook. You’d start dressing yourself with the “current times”, but that’d only make your self-esteem dig a hole and bury itself in that. You’d invite “faggot” (if you’re too tacky) or “lassa” (if you’re too macho) remarks from your age group.

You’d try hard to excel in sports like your golden old days, again, just to attract a few lovey-dovey or lustful eyes on you, but then, you’d find that you’re no match to the young legs and fresh lungs, as you had already burnt yours with the cigarette smoke during the days of corporate frustration.

Failing all your attempts to be the college stud, you’d resort to your strengths — your academics. Again, to create a visibility for yourself, this time not to attract the Lolitas, but to create “an image” among your peers. That special one of opposite gender being the part of that peer group of course! You’d set your eyes on a fancy and hot topic like ‘Complex Networks’. You’d find that you can’t pick up on the concepts being taught in the graduate class, since you chose not to attend the undergraduate classes on that topic in those days when your subconscious was really happy on the prospect of a change.

Don’t despair! Start coming to the class now. The instructor is too cool to notice individuals missing the class, though he notices a large chunk missing.

Aakash — The Low Cost Tablet

In an academic institute in the faraway corner of Western India live the minds who are striving for a social change. Very few know it. Fewer recognize their efforts.

“Aakash — the low cost tablet”, dubbed as the world’s cheapest tablet computer, was conceived by MHRD’s NMEICT team and planned at this place. You have not heard or read of the contribution and sacrifices its students and employees have made. No wonder! Despite all the hype the vendors, the businessmen, the people in the power have tried to create for their businesses to prosper, the institute has chosen to remain silent on its contribution towards realizing Aakash. Let us take a little journey down the memory lane to hear this little story.

The MHRD had a vision to enable all students of India with the enormous amount of Information available on the WWW and the high-quality education content created by several IITs with IIT Madras (Chennai) as the coordination agency through Information Technology. The cheapest computers available in the market at that time costed around Rs. 20,000/- (US$450). This country boasts of a student population of about 200 million. Simple arithmetic tells that the students to take advantage of the Information superhighway would spend around US$90 billion. Pragmatically speaking, this country cannot afford such an amount only on the access/computing devices! (Theoretically, it may do so. I mean the country where the scams cost at the magnitude of US$ 50 billion, anything is possible.) For us who have a large majority to which food and good education is a dream, an extremely cheap device had the potential to write an entirely new script.

The script had already started taking shape. Sometime in 2009, a student of VIT thought of a social change. He realized a low cost computing device with his B. Tech. project guides. He sought the advice of an IIT Kanpur professor (at that time) for engineering at the PCB level. The cost of the product he came up with at that time was estimated at approximately US$50. It was argued that if a computing platform better than that initial prototype was to produced in large numbers, the costs could be brought down to around US$35 (sub-40 US$). When such estimates were shared with the public by the honourable minister of HRD, everybody ridiculed the idea! Yes, everybody, except two. One of those two was a senior IAS officer and the other the same IIT Kanpur professor.

The events thereafter turned out such that the professor became the director of that unknown (newly founded) academic institute in Western India. In August 2010, he handed over the task to two misfits. The team of these three along with that IAS officer set out to realize the dream. The team studied several technologies, platforms, processors, software stacks in order to match the price figure maintaining the satisfactory usability. They worked relentlessly to try several permutations and combinations. The rest of the academic staff, administrative staff and the students of the institute joined them in their efforts. All the efforts put in engineering brought the good news. The team ensured that such a thing was possible, and worked reference designs, as proof of concept. Thanks to corporations like Google (for Android) and organizations like FSF, OSDL and Linux Foundation (for GNU/Linux), there were no software costs.

Once the price point and satisfactory performance were arrived at, there was a dilemma on how to go about it. A government funded academic organization cannot take up the task of bringing out a product in huge numbers. It was agreed that a tendering process would be put in place. The first tender to this effect came out in November 2010. But there was still a problem: even though the proof of concept was there, the institute could not force the bidders of the tender to use the components used in the proof of concept. So the tender turned out be an ‘Invitation to Innovate’, and the participants were allowed to come up with their own designs. The participation in the first tendering process was surprising to the misfits! Some of the largest corporations of the world and India participated, but it was won by a small start up of Bangalore.

All was not sweet now onward. The winning bidder could not meet the strict rules of purchase set by Government of India. If that were not the case, we’d have seen ‘Aakash’ in January 2011 instead of October 2011. After the cancellation of the tendering process, everything had to be started afresh. A new tender was brought out and once again, the response to it was amazing. A firm started in UK by an NRI won it this time. A California based chip manufacturer was to supply the platform to meet the specs.

The role of that unknown institute was not over. It turned out that the inhabitants of this institute would spend many more nights sleepless. The originators of the idea were assigned another task. They were to verify the platform (both hardware and software), correct if there were any shortcomings. There were shortcomings! That team worked relentlessly, day and night, to ensure that the platform was satisfactory on functional requirements, to write any software, if it was not available, to meet the functionality, and to coordinate with hundreds of students of the academic institutes nationwide. They were (are) to collect feedback and incorporate modifications to the design based on the feedback. Something that is to be produced at the scale of hundreds of millions, even the smallest glitch has far-reaching consequences. That team is involved in those tasks right now.

At the time of this writing, the same team consisting of 170 students (inhabitants), several hundred students spread across the entire nation, a few faculty members, residents or from other academic organization and 20 odd technical staff have engineered the version that can be produced at large scale and may get wide acceptance all across the country and the world. The feedback is still pouring in, some encouraging, some critical. The team welcomes critical feedback more than the appreciating one, so that the next versions are far better and glitch-free.

They have not stopped there! They are constantly evolving the device with futuristic technologies, all researched in house, ranging from the design of the very first commercial grade ‘India Processor’ for consumer electronics and computing and ‘India SoC’ to reducing costs of display technologies like touch walls and surfaces to 3D projection displays and projected virtual input devices that can be controlled just by hand gestures. They are also working to reduce the cost of this very device further to go down to US$20 with the capacities that of a US$300 tablets and solar charging within two years, however outlandish that may sound. Their claim is that given three years, the ideas like ‘printable electronics’ on fabrics and glass panels would be realizable extremely efficiently and reliably and computing at the consumer end would be cheap and efficiently recyclable. One of the students in the team exclaims enthusiastically that the day when governments will realize ICT to be a necessity as food, water and electricity and not a luxury is not far.

In all of its endeavours, the small institute avoids publicity at all costs. Some of the media coverage has talked of the institute, despite its best efforts to curb publicity. It believes that any kind of publicity will be a distraction to its efforts.

How does the industry respond to all this? Highly encouraging and appreciative! The team members are highly appreciative of the enormous support they have got from all walks of life. They think that it would not have been possible without the ARMs, the Intels, the Googles, the FreeScales, the ST Microelectronics, the TIs, the Microsofts, the Conexants of this world. If there is any bit of success of the efforts made so far, it must be attributed to every single, large or small, contribution made by the industry and the government. Failures?! Well, the team thinks that it might fail, but it has this strange “who cares?” attitude. It’ll keep on with its efforts to, as M. S. Dhoni would say, “change the game!

Random Thoughts of a Sleepless Mind

Puzzles

I admit I both love and hate puzzles. I enjoy figuring things out and the vast sense of accomplishment when a puzzle gets solved, but if I can’t figure it out I throw mental tantrums and lose sleep for weeks. Seriously, I have dreams about the  puzzle and walk around looking like a spike-haired zombie. So when you see me down and out or a little irritated, don’t think that something has gone wrong with me; it is most certainly a puzzle that has overtaken my thought process.

By the way, people are puzzles too!

Sleep Disorder

You already know about what causes my sleep disorder. When it happens, it feels as though the universe is conspiring against me when it comes to getting quality shut-eye. Know what I mean? After the day’s not so hard work, I finally get snuggled up in my bed, ready to crash, when the “cuckoo next tree” decides to get chirpy. 3:00 am in the morning! I move to the balcony to scoot the bastard, but it sounds as though it has decided to be my girlfriend for the night. How about isolating my room shutting all the windows and doors? Surely it’d be quiet that way, right? Not with that constantly dripping sweat down the neck in that oven of a weather – where is that coming from anyway? I go back to my bed and pop in the earbuds, but no matter how I position my head, pain shoots through my skull. How can I help without Vodka? And people think I drink too much liquor.

Talking of cuckoos, I think the entire ‘bird kingdom’ is conspiring against me: that bastard kite! It attacked me when I was on a morning jog. I still have those 3 parallel lines of scars on my forehead. And then those fucking peacocks near my old residence. They’d decide to have their mating call routine every morning at 4:30 AM. And if you haven’t heard a peacock in its mating routine, just take my word for it; even if they think they’re singing better than Mangeshkars, it is torture more than water-boarding!

“Sleeping Together”

Some people think human beings “were never meant to sleep in the same bed. Somehow sex and sleep get all jumbled together. But they are two different things.” You love each other alright, but you must have separate beds, and want that “bed to be the sanctuary for sleep and sleep alone.” If you must have it, get a third queen or king sized (whatever the terms mean) bed just for sex. “Yes! A sex bed! A dirty-dirty sex bed.” Would that not excite your carnal desires and take your sex-life to a whole new level?

Come to think of it, why buy a “sex bed” at all when the entire world can be your playground? Do it in the tub, or the kitchen table. Or in the park or on porch. May be in the departmental or book store. And while you’re at it, just tape the entire adventure, and get some extra income by selling the tapes to ‘Hustler’ or ‘Digital Playgrounds’. You never know, you may just be revolutionizing modern relationship in the process. Or has that already been done by some other folks?

Edit: Getting Turned On Just Thinking Of Sleep

Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) hits the mirrors.

Apparently, Ubuntu’s much awaited Jaunty Jackalope (9.04) has hit asian mirros. Go download!

Slumdog Millionaire

Maadarchod” (motherfucker) is probably the first dialog that one notices, and it appears within 2:25 minutes into the film. Saurabh Shukla–however little role he will play in rest of the movie–delivers those words of ‘fatherly wisdom’ with an intensity that can only be expected of him. He literally chews and then spits that word out of his mouth to Dev Patel‘s face. Right then we know ‘Slumdog Millionaire‘ has arrived. It is rated #62 right now on IMDB top-250 list and the fact that it is not in top 5 is proof enough that those Americans are fucking morons!

Slumdog Millionaire
Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire starts with the question, “Jamal Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees. How did he do it?” Your choices of an answer are, “A. He cheated. B. He’s lucky. C. He’s a genius. D. It is written.” Why does one have to ask that question? Because Jamal has had no education, at least in the formal sense; he can barely read; and he’s a ‘chai-wallah‘ in a call center. Slumdog Millionaire is the story of the protagonist Jamal Malik, an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, who is about to experience the biggest day of his life. With the whole nation watching, he is just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s own version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

But when the show breaks for the night, police arrest him on suspicion of cheating; how could a street kid know so much? Desperate to prove his innocence, Jamal tells the story of his life in the slum where he and his brother grew up, of their adventures together on the road, of vicious encounters with local gangs, and of Latika–older role played by Freida Pinto–the girl he loved and lost. Each chapter of his layered story reveals the key to the answer to one of the game show’s questions, and how he learned it. But one question remains a mystery: what is this young man with no apparent desire for riches really doing on the game show? When the new day dawns and Jamal returns to answer the final question, the Inspector–played by incomparable Irrfan Khan— and millions viewers are about to find out.

SM is the crown jewel of the cinematic intelligence, a story, that is intense, gripping, non-linear, bewitching, sometimes cute and adorable and hard-hitting and gut-wrenching at other times and with so many layers, told and visualized so brilliantly! The directors of the movie, Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tondon, should get a standing ovation for the result of their (hopefully) hard work in whichever award function they show up, and of course from me. It is simply extraordinary the way they’ve used the show to narrate the life-story of Jamal. It has already been awarded the best motion picture (drama) at the Golden Globes, and I will be highly surprised if it doesn’t get the Oscar of best motion picture. Oh wait, if it didn’t, I’d know why it didn’t — yes, the fucking morons! SM is the best Danny offers till date, even better than one of my many favorites, Trainspotting.

the director
Danny Boyle: the director

Coming back to the movie, you can take my word that you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat with every story told, every scene played, every dialog delivered. As the story unfolds, you’ll witness the truth of Mumbai slum, the harsh life slum-kids live, the riots in the name of religion, the way the mafia operates, it treats its women. Where it is not tragic or dramatic, you’ll see the sarcasm that’s sharper than the sharpest blade through the stories with an ironic sense of humor, e.g., when Malik gets an Amitabh Bachchan autograph. And when that autographed photo is sold by his brother for “good enough money”. It tells you a lot of things, yet in no way, it is an attempt to be something that teaches morals; it rather lets you be the judge of good and bad. The protagonist is not an idealist, even though he is motivated by love. The maestro Rahman composes a soundtrack for which he’ll be remembered with the greats like Henry Mancini, Llyod-Webber etc.

There can’t be a single blemish you can put on any of the portrayals by the actors. Indeed, it has won an award for ‘best ensemble of characters’ — the ‘Black Reel Award’.

No movie is great without its shortcomings. Like all the other great movies, this work isn’t perfection either. It builds on the certain stereotypes the western world has about Mumbai, India in general: poverty, filth, slums, call centers, child abuse, riots, rape, mafia and murder. There are certain parts that probably even the directors or the screenplay writer cannot explain. So be warned: Before you like it as much as I did, make sure you can appreciate even the shortcomings. More the shortcomings rather.

Missing this work of Art is highly inadvisable on my part. If you are not watching this movie and watching any other, you are wasting your time! Nope… You’re wasting your time doing anything else before watching SM!

Alpha Male, Beta Male, Male Stable

I have not watched this movie, but I have watched this one. After this review, I feel I’ll do my wallet and myself a huge favor not watching रब ने बना दी जोड़ी (Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi). With the help of Wikipedia and him, let me go through the plot of the movie — at least the one I think it would be. But before I do that, let me warn you that this is not, by any stretch of imagination, a movie review. This rather is a geek’s reflection of his own frustration while he, in the oblivion of his dark, shady room with three computers, a few thousand books and a chess board, listens to his neighbor banging some girl three times a day. You’ll get a lot of hints of innuendo in this “frustlog”.

So, the plot…

End User: Tania [Taani] Gupta (Anushka Sharma) is an extrovert, flamboyant and vivacious girl, set to get married to the guy she loves.

Anushka Sharma
Anushka Sharma

Male Stable: Surinder [Suri] Sahni (Shahrukh Khan) is an introvert, responsible and sincere cubicle worker for Punjab Power corporation.

Beta Male: Raj. Surinder, with the help of his childhood friend Balwinder “Bobby” Khosla (Vinay Pathak), a hair-saloon owner, metamorphoses into an alter ego he calls Raj. Raj is a loud, rude, outspoken and fun-loving person.

Alpha Male: Sameer (Salman Khan), a boy of Indo-Italian parentage who wants to learn Indian classical music.

Sameer?! “Where does he come into the picture,” you would ask. The problem is that Raj cannot be the Alpha Male, for he is an alter-ego of a Male Stable. He has to be somewhere in between a totally unpredictable jerk –as an Alpha release of a software is– and somewhat predictable stable release. So to complete the evolutionary process of a male –on the lines of a software product– I have to bring Sameer in. Not surprisingly, when it comes to the mental disorders like love, every end user wants to “use” the alpha or beta release of the product, and male wants to be in alpha release phase. Thankfully, ‘Rab Ne…’ is only about the latter process of development including only beta and stable product. If you’re a software giant, you already know that an end user can be fooled to go in for more featureful, less stable release.

Coming back to the plot:

A suggestion worthy of a lot of praise for the experienced consultant brings the stable male and the end user together into a marriage. The End user finds herself in a routine and loveless alliance. Unbeknownst to her, however, the stable male had fallen in love with her at first sight, for the good user habits, though he remains too shy to tell her.

Male stable, with the help of a novice hacker, metamorphoses himself into an alter ego with more useless features, e.g., dancing, and less stability, he calls Raj and we call the beta male. This development process seems so much like Firefox and Adobe Acrobat Reader. Likewise, Raj is a loud, rude, outspoken and fun-loving product.

Due to some “divine intervention“, the end user gets to try her hand on the beta version and eventually starts feeling that beta’s attributes are more in tune with her user habits. Beta eventually declares his love for her. A torn user resists but finally capitulates. Beta offers to elope, but during the “climax”, user believes she sees a sign of sexual pleasure, as in numerous porno flicks (“Oh, God!” See The Devil’s Dictionary for more on this connotation of the word ‘God’.) telling her that the stable male is still the one for her. [I know how you wish to hear “her climax”, but the movie never openly admits that the user reached a climax. I can say that for sure as I know how the Censor Board in India works.]

Finally, seeing the success of a feature rich beta product, the stable version decides to acquire a few useless traits — dancing in this case.

I thank Aditya Chopra and whoever is the director for giving us this movie, thereby raising the question, “Why do the females (want to) fuck jerks and get married to nice guys,” and giving me an opportunity to “explain”.

Well, Darwin’s “sexual selection” theory has the best explanation. In The Descent of Man‘ (1871), Charles Darwin wrote that natural selection failed to explain human evolution. Instead, he proposed an alternative theory. Species evolve when males and females select each other for certain qualities. He called this sexual selection.

Female mammals, in general, are more selective than males. Females, in most mammal species, do most of the work of producing and raising children. In contrast, fathering offspring is less work, so males aren’t so choosy.

The exertion of some choice on the part of the female seems almost as general a law as the eagerness of the male.”  — Charles Darwin

Females choose males with features that make the males less able to survive. E.g., a peacock’s bright colors make him visible to predators, and his huge tail slows his escapes. His beautiful tail communicates to peahens that he’s an especially fit individual, i.e., he’s so fast that he can escape predators despite his heavy tail. Sexual selection is, in general, the opposite of natural selection.

A peacocks mating call
A peacock's mating call

Natural selection advances via slow environmental change. Natural selection advances evolution only in harsh environments (e.g., predation, climate change). Natural selection produces animals better able to survive-usually smaller, more efficient, and less conspicuous.

In contrast, sexual selection advances with each generation. It produces rapid evolutionary changes and advances evolution in stable environments. Sexual selection produces animals (especially males) less able to survive, with bigger, brighter, or exaggerated features.

Human evolution may have begun when fathers helped raise mothers’ children, giving the children a survival advantage. Among hunter-gatherers today, children without fathers are more than twice as likely to die during childhood. A woman could have sex with a “desirable man” (a.k.a. jerk in most cases), and risk competing women taking him from her. Or she could choose a stable, monogamous relationship with a less-desirable man whom no one other woman wanted. Should you even guess who she’d choose?

Now you know why Taani preferred Suri over Raj when it came down to her own or her offsprings’ survival, or why Nandini chose Vanraj over Sameer.

Sameer and Nandini
Sameer and Nandini

After all these speculations, some of the readers might ask what kind of male I am. To put all your vivid imaginations to rest, I would like to think of myself as an alpha or at most a beta male, for I have a keen interest, not practice, to “put things at their designated places,” and that I know the end user always prefers the beta –more feature rich versions. Whether I’m that or a stable one is not I’m to answer, it is you, the females, who, if at all, which after reading this you don’t, want to try and test me out. 😉