January 21, 2010

Muslim is the new Jew

    A lot of recent events suggest the increasing xenophobia everywhere in Europe. It has by and large become acceptable to make ignorant and degrading statements about Islam in the media. The statements made by some of the high profile politicians, news anchors and instant opinion makers routinely have words like “strange”, “spooky”, “weird”, “offensive”, “creepy”, “wrong”, “evil-looking”, “sinister” which in my opinion are not words a civilized society should use about other human beings. For the sake of experiment, if we replace the word Muslim by Jew or Black, I am sure they will face criminal charges in their respective countries.

    An Italian minister has reasoned that Burkhas should be banned because they can be disturbing to small children. Now, let’s be honest with ourselves. Haven’t we all, at some point of time saw someone right in the face and wished they wore a Burkha? On a sunny day at the beach, would you prefer a 55 year old in a Burkini[meaning] or a two piece bikini?

    If anything we should encourage Burkhas selectively. I made my own little list of people who might scare the hell out of those very kids (they occasionally scared me). The toppers in the list are shaven-headed-heavily-tattooed weirdoes. Next in the list are people who have piercings on their body anywhere other than ears and nose. And a close third come gangs of drunken youth wearing hooded sweatshirts. 

    I am “friends-in-law”[meaning] with a couple of girls in Hyderabad who wear Burkhas to college. They wear Burkhas only when they use some sort of public transport and as soon as they are inside their college campus, they are in their comfortable jeans and sleeveless tees. Their parents know about it too. When I asked her, “why wear it at all ? She said that it is the best way to protect her skin from the sun and also saves her money on sunscreen!
Dictionary help (for people like me):
Friend-in-law: A good friend of a good friend who at best qualifies as a "treasured acquaintance".
Burkini: A portmanteau of burqa (body) and bikini.
Portmanteau:  A word used broadly to mean a blend of two (or more) morphemes and their meanings into one new word.
Morpheme: The smallest linguistic unit that has semantic meaning.
Semantic: In computer science, semantics reflects the meaning of programs or functions.
Function: Function may refer to:
  • Diatonic function describes a music term
  • Function (biology), explaining why a feature survived selection
  • Function (computer science), or subroutine, a portion of code within a larger program, performs a specific task
  • Function (engineering), related to the utility/goal of a property
  • Function (language), in linguistics, a way of achieving an aim using language
  • Function (mathematics), an abstract entity that associates an input to a corresponding output according to some rule
  • Function model is a structured representation of the functions, activities or processes.
  • Function object, or functor or functionoid, a concept of object-oriented programming
  • A formal event such as a party or meeting
Wikipedia: Never user it as a dictionary.

January 14, 2010

Gandhi's ink pen was made in Rajahmundry

I am not comfortable writing with anything that is transparent or even remotely translucent. Ever since I have been allowed to write with a pen (class 4), I have been writing with a fountain pen and hence I consider myself an expert in judging fountain pens, the only qualification for expertise being the inability to write comfortably with a ball point pen. I gladly attribute my good handwriting[citation needed] to the smooth flowing fountain pens.

Rising Action:
Very recently, while I was doing my usual research, (clicking random links and reading whatever I click) I ran into a news article (dated 1st October, 2009) in which the luxury pen maker Mont Blanc has announced a “limited-series” gold and rhodium Mahatma Gandhi special edition pen to commemorate the 1930 Dandi March. The pen costs about fourteen lakh rupees (Rs 14,00,000) and they are selling 241 pens to mark the 241 mile march.

Isn’t it ironic that the man who stood for the poorest of poor is exploited as a brand to sell pens to the richest of rich? If anyone really wants to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi, they should buy Ratnam Pens.

Mr. K. V. Ratnam was from a family of goldsmiths who were also involved in making lithographic blocks. He met Gandhiji during the swadeshi movement in 1921. Gandhiji advised him to make something that could be useful to the common man and that was inexpensive. That was when they started making pens. In 1932, the first pen was ordered by Nyapati Subba Rao Pantulu, one of the founders of The Hindu. It was made of silver.

Ratnam then made a pen from ebonite material and sent it as a gift to Mahatma Gandhi who wrote back to him commending it (scanned copy of the original letter that is displayed in the store, click for a bigger version). The pens retained their status and popularity even after independence and boasts of clients like Indira Gandhi, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Shankar Dayal Sharma, S Kasturiranga Iyengar (founder of The Hindu) and Ramnath Goenka (founder of the Indian Express Group) and Jayanth Tadinada (pro blogger, gtoosphere) among thousands of others.

In the late 1950s, K. V. Narasimhacharyulu, the son of Ratnam went to Germany and on his return started a ballpoint pen manufacturing unit for the first time in India in Rajahmundry. Ratnam’s two sons continue to run the pen business to this day from Rajahmundry.

Ratnam Sons have an extensive catalogue with ebonite fountain pens starting from Rs. 55 and the custom made Gold and Silver pens can go up to Rs. 30,000.

* They make really awesome customized gifts which can be ordered by phone and are shipped within a week.

* I recently bought yet another Ratnam pen and absolutely love it. (It is way better than the Chinese ‘Hero’ pens)

* My handwriting used to be very good but has declined after coming to IIT because I don’t take notes and use the computer for everything (may some of my school friends or family members can give a citation)

* This post is getting way too long to maintain the reader’s attention.

January 3, 2010

Counterproductive Technology

Not very long ago, I was at Kanjur Marg station in the queue to buy a local train ticket. I was not in a hurry but, I was feeling a little impatient standing in the same line with lot of people who are in a great hurry. And some 15 minutes later, it was my turn and as most people must have experienced, there is a 50 year old clerk (who is never in a hurry!), reacting as if he has seen the keyboard for the first time in his life and he has been reacting the same way since 1992!

It is the closest you can get to study how cavemen would have reacted had they found a yellow (formerly white) keyboard in a deserted cave. He types carefully searching for each alphabet on the keyboard and then presses the print command and then the loud dot matrix printer takes over. Sometime between the clerk pressing the print button and the printer printing my ticket, I decided to make a compilation of instances where installing/upgrading technology has made the process slower and inefficient. So here is the list.

1. Railway tickets: According to my rough estimate, manually giving out tickets in a local station clears the queue about two and a half times faster than the "computerized" ticket vending. In fact, many local stations open their manual ticket counter during rush hours. But I am sure that the computerized ticket vending helps in accounting and other back office processes.

2. The automatic semi-touch free dustbin I have seen in France: This is absolute oxymoron. First of all, how can anything be semi-touch? You either touch it or you don’t! Second of all who wants to semi-touch a dustbin? It has an automatic lid that opens automatically when you keep your hand over it. Good enough, but the moron part of it is that the lid does not close automatically! We have to stoop to press the “close” button on the dustbin once we are done. I wanted to see if there was some sort of a timeout mechanism after which the lid automatically closes, I waited for 2 minutes but it did not close.

3. Ultra slim TVs: What difference does it make whether the TV is one inch thick or one fourth of an inch thick when the TV hangs on a wall and we sit least five or six feet away from it?

4. Wireless keyboard and mouse for a desktop: The writing is pretty much on the wall that it is a waste. Not only do they run out of battery once in two weeks to piss the user off, there is a good chance that they will be misplaced or lost. I think the cluttering wires are easier to manage.

5. Texting with a touch phone: Texting just got crappier with the advent of iphones and other alleged “iPhone killers”

Things that need special mention
1. Widows Vista: old favorite
2. Any iPhone apps that give GPS directions: not a big thing in India yet
3. Google wave: email reinvented so that you cannot check it in a cyber café near you.
4. Laptop steering wheel desk: You can now tweet your way to hell.

This list is in no way comprehensive, please add stuff if you can think of something.

January 1, 2010

New Year Post

P.S: Happy New Year