I have moved this blog to Octopress. Test post
Aaron Swartz was not a name I would have recognized before his death. But, in the days since, I have read a lot on how this genius, who fought for public good, was pushed to suicide by the US Department of Justice. It has left me appalled, angry and disillusioned.
Aaron was a hero. He was able to use technology for greater good. RSS, Reddit, Demand Progress - the group which campaigned against SOPA to name some of the more recognizable things with which he was associated. For someone like him to fall, for someone who had achieved so much and had the company of many illustrious people, it seeds so many doubts in one’s mind. If someone like Aaron can be ensnared by these unethical corrupt people, what should those of us with far lesser abilities do?
There are two more things that make Aaron’s case more painful for me.
At my college, there was print as well as digital access to IEEE and ACM journals. For a reason I still don’t understand, these journals could only be accessed from specific computers in the “digital library” and not from your machine. I know I had a privilege few others have even with this limited access. But, I still couldn’t help but wonder why does IEEE or ACM need to charge me money for PDFs? All these papers have tons of citations. Why can’t we browse though them as easily as one does at Wikipedia without paying money? Aaron Swartz thought similarly. He mass-downloaded academic articles, meant to be in public domain, from JSTOR and was charged with decades of imprisonment and millions of dollars in fines for doing so. Aaron wished that everyone on internet should have access to this information. His method may have been wrong, but his intent wasn’t. Sadly, this world treats those whose intent is wrong, but methods are right in a much better way.
I wanted to go to MIT to do my bachelors, but wasn’t selected. For as far back as I can remember, MIT has been the place for hackers, not just in CS. For this iconic organization to give up its ideals and call police/secret service on a guy who was downloading academic papers is heart-breaking. Was there no one at MIT who could have talked to Swartz, made their position clear and work with him on getting free access to research papers? Much before online courses became cool, MIT had launched OpenCourseWare back in 2002 to take its education to everyone. MIT’s President has ordered an investigation in to its role in the Swartz incident to be led by Hal Abelson, one of the people behind OCW.
I hope MIT comes clean on this.
There is something I will personally do now to honor the memory of Swartz. I will build an option where users can export their data from Allotrop. The madness that is out there where one service specifically blocks another service from accessing its data is wrong.
I will remember this hero in my thoughts and work for the change he sought.
Here is the memorial video for Swartz held at the Internet Archive.
Like many Indians, I have great hopes from Arvind Kejriwal. He seems ambitious, genuine and fresh. He has all the makings of a leader that we have been desperately looking for. His entry in active politics is one of the rare good things to happen in Indian politics lately.
However, Kejriwal needs to transform himself from an activist to a leader. I didn’t agree with his ‘fast-unto-death’ for getting Lokpal Bill passed. As Dr. B.R. Ambedkar said, Indians should quit strikes and anshans in favor of constitutional methods. Arvind’s call to people of Delhi to not pay electricity will achieve little beyond making headlines. India is paying heavily for populist economics, via subsidies and inefficient government programs. We don’t want a new leader to continue with the same populist pandering that the old political class has done forever.
Kejriwal says that the power tariffs were to be slashed, but weren’t due to the nexus between the Delhi Government and the private power operators. His claims may be true, and he should build public opinion, expose this nexus instead of doing gimmicks like burning bills in front of the media.
Also, Kejriwal should stop wearing his iteration of the Gandhi-Anna Hazare cap. It is just a reminder of the farce that the other politicians do by sticking to starched white kurtas, invoking an unconscious connection with the leaders who fought for India’s independence, while looting India of its resources. The common Indian that Arvind is trying to represent, doesn’t wear a cap. Neither Arvind himself wore a Gandhi cap, till the launch of the Jan Lokpal movement.
In the mean time, we hear little from him on his views on reforms, FDI, foreign affairs, subsidies and other issues. He is not an anti-corruption activist only anymore. He is trying to become a mass leader. The mass needs to know what he thinks before it can trust him.
India has had two major scams in the past few years - the 2G spectrum scam and the coal block allocation scam. The 2G spectrum scam was ball parked in to a range from $ 5 - 31 billions. The CAG report tabled in the Parliament pegged losses from coal block allocation at $33 billion.
On February 2, 2012, the Supreme Court blew away the charade put up by the Government, when it declared the spectrum allocation as “unconstitutional and arbitrary”. The Supreme Court quashed all the allocated spectrum licenses and asked the government to conduct fresh auctions.
In the meanwhile, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) further blamed the Government for inefficient allocation of coal blocks. After the opposition complained about corruption, a CBI inquiry has been set up. The alleged coal allocation scam even involves the office of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Many have argued why the government did not choose to auction scarce national resources like telecom spectrum and coal blocks in the first place. The Government sent a Presidential reference to the Supreme Court for clarification on its opinion on auctions. In an expected reply, the Supreme Court said
auctions are not the only permissible method for disposal of natural resources, across all sectors and in all circumstances.
The Government is claiming its stand has been vindicated that they were justified in not auctioning these resources in favor of common good. In a joint press conference few minutes back, the ministers for Finance, Telecom and Law stated how their stand was vindicated about not choosing auctions. They quoted various instances in the SC judgement which justified their opinion.
But, it is sad to see the Government put up another gimmick instead of accepting the blatant loot of resources that it allowed. The SC judgement on telecom spectrum made clear the corruption by A. Raja and several telecom executives. Many reports in the media have completely exposed the Government’s claim of common good.
To say that auctions should be one and only route to distribute national resources would be unwise and intrusion of the policy making powers of the Government. At the same time, the Government cannot wash off its hands from its responsibility to explain to the country what common good they saw in giving away scare resources to fly-by-night operators who in turn have made a huge profit by selling these resources in the open market. In this press conference, none of the ministers quoted this important part of the judgement.
when such a policy decision is not backed by a social or welfare purpose, and precious and scarce natural resources are alienated for commercial pursuits of profit-maximising private entrepreneurs, adoption of means other than those that are competitive and maximise revenue may be arbitrary and face the wrath of Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution
A smug Kapil Sibal, the Minister for Communications & IT, didn’t justify his famous “zero loss” in 2G spectrum allocation comment made last year before the SC judgement came.
Ordinary Indians still have faith in the higher judiciary. But, we should also be careful not to allow politicians to score points by interpreting a SC judgement to justify their nefarious motives.
NDTV’s Sreenivasan Jain exposed the corruption in coal allocation both in the Congress and the BJP in his show “Truth vs Hype”. (Part 1 | Part 2) It clearly shows how the then Coal Secretary P C Parikh’s call for transparent auction of coal blocks felt on deaf ears in the PMO, which stalled the policy change to the benefit of the companies which were granted coal blocks. Part 2 shows the story of Subodh Kant Sahai, Union Tourism Minister from Jharkhand who lobbied for coal mines to be allotted to his brother’s company. Also, a story from Chattisgarh showing how Coal-gate has been a bi-partisan scam with involvement from both the Congress and the BJP.
Considering the deep involvement of both the Congress and the BJP, it is highly unlikely that the Coal Scam will see a similar result as the 2G Scam unless the Supreme Court strictly directs the CBI. But, at the very least, we, the ordinary people of this country shouldn’t fall in to the bait of these politicians who first facilitate these scams, and then justify their actions.
As a freshman in college 4 years back, I was rooting big time for Obama. In the process of doing a project on the life of Dr. King, I had read a lot on the movement for equality for Blacks in USA. When Obama was elected President, I saw that as a victory for democracy. People were able to get over their narrow prejudices of color and ethnicity to choose the best man. It was a high-point for democracy. If India is ever to become a country that we dream of, this will be one of the most crucial requirements. Voters will need to vote on the basis of issues, and not on the basis of caste or religion.
To say that I was shocked by the Republican agenda in 2008 will be a big understatement. Their denial of climate change and slogans like ”Drill, Baby. Drill” made me wonder whether these guys never had those classes on Environmental Science in their schools. I still don’t understand how one of the two main political parties in a country with a high rate of literacy and industrial development can be so blatantly anti-scientific. How do they get away with this?
As the election season arrives again in USA, I see no change in the attitude of the Republican leadership. Their callous and boisterous stance on environment continues in the same tone as before. But, the Republican stance on abortion is even more unsettling. I wonder how someone like Todd Akin can remain a viable political figure after saying that ‘legitimate’ rape seldom results in pregnancy. Who knows what the fuck “legitimate rape” means. Republicans have criticized Akin, but they keep pushing for their so called “pro-life” campaign, which intends to put massive restrictions on abortion and sex education in schools. In his column in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof writes about the confounding stance that the Romney campaign has taken on issues regarding abortion.
Here in India, we often see politicians getting away with everything under the sun on the basis of propaganda that their audience believes in without any questions. What the Republicans show us that this will continue unabated. To draw an analogy, no matter how badly the Congress party messes up further in the remaining period of this government, BJP will focus on Hinduism instead of the ills of this regime in Delhi.
Hopefully, we will improve on ethics and not let gangsters contest elections in future, but that is all that we should hope for. This notion that we will start choosing better leaders as India gets more educated is false.
Is there a democracy where the political parties focus on genuine issues, and not use propaganda which says a big “fuck you” to science? I will keep looking for one.
Advertisements, like most other forms of art, range from the extremely impressive to the disdainful. But, I have always been intrigued by how ad-makers come up with these novel concepts which need to catch your attention and portray the product in a minute or two.
I have earlier wrote about what is my favorite ad till day - Apple’s ‘Think Different’ ad. Here is another of my favorites - the ‘Feel like God’ campaign from the Indian bike manufacturer Bajaj Auto for their Avenger cruiser.
The least obvious consequence has been the lengthening of my concentration span, even when I’m at my desk with easy access to my email. I’ve long realized that email is the biggest killer of my productivity e.g. if I’m trying to code I never stop to go and play video games but I did stop and check my email because I could justify it as work (“work” that is both significantly easier and provides a quicker dopamine hit than trying to solve a hard problem). But once I rid myself of the habit of checking email constantly on my phone, suddenly I had less of a habitual urge to check my email in general. It feels wonderful.
I believe this pseudo-work is the biggest obstacle for anyone trying to do something useful. I was a victim of this addiction myself. For a long time, I considered checking Techcrunch, Hacker News, Twitter as part of work. It is not work. Nothing apart from the next item on your to-do list, Trello, Asana etc is work.
Do a favor to yourself. Stop believing in this broad definition of work.
Airlines and telecom companies are eerily same when it comes to dealing with customers - total indifference. There is a horrible story at this link on how United Airlines left a 10-year child who was traveling on their ‘unaccompanied minor’ program (costs $99 ) unattended for a long time.
United was flying Phoebe as an unaccompanied minor on June 30th, from San Francisco to Chicago, with a transfer to Grand Rapids. No one showed-up in Chicago to help her transfer, so although her plane made it, she missed the connection. Most crucially, United employees consistently refused to take action to help assist or comfort Phoebe or to help her parents locate her despite their cries for help to numerous United employees.
This is not about fancy customer service names or outsourcing. Business is a human endeavor, and this incidence shows how companies like United have become totally inhuman. I am sure there will be a few employees at United who would have done the right thing but, the those involved here didn’t and there is not even an official apology till now.
The worrying part is how companies like United get away with things like these. A couple of years back, they had a lot of abd PR when they broke a passenger’s guitar. The guy made a video on it,which went viral.
It shows how the average consumer doesn’t give that high priority to consumer service than to say saving a few dollars. I don’t understand what has led to this indifference in our minds towards customer service.
As an example, I always use Cleartrip for travel/hotel bookings. They are not the cheapest, but I have seen several incidents where the founders have taken it upon themselves to ensure that their customer doesn’t face a problem. Also, they don’t put you on hold for minutes when you make a call to their helpline.
I hope more companies use better service as a selling point.
A couple of minutes after waking up this morning, this is what I saw.
A 19 year old Class 11 girl was beaten, stripped and molested on the streets of Guwahati while she was returning from a party at 10pm in the night. The shame of India is that a significant number of people will rationalize this incident by focusing on a girl partying, what she was wearing, who she was with, and not on what happened with her. Some news channel reporters shot this incident, and it went viral on the net. 96 hours have passed since the incident, and only 4 people from this mob have been arrested.
This is one of those animals -Amar Jyoti Kalita who, from his Facebook profile, works at an Assam Govt. company called Amtron. He has apparently been arrested. If you can fuck his life, please do so. Thanks.
There is a sad truth about what happened - though it outrages and saddens me, it doesn’t surprise me. Look at this Hindustan times headline on January 1, 2008 - Mob molests 2 women on New Year’s Day . This was on New Year’s eve. The women, part of the same family, were returning after celebrating New Year at J W Mariott hotel, and were accompanied by one of the victim’s husband. A year before that, something similar happened at the Gateway of India in Mumbai. Similar to today’s incident, that too was recorded and circulated. Lot of outrage and anger followed. Some of those beasts, all teenagers, were arrested. To my knowledge, none of the perpetrators were convicted or their conviction wasn’t news-worthy.
Unlike most other things, one cannot blame this only on the government. Yeah, police response can be faster and they can go harder against these beasts, but one cannot expect the police to patrol all the streets all the time. The main problem is that when an average Joe sees an incident like this, he decides to walk away. Not help the victims, not call the police - just walk away. That is how 2 young people - Keenan-Reuben, died in Andheri, Mumbai last year when they fought people eve-teasing their girlfriends. Bystanders thought it was none of their business as the two were beaten to death.
What should one do? Not go out on the streets with girls. Carry guns all the time. The solution at the individual level are pretty trivial. This is where the government can do its due - frame tough laws, and hang these beasts. These people shouldn’t be treated like humans. We should do what we do to animals who go crazy - shoot them.
I have found the concept of linked data attractive. It seems like the right way to take the web forward. As part of brainstorming things for Allotrop, I wanted to understand the different components of the semantic web.
You should start with this TED talk by Tim Berners-Lee.
There is a free book available at linkeddatabook.com which goes in the details of the various things that need to come together for linked data to work. It doesn’t has any prerequisite, so if you want to get familiar with the idea of semantic web, then it is a good read.