Monday 30 April 2007

This Just-In

Check out Justin-TV. It's a project where this dude, Justin, wears a video camera on his hat and the feed is transmitted on the website - live. 24/7. And yes, before you ask, including when he goes to the bathroom or goes on a hot date. I chanced upon this site through Paul Graham's page, where the launch of this venture was announced.

From the interviews on the site, I gathered that Justin and a few others have formed a startup to make video streaming and live telecasting on the web faster and easier. Justin-TV, therefore, is a walking-talking proof of concept. Funnily enough, the brief interviews of the founders are streamed from YouTube! D-uh! But the streaming quality on the Justin-cam ain't that bad - even on my 128 kbps line - given that it is live.

The site has the usual blog and comments from users/viewers - the whole shebang. Do you remember the movie 'The Truman Show'? Jim Carrey plays an insurance salesman who realizes that his entire life is a reality-TV show. Justin-TV of course has no such premise - the man wears a video-cam on his hat all the time, and is aware of it. So it's sort of like the reality shows on TV - there seems to be an element of 'staging' in what one sees. In fact, viewers can make requests on what they'd like to see, and Justin would consider and occasionally oblige.

Broadcasting video content on the web is something that is taking off only now, and a lot of startups (and established companies for that matter) are doing a bunch of research and development around this. I thought this is a cool way for these guys to -

a) achieve publicity and market reach for themselves and their startup by pandering to the now-established craving for reality shows in the American TV programming space, as well as,

b) to actually prove their offering by living it 24/7. Proof of the pudding and all that.

Wednesday 25 April 2007

On education, learning and training...

Once again, I refer to a post on Atanu Dey's blog today, where he makes a reference to a series of three articles (Intelligence in the Class Room, What's Wrong with Vocational School and Aztecs vs. Greeks) by Charles Murray in the WSJ editorial pages. Excellent pieces of work that, as the author as well as Atanu point out, set the stage for more questions and research rather than trying to make a point. In an Indian context, it leads one to ask some questions and make some observations of our own, like -

  • In our educational system today, are we punishing students with an inherent lack of intellectual ability (what Murray might refer to as a low amount of 'g') through lower grades and failures, while rewarding those with structurally stronger abilities through higher grades? (It's sort-of the eternal 'talent' vs 'training' question that we often tend to ask in sports). Shouldn't the focus, therefore, be on what education is 'appropriate'?
  • In a society like ours, aren't we considering some types of jobs as 'elitist' and many others as 'common'? Shouldn't we head towards a scenario where the value of each job is truly understood and therefore respected? As a corollary - how many of those jobs we consider as 'common' are really so, today? What was basic carpentry for middle class homes a couple of decades ago is now a much more evolved discipline like 'interior designing'
  • If we have increasing specialization and maturity in disciplines and jobs, isn't it time we try to move into a stronger focus on vocational training straightaway, rather than go through the charade of getting a basic college degree? For instance - if I choose to get into interior designing as a career, why should I waste three years getting a bachelors in commerce or science? Especially when I am not really learning anything useful during that time? What's with the whole 'college degree' thing?
  • We seem to be increasingly teaching our children the sciences, the arts and management. What about values and ethics? Time was when Indian education through the gurukul system focused on an all-round development which included enabling the student to take wise and just decisions. Given our lifestyles today at home, the chatter and noise of modernity and the technically oriented curricula at schools and colleges, are our children getting that focus at all anymore?
Clearly, one of the forces that is going to propel our country into large-scale development and progress over the next few decades will be the power of our people. And education, as well as training (a word I use as different from the first, in that it's got a more hands-on and vocational aspect about it), will play a key role in this. Asking ourselves such questions and trying to answer them is vital!

Friday 13 April 2007

Not(e) Worthy?

I came across this extremely interesting article on the Washington Post (referenced by Atanu Dey in his blog today). Haven't been able to get it out of my mind so far. Go ahead. Read it. It takes 15 minutes or so as it is a long piece, but go ahead anyways.

How often are we unconscious of the superlative beauty of life that incidentally surrounds us? Does Art have to have a Frame, after all? We weren't like this when we were children. Back then, we beheld most things with a sense of wonder and awe. It's not like we were objectively questioning something or were actually curious, we were just 'in the flow' of it...happy to immerse ourselves in the ras of the moment, eyes wide, mouth agape. When I read the kids' reaction to the music in this article, I was plain jealous.

It doesn't take much to find beauty around us, if you think about it. And by beauty, I don't mean any particular art - just whatever works for you. Even in the seemingly robotic lifestyles we live in today.

If you are driving along to work, with the radio or a tape on, and your favorite song comes along, just give yourself up to it. You can listen with half an ear while you contemplate the travails of the day ahead. Or you can get right into it - as the words come back to you, the groove gets your pulse racing, and the song just washes over you. Lose yourself - for a few minutes. You will have a smile on your face, without you even realizing it.

Many of us work in modern offices, where once you enter, you are in an antiseptic environment of artificial lighting and cooling. You can't tell the time of day by looking at the sun, 'coz you don't get to see the sun. But all you need to do is step out at dusk, out the door or atop the terrace of your office building, and watch the sun go down. It's a different sunset every single day. The colors, going from gold to pink, the patterns of abstraction as the light plays on the clouds, the occasional shaft of sunlight piercing through a break, as the sun seems to make a last-ditch attempt at remaining king of the sky. Stare at it, examine it like you just finished painting it - for a few minutes.

If it starts to pour (in the middle of April!) on your drive back, and one moment you're cursing your luck and wrestling the wheel in the sludge of traffic, and the next - a brilliant flash of lightning lights up the sky in front of you, throwing you out of your fantasy of misery, stunning you with its momentary iridescence and clarity, where you can see every strand of the intricate branch-work of the lightning strike, the black sky going a majestic deep purple for a split-second - you don't see the traffic anymore, you hear only the pitter-patter drum beat of the raindrops on your windshield in the single quiet moment before the thunder rolls massively along...

...and you realize that all around you, there is a fantastic show being put on. All the time. Just for you. For free. Only if you'd care to look. If we are hurtling towards a state where one doesn't realize great beauty when one is smacked in the face with it, where the hell are we going?

And by the way, all those things I just described happened in my life, today. Just for me!

Wednesday 11 April 2007

It's Raining...

I was just driving back from work late this evening, and it started to drizzle a bit. So the radio jockey at the FM station I was listening to started yipppee-yay-ing and basically put on this sorta-theme-song. Which brings me to the PJ of the day -

Q - When it starts to drizzle, what is the one common thing you can expect Geri Halliwell and your mallu-PT-ma'am-from-school-days to say?

A - "It's raining, men"


Sunday 8 April 2007

Motoring to Mettraas...

Am just back from a road trip to Chennai (or Madras for the more archaic amongst us) from here in Bangalore. I've been itching to do an inter-city trip for the last couple of months now, just to test out my new pride and joy on four wheels on a flat-out highway. So I created an opportunity to do this by making a trip down to visit some friends there. And in many ways it's been a very interesting one!

In the past, I've usually done the run to Madras by train if I've traveled during the day (which is quite rare), and sometimes by bus overnight. And it's even been a few years since I've done that. So I'm really getting a look at the new-fangled NH4 only now, so to speak. And I do believe that the NHAI has done some phenomenal work, and I come away highly impressed! Consider this - from just after Electronic City on Hosur Road, it's a piece of cake to hit Sriperumbudur (20 km before Chennai) in a shade under four hours, with a mini break thrown in, no sweat. And it can usually be done much faster. Basically this time beats Shatabdi, which is probably the fastest train connection between the two cities as of now.

Traffic is a bit of a bitch till about Bommasandra on Hosur Rd while leaving Bangalore. After that, the run through to Krishnagiri is a real pleasure - the road switches between four and six lanes, with more or less smooth traffic, unless you have the misfortune of being stuck behind a couple of trucks taking up the two available lanes in parallel, one trying to overtake the other.....s l o w l y!!! This is a bit of a hilly terrain, which means most trucks can go only as fast (??) as, say 15 kph, and (here's where the '4th standard math problem' begins) -

"If truck A is traveling at 12 kph and truck B is traveling in the same direction at 15 kph on a parallel lane, how long will it take B to overtake A so that the rest of the frikking traffic can make a bloody move on?"
It can get quite frustrating - I just escape into an alternate reality where I'm a time-traveling Animal Planet correspondent who is shooting a documentary on the primordial mating dance of a couple of generally placid vegetarian dinosaurs (because that's exactly what this would look, sound and maybe even smell like!).

Still, this leg has its points - on a clear day, it's a magnificent sight in many places with all the rock formations and the neat tarmac strip of the highway winding its way around the hills.

--- Update - Monday, April 9, '07 ---

Just got this other priceless pic from Madhu (he snapped it from his phone) - a bit of philosophy to ponder over at 20 kph...

The text reads - "Life is Drama, Man is Actor"!!! :-)

--- End of Update ---

After Krishnagiri through to Sriperumbudur is a dream run, punctuated by toll booths (an excellent idea! - there are four toll points, with a fifth still coming up at the Chennai end. We did the math and it worked out to about 50 ps per km. Totally worth it), and not much traffic (well, we timed it that way I guess) - just the occasional comic relief provided by something like this (see below)...

...Fevicol, anyone? :-)

What also struck me was the quality of the roads - it comes close to anything I've seen internationally. The signage is good, there is surprisingly minimal to no debris on the roads (except the occasional road-kill), the road surface is absolutely clear and smooth, there are
railings in many places on the shoulders of the road to prevent people and animals trying to cross at random points, and the dividers actually have flowering plants in 'em! How cool is that! I'm more than willing to shell out good money to drive on well-maintained roads like these (and like my friend put it, not just on the highways but in the city as well. Why not, if you think about it). Good job, NHAI!

The thing you gotta watch out for is the absolutely mind-bending habit of the folks in the villages and towns on the wayside to drive on occasion in YOUR LANE, IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION, DIRECTLY INTO YOUR PATH!! It's a surreal feeling to be tootling along at 110 kph to suddenly find a smiling motorcyclist in the middle of your windshield coming right at you. The real reason why he's doing that is of course the fact that he thinks it's too much trouble to go down a couple of km out of his intended direction to take a U-turn at the break in the divider. The surrealism hits you when you notice that HE IS BUSY LOOKING AT HIS REARVIEW MIRROR AND COMBING HIS HAIR while coming right at you!! It's as if, for him, you don't exist! You know, it's an encouraging feeling to note the general feeling of prosperity and opportunity, and a growing sense of self-importance of the folks in the villages and towns which were fairly sleepy non-descript places a couple of decades ago, and I really wish them all well, BUT SOMEBODY'S GOTTA TEACH THEM HOW TO DRIVE!! :-)

All in all, though, this is a very do-able drive, and, given a good car, some great music to chill to, the company of friends and the easy banter that comes with it, it all actually adds up to a nice
stress-buster! And for a group of 4-6 people, with diesel and tolls, it's probably the next cheapest and fastest traveling option compared only to air travel! Strongly recommended!