Sunday, December 30, 2007

Surfeit of India books

Somehow, in the last few weeks, 'India' books have been dominating my reading. I re-read Ramachandra Guha's "India after Gandhi", finished Shashi Tharoor's "The Elephant, the Tiger, and the Cell Phone", and am reading V Raghunathan's "Why are we the way we are", and have Edward Luce's "Inspite of the Gods" next on my reading list.

It's been fun. All the authors (ones I've read) love India. Their patriotism shines through every word they write. However, each book has a different focal point to its verbiage. Ram Guha's book is more political, placing emphasis on the political history of the country, focusing on personalities (and events) that shaped India, all the while making the point that India remains a single country because of democracy and the vast number of safety valves it offers.

Shashi Tharoor's book is better: the author has an amazing sense of humour, he is a great story teller, and this book is far more about ordinary Indians than Ram Guha's. Shashi talks about Bollywood, Cricket, Hinduism, Gavaskar, Ramanujan, rural womenfolk - in short, everything that makes India, India. I'll post a few snippets after I obtain his permission. But in any case, go read the book - it is a very easy, fun-filled and anecdotally-rich read, something you won't regret in the new year.

If the two previous books gave me a sort of a high, V. Raghunathan's "Why are we the way we are" brought me crashing down to garbage-ridden, potholed earth. In his book, Raghunathan examines, using Game theory, many aspects of Indian behaviour and concludes that our selfish desire to go ahead of our neighbours makes all of us poorer in turn. With lucid and contemporary examples, Raghunathan proves that the India would be a far richer and liveable country if only everyone lived by the rules, even if acting purely in self-interest. A chapter on the management principles of the Gita stoked my curiosity and I think I'll give the great book another read.

If you are Indian, or want to know about India, particularly why we tick (or barely survive), these books are a must read. If I know you, you have it easy: ask me. :)

Happy new year folks. Do keep reading and keep your comments coming.

Year y2008 = new Year( );


Technology Notes, Vol 1, Issue 5: Software Engineering

In this issue of technology notes, we'll talk about the software engineering that you should have learnt in your Computer Science undergraduate degree.

Nearly every Computer Science course offers a software engineering subject, usually as a compulsory subject. Typically, topics covered include software development models, phases of development like design and testing, and an overview of common techniques in software development. This subject is usually boring - in fact, in "my time" it was so bad that we actually had a lecturer come and read to us from the text book. I mean, he literally read out the book to us. So frustrated were we at this turn of events that we actually forced him to stop, and suggested that we'd read up that stuff and present it ourselves. Which we did. And might I say, in good measure. However, our takeaway from that course wasn't much more than public presentation skills.

Which, in introspect is bad. Software engineering should be a part of the foundations of any computer science graduate. After all, if you are going to develop software, you should be aware of the techniques that the masters use. However, what the course teaches is not that. The course does not explain how masters develop software. It does not care about quality assurance processes; it doesn't care about real-world issues of large-scale software; the course does not introduce students to the complexities and pitfalls of developing a million-line C++ program. All it does is give keywords. CMM, Agile, Data-driven design, Top-down design, Waterfall, to name a few.

Hopefully, someday, we'll change this.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Modi and Indian culture

I know, I know, what are the two doing together? Well, nothing. Except both happened today.
I'm no fan of Modi, or of the sort of politics he's accused of employing. However, what has always bothered me is the sort of campaign that has been going on against him. For instance, I distinctly remember the large-scale vilification that was started by some left-wing activists resulting in his request for a US visa being refused. I mean, you can't place the man in the same category as Saddam Hussain, Polpot, and the like! Yes, he fiddled when Gujarat burned, and that is a crime, no less, and if he is found guilty, he must be punished severely - but how are his accusers, one who talked about large trees falling, and another who was proud of how his boys killed dozens of Muslims to 'takeover' a village?
If Modi has really done the sort of development that he claims to have done, this victory is well deserved and is a slap of the face of the pseudo-secularists, the media and the left intelligensia.
Many of you might have watched the long series of dance programmes on the various regional channels, including Sony, Gemini, Star Plus, and the like. What has bugged me, and in fact, the incident that prompted me to write this post is the so called children's competitions that these channels conduct. The children gyrate their hips, making the most decadent moves on screen - and this is not limited to girls only - many of the moves the boys perform are not those I'd want my kids (if I had any) to watch! This is shameful - how can parents let their children dance to such steps?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

On Disability

[Posted using Microsoft Live Writer]

Recently, I read this article in the Deccan Herald in which a former bureaucrat in the disability department of the state government talked about the duty of the civil society towards the disabled. It burnt me up so much that I HAD to write a riposte and bingo, it was published, though in the process, the editors destroyed the intent of my letter.

Anyhoo, if you are interested,

here is the original article:

here is the letter that got published:

Here is what I actually wrote:

This is in response to Mr. B C Pradeep Kumar's article "Disability and good governance" in the Deccan Herald (DH, 3rd Dec 2007). While Mr. Pradeep Kumar rightly points out that much more needs to be done to bring people with disabilities into the mainstream, he is barking up the wrong tree as far as solutions are concerned.

Let's examine what the state has done for the disabled. Yes, we have reservations for the disabled, and maybe the budgetary allocation has far exceeded the national capita, but what concrete difference has it made to the lives of the disabled? Of what use is budgetary allocation on paper when the disabled don't have ramps to climb into the buildings where they can claim those allocations? Of what use is reservations, when the physical access to the job/education is impossible? Roads in Bangalore are a terror even for able-bodied people - how are the disabled expected to cope? How is a poor, disabled person expected to travel to work, given that even the state road transport organization isn't disabled-friendly?

It has become a hallmark of those in power to talk about lofty principles, on-paper budgets, and commissions that do nothing. What they never had is the empathy or the will to do something, something small that would make a huge difference. Mr. Kumar's article is in the same vein. Programs, Commissions, lofty talk, but no action. The observant reader would note how none of the "progressive" steps he mentions includes basic needs like disabled-friendly footpaths, ramps in public buildings, disabled-friendly buses, and the like. That is the unfortunate reality.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Nostalgia: Radio

I have been trying to find a line to start this post, but every line that came to mind turned out to be more corny than Sushil Doshi's commentary on DD. Anyhoo, I wrote earlier about 80s television and comics, this time let's talk about Radio.

When I was a child, the radio had the place in the home that the television has today. I don't remember listening to a lot of radio, but I do remember the radio we had - an old GE vaccum tube behemoth that HAD to be connected to the mains to work. The radio broke quite often, generated a lot of heat when it operated, and was quite a sight in our "showcase". Still, my folks loved it, and whenever it broke down, I used to get a lesson in solid state electronics by observing my brother attempt to fix it. It is another matter that the repair sessions also included lessons on the fragility of glass, but they were inadvertant, and will be part of another story.

As I said earlier, I don't remember listening to a lot on this radio - except ofcourse, the 1983 world cup - I was six years old then, and wondered what all the brouhaha was all about, but there was a lot of celebrating and I definitely, had to be a part of it.

My trysts with the radio began when my brother bought a radio with his first salary. It was a neat red-and-black Philips radio that ran on 4 Eveready batteries. A few years later, he bought home a 2-in-1, and that was when the fun began! Every day, we used to listen to "Bhoole bisre geet", "Geet mala", "Aap ki pharmayish", and the likes, and recorded casette after casette of songs. I still remember the announcers say: "Bhatapara se munnu, chunnu, rinki, pinki Andheri se pappu, jhappu, teena, meena, and so on...". A few days ago, I came across a tape on which I had recorded "Yeh Aankhen dekh kar ham saari" and man, did the memories bounce back?

Tell me your memories using the "Comments" link below.
(PS: I finally found that Bhatapara is a suburb in Raipur, Chattisgarh.)

The Taslima story

All the shock and awe over the Taslima story would not exist if only one knew the "Unit of Freedom" of Indian democracy. When the foundation of your democracy is based on the freedom of the Indian people, and NOT the Indian person, and when the foundation of your democracy is the freedom of the mob, you cannot expect that democracy to provide freedom of expression to the individual.

So, to all those comperes who ask the Mullahs and Maulvis angry questions: Look at our constitution. See how it proscribes, in the same breath, the right it gives us. That needs fixing, not the Maulvis and the Mullahs.