Categories
Featured Articles Technology

Law, Sausage and the Apple

Foxconn, Shenzhen, ChinaIt is said that if you love sausage and respect the law, you should watch neither being made. Now here is something that will make you add your favorite Apple gadget to the list of your dear things that you would rather not watch being made. Actually, this applies not just to the Apple devices but most gadgets you use.
This story from This American Life on National Public Radio brings to light the conditions in the factory in China that makes most of the gadgets we use. According to Wikipedia, Foxconn manufactures products for most electronics companies – from Acer and Apple to Toshiba and Vizio. Do listen to this story. Download it to your Apple iPod and listen to it on your way to work, or wherever. But do listen. What is special about this story is the way it is told by a “worshipper belonging to the cult of the Mac”. He uses innovative methods to get the story out of Foxconn, the enigmatic factory that makes “most of our crap”, and where workers are treated such that “Week after week, worker after worker has been climbing all the way up to the tops of these enormous buildings and then throwing themselves off, killing themselves in a brutal and public manner, not thinking very much about just how bad this makes Foxconn look.”

I strongly encourage you to listen to the story by clicking the “play” button above, but you can also read the transcript here, which is not the same as listening to the inimitable Mr. Mike Daisey.

Categories
Entertainment Featured Articles Technology

Google TV 3.1 – A Critical Review

Last Wednesday (7-Dec-11), Google TV announced on its blog that “all units of the Logitech Revue™ will begin to receive an over-the-air (OTA) update of the new Google TV software”. This update was much awaited and several weeks later than the update was announced for the other Google TV device – the Sony. Anyway, my Logitech Revue got its update yesterday (10-Dec). However, so far the software has not really lived up to its expectations — Google could have, and should have, done a much better job. Anyway, here is a detailed review of what works better and what got worse on Google TV 3.1. For the record, I tested it on a Logitech Revue (with a regular keyboard), hooked to a 51″ Sony Bravia LCD, connected to Comcast cable.
What Got Better:
Let me first talk about what got better. The interface definitely looks much better. When you press the “Home” key on the keyboard, you get a nice toolbar at the bottom of the TV screen.

This toolbar contrasts with the vertical sidebar in the last version, which did have its advantages that I will come to later in this post. Anyway, the first icon in the toolbar is the “All Apps” icon. The second icon is the “Live TV” icon. It is the third icon “TV & Movies”, which is the best feature, and perhaps the only better feature, of Google TV 3.1. This brings up a list of all movies and shows available — currently on live TV, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, and so on. You can also change the time from “Now” to a future time and see what is coming up.

Google TV 3.1

Another great addition is the Android Market. However, other than some games, there was not much of my interest. I am sure this opens Google TV up to a large improvement in coming days and weeks.
What Got Worse:
Earlier the “Home” screen had access to almost everything — Applications, Bookmarks, Spotlight, Chrome, and so on — all in the left sidebar, which is now gone. Now, when you go to the “All Apps” screen from the home toolbar, it only brings you to the Apps. There is no more easy access to Bookmarks.

Google TV 3.1

Since all my favorite online video sites were on “Bookmarks”, I need an easy way to get there. Unfortunately, the only way to get there is by opening Chrome, pressing the “Menu” button on the keyboard and choosing “Bookmarks”. The favorites key on the keyboard should have taken us there. Also there seems to be no way to delete existing bookmarks.

Google TV 3.1

Also, the earlier version of the software had an easy way to close a window — press the “Menu” key and choose “Close Window”. Now there is no easy way — you need to keep backing out of the window until you get to Home screen, or press “Menu” key, click on Windows and then click on the “X” next to the current window. Not user friendly at all.

Google TV 3.1

What Stayed the Same (or didn’t get better):
The online TV works as well as it did, as long as it is not blocked. The following picture is from NDTV, a TV channel streaming online from India. All such channels in my bookmarks work fine.

Google TV 3.1

Also, other channels accessible via Google Chrome (e.g., youku.com, vimeo.com, etc.) work fine and offer a lot of content.
“Spotlight” is described as “TV Optimized Websites”, but doesn’t live up to its name for most items listed under it. Well, the website interface is optimized alright, but the content is not made available for Google TV in all cases. Look at the following screenshots from TBS, TNT and Sidereel. The interface is fine, but there is no content to watch. On TNT, there is an option to log-in to your cable provider account, but clicking on that option gets you nowhere. So much for “TV Optimized”.

Google TV 3.1 Google TV 3.1
Google TV 3.1 Google TV 3.1

Then there is the already existing problem of major online TV resources, like Hulu and major TV networks, blocking its content from Google TV. Google 3.1 brings no solution to this issue.
My cable provider is Comcast/xfinity. I can log-in to the Comcast website to watch content online on my PC. This I consider as paid content, because I am paying for access to Comcast. However, when I try to do the same thing on Google TV, it brings up a message asking me to install Microsoft Silverlight. Obviously, there is no way Google TV is going to allow me to install this add-on, and who knows if that is the only missing link.
Maybe it works better on Dish Network, but it is not worth switching TV providers. In fact, I want Google TV to get me closer to cutting the cord, but right now I am nowhere near it.
Fortunately, I bought my Logitech Revue recently for a measly hundred bucks, compared to the earlier price of $300, so I think I am getting my money’s worth with whatever I am able to watch, but Google is not coming up to its expectations, where Google TV is concerned. Why is the “Beta” sign not where it belongs most?
All said and done, as I figure out easier ways of getting things done on Google TV, and get used to the interface, and as more items become available in the Android marketplace, I am still looking forward to a great experience with Google TV.

Categories
Miscellany

Google Books Ngram Viewer

Google does some interesting things. Ngram Viewer which I found about just today is one such. To know what the Ngram viewer does, we first need to know what an Ngram is. Well, according to Wikipedia, an Ngram is “a subsequence of n items from a given sequence.” If you just wanted to know how often a single word appears in a whole book, or a series of books, it would be a unigram for the word. Similarly, there would be bigrams for pairs of words, and n-gram for a group of n words.
So, what Google’s n-gram viewer does is, it looks for a word or group of words in all the books scanned by Google Books — millions of them — and tells us how often the words have appeared in those books. This gives us an idea of how trends have been, even before the Internet.
Read about the n-gram viewer on the Official Google Blog, or head over to the n-gram viewer to do your own search.
I did a comparison search for “India, Britain, England, USA” and following is what I found.
Google N-gram Viewer
You can draw your own conclusions from the chart. Note that the searches are case sensitive.

Categories
Miscellany

Dhar Mann – Raja of Ganja?

Dhar Mann, picture from FacebookOK, another Indian sounding name was in the news today – Dhar Mann. The news on CNN was “‘Walmart of Weed’ to open in Arizona, promote growing your own“.
So, here is the background: Marijuana, Cannabis or Ganja (as we Indians know it) is illegal in most of the United States. In the state of California (and apparently in some other states), however, you are allowed to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal medical use — obviously upon obtaining a doctor’s prescription. This prescription, as expected, is misused by many to consume, grow and even illegally deal in this “drug”. Now, for obvious reasons (among them: privacy, cost, and type of growing environment needed), it is best to grow marijuana indoors. This brings us to Hydroponics, which is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. This is where Mr. Mann comes in. Betting on the market associated with the equipment needed to grow marijuana, he started a group of specialty stores selling such equipment. Today, his company WeGrow Store stepped outside California and opened its first store in Arizona. Here’s the news from CNN about the store opening:




Reading the news and looking at the name, I thought Dhar Mann does have a very Indian sound to it. Dhar is not really a common first name among Indians, but it is used as a last name or middle name in many communities. If a name starts with a bh, dh, or a jh, I go straight for the South Asian. Mann could have been German, but the dh was too much of a giveaway, so I wiki-ed the name and sure enough there was a Wiki page on Dhar Mann, pronouncing that

He is the son of Baljit and Surrender Singh, the wealthy owners of Friendly Cab, who for a time held a near monopoly on taxi service in Oakland, California.

Well, so Dhar Mann could be a short form of Dharmender Singh Mann, or something like that. But, aren’t Sikhs traditionally non-smokers? Well, this is what the Wikipedia page on Cannabis (drug) says:

Cannabis is also known to have been used by the ancient Hindus and Nihang Sikhs of India and Nepal thousands of years ago. The herb was called ganjika in Sanskrit (गांजा/গাঁজা ganja in modern Indic languages). The ancient drug soma, mentioned in the Vedas, was sometimes associated with cannabis

Well Sikh religion didn’t even exist “thousands of years ago”, so I am not sure what he Wikipedia author in this case was smoking.

Categories
Entertainment Featured Articles

Guzaarish – 100 Gram Film

guzaarishSanjay Leela Bhansali’s Guzaarish is on Netflix, and I just watched it. I felt better having watched it at home because in a theatre I would have walked out feeling cheated. The movie does have its plus points and I will come to them, but one big plus was that it was mercifully less than 2 hours long.
Bhansali excels at showing opulence in his sets, and there is plenty of that in Guzaarish — limitlessly high ceilings and tall curtains. If you are looking for fantasy, if you are looking for great cinematography, if you are looking for opulent sets, this movie is for you. There are also some great performances, particularly the one by Hritik Roshan, who plays a quadriplegic named Ethan Mascarenhas. The theme (of euthanasia) is serious and thought-provoking, but has not been treated right. If you are looking for some realism in a movie like I usually do, then stay away from this one.
Instead of doing a full review of the movie, I will just quote from some reviews it has already got in the media, particularly the ones I agreed with, then I will list the things that irritated me personally.
On the Reuter’s website the reviewer calls Guzaarish slow death. The reviewer goes on to say,

Everything else, like Aishwarya Rai’s make-up, seems fake and loud, and puts you off. The emotions, the set design, the dialogues, Hritik Roshan’s beard are all out of this world, residing in some alien planet that only Bhansali inhabits.
I’m from Goa (where the film is set) and I can assure you, I don’t know of too many Goan women who wear Victorian skirts, have elaborate hairdos and bright lipstick, all the while nursing a paraplegic man. Actually, I don’t know if women anywhere do that.

Anupama Chopra says on her review on NDTV:

Sanjay Leela Bhansali has positioned himself as Hindi cinema’s poet of pain. His movies are operatic and highly melodramatic. But over the course of six films, the worlds Bhansali creates have become increasingly sealed off and removed from any known reality. So even though the characters in Guzaarish ostensibly live in Goa, the milieu isn’t one that you would recognise.
This fantasy would be effective if the writing was more organic and the emotions felt more authentic but Bhansali never gives us a chance to invest in these people.

Coincidentally, The Hindu reviewer Sudhish Kamath also calls Guzaarish “slow death” (there should be a copyright on public insults). This is what Kamath says about the movie:

We are talking about a glossy, surreal, picture-perfect set put together by four production designers, not one of them capable or smart enough to figure out that such a character who has been living out of a wheelchair for 14 years would probably need a disability ramp in the house, especially if the character prefers to stay under a leaky roof on the first floor.
Before you try to milk the audience for sympathy and manipulate a serious issue like disability for tears and melodrama, how about understanding the special needs of such a character to live with dignity?

And then, there is this awesome video review of the movie from, who else, NDTV-Hindu. Do watch:


Anyway, now that I have milked some well-published reviewers for their opinions, let me explain the holes I personally found in this story, which completely lacked credibility in my opinion:
1. The arguments made in the movie are childish. Except for the one scene where the sarkari lawyer is made to get into a box, the film’s makers have not thought of one convincing argument that would
justify the protagonist’s guzaarish (request) for euthanasia. Ethan is living a good life for a paraplegic. He can afford full time servants, a large house, owns a radio show, has a lovely lady taking care of him, can still teach and create magic, has a fully functional brain. This is much more than can be said of real life paraplegics. His desire for euthanasia suddenly comes from nowhere one fine day after 14 years, with no apparent and immediate reason. When he presents the argument on his radio show, even a group of paraplegics (the “quad squad”) vote “no” on his proposal. Then what arguments does he present that sway the public opinion in his favor? NONE! His ex-lover is the only one who speaks in his favor “because she loves him and understands how he feels.” This may make sense for one or two or six people who personally love him, but is not enough to create so much public support that there are people standing with placards outside his house when there is a court hearing there. No placards are shown against his position.
2. Regarding the magic (the protagonist’s profession), it is not clear if he is actually supposed to be performing magic or just trickery. Half of the movie has the viewer believing that he is actually performing magic (he can make it rain, teach magical spells), but then there is the scene of the sabotage/accident when it is shown that it is obviously the trickery. Then in the last scene he is able to pull a trick on his pupil (the Draupadi sari miracle) when neither his arms nor his legs are working. Was that magic or was that trickery? If he was that functional then why die?
3. Paradoxically, talking about euthanasia makes more sense when the person is not able to even make that decision. People who are in perpetual coma, are brain-dead, people who live like a vegetable, and so on, like the Terry Schiavo case, or the more recent and relevant Aruna Shanbaug case. People
who have just their limbs non-functional can do much better than die. Quadriplegics participate in paralympic games. Nobody makes that argument in the movie. I have personally seen paraplegics swim, and have seen them do much more on film. If you are only as disabled as Hritik Roshan is shown in the movie, such a wish to die would be termed as plain suicide. Thankfully the judge doesn’t allow it in the movie, but the arguments in favor or against the case could have been made more convincingly. After all, that was the point of the movie. Wasn’t it?
4. In the last scene, Sophia (Aishwarya) decides to kill Ethan (or “help him die”) but before that she “marries” him. It looks like this criminal agreement to kill Ethan is also made known to all friends because there is a farewell party for him — with the understanding that after the murder she is going to jail. Does not make a lot of sense. Does it?
5. Towards the end, so many elements are introduced in such a haphazard way that they make no sense except direct the story to its intended end. The way Aishwarya’s husband appears out of apparently nowhere, his sudden mistreatment of her, her divorce, then marriage, the leaking roof in an otherwise magnificent house over which the magician who can make rain has no control — all these elements make for good fantasy, but not much realism that is needed for such a serious topic. The healthy sixty-something-looking mother (Nafeesa Ali) has to not only not hear her son’s shouts for help, but suddenly die peacefully for no apparent reason, as if she was in her nineties.
6. The setting shown in the movie is Goa, but not much in the movie looks or sounds Indian. Even Omar’s name is pronounced in a foreign way — Omaar.
It doesn’t help the movie either that it is reportedly a copy of an award winning Spanish move “The Sea Inside“. To quote the Indian Express reviewer,

If the director were entirely honest, he would have had a line saying it was, at the very least, “inspired by”, but then who in Bollywood is, unless they are held at gun point by the studios the films are being stolen from?

Well, I can go on and on about this movie, but let me also acknowledge that lots of people have immensely liked the movie and they must have their own reasons. There are also some rave reviews online. I guess some people like fantasy, some like sci-fi, some like cartoons. I go for realism. Give me “Peepli Live” any day, even if I am the only person in the theater — which was the case when I watched the movie in a DC area theater last summer. Classy stuff? Not for me. I liked the “100 gram zindagi” song in the film though, but that also summed up the weight of the movie for me.

Categories
Technology

Cartoon Pictures for Facebook

Thousands of people are changing their profile pictures with their favorite cartoon characters. Some are even cartoonifying their own pictures. Watch the following video to listen to today’s news from ABC network about the trend.

If you want to cartoonify your own image, one of the free utilities available online is: befunky.com. Here you can upload your picture and turn it into a cartoon in seconds.

Categories
News

Is Kashmir Not Even That Big?

In my last post I explained how Kashmir is a small area of J&K, holding the whole state and region to ransom. I explained that Kashmir valley is about 6,000 square miles in area. It is indisputable that Muslims are a majority in J&K, but the separatist Muslims are concentrated in a fraction of the state — the Kashmir valley. The figure of 7% area was calculated based on the following information obtained from the Jammu and Kashmir page on Wikipedia:

The main Kashmir valley is 100 km (62 mi) wide and 15,520.3 km2 (5,992.4 sq mi) in area.

I realized that the Wikipedia page does not give the length of the valley. However, using the above mentioned area, it seems the Wikipedia user who wrote the above assumed a length of about 100 miles. I generally trust the information on Wikipedia, but in this case it seems someone got too enthusiastic, unless the following data given on the BBC News page on Kashmir’s “future” is incorrect. The BBC News site discusses various scenarios of Kashmir’s future on its page, and its Scenario Six matches what I was talking about on my last post. The site says:

With an approximate land mass of 1,800 square miles (80 miles long, 20 to 25 miles wide) it is much larger than Monaco and Liechtenstein – but only one-tenth of the size of Bhutan.

There must be something wrong with the figures on BBC site, which makes the area of the valley only 2.1% of the state’s total area of 86,000 square miles. Tell me about a storm in a teacup!
Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating Kashmir’s secession from India. I just want to tell the separatists that such a small size of land would be untenable as a country. With some Kashmiri leaders already talking about accession to Pakistan, and Pakistan waiting in the wings, you could be out of the frying pan into the fire. Also read the UNHCR report on Pakistan’s Human Rights Violations in so-called “Azad Kashmir”. A quote:

In the first seventy-two hours after the earthquake, thousands of Pakistani troops stationed in Azad Kashmir prioritized the evacuation of their own personnel over providing relief to desperate civilians. The international media began converging on Muzaffarabad within twenty-four hours of the earthquake and fanned out to other towns in Azad Kashmir shortly thereafter. They filmed Pakistani troops standing by and refusing to help because they had “no orders” to do so as locals attempted to dig out those still alive, sending a chilling message of indifference from Islamabad. Having filmed the refusal, journalists switched off their cameras and joined the rescue effort themselves; in one instance they shamed the soldiers into helping. But unlike the death and destruction, the media were not everywhere. The death toll continued to mount.

Now, this is UNHCR, not some Indian propaganda. Ready for some “azadi”, guys?

Categories
Featured Articles News

Kashmir Is Too Small For Azadi

[हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए यहाँ क्लिक करें]
Headline on CNN about Leh floods: Death toll from Kashmir flooding rises to 112
Correction: Leh is not in Kashmir. There was no flooding in Kashmir.
A Vaishno Devi Pilgrim: I just returned from Kashmir. Things are peaceful there.
Correction: Jammu is not in Kashmir. There is no jehad in Jammu.
A University of Texas Website Article: refers to the 1999 war in Kargil, Kashmir
Correction: Kargil is not in Kashmir. It is in Ladakh province.
One of the frequent gripes that Kashmiris have about people from mainland India is that they don’t understand Kashmir and Kashmiris. That is true to a large extent. One of the myths that needs to be broken is that “Kashmir is J&K”, because it is actually only a small part of it – 6.98% to be exact. Even the saying that “From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, India is one” is not correctly worded because Kashmir is not the Northernmost part of India; Ladakh is. And if you believe in the official Indian map, then Gilgit and Aksai Chin are the Northernmost parts, none of these being part of Kashmir. Kashmir is well South of the Northern tip of India, so it is geographically a natural part of India. Even Azad Kashmir or PoK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) is not Kashmir. In this blog post I will explain why this discussion is important, considering the existing imbroglio going on in the Kashmir valley.

Categories
News

Arguing About Kashmir

Even though Kashmir is lost to our community (the Kashmiri Hindu community), it is impossible for people of our generation not to get riled up when the issue of Kashmir comes up. A detailed post on Kashmir has been on my mind for a long time, but numerous resolutions for this blog’s upkeep have resulted in a naught (edit: it’s there now!). That has not kept me from waxing eloquent on the comment sections of other blogs, particularly if the bloggers or other commenters have perspectives contrary to my point of view. This post is an attempt to document some of the comments I made on those blogs.

Categories
News

Dr. Shah Faesal from Kupwara tops Indian Civil Service Exam

Dr. Shah FaesalGot this news from Twitter. @FreeKashmir reported that Dr. Shah Faesal from Kashmir topped the IAS, and was complaining that “the news didn’t make it to the Indian media”. It would indeed have been surprising and disgusting if Indian media had ignored this, so I immediately googled the topic, and there it was — on Times of India, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, The Hindu — in each case prominently on first page. Well, this particular blogger likes to complain a lot, so this tweet was not much of a surprise either. We celebrate our heroes, sir, irrespective of what region and religion they come from. Yes, at times Twitter may be faster than conventional websites and newsprint.