Thank you Bansky


As the 'next billion' struggle to emerge from India, the lack of tech laws and growth of band-aid technology, have created a unique Chiba. Sentience of the emerging silicon, is tested here

Label Cloud

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Social networking: friend, can you lend me a dime?

Orkut, Facebook, Hi5, and even their Indian clones, all seem to be in a desperate hurry to harness as many people as they can, a lot like the viral ‘Vampire’ and ‘werewolf’ bites on Facebook. Even as Google ties up with networking juggernaut MySpace to fend off the open platform in Facebook, a fundamental question still remains: how are they going to milk friends for money?

As the Economist Newspaper mentioned in its last but two issue, everyone seems to upping the value of these shared experience sites, without the sites making any money of their own. In many ways this is curious; it’s like building a colossal machine with plethora of gears, pinions and rods, but no defined function. But then again, in a world where the biggest search engine doesn’t make money from searching, social networking might have the silver sheen of ‘nerdinomics’, its just that we haven’t found it as yet.

And finding it may take a while. Search results are excellent start point for advertisers for the simple reason: people, who click the button, have an almost clear idea of what they want. Banner ads work, because hey, they are the first things to assault your eyes; pop-ups work because they just annoy you into making the effort to shut them, in the process you read it, bang another customer is informed of the latest viagra sale /penis enlargement / Harry potter book.

In social networking, people are connected to each other in unique (or at least that’s what we think) ways: This ones a friend cause he has that Metallica T-shirt collection, that one’s close cause you lived with him in college, and she's on the friends list just by the virtue of being a cutie. This web of friendship cannot be targeted with a single ad campaign, unless some one creates medicine/ stimulant/ book that stems from the human need of companionship.

Yet by opening up social networking sites to every developer, there is till hope that someone, somewhere will come up with a function or feature that will have the potential of targeting every one on the social graph. Until that happens, you can keep your busy by passing on that werewolf bite, and of course, barking at the moon.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Banning Manhunt 2

OK so we all know this by now. Manhunt 2, the game that promised to vent all your anger without having to dress like slipknot, has been called off shelves. From the coasts of the US to the British Isles, the people who think they can decide have made a verdict: This game is not for you.

First things first. Who are the ESRB or BBFC to decide? How come they get to play mommy, when my own mother doesnt do that? Well leaving birthing problems and teenage angst aside, how can any one make this decisin for me? Yes games are violent, bloody and have sexual connotations. But hell, so does life in genral. When are they planning to ban that? sorry boys, you cant say blood, gore, sex or something of that sort, before getting a rating from ESRB.

Also the only difference between the gaming and all other media is that it is not passive, you cant just sit in a corner and read or watch. This is active, and real, if you dont react you cant play. And thats not new either, has the ESRB ever heard of sports? well even cricket, the gentlemen's game, has sledging. Maybe they will ban that too.

Gaming does not make us blood thirsty zomies, with sky rocketing libidos and a coke habit. It is just like reading a book, exept the book reacts too. If gaming were such an evil technology, it would never have grown to become the force it has. All the neigbourhood kids would have been running around mass murdering the local population. Think bout it, atleast the real estate prices in Delhi would have fallen to affordable levels!

Banning Manhunt 2 will not change anything. We want some brutal action and we will get it. Guess who will provide it? The ESRB. If the market says that it wants brutality and murder, ESRB will have to relent, bend over and satisfy it. Or else, the grey markets of the world will do it for them.

Wake up people, this is the information age, you cant stop it from going where it feels like. And if you try to stop it, it will just burst out. Welcome to an era where information is Piss; You cant stop it no matter what you do.

As for me, India does have any laws to control computer gaming. The black market provides us with our usual dosage. And I know there are copies out there, just itching to be bought!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Web 2.0: O'Really?

Web 2.0 has been a buzzword for quite sometime now. Ever since it was coined by Tim O’Reilly in 2004, it’s generally been accepted that the term really means nothing new. Yes one touch publishing through blogs become possible, voice transmission through VOIPs has become popular and now youtube has become a default TV. But the components to make these things possible have been present since the advent of the web.

Maybe the broader definition which links data transmission speeds with the web version is the more practical view point. Dial up connection 56 kbps line are simply Web 1.0, 1mbps lines are Web 2.0 and so on. Yet if we choose this criterion, then in India, Web 2.0 is still just a possibility. The year of the broadband has arrived, but like Y2K it is more hype than byte.

Given the internet and software industries obsession with the ‘next big thing’, there is already a buzz about the Web 3.0 and the semantic web. This seems a little skewed especially when the components or the evolution of content and networking related to these terms is either available or not yet developed.

On the whole, as one article claims, Web 2.0 is just a marketing term. It can signify just about anything that the salesperson wants it to mean. In this way it is a perfect zinger, use it and define it according to your needs. Of course since it does not mean the upgrading of the infrastructure that net runs on (from the cable to the protocols), the term is pretty much like a souped up vintage car. Even if you paint it red, put polyvinyl spoilers and radials, the car still does about 15 Kms on a litre of fuel.

So why the buzz and hype? What is the need to emphasize on something that you already have? Or on something that your obsolete internet connection wont let you use?

Well it just follows a trend that is as old as the software and hardware industry. Like the Intel 'Core Duo' processor, which allows you a million options that you won’t ever use, Web 2.0 is another way to make you pay. The website would have you believe otherwise, but maybe the internet connection prices (the ‘UPTO’ 1 Mbps connections) will shed more light on this. Want to use heavier applications? Upgrade the RAM and the processor (in affect upgrade your PC). Want all the luxuries of Web 2.0? Pay for a better connection. Want to download more stuff? Then get an internet plan which has a slower connection and so on…

While critics talk about the lack of a revenue model, every site that successfully uses the term Web 2.0 laughs its way to the bank. Maybe Ananad Shankar, of The Hindu should have though about this before writing the thoroughly obscure article in the papers today.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Cyberpunk: Characyeristics in the world today


Even if Sterling himself feels otherwise, cyberpunk never faded away. This is a dissertation I have done which correlates cyberpunk world and the world today. Click on the image and download the PDF and let me know what you feel.....

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Encryption: Now you see it

(click on the the image to read the e-paper, Download image and change resolution for the view most suitable for your screen)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Winterovers

The sun settles just over the horizon. It watches, down at the white sheets of the frozen wasteland. Yet its light has already become feeble now. Even the ice can’t catch its glint any more. Shadows grow longer, in a desperate bid to run away from the tired sun. The cold, which had never entirely left, starts its glacial winter wind dance again. The night approaches, waiting to pounce from the shadows. The winter and the night are approaching the Antarctic; they won’t leave for another six months.

Most of the gear is packed away; most of the crew has left for warmer climates. The temperatures fall to a bone freezing -55 C; the winds 18 knots fast, whip everything with a chill factor of -72 C. Even as the continent becomes more and more hostile, the experiments conducted here don’t stop. Only the ‘mad scientists’, the winterovers, remain; preparing to brave icy hell for their pursuit of science.

The Antarctic nights last for six whole months, cloaking everything in darkness. Even for the winterovers, living in frozen blackness is not easy. To add to this, the winds don’t allow evacuation of people or air dropping of supplies. For six months the winterovers are cut off from the rest of the world, their only link is a satellite which lets them call family. Time to time even this falls prey to the weather.

Sven Lindstrom, one of the winterovers, says “I had to go through 16days training in fire fighting, trauma and psychology”. In the Antarctic, one mistake can snuff out life.

A typical day starts at six in the ‘morning’, after a quick breakfast the scientists get to work. Karthik Soundrapandian, another winterover, says “We try to monitor detectors, make sure things are ok. We do this, 30 times a day. If we see an error message, we try to deal with the problem.” On a good day, the problem can be fixed from inside the warmth of the lab.

On a bad day, they have to step out into freezing hell. Sven says “I wear several layers. Close to body sweaters, a woolen fleece jacket, a parka, two face masks, two pair of glowers, mittens and rubber boots.” Karthik adds “working outside with so many layers, it gets hot, you can shed layers as your body warms.”

The glacial wasteland allows the scientists to search for one of the most exotic particles known to modern physics, the neutrino. Karthik says “we try to detect neutrino by detecting light, when the particle hits ice and creates light. From the direction of light we can tell where the neutrino comes from”. Sven adds, “This happens very rarely, but if you have a very big detector then you can see it, detect it”.

This is exactly what the ‘Ice cube’ experiment has done in Antarctica. The entire continent acts like a massive ice cube. The travelling neutrino inevitably hits an ice particle. The resultant light travels through miles in the transparent ice. This light is detected and is used to study bizarre astronomical objects such as black holes and gamma ray bursts.

As the ‘day’, unlit by the sun, comes to an end, the winterovers free themselves from their computer monitors. They return to rooms where they can interact with each other and mark another day closer to sun rise. The winterover’s favourite part of the day, is its end, “we socialize with other people, watch movies, take part in events” says Sven, “every day is different” Karthik adds.

The two winterovers will have to stay in the Antarctic till the beginning of next year. “Everyday I question why I am doing this. Especially after my friends left” says Sven. “I don’t regret it” he adds, Karthik agrees.

(photo from Ice Cube website)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Satellite Imaging and the India Government

Once it was an excuse used by nations to display their technological prowess. There were benign weather reports and malignant military ‘information’ that had to be collected. Satellites could do both. Under firm government control these ‘electric eyes’ were focussed to ‘serve’ the nation. But the internet changed that.

The release of google earth, two years ago altered the government’s hold on satellite imaging. Google earth took satellite photographs of the earth and stitched them to create a virtual globe on the internet. Today satellite imagery has moved away from the hands of governments into the hands of anybody who can access the internet. Now you can zoom into details on the ground with a resolution that goes up to 15m or 1m.

While users have been busy trying to find out what their houses and offices look from the sky, the government has been sweating. Abdul Kalam, the president, has repeatedly expressed his concern of how high resolution pictures can be a useful to terrorists and other miscreants. The Indian government has also approached google to blur satellite images of important buildings and installation, such as the Rashtrapati Bhavan and air force bases.

Yet the Indian government is not the only one that has reacted with panic. The American government has already blurred photographs of its installations and blanked out the top of the White House from google earth. France and Germany have made it illegal to profit from such satellite imagery. Images which make such details easily visible and distributable pose a security threat that needs to be addressed as per the country’s requirement. As of now India has no law binding satellite images.

Google has already said that it is willing to cooperate with the government. In all probability, the ‘sensitive’ pictures will be removed or blurred from the public domain. Even though doing this can be justifiable, there needs to be a limit to which the government is allowed to go ahead with its blurring campaign. Otherwise, total control of satellite imagery will just become an instance of ‘big brother is watching’.

Already the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has released plans of using satellite images to trace and remove illegal hoarding, especially during elections. It is possible that these images will be used for surveying cities. These surveys may be used for enforcing basic laws, such as traffic rules, but they may also be used to track people driving those vehicles. ‘1984’ may have temporally passed us, but even now, the satellites will not be able to track us in the similar way. Though we may not traced and tracked by satellites, giving the government total control over the imagery is not desirable.

Satellite imagery has been adopted by people to their advantage. In October, last year, a group of farmers from Maharshtra were able to prove that the compensation the government was paying them for acquiring land to create an SEZ was inadequate. The official documents had listed the land as being infertile and the government had fixed the compensation accordingly. Yet by using Google earth, the farmers were able to display the crop areas and thus prove that the land in question was fertile and thus was eligible for higher compensation.

Thus satellite imaging is like any other technology, people can choose to use it or abuse it. Even though the government must be allowed to blur the photographs that are available online, it must do so in a manner that is transparent and accountable. This way we can protect our installations but also ensure that the government does not block the technology in a way can be used to curb the citizen’s rights and control them.

(Graphic (c) Shrivathsa Sridhar)

Wikicamp '07: Organisation through chaos

What happens when 350 passionate people congregate without a plan, under one roof? Expected answers would range from pandemonium, break down or any sort of organisation and possibly stampedes. Yet at the Wikicamp, the crowd quickly organized itself and ‘sculpted’ the day’s proceeding as it went. This simultaneous stirring to organisation was not new to the crowd. They had come to the camp precisely because of it.

Wikis work on this formula of collaboration towards organisation. By definition, Wikis are websites which can be altered by anyone who views it. Thus users change the content of the website as they browse through it. The Wiki carries material that has been contributed and edited by a plethora of users. Overtime the Wiki’s material represents the aggregate of all the views on a particular topic, thus giving the user holistic information on the topic in the wiki.

Wikicamp reflected these values of Wikis. People from across the world came to interact and debate on how the wikis work and what their possible future could be. Like a wiki, the camp had no organised structure; every member could start a talk, question or contribute to the existing topics. This lack of structure, created a mood for the ‘law of two feet’, as explained by blogger Kiruba Shankar “in English, law of two feet means that if you feel bored, feel free to move your two feet. Don’t sulk, move out do what interests you”.

Although there were no ‘speakers’, Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, the online user contributed encyclopaedia, became the fire starter, fuelling and igniting the discussion. “Wikipedia is like Rock’n’roll, some people will always tell you not to listen to it. But just because they say so, doesn’t mean that people will stop listening to it” said Wales. He started the camp by discussing his experiences with wikis, research on programs to be used with Wikis and possible revenue generation models.

The camp transformed into a user guided forum, where various wikipedia content generators and other discussed possibilities of using wikis. The presence of G Badani (one of the most prolific Indian Wikipedians) and Sundar( a writer for Tamil Wikipedia) also added flavour to the camp.

Link: Rajan.wordpress
Link: MoMo India Chapter

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Cheap computers and eLearning: Towards higher literacy and corporate revenue?

maybe moving towards IT superpowerdom, yet for most of the Indian population computers remain prohibitively priced. This base concern of price has worried the industry for some time now. Educationists feel that the pricing denies access to people who could benefit from the information that can be accessed and shared through computers and the internet. For this camp, the price acts as a major constraint on elearning. Dr. V Nagarajan, ex-professor of Madras University says “The deciding factor is the cost of computers. Primarily computer-based education must be available at the school level and community level as networked and distributed resources.”

Less is more
But educationists are not the only ones lobbying for reduced computer prices. Software and hardware industries also have a lot to gain if prices fall. Currently both these industries are facing markets that are saturating at tremendous speeds. Hardware manufacturers have been trying to bring down prices in an effort to tap into markets that have been outside the purview of computers. The software firms, also, feel that lower computer costs will make piracy economically unviable and thus increase revenue collection.

Even though falling prices will increase the size of the pie, all current efforts to bring down prices have met with disaster. The ‘One laptop per child’ initiative started by MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte and supported by Rupert Murdoch, is one such approach. This initiative envisaged a computer that would cost $100, and would be distributed (and paid for by NGOs) in rural areas. Yet a decade and a millions of dollars later, the initiative still has not been able to reach its $100 goal. The computer called XO relies on heavily subsidised prices from chip and computer screen manufacturers.

‘The street finds its own use for things’
Novatium, an Indian company has come up with a novel solution to this problem. They have put together a computer that doesn’t have expensive moving parts that usually push up the price of computers. The netPC, as it is called, is a little box that when connected to a monitor, keyboard and a ‘network’ line, functions just like an ordinary computer. The company decided to use mobile phone chips as processors that are a fraction of the cost of usual computer processors. They also decided to do away with the hard disk or the operating system that usually resides on the computer.

Instead of an operating system Novatium has opted for a model called ‘thin client’. In this model the computer is connected to server on which the operating system and the storage space reside. The computer just requires enough memory and processing power to connect to the server. Once this is done, the server acts as a doorway for the computer. The person using the computer can access the internet, send and receive email, download applications and read documents.

Dr Nagaraj says, “The computer must be sturdy to withstand rough and tough handling. Need for an AC and dust free environment will defeat the purpose of making computers available to the hard-to-reach rural population.” The netPC easily meets this requirement. The lack of moving parts, such as hard disks and CD Roms make the system very sturdy.

The netPC requires an initial investment of $70. The screen, keyboard and mouse need to be bought separately. After this, the user needs to pay a monthly amount of $10 per month as a subscription cost for using Novatium’s services. This does reduce the cost of using a computer. This reduction in cost has already caught the attention of Microsoft, which has signed up to work with Novatium.

No Panacea
Yet the netPC is not a panacea to the developing world’s computing needs. The netPC requires a network line that enables the computer to connect to the server. Thus for the model to work these lines represent an infrastructural constraint. Nisheeth Mishra, business head of Novatium, disagrees “ all it [netPC] requires is a physical network reach in the homes, i.e. a phoneline or a wireless last mile. These are pretty widely available.”

Even if these lines are available, two basic problems remain. Firstly to target rural areas, assured electricity is required. Secondly, spreading elearning requires that the users know how to read and write the local language or English. In a country like ours, both these cannot be worked with as a given.

“Without electricity it [netPC] will not work. However, our device is the lowest power consumption CPU ever made. It consumes only 5W of power, and therefore can run on inverters for hours or on battery also. Still the only concern is that we do not have a similar power consumption monitor” says Mishra. Yet even if batteries for the monitor are developed, the problem of teaching an unlettered population through a medium that primarily relies on text remains.

Dr. Nagarajan agrees “information, knowledge and wisdom are unconnected with the technology of literacy. Unfortunately computers are developed to suit those who can use the sight and alphabet. Increased use of voice and multimedia will make computers a technology for illiteracy.” As of now the netPC has not solved this.

The PC also has other complications. The netPC depends on the server to do all its processing, thus if the server develops a problem and stops functioning, the computer will also stop working. Mishra clarifies, “The server, the network, the client all are single point of failures as far as components are concerned. However, by design the client is supposed to be robust and never fail. We have for the last 1.5 years not reported a single failure. On the server, adequate redundancy planning is done so that the uptimes are guaranteed.”

Community wealth or revenue generation
Once the system is made available to the masses, content that is created and shared will also have to be looked into. “Community knowledge network is the basic theme” says Mishra. He also adds “There are opportunities of consumer research, advertising and value added services that can earn more than basic revenue. We shall definitely offer the advert services to the community that opts for it. [For example] Premium users may choose a no advert service whereas some may choose to view specific categories of direct advertising. Our platform is capable of being exploited in either way.”

Dr Nagarajan disagrees “Internet must be used with caution. Like TV, computer cannot be used for cultural invasion and moral corruption. Learning with innovative use of existing technologies in convergence with edusat will link the entire nation into a net work where the best practices will be absorbed and adopted for local use by teachers and students”.

Even though the netPC may look like a viable alternative that can reduce the digital divide, it still needs to face the market to come up with workable solutions to the problems it now faces. Dr Nagaraj remarks “India is not interested in Microsoft windows but using the computer as a window to the world.”

Link: the learned man
Link: Rajesh Jain's blog

Monday, February 19, 2007

Cheap computing: Hundred Dollars?

The $100 PC: the elusive dream that big wigs have been chasing for quite a while now. It’s a device that has been hypothesized to change the way technology can help development of people in backward countries. The vision is amazing, a child sitting in the back of beyond, can access the internet, learn how to use PCs, and ultimately receive education that has failed to reach his area. The digital divide gets breached and ultimately sublimates into nothingness.

But is this possible? Although the global philanthropies seem to shedding tears and emptying their pockets, an all affordable PC is still far from production stage. Newer technology (core duo processors and windows Vesta) is busy cranking up prices of the PC. As older hardware and software gets regularly erased from the legit and black markets, the cheap PC will continue to be a delusion.

However the Indian market seems to have created a cheaper alternative. Novatium’s Rajesh Jain (with help of IIT Chennai professor Dr. Ashok Jhunjhunwala and his team) has created an ingenious device that can increase the penetration of PC in the Indian market. The concept is not new; in fact it’s a model that has been actively practiced in all big corporates: Thin client model.

The thin client model has no central processor of its own or even a storage device. In this model, a screen and a keyboard, is connected to a server through a ‘client’ box. All the processing, from booting to surfing, is carried out by the server. The client contains just enough hardware to be able to connect to the server, launch a browser and connect to the input/output devices. Since the client needs bare minimum hardware, it doesn’t need expensive processors and circuitry. The server houses all the expensive materials, from large storage hard disks to expensive operating systems.

This model has evolved as a standard practise in large offices. The data remains secure at the servers, while cost of each work station falls.

But Jain has tweaked the model. He has proposed a model in which a thin client is sold for as low as $70. The screen(A TV can also be used) and keyboard have to be purchased separately. Once the hardware is in place, a cable connects the ‘PC’ to the Novatium server. The server provides the thin client with everything from surfing, checking email and even creating documents which can be saved on the server. Novatium plans to charge $10 per month for providing this service.

This model has caught the fancy of major software producers. In India, software companies have been maligned by the easy availability of pirated software. As a result the companies have not been able to cash in on people using their software. Jain’s model, works for them too. The companies will be able to charge Novatium for using its software; also the software companies may be able to bill the users directly.

The hardware manufacturers are also pleased. Global sales of PCs have been falling for a while. The only method to increase revenue is to tap into markets where computer systems are not wide spread. Jain’s model will open the market for another device that they can mass produce and market for higher profitability. It also opens up another platform for advertisers to sell their products. For all the associated computer usage and companies, Jain’s model could herald a new boom.

But in the fan fare, there is certain things that stand out. Jain’s thin film model has few problems that still need to be answered. Jain’s Pc needs a fast internet line that can enable easy data transfer between the input/output devices (with the user) and the processor in the server. These lines are still a rarity. For the model to work, the availability of these connections has to be increased.

The second issue is that of security. Since the data and the programs are saved in the server, it represents a single point of failure. If the server fails, all the clients connected to it may become useless. The redundancy model needed to counter this has not been talked about.

Thirdly, the company has not released the constraints that users will be under. Its still not clear whether the users will be allowed to program. The mode of advertising, weather pay per click or other models has not been discussed.

But the major fact is that this new ‘PC’ requires an internet line and electricity for the computer screen. The availability of these two factors in India will ensure that the PC will largely remain an urban centric device. This sort of infrastructure is virtually non existent in rural India. Thus the device is clearly not guided to increase internet and PC penetration in those regions.

Although the system has potential to increase penetration of both, the internet and PC use, in virtually virgin markets, unless the infrastructure needed to make it viable is made readily available, the cheap PC will remain a concept.

Link: Rajesh Jain's blog

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Shell Shocked : Olive Ridley Turtles

Late nights on the Neelangarai beach are frustrating. There are no lights, you can’t see anything. The sand invades every pore of your body, like the hand held metal detectors airport security tortures you with. The moon mocks you, its feeble light reflecting off the aluminium foil ocean surface. The torch light reveals hordes of crabs that scuttle from the ocean and back. For the Olive Ridley turtle these are perfect conditions to nest.

Each foot step takes enormous energy. The sand sucks at my feet, it takes twice the energy just to pull my feet out of it. The sound of the high tide had been pleasing at first, now it just grates on my nerves. The leader of the ‘turtle walk’, Dr. Supraja Dharini, ignores people who lag behind and marches on. Now and then, she explains the oddities that litter the beach, “That is a barnacle, it’s a life form that grows on wood” or “Oh, that? That’s a just a dead fish”.

Two village fishermen keep pace with the doctor, lighting the path ahead with torches. The group staggers behind the fishermen, their hope of seeing a turtle diminishing with each step. Some of us ‘walkers’ can’t carry on, “lets just get back home, it’s getting late and I’m tired” cries one. I look at my watch, it was almost eleven thirty. I want to leave as well. Maybe I could stop for a coffee on my way back, ‘at least that would liven up the night’.

One of the cones of light from the torches reveals a green dome. Four flippers brake from the surface. Blood runs from the head of the creature, forming pools of crimson in the sand. The dome is a shell. The creature, an Olive Ridley Turtle. To top it all, it is dead. A neat slit glistens from the throat of the turtle. The group stops, the sea of eyes registers shock. Chatter dies a silent death. The mood of the walkers collectively becomes grave.

Disappointment flickers on the fishermen’s faces. They had been trying to stop turtle deaths for over a year. Yet the fruit of their labour has washed up on the shore lifeless and empty. Masking their grief Mahesh and Jnanasekaran, the fishermen, take out a tape and start measuring the turtle’s body. “38 inches long, 26 inches wide, female” dictates Jnanasekaran, as Mahesh scribbles the figures on the log book they had carry. “We’ve already seen three dead turtles, in the last 10 days” exclaims Jnanasekaran.

Dr. Supraja Dharini, looks at the walkers, “The turtle must be around 17 to 25 years old. It must have got entangled in a trawler’s net that cut into its flipper and neck”. “It must have died about three days ago” she adds.

Olive Ridley turtles travel hundreds of kilometres to lay eggs in the place where they were born. The females come to the beaches in droves, to dig small pot shaped holes, where they lay their eggs. Soon after, they cover the hole with sand, flatten it out with their bodies and swim back to the ocean. Generations of these turtles return each year to nest in the beach of their birth.

The long journey of the turtle is more than just a fascinating story. It’s a living indicator of the health of the ocean. More returning turtles points to the availability of food to sustain them through their arduous travel. The availability of their food, shrimp, crabs and molluscs directly affects us. This is because these foods sustain fish as well as humans. Not only that, but entire villages depend on fish, crabs and shrimp for their lively hood. The death of turtles indicates falling catch, an economic and environmental pointer of how human growth is poisoning the seas.

The falling numbers of Olive Ridley turtles also signs to shift in ecological balance. The extinction of this species would automatically cause the death of creatures that feed on them. Also the population of shrimp, crab and molluscs would explode, causing immense damage to the delicate number game nature plays to ensure continuing life on earth as a whole.

I trudge through the sand, as these thoughts crashed on the shore of my mind. The group has grown quiet, every member still coming to terms with the turtle’s death. Mahesh signals us to stop. He slowly raised his torch, and points it towards a dark area of the sand.

A turtle had just dug up a hole. As we watched, she started laying eggs. Smiles return on the faces of the walkers. The light illuminates each egg, as it falls into the hole. The silence has ceased to be oppressive; wonder had taken its place. As we watch the number of eggs increase.

The eggs will be taken to a hatchery, where care will be taken to ensure that they are unharmed by predators or humans. After 58 days, they will hatch; the little turtles will crawl to the sea. The balance will be maintained. One day as adults they will return to give new life.

I feel as though my presence is invading the lady’s privacy. As I walk towards the car, Jane Goodall’s words come back to me, ‘each and every individual can make a difference’.


These Walks are Organised by The Tree Foundation, Information on the 'turtle walks' and the foundation is available here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Online community:

The internet started out as an effort to communicate and share data. When people realised that they could reach out and touch more people through wires, communities proliferated. From the early message boards, forum and discussion groups, online spaces have changed to offer more media to the user. The text based online words evolved into sound based then graphical universes. Though points of interaction increased, one defining factor of online communities changed. Corporate control mutated amateur discussion groups, to profit based websites that tried every method available to target the user and the casual viewer with advertisements. (For more on this check out the work of Lawrence Lessig)

When Google bought, the market buzzed with people getting into ‘videoblogging’. Suddenly videoblogging became the ‘in’ thing. The Indian entrepreneur also entered into the fray with out realising the constraints faced by India’s outdated networks. The Indian sites boasted of original content and unreal download times. The content was new, the download time a fantasy.

But what connects the change in internet communities to the sale of In India, the answer would be The force behind the site, Rohan Pinto says “konkan tv is not gonna be owned by me. konkan tv is going to be owned by community itself. Every cent from the profit that comes from this venture would go back to the community. The reasoning behind it is strongly rooted in my beliefs that it's the community itself that makes a service succeed. Who made youtube succeed: The VC's [Venture Capitalist] or the Community? Well, if it's the community, the general population that’s the reason behind youtubes success, what did the community get when youtube got bought out for a couple of billion. nothing... nada... zilch.. zero” plans to offer a compromise between user based sites and purely commercial sites. ‘Social Income’ as the model is referred to, envisages a system where a venture capitalist (VC) control part of the site, while the users control the rest. The VC pours in the money. The users spend time and effort in making the site more popular, increasing traffic and revenue, and of course generating more content. The revenue generated is then split between the VC and the users, thus not only justifying the investment but actually helping the community grow.

At first this idea seems unreal, too ideal to work. But consider this: the site had one thousand user uploaded videos before completing 60 days online! Also as Rohan points out, “I have relied on only the bloggers from the industry to write about what they have seen and what they think the site would be headed towards. 100% of my sites traffic, content and visibility to date has been through word of mouth.”

As of now the site is threatened by copywritten material as well as large download times. Although filtering out of copywritten material needs a little more work, the site is planning to offer a player that will play downloaded video instead of streaming them. This feature makes the site attractive to dial-up connection users who currently have to wait for hours to watch streaming video. The content creator also stays secure. The content is purged from the computer a week after it is downloaded. If the user want to keep the video, then the user will eventually be able to: either buy it from a syndicated site , download it onto their phones for a fee and possibly, even watch on the television.

As communities change on the internet and as services proliferate, will be a space to watch out for.

Monday, January 22, 2007 'Gaming' gone wrong

The Bollywood actor, gloved hands, glowering expression, battle stance ready, challenges you to fight him at, from a hoarding many feet above your car. Then, two heroines come to promote the website in your city. More advertisements mushroom all over the roads. More celebrities seem to come out of their heavy televised closets to reveal their ‘gaming’ activities. ‘Gaming’ booms, most of the forums on, praise the site for delivering the users’ doomed souls from the final, brutal end caused by acute boredom.

Ok, wait a minute, something seems very wrong here. It takes one look at, to realise that the site claims a lot more than it can deliver. Yes there are games that you can play, and yes, you can play against other human opponents. But, that’s if you want to play games that basically range from mutated variants of Tetris, to games that your average low end phone would play. If you wanted to enter a ‘gaming portal’ and have a truly exhilarating experience, then you might as well return to the PC/Console games you were playing., has no titles that would remotely challenge a casual gamer, leave the avid gamer a side. The site has many genres of gaming, right from ‘sports’ games to ‘strategy’ games, many of which make ‘Mario’ look like a marvel of cutting edge technology. In an age, where consoles like Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 have entered the arena, the trend in the industry responded by bringing in a wider variety of game playing options, along with interactive environments, realistic graphics with story lines that appeal to mature audiences (17-35+ years). Instead, seems to take you to the past, rather than create a portal where Indian MMORGS (massively multiplayer online role playing games) may be launched.

But then again, the site is owned by Adlabs, which primarily deals in the movie industry. That may explain why the .TV part of the site boasts of playing movies. The user uploaded movies and short clips of game reviews do the obvious: review games for advanced consoles or of computer games, games that ‘gamers’ do play. But even these clips suffer from shallow content and below par production.

Till Adlabs realises the meaning of ‘gaming’, and the users decide to actually be treated as adults, expect more hoardings with smiling Bollywood actors and retrograde content.