Deepening Democracy, the Indian one.

For quite some time now it has become evident that policies being adopted by the government and Laws being made by Parliament are not reflecting the views, wishes or the needs of the majority of the people of the country. Policies like FDI in retail, importing hugely expensive and dangerous nuclear power plants, and laws like the SEZ Act or the Civil Nuclear Liability Act are clearly against the wishes and interests of the people but have been pushed through by the government and in Parliament for the commercial interests of large Indian and foreign corporations. The same is evident from the manner in which the government and Parliament has dealt with the Lokpal bill. While all polls, surveys and referenda were showing that more than 80% people favoured the Jan Lokpal bill, the government introduced a bill bore little resemblance to it, and defeated the very purpose of a Lokpal by making it a body selected and controlled by the government and making it dependant on government controlled investigating agencies. When amendments moved by the opposition parties to cure some of these defects were likely to be passed, the government filibustered and engineered disturbances and the bill was left hanging in the air. We are constantly told that Parliament is supreme and that we must respect Parliamentary democracy and that it is inherent in this form of democracy that the people must leave decision making to the wisdom of their “elected representatives”. We know that these representatives are generally getting elected by use of money power and often even muscle power. That is why the major political parties are lining up to induct even those persons who have been kicked out for corruption by the corrupt BSP government on the eve of the elections. We are seeing that only candidates of large, established and moneyed parties have any realistic chance of getting elected, mainly because of the nature of our electoral system in which honest and hardworking social workers who have contested elections as independents or candidates of small political fare poorly in elections.

But even more importantly, we find that after getting elected, these elected representatives normally do not take decisions on policies and laws by finding out what people want, and often such decisions are taken (usually at the level of the party high commands) on the basis of self interest (as in the case of the lokpal bill)or on extraneous and often corrupt considerations. That is why Acts which vitally affect millions of persons like the SEZ Act get passed in Parliament in minutes without any discussion, and the Lokpal bill remains stuck for decades. Parliament these days get adjourned frequently due to disturbances created sometimes by a few M.P.s, and only a small fraction of its time is devoted to real work.

We are told that we have to live with this “imperfect democracy” and that other countries have also learnt to similarly live with such imperfections. But what we are seeing is not an imperfection in the working of our democracy but virtually a total breakdown, where, as we are seeing, the popular will is rarely getting reflected in governance and law making. The challenge before us therefore is: Can we not put in place a system where by the views of the people are directly taken into account in major policy decisions and laws of the State, rather than these being decided by the “elected represenatives” ? Such a system is already in place in tribal areas through the PESA Act which provides for the Gram Sabha (the collective of all adults in the village) to take all public decisions pertaining to the village, though mostly this has remained only on paper. Why can’t a similar model be tried in larger areas such as Blocks, Districts, States or even the entire country? It is true that all the adults of a State or even a Block or District cannot get together to physically discuss an issue as they do in a Gram Sabha meeting. But there are two ways of addressing this problem. If one wants to ascertain the views of the people in a particular State or District on a particular issue, one can have it discussed and decided in each Gram Sabha of that State or district, or one can put it to a referendum to all the people of that State or District. The progress made by IT and Communication technology has enabled a referendum being conducted through internet kiosks (using biometric identification) which can be set up in each village in the country within a year, if the government had the political will to do so. There are still two challenges in such a system of referendums. Firstly, the issue to be voted upon needs to be identified and crystallised into questions which are suitable to be framed for a referendum. For example, there could be many variations of the Lokpal bill. Which versions are to be put up for a referendum and who is to decide this? One way of doing it would be to allow a crystallised issue to be put up for referendum if more than a certain percentage of the population sign up for it. This model is already in vogue in many countries including several States in the US. Thus if 5 or 10% people of the electorate of the Nation, State or the District as the case may be, sign a petition that they want a particular decision to be taken, that proposition could be put to a referendum. If voted upon by a majority of the people, the decision could be made actionable. An alternative model is that whenever a contentious issue arises in the State, district or country (depending upon whether the issue concerns the State or district or the entire country), a neutral body like the Election Commission is charged with the duty to ascertain the most popular views on it and then frame the questions by giving the most popular options, which are then put to vote. Some sceptics ask; how do you expect people to understand complex issues like the Lokpal bill, nuclear energy or genetically modified foods.

“These are matters which can only be understood by experts.”

But are our M.P.s or Ministers experts on these subjects? After all they are deciding such critical matters which affect large sections of society. If they can take a view on it by taking into account the views of experts, so can the people. Some people who feel that they understand the issue sufficiently will vote on their understanding. Others will go by the experts that they trust. Manu may not vote, which is the case even for elections. But this would still be better than decisions being taken only by these “elected representatives” who are often elected on a small fraction of the vote in elections dominated not merely by inadequate knowledge of the candidates, but by money and muscle power and caste considerations. These “elected representatives” are far easier to manage by commercial vested interests than the entire electorate.

Therefore, it would be much safer to trust the people than these elected representatives. Whatever the challenges and difficulties in putting in place such a system, the time has certainly come to discuss this. We need to see how we can strengthen and deepen our democracy and ensure that we really get a truly participatory democracy and thus a government which is really run by the wishes of the people. Participatory democracy is an idea whose time has come.

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011. Rest In Peace.

Steve Jobs, the Apple Inc. chairman and co-founder who pioneered the personal computer industry and changed the way people think about technology, died Wednesday October 5, 2011.

“Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives,” Apple said in a statement. “The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.”

During his more than three decade-long career, Mr. Jobs transformed Silicon Valley as he helped turn the once sleepy expanse of fruit orchards into the technology industry’s innovation center. In addition to laying the groundwork for the modern high-tech industry alongside other pioneers like Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison, Mr. Jobs proved the appeal of well-designed intuitive products over the sheer power of technology itself and shifted the way consumers interact with technology in an increasingly digital world.

Unlike those men, however, the most productive chapter in Mr. Jobs’ career occurred near the end of his life, when a nearly unbroken string of innovative and wildly successful products like the iPod, iPhone and iPad fundamentally changed the PC, electronics and digital media industries.

The way he marketed and sold those products through savvy advertising campaigns and its retail stores, in the meanwhile, helped turn the company into a pop culture icon.

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At the beginning of that phase, Mr. Jobs once described his philosophy as trying to make products that were at “the intersection of art and technology.” In doing so, he turned Apple into the world’s most valuable company.

Mr. Jobs was 56 years old. After exhibiting significant weight loss in mid-2008, he took a nearly six month medical leave of absence in 2009, during which he received a liver transplant. He took another medical leave of absence in mid-January without explanation before stepping down as chief executive in August. Mr. Jobs is survived by his wife, Laurene, and four children.

Although his achievements in technology alone were immense, Mr. Jobs played an equally groundbreaking role in entertainment. He turned Apple into the largest retailer of music and helped popularize computer-animated films as the financier and CEO of Pixar Animation Studios, which he later sold to Walt Disney Co. He was a key figure in changing the way people used the Internet and how they consumed music, TV shows, movies, books, disrupting industries in the process.

Mr. Jobs also pulled off one of the most remarkable comebacks in modern business history, returning to Apple after an 11-year absence during which he was largely written off as a has-been and then reviving the then-struggling company by introducing products such as the iMac all-in-one computer, iPod music player and iTunes digital music store.

The company produces $65.2 billion a year in revenue compared with $7.1 billion in its business year ending September 1997. Apple has become one of the world’s premier designers of consumer-electronics devices, dropping the “computer” in its name in January 2007 to underscore its expansion beyond PCs.

Mr. Jobs officially handed over the reins of the company to long-time deputy Tim Cook in August 2011.

Steve, you will be missed and the world is immeasurably better because of you. If you would like to share your thoughts, memories and condolences, please email rememberingsteve@apple.com.

Drawing from some of the most pivotal points in his life, Steve Jobs, chief executive officer and co-founder of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, urged graduates to pursue their dreams and see the opportunities in life’s setbacks — including death itself — at the university’s 114th Commencement on June 12, 2005.

Yes, Microsoft Did Change The World More Than Apple Did

A new poll in France says 7 out of 10 people think Microsoft did more to change the world than Apple. We think we would have similar results in other countries, if only because a lot more people (still!) use Microsoft products than Apple products, at least for personal computing which is (still!) the most important part of computing.
It’s hard to see a mention of Steve Jobs without the worlds “change the world” or “changing an industry.” And let’s give him his due. Let’s give him his due as one of the greatest entrepreneurs in history, as an amazing entrepreneur and visionary who left many “dents” in the universe. And he did change many industries, like music, film, and yes, personal computing.But in terms of sheer impact on the world?

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Microsoft founder Bill Gates speaks during a forum on education at the National Urban League annual conference in Boston, Thursday, July 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

 

Microsoft wins, hands down.

Microsoft gave the world two things:

  • Microsoft was the first real software company.
  • Microsoft did put a PC on every desk and in every home. 

At the end of the day, it’s that last part that matters. By shifting the value in computing to software, Microsoft commoditized computing hardware and made computing accessible to the masses. If this isn’t one of the most significant events in history, nothing is.

Now, some people will say that Microsoft did this by copying Apple’s innovations like the graphical user interface. Whatever. First of all, Apple famously copied those from Xerox PARC. Great artists steal. Second of all, by any meaning of the word, the person who changes the world isn’t the one who comes up with the idea, it’s the one who executes on it, and 1980s Apple failed to execute (a lesson well learned by Apple under Steve Jobs 2.0).

The original Macintosh did show where the future of computing was headed, but it was also a commercial failure. 1980s Apple failed to understand the value of software, in particular third party software, which was lacking in the Macintosh. (This writer’s mother bought two computers in the mid-1980s: the first Macintosh and the first IBM PC. There was a lot more software for the PC. So she kept buying PCs, to this day–though she has an iPhone.)

Microsoft, being a software company, built an operating system platform that let thousands of others innovate which, along with Moore’s Law, made PCs cheaper and more valuable every year which meant more and more people could get access to them, in a vicious circle.

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Being the first big, viable software company also meant Microsoft cleared the way for thousands of other software innovators,when it was in no way obvious at the start that a company could be viable making just software.

The hardware may have been ugly, and the software clunky (a big reason why Windows is buggy is because of Microsoft’s amazing 20 year commitment to backwards compatibility, which makes PC software a cohesive environment, a tremendous service to users and the world, for which it gets no credit. With less software to support, Apple can afford to wipe the slate clean every ten years, a strength born of weakness.), but it was the software that millions of people used, and loved.

Nowadays Apple is so huge and efficient that it can afford to make the best products at the best prices. But when the personal computer revolution happened, the Macintosh was a Mercedes and MS-DOS was the Model T. The Model T might have been ugly, clunky and cheap, but being cheap it also changed the lives of millions and transformed the world in a way that the early auto pioneers, amazing and necessary though they were, didn’t.

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Now, Apple may yet get its revenge. The mobile computing revolution, with smartphones and tablets, will be at least as big as the desktop computing revolution, and Apple is seriously taking the lead. Android has a good chance of disrupting iOS, but Apple also has a great chance of remaining the dominant mobile platform. Maybe 20 years from now we’ll look back and see Apple had an impact at least as big as Microsoft in the 1980s.

But if we’re looking now, Microsoft clearly had a bigger impact on the world than Apple. The fact that we all love Apple products and they’re gorgeous doesn’t change the fact that the company that actually made the world realize the magic of software, and made computing accessible to almost everyone on the planet, is Microsoft.

How to Enable the New Facebook Timeline ‘NOW’

You’ve been hearing about all the wonderful new Facebook features, and like us, you’re probably super-eager to get started with them.

If you’re willing to go through a series of eight steps, you can get into the brand-new Facebook Timeline right now.

Simply follow the instructions in our gallery below, and suddenly you’ll be basking in a new world of Facebook goodness, just like the developers are. Follow the instructions carefully, and good luck.

Please note: If you haven’t already verified your Facebook account with either a mobile phone number or credit card number, you’ll be asked to do so before you can try the new features. If you need more help with that, here’s a helpful link.

First, you’ll need to go to the Facebook developer page, which is a part of your Facebook account. Make sure you’re logged into your Facebook account, and then simply follow this link to get started.

Owl City’s Unlikely Climb: From the basement to the charts.

 

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As musicians, we all start from humble beginnings. In fact, many people begin by making beats in mom’s basement but few of us ever went directly from mom’s basement to the #1 spot on iTunes, deafening internet chatter, and a sold out US concert tour. However for Adam Young, better known to everyone as “Owl City,” that dream has truly become a reality in the last two years.

Adam Young’s transition from working in a Coca-Cola warehouse in Owatonna, Minnesota, to crafting a platinum record a few years later, is one of the biggest musical success stories in recent memory, a Music 2.0 success story. While working each day at a factory warehouse, he was busy leveraging social media sites like MySpace to distribute music direct to fans and hone his song-writing/production skill by getting instant feedback from listeners. Each day, Adam would rush home from the warehouse and sit down to capture whatever melody he had been kicking around all day. When Adam sat down to create music, he launched Reason.

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“I wrote and recorded Ocean Eyes in my parents’ basement,” Young, the voice of Owl City, says, reflecting on the story we’ve now all heard: the basement-trapped kid producing a chart-topping breakout LP with a smash single (“Fireflies”). Things, surprisingly however, didn’t change that much for the recording of his new LP All Things Bright & Beautiful. Despite now recording in his own house, Young couldn’t part with a certain setting. “Still in a basement”. Young says, explaining where he recorded the new album.  This basement did have its perks, though. “It was a bit more isolated in the way that I could just go downstairs and hit record whenever I wanted,” Young says. “I could make as much noise as I wanted to at night and not bother anybody.”

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Young does confess that the recording environment wasn’t the only distinction between Ocean Eyes and All Things Bright And Beautiful. “The biggest difference between these two albums is just the way it’s put together,” he explains. “I spent a lot more time pre-recording All Things Bright And Beautiful, just really polishing what I knew about the gear that I have in the studio, what attack and release time and threshold values on compressors and things that really affect the end result. Thus the new record feels a lot more stitched together and a lot more resolved.”

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From the hip-hop-inflected, electro anthem “Alligator Sky” (which features MC Shawn Chrystopher) to the orchestrally-tinged, club-friendly “Galaxies,” the songs on All Things Bright And Beautiful contain Owl City’s most fully-formed musical ideas to date. “’Alligator Sky’ is kind of a rabbit hole on the record, “Young explains. “It was just a place to create a sore thumb in a likable way. The whole hip-hop thing is something I’ve never experimented with and it was a fun thing to tackle. I’m a big fan of a lot of older hip-hop like A Tribe Called Quest and some early pretty legendary hip-hop stuff from the ‘90s. It was kind of my homage to that in an abstract way.”

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All Things Bright And Beautiful also features an appearance from Canadian musician Lights, who lends her vocals to “The Yacht Club.” There was never a doubt who Young wanted on the track. “I knew when I was writing the song that I wanted a female, kind of dreamy, breathy, sort of innocent vocal on this track,” he explains, “and Lights was the first person I thought of. I reached out to her and she was kind enough to oblige.” Even though All Things Bright And Beautiful is a huge progression for Owl City, Young admits he’s still getting used to all of the success he’s experienced over the past few years.

“When I wrote ‘Fireflies’ I never imagined it would resonate with people,” Young admits. “It really blew me away; I don’t think there’s any equation you could really put together to get something as magical as that was.” And while he may still be recording in a basment, once the songwriter steps outside, roaming the streets of Owatonna, it’s certainly a different experience. “When I was growing up in that little town I was kind of a nobody,” he says. ” (But now) people will stop me and say ‘You’re that guy.’”

What We Did For Fun Before The Computer

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When I grew up, the video game was not invented yet.  The home video game Pong did not come along until I was nearly in my teens. Shashi Tharoor had not invented the internet either.  So, what did we do back then for fun?  Besides dodging dinosaurs we had a lot of fun games that were played outside with other human beings.  For those under thirty years old – outside is the place where that annoying sun glare on your computer screen comes from.  I tried to remember as many games as I could but I know I have forgotten some since it has been a while…

Below is a list of games that I could remember playing and some of them I can remember the game and some I just vaguely remember the overall concept.

Four square – The playing surface is found in the picture above.  The idea was to bounce a small red ball between the squares without hitting the lines and to force your 3 other opponents to make an error.   I played this a lot in 6thgrade during recess.

TV Tag – This was a game of tag but if you could blurt out a name of a TV Program before you were about to be tagged you were off limits.

Crack the whip – This was a playground game or for a large group of people where you would link arms and then attempt to break the chain (or crack the whip) by running quickly in one direction and then stopping.  Whoever lost contact with the chain of people linked was out of the game.

Red rover – I am a little foggy on this one but I believe this game was played with 2 groups of kids facing each other with arms linked from a distance of maybe 30 feet or so and when the other team called your name you ran over to their side and tried to break though.  It went something like: “Red Rover, Red Rover let Jimmy Come over”

Hide and seek – hopefully this needs no explanation

I spy… – you would state that you see something and then other people in the room had to guess what it was.  You had a limited number of guesses before the person would reveal what they “spied”

Pinch, punch, question or command – Each person would take a turn and elect one of the options.  Great for boring rainy days since it was usually very mindless.

Shadow tag – This was a version of regular tag but you tagged the persons shadow for them to be “it”.  Did not work well on cloudy days or on groundhog days when Phil did not see his shadow.

Kick the can – from what I recall this was like hide and seek but you would return “home” and kick the can before the person who was “it” could catch you

Monkey in the middle – This was played usually by 3 people.   2 people keeping a ball away from another person i.e. the monkey in the middle.

King of the mountain – this is a game where a person would perch atop of small hill and fend off people trying to knock him off of the spot.

You can tell these games are a part of the reason that we did not have such a problem with childhood obesity back then.  Most were physically active and were played outside.  That accomplished two things

1)      You burned calories through the physical activity

2)      You were not stuffing your pie hole with chips, cookies and the like while laying on the couch staring at a TV or computer screen (or a smart phone screen)

Have a great week and share some memories of the good old days and maybe we can bring back the neighborhood games that some of us used to play in the dark ages. (Before the personal computer was invented)

Levels of Happiness

A fresh fruit and vegetable store, just two minutes from our house, sells yummy cherries for as little as Rs 150 a Kg. Despite this, we went on an hour long drive to Solan to experience cherry-picking.

Sonu Nigam, the legendary Bollywood singer performed at Chandigarh last Saturday evening. I love his songs. We could have spent a relaxed evening at home and listened to his wonderful music from our CD/MP3 collection. Instead, we spent quite a bit of money to attend his live concert.

What motivated us to make our decisions in both cases?

Let’s take a closer look:

1. Eating cherries makes us happy. Finding the cherries on the trees and plucking them on our own gives more joy.

2. Listening to recorded music is not a bad idea at all, but listening to live music gives us extra satisfaction.

Perhaps, it’s that extra satisfaction that boosts us to go an extra mile.

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Cherries (how satisfied my heart feels for I captured it).

On the same lines, growing a cherry tree in the backyard ourselves, watching the fruits bloom, plucking them when they are ripe, and eating them would give us even higher degree of satisfaction than cherry picking at Solan(HP). Similarly, in performing arts, watching others perform does make us happy. But if we attain a level where we can perform on the stage or create a phenomenal piece of art that we can exhibit, it would be a result of many years of practice, effort and endurance. The amount of happiness we experience then would be immense.

Happiness comes in many levels. In Sanskrit, each level of happiness has its own name – ananda (happy), aatmaananda (very happy), paramaananda (very, very happy), brahmaananda (extremely happy). The general population usually feels contented with just ananda. A few take an extra step for aatmaananda. It’s very rare that people take extra effort to experience paramaananda or brahmaananda. Very few blessed ones perceive them, and persevere to attain them.

25 Years of .com

It was on this day twenty five years ago that symbolics.com was registered as the first registered domain name. Symbolics, Inc. then used to be a computer manufacturer. The domain is now owned by an investment firm.

Check how many domains do you know from this list:

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The first fifteen domain names registered (source: itif.org)

As you may notice, HP, IBM, Sun, Intel and others joined the bandwagon a year later. Here is an interesting paper on internet economy that one must read – The Internet Economy 25 Years After .Com. It also talks about the history of .com sites.