Google PlusFacebookTwitter

Catching The Dragon

By on Oct 24, 2010 in Food For Thought | 12 comments

I have been blogging for little over six years now. In those six years, I have known (mostly online) and followed a host of school and college based bloggers. You could say I’m a lurker on most blogs, as I don’t usually leave comments until I feel I have at least a modicum of understanding who the person writing is – at least their online persona. I say online persona because I know that even after reading hundreds of pages written by a blogger over many years, it’s still not enough to know who that person is until the time you meet that person and have an actual, real conversation. Bloggers write about what they want to say and not who they are. (That is certainly true for me. There are huge chunks of my life I don’t talk about or ever will on my blog; this is not the place for it.) But I digress. Having followed a considerable number of school and college bloggers, I can’t help but notice how…inconsistent, shall we say, most of them are in posting new content. I often get the feeling that I don’t know enough about the person to engage in conversation through comments simply because I haven’t got much content to go on. This is inevitable at some level; after all, many who take up blogging are often only experimenting with the medium. There’s a vast sea of ‘dead’ blogs in the blogosphere at all age levels, and since youngsters are more willing to experiment with digital mediums it’s no surprise that a there’s a larger number of dead blogs started by school / college kids. (On a side note: the number of blogs with ‘thoughts’, ‘ramblings’, ‘musings’, ‘random’ is quite astonishing. Practically all of them, come to think of it.) No, what I’m referring to the sharp nosedives in posting frequency of hitherto active blogs when school students join college. I’ve seen this happen year after year with near infallible inevitability. I would attribute this to the transition from school-life, where many hours are dictated by school schedule, to college life where there’s relatively complete freedom. The number of hours in a day suddenly seem to shrink and there just doesn’t seem to enough ‘free time’. You never get to catch the dragon. I’m making this blog post after a gap of three weeks. The irony. But I realize how this situation sets in, having faced it myself. Even when you put thought to planning your day, procrastination is easy in university / college life. Unless you’re facing coursework deadlines, nothing seems truly earth-shattering that it can’t be de-prioritized. The crucial tipping point comes when you put off a blog post you meant to write for too long – by then, too much time may have passed for the post to be relevant, or more importantly feel relevant to the writer – and yet it remains as a niggle in the back of your mind. You don’t want to start another blog post until this one in your head is finished. And thus, you never really catch the dragon. I’ve a simple way of dealing with this – cut your ‘losses’, and move on. Don’t guilt-trip yourself on overshooting deadlines; if you’ve missed window of opportunity to make a post, then forget it. There are countless posts that even I have stashed away as drafts that are long past their expiry date, but I don’t let that impede me from working on newer content. For me, this feeling is strongest when I’m trying to write a ‘daunting’ blog post – one that I really want to get ‘right’. Editing rough drafts is good. Editing half-finished rough drafts while time just slips by, on the other hand, leads to a story that is doomed to live in your drafts folder. More importantly, if you haven’t written anything for a long while, you must not suppress the urge when you do feel like writing. It helps overcoming the dread of sitting down write that one blog post you really want to work on if you’ve written something else recently. And if you have stuck with me this far, surely you realize now that this has been nothing but a ruse for me keep the juices flowing while I form the structure of my next blog...

Seeing is giving-a-shit about something

By on Aug 3, 2010 in Food For Thought | 2 comments

A friend of mine called me up the other day to ask me whether I had any information on how “Wikileaks had gone undetected for so many years and now its cover was blown”. Apparently, there had been a discussion at college on various theories surrounding this astonishing feat of secrecy, with possible solutions ranging from Barack Obama being an Illuminati to Wikileaks being a secret society founded by Newton in his heyday. These theories were wrong, of course. We all know that Wikileaks was actually started by Galileo instead of Newton and that it has been around since 2007. During that period it has blown the whistle and publishing incriminating documents on a range of events, such as emails hacked from Sarah Palin’s Yahoo accounts, half a million pager messages intercepted between Pentagon and New York Police Department, and Guantanamo Bay procedures – among countless others. It’s not as if mainstream media didn’t report on these issues, for when these documents came out they were a subjected of heated discussion in political media spheres. What about the rag-tag bunch of volunteers from across the globe who made these news stories possible? Beyond a section of the media – the hungry tech reporters desperate to report on something that did not involve Facebook or yet another senseless celebrity tweet – this nugget was relegated to the footnotes. And while the mainstream media was caught napping when this ‘previously unknown website’ released shocking footage of  US Army helicopters gunning down reporters and civilians, they don’t seem to have learned from their mistake. Beyond an initial flurry of activity I now find that its mostly technology news outlets such as Wired magazine – traditionally major supporters of the Wikileaks initiative – who are leading the charge in following-up on this story. It took a shocking video that we could all see with our own eyes to jar us (and the media) into being aware of the existence of the ‘covert’ Wikileaks – and that doesn’t surprise me. I have been cheering Wikileaks on since I became aware of it a few years ago. Early this year when Wikileaks had to shut down normal operations due to a funding crunch, I was more than happy to donate and encourage others to. There was a real danger of Wikileaks shutting down – and if the ‘Collateral Murder’ video release did not come along at the time it did, Wikileaks would have been history by now. Now, once again, Wikileaks faces an uphill battle as the Pentagon and US State Department try to suppress further release of Afghanistan war logs (containing damning evidence of civilian casualties during the ‘War Against Terror’). The outrage and the support that the earlier video generated has died down; the constant pressure around the globe on this whistleblower sites volunteers hasn’t. Yet again – maybe because these are ‘merely boring documents’ – the mainstream media has relegated this to political discussions betweens analysts while technology news circles do what ‘real’ journalists are supposedly supposed to do. It’d be a shame if the only way Wikileaks is able to garner widespread support and funding is by being forced to release one shocking video after another. They are already doing a terrific job where many others have failed, and they deserve our support every step of the...

It’s not about being ‘so social’

By on Jun 16, 2010 in Food For Thought, Personal, Tech Takes | 14 comments

I have my end-of-the-year exams going on now. Two down, two to go. Maths on Monday was good but a throbbing hand after the exam reminded me how much more I’m used to typing than picking up an ink-filled writing instrument. I really should be packing my bags right now rather than writing a blog post, so that I don’t screw up my sleep cycle for tomorrow. I need to have most of my stuff packed for shipping back to India by morning. So far, I only have approximately 150 words to show for my ‘effort’. So anyway, I was bored and was having a conversation about blogging with someone. It reminded me of this short blog post done a couple of weeks ago by Aditya titled Not So Social. I have been meaning to write about the same for a while; it’s just that only now have I got the time to procrastinate. This is not a rebuttal; rather, a my views on the same issue. To summarize, that blog post speaks of how we might be losing the fun in having conversations purely because “there’s nothing to speak about” since “it’s all on social networking sites anyway”. I’m not really sure whether that’s the case. “So, what have you been up to?” is merely a conversation starter, not a conversation in itself. And it would be naïve to think that mere 140-character status updates or even “a hundred pictures pretty much tells the story”. Life experiences – be they funny, bitter, jubilatory – are complex narratives that no amount of ‘lifestreaming‘ through statuses and pictures can replace. But what social tools do allow us to do is to have an inkling of what’s going in the life of those nearest and not-so-nearest-but-added-on-Facebook-anyway-because-we-have-mutual-friend. What it allows you to do is to begin a conversation with “So, how did you end up with a tiger in your bathroom after that party?” than merely enquiring a limp “Wazzup?” It does not, in any way, take anything away from the ensuing conversation itself. Conversations are about exchanging experiences, not facts. Image by luc legay via Flickr I don’t know whether you have heard of Dunbar’s number, but it’s a theory that humans have a limit to the number of ‘social’ relationships they can maintain at any time. Social tools allow you to keep in touch with your ‘Dunbar’ group, and even beyond that. You don’t have to read everything everyone posts. To take just one example, Twitter isn’t email, nor is Twitter a competition. Friends / followers / cult members aren’t Pokémon toys that need to be collected. (Yes, thank you for pointing out – I know I have strayed from the topic for a bit.) Regardless of that, ‘social tools’ allow you to stay in the loop as to what’s happening in your friend circle, and then gives you the ability to pick and choose conversations that you think can will be engaging. Speaking of uploading ‘hundreds of pictures’ being posted on social networks, I think Facebook (and to a lesser extent, photo-sharing sites such as Flickr and Picasa Web) has brought about a fundamental rethinking of what used to be a ‘Kodak moment’. In the days of film photography when the west was wild, cameras came with 36-snap films, and processing was expensive – you didn’t take chances. You lined people up akin to an identity parade in front of a landmark and asked them to speak cheesy lines. The ubiquitousness of mobile / digital cameras means that now you can capture spontaneous moments without a second blink. Sure, this gives the license to some people to upload 378 pictures from a single party to Facebook under an album titled ‘Randommmmmmm 3!&!!&!&’. But if used wisely, (i.e., exercise at least some restraint in clicking, or at least when uploading, pictures) this form of lifestreaming not only gives your friend circle (in the short-term) something to start off with when chatting but also gives you a long-term record of your life at various points in your, well, life. Even Kodak, one of the most hopelessly out-of-touch technology companies, has figured out that the modern ‘Kodak moment’ is no longer the act of taking a picture, but the act of sharing a picture. You might not think much of it now, but all those byte-sized text updates and pictures albums with spontaneous moments captured is a living scrapbook of your life at those points. Nobody is saying that your online persona is a perfect reconstruction of the real-life you; still, a digital archive of moments is something that you (and your friends) can look back and cherish. This isn’t just about the conversation you could have next week, but the conversation that you could have six years down the line about this week – augmented by your digital scrapbook. (I know, it’s difficult to do so now. Those features will come eventually, as I think enough people will feel the need for something like that.) What makes me come out so strongly in support of social media? I would put it down to the fact that it’s almost end-of-term, and I just realise – looking back all the content from this year – as to how much I miss not having a more extensive ‘archive’ of my life earlier. Just remember to not obnoxiously keep your digital camera’s shutter pressed down....

My first vote in an election

By on May 6, 2010 in Food For Thought, Personal | 4 comments

The UK General Election is being held all across the Queen’s dominion today. British Parliamentary elections are funny. A news editor said online that we might end up with a “well-hung Parliament”. Even in crazy England I’m sure journalists don’t go around measuring who’s the biggest dick (literally). And according to voters, on scale of 1-to-10 (1 being lowest), elections are 1 while “makeup is quite important”. Today, on 6th May 2010, I voted for the first time in a political election. How did this come about to be? It’s because I’m originally from a Commonwealth country (India). UK citizens can obviously vote, but so can people from the Commonwealth currently staying in the UK. The way that this is phrased is weird, because the rules say “You must have leave to stay in the UK or not require such leave”. Which basically means practically all visa types except for travel and business can vote here, as long you’re residing in UK (even if temporarily). Not a lot of people know this. Ok, so maybe the Aussies and Canadians here know about it because the Queen is still technically the head of state in those countries. Still, the level of ignorance – both among UK citizens and residents from Commonwealth staying here – amazes me. Voting is a privilege that not even EU residents enjoy in the UK, and by staying unaware / unconcerned about this right a large group of residents here are squandering away their chance to vote for the policies they want. In a small place like the UK, immigration is a big issue. The whole recent ‘Bigotgate’ controversy sparked off from a comment current Prime Minister Gordon Brown made after a woman spoke about ‘flocks of Eastern Europeans‘. EU citizens can’t vote, but those of us from the Commonwealth are also affected by immigration issues – so why not vote to represent our voice? And it’s not just that of course. Once we have a right to vote, we have the duty to vote and choose policies that we as stakeholders feel is best for education sector, economy, health, and many other issues. I voted for the Labour Party. Say whatever you want about Gordon Brown, the Labour Party’s policies make the most sense. (I’m not surprised since I support left-of-centre Congress Party in India.) Liberal Democrats are having a surge over here, but I find their policies to be too idealistic – too “Yo maaaaaan, we’re hippies…love peace and all that shit…where’s that next joint of weed” for my liking. The right-wing Conservative Party has no real policies, only making ad hominem attacks on the current government. I am, what one would call, a “Guardian reader“. So how exactly does the voting process work? Registration is damn easy – just fill out a form online and the send it by post. The only details asked for are your name and address; not even your even date of birth is required, nor is any copy of proof of identity. I sent my registration form, but found that I was already registered, since the university accommodation office automatically does it for anyone who stays in university-owned accommodation. Voting day today. Just turn up with your voting details (sent on a postcard), state your name, and vote. (The polling station allocated to me was within our university’s lecture theatre block.) You don’t even need the voting details postcard, and no ID is asked for. You get a paper ballot, mark the candidate you want with a pencil/pen, and drop it in the ballot box. That’s. it. Results start coming in within a day. I can’t help but think that only here would they take anyone’s word for who they are and whether they’re eligible to vote. Has any occurence of impersonation never happened? Do political parties here trust each enough to this extent?! In India, you’d need to go through a long process to get yourself registered, then bring some sort of government-approved proof of identity, leave any form of cellphones or bags at home (you just can’t take a cellphone; if you’re carrying one, you’ll be turned away), walk into a complex heavily fortified by armed paramilitary and police personnel (you’ve a park any vehicles a few hundred metres away), get scrutinised further, and then finally get to vote. By the end of it, you probably tired of the whole accompanying circus. We probably make up for all this with our electronic voting machines though. :) Also, there’s nothing stopping you here from registering in multiple constituencies, and voting multiple times (in different constituencies.) Once again, the electoral authorities will take your word for it. Unlike India, you won’t be marked with an indelible ink mark on one of your fingers to ensure that you can’t vote multiple times. But if people are honest enough, it’s a good thing that the election process is made as less intimidating as possible. (On that note, I should mention that when I was a kid, I used to think that people were marked with inedible ink, as opposed to indelible ink. I always used to wonder why a clarification was need to tell people that the ink used was inedible.) (Also, on another note it’s really sad that as a kid I used to ponder upon the type of ink used in Indian elections.) I know that the Labour...

The Indian Premier Leak (Tehelka)

By on Apr 27, 2010 in Food For Thought, Stop The Press | 3 comments

Brilliant, insightful article on the Tharoor-Modi IPL saga by Tehelka magazine. Even in its new avatar, Tehelka continues to justify why it’s such an acclaimed media agency. (Remember ‘Operation West End‘?) Until now I only had (relatively) vague idea about what was going on, but this article sums everything up and brings forth new facts to light at the same time, while also offering analysis. The thing about staying many times zones away from your home country, without easy access to newspapers or TV media is that it’s extremely difficult to follow what’s happening ‘back home’, especially in rapidly developing news stories such as the IPL controversy. Of course, there are news sites but then sitting down and browsing through news on a site is so much harder than reading a ‘compiled’ version, i.e., a newspaper or a news bulletin. Maybe there’s hope for ‘mainstream media’ after all. But let’s not forget that even Tehelka started off as an unconventional outlet, in that it was a...