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Advice for people registering for debconf

Let me start by sharing the nice offer I got from Qatar airways today –

Qatar airways discount offer

Unfortunately it doesn’t work for me as the offer ends way before the conference will happen. I am guessing this is slack time for Qatar airways hence they are introduced this offer. I would have gladly taken this up if it was there in July end, August mid-week but guess that’s when international tourist season might start :(.

Now onto other business, while I’m glad of the response generated by my blog post about Debconf which was published about a week back I am in much the same boat as everybody else so connecting with me wouldn’t be beneficial at all. While I know the rough criteria that is used to evaluate applications, everybody has a fair chance. While I have shared some advice/insight for new people making proposals and a somewhat longer version in a mail the best way IMO is to take lots of care during the registration process.

Think of the registration process as making a GSOC application, rework and reiterate the application as many times as possible till you yourself are not satisfied with the application although May 10th is the cut-off date for bursary applications.

Having shared that, Debconf and Debian likes to have varied crowd, hence both fresh people who may be curious and have shown a slant of contributing towards free software has as much as a chance as seasoned Debian Developers.

From the numbers shared, it seems something like 109 odd bursary requests till about 2 days back and while around 28-30 odd bursary requests would be fulfilled. So it’s a pretty unenvious position for the people who are going to be making the choices.

That does not mean one should lose hope as some people cancel their bursaries, the easiest being if the visa is denied then obviously the person whose visa is denied can’t travel, other reasons might be work/business plans changing, death in the family etc. everything and anything that life can throw on you. Usually then the bursary moves on the next person on the list.

Even if you are not selected this year, don’t lose heart and try again next year. The beautiful thing about Debconf is each time the circumstances differ, for e.g. next year in Taiwan the accommodation is free from the University so it’s possible that more people would be there in Debconf18.

One contribution that people can easily do/make and doesn’t need a lot of Unix skills is the Debian SSO documentation , you could do in the Debian wiki or if mediawiki is your tea then the Debconf wiki is also welcoming which uses mediawiki. The current documentation is text-based, it would be an improvement if we have the same thing with help of pictures showing how you get the certificate and add it to your favourite browser. Let somebody who is new try it, if nobody steps up say in a week, then will do that documentation myself.

So best of luck on your applications and hopefully we will all meet either in Debconf17 or Debconf18. Till later.

India and the Agricultural Economy

Indian farmer ploughing a field in traditional style - Wikimedia commons

I was in two minds when I read Ritesh’s blog post about the Indian Economy. I was angry with Ritesh as he seemed to selectively take facts and present it rather than taking it whole. Even if he had searched even a little bit, he would have got much more better material and everybody would have been the gainer.

I have to also admit, I feel very much like a hypocrite as I have never slaved in a farm so my understanding and conclusions are a mix of media and limited interaction with farmers some years ago. There is also lots of local customs and politics that come into the picture and it’s not as straight-forward as Ritesh thinks. What he has failed to share/account for is the far worse bad and stressed debts for the industry so just saying farm loan waivers are bad without sharing any of the context makes it seem much more worse. This is when our Current Chief Economic Adviser states about loan waivers to corporates “You need to be able to forgive those debts because this is how capitalism works. People make mistakes, those have to be forgiven to some extent”

Let me start though with words from a book I read sometime back –

“On —– a peasant uprising erupted in —— . The farmers were angry with high interest rates, high taxes, high inflation and low-government prices for their crops. The system had let them into debt, and debt had meant foreclosure and loss of their fields to the land barons. ”

I intentionally have made a fill in the blanks as both the dates and places was true in India 100 years back and even today, the only difference between the two is the absence of taxes. Many people would think I’m talking about Champaran whose tale while well-known in India is sadly a stub-class article in wikipedia 😦 with quite a few citation needed tags as well 😦 but is also true today as will be seen below.

Interestingly, there is/was a remark by some unknown person who said ‘gora sahab gays, bhura sahab aaya’ meaning the white officer has gone, in his place the brown officer has come. The evidence of this is very much in the Telegraph Act and the story about its usage and its place in Indian politics

Surprisingly, sadly and coincidentally, the quote minus the dates and place didn’t happen in India but also in Cambodia. The above quote has been taken from ‘for the sake of all living things‘ by John M. Del Vecchio. The quote itself appears in the first 10 odd pages (historical summation) of the somewhat 1200 odd pages book. I actually got an old edition which tops out at 900 pages so probably some more updated input/news isn’t available but it still packs a powerful wallop. I want to dedicate a separate blog post for the book itself so will not say more on that book and what it shares.

`Sadly and coincidentally, there were news reports yesterday itself of farmers agitating for better prices just yesterday.

Some of the interesting work if you want to understand the farmer’s indebtedness is to study the ‘Income, Expenditure, Productive Assets and Indebtedness of Agricultural Households in India‘ done by NSSO.

Again, one does not need to read the whole report, there were some of the analysis shared by the Hindu here and here. This was also echoed by Logical Indian

It really boggles the mind to know than an average farming household earns around INR 200 per day. Even if you take a family of four people that comes to INR 50/- per person. Most rural joint families at the very least have 3-4 kids at the very least. Sadly Agricultural incomes do not keep sync even with the inflation index as there is no fair minimum age and wage for the Indian farmer, the concept does not exist for her(im) 😦 . Just me and mum going onto a restaurant and having one dish each easily can run anywhere between INR 200~250 easily . Cooking in the house is the same if you add/input the labor (which is usually not calculated) used to make lunch/dinner.

There was the idea that contract farming might be a solution but even that was corrupted by Multi-national companies such as Pepsi and others that the Government is showing movement to have a “model contracting law” . There are loads of stories on downtoearth magazine which deals with the above and all sorts of issues the farmer faces.

I should talk about Maharashtra and even here there was/has been an irrigation scam with figures given from 35k to 70k crores or 350 to 700 billion INR . The latest finding by the PAC has been shared here.

I will cut the blog post short as I find the whole thing personally very depressing. As far as local customs go this was from one of the farmers interaction some years ago where me and some other friends had gone across a village and came to know that all of them grew the same crop with some minor variances. When asked why is it so, while many said its fate, one of the elderly gentleman shared an experience where a farmer had planted some other thing. The gentleman prospered while the other villagers were suffering from glut of whatever they produced. Knowing he prospered, the other villagers damaged his crops and all sorts of unlucky things started happening for the farmer. In the end he realized his best bet is to follow the ways of the other villagers, at least they would be in peace.

What I have shared isn’t either unique or even unknown, even Toronto Star of Canada reported on the issue some years ago.

At the end of it all, the story is one of no education and limited skill-set and I don’t see it changing any time soon. There are some who are earning big figures, but majority of the farmers will always be in the red

An outing

I am part of a writer’s meetup but haven’t been able to go to one of the meetups in the recent months/days due to schedule on my end. So this is my attempt for ‘short story’ entry with two probable endings.

The story is dedicated to the CRPF Jawans who just died in the Sukma Encounter .

What's your story

The Outing

It was just like any other day. I, along with the Principal, a teacher, a driver and a cleaner/attendant was taking approximately 55 students of Nandurbar Tribal Girls High School, Nandurbar to Bharwani Girls High School to inter-mingle with the students there. The idea was to exchange life-stories, play with each other and generally have a good time.

As the last few days I had been furiously working cajoling and getting permission slips from fathers and mothers for the trip, I was dead tired as hadn’t had enough sleep the last few days. Also as it is summer and no electricity meant you somehow just survived it.

The distance between the two places is approximately 200 kms. .On a good motorable road the distance could be covered in two, two and half hours. For those new to such places, both places are inaccessible and it’s not just like they are, they are 7,000 + villages which lack proper roads since independence. Anyways, while officially the route should take around 4 ~ 5 hours, it’s more like 6 odd hours. These places do not have good communication facilities and the only way to figure out things is to have and share landmarks with each other. I had shared the landmarks, told him from where we needed to divert from the main road in order to be at Bharwani. I had also instructed him to wake me up when we reach the diversion and slumbered on to dreamland.

Come 14:00 hrs. and I’m awakened by a rude jolt and find myself in an unfamiliar forest road. The girls, the principal, the driver and his attendant just had lunch and hence were full of merry. The driver and attendant were singing some of the local songs, many of which had double-entendres or double-meaning lines. The girls were pink but as many of them also knew the local songs, some of them had also joined. Not wanting to sound alarmist although the back of my neck was telling me we were in the wrong place, I had my lunch and gently enquired with the driver as to why he hadn’t woken me up at the diversion and from where he diverted. Asking him gently and persistently came to know that he had turned at some wrong place. As this was the hinterland with possibility of wild animals, naxalities and all kinds of anti-social elements, I knew we could easily land ourselves in full-blown crisis mode. I asked the driver to park in a shaded place and asked all the men to come down and shared that we have somehow landed in some wrong place. I asked the driver and attendant as to our reserves of petrol and was told that at least there we were good, we had enough to drive for 4-5 hours but no more. As there are no petrol pumps in such places, you had to have reserve fuel when taking a journey such as this. The driver or the attendant, one of the two told me that they had read a sign just sometime ago of a ‘dak bungalow’ or a government rest house sometime ago but they hadn’t seen one till yet. I asked all the people present as to what they think we should do, some wanted to go back, some wanted to go further to the dak bungalow and some wanted to stay there itself, all the three options were not to my liking. In such places, the sun goes down very quickly and I knew that the sun will go down at around 17:00 hrs. hence we needed to be at a place where we could rest as well as defend if need be and a bus seemed to be a very vulnerable place.

I knew we would quickly reach stalemate and this was something that I could not be part of. Hence, in the interest of taking a decision, I quietly shared that we should also involve the girls in the decision and let them have an equal say. While the others protested, I quickly explained the predicament and they realized that it’s the girls who are the most vulnerable. I asked the girls to dismount the bus, freshen themselves up and come to a nearby large shaded tree in a round group . Fifteen-twenty minutes later, they all came and sat themselves in a group. Meanwhile, they had grown curious as they had seen our interchange and were curious as to what was it all about. I quickly and quietly told them about our situation and shared the situation about our petrol, spare tires (we had only one), food and water (water we had some but we hadn’t planned for food) and shared the three options with downsides to each action –

1. Going back – We were two hours or more from the main road, getting back meant we would miss the daylight and it’s possible to miss the main road and end somewhere worse of. Also two hours of driving back meant that much lesser petrol. Hitting the highway/main road the chance could be slim and it was also no guarantee that we would be safer than where we were.

2. Going forward to the ‘Dak bungalow’ – Going forward meant that we would be going further into this unknown forest and the ‘Dak Bungalow’ sign was only seen by the driver or the attendant and we had no clue whether it was there or not or even if it was there, whether there would be correct people around (meaning government officials or/and the government caretaker/s).

3. Doing nothing – This also had the downside that we don’t know where we are, we might be in the middle of some wild animals route or worse humans

So laying down the three options, I asked the girls what they thought we should do. If they had any ideas, this was the time to share them. There were few suggestions but all of them half-formed and didn’t lead to any satisfactory solution. I saw 2-3 of the most shy girls talking animatedly with each other. I went to them and gently enquired what was the matter? It came to be known that 2 of the girls had also seen the sign-board for the ‘dak bungalow’ and quickly it was decided to move ahead towards the ‘dak bungalow’.

Now as we knew that we had only a single spare tire, it was also decided that each of the men take turns , get down and sort of walk a bit ahead of the bus. We couldn’t afford a break-down and also enforced a strict code for water usage. I also asked the girls to chat and blow off steam as having more pressure, nervousness would simply add to the situation rather than remedying it. The driver and attendant cottoned to the idea and again started some of the those songs targeting some of the girls which evoked some embarrassed laughter from the targeted girls as well as the other girls as well. We proceeded with the plan to try to reach this elusive ‘dak bungalow’ and our speed which was slow had become slower still. The idea was simple, the man who would walk would walk for around 100 metres, if everything was ok, he would whistle or shout and the bus would come in. The next 100 metres were done by the next person and in such way we were making sure that neither of the people were too tired or nervous and we were able to inch forward a bit as well. If there were any hurdles or any other issue he would shout in a particular manner, it was the job of the person who went ahead to warn us against any such eventuality. We just had couple of iron bars (which are/were used in case of a breakdown) and couple of hammers (all of which were part of bus repair kit) to defend ourselves and that is what we did.

Slowly, we inched forward and were able to make the ‘dak bungalow’ in a distance just as soon as the sun was setting. We were again at a cross-roads here, we didn’t know if the ‘dak bungalow’ had decent people and if we could trust them. The bus was still about 100-150 metres out and the wind flowing at cross so the only hope was that they hadn’t heard the bus and one of us should go and enquire if we could get food, drink, place to sleep or just use of the grounds and directions to get back tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, all of us (the men i.e.) had started getting splitting headaches as we were all under pressure and realized that we were in hands of fate. The job of being the interlocutor was quickly given to me. I asked the driver and the girls to get down and push the bus manually further away to a largish mango grove which we had passed sometime earlier. I got down, changed myself from shirt and pants, freshened myself a bit and changed to the only spare clothes I had, a dhoti, kurta and gamcha or gamucha as it’s known in various places. I also asked them to be patient as I had no idea of who would be there and it is possible that I may be away for quite sometime.

gamcha being used as a headscarf

After the transformation, I put up some dirt in my hair and on the dhoti and specks of dirt on the kurta. I was already tired with all the pressure so I didn’t need to act that part, my eyes had already become red with all sorts of foreboding. Asking them to be vigilant and silent and ensuring that all the men patrolled silently around the girls, I slowly made my way to the ‘dak bungalow’ . I slowly ventured towards the ‘dak bungalow’, went to the gate and shouted to ask if somebody was there. Not hearing an answer, I slowly unlocked the gate and went inside still, ask in a slightly louder voice if a chowkidar or somebody else was there. After a while, a voice came out asking who is there, I said I was a poor villager who had somehow forgotten the route and had no idea as to where I was. I wanted to have some water and some place where I could lie for few hours and tomorrow morning I would try to figure out where I had to go.

A little while later, a door opened and I saw a person, somewhat around my age coming with a tumbler filled with water and a bit of onion and bread. Thanking the gentleman earnestly, I proceeded to have a small bath with the tumbler of water, eating the onion and bread, thanking profusely for both the water as well as the onion and the bread. Through the conversation, I enquired whether they were any ‘sahabs’ or government people who were around. The chowkidar/caretaker replied there were indeed two-three people from the government who were staying but were presently had gone to a ‘daura’/ tour and would either come tonight or come tomorrow morning. He indicated towards his quarters which I could share with him or showed the car-shed either of which I could use to lay down.

The car-shed was built a little to the side of the main building and the chowkidar/caretaker’s quarters were not easily seen by it which worked for him as well as for me both ways. I Asked for a bit more bread, few onions and a bit of water in case I felt hungry at night, he asked me to wait and came with a bit of local bread, few onions, a plastic water bottle to spend the night with. I again thanked him profusely, told him my name and asked him to call him when the ‘bara sahab’ or government officer comes in. I would like to offer my thanks to the ‘bara sahab’ as well as offer my services for the night in lieu of being allowed to sleep in the verandah which would be more comfortable.

After an hour or so, as the night came in, I slipped from the car-shed, went back to the mango grove, shared the bread and the onions, the bread and the water bottle I had with me. I asked them to have only one onion in among 60 odd people at a time and try to savor the onions and the bread with them throughout the night as that might be the only food we may get at this point of time.

I also proceeded to tell them that the ‘dak bungalow’ is occupied and the ‘bara sahab’ (big man) might come tonight. Depending on whether he/they are likable or not, would try to share the troubles we are in or just somehow spend the night and try to go back tomorrow morning to the main road asking the caretaker for instructions.

I will leave the story here as there are two conclusions here. Because it is dedicated to a sad chain of events which happened recently, I am loath to put either of the endings here.

I ask people to share their views and hopefully we will have an ending soon, look forward to your comments, views.

Debconf 17 in Montreal

Debconf Montreal 17 logo

Before I start, debconf registration opened about a week back depending upon what time-frame you are in. So, if you have used and contributed to Debian or are curious to know and try out Debian, this would be right time to register for the conference. For those who are either financially weak (like yours truly) or those who are a minority in any way can avail those
sponsorships, more information about the sponsorship/travel bursary can be found here. Also make sure that you read, understand and accept the Debconf Code of conduct before trying to register.

Even if Debconf does give the bursary, getting a visa for Canada might be tricky but then what would be life without any challenges. In the hierarchy of wants and needs, I would say attending debconf would come in the ‘want’ category and not the ‘needs’ category as needs are simply food, clothes and roof over one’s head, thankfully all of which have been there for as long as I remember or know. ‘To dream’ is necessary for life and being part of debconf would be part of that dream.

While I have put up couple of talks, I have asked if somebody would be willing to tackle/share some basic things in Debconf 17 as well. Let’s see if I’m able to get any response to that. There was a recent Debian BSP in Montreal. While I don’t know how many bugs were fixed, although UDD shows only 32 bugs remain to be fixed before Stretch could be released.

Indian cricket team

To put things into perspective, I had gone to a friend’s place at Market Yard and came to know of a local cricket league which is being played in the city on the likes/basis of the IPL . The amount they will get is INR 88,000 (which is 1,361 USD, around the cost of ticket to and fro from Pune to Montreal and back as of date) and similar and 10 teams of 11-15 people are vying from it. The winning team will get that amount along with a trophy and signed certificates. Of course at the highest level i.e. the IPL, each night the players would probably earn a million or more for each play. One IPL season pay is what 90% of the people don’t/can’t earn in their whole lifetime.

Montreal Metro image from Wikimedia Commons

Apart from the conference, I have shared about the northern lights and the snacks on stand thing, there is one thing more to explore and that is the ‘Montreal Metro‘ . While I was re-reading the wiki entry today I was very much reminded about Pune Metro and Metro Samvaad that I attended couple of weeks before. That too as it was not held too far from my house, around 500 metres so could attend. The only hitch I see is the question mark on fate of 6,133 trees . I have shared one probable solution but then it has its own challenges . In the end, Metro is the need of the hour as vehicles in pune are reaching the 5 million mark while residents are around 3 million plus something depending on whether you chose to believe the 2011 census or the more recentish world population review . In either case/scenario I do not see any improvement unless consistent public transport is available. While Buses don’t run on time, it is hoped that the metro would run on time.

Some of the similarities between the two system, apart from the fact that from what I read Montreal Metro is mostly subway while Pune Metro would be mostly elevated. There is the idea/thought of having POI (Points of Interest) and free shows etc. in order to attract young and old to travel to destinations to and fro. There are a lot of theatre groups, stand-up comedians, rock and roll as well as classical musical concerts for which people like me would be willing to travel week-ends to attend such shows. Of course, this is all in the head, we will know the reality starting this May and commercial journeys if everything goes as planned in end 2018.

single person cult-based political parties

Summer heat

Summer heat

I would like to start with sharing is the mercury has been shot in recent times to record temperatures. For instance, Pune has been recording temperatures between 41 and 43 degrees consistently. The result of that has been a massive reduction in volunteer activity on my part as well as some reduction in work activity. The body wants and needs to conserve energy. Even my mobile phone’s lithium-ion battery becomes too hot and I have to turn it off in the crucial time from 12 – 17:00 hrs after which the weather cools down a bit. I am curious to know if I’m the only one or there are others like me.

I have seen quite a few construction, re-construction and renovation projects taking quite a hit by this incredible heat wave. If it isn’t climate change then I don’t know what is. And this is not limited to Pune but the whole of Western Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and quite a few parts of North India too. In Pune we are expecting it to hit 45 degrees pretty soon. And I don’t see this ending anytime soon, at least till July when the rains comes and we have some relief from this weather.

Balasaheb Thackeray, Founder Shiv Sena

Balasaheb Thakre/Thackeray founded the Shiv Sena in/around 1966. While he was cartoonist by trade, most of his cartoons were anti-migrant in nature. The target was the urban, unemployed Marathi youth based mostly in Mumbai and the suburbs. The Shiv Sena vandalized properties run by South Indian businessman, Gujaratis. The Shiv Sena and Balasaheb Thackeray were also responsible in part due to the massive closure of cloth mills in South Mumbai. While the workers struggled to make ends meet, some whose wife and children died, fell into prostitution, drugs or whatever they could to make ends meet while the party and more important Mr. Balasahab Thackeray prospered. In spite of the many threats, there are and were many South Indians who prospered inspite of Shiv Sena’s threats. Gujaratis on the other hand went back to Gujarat and now Surat rivals Mumbai. Another decade or so and Surat and not Mumbai would be the financial capital of India, the way Gujaratis are working towards it.

Then in the 90’s people from U.P. and Bihar came in search of livelihood, again the same rhetoric and even attacks were done against people from U.P. and Bihar. The only thing that was missing for all these people is a domicile certificate which you can get only after living 15 years in Mumbai.

The only thing that they and other political parties have been successful is murdering journalists. I’m sad to report that Maharashtra, my home state has a very bad report card in preventing such murders. And it’s both the State and the Centre who have to share the blame equally.

Come to 2017 and Shiv Sena doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Balasaheb Thackeray is no more, his son didn’t inherit Balasaheb’s fiery character and the nephew has now another outfit called Maha Navnirman Sena. Also, all those who were one-time outsiders are now residents of Mumbai (with the domicile certificate) and hence registered voters.

There is another angle to it as well, Marathas for far too long thought that people they will elect from their community will do something from their community just like auto rickshaw drivers thought that educated unemployed youth from their community would be better than the agents who rip them off whenever they have some work in the local R.T.O. (Road Transport Office) . Similar to auto rickshaw drivers, the Marathas realized that none of the leaders whom they elected would ever do the work. This is why when last year there were huge Maratha rallies all over the state (peaceful demonstrations all around though). I just shared Pune as am most concerned with my city although similar rallies were held in Mumbai (Khargar), Nagpur, Solapur among other places that I know of. But as shown on youtube

there was no central leadership (a.k.a. leaders) and still they were the most disciplined lot.

While the Marathas may say one thing, in part they are also culprits of their own past. My interactions with few Marathas was that they are still smitten by what happened in the second and the third Anglo-Maratha War . It is sad because I do see them adding lot of value provided they keep a cool head as I have seen some do. Business or service is the game only for cooler heads.

Things came to a head though about couple of weeks back when Mr. Ravindra Gaikwad, a Shiv Sena M.P. assaulted some elderly Air India Staff. While things have cooled down since then, it only belittles both the person and the party.

If anything, Air India can be accused of being to gentleman like in the whole case. The only crime of its own making is it has been looted since the beginning by Indian MP’s and their relatives with over-staffing and old age of the planes and being over-priced in an extremely price sensitive market. It doesn’t have any low-cost options but all of that is another story altogether.

Converse to this, the current Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi and Malcolm Turnbull enjoyed the ride of the Delhi Metro. In Politics as well as in life, symbolism scores big. That showed where Mr. Modi’s priorities lie and where Mr. Gaikwad’s.

In the end, the writing seems to be on the wall for not just the Shiv Sena but I would say all single-personality based parties. They need to widen both their political scope and activities and have prominent personalities with strong leadership taking the country along rather than being petty-minded.

The queen is dead … long live the queen :)

I acknowledge that images are sensitive materials and have much more potential to harm others than just plain text, and while I’ll be even more careful in the future, I hope I do get the wisdom to make correct choices.

Veena - an instrument used in classical music

I am reminded of Cole in Mr. Holland’s Opus . Cole is the son of Mr. Holland and he is totally deaf. It is probably apt as although not known by many people, I am totally deaf (100%) in my left ear and some loss of hearing in my right as well.

I say it is apt because one of the divas of classical singing, perhaps one of the old greats Ms. Kishori Amonkar is no more. I do not know whether or not she knew in her life-time that all copies of her photograph are copyrighted so there is not a single photo of her which is CC-by or CC-by-0 or whatever. This is the reason her wikipedia page is bereft of her image. For most Indian classical vocalists, the Veena is the instrument for both riyaz (practice) as well as for performance, hence have used that picture to pay her tribute.

So in a way it’s good that a partially deaf person is able to give homage to one of the greats. I have seen and heard her only once, about a decade ago. As have shared in earlier posts too, I have been lucky at times to have friends who have had variety of interests. Of course, as in life we drift from friends but whatever we learn in their company remains forever. My first hearing of classical music was with group of friends around a decade and a half.

One of the ghats in Varanasi

I had gone to Benaras/Varanasi and till that time my education in music was pop, rock, thrash, heavy metal, filmi songs, bit of ghazal and unplugged. Unplugged was due to MTV unplugged. I was in Varanasi for over a month in a palace (it was a slightly run-down palace) just next to the ghats. Ghat/s is what you call the riverbank. In the picture above the steps that you see going into the river and the in-between levels you see those are ghats.

Varanasi is one of the strangest cities if you stay a while as you will burning corpses sent to the river, ashes of people being thrown on the river, people bathing in the same river and people asking priests to bless newborns. So you see death and life at the same time and this all happens on the river-banks. Apart from that, the city is also famous for classical music of all hues. Many of the nights I slept listening to the voice of somebody playing either the veena, the shehnai played in a very cool manner or the flute. Both during sleep and being awakened by the same sounds early in the morning at 0500 hrs.

Hence I can totally understand why when Ustad Bismillah Khan sahab as well as some of the other greats when being offered by moneyed people to migrate to the States or somewhere else did not want to leave Varanasi. For those who love music, the unplugged kind, Varanasi is paradise. For those who don’t know Bismillah Khan sahab died in abject poverty. The irony is that while he added richness in thousands and millions of his fans, he himself chose to die in poverty. While I never learnt any of the musical understanding as I believe knowledge and understanding either in music or moving pictures (film) lessens the magic a bit. But that month or/and month and a half I developed a somewhat ear to classical music.

While I’m not much of a betting man, I would say that anybody who spends any amount of time in Varanasi, they would be transformed by the music which beats there. While like everywhere else, there are hindu and muslim areas, I found the Azaan to be more lyrical than anywhere else I have heard in India. You go to the temple or the mosque and you will be transported to some other world. If somebody who has skill with live sound-recordings come to Varanasi and records the kind of voices and instruments there are, her(is) hands will be full and its sure to be success wherever s(he) screens that. There is lot of varied soulful singing and instrumental there.

This is the same thing I observed or rather went on a journey with her. While Ms. Amonkar was infamous for her tantrums, she was equally beautiful when she was in her flow and more than that, once she started singing, soon your eyes would be closed and you are transported to some other world. The same quality I have seen in some of the other great artists too.

The best thing of her show and shows of other classical artists who perform late at nights, the audience, at least the Pune audience has learnt the art of soundless clap. ‘Soundless clap’ means after the performance is over, you leave in silence. Instead of clapping, the silence is more treasured by the artists who understand the significance. The same thing happened with her, I was out of this world, when I came back I found I was only one is the entire auditorium and there was nobody else. I came out and while there were street vendors doing brisk business, most of the business was without sound as if nobody wanted to break the magic spell. I went to a tea vendor, by signal asked him for tea and something to eat, paid him and slowly came back home and slept.

The next day I shared this story with my grandpa, my mother’s father and he shared he also liked classical music in his time and in their time, the people had more time. There used to be such musical festivals which went for days 24×7 . That was one of the first times I felt a tinge of regret that I was born today instead of some 50-60 years back although he had his fair share of challenges in his life as well. He had been a witness to the British and Indian rule. He’s no longer with us, god rest his soul.

In the end while Ms. Amonkar left us too quickly and suddenly, I do wish and hope that she did enough that she goes beyond this karmic life and death dance . If however, there is still some more things to be worked out, I hope she is again born a woman with the same passion for classical singing as before. With that I bid adieu the queen of musical spell πŸ™‚

The fatalistic attitude

Sorry - Rose - pixbay

A week back I published a post which unintentionally hurt some people and some people had some painful memories re-surfaced. My intention was not to provoke and hence am SORRY for any unintended hurt caused.

Now last week there was another conversation which was about accepting the possibility of death whenever travelling by any mode of transport. I was told/nay accused of having a fatalistic attitude.

Now for people unknown to the word, it means somebody who believes that all events are subject to fate or inevitable necessity, or determined in advance in such a way that human beings cannot change them.

Now, while for other things I believe in free will, for travelling purposes, I chose to believe in what will be, will be and be at peace with whatever happens. The reasons are simple enough and I will share for all three modes, road, train and air.

Accidents in India - wikimedia

a. In roadways, in India 157,000 people died last year. I don’t know driving hence have to rely on drivers and most bus-drivers just know how to drive rash. Most vehicles are not maintained. Ideally either in a government or a private vehicle, the name of the driver, photocopy of his driving license detailing since when he is driving (number of years) and when was it last renewed, age of the vehicle, its PUC (Pollution Under Control Certificate), maintenance certificate of the vehicle and when it last happened should all be on board of such a vehicle. If one digs deep enough, I am sure there would be a law stating that but it’s rarely something that is put into practise.

Apart from that practises such as lane and speed discipline are something that people have heard of but never adhere to. Besides bad and drunken drivers, faulty road design also leads to a heavy price. Interestingly, last week the Honourable Supreme Court ruled that no bars or restaurants serving alcohol would be within 500 metres of State and National Highways.

In a step right out of a nightmarish movie, most states denotified state highways to urban roads. This actually would also have the consequence that the urban roads would not get either the same funds or maintenance as they were getting before they were deemed highways. You can tell how powerful the liquor lobby is by the mere fact that they were able to get the order modified within 24 hours of the first order.

163536 Bengal train accident 2010

b. Railways – While I love Indian Railways I have to be a bit fatalistic as it’s a network overburdened and I don’t see it changing during my lifetime. If we were to quadruple the existing network and also make it a semi-high speed one, say something on the range of between 200-250 km/hr .

While the Indian Government is saying it will do unprecedented doubling and electrification in 2018 it can only happen if Indian Railways ends it exclusive relationship with loss-making SAIL to get rails. There are indications it might happen. But there are other bottle-necks such as litigation on taking private land and changing land-use both of which are challenges for it. In short, I don’t see the situation happening soon.

Indigo plane shown just for illustrative purposes - wikipedia

c. Airways – My friend is and was under the impression that all is well with the Indian Airways or Indian airlines in general. But the Government’s own records show that there were close to 35 near-miss accidents in 2014-2015 which is roughly around 3 accidents per month. Interestingly, there are no figures of similar nature in 2015-2016 . The figures however do share that airways in India is going through an unprecedented growth phase. Given the infrastructure crunch that is there now and will be for the medium future, accidents and near-misses would only become more as airport expansions are a bureaucratic nightmare, hence very slow .

There is a policy though to have secondary airports all over the country. If this becomes a reality, it would de-bottleneck the metro airports as well as cities like Pune, Nagpur as well. Pune has been having between 20-25% growth rate for the last 2-3 years but as it has a low base and just recently has got some more space and timings to grow it will take time for it to be noticed nationally. And it is in such cities the possibilities of accidents is much more due to unprecedented growth rate happening as well.

Now while I have shared of the above three travelling ways, I sincerely believe and pray before each journey ‘if an accident has to happen, pray I’m not hurt, if I’m hurt, I hope it’s fatal’ I wouldn’t want to be much more of a responsibility to my mother than I already am. This is my personal belief for myself. This doesn’t mean I don’t either respect or don’t do hats off to differently-abled people who just by being alive and struggling each day are heroes and inspiration to us all.

It just means if somehow I could influence the outcome I would like to be in one outcome so others don’t go through pain much.

d. Media – The first movie which doesn’t talk but is all about fatalism is the ‘Final Destination‘ Series. While the movies have been categorized as horror, for many Indians it probably is ‘Que sera, sera’ .

There were also two South Korean disaster movies which I saw earlier in the year ‘Tunnel and Pandora‘ both beautifully made but both show a certain fatalistic attitude towards how the events happen and the acceptance of people. While both the movies show positive ends as most movies who want to do commercially well do, reality might have been more pessimistic, who knows. Pandora in particular seemed to be very much based on the Japanese Fukushima nuclear accident which happened in 2011 and in fact mirrors exactly what all I heard, saw and read in the news at that time. As India is and was too thinking of having Nuclear reactors for our power needs, that might have been the reason I gave it much more attention.

Another movie which in part shares the blame for under-investment in Indian Railways is the movie ‘Burning Train‘. It is a beautifully shot movie giving a slice of how Indians make a riot and laugh at themselves when travelling. The only trouble with the movie that it planted the seed of fear in both the railway-using public as well as the Railway Board and we had chronic under-investment for 3 and a half decades and a bit more. Now the present government while dreaming (as shared above) however much they do I don’t think we could recover from the 3 and a half decades of under-investment anytime soon. We would have to invest at double or even quadruple the rates at which money is being invested in today’s Indian Railways to just fulfil expectations of yesterday, forget today. But again ‘Que Sera Sera’ to the rescue as this again is outside my hands for though, even if we somehow get the money, getting land to railways for its projects is another big challenge. There have been claims of inadequate compensation by farmers and such cases take years to clear up.

In the end, ‘Que sera sera’ is the only way we can live with uncertainty that both the present and future brings to us. It doesn’t mean we don’t strive for our rights or strive for a better future for us and people beyond us.

I would love to know what people think and if there is a better way than this to make peace, have your sanity and still live with the uncertainty that life brings.

The tale of the dancing girl – #nsfw

Demonstration of a Lapdance - Wikipedia

Demonstration of a Lapdance – Wikipedia

The post will be adult/mature in nature. So those below 18 please excuse. The post is about an anecdote almost 20 years to date, The result its being posted is due to dinner conversation where my friend thought it would make for an alternate view rather than the status quo shared by most people. The conversation was though about being young and foolish in which I shared the anecdote. The blog post was supposed to be about ‘Aadhar’ which shocked me both in the way no political discourse happened and the way the public as well as public policy was gamed but that would have to wait for another day.

History

I left college in 1995. The anecdote/incident probably happened couple of years earlier so probably 1992-1993. At that time, I was in my teens and as a typical teenager I made few friends. One of those friends, who would remain nameless as since we drifted apart, and as I have not take permission from him, taking his name would not be a good idea.

Anyway, this gentleman, let’s call him Mr. X as an example. Couple of months before, he had bought an open jeep, similar but very different from the jeep being shown below. The Open Jeep had become a fashion statement few months back (in those days) as a Salman khan starred movie had that and anybody who had money wanted one just like that.

Illustration of an open jeep, sadly its a military one - wikipedia

Illustration of an open jeep, sadly its a military one – wikipedia

Those days we didn’t have cell-phones and I had given my land-line phone number to very few friends as in those days, as the land-line itself was a finicky instrument and we were under the belief that if we use it more, it will get spoiled/broken soon.

One fine morning, I get a call from my friend telling he is going to come near my place and I should meet him at some xyz place and we would go for a picnic for the whole day and it is possible that we might return next day. As it was holidays and only a fool would throw away a chance to have a ride in open air jeep, I immediately agreed. I shared that my friends had organized a picnic and giving another friend’s number (who didn’t know anything) got permission and went to meet Mr. X. This was very early morning, around 0600 hrs. . After meeting him, he told that we would be going to Mumbai, take some more friends from there and then move on.

In those days, a railway ticket from Pune/Shivaji Nagar to V.T. (now C.S.T.) costed around INR 30/- . I had been to Mumbai few times before for various technical conferences and knew few cheap places to eat, I knew that going via train, we could go and come back spending at the most INR 150/- and still have some change left-over (today’s meal at a roadside/street vendor easily passes that mark).

The Journey

I shared with him that it will be costly and I don’t have any money to cover the fuel expenses and he said he would shoulder the expenses, he just wanted my company for the road. Those days, it was the scenic Old Mumbai-Pune highway and we took plenty of stops to admire that ghats (hills and valleys together). The only way I can describe the experience was it was fun and yet breath-taking at the same time. Spring-time on Pune-Mumbai Old highway was magical. At times we were parallel with the Pune-Railway railway line and we would think of ourselves as Rajesh Khanna and his sidekick wooing an imaginary Sharmila Tagore on the Railway line –

That journey must have taken us around 7-8 hours while today by the new Expressway, you could do the same thing by 2.5/3 hours.

The Hotel

Anyhow, we reached to some swanky hotel in South Mumbai. South Mumbai was not the financial powerhouse that it today is, there was mix of very old buildings and new buildings like the swanky hotel that we had checked in. I have no memory nor any idea whether it was 1 class, 3 class or 5 class and could have cared less as had been tired from the journey. We checked in, I had a long warm water bath and then slept in the king-size bed with curtains drawn for a long time. Eventually, evening came and we took the jeep and picked up 2-3 of his friends who were from my age or a year or two older and we went to Nariman Point. Seeing the Queen’s necklace from Nariman Point at night is a sight in itself. Whenever I am in Mumbai and if I have the time, I make it a point to spend at least some time at Nariman Point/Marine Drive/Queen’s necklace whenever I can. While the rest of the city is humid due to the moisture from the sea, Nariman Point/marine Drive always has a gentle breeze. Before the turn of the century, when I had much more of a free time I would go to Mumbai, book a lodge near Marine Drive and just sit at the edge for hours together. While I don’t know swimming, whether it was the call of the sea or just the sound of the waves breaking against the stones that used to get me in zen-like/serene state after being few hours there.

How Nariman Point/Marine Drive looks

Keeping with the innocence, I was under the impression that we had arrived at our destination, at this our host, Mr. X and his Bombaiya friends had a quiet laugh saying its a young night still or something to that effect . We must have whiled away couple of hours, having chai and throwing rocks in the sea.

The Meeting

After a while, Mr. X took us to another swanky place. My eyes were out of my sockets as this seemed to be as elitist a place as could be. I saw many White European women in various stages of undress pole-dancing and lap-dancing. I had recently (in those days) come to know the term but was under the impression that it was something that happened in Europe and States only. I had no idea that lap-dancing was older than my birth as according to Wikipedia. So looking back now, I am not surprised that in two decades the concept crossed the oceans. Again, Mr. X being the host, agreed to bear all the costs and all of us had food, drink and a lap-dance from any of the dancers on the floor. As I was young, somewhat confused seeing all the beauty and probably shy (still am) I asked Mr. X’s help to pick a girl/woman for me. The woman whom he picked was auburn-aired, was either my age or a year or two older/younger to me. IIRC entrance to the place ensured one or two lap-dances as well as appetizers and couple of drinks or something similar to that.

What proceeded next was about 20-30 minutes of totally sexualized erotic experience. While he and all his friends picked girls to go all the way, I was hesitant to let loose. Maybe it was due to my lack of courage or inexperience, maybe it was not in my city so couldn’t predict the outcome, maybe was just afraid that reality might mar fantasy or maybe I was not ‘man enough’ to do the needful I dunno till date. Although we kissed and necked a lot, I guess that should count for something.

The conversation

After all my friends had gone to the various rooms, sometime after I excused myself, went to the loo myself, peed a bit, splashed cold water on self, came out and had couple of glasses of water and came back to my seat. The lady came back and I shared that I was not interested in going further and while she was beautiful, I just didn’t have the guts. I did ask her if she would give me company though for sometime as I didn’t know anyone else at that place. Our conversation was more about her than me as I had more or less an average life upto that moment. There were only three unorthodox things that I had done before meeting her. I had drunk wines of different types, smoked weed and had a Magic Mushrooms experience the year before with another group of friends I had made there. Goa in those days was simply magical in those days but that probably would need its story/own blog post.

When I enquired about her, she shared she was from/around Russia and she rattled off more than half a dozen places around the world where she had been to. This was her second or third stint in Mumbai and she wasn’t at all unhappy about the lifestyle and choices she was leading. I had no answer for her as a young penniless college-going student. Her self-confidence and the way she carried herself was impressive, with or without clothes. During course of the conversation she shared a couple of contacts from whom I could get better weed at slightly higher price if I ever went to Goa next.

Few months later, I found those contacts to be true.

Back to the present though, after sometime, Mr. X took all the women and ourselves, around 8-9 people in his jeep (how he negotiated that is beyond me) and we went to a hygienic Pani puri and Bhel (puffed rice mixed with variety of spices typically tomato, potato, coriander chutney as well as Tamarind Chutney among other things) place and moved them to tears (the spices in bhel and Pani puri did it for them) and this was when we had explicitly asked the bhel-wala guy to make it extremely mild with just a hint of spice in it. Anyways, sometime later, we dropped them at the same place, dropped his friends and came back to the hotel we booked and got drunk again.

After-effects

Few years later, it came in the newspapers/media that while India had broken out of financial isolation just few years back (1991) and were profiting from it, many countries of the former USSR were going the other way around and hence there was huge human trafficking and immigration that had taken place. This was in-line with what the lady/woman/Miss X had shared with me.

The latest trigger

The latest trigger happened couple of months back where I learnt of a hero flight attendant saving a girl from human-trafficking.

Till date, I am unsure whether she was doing it willingly or putting a brave smile in front of me, because even if she had confided me in any way, I probably would have been too powerless, penniless to help her in any-way. I just don’t know.

Foolishness thy name

While my friend took advantage of my innocence and introduced me to a world which otherwise I would probably not know exists, it could have easily have gone some other way as well.

While I’m still unsure of the choices I made then, I was and am happy that I was able to strike a conversation with her and attempt to reach the person therein. Was it the truth or an elaborate fabricated lie to protect myself and herself, this I will never know.

Oppression

I understand the fact that as a ‘customer’ or somebody who is taking part in either of those performances or experiences it isn’t easy in any way to know/say that whether the performer is doing it wilfully or not as the experiences are in tightly controlled settings.

Tale of two countries, India and Canada

Apologies – the first blog post got sent out by mistake.

Weather comparisons between the two countries

Last year, I had come to know that this year’s debconf is happening in Canada, a cold country. Hence, few weeks/month back, I started trying to find information online when I stumbled across few discussion boards where people were discussing about Innerwear and Outerwear and I couldn’t understand what that was all about. Then somehow stumbled across this Video, which is of a game called the Long Dark and just seeing couple of episodes it became pretty clear to me why the people there were obsessing with getting the right clothes and everything about it. Couple of Debconf people were talking about the weather in Montreal, and surprise, surprise it was snowing there, in fact supposed to be near the storm of the century. Was amazed to see that they have a website to track how much snow has been lifted.

If we compare that to Pune, India weather-wise we are polar opposites. There used to be a time, when I was very young, maybe 5 yrs. old that once the weather went above 30 degree celsius, rains would fall, but now its gonna touch 40 degrees soon. And April and May, the two hottest months are yet to come.

China Gate

Before I venture further, I was gifted the book ‘China Gate‘ written by an author named William Arnold. When I read the cover and the back cover, it seemed the story was set between China and Taiwan, later when I started reading it, it shares history of Taiwan going back 200 or so odd years. This became relevant as next year’s Debconf, Debconf 2018 will be in Taiwan, yes in Asia very much near to India. I am ashamed to say that except for the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the Chinese High-Speed Rail there wasn’t much that I knew. According to the book, and I’m paraphrasing here the gist I got was that for a long time, the Americans promised Taiwan it will be an Independent country forever, but due to budgetary and other political constraints, the United States took the same stand as China from 1979. Interestingly, now it seems Mr. Trump wants to again recognize Taiwan as a separate entity from China itself but as is with Mr. Trump you can’t be sure of why he does, what he does. Is it just a manoeuvrer designed to out-smart the chinese and have a trade war or something else, only time will tell.

One thing which hasn’t been shared in the book but came to know via web is that Taiwan calls itself ‘Republic of China’ . If Taiwan wants to be independent then why the name ‘Republic of China’ ? Doesn’t that strengthen China’s claim that Taiwan is an integral part of China. I don’t understand it.

The book does seduce you into thinking that the events are happening in real-time, as in happening now.

That’s enough OT for now.

null

Population Density

As well in the game and whatever I could find on the web, Canada seems to be on the lower side as far as population is concerned. IIRC, few years back, Canadians invited Indian farmers and gave them large land-holdings for over 100 years on some small pittance. While the link I have shared is from 2006, I read it online and in newspapers even as late as in 2013/2014. The point being there seems to be lot of open spaces in Canada, whereas in India we fight for even one inch literally, due to overpopulation. This sharing reminded me of ‘Mark of Gideon‘. While I was young, I didn’t understand the political meaning of it and still struggle to understand about whom the show was talking about. Was it India, Africa or some other continent they were talking about ?

This also becomes obvious when you figure out the surface area of the two countries. When I had started to learn about Canada, I had no idea, nor a clue that Canada is three times the size of India. And this is when I know India is a large country. but seeing that Canada is thrice larger just boggled my mind. As a typical urbanite, would probably become mad if in a rural area in Canada. Montreal, however seems to be something like Gwalior or Bangalore before IT stormed in, seems to be a place where people can work, play and have quite a few gardens as well.

Rail

This is one thing that is similar in both the great countries. India has Indian Railways and while the Canadians have their own mountain railway called viarail. India chugs on its 68k kilometre network, Canada is at fourth position with 52k network. With thrice the land size, it should have been somewhere where Russia is or even better than them. It would be interesting if a Canadian/s comment about their railway network and why it is so bad in terms of reach.

As far as food is concerned, somebody shared this

Also, have no idea if Canadian trains are as entertaining as Indian ones, in terms of diverse group of people as well as variety of food to eat as also shared a bit in the video. I am not aware whether Via Rail is the only network operator and there are other network operators unlike Indian Railways which has monopoly on most of the operations.

Countries which have first past the post system - Wikipedia

Business houses, Political Families

This is again something that is similar in both the countries, it seems (from afar) that its only few business houses and more importantly political families which have governed for years. From what little I could understand, both India and Canada have first past the post system which as shared by its critics is unfair to new and small parties. It would be interesting to see if Canada does a re-think. For India, it would need a massive public education outreach policy and implementation. We just had elections in 5 states of India with U.P. (with respect to area-size and population density) and from the last several years, the EVM’s (Electronic Voting Machines) tries to make sure that nobody could know which area which party got the most votes. This is to make sure the winning party is not able to take revenge on people or areas which did not vote for them. Instead you have general region counting of votes with probably even the Election Commission not knowing which EVM went to what area and what results are there in sort of double-blind methodology.

As far as Business houses are concerned, I am guessing it’s the same world-over, only certain people hold the wealth while majority of us are in hard-working, non-wealthy status.

Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis

Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis

Apart from all the social activities that Montreal is famous for, somebody told/shared with me that it is possible to see the Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis can be seen in Canada. I dunno how true or not it is, while probably in Montreal it isn’t possible to see due to light pollution, but maybe around 40-50 kms. from the city ? Can people see it from Canada ? IF yes, how far would you have to go ? Are there any companies or people who take people to see the Northern Lights.

While I still have to apply for bursary, and if that gets ok, then try getting the visa, but if that goes through, apart from debconf and social activities happening in and around Montreal, Museums, Music etc. , this would be something I would like to experience if it’s possible. While I certainly would have to be prepared for the cold that would be, if it’s possible, no offence to debconf or anybody else but it probably would be the highlight of the entire trip if its possible. This should be called/labelled as the greatest show on earth TM.

Science Day at GMRT, Khodad 2017

The whole team posing at the end of day 2

The above picture is the blend of the two communities from foss community and mozilla India. And unless you were there you wouldn’t know who is from which community which is what FOSS is all about. But as always I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

Akshat, who works at NCRA as a programmer, the standing guy on the left shared with me in January this year that this year too, we should have two stalls, foss community and mozilla India stalls next to each other. While we had the banners, we were missing stickers and flyers. Funds were and are always an issue and this year too, it would have been emptier if we didn’t get some money saved from last year minidebconf 2016 that we had in Mumbai. Our major expenses included printing stickers, stationery and flyers which came to around INR 5000/- and couple of LCD TV monitors which came for around INR 2k/- as rent. All the labour was voluntary in nature, but both me and Akshat easily spending upto 100 hours before the event. Next year, we want to raise to around INR 10-15k so we can buy 1 or 2 LCD monitors and we don’t have to think for funds for next couple of years. How will we do that I have no idea atm.

Printing leaflets

Me and Akshat did all the printing and stationery runs and hence had not been using my lappy for about 3-4 days.

Come to the evening before the event and the laptop would not start. Coincidentally, or not few months or even last at last year’s Debconf people had commented on IBM/Lenovo’s obsession with proprietary power cords and adaptors. I hadn’t given it much thought but when I got no power even after putting it on AC power for 3-4 hours, I looked up on the web and saw that the power cord and power adaptors were all different even in T440 and even that under existing models. In fact I couldn’t find mine hence sharing it via pictures below.

thinkpad power cord male

thinkpad power adaptor female

I knew/suspected that thinkpads would be rare where I was going, it would be rarer still to find the exact power cord and I was unsure whether it was the power cord at fault or adaptor or whatever goes for SMPS in laptop or memory or motherboard/CPU itself. I did look up the documentation at support.lenovo.com and was surprised at the extensive documentation that Lenovo has for remote troubleshooting.

I did the usual take out the battery, put it back in, twiddle with the little hole in the bottom of the laptop, trying to switch on without the battery on AC mains, trying to switch on with battery power only but nothing worked. Couple of hours had gone by and with a resigned thought went to bed, convincing myself that anyways it’s good I am not taking the lappy as it is extra-dusty there and who needs a dead laptop anyways.

Update – After the event was over, I did contact Lenovo support and within a week, with one visit from a service engineer, he was able to identify that it was a faulty cable which was at fault and not the the other things which I was afraid of. Another week gone by and lenovo replaced the cable. Going by service standards that I have seen of other companies, Lenovo deserves a gold star here for the prompt service they provided. I probably would end up subscribing to their extended 2-year warranty service when my existing 3 year warranty is about to be over.

Next day, woke up early morning, two students from COEP hostel were volunteering and we made our way to NCRA, Pune University Campus. Ironically, though we were under the impression that we would be the late arrivals, it turned out we were the early birds. 5-10 minutes passed by and soon enough we were joined by Aniket and we played catch-up for a while. We hadn’t met each other for a while so it was good to catch-up. Then slowly other people starting coming in and around 07:10-07:15 we started for GMRT, Khodad.

Now I had been curious as had been hearing for years that the Pune-Nashik NH-50 highway would be concreted and widened to six-lane highways but the experience was below par. Came back and realized the proposal has now been pushed back to 2020.

From the mozilla team, only Aniket was with us, the rest of the group was coming straight from Nashik. Interestingly, all the six people who came, came on bikes which depending upon how you look at it was either brave or stupid. Travelling on bikes on Indian highways you either have to be brave or stupid or both, we have more than enough ‘accidents’ due to quality of road construction, road design, lane-changing drivers and many other issues. This is probably not the place for it hence will use some other blog post to rant about that.

We reached around 10:00 hrs. IST and hung around till lunch as Akshat had all the marketing material, monitors etc. The only thing we had were couple of lappies and couple of SBC’s, an RPI 3 and a BBB.

Aarti Kashyap sharing something about SBC

Our find for the event was Aarti Kashyap who you can see above. She is a third-year student at COEP and one of the rare people who chose to interact with hardware rather than software. From last several years, we had been trying, successfully and unsuccessfully to get more Indian women and girls interested into technology. It is a vicious circle as till a girl/woman doesn’t volunteer we are unable to share our knowledge to the extent we can which leads them to not have much interest in FOSS or even technology in general.

While there are groups are djangogirls, Pyladies and railgirls and even Outreachy which tries to motivate getting girls into computing but it’s a long road ahead.

We are short of both funds and ideas as to how to motivate more girls to get into computing and then to get into playing with hardware. I don’t know where to start and end for whoever wants to play with hardware. From SBC’s, routers to blade servers the sky is the limit. Again this probably isn’t the place for it, hence probably we can chew it on more at some other blog post.

This year, we had a lowish turnout due to the fact that the 12th board exams 1st paper was on the day we had opened. So instead of 20-25k, we probably had 5-7k fewer people pass through. There were two-three things that we were showing, we were showing Debian on one of the systems, we were showing the output from the SBC’s on the other monitor but the glare kept hitting the monitors.

While the organizers had done exemplary work over last year. They had taped the carpets on the ground so there was hardly any dust moving around. However, I wished the organizers had taken the pains to have two cloth roofs over our head instead of just one, the other roof head could be say 2 feet up, this would have done two things –

a. It probably would have cooled the place a bit more as –

b. We could get diffused sunlight which would have lessened the glare and reflection the LCD’s kept throwing back. At times we also got people to come to our side as can be seen in Aarti’s photo as can be seen above.

If these improvements can be made for next year, this would result in everybody in our ‘Pandal’ would benefit, not just us and mozilla. This would be benefiting around 10-15 organizations which were within the same temporary structure.

Of course, it depends very much on the budget they are able to have and people who are executing, we can just advise.

The other thing which had been missing last year and this year is writing about Single Board Computers in Marathi. If we are to promote them as something to replace a computer or something for a younger brother/sister to learn computing upon at a lower cost, we need leaflets written in their language to be more effective. And this needs to be in the language and mannerisms that people in that region understand. India, as probably people might have experienced is a dialect-prone country. Which means every 2-5 kms, the way the language is spoken is different from anywhere else. The Marathi spoken by somebody who has lived in Ravivar Peth for his whole life and a person who has lived in say Kothrud are different. The same goes from any place and this place, Khodad, Narayangaon would have its own dialect, its own mini-codespeak.

Just to share, we did have one in English but it would have been a vast improvement if we could do it in the local language. Maybe we can discuss about this and ask for help from people.

Outside, Looking in

Mozillians helping FOSS community and vice-versa

What had been interesting about the whole journey were the new people who were bringing all their passion and creativity to the fore. From the mozilla community, we had Akshay who is supposed to be a wizard on graphics, animation, editing anything to do with the visual medium. He shared some of the work he had done and also shared a bit about how blender works with people who wanted to learn about that.

Mayur, whom you see in the picture pointing out something about FOSS and this was the culture that we strove to have. I know and love and hate the browser but haven’t been able to fathom the recklessness that Mozilla has been doing the last few years, which has just been having one mis-adventure after another.

For instance, mozstumbler was an effort which I thought would go places. From what little I understood, it served/serves as a user-friendly interface to a potential user while still sharing all the data with OSM . They (Mozilla) seems/seemed to have a fatalistic take as it provided initial funding but then never fully committing to the project.

Later, at night we had the whole ‘free software’ and ‘open-source’ sharings where I tried to emphasize that without free software, the term ‘open-source’ would not have come into existence. We talked and talked and somewhere around 02:00 I slept, the next day was an extension of the first day itself where we ribbed each other good-naturedly and still shared whatever we could share with each other.

I do hope that we continue this tradition for great many years to come and engage with more and more people every passing year.

To say or not to say

Voltaire

For people who are visually differently-abled, the above reads –

“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize” – Voltaire wrote this either in late 16th century or early 17th century and those words were as apt in those times, as it is in these turbulent times as well.

Update 05/03 – According to @bla these words are attributable to a neo-nazi and apparently a child abuser. While I don’t know the context in which it was shared, it describes the environment in which we are perfectly. Please see his comment for a link and better understanding.

The below topic requires a bit of maturity, so if you are easily offended, feel free not to read further.

While this week-end I was supposed to share about the recent Science Day celebrations that we did last week –

Science Day celebrations at GMRT

Would explore it probably next week.

This week the attempt is to share thoughts which had been simmering at the back of my mind for more than 2 weeks or more and whose answers are not clear to me.

My buttons were pressed when Martin f. Kraft shared about a CoC violation and the steps taken therein. While it is easy to say with 20:20 hind-sight to say that the gentleman acted foolishly, I don’t really know the circumstances to pass the judgement so quickly. In reality, while I didn’t understand the ‘joke’ in itself, I have to share some background by way of anecdotes as to why it isn’t so easy for me to give a judgement call.

a. I don’t know the topics chosen by stand-up comedians in other countries, in India, most of the stand-up acts are either about dating or sex or somewhere in-between, which is lovingly given the name ‘Leela’ (dance of life) in Indian mythology. I have been to several such acts over the years at different events, different occasions and 99.99% of the time I would see them dealing with pedophilia, necrophilia and all sorts of deviants in sexuality and people laughing wildly, but couple of times when the comedian shared the term ‘sex’ with people, educated, probably more than a few world-travelled middle to higher-middle class people were shocked into silence. I had seen this not in once but 2-3 times in different environments and was left wondering just couple of years back ‘ Is sex such a bad word that people get easily shocked ? ‘ Then how is it that we have 1.25 billion + people in India. There had to be some people having sex. I don’t think that all 1.25 billion people are test-tube babies.

b. This actually was what lead to my quandary last year when my sharing of ‘My Experience with Debian’ which I had carefully prepared for newbies, seeing seasoned debian people, I knew my lame observations wouldn’t cut ice with them and hence had to share my actual story which involved a bit of porn. I was in two minds whether or not to say it till my eyes caught a t-shirt on which it was said ‘We make porn’ or something to that effect. That helped me share my point.

c. Which brings me to another point, it seems it is becoming increasingly difficult to talk about anything either before apologizing to everyone and not really knowing who will take offence at what and what the repercussions might be. In local sharings, I always start with a blanket apology that if I say something that offends you, please let me know afterwards so I can work on it. As the term goes ‘You can’t please everyone’ and that is what happens. Somebody sooner or later would take offence at something and re-interpret it in ways which I had not thought of.

Charlie Chaplin - King of self-deprecating humor

From the little sharings and interactions I have been part of, I find people take offence at the most innocuous things. For instance, one of the easy routes of not offending anyone is to use self-deprecating humour (or so I thought) either of my race, caste, class or even my issues with weight and each of the above would offend somebody. Charlie Chaplin didn’t have those problems. If somebody is from my caste, I’m portraying the caste in a certain light, a certain slant. If I’m talking about weight issues, then anybody who is like me (fat) feels that the world is laughing at them rather than at me or they will be discriminated against. While I find the last point a bit valid, it leaves with me no tools and no humour. I neither have the observational powers or the skills that Kapil Sharma has and have to be me.

While I have no clue what to do next, I feel the need to also share why humour is important in any sharing.-

a. Break – When any speaker uses humour, the idea is to take a break from a serious topic. It helps to break the monotony of the talk especially if the topic is full of jargon talk and new concepts. A small comedic relief brings the attendees attention back to the topic as it tends to wander in a long monotonous talk.

b. Bridge – Some of the better speakers use one or more humourous anecdote to explain and/or bridge the chasm between two different concepts. Some are able to produce humour on the fly while others like me have to rely on tried and tested methods.

There is one another thing as well, humour is seems to be a mixture of social, cultural and political context and its very easy to have it back-fired upon you.

For instance, I attempted humour on refugees, probably not the best topic to try humour in the current political climate, and predictably, it didn’t go down well. I had to share and explain about Robin Williams slightly dark yet humorous tale in ‘Moscow on the Hudson‘ The film provides comedy and pathos in equal measure. You are left identifying with Vladimir Ivanoff (Robin Williams character) especially in the last scene where he learns of his grand-mother dying and he remembers her and his motherland, Russia and plays a piece on his saxophone as a tribute both to his grand-mother and the motherland. Apparently, in the height of the cold war, if a Russian defected to United States (land of Satan and other such terms used) you couldn’t return to Russia.

The movie, seen some years back left a deep impact on me. For all the shortcomings and ills that India has, even if I could, would and could I be happy anywhere else ? The answers are not so easy. With most NRI’s (Non-Resident Indians) who emigrated for good did it not so much for themselves but for their children. So the children would hopefully have a better upbringing, better facilities, better opportunities than they would have got here.

I talked to more than a few NRI’s and while most of them give standardized answers, talking awhile and couple of beers or their favourite alcohol later, you come across deeply conflicted human beings whose heart is in India and their job, profession and money interests compel them to be in the country where they are serving.

And Indian movies further don’t make it easy for the Indian populace when trying to integrate into a new place. Some of the biggest hits of yesteryear’s were about having the distinct Indian culture in their new country while the message of most countries is integration. I know of friends who are living in Germany who have to struggle through their German in order to be counted as a citizen, the same I guess is true of other countries as well, not just the language but the customs as well. They also probably struggle with learning more than one language and having an amalgamation of values which somehow they and their children have to make sense of.

I was mildly shocked last week to learn that Mishi Choudary had to train people in the U.S. to differentiate between Afghan turban styles of wearing and the Punjabi style of wearing the turban. A simple search on ‘Afghani turban’ and ‘Punjabi turban’ reveals that there are a lot of differences between the two cultures. In fact, the way they talk, the way they walk, there are lots that differentiate the two cultures.

The second shocking video was of an African-American man racially abusing an Indian-American girl. At first, I didn’t believe it till I saw the video on facebook.

My point through all that is it seems humour, that clean, simple exercise which brings a smile to you and uplifts the spirit doesn’t seem to be as easy as it once was.

Comments, suggestions, criticisms all are welcome.

The Indian elections hungama

a person showing s(he) showing s(he)

Before I start, I would like to point out #855549 . This is a normal/wishlist bug I have filed against apt, the command-line package manager. I sincerely believe having a history command to know what packages were installed, which were upgraded, which were purged should be easily accessible, easily understood and if the output looks pretty, so much the better. Of particular interest to me is having a list of new packages I have installed in last couple of years after jessie became the stable release. It probably would make for some interesting reading. I dunno how much efforts would be to code something like that, but if it works, it would be the greatest. Apt would have finally arrived. Not that it’s a bad tool, it’s just that it would then make for a heck of a useful tool.

Coming back to the topic on hand, Now for the last couple of weeks we don’t have water or rather pressure of water. Water crisis has been hitting Pune every year since 2014 with no end in sight. This has been reported in newspapers addendum but it seems it has been felling on deaf ears. The end result of it is that I have to bring buckets of water from around 50 odd metres.

It’s not a big thing, it’s not like some women in some villages in Rajasthan who have to walk in between 200 metres to 5 odd kilometres to get potable water or Darfur, Western Sudan where women are often kidnapped and sold as sexual slaves when they get to fetch water. The situation in Darfur has been shown quite vividly in Darfur is Dying . It is possible that I may have mentioned about Darfur before. While unfortunately the game is in flash as a web resource, the most disturbing part is that the game is extremely depressing, there is a no-win scenario.

So knowing and seeing both those scenarios, I can’t complain about 50 metres. BUT….but… when you extrapolate the same data over some more or less 3.3-3.4 million citizens, 3.1 million during 2011 census with a conservative 2.3-2.4 percent population growth rate according to scroll.in.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Pune Municipal Corporation elections were held today. Fortunately or unfortunately, this time all the political parties bought majorly unknown faces in these elections. For e.g. I belong to ward 14 which is spread over quite a bit of area and has around 10k of registered voters.

Now the unfortunate part of having new faces in elections, you don’t know anything about them. Apart from the affidavits filed, the only thing I come to know is whether there are criminal cases filed against them and what they have shown as their wealth.

While I am and should be thankful to ADR which actually is the force behind having the collated data made public. There is a lot of untold story about political push-back by all the major national and regional political parties even when this bit of news were to be made public. It took major part of a decade for such information to come into public domain.

But for my purpose of getting clean air and water supply 24×7 to each household seems a very distant dream. I tried to connect with the corporators about a week before the contest and almost all of the lower party functionaries hid behind their political parties manifestos stating they would do the best without any viable plan.

For those not knowing, India has been blessed with 6 odd national parties and about 36 odd regional parties and every election some 20-25 new parties try their luck every time.

The problem is we, the public, don’t trust them or their manifestos. First of all the political parties themselves engage in mud-slinging as to who’s copying whom with the manifesto.Even if a political party wins the elections, there is no *real* pressure for them to follow their own manifesto. This has been going for many a year. OF course, we the citizens are to also blame as most citizens for one reason or other chose to remain aloof of the process. I scanned/leafed through all the manifestos and all of them have the vague-wording ‘ we will make Pune tanker-free’ without any implementation details. While I was unable to meet the soon-to-be-Corporators, I did manage to meet a few of the assistants but all the meetings were entirely fruitless.

Diagram of Rain Water Harvesting

I asked why can’t the city follow the Chennai model. Chennai, not so long ago was at the same place where Pune is, especially in relation to water. What happened next, in 2001 has been beautifully chronicled in Hindustan Times . What has not been shared in that story is that the idea was actually fielded by one of Chennai Mayor’s assistants, an IAS Officer, I have forgotten her name, Thankfully, her advise/idea was taken to heart by the political establishment and they drove RWH.

Saying why we can’t do something similar in Pune, I heard all kinds of excuses. The worst and most used being ‘Marathas can never unite’ which I think is pure bullshit. For people unfamiliar to the term, Marathas was a warrior clan in Shivaji’s army. Shivaji, the king of Marathas were/are an expert tactician and master of guerilla warfare. It is due to the valor of Marathas, that we still have the Maratha Light Infantry a proud member of the Indian army.

Why I said bullshit was the composition of people living in Maharashtra has changed over the decades. While at one time both the Brahmins and the Marathas had considerable political and population numbers, that has changed drastically. Maharashtra and more pointedly, Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur have become immigrant centres. Why just a decade back, Shiv Sena, an ultra right-wing political party used to play the Maratha card at each and every election and heckle people coming from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, this has been documented as the 2008 immigrants attacks and 9 years later we see Shiv Sena trying to field its candidates in Uttar Pradesh. So, obviously they cannot use the same tactics which they could at one point of time.

One more reason I call it bullshit, is it’s a very lame excuse. When the Prime Minister of the country calls for demonetization which affects 1.25 billion people, people die, people stand in queues and is largely peaceful, I do not see people resisting if they bring a good scheme. I almost forgot, as an added sweetener, the Chennai municipality said that if you do RWH and show photos and certificates of the job, you won’t have to pay as much property tax as otherwise you would, that also boosted people’s participation.

And that is not the only solution, one more solution has been outlined in ‘Aaj Bhi Khade hain talaab’ written by just-deceased Gandhian environmental activist Anupam Mishra. His Book can be downloaded for free at India Water Portal . Unfortunately, the said book doesn’t have a good English translation till date. Interestingly, all of his content is licensed under public domain (CC-0) so people can continue to enjoy and learn from his life-work.

Another lesson or understanding could be taken from Israel, the father of the modern micro-drip irrigation for crops. One of the things on my bucket lists is to visit Israel and if possible learn how they went from a water-deficient country to a water-surplus one.

India labor

Which brings me to my second conundrum, most of the people believe that it’s the Government’s job to provide jobs to its people. India has been experiencing jobless growth for around a decade now, since the 2008 meltdown. While India was lucky to escape that, most of its trading partners weren’t hence it slowed down International trade which slowed down creation of new enterprises etc. Laws such as the Bankruptcy law and the upcoming Goods and Services Tax . As everybody else, am a bit excited and a bit apprehensive about how the actual implementation will take place.

null

Even International businesses has been found wanting. The latest example has been Uber and Ola. There have been protests against the two cab/taxi aggregators operating in India. For the millions of jobless students coming out of schools and Universities, there aren’t simply enough jobs for them, nor are most (okay 50%) of them qualified for the jobs, these 50 percent are also untrainable, so what to do ?

In reality, this is what keeps me awake at night. India is sitting on this ticking bomb-shell. It is really, a miracle that the youths have not rebelled yet.

While all the conditions, proposals and counter-proposals have been shared before, I wanted/needed to highlight it. While the issue seems to be local, I would assert that they are all glocal in nature. The questions we are facing, I’m sure both developing and to some extent even developed countries have probably been affected by it. I look forward to know what I can learn from them.

Update – 23/02/17 – I had wanted to share about Debian’s Voting system a bit, but that got derailed. Hence in order not to do, I’ll just point towards 2015 platforms where 3 people vied for DPL post. I *think* I shared about DPL voting process earlier but if not, would do in detail in some future blog post.

Density and accessibility

Around 2 decades back and a bit more I was introduced to computers. The top-line was 386DX which was mainly used as fat servers and some lucky institutions had the 386SX where IF we were lucky we could be able to play some games on it. I was pretty bad at Prince of Persia or most of the games of the era as most of the games depended on lightning reflexes which I didn’t possess. Then 1997 happened and I was introduced to GNU/Linux but my love of/for games still continued even though I was bad at most of them. The only saving grace was turn-based RPG’s (role-playing games) which didn’t have permadeath, so you could plan your next move. Sometimes a wrong decision would lead to getting a place from where it was impossible to move further. As the decision was taken far far break which lead to the tangent, the only recourse was to replay the game which eventually lead to giving most of those kind of games.

Then in/around 2000 Maxis came out with Sims. This was the time where I bought my first Pentium. I had never played a game which had you building stuff, designing stuff, no violence and the whole idea used to be about balancing priorities of trying to get new stuff, go to work, maintain relationships and still make sure you are eating, sleeping, have a good time. While I might have spent probably something close to 500 odd hours in the game or even more so, I spent the least amount of time in building the house. It used to be 4×4 when starting (you don’t have much of in-game money and other stuff you wanted to buy as well) to 8×8 or at the very grand 12×12. It was only the first time I spent time trying to figure out where the bathroom should be, where the kitchen should, where the bedroom should be and after that I could do that blind-folded. The idea behind my house-design used to be simplicity, efficient (for my character). I used to see other people’s grand creations of their houses and couldn’t understand why they made such big houses.

Now few days back, I saw few episodes of a game called ‘Stranded Deep’ . The story, plot is simple. You, the player are going in a chartered plane and suddenly lightning strikes ( game trope as today’s aircrafts are much better able to deal with lightning strikes) and our hero or heroine washes up on a beach with raft with the barest of possessions. Now the whole game is based upon him/her trying to survive, once you get the hang of the basic mechanics and you know what is to be done, you can do it. The only thing the game doesn’t have is farming but as the game has unlimited procedural world, you just paddle or with boat motor go island hopping and take all that what you need.

What was interesting to me was seeing a gamer putting so much time and passion in making a house.

When I was looking at that video, I realized that maybe because I live in a dense environment, even the designs we make either of houses or anything else is more to try to get more and more people rather than making sure that people are happy which leads to my next sharing.

Couple of days back, I read Virali Modi’s account of how she was molested three times when trying to use Indian Railways. She made a petition on change.org

While I do condemn the molestation as it’s an affront against individual rights, freedom, liberty, free movement, dignity.

Few of the root causes as pointed out by her, for instance the inability or non-preference to give differently-abled people the right to board first as well as awaiting to see that everybody’s boarded properly before starting the train are the most minimum steps that Indian Railways could take without spending even a paise. The same could be told/shared about sensitizing people, although I have an idea of why does Indian Railway not employ women porters or women attendants for precisely this job.

I accompanied a blind gentleman friend few times on Indian Railways and let me tell you, it was one of the most unpleasant experiences. The bogies which is given to them is similar or even less than what you see in unreserved compartments. The toilets were/are smelly, the gap between the station and the train was/is considerable for everybody from blind people, differently-abled people, elderly people as well. This is one of the causes of accidents which happen almost every day on Indian Railways. I also learnt that especially for blind people they are ‘looking’ for a sort of low-frequency whistle/noise which tells them the disabled coupe/bogie/coach will come at a specific spot in the Station. In a platform which could have anything between 1500-2000 people navigating it wouldn’t be easy. I don’t know about other places but Indian Railway Stations need to learn a lot to make it a space for differently abled to navigate by themselves.

Pune Station operates (originating or passing through) around 200 odd trains, with exceptions of all the specials and weekly trains that ply through, adding those would probably another 5-10 trains to the mix. Each train carries anywhere between 750-1000 odd people so roughly anywhere between 15-20 million pass through Pune Railway Station daily. Even if we take conservative estimates of around 5% of the public commuting from Pune, it would mean around 750,000 people travelling daily. Pune Railway Station has 6 stations and if I spread them equally it would come to around 100,000 people on one platform in 24 hours. Divide that equally by 24 hours and it comes to 4,160 people per hour.

Now you take those figures and you see the Pune platforms are under severe pressure. I have normalized many figures. For instance, just like airports, even in railways, there are specific timings where more trains come and go. From morning 0500 hrs to late night 2300 hrs. there would be lot many trains, whereas the graveyard shifts would have windows where maintenance of tracks and personnel takes place.

I dunno if people can comprehend 4000 odd people on the platform. Add to that you usually arrive at least an hour or two before a train departs even if you are a healthy person as Indian Railways has a habit of changing platforms of trains at the last minute.

So if you a differently abled person with some luggage for a long-distance train, the problems just multiply.

See drag accidents because of gap between railway bogies and platforms.

The width of the entrance to the bogie is probably between 30-40 inches but the design is such that 5-10 inches are taken on each side. I remembered the last year, our current Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi had launched Accessible Campaign with great fanfare and we didn’t hear anything much after that.

Unfortunately, the site itself has latency and accessibility issues, besides not giving any real advice even if a person wants to know what building norms should one follow if one wants to make an area accessible. This was easily seen by last year’s audit in Delhi as well as other places. A couple of web-searches later, I landed up at a Canadian site to have some idea about the width of the wheelchair itself as well as additional room to manoeuvre.

Unfortunately, the best or the most modern coaches/bogies that Indian Railways has to offer are the LHB Bogies/Coaches.

Now while the Coaches/Bogies by themselves are a big improvement from the ICF Coaches which we still have and use, if you read the advice and directions shared on the Canadian site, the coaches are far from satisfactory for people who are wheel-chair bound. According to Government’s own census records, 0.6% of the population have movement issues. Getting all the differently-abled people together, it comes between 2, 2.5% of the population which is quite a bit. If 2-3 people out of every 100 people are differently-abled then we need to figure out something for them.While I don’t have any ideas as to how we could improve the surroundings, it is clear that we need the change.

While I was thinking,dreaming,understanding some of the nuances inadvertently, my attention/memories shifted to my ‘toilet’ experiences at both Mumbai and the Doha Airport. As had shared then, had been pleasantly surprised to see that both in Mumbai Airport as well as the Doha Airport, the toilets were pretty wide, a part of me was happy and a part of me was seeing the added space as wastefulness. With the understanding of needs of differently-abled people it started to make whole lot of sense. I don’t remember if I had shared then or not. Although am left wondering where they go for loo in the aircraft. The regular toilets are a tight fit for obese people, I am guessing aircrafts have toilets for differently-abled people as well.

Looking back at last year’s conference, we had 2-3 differently-abled people. I am just guessing that it wouldn’t have been a pleasant experience for them. For instance, where we were staying, at UCT it had stairs, no lifts so by default they probably were on ground-floor. Then where we were staying and where most of the talks were about a few hundred metres away and the shortest distance were by stairs, the round-about way was by road but had vehicles around so probably not safe that way as well. I am guessing they had to be dependant on other people to figure out things. There were so many places where there were stairs and no ramps and even if there were ramps they were probably a bit more than the 1:12 which is the advice given.

I have heard that this year’s venue is also a bit challenging in terms of accessibility for differently-abled people. I am clueless as to did differently-able find debconf16 in terms of accessibility or not ? A related query to that one, if a Debconf’s final report mentions issues with accessibility, do the venues make any changes so that at some future date, differently-abled people would have a better time. I know of Indian institutions reluctance to change, to do expenditure, dunno how western countries do it. Any ideas, comments are welcome.

Sex, death and nature

Yin-Yang-Balance

Yin-Yang-Balance

There is/was a somewhat controversial book by Osho which I read long back ‘Sambhog se Samadhi Ki Aur‘ or the English version ‘From Sex to Superconsciousness

While I can’t say I understand or understood it all, read it about a decade back, the main point shared in the book was that if you are able to achieve bliss/orgasm during sex, you might be able to have a glimpse of super-consciousness.

I had to share the above context as I had gone to a meetup couple of weeks back had gone to a meetup where a friend, Dr. Swati Shome is attempting to write an educational book for teenagers to talk about sex. I did help her a bit in the past I tried to share some of the concerns I had as my generation didn’t have any guidance from parents or teachers. Most of us were left to our own devices which is similar to today’s children as well with the exception that they have the web. You look at both the books, both written in Pune (my home-town) and both talking about the same subject but from so different a view-point. If you see the comments on the meetup page, it really pains to see people’s concerns. I don’t know if there is any solution to the widespread ignorance, myth-making etc. and hence felt a bit sad 😦 . Sharing a small clip I had seen few months back.

Just to give a bit of context, the law as has been shared as passed in 2015 has happened after the 2012 Delhi Gang Rape. A part of it is also that the Indian society still frowns upon live-in relationships so in part it may also be a push-back from the conservatives. After all the BJP, a right of the center party has been in power for 2.5 years now so it’s possible that they were part of it. As I don’t have enough knowledge of what the actual case was, who were the litigants and the defendants, the lawyers and the judge involved, I cannot further speculate. If somebody has more info. or link please pass it on. It would be interesting to know if it was a single bench ruling or 3-5 judge bench.

The yin-yan symbol I had shared becomes a bit more apt as in quite a few cultures, including Indian and Japanese, the two are seen as parts of the same coin. One life-giving, the other life-taking or not even taking but converting into something else.

Death

Death

That came few days later when I was reading an article about sleep. The purpose of sleep, is to forget . It was slightly strange and yet interesting article. What disturbed me though, was the bit about the mouse being killed and his brain being sliced. I tried to find many a justification for it, but none I could have peace with. And the crux of that is because the being, the creature’s wilful consent hasn’t been taken. In nature’s eyes humans and mice are one and the same. We don’t get any special passes due to the fact that we are human. A natural disaster doesn’t care whether you are small or big, fat or strong, mouse or wo/man, coward or brave. It’s sheer luck and after disaster preparedness that people and animals get saved or not.

I thought quite a bit that instead of animals being used for scientific experiments, why don’t we use actual humans. While I’m sure PETA supporters probably may have spear-headed this idea for a long time, but it doesn’t mean I can’t come to this realization by myself. After all, it’s not about pandering to a group but rather what I think is right.

Passing the baton to humans does have its own knotty problems though. For any such kind of endeavour, people’s participation and wilful consent would be needed.

While humans can and do give wilful consent, it is difficult problem as you don’t know the situation in which that consent has been taken. We all know about Organ trafficking . Many people especially from lower economic background may be enticed and cheated with the whole economics for science. In most Indian middle and higher-middle classes religion plays a part even though with ‘death’ the body is cremated and is supposed to scatter among the Pancha Mahaboota, the five elements.

I, for one have no hang-ups if some scientist were to slice my brain to find something, provided I’m dead πŸ™‚ or for that matter any part of the body. If more people thought like that, probably we wouldn’t have to specially grow and then kill lab mice and guinea-pigs to test out theories. Possibly medical innovations would probably be a lot faster than now. Ironically, most medical innovations have happened during wars and continues to do so till date.

Comments, ideas, suggestions and criticisms all are welcome.

Flights of fancy – how to figure trends for Airline tickets.

Google Flights Fees tracking

Google Flights Fees tracking between PNQ and YUL and back, economy fares.

Couple of weeks ago, either on some mailing list, on IRC or somewhere else, somebody mentioned that people always put higher amount of airline expenditure for self when asking for sponsorship.

Now last year, between sending the application and getting the approval for sponsorship, there was 3 months of difference between the two. Now if you put up an application for sponsorship like I did last year, I had added 10% to the cost of flight tickets of the cheapest prevailing prices at that point in time on skyscanner or any of the meta-search-engines were showing me at that point in time.

I was sceptical whether the amount that I had put for the to and fro tickets would be enough or not. Strangely, I was lucky enough to get my ticket around the new estimated price. I would have to mention though that there were only 2 tickets left at the new price and if I had waited just a few hours more, those tickets would have gone too and all other tickets were around 25% more than before. The only reasons I could fathom are –

a. Luck, pure and simple.

b. Going at the end of the tourism season – This was evident as I was able to book my extended stay at any hostel just 2 days before my stay at UCT (University of Cape Town) was over. Was corroborated by hostel staff, shop-owners as well as whatever info. I found on the web before and during my stay in SA.

c. South Africa being more lenient than probably Canada is giving and processing visas.

While looking at the third point, thought I better check world tourism rankings and saw the Wikipedia page for it. Interestingly, South Africa seems to have a slight edge over Canada when it comes to statistics and hence strengthens my assumptions that probably more people apply for SA than Canada as they know the possibility of more people making through visa processing. It would stand to be logical that more people would apply for a tourist or similar short-term resident visas if they know they have a good chance going through.

While researching on the topic I also came across/ hunted to find the hardest places to get a Visa for and was surprised to find India being lasted therein.Coincidentally, that site also has a UK domain.It does burst the bubble in ‘Incredible India’ a little bit.

As a newbie who had no clue I knew I was probably a victim of Information Asymmetry where the airlines have much more information about travel trends, ongoing trends at Airports, Politics and Economics of Countries, Price of Crude Oil, Profit, Competition and probably many more factors that I haven’t taken into account which decide fares.

While researching on the topic, one of the interesting finds I had while trying to figure the above is that Airlines didn’t pass on fuel savings to their customers. Now I don’t know whether this was the same around the world or was this only in UK. I am shocked that British (and by definition EU, as UK was part of EU at that time) travellers or consumer groups didn’t file a suit in the court of law as reading the above smells of anticompetitive behaviour. The most shocking statement was this –

“Average fares to Spain rose by 10 per cent over the same period.” – Telegraph, UK.

In order to lessen this information asymmetry a bit, I used google flights and its data of the past 2 months to see how the fares have been changing to have some insight of where the fares might end up. I know google is hated by one and all, but in this instance I couldn’t find any comparable site which does this kind of thing.

As can be seen in the graph, the tickets had started relatively cheap from around INR 65k ish to around 80k ish at this point in time. That is a jump of around 30% in the last couple of months. All of these flights have a layover somewhere in Europe and taking a second flight from there to Canada.

The one which didn’t show much of action is the direct plan between BOM – YUL and back but then this seems to be a premium service . Taking a direct flight from BOM – YUL is north of INR 90k/- which doesn’t make much sense unless one is fond of spending 13+ hours in flight. Definitely not my cup of tea.

With layovers it makes the experience a bit more bearable.

While the real action is probably 3 or bit more months away, its interesting to see how things are panning out at least on airline price tickets and the dynamics involved therein.

Even with all the above attempts at finding the answer, I’m no closer to figuring out to estimate airline ticket prices when window is largish 3 months in making. Any ideas anybody?

If the previous jump is any indication, then 10-15% escalation bit might not hack this time around. Any strategies that people could advise while trying to put a ball-park figure.

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