Hackergram journey part 1- The journey Begins

I will be writing the journey and musings in two parts, the Journey and the return . I was supposed to write about WIDSPune (Women in Data Science, Pune) an event held in Pune last month. While I do have lot of thoughts and observations on that topic, I would do that later as this I feel is important, not just for me but probably everybody who has been afraid to ask for help especially when you feel weak, either physically or emotionally. This might be of some help to some of the brothers and sisters who were at the Christchurch shooting. While I didn’t go through the experience as you did, not by a long shot, but I do hope that you do ask for help as I did and helps you emerge stronger than before. Before starting there are many people I have to thank for the experience and making things nice for me even though I wasn’t able to contribute as much as I wanted.

Continue reading “Hackergram journey part 1- The journey Begins”

Saving the Ganga

A younger cousin of mine remarked that the Government of the day is so serious about cleaning the Ganga. I didn’t know how to respond. At first I thought he was pulling my leg but when he said it seriously and said so I had no other choice but to call him on it. But rather than just telling him, I thought it would be wiser to share some of the links, news in the media and ask if there is actually any work happening on the ground.

The Ganga as it looks today – Copyright – Down To Earth.

The above picture has been taken from the article Khumb’s over, now God save the Ganga which is written by DTE . This illustrates how the tanneries were closed just for the Khumb, for political mileage and nothing else. This is when there had been two Supreme Court judgements to close Polluting Industries for good and still nothing has been done by the present Govt.

And this is just list of the woes. The real story is that one Clean Ganga activist died and one is missing and the Government prefers to look the other way . The Clean Ganga Panel has met only twice and spent only 18% of the funds have been utilized according to another media report. There are more than dozen or more litigations pending in the Supreme Court about Clean Ganga where the responder is the Govt. of India and the Government has not even given them a single hearing over the last 5 years.

I just came from Uttarakhand, near Nainital . While going, I saw that the National Highway was an off-roader’s delight. Upon asking the locals and the driver it became clear the road doesn’t have any grip, it is landslide prone because of beserk construction. This has been shared and told clearly in an International Journal Science Direct, June 2014 as well as a CNN report which says the same. The same is also said in Jagran Josh , a local newspaper as well.

DevSecOps Pune Meetup 4

This I had attended almost a month back. I just didn’t have the time or the energy to blog about it. Thankfully, one of the organizers Rohan Nageskar took the time to blog about it so I don’t have to do much other than share a few of the links I had shared and some which I had forgotten to do on that date. The first one was about usage of A.I. for vulnerability assessment using twitter mentions as a source. While the idea certainly has merit and would go a long way in getting nods to fix vulnerabilities in the code during the whole cycle of development, production, deployment, scaling, maintainance till the time the code or app. or whatever needs to be retired. At the same time however, it is not known how accurate the system would be because at the end, it still relies on human input and humans per-se are bad at threat perception and evaluation as per millions of examples. All the wars that have been fought and are still being fought in whatever name is a strong example of that.

One of the other things that I shared was the Intel Spoiler attack which was just shared just a few hours ago or something so it was pretty fresh at the time. I also shared a bit about where the hardware industry seemed to be heading and it seems at least for the near future that AMD would have the leg up. There’s the whole RISC bit for which chips are already out there and lot more being promised in the coming months and year but that’s a different topic altogether.

Incidentally, while Rohan was sharing about using Ansible for scaling a webapp and how you would have different servers for scaling the webapp. depending on needs, I was wondering that definitely the BJP IT Team would have profited from Rohan’s presentation. While Rohan didn’t go much into specifics of things, it was more or a high-level overview of the process, it did establish some groundwork for any individual or team as to how they could go about it. For newbies they could well read up on the differences on webapp. and website . To my mind, they are one and the same as most sites nowadays are dyanmic in nature due to nature of things.

I also shared about the BJP site hack (unofficially of course) and everybody was nonplussed to learn about it because we all have been told again and again the skills the BJP IT cell has. This is when it was almost 2 weeks when the site was down. Few days later, they did put a sort of site back and stole a bootstrapable theme . There were quite a few hate comments, which can be easily be termed victim-shaming and they had no choice but to respond back . It seems that the people in BJP do not understand either understand or don’t want to understand Intellectual Property Rights or to be more specific, Copyright in this particular case. This specific example is clearly a case of copyright infringment rather than anything else. In fact all of the FOSS environment revolves around credit-sharing apart from monetary compensation.

Anyways, some pictures from the meetup to round off the day 🙂

Me sharing some point probably
All the attendees of the Devops meetup.

In the last picture you can see Rohan at the end right in an orange t-shirt with glasses while Rahul you can see in dead center in white shirt at the center. They were the organizers of the event. Many thanx to Qualys for being the host for the meetup.

ASAT and ISRO, DRDO merger rumor

ASAT Test

For last few days I was not in Pune as had gone to attend a workshop which was funded by Innovation for change . Unfortunately, I was not able to take part in the workshop as the traveling proved to be a bit too much in too short a time. While I would share more in another blog post for the moment, I would like to share about the ASAT test that India conducted. While it’s a positive development, from my perspective there was no need for the Prime Minister to come on-stage and declare that we can shoot down a Satellite at 3k when China can do the same at 38k . So we have a long way to go, in as far as parity with China is concerned. While I’m not sharing the source of this information, this is for all and anybody to see and figure out if you know how to use the web. There are a few things I would share, I didn’t use any private data-sets to get this information, which means it’s available easily online. I did not use tor, the dark web otherwise I probably could have got far more material. Thirdly and more interestingly, if you wanna start your search from scratch, ORF could be a good starting point from an Indian POV although there are many other such think-tanks which could help you in your research.

The only question I have to ask is if we are the weaker party, which is clearly the case herein, then whom are we trying to sell this idea if not the Indian public ? Chinese military satellites are in varying range from 300 km. to 36,000 km. so there is hardly a chance that we would be able to make any significant dent to their military usage. Also using an ASAT on another country’s satellite would be an act of war. As far as Communication satellites are concerned, they are also at 36,000 km. are at the Geostationary orbit so they will not be harmed. There is also a pretty nice animation of the same at wikimedia .

International Politics

While we can understand that Mr. Modi did it for electioneering, it does have impact internationally. Last year when the Chinese did another ASAT test (which the Pentagon guestimate it reached 36k from sea level from their ground and space-based instruments) . The Chinese statement was quite brief and to the point . They said that they did the test and it performed on all the military objectives. This is a sort of perfect statement which doesn’t reveal either what the Chinese military objectives of the test were and what was accomplished. All other Governments either have to rely on their own instrumentation (if they have in space to spy and on lookout for such activities ) or rely on Pentagon’s guestimates and findings which they chose to public. The Americans are also well to not show their hand and may share some information or even share mis-information as this is and would be considered part of Information warfare. This is also precisely the reasons we have ambassadors, diplomats and others who sit together and are engaged in naunced wording. There were no need of an announcement and even if it needed, it could have been done by some mid-level executive on DRDO saying something similar on the lines of what the Chinese said and probably adding we have a long road ahead of us or something like that.

Update – 04/04/2019 – Somebody on twitter shared a link to Dr. Saraswat’s latest interview which was held a few days back .

The answers were designed in the way so as to show that the UPA govt. didn’t show the interest for the ASAT test while the NDA Govt. Even if we do take Dr. Saraswat’s interpretion of how the event happened, it still raises questions rather than answers.

  1. By. Dr. Saraswat’s own admission, it was an informal presentation . While he didn’t go into the details of what he meant by ‘informal presentation’ it could be something akin to somebody asking me to do an informal presentation on Debian. For this, the most I have to do is collect my thoughts, read up a bit onto what’s new, exciting if there is something which catches my eye and at the most have 5-7 pages of slides and depending upon what kind of organization it is, I would share what Debian is. If however, somebody would ask me to make a presentation on a possible Debian deployment, it would consist of knowing and having details of how small or big the network is ? What are the critical points in the network (for e.g. many shops or small businessess have either their custom-designed billing system whose source-code they don’t have and has to be on MS-Windows) while other systems you could potentially do the deployment. Apart from doing the actual deployment, there would be time for training, documentation etc. all of which involve some sort of hard numbers and time which both parties would have to work at to get some sort of understanding of how this different system works.

2. And this is where my question comes in. In the interview it’s also not mentioned what time or date when the presentation was done. Now we all know that 2014 was only a year away, if the presentation was done 6-9 months before elections, it is very much possible that there was no interest because it would be time-consuming and there are no guarantees of a successful test. In fact, before this test which was declared a success, there was another test which was conducted by DRDO which was a failure. This also begs or marks the question as to when did Dr. Saraswat approach NDA or vice-versa and when he started actively working on the project. Did it take 5 years for this to come to this stage or 2 years or less because that would give some more guidance and a way for us to guage future success of the project.

Rumour of Merging DRDO and ISRO

There is also a worrying bit of news that the Government of India is thinking of merging both DRDO and ISRO to be similar structure to what the Chinese have for their space program, which I think will be disastrous for the Indian Space Program, the taxpayer public money as well as the two organizations as well.

DRDO work culture

While my mother had the honor of serving within a sub-set of DRDO and she was friends with few scientists, one of the major grouses for most scientists was the constant shifting of parameters or specifications. To take a very simple example, let’s think that you are told or given a set of specs. of a Maruti 800, a small city car , then a year, year down the half, you are told that the design specifications has changed to now a Station Wagon or a hatchback and when you start to design for those, the specs. are changed again in a year or two to a sports car. Now any car-enthusiast would know that these three are completely different cars having their unique needs, dimensions, center of gravity, steering, fuel consumption, the works. Extrapolate that to a missile or missiles where more often than not, these design changes were at many a times not asked by the Armed forces who would be the actual users but the bureaucracy i.e. civil servants, many from IAS who instead of consulting, using consesus of the people on both sides, instead share and put whatever opinion they have. Of course inter-personality conflicts also do occur and inspite of it DRDO is able to do what it does. Because of quite a few such Inter-personality conflicts, many a brilliant scientist have been forced to leave DRDO and are now either serving private Indian interests or some foreign ones and they repent why they spent their best productive years at DRDO or whatever sub-unit they were into.

ISRO Work culture

While I do not have relatives working in ISRO, I do and did have friends who work or have worked in ISRO. Due to the nature of the work itself, which is more exploratory and peaceful in nature, they are able to collaborate with lot of educational institutions within India and worldwide and even collaborate with organizations like NASA, ESA and others. The civilian beaureacracy has had a more hands-off approach which has resulted in ISRO being able to carry out whatever fantastic achievements they have been able to achieve. The only thing, if they need to learn from this Government, is the ability to find money and do more of promotion of the good work they are doing. Even if ISRO were to do 1% of the promotion that NASA does in promotion with merchandising, they would get more than money back while at the same time inspire millions of young children to take up challenges in space sciences.

So from the above, it is pretty clear it would be disastrous as both have a very different mind-set and ways of working. I remember hearing or conversing with some military gentleman couple of years ago and we were talking on some similar topics. This was on a short train trip. The gentleman remarked, it’s not often that we get things to work right the first time, in any of the fields of endevour the military does. If we do, even some small part, we make sure not to disturb or change it and would make changes around it so it works and fix all the other things and processes till there is cohesion. He went on to share some real-life examples from his work which I have since forgotten but the principle seems good, solid enough at least to me.

Making Organizations Fun

At the very end, I would like to draw attention to Jonathan Carter’s blog post where he shares about Debian and Fun . I found both the art peices most appropriate not just for the organizations listed above, but should be the calling points of any organization which believes in genuine stewardship of whatever organization they have or hope to take forward.

While I would invite everybody who has more than a passing interest in the world of computer science to see Jonathan’s and other potential DPL (Debian Project Leader) platforms as well as their rebuttals, the difference between the two is statements or pictures above is that while the first one is an employer-employee model, the second is more on the volunteer, contributor-steward model. Although as DPL , the only perks the DPL enjoys are speaking about Debian in sometimes exotic locations, although that is more than tempered by being part of Debian Politics and Free software politics which comes with its own rewards, risk scenario and is and can be pretty tricky as has been observed over the years.

Questions about Racism, Immigration


Racial Attacks in New Zealand

I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I wrote the blog post about Racism . While that one was in response to Russel’s post about a year back, this one is about the cowardly attack on the 50 odd and rising people died in the racist attack in New Zealand few days back. While I knew things were and charged with Trump and the right or/and alt right is rising in Europe as well but didn’t know that the fire had spread through Australia and New Zealand as well. And before people point fingers, it isn’t as if India is any better in the current circumstances. I came to know of the news on twitter where a gentleman named Khaled Beydoun broke the story . I had not been well the day before hence after work had just slept and woke mid-afternoon. I usually freshen myself but that day either due to laziness or whatever, I opened and was shocked when I read the news on twitter. My eyes, brain must have not properly woken up as I urged Khaled, along with many others to share the stories of the victims so people might know about them. In India, it has been more or less characterised as something to celebrate with slogans like ’50 would-be terrorists slain’ and such nonsense, I did feel it was part of some larger scheme as then also heard that the shooter had a webcam and live-streamed the whole thing on Facebook. Around the same time or a little later, also came to know about Senator Fraser Anning who talked about ‘White Australia’ . The idea behind ‘White Australia’ has been mirrored by the Right in Poland today/yesterday.

Immigration

The idea is similar in many ways to what Brexiteers told to people living in Britain. In essence we see the following characteristics –

a. Immigrants are the problem of all problems – While time and again has shown that Immigrants have been the source of growth in all developed countries, they are still able to get that particular message across. We had movies like Pathemari from South and fortunately or unfortunately many more movies on the same subject pursued in Hollywood. Some of the movies which I have enjoyed and have also found challenging are Moscow on the Hudson, (one of the best performances given by Robin Williams, The Immigrant , Man Push Cart, The Namesake (the Novel first and then the Movie) , Brooklyn , Sugar and many more. To distill down, all the movies, it comes to a singular fact, we love the place where we are born. We learn the taste, the smell, the culture and are assimilated by it long before we know it. It is only when people go to a different place whether to visit or to live as an immigrant that a dissonance is created and people spend their whole lives trying to fix the dissonance somehow.

In fact, I know at least 10-15 friends and family personally who have been forced into being Economic migrants for life, many of them into IT or Information Technology or business. While I may have shared this pattern before, just a few months back, (without taking names), a friend of mine wound up going back to States. He had made good money in States, is and was at a high post, had made enough money to buy a bungalow in Pune. He sent resumes from United States to Indian companies in and around Pune where they promised him comparative earnings, But when he was back in the excuse of being with the family i.e. father, mother, sister et al he found that they were promising him now half or 1/3rd of what they had promised him before. And this is without any of the benefits which he was enjoying in States. His wife is also from Pune, India and a working professional. In the end, he had to sell his bungalow and say a tearful bye to his parents and sister. This is the case in almost all of Kothrud. I may have shared about Kothrud before. This is a place around 5-6 kms. from my place, where thousands of parents are living a good life as their children are abroad. They feel good that the children are earning good, but many or most of them miss the human touch, the love and care that children can give. There are now non-profits and even the police who do try to care of the old and the aged but there is only so much they can do.

Why people leave, the Brain Drain and Politics in India

Just to share some facts about the Indian Industry, the Indian Government has several plans and schemes on paper, but most of them are unworkable in real life. They have fallen flat as Startup India and ‘Make in India‘ which have been reduced to being mere logos within India. In fact, almost all economic indicators are at a record low. While except for mobiles, most electronic products are stalling, even Cars and Bikes sales which are known as bell-weathers of how the Indian Economy is doing tells the story well. In fact, the current stats. of unemployment should raise a cause of concern. The story does have political colors as now it has come to light that RBI had advised against demonetisation before it was announced and now we are fully into election mode. There is and was China-bashing without realizing we need them as we have no alternatives and even no plan. There have been accusations being made against Pandit Nehru for giving the UNSC seat without understanding the politics behind it. While I of course, need to read more of history, it does point to the fact that if Pandit Nehru had taken the seat, then India would have had war with China in 1955 rather than 1962 when it did. The reason I shared the above is at least most of the problems in India are of its own making, or at the very least, its leaders, the same I fear could possibly be said of many countries.

A hypothesis

There are couple of other painful truths which I feel we don’t want to face, we are all migrants if we believe and support the hypothesis and observation that anthropologists have made about Homosapiens, to the extent as to where they were found and how migration happened over generations. By the same coin, an argument can be made that all of us have our hands bloody. Either in the recent or waaay in the past, the history we don’t know, we either wilfully or tacitly killed whatever was native to each land, whether it was humans or nature itself.

Reasoning for fear of Immigration

b. Nationalism will solve all the problems – There is this wide-spread belief that either ultra-nationalism, or being ultra-whatever will solve all problems. It took more than 200 years for the separation between the church and the State if you read the article on Wikipedia and look up some of the links they have mentioned therein and less than 5 years with help of technology to try to have them together. The idea of one race, one thought has been peddled before and it has resulted into untold destruction. and there is no evidence to point that it will be anything different today.

c. The main crux though of the matter though is probably Immigration and jobs, security – This is where the actual fight is. Most people believe that the natural-born should have some sort of entitlement, more than the Immigrants and that Immigrants get favors which from at least my reading has not been true at all. One point though, I am talking about Economic Migrants here and NOT migrants who end up elsewhere from where they are due to war, famine, natural calamities. For such people who are the unluckiest because they are not in charge of their fates I have no clue as it is much more complex than Economic migrants. Any solutions should have humanitarian focus but is easily pulled into politics as has been seen in India and potentially is the same for other countries as well. It is very much possible that at some future date, we may find India culpable in Rohingya genocide if that becomes the case. This reminds me very much of the Komagata Maru incident in which Indians died and the Canadian PM later apologized.

There was only one advertisement from some European freezing country (climate-wise) which said they will provide or give a house to whoever migrates there (have forgotten the name of the country) but in most countries Immigrants have quite a number of issues. Last year when trying to understand about Taiwan, came to know about immigration issues within Taiwan, much of which is espoused quite nicely in the recent issue of thediplomat. I would venture other countries would have similar issues. I had shared before when I visited Qatar and came to know that in almost all Middle-east countries Indians and people from the sub-continent have a work visa and in many ways they are bonded labourers. Only last year they have made some changes. After coming back to India, Pune I was able to ask and know from many people both in Pune and elsewhere and all of them had similar stories to share. I remember reading some article about immigration laws to Australia in which it was said that if a doctor trained in India were to migrate to Australia, he would have to go through the residency period all over again. That would add another 5-7 years for learning medicine again when s(he) could have been helping. This was shared not just in the article but also shared by personal experiences of few friends and people I met, casually had a chat and so on.

Why not Ban Immigration At all

If Immigration is such an issue why not ban it ? The New Scientist ran a series of articles on the same topic couple of years ago. While I would recommend to read them all, the best one which resounded within me was this one . I had a coincidence to meet quite a few doctors, nurses etc. during my travels, also when I was ill in the hospital. My landlord too was a Doctor who served all his life in UK in NHS . While we have somewhat of a quarrel-some relationship due to renter and rentee, he has shared lot about NHS in Britain. Interestingly, lot of his colleagues were from India, apparently close to 30-40% of the doctors and nurses are from India. The same I have heard about Gulf Countries as well. There are also articles by Rukhsana Khan, I especially liked the article in which she shares about immigration in Canada which I found to be quite interesting. The comments much more so as it tells how much as a species we have yet to grow.

The Positives

While the cost has been high, there has been a net positive as far as inclusiveness for New Zealand is concerned. Jacinda Ardern, the world’s youngest female leader, as shared by Economist had been forthright, critical and called it a terrorist attack. This must have been really difficult for Jacinda to do politically especially when you see her background as shared by Economist, the reasons people chose her. But this is what leaders are expected to do, to lead and not be predictable. This is something our great leader has not been able to. The whole world has commended her for the way she has managed to lead, both with grace and empathy. While I did see some people commenting on her need to use the hijab, most people have complimented her for the way she communicated and foremore, bringing restriction to gun ownership esp. in automated rifles . This is something that United States has failed to do despite so many killings which have taken place 😦

While the post has turned to be long there are still many feelings yet to be expressed, the first one is from a person of whose work I am a fan of and make no bones about it –

TL;DR: The effects of the rise of right wing populism are not dramatic and visible. Often they just involve an excruciating micronegotiation of your body and its place in geographies of suspicion. Do you know what happens when you wear skin and body of suspicion? In a country that overnight feels hostile because of an abhorrent act of terrorism, and an election that exercised the democratic will of bringing into power a fundamental extremist political party, you scan your everyday modes of being. The routines and ruts of habitual living suddenly become unfamiliar, suspect, alien. You take on the double weight of the loss and grief of the victims and the shame and repentance of the perpetrator. You inherit pity and terror of the tragedy with no catharsis. And you see yourself change. Instantaneously.

1. You find yourself smiling more. Whenever you are in public, you make an extra effort to smile at strangers, to convince them that the bag on your shoulders only has your laptop and no other weapon.

2. When you see the increased security, you try to look small, wrapped up in a shrug, to convince the scrutinizing gaze that you are not a menace.

3. When you sit on the train you realise that you sit differently. Not taking as much space, Keeping all your limbs to yourself, breathing in self-defence.

4. Your phone vibrates while you are sitting in the train. It is your mom. You wonder if you should take the call, and speak in your heathen tongue, and if it will offend or alarm people around you.

5. You hear the couple sitting next to you, peering over a train time-table and trying to figure out where they should change trains. You pause for a long moment before you give them advice in a language that you only speak brokenly.

6. You pretend not to notice the raised eyebrows when you betray your outsider status by speaking the local language clumsily, and accept the reluctant thanks before trying to hide behind your phone.

7. You are hungry. There is a lunch box in your bagpack. It is the left-over curry from dinner last night. You hesitate opening it lest the smells of your food bring forth a reaction that you might not be able to digest.

8. As you walk to the building where you have a meeting, you see a group of people drinking beer and being loud, and you instinctively scan to see if there is another entrance into the building that you can detour to.

9. You find solidarity in the people who are angry and in shock at this changed electoral and cultural trend in their country. They lament about how things are going bad. You don’t join them and instead spend all your effort in assuring them that you do not blame them, that you are happy to have them as friends and colleagues; you swallow your feeling of vague dread and spend time consoling them about the fate of things to come.

10. You meet a friend. You sit in a café and talk. You see a small group of people in their older whateveragebrackets pointedly looking at you and looking away when you catch their eye. When you see it happening more than once, you talk your friend into going somewhere else. When asked why, you say, ‘this is just so loud’.

11. You sit through an academic discussion. People are talking about vulnerability and safety. Care and creativity show up. The smart, insightful, and inspiring conversations develop, surrounded by plenty and privilege. You drone out because you remember the 5 refugees that you are counselling, who have sent you messages that given the current political climate, they want to drop out of their education development programme. Now is not a good time to be visible, one 19 year old has said.

12. You enter the central station and realise that you are going to have to sprint to the train. You are used to this. But today you walk measured footsteps even though you are going to miss the train. You don’t want to be running in your body, on a late evening train station. You miss the train and wait in the cold wind plucking at your cheeks, for the next one that takes you home.

13. On the ride back, you compose your face in rehearsed pleasantness. You wear your Asian niceness on your cheeks. The tiredness of the day has no place on your face. You are good, you are not a threat, you are acceptable.

14. You put on your headphones and are going to switch to the usual Bollywood mix that you listen to when you walk home. Before you do that, you remove the headphones and play the music. You are checking to see if the music is too loud, and seeping out of the headphones, betraying its ethnicity in its foreign cadences. You lower the volume and decide to play an American pop mix anyway.

15. You walk home on routine routes when you see three people walking behind you. It is a public space. It is your everyday route home. There are people around. You slow down to let them pass. You find comfort in the bagpack snuggling your back, like an armour.

16. You are fumbling for your keys at the entrance of the building. Somebody walks out of the door at the same time. You are happy not to be fishing for keys, so you ask them to hold the door and scurry up inside. The person asks where you want to go. You tell them you live here. You have never seen each other. You nod, wanting to get home. You get out of the slow elevator and from around the corner you see the person from downstairs looking at you. She has taken the stairs to see you safe home.

17. You enter home and even before you have taken off the bag, or the double layers of coats on your shoulder, you feel a weight come off your shoulders. You stretch to your full height. You breathe deeply. In the solace of solitude, you feel the layers of the day strip off. You head into a warm shower and wash all the gazes that have scorched your body. You step out. While drying in front of the misty mirror., you realise that if this continues, it will soon become habit. When your body is a question, you live like an apology. And these are the experiences of a life that is well shielded, protected, and supported by privilege, mobility, work, health, communities of love and trust, and money. So for anybody who is more precarious this must be amplified multiple times. If you know somebody who feels that they are bodies and skins of suspicion, now you know the cruel algebra of life that they are constantly solving. If somebody tells you they are worried, anxious, feeling afraid because of what this populist verdict has delivered, don’t downplay their dread. It is theirs. Let them work through it. You cannot change it by merely offering your love and care. It helps, but this is not a personal question of feelings – it is a structural problem of survival. Their experience is not an accusation towards you. It is merely an apology for themselves. You might not have voted for this to happen. But you are still a part of the system, and the only way out of this is for us to challenge the normalization of hatred and violence.

https://nishantshah.online/ , Nishant Shah , Academic, Educator, Researcher and Annotator, Netherlands.

As shared by Nishant, while I have not met him, have had the privilege to have read many of the articles penned by him many a times in Indian Express and other places. We also have managed to near-miss each other even though I have been to Bangalore quite a number of times to CIS when he was part of CIS . Also this is not just about what he experienced and what many other people who are foreigners or migrants feel, it is also to shed a light to all those who think of migration as the geese which lays the golden goose but forget the cost.

The other is one of my favorite lyricist, poet, writer who made many marriages happen and also likely to bear the cross for the same (from either husbands or wives) Miyan Javed Akhtar Sahab –

To speak of that which everyone is fearful, of that you must write
The night was never so dark ever before, write!

Throw away the pens with which you wrote the odes
In praise of the true pen dipped in the heart’s blood, write!

The narrow circles that confine you, break all of them
Come under the open skies now, of a new creation, write!

That which finds no place in the daily newspapers
That incident which happens everywhere every day, write!

That which has happened finds mentions
But of those that should have happened, write!

If you wish to see spring return to this garden
Call out from every branch and on every leaf, write!

Written by Miyan Javed Akhtar Sahab, translated by Rakshanda Jalil for scroll.in where it first appeared digitally to my knowledge.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

First of all I would like to share about a video which I should have talked or added about in the ‘Celebrating National Science Day at GMRT‘ blog post. It’s a documentary called ‘The Most Unknown‘ . It’s a great documentary as it gives you a glimpse of how much is there yet to discover. The reason I shared this is I have seen lot of money being removed from Government Research and put god knows where. Just a fair warning, it would be somewhat of a long conversation.

Almost all of IIT’s are in bad shape, in fact IIT Mumbai which I know and have often had the privilege to associate myself with has been going through tough times. This is when institutes such as IIT Mumbai, NCRA, GMRT, FTII and all such institutions have made loads of contributions in creating awareness and has given the public the ability to question rather than just ‘believe’ . For any innovation to happen, you have to question, investigate, prove, share the findings and the way you have done things so it could be reproduced.

Even Social Sciences as shared in the Documentary and my brief learnings and takeaways from TISS has been the same. The reason is even they are in somewhat dire-straits. I was just sharing or having a conversation with another friend few days back who is into higher education that IISER Pune where the recent Wordcamp happened had to commercialize and open its doors to events in order to sustain itself. While I and perhaps all wordcampers would forever be grateful for sharing with us such a great place as well as a studios vibe which also influenced how Wordcamp was held, I did feel sad that we intruded in their study areas which should be meant for IISER’s only.

Before I get too carried away, I should point to people that people should look at Ian Cheney’s some of the old documentaries as well (the one who just did the most Unknown) and has found his previous work compelling as well. The City Dark is a beautiful masterpiece and shares lot of insights about light pollution which India could use well to improve both our lighting as well as reduce light pollution in the atmosphere.

Meeting with Bhakts and ‘Good intentions’

The reason I shared the above was also keeping in mind the conversations I have whenever I meet Bhakts. The term bhakt comes from bhakti in Sanskrit which at one time meant spirituality and purity although now in politics it means one who choose to believe in the leader and the party absolutely. Whenever a bhakt starts losing an logical argument, one of the argument that is often meted out is whatever you say you cannot doubt Mr. Narendra Modi’s intentions which is the reason why I took the often used proverb to prove the same point and is the heading of the blog post. The problem with the whole ‘good intentions’ part is, it’s pretty much a strawman argument. The problem with intentions is everybody can either say or mask their intentions. Even ISIS says that they want to bring back the golden phase of Islam. We have seen their actions, should we believe what they say ? Or even Hitler who said ‘One people, one empire, one leader’ who claimed that the Aryans were superior to the Jewish people while history has gone to show the exact opposite. Israel, today is the eight-biggest arms supplier in the world, our military is the second-biggest buyer of arms from them as well as far more prosperous than us and many other countries. Their work on drip-irrigation and water retention, agricultural techniques, there is much we could learn from them. Same thing about manning borders and such. While I could give many such examples the easiest example to share in context of good intentions gone wrong is Demonetisation in India which deserves its own paragraph.

Demonetisation

Demonetisation was heralded by Mr. Modi with great fanfare . It was supposed to take out black money. While we learned later that black money didn’t get wiped out but has become more into your face. This we learned later was debunked by the earlier R.B.I. Governor Raghuram Rajan and then now from R.B.I. itself. This is before Mr. Narendra Modi announced demonetisation. Sharing below an excerpt from the Freakonomics Radio show which has Mr. Rajan’s interview. Makes for interesting reading or listening as the case may be.

DUBNER: Now, shortly after your departure as governor of the R.B.I., Prime Minister Modi executed a sudden, controversial plan to abolish 500- and 1,000-rupee banknotes, hoping to crack down on the shadow economy and tax evasion. I understand you had not been in favor of that idea, correct? p, li { white-space: pre-wrap; }

RAJAN: Absolutely. It didn’t make sense. I was asked for my opinion, and I said, “Look, it is taking away money that people use in transactions. It’s going to create enormous disruption unless we replace it overnight with freshly printed money.” And it’s very important that we have all that in place, difficult to maintain secrecy, and then the fundamental sort of objective of this, which was to get people to bring out the money that they hoarded in their basements and pay taxes on them — I said, “That’s probably not going to work out, because they’re going to find ways to infuse the money back into the system without paying those taxes.”

DUBNER: It’s been roughly two years now. What have been the effects of this demonetization?

RAJAN: Well, I think more than the numbers suggest, because India was growing at that time. And we had numbers which were in the 7.5 percent growth range at that point, at a time, in 2016, when the world was actually growing quite slowly. When growth picked up in 2017, instead of going along with the world, which we typically do and we exceed world growth significantly, we went down. That suggests it had a tremendous effect on growth, but that, the numbers don’t capture it all, because what actually got killed was the informal sector — the people who were doing work with notes rather than with checks, who didn’t have formal bank accounts. And when you look at the job numbers that some private-sector people estimate 10, 12 million jobs were lost in that episode. And, of course, we haven’t recovered them yet. It was one of those places where more economic thinking would have helped.

DUBNER: Was it a coincidence that Prime Minister Modi went ahead with the plan only after you’d left?

RAJAN: Well, I can’t speak on that. I can only say that I made my objections very, very clear.

Freakonomics Podcast Stephen J. Dubner interviewing Mr. Raghuram Rajan, RBI Governor 5th September 2013 – 5th September 2017. Aired on 6th February 2019 .

I would urge people to listen to Freakonomics Radio as there are lots of pearls of wisdom in there. There is also the Good ideas are not enough podcast which is very relevant to the topic at hand but would digress about the Freakonomics radio for now.

The interesting part to ask from the details known from R.B.I. are –


a. Why did Mr. Narendra Modi feel the need to have the permission of R.B.I. after 38 days ?


b. If Mr. Modi were confident of the end-result then shouldn’t he have instead of asking permission and have the PMO have taken all the responsibility.


In any case, as was seen from R.B.I. counting only 0.3% of the money did not come even though many people’s valid claims were thrown out and the expense in the whole exercise was much more than the shortfall. R.B.I. didn’t get INR 10k crore while it spent INR 13k crore for the new currency. Does anybody see any saving here ?

The bhakts counter-argument is that the bankers were bad, if everybody had done their work, then it would have all worked out as Mr. Modi wanted. The statement itself implies that they didn’t know the reality. Even if we take the statement at face-value that all the bankers were cheaters (which I don’t agree with at all) , didn’t they know it when they were the opposition. Where was the party’s economic intelligence, didn’t it tell them so many years they were in Opposition. This is what the Opposition should be doing and knowing about the state of the Economy and know the workings to say the least.

There is also this https://www.scribd.com/document/401570379/Minutes-of-RBI-s-board-meeting-on-demonetisation

These are minutes obtained by Venkatesh Nayak under the RTI tool.

To rub salt to the wounds, now the IPP is at low of 1.7 percent as well 😦 . As always, I’m sure BJP will say these are not the final numbers.

I am curious to know what RSS people would think or make of this video –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYKKrnG26YA

The other terminology people do use when they are unable to win an argument is I don’t know in detail, why don’t you come to the shaaka and meet our ‘prachaarak’ . Pracharaak while a hindi word used to mean a wise man disseminating knowledge but in RSS-speak he is a political spinner. In style, mannerisms they are very close to how born again Jesuists or Missionaries do, the ones who are forceful, don’t want to have a meaningful conversation. The most interesting video on this topic can be seen on twitter

https://twitter.com/akashbanerjee/status/1105309181240885248/

Important Legislations which need Public Scrutiny

The other interesting development or regression which I and probably many tech-savvy Indians would probably noted is the total lack of comments on any of the new regulations by Mozilla about Internet, whether it is the News and Draft Intermedairy rules, the Aadhar Amendment Bill, 2019 which was passed recently, the Draft E-commerce Bill , Data Protection Bill, all of which are important pieces of legislation which need and needed careful study. While the Government of India isn’t going to do anything apart from asking comments, people should have come forward and made better systems. One of the things that any social group could do is either have Stet or a co-ment instance so it could capture people comments and also mail it from their to Meity .

The BJP Site hack

Last and not the least was the BJP site hack which is now in ninth day where it is still under maintainance . It was a hack because there was a meme which went viral on the web. Elliot in his inimitable style also shared how they should have backed up their site . In an un-related event I was attending devops event where how web apps, websites should be done was shared. It’s not rocket science, even if one of the people had looked at ‘high-availability’ they would have got loads of web-pages and links which tell how to be secure and still serve content. Apparently, they just did not take BJP site data but probably also donor data (people who have donated wealth to BJP) . There is a high possibility if it’s a real hack that crackers, foreign agents could put BJP to ransom and have dominion on India if BJP comes back to power. While I do hope such a scenario doesn’t play out you never know. I would probably share about the devops event some other time as there was much happening there and deserves its own blog post.

On the other hand, it could be a ploy to tell to EC (Election Commission) we don’t have the data, our website got hacked when EC asks from where you got the funding for the Elections.

In either way it doesn’t seem a good time for either BJP or even India as a whole if it has such weak I.T. Government 😦

Frankly speaking, when I first heard it, I was thinking hopefully they wouldn’t have put their donor details on the same server and they probably would be taking backups. I chided myself for thinking such stupid thoughts. A guy like me could be screwy with his backups due to time, budget constraints but a political party like BJP which has unbridled wealth wouldn’t do such rookie mistakes and would have the best technical talent available. Many BJP well-wishers were thinking they would be able to punish the culprit and I had to tell them he could use any number of tools to hide his real identity. You could use VPN, tor or even plain old IP spoofing. The possibilities are just endless. This is just when I’m a infosec rookie or baby.

The other interesting part of this hack is till date BJP has neither acknowledged the hack, nor have they shared what went wrong. I think we have been to comfortable and been used to hacks on reddit, gmail, twitter where the developers feel that the users should know the extent of the hack, what was lost and not lost, what they are doing to recover and till when we can expect services to start and then later a full disclosure report as to what they could determine. Of course, there could be disinformation in such information as well but that would have been a better response method than how the BJP IT Cell has responded. Not something I would expect from a well-oiled structure.

Update – 14/03/19 – Seems fb, instagram, whatsapp is down . Also see how fb responded on twitter . Also Indian Express ran an article on the recent BJP hack. We will know what happens hopefully in the next few days .