That common mix-up between descriptors and status

Yesterday I had a tweet about this article (or, post). The fun bit was the phrase “ex-RBI employee for 7 years” which now seems to be replaced by “who has been an ex-RBI employee who has worked with them for 7 years”. This is even more confusing.

This is a somewhat common mistake around status and a descriptor. An employee is a status and, an ex-employee is a descriptor. So, you cannot be an ex-employee for 7 years 🙂 You can, however, be an “employed with <insert organization> 7 years ago”.

Take another example – you cannot be an ex-student for 4 years. You are either a student or, an ex-student. Or, were a student at the said institute 4 years ago.

Niceness ehh ?

Singularly motivating or, just the wrong incentive ? announced the Reading Challenge for 2011. It is an interesting concept and, has the requisite bells and whistles around allowing widgets that display how much of the challenge is being achieved. Since every individual member gets to choose a number ie. the challenge, it is good fun. I see a couple of folks on my friends list putting up their challenges.

I toyed with the idea of putting up a number. And, enough dilly-dallying later I think this isn’t something that suits my way of doing things. There are a couple of reasons and, I’ll try to put them out in some unordered fashion.

  • I don’t read books with a net number of books per year to be read in mind. Which is why my book reading pattern,trends and habits are unusual. An example could be the fascination with one specific author and, the need to end up reading a large part of his/her works.
  • The statistics don’t lend themselves to any sort of challenge. In this specific month, I’ve ended up reading 16 books (new) with a bunch of re-reads thrown in here and there. This isn’t going to be the number every month. And, even if I say that I do around 8 books for the remaining 11 months, I’d have gone through a 104 new books. Umm… I don’t think that’s going to happen. Last year, as per the stats, I read 41 new books. So clearly, there is a wide variation – the difference between projected and actual being more than double the actual.
  • On the Goodreads bookshelf I tend to put in everything I read. So, that actually is a bit of a ‘cheating’. For example, books by Sherry Turkle. Technically, that’s neither fiction, nor non-fiction and, it shouldn’t be sitting there on the bookshelf. But I do end up slipping these in because the shelves are then a real representation of what I’ve read.

So, that’s more or less the list of things that’s putting me off taking up a challenge. 

The plan to create a digital library of 100 copyright free titles from Indian languages

I read about the plan via a tweet. And, good ol’ me is excited. There has been far too much talk about this and that, too many departments within the governments and, too large chunks of grants disbursed to make this happen. Nothing much has happened. If, a collective of interested people willing to invest some of their time get together then this is amazingly simple to achieve.

In perspective, look at what a single person who had interest and passion could do. Or, what a group of folks are continuing to do.

The problem that a ‘crowd-sourcing’ effort can overcome is the heavy requirement on OCR. The last time I checked, IndicOCR pieces that are available return an accuracy of just 80%. It sounds nice but in reality it is awkward.

Consider this – a 100 page book would have just around 80 pages correctly optically scanned. Most of the target books would be around the 180-200 page mark. That’s a whopping 40 pages of incorrect data and, that requires increased focus on proof-reading. The alternative to the effort is based on the ‘labor is cheap’ concept. In other words, employ enough folks to actually key in the book. Input has become reasonably easy in recent times – there are keyboard layouts for Indian langauges both on the distribution and, there are web-based applications too. It may not ‘scale’ but it could work. Long time back, this was attempted in collaboration with an NGO who were keen on using this opportunity to teach less-privileged folks to learn how to work with computers and, Linux ! It was painstaking but it was worth it.

Either way, I am game for this. I think I can put my name forward to proof-read at least half a dozen books for Bengali this year. And, I know just the person to suggest titles (besides the fact that does have some surprising out-of-copyright books scanned and stored)

Those interested need to follow these twitter handles. And, please also pass this idea around so that interested folks start gathering.

On the city in a movie

This could also have been called “Why multiplexes aren’t really the places you should go to watch and enjoy movies” but we’ll keep that for later. Meanwhile, here’s fresh from Dhobi Ghaat (Mumbai Diaries).

Once a couple of friends which also included me did a marathon session of movie watching at a Cinema Club. Being a late hour and, taxis being conspicuously absent from the streets we started walking. Which also resulted in a lot of snarky and sometimes interesting comments. One of them was that it wouldn’t be a decade from that day when the volume of “hatkey” movies would be such that the category of these movies would cease to exist. Watching Dhobi Ghaat brought that comment right into the foreground. Five years ago, there wouldn’t be financing to produce this movie. And, ten years ago, the audience wouldn’t have been around to accept this at a movie theatre.

The movie is languid, refreshing and, as many have remarked – inconclusive. Among other things that’s one of the nicest things about it. Happys the endings isn’t what movie making is about. The preparation around the movie begins when there’s the reasonably tight shot of a working taking a beedi-break against the backdrop of Mumbai – with the skyscrapers and the groundscrapers visible together. And, the slight yellow tinge of the sun tinting the clouds just that much. The wonderful and studied effort that goes into making a movie around this concept is on display throughout the frames and more or less in every frame – the smaller details about production pieces, the language and, the light. Of course, the fact that Bombay/Mumbai forms an integral ‘character’ in the movie itself is something that takes getting used to. The other part of course is that the characters and their motivations do not require lengthy build-ups and explanations – they ‘happen’. For example, Monica Dogra’s character roams around Mumbai with Prateik’s character Munna snapping pictures (oh ! how I wish that the DVD comes with the prints of them !) and thereafter gets into a luxury sedan to return to her surroundings. No explanation needed. That happens. Letting the audience ask themselves questions and, try to answer them is a good thing. As also putting them right inside the continuing lives of the characters – no cut-to-past or, no lengthy dream-about-future time wasters in this movie. The story behaves like the camera just sneaked into their lives and recorded. Even in the segments that include the video-letters.

There are subtle moments that are interesting. Aamir Khan’s slightly nervous neck muscle stiffness or, Kriti Malhotra’s upbeat voice being suddenly downcast and restricted hand-movements (the constant sound of her bangles stop). The crescendos of the music (and, the street noise increasing during the last scene) or, the slight sound effect of the rushing wind when the train goes past Prateik’s shanty or, even Tennyson’s Brook. It isn’t a single watch movie. The various aspects of the craft do come together (and, thus it generally means that hours have gone in making that happen) and this requires a DVD to re-watch. Aamir Khan is Aamir Khan – studied and nearly perfect. Monica Dogra is charming. Prateik Babbar is good because he picks up and runs with a role far removed from his mileau and does a pitch perfect job of it. Kriti Malhotra is probably going to be talked about because she lets her eyes talk a lot more than herself. That’s an excellent job.

I don’t really agree that the problem with the film is the lack of a story. I think the problem with the film is that it tries too hard to be excellent. And, that kills it in not letting have loose ends. The other part of course is the English/Hindi nature of the movie. I ended up, unfortunately enough, watching a Hindi only version. Whosoever wrote the Hindi dialogues (which are originally in English) for Monica Dogra’s character never really probably got the actor mouthing them before going to dubbing. Stitled and absurdly ill-placed with an accent that doesn’t stay at one place at all.

And now, we return to our regular multiplex rant.

I’ve often said that the multiplexes unleash the boors in us. Disposable income meets plush interiors and what you get is a group of folks who not only jar their own cinema experience (or, perhaps they enjoy that) but mess it up for others. Today it was a group who were absolutely interested in intimate scenes between Aamir and Monica. And, the lack of them on-screen as well as the subsequent (admittedly stilted conversation) led to quite absurdly trashy comments being passed around. Which continued each time their characters interacted or, even Prateik’s character interacted with Monica’s. And of course, the coarse and somewhat vulgar laughter that punctuated the nervous reaction of Aamir’s character when the full realization of the video-messages hit him. All this at a 1415 show at E-Square Kharadi which was around 40% full for a Aamir Khan movie does tell something.

On the search for an MFD

Dear Lazyweb,

I am looking for a Multi Function Device – those Print-Scan-Copy things for home usage and specifically for a ‘desktop’/workspace usage. I want it to have the following qualities:

  • should be network-ready
  • the scanner preferably should not be requiring a binary blob
  • the printer should be a laser printer

Does anyone have a set of suggested devices I should be looking at ?



Too much schadenfreude ?

I was reading the tweet-stream of MTV India. Looks like they are holding a preview of the upcoming Roadies 8 at a tweet-up. Curiously ‘social’ I’d say. The previous seasons of Roadies didn’t really have as much social heaving that this one seems to have.

However, the hashtag also led me to ponder about what gets us into mass schadenfreude ? Why do the baser parts of human actions seem to titillate and entice us into extracting some illicit enjoyment ? In current times we are less prone to appreciate a good turn than we are to snicker at someone’s goofing up or, making a reasonably pathetic act of themselves. We are lesser and lesser getting used to the idea of saying “Thank You” and being gracious for the smaller things and more prone to boorish behavior in civil society and public places. The very fact that they try needs to be applauded but most of the shows ratchet up their viewers by highlighting the most embarrasing parts and in a subtle way exhorting the in-studio audience to mock it.

I wonder what it does for the psyche of the participants and, the audience !

Looking at logs of Kindle3

(from a discussion at the office and, pasted here for further help)
BTW to look at the logs: 1. Open the Search box by selecting that option from the Home screen menu. 2. Type ";dma" (without quotation marks) into the search field. You can find the semi colon by pressing the SYM key. 3. Press the Return key, which is one to the right of the SYM key. 4. Connect your Kindle to your computer using the USB cable and open the “Documents” folder on your Kindle. 5. Two log files in the Kindle Documents folder; these files start with:  * All_logs_as_of * Wpa_supplicant

A quick get-away

Over the weekend we went to a place called Karpe’s Wadi at Nagoan (near Alibaug). The pictures are on Facebook as well as here. It was a reasonably nice drive barring some sections of the State Highway where the ‘road’ part of the description was missing in full tilt. I’d  be happy to announce that the LX130 from MapMyIndia also performed fairly nicely with proper prompts (barring the segments where the lady and Runa were in complete disagreement and it wasn’t a good thing to see).

Karpe’s Wadi is a nice get-away place. They put emphasis on ‘organic’ stuff and, it is probably well taken. A welcome drink of tender coconut and we went to settle into one of the rooms/cottages. The entire place has cottages/rooms in an outer concentric circle with the inner area being a garden and a common dining space. The waves were breaking and, the sound was tempting enough to freshen up and check out the place. The rear gate opens out on to the beach and, by all accounts it is a bit far from the beach where all the crowds come. Nice. Food was vegetarian thali meals with self-service with the option of ordering a few variety of fish (surmai, paplet and prawns) and chicken. The number of hammocks made it a good reason to chill out before a walk by the shore during evening.

And, although we had plans to go see the Alibaug Fort, those we ditched in order to make ourselves comfortable on the hammocks, read and basically relax a lot. Good fun. I’d recommend the place for a day or two place to get away from it all. But, it appears that there is a need to book in advance. It isn’t a ‘resort’ or, a fancy ‘star’ joint. The plumbing is basic and adequate while the beds are well maintained.

The drive back was a bit of a nuisance with constant tailgating and rash driving by various vehicles from the Mahindra(s) each sporting a sticker or, a registration plate design of a political party.

Going local using Taazza

The folks at Taazza suggested that I might like to use their app. Unfortunately, that specific version seemed to have some issues with the phones and moving the app to the SD card. So, once I did provide that feedback they were nice to email a couple of us with a preview release which is also scheduled to hit the Android Market. Since the premise is to provide specifically local content, the only way to give it a spin was to get local at a couple of places (Hadapsar, Magarpatta, KalyaniNagar, Koregaon Park, MG Road, Moledina Road were my places) and see how it goes.

I like the app and, I’d recommend it as a fun one to have around.

It is light and fast, has a clean interface that allows some interesting things like providing news about deals with when they expire (that’s fun to keep track of), weather information and, some reasonably detailed listing about Places (restaurants, movies/theatres and so forth). I specifically like the way it handles the City News via aggregation. For me that’s a nice way to read news around and about Pune. And it does a seriously good job with that which can be tested by changing the location. The deals/information can be shared using email/Facebook/Twitter and, orders can be placed via Web or, a print-ready coupon. The means to select additional cities to read news items about is also a plus.

Having said all of that there’s a couple of things I’d like the app to improve in the coming versions:

  • handle the slight stutter when changing between tabs or, scrolling quickly. The app visibly stalls and stutters for a slight moment before reloading the content
  • in the landscape orientation the scrolling requires some work – it just is a bit slow
  • in the landscape orientation (why would an app like this require a landscape ? :)), the content reflow is a bit awkward
  • geolocation – this is currently what I’d like to get fixed. The app seems to save a location and each time one has to re-locate oneself to get local (or, hyper local) information. I’d have wanted an automatic re-location and hence a refresh of the content. So, basically I would want to activate the app, or, navigate to the app and I’d like it to use an existing and active data connection to geo-locate me and figure out the content to fetch and display.
  • content -> activity. In other words, I know that I can get the contact numbers of a movie theatre with the app. But, how do I make bookings ? For a restaurant, a contact number might be enough to call up and make a reservation, I guess that doesn’t work out nicely for theatres and movies/plexes etc
  • more content is required and that is probably going to be cyclically linked to more usage

In short, good job but there’s more to be done. And, the page probably requires some means to put in feature requests and rankings 🙂

Hope and then despair at book listing

Flipkart is finally listing Bengali books. However, going through the listings I was forced to be disgusted. It looks shoddily done and, without a proper care of reviewing the entries. There are:

  • Titles which are wrongly typed. Even phonetically they don’t come close
  • Author names which show wide variation
  • Wrong listings too

In short it means that unless I chance upon that book it would be impossible to search by either Title or, Author Name. And, for an online bookstore that just takes away the interest in clicking through a number of books/pages to arrive at the book. Which is where another thing bothers me. In this day and age, why can I not set a preference about how many books I want listed once I login ? Or, for example, choose to see an infinite scroll ? There ought to be a way to handle that.

I am happy that I can (if I try hard enough) actually buy Bengali books off Flipkart. I am disappointed at the fact that they did not put as much care as they did for their English language books.