Just an opinion…

cause everyone is entitled to have one…or more…up to the degree of n.

Airport security and dancing

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I had to cancel a trip to the US for meetings today because of respiratory infection. While I was a tad disappointed by this (my wife and family were overjoyed, strangely) it was also a relief not to have to go through the ignominy of the security checks of US airports (note I say US and not North America – my trip to Canada was as sweet as going through Chennai airport in better times).

With the current heightened security environment caused by the FBI warning to India about possible Al-Quaeda attacks on southern Indian airports, I was planning to check in three hours earlier then required. And I was worried about the security in LAX where I was supposed to land this time as a passenger from south India sporting a beard.

In previous trips to the US, I have devised something called the ‘DC Dance’ for going through security at US airports. It starts even before you leave for the airport. You dress as smartly and formally as possible, without wearing a jacket (I hate jackets). This usually for me means a nice powder blue shirt, black trousers and black formal shoes. I hate the shoes especially because they are murder on your feet before, during and after 11-hour flights in Economy. Also, hate wearing them to the toilet in planes.

Make sure all your coins and keys are backed in your bags. And when you get to the security counter do not act nonchalant. Watch the security procedure carefully and when you get close to the X-ray machine (this is the dance part) take off all metallic items that are removable (woe unto those who have metal plates fixed in their bodies, make sure you have a doctor’s certificate or something) from person. For me this includes a small gold chain my co-brother gave me for my engagement, my marriage ring, my lucky charm ring with elephant hair in it, my favourite brass buckled belt etc.. My cell phone and wallet are already in my cabin bags and I just carry my passport and ticket (with all staples removed for good measure). Then you take off your shoes..what relief! The shoes are a necessity because of the ‘shoe bomber’ (Duh!)

And then take your computer out and any camera gear out. And put these all into the tray provided and send in for scanning. The goal of all this is to not get a beep when you walk through the frame and when you get wanded. No beeps – then go collect bags and stuff, get dressed, do not stop anywhere, just board plane.

If not – well, you know the stories.

One story that struck me appeared in the Hindu this Sunday(12 November 2006) and really was a lesson on what should not be done in the air – by American air marshals. According to a wired.com story there is a study that shows that better baggage screening could make a bigger difference than ‘profiling’ (that is, all Muslims with beards are bad – Nah!). The comments to this article seem well informed…but if the recommendations are accepted I will be one of the few(?) people rejoicing.

Written by jayanth

November 14, 2006 at 4:06 am

Posted in Humour, Opinion

Are we ready for Blogblock 2?

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Does anybody remember the infamous blogblocks that happened around July this year? It seems to have generated a lot of heat at that time, but is not on ‘anti-censorship’ radars any more, i think. One of the most interesting and thoughtful discussions that I read on this topic is on Ethan Zuckerman’s blog.

I say this because the Reporters without Borders released its Internet Enemies list on 7 November 2006 and India does not even get a ‘honourable’ mention. So much so that neither their press release archives nor their annual report mention the ‘blogblocks’. They have a release on the mediaah ‘cease and desist’ by the Times Group though.

Why so, i ask myself?

The Reporters without Borders list is stomach churning to read and details the censorship that even a hint of ‘free speech’ brings. The most hair-raising quote from the release is the one for me;

Just five years ago, many people thought Chinese society and politics would be revolutionised by the Internet, a supposedly uncontrollable medium. Now, with China enjoying increasing geopolitical influence, people are wondering the opposite, whether perhaps China’s Internet model, based on censorship and surveillance, may one day be imposed on the rest of the world.

I am sure the blogging community in India will rest till ‘Blogblock 2’ happens and scream bloody murder and leave it there. So long till blogblock 2 then….

Written by jayanth

November 13, 2006 at 12:24 pm

Posted in Media, Opinion

Beggars in Chennai, San Franscisco or Spain..

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Had a very interesting experience yesterday. Was out shopping in Purasaiwalkam, one of the most crowded shopping areas in Chennai. As I was getting ready to enter into my car a haggard looking man with really short hair accompanied by a similarly thin woman carrying a small baby stopped us (my wife, my daughter and me).

Over the noise of the traffic I could hear him asking if I spoke Hindi. “Ji haan, boliye,” I said more to show off my (limited) prowess in Hindi to ‘my girls’. He launched into a story of how he had come to Chennai from Uttar Pradesh in search of work, but the ‘agent’ who promised him work and a place to stay ran away with all his money. Common enough story.

He said he just needed money for a ticket to get home. Rs. 210/-. He said that this money would buy just one ticket and since his wife may not get thrown off the train, as she had a small baby, they would manage.

My wife and me, we looked at each other. It was a very convincing story and the baby was smiling beautifully at us. How can you resist this? We had a quick chat and gave him Rs. 100 – all I had in my wallet (we just finished shopping remember?). He slipped it into his pocket, thanked us and disappeared into the crowd with his family.

I am sure many of us have been in the same situation. It was a long minute before we made the decision to give out the money and the thoughts that ran through our minds were;

‘Is this guy conning us? No, he seems decent enough and genuine enough.’

‘Are we encouraging begging? Shouldn’t we get him the ticket rather than give him the money.’

As we drove away both of us were silent for a moment. Most of use believe that we should not encourage begging and hence don’t give out money. Well, Tony Long, the copy chief at wired.com has a very interesting perspective on this issue. This is the quote I like most from the article;

“So the next time a bum tries to cadge a buck out of you, at least have the courtesy to pull the earbuds out and engage him as a fellow human being. Don’t give him any money if you don’t want to. But acknowledge him. He’s not a blot on your aesthetic little world. If he is, well, your problems are bigger than his.”

A few years ago in my aimless reading I came across a short sci-fi novella called ‘Beggars in Spain’ by Nancy Kress. It is the story of genetically engineered children who are ‘sleepless’ and hence hyperintelligent. It is a very different growing up story and the reason for the title comes from two situations;

Quote from the wiki on the novel;

“Tony Indivino, while defending his idea to create a Sleepless-only enclave to Leisha, poses the question that shapes the novel and gives it its title. “If people are only worthwhile so long as they contribute to society, what do you do when you’re walking down the street in Spain and you see a beggar? Do you give him a dollar? Why? You’re justifying his existence, which accomplishes nothing. What if you see six beggars? What if you see a hundred, and they gang together and steal your money and then beat you to death out of sheer jealousy of what you have and they can’t?”

Leisha Camden, the protagonist in the novella concludes the piece with her own surmise which makes more sense to me;

“Yes, there are beggars in Spain who trade nothing, give nothing, do nothing. But there are more than beggars in Spain. Withdraw from the beggars, you withdraw from the whole damn country. And you withdraw from the possibility of the ecology of help.”

Well, most of my post have a movie reference in them and the no brainer choice for this post would be Pay it Forward.

I only wish I had asked for the baby’s name.

Written by jayanth

November 11, 2006 at 8:41 am

Posted in Opinion

In case you are close to a nuclear device…

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I don’t know why most of my posts start with a reference to a film, i am definitely not that big a film buff.

The late nineties saw a spate of movies based on the theft of nuclear weapons. The Peacemaker was one of them. A riveting movie about a hunt for lost nuclear devices about to be exploded in New York (oh no! not again) the “climax” of this nuclear thriller has George Clooney who plays Lt. Col. Thomas Devoe defusing a nuclear device with with a swiss army knife.

Well, just in case you are stuck with a nuclear device to defuse (even if it is a phantom bomb, like the ones in Iraq), this instruction manual would come in handy.

Me, i would start running at the first click of the Gieger Counter.
The last line from the article reads thus;

If these tips don’t work, give us a call and let us know what we got wrong.

Reminds me of the questionnaire i tried to answer once;

Q10: Have you ever attempted suicide? (Yes / No)

Q11: If answer to Q10 was ‘Yes’ did you succeed?

<Scratching my head…>

The movie sure is a great one…but i don’t know if these tips would have helped poor George Clooney.

Written by jayanth

October 3, 2006 at 11:07 am

Posted in Humour

‘The Siege’ after 9/11

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It is five years after 9/11 today. It still remember the day. I spent the afternoon watching ‘The Siege’ starring Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis and a few other excellent actors. The connection was that the movie was based in New York and had several shots the twin towers. But it was also an ‘almost prophetic’ portrayal of what the USA would become after the fateful day, Fortress America.

The movie winds around the theme of a series of terror cells (obviously Muslim) having infiltrated the city to force the release or avenge the capture of a muslim religious leader. Here is the synopsis in a few words;

After the abduction by the US military of an Islamic religious leader, New York City becomes the target of escalating terrorist attacks. Anthony Hubbard, the head of the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Task Force in New York, teams up with CIA operative Elise Kraft to hunt down the terrorist cells responsible for the attacks. As the bombings continue, the US government responds by declaring martial law, sending US troops, led by Gen. Devereaux, into the streets of New York City.

After watching this riveting movie, I wandered over to a friend’s house for a chat and spent the next few hours in front of the TV, watching the twin towers being attacked and come crumbling down on CNN – the beginnings of the ‘War against Terror’ as we know it was with us.

A reviewer on the movie database site comments that the movie is ‘Eerily prescient’. He goes on to say that;

This film, made in 1998, is so close to the reality of Sept. 11, 2001 that it sends chills down your spine. Although events played out differently, so many elements in the film are near-mirror reflections of the reality. The attacks are carried out by Islamic extremists, whose core network were trained by the CIA, their attacks were dramatic and centered on New York City, there was little cooperation between, the FBI, CIA and military, and Arabs and Arab-Americans were rounded up in large numbers, or were subjected to harassment and violence. The images of bodies and debris are no less shocking than the sight of people jumping to their death from the World Trade Center. Torture was employed by US soldiers, in pursuit of terrorists.

It really shook me up that day to see this movie and then watch the twin towers come down. The usual case is of ‘Art imitating life’. Well, here is one of ‘Life imitating art’ – if a Hollywood movie can be called art.

Written by jayanth

September 10, 2006 at 11:46 pm

Posted in Opinion

Maybe Arjun Singh was right

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A friend of mine sent me this piece below. Was Arjun Singh thinking of this when he raked up the controversy about ‘Vande Mataram’? read on…

Jana Gana Mana” – Just a thought for the National Anthem!

How well do you know about it?

I have always wondered who is the “adhinayak” and “bharat bhagya vidhata”,whose praise we are singing. I thought might be Motherland India

Our current National Anthem “Jana Gana Mana” is sung throughout the country.

Did you know the following about our national anthem, I didn’t.

To begin with, India ‘s national anthem, Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka, was written by Rabindranath Tagore in honour of King George V and the Queen of England when they visited India in 1919.

To honour their visit Pandit Motilal Nehru had the five stanzas included, which are in praise of the King and Queen. (And most of us think it is in the praise of our great motherland!!!)

In the original Bengali verses only those provinces that were under British rule, i.e. Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat ,Maratha etc.were mentioned. None of the princely states were recognized which are integral parts of India now Kashmir, Rajasthan,Andhra, Mysore or Kerala.

Neither the Indian Ocean nor the Arabian Sea was included, since they were directly under Portuguese rule at that time. The Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka implies that King George V is the lord of the masses and Bharata Bhagya Vidhata is “the bestower of good fortune”.

Following is a translation of the five stanzas that glorify the King:

First stanza: (Indian) People wake up remembering your good name and ask for your blessings and they sing your glories. (Tava shubha naame jaage; tava shubha aashish maage, gaaye tava jaya gaatha)

Second stanza: Around your throne people of all religions come and give their love and anxiously wait to hear your kind words.

Third stanza: Praise to the King for being the charioteer, for leading the ancient travelers beyond misery.

Fourth stanza: Drowned in the deep ignorance and suffering,
poverty-stricken, unconscious country? Waiting for the wink of your eye and your mother’s (the Queen’s) true protection.

Fifth stanza: In your compassionate plans, the sleeping Bharat (India) will wake up. We bow down to your feet O’ Queen, and glory to Rajeshwara (the King).

This whole poem does not indicate any love for the Motherland but depicts a bleak picture. When you sing Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka, whom are you glorifying? Certainly not the Motherland. Isit God? The poem does not indicate that.It is time now to understand the original purpose and the implication of this, rather than blindly sing as has been done the past fifty years.

Nehru chose the present national anthem as opposed to Vande Mataram because he thought that it would be easier for the band to play!!! It was an absurd reason but Today for that matter bands have advanced and they can very well play any music. So they can as well play Vande Mataram, which is a far better composition in praise of our Dear Motherland – India .

Wake up, it’s high time! Shouldn’t Vande Mataram be our National Anthem.

Comments and thoughts welcome! Thanx Josh!

Written by jayanth

August 29, 2006 at 12:18 am

Posted in Opinion

Firewalls in Dharmasala

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I watched ‘Firewall’, an IT thriller, during a trip to Bangkok. It is a very interesting movie and features a tired and haggard Harrison Ford, a far cry from the sprightly ‘Indy’ days. The movie itself was so-so and had a lot of plot ‘hitches’ including the usage of parts from a broken fax machine and an iPod to capture account numbers of a screen, that fact that a camera phone is allowed in a high security room of a bank and many such.

But the most glaring ‘hitch’ was when Ford opens up his computer on the street to track the GPS dog finder and find his family. This assumed a city wide wi-fi network being available in Seattle. I did argue this with a friend who thought maybe it did exist in the city where Microsoft is based. The argument was unresolved, but we did not know we were talking about something that could be common in the future.

And the future is now. Google recently launched a free wifi service in the city of Mountain View, Colorado. We don’t know if this is a first of many, a employee comfort initiative (there are about 1000 Google employees living in Mountain View) or a convoluted scheme to expose more ads. This news article has all the details.

Ram Viswanathan of Chennailiving wants such coverage here in Chennai, crying out in frustration against the vagaries of a BSNL broadband connection. Well, maybe not in Chennai, but if you are on vacation with a laptop in Dharmasala in the foothills of the Himalayas, you may be lucky.

Reports Wired.com:

Across the border from Chinese-occupied Tibet, the tech infrastructure in this high mountain village is a mess.

But a former Silicon Valley dot-commer and members of the underground security group Cult of the Dead Cow are working with local Tibetan exiles to change that using recycled hardware, solar power, open-source software and nerd ingenuity. The volunteers are building a low-cost wireless mesh network to provide cheap, reliable data and telephony to community organizations.

And the most interesting thing about this network is that more than a ‘firewall’, it needs a way to keep monkeys away from the dishes and antennas.

Footnote: Maybe the Dharmasala wireless mesh does need a ‘Firewall’. The day after the article appeared on wired.com the website of the agency setting this up was hacked, allegedly by the Chinese. (Moral: Chinese do read wired.com)

Written by jayanth

August 18, 2006 at 11:33 am

Posted in Opinion