Wednesday, October 08, 2008

More on the Fourth Estate

Just saw Good Night, And Good Luck. Now this is a movie that has to be, HAS to be shown to every graduating media person.
I was impressed by Murrows statements here and there during the movie, irrespective of whether he really did say them or not or if he did, if he did so so eloquently. One of them that particularly impressed me was

"Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night the time normally occupied by Ed Sullivan is given over to a clinical survey of the state of American education, and a week or two later the time normally used by Steve Allen is devoted to a thoroughgoing study of American policy in the Middle East.
To those who say people wouldn't look; they wouldn't be interested; they're too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost. This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. Good night, and good luck."
addressing the people gathered, presumably to institute the Radio and Television News Directors Association (RTDNA) - Edward Murrow Awards.
The question of whether the struggle is lost or not is one that will require many many more pages by people more intelligent and involved than myself. But I've no doubt that it has indeed been lost.
The US has had a maturing television broadcasting industry for more than 6 decades now and provides the potential for the fastest maturity due to the sheer size of the country, its diverse communities and vibrant culture. And yes it has matured... but not in ways one would like it to be.
The niches provide sermons for the converted. Conservatives watch conservative channels and programs and the liberals watch their own. Latinos have their own channels and Indians log on to for their dose. There is no cross pollination and there is no attempt either by the media or the consumers to cross pollinate. Blogs are even worse as they provide you with highly niche content and readers are even more fragmented here.
This is beginning to tell on India as well as the industry here has leapfrogged into the 21st century straight into US-style reporting with none of the pains and lessons learnt from puberty. We are unapolegetic about trying cases in the media. We are unapologetic about wrong reporting or plagiarising. We are unapologetic about carrying rumours.

Conservative Indians call the Indian media "liberal" and slanted towards "minorities", even while it is nothing of that kind. To be honest, editorialising with all the ills that it can bring is non-existent except in the Hindu, the Outlook and the pioneer, the first two of which are unabashedly liberal and the latter, unabashedly conservative.
The laughing stock of the agnostic media consumer, the old lady of Boribunder, is unabashedly "market driven", while its nothing of that sort. The marketers there assume the average Indian is an idiot and they fulfill their prophesy with content that matches the average idiot. Yet, even this reportage is termed "liberal". And nothing to say of the likes of NDTV which is supposedly anti-conservative, probably because it provides platforms where conservatives can be heard and be laughed at for the idiots that they usually are.
Sorry, I seem to be editorialising the post :D
Editorialising is such a temptation. But the fourth estate has to have some amount of restraint. To slant like Fox does is criminal.
The BBC and the Guardian both of which I highly respect faulted on the reporting of Zimbabwe due to Britain's involvement. Zimbabwe might be a tin-pot republic but the people of the world have a right to know what really is happening there without reporters giving their own slants to the reportage and prejudices showing through barely concealed contempt.
The NYT does something similar whenever Venezuela is involved. And its reporting on China is preposterous for the amount of bad press they give this country that has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. And so is its reporting of India which seems to be less than a dot on the map. And when it does report on India, we get condescending articles of cows on expressways and about BPOs.
Where, honest reportage? Where the maxim "I may not agree with you but I'll fight to death for your right to disagree with me". It chokes me to think that there ARE still people in this world for whom this maxim is internalised but it seems to me that they are completely drowned in a morass of "market driven" bullshit and disingenuous editorialising.
My disclaimer is disclosure that I'm unabashedly liberal and I read the Hindu, the Outlook, the NYT and the Guardian and watch NDTV and BBC; not because they're "liberal" but the quality of restraint on editorialising on all of these is very high and the editorialising is usually restricted to the editorial in the newspaper/magazines and opinion-programmes in the broadcasters. I'd also like to wonder, why it is that editorialisation is lower in liberal media.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

State of Fear - bring on the SUV

First, Kenner (the superhero protagonist) says there is no global warming, then goes on to say that the world is cooling, then says that global warming is good for the world and finally proceeds to disparage all the scientific consensus on anything. I was expecting (hopefully) that he was going to produce references supporting evidence that smoking doesn't cause cancer... which was about the only scientific conclusion he seemed to leave alone though. The references are good, irrefutably so but then why does even all this fact-spouting remind me of standard rhetoric. Why does it seem the arguments are constructed and paced in such a way that most of us (;)) professional arguers would recognise as the trick we use when we're short on facts but long on opinion?

It would've been way better if Kenner had an equally informed opponent whom he beat on strength of interpretation of data but instead he is given the likes of limousine liberals and gulfstream environmentalists, the likes of Evans and Ted. Why didn't Crichton show us the conversations with Morton, or the slow conversion of Morton? why is the tone so shrill, desperate and preachy?

Oh btw, Kenner is the supreme being. He has information about everything and everywhere in the world (in his brains twit; no.. he doesn't carry a google enabled phone), is never surprised (he always conveniently misses attempts at life and then comes to pick up the pieces of his comrades), never in the position to need to apologise (because he's right everytime) and finally **Spoiler** single handedly saves the world from evil redneck environmentalists about to create havoc at many spots in the world (conveniently timed and placed at Cessna flight distance for Kenner) with the help of one Nepali side-kick (who's the next-in-line supreme being), some skeptical environmentalists who are bombarded with info on why they're well meaning but completely stupid. His greatest achievement though is to convert one of those idiot environmentalists (oh didn't Kenner say environmentalists usually aren't educated?) who happens to be an incredibly intelligent billionaire named Morton. Of course, Crichton thinks the actual details of conversion and the arguments and facts bandied about in such a conversion would be too much for us. So Morton conveniently disappears during and after his conversion.

Weather IS impossible to predict for more than 10 days but arguably, isn't climate more predictable than weather? If Australia plays Kenya, you can't predict the next ball or the next over, but you CAN predict the outcome of the match. Ok lets take a better example; take a section of a water pipe and try to predict the turbulence in the section and you'll find it impossible... but damn it you can very well predict the aggregates of volume, force and cross-section when it comes out of the bloody tap. Ok maybe that example wasn't great either but I'm enough of an engineer to know that aggregates are easier to predict than snaphots of variables.
The loss of knowledge exclusivity to researchers and professors maybe true but they have their own niches and always did. They don't have to compete with other knowledge workers, except maybe for professors of finance. The new knowledge workers occupy positions that have been CREATED over the last few decades. Moreover its not like every scientist is a climate scientist.. so why are only climate scientists scaremongers, what about sub-atomic physicists, aerospace scientists, etc.. Why don't they have some universe destroying theory that will employ them perennially? Climate scientists, an umbrella term for scientists within disciplines like geophysics, meteorologists, climatologists, even archaeologists form a miniscule %age of scientists (as would any particular discipline) ; so how do you explain their overwhelming power to create fear among the world... fear that hurts those benign corporates, those gentle giants, the Oil companies. I don't buy it at all.
Its no use dissing scientists for the sake of demonising climate change. So we are expected to believe in a grand consensus of scaremongering scientists who are some kind of self-organising collective organism and come together because they lost "intellectual exclusivity" but not in a consensus that corporate-employed scientists will most probably come out with results that're favorable to the corporate they work in? Lets not forget that climate change science has come into the mainstream only this decade. While it is people and politicians left of center and actively ignored scientists from relevant fields that were carrying the torch in the previous decades.

The stupid statement about lack of refridgerants in the 3rd world... people don't die because of badly refridgerated food. People here just cook everytime they eat. This half-bakedness seems to be the depth of argument. I live here, I know. And fridges here, when you can afford them, are as good as anywhere else.

Why didn't Crichton make use of the last great planet-girdling scare, the Ozone layer depletion? He could've disparaged the left-wing hysterics, the bad science, the planetwide secret society of mad scientists wanting to take over the world by scaring you about increased risk of skin cancer. He didn't. Why? Because they don't exist. It would've been hell for the seeming agenda that his novel carries because it was good science, carried out by thorough scientists, supported by right-thinking bureaucrats who warned well informed politicians and people, who forced change . Finally the ozone layer threat was diminished not by people turning off their fridges but by scientists and engineers working successfully to find replacements for CFCs and laws and policy by developed nations and some devoloping ones to cut down or ban CFCs and forcing change in the INDUSTRY. Crichton's seeming uninterest in investigating this issue makes me seriously suspect his really stupid, insecure statement in the last page "Everyone has an agenda, except for me".

From what I see, the IPCC is not at all like the left-wing, grant grabbing bunch of bureaucrats and scientists with forked tails that Crichton makes it out to be. Its statements are moderate, taking care to emphasise what is theory and what is fact, references everywhere (more than kenner) and a non-alarmist tone. In fact the former head disagrees with the developing nations joining the Kyoto protocol because it would be restrictive to poverty eradication (maybe because he's Indian, but hey he's also IPCC) Agreed that its climate modeling techniques seem to be the center of lots of resonable doubt but the organisation itself and the results it produces aren't hysterical as crichton makes it out to be.

Some scientists dispute that global warming is happening, more agree that its happening but dispute the hand of human beings in global warming, some may agree or disagree or maybe uncommitted but dispute what the effects of real or hypothetical global warming would be. The vast majority of disputers seem to be the ones who think that the average temperatures are rising but it maybe natural and most probably not of anthropogenic nature.

Having said all that and also premising that I've always been a sceptic (of everything.. which includes climate change), the book, though obviously biased, did show to me the depth of disagreement in the scientific community and that the scientists have valid and serious concerns. But the book having the tone it does, makes me suspicious of its agenda. Crichton, I love all your books, you're one of my favourite authors but you really messed up here.

From what I see, most scientists that do offer some disagreements don't dispute climate change due to global warming. And its not because of the reasons offered by Crichton of expectation bias and some grand conspiracy theory of scientists colluding to keep the population in fear. They seem to do it piecemeal. One scientist disputes the effect of urban bias, one the sun's effect, one the albedo, one the effect of CO2 vs Methane, but taken as a whole the argument for global warming doesn't seem to be disputed by them, some just dispute the effect THEIR speciality has on global warming. In the In fact Crichton has disingenuously tailored together these disputes at appropriate sections of the novel to what seems a deliberate attempt to mislead any reader. (but I do put in a disclaimer that since there seems to be reasonable doubt on the consensus, and Crichton having a far better view of these things, he just might be... just might be telling the truth, just in a bad way)

As a novel, "State of Fear" is incredibly bad; if there was an agenda, an attempt at propaganda, which I strongly suspect, it was very poorly delivered; if anyone paid him money to deliver an agenda, please take the money back.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Arm chair Olympics

The Sangh would've been very happy to see the tikkas on the chinese performers' foreheads. We'll soon see "research" on how chinese inventions like paper, the compass and gunpowder were actually taken to china by Rama or some other indisputable hero. If you dispute them, you'll be encroaching on their right to religious freedom and they'll all be righteously angry :D
The hindi commentator is already describing the women flying around on wires as "apsaras"

The inaugural fireworks were awesome and so was the light and sound show.

The ceremony is quintessentially Chinese. Quantity, nationalism, militariness, boring classical music and that endearing far eastern quality, completely useless symbolism.
Overwhelmingly lotsa people with silly looking hats.

I saw a man missing a beat in the drum ceremony. will he be shot tomorrow?

Why doesn't the hindi commentator read up a little bit more on chinese culture instead of constantly forcing comparisons with indian culture... poor chinese kid is flying a kite and while the english commentator goes "the kite is also an chinese invention, and was used for military purposes..."the hindi commentator defensively interrupts him and goes "patang bharat mein bhi udayi jaati hai, gujarat mein rajasthan mein..." gaaahhh

The olympic observers, commentators, policy makers etc weren't kidding when they said that this was "China's chance to showcase itsef".. the opening ceremony seems to be some insecure beaureaucrat's idea of China China China. I was blindsided for sometime by the fireworks and the light show that it only now dawns on me how bloody boring the ceremony is actually turning out to be.. I can take only so much self-aggrandisation and nostalgic romanticisation. For an economic and military powerhouse, China is incredibly insecure about itself.

Most young chinese, international and otherwise think that China is misunderstood. And so must the chinese govt., for they decided to bombard us with enough China in 3 hours to understand it.

Ah.. the lesson on chinese history is finally over. they've finished telling us how great they actually are.
the light show with the pianist and kid is finally making things look up

damn.. the human bird's nest is just bloody awesome

The english commentator is wonderfully well read on the subject of china. and knows exactly what to say when. When the umbrellas with children's grinning faces opened around the globe, he said "you and me" or was he calling out the names of the two singers on top of the globe? "yu and mei"

Jeez... the globe and its "globe trotters" simply amazing. beautiful... gotta hand it to them...
The ceremony is turning out to be one eclectic mix of really boring and absolutely stupendous

And finally we have the atheletes...

Huh... can't figure out the order of nations... must be the Chinese alphabetical order or something.

hmmm.. Pakistan, Britain, Cuba, Iran (!) and Canada(!!) get roars from the crowds and Russia, the US and Iraq(!!!) received the biggest roars, while India's rather pathetic looking bunch of tennis players, weight lifters and shooters received contemptuous silence :D

Burundi had the most risque outfit for women.. a rather unassumingly stylish, strapless off-shoulder ethnic outfit.

Kyrgytan was the funniest.. the hats looked like upside down chinese-takeout boxes and their flag has what looks like a cricket ball in the center :D..
The announcements by the Chinese lady were also pretty funny. Through your nose say "aaanh sayy bhai yyaaan" for Azerbaijan and "huuu maiii yaaaa" for Romania, I sound like a redneck I suppose :)

And the arm chair sportsman signs off

Friday, February 29, 2008

Workplace Virtualisation (Scientific Name: Happius Shoulderis)

This is of course willful misinterpretation on the emerging consensus on network virtualisation, desktop virtualisation etc..
I was quite intrigued by an article on Telecom Live about Virtualisation where the authors went on to describe the benefits of the different virtualisation options available. As I read through it, I realised that the article gave a indication to an unsaid but desperate need that I and I'm sure, millions of others must have.

As a corporate cog, and a traveling cog at that, my shoulders have borne the brunt of my career choice. I'm sure my backpack wasn't ever this big when I was doing my 12th. While I've reconciled myself to working with a different set of people every two months, my constant fond companion has been my lemon of a laptop. Its familiar screen and its rather worn-down keyboard (with a few holes where favourite keys used to be) give me a sense of connection to the mother workplace. Its fount of information stored in a wondrous folder system designed by me to retrieve my information a few seconds after I needed it but just in time to give me a feel of espirit d'escalier, is reminiscent of the school playground after school bags got involved in minor and major skirmishes.

Ask me if I'd ever do away with this automaton that is nevertheless human... you betcha skinny bottom.

The article gave me an idea that definitely requires screaming from the top of rooftops but from which those software and hardware architects will flinch.

I scream for a Virtualised Laptop.... Huh?

I wanna carry a nifty little thingamajig that I can plug into the USB of any computer anywhere (ok maybe not the ones we donated a decade back to the local municipal school in Angola) and I want to recreate my Laptop/desktop right there. The sickeningly cute pic of the pet dog as the wallpaper, the infinite pdfs of articles I wanted to ingest but seem to have taken residence on the desktop never to leave, the movies I can watch when no one can look over my shoulders, my browser favourites, the recipes and holiday destination websites; oh yeah the research and quizillion word, pdf, xls, ppt and various other denominations of workplace repression... every thing. Every thing all at the insertion of a jazzy little stick the size of my cigarette pack or lesser into the "host".

I wanna wanna wanna (to the tune of feet being stamped vigorously)
(and with all due respect to photo of USB device manf by kensington)

As of now a virtual workplace/desktop idea is that of a remote access on a powered on computer connected to network with internet connectivity that is accessed over a "broadband" connection which gives me a cute lag effect... I click the mouse and the word doc opens after my 5'o'clock stubble has become the 9'o'clock one.

I know what you engineers and architects are thinking...
Yeah I agree that you'll have to work on a few million interfaces, look at a billion security issues, interoperability and portability issues with OSes, networks, hardware and software platforms and work with a whole new branch of science to make those little sticks have skinnable surfaces of pokemon, lara dutta and british premier league logos. And there will probably be another one of those organisations rubbing shoulders with ICANN, ISO, CMM-SEI, IEEE etc. dictating to you what you do is nice and what isn't.

You'll obviously have to dictate a set of minimum requirements on comps that can do workplace virtualisation and also dictate "recommended" requirements. You'll also have to define what can be virtualised, how and to where... will it be my USB stick, will it be my phone with USB connectivity and also bluetooth, infra-red, gprs, edge, HDSPA, dooby doo and scooby doo, will it be some kind of a local copy that uploads itself to my company's or personal or of course the inevitable free google workplace virtualisation servers and then deletes itself on the host? (oh yeah, you're gonna have fun with your project managers on this :D)

Of course you can do all that and more... kids will have their own virtualised playplaces ... NFS 27, Grand Theft Intergalactica (with minimally dressed daleks with their super-modular interfaces uncovered!!), access to hacker networks to break into Guantanamo bay torture chamber cams all preconfigured!!

In fact imagine the next step... except for hardcore gamers, professionals and specialists like designers, video-editors, cad-cam operators etc.. the rest of us actually do not need anything more than a "minimum/recommended" personal computer. In fact for a user like me, I can do away with the burden of multiple licenses for OSes, office software for multiple computers and move to a personal license instead of a per-computer license. I'd also be free from a keeping-up-with-balasubramaniam effect that requires me to upgrade my GeForce card every 3 months and can move that money to my movie collection, better headphones (OK marketing guys won't be happy to hear that :D... but you can still sell me bigger and better and faster virtualisation devices eh?). That would mean that corporates would buy the recommended computers with far more abandon without going through complex IT recommendations and so would normal people without fear of having to keep up with balasubramaniam.