The Same Pay For Half The Work

27 06 2007

Wimbledon has started, and with it two months of tennis mania, culminating with the US open in late August. Highlights at SW19 this year apparently are that Centre Court has no roof, Federer is gunning for his umpteenth title, and for the first time in history equal prize money is being offered for the women and mens tournament. Which frankly I think is bloody unfair to the men, and a classic case of the organizers trying to be PC about things. Cue the feminists with their burning torches, pitchforks, tar and feathers.

Today, the world is supposed to work on the whole concept of equality. Irrespective of gender or race. So how is it that women in tennis can get the same amount of money for playing a maximum of three sets of tennis, which is the equivalent of the minimum number of sets in the men’s game. Isn’t a case of getting the same pay for half the work? If they want the same amount of money, make them play in the same format as men. At least then, they’re entitled to the same wages.

I think its madness that people [i.e. the organizers] are actually willing to pay the same amount for a game that ends in an hour, compared to one thats at least 2 hours. Where’s the value for money? After all, watching a tennis match is about entertainment, right? And I obviously want more value for my entertainment dollar. Yeah, I’d like to watch a match between two major stars like Henin and Sharapova, but if its over in an hour, what next? It doesn’t beat the intensity of match like what happened yesterday between Henman and Moya. Now that was a fantastic match. 5 sets, 2 days, 13-11 final set, over 4 hours on court. They deserve what they earn. But, can you recall a women’s game that lasted 4 hours? Nope, you can’t because it’s over inside 2 hours.

Looking at it from an effort-to-reward ratio perspective, the women have it made. You could say its a case of more buck-for-bang. And I know there’s a whole bunch of people out there who’ll say that, “Women don’t have the stamina/endurance of men. They can’t play a full 5 set match regularly.” If that’s the case, they’re not really equal are they? In which case, why should they be paid equally if they’re not equal?

If you’re going to harp on equality and all that, then you have to be true to the word. You can’t selectively apply the rules as you see fit. Frankly, I see this as a PR stunt by the Wimbledon organizers to maintain their place in the spotlight. Fine, its their prerogative to decide how to allocate the prize money. But I just hope this doesn’t start a trend at the other tournaments. Otherwise, the men will be the ones who lose out. And if they do make a major issue of out this, you can be sure the feminists will be waiting to scream “bloody murder! suppression of female initiative! equality! blah blah blah!”

For all you feminists out there, you can’t claim equality unless you’re willing to play on the same level. If you can’t put in the same level of work, you’re not entitled to the same amount of pay.

Maybe its time to start a male-inist movement, the male equivalent of feminism, to fight for equal opportunities for men. Any takers?

Sidenote: Does anyone know what is the antonym of feminism?





The Fallacy of Internet Censorship in India

11 06 2007

Last night, I was walking by the TV at home when my aunt flipped the channel to NDTV, where Bharka Dutt was hosting her weekly “We The People” show. The topic was on whether the authoritiets should start banning sites like Orkut and such. Now, digressing a little bit, I personally can’t stand Bharka Dutt. I think she has a mistaken view that to be a good journalist you need to loud, brash, rude, and impertinent. Ok, you want to get to the hard truth. But, you don’t need to be uncouth about it. Sadly, thats what most TV journalists in India think. But, getting back to Bharka, the word “rabid” keeps coming back to my mind whenever I happen to be exposed to her shows. She has this absolutely horrible habit of cutting people off mid-sentence, then twisting their words, well whatever they got out, to fit her viewpoints. Hardly what you would call letting the public express their views. People like Bharka ought to be more aware of their influence on society and try and set a better example for those budding journalists out there. End of mini-rant. Back to the main rant.

Getting back to the show, I started watching a little bit because quite a few people were complaining about how the Internet promotes negative activities, and how steps need to be taken at policing the internet, and protecting kids. In a nutshell, the whole complaint boils down to, “The Government is not taking sufficient steps to safeguarding my kids on the Internet”. I’ve got one question to all these whiners. “Just what do you want the government to do?”

The Internet is a juggernaut with over 1 trillion webpages, and with thousands, nay millions of pages being published daily. It spans the globe and in reality is a world of its own. Just how the heck does a single Government police this? How do you sift through all these pages and say “This is good, so let people see it!” or “This is Bad! So block access!”? I can publish a website, call it the “The Mahatma Gandhi Internet Memorial”, but actually use it peddle pornography. All the text could be about Gandhi, but all the images could be porn. Or even more effectively, use a Flash website to display all the images and still have the search engines and filters think its a site about Gandhi. How would the Government be able to stop that? They can block the domain, but I can relaunch the site under another domain. How can the Government effectively shut me down if I’m willing to relaunch it again and again under different domain names? It can’t.

Let’s examine the argument of how sites like Orkut are corrupting the moral fibre of India’s youth. I’ve been using Orkut for a while now. I find it a great way to keep in touch with old friends, and get in touch with new ones. Yes, some people have abused the service, but by and large it serves a great purpose of letting me be in touch with my friends. I don’t “misuse” the service by patronizing the “call-girl” communities and such, nor do I abuse people [not intentionally anyway]. So, why should I be denied this service just cause a small section of the people on the site use it in a distasteful manner?

The Constitution of India guarantees freedom of speech but places “reasonable restrictions” “in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India or public order or morality.” Fine, illegal stuff shouldn’t be accessible. But, when I use the site in a completely legitimate and legal manner, is it right that I be denied access to the service? Just because someone else objects to it, does the Government have the right to deny my accessing that site? What happens if I don’t find the content objectionable, but someone else does? Who defines the standards of morality? My moral values can be quite different for the next person. Is it right for someone else to impose their views on me? Don’t I have a right to choose? According to some people. No! These people want the government to ban all sites that are used to promote “negative”, “anti-social” activities, even if its done by 1 or 2 among a million users.

Ha! What a lark! I don’t think that the Indian Government can be trusted, nor is it in a position to, to objectively define standards for Internet viewership in India. Nothing illustrates this better than what happened last year when the Indian government blocked access to all blogs on sites like blogger.com, and livejournal.com, for a week, when the order was actually against 17 specific blogs. The idiots in the Department of Telecommunications decided that since 17 blogs are bad, all blogs are bad, and since they were told to block the bad blogs, they decided to block all blogs. Actually, it was even more stupid than that.

Rather than type:
block site1.blogsomething.com
block site1.blogsomethingelse.com
block site2.blogsomething.com
block site2.blogsomethingelse.com


they decided it would easier to do:
block *.blogsomething.com
block *.blogsomethingelse.com

Those downright lazy bastards sitting in various ISPs didn’t realize that by doing the latter they’d blocked ALL sites under those domains. Net result, 60,000 Indian blogs were shutdown, rather than just 17. In response, our bloggers “rebelled” [I can’t think of a more appropriate term, but it does seem a bit much] against the order, and bombarded the DOT, questioning why their sites were blocked, until out of sheer exasperation the DOT rescinded the order and specifically blocked access to the original 17 sites. If they had done that in the first case, it wouldn’t have blown up in the Government’s face.

But more than governmental incompetence, I feel the whole crux of the matter is the level of ignorance that Indians seem to have when it comes the Internet. They don’t seem to really that it’s not a physical entity, but more ethereal than anything else. It’s not something that can be turned off with the flick of a switch. You can deny access to it, but it will still exist. If the government starts getting involved in filtering and such, then they have to power to define what to filter, thereby controlling what we can or can’t see on a larger scale, including news, political viewpoints, etc. If thats the case, then we might as well go for the full shebang and let the powers that be dictate what we eat, what we wear, what we drive, what we see, what we think. It’ll be just like George Orwell’s “1984”, only 23 years later on. It’s whats happening in places like China, Singapore, and Dubai today.

I know you think its a tad reactionary, but people need to wake up. You can’t expect the government to enforce your personal viewpoints. How does the government cater to 1.3 billion viewpoints then? It’s impossible. If people care so much about protecting their families from the “evils” of the Internet, then maybe they should start working on solutions from home. They should educate their kids on the negatives aspects of the Internet, and encourage them to adhere to the “house rules”. For those of you who don’t trust your kids to listen to your “advice”, you might also look into restricting the internet access by installing parental filters and such. There are tons of resources on the Internet to instruct you on how to restrict access to parts of the Internet, ironic as it is. Or, if you’re one of those extreme parents, deny them access to computers. They’re your kids after all.

In fact, the whole bloody value of the Internet is that there’s so much information out there, that there’s guaranteed to be something there for everyone. The downside is that due to its vastness, there’s bound to be stuff that you find objectionable. But what you find objectionable may not be what your next door neighbour finds distasteful. For example, say your next door neighbour buys a dog, but you hate dogs. Can you ask the government to ban dogs just cause you hate dogs? No, but you can prevent the dog from coming anywhere on your property by building a fence around your home. This is the same case with Internet. Use filters and other parental control software to block access to content you don’t approve of from your home computer. That way, you prevent your household members from accessing it. Let your neighbour do what he likes. As long as it doesn’t enter your home, it shouldn’t bother you. Besides you can’t control anything thats outside of your purview anyway, and the sooner people realize that the better off we all will be.

For those of you interested in more technical details about how to implement these kinds of parental filters, do let me know. I’ll put up a technical walk-through on how to go about this shortly.





Seasoning the Raw through Extreme Programming

5 06 2007

One of the biggest issues facing IT companies in India today is hiring good staff. I think it’s become abundantly clear to my regular readers that this has become something of an obsession in my work. So, to break the monotony of dealing with idiots who claimed they were experienced, I started an experiment a month back with a couple of raw recruits straight out of college. Now these boys were sharp guys who had a good attitude to learn, and plus some basic knowledge, albeit quite limited and convoluted.

I’ve concluded that the primary drawback of hiring people “fresh” out of college is that they don’t know anything practical. The sad part is that their heads are so full of theory that by the time they get out into the real world, they’re completely confused and absolutely incapable of practical programming. I’ve mentioned this before in my earlier posts on the state of freshers in India.

In this case, I initially gave each of my two freshers some very simple tasks, different tasks mind you, that would require them to learn the basics of .NET programming. But after 10 days, they had made very little progress and I was left tearing my hair out and sitting with them for 3 or 4 hours just trying to explain how to use classes, how file reader operations work, etc. I mean this was baby stuff they’re supposed to have learned in college. And people wonder why I’m greying prematurely.

The trouble was that I really couldn’t devote this much time to these boys on consistent basis, and the company wasn’t big enough to justify a formal training program like what the big boys at Infosys and all do. At the same time, I was sure that just throwing them in front of a computer with some books and saying, “Code!” wouldn’t work fast enough. So, I hit upon an idea. What if I instead of using them as two separate programmers, I made them work as a single unit?

I got this idea from an article I’d read a few years back on how HP was using Extreme Programming to improve its coding standards. You can read up on Extreme Programming here @ Wiki. One of the concepts that I recalled from this particular article was that instead of have two programmers work separately on different tasks, HP assigned two programmers to a single workstation to work on a single task together. The idea was that the number of bugs in the code went down because there was a second person to verify the code as it was written. So while it didn’t actually speed up the development phase, it did reduce the time taken for the testing phase, an added bonus being that it reflected a higher standard of programming quality.

So getting back to my problem, I realized that the issue I was facing was that on their own these freshers didn’t have enough know-how to accomplish the task, but each of these guys had some knowledge that the other didn’t have. So, I made them work as a team, or one logical programmer to use geek speak, to accomplish a single task together at a single workstation.

I’m happy to say that this experiment was succesful. They delivered their new task inside of 3 days [the new task being one of equal complexity to previously assigned tasks]. I then had them work under a project leader to develop an in-house project for me. Not that I desperately needed the application, but it was a challenging project that required my freshers to cover all the basic concepts you need for a real-world .NET web application. 2 weeks in and they’re almost done.

What I learned from this exercise was that having a second person working on the same problem helped the freshers to think a problem through before implementing a solution, rather than operating on a trial-and-error basis. Additionally, the second “brain” helped to fill in gaps of knowledge that were lacking in the other person. So, together they would discuss a strategy, pointing out flaws in each others theory, and then implement that strategy together, testing and debugging it together. At the end of the day, they accomplished far more simply because they had more knowledge at their disposal, plus the ability to think things through before coding.

I’m not saying they’re perfect though. There’s still a lot of things they need to learn before they can become independent programmers. One major issue I’ve encountered, and one that I haven’t fixed yet, is getting them to conceptualize concepts and problems. For some reason, whenever I asked them something a little abstract like how does a web application work according to the client-server model, or how is a file uploaded handled, or how do URLs work, I encountered a major mental block. I’m only after the theoretical concepts, but for some reason since it’s applied theory, rather than definitions, they have trouble wrapping their brains around these ideas.

In the end, I realize that how to use these boys is not to talk to them about solving problems, but to clearly define the tasks to be delivered and them instruct them to do it. It requires a hands-on presence in the form of a team lead or project manager to clearly define for the boys what needs to be done, but once they’re clear on whats expected of them, they are able to deliver as per schedule. Based on the current results, I’ve decided to keep them together for another 3 or 4 months for them to gain more exposure before splitting them up.

The primary benefits of this approach are that a company does not need to invest in a formalized training program to train “freshers”, and that at the same time these freshers get exposed to real world programming from day one. They understand how live projects are dealt with, what methodologies are in place, what problems they are likely to face, etc. Most importantly, they learn the skills that are needed for them to become productive programmers quickly, especially those needed for the company’s ongoing projects. The company also benefits as it’s no longer dependent on hiring “experienced candidates” [refer to some of my other posts for my take on these clowns], and is able to groom and shape a team for the future.

So, in the near future, I can transition these two freshers into productive programmers who are capable of completing tasks alloted to them. True, they might not be ready to tackle problem solving and such, but that only comes with experience. But, rather than have non-productive people for 4-6 months, I have productive programmers within 3 months. And at a fraction of the cost of the “experienced programmers”.





The World’s Largest Pencil

5 06 2007

Yep. The Faber Castell Company, and it’s manufacturing facility in Malaysia is home to the World’s Largest Pencil. Standing at only about 65 feet tall and housed in a glass enclosure, it’s a Castell 9000 made of Malaysian lumber, and proper graphite. Yes, you can actually write with it.

How did I find this place? I was driving along to the Acer service centre, which is about 300m from this building and I see this huge sign that says, “The Worlds Largest Pencil – 100M thataway”. Well, just one more piece of evidence that Malaysians have major insecurity issues. Must be pen… sorry “pencil” envy. 🙂





The Easiest Goal Ever Missed

4 06 2007

My brother just sent me this video. Words fail to describe just how stupid this guy is. He didn’t even have to touch the ball. It was going in anyway. Any kind of mishit would have only helped the ball along. Instead, the guy does the one thing short of stopping the ball that could deny the goal. And he did so well until the finish. Take a look and marvel at just how the impossible it was to miss that goal. It just proves nothing is impossible.





Cool Engineering – The Ultimate Treehouse

3 06 2007

Just when you thought things couldn’t get weirder, they do. A couple of architects and an environmental engineer have teamed up to design a house that you can literally “grow” from trees. The Fab Tree Hab, as it’s called, is designed in such a way that trees are grown to provide the raw framework of the house over 5 years. The walls and such are then filled in using materials like mud and plaster. The interiors are then done up using conventional technologies. Power comes from solar energy, and there’s a specialized rainwater harvester/septic tank to process, recycle and provide tap water. The whole ideas is to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Some additional benefits are easy setup of swings for kids from some the branches, natural shade, etc. Here’s a conceptual video walk-through:

I would love to see this come to fruition. It would be really cool to see just how big a structure they can build with this. Maybe they could outdo Mukesh Ambani’s monster 60 storey “house” in Mumbai. That would certainly leave him “green” with envy. Pardon the pun. The full article is at SCIFI.com here.





Cool Engineering – The Falkirk Wheel

2 06 2007

One of the coolest feats of engineering I have ever seen. A quick browse of the wiki entry reveals that the wheel is used to link two canals in Scotland, the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. The only problem is that the union canal is 24m higher than the Forth and Clyde Canal. So engineers designed this marvel as a boat lift to link the canals by raising/lowering boats between the different canal heights. The canals were previously linked about a 100 years back by a series of 11 locks, but over the years they fell into disrepair and were filled in. For the Millennium, the government decided to reopen the link as part of a larger scheme to connect Glasgow and Edinburgh via various canals in Scotland as a tourist attraction.

One of the cool historical notes about this is that the Canal link actually traverses the Antonine Wall, for those fascinated by Roman history. Total cost of the project was 84 million pounds. But, it looks like its worth every penny. The really cool part is that to drive the 35m diameter wheels it only needs 1.5kwhr of power, which is probably about what your A/C consumes in an hour or so. And it completes a boat lift in about 4 minutes. Check out the video below:

More information on the wheel is available @ Wiki here. It’s definitely on my list of places to visit in the UK.