Is The One-Laptop-Per-Child Program Really Practical?

1 06 2007

I’ve been following the progress of the One-Laptop-Per-Child (OLPC) initiative for a while now since it was announced. Frankly, I thought it was a dumb idea then and I still think its a dumb idea now. The whole ideology of this program is to boost education and literacy in third-world countries as means to raising the standard of living in those places. It’s a nice goal, I admit. But, I have to wonder just what Nicholas Negroponte, the Director of the OLPC project, and all the other yahoos in the UN and various governments were on when they cooked up this hare-brained scheme. I’m not questioning their motives here. I’m just asking if there’s any sense in trying to foster creativity in kids who are having a hard enough time surviving on a day to day basis.

Just consider what they’re trying to achieve here. They’re targeting some of the most poverty-stricken areas in the world. We’re talking about places where electricity is a luxury, regular potable water is at a premium, and getting a square meal a day is the priority. So, enter into this scenario the OLPC cadres toting specially-designed laptops for kids to become computer savvy. Sorry, their vision is “To provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment and express themselves.” Thats fine, but isn’t it a bit moot if the kids are creative but lack fundamental knowledge like reading, arithmetic, and writing to take advantage of their creativity? How does the OLPC plan to impart that knowledge? It’s not like that the kids can learn all these things just by looking at a laptop screen? Just looking at something doesn’t make you smarter. If they could, then I should be a frigging genius for the stuff I’ve read and watched on my computer, TV, books, etc. An obvious statement I know, but one that has to be mentioned given the scenario here.

I respect what Negroponte and the OLPC stand for and are trying to achieve. But, when countries in Africa, like Rwanda and Ethiopia, and in Asia, like India and Bangladesh, are willing to spend US$100 per laptop for kids, you have to hold up your hands and say, “Stop the Cheque!”. Do some rough number crunching. Say that a country wants to provide about 100,000 OLPC laptops to its various primary schools. That’s a cool US$10 million right there. That’s just for 100,000 units. Unfortunately, it was recently announced that the price target of US$100 was not feasible, so the price has been revised US$175. So now its going to cost US$17.5 million for the 100,000 units.

Now, this may seem like a lot of units to you, but consider the population sizes in these countries. One of the sad statistics that define a developing [or third-world] nation is that life expectancy is not very high. So a large part of the population is the younger generations. Still, countries like Nigeria have a population of around 100 million, not to mention Bangladesh and India, which are 120 million and 1.3 billion respectively. Assuming that you’re even trying to target 2.5% of the population for this program, in Nigeria you’re still talking about 2.5 million kids. So you’ll need a minimum of about 1 million units to be shipped of Nigeria, a cost of about US$437.5 million, almost half a billion dollars.

Sure, Nigeria can afford it with it’s oil money. But what about Bangladesh? How would they pay for half a billion dollars worth of units? In the case of India, the cost of the OLPC project will run into billions of US dollars. All for what is really an advanced toy. Can’t this money be better utilized in some other manner? Why can’t the governments focus on improving primary education by boosting the salaries of educators and improving the facilities? Or why can’t governments start a fund to encourage parents to send their kids to schools?

The real issues to be tackled, in my opinion, are poor educational facilities and teaching standards, as well as encouraging parents to send their kids to school. Too often, kids are being denied the chance at a decent education because of the extreme poverty they are born into. The parents need all the help they can get to earn a living, so kids are put to work for the common good of the family. Unfortunately, they lose the opportunity to gain knowledge and have a career that might allow them to help their family overcome poverty.

Looking at the lack of educational facilities and standards, I recall a story I heard about one state-funded school here in Chennai that was giving a reading room by an NGO. The NGO wanted to encourage kids to read so it funded the construction of a reading room at a local school. They got all sorts of books for the kids in different languages and even got cute chairs and tables for the kids to sit at while they read. When the NGO staff went to deliver the furniture at the school, the staff asked them, “Why are you wasting your money getting books for kids? Just leave the furniture and go please. These chairs and tables are so nice. We can use this for our lunch room!”

How do you react to this kind of situation? The NGO staff were quite irritated, at the time, and starting criticizing the staff for not thinking like educators and for depriving children of the chance to learn. The staff responded by saying, “What can we do? We hardly have any facilities for ourselves. We don’t have proper books, no furniture, nothing. How can we teach kids when we have nothing to help us or to make it easier for us?” Unfortunately, this has been the story of Indian public schools since Independence. In fact, it has been found that India spends less on its public school education than most low-income countries. The Hindu has a very interesting article on this here.

Getting back to the point. The OLPC looks like just another gimmick by politicians to look good and squander more money. The net beneficiaries here are the manufacturers of these laptops, not the kids. Given the kind of money that is likely to be involved in this scam, governments might be better off investing in more long-term measures. After all, a laptop has a limited life-span. Also, has anyone even thought about the recycling problem this is going to create in all those already “polluted” countries?

It just shows that if you give politicians a chance to showboat, you can sell them anything. It’s just like the Emperor’s New Clothes. Only with laptops.


Why India Should Say No To US Nukes

26 05 2007

The more I read about this hoopla about the pending India-US nuclear co-operation treaty, the more I find myself wondering why India needs this deal. Let’s get a few facts straight first. India needs to harness nuclear energy to be able to meet its electricity needs for the future. No other alternative to current fossil-fuel based power technologies provides as much bang for buck today. Alternative energy sources like solar, wind, or tidal energy are too nascent to be able to provide the kind of mass energy production needed to match India’s increasing hunger for electricity. As it is, the current infrastructure is barely able to meet demand, and brownouts and power outages are increasingly occurring throughout the country.

Having said that, I don’t think the US nuclear deal will really help us move forward to meeting our growing energy needs, despite what our politicians would have us believe. If you take a look at the current nuclear technology used for power generation in the US, all of the 104 commercial reactors in use today are based on either pressurized water reactors (PWRs) and boiling water reactors (BWRs) designs. The last commercial reactor commissioned in the US was in 1996. The Nuclear Authority of India already has several nuclear power installations that are based on PWR and BWR technology that have been in operation for over 10 years. So, doesn’t that mean that we already have a lot of the know-how we’re supposed to be getting from the Americans now?

US technology still has its roots in the cold war ethos of dual-purpose reactors, energy and plutonium production. But, we’ve already got military nuclear capability so we don’t need that. And we already have the ability to build PWR and BWR reactors. So, just what are buying? What exactly are we getting from the Americans thats so valuable?

I don’t think this deal is about nuclear technology, but more about money and the US selling more military hardware to the India. Nuclear technology is a deal-sweetner being offered by the Americans to coerce India into signing the deal. After all, US nuclear power technology can be considered somewhat ancient.

What really gets my goat is when you consider how becoming dependent on US technology seriously weakens our national and economic security, which is contrary to what our “exalted leaders” say on how it will strengthen India. US nuclear technology is primarily based on using uranium ore as the raw material for nuclear fuel. This is fine for the US maybe since Canada is the largest supplier of uranium ore in the world [and we know that Canada is a quasi-US state in all practicality.], so they are assured supplies. Unfortunately for India, we have no significant reserves of uranium anywhere within our borders. Plus, we have a hostile neighbor in Pakistan so obviously friendly sharing of resources is out of the question, even if Pakistan had uranium reserves, which they don’t. So we’d have to import uranium from countries like Canada and Australia if we intend to use US technology.

What we do have is thorium, and plenty of it. It’s estimated that at least 25% of the world’s thorium reserves are inside Indian borders. What’s so special about thorium? Thorium is a radioactive ore considered by many to be an alternative nuclear fuel source to uranium, with the added benefit that it actually is a more efficient fuel for nuclear reactions, and produces less plutonium and other highly radioactive byproducts. If you’re interested in the mumbo-jumbo, check out the Wikipedia reference to thorium. The downside to thorium is that the ore needs to be processed more extensively than uranium before it can be used as nuclear fuel, making it more expensive.

But here’s where we need to starting thinking in a bigger picture. India has been conducting extensive research on building thorium-fueled nuclear reactors for years. In 2005, India unveiled its revolutionary “A Thorium Breeder Reactor” (ATBR) in Mumbai capable of producing 600MW for 2 years without any refueling. The design was specifically tailored to enhance the safety of the nuclear reactor. It was even proclaimed “The World’s Safest Nuclear Reactor”. [More details on the ATBR can be found here.]

For the past 50 years, we have relied on indigenous solutions to our nuclear problems, even in the face of international obstacles and opposition. Should we seriously consider throwing all that away just because we’re being “allowed” access to US technology? Especially when the basic raw material needed is not even available in India and has to be imported? Yes, thorium might be more expensive to process than uranium. But, it’s easy to obtain and since it’s indigenous the cost of transport and handling is reduced significantly. So it could work out to be as or even less expensive than handling uranium ore.

But the main advantage of going this route is that it safeguards our national security and economic interests. Just consider how easy it would be to cripple India if there was an international embargo on shipping uranium to India and we were running nuclear power stations based on US technology and uranium? It’d be like kicking us back to the Stone Ages with the flip of a switch. By denying us uranium, they could cripple our power grids, and our economy would grind to a halt. By using an ore that is available locally, we ensure that no outsider can interrupt the supply of fuel that will drive our country forward. Our esteemed politicos might want to listen to the local boffins doing thorium research before kowtowing to the “great Americans”. Jeesh, you’d think we were still ruled by the frigging Westerners.

But you got to hand it to the Americans. They’ve taken an asset with diminishing value, i.e. their aging commercial nuclear technology, and are using it as a major carrot to sell more military hardware. For that’s really what this whole stupid treaty is about. If you read some of the fine print and press about this so-called “breakthrough in Indo-US nuclear relations”, you’ll see that as part of the deal that the Americans are expecting India to place orders for over US$5 billion for conventional military equipment for a start, with future purchases also expected.

It’s obvious that the US wants to divert India’s allegiances away from countries like Russia and China, who have more in common with India strategically than the US does. And they’re using our pathetic Indian fascination with all things American to try and maneuver our “enlightened leaders” [read as “bulbs”] into committing us to a relationship that diverts Indian taxpayers money into American coffers, coerces us to abandon over 20 years of indigenous research which is more suited for our particular geography, and above all puts us in a position where the controlling factor to our national wellbeing is in the hands of outsiders.

I wouldn’t be this upset if this was more of a two way street. And I’m not normally so xenophobic. But this is so patently biased in favour of American interests you have to wonder why our government is actually trying to pursue this. Yes, there may be things that I am not aware of. But from a layman’s perspective, it just looks like a really bad deal for India. And I want my government to justify it to me before they accept it. Especially when there are more beneficial alternatives to this deal, why is our government insistent on pursuing it?

Nuclear power does not contribute significantly to Indian’s current electricity output today. But, it is being touted as the way forward to meeting the electricity demands of tomorrow. With that in mind, I believe that nuclear power is an essential part of our national infrastructure, and needs to be treated as a national security issue to ensure that India truly does benefit tomorrow from it.

Insights into Online Video – The Desi Factor

13 05 2007

I’ve been ranting about different things for the past two months, but haven’t really gone into what I do. Well, I have but not entirely. Some of you might be wondering, “Just what does he do?” Others might be wondering, “Uh huh! Ok! So whats that got do with this post?” Other’s might not give a damn. Still I”m gonna give you a little insight into my “normal” world. I’m doing this cause some people have come to the conclusion that I’m a HR consultant. Please, I have my standards. I won’t sink that low on a full-time basis. To those HR folks reading this, it’s nothing personal. It’s just that I’d rather do something more “interesting”. I am a technical consultant primarily, and in starting up new operations HR is a big part of the equation, not my sole interest.

Anyway, back to my story. one of the projects that I’m working on currently has to do with online video. I can hear those groans, “Not another YouTube clone!” Well, it’s a yes and no kind of answer. Yes, we’re into online video like YouTube, but no we’re not the same as YouTube. With over 300+ YouTube clones already on the market, and over 100 million videos circulating out on the ‘Net [though many may be duplicated on multiple sites], you can only survive if you focus on a new direction.

I’ve come to the conclusion that YouTube was a freak of nature that can only happen once. If you look at the market metrics, the Google-YouTube monopoly dominates the online video sharing market by over 50%. The initial MySpace binge and the consequent Google buyout have made YouTube synonymous with online video in the minds of the general public. So the other 300+ sites out there are scrambling to pick up whats left, which makes it a very crowded space to fight for breadcrumbs. Not to mention the associated headaches of how to attract users and how to make money at the end of it all.

Taken in the Indian context though, the market still has opportunity. I don’t think there’s another society in the world that’s as obsessed with TV as the Indian diaspora. The key driver of online video is the availability of broadband internet access (512k+), which is just starting to become mainstream in India. Okay, there are a few Indian-oriented video sites out there that already, but their content is what I’d call “base”. This isn’t me trying to put down my competitors. But when the majority of the videos on those sites are “Sachin’s Greatest Knocks”, or “Guru Movie Trailer” or “Hot Desi Chick Stripping” [I kid you not about the last one, there’s literally TONS of adult content on these sites, all “contributed” by the users] you end up getting a little stifled for choice.

If you get on YouTube, you have access to a variety of content that covers quite a few topics, everything from comedies to documentaries. You don’t get that variety on the Indian sites today. If you’re obsessive about Indian movies (mainly Hindi), then you might be sated by the stuff you find currently on Indian video sharing sites. But if you want variety all in one place, then sorry but there isn’t much choice for you.

Getting back to the Indian obsession with TV. India is a country with over 40 regional languages [I’m sure its more, but I didn’t want to appear too stupid and say 400 or 4000. 40+ is safer but still gets my point across]. Practically every state has its own unique language. And especially in South India, Hindi is not as common as in North India. Sitting in Madras, my TV provides me with access to over 100+ channels [without a special cable box], of which a large percentage is in regional languages showing things like news, soaps [serials in Desi Lingo], and of course movies. All this is pretty much the same as in the US, but the primary difference between the US market and the Indian market is the variety of languages in which content is being produced. This variety of content is why an average Indian household’s TV is on for at least 6 hours day, and that governments are giving away free TVs to win elections. The sheer variety of content ensures that there is something for almost everyone to watch, so people are obsessed with watching TV. This variety of content is king.

So, the key to online video in India is to project it as Web TV. Why TV??? As I mentioned before, TV in India implies variety of content. And that’s exactly what you need to capture users. I don’t think the Indian online video viewing public is at that stage yet where they’ll contribute their own videos ‘en masse’, so its primarily a passive video watching environment, i.e. TV that’s available online. So, you need to get people to treat it like TV. To do that, you need the right kind of content. You can’t manage this if you’re only working with 4 kinds of content, although I’m sure the porno-maniacs out there will beg to differ and go into the variety of content available in certain genres.

And if you can create a sense of ownership which says to people, “This is your own TV channel! Do what you want with it! Add your own videos! Organize what you want, how you want!”, you can capture the hearts and minds of users. And the advertisers will follow. That’s how you make money in this game.

On Life, The Universe, And Everything – Part II

13 05 2007

As promised, here’s the follow-up to my earlier post. Previously, I’d covered “death threats against Knut”, “condoms for data security”, “sanitizing orkut”, and the “media frenzy around the Bachchan-Rai hookup”.

Moving along, the BBC has a knack for choosing headlines that can really grab your attention. So when I saw this title, ‘Kryptonite’ discovered in mine, I just had to see what the heck was going on. Seems that they’ve found a new mineral in some mine in Serbia that has the same chemical formula as Kryptonite. Now, Kryptonite, as you all know is Superman’s Achilles Heel. The guy who can’t be destroyed by bullets, nuclear weapons, and can fly into the sun and live to talk about it. But put a tiny green lump of Kryptonite in front of him and the dude’s knees turn into jelly and the death knell begins for ol’ Soupy.

So the story goes that the a mining company was expanding a mine shaft in Serbia and came across a “strange new ore”, which when chemically analyzed was found to be a “sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide”. Consequently, the chief researcher did what every other sensible scientist does before announcing “a great new find”. He got on the ‘Net and googled for “sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide”. And guess what he found? Yup, this amazing “new” ore had already been revealed to the world in Superman II – Superman Returns. The exact same chemical formula, the only difference being the real ‘Kryptonite’ is white, and the movie version is green. Just goes to show that not everything you see in the movies is fake. Who knows? Maybe NASA really did land on the moon, instead of filming it in some movie studio in California. But thats another story.

Moving along to the next topic of interest was another BBC article entitled Mathematicians set Chinese test. The jist of the story was that the Royal Society of Chemistry, considered to be one of the world’s premier scientific organizations, had issued a challenge for people to solve a mathematics question, which incidentally was taken from a Chinese university entrance exam paper. The society’s intention was to highlight the growing gulf between the Chinese and British students in mathematics. Now I took a look at this and it was a pretty straightforward college-level trigonometry problem. But what really set me off was when I saw the sample question taken from a British university entrance exam. I did that level of problems in the 9th standard. Do this mean that I could have waltzed into a British university on what I learnt when I was 13? I wish I had known this 10 years back. I’d have taken things easier. On a lighter note, the person who solved the RSC’s poser was a 34-year old engineer.

In my opinion, this kind of degradation of standards is pretty much the normal scenario in the Western Hemisphere these days. When I was in college in the US doing my undergrad, I remember the university explicitly having something like 8-10 classes teaching high school mathematics to students in their 1st year. I even knew people who had FAILED these “remedial” classes more than once who were pursuing degrees like Chemistry, Finance, etc.

It’s a small wonder why companies are complaining about a lack of talent and outsourcing jobs to Asia. Why should you pay a person with the mathematical ability of a high school student an exorbitant salary when you can hire much more talented people at a fraction of the cost? Why should companies put up with mediocrity? If there was some semblance of equality in terms of ability between people in Asia and in the West, then maybe you could call it straightforward exploitation of lower costs of living in Asian countries. But when there is such a huge gap in educational standards and consequently technical knowledge, isn’t it stupid to expect companies to put up with less “able” people? Go on, think about it.

And while you’re at it, you might want to consider what the future holds for you folks in the west if the you let schools get away with the kind of nonsense covered in this article, Pupils ‘are urged to drop maths’. I think it’s criminal that schools are compromising the future careers of their students in order to boost their rankings. Why can’t they raise their teaching standards? Why should students compromise and avoid maths just to make the schools look good? It’s such a short-sighted, escapist attitude that I’m appalled that the government is letting schools get away with it? What’s the point in an education system, when the educators coerce students to avoid more difficult subjects to ensure that they look more productive quantitatively? Shouldn’t it be a qualitative evaluation???

I’ll make one observation about India in regards to this, which I’ve mentioned before several times. The lack of educational standards is a major issue here at the college level as universities are so KEEN to pump out engineers for the IT industry. They focus on ensuring that students can answer theoretical tests, but in no way prepare them for the real world. Today it’s the domain of the companies to train these students to the levels they need since the students are so inept practically. Consequently, the universities feel that they don’t need to bother with practical knowledge and continue churning out theoretical numbskulls who I can only define as a completely confused souls without ANY idea of what the software industry is really about. To them, its a cushy job in an A/C environment with plenty of cash, perks, etc. They don’t have a clue about the processes involved in the industry, the limitations of software and how to overcome them, how to approach problem solving, etc, etc, etc.

If you look at the IT faculty of most universities in India outside of the IITs and such, odds are that most of the lecturers are recent graduates who have failed to get a proper job and decide to earn some money by teaching until they get a big break in the “real world”. Does this strike anyone as even sane??? Isn’t it criminal to compromise on the quality of education imparted to young minds, WHO ARE PAYING TUITION to be taught about software and programming??? What the heck can a fresh graduate even teach about the software industry to other students who are maybe 2 years younger than him/her??? Its a mad, mad, mad, mad world, and it needs to change otherwise we’ll end up like the Brits and the Yanks and face a major deterioration in our technical standards. I’ve said enough about this before so I’ll stop here on this topic. For more, browse some of my older articles, or stayed tuned. I’m sure someone will piss me off very soon and it’ll end up being related to this.

I think I’ll save the last two topics on how to take down the Indian move industry and the stupidity of the $100 Laptop Program in another post. Stay tuned.

On Life, The Universe, And Everything – Part I

29 04 2007

I just realized that I’ve been putting off blogging for over 10 days now. My browser has around 8 tabs locked on topics that got my rant juices flowing. So, lets review what’s recently pissed me off and/or tickled my interest in brief detail:

Topics covered:
1. Animal assassination and how PETA advocates killing animals
2. Condoms are data security protection measures according to Google
3. Sanitizing Orkut
4. The Hoopla around the Abhi-Ash Wedding
5. Why Superman could be real
6. Why Asians are smarter than the Brits! Proof by the Brits!
7. The flipping insanity of the Gere-Shetty kissing episode and how I can take down Bolly-Kolly-Tolly-MollyWood thanks to the Indian Penal Code
8. And the stupidity of “smart” people for trying to give laptops to kids who cant read [old news I know but due to recent events, my rant instincts have been rekindled and are flaming.]

It all started off with this article I came across on Reuters Berlin’s polar bear cub Knut receives death threat. For those not aware of the history behind this story, Knut was born a couple of months back in the Berlin Zoo, but was rejected by his mother at birth. One of the zoo’s keepers has taken on the role of the cub’s “parent” to the extent that he “has slept in Knut’s cage, played with him and fed him porridge since the cub’s mother rejected him at birth.” This has created a major furor among animal rights activists who wanted him put to sleep, rather than having him raised by humans, claiming it was “unnatural”. Doesn’t that seem a little oxy-moronish to you? Animal rights activists, i.e. people who normally infest groups like PETA, wanting an animal killed because he is being raised by humans who, to put it mildly, are keeping him alive, because that’s not natural??? Doesn’t the fact that these people are going to great lengths to help this cub survive actually deserve respect and admiration, rather than condemnation from the very people who otherwise preach to us “Don’t wear fur! Don’t eat meat! Don’t mistreat animals! Don’t kill animals!”??? Flipping insane!!!

Compounding the insanity of an already insane situation is the death threat against the cub. Why the heck would someone want to threaten a cub? What do you gain? If you look at it objectively [and cynically], at least those wackos who go about threatening people claim some kind of ideology like religion, greed, sexual frustration, lack of toilet-training, etc. But what possible motive could you have against a cub, especially one that has been rejected by its mother and would otherwise have died? It’s unnatural??? It doesn’t even make sense. I wish the Germans find the idiot who sent the threat so that they can ask him what his motive was. I’ll bet it’ll be something like, “My mother never cared for me like that zoo keeper cares for that cub! That’s makes me upset, jealous and furious! Since I didn’t get that kind of love, he shouldn’t get it, so I want to kill him.”

So that was Day 1. Day 2 was a lighter note courtesy of this wonder of journalism from my favorite techno-tabloid titled Need enhanced data security? Try a condom. Apparently, the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council is promoting a concept called PCI Data Security Standards [PCI DSS] as ways for e-commerce sites to enhance the protection of your personal information when you go shopping online. One of the Register’s readers decided to do a Google Image Search on PCI security to get a copy of the PCI DSS logo, and instead found that Google recommends Durex “extra safe” condoms as a PCI Data Security Standard. Just goes to show just how much Google cares about ensuring your personal information isn’t “penetrated!!!” Priceless. [Sorry for the pun! Couldn’t resist!]

Day 3 was a day of highs and lows, i.e. I came across 2 topics to rant on, one good, one maddening. The first was about tackling objectionable content on Orkut. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m getting a little sick of all the spam that I come across on the site. And I’m not just talking about the pimps, callgirls, orkut account removal messages, and people advertising their webcams. I’m talking about the Orkut addicts whose goal in life is to get AS MANY friends as possible on Orkut. Like that’s some status symbol! The other day, I got this scrap that said, [I’m even being accurate right down to the punctuation, which infuriated me even more] “HeY! Whatz Up??? ThIS Is Hari!” And I’m thinking, “Hari??? I don’t know a Hari! Who could this be???” So very politely I asked “Who are you?” Response I got was, “I’M HARi-HAraN 18 1sT YeAR EngINEERING! ADd mE As Ur FRnD!” I was in a crabby mood that day, it was hectic at work, so I tersely responded “Sorry! No can do! I don’t know you so sod off!” I admit it was a bit harsh but like I said, I’m sick of this kind of spam. I use Orkut to keep in touch with people I know. Yes, I meet some new people through common friends, but that’s usually cause I also meet them in the real world, and we have something in common. But, its not a contest. A friend of mine mentioned to me that some ignoranus[i love this word] actually sent him a note saying, “Congrats da! You’ve hit 1,000 scraps!” Huh? So what??? Who cares if you get 1 or 1,000? That’s not the objective of the site. That’s my view anyway.

But, reading this article, Mumbai Police can now nail web offenders, really gives me some hope for the future of the site. Until now, people on Orkut were relatively anonymous as authorities did not have any arrangement in place to request Google for information on users. And especially in cases where hate-crimes, underworld dons, and such were glorified, or in cases where people reported that they were being defamed, there was a need for some system to allow authorities to tackle these issues. The current arrangement enables the authorities to request Google for user information when objectionable content is reported, so as to track down the suspects who posted the material. Granted, this has nothing to do with the spam that I was ranting about earlier. But, I hope people will start being more responsible on how they use the site in the knowledge that they can be tracked by the cops if someone objects to how they’re using the site. Orkut is a great tool, but people need to start respecting other users a bit more. Again, this is just my personal opinion.

The other topic of the day was the much-awaited media blitz covering the Aishwariya Rai-Abhishek Bachchan wedding. In fact, a friend specifically asked me to rant on this, but having diligently avoided following the media hype I was at a bit of a loss on what to say. Then, I saw this article,
Abhi-Ash wedding: Amitabh apologises to media for high-handedness of securitymen, and I was all fired up to rant.

The media complained that security staff at the wedding manhandled several media-persons while they were trying to get the inside scoop on what they dubbed “the wedding of the decade” that took place at Bachchan Sr.’s bungalow. They even objected that buses were parked between the media and the bungalow preventing the paparazzi from taking snaps. Now, what I want to know is why should the Big B apologize? Why should he indulge, and try to mollify, actually, the media for trying to invade the privacy of an event, which he expressly made clear to be a private family affair, specificially requesting that the media respect the privacy of the family and keep the paparazzi at bay??? If he had said he’d let the media in then there might be a case. But since the media ignored his requests, why should he pander to them as though he was in the wrong! Imagine complaining, “He must apologize because he parked buses so we couldn’t see!” As if the fact that he built a temporary wooden roof all around his property to shield the people inside from prying eyes wasn’t hint enough that he didn’t want the media to pry??? Gawd! What maroons!

The media really needs to get a grip on just how far they can push into people’s lives for a story. There are limits to journalistic license. I’ve mentioned this before in an earlier post, The Demise of Decency, on the early coverage of the murder of Bob Woolmer last month. Fine! It was a marriage between two celebrities, so you’re allowed some media hype! But don’t bloody expect sympathy for violating the wishes of the your subjects. Sometimes, you have to wonder if these people even have a conscience! And after all this they have the balls to say, “All they could have done is gracefully posed at the end. It was just a wedding after all.” So, we viewers were subjected to a week of constant media hype counting down to the event, plus all day coverage of the event with a flood of shots of the bungalow from various angles as the day progressed with meticulous chronicling of every person who entered and left the event, all because it was just a wedding??? Total freaking idiots!

I’ll stop this post here for now lest I run out of steam for the rest. Stay tuned for Part II, coming shortly. Hope you’ve enjoyed this so far. Give me some feedback people!!! 225 hits and no feedback???

The value of the IIx’s

19 03 2007

I was driving home tonight from a family reunion dinner, and I noticed this huge billboard with Narayana Moorthy’s [Infosys Dude] picture on it. The caption was “More Schools or More IITs?? or Both???” This triggered an interesting thought because I started thinking about the value of the IITs and IIMs…

There is no question that the calibre of the average person who passes through an IIT or an IIM is much better than those from a Tier 2 school… Which starts you wondering, “Just why is that?”… Is it really that the people who get in are THAT good that even 4 years at a normal institute doesn’t make them lose their edge? Or is there something about the way the IIxs are run that just seems to bring out the best in the people? I believe its the latter. The kind of exposure a person gets at an IIx is far beyond what a person gets at other decent schools.

My cousin was telling me about the type of exposure they get at their college to prepare them for the real life after college. He doesn’t go to an IIT but he’s in one of the top schools in the state, but he says that even after 7 semesters, he’s not convinced of his ability to jump straight into the real world. Corporates just hand over experience certificates to students on the condition they don’t show up and bug them. But this kinda stuff doesn’t happen at an IIx.

I happen to know of a group of companies who run out of the IIT campus in Chennai, who get to recruit IIT students on internships. These students are asked to perform like normal staff, but while they may not be completely rewarded monetarily, they get an early bite into what awaits them once they finish. And this in turns lets them get off the mark faster once the get their first jobs…

So I’m wondering why aren’t there more institutes like the IIx’s? And not just for technology or business… I know there are national institutes like NIFT and IISC, but they dont receive the same attention as the more glamorous IIx’s… and this is where it gets sad… India’s growth until this point has been courtesy of the IIT’s and IIMs. But to sustain it, it needs to generate more world class talent in domains outside of the purview of these schools. The socio-economic benefits of India’s boom must go beyond just the narrow IT/Technology industries and the financial industry. Otherwise, you have the current growing divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots”, in this case the “haves” being the IIXians.

To answer the question that Mr. Narayana Moorthy asked, my answer is “Both”. You need to raise the overall standards of education in the country to produce the next generation of leaders, and you need more IIXs to help transform these talented kids to capable professionals. And by IIXs I mean that the emphasis should be on fields other than IT and Business.

Course what doesn’t help the cause is when some yahoo in the Education Ministry declares, “Basic education is not a priority of this administration.” I’m not able to recall where I read this since it was over 2 years back.. If I find it i’ll put it up here. But, its an endemic issue that is the norm here in India. Unless both state and the central governments recognize the problem, and actually devote the resources necessary to overhaul the entire educational system, and not the IIXs, then India will forever be debating, “Which do we need?”