Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Please Men

The Please Men
The gulf between two states

The business of politics requires the professionals to communicate. In democracies, preferably to large numbers of the intended audience.  They are termed crowd-pleasers for their efforts. Everyone else communicates to faceless audiences with the objective of displeasing them - it would appear.  So this is about The Please Men.

Meanwhile,  some recent events showcase alternative methods used by persons

Scene 1 - Somewhere in a rich gulf state

Its a packed stadium. Scorching heat hasn’t deterred attendance. Its 40 degree C. And they erupt. Deafening. Nope, its the the famous movie star renowned for a stutter in about his most famous dialogue on scree. It isn’t a musical concert featuring some new sensation. Their national chief is here to talk to them.   The MIGHTY LEADER. 

In between strutting his stuff,  The Mighty Leader says  (excerpted from his communications) :

  • When I meet the national leaders of different countries, I am warmly welcomed and treated with respect. Not because they see MY face, but the face of 1.25 billion of my country’s citizens.

  • This Great Nation where you’ve chosen to earn your livelihood has promised to give us $ 1 zillion! Not kidding, $ 1 zillion! What is important is not how much they are giving, but they are willing to trust us with their money! Would you give even a hundred rupees to someone you don’t trust? That is the respect you’ve helped us earn

  • This year on the Festival of Sisters, make a small gift of $10 in a fixed deposit. The interest alone (Re 1 per month) with provide her with insurance for her life under the new scheme the government has launched.  Please tell me, what can you buy for Re 1 these days anymore? Even when I was selling tea in a teashop, it may have just been less than that…not anymore. 

Audience Thought Balloons after the Show : 

Wow! My work is helping him earn respect and the whole country. Even my presence here is contributing.

Its important I continue to work honestly. It will create the trust needed for the future.

Yeah, $10 sounds like a great deal. I’ll add that to the dress I gift her.

Scene 2 - Somewhere in a poor engulfed state

The handsome, forty something year old is the dynamic face of the opposition to the Mighty Leader. He’s chosen to spend time in a village instead, talking to real people who live here about real problems. The village happens to be in his constituency, that elected him and his family for several generations - generations of voters and generations of elected. Its stayed poor all this time, so it needs strong representation.  But lets not nitpick and digress from the main event.

Sound bytes from the Handsome One :

This is a Suit-Boot govt disconnected from common people. 

This government runs for the Benefit of four or five Big Industrialists.

Land is being grabbed from our poor farmers to benefit the rich, depriving them of not just livelihood but food! All in the name of development!

Audience Thought Balloons after the Show :

Er….I’m wearing my trousers and black shoes and so are half the guys around here. So his point is…..?

Why aren’t those four or five Big Industrialists setting up a factory near here? Even if they don’t employ me, those guys will need tea and snacks, and so on…Maybe they’ll build a fancy school for the rich folks and my kids can take tuition from those teachers….and we may get a better movie theatre around here….

Er…..wonder why no one wants to buy my land? Lemme check with the land registry office…..

Land..what land? doesn't he know I'm landless and a labourer? 

So what’s all this suit boot, big industrialist stuff have to do with me? Where is that damn water for my fields and school for my kids?!!!! 

Scene 3 - The Drunk Journos at the Pub in a Great Metro*

(*great metro means that more than 5 million people live, though power cuts, poor garbage collection, scarce water, flooded roads and bad could all be happening there. If you suggest otherwise in public, proud local residents may take extreme measures to address the hurt sentiments)

For easy recall lets name them DJ1 and DJ2.  DJ1 is the  self-appointed Socrates type (He knows everything!) while DJ2 is a wannabe Che Guevara type (even while polishing off rare scotch on an expense account)…

Barman :  Sir, last orders right now…so any more for you? 
DJ1 :  Maan, yeah Two-For-The-Road for us. 
DJ2 :  So WTF was all that stuff about, we just saw?
DJ 1 : (He’s the Socrates of the two). : Don’t you get i?
DJ2 : Yeah, The Great Leader is globe trotting while the Handsome One is getting his hands dirty! That’s what! 
DJ 1 :  Nope. This isn’t about where they are! This is about how they communicate, when they are there!
DJ 2: Yeah, but The Handsome One got the proletariat all cued up. 

DJ 1 : Nope, son! (he always says son, as a prelude to a long monologue. He's actually 2 years older than DJ2 and they're both about 24 years old)

The Mighty Leader took the Big Picture about zillion dollar Foreign Investment and brought it right into a person’s home :  people trust us with their money its not about the amount, your family back home can benefit from just a small contribution, your honest and hard work are our real assets that's enabling all this and my fame isn’t about me…its about you…the face of our country.

The Handsome One went to their home, and discussed what’s on the Other Side of the Uranus….not what screws up their life everyday and what he’s gonna do about it.


DJ1 and DJ2 got home safely.  They called mobile-phone-application based cab service at short notice and paid less than the likely auto-fare.  DJ2 posted an article about greedy international app-based cab companies the next day.  DJ1 skipped office due to a hangover and then wrote his piece supporting personal freedom..or some such shit. 

Author’s Note :
This story is inspired by true events. Critical points have been altered to protect the identities of the principal characters, their country and references to persons, organisations, places and events. In case there is a direct relationship to real things....what a creative of you...well done! 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Internet for Everthing

Net Neutrality, being a good person and all that stuff.

Some things sounds so nice to propagate. It’d be nicer still if we could walk to the talk. Net neutrality is one such item. Like love, friendship, good parenting and good citizenry, no one will generally object to it. But the god is in the details.

Net neutrality - everyone should get equal access and speed for their packets - in a first-come-first-served basis to reach anywhere they want to...on the net.The way the government and citizens act upon their belief on the matter is as under :

i) The government auctions licenses to operate to bidders.  The government, through its minister, has also said they believe its a necessity for a free democracy-

So why is a universal right pre-emptively taxed like hell through auction licenses?

Highest taxes win. Before the network is even established. Lets contrast this with roads, the net is a virtual road. Roads are auctioned out to:
  1. the lowest cost bidder
  2. who can build to a specific standard and availability
  3. within a time frame defined up front

Telecom related licenses go :

d. to the highest bidder (ISPs excluded). When the latest round happened, the government already knew that Skype, whatsapp, Viber and several other services provided VoIP voice services - that would be cheaper for citizens and reduce revenues. They still set the base price on a context that may have been valid in 1994 - when it all started. Wow!
e. there is no availability criteria. Even today, providers routinely refuse coverage of certain areas - sometimes because they’re full up and other times, its not worth their while. This is in a city not the 7 persons per square kilometer area infested with snakes and disaster prone.
f.  there are no defined time frames for anything.
g.  there are no enforcements, in meaningful terms, of any standards. Call drops on mobile phones are about 1 per minute, internet speeds (wireless) are most of the time quite pathetic. The only time that there is absolute clarity and high speed - are in the advertisements and in movies. Can you recollect a single time when the hoodlum boss says“abhi thok do” on his mobile and the henchman says “kya, kya..theek se sunayee nahi de raha hai”?.

Meanwhile, the government is sitting on unspent amounts of nearly Rs 35,000 crores in the USO Fund. Created ( with much fanfare, it lies unused while several areas remained uncovered by a necessity for a vibrant democracy.

A critical mass about the debate was reached on Airtel Zero’s plan. It essentially allowed some websites to pay the carrier for surfing time and not others. A toll free number. There are several pros and cons downstream for such an arrangement - imagine if Google paid for your surfing time - that’d shut out all competition. By itself, the telco has innovated to guarantee extra income.

No one asked a key question, however, is why the government can’t pay for citizens’ surfing time on its public services delivery? After all the auctioned fees paid are built into the costs of the system. If not a toll free access, then atleast a flat fee access - low and to ensure that fast system response speed is the govt’s responsibility.  

Citizens making the maximum noise are the Facebook, Twitter using variety. Neither qualify as essential services - any more than ice-cream or music videos do.  No one has asked why say, a student’s online classroom quality is suffering, or an important application form or railway booking for a rural citizen is being held up because critical apps like selfies and AIB roast videos are hogging all the bandwidth. I’d be willing to bet, on a random analysis of data (govt is snooping anyway, as are the like of Google and Facebook) will reveal a proportion higher than 75% for purely entertainment and social use.

We haven’t made a noise about :
  1. Call drops
  2. Erratic net speeds vis-a-vis committed on contracts
  3. Why roaming charges are exorbitant when the technology makes the definition of telecom “circles” just another piece of government defined sloth. In fact, the government had taken telcos to court for sharing spectrum licensed to them in a circle with other operators to provide seamless roaming. “How dare you provide better services with innovative use of spectrum?”. But that’s a topic for another day.
  4. Why its taken about 10 years to act upon number portability? The mobile telephone number acts, de facto, like an internal passport in India for usage of a variety of services including banking, email accounts and so on. Telecom companies were virtually holding disgruntled customers hostage due to the number.
  5. Why isn’t the government, on a defined time frame, putting everything it can possibly can, on the net? For citizen access and business access. What simpler way to reduce corruption, than track all this and nail the bottlenecks?

Meanwhile, there is the technology domain where a lot of evil things can run amok that no one may know about. Lets list a few :

i) Your internet provider may anyway classify different users and assign different data pipes and priority. In return for this, a content provider (say pays 6x of normal web hosting fees - its a private transaction that doesn’t need disclosure. For a long time, voice and data follow different paths - the former needs urgency of completion and the latter needs accuracy.

ii) Various filters - including those placed by snooping agencies, may anyway slow down your access. If the snooper doesn’t have sufficient capacity or is not smartly programmed. This happens anyway with a standard anti-virus programme on your device!

The biggest protection against all this is multiple choice of access providers and their inability to cartelize. Plan B will be to treat it completely as a utility and live with the so-far, below par performance on electricity supply, water and sewerage and even roads.  None of which, by the way, have any time frame for completion, availability or enforceable standards at the your place of work or residence. There were procedural delays, you see. Guess who controls the procedures?

Meanwhile an activist group is rumored to be planning a new music track called “Internet for Nothing”...which begins with “I want my FB and G”.  We certainly are in dire straits.