Always with You

http://alwayswithyou.tv

I was amazed by this site. This site recites the stories of people from derived deprived (Thanks PS!) parts of the country (villages, poorer sections of the cities) and how they are changing under the influence of technology, and with help from philanthropy in some cases. I was completely amazed by the first story, that of Sarita, who has been able to get advanced education thanks to Abraham George. Her English was as fluent as top notch convent schools in the country!

In the words of the creators:

Always With You is a collaboration between Interactive Filmmaking and Microsoft Research India. It is an exploration of the impact of rapid growth in economy and technology in India, through the voices of those whose voices frequently go unheard.

Do have a look.

Honey Bee Algorithm for Allocating Servers

I came across an interesting article in The Hindu (see the story from GaTech news; I couldn’t find the link on The Hindu website) today which described work done by Sunil Nakrani and Craig Tovey, researchers in GaTech, on using a decentralized profit-aware load balancing algorithm for allocating servers for serving HTTP requests for multiple hosted services on the Web. The interesting, thing is that the algorithm is based on how Honey Bees in a bee-hive decide where to collect nectar from. I decided to take a look at the paper.

Essentially, the forager bees collect information about how profitable a particular nectar source and how much is the cost involved in collecting from that source (round trip time). Based on a composite score, they perform a waggle-dance which essentially indicates what is the value of performing foraging where they have been. The inactive foragers can thereafter figure out where to go look for nectar.

The researchers modeled it in the server space by having an advert-board, where servers post profits from serving a request and the time required to serve it. Thereafter, the other servers can choose which colony (or service) they wish to be a part of. Existing servers can also move to another colony based on a probability determined from a look-up table indexed by the ratio of their profits by the profits of their colony.

Their results indicate that they do quite well compared to optimal-omniscient strategy (which knows the pattern of all future web requests) and better than existing greedy and static assignment strategy. Shows that we still have a lot to learn from nature!

One thing that flummoxed me though was that the original paper seems to have been published way back in 2003 (see Tovey’s publication page). I wonder why it got press publicity only now.

[The paper also cites a Harvard Business Review paper titled Swarm Intelligence: A whole New Way to Think About Business]

India and Development

P. Sainath, the Magsasay award winning journalist and writer of Everybody Loves a Good Drought wrote an excellent article in the Hindu today (link) about India’s standing in the Human Development Index of UNDP. India apparently stands among the bottom 50% lower than countries like Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cuba and El Salvador, countries that have been devastated by civil strife and war. In fact, if you just consider India’s adivasis and dalits as a separate nation, they are in the lowest 25. He says,

Note that some of these nations rank up to 30 slots above us. Others fall within 30 nations below us. Not one of them has had our nine per cent growth. Few of them have been touted an emerging economic superpower. Nor even as a software superpower. Not even as a blossoming nuclear power. Together, they probably do not have as many billionaires as India does. In short, even nations much poorer than us in Asia, Africa and Latin America have done a lot better than we have.

India rose in the dollar billionaire rankings, though. From rank 8 in 2006 to number 4 in the Forbes list this year, but we slipped from 126 to 128 in human development. In the billionaire stakes, we are ahead of most of the planet and might even close in on two of the three nations ahead of us (Germany and Russia). It will, of course, be some time before we erase the national humiliation of lagging behind the top dog in that race, the United States. (Which, by the way, dropped from 8 to 12 in the HDI rankings this year.)

In fact, he points out that most statisticians had been using stale data for measuring Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). If you re-calculate based on the new 2006 data, India’s GDP (in PPP terms) reduces from $3.8 trillion to $2.34 trilliion (and the GDP at nominal exchange rate is $800 million billion, still less than a trillion), and the per-capita GDP falls from $3 779 to $ 2 341. He warns that we might soon be in for a surprise when agencies start using the new figures:

It is not clear yet how agencies other than the Bank, like the UNDP for instance, were working with PPP. Were they using updated measures or the old data? If the latter (which seems the case), and given India’s entry in the Bank survey is recent, even our awful HDI performance could get worse. The captain has switched on the seat belt sign. Buckle up: we could be landing soon on the updated numbers.

Aside: There is a new innovative way to crack CAT. This bloke added me on Windows Live Spaces (have you heard of it?) with the following message:

dear
friend
add me

i m perporsition on cat 08
so plzzzzzzzzzz.
help me
friend

so add me

I still am at my wits end how my friendship will help somebody crack CAT. I think I should start enriching tuitions for CAT :P

[BTW, is he preparing for CAT, or is he proposing to a CAT?]

Murakami, Mishra and Morning Jog

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I just finished South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami. Murakami is widely celebrated as a brilliant new writer and has become wildly popular these days. He has a very different style — an almost childlike voice, very simple and very ordinary yet profound. Sample this (while commenting on Disney film The Live Desert the protagonist watched as a child):

Our world’s exactly the same. Rain falls and the flowers bloom. No rain, they wither up. Bugs are eaten by lizards, lizards are eaten by birds. But in the end every one of them dies. The die and dry up. One generation dies, and the next one takes over. That’s how it goes. Lots of different ways to live. And lots of different ways to die. But in the end it doesn’t make a bit of a difference. All that remains is a desert.

Earlier, he also described the words of a song the protagonist liked as a child:

Pretend you’re happy when you’re blue
It isn’t very hard to do.

The story is about Hajime, who is just settling down in life with a loving wife and two daughters (after a very disturbing adulthood), but his childhood sweetheart Shimamoto returns in his life. Shimamoto is seductive, excruciatingly beautiful and enigma personified. He had never been able to get Shimamoto out of his mind and her returns rocks his relatively peaceful existence.

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After finishing Murakami, I shifted to (Sudhir) Mishra. I had been enamoured by the trailers of Khoya Khoya Chand, and Soha Ali Khan is “oh-so-pretty” anyway. All through the movie, I kept comparing it with Om Shanti Om (which I had recently watched). The only comparison I can make is KKC is character and OSO is caricature. Of course, they are completely different genres and it is unfair to compare, but still, that is what I thought of. Both are very similar in the underlying theme — the movie industry far back. But completely different in they way the same thing is portrayed. KKC, I would highly recommend — a very well made film, of two artists in the industry, how they are exploited, how they fall in love, how they exploit each other, crumble and finally triumph. No khitpit, no khichkhich, just a good movie.

And all this after a good morning jog — hmmm — I feel good!

Aside: If you are a facebook addict, enjoy this video:

The Odd Couple, Getting Lost, and A Proposal

Evam is coming back to town with The Odd Couple. The play promises to be another gut-buster with Karthik Kumar and Sunil Vishnu (who also played in ART, see my earlier post). The story is about two divorced men sharing an apartment in NY:clip_image002

Felix and Oscar are an extremely odd couple: Felix is neurotic, precise, and fastidiously clean. Oscar, on the other hand, is the exact opposite: sloppy and casual. What happens when the two friends are forced to share an apartment, and their differing lifestyles inevitably lead to conflicts- a full laugh riot for the audiences. Add to that their Saturday night poker gang friends: Vinnie- the dutiful husband, Murray- the cop, Roy-Oscar’s accountant and the sarcastic Speed, and the possibility of a date with the “Cuckoo” Pigeon sisters who live in the same apartment- you’ve got a chaotic entertainer for sure!

This Neil Simon situational comedy on one hand is about two opposite people (out of their marriages) deciding to stay together and the chaos and humour which is generated as a result, while on the other hand the story is about friendship, and loneliness — it gives us a glimpse into what makes us cling on to our friends even when they are so opposite to us and can drive us over the wall with their antics — the uncanny bond, which makes friendship such an odd-even relationship! Somewhere it also touches about how easy it is to lose people and how difficult to stay on and make things work — and sometimes you don’t get a choice at all!

The play is being performed with good intent — it is in support of Dare2Dream (find some information in this Hindu article), an NGO working for education in Bangalore. Another reason you should go. The event details are:

Date: Christmas Day, 25-Dec-07
Location: Chowdiah Hall, Bangalore
Time: 4 PM and 7.30 PM

Find some more details on the Evam site, and this document.

In other news, I had a tough time yesterday due to Google maps. We had wanted to go to FUGA for a party and FUGA is on Wood Street. Maps gave the correct address for FUGA as Wood Steet but a completely wrong location (See screenshot below — the location of FUGA that GMaps suggested is marked in “A” inside a red circle, while the actual location is somewhere near the big black dot on the map). Biggest trouble is that Gen Thimmaiah Rd (or Richmond Road as it was earlier known) is one way in the opposite direction (central Bangalore is one (way) big mess) and we had a rather tough time navigating back. There is more irony involved — the event itself was related to Google!

Google Maps Messup with FUGA

Needless to say, GMaps is an amazingly useful service. However, this means that address and landmark searches are still not 100% and you should take care before blindly trusting them (esp. if you are traveling to a place with lots of one ways).

For those, who want some more entertainment, listen to this Mallu Proposal Letter that I recorded (of course, it was a forward .. I did’nt write it myself, just recorded it!):


The text:

Madam:
I am an olden young uncle living only with myself in Thiruvananthapuram. Having seen your advertisement for marriage purposes, I decided to press myself on you and hope you will take me nicely.
I am a soiled son from inside Kerala. I am nice and big, six foot tall and six inches long. My body is filled with hardness, as because I am working hardly. I am playing hardly also. Especially I like cricket and I am a good batter and I am fast baller. Whenever I come running in for balling, other batters start running. Everybody is scared of my rapid balls that bounce a lot.
I am very nice man. I am always laughing loudly at everyone. I am a jolly gay . Especially ladies, they are saying I am nice and soft. I am always giving respect to the ladies. I am always allowing ladies to get on top.That is how nice I am.
I am not having any bad habits. I am not drinking and I am not sucking tobacco or anything else. Every morning I am going to the gym and I am pumping like anything. Daily I am pumping and pumping. If you want you can come and see how much I am pumping the dumb belles in the gym.
I am having a lot of money in my pants and my pants is always open for you. I am such a nice man, but still I am living with myself only. What to do? So I am taking things into my own hands everyday. That is why I am pressing myself on you, so that you will come in my house and take my things into your hand. If you are marrying me madam, I am telling you, I will be loving you very hard every day. In fact, I will stop pumping dumb belles in the gym.
If you are not marrying me madam and not coming to me, I will press you and press you until you come. So I am placing my head between your nicely smelling feet and looking up with lots of hope. I am waiting very badly for your reply and I am stiff with anticipation.
Expecting soon,
Yours and only yours Kutty

There is a disclaimer to go with this. Please don’t consider this either as racist or in bad taste. This is all in good humour. I have some very good Mallu friends — really talented and brilliant — and all they did was laugh :-)

There is also an update on my technical blog about Fran Allen’s talk. Check here.

Fran Allen and the evolution of HPC

I had the good fortune of being able to listen to Fran Allen (IBM profile and Wikipedia entry) today. Fran pioneered a lot of work in compiler optimization and was awarded the Turing Award for her contribution to Computer Science in 2007. That makes her the first and only (till date) woman to have won the Turing Award, the highest honour in Computer Science.

It was inspiring listening to her talk about her adventures. She almost described the evolution of high performance computing, with the earliest IBM systems starting from Stretch, which was supposed to be 100X faster than the existing machines (but turned out to be only 50X faster) and was delivered to the National Security Agency. She also described some of failures she had been involved in (Stretch, since it was 2X slower than intended, and then the ACS project). What was interesting was that most of the basis of the pioneering work she described had its basis in the work she had done in these failed projects. The fact that failures are the foundations of mammoth successes is one message she clearly drove home with her optimistic outlook. She also described her work during the System 360 and the PowerPC projects.

Her appeal to computer science researchers and students was mainly about the programming models and architecture decisions revolving around multi-core, a buzz word most of us have been left confused and wondering about. This new revolution that promises to change the way we write software and exploit parallelism in our programs, is the biggest opportunity, as Fran put it!

What was also interesting was how we got to the lecture hall wading through mud in a construction site during the rain. Apparently, there are two conference halls at IISc — one called JRD Tata and the other JN Tata. No wonder, we got to the wrong one and found that it as hosting a conference on Power Electronics. Note to self: make sure you always check the location properly before setting forth.

Other than that, have been lately busy with hacking Python for S60 (this is a brilliant idea– having a platform agnostic scripting language!) to work on my phone and a Python based remote administration toolkit. Will post more about them soon!

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ART by Evam

I went to see ART by Evam yesterday, again a part of Bengalooru Habba. The play originally written by Yasmina Reza, a French actress and playwright. The play is about three friends, who have moved a little apart with time, but the death nail comes when one of them, Sarge, buys a painting. And before you think it’s a serious play, the painting consisted of white diagonal lines on a white background, and Sarge paid a whopping two hundred thousand Francs for it (yes, that is 200,000!).

The play was hilarious. Marc, who was completely against Sarge, and thought he had lost his mind, and was acting pompous, was extremely sarcastic, and Yvan, the bummer who was getting married in a week’s time, gave such amazing expressions that the audience couldn’t help laughing. There was this whole story about contentions between his biological mother, his step mother, and his fiance’s step mother about their names appearing on the wedding card. Marc’s sarcasm and Yvan’s innocent expressions made the day!

The play depicted the relationship becoming sour — Marc’s superiority complex, Sarge’s antagonistic attitude end up almost leading to the breakup of the friendship. The play ends in a sort-of a happy ending, but did leave a few strands for the reader to figure out.

The acting was superb — Evam has been doing this production for the last three years and it showed. The actors were very natural, and Karthik Kumar as Marc and Sunil Vishnu as Yvan were brilliant. The subtle querulous sarcasm, and Yvan’s dumb yet innocent antics lit up the stage. The set itself was pretty elaborate, using more than 30 carton boxes as I had said earlier, to distinguish between the houses of the three friends. The lights worked very well in sync (with only one slip) and it spoke volumes about their practice. I myself was in splits, falling off my seats ever so often. A must watch, if it ever comes around.

I got to talk to Sunil after the play — we had talked when they were here last time with Five Point Someone, and then they came again with And Now For Something Completely Different (but unfortunately, I was away at the time). They are coming back to Bangalore on 25th Dec with another play, and I hope to see them again!

Some more reviews of ART: The Hindu Dinesh (He has a picture of the set also)

Aside: If the text was too much for you, and you share my interest in Web 2.0 and the rest of the random things on the internet, you might like this video:

Aside-2: If you ever get sick of computers, see here for some alternate uses.

MahadevBhai

Went to see Mahadevbhai, performed by Working Title productions Mumbai at Chowdiah today as a part of Bengalooru Habba. Mahadevbhai is the story of the freedom struggle told through the eyes of Gandhi’s aide Mahadevbhai Desai. A solo performance by Jaimini Pathak (who had directed a play I saw sometime back “Thukra’s Dream”) who is shown as a budding actor, with a link to Mahadevbhai through his granduncle, and who discovers him and Gandhi through conversations with his grandfather.

The play was quite educative since it refreshed quite a few history lessons I had forgotten — the Champaran and Bardoli satyagraha, the Dandi march and the agitation against the Rowlatt Act (on the same lines as MISA and POTA). However, more than the history lesson, it was the human character it gave to the leaders of our freedom struggle is what I liked. Gandhi is not a chapter in History, but a living person delivering speeches, writing letters and fasting unto death for Hindu Muslim unity. Similarly for Mahadevbhai, a scholar in his own right, who is dedicated to Gandhiji as Hanuman was to Ram, his personal aide and secretary, who maintained one of the most detailed accounts of the freedom struggle in his 27-volume personal diary (I would like to read that sometime!).

It also brings to light what Gandhiji stood for — equality for everybody including one self (being able to stand up against the British and not write in servile language), his Dandi March which was not just an agitation against the government, but the act of the march gave it a life of its own, his fast unto death against untouchability which is perhaps the reason why the curse has reduced so much in our society. It also brings out subtle sarcasm in Godhra being the venue where Gandhi and Jinnah jointly addressed Hindus and Muslims together for the first time, and the attitude of the M.B.A. (Mujhe Bahut Aata hai) elder brother, and the British-obsessed history teacher Ms. Priscilla.

Jaimini Pathak carried off the performance really well. Keeping the audience engaged for 2 hours alone is no mean feat, and Jaimini Pathak and director Ramu Ramanathan are very well deserving of all the praise (it was the 111th performance!). By interspersing Mahadevbhai’s life story with his own, and the conversations with his grandfather and his history teacher ensure that the play gets a graph, and the audience some entertainment. A very good performance, which you must visit if the play comes to your city.

Tomorrow is Art by Evam Productions from Chennai, and I was chatting with Sunil, one of the actors and co-founder of Evam, and he mentioned that they are going to use 30 carton boxes as props. Hmmmm, I need to check that out!

More coverage (from the past): The Hindu IndianExpress

Films and Festival

Films featured high on my Sunday yesterday. I attended the Filmcamp‘s workshop on ScriptWriting in the morning at BrewHaHa. Sanjay Nambiar (hopefully I put in the right link here) walked us through the script for The Shawshank Redemption. I don’t think I can start capturing all the details here — but for me the biggest take-away was that you need to be quite detail oriented and be succinct at the same time while writing a script, because the rest of the cast and crew is going to rely on you to give them an idea about what they need to do. It should capture details about location, props, even lighting sometimes. However, it should not be too instructive lest it might limit the creativity of the rest of the rest of the team. The right balance between detail and leaving things open is something one can only get if one has participated in a full project perhaps. I have seen scripts of plays, and they are usually quite similar. For instance, along with all the dialogs that have to be prepared upfront (before you even sign the actors at least in the West!), you might also describe camera angles, voice-overs and so on. Unless you do that, you would not be very kind to producers :-)

What I was left wondering is that if the film is an adaptation of a book, how much changes, what they keep and what they leave out. It was a far more technical discussion than I had expected — and as such they didn’t discuss what differentiates good scripts from bad in terms of content and storyline.

Then, in the evening, I went and watched Om Shanti Om, and unlearned everything. Kudos to SRK and Farah’s guts actually, since they admit all over the movie that the storyline doesn’t make sense. And SRK’s usual overacting (even Kirron Kher — what happened to her?) and Deepika Padukone’s almost non-existent role (they could just have used a portrait! She was so over-hyped; she didn’t even have a role!!) didn’t help things either. The one single joke that I liked best was Soorat Barjatya noting down the ‘No Sorry. No Thank You.’ dialog he later went on to use in Maine Pyaar Kiya. The whole movie felt more like a show-off exercise by King Kong Khan (not to be confused with the other KKK). In fact, SRK has himself admitted this in the past, and I am at my wit’s end trying to understand what women find attractive about monkeys:

Shah Rukh Khan recently quipped that he felt ‘like a monkey’ out to entertain movie buffs!

“I am like a monkey who dances to the tunes of the director, producer and script writer, to entertain cinegoers,” Khan says.

“I even dance in my bathroom in front of the mirror!” Khan exclaims.

In other news, Bangalore is abuzz with Bengalooru Habba and there are some great performances. I am especially excited about the English Theater being held at Chowdiah, right beside my home. If you haven’t seen Kanyadaan yet, then you must most definitely go (see the earlier review I had written of the play). The best part about the Habba is that the passes are free and available at Cafe Coffee Day outlets around Bangalore. Don’t miss this!

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