Apr 30, 2009

Dream: An Oil Addiction Free World

I ran into this awesome video of Shai Agassi on the TED blog and was blown away. Blown away at the sheer guts of this man who plans to cure the world of its crude oil addiction. He is dreaming and building a parallel infrastructure of electric cars, battery exchange stations (kill the gas station / petrol bunk), clean power generating hubs that create the portable charges and new battery technology underpinning all this. I can't wait to see the Big Oil corporatedom kicked in its butt. Can't wait to see the filthy rich Sheikhs slowly lose their oil power, power that is being misused to foment terror wars and prop up despotic regimes in the Middle East.

Voting in the Indian Elections 2009

Much has been written about the Indian Elections 2009 and turns out that the voting turnout in 2009 has been higher than the previous ones in 2004. More significantly the urban, educated class which has hitherto been apathetic has turned out in significant numbers to vote. I had written about this before the elections started and the hunch turned out to be true. What caused this change?
  • New generation parties like Loksatta have emerged on the political scene - these seek to mirror the aspirations of the first time voters seeking change, and have enhanced the voter turnout.
  • Movements such as Letsvote.in have added to this momentum, the turnout at the Hyderabad walk was large and showed the enthu among the IT crowd.
  • Not to mention Jaagore which caused quite a stir in mobilising voter registrations. I was impressed with their CRM like approach to voter databases; however THE missing part was ensuring voters confirmed their names in the electoral rolls - this alone could have saved a few lakh votes, given the scale of their campaign targeting One Billion Votes.
After the election day, I checked with my friends on their voting experience - many confirmed that they indeed voted and proudly showed their index fingers embossed with the indelible voter ink (apparently in Maharashtra they smeared the middle finger, leading to a comic sight with voters showing it up). However a fairly large number also reported that their names were missing from the electoral rolls. All these cases could have been avoided if only the prospective voters had leveraged one of the many web resources available:
  • http://www.pollingbooth.in/ - check your name in the rolls 3-4 weeks before the election data, if it is missing, immediately raise a request to the election office in your jurisdiction. In my case, I found my name but failed to notice the change in the polling booth; so on the election day, had to rush to the new booth i was assigned, some 4 kms away from my home.
  • http://www.ceo.ap.gov.in/ - same as above, or the local equivalent
  • http://www.ceoandhra.nic.in/Final_erolls_2009_II.html - same as above
  • http://myneta.info/ - a wonderful tool comparing the profiles of the candidates in your constituency. This link showed me the picture for Secunderabad before i voted.
Hopefully the next election (which one fears, may not be too far away with the expected hung mandates) will see these trends intensify and the lessons learnt implemented. Technology would then have really helped influence change in the polity!

Apr 26, 2009

Biking now

After months of poking with the idea of buying a bike, i finally took the plunge last month and bought a Firefox Target, my first ever geared bicycle. The motives were many - get some exercise, make an eco friendly gesture, do something other than the plain old running that i fall back to, explore nature (atleast the green university campuses and cantonments in the twin cities), go on some long rides, splurge on myself (which I am not that good at) etc. The beautiful beast (no oxymoron) looks something like this:

I am well over the post purchase dissonance phase which thankfully was short. There are pricier and fancier bikes, but this is just what i need now. I did one brief lap in wilderness hidden within the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) campus (under the watchful eyes of HBC ace Sunil Menon), and several short road trips closer home.

I love the smooth ride of a bike, the almost noiseless way in which it rides the road. Cruising on the bike is next to the feel of a bird gliding! I plan to tweet about my bike escapades in the coming days. A distant but highly ambitious wish would be to complete the TFN this December.

Dream: A Wire free Paradise

We all hate bondage, no need to go all the way back to the Dark Ages of Slavery or Karl Marx's exhortation about 'nothing to lose but your chains'. How about the wires that comes with gadgets and appliances? Do they count as bondage?Name a single gadget that comes with no wires (do not skip the power cable)! The following is a view of a typical office desk:

  • Laptop: Power cord, Ethernet cable, Blackberry charger cable,
  • External key board connector cable, external mouse cable
  • VoIP phone with its own power cord and ethernet cable
  • External monitor with power cable, video out cable

The view at home is not much different, add more cables for the broadband - modem (ethernet cable, power cord, adsl splitter with two telephone wires) and wireless router (power cord, ethernet cable). So we have almost ten cables that help connect one to the world? More like ten chains around my limbs that get in the way of easily moving my machine to wherever i want to and work from where ever i wish.

The view from the street, especially in an Indian city or town would be one infested with the cable that brings home Cable TV. They literally grew overnight with the cable TV boom that happened in the early nineties. Another eyesore is the electricity poles and wires seen all over the country.

So the wish is for a chain free world - one where devices communicate through wimax, bluetooth, infrared, wi-fi whatever protocol you name it, but lose the wires please. What about electricity and the ubiquitous power chargers? Arguably electricity heralded the tyranny of the black wire and by now the earth is mired in billions of miles of it. Technology promises a way out - there is talk of space based power stations that harvest the sun and beam the energy via microwave streams. California and Japan are already on this path. Hopefully the world will one day have something common with what was two hundred years ago - no obscene wires lurking around.

Dream: Coastal Living in India

I have often been asked by some people abroad, about the apparent lack of interest Indians have in 'living the coastal life' despite having a long coastline. I must admit, I did not have an answer, except mumble that the Indian idea of 'living the life' is different from what the Americans, British or the Australians may have. Indian kids in general do not grow up on the rich feast of sports and active lifestyle that kids in such countries do. Our kids are anyway constantly prodded by their parents to do three things: study, study and study more. And when these kids grow up, they don't change; in most cases active lifestyle may mean watching the next T20 cricket match, firmly ensconced on the couch with that bowl of potato chips.

Fortunately i spent my childhood in the coastal cities of Visakhapatnam (aka Vizag) and Paradip - as a child i remember awaiting our weekly trip to Ramakrishna Beach in Vizag. In Paradip, our school gang used to tear up the beach after every major exam. The tremendous feeling of post-exam-mania release would always find its vent near the Bay of Bengal. And the summer holidays had numerous bike trips from our township nestled in Paradip Phosphates, were always to the deserted beach. But all this was raw energy with absolutely no supporting infrastructure for sports like sailing, yachting, parasailing, canoeing etc. The same is true even today though some sports are faintly picking up in places like Rushikonda near Visakhapatnam. Indians are slowly waking up to a more active lifestyle, what with increasing global exposure of the IT generation: groups focused on Running (eg: Hyderabad Runners), Cycling (eg: HBC), Adventure (eg: www.hydventura.com), etc have emerged speaking of only one place - Hyderabad.

Now coming back to the coastline theme, India has all of 7,517 km of it, and except for pockets such as Goa or a few kilometres of beachfront property in major cities like Mumbai, Cochin, Madras, Visakhapatnam there is not much of Real Estate activity. Even the big boom of the last five years did not differentiate Coastal areas per se, as a hot zone. In my home state of Andhra Pradesh, the big Coastal Corridor project that was hatched by Chandrababu Naidu in his term and then continued by the Congress government was dropped due to political pressure - the government could not figure out an easy way of compensating the displaced and since it was an election year, they developed cold feet and scrapped it.

Big development is required in the coastal areas - to attract industry, the services sector which bring in jobs and hence people who will spur demand for quality houses on the beaches. Such demand will also carry a niche that demands quality coastal living.

Apr 5, 2009

Potential Post Election Scenarios

The election fever is surely on in India and people are hotly debating potential scenarios after what could very well be the most closely fought election so far. No one's got a clue of who will win at the country level, or in states like Andhra Pradesh. The pendulum could swing any way making the results highly unpredictable. 

My hunch though is that the BJP may just be able to pull ahead as the single largest party in Parliament. The reason is that the Congress may cede ground in AP, Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi (though they just won the state elections) and Maharashtra. Orissa and WB may not make up for the loss. A BJP government in an era of failing and strife torn neighbor states (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka) is slightly better than having Congress steer foreign policy.

Trends in World Religion?

Newsweek has an interesting article titled "The Post Christian America" - more than 10% of Americans now identify themselves as non-believers. This trend if indeed true has major ramifications in a world increasingly getting polarised by religious hatred and divisions.  

It is possible that a similar trend is being played out in the Islamic world with the mega-trend of globalisation creating a similar feeling of 'openness' among people. This would have led to a huge backlash by vested interests (read Wahabbi Saudis) using religious fervour as a weapon to beat everyone around into submission. For instance the recent Taliban moves in Swat Valley and the overall context of Taliban in Af-Pak going back 25-30 years could be just part of that context.

In the longer run, this trend could point to a world where well, religion isn't all that matters. If one doesn't care what religion the other person claims to (or doesn't bother to) follow, then the world could definitely become a more peaceful space.

Elections 2009 - Technology & Youth Make It a Turning Point In India's History

The election scene for 2009 is slowly unfolding and though i was unusually aloof in the beginning, the excitement is catching up and i now find myself scanning news and even volunteering for a new political party. A significant development this time has been that people instead of shrugging their shoulders at the dirty political landscape, are actually wanting to do something. Baby steps abound, examples include:

  • Leveraging the Net to share information on criminal backgrounds of politicians (http://www.nocriminals.org/)
  • Professionals like Meera Sanyal (a banker in South Mumbai) contesting the elections
  • Professionals across cities launching the Pledge to Vote campaign (http://letsvote.in), the Hyderabad event just happened today morning near the Hussain Sagar lake with thousands participating
  • The Jaagore campaign titled One Billion Votes India, which has been running for several months now and supported by leaders like NRN of Infosys
  • Eminent entrepreneurs like Rajesh Jain forming support groups such as Friends of BJP (that can also act as pressure groups) with leading political parties. 
  • Hectic usage of Orkut for canvassing which is perhaps the Social Network with the largest penetration in India.

But the most impressive of all developments is the launch of Lok Satta Party as a political movement. Launched by a former IAS office, Jayaprakhas Narayan this is the only party with clear cut plans on removing poverty rapidly in 5 years, building infrastructure etc. Obviously they are not promising dole outs that make beggars out of voters. Loksatta has picked up momentum with several professionals joining them and supporting them as volunteers. You can check their web site and Twitter site to know more about what they are doing.

Other events that have fanned these embers include Obama's election in the US last year, demonstrating that nothing is impossible in politics. The 26/11 attacks in Mumbai too have stirred people into taking some action. 

These steps will only pick up momentum and I clearly see a strong working alternative emerge that will capture 8 to 10% of the popular vote next time around. Our politicians, smart as they are will soon start to appeal to this voter base which will mean a true change in politics. The virtual circle will progress leading to a more mature polity in 10-15 years from now.