Technology works in mysterious ways

It may sound like a cliche, but we got to admit that over the years, technology has changed our lives. From smartphones to GPS to the Internet, it's difficult to imagine a modern life without technology. It's a given that modern technologies make our lives better; but at times, we are still surprised by what some of our gadgets achieve.

To illustrate the last point, here are a few snippets from tech news from the past week -

Exhibit A: The 'Google Street View' Police

We all know that Google Maps gives us driving directions and helps us find local businesses. This week, it added another feather to its cap when Dutch police nabbed a couple of suspects after their robbery victim pointed them out on Google Street View. Reuters reports:

"Dutch twin brothers who mugged a teenager in the northern town of Groningen were arrested after being caught on camera by a car gathering images for Google’s online photo map service, police said.

The pair stole the 14-year-old boy’s mobile phone and 165 euros ($230) in cash last September.

“The picture was taken just a moment before the crime,” a police spokesman said.

In March, the victim recognized himself and the two robbers while surfing Google Maps, which has a “Street View” feature allowing users to see images of buildings."

Google Blogoscoped even managed to dig out the exact location in Netherlands. Check out this screenshot from Street View.

Image by bourgeoisbee via Flickr

Exhibit B: The iPod lightning bodyguard

This one is even better. The Daily Mail reports that 14-year-old Sophie Frost survived a 300,000-volt lightning strike thanks t her armor of steel, an iPod. Apparently, the lightning strike was conducted away from her body by the iPod, which obviously got cooked in the process.

As per this report, this is not the first such instance. Last year, a Vancouver dentist 'escaped' a lightning strike with 50% burns thanks to his iPod.

So, when lightning is in the air, you better find that iPod.

Exhibit C: Killer Twitter

It's not always hunky-dory though. Maria Barbu, all of 17 years, was found electrocuted to death after she decided to use her laptop in the bath.

Twitter bird logo icon illustrationImage by Matt Hamm via Flickr

Austrian Times reports that the Romanian teenager tried to plug the power into the socket with wet hands after a long session of Twittering had left the laptop battery dead.

Oh well, maybe the technology is not really at fault here. :)

Description unavailableImage by iluvrhinestones via Flickr

Exhibit D: The Dogspeak Translator

Tech blog Gizmodo reports that a Japanese company has released a device called the Bowlingual that claims to translate a dog's barking into human dialect. Yes, read that again. Don't believe me? Well, there is even a US version here. The latter though is the 2002 version of the same device that converts bow-wow to text and displays it on a screen. The new 2009 version converts it further to speech.

So, the next time, a dog barks at you and the Bowlingual screams 'Deteike' it may be best just to get out of the house.


The Curious Case of the Sophisticated Beggar

One of the common sights in any metropolis - be it in a third-world nation or in a developed superpower- is the abundance of beggars. By circumstance or design, in a city teeming with people, there will always be a bunch of people who end up homeless, jobless and hungry. Although it's sad to see people in such a state, at times you wonder whether some of them even deserve any sympathy.

I remember a bunch of such people living on the pavements near Churchgate station in Mumbai. These people would spend half the day taking drugs, and the other half imploring people to save them from their plight by giving money for food. Of course, the money probably was more needed for the next hit than food. You could argue that the despicable nature of their lives made them turn to drugs, but I suspect that it probably occurred the other way round for these unruly elements.

And then there are the con-men. From Mumbai to Bangalore to New York, these people are everywhere. And I am sure 99% of them ought to be arrested, rather than being 'helped'. Most of these are well-dressed and educated and are just hoping to catch someone naive enough to believe their 'sorrowful' story.

I first came across one such guy in Mumbai. He claimed that he was a bank manager from Ahmedabad who was on an official trip to Mumbai. As luck would have it, he had lost his briefcase and wallet in Mumbai. Of course, he hadn't eaten for two days and was in such 'bad shape' that he just needed enough money to go back home. It sounded pitiful at first, but then I wondered why he would not make a phone call to someone to help him. Surely, if he'd been on an official trip, he would have been meeting someone here. Well, you ask him a couple of questions and he coolly brushes them aside saying that he can't remember anything now that he hadn't eaten for two days. A couple of more questions and he had vanished into thin air. Oh well, a month later, I saw him again at the same railway station asking for money to get to Ahmedabad.

After such experiences while commuting to college in Mumbai, it was easy to recognize these cons in Bangalore and New York. And trust me, these people seem to be in plenty around Times Square. And I doubt any of them ever get arrested. Well, who would even bother reporting them?

Thinking from a different perspective, you could say that these people have chosen to be 'beggars' to avoid doing any work. Probably dishonest, but one could say it's a way of earning one's living.

I digress. The whole point of this post of course, was to mention the strangest 'beggar' that I have ever seen.

I saw her the first time last week on Broadway near WTC. A well-dressed lady, she looked completely out of place sitting with the ubiquitous 'Hungry and Homeless' board. At first, I even thought she was just 'holding' the place for some beggar. Well, it wasn't the case. She was the one who was begging. Resting on the pavement with a bagpack by her side and reading the latest Jeffrey Archer novel, you could have easily mistaken her for a tourist, if not for the board and the alms in front of her. It seemed weird, and I still thought it to be some enterprising tourist.

A day later, I see a different girl at the same place, with the same board. Of course, she wasn't reading any novel. Instead, she was 'relaxing' and listening to music on her MP3 player !

When you have lived in metropolises all your life, you start thinking that nothing can seem weird any more. But then heck, what are these people? Sophisticated beggars? Polished mendicants?

Or maybe this is all part of a charade and it's just the plainclothes police. Well, if that is the case, then they are doing a pretty bad job at the 'plainclothes' part of it.

Or maybe, just maybe, these are a new class of 'classy beggars'? Or the 'upper beggar-class', if you can call it that?

Some things in life, you never know.


Fire drills

On my way to work today, noticed that the office buildings down the road had a fire drill going on. Everyone was in the parking lot listening to the fire warden, and as is expected, most didn't seem to want to be there. Well, nobody likes fire drills; but then you got to admit that this is one of the necessary evils in life.

Most seem indifferent to these drills, some are just exasperated and then there are others, who try to appear 'interested', but in reality, just want it to end and get back to work. I remember some colleagues in Bangalore, who would pick a fire drill as the perfect opportunity to stroll across the floor to the pantry, make themselves a hot cup of coffee and then leisurely walk down to the assembly area. So much for the emergency drill !

And then there was this building where they would send out 'emergency fire drill' notices two days in advance, so that everyone can plan their meetings accordingly. Well, what is the point of assessing your emergency readiness by 'planning' it for two days?

If you'd ask me, the best way to assess your emergency readiness is to actually simulate the emergency. Simply set off the fire alarms with no prior notice and scream yourself hoarse on the public address system that the building is on fire. Maybe, even set off a dummy sprinkler someplace. And while you are at it, how about planting a couple of 'panic' wardens on every floor alongwith the fire wardens? In a real emergency, there will always be a couple of people who will simply lose their cool and scare everyone else. Why not simulate that too and see how people react? Someone running onto the floor with his hand on fire and screaming 'Run, run...run for your lives' is definitely going to have a much more serious impact than someone drolling 'We are having a fire drill, please proceed to the assembly area as if it is an emergency'. Such a drill would definitely give you a better idea of your emergency readiness.

And am sure no one would want to pick that cup of coffee too, would anyone? :)