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? :)


More fickle weather

Just a couple of pictures to show how the recent weather in the city has been.

I clicked this picture from the boardwalk on the way to the Path Station on Thursday morning. It was a bit foggy over the river, there was rain in the air, and the skyline looked different than usual.

If I thought Thursday was special, Friday was even better. Check this out, another picture from the boardwalk.
In the early morning, you could barely see the river from my water-front apartment's window. This was around 10 am. Where's New York City, eh?

It was again raining on Friday and I expected it to get murkier as the day went along. Guess what I see on the way back in the evening?

So much for expectations.

Fickle weather

In a classic example of the recent fickle weather in New York, it started raining today the moment I got out of the Path station. So the next ten minutes' walk to my office was all about dodging umbrellas and trying to walk under building overhangs. Getting soaked in the rain is a fun thought; but definitely not in your morning rush to office. Well, suits me right in a way; as the forecast clearly suggested a 40% chance of rain in the afternoon. Recent experiences of dry spells with 60% precipitation chances forecast didn't help though.

Oh well, I somehow managed to reach office without getting completely drenched. And wondered how much it would rain in the afternoon.

As the weather goes, when I came out to get some lunch, the sun was out and there was probably not a speck of cloud in the sky. My fears of getting drenched again were probably misplaced. Little did I know...

Just before leaving for home, I dropped down to the local Starbucks for a shot of coffee. I stepped out with a cappuccino in hand and it started pouring cats and dogs. (And probably pigs and ducks too). Thought that I could easily make the 50 m dash to my office; half-way through realized that my cappuccino was spilling all over my hand; slowed down for a moment and...the rain just shifted up a couple of gears. Reached the building just about 4 seconds later than my colleagues and 40 times more soaked than any of them.

Just watched the rain, sipping my coffee; wound up my work and left for home. Came out of the Path station on this side and...it's bright and sunny again. Heck, where are the clouds gone now?


Addiction syndromes

It's been just seven days since the IPL ended and I am already experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Suddenly, there are no live scores to follow, no match previews or reports to read, no anticipation of yet another thriller of a match. Thirty seven days of non-stop T20 cricket; and now the mornings just aren't the same again. Heck, I have even started having lunch before 1. But then, there just seems to be no fun in it.

Phew, what is it that makes us addicted to something so badly?

Every morning, I walk the 10-odd minutes to the Path station, take the train to WTC, walk a further 10 minutes to office, and still am practically half-asleep. There's nothing that refreshes me more than the ritual of sipping my morning cappuccino; and until I have had my cuppa, I seem pretty cranky to myself.

And then, there is the addiction to work...

...well, addictions do have their problems. The ones like substance abuse of course, are much serious. Even relatively less harmless ones like smoking and gambling can have vast repercussions over the long run. But they sure do give you the momentary 'high'. And that is what most people live for, I suppose.

So, what does a cricket addict like me do when you are just off a month-long 'high'? Oh well, the World T20 starts this weekend; and I am all excited. :)

And as far as the caffeine is concerned, hey, how does it harm anyone if all it takes to stir someone up is a cup of hot coffee? Or tea? Or even T, for that matter? (There I go again...:))


Workaholics Anonymous

It's been a long hard day at work, and you are just too tired.  Your eyes are drooping and your spirits are sagging. So what would you rather do to cheer yourself up?

a) Get on the bus/train back home and catch a quick refreshing nap on the way; or

b) Get home groggily and take a hot/cold shower to freshen you up; or

c) Starbucks, here I come. Get yourself loaded on caffeine; or

d) Pull out your mobile device/iPod and play games till you go crazy; or

e) Get home and watch a movie lazing on the couch; or

f) Watch the umpteenth re-run of supposedly funny sitcoms; or

g) Call up some friend and chit-chat away to glory; or

h) Logon to the computer and do some work; or

i) Cook half-heartedly and be morose; or

j) Cook whole-heartedly and feast on your work; or

k) Just get home, hit the bed and sleep through the evening; or

l) Finish the long-delayed grocery shopping which just cannot be put off further; or

m) Finish the long-delayed laundry, which just cannot be put off further; or

n) Go jogging; or

o) Hit the gym and get health-conscious; or

p) Gaze into nowhere in particular and be half-asleep; or

q) Dream about the love of your life and what could have been if you were not alone at that time; or

r) Eat chocolate and drink some caffeine-laden soda or some uber-healthy juice; or

s) Skip the bus and just wander along on the way home thinking that the exercise might freshen you up; or

t) Walk home along the river with spectacular views of New York City in the evening twilight; with a sprinkling of rain in the air and a cool breeze blowing across; feeling the breeze in your face and immersed in the strains of 'Dil Gira Dafatan' on your earphones.  Heck, nothing beats that. :) 

Must have done all of the above, but the last one really pepped me up today. And for a change, I wanted my home to be a couple of blocks further away from the train station. 

Life rocks ! :) 
(And why is it that it's always 't' that ends up as my favorite? ;))


Looking forward to the weekend, eh?

Every day, when I walk from the WTC path station to my office, there's these bunch of pedestrian cops (as in, cops for pedestrians, not the other meaning !) who ensure that no one jaywalks at the traffic junction. It is not much of a traffic junction; but these 4-5 cops ensure that there is no pedestrian congestion near the WTC re-construction site. And they do a mighty good job at it. And that got me wondering - what do they really look forward to when they go to work everyday? I mean, it looks quite a thankless job from the outside, doesn't it?

Of course, this seems to be pretty much the same question as I had about toll booth operators last week. Or, do I have the same question about everyone who goes to work? Well, maybe. :)

So what does the security guard think when he goes to work? "Hope, nothing goes wrong today." Or maybe, "hope there is some action today." 

What about the guy working at the met office? Oh well, about the met guy, I have a whole lot of questions. How does he really work? Does he think something like, 'been predicting sunny weather for days together; time to pull out my rain slides today'? And if his dog is like Marley, then it would be 'dog barking too much, thunder and lightning forecast for the day'.

For that matter, what do software engineers look forward to when they go to work every day? Do they think - 'wow, another fine day in front of a bright large monitor, with pizza for lunch and a tank of soda for drink...can't wait to get to my desk and type all day' ?

Jokes apart, I think the met guys end up doing a fine job anyway. As do the toll booth operators or the cops at the WTC re-construction site. Ok, you can add the software engineers too. 

And I think I can safely speak for the latter that typing all day in front of a computer is much more exciting than it sounds. :) So, maybe work at the met office is fun too. And being a cop is definitely a cool job. 

So that brings us back to the question - what do all of these people really look forward to at work?

Well, what do you?


Crazy cricket connoisseur?

As the Indian Premier League 2 enters the final week of its league matches, die-hard cricket fans like me are obviously excited. Since most of these matches are scheduled at 8 pm India time (10-30 am EDT), it's pretty easy to follow them 'live'. And that is a scarcity for cricket fans in the US.

So, everyday, I am all set on Cricinfo following ball-by-ball commentary of practically all of these matches. The thrill of watching T20 live on television has been conveniently replaced by the 'excitement' of reading text commentary live. Well, not just the commentary. I devour practically every single word published on Cricinfo's IPL site - all the articles, anecdotes, observations, interviews, quotes, statistics, caricatures and of course, match bulletins and reports. 

It has reached to such an extent that even when I get to see a match live, I make sure that I am logged on to Cricinfo so that I do not miss any of their educated observations. And I suspect there are many others like me. :)  

Gotta admit that the love for sports makes a man do weird things in life. :)


The inevitability of the gym

Finally, I bit the bullet this week. Guess it had to happen some day. Such are the times we live in...


All my life I have never been a fan of hitting the gym. Exercising regularly was a modus operandi that was always going to be tedious and quotidian for me. It meant that I had to stick to a routine in life. Oh, what fun life is without the glorious uncertainties of our daily living! ;) Or so I thought, and believed without an iota of doubt. :)

Or perhaps, I wasn't so keen to jump the gun, since I was sure that the novelty would wear off. Three weeks of exercising and I was sure to go back to using the time 'productively' to read some novels or just relax. :) There was no point in really starting it if I can't get myself to be disciplined about it.

Well, it never really mattered when I was a student. Commuting to my college across Mumbai was an exercise in itself; you didn't really need more of it. :) When I joined work in Bangalore, I seemed to be able to keep a check on my weight simply with my usual diet. I was never much of an 'eater' anyway; so it didn't matter. But then, as I got more settled at my work place, the pounds started coming in. 

One of the realities of life as a software engineer is the sedentary lifestyle it comes bundled with. For eight hours a day, most of the effort you put at work is right at your desk. (And well, at times, it does have the tendency to balloon to 16-20 hours for months together at a stretch.) So, the only real exercise is for your fingers typing in, your glazed eyes looking at the computer monitor and a stressed mind muddled with exploring possibilities. (Of course, a hyperactive mind helps ! :))

Once you are back home, your brain just needs to cool off. Which means, 'relaxing' by training your eyes on the idiot box, or typing away to glory in endless chat sessions, or plain good-old 'eat-drink-sleep'. The next day, you are back up and are on the next bus/train to work thinking of how to handle the morning meeting.

Replace the 'software engineer' with any other vocation, and it would still sound pretty much the same. Most of the 'working' generation these days end up leading a sedentary lifestyle (well, at least the white-collar ones). And it's not the only generation that has the problem.  Better nutrition & health-care and newer technology has meant that the modern man puts in probably a fraction of the 'physical' efforts of his predecessors. No wonder then that according to the latest stats, eighty percent of adults over the age of 25 in the US are overweight. 78% of them do not even meet basic activity level recommendations. I am sure similar numbers would hold true for most of the developed nations. 

The only way to lead a healthy lifestyle then would be to manufacture the activity routines and fit them in our daily lives. For most people, the gym becomes an inevitable need. Of course, it is not the be-all and end-all of being healthy, but for most, it might be the only way. Such are the times that we live in...


So how does a treadmill-phobe like me end up in a gym? 

You see, I shifted my residence last week to reduce my commute to office by half.  So, when a software engineer suddenly ends up at home before 6 every day, what does he do with all the extra time? Especially, when he is used to 'relaxing' (see aforementioned activities) after dinner. Well, after two weeks, he ends up checking out the gym in the apartment just to find something to do. And in just a week, he finds the whole concept refreshing. From the drudgery of slogging out manufactured activity routines to intoxicatingly addictive gym-phile, in just a week?? Ah, such are the times that we live in... :)


Toll booth toil

So what does the toll booth operator really do all day?

Other than collecting tolls, that is. 

Of all the jobs in all the world, that of a toll booth operator is one that leaves me quite perplexed. All day long, he sits all alone in a tiny booth, with just fumes and smoke for company. And perhaps a lot of cash in loose change. So, what does a toll booth operator really look forward to at work? Going home, perhaps.

Even a traffic cop at times is stuck alone in the midst of traffic. But at least he has the freedom to move around. And maybe have occasional chats with colleagues or locals when the traffic is less. But for the toll booth operator, no traffic is almost akin to being in a jail. Rather, being in solitary confinement. One with hardly any scope for movement. For twelve hours every day. Making sure that the correct amounts are paid.

So what does a toll booth operator really think all day? 

"Look at that snazzy BMW. Must be having loads of money."
"Oooh...that Beetle looks cute."
"Whoa, fifth chick in the last five minutes. Might be my lucky day."
"C'mon, loser. Grow up. Get an E-Z Pass."
"No E-Z Pass. At least should have the decency to get exact change."

Or more likely,

"Darned...looks like another thousand vehicles coming in."
"Please please go to the next booth. I am in no mood to put my hands out in the cold (or heat)."
"Yes, yes... all of you have to come to my booth. Why don't I ever get lane 13?"

Or perhaps,

"Damn, another E-Z Pass guy. At this rate, I will have no job by Christmas."
"Should I call the cops on this guy?"
"Did this guy give me the $5 bill? Or, was it the guy before him?"

Whatever it is, the job of a toll booth operator does seem to be a nightmare job. And with pranksters like these, why would anyone even want it? And would there be anyone with years of experience on the job?

Well, well, if it is such a nighmare job, it does come with a decent paycheck too. Booth operators end up making over a 100k a year. Now, that's way more than what my white-collar job pays me. Doesn't seem to be that bad a job any longer, does it? :) 

Of course, only if you are ready to be in a booth with barely any human contact, half-in and half-out, uncomfortably reaching out every minute or so. 

There is always a catch.


Try, try and you will succeed.

When I was a kid, I learnt of the story of Robert Bruce I of Scotland. More accurately, I read of the legend of King Robert and the spider. 

Well, the story so goes that Robert Bruce fought the English six times and lost. One day, it is said, he lay in a lonely hut on a heap of straw, wondering if it would not be better to give it up and leave Scotland to herself. Just then he caught sight of a spider trying to swing itself from one rafter to another. Six times it tried, and six times it failed. "Just as many times as I have failed," thought Bruce, and he said to himself, "If it tries again and succeeds, I, too, will try again." The spider tried again and it succeeded. Bruce tried again, and he, too, succeeded.  

Well, some stories do stick to you for life. And for a 6-year old, listening to a story as fascinating as this does have a tendency to leave some imprints for life.

So here I am, on the umpteenth attempt to restore my blog. And the umpteenth attempt to attempt to be disciplined about it. Let's see what happens this time round. 

Cheers ! :)