Music, Timepass

Composer’s Breath

I reviewed a song in grueling detail many months ago. It was a magnum opus of sorts, with a heavy mix of western style orchestration and Indian ragas, by none other than Ilayaraja, which brought memories of several of his early-career hits.

There is lots of news about IR making music for his 1000th movie. I wonder beyond the 4500-5000 songs he has composed, how much he has left for us and the future generations in background music. A movie lasts between 90 and 180 mins, sometimes longer. Even if we discount the silent moments, returning motifs, minimalist moments and so on, we have probably got about 1000 hours of music in sound tracks alone.

When I listen to his songs, or of any music director for that matter, there is one question that always want to ask. Beyond setting the tune and may be making the big ticket choices of instruments, what goes in their mind in terms of choosing the sounds? What makes them choose a mridangam as opposed to a tabla? What makes them choose a congas or a djembe as opposed to drums? Or a veena against a flute? A mandolin against a guitar? Or as is the case in the song I am about to review, what makes them choose 4 percussion instruments, when they could have gone with 1? The song has not been made. No one knows what it sounds like. Not even the MD himself. Does the MD perceive the sound prior to it being made? Are there cookie-cutter approaches to determine what instruments should go with certain types of songs? Or are the choices pragmatic, based on which instrumentalist is available to record?

Here’s another song worth reviewing at that level of granularity.

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India, Politics

TV journalism in India

I glimpsed upon a handful of political debates, talk shows and celebrity interviews during the Indian elections in May 2014. While not new to me, certain things stuck me as issues plaguing the quality of journalism in India, especially TV journalism. While the majority of the common peoples view politics in an over-simplified, dramatic, polarized way, a small cream of the population, of which media is definitely a constituent, is more aware of how governments are run, administration happens and politics influences the outcome of day to day as well as things strategic. In my view, the media has the responsibility if not for educating people on politics, for not fueling the fire of ignorance. What you see on TV journalism is just the opposite. They pick politicians, speakers, debaters, experts, sycophants – and in every case the choice of people is such that they are not capable of critical thinking. While that is well known, my realization of late has been that they are not also capable of civilized talking. Debating is important to the intellectual growth of society. Debating requires that people don’t just talk, but also listen. Pause while others talk, wait for your turn, stick to your allotted time, don’t shoot the messenger, take good ideas even from enemies – these are fundamentals we have been taught since we were children, but it is sad to see even the journalists ignore these rules.

After the elections were over, Modi had taken his role as PM, Rajdeep Sardesai, a respected, well-respected journalist, conducted a talk-show with the idea of analyzing/ critiquing Modi’s choice of ministers against the different portfolios. To be sure, analysis of the ministerial crew from a meritocratic point of view, itself is a giant improvement for India. Rajdeep kept using the word “inclusivity” to mean the representation of states, castes, parties etc…in the choice Modi made of specific individuals. I watched a ex-PMO guy mention exactly what was going through my head – inclusivity has nothing to do with representation or identity politics. It has everything to do with the nature of policies, reforms and initiatives taken by the government. THEY will determine whether the government was inclusive or not.

Rajdeep, of course, promptly ignored the idea and went on using the word inclusivity he always did. Such is the state of Indian TV media.

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Business, Technology

Quid pro quo

Hassle-free, minimalistic search engine is a USP that belongs to the yester-decade and Google has changed little, if any. While this may not be a bad thing in and of itself, it is certainly negative when Google is not the only search engine around. Bing for example, is doing truly innovative things. Be that as it may, it still had people (including me) who were adamant about not coming to Bing. Bing totally blew me with their loyalty program. Much like airlines and retail chains, it rewards people just for using it. No, you don’t get real money – but get notional value – in some cases things even money can’t buy. Have you imagined using your search engine or your webmail service without ads? Or use that extra free storage from Microsoft? All this and more just for using Bing for a few days. Thanks Google, but this is awesome! Way to go Bing.

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America, Politics, Social Issues

NSA – Who pays for it all?

I have mentioned in my blog before the justification for NSA to collect, store, analyze large-scale data should not just be based on constitutionality or its ethics or even its outcome. The question people should ask and a government funded by people should certainly ask is – is this benefit worth the effort?

The headlines today read, “Obama calls for an end to NSA bulk data collection”. As is true with any headline, it only makes you want to read the whole article and doesn’t mean anything by itself.

Quickly I concluded that the administration was merely moving the responsibility of data collection and preservation to the phone companies. He shifted the focus from NSA to private companies without a least bit affecting the fact that data will continue to be collected to the same extent. The ethics have not changed, the legality has changed, the constitutionality has not changed – what has changed is just the technicality of it.

There is another aspect to it – the cost. Collecting and preserving data requires large spending. If it is done by NSA, the cost for it would be borne by taxpayers. If it is done by phone companies, the cost for it would still be borne by taxpayers (through additional charges). There are roughly 140 million taxpayers and there are perhaps more than 300 million cell phone lines alone.

Perhaps this is just a move to divert scrutiny from NSA and spread the expenses to another book, all while completely preserving the capabilities of NSA to what they have always been doing. And since the treasury money saved through scaled-back NSA programs are unlikely to result in reduced taxes, people are effectively paying net-extra.

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Technology

CarPlay

Apple has long delayed its debut of what they now call CarPlay. Truth is people are already using phone, music and map capabilities inside the car, thanks to Bluetooth technology. So is there a market space? Are people going to buy, and much worse, wait to buy cars that are essentially locked to their phone brands?

For one, CarPlay is a very compelling strategy to build captive customers. Though the conversion numbers (people switching from Apple to competition and vice versa) doesn’t appear to be staggering, it is nevertheless an issue for Apple, which has not fundamentally transformed we use phones, since the original iPhone. Every feature that came after that, including my personal favorites, are incremental “nice to haves” as opposed to innovative. So in the fiercely competitive mobile space, every brand including Apple, Google and a distant Microsoft, have to do something not only to grow their market share, but also to sustain their install base.

The sad situation with car industry is that incremental features are uber-expensive and the quality of the dashboard has not improved in several years. The GPS ship has left shores long ago, and it seems the car industry did not get the memo. At any rate, addition of new features has led to a car’s dashboard looking like an airplane cockpit, when it doesn’t have to.

So will CarPlay succeed? Will the market have enough space for more than one company to keep it thriving and on the edge of innovation?

I guess the answer depends on following aspects:

  1. Car manufacturers cannot charge ridiculous amounts to have CarPlay added. With a very optimistic view, this should be included in base-model or the fee should be low enough.
  2. Usability – CarPlay should redefine how we use the phone features. It should actually make a difference to how quickly we access information, without taking our eyes (or mind) off driving. If it just replaces the current Bluetooth-supported functionality with a  more expensive one, this would have failed.
  3. Performance – AirPlay is a mind-boggling innovation. But at least in my house, it cannot be relied (it uses WiFi). You could (and Apple most likely will) blame my signal strength for it. But for CarPlay to succeed, it should be responsive and fast. Even if takes 0.5 seconds for a button push and the resulting functionality on the phone, it is a failure.
  4. Car manufacturers should allow the phone/ apps on the phone to perform car functionalities. For example, if two people use the car (lets say you and your spouse), depending on the phone plugged in, it could be configured to set different temperatures, different radio stations, different playlists, different seating memory positions etc.. At the very least, I have to be able to change any of this, getting rid of all those archaic knobs, dials and buttons on the dashboard.
  5. Competition must exist – All Apple (or all Android) makes for a dull market. Cars should have the ability to switch the native phone integration between Apple and Android – as an after-market (but a manufacturer supported) swap-out.

After redefining how we use a phone, a camera, a GPS system, a gaming device and now, how we use cars, hopefully, the phone industry is focusing on the next big area – smart homes – something I am personally looking forward to and will a separate post later on.

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America, Economy, Politics

Minimum Wages

I am very confused by Obama’s speech on Federal Minimum Wages (FMW). Though I am not completely neutral to political ideologies, let us assume I am for the purpose of this discussion (hence I wont question whether minimum wages are required at all). I also do not have the expertise to say what is the correct value of FMW. Is $6 enough? Is $8 enough? Is $10? I do not know.

My confusion is simply due to one argument Obama made – he says by increasing FMW to $10.10, people will make more money and hence will have more money to spend and hence money will move and hence economy will benefit.

But if FMW were to increase, the price of goods made by people with higher wages will also increase. Will it not? If that is the case, people’s buying power will remain the same, even though their wages has increased in absolute terms. How is this beneficial to economy? Isn’t he effectively artificially causing inflation?

I also believe that by increasing FMW, he is making a number of people (who were earlier right on the borderline) pay income taxes. And secondly, the sales tax of the price-hiked goods will increase, and the revenue to the government will increase.

So was his FMW about improving quality of life of citizens or increase revenue for the debt-stricken nation?

Further reading – More harm than good?

Change tracking – Edited on 2/27 to include link for further reading

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Culture, India, Politics, Social Issues

Intolerance, the plague

I had written long ago about the new-age disease that is plaguing India. It is one of intolerance – it is one that rejects pluralism, freedom of speech, strong-arming anything and everything that doesn’t conform to one’s own thoughts, beliefs, values, opinions, systems, religion, god, politics. It is one thing to reject something that you don’t identify with; it’s a whole different thing to try to shut the person up that said it.

The latest is of Wendy Doniger’s Alternative History of Hindus and Hinduism. In reality, I would never have read a book on this subject, and even if I had to, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have picked up Doniger. There are enough negative reviews about her works, written presumably by non-bigots.

Also, I would be naïve to call intolerance entirely a new-age disease. India has suffered several issues along same lines throughout history. Nehru’s secularism and a freshly written constitution was a new lease of hope for an India that would truly value secularism, freedom of speech, democracy and most importantly, peaceful coexistence.

Doniger’s (or actually Penguin’s) conundrum, along with those of Salman Rushdie, MF Hussain and events such as the Gujarat Riots, Babri Masjid, Kushbu (actress) all can be boiled down to a singular issue – intolerance. Sadly, people that suffer intolerance have great levels of success bending the system of justice (and by extension, the constitution itself), making their actions legal in justice’s eyes and righteous in popular eyes. Superficially, this is an issue of freedom of speech – but deep down it zeroes in to human decency. That is what we seem to be lacking.

Elsewhere in the open world, Doniger’s book would have quietly been added to the shelves. The commercial and intellectual success of the book would have been determined by only one thing – the author’s POV and how she articulated it. The popular culture may still dismiss the book of being anything of value – but there’s zero possibility that a court would have asked to recall, much less burn those books.

In any case, I am guessing most Indians have not heard of this issue or even if they did, they are not spending even a minute thinking about it. It is this indifference which is killing India, but also which has come to define Indians.

Further reading:

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