Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Auto-podal Tow and Other Phenomena on Indian Roads

Updated 7 Dec 2008: Ashutosh Mehra, my friend from back in college, also blogged about autorickshaw antics in India, and you can see an actual picture of the autopodal tow in action.

After a week on Indian roads, I wonder:
  1. That people are actually able to get anywhere at all, and
  2. That I actually drove on these roads when I lived here.
Many Indian cities now have three lane roads — the right lane meant for use by two-wheelers like motorbikes, the middle lane for cars, and the left lane for trucks. Such traffic rules, of course, are blissfully ignored. In fact, two-wheelers occupy all three lanes of the road, drive on the sidewalks when possible, and squeeze in between larger vehicles at every opportunity. Cars and trucks, on the other hand, tend to straddle the line dividing two lanes.

Two-wheelers always make their way to the front of the traffic light at every intersection, like the vanguard of some randomly assembled army. Somehow, they always know when the light is going to turn green. Ironically, though, two seconds before the light turns green, these modern day cavaliers dash through the intersection, thereby making it a fatal strategy to try and rush through a yellow light in India.

Autorickshaw crushed in between two buses Auto rickshaws, which are, as far as I know, a uniquely Indian mode of transportation, commit so many transgressions on Indian roads that the subject deserves its own library of work. But among the more entertaining of these is what I call the auto-podal tow, wherein the driver of one auto-rickshaw gets behind the rickshaw that needs a tow. He then sticks out his foot and pushes the other rickshaw forward, while driving his own. Significant distances are thus covered. This feat of supreme agility is performed with much nonchalance, while taking up as much width of the road as possible. Often, the drivers of the two auto rickshaws can be found engaged in conversation, oblivious to the honking of the other riders stuck behind their coupled vehicles.

In Chennai, the auto-rickshaws are equipped with fare meters, but not a one of the meters is actually used. Fares are agreed upon by the driver and the passengers beforehand. I read somewhere that auto-rickshaws have less power than a high-end lawnmower. That, by itself, may not seem significant, until you also know that a single auto-rickshaw is regularly used to transport up to five grown men, or a dozen schoolchildren, or the entire livestock of a small village.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Sending Shorts in Action

Sending Shorts in Action
Originally uploaded by Nizz0
That's me climbing in my American flag-themed shorts. This was at Castle Rock, about a month ago. Good times.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Can I Haz Ur Internetz?

A friend asked me to appraise all the hoopla surrounding Web 2.0 for an article for the BITS alumni magazine. Here is my contribution:

Web 2.0. The very mention of these words make my skin crawl, like when you see that creepy older relative from your childhood, who was a little too fond of having you sit on his lap. Its funny how very few people actually define Web 2.0, but every two-bit scumbag company in Silicon Valley is ready to jump on the bandwagon.

So, what exactly is Web 2.0? Whence did it come to haunt the "Internets"? Around 2004, a company called Google introduced two web-based applications: GMail and Google Maps. These applications felt "richer" and more responsive than most web applications before. Google resurrected a long-forgotten browser/HTTP feature (the infamous "xmlHttpdRequest") that allowed websites to fetch data asynchronously from a Web Server. GMail and Google Maps were truly novel, useful web applications. But we can't say the same for the efforts of the inevitable shit-stream of me-too companies that followed.

Today, the Internet is littered with retarded-sounding Web 2.0 efforts like Wishlistr, twittr, tumblr, etc., which have no real revenue source, serve no real purpose, and make no underlying engineering advancements, but simply rely on what appropriately calls "loser-generated content" (you create the content, we will make the money), tagging, and "social networks" (more on these later). It reminds one of the three-phase business plan of the Underpants Gnomes in that South Park episode:
  1. Build AJAX-y/Flash-y website,
  2. ???,
  3. Profit!!!
Web 2.0 applications are supposed to share a few common properties: making the browser richer in functionality and more responsive ("pages load faster!"), using tags to add a semantic layer, and encouraging user-collaboration, etc. Never mind that the HTTP hack used to provide these "features" breaks the most basic rule of web-browsing (unless carefully worked around): the Back button on your browser. The HTTP protocol is fundamentally unsuited for the kind of flashy jugglery these Web 2.0 ass-clowns are trying to pull off. The whole effort is akin to putting lipstick on a pig. But it hasn't stopped these Webtards from trying anyway. A search for AJAX libraries on Google yields way more results than it should.

The biggest me-too Web 2.0 offenders have to be the dime-a-dozen attempts to create websites for managing TO DO lists. I mean, come on, the ultimate solution for managing todo lists has already been created: its called a Sticky note. I don't need to login to a fricking computer to remember to get milk from the grocery store.

A discussion on Web 2.0 can't be complete without mention of the 800-pound gorilla of Web 2.0 efforts, the one site to rule them all: Facebook. Admit it, you have an account, and you have wasted at least an hour a day Poking friends and stalking that girl from that party. There is now an ecosystem of parasitic companies whose raison d'etre is to build "Applications" for Facebook. Lets look at one of the more popular Applications: "Superpoke". What, pray, does this application allow you to do? You can "throw a virtual sheep at", "grope", "spoon", or even "dry hump" that special someone. If that doesn't woo her, nothing will. Then, there is the Facebook Gifts application. Let me break this one down for you. You pay Facebook a dollar to send someone a fricking image file of such things as cakes, monkeys, and champagne glasses. To be honest, I am miffed that I didn't think of this one first. I would be rolling in so much cash I wouldn't be writing this shitty blog. Apparently, this Application is very popular with my friends. 48 out of my 50 friends have sent Facebook Gifts to each other. I feel like an outcast.

And then there are blogs. Blogs, per se, need not be Web 2.0, but the inevitable march of Web 2.0 progress is slowly taking over the "blogosphere" (great word, by the way). I went to a database conference recently. There were real companies like eBay, Powerset, etc., which were talking about ways they were solving real problems with their huge data sets, when someone from a company called Bloglines (I vomited a little in my mouth when I heard that name) took to the podium and said, without a hint of sarcasm, "Our mission is to index every blog post ever written". Oh great. They want to index every badly written, narcissistic and ultimately meaningless outpouring of thought on the internet. Someone didn't get the memo: It takes an infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of typewriters to produce anything worth reading. Of course, the irony of it hasn't escaped me — I am one of them.