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On culture

What is culture? Culture is a loose grouping of habits or traits generally accepted by a wide demographic. Cultural traits can be local to a small neighbourhood or span across countries.

Unlike common belief, cultures are very alive, organic and continuously changing. Men, women and children do not lead their everyday lives in the manner of their previous generations, forefathers or as stated in religious books. On the contrary, cultures adapt to the needs and necessities of changing times. In fact the only norm in a culture is ironically, change. Every aspect of a culture changes over time. In some cases, those changes happen between a few years (prevalence of smartphone in everyday life) and in other cases, over several generations (the constant decline in the number of nuclear families in Asia). A resilient, or tolerant culture is one that adapts, not necessarily discards, prevalant practices to changing times. For example, the changing role of women in modern society and industry is drastically different from those of previous generations. While it was considered the norm for women to be restricted to managing households, modern women do everything their male peers are capable of.

Changes to culture, as with any aspect of life, are inevitable. It is inherently wrong to believe that cultural habits and traits do not, or should not change. Cultures adapt to people’s changing habits and times. Trying to undo cultural changes on a large scale, unless voluntary, usually does more harm than good (ongoing Middle Eastern crisis). A culture (or a change in any aspect of it) cannot be imposed on a demographic. Such impositions are usually a sign of insecurity and resistance to change. Culture, like society, is also cross-relegion, unlike common belief.

Culture is sometimes incorrectly confused with tradition and custom. Traditions tend to be more rigid in following than cultures. Traditions and customs usually have, or are, a set of rules laid out to be followed. Traditions and customs are more averse to change than culture. Many traditions and customs tend to be set and followed explicitly. Cultures on the other hand seem to evolve and change organically, without explicit guidance. Cultures grow and fade, adapting to a society’s changing needs and habits, by people who enter a society and get carried over by others who leave one and move to another. Some traits remain, some others change, some others fade away.

As with anything changing, there is no definite right or wrong. There are no good or bad cultures. All cultures are equal and belong to the people who are part of it. Different cultures are tolerant, understanding and respectful of each other and the people who are part of them. Those not adapting or rejecting cultural changes usually get left behind by ever-evolving societies.

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Let’s get this out of the way – I’m a lazy guy. I lead a sedentary WFH life and barely step out of the house in a week. So it is a really big deal for me that today I completed the Couch-to-5K programme 😀

C25K Week 9 Day 3
C25K Week 9 Day 3

The biggest sell of C25K for me was it’s simple. Just 30 mins in a day and you take the next day off. That’s it. I started the 9-week programme and steadily kept up with the alternate day runs. I’ve never done anything athletic before. At all. So the first few weeks felt daunting (but very doable). As the weeks progressed, the runs started getting longer and the walking breaks shorter. I was able to work up a decent pace. The last 3 weeks were the most enjoyable –  no walking breaks and just a function of stamina.

Through these 9 weeks I’m at awe at how the body copes up to newer challenges. Every run increases endurance that little bit, I’m able to run that much longer. I could not run more than 100m before needing a 10 min break. Now I can comfortable run for 30 mins and can catch my breath in about a min. Of course, there were a couple of bad days where I ran too fast or I hadn’t eaten enough. But I’ve learned how to avoid both of those and unsurprisingly it’s just dumb me 🙂

I feel bad I couldn’t schedule the programme such that I could participate in the TCS 10K earlier this month. But hey – I’m looking out for the next one 😀

Hat-tip to the folks over at /r/c25k for being a great source of information and motivation!

What’re you waiting for? Read the FAQ, tie your shoelaces and RUN!

Indian passport instruction booklet

The Ministry of External Affairs have a very good website for everything Indian-passport related. Buried in the FAQ is a link to a handy instruction booklet that serves as a ready reckoner while filling up the passport form(s), list of documents under various circumstances, etc. Here is the link to the booklet, as on Aug 5 2013. Hope this helps someone. Do let me know if the link doesn’t work or if the PDF has been updated (the one I have was created on Wednesday 10 April 2013 11:00:49 AM IST).

On privacy

Last week, I sent this out as an email to some close friends. As an afterthought it occurred it to me that this was better served as a blog entry. So here it is:

The larger need for privacy is to secure a citizen’s fundamental rights. I’ll take India as an example. Unlike the US, India does not consider privacy a fundamental right. There is oddly (or not) no real recognition for the need of, say, larger anonymity in public processes. Why do we not put our names down while voting in an election? We’ve all seen/heard this – why don’t people report information about hit-and-run cases to the police? Why don’t many people, even you and I stand up to a local corporator for not executing his duties? In all cases, we fear misuse of power and excesses of state. RTI applicants routinely get *murdered* for gaining information for the sake of the public good! Can you imagine how much better and secure their lives would have been if the RTI form did not require any identification? How better our lives would be if we did not, at all stages, hesitate to step up to those in power?

The right to privacy, freedom to stay anonymous grants common people a lot of power. In that context it is not surprising to see why a government would not want/guarantee that. Our judiciary had taken enough care in the past to ensure there are locks in place for such far-reaching abilities. That is why we have and demand search warrants or a warrant to tap a phone line or to open registered mail. Bypassing judicial oversight for surveillance (Central Monitoring System) will surely pave a comfortable way for misuse. I would not write this email to you putting myself in trouble (and everybody on this list as an extension since you are all recipients and hence partners in crime :)). We could meet over a coffee and hopefully there aren’t anybody listening in… You get the idea.

This is a question of life-and-death. RTI applicants in India have been frequently killed for requesting information which would trouble those in power. There are no safeguards, you cannot request information anonymously. Imagine the number of scams which would have come into the fore if people such as you and me were not scared to question those we elect to power!

As I mentioned previously, imagine the difference it would have made in hit-and-run cases if bystanders did not fear to report to the police those who committed a crime!

Again, none of this should come at a cost of security to the nation and its people. We live in a country where anonymous threats are issued frequently, many times just to prank. I can understand why the state would not want to “encourage” such anonymous behaviour. However the state must recognise that there is a much larger good that can be gotten by granting people the right to their privacy. More importantly there is much more harm that can be done by a corrupt/bad government. With no legal oversight and no recourse for ordinary citizens, it is easy to turn against people (historically many such events have happened, it is not to fail from repeating).

Mass surveillance has not stopped bad events from happening in the past, neither will it in the future. That is quite common sense. If I know my mails are searched, my phone is listened to, I simply won’t use those. The tall bearded Afghan evaded the world by being a ghost… Our neighbours who wrecked havoc in Bombay used satellite phones. Large scale events are entirely dependent on the success or failure of state intelligence and related agencies. Mass surveillance only endangers more lives than it would protect.

The right for ordinary citizens to protect themselves must be matched with the duty of the state to protect the country as a whole. I trust the police but I have double locks on my doors. Privacy and safety are paramount and one can be gotten without sacrificing the other. Think about it…

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

Update: [2013-06-05] The Centre for Information and Society, India has put up their draft of the Privacy Protection Bill 2013. This is a good read and if implemented in whole, would be a big step up for the country and our future.


Over the last month at the Mobile World Congress 2012, Mozilla showcased their blood, sweat, tears product for the last year to the world – a truly free mobile operating system. (Sadly) named Boot to Gecko or B2G, the OS combines the power of HTML5 and linux (android) to provide a fast, extremely flexible HTML-driven interface for mobile phones. On top of a base linux kernel + drivers layer, all of the UI is written in HTML and javascript. The launcher, dialer, contacts, browser, everything is HTML-driven. Mozilla put in a ton of work to fuse the HTML bits with the hardware, also opening up the API in the process to eventually become a standard. The apps for b2g (please change the name!) are going to be primarily hosted and managed from the up and coming Apps Marketplace. The Marketplace would provide apps for both desktop and mobile versions of Firefox and b2g. As with all of Mozilla’s services, the Marketplace itself is open and you could host your own instance of it.

B2G Messages app B2G Contacts app

The intent and purpose of the OS is not to compete against the likes of iOS or Android or WP. The mobile space is dominated by feature phones, iOS, Android and to some extent WP. Each of them have their own ecosystem via which they control the experience for end-users. I’ve written before about closed gardens and how it isn’t beneficial to an open market. This is akin to car manufacturers using custom screws to disallow so-called unauthorised access. Such a culture always hurts consumers the most. It locks down data and all the companies know that data is quintessential to holding a consumer. It is against the interest of the large corporations to free the consumer and allow for choice. This sounds fairly autocratic. The corporations promise a good experience at the cost of freedom. To many, that is unacceptable. Mozilla has historically sided with users when freedom is at siege. In the early years of the century, Firefox liberated millions from the crutches of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Now, a decade later, Mozilla sees the mobile space turning into a similar lockdown scenario. B2G and the Marketplace is pivotal to the goals of a free, open Mobile ecosystem. One that binds all, across platforms and empowers the user. That is the power of HTML and it is only in the consumers best interest that such a project can succeed.

Walking out of the walled garden

First there was Google search. So many reasons to move away from the behemoth Yahoo! had become. Search was never as accurate before or for the foreseeable future. Then came along Gmail. I’ve been using Gmail as my primary email since about the time they started in 2004. Once signed up, there was no looking at any other mail client. Then came along other services – Calendar, Maps, Docs, Reader, Android and finally Plus… Every service Google started was a breakthrough success. A clear disruption in each field. What better – all of them were free! Of course, people wouldn’t mind the unobtrusive ads (which drives everything G) when they were offered the niceties.

Over the years I’ve been “entrapped” in the ecosystem too. Over the past few weeks, particularly after the very visible thrust Google has been giving G+, I’ve given a long and hard look at moving out of the big G’s ecosystem. Since the time most of G’s services have launched, there have been other products/services that are comparable or as good as Google’s but without the advertising baggage (which I can’t get rid of at all. Even if I want to pay for it).

So over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting on such alternatives and my experience in setting them up and using them. Good that I own a domain to play around 🙂

Got servers and services to setup, lots of work to do, see ya around!

Hello world, again!

It’s been a while since I blogged. Although ti22 still lives on, that place looks more like a feed reader than any real posts 🙁 Also wanted to dabble around with self-hosted setups, and so, this.

I’ve been with Mozilla for close to a year now and many of the posts would surely be influenced by the open/free culture. I’ll mostly be brain-dumping thoughts about a open web and technology<->society here. Maybe random things too but not too often, that’s what’s twitter for!