Along came a greedy Domain Name Registrar

Everything was fine in the digital world, there was peace all along and domain name registrars maintained the peace. Then, one day I wanted to buy my own domain name so that I could set up my own private mail/web infrastructure on the public server I rented. As a proud and stingy person, I looked for the cheapest alternative around and hit upon Net4. They provided a .in domain for 199 INR (around 20 DKK). I wanted to buy the domain for multiple years but their multiple year prices were too high. I asked about the pricing policy, whether the renewal charges will increase. I was told it would be reasonable and consistent with customer expectation. The following year I was asked to pay 449 INR as renewal charge for a year. I was unhappy about it but I was busy in other stuff so I just quietly paid up. This year I was asked to pay 617 INR as renewal charges. What was weirder was buying a new domain with .IN extension cost 225 INR for a year and for multi-year period the maximum cost was 476 INR per year. The renewal charges for a year were substantially higher. This was just too much, the pricing policies were not reasonable and not consistent with customer expectation. When I brought this up before the customer care folks, they said the charges are determined taking various factors into account and are fair and non-negotiable. I had never heard such a self-contradictory sentence before. So, I have decided to move my domain to Gandi. I have heard well about them from friends. I am keeping my fingers crossed here. The entire episode has left a bad taste about the whole pricing situation with domain name registrars and IMHO we need some sort of uniformity here.

Where is my consent ?

Disclaimer : This blog entry is not supposed to justify or unjustify any points of view. It is just a thought experiment aimed to raise some questions which are maybe not asked. It just occurred to me while I was thinking of the situation and wanted to share it with the larger audience.
A real world scenario :
Recently, a fortnight back 3 Indian ministers were filmed watching porn on their cellphones in an Indian State Legislative Assembly(regional state level parliament) while discussions were going on in the Assembly. A huge furore was created over it and the ministers had to resign following social pressure(invisible yet present).
The thought experiment :
Imagine yourself in the Assembly with the above ministers. Imagine they are watching porn and you are picturing some porn movie you watched yesterday in your head. Now, let us assume “someone” has a “thought oracle”, a machine which can read thoughts and project your thoughts on a screen. Let us not go into discussing how the thought oracle can be designed, let us assume it exists. Now THAT “someone” trains the thought oracle on you and projects your porn visualization images on the screen. Let us assume the ministers have also got caught by filming what they were doing. Aren’t you and the ministers in the same boat ? The deterministic factor here is the technology while the incriminating factor here is the subject’s intention. Of course, there is subjectivity in judging intentions but the bigger question is “The judgment seems to be valid from a strict legal viewpoint but is it really valid from a social high horse ?”. As far as I see, the ministers resigned because they were not committing any legal offence(otherwise their employment would have been terminated) but they cowed down to social pressure and its larger socio-political implications. This is actually frightening.
This led me to the following questions which I would just outline. I do not have the answers, so I would not be verbose. Let’s just spare a minute for thinking, shall we ?
1. What has society become today ? Why was society initially formed ? Was it formed to be a collective entity where the weakest entity in the group is not as weak as he would have been if he had been alone and the strongest entity is stronger than he would have been had he been alone ? If that is the basic assumption, then what is the role of society today ? Is that role justified ? If individuals spawned society for ease is the basic assumption, then is the assumption not weak if not obsolete today ?
2. What controls the will of the society ? What do we define as fair and not fair ? Is the judgment being done from within the society or from outside ? How do we examine the system then ? Is the way we examine the system now correct ? Are we ending up going towards a situation where we would end up at a wall ? Is the sum of all societies the sum of all people ? Is that a valid and fair sharing ?
3. Why don’t I have the option of opting out of a society and not join any other society ? If the rules of the societal model are binding on all then, as an individual born why don’t I have the option of signing a Terms and Condition based rule set ? How do we define fair ? Is fairness/justice today defined only from a societal viewpoint and not an absolute viewpoint ?
4. Society can be thought of as a model, is the model flawed ? Are we spending too much of time and resources to solve the problems in the model without realizing that those solutions might lead to other problems owing to the assumptions in the model being inherently flawed ?
5. What is culture/religion/.. ? Is it just a mechanism to bind a group of unknown people into a society ? Is it the first point of common unification for such people to implement a collective group will ? Are those mechanisms self preserving using human emotions ? And if it is such, then is emotion just a masking factor for deciding something where logical decision is impossible owing to lack of sufficient quantifiers for the decision ?

PS: I have kept the questions at a very very abstract level because then they can be interpolated to very specific scenarios. I am aware that I might have used some mathematical terms but that allows for precise formulation in little words. Plus, I am a mathematician too so I cannot do away with my basic instinct, part of the society in me. At least, when I was thinking of these questions and discussing with my friend Ian Leinert while travelling in Geneva at -15 degrees, I did not find any obvious answers. I am not even sure if there are any but all of you are brighter than me, maybe you will find the answers or better still maybe you will ask some more pertinent questions.

The Ignorant Beggar

The young man looked out through the open window. He felt alone in the old compartment of the suburban local train. Though the train compartment was close to full, he felt completely cut off. He felt as if he was a misfit in the world, as if something about his existence was not right. It was not that he was unhappy about something he knew. He was unhappy because he was unhappy. It did not make sense to anyone but he did not care. The harsh June sun was beating down mercilessly on the small platform outside. There were a few small tin sheds, with too many people under them than they could pretend to protect. The whole platform seemed deserted. Suddenly, something caught his eyes.

A beggar whose legs had been amputated was crawling on the hot cemented platform outside. With a great deal of difficulty, he got up onto the train. The train started moving and so did his thoughts. He started remembering all the times when he had seen a beggar, with their mutilated limbs and deplorable conditions. How his heart had cried out each time. How he was told that begging was a business and you could not trust it. How his brain fought with his heart and ended up numb with neither side winning. The only fallout was an even greater feeling of guilt and shame which soon disappeared at the appearance of something seemingly more important in his life. How he hated it all. The self imposed importance, the self concocted mixture of feeding one’s ego, the self defacing habit of running after things than waiting for life to wash over you. How he hated it all.

The shrill voice of the beggar broke his thoughts. He jerked back to the musty slightly smelly train compartment where the person sitting next to him was dozing off on his shoulders. He wondered about the sensibilities of reason which all his friends talked about, how beggars do not have a life, how the Government should do something, how things needed to change, how growth of his country has to encompass all. With his new found seemingly superior powers of reasoning, he felt choked owing to the lack of answers. How he wished if he knew the answers. How he wished he could play God.

The beggar was a man of around 40. When he got up on the train he noticed this young man in his mid 20s sitting in the corner of the train compartment. He noticed him because he looked different than the others, his clothes were different, his manners were different, there was a conjured confidence which was trying to mask the unmistakeable uneasiness in occupying the compartment. But still, what caught him the most was the young man’s eyes which wore a misty confused sad look. He seemed to be some hallowed God to be in whose position the beggar would kill but his eyes wore a pain that even the beggar had not felt when a bus had run over his legs. He decided he had to do something.

The beggar went on singing a mixture of the latest Bollywood movie songs completely out of tune. He ignored all the furrowed brows of passengers who were roused from their slumber, the irritated shifting of the passengers in their seats. He ignored it all, he went on singing and begging for alms with an outstretched hand. It did not matter to him that his outstretched hands remained empty as he moved around. He just ignored it all. He reached where the young man was sitting. He stretched his hand and waited. The young man was numb again. His heart wanted him to give away the 10 rupee note in his purse. His brain however told him helping beggars was just increasing the problem and for self justification it also told him that the 10 rupee note was the last in his purse and he needed to keep it. The beggar could sense the confusion in the young man. How his look and eyes conveyed the compassion he felt for him but his attitude, manners and hesitation indicated otherwise. The beggar took away his outstretched hands and said, “Babu(salutation for Sir), where will you get off ? If it is ok with you, can I talk to you on the platform where you get off ?”.

The young man was shocked, so was the train. He wanted to lie to the beggar and slip off but something inside him told him to talk to him. He said, “I will get off at the next station”. The train reached the next station and the young man got off, followed by the beggar. All eyes in the compartment followed them. The beggar motioned the young man to come to the end of the deserted platform under a small tin shed. The young man was sweating profusely, he hated the summer heat but he went.

When the beggar and the young man reached the tin shed, the beggar suddenly asked, “Babu do you think you are better than me?”. The young man was taken aback. He replied, “I am not sure I understand. Why did you want to talk to me ?” The beggar smiled and said, “Babu you look like the person who would have done and got a thousand things which I can never ever even imagine was possible, I wanted to hear it from you and be happy like you”. The young man thought that the man was insane. Was he going to narrate his experiences which made for hallowed blog entries/acclaimed extempores to be read/heard/acclaimed by his reasonable friends to this person. The beggar broke his thoughts, “Babu, why are you sad ?”. The young man rudely replied, “I am not and I am in a hurry so if you have nothing to say I would leave.” The beggar replied, “Babu, do you think your life is better than mine.” The young man angrily replied, “Yes, it is. I do not have to curse about my leg. I do not have to beg to eat. I do not have to be sorry about my whole existence.” The beggar calmly replied, “You have only seen my missing leg and my begging and in that while you have presumed that my life is miserable and not worth living. I beg because with my condition I see it as the best way to earn money to keep me and my family alive. Even if there are beggars who cheat, how is it different when babus like you cheat in much greater magnitude and in place where the impact is so much more.” The young man was lost for words. Here was a person who was speaking things which he had never imagined.
The young man replied, “How can you live your life when you have nothing to look forward to ? At every stage of life, I am made aware by myself that there is a certain set of goals and when I reach there another set of goals crop up. There are big words and proverbs all around trying to justify your existence and journey when in fact they are there to distract your unhappiness with the fact that you do not know what is the purpose of existence ?”. The beggar smiled and replied serenely, “Why is the purpose of existence important ? Why do you think my life is worth nothing ? I get the same satisfaction when my thirst is quenched. When you eat a 5000 rupees meal with your family and I eat a 5 rupee meal with mine, the happiness we gain out of it is the same. Do you think your love for your mother and wife is more than mine ? Do you think any of the emotions you feel is different from mine ? Life is a gift which God has given to both of us and He never takes any of it from us. It is our perceived imaginary happiness that causes us pain and disappointment. God never gives anyone more or less, He gives everyone the same.” The young man was shocked. He never thought that someone as nondescript as a beggar could tell him this in the middle of nowhere. He asked, “So what is the purpose of existence ?”. The beggar replied, “Why is it important to have a purpose ? Purpose of existence is a hallucination. An attempt by your ego to justify that it is all important. We all have a life, we need to live it and experience it in the best way possible according to us. We all have experiences and choices. All we need to do when we finally close our eyes is take a look and just say, My life was beautiful and that would fulfill the purpose. Would it not ?”

The young man was stunned. He blurted out, “Tell me something, are you some kind of a learned man struck down by circumstances ?” The beggar simply laughed and said, “Is it because you think the things I said cannot be from a person who has never gone to a school? Babu, I have never seen the inside of a school. I am an ignorant man and I spoke what life has taught me. Forgive me if I spoke something wrong and wasted your time”. A tear flowed down the young man’s cheeks and he touched the feet of the beggar and said, “Thank you teacher for teaching me such a valuable lesson.” And then the young man told him the stories about the world he had seen and the beggar told him his. Both of them were sitting under that tin shed while many trains with incredulous onlookers passed by. And the summer sun was still beating down mercilessly but the tin shed was full of autumn warmth.

THE little boy and the old man

Play :- THE little boy and the old man

Act 1, Scene 1
Place : An overcrowded shopping centre, New Delhi
Actors : THE little boy, THE old man

The Friday night chill was just settling amidst the brilliant lights of District centre. The square was warming up to welcome the Friday night revellers underneath a vast star spangled sky. The little boy was walking with his eyes open wide with amazement. Every little movement, the tiniest hustle and bustle lit up the little boy’s face like a small fiery lantern on narrow metal buoy drifting in a vast dark ocean. His hands were firmly clasped in a rigid grip by the old man’s sinuous and wrinkled hands. Every little shake the little boy gave, made the grip stronger and stronger. The old man was walking with his head bowed and casting furtive, disapproving glances all around. The little boy was walking with a small polythene containing his new GIJOE set when he noticed the abnormally high number of policemen in the square. When the old man followed the boy’s gaze, he could feel a chill going down his spine.

The old man said, “There must be a bomb nearby. We should never have come here. The police are looking for some terrorists. We need to get out of here. Why do you always cry for toys. See where we have landed.”
The little boy was watching the whole scene with joy filled curious eyes, “The police. I have never seen them so close. They don’t look bad. They look just like you.”
The old man flinched on hearing this, “Are you mad ? Me like a policeman. Let’s get away from here before we get caught in some trouble. Hide that polythene of yours. What if the policemen see it? Carrying polythene is illegal. Why do you always make me wish I was never with you?”. The little boy said, “Look at that policeman, he is smoking in public, we should go and tell him what he is doing is not correct.”
The old man replied, “Are you out of your mind? He will book us, beat us and do what not. Let us get the hell out of here.”
The little boy said, “But we should at least object. Should we not raise our voice? That policeman is being paid out of your money. In that case, you deserve the highest right to tell him that he is not doing his work properly.”
The old man rolled his eyes wide and barked, “You are insane. You should listen to me. I have seen so many things happen and I know exactly what these people are. These ideas do not work in the real world.”
So saying the old man dragged the little boy whose little bright round brown eyes were still cast upon the scene with the same glow as it was when he had first seen it.

End of Scene 1

Both the little boy and the old man are inside each one of us. The old man keeps getting old and rigid with each passing day but like a ray of hope the little boy is always present inside us. He will always be with us and ensures our very existence remains human. The little boy makes each one of us, human. It is regrettable that we turn a blind eye and deaf ear to humanity and embrace rigidity. The old man is weighed down by his experiences with a big bad world, the little boy always wants to keep learning. Inside each one of there is a struggle to achieve the balance between the desire to relate new experiences with old ones and the desire to learn new experiences. What we want is to tune into the old man and the little boy talking as in the previous scene and then decide for ourselves. In that case, only we would be to blame if we chose to be human or inhuman. At least, that would be a beginning.

Disclaimer:
Mr. Vidhu Vinod Chopra, I have taken the line “These ideas do not work in the real world.” from your movie 3 Idiots. I hope you do not sue me. I am giving you due credit and since I do not earn anything from this blog so I cannot give you any percentage share. Please do not sue me.

Who stole my grades

Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be derogatory for IIT students or those competitive examination champs. It is also not meant to be the reason d’etre for the Ministry of Human Resource Development to abolish grading systems. It is just a discourse of the conversations Abhishek and I had today afternoon after we were well fed and watered and raised a few questions.

Flashback:
Those were the best of times, those were the worst of times. Sounds clichéd. It was the summer of 2004. I was eagerly waiting for my IIT mains results. Having secured a whopping rank of 128 in IIT screening exams and being constantly fed a rich diet of praises from my teachers who felt sure I would break into the top 100, I was expecting a fair result. Although I had done badly in Maths examination owing to those SILLY mistakes(after all 2 + 2 is not equal to 5 in the decimal number system), I expected a rank within 1000. As has been my superstition, I always prefer to spend a lot of time in the toilet when examination results are discovered by my dad and announced to me, I spent around 3 hours in the toilet owing to the website being down with too much traffic. To my dismay, I found I had committed a lot more silly mistakes than I anticipated and ended up with a rank of 1785. I thought following a career in something I loved from an NIT was worthier than studying something in IIT that I did not like.

Back to today:
Today, Abhishek told me that once Dr. Zakir Hussain(a Professor at NIT Hamirpur) declared in class that all the students in NIT are mediocre ones. Well the previous flashback was an attempt to create credibility for my answer to this rather naive observation. If the mediocrity is being referred in terms of preparing for an examination, then yes the students are mediocre but if the mediocrity is being referred to a student’s intelligence and general understanding level then it is not. If a student is to be judged for his intelligence and understanding level, then the platform to be provided has to be uniform. Let us say after a hard grind of 14 years of formal student we take up 2 students who are not informed that they will appear for an examination(not even what kind of examination) and then they are asked to answer the examination, that will give us an indication(albeit a rough one) into their intelligence and understanding level. The examination here has to be carefully calibrated here to measure what a student has understood rather than what a student has not understood and remembered. The whole point of deciding mediocrity based on examinations is as stupid as can be.

In this context, the current grading system in school education in India is questionable. Grading system is like a caste divide in education. Why do we need to allot grade A,B,C and so on ? Does it not reflect the inability of the educators as well as the family to educate/motivate students uniformly ? How does awarding a grade A to a student in class I beneficial in any aspect ? As per my understanding and limited research, the grading system was created to measure the performance levels of students which could be utliised by others for e.g. you appear for a GRE/GATE/CAT test so that based on the test students are evaluated on a supposedly common platform and accordingly rated but how does this help in the school system ? It creates animosity, cut throat competition, a race to the top for students. We humans have a primal instinct for trying to be better than one another. Which is why we love sports to see people warring(in a pacified way) against each other. This brings us to the glorification of those students who top in the board examinations(which in most cases is their ONLY claim to fame).

School education is an extension of the education that begins at home. Imagine your mother telling you, you got an B grade for the way you touched your grandparent’s feet and you should do better to get an A the next time. Sounds ridiculous but then education which is supposed to be a conjugation of our natural curiosity with the cumulative human understanding of the world, if graded, should sound ridiculous too. School education is a medium for students to learn and understand the beautiful world all around rather than to be fascinated by marks. After all how does it matter if a student gets an A or a B in one examination. Examinations should be held on a continuous internal level in order to provide a feedback to the educator and the student as to which aspects of the subject a student knows well and which he doesn’t. It should be an indicator for the educator to change his mode of teaching rather than to the parents to give a new watch to their children as reward. What graded education system is doing today is creating an atmosphere of intimidation, stress and mutual hostility rather than co-operation,mutual appreciation and enhanced curiosity. A child’s curiosity and his unique abilities are not appreciated. What are we really trying to measure here ? We, Indians who had such an advanced education system (“Gurukul system without grades/marks”) are not even appreciating the ancient heritage and wisdom. Somewhere over the years it has got lost in the mindless borrowing from other societies(from British education system) without realising why and in which context it was applicable there. Deciding a student’s aptitude is important which is why I have not raised the question yet on the graded education in Universities since industry and academia use the grades for further calibration but that too has its loopholes(a matter for another blog post).

In this regard moving from marks based system to a grade based system by the MHRD is a noble next step. Abolishing grade and pondering over an alternative system would be the logical and bold next step. The big question here is what would be the alternative. Maybe the time has come to ask this question to those whose minds have not been polluted as ours over this mad and false race of marks and achievement. The time has come to ask the questions in the Kindergarten classes where the mind is without fear and the mind is without all the clutter. The time has come to to nurture the mind in the same free environment when it was born.

Corollary: This post is one of the few to raise various questions on this aspect of education. It will be followed up with more insights in order to not make it look like a research paper. This is the first food for thought.

Dear Minister, my telephone is not working

The following is my attempt to get in touch with the honourable minister of telecommunication over an issue of my telephone not working. My eyes really popped out when I read the previous line again. Writing a letter to the minister of telecommunication over my telephone not working and imagining the letter to climb up the departmental and bureaucratic public ladder without even an assurance of multi billion infrastructure gains, sounds lame but then a cup of coffee and an inquisitive mind can be a a heady mixture.
Dear Mr. Minister,
I Vivek Shah, am a citizen of the Republic of India currently residing in New Delhi and trying to sustain my existence by working as one of the innumerable IT workers. I am ordinary in every sense of the word. I am all of 24 years of age and have not seen or heard the world as much as you would have. If this letter is really being read by you, I think the politics of our country is in the right hands and the letter would have realised its goal. Since you have already taken some of your time to read till here, I might request you to read further.
I am one of those people who depend upon the telephone connection provided by MTNL for my basic sustenance. It is not because I can end up talking with my girlfriend for hours or discuss the latest happenings in Big Boss 3 with my friend. In fact the receiver on my end does not work. Its a one way traffic so that I can hear people talking about insurance policies on the other end or asking for a wrong person but I cannot just make them hear, “Just f*** off”. I am not even complaining about. My most important requirement from the telephone whose receiver lies on the floor instead of the handset, is the broadband facility.
First of all, inspite of the tall complaints, I must congratulate you on the excellent broadband facility which is provided at such an affordable price. This broadband facility is one of the most urgent requirements of my white collar job. This facility ensures that my bosses can wake me up from my beautiful dreams at 1 AM at night and ask me to stare at a piece of file on a computer in Europe because of which a person in US is not being able to print a PDF. Its a small www world these days. So, when my broadband connection was not working yesterday on 30th January, I looked into my telephone bill and called up 011-2222-1504 to register the complaint. The person who picked up the telephone, sounded offended by the idea that I wanted to register the complaint. He did not tell me anything to suggest so, but the human mind can pick up the tones so either the person who answered my call was having a bad case of throat infection and stomach disorder or I am completely off my rocker here. Anyway, he did register my complaint and I got a 4 digit complaint number 3920 as proof of my achievement. I courteously asked him by when can I expect the connection to be fixed as it was particularly urgent to me. He replied, within 24 hours. I asked him if there was something I could do to speed up the process. He said, “Call on 197 and find out the Area Managers number”. My first question lies here, since I was talking to this person for help and support(who is getting paid for it by people like me), he could have at least told me the corresponding area manager’s number itself(which I am sure would have been searchable on his computer). If my telephone is not working, how can I call up 197 and find it?
Since India is a country of charming people, my charming neighbour came to my rescue and provided me the number of Janakpuri area manager. I reside in New Mahavir Nagar and my house is a 10 minute walk from the Janakpuri telephone exchange. I called up the Janakpuri area manager and mentioned my telephone number 011-2599-7227 and complaint number and asked him if he could do something in this matter. To this, he replied “This number does not fall in my area call up Dwarka area manager” and gave me another number. Perplexed, I called up the Dwarka area manager, who replied “This number does not fall in my area call up Rajouri Garden area manager” and gave me another number. Confused, I called up the Rajouri Garden area manager who replied “This number does not fall in my area, call up the the Janakpuri area manager” and gave me another number. By this time I had gone crazy. I had gone an entire full circle with each person giving me the same templated reply(which I hope you would have noticed). I was wondering, “In which area did my telephone number lie, is it in Pak Occupied Kashmir?”. I called up the Janakpuri area manager and told him that I had gone a complete circle and what was this about. It looks to me, he was very busy and so he did not have the time to reply to such a stupid unnecessary question. So he took the shortest route possible, he just cut the call and never picked up my subsequent 6-7 calls.
Utterly dejected, I called up a linesman I knew, and he was working in the area nearby. A few kind words and requests later, the kind soul landed up in my area an hour later and fixed the problem. I can only say “Bless, his soul”.
After reading all this Mr. Minister you might wonder what is the point ? The point is inspite of the excellent and thoughtful policies and people who/which have been placed to look after these kind of problems, the entire set up has fallen flat. I have lost a little bit of faith in the whole setup to which I looked upto in order to help me when I needed it most but I have regained a little bit of faith in human relations and what 2 people who want and can try to genuinely help out each other. I might be one of those cases where Murphy’s law was true and I was the wrong person with the wrong person at the wrong place and the wrong time but I sincerely hope you don’t get letters like these more often. This letter might not have to do with any of the multi billion dollar projects/decisions/investments but it has to do with the most important facet of governance, touching the lives of those who have chosen you to govern. If the governance is not worth it, the multi billion dollar investments/infrastructures just sound very hollow.
Thank you again for the time to read my letter. Thank you again for all the work.
Jai Hind.