Thursday, September 15, 2016

Don on Blockchain



Digital currency, Blockchain, Bitcoin...for quite some time now, these terms have been floating around in my mind like dragonflies on a sunny afternoon. I've always wanted to learn more about them but have never got hold of anything that I could relate to - until today.

This TED video by Don Tapscot has finally presented the topic in a way I could finally understand,at least to some extent. One example that struck me in particular was that of Analie Domingo, a Filipino housekeeper living in Toronto. It seems she is now able to send money to her ageing mother in Manila, on a Blockchain app called "Abra". It costs her a  fraction of time and money she used to spend on Western Union money transfers.

I did not know that the biggest flow of funds from the developed world to the developing world is remittances. At USD 600 billion per year, it is a far greater flow of funds than corporate investment or foreign aid. According to Don, it is also the biggest global rip-off by companies like Western Union.

If Blockchain is the wonder technology that can make international money transfers more efficient, if it can help artists earn a fair price for their creations and help maintain digital privacy of netizens, the next obvious question is - How can we change from byestanders to participants in this perfect storm coming our way?


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LINKS / REFERENCES

* Transcript - https://www.ted.com/talks/don_tapscott_how_the_blockchain_is_changing_money_and_business/transcript?language=en

* ABRA - transfering money freely and securely! - https://www.goabra.com/

* Imogen Heap - the first (?) Grammy awarded artist to sell her songs on Blockchain http://imogenheap.com/home.php?

* Vitalik Buterin - the founder of Etherium Bitcoin for Digital Contracts - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitalik_Buterin

* Bitcoin Magazine - http://www.bitcoinmagazine.com/

Sunday, September 11, 2016

ShinMaywa US2 Seaplanes for India



This has been a long standing mystery: What is holding back the first major India-Japan defence hardware transaction - the sale of ShinMaywa US2 Maritime reconnaissance aircraft?

The US-2i is quite a unique aircraft, capable of short take-offs from land as well as water with a range of over 4,500 km. Powered by four big turbo-props, it can land even on rough seas amid three-metre high waves.

Perhaps this is just the sort of recce-aircraft that we needed while searching for the AN-32 that disappeared while flying from Chennai to Car Nicobar. The $1.65 billion defence deal was slated to be signed in the first quarter of 2016 with the first two aircraft delivered off-the-shelf and the remaining ten built under license in India.

The deal has been "under discussion" since 2012. Over the past four years there have been numerous speculative reports as to why an ostensible commitment at the highest levels of government, is yet to translate into action.

Today's Times of India states that Japanese defence ministry is trying to reduce the price-tag of the USD 1.6 billion for 12 aircraft in a bid to revive the deal. This is a new one. Until now none of the reports had claimed that the price was a sticking point.

Recently, India purchased six C-130J Super Hercules military transport aircraft for an estimated price of USD 1.2 billion. Even at the risk of comparing chalk and cheese, the price-tag for a a sophisticated amphibious aircraft does seem to be quite reasonable.

In fact the reasons for the delay stated so far have been:

Policy related -
  • Japanese side has been waiting for the amended Defence Procurement Policy-2016, which is yet to be available for the companies wanting to do defence business in India
  • Department of industrial policy and promotion is awaiting for Acceptance of Necessity (AON) from the Indian Navy
  • While Japan had been pitching for the sale of these aircraft as a special case, for the moment it did not figure on India’s list of priorities
Bureaucratic / Red Tape:
  • Deal delayed further as the next Defence Acquisition Council cannot take place, since there is no Chief of Integrated Staff (CISC) in place in the ministry of defence.
  • The major hurdle remains successfully navigating through the myriad of layers of bureaucratic red tape, something that Japanese defence contractors, given Japan’s self-imposed ban on exporting military hardware, have very little experience in doing.
The last reason sounds more plausible. Getting the bureaucracies in India and Japan to talk to each other must count among the most formidable challenges of today. Surely this is not merely a question of an inflated price-tag!

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LINKS & REFERENCES

* (11Sep16) - http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Japan-may-cut-price-to-ink-aircraft-deal-with-India/articleshow/54272792.cms

* (18May16) http://www.financialexpress.com/article/economy/indias-nod-to-buy-japanese-amphibian-plane-us-2i-to-face-further-delays/258215/

* (5May16) - http://thediplomat.com/2016/03/is-the-japan-india-military-aircraft-deal-dead/

* (28Feb16) - http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/japan-noncommittal-on-supply-of-strategic-amphibious-aircraft-to-india/article8290054.ece

* (12Dec15) - India-Japan Joints Statement 2025 - http://www.mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/26176/Joint_Statement_on_India_and_Japan_Vision_2025_Special_Strategic_and_Global_Partnership_Working_Together_for_Peace_and_Prosperity_of_the_IndoPacific_R


* (6Jan14) - http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/japans-amphibious-aircraft-not-a-priority-for-india-now/article5545706.ece.


* http://theweek.com/articles/575407/japans-defense-industry-super-excited-about-amphibious-plane
Japan and India have been discussing the sale of the amphibian since 2012. 
US-2's manufacter ShinMaywa traces its history back to one of the founders of Japanese aviation, Seibe Kawanishi. This Kobe-based industrialist made his fortune selling woolen blankets to the military during Japan's turn-of-the-century wars against Russia and China.
After the war, Nakajima's company became Fuji Heavy Industries — the parent company of Subaru, the automobile-maker.
 Kawanishi churned out 2,800 civilian and military aircraft between 1928 and 1945 — an average of 165 planes a year.
Building under license has always been Japan's favorite way to gain and maintain cutting-edge skills and technologies.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

That Thingy On Your Wrist



I used to always wonder: Why would anybody want to keep a tab on the number of steps they take each day?

Perhaps this was a notion conditioned during the formative years. I had an grand-uncle who had a disdain for things that were superfluous. Having spent his best years in the Royal Indian Air Force, serving forward bases that were battling the Japanese in Burma during WW2, he always felt that giving precedence to form over function was just "bloody bullshit!". Once while were deep into a conversation, my watch gave off its little hourly beep. He stopped mid sentence, took a closer look at all digital numbers on the wristwatch and asked, "Does the damn thing also tell you the time?"

Soon after this, my Timex died on me and I got a Swatch Chronograph - a chunky metal time piece with dials within dials. I never really understood how to use them all but a chunky watched seemed cool anyway.

Then came the Casio G-Shock. It was certainly not be the most elegant or comfortable thing to wear but it is certainly tough. It can see you through through random rainstorms; the Delhi summer means nothing to its straps; it can be a handy alarm to remind you that your lunch is on the stove; you don't have to set it aside while travelling across time-zones or while diving into a swimming pool.

A slight change of heart came after I watched a TED video recently. An elderly speaker observed that these days, watches are things that are worn by an older, less tech-savvy generation. He gave the example of his daughter who found them distinctly uncool because, "For God's sake, Dad, who wants to wear single function devices?!?"

Now that was a valid point. Surely a piece of equipment you carried on your wrist all day ought to do more than just tell you the time and date? While I was still debating the pros and cons of investing in a health-band it appeared at the door wrapped in a courier from Amazon - a thoughtful Rakhi gift.

I have been using the GQii for two weeks now and I like it. For one thing it is nice and lightweight, then it tells you the time only when you want to know, and despite the fact that its inaccurate, once you start wearing the band it does prod you to pay more attention to physical activity, sleep-timings and calorie-burning.

So now I have revised my notions of an ideal watch. It ought to combine the lightness and multi-functionality of a health-band, and yet be tough enough to be worn just about anywhere. Will there be an affordable product that can, one day, combines the ruggedness of a G-Shock to the multi-functionality of a GQii?

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LINKS

- GOQii leads Wearables Mkt in India - http://indiatoday.intoday.in/technology/story/goqii-leads-indias-wearable-market-xiaomi-slips-to-second/1/757668.html

Friday, September 02, 2016

A Pain in the Neck



Pain is an excellent guide. It tells you how to sit, walk, sleep or run; it takes your body through the paths of least resistance until time, medicines, or both, manage to heal you.

These days I am discovering the uses one particular set of muscles on my right neck - the Splenius Capitis. It is a broad band that stretches from the mid-shoulder to base of your cervical vertebrae, behind the ears.

I have now become aware of how exactly this strip of muscle helps in tilting and turning my head; of how it stretches out stretches out when I am lying on my side, without a pillow, and the amazing way in which a simple sneeze sends a stab of pain somewhere deep inside my shoulders.

I am not quite sure how I managed to hurt it - was it an unintended turn of the head while performing the Shirshasana? or did it get damaged when my son pounced on my shoulder while I was bending down to pick something on the floor?

Whatever its origins, I now feel like 3-CPO of Star Wars - that dazed, surprised look of having to turn my whole body to see what is happening behind. I now find lying down distinctly uncomfortable. Even while sitting or standing, raising my right arm eases the pain.

The strangest thing about the guiding pain is that requires me to sit, stand or walk to follow the path of least resistance. Lying down is distinctly uncomfortable, and each morning, I have been waking up with my head tilted to the right. Trying to set it straight is like holding a barbed wire fence marked "No Trespassing!"

It seems Mr. Splenius Capitis is just one of the 70,000 muscles in the human body. While its great to know he is well connected, I am not looking forward to meeting his friends any time soon!

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LINKS

* Inner Body - Splenius Capitis Muscle - http://www.innerbody.com/image_musbov/musc41.html
* Pain Mgmt - http://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/pain/maxillofacial/splenius-capitis-muscle-syndrome
* http://muscular-system.blogspot.in/2013/03/splenius-cervicis-muscle.html

Thursday, August 25, 2016

PHP for Server Emails



Last week I launched my first "Mobile First" website using Bootstrap3 at <Kai-PDQ.in>. And today I found myself diving deeper into the alphabet soup.

After I launched the website, I realised that there was one functionality that was beyond the magical powers of Bootstrap3: Email Forms that actually sent out emails.

Inside the Bootstrap3 framework, the responsive "containers" could help you create an entire website that would work across mobiles, smartphones, tabs and PCs, but to make them send emails you needed something more: PHP.

PHP is supposed to be the acronym for Hypertext Preprocessor (how is that?). It is apparently a super-popular script executed on the servers which lies at the heart of blogging sites like WorldPress, It is also used extensively by the social media behemoth with more than 1.5 billion users - FaceBook.

So how do you write a PHP script that enables forms on your website to send emails to your Yahoo or Gmail accounts?

As in the case of Bootstrap3, its best to start with a YouTube video tutorial. This is the one that worked for me:

TeachMeComputer: PHP for Beginners - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kY5P9sZqFas

Once you get a hang of the basics, its best to dive right in with the code for a basic email form, as described in this video by MushroomHeadBangers - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yW5cgqf6cNo

 Then, to install a web server on your PC, you need XAMPP. This tool comes as a package with Apache, MySQL and PHP. Once you have all these things in place, you are ready to go.

One thing none of these video's tell you (perhaps its common knowledge?), is that your web-host needs to have a PHP enabled portal. It is also not clear from the videos how we can go about with the trouble shooting.

My site takes in the feedback form, returns the "Click Here to Go Back" page, and I do get an email in my Yahoo account. However, for some reason, the mails land up in the Spam-box even if they are marked safe. Also, the message is coming in blank with the just the sender's email id.

Some progress...but I guess there is still a long way to go!

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LINKS - Responsive Forms

  • PHP Download - http://php.net/downloads.php
  • W3School Tutorial - http://www.w3schools.com/php/php_intro.asp
  • XAMPP - PHP development environment - https://www.apachefriends.org/index.html
  • https://www.formget.com/how-to-make-simple-responsive-form-for-a-website/

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Ivory Throne



I was not too keen on picking another 500 page tome. Having just finished "The Gene", I was looking for something lighter, something which did not have its notes and index running into a hundred pages.

I had almost set the book aside when I decided to flip through the book one last time. I saw a map of South India in the 1920s and an old sepia print titled "The Matriarchs of Mavelikkara", and got hooked.

"The Ivory Throne" by Manu Pillai is more than just the "Chronicles of the House of Travancore". It is a refreshing new way of looking at the history of a kingdom that has, so far,  seen only the fawning eulogies of erstwhile aristocrats, or the dismissive narratives of Marxist historians.

Pillai's attention is focused on the life and times of Sethu Lakshmi Bayi. While this is, no doubt, quite interesting, I find myself drawn back to an earlier phase when Kerala saw, within the span of one century (1400-1500), the influence of foreign ships coming from two different directions.

From the East came came Admiral Zheng who sailed from China to Calicut no less than seven times to during the period 1405 to 1430. His fleets had as many as 250 ships manned by 28,000 soldiers. Even after the Ming emperors decided to isolate themselves, there remained in Kerala a fairly large community of Chinese-Malayali's called Chinna Kribala, with one of its stat sailors a pirate named Chinali!

A few decades later, in July 1497, King Manuel of Portugal sent Vasco da Gama to find the fabled spice gardens of India, with a "distinctly expendable crew of convicts and criminals". Ten months later, he was trying to peddle baubles and trinkets at the court of the Zamorin, Manavikrama. Unable to break the Arab monopoly over the spice trade in the first instance, King Manuel sent an armada led by Pedro Alvarez Cabral in 1500.

The Zamorins of Calicut were obviously nor prepared for Cabral's persuasive methods. Stymied by the Arab traders, he decided to let his guns do the talking. A single day of bombardment from the sea, killed nearly 600 people, and then he went about playing one kingdom in Kerala against another.

Once the dust settled, the natives had their fill of internecine wars of attrition ("Kudipaka") while the Europeans had ended up with a trade monopoly, and then some more. It was not until Marthanda Varma took charge of Travancore in 1729 that things started to look up in this part of India.

"The Ivory Throne" leaves me wondering - when will we have more historians piece together this real history of Kerala? What are the secrets that continues to be locked in genetic markers and mitochondrial DNA of the Mallus who come in all colors, shapes and sizes?


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LINKS & REFERENCES

* Interview - The Hindu - http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/manu-s-pillai-zooms-in-on-the-life-of-maharani-sethu-lakshmi-bayi-in-his-debut-book/article7900248.ece

* Book - The Ivory Throne - http://www.amazon.in/Ivory-Throne-Chronicles-House-Travancore/dp/9351776425

Friday, August 19, 2016

In Praise of Bootstrap3


In the world of web-design I am a bit like Rip van Winkle - a solitary rustic who once dabbled in ancient HTML; the oldie who goes off to sleep for 15 years and then wakes up to discover a digital world that has been completely transformed.

Nothing remained of the familiar landscape. Old HTML had become too primitive, too cumbersome and simply incapable of showing up on anything other than a clunky old PC. As webpage designing had moved from one version of HTML to another, the newer versions had teamed up with CSS and outsourced all the layout grunt work, Java and JScript had come in to add heft and magic to the amazing things that could be accomplished using smartphones, tablets, and laptops. A bewildering new world that would not reveal itself in "view page source".

It is while wandering through this maze that I stumbled upon the answer to all my problems - Bootstrap3. It was built on whatever little I knew of HTML and CSS, and then, with a few online stylesheets helped me create websites that worked beautifully across platforms and devices. Magic!

Here are links to the sites that were a big help:

* GetBootstrap (Currently at v.3.3.7) - Home - http://getbootstrap.com/
Repository of all the latest download files, Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) and sample pages

* YouTube - Lalit Bassi's Bootstrap3 Tutorial (1:40 hrs) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqOEoUR5RHg
Even after downloading Bootstrap, I was quite lost until I stumbled upon this much-viewed tutorial. Starting with a simple HTML layout, this video takes you through a wide range of functionalities that can help you launch a fully functional website is a few hours. It also introduced me to the joys of using SublimeText - an editor infinitely better than MS-Text!
Caveat: The Dilliwala Yankee accent can be tough...but remember: no pain, no gain! ;)

* YouTube - Bucky Robert's TheNewsBoston (14 short clips)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIULMnbH2-o
Unlike Bassi's package this one tells you about various different tools in short, easy-to-understand videos.

* YouTube - Bootstrap tutorial by Derek Banas (1:04 hrs) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqOEoUR5RHg
More like a catalogue presentation of the various things you can do with Bootstrap3. Derek keeps adding and deleting code so you might be disappointed to find many components missing in his final "cheat-sheet".

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LINKS & REFERENCES

* Bootstrap - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bootstrap_(front-end_framework)
* Tutorial Sites
  • W3Schools - http://www.w3schools.com/bootstrap/

* DevelopMentor YouTube - Easygoing pace but the guy seems unsure of many functionalities - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGotwBWGL7A&spfreload=5