When cricket takes a backseat

The First test between India and England came to a predictable and boring end but a fresh controversy threatens to spice things up
                                            

Towards the final few overs of the first test at Trent Bridge, the England captain Alastair Cook came on to bowl two innocuous overs of spin and seam bowling for the first time in a hundred tests. The fact that India’s bowling spearhead Ishant Sharma managed to get himself out by nicking a leg side delivery made things look rather comical and the stands were filled with delirious laughter. For a match that was marred by a dead pitch and four and a half days of dull cricket barring short bursts of excitement, it seemed like an ending that the ticket paying public badly needed.

Later on, press conferences were held by both teams and the usual protocol of performance assessment followed. But unknown to the public eye, things were unravelling pretty fast in the respective dressing rooms. The final result: the Indian team management has charged England’s fast bowler James Anderson with a Level 3 charge, accusing him of “pushing” India’s Ravindra Jadeja.

So here’s what we know so far:

During the last over before tea on Day 2, Anderson beat Jadeja’s edge in what looked like a close call. He went in up in fervent appeal but was rightly turned down for there was no edge at all. Aggrieved, he gave Jadeja a long stare before walking back to his mark. Things had been brewing between these two for some time now and the altercation seemed to have continued after tea. Anderson was seen having a chat with MS Dhoni while walking back to the pavilion and this is where things took an ugly turn.

It has been reported that Anderson allegedly pushed Jadeja on the way to the dressing room, a charge which Anderson and the ECB have vehemently denied. Instead the ECB has filed a counter complaint against Jadeja, accusing him of approaching Anderson in a ‘threatening manner’. Jadeja has been charged with a Level 2 offence.

The England skipper backed his team-mate and called this charge a ‘tactic’ by India to strike down his best bowler, which is mildly amusing. It represents a classic case of the ‘victim’ being crucified. Although this does not suggest that Anderson is actually guilty of this charge, it is an indicator of the mood in the English camp. This also does not suggest that Jadeja is innocent. The incident had taken place away from the glare of the cameras, hence any video evidence is ruled out, making it a case of your word against mine.

Cricket has not been a stranger to altercations and foul mouthing. Infact, sledging is now considered a part and parcel of the game. Modern day captains back players to be aggressive on the field, stating it makes them perform better when they are emotionally charged up. Commentators too seem to have got the hang of it, citing aggressive body language as being proportional to the passion for the game, which of course does not make perfect sense. Case in point, the recent Ashes series controversy involving Michael Clarke and James Anderson (again?). Anderson seemed to have irritated the Australian captain to such an extent that when Anderson came out to bat, Clarke allegedly asked him to ‘ get ready for ******* broken arm’. This incident was brushed aside by the administrators as a one off incident, citing the desire to win matches and passion for the game as primary reasons for the outburst. The same goes for the spat between Kieron Pollard and Mitchell Starc in IPL 7.

Responding to queries on the Jadeja-Anderson issue, former Australian captain Ian Chappell (who himself had many an altercations with Ian Botham) remarked that administrators were the sole ones to be blamed and stringent rules for such behavior should have been in place. It is a very valid point, but it is limited to on field exchanges. But what about off field incidents, like the infamous ‘punch’ that David Warner delivered to Joe Root at a night club in England? Though action was taken against Warner, the fact remains that he still remains a very temperamental player. Unless players themselves know where to draw the line, the game is in danger of taking the wrong direction. Imposing heavy fines and bans will not solve this issue, but self-policing by the players and the acceptance of the fact that at the end of the day, cricket is a sport and as cricketers it is their responsibility to uphold its spirit will do, at least to an extent.

Interestingly though, for a test series that never promised to liven up, thanks to an excruciatingly boring first game, this controversy spices things up a bit. This is not the first time that India has been involved in a series where charges have been filed against players. Back in 2008, the tour to Australia was an emotionally charged affair with the Monkey gate controversy. Ironically two years later, the two main characters of the controversy- Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds, played for the Mumbai Indians in the IPL. During the course of the tournament, they were seen hugging and hi-fiving each other, much to the amusement of fans. Cricketing universe is small place indeed.

Share this post
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Brace Yourselves, the IoT is coming.

The Internet of Things

Imagine waking up to your favorite alarm tunes being played, one for each day of the week . The number of miles you jog every morning is updated to a cloud service, which monitors your health and fitness. As you get ready for a shower, the smart water heater has already been triggered by the sensors in the alarm clock, which correctly estimates the time required using the data accumulated over a period of time. The smart oven has prepared your breakfast by the time you are dressed. The car has been put into ignition mode after the garage door is triggered by your smartphone. When you drive, real time data obtained using other ‘smart’ cars, lets you know the best possible route to your destination, helping you avoid traffic and other stoppages. Don’t bother locking your house, as your smartphone has done it, not before turning off the lights and asking the thermostat to lower the temperature for efficient energy usage. No, this is not part of the script from one of those futuristic Hollywood movies that are churned out at regular intervals. If things work out well, by 2020 this could be our way of life.

When Kevin Ashton coined the term Internet of Things(IoT) in 1999, he might have very well judged the impact of his proposition, in the foreseeable future. What had actually started as a bunch of sensors communicating and exchanging data has now evolved into this potential juggernaut that recommends an overhaul of our lifestyles. Technology surely does evolve at a rapid pace. The 21st century is a testament to that fact. But when technology evolves faster than the pace at which we can cope, it presents a unique problem. The IoT is one such disruptive technology. Disruptive, since it will possibly encourage a dramatic shift in consumer tastes with the promise of a smarter and technology driven lifestyle.

A technical perspective

Without delving too much into the technical jargon, it would suffice to say that IoT comprises of a huge set of sensors embedded into a wide range of devices. Over a period of time, the IoT has evolved into a much complex and messy system, interconnecting a variety of domains, protocols and communication systems. Imagine fitting every single electronic device in your vicinity with a bunch of sensors and assigning an IP address to each of them. The sensors exchange data over a network with a standard protocol, making use of a wireless ‘mesh’ network. In simpler terms, a ‘mesh’ network is a network topology where every node(read device) is connected to every other node. Data is exchanged between the nodes in real time, thereby turning the rather dumb devices into ‘smart’ ones. The philosophy of the IoT is to essentially connect every single device on the planet across a standard set of protocols, to make the isolated electronic devices smarter for an efficient lifestyle.

It is estimated that there will be 26 billion devices in use by the year 2030, a threefold increase in number considering the current 7 billion devices which are up and running. It essentially means that every individual will own at least 3.3 devices, all of which are of course part of the IoT.

Big Players warm up to the IoT

Less than two decades ago, the IoT was confined to paper presentations and the practical implementations seemed far fetched and unlikely. But the emergence of better semiconductor technology combined with massive infrastructural progress has given a necessary boost to the IoT community. Most importantly, the multinational corporations have been party to such an idea and their R&D investment and expertise has definitely helped. When Google acquired Nest Labs, a home automation company, in early 2014 for a massive 3.2 billion, it was further proof that IoT was gaining prominence among the biggies. Very recently, Apple launched Homekit, a framework for controlling home devices by automation. It is an addition to its newly released iOS 8, taking it a step ahead in terms of practical implementation.

For bigwigs such as Google and Apple, IoT is a jackpot. Google largely earns from its advertising service and now with the possibility of sensors being ubiquitous, every smart house is an information goldmine. A recent report suggested how targeted ads could appear on your refrigerator screen, prompting you to choose the local store to buy items whose supplies are running low. For Apple, it is part of a long cherished dream to make its devices at the center of an IoT universe. Back in 2001, it was reported that Steve Jobs wanted Apple devices to be at the heart of every home automation system. With the new features in iOS 8, it is a step towards achieving that goal.

Problems Galore

Although IoT has made significant progress over the past decade, it would be silly to assume it is well developed. The primary concern that bugs every security analyst is the little or almost no security in an IoT environment as most of the devices will be low key home appliances. Indeed lack of progress in security and privacy mechanisms is a hindrance to IoT’s evolution. Some of the devices like heart rate monitors and health monitoring devices might deal with acutely private data, which raises significant queries over its storage and protection.

Another inevitable problem associated with IoT is the heterogeneity in device manufacturers. It is quite obvious that each manufacturer will prescribe to his preferred mode of protocols. For instance, there are many wireless technologies in the market, most of them fairly new. Z-wave and Zigbee technologies have been around for a few years, but they are not yet compatible with each other in terms of communication. A new entrant, Bluetooth Smart boasts of better features than the above mentioned technologies, but is again isolated with very little compatibility. There is an urgent need to level the playing field by standardizing the wireless technology to be used.

An abstract view.

An abstract view.

With sensors invading every possible space available, the amount of data generated per day will be massive. Structuring and utilizing the data for use will require both infrastructural and capital investments. For a startup wanting to cater to the needs of IoT enthusiasts, it is bad news.

Another issue that might be instrumental in IoT adoption is the impact on environment caused by a massive overhaul of infrastructure. When millions of new devices flood the market, the non-degradable junk leftover by the old devices will be hard to manage. A non-smart device might be valid for several years but smart devices need constant upgrades which render them obsolete after a period of time. The costs incurred periodically might put off potential customers, who might classify them as an unnecessary expenditure.

A brighter future

Though IoT might receive its share of criticism for privacy and security violations, it is still a very good technology to bank upon. Yes, right now it is literally half-baked and messy, but then every emerging technology is such during its development. Technology has always found a way to refine itself over a period of time and IoT will possibly follow suit. The promise the IoT holds for better and efficient living is just too good to ignore.

 

Share this post
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Interpretation of eclipses in mythology

Though the phenomenon of eclipse has a solid scientific explanation, different cultures have developed their own set of interpretations which are rooted in myths and superstitions.

The human race has always believed in a higher power that is beyond their control. It is no wonder that during the evolution from a raw flesh eating mammal to today’s civilized and sophisticated human being, progress was made in terms of culture and religion. During this transition period, mythology gained importance among the masses who needed satisfactory answers to celestial and earthly occurrences.

The myth of an eclipse is one such aspect which is prevalent all over the world, across different cultures. For centuries, man has considered the sun as the source of life. So, it was obvious that when their primary source of light was ‘blocked’ for a period of time, people were driven by fear and insecurity. Various cultures have developed their own explanation for the occurrence of an eclipse.

The word eclipse actually originated from the Greek word ekleipsis, which literally means abandonment.

Mythology and Religion

Since mythology and religion are closely interconnected in India, the root of explanation for an eclipse generally lies in religion. For instance, in Hindu mythology, the entire period of an eclipse is called ‘parvakala’. The Bhagavata Purana(a puranic holy text of Hinduism) has an answer to the occurrence of an eclipse with an interesting fable.

A fierce battle was fought between the Devas(gods) and Asuras(demons) for many years. Lord Vishnu, known as the Preserver among the trinity of gods, arranged a truce between the warring sides and offered to churn the ocean to leverage its benefits. After many rounds of churning, the Amritam(nectar) emerged from the ocean in a pot, which was snatched by the demons. Lord Vishnu, in disguise as a beautiful woman enticed the celebrating Asuras . He managed to steal it and get it across to the devas. But Rahu, a demon, saw through the trickery. While the nectar was being distributed to the gods, Rahu disguised himself and tried to have a sip of the nectar. But the sun and moon gods detected his presence and informed Lord Vishnu, who then chopped off Rahu’s head. Luckily for him, since he too had a sip of the nectar, he will live for eternity as a trunkless demon and his headless trunk is known as Ketu. Apparently, Rahu never forgave the sun and moon gods and as retribution for their action, tries to swallow them periodically.

For centuries, this fable has long remained the accepted reason. So much so that, even in this age of rapid modernization, special rituals are held to ward off the evil demon. During the eclipse period, people bathe neck deep in the holy rivers, hoping that it will give the strength to fight the demon.

Other mythological accounts of eclipses

The Chinese mythology resembles the Indian mythology to a certain degree. The term for eclipse in the Chinese language was “chih”, meaning “to eat”. The Chinese believe that a dragon tries to swallow the sun or moon and this can evaded by the beating of the drums and shooting of arrows in the sky. It is rumored that this practice continued till the late nineteenth century, when the Chinese navy fired its cannons to scare away the dragon that was eating the moon.

The eastern part of the world, generally known as “the Orient” among the westerners, has always been associated with myths and superstitions. However, certain European cultures also fancied certain myths regarding eclipses.

The Greeks consider an eclipse to be an act of the god – Zeus, who unleashes his fury by blocking the sun. Another myth that is associated with the Greek culture is that of Medea, the Thessalian witch trying to overpower Helios(the Sun) and Selene(the Moon). During the day, the sun god - Helios was known to ride his horse drawn chariot in the sky. The same act was repeated by his sister Selene, in her silver chariot, during the night. The witches of Thessaly, most notably the evil Medea, tried to bring down the two gods during their travel by casting magic spells. The lunar eclipse was known as the “red moon” phenomena and it was assumed that the witches cast the spells to extract the blood of the goddess.

In roman mythology, the equivalent of Selene is known as Luna.

The biblical accounts of an eclipse sometimes involve the episode of Jesus’s crucifixion. The episode is named the ‘crucifixion darkness’, a phenomenon which tends to interpret the darkened skies as a sign of God’s anger with the Jewish people.

In Egyptian mythology, it was believed that the sun was temporarily attacked or was ill. Hence, the Pharaohs who considered themselves as the descendants of the Sun, took it upon themselves to maintain the cosmological balance by circling around the palace.

Ignorance and Insecurity: the crux of myths

A common thread to all the myths associated with different cultures is ignorance. A large population of the world has not been privy to the rational and scientific approach of thinking. Throughout the history of mankind, a few influential characters have taken significant advantage of the lurking fear factor among the masses. For instance, it is believed that the priests in India recommended a host of rituals during eclipses, in order to maintain their supremacy in the hugely caste segregated society. Non-Christian observers have disputed the story of crucifixion darkness and consider it as a literary creation. It is also thought that the story of a dragon swallowing the sun was actually a joke played by two Chinese astronomers.

It is quite evident that a lot of mythological accounts originated from being shrouded in ignorance and lack of rational thought. As we move ahead in the 21st century, there is a definite need to put an end to such beliefs and spread scientific awareness.

 

Share this post
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Mission Redemption

When India tours England in June this year for a five test series, the prestigious Pataudi Trophy isn’t the only thing they need to regain.

Ups and downs are part of every sport and cricket is no exception. Great cricket teams of the past have been associated with a certain aura and a feeling of invincibility. Case in point, the West Indies team of the 1970s and the Australian team of the early 2000s. Rankings of today are not the rightful indicators of a team’s performance, yet they make a subtle point. Today, India is ranked 5th among the test playing nations. With a rating of 102, they are ranked below their arch rivals Pakistan, who despite their lack of home advantage, are ranked 4th with a rating of 103.

When India toured England for a four match test series in 2011, they started as the No.1 ranked team with a star studded batting line-up and an okay-ish bowling attack. Six weeks later, their pace spearhead had already pulled out of the series due to a hamstring, their batting was in shambles except for one superhuman gentleman (literally, as he did everything apart from rolling his arm over) called Rahul Dravid and their team morale was utterly shattered and considerably beyond recovery.

For a team which was on the high of a limited overs World Cup victory after 28 years, it was a fall that can be best described using a mathematical graph with a near to vertical slope (although it is undefined, it pretty much stands for this case). Soon after the debacle, the explanations and excuses followed. People listed excessive cricket, player fatigue/ burnout as reasons and some of them even had the atrocity to blame the pitches for assisting excessive swing and seam, a traditional chink in the Indian batting armoury. Yet, for all the hullabaloo that emerged, the bottomline was that India, being the top test ranked team, lost 4-0 to an opposition who was very well prepared and came out all guns blazing. On the other hand, India looked under-prepared, burdened and lost.

So much so that they had to recruit a seam bowler midway through the series, who until a week earlier, was partying on the beaches of Miami. Predictably, R.P.Singh’s first ball after his comeback was a dud, bouncing three times before it reached the batsmen. The delivery was called a dead ball and the stands were filled with laughter, with people wondering if this was a joke.

Throughout the series, India never managed to score more than 300 in eight innings, with only Dravid managing to get to the three figure mark thrice, with a top score of 146. Two of the losses were innings defeats while the other two featured huge losing margins of 196 and 319 runs respectively. Probably the only time when they had England on the mat was in the first innings of the 2nd test, when Ishant Sharma ran through the English top order to reduce them to 88/6. Stuart Broad then played a fighting knock of almost run-a-ball 64 to lift England’s spirits. He came back to claim 6-46 with the ball with an economy of 1.96; a spell that is remembered for sharp, incisive seam bowling. India never really recovered from this onslaught.

Incidentally, this series started a period of steep decline for India in tests, with yet another whitewash against a rampaging Australian side down under and a shock series defeat at home against England. In retrospect, India’s rise to the top of the test rankings was a painstakingly slow process. It took years of toil for stalwarts like Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Kumble to lift India to the top. Yet, the slide to the bottom was pretty swift and shocking rather than surprising.

Three years later, Indian cricket has moved on. The greats have bowed out. The young guns are establishing themselves and the pain of those humiliating defeats is just a memory. Barring MS Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma, none of the other squad members have played Test cricket in England, let alone being a part of that horror series. Yes, the squad does not carry the burden of defeats, but then it is also largely short of experience. Among the batsmen, MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir have played 81 and 54 test matches respectively. Ishant Sharma, for all his unfulfilled potential, is the only bowler to have crossed the 50 tests landmark.

Preparations to the tour seem to be on track, with the BCCI resting most of the squad members for India’s tour of Bangladesh. For obvious monetary reasons, it values the IPL participation of its stars more important than an international fixture against Bangladesh. Probably the BCCI is aware of the fatigue factor and deems it necessary to send a mentally fresh squad to the series. While Bangladesh might be crying foul over the lack of interest shown by the Indian board, it at least provides a much needed rest to the players.

From an Indian fan’s perspective, this is an exciting series. An opportunity to redeem the lost glory. With an exciting bunch of players, most notably the batsmen, India has the chance to start its ascendancy to the summit. Make no mistake, this series is not the platform to avenge the humiliation of the past. Sport has no place for revenge sagas. Rather, it is a chance to recover the lost respect and re-establish the faith and pride among the supporters.

To quote Confucius:

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.

India has not won an overseas test for about three years now. Trent Bridge looks like the perfect place to start.

Share this post
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Google and the art of disruption

The giant of Silicon Valley

There are very few companies that have changed the way the world works. Ford Motor Company was one such company in the 20th century. It introduced low cost cars to the American market with stupendous success. At a time when owning a car was a luxury beyond the reach of the average American, Ford’s Model T bridged the gap and started a new era of affordable automobiles.

On the same lines, in the 21st century there have been certain technology based corporates that have altered the way the system works. Google is one such immensely powerful company. It is the world’s most visited website with an ambitious goal to “organize the world’s information”.

Disruptive Technology

Wikipedia describes disruptive technology as:

an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.

Google, in its capacity as one of Silicon Valley’s giants, has been at the forefront of disruptive innovation. Google does not think and function on the same lines as that of an average tech based company. The concept of disruption has been at its core business strategy. Does it sound far-fetched? Not really. Let us analyse.

Adwords

As of 2013, the net revenue of Google was USD 59.82 billion. Around 90-95 percent of it was derived from Adwords, its golden goose in terms of revenue. In the past, when search engines like Yahoo were charging potential advertisers with hefty amounts to publish ads, Google came up with an innovative idea of Cost Per Clicks. According to this method, an advertiser has to pay only when his ad is clicked by the internet user. This idea sounded the death knell for many upcoming online advertising portals and effectively ended Yahoo’s reign as the most popular site for advertising.

Not only the C-P-C method sounded fresh and economical, it also contributed to the aesthetic look and feel of the search results pages. While Yahoo and other sites looked ridiculously cluttered with flash banners and popping ads, the clean interface of Google was refreshing. Since then, Adwords has grown on to become the primary source of Google’s revenue. This has allowed the company to be financially secure and constantly experiment with path breaking ideas.

The important aspect to note here is Google’s strategy to eliminate competition by introducing a risky yet disruptive business model. Though it is an altogether different issue that the model clicked perfectly, it highlights the way Google thinks.

Android

On August 17, 2005 Google acquired Android, a mobile software company for USD 50 million. Two years later, Google offered to give away the newly developed operating system for free to device manufacturers. A consortium of companies called the Open Handset Alliance was formed and the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) were exempted from paying any royalties for using the Android software.

Considering the market situation back then, it was shocking and sounded insane. Why would a company invest millions on a product for two years and yet give it away for free? During that period, Symbian and windows mobile operating systems were the dominant market players and were very well established. Competitors like Nokia and Microsoft shrugged off the impact of Android’s introduction and its threat was considered as null. Yet, Android is the most widely used operating system in the world today. For every iOS device being activated, in comparison there are three Android devices in the world. It has also pushed the once popular Symbian operating system into complete oblivion. As of 2013, Android owns 78.9 percent of the market share, a huge lead over Apple’s iOS, which is a distant second at 15.5 percent.

The important question to ask is : why did a search engine giant invest so heavily in delivering a mobile operating system? For starters, it wasn’t because they wanted to diversify their sources of income. It practically gains nothing from Android when compared to its other income sources.

Here comes the interesting part: Google realized that the world was swiftly transitioning towards mobile based searches. The percentage of users using mobile devices for searches showed an upward trend and this was a worrying factor for Google. It wasn’t imperative that a mobile user would always access the Google website for a web search. Google would lose huge amounts of search related data that is necessary to generate user specific ads. It needed a native application on the phone to facilitate quick and hassle free web searches and also accommodate its growing number of services such as Google Maps.

Thus, the entry of Android into the mobile hemisphere was significant. With an open source API and a large base of developers contributing to its app store, Google could lure users into buying android based devices and yet subtly enforce their services upon them.

Protect the golden goose

The final equation in every move Google makes ultimately strips down to one single entity: the web search. All said and done, Google is an internet search engine company and majority of its revenue comes from search based advertising. With the wide usage of Android devices, at Google’s disposal is a huge database of user data that can be used to generate user specific ads and deliver better results to the advertisers. With location based and personal data about each user being recorded at Google’s servers, it is literally an information goldmine. The more accurate the user specific ads, better the advertising performance and ultimately better revenue.

It is fascinating to know the lengths to which Google can go to safeguard its principal entity : the web search. In order to maintain dominance in the area of web searches, it has even launched the flagship Nexus brand of smartphones and tablets. An attempt to demonstrate the power of Android and reinforce the faith in potential customers.

Not just Android, potentially every move Google makes is to safeguard its dominance in the area of web searches and advertising. Be it Google Maps, Google Docs, Google News or the other multitude of services that are offered for ‘free’, they all add the enticement factor and keep the users hooked onto their ecosystem. This is market disruption to a new level. A stroke of genius driven by astute business thinking and strategy.

But then again, Google was never your average tech company and it never will be. To quote an article headline:

Disruptive innovation is not a tactic. It is a mindset.

Share this post
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Has personality driven politics made a comeback?

With the entry of Narendra Modi into the parliament with unprecedented numbers, one can’t help but wonder if personality driven politics is well and truly back.

It was a sunny evening in Vadodara. Thousands of people flocked to a rally, not because they were asked to, but because they wanted to be a part of it. They wanted to be a part of the jubilation, the ecstasy of a victory, the celebration of a man who had created history.

A fleet of SUVs arrived at the venue with military precision. A bearded man, in his sixties, got down from one of those highly secured vehicles. The crowd which was holding its breath till now, roared in approval. The decibel levels reached a feverish pitch with the crowd chanting in unison. The man in context walked up onto the stage, bowed down to the audience, flashed his victory sign and soaked it all in. For a few minutes, the chants of “Modi! Modi!” seemed to reverberate in every ear across the country, right from people watching from the comfort of their homes to studio panellists on national television.

Narendra Modi has taken the so called “mass appeal” to an altogether different level. From a tea vendor who was a RSS swayamsevak to the Prime Minister of India, it has indeed been an eventful journey.

It is important to note that he has been the face of BJP’s election campaign with absolute certainty. The BJP had an idea, a brilliant one at that, to cash in on one man’s charisma and it has worked big time. It is almost an ingenious touch by the BJP think-tank to have recognized the need for a single powerful face to represent the party. With more than a decade of experience as an able administrator and the now famous words of “growth” and “development” carved handsomely into his resume, Modi seemed the perfect fit. And the move seems to have worked.

The interesting point in this election was the languid nature of the ruling government towards the rise of an opposition that was loud in its approach, yet quietly confident of what it was doing. The INC seemed to be a daze, for they neither picked an able leader to lead them nor showed the gumption to implement some hard decisions. In contrast, the BJP was particularly flamboyant in its advertisement of Mr.Modi and left no stone unturned to project him as the face and soul of the BJP. Looking at the crushing defeat the BJP has handed over to the INC, it’s obvious that the plan has worked.

A political pundit will tell you that Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi had done it in the past. He will also tell you that Modi’s victory margin of 5.7 lakh votes is the second best performance in the Indian electoral history. But statistics and history are not always relevant. Ultimately it’s the present outcome that is most valued, neither your history nor your past laurels.

On that front, Modi has done a tremendous job of uniting various sections of the electorate into giving up their personal preferences and voting for the most arithmetically stable government since 1984. His charisma and personality has fired up the imagination of millions of young and restless Indians, now hungrier than ever. Using his proven track record in Gujarat and his dynamic approach towards governance, he seems to have attracted business groups towards him, lending him a pro-business persona. Case in point, the phenomenal run of the stock market on the day he was declared the winner.

This throws up an important question. Has the electorate evolved over vote bank politics and has moved towards leader driven politics?

It might be premature to say that. At least till the new government functions over a period of time. The new government will definitely be tested at various aspects and the public reaction during the tough times will be an indicator of the general sentiment. But it would suffice to say that the outcome of this election was largely polarized by the voter’s faith in one man. Modi promised development, jobs and every single need of an aspirational middle class, eager to come of the rut they were stuck in.

It would be an aberration to say Modi does not have any detractors. His past has always haunted him across many court cases and judicial battles. Even though he has come out clean on many such allegations, the fodder for the naysayers still exists.

However, this might be the beginning of a new era in Indian politics. An era where individual leaders with public backing might be more influential than a group of highly educated but tainted leaders, where concentration of leadership in the hands of a select few might be the way forward, where coalitions might not make as much sense as they used to, where the electorate is more volatile and demanding than ever.

With a great mandate comes an even greater level of expectation.

Share this post
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Welcome to the theatre. Now Showing: the Indian Premier League

The recent spat between Kieron Pollard and Mitchell Starc is just a tick in an assembly line of ‘incidents’ that have occurred over the several editions of IPL.

Indian Premier League: Never short of drama.

When Sunil Gavaskar was appointed as the interim BCCI Chief a few days before the annual Indian cricket carnival event took off, he was adamant that this year’s IPL should be remembered only for the cricket and nothing else. He was, of course, referring to the previous edition’s fixing scandal, that brought about much shame and disrepute to the Indian cricket in general. But alas Mr.Gavaskar, this is the Indian Premier League, which thrives on controversy and public scrutiny.

The IPL, now in its 7th successful edition, has never been shy of a little drama. The IPL has always been viewed as “cricketainment”, an enticing combination of cricket and entertainment. With all the fancy team jerseys that make players look like walking bill boards, over-enthusiastic cheerleaders and high profile after match parties, cricket has never been the sole factor in the success of the IPL.

The pre-match show generally starts an hour before the scheduled start of play, but the actual cricket content and analysis, in bits and pieces, lasts about a third of the running time. Most of it is focussed on the in-studio panellists going gaga over the special guests who turn up to promote their respective trades (read, actors and movies, mostly), a drummer who goes “ba-dum-tuss” everytime Navjot Sidhu enlightens the public with one of his annoying yet trademark ‘shayaris’ and the acrobatic cheergirls shaking a leg to hit Bollywood numbers.

While the glitz and glamour of the IPL have always been there for all the editions, the transgressions in discipline and deteriorating standards in on-field composure also seem to have never abandoned it. Way back in 2008, Harbhajan Singh caused an uproar when he slapped his opponent and India team-mate Sreesanth. He was subsequently banned for the rest of the tournament, but the Mumbai Indians had to deal with a massive PR burnout. Last year, Virat Kohli and Gautam Gambhir, both Delhi and India team-mates got into an ugly spat which was later on justified by Gambhir in his newspaper column, calling it “a tense moment between two passionate individuals”. There is also the incident where the normally zen-like Rahul Dravid took a jibe at Mitchell Johnson after being sledged and thrashing him for a boundary the very next ball. The list of such incidents just keeps on growing as the years go by.

So what makes the competition among the players so fierce? It is after all, franchise based cricket, where the honour of a nation is not at stake. There are a few explanations, though.

A T20 game might be nerve wracking for the fans but it is a high pressure affair for the players, where the dynamics of a game can change in an over. The fact that one missed stumping or dropped catch or even a mis-field can cost the game for a team makes it a highly volatile environment. It sometimes brings out the best in individuals. For example, the two time hiding that AB de Villers has given to Dale Steyn in 2012 and 2014, arguably the best bowler in the world, proves the point. There have also been instances where bowlers have defended a meagre six runs off the last over, a phenomenal feat, considering the nature of the game.

But however intense the environment maybe, flinging bats at opponents and constant bickering can never be justified. And unfortunately, the IPL has a huge fan base among youngsters and budding cricketers, which complicates the issue. When their role models indulge in aggressive acts and use gestures/abusive language, the example being set is not really a favourable one. In a format where quick thinking and swift execution is of prime importance, the “spirit of cricket” seems to have always taken a backseat.

In the past decade,T20 cricket has sparked some wild innovations in all departments of the game and has definitely taken the quality of cricket being played to a notch higher. The IPL is one of a kind tournament, the one that fills the BCCI coffins with mind boggling revenues and brings together the best talent in the world. The general perception is that the IPL has improved relations among the players of different countries. But periodic incidents such as the Pollard-Starc spat force us to reconsider the authenticity of that statement. The focus of this cash rich league has never really been on cricket alone and sadly has relied on gimmicks and controversies to stay in the limelight.

It is probably true when somebody remarked that “cricket is no longer a game, but a multi-million dollar business industry”. An industry where showmanship has taken the lead over the willow vs cherry contest. The good old cricket fan might cringe at this thought, but it remains a sad fact. Cricket is, in every sense of the word, a sport. The players must recognize that being a sport also counts, just playing will not suffice.

Share this post
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The rush to the Golden throne

The clash of the titans.

It is that time of the year when there are no quiet evenings of television watching. Switch to a news channel and the chaotic debates are sure to put you off. It is a miracle how the panelists hear each other in such a cacophony of retorts and punch lines. Turn on the radio to listen to music while you drive and you will be greeted with innumerable ads of political parties asking for your vote. The popularity of the social media among the public has meant that Twitter and Facebook are overflowing with posts of political affiliations.

It’s that time of the year when the nation is literally boiling. There are two reasons for it : One, being the unrelenting summer and second, the elections. The election heat has made more headlines and impacted living room discussions on an unprecedented level.

It has been reported and opined that the general elections of 2014 are going to be the most fiercely fought elections. Going by the volatile tempers in political circles, it seems a plausible opinion. The verbal war of words has already reached a crescendo but promises to rise much higher.

In his new show, Last Week Tonight, John Oliver compared the general elections to the US elections and hilariously depicted it as a battle between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, much like the US elections where the Democrats and Republicans fight it out.

But as Mr.Oliver said, is it the battle between only the two heavy weights of Indian politics? As it turns out, it isn’t. In all fairness to electronic and print media, which has sung the same tune as Mr.Oliver, there are a lot more influential factors that will decide the outcome of the elections. Not just two immensely powerful men.

To put things into perspective, ruling governments at the Center have been alliances rather than single party ruled governments. Perhaps the leniency offered by the democratic system is as such that coalition governments and hung assemblies are the only way forward. Everybody knows the National Democratic Alliance and the incumbent United Progressive Alliance. What people seem to forget is that there is a Third Front, an alliance of 11 political parties, who aspire to trounce the two mainstream alliances.

Regional parties in India have played a significant part in deciding the outcome of the general elections in the past and will continue to do so. In the past leaders such as M.G. Ramachandran and N.T.Rama Rao played a stellar role in affecting the fabric of the governments at the center. Now that the Third Front has some powerful people like Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, Jayalalithaa, H.D.Gowda and Mulayam Singh Yadav it is quite interesting to see how it fares when it matters. Although the two mainstream parties, the BJP and INC have declined to support any third front, it remains a worrying factor for them.

Coming to the two main players, Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, the battle has taken some very ugly turns and things are steadily getting out of control. The EC doesn’t seem to care much, even if it did, the verbal volley of attacks seem too diverse and countless to be brought down. The battle is being touted as the one between that of “secular principles” and “development”.

One party accuses the other one of spreading “hatred among communities with non-secular principles” while the latter shoots back, saying the current ruling government stands for “corruption” and “de-growth”. The battle lines have been drawn, jibes exchanged, vociferous campaigns done and presumably back channel talks will surely be very much in progress. Between all the flaring tempers and maligning campaigns, the joy and innocence of an amicable and fair election seems to have been momentarily lost.

There is an excellent quote by an anonymous thinker which sums up the current scenario. It goes like this:

“During the campaign the air is full of speeches - and vice versa.”

Whether the UPA or NDA or Third front comes to power, the world’s largest democratic country deserves a government that provides stability and leads it towards “that” elusive GDP growth. The ‘Golden’ throne eagerly awaits its worthy occupant.

On 16th May 2014, the 16th government of India will be elected and history will be rewritten. Let’s hope the people of this nation get the government they deserve.

Share this post
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Cricket: A great leveller

July 13, 2002: Natwest Series 2002, Final, India vs England

India – 133/4 in 21 overs in reply to England’s 326.

India’s experienced batsmen are back in the pavilion. In walks the 20 year old Yuvraj Singh. He starts off nervously with leg byes off Ashley Giles and then watches in horror as India slump to 147/5. But then, confidence takes center-stage and in the company of the 21 year old Mohammad Kaif, Yuvraj lifts India from shambles and sets the tone for a famous victory. Harsha Bhogle rejoices in the commentary box: “This young man here is playing the innings of his life!”

March 24, 2011: ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, Quarter-final, India vs Australia

India – 143/3 in 28.3 overs in reply to Australia’s 260.

In comes the in-form batsman Yuvraj. There is no nervousness this time. Slams his first ball to the midwicket fence and then in the company of Raina, never really loses sight of the run-rate. Thrashes a scorcher from Brett Lee to the cover boundary, let’s out a mighty roar, flashes his blade in the air, comes down on his knees and displays raw emotion. India canter home with 5 wickets in hand and 14 balls to spare.

April 6, 2014: ICC World T20, Final, India vs Sri Lanka

India – 64/2 in 10.3 overs batting first.

A struggling and out of form Yuvraj Singh comes to the crease. Prods and Plonks at deliveries outside off stump. Tries a slog sweep unsuccessfully. Comes down the wicket and gets beaten. Defends awkwardly to innocuous deliveries. Gets rapped on the pads numerous times. Makes a dispiriting 11 runs off 21 balls, not before failing to give the strike to his in-form batting partner and sucking the momentum out of the innings. India reach a paltry 130. Game over.

————————————————————————————————————————————-

“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

At this point, nobody knows this better than Yuvraj Singh. For a man who has conquered some staggering peaks and seen a few crushing blows, it is an irony that the game which had given him a reason to fight and rise above a deadly disease should send him crashing into cricketing oblivion. Make no mistake, his India career is far from over. But gauging by the reactions of the fans, media and experts, a ‘fourth’ comeback in two years now might be next to impossible.

It has been reiterated by people over the years that cricket is an unpredictable game and that factor makes it all the more interesting. But unpredictability can get on to your nerves, especially if you are an emotional Indian fan. Rewind to 1996 and the infamous India vs Sri Lanka World cup match which ended abruptly, with Clive Lloyd, the match referee awarding the game to Sri Lanka as it was highly risky to continue when the crowd was unruly and the stands were set on fire.

Fast forward to 2006: the shocking incident when Sachin Tendulkar was ‘booed’ off his home ground -Wankhede for underperforming. Fans in India have always been vocal with their emotions and this time around, things don’t seem to be rather different.

Reactions from the fans on Yuvraj’s style of play on night of the final have been rather mixed. While some of them have come out in support of the dashing southpaw, others have lambasted him mercilessly. Stray incidents of stone pelting by angry cricket fans on Yuvraj’s home have also been reported. While that is utterly condemnable, it is not at all surprising.

So is Yuvraj the reason for India’s defeat?

Cricket is a team sport. While it is true that singular moments are decisive in a crunch match, it is also naïve to entirely blame individual performances. Yes, his scratchy innings was an ordeal to watch and certainly had some effect on the outcome, but then, a lot of other things went wrong for India.

It is actually pretty hard to predict how the match would have turned out, had he struck the ball well or got out early or at least given much of the strike to his partner, Virat Kohli, who was setting himself up for a flourish at the death. But before the criticism pours in, there are a few factors that need to be considered.

Yuvraj Singh was dropped from the Asia Cup ODI squad a few weeks back. But the selectors deemed it plausible to draft him into the T20 squad for an ICC event and interestingly, a World Cup at that. Now, that’s an awful lot of faith to be shown on a batsman, who wasn’t even in the reckoning for the 50 over format. His domestic returns prior to the tournament have also been uninspiring and did not warrant a natural selection.

M.S.Dhoni is known as man who leads by instinct and a ‘gut feeling’ and that approach has held him in good stead for a long time now. While his decision to promote Yuvraj ahead of the in-form Raina might have been tactical, it is most certainly debatable. But then, Dhoni trusted his trump card of 2007 and 2011 to repeat his magic but the magician seemed to have run out of tricks.

Cricket is, after all, a sport. A team can attempt to explicate all their plans for weeks together, but a flawless execution is never assured. After being the driving force behind two world cup titles, it seems as though that the Yuvraj Singh of yore has gone off the radar. Is he past his prime? Maybe. You never know, for cricket is a funny game and form is a fickle companion.

As Sachin Tendulkar so sensibly put it : “You can criticize Yuvraj, but do not crucify him.”

But then, as disappointed Yuvraj fans will tell you, cricket, in all its glory, is a great leveller.

Share this post
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Are you stuck in the Filter Bubble?

As a social human being we are seekers of information and knowledge. Though we may not like to be contradicted on our ideologies, we sure would like to know the viewpoints of others. We care for not only relevance but also challenges. A filter bubble though, ensures that we remain isolated and ignorant of the world around us.

So what is this filter bubble?

It all started in 2011 when Eli Pariser, an internet activist released a book called THE FILTER BUBBLE: WHAT THE INTERNET IS HIDING FROM YOU and gave a talk at a TED conference on the issue of web personalization and the filter bubbles.

According to the accepted definition, a filter bubble is “a result state in which a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the user (such as past click behavior, location and search history)”. Simply put, the search results received by a user will depend on his past clicks and location and it is worked out by an algorithm that uses the database servers to identify the user’s interests. Even if a user logs out, the servers have plenty of archived information related to the user which will be used to produce user specific content. The algorithm works in the background and is most certainly “invisible”. The consequence is that the users or to state rather implicitly, we, become ideologically isolated in our own cocoons or in this case our own ‘bubbles’.

According to Eli Pariser, web personalization is being done by many internet firms who strive to generate revenues based on personalized user generated content. Corporations such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Huffington Post are some of the bigwigs who are at the forefront of web personalization. As an experiment Pariser had asked two of his friends to send him screenshots of their respective google searches on a specific topic. Interestingly the results were vastly different. Then the concept of filter bubble came into existence.

Pariser says so, but does it really exist?

Consider the pictures below:

 

THE FIRST SCREENSHOT

THE SECOND SCREENSHOT

The author of this post did a small experiment to determine if the filter bubble really exists. And yes, it does. A google search was done on ‘India’ at google.com and google.co.in simultaneously and the results were as above. The google.com website returned news articles with content mainly focussing on the upcoming general elections while the google.co.in website returned news articles only based on cricket.

A clear explanation of the environment in which this experiment was performed is necessary to understand the way personalization works. When this search was performed, a cricket match between India and Afghanistan was underway. While a user who uses the google.com website might be an international user, the one who uses google.co.in is most definitely an Indian user. Hence the algorithm personalized the news content in such a way that it focussed on “what the user might be willing to see, at that point of time”, in this case, the cricket news.

The first screenshot actually maintained some required heterogeneity in showing two general news articles and one cricket related news article, but the second one completely ignored the general news articles, which is alarming.

Although the results were contrasting with only subtle variations it states an obvious fact: that personalization is the order of the day.

Why should it bother us?

The problem with personalization is that it restricts the free flow of information and is degenerative in terms of virtual freedom. The essence of a network is in encouraging wide range of opinions and a healthy exchange of information. Restricted access to information is akin to being forced fed content, rendering our wants to access variety of information obsolete. Social media sites like Facebook have added a whole new dimension to the concept of personalization by designing algorithms that control the display of updates in a user’s news feed. Based on the interests and click rate of a user, the future updates are controlled. When quizzed on this issue, Mark Zuckerberg was quoted as saying:

A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.

Personalization is hugely profitable to the internet corporations who will be able to target consumers, aided by the huge amount of personalized data at their disposal. While personalization could help a user in accurately identifying local based queries like restaurants and florists, according to activists like Pariser, it is too risky a proposition in the longer run.

A user might believe to be among the huge internet fraternity but in reality he/she is actually being ‘bubbled’ into a space where interest specific content will be generated for him/her. This leads to isolation, encouraging ideological complacency and dissent to opposite viewpoints.

What do the experts have to say?

Though the concept of filter bubble has been around for about 3-4 years now, the Internet   community is still divided in terms of opinion. Experts from Harvard have concluded that the impact of the filter bubble has been ‘light’ while analysts have suggested it is good for the consumers in general. Activists like Pariser though, seem to be apprehensive about it.

What about the internet user?

The general user though has no say in the policy implementations of the corporations. But as a consolation, every user can opt out of it by deleting the web history and cookies. Search engines like DuckDuckGo prevent tracking of users which ensures that restrictions are not implemented on the search results.

Also, the user can ensure he is not being ‘stereotyped’ by deliberately clicking on random clicks.

And as a last resort the user can use the ‘incognito’ window to prevent search engines from accumulating data about him/her.

So, a filter bubble or not, it finally depends on the user. But the fact of the matter remains that, by default, the filter bubble is here to stay.

Share this post
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather