Monthly Archives: September 2016

Micro Singularity & Ethics

The Guardian long read on “How algorithms rule our working lives” was a fantastic though distressing read, about employers using algorithms to filter out candidates based on reasons ranging from mental health to race to neighbourhoods to income. This in itself has massive implications on creating and expanding class divides and closing access to folks based on biases that are arguably unfair and lacking nuance.

If we zoom out beyond work and jobs, it’s fairly easy to see that algorithms are having an increasing impact on our consumption and life in general. The biggest services in play – Facebook, (M, newsfeed items) Google, (search results, Google Now) Amazon, (Echo, recommended products) Apple (Siri) – all heavily have algorithms in play. And that brings us to biases in algorithms. Factor Daily had a couple of posts on teaching bots ‘good values‘. Slate had a great read on the subject too – on how Amazon’s computerized decision-making can also deliver a strong dose of discrimination. Both offer perspectives on how biases, both intentional and unintentional, creep into the algorithms, and the Slate article also brings out some excellent nuances on the expectation from algorithms, and how offline retail chains (selection of store locations, for instance) and human decisions compare to algorithms.  More

Axiomatic

Greg Egan

I have always been amazed at Neal Stephenson for being able to write Snowcrash and The Diamond Age in 1992 and 1995 respectively. I am now equally amazed that Greg Egan wrote this in 1995. In fact, even more, because while the first two books were novels and dealt with a smaller number of concepts, this book is a collection of short stories, and except for a (connected/repeat) couple, are unique concepts. Imagine, 18 stories with ideas that would still be regarded as science fiction!

In addition to this, there are at least two factors that made me a fan. The first is that while the ideas themselves are wonderfully imaginative, the focus really is on the effect on humans and humanity. Nuanced explorations of how the human psyche functions and reacts when faced with profound moral choices. The technology, though advanced, is taken as a backdrop against which societal, psychological and philosophical questions are raised and consequences revealed. ‘The Hundred Light Year Diary’, for instance, where everyone knows their fate, or ‘Eugene’, in which a couple try to design a perfect child. Both stories featuring the ‘Jewel’ are a wonderful study on the idea of consciousness. ‘The Walk’ is a fantastic thought on ‘identity’. ‘The Moat’ I found particularly relevant in this era when we are facing a widening economic divide. More

Framing passion

A lovely Malayalam movie came out earlier this year – Maheshinte Prathikaaram – a simple premise based on actual events. The movie is set in Idukki, which makes for a great backdrop and also provides excellent material in the form of the simplicity of the people and their lifestyles. We saw the movie soon as it released and I loved it. Very few scripts manage to  bring together an enjoyable mix (read balance) of humour and poignancy, and it requires a well chosen and talented cast to execute it well. This movie did both.

While the principal narrative track (the revenge that is suggested in the film’s name) around Mahesh, the protagonist, is entertaining in itself, the idea around his father’s character – Vincent Bhavana – interested me a tad more. Recently, I saw the movie again, and now that I knew how it would play out, I could pay more attention to this track.  More

The Irish House

The Irish House had opened to much fanfare, going by my Insta feed, but we dropped in a few weeks later. That, and the fact that we were there relatively early in the evening – 7.30 PM – led us to believe that we’d get a table easily. That wasn’t meant to be, and I suspect that it has something to do with the Happy Hours till 8. First impressions weren’t great – the person they’d left at the door had no idea how to handle things when the place was full. We had to coax him to take down our number, and let us know when there was a table available. He kept letting people in (they never came back as they waited at the bar and took a table when it got free!) and was probably there just to open/close doors, and the lady who occasionally made a visit to the front door was probably in charge of this. But we could see that the poor thing was hassled enough, multitasking! Lesson learnt, we should reserve a table anyway! We thankfully got a table in 20 minutes.

A lot of wood, Irish green frills, and standard pub posters make up the decor, though the place is quite lively, especially the bar area, which has quite a lot of international beer brands on display. The balcony area did look promising, though we didn’t venture out. I took a picture of the hanging bike, just to ensure that I wasn’t imagining things on account of pub vapours! We had to wait quite a bit for someone to take the order, and when that happened five minutes after 8, we demanded justice – happy hour extension since we were seated and ready with our order before 8! It took a bit of debate, but they were nice about it. Yay!

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Decrees of Influence

‘Influence’ as a subject has been popping up on this blog since 2010, the last post sometime in Feb 2014. In about half a dozen posts, I wrote about influence in the context of the landscape and complexities, visibility-credibility framing, the data driven approach and its challenges, ‘micro celebrity’ price tags, brands’ usage of influencers as media, and my talk on influence at #WIN14.

Conceptually, I am all for “influencer marketing”. I know it can work in some contexts because of what we achieved with it in Myntra in 2012-13. But even further back, in 2010, thanks to a discussion on a post by Palsule, I realised that with web platforms, after a certain scale is reached, the culture starts resembling that of mass (media) and the ‘influencers’ as well as ‘influenced’ begin a relationship that’s familiar from a mass media era. (Influence CyclesMore

The Calcutta Chromosome

Amitav Ghosh

“The Glass Palace” is one of my all time favourites, and I find it difficult to believe that it was written by the same author. That is by no means a takedown of this book, in fact it is to the author’s credit that he manages to do such a fantastic job across genres!

I’m finding it very difficult to give a genre label to this work – fantasy, horror, thriller, medical mystery historical fiction – though sci-fi for some reason seems to be its accepted genre. The plot uses a whole lot of themes – science, mysticism, religion, mythology, counter-science, even nihilism to a certain extent. I can’t be sure but I also wonder if the author was firing a tiny salvo at a Western attitude towards Indian scholars, and how history has been written to glorify its authors. (non-objective and not giving credit where due) More

Kindred @ Kottayam

The predictability of the biannual trips to Kerala has been on the wane the last couple of years. To the extent that this year we have made only one visit, and it does seem the count will stop there! This year, our more extensive plan, which involved a cousins’ get together, was reasonably wrecked by the announcement of a nationwide bandh on 2nd September. A few of us though, decided to have ourselves a hartal holiday, and thus D and I found ourselves in the world’s first solar powered airport on the first day of September. The pre-arranged cab would take us to Kottayam, with a pit stop to pick up a cousin and his wife.

As we veered off NH 47 on to HMT Road, I realised I hadn’t been on this road in this millennium! NH 47 is apparently called NH 544 now, but I refuse, citing old age as an excuse! HMT stopped ticking earlier this year, I wonder how long the road will be a reminder – probably until local or national pride finds what they deem a worthy recipient. Meanwhile, the only landmark I could remember was at the beginning of the road – Food Craft Institute, which my mother used to visit for baking classes in the 80s. I looked around for the Toshiba Anand factory, remembering the replica of a giant Toshiba battery on a tower that could be seen from afar. Seems I was seeking a world that had been erased more than a decade ago. My last memory of the place was a staff quarters (I can’t be sure if it was KSEB or HMT itself) – we had relatives there and a kid, slightly older than me, had the only clockwork railway I had ever seen. Yes, it was a big deal in the 80s! I glanced around excitedly and then wearily, hoping for a few more tokens of the past, but the place had changed much, I really couldn’t remember anything more, and it was a painful reminder of how fickle, and out of one’s control memory is. After all, to quote Julian Barnes, “memory is what we thought we’d forgotten.More

Nasi And Mee

I think Nasi and Mee opened just as we were moving to Whitefield. But we had heard so many good things about it that a plan had been in the works for a long while. The plan just kept getting postponed, and would have continued to, but for a couple of friends who thankfully manage to be very unsympathetic to the rigorous planning with which I plan my restaurant outings! And thus we landed in Koramangala, on a rainy Friday night, after having spent the previous hour and a half trapped in an Uber in slow motion. Even as we were pointing out to each other the changes on 80 feet Road, Koramangala, we spotted Nasi and Mee adjacent to what can arguably be now called a heritage hangout – Rendezvous!

Somehow, the space manages to give itself a hipster feel, helped by a largely young crowd. Great buzz, and just the right amount of light for us older folk to see around, and look at the menu.

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