About manu prasad

Posts by manu prasad:

Wallet Wars

Recently, thanks to Uber having to comply with RBI regulations, I was forced to introduce myself to Paytm. The entire signing up episode reminded me of a post I had written in early 2014 – “The overhaul of currency“, though that dwelt more on the broad changes and implications rather than the functional aspects. Mobile payment systems have been on a fast evolutionary path for a while now. (a bit dated, but I found this infographic to be a good primer)

I also remembered a Seth Godin post from 2009 that called Twitter a protocol. On the web, the subsequent discussion then was that just as we were transferring links and messages on the platform, we would soon be transferring money too. That took a while coming though – it was only in late 2014 that Twitter released a payment service.  A week before that, a hacked screenshot had begun rumours of Facebook’s Messenger having the wherewithal for money transfer. But they were both late entrants in a market that was already crowded with the likes of Paypal, Google, banks, credit card companies and so on. Apple Pay would join later. More

The Last War

Sandipan Deb

Sandipan Deb’s rendition of the Mahabharata in Mumbai. This is obviously not the first rendition of the Mahabharata in contemporary events – Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel, Mani Ratnam’s Thalapathi, Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti – but this one manages to shift the scene to what seems like an apt arena – the Mumbai underground. Bombay is Kurukshetra and Bombay is the prize.

As with all the other renditions, it is practically impossible to fit all characters and events into the new canvass, so the author has been clinical in removing characters and reshaping events to fit his narrative. On a positive note, the interpretation is not altogether flawed, but is written very clearly on a simplistic level. Many characters have been well etched and can be seen as very close parallels of their originals. There are also contemporary incidents like match fixing, 9/11 etc which have been woven into the plot.

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Happy Tradeoffs

It’s in the nature of thought that it never ceases to exist. In Happiness: The End, it would seem as though I’d found the track I wanted to follow. But it isn’t ever so simple, is it? The books I read somehow seem to have words that phrase my thoughts just right

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The first roadblock I have found in the ‘happiness plan’ is sensitivity. It works in at least a couple of ways. On one hand, when I act with my own happiness as the key filter, I find it difficult to ignore the effect it has on other people. Do my actions make them unhappy? On the other hand, I am also in situations when others’ behaviour makes me unhappy but one or more constraints prevent me from doing anything about it. In both cases, I have to compromise.

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Vapour

There’s some sort of race going on between Indiranagar and Koramangala on the number of microbreweries. Vapour has been around for a while, but we had delayed the visit because of mixed reviews. But on a Sunday when we just didn’t feel like having Koramangala versions of craft beer, we decided to check out Vapour. Located on 100 feet Road, it’s actually difficult to miss! (map) It’s spread across four floors, and since we wanted à la carte, we had an option of sitting on the terrace or on the 2nd floor. Given Bangalore’s random rains, we chose a table on the second floor with a view of 100 feet Road. The decor seemed to be industrial. Pop culture wall art under the a/c to add to the coolness. ;)

The menu is pretty elaborate and has everything from North Indian to Chinese to Continental. We first asked for a beer sample set (You can choose 4 from the 5 available) We visited on the week they had launched a new beer – the Gotze Blonde, so we ended up with samples of the Dark, Wheat, Ale and the Blonde. The Blonde turned out to be the best of the lot. Wheat, Ale and Dark in decreasing order of preference. Beef wasn’t available so we ordered a Fish Chilly Pepper Dry, which was quite spicy and went very well with the beer.

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The Great Railway Bazaar

Paul Theroux 

Across Europe and through Asia in the mid seventies! Now that’s what you call travel – time travel for the reader. The journey begins in London, and after a bleak journey on the Trans Siberian express, ends there as well. There are thirty trains in this amazing chronicle, and they are as much about the travel experiences as they are about the culture of the age and the milieu of the countries they pass through. There are some excellent quotes I could identify with too eg. One always begins to forget a place as soon as it’s left behind. At one point, he also begins a short story that I have read in his later works!

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Memories & Consciousness

I was looking at the bookshelf a few days ago, and realised that though their relative position indicates they are among my favourites, I couldn’t recall some specific plot points and in some cases, even the ending, of some of the books! I was more than a little dismayed, but thankfully, found some solace in this post “How You Know“, specifically “Reading and experience train your model of the world. And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists.” It immediately set me thinking on the idea of consciousness and what technology can do to it, and it was a wonderful coincidence that the author too touched upon it towards the end of that post. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Two nieces have ‘happened’ to me in the recent past, :) and I have clocked a few hours with them. The older one is just over a year old and is in general, a happy child. In my erm, ‘conversations’ with her during her stay with us, I have wondered what she perceives of the world around her. This was probably influenced by the fact that I had just finished reading Michio Kaku’s “The Future of the Mind” (must read!) and the four levels (starts at zero – plants) of consciousness. The final level, where humans are, are distinguished because of self awareness, and our understanding of time – specifically the enormous amount of feedback loops. This allows us to simulate, in our mind, possible future situations, and go beyond instinct and even emotions.

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Tim Tai

Residents of Koramangala would remember Ping, which rose to stardom and fell from grace all in a few years! The same vicinity now hosts Tim Tai, which calls itself an Asian Deli. (right next to bon South) It exudes fun, from the moment you see its bright signage from the road. The interiors have a high ceiling, a tree almost smack in the middle of the floor (around which there is some seating available) and functional, yet chic decor. The general cheeriness is also evident from the ‘Gurus @ work’ sign above the kitchen. Having read that it gets crowded by 8, we arrived early and managed to get a seat in the alfresco area, which even has a little waterfall.

Though they don’t serve alcohol, there is a drinks menu with a fair amount of choice. (menu, incomplete) There is also a separate dim sum menu as well. Another thing that reminded me of Ping. When there’s Tom Kha, there are no discussions. We asked for two small portions, and I also decided to check out an Asian Mary.  (that’s a drink!) That, and the Banana Wrapped Grilled Chicken with Sambal’ made up our starers. The soup portion size worked just right for us and it was excellent in terms of taste as well. It was actual coconut milk (not the stuff made from powdered versions) and had a nice kaffir lime tang for some flavour in addition to the galangal and lemongrass. The drink was guava based with tabasco and a pepper rim that made it spicy, sweet and refreshing all at once. The Chicken starter should not be attempted if you don’t have a tolerance for spice. But if you do like spice, you’ll love this one! The menu also has satays, Asian salads and cold rolls.

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Chasing the Monsoon

 Alexander Frater

The monsoon – a phenomenon that has India in a tizzy every year. To me personally, the monsoons are a treasure trove of memories, associated with the various Junes that have been part of my life – childhood, college days, work – different places and different times. So I picked this book with quite some interest.

Frater’s prologue tells us about his intent and motivation, but I’m afraid it tends to get a bit technical and I wouldn’t be surprised if people stopped reading the book because of it! But the chapters that follow are completely different, so do persevere. The first chapter is all about the immediate trigger that made the author set out – chasing the Indian monsoon from “where the rain is born” (to quote Anita Nair) to the wettest place on earth.

Trivandrum is where it all begins and the author captures the tension across the country around the beginning of the monsoon pretty well. The weather forecasters, astrologers, politicians, and even regular folks – all have their theories and perspectives. One of the things that makes the book really good is the author’s reading and chronicling of the milieu he has been pulled into – sociocultural, economic, political and so on. His meeting with Kamala Das, the death of John Abraham, (Malayalam movie director) the Ambassador car’s preeminence, all add flavour to the narrative.

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Artificial Humanity

In Natural Law, I had touched upon the idea that we will have to make choices as a species in the context of the role of artificial intelligence in our lives, and how/if compassion towards each other would play a part in these decisions. As I watch thoughts and events unfolding around me, I am beginning to think that it will most likely not be one crucial decision later in time, but a lot of smaller choices, made at individual and regional levels now, that will shape our society in terms of acceptability, morality etc. And so, just as I wrote in a post around five years ago, that we might not be able to recognise the final step we make in our integration with AI, there might be an increasing inevitability about our choices as we move forward in time.

What sparked this line of thought? On one hand, I read a New Yorker post titled “Better All the Time” which begins with how a focus on performance came to athletics and has now moved on to many other spheres of our life. On the other hand, I read this very scary post in The Telegraph “The Dark Side of Silicon Valley” and a bus that’s named Hotel 22 because it serves as an unofficial home for the homeless. It shows one of the first manifestations of an extreme scenario (the nation’s highest percentage of homeless and highest average household income are in the same area!) that could soon become common. The connection I made between these two posts is that increasingly, there will be one set of humans who have the will and the means to be economically viable and another much larger set that doesn’t have one, or both. This disparity is going to become even more stark as we move forward in time. I think, before we reach the golden age of abundance, (if we do) there will be a near and medium term of scarcity for the majority.

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Puma Social

Puma Social (map) is one of those places that people half our age flock to on Saturday nights. So we arrived there late, on a Sunday afternoon. We arrived on a social vehicle – auto-rickshaw – but I think there is valet parking. 12 PM is the official opening time as per Zomato, and we got there by 1, but they requested an additional 10 minutes to set things up! We pretty much had the place all to ourselves (except for an older couple and their kids) and after surveying two out of three floors, decided to sit on the second. The place has definitely been around for a while, and the biggest proof is probably the state of the decor and menu cards. (sauce smudges) But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a pleasant space. The bar stool seating at a few tables isn’t the safest bet after a few drinks but we weren’t planning a lot anyway, so we choose them. The place began filling up a bit after we had placed our orders. Those video cassette ashtrays, I thought, were a cool touch. :)

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From the menu, we asked for a Coconut Chicken soup, the best way to begin a meal on a windy, cloudy day. It wasn’t very spicy but was thick enough with just the right amount of lemongrass, and we quite liked it. Meanwhile, I had asked for the Jack Hammer and D, for a Mai Tai. They weren’t really generous with the Jack Daniels or the honey in my drink and with the dry Martini and pepper, it made for just an average drink. D’s drink, with the almond syrup added to the standard white and dark rum, was a much better one. More