neoteny |nēˈätn-ē| noun Zoology
the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal. Also called pedomorphosis.
Come to find out that this retention of juvenile features in the adult wolf is what made dogs in the first place. We as human beings created the dog by stealing wolf cubs from their mothers back in the cave-day, and raising them as our own. By stealing the pups from their wild state, and then breeding them in a domesticated setting, we in essence, created the tail-wagging, droopy eared, and somewhat domicile creature that we love and pat on the head today.
When you think of it, it was caveman technology at it's finest... we created a companion in 999 BC just as Sony did with the AIBO back in 1999. The AIBO was a robot dog that ran off a memory stick, but was in production for just three generations and is now defunct. Compare that with the real dog, breed through countless generations, and you can see why the living-eating-shitting-barking variety has endured. It was made using better technology: the genetic manipulation of a species through domestication. In other words, we patiently molded a biological life form into a format that closely fit our needs of the time.
This active crafting of a life form has changed over the years, from producing dogs that work for a living: hunting, herding, protecting – to dogs that do nothing for a living outside of looking pretty when tucked inside a pocketbook. Dogs, once used to drive the cows home, are today more often seen working in Hollywood than out on the range. But the neotenic development of the dog did have some interesting twists and turns, and reverse engineering was also employed...
For example, breeding the domesticated dog back with wild wolves produced a more wolf-like variety, and created the German Shepard along with other larger breeds. A longer snout, more alert ears, and keen pack behavior was breed back into the domesticated dog by crossing them with the original model: real wolves.
The "Nepali" Shepard that lives in our house is a shining example of how ingenious humans are when it comes to shaping the world they live in, instead of just letting things be. This man-made creature is just about as programmable as the Sony AIBO was, only you can do so without the use of a wireless device and a laptop... just natural voice and finger gesture commands will do. Krypto also has adaptive learning built in, something yet to be created using silicon chips and cheap plastics. This model also has a storage capacity of about 3,200 bytes (about 400 words), and has GPS built in. The memory capacity of the dog may not sound like much when compared to your iPod, but dogs manage that memory millions of more times efficiently.
The differences between a robot and a dog are not all that much outside of the superior artificial intelligence employed. Krypto has free will, something Sony was never able to reproduce. For example, when out walking Krypto, he calculates the easiest and safest routes back to the house. If I signal to use a route that is less efficient and more dangerous (i.e. there are more threats and less interesting trees) he pulls in the other direction, stubbornly. The "heel" command in this case is first ignored, and then as his neotenics take over, he capitulates with a look that expresses, "Why are humans such dumb asses?"
It's that look, those eyes that express such exasperation at his Alpha leader that make me pause. Sonny, the humanoid robot of "I, Robot" fame, gave Will Smith that look quite often during the movie when Smith's character Del Spooner was doing something rather stupid. And in this way, my dog often makes me feel pretty darn stupid. Like when I throw perfectly good food in the trash, or try and walk straight thru a pack of barking street dogs late at night.
My dog also gives me this look when I stay up all night typing, staring at screens that make little sense, when both he and I know that we should both be sleeping. And when complete strangers come to the door - he just can't comprehend my lax attitude at such a potential threat – come on, bark already, he seems he would say to me if only his kind were programmed to speak.
But as the ages move on, perhaps someday dogs will gain the ability of speech with our help. There is already a dog on YouTube that can say "I Wruve You" quite convincingly. Perhaps all that is needed is some bionic assistance, in the form of an artificial voice box with the right neural implants to make that so. (Note to researchers: please don't tear open living dog brains in order to figure this one out – that would be cruel).
But as the human species moves forward, dragging other species along with it, it would be interesting to see DOG as they will be in 500 years or so. Will technology be such that canines along with primates and other mammals have the ability to be programmed right along with our other iDevices of the future? Can humans use the hand of God, so to speak, to create a domesticated dog so advanced that they will be able to tell their masters to "frack off" if need be?
Krypto would appreciate that function right now, as he looks to me with that expression that says, "Come on, you're late for our walk, get off that damn computer already!"
This week I began testing the new OSX Mountain Lion, which is Apple's next incarnation of cat that powers your Apple computer (Snow Leopard or Lion, most likely), and one glaring aspect popped out at me at the end of this grueling session: not much changed.
It's like the biggest software giants on the planet are producing innovations in interface design (the part of the programming that we see) about as fast as a snail can run. I don't get it. Companies like Apple and Microsoft have armies of programmers at their disposal, and they literally are forces, with chains of command and rigid protocols, most marching lock-step to commands communicated through Wall Street.
Instead of sweeping changes warranted by the sale of almost uncountable smartphones, tablets and computers, we get different colored icons or gestures on screens that we can't touch, but look like it would be cool if we could. Changes to both Apple's OSX and Microsoft's Windows 8 are miniscule if compared to the changes that "could be" done... And this small amount of change every few years is inexplicable, even for someone as myself, who spent over a decade building IBM screens that once faced millions.
I can't imagine what they are thinking now, all those youngsters in Redmond and Cupertino. Do they think that "we as users" like having so many passwords that we need software to manage them? Do they think that we actually enjoy searching through billions of web pages just to read the news in the morning? Do programmers imagine that we are satisfied with our sorting through millions of files just to find a baby picture of Uncle?
No, they can't be that cruel...programmers can't be to blame. They must be like soldiers during war, the lowly Private First Classes, who want to end the insanity, but are powerless to do so. They are just fodder for the cannon – and ultimately expendable. At IBM, I felt sad for the lot of us.
It has to be a group dynamic – the larger the group, the more professional, the more funded, the more potential – the less is actually produced as far as radically new approaches go. Corps are conservative by nature. For example, after three generations of software development, OS screens look like any other, and don't really invite us in, or allude to any chance of having a good time.
Coming from dorm rooms and out of back-room parties is where the masses really get something that they like to play with and use. Facebook and Zynga have figured out how to capture our attention and eyeballs, where they stay glued to screens for hours on end. This is something that not even cold hard cash will draw us away from - it is a virtual heroin. We need it more than a shower – this just in from a major US Poll. What is on our screens is terribly important to us, even if the Help click is totally useless, who cares - we want the juice, without squeezing very hard.
But for us old [BLEEPS], we've seen Apple do a Cityville 18 years ago when they rolled out eWorld, which cost USD 8.95 per month for a semi-social service that ran between June 1994 and March 1996. It looked like my city in Cityville (a deserted outpost) or my dead farm in Farmville. eWorld never did evolve 'cause along came AOL (You've Got Mail) and eWorld imploded into dust in a tech instant. So goes the software industry, one second you are MySpace, the next you are lost in the space-time continuum of commerce, ready to reappear via the butterfly effect, or so it seems. But Cityville is eWorld done better, decades later and for free.
What eWorld wanted to do back then (when the mobile phone was no smaller than a brick) was to create the illusion that your computer screen was something from real life, tied to your life, and ready to become your personal assistant, or friend, or TV, or whatever you wanted the little beige box to be. Then the Internet gave our screens even more personality, it gave us real people, live or in pictures and video (much of it illegal or distasteful) – we love it! But unfortunately, all our operating system's interfaces (like Windows XP) just give us headaches and indecipherable error messages – complete with blue screens of death! We don't get what we want, which was a virtual world designed by ourselves, and that is easy and fun to use – with lots of different things to do.
Granted, what you look at today on computer screens is an improvement over what we had 20 years ago, but do we have the patience to wait for something really cool, like an Apple Cityville on Steroids, in essence, a virtual reality computer portal built by the user? Or is waiting 18 months for a blinking icon that tells us it's mom's birthday really blazing the way forward? I don't think so.
Large dysfunctional families can produce a lot of rotten children, and we have seen our share, tech-wise. MS Vista will remain one of the most retarded in software development, and was quickly replaced by something less disappointing – Windows 7 – working but looking pretty much the same as before. And as OSX Lion is about to become the next Vista, shoved under the corporate carpet just a year or so after release, we are going to be left with abstract interfaces that are mediocre at best, especially when compared to real-world interfaces. We are also left knowing interfaces could be better, but who will make them so?
So you just plunked down tens of thousands of rupees on a new eBook reader, and you are ready to fill your device with millions of pages of literature, comics or just plain fluff, but holy cow - look at those book prices!
EBook stores like Apple's iBook Store, Amazon's Kindle Store and Barnes & Noble eBooks are all great places to shop, but books there are going to set you back, on average, at least Nrs. 800 each. They also require that you have an International credit card or PayPal account to complete the transaction and download the book to your reader.
However, the web is full of sites offering, "free downloads" of eBooks in a variety of formats to fit your new eBook device. The only catch is that many of them are uploads from readers who are violating the IP and Copyright Laws of the land. Yet, there are many works in print and now in eBook format that are, as they say, in the "public domain" and ok to distribute electronically or otherwise, you just have to know where to look...
These legal and free sites are all of varying quality and offer the eBooks inconsistently in format - but if you can live with that, then there are tremendous savings to be had and hours upon hours of good reads. So here is a short list of sites that should get you started on filling up your own personal library with some of the greatest free and legal books available:
Gizmo's Freeware (http://tinyurl.com/446places)
Gizmo offers legal software as well as free eBooks on their well-organized site that has consistently been in PC Magazine's list of top 100 sites, year after year.
Here you will find book collections listed alphabetically or by genre. Actually, this site is an aggregate of other sites vetted by the moderator tagged mr6n8 at Gizmo, and he says this about the links provided, "I have tried to make certain that all of the eBooks at these sites are legally available for viewing/downloading. However, it is possible that I have made a mistake."
Mistakes withstanding, the links here point to the vast majority of eBook repositories of works in the public domain, as well as to author's site who give their permission to read and share their publications without payment. The genre links go along the expected lines: Biographies, Business, Comics, Computer & Internet, Horror, Mystery, Romance, etc. This is a great place to start if filling up your device with classic works is paramount.
Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org)
This website is from the very first producers of eBooks, and has indexed over 38,000 titles in various formats, some meant to be read online but many meant to be downloaded to your device. There is no registration required, but donations are happily accepted.
Here you will find a decent search tool for finding books alphabetically or sorted by popularity and even by language. While most books are in English, there are a fair number in French, German, Finnish, Dutch, Chinese, etc. and even a few in Latin and Esperanto, in case you are a student learning another language.
The site has "bookshelves" - just as in a brick n' mortar shop – where you can find virtual shelves containing Children's Books as well as Banned Books, plus 120 or so other categories. Once you find a book of interest, the site offers handy tabs for download formats, a short bibliography, and social interactions such as Like to Facebook and Tweet to Twitter. Most eBooks come in ePub, Kindle, Plucker, and QiOO Mobile for easy compatibility with various reading devices.
This website is rather unique, as it allows registered users to create and share their own bookshelves with others, as well as add comments and reviews of the books that they read. ManyBooks has over 29,000 titles in more formats than most sites I've seen, to include Rocketbook and Sony Reader versions. There are even formats there for antiquated PDAs like the Apple Newton, if you happen to have one of those still. This site also has a "Random Book" selector and you can sort thru some selections by book covers in the Cover Image Gallery. But outside of the eye candy, you will find all the expected ways to search: by author, genre, and title.
This website differs from others as its dedicated to the reader who likes to use their ordinary mobile phone to read books, instead of a dedicated eBook reader like the Kindle or Nook. The books are formatted for many mobiles on the market like the Blackberry and Nokia, and the books can be found and downloaded directly to the phone when connected to the sister site: mobile.booksinmyphone.com. Users can SMS links of good books to others via their mobile, so friends too can "share the love" with each other. It's not clear how many books they have catalogued here, as the font used on the website is tiny and very hard to read if you’re an elder like I am.
This popular website is very much like ManyBooks.net described above, but is filled to the brim with other items besides free eBooks: Blog posts, Latest News & Articles, Tips & Tricks, and a section on Tools & Softwares will appeal to the eBook enthusiast on many levels.
In addition, members of this site are uploading their own works everyday, and you can even select to be tweeted when your favorite author completes a new book. This seems to be the premiere place for indie authors to share their works and communicate with their reading public. It's also a great place to find out about the latest in eBook hardware and apps, as well as to find other essential eBook reading advice.
E-books have been around for a while now, although with the lack of decent reading device, penetration into the reading populace at large has been less then revolutionary, despite e-reader sales in the tens of millions. But Amazon has plans to change that with the impending release of the Kindle Fire, a device that looks to be just what the reading public wants in an e-book device.
But to better understand the new device, one has to understand a bit about the company that is manufacturing them: Amazon has long been an igniter in the realm of reading, with Amazon’s online book ordering service dominating the playing field...to the point of pushing other book distributers asunder, and selling paper books in the millions per year (with revenues in the tens of billions).
Take for example Borders Books, once a conglomerate of over 600 stores and 20,000 employees, now history - due in fact to Amazon’s amazing success at selling paper books online, and negating the need to ever leave home to buy a book.
Yet this year Amazon has posted another amazing statistic: more e-books sales than paper book sales! For every 100 paper books sold in 2011, 115 e-books have also been sold. For the first time in human reading history, people are favoring electronic versions of books over the old-fashioned paperbound book.
Industry analysts attribute this shocking switch to many factors, but one contributing stands out amongst the crowd: Amazon itself. Just as Apple revolutionized the way we purchase and listen to music, Amazon is doing the same for the way we purchase and read books. Following the playbook left by the late Steve Jobs, where he often said, “It’s not about technology,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is playing the same game, and instead of rolling out technology, is rolling out a simple user experience.
Now for most of us in Nepal, this new user experience is a bit hard to grasp, and could be for some time to come. First off, one needs a credit card to make a purchase on Amazon.com. Then one needs a Kindle device to read any book purchased. The good news is that this experience is possible through Harilo.com (A Nepali website offering ordering and delivery from anywhere in the nation), and here are the prices in Nrs:
Original Kindle - 8,506
Small, light & fast with Wi-Fi
Kindle Touch - 10,856
Touch screen with audio
Kindle Touch 3G - 15,029
3G connection to Amazon, for free
Kindle Fire- 21,289
The works, with color and more (not available for order until 11/15/11)
The experience goes like this for all Kindle users, with many new features for the Fire described later:
• You unpack your new reading device, charge it, and power it up.
• Then you connect the Kindle to the Internet, just as you would any laptop, phone, or PC. The Kindle is then direct-connected to the Amazon bookstore, where you can browse from millions of titles - some free, but most costing anywhere from Nrs. 781 to 1172. You can view previous reader’s comments and reviews before you make a purchase, just as you would do on the official website.
• You purchase and download the selection using your international credit card, and off you go for a read. Kindles, depending on model and amount of onboard microSD memory you have, can store well over 200 books.
Now what makes the latest and greatest model, the Kindle Fire, so impressive is that this device turns the idea of a dedicated book reader on it’s head, and instead, gives you more of an iPad-like experience for ordering and reading books – as well as doing other tablet-like things to boot.
First, the Fire is the only color LCD using e-ink technology, which makes reading hours on end doable for the average pair of eyeballs. Second, the Fire is not just an e-book reader; it’s really a tablet like the iPad or Samsung Galaxy, only the Fire is just 7” worth. The Fire is also feather-lite, as compared to most all other tablets, so that means you can hold it like a paperback well into the night. And thirdly, the Fire extends itself as a game device, music player, and viewer for over 100,000 movies and TV shows – as well as magazines and web pages as well with the all new included web browser app.
All for just under Nrs. 21,288.57 (includes Harilo.com fees).
Why so cheap, you wonder? Amazon (like Apple) is after your heart and soul when it comes to electronic media consumption and has decided to sell the Fire under cost. In other words, they are subsidizing the hardware in hopes that you purchase the software (in this case: the books, magazines, games and applications).
It’s a bold move, but one proved profitable by the Apple iTunes store, which is now the biggest retailer of music in the world. With the Fire and a huge media library already online, Amazon hopes to do the same with everything else left out there without the little “i” in front.
1. Impatience kills, or does it?
You are in a rush, but common thinking and multitudes of warning messages tell you that pulling out hard drives and pen drives from your computer will destroy your precious data and ruin the computer, but is that really so? And what about just pushing the big red button to instantly shut down your work, instead of waiting ages for the "Shut Down" click to gyrate your box and close your computer gracefully?
Well as it turns out, it depends on what type of computer that you have. Because of the way that an Apple computer handles its files, repeated and abrupt power-offs (as in the case of loadshedding without an invertor) can mangle the system bad enough to warrant a software repair. However, in tests done with Windows 7, no amount of abrupt power-offs or yanking of pen drives was ever found to be harmful, outside of error messages from your system. So, Mac users want to have a copy of Disk Warrior handy, which will fix any such mangling in just a jif.
2. Macs are safer than PCs, malware-wise
This urban tech legend is actually true, as statistically speaking, you are less likely to become part of a Russian Bot-Net or get phished into some scam if you are using an Apple computer, but common sense is still required, even if Anti-Virus software is not. The one scam that has suckered Mac users is ironically called MacDefender, a phishing scam that gets you to buy fake anti-malware software for your Mac, just adding insult to injury once you realize you've been duped. (PC users note: up-to-date anti-malware is absolutely essential.)
3. Airport Security will fry your data like eggs
Not that I would trust most of what the TSA says about anything, in this case, believe them when they say today's scanners are safe for hard drives, memory cards or whatever. Multitudes of tests have been run, and modern media can be safely scanned. Conventional film is another matter, but who carries that around anymore? Just leave your mason-jarred cupcakes at home, and expect your baby's diaper to get inspected instead.
4. Do Specs really matter?
For those fretting over a new tablet, laptop, or computer, here's a tip: forgettaboutit if you find yourself pouring over device specs like they were answers to the meaning of life. i5 or i7? 16mb or 32mb? 2.4 GHz or 2.8? To save you a lot of time and headache, just follow this simple rule of thumb: buy the latest and greatest of whatever it is that you want, at the price that you can afford, and then be happy. For those that need the specifics, focus on reviews posted on sites like tomshardware.com or pcmag.com/reviews for info on full system performance. Btw, all Macs are living proof that lower-spec'ed machines can work just great – no worries there.
5. Defragging & Partitioning hard drives is something you should do
Let's take defragging first; unless you are a professional video editor or someone with a huge multimedia library to maintain (as in terabytes), you can forget about the torturous defrag. It takes hours, and you will never see the benefit. Partitioning is indeed another thing, and the rule there is to partition your computer so that your data is separated from your system and applications. So for example, PC users can have c:\windows and d:\data that enables them to do sane backups and restores as needed. It's good practice for Mac users as well...just don't forget to regularly make clones of your partitions to external drives.
6. Big Brother is watching, so you had better watch out
This is a bit sticky, and opinions go from tin-hat conspiracy theories - where Big Brother is watching intently - to attitudes like, "What the heck, I've nothing at all to hide. My recommendation is to go down some middle road, and try not to put so much of your activity "out there." Downloading pirated software from torrent sites is not exactly legal, and from a tech standpoint, is easily traced. Whether or not anyone here is doing the tracing here in Nepal is an open question...or in other words, would your ISP report on you if asked? I made a small tin foil hat from left-over takeaway wrappings, and I keep that in plain sight as a reminder: big brother may be watching.
7. Turning off your devices when not using is a good, green idea
Nepali conventional wisdom says turn off all appliances when not using, as there isn't a whole lot of electricity here to waste. Western culture often thinks otherwise, where IT departments recommend never turning off anything computerized, perhaps in fear it won't ever start back up, and that would require a service call...but Nepali wisdom wins again, as turning computers on and off really is no big deal...they won't break in that way. So power-down everything in sight if you don't need it running.
8. Never letting your laptop battery die will shorten it's life
Some of my friends have laptop apps that tell them they have run 30 hours, and it's time to let the battery drain. Actually, all those apps really do is to calibrate your onboard software that measures the battery in the first place. Some folks also think that today's batteries have "memory," and the battery needs to be cared for like a mental patient. But the truth of the matter is, today's laptop batteries need no maintenance whatsoever - just top it off whenever you have loadshedding hours to do so, and then forget about it.
9. Fancy power strips are a waste of money, and cheap Chinese ones will do
This is one that I could rant on about for hours, as it's really dangerous to plug in anything here. Hi-tech appliances are not made to work well here in this jungle of electrical wiring and dubious standards of service. But good news on that front, as Belkin-branded power strips are available on the market for just a few hundred rupes more. Ya gotta get them if your devices are to have any hope of living a long and useful life in Nepal. Never mind the Nrs. 50,000 of insurance that comes with - what you want is a stable strip that can withstand a few shocks, and keep those surges from getting to your sensitive power supplies. Macs are notorious for burnt-out power bricks that will just ruin your day – in a flash!
10. You don't need a good Internet connection 24x7 with today's devices
This is my favorite myth debunked, as I have so many friends in Nepal that think they can go buy a fancy new device, say a tablet or an iPod or a new macbook, and not have a home internet connection of some substantial speed. The costs of a good Internet connection (256kbps and higher) needs to be factored into even the simplest of iPod purchases these days. More grown-up devices (PS3, laptop, flatscreen TVs, etc.) are even more dependent on the Internet then ever before. OS Updates, new apps, new YouTubes, new news, etc. are all things that need to constantly stream down while you are sending your life's story up to Facebook.
In order to humanly curb the growth of our dog problem, two KTM groups have been working very hard for many years, implementing what is known in the Animal Welfare biz as ABC programs - jargon for spaying and neutering, or in simple talk: sterilization. Both the KAT Centre (in the north end of town) and Animal Nepal (in the south) have been out doing this work, and as a result, fewer pups are born each year that would quickly die on the street. For example, KAT sterilizes approximately 120 female dogs each month, and each one is also vaccinated for rabies, dewormed, and treated for existing illness or injuries. Additionally, both KAT (www.katcentre.org.np) and Animal Nepal have a rescue programme where each month, a hundred or so injured dogs are picked up, brought in to a center for treatment and vaccinations, and then returned to the corner on which they were found.
Both orgs have facilities where expert medical teams perform surgeries, shelter animals as needed, and act as a hub for animal welfare in the Valley. Here they also provide training and awareness raising, and even offer up healthy dogs for adoption. And this week, Animal Nepal has embarked on a new model for helping those pups that live on the fringes of the valley and beyond, where the incidence of rabies is greater and domestic animals and wildlife are living closer together.
Typically, when a village confronts the problem of overpopulation in the street dog community, the solution is poisoning. Strychnine-laced meat is laid out, and the doggies gobble that up and are dead within hours. Outside of the cruelty of this method, its also a very stupid idea that puts other animals (such as crows and cows) at risk, as well as the local population of humans who can also get sick from this form of animal control.
A much more humane, safe and cost-effective solution is this new idea of a Catch-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release week (CNVR). During the CNVR, and in a matter of days, volunteers within the village are recruited with the help of the Animal Nepal team and the job gets done right. Local clubs are mobilized to help catch the loose and wandering dogs, and local monasteries offer support in cash and kind. Vets volunteering with Animal Nepal perform the treatment, and within months following the CNVR, the population of dogs will stabilize and eventually decrease. In addition, the overall health of the dogs is expected to greatly improve.
This week's Pharping CNVR proved to be a great success (many congrats out to them), and was kicked off by dozens of volunteers establishing a temporary operating theatre. Day 2 was a round-up day, and the next day was spent giving treatments. Following a 24-hour recovery period, the dogs were returned where found: happy, healthier, and now unable to reproduce like rabbits. The CNRV also included a community evening at the cozy Trinbha Café, and there I gave a multimedia presentation on animal welfare to a most enthusiastic crowd.
Lucia DeVries, one of the founders of Animal Nepal and active in Nepali welfare for over a decade, had this to say about the first-ever doggie CNVR in Nepal:
"This is the way to go. Transporting dogs into the Valley over difficult terrain is tough and expensive. CNVR is the answer to dog management in rural areas, as this way is much more efficient in setting up a barrier against rabies, as well as getting more folks involved during the process. Pharping is now a bit better for all those that live there, including the dogs."
Overall, I felt great after participating myself, as did all the other volunteers. And I was reminded this week of the words of my dharma teacher, the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, who said, "If you want to be unhappy, help yourself, and if you want to be happy, help others." And in this case, many of those "others" were unborn pups that would have died miserably in the streets without the help of dozens of gracious volunteers within the Pharping community.
For more information on how a Village Health Camp can be organized in your community, or on animal welfare in general, please contact Lucia DeVries of Animal Nepal (firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.animalnepal.org).
But the idea that fleas adapted over the millennia to feed from more easy-to-pierce skins (mammals vs. T-rex) also reminded me of the human condition. As a species, we have adapted to suck the lower-hanging fruit over time as well. Just in my lifespan, I've adapted - using technology - to find an easier way to do things – like read the morning paper - and to spend less energy on the mundane, finding more efficient ways to fire up whatever brain chemicals that it takes to produce pleasure. Unfortunately, humans also seem to feed in order to produce pain as well, which brings me to the topic of nuclear disarmament...whoops – another bounce!
As a kid, I was trained to hide under my school desk in the event of a nuclear disaster and then literally kiss my ass goodbye. We had fallout shelters with glowing signs and loud air-raid sirens used during fallout drills. Now we have newspapers and jihadist terrorists that essentially do the same thing, only without the loud horn and signboards. We live in fear, fear of flying or of flying things hitting our office building, fear of technology being used to invade our private lives, and then there is that fear of insects biting us as we sleep in a hotel room. And of course there is perhaps that greatest fear of all, the fear of never waking up again, regardless of the bugs.
But dharmic teachings tell us not to fear, but to instead prepare for death, which I always thought was sound (if not morbid) advice. However, this topic (imminent death and preparations thereof) is sure to be a party stopper, and not one that attracts a larger readership in a newspaper, so I better bounce again before I begin to lose you...
Student Shoots Other Students in Ohio, reads the next headline... another Columbine happened this week, where a shooting spree in an Ohio high school cafeteria claimed the lives of 3 more youngsters, bringing the total recorded shootings in schools around the world to over 50 incidents in the past 7 years alone. The issue of gun control will arise once more after the Ohio deaths, but quickly fade from the ever-shortening media cycle that we have these days. Still, it's one of my fears, ever since being a student teacher at Columbine back in the '80s and a postal worker in the 70's: the fear of being shot to death at work. (No wonder I've retired early.)
It's those little fears that add up, don't they? The fear of hiking in the woods and getting sawed up by Mexican drug smugglers or psychotic inbreeds... the fear of eating something that will give you cancer or the fear of a face-eating virus finding it's way into your morning egg and toast... the fear of a bomb blast from a suicide bomber, or one just left idly in a car.
Our own quiet Nation had one of those just this week - reminding us that living in a poor, and some might say, obscure little country in the middle of nowhere, that we are not immune to instant, senseless death and dismemberment. Even if weapons of mass destruction where never found in Iraq, they are really everywhere we go, as our species seems to have WMDs inherently built in. Unfortunately, we humans have not yet evolved on the same evolutionary scale as the mosquito, which has learned how to suck blood from its host without giving pain (at least not until after it's done and left).
"California sunlight, sweet Calcutta rain
Honolulu starbright - the song remains the same."
Led Zeppelin, 1973
Humans seem to continue to make the same silly (and often deadly mistakes) over and over and over again. By contrast, my dog Krypto reminds me of this everyday. Canines rarely, if ever, make the same mistake twice. Once Krypto has stuck his huge nose into a flame, he never does again. He never sniffs motorbike pipes, and in fact, he is wary of most things human-made. Yet we, as the superior beings atop the brain-chain, continually step into the metaphorical fire almost everyday, repeating over and over the mistakes of our past, even though we have one of the most advanced recorded histories of any being that has lived on this earth. So surely, this history must register somewhere...
But right now, after reading the news and reporting back to you, there is a really bad and blaring band right outside my window, signifying that yet another spring wedding season is upon us, and with that will come new births and new life and perhaps even new ideas for repairing the human condition, within which everything so far has remained the same.
This week the news of another star's super nova into the beyond hit me in ways I would not have expected, with Whitney Houston being found dead in a bathtub surrounded by empty prescription pill bottles. She apparently was having "One of Those Days" ...
"Tonight, it's all about me
Just wanna set my body free
Never mind the TV
Tonight I'll just let a little TV watch me
Light the candles, aroma therapy
Hot tub bubbles surrounding me
Mr. Big is in the background
The Isley Brothers gonna hold it down..."
Lyrics from One of Those Days, 1998
I have never taken the idea of suicide lightly, as for as far back as I can remember, suicides have taken a bit of the life out of myself as well, from Janis Joplin to past friends to a recent family member, those lost lives have left me feeling a bit less alive as well. The tragedy of losing a loved one in this way, whether it's from within your own bloodline or from memories of standing in a long concert line to see a favorite star, the loss is tangible and heartfelt.
But the demise of Whitney got me thinking along the lines of why o' why do entertainers who seem to have it all, give away their life so easily? So of course, I googled "Why pop stars commit suicide" but learned little from the blogosphere. Snide comments and trivial explanations abound there... from comments that could not be repeated in any newspaper, to bland explanations of depression, dollars, and addiction.
But what if suicide is not such an unnatural act that many of us want to make it out as; and even though suicide hurts everyone - what if suicide is just as natural as anything else between birth and death that we can muster up? Or is suicide the unnatural (and in many cases illegal) act that our governments, priests and parents tell us it is?
I did have the thought that entertainment-industry suicides might be an occupational hazard, like slipping on a microphone cable, since it does seem that within the industry, suicides of grand performers seems synonymous with success. So prevalent is performer suicide, that there is the Encyclopedia of Suicides in the Entertainment Industry, authored by David F. Frasier, who chronicled 840 twentieth century cases, and was inspired to do so after preventing singer and actress Marianne Faithfull from dying of self-slit wrists. From Acland, Chris to Zanuck, mistress Carol Landis, this book is a diary of death for some of the greats of our time.
Of course the artists that I remember off the top of my head where all rock & roll suicides, which in my time, even the music was considered a major cause of teen suicide: Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Tom Evans (Badfinger), Michael Mackenzie (INXS), Vincent Crane (Atomic Rooster) and many more. And then there are the drug- and alcohol –related deaths that technically were not suicides, but overdoses instead: Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Sid Vicious, Brent Mydland, Tommy Bolin, and perhaps even Michael Jackson could be included here if one counts doctor- assisted overdoses.
All westerners so far in my research list, so I had to ask myself: was entertainment suicide a western phenomenon? Apparently not, as when googling up Asian Pop Star Suicides, I found plenty - mostly from Japan, China, and Korea. My Asian suicide search also lead me to another disturbing statistic a bit closer to home: Suicide #1 Cause of Death For Nepali Women.
Huh? In a study done by the Family Health Division of the Department of Health Services Nepal, it was found that suicides led in the cause of death for woman of reproductive age by 16%, nearly double for accidents at 9%, followed by what the researchers were expecting to find (maternal health issues). Contributing factors to this high rate of woman suicides is said to be mental health, relationship, marital problems and youth in general, as 21% of suicides noted were women under the age of 21. There was no mention of drugs, alcohol or fame being a contributing factor here.
So where did this leave me in morbid contemplation? Since America ranks 41st in the world for suicide rates, and over 30,000 Americans end their life this way each year, with older adults disproportionally choosing to end their life in this way, and with tough economic conditions listed high on the list of causes, I don't think dead pop stars in bathtubs are the folks that the mainstream media should be making all the fuss about. It seems everyone is doing it, and in greater numbers then ever before.
"Nearly 3 years after Gorka families won the right to live in Britain, one army town (Aldershot) has problems. Someone is going to end up dead..."
The report is about troubled teens and racial tensions in the southwest suburb. It seems that Nepalese kids and "the whites" are not getting along, and that the tight knit Nepali community (now called Little Nepal) is sticking to themselves - enjoying dal bhat over fish & chips, wearing topi and in short, not playing nicely together. So concerned citizens (the whites) have organized a football match and a website, while the Nepalese have invited some of the natives over for curry.
The report struck me as odd and prophetic at the same time. Odd that Nepali kids would ever act rude and unruly (emulating local skinheads) and prophetic that football and food would be the "solution."
My inter-racial neighborhood growing up as a teen was a new housing development consisting of a single street in Poughkeepsie NY – two long rows of houses flanked Maryland Avenue, with a small open space at one end. At one end of the street where "The Greeks" and at the other end were "The Irish Catholics" and in the middle were "The Jews." Sprinkled amongst this mini-melting pot were the rest of us, just average Americans of no disconcernable background.
The open space at the end of the development was the place where all of us kids hung out: playing all the ball games during the proper seasons, and ice hockey during the winter when the grass was flooded to make a small rink. On the field, no matter what the game, we were just kids at play with all denominations included. The only singling out there was based on skill and nothing else, were you a looser or a hero? However, I do remember that the fat Jewish kid got the lion's share of teasing during the games, but he could not catch a ball to save his life, so I suspect this was the real root of our "racism."
So what disturbed me the most about the BBC report on Aldershot's "life-threating" problems is that it seemed manufactured, with the end goal to produce a BBC spot for Inside Out. The spot starts with an inflammatory and threatening tone, and ends with a "bring it all home" football match that is inclusive and concludes with Nepalese and Brit kids all shaking hands.
Perhaps these stories are needed in 2012, whereas in 1970 they were not. People of all races and backgrounds in both America and England just worked it out, despite government programs and without much media attention. (Well, there was the movie "To Sir With Love.) The dedication of both teachers and parents helped bridge any gulfs between the races.
It seemed a simple formula back in the day: racism was rooted in fear, and overcoming one's personal, as well as societal fears, was a process helped along by those older and wiser, and with hormones that had settled. After all, back then we all understood what Michael Moore says repeatedly today, fear is a tool of government control, and as a teen in the 1970's, none of us wanted to be controlled by anyone at all, let alone the government. We inherently understood who the enemy was, and it was not the mixed lot of us, but the "man."
Our Civics teacher gave us the theory behind how we could all get along together, and our experiences outside of school was the training ground where that theory proved itself out. Also, my parents did not tolerate intolerance, and for those parents that did, my friends wisely rebelled.
But today, most states in America no longer have Civics classes that explain the difference between mob rule and libertarianism, and England must be following suit, considering that the mob now rules (see last year's London riots for handy examples). Instead, civics class has been combined (or obliterated) by national History classes and classes in Economics.
In the west, we no longer teach our children how to live together in civil society, but instead, we let them figure it all out on the battlefield - in the streets or on a ball court, and then later in the military or in the business world. And while this trend may disturb, I have faith in the next generations: even without proper civics education, the innate wisdom in which we are born with (tribes need other tribes to survive) will prevail. Anyway, let's hope for that...
Well, you know me, I am not really a political animal, and I don't like to get political in this column, as it just gets me into trouble and also bores the tears outta readers. But this week I just had to come out with a declaration on the state of modern politics: what a joke!
Take America for example; as they are gearing up to hold presidential elections again and Party hopefuls have a Super PAC started by a major TV comedian. That's right; Stephen Colbert & Co. is spoofing the (some would say corrupt) strategy of pumping corporate dollars into political campaigns with several hilarious campaign adverts. The "Mitt Romney as Serial Killer" spot is killer, and narrated by actor John Lithgow. Here is just a bit of the transcript:
"Mitt Romney has a secret...if Mitt Romney believes that corporations are people, than Mitt Romney is a serial killer... meet Mitt the Ripper (background scream). Brought to you by a Better Tomorrow, Tommorow."
In another faux advert, Colbert pokes fun at "Cornography," a piss take on Iowan's love for corn in this politically influential state that farms a lot of grain.
So many funny things to say...but should there be? Why are politics such a joke, almost worldwide, with politicians being the butt of so many crude jokes? Shouldn't the people that govern the communities of the world, or want to govern them, be taken seriously? But how can they be, when so many act foolishly on global television (e.g. YouTube).
It's no surprise that Mitt Romney has a "take me serious" problem when he appears on a live TV debate and muffs up his story about being a great white moose hunter (no sorry about that - elk hunter). When American politicians act like clowns, it's no surprise they are taken as one.
So all week long I have been asking every Nepali I met what they think of Nepal's politicians, just in case Nepal was an exception to this seemingly global rule that the major politicians of today are all just a bunch of buffoons.
"Those guys are a joke."
"Same old, same old."
"Nothing ever changes."
"The new ones are worse than the old ones."
"They say one thing, and do another."
So the answers went...not a single positive comment all week long...
Then two things struck me like dropping balloons on election night: 1) the fact that Steve Colbert used an age-old Nepali axiom when naming his fake campaign organization: Bholi, Bholi (Tomorrow, Tomorrow) and 2) a story circulating in the mainstream media that postulates why American politicians campaign as someone they are invariably not. Why do Harvard-educated lawyers or businessman want to be known as country bumpkins or everyday common folk?
The theory astounds: Recognizing that America is 80% non-agricultural, the theory is that most politicians don't recognize that stat - they still see the voting America as simple farmers and people who live off the land. Pandering to the poor, the earthy, and the common person. But in Nepal, we have the opposite, hoina? 80% of us are agricultural in nature, yet politicians here seem to want to be something else, or they say one thing and do another - according to my limited survey conducted.
So this Herojig Solution was cooked up after considering those two points: Why not set up a Politician Exchange Program, or PEP, where American wannabe (as well as current) leaders come to Nepal, and run for and hold office for a few years. Likewise, Nepali politicians would replace the slots left vacant by the American ones. You know, like the foreign student exchange programs from high school. The clash in political culture would be amazing, no?
Americans holding office here would get a chance to see what real problems look like, and see how hard they are to solve with very little budget. No longer could they waste frivolous time and money on trying to look like John Wayne cowboys, instead, they would have to figure out how to get electricity to folks. Clean water, abundant petro, and infrastructure programs would be back on the agenda for them, instead of endlessly debating gay marriage.
And Nepalese politicians would have a blast in American political offices, where they could learn some real neat tricks. Perhaps even learning the one where you trade clout with corporations in return for big wads of Super PAC cash. The learning opportunities for both sides are endless. (Although I suspect that America would be getting the better deal in this trade.)
Well that's my solution; what's yours?
I distinctly remember this time last year, as on Jan 1 2011, my family and I moved into a new flat. Then, there was no water in the city tank to take a shower, hot or otherwise, and now there is none as well.
There was no electricity to heat the water even if we had some, and there is no water now.
I also remember planning a drive to a local health club, just to clean up, but there was no petro then, and there is very little now.
Giving up hope of taking a bath at home or outside, I remember just taking a bath in imported hand sanitizer, just as I did today. The selection of imported hand sanitizer at my local department store is tremendous; at least 5 different varieties packaged in all shapes and sizes. (I find the Himalaya brand to be the best for those "larger" washes.)
Its incongruous that one can live in a country where there are hundreds of brands of imported Italian pasta packages, perhaps thousands of types of French wines, with bottled capers from Spain, but not enough home heating to keep ice from melting on the kitchen countertop.
Last January I was pretty chilly writing my article, and today I can't feel my fingertips either. It will be 2 P.M. soon, and my daily sunbath will then thaw my numbed fingers and toes, just as it does with the all the street pooches and outdoor-market sales personnel. We are all cold, but hopeful for warmer days.
As another calendar year has ticked by, it's this outlook of brighter days ahead that keeps us all going forward. I met the son of the owner of the World Trade Center (Teku) the other day, and he filled me in on the history and philosophy of building huge new shopping malls in a city almost collapsing under the weight of ancient infrastructure. It all has to do with thinking of brighter days and saving money now, since the expense in the future will be much greater.
I have to admire that kind of forward thinking. Building the World Trade Center 6 years ago means that millions of construction Crore are saved, instead of waiting to build an outlet for international merchants just 5 - 10 years from now. Even if the malls today are filled with the same commodities that you can find in the parking lot in front of the National Zoo, at some point in the future, when Armani and Gucci and all the rest decide to set up shop in KTM, there will be space for them, ready and waiting to be redecorated in a BKK over-the-top style.
All that's needed now is to wait for the shopping middle-class to arise and ascend the escalators of nouveau opulence, that appears to spreading like the H1-N1 around the globe, slowly but surely. But is this foresight, or optimistic dreaming?
Are you high up in a think-tank tower, such as the one being built in Sanepa, where a two-bedroom 1,000 square foot condo is pre-selling at 87 Lakhs? Or are you more down to earth with your thinking, and imagining small microbusinesses selling organics as the way to our prosperity?
I am not an economist by any means, but I do follow trends shaping the world economy, and find our near neighbor Bangladesh to be of interest. The garment industry there exploded back in the late 70's, and with just a little investment in training and machines, folks there were able to invent a garment industry that went from nothing to 700 factories in just about 5 years.
So what will the explosion be for Nepal? We are all waiting and wondering...
Folks over on the LinkedIn website have an interesting discussion going on in this regard, and for anyone interested, I recommend the Nepal Development Forum (http://tinyurl.com/7bblpkp) for a lively discussion on the future of this fair country. From inclusion to pollution, everything of relevance is being yakked about there.
Is Tourism the way, or perhaps Botanicals? Should the Government do more? What role does Business and Banking have to play? What about Remittance and the Youth of Nepal? Will all the youngsters be lost abroad, or stuck at home playing Cityville on Facebook?
All great questions and topics of serious or idle conversation, but I suspect that next year at this time I will be writing about the proposed answers, still with freezing fingertips, no water in my tank, and without enough petro to drive out to find a hot bath.
"Deck the halls with lots of candles, Fa la la la, la la la, Tis the season to discard one's sandals, Fa la la la, la la la, Don we now our insulated apparel...
Or something like that.
The point here being, that as a nation, we have moved into our annual season of making do with so much less. Less heat, less petro and kerosene, less electricity, less sunlight, less - you get the picture. But being of hardy stock, we do so with less complaints overall, if one were to grade our grumpiness on an international curve.
For example, football fans at Chicago's Candlestick Park suffered a 10-minute power outage at a recent NFL game, and commentators were surprised that the fans did not react by tearing down the park and stampeding towards the gates. Also, in the western states of the US this week, the weather there caused power outages of up to 12 hours and that resulted in a run on all 7-Elevens, as folks thought the apocalypse was certainly upon them, and no one wanted to be caught without snacks in their final hour.
In fact, seriously bad mood swings this time of year is very common outside of our small nation of have-nots; as portrayed in any of the disturbing new video reports posted on YouTube: "Woman Pepper Sprays Shoppers Over Xbox", "Fight Breaks Out Over Bath Towels Marked Down to $1.88", "Melee in Arkansas Erupts Over $2 Waffle Iron", "Manhattan Store Fails To Open At Midnight, So Shoppers Break In And Loot".
While most of this insanity is based around holiday shopping, depressing behavior during the winter season has always been a hallmark of the west. This is evident in the newer social mediums of the day, such as Facebook, which has a new feature for reporting suicidal friends to the authorities. Even Google will post a Suicide Hotline phone number in your browser if you search on terms like "how to kill myself" or "I want to die."
But western psychologists and doctors are now justifying bad behavior during this season of "merriment and joy for all." For example, the December Journal of Pain reports on research showing that swearing (really foul language) produces a pain-lessening effect for folks whose language is usually clean. In other words, if you are out of pain pills, just curse to feel better. In addition, the University of South Wales reports that being grumpy can help you cope better during demanding situations, as being nasty to others is one way your brain "promotes new information strategies."
If this sounds like an attempt to justify bad behavior to you, I have to wholeheartedly agree. Can you ever imagine HHTDL saying to followers, "If you want to be happy, make others unhappy?" No, of course not, but this seems to be the trend in the western teachings of the day. What else could explain the shopping riots in Wal-Marts all across America?
So coming back to our predicament here in KTM, where we don’t have much of anything, comparatively speaking, why then are we so happy all the time?
My shopkeeper at our local cold store is just one example; he stands in an unheated box all day long, selling bags of chips, smokes by the stick, and dozens of fresh eggs - all at near zero margins - yet never has a bad word to say or a frown on his face. Even when candles dimly light his shop, one can see that this human being is at peace with the world and his place within it.
And from where I stand in Dhobighat, it's hard to find one Grinch amongst us, even as prices for tea and sugar shoot thru the roof, and the roof is doing nothing to hold back the winter mists that can chill one to the bone. So "why is this" I have to ask! How come here in Nepal there aren't riots at New Road malls whenever there is a 10% discount on flat screen TVs? And even more astounding, where are the burning tires as load shedding is increased to 12 hours or more per day? I'm not sure, so you tell me...
Well, while I discovered many cool possibles, I also uncovered several impossibles at the moment, and I wanted to cover this to ease your expectations somewhat...
First, these newer TVs have tiny internet applications built into the firmware of your set, that when connected via your home router, can do some interesting things, like display YouTube videos or your Facebook page. So now you can view "Baby Monkey, Baby Monkey, Riding On The Back of a Pig" in full HD and 5.1 surround sound. In addition to the bazillion bad home videos found on YouTube, you can also have your Twitter feed or Facebook notifications displayed side-by-side whilst watching SAW 3D: The Final Chapter. With a new Sony Bravia TV, you can even have all of that at once, using the picture-in-picture feature. The human race has come this far; meet the smart TV.
Putting this silliness aside, a Smart TV has many advantages over one that cannot connect. For example, the firmware of your Smart TV, which by the time you unbox it has undoubtedly been updated with bug fixes and new features, can now be updated from the web in just a few clicks of your remote control. Computers have done this for a decade or more, and now TVs are up to par on the maintenance end.
Another advantage that a Smart TV has is the potential to connect to your computer and to display things like photos and movies, and to even play music from your various iPod-like devices. This potential was what first excited, and then arrested my enthusiasm once I got into the try-to-do phase.
New Sony Bravia TVs, like the EX720 or NX720 found on the local market, come with a USB dock for your iPhone or iPod - so that gets you a little closer to sharing movies and whatnot from your computer library where you have all stuff stored. Smart, eh? If you are like me, you have a vast music library of MP3 files, and GBs of downloaded movies and TV shows. But loading up a phone or music player with goodies, and then plugging that (or even a flash drive) into your TV for viewing, seems like an added and unwanted step - after all, this is supposed to be entertainment, and not an exercise in geekinease.
Yet a Smart TV can get to your computer content directly over a wireless connection, but right now you need an intermediate "thingee" to make that so, such as a media server like the Xstream sold at HD Nepal, or an Apple TV sold at most KTM Apple shops. However, after plunking down over a lakh for the TV, I didn't relish running out and spending more if I didn't have to. So after a bit of research, I found another solution that saved me thousands of rupees to essentially do the same thing: stream content from my computer to my new TV.
VUZE software (www.vuze.com) is advertised as "the most powerful bittorrent app on earth," and after seeing the VUZE icon pop-up in my TV settings menu, I am now convinced that they may be right. Here is how it works: you install VUZE Plus on say a laptop, and then download any of the millions of decent HD-quality movies and TV shows available online for free. After they are finished downloading to your computer, they are made available to your TV over your wireless connection. This feature of VUZE will cost you an additional NRs 1900 per year, as "Device Playback" is only found in the Plus version of the software, and not in the free version. But wow! - rupees well spent to have access to all the true HD content that is being shared by what seems to be everyone on the planet.
The VUZE model is simple, you do a Google-like search for any movie or show that you want to watch, select from the available list, and download. This is great for us Nepalis who don't have access to US-only services like Hula and Tivo. The content found in VUZE is top-notch, and TV commercials have already been trimmed out, thus avoiding the brain-drain of watching an endless stream of Star TV Fair & Lovely adverts.
In short, while I just love my new Sony EX720 – kudos out to Bikram at the Sony Kantipath showroom – I'm disappointed that my Smart TV came out of the box slightly retarded. But with the innovative software package VUZE, at least I did not have to run out and buy a media server or some other doohickey just to get to the media library stored on my computer, and instead, I can simply download quality content that I want to watch, and then be onto the show.
Now, as we enter into a lovely and early Nepali summertime this 2012, I am happy to report that on the freakonomic front, our investment in Apple has paid off. Here's how the Freakonomics of purchasing a Mac computer works: you pay twice as much (initially) but your computer lasts at least three or four times as long.
For example, my 4-year old MacBook Pro laptop cost twice as much as a comparable windows-based laptop in 2007, but is still going strong today and running the latest Apple operating system just fine: OSX Mountain Lion. That's four iterations of the OS (Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion, Mountain Lion), and still this box is not yet obsolete. But come summer of 2013 (hardware withstanding), this MBP will have to be retired if I want to continue running the latest and greatest software (and of course I do). You see, Apple has announced it will replace OSX each and every summer from here on out, so in the summer of 2013, Mountain Lion will be replaced by another yet-undisclosed feline.
But on another front - the continuing battle with malware on computers - Macs are not faring as well as before. In the past few months, a Trojan called Flashback has hit Apple users, and it's a rather insidious bug. If a user accepts a fake security certificate presented and purportedly signed by Apple, then all userids and passwords stored on that machine are at risk of being sent home to Black Hat Incorporated. In other words, you are scroomed. But to prevent that from ever happening, all you have to remember is two things: 1) don't accept fake security certificates, and 2) install the free and fast virus scanner called VirusBarrier Express from Intego.com. It's a beautiful app and a no-brainer to run, and there is even a version that protects iPhone users from various security issues.
Another freaky freakonomic that applies to both Macs and PCs is this: for every file that get's put on your hard drive, there is probably another one of equal value there as well, just wasting space. Eventually, enough of these duplicates will fill your hard drive and require you to buy another. So to save money on hard drives (which have gone UP in price this year and not DOWN) than just get a copy of Gemini, The Duplicate Finder. This is an elegant app that costs just NRs.400 in the Apple App Store. For PC users, the equivalent is Auslogics Duplicate File Finder, which is free and easy to use, albeit without the cool interface.
I recently did my annual spring-cleaning using these tools, and from all of my terabytes of saved movies, music, photos and whatnot, I saved myself about 128 GB of space - the equivalent of a very small hard drive - or in freakonomic terms, about NRs.1000. Depending on the type of HDD you use (either the mechanical variety or the expensive SSD kind) your savings could be even more.
Another freaky app that a friend turned me onto recently combines the GPS in your phone with Google Earth Maps to give you a live interactive compass – for FREE! I have a lot of friends into trekking here, and I bet you know a few as well that might have a hardware dongle hanging around their neck that tells them what direction they are walking, and also records waypoints and whatnot along the way. These usually run about NRs.4000 and require constant charging just like your phone and everything else. But now with Commander Compass Lite, you can have a much better display of where you are and where you are heading, and did I mention, it's FREE!
The unique feature of this app is that it overlays a traditional GPS compass display over a Google map of your location, and allows you to see where you are, and where everything else is as well (for example, a new coffee bar that you might want to check out). Commander Compass turns your iPhone (and later this year your Android) into a MILSPEC, Tactical, and Gyro device that eliminates the need to carry another device just for these purposes. But what I like most about it, and would probably use for the next time I party in Pokhora, is the feature that let's you mark a spot, like where you last parked your motorbike, and then find it again in the morning. Oorah!
Well, if you want to share some techie Freakonomics of your own, click on over to myrepublica.com and just append them to this article.
As an ex-inner city American, this brave new world living under evil online influence is no different than the old world living with muggings, break-ins, and petty theft...only the locks have been changed - they are now on my browser windows instead of my triple-paned glass ones. Instead of writing down PINs on the back of business cards and keeping those in my leather wallet, they are now locked by some indecipherable technology inside of my Google Wallet. Instead of trying to remember passwords with my dog's name and the birthday of my beautiful wife, I have software that generates new ones in strings of encrypted alpha-numerics locked deep in the bowels of my computers and phones.
Yet, with all of this new encryption and daily security updates from hundreds of software packages, I know deep in my heart it's all a facade, as we are truly living under an evil shadow, from which currently there is no real escape.
For decades now, security advisors from such notables as Microsoft Corporation have repeatedly warned us to keep our online identities and details safe from prying evil eyes, yet today www.microsoft.in is down, hacked, with all of it's customer's names and passwords compromised.
And this new MS story is not unique; as there are multiple stories per week of some site being hacked and some large group of user's info being compromised, or of some new vulnerability we need to be aware of and some new security patch that needs to be applied. It's an endless loop of update, hack it, and update again.
Just like fighting crime in the real world seems like a war that will go on forever, so does fighting cyber-crime in the brave new world we find ourselves in today. Our Google Wallet, if lost, will expose just as much as our leather ones. Storing our credit card info online is akin to dropping our plastic cards on the open ground - just waiting for someone to pick up and use. And there seems to be no end in sight...
With group names like Anonymous, EvilShadow, Legion of Doom, Cult of the Dead Cow, and Hacktivismo, hackers and hacktivists alike create and discover vulnerabilities called rootkits, backdoors, trojan horses, and distributed denials of service. Some work for the fun of it, some work for the common good (let's call them hacktivists), and some work for Chinese or Russian botnets with a much more nefarious intent, but rest assured, someone is working out how to break into an online system that you use today.
The solutions offered are laughable: 1) stay offline – not gunna happen for anyone in the future, 2) protect yourself by staying up to date on the latest in security – impossible to do as our resolve weakens over the decades, or 3) spend money on new and improved software tools like Norton Internet Security, along with a host of others – ha – another sad joke on the online consumer.
The situation we find ourselves is predictable, and follows this rule of law: follow the money. We find ourselves embroiled in that age-old adage, "money is the root of all evil." Some folks have it, most don't, and there are millions of people out there trying to steal some. Just as the saying goes "for everything online, there was an once an offline equivalent," it seems that criminality is no exception. We have and still do live under an evil shadow of malcontent and petty crime.
The broader question of WHY is worthy of investigation, and has been for some time. Matthew B. Robinson, author of "Why Crime? An Integrated Systems Theory of Antisocial Behavior (2004)," starts at the cellular level, looking at our DNA and the role of genes and the heritability of antisocial behavior. Another popular explanation of the "root of all evil" comes from Robert Agnew, as described in "Why Do Criminals Offend? A General Theory of Crime and Delinquency (2005)," in which he looks at personality, family, school, peers, and work for the cause of our lack of self-control when it comes to "doing the right thing."
Personally, being the old-school socialist that I am, I think the solution will only come with a global and equal distribution of wealth, but perhaps the technological answer to cybercrime will be a futuristic way of regulating serotonin levels, or even a nanite reconstruction of faulty DNA within our population. Until then, best to keep your eye on your Google (or leather wallet), and continue to trust nothing online as the evil shadow continues to grow over everything we do online - all in the knowing that whatever we do, it's most likely a futile attempt.
I have had an RE Bullet 350 since 2004, and I am convinced it's the best bit of machinery produced during that decade, anywhere...
Some folks love their iDevice, but I love my bike because it's the farthest thing from anything starting with a little "i" that you can buy. Up until just a few years ago, these classic bikes had nothing more complicated electronically than the headlamp. The engine was something from a time past, when steel was forged with bare and bruised hands and the parts ball-peened hammered by humans - and not bent by wild-armed T2-like robots.
But I am not one to get caught up into the romantics of yesteryear (although I do wish my phone still had a real keyboard), however, there is something to be said about the simplicity of design with old-world manufacturing... until of course you are broken down on the side of the road, wishing you had bought a Japanese bike.
This is the appeal of the Royal Enfield, whose marketing slogan of "riding a piece of history" rings true: you are riding atop tech that's so ancient it reminds one of the Flintstones. For example, while other bike manufactures are now thinking about how to make an electric battery-driven engine sound like a combustion one, RE has just added Electronic Fuel Injection. And while other bikes have dashboards that resemble an iPhone app (and may soon be run from one), the RE display still has you calculating the amount of fuel in your tank – in your head!
Now I sound like my father bemoaning the death of the slide rule...
With the 2011 models, RE is trying to bring these classic bikes out of the slide-rule age: replacing engines, CEO and manufacturing facilities, and many of the bike's fundamental mechanical systems. And ever since the bike appeared in a recent Harry Potter movie (opening scene of Deathly Hallows Part I), sales have been brisk, with enthusiasts now buying over 50,000 units a year from dealers in over 30 countries.
New CEO Dr. Padmanabhan (previously employed by GM and Daimier-Chrysler, with a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburg) has been quoted in the press saying that even more improvements are forthcoming from their new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility... a new Café Racer, Parallel Vertical Twins in the 650-750 range, and even a regression to a diesel-powered bike dubbed the Himalayan Touring.
Yet I wondered, can a new dual-sparked engine with electric start and a new 5-speed transmission translate into what I own today: an inexpensive form of transportation that looks & sounds romantic, and can be left sitting in a yard for months on end, and still kick over with one try?
So I went to my trusted mechanic who works at the new Himalayan Enfielder's Workshop in Jhamshikhel to find out...
Me: "So what do you think of all the new improvements you've seen for 2011, and what you know about what's coming; will the RE be a good bike for the Nepali rider or not?"
Mechanic: "Good bike, good mileage, good power, and a good engine...what's not to like?
Me: "Flat out, be honest, are the new bikes better than the ones sold 5-10-20 years ago?"
Mechanic: "Old is gold. I prefer the bikes from 20 years ago."
Me: What's the one improvement this year that you like? And what's the one improvement that you don't see as one?
Mechanic: "The one I like is the new fuel injection system, the one I don't like is the automatic (hydraulic) tappets with this new engine design.
Me: "If you would, what new model would you recommend for the Nepali rider to purchase, and what is the cost?"
Mechanic: "The Bullet Electra...350cc, costs under 4 lakh.
Well, I trust this mechanic (as I have a high regard for anyone who can fix things today that were designed in the 1950's) so my takeaway from the interview was that my 2004 Bullet is still a great bike, and for those that need a new one, the 2011 Bullet is a good option...but one important note to all: the new models don't sound like the old ones (thump, thump, thump) but they can be modified to sound just as they always did...just ask your mechanic how!
The responses were all very different: Wolfman Jack on a transistor radio, Heavy Metal on FM stations over a home stereo, Am talk-radio in the car, pop songs on a Chinese Zune knock-off... but there was one common thread amidst all the responses surveyed: they were all rooted generationally in the technology at the time of your discovery of radio.
For example, someone my age would recant hearing CCR banging out ballads on one of dozens of rock stations - on a really nice Pioneer receiver (tube type), with giant JBL speakers in wooden cabinets. A Gen X'er would recall when Sony went wild and sold a bright yellow cassette Walkman with an FM Tuner. My mom remembers listening to FDR's Fireside Chats while huddled with neighbors around what would now be a vintage RCA radio box. Radio is a technology that ticks off a calendar date in the chronology of our lives, no matter where on the globe you first tuned in.
But lately I've upgraded from not listening to radio at all (for almost two decades) to listening everyday to Internet Radio. I passed over Satellite Radio and all of that subscription nonsense. I fuzzed off traditional FM when I moved to Nepal, refusing to suffer through Bollywood numbers posing as jingles. But now I'm really onto Internet Radio. I can't get enough. It's free and live, condensed or podcasted, and even playing at 2x. It's not the content that brought me back home, but this new way of delivery – over Wi-Fi and playing on all my computer-related devices.
Playlists that update themselves with all new episodes of Garrison Keillor, and all kinds of other great shows: 60 Minutes, Art Bell, and Fresh Air from NPR. Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers in Car Talk, live NFL Football games, and of course all the "serious" news from the homeland on Fox and MSNBC. This new-fangled internet radio has Facebook Likes and all that social stuff, plus I can listen to the radio on any device that I happen to have handy: phone, laptop, iPod, whatever. There's an app for that!
The app I like best is called Stitcher, and it's available (free) for the iPhone, iPod, and all Android devices. It's radio heaven in the cloud. It's a website where you can set up your own stations, choosing from whatever radio programming you desire, and then stream to whatever speakers you have in front and/or behind you. It's amazingly simple once set up... you just press Play or Pause. Pre-recorded programming plays commercial-free and resumes where you left off. The search box let's you find more programming in case your favorites begin to bore. And the world is your radio oyster with Google under the covers.
Internet Radio also plays well in this Internet backwater set up for us by NTC, World Link & Broadlink. Internet Radio is stutter free here, unlike trying to watch a YouTube video. You can get radio streamed even if your bandwidth is only 256kbps, and that means that your phone can now double as an international portable radio even on the most fragile of data plans. However, playing Internet Radio from a webpage is fraught with problems, so getting an app like Stitcher is the preferred way to handle your radio feeds.
But when I asked folks older than good bottle of scotch if they had tried anything like Stitcher or Pandora (another Internet Radio app), the answer was always "No" along with a blank stare. "What are you talking about; radios have dials, no?"
Apparently no more, the dials have been replaced by icons on haptic, retina, LCD and touch screens. Built-in equalizers with Bluetooth earbuds, volume that rises if you just tell your phone to "Play louder," and automatic muting whenever a call comes in are almost standard features today. The radio of "my day" ran on D batteries and had a telescoping antenna that was invariably snapped off and lost. The radio of today has an invisible antenna built into the outer edge of the glass smartphone case, and uses batteries that you never see.
Yet the same winds of change that may have temporarily reinvented radio are blowing in another direction. Recently, Pandora stopped streaming to anyone with an IP address outside of the USA. They say it's due to "licensing constraints" – read, "the moneygrubbers hate being unable to capitalize on your listening." After all, radio has always depended on sponsors and the ability to sell you useless products while you listen.
But for now, try Stitcher, and see if you can get your favorite station online and in your pocket
But to better understand this development, one has to pick apart the clutter of confusing offerings now called "Internet TV."
Let's first look at the device-near-extinction known as the TV set: traditionally thought of as a device that combines a tuner, display, and speakers for the purpose of viewing live or pre-recorded content over the airwaves. Well, that sounds like any run-of-the mill computer when you think of it...and folks have been thinking hard about this for years now, and are finally starting to shape all our devices (laptop, tablet, PC, smartphone) into something that resembles the traditional TV set.
The TV tuner of the future is really your Internet connection and a specialized website (at both the front-end and back-end). Somewhat successful examples of this tech can be seen in its raw format at Youtube, Hula, and on other webspots. It's not a coincidence that your logon to Youtube is called a "channel," as that's supposed to represent your own mini-broadcasting station. But for anyone that's used Youtube (and by statistics that would be most everyone on the planet, with billions of videos uploaded and watched each day) we know that sitting in front of Youtube is not like sitting in front of the old portable black & white Sony found on many a cold store shelf.
That TV experience is much different than viewing stupid pet tricks on YouTube. That's because Youtube does not really fit the model of traditional TV: the content is not necessarily professional in production, and there is no discernable schedule of live shows or other pre-recorded content. In short, when you compare Youtube to a traditional TV, Youtube comes up looking more like a circus than anything else. Hula (www.hulu.com) goes a bit further, using web technologies to fashion real channels and offer real TV programming for a fee. Unfortunately, Hula is available to USA viewers only.
Coming a bit closer to a real TV experience is Google TV, which is a bit of firmware built into many of the high-end LED TVs on the market today. What Google TV (www.google.com/tv) does is to wrangle many internet TV stations into one interface, and upgrades your traditional TV set into something more like what we want to see in a real & free internet TV device. Unfortunately, requirements for entry into this world of new-age TV include: a high-end LED TV, more Internet bandwidth than practical for the average Nepali, and once again, residency in the US.
So where does that leave us, folks outside the USA who wish to just watch plain old TV on any device lying around the home or office? And is StarWorld on Jawalakhel Cable really our only choice at the moment? (Please shoot me now if it is.)
Well, googling up "free internet TV" gives you millions of seemingly good options, but beware the scam! Most of these links will lead you to this site: www.satellitedirect.com, which is run by the unscrupulous company ClickBank. What you pay for there is a near worthless application that conglomerates thousands of video-streams across the Internet into one interface. In short, it's a confusing portal to dubious content that you could have found on your own using Google search.
The streaming sites thru ClickBank are mostly faulty in the sense they are not optimized for web streaming as is Youtube, Hula, and Netflix. Netflix.com is another pay service available to US customers that streams popular movies on demand, to any device that you own. But NetFlix will does not work in the ClickBank application.
So in short, free or paid Internet TV is not quite yet in prime time the world over. We have fragments of solutions just waiting to be put together intelligently. One such company has started to do that is called NeuLion (www.neulion.com) - the producer and the wholesaler of the technology responsible for the Internet TV network called NFL Gamepass (gamepass.nfl.com). Neulion has managed to leverage the backend technologies as employed by Youtube and other video streaming sites, with a frontend that more resembles Google TV, but is made available on any device with an Internet connection - complete with traditional TV content and commercials.
NFL Gamepass allows you to see past ball games, as well as current games coming soon, such as the 2012 Superbowl. Gamepass works here in Nepal just fine on low bandwidth connections (256kbps). Granted, this Internet TV network is not free (costs about Nrs.6000 per year) and would only be of interest to diehard American football fans, yet it's not hard to extrapolate the possibilities if other content providers start to use this same model. Imagine all of StarSports content being provided via a NeuLion mechanism with super fast-streaming content, program guide for past and future shows, multiple screens of content at once, all with chat facilities and other social network connections.
In my mind, this is where the industry needs to go, and content restrictions full of legalese seem to be the last impediment at getting there. The ability for broadcasters to create a proper tuner out of a website is here, but the question remains: when will they do it? But at least for now, with my NFL Gamepass, at least I can watch the 2012 Superbowl in real-time as broadcast from America - on any device I have laying around the house.
Who the heck is he?
- Jiggy Gaton
- lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.