Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The future of Cyberspace

Two weeks ago, I bought a Samsung Galaxy tablet phone. And then everything changed.

I don't mean to sound dramatic, but it's actually quite true. Life with a tablet pc really is different from life with a lumbering desktop, or a heavy laptop that keeps overheating (or running out of battery time?) or even your everyday smartphone, with the micro-sized screen and the teenie meenie keys which can be so hard to press sometimes.

It's true that the galaxy tab is a great product; I've never been quite as happy with any purchase in my life. I would even imagine that there's some prestige to owning a tablet pc, because they're new, they're trendy and only so many people have them (about 10 million or so?).

But that's not what makes it I 'life-changing'. In fact, its not even the galaxy tab.

It's the new cyberspace that these devices are giving birth to. And its a revolution in progress.

Why do I think so? Well, consider the way you use a tablet pc, or a smart phone for that matter. The first thing I saw when I turned on my device was a bunch of icons representing 'apps'. At first there was nothing special about them. They were just like your usual icons in windows. You press one and it takes you to YouTube. Another lets you access Facebook. Even your mailbox requires an app to access.

I fell so in love with the absolute simplicity and convenience of using apps that I just forgot to use my laptop. I didn't turn my pc on for a week (except to download content for my new tab ;) ). In fact, I stopped using the internet completely, even at work. It was just so much easier to use an app.

And then it hit me.

The app had officially become the gateway for me to access the internet. I could download as many as I wanted for free, but at a price - some apps asked for access to my phone records and location whereas others could change the contents of my phone's memory.

This apparent trade-off between free-content and information on the user is interesting, but not altogether unfamiliar. Websites depend upon this information to generate advertising revenues. To a considerable extent, Google and Facebook's business models capitalize on user-base information.

But so do government's, for taxation of course. In fact, when the French revolution took place, people fundamentally made a trade-off by gaining civil liberties in exchange for the consent to be governed, and taxed. Of course, to put this into practice, the state needed to know who each and every citizen was.

Maybe I'm taking a big leap here in making this parallel. But maybe not. Maybe tomorrow, some trans-national corporation with revenues exceeding the entire GDP's of countries will determine how we interact in cyberspace by holding the keys to the doors, the very apps we have come to love.

Here's what's interesting about an app. It is digitally signed, which means that you know who the developer is and that it can't be modified. It is designed for a specific OS, which in my case is Android, and which also incidentally determines how much you can do with it. It is content-rich but also content-specific, in that you can only use a Facebook app to access Facebook, period. And finally, it can access information which you agree to let it (voluntary disenfranchisement? :-$ ).

Essentially, in a world where everyone exclusively uses apps, you would have this mass of consumer information. It could help companies understand markets better. It could increase efficiency overall by helping them design products better, and bring them to consumers more quickly. But one things for certain, this information will bring about a transformational culmination to the globalization of information.

What does the future hold? The new cyber-space could be a lot more consolidated, and app makers could hold the keys to unlocking precious information on who's who, what they think, do, like or dislike. It could dominated by a few firms striving to implement their vision of the perfect world (like Standard Oil and the Seven Sisters?).

Or perhaps a world full of diversity and choice. In either case, i'm quite excited to find out!
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Sunday, January 23, 2011

A trip to downtown Saddar

This week i took a trip to the electronics market downtown to get my mobile phone fixed.

It was a black Nokia E51 executive handset. Undoubtedly a good phone, a special phone; in some respects, I prized it as a kind of family heritage, because my father had given it to me. Of course, electronic goods can hardly be passed down from generation to generation, because they become obsolete almost instantly after that are introduced. So call it lack of rationality if you will, but this PARTICULAR phone was my phone, and I really wanted to look after it.

Of course, I hadn't ever 'looked after' a very many items before in my life, and this phone was no exception. It was literally falling apart. It needed a new battery, a new display, a new keypad, and a new cover.

It was no small joy, therefore, to realize that I could easily procure inexpensive spare parts from the market and restore my phone to its former glory. With that in mind, I did some homework on prices and finally paid a visit to a phone vendor situated in the thick of Sadar's electronics market this week.

I don't know if it was the way I spoke and dressed, or the silly, expectant look on my face ('Can you fix it?? :'( ), but that dude had me figured out. He asked for 500 bucks to fix the display ('the circuit needs a new IC' - whatever that was) and 900 bucks for a new casing ('You want the original thing, right?'). By my estimates, based on prior experience with mobile vendors, the whole affair shouldn't have cost more than 500 bucks. But then again, 1500 bucks was not that unreasonable a price to restore an artifact to the heyday of its existence, right?

So we reached an agreement on price, and he got started. As I watched in utter vexation, the dude pulled a small chip off a broken handset and soldered it into my phone to fix the display ('The IC is expensive and hard to get' he had told me). It took him barely a minute. Ten minutes later, his assistant brought back the 'original' casing ('it was really hard to find; i had to call in a special favor from this wholesaler i know') and in another thirty seconds it was applied to my phone.

I was horrified. My phone was being taken for a ride. I was being taken for a ride.

The casing didn't feel right. Nothing felt right. I took a trip with the assistant to the 'wholesaler' to check the price. He gave me a similar number. But other vendors in the market didn't. They were quoting one third the price I was being offered.

I immediately had my phone returned to its previous condition and 'over' paid the vendor for the labour work. I used my charm to convince the vendor that he should return the unused phone casing to the shop it was procured from. At first he told me it could not be returned. Then he insisted that I go with him and speak to the guy he bought the cover from. Finally, he insisted that I should pay 200 bucks for the cost of the keypad which had been spoiled when the new casing was applied to my phone. I declined.

Five minutes later, i purchased the same casing for my phone from another shop for 300 bucks. Apparently, my 'charm' had been laid to waste by the fact that someone had made a fool out of me.

I didn't know whether to feel horrified (at how far this dude was willing to go for a thousand bucks), insulted (why me? Of all the people who drop by, he picked me to swindle? :-( ) or pitiful (i might probably have done the same if i were in his position, right?). The reality was that this dude probably stole mobile phones off the street as a side-business, swindled a whole bunch of customers for as much as he could, and came from a background where there was lack of opportunity. Maybe he was just another black sheep.

All things considered, I still wanted to go over to his shop and give him a piece of my mind. Instead I turned back, wondering what turned people into thieves. It's a product of greed, upbringing, inequality and desperation perhaps; my guess is as good as any since I haven't stood in those shoes. But surely, people such as myself also have some blame to shoulder, if at all, for perpetuating the inequality that does exist. Maybe I was turning back from my responsibility by accepting and ignoring this behaviour.

I nearly (well, almost) got taken for a ride, because someone realized how much I valued my phone and how little I knew about it. And here I am blogging about something I value, because I think I belong to a different world.

The reality is that I AM different. And I'm also a fool. :-/
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Friday, November 12, 2010

What I will NOT blog about

I am now one step closer to deciding what content I will be posting on my new blog. That's because, for starters, I know what I'm NOT going to be blogging about.

Religion and politics.

Sounds fairly obvious to begin with, but a lot of widely read blogs are about political issues or religion. I only decided to fix my blog after I started reading Krugman (http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/)  and Daud's (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/opinion/editorialsandoped/oped/columnists/maureendowd/index.htmlposts) on the NYtimes website. There was also this blog by David Thorne (http://www.27bslash6.com/) which was very amusing; I would certainly recommend it to any new and upcoming blogger.

I decided not to blog about politics because its difficult and controversial to state a point of view without stepping on somebody else's toes. Besides, I can only regurgitate what's already being published in the press, with a different twist of course.

Here's what I WILL blog about for starters. The TCF Rahbar Program. More on that later.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


In college I wrote a paper in my first quarter on legalizing prostitution in Amsterdam. I don't know why I picked that topic, but I aced the paper by miles.

They say success can get to your head, no matter the size or context. 'Amsterdam' got stuck in my head. Since the time I wrote that paper, for some strange reason, I've been strangely possessed by names beginning with the letter 'A'. 'Amsterdam' quickly became my alias whenever I needed one. The fever started online. 'Amsterdam' would surf the web, use MSN messenger, Google Chat, join Coutnerstrike servers or invade the world of Warcraft on GGC. But it didn't end there. My Ipod was engraved 'Amsterdam'. Eventually, my car had 'Amsterdam' imprinted on the numberplate. I had to get busted for that once or twice, cuz 'Amsterdam' was clearly visible whereas the actual numberplate was not. But thats another story.

Everything about the name 'Amsterdam' was catchy. It was the anti-thesis to my own name. It embodied the concept of liberalism; of a city without rules and boundaries where you could believe and practice what you liked. But the best part was that I could never put my finger on why exactly I liked the name so much. I guess it didn't matter. It was just cool. Amsterdam. That's me.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

[Ayn Rand - Objectivism]

I was first introduced to Ayn Rand through "The Fountainhead" - a narrative, in its simplest sense, that follows the tribulations of Howard Roark's career as an architect. Being born into an era that urges conformity, utility and pragmatism over the pursuit of self-fulfilment through a process of self-acknowledgement makes it difficult for Roarke to gain acceptance in a society full of cliches. However, Roarke confronts the world with a detached amusement, unflinching courage and  calm steadfastness that seems hopelessly unrealistic to the reader, yet resonates strongly at some level with ones conception of what it means to live a moral, self-aware life.  Here's a collection of some of my favorite ideas from "The Fountainhead" which are best enjoyed in their unadulterated form.

- [ A ] -
"My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."
—Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged 35th anniversary edition

- [ B ] -

"Objectivism holds that reality exists independent from consciousness; that individual persons are in contact with this reality through sensory perception; that human beings can gain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation; that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness or rational self-interest; that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights, embodied in pure laissez-faire capitalism; and that the role of art in human life is to transform man's widest metaphysical ideas, by selective reproduction of reality, into a physical form—a work of art—that he can comprehend and respond to."

- [ C ] -

"I often think that he's the only one of us who's achieved immortality. I don't mean in the sense of fame and I don't mean that he won't die some day. But he's living it. I think he is what the conception really means. You know how people long to be eternal. But they die with every day that passes. When you meet them, they're not what you met last. In any given hour, they kill some part of themselves. They change, they deny, they contradict – and they call it growth. At the end there's nothing left, nothing unrevered or unbetrayed; as if there had never been any entity, only a succession of adjectives fading in and out on an unformed mass. How do they expect a permanence which they have never held for a single moment? But Howard – one can imagine him existing forever."
— Ayn Rand - The Fountainhead

- [ D ] -

[Dominique] "I used to travel a great deal. I always felt just like that [hating to be at a destination]. I've been told it's because I'm a hater of mankind."

[Howard Roarke] "You're not foolish enough to believe that, are you?"

[Dominique] "I don't know."

[Howard Roarke] "Surely you've seen through that particular stupidity. I mean the one that claims the pig is the symbol of love for humanity – the creature that accepts anything. As a matter of fact, the person who loves everybody and feels at home everywhere is the true hater of mankind. He expects nothing of men, so no form of depravity can outrage him."

[Dominique] "You mean the person who says that there's some good in the worst of us?"

[Howard Roarke] "I mean the person who has the filthy insolence to claim that he loves equally the man who made that statue of you and the man who makes a Mickey Mouse balloon to sell on street corners. I mean the person who loves the men who prefer the Mickey Mouse to your statue – and there are many of that kind. I mean the person who loves Joan of Arc and the sales girls in dress shops on Broadway – with equal fervor. I mean the person who loves your beauty and the women he sees in a subway – the kind that can't cross their knees and show flesh hanging publicly over their garters – with the same sense of exaltation. I mean the person who loves the clean, steady, unfrightened eyes of man looking through a telescope and the white stare of an imbecile – equally. I mean quite a large, generous, magnanimous company. Is it you who hate mankind, Mrs. Keating?"
 — Ayn Rand - The Fountainhead

- [ E ] -
'What you feel in the presence of a thing you admire is just one word - "Yes"... But the ability to say "Yes" or "No" is the essence of all ownership. It's your ownership of your own ego. Your soul, if you wish. Your soul has a single holistic function - the act of valuing. "Yes" or No", "I wish" or "I do not wish." You can't say "Yes" without saying "I".'
— Ayn Rand - The Fountainhead