Stream of consciousness blogging

Do you know how awkward it is to start writing in a blog you haven’t written in for nearly a year? Its a little like that neighbor or colleague you should have smiled at a year ago and find it weird to say good morning to anymore. Everytime I think of writing something I feel like I should have something momentous to talk about which justifies asking for someones attention after so long. Its nothing more than complacency and inertia of course, but complacency is a bigger road block than anything else in life I guess. Anyway, I had this epiphany the other day – instead of trying to come up with great content, why not just write a stream of consciousness variety of blog posts when I don’t have a fleshed out topic to write about? It reduces the burden of research and thought required, extensive proofreading, etc. and might branch out into more substantial, well thought out blog posts at some point. Most importantly, it reduces the entry barrier, or in my case, re-entry barrier to writing or blogging. It is possible that a reader might think the quality of posts is going down, but my last post was in April 2019. Its hard to go down from absolute silence. At least one other person seems to have had this idea before me – I DuckDuckGo’d ‘stream of consciousness blogging’ and found this nice post: http://webtrafficroi.com/how-to-write-stream-of-consciousness-blog-post/

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Stop overreacting. Apple was only trying to stop your phone from randomly turning off

Anti Apple fanboys have been sharing the news about Apple throttling the speed of older phone’s on their walls or commenting about it on all kinds of unrelated posts for weeks now. I get that it’s cool to jump on the bandwagon and a lot of you will just read the headline of this post and call me a fanboy without ever opening it, but just in case you did open it, here goes:

In iOS 10.2.1, Apple made changes in the power management function to prevent unexpected shutdowns when you’re using a phone with an old AND degraded battery. All batteries degrade over time as you run through charge cycles. If you consistently plug the phone in before it runs too low on juice, the battery stays in good condition for much longer- mine is 2.5 years old and in good condition. However if you’re one of those people who waits till your battery is almost dead before charging, your battery probably isn’t in great condition anymore. When your phone tries to hit peak processing power, the battery you abused is not able to provide enough power and your phone turns off suddenly, something I’m sure you wouldn’t enjoy. To stop such shutdowns, Apple made a logical choice to stop the processor from hitting those speeds if it looks like the battery won’t be able to power it, but ONLY at such times. It doesn’t slow down your processor all the time unnecessarily. Think of it like your car had a feature that stopped you from going any faster if the whole thing started shaking like a leaf.

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Forget Aadhaar, when did our phone number become mandatory for everything?

Courtesy: A helpful forehead model available nearby, who wasn’t harmed during production

Compared to the rest of the world, Indians assign particularly little value to privacy. Maybe its because we are all used to living in joint families where everyone gets into everyone’s business. In most Indian families, you aren’t allowed to lock your bedroom door till you’re married. And you’re probably not allowed to lock it again after you have a socially acceptable number of kids, so I guess it shouldn’t surprise anybody that we don’t give a rat’s ass about the government or companies tracking us everywhere. In fact, when a company provides us an option to put a tracker on us through which they can watch us day and night to help us reach where we want or to stay safe from criminals, we all get a warm and fuzzy feeling we haven’t got since the days when our mom used to feed us khichdi and tuck us into bed safely. This is of course why the government and mobile companies can blast us with ‘link Aadhaar’ messages through every online and offline channel possible without sparking public outrage. There is one thing that can terrify Indians about the implications of losing privacy though, and that’s the prospect of actually having to pay taxes. As a result, the prospect of linking Aadhaar to all bank accounts and investment accounts have suddenly made many people seek their fundamental right to privacy for the first time.

You would think the newly privacy aware tax dodging populace would now care about other infringements on their privacy but if you want evidence that isn’t happening, just go buy groceries in any big supermarket or to the mall. The cashier scans the bar code on everything in your cart and then matter-of-factly asks for your phone number. If you ask why, the responses range from a puzzled ‘for billing sir’ to ‘loyalty points’ or ‘warranty’. If you look around, you’ll notice that pretty much everyone immediately gives it.The KFC outlet at an airport domestic terminal asked to scan my boarding pass, saying ‘for customer service’ when I asked why. I wonder what service the customer will get from handing over all that data? A discount? Decathlon asks for your number to keep all your purchases linked to your account and provide warranty using just that information. Some would argue that some of these are legitimate use cases and that you are free to say no. I would agree if you always had that option but worryingly, a phone number is now mandatory in the billing software systems used in many places.

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Why on earth do we need to update our credit cards with Aadhaar numbers?

I’ve been meaning to write about Aadhaar for a while but never got around to it. But then today morning I got this message from my bank.

credit card

We have already linked our PAN cards with Aadhaar. Credit card companies already do their own checks to ensure you are credit worthy. No one gives you money without checking if you can pay it back. So how is this justified in any way? I posted this on Reddit today morning and of course Younews.in and the India Community Digest Facebook page lifted it by evening and acted like its their own post without ever crediting the India sub-reddit as usual. Anyway, on the original Reddit thread, there were over a 100 comments with different viewpoints. Let me summarize some of the views supporting this move and give my thoughts on each:

1. It helps detect fraud:

My response: No doubt it will. But the question is if the benefit outweighs the risks. I don’t think so. How about if I said we should give the keys to our front doors to the government or tap all our phones to make sure the cops can detect any wrong doing? The problem with these things is that you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, there will be some criminals you can find and catch by making everything and everyone track-able, but such a surveillance system can also be misused against everyday people, journalists, whistleblowers and anyone who gets on the wrong side of the ‘system’, whether its their fault or not. Who will watch the watchers?

2. This is just to verify your identity. Credit card companies use this to check who you are. The info is not collected by the government

My response: I’m not saying the government is building a database of your credit card transactions with Aadhaar numbers. Not yet at least. But, when you link your Aadhaar to your credit card, bank accounts, phone number and so on, what’s to stop the government or someone in power from asking credit card companies for transaction data with the Aadhaar number filled in and search for someones Aadhaar number to track all their purchases? Or do the same with mobile number to track all their calls? Are there safeguards in place against such things? Has this been thought through? At the pace at which Aadhaar is being seeded into everything, I really doubt anyone is taking the time to plug vulnerabilities in each one. Can we trust that banks and credit card companies will keep the data safe? There have been so many cases where I applied for a credit card and immediately started getting spam calls for all kinds of financial products from every company. There’s obviously leaks, especially in PSU banks. How do you make sure an employee doesn’t leak Aadhaar number along with phone number of target customers? What if an insurance company got that data and started using it to decide whether you should be given a health care coverage policy? Same question about telecom companies- what systems do they have in place to control all this? Even if some of them do have systems in place, do all of them have them? Who is checking the quality of each system? What legal protections do we have against such misuse of data?

3. In the U.S.A, social security numbers need to be given for credit card

My response: The U.S.A is not the panacea for all evils. What they do there is not necessarily the best way to do things. They have major problems with burgeoning domestic surveillance themselves. Lets try to stop our country from becoming a surveillance state instead of saying its OK if other countries have already done it. And if we are comparing, the U.S chose not to link things like fingerprints and biometric data to social security numbers due to privacy risks. Why aren’t we emulating that too

My biggest problem with all of this that none of this matches the official ‘Aadhaar is voluntary, not mandatory’ slogan. How is it not mandatory when you cannot have a bank account, mobile connection or credit card without it? How many things will require this before we start calling it mandatory? Will we one day need it to eat out, buy food or get treatment? Will we call it ‘mandatory’ only once someone says it is mandatory to have Aadhaar to breathe? Or will we still say ‘well, you don’t HAVE to live. Its your choice’?

I’m not saying a national system to authenticate citizen’s ID has no merits. Using it to make sure government welfare goes to the right people seems fair, although there has to be mechanisms to address cases where your fingerprints have faded and things like that. Using it to get things the government is offering for free is still fair. But I have to add a disclaimer that I’m not sure it is. It looks like that to me but if someone had put me in charge of deciding whether to make it mandatory for government welfare, I would try listening to people who caution against it instead of thinking whatever idea I had was sent down from heaven by the gods.

Seeding Aadhaar into every aspect of life is a sure fire way of making sure our lives are completely ruled by a number. I don’t think it is even possible to build in safeguards against misuse given the current scope of usage. Limit usage, build safeguards and expand only if you can figure out safeguards for expanded use. Don’t act like everything is a nail just because you have a hammer to hit them with.

If you want to see the original Reddit discussion, here’s the link: https://www.reddit.com/r/india/comments/7csv46/why_do_we_have_to_link_credit_cards_to_aadhaar/

I’ll be writing more about Aadhaar on this blog from now as well.

Its the season to fight over iPhones and Android again

Every September or October, people start debating one of the most important choices in their lives – iPhone or Android. Already Apple haters reading this post are thinking of making a witty crack about how the price of an iPhone makes the decision a choice between food and clothing for a year vs. a half eaten apple you can’t even finish and therefore an important one.

To avowed Android fans, the eagerness exhibited by many to buy an iPhone represents everything wrong in the world. They consider the devices overpriced and the people who buy them snobbish fools who pay more for outdated tech. Apple fans on the other hand say they love the Apple experience and that Apple ‘does it right’, even if some of the features arrived first on Android. Android users tend to proclaim judgment about the people who buy into Apple a lot more than the other way around. As an Android ‘fan’ who switched to Apple a couple of years ago, I speak from personal experience. After years of being an advocate of Android, I put my beloved Nexus 4 in the cupboard and bought an iPhone 6. What surprised me more than how much I liked the phone was reactions from people around me. To many, it was nothing short of betrayal. They called me a sell out and declared that I had gone over to the dark side. Most of it was light hearted, but at least a couple of people really took it seriously and seemed to have changed their entire opinion about me based on my choice of phone. Most people never listened to my rationale for the switch but now that another iPhone and iOS version launched, the “you were one of us!” chorus has started again, so here it is:-

I used to really like Android. I would root every phone I bought and change the ROM faster than some people would change their socks. I would install apps to automate all kinds of weird things and even change the kernel to try and improve battery life or performance or whatever. Many a nights I would go home late from work, get bored in 20 minutes and then get to work installing a new custom ROM, only to have something go wrong and end up staying awake most of the night trying to make my phone functional again. It was pure tinkering joy at times and as good as a whiskey and a sad song at other times. The takeaway from this story is, I was NOT a casual Android user. When self proclaimed Android ‘fans’ come at me for my choice to switch, I look at them like how Amitabh Bachchan in Agneepath would look at Hrithik Roshan in Agneepath, or how Sylvestor Stallone in Rambo would look at Tiger Shroff in Rambo (yes, that’s coming soon, believe it or not).

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Air Vistara’s condescending women’s day gesture is surprisingly popular among women

Air Vistara has launched #VistaraWomanFlyer, an initiative supposedly launched in March, 2017 in association with women’s day, but hitting the newsreels in late July for some reason. According to the Vistara website, they will ensure that “only a window or aisle seat is assigned at check-in”, and make sure that “uniformed Vistara staff will be available at the baggage claim area holding #VistaraWomanFlyer Arrivals Assistance placards, to assist women travelers with their luggage and with the booking of airport-authorized taxis, as well as escort such customers up to the taxi stand upon their request”.

Reflect on that for a moment. They will have staff with placards implying that a ‘woman traveler’ automatically needs assistance with just about every aspect of traveling. If you’re a woman and thinking that this is chivalrous instead of condescending, ask yourself if you would mind if someone stood outside a shopping mall parking area with a placard offering to help women with parking or at a car rental place with a placard offering help with driving. How about tuition centers offering free special classes for math then? Doesn’t sound as great does it? Gender stereotyping doesn’t stop being ridiculous just because it is sugar coated with the appearance of chivalry.

Do only women need assistance with luggage or car rentals in a new city? What about an elderly man with a walking stick? If asked this question, the airline will definitely say that their staff would help elderly men or disabled men as well on a case by case basis. Why not do that for women as well then, instead of waving placards to reinforce stereotypes?

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