Don’t ask how and why. For some reason, EBB fell off my radar. I moved in there, my home on the internet, about 15 years ago. It rested on a platform called Antville.org, a blogging platform built in Europe by a founding team that believed in the open source software movement—a premise that had me enamoured then. 

When the serious folks asked me what is EBB, I’d tell them it’s an acronym for (E)lectronic (B)ulletin (B)oard. But when drunk at the iconic Gokul Bar all Mumbaikars know of, I’d confess to the truth. I hoped somebody, somebody would spot the opportunity to build a media empire out of a revolution and pay. Someplace in my head, it was intended to be an (E)lectronic (B)egging (B)owl that would fund the revolution. 

As yarns go, both sounded good. Not that I cared. I was single, couldn’t give a damn about anything, backpacking when I could, getting pissed every other day, angst-ridden, and like every other young so-called revolutionary, had only a few thoughts to propel the days. 

1. What a lousy place this world is!!

2. What will it take to change the world?

3. How do I land a woman? 

4. Why am I surrounded by idiots?

Much water has passed under the bridge since then.

1. The world continues to be a lousy place.

2. I continue to plot how to change the world

3. I got a woman and now have two little girls. But because I’ve been there and done that, can’t stand little boys.

4. I continue to maintain everybody around is an idiot.

On poring over the posts written then, it triggered a wave of nostalgia. Not much has changed. There’s some fat around the waist. The hairline has receded. But the dreamer isn’t dead yet. He lives someplace, in some corner, a Don Quixote like-character who tilts at imaginary windmills. The creature comes to life at school reunion parties, where us boys had sworn undying loyalty to each other; brother bound in blood; who would someday get even at the padres who’d cane our backsides if the math or science wasn’t done right. In hindsight, they come across as gentle creatures.

Much water has passed under the bridge since then. And in going over it, one thing is clear. Young and foolish is a nice way to be. As that John Lennon song goes, “You may say, I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one… "

That is why I thought for old time’s sake, I thought it only pertinent to reproduce some of the posts from back then, faithfully, without as much as changing the case of the letters in the very first post because it was intended to be anti-establishment. The establishment had rules and rules had to be broken. :-)

And a few reminders as to why it may not be such a bad thing to stay young— and foolish.

Reminder#1: rebel

What is reproduced below is the very first post that I posted on the blog. It was titled “Copy Left" and intended as a tirade against “Copy Right". 

When I listen to the young ones talk, my older girl included (who has that smirk on her face when she doesn’t agree with what her old man says), it reminds me, for the young, idealism and rebellion are hand-in-glove. It can’t be any other way. 

copy left

charles 20:26h

ideas are free. they could occur anywhere. in my head, your head, anybody’s head. and the only way ideas will ever live is if they’re allowed to cross pollinate. stuck in my head, or yours, they’ll die eventually, when you or i die.

if you think that’s rather naive, let me put it his way. karl marx had some fabulous ideas in his mind of how society ought to be. but he was so damn obnoxious that there was no way anyone would listen to him. it was only after he died that lenin picked up what marx had to say from an obscure book published in some equally obscure period, figured out what marx had to say, and let it loose on an unsuspecting world.

it gave the world communism.

i’m not insuniating here that i like communism or that i’m a commie. far from it. the point i’m trying to make is a simple one. there are ideas and then there are more ideas / thoughts, whatever. if it’s ever got to evolve, it’s got to be shared.

so here’s my deal. whatever i post here, ideas/thoughts/stories/anything, can be used 

by anybody, anywhere in the world. whether you choose to use it ad verbatim or not, i don’t care really.

more power to open source!!!!

Reminder #2: be arrogant

Given the kind of stories that are emerging right now, this makes me sound wiser than my years. Be that as it may, darned right I am (or should it be was?). But as what will follow later proves, if only I had followed up on my arrogance and put some physical grunt to the mental muscle that was on overdrive.

Friday, 11. July 2003

Coding Coolies

charles 13:45h

There’s a joke that runs like this. The CEO of a large Indian software company hops off the train at Dadar Station in Mumbai. A coolie at the station walks up to him and asks, “Sir, I work on this platform. What platform do you work on?" To my mind, that pretty much exemplifies the state of Indian software. For heaven’s sake, where is the innovation in software happening anywhere on Indian soil? I mean, look at it this way. What really lies at the heart of Google? An algorithm? That’s it. A powerful bloody algorithm that can come out of any place in the world!!! It didn’t have to be Stanford. So how come it didn’t come out of India?

I’ll tell you why. It’s the mindset. A few generations ago, our forefathers were happy working as clerks for the British rulers. After they left, their descendants were happy working as clerks and babus with the Indian government. And now that those jobs are disappearing, this generation is content to work on low level coding jobs for the Americans and Europeans. So much for being a software super power!!!! In much the same way that China has become the world’s manufacturing sweatshop, we, in India, will turn out to be the world’s services sweatshop. But there’s a crucial difference. In China, the masses who work at these sweatshops, do it because they cannot do anything else. In India, I just don’t get it. Perfectly qualified engineers work at call centers offering customer support in faux American accents. I just don’t get it when graduates in finance work out of back offices and process papers that doesn’t even need a degree.

Why are we doing this to ourselves? Don’t we get it? Is it so difficult to figure out that this is a commodity business? And that if tommorrow Vietnam or Phillipines for that matter offers the same services at $5 instead of the $10 we get now, companies will just move en masse there? 

Sound stupid? An untenable proposition? I think not. There’s a very interesting paper on the subject titled The Uneven Profile of Indian Software Exports authored by Dr Richard Heeks, a senior lecturer at the Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester. It doesn’t make for comfortable reading.

Reminder #3: laugh aloud

Not a bad thing by any stretch. But as Lesson #5 will show, those in power don’t get this. 

Monday, 9. May 2005

I love my India

charles 13:38h

I just read this AP report. I still haven’t recovered.

Only a quarter of condoms made in India are used for sex, most of the others are used to make saris, toys and bathroom slippers, a newspaper reported on Saturday.

The condoms are valuable to manufacturers because of the lubricant on them. Sari weavers place the condoms on their thread spools and the lubricant on the prophylactics is rubbed off on the thread, making it move faster through their sewing machines, the newspaper quoted an Indian industry official as saying.

Sari makers also turn the condom’s inside out, place them on their fingers and use the high-quality lubricant to polish gold and silver threads used in the traditional Indian women’s outfits. India manufactures more than 1 billion condoms annually to check population growth and curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Reminder #4: incumbents are stupid

In the year of the Holy Cow, no comment will be made. Except reproduce ad verbatim what was written almost 17 years ago.

Thursday, 16. June 2005

Where is Uncle Pai?

charles 13:18h

The other day, a colleague based out of Bangkok asked me if I could arrange for a few CDs/DVDs of either the Ramayana or the Mahabharata. A huge fan of Indian mythology, he wanted to showcase the epics for his children. “No problem," I told him and promised to have it sent over in under a week.

Since then, I’ve scoured the market high and low for high quality animation films that bring these epics to life. I’m appalled to report that apart from Ramanand Sagar’s horribly low-brow kitsch, there is nothing of any consequence anywhere in the world that does justice to these works.

One of the sad versions I stumbled on was created by a group that goes by the name Association of Grandparents of Indian Immigrants. Huh? I downloaded a trial copy and gave up trying to watch the obnoxious rendition in under five minutes.

Then there was this UK-based site called DesiKids (www.desikids.co.uk) threatened to unleash “Religious, mythological, and moralistic Books, CDs and DVDs for children and parents of an Indian, Hindu, and Sikh origin." Moralistic books? What in the devil’s name does that mean actually?

Ironically, a version that tried to break free of these clichés was produced with Japanese collaboration. It shows. Ram and Laxman are portrayed as Samurai warriors. Sita is a whimpering damsel. And Hanuman is nothing like the Hanuman we know. Instead, he resembles the Chinese folk saint turned Japanese manga/anime cultural icon Sun Wukong—also known as the Monkey hero.

Why, I wonder, can’t a “software superpower" produce films that do justice to its most loved epics? Where is Uncle Pai?

Reminder #5: the mighty are idiots

And deservedly so, I suspect. It is as true then as it is now, as time and experience have demonstrated.

Monday, 16. May 2005

The new element

charles 15:25h

I’ve laughed my guts off when I read this. Enjoy!

A major research institution has recently announced the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element has been named “Governmentium." Governmentium has 1 neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 11 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected, as it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of Governmentium causes 1 reaction to take over 4 days to complete, when it would normally take less than a second.

GOVERNMENTIUM has a normal 1/2-life of 4 years; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as “Critical Morass."

When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium – an element which radiates just as much energy, since it has 1/2 as many peons but twice as many morons.

Charles Assisi is co-founder and director, Founding Fuel.

His Twitter handle is @c_assisi

Comments are welcome@feedback@livemint.com 

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