30 June, 2006

Letters versus otherwise

Whatever happened to the good old long letter?
Emails have ceased to excite. (In fact, there is little in life that still does. Or maybe it is just me. Anyway, that is a whole new post for sure).

How I remember when checking email was a daily ritual... Sitting in front of a mono 14" monitor, loggin on into the linux student account, checking email on PINE was almost as exciting as anything else. (PINE stands for Program for Internet News and Email aka Pine Is Not ELM - I miss recursive abbreviations! This also begs the question – WTF is ELM? ELectronic Mail?)

Even though emails directed my way were less than one day, the login screen still filled the heart with a sense of anticipation. It was the screen at the end of a carefully planned journey – the expected number of people versus the number of computers working at any point of time in the computer centre and so on. Anyway, the struggle was ok as the emails made it worth my while.

They were nice. They were not mindless. Not all of them. They were for a purpose. They were not conversation snippets. They were letters.

I remember a few of them from then* even now- Letters from a friend telling me about her breakup and the days after and long replies peppered with attempts at humour. Letters narrating first experiences in all kinds of things. Letters from foreign cousins who were thrilled that they could keep a finger on the latest in families back home through this cost effective source and much faster. Well, people were not too choosy back then. Email was a happy compromise between letters and telephone calls – almost live like a phone call and cheaper than a letter.

This was when I had this particular friend I used to write to almost every day. She was my pen friend, in an email sense. I had not met her and I am not sure how we got in touch. She was from a large city and had lots of friends – I wonder how she got the time to write to me. It went on for just under two years – we exchanged pics and treated each other to “letters” also – back in those days, if blogs existed, I am sure I would have written a similar entry cursing emails and praising letters (Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis – Latin for times change and we change with them). Hmm… wonder what she is up to these days? We grew out of it – actually she did and she let me know and I had no option. :-] I was not willing to invest that much time into it again, and overall, I had a check against the pen-pal row… She used to write wonderful letters. In fact, in the beginning, I had a sneaking suspicion that she did not exist and was a creation of my friends in college as she used to sound too similar to me. Gradually, I ruled out all my friends and then we used to talk on the phone and it was definitely not one of my friends.

Then, there was a time when everyone I know who was not studying engineering was taking post grad tests and writing SOPs and mapping their life out. Every week marked yet another twist in the long road of tests and more tests, and all such turns were duly relayed by email. Soon, we were taking our own placement tests and interviews.

I guess the mobile phone killed the email which had killed the letter. In the beginning, it was the SMS. Text messages became longer and emails became shorter. Later, talk rates crashed for both national and international dialing. It was easier to call or text than email. I guess with emails, one wrote only when one had a few things to say. With the mobile, such things were relayed as and when they were formed. There is little or no time for any kind of a 'thought' inventory to form – which might be a good or a bad thing. I think it is a bad thing – but that’s only me.

I guess this was all part of the big changes in technology and media which we have seen over the years. The audience has shrunk and is now an active part of creating the content also. Blogs for example. In fact, take a look at this, which is like a newspaper operating entirely with no paid reporter.

The other thing – we grew up and suddenly had less time to do anything – even though all we do now is one job, which is also something which sucks.

[* This was the time India was taking its first steps in public internet access. Student access was cheap but anyone who had seen the normal internet craved for that. Corporate internet ids were shared and used - it was the Wild West as far the internet was concerned. Passwords were hacked and accounts were bankrupted of their access. I can think up of many people who did not pay for years and years of internet access – all TCP/IP of course. TCP/IP was the name given to the browser based internet access, which was for Rs. 15000 for 500 hours]

Then there was the 24th of November 2000 thingie :) but that is not for this blog.

28 June, 2006


Can someone tell me how to ensure that the Title of the post stays exactly as long as intended, all my posts seem to steal a few words from the first line of the post.
(It is an HTML thing and I am a computer engineer, but at least I am humble!)

07 June, 2006

Something is cooking!

Have not been able to get back to blogging for a long time. Had intended this article to be about cooking, but let us see.
Happened across an email with a video from my college. Felt really nice to see images - some things have changed a lot and some have not at all. Realised from the video that there should be many more, and found this and this! A little more digging and I came up with a thriving blogging community, present residents of the strange beast called NITK now, KREC then... it was surprisingly easy to relate to some of the things. You can find it here.

Some things, though, were completely new.
- Insame amounts of technology - Laptops, wifi, you name it
- New departments - IS(?), IT(?) and the like
- Many more women, or maybe a small increase in numbers, topped up by a larger increase in their involvement/presence/noise created
- New hostel blocks - there are a total of ten now (7 for boys and 3 for girls!!)

The rains, the buildings, the madness, the heat, the sweat and the bad food seem to have persisted. I know that Krishna (the cigarette and chai shop near the gate number 2 still exists, and I am sure the people at the final block gate still cook roaring delicacies. God I want to go back!
I have always wanted to go back and today has been a definite fillip in planning for that.

The previous weeks have been spent planning for a trip to the fatherland and doing the necessary documentation for the visa. I always end up angry with myself - misplaced papers, more than requried xeroxes, last minute panic attacks and checking of papers. This time, thanks to a printer which was printing on both sides, I ended up with three copies of my bank statement, because every copy seemed incomplete. Anyway, every stress attack was worthwhile as I managed to get a ten year permit.

I am off to Newcastle this weekend. I will meet friends - some old and some new and hope to have some good fun and old fashioned spending the day on the beach for both the days. To save on the fare, I am travelling early afternoon and coming back late on Sunday night. This reminds me of news articles about the Utilities here in UK and how they earn so much money. I know they should, but so much!?!.

Last year, Royal Mail did more than a million sterling a day. Another example is Thames Water, who increased prices by 25% last year, has innumerable leaks all over the city and still pays over £6 mn each to its CEO and CFO. Its profits, just under a million sterling a day, stood at £347 million for 2005. Sometimes, I wonder if salaries in the wired world have grown as fast as those in the Utility industry. In 1995, the head honcho at Thames Water was taking home £260K. The office has not done bad for itself, fattening its paycheck by about 50 times in 10 years. I am sure the the London Underground will have a similar love affair between profits, salaries and sure enough, consumer prices.
The issue at stake is this and I do not have an opinion yet - Private ownership of utilities does inspire cost cutting and overall efficiencies, but would not the line between "economic rates of return" and above-normal profits be an easy one to cross. The Regulator needs to be clued onto all that is going on - but surely they could have done something...some cleaning up after smelling a fish, a large one at that.