We need to get rid of the death penalty

I used to be in favour of death penalty, I am not anymore. Other than emotional appeal of retribution I can’t find any logical reason for continuing with state sanctioned murder. Especially in a country like India where the capital punishment is increasingly being used as a quick fix solution to appease the masses. Conditions that hardly justify the rarest of the rare criteria. I am still in a dilemma about what a society should do with open and shut cases like Ajmal Kasab or Delhi bus rapists but continuing with the death penalty for such cases just gives an excuse to the state to hang anyone to satisfy a mob.

Death penalty could have been avoided in two recent instances – Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon where I feel the trials were murky and two people were sacrificed just to give people an illusion of justice.

Capital punishment has to go.

But what to do with extreme cases is something we still need to figure out. Anders Behring Breivik – the  Norwegian right wing terrorist who killed 77 people is going to study political science at Oslo University from his prison cell. He’s in solitary confinement probably for the rest of his life. His quality of life in prison seems to be better than living conditions of many in India, yet he complains that his coffee is served cold, he does not have enough butter for his bread, and he is not allowed moisturiser. This baffles me.

PhotoKeeper – cloud photo backup for serious photographers

We finally launched our next big product at Uconomix – PhotoKeeper. It is a cloud based photo backup and management service aimed at professional and serious hobbyist photographers.

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There are dozens of cloud backup services out there, what sets PhotoKeeper apart from them is its focus on photos. Other general purpose backup services do not understand photos and they are meant for casual smartphone photographers. PhotoKeeper understands photos, it understands RAW files and it reads EXIF data and lets you search based on that data. In terms of photo organization what Lightroom does on the desktop, PhotoKeeper does in the cloud.

Here’s an introductory video of PhotoKeeper

PhotoKeeper has advanced search capabilities. You want to see all your photos taken with your Canon 5D Mk III and 70-200mm lens at ISO 100 and the aperture of f/2.8 where flash did not fire and which you have rated 3 stars and above? You can do that with PhotoKeeper!

Another unique feature of PhotoKeeper is private albums. Professional photographers will find it really useful. They can create private albums and share with their clients who can comment and annotate on the photos and provide feedback. It eliminates the need of sending photos through email or pen drives and facilitates better communication.

Check out PhotoKeeper at www.photokeeper.net

My experience of buying Peak Design products from India

I recently purchased new camera straps – Peak Design Leash and Clutch. Peak Design is a manufacturer of some interesting camera accessories mostly straps and clips to hold the camera in various positions. They sell online and ship internationally. I ordered Leash and Clutch and paid $67.41 after applying a 10% discount coupon. I placed the order on 28 March and I received them in Mumbai, India on 7 April.

They have warehouses in Toronto, London, Hong Kong and California and they ship from a warehouse near to you. Before I placed the order I was apprehensive about shipping times and whether I will receive the product at all because they ship for free if the order is above $50 and the only service they could afford would be postal service. I had a bad experience with International postal service. Couple of months ago I had purchased something from eBay USA and the item was sent though USPS first class international mail and I never received it ultimately having to get a refund after more than a month. The seller shipped it and I could track it till it was in the US but once it left US there was no track of the item. Seller lost the item and I lost the difference in foreign exchange between order and refund.

So I wasn’t sure if I will receive my Leash and Clutch if they ship through regular postal service, so before placing the order I sent them an email asking which shipping service they use. They replied back with a link to their FAQ about shipping which I had already read. So that was of no help. I went ahead and placed the order hoping for the best. I ordered it on Saturday 28 March 2015, I got shipping notification on Monday 30 March and it was shipped through Hong Kong Post International Registered Mail. They also provided me a tracking number. I crossed my fingers and the wait began.

The tracking page on Hong Kong Post’s site doesn’t give much information about the shipment. Luckily the tracking page from India Post gives details of the progress made by the shipment. On 31st it left Hong Kong, Reached India on 4 April and it was finally delivered to me on 7 April. I had it in my hands within 8 days of shipping. That’s impressive for the postal service.

I also did not have to pay any custom duties. I feared the item might get stuck at customs or I might have to pay custom duty of as much as 30% which is what I saw was being levied on camera accessories. Above all I feared damage or total loss once it reached India. But as the tracking history shows the item wasn’t sent to customs and was sent to me directly from the foreign post office.

PD-trackingSo if you are in India and have been thinking of buying any of Peak Design’s products go on and buy it. It took 8 days to reach Mumbai, could take more for other parts of India especially non metro cities. Take a look at what Peak Design Leash and Clutch are –

Capturing the kick!

I am really enjoying my photo a day project. I think of a subject I am going to shoot for the day and shoot it once I am back home from the office. Today I decided to shoot Yaashi playing with the ball. I knew the shot was going to be tricky and I will have to protect the camera from an oncoming salvo because Yaashi can really whack the ball at times and nobody knows where the ball will fly.

I wanted to capture Yaashi hitting the ball, the action had to be captured in the click. I started with easy way – the burst mode. My camera can take up to 12 shots a second I thought I will catch a good moment. I ended up taking more than 150 images but not a single one was usable. Since I could not use Flash in burst mode and the camera was set in Auto focus Macro mode (which I realized very late) all the pictures out of focus and dark. So I took the hard way, I had to use a fast shutter speed so I needed Flash which meant I would have to time my clicks. There was a delay between when I actually pressed the shutter, camera focused and fired the Flash and took the photo, by that time the ball would go out of frame. After some clicks I figured out the delay and timed my clicks and managed to capture some usable shots.

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This one is a lucky click. Yaashi hit the ball straight back at the camera and I managed to capture it milliseconds before I took evasive action and slapped the ball away.

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I am not 100% satisfied but I will improve with time. I surely need an even faster shutter speed, today’s shoot was at 1/125 and 1/160 of a second. Need to go beyond 1/200 next time.

Photo a day project in 2015

I am going to take at least one photo a day, every day throughout 2015. It is not actually a resolution. It just started impromptu on the night of 1st January. I was watching some photography related videos and playing with my camera and took some close up snaps of Yaashi’s toys. Technically the pic was taken at 2 January post midnight but I’ll consider the pic for January first. Next morning the idea just occurred to me, let’s try and take one photo a day. So I started clicking.

When people start such a project they typically follow a theme. I did not have a theme as such but today after taking 3 pics the theme suddenly appeared. Close up photos. I had planned to take photos of stuff in my home and office because I don’t travel much on a daily basis, and I really like taking close up photos. Some of the best photos I have taken are close up shots. Inadvertently the first two pics I posted were close ups, so close ups is going to be the theme of this photo project.

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You can follow my photo project on Facebook or 365Project

PK, OMG and atheism in Indian movies

Yesterday I watched the long awaited PK where Aamir Khan plays an alien searching for god at various places and taking on the managers for god – the so called godmen in the process. The movie is preachy in parts and goes on to question nonsensical rituals and stupidities of religion – something which was handled much more sharply and bluntly in Oh My God (OMG) starring Paresh Rawal. Although in OMG they did end up showing there was after all a god – and no other but the Hindu god Krishna! (Which is understandable as the movie as a commercial venture has to make money in a Hindu majority country)

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Both OMG and PK make a case against following conmen posing as godmen, and they appealed the audiences to reconsider absurd practices and wasteful excesses of religion. Both the movies have had godmen as antagonists and ended with the message of following the real god instead of the god created by these godmen. And therein lies the problem. Both the movies have shied away from prodding the viewers to question the very idea of god itself. While OMG actually ended up showing there is in fact a god and making a believer out of an atheist, PK resisted the urge of a finding a magical solution in the form of a god – so that is definitely a plus.

Now I hope somebody makes a truly atheistic movie where the very idea of an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient creator/s is questioned and debated. It will be difficult to make such a movie in a country where even a fart can hurt somebody’s religious sentiments and send people to jail but I hope someone will take the bold step and do the unthinkable.

Atheism is seldom represented in Indian movies. I don’t know about movies in other Indian languages but Hindi movies have never really touched upon the subject. A couple of movies in the 80s like Deewar and Nastik showed the protagonist not believing in god but it was more like the hero was angry with god and wasn’t on talking terms to him but eventually turned around by the end of the movie. That isn’t atheism. You can’t be angry with something you don’t believe exists.

Paresh Rawal’s character in OMG was an atheist in true sense. He made compelling arguments and so to make him a believer god appeared in front of him. I wonder why god chose to appear as Krishna and not Jesus or Ra or Odin or Juju of the mountain or the FSM. May be he chose to appear as a Hindu god because Kanji (Paresh Rawal’s character) was from a Hindu background. So may be if the protagonist had been ex-Christian he would come as Jesus or Buddha if he were a Buddhist. Not sure what would they show if he had been a Muslim. (You can’t show Mohammad on screen unless you want the theaters burned down!)

Aamir’s alien in PK is not an atheist. He is a simpleton who hears about god and takes it on face value. He actually is pretty dumb for a member of a species who communicate telepathically and are capable of inter-galactic travel. Any evolved intelligent life form should be capable of logic and reasoning and should be able to see through the mirage that is religion and belief in god.

Bollywood has indulged in pandering to supernatural themes of gods, magic, reincarnation, destiny and spirits since its inception. First Indian movie was based on mythology. Movie after movie has reaffirmed the existence of supernatural. The industry has no dearth of atheists – and the film industry is the most secular faction of Indian society but it has never dared to question the core idea of god. OMG and PK can be treated as attempts to eventually get there. I hope we get there soon.

MemeYourPhoto – add captions to your images

We have recently launched MemeYourPhoto.com – a web app and an accompanying Android app that allows one to create custom memes from their own photos. Basically it allows you to quickly add captions to any image without having to download anything.

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The app arose out of my frustration with existing meme making apps which are fantastic when it comes to creating memes from existing templates, but using your own images for memes is difficult. Some of them just don’t have that option and some other that do – make it very very difficult with you having to import images in the app and then save it with name as a new template. I may never create another meme using that photo – I just have a temporary need to add captions on an image and there was no quick way to do it. So the answer is MemeYourPhoto.com – that is how easy adding captions on an image should be.

In MemeYourPhoto (web app or Android app) you select a photo, specify a top line of text and bottom line of text and control the font size by using the +/- buttons next to it and that’s it. The meme is ready. It can either be downloaded or shared directly on Facebook/Twitter.

The problem with the likes of RSS

RSS – Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – and all the other organisations of it’s kind – the various senas and dals and sanghs – whether affiliated to RSS or not represent bigotry and close mindedness. They take pride in traditions and despise the modern liberal values. I read an interesting article recently which concluded that people with low IQ tend to be more conservative.

The inference is that what we call conservatism is a symptom of limited intellectual ability, signified by fear of the new and of outsiders, a retreat into tradition and tribal loyalty, and an unsophisticated disgust at sexual mores that deviate even slightly from the norm. Put bluntly stupidity correlates with insecurity, hatred, pessimism and fear, intelligence with confidence, optimism and trust.

Fear of new, outsiders, anything that deviates from what is considered norm are trademark qualities of right wing organisations. That is exactly what RSS espouses – jingoism, religious chauvinism, adherence to tradition and moral policing. They draw lines of us versus them based on country, religion, language and culture. For them their country, their religion, their culture is automatically superior to other countries, other religions and other cultures. Why? Because they say so that’s why!

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I am not exactly sure why do these people tend to take pride in ancient mores and traditions of the land. Agreed the Indus valley civilisation is very old and rich and in ancient times it has contributed significantly to the enhancement of human knowledge. But they were not alone. There have been many ancient civilisations which also have a rich history. And if you want to take pride of ancient discoveries and inventions that happened to take place in the same geographical area that falls within the borders of today’s modern day nation state – you can do so – even though you had absolutely nothing to do with it. And I think that is what the right wingers do.

The RSS types probably have a pathological urge to feel superior about something, anything – to feel better about themselves. So what can they do? Their nation is not economic or military superpower, it is poor, not many scientific inventions are coming out from this land these days, standard of living is no match to “developed” countries – so what can we feel superior about? Vedas, of course! We might be poor and illiterate and unscientific and hungry these days, but in the ancient times our intelligence level was over 9000! I mean our ancestors made so many discoveries while the rest of the world was living under rocks! I mean we discovered nuclear weapons, and flying machines and we could calculate the distance to Sun precisely and write it in one line in a poem (and on the next line describe that a flying ape god from Earth swallowed the Sun like it was some fruit!) – in short we were cool before it was cool to be cool! But then something happened and the Muslims and British attacked us and ruled over us for like thousands of years and stole all our knowledge and left us poor!

So RSS is out there to reclaim the glory days of ancient India! And they plan to do so by teaching it in schools. Instead of teaching children the wonders of science they propose to teach them that yoga is the solution to global warming. They want to spread the non-evidence based placebo and other non-medicines at the expense of modern evidence based medicines – because Ayurveda is our tradition baby! Let’s do things the way they were done 2000 years ago!

Is this a tool to gain power? They did not get power at the center on the promise of upholding the culture – they did so on the promise of economic development. So what’s the need to propagate their ideology of fearing everything that is not traditional? They seem to have a problem with everything – what we wear, what we eat, what we watch, listen to or read. They are looking for partners to share in their fear but the younger generation is embracing the new ways of life with both arms. May be the oldies fear that they will be sidelined…. but may be they just have a low IQ.

About privilege

Privilege – A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.

We are not equal. Some of us are born to rich parents, some to poor parents. Some who are born in poverty make it big in life and become rich. We think its merit, its our efforts. To a certain extent – yes it is true. But a major factor is privilege. Privilege of being born to well to do parents, being born into a peaceful place, being born to parents who can afford to get you quality education, just good genes. Privilege of being born into a specific race, skin colour, gender, religion, caste. Even your looks or physical abilities are a privilege. Just being a man is one of the biggest privileges, even in 2014 and even in the most developed countries of the world!

Right now I am sitting here in an air conditioned office, typing this post on a laptop sipping coffee. The way that I make money doesn’t involve me doing a mundane job where I don’t even have the liberty to take a loo break whenever I wish. I see people all around me who if they decide to take a break from there work for a day or two, they loose income for those days. Why is that so? Why don’t they deserve the life of comforts that I have? And I am not even at the top of the pyramid, I am somewhere at the middle of the middle may be. Life at the lower levels is a daily struggle.

These days its mostly education that makes a lot of difference in what sort of work a person ends up doing. Better education usually affords one a better job and a higher quality of life. Why does some people have better education and others don’t? Simple – privilege. Those who have a better education had parents who understood the value of education and had sufficient means to educate their children. That’s a privilege. Now now now, we see all around us poor people working hard to educate their children – again they are the parents who are intelligent enough to understand the simple truth that education pays. They limit the number of children, work extra to educate their children. It’s a privilege for the children. Also that the parents happened to be living in a country/society which is relatively peaceful and has institutions that provide good quality education for an affordable price. A child born in some poor country in Africa or in a war zone of Gaza, Syria or Afghanistan will not have that privilege. And then we pass on the privileges to our children. So if I am educated and make good money I will make sure my daughter also gets a good education so she will carry that same privilege.

There are some other privileges that are not as obvious – like gender based privileges or caste or race based privileges. A lot of people don’t realize this. Being a woman automatically closes a lot of doors for you. In many of the conservative societies women are reduced to nothing but home makers and child bearers. All in the name of protecting them or even giving them a comfortable life! Being a girl reduces one’s opportunities drastically. So if you are born as a man you already have an unfair advantage over half of the population just for being a man!

Should you be ashamed of your privileges? No. We don’t choose our privileges. We just happen to get them, we don’t have to be ashamed of them, but we do have to be aware of our privileges. Be humble. Don’t brag. If you got a job at a multinational company then it’s because you had parents who could get you good education, you had a good intelligence because of your genes – factors that are totally out of your control. So be humble. Do not look down upon those who are not as privileged as you. You aren’t better and they aren’t worse.

This video of a speech by Tim Minchin is relevant