Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Thoughts about making of skynet!

While Artificially Intelligent machines may not plot a rebilion just about yet, they can very well destroy humanity as we know it, by taking away menial jobs like delivery boy, shop clerk and truck drivers. These technologies are no where near mass deployment yet. However that may not be true in next 15-20 years. That Google self driving car, along with others, would one day actually become perfect at driving and replace humans as drivers. It would replace the truck drivers from the truck too. Similarly, automated drone deliveries and clerk less checkouts, could make 100s of millions, job-less.

Without simple menial jobs, people would start becoming dependent on minimum guaranteed income and "free" health care schemes. However, people need more to survive. They need a purpose, a goal. I feel this would open up possibilities of a revolution by have nots against the affluent. A big global revolution. With tools of social media, all it needs a good leader and a spark.

One thing that Terminator movie's script writers did not think about (or deliberately missed out on) is existence of humans in Skynet. And a large number of them, working hard to perfect the machines' AI and material science.

Machines won't destroy the world, humans would. Like always!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What is this black money and will demonetisation help in curbing it ?

Modi government's decision to withdraw INR500 and INR1000 rupee notes to curb black money is bold and stupid! Bold because there are many risks involved in this move. Stupid because it may not curb black money but may just put a spanner in the fledging Indian economy. Let us get a few basics out the way:

What is this Black-Money ?
In my view (and in admittedly layman terms), black-money is money earned by a person on which she has evaded tax. Black-money is the money that you have that the Income Tax department or other government tax agencies do not know about. This could be the money a grocery shop owner earns in cash and never declares in his income statement (or for that matter he never even files an income statement), bribe money that a police man earn on the road, crime money that a drug peddler takes from their customers, crime money that a bank robber has etc.

How is black money created ?
As soon as your clean-tax-declared money (referred to as white) is out of ATM, it has a fair chance of becoming black. For instance, suppose you have all whites and you take this cash out of ATM and buy groceries worth INR2000 from the local grocery shop. Let us assume that grocery shop owner has a margin of 20% and he makes a net of INR 200 as profit (after expenses). The grocery shop owner does not declare this income to IT department in his tax returns. This money is not accounted at all and is now his black money. He would pay this cash now to buy more goods, he would pay his employees who in turn would spend this in cash and money remains black.

Moreover, a large percentage of rest of the INR1800, can potentially become black money. If the wholesaler he buys from doesn't declare taxes, the manufacturer the wholesaler buys the goods from doesn't pay taxes or the landlord of his shop takes all his rent in cash, it all would be classified as black.

Can this money turn in white ?
Sure it can turn into white. The grocery shop owner goes with his family for an outing and spends this cash in a large multinational coffee chain. This coffee shop chain then declares the GST/VAT they collect, pay tax of the corporate profit they make, the landlord gets paid by cheque who then declares the rent from the coffee shop as income and the employees of this chain get paid in their bank accounts who in turn have to pay income tax. All this money is white and would remain white till it remains with honest people who pay taxes or are forced to pay their taxes systemically.

What about fake currency, drug money etc ?
Black money includes fake money, terror money, corruption money and crime money but the proportion of simple tax evasion money is huge. Let us get some numbers. The amount of money in circulation in India is around INR 17, 54, 000 crores. This amount is about 14% of the GDP! This is a very high figure and in developed world it is around 5%. Fake currency in circulation is estimated to be around INR 400 crores or roughly 0.02% of total currency in the economy. Drug and crime money is higher but in the similar order of magnitude.

Let us be clear about this, amount of black money (tax evasion) is huge in Indian economy and curbing it can make Indian government really cash rich and in turn make India really prosperous in long term.

What about demonetisation ? Will that curb black money ?
Tax evasion happens because money goes unaccounted and public, in general, do not believe in paying taxes unless forced to. Large firms have very strict rules regarding payment of salaries. This includes cutting taxes at the source. This leads to very less leakage from this source.

However any small business or local shops & establishments who take cash from people, do not pay any tax at all or pay tax on a tiny percentage of their income. A lot of self employed people who earn in cash simply don't pay any tax. Farming and agriculture industry is tax free by government. Small scale industries are big tax evaders. Therefore, we can see here that there is a huge chunk of people in our country who simply do not pay taxes or pay on a small percentage of their income.

Demonetization, simply wouldn't solve this problem. It is akin to using bomb to kill a swarm of mosquitoes over a swamp. Sure, the mosquito population would dwindle in short team, but unless the swamp is cleaned, mosquitoes would come back in short amount of time.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Is the app-only economy going to kill the internet ?

Internet is at risk of becoming low level plumbing of the snazzy house of proprietary app world. With the advent of app-only companies and products, internet, as we knew it, is slowly taking the backseat. App world is full in control of their masters and it is a very snobby world. Biggest irony of the sharing economy is that apps don't like to share, linked to, looked inside. This world does not have a concept of hyperlinking, a basic premise of the internet. It is surely very un-internet like. It all seems designed to lock in the users to handful of apps and make them so myopic that they don't even realize that there are options. 

Let me take a step back. Internet, in my view, is the ultimate manifestation of the hippy culture. Everything was free: 

  1. Access to internet is free after you have paid your ISP. Almost everything that has been digitized is available on the internet for free. You could change ISPs and everything still worked.
  2. There was hardly any government control over the internet. They wished. However, it is designed in such a beautiful way that there are very few central systems. This makes the internet very tough to control (unless of course you are China). 
  3. The real estate on the internet was also very cheap. You could buy a domain name in $10, a cheap server in $5 and go online with your site. 
  4. There was no limit on number of sites you could visit. These sites could not steal your data. They could store some of their own data at your end but not steal much. Once you close the site, they cannot send you any popups or notifications. They cannot run in background and monitor your activity. Track your location, speed, acceleration etc.
  5. Better still, you could write blog posts which millions could read and cost you zilch. There were these things called RSS feed, which made it even unnecessary to go to sites to read content on them. You could just subscribe to RSS feeds.
  6. In fact, you could link to other people's property and it was encouraged. People who visited your site, could easily hop to any other site you linked to. You did not have to pay anything for it.
  7. HTML was written in a way that made even sloppy code work. HTML was so dead simple that anybody could make a site in it. No lock-in. Almost all code written for one browser worked in all browsers. There were tonnes of browsers.  This sloppy code could render on almost any device and browser. Again no lock-in. You could look into the html, css and javascript code of any site. It was free for all. Internet was the ultimate open source.
May be internet was too open to make money. So 'they' invented the app world. App economy is a dream for big companies. Huge user base, free & rich media push notifications, ability to steal the ultimate of user social graph (call logs, sms history) and on-ground sensors to enable steal very personal data of users. Lets have a look at this world as to how it compares to the internet.
  1. Internet fast speed lanes,, anti net neutrality deals. Enough said.
  2. Apps do share the internet. However are themselves in control of one company which makes it, one company which distributes it.
  3. Apps have already made it impossible for a part time hobby dev to produce and maintain 3-4 different apps. Hardly anybody I know, knows obj-c and java both very well.
  4. Apps have made it difficult to have more than 20-30 of them on your phone. More than that and your phone would be left with no space. Once these select 20 are there, you are locked into them. They steal your data and periodically push you notifications! A we just love them.
  5. We first managed to kill RSS. I remember there was a huge campaign one time which demeaned RSS. Google then killed reader for no apparent reason. Is the internet world a puppet show ?
  6. Apps cannot link to other apps. You cannot link to particular page of particular app in a generic way unless the other app wants it and allows it. There exists no generic way to do it. The standard way could be that you talk to the other app dev, sign a contract with them and possibly even pay them. Linking is dead.
  7. Apps are not free. They are locked in to a platform. If you want to port your code, you would need to rewrite the whole code base. (hybrid apps don't seem like they are happening)

I think we are witnessing end of internet as we knew it. Companies are suddenly trying to kill browsers and generic internet. They are trying to invent a proprietary walled garden internet.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lets recall 1991

Lets recall 1991 (or 1992,93,94,95 if you can't do 1991).

Cinema halls were places which were dark and damp, frequented by anti social elements,

Even old technology by US or other western countries standards was not available in India like computers or mobile phones.

We had Maruti, Ambassadar & Fiat premier padmini for cars. Going anywhere by road was considered a huge pain as roads were in piss poor state. NHAI did not exist back then.

Going abroad for a holiday was never heard of. I remember when my father went to london we all (about 50 people) went to see him off.

Calls to US/UK were not even in reach of rich. Though if you knew a telephone dept. employee you were lucky. Mobile phones were not there.

If your landline phone went dead and was repaired in 1 month, it was considered to be a good service.

Cancer treatment was available in only Bombay.

Trunk calls in normal mode used to take 12 hours. Lightening one was 30 mins (?) and used to cost four times.

Opening a bank account and getting the damn passbook updated was a half day long task in itself.

Domestic air travel was not heard off. Tickets were super expensive for kind of earnings those days. Travelling even in 2nd or 3rd AC was considered a luxury. Getting a ticket in railway was difficult. Very difficult. Online was not a word.

Novels or other non text-books were not available easily. There were some like mills & boon etc which you could buy in 2nd hand or get issued from library. I always used to think that one day if I have money I will buy lots of books.

Information was hard to come by. I remember my father renting Newstrack to watch news about babri mosque demolition. You had to believe on what radio used to tell you. I remember how we used to wait for 8:30 news at night.

Cinema halls were dark, damp places that used to be frequented by anti social elements. Entertainment industry was very very small and it was hard to find. Mall as a concept did not exist at all.

Bharat bandh or state bandh were very frequent. Riots were very frequent too.

In all, I feel we have come a long way.

I am not saying we live in a rosy world and sure some places in India are really backward, however we have more light than darkness. We have ubiquitous telephony, accessible & cheaper air travel, much better service in terms of railways and other ticketing. Malls and multiplexes has made long tail cinema possible and profitable along with mainstream commercial cinema. Internet is still not as ubiquitous as we would like to but we are moving towards it with a very fast pace. We have much less incidents of riots and bandhs. Sure, UP has riots and it is not going to end there anytime soon. However much of India is does not witness as much communal violence as we used to witness in those days. Polio is eradicated. Banking is much more ubiquitous and accessible than it was before.

Miles to go before we can call ourselves a developed nation, but surely we are not moving in the wrong direction.

Monday, March 31, 2014


ngrep is the packet capture tool I always wanted. I always found tcpdump and wireshark etc too intimidating. ngrep prints everything it capture on stdout and like any other command line tool on *nix, the output can be further piped into other tools like grep, awk, sed or cut. Let me show a few examples

1. Capture all requests on port 80
sudo ngrep -q -W byline '' 'dst port 80'

2. Capture all http get requests on port 80 and headers

sudo ngrep -W byline -q -t '(^GET .* HTTP)' 'port 80'

3. Capture all GET requests on port 80
sudo ngrep -W byline -q -t '(^GET .* HTTP)' 'port 80'|grep -E '^GET /.*' 

4. Capture all GET/POST requests and responses (not in sync)
sudo ngrep -W byline -q -t '(^GET .* HTTP)|(^HTTP/1.1)'|grep -E '^(HTTP/1.1)|(GET /)' -B1

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dilemma of growth vs environment

All the industrialised countries managed to kill their environment for growth and then are going back to environment after they have reached a state where they can afford to think about environment. Saving forests at the cost of nutrition, health care, immunisation, jobs, education, roads, electricity, clean drinking water etc cannot be justified. It is very easy for us to sit in our cozy offices/homes and comment about saving environment.

Forests have become breeding ground for maoists who continue to make sure people in those areas live in extreme poverty and continue supporting maoism. People are opposing nuclear plants after getting influenced by Greenpeace. How many people died in Fukushima outside the plant ? None! Millions die everyday due to lack of medicines, healthcare, clean drinking water and all this cannot be delivered to people with energy. We have an option of either using nuclear energy which is relatively clean or use thermal which is heavily polluting. We do not stop flying just because a plane crashed.

Similarly, we enforce coastal regulatory zones (CRZ) in cities like Mumbai and do not allow to build drains and water treatment plants as these will result in some mangroves getting cut. In Mumbai, metro line 2 is not being made as the coach depot has green hurdles. What is the use of CRZ in Mumbai ? People say that mangroves help Mumbai from flooding. Why not just make sure we have enough infra to take care of storm water? Other large cities manage it. I am sure Mumbai can manage without mangroves too.

I don't think we can continue to live in these city villages & forests and dream of growth. We cannot have both at the same time.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Bitcoin is #fail and how RBI was right about it

Bitcoin bank closes down after $600,000 hacker theft

Bitcoin Singapore CEO suicide

MtGox continues to crumble, Flexcoin and Poloniex hacked, ZeroBlock gets RTBTC

And here is RBI's advisory released on 24th Dec, 2013 and I quote:

  • VCs being in digital form are stored in digital/electronic media that are called electronic wallets. Therefore, they are prone to losses arising out of hacking, loss of password, compromise of access credentials, malware attack etc. Since they are not created by or traded through any authorised central registry or agency, the loss of the e-wallet could result in the permanent loss of the VCs held in them.
  • It is reported that VCs, such as Bitcoins, are being traded on exchange platforms set up in various jurisdictions whose legal status is also unclear. Hence, the traders of VCs on such platforms are exposed to legal as well as financial risks
The second point came into play as Mt.Gox the biggest bitcoin exchange was hosted in Japan and users in USA etc have no direct legal overreach to it.

At today's value of bitcoin of $668, the value of stolen 800K bitcoins is more than 500 million dollars!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Not subsidizing petrol is good

Because government should
  • not subsidize 3% (rich) population's leisurely drives
  • better spend that money in building public transport
  • build better healthcare facility
  • bring down fiscal deficit
  • provide money out to poor via NREGA
  • pass food security bill and provide out food security
  • take steps to reduce pollution by making driving more expensive and public transport more effective
  • dissuade people from driving cars to de-congest city roads
  • encourage car pooling and this is one way of doing it
  • encourage innovation of alternate fuels in the country and prohibitive costs of petrol is a good way of doing that

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Say Happy Diwali without fireworks

Watch this photo series and decide for yourself

I do not understand why do we let this madness happen every year. There is much more to Diwali than firecrackers. What do they give us anyway ? Pollution, many children without childhood, some without eyes and others dead. To add to this misery they cost so much and add strain to our already stressed wallets!

Saying no to firecrackers is not enough. Actively discourage others too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A few things about India that is not so well known

  1. India has a nuclear capable missile which can travel at 7mach
  2. Rural population of India is about 60% of Indian population
  3. More than 50% of Indians have mobile phones
  4. Indian mobile network is better than most other mobile networks in the world in terms of quality, coverage and cost(one SMS costs less than 1 cent, calling is at 1 cent per minute).
  5. There is a rural employment guarantee scheme which covers a very large part of Indian population
  6. Medicines in India are very cheap compared to US and cost of healthcare is also a magnitude lower. There are a lot of good hospitals and medical tourism is on the rise.
  7. India has an active fast breeder reactor program which, if successful, would lead to energy security
  8. Some parts of India are very under developed and malnutrition is higher than sahara desert countries
  9. About 40% of Indians are below poverty line and live in very unhygienic conditions
  10. There are about 15 Indian cities where Metro railways in under construction or planned
  11. India now manufactures more 4 mn cars and commercial vehicles per year. This is a 500% jump for last 10 years
  12. India is the largest milk producer in the world. Production was about 120 mn tonnes in 2010. This figure is almost double of US milk production.
  13. Gold consumption of India was about 745 tonnes last year. This is highest in the world and is about 6 times the US consumption. Women in India are crazy about gold and it is bought as investment