Tamil Nadu has always been a bit of a mystery to me. It has its own unique identity and cultural history quite separate from that of the rest of India. The Tamil language has a recorded history spanning over two millenia, and belongs to the Dravidian language group whose characteristics are quite distinct from those of the Indo-European Sanskrit-descended languages spoken by North Indians. The Dravidian people also have their own classical music (karnatak sangeet) and classical dance tradition (bharatnatyam). In the same way, politics in Tamil Nadu has its own unique and (to an outsider like me) bewildering history, resulting in regional Tamil parties having held power in the state since 1967. Cut-outs, Caste and Cine Stars promises to describe and explain the world of Tamil politics, including the stories of its larger-than-life leaders.
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Trade talks and the aid scam

January 8th, 2007

Although the Doha round of trade talks was suspended last year, there is still a possibility that an agreement could be reached. President Bush has until 30 June this year to negotiate a deal with the Europeans, following which his authority to negotiate directly will lapse. The Doha round collapsed following the failure of Europe and the USA to cut tariffs on agricultural imports and farming subsidies (respectively) enough to satisfy countries like India and Brazil. Cuts on agricultural subsidies won’t just mean that the poorer countries will be able to export goods to the USA – it will have a direct impact on how rich countries provide aid to poorer ones. A couple of years ago, I did some consultancy work for an NGO in Ghana. While there, I got into a discussion with one of the local employees of Catholic Relief Services (CRS). What he told me was a real eye-opener.

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The nature of transparency

January 7th, 2007

I recently discovered Mark Dominus’ blog, which I subsequently lost spent a whole evening reading. It has lots of good stuff on physics, maths and history in addition to some more traditional techie fare. One of his earlier posts asked the question: how can solid and liquid materials be transparent? I think I know the answer. Read the rest of this entry »

Usability design

January 6th, 2007

I attended a talk today given by Sarah Bloomer, a usability design consultant with 20 years experience who has come to Bangalore to attend Easy7. She talked us through the anatomy of a typical three to six week engagement, which turned out to have a lot in common with how we start off projects at ThoughtWorks.

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I’ve learned some important things from my most recent project, a (rich) client – server application written in C# / .NET 2.0 that stores data in SQL server. Probably the most crucial thing is how important it is to get your service layer right. As described in a previous post, we initially sent domain objects over the wire, using what was basically RPC (the .NET WebService attribute). We fixed the problem of circular references in our graph by using a modified version of XStream. We then addressed the proliferation of web services by moving to a single web service which passed across a document-style message containing the names of the class and method to call (instantiated using introspection) and the object graph. The issue of updates from one screen not propagating to others was resolved by having a dictionary of all objects on the client side so that when an object was updated, it was visible to the other parts of the client. We fixed the poor performance of sending huge graphs across by using this dictionary as a cache. However the “services” are still very fine-grained RPC and basically useless to anyone else – although still a good solution for the problem they solve.

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Anita goes home

December 11th, 2006

Goodbye beautiful Anita

Updated  – scroll down
So last Tuesday we went to see Anita for the last time before she got on the train home. We’ve been visiting her most weekends at APSA, the local charity for street kids where she was moved to. She’s been brilliant to hang out with – although like any nine year old she has her sulky moments, most of the time she’s a wildly hilarious drama queen who is always cracking us up and entertaining the other kids. She’s picked up some of the local language, Kannada, and impressed the staff with how fast she learns. Read the rest of this entry »

Our gardenLiving in a decently-sized middle class apartment block in Murugeshpalya, Bangalore, we get to hear a lot of gossip (mostly conducted in Hindi, which is good practice for me). However a couple of weeks ago we got to create some of our own. On the floor below us lives a woman, Mrs Paul, and her two children. We noticed about a month ago that there was a young girl, shabbily dressed and dirty, living in the apartment with them. We assumed, correctly as it turned out, that this girl was employed as their servant. This is not an uncommon situation in India, where many children are orphans or from very poor families who cannot provide for them. Service in a good home is far superior to begging in the streets or manual labour and is generally considered acceptable so long as the children are taken care of and sent to school, although it is more usual for adults or whole families to be employed as servants.

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I’ve just finished War and Peace, which has happily occupied my weekends and travels over the last three months. For me, some of the most interesting themes have been Tolstoy’s discussions around spirituality, which I’ll discuss in a later post, and his critique of historical analysis. It turns out Tolstoy had been interested for some time prior to writing War and Peace in “writing a historical novel which would contrast the real texture of historical experience, as lived by individuals and communities, with the distorted image of the past presented by historians” (Afterword by Orlando Figes). This agenda is especially clear in the second half of the book, in which five of the seven parts begin with a philosophical discussion of historical analysis with particular application to Napoleon’s 1812 campaign. What is especially fascinating to me though is the clear resonances between his discussion and contemporary philosophical thought on psychology and action. Read the rest of this entry »

For one reason or another, software development over the years has taken inspiration from the construction industry, whether in the form of design patterns or the Gantt chart. Nevertheless, there are obvious differences such as the fact that suspension bridges cannot easily be refactored, and are hard to reboot when they crash.

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One of the biggest political debates in India over the last two decades or so has concerned the construction of the Narmada dam project. This huge and controversial series of dams, conceived by Nehru in the 1940s, is supposed to supply electricity to India’s national grid, and water to the drought-prone areas of Saurashtra and Kutchch in Gujarat. However its construction entails the relocation of tens of millions of people. Read the rest of this entry »