Mar 31, 2016

Travelogue - Rome




Roma ? Roma ? - Quipped a long faced gentleman who walked into our waiting area for EK095 at Dubai T3 -  to make sure that he's getting into the same flight.. He reminded me of Paolo Maldini, former Italian captain and one of the finest footballers I've ever seen.

This was a much anticipated trip for me. The cradle of modern civilization, legal systems, urban planning - all could be traced to this city.  Like most other European cities, the city & civilization developed around a river (Tiber) and the seven hills surrounding it.

Raphael's "School of Athens"
Huge crowds throng the Vatican city - the center of Christianity , but more importantly, the place that houses the artworks of Raphael and Michaelangelo.  Incredible Frescos dominate the Vatican Palace. Every picture has a story behind it. Not just the Biblical stories, but images that capture various phases of Roman & Greek times. I remember this particular painting by Raphael where he combined the times of Aristotle, Plato to the younger self of Michaelangelo and numerous other philosophers & scientists. Just after Raphael's Rooms, you get to Sistine Chapel where you can see the full glory of Michaelangelo's skills. No photographs permitted in Sistine Chapel unfortunately though.


Just like Cairo, Vatican City is a place that you should explore by a guide. As you would be lost in this place without someone who can explain the significant places & exhibits with the stories behind it.   The smallest city state or country has only about 400 odd citizens including the cardinals & Swiss guards.
Colosseum - From the top


Colosseum - The scale & enormity of this structure is really imposing. Multiple restoration attempts are going on to repair parts of that which have been damaged. The grandeur of this structure has been truly captured in Ridley Scott's Gladiator. If you visit this place, highly recommended that you take the ticket to see underground chambers or dungeons as they call it .


Roman Forum - Site of Marc Antony's Speech



"Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears ..."  - The legendary speech by Marc Antony after Caeser's murder happened right in the midst of these historical ruins,
collectively called as Roman Forum.  The ruins are again best explored with a guide. It has numerous monuments touching practically every Roman historical figure that you would have heard of from the time of Romulus & Remus to Constantine & even beyond.  

Pantheon - One of the ancient pagan temples



Indeed the influence of Roman culture & systems were so profound that all the following empires adapted many things from them. The word Kaizer & Czar often tagged to the emperors in Germany & Russia comes from the word Caesar.  The Aqueduct systems used by Romans to bring water from distant places to the city is still used in a few places.



Rome will make us think about the humble beginnings of many things that are the bedrock of modern society.. An empire that was more controlled by a Senate ( sort of a Quasi - Parliament ) , the birth place of  Republicanism and much more.

And Italian food that you get in Italy is very different from the servings in most Italian restaurants in India or Middle East.  Pasta, Pizza , Wine, Gelato - Without these, the Italian experience is incomplete !!!   

Nov 10, 2015

Travelogue - Bali




So we were at this island two weeks before the 'Rinjani' explosion & Chotta Rajan's arrest here made news.

Uluwatu - One of the best Views in Bali
      Indonesian Rupiah or IDR is one of the most depreciated currencies that I've come across. People discount the last three zeros in the currency :) .. Despite not being a net exporter of fuel, Indonesia seems to have kept the fuel rates at very low levels ( Actually comparable to middle east levels ) , thereby resulting in huge pressure on currency . Most of the fuel consumed here apparently comes from Brunei.  

Rice cultivation / Rice Garden
    On the demand side, the tourism industry is booming.  The Island seems to have emerged from the downturn that came along with the bomb blasts of 2005. Even though the currency is very weak, nothing from food to souvenirs is cheap for tourists. Essentially, as the demand is there, the prices are also marked-up  . Government seems to be investing well in the infrastructure as well.. Largely good roads, an exceptionally large airport, very little law and order problem.



  One of the most fertile countries we have been to - practically all varieties of crops and fruits seems to grow here. Probably, that's because of the volcanic soil .Organic farming & associated culinary is a major tourism activity here. And if you are into that, I would say, don't miss out on that aspect in Bali.  The way in which they cultivate rice is quite interesting .  Hill slopes are leveled to create a terrain with many steps where paddy is planted.

   Highlight of Bali was  'Luwak Coffee' for me.  Apparently, one of the most expensive variety of coffee sold across the globe ,  it tastes good as well :) .  And you should not miss the Luwak coffee plantation tours if you are in this island. We picked up a packet of Luwak Coffee :)  .. Believe me, you won't have any apprehensions in tasting this once you see them making it
Luwak Coffee + a variety of others

Bali has something to offer for all segment of tourists -- From the party hopping crowd to the old age couples, you have a range of attractions from water sports to spirituality available here.

 I got a feeling that the Balinese population is deeply religious . Every well-off family apparently builds a temple next to their house. So, this temple building  is probably the next biggest economic activity after  tourism & allied businesses.

 The interior roads of Bali gave me a feeling that I was travelling in Rural Kerala ( especially Northern Kerala - minus the political part )  .. Curved roads, small rural shops , lush greenery all around .

As usual with any island nation, many spots with good views,  apparently you need to spend time to travel to North Bali if you have to experience the natural splendor in its full glory.


Oct 10, 2015

Internet.org , Net Neutrality & Why Zuckerberg is Right ?




Seldom has people's ignorance surprised me so much than last month when this entire episode of Digital India & Internet.org played out in the mainstream & social media  .  Regardless of whether or not you are supporting digital India , its absolutely ridiculous to even think that changing your profile pic will "register you as a supporter" of internet.org  .  Facebook or any other corporation does not work on any form of democratic decision making in such initiatives ( and they should never )  .  So, whether you change your profile pic or not has got nothing to do with internet.org

It also made me think about a point that I emphasized in my last post on this subject .  People tend to be taken in when you put a liberal dose of words like 'liberal' , 'neutral' , 'equal' , 'democratic'  - so on and so forth. The central point in trying to understand this entire proposition is accepting the fact the internet connectivity that you and I enjoy has a cost. And it is congested at many points in many degrees. When a service has an underlying cost,the best way to utilize it rationally is in making people the right amount of money for the right kind of service.

Facebook is not just doing this out of altruistic intentions . They too have a selfish motive. And that motive is to create an underlying eco-system where people are connected based on their social interactions ( the social graph ) so that they can do good amount of targeted advertising or monetize any other kind of revenue generator that they may bring along.  But if they end up creating a platform that gives connectivity and access to millions of people who cannot afford to have that otherwise, it should be welcomed ..  The potential that internet connectivity (even if limited ) can bring to the lives of rural population is really great. Scores of small scale business owners are seeing 'market' differently after the advent of e-commerce. Whether that's in the field of agriculture / education / anything else,  having an accessible connectivity is a game changer. Internet.org is a platform designed keeping all this in consideration.. It does not support apps that are bandwidth heavy, it welcomes third party apps - Actually it promotes an android / ios type ecosystem for the unconnected world.

Few arguments that have been put against internet.org are

(1) If Facebook is so altruistic , why don't they just subsidize a data-connectivity charge for the  rural population   ?

Let's face it - Facebook is not just altruistic . It is a corporation which needs to come up with business models. If a business model goes hand-in-hand with social change, there's no reason to oppose that.  Also, these data-caps / bandwidth subsidies etc goes with an underlying assumption - it is that people are rational to use it appropriately. That is not often correct when it comes to the rural masses. One of the reasons cash subsidies in lieu of public distribution systems have not worked out well in developing world is that the cash is utilized for unintended things - alcohol / gambling / entertainment  - other than the primary intended areas - education / food / health . The same goes in this context. A large percentage of population is quite likely to use a subsidized & unrestricted bandwidth in movie downloads / videos / games .

(2) Would this stifle the chances of a small company incoming up with a next generation app ?
 
- If you glance the annual reports of any telecom company , you will realize the fact that data connectivity is the main driver of revenue growth . Telecom companies always have an incentive to market data plans that make more and more bandwidth heavy applications to the end consumer. Infact a subsidized platform like internet.org ( that offers bare basic internet with limited sites ) would be a good launchpad for telecom companies to upgrade customers to the next level of unrestricted internet. So, I would  say that fear is unfounded - except may be for monopoly markets.  And telecom in India is not at all a monopoly.

Any platform or connectivity has a cost - and someone needs to bear that cost - In this case, that cost is carried by telecom players, facebook and any other partner on this platform

Internet.org should make your connectivity charges much cheaper. Today as we are paying a flat fee for unrestricted content, we are effectively cross-subsidizing a bandwidth heavy gamer / movie downloader. If any of you have used Google Apps platform,  internet.org is an extended concept of that .  And I think in this case, Zuckerberg is more correct than Tim Berners Lee