Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Guest Lectures and an old Geezer

My series of guest lectures came to an abrupt halt thanks to the audience being most unresponsive. I know stuff can be boring, but with every effort to make it interesting with pictures and illustrations and with new stuff for the kids I hoped they'd find it interesting. They found it over the head and I did my best to reach them and make them ask doubts, talk to me, respond to queries, opine, suggest, whatever.

Nothing useful came out and I decided that I was being taken for an old geezer. I spent at least 6 waking hours (considering I've been sleepy all the while strangely) preparing the presentations. Consecutive guest lectures are a bad idea if the audience isn't appreciative of the effort taken to prepare a presentation or lecture for them. The one I'm referring to was on Memory Management and was comprehensive, utterly simple and only a sleepy absent audience could ignore it and they did.

"Who in their right mind would ever need more than 640K of RAM!?" Bill Gates, 1981. That's exactly what these kids are thinking right now. Down with MMUs and Virtual Memory.

My next one was to be on algorithmic complexity analysis. I doubt they can take much math and it takes time to prepare slides on math, easier to write down on a board with chalk. So what the heck, indefinitely postpone the presentation - that's the best thing. Let them finish their course and I can then find out if they really know algorithmic complexity. Guys are shy to talk because they'd be labeled nerds. Girls don't want to be non-girly. Barf!! What is the point of lecturing people who don't think it's useful? Lose-Lose for both sides, best solution - avoid it.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Nature triggers a Comedy of Errors

Today I set out to buy a mobile phone, a bluetooth headset and a battery for my old phone. The former were to be gifts for Christmas. I joined Mom and my Sis in their shopping routine. As my planning went I had in mind "Univercell" who advertise quite frequently as the best-price providers in the state. When I reached there I found the place devoid of customers and of the Nokia 5800 model I was looking for. I was told that this model would be available by 4pm in the evening and the sales staff happily took down my number. I never received a call from this person even 3 hours after 4pm.

I got to the Nokia authorized mobile shop by almost 1:15pm. One of the chaps in charge asked me to wait while he checked on the model and told me that this Nokia 5800 was available. The price quoted was lower than "Univercell's" markup price. He told me it was in a nearby warehouse and he just had to pick it up. He then started making several calls to someone presumably in the warehouse. After half an hour, I was told that the mobile will be available only by 3:30pm. I had ordered for the Nokia battery for my older phone by this time. I left the order unpaid and told him that I would come by 3:00pm or later and get the phone.

I had already planned to refuel my car and check my tyre pressure in the afternoon and this would be no tall order. In the afternoon I set off after receiving a call from the salesman of the Nokia shop. Rain had started pouring heavily. Unknown to me the rain had set off disconnecting phone lines that connected ATMs and Credit Card machines around town. I reached the shop after fueling my car (paying cash, no curse, I had planned for this at least) and checking tyre pressure. I went to the Nokia shop, ordered an extra pouch for the phone I was buying as a gift.

Then started the comedy of errors. I have three cards, none of which were accepted. On calling the bank executive I found that my accounts were in order. Then the shopkeeper checked his line with his own card and found that his machine wasn't connecting and ended up with an error message "server busy." This was a HDFC bank POS machine. The shopkeeper called up his customer care line and they told him that this error can be fixed only by their service staff who are not available. Then the shopkeeper told me that from yesterday morning this machine seemed to be out of service. I was beginning to get impatient which was only natural.

I decided to go to the nearest ATM which was at walking distance. Another service person in the shop told me that the nearest ATM had been out-of-order for at least the past two days. But the shop-keeper affirmed that it was fixed in the morning and it was working fine. It was heavy rain. I braved the rain with an umbrella, reached the ATM to find that it was "Out of Service." This was an "Indian Bank" ATM. The bank security staff in charge of the ATM told me that this ATM was out of order from the morning.

I took leave of the shopkeeper temporarily and tried the next nearest ATM which was about a kilometer away. The downpour was heavier by now and it was good I wasn't knocking off anyone on the road as visibility was really poor. There was a big pool of water in front of the ATM and I had to get my feet wet to just get to the ATM. This too was out of service. The guard in charge of the ATM finally told me that I could try as the "online" message started flashing back again. As I started my transaction the ATM hung up abruptly. I was only thankful that the software ejected the card on a hang-up.

Now dejected, I called my local bank executive and asked him whether I could withdraw cash. He answered in the affirmative. So I went, withdrew money from my account the old-fashioned way with a withdrawal slip and came back. I was still short of some cash as the Nokia shopkeeper had calculated it wrong. I then went back home to get the balance from my draw and then went back to the shop. I was a bit vexed by now. The downpour was on and off. Finally I managed to get all the three items, the gift, the battery I intended to get and the headset. I forgot all about the pouch as I drove back home. That was the difference for which I had already visited home.

I finally asked the shopkeeper to do me a favor by dropping the pouch at my house as I hadn't availed a single discount. I am yet to receive this item. But one heavy rainfall cutting off ATM lines can change your plans drastically. This is what I learnt through my long (relative to the day) ordeal. Imagine a full natural catastrophe. It can send all our plans berserk because of our heavy reliance on technology. All technology is not failsafe and one possibly cannot make technology that is entirely failsafe. Even the old timely tested processes and methods rely on some sort of technology and are not failsafe. Humanity's great progress can be halted by one lash of nature. This is not the time of the year it rains in my town, at least not regularly. While this may not be indicative of climate change, it beckons us to learn and understand nature better before we build processes and technology to ease our daily lives.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Fake Medicines in India, a Personal Experience

I just experienced the fact of fake medicines recently as I was taking a particular prescription drug. I had tried out the same drug as a "Physician's Sample" (My Dad being my Physician.) The drug worked incredibly well and was most effective. I decided to have a regular regimen of the drug for the prescribed duration and bought the drug from a medical shop. I had bought the drug of the same manufacturer. The result was no effect from the drug. The problem I experience is lack of sleep to which this drug was great help. It was most frustrating to find the same drug with the same pharmaceutical ingredients listed not working as the samples worked. No who said "demos are better than the actual software application" is true only for the Software Industry. The Pharmaceutical industry isn't far behind.

I later found an article from Indian Express: link to article which illustrates the problem of fake or adulterated drugs. It is generally accepted that 20-25% of the drugs with the label "made in India" are fake. The first article on this was run on medindia about seizure of fake medicines in Europe in 2005. This news item appeared in 2006. There are no effective enforcement agencies within India to ensure that fake medicines are identified early and the respective manufacturers penalized. Most drug inspectors either succumb to the loss of adequate time for inspection or to the vicissitudes of corruption that denies them from being able to execute their duty.

The worst part I found about fake medicines is that they extend from popular drugs, over-the-counter drugs and now to life-saving drugs. Unless citizens take a wake-up call and fight against such medication, there is absolutely no hope for getting rid of this problem. The companies blame it on agencies in their supply chain rather than taking responsibility themselves which could impact their brand name heavily. Further there is sporadic news about China introducing medication with a "made in India" label. While this is plausible, this may be only a follow-up to the fact that fake medication is unmonitored and tolerated in India.