Archive: Feb 2007

Enterprising postman

uspsI was out and about one day when I got a call on my cell phone. Unrecognized number, but I pick up. “Hello? Ms. Mahesh? This is Wilson… your mailman…”

Apparently my passport had arrived in the mail, but he couldn’t leave it for me (I have to sign for it), and he was wondering if I needed it urgently. Yes, I did, so I headed home and took it from him.

That’s what I call great customer service. I have no idea how he got my cell phone, but he’s used it ever since, any time there is anything important. He’ll call me and say that there’s a large package – should he put it in the elevator instead of leaving it under the mailboxes?

Wilson is now in my phone’s address book. With such enterprising mailmen, the USPS is in safe hands!

eBay India and cricket

eBay IndiaeBay India have gotten into the craze around the Cricket World Cup. If you check out their Cricket Craze splash page, there is a lot going on.

But the item that is getting the most coverage is the auction of saris worn by Mandira Bedi and signed by the entire Indian cricket team. Mandira Bedi is a “color commentator” and was also the first every woman commetator (as far as I know). She’s very rah-rah and somewhat annoying, but apparently the eye-candy factor more than makes up for it… Plus she says stuff like “Dravid across my chest” (meaning Indian captain Rahul Dravid happens to have signed the sari section which happens to drape across her ample bosom). Watch the video here.

Btw, folks – the splash page is almost static now (there are only three links – two go back to the eBay India homepage and one goes to PaisaPay). Even if the auctions aren’t live yet, at the very least, put up a marketing splash page where users can learn more and see all the World Cup related auctions. That way when all the press events drive traffic to eBay, they’ll have somewhere to go.

[Story and video hat tip: Great Bong]

This week on Tatvam

I’ve been neglecting my Tatvam blog for a little bit. But I’m back to posting there.

Here’s what’s on Tatvam:

The last post is about how the clarification of Fair Use is helping documentary filmmakers. I am very interested in how culture evolves, how technology and art are inspired, and how prevailing laws enable or choke that innovation. I read Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture when it came out and was fascinated with the history of innovation and his hypotheses on where we were headed.

Am also a huge proponent of freeing up usage laws so people can invent, innovate and change how we see things. Both my blogs use a Creative Commons license (heh – amazing that I would need that with just imaginary readers and all…). With Share Alike, you can allow people to morph your work, if they allow others the same rights to their work — that is a virtuous cycle. But even with Share Alike, you can also preserve your rights through Required Attribution and Non-Commercial use, if you so desire (and I so desire, so this license gives you all three of those elements).


I was talking to a film-buddy last night. He was commiserating with me on a tough day I had professionally. The conversation meandered. He talked about friends and being there for each other.

Then he talked about his second year at film school. As a gay man, he got tested for HIV and found out that he was positive. He had a very good friend female friend and she was the only one he could talk to. His dad had just been laid off and he didn’t want to tell his parents yet and add pressure to them. He fell very ill. His friend sent him an email stating that she couldn’t handle it; that she could be his “fun” friend when times are good and could hang out with him and go to dinner with him, but couldn’t handle this.

He’s a great, positive person, and a wonderful friend. And I appreciate his being there for me.

Conversations like these put life in perspective.

Math test responses

A friend sent me these hilarious responses to math tests. Thanks for sending, D!

Note: I have no idea where they originated (he got an email forward). If you know, let me know and I will credit the source.

Update: Apparently at least some of these were posted on







UPDATE (on March 4th): Apparently, this post got “Stumbled”!! So, to make this blog more useful…

If you liked this post, you may also like these other posts:

If you like more serious posts, try these:

Flame wars

The New York Times has an interesting piece on flaming.

Flaming has a technical name, the �online disinhibition effect,� which psychologists apply to the many ways people behave with less restraint in cyberspace.

In a 2004 article in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior, John Suler, a psychologist at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., suggested that several psychological factors lead to online disinhibition: the anonymity of a Web pseudonym; invisibility to others; the time lag between sending an e-mail message and getting feedback; the exaggerated sense of self from being alone; and the lack of any online authority figure. Dr. Suler notes that disinhibition can be either benign � when a shy person feels free to open up online � or toxic, as in flaming.

The emerging field of social neuroscience, the study of what goes on in the brains and bodies of two interacting people, offers clues into the neural mechanics behind flaming.

This work points to a design flaw inherent in the interface between the brain�s social circuitry and the online world. In face-to-face interaction, the brain reads a continual cascade of emotional signs and social cues, instantaneously using them to guide our next move so that the encounter goes well. Much of this social guidance occurs in circuitry centered on the orbitofrontal cortex, a center for empathy. This cortex uses that social scan to help make sure that what we do next will keep the interaction on track.

I would say anonymity exacerbates this even more. If being locked in your house, your face gleaming in the pale light of your monitor, deprived of all sensory feedback is not enough, add the ability to communicate anonymously into the mix. Even more dangerous. No wonder a lot of blog flamers are “anons”.


Socially artful responses emerge largely in the neural chatter between the orbitofrontal cortex and emotional centers like the amygdala that generate impulsivity. But the cortex needs social information � a change in tone of voice, say � to know how to select and channel our impulses. And in e-mail there are no channels for voice, facial expression or other cues from the person who will receive what we say.

True, there are those cute, if somewhat lame, emoticons that cleverly arrange punctuation marks to signify an emotion. The e-mail equivalent of a mood ring, they surely lack the neural impact of an actual smile or frown. Without the raised eyebrow that signals irony, say, or the tone of voice that signals delight, the orbitofrontal cortex has little to go on. Lacking real-time cues, we can easily misread the printed words in an e-mail message, taking them the wrong way.

Hmm… I think cute/lame emoticons and smileys, while they may “lack the neural impact of an actual smile or frown”, are better than nothing. I tried giving them up after reading Jai’s rant against them. But my emails felt lifeless. My IMs felt depressed. So, I’m back to the full barrage of smileys, winkeys, dinkeys, animaticons and emoticons. Hopefully that calms down anyone who feels the burning need to flame me. 🙂


Two pieces of information got me thinking about censorship in India — Niranjana’s post on banned books and news that the Government of India (GOI) was taking action against Neo Sports.

Let me restate – my Neo Sports post on their advertisements on the West Indies tour stated that I personally found the ads tasteless and borderline racist. I also stated that I don’t think racism was the intent behind them. And that I thought it was silly for a company to build a brand using the ad since it offended a section of their customers.

Today, Srini very kindly updated me (thanks, Srini!) that the Information and Broadcasting Ministry headed by Priya Ranjan Das Munshi has slapped a show cause notice on the channel asking it to explain itself.

What?? The way this should be moderated is by the market. If the public expresses their dissatisfaction to Neo Sports, that’s fine. If their shareholders hold them accountable, that’s fine. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry is redefining its bounds by overstepping them constantly. They’ve banned the Gandhi YouTube video, they briefly banned all domains, and they banned AXN Channel for showing “The World’s Sexiest Ads”.

Er, hello? No one is being forced to view any of these. Hate the YouTube video? Don’t watch it. AXN is a private channel that users pay for. If they don’t like the show, they will stop subscribing. The GOI has no business being in the censorship business – if they want, they can be in the ratings business. Slap an X or R rating on things, but let the consumer choose. Repeat after me, Mr. Priya Ranjan Das Munshi – the market, the market, the market.

Here’s what I said to Niranjana –

The Indian Government is just insane. That’s why they ban things at the drop of a hat. It doesn’t matter what it is – books, movies, ads, whatever.

They are SO super-sensitive and want to avoid upsetting *anyone* that they ride roughshod over free speech. I think India is a terrible country to be an artist of any kind. You are subject to the whims of bureaucrats who are more concerned with not ruffling feathers than allowing artists to push the boundaries.

Aaargh. Yes, a pet peeve of mine…

Happy New Year (of the Golden Pig)

Golden PigHappy New Year to all my Chinese friends!

2007 is the year of the Pig, but apparently it is a special occasion where it is the year of the Golden Pig that only comes around once every 60 years!!

The Chinese are going crazy trying to have their kids in this most auspicious of years. If you want to try to squeeze in a kid in the year of the Golden Pig, don’t stress, it extends till the next lunar New Year, sometime in February of 2008. So, you don’t have to pop out the kid by December!