My new personal policy on online activities

Filed under: Internet and Blogging by Hari
Posted at 08:58 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:16 IST)
I'm going to document this little shift in my policy towards my online activity so that I can read it to remind myself every now and then :P. I am no longer going to be actively involved with large and busy forums and communities with lots of members and posts. Instead I'll be looking to catch up on smaller boards with a friendlier ambience and also go back to promoting my own forum Literaryforums.org, which I feel that I've long neglected and my brother's forum ToonsAndComics.com. I will be consciously focussing my free time (which might become scarce as I'm now getting busier with my career drive) on my blog, my forum and then the rest. I want to establish a clear set of priorities for my time spent online and contributing in my modest way towards small boards which need active members and not continue to be a drop in the ocean of larger communities.

Hopefully this new focus will help me streamline my online activities, make me more productive in my areas of strength and allow me to concentrate on my career through this summer.

Is piracy morally objectionable?

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted at 12:08 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:16 IST)
I have always been amused when, in online discussions, people tend to equate piracy with plain theft. I have been equally amused when companies like Sony and Microsoft try to jump on the high moral platform in this issue and purely focus on piracy as a criminal/ethical issue rather than an economic issue, which it truly is.

I for one, do not condone piracy. On the other hand, I don't think that people who take the moral high ground on the piracy issue are doing justice to the issue at hand. It's not as simple as saying that piracy is theft and therefore an immoral thing. Let's also forget the fact that the theft=piracy analogy doesn't make sense in any case. I'll grant you that piracy, in fact, is a crime. Although it is technically a crime, I think that there are enough grey areas in piracy and that not all piracy can be treated as equal. For instance, if a friend of mine copied a music CD from me or ripped my CD as Mp3 files and copied them on to his computer, he and I would be technically liable for piracy. However, a professional piracy racket involving dedicated individuals who spend their life in actively promoting piracy for their own profit is a totally different kind of piracy. And this piracy industry thrives purely because piracy is profitable and it makes good business sense for those who aren't too particular about ethics or morals in the pursuit of making money.

And yet, the music and movie industry is either unwilling or unable to realize the primary factor behind piracy which is the economics of the issue. Let me give you an example. Original Harry Potter movie DVDs are on sale at many reputable supermarkets. Do you know the price of a single DVD? It is in the range of about Rs. 799 to Rs. 999. Sometimes, new releases are priced at more than Rs. 1000 per piece. These glittering shops always sell at the MRP rates and offer no discounts. If you came back three or four weeks later, you find the exact same DVD lying there gathering dust with the same price marked on it. To me, this kind of pricing policy seems unjustifiable, considering that I might not see the movie more than once. Who would want to pay that amount for watching a two or three hour movie maybe twice or thrice? It's ridiculous to say that since I own the DVD, I can watch it as many times as I want. In practice, I doubt whether many people watch the same movies over and over again. Most movie CDs/DVDs go into the dusty cupboard and hibernate there after a couple of viewings at most. Music CDs/DVDs probably have a slightly longer life. On the other hand, I can easily get a pirated Harry Potter movie DVD priced at Rs. 50 to Rs. 100 at any of the less reputable shopping districts. While I personally don't care much for HP, wouldn't there be so many people out there who love Harry Potter and would want to watch the movie even if they couldn't afford such a price? If the original DVD was priced at Rs. 299, wouldn't that help in cutting down some of the piracy? Is it really necessary for music and movie companies to make 1000 percent profits on sales of CDs and DVDs? I certainly think it would cut down piracy considerably if they took stock of the economics involved. Most reasonable people prefer to avoid piracy when they can. Only when the originals are priced at ridiculous prices are they forced to seek alternatives.

There is another argument that the "moral high ground" squad will take at this point: "If you cannot afford something you shouldn't buy it. You have no business pirating it and enjoying it."

To say that those who cannot afford to buy shouldn't want to enjoy it is stupidity confounded by a naive idealistic view of human behaviour and psychology. Marketing strategies ensure that desire for material products and comforts are embedded firmly in the minds of people, giving them a perpetual sense of inadequacy and a constant need for "more". To me, that manipulation of the human psyche to create artificial wants and desires is as morally repugnant as piracy if not worse. It is a product of unbridled free market capitalism which is a totally different topic altogether. Nobody of course, has to listen to the latest music albums, watch the latest Hollywood movies or use the latest software packages. Entertainment is not an essential of life. But in reality, isn't the industry itself creating that very human desire in the first place? Aren't they, in a sense, manipulating our emotions and feelings and creating that want inside us which drives us into purchasing products which can be termed as "unnecessary" to our lives? Doesn't the whole entertainment industry thrive on this rather questionable manipulation of our individual tastes and desires? From that angle, wouldn't it be fair to say that piracy might be an offshoot of the problem rather than a problem by itself?

The biggest issue is, of course, that companies not only want to continue making hefty profits but also manipulate the public into thinking that piracy is a crime that is to be equated with burglary or kidnapping. The preachy nonsense of anti-piracy drives in fact alienates even the most reasonable, paying customer apart from having zero effect on those who have no moral objections to piracy anyway. To me such arguments are as morally questionable as piracy itself - some might say it is used as a form of emotional blackmail. To the ordinary customer, such a stance also reeks of hypocrisy considering the profit motive and the questionable business practices of these companies who tend to take the moral high ground on issues that suit them. To assume that every customer is a potential thief drives more and more people away from buying their products. DRM is a prime example of such a measure which not only alienates the paying customer, but actually drives him into piracy actively. The professional pirates, of course, will continue to thrive in any situation.

The best solution and the only solution to piracy, then, is to address the economics of the issue and make piracy unprofitable. How do companies do it? By selling their products at reasonable prices in the market. Price does matter to the end customer. No amount of emotional or moral-ethical posturing can get around this simple fact. Given a choice, most customers would prefer to be honest. No reasonable man would want to take the risk of criminal or civil liability however small if he can avoid it. Sadly, the blind profit motive continues to dominate and companies who can still make good profits by following ethical business practices prefer to sow artificial desires and wants in the minds of people by manipulative marketing practices and then grossly overprice their products merely to exploit the situation. There can only be one word for that: Unadulterated greed. Which is more morally questionable I leave it to you to decide. If the music or movie industry loses millions of dollars to piracy in such a situation and still make profits, it tells me a kind of story...

del.icio.us popular sites

Filed under: Bits and Bytes by Hari
Posted at 09:54 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 20:31 IST)
I've been getting a few (genuine ;)) comments recently to my top 50 Linux apps of late and so I checked out the incoming links to my blog and found that I now have a (temporary) place in the del.icio.us popular sites page. This has also led to a corresponding improvement in my technorati ranking.

I don't know how all this works, but it's a very nice feeling to get a bit of publicity through unexpected channels. Maybe I should go back and complete the list, since I've not been paying much attention to it of late. :) Now back to business. :P

Creativity overdose in advertising

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted at 09:06 IST (last updated: Wed, Jul 16, 2008 @ 21:16 IST)
I have to seriously question the role of advertising in today's media - particularly television. There is an overdose of creativity and smartness that just annoys and repels common people away from the products that these ads serve up.

I think that advertisers need to take a serious look at their own creativity and ask themselves this question: "Am I going to sell a product by using this particular advertisement?" If they answer that question honestly, a majority would understand that what they're doing by way of advertising is simply to serve up flashy, pretty picture-perfect images and sometimes going overboard with creativity. They tend to forget that their role is simply to sell a product and not entertain people watching television. Sure, an advertisement needs to attract eyeballs, but there can be too much of a good thing and pretty soon the impact of a particular advertisement can fall dramatically in the minds of prospective customers. Worse, the advertisement can actually start acting as a negative influence turning away and repelling even existing customers.

The biggest risk that advertisers take is in taking an aggressive approach. Particularly when it comes to demeaning its competition or its target audience. This is completely needless to sell products that would otherwise sell without any substantial advertising. Take the case of a motorbike ad that came out recently on Indian televisions. I'm taking about the TVS Apache ad which takes on a brash approach of belittling middle-aged and elderly people. The tag-line is: "It's now or never." Now it's so obvious that their target audience is youth - particularly college going kids in the teenage bracket with a carefree, happy-go-lucky life. But without realizing that the persons who're going to shell out the money for their customers are probably the parents, uncles or elder brothers (since financial independence is relatively rare among college going teens in India) the ad simply demeans them by making them look ridiculous and "uncool." Although the marketers of this bike have targetted a minority, they don't realize that the majority of bike customers in India are probably the middle-aged, office going types in the 30-55 year old age group - totally unglamourous people who work hard and live typical middle-class lives. By convincing themselves that their target audience are are free, brash, confident teenagers, they do themselves an injustice and negate their own message. I know all about "market segmentation" but sometimes advertisers get too smart for their own good in identifying target markets where there aren't any. The "cool, teenage college kids who own bikes and go around town with their girlfriends in the pillion" are a relatively rare group in India, even urban India. It's a media creation and a myth. The majority of students are responsible citizens who would find the portrayal of youth in these ads quite repulsive themselves.

There are definitely a lot more examples of this kind in the current generation of advertising. I think the issue definitely is one of perception. The media created the myth and they are now caught up in their own myth while the real world is completely different from their images. Spending crores of rupees on advertising, the agencies probably convince themselves that creativity is the way to reach out to an audience and stay in their minds. Armchair creativity probably rules the roost, while it's necessary to pull the hard yards and go into the market and analyse the minds of target customers. Sometimes, to sell a product, you simply need to place the product in the right markets. I don't think a majority of products being sold today are influenced to any substantial extent by advertising in the media. A lot of goods are bought and sold by unglamourous people living ordinary lives. Many people make choices based on a lot of factors like availability, the opinions of their friends and relatives, the recommendations of shopkeepers and salesmen, the brand image and reputation and so on. Brands aren't built by advertising. Rather, advertising reinforces an already existing brand image. People aren't going to change brands because famous actor X appeared on a commercial and said so while dancing to the tunes of a popular movie song. What a waste of so many crores when the message itself is so ineffective! But this is exactly what so many companies are doing - wasting an enormous amount of money in needless, superfluous advertising.

The key then to good advertising, is not in being creative or being funny, but to put across a simple, effective message in a convincing fashion. A good advertisement cannot always be flashy, funny or glamourous. It's as important to know what not to say in your communication as it is to know what to say. And above all, a good advertisement shouldn't irritate the audience, alienate potential customer groups in the name of "segmentation" or demean its competition. Take the case of the soft drink Sprite ads. Almost every Sprite ad is a reaction to its competitor in a manner which pokes fun and demeans the other side. While such a strategy might amuse and entertain the audience for a while, it doesn't actually sell anything other than a negative image. In the long term, the negative brand image sticks in the minds of the customers. And that can do the product a lot more harm than no advertising at all.

Ultimately a good advertisement helps in enhancing a brand, a product or a company's image in the minds of people. Every single idea, word or image served up by the advertisement should go towards that effort rather than being funny, ridiculous or derogatory for the sake of being creative or entertaining. If most advertisers realized this, television viewers would heave a big sigh of relief and TV channels would probably see a drastic fall in ad revenues.

SP Rajadurai

Filed under: Artwork/Portraits/Caricatures by Hari
Posted at 18:44 IST (last updated: Fri, May 29, 2009 @ 21:24 IST)
My next cartoon character is here: Rajadurai, SP Rajadurai!

Rajadurai

Name: SP Rajadurai
Occupation: Superintendent of Police
Quote: I'm not a policeman. I'm a porukki (translation: tough guy).
Favourite pastime: Encounter shooting of dangerous criminals; barging into politicians' houses and screaming - "This khaki uniform is more powerful than your white uniform!!"

DesktopBSD: a review

Filed under: Software and Technology by Hari
Posted at 19:07 IST (last updated: Thu, May 7, 2009 @ 21:10 IST)
In the past, I've tried FreeBSD on my system on a few occasions only to be put off by several serious hurdles. First of all, FreeBSD is not a GUI based BSD, meaning that its learning curve is quite steep. One would think that a fairly decent Linux user like me would be comfortable with the BSD command line. But that is not so. Because, the BSD shell uses sh by default and not bash and therefore feels a bit awkward to those who are used to the tab-autocompletion. This sounds like a small thing, but believe me, it was really awkward to work inside the BSD shell. Another factor which confuses a Linux user further is the new device naming scheme (like when we had to get rid of the C: prompt from our minds when we first learnt Linux) and of course, various other factors like configuration file locations, settings related to xorg which worked differently in *BSD, the package management system and of course ports. All said and done, it proved to be a mighty intimidating experience for even a fairly experienced Linux user.

Well, I asked myself. What is the best way to start learning BSD? As I have mentioned in the past, I am a firm believer in accumulating as much knowledge as possible and BSD is only the logical step forward from Linux. Well, for any newbie from Windows, SUSE Linux is a perfect choice. A similar choice in BSD is of course, DesktopBSD. I downloaded the DVD ISO image from here.

DesktopBSD is not a fork from FreeBSD, but rather it is a customized, desktop-oriented installation of FreeBSD with a nice, graphical installation. The installation is fairly simple although the lack of package selection is a minus. It installs the entire DVD onto your hard disk and though this is good for newbies, it can be a limiting factor for more experienced users. Of course, I must add that the experienced BSD users would probably not use DesktopBSD in the first place. There is another limitation when it comes to installing BSD and that is, it requires a primary partition to install into and will not install into any logical partitions like Linux, which might be a problem for some users.

As far as GUI is concerned, DesktopBSD uses KDE, which is a nice choice for most users since other desktops can be limited on a BSD system. KDE is a safe, good choice for any *nix and particularly BSD since BSD by itself can be intimidating and KDE can help soften the learning curve somewhat by providing at least a familiar desktop to work on.

Hardware detection is quite good - if anything, far better than some Linux distros I can think of. DesktopBSD autodetected all my network interfaces and my onboard nForce sound, so little, if any configuration was required on that front. It's also quite easy to graphically edit your network card settings. (stuff like IP address, netmask, gateway, DNS etc. etc.). It also has a graphical package manager front end for the binary and source package management on BSD. Getting started is a lot, lot easier this way. In general, DesktopBSD seems to be a lot friendlier than vanilla FreeBSD on many fronts. I especially like the fact that server elements are left out of this OS making plenty of room for the desktop goodies. It comes with a much bigger KDE menu than FreeBSD by default and that's a good thing. Most of your familiar Linux applications can be found there.

All in all, what are my impressions of DesktopBSD? It's a great way to begin the BSD journey. It reminds me of SUSE in many ways, particularly the friendly graphical configuration tools (although it doesn't have as many tools as SUSE has in YaST). If DesktopBSD grows as a project, I can see a great future for BSD as a desktop alternative to Linux, although I'd assume that the availability of hardware device drivers for BSD might not be as comprehensive as in Linux right now. Even so, DesktopBSD has a great start. I, for one, will be keenly watching the development of BSD over the next few years.