Facebook’s Live Video

The only thing that excites me about Mark Zuckerberg’s live video is the anticipation that Facebook’s live video steaming feature would soon be available to all of us (Tech Crunch says that it is available now, but only to celebrities).

And to those who go gaga about the open floor plan that Zuckerberg is boasting about, with his big talk about collaboration and innovation, (apparently Rakuten CEO also boasts the same just about the same day, about his new HQ called Crimson House in Tokyo), you just need to google ‘open office spaces’ and read an article that appears on Fortune by a clinical psychologist. As for me, even an image of it just freaks me out.

That Zuckerberg has his own desk among the rest doesn’t make me go ‘wow’. He is the boss, and it doesn’t really matter if he works from a walled office or on the hallway when everything is to his/company’s advantage.

So please, spare the rest of us your fanfare.

Madhan Karky’s ‘Lyric Engineering’

Remember the A R Rahman song “Irumbile oru idhaiyam” from the Rajnikanth movie “Robot”? What if someone told you that the lyrics of that song was actually ‘generated’ by a software? Can’t happen, right? But you’ve got to believe. The lyricist Madhan Karky uses a software to key in a tune and the software returns fresh and suitable words that would fit the given music pattern, mood of the song and the song situation. The software was developed by Madhan himself, who is an assistant professor of Computer Science in Anna University. This young man is also the son of Tamil lyricist Vairamuthu, and has no qualms in admitting that he is not a poet and you need not be a poet to write lyrics.

Watch this video where Madhan explains the process of ‘Lyric Engineering’ at TedxYouth Chennai and get amazed. And then go listen to the song he has penned (or rather generated :)) for Mani Rathnam – A R Rahman team’s latest offering “Kadal”. A truly mind-blowing innovation.

The Android Corporations

This news, of Foxconn replacing humans with robots, should have gotten me excited about the possibilities of the future, the progress of technology and all that. Instead, it sends me cold shivers down the spine. Don’t take me wrong. I am still excited about the androids which we could make use of in our daily life. I was amazed at the technology when an ex-colleague told me that she uses a small robot to do the cleaning jobs in her house and how perfectly it cleans every nook and corner of the house. Last week, I was even planning to buy a toy robot for my son because I heard from a colleague that it responds to your hand gestures and even talks and the price isn’t too high. I liked Spielberg’s A.I. too, mostly because I knew it was fiction though the possibility of such a war between humans and androids stuck in my mind.

This news, however, changed all that. It may sound like I am panicking here a little but this truly scares me. It’s not the robots, but the humans who might use robots against other humans. This is like some humans taking advantage of the technology to use against the other humans instead of making it for common good. One million robots are going to replace the human workers in Foxconn’s factories, which means one million people would go out of jobs. I checked on the Foxconn profile in Wikipedia and this Taiwanese company already seems to have a record of ‘poor working conditions, insufficient overtime pay and workplace accidents may be common’. Foxconn also seems to have been in the news for their employee suicides. Wikipedia already has a separate page on the topic.

So what if this becomes a practice? When companies and corporations want to get rid of their ‘troublesome’ employees and their demand for pay hike and better work conditions? I am not ignoring the advantage of using robots in jobs which risks lives, but what about the situations like these? That thought truly scares me and this seems to be just a start of the android era. A war between humans and androids and android-owned humans doesn’t seem fictional now at all.

Just sharing

I’m just posting the interesting videos or other tit-bits that I gather from my social media accounts into this space. Once a week. You could share the interesting ones you get too.

FaceCake’s Kinect Dressing Room
(Shared by Ashik in Google +)

This one is truly awesome! At the Microsoft booth in CES 2012, they demonstrate how you can try out different clothes and accessories without even wearing them. All you gotta do is just stand in front of a Kinect camera and try out new clothes. You can even move along to see if the dress fits you right in all angles, as if you just wore them. Truly amazing stuff!


A Violinist in the Metro
(Shared by Thulasi in an email)

Washington Post ran an experiment in a metro station at Washington DC. What they were trying to find out was whether we perceive and appreciate beauty in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour. They had a best musician playing one of the best pieces of music ever written on a very expensive violin. And the result? Read on… 🙂


I Think You’re Fat
(Shared by Ashik in Google chat)

When I read the title of this article, I asked Ashik if it’s yet another fitness piece. It’s not just the title, but the names of magazines like Esquire, Cosmopolitan etc. puts me away because I never could relate to or enjoy the content printed in those magazines (not that I have checked out a lot of them). Ashik did not explain what the article was about than asking me to read it, and since it is him who recommends, I saved the link to to read later. And it was one funny, thoughtful piece though it spans over 5 long pages. To give you a brief idea of what it is, this one is about Radical Honesty. As it says in the beginning, “This story is about something called Radical Honesty. It may change your life. (But honestly, we don’t really care.)” Read more at the Esquire page.

The Steve Jobs effect

daa, did you read the newspaper today?“, I heard my mother asking. “Yes, why?” “Who is this Steve Jobs? What did he do?” The Malayalam daily had carried the headline of Steve Jobs’s demise and my mother was wondering how come this name that she had never heard of before occupies the prime space of the local newspaper. She was even more curious to read that this man was the founder of ‘Apple’. When I heard this innocent, curious question from my mom, I thought, what do all these obituaries praising Steve Jobs as a man who has made a difference in the everyday life of people really mean to a country like India and it’s people?

Until the recent past, Steve Jobs (or Mac) was a name or rather some sort of elite, exclusive knowledge for the techies in India that they would occassionally use to exhibit their knowledge of the world of computers. It is like when a group of people talks about Micheal Jackson and then someone in the group tells them, “MJ is crap, you should hear < the-name-the-majority-of-people-in-the-group-has-never-heard-of >” and rest of the group would think, “wow, this guy must know a great deal of western music“. Ironically, this elite exclusivity (and I am speaking from an Indian context) is also the core of the line of products that made Steve Jobs popular.

I had not seen a Mac machine until I stepped into the studio of Chetana Film Academy in Thrissur. Mac, in those days, was the most expensive computer I had heard of. Someone told me that the Mac I saw in the studio, even the low-end ones, was prized at around one lakh Indian rupees. Then came iPod that had many models to choose from according to your budget. The music experience of iPod was of course good, but I don’t know what special did iPod do in a market of MP3 players that Sony’s Walkman did not do in a market of audio cassette players (and I like the audio quality of Microsoft’s Zune compared to iPod but that product seems to have failed miserably). Then the iPhone, that forces you to choose a cellular operator of Apple’s choice (speaking legally, I’m aware of the ‘unlock option’), and the version 4 costs about 45,000 Indian rupees. iPad followed shortly after which is yet another upper middle-class toy.

So what significance does Steve Jobs have in a country like India? Is it for those fancy gadgets that has not made any change in the life of people here except, of course, for the business class and upper middle-class? No. It is his journey of life that stays inspirational to many people. The story of an adopted kid, the college drop-out who followed his dream to become one of the most famous and successful entrepreneurs in the world. The man who stayed hungry and foolish. It is for his life that he will be remembered best.

As for me, other than his life story, I thank him for Pixar that continues to give us the best animated feature films of our times.

Enabling mobile technology for music

[This is my fifth article for My Smart Life, an initiative by Nokia India that features guest authors from various walks of life who have made use of technology and social media in their work and life. Go to the website to check out rest of the articles there.]

Do you know what is the most used application in a musician’s mobile phone? It is a sound recorder. It is amazing how a simple application such as a sound recorder could speed up the creative process for the musicians. It is because you could not tell when a tune strikes your mind. It could be when you are in a bus or train, or when you are in the middle of something, away from home. In such situations, either you could go get your recording gear and record your tune, but it’s not easy to go get it in such situations. The next option is to wait until you come back home but the chances are that the tune that struck you is lost by the time you reached home. So you need an instant solution for such scenarios and the best possible solution is a sound recorder. As they say in the book Super Freakonomics, sometimes the best solution is also a cheap and simple solution.

The sound recorder could be useful in many other scenarios. If you are a musician who wants to create a particular sound clip – say for example, traffic buzz, or the sound of people walking in a park etc – to use in your next production, it’s much more easy now. And if you couldn’t wait to get an opinion from a friend about the new song tune or a sound clip, you could just connect online and share the audio file using your smart phone. You could get instant feedback and could record a fresh new session if you thought it needed a revision.

Most of the tunes I have composed by myself were first recorded in my smart phone. And many of the interviews I have done for my podcast were also recorded in my phone and it has helped me a great deal in bridging the geographical differences. These have enabled me in successfully drafting up a song for my music blog, for Blogswara or for my Malayalam podcast. I learned about the ease of using a mobile phone to record the songs from a musician friend. But like musicians, podcasters could also benefit from their smart phones.

That is not all. You have many music apps available in the Symbian, iPhone and Android apps galore in the market. Some of them lets you create or play music using the keypad. So it’s not just your voice but if you are somebody who orchestrates a song, these apps would help you do a rough draft of what you were thinking of for a score.

But how about the quality of recorded vocals? Well, you have many audio recording devices available today that records clear voice, and some devices are designed to capture the voice that comes within a pre-defined area. If this is implemented a mobile phone, and that is not an impossible thing if we look at the way that technology is advancing, it could be so helpful to musicians and podcasters.

With the arrival of touch screens and mobile apps, things could go even further. It wouldn’t be a distant dream to think about the leading music software companies releasing a mobile app version of their software. Imagine if Adobe Audition, Nuendo or Garage Band released a lighter version of their software to suit the on-the-go need of a musician. It wouldn’t be too much of a dream because we did not have specialized versions of mobile phones to hear music or to use for business needs a few years ago and see how many options we have in our time.

With mobile technology and smart phones, your road to success in the field of music has been made easier.

Redefining entertainment digitally

[This is my fourth article for My Smart Life, an initiative by Nokia India that features guest authors from various walks of life who have made use of technology and social media in their work and life. Go to the website to check out rest of the articles there.]

Why would you go to a video sharing website only to hear music? I mean, you have so many music streaming websites and the quality of the audio is pretty much good there but still I see so many people accessing YouTube to hear music. Perhaps it is because over a period of time, YouTube has become the complete online entertainment channel of the world. You need to hear music? Go to YouTube. Need to watch comedy? A television show that you missed last night? A movie snippet that you would want to keep watching again and again? A live show recording? There, you have it all on YouTube.

It is quite interesting to take a look at how the traditional entertainment forms have made way to the new generation digital entertainment media. There was a time when a television set was a rarity. If there was one family that had a TV set, all other people in the neighborhood would go there to watch Ramayan, Mahabharath or Chitrahar. I’m sure many of us have such memories from those good old days. It was a good social experience back then. Many people in the neighborhood came and spent time together, discussed the news as they appeared on TV, or talked about music or movies while they watched it together. But the personal space and privacy were seriously lacking. With the increased purchasing power, people started buying their own music system and television sets. This paved way to have entertainment at the privacy of home space. But the revolution in the entertainment media did not just stop there.

The arrival of digital entertainment media has completely redefined the word entertainment. It took out the time and space restrictions of entertainment and put it on-the-go. So if you are bored when you are boarded on train, you could just switch on your iPod or Zune and hear music or watch a movie. With the newest mobile phones like Nokia E7, you wouldn’t even need to have a separate device and can do it all on your mobile phone. Just imagine how the features of a smart phone with a 3G connection could change your access to entertainment. You wouldn’t even need to store music or a favorite show episode on your device because you would rather connect to Internet from your mobile phone using your 3G connection and would have effortless online streaming of entertainment.

Digital entertainment mediums have not only changed the way people watched videos, but it has also helped creative people to come up with fresh new ideas, present it before people and become online celebrities eventually. One good example here would be Rocketboom. Rocketboom is a video blog with daily news snippets with a touch of humor. It was started out in 2004 and now reportedly has 400,000 video episode downloads a day. With just three people, a small room, a video camera and an unconventional, creative approach, see how far they have gotten.

Well, this is not just about pre-recorded content. Now there are several websites like Livestream, UStream etc that offer live video streaming. YouTube last year had launched their alpha version of live streaming with Rocketboom with live comment option. So now you don’t have to scream “Hey, run and switch on that TV fast! I will miss that breaking news” because you could just go to YouTube on your mobile phone and watch live news.

Just imagine what this whole thing could mean in the future. You will see many citizen powered media channels, giving you fresh and original content with an unconventional touch. This will eventually force the established media houses to seriously think about revamping the way they present news and entertainment. Set top boxes and DTH could be a thing of the past since Internet TVs are already out in the market and the pre-recorded material could be broadcast through channels like YouTube. TV channels could directly charge the customers for a particular show, an episode, per day or per month basis. Movie channels could be a thing of past too, when the studios would directly make the films available online and can charge the users. They could even generate revenue by making half portion of the movie streaming for free and then charge the viewers to watch the rest. This would put the deciding power to the people and could even put a stop to illegal online video streaming.

The result is more power to the people. More fair business. And a better world.

Net Gain

[This is my first full feature for Sound Box that appeared in the March 2011 issue. Sound Box is creating ripples in the music industry with the recent at-length discussion on India Copyright Act. February issue had Javed Akhtar explaining his stand and the March issue features the opinion from country’s leading musical labels – Saregama, Tips and Universal music. Check out the mag to get you up-to-date with the music industry buzz.]


Roll back to pre-internet era in India. The chances of an aspiring musician getting noticed in the public were rare. You could try singing locally, in local bands or music troupes which would just be covering popular film songs. Your talent was scaled primarily on the basis of how close your version stood to the original or how much you succeeded in making yourself sound like the original singer. You just had to be a voice skeleton of someone else. And you would have a limited audience. Even if you had come up with an original set of songs, chances were still rare that you could reach your target audience. Until of course the Net arrived.

The arrival of the internet completely changed the lives of amateur and aspiring musicians. In the Web 1.0 era, it would let you register a website of your own and add your profile with music. People from around the world would then have access to your website and they would be able to download and listen to your songs. But the opportunity to interact with the audience was still lacking. Then came Web 2.0, with blogs and social networking sites, and this has led to some revolutionary changes in the field of amateur music.

The transformation

Music blogging was one major venture that drastically changed the face of music in the virtual world. It has helped many people who could not devote all their time to music but had great passion for music in their lives. So it was the amateurs or part-time musicians like Vidyu Appaiah who flourished.

Vidyu Appaiah
Vidyu Appaiah

Appaiah is a trained singer from Calicut, Kerala, and used to perform on stage from the age of 10. But she had completely given up on music after her marriage and moved to the US. In 2005, she put together a website that had her cover versions of popular film songs. Then in 2006, she started her own music blog. “Music blogging has given me the opportunity to share my music with friends and family. The desire to sing and be heard is there in every artist big or small, and this is perfect for me in terms of reaching out to a small, regular audience from the comfort of my home. Blogging also opened doors for me to get opportunities to sing on stage after moving to the US,” says Vidyu.


Murali Venkatraman

A heartening aspect of music blogging is that you do not need a promoter, a music label or even going to a studio to make yourself heard. All you need is a mic, a recording software and a free account on a blogging platform like Blogger or WordPress. You need not worry about the technical aspects of building a website. Murali Venkatraman, one of the earliest music bloggers from India, says, “I have been composing from 2001 and music blogging was a good platform to present some of my work without much of a website building fuss.”


It is not solely the amateur musicians that music blogging has helped to have a fan base. Pradip Somasundaran from Thrissur, Kerala, who was the winner of the Lata Mangeshkar award for Best Male Singer of India through Meri Awaz Suno (the first of its kind music reality show on Indian TV), got the opportunity to build a fan base across the globe through his music blog. Though he was offered a recording contract with Yash Raj as part the prize along with Sunidhi Chauhan who shared the title with him, it never materialised. He had been singing in a few Malayalam films and was doing stage shows but music blogging brought him many fans from different parts of the world.

Interact with your listeners

The comment box interaction with the listeners through the music blogs has given an opportunity for music bloggers to improve themselves. Based on listener comments, one can sing again and post a revised version of a song. Some listeners say “I feel the reverb was a bit too much”, or “in the second verse, you have sung too plainly”. This leads the music blogger to take notice of the details of singing, recording and mixing. Eventually this helps them become better singers or musicians. However there are a few setbacks to this, as some music bloggers have found out.

Sindhuja Bhaktavatsalam
Sindhuja Bhaktavatsalam

Sindhuja Bhaktavatsalam, a music blogger and a trained singer who has recently performed with Pt Ravi Shankar’s Ensemble at Hollywood Bowl, says, “Blogging (or any kind of performance for that matter) makes you more audience oriented and so you tend to focus less on your own growth as a singer. When blogging was new to me, I would crave for comments on my blog- I think that’s natural. It became more of “how will people like this and how many comments will I get?” rather than “how well have I actually sung this and how better can I get at this?”


Meera Manohar
Meera Manohar

Meera Manohar, a singer of the band Thillana and a music blogger, says that comments should help improve and not be detrimental or demoti-vating to artists. “Ideally, listeners should appreciate the effort that has gone into making a cover/original, whatever it might be. I do see some frivolous comments which in my opinion can be avoided,” Manohar says.

But since music bloggers have grown to become a large online community, honest comments are sometimes hard to come by. “The commitment, in my humble opinion, must be towards the art and not towards the person. In fact if you are a very good friend of an artist, it is only useful if you are honest about their performance and talent,” says Venkatraman.

Music collaboration, virtually

The primary phase of music blogging had the bloggers singing cover versions. A music blogger would usually record over an available karaoke track and post it on their music blog. This would be a solo track mostly. Later on, with the freedom that technology gave them, they have begun posting duets for which they have a singer from another part of the world. With the ease of recording vocals alone, one singer from Kerala can record his vocals at his place and have the other portion of the vocals recorded by a singer who might be residing in the US and give it to a third person in Mumbai to mix the tracks. All the file exchanges are done over email and when the listeners hear the final track, it is like the song was done in one place with everybody involved physically present.

The ease of such recording techniques has made some bloggers think about creating original songs rather than posting karaoke cover versions of film songs on their blog. Thus were born many original songs in the music blogs, with each of the involved person living in different parts of the world – lyricist, composer, singer, orchestrator, rhythm programmer and the sound engineer. This led to further ideas and Blogswara (www.blogswara.in), the first of its kind collaborative music project, was born. Even though Blogswara was formed to create an album that consists of original works from music bloggers, it has continued to be a permanent platform for all amateur and aspiring singers.

The music network

The vast popularity of music blogging particularly in the South-Indian diaspora has encouraged the birth of many new websites and music social networking sites. Among the notable ones is Muziboo. com, a networking website started by Prateek and Nithya Daya, a couple from Bengaluru. Today Muziboo hosts a large number of musicians from around the world, some of whom have been noticed by prominent musicians in the industry. Music blogger George Kuruvilla was invited to sing for Sonu Nigam’s musical tribute to Michael Jackson, MJ, this one’s for you. Another Muziboo member Nithya Bayya recently made her debut in the Telugu music industry. There are many such success stories.

Today there are 120 music blogs listed at Audio india (www.musicblogsindia.com), an online directory of music bloggers. A majority of these music bloggers are from South India and most of them are non-resident Indians. Even though not all of them put up frequent posts and some have migrated to other music networking websites, bloggers like Sindhuja feel that a blog is where one can keep one’s own individual identity compared to social networking sites.

The enormous number and interest of music blogs and bloggers have been subjected to study in a university abroad. Jessica Dyck, a student in the Department of Music in University of Alberta in Canada wrote her graduate thesis in 2008 on the basis of music blogging in the Indian diaspora. Her paper was titled “Blogging Music: Indian Musicians and Online Musical Spaces”. In her 111 pages long thesis, she had mentioned why she chose the Indian music blogging scene for her thesis:

“Why focus on Indian music blogging? Within the entire blogging world, there are people from every place who post music blogs, and many have extremely high readership. However, after extensive searching, I was unable to find any music blogs other than these Indian ones used for posting recordings of the blogger’s own music in an amateur, noncommercial format. The vast majority of music blogs on the Internet are focused on introducing and reviewing indie bands or posting gossip, songs and videos by major label recording artists. The Indian music blogging community is one truly centered around making and sharing music for the pleasure of singing, listening, and growing musically.”

Technology IS value-neutral

I happened to read this blog post by Alex Payne (CTO of BankSimple who formerly has worked with Twitter) that has his opinion on what Alec Ross, a senior advisor to Hillary Clinton said on Technology.

Alec Ross said,

[t]echnology itself is value-neutral. It depends on how a government chooses to use these technologies.

Mr. Ross said this in the context of US companies selling invasive technologies to repressive regimes. Quite obviously, that is a statesman unsuccessfully trying to defend the state’s wrong political strategies. It needs to be countered of course, but carefully or else they would get away with it. Alex in an attempt to counter Mr. Ross does that for all the wrong reasons.

I think we cannot entirely rule out what Mr. Ross said. First, you have to clearly define what technology is. Is it the raw idea/material used to implement/create a strategy/product? Or is it the end product itself that you call technology? If you are referring to the raw material/idea by “technology”, I think Mr. Ross is right. Only that he should have replaced the word “government” in his statement with “creators” or “people”. The raw idea that technology is is value-neutral until you intentionally use it to design specific products at which point you can argue about it’s neutral position.

Ironically, Alex’s reasons to call it value-centric itself proves he is wrong – “Technology is made of people” – made of “People”. Not “good people” or “bad people”. And the next – “Technology Values What People Value” – exactly my point.

And on that basis, I think the following definitions that Alex found for “technology” is fallible because, well, technology is value-neutral.

  • The process of human beings inventing tools that improve (?) our quality of life.
  • A particular tool from the above category
  • An industry or amalgamation of industries producing said tools
  • Dehumanization (only people who think technology is all about giant robots invading earth would say this)
  • Progress (not necessarily be. destructive technology could lead to regress)

And only two from his list seems to be proper definitions:

  • The future
  • Change

I think It is not the mere word of “technology” that Alex should have focused on if he was worried about how politicians or governments manipulate the technology in their own interest. He should have rather focused on the policies and strategies of governments to counter what Mr. Ross said. And the criticism should have seriously woven in those lines to make an effective counter argument.