Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Web 2.0 article

On the emergence of Web 2.0 and how Bd can play in this:

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Queue Manners

I am out of the country at the moment, so please accept my apologies for the infrequent blog postings.

At ZIA, as I was standing in (a long) line at the gate for the final security check, for a split second there was a 2-feet gap between me and my family, and mysteriously this man had sneaked into the gap. When I asked him how he had gotten into the line between me and my family, without saying a word he looked down, turned around and quickly walked to the back of the line. I was thinking this is Bangladesh.

Well guess what, I was at the MacDonald's in Dubai airport, in line to buy breakfast, when - again, my attention had travelled for a couple of seconds - these two Arabic looking guys popped into the line ahead of me. When I asked them how did you guys get here they started saying loudly their flight leaves soon, what was the problem, where was I from, etc, in Arabic accents. I calmly but firmly told them there was a line here, they need to go to the back of the line and it was none of their business where I was from. They backed off. Shokter Bhokto Noromer Jom.

Final incident: near Mont Blanc, France, waiting at a train station to visit Glacier caves, we thought we were in line when a huge mass of europeans enter the same area, and get in front of us, bypassing us on the right. They were East Europeans, I think. Well, I was thinking, I am from Bangladesh and I know how to play this game! So I led my companions to bypass them on the left and were some of the first to get on the train!

It was a good lesson. I will still get irritated whenever I see Bangladeshis jump queue, but at least I will remember they are not the only ones.

oh, btw, the guys in Dubai? When we left McD's after eating a leisurely breakfast, they were still chomping away. So much for the late for the flight excuse.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Unusual Agro Products

Agriculture is a thriving sector in Bangladesh. I have heard of some unusual agricultural products, including jackfruit seeds exported to Japan, and a syrup made from "Khejurer Rosh" - the sweet fluid extracted from Date trees.

Here is another one that was advertised in the paper yesterday - locally produced camel milk! (or is it !!!)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Personal Space

Because of a sudden downpour at the usual time - 7am - I was late going for my morning run today. When I reached the park at 8:10, I found it empty. Instead of sharing this park with dozens of others - mostly walkers - I had the whole place to myself.

I found myself wondering why this was so. Had the numerous people who walked here every morning, as early as 6am, been scared off by the rain? Were they all busily getting ready for another day at the battlefields of work? Did they decide to forego the Park authority's stern advice, spelled out in bold letters at vantage points throughout the park: the crisp "Health is Wealth", the common-sensical "Of all exercises, Walking is best" and the logic-defying "All the wealth you accumulate has to be shared with others, but your health is for your own enjoyment only."

But here is the weird part. Instead of being pleased that I had this small but open place to myself, I was actually missing those people! I realized that I was learning to become a Bangladeshi again, and that my notion of personal space - once so important to me when I was in the US - was slowly eroding.

Whether or not you agree with Sartre that existence precedes essence, you have to agree that an important essence of being Bangladeshi is making do with tiny amounts of space: an inevitable side-effect of 130 million people sharing a land smaller than Wisconsin. From the moment a person is born, to their deathbed, they must cope and thrive while surrounded by people.

You can call it "making do" with small space - or you can say that they are violating my personal space. It really does not matter. The point is that Bangladeshis deal with this issue heroically every day. But this same heroics can drive foreigners to distraction. Some days I marvel at the heroics, other days I want to pull my hair out.

I marvel at the way a romantic couple makes the long walk up to one of the large flyovers in the city, because there are no pedestrians on top, and they think they are alone on top of the world. I marvel at gaggles of schoolchildren, or the streams of garment workers who flutter out like so many butterflies from their institutions. I marvel at the way shopkeepers at the Bazaar who manage to keep track of the orders of all the customers who are never in line and always crowding them. I marvel at the way that drivers, rickshaw pullers and bicyclists all share the road, sometimes getting in each others' way, always navigating through whatever tiny space they can find, but never losing their cool. And I marvel at the traffic policemen who, despite all the crazy traffic, keep on directing traffic to reduce jams and get people to where they are going. (Well, most of the time. Sometimes the traffic cops seem asleep or just stand there without doing anything.)

I pull my hair out when the Bangladeshi passenger contingent on a flight to Middle East, upon hearing the announcement, rushes to the gate as one monolithic mass, almost trampling each other and small children in their hurry to board the plane. Is the plane going to take off without them? Once inside the plane, when I am standing on the aisle placing the bags on the overhead, why must they push and shove past me instead of giving me 5 seconds to sit down and get out of their way? When I am at a crowded place, such as a Bazaar, I pull my hair out when I am pushed, shoved, stepped upon and sometimes even poked by umbrellas. But no one else seems to mind this kind of behavior - whether on sending or receiving end - it seems they grew up with it and know no better.

Encroachment on personal space goes beyond the physical. What about the intense stares one receives on the road or public space, specially if one is foreign or female (or both?) And at the workspace, instead of delegating work and letting employees complete it in their own intellectual space, we Bangladeshis love to butt in and micromanage. When someone falls sick, every well-wisher has a recommendation for this medicine and that doctor.

So there you have it. For better or worse, to be a Bangladeshi means learning to make do with very little personal space. And it looks like I am getting used to it, even as I enjoy a morning run.

Another Dream Project

I was brainstorming with some brilliant ex-BUET engineers in Dallas and this idea came to us:

1. Pick 10 enterprising and resourceful kids from final year CSE (the self-starter types rather than good-in-the-exam types). This is the critical step. They must be willing and able to read reams of code and figure out how a software is working.

2. Give each a cubicle and a Internet-connected computer.

3. Point them to sourceforge and other open source repositories.

4. Tell them they have 12 months, during which they will get paid, to build whatever they want using open source code. Of course they must show up every day and work on their project.

Who knows, something interesting may come out of this. Cost? Maybe 25-35 lac?

Submarine Cable

Apparently 23 ISPs are now connected to the submarine cable. My ISP, Grameen Cybernet, claims to be connected. However, I am seeing virtually no difference in my browser and download performance. I measured 27kbps download and 55 kbps upload speeds today. According to my service level I should be getting (pre-submarine) 32 down and 16 up (which, to be fair, I almost never got in reality, so things have gotten ever so slightly better.)

Grameen Cybernet also told me about issues related to how BTTB is allocating bandwidth to ISPs.

Be still my beating heart.


Sunday, June 04, 2006

Bangladesh: The Sleeping Beauty

Nice article in The Independent of UK:

"... We reflected on why so little had been done to preserve the country's heritage."

Yes indeed.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Sweet Month

It is the middle of the Bengali month JoisTha, also known as the "modhu" month. "Modhu" means honey in Bengali.

So why is JoisTha the sweet month? Because our favorite fruits have ripened.

Sweet, fragrant lychees are in full swing. Of the many varieties floating around, I have tried three. The "deshi" ones have slightly fatter seeds and thinner layer of flesh around it. The "bombay" ones have thinner seeds but just as juicy - the preferred way to get these is to "book" a tree in Rajshahi and then share it amongst a group. Someone from work had done this and so I got a few hundred. The third variety I tried was much bigger than the other two with larger grains on them. This one was also delicious.

Another fruit that I did not taste in many years has also ripened - Jaam. These black ovals have an intense sweet-tangy taste and are extremely refreshing. The best way to eat them is to smash them up with some salt which softens the tang. Black outside and purple inside, Jaams tasted just as good as they had years ago.

KaThaals - Jackfruits - have also started arriving in the markets. Two main kinds - the soft, chewy kernels and the crunchy kernels (Khaja KaThaal) - have their own fanatical followings.

And the king of them all, mangoes - the early varieties from Rajshahi are available, including Gopalbhog, but the sublime Lengra is not here yet. Maybe in a couple of weeks...

(I do miss the California summer fruits, specially the incredibly sweet white nectarines and babcock peaches bought from farmer's markets - the grocery store ones were no good.)