Image by Rezwan

Overcrowded passenger ferry capsized in the Padma River in Munshiganj, Bangladesh

The World Cup Goal-E Project

This street in Bangladesh has a colorful world cup celebration

New Chum Hill Ruins

Remnants of Kiandra gold mine at New Chum Hill, #nsw #australia

September 29, 2014

Your leave - when you want and as long as you need

Image credit Clayton State University
In most jobs there are annual holidays you cannot use flexibly. You don't get leave when you require it most or are forced to take annual paid leave when you don't want it. But there can be other ways to deal with it. What if there is not annual leave policy. You get the leave you need as long as your boss and co-workers are ok with it and your work is not hampered. How about it?

Sir Branson wrote in his blog about the new vacation policy that has been adopted by Netflix and also by his organization, Virgin:

The policy-that-isn’t permits all salaried staff to take off whenever they want for as long as they want. There is no need to ask for prior approval and neither the employees themselves nor their managers are asked or expected to keep track of their days away from the office. It is left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours, a day, a week or a month off, the assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel a hundred per cent comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business – or, for that matter, their careers!

Branson continues:

The Netflix initiative had been driven by a growing groundswell of employees asking about how their new technology-controlled time on the job (working at all kinds of hours at home and/or everywhere they receive a business text or email) could be reconciled with the company’s old-fashioned time-off policy. That is to say, if Netflix was no longer able to accurately track employees’ total time on the job, why should it apply a different and outmoded standard to their time away from it? The company agreed, and as its ‘Reference Guide on our Freedom and Responsibility Culture’ explains, ‘We should focus on what people get done, not on how many hours or days worked. Just as we don’t have a nine-to-five policy, we don’t need a vacation policy.’

The above are excerpts from Branson's book The Virgin Way. Blogger and social media expert Mark Hillary analyses Branson's ideas:

What Branson is really suggesting is that employees can organise their own working life - the company can reduce the rules and bureaucracy governing the working day and both should win from this more flexible arrangement. Individual teams at the front line of a business know how many people they need to keep the ship running, so they can work out their own holiday patterns.

I think we are going forward to an era of employment which is not location based or office hour based. As long as the job is done you can shape your life according to that. That will be your ultimate work life balance.

September 07, 2014

How hot or cold do you like your tea?

This graph has been drawn by a geochemist and a blogger. How cool is that?

August 19, 2014

Google Is Tracking and Recording your Location

Elizabeth Flux at Junkee.com uncovers a truth many of us smartphone users fail to realize. By allowing our smartphone to find out our location we are letting services like Google maps to record our movements. Here is a typical map of movements you will find from here:

Image courtesy Junkee.com
If you login at this site with the same Google login you use for your smartphone you will be able to find your Data updated daily. You will be surprised with some of the entries and wondering did I actually go there? Apparently due to loss of network coverage and the GPS not being turned on it records approximate location values. So don't rely on it to be used as a proof of something or an alibi.

Some of you may find that there is no data. And yes you did not turn the 'location services' in your phone on. So knowing this give you an advantage - you can be visible or simply switch your existence off from such services. The problem is that many apps and services (like Google now or Nike+ Running App) works only if you have the location services turned on.

So will we be able to control dissemination of our information? Apparently there is hope as you can delete your Google location history and you can opt out from location services.  

August 12, 2014

Killers Roam Free After Brutally Murdering a Defender of India’s Untouchables

protest inaction of the authorities in the rape case of Bhagana village, Haryana. Image by Rajeev R Singh. Copyright Demotix (11/5/2014)
Protesting the authorities' inaction about a rape case of Dalit women
in Haryana. Image by Rajeev R Singh. Copyright Demotix, 11 May 2014.
Almost 25 percent of the Indian population belongs to the Dalit caste, a stratum regarded as outside the social hierarchy. The country's government has increased its efforts to protect minorities like Dalits and indigenous peoples (known as Scheduled Tribes or Adivasis), but these groups continue to face discrimination, exclusion, and acts of communal violence. In recent years, a grassroots team of "Video Volunteer" correspondents began recording and reporting crimes against Dalits across India. In a recent post, Video Volunteers' Communications Coordinator, Kayonaaz Kalyanwala, revealed:
Statistics from different sources reveal that crimes against Dalits are on the rise. The State Minister for Employment Guarantee Scheme, Nitin Raut made a statement in May 2014 that, compared to previous years 548 more cases of atrocities were registered in Maharashtra during 2013-14.
On the morning of May 17, six people attacked Sanjay Khobragade, a Dalit rights activist from the Kaulewada village, in the Gondia district of Maharashtra. The reason for the brutal assault was a caste-based dispute about land. Khobragade was sleeping in his courtyard when when assailants set him ablaze, dousing him with kerosene. Khobragade succumbed to his injuries 6 days later at the Civil Hospital in Nagpur, Maharashtra. Khobragade recorded a video testimony before he passed away. (A warning to readers: this video contains graphic imagery.) Based on Khobragade's statement, police arrested 6 men. The suspects have strong political connections to the ruling Bharatya Janata Party, however, and managed to fabricate a story that Khobragade’s wife, Devakabai, and her so-called paramour, a poor rickshaw-puller named Raju Gadpayle, killed him when he discovered their affair. As the men Khobragade fingered for his murder went free, police arrested his wife and Gadpayale, torturing them until they confessed to the crime. Today, the 6 men Khobragade named in his dying declaration are free on bail, while his wife remains in jail.  Khobragade's son, Pradeep, has launched a petition titled, "My Mother Didn't Kill My Father. Investigate the Murder of Dalit Rights Activist, Sanjay Khobragade," which says, “We all know that by killing my father, the ‘higher-caste’ community wanted to set an example that Dalits should not speak up." Video Volunteers has highlighted discrepancies in the police investigation of Khobragade's murder:
It seems, the police and District level administration have conspired to cover up this case of Dalit atrocity and have therefore carefully plotted to highlight this as a murder plot hatched out of an extra-marital relationship.
Nilesh Kumar, a researcher at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, has studied a fact-finding report by the NGO Round Table India and concluded:
The Dalit woman, her body, her character has always been an easy target. In cases of caste atrocities, it is always a Dalit woman who is worst affected. A similar pattern was seen here. To shield the real accused, the police targeted Devakabai. They wove a fictitious story and accused her of having an illicit relationship. A 48-year-old woman was accused of getting sexually involved with her 41-year-old neighbor. The police, cleverly, got a few villagers from the dominant caste to testify in its support.
According to Round Table India, Khobragade lost his life over a dispute about land. He was involved in leading Kavalewada's Dalits in a campaign to build a Buddhist community center on land the government granted them in 2012. Members of the area's "higher-caste" Hindu community have opposed this plan, wanting instead to build their own temple on the same spot. If life for Dalits and other "undesirables" is ever meant to improve, the public will have to take a greater interest in horror stories like Khobragade's. Unfortunately, India's mass media has devoted very little coverage to his brutal murder. If laws and constitutional protections alone were enough to absolve Indians of untouchability, Sanjay Khobragade would be alive today.

The post was first published in Global Voices Online

August 06, 2014

Students in India Have Developed a "SmartCane" for the Blind

Screen Shot SmartCane
Screenshot from the video explaining how SmartCane works
The marriage of two technologies can achieve awesome things. Students at IIT Delhi are certainly making an impression with a new invention, the SmartCane, which enhances one of the world's oldest instruments—the walking stick—by adding SONAR, a technique used to navigate and communicate underwater, to help visually impaired people to walk independently.

One out of every three blind people in the world (an estimated 15 million) lives in India. There are approximately 2 million blind children in India and only 5 percent of them receive any education.

Visually impaired people face no shortage of problems in India, where disabilities can be especially challenging. Pedestrians are often forced onto the street, as sidewalks are cluttered with vendors, animals, and other obstacles. Blind people typically use canes, of course, but the traditional cane cannot detect objects higher than one's waist. Inventing an affordable and simple tool to aid the visually impaired has been a priority for many researchers across the world. Innovations like Roshni, also developed by students at IIT Delhi, are promising, but suffer from various logistical issues that make large-scale production impractical.

Professor Meenakshi Balakrishnan, a computer engineer at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, lead a team of researchers and students to develop SmartCane, which emits ultrasound waves to detect nearby obstacles and vibrates to warn the user. It was officially launched last March. SmartCane copies the skills of animals, like bats, which also emit sonar calls into their surroundings and guide themselves using echoes. The vibration is much better than an audio alert, moreover, because sound may not be audible on noisy streets.
Unlike a similar British innovation, the $985-USD UltraCane, the SmartCane is affordable at just INR 3000 (about $50).

The video below depicts a typical day in the life of a SmartCane user, portraying the various challenges one faces:

The field stage validation trial of Smartcane was conducted among approximately 150 users in 6 cities in India of which almost all are now regular SmartCane users. The training/learning material for SMartCane is available for download in Hindi and English in different formats like epub, daisy, braille, clear print, etc.

According to the Facebook page of SmartCane, the device is being provided to the under privileged visually impaired in Punjab for INR 400 only under the Partial Subsidy Scheme aided by the National Donation Pool.

Right now the SmartCane is available to the user from a network of over 16 welfare organizations for the blind across 12 states in India. Here is a video of a SmartCane use of a College girl:

The Better India magazine lists some user comments:
“It is a very useful device because earlier with a regular cane, I quite often collided with vehicles like truck, tractor or bus. This was because my cane would pass beneath these big vehicles and I would collide abruptly. I have got injuries on my forehead due to such incidents. With this device I get a pre-warning of such dangerous obstacles through vibrations. This also helps me in detecting street animals such as a cow.” - Ketan from Ahmedabad

“It feels great to be able to move around alone. I no more take help from people to move around. I now enjoy being all by myself. Family and friends now have the confidence in me that I can travel independently without getting hurt or injured.” - Indrani from Mumbai
Recently, celebrities like Bollywood Actress Vidya Balan have come forward to publicise the SmartCane.
As the SmartCane's publicity grows, so too will its user base hopefully expand, putting this ingenious new device in the hands of more and more people.

The post was first published in Global Voices Online

August 04, 2014

Overcrowded Passenger Ferry Sinks in Bangladesh; 2 Dead, More Than 100 Missing

Bangladeshi rescue workers search the waters where an overloaded ferry capsized in the Padma River in Munshiganj, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of the capital Dhaka. Image by Fahad Kaizer. Copyright Demotix (4/8/2014)
Bangladeshi rescue workers search the waters where an overloaded
ferry capsized in the Padma River in Munshiganj, 30km from Dhaka.
Image by Fahad Kaizer. Copyright Demotix (4/8/2014)

A passenger ferry capsized in Padma river en route to Mawa in Bangladesh, some 30 kilometres south of the capital Dhaka. Strong currents led to the accident around 11 a.m. Bangladesh time on Monday. The vessel was over capacity at the time with at least 250 people on board.

Efforts are ongoing to rescue the passengers from the river. At least two people have died, and more than 100 are reported missing according to latest reports.

The moment the ferry capsized was captured by an unknown person on a mobile phone from a nearby vessel. The video was uploaded to YouTube and Facebook by a number of users like RisingBD, and it went viral.

The rescue operations are being hampered due to strong currents and big waves in the Padma river. The rescuers are yet to identify the place underwater where the ferry submerged.

Bangladesh has been struck with these kinds of repeated tragedies during monsoon season in recent years. The reason includes poor design and quality control of as many as 10,000 vessels plying in the country and overloading of passengers, especially during festival (Eid) time.

Diaspora Blogger Haseeb Mahmud reacted cynically on Facebook after hearing about the disaster:
A ferry has sunk. We will soon hear the news of the deaths of more than hundreds of people.

What will happen:

- A rescue effort with limited resources
- A new issue to post about on Facebook after the Eid holidays. Statuses, events, fund collection.
- Human chain in front of media cameras in Shahbag

What will not happen:

- Build a proper quality control mechanism for the vessels and a controllable traffic system. A long-term citizen movement is required to achieve this system (not the usual sporadic press conferences or fund collection by NGOs).
- No extra budget allocation will be made to increase safety in inland water travel.
- A lot of the bodies will never be found. Worse, we will never know who they were, not even their names.
- No one will be prosecuted for negligence or be deemed responsible

Bangladeshi onlookers gather near the scene where an overloaded ferry capsized in the Padma river in Munshiganj

Bangladeshi onlookers gather near the scene where an overloaded ferry capsized in the Padma river in Munshiganj. Image by Fahad Kaizer. Copyright Demotix (4/8/2014)

Twitter user À Muse Dë Erato accused local TV channels of airing the launch capsize video over and over for increased viewership:
The post was first published in Global Voices Online.

July 28, 2014

Bangladesh Authorities Shut Down a 200-Year-Old Brothel, Evicting Hundreds of Sex Workers

Aerial view of Kandapara brothel in Tangail, a northeastern city of Bangladesh. Image by Ranak Martin. Copyright Demotix (1/12/2012)
Aerial view of Kandapara brothel in Tangail, a northeastern city of Bangladesh.
 Image by Ranak Martin. Copyright Demotix (1/12/2012)

 The 200-year-old Kandapara brothel in Tangail, one of the oldest brothels in Bangladesh, was shuttered on July 14, 2014. Tremendous pressure from local Muslim clerics and politicians supposedly led to the brothel's closure, but the national platform of sex workers of Bangladesh has accused local authorities of land grabbing under the guise of religious piety.

More than 759 prostitutes were evicted as a result. Residents were only given a few hours' notice, human rights organizations have protested. The Facebook page of women-centered publication "Women Chapter" says that the evicted sex workers are now facing uncertainties and living in unsafe environments.

Sociologist Laura Agustín tweeted how the sex workers were evicted:
Twitter user ATM Zakaria warned:
Eviction of sex workers without rehabilitation is a threat to the society and nation.
Mogoje Curfew (Curfew in the brain) wrote on Sovyata (Civilization) blog that these sex workers did not join the profession willingly, but out of hardship or coercion. The blogger wrote what will happen to the sex workers without rehabilitation:
We can guess the future of the evicted sex workers who are oppressed. They will certainly not get any work out there. They have to beg from home to home to feed their mouths.
The Kandapara brothels sprung up from 1860 to 1880 as traders arrived on commercial vessels. They had both time and money and were sex workers' main clients. The total population was until recently about 2,000, including sex workers, their children, some parents, babus (fixed lovers/permanent clients), pimps, and landlords.

It's not the first brothel to be shut down and its workers evicted in the Muslim-majority country, where conservatism is on the rise. On July 23, 1999, the Tanbazar brothels, one of the oldest and largest, were closed down and about 2,600 sex workers were evicted from their homes. Dhaka's Kandupatti, home to several thousand sex workers, was next. Then it was Magura. Last August, attacks were carried out on the Madaripur brothel and homes of approximately 500 sex workers were vandalized and looted.

Members from Sex Workers Network of Bangladesh (SWNOB) form a human chain in Dhaka protesting attack on sex workers in a brothel in Madaripur. Image by Shafiqul Alam. Copyright Demotix (29/8/2013)
Members from Sex Workers Network of Bangladesh (SWNOB) form a human chain  Image by Shafiqul Alam. Copyright Demotix (29/8/2013) 
The general understanding is that religious and social pressures were behind the eviction in Tangails Kandapara. However, Sex Workers Network, the national platform of sex workers of Bangladesh, said in a press conference on July 17, 2014 that the local mayor harnessed religious sentiments to grab the 302-decimal land of the Kandapara brothel.

Similar accusations were made after the eviction of the Tanbazar and Madaripur brothels. The people behind the eviction denied the allegations. They claimed that the brothels are source of criminal activity.

Sex worker formed human chain at front of press club in Dhaka protesting the eviction of Kandapara brothel, Tangail. Image by Mohammad Asad. Copyright Demotix (20/7/2014)
Sex workers formed human chain at front of press club in Dhaka protesting the eviction of Kandapara brothel, Tangail. Image by Mohammad Asad. Copyright Demotix (20/7/2014)
 Bangladesh is one of the few Muslim-majority countries were prostitution is not officially banned. Prostitution can be found in the old history of Bengal, but this profession never had any legal recognition, including during the British colonial period. In 2000, a local court recognized the profession in a verdict.

In Bangladesh, there are 18 registered brothels and around 200,000 sex workers across the country. A recent study revealed rampant child prostitution.

Kazi Mamun Hossain, a diaspora Bangladeshi blogger, wrote on Bangla blogging platform Somewhereinblog:
I condemn the duality of the state in not banning the prostitution, but also not upholding sex workers rights. I strongly protest eviction of the sex workers without rehabilitation.
The post was first published in Global Voices Online