Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Occupiers of Wall Street

They want a good story
These days a much talked about protest is going on in the streets of New York City, and the protesters like to call their movement "Occupy Wall Street." Their demands are not very clear, but by what I understood, it seems they are really angry about 1% of the people (the rich) controlling all the money. So they are shouting slogans and asking the corporations to stop being so evil. Here are some pictures to show what I saw there on my two visits to downtown Manhattan last week. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

They want jobs. And music. And free lunch.
The protesters had occupied a park near World Trade Center and they were completely surrounded by tourists, the police and the media. There were large TV cameras on tripods everywhere, with pretty reporters arranging their dresses and combing their hair before sending in their live updates. The streets next to the park were filled with news channel vans with their satellite dishes hoisted high over the street level on telescopic poles to ensure interruption-free transmission through the downtown skyscrapers. The police was not letting pedestrians hang around for long. I was curtly told to either move on or enter the park as I paused to take photos. However, I could manage a few photos while walking to and fro around the park.
She wants to lose weight

He wants free speech
A large percentage of the protesters seemed like hippies and the rest were young people, probably students. "So they are protesting against the rich, eh?" I thought, "So far so good." As a poor grad student myself, I felt I should be sympathetic to their cause, whatever that was. Some of them held up placards. Others danced or played music. Some were eating pizza sitting beside signs saying something about hunger strike. The bronze man with the open briefcase who sits on a bench in that park had been adorned with a woolen monkey-cap and an American flag, probably to show that he was supporting the protesters. From a grotesquely tattooed man with weird costumes and wild piercings, to a young man sitting in a tiny cage with a jug of water, everybody screamed for attention. Not everyone had the same demands, but everyone wanted to be heard. I wondered if I should join them and ask for an increase in my TA ship. Nobody would notice what I was asking for anyway.


And then I saw some poor men who were unlike any poor men that I had ever seen. One of them who was sporting a carefully-nurtured hippie look had these barefoot shoes on which, as I later found out, cost about $100 a pair. Right next to him was a man who was holding up a slogan written on an Apple iPad. He would change the slogan from time to time.

iPads and Barefoot Shoes - probably there's a reason why they are poor?

A man protesting for the poor.

A man protesting against the rich corporations.

A man using an Apple iPad as a placard.

Whatever these men were, they were not poor. They had no idea what poverty was. To me, these guys looked like just a bunch of losers jealous of the successful people. They would abuse Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, while spreading their hate messages via Facebook and Twitter and iPhones.

He later went to McDonalds for lunch.

The model

Then I saw an old man wearing a barrel with "Poorman's Nation" written on it. He was standing on the sidewalk and two men were busy taping a large sheet of white paper on the wall behind the him. Once that was done, one of them took out a couple of large DSLR cameras from inside his parked van and started taking photos of the barrel-man. The sheet of paper was for a nice backdrop, and at the cost of sounding cynical, I would say the backdrop was needed so that it could be easily replaced with a suitable scene later while editing. The old man grinned in front of the camera, only to be sobered by a gruff "Don't smile!" order from the photographers. The old man was incorrigible though, and he flexed his biceps and smiled at me whenever I pointed my camera at him.

After a few clicks, the photographer took some papers (probably a model release form) to the old man and had him sign them. Then he was made to parade up and down the sidewalk while two photographers had a field day following him around, getting as many shots as they wanted. "So the poor guy sold out to the media house while protesting against corporations," I thought. I had not understood the whole story at that time.

The photoshoot
 Five minutes later, in a quiet spot around the corner, the old man had discarded his barrel and was getting dressed in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. So was this whole thing an act? An elaborate costumed photo shoot arranged by some newspaper? I decided to do a little research on it and I found that old man is "Poorman" Jim Trenton, who has a radio channel and a Wikipedia page to himself and is a well-known resident of Los Angeles. Reading through his Wikipedia entry revealed him to be the classic sore loser, who despite getting innumerable opportunities, failed to make it big, and now wants to get cheap publicity by blaming the successful people for everything wrong with the world. And that quite summed up the attitude of all the protesters at Occupy Wall Street. "The Rich have a lot of money. We don't. We want some part of it." If they had a nobler demand, or a better message, I didn't get it. I just saw a band of hippies and unsuccessful people expressing their bitterness on being unsuccessful by abusing the rich and successful.

Not that I was trying really hard. I had to get back to my work where I have to at least pretend to work 20 hours a week to earn my measly salary. Protest? That's a luxury reserved for people who can afford to own iPads and $100 shoes without having to work for them.

A protester in a monkey cap. How else do you define a Bengali?

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Wishful thinking and trying to ignore my birthday were of no use. My ageing problem reached such alarming proportions yesterday that I turned thirty overnight. The good thing is, I got to eat good food, received gifts, and was wished by Kuntala on her blog and by over a hundred friends on Facebook. As Garfield points out here, it is easy to decide whether I like birthdays or not.

A more detailed post on the occasion of my birthday appears in a Bengali blog post on my other blog.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Shoulders of Giants

Two men died in the past ten days.

The first was a college dropout who stole the idea of a GUI from Xerox to create his own GUI-based OS which, till date, hasn't found popularity. He then got fired from his own company due to his obnoxious and headstrong decision making. A decade later he was called back to this company and revolutionized the technology industry with the iPod and the iPhone.

He was Steve Jobs. The ex-CEO of Apple Computers.

Within hours of his death, the Internet was alive with the news. From Apple fanboys who claimed they felt like losing a family member, to Google and Microsoft who set aside rivalry and paid tribute on their respective web pages, everyone had just one thing to say: the world had lost a visionary.

And as with all topics discussed on Facebook these days, be it Anna Hazare or ZNMD, either you speak with the majority or you are an insensitive and evil idiot. So everyone agreed that Steve Jobs was a great innovator who changed the life of mankind for the better. Everyone seemed to forget that the thing that the man was really good at was selling stuff. He built a business empire out of selling things that were, to a large extent, inferior to competing products and costlier at the same time. Yet, his products sold more and he managed to gather quite a fan following.

He was not a nice man. He never shared a penny of his earnings with the poor like Bill Gates did, he liked to have complete control over all the devices that Apple sold, and he hated criticism. I never liked his business policies. However, I admired his ability to see a market where none existed before, and the ability to tell people what they needed even before they knew they needed it. Even then, I did not appreciate the hype following his death. And that hype seems even more inappropriate and embarrassing now in view of how the second death was reported.

A friend's status update on Facebook on the 12th of October told me about the death of Dennis Ritchie. I searched for a news report on Google and did not find a single proper English news site reporting it. The few (less than five) search results that did show up were forum discussions. Wikipedia, however, seemed to confirm that Dennis Ritchie had died on... the 8th of October 2011[1].

He died four days earlier, and not a single media mention! Who was this guy anyway?

Dennis Ritchie built the C language. And he was the co-developer of the UNIX operating system. Those two things together make up nearly everything that we see around us in the computing world today, and definitely all of the Internet. As this article discusses, the two operating systems that Steve Jobs built his business empire over - the MacOS X and the iOS - were both derived from UNIX. Bill Gates built his business empire over Microsoft Windows which was written in C originally, and today all of the Internet runs on programs that were either written in C or written in languages derived from C. And while Gates and Jobs went on to become the richest men on the planet selling their respective operating systems, Ritchie's operating system formed the basis of the open source software movement.

Sir Isaac Newton once said, "If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Dennis Ritchie was the giant on whose shoulders Steve Jobs stood. He was the giant on whose shoulders we are standing even now. Five days after his death. With hardly any media mention. The world doesn't even know who he was.

Steve Jobs got mentioned in millions of tweets. Fine! He earned them. But please, people, spare a little thought for the man who was behind it all.

Rest in peace Dr. Ritchie. You were the man who made me fall in love with programming.

[1] It now seems he died on the 12th of October 2011. But the fact that Wikipedia reported the wrong date initially only enforces my point.