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(Crossposted from Kaleidoscope)

They may not be forever emailing, facebooking or tweeting; but they are grateful to the internet. A whole generation that grew up on radio is rediscovering their lost pastime, of listening to faraway radio stations. Thanks to live online streaming, shortwave radio freaks are smiling again. They are bookmarking stations on web browsers and listening in while working on their laptops.

The hobby is called DXing: D for distance and X for the distant radio station. The fun was in tuning into foreign stations, like Radio Cylone, Radio Netherlands, Voice of America, Radio Mosow, apart from of course, the BBC. There was a craze to collect QSL cards. (QSL is an abbreviation for reception reports in radio-telecommunication.)

After listening to a programme, shortwave enthusiasts wrote to the radio station about the programmes mentioning the frequency and quality of reception. As a token of appreciation, the station sent listeners a QSL card. There was competition among listeners for the number and variety of cards they collected. QSL cards are now vanishing. For example, BBC World Service does not send QSL cards. The emails about programmes and reception quality are passed on to the engineers, says the BBC.

The last two decades had put the radio on the death bed. Electromagnetic waves from the overhead mesh of TV cables and the neighbourhood mobile phone towers drowned out shortwave radio signals, and many radio station cut down on their shortwave transmissions. It was depressing, when nothing could be heard on the radio. With internet boom, many radio stations went online, bringing the unmistakably pleasant feeling of deja vu for radio buffs.

LIVE STREAMING

BBC has one of the richest collections of online audio-broadcasts; live streaming of Radio 1 began in 1996. In 2007, BBC iPlayer an online service for listening to previously aired shows was launched. Today, there are as many as 17 BBC stations online — Radio 1, 1extra, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5 live sports extra, 6, 7, Asian Network, World Service, and six regional radio stations like Radio Wales and Radio Ulster. And each of these has a wide variety of programmes. Besides, podcasts, BBC has a rich archive of news reports of landmark events and recordings of famous speeches.

Closer home, there are many Indian radio stations online. All India Radio’s News on Air provides its English, Hindi and regional language news bulletins in an mp3 format for listening in any time. VoiceVibes provides live streaming of VividhBharati programmes. Besides, it provides Hyderabad-based stations like Aakashavani Telugu, AIR Urdu, RadioCity, Red FM, RadioMirchi and Rainbow.

Raj, who administers the site says, “Radio on VoiceVibes is for those who are missing Hyderabad like me. Enjoy and feel at home.” By providing FM stations online, VoiceVibes has broken a technical geographical limitation: being a terrestrial transmission, FM stations can’t usually be accessed on a radio beyond around 50 km from where the station is located. With no such problems, online streaming is a boon for people away from home.

Space For Radio is another unique online venture. With a host of RJs, it provides a variety of Malayalam programmes 24×7: devotional songs, old and new film songs, celebrity interviews etc. Unlike other online radio station, the moment you open the Space For Radio site, streaming starts, there’s no need to click on any link or button, making it convenient for the listener. “This is the first online radio in the world run by women crew; and we have more than 5 lakh listeners all over the world, within one year,” says its administrator. Recently, they enabled access to the online station on mobiles.

How comparable is online radio with its good-old offline version? The quality is infinitely better. But Googling a radio station and clicking on a few links is no fun compared to sitting up late in the evening, turning the radio nob, finding a foreign station and even slanting the radio a bit for better reception! Of course, shortwave radio freaks are glad they are able to listen to some of their favourite programmes and their presenters.

LInks:

Foreign radio stations:
BBC – http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/
Voice of America – http://www.voanews.com/
Fox Radio News – http://radio.foxnews.com/
National Public Radio – http://www.npr.org/
Radio Netherlands – http://www.rnw.nl/english
Radio Australia – http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/
Radio Canada International – http://www.rcinet.ca/
Deutsche Welle (Radio Germany) – http://www.dw-world.de/
Radio France International – English – http://www.english.rfi.fr/

Indian radio stations

All India Radio News – http://newsonair.com/
Vivdh Bharati – http://www.voicevibes.net/
Malayalam – http://spaceforradio.com/

Online radio directories

http://radiotime.com/
http://www.live365.com
http://www.onlinefmradio.in/

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Yahoo!, in its continuing efforts to increase its presence in the social networking space unveiled yesterday a new phase of web experience by integrating with Facebook. From now on, users of the two services will be able to link their accounts; and view and share the updates with friends across the networks.

Users who choose to connect the two networks will henceforth be able see Facebook updates on the Yahoo! home page, in Yahoo! Mail and other Yahoo! sites and services. Conversely, users who create content on Yahoo! sites will be able to share them with their friends on Facebook.

Simultaneously, Yahoo! yesterday relaunched Yahoo! Profiles as Yahoo! Pulse. This provides users a central dashboard where they will be able to manage the contents, from external social accounts like Facebook, they wish to share on Yahoo!.

Announcing the integration with Facebook globally across more than 15 Yahoo! sites, Cody Simms, Senior Director of Product Management, said via a video-link from Sunnyvale, California, that the effort was aimed at bringing together different social sites so that people have one simple, trusted place to share information and connect. “This is part of the focused strategy to bring social networking into the Yahoo! experience.”

Simms said Yahoo! had no plans to launch a social networking site of its own. “The idea is not to create a social network on Yahoo! but to bring all the networks of the users on to Yahoo!,” he said. “It’s key to extending our reach and increasing the engagement.” Stating that Yahoo! had strict norms on privacy, he said, “Yahoo! Pulse puts the user in direct control of which network he wishes to connect with, what he wishes to share, and with which network.”

Similar to the arrangement with Facebook, Yahoo! will soon integrate with Twitter allowing the users of the two sites to connect, create and share content across the network. Already, Yahoo! Search draws its results from the full stream of public tweets. Later this year, people across the Yahoo! sites will be able to access games like Farmville and Mafia Wars after the integration between Zynga and Yahoo! Application Platform.

(An edited version of this article appeared in today’s edition of The Times of India, Bangalore.)

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Scientists are currently working on technologies that will enable us to communicate to one another even when the network is weak or disrupted. More

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* A stranger helping a visually challenged man to cross the road.

* A stranger removing a big stone from the middle of the road.

* A stranger throwing an orange peel on the pavement.

* A stranger apologising to you for almost brushing his bike against your car.

* A stranger spitting out in public the paan he was chewing.

Fleeting moments; actions that all of us come across at some point; gestures — some pleasant, some unpleasant — that stir our emotions; some leave us smiling, some leave us seething.

It’s a fact that we meet more number of strangers than friends every day. And many of them leave some impression — good or bad — on us, prompting us to react. It could be a simple word of appreciation that the good Samaritan deserves, or it could be a rebuke aimed at that unruly citizen on the road. Though there are many mass communication platforms today, there is not one which will help you connect with a stranger.

Samson Manickaraj has taken social networking to a new high. While most sites let you interact with friends, Samson's invention of Blauk will allow you to connect with strangers.

So believes 30-year-old Samson Manickaraj, and he has come up with blauk.com. He says this is not social networking site that helps you connect with your friends, nor this is a blog or a micro-blog that lets you broadcast to the world what you are doing or what you think about something. “This is a ‘noteboard’ site. The first noteboard and the only noteboard site in the world providing noteboarding service.”

What is a noteboard? “By noteboard I mean a board, a platform, where you can leave notes for random people you see in your everyday life,” says Manickaraj, CEO of the youngest networking device on the web. “Blauk is the first of its kind in the sense that it lets you post messages for strangers you run into in everyday life, and Blauk ensures that the other person knows your thoughts.”

Manickraj, an alumnus of the California State University, elaborates the unique concept behind Blauk, “Having an opinion is a human instinct. Vice-versa, wanting to know what others think of us is also a craving within us. Popular social networks allow you to stay in touch with existing friends. There is no service which lets people hear what strangers think of them. Blauk has filled this void.”

“If a Facebook lets you stay in touch with existing friends and a Twitter lets you express what you are doing at the moment, then Blauk lets you speak of what you think of the world and vice-versa what the world thinks of you. So Blauk has filled an existing void in the social-networking arena,” he says.

How do you blauk? Like any networking site, you register with a username and password. Fill in your age, sex and email ID. That’s it. Go to the homepage, and start blauking. When you click on ‘post’, you will be prompted to fill in the “description of the person you saw”, “when did you see”, “where did you see”, and the city. You can also leave a message for the stranger.

Blauk was launched in January 2010 and it’s now in a very basic stage. Manickaraj says there are 43,881 registered users as of April 8, and blaukoholics will define what it will eventually be. “As of now, people are blauking an appreciative comment or criticizing bad behavior in public, talking about cool cars etc,” he says.

There are a number of blauks (messages) aimed at strangers indulging in unacceptable practices in public, like talking on mobile while driving or relieving oneself on roadside. There are also appreciative comments on what people are wearing or the mobile phone they are using. Says Manickaraj, “A lot of women are using Blauk to post live messages describing guys who harass or stalk them. People following Blauk on the cellphones get to read these live and take action or react.”

Twenty-six year old Priya Sharma, working with foreign bank in Chennai, finds Blauk interesting. “I joined this two weeks back after I read about it in the media. It’s cool because we can make comments on strangers, giving full description of that guy, when and where he was. And it’s safe! It’s like talking one-on-one to strangers. You can’t do that so easily in real life.”

Since the whole premise of Blauk is connecting with strangers on a personal level, identification process is crucial, and it’s built-in, though not foolproof. If the person who blauks is accurate about the stranger’s attributes, location, age, time of incident etc, it becomes easy for the stranger to find out (using the search tool) if there has been a comment about him.

Manickaraj says issues of privacy violations are limited in Blauk. “People entering blauk.com expect to see a realistic account of others’ opinion of them. If they were rude to a kid on the street then that is what they will hear, and if they did a kind act they will hear a lot of praises.” He says since no one refers to anyone by name there is no possibility of direct offence. There is a “Spirit of Blauk” to which users have to agree. “There is a content-monitoring team working around the clock from India to Los Angeles covering a 24 hour cycle. Offensive user ids are banned from the network,” says Manickaraj.

Like any networking device, it’s the users who will determine its value. Manickaraj hopes Blauk will gradually evolve into a medium that will take communication to a higher level, which will enable easy personal communication with strangers, that in turn will redefine social behaviour and bring in positive changes in personal and workplace relationships.

Here are some typical blauks:

10:30 AM Fri, 09.Apr.2010
@ liberty x road, himmatnagar – hyderabad
the person on cell driving a black skoda
“ur life may nt be precious 2 u but 4 othrs it is,so stop tlkng wen u are drvng to make the road safe”
coolangel, Female 36

8:00 AM Fri, 09.Apr.2010
@ petrol bunk, shenoy nagar, Chennai
nearly 40 woman / verna
“Was your blouse really torn or is it fashion?”
trnjt, Male 31

8:30 AM Fri, 09.Apr.2010
@ Near Mumbai TV tower, Mumbai
5’7″ fair guy abt 23, goatee, dull gray t-shirt, maruti 800 #4753
“Hey idiot you did not get any other place to take a piss?”
patinsn, Male 27

6:30 PM Sun, 04.Apr.2010
@ Benzer, Mumbai
white shirt, shorts, foreigner guy
“cellphone looked damn cool”
chipmunkd, Male 21

11:15 AM Tue, 06.Apr.2010
@ John Players store, Moledina road, Pune
Girl, maroon color salwar, 22/23 years
“your smile has made my dull and boring day!!”
sardine_lover, Male 22

5:45 PM Sun, 04.Apr.2010
@ central railway station, platform 9, Chennai
green Tshirt, 19/20 yrs of age, wit his parents
“waaat foul lingo; neva heard it so worse; and u ppl lukn educated 2; duh… ur dads even worse.”
teeee, Female 19

3:15 PM Fri, 02.Apr.2010
@ Atrium cafe, im on tbl 3, him on ma right side, Kolkata
fair guy, crew cut, yellow Tshirt wth supermodel pic
“scared to pick up pen frm flr cus.. iv a loose t shirt & this jerk watchn nonstop whn ill bend down”
shar_adha :: Female 22

(An abridged, edited version of this article appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, on April 12, 2010.)

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Twitter was conceptualised as the web equivalent of SMS. But in its four years of existence, the microblog has grown way beyond even what its founders imagined. Millions of people use it in some way: to follow breaking news, to keep in touch with friends or to give expression to their emotions and opinions.

When a few Londoners in 2008 decided to leverage the power of online networking to steer social projects, they were breaking new ground. The thought was elementary: if a million people could network online, why can’t a few of them get together offline? And, thus w as born the idea of Twestival or twitter festival.

Twestival Global 2010 will be held in 175 cities around the world — including Bangalore — on March 25 in aid of international charity, Concern Worldwide. The proceeds will go to its worldwide education projects. Besides Bangalore, six cities — Chennai, Goa, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Kochi — will host Twestival this year. Each city will have its own fund-raising programme, conceptualized and organized by volunteers,
 on that day.

BANGALORE TWESTIVAL AT OPUS

The Bangalore festival will include a rock show by Galeej Gurus, Repsychled, and Nakul Shenoy’s Beyond Magic, at Opus, Palace Road, from 7 pm onwards. “If you are on twitter and in Bangalore, this is a must-attend to meet your twitter friends as well as to contribute to a social cause,” said Vaijayanthi K M, regional coordinator for India. There are plans for a secondary fund-raising inter-corporate cricket match on March 27.

Jason Alexander, who manages Galeej Gurus, said: “We strongly believe in the cause of education that Twestival is supporting this year. We would like to do our part in giving back to the society & community, through what we do best…making & performing music.” Shalini Mohan, a bassist for Repsychled, is excited. “It’s a festival that’s happening all over the world on the same day. Nothing like joining hands for supporting a cause.”

Vaijayanthi says people are now more aware about Twestival. “We do not have to explain the entire premise, the motive and our intention. Companies/sponsors are also more forthcoming and willing to support us because they have seen the impact.”

Founder of Twestival Amanda Rose feels there is no shortage of people who are passionate and want to help. The challenge is coordination, not participation. “Organizing online and gathering offline allows Twestival to harness the incredible communication power of twitter to propel participation in real events. By using social media platforms such as twitter, Twestival is able to connect hundreds of independent local events into a powerful global initiative.”

SOCIAL CAUSE

Concern Worldwide, in aid of which Twestival 2010 is being held, is a 40-year-old Ireland-based international humanitarian organization working among the deprived to improve their standard of living. With a staff of about 3,200 people of 50 nationalities, it operates in 28 countries. In September last year, Concern celebrated 10 years of its work in India.

An estimated 72 million children worldwide are not enrolled in school, says Tom Arnold, CEO of Concern Worldwide. “Concern is committed to reaching those left behind, giving them access to learning and the chance to break out of the cycle of poverty. Twestival Global is revolutionizing the way concerned citizens all over the world connect to benefit the poorest among us. We are thrilled to have been chosen, and we’re rolling up our sleeves to make the most of this extraordinary opportunity,” says Arnold.

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

A group of London tweeple (people who use twitter) hosted an event called Harvest Twestival in September 2008. The objective was to meet up, have some fun and in the process help a local charity organization. They held a raffle, pooled in donations and canned food for a non-profit called The Connections in Traffalgar Square which supports the homeless.

The messages went out on twitter, the event was planned in two weeks, and sponsorships were pooled in from twitter users. The organizers expected not more than 40 to attend, but people had networked online and around 250 showed up at the venue! The Harvest Twestival was a thumping success. While on one side The Connections got the support it was looking for, the event demonstrated the power of twitter as a platform to network and rally for a social cause. The enthusiasm led the way for holding the first Twestival Global, preparations for which began with the first tweet on January 8, 2009.

A month later, on February 12, over 1,000 volunteers got together in 202 cities, including Bangalore, to organize events to raise funds for water projects around the world. Over $250 was raised in one day through events and online donations; resulting in 55 wells benefiting more than 17,000 people in Uganda, Ethiopia and India.

Says Vaijayanthi, “In 2009, Twestival India was able to raise over Rs 90,000 for the non-profits. Considering the ever-increasing number of Indians taking to twitter, we expect to more than double this amount in 2010.”

TWITTER TURNS FOUR

It was on March 21, 2006, at 9.50 pm PST, that Jack Dorsey, founder of twitter, sent out the first tweet: “just setting up my twttr”.

(This article appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, on March 22, 2010)

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Facebook updates are mostly weird, like, “It’s soooo green” or “ah, it’s wet”, or “stop it” etc. They are either too full of multiple meanings or totally meaningless to even the best of friends. I usually don’t spare a second thought for such messages. So, yesterday afternoon when I saw the status message of some of my (women) friends as “purple”, “black”, “pink”, I didn’t find anything unusual.

In the evening, when I reached my office, one of the woman colleagues told me to have a look at the Gmail status messages of women. There too I found colours! My first hunch was it’s some sort of weird intra-office joke. But I found the pattern even among my friends who aren’t my colleagues.

The question, “why these colours”, met with smile and laughter. And one of them said, “It’s the colour of the boyfriend’s underwear.” To which my quick retort, was “That’s some insight!” Only when I heard someone mention Facebook, I remembered what I had seen some hours before.

The women in the office were evidently having fun, seeing the puzzled look men’s faces. Apparently some guy made — what I later realised was — a horrendous mistake, by following suit and putting up his favourite colour as status message. Further embarrassment was avoided — he was told, it was meant only for girls and was advised to remove it. Girls were laughing out loud!

Meanwhile, I did what I do instinctively when I’m stumped for an answer — went straight to Google, with the key words: “women colour status message facebook gmail” O, there it was! Women all over the world were putting up the colour of their bra as status message! A bit more research revealed that the reason behind the meme was to create awareness about breast cancer.

And suddenly (from among men) a rejoicing cry of having cracked the colour code rent the air, with exclamations such as “we now know what it’s”, “the mystery is solved”, “the cat is out of the bag!” etc etc… I told the girls: “You can’t beat technology!” and I was sort of patting my back, quite pleased that I didn’t spend too much time wondering what the colourful status messages were all about.

And, suddenly the women who were laughing all this while suddenly went silent. One girl, who woke up too late, gave up plans to put up her colour the moment it was known what it was all about.

Awareness about bra or breast cancer?

So much for what happened. Now I have a few doubts, the answers for which may not be readily available on Google.

The ostensible reason for the campaign was “creating awareness about breast cancer”. The Facebook message, I am told, was on these lines: “Some fun is going on. Just write the color of your bra in your status. Just the color, nothing else. It will be neat to see if this will spread the wings of breast cancer awareness. It will be fun to see how long it takes before people wonder why all the girls have a color in their status.”

Who started this? No one has claimed responsibility! Many cancer research organization are distancing themselves from this.

I have serious doubts if this was a fast one pulled on the women by someone who knew the herd mentality of the cyberworld. And it looks like most women just fell for it. And it was stunning to see how women were willingly shedding inhibition and telling the world the colour of their bra.

Would they have behaved the same way, if someone had asked them — straight on their face — the colour of their bra with the aim of creating awareness about breast cancer?

Information diffuses very fast on the internet. It takes no time for it to spread far and wide across the globe. And this too did. To be fair to whoever started this meme, some organizations like Breast Cancer Foundation and American Cancer Society have been reporting a surge in visits to their websites, though there’s nothing concrete to link it to the bra colour meme, other than the timing. And some were mighty pleased that they got some contributions as well.

The basic idea was good: leveraging the power of the internet for a social cause and even including a bit of fun. But in all that, how could the word ‘cancer’ be missing? It would have made much sense if women were asked to write how best breast cancer could be fought.

In retrospect, I think, somewhere along the seriousness was lost.

There are some signs of backlash, it looks like. There were girls saying on Facebook that they won’t reveal the colour, and there is a group called “I Really Dont Care What Color Your Bra Is”, which was getting lots of fans.

There were reports in the media of how breast cancer victims didn’t know what they should put up. One woman who had undergone masectomy wrote: ‘None – in fact, I don’t even OWN one…. Nude, nothing…” etc etc…

This is not a joke, it’s heart-wrenching… I think a lot of us who had fun, should think again.

If at the end of it all, if women are now better informed about the disease, well and good. But if it was all about getting some cheap thrill — for men and women — and having fun, then it was a sheer (embarrassing?) waste of time, amounting to trivializing a very serious health issue.

Links:

Newsweek and Washington Post

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A couple of days back when I got to know on my Twitter that there will be a tweetup with someone no less than Shashi Tharoor on Friday, Nov 6, I was so excited like a schoolboy getting to meet his favourite cricket star. In fact, it looked too good to be true, that I restrained myself from telling anyone about it.

It mustn’t have been any different for other tweeple either. For, Tharoor is the icon of the Indian tweeting community. This was the moment the tweeple were waiting for.

tharoor 1

Shashi Tharoor being escorted by Tinu Cherian (middle) and Hrish Thota to Bangalore International Centre, TERI Complex, Domlur, Bangalore, for the tweetup on Nov 6

What a meteoric rise it has been for this former diplomat on the popularity chart. After narrowly missing the post of the secretary-general of the United Nations, he was the surprise choice as the Congress candidate for the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency. That was the first time the Indian aam janata was getting to this greatly accomplished person.

That he was advised by his aide, Jacob Joseph, (currently Office on Special Durty to Tharoor in the MEA), to open a Twitter account and connect with his constituents shows the faith people have on this microblogging platform.

tharoor 2

Tharoor spoke on everything from Twitter to Kerala politics.

Tharoor won by a huge margin, became the minister of state for external affairs, and quietly along with his work his fan following on Twitter too has been growing. From zero followers on March 16 to 3,99,388 on November 6  — is this some sort of a record?

Tinu Cherian, Hrish Thota and Santhosh P pulled off this big-ticket tweetup with Tharoor. The tweeple who had assembled at the Bangalore International Centre, TERI complex, Domlur, couldn’t wait for this moment. And, no sooner Tharoor had completed his witty brief introduction (mainly into how he got into politics and tweeting), questions gushed in torrents. And the nouveau politician fielded them all with aplomb very much the way a diplomat would do.

tharoor 3

He is all ears to what his followers have to say.

A reference to his cattle-class remark was inevitable. And it soon happened. “It did a lot of damage,” he admitted lamenting how the joke had, not just fallen flat, but metamorphosed into multiple distorted versions. He recalled the difficult days when he was asked to defend Twitter on TV and was called by the Prime Minister to explain what Twitter was. “Someone even advised me to give it up for the sake of my political career.”

Why did he persist then? “I am not revealing any state secrets or breaching the Official Secrets Act. I see it as a good tool to demystify the process of governance. It also brings in transparency and accountability.” An overzealous tweeple was only quick to suggest that tweeting must be made compulsory for all ministers, to which Tharoor quipped, “I shouldn’t be the one to do that.”

Has been able to inspire other politicians to tweet. “The negative publicity in the mainstream media has scared them off. But I am absolutely sure that they will come back.”

tharoor 4

The tweeple had Tharoor to their hearts' content. Even after an hour, there was no end to the questions they had for him.

There were questions on his work, his suggestion for Indo-Pak cricket match in the US, how he has been dealing with the Left Front in his constituency and so on.

As an example of how Twitter can serve a social purpose, he spoke of an instance when he tweeted about a girl who had lost her leg in an accident in Kerala. After seeing the tweet, many people came forward to help the girl.

At one point, during the tweetup, it seemed the roles had reversed — Tharoor was the listener. The audience, comprising mostly software professionals, generously offered suggestions on how his ministry could be made more transparent and interactive. But it looks there is a long way to go, as Throor himself said, “Twitter is banned in the MEA.”

(An abridged version of this appeared on page 2 of today’s Times of India, Bangalore)

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