Learning to live with Ahmadinejad


Ever since the Persian nation went to polls some days back, the world had been waiting with baited breath for the results to come out. In fact, more than the local candidates, the global leaders seemed to have more at stake, starting from the very top from Mr. Obama to Monsieur Sarkozy. The interest level could be gauged by the direct address made by Obama to the Iranian public (which had been largely blacked out by the national media) exhorting them to vote for a change, which could be simply translated as anybody but the current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  

And where the western leaders stopped, the western media came in. Over the past few weeks, almost all the major news channels right from BBC to CNN have been airing special documentaries on the life and politics of Iran. Watching them, it is not hard to miss the subtext to it all, “Ahmadinejad is evil, Mousavi is the savoir. So vote for green”. Over and over again, people were shown the two Irans that live side by side; a modern nation of youths eager to break the shackles and the ancient land of peasants who just want to subsist on government subsidies. Images of young people with spiked and streaked hair, waving the “V” for victory glared at you through the screen. It seemed to be more Idaho than Iran. All through the past few weeks, the channels emphasised how life in Iran had taken a turn for the worse, and how badly Ahmadinejad had failed. It was as if Mousavi had enlisted the help of all these news channels in his battle for Iranian president ship.

But all that fell flat, when the results came out, the bugbear won and won handsomely; Ahmadinejad cornered some 63% of votes versus 34% that of Mousavi. All hopes of a Green Revolution on the lines of the Orange and Purple ones came crashing down to the ground. The verdict is quite unequivocal, even if there have been some irregularities in the process, they can in no manner bridge the immense gap between the victor and the challenger. For good or for worse, Iranians have chosen Ahmadinejad to represent and to lead them. Continue reading

Interview: Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia)

‘Jimbo’ is how Jimmy Wales is quite wellknown within the cyber community and there is an interesting story as to how he got this nickname. Years back, when Jimbo was kick-starting the community project (predescessor of Wikipedia), he was looking for a user name or a nickname, since most of the permutations involving his first name i.e., Jimmy were unavailable, he decided to settle on Jimbo, the one nickname that was not. And it has stuck with him ever since.

Over the past few years, there have been quite a few occasions that I got to interact with Jimbo, but due to some odd karmic coincidence, I never got around interviewing him for Dataquest. Thus, when one such opportunity presented itself, I jumped on it. And Jimbo too was kind enough to spare around an hour for a tete-a-tete.

When I called him at his San Francisco home, Jimbo was busy playing some a game on the computer with his daughter and seemed a wee bit unhappy at the onset on being gleaned away from the fun-thing. But as the interview progressed, he sort of warmed up; talking about different aspects of Wikipedia and how the future might pan out for the world’s leading collaborative encyclopedia project. Here is the interview of the Wikipedia man, as it was published in Dataquest.


The Power of Collaboration

You was what the Time magazine chose as the Person of the Year for 2006. The choice underlined the emergence of interactive Web or what is more popularly known as Web 2.0; a universe where millions of users communicate and collaborate seamlessly. Of the three instances of Web 2.0 services that were cited, Wikipedia was one of them (the others being YouTube and MySpace). In the intervening years, Wikipedia has only grown in strength, today it is one of the 4th most visited websites in the globe. Every month close to 280 mn people look up Wikipedia for information or to edit the pages.

Jimmy Wales co-founded Wikipedia in January 2001, as an online encyclopedia that could be edited by anyone. Over the last eight odd years, Wales has become an icon for Web 2.0 and has been recognized at various forums as a thinker and an activist. In 2007 the World Economic Forum recognized him as one of the Young Global Leaders that are having a positive impact on the society at large, while numerous other lists have pegged him as one of the most influential thought leaders or scientists.

But, there is no dearth of detractors to Wikipedia as well, with numerous people pointing out flaws in its liberal editing model, or the fact that the information is not really authenticated. Wales has also been targeted time and again for his personal traits, be it the person he is dating or the page he is deleting. Nonetheless, he continues to be a vociferous mascot for Wikipedia, touring across the globe and spreading the message. In an interaction with Dataquest, he speaks about what makes Wikipedia tick and how not only individuals but also enterprises could use it as one of the information sources. Excerpts:

Recently, Wikipedia successfully raised some $6 mn through contribution for running its operations and you also made a very personal appeal in that regards. What really necessitated the personal appeal? Has the downturn had an impact on fund raising?

Fund raising is not something unusual as we do it every year, where in funds are raised for the following year. As we follow a non-profit root, we are dependent on charity from the normal public to run our affairs, so that is pretty usual for us. As far as the personal appeal goes, I make it every year, so that is not something different either.

To be honest, I did not see any specific instance of economic conditions affecting our fund raising. Our users across the globe understand that we need money to survive and hence they donate in whichever way possible. I am very grateful to all those who did, be it slowdown or not.

It has been some eight years since you launched Wikipedia, and it has grown immensely in these years. What is the road ahead for Wikipedia?jwales

Though it has been eight years, I strongly feel that we are just at the beginning of community driven projects online, where thousands of new things evolve over time and we are going to see a lot more projects of this nature over the coming years. People across different fields are getting together to create things and this trend will only increase. So you just wait, there will be a lot more Wikipedia kind of projects in the years to come.

Wikipedia is renowned as an exhaustive source of information but is there a physical limit to the growth, ie, is it possible to get any and every information on Wikipedia?

Well, to start with, there are very different limits to what can go in Wikipedia. First and foremost lets remember that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, which directly means that there are scores of things that Wikipedia is and is not. Also, we have a strong focus on good quality and that is not possible unless you have good references. Sadly good references are not in abundant quantity, so that puts a limit to what can be achieved or not. Continue reading

Hail Hynkel….

“Democratia schtunk!! liberty schttunk !! free spracken schtunk!!,” thunders Adenoid Hynkel in front of the sons and daughters of the Double Cross. But even as the Hynkel bares open his dark soul and devious intentions, “strunken me de Europe, and strunken me de world,”; the personal translator on the radio station, Heinrich Stick goes about frostily reading from a prepared script and states that “in conclusion the Fuhrer remarks that for the rest of the world, he has nothing but peace in his heart.”

Burlesque is the one word that comes to mind as one is riveted watching the Great Dictator, a brilliant parody by one of the greatest comedians (and actor as well) this world has ever seen: Charles Chaplin. In fact, the opening speech by Herr Hynkel is one of my all time favourite scenes; the way Hynkel raves and rants about his greatest army and navy, the guttural noises he makes while talking about Jews and the times he breaks off remembering the struggles he had with Herring and Garbitsch (pronounced as Garbage) or the beauty of the Aryan maiden. The 5-minute long address is delivered in gibberish English, with smattering of German words.   

It is not merely Hynkel’s speech, in fact each and every scene in the movie is a masterpiece by itself and that is what makes the movie such a classic and Chaplin such a genius. I well remember about an incident the Satyajit Ray recalled about making Pather Panchali. Filming one of the sequences, he got so carried away by the visual that he continued shooting. It was only later on that he realised that while the sequence was very much visually appealing, it great-dicator-1did not really fit into the scheme of things and had to be discarded. The movie is more important than the sequences, was the implied message.

And yet, if one were to see Chaplin’s films they are all made of amazing sequences that are meant to tickle us. Chaplin’s antics stay with us, even if the movie does not. Many years back, when I was much younger and in school (apparently 2nd or 3rd standard), we were all taken to Chaplin movie being screened in one of the theatres. That was my first introduction to the tramp. I don’t really recall which that movie, but there are a couple of scenes that I still remember, apparently Chaplin and the villain are caught in a blizzard and in one sequence he cooks his shoe and sits down to eat it with a fork and knife. In fact he almost relishes the shoe, as if it is come delicacy. And in another scheme, the house they seem to be living in, slides down a mountain slope ostensibly because of Chaplin’s carelessness. This is all I remember from my first Chaplin movie. Nonetheless, it is a miracle that I remember anything from that movie considering the lapse of time (over 2 decades and more). That is the power of gag, that is where Chaplin’s genius: in creating gags that tickle. Continue reading