JavaFX: Like Flash with Freedom

The Distant Thunder of Freedom Shall Liberate You From Flash

Do you watch videos on the web and stream them to your mobilephone? Are you addicted to YouTube, and love playing Flash-games on your mobilephone? Or like me, are you fascinated and work in the bleeding-edge discipline of Graphic User Interface (GUI) design of web-applications, or any other user-interface?

Time for you to taste the thunder. Discover JavaFX, the new and highly-sophisticated Flash-killer from Sun Microsystems. This will change the look-and-feel of everything on desktops, the web, and the mobile, ushering in a hopefully beautiful, rich, internet experience. This is going to be the future of New Media.

Check out the galleries of what it may do, here:
javafx.com/samples/index.html

So far, their kits are available for Mac and Win, though a Linux version may just come in anytime soon. I did manage to view the samples above in my firefox running Ubuntu Linux. Will write more about this soon. Stay tuned.

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How Anyone Can Improve Their Spoken and Written English

What every Indian must understand: Good language skills go a long way in furthering your professional career, personal life, and self-grooming. Poor skills betray the value and credibility of your education.

Over the past five years, have noticed a rather alarming trend in India. Literate and well-educated people can no longer speak a single, proper sentence in English. They suffer from terrible mistakes in grammar and pronunciation. What is more embarrassing for them, is many of them have spent a fortune and have devoted two or three decades of their lives in acquiring their education. Yet almost anybody I meet or interact with, sounds illiterate and uneducated the moment they open their mouths.

How Deep The Grammar Rabbit-Hole Goes

Students and professionals from engineering seem to be the worst hit. To most of them, English has always been an unimportant subject, and reading books a waste of time. Thus, intelligent and highly-skilled professionals in India find it difficult to find jobs, or move ahead in their careers. The IT and BPO industries find it especially hard to find people with even a basic level of business-communication skills. I recall that through my school days, I never met a single teacher of Science subjects such as Physics, Biology, Chemistry, or Maths, who could speak English properly. Sadly, many children laughed and mocked their teachers’ abuse of the language (“Hush! Children! The Principal is vibrating in the corridor.” Or, the odd “Open the window, let the climate come in.”)

In the last ten years of my work as a journalist and editor, am dimayed to note graduates in English-literature from top universities, some armed with additional qualifications in Journalism and New Media, are quite insufferable. Sub-editors, who are normally in-charge of correcting spelling, grammar, and style, are themselves quite terrible, too.

The Rot Seems to Have Set In

Web-search to discover how many bookshops have shut down in Delhi alone. The few surviving ones augment or even support their business with in-house coffee-shops, or by selling music, movies, stationery, and knick-knack. I seldom find people browsing through bookshops, or once inside, browsing through books. The writing-style of popular books today is a subject for another discussion.

The English in our daily newspapers is appalling. This is even more ironic when you realize one of them claims to hold the record for the world’s largest circulation among English newspapers, while others contest closely for this top position. Mainstream English TV channels have presenters who should be pulled off the air and sacked, but it’s apparent there is a genuine problem in finding good people in a country with a population of over one billion. While I send my child to one of the best play-schools in Delhi, am distressed to note that some of his play-school teachers can’t speak English correctly. How do I shield his ears from imbibing their language?

Hiding Their Incompetence

Most people have found clever and sly methods of hiding their incompetence. They all mix English with their local language, such as Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil or whatever else. This bastardization is deliberately made to sound ‘cool’, and Radio and TV jockeys heavily indulge in ‘Hinglish’ or other corruptions. The second trick is to use as few words as possible, and to be repetitive, all this to hide the sparseness of their vocabulary. They all tend to speak rapidly, as this hides their ignorance of pronunciation, tenses, and other inaccuracies. While speaking, only key operative-words are emphasized. In particular, the sharp consonants of some words are spoken loudly, while the rest of the words are merely mumbled. For example, “CARReer” or “CARRier” to hide their ignorance of the distinct pronunciation of each word. Some words are abbreviated, such as “congrats” instead of “congratulations”, and “vocab” instead of “vocabulary” . Eye and hand-gestures compensate for the rest.

Writing-skills

This deserves special mention. Graduates in their twenties and thirties cannot write, not even to save their skins. Many companies, sensitive to their image, enrol their staff into what I call ‘re-education crash courses’ to get them to send an email in comprehensible English. I often groan when I find PowerPoint or OpenOffice Impress slides beamed on big screens and to large audiences, with glaring spellings and other mistakes. As important speakers and guests-of-honour butcher the language on public-address systems, have often wished someone would invent technology to run live and subtitled-text for the audience. People I know, who speak fluently and once wrote nearly flawless English, have today sent their writing skills to the dogs. They never realized when they deteriorated to SMS-English in their formal letters and published words. I rarely find someone who remembers to spell ‘you’ as ‘you’, for instance. Indian authors may win the Booker prize and other international recognitions for their literary outpourings, but nobody seems to address the reality in every street, school, office, and home in India.

Wake-Up Calls

For a few years in my profession, I foolishly imbibed the Hinglish-style of speech, and freely spoke in the incorrect English of my clients, thinking this would help me get my message across better. The worst thing I could possibly do to myself professionally and personally, was to discard my English and imbibe the atrocious language-style of my students in New Media and/or Graphic Design, especially from 1998 till 2007. This I did even when I was merely working as a visiting-faculty from time-to-time at a few institutes, and despite being a prolific writer, journalist, and an editor.

The first metaphoric stinging slap across my face, came from my dear friend, and one of my gurus, Raj Mathur, who publicly admonished me in 2000, for typing in sms-English, on the linux-delhi.org mailing list. I immediately noted how I had to struggle with myself to break away from that habit and get back to proper spellings. Am so glad linux-delhi.org, a hub of obviously educated people, insists members use proper spellings in their public posts. This also helps web search-engines to accurately tag and index the often valuable information shared on the list. I appreciate Raj for correcting me, and am often disappointed when otherwise educated people on the linux-delhi mailing list make weak excuses, cite laziness, or even argue, for using sms-spellings in their posts. Little do they realize the negative impression they generate for themselves in the eyes of prospective clients and employers, as well as friends and peers.

The second wake-up call followed almost immediately. I re-examined my professional writing and noticed my style had deteriorated drastically. It took me, and is still taking me, great effort to get back to my initial command over the language. Try this yourself now: Take pen and paper and see if you can spontaneously write two pages of text without sms-spellings, deletions, and other errors. Chances are you can’t.

The third wake-up call happened in 2007. While chatting with a dear friend over the phone, she pointed to me how I had grown into the habit of using rather abusive language. I felt rather ashamed of myself, and promised to drop the habit completely, though I love to use the ‘F’ word, out of love for Osho. Am not embedding the video-extract of Osho’s remarkable speech, but you may view it here: http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=6D7rWLzloOI

The fourth and final wake-up call came from Dr. Ramesh Biswas, from Austria. I frequently appear on television, usually, but not limited to, being interviewed for insights and recommendations on technology. While flipping through some TV channels one evening, Ramesh was surprised to catch me on-air and dropped by the next day, to tell me quite clearly: “You come across as an educated, well-groomed, and an intelligent person, until you spoil your own credibility and impression by suddenly mispronouncing words that you shouldn’t be, given your background…. You should find a teacher or instructor who actually raps you on your knuckles, and firmly deals with you until you get your presentation right.”

That was it. I suddenly remembered that for ten years of my life as a child, I did indeed have a private mentor who taught me English, and a love for poetry, literature, and books. Her name was Muriel Wasi, and with each passing day I fondly remember her as an old battle-axe. More about her in another post. Meanwhile, on receiving my Bachelors in English Honours from Delhi University, had enrolled for my Masters, and at one time, was all set to work towards a Ph.D in English Literature, until life had other plans for me. Twenty years forward I took a good and hard look at what I had done to my command over the language. I needed no further prodding.

Top Tips

Here are details of how I personally improved my deteriorating command over English. I further refined my techniques so people who have always suffered from poor English-skills may also significantly improve themselves within a month.

  1. Stop using sms-English: All it takes is just another 50-paise, or even a rupee, for you to type a slightly-lengthier message in proper English. Consider it a valuable investment to make each time. For recurring messages, consider creating templates of pre-typed messages in your phone. I often insist friends and colleagues who sms me regularly, to only use proper spellings in their messages.
  2. Read at least one good book a week: Reading newspapers, magazines, brochures, and business and technical documents, is like trying to nourish your body exclusively on junk food. Just think: Have you read at least 52 good books in the last twelve months? If not, you know why you’re suffering. I threatened to hold back salary-increases for writers in a publishing team assigned to me during a consulting project, if I did not find them reading a book a week. I even threatened to fire them if they defaulted twice. Within a month of this stern condition, I noticed a dramatic improvement in their quality of writing. If you work with writers, consider implementing similar rules.
  3. Run every paragraph you author through a free online spell-check and grammar-check tool. You may try my favourite one here: www.spellchecker.net/spellcheck
  4. Be more evocative: Quickly describe or write a review of your favourite movie or music. Chances are you might just have used the word ‘awesome’ somewhere. Consider using a free online thesaurus to find other words for almost everything you say or write. This will help you increase your vocabulary and also make your expressions more evocative. Here’s one: thesaurus.reference.com
  5. Conduct a readability test: Nobody will ever tell you whether they found your written English easy or difficult to understand. Raj Mathur has developed a free and opensource web-application, that grades your text against various readability metrics. James Joyce would find it quite Useless, but this may just help you catch the Achilles heel of your writing-style. Discover it here: English Diction and Readability Tests.
  6. Speak slowly: You might find this difficult at first, as you try hard to distinctly pronounce each word, and watch out for mistakes with definite and indefinite articles such as ‘a’, ‘an’, ‘the’; with prepositions such as ‘of’, ‘in’, ‘on’, ‘at’, and more; and with your tenses.
  7. Learn correct pronunciations with howjsay.com: Just pay attention on how to correctly pronounce words you often take for granted. Try some words that most Indians tend to get wrong: ‘Career’; ‘Europe’; ‘Executive’; ‘Wednesday’; ‘Pronunciation’; ‘Project’ (there’s a difference between the noun and the verb with the same spellings); ‘Florist’; ‘August’; ‘Spectacles’; ‘Form’ (as in admission-form. Most people tend to mispronounce this as ‘farm’ or ‘pharram’); ‘Director’; ‘Invalid’ (the noun is distinct from the adjective).
  8. Stop using ‘Hinglish’ or freely mixing English with any other language. You will soon find you can’t speak the other language properly either.
  9. Stop using ‘arrey’ at the beginning, and/or ‘naa’ at the end, of each sentence. Most otherwise well-educated Indians have taken on this rather deplorable habit. Examples: ‘Please come here, naa’; ‘Don’t you think, naa?’; ‘Arrey! What are you doing?’; ‘Arrey! Using English like this is not good, naa?’
  10. Avoid speaking in abbreviations: ‘Congratulations’ is better than ‘Congrats’, unless you do wish to make someone feel like a rodent.
  11. Correct, or else avoid, people who refuse to improve their language-skills. Why? You tend to imbibe their language. If i meet a client or colleague I can’t avoid, I silently correct all language-mistakes made by him or her, just so I can fence off the rot that may otherwise set in on me. Also, choose to spend more time with those who speak fluently and you’ll eventually notice a change in your style as well. It’s just human nature.
  12. Switch off from TV and radio stations that butcher the language. Choose instead, to watch at least one hour of good English TV programming, while paying more attention with your ears than your eyes. Tune in to a quality radio station, whether local or international, where your ears can soak up to abut an hour of good English.
  13. Avoid abusive or offensive language. It makes you sound rather uncouth.

As you may see, the deterioration of your language has actually taken considerable effort and fortification of wrong habits by you, but what if you feel none of the above tips improve your English? I’ve successfully used the following technique with Hina Khan and Anshuman Kumar, two students am individually mentoring in various creative disciplines.

Niyam’s Audacious Technique for Improving Your English

Before Your Begin: Download and install, audacity, the free audio-editing software, on your desktop or laptop computer. You may get it from audacity.sourceforge.net. Buy yourself a reasonably good-quality microphone, or else a headset with a built-in microphone. Plug it in to your computer, and make a test recording in audacity, to ensure everything works.

Step 1: Take a good book or magazine. Flip open a random and unread page. Record yourself reading that page aloud, for about five to seven minutes. Take care to speak slowly, clearly, and distinctly.

Step 2: Close the publication. Playback the recording while keeping your eyes closed, so you can focus on what you said.

Self-Test: Launch your favourite word-processor, like openoffice.org for instance, and type in a paragraph or more in summary of what you think you read, without consulting the publication or your recording. You might just feel quite disappointed or even aghast with your summary. Do this self-test just the first time you follow this technique.

Step 3: Launch your word-processor, and while listening to and pausing audacity phrase-by-phrase, transcribe everything you read back into its written form. This step may be tedious, but it will help you a great deal. Once done, compare it with the original. Once more, you might just find yourself surprised at spellings or even words you thought you had read and uttered.

Step 4: Close your eyes, listen to your recording one last time. Then open a fresh document and write a summary. Compare this with the original.

Step 5: Finally, make a second recording, this time looking up the correct pronunciation of words on howjsay.com in advance.

When you close your eyes and listen to this second recording, you may notice with increasing satisfaction, how much your spoken English may have improved within just thirty minutes of this exercise. Follow the above five steps daily, for about three months, and you’ll observe a startling and positive change in your diction and style.

Why Does This Technique Work?

Deep down, we’ve learnt to forget to pay attention to, and listen to, what we say. When we read with our eyes, we tend not to listen to the words being read with our ‘inner ear’. When we speak, our ears tend not to listen to our own voice speaking. Our mind switches off and wanders off, or merely listens to words, without paying much attention to meaning. Hence all the errors made the first time anyone goes through this exercise.

This technique is highly effective, because when you do get down to carefully listening to yourself reading that publication, you sub-consciously hear yourself using correct grammar and style. That re-inforcement goes a long way in spurring your speech towards correct English.

So ultimately, only you could have paved the way out from your own deterioration, without requiring direct intervention or ongoing instructions from any other person. Amazing Fascinating, isn’t it?

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Are Words Empty Vessels of Sound?

A zen brush-stroke defines an empty bowl. Using typography, I carefully placed the following words near it: “words: nothing but empty vessels of sound.” You may check the calligraphy and design here: writing.
words: nothing but empty vessels of sound

I must have authored the original design somewhere in 2001. A few hours ago today, in 2008, I received the following email from a complete stranger called Ian. I immediately wrote back to him, and sought his permission to share this email with you. Says Ian:

“Words cannot be empty vessels of sound. Words work fine in written form, yet no sound is heard. Words are not the vessels for sound – Sounds are the vessels of words. Words have an idea behind them. They represent realities that we grasp in our minds as ideas. God made a physical universe that has true reality because He is REALITY and was able to communicate reality to His creation. Reality is lent by Him. He made this creation by WORDS. He communicated the reality by speaking (in infinite power) it into existance. Its reality existed first with Him, and He communicated it with “let there be..”. He gave the gift of words and language to man. We cannot “speak-create”, but we can transmit the ideas behind things by sending and receiving words.”

Hmmm. Here’s a question, Ian, though it’s a little more like a zen-koan: Can the deaf, especially those born with total-hearing impairment, learn to read and write? The answer is a surprising yes. Discover more here: Raising Deaf Kids. You may find something even more fascinating here: Deaf People’s Inner Voice.

The essential point, is that even the deaf create an ‘inner auditory’ sense equivalent, or maybe equal, to what we experience as sound. You may search the web for more case-studies and research into how the deaf learn to read and write, and often so eloquently and with much better grammar and style.

Magic Moment: The word, then, is indeed a sound. Words to me, are vessels of sound. When you learn to read a word, you learn to say it loud to yourself. Soon, the subtle and magic moment arrives when your parent or teacher recommends you read the word ‘silently’ to yourself. The sound then becomes internal. As humans, we impart thought, and soon, abstract thought, to words. For example, the word ‘apple’ makes you think of the tangible fruit. The word ‘innovation’ is a pure and abstract thought. Beyond thought, as humans we impart emotions and moods, and even cultural and other connotations to the words we use. Nevertheless, each word has first to be a sound heard in the mind.

Empty Vessels: Students and participants to my various workshops have almost always asked me why I describe words as “empty vessels”, especially when I earn a part of my livelihood and name as a professional author and editor. I leave that for you to ponder over, but I do hope you find inspiration in the sufi poetry and lyrics sung in this exotic music video. I especially love the sequence with the sufi-whirling:

And inside,
We’re all still wet.
Longing and yearning.

How can I explain how I feel?


Copyleft Diwali Greetings

My colleague, Dr. Savithri Singh, has creatively put together a selection of her photographs into a slideshow presentation, as a Diwali Greeting. Take a look, and share the light.

Deepawali Greetings

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: photographs greetings)

We Don’t Need No (Proprietary) Education.

How free are you to teach and learn?

Soon, the only atom of knowledge that will be shared freely by all educationists in the world, will be that knowledge cannot be shared freely by law.

This, because all curriculum, and even methods of teaching, are not only copyrighted, but also proprietary. Anyone who wishes to teach something will have to pay a license-fee or enter into some agreement, to do so. The burden of this, will of course, be passed on to the student.

The role of the teacher and the professor will pass through its most challenging phase this century. The confusion between the four discrete terms: information, skill, knowledge, and education, will finally come clear, and everyone in academia will be forced to examine what do they impart out of these four.

Fortunately, a few brave and intelligent thinkers are trying to forge an alternative vision, at least in education-curriculum. Among them is WikiEducator, a community for the realization of a free version of the education curriculum by 2015. wikieducator.org/India
They met at a Delhi University college in south Delhi, called Acharya Narendra Dev College,
andcollege.du.ac.in/ for a Learning For Content workshop. Details here: wikieducator.org/India/L4C_India_08.

I was invited to deliver a talk on vision and inspiration, as part of the talk by Dr. Andrew Lynn. The audience came from diverse disciplines in indian academia. Was wonderful to meet so many professors and educationists. Here are some photos from my talk:

[flickr album=72157608002754095 num=10 size=Thumbnail]

Dr. Savithri Singh just emailed me her collection of photos from the event, which prompted me to author this blog. We all had quite an intense and animated discussion during my talk, that was held jointly with Dr Andrew Lynn from JNU. A few colleges also talked about rolling similar talks and initiatives in their campuses. As usual, I am always game. In the meantime, Dr Savithri’s photos:
WikiEd08 pictures
and Even more WikiEd08 pictures.


Kiss Your TV Goodbye.

GISS.tv will transform India’s tv broadcasting and media. Forever.

Sarai is the perfect place for a kiss. Behind all the non-stop chatter and noise of television stations, I experienced a quiet revolution on a lazy, saturday afternoon in an almost-empty seminar room in Delhi’s leafy north campus. A revolution, that will eventually impact more than 500 million TV viewers in India, and reach out to the global population of the world far-ahead of conventional twentieth-century television. A revolution that will kiss your TV goodbye. Click on the photos below to discover more from the captions.

[flickr album=72157608313338533 num=5 size=Thumbnail]

The Hidden Dragon

The soft-spoken and unassuming Yves Degoyon, dressed in an old tee-shirt, bleary-eyed from his travels in India, commanded the stage. He walked the dozen participants in the room through his impressive giss.tv project. For ordinary mortals, giss.tv allows anyone, anywhere, armed with nothing more than a commodity laptop, to broadcast live video on their own internet-tv channel, and reach a global audience instantly. All for free, as in both free-of-cost, and more importantly, with freedom. Similarly, giss.tv also allows anyone anywhere to launch their own audio broadcasts instantly for the world.

The live broadcast is streamed into the web-browser of any viewer who tunes in, and does not require any proprietary plug-in like Adobe’s Flash, to run. The underlying technology is Java, which means it can run on any browser, on any device, smartphones, and who knows, you may soon have special devices that could tune-in as well.

This changes everything. In the spirit of freedom, all the software required to author, produce, capture live video and audio, and broadcast are also free and with-freedom, i.e. muft and mukt. Indeed, the impressive suite of software mimics everything that you may expect from professional tv production suites.

You can ticker-tape text at the bottom or anywhere on the screen, at any angle and direction. You can also record your final broadcasts concurrently to hard-disk for archives and for re-purposing. It can mix live video-broadcasts with pre-recorded segments. This is ideal for, say, a live TV news program that has to show video-footage on-cue. It can take multiple video-streams, fade and mix from one to the other, quite suitable for stringing in stories from correspondents or live-video from any geographical location. Yves does recommend it is easier to use a hardware video-mixer to spare current laptops and software the burden of processing, but still, it is a proof-of-concept that will soon become mainstream.

The Bliss of GISS
There are a few things that giss.tv can do, which I have not yet seen on any platform. For instance, unlike youtube or other video-sites, it works with live video, and uses absolutely no proprietary software or plug-in. That means, as stated earlier, everything is muft and mukt. GISS.tv also gives you, the author, complete copyright and ownership of your video, and encourages you to publish and broadcast using a copyleft or a creativecommons license. The server-space and all services are provided free. You can also design your own tv station and channel on the web-browser, and let viewers log-in and subscribe to your video-broadcasts. Unlike TV, giss.tv is also more interactive. Viewers can comment, blog, discuss, and interact, as they watch the video.You can also track viewers, and as each viewer tunes-in, you can lookup his or her location on a map, and the software and platform details of their machines.

Static Noise

What GISS.tv lacks currently, is a slick user-interface design and a bling-bling website. Indeed, it suffers from the looks of a typical, grown-at-home geeky project. Yves works almost effortlessly with his tools, but even the best nerds would quail at the sight of those intimidating software and tools that fill the screen. What the project needs acutely at this moment, is a complete re-do of their user-interface design, and a much more streamlined learning curve.

Nevertheless, I am so impressed with this project, that I have just authored an article in my FreedomYug column for the November 2008 of LinuxForYou magazine. Will publish a hyperlink to it once it gets published. [Update]: Here is the link: My TV Station.

Whether giss.tv eventually becomes successful, or whether it paves the way for a grander and significant paradigm-shift remains to be seen. No one can deny the time has come for twentieth-century broadcast-television, and especially the low-standards of news and tv-journalism we’re currently dished out, to be revamped. On this count, Yves hits the nail on the head. Read his raison d’etre for launching this project, his motivations for giss.tv.

To say it more simply: I am too sexy for TV.

So don’t talk, just giss….


Osho on The Way Beyond Politics, War, and Terrorism.

While talking on the sufi mystic Fareed, Osho shares his vision on your response as an individual, to the dilemma of politics, war, and terrorism.

Listening to a beautiful discourse-series in Hindi by Osho, called ‘Na Kano Suna‘. This literally translates to that which is “Unheard by the Ear”, and is based on the mystic-sufi Fareed, also spelled as Farid.

Osho

Osho hits the raw nerve of the modern dilemma of our lives, especially war and terrorism. He then goes on to show how this dilemma has persisted and dogged us since thousands of years. Finally he unfolds his bold new vision on how we can resolve this. Along the way he shares his truthful and fearless views on politics and politicians, his approach to ‘humanity’, and the futility of all political revolutions. He then points to the only true revolution possible. What inspires me most is his vision of what you, as an individual, can do about it. His vision is brilliantly intelligent and startling as usual. If you’re interested, you may discover the discourse here:

Na Kano Suna #6.

This is the sixth discourse in the series. Listening to these first six discourses has been quite a stimulating experience.