Remix Scourge!

Warning: This post might sound like the rantings of a cranky old fogey from the 50s, but I really love “old” Hindi Film music, so I’ll run that risk:

Damn! There are just SO many remixes being made in India today! And they’re really shoddily sung. Since I don’t have access to too much TV, I don’t know how trashy the videos are. All I know is that most of them are full of sleaze.

I was on an IBM bus yesterday evening, travelling all the way to Kothrud (which takes about an hour from Ozone, IBM’s dev. centre), listening to Radio Mirchi. Well, after a while of really bad music, I decided to make a list of the remixes they were playing (remember, this is about an hour-and-a-half’s worth of time):

Raat Ke Humsafar – originally from “An Evening in Paris”
Hoga Tumse Pyaara Kaun – originally from “Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai”
Hoton Pe Aisi Baat – originally from “Jewel Thief”
Sajana Tere Bina – originally from “Judaai”
“Disco Station” – originally from “Hathkadi”
“Leke Pehla Pehla Pyaar” – originally from “CID”

All of these are classics, but they’ve been simply ruined by some two-bit singer and some DJ who, fancying himself as a composer, lifts a tune and passes it off as a “re-creation”. Indeed, when these videos are played on TV, the info bar says “Music Recreated by…”. What s**t is that?! Are today’s composers so low on talent that one in every two songs played on the radio is a remix? Why, think of the movie “Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar” – not only was the title not original, but all the songs in the movie were RD Burman classics, simply re-sung, and the promoters had the gall to call the soundtrack a “tribute to RD Burman”! I bet RD’s gaping open-mouthed in heaven at this nonsense down on Earth! Even Veer-Zaara’s soundtrack was composed by the “late Madan Mohan”, using his “unpublished works”! For God’s sake, who gives you the authority to “finish” his unpublished works? You’ve “finished them off” for sure!

Why remix “Hoga Tumse…” or “Disco Station”? The original was pretty catchy in the first place. Or however do you intend to make “Raat Ke Humsafar” into a dance track? If that isn’t the intention, what is? Besides, those individuals who’ve attempted to re-sing these numbers have done a horrible job. Shankar Mahadevan (I think that was him singing Hoga Tumse…) has rushed through the song, ignoring fine variations in tone that made the original so appealing. I expect something much, much better from a singer of his class. The result is that the remix falls flat on its face.

Ostensibly, these remixes are made so that the “masses” can dance to “old tunes” which would otherwise have been “lost”, to make them more “relevant” to today’s tastes. I can’t believe that people make money and build careers out of this plunder! Since no one would buy audio CDs of such inane musical reproductions, the makers of these albums make sure that the video is as appealing (read sleazy) as possible, so that they can make a fast buck selling video CDs instead. With big money at stake and plenty of competition, the race for sleaze has resulted in abysmal content on our music channels. What we’re seeing on TV today is downright ridiculous! I don’t know if state-decreed censorship is the answer (I oppose all forms of censorship by the Government), but I can understand the motivations of those who propose it.

This won’t last forever, though. No matter how many classics they remix, I predict that people will just tire of being bombarded with cheap, low-quality, sleaze-dripping videos. Fatigue will set in evertually. I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.

Google offers “rewards” worth millions… and thoughts on the Indian IT Industry reports that Google is rewarding outstanding employess with restricted stock options that could be worth millions of dollars. These awards, known as “Founders’ Awards”, were awarded in November to two teams, consisting of a dozen employees each. When the awards were given out, the stock was reportedly worth 12 million dollars!

Sergei Brin lists two motives for these awards: one, motivating existing employees to work harder, to compete for these awards, and two, to encourage (lure?) the best in the software industry to work for Google. The latter motive is particularly important for Google, considering it places such a high premium on hiring only the best of the best.

As another article reports, Google may be the last of the original “dot-coms”, companies with loads of “coolness”, genius and outrageous eccentricity. Here’s a photo feature on life inside Google. Very few organisations would invest so much in keeping employees motivated. Especially in the Indian IT industry. Even in the “big giants” in India, the way employees are treated in general is not at all encouraging.

The problem is that there are just so many IT professionals in the market (God, how I hate using jargon like that!) We’ve now begun to witness the “commoditisation” of the IT worker. I know at least one company that refers to its employees as “resources”. Some companies even treat them as such. Annual reports of a major IT services company gloated over the fact that “net employee utilisation” had gone up a few percent! This is apalling! About 3 years ago, being an “IT professional” was a matter of pride here in India. Now it’s just another job. In fact, the only people that even IT professionals can act condescending towards are BPO workers!

Perhaps the reason that we’ve reached this stage is that the Indian software industry seems content with doing low-end work. Yes, now matter how high we try to crawl up the “value chain”, we’re still performing low-end tasks. Why not try to be a member of the value chain instead? Why not try to own the chain instead? What I’m saying is that we need our industry to create products that the world uses, that the Enterprise depends on. Services on top of, or around those products will follow. World-class minds working for Indian companies won’t be able to translate their vision of tomorrow’s technologies, tomorrow’s business – into profit for India if we continue in the “services” rut.

On a partially-related note, I chanced upon an article in a national newspaper a few days ago, which stated that the attrition rate in the Chinese IT industry was very very low, almost one-fourth India’s. Now that isn’t too surprising, is it? Or even something to be concerned about. There are now so many IT companies here, in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Gurgaon, that an IT professional who aspires for a job better than the one he’s doing, doesn’t think too much before quitting his current job and being hired by another company – the job market (yech! that jargon again!) is big enough for a competent professional to be offered a reasonable increment in salary by a competing firm.

Returning finally to my original rant, perhaps what we need is a mindset change, from services towards products. I’m going to post more on this belief of mine later. For now, here’s some food for thought: what we need may not be 4 or 5 Infosys-es, but 10,000 CalSoft-s. What think?

Microsoft Opens Up MS Office Document Formats

I wonder how this didn’t make Slashdot.

Microsoft has announced that it will make the file formats (specifically, schemas) for Excel 2003, InfoPath 2003, Visio 2003, and Word 2003, available for free download under a non-restrictive, free licence. Here’s the relevant part of the FAQ from the Office 2003 website.

Q. How do I get a license?

A. The license is available when you download the Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas from the Microsoft Download Center.

Q. Who can obtain a license?

A. The license is not restricted to particular individuals or entities. It is available for customers, governments, academics, hobbyists, and IT companies.

Q. How restrictive is your license?

A. The license for the Office 2003 Editions XML Reference Schema is patterned on licenses for various XML standards efforts and allows for broad industry use.

Q. How much does the license cost?

A. The license for the Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas is being made available free of charge.

Ostensibly, this is being done to get around new “open standards” restrictions being imposed by the state of Massachusetts, but other than this reason, the move defies logic. Microsoft already has a stranglehold on the Office Suite market, perhaps an even firmer one than Windows has on the Operating Systems one. This move will only make the project developers’ life much easier. No more reverse-engineering of file formats in order to play well.

But by merely promoting an open standard, and committing to it remaining free “perpetually”, is not going to generate revenue for Microsoft. Even most (if not all) users of OpenOffice, whether on Windows or non-Windows operating platforms, still save all of their files in Microsoft Office formats. How will this result in greater sales of MS Office, or in stanching the rise of OpenOffice?

Perhaps it’s the exact reverse – Microsoft has estimated that OpenOffice is not an immediate threat to its market, so opening up the standard will make no difference to its revenue through increased adoption of OpenOffice. Besides, opening up the standard also earns Microsoft goodwill from corporate America and state governments; it also earns it brownie points in its battle with the Open Source community and their backers, chiefly IBM, Novell and Sun. Finally, such a move also strengthens its claim of promoting open standards.

Whatever the impact of this move on the players invoved, in the end, the customer always stands to gain – either from an improved OpenOffice, or simply better file formats based on feedback from the technological community.

And all I can say to Microsoft is – Humph! It’s About Time!

Tomboy Rocks!

Most of this post is going to be about an application called Tomboy. Here’s where to get it from.

Just got Tomboy running on my ThinkPad a couple of minutes ago. It is an incredibly useful application. I use it all the time on my desktop at work to make TODO lists, to jot down ideas, to paste snippets of code, and other similar things.

The beauty of Tomboy is the linking between notes. Here’s how I use links:
I create a separate note for a complex task in my TODO list. So I might have an entry in Thursday’s TODO that says “Merge the FooBarBaz daemon sources for AIX and Solaris”. Now I have a few notes to make about this particular task, but putting them in the TODO list will only clutter the list. So I create another note in Tomboy, title it FooBarBaz code merge, and make the above entry in my TODO list a link to this note! Once you get used to doing things this way, your productivity increases exponentially! Of course, YMMV, but if it doesn’t work for you, you’re not quite in the same league as I am! ;-)

The other way I use linking is to link to documents. So I have an entry that says “Finish section so-and-so of the FooBarBaz daemon design doc”. After typingthat line, I simply drag the actual file from within Nautilus to the note, creating a link to the document from the note. So now, when I click on the link, the document just opens up in LeafPad! Wonderful!

Two other great features in Tomboy are viewing recently modified notes, and searching notes. These are of particular use when you have a lot of notes.

Returning to the linking part, Tomboy’s author Alex Graveley is working on support for linking to all Desktop Objects, including Evolution Todos and Tasks, appointments, email, IM Buddies, image previews, and playlists. Once done, tomboy will be a killer app for the Linux Desktop. No doubt about it. Imagine creating a note, dragging and dropping music files/playlists to it, creating on-the-fly playlists, merging, cropping playlists from within notes on your desktop! Writing email into a note and posting it from within Tomboy! Creating a task and adding it to Evolution! The beauty of this application is the ubiquitious prescence of a note on the desktop, the ease with which text within a note can be manipulated. We are only limited by our imagination as regards what is possible with Tomboy.

Actually, I ought to switch to SUSE Linux 9.2 Professional from Novell Linux Desktop 9. Although the latter is a fantastic piece of software, and currently ranks as my Number One Distribution, it doesn’t contains a lot of the *-devel packages that I need to compile and install a lot of software. I doesn’t come with Apache, or MySQL, or PHP… all of which I need for a lot of my work. Of course, Novell Linux Desktop’s not meant to provide all of this… SUSE 9.2 is the powergeek’s distro, so none of my complaints are against NLD 9. It accomplishes what it’s supposed to – being a full-featured business desktop, perfectly. Full marks to Novell for its great product line!