Beyond the news, there is memory. Thirty years ago this week, the space shuttle Challenger exploded on take-off, killing the seven-member crew. The front page of the New York Times of January 29, 1986 is back in circulation, telling how thousands watched the falling debris of the dream that the shuttle embodied, of making spaceflight as commonplace as jetliners.
The crew of the International Space Station (and Flight Operations on the ground) observed a moment of silence for the martyrs of America’s push into space — the crews of Challenger, Columbia and Apollo 1. The little video from the ISS on Nasa.gov is more moving than all the political tributes recorded on earth.
Nearer home, after a brief struggle with lung cancer, Delhi’s much-loved editor Arindam Sen Gupta went to the big newsroom in the sky. “Bong”, as he was known to his numerous friends, was from the time when Indian media’s second language was Bengali (the third was Malayalam, to the chagrin of the Hindi press). But he remained youthfully enthusiastic about the newspaperly life well into middle age and will be fondly remembered by many.
Netflix, which has just gone global with launches in numerous countries including India, began an equally global crackdown on violators of geo-licensing last weekend. Netflix content varies across territories according to the rights acquired by the company, and many connoisseurs use proxy servers, DNS switchers and virtual private networks to circumvent the electronic barbed wire. For instance, if you are in Britain and want to see an American documentary, you would want to ride a VPN which gives you a US IP address. The US service has the biggest stash, so it is the usual target. “VPN piracy” is an open secret, an issue which streaming television has inherited from internet radios like Pandora. Now, apparently, such TV tourists are being blocked by Netflix, but there is still a way: the one-man website uNoGS.com (unofficial Netflixonline Global Search), which provides listings of shows with language options and VPNs which can provide access to them. This may seem like piracy but really, does geo-restriction by licensing make any sense when the biggest distribution pipe, the internet, respects no physical borders? Geo-restriction is a totally legacy idea, and the industry will have to dream up a borderless licensing system for television, cinema and radio.
The Indian media went sort of ape when Donald Trump said, in a CNN interview, that India is “doing great”. Unexpected praise is always heart-warming but shouldn’t we be worried, too? It’s Trump doing the praising, and earlier, he had accused India and China of disrespecting and cheating the US just because it’s down. Later in the week, the US media went wild over Trump’s controversial exit from a Fox show, apparently on account of a feud with the host, though his foes believe he’s just chicken and his voters protested that his opponents would be able to say something cogent and he wouldn’t be able to carpet-bomb them into silence. Why not? It’s Fox, isn’t it? But the mainstream press missed the finest Trump story, which has been flourishing in geekdom: some people from Rice University are putting together a new programming language called TrumpScript on the collaboration site Github. Built on Python, it exhibits Trump-like behaviour. Its motto is, “Make Python great again,” and it replaces the binary logical opposition of true and false (or one and zero) with the totally unfuzzy “fact” and “lie”.
Other rules: “No floating point numbers, only integers. America never does anything halfway.” And: “No import statements allowed (they pull code from elsewhere). All code has to be home-grown and American made.” If you want to play around with TrumpScript, download it from github.com/samshadwell/TrumpScript.
Amply rewarded and re-energised by a Padma award, Anupam Kher has returned to the trenches, reiterating that the idea that India is intolerant is a joke. It is — Kher’s very own private joke gone public. The award wapsi campaign never accused India of being intolerant. It opposed a government with whose blessings the fringe was turning into the mainstream, creating new possibilities for targeted violence. But it doesn’t matter any more. Now that people are willing to re-accept awards that they returned last year (will they re-return them later?), our heads hurt too much to care.