Thursday, February 3, 2011

Why I (almost) like Bangalore.

(Cross-posted from a post at Musings of a Computing Professional)

My present visit to Bangalore grew partly out of a desire to take part in the UVCE Mega Reunion, and partly out of an approximately once-a-year visit to be with my octogenarian father. It has been nearly a month since I arrived at the Bangalore airport and, after taking in Bangalore in some of its awesome variety, I have reflected here on why I almost like Bangalore.

In his book The World is Flat, first published in 2005 and now newly republished as 3.0, Thomas Friedman has colorfully introduced Bangalore in story fashion through his experience in the golf course in the central part of the city.
"No one ever gave me directions like this on a golf course before: ... 'Aim at Microsoft or IBM'. I was standing at the first tee at the KGA Golf Club in downtown ... I had come to Bangalore, Indian Silicon Valley ...' .
Today, if you visit Whitefield — now considered part of Greater Bangalore —, you will see many more buildings, many of them high rises, that belong to who's who of multi-national corporations (MNCs) in the IT and other industries. Thus, as an IT professional, you simply cannot be lost in Bangalore. If anything, there is the added dimension of dealing with the Indian psyche to all of the rest of what is involved in an IT transaction.

If you are a programmer type, there is sufficient reason to be effective from being in Bangalore too, thanks largely to cloud computing. Dijkstra made the observation, in his famous 1972 Turing Award lecture, that programming is probably the most complex in terms of the orders of magnitude that the human mind has to conquer: 1010. While Dijsktra's comments were focused on a software system programmed on a single computer, the advent of cloud computing adds a new spatial dimension to the order of magnitude1, not to speak of the higher-speed electronics, which itself can add 3 more orders of magnitude, from microseconds to nanoseconds. So if you are a programmer interested in dealing with taming programming complexity, you can do so quite effectively while being in Bangalore.

Google Maps is another major boon to the chaos inherent to the Bangalore I grew up in, in the 1960s and 1970s. During this visit, I have never had major difficulty to get to anywhere within the city and, that too, by the Volvo bus transport, thanks to the Bangalore Google Transit Trip Planner. What is required is a bit of taming of what you type into the Google Maps' search window: I have discovered for example that, if you do not include street address, or door number as it is generally known here, the positioning of your location of interest is reasonably accurate, and that is good enough for getting you around.

Nearly any problem that needs a solution in the Indian society needs to be highly scalable2. Consider the mundane problem of outfitting the entire city of Bangalore with proper infrastructure of footpaths — or sidewalks, for the American reader. You have to be amazed why, in the last 4 decades, the quality of these footpaths has not improved at all! Take the Outer Ring Road3, for instance, as shown in the Google Maps Web Element at left. In some sections, in J P Nagar, pedestrians are forced to avoid the footpath and walk on the road, by the curb! Forget uniform paving on the footpath, the granite slabs intended to cover the drainage system are regularly missing near the Outer Ring Road underpass at J P Nagar 24th Main Road! Why is this? Is the problem so complex that it cannot be suitably solved? I'll leave the reasons to the reader's imagination.

In summary, if you can make do with traffic imperfections, including insufficient concern for pedestrians, there is sufficient excitement in the Bangalore air. And, that is enough for anyone, with sufficient non-concern toward traffic and pedestrians' problems, to like the city.

1In a Special Report: The World's Largest Data Centers, we learn that the largest single building data center is about 1.1 million square feet.
2This statement is true not only of India, but also of China; both are countries with more than billion people.
3When it was first conceived, Bangalore city limits were probably within this envelope. Now, of course, the city has grown beyond the Outer Ring Road, thus mocking the use of the word 'Outer'. That is besides the point.

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