Archive for January, 2014

Should We care about Bitcoins?

// January 25th, 2014 // Comments // Technology

What is Bitcoin? That is the question everyone is asking, including CES 2014. Many call it fake money. Some say it is virtual money with no backing. The reason Bitcoin is hard to understand is because it is truly revolutionary. Paper money must have been seen the same way when it replaced Gold coins.

But Bitcoin is different. Bitcoin is Cryptocurrency. It is a type of virtual money created and maintained Cryptographically. It has no Central Authority or Bank. People or Companies can exchange it directly with one another from anywhere in the world. In 2009, under the false name of Satoshi Nakamoto, an open source software was released. It was the beginning of Bitcoin.

Bitcoins’ main goal is to be a global currency that is not controlled by any person or group. It does this by being Decentralized. Financial institutions need massive computational power. A record of all transactions need to be kept. Also it has to perform transactions and create Bitcoins.

This is done by “Miners.” Miners are individuals or groups who run the bitcoin software on their own hardware. By doing this, they generate new bitcoins by lending their hardware for solving complex cryptographic equations. They also help keep the records of all transactions. No one can spend the same bitcoin twice. For their troubles and cost of electricity and such, the miners are rewarded with a percentage of the bitcoin generated and the transaction fees.

When Bitcoin was young, the average person could make quite a few bitcoins with a standard home computer. But now resources are pooled into “swarms”, so that equations can be processed faster leading to better chances of earning. The number of Bitcoins generated are regulated. You cannot create unlimited number of bitcoins. For bitcoin to have value it must be limited, similar to gold. Bitcoin mining will go on decreasing by half every year. Till it reaches the limit of 21 Million Bitcoins. There can be no more bitcoins after that. This helps regulate Inflation.So why should you care about this Virtual Currency? Someone described it as a Financial Revolution. It gives people freedom to do business with anyone in the world, without any middle man. No excessive transaction cost, no hassles. But apart from that there are many practical reasons for investing in bitcoin. The first is security. The strength of the encryption is equal to the number of computers connected to the “swarm”. So if someone has to crack it, they have to have more computational power than many googles. And that would only give them a hypothetical possibility. The software is open-sourced. All unwanted software is immediately seen and removed. But your name and private wallet are not revealed. You can make completely private transactions with a pseudonym. Everything else can be seen by anyone. This ensures transparency in trading while protecting privacy of the users.

Most bitcoins are stored digitally in wallets. But many have made bitcoins of paper, wood and metal. All have a sort of digital storage whereby data can be scanned.

How do we get hold of a bitcoin? You can “mine” it, sell goods and services online for bitcoins or purchase it for money. But this is controversial. How much does a bitcoin cost?

Mt.gox and BTC china are the two largest exchanges. You can exchange money in return for bitcoins. Bitcoins are not regulated and as such the currency fluctuates considerably from one exchange to the next. But mostly people deal in terms of dollars. The latest price of 1 bitcoin is ~850 dollars, though it rises and falls. Many say that it is natural because bitcoin is a new currency that has not yet matured.

Bitcoin has not been smooth sailing. Recently there was a sharp drop in prices due to the Chinese Government banning the exchange of Bitcoin for money. There was also a drug dealer site called silkroad.com that traded in bitcoins. The privacy policy of bitcoin didn’t allow tracking. This darkened the name of bitcoin as a legal currency.

On the positive side, the Federal Reserve of USA issued a statement that bitcoin is “legitimate”. Many other governments have issued similar statements. Recently more individuals and companies have started accepting bitcoins. Reddit and Zynga games are an example.

Bitcoin has no central authority which makes many governments uncomfortable, as they cannot control it. But it is slowly gaining recognition steadily building up momentum. It may be a good idea to start investing in it. However, be careful about malwares and theft. With new technology comes new problems.

All things considered Bitcoin has a lot of promise. It is a risky enterprise, with prices rising and falling. But it a virtual currency that is completely in your control, to do as you please. The only limitation at the moment is that it is very bound to the virtual space, though this may change in the future. And change is right around the corner.

A Glimpse into the Traditional Indian Wedding

// January 18th, 2014 // Comments // Events, Personal

For many of our friends, this was the first time that they’ve attended a traditional Indian village wedding. Both of us are of the same tradition. For those who missed it this is what happened…

 The day began early, with the usual morning ablutions. We couldn’t see each other for the rest of the morning. Our preparations started separately in different rooms of the house.

preparation puja pallavi

Both of our parents, along with Pallavi began the first pooja of the day. Here, Pallavi was blessed and prepared for the Holy rituals of the wedding ceremony.

Gifts of gold to bride in wedding

Three very important items are given as a gift to her. A saree for another important ceremony, Basinga or a fillet (head-band) and Gold Jewelry. The ceremony ends with the Basinga being tied to Pallavi’s head.

3 gifts to the bride

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I perform a pooja along with the priest.

puja preparations morning

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Later I am led to the Mantap or the wedding platform, where our parents begin the next round of rituals. There they wash my feet as a token of welcome. While priests chant the mantras, the parents tie darbe rings and place it on my fingers. I am given an offering of Milk and Banana. The ceremony ends with Pallavi’s brother handing me gifts of clothes.

Ceremony of Welcome

While I am busy at the Mantap, Pallavi is being dressed up for the wedding. All her sisters and friends help her get attired in the traditional brahmin wedding style, which involves two sarees.

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She is handed a blessed coconut and a mala or garland of flowers. She mustn’t drop the coconut. This is the rite of Kaigayi.

Now the bride is led to the mantap. Her uncles carry her in a procession up to the mantap. I am hidden behind a Parade or Veil. She is waiting on the other side. The priest chants the mantras as Pallavi’s Father officiates the Mala Ceremony. After the end of every stanza people throw akshata or red-dyed rice over the us. Finally the parade is lowered and Pallavi first places the mala over my head. After I place the garland over her head, the next rite begins. We sit down and the rituals begin in earnest.

We are offered the Panchgavya, a purifying drink made of 5 ingredients. This signifies that both of us are sanctified. We are also presented with kitchen items as a sign of blessing on our future home.

The mother of the bride then takes the mangalsutra or necklace and going to all the elders around, asks them to bless it. When it has been blessed she hands it to me. I put the mangalsutra around Pallavi’s neck. Once worn the mangalsutra must not be removed. It is a sign of the care and concern I have towards her, and the love she bears me in return.

Kanyadana is the most important ritual in the entire ceremony. It literally means “gift of a maiden”. According to the ancients, the bride is the most beautiful gift of God Vishnu to the husband. He must treat her with great respect and love. She must consider her husband as Vishnu himself. Rice is placed in both of our hands, topped with a coconut. Over that water is poured. Then we have to throw that rice over each others’ head. This was repeated 9 times. Once I missed her head and the wet rice landed on her face!

Pallavi’s Mother then places two toe rings on each foot. These Kalungura are a token of marriage. They serve a similar purpose as the gold ring of the western culture’s wedding ceremony.

Our parents tie the pallu or end of Pallavi’s saree to the end of my dhoti. This rite marks the moment of the joining of our lives. Everything we do from now, we will do together. However, we will be tied together only till lunch.

The rite of Saptapadi involves me leading Pallavi as she takes seven steps on rupee notes and rice. She leans on my arm for support as she steps on them only with her right foot.

Here’s a reminder that we are still in the 21st century. I add a new rite by updating my status on facebook to “married” on my chromebook pixel!

Our parents then place Pallavi’s hand in my hand. Signifying the rite of Hennu Vopisuvudu, where Pallavi is placed in my care.

We are led to the house, where we are sanctified with kumkum. We put water on our eyes as a sign of warding off “Drasti”.Everyone has seen this rite on TV. It is called Homa. We walk around the Holy Fire, offering Hodalu (food) to the Gods after every cycle.

And now to stuff our faces!

Graha Pravesh is the last rite of the wedding ceremony. The auspicious timing, as with the Muhurtham, was decided by the astrologers earlier. The Muhurtham was at 10:20 in the morning. The graha pravesh was in the evening. We changed into the clothes that were gifted to us in the morning. Traditionally this is the welcoming ceremony of all Indian Households. One becomes a member of the family only after crossing the threshold of the Pooja room. It was exciting taking part in this ritual. The basingas from our heads are removed and tied to the top beam of the house. This is never removed. It is sign of the permanent place of a couple in a home.

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It ended with a dinner. This exhilarating but exhausting experience came to an end as the night descended upon the village. Everything became quiet then except for the laughing crowd who were eating, joking and having fun!