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Plain stupid

tech reviews Updated: Mar 27, 2010 19:51 IST
Prasanto K Roy
Prasanto K Roy
Hindustan Times
Blackberry

When personal computers were forced down upon government departments in the Nineties, there was much worry about what on earth to do with them. Many were kept in cartons for months, until the usage audits. Then, space was cleared on the Babu’s busy table, and the PC as Paperweight evolved. Apocryphal, perhaps: the PC would be an impractical paperweight. But I’ve seen the mouse making a nice one – usually with the PC not even plugged in.

Times have changed, and babus have started using email (mostly with secretaries printing out their mail for them). There are even many Blackberry Babus around in the service. But across this country which is globally famous for its infotech prowess, there’s plenty of room for stupid tech. Or tech used in a stupid way – or bought, installed, and never used.

The metal detector

This has to be in modern history’s Top Ten list of colossal, wasteful spending. The walk-through metal detector is among the most ubiquitous of all the electronic tech you see today. Walk through it with metal in your pocket, and it beeps.

But in India, the beeping is irrelevant, and does not affect whether you’re searched or not. Of the millions of walk-through metal detectors installed in India, 99 per cent are never used. They’re switched on, and they beep till they’re blue, but no one looks at them. If there’s a body-search, it happens anyway, with handheld metal detectors or with aggressive frisking.

In Indian airports, I don’t bother to take out metal from my pockets. I know that whether or not the doorframe beeps as I walk through, I will be searched – or scanned by a handheld detector. The cops aren’t even looking at the walk-through detector. What a waste.

The only airports where I haven’t ever been personally searched are those outside India. Take out your coins, watches, and other metal, and walk through. If the frame doesn’t beep as you walk through, you’re free to go. If it beeps, you go back and try again. Only if you have embedded metal – crutches, or an implant, or if they find you suspicious, will they search you personally.

No wonder our airport security queues are huge, and they crawl. Last week, I counted – the brisk, efficient cop was taking a minute per person. With 30 people ahead, it was a half hour before I went through. If he’d used the walk-through metal detector, he’d have done 30 people in ten minutes. Travellers would soon learn that if they were metal-free and didn’t beep, they’d walk through quickly.

And let’s not even talk about the malls that scan or search all the men, but let the women through however much they make the detector beep. Women, of course, cannot carry weapons. How very sexist – or presumptuous, as Rajiv Gandhi might have said.

The online bedtime

A relative in the US once asked: is your online railway ticketing system manually-run, by people who have office timings? Isn’t it run by computers?

He’d tried to book train tickets for an India visit, and couldn’t – not in his waking hours. That’s because the ticketing website (IRCTC.co.in) shuts down at night, 11 pm IST.

How uniquely Indian – specifically, how very government-of-India. Why on earth would you shut down an online system at night? I can understand scheduled downtime – for instance, Amex’s online system has reduced functionality for two hours every night, for reconciliation. But to shut down ticketing for the night for a service that itself runs 24 x 7?

I bumped into this curfew again when I tried booking some tickets last week. And I learnt I couldn’t simply say Delhi to Udaipur. I had to pick a specific station and its exact station code, else it would say things like “Station is not in ISL of the Train”. And then I had to choose from 32 payment options. Finally, the payment refused to go through. I switched to Cleartrip.com, clicked on Trains, entered DEL and it told me Delhi – All Stations (of course!) and in less than five minutes, I got an SMS with the PNR confirming my travel. IRCTC.co.in was a pioneering service when it started up a decade ago – but against the third-party ticketing sites, it’s severely dated. There’s a new site being tested, so there’s hope.

It isn’t just the Railways. I tried making a credit card payment by NEFT (the RBI’s electronic funds transfer) at 4 pm last Saturday. Declined: the NEFT working hours are over. Please see the NEFT hours and holiday list... NEFT hours? And 13 NEFT holidays? When the world works 24 x 7?

Nominations open for more PC Paperweight awards. What’s your favourite bit of silly, or wasted, tech? The author is chief editor at CyberMedia, publisher of 15 specialty titles including the gadget site www.LD2.in . pkr@cybermedia.co.in , twitter.com/prasanto