Sunday, December 24, 2006

The dual of religion...

The dual of religion is rationality.

And the proof of this is the terrible state of Dalits in India. Dr. Ambedkar has done an enormous amount for the uplift of the Dalits in India. But I believe the solution he presented was fundamentally flawed. He tried to replace their Hinduism with another religion - perhaps he felt the masses were not ready for no religion altogether?

What is the result? The violence that you saw in Maharashtra when their icon was disfigured. The Dalits cannot show their anger on the Hindu gods who help the upper-castes keep them oppressed. How can you show your anger on something you believe in? When there is no legitimate target for anger, it's taken out on public property.

What happened in TamilNadu when some stupid copy-cats disfigured the statue of Periyar? The rationalists paid them back in their own coin. "You disfigure our icons, we'll disfigure your idols," they said. The government and the leadership of the parties involved acted quickly to dampen the anger. But the religious right has been taught a good lesson in TN, one they will not soon forget.

I do not condone the violence done, but how do you teach an irrational dog tricks? You give him a reward and you give him punishment. You can't deal with the religious right in the same way you deal with a rational human being - you must understand their irrationality and use it against them.

Periyar has done this in TamilNadu. His lessons have gone in deep into the Tamil mind. My friend said yesterday, "I do not believe in God, nor do I disbelieve, I merely don't care and ignore it." What is this but rationality?

Ambedkar lead millions of people from one quagmire to another. Periyar lead them out. The dual of religion is rationality.

Who will do this for us today?

Monday, September 25, 2006


So after posting about how he doesn't like his blog persona becoming public, the Nonbass Chief Devil has posted 8 things about himself which seem, at first glance, to be highly personal. Is this an attempt at irony? I wonder.

Apparently this tag is meant to make you post 8 things about yourself. This is of course intriguingly vague. Why 8 things? Why not a nice round 10? Was the originator a fan of binary? And things about me? Like what? I guess things that other people may atleast be able to pretend to be interested in, otherwise people would have even less interest in reading this blog than they already do. Which is not losing much of course, since the readership of this blog seems to be around three people, optimistically.

Enough of the gas, forward to the fertilizer --->
1. My mom's a Tamil prof., and I can barely read Tamil, let alone write it, to her eternal shame. This was brought about by a combination of studying in Canada for a year and completely forgetting Tamil, and some really bad Tamil teachers who put me off the subject at a tender age.
2. We had 4 kittens in our flat when I was in the 10th. My mom is quite convinced (probably accurately) that they were responsible for me standing 4th in my batch. From the bottom. I got 98 in Tamil though. Out of 200. The only good that resulted was that there was no objection to me switching to French.
3. I used to play in my flat from 3:30pm to 6pm with one set of kids, and from 5:30pm to 8pm with another. I was therefore expected to flunk badly by the majority of the Mothers' association. Somehow scraped a seat in AU after 12th and had the last laugh.
4. I was and still am an introverted geek. I can hold my end of a good conversation, but starting one is way beyond my means.
5. I was part of a group which set off to KudreMukh on Oct 2nd, 2004. We ended up in a bad accident with a yellow lorry at a place called Chennarayapatna a few kilometers from Hassan. Two of my colleagues died on the spot. One was in a coma for a few months. A few others had fractures and assorted bruises. I escaped with a small scratch on my forehead. I will never travel on the highway by private vehicle at night again.
6. I read more than almost anyone else I know. Hard SF is my poison. I am an information addict - if I'm not reading, I'm browsing the 'Net.
7. I'm a confirmed Atheist, and I've grown out of baiting others. Usually. Ok I didn't really. I just stopped baiting others because their arguments got repetitive and boring.
8. I argue a lot. I usually prefer a good argument to conversation. I thought "The Argumentative Indian" was a biography of me by Amartya Sen. No I'm not usually this big-headed. Pig-headed I am usually. As the quote goes "Arguing with an Engineer and wrestling with a pig in mud are similar. After a while you realise the pig is enjoying it".

That was not too bad I suppose. And my targets are, Goli, Chander, Madhan (whose blog is dead I think), Lokesh, Arka, and Kapil.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Spider, spider

Do you fear spiders?

If you do, then this is not for you!

Some extremely graphic pictures, and the description is none too neat either.

And as a result, I am going to be much more careful around spiders from now on.

On a side-note, my house is infested with 'kambili-poochi'. Don't know what the English term is, let me see if google turns it up.... For once google has not been very helpful, I don't think 'hairy caterpillar' does it any justice :-). Gypsy Moth Caterpillar

However perseverance leads to this, and this. The second page has a picture of a "Gypsy Moth Caterpillar" which is what the Kambili poochi in my house look like...
Don't have too many spiders here though. Wonder if these caterpillars and spiders fight.

On a personal note.. Work is Worship :-). And at this rate I'm going to be sainted, there's so much WORSHIPWORK that I have. Let's see where this rabbit-hole leads, Alice!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Heim's theory

The Wikipedia entry on Heim's theory has been considerably enlarged since when I posted about him. Well worth checking out!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Last Question

My all-time favorite short-story by Isaac Asimov is called "The Last Question"*. It's an amazingly well told, brilliant story. The way the story develops, you'll never guess what Asimov is leading up to, until the very last line. And then it's almost as if the whole Big Bang was repeated in front of you.

How did he manage to write such a story? I cannot begin to imagine.

If you ever get some time read it, it's available online. Hopefully I didn't raise your expectation too much and spoil it for you. I just read it, and I felt exactly the same way I did the first time I read it. Absolute awe at the very idea. And of the mind that produced such an idea.

If you want to maintain the suspense in the story, do not read further.

The idea that the universe is cyclical in nature, and that God is nothing but a universal computer is of course quite astonishing. The idea simultaneously feeds on the eternal curiosity of every human being to resolve the question of life, the universe and everything, our desire to exist forever, and our desire to be at the center of the universe.

The power of the story is something that I cannot explain quite clearly when I try to think about it. Perhaps some of it is the sheer audacity of the tale.

Asimov himself described it as the favorite of all his writings, also describing it as possibly the best science fiction yet written. He describes why he likes it, with a fascinating tale of how people remember the story, but not the title, or even the author - something that I experienced a few months after I first read the story.
Why is it my favorite? For one thing I got the idea all at once and didn't have to fiddle with it; and I wrote it in white-heat and scarcely had to change a word. This sort of things endears any story to any writer.

Then, too, it has had the strangest effect on my readers. Frequently someone writes to ask me if I can give them the name of a story, which they think I may have written, and tell them where to find it. They don't remember the title but when they describe the story it is invariably "The Last Question". This has reached the point where I recently received a long-distance phone call from a desperate man who began, "Dr. Asimov, there's a story I think you wrote, whose title I can't remember—" at which point I interrupted to tell him it was "The Last Question" and when I described the plot it proved to be indeed the story he was after. I left him convinced I could read minds at a distance of a thousand miles.
The idea that the universe is a quantum computer is being studied now, and is described in an interview with a quantum mechanic - Seth Lloyd. His proposal is that every atomic action and reaction is actually a quantum computation. This could lead to the Universe being thought of as one rather large mind, with its thoughts consisting of, among other things, you, me, and the thoughts of Asimov of the universe as a large mind. How's that for a loop?

How would we ever find out if the universe we seem to exist in is actually the fleeting thought of the Universe itself? And why's 42, the answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything?

fReaK ouT!

* Its popularity can be gauged by the fact that it has its own Wikipedia page!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Lazy Sunday

Sunday has been very lazy so far. Partially because of a rather severe bout of cough :-( , and partially because I really want to read and not browse the 'Net interminably.

I broke-down and bought "The Argumentative Indian" after waiting interminably for Vivek to finish his copy and give it to me :-). Saw the book on a pavement bookshop and could not resist. Especially since a heavy breakfast of Puliyogare and Sakkara Pongal had left me in a very body-sated state. Food for the mind was indicated.

A couple of quotes in the book I found quite fascinating.

As Alexander wandered around north-west India around the fourth-century BCE, he queried a group of Jain monks on why they were not paying him much attention. He got the following reply:
King Alexander, every man can possess only so much of the earth's surface as this we are standing on. You are but human like the rest of us, save that you are always busy and up to no good, travelling so many miles from your home, a nuisance to yourself and to others!... You will soon be dead, and you will own just as much of the earth as will suffice to bury you.
What kind of a person would have the clear-mind and courage that he could reply in such a manner to an all-conquering Emperor?

And though we have all read the following passage from the Gitanjali many times, it struck me as very profound wisdom, reading it afresh after a very long time.
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;...
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;...
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
This stanza captures perfectly what I could never express clearly, the ideal state of human-kind. How much longer will it take for even one corner of this world to reach such a state?

Also I know now why I'm so incorrigibly argumentative :-). It's not my fault, we desi folk have always been so. And I have also an excuse for why I collect so much crap^W information about so many things in my head;
All the convergent influences of the world run through this society: Hindu, Moslem, Christian, secular, Stalinist, liberal, Maoist, democratic socialist, Gandhian. There is not a though that is being thought in the West or East that is not active in some Indian mind.
writes E. P. Thompson. I'd like to think that mine is contributing in some small measure to this heterodoxy :-).

The curse and blessing of India is that we are ponderous in thought, and the plurality of expression and opinion mean that we can rarely find two people who have the same opinions on a majority of issues.

I think this is a great benefit when we actually use this to form structures of infinitely malleable, pure-thought stuff, a.k.a. software.

And, still on thoughts, dipping into the ever bountiful HHGTG,
"The mere thought," growled Mr Prosser, "hadn't even begun to speculate," he continued, settling himself back, "about the merest possibility of crossing my mind." - Mr Prosser, head builder.
An even more appropriate Dune quote,
Whether a thought is spoken or not it is a real thing and has powers of reality.
fReaK ouT!

The effect of science

I tend to wonder at how people selectively block things out of memory and thought. While blissfully enjoying the everyday benefits of science and technology they easily forget the same when it comes to rationally analysing their motives, religion, nationalism, spiritualism or superstition.

A person who uses a cell-phone without being astounded by how it works, professes amazement that some cheat produces vibhuti from nothing. A person who lives in a 14-storied apartment prays to another cheat for health and wealth. A person who takes carefully metered shots of Insulin to stay alive stops thinking while offering bribes to his god to cure him. A person who earns his very living through thinking has no thought-process when he says I go to pray at this temple because the deity there is very powerful.

What kind of profound influence is this that leaves otherwise perfectly normal (if there's any such thing) people so deeply irrational and blind to the reality around them? What is this set of blinkers that can be so selective in allowing the person to think only when the object is not related to their core set of unshakeable beliefs?

It's a weird world we live in. Where the fact of reality takes a back-seat to the fantasies of the mind.

And if you haven't read V.S.Ramachandran's Phantoms in the Brain, go, get yourself a copy, and finish reading it. He talks about some very interesting properties of the brain and provides some extremely interesting although simple experiments.

fReaK ouT!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Me, Myself, and I

Goli in his infinite wisdom has forced me to trod the beaten path and vomit what may otherwise be deeply hidden (nominally) thoughts.

I am thinking about...
always thinking about things, and not getting to actually doing the things that I think I think about.

I said...
'Let there be light!' And my roomie switched on the fan.

I want to...
walk around and understand India.

I wish...
I could understand everything I want to.

I hear ...
music in everything.

I wonder...
why people stick to myths that are millenia old while being blind to reality around them.

I regret...
not, that I try to have no regrets.

I am...
therefore I think.

I dance...
when I hear some hardcore dappanguthu. Not a pretty sight I hear.

I sing...
to myself, almost every moment I can imagine.

I cry...
Can't remember when I cried last.

I am not always...
in my senses. I sleep-walk. I've done some pretty weird things if I'm woken up a little while after I sleep. My mother took advantage of this to give me milk which I'd otherwise refuse when I was awake.

I make with my hands...
drumming noises on most flat surfaces. Drives people around me nuts, sometimes. I pretend that I'm a, well budding is probably inappropriate, Sivamani.

I write...
far too much, and in way too much detail. Brevity is the soul of wit, said someone, but I'm not having any of that. I also write to express myself clearly - better than I can when I speak, which is not too bad by itself.

I confuse...
names and faces. I suck at it. :-(

I need...
to stop procrastinating and do things, at least starting on Monday.

And finally...
to pass on the tag to
Man-madhan 'cos he's a lazy bum.
Lokesh 'cos he's in a bit of a funk.

Sorry guys :-)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

An inspiring song!

Listen to

Tamil lyrics on

Translation follows. Note that I'm no poet! So it ain't gonna rhyme.

Scolding me,
scolding me,
scolding me,
scolding me,
why are they
scolding me?
scolding me?
scolding me?
scolding me?
If I take a puff they're scolding me,
if I take a drink they're scolding me.
If I look at a babe they're scolding me,
if I tell her she's cute they're scolding me.
If I rag someone they're scolding me,
if I go 'night-walking' they're scolding me.
Daddy and mummy are scolding me,
in Dolby(tm) sound they're scolding me.

(scolding me)

Englishman has left the country,
so they say while raising the flag.
If I fail in English they scold me from left to right!
Financier steals money, they leave it quietly,
If I keep a tab at the tea-shop they scold me violently!
They come to love me as if I'm Bill Gates' family,
once my pocket money is over, 'Waste', they scold me!
When the oldies take a puff, tension, they blame it,
if the youngsters take a puff, 'you'll never improve', they say it.
In bachelor life all mistakes, they make,
become parents, say 'your future' and scold me scold me mate.

(scolding me)

If I say Aunty is super, 'stupid' they scold,
If I follow the scooty, 'naughty' they scold.
If I put a route for a figure, all of them scold.
If I travel on the footboard, top to bottom, they scold,
if I whistle in the theater, 'torturer' they scold,
if I put my feet on the seat, secretly they scold.
Too mature for youth, all those who see, they scold,
Friends are not ok, mom and dad they scold.
Let them scold, let them know and scold,
let them understand teenage feelings and scold,
let them scold and go.


Aah. Wanted to do that for quite a while :-) Not that I'm saying I was scolded for any of these things or anything. Just that I understand the feeling of oppression, don't know for how much longer I'll understand the feeling though ;-)...

fReaK ouT!!!

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Vote for Lok Paritran!

As opposed to my previous blog on Pudhiyadhor, this one's going to be short and sweet.

Why should you vote for Lok Paritran?
  1. Lok Paritran needs to get a certain percentage of the overall tally in order to be able to secure recognition as a regional or national party. This provides certain benefits such as allotment of symbol etc.
  2. We need to show the devils (a.k.a. current politicians) that if we are provided with a genuine alternative, we will take the trash out.
So if you're eligible to vote in Madras, in one of the seven constituencies that Lok Paritran candidates are contesting in, take off that day, or do whatever else it takes - make your vote count! Stand up for our rights as citizens of this country!

fReaK ouT!

P.S. The Lok Paritran symbol for constituencies other than Anna Nagar.

P.P.S. In TN, Lok Paritran has fielded contestents at Mylapore, Chepauk, Thousand Lights, Theagaraya Nagar, Anna Nagar, Villivakkam (Thiruvallur) and Mudukulathur (Ramanathapuram).

P.P.P.S. I have no connection with Lok Paritran.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


India is a land of diversity. Tall mountains, perennial rivers, lush rain forests, stunning beaches, coral reefs, deep uninhabited desert, salt marshes. Packed urban areas, over-farmed rural land, obesity, starving people both in rural villages and urban slums. Apartments priced at Rs 64,000 a sq.ft. ($1500 per sq.ft.), people earning Rs. 1Crore a month ($225,000 p.m.), people earning Rs. 50 a day ($1) and living without running water or sanitation. People who pay Rs. 1 Lakh a year ($2,500) for educating their children, people who stop sending their children to school because there are no teachers there anyway. Kids who learn yoga, karate, bharatanatyam, chess, violin, carnatic music, painting, and handicraft, and find out how to increase their self-esteem, and leadership qualities, and are exposed to a wide variety of experiences and places, and whose parents earn less than Rs. 50 a day.

Hold on, the last one didn't fit the pattern, did it?

The reason is an organisation setup by a retired Professor of Tamil, from the Nandanam Arts College in Madras, Dr. Narayanan. The organisation is called 'Pudhiyadhor...' which literally translates to 'A New...', as in 'A New India'. Here's a rough idea of their aims.

The diversity and disparity in India is particularly shocking in the many villages which are but a few kilometers outside our large cities. While some of the residents may be middle-class or even upper-class, the village will itself be extremely poor, with a large number of people earning barely survival wages. In some of the villages, traditional occupations such as soothsaying might be predominant, while in others the elders of the family might work in construction in the city. The government schools in these villages will be barely functional, with disinterested teachers and very little transfer of knowledge. It was to remedy this, to show the children and the villagers that a better life is possible through education, that Pudhiyadhor was started.

One of the offshoots of 'Pudhiyadhor...Ramapuram', is 'Pudhiyadhor...Urappakkam', started by my sister and a bunch of her friends from Crescent Engineering College, Vandalur, Madras.

Urappakkam is a village on the GST Road, a little after Vandalur. There is a community of soothsayers living there in abject poverty. The elders go into the city, to public places like the beach, and earn their living. The government school at Urappakkam is just an average one, with the teachers neither particularly enthusiastic, nor actively dispirited. The children typically drop-out as soon as an extra hand is required for work, one important reason being that the parents see little or no improvement in their children due to the school education. If they're not able to read in the 5th standard, why should they continue to waste their time in school?

These days, the transformation in the children of the village is visible for everyone to see. The children come to a common area every evening, finish their homework, and then study further, or practice their singing, dancing, arts or crafts. Volunteers from the NSS at Crescent Engineering College go there every day, and spend 3 to 4 hours with the children. On weekends, there are programs scheduled for the whole two days. The Krishnamacharya Yoda mandiram conducts regular yoga sessions for both the children and the parents. Children go for carnatic music classes, instrumental and vocal, some go to learn dance. All of them learn arts and handicraft, to make small decorative items for their houses, to make their own cloth bags for school, etc.

The kids also do much better in school due to the constant attention and importance given to education - there's one student in the 11th who wants to do medicine, and studies well enough that he might actually get a seat! They are taught spoken English, and pick up a few words in other languages from the visitors to Pudhiyadhor.

The kids like Pudhiyadhor so much that the punishment meted out to any of the kids who misbehave is a ban from coming there for a couple of days. This has proven to be so effective that their behaviour these days is probably far better than you'd get from a random bunch of middle-class kids!

All the knowledge they gain also provides them with a great boost to their self-confidence, something absolutely required in this world with its emphasis on communication skills. Hopefully, in some years, all the children in this village will be educated and have a chance to make it in this world, on a level equal to that of any other middle-class child.

What is required now is sustained effort, this is not a one-year or even five-year journey! There also need to be more Pudhiyadhor's, in every disadvantaged village in India, allowing every child his fair shot at life.

The expenses for setting up and running a Pudhiyadhor are not much, but it requires dedicated people - this is a mostly human resource intensive program. The children get healthy snacks every evening, sundal cooked by one of the ladies in the village. On weekends they get breakfast, and money is also required for the various classes, and for trips to the zoo, or planetarium. A full-time or part-time worker is required to maintain continuity and ensure that the daily plans for work and longer term plans for work are followed. This person would ideally be a village teenager who has dropped out after the 10th and will not want a high salary. On the whole the low-cost, high-labour nature of Pudhiyadhor works well in India, after all one thing we don't lack is people. Dedication is required among the volunteers, but is not lacking among students who have been exposed to the real world and among some others who have seen the light.

All that I've written pales into comparison with actually seeing and experiencing the real thing. If you want to see for yourself what a bunch of college-kids have done over little less than a year, drop me a line. Both the Pudhiyadhor's are on the outskirts of Madras, and visiting on weekends would be best. You can see what they do, and perhaps try to setup one more Pudhiyadhor in your native town, village, or a village near the outskirts of your city.

Those of you who would like to help but don't think you can visit, I would seriously suggest that an actual visit does more to help than a small donation. The awareness that you get of the challenges that these kids face will do more than a one time donation. However, donations are taken for specific things - for instance they are building a small common area, since the previous room was a mud-walled thatched roof hut, which has almost been destroyed in the rain.

So here's to the success of many more Pudhiyadhors!

And may many more innovative programs like these be born to get India out of the pit it is in!

fReaK ouT!

P.S. Some of what I've written here is paraphrased from Dr. Narayanan's webpage and some stuff that my sister has written.

P.P.S. AID-India does something similar by setting up tuition centers at slums and villages. I know of one in Jaya Nagar, and a few in and around Madras. But they are concentrated more on education and less on extra-curricular activities and what might be termed 'whole-life' activities. AID also has an emphasis on reaching a large number of children with low human resources, and repeatable and replicable solutions. Essentially AID would like to create a template and allow other schools and organisations to learn from them.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

40 Metric Tons of Pressure

Set us up a box with various bits of Open Source wizardry, mainly to serve mail but also with SVN and Trac at a hardware manufacturer's plant, far from the madding crowds of Bangalore, yesterday.

Now these guys make HARDWARE - you name the shape in steel that you want, and they'll cut, warp, bend, punch and break things to create it. And ohmygod the machines! This column is too small to contain the number of exclamation marks required to express my slack-jawed astonishment on seeing them.

There's this punching machine. And what a machine eet ees! It's got a rotating turret which is suspended vertically above a bed on which the sheet of metal moves automatically. The turret can take 24 different punching tools along with the corresponding holes. The turret is programmed to rotate into position - the sheet of metal moves to control x and y, and the punching tool is pushed hard and fast into the sheet. Different shapes are created based on the shape of the punch and the distance between the punch and 'hole'. The machine operating at high-speed, punching, and moving the sheet in an arcane pattern, is truly a sight to behold.

Then there's a bending machine. Ever wondered how the various metal boxes you use all have the same shape? Well this is the machine that does it. There's an inch thick metal sheet with a groove along the edge. A corresponding edge shape-inverted sheet comes down on it with up to 40 metric tons of hydraulic pressure. If there's anything in between, well it's going to get bent way out of shape. The depth to which the punch goes in determines the angle to which the sheet is bent. The whole thing is automated brilliantly, with the operator required only to hold the sheet hard against a moving base. The base moves according to the location on the sheet where the bending has to be done. After each bend is done, the base moves to the new location, and the operator has to hold the sheet as shown on the screen against the base, until the cycle is done. Repeat for each piece of metal.

I found something awe-inspiring in all of this otherwise quite mundane mechanical engineering. How much effort, intellectual and mechanical, has gone into refining and improving the method of such a seemingly simple thing as bending metal? How many times a day do we use the fruits of these labours without realizing the near god-like strength that has been vested in these machines? Do we ever stop to wonder that humans have created machines which can tear apart and bend steel in ways that no puny human can ever hope to achieve with his bare hands? Sure there's an intellectual awareness somewhere, that the finished metal goods we see around us must have been cut and bent, and that machines must have had some part in the process. But when you actually see the machines in operation - you realize that humans are truly gods!

I wonder why I have never had this awareness before, and why people around me are not struck dumb, as I am, at the sheer scale of what we as a race have achieved. Is it not incredible? Is there anything more incredible?

Some of what we have done is magic by any definition*. Imagine pointing a hidden wifi camera at an Apple Intel Powerbook ;-). Configure the powerbook to show the camera output fullscreen. Let the Powerbook run on the battery, i.e., unconnected to anything else. Bring Newton (the apple and prism guy) and put him in front of the powerbook. Watch as his head explodes when he tries to make sense out of this.

Or call your friend 20,000 kilometers away from your location in the middle of the forest atop a small hill, ask him to send you a picture. Or send him a video of you in the middle of the forest, on top of a hill. Show this to Gauss and watch his head explode.

The point is that the simple things that we take for granted everyday, are anything but. Man has created wondrous things, things which would be considered magical and god-like just a hundred years ago, never mind a thousand (you'd probably be burned as a witch). And watch my head explode as I try to wonder what we'll accomplish in the next hundred.

Take a minute, find something to wonder at. Let me know what you think is wonderful.

fReaK ouT!

* Or as Clarke put it "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Friday, March 31, 2006

Depth, the lack thereof:

A PhD is awarded to a person after years of specialisation; the person knows more and more about less and less until he effectively knows nothing about anything. Or as the optimists might point out everything about nothing.

I've always been a generalist. I learn less and less about more and more until I know nothing about everything. Same limit, different direction of approach.

On the quiz team I was the trash-can, the guy who gets to come up with an answer when either of the other guys have no clue. So it fell on me to answer, creatively if possible, questions like "Here's a newspaper ad, with the brand name cut out. Name the brand." This was of course not the kind of question one expects in a school quiz.

On a work level, being a specialist seems to be a good thing. Being able to say, for instance, "I'm a level-3 God in linux device drivers," would probably set the pulses of many hiring managers racing, always assuming of course, that the manager in question knows that a linux device driver does not have four wheels. One presumes that for actually getting some deep and dirty work done, a specialist is better than a generalist. The specialist would no doubt be able to get the job done faster, cleaner, and with a minimum of fuss. I'm nowhere in that league. The number of topics which I can say I know to any reasonable amount are vanishingly small. And the rate at which I forget stuff that I learn is quite alarming.

As a generalist, I've been quite puzzled that people want to employ me*. Sure I know a lot of crap about a lot of crap. But the amount of stuff that I'm actually able to do in each of the things I can talk a few sentences about is quite low. For instance I know why it would be a bad idea to code a standard C for-loop in Verilog, but I'd probably spend a month doing a simple CRC generator. I know why you shouldn't call a virtual function from a constructor, but I'd take
forever to solve a simple algos problem. I can tell you what a financial derivative is, but not how you do math with it. I can argue with you for hours on the finer points of literary merits of X. And so on, ad infinitum.

This does have its positive points sometimes. When we needed a way to deliver software to our boxes, I knew that apt was probably a pretty good idea - although I'd never setup an apt repository in my life. When we needed to find something to cross-compile with I remembered reading about scratchbox. When the build time at my previous company reached titanic proportions (6hrs) I remembered reading about ccache and also took the effort to put it into place, cutting it down to a few minutes. I can come up with great analogies, marrying diverse fields. For instance we're trying to sell the idea that network connectivity should be as reliable and available as electricity**. When many of my friends have questions about stuff on which they have no clue, I get to track things down. For instance, "is there a java obfuscator?", to a guy who has an ECE background?

There is one thing I do know pretty well though - how do you learn something in the shortest time possible to be able to accomplish the given task? I always assume I can learn new stuff. I believe, as it has been stunningly put, the following,
Muad'Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It's shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad'Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson.
from Dune by Frank Herbert.

So I interview for a large Internet company which you've probably never heard of***. They are clearly looking, not for a mere specialist, but for a super-mega-ultra specialist. They have six-plus rounds of hard technical interviews I'm told, I quit after two to avoid giving any more pain to the interviewers. But the products the guys are meant to develop? Well they're so diverse that even the marketing guys seem sometimes confused, and only the founders have a goal that sounds grand, but could in reality, mean pretty much anything and everything.

Clearly, I'm not cut out for that kind of interview process. But would I do well there? I would have thought so, but the interviewers and the company think very much otherwise.

So what's an easily distracted generalist supposed to do these days? How can I get a job**** where the diversity of what I know is an asset? Drop me a line and I promise I'll host you a big one if it works out!

fReaK ouT!

* Potential employers please note that I'm just kidding here. I really do know enough for you to employ me on a nice fat salary. You can trust me on that. Really!
** It's a bit obfuscated 'cos it's a trade-secret ;-)
*** If you've been living in a small cave in Tibet for the last 10 years
**** Current employers who may be reading this blog, please note that I'm quite happy here, and that I'm soliciting suggestions for potential future utility :-D

Sunday, March 26, 2006

What would you do?

If, at the age of 19, you became mostly deaf and blind, and also lost the use of your hands in an explosion?

Would you be lost in self-pity? Would you become utterly dependent on others and lose all hope for your future?

Well that's not what this man did. What he did do was join a university, decide to understand and improve Einstein's theory of General Relativity, come up with his own theory of everything, successfully predict the masses of most known, and some unknown, particles plugging in the values of just four constants (G, h, vacuum permittivity and permeability), and also manage to get married and get a diploma.

Kind of puts things into perspective doesn't it?

Here we are, slogging at and with so many different things, day in and day out, assuming that we are the center of the known universe, assuming that what we do is worth a damn. And this guy who pretty much can't see, can't hear, and can't use his hands, comes up with a new way to look at the universe that looks like the best bet for a theory of everything since General Relativity.

What on Earth, or anywhere else for that matter, can you do to match that? I can't even imagine the kind of dedication and perseverence required to accomplish that. Apparently he developed an eidetic memory after he lost his eyesight and hearing. His wife read papers, journals, and his drafts to him; he would memorise all of them just by listening to her.

Einstein explained gravity in his Theory of General Relavity, by proposing that mass bends space around it and gravity is the effect we see in three dimensions. Heim took it three steps further - he proposed a six-dimensional space, which could explain and predict the masses of various elementary particles with great accuracy. His theory is probably the only major theory which actually predicts the rest masses of various elementary particles to better than expected accuracy.

In the last few years Heim's theory has been getting greater attention, the greatest barriers being language - Heim wrote exclusively in German - and, in a striking resemblance with an acknowledged genius of the early 20th century, Ramanujan, his use of non-standard and unknown terminology.

Among the most exciting outcome of Heim's theory being verified might be super-luminal transport. At the limits of my understanding, the extended theory postulates a gravitophoton, a particle which makes possible the conversion of electromagnetic energy to gravitational energy. There is some way to make normal photons into gravitophotons, thereby pushing the object of interest into a parallel space, where the physical constants are different. The object itself gains velocity when it moves into the parallel space, appearing to move at many times the speed of light in our universe.

I'll stop there, because anything else I say will be even more of a guess and even less of intelligence than I've already displayed :-)...

Go Forth, make your own theories of whatever, achieve something, after all we still have our eyesight, hearing, hands, and presumably some brains. How hard can it be?

Monday, March 13, 2006


If any of you guys want to be really nice to me, and spend a lot of money on me to make me happy, to make up for something bad you did to me, to generally make the world a better place, or to promote World Peace, one of the things you could get me would be this watch. I'd like the plain black one, with a minimum of anything on it. Black strap would do nicely, thank you very much!

Vitriol is a little more avaricious. :-). He's even got the printed catalog of the Jaeger-LeCoultre watches, and man did I drool over some of those beauties! I caught myself gazing longingly at a table clock and thinking that a thousand dollars was not too much for it. Bzzzzzzzzztt!! I woke up with a bang. After that I kicked myself out of fantasy land, and resumed drooling at my next Mac :-). No silly clock is going to come between me and my Mac.

And this piece of prose excoriates the Pakistani fielding in the 5th ODI. Quite lovely, and I shall reproduce it here for your benefit, kind reader.
At times, it seemed that more direct hits were missed than there were people in the stands, more balls were fumbled than there are people in Karachi, throws were backed up in much the manner Brutus backed up Julius and as a collective, fielders became India's 12th, 13th and 14th men on the field. Indian batsmen gleefully took the piss, tapping straight to fielders and blindly, sans calls, running because even in the unlikely event of the ball being picked up clean, stumps weren't going to be struck.
Ooof, I'd hate to be the target of that tongue! "... throws were backed up much in the manner Brutus backed up Julius..." is quite reminiscent of Douglas Adams. Of course he might have added "which is to say, in no way at all", to reach the great unwashed masses who might miss the Roman reference.

No mere words can describe how I feel about this. True scientists they are!

P.S. Brief hiatus in blogging due to a sudden surge of work. Will have to see if I can be more regular.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Changing the world, for the better?

First a reading exercise, go, read it, and then come back.

So you read it, right?

Before I'd read this, the only other 'literature' I'd read on aging and its potential effects on society were Asimov's robot novels. In them, he imagines that among the side-effects of people living to practically unlimited life-spans, would be that people would not reproduce as much (questionable), avoid risk taking of any kind (possible), reject any new ideas (quite possible), and stall the progress of the human race entirely (no guess). Quite a disheartening outlook.

As you can imagine, it's quite different from Mr. Bostrom's thesis. Asimov, although usually eager to embrace change, even defining the change itself many times, may have been too stuck in his ways to be able to accept that unending life might be a good thing.

But thinking about more of Asimov's writing, like say the "The Last Question," it seems that when he actually doesn't make it the crux of the story, he finds a long life to be quite worth living. Of course in "The Last Question," Woman/Man*, have created one universe-girdling supercomputer, which babysits humanity, allowing for a population explosion that *completely dwarfs* any imaginable population explosion - I remember something like humanity occupying the entire known universe in a few hundred or thousand years. After this, since there's pretty much no place left to move into, people's life spans seem to keep increasing, ending with people abandoning their physical manifestation for an electronic life. The final killer is entropy - the universe seems to end with a cold whimper.

Among his other short stories, Asimov and his contemporaries seem to have a vision of human kind as the underdogs of the universe, arriving on a stage where there are many mature civilizations, all of their maturity going to waste in the face of human courage/intelligence/vigor or some other such typically human trait. Much of this must have been due to the great editor John W. Campbell's insistence on humanity as a master-race; the same reason that Asimov himself gave for having no aliens in most of his stories.

Perhaps he actually saw human striving to accomplish something in the few years of individual existence as the defining characteristic of humanity. Take away that mad scramble, and what does it leave? Will we be able to recognize a humanity which does not need to look past its short term objectives?

Hmm, now that I ask myself the question, yeah I'd damn well like to see a humanity that can look past short-term objectives, get its head out of its collective ass, and rocket off this coffin of a planet.

So on this issue, I think I'll prefer to stay optimistic and go with trying to live an incredible life for ever and ever. The Lord** knows, we young people feel and behave as though we're going to live life forever anyway.

So what else can we think of as side-effects of immortality?

Painful sunday afternoons?

Century taxes - if you live a century you get to pay 40% of your current wealth as tax - can't imagine that becoming popular. Imagine Bill Gates, or Larry Ellison, earning and earning and earning, would they, could they, concentrate all the wealth of the world between them?

Relationships - would "till death do us part" hold the same ring to it? Indian culture holds divorce as taboo, would that continue?

Reincarnation, he he he, those guys would have a tough time explaining it to the kids, if there are any.

Imagine immortality, and discovering that, what with the speed of light and other such pedestrian constraints, we as a race can't even get off the Earth! What kind of weird life would that lead to? Nothing better than today perhaps, with far more constraints on resources?

Or imagine the Singularity, with all its attendant glory/madness and whatever else we cannot even imagine now.

Well, whatever is up, I hope it happens fast. I, for one, can't take the Sunday afternoons for much longer...

fReaK ouT!

* My token attempt at placating/infuriating The Feminists
** HHGTG reference. In case you didn't notice, I've got to have at least one per blog,spot more for chocolates.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Vhaat ya lowely!!!

At least, that's what I said when I read this article on Tulsa, the upcoming server processor from Intel, and found that it has ONE THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED MILLION transistors.

Let me repeat that - ONE THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED MILLION!!!!!!!! That's more bloody transistors than there are people in India!!

*pant, pant, drool, drool* goes the Electrical Engineer in me. Moore's law, may you long hold!

In contrast the Opteron has around 270 million transistors. And check out the photos that you can die for on each of those links. Get it? Die for, processor die, hee hee.

Of course, as I read on /., more and more it looks like Intel is actually a massive manufacturing company, incidentally using its R&D to keep the fabs full. These fabs are among the most technically advanced in the world - few others are shipping 65nm parts in the volume that Intel is!

In this particular case, with Tulsa, Intel is clearly showing the pain it faces with the totally out-dated NetBurst architecture. With its 20+ pipeline stages, the NetBurst architecture requires an extremely low-latency cache to keep bubbles short in its pipeline. In a server architecture, where the code keeps jumping around, making a mockery of Branch Prediction, cache is all the more important. The schmoo-plot in the Tulsa page, and the detailed description, show that the Tulsa can actually run at 3.9GHz! That's a clear victory on processor speed for Intel though.

And that's where the large number of fast transistors bites back - Tulsa runs out of margin on thermal dissipation! The Register had an interesting article quoting an Intel exec that if the power consumption on processors kept increasing at the same rate it was, the heat density would surpass a nuclear reactor!

And what's the biggest cost on the Tulsa? The massive 16MB L3 cache. Necessary not just because of the long pipeline, not just because it's a server processor, but also because the front-side bus is shared between the two cores, unlike the Opteron which has a separate HT link from each processor.

So how're the other guys making it up? Sun's got Niagara, and the upcoming NiagaraII and Rock, AMD is going gung-ho on Opteron and derivatives, IBM has already been doing multi-core, and is looking at Power6 in the near future. These guys have been concious of IPC, power budget and that frequency boosts increase power dissipation quadratically, for quite some time. While Sun is going for 'torrents' of simple processor - 8 processors with 4 threads each in Niagara, AMD and IBM are going for more hefty dual-core and quad-core processors.

Well that was long :-). Let me know if you've got any drool-worthy pics!

fReaK ouT!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Today's lesson: Startups

What in the name of Ba'al Zebûb do I know about startups? Well I figure that most of what I know can be filled up in a few links. Ok, maybe not so few. Ok, maybe not just a few links. But let me give it a shot anyway, huh? And in any case, "The little I know about startups, but really, really want to tell you anyway," doesn't sound quite so crisp.

As you probably know by now, I'm an Apple fan. Nope, not the fruit, the computer. One of the guys who worked at Apple, both during the initial days under Steve Jobs, and again for a few years after Jobs rejoined the company was Guy Kawasaki. His title the second time around was Chief Evangelist. What was his job? He had to go around and get people interested in buying Apple stuff. Cool job! I'd take it myself, given the chance... Actually, I'll take Chief Evangelist at Elina :-)...

Anyway, Guy's blog is a must read. He exhibits some serious clarity of thought, and you realise that the Mac just didn't happen, there were a bunch of guys with the vision who made it happen. He's now a serial entrepreneur and runs his own Venture Capital fund.

And I found an article at /. quite timely, it has a great many ideas on what and what not to do. Of course as in all things 90% is bullshit, and the other 10%, well that's a bit generous for /., let's say about 2% of it makes sense. Reading with a threshold of more than 3, and threaded with posts ordered by moderation helps.

That's all for today folks! What you were expecting more? You think I get paid for this? Maybe when I finish with my first startup :-D, I'll know a little more.

But I'll tell you what definitely works! Nepotism! Know the people you need to work with, believe in what you're doing, and be able to sell to them.

As I read somewhere on /., the correct order of things to do for a startup,
  1. Sell the product,
  2. Get enough money to make the product (VC/other),
  3. Hire the people to make the product,
  4. Make the product,
  5. Make money.
We're not quite following the same business plan, we don't have customers yet :-). But the idea is intriguing.

And a sneak preview at tomorrows blog - incredibly breath-taking schmooplots, awe-inspiring die photos!! And an incredibly large number of transistors!!!

Au revoir!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

What does One do,

when One starts a blog? I guess One'll have to look for inspiration to write something. Hmm. What is something; how can One write about it?

Oh yeah, there's One thing I'm going to do. I'm going to put up all the weird links that I keep sending the hapless people around me, immediately after I get tired of the whole 'One' thing. What sort of weird links, you wonder?

One hot sample, (safe for work (unless you have a particularly anal boss (or restrictive firewall policies))), coming right up.

Go ahead, click on it and also read the two comments that follow.

Now the second guy? He's a geek God....

No, no, not all of the Mindless Links I propagate are actually mindless. Some are much weirder, and some are not so weird. Some will make you think, some will make you puke.

Some may help prevent you from puking; at that point in life where the entire length of your small and large intestine wants to leap straight past your stomach and liver, take the sharp bend up your esophagus, leap breathlessly out of your nose, all to just start strangling you. Why would it want do *that*? Perhaps you carelessly recited some Vogon poetry, indulged yourself by recklessly guzzling a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, or it was the sheer fear at the sight of a live Ravenous BugBlatter Beast of Traal. Perhaps it just hates you anthropomorphizing it.

Apart from those, I might actually write something original and interesting, original and uninteresting, interesting but unoriginal, and finally, uninteresting and unoriginal, wHo kNoWs? I'm just here for the ride.

fReaK ouT!