Sunday, December 30, 2007

Surfeit of India books

Somehow, in the last few weeks, 'India' books have been dominating my reading. I re-read Ramachandra Guha's "India after Gandhi", finished Shashi Tharoor's "The Elephant, the Tiger, and the Cell Phone", and am reading V Raghunathan's "Why are we the way we are", and have Edward Luce's "Inspite of the Gods" next on my reading list.

It's been fun. All the authors (ones I've read) love India. Their patriotism shines through every word they write. However, each book has a different focal point to its verbiage. Ram Guha's book is more political, placing emphasis on the political history of the country, focusing on personalities (and events) that shaped India, all the while making the point that India remains a single country because of democracy and the vast number of safety valves it offers.

Shashi Tharoor's book is better: the author has an amazing sense of humour, he is a great story teller, and this book is far more about ordinary Indians than Ram Guha's. Shashi talks about Bollywood, Cricket, Hinduism, Gavaskar, Ramanujan, rural womenfolk - in short, everything that makes India, India. I'll post a few snippets after I obtain his permission. But in any case, go read the book - it is a very easy, fun-filled and anecdotally-rich read, something you won't regret in the new year.

If the two previous books gave me a sort of a high, V. Raghunathan's "Why are we the way we are" brought me crashing down to garbage-ridden, potholed earth. In his book, Raghunathan examines, using Game theory, many aspects of Indian behaviour and concludes that our selfish desire to go ahead of our neighbours makes all of us poorer in turn. With lucid and contemporary examples, Raghunathan proves that the India would be a far richer and liveable country if only everyone lived by the rules, even if acting purely in self-interest. A chapter on the management principles of the Gita stoked my curiosity and I think I'll give the great book another read.

If you are Indian, or want to know about India, particularly why we tick (or barely survive), these books are a must read. If I know you, you have it easy: ask me. :)

Happy new year folks. Do keep reading and keep your comments coming.

Year y2008 = new Year( );


Technology Notes, Vol 1, Issue 5: Software Engineering

In this issue of technology notes, we'll talk about the software engineering that you should have learnt in your Computer Science undergraduate degree.

Nearly every Computer Science course offers a software engineering subject, usually as a compulsory subject. Typically, topics covered include software development models, phases of development like design and testing, and an overview of common techniques in software development. This subject is usually boring - in fact, in "my time" it was so bad that we actually had a lecturer come and read to us from the text book. I mean, he literally read out the book to us. So frustrated were we at this turn of events that we actually forced him to stop, and suggested that we'd read up that stuff and present it ourselves. Which we did. And might I say, in good measure. However, our takeaway from that course wasn't much more than public presentation skills.

Which, in introspect is bad. Software engineering should be a part of the foundations of any computer science graduate. After all, if you are going to develop software, you should be aware of the techniques that the masters use. However, what the course teaches is not that. The course does not explain how masters develop software. It does not care about quality assurance processes; it doesn't care about real-world issues of large-scale software; the course does not introduce students to the complexities and pitfalls of developing a million-line C++ program. All it does is give keywords. CMM, Agile, Data-driven design, Top-down design, Waterfall, to name a few.

Hopefully, someday, we'll change this.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Modi and Indian culture

I know, I know, what are the two doing together? Well, nothing. Except both happened today.
I'm no fan of Modi, or of the sort of politics he's accused of employing. However, what has always bothered me is the sort of campaign that has been going on against him. For instance, I distinctly remember the large-scale vilification that was started by some left-wing activists resulting in his request for a US visa being refused. I mean, you can't place the man in the same category as Saddam Hussain, Polpot, and the like! Yes, he fiddled when Gujarat burned, and that is a crime, no less, and if he is found guilty, he must be punished severely - but how are his accusers, one who talked about large trees falling, and another who was proud of how his boys killed dozens of Muslims to 'takeover' a village?
If Modi has really done the sort of development that he claims to have done, this victory is well deserved and is a slap of the face of the pseudo-secularists, the media and the left intelligensia.
Many of you might have watched the long series of dance programmes on the various regional channels, including Sony, Gemini, Star Plus, and the like. What has bugged me, and in fact, the incident that prompted me to write this post is the so called children's competitions that these channels conduct. The children gyrate their hips, making the most decadent moves on screen - and this is not limited to girls only - many of the moves the boys perform are not those I'd want my kids (if I had any) to watch! This is shameful - how can parents let their children dance to such steps?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

On Disability

[Posted using Microsoft Live Writer]

Recently, I read this article in the Deccan Herald in which a former bureaucrat in the disability department of the state government talked about the duty of the civil society towards the disabled. It burnt me up so much that I HAD to write a riposte and bingo, it was published, though in the process, the editors destroyed the intent of my letter.

Anyhoo, if you are interested,

here is the original article:

here is the letter that got published:

Here is what I actually wrote:

This is in response to Mr. B C Pradeep Kumar's article "Disability and good governance" in the Deccan Herald (DH, 3rd Dec 2007). While Mr. Pradeep Kumar rightly points out that much more needs to be done to bring people with disabilities into the mainstream, he is barking up the wrong tree as far as solutions are concerned.

Let's examine what the state has done for the disabled. Yes, we have reservations for the disabled, and maybe the budgetary allocation has far exceeded the national capita, but what concrete difference has it made to the lives of the disabled? Of what use is budgetary allocation on paper when the disabled don't have ramps to climb into the buildings where they can claim those allocations? Of what use is reservations, when the physical access to the job/education is impossible? Roads in Bangalore are a terror even for able-bodied people - how are the disabled expected to cope? How is a poor, disabled person expected to travel to work, given that even the state road transport organization isn't disabled-friendly?

It has become a hallmark of those in power to talk about lofty principles, on-paper budgets, and commissions that do nothing. What they never had is the empathy or the will to do something, something small that would make a huge difference. Mr. Kumar's article is in the same vein. Programs, Commissions, lofty talk, but no action. The observant reader would note how none of the "progressive" steps he mentions includes basic needs like disabled-friendly footpaths, ramps in public buildings, disabled-friendly buses, and the like. That is the unfortunate reality.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Nostalgia: Radio

I have been trying to find a line to start this post, but every line that came to mind turned out to be more corny than Sushil Doshi's commentary on DD. Anyhoo, I wrote earlier about 80s television and comics, this time let's talk about Radio.

When I was a child, the radio had the place in the home that the television has today. I don't remember listening to a lot of radio, but I do remember the radio we had - an old GE vaccum tube behemoth that HAD to be connected to the mains to work. The radio broke quite often, generated a lot of heat when it operated, and was quite a sight in our "showcase". Still, my folks loved it, and whenever it broke down, I used to get a lesson in solid state electronics by observing my brother attempt to fix it. It is another matter that the repair sessions also included lessons on the fragility of glass, but they were inadvertant, and will be part of another story.

As I said earlier, I don't remember listening to a lot on this radio - except ofcourse, the 1983 world cup - I was six years old then, and wondered what all the brouhaha was all about, but there was a lot of celebrating and I definitely, had to be a part of it.

My trysts with the radio began when my brother bought a radio with his first salary. It was a neat red-and-black Philips radio that ran on 4 Eveready batteries. A few years later, he bought home a 2-in-1, and that was when the fun began! Every day, we used to listen to "Bhoole bisre geet", "Geet mala", "Aap ki pharmayish", and the likes, and recorded casette after casette of songs. I still remember the announcers say: "Bhatapara se munnu, chunnu, rinki, pinki Andheri se pappu, jhappu, teena, meena, and so on...". A few days ago, I came across a tape on which I had recorded "Yeh Aankhen dekh kar ham saari" and man, did the memories bounce back?

Tell me your memories using the "Comments" link below.
(PS: I finally found that Bhatapara is a suburb in Raipur, Chattisgarh.)

The Taslima story

All the shock and awe over the Taslima story would not exist if only one knew the "Unit of Freedom" of Indian democracy. When the foundation of your democracy is based on the freedom of the Indian people, and NOT the Indian person, and when the foundation of your democracy is the freedom of the mob, you cannot expect that democracy to provide freedom of expression to the individual.

So, to all those comperes who ask the Mullahs and Maulvis angry questions: Look at our constitution. See how it proscribes, in the same breath, the right it gives us. That needs fixing, not the Maulvis and the Mullahs.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Boys, Girls and Science

Many studies have been conducted on this topic. Many philosophers have wondered why this is so. Many academicians, and academic communities have racked their brains to solve this "problem". What am I talking about? Well, it is the differing interests of men and women (or boys and girls) with respect to science.
Why indeed, 5o years after the gender equality movement, has the ratio of male to female physicists, or mathematicians not changed? Why is it that despite desperate attempts, particularly in the US, not enough women graduate from technical fields? Also, on a complementary note, why is women's enrollment in computer sciences so high, particularly in comparison with other fields in India?
Well, the answer is simple. Evolution has trained women to value social status over academic achievement. Evolutionarily, it was better to be the mate of a high-ranking man than be a brilliant hunter yourself. This guaranteed success of the off-spring, as the man's success determined that of the household.
Now things have changed. However, evolutionary habits die hard. Most women still prize social elevation over everything else. Note the qualifier: "most". There have been (and are) many women who prize academic achievement. But they are the exception and not the rule. So, bottom line, women will go to a field that will enhance their social standing. And for most of them, that is simply what their peers think is nice, or what the men of the day perceive to be "cool".
So, why hasn't women's enrollment in technical subjects increased? Because technical subjects are not perceived as being "cool" in the US. Why is women's graduation rates in technical subjects so low? Because they want to be socially elevated, not academically. And more controversially, why do women flock to computer science courses in India? Because that is the route to social elevation in this country.
Remember that most women who actually get into technical fields in this country rarely stay in them. Even if they do, their levels of accomplishment, in understanding and furthering the field are minimal. [Again, this is true of most women, not all.]
So, why am I ranting about this at 12 midnight? Because I'm fed up of people "encouraging" women in the software field by ignoring similarly qualified male candidates. It hasn't worked, it won't work. Those women who are really interested in getting on the software bandwagon will not need a ladder for it. And those that do, most probably, won't do much getting on the bandwagon.

Technology Notes, Vol 1, Issue 4: Machine learning.

This week, I'll write about my experiments with time, my thoughts on Machine learning, and a little bit of evolution theory.

* The speed of time
As I was writing my earlier post, "Nostalgia :80s", I kept thinking how time has flown since that time. Well, yes, but how fast does time really fly? I thought a while, and came to the conclusion that it is c. The speed of light. The speed of time should be the same as the speed of light.

What proof can I offer? Well, we know that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light - and time travels pretty fast -so, the speed of time must be c.

On a more mathematical basis: we know that t(v) = t(0) sqrt ( 1 - v^2/c^2). Therefore, when the observer reaches the speed of light, time stops. This means, that the relative velocity of the observer and time is zero - which means, v(time) - c = 0, or v(time) = c.

* The problem with Machine learning

If you are working on speech recognition, face detection, natural language processing or an other field that essentially tries to mimic the functionality of the human brain, you'd probably be using machine learning. Machine learning is the sort of intersection of the human and the computer - a science where humans tell computers how to learn based on vast amounts of solved problems. The deductions made are usually based on sound statistical methods, details of which are available at the wikipedia page.

The technique has taken huge strides in areas such as face detection, speech recognition and machine translation. However, complete success eludes it. Why?

My opinion is that the technique is trying to solve the problem by breaking it into parts, while the problem should be dealt with, at a holistic level. For instance, your brain interprets the whole image, while programs interpret colour encoded as bytes. Or does the brain really interpret the image as a whole? Hard to say. But it appears to be so - it can "understand" that a brightly lit part of a metallic object that reflects large amounts of light still belongs to the same object. It can filter a speaker's voice from the noise in the environment, almost automatically. It can translate sentences between languages taking care of ambiguities in tense, grammar, and meaning.

It'll be interesting to find out if this is really so.

* More choice isn't necessarily good

Don't believe me? See this ad for Vista choices: The sad thing about it is that it is really true. Recently a friend was making a movie in Windows movie maker and wanted to tweak a few settings. He was using Vista Enterprise, and this option - a single menu item that is default with Windows Movie Maker on XP - is available in the Home Preminum (and Ultimate) edition! How on Earth has choice helped the user?
See this talk for a more scientific explanation.

* On evolution

As some of you know, I've been reading a lot of Richard Dawkins of late. I've also been "evangelising evolution". In the process, I found that most people have misunderstandings about how the process works. This is a small attempt to clarify some of them.
  • First, evolution to create the present set of species has taken millions and millions of years, a time frame most of us cannot fathom.
  • Speciation (or the development of a new species by evolution) requires a separation between members of a species and a separation of their environments .
  • Evolution is occurring even today: Why do mosquitoes become resistant to DDT? Why do we need newer and newer strains of antibiotics? Why indeed is the AIDS virus so successful at avoiding every medicine we throw at it? Well, the answer is just one - natural (or in this case, human) selection. When we spray DDT or take antibiotics, we target and kill most mosquitoes(bacteria) in the environment. However, the few that due to some mutation survive, being selected by human selection, have the upper hand in reproduction, and spread the immune gene throughout the population, making the entire population resistant.
  • Evolution does not happen only by random events: It is indeed true that a hurricane blowing through a garage of aeroplane parts will not assemble a Boeing 747, and it is true that random mutations on their own will not lead to speciation. However, random mutation in combination with non-random natural selection, that selects the fittest, either by killing off the weak, or by having mates choose a particular trait in the other sex.

Have been reading too much evolution. I hope to start reading more Physics from now on. Keep visiting!

BTW, I know my "speed of time" hypothesis is wrong, and if it isn't, I take no credit for getting it right. It was just a random thought that popped into my head.

Congrats, Anil Kumble!

Better late than never. Better safe than sorry. Similar cliche's would've come to your mind when you heard that Kumble was made Indian test captain.
It may be a stop-gap arrangement, but it is still welcome. For nearly 18 years, Kumble has silently toiled for the country, bowling 50+ overs on a trot in test matches, getting the crucial breakthroughs, and even hitting a century when it mattered.

Congrats Kumble. It couldn't have happened to a more deserving bloke.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Nostalgia: the 80s

Recently, I was talking to a couple of colleagues when the topic of comics came up. In an instant, we connected over some familiar, but old names: Phantom, Diana, Flash Gordon, Mandrake, Bahadur, and Bela, to name a few. We also talked about their relationships - for instance, being Indian, Bahadur and Bela were _never_ introduced as a couple. They were "friends" who were planning to get married.

This took me on another nostalgic trip. To the times when the world was a lot more innocent than today. When a Ramayan would empty city roads, or when the only movies shown on TV were on Saturday and Sunday. The news ran everyday at 7:00 and 8:30 in the evening. Everyone saw the same programme, mostly on a black-and-white TV. Your TV was usually a Dyanora, or an ECTV, or a NELCO (which was mine). Families gathered around to watch a Buniyaad, or later, an Oshin. A 2-in-1 was a major purchase. Radios and TVs were taxed. I still remember the license my folks had taken, to own a RADIO - not a station!

In all this, my favourite TV serial was "Johnny Sokko and the Flying Robot" or "Giant Robot" as we knew it. This huge robot, controlled by a little kid, was so popular with us kids that we literally dropped everything - cricket bats, gillis, badminton rackets, chur-chand balls, marbles, even stones - to go watch this series. The next day, everyone would be doing the routine - the arms in front of the chest, then pointing upwards, followed by the "rap pa pa" tune, and flying away! Yeah, yeah, I know you want to see it too - here you go:

By today's standards, the graphics was crappy, the animation dodgy, and the story lines were like a three-year-old wrote it. Still, we loved it. It was every boy's dream - an adult who would do his bidding! :)

See this for some more memories:

Sunday, October 28, 2007


My blog is rated "G"! Can you believe it!!!?


Free California Personals

"My" product released!!!

I'm a little late on this, but a product I worked on has been released by HP in their 11iv3 version of HPUX, in Feb 2007. Why did I find about it so late in the day? Well, I no longer work for HP, and I don't have many chatty, reliable sources in the company either.

Anyhoo, this was a project I joined, one that I led, one that I spent sleepless nights on, and one in which I had great fun. EMT, or Error Management Technology as it is formally called, is an online, searchable, updateable repository of error messages and associated cause/action information. It isn't very big, probably a hundred thousand lines of C++ source, and is a part of a much larger toolset called System Fault Management, or SFM, another project I contributed to.

The reason why I care about this project is that my team went through hoops trying to finish it. We had uphill struggles all the way, but we came through them, mostly successfully :), with the most harrowing experience being what we called the JOEM release - a pre-release version of the product that was supplied to Japanese OEMs. We scored a 4 on 5 for the product, and most of the objections they raised were minor, and were mostly features of the larger SFM toolset.

The joy of seeing your work in the public domain can never be sufficiently expressed in words. It is a thrill ride beyond thrill rides.

See more about EMT here. And remember, I did _not_ write the documentation.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Carbon dating.

Recently, I've been reading a lot of books on evolution, and carbon dating is one topic that occurs every now and then. So influenced have I been by the process that I had to put it down in some form. Here goes:

BTW, the tagline for it is: I feel I've known you for a million years!!!

Sunday, October 07, 2007


What is the most appealing characteristic in a person? For me, amongst the things you can discover at first sight (so, it obviously rules out characteristics like honesty), confidence is the most appealing. I'm sure it is the same for many other people. But here is the question...why?

Let me admit at the outset that I don't know. Maybe because it conveys a sense of fearlessness. Maybe because confident people appear intelligent - particularly in one-on-one interactions. In general, confident people are also usually more convincing. Imagine if Winston Churchill, instead of saying "We'll fight them on the beaches, we'll fight them in France..." had said "'ll try and fight them on the, try and fight them in" - would it have had the same electrifying effect on the Britons? Confident people do have a reassuring halo around them...

Interviews are an instance. Except for some utterly obnoxious candidates (my former co-interviewers will testify to having seen many such) who simply cannot backup their confidence, confident candidates do get away with an awful lot.

Coffee table discussions are an other. Time and again, I've been flummoxed by engineers who spoke total B.S, but spoke it with such confidence that my time-tested knowledge (of a very few things) just gave up! Recently, I got into an argument with a colleague about Java v/s C++ performance. As long as we were discussing, he almost had me believe that Java memory management is better performing than that of C++. It took me two reads of his source, a read of the programs mentioned by the source, a few tests, and another paper reading to re-realize what I knew all along - that his source was bunkum.

The point I'm trying to make is the importance of knowing that confidence does not come only from being right. It also comes from not knowing that you're wrong.

A lesson I learn everyday.
(Postscript: While on this topic, I'm one of those guys who thinks that Java can never beat C/C++ in a fair test, but one who also believes that a fair test isn't really possible. We'll always end up comparing apples and oranges. Java has a lot going for it, and it should just leave the performance bit to the Cexperts.)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

OneNote is all you need

Yep. Read it with the "One love is all you need" tune. Nope. I haven't become a fan of "Blue". And yep, OneNote is a Microsoft software which does all you need.

For sometime now, I've been cribbing about usability of Microsoft software, particularly once you take into account how much it costs you to own them. I also have a slew of drafts lined up for you, all criticizing various aspects of Microsoft software, from Vista to Visual Studio. I had earlier cribbed about tables in Word - how you have to pre-create them, and you cannot simply tab your way into creating them. I also cribbed about how you cannot mix content the way you like, how you cannot search into content (images) and so on.

Well, OneNote is here. And really, it is all you need. OneNote lets you put text, handwriting, images, music - and here is the differentiator - where ever you want. Really. And It Just Works! In addition, most content is searchable. Even your handwritten text, or printed text in images. And searchable. And it integrates with Outlook. And you can make sections, pages and the like, as you need. And you have a shortcut in Windows that pops it up for you to take notes when your idea ticker starts to work. And you can tag things, make items in OneNote become Outlook reminders, and in short, do everything you need.

Try it out today - This is one software, I'll bet, that will win, well, your mind!

Sunday, August 26, 2007


If you are a pre-history buff like me, you'd have wondered what explains the sudden appearance of agriculture, brick buildings, stone masonry and indeed, language and culture in the 4000-5000B.C era. How is it, that agriculture started simultaenously around 4000BC in places as far away as Sumer, the Indus-Saraswati valley and Japan? And if you are interested in mythology, you'd wonder about the persistence of an all-consuming mega-flood that is supposed to have ended known civilizations in Hindu, Sumerian, Judeo-Christian myth, as well as in the story of Atlantis. The flood in which India's Manu, Sumer's Zisudra and more popularly, Israel's Noah constructed arks or boats that protected important knowledge and lifeforms during the flood, and released them again to recreate and repopulate the Earth. You'd have heard of theories that extended from the bizarre (alien contact that gave humans technology) to the plausible (sudden inventions that changed lives drastically).

And finally, if you are interested in Indian history, you'd wonder about the Aryan invasion, about Sanskrit's European origins, and the reasons behind the downfall of the Indus-Saraswathi civilization.

Well, after a long while, I finally started reading the book "Underworld" by Graham Hancock, and it makes a very serious attempt to provide some answers. Using inundation maps of the last Ice Age (wiki, video, earth info), Graham examines the truth behind the various myths. For instance, underwater stone blocks have been found off the coast of Gujarat at the location where the mythological Dwaraka was supposed to exist. According to the sea depth, and inundation maps, Graham estimates its date to be around 7000BC, far earlier than the 4000BC when Indian civilization was supposed to have started. Making use of various geological techniques that predict three super-floods at various ages, Graham makes the case for a single or many post-Neolithic civilizations, that built these (now underwater) cities, that were ravaged by floods caused by the Last Global Meltdown. For instance, it is a theory that the Hudson bay in Canada was a freshwater lake during the Ice Age, whose walls broke down to release millions of kilometers of freshwater into the Atlantic, around the same time when Plato said that Atlantis sunk. With critical looks at underwater, overland, mythological, cartographical and scientific evidence, Graham propounds his theory - that the Pyramids of Egypt, the Stone henge of England, the drainage system of the Indus valley, Siva worship in India, the Vedas, all evolved either at a much earlier time than accepted today and/or were preceded by a period of learning that is lost to us today.

A good read. Although at 700+ pages, it is quite long.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

More on India@60

Earlier on this blog, I wrote that the reason India has stayed together as one nation is democracy. Today, I'll try and refine my reasons some more, and hopefully knit a better weave of the country's unity.

One reason why people of different religions, languages and castes live together in India is because your primary identity can be anything while you can still be an Indian. Consider the case of Pakistan, that split over language or Sri Lanka that is fighting an ethnic conflict whose roots are in language. Now, Tamils and Bengalis are in India. Why is it that they don't want (at least a majority of them don't want) a homeland carved out of India?

It is because the aforesaid countries supressed those languages, discriminated against those who speak those languages - all in the name of national unity. If speaking Urdu became the "Tabbott test" of being a Pakistani, where would all the Bangla-speaking citizens go? If being a Muslim is the definition of being a Pakistani, where can all the non-Muslims go?

When the founding fathers of India rejected the idea of India being a Hindi-speaking, Hindu Pakistan, they knew what they were doing. When Nehru conceded the demand for linguistic states, much against his ideas, he knew that Newton's third law of every action having an equal and opposite reaction applies as much to politics as it does to physics. Which is why, India is a country that does not react to the veils worn by Muslim women (like in France) or the Kirpans worn by the Sikhs. We have learnt that a truly secular state that values freedom of expression, also allows religious expression. We have learnt that the best way to make Hindi a link language is by not forcing it down people's throats (the UPSC for instance, conducts its exams in 18 languages, a record anywhere in the world), but by enriching Hindi with so much content (works of Gulzar, for instance), that it becomes irresistable. And we've learnt, sometimes painfully, that patriotism has nothing to do with being a Hindu, or speaking Hindi or even being religious. Consider for example, the case of our Lok Sabha speaker, who is a firm atheist. You don't find anyone contesting his patriotism!

What is the root of such tolerance? Or maybe tolerance isn't the right word - it should be acceptance. Why is India a country that accepts everyone? Is it a product of the freedom movement, or is it even more deeply rooted? I'll examine this in my coming posts.

Stay tuned.

If only women ruled the world...

The one line every feminist loves. Talk about anything that is wrong in the world, and whenever you have a feminist in the audience, this is a line you'll hear. If only women ruled the world, there would be no conflict. If only women ruled the world, disputes would be solved over shopping trips and not through wars. If only women ruled the world, there would be no global warming. And no endangered species. And no poverty. And no inequality. And no world hunger. And this world would be a happy, bubbly, green, lovely, peaceful place to be in.

Pointing out that the record of women rulers doesn't really justify this claim never helps. It only marks you out as a male chavunist, a wife (or girlfriend)-basher, a neanderthal, and in general, a jerk who doesn't deserve to be in the modern age. Pointing out that the only prime minister to impose the emergency in India was a woman, doesn't help. Pointing out that the most dictatorial leaders in the country are women - Jayalalitha, Mayawati - to name a few, doesn't help. All you get is the standard response - these women have to behave "like men" because there aren't enough women around. Oh, and the 33% reservation for women is going to fix this problem.

A recent report by CNN-IBN on ragging in colleges has shattered this myth. While the instances of ragging in boys were terrible, they were only as bad as those committed by women. See, for instance, the story of Indu Antos, who committed suicide after being ragged by her (female) seniors. Now, in a group where women are in a majority, why is a fellow woman being harrassed to the point of committing suicide?

Now, I'm not making the claim that men are all non-violent, and peace-loving. My only claim is that positions of power - whether it is obtained through politics, or by means of being a senior, or through other means - corrupts, and it corrupts people who are susceptible to it. Men and women are equally likely to be infected and this is entirely an individual's characteristic, not that of a gender. Having women in positions of power is no guarantee that either the lot of women will improve, or that the lot of the world will. What is guaranteed to happen is that the lot of the women in power will improve.

Maybe that is a cause worth fighting for.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Missing the golden oldies

One huge tragedy of LPG (Liberalization, Privatization, Globalization) has been the loss of a wonderful singing tradition, particularly of patriotic songs. The crap that circulates today in the name of patriotic songs simply makes one hang his head in shame. I don't want to grant them respect by mentioning them here, but suffice to say that they are nowhere in the class of the golden oldies that Rafi and Manna dey, with Lata and Asha breathed their voices into.

For instance, take the song "Kar chale hum fida jaan aur tan saathiyon" - rendered in Rafi's immortal voice. One line of the song goes thus: "Kat gaye hamare sar to kuch gham nahi, sar himalay ka hamne na jukhne diya" Or the ever melodious Manna dey singing the soulful "Aye mere pyaare watan" in which Gulzar mourns "Chood kar teri zameen ko door aa pahuche hai hum. Phir bhi hai yehi tamanna teri zarron ki kasam - hum jahaan paida hue us jagah hi nikale dum" - can you resist getting goosebumps? Or why, a little Asha singing Kavi Pradeep's "Jis din teri chita jali thi roya tha mahakaal - sabarmati ke sant tune kar diya kamaal." (When your pyre was lit, even fate cried, O saint of Sabarmati, you did a miracle.) Or the 1940s song "Aaj himalay ki choti se phir hamne lalkaara hai - door hato door hato door hato aye duniya walo hindustan hamara hai". (Today we've given a clarion call from the Himalayas - quit, you foreigners, Hindustan is ours.)

The lyrics, the music and the singing of the time all combined to give a surreal feel to these songs. Sixty years after independence, someone born thirty years after the day can still feel the sentiment of the freedom movement. That was the greatness of the era - the songs tugged at your heart - not at your purse-strings.

Will those days come again? Or will the next generations grow up on utter crap like "It happens only in India" or "Sandese aate hai" and think they are great patriotic songs!?


So, yet another decade of Indian independence. What is so great about it, you ask? Few countries are under a foreign yoke anymore, many are doing so well economically and socially, with countries like China kicking our backsides when it comes to economic growth, poverty alleviation, and indeed any aspect of social or economic development. Our venal politicians and bureaucrats leave no stone unturned in shaming the country, while we grapple with problems of both the 18th and the 21st centuries simultaneously. Still, this is a day of celebration. Still, this is a day when we must be proud to be Indians. It is a day when we must stand up and say with a lot of justification "मेरा भारत महान"। Why? you ask. Why, suddenly, has Mr. cynicism become a patriot?

Well, one eye-opener for me was the movie "Sometimes in April" - a movie about the Rwandan civil war. There was nothing civil about it, believe me, and the Hutu attempts to wipe out the Tutsi was so blatant, that it shocked the living guts out of me. A million people were killed, nay butchered in three months - all because of racial difference. This got me thinking - what if we in India were to fight out our differences? What if we were to resort to genocide to flatten our linguistic, racial, financial ethnic, religious, casteist, pigmentist (thanks to a friend for this one), regional, tribal, sectarian, fault lines? How many civil wars would we have witnessed? How many millions would've died? What effect would it have had on the rest of the world, if a billion of its people fought like animals?

It is not that India has been strife-free! We have had riots, killings, revenge-killings, protests, and what not! Our history of 60 years has been blood-stained on many an occasion. Still, we remain as one country. Why?

Really, the only plausible answer seems Indian democracy. Even with all its warts, and all its deficiencies, democracy has given every Indian (well, truly speaking, every Indian mob) the freedom to shout, the freedom to block roads, to vent their anger, the freedom to stop trains, to mob people, and in general, do anything except secede from the Union. So, while the Indian individual is still deprived of the right of expression, the Indian mob, which really is the unit of most turmoil, is given a free reign, which allows grievances to be settled with that very typical Indian "jugaad". People therefore obtain a stake in the system, which allows it (and the people in it) to flourish, as our billion-plus population attests.

I remember, visiting Austria when I was working for a German software company. There, our counterparts (Germans and Austrians) quizzed us on what united India. I mean, the seven members in my team spoke a total of nine languages (Kannada, Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Konkani, and English), we had representatives from two major religions, and were from five different states. So, why were we in one country? What made us Indian? I had no answer. I mumbled something about Cricket, and Bollywood, but I'm sure the Indian spirit goes deeper than that. So, while I investigate it, why don't you express your thoughts through the comments field?

Have a very happy Independence Day (in advance). Oh, and for the RNIs, just a reminder, the Indian Independence Day is on August 15th, despite Bill Pullman's exhortations to the contrary.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Random thoughts

I haven't blogged in quite a while, and the best way to get back into blogging is by jotting down random thoughts, ain't it? Well, here comes another edition of chaos.

Why do we find it so hard to innovate?

I had lunch with a good friend of mine recently, and our conversation veered towards the lack of innovation in the company he works for(which incidentally was mine a year ago). We had some thoughts on the subject, and on my way back to work, I kept wondering why we didn't have world-class innovations from India, particularly in the software field in which we're supposed to be so strong. There are a few reasons we all know - don't we? As software engineers, we are trained to write software that implements a spec. We are trained to re-use, to borrow readily available code/design, and to think in patterns. None of which are characteristics that encourage innovation. There is also our education system, my favourite whipping boy for everything that is wrong in the software field. We are not encouraged to tinker, we are not encouraged to find our own answers - instead, we learn, by heart, answers handed down to us. What better way to kill the innovative spirit?

File your opinions through the comments link below.

The Ancestor's Tale

This is another "wow" book by Richard Dawkins. I'd read his Selfish Gene, Extended Phenotype, Unweaving the Rainbow earlier, and this is a wonderful progression of Dawkins' talent. The Ancestors Tale recounts the story of evolution, going back in time to trace the lineage of the human species. The book is full of facts, evidence, and anecdotes - not to mention the occasional funny diatribe against Bush, Creationists, and their ilk. As usual, Dawkins writes marvellously well, and while there are sections of the book that a non-biologist (me) may find tough to understand, they are well demarcated, and don't interrupt your understanding of the rest of book.

Dreaming in Code

I wouldn't have heard about this book by Scott Rosenberg if it wasn't for my favourite software blogger, Joel Spolsky. While Dreaming in Code is a biography of the Chandler project, it goes beyond just that, giving the reader wonderful insights into why Software is HARD. Why is it, that 50 years after the first high-level language was invented, we still don't have a language to convert requirements into code? Why is it that, 35 years after Dijkstra announced that the "Goto statement was harmful", we don't have a language that'll minimize logical errors? And why is it, to quote the immortal words of Fred Brooks, there is indeed no silver bullet in software engineering? The book revisits these questions, and asks a few more of its own. For instance, it questions the logic that software should be more like civil engineering, it describes the problem with leaky abstractions, and the undecidability of verifying software. While I don't want to say that it is in the same league as the Mythical Man-Month, it is a must read for every software engineer.
Here, I want to make a small point. Software development is about people. It is not all technology. It is about people deciding to do the right thing everytime they put their hands to the keyboard. It is about embracing quality - as Harsha Bhogle eloquently describes in this video. It is about perfecting the basics - remember the "wax on, wax off" lesson from "The Karate Kid"?
Tools can only help. Ultimately, software is all about people. While you are reading this, also take a look at code reads - the collection of trend-setting articles by Scott Rosenberg.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Thank you, Dr. Kalam

Folks, it is official. The cunning descendant of Mussolini has had her way, and Dr. Kalam is out of office. This post is just a dedication to his abilities, his turning the presidency from an institution of pomp to that of the people, and his integrity, good judgement, and tireless efforts towards an India that'll make us proud.

Good luck, sir, for all your future endeavours!

Friday, June 29, 2007

What nice are you? Updated!

No, I haven't had damage to the grammatical hemisphere of my brain. It is just that there are various ways to be nice. And in this post, I'll enumerate some of them:

Ignoring nice: This is the American way. Everybody smiles at you - not just a : but a real :), but no one really cares. So, you may see a cute girl jogging on the road, smile at you and say "How you doin'?", but don't let it brighten your day, because before you can think of something nice to tell her, she is out of audio range.

Phony nice: Similar to ignoring nice. This is the nice that is put on by people putting you down, albeit softly. The lips are drawn into a smile, but the brain hasn't changed the tone of the voice - which is usually the giveaway.

Patronising nice: This is how some brilliant people respond to ideas suggested by lesser mortals. Their upbringing won't let them be harsh or rude, and at the same time they don't want to give credence to a remark made by someone who is clearly a lesser human being. So, they smile, nod, pretend to listen, and thank you for your comments, while their brains are trying to solve a completely unrelated NP-hard problem in polynomial time.

HR Nice: This is the easiest one to understand. One of the traits taught by every management school to every HR major, HR nicety is keeping a large smile on your face, saying "Hail Caesar" with a really sweet voice, while stabbing Caesar in the back. Beware of the HR smile. It usually means "I'm screwing you" or "I'm making you screw yourself". Note how the HR smile is never accompanied by a "no". You could call the HR person a jerk, a whatchagonnacallit, but he or she won't lose the smile. The one drawback of this smile is that it is universally employed, and therefore can be detected with the greatest ease, while putting up the smile facade expends enormous amounts of energy.

You know of any more? Post them in the comments section.

PS: While you are at it, try looking for an "updated" logo on the net. Some picture with the "Updated" text in it. It should expose a lot of the limitations of today's search engines :)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

More Moron talk

Prime Minister Manmoron Singh has finally done it. He's taken off his reformer's mask and is now baring his commie claws. In a recent address to the CII, he gave them a ten-point agenda for reform. It read like a pimp blaming the police for prostitution. Here it is, with rich and decadent me ostentatiously embellishing it with my comments.

One: have healthy respect for your workers and invest in their welfare.

Yeah, right - let's many training programs does the government conduct that trains postmen to become something better? How many programs offer education to the gangmen of your municipal corporation. How many even train teachers, or for that matter, IAS officers? How many government buildings have ramps and toilets for the disabled - a bare minimum to give them dignity?

Two: corporate social responsibility should be defined within the framework of a corporate philosophy which factors the needs of the community and the regions in which a corporate entity functions.

Again, what about government social responsibility? Oh, as long as we keeping bellowing "aam aadmi" from the rooftops, that is taken care of.

Three: industry must be proactive in offering employment to the less privileged, at all levels of the job ladder.

No problems with this one.

Four: resist excessive remuneration to promoters and senior executives and discourage conspicuous consumption.

Moron, how moronic can you become? If CEOs were a dime-a-dozen, and your dumb government had created more good IIMs (or let the pvt sector create them), instead of fighting over reservations, CEOs wouldn't be getting such salaries. Well, at least they are accountable. Why don't we compare all the official and unofficial perks your colleagues get, without any accountability for their performance? Why don't you talk about that? Further, what will this commandment serve? The poor? Do you really think that the farmer who committed suicide in Karnataka compared his state with that of Vijay Mallya before succumbing to the rope?

Five: invest in people and in their skills.

Like number 1. It's infact more than a coincidence that Moron was a teacher. Preach, but don't practise is his firm philosophy.

Six: desist from non-competitive behaviour.

Heh heh. Mandating roaming call rates in a competitive market is not non-competitive. Putting road-blocks to private investment in airports under the guise of stupid laws - well that is competitiveness at its best. Moron, JRD is no longer alive. And while people like Narayana Murthy and Azim Premji keep his flag flying high, it is up to your government to have a competition commission that works. Where is it?

Seven: invest in environment-friendly technologies.

No problems with this one too - but why aren't you doing anything about it, Moron? President Kalam had such wonderful ideas - why aren't you having them implemented at least in the Congress states? Why didn't you give a 100cr grant to IISc with a mandate to come up with a 50% efficient solar cell in 3 years? Why doesn't your government attempt to cut-down its energy usage and set an example?

Eight: promote enterprise and innovation, within firms and outside.

No qualms with this one.

Nine: fight corruption at all levels.

Look who is talking.

Ten: promote socially responsible media and finance socially responsible advertising.

Same as point 5 - about conspicuous consumption. Simply ridiculous.

All Moron is doing is lay the blame on someone else's doorstep. The doorstep he should lay the blame at is actually in 10, Raisina Hill, but unfortunately, that is akin to visiting a lioness whose lions are thirsting for his blood, and therefore you can expect to see more moronic speeches like this one in the times to come.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Attack of the PRTG

Or the Pseudo Random Thought Generator. I've taken a blocation (blog + vaction) for a few weeks now, and my mind is full of random thoughts, none of which seem to expand into a nice, modular post. Instead of me going through the torture of making a readable post out of them, I decided to simply put you good folks through it.

* Familial teams

Have you heard the phrase "You folks are like family to me (sic).", typically from an Indian? Somehow, we Indians assume that the family is the highest unit of social cohesion. Is that really the case? Did we choose our families? Did we choose our parents, our siblings, or our relatives? Isn't that simply a function of the gene, as opposed to relationships we cultivate - most notably friends? Why is it that a genetic relationship is deemed higher than once that we chose? Why must the "meme" which is biologically more powerful than the gene, get a higher pedestal?
Anyways, that is not the point I want to make. The next time you hear someone (most typically a supervisor) tell you that he thinks you're family, quit your job, change your home and run; run like your life depends on it. Because what the supervisor is really saying is that he thinks he is the "head" of the family (and that you're the tail), and he'll be the only one making all the decisions, and if he ever quits, he expects you (after all, don't family members move if the head moves?) to follow suit.

(PS: Before you guys get any great ideas, no, I'm not against families, and my own family and relatives are a very nice bunch. Thank you.)

* The hardest thing about being a mentor/coach

For a long time, I thought the hardest part of being a coach or a mentor, or a team/tech lead would be giving negative feedback. It is still high in my list, but I've found something harder. And that is to keep your hands tied when there is cool work to be done. To let your team-mates pickup the cool feature, or the delicious design, or the simply salivating opportunity to work on a hot new piece of technology: all this while you remain on the side-lines, wringing your hands in (mock) despair. That is really hard. For one that believes that the only worthwhile contribution to a project is in its engineering, this is especially hard on me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Growing up in socialist India - 1: Television

Recently, I came across a MIT student video of the song "Mile sur mera tumhara", which took me back in time to the glory days of socialist India. Now that most of my colleagues grew up in what became "pseudo-capitalist" (or pseudo-socialist, for those appropriately inclined) India, I thought it'll be nice to recall some of the things of the "good old days".

Now, my family was a middle-class one - which meant that my folks probably had enough money to send my brother and me to school, and they probably had spare cash for buying a bicycle, but it also meant that I had to go on hunger strikes to get a TV in the house. Yes, our first TV, installed on 24th June, 1984 was a result of my weeklong hunger strike (during which I got ample servings of non-food items). And what could you watch on it? Well, there was the eternal favourites - Mahabharat and Ramayan, and kids had He-Man, Giant Robot, and an assorted set of cartoons. Adults watched "Yeh jo hai zindagi", "Hum log" and "Buniyaad" - which to my mind were totally wierdo serials.

But what was unique to the socialist experience were films created by Films Division of India on national integration. Most of them (except those created by Louis Banks - Mile sur, and Bhaje sargam to name two) were crap. The animations sucked, the voice-overs were terrible, and each of them had this preachy tone that was so representative of the governments of that time.

Of all the serials I watched on the tube then, the one that still remains in memory is "Oshin". This must have been the most heart-rending serial I've ever seen.

Anyway, more info about such shows here: Do write in about your favourites.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Of love, leagues and relationships - 4: The perspective gun

The perspective gun is a marvel of human ingenuity and innovation. When fired, it causes the victim to see the wielder's point-of-view on any issue - in a sense, it puts the victim in the wielder's shoes. However, readers should not confuse the perspective gun with the "walk-in-my-shoes" gun which literally puts the victim in the wielder shoes - by disassembling the wielder's and the victim's feet and interchanging them through a molecular transportation unit. The gun was doomed when a Vogon general, trying to use it on a human, discovered that using the "WIMS" gun caused him such trauma that it was second only to the effect of his poetic rendition. Later, the Vogon Central Command ordered the confiscation and destruction of every bit of the gun, an order that was carried out to the last nut and bolt.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the perspective gun. While the gun itself is very well-known, not many 'people' know the secrets of this weapon, and still fewer know its origins.

The perspective gun operates by targetting those brain waves that are generated by emotions, amplifies them and fires them at its victims. The amplified emoaves, as they are known, interfere with the natural emotions of the victims creating in them the same emotions as are present in the wielder. Still interesting, is how the perspective gun was invented. This was the work of one brilliant Indian scientist, Mankutimma, who in the year 2150 decided that he had to put all the emotional energy of his country to good use. Dr. Mankutimma had seen for himself how for eons, his fellow-citizens spent good ATP molecules on emotional issues, and how, broken temples, loss in cricket matches, and marriages between movie stars would induce extreme emotional energies in large swathes of the population. He started work in his private lab, working late-nights to create a transducer that would automatically convert emotional energy into electricity. After years of research, he came up with the EmoVac - the vaccum that would suck up emotions to generate electricity.

Dr MK also discovered an interesting side-effect. He found that he could take the brain waves collected by the transducer, amplify it and direct it towards a target. This, he found brought about an immense change in the victim, much akin to the effect that emotional dependence has on human beings. The victim began to understand the wielder, he began to empathize with the wielder's emotions, and gradually, himself became emotionally dependant on the wielder - to such an extent that the victim could no longer live without the wielder's presence and approval. This was a brilliant move - imagine how many wars you could win by simply forcing the opponent to agree to your point-of-view! Imagine how many arguments could be solved by making the arguees see each others' points-of-view? Dr. MK was excited and he went public with his invention.

The furore that followed was unprecendented. Human rights organizations protested against what they called violation of the right to free thinking. Animal rights organizations protested against the pain that animal test subjects of such a weapon would endure. And no amount of protesting by Dr. MK could convince the world that his weapon was actually a peaceful one.

Finally, the World Security Council setup a Mental Weapons Convention - the first of it's kind since the Nuclear Weapons Convention that closed down in 2050, to draft guidelines for the usage of this weapon. The convention came to agreement that while the gun itself wasn't undesirable, it's effects should be temporary, and suggested that the strength and duration of fire of the guns be fixed accordingly.

Even as the guidelines were being drawn, Dr. MK met a old friend from the country of England, and a few friends of his, and flew out of Earth, the perspective gun in hand. A few Earth-days later, the planet was destroyed, this time in a chilling game of pool, during which, as residents of the cue ball, the last sound earthlings heard was a resounding "thok" as the planet hurtled towards a orange-yellow 9-ball situated 9 light-minutes from it.

Arthur looked longingly at the perspective gun. Does he dare do it?

I haven't been well for nearly five days now, and even as I struggled to sleep every night, this story kept coming back like a recurring dream. So, I had to write this out, even though my temperature is hovering around the 100 mark, and I'm upto my neck in antibiotics.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Don't be evil???

Earlier I wrote a couple of posts about Google's "Don't be evil" (Don't sup with evil) motto. I had written about how Google wanted world domination, and could sup with evil if the price was right. Today, my good friend Mohit pointed me to a Google NDA that is a whole new form of evil. The essence is that Google explicitly forbids interviewees from talking about anything they ask in the interview. And this includes explicit questions about the competition: which in essence means Microsoft. Apparently, Google India is terribly interested in the activities of Microsoft Research India - they don't miss any opportunity to interview interns from MSRI, and ask them explicit questions about what they are working on. Ofcourse, they are forbidden from divulging this even to their moms!

Thank you, Google. You've finally shown your true colours.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

On the topic of marriage.

All these days, I have desisted from writing about (my) marriage (or rather its prospects and experiences) on this blog. And other than a couple of posts, one where I introduced my current love interest, and the other where I mentioned her, I've generally maintained silence on the topic of love.

Have you ever been the last man batting at the crease, or one amongst the last pair in a cricket match? If you have, you'll appreciate how tension-filled the entire situation is. Here you have your 10 folks hoping and praying that you last (or praying that you don't so that they can go home), while you have the opponent trying his best to get your wicket. You're stuck in between, trying desperately to keep your averages at their current level.

My situation w.r.t marriage is similar. Depending on which team I'm playing for, I'm either the "last man batting", holding out for the bachelors, or I'm the non-striker in a last-wicket partnership for the bachelors. (Yes, I sense the irony in the statement.) This makes my parents, relatives and those of similar disposition really nervous. Now, they are in the stands, cheering on, not for my continued stay at the crease, but for my instant demise and return to the pavilion, where they'll force me to join the opposing team. Leading the attack on the opposing side, is a whole host of friends, well-wishers and generally-known people, all of whom are determined to get my wicket. Just today, I was playing for my primary-school team, and the striker got out - clean bowled to a well-pitched-up googly. As the last man remaining, I had to hide my face and get out - lest he run me out with the aid of some unheard-of rule. (Remember, even the umpires support the bowling team.)

What compounds the 'tragedy' (quotes intentional) is that one of my best team-mates has now left and joined the opposing team. While I'm really happy for her, what gets my goat is that she is now spear-heading the bowling attack - even colluding with one spectator to get me out!

So, here is to batting through the year! It is still early days...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

हिंदी में ब्लोग?

मेरे दोस्त बलबीर ने कहा कि अब हम हिंदी में ब्लोग कर सकते है। यह, गूगल कि बड़ी अच्छी सुविधा है
और यह ट्रांसलेशन इंजन बहुत अच्छी तरह काम करती है!

शाभाश गूगल

Terminating Arthur for now

For the last three weeks, I've been trying to get Arthur to do something funny. That hasn't happened, and I'm also running out of story ideas - so Arthur stands terminated for the time-being. Hopefully, if I call pull-off a resurrection (oh, how he would hate to hear this word), I'll re-instate him again.

Pseudo Engineering

I was watching a programme on Animal Planet yesterday. The objective of this programme was to get four engineering students to engineer some artifact of nature. In yesterday's programme, it was the Spider web.

The Spider web is an amazing work of nature. Strands of some spider webs are known to be stronger and more elastic than a steel strand of the same thickness. In addition, the 'architecture' of the spider web, it's spiral construction, and the entire biology behind it, are all simply amazing.

But back to the programme. The four students had to build a spider web on a 60'X40' scaffolding. Yes, you got it right - a 60 foot-by-40 foot scaffolding. The team would then 'trebuchet' a 25 pound weight into it, and the web had to be strong enough to catch it. Further, beyond the obstacles posed by the task, the students also had to contend with the winds blowing in the Sydney harbour.
Needless to say, I was mesmerized. "What a cool assignment", I thought, but as the programme progressed, I just got more and more frustrated. The programme was not about engineering a web. It was about showing the 'cool' side of engineering, with cute babes (and hunks, for those inclined), and some 'action' - like having people bungee jump from a 60 foot scaffold or hurl washing machines in the air. Why am I so disappointed? Because while there are no two words about engineering being cool, there is a lot of sweat that goes into making it look cool. There is a lot of math - for instance, you are aiming at a web, that is X feet away, with a trebuchet that can throw a ball of weight M with a force of J Newtons. You have wind blowing at an angle theta with a velocity of v kmph. Now, what are the angle/distance/power metrics for your trebuchet so that the ball hits the centre of the web? Calculating this is engineering. Not random testing the final version by firing away to glory, or having your only claim to math being a spreadsheet that never gets used.
Maybe I'm being too harsh. I don't know. Why don't you tell me through the comments link?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Awesome joke

Stallman, Linus and Knuth walk into a bar

Stallman says - "God said I made the GREATEST editor ever "

Linus says - " God told me that I made the divine OS , the GREATEST kernel ever ... "

Knuth says - "Wait a minute, I don't remember saying that "

Unit of freedom

What is the unit of freedom in your country? Perplexed? Read on...
The unit of freedom is the smallest group of people in your country that enjoys freedom. For example, if you are in the United States, the unit of freedom is the individual. If you are in Communist China, the unit of freedom is the party. And if you are in France, the unit of freedom is a union. (I'm kidding.) And if you are in Pakistan, the unit of freedom is the local mosque.

So, what is unit of freedom in India? That is a no-brainer. The unit of freedom in India is the mob. It is the mob that is free - to avenge some weird insult to ridiculous pride by stoning glass buildings, it is the mob that is free to prevent a Hindu girl marrying a Muslim boy, and it is the mob that is free to slaughter farmers in the name of development. It is mobs that decide what insults national pride, it is the mobs that decide who is on the right side of justice, and it is the mobs that decide who has a right to live.

You disagree? Post your disagreements in the comments below.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Personality CMM

For anyone associated with Software Engineering, the three letters CMM either evoke knowing smiles or unknowing deference, depending on whether the person has gone through a CMM review or not. Well, that was the Software CMM. On similar lines, we have the People-CMM and now, CMMi - Integration CMM for system companies that do both hardware and software.

Needless to say, these CMM models have kept many consultants in business, provided opportunities to many researchers to add to their list of papers, and has in fact, created a new haves/have-nots situation w.r.t software companies.

All the models have the same five levels: Initial, Repeatable, Defined, Managed and Optimizing (wiki here). Each level has a list of processes (KPAs) that must be in place for an organization to attain that level. I won't go into the details here, except state the obvious - the latter levels are 'better', and the higher the level an organization achieves, the more mature it is supposed to be.

This got me thinking - aren't people the same? There are people who defy age - they are 3-year olds as long as they live. And there are some who keep improving even when they are in their 90s. Not very different from the CMMs. Therefore, I present to you, my contribution to the CMM stable: The Personality CMM

I'll describe the Pr-CMM in greater detail in the coming posts. For now, here is a broad definition of the five levels:

- Initial: These people think that the world revolves around them. Needless to say, they are most immature. You cannot trust them, you cannot believe what they say, and in short, they are best avoided.
- Repeatable: These are people you can trust. But they come in with fixed personalities that don't ever change, not for the better, and thankfully, not for the worse under normal circumstances. But put them under stress, and they revert to the first level faster than a snake's strike.
- Defined: These people are those you can trust, and in addition, they have some goals, some principles and values in life. They listen to others, get feedback, but may not necessarily incorporate feedback that they don't like.
- Managed: These people believe in measurement. Along with all the good qualities of level 3, these people measure their lives, keep tabs on how they are progressing, and generally are extremely likeable people.
- Optimizing: These guys follow all processes of level 4, and in addition, strive for continuous improvement.

So, which level is your personality in?

Postscript: No, I am not serious. I agree that the human personality is too diverse to fit nicely into a set of five buckets. Still, considering the pace at which the CMM craze is picking up, particularly in Indian software service companies, I just _had_ to pen this.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

What marriage does to normally sane people

Nearly all my friends are married, and most of them went over to the dark side only in the last two-three years. So, for some time now, I've been trying to find out what marriage does to normally sane people (read guys), and how it changes them.

Results show that a tiny minority remains unmoved, while most people change substantially, and a small minority undergoes a complete metamorphosis.

However, one change common to all married friends of mine is what I call the "good-host-syndrome". Nearly all of my married (male) friends are affected by it. Suddenly, the guy who would slap you on your back, throw a few Kannada curses at you and push you down on a worn out couch, now welcomes you into his home most politely, apologizes for the plush setting, and asks his wife to cook goodies for you. Oh, and the wives aren't far behind. They enquire many times if you've had enough to eat, if the salt was right, and they are insitent in apologizing for the wonderful cuisine they've prepared for you. Seriously, this gets embarassing, particularly for someone who fills his plate with cold dinner (Thank God my mom doesn't read my blog!) at midnight. And, it does not end here. God forbid if you go out for dinner/ movie/ trek/ bowling/ museum/ lunch/play/any other activity, the friend has to pay, even for you!

I'm not saying that my friends weren't hospitable before marriage - I mean, come on, what else can you expect from Bangaloreans, but their change has been nothing but radical. Earlier, the hospitality was a heart-to-heart connection. Now, it is a heart-to-heart connection, but with overflow!

A futher subvertive effect of marriage has also been noticed on single people. Single men who have come in close contact with married couples have taken on some of the hosptiable attributes, and they behave in the same way!

I was in the US recently, on work, and I had a great time outside of work as well. The reason is simple - married friends and infected single friends!

Thanks to them all! :)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The cricket debacle

I didn't want to write about this. Really, believe me, I'm totally tired of watching, listening to and reading the same analysis over and over again. Come on, it is not like we had a national disaster! OK, the team lost. Get over it. And it is not even the Indian cricket team! Would you be as disappointed if a Wipro coding team lost in an international software competition? [Substitute an appropriate company if you work for Wipro ;)]

Anyways, in the discussions and articles that analyzed reasons for India's defeat, I didn't see two reasons I think are central to the debate: the lack of a sporting culture in India and the lack of respect for hard-nosed, nose-grinding-on-the-mill-stone work.

I think the first is more basic. As a country and as a culture, we lack sporting instinct, and love for sport. Blame it on the hot weather, blame it on excessive academics, or on over-indulgent parents, but the truth is that we don't really care about sport. We have weird notions of national pride and state pride, which we want to see satiated everywhere, but we don't love the game for what it is. We don't understand the discipline it takes to succeed at sports. We don't go to our children's school games with a video camera, we don't cheer for a school/ college/ city/ state team when it is playing, we don't broadcast school games live on local TV. We don't fight for schools to have good grounds, we don't ask for good coaching at the school/college level, but we all want the national team to dive like Michael Phelps at the start gun. Remember though, when I say we, I don't mean just us - I'm including the establishment, the government, everyone. Let's face it - as long as we don't care about sport, barring the occasional world cup win or test series victory, we'll only draw blanks. As the saying goes, if we have one finger pointing at Dravid and co., we'll have four pointing at the rest of us.

Next, I must highlight the lack of respect for hard-nosed work. As the saying goes, "Success is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration". Bhimsen Joshi apparently stood in waist-deep water, practising his singing for over four hours everyday to become one of the doyens of music. Sachin is said to have stood in front of the mirror for hours - not checking his hairstyle as some would accuse him of doing - but perfecting his swing. In Microsoft's TechVista, Prof. C.N.R. Rao had a lot to say about hard work and deferred gratification. But these are not the stories we tell our youngsters. These are not the heroes we celebrate. We love the Dhoni six, as technically flawed as it may be, we love Sehwag's flaying shots outside the off-stump, and have the standard excuse when they get out to rash shots: "Arre yaar, voh dil se khelta hai", as though that is the Ganga jal that purifies all sin. As ever, form over function. (Note: Even as you read this, please please remember that I am NOT saying that Sehwag or Dhoni didn't work hard. I'm only saying that as a public we don't care about the work ethic that goes into anyone's success. )

I've seen parents who came to a cricket camp I attended as a child, shouting at the coach, asking him to give more turns to their son to bat/bowl. I still recall the howls of protest that went up as the coach asked us to run around the field, to stretch, and to run up and down the pitch. All we wanted to do then was swing the bat, and throw the ball. Everything else was secondary. And there was a not-so-implicit hierarchy: batsmen belonged to the Brahmin class, bowlers were the Kshatriyas, the wicket-keeper was the shudra, and the fielders were the untouchables. Imagine the sort of cricketing ethic we would have learnt here. And no, I'm not blaming the coach - it was the parents, the friends, and the onlookers, who were always more happy when the player hit three or four sixes, as opposed to taking a crucial, match-winning catch.

Appreciation for hard work, appreciation for the people doing the grunt work that keeps the machinery running, appreciation for people who put the team before self - these are not attributes we teach our youngsters. Until these change, we may see occasional successes, never repeatable ones.

[Postscript: I know this may upset some of you - if you are going to flame me, please keep in mind that I'm not claiming that these are the only reasons or even the most important reasons for India's defeat. I'm only saying these are reasons that I did not see mentioned.]

Friday, March 30, 2007

Of love, leagues, and relationships - III

Arthur couldn't sleep that night. Twisting and turning in his bed, his only thoughts were of Tricia - a phenomenon that started with Tricia's account of her date with Ford Prefect. Somehow, he couldn't get her out of his mind. This rarely happened to Arthur - there were few girls that he cared about, and even fewer that affected his sleep. Confused, Arthur kept wondering about that dangerous four-letter word that turned minds into mush. Was he infected?

"Nah. How could I be? I have survived the attention of many girls...", thought Arthur, even as a twirl of Tricia's locks floated in front of his eyes.

"Well, who am I kidding? It wasn't was a few. And those were different days", he thought again, reflecting on his current social situation. "I'm too busy to be infected.", he concluded. "After all, I still need to complete the implementation of BabelFish by yesterday."

[ Editor's Note: These days, people have no use for tense in grammar. Time travel has made tenses irrelevant, and even though authors (like yours truly) have stuck with basic rules of tense, it is perfectly acceptable to use tense in a haphazard manner, at the least, in your own thoughts.]

Arthur's reverie ended when the alarm went off, alarming Arthur that he had to run for a meeting with Tricia. A few weeks ago, Tricia had joined the same company that Arthur worked for, and as Tricia's team-mate, Arthur spent more than his fair share of time with her, a situation he loved as much as Ford hated. Somehow, Arthur and Ford were never able to warm up beyond the occasional icy stare or a cold-fish handshake, which was a new headache Tricia had to deal with.

As Arthur swung his silvery convertible into the parking lot, he noticed that Tricia's red sedan was already parked. "What a ridiculous car", he thought, looking at the garish red paint and poor styling that was a hallmark of most Kakrafoon cars. He could never understand how women could buy cars without giving a thought to their performance. Cursing under his breath, he walked up the two floors to his office, swiped his access card at the door, and walked in. As he neared his cubicle, he saw Tricia coming towards him. Her peppy walk, the big smile on her face, and the confidence in her gait, all told Arthur that she was still hung over from her previous night's date. Was it the date? Arthur wondered.

Too polite to question, Arthur smiled and waved at Tricia. As they both settled down in the meeting room, Tricia opened the conversation: "How was your night?", she asked.

Arthur knew this was a trap. He realized there was no way he could answer this question without asking how her night was, and he knew how much he dreaded the answer to that question. Smiling, he said "Oh, it was the usual.", and before Tricia could respond, he said "Hey, you know, I've found the problem with the natural language processor! We should have simply used an algorithm instead of artificial intelligence. A neo-Turing algorithm would have fixed the auto-translate-and-induce-poetic-tenor module..."

"Won't you ask me how my night was?", interrupted Tricia. This was important. Who in the heavens cared if the poetic-tenor contraption worked? And if anyone wanted to read Shakespeare, he could learn English! Further, this sinful contraption is what caused the disappearance of God and the subsequent chaos in the Universe.

Sensing that there was no way out, Arthur nibbled the bait Tricia threw at him. His silence was the green light Tricia wanted, and she described her date in what seemed like excruciating detail to Arthur. During her extempore, he recalled his first relativity lesson: "If a beautiful girl is telling you how much she loves you, it seems like a minute, and if she's describing her date with a bloke you detest, it seems like eternity. That is relativity."

At the end of her monologue, which Arthur had kept parsing for the words "propose", "engage", "diamond" and "ring", Arthur was relieved that his parser had failed on all counts. Arthur wondered why. Out aloud, he said: "I don't understand what you see in that Ford. His fashion sense comes from the times of the Model-T, he has the perfect face to frighten kids in the dark, and the guy can't even code!". Ignoring the look of weariness on Tricia's face, Arthur continued: "How can you, one of our best brains, fall for that no-brainer!?"

Stung, Tricia asked: "Why didn't you fall for that brilliant girl in your neo-Turing Architecture class? She was perfect for you." The sarcasm in her voice was unmistakable.

Arthur was forced on the defensive. "She wasn't my type.", he said, almost apologetically.

"You see!? That is precisely my point. And this is something I've been telling you since time immemorial. Attraction is not a deterministic function. Why don't you get it!?"

"But Ford doesn't meet any of the standards you've set for a date!", Arthur cribbed. "He is boorish, doesn't treat people well, isn't smart, can't keep up with a conversation to save his life, and isn't even in your league as far as work is concerned!", blurting out all his frustrations at once.

Tricia returned to her enigmatic self. She knew what was going on in Arthur's mind. Still, she didn't want to point it out, at least not yet. With a very kind voice, she said, "Well, that is something you need to understand by yourself, Arthur. I cannot teach you everything."

The rest of the meeting went off well. Arthur decided to mull over what Tricia said. Somewhere inside his mind was a little worm of doubt - "Does Tricia know? Is there anything for her to know!!!?"

Saturday, February 17, 2007

(Hopefully) Quotable quotes

Me: "Your program suffers from race conditions. Does that mean you are a racist?"

A good friend: "Are you a deadly programmer if you have a deadlocked program?"

Of love, leagues and relationships - II

It had been a week since Arthur and Tricia met at Milliways, the restaurant at the end of the universe. Always the inquisitive one, Arthur had been pestering Tricia with more questions about leagues and social ladders. Tricia kept avoiding them, hoping Arthur would get the message to buzz off. Unfortunately, sensitivity wasn't one of Arthur's traits, and he kept bothering her. Tricia, deciding to end the matter for once and for all, told Arthur to meet her again at Milliways, telling him that he should come prepared with any questions he may have, and this would be the last time they talk about this topic.

Arthur had agreed. Today, he arrived an hour early, full of anticipation. If there was one thing that would excite Arthur more than a date with a beautiful girl, it would be coffee with a girl who had answers to his questions.

"Hi", a lively voice hummed in Arthur's ear. It seemed Tricia had already gotten over Zaphod.

"Hi!", exclaimed Arthur, inviting Tricia to sit down. "Don't we look happy?", he asked.

"Oh, I have a date today", said Tricia. Then, looking at the expression on Arthur's face, she said, "Hey, a week is more than enough to get over someone, OK!?". Arthur could only hold his hands up in a "I give up" gesture. "Besides, Ford is a really nice guy!", Tricia completed.

"Ford!?", Arthur exclaimed. "Ford Prefect!!!? He isn't even human!!!"

"Oh, you're just jealous because you aren't seeing anyone", said Tricia. She knew that every guy who opposed her choice of a date, had to be jealous of her. After all, how could she - someone who had been with one other person who left her for someone else - how could she be wrong!?

Arthur was in no mood to discuss Tricia's dates. Changing the subject, he said: "Hey, so you are going to answer any question I ask today, aren't you?". "Anything except the one you asked the last time", Tricia said, the smile on her face brightening the sun-lit cafe even more.

"Ok", said Arthur. "You see, I told my friends about the leagues concept - they laughed at it, saying it was as real as the leagues travelled by the Nautilus. [Editor's note: or Noah's arc, for the more biblically inclined.] And they had good examples. John Nash, for example, who was schizophrenic and a geek, married his lovely student. What do you have to say to that?"

"You know, you are an idiot", she replied, barely concealing her frustration. "Celebrities are different. What a Michael Jordan is to the general public, John Nash is to math geeks! How is this different!?". Noticing the inquisitiveness written all over Arthur's face, she calmed down, saying: "There are many phenomena involved here. You have to be popular if Hollywood movies are made about you. That itself would catapult you to the top of any league. Further, leagues are like fractals. You have mini-leagues in different professions, places, and what have you. So, in the math-geek social ladder, he would've been top rung!"

Arthur's ignorance of social matters always exasperated Tricia, but this degree of ignorance was too much to bear.

"Ah", replied Arthur, deliberately ignoring Tricia's tantrum. He wasn't going to let anything come in the way of his questioning. It wasn't everyday that Arthur got to learn about the intricacies of the human social ladder.

"What about the jerks that go around with beautiful girls?", Arthur continued. "They are bounding over leagues to attract dates in higher leagues?"

"Nah", replied Tricia. She understood that Arthur was taking this opportunity to pine about his own social situation. With the tenderness of a gardener caring for his roses, she spoke: "The rules still hold. Particularly the one about social jet-pax. Why do so many blondes hang out with that Playboy jerk? These guys either have money or fame, or something that makes them attractive to the other sex. Don't you know about that Elizabeth-something who married 30 or 40 times, even when she was over fifty?". Clearly, Hollywood and Playboy trivia didn't figure amongst Tricia's strengths.

Arthur was nodding vigorously. He felt vindicated. After all, nothing was wrong with him. It wasn't his fault that he wasn't the 21st century's greatest mathematician; it wasn't his fault that he wasn't rich. And of course, he was now convinced that getting to either of these milestones would solve his social problem!

But, as ever, Tricia had authored a little twist in her tale. "While all of this holds, what matters is how you are as a person. Confidence, patience, kindness, and politeness are all qualities that appeal to people. Irrespective of how much money or how many Nobel prizes you have, what matters in the long run is how you treat people, how you get along with them. I firmly believe that you can learn a lot about a person by the way he treats those whom he doesn't have to treat nicely. You know how well a guy is going to treat you 20 years hence by seeing him treat the waiters, bar-tenders, bus-drivers, sales-clerks, and in general, anyone who he doesn't have to be nice to."

Arthur was silent. His order for coffee hadn't arrived in half an hour. But the latest salvo from Tricia prevented him from blowing a fuse in the waiter's face. Gritting his teeth, he began looking around for the waiter.

"OK, is that all you had to ask?" Tricia enquired. Then, seeing the blank expression on Arthur's face, she got up to leave. "So, see you later. I don't want to be late for my date with Ford."

As she rose, Arthur remembered an incident when Ford had thrown a full cup of hot cappuccino in a waiter's face, right in front of Tricia's eyes. His brain performed a simple logical deduction, and decided that enough was enough. His hypothalamus flooded his bloodstream with adrenaline, turning his face red. With what manifested as anger, Arthur walked up to the counter, picked up a chair and smashed it through a glass display that held pastries of various kinds.

As he walked out, Tricia looked at him with admiration in her eyes.

I wrote this and Part-I of this post simply to get an idea of how difficult it is to write a narrative, as opposed to writing up an argument. Guys, it _is_ tough. Kudos to all those friends of mine who manage to write so many amazing stories so well.