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.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Of love, leagues and relationships

It was a lovely day in Betelguese. Arthur, with his head inside a newspaper, was sitting in a corner of the restaurant at the end of the universe. His retina caught the reflection of a female figure in his spectacles. Turning, he saw that the female figure had a familiar face - it was Tricia, his good friend; and she looked upset.

"Tricia", bellowed Arthur, drawing the attention of all the patrons of the restaurant.

Tricia acknowledged, walking towards him with a sad, burdened walk, not unlike that of a daily- wage earner who just lost his day's pay. She took the chair opposite Arthur's and sat down, taking a tissue to wipe a single tear that rolled down her cheek. Arthur asked: "Hey, what's the matter?"

Arthur had met Tricia through a professor of History at the Vogon University. Tricia, a student of art, was writing a thesis on the significance of art in Arthur's religion - Whotheheckisgod. Arthur, a self-confessed fan of anyone interested in his religion, was more than happy to answer her questions. They got along so well that they continued to meet even after Tricia completed her thesis, sharing a bond that Arthur shared with very few women. Arthur was Tricia's vault - a storehouse of her feelings, secrets, anecdotes and darkest thoughts.

Still sobbing, Tricia said: "Zaphod broke up with me this morning. He said he was no longer in love with me, and that I should go and find someone else. How could he do this to me!? After all the years we spent together!? I think he is with that b*ch, Trillian!"

Tricia and Zaphod had been going steady since their high school days. Zaphod was the only guy Tricia had dated, and her vault was full of plans for their marriage, children and the like. Trillian was the captain of the college cheer-leading squad, and made no secrets about her 'love' for Zaphod.

Arthur exclaimed: "My god! I'm so sorry!". The ridiculousness of invoking something that doesn't exist got to him, and then, handing a tissue to Tricia, said, "Why? What happened? You guys were so good together!"

Tricia replied: "Don't you understand? We weren't in the same league!"

"What league!?", asked a confused Arthur.

"Leagues", replied Tricia, rather impatiently. "I wasn't in his league...or to say it in geek-speak, I wasn't in the same level as Zaphod!"

"Oh. How do you know what league anyone is in?" asked Arthur, his curiousity overcoming his concern for his friend's distress.

"That is easy", replied Tricia. "In geek-speak, it is a function that takes a person's looks, age, bank balance, intelligence, figure, face, colour, smartness, popularity, confidence, and many such factors, and returns an integral value which indicates the person's position in the social ladder."

"Neat.", commented Arthur. "So, why weren't you in his league?"

Tricia replied: "You see, he is a football player. That gives him immense popularity. And he is smart. Me? I'm just a geek who gets straight A's. " [with a sad tone] "Guys like him don't fall for me... "

Confused, Arthur asked: "So, football players and cheerleaders are at the top of the social ladder?"

"Yeah. Add movie-stars, rock stars and basketball players to the list and you have the pharoahs of modern society. And remember, no one wants to date someone below their league. The least that is expected of a prospective partner is that he/she is at least in one's own league."

"No wonder." thought Arthur. Then, he asked: "How do you move up in the social ladder?"

Tricia replied: "That isn't easy. Plastic surgery is an option. Another option is to dumb down. A third is to become a guitar player, or a sportsperson. Ofcourse, money helps, but you only attract gold-diggers. Oh, and then, there are the social jet-pax."

"Social jet-pax?", Arthur asked increduously.

"Yes. jet-pax. Like winning a million dollars in a lottery. Or, in high school, having your parents buy you a cool car."

"Ah." Arthur was now seeing ladders and rungs everywhere. Then, as quietly as he could, he asked: "What about software engineers? Which rung are they in?"

Tricia smiled, knowing the consequences of her answer. With a flourish that only she could muster, she said, "Why don't you tell me when you find out?", and walked out of the restaurant.

PS: With sincerest apologies to Douglas Adams. But hey, 'inspiration' is the sincerest form of flattery, isn't it!?

PS-2: Geez! What have I done! I've imitated the 'inspired one'!!!

PS-3: Now a mythical friend of mine is salivating (PS-3)...

X-box: To be fair to the competition. I just noticed that my orkut profile says I'm 100% sexy. Considering the number of girls I know, and considering that you need at least three votes to get such an entry, this is a scary figure, to say the least!

X-box 360: Zimply. To complete the quintet.