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...