Sunday, January 27, 2008

The case for India

This is the title of Will Durant's awesome book on India. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I've been reading a lot of India books lately, and this one is probably the last on the list. Written in 1930, the book, banned by the British government, and God knows why, never resurrected by the Indian governments, is an excellent account of how the country was raped, with the connivance of our own people, for over 200 years by the British.

The figures are amazing. Robert Clive, the resident governor of Bengal, getting an annual tribute of US $140,000, in 1930s money. The national debt of India, which was really caused by twisted pricing of goods, rising to a whopping 3.5 billion dollars by 1929, the cost of maintaining the British army in India was paid by Indians, to the tune of 200 million dollars a year, wars, in which Indian troops fought for the British were paid by taxes on Indians, to the tune of 1.2 billion dollars in the late 1800s, all of these reducing India from the second largest economy in the world in the 1820s to a basket case by 1947.

The book talks of how Indian industry was broken and how farmers were driven to penury in supporting the opulent lifestyles of company and British officials. What is more shocking is the kind of torture inflicted upon the common men by the British:

"A troop of English soldiers had reached the spot, and without warning, began firing into a crowd that had women and children. [...] Some people got as many as twenty-one bullet wounds in their bodies. [...] A young Sikh boy stood in front of a soldier and asked him to fire at him, which the soldier unhesitatingly did. Similarly, an old woman [...] came forward, was shot, and fell down wounded. [...] The police snatch off the men's garments, twist and squeeze the testicles, and even batter them until the victims foam at the mouth and become unconscious."

Madeline Slade, an eyewitness, says: "And so we went on from this house to another. [...] 1.Lathi blows on head chest, stomach and joints, thrusts with lathis in private parts, tearing off loin cloths and thrusting of sticks into anus, dragging of wounded by legs and arms, beating them, throwing of wounded men into thorn hedges or salt water, thrusting of pins and thorns into men's bodies..."

What stands out in the book are these:
- The extent of torture and exploitation of the British
- Active connivance of Indians in the British services, including the police force
- The bravery and determination with which "ordinary" Indians fought for freedom.

After reading this though, I started to wonder. As a country, we have such a poor sense of history. Our Moronic PM, intoxicated by a doctoral degree, praises British rule. Common people have no clue about how we won our freedom. Even educated people think the positives of India are the grace of the British.

Read this book. Buy this book. At 140 pages, it is not a long read. And let me know, if like me, you kept wondering whether we have simply replaced a white brute with a brown one after Independence.

Happy Republic Day folks!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Can't dynamic languages scale?

See this:

BTW, if you don't know what Chandler is, ask for my copy of "Dreaming in Code", by Scott Rosenberg. It is an amazing read, and a must for any software engineer.

If cabin crew were replaced by autodrivers.

Last Tuesday, I flew to Hyderabad to attend an "Advanced C#" course. My flight from Bangalore was scheduled during the evening rush hour, and we spent nearly 20 minutes at the edge of the runway, waiting for planes to land before we took off.

As I saw the planes land in a single file in front of us, a sinister thought entered my mind: "What if we removed all cabin crew and replaced them with Bangalore auto drivers?"

Well, at first, my plane would have made a mad dash to get on the runway before the last plane landed. We'd have the sight of two planes rushing in a V to get to the lone aerobridge (domestic) in the airport. Cabin crew would snort and turn their heads if you asked them which flight flew to your destination. Your onscreen monitor that shows remaining distance and time would be tampered, and your credit card deducted by amounts much more than the advertised "fare" when you flew.

Oh, in mid-air, pilots would refuse to continue to your destination unless you paid extra.

What else do you think would happen? Use the comments field below.
Postscript: Kingfisher airlines now has a fuselage mounted camera whose footage shows up in one of the inflight channels. Guess what the camera caught on the Hyderabad runway, just as we were about to take off? A couple of dogs taking a break from their rounds of the airport! And the AAI Hyderabad employees have the nerve to protest against the closure of the airport, stating it is against public interest! What do these worthies know about the public?!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Star gazing on a cool January night

If you didn't know, winter is the best time for star gazers in India. The nights are cool, the sky is cloudless, and throw in a new moon night and a power cut - you have a star gazer's paradise. Turn to the north, and just above the horizon, you see the pole star - our own Dhruva taare. A little away, the Saptarshi mandala or the Big Dipper. Turn your head 90 degrees and you see the brightest object in the sky, Venus, and as you reach the perpendicular, the belt of Orion.

When I was eight (or maybe seven), the science club in my locality got hold of a telescope. Boy, were we addicted!? Every night in winter, we would go up the stairs of my friend's place, position the telescope and keep watching. Of course, the telescope was a manual one, which meant that if you didn't look through the lens in 30 seconds your star was gone (due to the rotation of the earth). We had a pair of binoculars that we could look through, star charts for reference, and even a powerful torch to point at a particular star. To add to our viewing pleasure, the Karnataka Electricity Board (as it was known then) turned off power for half-an-hour at night everyday.

Today, I spent most of the late evening gazing at the stars, and trying to recollect names for them. The pleasure of lying down on your back gazing at the sky has to be experienced to be believed. No wonder early men thought stars were night-time landmarks created by God. Just seeing the stars twinkle away as newer and newer ones grace the skies every minute is simply overwhelming.

Unfortunately, the city has grown so much (particularly towards the north) that many stars that graced the horizon are no longer visible. Maybe one can get a better view from a place like Nandi Hills...hey, I can drive!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What is so great about Python?

No, I'm not making a statement. I'm asking a question. What is so great about Python? I made some faltering attempts at learning it, mostly through reading the O'Reily book, "Learning Python" and experimenting with some trivial programs.

So, what makes Python so great? Of all the answers I've heard, the most irrelevant and pointless answer seems to be the significance attached to indentation. Apparently, unlike other block-structured languages like C, Python has no delimiter to demarcate the start and end of a block. So, a program that looks like:

if ( x == 0 )
    printf ("This is crazy\n");

would be transformed into:

if ( x == 0 ):
   printf ("This is crazy\n");

Apparently, the founder of Python was so frustrated with the poor indentation that many C programmers use that he decided to make indentation a significant aspect of the language. So, why should I, someone who always cribs about other people's poor indentation styles, have a problem with it?

Well, simply because this is a fascist solution to a simple problem that can be solved by a keystroke or a command (depending on your environment). We don't need a language to force us to do this, in the process causing more problems than it solves. Think for instance, you are looking at a 1000-line Python file, and accidentally you hit a tab or a space. A 'worthless', 'invisible' token like whitespace will now give you logical nightmares!

Any other features that are useful?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The GOD delusion

Update See Dawkins at TED:

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

These are words of Richard Dawkins - author of the "best-selling" The God Delusion. I've mentioned previously about my appreciation for Dr. Dawkins' work - notably, The Selfish Gene. The God Delusion is another classic from his pen. An extremely provocative book, The God Delusion continuously challenges believers of all kinds to justify to themselves their religious values. Why, for instance, do we accept a God that asks for human sacrifice? Why do we accept a God that tells us not to seek the truth?

Richard Dawkins was a good friend of another great author: Douglas Adams of the Hitchhiker's guide fame. Both read each others' books many times, and Richard Dawkins gave Douglas Adams' eulogy. Both were(are) atheists. For instance, do you remember this line from the Guide?

"And god disappeared in a puff of logic."

Unfortunately, in the real world, there doesn't seem to be an end to people who would go on believing in the falsehood that there was a God that created us. Some would still believe that the Earth was created in six days, some others may believe that the Earth is only 6000 years old. Well, this is a book worth reading, irrespective of whether you believe or you don't. Dawkins tends to rant a little bit every now and then, but he has kind words for India's founding fathers, believes that the creation of Pakistan is a classic example of the trouble religion has caused, and most importantly, presents a very convincing argument for why we don't need religion.

Read it.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Who is racist? : A piece from the 'secular' Australian media.

And a good riposte:

Harbhajan is banned on no evidence, every Australian is let off - Sharad Pawar, if you have an iota of shame, bring the Indian team back home.

Disaster at Sydney

I'm writing this post even as the Sydney disaster is unfolding on my television.

We've all seen how eight to ten crucial decisions have gone against the Indians. We've seen how the 14-member Australian team (Bucknor, Benson and the third umpire forming the new 'tail') has taken gamesmanship to new levels. We've also seen how unsportsmanly Ricky Ponting and his men have behaved, particularly in the fourth innings of the test.

Those interested in cricket history will know that this isn't a first for the Indians. Repeatedly, repeatedly, the Indian team has been at the receiving end of umpires, match referees and other officials.

What is most shameful, however, is the reaction of the Indians, in particular, Kumble. Every time things have gone against India, the players and the BCCI haven't protested. Other than the Mike Dennis incident, umpires, match referees and other officials that have been unfair towards India have gone scot-free. Like in this match. There hasn't been a single word or protest. This match should have been nullified. It should not go into the record books, for the sheer lack of any cricketing law being in operation. But who is taking cudgels on the Indian team's behalf?

This is a test that a rising India will face repeatedly. Questions will be asked of India's determination, not just in cricket, but in politics, defence, economics - to do the right thing. Questions will be asked that will require firm, hard answers. Every nation that aspires to become a sporting, economic or political power faces these: China, on the question of Tibet, Sri Lanka, on the question of Muralitharan's bowling, or the US, on the question of terrorism. Nations that succeed give the right answers, remembering that there is a thin line between churlish protests, and just, effective ones.

India, unfortunately, isn't one such nation. We will burn Mike Dennis effigies, maybe shout from the rooftops about trade barriers, and put our collective heads into the ground when China sets up military encampments in our territory. However, we'll refuse to lodge protests against unfair umpiring, we'll refuse to use our clout in the ICC to get rid of referees and umpires that are against us, while not thinking for a moment in manipulating the system to get a Dalmiya or Sharad Pawar into the ICC chairman's post. We'll let countries like Bangladesh walk all over us, not just in World cups, but also on the borders.

Dhimmitude: something India has honed into a fine art.

(On an aside: There is a small distinction between cribbing and complaining. Kumble did the right thing by not cribbing about lack of match practice after the Melbourne debacle. But not complaining about third-rate umpiring? That too after 8-10 abysmal decisions?)

(Aside 2: I wonder how the Dhoni/Yuvraj/Deepika thing is working out. First, Dhoni walks the ramp with her, is impressed, and invites her to watch him play. Then, the lady in question arrives, rejects Dhoni and 'elopes' with Yuvraj. Now, Yuvraj and Deepika are an item, and with them setting off the 'snoops' in all Sydney restaurants, what is the state of the relationship between Dhoni and Yuvraj?)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Ideology-oriented programming

Move over, object-oriented programming. Say goodbye to aspect-oriented programming. Bid farewell to the argument between imperative and functional programmers. Godspeed, Noun oriented programming.

All hail, Ideology-oriented programming. Yes, IOP, the latest kid on the block is taking the world by storm, and if you are unaffected by it, you should be ashamed.

What am I ranting about? I forgot!!! Visit this space for an update.

Of love, leagues, and relationships - 5: Ineffectiveness.

Previously in "Of love, leagues...":
Arthur looked longingly at the perspective gun. Does he dare do it?

Arthur looked around. The cubicles at work were buzzing with activity. No one was looking at him or at Trish, as he called her now. He took aim, the black of her eye settling in the middle of the crosshairs of the perspective gun. An instant later, Trish wobbled, struck by the megamillion Boules of power (brain-joules). Steadying herself, she gave Arthur a look that only she could. Full of hope and fear, Arthur gazed at her quizzically.

"What did you do that for!?", Tricia asked, dusting off Arthur's perspectives. "Why did you fire that thing at me!!!?"

Arthur was taken aback. Naively, he had expected the gun to work; for Tricia to understand how he felt, and reciprocate in some manner. But at the moment of epiphany, he realized he hadn't read the fineprint on the gun:

Not effective on women in love or labour.

The thought brought a wry smile on Arthur's face. Tricia is in love. Fate had just sent him a message. Heeding it, he turned to walk away, when Tricia stopped him. She had a melancholic look in her face. An empathy that only one rejected in love could muster descended on her eyes. Taking Arthur's hand, she said, "I know".

Arthur smiled. It was the end of the road for this fantasy, he thought. Determined to move on, he walked away, when his eyes fell on the e-calendar posted on a far wall.

It was two days to New samvat's, the festival that celebrated 60,000 years of human existence. This was big, and humanity had planned an enormous celebration. Would he be able to enjoy the day?