Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Of love, leagues and relationships 7: Page rank

Previously in love, leagues and relationships…
…New samvat's, the festival that celebrated 60,000 years of human existence. Would he be able to enjoy the day?

Arthur felt a light feeling in his head. His feet weren’t on solid ground. Trying to piece together what had happened, Arthur recollected drinking heavily on Samvat, getting into a car and driving off into a dark highway. He could recollect seeing two big lights, growing ever larger, swaying from side to side, approach him. What happened next was no mystery. As Arthur struggled to get a firm footing on the ground, he realized that he was no more.

Arthur kept feeling lighter, he felt himself being sucked up as though a power vacuum was running up in the clouds. In seconds, he flew through the clouds, through the solar system, outside the Milky way, and landed in a long queue that led to a train station.

A large board in the distance read “Pearly Gates”. A smaller board indicated that the Pearly Orient was due to start in half an hour.

The queue progressed forward at a rapid pace. Soon, Arthur was only a few feet away from what he thought was a ticket counter. To his surprise, he saw most people disappear once they reached the counter, and only a few were let through. Intrigued, as Arthur waited for his turn, he overheard this conversation:

But I have been a man of god all my adult life! And how can you let this terror on the street through while preventing me from entering?”

The TC replied: “God is not only concerned about your means, but also your ends. This auto driver from Bangalore made more people pray to God while he was driving, while all you did was put people to sleep with your sermons! Three years in Hell for you!”

With a poof of smoke, the preacher disappeared.

Arthur was next, and the man at the ticket counter pulled up what looked suspiciously like Arthur’s favourite search engine and typed his name in. In seconds, Arthur’s life flashed on the screen. Images from his life, videos of acts he’d done, reams of text of things he said or thought, profiles of his friends, in short, his entire life appeared on the screen. Finally, at the bottom, there was a single score in large bold letters: a small negative number with the title “LifeRank score”.

The ticket collector’s face darkened.

“You will have to go to Hell.” he said.

Arthur was terrified. “But I’ve done nothing wrong!”, he exclaimed. “I was god-fearing, did the right things always, was pro-environment, kind to animals and was helpful to people! Why should I go to Hell!?”, he asked. Unable to contain his curiosity, “What is that LifeRank score?”, he added.

“Ah, a software engineer, aren’t you?”, replied the TC. “Always curious, but never doing anything useful.” Arthur was peeved by the judgment. Still, one doesn’t argue with a man who decides your time in eternity, so he let the TC continue. “LifeRank is a score computed by weighing in your accomplishments in life, your carbon credits, animal credits and other factors. However, the most important factor in the LifeRank score is the rating given to you by the people you know, and their LifeRank scores. You see, in eternal life, as in real life, where you end up depends mostly on who you know.”

Arthur was amazed. “Why is my score negative? Is that bad? What _are_ the components of my score?”, he enquired.

“Sorry, that is a secret”, replied TC. “The precise weights given to each component is only known to the One. What I can tell you is that you seem to know many people with a negative life rank score who think you are a great person. And that is BAD.”

“What!?”, exclaimed Arthur. He could not believe what he was hearing. “Why should I get a bad score because some bad folks think I’m good?”, he asked in an agitated voice.

“Simple, my man.”, replied TC, with the patience that only eternal life can bring. “Who do you think would Adolf, the patron saint of Hell, rate highly, Mussolini or Gandhi? Who would Gandhi rate highly? Stalin, or Lincoln? If you are rated highly by someone with a negative score, your score becomes negative. ”

Arthur couldn’t believe what he was hearing. His mother always told him to be careful of the company he kept, but little had he realized that her advice could come to haunt him this way!

“But I must know a few good people”, he said, defensively. “Yes, you do”, replied TC. “However, none of them rate you as highly as the negative ones do. Sorry, I must let you go.”

Dejected, Arthur took one last look at the screen, and saw the hint of a familiar multi-coloured logo. Suddenly, with a smile, he said, “Are _you_ using the PageRank algorithm developed by Search., Inc? Wait, this even looks exactly like their home page!”. TC was taken aback. Clearly, he hadn’t met many software engineers, particularly not those with Arthur’s keen eye. Recovering, he said “PageRank? That is just a prototype of the real algorithm. What we use is LifeRank – which the One created. He did give away an early prototype to Lerry Brim and Sogay Page. However, PageRank is ages behind LifeRank – it doesn’t scale, it requires expensive computers, and a whole lot of energy. LifeRank, on the other hand is IJW. It Just Works.”

“So, _you_ guys started the greatest battle of 21st century computing!”, exclaimed Arthur. “But why did you give Page rank to Search., Inc, and not to their rivals, Myahoo?”. Arthur knew he was on to something exciting. “Oh, that is because of their motto – don’t be evil.”, replied TC. “And yes, we know, they haven’t really stuck to their ideals, but hey, they’ve served as a brilliant marketing tool for God. Remember, everyone does marketing all their lives. Even God.”

Arthur could not believe what he was hearing. He managed to ask: “What about their rivals?”.

TC replied, with a huge smile: “Oh, they went to heaven. After all, haven’t you heard of the Vista operating system? By making people wait for long minutes during reboots, the company gave people, particularly, a community as under-devoted as software developers, time to think about the true meaning of life. Would such a deed go unrewarded?”

Arthur had no more questions. He closed his eyes, expecting the worst.

(PS: A number of statements and anecdotes here are not my own. Full credit to the authors - Vibhuti for the "marketing statement", and Anon for the autorickshaw joke.)

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