Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Friday, October 22, 2010
In our lab in IISc, I feel, we all used to suffer from the highest degree of cynicism. People were too eager to be looked at as top-notch computer scientists to each other. Lest they appeared as something else, they would refrain from talking anything else with each other apart from computer science, that too cutting edge. The show of intellectual vanity was rather ugly. And to see some really good, likeable people (author included) being consumed by it was disgusting. There could be, and happened, only one consequence. We were hardly interacting but in the shallowest of matters, because we just didn't have so much computer science in us that we could talking about only that. The plight was such people did their work as well-guarded secrets. I didn't have a clue what my neighbours were doing. I am sure, the ignorance graph was complete. The situation explains to a large extent why researchers are so often associal geeks. Being a researcher myself (of whatever calibre), I can vouch for it that no research subject is designed to make a person callous and ignorant about his physical surroundings and fellow-beings. It has to be a result of a deep insecurity which forces one to recede into a shell, to carry their laptops to meetings, and to get their coffee to their desks!
Researchers are humans. More than anyone, they ought to remember it themselves. And they shouldn't shy away from interacting with their peers on terms which don't re-inforce their image as authority in their field of study. There are other more valuable aspects of one's personality. Why not be comfortable with them?
What's this anxiety?
Thursday, August 19, 2010
- Down the recipient tree, the seriousness of the thought about the issue discussed in the mail is diluted to near zero-concentration.
- I think, getting a reply to a casually sent mail suddenly makes you take the contents more seriously. Particularly, it's a prove that someone read the mail seriously.
- Throwing the matter back up into the recipient tree has a larger chance of meeting more sincere audience than down below.
Please read on for an example of a reply I wrote to a problem we all feel about.
For a change I pressed the reply button.
I agree with the idea of this mail, i.e. stopping the squandering of public money would help. But, I do wish to add a bit to this view. Even if the figures are authentic, saying that all this money would make the life livable for crores of poor people may be over-optimistic. Poverty and deprivation aren't mere lack of material resources. They are more deep rooted. Merely by diverting money from the plentiful to the deprived is not a solution to this problem. It won't take any time to turn those crores into worse demons than our few thousand politicians are if only they had money and power.
I feel, there's no evil in providing good facilities to public servants, provided they do their job. If they misuse the resources, it's a pity and they should be prevented from doing so. Not so much to save those resources (or money) but because that money symbolises the trust and respect that public places on these people. These people must exhibit very high work ethics so this trust is justified. But the problem of low work ethic is not limited to only politicians. It's a larger problem which pervades the society. Merely by replacing a person in a position of power and influence is not a solution; nor will diverting resources to other sectors of the population answer this huge issue.
Very unfortunately, problems of ethical poverty are deep rooted, probably a consequence of centuries of oppression. They have taken time to set in. They will most probably take time to go away. Probably, we may have to wait until the complete generation infected with this virus fades away giving place to a newer, more ethical, generation. I am rather doubtful about how much success, attempts to accelerate the pace of this social reformation will meet.
To end this, I want to thank you for the mail. I don't find forwarding it to an endless number of thoughtless, emotional junta (almost all of whom will probably rid themselves of their responsibility by forwarding it to some more people) of much use. Instead, replying to the more thoughtful audience in this group, along with my 2 paisa thoughts will probably matter more.
Thanks and regards,
On 19 August 2010 12:17, ... wrote:
Monday, June 28, 2010
- Hockey must improve.
- Not being in football map is disgraceful.
- Sania Mirza must get back to her form and put India back into tennis map.
This is the first time I thought so seriously about sports. But this morning while going through the newspaper, I honestly felt proud on seeing Saina's achievement. Really great!
Monday, June 14, 2010
This may be source of pessimism for some of us. Particularly those, whose brain hosts a strong devil and a feeble angel. If all our actions, and hence our life, are slave to the dictates of these two people, isn't there any hope for us to grow beyond our born destinies?
But there are a few things to note. One is that our conscious brain is the gatekeeper guarding the exit of all things coming from the world of thought to that of actions. And secondly, most importantly, even though its own raw powers are dwarfed before the subconscious's, conscious brain has the capability of learning from years and centuries of conscious thought that has been done and recorded by the entire human race. Subconscious lacks the power to learn (except through the slow process of evolution). Conscious can choose to act on results which it mayn't be equipped alone to arrive at. This incremental process of knowledge acquisition has made conscious mind, potentially a much stronger part of the brain.
Of course, exercising of this power depends on education, learning, reading and listening.
All this sounds so sickenly similar to discourses on karma, praarabh and free-will! That's the downside of learning. Over so many centuries, so many people have thought up so much that it's awfully difficult to sound original every time.
One simple answer is: to make ourselves happy, prosperous, richer etc. That's OK.
But the 'why' becomes significant when we are talking about making choices between various things.
Often, there's a question raised about the practicality of the topic of research. For example, should a person do research on philosophy, or on digital electronics. Simplistic answers are:
- Whatever you feel like.
- Whichever is funded well.
These formulae may work in very clear cases. But, sometimes, things aren't clear enough. For example, whether you have enough funds for a research project depends a lot on whether you are interested enough in it or not. As long as the settlement of this balance between interest and funding is with one person, it may reach a steady state after some soul-searching. But what happens when the researcher is not the one who funds the research? His interest will hardly work as a great motivation for the military general who may be the one to sign the funding cheque.
Framing the whole problem of deciding research can be framed conveniently as a business problem where everyone has different (sometimes conflicting) motives. But the motive of profit-making unites all motives. Economic forces reign supreme. A capitalistic model.
But ignoring the fact that this model is insufficient to define motives of research could have disastrous effects on everyone. If economic forces are allowed to decide all research policies, it will drive the frontlines of knowledge in such directions as will mutate the whole body of human knowledge into an ugly monster.
The point is: what really is the meaning of the word 'useful'? What are those basic acts A, B, C... etc which are useful. If we are able to define that set, we could just argue on that basis to define the usefulness of other activities on the basis of laws like the following ones:
Law of composite activities: Say, some other composite act X is a combination of acts A and B. If A and B are known to be useful, we may conclude that X is useful.
Law of enabling activities: Say, an activity X results in increase in the ability of people to do activities A and B, then we may conclude that X is useful.
There might be many such laws if we give it a thought. That's the easy part to come up with such laws. The difficult part is to define a fundamental tenet of usefulness. The law that lets us conclude that atomic activities like A and B are useful. Their usefulness isn't derived from the usefulness of some other activities.
Let me dwell a bit on why our current knowledge falls short of achieving the above. Say, arbitrarily assign some positive value to some activities. If more of such acts are done, there is an overall rise in the 'value'. Thus, these acts are useful in that sense.
Say, one such act is 'eating'. A person who eats feels happy. So, there's a sense in assigning some positive value to eating. The more people eat, the more value there is. Nice and simple!
But there's trouble brewing there. If I eat too much, I get indigestion. My arteries may clog and I may die of heart attack. So, eating too much now may result in my dying early reducing the total number of times I enjoy eating. Also, suppose I am a criminal psychopath. I like killing people. The more I eat, the longer I live. The longer I live, the more number of people I murder. Hence, my eating results in many other people not living enough to enjoy eating. Hence, whether my eating indeed is valuable overall depends on what other activities it enables or disables, and the value contained in them.
Both the difficulties above are operational. They talk about the difficulties in computing the actual value of an activity. The difficulty arises from our inability in determining what other activities it may enable/disable. This difficulty, though significant, is not fundamental. It doesn't still present the fundamental difficulty of defining usefulness, or 'value', to be more precise.
The sense of that fundamental difficulty can be got from the apparent vacuousness of the idea of assigning value to such mundane things like eating, sleeping, having sex, etc. To me, doing this makes the whole idea of life appear vulgar! So, it's all about maximising eating and making merry?! There's nothing more than that?! Even computer programs, which can be broken down into a sequence of bits, or an electronic circuit, which can be looked at as a combination of numerous gates, seem to have a more respectable existence. At least when brought together, they serve purposes which can't be served by individual bits or logic gates. On the other hand, it appears blasphemous to compute the value of the most elevated life on the basis of the number of meals, sleeps and copulations it eventually results in.
There lies the problem of value. That hunch: That the value of elevated acts must lie in something less vulgar than can be reduced to a large series of mindless animal acts. I haven't read much of ethics, but I surmise that this is, in some way, the essential problem of that subject.
...and that's also my underlying thought when I ask: 'Why do we do research?'
Note: I foresee a link to this post appearing in many many of my future posts.
Monday, June 07, 2010
About a decade afterwards, starting to live with a wife who was pedantically disciplined in keeping the household in shape was a shock. It was a toilsome process to learn that each thing had to have a designated place for itself, and that every time after being used it was supposed to be put back to that place. It automatically created an entry barrier to introducing housing articles. The process of procuring a domestic article was invariably accompanied by the process of figuring out where it would sit. The need to avoid cluttering the house with unnecessary articles was paramountly important. The household must be lean and mean. It was more in the fear of meeting with angry stares and words from the better half than from any real appreciation of the method that I learned it.
I haven't changed much fundamentally. I am still a bit untidy and need some monitoring to keep things in place; I am very much absent-minded and need uncountable reminders to keep doing my stuff. But, where I have really changed is in my appreciation of that household discipline that I had to initially imbibe with so much unwillingness. Now, I can see how similar it is to maintain the household in order to the problem of writing a large and complex computer program that is usable and enhancable by others. Same principles apply.
Intuitive variable/function/class naming; using of namespaces/packages and folders to arrange the source code, these are all programming parallels to the discipline of having a place for everything and everything in its place. Encapsulation and modularisation are similar to the division of responsibilities. Maintaining punctuality at home is not so much about mindless discipline. It's objective is the same as that of the discipline of concurrent programming -- to optimise use of processors, to about race-conditions and deadlocks, to keep multiple threads/processes from interfering with each other in destructive manner. All this eventually boils down to good timing. Each process doing its job isn't enough; it must do it when it's supposed to, so that other processes who arrive expecting a readymade output from the process don't have to wait.
Now I am surprised how, in my younger days, I couldn't see that what good principles and practices apply to my intellectual life are applicable to my day to day life too. In fact, I would go to the extent of saying that loyalty to good methods in professional life, if not present to the personal life, loses much of its meaning.
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
But this article is indeed with the motive of expressing my disgust with the reality shows being aired these days. That's a tacky topic to write on. But I will be more specific in things which I disapprove of.
First, a mention of things which I approve of. I think the competition has risen to unprecedented heights. Competitors are awesome. They are superbly talented. And more than that, they generally show tremendous grits in handling stress.
But beyond that, everything is a minus. Firstly, the way things are judged there is really aweful. SMSs sent by by and large a section of population with nothing better to do are far from representative of the public opinion. More serious listeners (assuming it's a music-based show like Indian Idol) will send a few SMSs under the influence of disgust that's caused by the feeling that undeserving candidates may win because of good looks and other gimmicks. But they can't continue to do so. The scepticism of the knowledgeable and judicious portion of the population about these SMSs mattering is pretty much of the same nature as in democracy -- when people think that there are far too many morons voting for a junk candidate for our votes to count
This pressure of impressing a very thoughtless majority audience brings out startling acrobatics on screen. In the opening episode, a girl is hailed as a simple village based contestant who has struggled her way to the competition against general opposition of her traditional village patriarchs. Some million votes (and SMSs). A couple of episodes down the line, she is found draped in all sorts of dresses which don't fit in well with her village background which was such a strong sympathy earning factor for her in the first episode. But, it doesn't matter if those who voted for the upliftment of an underprivileged talent in the first episode turn up their noses now. A few episodes' survival in the show has already earned the lady a semi-celebrity status. Now there's another -- bigger -- section of the audience for which the co-effecient of reflection of her bare shoulders and calves wins far more support than her underdog beginnings. Millions of votes again. As many SMSs.
Similarly, singers are made to dance, act and make faces. Dancers are made to fight with each other in well-rehearsed manners. Judges applaud and insult competitors in such melodramatic ways! Often they engage in verbal broils with each other which look supremely unbecoming and unnatural. It sends shivers thinking what kind of incentives make these great people behave in such artificial ways in the sets.
On the one hand, these days, judges' participation in the actual fate of the competitors has been drastically reduced by SMS competitions. On the other, during the performance, and in the few critical minutes that follow the performance, the judges bias the audience's judgement critically by making faces and hailing applauds and insults of their choosing. I am sure that most of the people who send their SMSs are impressionable enough to be seriously affected by minor twitches in the face of the judges. The whole thing appear like a setup where people are made to pronounce the judge's opinion. Additionally, it appears that the bias that the judges sometimes show during the performances aren't merely their personal opinion; they could even be pre-fabricated verdicts of the entire strategy of the organisers geared completely towards maximising TRPs.
Overall, the gaudiness of today's reality shows far outweighs the increased levels of talents. I'm not ready to believe that exposition of talents is critically dependent on fake spices of melodrama being played in the name of 'reality.' They stink of a systematic manipulativeness that arbitrarily alters the mass behaviour, and creates business models around them, thus closing the gates of redeaming oneself once the negative aspects start surfacing. In this world of mass-production, there has been little knowledge created on ramping down industries. They have just learned to grow bigger and bigger. And by the time the justifiabilty of their existence becomes questionable, it's too late to wind it up gracefully. The only way is to stretch them, at the cost of manipulating the consumption patterns of the population in unnatural ways. Companies keep getting bigger first devouring other companies, then governments, and then entire nations; soaps keep running for ever and ever, news programmes keep reeling the same sensationilsed coverage of a news item for hours, days, weeks.
Heck! What am I writing?!
I have equally disgusted thoughts about news channels, soap operas and the way the experience of TV viewing has become off late. But, I will speak of it some other time, if I do.
Monday, May 31, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
Visions of ugliness and meaninglessness around is overwhelming me at this moment. I often momentarily archor on such thoughts . I writhe for a few weeks in the pain of 'kuchh karna padega' (to borrow the phrase from the classic Hindi satire 'Raag Darbari' by Shrilal Shukla) feeling. Then the currents of everyday life take me away on my way. Sometimes, it feels as if the meaningless chores of everyday life are the only shelter from the burning flames that pierce our eyes the moment we try to look up, look around.
Am I doing anything good by even cribbing? Sitting in an air-conditioned office, being paid a salary which an impoverished fellow no worse than me except in the initial conditions of life would never dream of earning...As one of my dear friends rightly pointed out in response to my earlier posts, even talking about it brings up the question: 'Will you give it all up to save the world? So why talk about it?'
Really! Am I doing any good even talking about it, thinking about it? Wouldn't I better be busying myself feverishly in the chores of life without bothering about the bigger context. So, is that what Krishna meant by 'Karmanyavaadhikaaraste...'?
Did he say it because anything beautiful we make has an ugliness in the context that nurtures it? Because every thought of love has hatred hidden in it? Every building or highway we build destroys the ecology around? Every convenience we earn causes inconvenience to someone else we don't know? Every slurping sound we make over a delicious food is distilled out of the cries of helpless creatures dying? Because every instance of affluence causes many instances of poverty?
Or isn't there anything real called beauty without cruelty?
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
This naturally led us to the undying arguments about the fundamental effect of improved healthcare on human race. In short, healthcare's main function is to support the life of the diseased. In general, it also means that it supports those lives who would otherwise have been lost because their bodies are too weak to survive. That means, healthcare is defying the basic law of natural selection which results in the survival of the fittest. Healthcare will result in the survival of the unfit too. We being in the healthcare industry can say how much rejoicing there is in the industry because the world population is growing older and there's a huge growing market for healthcare products and services. How, then, do we expect the human race to become stronger in the long run?
I think the argument is strong. But I have the following doubts:
Is it possible to defy the law of natural selection in the long run? If these bad guys whom healthcare is making live longer are finally going to meet their grievous end a few hundred generations down the line, the point of natural selection is reaffirmed, albiet a bit late. What big deal is that in the billion year long Earth calender? Natural selection seems to prove its point whether it sets in or not. What I mean is if these bad guys do manage to survive till doomsday, then they are the fit ones. It's just the 'fitness' gets redefined. Whoever said that fitness is just physical fitness?
The above point apart, is there any harm done by letting these unfit individuals exist by the side of the fit ones? OK, there will be cross breeding resulting in poorer gene pool. But there will still be some to carry the pure genes. How does that reduce the chances of the survival of the entire species is hard to comprehend.
Anyway, just to give a corny philosophical close to the discussion, it's said that death is nature's way to give way to new things. Had there been no death, there would have been no need to evolve, no need to innovate, no need to improve. No species would have seen the best of itself had there been no death. Death is after all not such a bad thing. If the average human life is about 75 years, we anyway lose 1/75 of the world population every year. That must be a huge number! Then why does death shock us so much? Why do we care so much to avoid it? These are innocent comtemplative questions, not condescending ones. Which means, death does shock me. And I care to avoid it at all cost for myself and my dear ones. But I don't know why!
Friday, May 21, 2010
From my personal viewpoint, Buzz, Twitter, and the whole bunch of social networking sites are methods of quenching my insatiable thirst for distraction. They all keep me from facing the painful reality that a working day is after all about a few hours (at least) of focussed effort. Mails are quick and practical ways of communication. The problem is that it's not insane. In emails, one has to explicate the list of recipients of that message. In other words, one has to own the responsibility of where his words go. In consequence, evesdropping is illegal. This drastically reduces the traffic bringing it down to sane limits. Even with 3 to 4 mailboxes open, I don't get enough material enough to remain forever distracted. After reading a message, I have to again go back to work.
Buzz and twitter legalise eavedropping. Everyone is listening to everyone else. Now, things are insane. There's a chaos, noise all around. With Blogger, twitter, ... all integrated to create buzzes, there's no need to get back to work anymore. Buzz is continually buzzing while you are unwillingly pretending to try to get back to work. Since it buzzes you, you are saved from the guilty feeling that's associated with browsing the wikipedia, which involves a initiation from yourself, either voluntary or compulsive. This is the jackpot that tweets and buzzes have hit against emails and scraps.
Buzz is good. But it's got the potential of doing to me what Orkut had done 6 years back -- throwing me completely off track. So, begins the long process of disciplining myself and learning defense mechanisms against the messages buzzing off on my machine.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
I had written this post for the company internal blog. But found it relevant to be reproduced here.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Where one draws the line of cruelty is subjective. One may go to the one extent of saying that nothing -- absolutely nothing -- should get hurt by what one does. Or he may choose the other extreme, saying, nothing that I don't 'know' as cruel death, is to be considered cruel. Both the stances have pitfalls. The first one has the oft quoted pitfall of considering plant-death as cruel, and hence, farming is cruel. On the other hand, the second one has the pitfall trying to explain why killing humans for food should be considered cruel. In fact, one doesn't need to go so far, since, the scene of Indian non-vegetarianism is rife with contradictions. Some people consider it OK to have fish, some draw the line after chicken, some after mutton. Beef, pork etc. are out for some people who, otherwise, neither swear by religion, nor give a second thought before relishing a mutton recipe.
There are unpleasant discussions between people arguing about whether indeed killing plants isn't as cruel as killing animals. After all how do we know that they don't feel pain and fear? What is the nature of this knowledge of ours? After dwelling shortly on themes of touch-me-nots and chemicals which flow in plants in response to physical stimuli, the problem eventually drifts into the dubious realms of epistemology!
And there are contradictions in human nature too. From my own experience, the most soft hearted creature I have ever met was this Muslim girl in my earlier office whose diet included everything that moves by itself. And the most aggressive of creatures I know are those who observe vegetarianism with Brahminical austerity. For one, I am not sure that my giving up meat-eating at an early age against the remonstrance from my family was a sign of my docility. Going through the unpleasantness of explaining myself everywhere, getting into ugly arguments every now and then with those who took my ethical vegetarianism as a personal attack on their non-vegetarian habits -- all these needed a determination bordering at arrogance. It was nothing short of a war against my circumstances. So much for the saying that vegetarian diet breeds peacefulness. I have met vegetarians with extreme conceit, laziness, greed, ...and every vice vegetarianism is supposed to protect you against. I am really not convinced that there exists any positive correlation between human nature and vegetarianism.
Then, is it a subject about which there's no constructive thought possible? May be people will/should continue with whatever food habits they inherit from their parents. I feel that's a very natural and just criterion for choosing one's food habit. We indeed have our eating ways too well-drilled in our basic nature. By basing our choice of our pallete on such general principles as 'cruelty and kindness' would be a mistake on this present day. The basic nature of 'cruelty' isn't known too well today. If tomorrow's philosophers do figure it out for us, only to find out that any kind of food is indeed based on a cruel act, will we have the guts to stop living?
Or is 'cruelty' such a big unknown? I feel, all philosophical problems are nearly unsolvably difficult when we try to solve them in general. But are exceedingly simple when we try to answer for ourselves. For it's very easy to know if what we are eating is due to our sense of righteousness, or is it because we are afraid to face an obvious question lest it makes appeal on us to give up our gluttony. I think, we should all face the question at our very personal level but we shouldn't argue with anyone. For all we know, asking someone to give up something he loves without sufficient convincing could be as cruel as killing. But examining our beliefs, our faiths, our personal sense of right and wrong, is not cruel.
The only prescriptive statement I would make here is that we should, in solitude, give these questions some thought. We needn't talk about it to anyone. But think, we must. Even if we are able to accept to ourselves that some item we consume is fundamentally a product of cruelty to someone, even if we mayn't be in a position to give up consuming it, or even to openly proclaim our finding, it'll be an act of momentous courage.
Monday, March 15, 2010
रोजाना जो खाना खाते हो वो पसंद नहीं आता ? उकता गये ?
............ ... ........... .....थोड़ा पिज्जा कैसा रहेगा ?
नहीं ??? ओके ......... पास्ता ?
नहीं ?? .. इसके बारे में क्या सोचते हैं ?
आज ये खाने का भी मन नहीं ? ... ओके .. क्या इस मेक्सिकन खाने को आजमायें ?
दुबारा नहीं ? कोई समस्या नहीं .... हमारे पास कुछ और भी विकल्प हैं........
ह्म्म्मम्म्म्म ... चाइनीज ????? ??
बर्गर्सस्स्स्सस्स्स्स ? ???????
ओके .. हमें भारतीय खाना देखना चाहिए ....... J ? दक्षिण भारतीय व्यंजन ना ??? उत्तर भारतीय ?
जंक फ़ूड का मन है ?
हमारे पास अनगिनत विकल्प हैं ..... .. टिफिन ?
ज्यादा मात्रा ?
या केवल पके हुए मुर्गे के कुछ टुकड़े ?
आप इनमें से कुछ भी ले सकते हैं ... या इन सब में से थोड़ा- थोड़ा ले सकते हैं ...
अब शेष बची मेल के लिए परेशान मत होओ....
मगर .. इन लोगों के पास कोई विकल्प नहीं है ...
इन्हें तो बस थोड़ा सा खाना चाहिए ताकि ये जिन्दा रह सकें ..........
इनके बारे में अगली बार तब सोचना जब आप किसी केफेटेरिया या होटल में यह कह कर खाना फैंक रहे होंगे कि यह स्वाद नहीं है !!
इनके बारे में अगली बार सोचना जब आप यह कह रहे हों ... यहाँ की रोटी इतनी सख्त है कि खायी ही नहीं जाती.........
कृपया खाने के अपव्यय को रोकिये
अगर आगे से कभी आपके घर में पार्टी / समारोह हो और खाना बच जाये या बेकार जा रहा हो तो बिना झिझके आप 1098 (केवल भारत में )पर फ़ोन करें - यह एक मजाक नहीं है - यह चाइल्ड हेल्पलाइन है । वे आयेंगे और भोजन एकत्रित करके ले जायेंगे।
कृप्या इस सन्देश को ज्यादा से ज्यादा प्रसारित करें इससे उन बच्चों का पेट भर सकता है
कृप्या इस श्रृंखला को तोड़े नहीं .....
हम चुटकुले और स्पाम मेल अपने दोस्तों और अपने नेटवर्क में करते हैं ,क्यों नहीं इस बार इस अच्छे सन्देश को