Thursday, June 24, 2004

Freedom to create

Franz Kafka: Before the Law
Before the Law stands a doorkeeper. To this doorkeeper there comes a man from the country and prays for admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says that he cannot grant admittance at the moment. The man thinks it over and then asks if he will be allowed in later. "It is possible," says the doorkeeper, "but not at the moment." Since the gate stands open, as usual, and the doorkeeper steps to one side, the man stoops to peer through the gateway into the interior. Observing that, the doorkeeper laughs and says: "If you are so drawn to it, 'just try to go in despite my veto. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the least of the doorkeepers. From hall to hall there is one doorkeeper after another, each more powerful than the last. The third doorkeeper is already so terrible that even I cannot bear to look at him." These are difficulties the man from the country has not expected; the Law, he thinks, should surely be accessible at all times and to everyone, but as he now takes a closer look at the doorkeeper in his fur coat, with his big sharp nose and long, thin, black Tartar beard, he decides that it is better to wait until he gets permission to enter. The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down at one side of the door. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be admitted, and wearies the doorkeeper by his importunity. The doorkeeper frequently has little interviews with him, asking him questions about his home and many other things, but the questions are put indifferently, as great lords put them, and always finish with the statement that he cannot be let in yet. The man, who has furnished himself with many things for his journey, sacrifices all he has, however valuable, to bribe the doorkeeper. The doorkeeper accepts everything, but always with the remark: "I am only taking it to keep you from thinking you have omitted anything." During these many years the man fixes his attention almost continuously on the doorkeeper. He forgets the other doorkeepers, and this first one seems to him the sole obstacle preventing access to the Law. He curses his bad luck, in his early years boldly and loudly; later, as he grows old, he only grumbles to himself. He becomes childish, and since in his yearlong contemplation of the doorkeeper he has come to know even the fleas in his fur collar, he begs the flea ' s as well to help him and to change the doorkeep er's mind. At length his eyesight begins to fail, and he does not know whether the world is really darker or whether his eyes are only deceiving him. Yet in his darkness he is now aware of a radiance that streams inextinguishably from the gateway of the Law. Now he has not very long to live. Before he dies, all his experiences in these long years gather themselves in his head to one point, a question he has not yet asked the doorkeeper. He waves him nearer, since he can no longer raise his stiffening body. The doorkeeper has to bend low toward him, for the difference in height between them has altered much to the man's disadvantage. "What do you want to know now?" asks the doorkeeper; "you are insatiable." "Everyone strives to reach the Law," says the man, "so how does it happen that for all these many years no one but myself has ever begged for admittance?" The doorkeeper recognizes that the man has reached his end, and, to let his failing senses catch the words, roars in his ear: "No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it."

--This translation is by Ian Johnston of Malaspina College, Canada.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Against TeamWork

I just had a conversation with someone who I work with on a routine basis about Teamwork.He casually but purposefull quoted me the recent NBA win of Detroit Pistons over LA lakers as a tribute to teamwork.Hmm..I didnt really agree with him.

When I watch the game its for those wonderful shots played by Kobe or SHaq or anyone with a skill to amaze.For that matter watching Sachin Tendulkar blasting away is a sheer treat to a cricket lover.The same went for those Wimbledon finals when Boris Becker was at mercurial on the center court.There is a subtle apples and oranges comparsion here.Cricket,Basketball and Soccer are team sports that should not be on par with games like tennis(except for doubles matches!).

I am not against teamwork per se.Chicago Bulls were a team but for most part they maximised the effectiveness of Jordan,Pippen and Rodman.Its that quality of talent which when roams free is festive.The same applies in the tech field when the Software Engineering guru Fred Brooks did his seminal paper "No SIlver Bullet" where he said Software is a talent based industry with some prgrammers 10-50 times productive than their peers and in no way could we expect to reach a goal by adding more people or encouraging communications that foster teamwork.

Let me take examples of Teamwork in sports.German soccer is meticulous and methodical in attack(Lotha Mattheus and Klinsmann made this differ in 1986-90) but it is usually the South American teams that are a popular favorite given the zest and people like Maradona,Romario and Ronaldo to name a few.Australia was known for its teamwork and is very succesful in reaching its goal but its Michael Bevan hitting those last fours/sixes under pressure that helps the team to win otherwise lost matches.Even when the Detroit Pistons win the NBA it is because the standard for this honor comes from trouncing the giants like Kobe and Shaq.

I heard from Silicon valley and other high tech management consultancies that people sometime forego a brilliant candidate because these creme de la creme are not supposed to be team players.Managing a team of highly brilliant guys whose IQs are on the right side of the bell curve is like herding cats.We all heard motivational cliches like "There is no I in a Team" and the likes.

Somehow the idea of being team-averse and working by individual code seems chaotic and unorganized but thats how some of the best ideas of the world popped into existence.

Could someone make me rethink about teams given my propensity towrds individualism as noted above.Please let me know examples where Teamwork takes precedence over individualism.

Monday, June 21, 2004


Penelope asked me to massage her back to help her relax.We all store our tensions in a particular point of the body and incidentally it happened for her to be happening at the rheumatoids.Its kinda like the typo where we always mispell in the same place frequently.

Cool thing I noticed is that the same day I was reading about "Shiatsu", a Japanese form of massage.It has a resemblance to the Acupuncture system of the Chinese(without the awful needle pricking!) but based on another ancient form of nipponese massage called "Amma".Strange thing these japanese always keep reinventing on the old stuff (kind of like Aikido improvising on Ju-Jit-Su).Well the interesting part is that it worked on her and she was visibly relieved and profusely thanked me for the favor.

Someone told me that Shiatsu means "Bliss" but quite literally means pressure applied with fingers(Shia - Atsu).I am not so much inclined to the phyisical massages.When I come to think of it I would need an occasional mental massage.A sort of the cerebral equivalent for the Shiatsu to help liberate some frozen zombie thoughts in the mind.I think the indian equivalent of "maalish" does some good from the outside but how to recycle the garbage in the inside.Who collects this trash I have to live with?Probably my self..

Friday, June 11, 2004

An infinite question: Why doesn't .999~ = 1?

Someone asked this question on another message board I go to(StraightDope). I'm asking it here because the other message board is mostly about video games and I figured someone here would have a better idea.

1/3 = .333~

2/3 = .666~

3/3 = .999~

But: 3/3 = 1

So why doesn't .999~ = 1? --Lint6, via the Straight Dope Message Board

Cecil replies:

I won't be the first to say this, Lint (boy, there's a screen name that bespeaks an ambivalent self-image), but:

It does.

Before we get into the reasoning, some preliminaries:

Q: What does .333~ mean?

A: The squiggly line represents a repeating decimal, in this case an infinite string of 3s following the decimal point. The more common notation is to put a horizontal bar above a single 3 or to use an ellipsis, like so: .333 . . . The idea is to express fractions such as 1/3 that don't divide out evenly, or "terminate," when expressed as decimals.

Q: Why are we talking about this incredibly esoteric topic when there are so many more interesting things to discuss, like whether Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is wearing anything besides blue body paint in the new X-Men movie?

A: Because it's cool, you wanker. Here, have a banana while the rest of us discuss.

Now then. Lint has already provided proof that .999~ = 1. From grade school math we know that .333~ = 1/3, .666~ = 2/3, and 1/3 + 2/3 = 1. Clearly .333~ + .666~ = .999~. Ergo, .999~ = 1.

The mind (yes, even mine) instinctively rebels at this conclusion. We readily concede that .999~ gets infinitely close to 1--to put it in mathematical terms, 1 is the sum of the converging infinite series .9 + .09 + .009 + . . . But, we protest, .999~ never quite reaches that limit. If at any step we halt the progression to infinity to take a sum, we find that we remain separated from 1 by some infinitesimal amount.

But that's just the point, the mathematicians say. When a decimal repeats ad infinitum, you never stop.

The lower primate in us still resists, saying: .999~ doesn't really represent a number, then, but a process. To find a number we have to halt the process, at which point the .999~ = 1 thing falls apart.

Nonsense. The fraction 1/3 is an ordinary number, and .333~ is the same ordinary number; an infinite series of 3s simply happens to be the only way to express said number given the limitations of decimals. Granted, decimals let us express the quantity 1 without difficulty, but the process of infinite repetition produces the same result; .999~ is merely another way of saying 1. Likewise, pi is an ordinary number; it's just a quirk of the real number system that we have to express it as 3.14159 etc (without ever repeating or stopping). Rational numbers, which by definition can be expressed as fractions, translate to repeating or terminating decimals; irrational numbers (like pi) never repeat or terminate in their decimal form.

If you're still having trouble, consider another example involving a converging infinite series: Zeno's paradox, proposed by the Greek philosopher Zeno in the fifth century BC. Suppose Achilles and a tortoise have a footrace. Achilles is ten times faster than the tortoise, but the tortoise has a ten-meter head start. In the time Achilles runs those ten meters, the tortoise crawls one meter. In the time Achilles runs that one meter, the tortoise plods another .1 meter. In the time Achilles runs that .1 meter, the tortoise lumbers ahead .01 meter. You get the picture. We seem to be reasoning ourselves to the conclusion that Achilles can never pass the tortoise.

But common sense says he does, and common sense is right. The expression 10 + 1 + .1 + .01 . . . is a converging infinite series whose sum is 11.111~ (or, to express it as a mixed number, 11 1/9). Common sense also tells us that Achilles does not merely approach this limit (as Zeno's paradox would have us believe), but reaches and then passes it--i.e., that Achilles overtakes the tortoise at 11 1/9 meters. We thus see (I hope) that there's nothing magical and unattainable about limits, and so no barrier to grasping that .999~ = 1.

Doesn't that enhance your quality of life? Of course it does. Not that body paint doesn't have its place, but there's just no substitute for the pleasures of an infinite series.

Copyright © 2003 Chicago Reader, Inc. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Zen Advaita

Listening to a song in "Yuva" with a rap/hiphop tune called "Fanaa"..some of the lyrics go like (quoting the tam version)
"Lokam Dvaitam..Kaadal Advaitam..Sarvam Soonyam."..substitute "Kaanksha" for "Kadal" for the gult version.Reminded me of Gaudapada (earliest advocate of Advaita) thats come into prominence by championing of Sankara in 12th century AD.Literally means "No Twain".Ironic part was that Sankara is given credit for driving out Buddhism from India.

Now the sanskrit word for meditation is called "Dhyan" which became "Chan" for the Chinese finally ending up as "Zen" for the Japanese who further split into Soto and other schools.To sum up Zen here is a small bit :

A Hindu story tells of a fish who asked of another fish: "I have always heard about the sea, but what is it? Where is it?" The other fish replied: "You live, move and have your being in the sea. The sea is within you and without you, and you are made of sea, and you will end in sea. The sea surrounds you as your own being." The only true answer is the one that you find for youself.

I have never been able to explain the question repeatedly raised by the tortoise in Godel Escher Bach which is " Why did Buddhism leave India?".In fact the religion with the largest number of followers at the turn of the first millenium was buddhism.

I think I better shut my trap and enjoy the rest of the songs in Yuva.Kudos to AR Rehman.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Bobos in Paradise

I read this book "Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There
by David Brooks"

Had an interesting insight on the selfishness these days.He quotes Rob Glasner,Steve Case and Jeff Bezos saying that money hasnt changes a thing in their lives.The zillionaires say that they are in it for self-expression and not the money.

Workers in this spiritualized world of Bobo (bourgeouise bohemian) capitalism are not heroes of toil.They are creators.They noodle around and experiment and dream.It isnt a crass or vulgar selfishness or mindless accumulation but this is a higher selfishness.It is about making sure you get the most out of yourself, which means that you put yourself in a job that is spritually fulfilling,socially constructive,experientally diverse,emotionally enriching,self-esteem boosting,perpetually challenging and eternally edifying.

Its about learning and working for a company as cool as you are.Its about finding an organization that can meet your spritual and creative needs. In short before taking up a job you ask yourself "Will this job make my heart sing?".The PR firm Porter Novelli doesnt recruit employees with appeals to self-interest but instead runs ads in magazines showing a young woman in jeans sitting on a rocky beach.The Copy asks
"What Do You Want".The answer expressed in the woman's voice is this :

"I want to write my own ticket.High Tech is a wide open field.I am helping create public relations for companies that are on the leading edge.What I am learning is making one fabulous career.I want to hit the beach.I grew up on the west coast.The ocean has always been my second home.Whenever I need to think things through this is where I come.I want to keep climbing.Each year my role getts bigger.My managers support my growth with professional development and mentoring programs.Its like being in college.I want to go to Africa.Next Year,I Hope.(Incidentally our health insurance plan is great).I want to be my best.If there is a limit to what I'm capable of acheiving I'm not sure where it is or when I'll reach it.Never,I Hope"

This is Bobo capitalism.College,Learning,Growth,Travel,Climbing and Self-Discovery.

Like Sun

I watched the sun
with its wings of gold
paint the tops
of the drying hills
so that every grass
was left in an orangy hue.

I knew then
what it was
to pull out from within
the will to create,

for once to listen
to the shouting of my self
telling me
to paint my life

no longer hesitating
to take that sudden stroke
and make my world
like sun.