Thursday, April 28, 2005


A few years back if you find someone in the office reading newspaper during work hours, well, you know what to think and there have been cases where people got fired for that. Currently, I know of folks who cannot spend a day at work without reading news at Samachar, Times, and other sites. In fact the only websites other than email,search engines that sustain majority of IT workers' interest are News sites. At social gatherings of Indian expatriates, the majority of conversations relate to the content dished out of these news sites or papers. I am the wrong guy to talk to about these because I have completely given up hope on getting myself informed through this medium. I see this sense of listening to stories, both real and fictional, as a constant preoccupation of the humankind.

The only news show I watch is The John Stewart Show which is actually a mock news show. There is no point watching the mainstream shows being aired on CNN, NBC, etc.Of course then "blogs" happened which were a form of 'journalism' ( Please mind the small case 'j'). The commong thing about John Stewart and Blogs was that they didnt care about spin,manipulation or doctoring the facts. Both disseminated honest opinions with a clear conviction on a given issue. As an acquaintance of mine once said, it seems like I am rooted in the past by reading only the summaries of events whereas he likes to live in the present keeping tabs on realtime news.(The claim is controvertible but there is no point).

News.Journalism. How would I explain a kid today as to the purpose they are supposed to serve( I attempted an explanation in vain). I used to get the popular explanation that News stood for "North,East,West and South" implying awareness of the world around us. Now how many of us do exactly care about that? If you are in the US, you know that most of the news people like to read is local news with a lip service to global issues.In fact 'world" only meant the news from coast to coast with occasional tidbits from Hawaii and Alaska. The majority gets terribly interested once US goes to war against a particular country.Of course, as always there are people who keep abreast of this stuff because they are particualrly interested in it or because they work for a think-tank kind of organization and hence neccesity.

Not that India does better in that. I usually buy `India Today` these days to get some laughs. The news on current affairs being circulated in India assume too much about the status of India.
Its assumes that India is a global power, a peace loving and some peculiar things which make sense only when talking to a person in India. The only I remember watching this weekly news show called "The World This Week" by Prannoy Roy and he somehow managed to pool some of the best journalistic talent around the country.

If you will indulge me, I would like to take a trip down my memory lane about some journals I have grown up with. The first ever paper I remember reading is "The Hindu" from 1984-87. Usually started from the last page on sports (most interesting) to the middle pages(least interesting) and the front page(indifferent, but read mostly out of curiosity). The editor N.Ram definitely deserves some credit for the integrity maintained . The sunday edition had a kids special titled "Young World".I relished every page of it.Withour much further ado, I finally gave up reading the paper for 2 specific reasons: The paper's cloaked support of LTTE actions ( atleast in the articles I read ) and the silly rationale for Viswanathan Anad losing games.(Instead of admitting Kasparov was so good that he actually surprised Anad with Dragon opening, the paper detailed Anand's itinenary, his lack of sleep and stuff).

I did try reading news after that but never got hooked on them. After that I grew up with a magazine called "Junior Quest" edited by Aditi De published by the same company that published Chandamama. (which deserves a completely separate post for itself). JQ (as it was called) provided some imaginative contests (e.g. contest to draw a creature that does not exist in the world), trivia quizzes, penpals, and other teen related stuff. Of course there was this magazine flaoting around called "Wisdom" published out of madras by some retired high court judges which took a more serious stance on issues.(but used to have really nice quotes on the bottom of each page)

On the same plane was "Amar Chitra Katha" series that sought to depict the Indian classics by the medium of comics. This made serious material like Jataka Tales accessible to a 13 year old like me.These comics had the same mission as Chandamama in trying to do a transfer of cultural artifacts.From the same publishing house came the fortnightly called Tinkle which was also the brainchild of Uncle Pai. (Ego Booster: I had enjoyed being paid Rs.20 per story for 2 of my published stories (or jokes if you prefer) albeit takes something like 6 months from the time you sent it till it gets published ).

Then as I neared my matriculation, I had brushed through mags like "Competition Success Review" (CSR now sounds weird but it was accepted as a good mag to prepare for Civils) and "FrontLine".Then, I was more interested in spending that time reading tomes like "Atlas Shrugged" instead of current events.

Then I moved back to Hyderabad, only to find that "Deccan Chronicle" which was not exactly a newspaper but more of a pamphlet.I started reading the newspapers at libraries which gave me a more balanced view of the same thing. Thats when I came across "The Telegraph" published out of Calcutta. It had a typical bengali inclination of intellectual high takes on social issue but what got me was their Science supplement every Tuesday. I guess I still have them lying around in my attic stuff.

"Indian Express" was atleast consistent though it was nowhere near a journal of sorts that one would get hooked to. "The Times Of India" with its glorious heritage degraded into what this recently made movie called "Page 3" potrayed. Every newspaper has a godfather and a paid propagandist view. Its only to choose for us who is the least biased.

This turned out to be "The Economic Times" that was modeled on "The Financial Times" of London.It carried the same Salmon Pink color that was reserved for financial dailies. The reason this was less biased had to do with other reasons.Swaminathan Aiyar did a good job. (In the interest of full disclosure, my first job was door to door selling this newspaper when it was first launched in Hyderabad).

Finally I ended up liking "The Economist" for its healthy overall outlook of global affairs.Till this day that will be the only journal I care to buy at Airports for inflight infotainment.The problem with The Economist is that it is very good at setting the context for each article which might get bored when reading a subject on which you have strong background. I guess thats why so many niche magazines dedicated to each subject cropped up.

Anyways I forgot the point I started out to make and wouldnt bother.After all its a Friday Night!

Sunday, April 24, 2005


After a hiatus of about a month, I am finally reunited with my car, my beloved Golf.It feels like home territory again. (Digression: I can relate now to Alexander's pitiful last 3 years of his life without his beloved Bucephalus). I look forward to using the Sunroof/Moonroof more often in these parts of the country and as usual overtake fellas when there's a curve ahead..

Life happens between the empty and full tanks of this Car.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Another Mouthful of Sky

Someone once told me that a sureshot way of knowing that your kids have grown up is ' when they stop asking you where they come from and stop telling you where they go to'. Now it is the former that usually places parents in a tight spot and give us some wonderfully creative answers.

Zooming back into history, the same question was asked by a seer to a monk. Now this gets philosophical because its no kid asking his parent but a peer asking an established guru of his times as to how in the world are humans conceived out of the some basic five elements.(The funda being of "dust to dust and ashes to ashes" viewed in converse.). The guru answers back as follows

Heaven is fire
Sun, its fuel
Rays, its smoke
Day, its flame
Moon,its embers
Stars, its sparks
Into this fire God offers the oblation of faith
Out of this the, divine king Soma (the full moon) arises

Rain-god is indeed fire
Cloud, its smoke
Lightning, its flame
Thunderbolt, its embers
Thunder, its sparks
Into this fire the God offers the oblation of Soma
Out of this oblation, Rain Arises

Earth its fire
Year, its fuel
Sky, its smoke
Night, its flame
Four Directions, its embers
Inter-Directions its sparks
Into this fire the God offers the oblation of Rain
Out of this oblation arises Food

Man, indeed is the fire
Speech, his fuel
Breath, his smoke
Tongue, his flame
Eyes, his embers
Ears, his sparks
Into this fire the God offers the oblation of Food
Out of this oblation the Seed is created

Woman is the fire
Male Organ is the fuel
Incitation is the smoke
Groin is the flame
Copulation is the Ember
Orgasm is the Spark
Into this fire the God offers the oblation of Seed
Out of this oblation arises fetus

These five oblations of elements give rise to a human being.

For the curious the guru was Sankara of Kaladi and this was a recitation from one of the last 8 chapters of "Chaandogya Brahmana".The word "Another" because I have used the original title.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Theory and Practice

"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is."

I was working up a nice theory to analytically deduce the load on a particular machine. It works. I have just proved it in practice except that my customers might not see an exactly same result.Nevertheless there is an unspeakable joy in applying what you know in theory to a practical problem and see for yourself, that indeed it works.Of course then reality kicks in and some facts skews the beauty of the original design you had in mind. Its for you alone and a few chosen folks around you to perceive that platonic beauty in the idea which never manifests itself faithfully.

Well, The theory in this case is supplied by Math. For a technical problem, people were expecting a solution in the domain, not some abstract answer. Thats where I saw that some folks miss the point of Math. Mostly in the domain of my problem, Math never cares about contents.(Which is where CS comes in with its ammunition). Its all about form. As long as the relationships between these forms are maintained you can stuff any content into these and still be consistent. So when some one asks you what is x in the equation x+y = z, the answer is "Who cares?". It might be 2 (as in 2+3 = 5) or it might be "Jack"( Jack + Jill = Jack and Jill).

Once you get this abstraction, the 'power' at your disposal is tremendous. With a single swoop, you can slay the problem at hand.Thats a sweet thought to sleep on..

Saturday, April 16, 2005


What if a lie serves a higher purpose than truth?

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Tropic Of Cancer

She : Have you come over for the weekend?
Me: Yeah! Arent you excited or something.(Gleeful Grin accompanying those words)
She: Dont you have your own home or something?
Me: Yes. I do.
S: I hate you.I would like you staying at your own place. Please go away.
M: Are you asking me to get out?
S: Yeah !
M: May I ask you what is the reason for you hating me so badly.
S: Because you are weird!
M: In what way?
S: You talk differently, the things that you do...
M: What are the things that seem to make me look weird to you.
S: Because you Smoke.
M: Ahh ! I see. I will leave by tommorow morning then.
S: Why dont you leave now.

The above transcript is an excerpt from the chat I had with aunt's 10 year old daughter.So I am here back in my home writing this post.To say the least, I was disturbed. (I know some people think this is a good thing to happen to me but thats another issue)

The other weirdness she was referring to is to dismantle her sense of security in numbers as taught by her teacher. I asked her 1+1 and she said 2. Asked her similar tautologies like 1 chair + 1 chair and 1 fruit + 1 fruit.Finally asked her 1 cloud + 1 cloud and she was in a fix.Apparently "Cloud Arithmetic" is something that her teacher hasn't taught her.Something makes me feel like a trilobite.

I am frankly taken back at these kids who never shy away from speaking their mind I also read somewhere that its a bad idea to force people to change their own judgement about something. What bothered me was the way she fervently inherited a take based on someone else's prejudices.

I see this everyday.Being a smoker is like being a pariah in The US. Europe seems to have more relaxed stand on this issue.(I could say that because everytime on my home I found that I can smoke pretty much anywhere I like in airports like Frankfurt, Zurich and Paris).

Lets say, by chance, if a bunch of Smokers do come around you'll see an instant bonding of fraternity. But if you try reading the mindset of the onlookers it goes something like
"Gee...See this species of nicotine burners in their natural habitat". I got used to it but it was disheartening to be given a hard time because of this preference.

Update: Muahhahahahaha.. I have finally managed to give up the demon :)

Monday, April 11, 2005


Consider a coin toss exerscise where the usual output is either heads or tails but then if it lands on the middle and continues to roll along the floor without settling down, would you be able to call it either heads or tails? Neither. All the same,you cannot call 'indecisive' because the coin hasnt stopped rolling. Like Poverty in India, this cannot be eliminated but could only be minimised.

Think of Diamonds. The crystalline Carbon with its total internal reflection is an amazing sight to behold but who would think of its slow phase transformation into graphite. In reality, Diamond is said to be metastable(ability of a unstable state to persist for a long period of time) at room temperature because heating a diamond would catalyse its transformation into graphite.Women love this unstable state of carbon.

If you are en electronics engineer you would readily associate words like "pain" or "bug", "avoid" to the word "metastability" and probably know more about this issue than me.
As I understand the binary equivalent of 0 or 1 could only be set by voltage level at a constant.Imagine the voltage level to be oscillating between 0 and 1 volts, you have a chip thats rendered unusable because a clock is very fundamental to synchronizing tasks. Now this is at a miscroscopic level, I have learnt about this in a painful way today at a macroscopic level. We found a bug in our application's state machine that exactly did this.Basically it lapsed into a unknown state while the application was synchronizing with the database. Its kind of hard to solve but with another layer of indirection we mitigated the risk of running into it again.

I think your mind occasionally cannot make up a decision and enters a state equivalent to this. Nevertheless, We make some decision and move on.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Stream Of Consciousness

Another year here on the doorstep.Okay how many different names did this culture have for naming the years.Only 60. After that what? Comes a full cycle. Why not stop at 20 like the Mayans.Or better yet stay at 8 or some single digit number.makes it easier to remember. Or did we inherit that from the Bablyonians.Remember they were the earliest recorded fellows to follow sexagesimal system. Does that imply there might have been better systems that have not been recorded or worse fell through the cracks in reaching us and lost forever.No.That cant be.Something makes me believe anything scientific, anything out there will always be discovered by each civilisation in their own way but it is 'Art' thats unique in that, if lost once, its lost forever.The science part recurs.Art occurs only once and hence the need to be recorded immediately.Can subjective experience be classified under 'Art' then.Or does it need to be expressed to become Art.

Oh ! I digress.Come to the point.The "Culture".Not the bacteria/pencillin kinds but the other thing.Whats the root of it? In this example, the earliest mention about the origin could be traced to "Aitareya Brahmana". Viswamitra's 100 sons (man, what a fertile fellow for guy who did penance for 1000 years) who were jealous of his adoption created an entire race. Bad Decisions ever since. Lets take Mahabharata. This culture fought on the wrong side, namely the Kauravas. Naipaul called these fellas as an example in "retrogressing civilisation" when he visited the country in late 1950s.

Enough said. Shut your trap and listen to something.It is said that Music soothes more than the savage beast.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Long Ago God

I remember when you were god
when you were Samson and Solomon
that whenever I looked at your face
you were a pyramid,
abutting the sky and luminescent like Polaris
with showers of light coloring your shadow
It was then
that the mere hint of your voice
ended my day-long aches
and it was then
that a gingerly touch from your hands
turned erstwhile gloom into blue sky
I remember when you were god
You were the breath of the Nile
flowing, flapping your wings
and generating perfection
It was then
that I cherished the day
when, I too, could approximate you
I remember when you were god

--Anonymous Poet

Friday, April 01, 2005

Dispatch from Berkeley

I didnt complete reading the book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs but I am slowly begininning to get her idea of what makes a city great. New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington DC are at the top of her list. I have lived very close to DC(Northern Virginia to be precise) but never got the pulse of the city's character (The ones I have recorded in my memory were the shady ones).

Driving around Northern California gives me a completely different feel of this region's character. It is almost like you live in a different country, more like Mexico. The vegetation here is more varied than on the coast I came from. Whats more, these guys actually have flowers that not only bloom but also diffuse their perfumes around the neighborhood. That struck me as a very odd thing about my last residential place. I could hardly smell any flowers on the street or even see them. The vegetation seems to be monotonously green. Of course there are bunch of mountains around here which challenge your driving skills as opposed to the straight line driving I am used to in Northern Virginia.

Walking around UC Berkeley made me feel nostalgic about roaming in the IISc campus in Bangalore. This is the same campus where The Free Speech Movement started in the 1960's. You get some real good Gourmet Coffee in Berkeley.Driving up North, you'll get to see the Wine Country and the beautiful vineyards. Some real good wines could be savored at the Napa Valley.A little down to the SouthWest, you'll end up with a most colorful welcome to the city of San Fransisco (SFO, San Fran, Frisco and other varied nicknames are used by the locals). I have been here for sabatticals before but somehow I came to reckon that this place is my new home. Its Exhilirating to breathe in the saline pacific air around the 17 mile drive.

Silicon Valley's seems to have a more European character than the rest of the country. I mean, you'll find some open air cafes a la paris, political views which are left to the centre, liberalism that sometimes tending towards anarchy, and things like that. You have to be here sense what I see.

Finally I always like to visit places that are recounted in some fictional accounts like novels, movies, etc.My initial residence in The US was at Elysian Fields in New Orleans ( Tennesse Williams' A Street Car Named Desire). Now finally, I got to walk down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley which plays such a prominent role in Thomas Pynchon's The Crying Of Lot 49.