Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Of Tailors and 2008

The only man who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew every time he sees me, while all the rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.

George Bernard Shaw

I miss those old days when you had to visit a tailor to stitch your clothes rather than buy the so called 'ready-made'. Now a days its almost a luxury to have one, thanks to economies of scale.

Each year is like a tailor in that it takes some sense of measure of what makes you 'you'. 2008 was a thorny year it was but sure makes it possible for a rosy 2009 given what we all have been through. These kinds of situations force 'clarity' upon oneself and we definitely need that in tons at this moment.

Broadly my measurements for this year include:

* Geo : started this year in wintry Boston, and ended back at sunny silicon valley
* Career: work for a different employer than the one I started the year with.
* Finance: I lost 44% of my net worth but gained the trust of few special people
* Motor: I have one more car . One Diesel and another Gasoline. I am hedging my bets

The cake albeit must go to this find-your-mate-via-the-internet thingy. Despite meeting some very interesting women and somewhat promising relationships that had to be nipped, the year ends with the same status as I started. But then its a source of joy that'll flow into the next year

It was also a good year for discovering things, authors, blogs and people. For example, it was very stimulating to have discovered George Gamow. I am seriously committed to reading more often and more variety in 2009. This article here tells you why its preferable to other media.

The other thing that needs revamp is my value system which seems pretty outdated. When the facts change, I think value systems should too.

Anyways, Here's wishing you a lovely, event-filled, full-of-things-to-look-forward-to type of an Year that we enumerate as 2009.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Version Two

I got a new car but that raised a few questions among my friends saying I sould have done otherwise. I could mention  a few practical reasons ( which would have made Warren Buffett happy) but geberalising it, I would resort to that fact philosophically as follows:

"among horses, those of the finest breeding, which are the most spirited and mettlesome, become the most useful and the best horses if they are broken in as colts; and if they are not broken in, they are intractable and very poor. ... It is the same thing with [people] of the finest breeding, that is to say the bravest in soul, and the best able to carry out what they undertake. If they are educated and learn what they must do, they become the best and most useful, and they do the greatest and the most good. The uneducated and untaught become the most evil and the most harmful, for they do not know how to judge what they should do. They often take part in evil undertakings and, because they are high-spirited and energetic, they are very hard to restrain and very stubborn; therefore they do the greatest evil."

 -- Xenophon, "Recollections of Socrates", Bk. 4, Chap. 1,  

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shorting India

Here's a very different take on recent attacks by Ms. Roy
First off, the chord she strikes is very resonant with another favorite author of mine: Meena Alexander.
Second, The significance of TV is underscored which was absent from other discourses on the attack
Finally, a key takeaway that emerges from the essay is that we have everything necessary to solve the problem except the 'will' to do so.

Some quotes to get you to read the whole monograph:
"We've forfeited the rights to our own tragedies."

"That war isn't on TV. Yet. So maybe, like everyone else, we should deal with the one that is."

"Though one chapter of horror in Mumbai has ended, another might have just begun. Day after day, a powerful, vociferous section of the Indian elite, goaded by marauding TV anchors who make Fox News look almost radical and left-wing, have taken to mindlessly attacking politicians, all politicians, glorifying the police and the army, and virtually asking for a police state."

"If Kashmir won't willingly integrate into India, it's beginning to look as though India will integrate/disintegrate into Kashmir"

"A country where the line between the underworld and the Encounter Specialists virtually does not exist. "

If 10 men can hold off the NSG commandos and the police for three days, and if it takes half a million soldiers to hold down the Kashmir valley, do the math. What kind of Homeland Security can secure India?
"One sign says "Justice," the other "Civil War." There's no third sign and there's no going back. Choose. "

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Mother of All Demos

Yes.This demo really featured really new things like the mouse, the first networked computer, a graphical instead of commandline interface and the concept of hypertext
It all started on December 9, 1968 which is just 40 years ago :)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I'm a Survivor

In statistical stuff most people are taught to pay attention to Survivorship bias which is an error done mostly in an unconscious way (like you compare youself only to a select few neighbors forgetting the fact that only a select few could actually afford housing in that zip code of yours).It takes concrete empricial data or extremely good math to remove that bias when making comparisions.

Here's an interesting factoid that has made its share of rounds on the net:

If it were possible to reduce the population of the entire world to 100 inhabitants, maintaining the proportions of people which currently exist in the world, it would be made up as follows:
57 Asians
21 Europeans
14 Americans (North, Central and South)
8 Africans

52 would be women
48 men

70 non-white
30 white

89 would be heterosexual
11 homosexual

6 people would possess 59% of the world’s wealth
80 would dwell in inhabitable housing
50 would suffer from malnutrition
1 would have a computer
1 (yes, just one) would have a university degree

And consider this: if you are more healthy than sick, you are luckier than a million people who will not see next week. If you never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of prison, the agony of torture, the pain of hunger, you are luckier than 500 million of the world’s inhabitants.

If you have food in the fridge, clothes in your closet, a roof over your head, a place to sleep, then consider yourself richer than 75% of the world’s inhabitants.

If you have money in the bank, a wallet or some loose change lying around somewhere, consider yourself among those with the best quality of life in the world.

Tell me arent you feeling lucky?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Bourgeois Adventurism

What can one say given recent happenstance in the city of seven islands? Lots of things on the head but none very calm and settled. The following transcript of a September 2006 interview has its elements

SPIEGEL: Mr. Rushdie, as an expert on terrorism you …

Rushdie: What gives me that honor? I don’t see myself as such at all.

SPIEGEL: Your book “Fury," with its description of an America threatened by terrorism and published in spring 2001, was seen by many as prophetic -- as more or less anticipating 9/11. Your most recent novel “Shalimar the Clown” describes how a circus performer from Kashmir is transformed into a terrorist. And for almost a decade your life was threatened by Iranian fanatics, with a price of $4 million on your head.

Rushdie: If you think that’s enough to qualify me as an expert on terrorism …

SPIEGEL: While researching your books -- and especially now after the recent near miss in London -- you must be asking yourself: What makes apparently normal young men decide to blow themselves up?

Rushdie: There are many reasons, and many different reasons, for the worldwide phenomenon of terrorism. In Kashmir, some people are joining the so-called resistance movements because they give them warm clothes and a meal. In London, last year’s attacks were still carried out by young Muslim men whose integration into society appeared to have failed. But now we are dealing with would-be terrorists from the middle of society. Young Muslims who have even enjoyed many aspects of the freedom that Western society offers them. It seems as though social discrimination no longer plays any role -- it's as though anyone could turn into a terrorist.

SPIEGEL: Leading British Muslims have written a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair claiming that the growing willingness to engage in terrorism is due to Bush’s and Blair’s policies in Iraq and in Lebanon. Are they completely wrong? Don’t the atrocities of Abu Ghraib and the cynicism of Guantanamo contribute to extremism?

Rushdie: I’m no friend of Tony Blair’s and I consider the Middle East policies of the United States and the UK fatal. There are always reasons for criticism, also for outrage. But there’s one thing we must all be clear about: terrorism is not the pursuit of legitimate goals by some sort of illegitimate means. Whatever the murderers may be trying to achieve, creating a better world certainly isn’t one of their goals. Instead they are out to murder innocent people. If the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, for example, were to be miraculously solved from one day to the next, I believe we wouldn’t see any fewer attacks.

SPIEGEL: And yet there must be reasons, or at least triggers, for this terrible willingness to wipe out the lives of others -- and of oneself.

Rushdie: Lenin once described terrorism as bourgeois adventurism. I think there, for once, he got things right: That’s exactly it. One must not negate the basic tenet of all morality -- that individuals are themselves responsible for their actions. And the triggers seem to be individual too. Upbringing certainly plays a major role there, imparting a misconceived sense of mission which pushes people towards "actions." Added to that there is a herd mentality once you have become integrated in a group and everyone continues to drive everyone else on and on into a forced situation. There’s the type of person who believes his action will make mankind listen to him and turn him into a historic figure. Then there’s the type who simply feels attracted to violence. And yes, I think glamour plays a role too.

SPIEGEL: Do you seriously mean that terrorism is glamorous?

Rushdie: Yes. Terror is glamour -- not only, but also. I am firmly convinced that there’s something like a fascination with death among suicide bombers. Many are influenced by the misdirected image of a kind of magic that is inherent in these insane acts. The suicide bomber’s imagination leads him to believe in a brilliant act of heroism, when in fact he is simply blowing himself up pointlessly and taking other peoples lives. There’s one thing you mustn’t forget here: the victims terrorized by radical Muslims are mostly other Muslims.

SPIEGEL: Of course there can be no justification for terrorism. But nevertheless there are various different starting points. There is the violence of groups who are pursuing nationalist, one might say comprehensible, goals using every means at their disposal …

Rushdie: … and there are others like al-Qaida which have taken up the cause of destroying the West and our entire way of life. This form of terrorism wraps itself up in the wrongs of this world in order to conceal its true motives -- an attack on everything that ought to be sacred to us. It is not possible to discuss things with Osama bin Laden and his successors. You cannot conclude a peace treaty with them. They have to be fought with every available means.

SPIEGEL: And with the other ones, the “nationalist terrorists," should we engage in dialogue with them?
Rushdie: That depends on whether they are prepared to renounce their terrorist struggle under a certain set of conditions. That appears to be showing at least initial signs of working with the Basques of ETA. I think we have Bin Laden to thank for that to no small extent -- the Basque leaders didn’t want to be like him. And with the IRA it was the loss of credibility among their own people, who no longer saw any point in fighting violently in the underground. Remolding former terrorist organisations into political parties in the long term is at least not hopeless. It might work with those groups that are not primarily characterized by religious fanaticism -- the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, for example, a group which virtually invented suicide bombings, have no religious background at all. They have clear objectives: an independent state.

SPIEGEL: Should such a state be granted to a minority just because they are particularly ruthless? What about Shalimar, the hero of your latest novel, who murders for Kashmir? Should he determine the region’s future?

Rushdie: You have to look at each individual case. The only way to find out why someone decides to engage in armed combat is to look at their individual personality. In Shalimar’s case, it’s a mixture of personal and political reasons.

SPIEGEL: Injured male pride plays a role, because the American ambassador in Delhi stole his true love. But it’s also about how Kashmir develops from a peaceful, multicultural society into a hotbed for terrorism. It’s about brutal attacks by the Indian army, which drive Shalimar into the arms of the jihadists. Didn’t you get into trouble with this portrayal of the Kashmiri reality?

Rushdie: Fortunately very little. My book wasn’t banned in India, as “The Satanic Verses” was -- as was, for a short time, “The Moor’s Last Sigh” because of alleged libel against an Indian politician. I received many positive reviews in India, and even the most important literature prize. Being half Kashmiri, I am particularly fond of that region -- that lost paradise. Perhaps another reason why there were no protests is that everyone realized how thoroughly I had done my research there, and how much I know about conditions there.

SPIEGEL: Your protagonist is a likeable man, at least at the beginning of the novel.

Rushdie: Yes. I was not interested in painting a black-and-white picture: here the perpetrator, fundamentally depraved from the start, and there the innocent victim. I didn’t want to make things that easy for myself. I was interested in showing the development, how someone gets into the clutches of the fundamentalists. And how on the other hand terrorist groups keep a lookout for potential assassins, spy out their environment, beguile people and seduce them and exploit their weaknesses. The book is called “Shalimar the Clown” not “Shalimar the Killer."

SPIEGEL: National political issues play a major role in the struggle over Kashmir, but religious issues are also key. Are you worried about the power of radical religious currents worldwide?

Rushdie: Fundamentalists of all faiths are the fundamental evil of our time. Almost all my friends are atheists -- I don’t feel as though I’m an exception. If you take a look at history, you will find that the understanding of what is good and evil has always existed before the individual religions. The religions were only invented by people afterwards, in order to express this idea. I for one don’t need a supreme “sacred” arbiter in order to be a moral being.

SPIEGEL: Perhaps not, but many people seem to need a god. Religions worldwide are experiencing a comeback. Striving for spirituality is more pronounced than ever. Is this a negative development in your opinion?

Rushdie: Yes.

SPIEGEL: That’s a clear answer. But also offensive to many people.

Rushdie: In my opinion the word “spiritual” ought to be put on an index and banned from being used for say 50 years. The things that are put about as being “spiritual” -- it’s unbelievable. It even goes as far as a spiritual lap dog and a spiritual shampoo.

SPIEGEL: You yourself once wrote: “We need answers to the unanswerable. Is this life all there is? The soul needs explanations, not rational ones but ones for the heart.”

Rushdie: Of course there are things beyond material needs, we all sense that. For me the answers are simply not in the religious, heavenly realm. But I don’t dictate to anyone what to believe and what not to. And I don’t want that to be dictated to me either.

SPIEGEL: Why is it that Islam -- with its claim to supremacy and strict rules for everyday life -- exerts such an attraction on many young people?

Rushdie: You don’t expect me to explain the attractions of Islam, do you?

SPIEGEL: Which compromises should and could the West make in order to contain the threat of terrorism?

Rushdie: I’m not the man for compromises either. I think you’re talking to the wrong person.

SPIEGEL: But in the light of the attacks September 11, 2001 attacks you yourself wrote that in order to protect free societies against terrorism, limiting rights was inevitable.

Rushdie: I was thinking of stricter aircraft checks or things like that -- of annoying but easily understandable constraints. I hadn’t thought it possible that the Bush administration would go about setting up the machinery of an authoritarian state.

SPIEGEL: Has it done that?

Rushdie: Oh yes. Over the past few years I’ve been the president of PEN in New York, the chairman of the American writers’ association. Again and again, we’ve had to deal with these far-reaching attacks on civil liberties. And most complaints have been justified, because it wasn’t even apparent in what way arrests and surveillance operations were connected with anti-terrorism. And I know what I’m talking about: From my own history of being threatened, I have indeed developed a sympathy for intelligence activities, my protectors enjoy my greatest respect.

SPIEGEL: So are Bush and Blair going too far?

Rushdie: This is the problem with politicians who by nature tend towards being authoritarian: When they are given the chance, they go too far. We have to watch out there. I find it deeply depressing that the Anglo-American politics and Arab politics are currently corroborating each other -- that is: their worst prejudices. Take a look at Iraq, at Lebanon. There is no just side in either conflict. But at the same time we need moral clarity, something I have often missed recently in many liberally minded people -- and I myself am liberal. We need clarity about what is right and wrong, the willingness to defend our values with clear words and to actually call the guilty persons guilty.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean by that?

Rushdie: I’ve always been strictly against blasphemy laws, which are supposed to protect religions against alleged defamation. It’s perfectly all right for Muslims to enjoy religious freedom like everyone else in a free society. It’s perfectly all right for them to protest against discrimination, whenever and wherever they are faced with it. And undoubtedly there are often reflexive reactions in the West, which lead to premature, anti-Islamic suspicions. What is not at all in order, on the other hand, is for Islamic leaders in our countries to demand that their faith be protected against criticism, disrespect, ridicule and disparagement. Even malicious criticism, even insulting caricatures -- these are part of our freedom of speech, of pluralism, of our basic values, which they have got to bow down to if they want to live with us.

SPIEGEL: What role can literature play to encourage tolerance -- and to discourage intolerance?

Rushdie: There is no alternative to the peaceful coexistence of cultures. Promoting that is a task that literature ought to set itself. You see, fundamentalists believe that we don’t believe in anything. In their view of the world, they are in possession of absolute certainties, while we are descending into decadence. We will be able to triumph over terrorism not by waging war on it, but through a conscious, fearless way of life. If there is a choice between absolute safety and freedom, then freedom must always prevail.

SPIEGEL: After Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa in 1989, you lived underground for practically a decade …

Rushdie: … and I was just about to thank you for the fact that the word “fatwa” hadn’t been mentioned yet in our conversation…

SPIEGEL: … but it is inevitable. Much as you may hate it.

Rushdie: Yes, yes, I know. It’s as though something that is not me were world-famous. In the years afterwards I sometimes felt as though other people were writing the story of my life. But I have left that behind me long ago. I live a free, normal life as a resident of New York and London, and I go on frequent trips to the town of my birth, Mumbai (Bombay).

SPIEGEL: All three of them are cities which have been hit by serious terrorist attacks. But all three have proven resilient and have maintained their commitment to a free and open lifestyle.

Rushdie: It’s interesting you should say that. Perhaps that’s precisely why I love these cities.

SPIEGEL: According to the Shiite interpretation, Khomeini’s fatwa cannot be withdrawn because it is a religious edict. Even if there is officially no bounty on your head any more, agitators surrounding the current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could reactivate the fatwa at any time.

Rushdie: I have read these speculations by journalists. But I don’t consider them of any importance.

SPIEGEL: Do you still remember the day when the fatwa was proclaimed. Do you mark its anniversary every year?

Rushdie: How could I strike that date from my memory -- it was Valentine’s Day. That way at least I don’t forget the flowers for my wife.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Rushdie, thank you for this interview.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks for all the..

I remembered once, in Japan, having been to see the Gold Pavilion Temple in Kyoto and being mildly surprised at quite how well it had weathered the passage of time since it was first built in the fourteenth century. I was told it hadn't weathered well at all, and had in fact been burnt to the ground twice in this century."So it isn't the original building?" I had asked my Japanese guide.

"But yes, of course it is," he insisted, rather surprised at my question.
"But it's burnt down?"
"Many times."
"And rebuilt."
"Of course. It is an important and historic building."
"With completely new materials."
"But of course. It was burnt down."
"So how can it be the same building?"
"It is always the same building."

I had to admit to myself that this was in fact a perfectly rational point of view, it merely started from an unexpected premise. The idea of the building, the intention of it, its design, are all immutable and are the essence of the building.

The intention of the original builders is what survives. The wood of which the design is constructed decays and is replaced when necessary. To be overly concerned with the original materials, which are merely sentimental souvenirs of the past, is to fail to see the living building itself.

Douglas Adams, Last Chance to See

Its that time of the year where a lot has changed but the intent still survived. I have a lot of things to be thankful for (my consciousness shall send messages to that effect) .It also begins a season of festivities around here which I consider to be the best on this side of the sun..

Happy Thanksgiving !

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Quote du Jour

Masters and mistresses are very necessary to compensate for want of inclination and exertion, but whoever would arrive at excellence must be self taught.

-Thomas Young

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mantra of the Day

Say what you know, Do what you must, Come what may........

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

I left a previous post saying I have a gut feeling that this can be solved for general cases (It was proved for triangles and I extended it to cyclic quadrilaterals). Now I got it. The attached equation shows the relationship between the Area and Perimeter for any convex polygon
as a function of the number of its sides (denoted by n)

In one form it amounts to saying that a circle is the most democratic of all convex shapes (every point is equidistant from the center..wish that was true for the states of a country).  Or to put it another way to max out the area you need all of your sides to be equal. Nothing else will do to max it out (maybe you knew that in grade school,). This time I convinced myself of its veracity.

"In the course of my law reading I constantly came upon the word "demonstrate". I thought at first that I understood its meaning, but soon became satisfied that I did not. I said to myself, What do I do when I demonstrate more than when I reason or prove? How does demonstration differ from any other proof? 

I consulted Webster's Dictionary. They told of 'certain proof,' 'proof beyond the possibility of doubt'; but I could form no idea of what sort of proof that was. I thought a great many things were proved beyond the possibility of doubt, without recourse to any such extraordinary process of reasoning as I understood demonstration to be. I consulted all the dictionaries and books of reference I could find, but with no better results. You might as well have defined blue to a blind man. 

At last I said,- Lincoln, you never can make a lawyer if you do not understand what demonstrate means; and I left my situation in Springfield, went home to my father's house, and stayed there till I could give any proposition in the six books of Euclid at sight. I then found out what demonstrate means, and went back to my law studies."
                                                                        -Abe Lincoln

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Food For Whatever...

"Nevertheless, I do not think for a minute that science will ever provide the consolations that have been offered by religion in facing death. The finest statement of this existential challenge that I know is found in 'The Ecclesiastical History of the English', written by the Venerable Bede sometime around A.D. 700. Bede tells how King Edwin of Northumbria held a council in A.D. 627 to decide on the religion to be accepted in his kingdom, and gives the following speech to one of the king's chief men:

Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter's day with your thanes and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside, the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for but a little while; but of what came before this life or of what follows, we know nothing.
It is an almost irresistable temptation to believe with Bede and Edwin that there must be something for us outside the banqueting-hall. The honor of resisting this temptation is only a thin substitute for the consolations of religion, but it is not entirely without satisfactions of its own."
 -- Steven Weinberg, "Dreams of a Final Theory"

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Masterpiece

This article is the best so far on the subject by one of my fave authors.

Some excerpts to whet you appetite just in case you think the article is too long

What he underestimated was the total unabashed complicity of the upper class of American capitalism. For instance, he knew that the big Wall Street investment banks took huge piles of loans that in and of themselves might be rated BBB, threw them into a trust, carved the trust into tranches, and wound up with 60 percent of the new total being rated AAA.
We have a simple thesis,” Eisman explained. “There is going to be a calamity, and whenever there is a calamity, Merrill is there.” When it came time to bankrupt Orange County with bad advice, Merrill was there. When the internet went bust, Merrill was there. Way back in the 1980s, when the first bond trader was let off his leash and lost hundreds of millions of dollars, Merrill was there to take the hit. That was Eisman’s logic—the logic of Wall Street’s pecking order. Goldman Sachs was the big kid who ran the games in this neighborhood. Merrill Lynch was the little fat kid assigned the least pleasant roles, just happy to be a part of things. The game, as Eisman saw it, was Crack the Whip. He assumed Merrill Lynch had taken its assigned place at the end of the chain.

The models don’t have any idea of what this world has become…. For the first time in their lives, people in the asset-backed-securitization world are actually having to think.” He explained that the rating agencies were morally bankrupt and living in fear of becoming actually bankrupt. “The rating agencies are scared to death,” he said. “They’re scared to death about doing nothing because they’ll look like fools if they do nothing.”

The changes were camouflage. They helped distract outsiders from the truly profane event: the growing misalignment of interests between the people who trafficked in financial risk and the wider culture.

He agreed that the main effect of turning a partnership into a corporation was to transfer the financial risk to the shareholders. “When things go wrong, it’s their problem,” he said—and obviously not theirs alone. When a Wall Street investment bank screwed up badly enough, its risks became the problem of the U.S. government. “It’s laissez-faire until you get in deep shit,” he said, with a half chuckle. He was out of the game.

It was now all someone else’s fault.
Something for nothing. It never loses its charm.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

My Connection With Brahmagupta

The above is an excerpt from a magazine called Pi in the Sky to which I was introduced by Danesh Forouhari back in 2006. Danesh one day sent me his contribution  involving triangle inequalities which can be seen here in issue #10.  

I deduced some stuff which is basically laid out above (extended the same theorem to cyclic quadrilaterals)  and Danesh graciously sent it over to the editorial folks who published them in their latest issue.  I am happy to  add a really small drop to the ocean that was explored by Brahmagupta & company when they were at Ujjain

The next challenge is to generalise the same result for cyclic polygons (have a feeling it could be deduced but not sure exactly how..). This makes my day :)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Quote Du Jour

There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns on conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

—Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


The dream they saw in 1956, I hope, shall come true today. Its quite nice to be at a cusp of history where you can tell your kids (maybe yours too) that we were here in the land where "pursuit of happiness" can end in finding one..

Sunday, November 02, 2008

and it rained..

It rained yesterday.After a long time, it rained. It was a very nice saturday for curling with a good book and coffee listening to the pitter,patter of the drops with the tick,tock of the clock.Perfect time for a zen moment when I was listening to this track

"You miss too much these days if you stop to think."

- U2, "Waiting for the End of the World"

The trick here is to think without thinking? This portal has some answers to that

Friday, October 31, 2008

Gandhi's Inspiration

I didnt know Gandhi was inspired by essays called "Unto this Last" by John Ruskin in South Africa.Its apt to
see something in 1860 thats critical of capitalist societies favoring a social economy.Here's the best quote from it:

As thus: lately in a wreck of a Californian ship, one of the passengers fastened a belt about him with two hundred pounds of gold in it, with which he was found afterwards at the bottom.Now, as he was sinking -- had he the gold? or had the gold him?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Edge

It is never worth a first class man's time to express a majority opinion. By definition, there are plenty of others to do that --- G.H.Hardy

The more and more I think about having an edge, the more I realized you have to know something that the rest of the world does not know. The rest of the world here is defined as someone not you. A better position is to know something that the rest of the world knows to be true (and you know it is false). This is a good situation for you to go and place a bet on this while staking all your life's earnings on it. Thats a surefire way to make progress assuming you are convicted on your belief about such things.

Note to Self: Whenever I hire new guys, I will ask them this question: what do you know about x that the rest of the world does not know? (where x can be anything that the candidate chooses)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Quite an Interview

One of the fun things to do is to pick prophesies from the past and see how well they turned out. Here's a quite good one from 15 years ago (pre-Internet) with George Gilder (originally from Wired)


: Your book, Microcosm, begins with a quote from physicist Carver Mead, who said, "Listen to the technology; find out what it's telling you." I was wondering, what is the current technology of modems, packet-switching, and fiber optics telling you?


: It's telling me that today we're at the same general point that we were with integrated circuits in about 1970. In 1970, people didn't anticipate that transistors would be virtually free by today. Today you can buy a transistor for 4,000-millionths of a cent. I think the same thing is on its way in fiber optics. We're going to gain access to the 25,000 gigahertz of capacity that's in each of the three windows in infrared spectrum that work with fiber optics. With 25,000 gigahertz, you get the equivalent to the number of phone calls in America during the peak moment on Mother's Day. Or take all the radio spectrum currently used for communications, from AM radio to KU-band satellite. It's 1,000 times that, on one thread of glass the width of a human hair.

I don't think people have come to terms with what fiber really means. You can simulate any kind of switching configuration you want. All of a sudden this huge apparatus of electronic switching that dominates our current communications becomes unnecessary. Suddenly, you're going to find that just as the integrated circuit rendered transistors - and hence mips and bits - virtually free, fiber optics is going to render bandwidth and hertz virtually free.

This world is quite different from the world that assumes bandwidth scarcity. A dearth of spectrum has to be regulated and parceled out carefully by sensitive federal bureaucrats beset by tens of thousands of lawyers. That whole apparatus, both the technology of it - the huge switching fabric of the phone companies - and the legislative apparatus and all its bureaucracies and legal accessories, are going to be rendered almost worthless over the next ten years.


: Every time I hear the phrase "virtually free" I think of the claim about nuclear power: "too cheap to meter." It's almost utopian. I find myself not believing it, as much as I want to go along with the idea. Am I too skeptical?


: Yep. It's just that when things become free you ignore them. Transistors that used to be seven bucks apiece now cost about a millionth of a cent. That means that you can regard them as insignificant, just as they're becoming ubiquitous and thus determining the whole atmosphere of enterprise.


: Well, you could say that aluminum - by the atom - has become virtually free, but that doesn't mean aluminum in any useful amount is free. As long as we have storage devices, we'll find things to fill them up with, so there will always be a demand for more. That means no matter how cheap storage becomes, it won't be free. It seems to me that the appetite for bandwidth is equally insatiable, so people will always want more than they have. It has to cost something.


: Of course it will. The point is that in every industrial revolution, some key factor of production is drastically reduced in cost. Relative to the previous cost to achieve that function, the new factor is virtually free. Physical force in the industrial revolution became virtually free compared to its expense when it derived from animal muscle power and human muscle power. Suddenly you could do things you could not afford to do before. You could make a factory work 24 hours a day churning out products in a way that was just incomprehensible before the industrial era. It really did mean that physical force became virtually free in a sense. The whole economy had to reorganize itself to exploit this physical force. You had to "waste" the power of the steam engine and its derivatives in order to prevail, whether in war or in peace.

Over the last 30 years, we've seen transistors (or switching power) move from being expensive, crafted vacuum tubes to being virtually free. So today, the prime rule of thrift in business is "waste transistors." We "waste" them to correct our spelling, to play solitaire, to do anything. As a matter of fact, you've got to waste transistors in order to succeed in business these days.

My thesis is that bandwidth is going to be virtually free in the next era in the same way that transistors are in this era. It doesn't mean there won't be expensive technologies associated with the exploitation of bandwidth - just as there are expensive computers employing transistors; but it does mean that people will have to use this bandwidth, they'll have to waste bandwidth rather than economize on bandwidth. The wasters of bandwidth will win rather than the people who are developing exquisite new compression tools and all these other devices designed to exploit some limited bandwidth.One of the key ways you economize on bandwidth is switching. Switching has been the whole foundation of our communications systems. You run narrow- band wires to some switch and then switch the data to its destination in order to avoid using lots of bandwidth to broadcast signals to every terminal.

It seems to me that we're going to start using fiber the way we currently address air. Instead of switching, we'll broadcast on fiber optic. We'll be tuning in rather than processing all the bits. And instead of using a lot of switching intelligence in order to economize on bandwidth, we're going to use bandwidth in order to economize on intelligence.


: Okay. In a world where physical force, switching, and computation are almost free, we now add almost-free bandwidth. What becomes expensive?


: The scarce resource is the human mind. People will be more valuable. People will get paid better. We need people to provide the software, the interfaces, the standards, and the protocols to all these systems that make it possible to exploit these increasingly cheap resources. So it's the human mind that you ultimately have to economize on. That's the reason I think it's utter garbage to say that our grandchildren won't live as well as we do. People who say this just don't see the technology. They live in this bizarre world of thermodynamics, where entropy rules, and we're dominated by our waste products. It is very short-sighted.


: I take it then that as a believer in the human mind as sort of the ultimate repository of wealth and power, that you're not a believer in artificial intelligence as an attainable thing?


: Artificial intelligence is obviously attainable, it just won't be human intelligence. It's a different function.


: Do you think there's a downside to having everything connected to everything else?


: I don't see any. There must be a downside to the telephone, but I can't remember what it is.


: Well, when you're in the middle of supper and some solicitor is calling you, you'll probably remember what it is.


: Yeah, that's the downside. But that's the downside all this stuff overcomes. When you can have intelligence in your telephone it can defer the calls you don't want to voice mail and still take emergency calls. It can be adapted to your needs. So, the chief effect of these technologies is to put you in command again. The trouble with top-down centralized technologies, which the telephone and television represent, is that they're dumb equipment attached to complex switching systems and broadcasting technologies. On the other hand, the chief virtue of distributed intelligence is that the network can be dumb and the control of it can be distributed to smart users. That means that technologies are much more servants than rulers of your life.


: When I look at networks I see counter-intuitive behavior. Distributed networks have a remarkable ability to be slightly out of anyone's control. They possess an organic out-of-control quality. Does that concern you?


: I think it's good. The Internet, for instance, is an exciting kind of metaphor for spontaneous order. It shows that in order to have a very rich fabric of services you don't need a regimented system of control. When there's a lot of intelligence at the fringes everywhere, the actual network itself can be fairly simple. The future is dumb networks.


: Dumb networks? Why not smart networks? We put smartness in everything else.


: There's smartness all around the network, but the actual network should be essentially dumb glass. The fibersphere, as I call it. I think the mistake that the phone companies sometimes make is to think that they can keep up with the computer. What they call "network intelligence" will usually appear as a bottleneck to a computer industry that's rapidly rushing forward into new possibilities. So what you really want is dumb networks where all intelligence is on the fringes. You'll have intelligent devices of various sorts that are easily reachable from the network but aren't part of the actual fabric of the network.


: What is the fabric of the network?


: Photons. Electronics are not good for communications. Photons - optical computing - are. What makes photons so great for communication is they don't interfere with each other. They collide and pass on unaffected. You can send them two-way, and they are not subject to electromagnetic disruption. Many signals can flow through one fiber. But the fact that photons don't affect each other means they are cumbersome for computing, since you want interactions in computing. You need to have the charges affect one another - that's the heart of computing. The heart of the transistor function is that you can control a bigger force with a smaller force. But photons don't control each other. So for computing functions I still think that electronics will prevail; but for communications, photonics will prevail.


: One would think that there is wealth to be made in the interface then between photons and electrons.


: Yeah, there is. Opto-electronics is very important. However, opto-electronics should not be in the middle of the network, it should be on the edges of the network where it links the computing functions to the communications functions.


: There are some network advocates who claim that we can get a lot of what we want in fiber optic by using the existing copper wires beefed up with the ISDN communication protocol. Do you go along with the idea of implementing (and paying for) ISDN right now?


: Yes. The phone companies should do ISDN. We might as well get as much out of the existing copper switch system as we can. ISDN is already installed in all the new switches; it's more a matter of getting the tariffs right so they can charge some reasonable amount for its use. There's no excuse not to do ISDN today. It won't detract from the fibersphere. But while they do ISDN, all-optical networks are going to be launched all over the place by different companies. Some people have this vision that either we devote our resources to ISDN, or we devote them to creating this fabulously expensive fiber network. My belief is that fiber network is going to get rapidly cheaper, so that we're going to be able to do both it and ISDN perfectly well.


: What role do you think the US government should play in laying data highways?


: The role for the US government is to make government as efficient as possible. Government operates leviathan laboratories, hospitals, universities, bureaucracies, and post offices, and they all should be interconnected with fiber.

The government always discovers a technology after its moment is passing. If you're a winner, you don't go to the government. You're too busy. You've got too many customers. It's the people with no customers who end up besieging the government. There are all these wise-asses in Washington who really think that they can choose technologies. They think they know better. They get bowled over by every earnest representative of IBM who comes up to talk to them. Just now the US government thinks that HDTV is absolutely the future of the world because all the old farts at Zenith, and the broadcasting moguls who aren't really making it with the new computer technologies, are converging on Washington. It's always going to be that way. It's not going to change with Clinton and Gore. The dog technologies run to Washington, decked out like poodles. The politician is always the dog's best friend.


: There is a myth, a utopian hope, that all these electronic connections (what I call the "advent of the net") are going to eliminate hierarchy. The belief is that we will come into a peer world, where everything is on a peer-to-peer level. All the experimental work that I have seen shows that that's probably not very likely. On the contrary, anything complex self- organizes into nested hierarchies, just in order to manage itself.


: Right. The complexity of digital systems requires a hierarchical organization. It's the only way to deal with the kind of combinatorial explosions that attend interlinking of billions of nodes, all functioning in parallel. You need nested hierarchies, but the real miracle of micro- electronics is that these extraordinarily complex hierarchies can be incorporated into individual silicon chips, with virtual supercomputer capabilities. This fabulous supercomputer power can be ubiquitously distributed in the fibersphere. So hierarchies do indeed exist, but they are ubiquitously distributed, which renders them an egalitarian force. When everybody commands a supercomputer, you give the average owner of a work station the power that an industrial tycoon commanded in the industrial era, or that a TV station owner commands in the age of broadcasting. In other words, the hierarchy is in the silicon rather than in the human organization. So you have this incredible distribution of power. This is a period of transition that resembles the transition between railroads and automobiles.


: How's that?


: When you ride a train you go to the railway station at a scheduled time, you travel with the people that happen to be on the train, you go to preset destinations. This is what the current television world is like. You tune into the stations that have been prescribed through some collaboration between advertisers and TV executives in New York and Hollywood. Moving from broadcast model to the teleputer is like moving from a railroad model to automobiles. Automobiles are essentially egalitarian transportation systems. They aren't organized - like the Internet. A Ferrari, say, and a Toyota Tercel look like radically different machines, but the fact is that any car endows the average person with more freedom than any railroad.


: You are a tireless champion of small business. For the last 20 years or so, really big projects have been considered arrogant, incapable of working because they are big. Now there is talk of Motorola's global satellite project Iridium. Do you think that the fibersphere gives us permission to think big again?


: There are going to be a lot of big fiber projects in the next decade. They're already coming right now. I'm sort of worried that they're going to think too small. I hope that the government, with its National Research and Education Network (NREN) doesn't end up buying a lot of obsolescent telephone company fiber systems that make networks with a total power of a gigabit rather than a gigabit per terminal. The fibersphere is a big project, and it will take scores of thousands of small companies to do it.


: What about big companies?


: Sure. Laboratories where lots of people work on their own special visions, with the luxury of very long-term goals, are very valuable. Such places are usually supported by relatively big companies and consortia of companies. IBM, AT&T, and Bell Labs developed most of the components for all optical networks. When you're producing millions of something it becomes a commodity, and almost by definition you have a big company. MS- DOS and Windows are commodity products, so Microsoft is a big company. There are cycles in which companies get big exploiting commodity products with wide distribution, which then mature and then are displaced by new products. It's relatively rare that the company that's triumphant in the commodity phase can move back to the insurrection phase. Insurrections are ordinarily led by entrepreneurs. I don't see any likelihood that will change anytime soon.


: What else is the technology telling you?


: What the technology tells me is that, among other things, Clinton's going to get a bonanza. He doesn't know what's coming, but technology's just going to be breaking out all over. Bush did virtually everything that Clinton promises to do, and because Bush has done it already it doesn't leave Clinton much room except to play cock-a-doodle-do. He'll get up on the post and crow as the marvelous sunrise technologies come blindingly to the fore during his administration. They're going to have 50,000 technology programs and lo and behold, a million technologies will bloom and they will take credit for it all.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Quote Du Jour

"Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking" - Keynes

Corn Pone Opinions

You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is.
I recently had a verbal duel over email with one of my friends on the Fed bailout issues which turned out to be particularly awkward for me. I lost the argument but won this key idea espoused by Mark Twain in his essay called Corn-Pone Opinions. I never knew I had some of those thinking most of my opinions were free spirited and independent.

My crime can be summarized in the following words in the essay:
A political emergency brings out the corn-pone opinion in fine force in its two chief varieties -- the pocketbook variety, which has its origin in self-interest, and the bigger variety, the sentimental variety -- the one which can't bear to be outside the pale; can't bear to be in disfavor; can't endure the averted face and the cold shoulder; wants to stand well with his friends, wants to be smiled upon, wants to be welcome, wants to hear the precious words, "He's on the right track!" Uttered, perhaps by an ass, but still an ass of high degree, an ass whose approval is gold and diamonds to a smaller ass, and confers glory and honor and happiness, and membership in the herd. For these gauds many a man will dump his life-long principles into the street, and his conscience along with them. We have seen it happen. In some millions of instances.

Its written in 1925 but seems very apt and relevant to the current day political situation. Or some of the parties I attend to..Or some of the business meetings you attend..or why some of the design discussions end up following a "tradition" rather than well thought out original idea

So, please be nice to people with original ideas because they have "moral courage" (which is rare..much common is physical courage) to stand by their ideas...

ps: mr. Y, ab teruko pata chala..tera khoon khoon hain aur mera khoon paani :)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008

Today's Blog Action Day and people around the world speak out their mind about Poverty. Well, what can I say..Indira said in 1974 "Garibi Hatao" (Remove Poverty) and havent seen that happen. I then resigned to the fact that Poverty can be minimised and kept at that lowest possible limit but cannot be completely eliminated.

dont want to delve into that but let's a poverty that affects me professionally. As all of you know the Internet needs addresses and we use a certain protocol called IP version 4. In order for any device connected to the Internet to work you need an address allocated for you. Given our explosive growth so far, we are having a poverty of addresses which can be resolved by moving over to a new version.

Question: Did we really consume all of the addresses?.

A recent study found that a rather large number of allocated addresses are unused (look at blue sections above) and we can do better in this regard

So my plea is to end the poverty of IPv4 address space..( and if you indulge me the poverty of India reduced to its bare minima)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Song Du Jour

I have been humming this song ever since yesterday. Refreshing lyrics that make me feel young almost like back in college

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Best Non Fiction of the Year

I think Traffic is the best non fiction read of my reading year so far. It has a lot of counterintuitive stuff that I long suspected to be true but he lendd authority to his claims by poring over reams of data collected from all over the world. Some of it is even useful in my job (like adding an extra lane is only going to increase the mean waiting times for cars overall albeit looks like it should reduce)

What more, if you are a Data junkie like me the author even has a companion blog to the book which is even more mind tickling..Enzoi..

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bloodbath in the Markets

Its strange to see that you get numbed to your losses after a certain point. While the US is still reeling, I am over it (my net worth halved from the beginning of the year to now)

That said, there is this beautiful theorem which gives us hope there may be a bright new future for those who stand long....

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Overdrive on the Edges

To most readers it will be easy, after reading this tale, to accept Rover's theory that Man is set up deliberately as the antithesis of everything the Dogs stand for, a sort of mythical straw-man, a sociological fable.

This is underlined by the recurring evidence of Man's aimlessness, his constant running hither and yon, his grasping at a way of life which constantly eludes him, possibly because he never knows exactly what he wants.

                --- Clifford D. Simak, "City" , 1952.

I feel like a young dog given my past experiences in the last decade. I caught up with things I have chased without knowing what to do with them. I made many a mistake and learnt from very few of them. Its almost like one big journey that I have done on an overdrive mode. Thats what happens to rookies like me when they face something for which they dont have any experience.

After a while, you learn to use gears, not to zoom /pan constantly on the camera and pleasantly shift from that of being a young dog to that of a young man. Yes, that time has come for me. By abusing power I learnt the use of it. I always thought that only when you reach  'n+1' you know what n is. No, Sir. The trick is to given enough of such past experiences, you should predict 'n' when you are at 'n-1' (or atleast the probability of it even if that doesnt happen). Reminds of this joke: The difference between a good student and a bad student is that a bad student forgets the material five minutes before the test, while a good student five minutes afterwards.

While I was a bad student in the past, the situation isnt all that worse as I sense that I can still be redeemed. Time for another transformation (the alternative being a slow extinction path) and am looking forward to it. 

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Thing of Beauty

can last more than 20 years. Look at Madras circa 1982

Sunday, September 28, 2008


if Hattori Hanzo´s sword was a version of Damascus Steel (contrary to its name the steel came from India although the swords were popular among the syrians)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Refreshing Century of Ads

Not sure how many of you know the old hovis ad:

Now watch the new breathtaking one (particularly has a desi couple in the midst of a 2 minute history of modern england)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

True Freedom

I havent know a lot about David Foster Wallace but since he died recently I had to look him up and read a bit. He had a fantastic commencement speech that I urge you to read

Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clich├ęs, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.

And here´s his final punchline which I totally subscribe to

The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.