Monday, December 3, 2012

7 things to live for..

In the dead of Dead week,  7 things that make me believe I'm NOT better off dead.. (Why 7? Because 7 is a number magical enough to be the number of Horcruxes a dark wizard makes. Or maybe, as George Carlin might say, to prove that it was not made up!)
  1. Tiramisu (And cheese cake) When people said chocolate was the food of Gods, I guess they hadn't known this recipe yet. 
  2. Nagumomu
  3. Sunrise. Anywhere in the world.
  4. Elliots beach at 5 in the morning. Goes with the last one, but the air of Elliots, the sound of the morning walkers and the Laughter club, the waves crashing on the shore and knowing I can walk back home to some hot coffee with The Hindu is a special piece of heaven.
  5. Calvin and Hobbes
  6. Filter coffee (in davara tumbler)
  7. Air conditioning. No, Seriously.
Things that almost made the list but didn't quite:
  1. Abstruse Goose (and Dilbert and PHD comics) 
  2. Kathrikai podi karamedhu (Brinjal fry made with dal) and Thengai thogaiyal. Not together, though.
  3. Gobhi manchurian (Or the Gobhi masala + Veechu at 3rd dhaba <the Raju Anna one>, NIT trichy :D)
  4. Nachos and cheese dip (At PVR, Bangalore). Preferably while watching a good movie with Smrithi and co. Potato Chips. Chocolate. Gulab Jamun.
  5. Butter. In any form.
  6. Ayn Rand
  7. Science (non linear dynamics, evolution, neuroscience, comp arch)
 I am making this list because Dead week is inherently depressing, and I hope these shall help me see the silver lining. Also, maybe because Gargi Nanjanath's recent fb post reminded me to be thankful for some things (in case I end up not doing so). 

And I guess, anytime in the future when I get very depressed, I will look back at this list.

By the way, it might look like some of these things can be grouped up. But I think that each item on the list is special enough to have a place on its own.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


I, a fallen leaf, floating on the ocean
Away... Away...

The colors of distant islands enthrall
The lights of the big cities dizzy my mind
Oh, the sweeping smell of the strange waters,
Oh, the thrill of exploring the new,
Titillating my senses, again... again...

Time is no concern for me, 
I shall go back to that dear little coastal tree someday..
There is enough and more time to spend on adventure..

Yet there are moments when the heart grows weary of the novel
And longs for the fragrance of safety,
for the warmth of the well-known..
And I wonder why this heart is torn into two constantly
and I tell myself, they shall come together again.. Soon..

It seems just yesterday when the warm wind blew me away
and my journey began..
Yet I little realize that many a Fall has passed since that day,
Many summers and many springs..
That dear old tree is older now, parts of it wither away
New branches have sprouted on the side
And new shrubs have popped around..
The waves have grown rougher
Global warming or something they say..
But the reality in my memory is still the tree of that distant day..
And the nostalgia longs for something, an imaginary reality,
That never was, never shall be..
Yes, I tell myself- Soon... soon...
I tell myself
The day of turning back is nearer and nearer
And all shall be well again

But deep within I know
I know...
The roots are gone from me.. And my heart is given to two lovers now.. 
Never again shall I be able to leave one for the other
I know..
The day the wind blew me was the last day of calm
I have seen too much to rest anymore

Yes, I may have chosen this path unknowingly,
But waves never stop hitting the shore,
The wind never stops pacing the Earth.. 
I shall never feel at home again.. 

P.S: Many people have written about this kind of feeling.. So, in some sense this whole metaphor is just redundant.. So my excuse? Well, floating leaves like to rant too.. Sometimes, poetically :D

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What can an atheist look forward to?

I must admit that sometimes being an atheist is hard. (The only thing harder than being an atheist is being an agnostic- and I hope I will write about why that is so sometime.... ). Especially when things go wrong. You cannot believe that ultimately good will triumph- even if you have put in all your efforts into something, nothing really stops anything from going wrong. No, I am not trying to be defeatist here, but the truth is that believing something good will happen out of the blue, or that there is something that rewards hard work is still belief in the supernatural- just without the baggage that God is forced to carry around most of the time. Anyway, when things are going bad for you, you cannot simply pray to some supernatural power and hope that he will set things right. You cannot believe in any sort of essential fairness in the world. If there is any law that governs life for you- it is survival of the fittest (which is a different form of fairness, in my opinion.. But anyway..) and then maybe the laws of physics. But these laws cannot provide solace- you simply cannot hope that Newton's third law will slap that guy who was mean to you at the store this morning. 

The other problem is- what ultimate goal do you have? Most religions advocate some kind of heaven or salvation- something to look forward to. To work towards. There is no such goal in atheism. We are simply insignificant chemical specks in a vast universe that may or may not have its own agenda. We are products of our genes which are simply fighting for their own "selfish" reasons. (Yes, I am oversimplifying things here- but the details aren't particularly comforting either..) We do have some role in modifying nature- we can and have affected it in many ways, but that is not something you can work towards. Nor is it something you can look forward to, because many of these changes will have a sizeable impact only long after you are gone. Yes, many atheists find joy in serving the poor and improving life conditions of the underprivileged- so much as to say that service is their God. Unfortunately, not everyone can feel that. Some atheists can work for improving life conditions of others, but cannot see it as their goal (Objectivists, for example). It is like saying- "I like making people happy, but I cannot live for it". So then, what CAN an atheist (like me) look forward to? Is there anything at all that can be labeled the "joy of being an atheist"? (Click on "Read more" to continue..)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Taken for granted

I am one of those women (or do I still call myself a girl? :P ) who would never consider a career of being a housewife. Even when I was in primary school, I could not imagine spending my life in the kitchen. It is not that I despise being a housewife- just that it always felt like I could do "more" with my time and it is not the thing for me. Notice the more. I'm one of those people who agrees with what Romney almost said (yes, finally one thing that I agree with Romney about)- that working women do "more" with their time.

Most of my friends' mothers are working women. Though not CEOs or anything, they are at least in some clerical position or the other. And I can remember at least 3-4 instances where said friends say- "unlike your mother, mine doesn't get time". I always use to consider that a legitimate argument. In fact, how many times have I thought that myself- that my mother has a lot of time? (Sometimes, I have tried to analyze this, but often I just get taken over by the idea that working women handle both home and work).

But, know what, that is just naive. No, really. Most housewives I know do a lot with their time too. It is just that what they do is not quantifiable, doesn't seem to have much impact, is in other words, taken for granted. My mother spends a lot more time at home but she is meticulous, she is very careful about the details. She thinks that reheating food is blasphemous, that every corner of the window sill should be dusted every week, that every meal must be freshly made (and if possible, the spices freshly ground!) and she is a perfectionist in her world. She may not be the greatest innovator or the "smart" hostess that many working women claim to be (smart because they can whip up an interesting looking dish out of MTR mix)- but she is indispensable. And our (aka mine, my dad's and my brother's) lives would never be the same if she hadn't decided to pour her time into fixing the details for us- details that are essential for us but which we always fail to notice.

Now I am not trying to say that working women are bad cooks or something- just that they have limited time to spend with their family, which they must apportion accordingly. Since housewives get more time to do household work, some of them do put in a lot of effort into it. Again, I am not saying all of them do, but the deep rooted stereotype in our minds that 'if somebody is a housewife, she is not doing anything' is simply untrue. To echo a line in the movie that brought me to this post "doing that would make us judgmental!"

As I said before, I find it unimaginable that I spend my life in the endless cycle of cooking and cleaning. ("One's life MUST matter, Dennis, beyond all the cooking and cleaning.."- Alexandra Roach as Margaret Thatcher in 'The Iron Lady'). I know I never will devote my life to supporting the lives of others in such a direct manner. But I respect the fact that there are people who are selfless enough to do this- not because they cannot do any better but because they see greater joy in it. THAT is the key thing I wish to say.

In a changing fast-paced cutthroat world, our generation (including myself) tends to think that just because somebody is not working, they are not capable enough. And as we rush through our lives with lack of time for each other, we forget the small ways in which we might be hurting someone who has been nice enough to spend their entire life for us. Capturing THIS was the essence of what made "English Vinglish" awesome! I am not reviewing it here, but I saw it today last week and I had heard it was good, but didn't expect to concur so much. I watched the Hindi version and all I could think of was my mother. And when I finished a few minutes ago that day, my amygdala was overworking (Yeah, yeah, I am doing the bioengineering showoff here.. Forgive me!)

The movie simply made me think of how my mother must be feeling amidst the three  of us who are always on our toes and not taking the time to appreciate her enough. Though her English may not be like Sridevi's there are many subtle ways in which we hurt her, and we don't even think about it. I also thought about how housewives get so caught in their little world that they don't get the time to update themselves about the world outside- so while the rest of the family becomes internet savvy and touchscreen friendly, they are still struggling to catch up. It doesn't mean they are slow learners, just that they never had the time or incentive to learn as much as we do. And then we laugh at them or get frustrated with them, when in fact helping us so much is the real reason they never caught up. So yes, the movie was awesome and I recommend everyone (housewives, children of housewives, children of working women who are friends of children of housewives and so on.. :P) to go watch it. In one word, it was "inspirational".

But the real thing I want to say is here- To all housewives I might have ever known and underestimated in any small way, however subtly or spontaneously, I am sorry. I know I shall never be in your shoes, but I will definitely try to respect your decision and you as a person. Above all, to my wonderful mother- Sorry for all the times we hurt you, however unknowingly. It is not fair to you and we try our best not to do so but  after all we are humans with our own foibles. You are a talented person and we are proud of you. And if we ever let you feel otherwise, don't take it to heart. We don't mean it. And what you have done with your life is a hard decision, one I would never take, one that involves more sacrifices than I care to even think about- we are lucky you did it. It is great. And we will try our best to never never do the worst form of ingratitude to you- taking you for granted! And yes, we love you!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

It doesn't matter

A twitch of your arm muscle, a small patch of your skin,
both our eyes meeting, though we knew we weren’t supposed to be looking at each other
both our eyes not meeting because I avoided your eyes so you don’t see I was looking at you
your sparkling smile that spontaneously made me burn with desire
your one word compliment that made you take my hand and dance inside my head
making my day one unending song…

We never really spoke to each other, except insignificant courtesies
Yet even your ‘hello’s were special, somehow different from the rest
That day when we were talking shop- and I disagreed with your idea vehemently
Did you know that when I explained the ODEs, I was actually professing undying love for you?

I always thought I saw a twinkle in your eyes, when you saw me alone
Maybe I was imagining- but I shall never know-
We parted our ways without ever finding out…

It doesn’t matter of course,
we always knew this wouldn’t happen- this was never meant to be
And yet your silence titillated my senses in ways nobody’s touch ever did
You made me happy and proud, though I knew it was all in my head
Yes, our time “together” was simple ecstasy
But of course, it doesn’t matter.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

And words are all I have...

Seems like a long gap... Though it is actually just a month and a week.. Filled with exams, moving to a new house, unpacking, packing, getting stuff, first week of classes, and now back to the grind... Deadlines, deadlines.. It is almost ironic that my whole "life" is controlled by "dead" lines...

Anyway, now I have a lot to do, but as always when I have a lot to do, I have come back to blogging. In the 2 weeks that I supposedly have a vacation, did I have anything to write about? Nah! But the day I have 2 homework assignments and lots of reading to do, I try to watch videos  and finish up reading all unread posts on Google Reader and then update my blog. Soon I will be cleaning my table (if you have stayed with me ever, you will know what an extreme act that is, by my standards!)

Thinking about it, I can see why this kinda thing happens. I guess when I have a lot of time and need to read an article or clean the kitchen, the other options are way more fun in comparison. Whereas when I actually have to code up a model and solve ODEs, cleaning the table is almost like a walk on the beach :) But I really think there should be a name for this behavior. It is not simple procrastination. It is the "I-want-to-do-all-the-stuff-I-usually-hate-doing-but-I-won't-start-the-work-in-hand" syndrome. Or maybe somebody will come up with some Latin-sounding word for that.

Anyway, where was I? Oh I wasn't actually anywhere yet, apparently. I started this post thinking I should write about two things. But by the time I reached this part, I forgot one of them. There should be a word for that feeling too- when you have forgotten something, but its hovering tantalizingly close to your memory..  It is not just forgetting- like I completely forgot to buy garbage bags yesterday, or I have completely forgotten what I learnt in Chemistry-1 in 1st semester BTech. It's not that kind of forgetting where you know that thing is clearly out of your head. It is when you know the thing- almost- but are not quite able to recall. It's almost there in your head, very close by, but somehow doesn't reach you. It's in you knitting your eyebrows and closing your eyes saying "I KNOW it.. Just a second,... It will come to me in a second"... (but it doesn't).

I remember reading this long post about words English language should have, but doesn't -like the feeling when you are in one queue and you realize the other one, which was much longer when you joined this one, has actually moved on at double the speed and you would be out of this place by now, if you had joined that one, but it's far too late to do so! There were quite a few more, but I don't remember the rest. 

All this reminds me of the lines from the song Words by the Bee Gees (I didn't know they were called THAT!). "It's only words... And words are all I have to take your heart away..."

It's sorta true... I sometimes think that all that we think is in terms of words- so if we don't have the right words, we are probably limited in what we can think. (Note to self: Write about Skinner's Verbal Behavior and Finish reading the Chomsky paper!) But then again, after a short week with DramaTech, I'd say that words are a miniscule part of your interactions with people. One can convey a huge amount of information (or emotion) without speaking a word... Which is beautiful..

Still, words are probably more concise and effective. Like Meenakshi Sundaram (one of our English profs) used to say- there is a world of difference between secret, confidential and clandestine. And the right word can make all the difference. I was discussing this with my father one of these days- how people are not particularly specific about what they are saying, especially on the internet..

That reminds me of one of the two things that I was going to write about (not the one I forgot earlier). It was about technology and pedagogy. It so happened that I was discussing how technology has changed the role of a teacher with my father and brother, and then my brother went on to write something about it for his magazine, reading which, I thought I should write about it too. But maybe I have ranted enough for one day, so let me keep it for laters (To those who are particular: Yes!That is an internet word. And its position there was intentional! :D).

Interestingly, though all three of us discussed nearly the same thing about technology and teaching, my brother's article seemed to be talking something completely different from what I thought we had said. It was like- we had used the same set of words to discuss, but he meant something completely different. It made me question our abilities to translate non-verbal thoughts into words... (Note to self: Is there a behaviorist answer for this?)

Well, well.. I'm forced to repeat- It's only words.. And words are all I have..

P.S: I started this post thinking I should finish it in 20 minutes, but ended up writing for 40. There should be a word for overestimating the amount of work you can do in a period of time, especially when you are swamped with work..
P.S.2: Wow! I can write soooo much without saying ANYthing I intended saying when I started.. And in such a short time!!!! :O

Monday, July 23, 2012

The other side of 3 idiots- Part 2

(Continued from Part 1. This might not make much sense unless you have at least glanced at Part 1!)

3. Most people are not ready to put in the amount of effort it takes to excel, in whatever field they choose to do so.
While it is true that some of our talents are innate aka genetic, a lot of it is the amount of time you put in (Check out "Outliers" by Gladwell on this!) Whether you want to be the artist or the tennis player or the entrepreneur, you are not going to get there with no work. Movie directors often make it look like everyone who starts a new company succeeds and every guy who wants to write is eventually published. (If it's a Tamizh movie, probably in the course of one song (Must watch Thamizh Padam's take on this :D)) But the reality is that most people score badly or end up in BPOs not because they were super-geniuses forced to make money, but because they did not care to put in the hours of effort needed to excel. So, if they suddenly quit and become a photographer, they will probably do as badly. (Or worse, because photography doesn't pay well!). As somebody said "When people talk of an overnight success, they forget the million sleepless nights of work that made it". People forget that even so-called geniuses had to work hard, skip lunches, not attend parties, have pathetic private lives, not watch TV, not sleep for days together and exercise immense self-control to get where they were.

The reason many people tell you to follow the system is because it works, and without having to do any of this. Even a person with almost zero understanding of atomic physics and differential equations who will not spend his nights reading IEEE papers can be trained to write Perl Scripts and to test Linux kernels. No, I'm not saying software is dumb or something. Just that most of the software that people write is simple, involves incremental changes over existing code, and someone can be trained to write it. Which is obvious, because how could an entire nation of youngsters be super good at something extraordinarily difficult? The same is true of most other industrial work. Anyway, the point is that when movies/articles talk about following your passion, they conveniently forget that it involves a lot of hard work that most people are not ready to put in, and a lot of sacrifices that people are not ready to make.
I repeat, it is NOT easy to excel.

And guess what,
4. Most people don't give a damn as long as they can pay the bills and be respected.
What do the majority of people want? To win a Nobel after killing themselves with work or a house and a car, a nice spouse with 2 kids and respect from society? It's not hard to find the answer. Look around you and think about how many people ARE killing themselves with work and how many are trying to survive average jobs? Doesn't that say something? It is not that someone would reject an Oscar or a Nobel or a Pulitzer if they were given one. It is that they do not particularly need it to feel happy, and are not ready to screw up their lives in search of an elusive (and mirage-like) dream. Which makes sense.

In that context, it is way easier to take a standard education, standard job and go through the routine conveyor belt of life. For all the hype about taking the off-beaten path, it is thorny, and you will probably be too hurt before you reach anywhere on it. I find it almost dumb to criticize the system simply because most people who do it, do so because others do it. It shows that you do not understand why the system works and have not thought enough to realize that it is not as easy as it appears. And all the debate about the Indian education not emphasizing on choosing your own path etc. ignores the economic side of the equation so much that it is annoying. If your parents took a housing loan and an education loan to get you where you were, instead of vacationing in Hawaii, why is it wrong for them to expect that you will make SOME money? They are just trying to ensure that you don't have to go through the hardships that they had to. Ya, I hate being forced into anything, but I at least understand why the previous generation wants job security over random jumping between professions.

You might probably be thinking that I'm trying to bring in the economic aspect to much. "Life is not all money and not everyone is  like you say. People do want to follow their dreams". Which brings me to my last point.
5. Most people who claim that you should follow your dreams do not do so in real life.
I suspect most people wouldn't agree with this either. Anyway, a simple example. Almost everybody I know liked 3 idiots. And almost everybody I know (of approximately my age) claims that "one should follow their dreams". But guess what. 90% of the aforementioned people are in some big corp slaving away or enrolled in MBA degrees. In fact, the people who most vehemently oppose (1)-(4) are the ones who say "What to do, yaar? One must pay the bills". All i want to ask is- if that's what you think, why don't you say it? Why do you want to preach to the world that it's good to die for your passion and then go make money yourself? But that's not just it. There is a self-righteous way people criticize the Indian education system and societal pressure- almost as if they did not have a choice to simply walk out of society and take an independent stand. People who go on the off-beaten track have to pay the price of ostracism and excruciating labor. If you really think that's what you want, just go do it. There is no point in claiming that the system screwed you. If you did not want to become the Java expert, you could simply have chosen an arts degree and earned 3-4k a month. Having a readymade path for people is an optimization. You could choose to explore, but don't glorify exploring while blaming the system and don't ignore the fact that the system has made things very easy for you. 

On a related note, a lot of people think that the Indian education system sucks. There is some truth to it, but saying that "I am as bad as I am because the system didn't try hard enough" is lame! If you did not understand the stuff taught in your school, you had the option of reading up more. Yes, it was the system's responsibility to make it interesting enough. But, if it didn't, don't blame the system, for your not having the interest or the determination to learn better. There are enough people I know who are products of the same system and who have an excellent understanding of what they learned. So, if it was anybody's fault, it was yours.
Another thing. People often see the western system of education and think it is awesome etc. I agree it is awesome that they have good teachers, good facilities and emphasize on learning by doing. But I really think that all the lack of exams, lenient correcting, not emphasizing on marks, stunts your brain. In fact, if you see the average intelligence of the American public, you would be stunned. Besides, life is not easy or fair or nice to you. So having a rigorous education system is a good way to prepare children for future challenges.

Anyway, bottomline is that- when blaming the system or giving career advice, try not to have double standards.. And try to understand why the "system" exists in the first place. And ya, when apprecdiating a movie like 3 idiots, draw the line on where the concept makes sense and where it is just a naive simplification. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The other side of 3 idiots

After that post on education which got either too much praise or too much criticism, I'm back with another post I have long wanted to write, but didn't. Thanks again, to Lightning strikes everyday. He has written a post on 3 idiots, and it covers a lot of the stuff I wanted to write about. I strongly recommend you read his post before continuing. There is probably quite some overlap between the two, though I hope I have added my 2 cents to it.

So, among the many people who loved 3 idiots, I was one. (I admit I didn't like some of the cheap humor, but I liked the general idea.) I have always believed (and hopefully will continue to believe) that one must follow one's dreams in life. You get only one life and all that. And that is why I liked the movie. But like the post by LSE says, there are too many catches in that scenario. This post is about the other side of the coin.

1. Most people don't have a dream/passion or don't know what their passion is. -This should be obvious, but sadly isn't. Most people who conclude that software engineering is their passion in life, are lying to you or lying to themselves. Seriously, how can an entire nation fantasize about Java coding? 
But that's not the bad part. Remember the time when you had just finished your 12th and were trying to decide what to do. Did you know that programming was your passion? Rather, did you know that behavioral ecology wasn't? What about population genomics? Most of the people I know went through a phase of having to decide though they had no clue what they wanted. In fact, they didn't even know what options they had. They did not particularly like anything too much- Science was ok, math was not bad, history was horrible; or vice-versa. And luckily for them, the choice was already made. You could give your exams and like a slot machine, almost magically you would get the answer of what to do, based on your ranks. It was convenient.
While one half of the population doesn't know what it wants, there are a few people who want too many things. Like me. And some of my best friends. I want to learn everything, know everything, be a writer, singer, electrical engineer, biotechnologist, astronomer, traveler, economist, teacher, social worker, wealthy CEO, critic, politician, all rolled into one. Which is physically impossible. It is just that I enjoy too many things in life, especially associated with learning and achieving. Point is, it is hard for someone like that to decide what their passion is. So what do you do? You could try each of them and realize at 65 that you never found out. Or you could simply follow whatever appears to be your best one. Thing is the 3-idiots-philosophy simply doesn't cover this aspect.

Now, at this point, some of you are probably saying- "No, I am not in either group. I'm really passionate about painting (or music, or cinematography or whatever), but was forced into engineering." There are 2 angles to this. One angle is that-
2.  Most people are not talented in a way as to become super-excellent at something.
Most people who talk about following your dreams assume that you are good (if not exceptional) at whatever you are dreaming about. Which is not always true. In fact, it is not true 90% of the time. My dream could be to become a Hollywood actress but I probably speak in the worst monotone, have pathetic facial expressions and do not have a figure to speak of. Same with being the artist or whatever else. 
Think about it. How many artists are there in this world? How many became popular? Same with writers, scientists, actors, cricketers. It's simply because most things in this world follow a normal distribution. There are too few people who are exceptional or who completely suck. Most people are average. So, if something is your dream, and you are average at it, but you are average at software too, but the latter ensures you have a house and food and can survive on your own, which is the better choice? No, I'm not giving an answer to that, but the point is that this is not an easy decision to make. What if you are good at something that is not your passion? Movies like "3 idiots" and all related writing quite simplistically romanticize suffering for your passion. They make it sound like it is the system's fault that YOU ended up being a software engineer and not the awesome wildlife photographer who is featured on Nat Geo. It isn't anybody's fault but yours. Anyway, point is that not everybody who likes economics will become an Amartya Sen and not everyone who wants to be a hero becomes a Hrithik Roshan. Life is simply not that simple.
Also, it is not easy to excel. (To be continued...)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Let us ban the JEE

You know what. For once, I agree with the Congress. Actually more than agree with it. Let us ban the JEEs. No, seriously. Let us not just change them. Let us completely ban the JEEs because they are the root of all evil. (Proof: They are the root of money for most of their alumni, and hence the root of inflow of money into India from NRIs as precursors of the IT boom- and we all know what money is the root of.) But it's not just the money. As most of our media, and part of the blogverse has jumped in to prove, the IITs are the source of all our problems. Pliss to explain.

First of all, the JEE screws up your school life. Quite obviously. Most students spend almost all their time in studying for the exam for 2 years (or many more) practicing problems they shall never even see again. You know, if the JEE wasn't there, your parents wouldn't be behind you to study for the AIEEE or the PMPD or a few decades ago, the IAS exam. No. Your parents would simply let you watch TV all evening, play Gilli-Danda and get 40% on your finals. And anyway, we can skip board exams these days.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Why does my mind grow ever so fickle-
something so strong suddenly shrink with sorrow, subtle?
It is as if time weathered the surface of my mind,
And created those worry lines, wrinkle by wrinkle...

Why does my mind grow ever so precarious-
I wonder like Arjuna*, though centuries later,
While the AMPA receptors** were littered on surfaces various
were some sentiments also inadvertently sprinkled?

Why does my mind grow ever so morose-
do the years that crawl make the smiles forced
and like the hawk that draws on its prey ever close
little by little sculpt the joys into woes?

Time must be laughing at me, for after all,
He transformed the stone into a touch-me-not!

Some explanations: 

Just simply.... Wow!

This is so awesome that I HAD to write about it... Though ideally I should go back to studying/working on HWs etc... 

This is a blog by a 95 year old man!!! Just that is so awesome, I have been filled with wonder and inspiration for the last fifteen minutes (when I first found it and read right through to the first post! Thanks to Lightning Strikes Everyday!)

But he is not just any old man ranting away. He is one who can mix experience with humour and wisdom. Combine contradicting Upanishads and proverbs and argue which is truer based on his own experiences. And he hyperlinks to his old posts and so forth. "Awesome!" is just understating the whole thing.. 

Maybe in my naivete, I always thought old people have a hard time adjusting to technology. Besides, none of my grandparents (or other grandparents I know) are as tech savvy.. My grandfather might have become so (He is 93 now) but he lost his hearing and kind of stopped interacting a lot with us. And this site so reminds me of my own grandfather. But, about him, some other day. This man (the blogger) has proven it is possible to be updated after you are so old! But, then again, it is not just the age. It is his wisdom and and intelligence and sparkling wit..  And I must say this man is almost youthfully old in his style of writing!

People... Must.check.this.out!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Do we spend too much?

I read a blog post by my brother's friend (Not tagging here, because I want to be honest about my comments on the article and not offend anyone!) It wasn't very well written and wasn't the most thought-out of articles, but it got me thinking. This guy was basically writing about the petrol price and then he was trying to say that we should not just blame petrol, but the fact that we as people have started spending more.
Honestly, I don't think that justifies the petrol price increase. And I cannot say that our economy is among the best managed ones (though we have had some pretty good managing sometimes!), nor do I want to get into the whole "Oh-our-politicians-are-so-corrupt" routine (they are, and they get away with most of it, and its impact is more for a developing country like ours etc., but that's beside the point!)

What I was really thinking about was his minor premise that we as people are spending more. I guess he intended it as a negative thing. And it got me thinking. Is it really bad to have a laptop and a smartphone? AND a tablet?  And this writer really wanted to say that our parents could manage living on very less. He doesn't mention it, but I guess he meant to say that they were as happy as could be. Definitely, it is not as if we are much happier than they are, though we may be so on different terms.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The right, the wrong and the relatively...

There is some pleasure in listening to your own thoughts expressed by someone else. Most of the time, if not always, we are pleased when someone agrees with us. Or believes in something we believe in. Especially so, if it is for the same reasons. Maybe it is some sort of ego thing in human beings. Or maybe it is the selfish meme at work. While I am not generally a fan of people who always agree with me (which is obviously impossible), it does give me pleasure sometimes when somebody thinks the exact same thing that I do. And when that someone has put it down on paper many many years ago, it is a real pleasure for me to read it. More so, when that someone is already one of my most favorite authors.

And even more so, when what he has written is something related to what I wrote on my blog earlier. So, today when I came across this article by Asimov about the "Relativity of wrong", I was very happy when I reached paragraph 17 ("Now where do we..."), because this was so related to one of my previous posts. (This one!)

While you are reading the post, one warning though. At first glance these two links might not seem related at all.. But here is how they are related, at least in my perspective. 

My post is about why we do not always have the right answer. About the need for us to realize that many answers in life are not clearly 'right' or 'wrong', unlike the spelling of sugar in Asimov's example (paragraph 19). And Asimov's question "Where do we learn that right and wrong are absolutes?" is  a very pertinent one. It is surprising how we always think that 'right' is something fixed or static (and we do that all the more when we become engineers, what with all the emphasis on mathematical precision...). But if we look at it, it is just a notion we get in our childhoods. And Asimov does a brilliant job of explaining how this is not so; how there are degrees of right, for example.

The other reason I find the article relevant is because, it makes a good addendum to mine (Ya right! Asimov writing an addendum to "my" post! What arrogance I must possess!! ...  Anyway..). While it is true that right and wrong are not absolute, and that there are questions for which we might never know if our answers are right, there is some room for hope. Maybe our answers shall never be 100% right. But they would still be more right than our previous answer. Even though our answers may be wrong, what gives meaning to our journey is the fact that "each tomorrow finds us farther than today"*. And that, to me, is the whole pleasure of science- the unending quest of  unraveling this mysterious universe, little by little, each day...

* This line, by Longfellow, is part of the same poem from which the "Bottomline" of this blog is taken.. One of the most amazing poems ever written...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Random Thoughts

After that last post, I have had quite a vacation. Though it was far from perfect, I got to read a few books (didn't finish them all), and also watch some movies that I should have seen long ago, but never did! Books include "The Extended Phenotype" which I am reading at worse than snail's pace, but hope that changes soon. So far, I think it should have been titled 'The Evolution MythBuster' but maybe when I am done with the book, that idea might change. Still, an incredible book (as always)! I was also rereading "Pride and Prejudice", but done with that now and started on "Sense and Sensibility", which I haven't read before and which is making me rediscover the joy of reading that I was sorely missing in my previous post. As for the movies I saw quite a few, including, "A 200 pound beauty" (Korean), which sent me on a train of thought about how and why should beauty be important, "It Happened One Night", which was plain Clark Gable, "The Message", which was good (though I am still not sure of its credibility), "Jodha Akbar", which was simply awesome, and a few more.

For some reason, all that reading and movie watching led me to this debate about what we regard as ideal, and whether it really exists. For a long time, I used to be a fan of the ideal, in the sense that I believed it to be possible, but maybe a little difficult to attain. (Ideal here, refers to the "perfect"- in any aspect or domain or context). But the more time you spend with science the more you encounter usages of "ideal" in the context of the non-existent. Maybe, that influenced me, or maybe it was something else, but I have ended up with a not-so rosy picture of the world in general. Most of the time, it appears stupid (or at least over-optimistic) to pile too much hopes on something ideal.

But then again, there is this whole notion of 'everything is possible if you only strongly desire for it'. I remember APJ's autobiography talking about how desire possesses electromagnetic energy that makes the cosmos conspire to make it come true. While I don't know about the electromagnetic part, I have often seen near-miracles happen to people who strongly believe in them.

Which leaves me in a quandary. So does the ideal exist and is my desire for it not strong enough to see it? Or is what I regard as perfect simply a fantasy of my imagination and there may be no point believing in it? Is it better to hope for something and be disappointed (so you at least gave the cosmos a chance :P) or is it better to be sensible and keep your expectations low? What if you were too sensible and so missed the miracle? Maybe it is a mixture of both. Maybe I shall never have an answer for this question....*

One of the other things I have been thinking about is the very stupid NCERT cartoon ban thing going on. Maybe I will do a post on it later, but knowing myself, most probably not. So let me just say what I think about it here anyway. It is unbelievably stupid, but quite unsurprising, considering the intelligence of our elected members. (I hope that statement doesn't qualify as contempt to the constitution). I just want to ask all who find it incredible- "What did u expect of the people in the Parliament? Sense? And you think they are irrational?" I can't even hope that the government will see sense in this issue. If someone was stupid enough to take offense at a political cartoon and to consider it something that will corrupt young minds, how can you expect them to understand that a cartoon is simply an alternate viewpoint on the issue and with the necessary critical thinking skills, a student would be able to still appreciate a great leader while acknowledging his mistakes? That you don't have to paint an all-white picture of a leader, however great his contributions to the nation? It is such a subtle balance, especially in a culture where we insist on never identifying the gray and do not encourage questioning, that I doubt a government like ours shall be able to get it at all. Maybe I am too pessimistic in this, but I can only think of Roark saying- reason is something that people most definitely don't want to have on their side when they enter an argument. Which brings me back to an idea I mentioned a few paragraphs before- "The more sensible you become, the more bleak the world appears" (Interestingly it applies to science as well. The more I learn about processors and complex systems and human brains, I just can't imagine how anybody got them working at all!") There should be a moral somewhere in that sentence about pessimism and knowledge, but for the life of me, I can't see what it is... 

Well, that's it for now. Let's hope I find time to post better and more stuff during the semester....  

*Couldn't help thinking of a recursive question here- Is it too hopeful to think that I shall find the answer or should I take the sensible route and say that I might never find it? :P

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Stop and Stare

I miss reading. I miss the feeling of being caught in the magic of a different world created by a writer. I miss the wait for the plot to unravel. To me every book is like a beautifully wrapped gift, and I love the process of cutting open the ribbons, tearing the paper and discovering the beauty of the present inside. More than the present, the element of surprise.. And then the reverse engineering process of "I should have seen this coming". But more than any of that, just the idea of the different world and the ability of someone to keep u there.

And I miss falling in love with the characters. I cannot love any real person as much as I love John Galt. Or the little prince. (Look, he has gone to sleep!) Somewhat lesser, Sydney Carton. Maybe, one can only conceive of a perfect person. But that's beside the point. From Tariq to Bartimaeus, from Severus Snape to Rahel and Estha and Velutha, from Dorothy to Elizabeth Bennet, why, even Uriah Heep to Madame Defarge- each character has almost been alive in some way in my life- how could I forget any of them?
For someone like me, who can almost get high on reading and whose dream paradise is just a huge library (like the one the Beast gifts Beauty in "The Beauty and the Beast!), this is bad. I do watch a few TV series and movies here and there, but really, they are a little superficial to me. They can never captivate me like the feel of paper. And the image of the different world playing in my head. (Maybe because I get to pick the faces! :P)

So why am I writing about this now? Two reasons. One, Georgia Tech has robbed me of my novel reading time. I was definitely reading more in Bangalore, even if not enough. And here it is not just that time is limited, but that I know reading any novel is going to make me feel guilty tomorrow. And then I think if all of it was worth it. If you think about it, giving up Khaled Hosseini to read HLA papers sounds like a bad deal. The bad part is I do enjoy reading tech books (Quantitative Neurophysiology was simply fascinating!). But somewhere deep down not reading much fiction kills something in u that is lively and creative and optimistic. Grad school makes u analyze and over analyze and draw graphs for everything. And make a Zipf's law out of an otherwise enjoyable reading of Moby Dick! (One of my recent examples include thinking of drawing a graph out of heating times and pause times while making gobhi 65!). While the thinking is all good and everything, it makes you
too prone to making mathematical models of everything. Over-sensible. And less open to the miraculous possibilities of the world. It makes you forget that statistical probability is still a probability- that something might be 99% improbable and might still happen. That probability vanishes at the moment of the occurrence of the event. Or maybe it is not grad school! Maybe they are signs of growing old! :( Anyway, I miss the slow pleasure of novel reading on lazy afternoons (and early mornings! ;) )

The second thing is I somehow miss the good books. I know I am talking like an old woman here, but for some reason, lately, I have found too many books not worth being called that and becoming so over-popular that it has become too tedious to find a good book. Of course I haven't read all the good ones. And of course, there are many good ones. But for some reason, the quality of general reviewing has somehow gone down, especially for Indian writing. Anybody who has seen a Bollywood movie seems to think he can write and that is such a disaster. And I am not even going to start on the Chetan Bhagat syndrome here. Maybe it is because Sujatha died! Point being, I need to find some reviewer who reviews books sensibly or find a good author whose books I haven't finished.

But the second point is kinda minor. The first is the one I am more concerned about. What I really wanted to do with this post was to remind myself (and others like me) to stop rationalizing too much. To read good fiction once in a while. Classics. Novels. Stories woven by master narrators. Watch plays (I missed watching "Rent" :( :( :( ). Listen to symphonies. Listen to Ganesh-Kumaresh. Watch some Bharatanatyam performance. Walk in the mornings watching the sky turn red.  

Stop. And stare

P.S: Thanks Srinath for pointing out the typo on Bharatanatyam. Though if you ask me, considering that it is a Tamil word, maybe we should spell it as Baradanattiyam :P

Monday, April 2, 2012

The tinge of hatred

There are times when I don't love you.
There are times when my feeling is almost close to hatred.
No, not anger. Hatred.
But only close, and I hope never there.
And yet how could life ever be complete in your absence
how would my existence make any sense?

I sometimes wonder what I would do after you are gone,
Instinct says I should go along,
but the rational me would say just go on.
But again, how could I go on in a world without you,
who would I rejoice my little victories with, who would I cry about my failures to?
No. I am not dependent, I am not tied,
And yet I am all that and more.

The surge of affection I feel this minute-
A blind urge to protect you from the world's cruelties,
and make sure you would never be gone..
Yet, who am I but a mere spectator, a tool in the hands of an unending cycle
An evanescent dot in the vast universe- bright one fleeting moment, gone the next?
and how could two mere dots feel such an unencompassable emotion?

Yet, if you were to go, there would be a gaping hole

Not a mere dot that vanished, but something in me gone forever.
Maybe because, for all my rationality, it is this that makes me complete-
the love, the reason for the love and
the tinge of hatred.

P.S: 1. I haven't posted for long and there are quite a few posts in my Drafts- hope they see light of day sometime. Sorry, readers! Sorry, myself, too because I had almost forgotten the joy of writing..
2. This poem is dedicated to the many people I have loved, respected, been inspired by and who have made my life complete (even, if I hated them for some moments!). There was a time in my life when I used to think it didn't matter, but with time I have realized I was naive then, and that, like Dumbledore so often says, love is the most powerful magic in the world. I know that sounds like a Bollywood dialogue, but really, that's what I felt the moment I started reading this article- The value of the people I have got, and how my world would crash if they were gone...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Women and Negotiation- A link

For all who read this post, but do not follow me on Facebook, one of my friends has pointed me to this article which talks further about the issue.
What I found interesting was that what I thought was a mere observation is apparently a topic of scientific research (which is good for women, incidentally) and also that it is far more pervasive and prevalent than I thought.
Anyway, do check the link and maybe we can continue our arguments after that! :)
And thanks to Vignesh Sundaram for the link! :)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The right answer....

A few days back, I was in a situation where there was a problem in my project team, and I had a choice to make- which would affect whether we would remain a team or not. It was the kind of complex situation anyone would hate getting into, because all the alternatives in front of you are equally good and bad. And I was thinking this through so much, with the desire to make the "right" choice. The choice that I wouldn't be guilty about later on. The choice where I would be fair to everyone concerned. And so on...
I was just wishing there would be someone in this world who would resolve that issue for me. Who would give me an answer- the "right" answer and with the reasons it was right.

It reminded me of the school days when- whenever you had a question, you could just  ask your mom/dad. And they would always have the right answer.. From why do aeroplanes fly to what should I do if my best friend stole my pencil. ("Tujh ko sab pata hai na ma"). And then the stage when I had an implicit blind belief in my teacher. If the teacher wrote a 'z' with a line across it, that was the only right way to do it. I remember having argued with my mother over such things (though I don't remember exactly what). But the idea was that the teacher ALWAYS had the right answer. And it was unthinkable that she could be wrong.
Of course, by the time I was in secondary, I realized that a lot of primary teachers had had no clue what they had been talking about (Especially with respect to some serious questions in science). But I thought that maybe "they" did not know, but somebody else did. Somebody else "should" know the right answer.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why don't women ask questions?

Time: Today afternoon
Place: Klaus Computing Building, Georgia Tech- Parallel Computer Architecture Class
Context: Long argument between a guy and the teacher about why a particular cache coherency feature is essential to make that protocol sequentially consistent (Ya, ya Greek and Latin not only for the rest of you, but for many in the class :P) It is a conversation with one or two more guys pitching in once in a while- some normal guys, some of the other kind, you know, the kind who are always asking doubts in class and answering the teacher's questions etc etc
Most students are trying not to chat with their neighbors and looking at their notebooks or mobiles or at the prof and hoping he will somehow end this argument and move on to the next topic..

At this point...

Anonymous girl voice: Adding to his question, sir, if you just did this ........ 

80% of the class turns around and looks at her as if she is a Martian who directly landed in Klaus Building. 

Note that the same 80% was looking at their own notebooks or the professor and nobody ever looked at those other guys who were discussing so long, even the normal ones, who probably spoke for the first time today.

And that got me wondering. When was the last time you heard a woman ask a question in class? Or at a monthly meeting? Or any public gathering? I remember how, in Intel India, me and my teammates used to discuss why very few women ask questions in meetings. And I can't remember girls asking serious doubts in class EVER in my undergrad. (Serious doubts here imply questions that involve some logical argument and goes AGAINST the teacher's line of thinking. And makes you argue with the teacher. The only kind of doubts I ever heard from girls was- "When should we submit the assignment?", "How long should the answer be?" or "How much weight-age does this chapter carry?"
I know I sound like I am biased here, (which is quite against my general tendency) but I have been thinking about this since afternoon. And I really can count the number of girls, who I have seen asking serious questions, by the fingers in one hand. Yes, it is THAT dismal!

In fact, thinking about this further, I remember one pattern which I observed at work. When a manager, or a higher authority made some kind of rule or decision that you didn't quite agree with, some of the men I knew used to fight. Not fight in the sense of shouting. But assert their opinion and disagree, argue and be firm with their decisions until something else happened (or they realized this was not going to work). This kind of thing could be so detrimental to their career, at first sight. But then again, maybe it isn't, if you look at it closely. Maybe that is how men eventually get what they want. Anyway, my point is I have not seen a SINGLE woman fight against bureaucracy or stupid decisions or any other kind of enforcement the way men did. Women crib about this kind of stuff a lot, they express "mild" disapproval, and they do argue with peers and sometimes direct managers. But they don't fight. Or if they do, they give up too easily. I know I have worked for a very short time and have met very few people, and so, I might be committing a fallacy here by over-generalizing. But no, as I said before it is not just work. It is everywhere. From not wearing "real" casuals to work at a "no dress code" company to being afraid to be normal in front of a teacher to not asking questions to drawing margins in notebooks and underlining answers with red pens.

Seriously. Why do women always play safe? Why don't women ask questions? Why are women generally afraid to be assertive and more ready to submit to authority?