Monday, February 23, 2009

mere-paas-oscar-hai dept.

Rehman chose to snub Big B very smartly, using the "Mere paas maa hai" line in his acceptance speech.
Killing them softly, indeed!!!
For the record, I liked Slumdog Millionaire.
People who disagree are invited to debate it out on chat with me, mano a mano.
One of us will leave the conversation having changed their mind.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Saturday, February 07, 2009

सोपी-दिनचर्या dept.

उठणे, आवरणे
युनिफॉर्म घालणे
शाळेत जाणे

असेंब्लीत ताटकळणे
हजेरी देणे
सरकार-प्रमाणित, पौष्टीक शिक्षण
ग्रहण करणे

टवाळकी करणे
घरी येणे, जेवणे
आईच्या ट्युशनवाल्यांशी खिदळत
होमवर्क करणे

खेळायला जाणे
भांडणे, भडकणे ई.ई.
दिवसातल्या रन्स/विकेट्स मोजून
नमूद करणे

हातपाय धुणे
शुभंकरोती म्हण्णे
जेवताना ९ ची सिरीयल, कुणाचे
न ऐकता बघणे


Saturday, January 31, 2009

satyam-naash dept.

Its been a while since the Satyam fiasco came to light. For anyone who knows what Indian IT companies typically do, and how they operate, something like this was only inevitable.

What was amusing to me, when the story broke, was watching the sense of outrage amongst business news anchors. They must have felt very foolish, considering they had spent the last few years hobnobbing with luminaries like Ramalinga Raju, discussing Quarterly results and doing pieces on the great Indian Services miracle.

Still, no one in the press seems to be asking the tough questions about this industry. For starters, where is the value in it? Should we go overboard praising an industry just because it has high margins? Are high margins indicative of anything substantive being produced by these companies? Is their business model fundamentally sustainable? What are their long-term plans, considering the inevitable downward slide in the 30-50% profit margins, when salaries rise, and there is more global competition? Finally, before comparing them with Silicon Valley companies, are they producing anything of inherent value, or are they just pushing novices to do menial, labor-intensive work at rock-bottom prices? What strategic assets are they creating for themselves and for the financial security of the country as a whole?

IMHO, the Indian Software industry is just a novel manifestation of age-old feudalism. We Indians are very good at feudalism, it seems to have been wired into our genes. Swanky air-conditioned offices may look better than rice and wheat fields, but they are not all that different. And believe you me, the swankiness exists to impress customers and financial analysts, and air-conditioners operate for the benefit of the computers, not for the people. The day computer chassis' ship with a refrigeration unit, expect an en masse replacement of A/Cs by ceiling fans. Since heat dissipation in CPUs (especially with smaller form-factors and multicore etc etc) is not going to be solved anytime soon, this is unlikely to happen though.

I don't want to rubbish the contributions of these (for legal reasons, unnamed :-)) companies. They created an entire industry from scratch where none existed. But I do believe they are not as 'high-tech' as the business press so naively believes them to be. And they need to considerably invest in *real* (as opposed to fake) R&D to sustain themselves. Otherwise, they might just get wiped out overnight.
think-big dept.

I am currently listening to an audiobook lecture series by David Christian, a history professor at SDSU. Christian, when he was previously teaching at Macquarie University in Australia, pioneered a course called "Big History". Normally, history courses exclusively navigate the familiar terrain of the past that is embedded in human experience, perpetuated in myth, or transmitted through oral and written records. David Christian's vision is a little larger than that. In Big History, he covers the history of the universe -- starting from the Big Bang, and leading up to the rise of human civilization.
Its a fascinating course -- we may have read about cosmology and physics/chemistry or even anthropology and human history in bits and pieces before, but listening to it unfold like a sequential story is a very different experience.
Highly recommended, and available here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

bitter-truths dept.

Arundhati Roy has written a very thought-provoking article in the Guardian newspaper about the Mumbai attacks and the general state of affairs in India.
Because it made me feel very uncomfortable and unnaturally defensive as I read it, I guess her analysis is probably very
close to the truth.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

future-readings dept.

This book seems to be related to my post on the emergent role of social networks in mass mobilization. Adding to read queue.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

lost-in-translation dept.

Sometimes, people can be a tad overenthusiastic about globalization.
corruption-is-a-global-phenomenon dept.

I used to think only our Netas were shamelessly corrupt. I stand corrected. At least they're smart enough not to get caught.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

towards-gaia dept.

This story talks more about how the Obama campaign leveraged the so called 'new media' in their quest for the White House.

We're likely to see some of this in the forthcoming assembly and general elections in India. Probably not as part of a conscious effort by any political party, but more spontaneously.

Friday, December 05, 2008

missing-links dept.

The post-Mumbai popular outburst has provided an interesting insight to me. For too long, the actors (stateful, not stateless ;-)) in Indian democracy have been completely unaccountable pretty much for five years of their elected terms. This has rendered a good state in theory, practically dysfunctional. For any truly functional democracy there has to be a closed loop where the common man gets to hold everyone in power accountable.

There were two crucial elements missing in Indian democracy to close the loop, and now I see those two elements gradually taking their rightful place, and plugging this gap.

The first, with the electronic media, has happened over the last decade, and continues to go from strength to strength. However, someone needs to keep a check on the media too.

The next, with social networks and cellphones, is giving unprecedented community mobilization and expressive power to common people. The next decade belongs to the emergence of this particular piece of the puzzle. For it keeps all of the other pieces in check, and is more or less self-regulated. You can see it throw up temporary structures as responses to particular situations, even though for the most part, it is structure-less. Politicians the world over, with the singular exception of a certain compulsive-Blackberry-using President-elect, are really clueless about this phenomenon.

The result is this amazingly organic system that's really self-evolving, and is mutually accountable. Its not mandated by the Indian constitution, no one set out to create it -- it has just appeared out of thin air. A politician who can keep this formless beast happy can go a long way in life :-).

Perhaps a few years from now, when enough has been written about this phenomenon, the technology has matured and become truly ubiquitous, and the politicians begin to grok it, the 'last piece of the puzzle' will finally get its due, and some official constitutional recognition.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

known-unknowns dept.

The following story is probably very important indeed, but I am still undecided...

Quantum Test Found for Mathematical Undecidability.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

oye-lucky-lucky-oye dept.

Not everyone can take on Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott, and then outdo them.
Its unfortunate that an outstanding movie with great performances has to release at this time :(.
I hope everybody goes out and sees this one.
its-the-end-of-the-world dept.

On September 11, 2001, I was on a flight to San Francisco, sleeping soundly somewhere over the Pacific when the twin towers were attacked. I was originally scheduled to fly on the 9th, but I was down with the flu, and my departure was delayed by a couple of days. Three-fourths of the way from Singapore, the flight was redirected to Vancouver. After landing, the plane sat on the tarmac for five hours before being carefully unloaded. (We were given no information about what had happened until about two hours after we had landed). I then spent two days in Canada, glued to my television set at the Hyatt Regency, where Singapore Airlines so graciously put us up -- a displaced, disjointed lot.

The world changed then, and the world is about to change again. The attacks on Mumbai, in that sense, are exactly the same and seek to send the same message to the world. It would be a mistake to think this is an attack on India. I wouldn't relegate it to such a narrow context. Fundamentally this is an attack by a closed, nihilistic society on an open and progressive one. Ostensibly, the message being sent is, "No matter how superior you think you are, we can bring you to your knees."

Any old-world ideology can be twisted into this template, and made to work in this way. In this case, and this time in the world, Islam is being used in this way. The mental trick being used here is to really zero in on the most intolerant parts of scripture, and use that as an intellectual override for irrational acts. Every old-world religion has enough material in its body of scripture to be vulnerable to this kind of manipulation. After all, they were only created by human beings.

The desired effect of the attack is more subtle, it really seeks to transform the victim (a vibrant, open society) into a mirror of the perpetrator (a prejudiced, closed one).

So when we put it in that context, this is really a sequel to 9-11, and the London Underground bombings and needs to be put in proper perspective.

The scale in terms of physical impact may not be as extensive as 9-11, but its equally powerful in terms of its media impact, and hold on the popular imagination. Also, India has been attacked only because it is the most accessible open society that can be subject to such an attack. New York and London have significantly raised the bar for any attack of this kind, and so Mumbai was the best soft target.

The challenge here is to preserve openness and freedom, without becoming an image of the attacker. The more we seek to defend ourselves, the more closeted we become as a society. So, IMHO, offence seems to be the best form of defence in this case. The hardest part is finding what form the offensive strategy should take, without causing the world to come to an end :-). This last bit because the target of the offensive strategy is a failed state with nuclear weapons. Who really runs this state? Who would be the target of retaliation?

I do hope such an offensive strategy exists, and is found in time by those whose job it is to think more deeply about such things.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

the-tiger's-tale dept.

This reviewer has, as a rule, refrained from evaluating self-help books, having suffered from a chronic aversion to self-improvement since childhood. However, this year, he feels compelled to make an exception, considering that the honorable jury members of the Man Booker Prize committee have themselves given their nod of approval to this genre of literature. A genre -- one has to say -- that is popular and omnipresent, yet hitherto unfairly ignored by the critics.

The book under examination is The White Tiger : A Novel, written by Mr.Aravind Adiga, erstwhile South Asian correspondent for Time Magazine. Mr. Adiga has written a simple, clear book in a very lucid prose that details quite explicitly for the very first time, a well-defined set of steps by which one may move up the socio-economic hierarchy. Moreover, it builds on a fine Indian tradition of letter writing (please see: Letters From a Father to His Daughter by Mr. J.M.Nehru) -- a rhetorical style that successfully employs correspondence as a means towards advertising one's opinions and ideas.

The book borrows one of its central theses from that other great writer of self-help books, Mr. Mario Puzo (The Godfather, The Sicilian), who so famously quoted Honoré De Balzac: "Behind every great fortune there is a crime". In his book, Mr. Adiga has followed an interesting two-step approach to flesh out problems and solutions relating to the pressing topic of social mobility.

In the first phase, he shows us the psychological makeup and trauma of a repressed individual. Here, we see the social conventions and psy-ops that are used by those up the hierarchy to keep those down below in check. This discussion, although targeted towards the layman and hence presented in a jargon-free and to-the-point style, may nevertheless rival any scholarly tome on this subject.

The second phase however, is what sets this particular book apart from others in its category. For in this phase, Mr.Adiga lays out clearly, the steps one may follow to correct one's position in the hierarchy if one so desires. He describes quite vividly the psychological preparation required for undertaking the necessary action. But importantly, he very clearly defines the steps required, once the necessary psychological preparation is in place. It is the reviewer's opinion that it is this factor which will significantly endear this book to the reading public, and inshah-allah catapult this book to the status of a classic in its genre.

In conclusion, The White Tiger is another classic in the genre of self-help literature, to rival other mainstays of the field, such as How to Win Friends and Influence People, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Getting Things Done and The Godfather. The reviewer expects this book to remain long in circulation considering that the masses would find the concepts and methods discussed therein useful and practical in their daily lives.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

the-niagara-river dept.

As though
the river were
a floor, we position
our table and chairs
upon it, eat, and
have conversation.
As it moves along,
we notice—as
calmly as though
dining room paintings
were being replaced—
the changing scenes
along the shore. We
do know, we do
know this is the
Niagara River, but
it is hard to remember
what that means.

-- Kay Ryan

Friday, February 29, 2008

from-lamports-bakery dept.

Leslie Lamport is due to speak at Hopkins in the weekly seminar series. Needless to say, I'm excited and looking forward to hearing one of the great sages of Computer Science speak.

Here is a Bio that was circulated by the CS Department, probably self-authored :-)

Dr. Lamport is best known as the author of LaTeX, a document
formatting system for people who write formulas instead of drawing
pictures. This naturally led him to join Microsoft, a company with
little interest in such people. He is also known for writing

"A distributed system is one in which the failure of a
computer you didn't even know existed can render your
own computer unusable."

which established him as an expert on distributed systems. Among his
other contributions is the TLA+ specification language--a Quixotic
attempt to overcome engineers' fear of and computer scientists'
antipathy towards mathematics.

The fact that I am currently taking a Distributed Systems course right now, can only be decribed as poetic.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

paisa-vasool dept.

Om Shanti Om is very nicely done, funny movie. Its about as nice as a cherubic little friend who makes your acquaintance, or a nicely satisfying backrub after a tiring day at the office.

So there. I don't have anything even mildly sarcastic to say about it.

When I was little I had a cassette tape of Naseeb, and my favorite song which I repeated ad nauseam, was John, Jaani, Janardan. OSO is the kind of movie that little kids today will grow up with, they will know the dialogues and the songs and 30 years from now, pot-bellied and balding, as they gather round for a few drinks and some pakoras, some of them might even trade a few laughs by reminiscing about it for old times sake.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

fall-2007 dept.

असा गाफिल होऊन चालू नकोस
हे बघ, फक्त रंग बदलतायेत
माहितीये झाडांचे कसे पारे उडालेत
वाटतं पार कायापालट झालाय

असलं हे नेहमीचंच बरं-का
चांगलं हिरवं भरलं रान असतांना
रुसून सन्‍यासाची करायची सोंगं
मिरवायचे जरा भगवे-तांबडे कपडे

मग बर्फांचे फवारे लागले
थंडीनी चांगली जरब आणली
की येईल जरा डोकं ठिकाणावर
हळूच चढेल पुन्हा खराखुरा रंग

अरे सोंगं कधी टिकत नाहीत
मी कधीच फसलो नाही, सांगतो
तू ही जास्तं भाव देऊ नकोस
त्याचं हे असं नेहमीचंच आहे...

Friday, October 26, 2007

rielly-open-problems dept.

Rik Van Riel, linux kernel developer, posted a call to arms a few years ago for CS researchers to
consider focusing anew on systems research. Rob Pike wrote a paper in 2000, basically chiding the research community saying that Systems Software Research is Irrelevant -- the title sounds misleading: you would think Pike claims systems research as a field was dead; what he actually writes in the paper is that most researchers are into performance analyses (that too, using flawed methods) rather than building new kinds of systems, and so recent research is mediocre and irrelevant :-).

(Before all you grad students start throwing your Systems dissertations at me, this is what Rob Pike -- member of UNIX team at Bell Labs, programming style guru, father of Inferno and Plan9 -- claims, not me :-)).

I recently read a paper (CAR) about, of all things, Cache replacement algorithms. I came across the above links while researching ARC, the cache replacement algorithm for databases that CAR is based on (CAR is a clock-based implementation of ARC that's more suitable for OS page cache replacement). ARC is a pretty effective scan-resistant algorithm (it performs well even for bursts of sequential accesses that totally screw up LRU), and very simple conceptually (which makes it all the more brilliant). Turns out a lot of commodity open-source OS kernels (Linux/OpenSolaris) and Databases (PostgreSQL) considered and then abandoned ARC implementations because of patent issues with IBM. Too bad :-(.

If, what Rob Pike and Rik Van Riel are saying is true, I have a hypothesis for why this may be happening. Systems Research saw its greatest achievements bank in the '70s and '80s. This was when commodity hardware was not available, and software was at a pretty raw stage -- if you needed a compiler, there was no gcc, you had to write your own -- this is when most researchers grappled with building abstractions and systems -- because they had no choice -- there were no abstractions to work with.

Now that we have reasonably stable abstractions (they may not be the best, but they exist :-)) like UNIX, files and mouse-driven windowing systems, researchers have moved on to other areas. Systems problems are an annoyance at best, and not a high-priority. If systems problems were a bug in a bug-tracking system, they were triaged as "P5, S5" a long time ago.

Perhaps with increasing disk and memory size, hybrid drives, network speeds rapidly outpacing abysmal storage speeds etc. etc., we might see these bugs clawing their way back onto the priority heap. Until then, I leave you with the humorous, yet sublime words of Rob Pike:

...I started keeping a list of these annoyances but it got too long and depressing so I just learned to live with them again. We really are using a 1970s era operating system well past its sell-by date. We get a lot done, and we have fun, but let's face it, the fundamental design of Unix is older than many of the readers of Slashdot, while lots of different, great ideas about computing and networks have been developed in the last 30 years. Using Unix is the computing equivalent of listening only to music by David Cassidy.