Little things that make Geeks happy

By nature, Geeks are a species very easy to satisfy. They don’t require elaborate arrangements, expensive dinners, long rides — its the small and the simple that excite us, and enthuse us.

One of the things that really excited me was getting a new email id – kpowerinfinity@clickass.in. This is a part of the CoolHotmail service that Microsoft has launched in India — and lets you create email ids in fun domains. After deliberating for a long time whether I should get martinian.in, or vadapaavrocks.in, or boscoite.in, I finally settled on ClickAss. And as soon as I describe it to my friends, we all break into instant laughter — geek connection. Click Ass! (Check their new Viral)

Another thing obviously is things that work. iPhone. One of my friends recently got an iPhone, and trust me, that is called beauty unparalleled. Aishwarya Rai and iPhone and I will choose iPhone any day. Other smaller things are also cool — like the new linked ids in Windows Live. I have multiple Live accounts, and it was always a pain to switch — and Live has not made it a cakewalk. It’s a little like Yahoo! with its small business offering, but far more flexible. I hope Google switches it — and then life will become a lot easier.

And then, of course, reading something completely ludicrous and hilarious. That just makes your day — for example sample this: (from The Hindu)

There is also another connection between the moon and China. In the 1970s, a crater on the moon was named after a Chinese stargazer, Wan Hu, who is said to be the first astronaut in human history. Legend says about 600 years ago, around the middle of the Ming Dynasty, Wan Hu, a local government official, tried to fly into space with the help of a chair, two big kites and 47 self-made gunpowder-filled rockets. According to the legend, after the rockets were lit there was a huge bang and a lot of smoke. When the smoke cleared, Wan was nowhere to be found.

Nothing, of course, can equal being interviewed yourself — that too by a NY Times journalist. That was yesterday — about life at IIT, how I got in, what I did there, what are the advantages of studying there and so on. Funnily enough, geekiness took over and I offered to proof-read it for factual errors (I didn’t know she wrote for NYT), and she politely said – “I have been doing this for a long time, and I think I am quite good at being factually correct”. Point noted.

[And if you haven't checked out xkcd as yet, you should NOW!]

Missing Feeling

So, I have been feeling low for awhile and I figured that the single biggest thing I miss right now is the feeling of Durga Puja. Having grown up in laid back Calcutta, with a heavy dose of vacations and dollops of Pujo during this season. Have had my share of fun in the Navratri — from getting sloshed to fun dandiya nights. However, it still doesn’t feel complete. Somehow, there is a large missing entity in the equation, and things just don’t add equally up on both sides.

I think what separates Calcutta during this time from the rest of the country is that Puja is just not a festival you enjoy, not just another set of rituals you observe, not just a holiday you chill out on, not just old relatives you don’t meet the rest of the year — Puja is a way of life. It’s all pervasive — it’s in the air, the crowded streets, the blaring music, the glittering lights, the all-night food stalls selling egg chow-mein, in the new clothes, bedecked women, and kurta-clad men, in the silent corridors of power and the menagerie therein, in the adda sessions and the ogling and the swooning, in the temples and outside, in the priest and even the atheist (holiday, after all!), in the closed offices and annual bonuses, in the pandals and new-yet-worn-out sandals, in anticipation of new things and frustrations of those over-used, in the sparkle of people’s eyes, in their troubles and smiles. It’s just one heady feeling — when the world around you is caught in a time-warp, when nothing else matters but Puja.

I am guessing I am missing that feeling right now. There is fun and there is work and both might overlap, but there is no single event that completely captures all your imagination, your thinking, your whole existence for a period of four days. It’s like being in love just enough.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Brighter Than a Thousand Suns: A Review

[Cross posted on my WordPress blog]

I have often wondered what makes accomplished people participate in something that would hammer their conscience for the rest of their lives, and I have found myself unable to come up with an acceptable answer. How does a lawyer defend somebody who murdered somebody in cold blood? How does a soldier kill a helpless victim? How does a scientist invent a weapon of mass destruction?

All the answers to the third question are in this book. The byline reads ‘A personal history of the atomic scientists’. I was recommended the book by a colleague and even though its not a thriller, I could hardly keep the book down until I had finished it!

The story of the atomic scientists is so intriguing that I would doubt if any other real story would come even close to it in terms of their truth and sincerity, their single-minded devotion to the science, and their shock at the results of their discovery. The book paints these scientists as real human beings, with greed and compassion and dedication and ruthlessness, rather than a human-computer many others would.

The story itself is fascinating — it begins in idyllic surroundings in Europe, where students all over the world learn from the Gurus about the new emerging field, the great friendship and competition amongst the scientists, the carefree concentration in their research (they would routinely switch their shoes!). It shows how science can bring the world together, cut across state boundaries and get people with extremely diverse backgrounds to work together amicably and solve problems for a larger cause.

Great progress was made in the labs in Europe at the time. However, as the clouds of the second world war gathered, and Hitler started rounding up the scientists, this utopia soon started crumbling. Many had to move to other countries because of their Jewish backgrounds — and became extremely paranoid about Hitler’s plans. At the same time, many threw open the doors to their friends and collaborators — welcomed them with open arms sometimes even putting themselves in the line of fire. The paranoia, however, grew and it was some of those scientists who approached their governments with suggestions of developing new materials to halt Hitler’s stride. They wanted a deterred strong enough such that Hitler would not even think about trying to expand his power base. They were also worried that the dictatorship in Germany might be forcing its scientists to develop an atomic armoury and the race began.

Thus was the Manhattan Project started and the Los Alamos National Laboratory set up. Oppenheimer assumed leadership, and the scientists worked day and night, living in an uninhabitable place, disconnected from the rest of humanity. However, very soon, they were going to be shocked. They had never anticipated that once a weapon is in the hands of the government, it would be obliged to use it. Despite their protests, and their initial baby-steps towards a third-party controlled nuclear certification policy, the worst annihilation of the century was perpetrated by their government.

What we see now of the IAEA and other such bodies was germinated by the scientists. However, some of the scientists in their greed, promoted the idea of the Hydrogen bomb — the world has never recovered as yet! It was also quite topical because all the Indo-US nuclear negotiations were still going on while I was reading it.

The book is almost like the fall of Adam and Eve — an idyllic world interrupted by evil forces and disintegrated into the morass that now remains.

[Unfortunately, I found it extremely difficult to find the book. Had to read from an almost tattered second-hand book which I bought at Blossoms]

Brighter Than a Thousand Suns: A Review

[Cross posted on my Spaces blog]

I have often wondered what makes accomplished people participate in something that would hammer their conscience for the rest of their lives, and I have found myself unable to come up with an acceptable answer. How does a lawyer defend somebody who murdered somebody in cold blood? How does a soldier kill a helpless victim? How does a scientist invent a weapon of mass destruction?

All the answers to the third question are in this book. The byline reads ‘A personal history of the atomic scientists’. I was recommended the book by a colleague and even though its not a thriller, I could hardly keep the book down until I had finished it!

The story of the atomic scientists is so intriguing that I would doubt if any other real story would come even close to it in terms of their truth and sincerity, their single-minded devotion to the science, and their shock at the results of their discovery. The book paints these scientists as real human beings, with greed and compassion and dedication and ruthlessness, rather than a human-computer many others would.

The story itself is fascinating — it begins in idyllic surroundings in Europe, where students all over the world learn from the Gurus about the new emerging field, the great friendship and competition amongst the scientists, the carefree concentration in their research (they would routinely switch their shoes!). It shows how science can bring the world together, cut across state boundaries and get people with extremely diverse backgrounds to work together amicably and solve problems for a larger cause.

Great progress was made in the labs in Europe at the time. However, as the clouds of the second world war gathered, and Hitler started rounding up the scientists, this utopia soon started crumbling. Many had to move to other countries because of their Jewish backgrounds — and became extremely paranoid about Hitler’s plans. At the same time, many threw open the doors to their friends and collaborators — welcomed them with open arms sometimes even putting themselves in the line of fire. The paranoia, however, grew and it was some of those scientists who approached their governments with suggestions of developing new materials to halt Hitler’s stride. They wanted a deterred strong enough such that Hitler would not even think about trying to expand his power base. They were also worried that the dictatorship in Germany might be forcing its scientists to develop an atomic armoury and the race began.

Thus was the Manhattan Project started and the Los Alamos National Laboratory set up. Oppenheimer assumed leadership, and the scientists worked day and night, living in an uninhabitable place, disconnected from the rest of humanity. However, very soon, they were going to be shocked. They had never anticipated that once a weapon is in the hands of the government, it would be obliged to use it. Despite their protests, and their initial baby-steps towards a third-party controlled nuclear certification policy, the worst annihilation of the century was perpetrated by their government.

What we see now of the IAEA and other such bodies was germinated by the scientists. However, some of the scientists in their greed, promoted the idea of the Hydrogen bomb — the world has never recovered as yet! It was also quite topical because all the Indo-US nuclear negotiations were still going on while I was reading it.

The book is almost like the fall of Adam and Eve — an idyllic world interrupted by evil forces and disintegrated into the morass that now remains.

image

[Unfortunately, I found it extremely difficult to find the book. Had to read from an almost tattered second-hand book which I bought at Blossoms]

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Which part of the brain do you use?

I usually hardly ever go to try such surveys, but this was intriguing. Look at the picture below and see if the dancer is moving clockwise or counter-clockwise. If clockwise, then you use more of the right side of the brain and vice versa. Most of us would see the dancer turning anti-clockwise though you can try to focus and change the direction; see if you can do it.

brain_use

Left Brain Functions Right Brain Functions
uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
knowing
acknowledges
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies
practical
safe
uses feeling
“big picture” oriented
imagination rules
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can “get it” (i.e. meaning)
believes
appreciates
spatial perception
knows object function
fantasy based
presents possibilities
impetuous
risk taking

 

I almost always see it as clockwise! What do you see?

The original article appeared at: http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,22556281-661,00.html. Thanks to Anupam for the tip.

Khshar Bhar ko Kyun Pyaar Kiya Tha

I had written another of Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s in the past in this blog and for some reason, I feel that I need to keep coming back to it every once in a while. He has this amazing ability to write very simple things which touch our hearts. And for some reasons, for me, things that are closest to my heart are oftentimes expressed so succinctly and brilliantly in the Hindi language.

अर्द्ध रात्रि में सहसा उठकर,

पलक संपुटों में मदिरा भर,

तुमने क्यों मेरे चरणों में अपना तन-मन वार दिया था?

क्षण भर को क्यों प्यार किया था?

[Suddenly, in the middle of the night, your eyes brimming with intoxication, why did you give you heart and soul to me? Why did you love me for a moment?]

‘यह अधिकार कहाँ से लाया!’

और न कुछ मैं कहने पाया -

मेरे अधरों पर निज अधरों का तुमने रख भार दिया था!

क्षण भर को क्यों प्यार किया था?

[All I could say was, "Who gave you this right?" Why did you love me for a moment, placing the weight of your lips on mine?]

वह क्षण अमर हुआ जीवन में,

आज राग जो उठता मन में -

यह प्रतिध्वनि उसकी जो उर में तुमने भर उद्गार दिया था!

क्षण भर को क्यों प्यार किया था?

[That moment will live forever in my life. Even today, I feel that passion, a reflection of the bliss you filled my heart with? Why did you love me for that moment only?]

Updates on other blogs

Over the last couple of days, I wrote new posts on both of my other blogs — Some Observations on Social Networking, mainly inspired from an article by Chris Anderson, and a reproduction of a poetry in Hindi by Harivansh Rai Bachchan — Kshar Bhar ko Kyun Pyaar Kiya Tha?

Some Observations on Social Networking

I took a rather long break from reading technology news while I was in London and Abu Dhabi and just got back to reading some of the things I used to follow closely. While it seems to me that I didn’t miss much (on looking at Techcrunch), I did find it extremely interesting to read the analysis presented on Chris Anderson’s blog.

In one of his posts, he states in no unclear terms that social networking ought to be leveraged in innovative ways everywhere rather than have soc-nets which are for the sake of soc-nets themselves. This post also captures what is wrong with a new soc-net coming up everyday. There is great scope of using social-networking as a feature in your product, making it viral, making it authentic and useful. Unfortunately, a host of internet startups seem to only want to create social-nets without giving a thought to how it can be useful. Reminds me of the heydeys of the internet age, when it had become fashionable to start a new business that had a .com suffix even if all you did was just register a company. Something very similar seems to be happening to social-nets now — people just want a social networking component to everything without giving a thought to how it is making sense in the context of the product. That is the point. If you want your product to be useful in the new world, you need to have a clearly thought out social component to it, because otherwise somebody else will add it and peddle your own product better.

Another observation which I found interesting was that facebook applications (which are a rage now-a-days) don’t seem to exhibit the pareto distribution characteristics which is what Anderson uses to explain the Long Tail. He attributes it mainly to the effects of viral social networking, and that most apps are pretty much useless. It might also be a case of “limited” shelf real estate. I agree with the first two points, but not so much with the third because that is also true of book in my personal bookshelf. The Long Tail is typically defined not at the end of the consumer but rather at the end of the producer/seller. Facebook as a marketplace is governed by the same arguments as Amazon because there are good search tools, and strong recommendation channels. Facebook has a strong collaborative filtering engine though which is stronger than Amazon’s primarily because it is more explicit. I, personally, would believe that as a marketplace of Apps, facebook is fairly new in the game, and it may not be in the ‘quiescent’ state as yet, and starting to model based on the pre-mature data we already have might not give us correct indicators. Currently, it is just seeing a massive growth which is characterized by almost factory-produced similarity. The apps on everybody’s profile are very similar. However, my guess is that as things start to settle down, we will start seeing a lot more differentiation (and usefulness!).

To use a metaphor, currently, it is signing on children who are just discovering the ABCs of facebook apps, and hence the apps that have become very popular are like children’s books which are characterized by sameness. However, as the books become more mature and deeper, people will resort to have things that are more tuned into what their personal interests are. Also, the people will demand books that are useful in their content and perhaps design. That is when we will start seeing the Long Tail effect kick in. In a similar fashion, the early days of the internet were dominated by technology centric pages and it was only much later in its evolution that the internet became the downtown for all kinds of information.

However, the different dynamics of the Facebook social network will mean that the marketplace characteristics are never going to be identical to those of (say) Amazon. Since there is a far more stronger viral network, if we view the network as a graph, we will see a lot more cliques. Users would be far more tempted to install apps which are common to their friends networks. However, if we look at these graphs at a higher level of granularity, there might be less ineraction across cliques as compared to traditional retailers like Amazon — we will see more isolated vertices if seen from far away. The fact that installing apps (for now) is free, will also alter dynamics considerably.

It will be interesting to see how things pan out.

How to deal with Telemarketers

As the commentators often say in Cricket, the best defense is an attacking game:

My phone has a voice recorder .. hmmm

[Thanks for Nitzee for the tip!]

Technorati Tags: , ,

October Fest, Bangalore

The Germans have their Oktoberfest. Bangaloreans are not for behind. How can they be when they have Mallya buying up liquor factories all over the world? He would throw around his weight, his beer and all his bikini-clad models to make sure he has the biggest party in town. Finally, he smiled and Bangalore got its weekend extravaganza (minus the bikini-clad models :-( — he probably kept them for himself) called the Kingfisher October Fest.

I went only the second day, but the good thing was that the place was teeming with people. People of all shapes, sizes and ages (between 4 and 40) had lined up in front of the stage head-banging to the rock competition. There was a plethora of games, activities and fun time-pass things on the side. And there was a lot of beer which my friends drank to their fill and insanity (I sadly haven’t been able to develop a taste for beer).

The activities were fun — they actually thought about their games. One was Entrapment, adapted from the Connery-Zeta Jones starrer I had loved, where you had to cross a criss cross of ropes tied all over (red in colour like an infra-red field) touching it less than 3 times. Another was in the Yahoo! booth where you had to sing the yoodle, and then take funny pictures which they would put up in flickr. This felt good!

Towards the end, I really enjoyed the Headlines Today (they don’t have a website @*%#!$%!) crew along with their very cute reporter ;-) preparing their report. She first wanted us before the camera, but while waiting for the go-ahead from the newsroom, I got bored and went behind the camera. It was fun watching how the report was made — she first had to collect a crowd, and then ask them to shout out aloud and make lots of noise as if they were having the time of their lives, they had to do several retakes in the middle of all that commotion. What I found the most funny was the ‘We’ll be back after the break’ said right there in the middle of nowhere. In between, a hooligan or two would suddenly walk in and create a nuisance. I found the whole process very intriguing. Maybe, I should hang around reporters more ;-)

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,842 other followers

%d bloggers like this: