Unconquerable

Read this brilliant poem “Invictus” by William Henley. Henley, suffered tuberculosis as a child, had his legs amputated, and wrote this poem from a hospital bed. It’s a brilliant piece of writing – full of glory. No wonder it’s been adopted by the U.S. Naval Academy as its class motto. [link]

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

A Song of Despair

Found this brilliant piece of writing by Pablo Neruda, and thought I’d share it here:

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.

Write, for instance: “The night is full of stars,
and the stars, blue, shiver in the distance.”

The night wind whirls in the sky and sings.

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

On nights like this, I held her in my arms.
I kissed her so many times under the infinite sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her.
How could I not have loved her large, still eyes?

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
To think I don’t have her. To feel that I’ve lost her.

To hear the immense night, more immense without her.
And the poem falls to the soul as dew to grass.

What does it matter that my love couldn’t keep her.
The night is full of stars and she is not with me.

That’s all. Far away, someone sings. Far away.
My soul is lost without her.

As if to bring her near, my eyes search for her.
My heart searches for her and she is not with me.

The same night that whitens the same trees.
We, we who were, we are the same no longer.

I no longer love her, true, but how much I loved her.
My voice searched the wind to touch her ear.

Someone else’s. She will be someone else’s. As she once
belonged to my kisses.
Her voice, her light body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, true, but perhaps I love her.
Love is so short and forgetting so long.

Because on nights like this I held her in my arms,
my soul is lost without her.

Although this may be the last pain she causes me,
and this may be the last poem I write for her.

Found it on PoemHunter

Why Makers Hate Meetings

Found this very interesting article by Paul Graham (via facebook and freakonomics blog) about people who build things usually hate meetings, and find it as a big waste of time. At the same time, when you are in the management frame of mine, meetings are the most important thing you do all day. I find this explanation really hits the nail on the head, since I have been on both sides of the fence. This is what Graham says:

One reason programmers dislike meetings so much is that they’re on a different type of schedule from other people. Meetings cost them more.

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one-hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

Completely true. When you are a developer, engineer, or architect (either software or real-world), by the time, you get around to understanding the problem at hand, and get the full perspective, its already a few hours, and if you have to head out to meetings at that time, the whole train of thought is lost, and you’ve go to restart again from pretty much the beginning.

Last few months, I have had to be on both schedules, and its a very difficult thing to handle. On the one hand, I develop software that goes into our solution, and on the other hand, I have to follow up with all the other developers, interface with Sales and Operations, and all the other aspects of business. And in most cases, you can’t draw up a schedule and take out chunks of a few hours and concentrate on the development. As a result, in most cases, at one time, I can wear only one hat – either be a developer and ignore everything else, forget about making phone calls, following up with people etc., and concentrate on writing code. At other times, there are complete days where I can’t afford to even open my IDE because I am wearing the managers hat and do all the other things I have been ignoring all the while. It also leads to a complete state of confusion at times when you change hats too frequently – and at those times, you know you’re losing it and its best to forget everything and take a break.

It’s a difficult balancing act – identify what requires your most immediate attention, and change hats frequently, so that collectively the whole organization is most productive, even if you feel that you are not at your most productive level yourself.

However, even though we may hate it, the way most of us (and with us I mean people who are never satisfied, and keep pushing ahead for more) we love it most when we have too much to do, rather than too little. Changing hats rapidly, probably take a hit on personal productivity, re-engineering yourself with the dynamics of the environment around you, basically going crazy, are a part of the job description, something you learn to hate – but do nevertheless – and grow along the way.

Abir, Sancho and Lizzie

Book cover for My Friend Sancho

Book cover of My Friend Sancho

“I should introduce myself now. My name is Abir Ganguly. I work for a tabloid in Bombay called The Afternoon Mail. I am 23. I masturbate 11 times a day. I exaggerate frequently, as in the last sentence”

Thus begins Amit Varma’s (of India Uncut fame) newest yellowback My Friend Sancho (follow this link for the Author’s homepage on the book, or the Facebook fan page). Abir, or Abeeeer as he is called by friends in a state of bacchanalia, relishes a full meal of online games everyday, and then passes obnoxious PJs, enjoys being at Bookends a bookshop in Bombay’s Eterniti mall (good nomenclature!) and covers the crime beat in Bombay when he feels like doing any work. Abir is imaginative, wildly, his hormones getting the better of him at the drop of every pen anywhere in the world, his testosterone-tinted glasses seeing through every fabric. He is a witness to a murder and then finds himself in love with the daughter of the victim, Muneeza aka Sancho, when he is pushed into an assignment to sketch her father’s life. The story is about how Abir’s life gets entangled with Sancho’s, doesn’t have the balls to tell her the truth, and when he does, as is usually the case he is spurned, and finds himself in the state of abject despair (of course, since its despair in love!). The fact that his room-mate lizard is in no mood to empathize doesn’t help either. What happens in the end … umm .. read the book!

The best thing about the book is that its a very light read, very quick — I finished it off in two sittings. To the credit of the book, it managed to hold my interest even as I kept watching the results of the nations greatest jamboree, the Lok Sabha elections 2009. As you navigate from one wisecrack to another, you wonder if Varma was under the influence of err .. something more influential that lends to more fluent thoughts (a la Coleridge in Kubla Khan?) — you wonder if the wry sense of humour can be achieved in sobriety. The plot is tight, quick — though the book is more in the prose than the plot.

I remember the last book I had read with an equal gleeful page-turning urgency was The Inscrutable Americans, and I hope this book reaches the same heights of success!

Of course, the best fleshed out character in the book is the Lizard. I don’t think you can find another book where a Lizard emotes quite as much.

One Journey ends. Another Begins.

As I just finish one journey, a wonderful journey, at a wonderful place which has been a home more than home for the last two years — colleagues who have been more than friends, and seniors who have been such wonderful people, I can’t but feel a tinge of nostalgia, a small feeling of void that can not be put into words. As I started writing my goodbye mail, I found myself deleting sentences again and again, because I realized that whatever I might say could not do justice to the experience I have had. Finally I settled for the words of Rabindranath Tagore:

I have got my leave. Bid me farewell, my brothers!
I bow to you all and take my departure.

Here I give back the keys of my door
—and I give up all claims to my house.
I only ask for last kind words from you.

We were neighbors for long,
but I received more than I could give.
Now the day has dawned
and the lamp that lit my dark corner is out.
A summons has come and I am ready for my journey.

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.

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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?

The Ostrich Attitude

Sometimes, when the gravest of problems stare us in the face, we choose to ignore it just because we find that we can’t do anything about it. And in most cases, we just ignore it and carry on with life — laughing, dancing, acting — as if everything is going to be set right, somehow. We just repose our faith in the omnipotence of Time — innocently believing that it is going to use a magical formula to answer all those questions, solve all those problems we haven’t a clue about. I wonder if it is called complacence, callousness, or just plain powerlessness.

To use a metaphor, I often see people using in Computer Science, if a problem is intractable, we would just create a perfect model of the universe, where we just elide a large class of problems by definition, hiding them in the assumptions section hoping nobody will notice that those assumptions don’t really hold in practice. Our simple model of eat, sleep, work (in that order) and party with your salary cheque without a worry for anybody else fails miserably when real life asks questions which we neither comprehend nor seek to do anything about — because our limited vocabulary hasn’t prepared us for something of this magnitude.

Even if sometimes we are aware of the problem, we realize that there is very less that we can do about it. In principle, we know what is do be done. We can just issue a few instructions and hope everything will be hunky-dory very soon. In principle. In practice, execution is far tougher (and this is not limited to the scope of this exposition). In practice, we realize that our brilliant ideas, and one-stroke solutions fall inadequately in a quicksand, the logistics are so complicated that we just propose, we never prove. We console ourselves with the false assurance that somebody will implement those ideas for us. And one day the false assurance comes back to haunt us.

The problem, in most cases, of course, is going to have many facets. What we observe and what we try to cure is only the symptoms. The real thing lies deep down — in the deepest recesses of people’s minds, and they have been implanted not by one statement, one event, or one person, but by years of internalizing the environment and people’s reactions to it. The problem, in most cases, is deep-rooted, inexplicable, irrational, and very very dangerous. We just observe simple deficiencies, deviations in behaviour and we just hope that it will all be alright in Time. We can not do much more because being able to look deeply into people and reason is something we haven’t figured out very well. Science falls short on this great promise — we have learnt to built machine that work faster than us, but we still can’t understand ourselves. We just scratch the surface, make up some explanations, propose some solutions we can’t even validate and claim victory. And soon, we cower in the face of defeat.

And if everything fails, we escape. We provide explanations, we run off on work, we circumambulate in order to avoid the problem, we evade not just with alcohol (that is the easy one!), but we do with sleight of words and actions.

And then one day that problem we’d hoped so dearly would somehow solve itself, gets out of the box and slaps us across our face. And with all our accomplishments, our competencies, our arrogance, pride and confidence, we feel helpless. We wish to hide ourselves in the pillow, unable to fathom the why, how and how to of the problem.

Powerlessness. Helplessness. Cluelessness. A welcome feeling?

Lesions from Cooking

[Now cross posted on Desicritics]

For just under one week now, I have been the proud owner of a gas cylinder, a stove and a refrigerator, and I daresay my life has been completely revolutionized. That I have learnt oodles of nuances about cooking is sadly a statement I can not make as yet. However, as one interminably perseveres along the solitary and arduous path of cooking (thankfully I have a roommate for company!) for one’s survival, one gradually begins to realize that there are probably more lessons about life in the culinary arts than Deepak Chopra can possibly pontificate. It is a journey beset both with teething problems for the tongue.

To start off, one begins learning to make choices and trade-offs. With the limited knowledge and experience of the lead protagonists, it is evident that trade-offs have to be a part of the equation right from the beginning. One learns to accept reality and live with it. Self-appraisal teaches us that one should not bite more than one should eat, or cook. It’s best to get your fundamentals right — eg., how to roast a toast, and toast the occasion.

One learns early in the journey that things are not going to be easy. One is neither born nor can cook with a silver spoon. It requires tremendous foresight to make sure that the kitchen is well-stocked, and one can only acquire such perspective through experience. Not a virtue one can expect to find in bachelor housing. The absence of the most innocuous of objects can be a sore point when you need it. Small, dark, black balls can be infinitely useful especially if they happen to be called cumin seeds (jeera). Rains may bring down the mercury, but they certainly don’t help the cause of the amateur cook. He (especially if it’s a lazy he) feels beleagured, cheated by the rain gods, with fast finishing supplies has to battle hunger, and finally does the obvious — drops the item from the recipe.

One learns to persevere — just slug it out. When its a matter of life and death (Ok! Hospitalization), one cares not for the simple pleasures in life — for instance, dinner can consist of more than mere omelettes. Half burnt omelettes. Half-burnt omelettes that look like a perfect equilateral triangles (for want of a better shape). Sunday ho ya Monday, roz khao ande – the words ring in your ears, tear your ear-drums apart, test your tenacity, humiliate you, try to break your back and upset your stomach, but like a Spartan warrior you doggedly keep fighting all instincts, all temptations. Like a sanyasi, one has to resist the apsara’s smile, with a toll-free number promising home delivery. If one has to achieve nirvana, however, one has to eat rock, metal and egg.

Hardships are, of course, part of any journey. Small cuts and bruises are passe, there is danger of getting burnt. The weapons one has to resort to are deadly — the can cut even the holder of the weapon. Salt is always at hand and on the burns. What’s all the brouhaha about nuclear weapons?

There is the ecstasy of the omelette actually turning out to be eatable especially when the bread also got toasted the right red — a feeling unparalleled in the dictionary of human emotions. At the same time, there is enough crying, running noses and sneezing (onions and chilly powder) to fill a full season of Ekta Kapoor’s. I am sure Indian satellite television head honchos haven’t yet got hint of the melodramatic quotient of it all, else there would have been a flurry of Kaun Banega Captain Cook with King B and Big Khan both compering it together. And not to forget people sms’ing their favorite garnishing to 8888 and winning exciting prizes. Or perhaps a Kitchen Idol, whom millions of Indians cheer and vote for from the comforts of their living rooms (thankfully smell is a sensation that has not yet been televised).

Finally, as the denouement draws near (and the omelette gets made) one has a sobering realization under the Bodhi tree, err. Chimney. One realizes that one is responsible for one’s actions. Passing the blame around is not an easy task when you have volunteered willingly for such calamity (though one can certainly pass the plate around). It is all our doing — we have to take responsibility for our actions, and suffer on our own account (next morning with a knotted stomach). Cooking is the ultimate leveler, with immediate feedback loop and completely ownership, division of labour and accountability for actions — a manager’s dream, an epicurean’s nightmare.

A humbling experience. Of course, it’s easy to succumb, to eat out, to order pizza, to resort to maggi. But then, one has to remember, that as Rudyard Kipling Robert Frost once rightly said:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

[Many thanks to Dipika for proofreading this]

Lines of Code

A quick way to find the lines of code under a subdirectory:

find | grep “.cs$” | awk ‘//{print “\””$0″\””;}’| xargs wc

It recursively finds all the files under a directory, passes through a grep filter (which you would have to update based on your preferred language of development), awks it to enclose it with quotes and then passes to wc using xargs. Neat!

My current project now has about 31k lines of code, out of which about 9.5k is mine. Messy!

[Thanks to Robin for help with the commands]

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