Thursday, December 29, 2011

Unconsoled - Experiencing what one is reading

While in the hospital, I was reading a section where the narrator in Unconsoled gets angrier over trivia - mainly because it somehow reminds him of the past and the same thing happened to me. I wonder if it was the impact of the novel or a coincidence.

I lost my temper over nothing and it was an unpleasant surprise/experience for me. It had more to do with some vague irritation from a past experience or an anxiety about a future possibility.

Need to take up yoga to stay calm :)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Unconsoled - Strange but very powerful

Kazuo Ishiguro's Unconsoled is probably the strangest book I have ever read. It was a remarkable experience. The impact of reading this book was similar to having a very vivid dream. I wake up and the dream is ridiculous and absurd. However, the emotional experience of the dream is profound and lingers.

This reading of a short story by Ishiguro can give a reasonable idea of the strangeness of the novel:

The impact of the book may have been greater as the environment in which I read it was abnormal. One of the threads of the book is the expectation of parents and children from each other. Here I was in a hospital room near my mother, who had had a severe stroke and was in a semi-conscious state. And I was frequently interrupting my reading, waiting and looking for little signs of recovery.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Complexity issue? - Deadlock at a crossroads.

I made the mistake of showing a little courtesy to the car which had taken half a turn to complete it. This would have cleared my lane so I would not have to abruptly risk switching lanes to go around that car.

Another car noticed that I had stopped and rushed to take the empty space. Now, no one could move at the crossroads - each car was being blocked by another!

For once, I was calm and amused. It was my passenger who got very upset. Anyway, a minute or more later, a police man came around. Forced the idiot to back up and cleared my lane. I am surprised at how often such deadlocks occur - can't people reason about the implications of their actions? Is it that complex?

If the turning is so bad, I would have just taken a left and taken a U-turn around a large circle. It might have added a kilometer to the distance but should have been faster. Is the cost of driving one kilometer so high that few seem to do it?

Discourteous, Callous or Just Simply Stupid

I have been trying hard to ignore minor irritants in India. With so many people, perhaps, such irritants are inevitable. However, it pained me when my mother was to be taken to her room on the 6th floor of the hospital in a stretcher. It was visiting hours and the visitors rushed into to the elevator. The attendants had to request and push them to make space for my mother.

Aside from the sheer discourtesy shown to an ill patient in a hospital, I was particularly bugged by a group of people who had rushed in first. They had to go to the first floor and pushed their way out. They were younger than me and healthy - so why on earth did they insist on using the elevator.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Driving and teaching on a virtual holiday

Diwali is an important festival and the day after it, people must be relaxing. It was  a pleasure driving to Ropar today morning. I could drive comfortably and safely as there was very little traffic on the road.

I had decided not to cancel the class but discuss a topic outside the course content. The number of students who had not gone home was only 6. I had expected more but it did not matter.

It was an opportunity to sit around in a circle and explore a topic even if I did most of the talking. I wish I could experiment with sitting with a group of 10 students once a week instead of teaching 40 students for 3 hours.

I am convinced that meeting the students even once a week for 1 hour will be more effective as long as we do not have all the sessions on the same day. That is because I as an instructor would get thoroughly bored.

I suspect that this is not something I will ever get a chance to try :(

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Be Somewhat Safer, Break the Law

 The following extract from "Be Safe, Break the Law" definitely resonates with my experience of driving in India:
Higher speed limits are often safer because what is worse than speed is variable speed, some people driving fast and some driving slow. When the speed limit is set too low you get lots of people who safely break the law and a few law-abiders who make the roads more dangerous.
I find myself driving faster in order to be consistent with what others are doing. The tendency of impatient drivers to overtake dangerously increases sharply the slower one is driving.

The difference for India though is that our traffic is inherently variable. A slow truck or a tractor is tolerated, though with minimal patience, as the slow speed is expected from them and they are too big to squeeze through on a two lane highway with oncoming traffic.

However, a modern car going too slow - Nah!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Thanks to the irritation with the commercial channels, I have found that there are very interesting conversations on Lok Sabha television. Today, I was listening, unfortunately, to the tail end of a conversation with an MP talking about how important the question hour used to be and these days, it is the one which is routinely disrupted. I recall in my younger days going through the column on questions in the parliament.

By  a coincidence, I saw a TED talk on media should pay attention to non-violent movements in Palestine. It struck me that may be the loss of question hour is related to the same reason. Disruption of the house is exciting news. The commercial channels cover it in great depth. However, questions and answers are not exciting television - unless it is in Kaun Banega Crorepati format.

So, I now have one more grouse against our commercial media. A very unfortunate side effect of commercialisation - the loss of serious discussion in the parliaments.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"According to the service rules, it is necessary to work with the organisation for at least 3 years after coming back from such leave."

To claim that the condition has been met as the resignation was more than 3 years after the study leave was over in spite of being on un-paid leave (absconding?) for two of those years seems like a very convenient logic. And if the government does not agree with this interpretation, it is hounding the person - an even more bizarre deduction.

The loud support by some of the media is downright insulting to intelligence of the viewers and readers.

Incredibly Stupid Parents

It was bad enough that the car was driving in two lanes. Usually, half in each lane but sometimes in the fast lane.

When I came closer, I noticed that someone in the car would hold a baby outside the car window.  The baby must have been enjoying the breeze at 70 Km/hr. The baby was held outside the car several times before I managed to overtake them.

I was horrified at the possibilities which could ruin the family's fun.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Keeping Road Rage Under Control

I try not to forget this story and keep calm.

Yesterday, I saw a policeman try to stop a vehicle ignoring a signal. The driver just sped away. The policeman walked away helplessly.

This morning, an idiot parked his two wheeler in such a strange way in the middle of the road that I had a hard time taking out my car and not hitting the motorcycle. The parking lot was virtually empty. If someone had parked next to me, I would have had to honk and get one of the two to come make space for me. Absurd.

Why did that idiot park in this manner? It is beyond me.

Monday, July 25, 2011

State of IT Usage in India?

Mutual funds in the old days would give paper certificates. As computerisation increased, these paper certificates disappeared and were replaced by an account statement. Over the years, each purchase became a different account. Some consolidation of the accounts into folios was done but even then I had a lot of folios.

Online handling of the accounts meant that I had to manage multiple folios with multiple passwords. It seemed simpler to try to consolidate them.

The rules were not too complex, though some seemed a bit silly. But without silly rules, bureaucracy would not be able to survive.

Since online purchase required that a registered bank account be used to prevent money laundering, I filled a form to add a second bank account to each of my holdings. That would also ensure that the bank accounts would be the same for each folio that I wanted to consolidate.

Request was rejected because it was treated as a request for CHANGE of bank account though the form was for ADDITION of bank accounts. The change of bank account required some more papers. I suspect that the chances are their IT system could not handle the additional requirement introduced by the regulator.

There was some impact of my request, which I cannot really comprehend. One of my holdings now had the account number of one bank but the name of the other bank! The dividend could not be credited. I had to provide proof of the account which was already there in their computer records! The service centre printed a copy from their system, which I signed and submitted.

I decided to make one more attempt as ensuring that the registrar did not goof up with my bank records was a scary proposition.

This time I carefully consolidated only those folios which had the same bank account. Folios of one bank were consolidated but not for the other.

Reason - the bank details did not tally. That was strange. However, it appears that in their system, the bank details associated with each account are separately stored. For some reason, in some folios, in some of the holdings the other bank's details were present. This is a logical fallacy as per their rules. But their computer system is more flexible!

Since that flexibility is not be used, it clearly implies an erroneous data model of their system.

The process has left me bewildered and worried. As the computer systems keep getting more complex, I will need to monitor my accounts to ensure that no mess has been created.

I have also decided not to consolidate my folios because I wonder what new errors will be introduced.

Or may be they moved their processes to the cloud as they  were too complex - as in tech-comics- let cloud computing make your life-easier.

When the Cost of Labor is Low

The renovation of our bathrooms continues. I am surprised by the amount of wasted effort and time.

Breaking parts of the walls and floors was with a hammer and chisel. I had expected that.

However, I was surprised that for laying the pipes, walls were first built and then bricks were broken using a chisel and hammer to make space for the pipes. I would have expected that the bricks should have been cut before using them to make the wall. In fact, I would have expected that someone would have come up with suitably shaped bricks baked so that no breakage was needed on the site.

For installing an embedded cistern, it would have been easy to use a rectangular frame as a place holder. But again, the wall was built and then a rectangular cavity created with a hammer and chisel.

I suspect that the low cost of labour is the reason that we continue to use very primitive methods in our construction.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Who knew how the time would go - replacing a toilet

It is absurd the amount of variety which exists for WC's. It took some time to narrow down to one. The process gave me a headache even though the criterion for me was minimal cost with a simple design. I chose a well known brand inspite of not wanting to pay for brand value. I suppose fear of the unknown prevents a rational choice.

The real headache was still to come.

I took possession of the WC. I took it home, relieved. Next day, the plumber looked at it and told me that the cistern/tank has a crack.

I took the cistern back to the dealer. My mistake had been that I had not opened the boxes and verified that there was no problem on taking delivery. The dealer examined the box with the cistern. It wasn't a crack. The cistern was in 3 or 4 pieces. The dealer refused to admit that his people could have delivered that box in such a condition. The item would have rattled and easily noticed by them that the product was damaged. There was no way for me to prove that the damage did not happen while I was transporting it or by our plumber.

I paid a 'discounted' price and took a replacement cistern.

When the plumber tried to install the WC, the cistern would not sit properly on the seat. Another trip to the dealer. We got a replacement cistern. It did not took any different and it wasn't. The new cistern did not fit either.

The dealer phoned the service department of the manufacturer. We chased the service department and waited. Meanwhile, I searched the net and saw that the specifications on the web site did not match the seat. I called the dealer. This time I did not have to make a trip to the shop. The dealer sent his staff to check, who probably knew that they had delivered the wrong product. So, they came with a replacement seat. A relief. The seat and the cistern fitted.

We called the plumber back, as he had left rather than sit idly at our home. He started on the work and discovered that the nuts for the bolts were missing.

The dealer grumbled that such errors are not possible but gave duplicate nuts from the spares.

The nuts and the screws did not fit. The plumber tried the usual Indian tricks to make it work but failed. Now I took the nuts and the bolts back to the dealer, who with great reluctance replaced them from another set.

He talked about bad omen (muhurat theek nahin tha). I suppose that makes sense - I should have had a havan at home before starting :)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

No dignity for the poor - victim gets abused

We are getting some work done and the contractor had ordered some material. The shop owner wrote the wrong address on the invoice. Our name was also not on it. So, the rickshaw puller went to the wrong house in our neighbourhood. Such errors happen.

We happened to be walking by and heard some commotion. A neighbour was abusing the rickshaw puller. We realised that it must be material meant for us and had the rickshaw follow us.

The neighbour kept on abusing the poor fellow who was at a loss what to do and through no fault of his. Fortunately, I do not know the neighbour and have no intention of befriending him. But it saddens and depresses me.

Why must someone be so nasty to the rickshaw puller rather than offering him some empathy and sympathy.

Monday, June 20, 2011

How to feel like an idiot

There is a traffic signal for pedestrians to cross in Chandigarh  and it works!

However, I was surprised that I stopped when the signal was red but the pedestrians were not crossing. It soon became clear why. The cars continued to move at their normal speed - ignoring the red light. Soon, there was a police car which also cruised through the light totally oblivious to the pedestrians waiting on the side walk.

I waited till the light turned green even though I was the only one who had stopped and felt a bit like an idiot. To make matters worse, when the light turned green, a pedestrian started to cross the road - ignoring me and my car :(  I kept my cool and did not hit him.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

PU to start internal and open exam system but mindset does not change

Finally, I see something which has seemed obvious to me for years:
“Since the internal and open system that was recently introduced only in Science honours schools was appreciated by students as well as faculty members and there was a smooth conduct of examinations by these honours schools, it was decided to implement this system in all the departments,” said Controller of Examinations Prof A K Bhandari.
What troubles me is that the objective appears to be 
The process would leave no scope for students to seek re-evaluation.
In case there are affiliated colleges, I am not sure how they will expand the system and that worries me. The system can fail if multiple independent colleges are involved. Teachers at each college can be under pressure to give better grades to their students because the 'other colleges do it'.

The solution in my view is simple. The degree should explicitly mention the college and not just the university. The results could include percentile ranking within the college rather than any efforts at normalisation of results across colleges.

Even then the following would clearly be a potential problem:
In case there is more than one person who teaches the same course, the Board of Control would designate the teachers as Instructor-in-Charge on rotation basis.
“One of the teachers would set the question paper in consultation with other teachers of the course as well as jointly invigilate and evaluate the answer scripts. The Board of Control would be required to send the list of examiners to the Controller of Examinations’ office by the end of October,” added Prof Bhandari.
I see no reason why each course should not be treated as an independent activity. Each teacher should be free to adjust the relative importance of various topics to be covered in the syllabus.

In spite of seeming progress, it depresses me that the mindset remains suspicious of teachers.
Not denying the possibility of favouritism by teachers while evaluating their students, Prof Bhandari said that it would entirely depend on their integrity.
I find it weird that we are willing to trust a person to teach us (or help us learn) but not to evaluate our performance.

I suppose real progress can only happen once it is accepted that learning/teaching is the goal of a university and not examinations. Or is that too idealistic a goal.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bored and irritated by commercial news channels

I can't watch our private news channels for more than a few minutes without getting bored and irritated. However, I found myself watching the interview Doordarshan had with Chidambaram on a private channel. I had to suffer the panels and flashing messages - I wish I could use gnome3 on these channels and hide the very irritating distractions.

Anyway, it was a pleasant change to see a half hour of reasonable conversation instead of screaming, embarrassingly stupid comparisons, or just simplistic statements.

Hang the corrupt. Each rupee will be worth 50 dollars when the black money abroad is brought back to India. Corruption cases must be investigated and actioned within x months. Etc., etc.

Why do our existing cases take so long to resolve? Is investigation of murder, violence less important than corruption? Or will all crimes disappear once we catch a few corrupt? In fact, simpler social issues like divorce, property disputes, probably cause more pain and anxiety to many, many people. Do they not deserve a reasonably quick resolution? If corruption cases are fast-tracked, would the resolution of the others not get further delayed. Isn't it obvious that not the laws but it is the delivery of justice which needs repair.

In fact, I find it ironic that the "biggest scam" of India - the 2G scam - has probably made more people's lives far better than anything else in India! It is amazing to see the impact of cell phones on India - especially, the non-affluent, e.g. the rickshaw pullers, the vegetable hawkers, the plumbers. The list goes on.

How do we make sense of our world? This is a project which some day I hope to explore:
The overall goal of this 4-5 year project is to create tools that will help learners (at all levels) make greater sense of complex phenomena and to study how learners come to understand complexity. Complexity is the study of systems in which phenomena or global behaviors arise from the interactions of simpler parts. ...
They all exhibit non-linear or emergent qualities which place them beyond the scope of current K-12 mathematics curricula. Complexity is a theme that cuts across traditional discipline boundaries. Yet it is rarely found as an explicit theme in K-16 curricula. Indeed, many studies have shown that, in both the public at large and in science classrooms, "good thinking" about systems of interacting agents is not easily found.
I really have to try NetLogo. May be that will help understand why the interactions between not so smart people makes democracy work.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Can the human society's wealth grow indefinitely?

The absence of rise in real wages reminded me of Tim Jackson's economic reality check talk. There has to be a better option than just growth in wages. What's the point of more money after you have enough. Of course, one can debate about what's enough.

Yesterday, I felt that my computer was a little slow in booting. After all, it is now more than 3 years old. I was tempted to replace it; but a moment's reflection made me realise the absurdity of it. Why was I programmed into wanting to  save 15 sec of boot time and discard a perfectly good computer, which meets all my needs? I suppose spending the disposable income I have on a new computer would definitely make me happier than spending it on anything else.

I like this comment:

"Questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists and revolutionaries. But question it we must." Tim Jackson

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Fixing the exam problems - better to question the exams!

In the last week, I came across two problems about centralised board exams -
What amazes me is that the newspapers and administration keep talking about and applying band-aids to fix the problems and, rarely, if ever, is there the question of what purpose do these exams serve and do we really need them?

It surprises me even more that just the introduction of the semester system is taken as a reform! There is little discussion about the reasons for the opposition by the faculty.

I do not know why the faculty in various universities oppose the semester system; but I don't think they ask for a change to an internal exam.  But I do know from personal experience that the doubling of the number of centralised exams made a mess of students' and faculty's vacations but did not improve the quality of learning.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Riding a bike to work

My first recollection of using a bicycle is as a pre-school child. My cousins and I had rented some bikes. I was probably riding a bike for the first time. Did I fall on some stones at a construction site? I am not sure but I do not recall touching a bicycle till I was over 18.

My father rented a bike in a park in Tokyo and forced it on me. Somehow, I managed to ride it a bit. The presence of people made me self-conscious and uncomfortable. It was a bit of a 'torture' inflicted on me by my father.

I enjoyed bicycling on IIT,K campus during the year I spent as a post-doc. Many years later, I satisfied my desire to bicycle to work - using my son's bicycle. I rode to work on a weekend. Even on a weekend, the vehicular traffic overtaking me made me uncomfortable. Besides, Mapusa was a hilly town. So, on several sections I had to walk and drag the bicycle. Overall, I did not enjoy it enough to switch to using a bicycle to commute.

If only I had learnt bicycling well as a child, I presume, by overcoming my phobia of people. At least commuting by bicycling may have been more fun. I may even have bought myself a mountain bike for moving around in Mapusa.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

My one game of Golf

I couldn't escape Physical Education even in college. I took a class on Golf  and it wasn't too bad. Actually, I think that I may even have enjoyed it, at least until the exam. It was almost an individual activity. But there was a final exam. The exam was that I had to go to a golf course and actually play a game.

I was alone. A group of two people agreed and let me join them. I must have been a nervous wreck. I can't recall the golf ball flying through the air. Somehow, the harder I tried, the worse it got. I would manage to hit the ball but invariably in a way that it just rolled on the ground.

Inspite of my poor play, we reached a hole where the previous group was still on the green. Knowing the quality of my play, my 'team mates" suggested that I take my shot. There was no pressure. It was embarrassing that I was regarded as absolutely no threat to the team ahead of us. I did not think that I  could scare anyone either. So, I went ahead and the shot was remarkable! It was nearly perfect and landed close to the green.

I knew I could play :) But it did not help. I played the remaining holes even worse than before.

I wish I understood why the mere presence of people wrecked my brain.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Very Dumb Ride

It is hard to believe that I could have done something so stupid.

I had bought a bicycle about a kilometer or two from the main gate of IIT, Kanpur along a national highway. It was just two lanes and undivided at the time and with lots of heavy vehicle traffic.

I decided to ride the bicycle back. It seemed foolish to be walking with a bicycle.

The stupidity of my action hit me later. I was riding within the campus and three boys were chatting on a path way. I recall shouting at them and they staring at me, a little confused. Not for long though as I rammed into them. No damage was done except to my ego :) I apologised and explained that I was learning to ride a bike.

I keep wondering if a truck had speeded past me, what could have happened!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Inflation, Competition and Depression

Yesterday a neighbour asked for some help. They needed a maid, like the one we have for my mother. It took me a while to realize that their major concern was cost! They are better off than us with children settled abroad who are very keen to help. The salary for a maid should be peanuts for them. I can only guess that it is hard for old people to get used to the increases in costs with high inflation.

Even if the work required of the maid is very little, the mere fact that she has to be present for 8 hours means that we should pay her a reasonable amount. As it is, I feel sad at the low expectations of most help; but the even lower expectations of the neighbours really depressed me.

But this depression was nothing compared to another experience. Yesterday, a new person picked up the garbage. He mentioned that the rate from first will now be X. Even though it seemed low, it just did not register in my mind that something was wrong.

Today, I talked to the new guy asking about the previous fellow and why the change. He said that he will be charging us less than our existing service provider for the same service! I was taken aback. He explained that he was reducing the charges because the other guy had undercut him in several houses from which he used to collect garbage. So, he was left with no choice as he also has to eat!

I did not change our service provider. But this destructive competition among at the bottom of the pyramid spoiled my day. There has to be a better way.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rent Control Act - all to protect the poor and the defenceless!

 The following headline "UP sends notice to Shanti Bhushan for Rs 1.33 crore" was of course very interesting. However, it was the old story which struck a raw nerve.

Lala Manohar Das, great grandfather of Sudhir Tandon, was one of the founders of the Allahabad Bank, which shifted its headquarters to Kolkatta in 1917. Bhushan’s father Vishwamitra had taken the property on rent way back in 1938.
The total area of the bungalow is over 11,000 sq metre. Of this, about one-third was vacated by Bhushan in favour of the owner who sold it in October last year. The remaining part is in possession of Bhushan’s family.
“For us, this was a win-win situation. We sold the land vacated by Shanti Bhushan for about Rs 10 crore. Otherwise, we were getting a monthly income of Rs 200 only from this property which was under the Rent Control Act,’’ said Sudhir Tandon.
A lawyer had rented our house. He stayed for many years. My grandfather who was looking after the place expired. My father was straight-forward and agreed to the extension requests of the tenant - but after many years, he still would not vacate. My cousin told my father(a phrase which sounds more poetic in Punjabi) - Has he(the tenant) been bitten by a mad dog that he would vacate your house, move to the suburbs and pay more!

Finally, my father filed a legal case for eviction. He may have lost the case on a technicality. However, the government officials take care of themselves. They created a law by which a government official could get his rented place vacated upon retirement.

It still took years as the tenant filed false statements. The supreme court did not admit the case and we are finally staying in the house now!

Still, it is depressing to read how the very well off, well connected and morally 'upright' - like a former law minister - benefit from laws like the rent control act! 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Next step - a Lokpal to decide who is mature enough to vote!

The poor opinion of Anna Hazare about democracy is not surprising but still disappointing since so many folks got carried away on Facebook. And it depressed me. The following really bugged me:
“I will forfeit my deposit if I contest any elections,” Hazare said, implying that good candidates seldom won. “Ordinary voter does not have awareness. They cast their vote under the influence of Rs 100 or a bottle of liquor or a sari offered by candidates. They don’t understand the value of their vote.”
Let's have a Lokpal who will decide the people mature enough to vote!

I am disturbed by the implicit belief that election reforms cannot ensure that decent candidates stand for election and get elected. Why bother with democracy. Let us invite Colonel Gaddafi who needs a new job. I am sure Libyans will offer us free oil if we do so :)
Expressing confidence that the Lokpal Bill will eradicate corruption by about 90 per cent, he suggested that the remaining 10 per cent could be taken care of by electoral reforms with the provision of “right to reject”. So, he advocated the need for “none of the above” button in electronic voting machines.
We need the option to reject all - I wonder if 'reject all' will result in more alcohol or sarees coming the way of the 'Ordinary voter'.

It amazes me that anyone can believe that strict punishment can eliminate corruption (or any crime)! And since these people believe that corruption is pervasive, how on earth will one person manage to bring all the corrupt to justice or even manage to filter the cases that need to be pursued? I suppose that will be determined by who pays more to prosecute/persecute someone! I am sure the Lokpal will be incorruptible; so, he will prosecute his own employees.

And amazingly the strong support for hanging the corrupt comes from a Chief Minister - oh, how he would love to apply that law to his opponents!

All I can say is that the "civil society" is not very civil in my view.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Reflection on the days of V P Singh

I had admired and liked V P Singh because of a project we were involved in. I know many opposed him.

I was disappointed once he became the PM. He no longer seemed relaxed. His speeches on tv were now un-inspiring.

I do not remember what I felt about Mandal but did feel that some form of positive discrimination for the deprived sections of the society was needed. However, I was horrified by Newstrack - it was the probably the only non-governmental muti-media. It was aimed directly at the well-off middle class who had access to video players. It seemed to me that Newstrack was encouraging students to immolate themselves. It was a middle class 'revolution'.

V P Singh's government fell but not a single government or major party since has expressed opposition to Mandal commission recommendations!

I recently returned from Mumbai to Chandigarh directly by flight. Had I come via Delhi I would have been stranded. Many trains, including Shatabadi trains to Chandigarh, were cancelled thanks to a 'revolution' by the Jats of Haryana for reservations - a 'revolution' not covered extensively by our news channels.

To quote from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5 - "So it goes."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Little did the Professor realise...

I loved the ending of Roman Polanski's Fearless Vampire Killers - Little did the professor realize that he was carrying away the very evil he had come to destroy.

A few minutes of watching our 24x7 channels on Hazare and the fight against corruption gave me a severe headache. It is as if one has been bombarded by nothing but the Fox News. Am I becoming right-winger? I find the current crusade to be somewhat similarly simplistic to the US Tea Party movement.

People and broadcasters screaming for some people to be jailed for various scams. It probably wouldn't even matter if the people punished were just remotely associated with the scams as long as the punishment is severe and quick. Blood is needed to make it seem that something is being done! (There is a lovely scene in  Ernst Lubitsch's Ninotchka about the state of Russia - "Mass trials were very successful. There are now fewer but better Russians.")

I had sympathized with the JP Narayan movement though I wasn't in India. Should we call that movement idealistic or simplistic? Anyway, it was followed by emergency and Indira Gandhi deserves the credit for bringing democracy back.

I do not think parties win elections by money power though the parties certainly can't win without money. Hazare was saying that he doesn't take any money but spreads his word walking around Maharashtra. I recall my father telling me about a comment by Sarojini Naidu about Mahatma Gandhi and G D Birla  - it costs quite a bit of money to keep Gandhi poor.

Instead of having a powerful anti-corruption enforcement authority why not search for transparent funding mechanisms which ensure better people in politics. Pretending that money is evil or not needed ensures the same results as the ending of the Fearless Vampire Killers.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Good mood of world cup victory spoiled by cash awards

I am not fond of sports. I usually wind up empathizing with the losing side - so it is not much fun.

Anyway, I watched the world cup final to give company to my mother and enjoyed it as well. Though it was sad to see Sangakkara's face in the final overs, it was exciting to see Sachin Tendulkar get a world cup victory in his collection as well.

However, my mood of happiness changed when the BCCI announced cash awards for the victorious team. Somehow, the reward felt tasteless and vulgar. I wish they had announced a new ground like Shivaji Park for children and grownups to play in Mumbai or surrounding areas in the honor of Sachin and the victorious team.

Memories of politicians rushing to announce monetary compensation to the dead and the injured after an accident or a catastrophe rushed to my brain.

Money, money, money...distressing and depressing.

Entering The Third Stage...

I saw Ian McEwan's Innocents on a book shop. I was about to buy it but I thought I may have bought it. I was going to Goa anyway so I would check my unread books there.

I was in for a surprise. The book was very much there. The paper had turned slightly brown. There were even noticeable dog-ears. So, I had read the book and not remembered it at all! This was troubling - till I was a student, I read a lot more and remembered the books I read. Here was one of the few books I read in my working life and by my favourite author and I had no recollection of it. McEwan's books invariably have a twist which I always believed made them unforgettable. Come to think of it, the only books I clearly remember from my working life are Vikram Seth's Golden Gate and A Suitable Boy.

I was even more shocked to find Ian McEwan's A Child in Time, which I read a year or so ago and found mind-boggling. I presume that I had not read that book. I bought it, the pages turned brown and, presumably, I forgot about it. It would be even more disturbing to know that I had read that book decades ago.

I was struck by the 4 stages of life as per Hindu philosophy. After starting work and raising a family, that is entering the second phase, the mind seems to have been so absorbed in the existential issues that books, movies were forgotten.

As the children grew older and independent, I had to make the effort to minimize interfering in their life. May be offer advice but accept that it may be ignored. Hopefully I have succeeded to some extent. But on the positive side,  now I find that I can make time to read and enjoy it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Pain of Being in Mumbai

I was visiting Mumbai after a number of years. The afternoon was unusually warm - as per the newspaper reports. I noticed a number of people sleeping on the pavements. The next few days I did not notice as many. Was I walking in different areas or had my mind started filtering them out?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Troubling thoughts after reading A Pale View of Hills

I finished reading A Pale View of Hills by Ishiguro a few days ago and I can't put it out of my mind.

I love the way Ishiguro plays with memories. On several occasions, I have argued that B was inevitable because of A only to be told by my wife that A happened after B! My mind seems to adjust and reorder memories to make sense of the world. So, the topic fascinates me and I love the writings of Ishiguro.

But why am I troubled by this book? I found the book vaguely dis-satisfying as I wanted to know more about the protagonist. What made her want to leave her husband and move to England? What were her sufferings alluded to by her daughter? Unable to rationalise her actions, all I am left with is the despairing thought that our actions and decisions have an impact, at times painfully drammatic, on those around us whom we love and for whom we want to do the best.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Indian marriages aren't like that

We were on a family holiday in South India. The hotel where we were staying was going to show "Two for the Road". I was very excited and told my father that it was a great film. I had loved Albert Finney in it. Audrey Hepburn remains my favourite actress even today. (Why is it politically correct to use actor and not actress. Sadly, it is neutering the language.)

My father was not happy after watching the movie. He just said, "Indian marriages are not like that".

I did not contradict him as was my tendency at that time. I do not think that at that age I had given much thought to marriage, particularly the desire for "till death do us part" and the very different reality for, at least, some.

Monday, February 28, 2011

My first momentus decision

A paragraph from Kafka's Investigations of a Dog has stayed with me. The gist of it was - Dogdom came to a fork. They chose one path believing that they could turn back if needed. Then a time came when it was no longer possible to turn back.

I have often thought about why I took certain decisions. One major decision I took was at the age of 10.

My uncle came to stay with us. He was an engineer. He worked in a factory and had to leave for work even before I woke up. My father left for work after I left for school. And I made my decision. I was not going to be an engineer!

When the time came to go to college, it never even occurred to me to consider engineering as a plausible option.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why do I believe weird stuff?

I have a vivid memory of an elder cousin telling me that bubble gum was made from rats! He had seen it in the basement of a bubblegum factory.

Now, this cousin was known for bluffing. Yet, I around 10 at the time, seem to have believed him. I think I had dreams or nightmares about the manufacturing of bubblegum.

Decades later, I once casually talked to my cousin and he did not have the faintest recollection of the rats and bubblegum story! May be I had just had the nightmares.

What I find weird is that for years, I did not eat chewing gum or bubblegum. Even today, any time I eat it, I am reminded of this story.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kafka's letter to his father

My father was a very lenient father. I do not remember him getting angry - at least not often and never for long.

I inherited my love for reading from him.

I decided to share the Franz Kafka's letter to his father. I was greatly affected by Kafka, especially Metamorphosis and Letters to Felice.

I was certain that my father would appreciate the logic of Franz and empathise with him. I was surprised to find him sympathising with Franz's father.

I suppose I had the illusion that I knew my father!

From one of my evergreen favourites - "Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchel and also sung by Judy Collins:

But now old friends are acting strange,
they shake their heads, they say I've changed.
Something's lost but something's gained
in living every day.

I've looked at life from both sides now,
from win and lose, and still somehow
it's life's illusions I recall.

I really don't know life at all.

Monday, February 21, 2011

False affidavits will not be accepted: HC

I was delighted to read the above headline. My father had wanted to sue his tenant for perjury but his lawyers had advised him - Don't! You will be running to the courts for years and nothing will come of it. It is the norm. Be thankful that you have got your house back.

My happiness did not last long. The real story was that the court opposed the  "prevailing practice of getting affidavits attested without appearing before the oath commissioner".

It does not matter whether you tell the truth or not. But you must follow the rules!

Come to think of it, why do courts, at least in movies, need to make the witness swear to tell the truth. Shouldn't that be the expected default? Suppose I am an atheist and swear on a religious book, can I claim that my swearing was not valid. Or, like children, claiming that I had kept my fingers crossed?

"I wish I had been born in Finland"

My year-long stay in Helsinki was coming to an end. I wrote to my parents that I wished I were born in Finland!

Wasn't the wisest thing to write. After India and the US, I had really liked the Finnish society. Somehow, I felt that it was a humane society in which I felt at ease with my colleagues but with a very modern, comfortable lifestyle.

It was not like the US - where a fellow grad student had once commented - "Least of all your wife" in response to a discussion on whom should we trust. I realize that his comments were not exactly reliable as he was in the process of being divorced!

I had not intended to migrate to Finland. It was meant as a praise for the society.

When I returned to India, my father had mentioned to me - Your mother was very upset that you did not want to be born to her!

I am sure he was talking about himself and using my mother as a cover. I was affected possibly quite hurt that I had been misunderstood. I did not try to explain. I probably could not have put my thoughts into words and, probably, would have made matters worse.

I took solace from a discussion with a Dutch colleague when I had told him that I was returning to India. He had said - What! You won't be able to survive there.

Surprisingly, my relations in India were very proud that I had not changed!

My personal view - I was a misfit in the west and in India. Except possibly, Finland.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Recalling my first application for an IPO

By mid-1980's, even I was influenced by a desire to participate in the stock market. I decided to apply for an IPO. IPO's were quite common at the time.

So, how did I decide? We had a small bank in our office building. I was surprised to find that this branch was accepting IPO applications for one company.

The company was making some acids. I had no clue about it. Even more important - no interest in it! I applied simply because it was easy.

Not surprisingly, the stock price languished for many years. About a decade later, I found that the Rs. 10 share was selling around Rs. 60. This was the one time I made a little effort and sold the shares. I was lucky. The price had gone high because the promoters were fighting for control!

Anyway, I regard this memory as fascinating as it is indicative of many decisions I have taken in life. Even important ones. Choosing the path of minimal effort or even sillier reasons.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

No place for old people

My mother does not like to go out. Yesterday, she went out after a long time.

As we passed by the local market, she wondered why the extra rush. We told her that double parking, chaotic parking was now the norm. She had been driving till she was 75, a little over 6 years ago. She was horrified at the idea of driving like this now.

Driving conditions have been deteriorating rapidly. And I wonder what will happen to us.

I recall hurting my father years ago when I said that retirement homes are the ideal solution and we should have more of them even in India!

In the last couple of years of his life, my wife or I would drop him to the Rose Garden nearby. He would slowly walk back. In the last year, he would take a rickshaw back.

His last public efforts were to get traffic light installed at the crossing between Rose Garden and Shanti Kunj garden. It was an inner road. He got a polite response from the police that they would look into it.

He was very happy about having pursued for a toilet in Shanti Kunj and getting it done. He had also persisted in getting lights installed on the pathway behind our home leading to Shanti Kunj. However, he did not succeed in getting the traffic lights installed.

Often, it can be hard to cross that road even for us. Our drivers have no patience or courtesy. I wish we could genetically alter people for these characteristics.

Where will we be? I am inclined to trust the advice I was giving my father. Fortunately, this need has become more common and facilities for retired people to live peacefully and comfortably are becoming more common. Who knows by the time I need one, there may be a home for retired computer programmers!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Becoming a Conservative?

A couple of discussions in the last week has me worried. Am I becoming a conservative with age?

I sent a link to the planning commission's site for ideas to my sister. I was optimistic about the possibilities. She was surprised. She had expected me to be cynical about their intentions.

I was supporting the national UID project and did not think that it was a waste of money.

I am wondering if with age, I have become aware of my failings and am less likely to reject projects which I may have questioned in my younger days.

I thought that color tv was a waste of money for a poor country like India. Satellite tv with the devastating 'Bold and Beautiful' on Star Plus was going to destroy whatever was left of Indian languages. Little did I know Star Plus would become a Hindi channel and we would be exporting Saas Bahu serials to the world. Boy, was I wrong in my fears.

Abroad, sales of computers and software were driven by cost savings led by reduction in manpower. Hence, I was not very enthusiastic about computerization in Indian companies, e.g. banks. The private banks also seemed elitist. The signals seemed, 'Don't come to us unless you have lots of money'. And, yet the combination of computers and private banks has led to remarkable improvements in the quality of the banking experience of the middle class.

A third elitist step which troubled me a lot was the mobile phone. I recall the early days when talking on the cell phone was a symbol of showing off, especially at the airports. It seemed such a waste. Money should have been used to bring phones to more people. Yet, today it is the indispensable tool for me to contact my plumber or electrician. I am embarrassed by my ignorance at the time.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Karel Capek and 'hurting' my father

My words used to bother my father - at least some of them.

I recall being deeply affected by a fable by Karel Capek (I think) and wanted to 'educate' my father. The story, if I recall correctly, was that an eagle carries only that offspring to safety who says that when the parent eagle is old, the offspring will have his own family and will not be able to able to look after the parent!

I suppose it wasn't the best tale to give to my father! Fortunately, my father's view was that I made statements to shock but my actions are different.

I recollected this memory today. I am still affected by the tale and believe in its message. For me, everlasting life or reincarnation or whatever is only possible through the perpetuation of my genes and I would like see their perpetuation as being the most important task of my offsprings.

However, I am not sure if I would have liked one of my sons to ask me to read this story!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Emotive, Shallow and Forgotten

A while back, the media was full of concerns of farmers committing suicide - possibly because of using BT cotton. Over 17000 farmers killed themselves in 2009 though the figure emphasized often is 200,000 since 1997. The coverage of the suicides was extensive and emotive. Quite possibly, the victims' families even received help. But what about the families of the others who did not opt out?

Micro-finance wasn't working either - again reported widely because of farmers suicides

Hence, I was struck by this news of suicides by American soldiers being greater than their deaths in combat. I am pretty sure that the number of farmers in India is far more than 36 times the number of American soldiers; so what does it mean for the analysis of suicides by farmers?

Sadly, with all the reporting and 24x7 channels, I do not feel any more knowledgeable only emotionally exploited.

It disturbs me that in-spite of so much content, shows like Bill Moyers Journal which were not shallow or superficial are missing (or extremely hard to find in spite of google and all the social media).

Why do I dislike Facebook?

I  am puzzled by my dislike for facebook. It isn't because of privacy. Though I may decide to un-like Bob Dylan because I like his music but am not interested in knowing about his concerts. Since Dylan's concerts are few, the decision to un-like is not so easy.

I think it has to do with my anxiety that Facebook represents the 'future'. I fear what has happened on TV will happen here. Even BBC Entertainment has started half a dozed interruptions in an hour - including some commercials. To make matters worse, their ads are the ones which make my blood boil - aimed at women wanting to look fair and young.

In order to keep people glued to the sets, commercial tv gives an increasing doze of grossness - for example "reality tv" . So, even if Facebook collapses under its own success, it is bound to be replaced by something even more 'appealing' to humans as determined by the advertisers.

By contrast, Google seems to be geared towards what we need. Will it survive? Will its unobtrusive ways give way to intrusive ways? I fear it will -  may be after the founders leave.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Toll Highway

While driving from Chandigarh to Jalandhar, once we crossed Ludhiana, I was delighted to find that it was a toll road. The toll was Rs. 85 for about 50 KM stretch. The road upto toll booths was great.

I crossed the toll booth and started to accelerate - only to brake. It appears that the toll is not for using the road. It is for constructing the road. I suppose one should be thankful that thanks to the toll, side roads and diversions are usable.

On short stretches one could even get glimpse of the future - 3 lanes going is each direction. After driving a few seconds at 90KM/hr, one is faced with a sign - Diversion Speed Limit 20!

Driving by Convention - 4 lane highways.

We will assume that the highway is divided so that there is no worry about oncoming traffic.

The loaded trucks do not like to change lanes as they may topple and cause accidents on the highway. Even empty trucks have a problem changing lanes. A truck may not be able to shift from the slow lane to the fast lane as the fast moving traffic will just not let it.

Hence, the convention. Trucks will move in the fast lane at their speed. You must be prepared to overtake them from the wrong side. Do not expect the truck to move and make way for you. No one will give a signal to change lanes and none is expected. The movement has to be fast and swift. There just isn't an extra millisecond for signalling.

If you are nervous about overtaking on the wrong side, you may horn and make the truck driver's life miserable. In the unlikely event, the truck driver changes lanes, you may actually cause an accident for the cars behind you. They will assume that the truck will not budge and will overtake both you and the truck on the wrong side. The unexpected following of the rules by the truck driver can be an unnerving experience for them.

In case you are wondering what could be slower than the truck - more often than not it will be a tractor, often loaded with hay so that it is broader than a truck. In addition, there are a variety of vehicles which are even hard to describe but often on three wheels.

Driving By Convention - 2 lane highways

Yesterday, I think I discovered that the driving in north India does have a logic. It may not follow 'rules' but that is simply because the rules are inconsistent with the conventions.

We have to realize that the two lane highway will convert to a 3 lane highway - when needed. Hence, you should overtake without worrying too much(see qualification below) about oncoming traffic.

The vehicle on your side and the one coming towards you will shift to the sides - creating an additional lane for you.

Of course, this is contingent upon the vehicle you are overtaking and the one coming towards you are smaller in size than your vehicle. Hence, make sure that neither of them is a truck or a bus.

The other point to bear in mind is that at the same time, a guy from the other side may also decide to overtake a vehicle. At that point, it is a game of chicken. All bets are off.

You also need to watch out for the guy who has not understood the convention. He will drive part way into the next lane in an attempt to overtake the slow vehicle. If he sees oncoming traffic, he will go back into his lane and try again. This is positively hazardous driving. The cars will pile up behind him and, sooner rather than later, someone will become impatient. This is when you may find yourself facing two and a half lanes of oncoming traffic and that can be unnerving.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Importance of Ma and Pa

The extract from Patrick French's book in a way was like the Wikileaks. It seemed to be something we knew - that children of politicians are the ones who get party nominations. The extent of the nepotism did surprise me as I had thought that the media naturally projected the well connected young MP's - who communicated well because of their education.

I  found it disturbing not for what it exposed, which did on shock or even surprise, but that in spite of our many magazines, the so-called free press and a ridiculous number of noisy, hyper-excited 24x7 news channels, the analysis had to be done by a British author.

Another analysis worth doing would be to see the connections of the entrepreneurs. I am pretty sure that role of nepotism in starting even new businesses is likely to be surprisingly high.

May be one day may have something!

From a link on that site: the news - Many parties are being floated to launder money, warns EC - was new. I suppose a solution had to be found for all the cash transactions which seem to be prevalent.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Would Google TV be the solution

My television viewing has come down over the years. One of the major reasons is the ads. I checked that in an hour's show, the show time is less than 40 minutes with the ads and announcements making up the over twenty minutes. (I wonder if the channels cut parts of the show or were the original shows as bad.)

I have not been fond of Tivo-like solutions because chances are that I will record and never watch a show - just because it can be done any time. A number of dvd's stare at me - unseen for a year or more.

There is another possibility. I could start recording a show but start watching it half an hour later and skip over the ads. May be one day, I may actually change my subscription.

Or Google may make it irrelevant. I can see the potential of Google TV if the ads inflicted on a viewer are reduced. I estimate that over 90% of the ads on tv today have absolutely no interest or relevance to me. If the ratio holds true for others as well, it would imply that Google (internet) tv could reduce the ads by a factor of 10 and retain the same interest/relevance level for an individual user.

Exiting Social Networks

There was a statement that religion, politics and other emotive posts are a major reason why people 'unfriend'. I found myself getting needlessly irritated by posts on a forum of ex-colleagues. Instead of tech or general topics, a number of ex-colleagues often hi-jack the list for their personal, strongly held beliefs.

I was going to remove myself from the list. Unfortunately, my wife found these discussions at times amusing. So, the messages from the list are filtered and forwarded to her and trashed in my mailbox.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Devaluation of words

I think we need to find a new word for 'friend'. After facebook and similar sites, I wonder what it means any more.

Evolving to impersonal communication

What should we do about mailing lists, especially like the Linux users group which cater to people with a common interest?

So, a discussion about posting on one often enough to keep it alive and kicking, made me feel a little guilty. Sharing on mailing lists is quite focused; but sharing on Google Buzz is much easier. The people on my buzz list and the mailing list partially overlap; hence, sharing on both seems like spamming the people I know. Although I use Buzz and even Facebook, I do not like it.

At least on a mailing list, one would write a line or two about why we were sharing a link. An email was even nicer and more personal. With buzz or facebook, it is an impersonal broadcast.

Yet, we have moved on to sharing over far more impersonal channels of communication. We have to click 'like' or re-share instead of saying thanks for sending it and thinking of me.

I suppose this  Tech-Comics-Meeting-a-Facebook-Friend is indeed a reflection of our times.