Saturday, October 31, 2009

Think Hard Before You Buy Amazon Kindle

I have been drooling after Kindle since ages. (See here, here and here).
Now that Kindle is available in India, I am hesitant to buy it.
Because of negative reviews by an Amazon Kindle user who calls herself Gadget Queen.

And then there is this other problem to do with DRM and ownership. Kind of freaks me out.

What of the 1400+ positive reviews?
Valid question; but my approach to any product purchase over Internet closely follows the method used by scientists: It doesn't matter how many evidences you find to support your theory. All it takes is one exception and your theory is history.

I like the idea of carrying 1500 books with me on one ultra light device, but I do not like the idea of DRM.

In the recent past, Amazon has remotely deleted purchased copy of 1984 and Animal Farm for users' Kindle. That is clearly unacceptable. The funda behind DRM to prevent unrestricted duplication of copyrighted material makes sense, but if that means I do no possess the content I buy on Kindle then I would like to think hard, very hard, before buying a Kindle.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Real Life Ayn Rand Character

Remember Howard Roark? The hero of The Fountainhead. The architect who never gave up or gave in in his quest to achieve the sublime?
I always thought he would remain the figment of Ayn Rand's imagination.
Apparently I was wrong. Totally.
There exists at least one such Howard Roark in real life.
Here, read this ...

I stumbled upon another kind of jazz as a high school senior when I participated in, as a member of Mr. Ross's art class, in that memorable visit to Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. The startling beauty of that amazing house, rising improbably from the rocky ledges in a deep-green forest, stayed with me all my life. Wright was commissioned to build the house in 1936 by Edgar Kaufman ... Kaufman wanted a rustic summer home situated in such a way that it would provide a view of the lovely waterfall that tumbled down over the rocky outcrops on the property. Instead, Wright built an iconoclastically modern structure of glass, steel, and native stone, defined by massive horizontal levels of poured concrete that cantilevered dramatically out from the core of the house and rested on invisible supports. The building seemed to float in the trees.

Shades of Howard Roark? Wait, there is more ...

Whatever Kaufmann's reaction to the design of the house, he must have been baffled by where Wright decided to put it. Because instead of choosing a site for the house that would show off the waterfall view to its best advantage, Wright built the house in the one spot where you couldn't see the waterfall at all - directly above the falls, anchored upon the rocky ledges over which the water flowed.

In fact, Frank Lloyd Wright = Howard Roark.

I stumbled upon the above extract in a book called Make the Impossible Possible by Bill Strickland.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Other Hero of The Goal

Almost everyone has read (or at least heard) of The Goal written by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. The sequel too turned out to be very popular - though not immediately in India; only when It's Not Luck was re-titled as The Goal II that the sales picked up!

Personally, I think It's Not Luck is a far more important book that The Goal. It's Not Luck discusses a more comprehensive Thinking Process whereas The Goal is a more spoon-feeding kind of solution offer; perhaps that's why The Goal is more popular.

There is, of course, another reason why The Goal is more popular. It is infinitely more readable. It reads like a novel. And the credit to that should go to the co-author of The Goal, Jeff Cox. After having read both the books, I think Jeff's narrative style makes all the difference.

Naturally the next question is: where is Jeff Cox now? Turned out that he is active and doing some good work even now. Here is his website if you want to follow him up.

What you have not read The Goal yet? Sad. Very Sad.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Repaying Mother's Debt

And then there was a king who wanted to repay all his debts before he dies. Debts of even those who helped him in his childhood. If someone had shared lunch with him when he was small, he gave them a palace. Finally, he approached his mother and wanted to repay her debts too ... for all the love she had showered on him, for all the nights she was awake when he got fever, for all the lies she told to his father to save him from punishment, for all the wonderful food she cooked, for all ... you get the idea.

She smiled and told him that she would like the payment in kind. The king only had to sleep one night in a bed that was wet, soaking wet.

"That's it?"

"That's it."

So a bed was brought and water was poured on it to the mother's satisfaction. And the king went to sleep on it.

By midnight, he had learned his lesson.

He came out shivering and fell at his mother’s feet asking for forgiveness.

Mother's debt can never be repaid.

I heard this story from my uncle when I was small. No idea what the source is.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tower of Babel and Irregular Verbs

We missed out on a golden opportunity to redress the wrongs done to us by the Gods at Babel. Different languages ensured that we will not be able to build the Tower of Babel. But surely the grammar was codified long after the languages themselves evolved to a quasi-steady state. SO WHICH IDIOT INVENTED IRREGULAR VERBS? Or perhaps Gods introduced to ensure that people may never master each others' language and make another attempt at Babel.

Frustrations in learning new language apart, I think that the Tower of Babel was the noblest endeavour that (hu)man ever attempted: the tower was dedicated to the glory of human beings; what could be nobler?

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

See With Your Tongue

When we were small we were told that snakes can see with their tongue. Some of us dismissed it as old wives' tales and others believed it.

We had no way of verifying such facts on Internet those days, you see?

Turns out that the "fact" was not that far off.

Snakes use their tongue to obtain directional sense of smell, which is as good as seeing.

But what about humans? Here is an extract from The Answer by John Assaraf (yeah! the same guy from The Secret) and Murray Smith.

Except for the fact that she is the lead singer for her high school choir, the girl on the stage seems just like any other sixteen-year-old. As the concert proceeds, Beth keeps a close watch on the choir's conductor, intently picking up his every movement and gesture. ... but there is something about her that makes her different from all the other girls in the choir.

Beth is blind. In fact, she has been blind from birth. ... She is watching him with her tongue.

Beth is wearing a device designed by the late Paul Bach-y-Rita, a neuroscientist at the University of Winconsin at Madison, who devoted much of his entire career to researching and demonstrating the proposition that all senses are created equal. And not just equal, but pretty much interchangeable. ...

Bach-y-Rita's device starts with a video camera strapped to the user's head that feeds video information to the laptop, which reduces the image to a 144-pixel signal that is then fed through the electrodes to a grid that rests on the tongue, which reads the image as a sort of superlingual braille. ...

Wow! The human brain is better than we thought!

Anything that can be measured can be transported to the brain," said the scientist,"[and if] we can get it to the brain, the brain can learn how to use it."

Think about it!

Just one question that popped up in my head, and I am really curious to know this: how does Beth sing with that electrode resting on her tongue?

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Our Belief System

You do not believe in God? Fine with me. Nor do I.

You believe in spirituality? Again, fine with me, though I think spirituality is religion in disguise.

You believe in E=mc2? I do too. Or that's what I thought till this morning.

But why do I believe in something that some scientist said and most others agree to?

It could be wrong, no?

Newton's theory of Gravity lies in shambles since Einstein came along.

Someone else may come along and E=mc2 would be a passé too.

That's how science evolves.

But that is not the point of this blog.

Isn't it scary that our belief system is dictated by others?

Just because majority believes in god or believes in relativity or quantum mechanics, we take it for granted that it would be true. We start believing in it.

How are we different from those who believed that the Earth is flat?

Or from those who believed that the Earth is the centre of universe?

Have you ever questioned what you believe?

When was the last time you questioned all that you believe?

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Scrap the Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Committee has failed in executing Sir Alfred Nobel's will.

The peace prize is to be given to person(s) / society who meet very specific criteria: that [which] renders the greatest service to the cause of international fraternity, in the suppression or reduction of standing armies, or in the establishment or furtherance of peace congresses.

Intentions are not sufficient; nor are initiatives. One needs to actually render the service. President Obama has not yet managed to do that. In fact, the Nobel Committee has done Obama an injustice. It deprived him an opportunity to actually prove that he is worthy of the prize.

While the other 4 prizes are given away by Sweden, the peace prize is given by Norway. During Alfred Nobel's time, Norway was seen as more neutral of the two. Not sure it is the same now. The Peace Prize, except for some notable exceptions, have always been used as an instrument of furthering the cause of what is seen as right or convenient by the western countries. It has already lost its importance. Why can't it just be scrapped?

I wish Obama had rejected the Nobel Prize.

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Eco-friendly couplet

This is not exactly a bhajan. It is what might be called a nazm, I think.

Anyways, coming back to the topic ...

This is from the collector's item of a musical album called Sajda. Sajda is one of its kind because it brought together the Nightingale, Lata, and the person who gave a new meaning to Ghazals, Jagjit Singh.

In the album Sajda, the first song - sung by Lata, the first has a wonderful couplet. And it goes something like this ...

Ya dharti kay zakhmon par marham rakh day,

Ya mera dil pathar kar day, ya allah

Either apply ointment to earth's wound,

or turn my heart into a stone, Allah.

(because, I can no longer tolerate earth's wound)

Urdu couplets have this wonderful habit of not stating the obvious; I know what I have typed out in the parenthesis above destroys the beauty of the couplet; in fact the mere act of translation has already destroyed the pain the couplet carries.

Have you come across any such song? Then enlighten me. Only those songs that have not been written to celebrate Earth Day and the like, please.

By the way the lyricist of dard say mera daaman bhar day (from which I extracted the 'ecological' couplet) is Qateel Shifai. You would be hard pressed to find a more soulful number. The first strains of the song, when Lata Mangeshkar calls out the name of Allah is absolutely ethereal. I would recommend the album, Sajda, unhesitatingly.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Falling Coconuts and Management

This might seem like splitting hair, but then I could not pass an opportunity to highlight native intelligence over management knowledge.

As per this article called, The Illusion of Control: Dancing With Chance, based on a book with similar name, the authors discuss subway and coconut to illustrate the difference between the predictable and the unpredictable:

"The authors pinpoint two kinds of risks: subways and coconuts. You can do research and be relatively sure that the subway will be predictable most of the time. On the other hand, you know that coconuts fall from trees, but you can’t predict when they will fall or where they will land. So, you can plan for the subways, but it is difficult to plan for the coconuts."

I have no fight with the substance of the book - of course, everything is not predictable; wisdom is in knowing what is controllable and what is not. But perhaps we can find a solution in how some Bangaloreans manage falling coconuts.

Many houses in Bangalore have coconut trees. And a falling coconut can cause severe damage, especially if it falls on your head or on your car (though I have been told by some of my friends that a coconut never falls on a human head; but that is a different story). And the authors are right. You cannot predict when they would fall. So, what could be the solution? A basket. Yes! A basket. I have seen a basket made of bamboo fitted around the trunk of the coconut tree - near the top. So, it doesn't matter when the coconut falls. It always falls in the basket. Cool!

So, you can plan for the coconut, after all. Basically, if we know the risks a solution can be found. It is the totally unknown that we need to be careful of. We also need to be careful of the Black Swans - incidents of extreme low probability of occurrence but with very high impact.

Coconut falling is a poor example. We know that it falls. We need to look out for things we do not even see in our horizon.

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Stimulating Creativity

Some management studies surprise me no end. Take this study on How To Stimulate Creativity? for instance. "Go live abroad", it says. Immersing yourself in local experiences for a prolonged period helps stimulate creativity. People who are bi-lingual or tri-lingual are found to be more creative in the study.

I have no doubt it does. Different inputs fire different neurons in your brain. variety of experiences help trigger creative juices. You do not have to live abroad for that. Just do things differently.

Do you drive to your office everyday? Do you take the same route? Try a different one. Or go to office in a bus for a month. Or better still pedal to office.

Do you love thrillers? Go to your local bookshop or the library and pick up a genre that you would never think of reading.

You can't stand classical music? Listen to Carnatic / Hindustani / Wsetern classical for a month. Oh! You are already into classical music? Listen to Jazz then.

Learn a new language on your own.

You do not have to go live abroad to become creative. You can create your own different environment at home. And I promise you, each of my suggestions given above will increase your creativity. It is the new experience and the ability to weave the new experiences into your daily life that makes one creative.

And if creativity was linked to number of languages, then all Indians would be overflowing with creativity. Any educated Indian would know at least 3 languages, if not more.

Wait a minute! Perhaps, we Indians are really very creative.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Indian Wins Nobel - Wish Comes True

Didn't have to wait that long, now, did I?

I blogged my desire of an Indian winning a Nobel in the Sciences just yesterday (here) and just now received the news that Venkatraman Ramakrishnan has won this years Nobel for Chemistry. (see here) He shares it with two others - Thomas A. Steiz and Ada E. Yonath.

Now if only all my desires were fulfilled this rapidly!!

PS: I am not that hung upon "achieved it in India". So what if he works in the US?

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Srinivasa Vardhan

Have you ever heard of S. R. Srinivasa Vardhan?

I bet you haven't.
This is a country that worships cricketers and movie stars. How could you have ever heard of a mathematician of International repute!!!

He is the only Indian to have won the Abel Prize. This prize is also known as the Mathematician's Nobel Prize. He received this Prize in 2007. And I do not recollect his photograph splashed across the front page of any paper or magazine, but then I do not read all the newspapers and magazines, and my memory is diminishing with age. In any case, I am quite certain there was no hoopla that was associated with, say, Sushmita Sen or even Amartya Sen.

Oh by the way, the Indian government has conferred upon him the Padma Bhushan in 2008 - AFTER he received the Abel Prize.

If you click on the 2008 list, you will also see a host of names, along with Mr. Vardhan's. How many of these can you recognise? Are we giving Padma awards to too many people?

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Waiting For Indians

I am waiting for ...

the first Indian to break the 10s barrier in 100m
the next Indian to get a Nobel prize in science
the first Indian to get the Fields Medal
the next Indian to become the world chess champion
the first Indian to walk on the Moon
the next Indian to swim the English channel
the first Indian team to win the World Cup Football
the next Indian team to win the Olympic Gold in hockey

Don't tell me all have become software engineers! Like me!

Feel free to add to the list.

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Will Google Last Forever?

Today we take World Wide Web and Google to be synonyms of the Internet. But what of tomorrow? Will Google still be the force they are today. Let us take a brief look back at history ...

This book, Permission Marketing, written by Seth Godin, is dated 1997 (though it was 2007, Seth desisted from rewriting the book. Good!). That is just 12 years ago. And here's what the messiah of internet marketing has to say:

AltaVista, one of the most complete and most visited search engines on the Internet, claims to have indexed 100 million pages.

AltaVista? What is that? As per wiki, "AltaVista was once one of the most popular search engines but its popularity has waned with the rise of Google."

So will we some years down the line talk of Google in the same terms? Who knows? But things change. Microsoft / Bing can take heart.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

My Top 10 Lata Mangeshkar Songs

30,000+ songs. How does one choose? Obviously I am not going to sift through this huge data. I have a simpler way. I will type in whichever Lata song comes to my mind as I blog. Blogging does not get much live than this.

So here's my list of Lata Mangeshkar Top 10:

1. Lag jaa galey ki phir yeh haseen raat ho na ho, shayad is janam mein mulakat ko na ho - from Woh Kaun Thi? The music is by Madan Mohan

2. Tera jaana, dil key armaanon ka loot jaana, koi dehke bun kay taqdeeron ka mitt jana - from Anadi. The music is by Shankar Jaikishan. Nutan is absolutely heartbroken.

3. O! Sajana, barkha bahar aayi, ras ki phuhar layi, aankhiyon mein pyaas layi - from Parakh - this one is brilliant. The music is by Salil Chodhury

4. Chura kay gaya sapna mera, baithi hoon kab ho savera - from Jewel Thief. The music is by S.D. Burman. Vyjantimala never looked more beautiful.

5. Aaa! Jaan-e-jaan, aa mera yeh husn jawan - from Intequam. The music is by Laxmikant Pyarelal. This one is special: the only cabaret number by Lata. Helen gives her best; so does the man, painted all black, in the cage. (Actually there is one more song from Intequam that I love - Kaisay rahoon chup kay meinay pi hi kya hai.)

6. Dilbar dil say pyare - from Caravan. The music is by R.D. Burman. Perhaps Aruna Irani's best dance number.

7. Biti na bitai raina, birha ki jayi raina - from Parichay; the brilliant Hindi remake of the Sound of Music. The music is by R.D. Burman. (Actually this is a duet with Bhupendra doing a cameo at the end). Gulzar, RD and Lata were a deadly combination.

8. Another Gulzar-Lata-RD number from Andhi: Tere bina zindagi say shikwa. Duet with the man with the golden voice, Kishore Kumar. (I love all the three songs from this movie. The other two ... tum aa gaye ho, nur aa gaya hai; and iss mod say jaatey hain, kuch sust kadam rakh kar. All three songs are filmed on Suchitra Sen, Bengal's pride and Sanjeev Kumar).

9. Thinking of Suchitra Sen ... this one is from another Hindi movie of hers, Mamta. The song ... Rahein na rahein hum, mehka kareingay ban kay kali .... I think the music is by Roshan.

10. A non-filmi song which brings a lump to my throat every time I even think of it ... Aye meray watan kay logon, zara aankh mein bhar lo paani. I think the music is by C Ramachandra.

Is it already number 10? Hmmm... sad. I have so many more to go.

Which are your favourite Lata Mangeshkar songs?

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hounouring Gandhi the Montblanc Way

Two reasons to be proud of India: Mahatma Gandhi and Lata Mangeshkar. These two people define the essence of India for me. One the apostle of peace - the greatest human being to have walked the earth; and the other the sweetest voice known to mankind. A country that gave birth to these two gems is definitely a country worth living and dying for.

But then you come across an advert (in India Today's some supplement that features only the most expensive stuff - beyond the reach of ordinary human beings) - Montblanc has launched limited edition gold and silver pens celebrating Mahatma Gandhi's birthday. Gold and Silver?!?! Mahatma Gandhi - the man who gave up his every comfort to identify with the men and women he led - must be crying in heaven.

I am sure we Indians have done lots of things that must have caused the Mahatma lots of pain - the values he held dear are no longer the central theme of Indian mindset; but honouring him in gold is simply ridiculous. I am sure the makers of Montblanc will donate the money earned from this pen to charity. No? :)

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Good and Evil and Durga Puja

Durga Puja - celebration to mark Durga's yearly visit to her father's house on earth - the central theme of a Hindu Bangali's religious, cultural and social existence, can be extremely disruptive to a blogger. Here I am trying to pick up threads of my regular blogging activities, still recovering from the hectic 4 days of fun.

A typical day of a Durga Puja - get up in the morning, skip breakfast, go to the puja mandap, offer "onjoli" (offering of flowers to the goddess with 3 short rounds of mantra - repeated after the priest), have a community feast consisting mainly of kichchdi, a mixed vegetable and, of course, sweets, enjoy the cultural show organised in the evenings (singers, dancers, theater, etc.), eat chicken rolls (chicken pieces wrapped in a roti), return home late and crash.

The Durga Puja ends with the common theme of all religions - the victory of good over evil. So far so good. But with ever changing definition of good and evil, it becomes rather difficult to correlate religious themes in your daily life. It is therefore best to suspend inquiry and enjoy the colours of these festivals.

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