Sunday, October 30, 2005

Blasts in Delhi

There have been serial blasts in Delhi, similar to those in London earlier this year.

An act of such madness and utter terror - how does one respond? There is shock - how could this happen? It doesn't make any sense! There is anger - on behalf of the victims - who were completely innocent, and out shopping for the greatest festival of the year, just hours away. There is defiance - if this was meant to make someone cower - it won't happen. And there is fear, mixed with anger - that the victims of this senseless killing were just like you or I. Next time, it could be you or I.

I hope all of your friends and family are safe.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

A new visualization of news

I don't know if you guys have noticed this, but CNet is showcasing a new way of following news links. Here's what happens - when you read a CNet story (this one, for example), there's a section on the right which shows you the article in some kind of "article-topic space", also viewable in full-screen mode.

This view has three types of objects - articles, topics and companies, with links between objects that connect - for example, all articles related to Oracle Corp will be connected to Oracle and most of them will be connected to databases. Some of them might be connected to, say security or open-source, depending on the content of the article. Each topic, say databases, is also linked to other articles on databases (which may deal with MySQL for example). This is already nice enough given that I can follow the topics in the news around an article.

Whats better is that you can switch focus to any other object in the space. Shifting focus from our article, we can go to Security, which can lead us to Microsoft - and so on to any other article on the site. Which, I think, is a supremely cool idea! Here's what CNet have to say about this feature.

Infrastructure vs. Development in urban India

Milind Deora, Member of Parliament from Mumbai writes on IntentBlog:
"...cities like Mumbai and Bangalore are rapidly decaying. Their infrastructure can handle only so much, yet commercial and residential buildings (mostly hideous structures) and unplanned construction continue to change the landscape of these metros.

The Bombay High Court’s recent judgment on Mumbai’s mill lands has sparked off a serious debate on how Mumbai should be developed. On one hand, developers believe the ruling will raise the price of Mumbai’s real estate due to a fall in the supply of housing while activists and urban planners see it as an opportunity to better plan the city’s transformation into a world-class metro."
I agree that concentrating on developing urban spaces as densely as possible is a really bad idea. What is sorely needed simultaneously is a systematic plan for developing infrastructure like roads, power and water. Even now, most urban cities in India are struggling with providing these basic amenities.

New Delhi has benefitted a lot from developing outlying areas like Noida and Gurgaon - but Navi Mumbai, for example, has not seen that much success. Which is also due to the fact that although Navi Mumbai is well planned, public utilities are still not up to the mark. The government has to understand that there is only so much of development (construction) that can go on in one city, and providing means for more urban development outside has become a necessity.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Foreign Universities in India: Is the left ever right?

The Left parties promise to be a pain in the neck for anything that remotely resembles progress. Here we go again.

This time, the Left Front has pricked a particularly hopeful balloon - the idea of allowing foreign universities to open branches in India. Their reason, quoted in the Indian Express:
the entry of foreign universities will foster ‘‘cultural insensitivity’’ arguing that their curriculum would have a viewpoint different to the country’s stand on issues such as Kashmir and the freedom struggle.

The other fear, the Left says, is that by charging exorbitant fees, this would only add to the ‘‘urban elitist bias’’ as these would be thronged by children of the rich. Also it would result in poaching of the best teachers from IIMs and IITs.
Sirs, kindly spare us the crap.

Lets talk about "cultural insensitivity". So, we can have a MacDonalds next to every railway station in Mumbai. We think its fine to primarily educate our youth in English and make sure everybody who passes 10th in India knows at least one Shakespeare play by heart. Malls can be encouraged to blare MTV on their extra large plasma screens. Oh, and we have absolutely no problems with importing Diwali fireworks from China, sometimes with dragons drawn on them. We even heap praise on our noble freedom fighters who went to universities like Oxford and Cambridge to study. But somehow, foreign universities in India are going to hypnotize the youth into some evil ways that we want to protect them from. Congratulations, you can now obtain an election ticket from the CPI(M).

Moving on to the "country's stand on issues." Excuse me? Are we in China? Is there a "national" stand on issues which we're supposed to follow? Did these guys somehow miss the recent circus surrounding a certain Mr. Advani which manifested due to differences of opinion about the freedom struggle? I admit I'm getting fond of saying this in my posts - but the last time I checked we were living in a democracy and were guaranteed the right to free speech and expression. Is the Delhi University history department regulated to disallow theses and papers that are contrary to some "national" stand? Issues about Kashmir, the independence struggle, Gandhi Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose still fire up debates in this country. What possible angle that is oh-so-evil can be brought about by foreign universities? More importantly, is the educated Indian so gullible as to become a automaton the moment he hears a lecture delivered against some national stand? Today, universities serve as a forum for expression, research and presentation on ideas - not as puppets for public policy for some evil purpose.

Have these "leaders" ever mouthed the words "Indian higher education system" in a street with a single young person around? Because if they have, they could not have missed hearing the natural extension to the sentence, which goes, "... it sucks." These leaders are the ones who lament the "brain drain", but have obviously never given a thought to why it occurs. Can the fact that higher studies in India are under-funded, have underpaid and often under-qualified staff, and poor infrastructure have something to do with it? Is it remotely possible that the arrival of foreign universities will be a welcome push to Indian institutions of higher learning to become more competitive? We have the second highest population in the world and the largest IT exports of any country but if someone wants to do a technical PhD in India, they have almost no choices, barring IISc, which could also use some good funding.

Oh, how could I forget the clinching argument - they will lure away the faculty. So, these teachers are going to be residing in India, teaching Indian students but actually be getting paid adequately for it. How dare they! A teacher in India is supposed to be poor and destitute and have absolutely no claim to a reasonable paycheck, right? There are well qualified Indians from all over the world who would love to come and teach in India except that a first-year programmer earns double what they would. Is it so hard to make the leap of logic that this problem may be solved and teachers might actually be lured to India?

Charging exorbitant fees and add to the "urban elitist bias"? Firstly, since when did education ever contribute to creating a bias? There are people in India who have a lot of money - would the Left rather have these people buy trips to New Zealand every month to avoid this "urban elitist bias"? Secondly, have these people visited Mumbai, Delhi or Chennai airports in the months from July - August, and seen the throngs of students going abroad to study? Is this not creating an "urban elitist bias"... and how would this be worsened by having those students stay in India... and in any case even a private higher education will probably be a lot less expensive than going abroad.

India has grown by leaps and bounds in software exports - but has lagged behind in R&D (anybody remember Dayanidhi Maran's Intel fiasco?), and is being overtaken by South East Asian countries and China. Availability of graduates and research students are a prime factor in opening research and development centers for any company. Surely, having more education options - as well as a more competitive education market - will do wonders for economic growth.

We Indians talk proudly about becoming a developed nation and a superpower at that. Unfortunately, there is more to becoming a superpower than developing nuclear weapons. Every superpower in history - USA, Soviet Union, UK and so on - even ancient India which was considered to be a superpower had flourishing centers of learning like Nalanda University. Hands up those who think the current crop of Indian centers of learning are anywhere close to perfection. And so the situation will stay until we welcome diversity, and a competitive incentive to be better.

I suppose I'd better get back to my research. Which I'm doing at a foreign university. Guess why.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Wasting time at work for dummies

Since we're all such expert time managers, the system must of course continuously strive to challenge us to greater heights. It usually chooses to do so by the method of giving us endless new ways to waste time at work.

The latest one - Scott Adam's Dilbert Blog.

Don't think that this only means another few fun words a day to read - if you've read this guy's books before, you know that he'll probably introduce you to a universe of ways to slack at work. Read at your own risk :)

The first words of the Master:
Welcome to my first blog entry.

If you’re reading this on company time, congratulations on beating the system. If you’re reading it on your own time, you really need to find a job where they pay you to do this sort of thing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

How much are a thousand pictures worth?


How often do we appreciate the sunshine in our lives? Sometimes, after ages of bleakness, the magic moment comes. When we experience, and are grateful for each ray of sunshine thats come our way. Such moments of clarity are rare, but well worth the wait.

This happens to be the 1000th photo in my Flickr photostream.

Welcome back, Little Master

14.2 Muralitharan to Tendulkar, one run, played away on the leg side and
the single takes him to fifty, Tendulkar is back !
14.1 Muralitharan to Tendulkar, FOUR, tossed up delivery outside the off
stump, Tendulkar stretches well forward and taps it away to the
fine leg fence, played it with the spin and got it well wide of
the fielder at short fine leg, fantastic shot that

Role model for jobless geeks

One day, I want to be jobless enough to be able to do this. Write a program for generating audio noise. From their website:
It's the hottest sensation to sweep the nation: Pink Noise! Also known as a signal with even power distribution on a logarithmic frequency scale, pink noise masks background noise to help you concentrate. Now with source code and white noise, for those less colorful. Drown out annoying roommates and co-workers today!
It does have its uses though - for people who can't stand silence while working but are distracted by listening to music.

Of course, I downloaded the program and it runs well. If somebody can code it (and distribute the source code) - I can definitely spare some time out of my, ahem, hectic schedule and test it. Wonder what happens when you listen to this with noise canceling headphones though. Anyone with a pair of these care to confirm?

[Update] I've been using this program and I simply cannot believe how effective this is at improving productivity and actually drowning out distracting conversation. A real gem!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Which SciFi/Fantasy Character are you?

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You? I thought I'd be Luke Skywalker, turns out the program thinks I'm his twin sister. One would think they could calculate the chromosome number correctly, but I guess you can't get closer than that!

Take the quiz, its fun.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Think different

Here's to the crazy ones.

The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things... differently. They're not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo.

You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do... is ignore them. Because they change things... they push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.

Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
The most inspirational ad I've ever seen. Watch it here.

Research and magic shows

"X person in Y year proved this equation. Its actually quite intuitive, if you think about it... but it turns out that if you do a ton of complex math (given in 2-3 research papers and/or a fat reference textbook), even the theory works out rather nicely."
This is the standard form of a lecture in a graduate CS theory course, and its the reason it can get so hard. The idea is that grad students should be able to understand more detailed theory and so we get it all thrown at us. The reality is, sometimes even the professors cannot fully understand the theory and its derivation - which makes going through the course like skating on extremely thin ice.

To me, a theoretical subject is interesting if I can appreciate the theory from first principles, but that kind of thing seems to to be impossible in graduate theory courses. What we're left to do is take for a basis theory that has developed over years and understand how its implemented in systems today - and how to implement it, if it becomes necessary.

Few people know how exactly to decide whether a 100-dimensional data vector with a million data points should be dealt with - but computational learning theory comes to the rescue - and tells you (somehow) whether to use ridge or lasso regression, support vector machines, naive bayes estimators or some other esoteric methods written somewhere. You're like the magician with the book of spells - a few select research papers - and using that you can solve previously unsolved problems. The few people who actually understand, make and improve the spell-book are the masters and Gods - whom we all aspire to be, somewhere and someday. Right now, it seems like we're just entrants at Hogwarts.

As Arthur C. Clarke once said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".

Monday, October 17, 2005

On my life and its hidden meanings

I like the idea of watching for signs. So I followed Casablanca's tag to find the 5th sentence of my 23rd post... the sentence happens to be:


So yeah, class is just over and its noon and I need to have lunch. And yes, I'm always hungry. Like I (or anybody else) need a sign from voodoo acts to know that.


Coming up: Still more new toys from Apple

Well, folks, it doesn't seem like Apple is giving me any rest. Next week there is yet another Apple special event with new products lined up - which will, no doubt, make me feel even poorer.

Apparently revisions of the PowerMac series and the Powerbook series are due, and about time too. Dual-core is definitely in and word is that PowerPC dual-core processors is what the new Powermacs will be getting.

As for the Powerbook, it is in desperate and dire need of some serious upgrades. I bought my Powerbook eight months ago (right on the dot of the last revision, which increased memory and CPU speeds). The very same configuration is still being sold today. Whats worse is that the Powerbook G4 has been around since January 2001, starting off with the Titanium Powerbooks and followed by the aluminum ones. Thats right, a full four years. Unthinkable, considering how fast technology supposedly progresses. Of course Apple could kind of rest easier since the G4 back then was an unbelievably fast CPU - given that it still performs comparably to Pentium Ms. We should really have had a Powerbook G5 by now, but that isn't likely to happen ever now that the transition to Intel has been announced.

Rumours have it that the updated Powerbooks will feature small speed bumps and possibly higher density displays for the 15" and 17" models. The 12" Powerbook will probably not have a denser display, though.

Possible additions to the Powerbooks on Wed:

- A new CPU (either a G5, dual-core G4 or an Intel)
- Just a G4 upgrade (whatever...)
- Higher screen resolution would be nice (rumour has it we might see a 13" widescreen Powerbook in place of the 12")
- Built in iSights (oooohh that would be way cool!)
- Superdrives standard across the board... I so regret not buying the SuperDrive PB
- Better video cards, especially on the 12"/13" (we're stuck with a 5200 for now!)

Yet another rumour has it that the Apple Cinema Displays may see a rise in spec, a reduction in price or both. About time, too - they're priced way out of line at US$699 (education price) for the 20". Comparably, I saw the Dell 2005 Widescreen at US$500 today which has better specs, multiple inputs and adjustable height. I'd go for that any day.

Again, its quite obvious how deep I'm getting into following the Apple scene for no real good reason... I doubt there's going to be anything announced on Wednesday that I'd buy immediately.

But, as the architect says, "Hope... the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength and your greatest weakness".

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A truly head-shaking sight

The things my browser remembers...

identity crisis

Its a lazy, rainy, cloudy, sleepy Saturday morning/afternoon.

I am in my lab, studying for a quiz five days away.

Is this really me?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Thinking different

Apple's done it again. The two newest toys on the block are stunning products - the video iPod is packed with features and a great form factor - and the new iMac G5 is simply beautiful with its simplicity and built-in videoconferencing. As some people might tell you, I've been quite fanatically obsessed with Apple all of today. There are reports, however, that other fans are less than happy with today's product offerings.

I watched the video of today's special event. Steve Jobs is just a wonderful presenter. The video is an hour long so I guess most people won't bother going through it. When I saw it though, I figured three things about Apple as a company that come through. Not that these things are anything new, but the way they're going about their business just confirms it.

Simplicity. A hallmark of virtually all Apple products (MTRL ROKR ISNT), I think this is the single biggest reason they're so successful and easy to use. Jobs showed a slide comparing the iMac Remote to a couple of Media Center PC remotes - the iMac Remote has 6 buttons and the Media Center PCs have over 40 and are at least ten times the size. He said, "This slide more than anything captures what Apple is all about". Although an unfair comparison (a media-center PC can double for a TV, act as a programmable video recorder, none of which the new iMac does), the point remains valid - Apple finds ways to make the whole experience simpler for the user. No better example for it than the iPod scroll wheel.

Think different. Until five weeks ago, the most popular MP3 player of any kind in the world was the iPod mini. That was when Apple ditched it, and replaced it with the iPod nano. That policy was echoed today when Jobs said, "the iPod has been our greatest success till date. That means, it's time to replace it." I don't know what you think of this, but I think it speaks volumes about belief in the company motto. Companies certainly research ahead to think up new products but I've not seen many that ditch their best-sellers at the peak of their sales. I guess people could dissent over whether this makes business sense - chip manufacturer's like Intel routinely lay off releasing newer products while the older ones can still be milked. What Apple's approach does, however, is lend excitement around the company and its products, which is why Apple can generate so much publicity by just a single e-mail.

The big picture. "At such events, we like to remind ourselves, that its really about the music." With this comment, Jobs invited Grammy-award winning musician Wynton Marsalis to perform on stage, a 15-minute instrumental on the trumpet which was simply awesome. One of the true business strengths of Apple is the user experience. I'm pretty sure the iPod could have been made to handle video a lot earlier than today. Yet, it was held back until Apple made sure there was content for it - and content that people will want and appreciate - especially the TV shows. The new iMac G5 may be nothing more than the old iMac with a built-in webcam, a remote and an application, but it sure adds up to a whole new way to use your computer. The end-to-end design adds a lot of value in my opinion. A grocery store can sell both food and plates, but thats nowhere close to the experience of a restaurant where its all packaged nicely together.

And that, you would think, puts me well and truly into the "religiously fanatic zealot about Apple" category. Not so. This was just an analysis of why I think Apple manages to do so well as a company. My zealotry will probably be revealed in the next post, in which I talk about my take on the new toys. If that was a groan I heard, too bad. Come back next week if you're tired of reading about Apple :)

Apple unveils media iMac, video iPod

Apple is unveling new products in San Jose as I write. The story so far appears to be:

- iMac is now a media center type thing - with a remote control and new app called FrontRow
- New iPods can play video and have larger screens (2.5 inch). 30 gigs and 60 gigs, with the 30 gig iPod being thinner than the original 20 gig iPod
- Video content on iTMS... so far music videos and some TV shows
- apparently, TV shows priced at under 2 dollars? I find that hard to believe, but we'll see it as it comes.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Help humanity

The IIPM controversy has shown how powerful individual consciousness and responses can be in countering a seemingly large threat.

You can make an equally powerful difference by sharing a bit of your resources with people in need. The quake in Pakistan and India has left over 40,000 dead, nearly as many injured and hundreds of thousands homeless. CNN has a list of organizations engaged in relief effort and accepting donations, and South Asia quake help is a blog thats keeping track of aid and relief efforts and other quake-related news.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

IIPM and online criticism

So, some people at IIPM are probably peeved by critical remarks of Rashmi Bansal (via JAM Magazine) and Gaurav Sabnis who were the basis of some rather ineffectual, though multi-pronged attacks after publishing their statements online.

Rashmi's magazine site was attacked by an anonymous blog with one post - which I guess we'd never have known about if Rashmi hadn't mentioned it herself.

Gaurav, though, was sent what purported to be an e-mail from the legal department of IIPM which not only claimed to be a "judicially notarized e-mail" (I doubt there is such a thing) but also threatened his arrest because he apparently provided "totally false articles" about IIPM "with proven deliberate and fraudulent intentions to harm the image of IIPM and related businesses." Hmmm. I wonder who they proved it to, themselves? And do they think thats all they need to do? Moreover, the e-mail allegedly comes from someone who identifies himself as the President (emphasis mine) of the Legal and Compliance Cell of IIPM. Interesting, isn't it?

And I really wonder why they deem Gaurav's blog entry damaging enough to threaten, but nothing is sent to JAM Magazine which, after all, has got to be more widely read. Of course, for that very reason, it might have some form of legal representation, even the most incompetent of which, I'm sure, will advise the IIPM e-mail to be a total bluster.

If IIPM is officially behind such actions, though, they need to wake up. As far as I can see, everything written on Gaurav's entry or JAMMAG's article is either a fact or an opinion -- neither of which can form the basis of legal action. As an institution, you will get criticized. Deal with it. The world is far more connected that it was a decade ago. People don't rely only on obscure rating mechanisms for everything anymore. From universities to computers, consumers rate everything online these days. Whether its in a blog, or a forum or a user review online, user experiences are in. Trying to suppress them will not only fail, but backfire. It may sound completely bizarre to IIPM, but consumers actually like that kind of empowerment and aren't going to be happy if you decided to take it away from them. A bad review by one guy doesn't hurt your reputation so much as evidence that you tried to squash that review unfairly.

I've never in my life given a thought to doing an MBA -- I believe quite strongly that management, marketing, finance were subjects God intended me to stay away from. After reading all this, though, I decided to visit the IIPM website to see if it really markets itself all that impressively. And after I did, I wondered why we're going through all this trouble at all. Anyone who visits their website and applies there deserves what s/he gets. And anyone who doesn't visit their website before applying there is living in the stone age anyway. Consider:
  • On their home page, IIPM proudly claims to have an area of more than 200,000 sq. ft. Thats right, a campus area being measured in square feet. 200,000 sq. ft. is two football fields. "Spread across India with seven centers". Wow.
  • Their cafetarias are among the four headers of "infrastructure" (the others being campus, libraries and academic centers), and the opening line states "Studies along with the enchanting aroma of food and beverages make a wonderful pair". What can I say?
  • The punch quote on the main page is one by Arindam Chaudhuri, who happens to be the dean of IIPM. I guess this takes "selling yourself" to the whole new plane of "selling yourself, yourself".
  • Their claim of "strategic partnerships" has its own Alliances page on their website -- except they have not a single alliance listed with an institution. Every name on that list (as of today) is an individual, and I find it hard to understand how such a thing works.
  • For an institution claiming to have "the most technically advanced infrastructure in business schools", their prospectus is curiously distributed in low-quality JPEG image scans which you can navigate by clicking on a link for each page. Heard of PDFs, guys?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The travails of being an Apple fanboy

Buying the Powerbook pushed me over the edge. I have now joined the hordes who contribute logic to Apple's totally illogical and unsound model of advertising - word of byte. The above is the invitation to a special event to be hosted by Apple sent via e-mail to a few select websites, media people and individuals. Result?

People all over the web are wildly speculating, discussing, holding their breath, reading crystal balls - you name it. Oh, and not just the usual Mac and techie websites people. We're talking Reuters, Washington Post, LA Times and BusinessWeek, among others.

All this at the hefty cost of one e-mail. In the incredible time-frame of a few hours. I cannot think of any company announcing any product that excites the media machine this way.

There's not even a product here. We've no idea what the event's for, except that its about "one more thing", which traditionally has meant a new product launch or a serious product upgrade.

Now that we've talked about the reaction of professional media, lets move on to wilder stuff - the fanboys. Yup, people like me. Who have wasted a lot of Thursday and most of Friday checking up on the incredible amount of forum discussion and wild speculation thats revolving around this event faster than the Earth about its axis. People have hedged bets on almost any geeky product you can think of - with the possible exception of No. 10 Staples. The speculation is extremely varied. The sensible and probable category suggests a new video iPod, possibly with a larger drive and/or smaller form factor; dual-core PowerMacs, a video-capable network streaming device (video Airport Express for the fanboys) and upgrades to the iTunes Music Store. The second category suggests stuff that is improbable (not impossible), but very interesting. Included in here is the Powerbook G5 (my personal wish), the first Intel-based Mac (of any sort), a home theater system, a gaming console, an Apple phone (not the ROKR), an Apple tablet computer... the list goes on. Then there's the wild end of the speculative entries. One of them is Apple products with fuel-cell batteries, and the rest are equally insane.

There are discussions of a conspiracy theory that Apple is deliberately feeding different rumors to different websites to hide the real product up their sleeves. And us fanboys get to read and wonder about all of these, and pray, "Dear $DEITY, please let it be $DESIRED_PRODUCT". The stress of it all can really get to you. Don't believe it - well here's what a couple of the fanboys had to say.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The success of Indian democracy

Rediff is running a column with a speech by our foreign minister, Natwar Singh. He talks about the broad successes achieved by India as a democracy. He makes some good points.
The building of a democratic India has not been an easy exercise. There is no historical precedent for a billion people determining their collective destiny through a mechanism of consent. There is no blueprint or textbook that sets out a road map. We have improvised along our way, trusting the innate wisdom of our people.

Elections in India currently encompass an electorate of almost 700 million. It is a political statistic not easy to digest. Equally worth noting is that these votes have often resulted in changes of government at both the federal and state level. It is the peaceful transfer of power that is the true test of democracy. Not all societies claiming to be one have passed it. India has -- with flying colours!

One testimony to our strength is the example -- the first in history -- of a Communist Party coming to power through electoral means. In the Indian ethos, no one is outside the pale and we have stretched the definition of an inclusive society to its limits and beyond.
Besides the pleasure of an eloquent Indian political speech, this "big picture" view gave me some food for thought. We normally do think of India as an anarchic society (frequently compared to a car without a driver) with a huge number of problems -- from corruption, hunger, poverty, lack of infrastructure, religious/political strife, terrorism... the list goes on. Yet we do have an extremely functional and progressive society when seen from other perspectives -- like economic growth, education, technology, telecommunication coverage, culture and expression. Even though a large part of India is non-urban (see the Madhukar Shukla's insightful post), it too, receives a lot of attention thanks to the media, and thanks to being a large votebank.

One of India's "problems" isn't a lack of solutions - its actually a multiplicity of solutions. Problem -- not enough representation of women in Parliament. Solutions -- tons of them, from constitutional reservation of seats to party level allocation of election tickets. The important point is that there are things that can be done, and people are thinking about them. With such a diverse population its not really a wonder that there are arguments, but there are ways out of the problems we're facing and most of those ways are reasonable. Time and consensus will decide which solution we adopt but there is, nonetheless, progress.

I believe that the framework of democratic principles in India has to be doing well given these observations. Which leads me to feeling sort-of optimistic about India's future. We may take a long time to get to a place given the diverse opinions, beliefs and motivations that people have - but eventually we'll get there, because of the principles that India is based on.

A computer scientist (those afraid of geek alerts may stop reading that this point!) might compare this to a global optimization problem where the task is to get to a universal optimum of society with respect to its laws, attitudes and culture - and the way to do it is to take steps in what seems like the right direction and re-evaluate whether we did better or worse than where we were and move on accordingly. A mathematician would tell you that there is a tradeoff in taking large steps based on little information (comparable to a more dictatorial model in which a few important people make all the decisions and are relatively unquestioned), and taking smaller steps using more data (comparable to an anarchic model where a lot of people's conflicting views have to be heard and there is resistance to change). Too much of the former, and you're likely to go way off course unless your little information happens to be 100% accurate; and too much of the latter and you're likely to move too slowly to get anywhere at all. I think India's democracy achieves a good balance between the two cases.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Intervale cabin

Intervale cabin

MIT outing club has a couple of cabins in NH, one of which I went to this weekend. Nice cabin, far away from anywhere, only gas power. When we reached at night it was close to zero degrees celsius - I think thats the coldest temperature I've ever been in. Not a light in sight - and the sky was dense as a planetarium - full of stars. Its a beauty of nature that anyone living in civilization sees more and more rarely.

It was mostly a work trip - I spent all of Saturday clearing the path up to the cabin. A day spent in nature - nothing makes you more peaceful. Click the photo to see other photos from the trip.

Oh, and because I did work, I'm a keyholder and entitled to go there to stay when I want... maybe if I can rent a car and get some company I might go down there again for some good hiking.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The (decoded) short story

Here's the promised decoding of the story I wrote in my last post. Percept was right, I wrote the story as that of humanity. Specifically, a story of human consciousness progressing. Seven stages of human consciousness are represented in seven paragraphs. Each paragraph represents one stage in seven sentences by answering seven questions, which are:
  • What is your biggest fear?
  • What do you desire?
  • What characterizes your thinking?
  • What do you consider your greatest gift?
  • Who is your fellow man?
  • Who is God?
  • Why are you here?
Of course this wasn't something that I made up all on my own, a lot of material that I read was the real source. Specifically, a book by Deepak Chopra called "How to know God" primarily talks about consciousness in a similar fashion.