The Optimist

Nov 01

Just out of curiosity

Lets do it Gangnam Style.

Curiosity has always held man in good stead. It has helped us improve our lives for the better with the help of science. Curiosity has enabled man as William Shatner puts in the title sequence of Star Trek ‘to boldly go where no man has ever gone before’.

Yesterday i came across an interesting story by the One laptop per child foundation. The idea was dramatic. Give tablets preloaded with games and educational software to Ethiopian kids with no prior experience of using them and see what happens. Can they pick it up ? Amazingly a few months later they found out that the students had not only understood how to use the tablets, they had even learned a few words. Curiosity helped the kids explore the tablets and become better at it. The original story can be found here (http://mashable.com/2012/10/29/tablets-ethiopian-children/).

Online education is not new. MIT had opencourseware long before a lot of others entered the field. But Salman Khan, the founder of khanacademy.org truly redefined it with his approach. Now Salman Khan was just another guy trying to help his cousin with some algebra! Kaushik Basu argues for legalizing bribes for some situations. Its a peculiar idea. Today both giving and taking a bribe is a criminal offence. Due to this the bribe giver cannot turn whistleblower since he is equally culpable. Basu seeks to change this dynamics. If giving a bribe is legal but accepting one is not, we change the rules of the game. Once the rules are changed, the way the game is played changes too.

The latest cabinet shuffle was supposed to be homecoming for the prime-minister-in-waiting(hope t -> infinity) Rahul Gandhi. But this time too he managed to miss the bus. On the other side of the fence we have the BJP with its many dilemmas. The development figures in Gujarat might not be as rosy as they are portrayed, Narendra Modi’s approval ratings might not have improved despite incessant media campaigns on his part. But just out of curiosity it might be worthwhile for the BJP to give him a chance to run for office. After all he might be their only chance after the downfall of Gadkari.

Thanks to Arvind Kejriwal, this year has seen politicians getting bashed in all quarters of the country. Noted journalist Rajdeep Sardesai puts it as a fight between ‘them’ and ‘us’. The elite and the normal people. Let me suggest an experiment. Ban all existing candidates, their family members and their chamchas from contesting elections for a small area(Now that in itself is an interesting problem). See what happens. Lets have complete novices running for office. Maybe like with the Ethiopian children we just might have some interesting results. For Curiosity sake lets do it different this time. Lets do it Opp Opp Oppa Gangnam Style. :)

P.S: Thank you Ravali for editing the draft and making it readable. Ya and for the title too. :)

Aug 17

A month at RiverSilica: 10 things i have learned

Its been a month since i joined RiverSilica Technologies, a start-up in Bangalore working on Video transcoding technology. Listening to Mr. Balaji give insights into the video industry has been fun.

Starting up is an entirely different game and so are the rules. Its been more than a year since i left college and around 2 weeks after saying my final goodbye to the beautiful Goa Campus(Yes! i got my degree), i take some time to reflect on some of the things i have learned in the past month and a half. I list 10 things, the order is arbitrary except for the first one which is bang on target.

1. Time is limited
'How you spend your time, where you spend it and who you spend it with are all important life decisions' as Edmond Lau puts it in his article on Quora. Spend time on things you value and with people you care for. Value your time and that of others.

2. Keep it simple.
This is something which applies to your work, your schedule, your relationships and much more. Decide three laws you want to follow and adhere to them. Much like Asimov’s laws of robotics.
 a) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
 b) A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
 c) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

3. Just do it.
If you have do something to do just do it. Sounds easy eh ?
Prioritizing is probably the best skill you could learn and procrastination the best habit you could get rid of.  Wanted to read Lolitha by Vladimir Nabakov or meaning to understand what the Higgs boson means ? Go ahead and do it now. Tomorrow never comes. I managed to complete Lolitha in a week’s time and was amazed by the lyrical writing.

4. Listen and read as much as you can. 
Surround yourself with intelligent people and listen to the things they say. Read new books and listen to different music. Exploring is fun.

5. There’s always a better way to do things.

6. Learn communication
Communicating your ideas is difficult. Though the problem is perfectly clear to you it may not be so for others. So work on it. Like i said there’s always a better way to explain it.

7. Read Paperbacks.
I liked e-books a lot. Portability, size all went in its favor. But only when you spend so much time staring at the computer screen, do you value the worth of the Paperback. Screw the money, go buy yourself a good paperback.

8. Doing > Talking. This one’s borrowed from Ralino’s tweet. 

9. Life is short. Enjoy when you can. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

10. Chacha is God. Well i didn’t learn this here. But no list is complete without this point.

I know some of the points look very obvious. But that is what is difficult in life: keeping it simple.




(Source: hardrainproject.com)

Jul 09

Taking the Untrodden Path - A trip to Nakhind

Terrified, mortified, petrified, stupefied. I stood there. We had just climbed 700m of steep terrain but what lay ahead made me mortally afraid. Up against me stood a narrow ridge with no vegetation on either side. One fateful step and you were history. Going ahead looked crazy. But egged on by my ‘friends’ two minutes later i was butt trekking on the same path. You know the rest. You see i am still alive to tell you the whole story :)

There were three of us. We started out from Matunga at around 6.30 in the morning. A karjat train from Dadar took us to Vangani, a village near the base of the Nakhind hill. On the train you see to your left the hill range comprising of Tavli, Navra-Navri, Mhasmal, Chanderi, Nakhind, Peb and finally Matheran.

The peaks Chanderi and Mhasmal
Accounts on the Internet had given us a fair idea of the route but if you are a true ranger you know even the best can get lost. Once we reached the station we crossed the tracks and went into the first village. The tar road soon gives way to mud and uneven terrain till you reach the second village. The villagers here are pretty friendly and directions provided are usually correct.

After this point the trek starts to get difficult. We had to hack our way through the narrow path and counter the steep climb at the same time. Be careful to rest along the way for you’ll need the energy. You encounter a small stream which signals that you have completed about 10% of the climb. Sadly its too early to refill those bottles your carrying. It is tough to get a grip at some points and using a stick as support does help.
After what seemed like eternity we reached the top. The view from the top was simply breathtaking. There was a sense of relief at having conquered the hill. But the feeling didnt last long. On your left stood the ridge that divides you and the famous Nakhind hole. The hole is peculiar. The outcrop is made of huge rocks with a gaping hole in the centre. Be careful when you traverse the ridge. If you have vertigo going ahead is not recommended.

On top of the hill. Me, Nihar and Ameya. The view is magnificent.
 
The view from the cave on the other side was breathtaking. On one side is the Vahgani village whereas Chanderi and Mhasmal stand tall on the other side. We settled there for an hour or so taking in the breeze and refilling our energy tanks. Soon i realized there was no way available south and i would have to face my fears once again. (Damn you Nihar you fooled me). It seemed easier this time and i was on the other side in no time.

Inside the Nakhind hole.

After crossing the narrow ridge.

Besides this little adventure, i had a few slips and a minor fall, but nothing dangerous. The road back seemed unusually long. The sun was beating down on us and by the time we reached the station we were soaking wet in sweat.

The entire journey though arduous was one i would remember for ages to come. Also such places tend to give you a sense of peace and calm not found at sea level. Thank you Nihar and Ameya for taking good care of me along the trek. Happy trekking.

Apr 20

Here comes the Sun


 

The past few days have been different. I have started getting up early again. It’s like my first few days in Bangalore. Then all of us used to get up at 6 to be greeted by the beautiful morning and the cool Bangalore breeze. It amazed me. Had I changed? But it was soon before Nidradevi kept me in her arms a little longer and things returned to normal.

So when I got up early in the morning I was pleasantly surprised. There is a sense of peace in the morning. It’s like your soul is in perfect harmony with the world. Invariably I find Eapen sitting on his comp working on some excel sheets. I wonder when that Budget’s due.

I ride to work when I get up early. I have to confess it takes some effort to get my muscles to agree to undertake the ride. But once I am on my bike it all seems second nature. People smile when they see me on my cycle sporting a biker’s helmet. And the guard at RMZ always double checks when I park my cycle. But this one’s pretty cheap and quite sturdy too. I like it.

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s ‘Aarmabhi Vandina Ayodyacha Raja’ reminds me of home – the early mornings, my mother listening to Vivid Bharti on Radio. I hear the sound of birds chirping away as I stand on the balcony. I look at the ‘Glass palace’ lying on my desk. I wonder what happens to Rajkumar after the riots in Burma. There is a bunch of other papers lying around. They have been waiting for me for far too long. I worry a bit. I think about the Beatles.

Little darling, the smile is returning to your faces

Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been there.

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun, and I say

It’s alright.

I feel winds of change blowing. It’s a good feeling. There’s milk in the fridge. I sit down to read. Its’ alright.

Good Morning.


Mar 19

How do you reason with fools ?

There are lots of interesting questions that need answers. Like the one about neutrinos i talked about in my previous blog post. But the one question we increasingly find asking ourselves is ‘How do you reason with fools ?”

Fool: A person who acts unwisely or imprudently; a silly person: “what a fool I was to do this”. If we apply Prof. P’s standards to brand a fool, we’ll all end up in the set. So lets go with less stricter standards.

Now when i ask ‘How do you reason with fools?’ a wise person would quote Cale Yarborough and question Why do you reason with fools ?

Don’t ever wrestle with a pig. You’ll both get dirty, but the pig will enjoy it.

- Cale Yarborough

But the fact is you cannot avoid them. They are everywhere. There is no escape. And in the backdrop of Mamata’s shenanigans finding the answer has become imperative.

The way i tried was to reason a bit more. Make the person understand your point of view. Trust me it doesn’t work. Amazingly what worked was humoring the fool, blindly agreeing to his ideas. Doesn’t that make me a fool too ? Or is it just being pragmatic ? What worked even better was silence.

Maybe that’s why its so hard being a diplomat. Having to smile when you’ll rather have a knife down his throat. Maybe its the time i say ‘Thank God i’m an engineer’. 

How do you reason with fools? I don’t know the answer. I’ll leave you with the question. 

P.S: Thank you Ravali for the lovely photo :)

Mar 16

Little Nudges

In Life we need perturbations to disturb the equilibrium we tend to settle into. Just a little nudge to get us going. 

It could be an interesting conversation you had, an article you read or a person you met while climbing a hill. These small but significant events have the potential to change the routines we find ourselves trapped into. They are the fresh breath of air we all desperately need. 

I am going to talk about one such article. The Nobel Lecture by Richard Feynman. In the lecture Feynman decides to talk about the sequence of events, the series of ideas that finally led to the Nobel Prize. Yes the conclusion is important, but the juice lies in the journey, in the story. 

Now the problem he had was the quantum theory of electricity and magnetism was not satisfactory. Now Feynman had a solution to the problem or so he thought. He had a elegant theory and he was in love with it. Only later did he realize the various loop holes in the theory. But he persevered with it and what we have today is called QED. 

So why did i bring it all up ? Because it reminded me of an interesting problem i was solving while in college. It hurt that i had forgotten all about it and given up so early. 

We are faced with all sorts of problems in life. We choose to face some, we ignore most of them. The worthwhile problems are the ones you can really solve or help solve, the ones you can really contribute something to. … No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it. - RF


I may never get the solution. Maybe it doesn’t even matter if i do. What matters is that i never gave up. 

PS: Congrats to Sachin on his 100th Ton. Dream Dream Dream.

You can find the complete lecture here Nobel Lecture

Mar 15

Massless Culprits and other things

I never am really satisfied that I understand anything; because, understand it well as I may, my comprehension can only be an infinitesimal fraction of all I want to understand

-Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace perfectly echoes my feelings about understanding things. 

Let me take the case of neutrinos. They are the same ‘massless’ particles which created such a furore last month when they were thought to travel faster than light. 

We don’t really understand much about neutrinos. To tell you the truth we don’t understand enough about a lot of things. Like why there is so much matter than anti-matter or girls and their moods or why you never feel sleepy after examinations or why movies with imdb rating of 3 get interesting during exams though my ex-roommate may bring in ‘marginal utility’ to explain the last one. 

Coming back to neutrinos, after dozens of experiments around the world we finally seem to have confirmed that they oscillate from one flavor to another. We now know all the three ‘mixing’ angles with good certainty. Slowly but surely we hope to understand the behavior of these particles.

Looks like we may finally understand why we all exist at all ? Interesting eh ?

http://media.caltech.edu/press_releases/13502 sheds more light on the discovery.