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Saturday, February 24

From machines with love

There are some moments which make you realize the power of perspective in how we see the world and these moment catch you at most unexpected of times.

A new computer science campus in under construction on campus. It is right next to the Newell Simon hall where my dept is situated currently. At the ground floor, there is a huge window which looks down upon the ditch where the new building is coming up.

Few days ago, I decided to eat my lunch sitting right next to the huge window looking at the beautiful scene outside what with all the snow covering almost everything. There were some big machines working in at the site. From where I was sitting, I could only see their front part and not the main cabin where the driver sits. They were moving soil and filling up some part of the ditch.

I looked at them for some time and after few minutes it was so easy to believe that they are some huge odd looking autonomous things working on their own. I have read a lot of science fiction in which machines do all sorts of wonderful things, gain a consciousness and even over take the world. Sitting there watching those big crude machines making short graceful movements, I could believe all of that.

But even more than a futuristic vision I felt like I had felt while reading the first part of Specimen Days where a child thinks that machines, big mean machines love their operators and try to grab them as soon as they get a chance. In that world, a old and unsophisticated world, humans and machines co exist in a sort of love hate relationship, not out to destroy one another but still coming to terms with each other, or rather humans coming to terms with machines. Once you start understanding that world, it looks very scary.

That day I felt like I got a glimpse into that world.

Friday, February 23

The B'day cake

I am not sure if there exists any soul on this earth who actually enjoys having a cake all over his/her face on his/her b'day. Still year after year the trend goes on as is evident by the mandatory presence of a "caked face" snap in all the photo albums on Orkut and elsewhere. If nobody likes it (as was indicated by a quick survey I conducted on some of my friends and found only one supporter), then the question is why does it go on? Well I have some theories as always :-)
1. It is encouraged by those who don't like cake. So this way they can bring out all their hidden contempt for cake and do the worst that they can do to it i.e. waste it.
2. A slightly less skeptic view says that people are trying to take revenge for what happens to them on their b'days. So it is a vicious cycle in which we are loosing both fun and cake.
3. A more rational explanation by my sister. She says that people do not like to have it on their own face but they really enjoy putting it on others' faces. Now at any point of time, there is only one person who dislikes the act and many more who like it and so the total amount of happiness generated is more. This is what makes it happen year after year. While this sounds much more logical, this also reflects pretty badly on us. It says that we inherently have double standards and that all of us are a little bit of sadist in our hearts.
So which one of the above fits you best? None? Then you belong to the majority that almost never knows why they are doing what they are doing but since everybody else is doing it, so are they. This is worst. There are so many reasons why it is bad idea to waste a cake like this, you most probably don't like it also and still you are doing it year after year without even knowing why.
As you may have guessed, I absolutely hate it and would go to any length to avoid it. I have bought myself fruit cake instead of a cream cake just to avoid this ritual. I am glad that people around me have been understanding and I have never faced a ugly situation. I am thinking of starting to refuse to step into or click any photographs in a party where a person has cake on his face.
Let me suggest some alternatives. If you don't like cake, say it out aloud and refuse to eat it. It's not a crime to not like cake. If you are trying to take revenge, isn't it better to not let it happen to you to start with? And if you really really enjoy it, carry some colors or something else, something not eatable at least, to put on the face. Wasting food is criminal.
(This was prompted by the images of faces covered in cake in Orkut albums and soon to come Holi.)

Thursday, February 22

Social Networks and patterns

No more poetry, I promise. For sometime at least :-).

I have spend at least a dozen hours in last one week going around orkut randomly. Well, not randomly, there are so many interesting games you can make out of randomness. Like you visit the top most friend of the person you are visiting now and see if you come back to familiar circle or not. If you do, you find out a new way of connections that you didn't know existed before. Or you can surf going only through girls/boys profiles which at time can hit a road block.

While doing all this, I see patterns, very vague ones and in almost all the cases, false ones owing to the nature of human brain which does a selecting strengthening of evidence. But they are interesting anyway. One of those observations is that a good looking person also seems to have on average, good looking (or photogenic if you want to be technically correct) friends. Another one is that often people who have not put up their own picture in profile , will have more friends of similar kind. As you can see, these observations are wrong right on their face. Of course, for any one example in favor, you will find thousands against it.

However my guess is that it still occurs more often than you would expect it to be out of pure chance. That is, given that there is nothing special happening, even then by a sheer chance of luck, you may come across a person who has above characteristic. You may expect to find only one such person in 10k people. My guess is you will find more than one. Has anybody else observed something similar?

Tuesday, February 20


नये जौहरी नयी अदा वाले,
तौल कर भाव बताने वाले।

सब मिले हैं हमे ज़माने मे,
यार अहसान जताने वाले।

दिल खुदा का है यार का मेरे,
और अंदाज़ ज़माने वाले।

दिल की कालिख है आंख का काजल,
वो हैं आंखों से पिलाने वाले।

नाम कहने को है अभागा पर,
हैं सब अंदाज़ दिवानों वाले।

Sunday, February 11

Language Digest - 5 (Articles/Editorials)

This is the long promised article only edition.

This one comes from Pakistan, lamenting the bad condition of Madarsa education.

Pakistan again, this time a view in favor of the recent step of making English compulsory. Sounds very much like the recent argument of Prasad about English for Dalits.

Continuing on the common thread of Urdu, condition of Urdu press in India is not something to brag about. There is hardly a Urdu news paper that commands a voice at national level or even in a sufficiently big region. Moreover, it works both ways. While Urdu papers carry mostly Muslim centric perspective of problems, Hindi press lacks it to a large extent. Here is an attempt to start a Hindi paper with a Muslim perspective.

Not sure why this article is called "Hegemony of Hindi" and it is not even well written but it notes an interesting point about mother tongue reporting in census data. Read with a grain of salt.

Marathi or Kokani? As the article says ;
India is home to extraordinary diversity- cultural, religious, ethnic and linguistic. All such differences ought to be harmonized in a spirit of mutual accommodation rather than through coercive methods of homogenization which may only lead to agitations and revolt.
Here is an interesting reading of the role of English in the rise of Indian nationalism.

The half full glass of an optimist never fails to cheers me up. Here is Mrinal Pandey on the state of Hindi.

Lack of scientific and new vocabulary is a major problem plaguing Indian languages and in fact lot of other languages. This piece reiterates the importance of lexicographical work in a language and makes a case for its active pursuit in our universities.It is said that history is written by winners and languages are no exception.

Now for some heavy reading. Historical linguistics has developed as a discipline in last couple of centuries. One of the major accomplishments of the discipline has been a organization of languages in a genetic tree, showing their mutual relations. But this organization also makes strong claims about history in general and in particular about population diffusion in the yore. A. ananth Kumar questions this view.

And to end, here is a question. While a lot of ads appearing on TV are in Hindi and in other regional languages, why is the packaging often only in English? Why o why?

Thursday, February 8

डरते हैं

डरते हैं ना साकी को हम दिलदार बना लें,
मय को ना ग़म-ए-दिल का चारागार बना लें।

बस्ती से जो गुज़रा तो मुसाफ़िर ने की हसरत,
हम भी ठहर के अपना एक घरबार बना लें।

है चुक गया इंसान के दिल से खुदा का नूर,
कहने को रहे बुत चलो दो चार बना ले ।

दे दो सभी के हाथों मे कलमें-ओ-किताबें,
जुल्म-ओ-सितम से लडने का हथियार बना लें।

ता उम्र बावफ़ा रहीं हैं हमसे अभागा,
मायूसियों को ही न क्यों हम यार बना लें ।