A Thousand Splendid Suns

One could not count the moons that shimmered on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls

A thousand splendid suns is a book by Khaled Hosseini. It’s incredibly famous and that quote above from some Persian poem was made famous because of the book.

A thousand splendid suns follows the story of 2 women – Miriam and Laila. Both of them are from entirely different backgrounds but they meet and their lives intertwine in the most unexpected of ways. Of course, this is just the foreground, the topping to the base that the author is trying to convey.

Both women get caught up in the afghan revolution that affects all of the country and a large part of Kabul as well. The author explores in vivid detail the power shifts that Afghanistan went through – the soviets supporting the communists, the mujahideen overthrowing the communists, the mujahideen fighting among themselves, the coming of the Taliban and the overthrow of the Taliban.

I have always been interested in the kind of politics that went on in that region. It is intriguing that a country with such less diversity (I mean they all follow islam) can have so many power shifts. After reading this book, I realised I was too much of a simpleton.

Each of these parties and power houses had their own motives. The mujahideen didn’t want socialism. The Taliban wanted to establish order but they were pro wahabbis who wanted to establish a pure Islamic state. They burned down posters, books and any other forms of creativity in favour of reading the Koran and saying prayers. Their coming into power was welcomed since they were a change from the ever fighting mujahideens but their rule was one of absolute terror. They were overthrown by the present government which is still under the rule of president Hamid Karzai.

The book is profound in that, although the author follows only one family, he projects all the pros and cons of the change in rule. He also shows how brutal the Taliban rule was on the afghan women.

Those are the good points. There are some cons to the book as well. The antagonist (if such a term can be applied to any character in this particular book) is an afghan named Rasheed. I am not into character sketches so much but I must say – this was a very badly designed character. He is projected as a conceited and shortsighted afghan from the villages. But there is absolutely no reason given for his character, his behaviour, his attitude towards women in general etc. Only way you can surmise all these details is because there is some mention in a small paragraph about his upbringing in the mountains. Also, the events in the book with respect to the characters (not the events of the power struggles) is a bit too outrageous. I mean .. tricking a woman into marriage and all that – it’s a little overboard if you ask me. I thought all this happened only in those horrible soaps in Hindi and Tamil channels.

Overall, the book is worth the read. Alternating between a slow and fast story line and having a happy ending, it’s a very formula based novel, in my opinion. In my mind, there is no doubt that the sufferings of the people of Afghanistan have been portrayed in a brutally vivid manner. It is enlightening to read the book when you have no clue what went on in that region during the Cold War when you were just a child.

Consensus: 3.5/5 (I’m stingy and have a very snobbish outlook on what a good book is, so there :P)

Must read. If you are as intrigued by the politics in that region as I am, this will be a brilliant read 🙂

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Shift of Blaaag!

So, yours truly got a web domain. Frankly, I got it about a year and a half ago but never did anything with it. But then, it struck me. Why bother with a blog on WordPress.com when I can have my own on my site. So I installed WordPress and set up the blog and imported all my posts from here.

Also, I put some changes into the new blog like some really cool widgets and all that. But anyway, the new blog is set up here and you can go check it out.

Both weblogs will remain. But I’ll only update the new one from now on. This will be the last post here. Adios amigos! Meet you on the other side 🙂

PS: I’m playing around with the server files. So in case accessing said link doesn’t work after some point, please check back here. I’d have updated the hyperlink.

The Wheel

When we were little, it was taught that there were 2 inventions in the history of mankind that are the absolute base of all civilisation – the Fire (which is merely a discovery in the first place) and the Wheel. The former, is ubiquitous for all purposes in most industries. The latter, I would like to focus upon.

You think the wheel is round, rotates on an axis and moves along with every revolution thanks to friction, right? Wrong. That is the only type of wheel *you* know. There is one other type. This type of wheel does not have any physical shape. It has no physical laws either. It is never called the “wheel” but rather affixed with a number which is of the form (2n+1), n=1,2,3,…

Most people would have no clue what I’m talking about. Let’s get that out of the way before I start ranting. Have you ever heard of the Third Wheel? Or the Fifth Wheel? Or the Seventh Wheel? No? Then, let me explain. A third wheel is a guy/girl who tags along with a couple. A fifth wheel tags along with 2 couples. So on and so forth.

I have been every single value of n up and until 5. How do I feel? Like a tub of lard.

I have been open about my absolute loathing of moving around with couples. They take it lightly. I couldn’t care less. But somehow, I end up being a wheel (which shall henceforth be a reference to any 2n+1 wheel) to one or more couples. There are many advantages to being single. This is not one of them. Not by a long shot.

I know men and women are supposed to be inherently attracted to each other. I’m not saying I’m above all that. Hell, I’d be lying through my teeth if I did. I just prefer not being committed. I have no animosity against couples either. I know quite a few people who are actually a perfect match for each other. But that is besides the point.

Committed people think they have a license to be free about their commitment in front of others. I believe they have every right to be. But there are certain areas where they cross the line between being friendly and couple-like to getting downright indecent in front of friends. I found this out the hard way.

For the last 2 years, there has been this flurry of relationships cropping up all over my batch. Again, to be clear, I’m not against it. Unfortunately, most of these guys and girls are my own friends. When I moved around with them in the past, I blissfully ignored any signs (even the most obvious ones) of flirtation, attraction etc etc. When they became couples, I still ignored most of it. I have, although, reached my breaking point. So, I will directly address any of my committed friends who read this (for reasons of ease of pronoun usage, I think first person is a bit easier to use than third person).

I know you guys like each other. You know you guys like each other. For some reason, you want the whole world to know that you like each other. I can understand holding hands and all that. But talking absolute lewd bullshit when your mutual friend is sitting right in front of you? Come on. Give the guy a break. I don’t want to know what you want to do to each other. Keep that load of absolutely crappy imagery inside your own stupid head. I have enough to deal with in a normal life.

I am not avoiding conversation. I really do like my Android phone. I am not texting some secret girl (as you always love to think, for some reason) but rather updating myself with world news through this decentralized set of data banks or servers which the world colloquially calls the Internet. Also, I use it as my only worthy distraction when the two of you are hitting at each other with lines of such increasing intensity, it would make some busy beaver numbers ashamed of themselves. I like zoning out around both of you. Remember, I am not there by choice but rather, by circumstance or by force.

Please get it into your collective hive consciousness (assuming the existence of such a thing since individuality in your subset of human interactions seems to be rather minimal) that I am single by choice. Respect me for it and stop asking me to get committed. Who the hell are you? My mom? Hell, even my mom will start forcing marriage upon me only after a decade or so. No, I have no idea if I can “pick up” a girl or not. I don’t even know what the hell that physically means.

Stop asking me to interact with you. I loathe being in that situation in the first place. I am there because I could not avoid it. I would really love to be left alone to my iPod or my phone or both. No, I cannot let you play the game I’m playing. As you do not seem to have noticed, I’m trying really hard to distract myself and I want to succeed in that particular venture more than anything in life up until that point.

Guys, one last thing. When I came here 3 years ago, I was a loner. So were most of you. Each of us kept to ourselves. We became friends over the course of 3 years having shared living space for the majority of that time. The next time you walk out to take a phone call when we are playing a game or passing time in each other’s company, think about it. I have cut calls from my mother when I’m playing with you people. I’m not being emo on this issue. I’m just pissed that you either initiate or join a conversation where we are passing time and simply walk out to talk hours on end with your significant other. Sometimes, I’m physically pulled out of my room to play something or talk about something. Yes, I can still live without constant human interaction but getting cut off when I’m really starting to enjoy the conversation or game … That *really* pisses me off.

Why did I blow steam today and here? I dunno why today but I ranted here because there is very little chance any of my batch mates will see this. If you do guys, seriously, think a little before you go all cuddly in public the next time.

The Great Knowledge Divide

Yes, my posts look like editorial columns in a newspaper. That is because unlike most people, my life is pretty boring. But the inside of my head is always a lot more interesting. So, here goes another tl;dr article.

A normal day in anyone’s life would start like this:

Wake up, check phone for messages, mails, IMs etc. Brush teeth. Finish bathing. Sit on laptop for sometime. Go to work. Sit again in front of a computer for sometime. Come back. Loaf around. Connect and update your social networks all day with photos and status updates. Check other people’s posts. Watch some movies from your laptop or external HD. Sleep.

Sounds pretty normal. Obviously, you know where I’m going with this. That’s right .. It ain’t all that normal. When you are an Engineer (yes, I’m actually one of the few guys who’s proud to be one), you realise the absolute enormity of computing that goes on around you.

For instance, I will take the phone part of my previous example.

I am taking a smartphone for added emphasis. Your phone consists of a processor that would put something that sat on a big cabinet on your desktop around a decade ago to shame. The antenna it uses to receive messages and calls is a tribute to the finesse with which human machines manufacture electronic products. Let’s say you get a message from Person A.

1) Person A picks up his smartphone and clicks a button. The button closes an electrical connection which is connected either directly or indirectly to your processor which tells your screen to switch on the backlight and start displaying the information it sends to it (or the GPU sends to it depending on how advanced the phone is).

2) A goes into the messaging app and stars typing a message. All the while, his processor is screaming along at 600 MHz (nominal for today’s smartphones) to display images, interfaces, power the touchscreen etc. Then, A types on his touchscreen which sends appropriate coordinates of point of touch to the processor which again sends it to the application which in turn decides what key you pressed.

3) A finishes typing the message and hits send. His DMA controller (or its more advanced version) sends it to the antenna which then transmits it after applying a few mind boggling signal processing algorithms to account for errors on the receiver side.

4) The tower receives the data, contacts the central server and sees which area your phone has logged itself into. Then, it redirects the message to the tower in your area.

5) The tower sends it to all devices in the area as part of the link transmission. Your SIM card recognises the message as being meant for you and tells your processor that you have received a message.

6) The processor in turn directs the message to your SMS application which asks the processor to turn on the screen and let it display the message to you.

7) You read the message.

I have actually skipped a few steps here but you get the picture. Also, don’t even get me started on the laptop.

What am I getting at? I believe the amount of collective human knowledge on this planet far exceeds comprehension of any single individual.

For instance, mathematics has steadily progressed since the 15th century or so. Today, the level of mathematics is so advanced, people devote their whole lives to studying just one specialised field.

Communications and electronics (which are intricately linked these days) have progressed so much in the last 50 years or so, specialisations started almost a decade ago. The microprocessor industry is also in a similar state.

Physics has branched out with the astronomy fellows studying stunning phenomena in deep space while quantum buggers dig deeper and deeper to somehow find the very secrets of the fabric of time, space, reality and human perception in general.

There is no way that one human can comprehend, study and assimilate all this knowledge in one lifetime. Is that a problem? I believe so. Why? I shall presently explain.

I believe all human knowledge is linked. One fine example would be how people are trying to prove/disprove the Riemann hypothesis using energy levels of subatomic particles in quantum physics. How did this clash happen between pure mathematics and quantum physics? Apparently, a mathematician and a physicist were discussing the problem when it struck the physicist that this was possible. Nope, I’m not kidding.

But this is just a stroke of luck. What if there are several branches of knowledge which are intricately connected but would need an individual well versed in both to figure it out? It is a dilemma, is it not?

Arthur Clarke (or Isaac Asimov, I really don’t remember which of these 2 sci-fi greats) wrote a story in which a professor seeks to look back in time by exploiting some property of a neutrino (stupid, yes, but it was written in the era when neutrinos had just been discovered and no one knew its potential). It takes a student with knowledge in 2 very specialised fields to realise that it was easy to build the machine which until then could only be used in some top secret facility controlled by the government. Of course, the moral dilemma of looking back in time settles in and the professors wife gets addicted to watching their long lost son/daughter (don’t remember which) through time. A government agent finally comes into the picture and salutes the 2 men congratulating them for finally sinking all progress of humanity since cases like the professors wife would become more prevalent when the machine became public knowledge as the story was released to the press.

Yes, the last part of that anecdote was pointless but what I meant to say was that it required a student highly specialised in 2 fields to construct a machine. With the diversification that is presently happening, will not all human knowledge one day go completely out of reach?

In that sense, if there were 2 broad yet diverse fields which could solve some major problem and these 2 broad fields became more and more specialised, there would be no way of attacking that problem since no one would see the connection.

I’m guessing you got my point now. If not, read “The Last Question” by Isaac Asimov. Arguably, the best short story in sci-fi. It deals with a computer which is sentient and expands without human help at such a pace that at some point, no single individual knows how it works. That isn’t the main plot of the story but it reiterates my point anyway.

I believe we have to solve this dilemma if the human race has to progress enough to become a type 3 civilisation one day (you know, master of all resources in our galaxy and all that).

I have come up with 2 solutions.

1) Let humans choose to specialise in any 2 diverse or even similar fields. Assuming free will is somewhat close to a gaussian random variable, we will be able to see every combination there is and most or all of them will yield results.

2) Force humans from birth into some combination of specialised fields. I believe all talks to aptitude are just hogwash. You have an aptitude for what you chose to like. I have an aptitude for math because that’s what I’ve been learning since childhood and my parents encouraged me into it. I quickly learned that specialising in it is not my cup of tea. I find communications mildly interesting and believe I can specialise in the cellular communication techniques since I find it very interesting. This suggestion may seem a little too 1984-ish but really, free will is how you make it out to be. Yes, I know, I’m a despot, tyrant and an otherwise very disturbed individual. Or I could really be the guy with the most sound logic.

Streamlining the knowledge and the way humans learn it may increase our progress exponentially. Only time can tell. Or it cannot. Who is gonna read an obscure blog written by a jobless intellectual and even consider the options listed here?

You? I don’t think so 😛

Punch you ate !@#$%^&*

The internet is a vast virtual space. Everyone knows that. More people join the virtual world every day. Everyone knows that too. What people DON’T know is that not everyone who joins is a normal person. Yes, I speak of the most dreaded kind of netizen – The Troll.

The trolls intrigue me. They are rude, argue for arguments sake and basically do undesirable things. They are irritating to a fault. When you are a person who loves correct punctuation, they can be your WORST nightmare.

But is that it? Are they just wasted souls who don’t give a damn about what others think of them and simply spam or irritate others? We can bear with that. Hell, every social networking site has a feature to block them. You need never hear from them again. But trolls, being trolls, will create another profile and come after you. This, on the other hand, cannot be resolved. Not unless websites start taking biometric data for each account from every user. But I digress. Our question was – is that all trolls are? A minor nuisance to the society who can be ignored if we so choose? Frankly, I believe not.

Why? I will take a long winded scenic tour through the world of what is and what-nots and then reach the point. No, you can’t skip to the section where I start making sense. Yes, it is my wont.

Anyway, let us start. I made a post on storage media recently. As we all know, the digital data in the whole world is now in zeta bytes (according to Cisco, anyway). There are server farms for every major company out there which store all the data it can find about any of us. Though it can be misused, they are only aimed at bombarding us with ads. The amount of data stored is almost incomprehensible. Those companies which do not have these server farms can avail one from web based companies like Amazon etc. My point? There is a flow of information like never before seen on Earth (unless Atlantis existed).

This information is transported through wired and wireless connections to your mobile, tablet, laptop, desktop, iPod, any other damn device you can think of. Now, consider this. You have the official Facebook app for Android installed on your phone and your tablet. You have the iOS version on your iPod. You can access Facebook from your browser in your desktop and laptop. With me so far? Good.

Now, consider (heart patients and easily excitable people, please skip) a troll being on your friend list. Let’s say the said troll has a tendency to type “……….” instead of a simple period. As the more observant of you may have counted, you have 5 devices in your possession. Each device updates it’s application independently. Imagine (again, excitable people, careful) that the troll spams your post with one of his signature 10 period punctuation. Replicating this information on every device implies you have to send 10 times as much data to each device (10 full stops instead of just 1). 5 devices => 50 full stops instead of just 5. You get my point, right?

Let us assume you have 500 friends (a safe assumption) to whom this post is visible. Assume each friend has each of these 5 devices. If you do the math (correctly), you will see that 25,000 full stops are sent on the whole instead of just 2,500 which would have been enough to get the meaning  across. Now, considering Facebook, we set your privacy to public on all your posts (don’t freak out, just consider it). Let’s say you use some very common word in your post (like spoon?). Let us say there are a meager 1000 people searching for “spoon” on Google, Bing, Yahoo and any other major search engines. I will consider only Google and Bing for this example. Let us say you are a famous web 2.0 journalist whose technorati, Page Rank and whatever ratings are through the roof (or way underground depending on which is better). Your results will definitely rank higher. Let’s say each of these 1000 people click through to see your post in it’s entirety (with the comment from the troll). Again, doing the math (correctly), we see that 20,000 full stops are sent instead of just 2000.

Does all this data seem farcical to you? Maybe you are not convinced? Ok, check this out. Each troll makes more than one comment every day. Each comment contains more than one unwanted punctuation (!!!!!!!!! is a good example). Even if your compression rate reduces ALL of these punctuation blocks to a single byte, at the rate of 25,000 possible bytes for every person, you have 25 KB of wasted data. Seems small doesn’t it? Ok, here is some *more* math for you. On an average (from my experience), every one in 50 friends for every person is a troll. At that rate, from your imaginary 500 friends, 10 will be trolls. Each troll may/may not post troll-ish comments every day. Let’s assume they do. This means 250 KB of data is sent for just punctuation. Agreed? Now, there are 700 million users on Facebook. At the rate we previously assumed, we have 14 million trolls. Since this number seems too small to be true, we shall consider that all 14 million trolls post the signature 10 period punctuation every day. That is 14 MB of data wasted. Now, since this data is viewed by, let’s say, all 700 million members (it’s a safe assumption that every member will have ONLY 1 troll on their friend list), we have 7 GB of data (10 x 700 million).

Of course, most of this data is just numbers I pulled out of thin air. But, that is not the point. What I’m trying to put across is that trolls are not just harmless, irritating online avatars whom you can ignore and be done with. They are a true menace to the developed world since their idiocy leads to wastage of data, bandwidth and ultimately, more pollution (data centers generate a LOT of CO2 apparently). How do we rid the world of this problem? Do we need to form a convention for dealing with trolls? Just as we have for dealing with climate, nuclear wastage and terrorism?

My brainwave? Simple. Make them use Twitter. Limit their idiocy to 140 characters. If there exists a fool who will actually waste 10 characters from 140 for punctuation and then continue his tweet to the next one, people will hate him. They will not follow him. Hence, his data will not be distributed onto their various devices. Unlike Facebook or G+ where a comment on a post from a famous personality will be visible to one and all who view the post, Twitter posts are visible to those who wish to see them. There are no comment forums. It is the bare backbone of intellectual communication. Trolls will be weeded out with efficiency. Their data will not be distributed among the unwise netizens. The world shall be a better place.

Yeah, I’m still pro-Twitter 😛

Secret of the Nagas

The second book in the Shiva Trilogy series by Amish Tripathi.

A review in one word – Very Good. Ok, 2 words. My bad.

Indian authors have never impressed me. As a not-so-infrequent reader, I care less about the story and more about how the book is written. Witness being the fact that I’d prefer Amitav Ghosh to Chetan Bhagat any day. Having said that, Amitav Ghosh is my favourite author at the moment (I’m very fickle in these things). So no, not all Indian authors are bad.

Anyway, coming back to the book.

Secret of the Nagas starts almost at the exact point where its prequel Immortals of Meluha stopped. From there on, the book picks up pace .. very hard and very quick. In a span of 384 pages, the author covers more than 5 years worth of incidents. I have read many books which attempt to span eons together. The most accurate example would be, of course, the Silmarillion by J.R.R Tolkien. But there is a different flavour to this book. I was able to give it only one read as the book is in high demand and I am one of the few people with a copy.

What I hate about Indian authors is their utter lack of writing quality. I know they are trying to write for the masses in general. But that does not give them the license to use downright lame writing styles. One example from this book would be this – every few lines, there will be some word from Sanskrit whose meaning is not evident in English. What the author (or probably his editor) did was to put it in italics along with the meaning of the word as a phrase in English – again in italics. One of the few I remember is this – janau, sacred thread worn by … The first time, it made sense. Not everyone who reads the book will know what a janau is. But repeating this every single time the word janau is used gets H-I-G-H-L-Y irritating. I didn’t read the appendix but I’m guessing it is defined once more there as well.

Now that I’ve put my rant out of the way, let’s get to the story. One word – BRILLIANT! Every single mythological character we have heard of associated with Shiva has been introduced in an *almost* completely logical manner (I still find the concept of nagas kinda unbelievable). For anyone who hates details, you can rejoice. The author does not describe most elements in the book in much detail (well, not as much as I like) but that is fine because a large part of the audience usually hates it.

*spoiler* – There is a description of the gates of a city called Branga. J.R.R. Tolkien and George Martin would’ve shed a tear. What concept, my god! #notSarcasm

The book is a fast read. I finished it within 1 and a half to 2 hours (effectively). It is a definition of a page turner. I never stopped reading unless I had some chore or the other to attend to … I have acute ADD when there is a laptop near me. So, you get my point.

Consensus: Read the book. Even if you’re not a great fan of mythology, the book is a fantasy novel of the first order. Don’t be a snob (like me) and let the writing style be damned. Or remember that you’ve ordered a copy of River of Smoke (like me) which you can read once you have free time.

I rate it a 4/5

Requiem for Better Storage

Disclaimer: This post is a musing. You may/may not like it but the title will give you a fair idea of what I want to say.

The world has completely turned digital. All my memories (parts of it which my brain can no longer store) are in the form of 1’s and 0’s spread out over the vast cloud of the Internet and in the 2.5 inches of space my external Hard Disk takes in one of it’s dimensions. As all things that change, it is for the better and for the worse.

How it is for the better is quite obvious. Reason enough that almost all the world now talks to each other in 1’s and 0’s when not face to face.

How it is for the worse is something only those with the experience and the means can tell you. You have all heard of hard disk crashes. Happens all the time. People around you lose loads of data – Movies, TV Shows etc. But they’re all bright and sprightly the next day. In a hostel with 600 guys, there are no movies, games, TV shows, unwanted videos, music videos etc which cannot be found. It is when you lose something very precious that you know how fickle life in the digital world can be. I found this out … the hard way.

I recently bought an external HD. After debating with my parents, friends, my conscience and with people online, I decided to settle with a 1 TB itself. I bought the HD on the last day of the vacations and immediately backed up almost 465 GB of data on to it. I felt liberated. No longer was I constantly running out of space. No longer will I have to think before installing a new OS when I have so much free space to spare. No longer will computer crashes worry me because all my data is outside. No, I wasn’t stupid. I’ve seen people lose data. I backed up all my files and songs onto my computer hard disk because although the chances of the external HD getting corrupted are almost as minimal as an internal HD getting corrupted, there was still the possibility. What I did not think about was backing up other stuff which was just as important to me.

I connected 2 Seagate HDs (mine and my friends) to the laptop at the same time. Result? Both crashed. My friend’s HD got its headers corrupted (at least that’s what I think) while mine got totally screwed. I tried everything I possibly could. My first priority was my own HD. I had to recover truck loads of data and it was gonna be corrupted – I knew that the minute I realised the HD had crashed.

I first removed both HDs and then plugged mine back into my linux OS. No use. I unplugged and went to friends comp and plugged it into HIS linux OS. No use. Plugged it into his Windows. No use. Took it out and gave it a day to cool off (you know, one of those age old things .. hitting an electronic device may make it work, giving a computer time may magically make it boot even though it’s BIOS is totally screwed). No use. Then, I got really techy and downloaded a Hex Editor (took me a whole day) so I could dabble around with the headers and make them right (hey, who knows, right?). The next day (after the Hex Editor had been downloaded), I realised the HD wasn’t even getting detected. Forget the fact that the partitions table had been corrupted, the computer was now recognising it as an un-allocated 931 GB of space (which also made me realise that we’re cheated out of 97 GB of space on every 1 TB hard disk).

So, I finally resorted to recovery software. It took the software 6-7 hours to scan and make a list of files that could be retrieved and another 13 hours to retrieve them. Yep, almost a day. I was very happy though. The recovery had been done. All my folders were back in place. All my files seemed to be there and except for some 3 files, everything had been recovered (according to the software). I didn’t care what those 3 files were since I couldn’t see them in the important places.

It was then that I realised that all my movies had been corrupted. I didn’t care though. Movies could always be re-acquired. I felt a little unease and started going through the folders one by one to see what else had been corrupted. Then, I realised it. All my pictures, videos and books were gone. Kaput. Like they were never there. 45 GB of data, or more importantly, 6 years worth of memories went away in a second all because a small sequence of 1’s and 0’s couldn’t set themselves right and so told their digital master (my computer) that the rest of the 1’s and 0’s didn’t exist. Their digital master then told me that I had been fubar’d 😦

I am mostly a very hyper guy. I can move my considerable weight around and act goofy, not because I want people to notice me, but because it’s the way I am. That day, when I realised what had happened, I moped around in the room without going out. People thought I was sick. I didn’t talk much because my mind was buzzing with possibilites as to how I could ever recover my data. I have lived through disheartening board marks, seeing an accident, getting operated on, getting rejected by most top institutes but this … this hurt me where it mattered.

I have always been a strong proponent of technology. Everyone around me knows that. I have fought long and hard with my parents to digitise their photos, which they still stolidly refuse to do. I have taken the time to acquaint myself with shortcuts, softwares and general knowledge in things most people around me don’t know exist. My friends think I’m some sort of genius when I fix their computers. Truth is, if they took some time to google it out, they’d be just as savvy. Witness to the fact is how woefully uninformed I am about most things that are concerned with art and extra curricular activities. But this .. This made me feel like an agnostic. I started doubting what I’d put all my faith into. If the world of 1’s and 0’s was so fickle that a little shizz of electricity could make it delete almost everything I have of value, I have to believe that there is something better out there. Some medium of storage that would unfailingly make sure my data does not corrupt itself.

In the aftermath of the moping, I started taking random trains of thought to see where they lead (my favourite time pass). Unwanted crap put aside, I realised that most of my data is now digital. Movies, books, photos, videos .. anything and everything is in the form of binary data. My personal journal is now on the computer. My public journal is on WordPress. Thanks to the world shifting completely to digital cameras, I now have 40 GB of personal pictures and videos which got deleted entirely. My text books and fictional book collection is now in PDFs, which have also been deleted. There is nothing left on my hard disk. I still retain the pictures, videos and books in hopes that SOME recovery software will be able to get it back (it makes no difference whether I keep them or not, I know, but it’s just me being a little humane).

I have almost NO record of any conversation with my school friends. I keep track with messages, emails, chats. All digital streams of data which have every chance of getting corrupted one day or the other. I have never written a real letter in my entire life. I have never seen a telegram ever. Any record of my very existence has chances of getting erased within seconds. Is our existence so fickle? Is there a possibility that the minute we are ushered into an era with totalitarian rule, the ruling power will have all the infrastructure in place to assert themselves on us? Is there no way in which our memories could be stored more permanently? Is the world of digital data here to stay? Because if it is, I must start creating strategies to save all my data if the inevitable armageddon or loss of privacy does happen.

All of mankind has reduced to a bunch of binary data. Implying that if we somehow die out and someone releases several EMPs just before the apocalypse, all data of our existence would be wiped out. No time capsule would be saved considering we’re getting our life so much into the digital sphere, time capsules will probably have pen drives in them. That said, I’ve always believe any remaining copies of Lord of the Rings (which was written long before the digital age was even considered a possibility) would become gospel. What clue would future civilisations have that the world was any different that what Tolkien had written? Maybe Sauron really existed. Maybe the Ainür still existed in this unknowable land the book called the West. I’ve always had the feeling the Bible was some epic work of fiction from a previous civilisation that just happened to be found and made the gospel for all Christianity and Jews.

Yes, I know .. Random rants and digression. But this is my blog and this is where I let loose. Anyway, I shall return to the bunch of recovery software I’ve downloaded and give everything a try. What I’ve lost is not something that can let me sleep in peace. Adios, world. I shall now drift off into forced subconsciousness and take other trains of thought to follow (seriously brilliant exercise, I assure you).

How to go unprepared for a Trekking trip 101

So, I thought I’d officially start the year with a bang and went for a trip to Ooty with friends from college. There were 16 of us and to keep it short – it was fun. But this isn’t about the trip as a whole.

This is about one particular aspect of the trip – trekking up a hill in almost completely uncharted territory. To be more precise, this is about how to go unprepared for said trip.

How to go unprepared for a Trekking trip

Aim: To make an itinerary of all the items that would be detrimental to a trekking trip and procedures to follow that would effectively endanger your life and those of others with you.

Apparatus Required:

1) Sandals with no traction – 1
2) Sprain in leg – 1 (Maximum of 2)
3) Cotton clothing for effectively letting the chill get to you
4) Foolhardiness – As much as possible

Procedure:

1) Start with letting your friends plan a trip. Initially, refuse to go along so that you’re absent from the planning sessions. When you agree to go along, make sure you forget the fact that a trekking trip has been planned.

2) Do not forget to act tough and not take any type of protective clothing even though you are going to a hill station and you know about it.

3) Make sure you don’t have enough sleep because you know sleeping on a bus with 15 friends (who talk themselves to high glory) is quite easy.

4) Start the trekking trip with minimal energy. This is essential to gathering the grit to go till the very top.

5) Remember to sprain your ankle a little on each leg so that it gets worse by the time you’re done.

6) Start the trek

7) Remember to keep your foolhardiness at max throttle and agree to move forward on unused slippery muddy pathways.

8) Take support from people on both sides of you. This way, you’ll feel safe that when you fall, you won’t be the only one going down.

9) Do not think about the way back and how much more difficult it is to stop yourself while slipping down the muddy pathways.

10) Reach the top. Stop for photos on the way when there is enough foliage to literally hide an elephant.

11) Start the trek downhill. This is the part where the fun starts.

12) Hold on to maximum number of people so that you can take everyone down when you go. For best effects, make sure the people on both your sides are light ones. This will help in bringing down the whole group a lot faster (Satti’s Weight Disproportionality Theorem).

13) Break a few toe nails so that you can feel the pain when you are trying not to slip.

14) A few thorns all over your body will also help. For good measure, make sure they’re poisonous.

15) Hope that the sprain in your ankle acts up to make your job all the tougher.

16) Get down and look at your feet. Mud should have crusted all over your nails (the ones that aren’t missing), mud over your pants and T Shirt(which should have been black for maximum effect).

17) Make sure you come back into your room with said filthy sandals and then realise the fact. Reminisce about the trip and write a blog post on the one part you think would not be all that boring to read.

Conclusion: To decrease your chances of coming back alive, do not go for a trekking trip with your head in the right place or traction in your footwear.

Of course, the trip on the whole was awesome. My sarcasm is directed wholly on myself and my stupidity for not being prepared for a trekking trip.

1984 – A review

Yes, it’s been a long time since I blogged. A lot has happened. For instance, my college has started. But more on that later.

Classics is a very ambiguous word. I believe it’s a classification given to anything that has stood the test of time with a large set of people. It is not necessary that most people you know will like what has been termed a classic – be it music, books, movies or anything else (even the good old Irodov).

I’ve always had a fascination towards the classics. I am intrigued by why something was labeled a classic. I’ve come to learn that, in most cases, it is justified. There is something about the book, movie or music that has made it alluring to so many people over such a length of time.

It was with this trepidation or lack thereof that I started reading 1984 – a novel by George Orwell. I was not disappointed.

1984 - George Orwell

1984 by George Orwell

1984 is, as the name suggests, a story set in the year 1984 as imagined by Orwell when he wrote the novel in 1950. He paints a bleak future where the world is divided into so called 3 “super-states” – Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia.

Our protagonist lives in Oceania in modern day England. Oceania is ruled by the Party – an oligarchical dictatorship – whose founder/leader/dictator/ruler is a man only known as Big Brother. The Party is completely authoritarian and rules every aspect of people’s lives by watching them through telescreens, rewriting all newspapers and historical books to wipe out the trace of any history that existed before the Party itself did and other absolutely despotic and mind blowing stuff. The Party aims at killing emotions, like love, in their subjects and fueling them with hate while the endless war with the other super-states goes on.

The protagonist – Winston Smith – is still capable of independent thought and cannot take in the whole agenda that the Party propagates. He sees through all of it, unlike most of the population of Oceania which has been brainwashed over time and where people like Winston are slowly being wiped out (vaporised) from the society. Winston finds love in a similar minded woman named Julia. But – and I quote directly from the back of the book – “Big Brother does not like dissent. For people with independent thought, the Party invented Room 101 … ” . Gather what you will from that statement because I will not tell you what it means.

I rate the book among the best ones I’ve read. Yes, I know I rate all books as awesome but this one strikes a little closer to the heart.

Why? Zombie – my pal – and I have long chats on certain nights. We exchange not only intellectual ideas and what our latest fascination is but also what we imagine our perfect future would look like. I always emphasize on freedom in such discussions. Freedom to study what we want, freedom to contribute to society however we want, freedom to stop worrying about such things as a job, family etc. The future depicted in the book is the exact opposite, in every way, of what I’ve been imagining. It is, at once, daunting and intriguing. The measures the Party takes to curb all the basic freedoms has been depicted in such detail in the book that it fascinated me no end to just look for loopholes. Yes, I found some few and far in between but they do not seem obvious to you unless you’re looking for them.

You want to know how good I found the book? I’m giving it a second read in a few days. Yes, I’m serious. The book is absolutely terrific. I have a feeling that concepts for movies like Equilibrium and V for Vendetta were taken from this book.

Edit1: Wikipedia proves me correct.

Edit2: Apparently, Big Brother, the reality show which started in UK, takes its name from the character in the book.

Consensus – Must read for any intellectual.

War is Peace.
Freedom is Slavery.
Ignorance is Strength.

What is Twitter?

No, the answer is not 42. Though if it was as simple as that, life would be much better.

Anyway, this post is for all those of my contemporaries out there who don’t know what Twitter is / don’t know how to use Twitter / can’t understand what the hell they’re doing on Twitter / cannot appreciate Twitter.

I thought I’d do all of you / us a favour and make this a Q/A post. I will be as denigrating as I want to because people do not understand what kind of a phenomenon Twitter really is.

 

Q: What is Twitter?

A: Twitter is defined as a microblogging service. A blog is where you post something (like this). A microblog is for status updates. The reason you use Twitter are three-fold:

1) You update your status so that people who follow you can know what’s going on with you.

2) You follow your friends and see their status updates to see what’s up with them.

3) You follow news websites, celebrities and the like to keep up with their news.

 

Q: So, what’s the big deal? I can do all that in Facebook as well.

A: Twitter is a revolution. It is utterly different from Facebook. While Facebook is filled with spammers and trolls, Twitter is filled either with intellectuals (like myself 😛 ) or with spam bots who can be blocked with one click.

Also, Twitter noticeably lacks “apps” which make enough spam content on Facebook to irritate some 700 million users. Twitter is pitched as a simple microblogging platform and that is all it ever is / ever should be.

Besides, following news on Twitter and Facebook are 2 different things. There are 2 reasons for this:

1) Companies and organisations that give news content online do it mostly on Twitter. Facebook is just their auxiliary option. The fact that they can post on Twitter in small 140 character updates, have their own timeline where they can look back on the updates without the hindrances of such nuances as “comments” or “likes” appeals to them.

2) Twitter has the cleanest interface that you can think of. Now, there are 2 ways to follow news .. either you add everyone who is tweeting news about something to your timeline, or all the users create a hashtag and you search for that hashtag and follow all the tweets there.

Example: Say an earthquake occurs in Atlantis, one user will create a hastag like #atlantisquake .. The power of social media will propagate this hashtag in such a way that within 5 minutes, well over a thousand users will be using that hashtag. Now, lets say there are people on site in Atlantis tweeting about it, people offsite who have relatives stuck there asking for help, people on site asking for help etc – you can see ALL of these things if you are searching for that hashtag. Yes, its that simple.

 

Q: Ok, that’s too advanced for me to comprehend. Why would these things help me? I just want to keep up with my friends and check what photos they upload.

A: Oh ok fine. Then, please go back to Facebook. Twitter is not for you.

 

Q: Fine. Let’s say I’m interested. What else can Twitter do?

A: Not much else. This is what people love Twitter for. The people working on it are wise enough to know what the users like and they don’t want to do mundane optimisations which will spoil the user experience.

 

Q: Hmm .. What about media content? Like photos and videos and all that?

A: This is the most opportune moment I can answer this. Twitter recently released a photo uploading service. Its is the most complete image search engine anyone can hope for assuming people tag the pictures they upload with the proper tags.

 

Q: Wtf? Didn’t Twitter have any way of viewing photos before this?

A: They did. You uploaded photos in another service like Twitpic, yfrog etc. and posted a link along with a small one liner on Twitter. Using hashtags helped in searches.

 

Q: Ok fine. Any down sides?

A: Oh yes. As with all “social” media, this is powered by the people. You have to be responsible about what you post, what you share etc.

For example, some fool made a mistake and posted that Abdul Kalam died even though it was just his friend who’d died. It spread like wildfire (as is its wont) and finally, at the stage where even news websites started believing it, it died down. So, it’s on your part to be a responsible netizen and do what’s right.

 

Q: How do I join Twitter?

A: Head over here and create an account. That’s it. You’re done. You can start using Twitter right away.

 

Please spread the joy and make people aware. Also, in case any of your friends pesters you as to what Twitter is, direct them here 🙂

PS: Any questions? I’m sorry .. You gotta go Google. There is only so much time I’m willing to spare in making people Internet-aware. Comments? Post below.