In dubious battle against the stars

It is one of those days. Days, when I blame it all on, in Jibananda’s phrase, “flaws of my stars“. Staying  abroad and being atheist are, in a way, a dual edged sword: Can’t reach the place where I ought to be;  can’t pray to the almighty.

I don’t respect too many people in my life. But one of those rare ones is very sick. My rationalist self says this is inevitable. As I grow old, I am bound to lose people all around me. But my human  self cannot justify losing my familiar paradise“. I know, slowly but surely I am going to lose everyone, then one day thou soul of my soul. But “I was ever a fighter.  So here  I am,  praying, not a battlecry, but a hymn of the battle for the lost paradise on the plains of heaven:

Innumerable force of Spirits armed,
That durst dislike his reign, and, me preferring,
His utmost power with adverse power opposed
In dubious battle on the plains of Heaven
And shook his throne. What though the field be lost?
All is not lost—the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield:
And what is else not to be overcome?

And may the dubious battle be won.


Seven PhDs attended Wannsee conference

Last night, over dinner conversation we were arguing whether education can solve some of the current problems of India. Though sounds logical, the problem remains how to impart education. Can you send a child a school and automatically assume that it will come out educated. You went to a top graduate school, got your PhD, and now you call yourself educated. But how to objectively measure the markers of education? How do we determine that someone is educated? These are difficult questions and we don’t have any clear answer. Remember, the fifteen people team that decided the “final solution of Jewish problem”, the notorious Wannsee conference, included seven PhDs.

Update ( July 4, 2014): Khitish-da, in the comment, pointed out there were 7 PhDs not 5. I updated the post and the title accordingly. Thanks Khitishda.

Snippets: a wretched wonder plays in our blood

First let me confess, I am not a big fan of Jibanananda Das. I find him monotonous. Particularly, he uses a motif of confusion, a sort of style of rephrasing the last line, again and again in his poems that I find, frankly, very irritating.

His most famous poem is “Banalata Sen”. But, I believe he is his finest in another one of his poems, called “Bodh”, (loosely “realization or sense”). I will keep a discussion of this poem for another day.

His “At bochor ager ekdin”, (One day eight years back), is a rare, purely existentialist piece and pretty striking. In a remarkable resemblance to Albert Camu’s Outsider, a man kills himself for no apparent reason. The poem is literally a post-mortem of the reasons, or the lack thereof. One passage from this poem goes like this:

Narir hridoy – prem – shishu – griha – noi sobkhani
Ortho noy, kirti noy, soccholota noy –
Aro ek biponno bisshoy
Amader ontorgoto rokter bhitore
Khela kore
Amader klanto kore
Klanto – klanto kore

With apologies to his soul, I will break his meter and in a sort of Poe-like rhyme:

Love of a woman, a child, a home, not everything,
Neither wealth, nor fame, nor glory –
A wreched wonder plays in our blood,
Makes us tired, makes us weary.

Onion talks: worthwhile replacement of TED

I’ve been having this feeling that watching TED talks is mostly just a big waste of time. I personally don’t get anything out of most of the talks. Now, Onion has released Onion talks. Though tongue in cheek, I think there is a bigger truth in this. Does watching someone talk about their own achievement really help in anything? I better watch Coursera lectures.

Alan Turing: Indian Connection

I was surprised to find that Alan Turing, whose birthday we just celebrated on June 23rd, had Indian connections. This Wikipedia article claims he was “conceived” in Orissa! Keeping this controversial statement aside, we surely know that his father Julius Turing was a civil services officer in British India, and knew the Telugu language. His mother,Ethel Sara was the daughter of the chief engineer of the Madras Railways.  This information is a revelation for me, like when I found  Tipu Sultan’s connection to American independence.

You’re not special

Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough delivered his speech “You’re not special”. But his talk was. Here is the transcript.

Update (6/23/2012): I just found out that he is the son of the famous David McCullough.

I have seen the ICE age

The student looks up from the VT100 terminal that he has been working on the whole night. The green letters on the screen turning blurry. He rubs his neck, shrugs his shoulder to get rid of the annoying pain that’s been building up on his neck for slouching over the terminal. He suddenly noticed the sweat on his forehead. It has not been very hot this summer so far. The night was quite cool. He curses the ritual of switching off air conditioner at night. Tough India is a poor country, but there is no excuse of switching off air conditioner on the  fourth floor, particularly when there are so many computers in this bioinformatics lab. Those mammoth Silicon Graphics machines spewing hot air like plumes out of jets. He shakes his head, but he has no option but to work late at night. This is the only terminal that’s connected to to the Internet, and it’s free only late at night. He damns Lynx and slow Internet. It’s 1996, for  God’s sake. Where’s the Netscape?  He smiles though, thinking about the  information that he could gather about the software. Dangerous, because the software is illegal to run without an explicit license from the vendor. It is like searching information about how to use explosives. He shivers. Is it really a software?  The name, SoftICE.

Continue reading

Smartphones, Memex and the soul of Vannevar Bush

“A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility”.

That’s a quote from the prophetic article of Vannevar Bush, “As you may think”.

Continue reading

GoodReader, the most undervalued commercial software

The people who know me understand my philosophy of using open-source software whenever possible. And when the software comes free (as in beer), there’s nothing like it. But coming out of the philosophical “holier than thou” attitude, the real reason I am so opposed to commercial software is that I find them overpriced and find that they provide very little functionality for the money. In short, “pirate if you want, but do not pay for any software”, that has been my attitude for all my life, till this time.

Continue reading

Dependency hell or heaven?

People like us who have to deal with software know a nuisance that comes along with the job called dependency hell. It’s a condition is which a piece of software depends on another software to run, which again depends on another and ad infinitum. So if you want to just run a piece of software, you need to waste an enormous amount time in installing a chain of software. Sometimes, literally, the chain never ends, and you give up.

Continue reading