Thursday, August 31

sins of the fathers

When the recent Isreal-Lebanon conflict (12 July - 14 August 2006) was going on, there was an article in BBC about debates in Germany over involvement of Germans in a Lebanon peace force, before steps were taken to create one. The article is about the debates in German Media on the ethical questions faced by a German soldier, if he is needed to fight an Israeli soldier.

"History is the past, but the history of the Holocaust belongs to the German present," said the Frankfurter Rundschau. No German soldier should, even theoretically, "be brought into a situation where he has to aim his weapon at an Israeli", it added. [...]

[...] Austria's Der Standard said it was "unthinkable" that the grandchildren of Holocaust perpetrators might find themselves shooting at the grandchildren of victims.

Germany is a country with a dark period of history during the reign of Hitler, leading to the second world war. When it all ended, there were trials, especially the famous Nuremberg Trials, incriminating the war criminals of Second World War. But the punishment for the sins of Third Reich didn't end there. The most unfortunate were not those who were tried (deservedly so), but the sons and grandsons of the Nazi generation. That regime has left such a deep stain in the German history, that its descendants carry that even today.

In contrast, the way the Japanese handle their history is... well, not quite the same. There have always been questions about the accuracy of Japanese history textbooks, and the accusations that they "justify and glorify the wrongs committed in the past" (especially the Nanjing massacre. Wikipedia entry is here). Even after protests, those textbooks were never changed. Recently, there have been protests over the Japanese prime minister visiting the Yasukuni shrine, where war criminals are venerated. By such attempts, Japanese try to paint a different picture of history to their younger generation. Though their objectives on re-writing Japanese history are political, it probably would make the future Japanese generations carry less burden of the past. Unlike the Germans.

The question is how nations (and its people) choose to handle the sins of their history - either let it burden them for generations OR glorify the sins to make them proud. I couldn't do an ethical analysis of the Japanese stand on its history OR the reasons why Germans has to confront their history head on (I don't have access to a good library and, I am no historian. We can't miss the cultural angle(east vs west) too).

Bringing the same line of questioning towards ancestral histories, I think, our parents, grand parents, uncles, and aunts had the same two choices. When they had to tell us the inconvenient truths of the past, they either choose to bury them down or pass those burdens over. Of course, they would rather bury them, than do the dad-son karma-transfer. So... I wonder, Do I really believe in everything of what I am told about my family ? (or my country ?) And, Am I going say everything, most importantly every sin of my life to my next generation ?(if by an accident or some act of God, a next generation happens to me!!!)

Tuesday, August 29


The most important problem of blog writing is the lack of brevity and relevance. As David Beaver of language log points this here, while comparing blog writing with Grice's Conversational Maxims, he says the main reason of blogs being verbose and not to the point, is the uncertainty of the audience makeup.

In the case of blogs, uncertainty over audience make-up and mores reaches a new high. You could be anybody. In fact, many of you are not bodies at all, but automated web-crawlers. And there simply is no commonly accepted purpose or direction. Bloggers are free to make up purposes and directions as they go, to inform as much as they like about whatever they like in pretty much any way they like.

So, a blog is more whining and ranting, than something that could add value to the reader. And, there is a commonly known tendency for Indians to get verbose. Putting it all togeather, it makes brevity a difficult thing to do for me. Even though the goal of my blog was to deliver my thoughts as short as it could possibly expressed, I have hardly well done.

There is an old story about a famous Tamil speaker. When this speaker was asked to give a speech for ten minutes, he said he needs two days of preparation. When he was asked to give a lecture for two hours, he said that he can start right away. Silence may be golden or even diamond-ish, but being brief is the arduous task of mining the precious stone.

Thursday, August 24

where is the sport in motorsport ?

I have a problem with the idea that is "motorsport". And, that is - I don't think, it is a sport. I tried, but I couldn't see a sport in "motorsport". I don't discriminate any form of motorsport - F1 or NASCAR or IndyCar. I hate them equally. More importantly, I think "motorsport" a misnomer. Call motorsport, a shameless and profligate expression of penis-envies, exhibited by those whirring, exploding, gas-sucking, and piston-pumping motors as a symbolic extension of the male genitals (except for Danica Patrick, may be). I stand behind you (with a little caution). Call it as motor-circus. I am totally with you. Call it a motor-driver-exhibition. I agree. Call it as a motor-competition. There is a bling of disagreement. Still, I nod. But, Calling it a sport - No, Sir ! Circus is not sport! Yes, it is entertainment. But not a sport.

I know what is coming next. You are, probably, going to throw me the definition of sport. OK. Lets get this over with. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Sport (in the sense of, ah, well, sports) is defined as

An activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively.

Technically, of course, any competition involving skill is a sport. ESPN thinks that Poker is a sport (Oh, Well, the argument that shuffling chips and picking cards as a "physical exertion" is not really, you know, getting through). Again, I have no problems with Poker being a recreational activity. But, a sport ? The problem actually is not the definition or classification of motor-what-ever as a sport - technically.

So you tell me, it may just be a matter of personal preference. Probably, I don't like motor-blah-blah as much as, say, baseball. I compared my comparison with another comparison. (Is this a record - three comparisons in a line ?). I do like baseball more than cricket, both of these I admire as sports. One of the many reasons for liking baseball is what I perceive as a difference between hitting and batting. Hey, I am just a fan. I may be completely wrong here.

Most of Indians who like cricket (that's a given), tend to dislike baseball, because they think there is absolutely no intelligence in hitting. But I wonder - If it is true that hitting is a dumb thing like pinning the donkey's tail, Why every hitter in baseball doesn't hit with the same average ? So, here is the comparison. In cricket, a batting is a mini-gymnastic exercise. The batsman has to look the swing on the ball, see where it pitches, and orchestrate the movement of the foot (the foot movement is like an Irish dance) in sync with the movement of hand.( with a perfect timing of course). The batsman spends more time understanding the ball, than the bowler. In cricket, batting is all about concentration and choosing the perfect stroke - and the stroke, as a result, is as brilliant and creative as a chess move.

In baseball, hitting is not really that complicated. There is already a stance, all you have to worry about is your shoulders, your waist and your swing. (There is a little foot-work,but you really don't have to dance) This makes hitting simple, but more mental. It is all about judgement, and getting into the head of the pitcher - Ah, there lies its emotional rub. So, as I see, the swing of a successful hitting is as beautiful as the free-kick in soccer that ends up as a goal. Finally, in a seven game series between beauty of baseball and brilliance of cricket - Beauty - 4, Brilliance - 3. (This is how I see these two sports. Of course, it is entirely possible to see this the other way) But I really couldn't do this comparison with motor-boink-boink against any of the sport I admire. I really don't think it is relative liking or relative hatred. There is something more...

My problem is the meaning of motor-boo-boo as a sport. I see the motor as a machine, and the driver as an operator. I see no difference between twenty drivers racing their machines, and twenty lathe operators on a shop floor, in a pump manufacturing company, working up their productivity charts for a TPM showcase. Only difference is that the question on the shop floor is - Who drives the tool tip faster ? Would we call that a sport ?

I would like to relate to any sport just by watching it or playing it. In the exhibition of motor"sport", I see nothing of the driver's skills. I only get to see the effects of the skills. So the driver managed to keep himself ahead, while negotiating the curve. What did he do, really ? What were his movements ? Did he flinch ? Did he have fit ? or Did he fart ? I don't see nothing. (OK. Technically, you can't see a fart. That aside. Personally, I think, driving is a boring activity with its only use of transporting a person) I can't even play that game in my yard or in a park. Is there anyway to relate to this "sport" ? In this sense, I think, even Dodgeball or Rock-Paper-Scissors are agreeable as sports. Or Competitive eating, for that matter. (A clip from the movie Dodgeball explaining the rules. For those who haven't heard of Dodgeball before, there is no such thing as ADAA. Its just a parody of naming sports associations of America.)

Finally you say, what you have to see is the power of machines. Its the technology, baby. runs a long list technical details to look for in a F1 racing. If its about technology, why don't they have an Auto expo or something like that? At least then, you can have the technology without the noise and heat. The claim that its an exhibition of technology doesn't really make motor-pee-pee a sport.

And finally, the reason why I even started writing this. Some time ago, Chuck Klosterman, one of my favorite writers on American pop culture, was writing about Barry Bonds, (the Sachin Tendulkar of Baseball) under the suspicion of using performance enhancing drugs, surpassing Babe Ruth's (the Don Bradman of Baseball) record of home runs (the sixer of a baseball game. Yeah, they do have record for sixers!!!). He wrote

It's a problem for anyone who considers sports to be a meaningful prism through which to understand life and culture.

Yeah, that is it. I wanted to use this line, and I don't understand life or culture with motorsport. But... Wait! If motorsport is a prism to understand culture or life that is - just noise, pollution and exploitation of fossil fuels - well then, may be, motorsport is the sport of our generation. Probably, the last generation that uses fossil fuels.

Tuesday, August 22

little miss sunshine

It was an interesting day yesterday. I read the book "1984" by George Orwell, finally. It consumed my whole day. The writing was so powerful, that, I was underlining at the rate of a sentence per page. That reduced my speed of reading, and guess what!!! It made me think!!! Yeah, its deep. I think, I would reserve my thoughts on "1984" for another post. Later yesterday, I went to watch the movie "Little Miss Sunshine". It was comedy movie, and when I try to classify the movie in the unofficial comedy-film-making taxonomy, that was so not a comedy.

It is true that "Dying is easy, but Comedy is hard". But the writers of comedy movies, of late, doing it easy. They have only been picking the toppings from an available of menu of theme-choices. The menu (also called unofficial comedy-film-making taxonomy) goes like:

  1. satire/parody
  2. slapstick
  3. gross-out (the flavor of the day)
  4. screwball (the classic)
  5. a double with the choices 1-4
  6. a triple with the choices 1-4
  7. anyway you want (available toppings: choices 1-4 again).

Or they probably could be using a script-vending-machine. Or they were seriously trying to prove the hypothesis that an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite amount of time could reproduce the works of Shakespeare. And probably, they didn't get enough monkeys. (I do think they have a lot of time)

Well, there is another generation of comedy movies, that start out funny, but as it grows - We have got a surprise for you - tada!! - A chick flick!!!. Actually, I am not against chick flicks. I don't hate them. I even enjoy some of them. My only concern is that jokes in such movies would have made a pure comedy movie.

There are Comedy movies made of nothing but a few jokes scattered here and there in a generic sub-theme. And then, there is "Little Miss Sunshine". I had a wonderful time enjoying this movie, but a hard time classifying it - only to have found out that it doesn't fit any of the choices above. I think it belongs to a genre of its own.

The story is about a (dysfunctional) American family - a dad, a mom, a brother, an uncle, a grandpa, and finally the youngest member of the family - the blue eyed little girl - Olive. They set out on road trip from New Mexico to California, so that, Olive can compete in a child beauty contest, Miss Little Sunshine. The movie is about their their adventures during the 700 mile journey and at beauty contest.(The tendency to place "dysfunctional" in brackets is a because of a general Indian thought that "dysfunctional American family" might sound as an oxymoron. I don't think, it is prejudice, but it is a gap in family values between two cultures and the assumption that MTV is America. But I do think, every functional family, irrespective of nationality, has to be dysfunctional in some department. We don't pick our parents or our children -OR- Do we ?)

The movie, of course, is a satire about the issues in family life and other heavy issues it rubs on, such as drug abuse, suicide, and child beauty contests. But the comedy is not satirical. Comedy in the movie is mostly a the result of irony about an individual's position against the family backdrop. Though, the family is fabricated for the movie, the script brings a kind of plastic realism touching all the characters of the story. It is smart and funny.

I couldn't remember a movie or a story, that displayed such a weight in each of its character - in the solemn expression of comedy.

Wednesday, August 16

nitpicking on language

I have become a fan of Language Log, a blog by a group of linguists from UPenn. Their analyses on language and its usage are very interesting. Recently, a reader of the newspaper Oakland Tribune wrote to the editor about a news story they had printed. It goes like this...

THE TRIBUNE'S Aug. 7 front page story headline said, in large print, "Rocket attack kills 12 Israelis," and in smaller print, "At least 16 in Lebanon die from air strikes." This has an immediate bias that Israeli lives are more valuable than Lebanese lives.

Geoffrey K. Pullum and Bill Poser of Language Log blogged here and here to explain that, bias in Tribune's use of words, if any, was not immediately obvious. Their main points of observation are

  • Both "to die" from something, and "to be killed" by something roughly mean the same thing. Their usage could possibly imply a difference in the duration of losing a life. But that doesn't imply a judgement in the value of lives lost.
  • The difference in choice of words may reflect the the fact that the Israelis were intentionally murdered (genocide) while the Lebanese were killed accidentally (collateral damage).
  • It could just be that the editors could have avoided the same words for monotony.
The difference between the choice of words in this case is very subtle, and hence the bias is not obvious (or rather no bias at all, according to the authors). I remember a better example in Indian newspapers, when I was young. It usually happens in the Sports pages, when there is a cricket match between the arch rivals - India and Pakistan. If India won a cricket match against Pakistan, the head line would read something like "India beat Pakistan by 45 runs". But if Pakistan had won the match, it would read "Pakistan won by 6 wkts" or better "India lost by 6 wkts". In some weird sense, "beating" feels better than "winning" or "losing". I think that, the choice of such a headline is a conscious decision by the editor.

I enjoy such examinations of our language and the choice of words. I re-write my sentences two or three times until I feel OK about them. I want to make sure that my tone is not condescending, not authoritative, and not offensive. I also would like my style neither be absolute nor be vague. (What am i trying to do here, really ?)

But still, one of my friends commented about a previous blog entry that I better do spell check, and grammar check. I read my blog entries again, and found my grammar awful. I had missed verbs in sentences. My prepositions were on top of each other. It seemed to me, that words were so uncomfortable being in my sentences. It looked like I was writing this blog, as an attempt to avoid watching an episode of 'Barney, the Dinosaur' (or a Tamil mega serial).

I found the reason to be my tendency to quick-edit sentences, even before they were complete. I do a lot of "micro editing" in parts of my sentences, that I end up missing verbs, and adding prepositions. I think, I need more nitpickers. (or a book on english grammar ?)

Monday, August 14

why can't software be like an aircraft engine ?

When dealing with software professionals, the users, tend to asks questions like why the making of software doesn't work, exactly like their actual job. And when you make a software for the engineers who design, develop and test Aircraft engines, they seriously ask questions like why this software can't be like an aircraft engine.

I get really excited about such comparisons. When it comes to software, I always hold the opinion that there is no comparison that fits. I wish the poet Pablo Neruda had written some poems about making software. Then, at least, we would not have this shortage of good metaphors.

I wrote a blog entry sometime ago about what I do for a living. I can say it again - RSA wouldn't mind it actually - I work on a team of customizing an Engineering software for an Aircraft Engine manufacturer. We work on a monthly build cycle, that works fairly successful in fixing bugs and introducing a new feature every month. In plain words, we put in a new version of the software every month for our users - with a new major functionality and a few bug fixes.

There are no dedicated testers here. (Yeah, I know. Just give it a break. It's just a customization project). Its the actual users who test it in a simulated test environment, before we push the software to the real time, live wire production environment(Again, with the shortage of metaphors in Software Engineering, we use buzzwords!!!) . In the previous build, it so happened that the testing for the major functionality was complete, but the bug fixes - We couldn't get enough users to test them!!! Obviously, we can't push the software to Production, until we are sure we aren't breaking anything with our "fixes". So we had to delay the build a week. When we told that to our clients, one of them had this to say....

You are saying that you can't push the software to prod until the bug fixes are tested ? Its like saying - Even though the nozzle assembly of the engine has been tested for every other performance metric, and just because a small component such as a bracket is not available, I can't ship the engine. Can't you just pull out the bracket ?

When all of our customization is built and bundled into a single shared library (All of them are in a single binary file), it is impossible to pull the fixes from the dll file. Sometimes, I do wish I have some supernatural power by which I can rip apart the bytes of that binary file, and pull out the ugly "brackets", I wish I had not made. (The main reason would be - save some embarrassment.)

Unfortunately in Software Engineering, we are still trying to figure out how to do things better. And all I can say is that making parts of working software into components hasn't reached the level of granularity of building an engine - to its bolts and nuts.

It is not impossible. (Pardon the double negatives. I need to be explicitly equivocal here.) You just need a highly flexible version control system, probably use a scripting language instead of a compiled language (a framework like Ruby on Rails ???), then a perfect system of tagging, naming, arranging builds, then of course, a reliable system of automated testing, and then finally a highly granular configuration system - seamlessly integrated with the rest of them.

If we can have all that systems, then probably we can "pull out" stuff that is not required. In short, it is just not like pulling nuts and bolts or even a bracket out of an aircraft engine assembly. (Or it could very well be just that the comparison of bug fixes in a software to a bracket in a engine could be wrong. I told you - We badly need Neruda)

Thursday, August 3

just give me the news

Was every one thinking about this ? Last week, I was watching one of those 24 hour news channels "covering" the war in Middle-East. The back ground music, while showing the images of destruction, was something like the one for a techno dance party. Whats up with these news channels ? Do they hire a DJs for mixing this music ? What are they thinking ?

The exact same day, in The Daily Show by Jon Stewart had this to say about the "musical montage" of MSNBC about the war in Middle East. In case you haven't seen Cable TV in the US or heard about Jon Stewart, "The Daily Show" is a half-hour satirical news program produced by and run on the Comedy Central cable television network.. And their host Jon Stewart is know to be "the most trusted name in fake news". It is one of my favorite shows, where they rip apart and make us laugh at the absurdities in everyday news stories, and the media that brings the news. Now, back to Jon...

Apparently, the war in the middle-east is also taking place in the middle of a rave... What've they got ? "Tears for Fears" in the back room of MSNBC ?... I am telling you... What are they doing !?!?

Here the link to this Jon Stewart's video in You Tube

Seriously, What are they doing ? It has become OK for News channels to create unnecessary drama in News. When does this all start ? Why there should be drama in News ? For drama, I will watch TNT (a TV channel in US cable network know for its "drama"). It seems like an unwritten rule for news channels these days - "If ain't no drama, it ain't important".

I don't want sound like one of those oldies saying - "When I was kid, I used to milk 321 cows everyday for a living". But I should say this - News was not drama those days. My initial television watching days in India included an everyday news program -covering local, state, national, international, entertainment, sports and weather - all in just 20 minutes. It was just fine.

I learnt that the Berlin wall went down. I learnt that "Silence of the Lambs" won an academy award. I learnt that Steffi Graff took another Wimbledon. Every knowledge happened in that 1/3 of an hour. It was simple and straight forward. No analysis, No drama. And most importantly - No Noise! 20 minutes was just enough.

Now its on - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and every moment of is made to seem important and dramatic. But now a days, I am not sure, if I know it right. And If i know it enough.