Sunday, December 27, 2009

Of Rivalries

A happy conjunction of conjunctibles is able to giving rise to this post on rivalries.

I. Cambridge v. Cambridge

Paul Samuelson died. The world lost a great textbook author. Apparently he was also a great economist. RIP.

[Aside: As Abi has pointed out, Subramanian Swamy wrote a tribute to his guide and mentor. Curiously, the Rediff version has a few choice not-so-nice things to say about certain "Left triumvirate" including a certain other Nobel laureate. Pretty much the same tribute, minus the not-so-nice is in the Hindu. Either some editor has wielded the selective scissor of Hindu-style political correctness, or Swamy himself, for all his brashness, went easy on the masala.]

[Aside': This is a first derivative aside. Aside to the above aside. Heh heh. Some lovely lectures happening at IISc over the next few days. Damn.]

Enough asiding. Onto the rivalry. Our good economics professor friend and lurker on this blog who goes by the epithet That Man Keynes And His Homosexual Intrigues told us about a Samuelson rivalry that possibly only economists know or care about.

The Cambridge Capital Controversy is a debate from the 1960s that pitted Samuelson and Robert Solow from Cambridge, MA against Joan Robinson and Piero Sraffa from Cambridge, not-MA.

Apparently, the debate was
...concerning the nature and role of capital goods (or means of production) and the critique of the dominant neoclassical vision of aggregate production and distribution.
Whatever. It seems that the debate was in many senses inconsequential. Wikipedia says:
Despite the highly technical nature of most of the discussion, in many cases it generated more heat than light.
Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen says:
Sadly I must characterize the Cambridge capital debates as a fruitless diversion.

Like all highly technical questions in most subjects, the details need not concern us ;) The consensus is that the culmination of the debates was a more or less hands down (if inconsequential, as noted) win for the Poms. I remember That Man Keynes... saying that Samuelson had the good grace to admit as much in writing, and pretty much capitulated in front of Robinson, at least as far as this issue went. He must've been a great man.

[Aside: Joan Robinson was arguably one of the greatest economists of her generation, and sadly (? post-Obama and Kissinger) never won the Nobel. That Man Keynes..., the source of so much of the economics tidbits claims that the Nobel Committee pretty much waited for her to cop it, before awarding the Nobel to one of her rivals. Details will follow, if I can find them.]

II. Krishna v. Srinivasan

The Hindu carried a piece last Sunday by the vocalist T.M.Krishna in which he (pretty unambiguously) criticized the use of certain instruments in Carnatic music, because they cannot render all the notes and microtones needed to make a raagam what it is. Violins and mandolins can apparently be successfully re-incarnated in south Indian avatars (ugh!), but saxophones and pianos cannot. This was the opening salvo.

Today's Hindu Sunday edition has a riposite from (my friend!) noted pianist Anil Srinivasan. Anil, while agreeing in part with Krishna, argues against being "...autoregressive when discussing the preservation or conservation of a tradition. Trapping it in a time capsule and not allowing it to breathe or acquire newer characteristics is antithetical to the very notion of an intergenerational transfer."

By this time, the issues are abstruse enough that people like me whose aesthetic sense was last seen headed in north-northeasterly direction across the Siberian tundra have only a vague notion of what both sides are talking about.

Surprisingly, today's Hindu also contains a re-rejoinder from Krishna, who says that Anil misses his (Krishna's) point entirely. The show goes on. One wishes it didn't end here and moved into blogosphere. Rahul Siddharthan is doing his bit to make this happen!

III. Sibling v. Sibling

Vijay Nagaswami eschews the customary "end of year" ramble for his column and writes quite sensibly about relationshipsbetween siblings. Very readable, my brethren and cistern.

Here endeth the year. Blogging will possibly be more prolific in 2010. By the way, we must take this opportunity to announce that alack! the Filter Coffee will no longer be served in the new year. But every silver lining has a cloud, in the form of more enthu and content for the choultry.

Take care, y'all.

Friday, December 25, 2009

And so it ends...

This was in the mail today.

Dear customer,

On December 31, 2009, the WorldSpace satellite radio broadcast service will be terminated for all customers serviced from India.

This action is an outgrowth of the financial difficulties facing WorldSpace India’s parent company, WorldSpace, Inc., which has been under bankruptcy protection since October 2008. The potential buyer of much of WorldSpace’s global assets has decided not to buy the WorldSpace assets relating to and supporting WorldSpace’s subscription business in India. As a consequence, WorldSpace, Inc. must discontinue its subscriber business in India. Your subscription contract is with WorldSpace, Inc., a US company that is in a bankruptcy proceeding in the United States. The company recognizes that you may have paid for services to be rendered beyond the termination date, but is not in a position to offer a refund for any unused portion of your subscription.

You may have a potential remedy under the U.S. bankruptcy law. You may file a claim under the claims procedure that is intended to protect creditors of the bankrupt company. Sometime early next year, a claim servicing company will send notice to all creditors listed by the company. In order to ensure that you receive timely notice, we would request that you send the following information by mail or email to Rakesh Raghavan at WorldSpace, Inc. headquarters in the United States.

1. Name

2. Address

3. Email

4. Subscription Account Number

5. Date of Subscription

6. Length of Subscription

7. Amount paid for your current subscription

Send this information to: By email -- or by regular mail – Rakesh Raghavan, WorldSpace, Inc. 8515 Georgia AV, Silver Spring, MD 20910 USA.

Our sincere apologies for this circumstance.

s/ Robert Schmitz
Chief Restructuring Officer
WorldSpace, Inc.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Beach Abbai

A muchly shortened, much more tourist friendly, and much less mawkish version of this ramble appeared in this month's Outlook Traveler. Thanks due, per usual, to the Vyas (Sr.)

About 15 years ago, a news magazine carried a cover story on the 'Tier 2' cities of India that they thought were poised to break into the big league and become the metros of the 21st century. Poona became Pune and more or less lived up to its promise and is today a teeming hub of industry, education and technology. Cochin bloomed into Kochi, fuelled by oil money from the Middle East and the tourism boom, and is now a name that travellers around the world recognize. Coimbatore transformed into Kovai, and even if it didn't become a Pune or Kochi, at least the textile barons of Tiruppur made it the town in India with the maximum density of millionaires per square kilometre and (sadly) communal tensions and bomb blasts made it a household name in India.

The fourth name seems to have faded from the scene. Here were no great increases in employment opportunities, no IT or biotech explosions, the public sector presence had grown as large as it ever would; there were not even good reasons to indulge in nomenclature shenanigans.

While the powers that be lavished their attention on the state capital, Vizag sank back into the somnolence that we who grew up there were intimately acquainted with. The occasional news report made great predictions, auguries that sent frissons of excitement down the backs of faithful Vizagites. "Fastest growing city in Asia!" they proclaimed; "New international airport!" they prophesied. And we would dutifully point these out to each other, trying to believe that finally everything that our beautiful hometown deserved was coming to pass.

As the rest of the republic (at least the India Shining bits) hurtled into a future glittering with the lights of a thousand shopping malls, riding the liberalization-globalisation wave, we waited. Of course, there was "growth". The population went up, the numbers of visiting tourists in winter spiked, but nothing fundamental in the character of the place really changed.

Almost the only reason the rest of Andhra Pradesh knew Vizag was because of the "world famous in North Coastal Andhra" beach. (The rest of the country had never even heard of this town, even today almost everyone spells the full name Visakhapatnam wrong.) The beach has always been the town's USP, synonymous with it, Visakhapatnamu beechi, in chaste Telugu. In the Vizagite's mind and life, it occupies the same place as the bank of the Sarayu seems to have in the psyche of the Malgudi resident. It is a source of pride and joy, never more than a short ride from where we live, unfailingly shown to and shared with visitors from out of town, the place where Vizag kicked off its Bata Sandak chappals at the end of the day let the Bay of Bengal tickle its toes.

Back in the sixties, when my newlywed parents moved to town, the beach was a just a deserted stretch of sand and shingle, fringed by a thin strip of black top. People looked askance at you if you said you were going to the beach and you could expect the odd jackal for company. The Ramakrishna Mission had set up shop at one end of the road; close to a rocky outcrop that was mysteriously known as "Scandal Point" (Perhaps a man and a woman had been seen there together once, maybe.) That is how the beach acquired a name and became RK Beach. If you really felt like painting the town red, you could treat yourself to ice cream at the Kwality restaurant, and that was pretty much it.

This tranquil state of affairs continued more or less into the early eighties, after which individual houses starting appearing off the beach road in desultory fashion. There still wasn't much by way of "action", the Juhu-Chowpattys and Marinas of the world were a universe away. The municipality built and maintained a couple of parks with concrete trains, elephants, slides and the like. The highlight of the month when we were kids was a walk to the beach, followed by a few hours of getting wet and gritty, clambering over rock and concrete, rounded off with cutlets at the Fish Canteen.

When we were old enough to venture out alone, we were allowed to go "jogging" during the "winter" vacations. Off we went at the crack of dawn, pretending like we wanted to exercise. The jogging, a pell-mell run at flat out speed lasted for as long as our lungs cooperated (under 5 minutes), before we gleefully ran onto the sand to pick up shells. If you got there early enough, you could find cowries and the halves of dead clams before the slum children got to them. Innocents that we were, we didn't know they made a living selling shells to visitors.

One summer, a strange building started emerging from the sand near the Panduranga Temple. The day we found it we were pretty convinced that this was the spectacular ruin of some ancient civilisation that we were destined to discover, inevitably (a certain quantity of pulp fiction and a certain fecundity of imagination can work wonders on a 14 year olds sense of self-importance). Like the hominids from "2001: A Space Odyssey", we gathered around our own "monolith" and paid homage every evening, not understanding what it was, but quite carried away by the drama that the tides and the sands were playing out.

Alas, like all good fantasies, this one came crashing down when my annoyingly well-informed father told us that it was a concrete pillbox, a gun emplacement that the Americans who used Vizag as a hospital base during the World War II had built, to be used in the event of an amphibious Japanese invasion of Vizag. This, by the way, is not as fanciful as it sounds. The port was bombed by aircraft during the war, and a Japanese carrier fleet was running amok in the Bay of Bengal. Anything could have happened! In any case, we made the best of the situation and "occupied the position" in the evenings, after our brains had been thoroughly addled through a surfeit of Alistair MacLean novels and Commando comics. The pillbox disappeared after a few months, but reappears occasionally to this day, thrilling whole new generations.

The beach was rarely crowded, even on Sundays. The occasional movie shoot (Ek Duje Ke Liye, for example) would cause a temporary hubbub, which subsided with the pack-up. Once a year on Navy Day, the Navy would take over and put up a fine show – marching bands, sailors in crisp uniforms, weaponry, floats, the works. It was as though we had our own private Raj Path and Republic Day festivities. When darkness fell, a small armada of warships anchored off the shore lit up simultaneously, while an audible gasp went through the waiting crowd on the beach road, an annual moment of roasted corn-on-the-cob and shared magic.

Sometime during the nineties, RK Beach like the rest of the city did start becoming a busier place. A forest of apartment buildings came up on the road. The tourism department and Municipal Corporation saw it fit to try and lure more winter visitors to the city. Lawns and parks were laid out; the road was widened and lit up; a fairly ordinary aquarium and a more interesting museum were established. The Navy lopped off the conning tower of one of its early submarines and planted it on the beach, adding a touch of history (even if it was slightly incongruous) to the scene. Industrial quantities of tackiness in the forms of concrete sculptures of dinosaurs, mermaids, elephants, fishes, and boats painted in the most fantastic "marine" colours were introduced and lie scattered about the place even now.

Today, the beach is a shared space, an arena where over the course of a day, many worlds co-exist and sometimes collide. The mornings are dominated by the health nuts, mostly of the retired variety, vigorously pounding up and down the pavement, interspersed with the odd sportsperson, tourist and expat. In the evenings, it is a madder, crazier place, a truer representative of the urban middle class India of today. An entire city, starved of greenery and open spaces descends on the esplanade; there to commingle with each other, throw a ball around, eat some muri mixture (a puffed-rice, onion, tomato, chilli powder concoction that is sometimes heavenly), peer into the innards of a submarine, visit a temple, steal a few moments alone with a significant other in the secure anonymity provided by the throng, and to just watch the world pass by. While the crowd and the mess do occasionally evoke shades of the Juhus and Marinas of the world, it is still relatively cleaner, quieter and less crowded, particularly in the "off season" (March-November). It is still the sort of place where a teenager is nervous about lighting a cigarette, someone who knows the family might be taking their evening constitutional!

And between these two crepuscular peaks of commotion, in the middle of the day, RK Beach throws on an invisibility cloak, gets into a time machine, and goes back to being what it was like in less frenetic times. There is a fresh breeze, but hardly a soul to be seen in the hurtful glare reflected off the water and the sand. The occasional non-mechanized fishing boat traces large lazy arcs from point to point on the shore, all taut muscles and tauter lines, while the womenfolk wait somewhat nervously to see what the catch brings. A White-bellied Sea Eagle occasionally wings its way over the shoreline. And a lonesome hack who grew up not too far from the water digs his toes into the warm sand and ever so often uncovers a happy memory.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

General Quiz for Corporates and B-School Students

Issued in the public interest

Date: Saturday, November 21, 2009
Time: 1 pm - 5:30 pm
Registration: 12:30 pm
Prelims: 1 pm
Finals: 2:30 pm
Venue: C.E.S.S (Centre for Economic and Social Studies), Ameerpet, Hyderabad
Quizmasters: Nitish "Seedha" Khadiya & Diwakar "Paapi" Pingle
Participation Fee: Rs. 5000/- for one team or Rs. 4,000/- per team if there are more than 2 teams from the same institution


Winners: approximately worth Rs. 15,000/-
1st runners up: appro. worth Rs . 8,000/-
2nd runners up: appro. worth Rs . 5,000/-

The team participation fee should be treated as a donation for charity and the donation will be tax exempt under Section 80 G of the Income Tax. Cheque/ D.D. should be made in favour of Concern India foundation.

The quiz is open to teams of 2 members wherein both the team members must belong to the same corporate institution or must be students of the same B-School. Participants are requested to carry ID Cards/Letters from HR/Principal for identification purposes.

For any further clarifications please contact :

Laxmi Sukumaran
Concern India Foundation
Flat No:403, Nirman Towers
East Marredpally
Hyderabad-500 026
Tel:+91-40-2773 1460 / 2773 4936

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

रुकावट के लिए खेद है

Some semblance of service may be restored here. The thing is, while rooting around among the unpacked boxes at home over the last few days, I found a diary/journal circa 2000. Terrifying glimpse into the idiot I was in those days. The good thing about it is that it means instead of generating original content here, I can simply read and type and inflict. So enjoy.

7th October 2000, Harvard Square

It's a gorgeous day. Probably the last Saturday this year when I can sit at a table on the pavement outside the Au Bon Pain, drink an iced mocha and pretend it's summer. The fumes from Friday night's potent mix of beer, wine, single malt and vodka [Hee hee. Yes, those were CRAZY TIMES!] have cleared. The headache is gone, the hunger appeased and the mind turns to other thoughts. It's a beautiful day for happy people to be outside.

24th November 2000, Amtrak, Boston - New York

The sun has risen and it streams in through the window. An hour ago, it was a wonderful, delicately coloured circle in the sky; a harmless, benevolent poetic thing. Now it's a positive fucking nuisance that blinds me when I look out. We passed some of those picturesque seaside Rhode Island towns, and fat lot I could see!

It is really hard to write clearly on a train. The hand jiggles so. There's a bunch of schoolgirls in the seats behind me, chattering away the way schoolgirls and flocks of birds are wont to. I'm so sleepy...nauseous. Someone is playing a CD way louder than they should.

26th November 2000, Algiers Cafe, Harvard Square

I need an umbrella really bad (badly?) [Readers in the know will observe an Ancient Obsession.]. There is a wet, annoying drizzle in progress outside. Thankfully it's not unbearably cold. Not yet. I left my umbrella on a bench in the Davis Square T stop, and when I went back for it, it wasn't there any longer. I need an umbrella. It is very annoying.

Algiers is a rather swank cafe' in front of the Brattle Theater. The patrons (I don't suppose one could actually call them something quite as ordinary as "customers") are by and large very...what's the word...chic? Very elegant, talking in voices loud enough to be heard at the adjacent tables about the higher things in life. The interior seems very stylish (not that I would know a stylish interior from an ordinary one if it bit me in the ass). And, of course, everything on the menu is "suitably" priced. I do not think I can afford to eat every time I come here (and this is something I intend to do), but the thought of a pot of coffee and a small table to myself without distraction is very inviting.

Oooh. The coffee just arrived! The "pot" is not a pot at all. It's a rather grimy looking (in a stylish sort of way, of course) brass tumbler encrusted with coffee stains, full of a strange smelling, hot, black liquid with an icky layer of black powder floating on top. I pour myself a cup, add cream and sugar (a heathenish practice that is almost certainly looked down upon in this "establishment") and take a sip. It is delicious!

One distinct advantage of this place is that it's so close to the Brattle Theater itself; makes it easy to kill time waiting for someone :-), the perfect rendezvous. And it seems to be a good place for writing too! Why, I've filled up 2 pages!

Why do women smoke? It's either a turn-on or a turn-off, no middle. The coffee has elaichi or something in it. And if my sandwich doesn't arrive soon, I will be the next in the world's not inconsiderable list of hungry dead.

We (A___, V___, K___ and K____) visited the Whitney Museum of Art on Madison Avenue yesterday. A most incomprehensible place, full of strange paintings and photographs, twisted little pieces of wire etc. etc. There were about 4 things in all that made any sense. After about an hour of staggering through the place in a stupor, I bought the one seemingly useful thing in the museum store (a mouse pad) and walked out into the cold Manhattan street. I had a frankfurter at the push-cart at the corner. Infinitely more satisfying than ar,t, for about a sixth of the price.

This part of Manhattan is very well off. The very best in cars, clothes, apartment. For a short time, I was filled with the most righteous and sincere rage at the inequities of the world. It seemed outrageous that such luxury could exist in the same world where, or so I'm told, people die of hunger and the weather and disease. not that I know anyone who ever died of hunger.

If don't find anyone who will listen, I will tear up these pages and throw them into the air and think that the winds have read them.

24th January 2001, Terminal E, Logan International Airport, Boston

I'm sitting here, with butterflies in my stomach, waiting for a flight into Toronto. That fucking unregistered car [Ask me about it sometime.] has come back to haunt me again. I just hope I'll be able to get everything squared away and be done by Friday. It will be a major relief to get this thing done. Underlying the surface layer of tension and uncertainty and restlessness lie the deeper questions. What is it that I'm worrying about so much, exactly? What are the worst consequences of not getting this visa? At the most, I will have to go home to India, lose whatever little money I have in shipping my stuff and closing my affairs, and nothing else. So, basically no problem. God, these fucking demons of the mind.

27th January 2001, Toronto

Got the visa. No fucking problem. In and out like I was an American citizen. So much for the Doomsday prophecies.

There's more random crap. Maybe I will type it up some day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ludwig Reads A Book

Trying to get an education...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Return of the Shaq

The 'shack', actually.

The Coffee Shack vending machine is fixed, citizens. Pick up a mug and join the line.

Respectfully, yours.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Friday, August 07, 2009

On A Scale Of Five

Which is about music.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

INS Constitution

Which is possibly very boring...

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Best Passage Ever Written?

Well, probably not. Haven't read that much. There's another one we rather liked and paraphrased once. But this is also very special.
Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Musikkutho Muddulaadalaa?

Lyrikkule nenu paadalla?
Mikellu Jacksonnu blahblahblah...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dr. Goebbels, I Presume?

It's hard to make up my mind whether this Iranian government video is funny or scary. Is this their equivalent of

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Wednesday


I need to stop writing this serious stuff and let my hair down one of these days.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Monday, June 08, 2009

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Check Out The Moves On That Kid

The kid being, yours truly. Read the below carefully. Several announcements of engrossing interest follow.

1. ACE 2009 is on, baby!! It's the 5th edition. It's bigger. It's better. More teams, more media coverage, more everything. More kozhambu, damn it. Please participate in vast multitudes! See this too:

2. This blog is moving!!!!!!!! Sort of. Actually, it's trifurcating. This is a word normally found only in Indian Railways timetables. And with reference to places like Renigunta and Mughalsarai. Anyway, apparently, the key to becoming a famous blogger, is to know the right people. Thanks to such Beings, one part of the blog will now live on the Livemint website under the name Filter Coffee (we're looking for better names, yes.). Some new and rehashed posts are already up. This will contain the "serious" stuff. The insanity such as mythology, engineering, and sundry letters will continue here.

A second, and hitherto unsuspected facet of the Ludwigumbareshwari will occur on the company blog. This will mostly be about arcane Java and project management concepts. Be warned.

So that is move #1.

3. Move #2 is more corporeal. As the Livemint description says, "Ludwig Wittgenstein based out of Chennai blogs about science, literature, travel and culture." Yes, ladeej and jantalbhainses. Mayur Marg, Begumpet is filled with the cries of forlorn hornbills, even as the evil auto drivers of Venkatraman St., T. Nagar salivate. Lock, stock and barrel have been transplanted to salubrious Madras. The hapless denizens of Hyderabad need not fear. The lure of biryani and other such enticements will keep bringing us back. Hell, looks like work will keep bringing us back.

Dear silent Madrasi readers of this blog, hello. Nice to make your acquaintance. Feed me.

4. Yes, the move was a serious pain in the rear. Agarwal Packers broke my washing machine, and are refusing to cough up the insurance money. A pox on their house. Otherwise trying to settle down.

Watch these spaces. Lot's of excitement coming up. Prizes for all.

Friday, May 22, 2009

My IPL Support Algorithm

This surely comes a little too late, seeing as semifinal #1 is about to start in 4 minutes time, but what the hell. Here goes.

if (Chargers.areKnockedOut() != true) {
} else {
    if (Daredevils.areFinalists() == true) {
        support(Opposing South Indian team);

if (2nd semi final) {
    System.out.println("I see your Pulakesin II, but look! Here is your Vaataapi Ganapati, and see! There goes Rajendra Chola after your sorry Chalukya ass.");

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Pay Attention

Really. Pay attention.


Saturday, May 02, 2009

Assorted Links

Seems to be a good day for random readings:

1. Genius: The Modern View - David Brooks finds out what goes into the making of genius.
...In the view that is now dominant, even Mozart’s early abilities were not the product of some innate spiritual gift. His early compositions were nothing special. They were pastiches of other people’s work. Mozart was a good musician at an early age, but he would not stand out among today’s top child-performers.

What Mozart had, we now believe, was the same thing Tiger Woods had — the ability to focus for long periods of time and a father intent on improving his skills. Mozart played a lot of piano at a very young age, so he got his 10,000 hours of practice in early and then he built from there...
2. Siddharth Varadarajan - Narendra Modi is unwilling even to apologize for the Gujarat massacres because neither religious India nor political India considers his involvement a liability.

En passant, he makes some interesting observations on daadi baaba and his oily sanctimoniousness. And finally mentions this chilling piece of news:
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani has written to over 1,000 religious leaders promising to consult them on all government policy matters if he were to lead the next government...

....Seeking the "support" of religious leaders, Mr. Advani ended the letter with a 'shastang namaskar' ("I greet you while prostrating before you") while promising them a "consultative mechanism" and adding that his government "would like religious establishments to play an important role in inculcating spiritual and patriotic values." He further promised cow protection, security of Ram Sethu, simplification of income tax exemption rules for religious institutions, outlawing of all religious conversion using fraudulent means, promotion of spiritual tourism and not allowing controversies like the one on land for the Amarnath Shrine Board.
Swedish visa, whither art thou?

3. What Makes Men Stupid - Apparently Robert Jensen thinks the list of things is countably finite. Ha ha. Anyway, a very very interesting account of a class Jensen was teaching in Islamabad follows. Via TheSouthAsianIdea Weblog.

4. Phantasmagoria offers belated Valentine's Day suggestions addressed to ex-es everywhere:
1) If you expect to stay 'friends', remember that there is no such thing. You will always be the ex. Even if you were friends before you were together. That doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly and civil and kind...
7) Even though as the ex you are entitled to imagine us naked, you don’t have to bring it up. That can be your own little dirty secret. Really. We don’t want to know...

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Return Of The Jedi

"We're back, we're going to whup the Higgs' ass." says a press release from CERN. Woohoo.

The Daily Show does a "scoop" on the LHC story.

The Particle Adventure - The Fundamentals of Matter and Force, seems to be a good source of basic info for the layperson.

See how small we are... (click on the picture to expand)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Distant Storm

Tucked away in the midst of the quotidian in today's newspaper, was an interesting picture. Is it our imagination, or is the Bay of Bengal fomenting a nice and juicy cyclone for Coromandel coast consumption?

We've spoken about the weather before at the Choultry, more specifically the obsession with cyclones and the monsoon, so we will not rinse and repeat the experiment. We merely wish to record that frissons were felt today at the prospect of a jolly good Force 10 style blow.

En passant, we quote 1 nos. sher from "Garam Hawa":

Jo door se kartein hain toofaan ka nazara,
Unke liye toofaan udhar bhi hai idhar bhi,
Beh jaoge jo dhaare mein to ban jaoge dhara,
Yeh waqt ka aayelaan udhar bhi hai idhar bhi

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Travel Envy Rant

They are being insufferable all over the place. As suspected strongly.

I am sure at least 5 more posts will follow in approximately 13.76 picoseconds and those last 5 pathetic words can also be elevated to the ranks of hyperlinks.


Election Thoughts

Have seen Rakesh Sharma's documentary (with axe to grind, doubtless) "The Final Solution". Excerpt:

More available on YouTube, see the "Related Videos" link for the above.

The BJP variety of "cultural nationalism" is really vomit inducing, as these types of -isms tend to be. A sick vomit, full of sadness and despair. Lumps of undigested history, chunky and chewy; bile distilled from grievances real and imagined; all held together by a viscous, retch-inducing goo of misguided religion, "culture" and propaganda.

Unfortunately, we aren't flush with alternatives (even if almost anything is better).

Thank goodness for having grown up in Amherst, MA and Cambridge, MA, and to Hyderabad, AP for more recent epiphanies.

Today comes this. WTF is going on? Help.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Room With A View

These (more or less) used to be the views from my (corner) office (on the 13th floor of 5 Cambridge Center in 2003-2004.

View Larger Map

This is view from current office.

View Larger Map

O Fortuna
velut luna
statu variabilis,
semper crescis
aut decrescis;
vita detestabilis
nunc obdurat
et tunc curat
ludo mentis aciem,
dissolvit ut glaciem.

This lament is more familiar to us from childhood TV ads with these lyrics, of course.

O-oooo-ld Sp-iiiiiiice
Old Spice,
Old Spice,
Old Spice,
Old Spice,
O-ooooooo-ld Sp-iiiiiiice

Monday, March 23, 2009

Monsters Lynx

There be monsters here

A survey of monsters (i.e. blogspawn) has been in progress. Sample size: 2. Images highly grainy owing to cell phone.

I. Spaniard has already posted about her's. Since it is after all a Spaniard child, we should call him El Cid, neh? All we have to add is photos of Glide Airlines, with the founder excavating pasta and drinking beer ('ginger' silent) in the background.

Apparently the undercarriage of the contraption is vitally important for obscure aeronautical reasons or something, and had to be photographed.

II. Kenny of course owns original copyright on the "monster" label. We provide photographic evidence. Here are mother and child doing homework. Points for guessing which is which.

III. No monsters here, but certain readers will be aware of how mawkish we got on a train ride a couple of weeks back. Somewhere in Karnataka, this thunderstorm descended on us. It was quite spectacular.

This is a good time to think once again about that obscure piece by Khushwant Singh about rain in India.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

European Literature

Came across Umberto Eco's most brilliant, but perhaps least known work about his frustrations with his grandfather clock. It's called 'Fuckall Pendulum'.

Hee hee.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Do You Have A Flag?

Have I ever told you about the Strange Maps blog? An source of endless diversion. The post that made me want to make sure that all and Sundari are informed about this blog is the latest one on maps fighting World War II. Absolutely brilliant.

The map fighting thing reminds me rather of the brilliant Izzard's flag video:

While we're at it, Abstruse Goose ROCKS!! Your inner physicist/programmer/mathematician will be thrilled to bits and bytes. Give it a gander (heh heh).

Friday, March 06, 2009

Here We Stand, We Can Do No Other


I. The Secret of Happiness

Surrender at the feet of the Lord.

Heh. Yeah, right.

If you're able to read this blog, you really don't have a reason to complain, do you? If you are Indian and reading this blog, you are one amongst the 5% or thereabouts who

(i) belongs to the right economic and social class
(ii) has the necessary level of education
(iii) has the right kinds of freedom (from gender-based and other discrimination)
(iv) has the luxury of time on your hands (and presumably full stomach, roof over head, iPod in armpit and so on)

So what, exactly, are you whining about (if you are in the whining trade, that is)? Take a look around, pick almost anyone on the street and odds are they are bearing burdens that make yours carry-on baggage. Think about it.

II. Really, There is No Help

No answers anywhere. The existentialists possibly had this one covered. Just deal. And see this video, it's quite refreshing for perspective.

III. The Really Important Stuff

Thanks to RamTek and Her Serpentine African Highness for the pointers.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Public Service Announcements

Alive and well, pretty busy over the last week or so. Couple of things that may be of interest to public.

1. Ram uvaacha:

Dear All,

If you or your company can donate some old laptops (in working condition of course) to Puvidham it would be a lot of help. I have finally started using computers as part of the school here in Puvidham and I find it will be of use to the children in their learning process. We here at Puvidham are looking at computers as an additional tool (along with books) to help children learn better things like language, mathematics and science.

I am now embarking on a trial of the software created by Educational Initiatives called Mindspark which is a adaptive program to help children learn school mathematics better. Through interaction it is intelligent enough to pose appropriate problems to children. I view this program as an addition to the teacher's efforts so that children master mathematics. For this trial we need additional machines (currently we have only 3 computers in our school).

Why laptops?
a.. We need at least 7 machines to making the learning process meaningful (two students per machine for a class). The physical infrastructure needed in terms of space and rooms for setting up 7 machines is expensive. We can just put away the laptops in an almirah after use.

b.. Laptops are less power hungry and we don't have to worry about UPS etc. We in fact are planning to charge the laptops while they are stored in the almirah through solar power.

c.. Puvidham is not a dust free environment. It is difficult to maintain PCs. We plan to store the laptops in a dust free almirah (a steel cupboard).


2. K-Circle, ye olde venerable association of quizzers is hosting the full day K-Circle Quiz Fest on Saturday, 7 March 2009 at the Khemka Auditorium in ISB. It's apparently "Bigger, Tougher, Wittier". Readers will be aware that we are currently defending champions of the thing ;) but may or may not be around to defend titles. Visit KC website for details on timings, registrations etc.

Monday, February 16, 2009

In Solidarity

der aaye par durust aaye?

1. All hail loose, pubgoing, forward women.

Long live the Pink Chaddis. Jai Ho. Hope everyone had a suitably talli day. We had a steak.

2. Via a piece over at Nirmukta, we come to know of a piece, over at The Independent. Johann Hari wrote something called "Why Should I Respect These Oppressive Religions". The Statesman in Calcutta re-printed it.

A bunch of Muslims protested the article, at first peacefully, and then later with embellishments such as blocking roads and attacking policemen (according to this report). Which also seems to have resulted in the arrest of the publisher and the editor. This is apparently what passes for freedom of opinion in these parts nowadays. Hari continues to be unapologetic.

Hari's original piece criticized how certain countries did not seem to find the Universal Declaration of Human Rights good enough, and wrote one of their own. This is a fairly side-splittingly funny read. Basically a mostly "normal" rights document...
2(a) ...Life is a God-given gift and the right to life is guaranteed to every human being. It is the duty of individuals, societies and states to safeguard this right against any violation, and it is prohibited to take away life...
2(d) ...Safety from bodily harm is a guaranteed right. It is the duty of the state to safeguard it, and it is prohibited to breach it...
12 ...Every man shall have the free movement and to select his place of residence whether within or outside his country and if persecuted, is entitled to seek asylum in another country...
16 ... Everyone shall have the right to enjoy the fruits of his scientific, literary, artistic or technical labour of which he is the author; and he shall have the right to the protection of his moral and material interests stemming therefrom, ...
22(a)...Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely...
Except of course, that in full they read
2(a) Life is a God-given gift and the right to life is guaranteed to every human being. It is the duty of individuals, societies and states to safeguard this right against any violation, and it is prohibited to take away life except for a shari'ah prescribed reason.
2(d) Safety from bodily harm is a guaranteed right. It is the duty of the state to safeguard it, and it is prohibited to breach it without a Shari'ah-prescribed reason.
12 Every man shall have the right, within the framework of the Shari'ah, to free movement and to select his place of residence whether within or outside his country and if persecuted, is entitled to seek asylum in another country.
16 Everyone shall have the right to enjoy the fruits of his scientific, literary, artistic or technical labour of which he is the author; and he shall have the right to the protection of his moral and material interests stemming therefrom, provided it is not contrary to the principles of the Shari'ah.
22(a) Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Shari'ah.
In other words, everything is permitted, except what is not. Sigh. Of course, in the interest of being equal opportunity offenders, we should say that the Ram Sene version of the UDHR will likely be equally entertaining.

This whole idea of respecting everything is problematic, to say the least. A brief discussion happened in the comments over at CSM's some time back. A relevant link to British philosopher Simon Blackburn's 25 page essay, "Religion and Respect". Excerpts:
'Respect' of course is a tricky term. I may respect your gardening by just letting you get on with it. Or, I may respect it by admiring it and regarding it as a superior way to garden. The word seems to span a spectrum, from simply not interfering, passing by on the other side, through admiration, right up to reverence and deference. This makes it uniquely well-placed for ideological purposes. People might start out by insisting on respect in the minimal sense, and in a generally liberal world they may not find it too difficult to obtain it. But then what we might call respect creep sets in, where the request for minimal toleration turns into a demand for more substantial respect, such as fellow-feeling, or esteem, and finally deference and reverence. In the limit, unless you let me take over your mind and your life, you are not showing proper respect for my religious or ideological convictions...
...We can respect, in the minimal sense of tolerating, those who hold false beliefs. We can pass by on the other side. We need not be concerned to change them, and in a liberal society we do not seek to suppress them or silence them. But once we are convinced that a belief is false, or even just that it is irrational, we cannot respect in any thicker sense those who hold it--not on account of their holding it. We may respect them for all sorts of other qualities, but not that one. We would prefer them to change their minds.
Well put, we thought.

Friday, February 13, 2009

PJ du jour

This one is thanks to Shweta, who reports that she sounds like this gentleman. Rudimentary knowledge of Tamizh cinema is helpful.

If Kamal Haasan played Luke Skywalker in a Tamizh version of "Return of the Jedi", what would it be called?

Vader Magan

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why Ludwig Ought To Feel Happier About The One

0. We've generally been known to be somewhat (uncharacteristically) cynical about The One. "What's the big deal?", "How would things be any different if Hillary had won, or for that matter any Democrat?" etc. type koschans have been used to needle people their warmfuzziness about Him. However someone (who will mysteriously be referred to as The Giggler, on account of apparently uncontrollable gigglings at the thought of the Kwisatz Haderach in the White House), used this highly effective angle of attack to illustrate her point (chat transcript follows):
G: lets put it this way
G: it is like how your friends and family would feel

G: if you were dating a bollywood bimbo and then decided to date nandita das
G: she might not change the world
but atleast it is nice
very nice, warm and fuzzy

G: for everyone

G: so now you see the source of all the giggles

G: we are still making bollywood movies
but with nandita das
and not amrita rao
or kareena kapoor
Highly effective, non? Kinda see the point now.

May He bring balance to the Force. With or without mitochondria. Or is it midi-chlorians? WTF was Georgie Porgie smoking?

1. Ironic newspaper headline of the year award (via CSM) goes to this one:
Name your children in Tamil: Stalin

2. Cosmic Variance, has a highly readable piece called The Sacred. Sean Carroll writes about the problem he sees with using words like "sacred" and "spiritual" to qualify things we say about the wonders of the cosmos.
...When you start talking about “spirituality,” people are going to take you to mean something that goes beyond the laws of nature, in the sense of being incompatible with them, not just “hard to understand in terms of them” — something supernatural...
...The puzzles of human life, and our mutual sense of wonder, and a feeling of awe when confronted with the cosmos, are all perfectly respectable topics for discussion. And there exists perfectly respectable vocabularies for discussing them, that don’t come laden with unfortunate supernatural overtones: literature, anthropology, psychology, the arts, and so on. There is a huge disadvantage to throwing around words like “sacred” and “spiritual,” in that you will very frequently be understood (misunderstood, one hopes) to be talking about the supernatural...
...But there is a deeper point, which is consistently missed by the gentle-minded/accommodationist/agnostic/liberal-religious/sophisticated-theology segment of the debate: It’s Not About You. Richard Dawkins was not addressing this kind of touchy-feely non-interventionist religion, for the excellent reason that it doesn’t match up with what the overwhelming majority of religious believers actually believe...
There are lots of comments that argue both sides of Carroll's point, and are quite engrossing. There's a link in the article to another earlier and longer piece called The God Conundrum which is also quite interesting.

This is all apropos of a couple of weeks old post and back and forth (in the comments) at chez SVyas that one hasn't found the time, internet connection, or lucid thought to post a comment on.

3. The Mumbai Half Marathon was duly attempted again this year. Kenny has the dope. We did better time than last year, but Lud. lost the mindgame, as was widely reported in Indian media. The whole 2:00:00 mark is turning into an obsession. So we did precisely nothing about it and have been sitting and increasing the size of butt for the last week. Passing it off as post-event depression. The sandbagging dolphin also ran, cold turkey, and is rumored to have finished.

Post run, much fun came, in the form of beer and bowling in the company of Kenny, monster, CSM, and various other juntae.

4. One side-effect of having to pick up the bib was that we lost our way and somehow ended up in Strand Book Stall in Fort. They happened to be having their annual sale. Strange coincidence. 3 books that must be mentioned, since we haven't done lists in so long
  • Predictably Irrational - which came to us via NPR. Sounded fascinating on the radio, deals with such things as
    Do you know why we so often promise ourselves to diet and exercise, only to have the thought vanish when the dessert cart rolls by?

    Do you know why we sometimes find ourselves excitedly buying things we don’t really need?

    Do you know why we still have a headache after taking a five-cent aspirin, but why that same headache vanishes when the aspirin costs 50 cents?

    Do you know why people who have been asked to recall the Ten Commandments tend to be more honest (at least immediately afterward) than those who haven’t? Or why honor codes actually do reduce dishonesty in the workplace?
  • Ambedkar: Towards an Enlightened India
  • Dreams of a Final Theory - The Scientist's Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature by Stephen Weinberg. Fascinating book, even if somewhat difficult to read in parts on account of the physics. From the Amazon page:
    In his celebrated book The First Three Minutes (Basic, 1977; 1988, reprint) Nobel laureate Weinberg wrote the ominous and oft-quoted remark "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless." This book can be seen as his response to that remark after 15 years of reflection and scientific progress. Weinberg writes with great hope and clarity about the possibility that science can find a universal theory uniting the laws of nature into a single statement that is mathematically, philosophically, and aesthetically complete. His writing is technical in places, and some of the first-person narratives come off as less than humble, but overall Weinberg offers excellent insights on how such a theory could be realized and what it would mean. Especially engaging are his chapters, "Beautiful Theories" and "What About God?" Other books have been written on this subject (e.g., Paul Davies's Superforce , LJ 11/15/84; John Barrow's Theories of Everything , Oxford Univ. Pr., 1991; and Barry Parker's Search for a Supertheory , Plenum, 1987), but Weinberg's is likely to have the highest demand. Highly recommended.
    Weinberg has some interesting cribs with philosophers and devotes the "Against Philosophy" chapter to it.
    The value today of philosophy to physics seems to me to be something like the value of early nation-states to their peoples. It is only a small exaggeration to say that, until the introduction of the post office, the chief service of nation-states was to protect their peoples from other nation-states. The insights of philosophers have occasionally benefited physicists, but generally in a negative fashion—by protecting them from the preconceptions of other philosophers...

    ...Wittgenstein remarked that "nothing seems to me less likely than that a scientist or mathematician who reads me should be seriously influenced in the way he works."...

    ...Even where philosophical doctrines have in the past been useful to scientists, they have generally lingered on too long, becoming of more harm than ever they were of use...
    He writes about the problems he has with metaphysics (causing people to hang on to ideas/ideologies long after they've ceased to be useful) and epistemology (specifically logical positivism and it's demand that all aspects of scientific theories must refer to quantities that are (in principle) observable). The biggest problem he has, though, is with what he calls relativism.
    Metaphysics and epistemology have at least been intended to play a constructive role in science. In recent years science has come under attack from unfriendly commentators joined under the banner of relativism. The philosophical relativists deny the claim of science to the discovery of objective truth; they see it as merely another social phenomenon, not fundamentally different from a fertility cult or a potlatch.
    Philosophical relativism stems in part from the discovery by philosophers and historians of science that there is a large subjective element in the process by which scientific ideas become accepted. We have seen here the role that aesthetic judgments play in the acceptance of new physical theories. This much is an old story to scientists (though philosophers and historians sometimes write as if we were utterly naive about this)...

    ...It is simply a logical fallacy to go from the observation that science is a social process to the conclusion that the final product, our scientific theories, is what it is because of the social and historical forces acting in this process. A party of mountain climbers may argue over the best path to the peak, and these arguments may be conditioned by the history and social structure of the expedition, but in the end either they find a good path to the peak or they do not, and when they get there they know it...

    ...I suspect that Gerald Holton is close to the truth in seeing the radical attack on science as one symptom of a broader hostility to Western civilization that has bedeviled Western intellectuals from Oswald Spengler on. Modern science is an obvious target for this hostility; great art and literature have sprung from many of the world's civilizations, but ever since Galileo scientific research has been overwhelmingly dominated by the West.
    This hostility seems to me to be tragically misdirected. Even the most frightening Western applications of science such as nuclear weapons represent just one more example of mankind's timeless efforts to destroy itself with whatever weapons it can devise. Balancing this against the benign applications of science and its role in liberating the human spirit, I think that modern science, along with democracy and contrapuntal music, is something that the West has given the world in which we should take special pride.
    In the end this issue will disappear. Modern scientific methods and knowledge have rapidly diffused to non-Western countries like Japan and India and indeed are spreading throughout the world. We can look forward to the day when science can no longer be identified with the West but is seen as the shared possession of humankind...
    If this sort of thing interests you, the entire chapter is available for download here. (PDF) Phew. Too much cutting and pasting only. Lots of videos of Weinberg are also available.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Shit Happens

But there are ways of dealing with it, if you want to. Highly readable post at Siva's.

Happy 2009, all.