Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dell-uding People?

I have bought 2 Dell laptops. One was in 2004, for a princely $2k types, in the US. Inspiron 8600. Lovely screen for writing code. Another was for the sibling, a couple of years later, also from the US.

Both turned out to be pretty delicate physically. Keys pop off, battery dies, power adapter stops working, something or the other gets fried. Dell is reputed for super-efficient customer service in India, I think the chief reason is that they need it. Of course, warranties are carefully written to precisely not cover the exact WTF that just happened to you.

In any case, we are in need of some machines at work and one of the things we were looking at is the Dell Vostro V130, supposed to be a lightweight travel friendly beast etc. Of course, glossy photographs and soothing marketing is listed on the website.

Who cares? The first-ish questions that come to anyone buying a computer are "How much RAM?" and "How much disk space?" Now the site says that this model is "From Rs. 37,290", but nary a mention of how much of the aforementioned juice one gets.

The kicker is that there's a "Tech Specs" tab, and perhaps it is reasonable to expect RAM and disk size to be available there. Nothing. Zilch.

So unless I've been doing something drastically wrong, epic fail by Dell. May this post be easily found on the internets before someone tries to buy one...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On Pleasing Women - A Quantitative Treatment

Exhibit A


Payyan: gundu malli rendu rubai, un koonthal eri uthirum poo kodi rubai
Pen: panchu mittai anju rubai, nee paathi thindru thantetal latche rubai

Translation (mine, bear with me)

Guy: Jasmine flowers, market price Rs. 2; if they are from your locks, Rs. 10,000,000.
Girl: Some kind of candy, Rs. 5; you eat half and give me, Rs. 100,000

A brief calculation shows that the boy derives joy magnified 5,000,000 times when the item in question has passed via the girl, whereas the girl's joy is only multiplied 40,000 times in the reverse scenario.

All further derivations and conclusions are left as exercises for the interested reader.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Readings du Jour

  • Sean Carroll skims over many, many thought provoking questions in Avignon Day 3: Reductionism
    Of course it’s difficult to describe people using Schrodinger’s equation, but that’s not evidence that our behavior is actually incompatible with a reductionist description. To believe otherwise you have to believe that somewhere along the progression from particles to atoms to molecules to proteins to cells to organisms, physical systems begin to violate the microscopic laws of physics. At what point is that supposed to happen? And what evidence is there supposed to be?

  • A delightful little piece on Israel-North Korea relations! In the early 90s, apparently the Israeli Foreign Ministry tried to persuade the North Koreans to not sell missile technologies to Israel's enemies.
    Enter Mossad. Israel's spy agency got wind of this plan, and rushed to Pyongyang to stop it. In a moment of high black farce, the two Israeli delegations each only learned that the other had been in town as well when they bumped into each other on the plane back to Beijing afterwards. (The foreign ministry officials were seated in first class, while Mossad had to slum it in tourist class.)
    Bush the younger - Kim Jong-bush, shall we call him? - made many a fateful policy choice. This is one of his less famous ones, but it may yet turn out to be up there with invading Iraq.

  • Terry Eagleton, whom I first came across in this critical review of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, where he distinguished himself with such drivel as
    Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.

    This, not some super-manufacturing, is what is traditionally meant by the claim that God is Creator. He is what sustains all things in being by his love; and this would still be the case even if the universe had no beginning. To say that he brought it into being ex nihilo is not a measure of how very clever he is, but to suggest that he did it out of love rather than need.

    Whaddeva. But this piece on Marx is actually readable and interesting.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Most Random Wordplay Ever

This occurred to me once on a train.

If you take DE JUNC out of ERODE JUNCTION, you're left with EROTION.

Go on, say it out loud, like this, "If you take the junk out of Erode Junction, you're left with erosion."


Monday, April 18, 2011

Fasting - A Data Driven Approach

Via Facebook via Salil Tripathi via Patrick French, comes this spreadsheet. The important extract is the following:

In a convenient graphical form, it is like so:

Special mention goes out to Krishnamurthi R Rao, Garbini and Dantavakra for asking an Irom Sharmila question at a quiz, and special mention goes out to Spacebar for being one of the literal handful in the audience who knew the answer.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

A Quiz is Just a Quiz

An abridged version appears here.


The first time I realized that QED was not just an ordinary quiz team any more was at the national finals of the massively popular Landmark Quiz in 2009. The quizmaster, Chennai’s very own Navin Jayakumar, was calling the finalists on stage and the audience didn’t seem to care beyond some desultory clapping. That is, until QED were announced. Upon which a startlingly loud cheer rang through the Music Academy. Since when do the socially inept, stereotypically awkward, geeky, bookworm types have whistling, clapping fans in the galleries? This was new.

Everyone in the “quizzing circuit” knows about the rise and rise of QED. They started when they were students at PS Senior, cleverly (so they thought) borrowing their name from a familiar schoolroom trope. Version 1.0 first tasted success on the big stage when they won the Landmark Quiz. The vagaries of academics caused the team to split, and after trying out a few combinations, they settled into the current configuration in 2005 and appear to cruising ever since.

The team members know why their combination works so well. G. Swaminathan says, “Like any good team, it’s probably because we have such a varied and non-overlapping set of interests. And thankfully each of us seems to have more than one area that we care deeply about, which means we cover a broad range of subjects, to a fair degree of depth.”

V.V.Ramanan, Assistant Editor (Sports) at The Hindu and doyen of the Madras/Chennai quizzing circle, is the senior statesman and self-described dinosaur on the team. “I went to PS Senior myself, and when I was asked to join QED, it was great partly because it meant that we were still the ‘PS Possé’.” Ramanan is the quizmaster of the wildly popular Young World Quiz for schools. “Preparing for Young World helps me in QED, because I come across many things which are at a school level that are asked in open quizzes that end up stumping seasoned quizzers.”

There is no secret sauce behind their success. Writer and journalist Samanth Subramanian says, “We do read a lot as a matter of course. For example, in college I took courses in art history simply because I was so thrilled that I could. Because I had so much fun learning, it all stuck so much better. When we find something really ‘quiz type’ maybe we’ll spend an extra 5 minutes and navigate an extra couple of links, but not much beyond that. When we were going through a rough patch once we did try to ‘mug’ more systematically, but it was a drudge and we gave it up.”

Oddly enough, it appears as though the idiosyncrasies they bring to the stage may have a greater impact on their performance than any preparation! They have a vaastu configuration for how they arrange themselves; Samanth will wear an ancient baseball cap of dubious provenance rotated to a “just so” orientation; Ramanan used to sport “lucky” dark glasses. They listen very carefully to every question, but they also observe the reactions of their opponents, whose strengths and proclivities they know, to figure out bits and pieces of the answer when they are stumped.

Navin has seen the players and the team evolve over the decades, and sums it up with an apt metaphor. “The Venn diagram of their skills is just perfect. They individually ‘cover’ large independent areas of knowledge; at the same time they intersect to exactly the right extent which helps them work out answers and corroborate each other’s hunches. Secondly, their attitude helps. While other teams’ shoulders sag when they’re not doing well, QED somehow have the stamina to keep the intensity fully turned on throughout, and they don’t ever give up even if they are behind on score. It’s the sort of attitude that the Indian middle order displayed in the World Cup at 31 for 2! Finally, they seem to enjoy the quizzing, no matter what. This makes my life easier as a quizmaster, because quizzes are more fun for the participants and the audience when there is a little bit of banter between the people on stage, rather than a mechanical Q&A session. And I think their joie de vivre and sportsmanship are palpable and go down well with the audience who always love a sporting winner, which may explain the cheering.”

It’s an odd feeling, having to write about friends and on-and-off rivals. On the one hand there is the delicious thought that the day will come soon when QED’s memory banks will fire blanks, and maybe my team will have one menace less to worry about. On the other hand, inasmuch as quizzing can be a “performance art”, they do dish out regular virtuoso performances. And even if Samanth’s (“I’m the only single guy on the team.”) fond dreams that some day hordes of nubile quiz groupies will beat down the doors of his dressing room and drape themselves around him will hopefully never come to fruition, one hopes that this quiz team with a vocal “mass support base” will continue to entertain and challenge us in many more quizzes.

Friday, April 01, 2011

a.m. Thoughts on Thermopylae

For some reason, this occurred to me when in the shower today.

The achievement at Thermopylae was not that a 300 highly trained fanatic clones were able to defend a narrow pass for 3 days; it was that some genius of a quartermaster/s managed to supply and support an invading army of hundreds of thousands, comprised of soldiers from vastly different cultures, and some genius of a commander/s managed to keep them motivated and fighting, thousands of kilometres from their homes.

When Hannibal and Alexander do it, it's a great feat of arms and leadership, but when when Xerxes I does it a full 150 years before Alexander, it's all about those 300?! Bah!