Friday, May 30, 2008

Thoughts of the day

No, I am not going to put philosophical or humorous quotes from various known and unknown people now. If at all, I like to make themselves up. Actually they come up by themselves, in the midst of chatter with friends. Perhaps will make a post out of them as well in the future. (end digression).

How many times have we stopped to think about how many thoughts are going across the world at any instant of time? Perhaps a few billions of them? Isn't it just amazing how diverse the emotions and topics involved could be? Well, at least I had not thought on such lines till I got to see this site. Hmm, may be once before, when PostSecret did something similar: started bringing out the darkest of human thoughts to the open. They were shocking, or funny, or outrageous, or sometimes a combination of all; but they gave an idea of what all a human could possibly think of.

Seeing that these are real thoughts of real people out there in this vast world, you just can't help but feel awe of all the different emotions that humans are capable of. So many things to bother about, so many people in our lives, so many phenomena, so many activities! Phew! Awe. Yes, that's the word. Perhaps you are just amused at my child-like colon-wo-ing, so as to say. Or may be you will agree. Or perhaps you are thinking of something I might not have ever imagined. Sites like this make you think that the latter could be quite probable, don't they?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The mommy stereotype

This happened on my trip to Switzerland a few months back. After a day of sightseeing, my mother and I were on the train back to Zurich, wrapping up our travel for the day. A station or so later, we find a woman, perhaps in her late 20's or early 30's, enter the compartment with three kids on tow and no one else to accompany. This surely struck us as something not so common. Firstly, the fact that she had three kids, all of them quite small (and no twins or a triplet for sure), and the fact that she had to manage all the three of them alone.

Swiss trains have this family compartment in them which has a kids playing area with stuff like slides and toy cars. The eldest had gone over to play slide with an another girl in the compartment. The middle one was left to drive a toy car with one more kid, who was refusing to give him the driver's seat (Some sort of a first come first serve mechanism, I would guess!). That made him all angry and the two got into a fight. The third was still an infant which had to be held on by the mother, while she had to separate the kid fighting. And while the kid was fighting, the youngest started crying, and she had to breastfeed it, while the ticket checker came and was asking her for the tickets. It really amazed us as to how calmly she was able to handle all this commotion. My mom went forward to help her, but that I guess that was more out of an assumed sympathy. The woman looked completely in control, not even slightly perturbed or irritated. Not even panic, when the fighting kid later came over to his seat and lied down on it to only roll and fall down. While the two of us let out a gasp of shock at the kid falling, she calmly looked down, and realised that nothing had gone wrong.

Some people cross our lives and make us smile. Like she did when she finally got down an hour later, with the three kids following her. Stereotypes talk highly of the quintessential Indian mother who is the very epitome of patience and endurance, while the Western woman is considered her antithesis. Yet, we don't know too many Indian mothers today who would like to parent three small kids like these. As my mother pointed out to me, "And I have the woman in the neighbouring flat pour out her agony on the miserable train trip she had with her only kid alongside her and curse her hubby for not being able to accompany"! So much for our preconceived notions of people...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ominous Sign #3

Of being too attached to the Internet...

Your friend, at X, needs to know the local time,
The friend asks you, a few time zones away, on chat,
You Google for "What is the time at X" and tell the answer.

Friday, May 16, 2008


Early morning philosophy...

Thousand issues to grace your life,
Hundred problems troubling your head,
Ten crises for you to lose sleep over,
And an espresso to keep you kicking in office.

Apparently a double espresso makes you a zombie and you lose out on such poeticism :)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Gopuram

(This was a play I wrote as a part of a Playwright Workshop held in Bloomberg. It's was enacted out by professionals from the SOHO theatre on the ides of last April. I waited so that I could put a video of the play, but turned out that unfortunately mine alone was not recorded, as it was held in a different place -- The idea was to hold it in a 'open' sort of a place with the artistes mingling with the rest of audience and acting it out while the audience moves along with the actors.. Sort of created the 'temple ambience'. The play was quite well received, thanks to the actors who did an awesome job!)

Aditi, Swati: Female
Mahesh, Aditya, Mike: Male
All characters in their late twenties.

Scene opens in South India inside a temple. A south Indian couple is walking along the pathways inside, along side a young German. There are clear skies above, with an occasional chirp of the birds, and a gentle breeze blowing across. The walk is pretty brisk, but the German keeps falling back now and then, while the Indian couple waits for him chattering amongst themselves.

Mahesh: So, yeah.. there's this place in the middle where the statue is kept.. The most sacred place, while there are pathways going around it in circles where people walk. Walking around these is supposed to be a good thing to do. And the tower atop the entrance, that's called the Gopuram. Almost every South Indian temple has one. Actually every Indian temple has one, but they vary in size and style. Supposedly even looking at it relieves you of all sins you have committed.

Mike: Interesting.. Well, yeah, all this is pretty new to me, but there's one thing I do observe. There's a certain air of serenity over here.. the low buzz, and the temple bell.. The occasional laughter.. It's quite calming, away from the drone of city life. And hey, Indian girls look pretty good in traditional dresses (chuckles).

Swati who was otherwise just observing things around and praying to all deities was caught blushing for a fraction of a second. Mahesh almost missed it.

Mahesh: Oh well.. yeah.. Well.. that's pretty much a flash introduction to Indian temples for you.

Swati is looking around and suddenly notices a person. A bright smile comes up on her, then a confused reaction, and as if impulsively, she finally calls out loud..

Swati: Hey Aditi!

An another South Indian couple pause on their tracks, look back and start moving slowly towards them. Aditi mirrors the same confusion as Swati had a second earlier, and beams up suddenly..

Aditi: Hi Swati, and hi Mahesh! Been a long time.. When did you guys turn up here?

Swati: Oh.. just a couple days back. Been missing my parents of late, so nudged him to bring me down.

Mahesh smiles gently, and adds hurriedly, as if he had forgotten all along.

Mahesh: And oh, this is Mike. Mike is my colleague and he was planning a holiday in India, and we thought we could meet up here.

Mike: Hello Aditi (finding it tough to pronounce her name). And...

Aditi: My husband, Aditya.

Mike: Hi Aditya. Nice fun being here, really...

Swati: Aditi and Mahesh were in the same college during their undergrad days.

Mahesh smiles. He pauses and addresses the others after a second..

Mahesh: Why don't we keep walking?

Aditya: (Speaking in a distinct baritone) Oh yes, let's do that.. I think the temple is going to close pretty soon.

Swati: (To Aditi) You were at Connecticut right?

Aditi: Oh yeah, an year back. I didn't like the place that much. Pretty much lonely for an Chennai girl used to all the chatter in this city. One fine day, Aditya showed me his resignation letter and said 'Let's go!' (imitating this voice). I didn't know whether to get angry or feel elated. But well, he hadn't told me because I wouldn't have allowed him to stop doing something which he dearly loved. So, we came back and he is working here now...

Swati: Sweet of him.

Aditi: Yeah...

Aditi smiled, but not able to hide a streak of sadness in that. Aditya's voice came a bit to the foreground by now.

Aditya: True, but well, things are looking up in India as well. I guess that's something we should be appreciating.

Mike seemed more interested in capturing more of the colourful place.

Mike: Sad that I am not allowed to take pictures in here. I was told that that's against tradition. You guys must be finding life tough in such a conservative society, right?

Aditya: Well, yes and no. Conservatism is more a shade of grey. Works sometimes though. Take arranged marriages for example. Many claim that its hugely responsible for the low divorce rates in India.

Mahesh: Well, I would say you are painting a rosy picture. Marriages here succeed, more because perhaps women here are more tolerant and work hard to maintain the relationship. On the other hand, lot of youngsters here have their lives shattered because of the resistance the society offers to love marriages.

Aditya: Perhaps, but I am sure many people, like us, are quite happy with arranged marriages.

An odd Indian girl continued to trance Mike once in a while. He slowly drifted, wandering about the temple.

Aditya: So, what's your job about, Mahesh? (pauses) Mahesh?

Mahesh: Oh.. Uh.. sorry, I just kept looking at those birds over there. Nice they are, aren't they? (Pause) Anyway, what did you ask?

Aditya appears a bit intrigued, but continues...

Aditya: Oh.. was just asking about your job... (Pause) Oh god! I just remembered! (To the rest) I have to ask the temple authorities about a donation I need to make. I will be back in a couple of minutes.

Swati: Sure.. uh.. Mahesh.. I will wash my hands and come in a moment.

Aditi tried to say something to her, but stopped short. Swati turns back and walks towards a tap at one end. Aditi and Mahesh keep staring at Swati moving, though their eyes seem to be fixed into empty space. Aditi abruptly breaks to a sob. Mahesh swiftly holds her face in his hands and kisses her lips. Aditi's face contorted to a fury for perhaps a quarter of a second before it quickly mellowed to sadness, while she wipes her tears just in time for Aditya to come back. Swati joins them a moment later.

Aditya: Well, job done.

Aditi still seems in a state of shock.

Aditya: (To Aditi) Hey, what's wrong?

Aditi: (Recovering herself) N.. Nothing..

Swati: (Moving closer to Aditi, embracing her) Hey, heard you had a son last year? Where's he?!

Aditi: (Smiling a bit) Yeah, we named him Mahendran. I call him Mahi. He is at my mom's place now. We came over when she was ready to take care of him. And you? We haven't heard about you two as yet?

Swati: (Glances at Mahesh) Oh, none as yet. We thought we could let a few years pass before we think of kids of our own. Hmm.. Mahi.. nice name.

Aditya: Wow! She finally got some company! I was convinced that there couldn't have been a crazier way to call someone. But for some reason, she just loves that name. There are at least a dozen more things we have which she calls by the same name.

Swati: Well, yeah, people have their whims. Take Mahesh, he would never change his watch. For that matter, he doesn't remove it for long. He sleeps with it, and bathes with it on. I am thankful that it is waterproof. Well, the habit is pretty harmless, so I am OK with it.

Mahesh: Yeah, I guess it sounds fairly ridiculous. But it sort of feels incomplete without that watch on. Has been with me for years now.

Aditya: Interesting.. Perhaps there is something emotional about it. We should discuss it sometime, preferably when Swati isn't uncomfortably close to you for you to be disclosing it (Winks).

Mahesh lets out a short laugh, while Swati tries to look grim, but unable to suppress a smile.

Mike: Hey, you know what. I just saw an Indian wedding here. Just the couple were there though. You used to tell me that Indian weddings are elaborate ceremonies, with the most traditional of them spanning even five days?

Aditya: I would suspect that they are getting secretively married. Most probably their families wouldn't have approved of them marrying.

Aditi: Pretty sad it is, to see people just throw away their families like that. I find it distressing to think of ignoring your parents like that.

Mahesh: May be they just couldn't think of being separated. You can't really blame them, you know. You might think of your families, and concede. But there is no guarantee that you might, at some point turn back, look at your life, and think -- "What's the point in leading a life with much of your happiness vanishing to thin air, all because the society forced you?!". I, like anyone else, try to lead a life pursuing happiness. As far as I can think, that pretty much defines why I live in the first place. But what life spins around me is a web of complications which end up contradicting its very existence. You forge relationships, either because they exist, or because they keep you happy. You are grown to follow your culture. You believe that your traditions help you lead a life. But you end up with conflicting relationships, rigid societies, and inapplicable traditions -- all of them individually adding so many constraints to what you do, that they defeat the purpose they are here for: to make your life better. Its all as if some big magic has been pulled over your eyes. Except that it smells more like con, rather than magic. You do what you think is good for you, but all your deeds sometimes end up entangling your life beyond any recognition.

Aditi: Yes, a tangle it is. But it is perhaps best to make do with whatever good you get out of all that. Relationships, Societies, Traditions.. they might all cause problems, but their absence might be a bigger problem. We are meant to coexist. It doesn't really imply that just having your way all the time is bound to make your life happy. You might live the life you wanted, but if to achieve that, you might have trashed other dreams, broken hearts and made others shed tears. In that case, you will forever be haunted by your conscience. Having your way is no good when you can't live peacefully. I might not have got what I wanted in my life, but there's a minimum denominator of happiness which still floats around. I have a conscience, and I did what was right according to it. That peace of mind will perhaps brighten up my life slowly, but surely. I would still have memories and unfulfilled dreams, but I would slowly work to actively live with them, and make them a source of strength and happiness to me. That's a confidence this couple might never get.

Aditya: Well.. lots to think about, I am sure! I think its better we leave. I promised my relatives I would be there at their place. I better not get them wild!

The couples bid farewell to each other, and Aditya walks out. Aditi follows him.

Aditya: (To Aditi) I would think that Mahesh once loved someone, and couldn't end up being with her finally. I guess he must be having a tough time keeping it to himself. You know, must have been pretty emotional for him, so I thought it might be better to break up the topic. Why should we end up creating a rift amongst the couple!

Aditi nods, while Aditya moves a bit forward. Aditi turns back to throw a longing look at Mahesh, and then looks up to the Gopuram while moving out.

Swati: (To Mahesh) Thirty seconds. That's all I could get you.

Mahesh gently takes Swati's hand, with a tear trickling down his eye.

Swati: She used to call you Mahi?

Mahesh sighs and nods.

Mahesh: The name has been to her, what the watch, which she once tied to my hand, has been to me.

Swati smiles.

Mahesh: Thanks. For everything.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Top three ways to become famous

In (vastly) decreasing order of effectiveness...
  1. Be crazy.
  2. Be bad.
  3. Be good.
And this led me to this realization. I often hear that it's a crazy world. I am joining that club...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Creative Tamil Lyricists

Sometimes Tamil songs get quite weird and funny. This is one of the latest songs.. 'Aatthi Chuvadi' from 'Chakravyooham' (The music is great by the way, Karthik Raja rocks!). The song I guess is a peppy song about youngsters boozing and having fun, and there is a part in the middle where a "mom's voice" talks out...

en chellame.. ennaacchuda onakku..
ullhe varum poadhu oru puliyai poala vandhaaya..
ippoadhu siru poonaiyai poal pulambigiraaye..
appozhudhe thadutthaenada..
endha sarakkaaga irundhaalum raw-aaga adikkaadhe..
adhu than vaelaiyai kaatti vidum endru.. kaettaaya nee..
Pepsi-yo Fanta-vo kalarndhirundhaal...
gap-chup endraagi iruppaiyada..
gap-chup endraagi iruppaai...
aiyago.. ippozhudhu ellai meeri poagi vittadhe..
yaaraavadhu elumiccham saaru kondu vaarungalhaen..
indha baalaganai pazhaiya nilamaikku meettidungalhaen..
enna seiya.. ilhamai miga vinoadhamaanadhu da..

Hilarious stuff. However, for all you know, this might be how parents would be responding in some time! Funny how opinions, and parents' reactions and opinions change along time, as one generation passes over to the next...

Friday, May 09, 2008

Ominous Sign #2

It's a hard day back from office.
You get up the escalator at London Bridge.
An advertisement by the side catches your attention.
"Please be careful, No. of injuries on escalator last year: 1024"
Your face brightens up, and you get excited.
Then you realise that you are supposed to get depressed
And conclude that you have been programming too much.

Monday, May 05, 2008

You have exceeded your mail quota...

What? You are wondering what that means? For you kids around here, we veterans on the net used to get these messages in our Yahoo! Webmail accounts long long ago. Err.. no, I am still quite young, and that was only a few years back... Funny how things change so fast, isn't it? The days when we used to scream with horror if a moron ended up setting a big file attachment, and we would have to hurriedly delete it off lest we get that dreaded message again and we lose our incoming mail until we make some space...

Then, one fine day, around summer vacations after my second year at IIT Madras, we got to know that Google, the search engine company (Yes, it was more known for being a search engine company, rather than the God of all Internet companies, which struck gold at wherever it struck), is offering a mail service called GMail. What followed for many of us stuck to Yahoo! or Rediff or MSN mail was one of our silent-est days. We were all, so as to say, 'Colon O'd. "What? Wone Geebee-a? Dei.. stop blabbering da!" "No da.. seriously!". But the dampener soon came. Only a few 'elite' people had access to the service, and each of them could hand out some ten invites to others. More madness followed. These elite people became the starlets of the day. Forums started where people could trade 'stuff' for GMail invites. There were others who would invite themselves, so that they started getting more invites. Crazy days, indeed...

Yeah, so this was during the summer vacations after my second year. A few of my friends were slogging out at labs of professors whom they desperately sought for their projects in the final year, or at foreign universities helped by 'US Uncle' or others of that ilk, while the rest of us were essentially jobless at our homes, blissfully ignorant of all the so-called opportunities for monetary and career development abound in internships during second year summer, first year summer, jobless summer before IIT joining, winter, Diwali/Pongal and weekends with Monday bunked. Or so we thought, till we realised that they were more jobless, and even had free high-speed Internet access to inculcate the nuances of subtle art forms like chatting with the fairer sex and making their way into social networks.

It was then that one of these uber-jobless people got this brainwave of starting a 'Yahoo!' Group where all these people colluded to form theories on interesting topics like what pigs thought about human culinary practices. As it was expected, it soon became pretty clear that Yahoo! Mail was no match for the mailing skills of these talented youngsters pepped up with multi megabyte Internet access and GMail accounts (and some with professional typewriting classes). tam_gumbal at Yahoo! Groups thus almost compulsorily needed a GMail account, and if some good samaritan invited you for one, you could join these intellectual discussions.

A set of jobless Chennai localites at IITM not having much work either during the semester or the vacations was a perfect recipe for making a great mailing list. Mail counts reached a couple of thousands a month easily, but the Yahoo! servers were still a bottleneck when compared to the mammoth 1 GB that Google had provided. And after sometime (I don't recall exactly when), GMail doubled its capacity and then later started increasing the capacity slowly, but steadily. Yahoo! servers could be notorious. Some of the mails took days to come, especially under high load. And then, it was in the beginning of 2005, when we decided to break the shackle their servers had on our creativity and moved over to the newly launched Google Groups.

tam_gumbal's (TG) thirst for mailbox space knew no bounds once it moved to Google Groups. A couple of thousands of mails were laughed upon soon, as the ten thousand in a month mark was breached in six months or so, thanks to the third year end summer internships. Compulsory internship, and so more joblessness, including this figure of authority writing this post, who had by then become a moderator of the group. The gap between GMail's space limit and my usage started to reduce, thanks to TG, till around March 2006, when it almost reached capacity, and I had to either delete TG mails or use a different account. "What? You even thought about deleting TG mails?", bellowed an inner self. It took me days to pacify it and stop it from shouting slogans of blasphemy at really odd times of the day. Creating an account for TG'ing alone had its share of problems as well. For one, my mail count would drop to zero, and that isn't like all that good for the ego of a person perched at the second position of the 'Top Posters' list.

I was fortunately saved from a philosophical introspection into wars between religion and fame, as the helpful souls at GMail offered an option to change your 'From' address of your mails to something else, as long as you prove that the other mailing address is yours. Quite a pleasant use of an obscure EMail functionality which we had before used only for sending prank messages to the class mailing list demonstrating that Britney Spears (yes, she was quite popular, and for the right reasons, those days) thought you were hot or something like that. So, I mailed from the TG account, but Google Groups thought I was doing so from my earlier account. And since the TG account was subscribed to the group mails, it got a copy. And my earlier account was set to 'Don't send me mails, I will read them from the net'. Neat, isn't it? To top it all, this mechanism, my geeky inner self reflected, was scalable. I could always get a new account with the same mechanism once this new account gets over as well.

Of course, all this did was to prevent me from going over limit on GMail. I was still inching closer to the capacity, as the number of mails from other mailing lists, forwards from friends etc. still was more than the amount by which GMail was increasing its capacity. Yes, I didn't mention about all the various Linux oriented mailing lists, and other stuff till now right? Quite a proof of how they fade into insignificance in the face of TG's spamming capabilities. So, a third "Secondary" account was started, to siphon off all the mailing list traffic. Me being the moderator of the closed group TG meant that I could create two subscriptions in my name over there. But since this was not all that nice for other groups, I set up filters to forward all these mails from the first account to the third account, and trashed it from the first. And of course, I faked mailing from my only visible account! And that, well, brought things under control. But I still returned to the Yahoo! Webmail days. One big attachment and I would go "Eeek! My mailbox had only 20 MB left!" (GMail actually stops you from sending mail if you fall within 10 MB of free space. Now, thank me. Pretty unlikely that you would have got to know this trivium otherwise!) So, any personal mail with forwards go to the Secondary account (and get labelled here as 'backed-up', so that you can delete them but be sure that you have a copy anyway). You know, thinking of all these solutions you had crafted for such life-critical problems puts you in a state of self-awe! :D

It's been more than two years since then. Somewhere in between, GMail suddenly pumped up its speed of mail box capacity increase by a few orders of magnitude. Today I did a totalling of my mail space across my accounts. 3005 MB on my Primary account, 2646 MB in the TG account, and 902 MB in the Secondary account. My Primary mailbox is now well within half the limit of 6692 MB. TG is still flourishing with quite a few thousand posts per month. So hopefully the story has ended on a 'everyone was happy ever after' note. But still, you can't help but be surprised at the fact that you have got over 6.5 GB of mail across your accounts. At some point of time, I would take a (then old) 40 GB hard disk and keep it as a GMail archive. Such a nice piece of memory (pun unintended) right? You don't agree? You aren't a geek, are you? :)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Ominous Signs

You know you have been online too much when you look at a Volkswagen and start wondering when Wordpress started making cars...

No.. really!

And yeah, you must be sleepy as well...

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A sizeable problem?

There has been lots of hot air surrounding a recent heated debate regarding an issue with resizable entry boxes for conversation windows in Pidgin, which lead to a fork of the software. Here's some fanning from my side...

From the technical point of view, Pidgin developers were perhaps taking the right stand. It was decided by the developers right back when version 2.0 was released, that Pidgin would keep options down to a minimum and present a very simple, usable interface to the user. Now, the question is not about whether that decision was right. The developers had their reasons of course, but many wouldn't like this approach. As a matter of fact, I would prefer control and power as opposed to simplicity. But well, that was a design decision they made and they have every right to do so. And for the sake of design consistency, it is important that they stick to this approach. Giving an option to resize windows is well, going straight against that decision.

I wish the person who forked had bitched about the decision to 'go simple' back when it was v2.0, and forked if things didn't work out. By now we would be having two programs, one minimalistic and one fully controllable. That sounds really great! In fact, there have been examples of software forking for similar reasons, like Links and ELinks. I do agree that forking wastes lots of resources. But hey, that's the way free software works. There will be differences in opinion, and since the source is there for everyone to hack, there will be variants. But as long as there can't be one good solution satisfying all, forking atleast provides users with options to pick and choose from.

The funny part of such episodes is the side-attempt made by proponents of proprietary software to get a few brownie points with the argument that commercial software is better off, since companies have to listen to their users in order to retain them. Yes, companies will lose money and thus change if users protest, but I am not sure it always works that way. For one, that's the entire reason we have anti-trust laws are in place. And here are some statistics. At the time of writing, "Downgrade Vista to Windows XP" has 392, 000 Google search hits. "Vista Sucks" has 541, 000 results. Shouldn't that mean that Windows Vista should have rolled back to Windows XP by now?

Let me end it this way. Developers would many a times be happy to help and be considerate enough to do what you suggest, if they like the idea. If they don't, they will reject it. The FOSS model puts the developer at the top. You code because you want things your way. If you don't like it, then you would be asked to go ahead and tweak for your own, because the code is made available to you. FOSS came to the forefront because developers needed a break from programs created by companies which didn't allow them to do what they wanted with their programs. It thus doesn't make too much sense to assume that they will get into the same issue because of users, and that too with the code they have copyright over, as opposed to the company before.