Saturday, 21 July 2012

Pride and Belonging

Baba Gyani Triviani said:
"If it is not intuitive, it doesn't mean it is not powerful - it means that we should put an effort to learn it. And no, I am not talking about software"

Let me begin this essay by talking very briefly (so as to not make it seem like my hobby-horse and bore non-technologists) about an editor called VIM. If you have any friends who are developers (and not hard-core geeks), ask them about it. Most of them would have barely heard of it, leave alone used it. Even those who have used it, will say that it is the least intuitive editor, that there are far more sophisticated and intuitive editors around. To be honest, it is a fact.

Let's take an average person and ask him to use the editors - vim and Sublime Text. You will find that he will find Sublime a pleasure to use. He will not like vim at all. Then you ask him to do a bunch of tasks to be done with the editor, and watch him struggle with vim as he breezes past while using sublime. Why? Is it because vim is not good at all? Wrong! Vim is an extremely powerful editor that can do all the things that sublime can, and more. But the fact that he doesn't know the powers make him feel that vim sucks.

This is the truth about anything - When you have two things, one which you know very well or intuitively understand, and the other which seems complicated or less intuitive, you will tend to go for the first one, in spite of the latter being better.

I find this very true with Hinduism as a religion. I have had the most remarkable experiences with many people who believe in God, who are faithful, but have no understanding of what it means. Then there are those who can think or rationalise and yet have no understanding. The first results in creating a breed of blind believers while the second result in a breed of agnostic and atheists. I was talking to one of my friends a long time back when I spoke about Brahma, and he said "I've heard that name somewhere" - Imagine, a boy in his 20s and doesn't know who Brahma is. Well, while this may seem extreme, most people don't know much more about Brahma beyond that he's a multi-headed old God with a white beard on a lotus who apparently created the world, and is one among the Hindu trinity.

When you don't know much about your heritage, your religion, your lineage, your country or anything that you belong to, you do not respect it. When you don't respect it, you don't have any attachment to it, you may even shun it as you have learned to live without it. You may even switch to an alternative because you find it easier - and easier it could be, but the problem lies in the fact that no attempt was made by you to understand that to which you belonged to.

Unfortunately, two factors aid conversion - One of my friends told me that he never attempted to read the Bhagavad Gita because of a notion that "you will be cursed if you read it partially and abandon it" and blind beliefs such as this will make fewer people understand their background. christian evangelists have been known to make use of similarities to aid smoother transition while proselytising. They use dates important to the victims and make it dates important in christianity.

The main purpose of this post is to point out a couple of things. Those among you, who feel that you are intelligent and smart, who can think rationally should pursue Hinduism as a subject, and try to understand the concepts behind it. It's not always about a supreme God sitting and creating the world and controlling people and circumstances, or about God who gets angry when you don't bow to Him or worship Him and will fire a lightning bolt at you for sinning. It's truly fascinating, some of the things that you learn. The rest should still make an attempt to know mythological stories - which are truly brilliant. I have always been a huge fan of Hindu mythology.

Remember, this is not merely applicable to Hinduism or religion. It's also about your nation or anything else that you belong to. Make a complete study of it, understand it properly before dissing it. It's easy to give up at any point, but pride and belonging - attachment etc. can develop only if you learn to accept it.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The 99 Club

Baba Gyani Triviani said:
"I always remember what Buddha said - Desire is the root of all evil"

My friend Deepthi shared this nice story which I felt is worth sharing with the rest of you. I believe she got the story from the "ISKCON Bangalore" group.

The 99 Club
Once upon a time, there lived a King who, despite his luxurious lifestyle, was neither happy nor content. One day, the King came upon a servant who was singing happily while he worked. This fascinated the King; why was he, the Supreme Ruler of the Land, unhappy and gloomy, while a lowly servant had so much joy.

Later in the day, he sought the advice of his most trusted advisor. After hearing the King’s woes and the servant’s story, the advisor said, “Your Majesty, I believe that the servant has not been made part of The 99 Club.”

“The 99 Club? And what exactly is that?” the King inquired. The advisor replied, “Your Majesty, to truly know what The 99 Club is, place 99 Gold coins in a bag and leave it at this servant’s doorstep.”

When the servant opened the bag, he let out a great shout of joy... So many gold coins! He began to count them. After several counts, he was at last convinced that there were 99 coins. He wondered, “What could’ve happened to that last gold coin? Surely, no one would leave 99 coins!

He looked everywhere he could, but that final coin was elusive. Finally, exhausted, he decided that he was going to have to work harder than ever to earn that gold coin and complete his collection.

From that day, the servant’s life was changed. He was overworked and chastised his family for not helping him make that 100th gold coin. He stopped singing while he worked.

Witnessing this drastic transformation, the King was puzzled. When he sought his advisor’s help, the advisor said, “Your Majesty, the servant has now officially joined The 99 Club.” He continued, “The 99 Club is a name given to those people who have enough to be happy but are never contented, because they’re always yearning and striving for that extra 1 telling to themselves: “Let me get that one final thing and then I will be happy for life .”

“We can be happy, even with little, but the minute we’re given something bigger and better, we want even more! We lose our sleep, our happiness, we hurt the people around us; all these as a price for our growing needs and desires. That’s what joining The 99 Club is all about.”

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Mob Psychology

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"Honour, it seems to be a forgotten word"

"Honour, it seems to be a forgotten word" (or something to that effect) was the opening line of The Last Samurai. If you have watched the anime Kenshin or watched The Last Samurai, you get a good idea about life in Japan during the mid 1800s. People gave a lot of value to honour - Of course, some were extreme in that, Seppuku being an example.

Many of my friends have gone to the US for higher studies. I still remember them telling me that the US was not very different from India, except that there were lesser people, and the streets were a little cleaner (less dusty). They were vehement, and even said that the US was greatly hyped. But as time passed by, they seem to have changed their opinion, because with time, they have seen several differences.

If you are reading this post, you are most likely educated (I won't merely call you literate) and if you look around, you will notice that the following is true. I don't know if the same is the case with other countries as well, considering I haven't visited any. These are my observations...

People find comfort in numbers: 
In school or college, if I hadn't done my homework, I would be more nervous than when there were a couple of others who were sloppy along with me. Call it Schadenfreude if you must, but it is true. And if the entire class has not done it, you feel powerful, you feel right. You feel you have the strength to challenge anyone. What can they do to us? If we were two or three, maybe we would be mealy-mouthed when the teacher asked us about it; But fifty? We grin! We aren't ashamed, because we outnumber.

When the college security guard used to drive us away from the OAT, we would probably tuck our tails between our legs if we were, say about five in the group. But when we are about 20, we shrug our shoulders. Maybe a couple of them would even enter into a slanging match, while the rest guffawed. We cannot be touched, for we are the mob.

People who are brave in a group are seldom courageous when alone.  A mob is strong as long as the mob is a mob; You see, even in the wild, a pack of wolves can perhaps scare a lone lion or a tiger. But an individual wolf is no match.

We succumb to peer pressure:
Another observation of mine is that, we often succumb to peer pressure. If everyone else is doing it, and I am not, then I must be doing something wrong. We don't wholly analyse if what's being done by others is really relevant to us, or if it is correct. A simple example is - Parking next to a No Parking sign; You see many bikes already parked, so you go ahead and do it as well. But notice, some of them do this despite knowing that it's wrong, which is why they squeeze their vehicle in between, for they know that the ones at the corners are the ones that would get towed first.

We also tend to get easily swayed into "Standard reactions and behaviour" - I mean that we do some things in certain ways only because we have seen others doing it in that way (And not for any other reason) You can call this freedom of expression or call it anything else that you kids like to call it, and I am not saying it is frowned upon. I am merely stating facts. For instance, in ads, weddings are always christian and are portrayed to be romantic. What's the big deal? Someone I know said that she wants to have a christian wedding in a chapel (despite being Hindu and having a Hindu wedding) for the reason that she feels those weddings are romantic. It is because we see christian weddings all the time on American TV shows, we probably even know all the lines and all the preparations that go before, asking someone to be the best man, the maid of honour, etc. Observe it in ads the next time - weddings are mostly christian, unless, of course, it's an ad for jewellery. Candle light protests is something that people feel intuitively as the first thing to be done. Saying the words "Absolutely" and "That said" very emphatically during debates or while reporting news on English news channels. Remembering to be environment conscious during Earth Hour. A lot of these things are said and done, not because it adds value, not because it is symbolic, but because it seems to be an accepted standard. Only because the mob is doing it, and nothing else.

People are afraid of the mob:
While many chided the reporter/journalist who video-recorded the girl being molested by a mob of 30 instead of being a knight in shining armour, only a few realised the true nature of being in a situation like that. Really, ask yourself, if you were outside a pub where there were around 30 rowdy boys pulling a stunt like that while you were alone, would you venture? It's easier said than done. Two of them can hold you while one of them stabs you... You can maybe pick a fight with up to four, but a number like 30 would mean that either you are resorting to bravado or that you are Batman.

Since people are afraid of the mob, and the mob feels that they cannot be touched, the mob can achieve anything - We have seen dangerous repercussions where mobs raid stores, burn other people's vehicles, molest women, rough up policemen, etc. The mob feels it can afford to do it because they believe that the mob is an entity of its own, a faceless entity, that the individual existence of constituent people ceases and that individually they are not responsible for anything that happens.

We tend to go with the flow
I often wonder how it is that students end up drinking and smoking - I remember each and every lesson taught in school; things like "The liver gets damaged from drinking, because alcohol is not a natural food and the liver has to work overtime to break it down... resulting in problems (like cirrhosis)" and also all the harmful effects of smoking, starting from smoker's cough and tartar, all the way to cancer. It is understandable that you continue to do it once you start it, because you are habituated or addicted. But why did you start it in the first place? Ask yourself this question - When you started, did you know the harmful effects? If yes, why did you start? Did you tell yourself or were you told that it's just an experience, and you should always experience things to learn more... I understand you do it for pleasure, maybe some of you are just social drinkers and occasional smokers - But the very idea of doing things like this, per me, is an influenced decision. You most likely did it because most of your friends were doing it. Au contraire, if most of your friends looked at you like a loser for doing it, maybe you wouldn't... Just a hunch.

Who's the mob anyway?
The answer is You! Yes you... Don't say that you are not the mob. The mob is nothing but a group of people, and at some point or another, you form the mob. Don't necessarily picture the mob as a group of irate boors wrecking public property. If you are not the mob, you definitely have the ability to influence people who are part of the mob. The mob is the society. People's mindsets are the way they are because of the nature of society that moulded their behaviour, their parents and teachers, their friends (who are the way they are because of their respective upbringing), the kind of experiences they have had, etc. The experiences result in people becoming what they are. I am sure all of you know the story of Birbal showing Akbar the cat that hated milk. Experiences will alter people's behaviour. Bad experiences make some people stronger, some people cynical, some depressed. We often have the power to influence people around us, and we should strive to send the right message to those who get influenced by us.

Children are considered to be the most impressionable. If you flout rules or behave badly in front of the child, the child naturally will consider it as acceptable, and will emulate it. A good society is formed by raising good children, correcting the mistakes. I mentioned the US in the beginning, because people there apparently follow traffic rules inherently - and here, it's extremely bad. Why? I mentioned honour in the beginning, because if the concept of honour is instilled in a young mind, it will result in honourable people in the society. The fact will always remain, that the mob will always win, but the mob is reckless, haphazard. The mob will suffer if it elects a wrong leader. Then, the mob's victory will be its defeat.

You may even like:
Pride and Belonging

Create your own Chat system

Swami Nikhilaananda said:
"Chat is cool, chaat is cooler"

If you have used Pidgin, you would have seen the word XMPP. It will be really great if you have a look at this beautifully written article by Adarsh Ramamurthy on XMPP.

In this post, we attempt to communicate between two computers via chat - And no, not using Google or Yahoo :-)

I am using Linux on both machines. You can do the same thing with Windows.

Step 1, is to download the XMPP server. Let's call the machines as A and B. I stumbled upon ejabberd long back, and so used that. There are alternatives as well. On machine A, download and install ejabberd. I simply ran:
sudo apt-get install ejabberd
If everything went well, you will have it up and running, no sweat.

Now, in step 2, we will create two accounts. To do that, we will register them using the following commands. Oh, I am going to use Romeo and Juliet just for continuity from Adarsh's article.

sudo ejabberdctl register romeo localhost loverboy
sudo ejabberdctl register juliet localhost hotbabe

This is equivalent to "Creating an account". User name romeo has password loverboy on domain localhost. If you now run the following command, you will be able to see all registered users:
sudo ejabberdctl registered-users localhost
Let's proceed to Step 3. Install Pidgin on both machines (You can use other chat clients like Empathy as well). Once Pidgin is installed, on machine 1, you can just go to Accounts  >> Manage Accounts. Add a new account. Choose XMPP for the protocol, romeo as username, loverboy as password (optional) and enter localhost for Domain. Open a terminal and type in ifconfig, and make note of the IP address. Done!

Now go to machine B. Again, Accounts  >> Manage Accounts and enter Juliet's details in the Basic tab. Now, switch to the Advanced tab, and type in the IP address of machine A that you had noted down in Connect Server. Save it. Done!

Now test it out. In the Pidgin Window of machine B, click on the Buddies menu and click on New Instant Message. Enter the name romeo@localhost and press OK. In the chat window, enter "Oh Romeo, my Romeo, where art thou my love" and when it beeps on the other computer, pat yourself on your shoulder!

This is of course extensible to anything else... Just to check that, let's try this out with PHP. Download the XMPPHP Library. I am using the standard code that they have provided here below. The commented line is what they had provided, and that works for Gtalk - so you can easily implement that. The uncommented one, is for your custom chatting application. This of course is one message because that's where I stopped. Stay tuned for continuous chat and more...

Note that the ID of Juliet has some big number - pick that from the Pidgin chat window as is...



[This post is not complete at the moment, but is complete enough to give you a rush :-) If you are that kind of a person]

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Of rules, flexibility and rigidity

Swami Nikhilaananda said:
"Are you a fool, for following the rule? Or are you cool?"

I would like to state at the outset that I try to follow as many rules as I can while writing or speaking English (I don't know if I can be called as a purist because I don't think of myself to be that good.... yet) but as and when possible, I correct myself, unlearn things that are to needed to be, and learn the correct usage. For instance, I used to say "Stop cribbing about it" but now I have switched to "Stop complaining about it" because I found out that crib doesn't mean complain in reality (Don't check Wiktionary, check a standard dictionary) and similarly, I say "The classes have been advanced" rather than saying "The classes have been preponed"

I also pronounce tortillas as tor-ti-yas and tortoise as tor-tis and clerks as clarks. The reason I do all of this is because I know that's how it is to be done. But when I listen to other people speak, I notice that words like crib and prepone are ubiquitously used in the sense mentioned above. In fact, it would seem wrong to substitute it with something else. You may think this is just a choice, some may say "Hey, the message is being conveyed" and I say "Well, if conveying the message is the objective, I might as well go about using sentences like 'What you do office?' and I am pretty sure you got what I was putting across." My idea of rules is that they are to be followed, for that's why they are there (Unless they are absolutely nonsensical)

But I have had these discussions with some people previously, and they also felt, as did Oxford dictionary that words such as prepone are used by such a large number of people that it is better to add it to the dictionary. So this can be interpreted in two ways - One, that we are being progressive... That instead of sticking to a bunch of archaic rules and making ourselves grope for the right thing, we go for the easier thing - and since the easier thing would naturally be preferred in the longer run, it will become the de facto standard. Which makes sense many times, because it allows languages (applicable to programming languages as well) to evolve to become better. Agreed. The other way to interpret it is that this will result in a decline of standard. If people start making up their own words, call that as "Lingo" and start using them haphazardly, then the standardisation of language, the structure, the quality - everything goes for a toss.

Both of them are correct - Notice that language now has become just a case in point. The concept of rules, archaic and modernisation, and flouting them is something we see in all areas. Whether homosexuality should be legal or illegal, whether euthanasia should be legal or illegal etc. Okay, maybe my choice of rules are not appropriate, but I am sure you can think of better ones - take 'Tthe red signal and nobody else on the road' situation - So, should you follow the rule because "Red light means stop and rules are rules" or should you say "Hey, this rule is not applicable because nobody is around" which becomes a call to be taken - Now we come back to the biggest problem... Who decides what is appropriate? If you decide case by case, then there are high chances of wrong decisions being taken - for instance, a guy jumps the signal because nobody was around. Lo! A speeding truck rams into him and there's an accident. Therefore, as case-by-case does not work, we need to standardise it, there are rules made - and they have to be followed.

If rules are meant for the people and a large number of people break the rules, does it mean that the rule is dumb and needs to be removed? It depends on how sensible the people who flout them are. If you see a hundred people driving past the red signal (which I see everyday) it doesn't mean that the signal is dumb. It only means that these people should be whipped. Similarly, if a bunch of teenagers decide to make "Sup" a word tomorrow because of its omnipresence and popularity, should we? (Yes, I know that's why Urban Dictionary has been created) But since pre and post are opposites, prepone actually makes a sensible antonym for postpone - valid.

Rules are meant to separate us from animals. If we all did whatever we wanted to, the bigger stronger people would have beaten up all the smaller mousy people and become rich. The principle of 'might is right' would have been applicable. The great Khali would have been the richest man instead of Bill Gates. I know I sound like Monica talking about rules... But heck, "I am not 'cribbing' about it, just ranting :-) " What's your take on it?