Saturday, 20 April 2013

Rapes are sour

Swami Gulagulaananda wondered:
"Sāma, Dāna, Bheda, Danda - Which of them is the most effective of all?"

Sāma, Dāna, Bheda, Danda
This is a political methodology to approach a given situation. Start with conciliation or gentle persuasion (Sāma). If that does not help, offer money/material wealth (Dāna). If that still does not change the status quo, use threat or cause dissension (Bheda). Use punishment or violence (Danda) to resolve the situation where the previous three fail

Media in India has lost all credibility. And just like the boy who cried wolf, it has become difficult to judge when the media is being aggressive with an honest intention and when they are messing with our minds. Of late, every day I see a report on rape, and I wonder if the rapes have been happening with this frequency all along or if it is being reported more frequently after the ghastly Delhi incident that made the entire country livid. Whatever the reason be, it is not pertinent to the discussion, it was just a point I was pondering on. Indian news channels repeatedly hit rock bottom, the latest case being India TV interviewing 5 year old children about rapes, a tweet that I saw said...
This is what Indian news channels have drooped to! India TV, u piece of can u interview 5 year olds regarding rape!
I was wondering why it is that so many rapes are happening. When I think of breaking the simplest of rules, two things cross my mind. The wrongness of it and the fear of repercussions. It is like this. Most companies allow unrestricted internet access. This means that it is possible for me to download movies or some personal files using the office network. But the good guys don't do it. Firstly, because it is wrong to use something that is provided to you with the intention of being used for official purposes. Just because it is open doesn't mean you misuse it. Sir M Vishveshwarayya used to use his personal pen while writing personal letters even when he was the Diwan of Mysore and refused to be driven by an official car after his last day at work. This behaviour cannot be enforced, it has to come from within. This is driven by ethics, conscience and morality.

Fear of repercussions is the next thing. If I was using the office internet to download movies, and if I got caught, I could potentially lose my job. That fear serves as a deterrent.

I wondered why these rules are not getting applied when it comes to rape? People who are forcing themselves upon somebody else, beating them up viciously and going to such extents as bashing them ruthlessly with iron rods or leaving them to bleed and die clearly throw the idea of conscience and morality out of the window. However, if good behaviour is reinforced in the minds of children as they grow up, it becomes firmly rooted. I believe this definitely works. Recently, I saw a young boy from a village talking to another young boy as I stood in the line for the Aadhar card - "Why are they making us fill out these forms? Anyway they are going to throw it away. It's a waste of paper. Unnecessarily they are chopping off trees" I was pleasantly surprised. He looks like one of those uneducated chumps from the outside, but they were not joking when they said "Don't judge a book by its cover" because his attitude is something that most of the so called educated people don't have. The principle of reinforcing good moral behaviour in the minds of people, in my opinion, aligns with Sāma of Sāma, Dāna, Bheda, Danda.

Perhaps in this modern world of growing decadence, prurience of the lecherous cannot be checked by the mind and since they seek an outlet, I wondered if prostitution should be legalised. This has always been a major topic of discussion and it came to my notice while I was looking up some facts that in India, prostitution is legal but not regulated and running of brothels is illegal. If you look at prostitution at the very outset, it seems like a simple transaction, where one seeks sex and is willing to offer money while the other seeks money and is willing to offer sex. Assume for a moment that things are indeed this simple. Then, would prostitution help mitigate rapes? I doubt it, because of the stigma attached to it. People think of prostitution as amoral. Therefore, a person who frequents a house of ill repute will fall in the eyes of the society. What if, for arguments sake, there is no social stigma attached to it? I would like to think that then there would be a decrease in the number of rapes because now you have a legitimate outlet. However, things are apparently not as simple as this. There is in fact a very good website that discusses the pros and cons of legalising prostitution with views of scholars supporting both sides with statistics and data. If it would work, however, I would think that it aligns with Dāna of Sāma, Dāna, Bheda, Danda.

The main reason for a number of laws being openly flouted in India is the pace at which the legal machinery works - The speed of continental drift, or snail's pace to use a more common analogy. People are more or less confident that you can do anything and get away with it. And the media likes to believe that justice is dispensed only if it creates a hullabaloo - and sadly, many times, it is true. Without external pressure, without people coming out onto the streets holding placards and shouting slogans, things simply don't seem to work. Imagine a country where justice was speedily dispensed, a country where fear of repercussion and fear of being brought to justice scares the hell out of people who are on the verge of committing crimes, fear of the Batman or Dexter or Yagami Light (Many times, I wonder if vigilante justice is the way to go) - The same Indians who throw garbage wherever they please in India like the whole country is their personal fief quiver in their pants when they visit a middle eastern country out of fear of being flogged. It is remarkable that the same rule breakers don't break a single rule in a foreign country - Fear, a primal emotion is indeed a powerful motivator. When you are right, you have nothing to fear and when you are wrong, you should fear the weight of the legal machinery, a country such as this will be an ideal state. Yes, I understand that India is no ordinary country and for a country with a population such as ours, it is understandable that things are not as fast as in one of those puny European countries. At the same time, knowing the problems is half the solution. It is remarkable that we still don't have faster justice being dispensed, with cases remaining unsolved even after 15 years - Not the ordinary ones, but high profile ones. Fear of repercussions aligns with Bheda and Danda of Sāma, Dāna, Bheda, Danda.

All of this is purely armchair debate, and I have not even the faintest of ideas regarding the kind of pain, suffering, humiliation and trauma that the victims suffer, not just physical but mental and emotional... The purpose of this post is merely to look at it objectively and is merely a reflection of thoughts. If you do have any comments, do leave them here. And it would be great if you can participate in a simple poll.

How to make a 'Girgitle' - Paper Toy that turns in the wind

Swami Gulagulaananda heard:
"Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional"

[Ok, I could have sworn that I knew the English equivalent of the Kannada Girgitle once upon a time... I think it's called Paper Wind Turbine?]

In this post, I want to show you how to make a Girgitle. It's basically a simple paper toy which turns around a pointed pencil or pen when wind blows. See the video at the end of the post to see it in action.

Step 1:
Tear out three thin (about 1.5 cm) equal sized vertical strips that are about 16 cm long

Step 2:
Fold the strips along the middle.

Step 3:
Hold one folded strip (called 1) horizontally such that the fold comes on the left. Now, hold one of the other strips (called 2) such that the fold comes on the top and slide it between the two legs of 1. So basically the two legs of 1 should be around the two legs of 2. Hold the third strip (called 3) such that the fold comes down. The two legs of 3 should come around the two legs of 1. This is how it should look.

Step 4:
Now, push the two legs of 3 through the gap between the fold of 2 and 1 as shown below.

Step 5:
Pull all the loose ends such that the folds come closer. If you do it properly, the place where the folds meet starts to fold into a concave structure. The end result should be as below.

That's it!
Now hold a sharp pencil or a pen in the concave section and hold it under a ceiling fan. Or if you want to feel like a kid, hold it horizontally and run Wheeeeee!!! :D


Monday, 8 April 2013

Evolution - A brilliant concept and yet...

Swami Gulagulaananda wondered:
"If you keep wishing for wings for a million years, will you sprout wings? Can I ask for a jet-pack instead?"

I recently watched this video on Youtube where David Attenborough describes how life evolved from the basic primitive unicellular organisms to the superior organisms that we see today.

Evolution is not something as trivial as becoming more advanced from a simpler creature. From a strictly engineering standpoint, it is a process of upgrading the version to build extensible systems.

Let us take an example of one of the most primitive organism called Charnia. The structure of Charnia's body is simple in that, the body was based on fractals. It's like - You take a unit, and each of  the sub-units are similar to the main unit, and each of the sub-sub-units are also similar. If you were designing an organism, the fractal one can be very tempting because of its simplicity. It is like recursion of programming. You write it once and you call it a lot of times. This also becomes a disadvantage in that, you cannot make complicated things with a single thing. Therefore this design was scrapped and the Charnia apparently has no known descendants.

The next good example that you can look at are insects and vertebrates. I remember reading this in Biology in school, I believe it's called homoplasty. For example, birds can fly, insects can fly. But the wing structure and bodies are differently made. Or take a beetle with a hard crust for an exoskeleton. It seems that the insects cannot become bigger than a certain size because of the fact that they don't have a skeleton within their body. So as they become larger, they collapse within themselves. This problem however will not occur in vertebrates because of the solid skeletal framework inside.

If you were solving these problems, I think this would seem like common sense too. Like, a clay model will not stand as per the shape set because it would collapse. You would perhaps create a wireframe first and then apply the clay on top of it. It seems like common sense.

If you also look at evolution, you will notice that every time there was a problem or a situation, the organisms adapted accordingly to fix it. If a tail was not needed, it got dropped. If wings were needed they were developed. Leaves were high, get a long neck. It's brilliant. And there are no redundancies. Ok, some vestigial organs might still be hanging around (like the appendix) but I'm sure pretty soon they will be lost.

But now I ask you a final question. As brilliant as evolution is and nobody doubts its beauty and elegance, the only thing that bothers me is - Do you really believe that organisms can do it by themselves? As in, if I want to fly, and all other humans want to fly. And all our children want to fly and their children want to fly. After a million years, would humans be flying? Is it just will power that can make these changes? Is it desire that can make these changes? Does that mean that stupid looking creatures were all thinking so much? This is where I lose the ability to come up with a clever idea. I understand that circumstances drive evolution. I understand a giraffe developing long neck - Perhaps all giraffes were stretching and that 'stretch' quality got passed on somehow. But a structural deficit like lack of backbone getting fixed by developing a backbone or replacing gills by lungs seem a little too radical for automation. I hope you understand what I mean. This doesn't appear to be something that can automatically happen without a clever engineer's experimentation and trial and error...

I think these kind of questions either have not yet been fully answered, or I am not aware of them, or aliens are modelling us, or God is... :P Whatever it is, I believe evolution is a fabulous subject to study, to see how real engineering challenges are rectified, and how it can still not fully obliterate God.

Comments from Facebook

Raghavendra Gali:
As far as I understand Evolution, there are no grand designs, just accumulated local optimums. Guess we're looking for patterns when none exits. Over time the sets of genes that aided survival of themselves(the genes) survive.The organism is just a vehicle for those surviving genes. It's surprising that so little intelligence/design was involved in evolving intelligence.

Nikhil Baliga:
Interesting approach. But that does not explain why organisms like Charnia had to die out. If it is possible for me to survive with a given configuration, I don't need to improve right? The Charnia was doing a great job surviving and at that time, there were no predators

Raghavendra Gali:
There is meiosis that results in gene shuffling and new variation for adaption. For surviving this far in the evolutionary race, a lots of sets of genes have competed and lost. We are the product of genes that could get us surviving so far. The improvement is nothing but genes that aid survival surviving, because those only could get propagated.

You may also like to read
Purpose of Existence

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Working in a start-up - An Experience

Swami Nikhilaananda said:
"We work, we fail, we dust off, we work, we succeed. Rinse. Repeat"

"It's a start-up. It's basically an e-commerce site for selling clothes. Are you interested?" asked my senior who was quitting Oracle to join Zovi. "Who even buys clothes online? And a start-up? Should I quit a stable multi-national giant to join a company nobody has even heard of? Ok, people say start-ups are cool all the time, but what if one day I go to office and I see a large -CLOSED- board there?" I thought to myself. "Yeah, I am very interested!" I blurted... Okay, I didn't blurt :P I gave it quite a bit of consideration.

People always talk about how cool start-ups are. And a lot of people are concerned about start-ups too. So I thought I should write a post about my experience in Zovi so as to give a picture of how a start-up environment can be.

After bidding farewell to my former colleagues and friends at the large offices of Oracle, when I came to the office of Zovi, the first thing that struck me was the size of the office and the number of people. I think I saw just about twenty at that time. That's it! I was taken aback, obviously, though I had expected a start-up to be that way.

But very soon, I also realised that quality and quantity are two entirely different things. Within the next week, I realised how little I knew. Every single person around me was scripting in at least three languages. Heck, the CTO of the company was writing Ruby. I felt like a complete dumbass, no clue where to begin. What the heck is this jQuery? I only knew if you use $ symbol in javascript, you were writing jQuery. Meanwhile, I was hearing words like 'listeners', 'queues' and a whole lot of jargon flying around. The VP of  technology was calling up customers and speaking in Bengali about estimated time of delivery. Wait, what? What does the VP of technology even have to do with customers and sales?

This painted a very clear picture to me - A start-up expects people to be like a Swiss Knife. They gave me a laptop that had a BIOS. Period. No IT department, nothing. Install Linux, they said. No standard distro, nothing. That was the second thing I learnt. In a start-up, objectives are told. How you achieve them is left to you.

One of the best things about Zovi is the freedom given to developers and the choice of projects. I often have people asking me - What do you do at Zovi, and I don't know what to tell them. Well, let's see... I have worked on our ERP system, a system that allows us to manage everything of the company, from inventory, warehouse, suppliers, customers, orders etc. I have developed an Android app for Zovi. And a bunch of other little projects.

But I have to give all credit to our CTO, Mr. Satish Mani. One day he saw a post of mine where I was turning an LED on and off based on face detection, just a little hobby project I was experimenting with,  called me and said "I saw your were doing some Face Detection thing. Can you write some code where a person can stand in front of a camera and a dress fits on him?" And thus Zovi Eye was born. Yes, I am not an expert in image processing, naturally, nor do I have a PhD. But we are encouraged to experiment, give it a shot, don't be afraid to fail. Worst case, it is a failed project, but in the process, you learn a lot. Try to see if you can get a minimum viable product up and running. And at Zovi, that's what we do. We write a lot of cool stuff. Some of them don't get to see the light of day, some are there playing big roles but people don't see the awesomeness of it directly and some are obvious. And that is why I absolutely love working at Zovi. Everybody is passionate about what they work on. Another day I was called and said "Write some code so that people can stand in front of a web-cam and their measurement can be obtained." This was a very challenging project and you can read about my experiment here. One day I was called and told "Write some code to find out how many of our customers are happy and how many are not from tweets and Facebook posts." Yeah, sentiment analysis. When I tell my friends who do MS and PhD about it, they say "Whoa! These projects are like the ones you do when you do an MS" In fact, I recently tried my hand at some video editing :P It's pretty random...

In fact, our Lead UX designer Anish Vishwanathan was working on some fancy rotating circles using SVG and we had to solve some trigonometry problems to get sectors. I actually wrote sine and cosine equations to solve and get Cartesian co-ordinates... I mean, I frankly didn't expect to use trigonometric functions after college :-) And yesterday, he was working on something in 3D.

We have a lot of cool stuff to share with you all, and we are thinking of starting a technical blog very soon to show some code we wrote that you can use. We don't claim to be super-experts, but we do hope you will enjoy some of the things we churn(ed) up

Apart from the technical side, our environment is very cool (literally too, our AC is broken, it's always cold :-/  I like it that way though). We have the same work culture as that of Oracle in terms of being lenient. No fixed work hours, as long as work is finished who cares, right? No dress code, no ID cards (though we have an ID card!) And we have a very transparent environment. In the end, though I am in the technical area, I get to see and learn a lot of non-technical things too.

So yeah, that was my experience at Zovi. Next time you decide to go online to buy clothes, think about the cool people behind the scenes and give them a virtual hi-5! :-)

Remember, it's ok to fail... Never let that hold you back
It's better to be a big fish in a small sea than a small fish in an ocean
Start-ups can be brutal if you are incapable of being a Swiss knife
A lot depends on people around you - I was very fortunate that way