Sunday, 26 May 2013

Of Beliefs and Prophets

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"Problems don't arise due to beliefs... Problems arise when you force it upon others"

Religion has been around for thousands of years and I am sure it is not going to go anywhere anytime soon. With the advent of Social Media, information can travel across the world rapidly. These are two facts.

There is nothing wrong with believing in something. We all go through life's ups and downs - and some times we are alone when we are down. Sometimes, we don't have anyone to fall back upon though we would have loved to have someone to reassure us. And when you feel all is lost, you find solace in God. You pray to God, pray that all your troubles go away. You derive strength from faith. Even if your problems don't all go away, you feel invigourated. Problems are given to you only because God knows you have the strength to solve it, they say... And even if you didn't, it works - perhaps a placebo effect. People do remarkable things because of faith...

People do remarkable things because of faith - A sentence that looks ordinary, but has both positive and negative connotations. Positive, I have already explained above.

The downside of faith is the urge to make others believe in what you believe in. It's okay to believe in something. But to force your beliefs upon others is absolute blasphemy! That's right, I intentionally used the word blasphemy because you are thinking you are doing God's work by spreading His words to others, but that itself is true sacrilege.

I have had innumerable conversations with some christians who have called me a lost soul who has tread away from the path of God, who have asked me to accept christ into my heart for he died for my sins and that he is the only path to heaven. I asked them - If I don't believe in christ, will I go to hell? And they gave a resounding yes.

Today I saw a photo in a Facebook page called Muslims and India, that I have attached below.

These kind of statements are absolutely unacceptable. If you are telling this as part of a generic scholarly discussion with no connotations, great, go for it. Unfortunately this is not what they are doing. Rather, they are trying to say something entirely different. Apparently there is another hotshot called Zakir Naik who's supposed to be a man who speaks with a really hypnotic twisted logic (I haven't personally read or listened to him, but I have heard a lot about him)

This photo had comments that said - In that case, we should respect the Vedas. What does this mean? So if the Vedas hadn't foretold the advent of prophet, you wouldn't respect it? Then what kind of secularism are we talking about?
Suggested Reading - If you believe this guy: 
[1]Prophet in Hindu Scriptures – An analysis (Part 1)  
[2] Bhavisya Purana and the Prophet Mohammed

Problems don't arise due to faith - It happens only when you say "You are wrong, I am right... So start accepting what I am saying" You can never be right, nor can I - That's why it's called belief. This is especially true for atheists who keep bringing in science all the time. Science is awesome, and I am a big fan - No doubt. But science also needs proof for everything. Just because something cannot be explained, it doesn't mean it's not true. There are still a lot of unexplained events that happen and until you can explain it all, there still is space for supernatural to exist. At the same time, it doesn't mean that you should stop researching something just because it could be supernatural. If you are not totally open to every possibility, you are not much of a science guy. You have to categorically disprove everything. Atheism is also a faith, and it's okay to be an atheist. Just don't go around mocking a believer. Likewise.

It might be sounding like a refrain by now, but I would like to reiterate the point I am making in this post - Problems don't arise due to beliefs... Problems arise when you force it upon others. Wars, terrorism, communal violence and misunderstandings - all stem up because you are comparing two faiths, when you start doing things in the name of faith, when you make it your life's goal to spread your faith. Don't do that! Why can't you let people be the way they are. Do what you want to do, don't hurt others.

Ha! Don't hurt others - Ahimsa paramo dharma - a belief of Hindus... Now am I forcing my beliefs on you? :-) Think about it.

Friday, 24 May 2013

How much thought do we apply?

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"In mob psychology, if there is success, everyone shares the fruit, if there is failure, the leader gets hanged"

Just the other day I was reading a very interesting book that spoke about how application of mind to do something beyond the mundane autopilot mode applies considerable stress on us. For example, an experienced driver doesn't require much thought while driving everyday to work. Not much thought is applied on when to brake and when to accelerate. Experience makes you do this automatically. Same goes for typing. I don't see which key is where, the only thing that comes to my mind is the word that I have to type and the word gets typed. However, considerable amount of strain comes when I have to multiply 43 x 76 or if I have to remember a couple of numbers in mind like 46.83 and 35.78 for some time (working memory)

It might seem obvious to some of you that activities such as mathematical calculations are not really natural while walking and driving are natural (or have become natural due to practice) and thus are not equal in terms of taxation. But what is more interesting is the fact that thought does not get applied in situations where it could have been easily applied, ergo creating easily avoidable messes.

A simple example was a sight I saw a couple of days back. I was driving back home and I was on a road that was quite wide but the parked vehicles on either side made it possible for only two vehicles to pass at a time - One in each direction. If a vehicle in my direction went to the other lane, he would be going head-on in front of the vehicle coming in the opposite direction. And then, in front of me, I beheld a spectacle that aroused mixed feelings in me, one of deep thought that makes me write this post and the other, a primal feeling of rage that urged me to get out of the car and bash in the skulls of the morons who I beheld in mixed feelings of amusement and anger.

Let me explain the situation. A bus was coming in the opposite direction, and there wasn't much space for the driver to come through because a hot-shot in my lane was partially in his way. The bus was waiting for the car to move out of his way so that he could continue his journey. The rest of us were patiently waiting in a single queue. The scene was obvious to anyone who saw it - A series of cars, one behind the other with no space between any two, waiting patiently for the erroneous car to make way, with the bus driver waiting. And then an auto-driver and a couple of two-wheelers, and a couple more autos and cars came in the other lane, passing by us and waiting in front of the bus.



It seemed stupid to me. But then it raises a question as to why they did that. It could mean one of the following.

  • They simply lack the ability to think ahead. They have no ability to predict
  • They can think ahead, they just don't care
An inability to think ahead, predict and forecast something that is this obvious is definitely very troubling. Many of you reading this might simply dismiss this as an impossibility. "Are you trying to say someone can't predict even this much? You are being crazy..." you might say. But it's true in some cases. I have seen uneducated people doing a lot of things that are obviously dumb to us. It could also be that they could predict it if they applied some thought, but then they might ignore it because it causes strain.

Strain while thinking is natural - Many times, I have put off solving some puzzles just because "I was not in the right mood" - as in, the strain (could seem minuscule when in the 'right' state of mind) is too much to bear when you are hungry or tired or preoccupied. In fact, according to a book I was reading, some judges refused parole to prisoners when their blood glucose dropped (hungry) much more often than when their blood glucose was high (had food). Food affects thinking...

However, this logic could be true for the first guy. Isn't it rather curious that all of them are doing the same? Is it possible that everyone is hungry? I believe this is where mob psychology takes over. Very few people are willing to take risks - they fear repercussions. But if someone is willing to take a risk, there are plenty to follow. A majority of people are followers, not leaders (Read about the Pareto Principle) and apparently people are willing to follow fools (explains not just this traffic thing but also elsewhere... like politics) if someone is willing to lead. The reason is - If there is success, everyone shares the fruit, if there is failure, the leader gets hanged.

In case of this particular case, nobody is going to go to each and every erring vehicle and admonish them. No. People would rather abuse the first guy for leading an army of fools. The rest of them have nothing to lose and everything to gain in case they succeed in going through.

On the other hand, probably they are thinking ahead and they don't care... This would mean that people are essentially selfish and are just focussing on their success and they don't care who they are stepping on in the process. As long as I am getting what I want, who cares about the rest, right? To each his own. The problem with this approach is, there is no 'overall progress'. Notice that this is not applicable just to traffic. If you are focussing only on yourself, this kind of growth is useless. If you are the only educated guy in a town full of uneducated people, your education has no value. People will simply not be capable of appreciating you.

A very interesting thing I have noticed is that people don't like to lose momentum while driving. They don't want to brake, they would rather instantaneously change direction. So a guy who was riding straight, on seeing a vehicle blocking his path will start drifting tangentially. In the process, other people whose path he is now blocking end up braking.

Clearly, I could go on and on and I am sure most of you are aware of the endless supply of stories and idiots on the road. But the purpose of this post was simply to say that behind the scenes of a mundane traffic jam, a lot of thought goes through - consciously or subconsciously... (or maybe no thought is applied - which explains a lot!)

Friday, 10 May 2013

One Shoe Doesn't Fit All

Swami Gulagulaananda recounted the old saying:
"Before you judge me walk a mile in my shoes"

A great thing about being in India is the myriad colourful lives that you get to see around you. Different people living their lives in their own ways. And every single person has different qualities that define him or her, their own personal idiosyncrasies and peculiarities that make them what they are, that define them. Some are logical, some are cold, some are jumpy, some sensitive, some optimistic, some pessimistic,  some balanced, some depressed and some ecstatic... You get the picture.

But it gets interesting when you try to analyse why people are the way they are. As in, we are aware of what qualities are desirable and what are not. Like, optimism in general is considered a good quality while pessimism is not. I say 'in general' because there have to  be certain negative inclinations at times too, for it helps us prevent pitfalls due to over-enthusiasm. But in general, a positive mindset is good. We similarly prefer a warm jolly fella to a cold logical person who weighs everything in terms of profit and loss, including relationships and what he can gain out of becoming your friend.

But despite knowing what's good and what's bad, we are not all good all the time. For instance, we know that in times of a stressful period or emergency, we should not react in a knee-jerk fashion. Instead we should ruthlessly priortitise and work according to a virtual flowchart. We know this in theory, but how many of us can put it to practice? Many, in a fit of panic, forget what should be done next. "My mind went blank" they say. And events such as these clearly indicate that different people are very different. Some of these qualities are inherited, genetically or sub-consciously, some are developed through training - either by self or professionally, some are developed in you due to situations around you that mould you to become what you are.

I like to think of the last one as policies. Take an example of a person who gets betrayed by his friends each and every time he got close to one. The first time, he probably takes it as misfortune. The second time he might blame his luck or general decadence of society. But if it happens multiple times, irrespective of whom he blames, he develops a wall around him, and tries hard to not be friends with people. If you are not friends with someone, you don't trust them beyond a certain level and therefore, you cannot be betrayed - This is a policy he adopts for himself. This probably is good for him. But what happens when someone new meets him and likes him and genuinely wants to be friends with him? No matter how hard he tries, he cannot get closer than a certain level, for an invisible wall separates them. The second person simply cannot understand why beyond a certain level, overtures are no longer entertained. In fact, there are subtle hints of rebuffing. The reason for the rebuff is not clear to him and he probably concludes this as some kind of introvert behaviour, a peculiarity or an idiosyncrasy. He does not realise that there was a history of betrayal that made him the way he is...

And this is true about a lot of things. There are some who are fiercely independent, there are some who don't want to fall in love (again), some who insist on going back to their home towns all the time... Perhaps Mr. Independent was let down by people on whom he relied on. So he concluded that if you rely on someone, you will be let down, it's better to do things yourself instead. This could result in further policies from being developed, such as - 'I was let down, I should not let others down' or 'I was able to do things myself, perhaps he should learn to do it himself too...' The first case results in a good quality - a helping nature. The second results in a conscious refusal to help. Understand that the refusal is not stemmed from dislike or Schadenfreude. Au contraire, the person thinks he is doing you a favour because it worked really well for him. But again, all people are not the same. Perhaps Mr. Independent was a talented person and it worked for him, but for the help-seeker, it is not a possibility to learn and do it by himself which is why he was seeking help. A refusal comes as a blow to him (resulting in policies of his own)

In fact, much of what I have said in this post is already known to most of you and are found in various forms in proverbs. Here are a couple I was reminded of... "Once bitten, twice shy" and "Before you judge me walk a mile in my shoes"

We are all, in a way, a product of our environments and people over time. We shouldn't hastily judge other people. At the same time, we should be perceptive to environments too. Like for example, a person who is accustomed to getting his way all the time tends to expect it in a new environment - and he doesn't see that he is annoying other people in the process. (In the work context) He tries to push his agenda all the time, the others get annoyed and go out of their way to push his work down the priority list resulting in the pusher getting miffed. Environments are different all the time, and people should adapt accordingly.

A very interesting fact though, is that the same situations result in entirely different opinions being formed in different people - Of course, it is because the cumulative policies till then are different due to different environments in the past. An interesting question raised by Ramesh Radhakrishna was - "If there are twin brothers who have gone through the exact same experiences all the time, will they be thinking the same all the time?" An extension question would be, given the same situation, would their reactions be exactly the same? Something to think about...

To summarise, don't judge others hastily... You perhaps know how he is, you don't know why he is the way he is.

***
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A Chain Always Breaks At The Weakest Link

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Golem - A Flying Robot - Idea for a project

Baba Gyani Triviani said:
"Look up in the sky, it's a bird, it's a plane... No, it's Golem!"

Project Golem

(Note: Golem is a mechanical robot in 'Batman of the future' which is controlled by a guy remotely such that movements of his hands translates to corresponding movements of the robot, much like the movie 'Real Steel')

I had been to Ayana, a hackathon in PESIT recently and saw quite a few hardware hacks. With the arrival of Arduino into the market, robots seem to have become quite ubiquitous, which is a good sign. Students, most of the time, design and build single purpose robots, that could be a line following one or a maze solving one. Rarely are they developed as systems.

The Raspberry Pi is an interesting device - The size of a credit card, it comes with 2 USB ports, an ethernet port, a power in port, an HDMI port, a video out and a sound out along with an SD card slot. The cost is supposed to be around $25. The advantage of a Raspberry Pi over Arduino is that, Raspberry Pi runs a full fledged Linux distribution on it, meaning that it is an onboard computer rather than just a microcontroller and thus allows for cooler and harder things to happen easily, like image processing, for example.

For some time now, I have wanted to build a flying robot that has the following specifications. Go through it if you are interested and let me know what you think.

First and foremost, the idea is to have the robot developed in terms of modules and independently. This may seem obvious to experienced people but it is something that students don't use for an approach. To see an example of what I mean, and this example is pertinent to the project, consider the control of the robot - The  robot can move back and forth and this instruction comes from a remote control. The remote control could be a video game joystick, a Kinect, a custom controller, or something else. The robot should not concern itself with 'who' is sending this instruction. Once the instruction is received, it should simply process it. This allows for complete decoupling of the controller and the robot. People who work with web services are, I am sure, very familiar with this concept. You get a JSON and you how you use it is up to you. The advantage is, the people who are building the robot itself know the 'contract' or what to expect from the controller. It is up to the controller maker to implement it. And they can work independently

Disclaimer:
It's been a long time since I worked on these kinds of things - So most of what I say here will be pulled out from memory and/or simply visualised. Some might be outdated, some could be grossly incorrect. Let me know if  there are better alternatives. This is just a brainstorming post. I have done no research, so some things could be impossible or be done elsewhere and I am not aware of it.

Ok, now for the characteristics of the robot itself.

Requirements:

The robot should be able to move on ground and in air

  • It should move on ground - 2 wheels plus Goli castor (steel ball bearings)? or 4 wheels?
  • It should fly - four vertical propellers?

Moving on ground, achievable by using H-Bridge

Moving in air, if all propellers turn at the same speed, I am guessing it will be level. If two slow down, the bot will tilt and move in that direction...

  • Controller is a Raspberry Pi - Full fledged Linux distro is more powerful than simpler controllers
  • Has a camera on board. Streams video. Helpful in navigation, recording...
  • Has sensors on board to prevent collision or falling off stairs or hitting ceilings - should override manual controls... Similar to forward collision avoidance systems in cars. (Sensors are IR or SONAR or something else?)
  • Has accelerometer (and/or gyro) to measure tilt - very useful for auto-stabilisation and can be used to override manual errors, like extreme tilts will not result in crashing (can it happen?) Also, how cool would it be to use control systems here? Does it make sense?
  • Since it has auto-stabilisation and sensors at the bottom, auto-landing should also be possible.

Controller

As discussed previously, the controller is independent of the device
  • Can be controlled using custom controller - wireless radio transmission that has buttons and knobs or whatever
  • Would be cooler if XBox controller is used instead
  • Even cooler if you can use a Kinect to control it
  • Another super idea (inspired by junior, Suraj Srinivas) is to have accelerometer connected to gloves. The user moves his hands around and that is translated into robot movements in the air
  • Autonomous and by learning?
Of course, more than one can work simultaneously... Since it has a camera and a full fledged operating system, it can do a variety of image processing functions.

It can be used in a variety of places - Let your imagination run free.

As you can see, all functions that are independent of one another can be developed independently. Flight and ground motion are independent, for instance. Camera and motion are independent too. And so on.

The design, however, should account for things that will be or could be added in the future too - for example, if you have not accounted for additional weight that could be added in the future, your robot may not fly at all! So think of all the features that you may add in the future. Modules like sensors should be little pluggable pieces and not soldered to the main board.

All in all, I think this project is going to be delightful to watch if completed. It has a broad range of topics to learn too, like electronics, image processing, control systems, programming, etc. And since they are independent, it is not as daunting as it seems. As in, things will work even if certain things are not implemented.

So yeah, that's an idea I have been thinking of for quite some time. Let me know your opinions on it.