Saturday, October 28, 2006

Saved by Voltaire again...

Let me tell you how. I have been in front of my machine for the last few hours trying to model some data. You know those times when intuition escapes you, you can't see features in the data that you could spot in a second at other times and to top it all the software gives you incomprehensible error messages - basically nothing seems to work. You're stuck. Tired. Frustrated. Eyes hurting. Head aching. But don't want to give up.

...and then you stare outside the window, watch the property maintenance guy with his girlfriend and a big smile on his lips...probabaly headed for a bar. He's got a better life than me - cool carefree life, live for the day, no need of breaking your head on 'generalized estimating equations'. Why the hell am i spending time on this? How is it really going to impact my quality of life? I wish i could trade places with him...

...and then strikes Voltaire. From his "Story of the good Brahmin":
"I wish I had never been born!" the Brahmin remarked.
"Why so?" said I.
"Because," he replied, "I have been studying these forty years, and I find that it has been so much time lost...I believe that I am composed of matter, but I have never been able to satisfy myself what it is that produces thought. I am even ignorant whether my understanding is a simple faculty like that of walking or digesting, or if I think with my head in the same manner as I take hold of a thing with my hands...I talk a great deal, and when I have done speaking I remain confounded and ashamed of what I have said."
The same day I had a conversation with an old woman, his neighbor. I asked her if she had ever been unhappy for not understanding how her soul was made? She did not even comprehend my question. She had not, for the briefest moment in her life, had a thought about these subjects with which the good Brahmin had so tormented himself. She believed in the bottom of her heart in the metamorphoses of Vishnu, and provided she could get some of the sacred water of the Ganges in which to make her ablutions, she thought herself the happiest of women. Struck with the happiness of this poor creature, I returned to my philosopher, whom I thus addressed:
"Are you not ashamed to be thus miserable when, not fifty yards from you, there is an old automaton who thinks of nothing and lives contented?"
"You are right," he replied. "I have said to myself a thousand times that I should be happy if I were but as ignorant as my old neighbor; and yet it is a happiness which I do not desire."
This reply of the Brahmin made a greater impression on me than anything that had passed.
Back to 'generalized estimating equations' with renewed vigour!

One question that i have, though - Is it right to characterize the lady in the story as ignorant? She is happy and that's what matters (to her), isn't it? How does it help being 'knowledgable' but unhappy? I think some part of this debate has commonalities with the Bhakti vs Jnana schools of philosophy. Probably, best to have a synthesis as Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa taught.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Happy Deepavali

May this year be filled with light for all of you. Be Good. Do Good.

I know this comes late but try not to burst those horrendous crackers. Light not bad sound. In the US thankfully you can't even if you wanted to - try bursting a 'Laxmi bomb' or 'Rasi bomb' and next you'll find 500 red crosshair images and choppers above you wanting to take you out like hell.

There's a beautiful temple in Flint, Michigan (called Paschima Kasi!) which i visited today thanks to the initiative by some friends.
Was a nice experience. No crowds - just one gentleman meditating in a corner. The fragrance of camphor and flowers just like back home. Fall colours. Uplifting Vedic chanting - a very helpful, pleasant and learned priest. Was all nice. The Priest invited us for a special Divali puja (worship) that was being organized today but couldn't stay back : had to get back - WORK!

Finally, please do watch this beautiful Deepavali commercial (and this too if you can please)

There are some other very touching and meaningful Petronas commercials there that you might be interested in viewing.

And finally, finally : it is Deepavali not Deepawali (though have tagged this post as both). No big deal but i thought i'll chip in with that. As Sri Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati remarks, the 'w' sound is like when you say 'water'. The 'v' sound is different - as in 'Vani (Sarasvati)'.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Lurking on software help/user fora is an instruction on a lot of things apart from learning the software. Particularly in human behavior.

One really interesting aspect is the way the experts behave. Every forum has its experts - the people who 'own' the forum - baap ka raaj (pop's kingdom). Some of these kings are kind - they lead you step by step even if you are new.

There are others who go: "Go figure, you idiot. Don't come on this forum unless you know the basics" or "How dare you waste our time asking such trivial questions. Don't you have a brain?". And there have been times when i have seen these responses (like this and this!) and have gone "Whoa...Izzat ka falooda (crushed self-esteem)".

One user help list i regularly visit is that of a statistical software called R which i use extensively for my work. R is both a software package and a computing environment AND it's free+open source! - the best brains in the world contribute to this project. It's probably THE standard for statistical computing.

Anyway, all this is beside the point. This post is about a hilarious exchange i saw on the list. BTW, people who participate on this discussion are almost never AFAIK beginners. Actually, most are pretty advanced users who just need some tip here or there or some technical clarification. And then this:

The question
I saw this and went "uh, oh...this guy's had itttttt". I mean, "because my gf. is using it in her university project"? 100 marks for honesty, but 0 for being sensitive. And this is what happened...

The Response
(underlining mine)
This response even made it to the wikipedia entry on RTFM!!!

Also see these two interesting related wiki links : UTFSF and Flaming

Solid, na?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Perfect day...

...was today. It was just so completely beautiful outside. 21 degrees celsius. Sunshine. Clear blue sky. Just that little breeze.

It would be a shame to sit at home on a day like this. Yes, a lot of work pending but i couldn't care. i just had to experience this day fully. I wouldn't mind not sleeping for the next two days just to be outside with nature today.

Luckily my pal, Sharath, was a willing accomplice in the ditch-work-and-go-out plan. And canoeing we did. Actually kayaking - picked up a double kayak this time.

Did a two hour trip downstream River Huron (a great river - more about it sometime in the future). Luckily the Argo Livery where we commence is just about a 5 minute drive from our place. Sharath finished his meeting early and we just sped there.

...and Boy, was it gorgeous! Just absorb the fall colours.
What do you say? Brilliant, isn't it? I was just spellbound. And nature conspires to make things easy for you. Just when you feel the sun is beating harshly and you wish there was a little shade, there it comes:

...and just when you feel so pure with nature, every now and then there's a house that springs up along the river like this:

...that arouses a wave of jealousy: "Damn! I wish i had a house like that on the river". You then quickly recover and remind yourself that happiness is not about possessing things. The enlightened ones throughout the ages have told us that the sure path to misery is to expect, to want, to desire, to covet. Why can't i just be happy with what i have? Truly, if i was happy always with whatever i had, that would be TRUE happiness - happiness that is unconditional upon external factors. Mental note as i go along the river: Practice vairagya (non-attachment), non-covetousness.

Slowly, we're now almost completely absorbed into nature. Time to stop rowing. Just let the river carry you. Paddle only just a little so you're on course. Put your feet up. Relax. Inhale deeply.Let the fresh air energize you. Immerse yourself in the surroundings (do i sound like one of those yoga guys on TV?)
No noise. No people yaking away loudly. No blaring film music. No people spitting or puking into the river.

And then, all of a sudden the river opens up to magnificent blueness with just a little green to give it that balance.
Who planned all this? Was this day destined to be so beautiful?

Anyway, this stretch also tells us that we are close to Gallup Park - our destination. A sinking feeling. God, will you please give me another chance sometime in life to experience this kind of a day. When i do not have to be excited/worried about the future, neither relive/regret the past. Just be so completely absorbed in the present that it is eternity.

Sharath and I return the kayak, sip some coffee and spend about 20 minutes just staring ahead of us.One last look at the warm green grass and the river as we head back to our homes.

The exchange of words Sharath and i had, i think summed it all up.

Me : I think this was a day to die for.
Sharath : What are you talking about!? This was a day to totally live for
(, do you think we qualify as Zen monks now?)

A fitting end to a beautiful day - a magnificent sunset. I send a 'Thank you' to the One for the opportunity to experience this day.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

New Camera + Home snap

Finally got a new camera - about a week now. Given that fall is almost in full form, couldn't wait any longer and miss out on the colours.

The new camera
Not something hi-tech. Nikon 7600. Just a warning for those of you planning to buy a camera:
a) I do find that it fails to take good pictures in low light and indoors - gives 'blurred image' warnings too often.
b) Before buying this camera, i had gone through reviews and had found many complaining of the same. I took a chance though - i was running out of time and had to take a decision fast + was already used to a Nikon and had it's charger etc.
c) Speaking of charger, this is a battery guzzler. So you have to buy a rechargable battery /charger set along with the camera.
d) Time-to-flash (i forget the technical name) is quite long. So i take a snap requiring flash and then i would have to wait quite some time for it to be ready to take another snap requiring the flash.

First snap
Meanwhile, here's the very first picture from the new camera. This is my home's backyard - it's got a nice mini valley that you might just about figure out from the snap. The sunsets are spectacular. The best time to capture them would have been in the summer (when i didn't have the camera!) - it get's pretty cloudy nowadays and rains often.