Tuesday, May 31, 2005

First post from my Linux laptop

I got a new laptop. I did something which I thought was very courageous -- I tried installing Fedora Core 3 on one of the latest laptops in the market. Two years back when I tried installing Redhat 8.0 on the Dell workstations I bought, I had great difficulty in getting the most basic things to work. I was not looking forward to that experience again, but that's the only logical step for me financially.

But I was in for a surprise. I could not only install everything in the first go, all the devices are supported very well for Fedore Core 3, including USB plug and play devices, touch pad, ATI Radeon graphics card, and what not. Furthermore, I could very easily find Yahoo messenger, Real Player 10, and many other supporting software on the internet.

It comes with pre-packaged Firefox browser, Thunderbird email utility, and OpenOffice.org suite of office functionalities. So, without having to pay for anything, I have a machine which can do almost everything a Windows system can do, except make money for Bill Gates.

Now, I am not anti-Windows, but I love Linux. Long live open source software development.

Monday, May 16, 2005


I had a turbulent weekend. Started off quite well, actually, when I laughed to myself at the headline in the local newspaper which proclaimed that Pune's software export had finally crossed the elusive one billion US Dollar mark (they thought they had crossed that mark last year but that figure was wrong, though they were very close, apparently). I mainly laughed at the human obsession with the decimal system. One Billion US Dollars. One hundred runs. Twenty years old. Thirty years old. Decade. Century. Millenium. Aren't all these artificial boundaries? Why should a hundred runs be a whole lot more important than ninety nine? What was so special about the year 2000? For all we know, we may be living in year 1992 right now (after all, I don't think we have any documentation of early calendars, and even if we did, how do we know we are not off by a few weeks since time measurement got accurate and standardized fairly recently). I could go on, but that should be for some other time.

Still, I was impressed. Pune's software industry has faced many challenges, and even though the figure is based on the decimal system, a billion US Dollars is a lot of money. The thought was soon forgotten and I went on with my life. I needed to withdraw some money, so I rode my motorbike to the bank. It was extremely hot, and I was a little irritable. Outside the ATM I encountered a bearded, slightly bent man, obviously very poor who offered to wipe my motorbike clean for a Rupee. A Rupee, my friends, is nothing these days. My dog would be unhappy with a Rupee as allowance. Still, I refused the offer, mainly because I have a humongous ego and I don't like being forced into anything. I would even go so far as saying that I was slightly rude to the guy, who quickly backed off after persuading the matter for a while. I withdrew the money, felt guilty about being so churlish, and made eye contact with the guy as I came out of the ATM centre. The guy asked me for 50 Paise! I dipped into my pocket, came up with a 50 Paise coin, and another of five Rupees. I gave him the 50 Paise coin, and could see the obvious disappointment in his eyes when I put the other coin back in my pocket. But the man had some selft respect, and he thanked me and left. While I drove back I felt a little smaller. I spend thirty Rupees for a coffee every morning, but I couldn't bring myself to give the guy more money. Well done, Anurag, very well done! I shared the incident with my wife when I reached home, and she told me I should have given him more. She asked me whether we could go back and give him some money. I love the girl. So we drove back to the bank, this time in the car. The guy was still there, he approached the car but was obviously hesitant when he saw me. I asked him whether he could clean the car and he agreed immediately. I went and bought a bubble gum, came back and found the guy stuggling with dirt stains on the windshield. I told him to leave it, and my wife gave him ten Rupees. He was obviously very happy, and promised me he'd clean the car later. "Next time, sir", he said with a huge grin, visible from behind his dusty beard.

I went home and had an afternoon nap. Upon waking up, I went for a walk with my wife in the fields behind the apartment complex where we live. There I saw Mithun, after a long time. So long that I had forgotten about him. Mithun is a crippled guy who lives in Koregaon Park. He can't walk, so he drags himself everywhere with his hands, not much unlike a big primate. He is roughly my age, and has a beard which he gets shaved once a year. I know his name because I asked him once, when I stopped to give him some food on a cold, wet monsoon night while he quietly sat under one of the numerous banyan trees on South Main road.

I asked Mithun how he was doing, he smiled, I smiled back and we kept walking. We roamed around there for a while, saw a water tanker come to fill water (supplied by the farm there) and asked the tanker guy whether we could climb the truck to which he agreed. Mithun saw us do that and laughed. We smiled back at him. Then we got off the truck and came back home. On the way back we encountered an old lady (she must have been close to sixty years old) struggling with a huge gunny bag filled with disposed cardboard boxes (for fire, I assumed). My wife stopped to help her put the load on her head while I wondered whether or not others would agree with me that no person should have to work so hard at her age.

Once at home, I got busy with some work when my wife told me that Mithun was still in the fields and was moving very slowly, almost too slowly. We decided to give him something to eat. I filled a bottle with milk, and along with a packet of Parle G biscuits and a mango, I put that in an old leather bag which we no longer used. I walked to the field where Mithun sat quietly. I gave him the food and twenty Rupees, which he did not thank me for. Maybe he was too embarassed. Maybe nobody ever talks to him and he lacks these so called social graces. I didn't care any which way. I asked him whether he had any family (he doesn't), whether he could walk with crutches (he can't), whether somebody made sure that he didn't go hungry (he said something which I couldn't decipher, but I don't think he has a guardian angel). Then I asked him something which I had been meaning to ask him since that night three years ago when I gave him food and asked his name, but which I had never asked him so far as that would mean raising his hopes, and I didn't want to get into a situation which I couldn't live upto. I asked him whether he would be able to move around if I got him some sort of a cart, the kind used by many beggars. He said yes, but he was no longer looking at me. I don't know why. Maybe he doesn't like being pitied. Maybe hope makes him sad. After all, it is not easy to have a dream when you have no means to fulfil it. I asked him how old he was and he displayed four fingers. I asked him again and got the same response. I don't know. Maybe he is forty, maybe twenty four. It doesn't matter. Age is a privilege of the well fed and well looked after. For Mithun, days are long, weeks longer. I have decided to find out about the means of locomotion for him.

Came home feeling rotten. Very rotten. I finally understood why Chandra Babu Naidu lost. Wealth is being created in our country for the IT sector, but it is not helping too many other people. There are still people starving. On the same day that I read about Pune's software exports crossing that staggering mark, I met three people of very limited means. Of them, I have seen one in the same state for the last three years. If the government made better roads, with pavements, Mithun would not risk his limb and life trying not to live his entire life in one spot.

Some people have told me that to help beggars is to encourage them. Probably a true statement, but inhuman, I feel. What hope does Mithun have to earn a living when perfectly healty and educated people can't find jobs? Can you live hand to mouth on the streets, without shelter, water or food? I once saw a beggar drink from a sewer. I wouldn't think twice before giving a person like that some money to buy water, maybe a wada pao.

I feel extremely lucky for having married a sensitive person who is generous, humane and understanding. I haven't seen such unconditional concern for the well being of the needy in too many people lately.

I don't think I am making too much sense here. I certainly have no point to drive home. I just wanted to let others know that a billion US Dollars of export is all very well, but Mithun still goes hungry very regularly and I have no idea of what could be done for him or thousands like him.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Socio-fluidic discussions

We have all heard (unless we are college students) about the recent chopping of a woman's hands in MP because she expressed her views against child marriages. Annie and Dilip have expressed their dismay and floated possible solutions. Now, despite the tremendous respect I have for them both, I think that their solutions won't work. Why, you ask, my child? I'll tell you why. Not just because I am a born-again cynic. Not because their solutions are flawed. But because the laws of science prevent such solutions from being admissible. If you hate science, or me, or don't want to get depressed, now is the time to bail out and go read something pleasant.

Still here? Well, I'll try to explain things using an analogy from the wonderful world of fluids. Fluids, in general, are nice. They can be sweet, coloured, taste good, make you drowsy, make you horny, and what not. However, they also have a few other properties which scientist earn their livings from. Some of these important properties are (but not limited to):

i) Pressure - fluids have pressure all through their extents, which is why our ears hurt when we go underwater, because water exerts pressure on them. Ears also hurt when we don't know the capital of Bulgaria and our Geography teacher tries to remove them from our body, but that involves little fluid mechanics.

ii) Temperature - did you really think I was going to explain temperature too? Jeez!

iii) Velocity - every fluid has some movement at all times, even if it appears static. The funny part is that velocity (or speed) of the fluid affects its pressure. When a fluid is moving fast, its pressure drops down (known as Bernoulli's principle, that is how inhalers for asthmatic people work).

iv) Viscosity - this is the property which causes fluids to stick. This is why people get caught red handed -- red coloured fluid sticks to their hands. This also means that if a body moves through fluid, it causes the fluid nearby to move with it.

v) Information of fluid properties is propogated in the fluid at the speed of sound. This will be a little harder to explain, but it will become apparent soon.

Very well, but what does it mean? It means that when a body is moving through a fluid, the fluid near the body moves at a comparable speed. If the speed of the body is very high, properties of the fluid change near the body. Now, if the body is ambling along at a gentle pace, like my evening runs, fluid in path of the body will know it well in advance (since fluidic information travels at the speed of sound) and make adjustments to accomodate the body. Fluid properties will gently change till they have the same values as those of the fluid in close vicinity of the body. Everyone will be happy and little fluid elements will go to the pub, have drinks and slap each other on their backs. However, if the body is moving at a speed comparable to that of sound, or higher, this information is not available to the fluid in path of the body well in advance. Before they know it, the body is upon them like an unwanted guest. Changes are still required to be made for the fluid properties to reach the properties of the fluid around the body (since discontinuities are not allowed in nature) but these changes have to be made extremely urgently. This is not a pleasant situation and gives rise to shock waves, also commonly known as sonic booms (because they appear when the body speed reaches sonic speed, the speed of sound). Shock waves are nothing but extremely large changes in fluid properties over a very small length and time scale. Too much to be done, too soon. Examples of shock waves are often visible for high speed jets and bullets.

I do have a point, thank you very much! Compare our society to the ambient fluid. We need to achieve a totally different set of properties for our society, since everybody basically complains about everything. At the speed at which things are going wrong, it is not too long before the system collapses completely. We need to change a lot, and too soon. Annie and Dilip offer sensible solutions, but they are inadmissble because they won't be able to bring about the necessary change soon enough. We need a social shock wave.

I don't want to be the doomsday prophet here, but I can vaguely predict that such a shock wave is not too far away. Why don't we have warning signs? Because it moves at the speed of sound and we won't hear about it before we encounter it. Can we avoid it? I don't think so. We could have, 20 years ago, maybe. But given the current intricate socio-politico-economic web, we will need a government which doesn't care about coming back to power and implements really drastic measures. If that happens, I also want to have my own private island in Bahamas.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Happiness is a warm puppy, a pack of milk, even a photo opportunity.

The first time when I really thought about what happiness really meant was when I read a Charlie Brown strip in which he proclaimed, while Snoopy slept in his lap, "Happiness is a warm puppy."

Is it? I was once going through terrible, terrible blues in life. Not even Jimmy Page cheered me up -- Led Zep was great to have a couple of beers over, but not very peppy otherwise in life. I played tennis four morning a week and football with a bunch of real good players on Sunday evenings (possibly the best way to exercise and work out, for me) but it still left me wanting something at the end of the sessions. I used to trek every other week to the Sahyadris, sometime to beautiful destinations, but the feeling never left me. My blue moons lasted whole months.

Then I decided that I had to do something about it. So I started spending money on things. I started with furniture for the house thinking I would feel better coming home if I had a decent place to come to. I had the place so furnished that any bachelor would have puked at the sight of it -- I could have re-rented the flat to a married couple and they would not have needed to buy anything more. I then bought a new music system and loads of CDs. But, surprise, surprise! I still felt the same. I was still low.

One of those days, while I drove to work early in the morning, I passed a portion of road lined by huts on both sides. To my left I noticed a small grocery shop where a visibly poor, very poor at that, woman carried a child and paid for something she had just bought. That something happened to be a half litre packet of milk, which the woman's daughter -- she might have been no more than four or five years old -- ran across the road with. She had the expression of joy on her face which I had not felt in weeks. Happiness to her was not a warm puppy -- it was the daily packet of milk. The fact that something so mundane, so trivial that I could have bought thousands of those packets for the money I spent in my pursuit of happiness, knocked the wind out of me. Instead of going to the office I went to Monginis and thought about the child. I realized, for the first time in life, that it was possible to be happy over small thing. In fact, it must be possible to be happy about nothing at all. Yes, happiness could be a warm Cheshire cat! Since that day, I have noticed people happy over the smallest things and I have been happier.

One particular afternoon, I was walking around in Koregaon Park, trying to find subjects to photographs. I was in the process of framing a dilapidated motorbike resting against a wall when I heard giggling behind me. I turned and shot a picture of these kids without spending too much time in composing and setting the photo up. Despite its obvious flaws, this photo is very precious to me. It shows two kids happy about nothing.

Happiness is a stranger stopping to shoot your picture.

Hell, I need to write more about this thing, but I will have to defer that to a later time. I need to get back to work, I need to go running today (it's been ages since I did that) and I need to publish this post.

Cheers. Happiness is also a long run, work you enjoy, a lovely wife and a warm beer. :))

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Making it big

So there was this person who was in love with a girl who wore contact lenses. Come to think of it, would a modern day Dorothy Parker have said, "Men don't lose their senses... for girls who wear lenses" or not? Anyway, this person was always willing to help out his love in any which way possible. He used to make sure she always had what she needed even before she needed it. Once she ran out of solution for her lenses and he was more than glad to run to the nearby chemist and get it for her. The solution cost Rs. 299, but the girl paid him back Rs. 300. This went on for quite a while. Everytime the guy bought solution for the girl's lenses, he made a Rupee. Over a period of time he amassed quite a wealth. A journalist came to interview him. When asked how he made so much money, the man modestly replied, "I knew someone with contacts."

I know, I know. It's silly. But it's my blog and it's my joke.