Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Fable

Once upon time, it is pretty difficult to get off.The creature has a blinkered belief in linear progression. It is using the artifice of refined reflection that it is possible to look behind (in a mirror darkly?) and see the summers past and the sweet bird of youth, as it drops furlong furlong behind us.

This is the story of Thelonius Anthropus.

You see Onny (as his friends called him, lovingly he hoped) was ambivalent. This is different from using both one's hands to do tricks or the more sinister schizoid, whose one hand does not know what the other is doing.

Onny's problem was he was painfully aware what his other half was doing. He was one of our young men who oscillate between the rogue and the saint.

One day he was walking down the street when he heard the skies say,
"Hey you, who walk with a thousand eyes upon you, Hark!"
Or so he would have heard if the Universe had a better sense of style.
Instead what he did hear was "What's up Doc ?".

Sometimes a cue is all man needs and Thelonius drew in his moisture and declaimed :
" I am a free man. Or so I would like to believe. Free in thought and action. I dream of a place. A place of unfettered fetishes and erotic euphoria, smell of musk, leather, sawdust, cooking meat, baking bread, sweet, sharp custard, sex, earth, grass and a curious no-smell. Bedecked with dimpled dew, heather and the leaf, honey and Johnson's Baby oil. Pregnant with buried treasures, flowing with scented waters, cavorting in joyous embrace,the skies and the wind. The scream, song, fusion, froth, crescendo, cadence, thrash, thump, glory, guts ..", when the Flower-pot which had begun it's journey from a third floor window towards it's resting place in the Good Earth, was rudely interrupted by Onny's Noggin.

"I warned the man" rumbled the Skies.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Bug By Design?

The debate between creationists and evolutionists has been a lively and engaging one over the years. The creationists have applied the concept of a master creator and the corollary of "form follows function" to everything from bacteria to butterflies. The lines have never been drawn more clearly, nor the arguments more vociferous, as those over the curious creature called the Bombardier beetle. The bug appears to be an irreducible complexity.

Michael Behe, the originator of the concept (in that he first articulated it) defines irreducible complexity (IC) as "a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning." An irreducibly complex system breaks down the theory of evolution. Such a system can be deemed as having been "engineered".

What is IC about the Beetle? Why, it's defense system for which it is named. It earned its common name from its ability to defend itself against predators by firing a mixture of boiling-hot toxic chemicals from special glands in its posterior.

The mechanism of the spray works thus: Secretory cells produce hydroquinones and hydrogen peroxide, which collect in a reservoir. The reservoir opens through a muscle-controlled valve onto a thick-walled reaction chamber. This chamber is lined with cells that secrete catalases and peroxidases. When the contents of the reservior are forced into the reaction chamber, the catalases and peroxidases rapidly break down the hydrogen peroxide and catalyze the oxidation of the hydroquinones into p-quinones. These reactions release free oxygen and generate enough heat to bring the mixture to the boiling point and vaporize about a fifth of it. Under pressure of the released gasses, the valve is forced closed, and the chemicals are expelled explosively through openings at the tip of the abdomen.

The professional biologist refutes the charge by pointing out that all the subsystems in the defense system are found in other bugs. Personally, I think, there is a missing component to the theory of evolution. Personally, I am not sure if the Bombardier Beetle is an ASIC (Application Specific Irreducibly Complex) design or not.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Dark Portraiture

you are the common man,
an unpardonable offence,
conformation (unwilling?),
has hardened your glassy essence,

a family (congratulations),
to your credit,
a house of your own,
two point three kids,

escape the trenches?
can you take a hit?
what good reflection?
the moving finger's writ,

deny the small part,
deny your age,
deny we are actors,
and the world's a f***ing stage,

solace in denial,
take all you will friend,
self-pity maybe a flexible bullet
but it gets you in the end.

Afterword: There is an empirical study that suggests that a prolonged lack of the sun, produces manic depression in humans. Towards a partial extenuation, I submit that this poem was written about three months into the worst winter that Delhi has ever seen. Before you dismiss this hypothesis, remember that angst is a Scandinavian word.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Quantum Kookiness Redux

One of the more kookier sites I visited, advertises certain workshops on something called Quantum Hypnosis.

This variant of hypnosis (they claim) is derived from the belief that everything is ultimately a product of consciousness. The premise is established by some of the most specious and convoluted mish-mash of pseudo-science I have ever read. I thought it was very clever, but then I love science-fiction.

The essentials of their argument is this - Quantum Mechanics states that we cannot completely measure and predict events at the atomic level. Instead we can only speak in terms of probabilities. The question is (paraphrasing Schrodinger's description of the Cat-In-the-Box experiment) : "When and how does the model of many microscopic possibilities resolve itself into a particular macroscopic state?". In other words, at what point do we move from Quantum Mechanics to Common Sense?

The Kooky Site would have me believe that it is "conscious observation that causes real events to happen". They would have me believe that when I perceive a wasp, the wasp is resolved from a sea of potentialities to stick it's pointy end into my face (the pain!).

They proceed from this premise to claim that - Since the consciousness is the crystallizer of Reality, control of the consciousness (achieved through their mail-in order brochure) is the way to the Superman. Shades of Matrix.

Must add that this theory of The Conscious Observer is not theirs. Bohr proposed it. Einstein didn't agree to it(God and Dice Reaction). It actually has an impressive name too - it's called the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Different Sort Of Programming

A chance exploration of the Theory of Hypnosis has led to some interesting speculation. These ideas, it must be confessed, have more in common with fancy than science though. To sample some delicious cargo-cult science, direct your nearest web search engine to dig up dirt on "Hypnosis".

Apparently, the central concept in hypnosis is distracting or otherwise engaging the left half of the brain such that the Hypnotist can access the subconscious directly. I recollect reading somehere that we almost always rationalize our decisions post-fact. Let us assume for a moment that it is the subconscious that decides my likes and dislikes. If I could "program" my subconscious effectively then I could control my likes and dislikes. The problem with this line of thought is that it distinguishes between "I" and "my subconscious". To get around this problem let us further assume that "I" applies to that aspect of my consciousness that finds my likes and dislikes irrational at times. Dare I call it Super-I.

Question is, is it possible to distract my left brain (what "I" would that be?) such that my Super-I could control my consciousness? There are numerous problems with this question and I find myself ill-equipped at the present time to think through all of them. In the interest of interest and time, let us assume that there is such a trinity in our consciousness and interplay between them allows for such self-programming. Or self-hypnosis.

One of the more pleasurable thought experiments I indulge in, is to apply my conclusions to the extant religious rituals that I am familiar with. Let us take the practice of counting beads while meditating. I posit, with aesthetic rather than science as my champion, that this can be explained in terms of distracting the left brain with the mechanical action of counting the beads and accessing the subconscious. The distraction can be further increased by simultaneously chanting something complicated.

Drawing a line through this, perhaps further success in keeping the left brain otherwise occupied can be achieved by creating a sensory overload. I call it the Distraction Principle. The difficulty lies in getting the Super-I to program the subconscious when the left brain isn't looking. The difficulty lies in "getting" the Super-I , period.

As I sit on my terminal, listening to Lee Ann Womack, drinking coffee, flicking my fingers over the hard plastic of my keyboard and watching these words appear on my screen, I cannot help but wonder if the only thing keeping me from a mystical epiphany is the absence of some extra-strong incense sticks.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Matter Over Mind

It was recently reported that a drug for the Parkinson's Syndrome, produced in it's users an obsession for gambling. Can something that was ingested produce such a purely mental reaction. But gambling is evil is it not? Considering evil a loss of perspective and consequence. Can a good man be corrupted by a couple of tablets? My friend here, mocks my naivete. The herblore and common knowledge of a thousand independent cultures abound with instances of substances that produce in their users effects ranging from the mystical to the malefic. You never heard of anti-depressants, my friend? Riddle me this, if what you ingest can influence your behavior, attitude and mood then what does the spread of McDonalds and it's ilk around the world suggest?
Since there has to be a poem about flowers.

A Flower

on the path of joy in eternity
we have seen it, see, will see
borne aloft by a careful breeze
inchoate lives in twos and threes
settle into the furrow and crease

we see it bud in the graceful shoot
the reason for leaves, stem and root
begin to petal in the sun's embrace
sensuous colors and involute

we saw it choose this way or that
welcome the bee and shun the gnat
in glory sway to west wind's wrath
disperse it's seed in every act

we will see it cup the silver dew
draw itself up to dawn anew
until when the time is come
the colors are weak and petals few

on the path of joy in eternity
we have seen it, see, will see
the faded flower break and free
in brittle remains of the beauty
that once was, is, will be.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Moments and Memory

As a self-confessed sociopath, I find it convenient to maintain an aura of inapproachability around my cube. Given the open-door policy feature of the Office cubicles, this aura must be carefully established by using a pair of oversized headphones, shuffling a set of intimidating looking applications on the desktop and wearing an expression of quiet distaste. Despite all this, as I found out, this scheme is vulnerable to the chance draft of perfume wafting from a casual passer-by. Now this is hardly noteworthy in itself. What is interesting, is the effect of the stray perfume and the line of thought it engendered.

I suffered an immediate context switch (which was unfortunate given the state of my release schedule). The perfume reminded me of a quiet afternoon some years past, spent in some very pleasant company, while watching the fantastic inanity that passes for afternoon TV. I immediately recalled, with perfect clarity, the lunch we had, the mindless chitchat we indulged in, and even the ludicrous plot-twist in the soap we watched. This sort of total recall is not rare. It probably occurs often enough for us to spend some time in recollection, smile a wistful smile, and in this nostalgic good humor introduce a couple of bugs in the next release.

The reason I analyze this particular occurrence more than I ordinarily would, is because of a book on memory that I am currently reading. It mentions, amongst other things, how Marcel Proust wrote his now-famous autobiographical work after a taste of some Madeleine cake triggered a childhood memory.
I have spent the last couple of days trying to find other triggers that cause me to remember past events. The Rasna jingle inevitably brings to mind the pleasurable Sunday evenings spent watching the adventures of Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman. The Tresor perfumes conjure images of a favorite cousin. The sound of rain on a tin roof recalls the tea-chawl behind the college to the mind's eye and the taste of the hot, bitter tea to the tongue. And then there are songs. Their notes striking chords of bitter-sweet memory. All mellowed by time into soft pastel shades. All treasured, acknowledged with a shake of the head and a wry smile.

It should be a guiding principle in life to look for moments that have a high Memory Quotient. The majority of our lives are spent in the white haze of commuting to office, paying bills, filling Work Breakdown Structures, reading long-winded blogs and other such. Few moments of intense emotional experience stand out. It seems to me a fine (if slightly selfish) goal to maximize these moments that so intensely impinge on our consciousness. For these, and only these moments of serenity, sorrow and joy have the power to modify our thought, deepen our insight into our own working and fulfill our latent potential. Everything else is a necessary evil.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Gym Psychosis

For those of you who have never seen the inside of the gym, I have, other than sympathy, a brief account of possible interest. There are certain environments where some GASBs (Generally Acceptable Social Behavior) are suspended. Consider civlility and parliament; punctuality and meetings; politeness and Delhi roads; humility and the gym.

The average gym user suffers from a psychosis whereby the current status of physical dimensions is always unsatisfactory. One effect of this psychosis is a nervous surreptious posturing before the nearest reflective surface. This activity is partly for assurance that the gut didn't expand while you were not looking. And partly, for discharge of a narcissistic charge that builds up while one sits in a 6'-6' cubicle for ten hours. This latter effect is more prevalent in the regular gym users in our office.

Yesterday, in the office gym, whilst I was meditating upon which exercise would be most benefecial to the pectorals, there sounded a vicious wailing. Since the only other person in the room appeared not to have heard it, I wondered if the gym psychosis had worsened to aural hallucinations. I was reassured by the unflappable gent on the treadmill that it was merely the UPS screaming for attention. The wailing kept up, until the ears adjusted to the strain and reduced it to ambient noise. After years of push-ups, chin-ups and sit-ups, yesterday, I did my first set of ear-UPS.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Knock. Knock.

A Math schoolteacher once remarked to his captive audience of listless kids that "Opportunity knocks but once in life. You better be ready to open the door". I am certain that this particular sentiment has been expressed much better by previous commentators on the human condition. However, it was the first time that I heard it. Albeit from outside the class, where I had been banished due to an unfortunate accident involving a rubber band, some paper and a little girl lacking any sportsman's spirit. I forget the circumstance that brought forth this pearl of wisdom. But given the teacher's arbitrary compulsion to inflict his age and collected wisdom upon the young things under his tutelage, it could have been something as trivial as setting up the context for a forthcoming Unit Test.

Occasionally, I have had cause to reflect upon this thought. This is inevitably followed by a melancholia that is alleviated only by marathon movie sessions, binge video-gaming or a cricket match. Who is to say that Opportunity won't come knocking when you have your headphones on, jiving to a soulful number by Cradle of Filth, as you debug the perversely creative bug you introduced in your last release. Or that you won't confuse Opportunity with that pesky neighbour who cannot decide between an Engineering and a Management career and thinks you can solve his dilemma. Or, horrors! That Opportunity knocked, got tired of waiting, and moved on to the next available door.

These unwholesome thoughts are aggravated by any mention of "Life's Goal/Ambition/Objective", "Purpose/Meaning/Reason of it all" and all variations thereof. For an individual whose governing philosophy in life has been to look for the Path-Of-Least-Resistance, Opportunity can be the ultimate bogey-man. The misery is compounded by Enterprising Folks. These are the sort of people who casually admit to making a killing in the stock-market; buying property and selling it at a fabulous premium; or chucking their jobs and taking up their life's ambition of doing Scientific Research; starting a Rock Band; becoming a Professional Cricketer or founding a Detective Agency. In short, the sort of people who wait upon their doorstep for Opportunity to come calling. More, the sort of people who are not averse to mugging Opportunity in a dark alley. Some of our seedier politicians (alright, most of them) come to mind.

An excellent example of the fine art of waylaying opportunity comes from the early life of Dhirubhai Ambani. As a clerk in a British trading company in Aden, a 20-something Dhirubhai hit upon a "sterling" idea. Ambani noticed the Riyal exchange to the Pound was lower than it's worth on the silver market. So he started buying up the Riyal coins and melting them down into silver ingots. Opportunity didn't know what hit it.

As a simple software engineer (a designation shown a strange respect by the beat constables in Delhi), I find it hard to imagine Opportunity ever finding a way to my immediate vicinity. It would first have to navigate the cunning pseudo-roads of Bhangel, where chances are it will be set upon with cudgels and sticks by the riot-prone locals. It would then have to pass the absurdly conscientous security at the NSEZ gates. If it can then convince my office security to route a call to my extension, it would have to cope with the disorientating aspect of the corridors. Surely after all that, a weary and tired Opportunity will give up at the last. You see, I don't have a door to knock.

Knock. Knock.
Who's There?
Of course not. Opportunity only knocks once.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A Small Matter Of Coffee Machines

I have found it convenient and effective to be fatalistic about certain things. When those said things turn out for the worst, one gets, if nothing else, a bitter satisfaction from having "got it right". One such thing is the ubiquitous coffee machine in offices. Each time, a new coffee machine is introduced, I am of the opinion that it's production is superior to that which existed before. I am also certain that the next coffee-machine would be better still.

I have lately come to the realization that it has probably little to do with the creativity and otherwise ingenuity of the machine manufacturers. It is a sad fact every machine that has stood within office walls, no matter how fine, is ultimately laid low by a curious infection. It is caused, I would surmise, by improper intake of water, wide variation in diet with unbalanced proportions of beans, milk and flavors. And, not so much lack of enthusiasm but a cheerful incompetence on the part of the health-workers. The results of the malaise varies; from water, with a spot of milk, to lighter fluid. Small surprise then, that the a new machine should taste better. The older one has passed on to Happy Coffee Grounds.