Monday, January 31, 2005

Lawrence Lessig had this great column on Wired a few months back. I've been meaning to link to it since forever, but it kind of got left out.

A great blurb:

"Think about our behavior over the past four years. We have cut taxes but increased spending, benefiting us but burdening our kids. We have relaxed the control of greenhouse emissions, creating cheaper energy for us but astronomically higher costs for our kids, if they are to avoid catastrophic climatic change. We have waged an effectively unilateral war against Iraq, giving some a feeling of resolve but engendering three generations of angry souls focused upon a single act of revenge: killing Americans. And we have suffocated stem cell research through absurdly restrictive policies, giving the sanctimonious ground upon which to rally, while guaranteeing that kids with curable diseases will suffer unnecessary deaths. In each case, we have burdened children - that one group that can't complain - so as to supposedly benefit those of us who do.

This is the shameful application of a simple political truth: The future doesn't vote."

I can't help but agree with him. And, Lessig does well in taking both sides (R/D) to task.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Of Teacups, Storms and Being Politically Incorrect

This is the most balanced of opinions I have seen over the past few days about the Harvard President's remarks that women may not be as mathematically and scientifically inclined as men.

Honestly, I think the issue got blown way out of proportion. This was a remark by an esteemed academic, no doubt. But it wasn't as if he made sweeping statements with nothing to back him up, or that he said women scientists weren't good enough. He cited real studies where women seemed not to be performing as well as men.

He did give the example of his daughter. That was a bad idea. Anecdotal evidence in such a scenario makes it a generalization, whatever may be his intentions. And if, in his experience, he has found that women he knows are unwilling to put in 80 hour weeks, it's his opinion and he can make it. Did I hear something about it being a free country?

The poor fellow had to apologize. Twice. It would have been funny, if the matter hadn't been so serious and the man so accomplished.

We still have a long way to go before women receive the same respect as men in many fields. Attitudes definitely need to change. But this definitely isn't the way to go about achieving this.

I dug up this article from BusinessWeek that I remember reading about two years back. It talks about how girls are getting better and taking the lead in all spheres of education. From being class president, to debating to dramatics, to being the ones getting into college, "boys are the second sex" now. For some reason, this doesn't seem to manifest itself in engineering and the sciences.

If they are doing so well at everything, what are the reasons keeping women away from engineering then?

Nature? Nurture? Social pressures? The fact that being in a man's world makes it likelier that a woman will be discriminated against?

Everyone has their opinions, and probably the answer is a combination of these. I agree with Dr. Summers and what the quoted NYT article states. We need more studies to get a conclusive answer. Maybe, on an average, guys ARE better at this stuff naturally (that doesn't preclude girls from being good at it. I've met enough girls smarter than me to say otherwise) . Is that such a bad thing? Women are apparently better at "people skills", and it is PC to say this. Again, this doesn't stop guys from being good with people.

If my opinion makes me politically incorrect, so be it. (dodges)

As Paul Graham says " There is something wrong with you if you don't think things that you don't dare say out loud." Touche.

Saturday, January 22, 2005


One doesn't expect to wake up one day and find one's fundas on life validated by a Harvard professor. But here I am. All I think of Happiness And Life As I See It vindicated by Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard:

The Article

Choice quotes:

"Research suggests that human beings have a remarkable ability to manufacture happiness."

"Things do seem to turn out for the best - but studies suggest that this has less to do with the way things turn out than with our natural tendency to seek, notice, remember, generate and uncritically accept information that makes us happy."

This does put paid to the romantic notion that things will turn out fine. It turns out that things don't turn out fine, but people do. This places a greater onus on us (I like that, onus on us. Recursive alliteration ?) to make things work in our mind, rather than hoping that they'll turn out OK.

Bummer. The responsibility is killing.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Make way for the fashion statement of the month. It's ...sweaters. As the mercury went south all the way to the Antarctic here, the warm woolies are out more than ever, even in the warm confines of the office. A casual walk down the corridor shows more men/women in their fleece sweatshirts and turtle-neck sweaters than ever before in my brief time here.

This place is nowhere close to Pittsburgh on the snow quotient (proximity to the Great Lakes being a great factor there). But with the temperature touching 0 Fahrenheit here, the very few cold-lovers must be happy. Mainly skiers are happy with this kind of weather. No one else seems to like it much. To paraphrase an ad I heard on the radio,a snowboarder will be "Down in the garage, giddy as a schoolgirl,polishing his snowboard".

Waiting for the snow to thaw, and glorious spring to arrive. Not that I'd mind skiing (its on a list of things to do, this winter or next), or the snow so much. I don't mind this weather so much except for the fact that it is so goddamn disruptive. Going out means scraping 3 inches of snow off the car and driving 15 miles slower than the prescribed speed limit. No walking outside, unless you want to freeze and risk the loss of a digit (or a limb). No food places or coffee shops with outside seating. You are stuck inside unless you can lift yourself off your rear and drive 100 miles to the middle of nowhere, pay through your nose and ski.

Seeing people (read: pretty girls in summer. I leave the rest to your imagination) on the roads and outdoors is much more fun. Not to mention some real greenery, as compared to the really depressing dried trees I see outside my window right now.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Too young to comprehend, too proud to complain

I read someplace a long time back that one should not read important books at too young an age, as the impact of the book is not what it would be. (that is, IF you could really comprehend what the author meant)

Being a somewhat prodigious reader as a kid meant that I was reading books way before they were supposedly 'appropriate' for me. By the time I was in college, classics like "The Catcher in the Rye" and "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" had already been devoured and swallowed whole by this voracious reader.

Swallowed whole is more appropriate I guess, because these books did not affect me the way they 'should' have, considering the impact they have had on readers worldwide. I simply didn't 'get' them. I did 'get' and love most of Ayn Rand's work, including 'The Fountainhead' and 'Anthem'. (I do think 'Atlas Shrugged' is about a thousand pages longer than it should be though.) And I loved, and still love Richard Bach and pretty much anything he puts to print, including his Ferrets series.

I also have my reservations about the whole "critically acclaimed" thing, with me not agreeing often with what the critics say. Heck, I am a software engineer who reads, so my opinion on what good writing is or should be hardly matters to anyone but me. But 'acclaimed' books like 'The Interpreter of Maladies' and 'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel left me disappointed. I liked only the first story in "The Interpreter of Maladies" about the couple in a fight in the middle of powercuts in the US (yes, they do occur, VERY rarely where I live though). 'Life of Pi' began interestingly enough, but towards the end, the drama of the tiger and Pi in a boat loses steam, and I was really looking forward to the book ending.

Maybe its just me.

Now that I am on the right side of 25 and supposedly 'mature' enough( by what standards
I ask?), should I go back and revisit some of these, if only to see how growing older affects your insights and if there are more 'a-ha' moments, richer of experience that I am now?

Do Not Go Gentle Into the Night

Do Not Take the Easy Way Out
When it is the most tiring, push the hardest.
Let your thoughts be interesting, insightful and funny.
Never let your music be "Easy Listening".
Do not Go Gentle Into the Night.
Put up a fight.
There has to be something worth fighting for.
There has to be something worth dying for.
If there isn't, is this existence worth anything at all?
Keeping regular hours is boring
Sleeping at the same time every night is frightening.
This is the time to be passionate.
A time to make mistakes.
To take life's blows on the chin.
To live fully, to love unreservedly, and to laugh wholeheartedly.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Fighting Temptation

The unimaginable has happened - a sub-$100 iPod. Small capacity - 512MB, but I don't need a freakin' extra hard drive. I only want a music player, which will play a few hours of music for me, and will be something that I won't mind shelling out money for. Will work with the nice iTunes interface, making syncing a breeze.

And this is it. Finally...

The iPod Shuffle

Strap yourself in for 6-month waiting periods on this baby.


A colossus rests...

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Movies to see

Good special over at rediff about the movies coming up next year (make it this year). A few
obvious pleasers: Johnny Depp and auteur extraordinaire Tim Burton combining after a sweet Edward Scissorhands and a dull but gorgeous-looking Sleepy Hollow to bring us the Roald Dahl favorite, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". Time for a library trip to read up on the original? Or should I do it the LOTR way, the movies first, and the books later ? (actually, I haven't read the books yet)

Batman begins, this time with a Goth feel, more than the campy feel it's had over its past reincarnations. I did like a couple of the Batman movies (whats to not like about Alicia Silverstone in a catsuit) , but I think this revisitation to the franchise will be worth it.

Then of course, there is a very interesting looking Sin City , a real graphic novel meets big screen, and one I am really looking forward to - "Be Cool". John Travolta redefines cool (when he gets up on the right side of the bed, that is), and him on the dance floor with the Bill Killing U in a Pulp Fiction after-party is to look forward to.

Favorite dialog: "Do you dance?" " I am from Brooklyn"
Well, Saturday Night Fever had his character based in Brooklyn too.

An interesting study - movies based in New York, versus movies based in any other city in the US. I think NYC wins 2 to 1 at the minimum. Maybe, someone more statistically inclined might be interested.

But, there is that one movie based across the Hudson River in the Garden State - Spielberg's new "War of the Worlds". Well, Tom Cruise was all over the papers when he shot in the Newark area for the movie. Which left Alhad, formerly from Los Angeles, California - Home to Hollywood in considerable mirth.

Quicktime Trailers at

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Incredible Dilemma

Much has been written about "The Incredibles" and the philosophical questions it raises. I admit, I am not entirely uncomfortable with all of them myself. The character of Syndrome has a beginning that is not entirely unlike that of many geeks - super-intelligent with visions of heroism. While the do-gooders get their due glory, a rejected-in-childhood Incredi-boy becomes Syndrome, intent on turning the world into a celebration of mediocrity. The "everyones' special" refrain of parenthood today in the US is played on very smartly.

My audacious question is: is that so untrue? It's not my case that we celebrate mediocrity like the ridiculous ceremony for Dash's 4th grade graduation. However, as a generation that really knows no better , are we in a position to judge what gifts people are born with?

And what about hard work? Many gifts, including the holy grail of geekdom - hacking, are not purely birth-given. They are acquired through hard work, through all-nighters with caffeine and ramen noodles for company.Where does a world with the Incredibles(who don't really have to work at it) leave these people?

Time to watch the movie again.


Found this nice review, which partially agrees with my POV on the intelligence of Syndrome and the problem it raises within the whole premise of the movie.

In hindsight, I feel a bit silly. All this over an animated film. Well, at least I don't try to learn Klingon, and do a few million silly things that the Star Trek crowd seems to think cool.