Tag Archives: rambling

(Yet Another) Theory vs Systems Ramble

Theoretical research is like a mighty battle against a noble King. Your foe is not a ruthless warlord — he, on the other hand, is the master tactician that has seen hundreds of wars. He has a versatile and innumerable army, highly trained, unflinching and ready to make a kill when they have to.

Nevertheless, you can trust the king to not breach the rules of war. His army will take you head on, face to face, and you can count on them to fight a fair battle and not to backstab you. You can fight a fair, disciplined war, and count on your foe to do the same. You can even challenge the King to a game of chess and have the winner take the land.

However, you can’t get a mallet and bash your way through the army. There is no sidestepping and backstabbing the king. Your opponent is too good for that. To win, you have to bring in your best; bring in a clever, disciplined and dedicated fight, and hope to bring the King to your knees in the end.


Systems research is plenty different. It is like battling a ruthless werewolf. It knows no rules, other than to go for your neck. You are up against a mindless beast. Your tactics or strategies won’t help you here—only your instinct, and generous helpings of luck will. You’ll need to move fast and keep an eye behind you to survive.

However, killing the beast might be as simple as one simple, clean thrust of your sword right into it’s heart. The harder part is to survive till you get to make the swing.

Obsessions

Our lives are defined by obsessions. They are always there, stippling the monotony of our lives with colours and motion.

They are there, an obsession or another; blotting out our consciousness, occupying the forefront of our realm of thoughts, at all times. A tight deadline you need to meet; the mindless game you feel the irrational need to play over and over; the train of tasks your objectivistic mind has set forth; the tormenting wait for a text message that you expect; your addiction demanding another dose of intoxicant; the face of the woman you can’t get out of your eyes—they vary in form and function, but they all manifest themselves as an inescapable, nagging presence; standing out boldly against everything else we try to indulge ourselves in. Remorseless attention-seekers, they are, begging at the loudest of their voices to be pampered, drowning out everything else.

They define, by their very existence, the sense and direction of our lives. Each day is shaped by the obsessions we choose to entertain, those we let live on, and those we try—often unsuccessfully—to stifle. Our obsessions make us who we are.

Whiteboard

For a while now, I’ve been contemplating about buying myself a whiteboard. While I was not under the illusion that a whiteboard in my room was somehow going to magically boost my creativity and productive thought; I was pretty curious, given the visual thinker that I am, what a large, solid drawing surface could do to help map my thoughts out. Thus, given that entry-level whiteboards where not prohibitively costly anyway, I decided to take a plunge and brought myself a 2’ x 3’ whiteboard and a couple or markers to test my hypotheses out.

Within three days of having the board on my wall, I find myself reeling for it quite more often than I had anticipated. First of all, the novelty of a whiteboard (I quite love the feel of the bullet-tip felt pen in the slippery surface) prompts me to write things a lot more often than I otherwise would. While watching a video-lecture, for instance, when I encounter a formula that I have a doubt about, I could pause the video and try deriving the formula myself until I’m convinced. Also given the pathetically absent-minded bloke that I am (worse, I typically go over a sum over and over wondering what’s wrong; without realizing that I’ve written 2 x 4 = 6 somewhere along the way), a whiteboard makes it easier to spot mistakes — I could just take a step back and look at the derivation, and in the second or third try, the error usually pops up to me.

Better still, I’ve started working away at problems (mostly insignificant fancies) that pop up in my mind randomly, problems which I would otherwise have put off indefinitely. With the whiteboard, I can now grab my marker when my mind starts to wonder, ‘why doesn’t anybody talk about an edge-list representation of graphs yet, where you simply store the list of edges’ ; I can instantly grab my pen and start working out the data structure and trying to build BFS and DFS algorithms on it until I’m finally convinced why it is a bad idea (there is little gain in the edge-list representation, most of the things the edge-list is good at, the adjacency list performs equally better; while the algorithms are slightly less efficient on edge-lists).

To sum things up, even though the whiteboard did not ‘magically’ boost my creativity, it did so to a non-trivial extend — mainly, it turned my otherwise lazy thought-process pro-active. I consider the whiteboard expense money well spent.

Parallel Universes and Alternate Myselves

If the future held infinitely many alternatives; if there were infinitely many choices that we could make about each moment that comes next, why aren’t there any about the past, or present? Why is our world view shaped like a reverse-funnel, where the past is a well-defined trajectory that we have already traced, the present being the only branching point we have any choice about, at all; and future being the infinite unwielding possibility it ever is? Why are the choices that we’ve failed to make, gone forever?

When it comes to intellectual movies like Inception or Source Code, there are usually many ways you can devour the movie – you can concentrate on the intricacies of the plot; you can indulge yourself in the intellectual nuance with which the underlying concept is formulated; or you can simply be lost with the philosophical implications and possibilities of thought-paradigms that the movie leaves open – I usually take the third path, and the past night’s late-night hour with Source Code left me with this question – parallel universes, why not?

Could there be another me that could have taken another fork somewhere down in the road, and is living an altogether different life, probably better? Could there be an alternate version that did not messed up the choices that I did? Perhaps there is, an infinite alternate versions of me having taken different decisions, been different places and done different things. There can be – there are – indeed different ways that I could live the future, why should it be any different for the past?

It’s refreshing, and in a strange sense, consoling to believe that there could be a version of me that got some things right that I didn’t. It’s at the same time, feebly disarming, to realize that the alternate me, is not really “me”, and in that sense; there aren’t many versions of me, there’s just one – ME.

Duty or Dust?

The evolution, of man as a being and humans as a society, has been about one thing more than anything else – a perpetually growing pile of ordeals cumulating upon our selves. As we grow and move, these ordeals; the tidbits of etiquettes, rules, laws, clichés, orders, advises and duties; circle us in a vicious loop, even while we don’t realize it and proclaim ourselves to be free men.

The state assembly elections were here; after a couple of weeks of stampede by trumpeting campaign-bandwagons; and like the past time, I chose not to vote. As for why, I had a clear reason – firstly, it was a cycle-democracy, except for an exception in a blue-moon, the fronts ceaselessly alternated for their shot at the podium. Secondly, the choice was between sand and sawdust. Finally, all candidates had personalities as plain as the attire they were clad in, white, with no distinguishing colours or patterns that set them apart from another. Thus, at least until one of the three factors negates itself (the third being obviously the most likely, the other two bordering on total impossibility), I found no real reason to vote.

Like expected, this decision would garner more rebuke than praise. When I rather proudly told a friend that I skipped this elections, she responded:

I disagree. It’s true that politicians never do their part, but we have certain duties as a part of the democracy, so at least we should do that. (…) Not being a part of democracy is a failure from our side, and we can’t forget our duties towards the nation like that.

Yet again, here we are, where a duty should take precedence over choice or reason. Nobody really disagrees the fact that democracy in India, as it stands, is a total failure. Everyone just wants to play their parts simply as it is their duty towards the nation, because we are all part of a plan, our souls bound down for life to a hundred ordeals written down in ink.

As for me, quite simply, I don’t give a damn, my duty is something that makes sense to me and makes me want to do it; and I don’t believe that choosing sand over sawdust is one of them – it would be my duty to vote, if one day comes a sensible politician that really demands my attention and vote; but until then, no, I’m not buying. And to all the duty-loving crowd, a quick reminder – if voting is your duty, so is keeping your surroundings clean and protecting the public-property like your own – the constitution writes that down too.

What do you think? Do I make sense or am I the complete moron?