Prashant's Weblog
Random Brain "Droppings" of yet another software engineer

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Global Warming - Why we need to act?

Does data like..

Increase of 0.14 degree Celcius in 1906-2005 100-year linear trend when compared to 1901-2000 100-year linear trend

Increase in average Artic temperature is twice the global average rate in the past 100 years

There is very high confidence that the globally averaged net effect of human activities since 1750
has been one of warming, with a radiative forcing of +1.6 [+0.6 to +2.4] W/m2

or graphs like

from environment assessment reports leave you overwhelmed with tons of data which makes little or no sense or jargon like radiative forcing, surface temperature of permafrost layer leave you completely confused as to whether you need to do something or not and you end up doing nothing.

So here is a "keep it simple stupid" argument as to why each of us need to act in our own capacity to at least slowdown the global warming and thus avert the impending doom we are slowly but surely heading towards..

Labels: ,

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Whats the big deal climing a hill which is taller than all others??

Its was on 29 May 1953, amid most inclement and in-human environment conditions, two people, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, dragged themselves to a point where heavens seemed just a hand-stretch away. They were the first to climb to the highest point on this planet, peak of Mount Everest, standing tall at 29,029 feet. By doing so little did they know that they would become the icons who would inspire the spirit of Adventure for generations to come.

Today after almost 6 decades, both the icons are no more with us. The unsung hero of that epic journey, Sherpa Tenzing, expired in 1986 and on Friday(11 Jan 2008), with the arrival of the sad news of Sir Edmund Hillary's death a chapter came to an end, a chapter that tells stories of real heroes who represented the indomitable human spirit.

So what the heck is the big deal about climbing to the highest point on this earth? Why is an act which did not help any cause continues to inspires and is still remembered? Why two people who were just normal people before accomplishing this climb, were catapulted to iconic status after this act?

Jane Morris of Time in a brilliant article titled "The Conquerors" says
Geography was not furthered by the achievement, scientific progress was scarcely hastened, and nothing new was discovered. Yet the names of Hillary and Tenzing went instantly into all languages as the names of heroes, partly because they really were men of heroic mold but chiefly because they represented so compellingly the spirit of their time

represented so compellingly the spirit of their time
.....thats exactly what they did. They showed the world how even people with ordinary abilities but extraordinary perseverance can reach stellar heights.

Jane in another part of her article says;
it was a measure of the men that over the years they truly grew into the condition. Perhaps they thought that just being the first to climb a hill was hardly qualification for immortality; perhaps they instinctively realized destiny had another place for them. For they both became, in the course of time, representatives not merely of their particular nations but of half of humanity. Astronauts might justly claim that they were envoys of all humanity; Hillary and Tenzing, in a less spectacular kind, came to stand for the small nations of the world, the young ones, the tucked-away and the up-and-coming

This is probably the reason which makes them heroes and so eligible to become your role models. When you speak of Hillary and Tenzing, its not about the name and fame(which they achieved after the climb), both of which they had in abundance, but its what they did with that name and fame.. both used it to stand-up for people who were less fortunate than themselves and to me this is truly the measure of man. Hillary and Tenzing spent rest of their lifetime working towards environmental causes and conjure humanitarian efforts on behalf of Nepal and the Nepalese people. The spirit of this selfless service to a country which consumed almost his everything is something to commend on.

So I guess climbing a hill which is taller than all others is indeed a big deal because once in a while it leads to discovery of man like Hillary or Tenzing, a man to match his mountain.

Labels: ,

The quintessential Kiwi - Sir Edmund Hillary

Edmond HillarySir Edmund Hillary(1919-2008)

"you defeated me but you wont defeat me again, you have grown all you can grow but I am still growing"
- Sir Edmund Hillary

You will continue to live on forever in our memories, fueling that spirit of adventure in our lives.....


Monday, January 07, 2008

Why do we pray??

Last week end was not like the usual laze around week end, thanks to my mom who was on "mission Temples". What started as a excursion trip to Mysore and Bandipur was actually a mini-pilgrimage in disguise. Starting with Ranganathaswamy temple, Nimishamba temple, Chamundi temple, Gopalswamy betta, couple of temples inside the Mysore palace, Nanjundeshwara temple, Sri Ganapati Sachchidananda Ashrama and the Venkateshwara temple inside the ashram.. The weekend temple dosage was so high that I am like.. Did I ask for that shining new red Ferrari in Nanjundeshwara temple or the Venkateshwara temple? yeah I was that confused soul whose "must have materialistic pleasures" list had gone completely
haywire..shucks!! I forgot to ask for that magic wand to make my boss disappear :(

Anyways when I looked back on the trip in the comfort of my bed back home..I was left with many lingering questions... why do we pray? Whom are we praying to? and as the famous quote from Bible goes

"shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith"

does this
"he shall have whatsoever he saith"
really work or is it like
"he shall have whatsoever he saith*"
* Conditions apply

so with these questions started a conversation, a conversation with myself;

me to myself: Whats a Prayer?
myself to me: Its probably a language for you to interact with this source of energy which when we embody, becomes the one with eternally ebbing spirits, infinite body and immortal life, something we have labeled as the divine. Its a conversation that inspires you, a conversation that reveals the profundity, the gratuity, the fragility of a blessing called Life, which we often tend to ignore because of our preoccupation with "myself" and "my problems".

me to myself: "which we often tend to ignore..."....why would we do that, not appreciate the blessing?
myself to me: probably we don't know to recognize a blessing thats why the indifference or practicalities of life is such that you are forced to construct a facade and hide the real you. Probably that for some extent explains the success of "Second life"

me to myself: So is Prayer like scrubbing the pretense off yourself and looking at the true "Naked" you?
myself to me: Yes, when you strip yourself of the pretense you wear and look at yourself, thats when the real introspection happens. Probably this is the reason prayers are called for when you need to structure your life or need a honest "balance sheet" accounting of your life

me to myself: So whom do we pray to?
myself to me: As mentioned you construe that source of energy by embodying it and calling that entity as God. As you need a recipient for your prayers, the entity called God is not that bad a choice. So you pray God.

me to myself: But who is this God we are talking of anyways and why pray God only?
myself to me: There is probably no answer to that. But for understanding purpose things can be made simpler by looking at this problem in a different perspective. Consider a nuclear fission, you bombard a heavy elements with neutrons, so the question here would be is it worth the effort to find the exact atom of the radio active fuel which would be the first to split thus triggering the nuclear fission? I am sure you agree its wasted effort to find such information(if you can find it in the first place). Why the heck would I bother until I can control the energy generated. So to paraphrase in spite of our ignorance towards some details we are able to meet our objective of harnessing the nuclear power. So if we apply the same logic, we might be ignorant of the fact as to who exactly is this God we are praying to, but like in fission analogy, it might be irrelevant and we will do as good in spite of the ignorance.

me to myself: Why does God have to be this someone with eternally ebbing spirits, infinite body and immortal life, why cant that entity be someone like us, more human to say so that we can relate to him?
myself to me: As said prayer is kind of code review and you would want some one better than yourself to accompany you for this review and as humans are flawed creatures in themselves, it makes sense for us to look-up to someone who is more-than-human, someone who is inscrutable, someone before whom humans feel humbled.

me to myself: When to pray?
myself to me: Hmm..not sure...When you went to the Leh trek and when you saw that stunning beauty of Nature what did you do? You would have some said something on the lines of "thanks lord for making me be here today"..yeah a prayer. What would you do if you were to be on titanic on that fateful day when it sank.."I should have listened to mom and learnt to swim, lord my life jacket"..yeah again a it not just in adversity that we pray but other times too..So I guess whenever you are confronted with events which trigger a passion in you, you pray.

me to myself: How to pray?
myself to me: According to Christianity there are five steps to any prayer praise, thanksgiving, confession, petition and intercession which basically tell you how to pray. Even in Hinduism you will find similar patterns, for example if you take the two most famous prayers

Meaning:O God Ganesh (large bodied with a large belly), radiant as millions of Suns, Please, remove obstacles in all of my tasks all the time

As we can see there is praise(radiance compared to million suns) and petition/Intercession(remove obstacles)

Similarly when we see in

त्र्यम्बकं यजामहे सुगन्धिं पुष्टिवर्धनम्
उर्वारुकमिव बन्धनान्मृत्योर्मुक्षीय मामृतात्
Meaning: We Meditate on the Three-eyed reality. Which permeates and nourishes all like a fragrance. May we be liberated from death for the sake of immortality, Even as the cucumber is severed from bondage to the creeper

Again we can see there is praise(fragrance) and petition/Intercession(liberate us)

This way the conversation is still on with many more questions like whats the significance of silence in a prayer, What are the do's and dont's for petition section of the prayer?, Bible says its fair to ask lord for the food, so on the same lines is it fair to ask for a Ferrari?, Why do we groan/murmur while we pray and why is it that we are not aware(happens at subconscious level) of what we murmur about? why do we close our eyes but not other senses like ears and nose while praying? Whats the significance of posture in a prayer? etc..etc and an attempt to find answers is also on...

Probably my plea for a Ferrari and the Abraka dabra Boss tu hoja disappear magic wand might or might not come through, no regrets either ways, but if the prayers lead me to that critical introspection thus empowering me to appreciate Life better than I do now.. I will ask for no more..I will consider my prayers answered.

Labels: ,

Friday, January 04, 2008

(akshar naach rahe hain :) )

One of the advantages of reading TOI is that you will get to read and participate in these utterly useless opinion polls which try collate hard numbers on burning issues and get the feel of pulse of the nation. Recently one such "burning" issue got my attention;

Which Khan is the super duper badshaa of Bollywood? Sha..sha..sharukh Khan or Amir Khan?

Along with this opinion poll they had a half page review of their latest movies OSO(for the reel illiterate, its Kewl way of saying Om Shanti Om) and Taare Zameen par.

As such I am a great sucker for movies but had resisted watching SK movies as I have had real big time trouble coping with the neurological problems after watching couple of his previous movies, but when "enna rascala mind it" became part of lore and when people started to quote me as a example to explain the meaning of "anachronism" after I expressed my ignorance about the happening lingo..I knew..updating myself with the new lingo was necessary, not just necessary but it became a matter of I caved in and watched the movie. Not all was bad..I loved one song and that one scene when Deepika turns and gives that one look..ah!! my paisa wasool. About the rest of the movie, I will exercise my right of "reserve from making comments"(hail democracy) and not speak about it.

Anyways this post is not about OSO, but the other movie Taare Zameen Par , which I happen to see yesterday and am glad I did.

The emotional agony of not meeting parental expectations, which a nine year old suffering from Dyslexia goes through has been picturized really well. Darsheel Safary as Ishaan is simply brilliant and Aamir Khan as Nikumbh Sir, Director and Producer is equally brilliant. A very different story line than usual with sparks of Amole Gupte's brilliant creativity (idea of Ishaan's flip book was truly awesome and adds that extra punch) aptly intersperse with songs having some really neat lyrics by Prasoon Joshi coupled with good music by Shankar Ehsaan makes it a worthwhile movie to watch.

But what I liked the most about the movie was not only does it scores really high on entertainment quotient but also sends out a message about a problem thats so prevalent yet so inconspicuous and neglected, it throws at you a few very relevant questions;

- There is a scene that involves Ishaan family and Aamir Khan. Aamir Khan says Ishaan is good at painting for which Ishaan dad says "Kya Faidaa" (whats the use). The notion that there is no career prospects beyond a doctor/engineer is not that rare even today.

- Ishaan gets punished for not doing well in Maths but all of them fail to notice the confident brush strokes and the vivid colors which he can pack into a white drawing sheet. So the question arises if our education system is geared up to identify these differently gifted students?

- For at least 2-3 years Ishaan's parents/teachers saw the same patterns like reversals of letters/words/numbers, finding it difficult to read or construct long words/sentences, inability to follow multiple instruction(go to chapter 13, page 12, line 12) and tendency to mis judge important characteristics like speed, direction etc of spatial objects(finding it difficult to hold a moving ball), a special sort of failure to recognition words resulting in a poor reading ability and also extreme difficulty in spelling but could not or were not ready to attribute it to a neurological syndrome(dyslexia). So the question of how to recognize and categorize such traits?

- When Aamir Kahn speaks of Ishaan's symptoms, his dad asks "are you saying my child is a retard"... So the question of how can we eliminate the taboo associated with neurological disorders so that people can admit about the problem and seek help?

- Ishaan could not do few things with the same ease as most of his contemporaries did in spite of the fact that their IQ might have been at par or Ishaan better off than most of them and Ishaan had no control what-so-ever on this, even he did not know that what he was doing was wrong. A practical fallout of this was discrimination both at home(dad says his elder brother is so good and Ishaan a "duffer" and Idiot) and outside for no fault of Ishaan.

- If noticed all the "tests" that decide if Ishaan can progress to next class was a "written" exam. Now the core of Ishaan's disability was extreme difficulty dealing with spoken and written language. So the results of the "exams" were actually under-estimating Inshaan's capability. So the question is how to deal with such contradictions? Aamir suggests oral test for Ishaan until he develops his writing skills. So do our schools have provisions for such alternate testing?

- In the movie, its shocking to see Ishaan dad's indifference towards the problems of his son even after he is made aware of it...This basically hints at another problem..when ever we talk of Brain related disorders, we most of the times assume that its not curable. Probably Ishaan's dad had the same notion and that resulted in the "hopelessness" we get to see. So the question is what kind of education is required to spread awareness that not all brain related disorders are incurable.

and probably many more such question, the answers to which can probably lead us to more Einsteins, Da-Vincis ,Abhishek Bachchans or just more Ishaans. Just the possibility of finding one of these makes the effort worth it....what say??