Friday, December 24, 2010

To Mock a Killing Bird

The Mockery
Mockery (Colin) comes in various Styles (Ryan), as is entertainingly evident on the brilliant improvisation show 'Whose Line is it Anyway?' where points do not matter but are resoundingly made regarding the awesome human capability of instant creativity.  There is definitely some Creative mockery at play in the design of creatures like the platypus, kangaroo, capybara, gecko, and the owl. Though this post is about the owl, let's take a short detour to celebrate the capybara. There's the oryx too, but I leave that to be covered by my friend who introduced me to the capybara and oryx.

The Capybara ->
The term rodent (biological name of this order is Rodentia, now called Zimbabwe which has literally gone to the rodents) is typically identified with a small creature, so having the world's largest rodent weigh in at 75 pounds is a disturbing anomaly. It's like Volkswagen trying to intentionally or unintentionally cannibalize it's luxury brand sales by launching a short-lived $95,000 beast called Phaeton. It's the folk's wagon by definition, and common folk would rather buy an Audi A8 if they want to splurge, so what's the idea? The capybara asks questions like these but does not get an answer because it is destined to lead its life in oblivion. You might argue that a lion and tiger are extraordinary large cats, but the range for feline creatures is defined and known. The capybara on the other hand exists outside our standard range curriculum because it doesn't even count - there might be some bravery in being out of range.

The Killing Bird -> 
So what possessed the Creator to design a bird with eyes in the front and then realizing his/her flaw, give it almost 360 degree neck-rotation capability, make it nocturnal, and give it ophthalmic goiters in order to help it see at night? Seems like a lot of patching done after an initially flawed design. While owls are considered manifestations of wisdom in western folklore, they have a sinister perception (magic, death, witchcraft) in many cultures possibly because of their nocturnal nature. In India, the owl is considered dim-witted and often invites references in derogatory/ridiculing phrases like 'owl' and 'son of owl' - I am not sure why. The owl is a preying bird, and it eats rodents among other living creatures - but the capybara is out of its range, thus validating my previous paragraph.

The Anatomy
Somehow the owl has gotten associated with the human anatomy, possibly by indirectly lending its name to a hooting restaurant chain. Come to think of it, many animals have gotten associated with the human anatomy, thus literally embodying the phrase 'animal instinct'. The cat, rooster, donkey, and owl must be occasionally getting together and commiserating by singing the Pet Shop Boys song 'What have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this!'.

The Alien
Anyhow, I think the owl is an alien creature and OWL is an acronym. It stands for Other-Worldly Life!

The Hoot
Owl's well that ends well, and owl be back with more stories. Hoot Toot Toot, The Owl is a Hoot!

Mockery in Style (Owl and Gecko)

Note - Pun intended but no offense intended to these comic geniuses!

Leaving Just 'A' Memory?

There is a scene towards the end of the movie Hannibal where Ray Liotta, sounding incoherent in an apparent drunken stupor, is suddenly revealed to the camera with his brain showing. Anthony Hopkins has removed his skull-cap with the kind of surgical precision reserved for evil, educated, geniuses like him. This goes back to my earlier point about my fear of Vulcans - pure logic and no emotion results in irrefutable justification for any act. Liotta is blissfully unaware (and will soon not remember what blissful or unaware even means) of his condition as Hopkins takes pieces out of his brain, fries them and feeds them to him, thus creating a feedback loop the likes of which have not been seen since Catch-22. If Liotta were an earthworm, he might have gotten his lost memories back when he was fed his own brain parts. But that's another topic.

As for parts of your brain losing significance as they are dispatched unceremoniously, could there be a more potent metaphor for Alzheimer's than that scene?

If there is one disease thats scares the neurons and synapses out of me, it's Alzheimer's. Consciousness, thought, memory, intelligence, and creativity are constructs that have no business existing in a biological structure subject to all kinds of damage - there has to be some kind of a backup structure to at least reduce the dependency of the software on its medium. Music left the CD when it went the mp3 route (and that is now happening with movies too), and was no longer subject to usage and environmental vagaries like scratches, smudges, dust, decay etc. We are a sum of our memories, and if they start getting randomly or methodically erased by this confounding disease, then what's left? What meaning does existence have if all the lights upstairs are switched off and Elvis has left the building? Waking up one morning with a Jason Bourne identity crisis feeling is not very appealing. Bourne slowly got his memories back (and was 'bourne again'), but Alzheimer's is a one-way descent into hell with the last possible memory (if any) being a snapshot in your mind like Thelma and Louise frozen mid-air while running their car off the cliff.

This is the only disease that wipes the very core of our existence while leaving our shells intact, and leaves no room for an encore!

Daddy's flown across the ocean. Doesn't look like he intended to leave any memory.

Post title:  Courtesy 'Another Brick in the Wall Part 1, The Wall by Pink Floyd'

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Poetry in Brownian Motion

Man proposes, God disposes
Salieri disposes what Mozart composes
Beethoven composes while a corpse decomposes
Keith Richards survives opiates in overwhelming doses

The dictator reposes while the rebellion deposes
The attorney deposes what the defendant supposes
'The Thinker' supposes as it metamorphoses
Trials of modern life drive increasing neuroses

The rationalist proposes, the fundamentalist opposes
The politician opposes what the journalist exposes
An actress exposes when every other door closes
Winter sees Daycares with many running noses

Forests shiver as urbanization encroaches
'Ecstasy' encroaches and the addict overdoses
An uninvited guest imposes as the house forecloses
The guitarist bristles when the keyboardist unexpectedly transposes

Information overload equals drinking from fire hoses
Age is no longer a constraint for coronary thromboses 
Science wins over morals when the scientist juxtaposes
We need the Red Sea to part again for Moses

Life is troubled by thorns as it treads the beds of roses
This rhyme loses reason and contemplates the pros of proses
We wait with bated breath as the future approaches
But this world has and will always belong to the roaches

Man proposes, God disposes

Saturday, December 18, 2010

3M - Morality, Molarity, and Molality

Morality is convenience-based. It is compromised regularly in the name of progress and greater good, and human beings are naturally inclined to provide dubious rationalization for morally ambiguous decisions. Moral Science is an oxymoron since what is moral is typically ambiguous and what is Science is disappointingly anything but. Scientific morals is an even scarier oxymoron, since 1) science typically does not have morals (so many human and animal experiments have been justified in the name of science), and 2) it does not exist even though scientists and researchers and labs and companies would claim otherwise. Reminds me of a this line from a eminently forgettable movie with a lot of unrealized potential - 'Are you a terrific scientist or a scientific terrorist?'.

Molarity and Molality, along with Normality, have chemistry definitions that are quite boring. So I made up my own definitions that signal a descent into Monty Python-esque absurdity. Read at your own risk:

'Molar'ity defines the state of teeth (deciduous, cracked, plaqued, unrooted, extracted, crowned, falling, expired, dentured), 'Normal'ity is boring, and Molality sounds made-up even for chemistry. These 3 come together to form the miniature candy M'n'M, as well as the rapper Marshall Mathers (better known as Eminem).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Precise Randomness

What is it about coincidences? I was thinking about putting some thoughts down on artificial intelligence yesterday and lo and behold, the latest edition of Wired in my mailbox had the topic 'Artificial Intelligence is here- but it's nothing like we expected' on the cover. Is this a part of some grand design or divine plan that I have not been given insight into, is it the brimming eagerness of this data mining mind to identify patterns that cannot be substantiated (e.g., the phone always rings when I am in the shower) in order to give meaning to this life beyond the ordinary and visible, or is it simply a random event that occurred on the same day as another random event except with such random precision that it puts both randomness and precision in question?

Many years back, a friend and I were talking about coincidences in a departmental store. My friend help up a penny and asked - 'what possible use could this puny penny have?'. A few seconds later, another friend, who was at the cash register making a payment for a purchase, comes and tells us that a penny is needed at the cash register to complete the transaction!! That penny developed a firm belief in the possibility of a grand scheme behind 'coin'cidences. It wanted to grow into a nickel, but it was not mint to be since it did not have the 'metal'.

For information on Random Precision (which inspired the title of this post), a classic rock cover show next year brought to you by my college and light music bandmates, please go to:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

'Artifice'ial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence is an oxymoron (I love oxymorons - they are awfully nice!). What is artificial cannot be intelligent, and what is intelligent cannot be artificial (in my humble opinion). I am sure this will invite violent disagreement from different quarters, dimes, pennies and cents (though 'it all makes perfect sense'), but I don't think the common man is terribly excited about change (pun intended) towards a future with synthetic beings posing as sentient beings. Movies like The Matrix perpetuate that discomfort while we hurtle towards the technology-driven futurist-predicted singularity event in 2045 when apparently computer-based intelligences will significantly exceed the sum total of human brainpower (more on that in a separate article in the works - Cyberia: The Qwest for Cingularity).

Intelligence is an extension of the consciousness, and the homo sapiens species has been blessed with a level of intelligence much higher than other life-forms (the quotient varies, but the base level itself is significantly high). It allows us to deduce, assess, analyze, extrapolate, and sometimes see around corners. Robots would need a horizontal periscope to be able to see around corners. The Citibank CEO Vikram Pandit was famed for being able to see around corners. Too bad he did not see himself being cornered even after seeing around 3 corners to his right (this is like 3 rights making a left) and seeing himself seeing around corners! Reminds me of the scene in the movie 'Being John Malkovich' where John Malkovich gets inside his own head and sees all people as Malkoviches, speaking in sentences comprising repetition of a single word - 'Malkovich'.

Intelligence allows us to take parts and build something significant bigger than the sum of its parts, and the key thing is that it cannot be measured in teraflops. It is that intangible, unquantifiable capability not too different from the befuddling concept of time before the big bang. What needs to be recognized is that a man-made construct will be based on some fundamental rules - you can make the rules as complex as possible and design a self-learning neural network, but at the heart of it are rules that cannot be violated. The artifice of that logic or entity would be that it could fool a human being into thinking that it made a decision which was completely outside of those rules, but deep analysis would reveal that it was made per a decision tree so complex that the navigation of that branch could not be predicted upfront. The Deep Blue computer made an entirely unexpected move which resulted in Kasparov's defeat - it was not dissimilar to something a human being would make, but the fact that this move could not be predicted by human beings did not automatically invite claims of sentience in that computer. Isaac Asimov predicted a robot-infested future where robot psychologists would be needed to work with robots having frozen positronic pathways resulting from fatal indecision (this is interesting - I am using a word that would typically be associated with human beings - that word is fatal - am I a closet artificial intelligence supporter?) associated with conflict across his brilliant 3 Laws of Robotics.

Intelligence is organic to a life-form. It cannot be inorganic. Drawing chemistry parallels, we are talking about inorganic entities (silicon-based) constructed by an organic entity trying to match and even exceed the intelligence of that organic (carbon-based) entity. We need to keep in mind that intelligence is not about processing power - it's about making those irrational yet successful quantum leaps that even kangaroos cannot.

Synthesis of silicon into sentience is scientific subterfuge and self-deceit, simply stated (an alliteration - need to explore this further).

So artificial intelligence is an oxymoron. It's actually intelligent artifice, an interesting phrase considering the embodied redundancy - intelligence is implicit in artifice. Maybe the people who coined the term 'artificial intelligence' recognize that it is artificial (note that they do not say synthesized intelligence, which would convey something entirely different) and can never be the real thing, but are simply unwilling to admit it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

'Cult'ivating Funda'mentals'

The psychological acuity of cult founders and fundamentalist leaders is simply amazing, and disappointing that it does not get used for constructive purposes. That acuity enables them to invent simple yet tantalizing hooks to invite to their lair people who seek easy solutions to life (the assumption being that life as a whole is a problem - what is interesting is that these are not always feeble-minded people - they have just forgotten to count their blessings) and are even willing to cross (or teeter over) the line between life and death in order to get those solutions. These founders/leaders are able to broadcast messages at frequencies which get the mental tuning forks of their zombie followers resonating at feverish pitches, leading to inevitable destruction which unfortunately occurs only after severe damage is caused to people with 'sound' fundamentals. That is because cultists and fundamentalists are brothers in fire'arms' who shoot without thinking, and make enough sound to even make normal people question the soundness of their fundamentals.

These schools (or should I call them dungeons?) of thought are actually self-serving, extracting unwitting subservience from their gullible followers while appearing to serve them in the guise of fascinating other-worldly promises. Promises include the opportunity to:
  • Meet George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison etc. [the list comprises of 72 'Virgin'ians ;-)]; 
  • Be 'probed by alien benefactors' (an inherent contradiction that the 'cult'ivated mind is unable to fathom or process), some of which, unbeknownst to them, might be stowaways from less privileged parts of the world; 
  • Attain religious upliftment by making an annual month-long pilgrimage to pay respects to a black stone while loudly denouncing idol/symbol worship; 
  • Announce supreme devotion for 'their personally owned' god by indulging in fanatical skirmishes to prove that their permanently stoned destroyer god is better than the production support god worshipped by the other group; or 
  • Tread on the path to salvation by having immense emphasis placed on curbing urges and in the process inviting the worst possible channelization of those very urges.

It's disappointing to see that fundamentalists have the weakest fundamentals, prompting me to term the word 'fundamentalist' a one-word oxymoron (the phrase 'one-word oxymoron' is an oxymoron in itself since an oxymoron needs to have 2 opposite-meaning words to emphasize or strengthen the second word in the phrase).

Sidebar - The Camera Eye
A cult member / fundamentalist, driven by pure drivel, is like a 1.3 megapixel camera - the snapshots captured, while sharp and viewable in wallet or 3x5 format, get pixelated and lose clarity as soon as they get blown to poster-size. This is a direct result of the glorified crap they are fed with seemingly strong justifications, ready to fall apart under simple scrutiny.

The common man, driven by both logic and emotion, is like a 5 MP camera - enough clarity to blow up to small poster-size, beyond which fuzziness is imminent. The philosopher/rationalist, driven by more logic than emotion, is like a 12 MP camera - enough clarity to blow up to a large poster. Then there's the Vulcan, driven by pure logic, no emotion and pointed ears, who is like a 100 MP camera. The snapshot can be blown up to fit the side of a 5 story building (I think I have got my scale wrong, and the MP->enlargement size proportion will blow up under scrutiny too) but it will take an inordinate amount of time and stepping backwards to get the full picture (pun intended). I am a little afraid of the Vulcan because their mindset edges dangerously close to the cultist/fundamentalist mindset (any and every action can be rationalized), so it's good to know that they exist only on the planet Vulcan.

The bottomline is that it is all about control. While we don't need no thought control, we do need education, and a good one at that in order to steer clear of being driven funda'mental'. Lack of control leads to anarchy, and too much control leads to rebellion which then leads to anarchy. No matter what structure or framework is built to wield balanced control, entropy ensures that anarchy starts gnawing at the foundation at the slightest opportunity. So control is most effective when it is combined with the awareness that that control is in place for the people, by the people, and originates from the people. 

When there is 'Ctrl', there is a tendency to find 'Alt'ernatives and 'Esc'ape, but you typically get captured (Prt Sc), LOCKED (Caps Lock), and 'Del'eted. The system reboots, but unfortunately with a crashed hard drive, resulting in no remembrance of your past user account, all promises of free software (which was actually pirated to begin with) unfulfilled, and some intact disk sectors making their way into your memory from time and time and prompting attempts to justify reincarnation.

I close with an image that very aptly complements the previous paragraph:

Note - If you are offended by this article because it hurts your sensibilities, please don't go back and read it again. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

On the Road with a Good Manager

I typically don't write about work topics, but given the fact that we spend the largest part of our adult life at a place where we need to be but don't necessarily want to be, which is the source of our sustenance, which provides us with the means to go for things we want and in the process also takes the blame for being the limiting factor (while we know fully well that pure focus on want puts sustenance itself at risk), it does deserve a mention from time to time.

The good manager is not a lumbering truck in front of you on a one-lane road, forcing you to try passing at inopportune moments and risking head-on collision disaster scenarios; nor is he/she the Ferrari zooming past you on the highway, either leaving you feeling alone/unguided (and not knowing which, if any, exit to take) or inviting you to risk speeds that you never attempted before.

The good manager is the blind spot detector that warns you when there is a vehicle beside you and you don't see it, the lane detector that warns you when you start veering off your lane, the sleep detector that warns you when you start experiencing those momentary pass-outs, the highway emergency patrol that nudges you back on the road when you start spending too much time on the shoulder, the shoulder itself when needed, and the cop that sometimes pulls you over and gives you a speeding or aggressive driving ticket. If you are brash, still want to drive rash, your need for speed un'curb'ed and penchant for danger unabated, please feel free to crash and burn.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Just Between Pink Floyd and Rush: Different Similarities

- Pink Floyd: Time
- Rush: Time Stand Still

- Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon / Eclipse
- Rush: Cygnus X-1

- Pink Floyd: Money
- Rush: Big Money

- Pink Floyd: Signs of Life
- Rush: Vital Signs

- Pink Floyd: Yet Another Movie
- Rush: Moving Picures

- Pink Floyd: Learning to Fly
- Rush: Fly by Night

RECREATIONAL (On occasion)
- Pink Floyd: Run Like Hell / On the Run
- Rush: Marathon

- Pink Floyd: Dogs
- Rush: By-Tor and the Snow Dog

- Pink Floyd: Brain Damage 
(resulting from)
- Rush: Working Man

- Pink Floyd: Breathe
(and leave)
- Rush: Vapor Trails

- Pink Floyd: Empty Spaces
- Rush: Temple of Syrinx

- Pink Floyd: Careful with that Axe, Eugene / One Slip
(tragic results)
- Rush: Subdivisions / Roll the Bones

- Pink Floyd: What do you Want from Me?
- Rush: 'Rogaine' - I Think I am Going Bald (IMO)

- Pink Floyd: Interstellar Overdrive
- Rush: Stellar Overdrive (Geddy Lee's Bass)

- Pink Floyd: Pigs (Three Different Ones)
- Rush: The Band (Three Different Ones), Geddy Lee handles Three Different Ones - Vocals, Bass, Keyboards

- Pink Floyd: Us and Them

Creative Input:  Qartique Ventakaramanan
Entre Nous on Facebook:
Random Precision by Entre Nous (May 22nd 2011):

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Furiously Curious

Curiosity used to be a killer (killed many a cat), but now it's in grave danger of becoming non-existent. The word 'grave danger' piques my curiosity - how can people be in grave danger? Most people in the grave are out of danger (except for maybe Charlie Chaplin whose body was stolen by grave robbers - though the robbers were grave, they had the last laugh, a distinction that should have been reserved for Sir Chaplin!), and most people in danger are headed towards the grave. Anyway, curiosity is dying because it no longer appears to be an imperative for evolution or survival. The world is in jeopardy because of lack of curiosity, but a few lives are on 'Jeopardy' because of it! I am not talking about the instinctive curiosity of a growing child, but about the curiosity that starts withering away once we reach adulthood (wither, weather, whether - why bother?).

Discovery of fire and invention of the wheel must have been direct results of curiosity, but with each passing generation, accumulation of wealth, easier lifestyle and the lack of continued need to know the meaning or origins of the word 'penumbra', the need for curiosity grows lesser and lesser. What is ironic is that there is a wealth of information at our finger-tips in today's world but the focus is need and not want. The developing world, however, is definitely more curious than the developed world because of the survival instinct at play in the fiercely competitive environment, resulting from the overblown population that has picked up momentum beyond reprieve.

Curiosity leads to discoveries, inventions, and rebellion, leading the powers that be to curb it by concocting wild theories and whipping up fear and mass hysteria (ranging from the medieval church in England to the milk-drinking Ganesh statues in India) to keep the ignorant masses distracted. What is interesting is that dissemination of information is an art and not a science, capable of distracting even the most intellectual person. Power, in my mind, is finding ways to suppress curiosity. Suppresion of curiosity also gives rise to superstititions which are so interestingly focused on exploiting the weaknesses of our psyche that they continue to persist even in current times.

Being curious about random and interesting things without a motive is a rarity in this goal-oriented world. It's considered trivial, and that's why that information must be called 'trivia'. The sheer joy of it is unparallelled, but quite sadly tangential for the bulk of mankind. It gives invaluable meaning to the lives of people who aren't goal-oriented but just enjoying the ride.

So here's what I am curious about (and this echoes thoughts of friends too):

  • Why do people come up with words that are never going to enter general use - e.g., floccinaucinihilipilification? Is it a ploy by the language elitist, and to what end? 
  • Why don't people care about the Capybara, world's largest rodent? Will it lead a life in permanent oblivion? 
  • Why do millions of lemmings commit mass suicide every year? What was David Koresh thinking? 
  • Why were several species of small furry animals gathered together in a cave and grooving with a pict? 
  • Who framed Roger Rabbit? 
  • Who chose Puneet Issar to play Superman in the Indian version, and Albert Pinto to ko gussa kyon aata hai? 
  • Who comes up with weird words like oxymoron, onomatopeia, ersatz, epiphany, and chutzpah, and who decides to put silent letters in front of certain words? 
  • Why do we have a word like curious and a word like curios (plural), and why isn't curious spelled curios in American English? 
  • How did the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus manage to totally upstage Jesus Christ when the events/holidays are supposed to be all about him? 
  • Why does the kangaroo's baby get born with a name (Joey) while other babies dont? 
  • Why isn't man kind when we as a whole are referred to as 'mankind'? 
  • How do human beings and hunan beans coexist in harmony in China? 
  • Why are some people focused on using all letters of the greek alphabet in crazy equations? 
  • Why is up at the front and down on the side? 
  • Why does Tata Steel 'also' make steel? How is 'Nano' large enough to be visible? 
  • Why are the forties roaring, the fifties furious, and the sixties screaming? 
  • What is red and goes tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock? 
  • What is the root of (Chris) Squire? This is a trick question - there is none since Squire does not believe in sticking to his root (notes)!
Last but not the least, why doesn't furiosity get the same usage as curiosity? I am Curiously Furious now.

Musical Credits: Bass: Pankaj Kanth, Lead Guitar (on Bass): Pankaj Kanth, Rhythm Guitar (on Bass): Pankaj Kanth, Drums: Korg Pandora preset rhythm

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Spring Hops Eternal

This article is about a kangaroo called 'Spring'. Just like hope springs eternal, Spring hops eternal. The question is why, and given that this blog is one giant question, there is no answer. However, a few observations can be made about the kangaroo, a very interesting creature whose design appears to carry some inconsistencies. Hopping doesn't appear to be a very intuitive way to move or travel long distances since it seemingly involves maximum work against gravity as opposed to slithering or walking. Kangaroos have large, strong tendons in their hind legs which act as "springs" and expend very little energy in hopping  - the legs are unable to move independently for walking, hence the hopping! The Creator's design logic is circular or oval at best, but He/She did put a spring in their step.

When aborigines were asked what this hopping creature was called, they responded Kangaroo! which means 'I don't know' in aborigine language. And that's how this creature was named. Kangaroos don't have to worry about naming their babies though because they are all born named, and have the same name - Joey. When they grow up, they take on different names like 'The Leap' Kumar and Dennis 'Hop'per. Joeys spend their childhood growing and developing in a natural pocket built on the mother's stomach (and inspiration for apparel pockets and pouches worldwide) which also conceals a nursing facility. In the kangaroo world, pick-pocketing is synonymous with kidnapping. Kangaroos dine at IHOP, shop at Stop n Hop or Hopper's Stop, and observe Feb 29th every year because they only believe in the leap year.

So why does Spring hop eternal? Kangaroo!

Musical Credits: Kartik Kapil on Guitar, Dennis William on Drums, and Pankaj Kanth on Bass