Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How Crafty!

In India, there used to be a compulsory subject in school (typically through 6-7th grade) called SUPW. It stood for Socially Useful Productive Work, the phrase embodying an astounding amount of redundancy. It was as socially useful as a charity fund director directing funds towards household expenses due to a strong belief in the 'Charity begins at home' concept, and was as productive as building a supply chain for transferring washed clothes from the washer to the dryer. It should have been called Socially Useless Reductive Work, given the fact that it reduced the time available for more useful stuff. I am sure there was some level of enjoyment in doing it then, more so for others than me, but only the 'work' part of SUPW stands out when I reflect back on it.

It was about students being able to choose whatever they wanted to learn - embroidery and knitting, gardening, cooking, and painting; and was very conveniently chosen by the teacher for the student. It involved, among other things, subjecting the hapless student to accurate reproductions of paintings (landscapes, portraits) using golden thread, fevicol, and a black satin canvas created by sticking the very glue-resistant satin cloth to a cardboard using fevicol. While black satin was the fabric of choice, some knights were created on white satin too for variation - it's tragic that those never reached the end. Once it was painstakingly completed at home with help from parents and distant relatives, it was taken to school for comparison with other awesome products, many of which employed the use of silver threads instead of gold - it was all dependent on market price fluctuations at the time.

The useful product was then proudly put up for display at home, subject to admiration from visitors and validating its social usefulness. After a few weeks the threads used to start giving up their grip on the satin canvas, thus belying fevicol's promise of the toughest grip. The satin, precariously holding onto the cardboard for dear life, would start losing its grip too, and what you would observe on a daily basis was a gradual descent into a total unraveling of the image. Mountains would turn into volcanoes, trees would experience early autumn, and rivers would lose their fish to eels, not to mention people losing face and elegance losing grace. Eventually there would be an utterly undone image beyond salvage, mildly reminiscent of its glorious heyday. And you would be proud, thinking 'I really did some socially useful productive work'!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Human Condition

Part 1

Furiously curious, unscrupulously spurious
Dichotomy is defined by Humanity
Innovates, decimates, terminates and germinates
A juggernaut despite its vanity

Insular yet inclusive, regular yet exclusive
Tries to mask thoughts philistine
Divisive and derisive, occasionally decisive
Born Chris, ready to be Christine

Creates with fervor, destroys with zeal
Compromises quality for a good deal
Mountains turned molehills with explosive feel
Molehills made mountains when senses reel

Of common descent but sees uncommon ascent
Aims high, ends up shooting low
Separationist in nature, borders its signature
Demarcates with nonchalance, heck with the blow

Creates symphonies that verge on the divine
Yet grooms phonies that seek to malign
Ascending to higher office with insidious design
Saying "Yes! Public coffers are mine to mine"

Huddled, muddled, and perpetually befuddled
Has moments of clarity, fights for parity
Teams and schemes for easy-money dreams
Causes disparity, tries redemption by charity

Part 2

Waxes eloquent, wanes delinquent
Relinquishes pen, picks up the sword
Self-respect submissive, ego dismissive
Megalomaniacal, wants anarchy restored

Curiously strong blend of kind and frail
Animal instincts driven by vestigial tail?
Ingenious ways to save a beached whale
Then harpoons the same for illicit sale

Thinks lateral, deems damages collateral
When surgical strikes lose their precision
Thrives on convenience, asks for lenience
When casualties expose a myopic decision

Palms to grease, conscience a tease
Cannot let extra pleasures cease
Prove pointless points to self-appease
To avoid guilt, let's outsource moral'ese'

Soothes and placates to serve cults and clusters
Alienates and annihiliates without qualms
Struts and blusters with aimless filibusters
When insurmountable odds, found reciting psalms

Humanity appears to be certifiably insane
Yet steadily prevails over the mundane
Could the saving grace despite bipolar bane
Be that humans are essentially humane?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Twirled World

Earth is now inhabited by 14 billion soles
Worthy of contemplation or celebration?
Humanity's large feat in producing many small feet
Seems just cause for increasing trepidation

Natural resources are fast losing sources
As trees em'bark' upon uncharted courses
While we try to interpret dense religious discourses
People gleefully continue betting on horses

Basic needs are still not afforded
To all living in this faux global village
A populist term coined for convenience
While many continue to plunder and pillage

Arctic is ticked, antarctic antagonized
As passionate debate rages on global warming
The polar bear sits stranded on splintered ice
Bemused and finding it quite alarming

Are we supposed to take solace
As populate growth rate apparently dwindles
People are still struggling to make a living
By weaving hand-loomed clothes on spindles

Was there census consensus on the 7 billionth human
As UN tracked down a new thrilla' in Manila
Does the baby know the world she will grow up in
Lacking opportunities might make her life plain vanilla

As we race towards the 8 billion mark
Humanity struggles to make ends meet
Apocalypse might be of the covert kind
Creeping in quietly with every new greet

The 10 billionth child will twirl this world
On her finger with uncontrollable thrill
Barely conscious of the earth's seams
Ready to burst at the treble of her trill

Around the sun races this beleaguered earth
Ever-slowly plunging in tragic elliptical vortex
Does it cry for itself or the exploding humanity
Whose burden it bears on its crusty cortex?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dark Slide of the Loon

The human brain defines the human, yet it perpetually teeters on the edge of delirium. The factors are multiple - environment, circumstances, personal choice, or a dip (could be planned, could be accidental) in a yucky gene pool. While the fact that the brain is the essence of our existence and yet so fragile is quite disturbing, it's a lot more appalling to think that destroying a part of the brain via lobotomy and permanently altering the person was acceptable practice in the 40s and 50s.

The Urdu word for human being is insaan, for humanity is insaniyat. Attach an e and take away an a, and we have insane and insanity. How's that for teetering? There is a very fine line that separates man from mad (actually just one letter, come to think of it). Dementia is just a slip away from our dimension into a self-built alternate reality and ironically, the people who start wandering that personal alternate reality can be called 'no'mad. If enough personal alternate realities found common ground and a way to cross over and share, the loons shall inherit the earth.

Cracks in our psychological and emotional veneer manifest as quirks and idiosyncracies. If we don't figure out how to fill those cracks, they start propagating and become psychoses, neuroses and eventually full-blown dementia (there's physical/genetic factors to initiate/accelerate the process, of course). With every passing year we lose flexibility and become more brittle, and these cracks start smoking more crack, ready to mislead us to shattering conclusions. Being malleable is tough in this rapidly changing world, but of extreme necessity.

So what did the loon get from the moon? Apparently you can go mad if the moon shone on you while you were asleep, or maybe just with the phase changes of the moon. If the moon can have such a strong effect from a distance, did Neil Armstrong experience heightened lunacy in the lunar sea when he landed on the moon?

Interestingly, the non-human world is a lot crazier - that is why the cuckoo went cuckoo, the nut bolted, the banana slipped/lost a peel/went bananas, kangaroos went hopping mad, chimpanzees went ape, the pressure cooker blew a gasket, the golf ball became de'range'd, the pistol went ballistic, and Willly went wonka! Most of the exciting figures of speech are about negative scenarios - positivity is boring I guess.

There is no dark slide of the loon. Matter of fact, it's all spark. A bright, cheery ascent to a chocolate factory. Willy can attest to that after he is done ordering the Oompa Loompas around.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Notion of Motion

This fascinating universe buzzes incessantly with motion
Celestial spheres race around the sun in orbits elliptical
Occasionally running into darting asteroids with trajectories whimsical
Unaware of its pending demise, fated for a tragic surprise
Matter hurtles dizzily towards the black hole in morbid locomotion

Electrons whizz around the nucleus, awating a promotion
To a higher energy state that apparently leads to illumination
The atom is a surprising microcosm of this astronomical creation
Flux is the essence, an unsettling presence
In existence, paradoxically resulting from the big bang explosion

The human mind is mobility in disguise, like a seemingly calm ocean
Underwater volcanoes are rife with inorganic strife
Seismic activity abounds, threatening precious life
Stillness is a deception, a result of flawed perception
Underneath the placid surface, there is unimaginable commotion

Like this aging planet, humanity faces increasing erosion
Of values, mores, and civility, a deepening spiritual delusion
Yearning to be addressed by fate and causality in karmic collusion
Life embodies the human 'race', every generation picks up pace
As we speed towards the inevitable moral demotion

But we are excitedly working towards the ultimate potion
To help answer all origin queries and make us question devotion
Stomach churns, heart palpitates, lungs exhale, brain calculates
In the end, this universe does not matter without human e'motion'
And that makes motion a very stirring notion!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Answerable Questions or Questionable Answers?

Science: Who, what, when, why, where, how?
Religion: Him!

As demonstrated above, the key difference between Science and Religion is that Science asks and provides answers to many questions, while Religion starts with an answer that invites many questions. Interestingly, that one answer is all encompassing, and even Science cannot escape its clutches - how else do we explain the search for the 'God' particle via a $10 billion, 17 mile-long Large Hadron Collider? The sheer scale of the universe and the need to regularly deal with innumerable forces beyond control (weather, housing, jobs, debt, GNR's next album, the meandering Ikea shopping cart with all-wheel mobility) makes human beings question their very being and seek solace by attributing structure (if not always form) to the unknown.

Facts and Factions
Where's the fun in fighting about facts? If everyone worshipped the sun (a very elegant solution by George Carlin - too bad people are not interested), the only deaths that would occur would be related to too much sun exposure [while on the t(r)opic of cancer], and the only religious factions that would exist would be around sunscreen SPF ratings (my SPF30 is better than your SPF15!). The human race unites in the face of common danger (as Reagan said about the earth coming together in the face of an alien invasion), and quickly degenerates into adopting inane causes to fight about when there is none. The fight against corruption takes a backseat to the quest for ethnic renaming of cities and landmarks in India. So let's accept it - factions are an undeniable state of human being and are invariably based on some fictitious interpretation.

Every tough question invites a lot of passion and conflict till it resolves to an answer which is irrefutable fact. The priest class survives by constructing semi-factual answers that can be force-fed to the masses and keep them contentious with other schools of thought. Reaction to discovery of new information is very strong because that could potentially destabilize the seat of power and the steady revenue stream, as Galileo discovered when he proved metalhead Nickels Copper-Nickels' theory that earth is not the center of the universe.

Gotta have Faith?
This brings us to the crux of this article. The key to exploring a polarizing and explosive topic is to temper it down with analogies and obscure references so that you have plausible deniability in the end. I don't have that key. This is a largely negative point-of-view on the machinations of Religion, and not a comment on the personal strength and comfort it provides to individuals. If you are in violent disagreement (thus proving my point regarding a topic like this), please write your own article.

Religion is a topic that has been explored to death literally and figuratively. I struggle to think of another concept built on an unknown and unseen force that works in mysterious ways with no guaranteed outcome (if this is not a giant leap of faith, what is?) wielding so much control over life and wreaking so much havoc in the process. While suspension of disbelief is a prime requirement of faith, a melding of that with unbridled passion results in fundamentalism which ironically is grossly lacking in fundamentals. So what is it about religion that evokes such strong passion? I think it's about the uncontrollable tendency of human beings to force their conjectures and faith on others and then get defensive to the point of being offensive when asked to substantiate those conjectures. That is why Inquisitions were never about questions and answers. The pressure to conform is intensified manifold when accompanied by the unstated (or grossly overstated, depending on the part of the world you live in) threat of persecution.

With ego and commerce steamrolling the original tenets of faith and spirituality, the economic model of religion thrives on two basic emotions: fear and guilt. Pay up to avoid suffering the wrath of God, and pay up to atone for and wash away the sins you find yourself returning to at every opportunity. This is a far cry from what religion was touted to be if not intended to be: attaining spirituality, illumination, salvation, or just peace of mind - unfortunately some people mistook peace of mind for piece of mind and considered themselves superior enough to give a piece of their mind to the less aware and get a piece of gold in return. Every great cause gets trivialized in the long run.

Road to Hell
The path to God is peppered with toll-booths where oversized gas-guzzling vehicles, having driven off that energy-efficient but low acceleration vehicle called spirituality off the road a long while back, repeatedly pay extra toll to atone for their incurable road-rage tendencies. There are also trains driven by sinister ministers and saints with taints of all religions, full of raging fan(atic)s holding a one-way ticket to their glorious destination which generally unbeknownst to them happens to be a cliff. Not to forget zealot pilots promising a speedy but ill-fated ascent to heaven.

Adventures of InstantGratifix
This world of instant gratification has resulted in the quest for spiritual ecstasy degenerate into a drink of the 'spirit' kind and a pill called ecstasy. Instant gratification has become a fix. Here's an ode to InstantGratifix, the indomitable Gaul in relentless pursuit of an easy and instant fix:

Sole Intention of a Soul In Tension
The sole intention of a soul in tension is learning to fly 
No patience to try, shoots straight for the sky 
Comes crashing down to the amusement of passers-by

Maybe it was a pig on the wing that met its fate befitting  
Or maybe a soul with unscrupulous underpinning  
Unwilling to take baby steps in the beginning

Condition grounded, still determined to try  
The optimist, shat upon by a bird  
Thanks god that elephants don't fly

The key to ascension is Good Orderly Direction  
Heaven can't wait and provides people bait  
Wanting to get an instant high on the sly

Good Orderly Direction
A wise friend once said that GOD is Good Orderly Direction. We live in a world obssessed with setting and achieving goals (for soccer fanatics that takes on a more literal meaning). Words like salvation, nirvana, spirituality are allocated a lot more weight than they should be and their quest defeats their very purpose. What if we just focused on the following commandments/rules/laws culled from multiple religions and not get caught up in all the hype?

· Do unto others as you would have others do unto you - Masochists need not apply.
· Do your work, and don't worry about the fruits of your labor (Gita) - Unless you are an apple farmer and your work is your fruit.
· A human being may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm (Isaac Asi'Moses' laws of Humanics) - Originally written for robots but effortlessly extensible to human beings.

There's Chauncey Gardner from 'Being There', an electric little movie that showed Peter Sellers in an entirely different (and brilliant) light. The defining moment comes when he, having gained fame as 'Chance The Gardener' with his simple vegetative observations getting interpreted as profound spiritual principles, just walks unaware onto a pond and on realizing that he is standing on water, dips his umbrella in the water and finds it go straight in. He smiles and just walks on, not even realizing the significance of what he did.

People are expected to do good things selflessly - I don't quite understand that. What's the harm in feeling proud when you do a good thing and being applauded for it? Maybe it will prompt the fundamentalists to learn some fundamentals.

To emphasize the point made above: while there is no 'I' in team, there are 2 I's in Spirit, be it of the ethereal or the alcoholic kind! Is this a questionable answer?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Better late ...?

We flip the pages of life as if running from a wildfire
Unwilling to slow down till it comes down to the wire
Pages turn flippant when we wish our lives to rewire
That drive down memory lane hobbles on a flat tire

Procrastination rules till it comes to things we desire
'Rash' decisions are made by the itch we acquire
Brash people invariably land in a ditch or mire
Righteous people end up just preaching to the choir

Seemingly momentous occasions are prioritized higher
Small moments keep spinning all life in the dryer
When it finally comes to realizing how they inspire
They have turned a size too short for the tryer

The never-ending quest for more space lights our fire
And loses all its meaning in the grave or on the pyre
Moments wasted reaching for the future while we respire
Are a result of constantly putting want over what we do require

Thirst for conquest is the weapon from the arms supplier
Relationships and people get killed in the cross-fire
Getting first to the cheese means everything to the high-flyer
Rat race is about the trap of loneliness, knows the non-buyer

Hindsight provides clear perspective on shots we misfire
Fear of heights becomes palpable AFTER we climb the tallest spire
Regrets many, consolations few, tears fail to retire
Bad decisions and death tend to accost in shiny attire

Our children teach us about becoming humans entire
And that unconditional parental love of which we were a denier
We keep shifting blame to our younger selves till we expire
Life actually gave us a clear glimpse but we failed to enquire

When it comes to realizations, epiphanies are what we admire
Day-to-day eye-openers are left unopened to expire
'Better late than never' is the motto to which we aspire
Why is the need for 'Never late is better' not made dire?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Contesting Contexts or Contextual Contests?

Some words are great levelers. While they soar in contexts that are complex, sacred or respectable, they also serve to deflate those very contexts by finding usage in polar opposites. This raises pointed questions about the people who came up with the varied usage of these words - they were definitely double-agents for the dark side.

  • Swear - A gloriously multi-faceted word that begs close inspection. You can swear in the name of god to proclaim truthfulness and integrity, swear in the name of god to express shock/anger and basically blaspheme, swear to invoke hell/evil and blaspheme again, solemnly swear to uphold a declaration or a position in society, or just simply swear to your heart's content (here you stand the risk of swearing out your welcome). The last one has maximum potential as well as honest emotional value. What is key regarding this word is that you can swear in the name of god and be either religious or blasphemous! This beats Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.
  • Institution, Committed - Both marriage and mental asylums are institutions. You are required to commit to the first, and are forcibly committed to the second. You might be sane enough to identify you are insane and voluntarily check into a mental institution - I believe that percentage is significantly low. Either way you end up committed and in an institution. So what exactly is being implied here? And what of people who go insane after marriage? Can they plead sanity by noting they are already committed and in an institution?
  • Culture - We are a culture growing on nutrient substances, usually under controlled conditions. So are bacteria, a form of life that are orders of magnitude simpler than human beings, yet capable of causing unimaginable havoc to the human culture. The good bacteria typically dies young while the evil bacteria seems to live forever. Anyway, why is a word of such sweeping range and richness used in the bacterial context?
  • Organized - While this word holds its own when used individually, it takes on a different connotation when used in the context of 2 diametrically opposite (are they?) concepts - religion and crime. I wonder which one has resulted in higher casualties.

Then there's the incendiary 'race' which does not require a context at all (because it is the context) and is in a perennial contest with itself. People are a race and in a race, and oneupmanship is inextricably wired into the human gene.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Tooth Shall Never Set You Free!

Chewing is essential for survival, but the complexity of the apparatus designed to perform that activity confounds me every time I visit the dentist. It's a torture-fest involving multiple sharp objects, a drill, a syringe, and plastic objects with sharp corners that are painfully inserted for X-rays. Gums are always at the receiving end - they get poked, prodded, and are forced to bleed for an activity as simple as cleaning - the fact that cleaning involves a needle is so easily accepted that it does not even elicit a protest. An eternity passes by the time that simple activity comes to a conclusion, with the only high point being the application of a toothpaste-like substance by an electric scrubber.

As for cavities, the space-time continuum is breached and the universe comes to a standstill when the dentist inserts a bendable needle (how cool!) multiple times in the deep confines of your gums, for the purposes of anesthesia. The whole act is performed with extreme nonchalance, and is invariably followed by casual banter between the dentist and the assistant. Seemingly rhetorical questions are directed from time to time towards the person lying helpless with the mouth wide-open, waiting breathlessly for a lull in activity to shut their aching jaws, figuring out ways to ignore the constant whoosh of the vacuum rinse mechanism, constantly being asked hairdresser-like to adjust their head, and wondering if they are supposed to provide an unnecessary mono-syllabic response because nothing else is feasible.

I am not even going to talk about root canal - it's traumatic, to say the least.

I watched an indie movie called 'The Secret Lives of Dentists' a few years back during my indie-movie fascination phase, which waned after realizing that many of those indie movies are actually even worse than the assembly-line formulaic Hindi movies. While the movie was mildly interesting and irrelevant from a pure dental perspective, it did involve a dentist couple whose marriage was losing gravity, getting riddled with cavity, and had decayed to the point of a root canal (read 'therapy') if not extraction (read 'divorce'). A deep filling and timely recognition of wisdom of the tooth saved the day. That couple deserves a plaque for their 'crown'ing achievement.

Here's the anatomy of the tooth - why is it so complex? We could definitely use stronger enamel instincts to avoid dental retardation and replacement by implants, in addition to preventing attacks by Huns and Tartars.

The tooth always hurts and it shall never set you free. That is because when you have lost all your real teeth, you will be in'denture'd.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


There once was a man named Witty
With oodles of imagination in his kitty
He gazed at the world with different sensitivity
And invariably found humor in the nitty-gritty

Extracting an unforced chuckle was his creativity
Analogies and metaphors made him sit pretty
His mind soared over the seeming simplicity
Finding unexpected patterns with unwavering acuity

Puns and alliterations ascended banality
Similies and oxymorons generated vitality
But delusions of grandeur reduced humility
With a progressive reduction in civility

Ambition, condescension, and unneeded complexity
Caused his audience to slowly lose synchronicity
Painful contemplation resulted in much-needed lucidity
That absurdity needs reality for human connectivity

Friday, January 21, 2011

Content with Content?

Wide World of Content
The ease of content availability and accessibility in today's world is simply astonishing. With the advent of phones that are smarter than necessary (and put to shame the communicators used in the original Star Trek series which, interestingly enough, might have been the seed for the cellphone concept), have data streams tethered to the ether 24x7, and have processing power greater than what a typical home computer had 10 years back, information is not only literally at our fingertips but is also parallelly processable, viewable in streaming format, and manipulatable in-place. The web of information cast over the whole wide world is so addictive that we start hyperventilating when our broadband connection suffers an outage. Nowadays a power outage is not that unbearable for its own sake, but for the fact that it renders our routers impassive and stops the steady and comforting stream of content.

'Like' Minded
The most interesting recent phenomenon in content generation and sharing is social networks of course, and by that I mean Facebook - it's the Microsoft Windows of the social network world. Facebook appears to have fulfilled the inherent and constant need in human beings to be 'Like'd (Facebook is quite 'Like' wise - what a simple yet powerful concept - you get to make someone's day via one mouse-click) and be heard, even if it entails the oh-so-interesting minutiae of nail-clipping or rearranging furniture. What Facebook provides is a distracted audience that is waiting to be informed and entertained. It tests our capability to garner interest, acknowledgement and best of all, 'healthy' debate regarding what we have to say - the number of 'Like's increases our self-esteem and the appearance of the number '1' (higher the better) on the 'notifications' globe signals the fulfillment of our destiny.

'Weight' for Information
An article last year in the Wired magazine talked about how social networks are going to bypass the standard web in traffic because of the fact that information coming from a person we know (or pretend to know, or knew eons back and haven't even interacted with once after adding as friend) carries more weight. Not sure of the reasons, but Facebook already bypassed Google in terms of web traffic. The fact that social networks rely on the web to deliver the information sourced from our 'friend' on Facebook does not appear to get acknowledged. What it basically means is that a social network without the underlying web infrastructure would be feeble at best and non-existent at worst because most of what we share with our friends is web content.

The 'Glocal' Concept
What I struggle with is the absence of localized content served through standard content dissemination channels and seamlessly blended in the navigation menu to fulfill the 'Glocal' concept. For example, we still do not have active content blaring at us the high energy consumption by our home appliances, the awareness of which would translate into valuable savings (unfortunately, 'savings' typically involve spending first in this world - you even get the opportunity to purchase a 'savings' coupon booklet - these are savings you cannot deposit in a bank). We pretend to be or are genuinely shocked every month by our energy bill, even though the cycle repeats every year. With due respect to the worldwide scarcity of potable water despite the fact that water bills are not high in the US, an active water consumption display would really help. Combining the energy and water consumption display might help cut down on the long, hot water showers. We do not have easy and direct access to our medical information (it needs to be secure, I understand that). We get a lot of local store coupons via mail, but never have it handy when there comes the time to use them - hope that content becomes readily accessible via an app - most phones have location-tracking capability anyway.

You Don't Mess with the Lohan
Finally, while content provides quick decision-making capability nowadays, it does appear that a lot of it is generated to create a want instead of fulfilling a need. How much more information on Lindsay Lohan and the Kardashians do we really need? The web appears to be quickly becoming a tabloid as far as entertainment reporting is concerned. Journalism has been replaced by sensationalism. Also, content-capturing devices allow us to record every minute of the day - what is not accounted for is the time or the inclination to play back that recorded content - if a map were to capture every square inch on this globe, it would be as large as the globe itself and utterly useless. Content comes at us fast and furious, and the struggle is keeping up with it - we have all become islands already, poring over our mobile convergence devices ('cellphone' does not cut it anymore) at home, in a public place, and even trying to sneak a peek at work in order to catch up on our to-do list comprising of a YouTube link posted by a friend on Facebook a week ago.

So are we content with content yet? Or do we keep wanting more and more till it reaches the point where it owns us (maybe it already does) and we have to say:

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ambiguity towards Tolerance

The corporate world relies heavily on leaders to make profits. Leaders are expected to possess essential skills including the ability to look at the big picture and make confident decisions based on limited and oftentimes vague information (this particular skill also demands the capability to exude confidence as well as generate it in the team about the decision) . That is commonly referred to as 'tolerance to ambiguity' and has gone beyond just leaders as a required skill nowadays. I would like to discuss here the ambiguity in my mind towards tolerance.

Let's tackle ambiguity first. Everyone is expected to have tolerance to ambiguity, which brings up the question of how it comes about. The dictionary definition of ambiguity is 'doubtfulness or uncertainty of meaning or intention'. From a corporate perspective, that translates into doubtfulness regarding the current situation and future direction. It is quite easy to attribute ambiguity to external factors typically beyond our control, but there's uneasiness in acknowledging that it originates internally too, from the sheer fact that human beings by nature are not willing to step outside their familiar worlds, not always willing to be on the same page (mostly unintentionally) and not willing to ascend (descend has a negative connotation - ascend implies the right direction) to the level of detail that would allow the picture to be constructed more accurately. Things would not be crystal clear, but they would definitely be less ambiguous if internal factors are recognized and addressed. Hopefully this clears up some ambiguity regarding the concept of ambiguity.

Before we move on to tolerance, I would like to take a moment to talk about a relevant topic - solutions. The term solution implies a problem but it is applied universally, regardless of whether a problem exists or not. It goes to say that human beings view everything as a problem, whether they would acknowledge it or not. Interestingly, many solutions are a result of problems resulting from previously applied solutions. I don't think there is a solution to this recursive problem, so let's move on.

Tolerance. There are some problems with this word - apart from implying passivity which is the last thing to expect from action-oriented leaders, it casts a shadow of another word - tolerate. Not sure if this is an expected or unexpected connotation, but whoever coined these words decided to move very quickly on to the next word starting with 't'. Tolerate implies a blended sense of dislike, inaction, and superiority - maybe it's only myself who sees it that way, but that's sufficient for this post. Similar to the words restive, enervated, and fundamentalist which appear to imply something different from or opposite to what they actually mean (one-word oxymorons in my dictionary), tolerance does not come across  as the most tolerant word in the context. And it goes beyond the corporate world - I read a news article recently which talked about the inefficacy of this word in the cultural/religious context.

Allow me to illustrate the connotation of tolerance and the one-word oxymorons noted via an unnecessary visual which sheds some light on what lurks in the shadows:

Hope this explains the ambiguity in my mind towards tolerance. Maybe the phrase should be replaced with 'intention to eliminate or reduce ambiguity' - doesn't roll off the tongue that well, but definitely more accurate.

Deja Who?

Definition - Déjà Vu is a feeling that the present situation has occurred before, but the details are elusive because the situation never happened before.

Déjà Vu, like epiphany, is a sophisticated-sounding elusive term that evokes feelings of accomplishment when experienced simply because it's called that. If it were called 'false recall', it would not have garnered that much attention (the French are obsessed with eliminating consonants from their pronunciation and emphasizing vowel sounds - that adds to the sophistication. Hebrew is the written equivalent of spoken French - it looks half-formed!). The cliché factor here is less than epiphany because déjà vu typically occurs when you visit a new place or are presented with a new situation, while epiphany does not worry about place or situation at all.

I think deja vu was coined by acidheads after seeing the same event execute in their head over and over again. There are a lot of theories regarding this phenomenon, including one that suggests a mismatch in the brain that causes it to mistake the present for the past. Come to think of it, a futurist with Déjà vu would mistake the future for the present and plunge to a sad demise while jumping off a building to fly with his/her non-existent personal jet-pack - interestingly, the futurist did not see that coming.

The utter coolness with which Keanu Reaves utters 'déjà vu' in The Matrix is only enhanced by the coolness of the concept which suggests that this phenomenon is caused by modification of code in that cyber-world that manifests itself to its inhabitants via a repeat of a particular situation (e.g., a black cat passes by again). Quite interesting, and brings about conjecture regarding the Designer who notices that the human race is fully intent on running this world into the ground (a weird construct like falling on your head - you need to have been successfully beheaded beforehand and then positioned by your beheader to be able to fall on your own head), realizes that His/Her creation has gone wrong, and starts making minor changes to the design of this world that manifests itself as déjà vu.

I have a different theory. If there are infinite possible actions at every moment in time and there is a universe for each possible scenario, then there's a version of me in a parallel universe visiting some place that I am going to visit later, and I experience a feeling of having been there because my parallel version has already been there. But considering how space and time are intertwined and with the past and future not being exactly linear, I might experience déjà vu because a parallel version of me is going to visit that place or encounter that situation in the future. In which case, déjà vu would actually be a glimpse into the future, and end up being really confounding for the futurist.

Déjà Vu, like epiphany, is a sophisticated-sounding elusive term that evokes feelings of accomplishment ... oops, I think I have been here before. But I do feel accomplished.

Corollary: "Vuja De ....the feeling that this has never happened before." - George Carlin

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

Creative Input: Roy Wilson

Monday, January 3, 2011

Building Stories

William Ding was a construction worker specializing in skyscrapers, and an aspiring writer. He had 3 passions in life: constructing floors ('building' stories), writing tales (building 'stories'), and knowing about constructions with many floors ('building stories') - I think this phrase qualifies for a triple pun. Let's tackle his passions one by one:

'Building' Stories
Construction is boring and involves some 'boring' too for a strong foundation and possibly water supply. Not much else to talk about here, so moving on ....

'Building Stories'

There's an obsession with building the tallest building (somehow the largest and longest are not at front of the recall queue, but tallest is) and getting a place in the Guinness Book of Records, from the Empire State to Sears Tower to Petronas Towers and now the Burj Khalifa, an immobile monster with 160 floors. There have been attempts to fudge the numbers in order to break an existing record by adding antennas and then adding their height to the total building height, but I am sure it's all with good intent. The key question is, do any of these buildings scrape the sky, as the name suggests? A skyscraper should look like this:

Building 'Stories'
Building stories is tough. My expectation as a science fiction enthusiast is for a story to have the following: a strong visual narrative supplemented by identifiable and relatable context regardless of how futuristic the premise is, a controlled unfolding of events which keeps the unsuspecting reader involved but not privy to plot-points prematurely, and a growing sense of awe and wonder which culminates in surprise or fulfilled expectation but with closure nonetheless. The story is in the telling, and the tell has to be given away at the right moment. As a reader I don't want to be led to and pushed off a cliff without some warning or at least a parachute, nor do I want to be led to more flat ground when there is promise of a cliff. A tall order all of this, but 3 writers come very close in different ways: Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, and Robert Silverberg. Details to be covered in a separate post.

As you can see, Bill Ding did not get to build much story-wise in this post (but he did write a book later, called 'Bill Ding Stories: Building stories, building stories, and building stories'. That's because writing posts is much easier than building stories. There are verse things too, which I have tried with meandering results and don't plan to return to in a while.

Note - The British word for floor is storey (with an 'e') and the plural is storeys (these show up as bad spellings in the American spell-check). 'Storey' was not going to work for my story, oops, post, and was therefore conveniently ignored.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Cyberia - The Qwest for Cingularity

Kurzweil the Futurist 
My knowledge of Ray Kurzweil has been limited to the 'Kurzweil' moniker on keyboards in Pink Floyd concert videos, so I was surprised to learn that he is an author, inventor, as well as a futurist. Most people live in the past and a few manage to enjoy now - this reminds me of profound words of wisdom from the old and wise tortoise in Kung-Fu Panda - "Now is a gift, that is why it is called the 'present'". Movie quotes range from vapid yet enormously popular ("I'll be back" - Terminator) to cheesy yet catchy ("You had me at hello" - Jerry Maguire) to the resoundingly impressive yet utterly redundant ("On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero" - Fight Club). A select few choose to live in a future, which while fantastical at face value, is grounded in science (as Arthur C Clarke, a futurist who predicted geostationary satellites in 1945, noted - 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic'). They are known as the futurists. 

Ray Kurzweil posits (finally found a good use for this word) that continuing advances in computing will lead to a singularity event in 2045 when apparently computer-based intelligences will significantly exceed the sum total of human brainpower. "The Singularity will allow us to transcend these limitations of our biological bodies and brains ... There will be no distinction, post-Singularity, between human and machine". There is a corollary to that - advances in computing before that date "will not represent the Singularity" because they do "not yet correspond to a profound expansion of our intelligence." The first Singularity existed just before the Big Bang, if that theory regarding origin of the universe is to be believed. I will refer to the Kurzweil singularity event as Cingularity (Cyber Singularity). Any resemblance to cellular networks dead or living is unintentional.

Plugging into the Matrix
This is interesting, if not horrifying yet. The idea of human beings uploading their consciousness (with the next logical step being a total surrender of their physical being) into cyberspace, a man-made construct, is not very appealing. As noted in my post regarding Alzheimer's (Leaving Just 'A' Memory?), having a cyber-backup structure to prevent losing invaluable constructs like consciousness, intelligence and creativity makes sense, since having these continue to exist in a biological structure subject to all kinds of damage is ridiculous. It of course brings up configuration management issues, e.g., which particular version of your consciousness backup to use if you start 'losing it', but I digress. Utilizing advances in computing to facilitate a neuron-by-neuron cyber-backup of our consciousness makes sense, but the concept of human beings giving up their physical being altogether is fraught with danger.

Implicit Promise, Shaky Premise
While the vision of man-machine convergence might be wildly exciting, one cannot ignore the nagging thought that this is not just about that - it's about man wanting to defy the natural constraints imposed on this blip of a life in the cosmic timeline and attempting to attain immortality because that is the implicit promise of Cingularity, isn't it? But it is unfortunately undone by the shaky premise of it all, which is that the upload of consciousness is going to happen in a hostile, volatile, free-for-all web cast across this wide world.

In Cyberspace no one can hear you scream 
The web works because it still operates on rules implemented via code. Having sentient beings live in cyber-form (and they will want to live on the web and possibly in the cloud since who wants to be tied to a machine without connectivity?) will result in complete anarchy. Human consciousness will immediately start operating with ego, marking their territory, establishing boundaries and firewalls, 'routing' and 'switching' traffic however they want, and rewriting programs to suit their needs. Net neutrality would be neutralized in an instant and get replaced by net brutality. The web would be the scariest place to live in, with viruses and worms ready to hack into your consciousness and causing Dalzheimer's (Digital Alzheimer's) if not complete deletion. 

Anarchy Rules!
Laws and rules will have to be created to deal with that anarchy, and the cyber-world that will result from that will not be too dissimilar from the ancient empires like Rome. If you think about it, human consciousness will end up building a world similar to ours because the effort to transcend and think outside the box is astronomical and beyond the capability of most. Case in point - the movie Tron. The Tron: Legacy world is actually medieval, with programs competing in arenas like gladiators and subject to deletion at the slightest transgression (you might get to drive the wonderful Light Cycle, but your lifecycle will be premature and you will shatter into innumerable 1s and 0s very soon - there will be b100d!). So where is this headed? And the scariest thought of all, we will be at the risk of being switched off anytime since we will be at the mercy of the machine, if not at the mercy of human beings who decided not to live in cyberspace. We would also want to travel via the 'ether' through cellular networks (digital ones replacing the biological one of the human body) which, like Qwest and Cingular, are at the risk of going defunct or being acquired/merged and subject to change at any time. Human consciousness in cyberspace will be akin to the sorcerer in the movie Aladdin who, drunk with power, wanted to be the mightiest genie in the world, got his wish granted, and ended up trapped in a lamp at the mercy of another entity. Not so in'genie'ous.

Perception is Reality
The kicker is the question that if people basically need to feel something real and end up in a Matrix-like world, what is the difference beween the tangible and the intangible? Reality is based on perception - a true and confounding contradiction. Our interpretation of the world is based on human sensory input. So who's to say the current world we are living in is matter-based and not some giant software keeping us in a dream-state? Are we just waiting to be unplugged, which might mean a descent into nothingness, or waking up in the real world? Everyone ready to take the plunge down the rabbit-hole? One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small, and the ones that mother gives you, don't do anything at all!

Existing in a non-physical state would only make sense if scientific advances allowed controlled matter-to-energy conversion and all humanity made a decision to transform into an energy state at the same time to live in an Asimovian hyperspace where there is no dependency on machine or man. Now I am sounding like a futurist. This brings to mind an amazing cyber-spiritual (if there could be such a thing) short story by Isaac Asimov called The Last Question, my favorite: http://www.multivax.com/last_question.html. He wrote this in 1956 - what a futurist!

I term this dystopian cyber-world projected by Kurzweil as Cyberia, a desolate, hostile, barely livable place. I would rather be in Siberia, instead of risking living in a digital wasteland and having to deal with cyber-toothed tigers, trolls, viruses, worms, trojan horses, denial of service attacks, writing this article one day and suddenly being attacked by a worm and getting deleted mid-sentenc

Footnote (written before I got deleted mid-sentence. Looks like I was unwittingly prescient!) - The term futurist has a 'motion' connotation, maybe because it sounds similar to motorist. It does make some sense because a futurist is traveling or has already traveled to the future in his/her mind. Futurian on the other hand, like historian, lacks that sense of movement or urgency which is essential to the futurist's thought process (a futurist is getting or trying to get somewhere new or unknown, a historian is merely visiting already visited places), and sounds more like a chronicler of the future, an impossible feat if not difficult. A futurist is a scientist who systematically predicts the future, as opposed to an astrologer who uses the position of celestial bodies to asystematically predict the position of physical bodies on a temporal plane. I wonder how the demotion of Pluto from planetary status affected astrologers worldwide. Indian astrologers also account for hidden planets called Rahu and Ketu that have not yet been discovered, so there is no risk of those getting demoted - they will need to be discovered first.

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