4 Jul 2006

Disappointing But Casual

Posted by Oblivion in General | 8:58pm

Dirty But Clean Pierre disappoints with his second novel Ludmila's Broken English. I was damn impressed with Vernon God Little, touted, fittingly, as one of the most remarkable novels of the past decade, and I didn't think twice to buy when I chanced upon Ludmila's Broken English. I believed it would make my weekend. Few pages into it, it was clear that this isn't quite up there where Vernon God Little belongs.

When you make it to the Man Booker prize with your first work, it's quite a task to even match up to it with your second work. But Pierre showed that promise. Only, it didn't work out quite. He cannot be dismissed on that account nonetheless. Liz Jensen puts it good - "For fans of Pierre's first novel, and I am one of them, the result cannot be anything but dismaying. Perhaps this failure was pre-programmed: the second novel is a notoriously difficult beast. How much more so it must be for a writer who has hit the jackpot of the Man Booker on his first attempt."

When I finish with Ludmila's Broken English, I think I'll put it up on eBay.

Current Mood: Happy
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30 Jun 2006

Bestselling Ideas

Posted by Oblivion in General | 9:46pm

Ideas have a significant role in shaping the world. World runs on ideas. Great ideas helped mankind, insane ideas killed millions, mediocre ideas preserved mediocrity, and dumb ideas made for good experiments. There's another category of ideas - bestsellers. These can be either one or a combination of insane, mediocre and dumb ideas (of course, there are some bestselling ideas that are great too, but they are very very few). They are effective in their appeal and can be presented in attractive packages. They gratify various needs of a population and foist a semblance of harmony, thus helping the ideas to sustain.

I'm sure there are many such ideas, but four of them, to my mind, stand out (not necessarily in the following order):
4.Income tax

These have been on the bestsellers list for centuries. Each of these is associated with shallow, but loaded, words - responsibility, morality, duty, salvation, etc. If you don't vote, you are an irresponsible citizen. Pay your taxes and file your returns and you are an 'honest' gentleman, an example for others. Question the logic of customs and virtues and you are damned. Dump God and you are banished in heaven. Marriage and morality - well, there's at least one book and a hundred articles published on this crap every week.

I find it tough to understand how these ideas have prevailed. These have worked for centuries, acorss cultures, across generations. It has worked for billions of people. But I fail to fathom the secret. It confounds me. The way I look at them, they are not good for anything except to make people neurotic. And the state of the world reflects this very obviously. However, bestsellers are amazingly shrewd - they lay the trap, they kill you slowly and they rarely fail. You feel it's a pleasant sail, because they hypnotize you to feel so. This is made easier by your preference for security. When you wake up, if at all, it's time for the grave.  

Fueled by these ideas, the world seems to have only one message for you - "be responsible, be moral, be morally responsible, be responsibly moral, get screwed for a lifetime, and be a repudiated martyr".

I wish there were a separate country for people who give up on the bestselling ideas!

Current Mood: Happy
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29 Jun 2006

Hands Up

Posted by Oblivion in General | 8:48pm

Outlook goes a step further. Someone else's letter, my name, wrong format. Well!

Current Mood: Happy
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20 Jun 2006

Yet Again!

Posted by Oblivion in General | 12:44am

I've gotten used to seeing my name spelt wrong or in a skewed format. I thought the university chaps tried all the formats in my marksheets. Thankfully, the chaps weren't smart to mess up the formats further with some guesswork. Outlook chaps are not as dumb (if guesswork implies being smart, that is). Names are definite data, not vague. There are no right names and wrong names. Names are names, just one of the many attributes that define an identity. And I fail to understand the tendency to twist these data. This has happened 16 times out of 19! This time, I tried the shortest version possible of my name. Yet, they messed it up! If they mess up with names so much, I doubt how careful they are with their stories.

On the other hand, maybe they really are careful with stories. Maybe there are some names that are prone to 'mindhandling'. And maybe my name is among those. Whatever be, it appeals to curiosity.

Current Mood: Happy
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15 Jun 2006

Innova and Me

Posted by Oblivion in General | 7:07pm

India-hater. Reader.
Loving brother. Lazy man.
Late-starter. Human.
Non-seer. Regular son.
Stroller. Crank.

So what role are you playing today?

Everyday. Many roles. No car.

Current Mood: Happy
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10 Jun 2006

Solitary Bird

Posted by Oblivion in General | 4:30pm

The conditions of a solitary bird are five:
The first, that it flies to the highest point;
the second, that it does not suffer for company,
not even of its own kind;
the third, that it aims its beak to the skies;
the fourth, that it does not have a definite color
the fifth, that it sings very softly.

- San Juan de la Cruz

Current Mood: Happy
Current Music: Ilaiyaraja hits

15 May 2006

These Days of Much Ado...

Posted by Oblivion in General | 3:03pm

It's appaling to see the fuss against reservations. Protests by students in many cities, the anti-reservation mails online and in print, and all those blah-blah shows on the idiot box focus on one point - "favour merit; disfavour economic status". Obviously, this is all an upshot of zero understanding of the concept of merit and zero insight into the correlation between groups and economic status. The neurotic fixation with opinion polls on various channels is making it all into a sort of propaganda. Add to it the mobile and online media, the message spreads in no time. So, it wasn't quite a surprise when a friend sent me the following message:

"send 'NO' to 6388 to vote against reservation SC/ST on NDTV. Please forward it to all concerned"

If one justifies all this by referring ignorance as the reason behind the unrest among students, it still leaves one confounded as to why no attempt has been made by government to explain the logic (too high an expectation of government!) behind the decision. There were, however, a few economists who, in a couple of talkshows, dealt with it in good detail. A couple of good articles also made it to print. But this proved to be too little to persuade those (the 'educated', 'meritorious' students, most of them) against reservations to question their stand.

The societal model and its code encourages the advantaged groups to have negative perception and attitude toward the disadvantaged. People associate traits and emotions based on economic status. The attributions for the poor are generally those that are looked down upon by society. This directly reflects in the strength of prejudice that is prevalent. The protests are a result of, besides superficial understanding of merit and economic status, this psychological wall. It's not without reason, then, that while there's so much noise against quotas for certain groups, there was hardly a single voice against the NRI quota!

All the same, it's interesting to see how this ends.

Current Mood: Happy
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6 May 2006

Date in Pi

Posted by Oblivion in General | 2:41pm

Search string - this day's date (mm/dd/yyyy format) - 05062006

Result: The string 05062006 occurs at position 91,316,202 counting from the first digit after the decimal point. The 3. is not counted.

Source: The Pi-Search Page

Current Mood: Happy
Current Music: Beethovens 9th

4 May 2006


Posted by Oblivion in General | 10:56pm

In order not to forget, I keep this quote here -

"To die would mean nothing else than to surrender a nothing to the nothing, but that would be impossible to conceive, for how could a person, even only as a nothing, consciously surrender himself to the nothing, and not merely to an empty nothing but rather to a roaring nothing whose nothingness consists only in its incomprehensibility."

- Kafka

(Thanks for the quote, M!)

Current Mood: Happy
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24 Apr 2006

Clean Bowled

Posted by Oblivion in General | 7:30pm

Wasim's yorker to all those chaps who have been, for the past few months, questioning Sachin's abilities. Now these guys better shut up!

Sachin Tendulkar: An "unbowlable" batsman of my era

Current Mood: Happy
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24 Apr 2006

Looking Beyond

Posted by Oblivion in General | 7:18pm

Vedanta = end of knowledge
Lovely word!

Current Mood: Happy
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21 Apr 2006

Dotting the Connections

Posted by Oblivion in General | 11:26pm

If someone makes an elementary course in Evolutionary Psychology a mandatory part in all graduate programs and, especially, post-graduate programs in Management, I'd be among the first to welcome the move. One of the key factors contributing to our distorted thinking patterns and defective analysis mechanisms is the absence of instruction as regards instincts and behavior among humans.

The following excerpt (from The Economist) suggests why we need to slow down and question our conclusions:

McKinsey has taken a lead in applying the findings of behavioural economics to business. In the latest edition of the firm

Current Mood: Happy
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11 Apr 2006

Logical Order

Posted by Oblivion in General | 8:47pm

Logically is 10379th. Money is 227th. Love is 384th.

For more - WORDCOUNT - Tracking the Way We Use Language

Current Mood: Happy
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11 Apr 2006

Reservation - Y or N?

Posted by Oblivion in General | 8:32pm

Looking at it cursorily, the concept of reservation doesn't sound commendable to me. IITs and IIMs are, indisputably, among the best in the world, so hiking the reservation to 49.5% does sound insensible at the outset. Further, given my utter lack of faith in the political system in this country, it seems like nothing more to me than a political gamble. Lately though, I began to see that it's not wholly unreasonable a proposition.

The main point of contention is - if the reservation is made to 49.5%, it'd mean 27 students (out of every 100) who stand a chance due to merit would lose it to 27 less meritorious students. As an equation, we have three groups - A, B, and C. As it exists, group A and group B compete for 77.5% and group C competes for the remaining. Now, if group B is given 27%, it'd become: group A - 50.5%, group B - 27%, group C - 22.5%. Group C's quota isn't a problem, for it had been there earlier and it remains unchanged. 

If earlier 77500 students of both groups A and B used to compete for 775 seats, now (77500-group B) students would compete for 505 seats. Assuming the number of group B students is 20000, it comes down to 57500 group A students fighting for 505 seats. So, the selection ratio for group A chaps goes up from 1:100 to 1:114. If we assume group B students are just 10000 instead of 20000, the ratio  would be 1:134. For an average estimate, it stands at 1:124. I doubt if it translates to a huge difference for a bright chap to beat 124 chaps instead of 100. This is, however, off the point, although it makes the proposition appear more reasonable.

Everyone, or at least most people, associates his success to hardwork and merit and the other person's success to luck. It is, to my mind, this belief that makes people averse to reservation and makes them repudiate the finer reasons behind the idea.

The main intent of reservation is to provide equal opportunities for all groups. In a healthy society, all groups are equally successful. Success depends on education. The kind of education one can afford depends on his socioeconomic status. In India, the economic gap between groups is very real, and this gap correlates directly with the socially backward groups.

Children from socioeconomically backward families cannot afford the kind of education that is ideally needed to make it to the premier institutes of higher education. As a result, a chap from such a family cannot ever make it to an IIT or IIM, and so his economic standard would not show much deviation from that of his parents. So, if we eliminate reservation to encourage merit-based selection, the economic gap between groups cannot ever be bridged.

This logic, by itself, is not sufficient to justify the idea of reservation. There are many people who suggest that reservations should be based on economic status rather than groups. Although it sounds quite fair, yet it is flawed. There's a strong correlation between groups and their respective economic standards. There are, of course, poor families in group A and rich families in groups B and C. But, on an average group A is better off at affording good education.

While economic standard is an important criterion, it's not the only decider. There's another equally important factor - aptitude. Group C may match group A in wealth, but it falls severely short as regards aptitude. So, if a chap from a rich group C family and one from a rich group A family compete for an exam with a cut-off meant for a certain IQ level, the group A's chap is more likely to clear the exam than group C's. This is where reservation comes as a great help. If more chaps from group C make it to higher education, the IQ - which is hereditary - of the subsequent generations will show a gradual increase. This, in fact, should be the primary aim for providing reservation. When group C's average IQ meets that of group A's, chaps from both groups can compete equally well. When this happens, reservation becomes redundant. And if at all the decision is for it, it has to be clear about its aims and timeline too.

An economist would be better qualified to estimate the average timeline in which, by providing better opportunities, group C's average IQ can be pushed up to meet that of group A's. I'd think three generations is a sensible and practicable timeline.

It may be asked if it isn't better to enforce reservation at schooling level till pre-university course instead of at graduation and post-graduation levels. The rationale being - it'll help all students to have equally good foundation to compete for higher education, thus making the selection wholly merit-based. Sound logic, but it'll make admissions into schools itself competitive, and competition is not healthy at kindergarten level. So, adopting it for graduation and post-graduation levels happens to be the only good choice.

It's a tough task to subject IITs and IIMs to follow the 49.5-50.5 idea and yet preserve their global standing. This can, however, be achieved if it goes along with stringent guidelines.

1.There have to be three cut-offs for qualifying, group A's being highest and group C's, lowest - without a huge difference between them. Seats against a category should not be filled just for the sake of it. If there are 25 seats reserved for group B and only 22 chaps clear the cut-off, the remaining three seats should be opened up to the students from the immediately higher group.

2.Qualified candidates should be offered admission against the number of seats in the respective category, regardless of the comparative cut-off. If a chap from group B qualifies with a higher cut-off than the topper in group A, the candidate should still be considered only for the number of seats meant for his group. This way, it'd eliminate a chap from group B and open a chance for one in group A. Not a bad trade-off.

3.Considering that some chaps from group B qualify the exam with the cut-off marked for group A, this overlap will actually help more qualified chaps from group A to make it to the course. Let's say X number of group B chaps qualify with group A's cut-off. As a result, the group A chaps would not lose 27 seats (in every 100), but only 27-X seats, for the X number of chaps would be in contention even if there's no reservation.

4.Courses should be associated with minimum IQ levels, which, in turn, should be used to decide upon the cut-off marks. This way we'll have only those students with the necessary minimum aptitude making it to the course.

5.Reservation policy should be adopted only for a certain timeline, practicable enough to effect near-identical IQ levels across groups. After that, it'd be absurd to continue with it.

6.Measures need be taken to close the gap between standards of education at schooling level itself. Else, the gap in aptitude levels of students at graduation and post-graduation levels cannot be closed. This, in turn, will put the performance and reputation of premier institutes in peril.

If government goes ahead with the policy without examining various factors thoroughly (and government is famous for this), it'd prove to be a stupid and ridiculous move. In such a case, it's better to leave out IITs, IIMs, and other such premier institutes from the equation. Else, if government does it with additional measures, it is a move fit for appreciation.

Current Mood: Happy
Current Music: ---

26 Feb 2006


Posted by Oblivion in General | 9:21am

There's a wedding every other day and the loud music and fireworks at the function-hall nearby go on till a good time past midnight. Man is the only animal who has complicated a very simple thing, and invented an institution to frame it. An institution based on everything else except love! Why this deviation from other animals? Where did it go wrong? Everything is loud and fussy about man. 

For every Buddha who understands the delight of life, there are a million people who live with insecurities and never strive to inquire the profundity of life. For every Camus who gives up on hope for human condition, there are another million people who drug themselves with optimism and believe in miracles. Man is the only animal who needs a shrink.

Where does it go wrong? Education? Or is it just how it is supposed to be? Is man inherently a 'below-average' species (with one 'sane' specimen on occasion), with a compulsive liking for regimentation, drugs and delusions? Well... 

Current Mood: Happy
Current Music: ---
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