Log in

No account? Create an account
Musings Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "cakeofsoap" journal:

[<< Previous 10 entries]

July 30th, 2009
01:29 pm


Information and knowledge
Parijat Garg, recently wrote an interesting piece about the need for information consolidation, that I thought merits a response through an independent blog. Parijat observes that we, as the human race, have over the last two centuries generated a lot of "knowledge". In fact the "knowledge" is in such copious amounts that its very volume is proving to be a challenge in its assimilation by us and in the development of further knowledge. He also points out that while innovation is remembered and recognized by the world, those who seek to organize the knowledge get very little appreciation. And he asks,"Does nobody feel this is inadequate. Does nobody feel we would do well to at least consolidate the ideas and the knowledge we have generated so far".

Fair question. But one needs to be more careful in analyzing this. Firstly, I think Parijat is confusing information with knowledge (and also knowledge with wisdom). Let me first clarify the difference between these. Data, trivia, information, knowledge and wisdom all differ from each other in how organized they are and what their applicability is. At the lowest level, in the least organized form, we have mere data: a collection of facts and records that are possibly isolated. Of these some are the kind that would be seen as interesting or startling, even if they are not accompanied by too much contextual information. These are trivia. Information is interrelated data that is organized in an intelligible way. The inferences drawn from this information form knowledge. Thus knowledge is the essence of information, it is what we extract from information. What one gains as an essence of all of one's knowledge, is wisdom.

As an example, I will use a proverb I had read somewhere. That a tomato is red and edible is data. That its consumption reduces blood pressure (say) is trivia. That it has seeds in it, that it grows on a wine, contains certain types of vitamins etc is all information. What we deduce from this information, by means of classification into categories that we have created, would be knowledge. So, that tomato is a fruit, is knowledge. Finally, that tomato should not be used in fruit salad along with other fruits, is wisdom.

As you can see in the example above, the boundaries between information and knowledge are rather thin. That tomato has vitamin C (say) could be information to some, and knowledge to some. Some distinctions between knowledge and information are induced by context. But with the availability of other information, knowledge also devolves and accumulates as information. The story of humankind's attempts to understand the world around it has been that of successively extracting knowledge from information and then extracting even more knowledge from the old knowledge, by treating the old knowledge as information. With evolution, we have replaced the information of our times with the knowledge that we have gained and left that knowledge and the wisdom we have gained from it, for posterity.

Coming to what Parijat is saying, I am not sure if are producing more information today than we were at any previous time of our history. That water washes dirt, that a potato if cooked and eaten tastes better than a raw one, was all information generated at some point in our evolutionary history. I think humankind has always generated tons of information simply because we are curious creatures. But looking back, all that we, as a current generation, see handed down to us, is knowledge and wisdom, which seems to be in smaller amounts than the information we produce today. I think this creates an illusion that we are creating more information today than ever before.

We are, though, more conscious of the fact that we are generating information. Consequently we have developed methods of storing it. Thus storing information has become institutionalized, information has become a commodity and information generation and dissemination has a more formal recognition as an profession in today's society. While this is happening, I believe that we, as humankind, are still not completely conscious of the fact that we are essentially attempting to extract knowledge from the information. Universally speaking (I am not talking of exceptional cases where we award knowledge creation for its own sake), we are still rewarding knowledge creation because it alleviates our need to store or assimilate more information, not because we are as a species convinced that knowledge creation is itself our pursuit. 

So Parijat, as a part of consolidation of information, storage of information in a convenient way is already happening. But a more thorough consolidation into a form of knowledge, yes, is not happening. 

July 28th, 2009
02:27 pm


Sach ka saamna
I am blogging after a long time which indicates that I have been strongly compelled to do so. There was furore in the Rajya Sabha recently over the new show "Sach ka Saamna". The professed intention of the show (as per the statement of Siddarth Basu during a debate on IBNLive) was to provide a platform for discussing contentious issues. The MPs held that the show as a whole is against Indian culture and is detrimental to the social fabric of the country. A controversy such as this makes for a potent subject for clear analysis, and a bait tempting enough to make me blog again.

The question that I am writing about is not of whether the show will damage Indian culture or whether it should be banned on this ground or any other. What I am writing about is that the show is inherently unfair and often does not seek truth at all.

The eloquent and articulate Santosh Desai, in his superb article has raised a similar concern. Very expertly he notes that the show does not seek truth in general as the show's professed intentions suggest, but only seeks that truth which is scandalous. I do not understand why scandalous or shocking truth should be any truer than other truths which are more commonplace. Hence I don't believe, that by exclusively seeking shocking truths the show is leading us to any greater truth than we would be in a more balanced pursuit. This leads me to believe that the show is in fact hiding behind the noble facade of seeking truth, while its real quest is for voyeurism.

Even if the intentions and motivations behind the show are of dubious nobility, they do not make the show unfair. What makes the show unfair, is its format. The questions asked are required to be answered with either a Yes or a No. In the domain of human relationships and experiences only the most trivial and universal questions or questions that purely factual can be answered with merely a Yes or No. Questions that are interpersonal or deal with opinions and feelings are either too complex or too ambiguous to be answered in this manner. The show, by permitting only such binary answers forces an oversimplification of the question and its context on the part of the contestant and by the contestant's family. As an example, a contestant was asked "Do you believe your sister has not brought up her children well?". The ideal answer to this question would be "depends on the context. In some aspects she has, in some other she has not", for clearly, there are multiple attributes to upbringing. But forcing the contestant to provide either a yes or no as an answer makes the contestant combine all of his experiences from disparate contexts to develop one opinion on this matter. The logic for this combination differs from person to person and hence results in a difference of opinion. The show then preys on this difference of opinion and makes it into a spectacle.

The show by virtue of its format deliberately obfuscates and trivializes the truth and gives it the character of gossip. So not only does it seek only scandalous truths, it seeks them in a distorted, mutilated form. A fairer show would have questions that are unambiguously worded and elaborately explained and would allow the contestant more freedom to articulate his answers. While this show does provide the contestant occasional opportunities to offer explanations for his answers, these explanations are hardly given the same importance as the "yes or no" answer itself. Of course, a show that would be fair in the way I suggest would not be an exciting game show, but a dreary discussion. Such a show would lose its audience, but would nevertheless realize the ludicrous intentions of Siddarth Basu!
August 1st, 2007
10:55 pm


I have been struggling to understand the overflowing sympathy that has the Times of India has been carrying for convicts of the Mumbai bomb blasts case. I read the TOI everyday and with even more care now, with the bomb blast case getting attention. With every passing day and every falling head, the kind of pictures TOI chooses to carry is baffling. I did not expect pictures of joyous celebration or images of policemen and blast victims going "hurray!" about a convict getting capital punishment, but the last thing I expected were maudlin pictures of relatives waving goodbye to a death-sentenced-criminal and family and friends in tears at their "loved one" being hanged. I understand and accept that death sentence is a solemn, perhaps tragic moment. But losing the bigger, positive picture of that of justice being done in a telling way, embodies in many ways the minds of our people and media work in our country.

Let me take a sharp opposite example -- when Saddam Hussain is hanged, the US media projects it as a national victory. While there exist people grieved by Saddam's death in Iraq, the media doesn't go on a sympathy trip for them. Why? (I am not for a moment implying that hanging Saddam was justified or that the US was in rights to attack Iraq). You may say the media everywhere looks for drama. True. Well then why this difference of perspective? Why does the US media choose to project a positive side of things and TOI, IE all project a negative side?

Cynicism towards anything that goes right in our country and depreciation of our own greatness is set not just in our media, but in the Indian psyche. We do it every single time: when the country grows at 10% we crib about inflation; the media never announces the completion of a new flyover, but it points out the first pothole of the season; when the LCA shocks the US at airshows, we crib that it took 20 years to build (imagine the genius of the men that envision such a superlative aircraft 20 years ahead of its time!); we deify the US and hunt for US-returned son-in-laws so much that we undervalue our own IIT Mtech programmes; we are depressed when Lagaan didnt win the Oscar, but never would be go ga-ga about our homegrown, humble yet remarkably beautiful film Shwaas! The Indian always shows a refusal to rationally assess his own value and accept his worth. This became even more obvious when I came to the US: every Tom Dick and Harry registers 4th of July conspicuously in his mind, but doesn't even realize it when 15th August goes by; every TD&H will struggle and acquaint himself with the minutest of details about US freeways, but will never have the same interest in knowing the major stations that dot the Central Railway from Mumbai to Bhusaval, even though both acts are equally dull and brainless; every TD&H will know all sorts of random stats about Sears Towers, but will perhaps hear of Hampi, Belur and Tanjavur from some American first. A few days ago I was talking to mother about possibly buying a pair of dark lenses that would fit on my regular glasses so as to serve as sunglasses. My mother was surprised that something like this is available in the US. I was nonchalant, and said "I am sure we get those in India too!". But she insisted, "No... I doubt if we would get something so advanced in India". This exhasperates me! That lens is nothing advanced. Yet simply because we don't see it commonly in India, we perceive it to be so superior that it would be beyond our humble reach. Somehow the Indian mind perceives anything "US" with an amplified, almost servile awe that is difficult to explain rationally.

Clubbed together with this cynicism is also a complete misplacement of values. I am amazed by the amount of public sympathy that is following Sanjay Dutt. Some wise guy I know posted this nonsense. In encourage you to read it. Public responses on TOI's website are equally funny. Most people seem to think the judgment is "harsh". Reasons -- "he has changed", "mistake was made long ago", "he was not directly involved in the blasts". Let me take them apart one by one.

1. For those who think "he has changed", one simple thought: having acted in a Gandhigiri film doesn't make him a follower/preacher/encourager/supporter of Gandhigiri. By the same token, he has also played several roles of a hideous gangster --  that should make you deduce that he is a gangster! :) To claim that he has changed, it is necessary to know him personally over the last 14 years.

2. "Mistake was made long ago" , yes true. All those convicted in this case made a mistake long ago. The antiquity of an error does not make it less punishable. That his judgment has come 14 years after the act is contributed only partially by the operational problems in our judicial system. Sanjay has been out on bail since 1995. Had he completed his term then, the way Yakub etal have been in, he wouldn't have had to get in now. To apply for bail and make frivolous appeals to prolong the case, was HIS choice.

3. "Not directly involved": But he wasn't punished for the blasts! He wasn't blamed for them either. He was punished for possessing arms illegally. No wonder his punishment came after the rest of the bombing gang. Also, ask yourself this question -- Suppose there is a man, whom you DONT know personally, just some random chap.  Now suppose he has had a history of drugs, affairs, divorce, underworld contacts. Would you trust such a man with an AK-56 gun, especially one procured illegally from underworld goons? Would you not fear that this man could cause destruction and use the gun irresponsibly? The punishment for illegally possessing arms is for this POTENTIAL danger to society. That the arms were never used is irrelevant. If they were used, that would amount to even more punishment.

Finally, amidst all this "taking apart", there are 2 men who deserve loads of praise. Judge Kode, the first. I dont have the capacity to assess if his judgments and sentences were perfect, but I admired the statements he made. He said to Sanjay, what a lawmaker would say to any other talented boy who had lost his way. He gave him a stiff punishment, but told him to have faith in himself that he would come out better and stronger. It wonderful and admirable that while in the halo of Sanjay Dutt's star image all of us lose sight of the fact that he is a criminal, the judge puts Sanjay's acting skills and star image in right perspective and gives it only as much importance as it should deserve.

The second man, Zaheer Khan. If the jellybeans incident indeed spurred him on, I admire him. For here is a man who took no abuse or insults from the west, looked at them eye to eye without any shame or awe, competed hard and showed them their place. Fair and square.
June 4th, 2007
06:37 pm


Game Theory and the BMW case
I was away from Bombay for 5 days hoping to escape from the heat, on a family vacation to Pachmarhi in MP (will post some amazing pics later). It turned out, much to my disappointment that Pachmarhi is actually a rather lousy place with very ordinary tourist attractions, and has more heat than Bombay!

I happened to follow the very interesting (and ofcourse appalling) BMW case on television. For the uninitiated this is the story in short. In Delhi, 1999, 6 people sleeping on a footpath were run over by a black BMW allegedly driven by Sanjeev Nanda, the son of a rich arms dealer. Of the 4 witnesses to the case, 3 turned hostile over time. There remained just this one man Sunil Kulkarni, a businessman from Bombay, who was the only eye witness still standing tall. Reputed criminal lawyer R K Anand is fighting the case for the Nanda's, whom the public believes to be guilty. Another reputed lawyer I U Khan is the public prosecutor, fighting the case for the Delhi police. It seemed likely that if Sunil Kulkarni's statement is recorded and taken cognizance of by the court, there is a good chance that the Nandas will lose.
With this, what changed was that NDTV came up with hidden camera recordings taken by Sunil Kulkarni himself, which revealed that Anand and Khan were in fact colluding. They had apparently asked Kulkarni to ask the Nandas for Rs 5 crore in bribe (which will get split between Anand, Khan and Kulkarni) in exchange for Kulkarni not recording his statement. The fact that money was discussed, and that the 2 lawyers who were supposed to be against each other, were in fact cooperating is clear from the tapes.

With little better on my mind, I took to analyze it from a game theoretic perspective. The question that was making me restless was this:  Suppose we accept that greed for money is all that drives these two lawyers. Why is it that they necessarily profit from cooperating than from competing? Take for eg - while the market for coffee is enormous, CCD and Barrista dont cooperate. They rather compete. I tried to think of why the same doesnt happen between these lawyers. Of course one cant draw parallels between CCD-Barrista and Anand-Khan. But the question still remains-  Under what condition would these lawyers gain more from competing, rather than cooperating? And can I come up with a system where this happens?

Here is my solution:
Denote CL: Criminal Lawyer, PP: public prosecutor.
The PP has 2 strategies: "SK" (sunil kulkarni), and "notSK". Let CL have 2 strategies: "strong" and "weak".
4 possible strategy combinations can arise out of this game. (SK, strong), (SK, weak), (notSK,strong), (notSK,weak).
We now need to define a payoff structure for the 2 lawyers. If PP loses the case, he gets a salary "salPP". But if he wins, he also gets an incentive, making his total earnings = salPP + incPP.
If CL loses the case, he gets his salary, but also suffers defamation because of his high profile position. Suppose he puts a price "defCL" on this defamation. If he wins the case, suppose he gets a reward from the Nandas = "rewCL".

Let us write out the payoffs for the 2 lawyers in each of the 4 strategy combinations.
(SK,strong). With these strategies, suppose  m is  the probability that PP wins the suit.
PP: (salPP + incPP)*m + salPP*(1-m) = salPP + incPP*m
CL: (salCL - defCL)*m + (salCL + rewCL)*(1-m) = salCL - defCL*m + rewCL*(1-m)

(notSK,strong). In this case PP definitely loses the suit.
PP: salPP
CL: salCL + rewCL

(SK,weak). In this case, PP definitely wins the suit.
PP: salPP + incPP
CL: salCL - defCL

(notSK, weak) Suppose n is the probability that PP wins the suit
PP: salPP + inc*n
CL: salCL - defCL*n + rewCL*(1-n)

To analyze this game further we need the solution concept of a Nash Equilibrium. A Nash equilibrium emerges in a competitive setting. It is a set of strategies from which the players have no unilateral incentive to deviate. If the players were to maximize their payoffs, since the payoffs depend on the player's strategy AS WELL AS the opponents, it is seen that the players would settle at a set of strategy that both would not like to deviate from.

In the above game, we see that (SK, strong) is such a strategy. Any unilateral deviation from (SK, strong) i.e. (SK, weak) and (notSK, strong) means that one of the players becomes worse-off. Thus (SK, strong) is a Nash Equilibrium. Similarly we see that (notSK, weak) is also a Nash Equilibrium. What that means is, that given the current setting, the 2 lawyers would play either (SK, strong) or (SK, weak). We can assume without loss of generality that they chose to play (SK, strong) - i.e. CL uses his strongest possible evidence, and the PP uses the witness Sunil Kulkarni.

If however these 2 lawyers decide to cooperate and share the total payoff, we see that their total payoff is maximum when the strategies played are (notSK, strong), which is precisely what is happening in this BMW case! The 2 lawyers have colluded and decided that they would not use Sunil Kulkarni as a witness and get Nanda to win the case. The term "rewCL" above can be interpreted as the bribe of Rs 5 crore Nanda would pay.

Now we can analyze the question I had posed earlier-  In what setting would they prefer competing, than colluding. Weakly speaking, when is their total payoff at a Nash Equilibrium greater than their total payoff at a cooperative equilibrium?
salPP + incPP*m + salCL - defCL*m + rewCL*(1-m) >  salCL + rewCL + salPP ?
i.e.                                                     incPP*m - defCL*m > rewCL*m
i.e.                                                     incPP  - defCL > rewCL

The answer is present in the last inequality. If the incentive to PP, "incPP", is large enough, competing is preferable to colluding. What that further means is that if the PP is provided with a sufficiently large bonus for winning a case, he would not do this corrupt act. How big should the bonus be? Well this answer suggests, that it has to be bigger than the bribe the Nandas would give + the defamation price the CL would suffer. Clearly as the Delhi police cannot provide an incentive worth crores, the PP preferred colluding.

Some more points worth noting.
  1. The inequality above is independent of the salaries of the two lawyers. What that means is that by simply hiking the salary of the PP, one cant hope to make him less corrupt. The general perception is that if the salary is good, temptation for more money is less. But from my simplistic analysis we see that whatever be his salary, there should be a differential incentive for winning. 
  2. This applies also to cricketers in the case of match fixing. Raising their salaries would not stop match fixing. We need provide performance driving bonuses, and large prize money. It speaks of why although there is betting in every sport, sports like tennis, golf etc are clean from match fixing.
  3. The incentive also depends on the stature of the CL and the defamation price he puts on his loss "defCL".

Of course, now that we know incentives are the key, the question that lies open is how to generate this? I am not very knowledgeable in this matter. But I can venture a very simple guess: lets have a public issue for high profile cases and generate the incentive from the price of the shares. More the public at large believes the high profile accused is guilty, the higher the price will rise and lesser is the temptation for the PP to get corrupt.
Another, sillier suggestion is - instead of the incentive give the PP a direct entry to the hotseat of KBC :). Basically, an opportunity that can be worth huge amounts of money, and is difficult to get. 

Any more suggestions? Please comment :)

May 27th, 2007
12:29 am


English and Cricket
One of the great pleasures of being back home in India is being able to lie lazily on my living room sofa to watch a game of cricket. Many might disagree with the glorified value I am attaching to an act which we have all have done as kids only to grow cynical and dissatisfied by seeing our team lose, or by seeing interesting matches get washed out by rain or by seeing an ever-dominant Australia wash everyone else out. As a result, most people grow out of the romanticism of cricket sooner or later. But the fact that cricket still continues to attract the fanatic following of younger generations speaks of a unique charisma that is has.

I have been following the India-Bangladesh match and then continuing with the England-WestIndies test match a bit into the evenings. Switching from a queer, unheard of Neo sports! to the old and familiar ESPN made me observe something I had noted a long time back, but never got a chance to write about. There is a certain joy to watching English cricket. No, I dont mean watching the English *play* cricket - which in fact, has been good too as I got to watch two of my all time favourites, Vaughan and Pieterson, score centuries - but I mean in watching a match set in England, described to you by English commentators.

Matches in lush meadowed English outfields, with vibrant, bright coloured stands, soft sober sunshine and beautifully architectured grounds are a delightful sight. But what adds to the experience is the cleanliness of the commentary that accompanies it. When I switch from Neo to ESPN, I don't just switch from Dhaka to Leeds or from a laughable "expert" called Rohan Gavaskar to sublime connoisseurs David Gower and Ian Botham. I switch markedly between grades of sheer proficiency in English language.

Listening to Ravi Shastri, Tony Greg, Navjot Siddhu and the newer boys like Arun Lal and Lakshman Sivaramakrishnan makes me pity the lack of vocabulary and a trivialization of English and cricket that I see. Consider this: How often do we hear the phrases "despairing dive", "experienced campaigner", "corridor of uncertainty" or "lightening quick outfield"...? Very often! So many of these terms have become so common amongst Indian commentators that a less knowledgable viewer might construe them to be a part of cricket itself. Every dive that doesnt save a boundary, is NOT a despairing dive, for God's sake! If the outfield is fast, there are other adjectives that can be used to describe it, not 'lightening quick' every time. If a ball bowled is good, it is not always a 'peach of a delivery'. Corridor of uncertainty is used so ubiquitously that it makes one believe that it is a physical region of the field defined by the rules of cricket. If a player is experienced, its alright to call him just experienced. He doesnt need to be always described as an experienced campaigner! (A campaigner by the way, is some one who is a part of a campaign which is often a military exercise)

The list doesnt end here. After seeing second-rate repetitive and imitated commentary what exasperates me more is that some of it contains sheer blasphemy. Consider the phrase "hit like a tracer bullet" for instance. If you dont know already, I encourage you to google for "tracer bullet" and check out the answer for yourself. When a batsman hits a ball very hard and it races to the fence, Ravi Shastri exclaims 'he's that like a tracer bullet', to imply that it was as fast as a tracer bullet. A tracer bullet,  my friend Ravi, is a bullet that leaves a trace behind after it has passed. It is not an exceptionally fast bullet! I would much rather hear "hit like a rocket" ten more times than hear an obscure analogy about tracer bullets. One more of Shastri goof ups - "this outfield is like breeze-lightening!". There is breeze, there is lightening. But there exists no term, scientific or otherwise called breeze lightening. And another one about LBWs - when a batsman is LBW, his leg is in front  or before  the wicket. Not adjacent  to it!

The lesser sensitive people might feel I am making heavy weather of a small issue. But the urgency of the situation becomes clear when I compare the lousy commentary during the India-Bangladesh match to the England-WI one. I mentioned above that cricket is a charismatic game. That is because it is a game where finesse can be commonly observed, even if you don't have a keen eye for it. Take batting for example. There are millions of types of shots that batsmen play. Each is unique in the way it is played and the message that it conveys and I feel the commentary must stay faithful to this fine detail. Listening to Gower comment on Vaughan and Pieterson yesterday showed how adept he was at this. A Shastri or a Greg would use "he's smashed/blasted/hit that" for every other shot, almost making it sound like a boxing match. Gower on the other hand chooses his adjectives very precisely -fine shot, good shot, elegant shot, beautiful shot, firm shot, mighty shot, cracking shot, great shot,  superb shot, splendid shot, authoritative shot, flamboyant shot ... Each of these are different kinds of shots. Gower sounds like an educated commentator with a great command over language, though he might not be as entertaining as Greg or Shastri. At the risk of being too correct and boring, he doesnt manufacture words to express his excitement. No ball for him is a "ripper" or a "jaffer" (God knows where these words came from in cricket), and no catch for him is a "sitter", or worse a "scorcher" (due to Arun Lal) and dives for him aren't always despairing- there are sprawling dives, lunging dives, lazy dives, outstretched dives... the list goes on!

My point behind all of this is to simply point out what I have seen. It is not that I dont enjoy a Shastri or a Greg commenting. I just feel that English is a beautiful, flexible language. And cricket is a beautiful, expressive game. It would be sad if in the race for catching the attention of the average listener and in the rampage for TRP rating, the delicate English language and the nuances of cricket are "blasted" away!

PS: Please comment :)
May 25th, 2007
04:03 pm


It was October 2006. I look back at the last 3 entries in this beautiful mind-space where I often played with words and thoughts and ideas, and find that each of them begins with an apology. "I know its been long, very long...", "It has been almost a month.."... October 2006 was when I wrote my last blog. Orkut scraps have come by, personal inquiries have poked all asking why I have suddenly stopped blogging. Cliched as it may now sound, I begin this new entry after a hiatus of more than half a year with another apology.

A curse of not writing for too long is that too much has happened to now go back and take stock. One loses touch with one's blog almost the same way in which you lose touch with your friends over time. In my case IIT is done and dusted; life fresh, busy and reverberating has taken off at UIUC. My company has changed, thoughts have changed and if I try to "continue from where I left off" in my last blog, I struggle. In some strange way I feel like I have become a stranger to my own past.

As I try so hard to blog again it almost feels like I am trying to mend a long-lost relationship. Things have changed in a big way for me since I wrote my last blog. My last blog was perhaps the last piece of leisure writing I had done over the last 6-8 months. Since then it has been 2 conference papers and 3 journal papers that have found creation through this incessant knocking that I seem to do all day on my keyboard. As I separate paragraphs in this innocuous document I instinctively hit "enter" and type "\newline". When I read my older entries I can see a theme, a thought run through them. I know the thoughts are mine, but for some reason, I am not able to think them again.

I can think of several reasons to account for this disconnection. I am a markedly different phase of life now. I am student, who is also very much an employee. I have a life which is independent and which I sustain by my self. I do "mundane" things like pay monthly rents and electricity bills and do grocery shopping and (sometimes) house cleaning - things which never ever concerned me and my time in the last 23 years of my existence. I do not do dram anymore. I have spent my last 9 months in a country that is very different from my home land, among people whose whiteness is what I would find more noteworthy than brightness. I am grudgingly learning the ropes of American politeness which just a year ago I would have "cared two hoots for". I am no more the undergrad who cursed my professors and my system with nonchalance and disregard. I am now on the other side of the fence - a graduate student, teaching/research assistant with a broader world view - due to which, how much ever I may want to sympathize with my undergrad past (and fellow DD's woes), I now wholesomely "understand" why professors say the things they say and do the things they do. I am also not a loner in life anymore. I am in a serious, loving and dedicated relationship with Anupama. Every now and then I am mellowed by the realization of my ineptness at handling sensitive relationship matters, and humbled by how little I knew about the other half of humanity while I lived my life carefree on broken chappals, occasional baths and maddu mess anda dosas at H13 B715.

Having said so much makes me feel lighter. Makes me feel like I have bridged the gap between the last blog and today. So here are the facts: I am currently enrolled in a Master's program in IE and am aiming for a PhD. My research interests have zeroed in on Game Theory - mechanism design and evolutionary games, specifically. My research centers on theoretically developing efficient mechanisms for resource allocation in a price anticipating setting that is marked by uncertainty and dynamics. I plan to give my qualifiers in August. I right now in Bombay, on a month long vacation till June 25th.

Having said so much, I will stop. The theme for entry has been of revival and taking stock, to help me get back to writing and blogging. And, I must say, it has helped.

PS: Comments welcome :)
My temporary cell no here 9869023760. I dont have any of my old Bombay contacts. Hoping for a surprise call or two!
October 5th, 2006
01:44 am


"Life affirming"
Its a strong word, "life-affirming", one that we never use loosely. It happened to fall on my ears when I saw this remarkable 8 min video of the Pink Floyd Live 8 rehearsals. I find it difficult to articulate in words all that is being said and seen in this video. Perhaps the most defining music bands ever that enthralled the world for so many years, Pink Floyd broke up tragically due to monetary and musical differences in the mid 1980s, with Roger Waters defecting. And now after more than 20 years, they came together for a charitable cause for this one event at Live 8 in London. This video talks of their practices for this concert. I have been in super-ego-charged practices myself during drams and PAFs. I have seen simple actions and words get misunderstood, misconstrued, stupidity coming in the way of reason and parts coming in the way of the whole. I urge you all to see this video and feel what is there in it. The tension, the awkwardness, the guilt, the egos - they are all so palpable!

Pink Floyd live8 rehearsals
"Pink Floyd live8 rehearsals" on Google Video
Pink Floyd live8 rehearsals

This video brought me memories of all the all-night practices I had with Anshu, Ingle and the gang... Not for the regret that is evident in the video, but for that great uniting feeling that is present in it. For the beautiful syngery that I shared with these people, learning to forgive and forget petty things and move on to what is most important in life - the pure joy of shared experiences and that passion for the "doing". Let me quote Nick Mason's lines here -
"It's the shared experiences we have had... I think thats the most important thing about life, really. That business of things we've shared with people. It is that thing about the witnesses to your life. It is life-affirming, I suppose. Even if you've had the big arguments with people or whatever... they 've shared the experiences - In a way that you can only tell other people about"

I hope I am not speaking too soon, but I feel I have found myself "my-kind-of-guy" here - my advisor, Uday Shanbhag. He is brilliant -Btech IITB Aero, MS MIT, PhD Stanford and the recipient of the best Phd award worldwide in 2006). He is jolly - "Hey Ankur, whats playing on your Ipod today? Kishore Kumar?". He is honest - "The thing is I am not very intelligent and fast thinking. I think I think best when I am alone. Why dont you mail me your doubts instead of asking them face to face?"
He gives two hoots to any kind of donkey-work "Some student forgot these tomatoes in my office and I was bored of taking them home. Now they've got rotten!" :P :P
We crib together about all our tedious IITB Aero courses "Ankur do you still have that painful Sarvanamuttoo- that Gas turbine shit!" "Yeah Cohen-Rogers!" "Yeah some nonsense like that... All PV=nRT and crap..." :))
He summarizes his objectives of his course as "All I want from you guys, is that you think". A complete non-stickler for grading "Just forget about the grade guys! Enjoy the course!" and exams and such banes of pedagogy "It's ok if you dont submit assignments. That way I will have to correct fewer!" :))
He thinks most things in the world are ordinary and boring - "There's some 'tar minus some nonsense' you use to untar files in linux... Why cant you just double click and get done with it?" :))
And - "If you have any strong feelings about the code I wrote for my phd, go tell my advisor about it! I am not going to touch it again!" :))
And and when I do tell my feelings about his messy code, he comes up with - "Yeah man... if I was that organized a guy, I would have been a much bigger guy in life!" :))

But most importantly he is one who sees the world the way I do, and lets me be impractical ambitious Dog. That was evident in this incident that happened a couple of weeks back. He's introduced a course project in his NLP course. "If you guys do really well at the project, then you dont need to worry about the assignments and the exam" :) The hope is that this project leads to a publication. I was discussing with him the kind of problem I was wanting to work on. He had a problem in mind which was related to the work I was already doing, and also to his past work. I wanted to work on something totally different called 'mechanism design'. We were debating for a long time the pros and cons of doing it and he was trying to persuade me to do something in his field.
US: "Mechanism design is an interesting field... But the problem is that I dont know anything in it. I was wanting to get into it some time later..."
AK: "That's ok Uday... We can try..."
US: "No it might seem ok. But when you get in to a new field, results arent guaranteed. And it can be very frustrating. I have gone through this, and I am preparing you for that kind of frustration. But your call eventually. It difficult and its new... And its outside my comfort-zone. Thats why you might want to not do it..."
AK: "But, that is WHY I WANT to do it!"

(If my friend Prasanna would have heard this he would have called this a Dog-classic :)) Btw, whats up Kanna?) Uday beamed a wide smile and gave me a hi-five, as if in confirmation that he knows what I want to do and that 'we are going for it'. Mechanism design has become my obsession ever since! I love you Uday!
The thought of shifting from MS to PhD has always been playing on my mind. I was waiting, as I usually do in decisions like these, for that one magical moment to tip me over. I think that moment has arrived. In the next two months I think I will have shifted to a PhD program. I know this means that I forfeit all chances of a degree from MIT and Stanford and all that nonsense... But this chemistry with Uday is too good to let go of! He is a fantastic guy... He knows too well that God is in the detail, and not in the outer glamourous wrappers of success and failure, that true joy is in the journey, not in the destination, and the truly life-affirming feeling is in our shared experiences of overcoming challenges, regardless of where we reach in the end.

Here's one for you Uday! Cheers! :)

"Sing with me, sing for the years
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears
Sing with me, if its just for today
Maybe tomorrow the good lord will take you away

Dream on, dream on
Dream yourself a dream come true
Dream on, dream on
Dream until your dream come true
Dream on, dream on, dream on..."

PS: You know what to do- good/bad/crap - anything you wish to say, please comment! And make sure you leave your name :)
PPS: Abstract accepted at Miami! yoohoo! :) Looks like I have a week of relief during peak winter :)

Current Mood: bouncybouncy

September 22nd, 2006
10:48 am


Coming Back to Life!
It feels good. Believe me, it feels superb! To be yourself once again!

Last week I was feeling as if I have reached a dead end in life. Nothing seemed normal. The head was heavy with memories of IITB. My eyes ached everyday as I went back to sleep and I slept too tired to, as I had promised myself, practice the guitar before sleeping. My humour was slow and lagged, and completely devoid of the "fart" in it. Things I did - they seemed either rehearsed or completely alien to my own being. I woke up, I ate, I slept at the same damn time every day. I went to lectures on time and took down detailed notes, humbly listening to all that was being said objecting to nothing, not nodding off at anything. I saw the moon grace the skies at night but didnt feel its splendour strike my retina and drive me into deliriums of "Abe kya fundoo hai!". Everything was so normal, so ordinary, so mundane and so boring. Excitement, delirium, and the quintessential fundooness that I had perennially yearned for and found in things around me seemed to be a part of a far lost universe.

Where was that stupidity, that insanity, that thing that just 2 months ago made me go to remote parts of Bandra in the middle of the night and take pictures of the moon? And which after a night full of beauty made me run around showing them to people saying "Yeh dekh kya fundoo photo hai!"? Where was that arrogance and that complete disregard for method and stereotyping that made me argue vehemently with the dumb profs like Pant in IITB? And then cavalierly declare "abe isko kuch nahi ata..." and sleep off in his lecture? Then things got worse... I actually cracked 10/10 in a quiz. I dont remember when was the last time I did something so outrageous! :O

I had bought the guitar and not practiced for 2 weeks. I pranced around here and there in Reebok shoes when for 3 years I have worn broken chappals in my wing. I looked down and I couldnt recognize my own feet! I was roaming around in the house doing nothing but housework and then complaining to Pritam saying this is a "pakav" place. I walked the cold sprawling lawns of the UIUC campus, from home to office to the Quad and back home with a heavy bag containing 3 textbooks and printouts of 4 research papers. I was sitting upright, reading them over and over again, wrestling with the algebra, feeling dizzy and tired. In the wide green Quad as pretty legs jogged around, equations tumbled and fumbled inside my head, teasing me, constantly running away from my grasp... Oh man... Things had rarely seemed as tough. As I walked back home, bewildered and weary, I could almost feel my back ask me - Abe idiot, when was the last time you sat upright to study? Every time I had read a paper before this it had felt like a slowly unraveling mystery (or as I had remarked once about Schonlau's thesis- like a slowly undressing woman :D). Why did every paper here feel like a bloody sermon? It made me wonder... Where is that beautiful world of elegant, insightful and poetic mathematics that I travelled seven seas to the US for? In the fast approaching winter, where were those little things of beauty that would keep my heart warm? Where was all that music that sounded in H13 B715? Where was Pink Floyd? Where was Jagjit Singh? Where are all those stupidmax and sillymax jokes that I found so funny that they made me smile in my sleep? Where was everything? Where was the Dog/Takli inside of me?

I spoke to JK and he put it as succintly as he possibly could "Dog, this is serious. Cracking quizes is very unlike you!" :P. And I told Adnan... "If I continue like this I'll become like Rege!" :P. And that scared me...:D I realized had started living in a world that I didnt belong to. Things were just not right. At times like these its often just that one thing that sets a hundred other things right. One cog in the right place and all the wheels begin moving... And thats exactly what happened... There was a maths exam. I screwed a simple limit problem. Man! It felt so good! I told another IITian here... "Abe exam hugne ke baad feel aati hai be..." I went back to orkut and did a whole lot of nonsense scrapping. I went back home and practiced the guitar, painless and happy. I went back to office put my feet up and listened to all my good old music. I looked out of the window and smiled at the moon. I went back to the research paper... Things seemed so much more natural... There was no pressure, no weariness... I went over the stuff again. My mind was catching the right things...Turned out I proved a fundoo result! I spoke to my prof and he said we should send to a conference in Miami this Jan!

Suddenly things have started feeling better here. The air is crisp around Champaign... the old jokes are back... It sure feels good to be yourself again - from the Dark Side of the Moon, Coming Back to Life.

PS: Anything you wish to say - good/bad/crap - please comment here. And do leave your name when you comment :)

Current Mood: bouncybouncy

September 14th, 2006
08:09 pm


Thanks for everything!
One sound, one single sound
One kiss, one single kiss
Faces outside the window pane
However did it come to this?

Ah! Pink Floyd exceptional as ever... (Ref: Yet another movie)

I know its been long. Very long. Perhaps too long. I look back at the entry before this one- July 9th. Its been more than 2 months! All of July was spent penning down "Loneliness to Solitude"- my first novel... Half of August was spent in frantic preparations for the US journey... And begining with my 23rd birthday, on August 15th, I have been in Champaign.

Lets wind back... On July 9th, I was waiting for my visa interview. I was just back from a south India trip. I wrote something to soothe Krishna, who was in the US then, from the pangs of missing Bombay. I wrote of Bombay and its rains. I put up pictures of Bandra flooding with water. I wrote of how much I love the city... And I ended the blog saying these pithy words-

"I have lived almost 23 years in this great city, romancing every bit of its unique and baffling beauty. Last year during my intership I met a girl in Rome who asked me "Which is your favourite city in the world- Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, Nice, Venice or Rome?". I said Bombay. Thanks to the schol I craved so much for, the next 2 years will be spent in the US. Next 2 years... may be 4! My visa interview is scheduled for the 13th. I am dazed by the thought of staying away from Bombay for so long... 4 years is unbelievably long! Four years ago I wasnt even an IITian! I wonder what will keep me company. May be words such as these, and pictures such as those."

These words have turned out to be too prophetic for my liking. Exactly one month has gone by, since I threw that kiss at my friends and family, standing outside the window panes of Sahar airport departure gate C. That evening my younger brother was helping me pack stuff in... He was recalling all the stupid jokes we used to create and laugh at. JK got me to meet Sushree (who will perhaps be my first bhabhi), just in case I dont get to attend his wedding. It's easy for my bro to guess when I am sad, but that day even Sushree could guess that I wasnt happy leaving... Then at the airport, the glass doors slid by, past those waving hands and smiling faces. I think I faintly heard someone shout 'We love you dog', and then there was no recognizable sound. Just an enormous void... Of time, of distance, of uncertainty, of future. It is still unbelievable... However did it come to this?

The US is nothing like India, and UIUC is nothing like IIT. I wont write now about how I like it here... Or how I hate it here. I am just writing this as a dedication to my friends back in India. (I wont dedicate anything to my parents or bro- this blog is too trivial a thing to dedicate to family) 2 years are seeming like 20. Guys, I miss each and every one of you. Some of my farewell pics are there below... I might have seen them at least 15 times over the past month and I have still not had enough. Thanks for all the fun, people... Thanks for everything!

Let me end with one more of Pink Floyd- High Hopes.

Beyond the horizon of the place we lived when we were young
In a world of magnets and miracles
Our thoughts strayed constantly and without boundary
The ringing of the division bell had begun

Along the Long Road and on down the Causeway
Do they still meet there by the Cut

There was a ragged band that followed in our footsteps
Running before times took our dreams away
Leaving the myriad small creatures trying to tie us to the ground
To a life consumed by slow decay

The grass was greener
The light was brighter
When friends surrounded
The nights of wonder

Looking beyond the embers of bridges glowing behind us
To a glimpse of how green it was on the other side
Steps taken forwards but sleepwalking back again
Dragged by the force of some inner tide
At a higher altitude with flag unfurled
We reached the dizzy heights of that dreamed of world

Encumbered forever by desire and ambition
There's a hunger still unsatisfied
Our weary eyes still stray to the horizon
Though down this road we've been so many times

The grass was greener
The light was brighter
The taste was sweeter
The nights of wonder
With friends surrounded
The dawn mist glowing
The water flowing
The endless river

Forever and ever

I think Zod took this one :)

And finally... That pineapple cake! :)
July 7th, 2006
09:21 pm


Krishna said the previous entry made him senti -

"bluddy ankur! you made me senti! go die!

i miss bombay :(

~ Krishna"

Poor chap Krishna, has been doing his PT in NY. He's been there less than three months and has already started missing the city. Here's a poem for you Krishna, one that I wrote last year during tthe rains... some where around Ganesh Chathurthi. Hope this soothes wounds more than rubbing salt into them :)


Clouds stride on the lake, and conquer the greens,
They caress my face, leaving a reminescence of dew,
Soft cool breaths whisper to me, my ears tickle,
A smile crosses my face, like a child I chuckle,
My brain chides my eyes, incredulously,
A miry metropolis, or a thriving chimera?
Bombay baffles me. Oh! It is Bombay I am seeing!
Vinayaka Gajamukha, am I dreaming?!

I have lived almost 23 years in this great city, romancing every bit of its unique and baffling beauty. Last year during my intership I met a girl in Rome who asked me "Which is your favourite city in the world- Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, Nice, Venice or Rome?". I said Bombay. Thanks to the schol I craved so much for, the next 2 years will be spent in the US. Next 2 years... may be 4! My visa interview is scheduled for the 13th. I am dazed by the thought of staying away from Bombay for so long... 4 years is unbelievably long! Four years ago I wasnt even an IITian! I wonder what will keep me company. May be words such as these, and pictures such as those.

PS: Same thing.. comment karo :) Naam daalna mat bhoolo!

Current Mood: calmcalm

[<< Previous 10 entries]

Ankur Kulkarni Powered by LiveJournal.com