Musings #1

This is the first of two articles published most probably in the Spring of 1999.

The other day in our cafeteria, I mistakenly entered into a conversation with certain “diggajs” in the field of the occult and the mystic. The conversation, as it inevitably does in these situations turned to the Zodiac-those 12 strange shapes in the skies which surprisingly seem to rule over the destiny of five billion plus souls on a small planet at the fringe of the milky way. One wonders what is it about the human race—a simple yet complex bipedal form made out of an agglomeration of Carbon with other elements that makes it think that it is the center of all existence? Hell, we aren’t even at the center of the universe! One feels that a reading of Douglas Adam is essential for the human race to shake itself out of the reveries that it is the be all and end all of, the reason for the existence of the universe! Why is it that so many,
otherwise rational beings (yours truly included) turn to the astrology column in the newspaper to what the stars foretell—as if they do say anything! Even as I write this, I remember that I haven’t glanced through my fortune today. Well, I will get down to doing it, if and when I finish this long overdue piece, promised to the editoress of Environs in a fit of hasty and completely misplaced bravado. Only after committing myself, did I realise that alas, I suffer from a real bad case of ‘Writer’s Block’. Well, after having taken some paper and a pen in hand, I am trying to pen down some thoughts. If these words don’t make any sense to you, relax, neither do they to me!

Musings apart, turning to the subject of astrology, I try to remember what Carl Sagan (of Cosmos fame) once said. (It is a real long time when I heard this and Sagan is mercifully dead (mercifully for me, a great loss to the human race, he was a really profound thinker and scientist), so no fear of him bringing about a multi-billion dollar suit that his words have been twisted out of context). So, what did Sagan say? Yeah, what I remember he said was “If one is born is darkened room, where there is no way for the light of any planet or star to reach, how come those stars affect ones destiny and day-to-day life?” Thinking rationally, what he said was correct, but if there is one thing where the human race (otherwise rational in many things) acts irrationally is in trying to know the future! On reading Linda Goodman’s bible on the subject, coupled with the daily fortunes, one comes to the inescapable conclusion that Ms. Goodman is an excellent psephologist and should be asked to analyse the “Great Indian Poll Tamasha” on TV! After all, if one collects a large enough sample of human kind born on various dates and analyses their traits, one is sure to find some common traits! So, she collects a large sample, analyses it and brings out the commonalities between various people born in a particular period, while subtly hiding the differences by couching it in something vaguely resembling bureaucratese! After all, that is the power of statistics! One can’t help but remember the gentleman who remarked “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics!”

Remembering this, one’s fickle memory goes back a period of time not more than a couple of days ago, when I was playing around with a statistical software package called XLDLAS, where the name does stand for “X Lies, Damned Lies And Statistics”. The X incidentally, but not surprising for those who do know me is because it runs on the X-Window system as opposed to something called Microsoft Windows.

Ah, now that I have managed to bring in Microsoft, I can bash them 🙂 So what do we talk about? Yeah, I remember talking about those ‘taglines’ that companies use to promote their products! So, do you remember some good ones?

“The Network is the Computer”-Sun Microsystems

“Everything’s Connected”-Novell

“Solutions for a Small Planet”-IBM

“Calling Planet Earth”- Iridium (or as someone told me, more recently “Geography is now History”)

All these are something unique, a message for the consumer, telling him the strengths of the company, holding out a ray of hope for the future! But what about the software behemoth-“Where do you want to go today?” Hell, I am where I want to be today! Its not my today I have to be worried about, its the tomorrow! Anyway, what else can you say about a company whose product crashes daily! I guess the answer to their question is “Somewhere where Windows doesn’t crash!”

Whew, now that I have let off some steam, how about moving on? The other day, I was going along with a cousin of mine to Bannerghatta National Park (to see the lions and tigers there)—he on his scooter and self on my new bike (Though I say it, its a great bike!). But, whew, my cousin’s scooter had a flat tyre. Luckily, he had a spare tyre and I a set of tools. So, we started to try and change the tyre. We huffed and puffed, but couldn’t unscrew the tyre. It was then that we got a handy lesson in how to use a number 17 spanner properly from a good Samaritan who was passing by. The gentleman taught us the lesson “Its no use having tools, unless you know how to use them properly”.

Ironically, its the same message the inventors of Unix have been handing down to all users over the past 25 plus years of the OS’s existence. The philosophy of Unix, we are told time and time again is simply KISS! Now before this article is yanked out by the censor board, the acronym stands for “Keep It Simple, Stupid!” These four words sum up why Unix is so elegant! Each part complete in itself, yet merging seamlessly to make a greater whole! Each cog fitting neatly into its appointed place without malice, sacrificing its ego in pursuit of a common goal, enabling all to strive for greater heights collectively. If only the human race could learn something from its creations!

The point upon which one must ponder is how did this philosophy come into being? I guess the reason is that the makers of Unix believed that theuser of a computer would be a guy/gal with some sense in him/her, not a moron who calls up Tech. Support to ask where the “ANY” key is? A chap would would at least try to do something with the machine, rather than look as GUIs as the be all and end all of computing. Someone who would use the machine for something other than just as a glorified game console! Sure, Unix *is* user-friendly, it is just choosy about who its friends are!

Before I start extolling the virtues of Command Line Interface vis-a-vis those so called “intuitive Graphical User Interfaces” and my views on the “supposed net revolution” among other things, I ought to stop. Else someone will bang me on the head with an iMac, and leave me in a condition where I wouldn’t be able to write any more drivel!

Here’s hoping to see you soon, unless the editoress in a fit of shock doesn’t yank out this piece before its published, in which case adieu, for we might never meet on these pages!

[ The author of this piece prides himself on being a researcher, believing in the saying “To steal from one is plagiarism, to steal from many is research”. The views, or rather the “foot in the mouth” is the author’s. He specifically disclaims that any of this is C-DAC’s view by paraphrasing Brian V. Smith (author of Xfig at LBNL)—I don’t speak for C-DAC; they don’t pay me enough for that.]

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