Monday, June 30, 2008

Two Hot Dogs

Mulla Nasrudin went to Berkeley and after seeing the "open" atmosphere, decided to become a Buddhist. But he still really liked beef.

So he with a long face went to a hot dog vendor. There was mayo, mustard, ketchup et al. The vendor asked him how he wanted the dog.

Mulla: Make me one with everything.

Acquainted with Buddhist thought, the vendor gives him a dog with his right hand, clapping. Mulla pays with a $20 bill and asks for change.

Vendor: Change comes only from within.


Mulla Nasrudin wanted something spicy and salty and went to Dandi, which is known for its excellent and tax-free salt. Appreciating it, he became a Gandhian.

But he still really liked beef.

So with a beatific face, he went to a hot dog vendor. The vendor asked him if he wanted to eat there, or if it was a take-away. Mulla found the most skinny looking beggar around, and took him to the vendor:

Mulla: I am on a fast, but please give one to this guy. I will watch disapprovingly, and with penance and forbearance.

Justifiably acquainted with Gandhian thought, the vendor gave one to the beggar. Mulla paid with a 100 rupee note and asked for change.

Vendor: Be the change that you want to see.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pleasure Servicing

A friend found this notice in the industrial wasteland near Bombay:

If you are bewildered by this notice, read the comments for demystification.

Importing mail from Yahoo to Gmail, almost free of cost

Yahoo Mail has become increasingly spam-ridden, ad-ridden and buggy. I recommend shifting to Gmail for your email.
  1. Upgrade your Yahoo Mail account to Yahoo Mail Plus. You need a credit card. Yahoo will charge your credit card for $19.99 for one year of the Yahoo Mail Plus service. (Don't worry, the charge will be reversed a few steps later).

  2. Enable POP access in your Yahoo Mail Plus account.

  3. Mark your messages in all your folders, even the Sent folder, as Unread. There is no easy way to do it. The fastest is however this:

    Enable message view of 200 messages per screen. Select All messages on each screen, mark unread, move to inbox, move to next screen.

    This way, You can process thousands of messages in a few minutes.

  4. If you use an email client (e.g. Outlook or Thunderbird) for accessing Gmail, make sure you download all your latest email from Gmail NOW. It will be too late after the next step. Do not start your email client till step 11.

  5. When you are done, enable your Yahoo account as an external account in your Gmail settings. In POP3 options, select the option of "Delete message at server after downloading" (or similarly worded option) and to label the downloaded messages with your Yahoo account name (for later searching).

  6. Gmail will transfer messages in chunks of 200-300 messages every 10-15 minutes, and will take a while to transfer all the messages. Do not login to your Yahoo mail web interface during this time, or the process may fail or get interrupted (this is a bug in Yahoo but we will work around it). You can check the progress of your transfer by checking the transfer log in Gmail settings.

  7. Once Gmail log shows no more messages to transfer, login to your Yahoo Mail Plus account, check that there no messages in your Inbox.

  8. Cancel your Yahoo Mail Plus service. Since the refund is pro-rated, you will get a full refund (or an almost full refund). In my case, it seems Yahoo bills in a batch mode. The two transactions of $19.99 and -$19.99 got cancelled out and my credit card did not show any charge at all (which is different from having two entries: $19.99 and -$19.99).

  9. Set up a vacation message in your Yahoo Mail account. Do note that the amount of spam in your Yahoo account will increase exponentially after this step (as spammers will get a reply from you and your email address will be tagged as valid). The vacation message should say something like this:

    "Please note that I have received your email and I will check it in due time. However, I now use Gmail as my primary email provider. Please update my email address in your records, and preferably, send me a copy of your email at my new email address. My new email address is: xxxx at gee emm a i ell dot cee o emm."

    Set your vacation time to be the maximum possible. I think Yahoo Mail allows a vacation of 4 months for its vacation message setting.

  10. If you use an email client (e.g. Outlook or Thunderbird) for accessing Gmail, you are in some little trouble. Your client will try to download all the thousands of messages just transferred from Yahoo. If you are like me, you don't want that, so do the following:

    In Gmail settings, go to the "Forwarding and POP/IMAP settings" and select "Enable POP for mail that arrives from now on."

  11. Now you can start your client. If for some reason, you received a lot of messages in the time Yahoo mail was getting transferred and you really want them in your email client, there is still a slightly cumbersome way to do it.

    In your email client settings, change your username for gmail from to Refer here for details. This will download your last month's email (whether or not you already downloaded all the messages of the last month except the messages received today) to your client. This is bad, I know, but still much better than getting thousands of messages which were transferred from your Yahoo account.

    Once you are done, you can remove the recent tag from your username in your email client settings.

  12. You are done!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

On Gadgets

Let's consider the human brain as a computer, for a moment. There are three primary factors in a computer's performance: the bandwidth capacity (information coming from the external world, and the internal pathways), the processor capacity (how many tasks at each moment, and how fast it can finish each task), and the storage capacity, how much information can our brains usefully store.

The processing capacity of the human brain has not followed Moore's law. The processing speed of a human brain has not significantly improved in the recorded history.

The storage capacity of the human brain has also not significantly altered.

Similarly, the bandwidth capacity has also remained about the same.

But the information to process, and the number of tasks to be performed, and the number of things to remember have grown exponentially in the modern world. There is more and more data to process, and to store every day. And it is clogging the neural pipes, filling up the memory cells and stressing the processor.

We are more exposed to more information than ever before: There are hundreds and thousands of TV and radio channels, there are millions of books in print and available online and easily accessible (you can get them instantly via, e.g., the Amazon Kindle technology), we see thousands of advertisements every day, internet has opened up vast reservoirs of constantly updated information, there are hundreds of items in most urbanites' ToDo lists. There are unfinished books, half-listened songs, half-played games, undigested information, and so on.

Since the processing power has remained the same, while the information, task and storage load has increased, there is a lot of stress and a complete lack of "idle cycles". To augment our internal computing platform, we are constantly on the lookout for peripheral computers which can take some of the load away. These peripheral computers are what I call gadgets.

Every gadget dazzles you in the beginning but after being used for a while, leaves you somewhat unsatisfied. It helps somewhat, it takes some of the load away, but it also introduces overheads for its own maintenance (think anti-virus, think firmware upgrades, think repairs), and better gadgets arrive on the market every other day.

If you are a performance and efficiency fanatic, you will never be efficient enough in the modern world, because a new tool to make you even more efficient would have just arrived on the shelves.

The use of gadgets to have more leisure is self-defeating. Despite your best intentions, the more and better gadgets you have, the lesser will be the amount of leisure you will have.

This is not paradoxical, but quite logical.

Gadgets enable you to do business and "entertain" yourself no matter where you are. The problem they solve is not you having less leisure, the problem they solve is you not being able to do what you want when you want it.

Since gadgets enable you to do almost everything anywhere, and they enable you to process the information faster and more efficiently, they therefore take away your leisure. Why?

I think that this conundrum of power and efficiency versus leisure is extremely important in the modern age. People are chasing power, thinking that ultimately they will be powerful enough to have leisure, people are chasing efficiency, thinking that ultimately the efficiency will guarantee idle time, people are chasing optimization, thinking that ceaseless optimization will make them carefree. And tools for optimizing and increasing your efficiency are seemingly all over the place, and increasing in number, the chase is never-ending.

It doesn't work like that.

It doesn't, because the incoming information load is not letting up, it is actually becoming faster and heavier. The more you process, the more you still have to process. You can have leisure only if you cut the information cords, if you remain content with the fact that you will miss out on the new new things but you will enjoy more what you have.

Optimization and efficiency would work only if there was a finite amount of information to process, and a fixed number of tasks to be performed in a fixed amount of time. People ignore the frenetically accelerating dynamic of today's life when they start chasing efficiency with better and better gadgets.

One sees youngsters lost in themselves wearing iPod headsets in buses and trains (and complaining that 20GB storage isn't enough), kids playing cellphone games while waiting in a queue (and complaining that their cellphones are too slow), adults flipping TV channels and watching two programs at once using the Picture in Picture technology (and complaining that a particular channel doesn't offer HD resolution), and almost nobody saying that they have powerful enough computers.

The ever-increasing load of unprocessed information (which one thinks might contain that knock of destiny and fulfillment somewhere) leads one to feel as if one is missing out by just not being able to process information better, or by not being able to store it better for later processing.

Hence, more gadgets. Hence, more storage. Hence, more anxiety.

And the more worked-up we are at the surface level, the less is our quality of output, the less the refinement of our thoughts, the slower the evolution of our fundamental basis.

And with technophiles, a gadget becomes a fascination in itself. Their ends and means are both gadgets. They revel not in what the gadgets can do for them, but in what the gadgets can do, period. So too with people who regard gadgets as status symbols. If you ask someone proud of his new phone, he will describe all the new features, the increased resolution of the camera, the increased storage for the songs, the better connectivity the phone has, etc. But if you ask him whether the phone has improved his quality of life, he will look at you as if you haven't understood the features yet.

(When I was pursuing my engineering degree, I reveled in just installing new compilers on the latest servers. And I used the latest compilers to compile new tools, editors and so on. Being on the cutting edge, having the latest tools was what was important. I had no clue as to how the tools could be best used. Only many years later I realized that a second-best tool used productively is infinitely better than a latest tool just sitting idle and shiny. I am now fine with writing and working on a last-generation computer, using emacs text mode as my editor.).

The quality of life is not about band-width, it is about band-depth.

The depth (and hence the quality) of your engagement in life can only become better if you invest not in power and efficiency, but in filtering out, having fewer (but more creative) things to do, having less (but more tangibly useful) information to process, having less (but more often used) possessions to store and maintain. Dis-engage, retreat, cut-off your high-bandwidth inbound cords for a few hours every day, for a few days every month, for a few weeks every year.

For the sake of whatever is important in your life, SLOW DOWN.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

On Homophobia

Why is there such a vitriolic hate in some people against gays and lesbians? After all, people have all kinds of preferences, so why is this preference considered so hateful? I don't want to argue whether homosexuality is a genetic predisposition or if it is a after-birth preference. I only want to address the issue of homophobia. In many countries, including India, homosexuality is a crime under law. Why?

Firstly, it is clear that sexuality in human beings has evolved with reproduction as its function. The ejaculation of sperm in male orgasm and the menstrual cycle in the female are proof enough that sexual organs are to propagate genes by reproduction. Hence, the first charge against homosexuals is that of "perverting" (assuming they had a choice in the matter) a fundamental natural principle of the human body.

Secondly, since sex for homosexuals has no reproductive function, what function does it serve? Pleasure, of course. And sexual pleasure is anathema (hypocritically of course) to most conservative societies and religious groups. Homosexuals are therefore an easy target for the charge of sinful fornication and pleasure seeking.

Thirdly, in many patriarchal societies, young males are prized possessions. Their violation by elder males for sexual pleasure is considered a graver offense than the rape of a woman or of a young girl. If a young male is lost due to a sexually transmitted disease, or if he loses his "manhood" by becoming psychologically feminine due to sodomy, it is considered a great loss for the community. So also, an adult homosexual with effeminate behavior is considered an embarrassment for the male community in general, and one who is considered a liability and not an asset in case of conflict.

A woman who chooses to have only lesbian relationships is seen as an insult to the males whom (according to the males) she does not find desirable enough to have sexual relations with. This rouses much rage in a conservative patriarchal society.

Fourthly, there are various groups in society where cohesion exists because of the absence (or the assumption of absence) of sexual tension and sexual competition. Male clubs, fighting collectives (e.g. in the army or navy), female gossip groups (e.g. kitty parties), sexually segregated religious gatherings (e.g. in mosques, Sikh temples, Hindu temples, Christian churches, etc.) all assume that there will be no sexual complications in their gender-segregated groups. Once a person in such groups is known to be homosexual, he/she is shunted out because to keep him/her in the group will mean that others cannot relate to him/her as sexually neutral (they are also now the potential objects of his/her sexuality).

Fifthly, by the very nature of sex, one finds pleasure in mundane bodily fluids (saliva and sweat) and gender-neutral objects such as hair, hands and lips. This pleasure is associated with such fluids and objects because of the underlying gender of the other's body, and not because of the objects on their own. These fluids and objects are normally not considered attractive (they may in fact be considered repulsive) when observed in the person of someone of the same gender as oneself. Hence, the awareness that another person (having these unattractive or repulsive attributes) is looking at oneself with longing at some level, is enough to cause consternation and revulsion in heterosexual people. After all, males will frequently overlook a female's superficial attributes and have sex with her anyway because she is after all, a female and is attractive because of that important fact. On the other hand, it is extremely hard for a heterosexual male to tolerate, e.g. while in a conversation, even the flying specks of saliva of a moderately attractive male.

Sixthly, since society has established taboos against homosexuality at various levels, it is an open challenge to society and its stability for some people to rebel as far as sexual preferences are concerned. There are various taboos and restrictions on sex of all kinds, but one may still be able to hide sexual kinks insofar as they are had with a person of another gender. Having multiple partners is also permitted in various ways in many societies. But having a partner itself from the "wrong" gender is considered a grave wrong.

Seventh, since this is such a strong taboo, homosexuals grow up to have feelings of isolation, being repressed and being alienated. Sexual orientation for them becomes a focal point in their lives. "Coming out" becomes a big thing. Once out in the open, they wear their sexuality on their sleeve, as it were (it is debatable whether this is due to feelings of triumph, or due to an attitude of cocking a snook at society, or a consequence of just letting it all out after a long period of repression).

Frequently (this is only my opinion however, and I might be wrong), homosexuals seem to be very conscious of their sexuality, sexuality seems to occupy a large part in their lives and in their behaviour (more than normal people) and others cannot fail to notice it. Now even the so-called liberals, who have grown up to consider homosexuality as a tolerable form of behaviour, are outraged. It is one thing, according to them, to be homosexual, but quite another to be blatantly sexual, touchy-feely etc. even in normal social discourse. This is abhorrent to many who otherwise think homosexuality is in principle OK. This feeling, coupled with a guarded attitude lest one become an inadvertent object of the other's affections, leads most people to avoid homosexuals in social settings.

Eighth, homosexuals (especially males) are at increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS and an increased risk profile leads others to incorrectly see them as diseased already. Since most people are uneducated about the infection vectors of AIDS and other STDs, they avoid this high-risk category altogether, lest a handshake or the sharing of a toilet seat lead to some life-threatening illness.

Finally, homosexuals are stereotypically seen as flagrantly promiscuous and unwilling or unable to hold long term relationships, and this raises even more heckles in "normal" people (hypocritically of course). After all, they think, not only do you have to be "perverse", you have to exercise your perversity to the fullest extent possible, eh?

The end result is that homosexuals typically feel comfortable only in the company of other homosexuals. Hence the emergence of gay bars, clubs and such.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Silent Light by Carlos Reygadas

A film with an absolutely stunning beginning and ending, two shots that leaves one spellbound in their beauty, sublimity and enormity, is an achievement in itself. But the director Carlos Reygadas from Mexico has done much more in the two hours than only create these two moments.

A meditative film about transgression and regret and about the understanding of human fallibility, Silent Light is silent about what it wants to say. It does not judge the sinner-saints of this film, but lets the silent awareness of their acts and lives seep into you, as slowly and beautifully as a dewdrop falling from the petals of a flower.

This film is the state of the art in so many different arenas, be it composition, editing, fluid camera work, sound design, un-self-conscious acting, the understatement of its narrative (except at one point), that it can be justifiably considered a film with the strength to re-create the "magic" of cinema. Having seen hundreds and thousands of films, one sometimes is in the danger of not being affected by even the most harrowing of screen-moments, but this film silently creates a mood so powerful from its bare and sparse scenes that at the end, when the sun moves in a golden arc through the tree, one's hands are folded almost in prayer at having witnessed something whose simple power comes not from manipulation but from an unfathomable depth of what it means to be a limited, temporary consciousness in an eternal, infinite universe.

In this film, the movement of the camera has a unique stillness and calm, even when it is in the process of witnessing an unbearable tragedy. Each mundane moment of a family suspended in the delineated duration between birth and death is cinema at its purest: the creation of an uncommon piercing mood from the most ordinary of events. The dinner table, the kiss, the pond, the hotel room, the watching of TV, the sipping of tea at a ceremony, the driving of a car, the passage of the sun and the stars, ...

Two scenes especially are impossible to forget. Johan's breaking down in the beginning, and his kiss with Marianne at the hillside. The artistry and the realism is too formidable for words, and I daresay that no man has ever cried on screen like Johan in this film, and that that is what crying is like in real life. And also, I can unhesitatingly claim that there has not been a kiss in the history of cinema to match the kiss of Johan and Marianne.

If Irreversible by Gaspar Noe was a journey through the nether world of urban nihilism and the futility of regret, this film is a voyage through the tranquility of rural life, the reversing of time and the transcending power of realizing one's mistakes. In Silent Light, the skyscape is clouded at the beginning. At the end, when it clears up after having been through a storm, it is as if it was a single day in the universe.

The symbolism is not very hard, though pervasive in the film. When Johan is circling at the garage, it is as if he is going around in circles in his giddy self-concern, with no end in sight. When Johan stops the clock at the beginning, it is as if he does not want too much time to pass before he makes up his mind because he knows the cost of time. When Marianne shields herself from the sun, she is shielding herself from the stark light of realization. When Esther is harvesting the field, she is crushed and torn apart and being churned inside. When the car is on the unpaved road, alone, it is a symbol of Johan in his inner turmoil and noise. When the parents are in the barn, with cows slowly occupying their place, it shows the certainty, security and understanding born of time and habit. When the two hotel rooms are shown, we are not sure where Johan is, which woman he belongs to. The two rooms are identical, with one having more mature trees at the outside. At the pond, some children frolic, some dive in hesitatingly, some stay outside: the diverse attitudes to the risks one has to take in life.

This is a film of homage by the director to the various "saints" before him: Dreyer, Ozu, Bresson, Tarkovsky, Bergman. And this is therefore not just a film, but is also a pilgrimage.

I have been privileged to watch this.