As science and reason continue to peel back layers of truth, and religion as an answer becomes more obviously wrong, I envisage a future world in which we wonder why any of us believed in God.

Please read the disclaimer before proceeding to comment. Thanks.

This Week in Bullshit

There is three types of multimedia advertising in this world: 1. That I like, especially those “banned commercials” for they’re funny and mostly have carnal undertones (or the other way around — those are funny because of their reference to certain taboos). 2. That I do not take a note of, 3. All ads have some degree of foul crap in them, but this is the category that is known as complete, utter bullshit.

The following series of adverts with gorgeous backdrops is in the third category. Take a look:

If you’re not convinced yet, please get an Airtel 4G connection in Bangalore, or any Airtel “G” connection for that matter, for it’ll make me feel better! I will have 1. another fellow sufferer, 2. one more to curse and yell at Airtel customer service/care; Airtel needs all it can get as customer outrage for it to change things for good.

Coming back to the ads, I hope for the future that Airtel marketers would be competent enough to hire a competent ad agency that does not think that the rest of the world is not as smart as they’re, and could at least have made those little films more realistic than showing bunch of people watching a prerecorded video with “Airtel 4G bar” pasted on top. I mean, REALLY?!

Enough of my bullshit… Someone please integrate WordPress and Twitter better, so that I can directly tag Airtel India’s Twitter handle here, rather than making a reference to this post in a separate tweet tagging them.

This Week in (Politics ∩ Sycophancy)

Back! Some old pals (students) reminded me that I had something in the name of a blog. So I thought of making it a playground to record the bullshit interesting bits all around.

On that warning/thinly veiled threat, we start with the following exemplary tales of “devotion”.

  1. Union minister M Venkaiah Naidu’s herculean effort in taking servile sycophancy to a new level
  2. Fixed for flattery! How IAS officers sacrificed a T20 match at the altar of UP CM Akhilesh Yadav

I know that flattery will get you far. Apparently, India’s bureaucrats and politicians are also aware of this lesson from a top management school. So let me go flatter my woman now.

EDIT: FirstPost staff and authors need not think that I’m flattering them by linking to their posts.

[Contributed Short Story] A Politician’s Wife

[Contributed by Angelic Devil after several hundred requests.]

Years ago, I saw “Rang de Basanti“. I felt awed, felt the blood rush to my face and wanted to go all out and do something for my country. It was in 2006, a time when my generation felt crippled and angry that they weren’t born in pre-independence days, when one could serve their country; free their motherland. What is it that we are running after now? MNC’s, fat salaries, cute partners, skimpy clothes, fancy mobile sets? My generation felt wasted and disillusioned. Debates ensued, candle marches and punish Jessica Lal’s murderers text messages overflowed. Everybody did what they felt was their duty. The movie awakened a kind of a raw passion that one had to channel. And we did. We were all united in the thought that unless we speak up, the democracy will fail. And so everybody spoke up and I… well, me too.


Why can’t I join politics? Do you not trust me?” his eyes searched my face for an answer. His face betrayed the disbelief and frustration he felt but his voice was calm. His eyes bore into mine and all I could do was bury my face in his chest. Fear caught hold of me as I struggled to find my voice and a way to phrase my fears.

Fighting my tears all I could squeak was, “I am afraid for you.

As I felt his body relax, I relaxed too. But the fear remained; Dark and ugly, scary and unnerving. How could I tell him that I agreed with him in principle? Yes, someone has to make the beginning. But why did it have to be him? What if somebody snuffs his life out? What if somebody gets him framed? How would it matter to anybody else in the country except me? After the initial brouhaha fades, it will be I who would be struggling to live, not them. What was I to tell him? That I am the armchair activist that he and I despise so badly?

Look at me. Do you want me to spend the rest of my life like an ordinary guy? I’ll go to work, come back; wonder about next month’s EMIs or why my kids are scoring so poorly. Isn’t that what the whole world does? You married me because I was not your ordinary guy, do you want me to become what I never was? Weren’t you the one who told me that one needs to be in the system to change it?

My heart screamed, “Hell yes!” and my mind numb. All I could think of was that he may have the strength to fight the whole world but I don’t. I don’t even have the strength to stand next to him. In those 5 minutes, all my desires to fight for my rights and to make the country better flew out of the window. All I could imagine was me running from pillar to post, trying to get “justice”. All I could envisage was a lifetime of regret that I didn’t stop him.

Can’t we reason it out? Have a healthy debate like we used to?” he asked. His pleading made my heart melt and tighten at the same time. Why can’t he go have an affair or something? Why can’t he be normal? Why is this fight not about some girl he stared at when we were out for dinner? “No! I am not open to any sort of discussion on this issue.” I was startled at my sharpness. So was he.


If you ask me what made me give in, my love for him or my love for the country, I would not know. Was that the beginning or the end — I don’t know. Nor do I wish to know. For the time being, I’ve brushed my fears aside and am standing next to him. Or trying to. He wanted me to come and meet these women who have been trying to set up an embroidery unit. I look at him and he catches my eye, the smile on his face lights up his face. I try hard to concentrate on what the woman in-charge is explaining. All I can taste is bile. All I remember is darkness. The water drops feel cool on my face. As I gain consciousness, I hear some talk about the young MLA’s wife being a fragile doll. Were they tittering too? I slump back. Darkness. Again.

I wake up in the cool comfort of the AC in my bedroom, my husband missing in action. All I have is a message on BBM from him saying, “Sunstroke. Rest. Will see you in the evening.” As I work on the plot-line for my new novel–a politico drama, I wonder if I really am a fragile doll. I read his message again. Do I sense regret in his message? I read it again. The message gives away nothing. He took me there because he knew I am all for women emancipation. I wonder if let him down by fainting? I am not sure.


Years have gone by; I’ve seen him grow more as a politician. Oh well, the houses we’ve moved into have only grown with time. So I assume he is doing well. The more he got involved with the country, the more sceptical I’ve become. I often find myself questioning if he is corrupt too. I never asked and he’s never said anything. After the incident, my involvement with his work became less. Slowly, it stopped. Perhaps, it damaged his image. My fears like my involvement too vanished with time.

I no longer sit up and wait for him to come home. I no longer scan the news for his name or his death. He is no longer mine. He is doing what he always wanted whereas I still wonder what I really want from life. I get no answers. I am as confused as I was in 11th standard, when I had to choose one among the three streams. I struggle to find my identity as he continues to firmly establish his. Am I jealous? I would think not. I struggle to reconcile my identity as a minister’s wife. I see other minister’s wives living up to their roles to perfection. I wonder about their disenchantment. I wonder if they share my feeling on the issue. I am afraid. Whether of asking questions or their answers, I do not know.

Desperate for an answer, I dig my life. I sense that my vivacity has been replaced by a dull ache. A friend suggests that I talk it over. Going as far as to tell me that maybe I am craving for attention from him. I know it to be untrue. I know that I shunned him the day he chose to walk on his path. Perhaps that was my defence mechanism. Perhaps I was trying to protect myself from my fears. I drown myself in more work. The pain, however, continues to haunt me.


An Open Letter to Graduating IIT Students

Dear student,

After getting your first corporate job, your subconscious thinks, “Okay. I’m half-settled now. I shall live in Bengaluru, have a car, party hard every weekend, work hard on weekdays, hit on female (male) co-workers… who knows I may get along with a beautiful (handsome), intellectually capable one and get fully settled.

Well… my hearty congratulations! I agree with you on every single bit if the change excites you. Been there, done that — barring the fully settled part.

Newsflash 1! What your subconscious does not know is that half of that is never going to happen! I seriously hope it does not happen to any of you, but let us not get my high hopes of you get you delusional. When the truth strikes, you’ll find yourself frustrated or worse, and would want to go back to books/computers/college. At that time, some of you may realize how important it was to attend those last few months of classes that you safely ignored for that joker standing on the dais (as you may think) could not afford a life near TGIF, Airport Road, Bengaluru and most of what (s)he says is never going to work out in real life, especially if (s)he talks mathematics, philosophy or computer science theory.

When your wings are shot down by the drudgery –yes, that what you’d call “life”– and you hit the ground of reality, you’d ask yourself if this was what you wanted to do — write web-apps and test and debug software written by much more decisive people (read ‘academics’). Most of you would not have the courage to quit those fat salaries for some college’s meagre scholarship–irrespective of how deep red your heart bleeds–as your “loved ones” have gotten used to that life-style. Sorry. You’re finished! Live it. Become a VP of Sales in next 10 years, and may be the MD or CEO in next 20 years. Even then, you’d think why I didn’t jump off the sixth floor of the Administrative block in college days.

Some of you, mostly the “non settled” ones, would have the courage to go back and fulfil what they dreamt in those last few days in corporate life.

Well. Been there, done that as well. If, at this point, you’d think you’d be that “lucky one”, hold on to that thought for a moment.

In the graduate school, you’d keep high hopes of yourself. Well, why not? You were an IIT graduate after all, so it is your duty to settle ‘P vs. NP’ once and for all.

Newsflash 2! You’re too old by now. In the college, you’d curse yourself for not getting a long-time girl (boy) friend or a wife (husband). You’ll see beautiful new faces and bodies in hot pants and tank tops. Your hormones will rage, but no use. The “kids” won’t even look at your “mature” outlook. You’d start dressing yourself with the “current times”, but that’d only make your self-esteem dig a hole and bury itself in that. You’d invite “faggot” (if you’re too tacky) or “lassa” (if you’re too macho) remarks from your age group.

You’d try hard to excel in sports like your golden old days, again, just to attract a few lovey-dovey or lustful eyes on you, but then, you’d find that you’re no match to the young legs and fresh lungs, as you had already burnt yours with the cigarette smoke during the days of corporate frustration.

Failing all your attempts to be the college stud, you’d resort to your strengths — your academics. Again, to create a visibility for yourself, this time not to attract the Lolitas, but to create “an image” among your peers. That special one of opposite gender being the part of that peer group of course! You’d set your eyes on a fancy and hot topic like ‘Complex Networks’. You’d find that you can’t pick up on the concepts being taught in the graduate class, since you chose not to attend the undergraduate classes on that topic in those days when your subconscious was really happy on the prospect of a change.

Don’t despair! Start coming to the class now. The instructor is too cool to notice individuals missing the class, though he notices a large chunk missing.

Reinventing the Wheel

They think investing a few 10s of crores in developing open source EDA tools or making the existent open source tools highly capable is ‘reinventing the wheel’, despite the fact that numerous small startups would be benefited by doing so as they won’t have to pay exorbitant sums to EDA tool companies every year as license fees.

Same time, they think spending a few thousand crores in another microprocessor IP is not reinventing the wheel, when there are at least 1000 processor cores, and few of them in open domain, free of cost!

The fact is we only talk about supporting the startups. We don’t have any real intent behind it. All what this entire semicon nexus wants is to eat up all the public money in government accounts!

Aakash — The Low Cost Tablet

In an academic institute in the faraway corner of Western India live the minds who are striving for a social change. Very few know it. Fewer recognize their efforts.

“Aakash — the low cost tablet”, dubbed as the world’s cheapest tablet computer, was conceived by MHRD’s NMEICT team and planned at this place. You have not heard or read of the contribution and sacrifices its students and employees have made. No wonder! Despite all the hype the vendors, the businessmen, the people in the power have tried to create for their businesses to prosper, the institute has chosen to remain silent on its contribution towards realizing Aakash. Let us take a little journey down the memory lane to hear this little story.

The MHRD had a vision to enable all students of India with the enormous amount of Information available on the WWW and the high-quality education content created by several IITs with IIT Madras (Chennai) as the coordination agency through Information Technology. The cheapest computers available in the market at that time costed around Rs. 20,000/- (US$450). This country boasts of a student population of about 200 million. Simple arithmetic tells that the students to take advantage of the Information superhighway would spend around US$90 billion. Pragmatically speaking, this country cannot afford such an amount only on the access/computing devices! (Theoretically, it may do so. I mean the country where the scams cost at the magnitude of US$ 50 billion, anything is possible.) For us who have a large majority to which food and good education is a dream, an extremely cheap device had the potential to write an entirely new script.

The script had already started taking shape. Sometime in 2009, a student of VIT thought of a social change. He realized a low cost computing device with his B. Tech. project guides. He sought the advice of an IIT Kanpur professor (at that time) for engineering at the PCB level. The cost of the product he came up with at that time was estimated at approximately US$50. It was argued that if a computing platform better than that initial prototype was to produced in large numbers, the costs could be brought down to around US$35 (sub-40 US$). When such estimates were shared with the public by the honourable minister of HRD, everybody ridiculed the idea! Yes, everybody, except two. One of those two was a senior IAS officer and the other the same IIT Kanpur professor.

The events thereafter turned out such that the professor became the director of that unknown (newly founded) academic institute in Western India. In August 2010, he handed over the task to two misfits. The team of these three along with that IAS officer set out to realize the dream. The team studied several technologies, platforms, processors, software stacks in order to match the price figure maintaining the satisfactory usability. They worked relentlessly to try several permutations and combinations. The rest of the academic staff, administrative staff and the students of the institute joined them in their efforts. All the efforts put in engineering brought the good news. The team ensured that such a thing was possible, and worked reference designs, as proof of concept. Thanks to corporations like Google (for Android) and organizations like FSF, OSDL and Linux Foundation (for GNU/Linux), there were no software costs.

Once the price point and satisfactory performance were arrived at, there was a dilemma on how to go about it. A government funded academic organization cannot take up the task of bringing out a product in huge numbers. It was agreed that a tendering process would be put in place. The first tender to this effect came out in November 2010. But there was still a problem: even though the proof of concept was there, the institute could not force the bidders of the tender to use the components used in the proof of concept. So the tender turned out be an ‘Invitation to Innovate’, and the participants were allowed to come up with their own designs. The participation in the first tendering process was surprising to the misfits! Some of the largest corporations of the world and India participated, but it was won by a small start up of Bangalore.

All was not sweet now onward. The winning bidder could not meet the strict rules of purchase set by Government of India. If that were not the case, we’d have seen ‘Aakash’ in January 2011 instead of October 2011. After the cancellation of the tendering process, everything had to be started afresh. A new tender was brought out and once again, the response to it was amazing. A firm started in UK by an NRI won it this time. A California based chip manufacturer was to supply the platform to meet the specs.

The role of that unknown institute was not over. It turned out that the inhabitants of this institute would spend many more nights sleepless. The originators of the idea were assigned another task. They were to verify the platform (both hardware and software), correct if there were any shortcomings. There were shortcomings! That team worked relentlessly, day and night, to ensure that the platform was satisfactory on functional requirements, to write any software, if it was not available, to meet the functionality, and to coordinate with hundreds of students of the academic institutes nationwide. They were (are) to collect feedback and incorporate modifications to the design based on the feedback. Something that is to be produced at the scale of hundreds of millions, even the smallest glitch has far-reaching consequences. That team is involved in those tasks right now.

At the time of this writing, the same team consisting of 170 students (inhabitants), several hundred students spread across the entire nation, a few faculty members, residents or from other academic organization and 20 odd technical staff have engineered the version that can be produced at large scale and may get wide acceptance all across the country and the world. The feedback is still pouring in, some encouraging, some critical. The team welcomes critical feedback more than the appreciating one, so that the next versions are far better and glitch-free.

They have not stopped there! They are constantly evolving the device with futuristic technologies, all researched in house, ranging from the design of the very first commercial grade ‘India Processor’ for consumer electronics and computing and ‘India SoC’ to reducing costs of display technologies like touch walls and surfaces to 3D projection displays and projected virtual input devices that can be controlled just by hand gestures. They are also working to reduce the cost of this very device further to go down to US$20 with the capacities that of a US$300 tablets and solar charging within two years, however outlandish that may sound. Their claim is that given three years, the ideas like ‘printable electronics’ on fabrics and glass panels would be realizable extremely efficiently and reliably and computing at the consumer end would be cheap and efficiently recyclable. One of the students in the team exclaims enthusiastically that the day when governments will realize ICT to be a necessity as food, water and electricity and not a luxury is not far.

In all of its endeavours, the small institute avoids publicity at all costs. Some of the media coverage has talked of the institute, despite its best efforts to curb publicity. It believes that any kind of publicity will be a distraction to its efforts.

How does the industry respond to all this? Highly encouraging and appreciative! The team members are highly appreciative of the enormous support they have got from all walks of life. They think that it would not have been possible without the ARMs, the Intels, the Googles, the FreeScales, the ST Microelectronics, the TIs, the Microsofts, the Conexants of this world. If there is any bit of success of the efforts made so far, it must be attributed to every single, large or small, contribution made by the industry and the government. Failures?! Well, the team thinks that it might fail, but it has this strange “who cares?” attitude. It’ll keep on with its efforts to, as M. S. Dhoni would say, “change the game!

Social Balance

“The shifting of alliances and rivalries in a social group can be viewed as arising from an energy minimization process. For example, suppose you have two friends who happen to detest each other. The resulting awkwardness often resolves itself in one of two ways: either you drop one of your friends, or they find a way to reconcile. In such scenarios, the overall social stress corresponds to a kind of energy that relaxes over time as relationships switch from hostility to friendship or vice versa.” — from Energy Landscape of Social Balance, Seth A. Marvel, Steven H. Strogatz, and Jon M. Kleinberg, DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.103.198701

Very interesting! More interesting is what they conclude for the future research, viz, the “challenge for the future is to understand its large-scale structure, perhaps even including a characterization of the pathways leading out of the deepest minima–those corresponding to the most entrenched conflict–and toward states of reconciliation.”