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.

Alpha Male, Beta Male, Male Stable

I have not watched this movie, but I have watched this one. After this review, I feel I’ll do my wallet and myself a huge favor not watching रब ने बना दी जोड़ी (Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi). With the help of Wikipedia and him, let me go through the plot of the movie — at least the one I think it would be. But before I do that, let me warn you that this is not, by any stretch of imagination, a movie review. This rather is a geek’s reflection of his own frustration while he, in the oblivion of his dark, shady room with three computers, a few thousand books and a chess board, listens to his neighbor banging some girl three times a day. You’ll get a lot of hints of innuendo in this “frustlog”.

So, the plot…

End User: Tania [Taani] Gupta (Anushka Sharma) is an extrovert, flamboyant and vivacious girl, set to get married to the guy she loves.

Anushka Sharma
Anushka Sharma

Male Stable: Surinder [Suri] Sahni (Shahrukh Khan) is an introvert, responsible and sincere cubicle worker for Punjab Power corporation.

Beta Male: Raj. Surinder, with the help of his childhood friend Balwinder “Bobby” Khosla (Vinay Pathak), a hair-saloon owner, metamorphoses into an alter ego he calls Raj. Raj is a loud, rude, outspoken and fun-loving person.

Alpha Male: Sameer (Salman Khan), a boy of Indo-Italian parentage who wants to learn Indian classical music.

Sameer?! “Where does he come into the picture,” you would ask. The problem is that Raj cannot be the Alpha Male, for he is an alter-ego of a Male Stable. He has to be somewhere in between a totally unpredictable jerk –as an Alpha release of a software is– and somewhat predictable stable release. So to complete the evolutionary process of a male –on the lines of a software product– I have to bring Sameer in. Not surprisingly, when it comes to the mental disorders like love, every end user wants to “use” the alpha or beta release of the product, and male wants to be in alpha release phase. Thankfully, ‘Rab Ne…’ is only about the latter process of development including only beta and stable product. If you’re a software giant, you already know that an end user can be fooled to go in for more featureful, less stable release.

Coming back to the plot:

A suggestion worthy of a lot of praise for the experienced consultant brings the stable male and the end user together into a marriage. The End user finds herself in a routine and loveless alliance. Unbeknownst to her, however, the stable male had fallen in love with her at first sight, for the good user habits, though he remains too shy to tell her.

Male stable, with the help of a novice hacker, metamorphoses himself into an alter ego with more useless features, e.g., dancing, and less stability, he calls Raj and we call the beta male. This development process seems so much like Firefox and Adobe Acrobat Reader. Likewise, Raj is a loud, rude, outspoken and fun-loving product.

Due to some “divine intervention“, the end user gets to try her hand on the beta version and eventually starts feeling that beta’s attributes are more in tune with her user habits. Beta eventually declares his love for her. A torn user resists but finally capitulates. Beta offers to elope, but during the “climax”, user believes she sees a sign of sexual pleasure, as in numerous porno flicks (“Oh, God!” See The Devil’s Dictionary for more on this connotation of the word ‘God’.) telling her that the stable male is still the one for her. [I know how you wish to hear “her climax”, but the movie never openly admits that the user reached a climax. I can say that for sure as I know how the Censor Board in India works.]

Finally, seeing the success of a feature rich beta product, the stable version decides to acquire a few useless traits — dancing in this case.

I thank Aditya Chopra and whoever is the director for giving us this movie, thereby raising the question, “Why do the females (want to) fuck jerks and get married to nice guys,” and giving me an opportunity to “explain”.

Well, Darwin’s “sexual selection” theory has the best explanation. In The Descent of Man‘ (1871), Charles Darwin wrote that natural selection failed to explain human evolution. Instead, he proposed an alternative theory. Species evolve when males and females select each other for certain qualities. He called this sexual selection.

Female mammals, in general, are more selective than males. Females, in most mammal species, do most of the work of producing and raising children. In contrast, fathering offspring is less work, so males aren’t so choosy.

The exertion of some choice on the part of the female seems almost as general a law as the eagerness of the male.”  — Charles Darwin

Females choose males with features that make the males less able to survive. E.g., a peacock’s bright colors make him visible to predators, and his huge tail slows his escapes. His beautiful tail communicates to peahens that he’s an especially fit individual, i.e., he’s so fast that he can escape predators despite his heavy tail. Sexual selection is, in general, the opposite of natural selection.

A peacocks mating call
A peacock's mating call

Natural selection advances via slow environmental change. Natural selection advances evolution only in harsh environments (e.g., predation, climate change). Natural selection produces animals better able to survive-usually smaller, more efficient, and less conspicuous.

In contrast, sexual selection advances with each generation. It produces rapid evolutionary changes and advances evolution in stable environments. Sexual selection produces animals (especially males) less able to survive, with bigger, brighter, or exaggerated features.

Human evolution may have begun when fathers helped raise mothers’ children, giving the children a survival advantage. Among hunter-gatherers today, children without fathers are more than twice as likely to die during childhood. A woman could have sex with a “desirable man” (a.k.a. jerk in most cases), and risk competing women taking him from her. Or she could choose a stable, monogamous relationship with a less-desirable man whom no one other woman wanted. Should you even guess who she’d choose?

Now you know why Taani preferred Suri over Raj when it came down to her own or her offsprings’ survival, or why Nandini chose Vanraj over Sameer.

Sameer and Nandini
Sameer and Nandini

After all these speculations, some of the readers might ask what kind of male I am. To put all your vivid imaginations to rest, I would like to think of myself as an alpha or at most a beta male, for I have a keen interest, not practice, to “put things at their designated places,” and that I know the end user always prefers the beta –more feature rich versions. Whether I’m that or a stable one is not I’m to answer, it is you, the females, who, if at all, which after reading this you don’t, want to try and test me out. 😉

Costly placebos are more effective!

Some patients undermine how effective a drug is if they are told it is rather inexpensive, i.e., costly placebos are more effective than cheap ones. That is the conclusion of Dr. Dan Ariely‘s landmark research that received the Ig Nobel prize for medicine. During the experiment, his team told volunteers that they were being given a new kind of painkiller, with some receiving an expensive one and others a cheaper one. In reality, all of them were given same sugar pills. When exposed to small electric shocks, Those who thought their pills were more expensive reported less pain than the others.

Although the conclusion is not new, and the research may sound humorous at the first glance, but I think this work is of great importance. A humorous work sometimes hides behind it a legitimate scientific point. You can read more about Dr. Ariely and his works in a brief biography here.

The Ig Nobel Prizes are a parody of the Nobel Prizes and are given each year in early October–around the time the recipients of the genuine Nobel Prizes are announced–for ten achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.” Organized by the open access, free for everyone scientific humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)The journal of record for inflated research and personalities, they are presented by a group that includes genuine Nobel Laureates at a ceremony at Harvard University’s Sanders Theater. This year’s Ig Nobel winners are listed here.

XKCD Explained

Courtesy Nathan Friemel. Thanks. 🙂

Answer to Life, Universe and Everything: XKCD!

CS Trees: A Graph Theory Joke

Most trees you’ll see in Computer Science literature are rooted on top and spread downwards. Why do CS folks call them tree then? Well, common wisdom is that they never went out of the room, so they never saw a real tree. 😀

No offense. I am a CS theory guy myself. I read this joke a long time back, when I was tutoring an undergraduate class, in this book. A group of theorists was discussing some open problems, that could be trivial (but nobody could see the triviality) to solve, and the joke was mentioned. Open problems that could be trivially settled?! Some kind of tomfoolery! Well, not going out of their rooms might just be true..Not seeing a real tree is not. 😉

Catholic Apologetics

A guy comes to hell and devils take him on a tour. It is a large warm place, where many relaxed folks play cards, guzzle beer and watch soccer. And then they hear terrible, blood-curdling voices from behind a door.

“What is behind the door?” asks the guy.

The devils open the door, and sure enough, behind all fumes of burning sulphur, was a huge pan full of hot oil and unfortunate folks being fried in.

“You know, the Catholics,” mumbles the devil sheepishly. “We really tried to talk them out of it, but they insisted!”

‘Where the hell is Bermuda?’

Of course you’ve seen this fantastic XKCD strip.

Upcoming Hurricanes from XKCD
Upcoming Hurricanes from XKCD

Needless to mention that I laughed. In fact, laughed so hard that I almost fell off my chair. ‘Hurricane Where-the-hell-is-Bermuda’ in the strip reminded me of an anecdote mentioned in Bill Bryson‘s book ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’.

“For half a century people had been trying to work out the size of the Earth, mostly by making very exacting measurements. One of the first such attempts was by an English mathematician named Richard Norwood. As a young man Norwood had traveled to Bermuda with a diving bell modeled on Halley’s device, intending to make a fortune scooping pearls from the seabed. The scheme failed because there were no pearls and anyway Norwood’s bell didn’t work, but Norwood was not one to waste an experience. In the early seventeenth century Bermuda was well known among ships’ captains for being hard to locate. The problem was that the ocean was big, Bermuda small, and the navigational tools for dealing with this disparity hopelessly inadequate. There wasn’t even yet an agreed length for a nautical mile. Over the breadth of an ocean the smallest miscalculations would become magnified so that ships often missed Bermuda-sized targets by dismaying margins. Norwood, whose first love was trigonometry and thus angles, decided to bring a little mathematical rigor to navigation and to that end he determined to calculate the length of a degree.”

Bryson recognized that Bermuda is small. So, you see it is not just by mistake that ‘Hurricane Where-the-hell-is-bermuda’ had a hard time finding Bermuda.