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!

Republic Day and Patriotism

Sample this:
  1. In the pleasant small town of Jodhpur, the local FM radio channels have been beaming patriotic songs interspersed with ‘Badnaam Munni’ and ‘Sheila Ki …’. The only other 2 days when they do so are August 15 and October 2.
  2. CNN-IBN, one of the leading national TV news channels, broadcasts a show at 7:30 this evening with the old Hindi movie songs that evoke the feelings of patriotism.
  3. The small gathering at one of the leading Science and Technology institute of the nation commemorating the day India became a republic started with playing similar movie and non-movie tracks.

Why?

True, we were free in the true sense on this day when we ditched the dominion status and laws that were symbolic of the colonialism in favor of our own constitution. True, every single day is worth remembering and saluting the thousands who died for the Independence. True, music and dance are the best means of celebrations.

But, 61 years on, we seem to have forgotten what the day really stands for. It is fine if the day evokes nationalist, patriotic feelings in you, but it does not celebrate patriotism. It is not just another day when you *must* play the otherwise buried cassettes and CDs.

It does celebrate one of the most hated words of recent times: politics! For 26th January 1950 saw the greatest political venture of its times see the light of the day. It celebrates the inception of a large social structure in a society willing to take its own decisions collectively. It celebrates the and glorifies the notions of socialism and democracy–notions, that even some who do not agree with celebrate ignorantly aligning with the mass mentality of celebrating. Sorry. I do not ask you to have the same meaning and feeling as I have, nor what Ambedkars and Nehrus had. I ask you to actually think and not just follow. I ask you to attach your own meaning having put a lot of thought, this time with the open minds, asking whys and hows.

Happy Republic Day you all.

“Producing Priests”

Volume 26 – Issue 14 :: Jul. 04-17, 2009 issue of Frontline published a special feature on the University system–exposing the sham of de novo “deemed” universities–in India. Among other articles, Meera Nanda‘s “Producing Priests” stands out, as it touches the subject that most Indians are afraid of discussing critically in public media. Meera begins eloquently–rightly so–and I quote,

What is good for the market is proving to be good for the gods in India. The more material acquisitions the middle classes make, the more pujas and homas they feel compelled to perform. Every vahan (vehicle) must have its puja, as must every tiny plot of bhoomi (land) before anything can be built upon it. Every puja, in turn, must have an astrologer or two and a vastu shastri, too. And then, every astrologer and vastu shastri worth his/her name must know how to work a computer, speak in English, and be “scientific” about it all.

Watching India’s thriving god market, one cannot help asking a simple question: where are all these seemingly modern pujaris, astrologers, vastu shastris and other retailers of rituals coming from? How does the supply of ritualists keep pace with the bottomless demand 21st century-Hindus have for religious rituals of all kinds?

That was pretty much what ignited my interest in her forthcoming book, “The God Market: How Globalization is Making India More Hindu”, and I, now, am eagerly waiting for the book to land in my hands. A little search led me to the full Introduction of the book (by Meera herself).

The same issue (of Frontline) also published a boxed feature by A. G. Noorani that busts the il-famous cleverly made-up quote (by Dr. M. M. Joshi). In his party’s manifesto for the past elections, Dr. Joshi quotes from a “speech” delivered by Macaulay “in the British Parliament” on February 2, 1835,

I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief, such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such high calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation. —Lord Macaulay, on Feb .2 1835 in English parliament (according to Dr. Joshi).

Historical evidences say this:

Macaulay came to India in June 1834 and became Law Member in the Governor-General’s Executive Council. He returned to England early in 1838.

Funny, no?! 🙂

Atheist Quote of the Day

“I’m an atheist, and that’s it. I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for each other.” —Katharine Hepburn in Ladies Home Journal, Oct. 1991

Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn

The Problem of Mathematics Education in India

This coming from someone who has had his entire education in India and loves the subject may sound a bit alarming. But this is how I find it. Please note that it is just a personal opinion formed based on the random incoherent surveys conducted over the years and discussions within close groups of friends, always–well… almost always–when they were drunk or stoned.

If you ask, majority of the pre-college going students–in their Senior Secondary years, just prior to the college, that is–in India will tell you that they like mathematics. A big chunk of that number belongs to what the Economists call “the great Indian middle class”. Well, that is true from one perspective. They like mathematics because studying pre-college mathematics is a must in India to get into Engineering. Engineering for the Indian middle-class is “a big thing”. You get the picture.

But if you ask me, the other perspective, the way mathematics is taught in most Indian pre-college institutions can never make it a likable subject. Most of you must have seen the Mathematics textbooks in your school days. And then in college days. And then in your kids’ school/pre-college days… I request you to give it another look and then decide if you or your kid can really like it or not. The way the books are written and the way the subject is taught is to program a human-being. You open a book, you’ll see  text that is nothing but a collection of symbols, and algorithms that are to be read and run on a machine. There is hardly any description of the historical importance and the original author’s insight, his fight and vision in reaching the result. The student never feels the sense of discovery the discoverer might have sensed when his/her thought came into the form called “Theorem”.

To be ignorant of the lives of the most celebrated men of  antiquity is to continue in a state of childhood all our days.

The best mathematics books in terms of developing a student’s liking and insight into the subject are never taught when they are needed the most. I have been very fortunate in that regard that when interest in mathematics started waning, I had access to those. But, in India, such books have been inaccessible to most of the students studying mathematics. It is way past the time when those books should have been made the part of curriculum.

The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled. –Plutarch

But then, a set curriculum ruins the whole purpose of the book for what it is written for, because most teachers at that level never studied those books themselves.

Sometimes, I tend to think that the books at that level, at present, are written by some computer programmers in order to program a child just like a computer is programmed. And we are very good at getting programmed! Due to socio-economic factors mentioned previously, our entire future depends on how well we were programmed. For example, most of the Indian students, at least those who studied a little mathematics at the pre-college level, are good at finding anti-derivatives (which is taught in the name of `Integration’) of some functions. Very few have insight on what really `Integration’ is. They can find surface areas of arcane surfaces and areas under most complex of the curves brooding on the x-y plane using crammed formulae, but they can hardly ever tell you why they needed it or that it is called Riemann Integral. Infinity is another number for them to “produce results” of the questions posed in the exams. They are never taught the profound thought in imaging it in simpler terms. Infinity for them is nothing but some number “out of bounds”–just like a computer–used in simplifying calculations. In short, what we are producing in India in the name of mathematical talent is “human calculating devices.” It is no wonder that India produces so many “skilled” workers in the IT industry.

One of the major forces behind a successful mathematician is his/her teacher who is expected to develop the insight of the subject. The problem with teachers and schools in India, again, is influenced by the changing paradigms in socio-economic scenario. A parent, now-a-days wants the ward to “excel” every aspect of life, be it arts, sports, science, any damn thing. The race of producing sub-standard know-it-all machines has never been so invigorated. The present day teenager is the center of its parents’ hopes. They want it to achieve everything what they could achieve and what they could not, and even more. They want it to get a high-paying position in some multinational, right from the day the kid has entered the school. To heck with the interests or aesthetics! To heck with appreciating ideas. In this rat-race, a teacher is left behind with his values. What should (s)he do? Produce more rats to participate in the race in which no one rat wins the cheese, but several end up biting a little piece and left unsatisfied.

I have observed many examples: kids and teenagers who wanted to study mathematics–or something else for that matter–for their lives, but there will was crushed by the might of the ambition of the great Indian middle-class to reach the top… the economic top.

Probably that’s why we see many brilliant students in India, but not many achieving the heights what Russians, French and Germans do. Probably that’s why a Fields Medal has eluded India despite it being the mother of mathematical thought and its thousands of years’ history of mathematics.

But that is changing. Or, at least I hope that is changing…

EDIT (Friday, May 29 2009): More discussions reveal more problems. Another major problem is the language. You know what I mean!

Her Bollywood Dream

Yet another Miss World competition is over and Miss India Parvathy Omanakuttan came out first runner up. Congratulations.

Parvathy Omanakuttan

India holds first place, jointly with Venezuela, for the number of winners. Some of the top finishes by Indian women at the Miss World pageant are,

Here is a question for you: Barring Reita Faria, what is common among these women apart from being Miss Worlds? Yes! They all are Bollywood actresses. Some of them are quite successful at their careers. They have at least one more thing in common: they all have perfectly set vocabulary and a very good training in orating words, phrases and names like ‘compassion’, ‘womanhood’, ‘love for children’, ‘underprivileged’, ‘breaking barriers of nationality, color and creed’, ‘Mother Teresa’, ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ etc. Here is an example for your consideration: In the final round of Miss World 1994, Aishwarya Rai said the following, in response to the question, “What qualities should Miss World 1994 embody?”:

Miss Worlds that we’ve had up to date have been proof enough that they’ve had compassion, compassion for the underprivileged, not only for the people who have status and stature, who can look beyond the barriers the man has set up for ourselves of nationality, color …

I’d not go so far as to judge Mrs. Rai Bachchan on the basis of her compassion, for I don’t know if she does have that of any kind, but by now, you know how highly I think of her as a [former] Miss World. I leave it up to you to decide whether she came out true on her words. To be fair to her, let me mention that those lines were delivered with a panache and deserve all the cheers and accolades she got at the pageant site — yes, even the title!

Miss World 2000, Priyanka Chopra went one step ahead of Aishwarya. When asked which woman alive she admired the most, she said it was Mother Teresa. She just had to say Mother Teresa. If it were an event with majority Indian jury and not an international one, she probably would have said it was Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Yeah, in 2000 both were dead! If only they were taught some sense apart from cramming there brains with names and words.

Parvathy, prior to the contest said,

I’ll try my best to make every Indian all over the world proud.” [Express Buzz]

Did she mean only the pageant? I don’t know how many feel the pride. Sure her relatives and parents do.

In the final round, in response to the question, “What does being in South Africa mean to you,” she replied,

In India and South Africa people are warm and warm-hearted. I felt at home in Johannesburg. Presence of two great leaders Mahatma Gandhi (India) and Nelson Mandela (South Africa) have influenced millions of people in both the countries.

In a recent interview on a TV news channel, she was asked if she is looking forward to the offers to movies, she replied with the characteristic charm and deception of a lady who just won a pageant talking hot air and nothing apart from hot air, “I don’t know, I’ll do things as they come.” Now that’s fair! This way, she can keep realizing, or at least pretend realizing, Gandhi’s and Mandela’s dreams and when fed up of realizing them or pretending realizing them, does a movie, sparks up a few controversies, inaugurates a few fashion houses, malls and boutiques, earns some moolah, buys a lavish apartment in Juhu, Mumbai and gets married to a movie-wallah or uska beta. Gandhi and Mandela are then passed on to the next Miss World contestant.

Seriously, what is wrong in accepting that a Miss World is a symbol of beauty that is just skin deep, and the event is a pure fashion and marketing propaganda? A little more of skin show will only help inviting more sponsorship and viewership. Right now, in its current format, with only a swim-suit round, the viewer ends up with… yes, you know that phrase: KLPD. Stop pretending that it is about celebrating womanhood or finding a complete woman. Stop pretending intellectual ability or (borrowing from Mrs. Rai Bachchan) the feeling of compassion. Show us ‘the real thing’! Even I would like to watch it, then.

Now when the contest is over and she is famous, Parvathy has sparked up a controversy of sorts. She thinks she was unfairly judged the runner up; she is the winner, at least to her. Seems she hasn’t got a single modest gene in her curvaceous, delicious body.

Finally we have Parvathy herself with us talking her brains out:

Since we have been talking about beauty queens and Miss Worlds, here is a sample of their distinctive thought process and intellectual abilities. Natasha Paracha was the Pakistani entry to Miss World 2008. It is only ironic that she was asked how she would tackle terrorism as Miss Pakistan. Her reply? Brilliant! See for yourself (her and her answer):

Natasha Paracha

As Miss Pakistan and as a young woman representing the nation and I can definitely think that I would like to promote the country and show that Pakistani women are strong and we can definitely do a lot to represent the nation a lot on the global sphere.

Brings out the real depth! Thank goodness she is considering offers from Bollywood. That at least is one place she’ll do well, despite being laughed at.

Whose lost boys?

Mohammed Hanif, the head of BBC Urdu service and the author of “A Case of Exploding Mangoes,” explores the internal crisis in India and Pakistan as an afterthought to recent terror strikes in Mumbai. [cf. The Lost Boys, Tehelka]

He takes on Indian and Pakistani establishments and media agencies asking them not to point to the other country every time there is a terror strike in any one of those, saying (I quote):

This week might have been an opportunity for Pakistan to acknowledge its own internal crisis, to start looking for the lost boys who are destined for very short-lived violent careers on our small screen. For India there was a real opportunity to stop hankering for American-sized victim status and start counting its own lost boys. Instead, it has turned out to be a case of the blind accusing the blinkered and then both walking hand in hand into the smog created by the airwaves pollution.

Among all things said, he touches briefly on what the Pakistan media says about the religion of the strikers (terrorists):

That Kasav boy? That’s not even a Pakistani name. Maybe it’s Kasav? But, hang on, show a close up of his wrist in that picture. He is wearing what those Hindus wear for raakhi bandhan. A boy from Lashkar would never wear that thread. Come to think of it, he would never even dress like that.

Herein lies the entire problem: media, from both sides, claims essentially this: all terrorists from India are Hindus and all of them from Pakistan are Muslims. Now that we know that some Mr. Kasav from Pakistan was one of the criminals (international intelligence agencies, from MI5 to Mossad, agree on his Pakistan links and LeT training), Pakistan media tries to find loopholes in the ‘theory’ based on what Kasav looks like, wears and acts. Since he wore a thread on his wrist, he’s not a Muslim and so he is not a Pakistani. What kind of logic is that? For once, let me concur just for the sake of argument that he’s not a Muslim. Does that mean he is not from Pakistan? Aren’t there Hindus in Pakistan? Aren’t there Muslims in India?

Once again, it is clear that religion is blinding everyone, from governments to media, just like it blinds the terrorists.

The need of hour is not just counting the lost boys and knowing what religion they belong to. It is rather knowing what makes them choose the path. Economics is closer to the center of the problem than Religion. Work on your economy and education more than you work on religions. Why did Kasav and the likes agreed to carry out the attack? Because he was a Muslim and he saw atrocities on other Muslims? Maybe. One can’t be certain on that. But, what one can be certain on is that he quit school after 4th standard and hardly ate all the meals of the day. Yes, there are some who have had best of the education and were born with silver spoons in their mouths, e.g., Bin Laden et al. They are psychopaths. Religion can affect only a fool and it is these people from whom Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” Religious sentiments take over ones thought process when there is not much to do: the poor and uneducated or riches. Hardly anywhere in the entire world history have the working middle class is seen getting involved in such bigotry. So get you people educated, get them jobs and you’d have solved the problem to a large extent. Then the bigots like Bin Laden, Al Zawahiri, Masood Azhar won’t get those easy recruits.