Sunday, September 11, 2011


It has been 10 years since the fateful day.
Each year I get to hear a new story.
Each year I get to see a video and feel as if it is the first time I am seeing it.
Each story and each video moves me.
Each year I cry.
It was a day when many, many ordinary men became heroes and then became immortal forever.
I salute them all...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Commonality in Nursery Rhymes

There is one common element between the following four nursery rhymes:

Ring a Ring o' Roses
London Bridge
Humpty Dumpty
Jack and Jill

It all talks about 'Falling Down'!


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Name-Value Pair

In my current project - as in most software projects - we have a robust name-value map configuration. For the lay man, this basically means that if the calling program specifies a name to the configuration, a value is returned back to the program for further processing. Like if a door bell button is pressed, the door bell makes a sound.

Seeing my daughter grow (she is now almost 11 months old), I made a startling discovery that our brain is wired with full of such name-value maps. Majority of our brain is like an enormous configuration which keeps storing information and making an "index" (like yellow pages index), which is akin to "name". When this name is invoked, it responds back with a "value" which is carried out by the nervous system.

For example, the first thing which I remember my daughter learned was reacting to the phrase "Smile, please!" - thanks to my wife's mother who taught her this. When someone said "Smile, please!", my daughter smiled back in response. I was initially perplexed as to how she can understand English at such an age (6th month) and dismissed it as an one-off event. But the fact was that she kept repeating it. Which meant there was some science behind it.

The discovery was simple. She really did not know what "Smile, please!" meant. She was just doing what the person who was asking was doing. Note the exclamation everywhere. "Smile, please!" Each time this phrase was uttered, the person who used to utter this was smiling and, this in turn, made the brain register that "Smile, please!" meant smiling. So, there we have it! Utterance of "Smile, please!" is the name and smiling is the value.

Learning continues for the infants whether it is intentionally taught or not as long as it is oft repeated. For example, my wife keeps talking to the baby explaining what she is doing. She talks about bathing, about putting on the diaper, about food that she is feeding, etc. Such oft-repeated conversations (and even actions) register in the child, even though it was not really meant as a learning. This could be because children at this age have a tremendous amount of grasping power. Think of it as a brand new computer which does everything (like booting!) so fast. It is only with age that worries and thoughts occupy the brain more; add natural wear and tear of the body and we get a PC that takes over 5 mins to boot! :-)

So one fine day, when we simply asked our daughter to get diaper (heretofore she was never explicitly shown what a diaper is), she promptly crawled on all fours to the place where we keep diapers. This shocked us! Her brain had mapped the word "diaper" to diaper automatically. Similarly, "Twinkle, twinkle, little star" meant  making an action like twinkling stars using fingers, "Tummy" meant patting her tiny stomach, "Shake hand" meant putting out her hand to be shaken, "High-Five" meant , well, High Five, "Nose" meant showing her nose in her own unique way, "Head" meant patting her head, "Teeth" meant baring her mouth to show the 2 teeth (!), "Kiss" meant opening mouth and coming near the face of the asker(!), "Frock" meant showing her dress, "Hi" ("bye" and "tata" too) meant spreading the palms of her hand and shaking, "Water" meant looking at her water bottle and expecting someone to put it in her mouth, "Poojyaya Raghavendraya" ("Vittala, Vittala, Govinda" too) meant clasping palms together and looking at the idols, "Clap, clap, clap" meant bringing the palms together, "Aeroplane" meant seeing something high up in the air, "Gubbacchi" meant seeing birds, "Moon" meant seeing that bright thing in the sky, "Thaala" means bringing her hand down to her thighs imitating Carnatic Classical music pundits(!), "Dance" meant shaking her body, "Amma" meant seeing mother, "Pappa" meant seeing father, "Paavani" meant seeing herself in the mirror, so on and so forth.

I didn't intend this post to show case Paavani's development but it looks like it has just become just that! So be it. I couldn't stop myself! But coming back to the nub of it, it just goes to show how our brain stores all the information as name-value pairs.

Thinking more on these lines, it becomes slightly complicated later on. Take English for example. The word "Lead" will first mean the pencil-end for school-goers. Then, couple of grades later, this will take another meaning of guiding. Couple of grades later, this will take another meaning of a chemical substance [No, pencil lead and chemical lead are two different things]. This kind of complicates the brain. That is perhaps why it is often said that English is a funny language! Now how can indexing work when we cannot define a primary key?! Once indexing is broken, the brain starts slowing down. So we humans have ourselves to blame for our own brain degeneration! Why couldn't we invent new words instead of overloading same words?!

Well, I have said all that I wished to say in this post. I only wish that my Tontu's brain continues to be as sharp and grasping as ever!


Sunday, September 04, 2011

Cubicle Hang-out

During my first US visit between 2005 and 2006, I did not have an office cubicle of my own. I was sitting in a lab-turned cubicle which hosted from 2 to more than 10 people at one time depending on the projects that came and went. Although I felt 'left-out' of having a cubicle of my own, I grew fond of my lab-like office setting. It was nice to share the place with others - to talk of this and that when work became monotonous, although it sometimes felt congested and difficult to concentrate when you can hear every single syllable of your neighbors despite their efforts to be soft. Apart from this, my place was a 'hangout' for lot of people. Perhaps it was because I was in a lab and not in a cubicle where one has to talk in whispers, people used to stop by and have chit-chat for some time everyday. When one person has stopped by, others used to join and before long, there were a swarm of people gossipping, making plans for the long weekend and yapping in general. I liked this setting although at times it was annoying when I had lot of work to do.

Then in 2007 and 2008, when I was in India, I was amongst a relatively new team of about 20 folks amongst which I was one of the seniors. So most folks used to look up to me for resolutions, for guidance and when they became closer, started stopping by for general passing of time. It was not long before my cubicle became very much akin to my US cubicle. My cubicle became the favorite hang-out place for planning weekend getaways, for parties and for general chit-chat. We spent lot of time talking about getting away from software engineering and taking up other kinds of businesses such as agriculture, mining, schooling and we were all in the same frequency of discussion and hence it was enjoyable taking absolute rot knowing fully well that we were all building castles in the air. But it was fun. I enjoyed the adhoc gatherings.

After being so used to this position of 'center of attention' (literally) for last 4.5 years, it came as a quite a jolt to experience the pre-2005 era when I was all by myself in my own cubicle and immersed completely in work from start of day to end of day. From mid-2009 till date, I have not had the opportunity to experience this bonhomieness. I was in US again for about 7 months in 2009 and my cubicle (again a lab-turned cubicle) was in an isolated location.  When I was back in India in 2010, I got the same cubicle I had in 2007 and 2008 but it was a new team and it did not gel as well as the 2007 team. Now, back in US, my first 'real' cubicle in US (finally) is conveniently located but, again, it is a new team and not many know me well enough nor have time to hang out.

So, just the other day, for the briefest of the periods during the day, when about 4-5 people were over at my cubicle yapping in general, talking of this and that, I had this nostalgia of the good old days between 2005 and 2008. Sigh. How I miss those days...