Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Laukeeka Anubhava

While god is in the details, a helping god clearly is not in all of the details. Some details have Yama and some have Soma. This is why geek type people who possess too much information aren't so nimble and effective in making decisions as their managers are. Plotting a graph between information and decision-making effectiveness should be an interesting excercise. Initially, the effectiveness does increase perceptibly with increase in information. A confident bhangra-type dude who says "chalo yaar! party on. chak da phatte" is more likely to be DOA than a spectacled geek dude who diligently collects all the details and is in general more humble than necessary.

However, what is counter-intuitive is that the suave dude who deliberately avoids too much detail is more likely to make [similar -> better] decisions in [same -> quicker] time than the geek dude who knows almost every little detail. The graph after growing steadily for a while shows remarkable decrease in decision-making effectiveness as function of increase in information. Too much knowledge and continuous ball-by-ball commentary type information forces a person to make several incorrect predictions (based on several irrelevant past anubhavas) and jump to too many conclusions. The continuum of information blunts him. The dude who knows when to not be a geek and can, after a certain point, resist information is the dude who has more clarity. He is the difference between a theorizer and a doer.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Kabali Times: Pakistan Sack Their Next Coach too!

We reveal a series of stunning operations launched by PCB management to streamline their operations and make PCB a slim mean efficient cricket machine. Kabali Times has reliably learned from inside sources of PCB that the search for Pakistan's next cricket coach has begun and it is unclear as to who the coach would be. However, what is certain, according to PCB sources, is that the newly appointed coach will be given a 3-year contract and will be sacked a year from now. On condition of anonymity Mr. Butt said that "We have made a decision to sack the to-be-appointed-new coach on account of differences between the team and the coach. We also feel his style of work does not suit our culture (or) that he is too Pakistani and tends to favor certain players over others - depending on what the case may be."
Mr. Butt also revealed that they had set up hearing panels to arbitrate all the next captain-coach conflicts arising in the next 1-year. Butt cheerily concluded that decisions of those hearing panels have already been made. This is an outstanding effort initiated by Butt in an effort to reduce legal costs and prevent PCB from being bought over by Lalit Modi. In the event of Pakistan Cricket team being bought over by Modi, Butt has made arrangements for Management-captain conflict legal hearing sessions by independent Judges.
PCB's new health insurance plan will also cover injuries sustained by players when they get beaten up by Shoaib Akhtar. PCB has pre-paid the insurance company for the 4 players who will get beaten up by Shoaib in the next one year. Shoaib has already been suspended for this impending activity. Shoaib's appeal against this decision has already been assigned to Judge Habeeb Hamim, who will clear Shoaib of all charges 10 years from now. Shoaib has already announced that he has been "vindicated". The four players who will get beaten up by Shoaib have not started playing cricket yet, and in some cases have not been born yet. However, fake birth certificates for those players have been submitted to PCB. They have all been named "Mohammed" for convenient paper work processing.
As Mr. Butt concluded his secret hush-hush whispering, he also mentioned that they have already started searching for a coach who will replace the new coach that PCB will appoint in a few days. Butt cheeks became red in excitement as he said this.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Kabali Times: Gavaskar Changes Coin Toss Probabilities

Batting Maestro and idiot commentator Sunil Gavaskar stunned the cricketing world and mathematics world by announcing that the probability of getting a "tail" in a fair toss of a coin was actually 0.9. Mathematicians, statisticians, obstetricians, gynaecologists, cobblers and Kabali kovil pichaikaarans were all stunned to hear this profound observation on the so-far-well-hidden weighted bias towards the "tail". It also gave cricket viewers tremendous insight as to why Gavaskar won more tosses than test matches. He had spent all his time practicing hard to get the accuracy of his toss-call as high as 90%.

After Navjot Sidhu was fired, Gavaskar was largely expected to fill the gaping void called the "buffoon commentator". However, not many expected him to out beat Sidhu in the subject of "probability and random theory". Gavaskar has redefined both "probability" and "random theories" better than Sidhu. Leading journal "Vaara Malar Thoonukku Mootai" has been conducting a poll on "Greatest Idiot to have embarrassed India in the name of patriotism" for the past 100 years. Gavaskar has strongly announced his intention to win this award for the 5th straight year. His fantastic efforts to show his "genuine patriotism" for India was reflected in his nitpicking and in his irrelevant, insignificant and immature (The 3 I's) comments on Ponting, Ponting's underwear and Pontings dirty finger nails. If Gavaskar wins this award, he would be 2 short of Navjot Sidhu's 7-year winning streak.

15 time award winner Y.G. Mahendran was extremely disappointed with Gavaskar's comments. He went on to call his tactics "under arm tactics" and laughed all by himself for a few minutes. Y.G.Mahendran sympathisers argued that by Gavaskar was trying to cheat the poll by expanding his stupid observations to realms outside of cricket. "Avar saar Y.G was disciplined and stuck to one area. Sunny saar is cheating" was their karagosham. Y.G. Mahendran disclosed that, for quite some time, he had been dreading the possibility of Gavaskar saying something incredibly and mind-numbingly stupid. Gavaskar's desperation to blabber anti-Ponting comments reminded Mahendra of his childhood experiences and forced him to do a quick dash to Pazhani and seek divine intervention. But it was of no avail. Mr. Pazhani Malai Muruga couldn't prevent the inevitable from happening.

After Gavaskar had made a series of desperate attempts to criticise just about anything Ponting did, a Kabali times reporter was stunned to hear Gavaskar criticise Ponting's coin-toss capabilities. While commentating with Mark Nicholas he said, "Ricky Ponting always call heads when he tosses. A 50 paisa Indian coin can be tossed in such a way that it will fall down as tails. Ponting's strategy of calling "heads" always is very stupid. If you practice hard enough you can make the coin fall the way you want it to and easily defeat Ponting in the toss". Mark Nicholas, after recovering from a massive cardiac arrest, attempted to confirm if Gavaskar was kidding. Sunny bhai put the matter to rest by saying "if you practice hard enough 9 times out of 10 it will fall the way you want".

Author's Note: The last Paragraph is not a work of fiction. Gavaskar really said that about 30 minutes prior to lunch on Day 1 of 2nd Test.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Complex Golu Algorithm

There are these idyllic afternoons where after a couple of hours sleep, we get up and sit in the balcony with a second-dose coffee. The sun beats down on you and the odd honk of a vehicle can be heard from outside. These are moments when the world seems so clear and all the minute details of the surrounding environment choose to reveal themselves to us. The paint ridges on the wall surface, the design patterns on mosaic floor, the rust on the iron rod seem have an exaggerated presence. Suddenly the eyes spot the 'kolam' next to the Thulasi plant. An army of ants seem to be marching to and from the Kolam. It is hard to pin-point exactly where these ants emanate from. How do they know about a kolam on the 4th floor of an apartment in some corner of the Indian subcontinent? Do they have a 'flash news' system in their tiny TV sets that shouts "mundhungal! mundhungal! fourth floor maami has put kolam. Free food! mundhungal"? They somehow seem to know. Their world also appears to have a complex workflow and task assignment infrastructure. There are a chosen few ants which seem to be carrying food morsels and other ants seem to be crawling very fast without an objective. There is a clear train like path that these ants tread on with enormous discipine. You sense that there is a hidden order or algorithm that these ants follow with precision.

As you continue with your observation, at some points in the ant-path you would find ants travelling in both directions. The width of the ant-path seems to be built for just one ant. However, to our great surprise two sets of ant trains travelling in opposite directions use that path in parallel. From a distance it appears like a uni-directional ant path. You have to watch it real close to see the two distinct trains travelling in opposite directions. At specific points in that path an ant collides against another ant travelling in the opposite direction, pauses for a moment, then applies a resource contention algorithm and then squeeze-crawls in its own direction. In that collide-junction, all ants collide with the oncoming ant and apply this algorithm. How do they arbitrate on this resource contention algorithm, how is all this orchestrated? If you were observing the benign small black ants (Pillaiyaar Erumbu), you'd waft your hand in that path to disrupt the flow. But they would get into order in no time. And then there are these red ants whom you don't mess with.

Golu is a navarathri ritual celeberated with great gusto by a reasonably large subset of South Indians. Golu (koluvai in telugu) literally means Raja Darbar. It denotes a situation where the king's palace is in its full glory - the royalty, the ministers and the darbar are all attired in their best clothes. Golu means the royalty, dressed in full splendour, grants an audience to the common man. Many people see their favorite God as this mighty king, who is granting them an annual audience. He grants them this audience before going out to slay an evil demon. In today's age, as a substitute for that palace and royalty, people build an odd-numbered step-like structure and arrange idols/dolls of gods and goddesses. They essentially build a palace in their own home and grant audience for other people (read other women) to come and view their king.

So, come October all the maamis come out of their little ant hills and start plotting their way to other ant hills. This is the ancient ritual of Navarathri Golu. Their objective is very clear - collect turmeric, kumum and a blouse piece from maamis living in other ant-hills and head back to their own house to dispense off turmeric, kumkum and blouse pieces to visiting maamis. An invitation flies out a few days before Navarathri and all the maamis gear up to travel around this complex network of golu-palaces. All invitations have be honored and these ants have to visit all the ant-hills within the specified period of 9 days. If there are 2 maamis and just 2 palace-like ant hills to visit, the algorithm is very simple. As the number of maamis increase to three, the algorithm though manageable is slightly complex. If maami-1 has invited maami-2 and maami-3, whereas maami-2 has invited only maami-1 - a new variable called 'timing' is introduced into the equation. Maami-2 travels to maami-1's ant-hill in such a way that avoids contention with maami-3. As the number of maamis increase, the equation tends to have several more variables, complex factorial calculations, differential equations, complex numbers, surds, multi-variate equations, and random probabilities. To help the reader comprehend the scale of all this - an average maami responds to 15-20 invitations and invites 25-30 other maamis.

Given the staggering mathematical complexity of all this - one would imagine these maamis would stop with the kumkum/blouse piece trophy collection. But they don't. Firstly, they invite other maamis and Junior Maami's to sing in their houses. Singing in front of the Golu is a ritual as ancient as 'fire' itself. Secondly, they start a secret underground mafia where they scheme to introduce nubile young girls to bachelors and therby plot marriages. In the world of Golu, women are the ultimate rulers. What they say is final and nobody can mess with this system. Several years ago, in what was a complete violation of the sacred protocol, my dad invited his colleague and her daughters to my house for Navarathri golu. As wives tend to do, my mom regards every action of my dad with complete contempt and dripping sarcasm. Sometimes I wonder if wives look at their respective husbands and think "like this guy thinks he can do anything sensible or be useful around the house ever". The situation is worse if he wife under question is a certified maami. Maami's tend to view Maamas with even more disdain.

So when this colleague character showed up at the door with spectacles, bright smiles and 2 daughters, my mom welcomed them like one would welcome Type B Jaundice. To rub it in, she asked one of the daughters "can you sing?". Knowing what I know, I understood that in reality she was asking if that little girl had her marbles in order and if she was worth being called a person. The little girl said "yes" - which frankly shocked everybody in the house. We all watched in suspense as this girl proceeded to the golu to sing. In retrospective, we shouldn't have been surprised by what the girl eventually went on to do. But it was hilarious when it happened. The girl sat in front of the golu and sang the movie song "ondraa irundaa". The classic first night song sung by Jyothika during a night of intense love making with Surya. Needless to say when my mom packed off that family, it appeared as if she was holding a dead cockroach, with her face turned the other way and was dropping that cockroach in the dustbin with considerable disgust.

My father did not stop with that adventure. At a time when my parents had decided to find a suitable bride for me, he decided to contribute his might to the process. My mom was out visiting another maami's golu and with great reluctance had kept me and my father on watch to receive random maami's who dropped in out-of-turn. A very beautiful young girl dropped in. After 10 minutes of polite conversation, my father told her that he was looking for a match for his son and if she didn't mind - could she give her parents contact details so that he could discuss this with them? The girl was shocked. She said she was waiting for her daughter to join her any moment. In walked the daughter, who must've been at least 10th standard. I have to say, I was shocked. I wouldn't have rated this girl to be more than 24 years old. It was all the more shocking when my father found out that this girl's husband was related to my mother. Needless to say my father never spoke out-of-turn after that.

This reminds me of resource contention and how maamis visit other maami's houses without missing the other maamis who in-turn visited their houses. This is a superior skill and required that a maami be in several places at the same time and in one place at several times of the day. Its got to be a complex calculation of "I will receive people from 6PM to 7 PM and I will visit people from 7 PM to 8 PM". This will only work if there are other maami's who have the opposite stand on their travel logic. It makes sense for mamis to alternate the send/receive logic to receive/send every day. This would allow them to send/receive most maamis with maximum effeciency. There are ofcourse the red-ant like mamis, you don't mess with. They go out as they please and receive people as they please. You just don't question their logic. You have no choice but to visit them and you cannot expect them to visit you.

As my wife and I found out recently. We are new to Golu syndicate and can at best be called padwan golu learners in the world of Jedi Masters. In America the Golu algorithm is incredibly complex. Since everything from potty training to cancer treatment is rounded-off to the weekend in America, there is really no 9 days during Navarathri. Just 2 days. All maamis send out this new-fangled EVITE thingie inviting other maamis on the only available Saturday. This is resource contention of the highest order. The collision rates are high. Sometimes maamis meet other maamis in some other maami's house and drag them home at gun-point. So we were taken aback, when we got a threatening phone call from a red-ant maami who demanded to know why our EVITE clashed with her EVITE date. The maami let out an ultimatum that if we didn't visit her house, we will have hell to pay for. Her husband had already begun viewing me as a fraud brahmanan, who recited prabhandam paasurams with more 'namaha' and 'om' than actual words just to get a free-ride on sambhavanai. She made no guarantee of return visit. Since my wife was a pillaiyar erumbu, we succumbed to the big bad red-ant without even so much of a whimper.

Sometimes, children are only as good as their parents. I learned what my father must've have experienced, while my mom gave him the 3rd degree for inappropriate Golu-time behavior. My wife's friend visited us for golu. Upon being asked to sing, she did the usual "No. I can't sing very well. It has been 10 years since I last sang, my voice will break"etc etc. After further persuasion, she relented and finally sang a Bharathiar song. All was well. I was smooth as always. Thought I said the right things and in general the behavior was very civil. So my consternation was understandable when, after the guest had departed, my wife pounced on me and called me a "jerk". "How many times I've told you to keep your mouth shut when my friends visit" - seemed to be the popular topic of the day. Apparently, I had told the young lady, at the end of the singing recitation - "not bad for a person who hasn't sung for 10 years".

Many many years ago, my friend colorKing made me sit on a chair and told me what Seinfeld told Kramer - "You are not a human being. You are a pod. A cave man.". We were in grad scool and were invited for dinner by a few girls, who were a year junior to us. He thought the decent thing to do was to get them a gift. I was a non-believer of gifts and had told him that I wouldn't be buying any gift. However, I also told him that I wouldn't be averse to paying him 50% of the gift-money, if he chose to get those girls a gift. He bought a gift and had extracted $10 from me. During dinner, the girl opened the gift and out came a darn good dinner set. Unknowingly, I commented "not a bad dinner set for twenty dollars". Slowly stares became giggles and then laughter broke out. And then all hell broke loose. ColorKing, to this date, refuses forgive me for that transgression.

Recently, I found myself at the receiving end of another "you are a pod" criticism from my wife. I had said something, which frankly appeared to be an insult only after it was pointed out to me in retrospect. A couple had come to our house for Navarathri Golu. It was late in the evening. We insisted that they have dinner with us, which they had - after several rounds of "no... its okay... no... no.." type refusals and shy-type arguments. After dinner the lady guest said with severe guilt "we committed a big mistake. We must be the only people to visit a house for Navarathri Golu and end up having dinner. Sorry for imposing this on you.". I could have shut up. Or I could have said several innocous things. But I wanted to make them feel at ease. So I said - "No. No. I have committed this mistake several times. Once, many years before..."

Friday, October 03, 2008

U. Ve. Velukudi Krishnan Discourse in Seattle

Yes. Velu bhai is coming to town. While living in Thanjavur jilla, I often heard people constantly use the word 'pisuru padaama' to describe other people's speech capabilities. It was not uncommon to find this adjective being used in school oratory competitions, social gatherings, and while introducing arbitrary people. People said "Very nice man. Pisuru padaama pesuvaar". The key point to note here is that Thanjavur folks never praise other people. They are known universally for gossiping and criticising everything under the sun. So the rare compliment that they give is usually treasured. 'Pisuru padaama' means that the person talks without using fillers or awkward pauses. The person does not stammer, does not digress, and is never short of the right words. This was an important quality that people in the jilla valued. Thanjavur dialect is not as distinct or uniquely identifiable as my favorite Nellai or Kovai dialect. The subtle thing, I have always noticed in the dialect is the underlying harmony, smoothness and almost a pleasant delivery of words. Evenly spaced gaps between words, the right volume for a word and the subtle drag here and there.

The first time I heard Velukudi Krishnan's Thirupaavai discourse, I was reminded of the few people I met from Thanjavur who'd speak the language with such poise that you immediately began to pay attention. The crystal clear tone and the clarity in his voice is remarkable. The listener is even more surprised when one gets to hear his English lectures. If he does not mix a single English word in his Thamizh lectures - then the opposite is true for his English lectures (where he usually quotes only from Sanskrit literature). His fluency in English is as remarkable as his fluency in Thamizh. Velukudi is not exactly Thanjavur jilla. More Thiruvellarai - which houses a beautiful, well-constructed, gigantic temple. But his clarity in expression is just as good. This skill is probably just the 'pullaiyaar suzhi' of his staggering repertoire. He is in many ways a complete speaker. His voice and prose are so unique and rich that one can spend quite a bit of time describing its singular beauty. The amount of verses he remembers from the Vedas, upanishads, puraanas, ithihaasas, prabhandams, and desika sthothrams - is fascinating. As the son of an eminent Hari Katha exponent Velukudi Varadachariar, he left his C.A practice to continue his father's work (the linked article is a good read inspite of the Prema Nandakumar's queer "earth-scene" introduction).

Another important attribute that attracted me to his lectures was - his ability to create an environment where the listener is led to believe that one is participating in a 'technical discussion' as opposed to a spiritual discourse. I have listened to Balakrishna Sastrigal and Krishna Premi. Sometimes their love for their subject makes them digress so much that a younger listener loses interest in the topic. I am not trying to discredit them. They are very good in their subject matter. Just that in the case of Velukudi Krishnan, a half hour package contained so much information and references to so many verses that it is hard to listen without being alert (or in the case of several hundred grandma's in Ayodhya Mandapam - without taking rapid notes). Most people who come out after listening to his lectures often say "how does he remember so much and quote it without missing a beat".

Some other aspects most listeners like are - the strict punctuality, the no-nonsense approach (he is really uncompromising) and clear diction. If you don't believe the "classroom atmosphere" thing - do drop-in on one of his lectures and witness the sudden hush'ness the moment he begins to speak. Like the way many good speakers do, he'd communicate to you that you cannot make any noise and the lecture will start and end exactly on-time - without saying so in as many words. On the topic of professionalism - one incident that I'll never forget, happened during a discourse in Jayagopal Garodia school. Velukudi was narrating the "kovil Puranam" segment SriRangam and was describing historical accounts on the brutal killing of about 12 thousand Srivaishnavas during the moghul invasion of the temple. It was an emotional segment and one could sense the seriousness in the air. Suddenly he stopped his lecture. A person in the first row apparently had fallen ill (severe chest pain & dizzyness) and fainted. There was the usual 5 minutes of commotion, where that person was put in a car and taken to the hospital. Immediately, without announcement Velukudi continued his lecture. It took people a while to understand that the lecture was ON again. In 10 seconds people were back in their seats, the silence was restored and he went on to finish the lecture bang on time.

I am glad he is coming to Seattle and I am hoping to catch some 1x1 time with him. Interested folks in USA can check out his schedule here and listen to one of his lectures.