Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Value of Travel

In today's excerpt from Kent Nerburn's book Letters to My Son, delanceyplace.com highlights the value of travel, whether physical, spiritual or mental--and the value of taking risks:

"Because I have traveled, I can see other universes in the eyes of strangers. Because I have traveled, I know what parts of me I cannot deny and what parts of me are simply the choices I make. I know the blessings of my own table and the warmth of my own bed. I know how much of life is pure chance, and how great a gift I have been given simply to be who I am. ...

"If we don't offer ourselves to the unknown, our senses dull. Our world becomes small and we lose our sense of wonder. Our eyes don't lift to the horizon; our ears don't hear the sounds around us. The edge is off our experience, and we pass our days in a routine that is both comfortable and limiting."

Kent Nerburn, Letters to my Son

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

You've been invited

Over the last few months I've received invitations from people I've never heard of belonging to social networks I've never heard of either.

I have been asked to join Yaari, Doostang, Spock, Spoke, Blue Chip Expert, Friendster, Facebook and Orkut. I've also received invitations from hi5, Ringo and Plaxo.

Of course I need a username/password for each of these services who believe they are providing a unique value proposition to me. And another oddly-name company - yodlee.com offers to help you aggregate all your username/passwords for your financial institutions.

The NY Times' David Pogue had a recent column on the Dr.Seuss inspired dot-com names has a link to dotomator.com in case you are inspired to start your own Web 2.0 startup.

May the force be with you - go forth and create your own domain !

Friday, December 21, 2007

List of lists

It's the end of the year and magazines are throwing out their lists of successes and failures. In the spirit of the season, these are a few of my favorite things:

Fortune's list of 101 dumbest moments in business Among them:

Nine-year-old Shea O'Gorman sends a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs suggesting ideas for improving her beloved iPod Nano, including adding onscreen lyrics so people can sing along. She gets back a letter from Apple's legal counsel stating that the company doesn't accept unsolicited ideas and telling her not to send in any more suggestions.

It's not brain surgery - The state Department of Health fines Rhode Island Hospital $50,000 when, for the third time in less than a year, one of its doctors operates on the wrong side of a patient's head.

In a cost-cutting move, Circuit City lays off all sales associates paid 51 cents or more per hour above an "established pay range" - essentially firing 3,400 of its top performers in one fell swoop. Over the next eight months Circuit City's share price drops by almost 70%.

The New York Times' list of the Top 10 Books of the Year and the best movies of the year.

Businessweek has it's list of the best business books of 2007.

Newsweek's best movies of 2007, best action movies and best books of 2007.

The search engine's have their Top 10 lists too: the top query on Google was iPhone and surprising Club Penguin (more about this in a subsequent post). Not surprisingly, Yahoo's users were more interested in the Spears family and actresses. Ask.com's top 10 searches included MySpace and Google (why would you go to a search engine to search for information about another search engine ?)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Number Plates from California

I often walk/drive around with a cellphone-camera and have been taking photos of number plates that piqued my interest.
My on-going photo collection is available on Picasweb. Some of these have been taken through the windshield of my car while waiting at a traffic light - yes I'm one of those multitasking people your driving instructor warned you about ;-).
My favorite one is a Hummer's number plate that claims 20 MPG.

Product Reviews on Amazon

Peer reviews are often a great source of inputs on the purchase decisions which most of us make. In some cases the reviews attract much more attention than the product themselves.

An Amazon user's review of the BIC ballpoint pen

"Today is the fourth day of ownership of my pen, and I have to say I'm starting to treat it like an old friend. ..In summary, I would happily recommend this pen to anyone who is planning on writing on paper."

This review about a duck called Ping "describes networking in terms even a child could understand, choosing to anthropomorphize the underlying packet structure. The ping packet is described as a duck, who, with other packets (more ducks), spends a certain period of time on the host machine (the wise-eyed boat). At the same time each day (I suspect this is scheduled under cron), the little packets (ducks) exit the host (boat) by way of a bridge (a bridge). From the bridge, the packets travel onto the internet (here embodied by the Yangtze River)."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

What is the Meaning of Life ?

When the weather is cold and it gets dark by 4:30 PM at the end of the year, thoughts turn to the meaning of life.

Does the universe have a purpose or is it a random collection of sentient organisms with no higher purpose than being born, living, reproducing and dying ?

From an engineering point of view this seems to be a very inelegant solution and a colossal waste of resources for no perceivable returns. And in financial terms, what is the return on investment for the Creator ? Why are we here and what is our objective ?

Saying that we are here to "realize God" seems a very facetious answer which raises more questions than it answers. Why did "God" send us here ?

Over the years, I've seen many explanations.

The answer is 42 says the computer Deep Thought in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
"I checked it very thoroughly," said the computer, "and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is."

While the Hitchhiker's Guide is good for few chuckles, this is a question that's been addressed by many of the greatest minds in India.

Swami Sivananda says:

"This is an Ati-prasna or transcendental question. You will find this question coming up to your mind in
various forms: When did Karma begin? When and why was the world created? Why is there evil in the world? Why
did the Unmanifest manifest itself? And so on. The same question is asked by Rama in Yoga Vasishtha and
Vasishtha says: "You are putting the cart before the horse. You will not be benefited by an enquiry into
this question at all. Meditate and realize Brahman. You Will then know the answer to this question. The
problem itself will have dissolved by then". No one can answer this question. When Knowledge dawns, the
question itself vanishes. Therefore there is no answer to the question at all.

The Brahma Sutra says: Lokavat Tu Lila Kaivalyam. It is only to pacify your doubt. It is really not an
answer; for, there can be no answer. Yet, the question will arise in the case of every seeker after Truth.
You cannot help it. You will have to use your discrimination, pacify the doubt, and then through
intense Sadhana and meditation, realize God. Then the doubt will vanish. A great Yogi was worried with this
doubt for twelve years. Then he told me: "The worry is over now. It troubled me for twelve years. I could not
find an answer. So I have given up that pursuit and have taken to meditation, Japa and Kirtan. Now I find
peace and progress". Faith in the Guru, in the Grant Sahib, Kirtan, Japa, meditation and practice of
righteousness— these will enable you to progress in the spiritual path and will take you to That where
there is no questioning possible."


According to Swami Ashokananda

If you ask, 'But how did this illusion come about originally? If there is only one reality, how could there be an illusion of manifoldness?' then they answer, 'In ignorance there is no consistency'. How do we mistake one thing for another ? Do we do it rationally ? If it were rational, then we would not have made any mistake. That we have made a mistake means that it is an irrational, an inexplicable something. If you then say, as some have, 'The illusion always exists as opposed to pure divinity,' then you are forced to accept the position of a dualist, although of a different kind, it is true. The answer is simply this – when you find the truth, ignorance vanishes. Then you do not say ignorance is one reality and truth is another reality; you never think that. Ignorance is ignorance, and you never put it under the same category as truth or the real.


Swami Vivekananda's Paper on Hinduism at the Parliament of Religions in September 1893:


Why should the free, perfect, and pure be thus under the thraldom of matter, is the next question.

How can the perfect soul be deluded into the belief that it is imperfect? We have been told that the Hindus shirk the question and say that no such question can be there- Some thinkers want to answer it by positing one or more quasi-perfect beings, and use big scientific names to fill up the gap. But naming is not explaining.

The question remains the same. How can the perfect become the quasi-perfect; how can the pure, the absolute change even a microscopic particle of its nature? But the Hindu is sincere. He does not want to take shelter under sophistry. He is brave enough to face the question in a manly fashion; and his answer is: 'I do not know.' I do not know how the perfect being, the soul, came to think of itself as imperfect, as Joined to and conditioned by matter.' But the fact is a fact for all that.

It is a fact in everybody's consciousness that one thinks of oneself as the body. The Hindu does not attempt to explain why one thinks one is the body. The answer that it is the will of God is no explanation. This is nothing more than what the Hindu says, 'I do not know.'


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pale Blue Dot



Carl Sagan on our home:


We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

Monday, December 03, 2007

A week in Bangalore

Your correspondent reached Bangalore spending almost 19 hours on a Boeing 747 from San Francisco to Bangalore via Frankfurt. After landing at the unearthly hour of 1:23 AM we got a scenic tour of the airport from the plane. When you spend 40 minutes on the runway because the plane has no place to park, you know the traffic is bad.

Although the airport seems to be frozen in the Nehruvian past, the airlines have been rushing to offer innovative services to travelers. Air Deccan allows you to purchase tickets via SMS. Kingfisher's ground staff walks around with a wireless terminal helping passengers to check in and print out boarding passes without waiting in line.

Traffic in Bangalore has rapidly outpaced the infrastructure available, although I've heard that the Golden Quadrilateral has speeded up inter-city connectivity.
Bangalore now has an Inner Ring Road, an Outer Ring Road, a Peripheral Ring Road. All it needs is the One Ring to connect them together.

The only thing worse than arriving at 1:23 AM in Bangalore is departing at 3:20 AM from Bangalore - you're jet lagged even before departure, but on the bright side there's no traffic while getting to the airport.