Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Caught some TV yesterday. Friends. Yeah, people exist who haven't watched Friends. Or they did, till yesterday.

One sequence reminded me of of a similar one from Frasier, where the dad has an extra $100 credit to his account. Miles asks him to return the money and he answers: 'Are you kidding? This is America. An entire nation built on the principle of finders keepers!'

Over to Friends, where one of the girls(don't ask me names, I don't remember) has an extra credit of $500 in her bank account. Someone asks her to go shopping with it, and she says, 'No, I can't. If I buy a pair of shoes with the money and I walk down the street in them, all I will hear as I walk is "not mine! not mine! not mine!'"

I think the Frasier joke was better.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

darkness at noon.

Started Koestler's Darkness at Noon yesterday evening. Yeah, its my old problem. Reading too many books together at the same time. But its interesting to read it side by side with Gorky Park. Both deal with the Soviet Union, but their heroes(or rather protagonists, as Rubashov, of Darkness, is not exactly heroic) cannot be more different. Arkady Renko is the man who refused to sell his soul. He is not burning with hatred for communism; he is probably too old and tired, and past all that. But he cannot take all that party and revolution and workers' paradise talk seriously. Its a farce to him. So he simply avoids anything to do with the party as far as possible, and sticks to his job as detective. That is a realistic potrayal of the closest one could come to dissidence in Soviet Russia.

Rubashov of Darkness at Noon is almost comical in comparison, with his faith in the future and how the Party will take the world to a new paradise.

When the novel starts he is locked up in a cell waiting for interrogation. He is finally caught in the net in one of the purges under No.1 (Stalin, I guess). So he broods intermittently over his past and over a toothache(Koestler very effectively uses the toothache as a symbol for his discomfort over things Rubashov did for the party in the past). And all through his brooding, he wonders about - and this is the theme of the book - whether the ends justify the means. This is supposedly the central problem in the book. But I think the way problems should be defined, it is a very badly defined problem.

For one, the ends, the way Rubashov describes them, are laughable. He believes that the revolution is 'with' the forces of history, and it will create a completely just society and a paradise on earth for the masses. Now, such ends- okay, this sounds a little too scientific- are not quantifiable at all! How do you measure the justness of a society? How do you know when you have reached a completely just one? Anyone who believes such ends is simply deluding himself, cos he himself will not know even if he has reached those ends. And even if he does, how will he prove it to others? Darkness is a good book if you want a peek into the mind of a failed Communist, but as a general book raising question of ends vs means, I think it fails.

To define a good 'ends vs means' problem, we need a situation where the ends can clearly be seen, be measured, to be good. Then we can think about the means. A science fiction work may define the problem more clearly.

Suppose you have a planet where people exist with two kinds of mutations. Some have one heart, some have two. Now, the people with one heart can live easily with one, but the people with two hearts, their bodies are used to twice the pumping since birth, can only survive if they have two hearts. Suppose a 100 people on this planet(all with one heart) are about to die of heart failure. Should you round up 50 2-hearted people (at random) and use their hearts for transplant, and save 50 lives on balance?

Ok, all that was a little creepy. But it attacks the means vs ends question with more clarity, cos at least you know the ends are measurably better. Not some vague workers' paradise in the future.

You can solve a tough problem, but what you can never solve is a badly defined problem. That is what I don't like about Darkness at Noon. It would have been fine if Koestler had stuck to depicting communism and why he hated it. But to set it up as an example where the means failed to justify the ends seemed taking it a little too far.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Gorky Park

Reading Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park. Had tried to read it when I was at Rourkela...couldn't finish it. Well, I was a kid then; this time, I think I will. Its a little ho-hum as a murder mystery. First thing, you do not even know the identity of the three people who were killed(they are discovered in Gorky Park, their faces carved off, their digits chopped off, so there is no identity), so you can't hatch conspiracy theories of your own. Second Renko(the hero) is so convinced that the KGB did it(who else?) , that you believe him, and so there is no mystery at all!

But the description of life in the USSR is v v good. There is one scene I loved, where Renko is at a party, and the hosts show him their new washing machine, 'top of the line' - one they waited 10 months for, where they could have got another model in 3 months, cos they wanted the best. Then they try to give Renko a demo and the machine breaks down. They almost bring the machine to pieces trying to fix it, but no, it doesn't work. Then as good hosts they ask Renko not to tell Natasha, who just got a new piece for herself. Unfortunately Natasha finds a loose knob from the machine lying around, and so they have to confess that the washer 'isn't quite working'. Natsha is not bothered:

' "That's all right. We can still show it to people." She seemed genuinely content.'


Friday, July 15, 2005

Well, I have been gone a long time. I kind of expected that. It is amazing I came back. Friday night and I am sitting in the lab trying to implement k-medoids clustering in MATLAB.

Well...I am not quite feeling myself. You can tell that by the fact that I am here on my own volition trying to write something. Normally I do not feel like writing anything. Quite a strange fact, considering my lifelong ambition was to become a writer....

Pluto went away and I am still not over that. I think back to him all the time. I think I had built him up to be something v big in my life while I was away from him for so long.

Pluto was eleven years old. I am still not sure if that is old enough for a dog. Everytime I hear of dogs that last/lasted beyond 11 years, I feel bad. But I think we took good care of him, while he was around.