Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Only connect

Nerd trivia.

What is common to the alphabets x, q, z, and i, in the context of the Internet?

Answer: If you type x,q, i or as the URL, it works. No, the other letters don't.

There are six single-letter domain names on the internet, which were registered before ICANN refused to distribute any more in 1993. They are, for Qwest Communications; owned by PayPal (it still works); for Nissan's Z cars;, a domain name registration company;, for Q Networks; and for the X.Org Foundation.

ICANN stopped giving out single-letter second-level domain names in 1993, because it was afraid that 'two-dot' domain names may not be enough to cover all the websites in the world, and it may need to use these single letter domain names to introduce another level (eg,: ).

More nerd trivia.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Math is War

Reductio ad absurdum, which Euclid loved so much, is one of a mathematician's finest weapons. It is a far finer gambit than any chess play: a chess player may offer the sacrifice of a pawn or even a piece, but a mathematician offers the game.

-G. H. Hardy (A Mathematician's Apology)

Wow. Hardy sure knew how to write.

Incidentally, this sounds even better in Bollywood hindi/urdu ;) : "shatranj me khiladi to bas ek pyanda ya ek mohra daanv pe lagata hai. Par Euclid wo shaqs hai jo saari baazi daanv pe lagaya karta tha."

PS: No disrespect to Hardy, of course.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Story my professor told me

An engineering and a mathematics professor go on a camping trip. And because they did not consume enough Ramen in grad school, they carry a couple of packets with them, so they can have some for breakfast as well as dinner. Every morning and evening one of them has to light a fire, go down the hill they are camping on to get water from a river, boil Ramen in the water, and then wash the Ramen pot back by the river.

The first night the mathematics prof does everything according to plan. He lights the fire, gets the water, cooks Ramen, then washes the pot and brings it back. The next evening, its the engineer's turn, and he decides to do his friend a favor. He covers the dying evening fire with brush so its easy to relight in the morning, and he brings back water in the pot after washing.

The mathematician wakes up promptly at six. He notices the water in the pot, and the dormant fire. He promptly throws out the water, and extinguishes the embers. Rubbing his palms together with satisfaction, he says: "Now that reduces it to a problem with a previously-known solution."

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A friend blogs about what he aptly calls the Gowda circus ...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

If I were called in to construct a religion...

Philip Larkin reads his poem Water.

The text is here.

Few poems showcase Larkin's technical mastery as this poem. He sounds facetious when the poem starts: whoever gets called to construct a religion? The second line seems even stranger, and you wonder if he has any idea what he is talking about. But when the poem ends, merely twelve lines later, and only thirty seconds in his reading, he has already moved from his inane premise to build the sense of a religious experience.

Like many agnostics, Larkin had a clearer conception of what religion tries to answer, than the very religious.

There is one poem where he does it even better, his celebrated High Windows . Who else could write a poem that starts with the f-word, and ends in a church, and so convincingly?

Friday, November 10, 2006

I work all day, and get half drunk at night...

The last poem Philip Larkin wrote was Aubade. An aubade is a special kind of poem, about two lovers separating at dawn. Larkin wrote his aubade to life. There is an audio recording online of him reading the poem. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.

For the visually inclined, here's a video of Alan Bennett reading Aubade, set to New Order's 'Your Silent Face'. But be warned, Alan Bennett is an excellent actor, but there ain't nothing like Aubade in the old man's voice himself :) .

And simply because I love it so much, I'll copy the poem below.

I work all day, and get half drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
- The good not used, the love not given, time
Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never:
But at the total emptiness forever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says no rational being
Can fear a thing it cannot feel, not seeing
that this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no-one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

The poem's sense of depression is almost numbing, and not for everyday, but when Keats said that truth is beauty, few poets took him seriously, but Larkin did. His poems always saw life 'plain as a wardrobe', and when he faces death, he cannot see it any differently.

What is strange is, what is Larkin doing in a Crowded House video?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Taal sa hilta raha man

Dhar gaye mehndi rache
do haath jal me deep
janm-janmo taal sa hilta raha man

baanchte hum reh gaye
geetbandhuo ki vyatha
le gaya chunkar kamal-
koi hathi yuvraj
der tak shaival-sa hilta raha man

jangalo ka dukh
taton ki traasadi
bhool, sukh se so gayi-
koi nadi
thak gayi ladti hawaon se
abhaagi naanv,
aur jheene paal-sa hilta raha man

tum gaye kya-
jag hua andha kua
rail chhuti, reh gaya keval dhua
gungunate hum bhari aankhen-
phire sab raat,
haath ke rumal sa hilta raha man.

- Kishan Saroj

I had been planning to translate it to english, but I don't know if it will work in a translation. Definitely not in one by my hands.

You can read the poem in devanagri here .
The fonts can be downloaded here .

Friday, November 03, 2006

Dawkins clips again (Haggard and Al-Khatab)

I did not know that Dawkins had done a BBC documentary, The Root of All Evil? in January 2006. This clip, that seems to be all over with the recent evangelical scandal, tipped me off. The most fascinating part of the clip is the pained expression on Dawkins' face, as Haggard bludgeons him to silence by the sheer arrogance of his humility.

Searching for other clips, I found this one about an interesting character called Yousef al-Khatab, aka Joseph Cohen, a secular New York Jew convert to Islam.

Dawkins is remarkably patient with him, but loses it in the end.

Yousef: ...Correct yourself, fix your society, fix your women.
Dawkins: Fix my women! Its not my business. Its my women's business.
Yousef: When you take women and dress them like whores on the street...
Dawkins: I don't dress women. They dress themselves!
Yousef: But you allow women to go on the streets dressed like this. What's going on with your society?

So he grew up in New York, and does not realize that men cannot 'fix' women? The good thing about being a fundamentalist is that, when you lose an argument, you do not even know it.

But what was saddest was the lost expression on Dawkins' face, as he tried to reason with these men, and failed each time. I don't know if he ever was naive enough to imagine he could use modus ponens with these people, but this sure looked like a learning experience for him.

I was getting bored with Dawkins' god-baiting, but now I think he is really doing us a favor.

Match Point

"It would be fitting if I were apprehended... and punished. At least there would be some small sign of justice - some small measure of hope for the possibility of meaning."
I liked Match Point, what seemed like Woody Allen's interpretation of Crime and Punishment. Though the movie does not see any final redemption for its Raskolnikov. As a character scoffs: 'Faith is the path of least resistance'.

It does come across as pretentious at a couple of points, but I am willing to tolerate a hint of pretension, so long as a movie is interesting.

The Woody Allen movie I disliked was Manhattan, which was pretentious about quite stupid things.