Of a Higher Life.

Sometimes it feels as if we are each destined for greatness. But life, relationships and circumstance forces us to settle into mediocrity. There is no greater tragedy than the human soul. It suffers because it cannot soar. It slices itself into pieces for the sake of others’ happiness. It suppresses its laborious spirit to do menial work which doesn’t change the world or carry one’s name into the future.

What will the future remember us as? Just another set of numbers? Ten million lived in that city. Seven billion were alive in 2015. Two million used Facebook every day of 2017. Six hundred worked in that company on that date. What is the point of living like a number? Where is the infinity which is we promised ourselves when we came to this life? Even the daughter of a refugee dreams of a life in which more than a few dozen know her name. Why, then, do those of us who have it in our hands to let go of this world, which will breed nothing other than more of us, always choose to let this pitiful existence bleed us dry? Why do we settle for the nothingness that defines the majority of us? Why is each one of us not a gem? Is the human race nothing but a few geniuses dispersed amidst the 99.7% who are nothing more than monkeys with keyboards?

We are never solving cancer with our day-to-day work. Nor are we exploring the farthest reaches of human knowledge with every step. Much like clerks copying notes for more important personnel, a majority of us in the workforce are simply providing services for the benefit of others. Our personal motto is nonexistent and the companies we work for are nothing more than money-making machines. Why? Why is there just one champion of the human spirit in each generation? Why is everything you do every day not the stuff of legends? We live in the most prosperous of times. Yet our acts are nothing but selfish attempts at elongating our present instead of forcing the future to remember our existence.

We’ve seen that cities come and go, empires rise and fall, humanity picks up the pieces and moves on. Can you truthfully say that if today is doomsday, those who pick up the pieces will pick up your name as one of those who changed humanity? Will they teach your life to their children as a lesson in the eternity of the human spirit?

In other words, as of today, are you a part of the infinity or the infinitesimal?

Let’s talk about Tor

Teleread recently covered how the New Hampshire Public Library turned its Tor Relay back on, despite warnings from local law enforcement that although the router itself isn’t illegal, it will likely be used for illegal purposes. The article points out that Tor is an important service because, keeping aside the negatives that come from total anonymity, it provides political dissidents a way to bypass censorship. This is important for the growth of democracy in all countries around the world.

There is, of course, the other side – that Tor is used by a wide variety of undesirables who use it for nefarious purposes using the blanket cover of anonymity as a defense against possible government intervention. In that sense, Tor is kind of like torrents. You can download every open-source Linux distro ever created using torrents, but most people are probably just downloading pirated content off it. Continue reading

8 years of blogging

I missed a rather important anniversary over the weekend. I just noticed that WordPress wished me a few days ago for being with them since 8 years. Of course, I’ve been writing since long before that, but most of my writing was read only by my family and the greatest achievement of my writing then was when my parents published my writing in a small book which they presented to me on my birthday. With blogging, I was still being read mostly by my family, but online and I had a sense of achievement in that I was hitting publish every time I completed a blog post, thereby putting it out there for everyone to read, if they so chose to.

My earliest blog is on wordpress.com here. I have tried a variety of platforms over time but WordPress just seems to be the right one for me. Of course, I left that blog some years ago and came to nitinkhanna.com (by way of blog.nitinkhanna.com) and self-hosted WordPress. But all that matters is that on-and-off, here-and-there, I was writing and I was publishing. I seem to have been able to average a post per month or so, though please don’t hold me to that standard (my last post here was more than a month ago and I’ve not had much to write in that intermediate time). But I am proud that I have a cumulative 1,37,361 words published on my blog (with some 66 posts sitting in drafts) Continue reading

The Secret History of Blah

Let us begin.

The world is full of interesting things. Wonderful creations that change your lives, make it easier to reach for the stars or talk to your loved ones. There are countless people toiling away in garages, labs, offices, and corners of public spaces, working on their masterpiece. They will soon release their creation into the world and you will wonder, “how was that even made? What was the process of the creation of this marvelous thing?” Continue reading

A note about rain

I was not able to sleep properly a few weeks ago. It was weird. I felt sleepy, but my normal routine of keeping my eyes closed and clearing my head of all thoughts didn’t help. I began to feel restless. So I looked towards other means that could calm me and lull me into a deep peaceful sleep. The pitter-patter of raindrops is a soothing sound that always helps me. I tend to associate rain with the idea of a sleepy summer afternoon, where I tend to drowse off regardless of what I’m doing.

I turned to my phone and looked up the rain sounds apps. I have 3 such apps installed on my phone right now. My favorites – Thunderspace and rainymood are not on my phone right now. Instead of downloading them and wasting precious sleeping time, I decided to give the other ones a go. The latest one, “Raining – relax yourself“, has a few presets – Summer rain, Dripping rain, Forest rain and Rain on window. I like the sound of rain on a window but it’s not exactly my favorite. I tried all the presets but didn’t like any of them. Remind me to delete that and make some room for Thunderspace. Continue reading

कुक्कुराणां वनं

Every once in a while, we ask ourselves, “Why the heck did I ever waste my time on that?” Two of the prime candidates for that question for our generation are Calculus and Sanskrit. Two years of Calculus and two years of Sanskrit seem to be too much of a waste to me.

Now, the first, even I understand. I know no one who uses Calculus. I’ve not used it once since I got out of Engineering and even in there, most of the work purported to be done by hand was deftly dealt with by my calculator. But the latter, well, is more of a mystery. There’s a peep every now and then about Sanskrit. It’s in the news either because the German government is doing too much for it or because the Indian government is doing too little. Either because someone discovers some long-lost formula in those dusty tomes that seems to prove that all math and science in the world was first developed by Bharat or because somewhere or another, I find reference of oddities and extremities that I didn’t know about our motherland (I enjoy wikisurfing far too much). Continue reading

“Which way to Svoboda?”

I was reading a BBC news report of how, recently, pro-Russian sites are popping up in the Czech web sphere, which could allude to some serious USSR-style propaganda. The article referenced the 1968 Prague Spring, which was when the then Czechoslovakia government tried to establish reforms which would lead to freedoms to the press and private sector, the division of Czechoslovakia into Czech Republic and Slovakia and a general upliftment of the people who were suffering cruelly under the rule of the Soviet Bloc. Needless to say, Soviet Russia didn’t take kindly to this and, along with their friends of the Warsaw Pact (Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and East Germany) attacked Czechoslovakia to take back control.

Of course, they won. Even with the way things were under the USSR, they had tanks, weaponry and manpower and Czechoslovakia had, well, a leader who told his people not to resist. But resist they did. Without the necessary means to win the war, they resisted in the only other noble way – confound the heck out of the enemy. In the most peaceful way, road and street signs across the country were painted over or removed so as to completely confuse the incoming force.

The result was hilarious. Supposedly, one could see troops stopped in rural areas trying to study maps and making sense of how every village they’d visited was called either Dubček or Svoboda (which means freedom). Road signs were painted over, except those that led to Moscow. The result of that was that an invading force from Poland spent a day roaming around before being routed out of the country, empty-handed.

Now, these reports come from Wikipedia and further from two separate sources, but I’d say you should take them with a grain of salt regarding their veracity. However, the point to understand is that in those days, it was possible to confound an incoming force by the sheer ingenuity of changing your road signs and hiding all the maps. Of course, today’s military will simply whip out their iPhones and tell you where to invade next. But this episode lends importance to the idea that with the accumulation of power so dependent on finding your enemy, it is important to also control the means of finding the enemy in the first place. This is obviously the reason why countries like Russia, China and India as well as the EU are working to create their own version of the GPS system (which, mind you, is owned by the US Government).

Clearly, in tomorrow’s war, one of the first efforts will be to either block the enemy’s signals, thereby preventing them from finding our accurate locations. The other, more radical one, would be to try to shoot down their navigation satellites, a scenario that has given birth to more science fiction movies than we care to admit.

But, going back to that wondrous time when people still had to use maps and ask for directions from locals, I must say that it is remarkable that someone thought of the simple idea that perhaps one way of stalling the enemy is to paint over the signs which will tell them how to get to the capital. That’s your trivia for the day.

Solving the ten thousand year problem

While writing a short story today, I started thinking about an issue that I discovered last year. The story is set in the far future, where the dissemination of knowledge has changed so vastly that the idea of a printed page is absurd. I’ll be publishing it in the coming hours. But, as I was writing it, I started thinking about how much our culture and language will change in the next ten thousand or so years, let alone over the next hundred thousand years. That reminded me of an interesting thing I read last year – “Ten Thousand Years”.

Out in the New Mexico desert, stands a government building with a single task – to permanently store nuclear waste from the US’ various nuclear power plants, for at least the next ten thousand years. The date is so chosen because supposedly, thinking beyond that time frame is too mind-boggling to consider. It has nothing to do with Jeff Bezos’ Long Now Foundation, which is building a ten thousand year clock, thought it might as well, because both ideas are equally interesting and convoluted.

Now, one of the issues that the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico is facing is that of language. Since the last ten thousand years, so much has changed in humanity, that the idea that the same language, the same symbols, and the same myths that protect us today will remain even then, is a non-sequitur. English is constantly fighting to be the language of choice while Spanish, French and Chinese are growing their user base. Symbols such as the skull-and-bones are adapted, first by real-life pirates and then by digital pirates to change their meaning completely, transforming something that indicates danger to something indicating excitement and even fun. Even myths change and long-loved black cats are suddenly considered evil and the number 13 bounces around as something lucky, then not.

Thus, assuming that a sign board at the gates of the WIPP, written in English and a battery of other languages, along with ten different types of warning symbols, should be enough to deter people from entering the premises, is foolish. This is one of the smaller issues that the WIPP is facing.

So what’s the solution? While I was pondering on the course of the story, I realized that the answer would have to be a mixture of ingenuity and technology. This is how I believe the problem can be solved –

We need to build a system that’s not just fault-tolerant and self-healing, but also intelligent enough to learn about it’s surroundings. While it may seem enough to place a settlement of scientists nearby who would constantly watch over the plant, recruit future employees and ensure the safety of the rest of the land, humans have a distinct habit of dying, moving away, letting emotions come in the way of logic and duty, and overall being bad protectors of the environment. So, the solution would be to build a system that can be initially supported by humans but must eventually stand on it’s own feet. This Gatekeeper would not just prevent people from walking into the compound, but also learn new languages, understand symbols and changing economics and governmental systems and ensure that no one disturbs the deathly sanctity of the place it protects. It would be able to access the Internet and learn of new technologies to replace it’s old ones. It would learn languages and add them to it’s database, essentially creating a bookmark of human history as it goes about it’s business of preventing nuclear waste from getting out of this burial place. This would have to be a highly fault tolerant system, able to quickly analyse any potential issue such as maintenance, earthquakes, failing parts and changing technologies in order to ensure its continued service. I think only if we are able to build such a powerful system can we promise ourselves that such a dangerous material can be protected over the next ten thousand years.

Or, we could just drop it into a volcano and hope that thing eats it all up.

Word of the Day: illiberalism

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, illiberalism, quite simply, is the lack of liberal values. But that begs the question, what is liberalism? Is it the ability of a community to be forward thinking and self-critical? Is it the incessant forward march of a government without caring for the social, political and emotive values of its peoples? Or is it the protection of the freedom of expression of an author writing about a sensitive topic with the backdrop of a community to which he does not belong? Hindustan Times certainly believes in the last definition.

First, it shows that it is not only the sangh parivar or Islamic organisations that are at the forefront of such illiberalism.

Source: Liberal values are being trampled upon in Tamil Nadu

The issue at hand is that the author Puliyur Murugesan wrote a bookBalachandran Enra Peyarum Enakkundu (I am also known as Balachandran), about the life and troubles of a transgender, who is sexually harassed throughout life and faces an upward battle of identity. The protagonist belongs to the Gounder community and by now, you would have guessed where this is going.

The Gounder community decided to take offence to this ‘insult’ to their people and instead of rationally sitting down with the writer and asking for edits to the story or a total redaction, decided that the better course of action would be to abduct the author and brutally beat him up in the middle of nowhere. To add insult to literal injury, the police has filed a case against the author for provoking a riot, writing and circulating obscene content, selling a book containing defamatory matter, intentional provocation of breach of peace and causing fear or alarm to public. Wonderful, isn’t it?

HT, in their laconic article, asked an interesting question – why is it that only current authors face the brunt of such injustice? Why do authors such as Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, the acclaimed author of Devdas, who “had made uncharitable remarks about some non-Bengali Brahmin clans”, not face such public ridicule and outrage? Perhaps, if it were in fashion, political parties and illiberal communities will also start attacking famous people from India’s history books. Oh wait, they already do!

A response to NYTimes’ OpEd on Religion in India

The New York Times has published a Christmas OpEd piece (yesterday online and today in print) that talks about religious intolerance in India and how ‘hindu militants’ are forcing conversions of Muslims and Christians and has blamed our PM, Narendra Modi for not doing enough to stop this and other attacks.

Initially, I wanted to write a long and deeply researched rebuke of this kind of hypocrisy, but I’d rather let a picture say a thousand words –

Continue reading