The Technology Affair

December 15, 2009

In the post, “Have a Mind in Europe”, I wrote a note on technology. To refresh memories, I wrote that people in Europe understand technology, and that I would say more on it later.

It turned out to be much much later in the event.

Be that as it may, I stand (or rather sit) today pretty much an engineer. No, that’s going too far. Let’s rather say, I’ve completed a large chunk of my bachelor’s course in engineering. It looks like a large chunk of the rest of my life too is going to be spent doing engineering. And that means, having completed semester 7 of 8, I’m more or less vella. Vella enough to be reading my own old posts, and contemplating a topic for a new one. That’s when I re-read the aforementioned line, and thought, “So, almost-an-engineer, any new thoughts on technology?” Uh…

At the time I wrote the last piece, you see, I was just realizing that there was a fundamental difference between the way we perceive technology and how it’s seen in Europe, and wanted to write on that (what the billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles is wrong with this keyboard?! The cursor keeps automatically and quantum mechanically relocating itself (I just quoted a whole lot of different sources and it’s unlikely that you’ll know all of them, so don’t bother trying to figure it out (this nested brackets thing is fun.).).)

But at all events, Europe changed my perspectives on technology. Rather it changed my perception of what technology is. A 4-year old, if asked this question, would probably think of a rocket. And so would someone who’s spent 4 years at an IIT, just with more details thrown in about thrust and escape velocities. Meaning by implication that we’re just 4-year olds with knowledge of thrust and escape velocities (incomplete at that), but that’s off-topic, and we need to reach a conclusion at some point of time, so…

But the key to my room changed all that for me. An interesting little bugger. I lived on a “floor” of a house with 6 or 7 others and the room, floor and house all had keys. The interesting thing was that there was just one key for each person. The keys of all the house-residents opened the house door. The keys of all the floor-residents opened the floor door and each person’s key opened his or her room. So my key would open the house, my floor but not the other floors and my room but no other room in my floor. Quite a feat of design.

“I know,” said Joey, “It’s amazing, these little things open doors!” And I laughed at the poor moron. But looked at this way he’s right. It is amazing. If not amazing, then great engineering at any rate. And I started to notice how much “little engineering” permeated life. For instance, switches loaded with springs and timers on stairs, so you switched it on, and it would stay on for a while (giving you presumably enough time to navigate the stairway), and then switch off. Parking slot indicators to show where in a city parking is available. Et al.

To me this is as much engineering as rocket design. For me the mark of a truly brilliant creation is when (at least some) people start to take it for granted, and don’t notice it. Because that means it’s indispensable. Perhaps we should take a look at how much technology we use in our lives without thinking about it. Man-made wonders which we don’t notice anymore because they’re there. . And that’s today’s technology. Tomorrow’s will consist of everything the next generation won’t notice.

Maybe I’m the last one to realize this. But I think I don’t really give thanks for all the things I never notice. And I probably should. So this is it.

Have a Mind in Europe!

July 15, 2009

Travel is supposed to broaden the mind, et al. My incredibly narrow pedestrian gully of a dimag, though, had some odd responses to the European landmass. I just felt I should document them, in (roughly) chronological sequence. What purpose I expected that to serve, though, is something I still haven’t been able to figure out. (I really don’t want to stop all other traffic in this brain…)

  1. (On board Lufthansa LH-761 from New Delhi to Frankfurt) Damn this craft has cramped seats!
  2. (At Frankfurt Airport) Damn this is a huge airport! Where the hell is the long distance railway station?! (it turns out Frankfurt Airport has 2 stations and a metro stop. I nearly got lost twice before I got there.)
  3. €2.50 for a 500ml bottle of mineral water?! Are you kidding me?
  4. (When I felt, rather than saw, an InterCity Express whizz past me) I think that train is moving faster than my flight into Frankfurt.
  5. I’m hungry.
  6. (Upon entering my room for the first time) Where’s the frigging fan?! (It turns out Europeans don’t really believe in fans, which is screwed up, because it can get quite warm, as I found out)
  7. There’s stationery traffic on all 4 sides of the road! Who has a green signal? How can noone be moving?
  8. Dogs here are better behaved than people in India.
  9. Hey is that an Indian running across the street through a red light? What am I saying, of course it is.
  10. A little bit of spice in food never did anyone harm.
  11. Man, if only my mess could have as much variety as Mensa (which for the uninitiated, is what they call their paid mess in the university), life would be better.
  12. It took 1 hour to get  a library card, have it programmed to open the doors of my department, get a key to my lab, and a card for Mensa. And to think orientation in IIT took about 4 hours.
  13. (After about a week of eating my own food) I miss mom’s cooking…
  14. (After 2 weeks of cooking my own food) I’m not so bad at this after all!
  15. This fan thing is bugging me.
  16. ‘Excuse me, do you speak English? What am I saying, of course you don’t.’
  17. Now this is what I call good net! Having a premium Rapidshare account finally paid off.
  18. (On a trip to Switzerland, finding it full of people yelling to each other in Hindi and Telugu) Did India invade this place?
  19. (On aforementioned trip, at a popular tourist location, seeing a long line of Indians lined up outside a stall selling Indian food) Travel halfway across the world, only to stand in a queue to pay €6 for vada-pav. And they say we’re the most intelligent people in the world. My nation is doomed.
  20. (At a supermarket, trying to ask someone where the bread could be found) ‘Bread! Bread! BREAD!’ (mimicking eating a sandwich). ‘Ah! Buttertoast!’, comes the response. Finally some progress in communicating with the German on the street.
  21. (Watching a street musician play the piano) Man, people are musically talented here! And more importantly have the courage to try doing their own thing.
  22. (With ref. to 21 above) Wait a second. That’s the same digital piano I have.
  23. (Traveling in an Intercity Express) How am I ever, ever going to readjust to Indian Railways again? 48 minutes for 191 kilometers! Man, that’s insane! And far more important, the timing is  amazing most of the time. Rail travel is great here.
  24. (Listening to some bad drumming) I think this band would be better off with a drum machine. Clearly not everyone in Europe is equally musically talented.
  25. These people understand technology. (I plan to say more on this anon)
  26. I really need to work now.
  27. I mean I’m sitting in the lab and blogging.
  28. I really, really want a fan today. This is as hot as Madduland.
  29. Enough for one day, I think.
  30. Incidentally, my last post (“The Third Post”) was dedicated to Dela, whose remark was, “You call this a post?!” He was nice enough not to make this a comment though, for which I’m grateful.

The Third Post

July 11, 2009

Since my last blog ended on the second post, I decided to post again.

And also, someone asked me to post 2-3 times a week… will once every 2-3 weeks do?

A while ago, the High Court of Delhi made a decision that has already been talked about so much that people are bored of it. So I’m not going to add my 10 Euro-cents worth of spice into a dish that already has too many flavours in it. What did interest me, though, is that probably for the first time in the 60-odd years that India has been independent, the watchdogs of all the unnecessarily large number of religions in the country came out on one side, condemning in the “strongest terms” what they termed the “highly immoral” decision of the judiciary.

The optimist’s first reaction would probably be to celebrate the fact that the brahmins, mullahs and priests of our land, who have traditionally been all for Diversity in Diversity, have actually been able to see eye to eye on something.  Something in my mental make-up, though, has a strong aversion to such  boundless joy. If India is the melting pot of religions, then clearly the heat isn’t enough to mix the ingredients.

But India’s lack of unity isn’t what I wanted to talk about, either. I’d said quite a lot about that in my school days, when all the topics for elocutions seemed to be about the motherland, the ills plaguing her, and their remedies. All things designed to inject perforce a strong sense of (what right now seems to be false) patriotism into unsuspecting, impressionable adolescent minds. And people worry about kids watching fashion channels.

The first thought that occurs to me is that God is supposed to be present in the minds and hearts of people. (ref. the Moral Studies classes of my youth. Ironically, this was the one exam I never had qualms about copying in). Which begs the question:  what need for a mediator? What kind of a God will talk to you only through some human beings, who are possibly of as questionable a moral stature as anyone else? And for the God that does not, where does religion come into the picture?

Perhaps a look at history would provide some answers. Historically, religion arose in communities as a response to disorder. Religion was a way to maintain some degree of law in society, and it worked by claiming to invoke the wrath of various higher powers for disobedience. Religion therefore was on more of a practical plane than a spiritual one, and its role, at least in general society, was simply to hold societies together. Look at the tenets of religion, and it’s clear that the rules are guidelines for living. Where unity and protection were necessary, religion emphasises these. Where segregation was necessary, that is emphasised in its turn (as in some aspects of Hinduism). The incentives for a good life were stated to be a joyous afterlife, as opposed to burning in hell.

But the scenario has changed, since. Now, we decouple law from religion, now we separate the supernatural from the maintenance of our social order. And therefore the point of my writing. In such a social order, does organised religion play a role at all? To maintain society now, we have no real use of it. And what I observe now is that it’s so easy to exploit it. After all, anyone can claim that theirs is the “correct” interpretation of “laws” as specified in the “holy books”, and that it is therefore incompatible with current society’s rules. And it happens of course, as a quick glance at the newspapers will only be too happy to confirm.

I believe religion has served it’s purpose. It has served to create society in the form that we now recognize, and has served to advance the human cause for millennia. Now, however, as we strive to create a legal system that embraces new ideas, that attempts to meet the needs of the world as it exists today, that attempts to  be the law that we need to develop from here on out, that attempts to embrace all the millions of beliefs and lifestyles that people now have, religion, which- let’s face it- is really just an antiquated system of law, appears to be getting in the way. It is almost as if some small group of people suddenly declared Hammurabi’s System of Law to be the Universal Code, and went around harassing those poor lost souls who could not see the light, for their “own good”.

I, personally, have never been able to see a relation between religion and the superior powers, whatever one chooses to call them. All that I have ever been able to understand is that spirituality, literally meaning “of the spirit”, is personal in every sense- in the sense of accepting, rejecting, understanding, being unable to understand, or refusing to understand. The law on the other hand, is universal, and has arisen as a common consensus of a majority, on the way that they would like to live. And just like the law is no longer religion, religion too is no longer law.

And there is the rub. Because, the moment someone believes that there exists a law beyond the law, we’re in trouble. Unfortunately, a very large fringe of our society seems to think so and thereby, creates anarchy. And, may I add, defiles spirituality to boot.

Long Long Ago…

In a Galaxy (that at the moment appears) Far Far Away…

I too had a blog.

It had all of two posts, about 10 comments, and a nice, black background. The thing with a blog, though, is that one needs to write in it, in order that something appear on the blogscreen. And I, as High-chairman of the Committee of Laziness, found myself occupied with reading, rather than writing. And so it came to pass that I watched other blogs grow, flourish and expand, while my own never reached the magic milestone of the 3rd post.

It was only recently that I happened to read a friend’s blog early in the morning (don’t ask). Perhaps it was the fresh morning air, I always knew there had to be something unhealthy about a time when the air is cold but the sun is hot. Or maybe it was the fact that probably for the first time, I had dragged myself out of bed before 8:30 A.M. and made my coffee without dithering. Whatever the reason. There was the sudden rush of blood to the head that comes right before one makes either a huge life-altering decision, or a huge, life-altering mistake. And I decided to blog again.

The story continues…