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Do you believe in Railway Mutton Biriyani?

One group took a well travelled man's amazing story too seriously. It is by all means a very brilliantly told story incorporating his travel experiences across India and his urge to create a great epic soap opera called Ramayan. Of course, there might have been pressure from the publishers or the government, we may never know. The story involves a blue coloured super-human being. Hey, is it a coincidence that spider man, super man and many other  super-human characters are also blue coloured? Anyway, apparently he ruled this region when it was mostly forests and about the population of bangalore used to occupy the whole damn region. Talking birds, magical powers, flying machines, large scale battles with arrows producing flames when they hit each other while bands of monkeys fighting a band of demons and several morphing scenes will all be elements one would have to imagine while reading the story. But given we keep telling stories to ourselves to make sense of this place, and some stories have been around for too long, many tend to actually start believing these stories.

Another group thinks something to this effect: This sentence, by virtue of being a unique sentence, is a magic. These precisely worded sentences are therefore a miracle. This miracle has been performed by God, the one and only. He has a message for all of you. Now, kneel down and do what God has to say or he is gonna whack the shit out of you. To me, this is a very very clever, creative alpha male's story, frankly. In nature all alphas risk conflict and losing their position. Like all other species, humans too use clever methods that exploit the opponent's weaknesses in order to avoid direct conflict. It makes Energy Sense, certainly! So he figures out people tend to take stories too seriously and he starts out a story. "You know, I went up there to that mountain and I heard a voice...". Or maybe it was a prankster's seemingly harmless attempt to have some fun?

... and then there are the secular people. I think they realize their beliefs are as irrational as the others' beliefs. They just think, everybody has the right to their own imaginary friends. You know, someone you can keep talking to and asking for favours?

By nature, beliefs are irrational. I consider beliefs as needed assumptions in the game of life. The assumptions by themselves are alright, but ... not all edge cases are covered, is the most precise way to put the predicament. For the argument, It might be important to take my word if I said "There is a lion coming around the corner" in the wild because it might just be safer to "assume" my claim to be true and just flee than question my claim (and of course, have mechanisms in place to rank people based on whether those claims turn out to be true or false). But it is possible to sneak in a story through that same channel. Yes, I think that is a reasonable description of the Bug.

They say, the human body is structurally a bad design. It is more like a hack to let a four legged animal walk on two legs. The brain too seems to be a hack, I'd say. Humans seem to be more like robocop with a monkey body... and add this imaginary-creator-chip that you can talk to or use to rationalize away outcomes of this unpredictable world in order to keep the fuses from blowing up... and in some cases, i think they blow up to self destruction when they find existence in this pointless world pointless.

I think these people haven't tried eating that awesome Railway Mutton Biriyani at "Oh Calcutta".

Peak tamil film music

Music is said to be infinite. Atleast in theory, because its all about combining 12 different notes, add a dimension of meter that can further increase the possible perceived unique combinations to produce tunes. The theoretical possible combinations is so huge that its said to be infinite.

But, if there is really an infinity out there, why would a genius like A.R.Rahman take so many hours of work to produce music? I, for one, don't believe Rahman is any less talented than the maestros of the previous two generations. Instead, I think music is finite. Before you call my argument as mere hand-waving, let me pull up some graphs to prove my point.

The following show the number of movies composed for by each of the following music directors in a given year:

M.S.Viswanathan's yearly churn out
Ilayaraja's yearly churn out
Rahman's yearly churn out

Notice how Rahman's yearly churn out is hardly anything to talk about. Arguments of Rahman's music being of better quality and hence more time taken by Rahman don't fly in the face of the number of perceived hits per movie in comparison to most Ilayaraja or M.S.V's movies. Infact, I can also argue how the technology that was available to the composers of the yesteryears were far inferior in comparison to the gadgets at Rahman's disposal. Its not about technology.

... and please bear in mind, I'm a fan of Rahman too and am by no means trying to belittle his work. Just that, I think there is a systemic problem / reason to why Rahman isn't able to churn out as many hits as the composers of yore.

Is music really infinite?

To begin with, music is only theoretically infinite. Catchy tunes have certain characteristics such as simplicity of meter/notes. Once a simple tune has been made, it can't be made again (unless we're talking about Anu Malik or Deva).

Music can be compared to how Energy is important to today's industrial society. I'm sure I don't have to pull out examples of tonnes of movies that had record records sales but had the most predictable and crappily presented stories of all. This extreme importance brings with it a pressure to churn out more and unfortunately, my friends, tamil film industry peaked music production a long time ago.

Here is the above three legends' yearly churn out stacked together to show the exact phenomenon (summary below):

Tamil film industry cumulative (stacked) yearly scores

Notice how, as each music director starts reaching their all time peak or stays long enough in their peak boring people with their repetetive tunes (isn't that what Ilayaraja did in the 90s, churning out volumes but not as many hits?), the industry, akin to the free market, finds alternative sources of music. Typically, two giants co-exist, one declines while the other grows to their full possible capacity.

The history of the Tamil film industry and the oil industry, side by side
MSV is like the cheap and easy oil of Texas and a first systematic exploitation of (western) music to drive films as opposed to films being enjoyed for the story's sake. MSV peaked in the year 1974 with 30 films being produced in that year alone... It is important to remember that the recording technology that was available mandated a whole session to be recorded in one go, no multi-track mixing and UPS'es, forget synthesizers which were a thing out of reach for a relatively poor tamil film industry of the times! and then the Market found Ilayaraaja, a combination of genius and firm western classical fundamentals.

Ilayaraaja brought about a period of abundance and prosperity, akin to what the Saudi (and middle east in general) did to the world. People talked for a long time about how the senseless thing of writing songs that fit the music will not exist for long. But yet, he prevailed and ruled. He produced 50 films in the years 1985 and 1992 while producing his all time peak of 51 movies in the year 1990. Soon after reaching the Undulating plateau, the Export Land Model kicked in, as Ilayaraja went on to make two best seller private albums (How to Name it? and Nothing but Wind). This explains the dip in the amount of scores that were produced for the tamil film industry from the year 1986 to 1988. However, towards the end of his career, he attempted his best to sustain his yearly production, akin to what Saudi is doing today by injecting sea water into their oil fields... and eventually Rahman was found in a desperate attempt, a genius working away on ad jingles.

Rahman is more like the Tar sands and oil shales. Full of high technology and sheer brilliance that the whole nation celebrated him (while he celebrated the nation). Sure there is a lot of "theoretical volumes of music remaining to be extracted" but it takes a lot of effort and skill... and time. He is the tar sands, the oil shales and the deep water oil. Can't churn out as fast as what happened in the days of glory years. The peak is behind us by this time or so speaks the data.

In short, here is how I'd like to compare MSV, Ilayaraaja and Rahman in terms of our planet's oil history: technical complexity, ease of music availability and volume of output:

M.S.V. - the easy music

Ilayaraja - abundance exploited systematically with technology
A.R.Rahman - humanity's genius put to work in getting everything out possible!

I can hear you mumbling "But we still make a lot of movies today!".

Welcome to scarcity tamil film industrialism:
  • Most stuff that is made today don't last long in our minds. They're the equivalent of stuff produced in china, to be used and thrown because its more economical to do just that - its not of good quality anyway. Plus there is the inherent pressure and need for Growth! the tamil film industry is addicted to Growth as well! ;)
  • Infact, apart from very skilled producers like Rahman, everything is just recycle and reuse of old stuff (how many remixes from the past can you count?). Heard Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya? I think some songs were very close to an oil spill disaster ;)

Rahman is probably as great as Ilayaraja or MSV was (his accolades speak for the kind of genius he is), but he doesn't have much left to produce. Don't blame him, instead think about the finite nature of something we have been told is available in vast quantities. Its not about the amount of possible tunes available. Its about how much can be produced cheaply and in an economically viable manner.

PS[1]: Thanks to the existence of Its by far the most comprehensive site I found on the internet that contained information of all sorts about Kollywood, india's second largest film industry next only to bollywood (and I guess bollywood's prime source of musical talent and music of today :P). I counted the number of movies by music director. I could have perhaps crawled their site extensively but I guess I've already made the point by taking the statistically significant composers of all time? ;)

PS[2]: This post was inspired by a post of similar nature - The hubbert peak theory of rock
(continued from part 1)

I manage internet based applications and servers for a living. This part of my world works based on Chaos or Entropy. The interesting part of the job is that, the job itself isn't a necessity at small scales of operation (say, just one server which the only employee of the company can still take care of). The job becomes a necessity at scales where problems that you may or may not know could occur do not exist in sufficient volumes to mandate a solution, you typically, pick up your broken server and move on. Typically, when an internet-based company has reached a specific scale, it starts losing out sufficient volumes of money (or time or resources or data or whatever, its all the same god damned money still) due to these problems. The ones who prevail are likely those who open up a job posting looking for "Operations" people (people like me).

The mere joining of an operations engineer doesn't solve problems, nor is the operations engineer someone who has the time to sit back and understand how chaos works. We have a saying, "Make time by automating the solving of recurring problems". This post, I'm going to share a part of my world view on how man started solving the lowest hanging problems first to end up where he is today.

For a long time in man's history, the world remained a mystical, mysterious place. Its not hard to imagine how much of time one would be left with to study a phenomenon if all that they're doing is surviving and meeting basic needs.

Let's first define what a problem is: A problem, according to me, is anything that hinders the path dictated by purpose. In the above example of my job, the purpose is to ensure our servers are running all the time. To humanity at large, its the propagation of the species. To an economist, its probably to ensure continued Growth?

The most important of problems therefore to humanity must have been the stuff of essential needs - food/water and protection against creepy, crawly, scary, bity nature.

The early solutions

To the problem of survival, the early solutions looked like this:

stone tools for hunting

Clever for an ape-descendant species to pick and make stones that were sharp enough to bring food into a controllable state for consumption or to also bring down someone to whom one is food. That said, a hunter-gathered lifestyle doesn't give much of a free time, maybe only just enough to doodle up naked women in their toilets.

The agriculture link

Agriculture seems to have established itself around the world about 5000-10,000 years ago. The advantages of this solution to the problem of gathering food and thereby survival success are as follows
  • One doesn't have to run behind their food, although its probably less wholesome for a primarily carnivorous animal
  • One can settle down for longer periods of time, thereby copulating and populating effectively

Some Anthropologists say, Agriculture was first near the toilet, but we later started clearing up the woods to give agriculture a separate place for itself. Ever since Agriculture came about, it can be seen how our species just went about establishing a firm presence all over the planet by solving other problems that were only mildly killing the species in comparison to the problem of Food!

What is worth noting all along is that, as man solved each problem, it opens up some more spare time to solve other problems. The most valuable outcome of a problem being solved is the acquired knowledge / experience of how / why something thats part of this world works the way it does. The learning is a piece added to our world view.

Human constructed shelter is of course, another key invention. But then, its nothing to boast of.


Our collective world views adapted to the new found mechanisms of the world. For a long time, God was the general thats-how-it-works answer for most things unknown, but ever since Science came about, God's territory of explaining the world is being slowly overtaken by the scientific way of our understanding. When I say Science, I include everything from Aryabhatta to String theory, attributing all of that success to that one cool solution our species ever invented - food production and shelter.

Science works by reducing a given phenomenon into smaller aspects and studying each of them separately. Science is essentially Reductionism studied through a process that is designed to eliminate cognitive biases.

Science radically changed our collective world views. It sure changed mine! The world view, like I've mentioned in part 1, is a model, much like a computer simulation. The model serves the purpose of solving problems in order to get going with surviving in this complex world.

Today, the species seems to have done quite a good job. It figured that we can grow our own food in order to survive. then it went on to figure that food is energy. It also found out that fossils contain a hell a lot of energy and figured out clever ways to convert fossil fuels into food. All because, of a world view that was reinforced by effective problem solving.

Consider, for instance, the problem of transportation and humanity's ingenious invention which has quickly become the modern male's status symbol: the Motor Car. It solved a lot of problems such as shelter from erratic climate, protection from vandals, whole family transportation, etc., But its 'waste', CO2, is today looked at as a problem to be 'solved' given scientists have now have established human generated CO2's impact on the planet's climate. Its not that we didn't know CO2 isn't a green house gas when people started using IC engines. Just that, the limits of the planet's ability to absorb the waste become apparent only at certain scales. Plus, there are inherent delays. So it is important to understand the nature of our so-called solutions:

The nature of solutions

So we've looked at what problems look like and why its important to have an accurate world view in order to solve problems. But we seem to be running into further problems with certain solutions.

1. Solutions, which as we use go on to shape our world views, are ultimately made up of stuff, the raw materials, which comes from the very earth that also throws survival challenges.

2. Solutions also require time and energy in shaping / transforming the raw materials into stuff that is an embodiment of the solution. A while ago, it was energy produced through food cultivation and throw in a bunch of people to get things done.

3. Solutions also have wastes. Sure, there are likely useful by-products, but typically, until there is a separate need or until a waste becomes a harm, its not used and is typically just dumped into a sink. Either into the air, or into water or into landfills.

Each of these above, takes time and there is an inherent delay in everything from the process of making the solution replace the earlier problem-causing ways to letting its wastes sink into the planet to be studied for further problems.

The world views in our head tells us that limits have been overcome in the past (such as the Ozone layer depletion problem of the 80s and 90s). For most of this, the solution was to march ahead, allowing smart individuals to pick and solve each of these problems. A.K.A. the Free Market.

This has been done effectively for atleast the past 10-20 years now that the idea of Free Market shapes a significant part of people's world views. You can see the Free Market part of one's world view in action whenever you hear someone saying "Someone will solve it" or "When price points cross, alternatives will emerge". If someone says "There are no limits" this is not the Free Market part of the world view replying. Its actually the world-created-in-7-days-for-man-to-enjoy world view. But that world view is gone a long time ago.

Can the Free Market solve just about every problem? Is the world just a place full of problems to be solved?

Or is there no problem at all according to your world view?

(to be continued)

World Views - pt 1

As we grow up, we get a 'better sense of the world', or so we think. A new born entering the world starts attempting to make sense of the world purely through her senses, allowing the natural instinctual processes to dictate her actions. It seems, there is already some kind of an automaton at work. Hunger? cry. In a dangerous / inhygienic environment? Cry LOOOOOUUUUUDD (and bring the roof down if need be). Familiar people identified? smile, and so on.

But those are sufficient only to exist at such high levels of dependence and it is very important to grasp how their world works. For one's survival good, our thinking apparatus begin to construct a 'world view'. Its a model - much like how a car can be modeled in a computer and driven around. The purpose of the model could be to design the car or to hone driving skills. In order to focus on the purpose, the unwanted details must be left out. One need not worry about how the car's paint should be accurately modeled in a computer if the purpose of the model is to help improve the fuel efficiency or power or safety. So therefore, models are inherently reduced views of reality. The model is a quick, crude contraption, no way as complex as the real world, but it is very useful tool. It lets us understand the outcome, flashing indicators on the dashboard, helping us quickly take decisions to further the purpose.

Our brain too, builds a model of the world based on needs that ultimately tie in to the needs of survival. A shoe seller upon seeing a shoe reacts very differently in his thought patterns than a shoe designer or the consumer.

It is these unique models that we build out of one's unique experiences that gives rise to unique personalities. Even, many mammals can be seen to build such 'world views' based on their own experiences and thereby have differing personalities. For example, some dogs inherently love all people, including strangers. Some dogs *hate* the sight of strangers.

Parts of one's World view gets torn down and rebuilt sometimes. Parts of it remain "Work in Progress" and many parts just emerge to become more coherent and apparent. A farmer's understanding of "his world" of soil, climate, insects and plants is deeper than a computer engineer's understanding of the same.

One reinforces the views by telling stories which others digest to progressively update / improve parts of their knowledge. Some might discard the story if the story isn't coherent within one's world view.

But the world is inherently more complex than what our heads can model. There are queer people and there are quasars. There are Swami Ramdev babas and Business Tycoons touring the world on private jets.

(... To be continued in part 2)

Toy love

The result of my new toy is these pieces of toy love:



baby sleeping



something I'd dreamed about ever since 2002... please welcome, my shiny new Wacom Bamboo graphics tablet.

Hello World

Ship Wreck

Sailed ahoy, the ship master
kissing his family good bye
promising to return home
with fish from the seas high

... and so sailed a million men
with keen business acumen
the more we catch
the better we stay even

sure, growth is good
and it gives us our food
it is in our design
to say "All is fine"

metal claws scrape the floor
plastic nets arrest the panic
we don't feel a guilt
don't we do this with silt?

we catch what we want
and what we don't want

every god has told mankind
all is yours what you find
the fuel for a magic making mind

well, what the heck
we failed to honour our check
his ship is a wreck
the ocean is a wreck

(Inspired by Dr.Jeremy Jackson's powerful TED talk (and transcript) on "how we wrecked the ocean")

Right and Wrong

About 2 years ago, I'd posted a claim that by 2009, drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve will begin. At the time of my posting, there was no Obama. Mr.Bush, the tasteful, perhaps has a liking for wildlife... so, yeah, I was wrong - they haven't (yet) opened up the ANWR for drilling and its already mid 2010.

But... the very same Drill, Baby, Drill! message was sent home by Mr.Obama recently. Instead of ANWR, it is the offshore. Either ways, I was right about one thing, though: the signs of desperation are all over the place.

Apparently, the US govt study on Peak Oil was right. But apparently, it was wrong to convey the message to the public - atleast that's what's coming off the horse's mouth in an interview with Dr.Robert Hirsch.

Douglas Adams was right. There's something wrong with us indeed. One of my favourite ones from H2G2:

This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.

Many were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.

A new Open Source game

I wrote a game to illustrate peak oil and christened it "Oilsville". My hope is that people will now be able to grasp the phenomenon of peak oil - how any finite resource (or even a renewable resource stripped faster than it is being replenished) will peak with increased extraction and eventually start declining, no matter what improvements in technology are made.

The premise of the game is simple: There is a new oil field to be exploited. You got a rig (with configurable "size of the straw") which will start pumping out oil. Every well will start yielding lesser and lesser over time as the underlying geology dictates that the pressure must decrease. Larger sized rigs, as with reality, requires larger amounts of energy to operate and are also costly to operate. The only way to ramp up production is therefore to drill more. But the catch is... the more you drill, the closer you are to peaking production and you'd eventually reach a point where no matter how big your rig is, you cannot increase production! But given this is Oil Money, rest assured you'll be a millionaire oil tycoon!

Feel the frustration as you ramp up your fight against Entropy! :)

Here is a screenshot:

Oilsville Screenshot

I wrote this in perl ("sorta" Object Oriented Perl) using SDL for the graphics. This is available for free download as a source tarball as well as a deb. The deb is perhaps easiest to install (depends on libsdl-perl). I'm GPL'ing the source.

We needs your help!

I'm seeking volunteers, code contributors and hackers for the following things:
  • Port to Facebook - the core game is SDL agnostic so it should be quite easy to port, I believe. I'm specifically looking for hosting a Farmville contender (hence the name "Oilsville") :)

  • Port to windows - I'd ideally love to have a windows installer, much like what the Frozen Bubble folks have done.

  • Port to Flash - since I have registered, I'm looking for a flash version that can be played online - hosted on

  • ... of course, I'm willing to get surprised by new, creative applications of the code. The code is general enough to be used for any "peak anything" types game/simulation.


Anybody who helps with one of the three mentioned needs (Facebook, Flash, windows port) will get an (available) domain name of your choice along with hosting on for one full year!

Save the Planet

Oh, today is Earth Hour? That should be okay. I'm okay with turning off a few lights, but let's not turn off the Air conditioner, okay? 'coz It gets too hot in here.

Also, I hope you're not going to ask me to not drive my car. I'd like to cruise and hunt down Cafe lattes - the hunter instinct, you see :) Plus, I use premium grade refined petrol from SHELL in my car - so I guess it pollutes lesser and stuff!.. and of course, SHELL plants trees!

Television isn't considered "light", right? So we're good to watch IPL?

A friend of mine from Yahoo! once had a cool "Green" idea - how about we use both sides of the Toilet Paper?

Talking of saving the planet, I can't help but post George Carlin's video!