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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 600024.com. 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

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 peakoilgame.com registered, I'm looking for a flash version that can be played online - hosted on peakoilgame.com

  • ... 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 NearlyFreeSpeech.net 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!

The web does reflect our collective consciousness. Google trends speaks for itself: Whether its for the term 'organic' or even the general term 'farming' - there seems to be a growing attention to food in news sources all over the web.

We met in June 2009 last at Cubbon park, I guess as part of the same ongoing trend around the world. We're meeting again!

The meet, as before, doesn't have a specific agenda except to share our experiences and ideas on (sustainable) farming.

Here's a brief glimpse of what happened last time:

  • Each person narrated their views of why they're into farming

  • Discussions on Challenges and Techniques (or non-techniques? :) )

  • Sharing references/whereabouts to informational resources on various farming techniques (both in cyberspace and meatspace)

  • Mr.Cheluvaraj gave Organic seeds to folks

... and this time, I'm giving the next-gen of the same seeds :)

Venue: Cubbon Park M.G.Road entrance (opp. Jewels de Paragon building)
Start time: 10:00 AM
Date: 28 Feb 2010

All Are Welcome!

PS: I'm bringing my dad who has accrued more knowledge and experiences (and has developed our farm too :) ) by several times in the process.
Pro-GM foods proponents claim that they need to solve the problem of the world's ever increasing populations. Most of the times, its the businesses themselves who lobby and help "educate" the people.

Here's a general thumb rule:

When a business claims something to be science and if that so-called science hasn't been peer reviewed in the scientific community, chances are ... it is pseudo-science. Time to put on your skepticism cap!

1. Understanding growth

What does the world population look like?

world population 1400 yrs

That linear ramp from 5000 yrs ago to today... Agriculture started 5000 years ago. Interesting.

The estimated population of the world is around 6,804,600,000. The estimated growth rate of today is a meagre 1%. Well, 1% of 6.8bn is 68 million (68,046,000). That's quite a lot of new people every year. In 5 years... there'll 7 times the number of people there were in 1900.

Will the solution then be to further keep tinkering with our crops' DNA to keep producing ever increasing amounts of food? The second law of thermodynamics doesn't like this... because our only source of energy is the sun. Even if the plants one day become 99% efficient in using the sun's energy, there is no way to ramp up the sun's light.

So... Growth is unsustainable on a finite planet. The argument "We need to feed ever increasing populations" is therefore only an excuse to buy out land and hold onto wealth. Your wealth.

2. Understanding the food production infrastructure

GM techniques is only about how the seeds are produced. Scale will require mechanisation and automation. Atleast to the extent of what is required as of today. As of today, most of the farm mechanisation equipment in the world is powered by diesel. There is an unsolved, gray-swan waiting to cast its shadow in the name of farm machinery. As long as I don't see an alternative to the ICE deployed in scale, food production is rather going to control populations - not the other way around.

3. Thin margin of error

We all see and hear about Shit Happening all the time. The problem with GM foods is:

1. No ideal "test" environment: Philosophically speaking, you'd need exactly another earth to simulate all the interactions in nature. Flood, drought, wind, sun, water, ecosystem, pollution... just way too many variables in the real environment. The laboratory is but a reduced view of the world. Nature is a complex system and reductionism misses synergetic emergent reactions / behaviors. Worse, experiments are carried out in a production system. As a production operations guy, I completely disapprove this ;)

2. Self replication: Theoretically, there is NO way GM can prevent a chance mutation from helping the GMO in overcoming Terminator technology and being able to reproduce. Once it multiplies, it grows.. and exponentially if the change is to it's advantage! For all you know, maybe that's why they built the Doomsday Seed Vault?

Joseph Tainter, in his book Collapse of Complex societies, argues that Societies exist to solve problems. Given that the theoretical number of problems that one can be challenged with is infinite, there is a point when societies can no longer process information to solve problems. To me, it seems like our Energy predicament will cut down our ability to sustain this information processing ability. Many a times, irreducible complexity is achieved by means of division of labour. However, that means, everybody stops being a generalist. So when one fails (ex: food production), everything fails quickly.

Whether GMO is good for health or not, I can't say. But it sure looks like a recipe for Collapse given the high risk and the nature of problems being tackled!

The fallacy behind the GM argument is due to ourselves - it stems from our very nature - our inflated egos and the over confidence in our ability to solve problems.