I'm not alone. I'm just lost. I know where I am. I know where I'm going. I know this way, I've walked these paths before. I know where they lead. But I'm lost.
At a familiar crossroad again. Been here before, taken all the forks, gone the full distance, come around full circle and back to square one. Moved over, settled down, played around and even took the detour - from there to here and back. But my heart whispers that somewhere up there, is there a path I skipped, which takes me away and hides me away.
A way forgotten, in haste or carelessnes. There must be a way - I need to find a way to cut a path across the hills and valleys of life. Passing the crests and troughs like a rough rollercoaster ride of emotions. Travel alone, but arrive together.
Or maybe just pass by. In this vastness of our lives, we pass each other by - a look and a voice. A light and a signal, then the darkness and a silence. And yet again. Crossed paths and meandering routes marking our journeys across this lanscape of existence. There must be a plan, a map to consult, a compass to travel with and the stars to guide you by.
But this is not the map I need. Directions are not what I need, I need a destination.--
Predestination was doomed from the start.
There is not one life which does not end. There were days when I was afraid of death, not because mine was next. But to lose a friend, a father or a mentor - to feel the loss that would stay alive. Death does scare me so, because of how ordinary it has always been. For you does not knock, nor toll the bell - but hark, it tolls, but it does not toll for thee.
Hear the bell and I weep for me.
For the one who's lost is really me.
Death is beautiful when seen to be a law, and not an accident - It is as common as life.
-- Henry David Thoreau
Sometimes discussions go offtopic. The starting points don't matter, neither do the goals (as if they exist !) - but it is the path it takes that needs to be recorded for posterity. One such philosophical debate happened yesterday, ending up rather more off-track than usual. Repeated here, from memory (i.e mostly what I said) & in condensed form.
S: An argument for the sake of itself actually diverts away from the original opinion to merely counter the other argument (no, not opinion). Me: No, but an argument is actually productive in the sense that it feeds the internalized argument inside you by offering new arguments for/against your own bias. Me: There are no convictions bereft of argument, but those that have completed a debate with yourself about the pros and cons of itself, to arrive at a conclusion with both residing in the same mind at the same time.
And since the discussion started off about patriarchal meddling, it went on into some more interesting topics.
S: How will people learn if they don't make their own mistakes Me: You *can* learn from other people's mistakes. S: No, you learn to avoid them - not to deal with them. Ending up in the established beaten path of safety which leads nowhere in particular. Making mistakes and experiencing it first hand is an important part of growing up. Me: Experience is not learning. Learning is when you internalize it, analyze it. Me: Learning is not a goal by itself. What's important is to develop good judgement so that you can make smart decisions based on lessons from past experience.
To put it mildly, it was enlightening for me to have to think that hard and come up with words for abstract concepts which I assume have always been there in my head. I just had to write them down somewhere before it all evaporated from my memory. I would've never done this without help - on the other hand, I've never had to explain anything to myself with the poor tool that is the English language.
After all, what is the sound of one hand clapping?--
In most instances, all an argument proves is that two people are present.
As 2006 dawned, I had dubbed it my Year of Travel - but little did I know that it would turn out into the Year I Stayed Home.
Not that I didn't wander far and wide - from the islands of Aotearoa, to the high reaches of the Himalayas. But in more sense than one, I've stayed home - for more than a quarter of this year, I've been with my parents & grand-parents (they looking after me, more than the other way around).
Personally, it has been a year of great losses and lessons. Punctuated regularly by the death of my role models - the baton passed on from hand to the other, with sadness, yet hopefully. As if something new, something great has been transferred from one vessel, too old to bear the load, onto one fresh, young and willing.
I've come to terms, in a manner of speaking, with life, death and taxes.--
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
-- Lord Tennyson
When Douglas Adams wrote about immortality, he talked about the impossibility of boring yourself to death on sunday afternoons. He wasn't kidding. Right now, I've hit the lowest spot I've hit ever since I left college. Even during the blindingly bright (and hot) summer days in Hyderabad, toiling away at a job I didn't like, did I feel so hopeless and lost.
Personally, financially, career-wise, health-wise or any other way that is obvious to me now, I've never had such a dark time before. I've come to terms to personal failure the moment I stepped out of childhood, the last year has taught me to deal with fall of those giants on whose proverbial shoulders I've stood. But these last few days have taught me that I have nothing left to rely upon - no anchor to hold me steady through the tumultous times ahead. Got nothing to hold on to, nothing left to aspire to, nothing to work with - I got nothing.
All I seem to have retained is my perspicacity.
The fates owes me big, she owes me a big one. Or maybe I should just give up like my old man and go down with captain & all. Quitting is easy ... just stop trying.--
There are worse things in life than death.
Last thursday night, the last Karanavar of my family joined his ancestors. He was a teacher by profession and a painter by persuasion - a professor of zoology and a painter of landscapes. Even after retiring, he was one of the founders of the ICS entrance coaching centre in Cochin and continued teaching. I've never sat in one of his classes, but he was a teacher to me and much more.
As a young boy, I used to gravitate towards his house. The first and primary reason was that there was a fridge (where fridges and grandparents meet, there is a likelihood of icecream). But what kept me hanging around was his VCR (also the first one in the neighbourhood). Eventually having run out of Mickey Mouse cartoons to watch, I would end up watching his collections of nature documentaries. I used to while away entire afternoons, watching some of the best documentaries BBC has ever produced. If I've acquired some sense of admiration for nature, it starts from those happy days in the eighties.
And then there was his workshop. He used to play around with electronics (when he was 60+) and one of the first things I saw built was a water level detector for the water tank. Eventually, every house around wanted one of these - encased in old transistor case, hooked up to its speakers to wail out when the water got too full in the tank (while pumping it). For the first time in my life, technology was cool.
He was a stickler to healthy living, a strict schedule and regular exercise. Sunrise would find him in the temple, even though he wasn't a blind believer in God. He was an epitome of health, having never suffered from diabetes or blood pressure disorders, which were common in his contemporaries. But then cancer struck its blow. He survived the first onslaught, went under the knife and managed to fight it without chemotherapy. It was not be, here was a secondary, that too in his vertebra.
But he still had his legendary nerves of steel. When I visited him a week back, pressure on his spinal cord had cost him use of both his legs. But as I was talking to him, he launched himself into a lecture about the human anatomy and how the hip bears the load of the whole body. What took me by surprise was the obvious conclusion - he will never be able to sit upright, not even in a wheel chair. I haven't met too many who could talk so lightly of their own fate.
No matter how many times it happens, it never gets any easier to lose someone. But eventually, you've got to reconcile yourself to carrying a little bit of them inside yourself.
And then, as I helped my uncles lift him to his funeral pyre, the thought came unbidden - Goodbye ... for now.--
The Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.
-- Miyamoto Musashi
Q: What are you rebelling against ? A: What've you got ?
But I understand.--
Rebellion lay in his way, and he found it.
-- William Shakespeare, "Henry IV"
For the last few days, I've been extremely busy. I've been running around to do so many things. The unemotional machine that I have become, had to organize the memorial service, take my dad to the doctor, pick up relatives from wherever they land up in Trivandrum and essentially be there for everyone. But all that's done.
Now that I can actually sit down, the reality of the situation is starting to seep in.--
It's not reality that's important, but how you perceive things.
The Ladakh trip has given me a lot to think about. My notebook has over sixty pages of scrawls, as a poor substitute for blogging. But whatever goes up must come down and so has my morale. The weather hasn't been good for walking and personal problems, far from disappearing, have only gotten worse. But the ultimate refuge for me has been denied - I have hit another coder's block. I can't hack - not even the exiftools scripts which I need.
The Linux.conf.au 2007 call for papers are out. I have been trying to figure out what I've done in the period from the last which I could probably talk about. I have literally done nothing for dotgnu, most of my work on APC dates from last year and there is nothing else I have done that's even remotely worth talking about. I have wasted seven months of this year drinking coffee and playing pool.
Of course, I have sat and debugged over six hundred core-dumps in the period. But debugging isn't a really creative talent, it has more to do with analysis than synthesis. I know the entire codebase of APC line-by-line, but what use is that to the world. I've reported bugs to thunderbird, firefox extensions, amarok and a huge bunch of other things. I have hounded developers till they fixed a bunch of them. It is not like I haven't done anything useful, it's just I feel I have failed to fulfil my potential.
I have travelled to various places to talk about dotgnu. The GNUnify organizers might remember a weirdo carrying a rose - that was me. For all those talks, I have hardly made even an ounce of difference for the project or the students involved. For all those BoFs, I don't think I have influenced even the 2% that was targeted. To be more accurate, for all my skills I am still a guy who's broke. The real world measures talents according to what you can get in return for them - all my mad h4x0r skillz are worthless compared to the guy who's gone onsite and made a few lakhs. As much as I can pretend that it isn't true, it does hurt when the comparisons are made.
Knowledge grows when shared, and hoarding it is the crime elitism commits, this I believe. To share the things I learnt the hard way, I've tried writing articles. I have at least three half-done technical articles sitting on my disk - a gdb macros tutorial, function interposing hacks and ssh tips & tricks. I've always hit a wall trying to explain the new things my work lets me do. I've tried to teach things I had to learn, but the lesson is bitter-sweet.
I can't code, evaneglize or teach. Now what ???--
If you didn't have to work so hard, you'd have more time to be depressed.
Twenty years we've been together, fought our fights from day one,
bit, kicked and scratched each other till our parents did us part,
known our light sides, suffered our dark sides,
laughed, cried and dried many a tear together.
If not, but what else are brothers for ?
Happy Birthday to my favourite lawyer.--
Although it's never fun getting one year older, it sure beats the alternative!
Rebellion is inevitable. I don't mean the political kind with weapons, leaders and death. I am talking about the much more intrinsic outpouring that most of us associate with teenage angst. The basic instinct that metaphorically makes us feel happier running into the darkness with eyes shut rather than walk into the tunnel of future groping and feeling the walls.
Rebellion is the first side effect of a growing mind - shaking off the training wheels carefully tied on your life cycle by your parents. Consider it the original sin if you want, but the first act of your free will is hardly likely to be an act of good. There are many who have said that the truth shall set you free, but for generations told to tell the truth, lies are what really sets them free from the apron strings.
The first kiss, the first cigarrette, that first mug of beer - they all change more things than their immediate effects. They are things looked upon quite badly by them and therefore become things to do to spite the world with. The basic thread of "I do what I want" drives people to do what they don't want as well.
Then one day, as quickly as it began, rebellion dies. Like a phoenix, it is reborn into what we prefer to call purpose. Same thing, new bottle - but Purpose needs no strutting or posing, it acts. Cause and effect comes into play - the word consequences creep into your mind and the clock of the human life clicks into the doldrums of young adulthood, where nothing much happens but everything important seems to be revolve around that fact.
I've walked around a couple of colleges in the last year. I miss the rebellion that used to thrum underneath the seemingly calm veneer of college day-to-day. Maybe I'm tuned to a different wavelength of a past. Maybe they changed what the rebellion means and forgot to tell me. But I just don't feel the vibe - I just get a disturbing sense of obedience from these future adults. The world's going to be really strange for me if people just obey without threat of consequences or reward for keeping in the lines. No stick or the carrot, merely orders and obedience.
The seeds of rebellion are planted deep. They are watered by the tears of everything denied to you and rooted in all your potential. Pass through the gates and join the club.--
Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober,
responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and
-- Tom Robbins
Do you think you are competent ? I mean do you really *know* that you are competent to do what you are actually supposed to do ? I ran into this fundamental question on thursday night - I had to interview someone on friday morning and this thought just bubbled up. What if *you* were wrong about your competency ? Would that automatically disqualify you from judging other people's competency. This was a quite disheartening thought - I had always been very doubtful about my abilities and have often gone farther than I would've to prove to myself that it's all good.
The problem with having a mind like mine is that it doesn't care what it is doing as long as it is doing something. Like the proverbial genie out of the bottle, it has to do something productive to keep itself from turning back on the body that feeds it. I'll talk about the Stimulus Struggle some other day. But right now, I had this thought eat through my brain for nearly twenty four hours till I found an an answer.
Let us first postulate the predictions that we need to verify about incompetent induviduals :-
- overestimate their ability
- are unable to see competent people when they trip over them
- never realize they have screwed up
I remember reading the following off a 1996 calendar hanging near our TV at home. I am not sure it was from Confucius or not, but it does convey what I want to point out.
He who knows and knows that he knows, he is a master; follow him. He who knows and knows not that he knows, he is asleep; wake him. He who knows not and knows that he knows not, he is a student; teach him. He who knows not and knows not that he knows not, he is a fool; shun him.
Before I wander off into depth, I found out that there is indeed a real word for knowing what you know - metacognitive skills. Apparently it is a vicious cycle problem where people who are not aware of their shortcomings never work towards fixing them and as the proverb advised are shunned by those who can see.
So the first thing an interviewer needs to develop seems to be a clear awareness of his or her own limitations. There may be people who are secure about their own skills because they have proved themselves - but it is difficult to actually measure the skill of someone who is confident and competent versus someone who is merely confident because of a total lack of metacognitive skills. Turning a blind eye towards your own deficiencies can actually pay off very well when you are dealing with an interviewer with bad metacognitive skills. Quite appropriately, Charles Darwin said that "ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge" .
One of my classmates once said something very insightful about the true value of a man.
The numerator being what he really is capable of and denominator being what he thinks of himself - the best always come up above one.
So the conclusions I reached were basically :-
- the more competent you are the more flaws you'll find in yourself
- it takes one to know one
- humility is to be valued
Nothing worthwhile gives all the answers, so I'll leave you a question to chew on. Does knowledge make you less confident ? Some of my friends seem to think so ... but I can't be certain .
- Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments -- Justin Kruger and David Dunning, Cornell.edu
- Coming to terms with failure: Private self-enhancement and public self-effacement. -- Brown, J. D. & Gallagher, F. M
- The "below-average effect" and the egocentric nature of comparative ability judgments. -- Kruger J
- Managerial myopia: Self-serving biases in organizational planning. -- Larwood, L. & Whittaker, W.
Luke Skywalker: Your overconfidence is your weakness.
Emperor Palpatine: Your faith in your friends is yours.
Those who meet me, mistake me for a nice guy. Of course, I am a good guy by nature - but I can be evil by choice. I don't believe in religion, but I believe in the essential justice. In spite of what you might think, justice is still a human concept. But for a universe that came out of nothing, it has to all add up to zero sometime (though the discussion about the end of days as such is discouraged). So in a moment of emotion, I decided to be fair to this world. More particularly I decided to be fair to this world induvidually. The decision sprang from the first moment in this century when I lost my temper. The decision to never again sleep in the home of my ancestors was one of the riders of the same moment. The resolutions stand as made.
There are instances when I'm not fair to someone. Distinction must be made between the moments of rage from the cold decisions. Anger has no rationale and I haven't lost my temper since 2001. But still I've been unfair to a lot of people - from the cold comfort of sanity. There have been times and places where my job was to snub and pour cold water.
It is my right. If somebody is headed towards a difficult situation by mistake, I often consider it my right to hurt the person before the world acquires a right. It is as much of my right as it was the right of my elders who snatched knives from my hand when I was a kid. I can't claim to have made the same mistakes - I didn't drink, I didn't smoke, I didn't stay out with friends till midnight without a ride back, I didn't end up in strange cities without a hotel booking. I haven't done any of that, which to some people removes all right I have to advise them. I am sure they'd have said But, you had your fun when you were my age. Why don't you let us ? if I had taken a sip or a puff.
In a fair world, intentions do not matter. What I do out of perfectly good intentions is still hurting someone. It is only perfectly fair that I get hurt in the process. For example, my sister has probably forgiven me for not letting her go to Delhi last year. She has probably forgotten all that she said to me on the phone. I haven't. I got what I deserved for crushing her first few attempts at breaking out of parental control. Hearing "you are only saying that because I'm a girl. " or "why are you taking their side on this ?" isn't pleasant with a girl who can pronounce words in italics. She will probably admit that I was right if I ask her today but kaye vitta ayudhavum, vaay vitta vaakum ... (translation won't do).
They say that we hurt those whom we love, but little do they know that we can only be hurt by those ...--
Justice? Who asks for justice. We make our own justice. We make it here on Arrakis -- win or die. Let us not rail about justice as long as we have arms and the freedom to use them.
-- Leto I
Yesterday, Venuchettan passed away. He walked into a hospital to get treated for a stomach pain and quite unexpectedly met his end with a heart attack while his stomach was being pumped. I cannot imagine someone disappearing out of this world just like that. We all lost a bit of ourselves with him. It just won't be the same to go to that house - with two people whose permanence I'd taken for granted. People don't just die. Please tell me that they don't. Please !
I wasn't prepared for it the first time someone close died, I am not prepared now. And I will probably never be.--
There is no cure for birth and death other than to enjoy the interval.