Thursday, May 31, 2007


Palace grounds I come!!!

Its raining in B'lore, and we'll probably be drenched while listening to Aerosmith...but I don't give a shit, its AEROSMITH!!! theres a nifty little countdown timer on the blog sidebar, reminding me how much longer I'll have to wait...javascript is fun :)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dead man talking.

So I was in Hyderabad last weekend, and returned on Tuesday. Friday, news comes in of a bomb blast in the Mecca masjid, right opposite the Charminar, right where I was standing. There I was, with a bunch of friends, innocent and vulnerable, hardly aware of the risks we were taking just being there. A narrow escape, very narrow. Two days before the blast, I was standing right opposite the Mecca masjid, trying to bargain with a roadside vendor, for something he called a rose stone, which looked really cool. I found out that the stone was priced at over 300 bucks, and I'd offered the guy something like 30 bucks for it. And while we were haggling over the price, and he was trying to explain the processes involved in shaping and polishing the stone, neither of us knew that in a couple of days, the Charminar area would be in the news for all the worst reasons.

Over the years, I have found myself in situations that promised great bodily harm, and yet I have escaped unhurt from almost all of them. When I was in primary school, I'd gotten lost in Kurla station, and a neighbor of the family ran into me walking on the train tracks, towards chembur station(at least my sense of direction didn't fail me!), so she got me home sans any mishaps along the way. A few years later, the terrible mumbai riots happened, and I managed to get stranded somewhere on the Matunga railway station bridge, with a violin case in my hands, and no idea of why people were running around screaming. I don't remember much of what happened, but I remember walking all the way back home, thankfully in one piece. I remember the neighborhood watches that were organized after the riots, with people taking turns standing guard on the terrace of our building, armed with loud whistles, hockey sticks and all kinds of assorted weaponry. Wish we had some guns back then, I was probably the most qualified to use guns, because of my encyclopedic knowledge of the Clint Eastwood/Kirk Douglas/John Wayne westerns that I used to watch. Gunfight at OK Corral...ah, those were the days. But I digress.

Phew...thinking back a few more years, I was in an auto rickshaw, with a cast on one leg, coming home from the hospital, and the local rickshaw union thugs declared a sudden strike. They were stopping autos forcibly, pelting stones, using hockey sticks, etc. I'd almost reached home, when a group of said thugs tried stopping my auto. Being in the state that I was, there wasn't much I could have done to stop them from tap dancing all over me, but I remember my auto driver swerving at the last minute and reaching me home. More recently, the train bombings, and the BEST buses acting as remote controlled explosives, all are adding up to the dangers that we are forced to deal with.

Now before you come to some absurd conclusion that I am some kind of ninny, paranoid schmuck who's permanently looking over my own shoulder, let me get to the point that all these events intend to support. All these events could have potentially ended my life. Add to these the fact that I've been biking for as long as I have, and the conclusion stares me in the face. I've probably outlived my projected life expectancy. In a city like mine, in a country like ours, we can kid ourselves forever about economic growth, political stability, the triumph of the democratic process, blah blah blah. Nobody talks about how meaningless the loss of a human life has become. The sanctity of human life has been eroded to the point of no return. People survive natural disasters, and do not complain when so many of their friends and relatives are washed away. Human beings orchestrate terrible events in the name of religion and freedom, killing their fellow countrymen in the hundreds...nobody is surprised. After all, whats the loss of a few more lives. This is India, after all. People are used to dying meaningless deaths. The administration is hardly troubled by news of yet another disaster, that claims even more lives.

Enough ranting. The words that you read now, are those of a man who in all probability should be dead. By pure chance I, and so many of you, have avoided becoming statistics, victims of some utterly senseless disaster, one among many. Forgotten when alive, only to be remembered by some over zealous news correspondent, in death. Make of this what you will, just don't get all depressed about it. I intend to live far, so good.
(Steven da man!)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hyderabad heatstroke

I've just returned from a trip to Hyderabad over the weekend, and it was bloody hot there. When I say that I was umbilically attached to mineral water bottles throughout the trip, I am not exaggerating. It is unreasonably hot there, and I cannot for the life of me, imagine how the locals manage to carry on with the weather this bad. People were biking around in temperatures above 45 degrees, buses were packed with mid afternoon commuters, life went on as usual, with nobody even mentioning sunscreen lotion, or air conditioned naps...Suicidal. Theres no other word to describe it.

I spent most of the time in the outskirts of Hyderabad attending a wedding reception, which was good fun, and as usual the wonderful slowed-down pace of life totally rubbed off on me. I never rushed to cross a road, no hectic commuting from point A to points B,C,D, all in the same day, hardly any anxiety (except when I had to fight the urge to check email!), and blessedly both water and electricity were so abundant, that I took them for granted. I must mention the roads there though, they were brilliant. Not a single section was dug up, hardly any potholes, and traffic was at its best behavior. I even commuted standing on the back of a cargo vehicle, a Piaggio ape, which kinda reminded me of the bahubalis in Omkara. Commuting is easy in Hyderabad's interiors, 7-seaters, auto's, buses etc are ridiculously inexpensive and readily take you to your destination in exchange for less than 10 rupees. A stark contrast from the situation in Bombay, where similar distances would cost well over a 100 rupees to cover. Only now I realize the impact of urban cost of living as compared with the semi-urban and rural. If I were offered the kind of work that I am currently doing, with the kind of compensation that I am getting now, I would readily relocate to any of South India's semi-urban or rural areas. No doubt about it. If there are any cons at all, apart from the heat, it'd be the distance from my friends, and the lack of a night life. The day ends at 10:30 pm, and police patrols roam the streets after 11, making any midnight excursion for cutting chai and pav bhaji a dangerous proposition.

We did visit a few places, Ramoji Film City, and the Charminar. The heat made it impossible to even think of any further exertion. The film city is a sprawling 2000 acre establishment with guided bus tours ferrying visitors from point to point. It is beautifully maintained, and the staff there is very professional, leaving no room for complaints. Charminar was a bit of a let-down after Ramoji Film City. The film city really raises the bar for every other tourist hot spot, with its superb locale and beautiful gardens. The place is so huge that it takes visitors an entire day to experience all its sights. My favorite section was the Wild-west area, complete with a mock wild west town, stunt show (desi-Chiranjeevi type stuntmen in leathers), saloon, stables etc. Only tumbleweed was conspicuous by its absence. I even bought a cowboy hat(erm, more like a forest ranger hat), and pretended I was Clint Eastwood sans his trusty steed. My six shooter was actually a bottle of water, which was replaced with fresh chilled ammunition every so often.

We returned early Tuesday morning by the Husain Sagar express, and after a quick shower, I find myself in the office earlier than the earliest birds, dozing and pining for my vaio, which is probably missing me too. Its got vista installed on it, with a lot of bloat ware, all of which I plan on removing...just as soon as I make a recovery disk :)

PS: I didn't get to see Banjara hills, and hence did not keep my lunchtime appointment with Sania Mirza. Hopefully she and Tabu will forgive me for ditching was the heat you see...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Spending spree!

Woaahhh.... I'm spending more money this week than I've ever spent, heres a listing:
1. Hyderabad trip on Friday night until Monday (probably 4-5k)
2. Sony Vaio VGN-C25G/B laptop (70k) Woo Hoo!!
3. Air tickets to Bangalore and back for the Aerosmith concert (5k) Aero Force One!!! here i come!
4. Concert tickets (2k)

Grand Total: 82+k, all in a span of 3 days....headspin happening!

Pics of the laptop will be in the next post, concert snaps later, and am gonna be grinning from 7 pm tonight for a loooong time cuz my next post will be from the vaio !!!

Blame it on the love...of bits and bytes!

Ok let me stop before I start sounding like a nerd on a caffeine OD.
Sane posting shall resume in a week or so..once the headspin wears off...

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

A programmer's point of view

My job forces me to deal with a lot of question marks. I write code for a living. So I have to constantly ask myself...will this code change screw up something else? am I understanding the requirements completely? will the response times get screwed by this teensy weensy change? are the servers healthy? what is the meaning of life? where do I fit in to this jigsaw puzzle also called the universe? did I have lunch today?

Most engineers are forced to study theoretical computer science, so that they may apply those concepts to actual work situations and reduce the number of unanswered questions. Unfortunately most engineers never paid attention to these theories in college. Even if they did, I doubt they'd be any better equipped to answer these questions. The problem with taught logic, is that it simplifies everything down to the duality. There is true, and there is false, and nothing but either of these two. Logic does not leave room for for uncertainty, which is unfortunately a major part of every software implementation decision. Hence university prepares the programmer for nothing, and when thrown into the wilderness of commercial software development, he is like the proverbial bunny facing the headlights of an out of control tank with a maniac at the controls.

So where does that leave me (and most engineers)? Emergencies. Every issue that comes up is an emergency, consequently, any efforts to prioritise tasks, go down the veritable toilet. If you have a fire to your right, and a fire to your left, and one to the front, and one warming your ass, how will you decide which one to extinguish first? Apart from these, you have the other little tasks, like designing modules, bug-fixing some minor parts of your system.. etc.

Management loves these situations. For them it becomes an exercise to assert their superior skills and exhibit their charting/graphing abilities. They'll decide which fire to put out first by simply considering how much money each fire is burning up. It doesn't matter that your ass is being roasted, you still have to put out the fires in the sequence they decide, while they explain their decisions with a lot of meaningless statistics and pretty pictures. Alright, maybe I am exaggerating a little. Maybe, the fires weren't really life threatening. But the intricacies of software development, leave the poor developer with very little margin for error.

There's a story I read somewhere. A big company has its industrial floor, and something is causing a complete shutdown in the machinery. Nobody knows what or where the problem is. So they call in a consultant, he walks about for a few hours, fiddling with knobs, reading meters, doing what consultants do...and then walks over to a boiler, takes a piece of chalk and marks a tiny X on the inlet pipe. He tells them to change the pipe, and almost instantly the problem is resolved. Then arises the problem of paying the piper. Management argues that the exorbitant sum demanded by the consultant hardly matches his actual effort. All he did was put a tiny X on a pipe. The consultant broke up his billing charges as 1$ for actually drawing the X mark, and 49,999 $ for knowing where to put it. This story may or may not be true, but it helps explain my point.

Commercial software development works much in the same way. Everybody and his dog can write code. It requires a special breed of programmer to know what's wrong, and how to put out the fire. It may be as simple as turning a switch on or off...but knowing which switch to toggle only comes from long hours of painful debugging, many cups of coffee, and many missed family dinners.

The point I am trying to make is this. Software development may be touted as a logical, systematic method to translate business requirements into finished product, but it is rarely logical, and even more rarely systematic. Problems never come unaccompanied. They arrive in multiples of 1024, and always on the morning after that late night which has you yawning throughout the day. Solving these problems needs a combination of exceptional judgment, time management, unbelievable skill and dedicated, painful manual labour. Trust me...programmers earn every last dime of their salary... the hard way.

In a future post, I will attempt to redefine the stereotypes associated with the programming fraternity. Some of these include the alpha-developer, his trusty hard-working sidekick, and his reason for suffering..the rock-star programmer.