Thursday, September 14, 2006

Faith versus commercialization

Almost every other weekend, one of my team members pays a visit to Tirupati, and come Monday, the prasadam which he or she gets becomes much sought after in office. I have always been fascinated by Tirupati and have always longed to pay a visit to Tirupati, just to get a glimpse of the glory of Lord Venkateshwara.

According to Wikipedia (and my south-Indian colleagues, of course!), the Tirupati Devasthanam is one of the busiest religious centres in the world, and the second-richest, after the Vatican. Tens of thousands of pilgrims visit Tirupati everyday, and the number seems to be growing day by day. The annual collection ("income") of the temple, it seems, runs into billions of rupees.

I have always pondered over what makes Tirupati one of the most frequented sacred places in southern India. Tirumala and Tirupati, no doubt, have a rich cultural heritage and religious history, not to mention the exotic natural beauty and picturesque surroundings. But recent times have seen Tirupati getting "commercialized" to such an extent that it makes one wonder whether it is really the faith in The Lord or the hype surrounding Tirupati that makes hordes of devotees flock to this temple town.

I am not particularly comfortable with the idea of an "entry fee" just to get a glimpse of The Lord. Even then, you get The Lord's darshan for only a few minutes, and sometimes more, if you are fortunate (the average darshan time is one and a half minutes, they say). My friends say it is possible to prolong the darshan, by making an "offering" to the temple staff...

I strongly believe that The Lord resides everywhere; even if one does visit Him, he or she should have complete freedom to be with Him for as long as he or she desires. But then, that is not always feasible (and possible) in a temple which boasts of thousands of devotees visiting every hour.

Devotees make their offerings in kind, and mostly gold and silver jewellery. As the name itself suggests, offerings are made with faith and devotion. But recently, such offerings have become a symbol of prestige and social status: the more you offer, the more devout you are. Such things do nothing more than add to the commercialization, by encouraging a "wealth-offering competition" between devotees, if it can be called that way. Devotees should compete in faith, not in terms of the value of offerings made to Him.

Before anyone gets mad, I have nothing against true faith and offerings made in full devotion... What I find disturbing is the commercialization of God and the artificiality and the hype surrounding it that is rearing its ugly head of late...

Oh, a bit of trivia to end (courtesy Wikipedia, for those of you who are too lazy to click on links): Tonsuring, the sacrifice of hair, which is performed at Tirupati as a symbol of devotion, is responsible for making India the largest exporter of hair in the world! ;-)

Monday, September 04, 2006

A "management" job: Is it worth it?

One dilemma that graduate engineers often face when they think of higher education is whether they should go for a post-graduation in management (Master of Business Administration: "MBA") or technology (Master of Technology: "MTech", as it is called in India, or Master of Science: "MS").

I have seen many of my friends go through this "trauma". Although I feel this decision is a matter of each one's personal preferences, I would like to share my thoughts, something which has been going on in my mind for quite a long time now.

In India, traditionally, "white-collar" jobs have always been seen with a sense of respect not normally associated with "blue-collar" people (who, needless to say, were always the "butt of ridicule"). This has not changed much in recent times. Even today, people generally tend to view managers as mystic beings who possess divine powers...

Given the industry scenario in India, it is a well-known fact that management jobs pay you much more than technical jobs. What seems to attract young people to management is primarily these lucrative offers. And then there is always that dream of making it big one day, and management jobs, with their fat salaries, give you the chance of doing that early on in life (as in "I'm just 23 and I already own a Honda City!"). This goes down well with today's youth, who are forever in search of that perfect recipe for "instant success".

The thing that bothers me is that technically brilliant people, who have a great chance of contributing to technology, opt for a career in administration and management, because their parents want them to "rule", or simply because all they care for is money. This step is simply not right, and moreover, it does not do any justice to their technical skill-sets.

If we are to transform India into a technological hub, what we require is technically focused people, who are passionate to work in the field of research and development, who desire to work on cutting-edge technologies... Getting into high-end management jobs and "brain-drain"ing your skills isn't going to help much.

Of course, one may argue that India is already making a mark in the global IT industry; the likes of TCS, Infosys and Wipro are already rubbing shoulders with IT giants like IBM and Accenture. But what we need to understand is that all these Indian companies are into services. A service-based business model ensures steady revenue flows and industry sustenance, but it does little in terms of value addition in the long term.

Coming back to the main topic, nevertheless, a skilled management workforce is necessary for large organizations, who have to maintain high standards of efficiency and see to it that resources are being properly utilized. In that sense, administration and management can be considered to be quite a challenging job... And moreover, if you start off with a non-management job, in the long term, there is always a push towards management; you are expected to don managerial responsibilities as you progress upwards in the organizational hierarchy.

However, for a techie like me, the more away I am from management tasks, the better...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Chain letters and mails...

Long long time ago, the preferred (and cheapest) method of communication used to be postcards (these cards, which had for years gone through a colorful evolution process in India, are almost "extinct" now). One thing I distinctly remember about postcards was something which I now know as chain letters.

I remember, in those days, once in a while we used to get a postcard asking us to make 20 copies of itself and send them to 20 people within a week. The card used to be dotted with names of gods and goddesses. It also almost invariably cited incidents of people who benefited by doing so, albeit with warnings of dire consequences (aka "bad luck for the rest of your life") if the recipient failed to oblige.

Back then, I used to find it really funny... I never could figure out how, by just duplicating copies of postcards, anyone can get to stand benefited (except the postal department, of course). Forget the "superstition" part of it... Doing the exercise of copying postcards and sending them to your "well-wishers" was real fun!!!

Chain letters are back with a vengeance, only in a new techno-avatar. They have now taken the form of e-mails... Their confluence is called chain mail, for obvious reasons... For a decent explanation of the types of chain mails, read this! :))

You have to admit: people make really good and clever use of technology, especially in India. The ever-prevailing confusion between superstition and faith ensures that such gimmicks tick. Add to it the fact that there are (still) a large number of people willing to spend their time and money on such frivolous matters.

One thing going strong in favor of chain mails is the electronic nature of e-mail, which makes it very easy to duplicate them. The sender has the convenience of the Forward button and the recipients have the convenience of the Trash and Delete buttons. Can it get more polished than this? ;-)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Advanced programming?

You may wonder why my blog posts are drifting towards the technical side... You see, I cannot help it! All these days, I was caught up in social and philosophical ideologies so much that I was beginning to forget my techie roots. Actually, this blog was not supposed to be a medium for my tech musings, but I do hope my "technical revival" won't hurt, at least for the moment...

Most programmers (I safely assume) start their programming course with an introduction to the C programming language. C, as a language, is short and concise, and is known for its bag-load of tips-n-tricks, quirks and pitfalls, as any programmer should tell you. In fact, many people (notably educationists) argue that a first-hand course in programming should be in a scripting language (such as Python) and not in C. However, that is another story altogether :^)

I remember back in college, for our annual technical symposium (called "Bits 'n Bytes"), we used to have a programming contest called "Confusy", which was about writing the most horribly confusing program you could... No wonder people used to prefer C!

A common misconception in my computing (a.k.a. engineering) fraternity is what people call advanced programming. Most people think that advanced programming is when you make generous use of cryptic features provided by the programming language at hand.

Programmers generally have a tendency to prove their mettle and superiority over other fellow programmers. Their philosophy is quite simple: for you to be doing advanced programming, you should make your programs intimidating, overly confusing and incomprehensible to everyone else. If people cannot understand your programs, they think of you as a programming guru.

Actually, I don't think so...

To me, advanced programming is a different thing altogether. In fact, advanced programming is more about programming design than programming implementation. It is about expressing your ideas and abstractions in the most clear and concise manner; it is about clean design; when your design is flawless, it shows in the code...

People who are in two minds can read The Art of Unix programming by Eric Raymond for a decent explanation of how this concept cam to be one of the central themes of the Unix philosophy (see the sidebar of my blog for the link).

As Leonardo da Vinci has well said: "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication". Advanced programming should be all about simplicity. It should strive to unravel mysteries from the code, rather than weaving mysteries into it. In fact, good programming, in many cases, decomposes complex programming constructs into a sequence of simpler constructs.

Please understand that I am not against learning the so-called "advanced" features of any language. Notions of what constitutes "advanced" features vary from person to person, and indeed, from language to language. With reference to C, it may be C's rich operator set or the low-level programming features provided by C (not to mention pointers). These are not advanced features per se; they merely provide you the flexibility to express your abstractions in a more powerful way...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The changing face of computer science

People seem to have different ideas about computer science. To some, it is all about algorithms and data structures, while others swear by operating systems and networking. For me, computer science is more of formalizing abstractions through research and analysis. It is (or rather, should be) a healthy mix of various disciplines that have to do with computing.

I was recently going through the essay The Art of Unix Programming by Eric Raymond. The history of Unix, described in vivid detail by Eric, makes fascinating reading. Also worth reading is the origins and history of the hacker culture which grew hand-in-hand with the Unix culture.

A point worth pondering over is the relatively dismal state of computer science research in today's world. Traditionally, computer science has been nurtured in academia; the best of radical ideas and groundbreaking technologies in the computing arena have been bred in universities and technology institutes. Computing concepts in industry that seem so obvious today have evolved through years of dedicated and focussed research in the likes of MIT and Carnegie-Mellon.

It is quite true that computer industry (commercialization, in other words) is the dominant face of the computer science phenomenon today. But that should not be a lame excuse for the stagnation in computer science research. And as almost everyone knows, long-term intellectual stagnation is not good for society.

For the most part, we ourselves are to blame. Salaries for computer professionals are growing more lucrative day by day, and the demand is also there. People freshly out of college think of getting high-pay jobs and settling down into the rhythm of their professional life. After all, who wants to keep "withering" in academics?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

B R O A D B A N D in Goa

Broadband has finally made inroads in Goa, making its presence felt in supposedly rural and semi-urban areas. From the dismal days of DoT (Department of Telecommunications) to Sancharnet's long-standing dialup plans, Internet connectivity in Goa seems to have got a face lift, thanks to Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL)!

People seem to be going for BSNL over other private players in the broadband arena, like Sify, Tata Indicom, AirTel and Reliance. At least, that's what the situation seems to be here in Bangalore. I'm not sure how much of a presence these private players have in Goa...

A few days back, there was a lot of discussion on the ILUG-Goa mailing list regarding ADSL broadband configuration in GNU/Linux. Those folks also seem to be quite fascinated by the Huawei modem that BSNL offers as a part of their package! :-)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Back to blogging (again)

After another long break, I'm back!!! Me had gone to Goa for the weekend, and the reason was to enjoy the Goan monsoons... Thankfully, the rains made their presence felt; at the same time, giving me enough time to hang out with friends :-)

One of my friends from Pune had come down to Goa the same weekend. We had a great, fun-filled time on Sunday: a scrumptious Konkani lunch, which included visvonn (kingfish) and soongtaan (prawns), followed by huge cone sundaes at Baskin Robbins. Have a look!




The evening was spent paying visits to the north Goan beaches of Morjim, Arambol and Mandrem. I got the chance to try my first hand at real-life photography (after what I call "creative experiments") with my digicam. See below...




We had a new roomie day before yesterday: one of our batchmates, fondly called "Bhatto". He's done his MBA from the Goa Institute of Management, and is presently working in ICICI Bank here in Bangalore. Looks like we finally have our own in-house investment expert ;-)

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