Sunday, May 02, 2010

on nerdiness

This generation has grown to celebrate nerdiness. Popular media has glorified nerdiness no end. In the nineties, fed on cable tv, my idea of a nerd used to be Boris Grishenko, the evil nerd in the movie ‘golden eye’ thumbing and spinning his pen nervously while using left hand to find access codes. He has been my primary reference ever since. Many aspiring nerds, including me, used to spend hours trying to solve futile needle-in-a-haystack problems like poring over assembly code to find the instructions where zero flag should be flipped to get that app to work inside a debugger. I also learnt to play with bash shell, emacs and even some 'ed' and loved to hate user-friendly guis (but still used them when nobody was around), while going easy on the evil part. Yes there was also that character in the movie 'swordfish' but the movie or the characters sonamehow didn’t catch my imagination.

Things have changed since then. Nerds are not necessarily evil. There are benign self-loving nerds like Sheldon in bbt. There are much more benign nerds like lennard and his friends. Nerds pastimes are no longer relegated to the computer. This brings us to some questions we may ask. Can normal people be nerds? Should one aspire to be? Is it easier now to enter the ranks?

As for the last question, I think that it easier to be nerd than it is to be rocket scientist. But it is complicated. I dont think there is a set formula. Some personality types such as those with mild aspergers or a minor obsessive more easily fit the bill than others. If you are thin, bespectacled and growing a minor beard, and have shabby hair, you have made some progress but hardly enough. There are scattered data about what makes a uber nerd. But most people know a nerd when they meet one: Adam Savage for me is way up there among benign nerds. His nerdiness is infectious and we like him for that. He also shows what the very essence of being a nerd comes from his being obsessive, meticulous about his pastimes and a willingness to concentrate on some gruesome nerdy work for hours together. Biologically perhaps this has to do with a dominant right brain. But certainly, one does not need to be evil or cruel.

Some people take to superficial things such as loving themselves and being dismissive of other people, but won’t do the hard part of getting to work on their nerdy pastimes. Some spend time sharpening the pencils as opposed to doing research, upgrading the computer with latest app, learning the new trick to switch buffers in emacs, trivializing others work or being a general bully. A nerd can be excused for being him/herself only if he/she keeps the standards and quality of work high enough. Otherwise, he is just a bully who is to be ignored. How do you stand a Sheldon like character otherwise? Nerds thrive on praise by others( remember how boris flushes when natalya says, you are such a geek!) and that is earned at a price. .

As for the second question, there are social contexts where I think it is dangerous to be a nerd (even benign). Imagine being a nerd like Sheldon with queer pastimes in Afghanistan!. You would be shot at sooner or later for your remarks. That said, I guess, ones social background, position and the company one keeps should all matter in making the choice.

Nerds are not necessarily intellectuals or even wise. In fact in most cases they are plain clever with a command in an arcane subject matter which usually goes with mild to acute social maladroitness. This gets them into trouble and they often make poor choices in choosing their friends and partners and also often make poor career decisions (includes working for villains). Nerds need not be cruel but many a times we see them go to great lengths in asserting the superiority of their work while dismissing work by others as trivial ( Boris' dismissal of Natalya as second level programmer ) but one thing nerds don’t do is call themselves nerds. This is about as close to being self-effacing as they can get. They don’t want to be bracketed ever, lest they lose their uniqueness. So people who have answered a questionnaire in a website and announce to the world they are nerds are never that.

An apprentice nerd usually mimicking his idol motivates himself thinking how cool his/her work might look and nothing else but over the years the nerds learn that they cannot sustain their nerdiness unless they find an inner reservoir of strength and sustenance. They realize that that the sooner one starts relishing and performing well in ones nerdy pastime the better. The nerdiness must come from within, not by the thought of how others might see your work.

To conclude I say this: We constantly look to find things about us which are unique, and want to be believe that we are in some ways chosen ones. This often inspires us to do things out of the ordinary. Nerds entertain that delusion for long and somewhat magically keep getting better at their work and do some spectacular work. Others dismiss this as a delusion and submit to being normal human beings and are happier for that. So who do you want to be?

Monday, December 14, 2009


Git is fast becoming a scm tool of choice for most online development projects( Linux kernel uses it!). There are some excellent screencasts (pity, some require you to pay) that teach you how to work with it. I recently got hooked to git myself and was charmed immensely with the functionality it provided, esp the ability to have your github on web. But getting git (msysgit in my case ) to work behind proxy proved somewhat nightmarish in my home computer running windows. There are some links scattered to help you with it. After struggling for about 4 hours, I got it working using the steps outlined in link .


$ mkdir ~/.ssh

$ chmod 700 ~/.ssh

Create public key/private key pairs using ssh-keygen

$ ssh-keygen -q -f ~/.ssh/id_rsa -t rsa contains the public key. Copy this to git hub creation page.

Steps below are from here

start puttygen ( which should be in same folder as putty ): import the file id_rsa and convert it to create a .ppk file in the same directory.

Start putty.exe
Set the host to, port 443.

Under Connection / SSH / Auth, select your private key file (.ppk file) for SSH authentication.

Under Connection / Proxy, select HTTP and enter appropriate information for the host and port.

Save your session with a name such as “gitproxy”.

Click “Open” - you should receive a login prompt. Close this.

Start pageant, the putty authentication agent. It appears on sys-tray. Rightclick and load the private key used above (.ppk file).

Back on msys_git command prompt run:

$ git remote add github git@gitproxy:svark/notes.git

$ git config --global "Your Name"

$ git config --global ""

$ mkdir notes

$ cd notes

$ git init

$ touch README

$ git add README

$ git clone

put plink in the path and make sure we have pagent still running.

$ declare -x GET_SSH="plink".

$ git commit -m 'first commit'

$ git remote add github gitproxy:svark/notes.git

$ git push github master

Sunday, January 25, 2009

lonely planet.

This pic of an eclipse taken in 1992 and available at nasa's site, I recently saw, struck me with some awe. It is one of those moments when Nature beckons to us, almost shyly, to leave our quibbles aside for a moment and appreciate its majestic presence. The Sun in horizon is on this occasion shrouded by a disc. Yes, it is the moon playing a little trick on us, but we can not help but feel a sense of disbelief as we behold this spectacle. Certainty of events like the sun's appearance on horizon which we take so much for granted is called into question, if only temporarily, reminding us of our own impermanence, of our vulnerability among other things.

But that cluster of palm trees also standing against Suns path seems to have a different story to tell. Life in this painfully lonely planet in an indifferent universe, is fragile and prone to destruction by cosmic elements and yet, it has kept its flag flying, defying nature and has stood tall like the cluster of palm trees in picture. The pic seemed to me a perfect ode to life on our planet, though a mute one. It mocks us at our shattered lives with its unreasonable grit to survive, taking on natures apathy in its own way. Sentimental wish-wash aside, it definitely feels good to forget all for a brief while and gaze at this celestial wonder.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

katti meethi aankon ki boliyaan

Bhupinders long sonorous droning. Talks and laughter in between to relax the notes, flexing rules of rendition. A deft handling of a harkat, leaving a trailing drone. I almost succumb to the drone were it not for the sharp upping of the tempo and pitch, as the sweet, almost cloying, voice of sulakshana pandit asserts itself. Notes gather momentum, but his resonant voice intervenes to pull it back:
गूँज रहे हैं दुब्द्ते सायें, शाम की खुशन्न्न्बू हात न आये..
Kushboo becomes Kkusshhhnnnbooo as if rendering with a nasal tinge this way would make it smell better. Then continues

गूंज्थी आन्खों की नशीली बोलियाँ. कट्टी मीठी आन्खोँ की रसीली बोलियान्न्न।

I close my eyes and imagine what the synesthetic experience of tasting intoxicating words from salty eyes would sound like.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

That √2 is irrational

Rudin's text on mathematical analysis provides a proof that √2 is irrational by showing that the set of rational numbers A consisting of all rational numbers whose square is greater than 2 has no least element and the set B of all rational numbers whose square is lesser than 2 has no greatest element. He considers A first and shows that for any p in A, we can find
a number q that is lesser than p and yet in A. He conjures up from apparently nowhere the rational number

q = p – (p^2 - 2)/(p + 2) ……….(1)

The number q is immediately seen to satisfy the needs of the proof for the set A.

How did he arrive at (1)? Some algebra shows that it does not matter what denominator is chosen in (1) as long as it is a rational greater than p + √2. So this could have been 2p for example. This it turns out is sufficient for us to work up a number such as q in (1) ourselves.

Since p > √2, we expect 2/p < √2. So √2 and hence the rational q we are searching for lies between p and 2/p, and of course q should be greater than √2. But first let us find out by what ratio the number √2 divides the segment (2/p,p). Let us say the ratio is µ. Then

√2 = μ 2/p + (1 - μ) p = μ (2/p-p) + p……….(2)

From which, we get = p / (√2 + p). The above equation suggests that as μ varies between 0 and p / (√2 + p), the number μ 2/p + (1 - μ) p spans the segment (√2,p), which is exactly the interval in which we are looking for rational numbers q. We now can find q, by choosing a appropriate value for μ. Now since p >
√n, we can choose μ = p / (p + p) < p/(√2 + p), so we have q = p/2 + 2/2p = p/2 + 1/p.

How close is this number to the in (1)?. As I said earlier in the post this would be the same number if we replaced the denominator in (1) by (p+p) instead of p + 2.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

mini-supernova moment

Daybreak was not a regular event in planet mersus. As it charts along its orbit through heavenly space-time, the event marks a departure in the evolutionary progress of many life-forms and for a good many others the event brings sudden extinction. As the star rays shine across dark side side of the planet, the light of a thousand suns brings a protozimmer back to its animated self; the glow all but managing to pierce its vestigial eyes long blinded by the dark ages. Yet, those eyes could feel the glow that turned the tangible to the visible. It fritters about sensing danger anticipating the unthinkable, seeking the safety of darkness, again. In an instant all hell breaks lose. Breathing in all the atmospheric helium, it emits a shriek that splits helium to puffs of hydrogen and I awake, sneezing, to find myself on a monday morning again- my mother dusting the bed.


Friday, September 01, 2006

flight to heathrow

The recent Heathrow bomb scare reminded me of my flight to the U.K in march this year and a minor scare we had then. In Dubai, as I waited for the plane to take off for Heathrow, I tried to occupy myself by reading a book. Minutes before the flight took off, a 30-ish South-Asian looking guy got on board and walked to my seat. I couldnt help notice that his newish jacket was too big for his arms and his pants were short enough to make his shins visible above the socks. He had neither removed his sunglasses nor the "jim courier" cap, whilst looking around intently around my seat comparing the seat number on his boarding pass with the confusing array of A B C's and digits printed on the baggage shelf. A while later he mustered courage to ask for help in solving this number puzzle and it didnt take long before we managed to get him seated. He thanked me profusely in an accent that was distinctly British and introduced himself as Mr Latif. ( that explains why arrived so late) and said he was going back to London after his long stay at his village near Lahore. Before I could introduce myself, he began his rant about the ill-treatment he received from the crew in P. Intl. Airways when he asked for a drink and proceeded to asked me, the frequent flier with a history of 2 flights in 28yrs, of my informed opinion on Emirates. He was visibly pleased when I told him that I thought highly of Emirates and mumbled that the steward's and stewards were very friendly.

His next question didnt surprise me: Will drinks be served now? Do they serve liquer? Where was I from, India?. What do I think of the resistance in the U.S senate to the ongoing nuclear deal with India -- surprising me with his command over Indian current affairs. India and Pakistan are like brothers split apart, he proclaimed, and started addressing me as his "brother". He spoke of his 6-month long stay in native village where he committed the crime of owning a piece of land which almost cost him his life, the bloody family feuds, corrupt customs officials at the airport in Pakistan, and confided in me, his brother of 10-minutes, how sad he was when he left behind his child and wife crying at the airport. The mention of his child & wife brought liquer to his mind and he asked the inevitable question: When will drinks be served?. When told to be patient, he amused himself by pressing the buttons in front of his seat. His prayers were answered soon. The stewardess arrived with her drinks trolley and asked us, assuming her usual business-like sweet voice- what we gentlemen would like. He asked her in an equally sweet voice what her name was, played a guessing game on her nationality (singaporean,nobody guessed) and finally also asked her with all his munna-bhai charm to choose a liquer for him that she best liked. I guess, she would have handed the trolley to him that moment, but she refrained and gave him some brandy. Little did she realize what the aftermath of her indiscretion would be. Drink after drink followed. His stories became repetitive and tears rushed to his eyes as he told of his wife and his child. He also spoke of his Sikh friends in London and even invited me for a `davat` at their place.

I had never met a guy with Pakistani background but already I was seeing the traits of the archetypal Punjabi which extends across border and religion: Prone to fits of laughter and fits of sadness, and always threatening to hug the next person. Everytime he wanted a drink he would compose himself removed seat belts and sashayed to the stewardess and somehow managed to get more. When asked how he managed this, he told me this: the trick is not to slur in your speech and assume the smoothest tight-lipped brit accent while asking "May I have a drink, please". I still dont believe he managed to trick them this way.

By evening, no tightlippedness could prevent him from the slur. He turned completely silly and defied all attempts to get him back to his seat. A lady in the plane had her chappal stolen and he was later found wearing it and refused to give it back. The cabin crew became wary of him and arranged to forcibly get him back to his seat and tie him with his seat belt. They probably also informed police in Heathrow by then. Poor thing kept shouting "Ki hoi, Choudui ##@$$$&*&" and spent the rest of the time in a half-conscious state drooling like a dog on my lap while I pretended as if everything was alright.

Heathrow arrived. Everybody was asked to be seated and the captain announced -- Mr Latif, please show up at the door first. He didnt as he was still with his "Choudui" in his native village. The police arrived and asked him questions, he answered in Punjabi first and after some prodding and pushing he realized was in Heathrow, got his accent and senses back and chatted amiably with them and even asked jokingly --what did they think? that he was the o s a m a? That was the last I saw of this little 'o s a m a'.

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