The ultimate penalty

By the dawn of the century, India had abolished death penalty. As always, India was among the last of the world’s nations to do so. It was an open secret that death penalties were useless now. You could not make an example of someone by sending him to die – for people had stopped fearing death. These days, if a criminal goes around and points a gun at someone, they respond with a smile, as if it were a joke. Some even yawn.  It was almost as if people lived a meaningless existence.

It is indeed mysterious as to how this happened. Traditionally, human beings have always feared for their lives. The last time that a death penalty was taken seriously by the media was about 300 years ago, when a world-famous psychopath killer was hanged. What had happened to humanity since then?

A landmark study by researchers from the University of Oxford, in December 2238, had brought this paradigm shift to the world’s notice. The study involved putting a random section of 2000 people, from all around the world, through a series of subconscious tests to gauge their preferences and subconscious biases. Among many other results, it concluded that people valued their DirectNet supply more than their own life. It was a very surprising result at the time when it was published, but 200 years hence, this seems very obvious.

It is true that the United Nations World Government had added “Internet Supply” to the basic rights of man, but scientifically, is it really essential? Did Norbert Behlam’s 2084 invention of DirectNet – a method for the brain to directly download and view content on the internet, really change human nature for good?

There are some fringe groups which believe that the internet is like a drug, to which everyone in the world is addicted to. It’s a fact so simple that no one realizes that. For some reason, I am inclined to believe them. However, I make sure never to say such things out in public. Anyone who believes in things as crazy as that, is seen as a sociopath, a freak.

The question however, still remains – how do you punish criminals, with a purpose of setting an example? One particular minister had suggested that the criminals’ DirectNet connection be removed during his life sentence.

Later on, with mounting political pressure over such controversial views, he had to resign.

What the brain can’t do.

Hey everyone!
This blog was as good as dead, so I thought why not revive it with a little post-let? So here it is.

I’ve been doing a bit of reading about the brain and AI and all that stuff, and everything I saw made me believe that the brain was kind of invincible. I heard stories of how people learnt to perform echo-location, learnt to walk around properly with inverted mirrors in front of their eyes, people learning to ‘see’ through their tongue and all that. Here is a sample. With all this, it is easy to think of our brain as magical. It surely is. However, it also his its shortcomings. It obviously cannot compute as fast as a computer, mainly because we didn’t need to evolve it. It also has these weird problems – optical illusions, synthestesia, phantom pain and all that. These kind of make it non-invincible. Here is an awesome book on that topic.

The brain – it doesn’t come with colours.


However, there is one thing that I thought should have worked but doesn’t. I realised this quite recently – during my internship at IISc. I was asked to work on a problem which uses techniques from a process called deconvolution. Think of it as deblurring blurred photos, or bringing back into focus, the out of focus pictures. That’s is, essentially, where deconvolution is applied. Now, generally, it’s a hard problem to solve because you don’t know by how much exactly your picture is blurred/out of focus. Doing both things at once – estimating the extent of degradation and also the original image/signal is called Blind deconvolution. It’s really hard – at least for someone with minimal knowledge of Bayesian techniques, like me. Non-blind deconvolution, on the other hand, is pretty simple – comparatively. Here, you know by how much your image has degraded and you just “reverse degrade” it to get back the original image.
When the Hubble space telescope went up in space for the first time, there was some mistake in its lens. So all pictures it captured were kind of badly distorted. Thankfully, the scientists could easily estimate the extent of distortion and kind of just invert it in software. They fixed the lens later too, by the way.

So why am I telling you all this? I just realised one thing – the brain cannot perform deconvolution! And essentially, it is a case of non-blind deconvolution! Why do I say this? Because I wear glasses!

If the brain could perform deconvolution, no one would have to wear spectacles or contact lenses at all! Why is it non-blind? Because, the brain kind of has a very good idea of how natural images should look like, so, it can, in theory, easily find the extent of the blur it is experiencing. To be frank, this seemed like one of the features that the brain should have had, considering the impressive list of things it already does!
The brain supposedly learns from its sensors very quickly as some examples indicate. Why does it not simply “invert the blur through software”? It is so simple mathematically – you would think the brain would have circuitry for that. Apparently it doesn’t.

Some people would say, “it’s not such a big evolutionary advantage, so maybe that’s why it’s not there.” Then why can people learn to see through their tongue? It’s simply adapting to changes that’s all!

I strongly think that we are missing some link here. Maybe this tells us something about the brain, I don’t know. Please feel free to comment and let your ideas heard.

New gadget in the house!

Hello there everyone!

It’s feels a little weird, actually updating your blog, if you haven’t done so in a long time, even though you should have. Well, anyway, here I am again!

I’m supposed to be enjoying my summer holidays right now, but I somehow got myself into a couple of projects and thus have to remain busy all the time. It’s like, it’s frustrating when things don’t work, but at the same time, its really satisfying when they do. Well, that’s been the story of my summer holidays. It’s a very different summer holiday for me, when compared to last year. You might wanna read this to know more.
Anyway, as things were moving on, I had to read up and surf the internet a lot for information. Sitting in front of my laptop all the time was really strenuous, with all the brightness and the glare the screen offers, and not to mention its 2.5 kg weight. I then realised I didn’t actually need a core i5 processor for the tasks I was doing – surfing and reading pdf files. So I decided to get myself a tablet.

Now, I am not the type who would buy an Apple iPad3 or Samsung Galaxy Tab, splurging on money, but yes, I did need SOMETHING. My mom told me on my birthday,”You can buy anything you want under 7k. You can get a new touchscreen phone, or that tablet thing you were saying.”

Now that put me in a spot. My phone was, pretty old. I have in fact put cellophane tape on it so that the keys don’t fall off – really. I really wanted to see what Android was all about, I mean, everyone was talking about it so much! So, what to buy? A good phone? or a half decent tablet?

I ditched the phone idea, because frankly, I needed a big screen to read and surf. And even though the keys were falling off, it did one thing properly- make calls and send/receive msgs. I didn’t have any real issue with it. So, I decided to get myself a tablet.

I always thought that one couldn’t get a decent tablet for under 10k. I looked at the Micromax tablet in an electronics store, and I wasn’t impressed by it, looked too small for some reason, but also looked well worth the price of 6.5k. So, I started scouting the internet for good sub-10k tablets.

Googling away, I could see that most websites had recommended a tablet from a company called iBerry. I was thinking, “What the hell, there is no way I am going to be called the owner of an iBerry tablet.”  Brand- consciousness has become a very basic instinct, you see. :P

It turns out, though, that the tablet is excellent. It offers awesome features for a very affordable price. Even 13k tablets from companies like iBall, HCL, Reliance were no match to this. That’s when I had made my decision.
The brand conscious part of my brain was hesitant, but I had made my decision, and once I make a commitment, I then don’t even listen to myself.  (No offense to Sallu fans) :P :P

I mean, just think about it, all tablets anyways have the same components, same processor from the same company, same RAM, etc, and all of them have android, so it doesn’t make a difference, eventually. Of course, my basic aim was to look for a gadget that could help me surf the net, and read pdfs. That was getting satisfied by every tablet I saw, and all of them had about a 6hr battery life on average.
There is one problem with sub 10k tablets though – most of them don’t have SIM slot, bluetooth, GPS. Mine wasn’t different, but, woh chalta hain, I reasoned.

Obviously, my parents weren’t really thrilled when they heard the iBerry name. “Atleast buy that Reliance tablet, you cannot trust these local companies, see the name itself sounds so fishy!”, they said. But I somehow convinced them and got myself an iBerry BT07i tablet, with a 1GHz processor, 512 MB RAM, 2GB flash extendable upto 32 GB, an OpenGL accelerator, motion sensors, 5 touch capacitive touchscreen, and most important of all – Android 4.0.3- Ice Cream Sandwich!  All for a price of 7.8k!
I was pretty impressed by touchscreen response, and the looks and build quality would make someone confuse this for a Galaxy tab itself!
The charger started giving problems, though, so I asked for a replacement of the charger, and I had it delivered to my doorstep in 2 days, all the way from Chennai. Not bad for a “local” company I’d say. :)

Its been about one week, and I absolutely LOVE my tablet. I’ve installed many apps and am beginning to see what the excitement was all about. The market is amazing! Personally I feel, it doesn’t matter, after a limit, as to what hardware you have. If your software works like magic, that’s all you need to love your device!

So what effect will a new gadget have? Will it make one more connected? Or will it make one more dis-connected?
Only time will tell. ;)

A really big rant about engineering that only people who are really bored should read

Hello there people! It has been long since I last blogged. I was just going through my previous blog posts, and it turns out that it has been almost 2 years since I started this blog. Looking at that, I figured I was doing gross injustice to this blog, and so here I am, with the longest title I have ever given to a post.

My exams just got over, and I just realized that it is during exams that most people either stop philosophizing and become ‘practical’ or, if they are like me, start philosophizing. Consider this: almost all students hate exams and they hate studying. They don’t hate learning, no, but they do hate studying, (or rather mugging) for exams.

Of course we all know the problems that our education system faces, so no point in bringing that up again. I would ,though, like to focus on one issue: marks.
I am no psychologist or a social scientist (or even an economist for that matter), but I truly believe that the incentives we give for doing something should not be greater than the incentive of doing the task in the first place. Those incentives that we give should merely behave how a spark plug behaves in an IC engine- just get the damn process to start. Also, that makes sure that procrastination doesn’t happen.

That exactly is the problem with the marks system today. It blinds everyone so much that attainment of marks has become the primary goal, not learning. This sounds all too familiar. However, there is one other thing that exhibits very similar behavior- money. As Zeitgeist the movie points out- people working see money as the primary motive. Most people work not because they like working there, but because of the money (at least according to Zeitgeist). If there was no money incentive, (as Zeitgeist says) people would only did what they liked.
I am not entirely sure that I agree with them there, but the fact that money and marks are analogous seems clear.

Now what happens when both come together? An engineering course is born!

I am a student of PESIT- an institution as famous for its discipline as much as it is for its “innovate” grading system. It also supposedly gets a good number of its students placed. All is well, right? Not quite.

Students here have the double incentives of money(good placement) and marks. Learning and creating are a big no-no. I know people who wonder about basic concepts of a subject minutes before the final exam. And they say they want to score a 9gpa. All efforts are centered around resume-building, getting certificates,marks rather than learning and trying to create.

I thought all this mugging-for-exams business would be over by 2nd PU and everyone would (with no CET/2nd PU exam tension) think creatively and openly. Instead, I have to remember things like this:

Of course, I always tried to understand what happens at each point in 2nd PU and always do in engineering too. I try my best to avoid mugging. But what hell am I supposed to do with formulae like this?

Tests don’t.
Exams aren’t.

Basically they test, even here, how much you can remember.

Things actually aren’t as bad as I am making them seem (atleast in PESIT), but they aren’t really rosy either. National Employability report 2011 says 82% of Indian engineering undergrads and unemployable. I just saw a report that about 150+ engineering colleges all over India are applying for closure. Apparently most of them are from Andhra Pradesh/ Tamil Nadu, where about 90% engineers are unemployable! Karnataka apparently clocks in at 85%, which is in no way better. This surely isn’t right.

Obviously, relative grading, when added to this, makes it really deadly. I always believed that relative grading was a way out of the arbitrariness of the education system, but only if it was fully utilized. If the paper was infinitely tough, and the highest was around 60/100, then everyone would work harder, and also, no one’s grade would be bad (or rather, unfair). If however, the paper is like a memory test, then its unfair to everyone! In one subject, people had to get 97/100 in a subject to get 10/10, 92 to get 9/10. Someone who got 90/100 would still reel at 8/10. This is really not the way to go!

Recently, PESIT made a decision to scrap relative grading, for the greater good, probably. Apart from all this test and exam business (and probably attendance requirements), PESIT is awesome. They give you money to do any project you want (I am speaking very literally here) and everyone is really supportive.

If I had my way, all education would be done the Khan Academy way- where time is not of essence, but mastery is. No marks there, everyone fails till they get 100%!

Anyway I am not here to propose solutions (this is a rant, remember).

And so finally ends. Breathe.

The circuit that didn’t work

Hello everyone!
Its not usual for a PESITian to be blogging when it’s not in his summer holidays, and more so when his second test is approaching- closer and closer by the day! Its even more unusual to blog when he has a lab test at just around the same time, and, the final exam being just a couple of weeks away from there.
So then, why am I blogging now? The reason is that I want to share something. Something, which when shared later, would dilute my excitement about it (probably). So, what is it? Here goes.

It’s another of my small and silly projects (as you might have guessed). The story of this project is very much similar to that of the “Ear project”, however probably at a higher intensity (Pun not intended). It’s a project on digital electronics, which I thought of taking up. I don’t know why, but even this time, there were exactly 3 of us. A different 3, though. Prithvi, Fazal and me. Oh oh, wait,  make that 4. Add in our good friend Murphy. Murphy is an international celebrity, known widely for his laws. But still we didn’t want him in our group, he, however insisted on sticking there.

We decided to construct a programmable code lock. You know, a circuit in which you punch in a code and the lock opens, and you have the facility of resetting the code as well. At first, Murphy didn’t contribute to anything, and we were happy about it. Then he started. We hence couldn’t complete designing a programmable code lock, but had to do with just a code lock. Well, it wasn’t entirely Murphy’s fault, because we had to do it using 74 series ICs only, and it was getting too long and difficult.
All right, we then fixed on doing a code lock. But another shock- it was all over the internet, and seemed like a pretty ordinary idea! So we desperately wanted to do something else. That’s when we hit upon an idea, one which seemed lame at first- that of calling the same circuit by a different name: Quizzer. (It was the name that was lame, and in some ways, still is).

Now that I think about it, it wasn’t all that lame. I mean,it had a similar design, but a different application. So what does it do?
It’s basically a device that can be used in MCQ tests, you know, the CET/JEE type. One which has four options, one of which is correct. Your final score depends on the total number of correct answers minus the negative marking if any. It also has the feature of stopping to accept inputs once you have exceeded your time limit (60 mins or whatever). You will also have the option of not answering a question if you want, which can be implemented with an easy modification. There will be displays showing how many questions one has attempted (yet), the number of correct answers (which goes on immediately after you’ve finished answering), one which shows the time, and also probably one which shows the number of wrong answers (required if you have the option of not answering a question).
It also doesn’t seem to have any logical loopholes, as our circuit has been designed to overcome the ones which we could think of.

Now that’s not the reason I liked my design. I liked it because I had managed to store data in it without using any memory element. Yes, you heard me. No ROM (EEPROM to be precise), but still a storage of memory! How? The answer lies in the second MUX I have used. It has been wired in such a way that it forms an imitation of memory being used. That MUX was at the heart of my circuit, and I was pretty glad that I had it in.

The mess that didn't work.

Then we started building our circuit. Re-enter Murphy. You can guess the rest.
It’s working was very non-scientific. In the sense that it was working differently for the same kind of operation when used at different times. :P

At the end we gave up. Just gave up. It took us 3 breadboards to construct that, and in the end, nothing worked.

And it won’t.

P.S. : The circuit might have some minor mistakes, hopefully not any major ones. :o
Here is an explanation on circuit.

The wait ends…or does it? Part4

Hello there people! Its been a while since I blogged. And considering the fact that it was the holiday season, I should have definitely blogged a little more. Well, I AM blogging now, at the fag end of the holiday season. In fact- at the end of the season exactly. Today is the last day of my so-called “summer” holidays.

These summer holidays have been the weirdest ones ever. Really. I mean, all through school and even Pre-University, holidays have always been about having unadulterated fun. You weren’t supposed to do anything else. But that was before I was an engineering student.

You see, being in a professional course brings along with it a baggage of responsibilities. Almost everyone had to do something to “utilize their holidays fruitfully”. Some suggested internships, others went on to do courses. I, being the person I am, didn’t even plan on anything, and ended up feeling guilty about it.

So I decided I would spend my time experimenting on electronics, I mean, that WAS my subject. A couple of failed projects first up didn’t do my morale any good. I almost gave up, almost, and then it happened. It hit me. I had tried previously to build one with my friends, but failed. So, I thought of buying it. And I cursed myself for not having brought it much earlier. What? Arduino.

Arduino Board
Image via Wikipedia

Now what in the world is Arduino? Allow me to explain.
Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform. In simpler words, it is a microcontroller board that simplifies programming- a lot. Its an Italian masculine first name meaning “strong friend” (apparently), and it has been nothing short of that to me when it comes to electronics.

Its a fantastical world, the world of Arduino. Its the Linux of the hardware world. Its so flexible that both beginners as well as advanced users (supposedly) can work on this. So, what exactly do I do with it?
Basically, I can control electronic devices and their actions using this. So first, I write code using the Arduino software (its like C,mostly). I burn the code onto my Arduino board. I connect my electronics components to it- and abrakadbra! It works!
Everything becomes so much easier with this. I could do things pretty easily that were pretty difficult to do otherwise. It was just the question of figuring out the logic of the project now.

Its amazing how wild your imagination can run when you have such a powerful tool beside you. I was doing a new thing almost everyday. It was addictive. But then they were small things- I mean, really small beginner things. I wanted to do something bigger, and concrete-er. So I embarked on a quest to build an obstacle avoider robot with my friend.
Its not as hi-fi as it sounds, and me and my friend finished it doing it without breaking much sweat (except for the fact that I had lost my motor-driver IC and had to drive motors using transistors, which meant my ‘robot’ couldn’t drive backwards, and we couldn’t use Op-amps as we needed to give it a -Vcc as well).
Then I built a IR controller car-controlled using my DVD player remote. For an electronics beginner like me, that was something cool that I had built. Now, I am itching to do more. Lots more.

One other important advantage of owning an Arduino board is the amount of stuff you get to learn. I learnt a lot more than I had thought I would during the course of these holidays- and I owe it entirely to Arduino. You start to get how things work practically. Actually. Its my opinion that EVERY electronics engineer has to have something like this beside him/her.
For a more accurate description, I suggest you google arduino, look at its website, its wiki page, and a couple of arduino projects that have actually been built. They’re all nothing short of awesome.

But alas! The holidays are over! And with this I am supposed to get back to college to do ‘academics’. Looks like I’ll have to wait until I am ‘free’ again to get back to Arduino.

Or will I? ;)

Is black money all black?

India has suddenly become all energetic in the past few days. There is the crusade against corruption, fasts, so-called satyagrahas, and what not! It’s a festival for journalists! Amidst all this drama and commotion, it is easy to forget the real issue- why does black money exist in the first place? This post of mine is an attempt of mine to make sense of it all.

Popular media has shown us properly at least one motive of black money makers: to evade tax. Yes, we know too well about the Swiss Banks and the politicians and the corporate businessmen who regularly visit the tiny snow-capped nation for ‘holidays’. Now what’s wrong with that? It’s wrong because, if tax was payed for the same amount of money in India, that would effectively add to the national budget, which the government would spend on the development of the nation, making people happy.

In effect, the govt does the job of ‘stealing’ from the rich (thro’ taxes) and giving to the poor. Of course it does many other things, like improving infrastructure, buying more and more redundant fighter jets for the army, but the main aim of it all is to improve the quality of living of the people of the nation. The implementation (and maybe even intentions) of our government may be a little poor, but just for the sake of argument, let us consider an ‘ideal’ government.

In this context, this type of black money is truly a huge crime that the poor of the country pay eventually.

Black money also stems from illegal trade. All money used in illegal trade will invariably be black. The objective of this type of money is to buy and sell redundant goods, goods that not only don’t add to the nation’s well-being, but in fact deteriorate it. Evidently, this black money is truly, black.

Now here comes the sensational issue: bribes. There was the 2G scam, the CWG, the Adarsh. We know about those too well. These high-level bribes are, most intimately connected to black money type #1, i,e; those that exist to evade tax. An amount as huge as 1.76 lakh crore would have done wonders to many poor families, no matter what Kapil ‘Zero loss’ Sibal says!
The reason why these high level crimes occur, is complex. I mean, why would rich people want more money? Some say that they contribute it to the so-called ‘party funds’. Others say that they use this money for themselves to buy more and more land, over and over again. Yes, even before I wrote this in my post, it was decided that this is wrong.

Now comes the actual issue of my blogpost. The small-but-rampant bribes. A few days ago, I failed my learner’s license test for the first time, and I knew I would have passed had I slipped in a 500 rupee note along with my answer sheet. I’ve heard that many do it. Although I did pass on the second trial, you know where I am going with this. Its anybody’s guess how large the small-bribe economy in India is. But is this really immoral or wrong? Unfortunately, there isn’t an answer to this. Atleast from me.

I mean, look at bus conductors. They don’t earn much, do they? You must know that while travelling small distances, they don’t give you a ticket, especially at night. The corruption that exists amongst them is wrong ethically, but actually, it doesn’t do much harm to the nation. The extra black money that they earn eventually does poor people like them good. Having said that, I am in no way, encouraging the habit, but I don’t feel like going entirely against it either. Similar is the case of the govt officials.
I tend to think that these kind of bribes reflect their frustration at some level on being unable to buy things that they want. And it is this habit that makes it “okay” for govt. officials at top positions also to accept bribes. Its a bad habit that is contagious, kinda like drinking. People who drink (excessively), are on one level frustrated with their own lives. The idea catches on and everybody does it “coz it kool”.
Yes, you can “ban” drinks, that would help, but that wouldn’t de-frustrate the people somehow!

With the onset of the Jan Lokpal, we are stepping in the right direction, surely. We are “banning” bribes, by introducing a class monitor. But we need to do more. We need to make the people satisfied with their lives, at least to the maximum extent possible. Dis-satisfaction is the reason for all crimes, in fact. The greater the extent of the dis-satisfaction, the greater is the crime!
Now there are many aspects to being dis-satisfied, some being physical things like equality in the society, others being mental things like the culture you were brought up in, and the prevailing mindset there, etc…I wouldn’t bore you much with that, no need to worry. :P

But the point I am trying to make here is that, it becomes the job of the elected representatives to bring maximum satisfaction to people. That surely cannot happen overnight, and I’m not sure if it can ever happen!

Coming back to the issue, yes, black money is “bad”, “evil” and everything else that’s synonymous with that.

But like all other things in the world, black money isn’t all black.
You know, even black holes aren’t all black! ;)



P.S: A movie called “Zeitgeist- Moving Forward” claims have an idea that, if implemented, can give material satisfaction to all people. It also focuses on the mental happiness issue, and all the myths surrounding it. <No more promotion> :P

A blog that has given up trying to find a theme!


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