Saturday, 24 August 2013

Ramblings of a Restless Mind

Life has slowed down since the hitherto hectic times of managerial training and manic breakdowns. There was a time when I was liaising with a German manufacturer, obeying the lords above me (Head Office), appeasing a disgruntled and increasingly volatile union and scolding some desi repair contractors. Now, all I do after a couple of hours of routine work is read manuals on different equipment, and college textbooks to strengthen my mechanical engineering. Some big ticket projects are lined up but they are almost 45 days away and the economic slowdown is creating all sorts of problems with my earlier profligate multi-crore budget. Even the consolation of getting a raise within a year of joining (crossing the psychological barrier of a monthly INR six figure salary post tax) elicited a short lived euphoria that was numbed by the fact that I have no real expenses.

Another spurt of happiness was provided by getting published in a prominent journal. The achievement brings a lot of relief - a considerable amount of time was spent in weighing minuscule quantities of salts - and a touch of triumph. Not so much of happiness though. There is a lingering sense of incompleteness. Therein lies another path in front of me, barely touched but greatly loved and it begets a series of thoughts that raises far more questions than answers. 

The pursuit of happyness brings new epiphanies and a fair bit of cognitive dissonance. It punishes procrastination and fear in the human world (a tad too severely at times) but brings a fresher perspective on life. Pain gives way to wisdom. Wisdom tempered by fierce hope and courage. Only time can tell if it has been too late to recover fully.


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Dullness does bring out some positives. Free time can be used judiciously in getting all sentimental about Space Ghost. Man, that was one heck of a cartoon.


I have seen every cartoon that was ever aired on Cartoon Network since 1995 and I've loved most of them. It was mainly through cartoons that I learnt to speak English (Toon Tamasha was a travesty) and that combined with tonnes of books made for great friends.

It's surprising, then, that I never really saw any Sitcom in my time at college. I've seen three episodes of Friends and some seasons of BBT and HIMYM but really nothing with a lot of passion or addiction. I was trying to catch hold of some good recommended shows on Sci-Fi but I really don't foresee a change in my habits. (I have to complete a sequel to my sci-fi post though).


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My birthday came and instead of lifting my spirits almost crushed it to inhuman proportions. It was low key and I slept through most of the day before taking some colleagues out for dinner. Thanks for the gifts, people!






Extra money isn't always a bad thing. With all that cash I was able to buy myself a remote powered helicopter. A toy Ferrari was gifted later as well. For three thousand bucks and a few heart stopping crashes I had finally conquered the skies. Not to mention the tiles too.



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I am working on a couple of projects in office that are sort of exciting. The biggest challenge in the factory is handling people at least 10-25 years older than you - all different but very dignified - so that no one really requires your presence in the long run. That's one thing that has interested me a lot (more in a coming post). I am also looking at introducing dynamic manufacturing in the workplace and that's a project that's going to take a while to complete. Some other work is related to chemical engineering (that's my branch FYI) and some others on creative cost cutting. I am planning to introduce a feature on my blog that talks about these projects in detail through analogies. Also included will be explorations I made in college for contests or projects or for fun that were pursued subsequently. Watch this space for more.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Harmony


Many days have passed,
In depravity and misery, and dread terrible.
It is all forgotten and forgiven
As I lay my eyes on your name.
The symmetry of the letters do justice to thy nature
In perfect harmony
I see you at last.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

HWR - 9

This is the first ever edition of an HWR that comes a week after the last one was published. Yup, I've become serious with my life.
  1. Starting off with one of the biggest disappointments of my life. Most of us know the Discovery Channel as an authoritative source of spectacular visual education. I've spent my childhood growing up with NGC and Discovery. It was a shock to all of us when this year's shark week started off with a fabricated story. That's right, the whole documentary was a lie.
  2. A bit late in the day to post an article on Man of Steel but I might as well tell you how superman was just not superman in the movie.
  3. Jeff Bezos has bought the Washington Post. It's an acquisition that's thought provoking, to say the least.
  4. Barack Obama recently intervened in a patent dispute between Apple and Samsung. It has interesting implications.
  5. The internet has allowed many of us to speak out our minds. Unfortunately, most of the people in the world are dumb so that's not always a great thing, especially when they are reviewing classics on Amazon.
  6. Raghuram Rajan is the new Governor of the RBI. What better time for us to read Rajan's own words on the tricky role that a central bank plays, written a few months ago.





Sunday, 4 August 2013

In Defence of Science Fiction

Let’s face it. Science fiction isn’t high on the list of Art of the critical thinking community. Specifically in the world of enduring literature there are a handful of sci-fi writers who are included in the Classics bookshelf while a perfunctory glance is bestowed on the humongous number of novels with dystopia, parallel universes, time and interstellar travel. Having just finished a brilliant book by Cory Doctorow, I was consumed by the question: why is science fiction so harshly ignored?




The world looks at the writers who turn inwards towards society and the ramshackle depressing thoughts of losers. Lyrical prose, Kevlar piercing deadly observations and powerful themes mark these creations. I was re-reading parts of Jane Eyre recently and I was struck by the beautiful balance of Charlotte Bronte’s writing. Science fiction writers are scrawny scratchy runts in comparison.

Science fiction is what I call disbelievable. Science fiction takes its fuel not from stirring prose (not always true) or boast of a Kafka on the Shore (although Murakami does well in cyber punk) but from Ideas. Ideas that can light a candle on the underbelly of Enceladus through a magical mix of science and telepathy. Ideas that have inspired countless young minds. Ideas that have pushed us to invent miracles of modern life such as the remote control. And the genre is huge. People who quote Asimov and Bradbury have just scratched the surface (it’s still a great start).

And science fiction has evolved. It all started during the mid-nineteenth century with books like Frankenstein. It took off with the concurrent brilliance of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. These stories spoke of nascent scientific achievement and the dangers of going overboard – one can always find an underlying acknowledgement of Nature’s supremacy. It didn't take long for people to break those rules as Huxley chose to paint the future in a Shakespearean mass tragedy. Then came the authors who came to define modern and conventional science fiction. Today, we’re deep into cyber punk and as always, fantasy and science fiction continue to mix.


Frank wasn't my name, you know

In fact, there are so many sci-fi writers that a rookie like me has no right to list them down let alone comment on them. So, what's the blog for?

My question touches on the correlation between accessibility of different novels and their relationship with Art (you can read a previous post on Art). On the fag end, you have the rather too accessible horde of "Life is Love" authors (copyrighting that name) which despite clicking with a number of people aren't qualified to be considered in the same stead as, say, Catcher in the Rye. Note the choice of analogy. It is not necessarily an over-pumped highfalutin work of GRE words that needs to be called Art. It's okay to be raw and to shriek and scream at your audience. That indescribable element of class is all that's needed.

Coming back to science fiction, there are two factors IMHO that hamper its chance of being rated as Art:

  1. It's too accessible.
  2. It's more about ideas.
That sci-fi is accessible makes it a mass choice. Edgar Rice Burroughs was pulp fiction. Kurt Vonnegut, on the other hand, was class the moment people saw him as more than a science fiction author. Asimov has inspired eminent academics such as Paul Krugman, but he has already been listed in the Big Three and that's enough respect for a guy who writes, well, science fiction. Accessibility cuts at greatness. You have to be Douglas Adams to turn prophetic science fiction into a work of unmatched humour and satire.


That beats the Nobel any day

The second point holds weight as well. When you choose to speak with ideas and visions, you are capturing the imagination of a child, whatever be his age. That's hard to keep hold of. For one thing, the world is turning increasingly gruesome before your very eyes to care about a possible Hari Seldon. As a reinforcing consequence, it's disturbed and emotionally complicated stories (not necessarily romance) that catch the eye. There is only so much of hope in the world. I think this might well be a bigger reason for the resurgence of sci-fi on the wave of dystopia and despair (Others may well blame this trend as killing nascent curiosity and that's an open debate for another day). Writing in ideas also has the distinct disadvantage of coming across situations that can't be conveyed in words. Some things are best left to the imagination.

Science fiction is Art. It can bring to life a world that never existed. It can predict inventions long before science has the wherewithal to actually build it. It is utopia and dystopia. And there is an unexamined overstated assumption of its works lacking beauty. Go read Bradbury and witness the haunting loneliness in his prose. Read Orwell and his command over ideas and words. Imagine having no conceivable image of Rama in the world around you and reading Clarke for the first time. Look at robots and planes but don't forget to notice the small bits and pieces of innovation that have changed the way we live. Science fiction may well be a far more democratic form of Art. All you need is your imagination.

Science Fiction deserves respect.

(Next time: I'll move to contradict this post. Some good fun, eh?)

Thursday, 1 August 2013

HWR - 8

All it takes is some blood from your tonsils, dizziness and an excruciatingly painful throat to sit patiently in front of the laptop and write a few sentences.

Welcome to Haaris' Weekly Round-up:

  1. A crisp case for shale gas and its future. No environmental speculation please.
  2. I won't go into the Sen-Bhagwati debate. You can have a field day reading about it on the net. Instead, I offer some speculation why Bhagwati may not win the Nobel, ever. Again, don't pick sides. Yet.
  3. It took money to open people's eyes in accepting anthropomorphic climate change. Insurance money.
  4. Time to bring out your debating books. Zeus could have been alive; he might still be there.
And that's a wrap.