Thursday, November 06, 2014

Remembering Dad ...

Once in a while, you become emotional, you feel like crying. Later on, you may think you were being irrational then. So what? It is better to cry, the psychology research has shown and we'd have cried even if that were not the case.

Today is such a day and now is such a time. I sob as I write this blog post. My dad passed away exactly 12 years ago. I was in the US and he was back in India. It was quite an unexpected heart attack. He was watching a cricket match in his usually excited self and then went upstairs for some chore and was not to return.

He was a straightforward man, a common man just like you and me. You are not fortunate or unfortunate to be a man's son. He is a part of yourself, your memories, your identity. The glory is not necessarily in anything particular you got (or did not get) from him, it is in the time you spent together. It becomes part of your past forever. The fact that you won't ever receive a visit, an email or a phone call from him makes that past precious. An unforgettable past may not be true in everyone's case, but perhaps it should be.

You become a better son when you become a dad. It certainly is true in my case. I am fortunate to realize this when my son and daughter remember their grandfather, the grandfather that they have never seen. Time and again I am reminded of this mystic quote:
Death is a part of life, not the end of it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How Kids Teach Adults ...

I consider myself an observing, learning adult. Thus, I make mistakes, observe consequences and make amendments if I am able to overcome the prejudice (and maybe fear). The bad thing then is that I am vulnerable to making mistakes. The good thing however is that I have a chance to improve (when measured in some objective way). Overall, life is good!

A central tenet of the environment that is conducive to such learning is, of course, Freedom. Without going into too much detail of the concept of Freedom of thoughts and actions (it is complicated if we let it to be), let us just say that freedom is at its best when given. So, basically, you let things happen on their own (technically: laissez-faire) even when you could have made them happen in a specific, premeditated manner by coercion.

One of the best experiences of this is to be had when you are with kids. If you cultivate an environment where they are free, you get to see the glimpses of an interesting nature of freedom: accidental discovery. Some call it the serendipity. Here is a somewhat routine, everyday experience with two siblings (Nachiket: Boy, 9 and Gargi: Girl, 5) with their dad (Baba) as he was dropping them off to school (in the United States). The other character referred to in this short narrative is the kids' older cousin (Sharada: Girl, 20).

Nachiket: "Dad, are there no rules in college?"

Baba: "Who told you that?"

Nachiket: "Umm, we talked to Sharada this past weekend and she was saying ..."

Baba: "Ah, I see. Yeah, I remember, you became very interested when Sharada said that they had no rules in college and was jokingly urging you to join her in college. Hmm, well, there are rules in college, but perhaps they are fewer than those at school."

Nachiket: "Why are there rules [at all]?"

Baba: "Well, they believe that there would be chaos without them. Simply put, there are rules because they need to manage the students effectively. These fifty students have fifty different personalities, so they [teachers, staff] need something that fits all to manage them effectively. And they think that making rules would make it easier to deal with those students."

Gargi: "I'd like to go to college soon."

[Just then, a beautiful, beautiful rendition of Ram's life, called Geet-Ramayan, started playing on the phone. Of course, Nachiket was the motive force behind it. This was a favorite pastime of Nachiket and Gargi: when in car, listen to the songs from Geet-Ramayan, even when they don't understand the meanings of the words and their relevance. Describing the melody G.D. Madgulkar (the great Marathi poet), Sudhir [Babuji] Phadke (the great Indian composer) and others have created in 1956 is beyond my literary capacity (or incapacity). These kids listen to those songs all the time, on their own. This, to us parents has been a mystery and a pleasant surprise. The song being played at this time was "नको करुस वल्गना, रावणा निशाचरा" -- "Hey (nocturnal) Ravan, Don't be excited (at your success)". This song is sung by a distressed and abducted Sita.]

Baba: "Do you know what "sur" [in the song] means?"

Gargi: [Without talking a word, starts singing herself] "Saaaaaaaaaaaaaaa" [this is the 'do' tune in 'Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do' and it is true. One of the many meanings of that word "sur" is "a particular fre‌quency, note in music". The dad was so surprised to experience this  accidental 'connecting of the dots' done by his 5-year-old!]

Baba: "You are absolutely right! "sUr" means exactly that -- a note in music. Good job! However, "sur" means something different. Here, it means "god". But I am really glad that you found that meaning, Gargi!"

This short narrative is yet another eye-opening for experience for me. This is exactly how I believe kids (and perhaps adults too, if they let go of the curse of knowledge) learn.

Should the schools too have such freedom that Daniel Greenberg has been trying to bring about? Is that practical? If not, why not?

Saturday, February 01, 2014

The Contrast ...

I reached the Sunnyvale train station. The 7.13 northbound fast train was late. There was a fatality in the Redwood City area. I boarded the next train. I always board the first bike car. Since this was an unusual day, many announcements were being made. The conductors were alert and helpful. There was only one line that was now shared between the southbound and the northbound trains. People were upset that they were being late to offices apparently for no fault of theirs. Impatience and intolerance aggravated.

Redwood City approached. A conductor was standing right behind me. She was curiously looking ahead but said, "I wouldn't look, they are collecting the pieces now". Those were the organs of the woman who was struck and killed by a previous northbound train. A train staff was collecting in a plastic bag a pair of boots, a set of hair, torn clothes, a human finger, perhaps parts of a human eye ... The crew was at work, it was work for them as usual. My train passed this silent drama slowly, with me watching it solemnly, disregarding the conductor's advice.

The life came back to normal. Perhaps it had to. The complainers were pacified one way or the other. The train reached its final destination. Clear skies, fresh breeze and joyful city life greeted me. I biked to work and resumed my daily activities almost as if nothing untoward had happened. Yes, the show had to go on.

Someone has said, "Death is a part of life, not the the end of it." Why is it then that this experience makes me pause and reflect? 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Java Generics: Technical Book Review

This post is a book review (as part of O'Reilly Blogger Program) of the following book:
  1. Name: Java Generics
  2. Authors: Maurice Naftalin, Philip Wadler
  3. Released: 2006
It's perhaps too late to be reviewing this book, as technical books quickly become outdated. The book was written at the time of a Java release that  marked the "new beginnings" of the formidable Java platform, the Java 5 release, back in 2005. This book review is written in 2013. Generics are an inseparable part of Java Programming Language. Though you'd like to think that it were (somehow) optional to know Generics, it's not the reality. You must be thorough with Generics. I agree that not all of us are library or API designers/implementors, but all of us are users of Java API; and a well-written, "modern" Java API uses Generics heavily. As a result, it quickly becomes imperative to know what Java Generics are.

And if you want to understand Generics, this is the book to get and read. Look no further. The treatment of Generics has not changed (and perhaps will not change) across Java releases. What was true in 2006 about them will be true for quite some time (with minor improvements). And both Naftalin and Wadler have done an exceedingly good job of providing a thorough, lively and almost perfect treatment of this arguably the most divisive Java language feature.

The prerequisite to reading this book (like, perhaps any other book) is to look at both Generics as a concept and their particular implementation adopted by the Java Platform with an open mind. If you have preconcived notions about this (which is not bad), this book is not for you. You should then be on the Java Community Process (JCP) mailing list about Generics.

I appreciate this book mainly because it tries to "inform", not "impress". Many (even popular) technical books tend to do the opposite. With lucid examples, the book helps getting to the bottom of the "whys". It also brings out the synergy between the Java 5 language features that makes the whole greater than just the sum of its parts. After/while reading the book, you might see how the controversial autoboxing/unboxing, varargs methods, the foreach loop work in unison to deliver toward a common goal -- typesafe collections of Java objects.

It's likely that you just hate the compile-time type safety. Perhaps you come from a refreshing and liberal dynamic scripting language like JavaScript and believe that compile-time type safety does not alleviate you of testing your code. You should then consume Generics as a necessary evil when programming in Java. But even then, if you are willing to accept that type safety has some benefits especially in the context of the Java programming language, read this book.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Are we becoming devicive?

No, there's no typo. I mean devicive and not divisive (which sadly, we are becoming with all these compartments we tend to create).  But I just coined this word:

devi·cive [dih-vahy-siv, -vis-iv]
Tending to show off expensive devices; gadgety
This occurred to me when my son's school had an "after-school electronics party" where they were supposed to bring in a small electronic gadget and share it with it others. They were allowed to be creative in picking such a device. My son is in 2nd grade.

He complained on the day before the party, "Baba, we have this party tomorrow and everyone plans to bring in iPod Touch, iPad, Xbox, Samsung Phone, Nintendo DS, and so on. What should I carry?" I knew that a day like this might come. I just did not know that it would be this soon. I was rather disappointed that at the electronics party, the kids are not bringing in those electronic devices that spark some fun. I didn't realize that Apple gadgets, Android-Samsung smartphones and Nintendo DS's are supposed to make us parents stop thinking :-). Are these devices what we want 2nd graders to think of, when we mean Electronics?

A binary clock
I looked around the house and suggested to him of the gadget that is by his desk and has faithfully displayed the time every time ;) -- his binary clock! It fit the bill and he's always liked it and he was so happy to have made that choice. I was of course proud that I didn't have to make a trip to Apple Store. I was more proud of my son because he spontaneously accepted this suggestion even when peer pressure is not easily surmountable. In fact, later on, somebody told him, "Hey buddy, I liked your binary clock!" and he was very happy!

Don't get me wrong. I did not want to seem different for the sake of being different, nor did I want to suggest that my 2nd grader son knows how to read a binary clock. It was just a sensible choice (I thought) we made when confronted with an unexpected situation (which is what life is all about). I wish I had created (made) a small electronic device along with him, but alas, there was not enough time.

Again, it's not that I hate the devices. I love them. I like creative products that many companies come up with. And I believe that Apple, Sony, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo have done a great job in creating such devices, but I don't think those devices should distort (or conveniently enhance!) our understanding of Electronics -- our 2nd graders' notions of electronic gadgets don't have to start and end with an iDevice.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

RIP, Aaron Swartz ...

Sometimes, some deaths are just gut-wrenching. Aaron's death was one such incident.

Aaron, a master computer programmer, an Internet activist committed suicide at 26. You can read up all about it for the Internet search will find you all the relevant details quickly.

I, like many others, didn't even know about Aaron, the man behind the name, until I read about his untimely death. But in hours of my discovery of his genius, this news and the whole unfortunate aftermath, I was grieving his death like that of my family member.

13 felonies for the crime (!) he committed? All he wanted was a fair treatment of his alleged crime and it was not granted. I shudder even now as I write this. Maybe we should rename to, there's no justice.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

We, the People ...

OK, this is one of those extempore posts, and yes, it comes after a long time. I felt if I did not do it soon enough, I'd probably never do it.

It was a busy Thursday morning like any other. Many tasks, TBD's running down my mind. I was dropping off my daughter at her school. And as it often happens, I was Multitasking. After dropping her off in her room, I saw a teacher from that school, Ms. Gina. She was parking her motorbike! Now, I had seen Ms. Gina several times. She had always been grumpy, or so I thought. Sometimes, I even thanked myself that she teaches kids in another room (not my daughter's).

Out of curiosity, I approached her and said, "Wow, Ms. Gina, I didn't know you ride a motorbike!" Not that everything unusual is great, but I was seriously intrigued. "Well, I have been riding for years now", she said. "Amazing", I said, maybe because usually you are attracted toward something that you have always wanted to do but could never do. "My entire family rides. My brothers (when they were single) were professional riders. I am not a professional, but this is the only vehicle I ride", said Ms. Gina.

I couldn't hide my bewilderment and I wished her a great day ahead and went off.

This is perhaps on the lines of Atul Gawande's five rules for Harvard graduates. Paraphrasing him,
My Rule #1 for you comes from a favorite essay by the writer Paul Auster: Ask an unscripted question. Ours is a job of talking to strangers. Why not learn something about them?
 Many a time, we are under the effects of our preconceived notions. Even if you are not pursuing a career in medicine, a large part of our lives is being actually social. Just a curious observation or question sparked by our genuine interest in things other human beings do can make our life more enjoyable, isn't it?