09 March, 2007


That's the latest book i read. It is another one of those 'science explained in layman terms' book.

It talks of why we must not be surprised by occurrences that are counter-intuitive, and in fact expect such results. He uses the theories such as catastrophe theory, chaos theory, etc to elaborate his point.

The interesting part is when he explains the limitations of logic/mathematics. Consider a Universal Truth Machine (UTM), which can print out ALL and only, TRUE statements. Now, consider the statement, "The UTM will not print this statement". What happens now? If the UTM prints this statement, the statement would be false, and UTM cannot print a false statement. So, it cannot be printed. But, if it is not printed, then the statement becomes TRUE, and the UTM does not print it. So, the UTM is not universal. The conclusion is that we cannot prove all statements in a system, by using the system. Hence, we cannot expect to learn everything using rational thought. Interesting...

14 February, 2007

The Argentine Adventure

A few Argentines were on a visit (training actually) to India, and i was in charge of making their trip pleasant. My interaction with them threw up a lot of interesting tid-bits.

Irevna, the company that I work for, has opened a new set up in Argentina, and five guys from there were in India to get to know the company, its culture, etc. I, along with Ashish—my colleague—were in charge of co-coordinating their trip to India. The amount of difference that exists between cultures is vast. Almost everything from weather to how ‘Wednesday’ is pronounced is different.

Being in the Southern hemisphere it is only natural that the weather pattern in Argentina is opposite to that of India. It is a temperate place for most part, except for eh South that is close to Antarctica and obviously, cold.

The guys, Miguel, Juan, Marcelo, Gustavo and Carlos, were all pretty cool guys with no airs of any sort. They have a tight schedule here and I may not get to interact much, with them. Ashish and I took them shopping on Saturday, and they liked it a lot. Their greatest problem here is the food. They CANNOT tolerate even a teeny-weeny bit of spice. Everything has to be bland, and in India, it is very difficult ( Impossible? ) to find something bland. That’s unfortunate in a way, as they do not know what they are missing out on.

One of their pet topics here seems to be the traffic. It always seems to amaze them. It is not the volume of traffic—I am sure Buenos Aires should be equally congested—but the utter lack of order that surprises them. That there are no lanes, that hardly anybody cares for traffic rules, and that everyone really loves to honk is something that they find hard to digest. The last part always gets them worked up!!!

From what they have described of Argentina, it is a place that I would certainly like to go - the night life, the carnivals ( ala Brazil ), the geography - all sound interesting. Let’s see…someday, I might go there!

09 February, 2007

The Lover of Trapdoors !

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, is the book that speaks about the lover of trapdoors. I was skeptical after reading the title, and after a few pages, thought it must be a comedy. However, it is riveting once you get the hang of the story.

It is about the 'Opera Ghost' or 'OG' or 'Erik' as he calls himself. There is a ghost in the Opera who terrorises people. He demands a box for himself in every performance and also 20,000 francs every month ( A ghost who demands money ! ). OG then falls in love with a singer and goes to extreme lengths for her. There is a hero too, who loves the same singer; and a 'daroga' who seems to know a lot about OG and his secrets.

The author does a good job of keeping up the suspense and later of rationalizing the events that build up to it. A good read.

07 February, 2007


Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick - That was one of the books i recently devoured. It is not a technical book, rather about the history of the science of choas - how mankind's unerstanding of the concept of chaos progressed over the years. A delightful read. Lots of interesting concepts.

I was of the view that chaos is random. But it seems, it is not. Lorentz, a meteorologist first postulated that non-periodicity could be deterministic. He also went on show that, chaos is not truly random, but it is actually bounded - he gave the world the Lorenz attractor. Of course, he did this with refrence to a meteorological problem. Also, it was he who coined the much abuesd phrase, butterfly effect - in scientific terms, sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

Then the book talks about self similarity. An interesting observation was that an infinite length can bound a finite area. This concept is used to introduce fractal dimensions - fractional dimensions ( I did not understand much; so would not comment).

I one great quote that i found in the book was from a scientist who was displeased with people using the term 'non-linearity systems'. He said it was like saying Zoology is about 'non-elephant' animals - simply brilliant. All our years of education conditions us to think that the world is linear; when in fact, the world in completely non-linear.

Then there is a lot about turbulence - a vexing problem in Physics. There was a quote from Heisenberg ( The Uncertainty Principle guy ), on his death bed, saying he would ask God, "Why Realtivity and why Turbulence?" He goes on to say, "I really think He may have the answer to the first question."

There was a lot of stuff that went way over my head. But overall it was a good read.

05 February, 2007

True Fiction

I have come to realise that i love 'true fiction' ( if there could be such a thing ). By that i mean, fiction that is true to the word - stories about jungles inhabited by ancient 'intelligent' apes - Congo by Michael Crichton - people from other 'levels' coming to our world - Insomnia by Stephen King - and 'creatures/people' from other dimensions - Atlantis by Greg Donegan.

Such novels are very interesting despite the inherent obviousness of their being fiction, in the truest sense of the word. Of course, they seem ridiculous in retrospect, but when one is reading through, they are highly entertaining.

03 February, 2007


Read a hell lot of fiction recently - Frederick Forsyth’s Avenger and The Afghan, John Grisham’s Broker, and a lot of other small time authors. But it’s an overdose. Forsyth has this obsession with secret services that is getting repetitive, now that I am reading a lot of his novels. But it is still good. Avenger was great. I would call it his best. Of course, it has a lot improbable coincidences, that move the story forward, but on the whole, it’s pretty gripping.

Marriage - A Mathematical Perspective !!!

My Mom was visiting me in Chennai, and she silently let it slip that my Dad and she were looking for a suitable girl for my marriage. I was shocked to say the least. I know, it is inevitable, but still…

This is another of the real life cases where there is ‘Information Asymmetry’, ala used cars, . But, a more relevant technical discussion here would entail Linear Equations

You can consider the problem of finding the ‘perfect’ girl ( or a boy, for a girl ), as a linear equation, where you are trying to maximize or minimize ( does not really matter ) the objective function, subject to certain constraints. But the similarity ends there.

In Mathematics, you consider all the possible solutions simultaneously, and choose the optimum one. ( In fact, you don’t need to consider all options, as the solution would lie on the boundary. So, you need to consider only the boundary solutions ).

But here, you cannot consider all the possible solutions simultaneously. You have to consider them sequentially. Now, that would prevent you from finding the optimum solution, as do not know if the some solution in the future would be better than the present one. ( Married guys…sounds familiar !!! )

So, what happens is, people decide on some important constraints that need to be necessarily met, something like a ‘satisfysing solution’. It is not optimum, but it is sufficient. Surely, you can not keep looking for the perfect girl, simply because you would soon be old, and be thrown out of the marriage market.

Another way to look at it would be in terms of ‘ local optimum’. That is, in the set of solution that you can possibly evaluate, this is the best solution. In real life terms – Of all the girls you met, or you could possibly meet, or hope to marry, choose the best one, a ‘local optimum’ ( not a ‘global optimum’ ), and then start praying.

I have already started praying !!!

For a Car

I am in the market for a car, a used car actually. As I started the process, I realized I know zilch about cars, and was painfully reminded about the concept of ‘Information Asymmetry’. It is highly pronounced in this case. The seller knows pretty much everything, and the buyer is mostly in the dark. And for a buyer like me, with little know how, it’s even more difficult.

I am planning to befriend a mechanic, and start searching and evaluating cars, based on newspaper ads. It’s a lot of hard work. Let us see.

20 January, 2007

Chennai Restaurants

Have a lot to write about – my reviews on some restaurants that I sampled, a few book reviews, my cooking adventures, etc. Let me begin with the restaurants.

Given that I am a vegetarian, my reviews would be rendered utterly useless to a vast majority. But I labour on for the devoted minority! (More like myself!).

There is a hotel in Nungambakkam high road, Little Italy - heavenly Italian food. They have an excellent array of starters – lots of breads. I tried the some ‘assortment of breads’ – two pieces each of a number of great breads – was great, and more than enough quantity too. The pizzas were good, but substantially from the Pizza Hut, Dominos, variety. Should try the pastas next time.

Then there is a Dhaba Express in Cenotaph road. I went for their lunch buffet...North Indian spread. Good variety, good taste...at 61 its value for money (especially for heavy eaters).

There is CafĂ© Mocha in Chennai, in Khader Nawaz Khan road...cool place…spacious, nice ambience, and good crowd. Food and drinks too are good. I visited a few in Mumbai...this looks better.

Will try out more, and then give a lowdown on them. Will stop for now.