Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Friends, Romans, countrymen lend me your parsers!

Gone are the days my friends, when computers were the sole ejaculators of error messages. People around me have started talking in errors, warnings and exceptions. This development was embodied in one of my friend’s words when he said, “It is not enough if you hear people. You have to parse what they say to understand them.” This was when I realized William Shakespeare could have done better with his Julius Caesar. I also realized I had some catching up to do with recent trends. So, the next day I woke up and decided to become ‘Hari the human compiler’ and parse what people say.

MOM: Hari! Can you please come here and help me with this thing.
ME: Request cannot be processed as issued. Variable ‘thing’ needs to be initialized before first use.

Come on. I couldn’t see her from where I was.

MOM: Hari! Can you run to the neighbor’s and get me my umbrella. I left it there yesterday.
ME: Unable to comply. Pointer ‘there’ points to a location that is not accessible.

Their house was locked. What do I do?

Intoxicated by my effects I decided to ‘extend’ my exploits into the object oriented paradigm.

BRUTUS*: How many runs did Sachin make?
ME: Caught NoSuchObjectException for Sachin.runs: He didn’t play today.
BRUTUS(catching hold of my collar): Stop parsing away like this or I’ll make sure you pass away!

And that was one time too many!

The man with the weird hair asked, “Been there? Done that thing?”

I just said yes.

_________________________________
* Name changed for the sake of author’s safety.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

An interview with God

The almighty God, for the first time, agreed for an interview under the following conditions.

o The interview is not to be published in any saleable material like a newspaper, but must be available for free to all through a blog.

o The name of the reporter who conducted this interview and his method of contact with God must not be revealed.

So I’ll just call him Secrep, for secret reporter. Secrep made use of this chance to ask some of the questions that has been plaguing humanity for eons. Here is what took place:

Secrep: As a character, are you normal and boring or weird and cranky?

God: These are all extremely relative terms, so there can’t be an absolute answer. Just for the record, I created Michael Jackson and the flabby man who streaks during Tennis matches.

Secrep: If you really are all that infinite and almighty, then why create a being as cunning and crooked as a human being?

God: Such a being is necessary in order to control the unsteady and dynamic environment of the world he lives in.

Secrep: Why is there so little life and matter and so much empty space?

God: (begins to get a bit animated here!) For all those strange theories, fantasies and science fiction you come with and all the movies Spielberg makes it is really worth it!

Secrep: Really! So what kind of movies do you like?

God: Look. It doesn’t work that way. People watch movies. I watch people

Secrep: Then what kind of people do you like?

God: All people are equal in front of me. Come on, I created all of you guys!

Secrep: So you’re saying a terrorist and a saint are the same to you.

God: Very much! Each one of you is created to fulfill a role in the upkeep of the world. Your desires, beliefs and capabilities are in keeping with that role. Each person acts according to these. Some may seem pleasant and others unpleasant to you. But all are equally important to me to keep this thing going.

Secrep: Any tips for the average human being?

God: (erupting) Boy oh boy! Volumes of religious books, So many dozens of prophets and still I’m facing this question! Don’t you have enough code to go by and manage already?

Secrep: That’s okay, but anything at all to add/emphasize here?

God: (sounding bored) Ah, nothing new actually. It’s just what I’ve been saying all along. Just don’t worry and be happy. Everything on the earth happens for the good. If something good that you expect doesn’t happen, it’s to allow for some greater good. So just chill!

Secrep: Then, what’s the deal with all the Tsunamis, earthquakes and hurricanes?

God: Here comes the part that most of you have difficulty in understanding. Believe me when I say, I didn’t create any of them. It’s merely the functioning of a system that balances itself.

Secrep: Is that also for greater good?

God: Most definitely yes. Believe me there are people who have figured this out for themselves. And anyone who probes for the truth deeply enough can find it.

Secrep: Well, can’t there be a better way?

God: That’s a question you must ask yourself.

Secrep: Given a chance would you be a man?

God: Hell yea! Oops I am not supposed to use such words, am I? Could you please not put that on print?

Secrep: You can count on it! What is better Coke or Pepsi?

God: If you ask me, Tropicana.

Secrep: Do people really have a choice or is our fate predetermined?

God: Given a choice what would you choose?

Secrep:Well that depends on the person.

God: So does this!

Secrep: If all are equal before you, then why is life so unfair?

God: Life is never fair for anybody. Sometimes it is favourably unfair and sometimes it’s unfavourably unfair. So it evens out.

Secrep: But some people keep suffering from birth to death.

God: If you think birth is the beginning and death is the end you are mistaken.

Secrep: What happens after death?

God: You will know when the time comes.

Secrep: Why don’t you explain to us now?

God: You know what? Why don’t you explain sex positions to second graders next time they ask where they came from?

Secrep: What came first; the chicken or it’s egg?

God: The Chicken

Secrep: Kindly Explain.

God: (erupting again) Gosh do I have to say everything? Evolution people! The first chicken came out of the egg of a bird which belonged to a different species. The new bird was a chicken though its parents were not, because it was genetically a mutant; a variant which survived because it turned out to be better adapted. It layed the first Chicken’s egg. Now this is something you guys already figured out!

Secrep: Microbes, Dinosaurs, People… Are you thinking up of more fun-do stuff for the future?

God: You, ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

If you have any questions you want to ask God post them right here. If Secrep happens to meet God again, he can forward your questions to him!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

All's Hell That Ends Cell!

Mr. Successful-Businessman closed the door behind him, as he stepped into the balcony of his tall office building. He closed his eyes, stretched himself and took a deep breath. The whiff of the corporate atmosphere set off a trip down the memory lane; the years of slogging in the college, the scores of interviews and exams attended, the countless extra-hours put in at work, then leaving it all to start off a new venture by himself. It had taken a lot to get here.

The train of thoughts was running smoothly till the whirring Cell Phone in his pocket came and pulled the chain. He flipped it out and said hello.

“Good morning sir. This is your washing machine speaking. The clothes you set for washing at eight eleven a.m. are not done due to system failure. There seems to be an internal leak, which caused the splashing of water on the circuit board. Press one to auto-forward failure report to service center, two to ignore.”

He pressed one and went back to work. The mood for nostalgia was gone!

If you think this is a scene from someone’s idea of a possible day in the remote future, you are wrong. Already, our gadgets have begun recognising each other as brethren. There are fans that can be hooked into the computer’s U. S. B. slot and disk drives come attached to musical keyboards! So the technology is already there. Now, it’s just left to some enterprising entrepreneur to work out the logistics.

As of now, our Mobile Phones allow us to communicate with any distant corner of the world irrespective of where we are. To demonstrate how this property of theirs comes in handy in critical situations, let me share with you the following instances from my life.


The first incident that comes to my mind is the day when I was to meet this particular friend of mine, at this particular restaurant, at er... this particular time. Having got there I discovered that the ‘restaurant’ was not a specific enough rendezvous. There must’ve been at least sixty people in that hall. I couldn’t even see many of the tables let alone find one to sit around. Undaunted, I drew out the Cell like a soldier who had to singly face the entire army in front of him would have.

“Hey, I am there man, where are you?”

“Turn around you nitwit! You’re standing on my toe!” came the answer.

“I could hear you loud and clear! Why did you pick up the phone to say that? ” I turned around and barked back angrily.

“Okay I’ve cut the call and speak directly to you now. PLEASE STEP OFF MY FOOT!”

The next event comes straight from the backbench chronicles of my class. This happened when a lecturer rudely interrupted a game of hangman taking place there and questioned the sleuths from the recent contents of his sermon. He was so confident that he had caught the day’s quota of expels, that whenever he looked at those boys for several days after the incident, he wondered how they had managed to answer so briskly and surely that day. His alarm is excusable, as his position did not allow him to see the Cell Phone under the desk, which had silently received the timely SMS from the frontbench.

“Good afternoon sir. I’m calling from your washing machine service center. We got a failure report from your machine. I can come and take a look tomorrow 10 a.m. if that’s okay with you.”

“That suits me fine. There will be no one in the house then. But I’ll send you the key.”

The key in question is a random 16-digit number generated by the household computer network. The electronic lock to the house would be sensitive to this number only between 9:55 and 10:15 a.m. the next day. This would be encrypted and sent to the service engineer’s Cell Phone. And most of this process would be automatic.

Even today, to presume that Cell Phones are used mainly to talk is an unpopular misconception. None of my out-going calls were ‘going’ one day when I borrowed my friend’s Mobile Phone and called the customer care center to ask what was wrong.

The voice on the other end seemed older than expected.

“I've been waiting for you. You have many questions, and although the process has altered your consciousness, you remain irrevocably human. Ergo, some of my answers you will understand, and some of them you will not. Concordantly, while your first question may be the most pertinent, you may or may not realize it is also the most irrelevant.”

I immediately turned to my friend, “Hey! Where have I heard this dialogue before? Yes. This is what the thaatha says at the end of Matrix Reloaded! Does this mean the machines have taken over humanity and we’re all enslaved?”

He replied without appreciating the attempted humour, “No this means you pressed the ‘play’ button instead of the ‘call’ button. I already knew his dialogue was impossible to understand by hearing once. So I recorded it in the theater into my phone. Now you pressed the play button after dialing the number to play it.”

“PHEW!”

I have a five-year-old nephew whose ambition in life keeps changing everyday. The day he wanted to become a barber, he took a pair of scissors and started snipping off hair of his soundly sleeping elder brother’s head. However, after working on one side he was convinced that to become an air-pilot would be a less mundane career option and left the scene. After waking up, the elder-nephew was startled to discover the improvised status of his hairdo.

“Give me a hat. I’ll rush to the barber and get it fixed. No one other than the three of us will see it.”

“No everyone will.” I said and coolly, picked up the new Cell Phone with an attached camera lying by and clicked. Thus the work of the ex-wannabe-barber was preserved to be witnessed and appreciated by all.

Good morning sir. This is your washing machine service engineer speaking. I’m at your place and have just examined your machine.”

“Good. So what?”

“As the initial report suggested, the circuit board is wet. A couple of ICs will have to be replaced. But the leak seems a bit bigger than expected so-”

“Listen, I don’t have time for all this. Just do whatever it takes to fix the thing and be on your way. Thank you and goodbye.”

And that’s what it seemed. The man would fix the machine and use his MobilePhone to send his bill to his client’s bank. The bank after getting a ‘mobile’ approval from the account holder would electronically transfer the amount between accounts. When all this automation was available, wondered Mr. Successful Businessman, why should they bother him?

I managed to recognise a friend of mine, whom I hadn’t seen for about three years, walking a few steps ahead of me on the road. I hurriedly caught up with him and patted on his back. He turned back, looked at me and with an extremely irritated expression, said, “I don’t understand why you have to be such a pig everyday. I feel happy when I think I hate you.”

Then his disposition changed to one of frozen embarrassment.

“I’m dreadfully sorry!” he said pulling out a noodle form his ear, “I was using ‘hands-free’, talking to my ex-boss!”

There was a time, not very long ago when, you could flash around a Cell Phone and imply you were elite and sophisticated. However, the situation has changed slightly now. Nellaichammi a farmer in an obscure village named Tisaiyanvalai in south Tamil Nadu has made us all proud, by stretching Ivan Pavlov’s famous dog, meat and bell experiment to new limits. He tied a Cell Phone around one of his cows’ neck and made it ring every evening he pulled the herd home, after grazing. And soon enough the cows got conditioned to head home when they heard the phone. Now when someone says, “It is time to bring the cows home” he says, “Then pick up the phone and call’em!”

We all know how Mobile Phones these days have become so fully flexible and completely personaliseable. You can choose from which colour panel you want, which picture should form the background on your little screen to saying what the phone should greet you each time you switch on and which song it should use to ring when you get a call. There are some people who have this great knack of turning any tune they hear to a ring-tone using the phone’s composer.

“Can you recognise this song?” asked one of these to another, while playing a melody on his handset.

“Why, its Sebastian Bach’s fugue in G major.” the other replied

“You’re wrong. Its the song ‘Manja kattu maina’ from the movie ‘Manathai thirudi vittai’.”

“Where is my washing machine?” asked Mr. Successful Businessman through his phone, after reaching his house.

“Sir, The leak was bigger than expected. I had to bring it here to fix it. I tried explaining this to you before and ask your permission but you said, ‘do whatever it takes.’”

“Okay it’s my fault. Now when can I have it back?”

“I’m sorry but there is another problem. We have a strict rule of not returning serviced appliances until the charge is transferred successfully.”

“So what’s the problem? Just punch your phone, get the cash and be done with it. There is enough money in the account.”

“I’m sure there is sir, but that’s not the problem. Your bank has got your phone number wrong. They can’t send you the bill for transfer clearance until they get it right. They say you have to write them a letter and get the number corrected.”

And the automation comes to a jerking halt. Our machines maybe getting smarter everyday; still there will be times when we can’t escape from doing things we hate the most.

Throughout history, waiting for the beloved has been one of the most enjoyable rituals among lovers. The excitement due to anticipation of the sweetheart’s arrival has been colourfully described by man a poet. Sadly, the Cell Phone has emerged as the murder of these beautiful emotional moments. Today, the lover-boy calls up his ladylove to say, “I’m leaving home now. Should be there in an hour.”

A little later he calls again to say, “The traffic looks pretty smooth today. And I seem to be in great luck. No red lights so far!”

This goes on quite a few times until...

“I have reached the ground floor and I’m waiting for the lift. Will get there as soon as it comes.”

If you thought that was the last call you were wrong.

“Your calling bell doesn’t seem to work. Please come and open the door.”

This is the point where I feel compelled to speak as forthrightly as possible and hope I have opened your eyes to the fact that the Cell Phone, in actuality, is a curse in disguise. It clings on to us as a necessary evil. When technology presents to us solutions to our problems, our life does not get any easier. For we develop new problems to cope with the new solutions. My Mobile Phone keeps me reachable wherever I may roam. However, what this makes me more than anything else is ‘available for disturbance!’ Moreover, the health hazard issue is always looming somewhere close by. The ‘bursting Cell Phone’ episodes have introduced to us, a new potential disaster. Their disposal has raised serious questions, as these are little boxes filled with poisonous chemicals. And whatever my manual says on adhering to norms of safe frequency range of operation, I am not happy with the idea of R.F. waves playing tic-tac-toe in my heart.

The above drawbacks notwithstanding, there is one instance where the Cell Phone never fails to deliver. It provides an unbeatable means of ignoring people! If you are in a group that is discussing a subject in which you feel uneasy, all you have to do is take out your phone and meddle with it as though you were disarming a nuclear bomb. On train back from college one day, my peers started discussing the questions from a recent paper. For me this was a contingency as I had successfully scored seven out of a hundred in that paper. So as the others began debating the answers and the liberalness of the correction, I turned to my LCD screen. The little snake in my phone grew to new lengths, preventing the same from happening to my embarrassment and insecurity. However, the refuge was not permanent. The topic became so fervent that my involvement became inevitable. One of us tugged me away from my phone to ask, “Hey, why are you so silent? How did you do in that exam?”

“Oops, my phone is vibrating. This must be Sonia to talk about her cat’s operation. You’ll have to excuse me.”

“Eooowwwww!” cried out the Successful Businessman as a blob of soap water landed in his eye. To speak of, he has no great experience in washing his clothes.