January 27, 2006

The Techie Decalogue

It was with High Hopes and Noble Intentions that one chose to train oneself for the exalted profession of Engineering. One thought it would be mostly about warp drives and lightsabers and telling robots what to do (“A robot must not disturb the One during a game of Minesweeper or, through inaction, allow the One to be disturbed during said game”). It actually seems to involve mundane and extremely unglamorous things like debugging core dumps and writing system specifications, neither of which one has really got the hang of.

See, six years of concerted study have taught one remarkably little except for the fact that a penchant for computer games and science fiction cannot see a chap through. One finds oneself in the unenviable position of being a Techie Who Knows Nothing Of Things Technological (TWKNOTT).

Today one shall spare a thought for fellow TWKNOTTs. A few pointers (no pun intended) will, one hopes, go a long way towards making their lives easier. One delivers, O people, the Ten Commandments of TWKNOTT-dom:

1) When the in-house ubergeek (and there is always an in-house ubergeek – he’s the one who spends his weekends writing device drivers and was probably born hacking away at the Linux kernel) mutters something about how that newfangled filesystem doesn’t work too well with the Allegro library, thou shalt silently nod in agreement.

2) Thou shalt occasionally remark, in reply to aforementioned ubergeek, that thou hast heard rumours that the aforementioned filesystem doesn’t take too kindly to UPnP either. If feeling particularly enthusiastic (or if it is a Friday afternoon), thou shalt add that it is only possible to verify these matters by running simulations using the Parallel Virtual Machine. Over the Secure Shell. With private-key encryption.

3) Thou shalt liberally pepper conversations with the words “robustness” and “scalability”. They’re powerful concepts, those two, and may be used in connection with many different things, like hardware, software, organizational structure, and the secretary’s new lipstick.

4) Whenever a fellow techie describes what he is doing, thou shalt ask him what layer of the OSI model he works at. This question is almost universally applicable, and you’ll sound pretty clever asking it.

5) If someone utters an incomprehensible acronym-with-numeric-suffix, thou shalt retort with acronym-with-larger-numeric-suffix. For example, if talk turns to MPEG-2, thou shalt immediately speak of the more advanced MPEG-4. If someone then dares to move to MPEG-7, you may raise him all the way up to MPEG-21 (which is so advanced it hasn’t even been developed yet). Thereafter thou shalt start with H.263. And then thou mayst go pretty much as far as thy heart desires.

6) Thou shalt refer to “levels of abstraction” at least twice in every conversation (more if it’s an interview). This, again, is a powerful term, so you need not worry much about where you use it.

7) Whenever thou hast no clue how to solve a certain problem, thou shalt reveal to fellow workers (in a suitably low tone) that the problem is so difficult you’re thinking of using a neural network. This shall suitably impress everyone, and you can always tell them later that it didn’t work because the damn thing wasn’t intelligent enough.

8) Thou shalt regularly perpetrate extremely bad techie puns – these are actually well received by other techies. Thou mayst begin with something basic, something along the lines of

Q. How did the operating system know how to execute the shell script?
A. The interpreter mentioned it in parsing.

9) If having tea with desi techies, thou shalt give in to temptation and disseminate substandard Sholay jokes based upon the unsuspecting Samba suite.

10) Thou shalt account for the fact that the person you are talking to might be a TWKNOTT too. If such is indeed the case, the two of you may merrily undertake the task of preparing additional tips for fellow TWKNOTTs.

January 20, 2006

Second star to the right … and straight on till morning

It is a balmy Singapore afternoon. One is walking around town, occasionally consulting a tattered old streetmap, occasionally slipping into a café or a bookstore, but mostly just wandering. At one point, as one peers at the map to decide whether it would be better to walk straight along Orchard Road or to go south for a riverside stroll, an elderly couple approach and ask where one wishes to go. One cannot refuse their help, for that would seem ungrateful. So one tells them that one wishes to be at the riverside, and listens patiently as they kindly proceed to give detailed directions.

Let us, at this point, cut to a busy Amsterdam street just over six months ago (we shall not use fancy dissolves or fade-out/fade-in effects. That’s just so Bollywood.) One is walking around town, occasionally consulting a tattered old streetmap, occasionally slipping into a café or a bookstore, but mostly just wandering. At one point, as one peers at the map to decide whether it would be better to walk straight along to the museums or to proceed to places-that-cannot-be-mentioned-on-PG-rated-blog (purely, one hastens to clarify, for .. er .. sightseeing), a rather intimidating biker-type dude approaches and asks where one wishes to go. One cannot refuse his help, for that would seem ungrateful. So one tells him that one wishes to be at the van Gogh museum*, and listens patiently as he kindly proceeds to give detailed directions.

And there lies the problem. You see, one does not need directions – for the whole point of having a map is that it allows one to find one’s own way around. One cannot understand why folks assume that the merest glance at it implies that one is lost. It’s come to the point where one has to hide in phone booths and behind bus-stop shelters and sometimes in McDonald’s restrooms to unfold the map and steal a quick look at it without being interrupted.

And so we come to the crux of the matter. One wishes to make a personal appeal on this blog. If you, gentle reader, ever see a geeky sort of chap (mid-twenties, dark hair, dark eyes, underweight) walking around your hometown, occasionally consulting a dog-eared streetmap and perpetually wearing a faintly bewildered expression, please do not offer to help him. He is doing just fine by himself. Merci much.

*In retrospect, one thinks it would’ve been possible to hitch a ride if one had wanted to go to the places-that-cannot-be-mentioned-on-PG-rated-blog.

January 14, 2006

Sounds like twentysomething spirit

One has finally shaken off the Vogonic influences. Let us proceed with regular programming. One was pondering the implications of this post, in which the Urban Junkie discusses the dubiousness of onomatopoeic representation.

One has a problem with onomatopoeia. The fact remains that, if one focuses hard enough, one can make any sound sound like almost anything. (That sentence should be edited. But one shall not bother.) Like the trick with the picture of the candlestick and the two faces, it’s all in the mind.

One pretends that the rain goes pitter-patter, but one could equally pretend that it recites logarithmic tables to three decimal places. Brooks are known to gurgle and to babble, but it doesn’t take much to imagine that they’re gossiping or singing or vociferously debating the meaning of existence. (Incidentally, one is quite sure of having heard a pair of noisy airplane engines patiently narrate the complete text of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And one swears that the 8:54 from Borivali to Churchgate goes “Thackeray-Thackeray”.)

Such quasi-synesthetic propensities could be ascribed, of course, to one’s general weirdness. But it seems that the problem is not unique to this individual. The Americans maintain that dogs go “bow-wow” while the English say that it’s actually a more dignified “woof-woof”. In China, they apparently prefer “wang-wang”. For onomatopoeia, it seems, is no more than an auditory Rorschach test. The subject, presented with a largely neutral stimulus, hears what he wishes to hear.

The fickleness of it all is proven by the observation that filmi hearts, having followed for decades their characteristic dhak-dhak and dhadak-dhadak patterns, now tend to go mmm.

January 04, 2006

Pilgrim's progress

One debated, one demurred
How should it be revealed online?
In poetry, or prose perhaps
Or both of them, in intertwine?

One might’ve done a weepy post
So full of longing and despair
And written little paeans to
Each windmill, every tulip there.

One could’ve done a Hindi song
One could’ve gone the filmi way
Discussed musafir zindagis
(But then one does that everyday.)

One might’ve tried to go descriptive
Pepped things up with foreign lore
Quoted different Dutch poets,
Gone heavy on the metaphor.

One thought long and hard, one did
Then one decided to be brief
So one shall spare thee, gentle reader!
(Reader heaves sigh of relief.)

So one shall tell it like it is:
One ain’t where one was before.
One shall tell it straight and true:
One now resides in Singapore.