Friday, 25 January 2008

A Special Day at School

On the 24th, I had the opportunity and the privilege to be part of a great gathering at my school, Don Bosco Mat. Hr. Sec. School, Thanjavur. This was the celebration of the Silver Jubilee (25 years of the institution) from 1982-1983. It was nostalgic and more a family re-union than a celebration of an event.

Many former Rectors and Principals of this school made it to the function. I remember especially Rev. Fr. Joseph Fernandez, Rev. Fr. Paulraj Maniam, Rev. Fr. A T Thomas, Rev. Fr. Patrick Alphonse, Rev. Fr. Amalraj Thomas. It was sad that Rev. Fr. V. V. Abraham (who gave me my first opportunity to use a laptop) was unable to attend because of an illness which has kept him indisposed in Delhi.

Several teachers, including beloved Mr. Sekar, Mr. Albert, Mr. Souvuriraj, Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Kumar were able to attend the function. Mr. Paulraj, Mr. Gabriel, Mr. Balasubramaniam, Ms. Jacintha, Mrs.Hazell were all part of the events and continue to be involved in the everyday activities of the Institution.

I had the privilege to share a few words about my experiences at school, which was taken in good light by all the former rector principals who had arrived for the solemn gathering. We shared more experiences on our personal life, exchanged business cards and "re-connected" the family. I shall never know how the skills and values imbibed in me through the days at school can ever be repaid for.

Of the past pupils several from the batch of 2004 had made it. The earliest batch who managed to make it had one participant, Dr. Leo Joseph who practices in Thanjavur who also shared his experiences of the earliest days of the institution. Sadly a few residents of Thanjavur Dr.Manoj Xavier and Dr.Anand Mohan were indisposed and unable to attend the function. Most of my batch-mates (1997 pass-out) had the information too late and were unable to plan the trip due to dearth of tickets as the Music festival in Thiruvaiyar has already begun.

The day started with an early and long mass. The function had several performances from both the Primary and the High school. The function took until 1345hrs and was followed by a luncheon buffet in which all the past pupils, and parents of the past pupils partook with the members of the Salesian family.

I had the opportunity to mingle with some of my juniors (past pupils) and get to know them better. This was indeed a most wonderful and nostalgic event. The institution merely did not give us academic opportunity. All the teachers, brothers, Fathers and the non-teaching staff of the institution instilled in us skills to become better people with better values and respect. It was nice to see Ms.Lourde Marie being honoured for her service to the institution as the caretaker maid for the Primary school. I remember her getting me to eat when I was in preparatory school (then called Dominic Savio, in honour of a boy saint chared by Don Bosco.)

The values to treat individuals as equals, to respect everyone's opinion and to put morality above all else are priceless. This is what the institution had instilled in everyone. They had done this with a paradigm of education named "The Preventive System" whereby students are not "punished" for their wrongs, but rather guided in a way they would avoid mistakes and correct themselves had they committed one.

Today, Newspapers talk of the "Education Ministry's" order to prevent "punishment" in schools that cause potential injury. Most schools are ill-placed to really understand and implement this law.

The Preventive System does more than that, it instills self-discipline in the "Individual." In the words of my first Principal in school Fr. Berkman, this Family was, is and will continue to be a place for creating "Persons" (who by definition are people to whom one can relate with, not beings or individuals in isolation) with high regard for morality and social values.

We, the students of this school will always remain Students of Don Bosco Mat.Hr.Sec. School, Dear School of our Hearts!!

Monday, 21 January 2008

Under the Blue Hood

The building in the neighborhood has almost completely been taken down. This can be barely noticed under the blue tarpaulin hiding the work that goes inside and effectively keeping away the dust from the demolition. Now, at the last phase of demolition, they need to take away the car shed. The bad news is that the car shed (almost) shares a load bearing wall with my car shed.

For the last few days I knew that they had made great progress, but had no awareness of how far they had progressed. Now there does exist a chance that there will be damage to the car shed which will result in the initiation of heavy repair work; not to mention thoroughly strained relationships with the neighbor.

With the help of a close aide, I have kept watch on the work for most of today and am informed that the supervisor (again) was not present while the workers (who probably have never been to any school sadly) were sledge-hammering the car shed. I have warned that there will be legal (and more than legal) action taken if they were to attempt anything stupid without proper guidance. Further, the house owner has also been warned that the city municipal authorities will be notified if a single crack shows up.

The reason I revisit this demolition is, people seem to need constant monitoring or would get back to their old ways of doing things. In this case, the old way is irresponsible, clumsy and dangerous to self and others. The owners of the neighboring land have also shown a little less than callous attitude towards addressing this.

They have the most to lose or gain. The more clumsier and uncontrollable their contracted employees; the less the chance of a good "building" and "timely completion" of the work. Worse still is their social image in the neighborhood which already has taken a bit of a fall.

All human beings seem to operate with the ideal that once they are out of sight, no one is watching. That means they have the freedom to break every law (if it were man-made and could be broken) and fall back on every word they gave. In simple words "honor" is a lost word in society. "Honor is what no one can give you and no one can take away." - Rob Roy. People who would rather appear to be something they are not do not hold integrity. By that, their place in society is questionable. Inaction of society too can abet the destruction of society. That is precisely how the society allows people of low (or no) integrity to survive and in some sense prosper degrading society itself.

This problem of a simple building demolition with no consideration to the neighbors is probably nothing in comparison to what people are capable of doing in their own self interests. That would not mean that it is palatable and passable in society. This is just how we add on to society's woes which we finally never get to solve, unless we go "John Woo" style.

Sunday, 20 January 2008


This weekend was spent tinkering with a lot of code and updating systems. I also have a visitor at home for the weekend which is really nice (as I tend to be alone most of the time.) I have also taken up the task of getting FreeBSD installation CDs from the web. My only concern at present is which of my boxes is to be converted. Unlike my earlier days, I now have to take these decisions far more carefully because I have lots of data stored all over the place and would really miss them if I ended up formatting or slicing things again. I have decided to postpone the decision to the end of the week.

The other news is, after a lot of talking and contacting, the neighborhood demolition work is being done professionally. I haven't had to worry too much except about the dust plumes from the site. The coming week would be really important as there are a few of my teammates shifting; and therefore throwing parties out for the same.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

The Video Gauntlet

The whole week at work was spent in a gauntlet with people perceptually rating video quality on something I'm working on. Perceptual qualification, whether statistical or empirical is a nightmare. Unfortunately marketing teams have to depend on human behavioral traits to sell, so doing perceptual quality analysis is supposedly good.

This is probably the fourth time within a quarter that people who originally admitted quality was much better than prior, reverted saying it wasn't so and needed improvement. That reminded me of the Akbar-Birbal story (sometimes attributed to Tenali Rama) of how a line drawn on the floor can be made shorter without changing it. Birbal in one version of the story just draws a longer line beside it demonstrating relativism. By induction that line too could be made shorter.

Thanks to some help from a Camera expert and a few more efforts, we did get a good percentage of techies to be happy with the results. I find that as human beings our qualification of everything in this world is relativistic and based on prior experience. If something is entirely new with nothing to compare with, we still find something in our mind and provide a relativistic score as to how "good" or "bad" something is. The whole technique is platonic.

This relativistic comparison is so deep-rooted that it becomes a major drive for social improvement and improvement of civilization as a whole. Human beings always comparing and trying to find the "better" are the drive for constant improvement. Kaizen is rooted biologically in our very selves as evolution itself would be.

Engineering attempts to freeze specifications are against this very biological instinct. We probably need a new technique in this world of rapid change to create products or solutions for people. The Gordian knot here is "when do we stop comparing?" This is food for thought.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

An Accident in the Neighborhood

With the demolition work going on without any engineers or supervisors involved, just goading people to "finish" work as much as they can for a measly some of less than 80 INR per day (a little less than 2 USD), one of the younger workers, probably a person less than 15 years of age fell down. Lucky for him he didn't have major bruises, but had to taken to the casualty ward at CMH (Chinmaya Mission Hospital.) A passer-by almost got under the debris but was just a few seconds away. It was nothing short of a miracle that no one was badly injured.

After a long conversation with the workers (with the supervisor and the owner of the house conveniently absent from the site), I found that this was a clear case of labour exploitation against the labour laws of India. Furthermore, the supervisor (or contractor as they refer to him, although there is really no binding contract) has been telling them that if anyone were to be harmed, the "exploited workers" would be held responsible.

Part of the problems to humanity are created by being insensitive to what happens within one's circle of influence. Today I have made sure that I enough people concerned with the problem have been informed. I can only take this one step at a time. The first step is to ensure that those who are working for two square meals a day, have a life to live after they finish this.

After safety, I shall evaluate and take up my concerns on their exploitation.
This might be a more endemic and deeper problem that cannot be addressed in too small a context. I end this day on a happy note that I have done something however infinitesimal (and irritating to some) to make life better for some others whom I have had no prior knowledge of.

Debris Field

The house neighbouring mine has been having some demolition work in progress. In Bangalore, I am apalled to see complete disregard for other people and the neighborhood and the workers' own safety standards when they work on a demolition/construction project. None of the workers wear helmets, so I assume they like playing humpty-dumpty.

Worse still, the only separator they have across the houses is a torn piece of tarpaulin. There are no other safety guides. Yesterday I took some photographs of much of the debris fallen onto where I normally park my car. The caretaker of my house had been careful enough to suggest that I park outside to prevent any mishap. I had followed his direction.

Finally, I tried to speak reason to the workers, their supervisor (who can't speak a word of english nor is familiar with the term engineering) and the owner of the house who has no regard for safety. I believe that I will finally have to take more stern measures. The workers can't even speak any of the local language as they are immigrants. They have been hired as they are the "cheapest" to hire. However their capabilities of demolition and suicide have not been taken into account.

The neighbour who owns the building and has commisioned the work has the gall to tell me that the police and law is corrupt in this city, and therefore I am not going to have any say in the matter. I think I shall put his statement to test as I am not turning my cheek for any neighbour who'd rather be an insensitive clod. If I have debris falling anywhere near the house, I can very well repeat the favor.

Friday, 11 January 2008

A Week less ordinary

This week was more fun at work than I'd anticipated. We have finally laid the benchmarks and lines to take one of the products I've been involved with out to the market, engaged a few customers and are already working on revisions. To add to the thrill, there's one more product also in the field where I was involved in redoing an algorithm.

Beyond this, I have been trying to squeeze the best performance out of a CMOS sensor for improved realistic images. It looks like I might have hit some of the physical boundaries of CMOS sensor technology beyond which only smart post-processing could help. I am also set for a trip for my School's Silver Jubilee; set for 23, 24, 25 January. I am hoping to be present from 24 January to keep my presence at work maximal (this being one of my new year resolutions.)

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Noisy Neighbourhood

This Saturday introduced me to a big change in the neighborhood. The building next-door is going in for reconstruction (preceded by demolition of the existing edifice.) The owner has involved a team of noisy people (who chatter louder than the work they do and become a nuisance day and night) to complete the demolition. I have been facing a sudden change in ambient noise level and dust level. They have yet to construct a partition between the houses that would at least serve as a barrier for the dust.

To add to the adventure, there was another group of people taking down nature's edifice, the tallest tree in the neighborhood. It was heavy and it was taken down in heavy intermediate modules. One of them knocked off part of a barbed wire fence on my house's compound wall while being "safely" taken down. The enormity of the tree and the way it was taken down gave quite a few people a good scare of what could happen if nature came crashing down. This made me more worried than the man made edifice generating noise and dust plumes for now on another side of the house. The task took almost after sundown to complete. Recapitulating, a branch from this tree had damaged a window in my house during a storm.

The noise change did have an impact on my sleep. I was so annoyed by the "new" noise that I decided to try and sleep off earlier, which actually didn't work straight forward. It took much longer than that. I used to live in a flat off one of Pune's most noisy highways. At that time nothing in the morning 8:00am rush could take me off my bed as I was so used to it. But a change in the noise levels when I moved to a new silent neighborhood in Pune made me extremely sensitive to noise. I have begun to understand that our brain tunes itself on the basis of ambient noise available near our habitat and our workplace to help filter out the excess and remove any stress related to that. This process is however not instantaneous and takes a bit of time (something like subconscious learning.) Until that is done, I will be extremely aware of this new level of noise in the neighborhood.

Thursday, 3 January 2008


Today, a good part of the day was spent in trying out some techniques that my mentor recommended for a technical problem. There were results, not dissimilar from prior ones that I had passed through. Either way, it was seen as a positive development.

Most of the day was spent in meetings. A friend who had provided training to colleagues had come to update me on his availability and schedule for the year. I admire his planning and self-driven nature. The usual weekly meeting (normally scheduled on tuesdays), today was mostly driven by me. There was some apathy towards my boss who chaired it, which I did divert by going pretty expressive on ways we could do better going forward.

The one thing I hate is retrospective thought and doubtful thought. The two most hated lines I have heard are "Why didn't you think of this solution which has solved a major issue prior?" and "Do we really require high-end equipment and tools to improve product quality, can't we just improvise with what we (don't) have?" These statements form the lingo of a colleague of mine whom I have been trying to convince with great effort to avoid retrospect and to employ intuition, lateral thinking and risk in solving tough problems. As he has been least receptive, it has been difficult to convince him in one shot, but with expressive moments including today increasing, I am hoping I shall get to him.

I did get a little overboard with my expressiveness towards the evening swallowing almost 1 hour of my colleagues' time in the evening. This basically was in an attempt to converge attitude, thought and method across our team. I do hope that despite whatever boredom I generated, it would have had some help to the ends I've tried to meet. Today has been one of the most expressive of my days where more time was spent on output than on input.

A Nice Day at the Office

The whole of Wednesday, reckoning the new year was quite nice at office. We had a nice session where my mentor did give me some useful ideas to improve things I was working on and review some of my skills. I really liked the time spent as it was most useful.

For the next part, I was most interested in an open-house where the management shared information on the last quarterly performance of the company both in numbers as well as inside. While many were asked to come up with their questions, I noticed that everyone was looking at the possibility of pointing out at issues that had not yet been taken up. The speaker had made sure that these issues will not be the point of (an endless) discussion in the most polite and acceptable fashion.

Everyone seemed intent to find fault with "decision making" or "policies" that had not been taken up. The trouble was no one (who was criticizing middle management as a blocker) was pro-actively fighting it out by getting things done by convincing the necessary people. As it was someone else's job function, they were hoping that it should have been done by those responsible and were unwilling to try it out themselves. I find that the environment does allow people to do things themselves at every level.

As each system is held back by some sort of inertia, the response time is a drastic factor in deciding whether a pro-active approach of changing things is really worth the while. It is unfortunate that people switch jobs hoping that another system with different inertial properties will help them. If one can't get something from the present outfit/establishment they are working/interacting with, they should at best sharpen their skills. These sharpened skillsets can help them change the system itself rather than require them to switch. This holds good unless there is something drastically wrong or factually impossible. Such cases are rare and occur when a system is at its end.

The grass is always greener on the other side. Many leave finding good pastures, but the one thing they might definitely find is a temporary change in compensation. For that switch; it would seem a reasonable thing. Better administration and management do not necessarily mean that they are superlative, they would still have their fallbacks. I find great opportunity in making something grow better, and the more latitude of growth it has, greater the offer.

I do agree that any system that disallows change is doomed to self-destruct. The environment constantly changes dictating everything that is part of it to react and change suitably. Nothing within the environment can reverse these tides of change. Changing the environment would require many systems or a large number of systems that are part of it to affect the environment in such a way (drawing similar analogy.)