The Injustice of Chaos

Luck, probability and chance are probably the last words that you want to associate with the systems that administer the world around you. And ironically enough, the entire universe, at its most fundamental level is governed by chaos.

Yet, the idea of randomness is strangely discomforting to most of us. Perhaps it is because the society, our core value and idea systems, are based on predictability and repeatability and leave no scope for the inclusion of chance.
Take a concept like justice, which is so central human existence. Our idea of justice revolves around the linearity and predictability. We have been brought up to believe that the system of rewards and punishments is deterministic. Action A will lead to reward B, so try to stay on the path of A, while action C will lead to punishment D, so avoid C. This is the idea that is engraved into our impressionable minds from a very young age. And unknowingly, the seeds of our discomfort with chaos are simultaneously sown. We are made to believe that the consequences of our actions can influence the world around us and our standing in it. And that is a comfortable concept to grasp. Logically then it would follow that you could take action to bring about a change that you wish to see. And that makes us feel powerful. It makes us feel self-reliant. It projects a perception that we have control over the world around us and ability to modify it. But funnily enough, every system of benefit is governed by chance, shaped by chaos.

When I speak of justice, it is not just limited to the concept enshrined in our laws and protected by our courts, although that is stochastic to a great extent too. We have this belief that if a person commits a crime, he or she will be punished for it. And it is this fear of punishment that garners many of us away from performing an action deemed unfit for human society. But the joke of it all being, that in reality, there is a very good chance you may get away with it. The state of Maharashtra, India for example records a miserable conviction rate of 8.2% . Even if we assume that only a half of all the accused were actually guilty, the number is still very poor. The figure implies that you have a better chance of getting away with serious crime than of being convicted for it. Even without divulging into the world of real facts and figures it is easy to see how a good lawyer with adequate courtroom drama skills could swing things your way. In fact there are a lot of variables involved in a conviction decision, including the convictions of the judge himself. The justice I speak of also extends to our daily lives. Do we not see talentless individuals hold positions of importance, do we not see individuals with fewer contributions take most of the credit, and do we not see underserving works of art riding on laurels while their deserving compatriots are peddled on the street? In fact, the occurrences of outliers, data points that do not fit the expectation of the systems around us, are fairly common. And it generally evokes a feeling of being wronged, of injustice and to some extent despair.

But what exactly is fair? Do we not define fair to be all the concepts that fit the notion of the deterministic view of the world we were all taught as children? If an event does not match out notion of linearity and predictability we tend to think of it as unfair. It follows then, that everything that is chaotic is unfair. But is that being fair to chaos? After all, it does govern you. Everything around you is a chance, a probability. This post probably comes to you routed over a system or routers and wires that are controlled by protocols that accept a degree of fuzziness. Every medical test you take is merely an interpretation of your deviation from the mean. Every time you apply the brakes on a car, there is a very finite probability that the master cylinder will leak its fluid and you will end up not looking your best on a hospital bed, or worse. I will concede, the probability involved in a situation like that is infinitesimally small. But meaning of the word finite hits you, quite literally, if you happen to be involved in one of the 11,144 incidents due to brake failures per year in the United States alone. “Unlucky”. Is that the word that covers the situation then? Or should we re-examine our definition of luck. Luck is an implication we tend to assign to an outlier to the system, an event conceived from chaos. However, as discussed, chaos is the primary agent that governs the universe, which makes it tick, move and interact. Our concept of what is fair and what is not is then influenced by our notion of control over the world us. Justice itself comes from the idea of black and white, wrong and right, clear and precise. Then what place does our notion of justice, fairness and rectitude in a universe that is innately fuzzy, imprecise and unclear?

We have this blind faith in our system of fairness. We follow it religiously. In spite of all the evidence procured to support the contrary we continue to believe that our actions are capable of influencing our world. To some extent, yes they do. But all around, one finds examples that counter the hypothesis. Take for example, one of the founders of Pixar, Dr. Ed Catmull, who in all traditional senses was an unsuccessful academic. Unable to secure a teaching position, he turned to what he felt was a dead end software development job. I can be certain that the Catmull’s colleague who did secure that position went on the produce wonderful research, but Dr. Catmull went on to chance the way the world looks at computer graphics. Where does this very real example fit in the deterministic, better man win, model of the world that was ingrained in us? Does the notion of chaos, lack of control and injustice make you uncomfortable? Does it bring despair? Does it whiff of pessimism?

Our concepts of optimism and pessimism, hope and despair, are conjugal to us fitting a deterministic system of justice to a chaotic universe. Hope is strongly associated to the notion of feeling in control of our circumstances, which is only possible if you choose to believe that your actions completely influence the world around you. This is the concept we started out with. So does chaos lead to pessimism? Possibly, it does. Who would like to believe that an aberration could permanently alter the course of our lives? But then again, isn’t that the truth of the world?

The picture that follows this post was generated completely randomly by a computer program. Who says there is no beauty in chaos?
random_image

Make a smashing Valentine’s day card in MATLAB

MATLAB helps solve millions of computational problems in nearly all fields of human scientific knowledge every day. There is absolutely no reason it can’t help with the trivial matter of your valentine’s card.

The mathematical function we are after is aptly called a Cardioid and its pretty simple to plot in polar co-ordinates.

The following script generates a matrix that holds 15 shades of pink. This matrix will then be supplied to the ‘ColorOrder’ parameter to cycle through while plotting. A polar plot of 1 – a * sin( theta ) gets you the cardioid shape. The "a" parameter is varied to add thickness to the plot.


 % Get 15 shades of Pink
   ColOrd = ones(15,3);
   ColOrd(:,2) = 1/15:1/15:1;
 % 
 % Theeta from 0 to 2PI
   theta = 0:0.01:2*pi;
 % 
 % Set the figure background to White
   figure(1);
   set(gcf, 'Color', [1,1,1]);
 % 
 % Plot iteratively with varying values of a - 
 % where a varies from 0.7 to 0.12
   for a = 0.7:0.01:1.2
       set(gca, 'ColorOrder', ColOrd);
       polar(theta, (1 - a*sin(theta)));
       hold all;
   end;

And here is the resultant plot:
Cardioid

And there you have it folks, a quick and easy valentine's card. Who say's MATLAB cant solve all your problems!

Now for the serious bit. If you are a male and though this post was a smashing idea - then you need help my friend. If you a female and you found this interesting - then I need your phone number!

PS: Download a Facebook Cover picture made with this plot.

Sweet BambooTunes

© Shaunak De (http://shaunak.ws/)

The elegance of a simple bamboo flute.

A Case for the Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is a $ 25 credit-card sized computer that has taken the geek world by storm. It’s a joy for tinkerers because it allows the introduction of some serious computing power into junkyard projects. It means that we can now do water droplet photography on the cheap or even build a budget supercomputer.

I received my own Raspberry Pi fresh from the oven a few weeks ago from RS India. I was mesmerized by the beauty of the board and the infinite possibilities that lay before me. But before I could start to work on the Pi controlled thermonuclear reactor of my dreams, I knew I had to find a secure place to put the board in. A quick search on ebay led me to the RPi_Shop. They stock a range of cases but the Stripped Acrylic Case caught my fancy. It’s reasonably priced and comes with a free RCA cable to sweeten the deal.

Acrylic Case

The guys at the RPi_Shop are very professional and I enjoyed their proactive and responsive service. The case was shipped to me the very same day I purchased it and was sitting on my desk ready to sheath my precious Pi the next – making me one very happy customer.

The case consists of multiple layers of acrylic 9 layers of acrylic which when put together form one solid shell for the Pi. I would recommend buying this case over snap-in model . It just feels a lot more rigid and looks an order of magnitude better. The craftsmanship was excellent with no visible defects in the acrylic. The laser cut raspberry pattern on top and the alternating black layers gives it a really classy look.

Pi Mounting

Assembly was a simple procedure. One simply needs to stack layers 0 to 2 onto each other, place the raspberry Pi face up on it, stack the rest of the layers on top and fasten the assembly with the 4 provided nut-bolts. Make sure to just hand-tighten it. Putting too much stress on the acrylic is not a good idea. The case fits the board like a rather pretty glove and leaves all the important I/O ports unobstructed. Unfortunately the insulating acrylic can’t act as a heat sink but the laser cut pattern allows for sufficient ventilation.

Overall I am happy to have picked up a very reasonably priced and well-built case for my Pi. If you want a case that’s a little more upcale consider this one. Makes me wish banks were a lot easier to steal from. Well maybe we can come up with a Pi powered bank robbing robot.

Raspberry PI case

Let There Be Light

© Shaunak De (http://shaunak.ws/)
As the sun sets on Juhu Beach, a coconut vendor prepares to set up his stall. He sparks a humble kerosene lamp to life, its sputtering rays light up his features, and life with hope and support.

Photographing Lights

Its Diwali, and its the festival of lights. But capturing lights, especially near point sources and making them look interesting can be a bit of a challenge.

One nifty trick to make point sources like decorative lights and tiny lamps more interesting is to make them appear like point sources. For example:

Lights

Anna-giri

© Shaunak De (http://shaunak.ws/) Anna hazare, blackmail

de·moc·ra·cy - diˈmäkrəsē - Noun
A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.

au·toc·ra·cy - ôˈtäkrəsē - Noun
A system of government by one person with absolute power.

Perhaps I am having trouble comprehending the definitions, after all I am not a very clever person; But for the life of me, I fail to understand why one person's ideals is allowed to over rule elected representatives of a billion people, in an established executive system.

See also:

re·bel·lion - riˈbelyən - Noun
1. An act of open resistance to an established government or ruler.
2. The action or process of resisting authority, control, or convention.

Ministry of External Affairs

© Shaunak De (http://shaunak.ws/) MEA Hina Rabbani Khar India

For the ongoing bilateral talks with India, Pakistan has put its best face forward, in form of their ravishing Foreign Minister, Ms Hina Rabbani Khar.

She will hold dialogue with her Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna. For those whose memory needs a refresher, this is the same man who read out somebody else's speech at the United Nations.

On a complete side note - Now I know why we call it "Ministry of External Affairs" (Getit?)

Google+

Quick question: Who invented the light bulb? If you answered Thomas Edison, then unfortunately you are starkly mistaken. The incandescent lightbulb as we know it was invented by British Physicist, Sir Joseph Wilson Swan. (Sir Humphry Davy pioneered the concept) Edison began his experiments nearly a decade later, vastly improving the life of the filament and its pragmatic scope.

So why does history and your fifth grade teacher remember Edison as the 'lightbulb guy'? Because he commercialized the lightbulb. He made it economically viable for homes, offices and public spaces to be lit by this futuristic lighting. Edison and his electric company created the electricity supply market and brought the power of moving electrons to the public. And that is why history recollects Edison as the lightbulb man; because Edison created an environment conducive to incandescent lighting.

Google Plus

A century later, a completely new generation of pioneers, the brilliant brains behind Google, look to pull of a similar historical hijack. Over the last decade Google has created myriad range of products that provide convenient, pertinent and fruitful services to millions of Internet users everyday. From e-mails (Gmail), organizing (Calendar), photo sharing (Picasa), scholarly research (Scholar and Books), to your mobile phone (Android) there is a Google product to suit each of your necessities and more. With Google+, the company simply looks to leverage its grasp on the internet market place and very effortlessly foray into the lucrative market of social networking, all this while simple re-enforcing, consolidating and integrating its existing line of products. Ensuring that, while they may be late on the social network game, they will not be diminished in memory a few decades from now.

Google Plus UI

Instead of comparing Google+ to competing services head on, lets look at what it brings to the table for Google and their 'consumers'. It takes multiple products which weren't precisely market leaders, and turns their technologies into stepping stones for Google+. Picasa, for example, wouldn't stand ground against Filckr. But by integrating Picasa services seamlessly into the Plus network, its gets a new lease at life with a new mission. Similarly, lessons learned from the unsuccessful Wave network manifest themselves everywhere. Hangouts to Huddles, everything makes communicating with a group easier than ever. Google's dominant position in the mobile operating system market only arguments the usefulness of Google+, with their mobile application integrating the best of various prevalent services like Foursquared and Twitpic to name a few. (Check-ins anyone?)

One thing that instantaneously strikes the user is the sheer utility, neatness and intuitiveness of the User Interface, be it on the desktop, tablet or an Android powered mobile phone. (Sorry iOS, on application for you as of now.) The interface is smooth, clean and aesthetic. The beauty of the photo galleries, the rolling animation of the circles, and the little animations that play when you +1 a post, every small detail accrues your delight. A bouquet to Google's UI designers. Most of the UI is functional across browsers, though you might run into some niggles with Opera, but nothing drastic.

Google+ is a refreshing take on the social network which helps usher in a new era of idea and experience sharing. It extends Google's communication portfolio, functions as a master class in user interface design, rejuvenates weaker products by assigning new roles to them and most importantly, give Mark Zuckerberg sleepless nights.

Ramdev and the UPA

© Shaunak De (http://shaunak.ws/) - Ramdev, fast, Government

The Ramdev-government ramayana continues with irrationality prevalent on both sides.

At first the government bent over its back with Sibal and Pranab heading to the airport to meet the Yogi. Followed by a midnight crackdown on his assemblage the very next night, from which the patriotic ascetic escaped in the grab of a woman.

The drama persists as Ramdev is hospitalized for excessive dieting.

Link: http://www.ndtv.com/video/player/news/ramdev-s-health-worsens-sri-sri-ap...

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