Code Overtones

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Quotable quotes

Memorable quotes from some books I read in recent past

"It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors"

"You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know."

"To get back one's youth, one has merely to repeat one's follies"
The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

“The only thing you have to do in this life is die,... Everything else is a choice.”
The Age of Miracles - Karen Thomson Walker

"Without Pain, How Could We Know Joy? (This is an old argument in the field of Thinking About Suffering, and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries, but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate.)"

"... all felt Romantic, but not romantic."

"The dead are visible only in the terrible lidless eye of memory."

"You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you."

"quantum entanglement of tubes and bodies"

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

"A man’s life was five dogs long, Cortland believed. The first was the one that taught you. The second was the one you taught. The third and fourth were the ones you worked. The last was the one that outlived you."
UR - Stephen King

"It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready."
Old Man And the Sea - Earnest Hemingway

"No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful"

"People who live in glass houses should shut the fuck up"

"I’d come to see my rig for what it was: an elaborate contraption for deceiving my senses, to allow me to live in a world that didn’t exist. Each component of my rig was a bar in the cell where I had willingly imprisoned myself"

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

"magic formula of a great game — easy to learn, difficult to master"
Masters of Doom - David Kushner

"You’d be happy, in the same pitiful way someone like our friend Ritchie is. Nothing affects you, and you affect nothing."

"Maybe she’s afraid that if I can’t have her, I won’t want her."

I Am the Messenger - Markus Zusak

"I’m reminded of a wise man who once said that he would never want to join a club that would have him for a member."
The Ghost Brigades - John Scalzi

"Because substitutes that cannot be substituted are generally called identities"

"Bobby seems to be asking, in bold Helvetica type and in all earnestness"

Self-Reference Engine - Toh EnJoe

"... you’ve seen a room where the gravity has failed twice in different directions"

"You love because you want to need someone the way you did when you were a child, and have them need you too."

"It struck me that if you could train your mind to operate when awake as it does in your sleep, then you could dream while you were awake, and see a different world"

Only Forward - Michael Marshall Smith

"No one ever sees what is behind the mirror."

"That which, being added to another does not make it greater, and being taken away from another does not make it less, is nothing"
The History of Calculus and its conceptual development - Carl Boyer

"People thought languages were just substitution puzzles"
Damocles - S. G. Redling

"The only way to beat the competition is to stop trying to beat the competition."
Blue Ocean Strategy - W. Chan Kim, Renee Mauborgne

"Alicia made her mouth into a ~"

"Immortality is a mass event"

"Anticlimax is the currency of mortality"

Anticopernicus - Adam Robers

"... number-one goal of all computer users is to not feel stupid."

"The essence of good interaction design is to devise interactions that let users achieve their practical goals without violating their personal goals."

The Inmates are running the Asylum - Alan Cooper

Sunday, April 06, 2014


There is a Men's restroom right across the Service Canada office in Guy-Favrau complex in downtown Montreal. I happened to visit it one morning. As I was washing my hands, a shabbily dressed man besides me tried to get my attention. He asked if I speak English. As usual my first instinct was to ignore the man who looked like a homeless bum. But if this guy was asking for help just because he couldn't speak french, I didn't see any harm talking to him. We just stepped out of the restroom after drying our hands under the hot air blower. Suddenly he started speaking in very good English. That's not usual on the streets of Montreal.

He said, "I arrived last night by a bus from Halifax, Nova Scotia. My bus arrived at Berry UQAM and I was supposed to go to Boston on a connecting bus as soon as I arrived. But the bus got cancelled and they misplaced my luggage. So my bags haven't arrived yet. I'm going to Boston to do a procedure on the tumor in my stomache." This is where it got confusing to me. He opened his jacket, pulled up his sweatshirt and showed a big tumor sticking out of his stomache. It was big. The size of his head maybe. I tried my best to not show my disgust. He covered it up and continued telling his story.

"I need to get my medications. The pharmacist here told me that my Insurance provider in Halifax will not work here. Since I didn't expect getting stranded in Montreal, I didn't bring much money with me. I had $120 with me. The pharmacist asked for $148."

All this time, he was showing me a paper, which had something written on it in blue pen. I could make out words like 'Berry UQAM', timings, the sum total of some dollar figures, etc. Everything else was in very illegible handwriting.

"I'm running $28 short."

... At this point, I found myself confused. Since the beginning I assumed this is a homeless man trying to get some money from me. But I wasn't prepared for such an elaborate story, certainly not one substantiated so well. Turning down a homeless man is pretty easy, but ignoring a stranded sick traveler can definitely make you feel guilty.

I tried to rationalize the situation. To begin with, I cannot say whether this man is lying or saying the truth. The probability that a given unknown person would lie or tell the truth will be 50%. Then in my mind I drew a table. On the left all the things that indicated he was lying and on the right all the things that could prove he wasn't. I was filling this table as he was presenting me his story. The actual tumor (or what he showed me of it), was a big entry in the right column. Eventually I decided that even if there is a possibility that he is telling the truth and I walk away; I'll always feel guilty for being a skeptic and valuing $28 more than the helplessness of a sick person. After I seeing the situation in this way, I knew what to do. I wasn't as worried about being fooled for $28 as I was about being irrational. Also, I wanted to know the truth.

So I took out my wallet and gave him $30. He asked for my phone number to return the money, which of course I didn't give. And then I started looking for his reaction to get a hint of the truth.

He said, "Thank you. It's good to know there are people.. blah blah" I cut him short and made my exit.

To me it appeared textbook response. If you are asking strangers for money to treat the pain from an illness, because you are stranded in a foreign city, then you are in a very stressful situation. And then you find a person who just solves that problem by giving you all the money you need. ...and you don't show any emotion. You give a boilerplate response. It was at this moment that I thought I had enough data to prove to myself that he was lying.

Later, I tried to put myself in his shoes as a conman and tried to imagine how such situation could be set up.

It is easy to gain sympathy as a stranded Anglophone in Montreal who can't speak or understand french. Showing someone a big tumour in your stomach, increases your credibility a lot and gains you lot of sympathy instantly. Moreover, anyone would want to avoid looking at an abnormal growth in someone's body, so most people won't tend to overanalyse it, if at all. Putting everything he was saying on a piece of paper, somehow made it more credible. I overlooked the fact that all of it was written by hand and in illegible handwriting. He could have scribbled all of it on his own. Furthermore, the price he was asking was just right. Not too small, to raise the doubt that he was just a petty beggar. Not too large, to outweigh my conscience.

Yes, most likely I was conned. ... I would never know.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Uruguay's President

Some snippets from this great news story about Uruguay's President

"I'm not the poorest president. The poorest is the one who needs a lot to live," he said. "My lifestyle is a consequence of my wounds. I'm the son of my history. There have been years when I would have been happy just to have a mattress."
"My country is not particularly open. These measures are logical," he said. "With marijuana, this is not about being more liberal. We want to take users away from clandestine dealers. But we will also restrict their right to smoke if they exceed sensible amounts of consumption. It is like alcohol. If you drink a bottle of whisky a day, then you should be treated as a sick person."
"Contemporary politics is all about short-term pragmatism. We have abandoned religion and philosophy … What we have left is the automatisation of doing what the market tells us."

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

New rules for Formula 1

There are many aspects of our culture that can be called flamboyant, lavish and egregiously wasteful; yet we just love them. Take "Formula 1" for example. The amount of fuel these cars burn and the amount of cash their manufacturers spend to design and manufacture them, is shocking. But like many others I am a huge fan of Formula 1 races. Almost inhuman speed, unimaginable power, glamorous look and the sound that literally shakes you to the core - what's there not to like. Despite the guilt of burning so much precious fuel, I would definitely want to be in one of these super cars.

So this morning, it was very satisfying to read the news about the new F1 rules and the motive behind them. The new rules require the teams to use different engines in the cars (V6 instead of V8). There are more restrictions on the total fuel they can use and the rate at which they can use them. There is more emphasis on use of electric motors (2 instead of 1), or what's called the "Energy recovery system". What's most notable however is the motive behind these new restrictions.
The idea is to bring F1 into line with cutting-edge road-car technology, and to stimulate research and development in that area. The name of the game is efficiency - using much less fuel to generate the same performance. The idea is to increase fuel efficiency by as much as 40%.
This is a way of channeling the competition of a sport towards the betterment of our society. The new feats of engineering happen when they are pushed to the limits and then some more. Then over time they become commonplace and part of everyday life - in this case improving the car we drive to the shopping mall.

It gives some meaning to our celebration of Formula 1.