Friday, September 18, 2020

First time attended a Hybrid Conference

Last week I remotely attended IEEE International Conference on Requirements Engineering (RE 20) hosted in Zurich. 

This was a new and interesting experience because of the following reasons:

  1. Hybrid conference: This was a hybrid conference, as in, some attendees attended the conference at the local venue, while the remaining attendees remotely connected to the conference on an online platform called Discord. I was attending a hybrid conference for the first time, and was using Discord for the first time. Due to Covid-19 situation, the organizers had to take this decision of hosting a hybrid conference, and this was a new experience for them as well. This, however, didn’t dampen the quality of the conference. We had many lively discussions on various paper presentations and keynote speeches over Discord, using video conferencing and texting facilities.
  2. Different Timezones: Attendees and speakers connected to the conference from many different timezones across the world. The conference began at around 10 AM in Zurich. I connected to the conference at 1:30 PM from India. Through our conversations over Discord, I learned that some people remotely connected to the conference at 6 PM, while some connected at 2 AM, as per their respective local time. This is fascinating to me that morning people, afternoon people, evening people and late-night people are able to connect to each other at the same time to talk about something they’re passionate about in a professional setting.
  3. The virtual world as a parallel dimension: Remotely attending an event of a grand scale as RE20 made me realize that Discord was like a virtual world that provided a parallel dimension for interaction between attendees, speakers and organizers. For instance, during and after a paper presentation or a keynote speech, many attendees typed their questions and comments on Discord chat facility. This ensued a lot of healthy discussions among attendees and between an attendee and a speaker. Here anybody could discuss with anybody, and others could read their discussion. Multiple discussions went on in parallel without disturbing each other. One could easily move from one discussion to another without having to physically change place. None of this is possible in the physical world when we all get together at a venue. One set of people may be discussing something and, sitting few rows behind them, I would wonder what they’re discussing about with such enthusiasm. The virtual world does feel like The Matrix where certain rules of physical world do not apply, leading to less restrictions and greater possibilities.
  4. Virtual world as a log-book/time travel portal: In any conference, certain sessions run in parallel. This is where one is forced to choose one session and may miss out on the talks or speeches in other sessions. However, the way RE20 was organized on Discord, the textual conversations and discussions that happened during every session of the conference was saved on the online platform. This week I could browse through the discussions that happened in the sessions I couldn’t attend. Accessing and reading this log-book of ideas, observations and challenges felt like a time-travel experience such that I could still benefit from the discussions without being present there in real-time.

Overall attending a conference remotely was a new and interesting experience. Uncertain WiFi connectivity and time-difference was challenging at times. Despite the benefits of a parallel dimension and a log-book, I may not want to remotely attend every conference because a face-to-face interaction with other researchers and the overall exciting vibe of the crowd is definitely a better experience than sitting alone in your room and asking if I’m audible and visible. Last but not the least, I missed the goodies at the registration desk, and the tour of the city. Let us hope the new normal doesn’t remain the new normal for very long.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Sabzi mandi during Coronavirus threat

Yesterday at the local sabzi mandi (vegetable market) near my house, I witnessed one vegetable seller stand up from his place, step out and then shout at a customer for not wearing a mask while shopping for vegetables there.
“Pehle mask pehenke aao. Phir sabzi milegi!”
(“First wear a mask and come. Then you’ll get to buy vegetables!”)
That guy remained unaffected and casually turned around (looked like he had just woken up). But when he repeated the same to another incoming customer, he immediately took out his handkerchief to cover his nose and mouth.
The vegetable sellers are as scared about this situation as we are. And just like medical staff and police, the ones getting us essential supplies such as fruits and vegetables are doing us a great service. We must respect that and cover our face when we step out to buy the essential items.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Bicky Pleej

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Horror comedy is perhaps the most difficult genre to succeed in.
Bollywood has had a handful of decent films that can claim to be horror comedies. But in those, horror and comedies were separate scenes, such as in Bhool Bhulaiya, Golmaal Again, etc.
But the reason Stree is perhaps the first authentic horror comedy in Bollywood (correct me if I'm wrong), is that there are few scenes where you will laugh and be shit scared at the same time!

The trailer looked promising and when I saw Rajkummar Rao and Pankaj Tripathi sharing screen in many scenes in the trailer, I knew I had to watch this film (especially after their amazing performance together in Newton). Moreover, the trailer showed that women are safe but men are scared to venture out at night, which is essentially reversing the way our society works, which further intrigued me. And lastly, a promise of good horror comedy pulled me to the theater, and my wife and I saw this movie on Friday (1st day) itself, just after we returned from our offices!

Greatest reason for success of anything is consistency. This movie promises horror and comedy and it consistently delivers horror and comedy. Moreover, it keeps raising stakes in the plot until the final face-off with Stree, which is well-shot and well-done!
Moreover, and this is the most amazing part of the movie, humor doesn't dampen the scares. Horror needs certain time to buildup the scare and humor can easily break that fear. But when humor becomes part of the horror and you get to enjoy both, that's when you realize that a masterpiece has been created.
Stree did leave me with few questions but the final scene of the movie overwhelmed me so much that I decided to ignore those tiny little holes in an otherwise beautifully woven experience!
Go for it. Watch it on the big screen for an amazing experience.

My favorite dialogue: "Bicky Please!"
My favorite scene: Too many to count, but definitely the last scene.
Best part about the film: No cheap humor. And blend of horror and humor.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Sound of Sanskrit

This Saturday morning, randomly browsing I found this link on YouTube and heard the song.


I was deeply impressed!

My sudden liking of Sanskrit sounds began when I heard the Baahubali movie songs, which have some Sanskrit Shloks, especially the song in which Baahubali lifts the Shivling and walks to the waterfall. Listening to that in the movie Baahubali made me realize how beautiful Sanskrit sounds! And listening to this song, Shiv Tandava Stotram, has verified that opinion. This is a great track to listen to. Don’t miss the visuals in the video.

I’ve been a fan of heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Nightwish, Within Temptation etc. but listening to this track I realize that even though their songs are great, we do have a great advantage over such bands. They sing songs in English and English language is not inherently musical. It takes effort to find the right words to make it sing-song. I know this because I’ve written poems and lyrics in English during my college days (http://perpetualthoughts.wordpress.com/).
However in Sanskrit language, you can pick any Shlok and sing it the way you like and it will sound awesome!
In India, just because we give English importance and Hindi is our (most of us) mother tongue (and both taught since our first day in school), most of us neglected Sanskrit studies in our school days (which starts quite late in 5th or 6th standard). But over the years I’ve realized the glaring limitations of English as a language and began to appreciate Hindi and Sanskrit. For instance, English language has the concept of Capital and small letters, clearly indicating the tendency to divide people in upper/lower class or white/black race and so on. Whereas Hindi and Sanskrit has no such distinction and all are contained under the same horizontal line, denoting every Varna as equal! More on that later.
An afterthought. These heavy metal bands have excellent music. My desire is that if we take music of, say Iron Maiden, and write lyrics in Sanskrit, we could have the best of both worlds! That would be a great union of West and East and prove Mark Twain wrong.

And for those of you who accept the good aspects of our culture only after its validated by the West, here’s Bob Marley singing Om Namah Shivaay :)


Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Better late than stupid

He stood at the traffic signal. He watched other two-wheeler pass him by and get onto the adjacent lane where traffic moves in the opposite direction. He knew they would block the traffic in that lane, and also that they would never realize this. Even if they did realize it, they will never change. He kept lamenting the sad future of his country while staring at the rear end of the public bus that stood towering in front of him.

A traffic congestion situation
The bus moved at a snail’s pace. He was certain he could have reached the other end of the road faster on foot. But he couldn’t leave his beloved two-wheeler in the middle of this slow moving ruthless traffic. Moreover, he needed his two-wheeler to cover the rest of the distance beyond the end of this road.
Time went by. He was certain he could have eaten his dinner at home by now. Some more time went by. He was certain he could have watched Thor: Ragnarok by now since the time he entered this road. Instead, he was on the same road, moving painfully slow towards what felt like a faraway infinity. He was certain that if he were a mathematician, he could have devised some new theorems on infinity based on his personal suffering.
He was famished now. But he still wouldn’t take the other lane to drive ahead of the bus. His principles wouldn’t allow him to do that! His moral code of conduct stopped him from obstructing path of other vehicles by entering their lane. But others, he realized, had no such moral code of conduct. They were like water, seeping through whatever holes and gaps they could find in the dense traffic. But he wanted to be strong and stand like a rock, as an example to be followed by everyone. But nobody cared. And he knew that. Some even stared at him as if he had lost his mind. But he wanted to follow his common sense and not become a part of traffic congestion at the other end of this road, where there is no traffic signal and such meaningless senseless driving ethics cause dense knots of traffic that looks beyond comprehension to be resolved.
Yet such knots get resolved, given enough time. He wondered whether he would move behind the bus long enough to watch other people grow old and die and their children take their place on the same road, then few decades later their children and so on. He wondered if he would spend enough time on that road to witness Darwin’s theory of evolution play out in front of him. He wondered if he would spend enough time to witness the sun turn into a red dwarf, or perhaps even the end of the universe.
He finally reached the junction at the end of the road, took a left turn and sped towards his home. He felt like he was traveling at the speed of light. He felt such monumental relief, similar to the feeling of releasing one’s pee in the toilet after stopping it for hours. He felt victorious without having done anything. Perhaps, good things come to those who wait, he wondered.
Wait, now he did feel like peeing. That made him drive faster towards his home.
As soon as he parked his two-wheeler outside his house, and started climbing the stairs, he looked at his phone. 15 missed calls. And he was an hour late. An hour that felt like eternity. He wondered if he had been driving a car instead of a two-wheeler, maybe he would really have witnessed Darwin’s theory of evolution play out in front of him! He shook his head in disbelief and muttered to himself that none of the guys have any driving sense, they will never evolve.
Perhaps the street dogs that cross us while we’re stuck in the traffic jam may end up evolving as superior beings to us while we continue to cut corners and maintain healthy traffic congestion at the junctions. And then witnessing our traffic, the intelligent dogs might wonder, why do humans bark so much while driving?

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Secret Superstar - Choosing the lesser devil

(Minor spoilers ahead. It reveals the plot but the plot is so simple and predictable that it wouldn’t matter!)
While the movie Secret Superstar is about a teenager trying to achieve her dream of becoming a singing sensation with her mother’s unflinching support, what stood out for me in the film was the difficult choices the main character (the teenager girl, Insia) had to make to realize her dreams.


Secret Superstar Devils — Insia’s father and Shakti Kumar

At the core of these difficult choices was the decision to choose the lesser devil. On one side was her father, who terrorized everyone in their house, and on the other side was Shakti Kumar, an infamous musician ostracized from music community. Her father was the devil she had known all her life and knew what to expect. Shakti Kumar was someone she only knew through news, award functions, reality shows etc. on TV. At one point in the story Insia has to make the difficult choice of choosing between these two devils. While she wants to move as far away from her father as possible, she just can’t do so. And she hates Shakti Kumar, he disgusts her. He is the last person she would want to meet, let alone seek help.
Eventually, circumstances and her desire to pursue singing pushes her to make the difficult choice of choosing Shakti Kumar (no surprises there) over her father. As a viewer I may feel the decision was easy, but when I imagined myself in her situation, I don’t think I’d have had the courage to take this giant leap of faith. Shakti Kumar may have turned out to be a sexual predator or may have exploited Insia for her beautiful voice and then left her without giving her any payment or credit. Choosing unknown devil, no matter how bad the known devil may be, is never easy. Perhaps only an strong unflinching desire to pursue your passion (or a purpose) can help you find the much needed courage to surrender yourself to the mercy of the unknown.
That’s what is truly compelling about Secret Superstar. The chance that a person (irrespective of age) may be forced to take due to circumstances and how one’s passion can be a guiding light to achieve one’s dreams. While the film takes a fairy tale approach, in real life when we make such choices, we must make an informed decision. Each one of us pursuing something beyond one’s comfort zone and societal norms will face many unknown devils, but if our faith and passion is strong, we must find the courage to take that giant leap.
Not a blind one but an informed one.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Birth of a predator

In my previous post I had talked about what more should be done to go beyond Hashtags. Today I'm going to discuss why and how predators may be born in our society.

Nobody is a born predator. At a fundamental level, even though we're animals, we still yearn for higher level things like love, companionship, trust, and so on. However, we tend to take the easy way out whenever possible, and this is true in case of pleasure as well. We are all looking for instant pleasure, even at the cost of others. This particularly happens when we feel we have an advantage over the other person. Such thinking in the past led to slavery and exploitations in different ways. Recent resurgence of MeToo movement is an important evidence that such animalistic behavior is still rampant in our society.
Interestingly, the incidents have been rising over the years, perhaps due to more people becoming vocal about it (a useful and healthy development towards a better society), or such incidents have actually increased (a disturbing trend). Assuming the worst, i.e., the latter case, I would share following reasons which are, in my opinion, leading to an increase in such incidents in today's times.

1. Pornography.
It was nothing short of miracle that I almost completed 4 years of my college life without watching pornography. My batchmates argued that every guy needs to watch such videos to know what to do at their wedding night. And I counter-argued that such "education" wasn't needed since Early man didn't have any videos to guide them to procreate! Sadly pornography is not about education but about instant gratification of sexual desires. There is too much ugliness and violence in pornography and it can hamper more than help a young mind in understanding complexities of their body post-puberty and respectful interaction between him/herself and their companion.
During the last semester of my Bachelor's degree program, I succumbed to the idea of watching pornography, perhaps not to feel left out as the only guy who hadn't seen pornography during his college days! But I wish I hadn't. If I could go back in time and sleep early that night, I happily would. Because once you watch pornography, its difficult to undo the effect it can have on you. I couldn't go back to being "accha baccha" anymore! Any girl I looked at after that, I felt that, simultaneously, a predator was also looking at her from within me. This made it almost impossible for me to have normal conversation with a girl. This is horrible for a 22 year old boy who never had a girlfriend. In such situation, a person tends to watch more pornography, which makes it even more difficult to talk to girls. This vicious cycle can pull you down and keep you there. That's why pornography should not exist, whereas it might be increasing in quantity due to availability of internet and tools to make videos.
Add to that, the increasing number of disturbing reports of molestation and rape makes a pornography addict even worse about himself and can lead to depression and severe inferiority complex. For many years after college I lived in this fear that I might end up becoming a predator myself. I constantly kept "one hand distance" as taught to us all in school, from girls and in closed crowds, kept both my hands in my pocket to make sure I don't touch any female (or even male) in a wrong manner.
It gets even worse when others don't get it and sometimes laugh it off. My friends told you that since I'm a guy, obviously you'll be attracted to girls, unless you're gay, and then they may tell you that being a guy, isn't it better to feel attraction to girls. They'll tell you its normal, and its no big deal. And when I shared my fear of becoming a predator, most of them laughed, maybe because I don't look like one. Either they don't understand the difference between attraction and lust or they were avoiding the topic. Attraction is often healthy but lust is what awakens the predator. And pornography is the easiest way to awaken the predator.

2. Advertisement.
Its atrocious that the advertisers need six pack abs or size zero figure models for selling soaps and flavored drinks. Times of India and some other news bulletins are flooded with pictures of women, and these days men too, flaunting their perfect bodies, barely wearing any clothes. Earlier I had reasoned that it was because those models were poor and couldn't afford clothes of longer length but I knew it was a silly reason I gave myself to look away from the harsh reality. And the reality is that the advertisement world has been trying to appease our animal side that enjoys watching semi-naked women and men. And this, in my opinion, is also leading to our predatory tendencies coming to the surface. Consider this scenario - a person looks at nudity in advertisements, on TV, and billboards, which makes him/her desire for more. Daily exposure to such advertisements only leads to increase of thirst for such pleasure which may lead to an innocent person becoming a victim. In the opposite scenario, if advertisements were not selling scantily clad men and women, people would focus more on the product and what it offers, and make better choices while shopping. Moreover, they wouldn't unnecessarily be turned on every now and then, and would be able to focus more on what truly matters: family, work, friends, personal health and growth.

3. Repressed society.

We don't openly talk about certain "taboo" topics. MeToo has been a bold move to break away from such a construct. Good news is that its working. But it must continue, not just on social media, but also within our homes, and especially between a child and his/her parent/guardian/teacher. Such interaction is of utmost importance because parent/guardian/teacher are the authority figures for children in their formative years and wholehearted support from them would give these children strength to talk about such incidents, get the predator punished and also help them grow up to become strong and empathetic adults. While many have confessed about their ugly experiences to their friends or girlfriends/boyfriends and even spouses, this has often happened much later in life. Such confessions are always helpful but nipping the issue in the bud will be more effective.

In conclusion, building trust and focusing on delayed gratification can go a long way to discourage birth of predators. We must foster trust among each other so that we could freely talk about such issues, the way one talks about an injury or illness, and also understand that certain pleasures must come after certain effort. Preying on someone else for one's own pleasures not only makes the other person suffer, but the predator themselves suffer for such pleasures do not last long and they look out for more, making themselves miserable in the process.