Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Communication Gaps and Inter process communication

For the longest time, I was never listening to others. While the other was talking, I would typically be validating it against my templates and rejecting or accepting it outright. Or even more dangerously, I would be getting defensive or offensive. The entire process would get complete in no time and by the time the talker even completed his sentence, my verdict would be already out. And the poor talker doesn't even realize how much of his energy got wasted in this process.

I had no clue as to how much unfair and disrespectful this was to the other party and I have no idea how much it would have offended and pained them.

Since the last year I started consciously listening more and trying to ingrain what others were speaking before opening my mouth. I started thinking on the responses that people give as a habit and then I started realizing how painfully ineffective 2 way communication really is. It is rendered ineffective by myriad and unfathomable factors. I have come to believe that predominantly it is ego, age, sex and intelligence. Now, this is not something new that I am writing about, there are already loads and loads of material available on the subject of effective communication. I for one am quite skeptical whether it's really useful or not. For one, there is no way one can memorize all of those at will and start employing such methods picked from memory at will when an actual communication is happening. Even if someone with a superhuman intellect does manage that, it still remains that the sheer diversity of human factors will keep on outrunning the known literature on the subject of effective communication. Generally there is precious little of time at our disposal before the subconscious mental processes inside the listener's brain takes over. I have personally struggled with the biggest predicament of them all - where the other party doesn't even realize that there is so much of dynamics involved in communication. (I am reminded of a joke - A man advises a boy when he is about to venture out for a night in the forest. If he encounters a lion in the forest, to point his flashlight straight on the lion's eyes to scare it off. And to this, the boy asks - Does the lion also know this?)

Being a software programmer, I always have a tendency to look at computer architecture and human brains for everything. I was thinking about the differences between inter-process communication for computer software and that of human software. Both employ protocols for communication. The difference is the crystal clear way in which software marshals data out and how fuzzy the way humans do. While in software there is a clearly coded way in which data has to be taken out from packets (of communication), in humans this process is extremely complex and much difficult to alter. Each person reads out data in the communication the way he has "coded" his brain with his emotions and judgements starting from experiences beginning at day 1 of his life. On a lighter note, there are no OSI layers, webservices or APIs for human to human communication.

The complex processes in the human brain is the source of all the creativity and resourcefulness of the species even though it is at the root of the problem being discussed. Once its mastered at one's personal level, there should be some way it can be harnessed for effective communication.
Deep listening and crystal clear, emphatic communication for change, would be key skills for any person who is in a journey of discovery and personal mastery. It has to become a habit and come out from the subconscious with constant practice. I am not oversimplifying, this is not something that you practice for a few days and become a maestro of - like driving. This takes a lifetime of practice and contemplation, but the underlying principle is the same.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

നമസ്കാരം ലോകമേ!! എന്തെര് API?

I am currently in the workshop of an android application as a personal project and for that there is a requirement to present text in Malayalam for better impact. Right from the onset, the obvious solution for me was to create jpeg or png images with the text scanned and present that as an ImageView in the application. But later on as I completed a prototype, it occurred to me that putting it as text in Malayalam font was an easier way. A cleaner approach which enables copy/paste as users would expect implicitly and which also makes the application design enhancement friendly. But the biggest benefit would be that the application download size will be much smaller this way if the application goes to Google Play or Android Market. 

This post is about how I managed to do this and some philosophy around it. Doing it was pretty straightforward to be honest. The actual implementation was far less time consuming than all the time spent on pondering, analysing, doubting and then procrastinating and then finally fighting inertia.
The implementation process started with a google search. Either the 12-13 years of extensive use has created in me a subconscious skill to pick up the right keywords or the omniscient google server read my mind for what my need was. Whichever it is, the first search result was a stackoverflow query on the exact same thing. The good samaritan over there had proposed to install any malayalam font, put it in the assets folder of the android project and then create a Typeface object from that font file.
Like this:

Typeface typeFace = Typeface.createFromAsset(getAssets(),"anjalioldmalayalam.ttf");
// To save you one google search - Typeface is defined in android.graphics.Typeface

Next set this Typeface that you created onto the TextView object:     tv.setTypeface(typeFace);

In my vanity I thought that the problem has been conquered but it was not over yet. I had to actually type the matter for the application in Malayalam in my Eclipse project. I started thinking of bronze-age Lipi software and all the other hassles that's associated - installing it from a CD, overlaying a Malayalam keyboard and the pains of typing it actually. Ah! The pain of finding letters which you know is there somewhere in the 12*6 inches of keyboard space right in front of you, but still unseen. (Feels like it could be secretly enjoying the game). Once I realised the difficulty, I started thinking of using an online keyboard. We can do away with the pains of installation and keyboard overlay. But then with that typing is even more painful. One painful click for each letter and then scores of editing and formatting after all the trial and error with the Malayalam spellings. And then with God's grace, it was time for the best solution to occur - Google Transliteration. Type in Malayalam text with English letters and Transliteration will give a choice of Malayalam words to pick from. And till now I have observed that it's fairly accurate. Type in English, select the best fit from choices that pop-up after each word. Once you complete the sentence to your satisfaction, copy/paste it to your application. 

It's become so seamless now.  All applications are taking malayalam text in easily once the font is installed. I remember how tough doing all this was just a few years ago when I was trying to solve a similar problem for Papa. And I am amazed with the pace with which the technology world is surging ahead. 

The down side of such pace is that the average brain might get boggled trying to catch up and will give up. It's hard to understand the capabilities and prowess of the state of the art and that itself could be the biggest "limits to growth" structure in times to come. The only way out for a common person in my humble opinion is to gather a crystal clear understanding of what his underlying need is and keep that in mind always.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Poor man in the Rich Man’s house

Our attitude towards life should be that of a poor man being invited by a rich man to his household for a meal - this is an advice from “The Imitation of Christ” - A devotional classic from Thomas a’ Kempis. The “Rich” man in this context is what you want to believe: Brahman, God, Nature(or Natural Selection) or whatever. It doesn’t matter in this argument. (S)He has given this one chance to you to see, perceive and think while surviving and being conscious carriers of life. I have come to believe quite dispassionately, that there is no reason to be proud that we have been given this - it is pure chance that we are here. (Unless like true karma yogis, we give purpose and meaning to it - That’s an altogether different topic and let’s not go there now)

Imagine that you were a poor man, terribly hungry and were invited to a dinner by a rich man to his household. You think hard and yet you find no real reason why he invited you. You are sure that you are nothing special in that rich man’s eyes. You must have got invited just by chance or you reason it whichever way you fancy. But still deep within you realize the truth - that you are nothing to the rich man and he would have invited you only because of his magnanimity. You gobble up the first few morsels and now the law of diminishing marginal utility starts kicking in. You start finding one of the dishes is not tasty enough. Now If you are reasonable and clear headed will you forget how hungry you were just a while ago and how magnanimous it was for the man to call you over? If the food was not tasty, should that make you less thankful of the fact that you got invited and fed something?

Now let’s take an extreme, assume the rich man fed you but then suddenly changed stance. He ridiculed and asked you to take leave in the middle of your having food. Now you have a choice of attitude. Either you forget the reality that you are still better off and get emotional, angry and wild at the rich man, or you reflect upon reality and understand that you were lucky to be at least half-fed. The choice of the attitude is with the poor man, you.

This is an attempt to capture my thoughts and contemplate further on what I read in the book. I will keep on thinking on this a couple of more times and more deeply and try to see if this statement is true. I am not sure whether I will be able to apply any more critical thinking on this. This is going to be my project to conclude the year. (I had far more ambitious plans revolving around “Imitation”, but let that wait)

While contemplating on the above mentioned aphorism, I was struck by a sudden brainwave of a story that illustrates Christ’s message beautifully in the Holy Bhagavatha. The story of Sudama. In this story which is rich with lessons on attitudes, Sudama was the poor man in a rich man’s household. I started wondering if there is more to the story than lessons of devotion, humility, simplicity and friendship. This are perhaps more hidden riddles in this Bhagavata Story. The parallel was striking, Sudama would have understood that he being in the rich man’s household itself was an extreme privilege and there is no asking for more. So he gifted Krishna whatever he could and did not ask for anything in return even though he had every reason to think that he was entitled. His sagacity was rewarded amply in the end.

Friday, December 07, 2012

The Plunge - A Short Story

The Plunge

It took a couple of days to reach Cape Camorin. It was a long and tiring walk but the exhaustion gave a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. The sights and sounds of the southern tip of India where the three seas lashed against each other mesmerized me. It was like a vividly beautiful dream. But yet the sheer sensuality of it was not enough to prevent my mind from incessant thoughts. I classified the mighty oceans to three different entities, when in reality it is the same water everywhere. It was the powerful force of maya in action, making us create patterns, constructs and models. It makes us get carried away in  thoughts and forget our real selves.

I was standing at the tip of my motherland, the cradle of civilization whose brilliant sons and daughters have reached far in thought and philosophy. The land of the spiritual, wherein lies the origins of the grandest of theories which even science with all its tools have not reached yet. And yet as a test to her philosophical grandeur, her children had the challenge of facing a life of contradictions each and every moment of existence. The biggest among all of them is her heart wrenching poverty, laid bare as wretched and miserable livelihoods in front of all our eyes. The challenge was so immense that I had turned pain embodied. What is the purpose of the grand philosophies, metaphysics and highly evolved concepts of the ideal, so elaborately captured in our literature and poetry – when our poor are starving and our kids are dying hungry? What is the point of philosophy in a feudal and fragmented society where rife and conflict reigns supreme amidst glaring differences and diversities. What is the point of spiritual learning and teaching where the high and mighty are immune to higher callings in life and are busy chasing short term gains. Oblivious to the fact that their gains are at the cost of eternal glory, they go about their lives corrupting the society, treating the poor and the downtrodden with disdain and impunity.

I could see the buzz of activities around, that of the playing children, vendors selling snacks and toys and that of the fisher folk getting ready to set sail in the early morning. They were the drivers of economic activity, engaged in their daily struggle in the jungle of living, unable to afford high thoughts and philosophies, yet finding out sense in their existences in a way which is in no way inferior to that of the Brahmins and philosophers. There might be contradictions that they see everyday, tearing up their mental models asunder daily – yet they resign to those so efficiently, absorb and assimilate them to their evolving models of reality – all part of the great game of maya, which the lord of the flute keeps on playing immaculately. The gentle sea breeze stroked my face bringing me back to the far more real world from that of thought my mind was conjuring up.

Thoughts were lashing furiously in my mind like the waves in the ocean – arising from nothingness, rumbling in its seemingly ever building potentiality and then diminishing all its energy in wasteful froth. I wanted to conquer them. I have come to believe that the powers of the mind are like rays of the sun – they illumine when concentrated. But regardless, I was more confused than ever – none of the readings and no contemplation till now had given me clarity. I felt like I was in shackles and yearned to understand the truth to set me free. The questions were stronger than ever. In the far distance in the ocean stood the massive rock where according to local lore, Devi meditated upon the Lord. It stood there nonchalant as if my predicament did not matter. My fierce pain arising out of confusion and the burning passion to do something was not of any consequence to anything in this world. I felt a powerful urge to jump into the ocean and swim to that rock. If there was an ideal atmosphere where one can meditate – this was it.

And then I saw him. The monk, he stood among the rocks with folded hands, his robes swaying in the breeze. His gentle, reflective eyes were locked on a gaze on the same distant rock. I had not seen a more handsome and serene face. His steady stance and gait waxed eloquently his purposefulness. As if he noticed my attention, he turned towards me and gave me an omniscient smiling glance. I was sure that he had read my thoughts that have been raging in my mind and was in perfect empathy with me. In that brief moment, I saw strains of pain in his eyes and a faint shadow of agony in his face. No words had to be spoken, for I was sure what his pains were. As I looked around I realized that the monk had an entourage of friends and followers with him and he might have taken just a moment, away from the group, for silent contemplation. As I was studying his entourage, a sudden commotion arose. The monk had taken the plunge into the ocean and was swimming towards the rock in the distance. His friends pleaded with him to come back and use the arranged ferry but it all fell on deaf ears. Neither would the easy way attract him, nor would shortcuts to truth, I reckoned.

It was just a moment ago, that I had harbored desires to meditate sitting in that rock and now the very same divinity in me was going there in search of itself, in the garb of this monk. Something had held me back, I had business to do here in Cape Camorin; I had mouths to feed, waiting back at home, but he was not in shackles. He was free. Witnessing what I just did, my pain dwindled down; I knew that my land was in safe hands. There are still people ready to take the plunge for truth. The sound of the lashing waves and the smell of the gentle sea breeze lingered on. I took another look at the monk who was swimming away. He was by now just a speckle in the distance. I took another full breath of the fresh sea breeze and turned to slowly walk back.