October 2011

Ubuntu Oneiric Ocelot is out! I have used Ubuntu on my laptop since the 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon release and every release would get me excited like a kid would on seeing new toys. I would try to do a dist-upgrade or download the ISO image to install it using my USB drive. Ubuntu repositories would be under heavy load and I would egging my package manager to download all the packages faster and faster and it would be well past midnight by the time when I go to bod after I am done with the installation and setup.

This time things are way better. I already have Ubuntu Oneiric installed on my laptop! ūüôā I am spared of the downloads and the midnight tussles that I had to go through so that my laptop will have a spanking new Ubuntu to use the next day. But all this luxury didn’t come without pain.

Oneiric Ocelot

 

When I installed Oneiric Ocelot beta 1 release, the Unity port to Gnome 3 was totally broken and unusable. Most actions done on the desktop would cause Unity, Compiz or some GNOME 3 component to crash. There was also a serious issue of focus change between open windows and the desktop wherein switching between windows was not possible at all. ¬†All I could do with the desktop was to report bugs.¬†There started a marathon of non-stop bug reports and daily¬†updates which were often more than 50 MB in size. I cursed Ubuntu like anything on social networks and had lengthy arguments with my friends over there. I reported more than 50 bugs most of which were centered on Unity and Compiz. There was a provision to install a Classic GNOME fallback mode, but it was more of an emulation layer on top of GNOME 3.x and not a full-fledge GNOME 2.x environment. When I decided to try GNOME shell, I found that it had too many rough edges and wasn’t integrated properly with Ubuntu.

All this led to a stage where I almost decided to quit Ubuntu for good. But wait, did I have an alternative distro that I could switch to? Nope. Debian and Fedora were the only candidates that I was considering. Being used to the Debian world for so long, Fedora didn’t excite me enough. Debian? Debian would be good, but a lot of effort would be required to get it working with my nVidia graphics card by installing the proprietary drivers.¬†Nouveau¬†is a promising project that aims to provide¬†libre¬†drivers for nVidia, but isn’t fully mature yet and has its share of issues. Also with Debian stable, I would be lagging behind the latest releases of most of the software. I could install “testing” or “sid” if I wanted to live on the bleeding edge, but the experience with Ubuntu Oneiric Ocelot beta left me hesitant to proceed in that direction though Debian would be way more stable. So I just decided to wait a bit for the bugs to get fixed and things to improve. Things did improve gradually with the daily updates which some times introduced new bugs. That the Ubuntu team was working in full swing towards a release free of critical and usability bugs was obviously visible while observing the bug transitions and updates. About 2-3 days back, the updates stopped as expected and Oneiric Ocelot was ready to gallop towards today’s grand release. And with today’s release, Ubuntu has succeeded in bringing a very good release that sets an exciting road-map for the upcoming LTS release aptly named “Precise Pangolin” due for release next April. My hearty congratulations to all those who made awesome release possible, contributing in myriad ways.

Will I try Precise Pangolin in its beta stage? Of course I will ūüôā

Chetan Bhagat has tried to create his style of love story with a strong message relevant to the present and has botched up both. The novel proceeds through a fairly linear plot. While that can be good at times, it provides very little scope for the reader to get a better view from other perspectives and hence the plot is as shallow as it could be. Incidents between the protagonist and his love interest is so clich√©d and would be predictable even for those who haven’t read Chetan Bhagat’s previous better books. Focus on the message part of the plot is too little and I doubt if the intensity will make the readers to feel attached to it.

Revolution 2020 - Love, Corruption, Ambition

There isn’t much of the wit and light-hearted humour that were a key ingredient to the success of Chetan Bhagat’s books. The author has already proved that he can successfully touch the hearts of so many people and that is why a lot of people will still end up liking this book.

A lot of words have been exchanged in the media recently regarding the quality of the students passing out of IITs which are deemed to be the premier engineering institutions in our country. At least 5 lakh engineers graduate every year in India and the number contributed by IITs to that is negligible. What makes it even more irrelevant is the fact that a lot of IITians go abroad for further education and career prospects. The problem is representative of the absurd education culture that has gained a strong hold in India.

Teachers do not always need to teach, evaluate or discipline their students. Most of the times, just providing the inspiration and nudging them in the right direction will do. If we try to find out why our teachers are unable to do that, it does reveal a lot of interesting things.

Engineering and Medicine are head and shoulders above the rest of educational streams in terms of capturing¬†the imagination of¬†the students and their parents. Every Tom, Dick and Harry wants his child to become an Engineer or a doctor. The fact that most IT companies hire engineers and pay them obscene amounts of money to¬†do the quantity¬†of work that would pay much less in other fields, has fueled this imbalance. As a result, most of the brilliant young minds are lost to the engineering stream and disproportionately lot of them become the¬†clich√©d¬†‘Indian Software Engineer’. In most of the developed countries, only such brilliant young minds pursue higher studies and research and enter the teaching field. But in India, few of the people who missed the engineering and medicine bus pursue the teaching profession for their livelihood. Is it fair to expect such people¬†to be¬†experts in their subject and at the same time have the skills needed to impart the knowledge and inspire the students? This starts an endless chain of mediocrity feeding on mediocrity that only a few students who¬†are gifted¬†or passionate enough to work hard and break-free of the limitations of the system, stand out and succeed.

Students¬†are taught¬†and encouraged to reproduce the text on the books, even though most books condemn verbatim unauthorized reproduction of the text with criminal implications. ūüėČ We should encourage people to learn and apply whatever they have learnt. Why should there be a system to rate and grade students if every student is good at different things? To change this anomaly, the thinking of people should change. Someone has to break the vicious cycle. Any stream of education and employment is as good as any other. The monetary benefits¬†may be¬†disparate, but so are the domains. Once the general opinion changes, there will be changes in the salaries too.

As too much undue importance is placed on engineering and medicine, IITs, NITs and IIMs, too many people want to get in and as a result some sort of mechanism is needed to pick the bright minds to get in. The industry of coaching centers has been built on this. The competition becomes even more cut-throat with reservation creeping in. My belief on reservation is that if there are downtrodden people, measures must be taken to uplift them by providing excellent education that will enable children from such families to reach high ambitions. Instead, politicians are hell-bent on providing reservation to such people to gain political mileage. In reality, reservation is enjoyed by the wrong people and the downtrodden do not get any benefit out of it and remain downtrodden for further political exploitation.

Once the measures to uplift the downtrodden at the¬†grass-root¬†level of education is in place, we should do away with reservation elsewhere and let merit prevail. As more people get good education, the undue craze on particular streams will vanish and there will definitely be a sense of equality. I have seen students panic when questions in the exam paper are of the same format of those in the books but with the variable names changed. Doesn’t that defeat¬†the¬†purpose of education?

Computer Science is essentially a mathematical science, but how many computer science students are well-versed with the mathematical background that¬†is required? A lot of such students become lecturers who in turn teach the students whatever is present in the prescribed books without ever touching upon the required background knowledge. As a result most of the¬†modern-day¬†engineering students hardly know mathematics that computer science¬†is built¬†upon. Whatever they have learned solely for the purpose getting a job starts and ends with the periphery of the¬†subject. Worsening things is¬†the fact that¬†the students choose to skip a lot of the subject as the exam system allows them to do so. They don’t realize that skipping things doesn’t help learning at all. If we learn things, however small and trivial, properly and fully, the benefits of that will automatically follow. But most students are either not interested in putting the required effort to learn or too lazy and are solely focused on the benefits. This is how we have easily arrived at such a pathetic state. I am not carrying a holier than thou attitude here as even I am a product of the very same flawed system that I want¬†to be¬†overhauled. The fact that a lot of students survive the system and still make it big in their lives shouldn’t be¬†an excuse to persist with the same system. Already there is very little research and innovation happening in India and we are so happy and content to ape and idolize whatever happens in the developed countries and stay unmoved. If this continues, we may lose forever a lot of great young minds who could make a huge difference to our country and¬†humanity.

I do not claim that my thoughts and ideas are foolproof and will withstand the test of time, but I rest my case that the current education system is flawed and it requires a big overhaul along with the general thought pattern of people.

Human mind is an amazing blend of myriad patterns of thoughts, memories and knowledge made possible by the intricate circuitry of neurons and synapses (Too many adjectives? Can’t help it ūüôā ). It is a photographic film that captures everything it is exposed to and never forgets a single thing. People call it the sub-conscious mind and it is infinitely capable.

Human mind

 

Right from my young age, I have been very good at grasping new things swiftly and learning from them. The role of the sub-conscious mind in that is immense. It automatically connects the dots and relates to the things that I already know. The kind of results that it can produce can be awesome. I was a consistent topper at school but beyond academics there was very little that I was good at. Some how by the twist of fate, I got into quizzing and boy didn’t I love it! What aided me was my ability to ¬†observe and recollect a lot of things in minute detail impulsively.

Quiz

 

In a quiz contest that I participated with¬†Shankar Ganesh, there was a question which probed for the name of the renowned musician Pandit Ravi Shankar’s daughter who was also a musician. My mind suddenly popped a name ‘Anoushka’ out of nowhere with a huge surge of confidence. I was totally startled because I felt that there was absolutely no way mind could have even guessed an answer for that question. I had read and heard about Pandit Ravi Shankar but had no idea about his family or his children. What made it scarier was that it turned out to be the correct answer. I guess my mind should have picked it up from somewhere without me being aware of it.

I have been blessed to have many such eureka moments throughout my life which have helped me immensely. I have learnt from experience that our mind, conscious and sub-conscious, has most of the knowledge and wisdom that we would need in our life. A lot of times, all we need to do is to look inside and egg our mind to find answers. The time it might take to accomplish it might vary drastically from an instant to a very long time, but the success rate is very high.

Wouldn’t it be smart to condition our mind to focus a bit more on important things in our life? It could help reduce the non-useful things getting into our mind’s chronicles, which is capable of capturing even our negative emotions, experiences and thoughts as much as the positive ones. This would inevitably condition our mind to a lot of avoidable stereotypes and patterns. Whenever we have to respond to a situation, our mind compares it to a previous experience which will most likely influence our response. Instead of responding to a situation on its merit (√† la the inimitable Ravi Shastri ūüôā ), we end up reinforcing the conditioning our mind has gone through umpteen times. We need to find ways to stop being a¬†Pavlov’s dog. Letting go of negative emotions and hurt we might have clung to for a long time will definitely help. (Despite all this gyan, how much ever I try, I end up responding the same pathetic way whenever my girl friend talks about most other guys. ūüėČ ūüėõ (evil grin) )

While this might not be a panacea for all problems, let alone mine, understanding our mind better and being aware of its potential will help us a long way in living a life that we dream of living. Now is the time to stop dreaming and start living! Cheers!

Update:¬†My friend Srikrishnan¬†pointed me to excellent literature on this subject –¬†http://www.eagleman.com/incognito¬†and some excerpts from the book “Incognito – The secret lives of the brain” written by David Eagleman, a renowned neuro-scientist, at¬†http://amiquote.tumblr.com/post/4686955288/david-eagleman-on-the-conscious-mind-what-freud¬†. Warning – mind-blowing insights in store ūüôā

My HP Pavilion dv9704tx laptop’s hinge snapped recently and hence the lid¬†couldn’t be closed without the back-cover and the bezel ripping themselves out from the broken hinge mechanism. Given my emotional attachment to my laptop, I was totally scared and panic-stricken. My previous experience with laptop repair still haunted me. My initial response to such situations would always make me look for instant solutions and since it was a Sunday, I had to wait at least a day to even take it to a HP service center.

HP Pavilion dv9704tx

The next day I bunked my office in the morning to take my laptop to a HP-authorized service center. I was expecting that the service engineer there would unscrew the hinge mechanism to check the broken part and show me the same. Reality isn‚Äôt that sweet, is it? The service engineer looked at my laptop like a curious child would look at a new object given to it, lifting it up and down, bending to look at it from different angles and declared that the panel, hinge and bezel need to be replaced. Since I was still not out of my panic, I didn‚Äôt dare question him or even ask him to open up my laptop and show me the broken part. Then he took my laptop inside to some room to confirm the parts are to be replaced. I was feeling more nervous every second and I feared that they might steal parts from my laptop and replace them with old or faulty ones (When the mind is panic-stricken, there is no limit to the pessimism it can indulge in ūüôā¬†). After a few minutes, the service engineer returned with my laptop and told me that I would be emailed the quotation for the replacement parts and that once the parts were ordered and delivered, the laptop could be fixed in a few hours. With some solution visible, I returned home with my laptop.

The dreaded email came the next noon. It had a quotation for replacing the complete LCD panel, rounded off to 19 grand inclusive of all service charges and taxes! I was totally shocked to see such a huge figure with which I could almost buy a cheap, new laptop or netbook. I decided to dig in and try finding some details about the spare parts for my laptop from the HP PartSurfer website. I found out the details of the correct replacement parts, noted them down and called the service center to ask about their quotation for replacing the whole LCD display kit just to fix the broken hinge. When I confronted them with hard facts, they were unsettled and kept giving ambiguous and contradicting answers. So I gave them the part details and asked them to give me a quotation for only those parts. They asked for a day’s time to do that.

The promised response never came and I kept calling the service center again and again. The answers got more ambiguous and non-committal with every call. After calling repeatedly for 2 days, I was told that the details for one of the parts was unavailable and hence I would have to replace the whole display kit. The murky thing there was that the part that they were asking me to buy was just the LCD display and my laptop’s LCD display was working absolutely fine. I tried to reason out with them in vain explaining that my laptop had just a broken mechanical part and that they were trying to order a replacement for some other electronic part which was working fine. The more I talked the more senseless their replies became. So I just ended the conversation abruptly out of frustration.

A friend at office had suggested taking my laptop to a non-authorized center and getting it repaired. The long-winded, futile arguments with the HP service center prompted me to see the problem from a different perspective. My laptop was more than 3 years old and out of warranty. I had spent more than 70K on my laptop already including the cost price and the previous repair. I didn’t want to spend more and more on an old laptop and make it even more indispensable.

The same friend recommended a laptop service center near my home and I decided to give it a try. A few days later, I took my laptop there with my fingers crossed. As soon as I explained the problem to the service engineer there, he immediately unscrewed the laptop hinge and display and showed me exactly what was broken. It was the left side of the hinge and he told me that it he would get it replaced and repaired in a couple of days‚Äô time. The confident ‚ÄúI know what I am doing‚ÄĚ attitude of the service engineer drastically calmed my nerves and I left my laptop with him for the repair. Two days later I got my laptop back and it cost me just 2.3 grand! Compare it with the 19 grand it would have cost me if I had got my laptop repaired at the authorized service center! Even that may not have been enough because I was asked to buy the wrong replacement part.

This incident made me think about the money lost by a lot of ignorant, unsuspecting people in getting their laptops repaired. It assumes even greater propositions considering how often laptops encounter hardware problems these days. I am tempted to believe that all this is an organized racket with the so-called authorized service centers and the authorizing manufacturers being partners-in-crime. What makes it even more atrocious is the fact that not all the service engineers in such ‚Äúauthorized service centers‚ÄĚ are technically equipped.

The lessons I learnt from this experience that I would like to share with everyone:
1. When buying a new laptop, it is better to pay a bit more to get extended warranty due to the tendency of laptops to run into hardware problems just after the expiration of the regular warranty period.
2. Always check and verify the cost and the details of the repair before committing to it. The manufacturer’s website and Google could give you detailed information.
3. When the laptop is in warranty, take it to a service center where you could get it repaired for free on most occasions. If it threatens to burn a hole into your purse, just pause for a moment, analyze the alternatives before making any decision.
3. Once the laptop is out of warranty, it makes no sense to spend a lot on it. So do not hesitate to get it repaired at unauthorized service centers using parts not from the laptop’s manufacturer. It is better take it to a service center which some acquaintance recommended. It will save you a lot of money and will most likely not impact the laptop’s lifetime.