Give me a reason

No great war

“We’re the middle children of history…. no purpose or place. We have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives.”

I’m generally not one of the ‘publicly introspective’ types. When you have a lot of time sitting semi-idle (semi can be attributed to angry birds) during daily commutes, or in the case of the last year, in class, you get a lot of time to introspect. However, 99% of this is not shared with any part of the universe. Thats why its called introspection. Not ‘outrospection’.

This is going to be one of those exceptions. The last few weeks, punctuated as they are by my return to working (and blogging) after a 1-year hiatus from both while at business school, has been filled with the ‘why’ and ‘what’s the point’ questions of an existential nature. The boiling-fishbowl atmosphere of a Business School is just enough out of sync with the rest of reality to make you question everything once back in the real world. This has led me to thinking about purpose, and its importance in life in its most prosaic form.

I make no bones of the fact that many things I did in the last half-decase, including starting and continuing this blog, were done with an eye on a future Business School application. Be it blogging to develop the ability to coherently argue a position, or various career choices, can all be viewed and justified through the lens of a Business School admission. This was purpose.

I’ve been getting steadily more and more sporty over time. Other than the immediate rush of playing, there’s an underlying purpose to deny both age and my genetic physical inheritance. This is purpose.

Everyone, without exception, has some driving purpose (or more than one) that kicks them out of bed every morning. The eponymous Macintosh ad of 1984, or the selfsame Orwellian book, are but vivid nightmares of a world without the freedom to give life purpose. Ayn Rand too. This is what free will is fundamentally about. Not about what clothes to wear or what to say, but setting the direction of days of future yet to pass.

For some, it may be earning a living, for some it may be raising a family. (Though I would posit that anyone driven by things to everyday is selling themselves short). Purpose will change over time, as they are met, or priorities and world-views change. There may be intermissions, but the show always goes on.

Philosophers would have us sitting and thinking about the deeper meanings of life and pondering fairly simple questions at a almost pointlessly existential level.

“Why am I here?” – Some answer, any answer that makes the heart beat a little faster is enough.

Mark Zuckerberg, to grab a handy example, wants to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” . Ronaldo (the real one) wanted to score goals.

Such as it is, I stand now at a crossroads in life. The great wars and great depressions that gave me reasons are done. In terms of what I can do, I have little left to prove.

I will find my next great war. We all do. We may deny it, we may postpone it in the name of earning a living, but it’s there.

What is your great war? What makes you do things? Why are you here?

Twitter? Move Over. Longform is back.

Will writing itself be revived? (Photo by jjpacres on Flickr)

I’ve heard the arguments much too many times to count. Facebook splinters human attention. Twitter lowers the literary standard to what we can spew out on the way down the escalator to take the tube, spelled in SMS English, with the thought investment of a catchline from an impotence infomercial. The death of journalism as instant news and burns the crafted article at the altar of the here and now.

Well, it’s all bunkum. A full reparte to this general propaganda will wait for a time when I have more time. Suffice to stay, that it is not the duration of attention that has dropped, but the quality of attention that has risen. It is not the intellectual investment in the word that has reduced, but the ideas and methodologies of the writing which deserve full intellectual investment has reduced. The quality of thought is not strained. It has been distilled.

One such form, and the focus of this post, is a recent discovery of mine – Long Form Journalism. In essence, journalistic work far too large for the standard 600-words-ish magazine / newspaper article and of course much too short to be a book. Articles which, unlike the standard-issue state-and-embellish-the-facts-and-report idea of journalism, develops a story. Stories of the journalistic method, of the stories behind events, of the evolution that which are deemed to be considered news.

A good example is the story of Air France Flight 447. A veritable Illiad of an article, it covers the mysterious circumstances of the crash, the ongoing search, and even the commercial / political fallout of the crash. It clocks in at over seven thousand words.

Another example, one which is destined to pull the heartstrings of every cricket, nay, every sports fan around, is the Saga of an American journalist from ESPN visiting India and his coverage of the Cricket World Cup. It is a truly masterful rendition of what cricket means to this nation, the cultural iconography of Sachin Tendulkar, the evolution of the game and its future fate(s). In terms of length, this too is a monstrous article.

Even I would not be so bold as to attempt to summarize, at any level, such Epic works. It would be best, dear reader, if you read them for yourself. I will end here, and return to address both the Cricket article, and the argument at the beginning of this post at a later time.

One last thing: Amazon recently launched Kindle Singles – one-off pieces of longer fiction / non-fiction priced from $1 to $5. The latest in a series of sites riding (and building) the revival of Longform. More here. More from me once I get a good read of all these sites.

Ipads, College and Self-Fulfilling prophesies

I had a fairly interesting conversation with a friend yesterday. He was walking around with an Ipad.

Me: That’s an Ipad? Hmm…smaller than I remember it. (Aside: Ignoring the entire tablet product category is a patented personality trait. I’d last paid attention to any Ipad several months ago)

Friend: Yes. Yes it is.

Me: Smaller than I remember it. I thought the Galaxy Tab was this big. (Aside: I remembered them being ‘larger than a mobile’, and little more)

Friend: Nah, the Tab is smaller,

<other minor talk about the merits of Tabs and Pads. Apparently, they are different>

Friend: The Ipad is awesome, it’s designed at the perfect size for people to read digital magazines.

Me: (Confused) Who figured that out?

Friend: Steve Jobs said that its this size.

That got me thinking about the power of suggestion, especially when coupled to massive stature of the suggestor. The IPad may or may not be the perfect size for reading digital publications. Whether it is or isn’t is irrelevant. Steve Jobs, leveraging his (well-earned) stature as a technological prophet, said that it is so, and it is so. Would the other bald Steve (Ballmer) be able to pull off something like this? Probably not. Actually he’d probably ending ensuring the diametrical opposite of his prophecies.

Scene shift to college, both old and new. I’m studying at the Indian School of Business. The School prides itself on its intense, 1-year, “roller-coaster” program that compresses the value and learning of a full 2-year program into 12 months. This is true. The last 2 months have been a furious maelstrom of classes, parties, sports, assignments, projects, clubs, more parties and a chance to breathe every once in a while. However, I can’t help but wonder if maybe the schedule is suboptimal, and the powers-that-are have set up an intentionally roller-coaster schedule because the program is a roller-coaster? Or am I, under the power of potent suggestion, looking for ‘roller-coasteriness’ where it is no more than a normally hectic schedule? Previous college, which shall go unnamed, had built up, and was proud of, its reputation for being absurdly hard. Were things hard because they were hard or because they needed to live up to that reputation? I can’t answer that.

Uncomfortable flights, inertia-laden bureaucracy, wild-driving New York Cabs and rude new yorkers, stoned Jamaicans. Effect causes reputation or reputation causes effect?

Power of suggestions. Self-fulfilling prophecies. Directed willpower. Call it whatever, they certainly make the colors of reality a little more saturated.



Cycling is so easy, even a dog could do it

Because it has less to do with the rider, and more to do with the cycle itself, than previously thought.

This article from Ars Technica details a study where a bunch of scientists, simply put built an ‘unstable’ cycle. A cycle that defied all the hitherto-postulated theories for the tremendous stability of a moving cycle. (Ever tried to cycle without hands? It’s easy).

A cycle that still refused to fall over.

To test the relative contributions of these factors, the authors eventually built their own computer model of a bicycle and started playing around with various features. It turned out that they could eliminate both the gyroscopic and the negative trail factors, and the bike would still be stable as long as it was moving faster than 2.3 meters (7.5 feet) per second. They could even move steering to the rear wheel and produce a stable design.

The apparently unreasonable stability of different bicycle designs must have suggested that their model had probably lost touch with reality, so the authors went out and built a bike with a counter-rotating wheel to get rid of gyroscopic effects, as well as a negligible (4mm) trailing between the front wheel and the steering. As their model predicted, it tended to stay upright, and would steer into any falls that their grad students tried to induce.

As someone who’s spent a LOT of time on a cycle and in the pool, here’s my armchair-physics theory:

A bicycle’s stability is based on its center of gravity being under the bike. Move the CoG out from underneath it, i.e. – tilt it, and it topples.

cycle CoG

cycle CoG

A cycle is stable a lot in the same fashion a pro swimmer does not wobble and twist when swimming. While the latter is a result of training, the former (imho) is a result of no more than a simple and rigid design. Take away the rider, and there’s almost nothing left to influence the the CoG of the bike. The only ‘unstable’ part of the bike is the front wheel, which again is akin to the head of a swimmer, and ‘leads’ the entire body in a direction rather than destabilizing the system.

I’m sure real physicists could do math and prove (or more likely, debunk) my thoughts, but such is as they are.

The Bull God Returns..

Remember that feeling?

The one you get when you faced the 3 bull gods in the final level of DOOM?

When Theseus faced the Minotaur?

When Kratos faced Aries?

When defenders faced Ronaldo?

Well, that feeling is back. Geneva Motor Show 2011. The new Bull god is revealed. The Lamborghini Aventador:

Lamborghini Aventador

Lamborghini Aventador

700 HP V12. Son of the Murcielago. Descendant of the great Diablo. Unlike its weak uncle the Gallardo, this God does right by its ancestry.

Kneel before your god.

A counter manifesto for the Creative Internet

Some time ago, I came across this article. An article about a bold new book, written by a being with a creditably left-handed style of thinking that ties language to color signalling by cephalopods; protocol-free computer science and what have you. A book, nay, a manifesto, to use the language of the author, that defines creativity in singularly individualistic terms, at the expense of the collective and its consciousness, the internet.

Disclaimer: The book is still in the mail.

The author, Jaron Lanier, posits that the web has not liberated creativity in the species, but has stifled it. That by making universal distribution and access of music (as a nameplate for creativity, one supposes from the set of the article) has made it well-nigh impossible for the artist to sustain himself (or herself) of his (or her) art. That the web, as a collective lacks the underlying design or purpose needed for such a system to foster complexity and ingenuity.


We can take immense pride in the fact that, as a species, creativity is a primal trait. It was born when ancient man looked at the thundercloud and heard the wind in the tree and made music. It was defined by fire and the wheel. It was and is not facilitated by the presence of the barter system, the monetary system, the music label system or any other system. As Alan Moore put in V for Vendetta:

We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail. He can be caught, he can be killed and forgotten, but 400 years later, an idea can still change the world. I’ve witnessed first hand the power of ideas, I’ve seen people kill in the name of them, and die defending them… but you cannot kiss an idea, cannot touch it, or hold it… ideas do not bleed, they do not feel pain, they do not love…

The author (from my reading of the article) appears to misdiagnose the transition of the economics of creativity for the death of creativity itself. Yes, it has become a lot harder to become famous and financially solvent on the basis of one’s creative genius alone. But then again, I would posit that the last few decades have been an transitional anomaly as society shifted from mostly-isolated to mostly-connected to entirely-connected. As some may recall, the greatest artistic age on history was formed on the shoulders of penniless artists supported pro bono by money-laden noble houses. We owe the works of Michaelangelo and Da Vinci not just to these Titans, but to the Medici family as well.The world has moved back to a similar state, but for diametrically opposite reasons.

What has changed is the paradigm by which ‘creativity’ is defined. The quality of creativity is not strained, only its flavor. The internet does not foster creativity in the traditional arts, it fosters the creation of new forms of art itself. While traditional art has moved from penniless artists supported by patrons to super-rich artists supported by a pretentious neo-intellectual societal elite, the internet generation lives not for the fame or the money, but for the art. The internet has through universal and instant connectivity, done away with the need for economic sustenance –  patronage, art gallery, music label or otherwise. It is the purest form of a creative democracy, where circumstance of birth or location, networking or luck are zeroed out; where everyone is free to discover their own creativity, in whichever form they please and share it with the world. Instantly.

Mattepainting. Speedpainting. Dynamic typography. Virtual choirs. Microbloggging. Forget Impressionism and Realism. Forget Michael Jackson. This is the internet generation. This is art:

and this:

and this:

This is the internet. This is a wonderful place. Money? Fame? pfft. It’s on youtube.

(More once I read the book..including possible retractions with humility..)