Life Codecs Ruminations. Reflections. Refractions. Code.

January 28, 2016

Who Do You Work For?

Filed under: general,philosophy — Kamal Advani @ 01:14

Corporations often talk about values. Expected behaviour and human traits that the corporation deems necessary to achieve its goals as a whole. It is expected that all levels of the organisation will display these traits. Of course, anything involving people is bound to have its own challenges. It is very difficult to instill values in people; more so adults.

The idea behind value statements is legitimate, and having this framework of character is certainly a step in the right direction. When the toplevel folks consistently display these values, employees down the chain either fall in place, or leave. I am, for the moment, ignoring matters of hiring the right people, a non-trivial problem worthy of its own post (many, many posts).

In effect, it is people that bring values and traits to life. Without enough people making these values pervasive, they mean nothing. Words on a corporate brochure.

Very few places I can think of — in fact, just one, my extended family, the BKC — have values so tangible, that, it would seem even if not one human were left in the place, those values would remain alive, palpable. One gravitates to the promoted values nearly by osmosis. Such places are the exception rather than the norm, of course. Given this, I have come to the epiphany, that for most other corporations, I cannot possibly work for the company. I work for people at the company. Together, we progress the organisation. The latter is nearly a side effect. But it is very much akin to having money as a side effect of providing value, not a particularly big idea by now one would hope.

Management experts like to use terms like “restructuring”, as if an organisation is a malleable construction of easily replaceable lego blocks. In 2016, that many places do not recognise just how organic, just how alive, and how cellular in nature corporations are, is a cause for sadness. Until the importance of people takes precedence, and not just as lip service, everything tends towards disorder, or at best, mediocrity.

One must consider that to start a company, to drive it to provide value and derive profit — the beginning — takes a huge amount of energy. Most company founders are smart and driven. To me, a state of mediocrity (or perhaps, complacency) is when only this initial impetus moves the company in, essentially, auto-pilot mode. When no more of the same drive and energy is applied to achieve continuous innovation.

I recall a Yow! event I attended recently, the speaker — I believe from Netflix — mentioned that execs from other companies often mentioned how they could not hire good people. To which the speaker responded that many of Netflix’s engineers were hired from these execs’ companies. The phrase “damning evidence” comes to mind.

October 23, 2010

Garudas, Phoeni[xes|ces], Eagles

Filed under: arts,general,philosophy — Tags: , , , — Kamal Advani @ 18:43

Disclaimer: Some of these views are my own, they may not be accurate, they may be downright wrong in fact – they are opinions. Please research accordingly. This article is not meant to be a historical thesis of any sort, just observations and personal inferences.

With the disclaimer out of the way, I can go crazy with fiction or non-fiction as I please, whee.

I got into a discussion about ancient history today with a senior teacher of mine. It reminded me of how much I used to like stories, myths, legends, and associated symbolism. Anyway one link led to another, and I began reading about Prambanan[1][2] – a temple in Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia built around the 9th or 10th century. One of the depicted major gods in Prambanan is Vishnu, one of the 3 major Hindu Gods[3], whose consort/vehicle is the Garuda[4.1][5] – a mythical powerful bird.

In Indonesia, the Garuda is used as a national symbol, a symbol for the Pancasila[6] – the 5 unifying cross-cultural, cross-religious, tenets of Indonesia.

A part of article [2] and article [5] tell of Garuda as being the son of a mighty sage Kasyapa and his wife Vinata. Paraphrasing [5], in short, Garuda had a brother, Aruna, who was born misshapen. Aruna was forced out of an egg (like a real egg, think chickens, not wombs) by Vinata’s (his mother) impatience and overexcitement.

Aruna was angry that he suffered this and cursed his mother. The details of this curse are unclear – [5] says that the mother became a slave to Naga, I’ll let you read up on it. Essentially, the fix to this situation was for Garuda to steal some heavenly ambrosia – a non-trivial feat (we’ll need to trust the myths on this) – guarded by various beings. Garuda was able to do this and save his mother. This virtuous quality of being able to save one from a disaster underlies (among several other things I suspect) the choice of using Garuda as a national symbol.

Article [4.2] depicts various uses of Garuda as symbols in an organisational or governmental setting. Article [5] gives an overview of the use of Garuda in Thailand.

The Greeks (and Romans) revered the Phoenix[7.1] “as a symbol of rebirth, immortality, and renewal”[7.1]. USA uses the Bald Eagle[8.1] as their national symbol. According to [8.1], “The founders of the United States were fond of comparing their new republic with the Roman Republic, in which eagle imagery was prominent”. I suspect that the eagle in turn was inspired by the phoenix in those circles. A phoenix is also most closely associated as being the European mythological counterpart to the Eastern Garuda[7.2].

Furthermore, [8.2] speaks of the role of eagles in Native American culture, an ancient culture with their own series of mythology and belief systems. It is highly likely this also factored into the decision to use the Bald Eagle as a US national symbol.

It’s fascinating (to me anyway) that so many places come to similar symbolism, in spite of the vast diversity, and physical proximities between the lands.

Something to munch on on a Saturday. Speaking of munching, I am starved. Exeunt.

[2] (in Bahasa Indonesia unfortunately)
[3] – Vishnu the Preserver, Shiva the Destroyer, Brahma the Creator. Hinduism is considered to be a polytheistic religion, however, I believe this to be a superficial classification. In fact, many of the older Yoga-based philosophies are very monotheistic. The various divinities and deities being almost individual aspects of the One. In that, it is both monotheistic and polytheistic – the many from the One, and eventually back to the One. It is my personal view, that many of the “modern” groups have, perhaps accidentally, muddled the core essence.
[5] – use of Garuda in Thailand.

March 11, 2010


Filed under: general,personal,philosophy — Tags: , — Kamal Advani @ 20:08

As often happens during quiet periods, one has time to consider future directions as well as past decisions. In Agile Software-speak, a retrospective (aka retro) if you will. My retro this time has been about decisions. Life seems to have impressed upon me the need for correct and careful decisions – taken with mind, heart, and conscience.

Decisions wrongly made have a lasting impact – not days, not months, but years and beyond. Were this limited only on the decision-maker perhaps it would not be so bad, yet decisions more often than not affect at least two people, usually many more in the long term directly and indirectly. If one subscribes to the idea of Systems thinking, one will agree that nothing stands in isolation – everything is connected – context is always there. Only the Divine knows when that profound impact will be erased, and things return to ‘normal’. Perhaps they never will of their own accord (though they say Time heals all, though more accurately the Divine heals all), and making things right will involve the decision-maker to basically live with, learn from, and persist post that decision, hard as it may be. And to those ever affected by any dodgy decisions I’ve made – you have my sincerest apologies.

Ah retros – sometimes they leave me unmotivated. *Stretch*

August 23, 2009

Happy 40th Birthday, Unix!

Filed under: general,philosophy,software dev — Kamal Advani @ 17:10

This year (and some say this month specifically?), the Unix operating system celebrates its 40th birthday. Here are some links:

This blog entry is also categorised under and tagged as ‘philosophy’ because Unix does have an elegant philosophy underlying it :-). Probably the best I’ve read on the “Unix Way” is, The Art of Unix Programming[1], by Eric S. Raymond (esr)[2]

[1] Available for free from that page, find the link. I could have provided a direct link but that page is a better start, and acknowledges the author more clearly in my view.
[2] Of The Cathedral and the Bazaar fame, an authoritative piece on open source dynamics, why it works, etc.


Filed under: philosophy,poetry — Kamal Advani @ 02:44


Moment built upon moment
Of units measurable and not
Of events uncountable
Continuous and discrete
Apparent eternity
And a fleeting whisper
All at once.

How it comes, how it goes
Wow, how it goes
An all-encapsulating fabric
Seemingly ever-folding
Never unraveling

Ever-consuming manifesting events
Never to return
Each merged as a read-only datum
Accessed only by Mnemosyne’s will
With Divine accordance

Dimension sublime.

— Kamal

August 12, 2009

On speaking out of one’s posterior…

Filed under: general,philosophy,software dev — Tags: , — Kamal Advani @ 01:30

Warning: Colourful language ahead. (My colours are way duller than most though, so your mileage may vary.)

Every now and then I have episodes of deep reflection on languages and semantics, and not just programming languages either. A common phrase for one speaking junk or bullshit is to ‘speak out of one’s @$$/arse/{insert other posterior synonym} (henceforth aliased to the less-accurate-but-will-do term $POSTERIOR in the interest of the DRY principle)’, or ‘did you just pull that out of your $POSTERIOR’, and so on. In my ever so humble view, these phrases and their variations should be used rather carefully and I am not simply looking at it from the viewpoint of manners and aesthetics either. Let’s consider a few comparisons:

The excretory organs, including parts involved in the aforementioned $POSTERIOR expel toxins and unused junk out of the body, ensuring normal functioning of the digestive system, and in fact the body as a whole all things considered – you are what you eat and all that. In many cases, when one speaks out of one’s $POSTERIOR, it is often a trait that is repeated, because one is still evolving, as we all are, or perhaps has chosen not to evolve – also a choice made by many. Neither good nor bad; it just is, no judgement (no, really). The point is that more often than not, this wannabe-$POSTERIOR produce is not expelled for good, rather its source is often more like a bottomless pit (no pun intended.. well maybe just a little).

An astute reader (like yours truly, who just thought of this, teehee) will also bring up that even in the case of the true $POSTERIOR, it can be a bottomless pit – for one keeps eating and recycling, more so if the intake is … excessive – but the crucial invariant here is that output is always less than or equal to input (in fact equal is quite unlikely I think?) for true $POSTERIOR. Contrast this with case of speech or ideas ejected from wannabe-$POSTERIOR: even without additional intake (i.e. no new incoming less-than-valuable ideas to process), the junky output is sometimes reduced, often remains constant, but usually increases. On the rare occasion, it is eliminated. Quite a different invariant, yes?

Hence these phrases make use of flawed comparisons, i.e. wannabe-$POSTERIOR <> true-$POSTERIOR, they are not even all that similar.

These phrases in fact do a disservice to the true $POSTERIOR. They give $POSTERIOR a bad name. The $POSTERIOR works in all ernest supporting life. It is a Divine gift (have you considered life without it?). The bullshit output via the wannabe-$POSTERIOR, on the other hand, quite simply, does not necessarily do the same.

I shall however submit that the outputs (wannabe-output vs true-output) share many more traits, and are worthy of comparison. But let us not discredit true $POSTERIOR unnecessarily.

Please consider the ideas put forward in this post the next time you decide to use phrases involving $POSTERIOR.

Thank you. I wish you, and your $POSTERIOR, fragrances of heavenly descent.

PS. I have also tagged this as software_dev, for I think they kinda explain invariants and DRY rather nicely.

February 23, 2009

Blog Name Change

Filed under: general,personal,philosophy — Tags: , , , — Kamal Advani @ 23:09

So I googled “lifeflow”, my God I am embarrassed – that turned up a heap of hits – could I be part of the hive mind that is the world. No, that can’t be, I attribute it to a quirk of fate :P. So here’s the new name, the tagline has “Code” added to it. In a sense the original intent of this web log has not changed, and I think figuring life out takes some encoding and decoding, and I do enjoy writing code, and and ‘codex’ is a book or manuscript – very log-y – so ‘Life Codecs’ sounds rather apropos. And googling this, as expected a lot of results turned up on audio/video codecs, but that’s okay – at least I am not some quick fix to gain enlightenment. I mean, I wish I was – like for real – but I’m not :P.

Let’s hope I don’t have to change it again.

February 1, 2009

Hoosain Narker’s “My Karate Odyssey” Travelogue

Filed under: martial arts,philosophy — Tags: , , , , — Kamal Advani @ 02:22

Back when I was a toddler (well not quite that young), a few influential people influenced me (coz that’s what influential people do…) and made me stick to practicing Karate. Hoosain Narker, a master of the Ashihara style was one of these people. He has written a wonderful travelogue, full of fascinating tales, and more importantly life tenets that he’s learnt and lived through his several decades of of training. I highly recommend his book, for martial artists and non-martial artists alike.

— Kamal

December 27, 2008


Filed under: philosophy — Tags: , , — Kamal Advani @ 01:08

It seems to me that it is important to have more than one passion in life, at least two, but not too many either for that would be way too time consuming, and probably dilute other passions to the point that they’re no longer passions hah. Back to my topic, having a single passion is a little dangerous, especially when that passion is also your full-time job – sometimes, heck it’s almost a certainty, we can burn out. Then what do you turn to? Do you just chill out and get bored? That’ll work for a while. Having completely unrelated passions also allows you to focus different parts of yourself to the activity at hand. For example, I love to code, however when I am depressed or too bored, then working alone on something even if it is very cool software still seems a bit too lonely. I know this firsthand. So my other passion is martial arts. Where in computing I am pretty much just using my mind (except for the occasional epiphanies where I walk around the room and make funny gestures :P), in martial arts I use both my mind and my body. And they’re so different (physically anyway, quite aware of the level of concentration needed for both), that I always have one or the other (or both under normal circumstances) to turn to.

Considering things further, it’s even better if the passions are both individual and allow group participation, this allows you to have some semblance of a social life while providing you with your own space. Ah well, just some thoughts post Christmas. The holiday feels lonelier than usual, alas.

— Kamal

December 22, 2008

Ordinary Miracles

Filed under: philosophy — Tags: , , , , , , — Kamal Advani @ 18:04

As a kid, and even now, I have often wondered how cool it would be to have various abilities (think the TV series Heroes) – to be able to fly, to move things with your mind, to possess telepathy, run like the flash, and so on. Having a martial arts background, I have constantly been fascinated at some of the amazing feats people have performed demonstrating speed, strength, and dedication. Mas Oyama, founder of Kyokushinkai Karate, was able to knock a bull dead with one punch if I recall correctly. A chief instructor in my organisation was able to thrust his fingers through the skull of a goat.

As time progresses, however, and life experiences accumulate, one begins to see the true value of different abilities. My grandmaster has often said if you had the power to knock someone dead with one blow, and that person died.. well so what? Big deal. Are you proud that you caused a death? Admittedly, many years back I thought such an ability was cool… of course I did not think very far on what it meant – a life taken, the guilt weighing on one’s conscience, etc. I am not downplaying the dedication needed to get that ability – all I am saying is that while within itself, it is amazing, in the long run, it does not matter. To further illustrate, there’s a story of Gautama Buddha meeting an ascetic who proudly proclaimed that after 6 or 7 years of asceticism he was able to walk on water and cross the river. The Buddha said that he wasted 6 to 7 years of his life when he could have paid the boatman a tiny amount to get him across whenever he fancied it. That 6 or 7 years had he strived for enlightenment, the ultimate goal, instead, he would’ve gained something far more valuable.

So, what is a truly valuable ability? The Javanese ask for something from the Divine, they often term it “Ilmu Slamet”, ilmu means knowledge, but also an ability, and slamet means safety. Safety here is all-encompassing: safety in all activities in life, to be spared dangerous situations, to be granted the wisdom to make the right choices, etc. In other words, they ask for a prosperous, blessed life. Another Indonesian term I love is “mulia”, which is also harder to define, it means various things such as glory, stateliness, divine, noble, etc. “Hidup yang mulia” – a divine/glorious/noble life (hidup == alive/life). Truly, that is an ability, a knowledge worth having, the wisdom and the capacity to ride life’s sometimes tumultous waves, to escape problems unscathed, or at least, to heal as soon as possible, to make wise decisions, to have a pure heart and mind, to be compassionate. Given all that, what need do we have for super powers… when ordinary miracles happen everyday once one follows principles that lead to such a life. Heck, the term ‘ordinary miracle’ sounds like an oxymoron once you consider it, for there’s nothing ordinary – natural perhaps – but certainly not ordinary.

Anyhow, I am far from perfect, nor do I think it is easy to achieve a noble life, but it is something that I have begun to understand, something I thought was worth sharing. I still think various powers are uber-cool however. I suspect also however, that certain cool powers will be a byproduct of a nobler life, much like how many saints and sages had various abilities that came post-enlightenment.

— Kamal

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