Life Codecs Ruminations. Reflections. Refractions. Code.

September 20, 2010

A Tribute to Vajra

Filed under: general,personal,poetry — Tags: , , , — Kamal Advani @ 22:03

I just gave away my laptop of some 8 years. Its hostname was “vajra“, a Sanskrit multi-semantic word – some meanings rather less subtle than others, but that’s a tale for another rainy day. The meaning I first encountered for it however was ‘diamond’. That is the name I gave to it.

I do not know if I can confer this name on to an equally worthy machine in the future – whether I do, or do not – equality in this case will never replace Vajra’s intrinsic identity.

The Vajra that just left was truly a diamond, it stuck with me through thick and thin, all throughout my university and personal life – the whole of my time in Melbourne. A most resilient machine. It was sad seeing it go having been a significant part of my life for so long. Yet it is well that it went to someone who wanted to reuse it as a small mail server, as my main use for it has, sadly, since dissolved.

While a university student with a tight budget, it gave me no trouble. Many days it ran at least 10-15 hours a day, compiling code, browsing the net, playing music, yapping on IRC. It has been a companion for the longest time.

I remember that on the way to Melbourne, the first time, I managed to lose its original power adapter due to tardiness at the airport security check. I found an original, new, and cheap replacement not long after though. Truly it was Divine synchronicity. Even when I messed up, it remained kind to me.

2-3 years ago, the one thing that died was its hard drive. I replaced it the next day, and it was buzzing with life once more.

Vajra – a Compaq Presario 1700 AP – has the following featureset:

  • Pentium 3 (Coppermine), 750 MHz
  • 384 MB RAM
  • 110 GB HDD (the original was 40GB I believe)
  • NIC
  • Built-in (soft-)modem
  • Floppy drive-bay

It has accomodated several OS spirits during its time with me:

  • Linux: Mandrake, Redhat 7.2, Debian, and most recently Ubuntu Karmic
  • Windows: WinME, WinXP

I wish it well, and when the time comes – may its various elements evolve further: the minerals powering its chipsets, the metals of its frame, the luminous atoms of its LCD.

May the spirit of Vajra,
the diamond,
be forever.
In one form
or another.

Walking Down (Virtual) Memory Lane

Filed under: general,personal — Tags: , — Kamal Advani @ 00:34

I’ve been gathering up my old machines to either give away, or recycle. As part of this I’ve had to look at contents of old hard drives to decide what needs to stay, and what can go. It has been a rather emotional process – not a very easy one at times. So much lies in those bits and bytes. Chunks of life from days gone by. People, names, places, items. Some which test old wounds (dang, how deep). A timescale quite close to a decade for me.

Much of the material was not well-organised – so there was a lot of grepping for patterns of files that I might want to keep. I did not find a heap to keep, but those that I did find – they would be in the calibre of things, which, if I did suddenly remember about them, and realised that I had deleted them – well let’s just say it would not be a great feeling. At some point, one perhaps has to let go of it all – but for now I was glad to find those files.

In Indonesian, we have this interesting phrase, ‘napak tilas’, I don’t actually know what it means literally – but metaphorically, it’s an act of reflection – to revisit places (sometimes very much physically revisit places), or things, and reflect on the values gained from those, how one has changed or not changed, what one has learnt or not learnt, etc. – much like a deep, psycho-emotional XP retrospective for the Agile software-development-inclined.

I can’t help but think that so much ‘napak tilas’ must occur in the digital world these days – photos, music, writings, even code. This is of course in addition to ongoing life in the physical world. One lives, quite literally, in a multidimensional world today.

Night, (multidimensional) world.

March 11, 2010

Decisions

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 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.

December 27, 2008

Passions

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

Night

Filed under: poetry — Tags: , — Kamal Advani @ 17:08

The Night progresses
The World hushes
A moment of time
We move through
Unnoticed
Sublime

– Kamal

PS. I was in a trivia channel, and people started heading out as the night came… these words (further refined) came through.

December 4, 2008

Unconditional-ism

Filed under: personal,philosophy — Tags: , , — Kamal Advani @ 23:41

I get these occasional epiphanies. Here’s one for today, that the world is relative, our laws, our customs, almost everything – is reflected even in the economy, our purchases and sales[1]. It is said in many teachings that the way of the world is relative, the way of the Divine is absolute, heck, ‘The Absolute’ is yet another way of describing the Divine. Of all the Divine’s qualities, perhaps the one that brings us closest to It[2], is the notion of unconditional love. I have to say, this is often the hardest to practice – unless I suppose when you’re a parent, then your love towards your children is generally unconditional, or the love in some rare friendships, or in some teacher-student relationships. The outward form does not matter.

Perhaps therein lies the need for most people to have a family, to experience such a relationship. Try that with an ordinary relationship[3] say between a male and a female – once things end, everything usually goes wrong, there’s nothing to preserve, even if you offer some form of friendship, it just doesn’t work out, for the terms and conditions change, the outward nature of things are no longer the same. It hurts when nothing you give is acceptable anymore – interestingly it leads me to another epiphany, that we truly receive in giving. So perhaps I am starting to understand this whole unconditional love business, it hurts a little still, but it hurts less than before, perhaps one day only the joy and love will be left.

In case you’re wondering how today’s epiphany came about, I was reading Paulo Coelho’s[4] The Witch of Portobello: A Novel. A very interesting read – it exemplifies that society still has some time to go before it can accept differences, that to many power and maintenance of the status quo is preferable to a disruptive change for the better; this is however changing I believe. But perhaps because what I am going through, the most striking thing about the book was its definition of love: “love simply is.” – no terms or conditions. I can understand today why there are people who leave the world to serve the world, for there’s an inherent conflict in the life of the world dweller – conditional vs. unconditional. A saint I read about said he did not have a family of his own, because he wished to belong to everyone. This is not to say I disagree with the idea of a family and children, etc. – I think in some ways it is a harder path, albeit a more suitable one for today – for in the noise you have to find the stillness.

On the topic of worldly activities, I read somewhere[5] as well that the heart of a good CEO can be very saintlike – he looks after his clan, his company, perhaps it is not the world he serves, but it is more significant than looking after one’s immediate family. The uber-kewl founder of my Karate organisation has said several times that in his prayers, he first asks for prosperity of the organisation and their members, then he requests the same for his family – significant order methinks.

Enough pondering for the day… finished a book, wonder what to pick up next. Breaks are fun once you see that inactivity is activity – interestingly, the last epiphany – the The Witch of Portobello: A Novel speaks of this, that the blank spaces like the pauses within a musical composition are just as significant as the musical notes. Reminds me of an ancient Hindu teaching, between the 2 OMs (sound of the Universe[6]), lies enlightenment. (/me looks at you mystically, almost contented).

References:
[1] Terms and Conditions Apply
[2] I could use Him/Her but that duality of the sexes really doesn’t apply to the Divine I think, for the Divine has qualities of both and beyond, and our personal sides may choose to use Him/Her depending on the kind of assurance and strength we’re looking for – when we look for strength we use Father, and when we want love and caring and accomodation, we use Mother. All aspects of the One. I know I use both when praying.
[3] Speaking superficially here, I know there’s nothing ordinary about it.
[4] Of “The Alchemist” fame, another classic, definitely a must-read.
[5] Truly I do not remember where, thankfully this is not an academic publication, so do forgive my tardiness.
[6] One Ubuntu repository is called the multiverse – I wonder, perhaps it is a better term to start using, since there are parallel worlds and universes manifested from the Divine. Perhaps the rationale behind the use of Universe as an all-encompassing term was to simplify the idea of all is one and one is all… perhaps I shall be quiet.

December 2, 2008

Multitasking

Filed under: software dev — Tags: , , , — Kamal Advani @ 00:59

As much as humans love to multitask, we are still better at doing one thing at a time, well more precisely, we still do one thing at a time, even when we multitask, assigning a quantum/time-slice to each task. Much like the use of a time-slice process scheduling algorithm, multitasking is not free, the cost of context-switching still exists, to most of us, that means getting in the ‘zone’ for particular tasks. Unless of course you have some form ADD or ADHD, then you thrive on the ability to multitask and having many things to do at any one time. I find however that even this basic idea is often not recognised in the workplace, developers need contiguous blocks of time to effectively get work done, constant swapping of priorities, or frequent meetings are major hurdles to producing effective and quality code, and thus quality software.

But of course, for many places quality software is not a priority, software that works in as far as the customer is concerned is what matters. Even if the poor codeform (I’d say lifeform, but then you’d think I’m crazy which would be true too…) is hurting inside, begging, nay crying for a refactor, as long as it does what the customer asks, all is well. Sometimes this is fine, especially when we code to unreasonable requirements which really mess the code up. Reminds me of a tenet from Kernighan & Pike’s The Practice of Programming on programming for the general case first. Non-standard requirements often break elegance and symmetry. This is not to say they’re wrong of course, but they take a bit more effort to get right in software engineering terms.

A digression (I love doing this): one could argue however that given more time, one could modify the code so it remains elegant in handling the strange requirements. One could even argue that if there are a lot of strange requirements, either the customer or the developer or both have not really translated the domain’s needs into a software-consumable form (read: modeling), or that form is just plain wrong. That in fact, those requirements may not be so strange after all, that they carry more value than the ‘standard’ ones. I mean if there are too many special cases, perhaps they’re not so special!

Anyway, on multitasking again, I have been luckier than most in this respect, as I have had team leads who code and recognise the value of having dedicated time blocks for tasks. Just an observation methinks.

– Kamal

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