Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rankmaniac 2011

Check out this new blog created for a competition that is part of a course I'm TAing!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

More on "Man is Nilpotent"

This was a response to a comment on my very first post on this blog, but on second thoughts, I felt that it must be posted in the main page, so here it is.

Here, I try to justify two issues that were raised (by one of my very good friends) with respect to the title of this blog and its suggested relevance to Man. The first is how Man can be represented as a square matrix and the second is how time (compared to the finite positive integer n of my definition) can be seen as discrete, while its best described as a continuous variable. Here are the answers:

a) Man can be approximated to be a directed graph as follows - the vertices of the digraph are the various states he can be in (for example, happy, sad, excited, etc.) Of course, the meanings of these emotions depends on the person who is being represented. There will exist an edge from node u to node v if there is some action (either his own action or an environmental change) that can cause that change. The weight of an edge would be the sum of the likelihoods of all such actions causing the state change. Now, the weighted adjacency matrix of this graph is a square matrix, is it not?

b) In reality, there is always a limit on the precision of time - how accurately we can measure it, in spite of the fact that it is continuous. Well, if one can measure time to an accuracy of, say for example, k seconds, then think of the discrete scale to be calibrated in units of k seconds. As technology advances, k would become smaller and smaller, and the scale would become finer and finer - remaining discrete.

Friday, January 11, 2008

When God Came To IIT Madras - Part Two

Please read the first part here, before continuing!

Here, after a long long time, is the rest of the story. Apologies for the delay - I was caught up with so many things. Anyways, enjoy the climax (though, by now almost all of you must have guessed the end)!

I never realized that a person could be this famous and still not be talked about much in general. I had never heard of him at all. The CLT was packed with a crowd of students and faculty. Most of the students, I could guess, were first-years, who were clearly present to know what an extra-mural lecture was. The senior students, if any, were almost all of them from the Bio-Technology (BT) department and it seemed as if all the faculty members of the BT department were present in the first few rows. Sumesh and I made our way slowly to a row slightly past the middle ones and sat down, absorbing the general commotion around us. There were a few minutes left for the lecture to begin.

“The Extra Mural team sure wants a grand start this semester!” remarked Sumesh.

“Hmm", I said, not really listening. I had gone back to thinking how I’d know if the lecturer really was God or not. I had thought over this a hundred times, but I still couldn’t help thinking about it.

Minutes passed, but there was no sign of Ramamurthy. It was half an hour past the scheduled start of the lecture when a harassed-looking Jatin entered the hall and advanced to the dais. He was in my batch, the student coordinator of the extra-mural team.

“We are extremely sorry,” began Jatin, “but we are forced to cancel this lecture because Dr. Ramamurthy is unable to join us today due to unforeseen circumstances.”

At once a collective roar of disapproval rose in the hall, and Jatin had to raise his voice to apologize another time before stepping down.

“Truly a grand start!” joked Sumesh as we waited patiently for the murmuring crowd to dissipate. “At least we know that Ramamurthy is not God! Cheer up, you may find Him yet! There is still time.”

I managed a feeble smile towards Sumesh, who was watching me closely for a reaction. We got up and made our way to the exit. I had hardly four hours left to identify God and what a wild-goose chase it was turning out to be! Dejected to the core, I went to find my cycle. Sumesh said he had to go to the library and I cycled alone, back to my room.


It was five to eleven. I was walking to Gurunath, sad that I had missed the opportunity to identify God that day – the time was almost up. There did not seem to be many people there at this time. When I was about to enter, I got a call and I stopped. It was from Ashok, who worked with Sumesh on his project.

“I’ve been trying to reach Sumesh all day without any luck,” he said, his voice tense. “Tell Sumesh that he has to speak to his guide immediately. He wasn’t at the meeting today. The professor is mad at him.” And he hung up, without waiting for an answer.

Something was definitely wrong. Sumesh had told me that he had attended that meeting. Why had he lied? I rushed into Gurunath – Sumesh wasn’t there. I was desperate to talk to him; it was absolutely essential that he should talk to his guide immediately.

My cell phone rang again. This time, it was a call from an unknown number.

“Hello? Is that you?” Sumesh’s voice was loud and clear.

“Sumesh? What happened to your phone? Listen, I want to tell you something important. You have to talk to your guide immediately. He is so mad at you. Why didn’t you attend the meeting? You told me you did. Ashok just called me and…"

“What?” Sumesh cut me off. “Wait a second. You listen to my story. I’ve been stuck at Vijayawada for almost a day. I got down here when the train stopped and it left before I could get on again. I've lost all my luggage, I hope I can collect it from the authorities in Chennai when I get there - I’ve just bought a ticket for another train which is about to leave. I’ve been trying to call you all day; you never answered! My cell ran out of charge in the evening. I…”

“I’ll speak to you later, Sumesh. Bye.”

“But… but… wait…”

I hated to cut Sumesh off like that, more so given the situation he was in, but I couldn’t bring myself to keep talking to him while looking at him entering Gurunath, before my eyes. My fingers trembled as I double checked the number from which Sumesh had called and I recognized the STD code of Vijayawada. The truth finally dawned on me. The Sumesh who entered just now spotted me and he waved. I went to him and we sat around a lonely table.

“You’re G.. G.. God!” I stammered.

“Finally! How did you find out?”

I told God about Sumesh’s call.

“Ah! I’ve been caught as a result of my own plans. Sumesh’s call wasn’t a coincidence. You were so desperate to talk to Sumesh, and as I had promised that you’d have whatever you wanted when I was around, you got to do so.”

For a few minutes, neither of us spoke. I thought about everything that had happened that day, it all made sense.

“Well, I owe you a wish now. Tell me, what do you want?”

I don’t know what got into me when I said, “I wish Sumesh hadn’t missed his train. I wish none of this had happened.”


Next morning, I woke up to a loud banging on my door.

“Who the f…”, I yelled, as I opened the door. There, smiling at me stood Sumesh, with his baggage, having just reached Chennai. Or, was it God?

“Wake up, sleepyhead. It’s the first day of the semester and you don’t want to be late for class!”


To this day, I do not know if the whole thing was a dream, or if it really happened. I have no way of finding out.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

When God Came To IIT Madras - Part One

This is a short story that I had to concoct as part of the course Creative Writing. In the exam, I had to condense it grossly in order to respect the word limit. Here, I present to you the full version - in two parts. Below is the first part. I encourage all those who have read my exam version to read this one as well as there is so much more detail that I had to cut out.

“You’re kidding me, right?” asked Sumesh, smiling disbelievingly. “God came in your dream and told you that he’s going to be in IIT today?”

It was a rainy day on the first week of August. We were just coming out of Himalaya, the great dining facility for resident students at IIT Madras.

“First,” I said, indignant, “it was not a dream. It was like a dream, but it was real. I could have sworn that I heard His voice right inside my head – I was lying on my bed, eyes open, staring at the ceiling and He spoke to me. He said that He’d pay a visit to IIT today and what’s more, He also told me that if I identified Him before midnight, He’d grant me a wish.”

As I was saying this, Sumesh started laughing. “Stop, stop. That’s enough. You make the boy who was next to me on my train look much more sensible. He had been reading some horror stories lately and thought the ticket collector was Count Dracula in disguise, just because he wore a black suit with a red tie and had rather prominent front teeth!”

Looking from the point of view of Sumesh, I thought that it did sound rather silly, saying it like that. Sumesh was in a good mood, he had just arrived that morning from Delhi. I had moved into hostel last night. I live in Madras, so I had my dad drop me on his way to a business meeting. Sumesh is my best friend, a brilliant guy, always lively and jovial. It was good to see him again after three long months of vacation. We were both entering our final year in IIT.

Unconsciously, I followed Sumesh to where we had parked our cycles and we started driving towards the academic zone. Had God arrived yet? Where was He? I did not tell Sumesh, or rather, he did not let me tell him, that God had also given me a clue to help me feel His presence – He had told me that when He was around, I would obtain whatever I needed during the day, provided that it was absolutely essential to have it.

“So, what do you think CC has in store for us today?”

My train of thoughts was broken and I responded, swerving to avoid a large puddle. “Not much, I guess. It’s the first class and as usual, he’d give an introduction to the subject and present the syllabus and text books. I’m really looking forward to PR.”

Using short forms everywhere, shamelessly, is the order of the day in IIT. Professors with rather long names would find their names shortened to their initials and the course names would be abbreviated to some convenient acronym.

It was only five minutes to eight when we slowed down to park our cycles near the entrance to the Computer Sciences Block – five more minutes until class started. Not surprisingly, there was an array of shining new bicycles parked neatly across the pavement adjoining the wall. I smiled to myself – after all, when I was in my first year, I too used to come fifteen minutes before the start of class, park my new Ultima EX neatly amidst the other cycles and gracefully ascend the staircase to find my classroom.

We went upstairs, only to find a group of first years huddling together outside classroom CS-34, which was locked. Our classroom, CS-36 was locked too. The office assistant was hurrying up the stairs, a great bunch of keys in his hand. He strode straight to CS-34 and proceeded to unlock the door.

Meanwhile, many of our classmates had arrived too. I hardly noticed all this, however. On a sudden impulse, I was keenly observing every student of the first-year group. None of them, however, was looking back at me. They seemed nervous of our presence, and pretended not to notice us at all.

“Do you see Him?” asked Sumesh. The mocking tone of his voice did not go unnoticed by me. I felt I should respond, so I said, “I am trying. The first-years are new – many would have arrived just today. Maybe He is one of them.”

“Now this is just getting stupid,” Sumesh replied, smiling, as the office assistant unlocked CS-36 and we got in, along with the others. “You cannot go around looking into the faces of every person who is new here! There’s got to be so many people - first-years, new faculty, new staff and lots of visitors. Let’s sit here.” He pointed to a couple of seats right under the fan and we sat down.

“And even if you do manage to do that,” he continued, “how would you know who God is?”

I told him about God’s clue that I would have whatever I was in dire need of when He was around. Before Sumesh could respond, CC walked in with the attendance register, the smile on his face greeting us all on the first day of class. Behind him, several more of our classmates could be seen hurrying to get inside. It was five minutes past eight. The semester had begun.


It was nearing noon and I was getting along classes with no more arguments on this issue. However, I could not help staring a bit at the two new faculty members and one visiting faculty member of our department. I was just coming out of CS-24 after my FLA class, when Sumesh joined me at the stairs. It was time to head back to Himalaya for lunch. As we came down, we realized that it was getting very dark. It seemed like it was six in the evening. We took the chance and drove out onto the road. No sooner had we reached the first corner than I felt a few drops on my arms. Hoping that it was only a drizzle, we started to cycle faster.

“Oh no, I’ve forgotten my umbrella in my room. I hope this doesn’t get worse”, I said. Sumesh had already whipped out his umbrella from his bag and was now holding it up using his left hand, while he continued to drive with his right. Then it happened – it was as if all the bathroom-showers in campus were turned on together over our heads – an enormous downpour. Sumesh held the umbrella closer to his head. His pants were already getting wet.

But, wonder of wonders, I did not feel any dampness on me at all. By then, I should have got soaking wet, my clothes sticking to my skin, embarrassingly exposing my upper body through the thin shirt that I chose to wear that morning. It was as if there was a tight but invisible plastic wrapper around my body – water just fell on it and trickled down, but did not penetrate it. Anyone looking at me would have to observe very keenly indeed to notice that I was actually not getting wet. Of course, this meant that God was somewhere in my vicinity. I started looking hastily all around me. But it was impossible to discover anything in the mess that surrounded me – dozens of students, most of them first-years, squinting through the dense sheet of rain, hurrying along to have lunch, complete strangers under umbrellas, forced to the extreme sides of the road by the mob of cycling students and the intra-campus bus, squeezing its way through the sea of cycles. Cursing, I looked at Sumesh, and tried to make him notice the fact that I was doing better than him without an umbrella.

“Hey, look at me a second!” I shouted against the noise the rain and the bus were making. But Sumesh did not hear me. He was busy trying to maneuver his cycle and at the same time, avoid getting wet to the maximum extent possible. It was only when we had reached Himalaya and safely entered the building that he even looked at me again. The instant I stepped inside, I felt a weight lift, as if that invisible plastic cover had been removed.

“How come you’re not wet at all?” asked Sumesh, completely stumped. I just raised my eyebrows and smiled at him, as if to say, “I told you!”

It was ten whole minutes before Sumesh could talk. He was gaping at me all the way to the front of the queue, almost forgot to take his chappatis, poured rasam into sambhar and topped it all by slopping a whole glass of buttermilk over himself on our way to find seats in the hall. I had finished breaking my chappatis into smaller pieces and was just pouring sambhar over them (I like to do that so they become softer and tastier, once soaked for a minute in sambhar) when Sumesh returned to take his seat opposite me, the front of his shirt completely wet. I felt rather sorry for him.

“So, it’s real? God is somewhere here?” he whispered so softly, digging into his chappatis, that I had to strain to hear him over the din made by the caterers who casually kept slamming plates, tumblers and other utensils on top of each other.

“Yes, and you are going to help me find him before midnight.”


Sumesh recovered from the shock sooner than I expected him to, after all that he had done in the dining hall. So did the weather. By the time we had finished eating, there was more sunlight outside and we could even see bits of blue here and there.

Absentmindedly, I took out my cell phone to check for missed calls and messages, as it was in silent mode since morning. There were three missed calls from Sumesh. When I asked him about them, he said that he had tried to reach me so that we could go together to lunch after the last morning class, but he found me at the stairs anyway. Just as we were leaving Himalaya, a large notice caught my eye.


The extra-mural committee of IIT Madras is proud to invite you to the first lecture of this semester, “A Brief History of Life”. The speaker is the renowned evolutionist, Mr. Ramamurthy, who is currently a professor of Life Sciences at Jabalpur Institute of Technology.

Date: 2nd August 2007

Time: 7:30 pm

Venue: Central Lecture Theater (CLT)

The rest of the notice consisted of a brief history of (the speaker’s) life, which was not in the least interesting. Who would want to know that he had read Darwin’s theories at the age of twelve?

“We must go there tonight.” Sumesh looked at me with a meaningful look in his eyes as he said this. I understood, and thought there was a good chance that he was right. The title of the lecture was a clear indication – who else can give a more accurate description of the history of Life than God Himself, the creator? And besides, it would only be too easy for God to take Ramamurthy’s form to deliver the lecture and later modify the real Ramamurthy’s memory accordingly.

The afternoon was completely free for both of us, and I retired to my room to get some sleep. Sumesh said he’d go to his room too and start arranging stuff as he had had no time in the morning for that.

I woke up at five, after a disturbed sleep. I had dreamt of God mocking me, challenging me to identify Him before midnight. As I switched off the alarm and put my phone back to normal mode, I found that there were three more missed calls from Sumesh. Wondering why he’d tried to reach me three times, I called back, but the call wouldn’t connect. I freshened up and went over to his room to call him for coffee. His room was locked. I asked Maddy and Shocky, his wing-mates, about him and they told me that they had not seen him at all the whole day.

Confused, I started walking towards Gurunath, the famous coffee shop closest to the boys’ hostels. Just as I entered, I saw Sumesh at the stall, sipping on some cold coffee. I made a beeline for him, cutting across the general evening crowd of various students – mostly first-years wearing their workshop dress complaining about the amount of painstaking work assigned to them in their respective workshop divisions. Other senior students, who would think you’ve gone crazy if you asked them for a reason for their presence at the coffee shop were also present, clapping each other on their backs, laughing, joking, making merry.

“I did want to go back to my room”, Sumesh started explaining, even before I could ask him anything, “but I suddenly remembered that I had to attend my project meeting with my guide this afternoon. You know him – he would’ve gladly screwed up my grades if I hadn’t attended today’s meeting. It was an important one. After that, there was a nice guest-lecture in our department. That’s what I tried to call you for, but you wouldn’t answer!”

He waited by the stall patiently while I struggled to get my usual evening coffee from the stall attendant, who generally seems to pretend that we don’t exist. We occupied a table that a few people had just vacated. We were silent for a while, our eyes feeding on the general commotion around us.

“It’s hopeless, isn’t it?” I asked, after sometime, not looking at Sumesh. A rather beautiful girl bending over her fallen hand-bag had caught my eye.

“Well, yeah. I don’t see how you are going to identify God, even with the getting-whatever-you-want thingy. He might be around, but how do you know which person around you is He?”

“You’re right. My only hope is that lecture tonight.”

We parted, as Sumesh had some project-work to do and I thought I’d get started on some homework. He promised to meet me outside CLT a few minutes before the scheduled start of the lecture.

To Be Continued...
Click here to read the rest of the story!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Man Is Nilpotent

For my first entry, I'd rather choose to explain why "man is nilpotent" - don't blame me if you find it stupid - I just got crazy when Blogger kept on saying that the blog addresses that I wanted were unavailable. Well, here is the funda - a square matrix M is said to be nilpotent if there exists a finite positive integer n such that Mn equals the zero matrix. So, the expression reflects the finite time that Man has, to spend on Earth.