Pseudorandom Thoughts

HyperLinkedList volume 1

A collection of essays from the web that I found interesting in the last couple of days

Her Code Got Humans on the Moon—And Invented Software Itself

A fascinating and inspiring profile of Margaret Hamilton, the woman who wrote a lot of the code that was responsible for ‘a giant leap for mankind

As a working mother in the 1960s, Hamilton was unusual; but as a spaceship programmer, Hamilton was positively radical. Hamilton would bring her daughter Lauren by the lab on weekends and evenings. While 4-year-old Lauren slept on the floor of the office overlooking the Charles River, her mother programmed away, creating routines that would ultimately be added to the Apollo’s command module computer

The original document laying out the engineering requirements of the Apollo mission didn’t even mention the word software,

Playboy’s ‘No Nudes’ Is What Happens When Platforms Rule

Playboy made the decision to cover up the women in its magazine to allow their content to be discovered and shared on the platforms via which most people now get their light reading. Now one can read playboy for the articles and not be lying, I guess.

But times have changed. Nudity and pornography are ubiquitous on the Internet. And people are buying fewer magazines overall, choosing instead to read online. Meanwhile, those same readers increasingly come to stories through third-party platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Those platforms have their own rules, and often prohibit or limit nudity. For Playboy to survive in a platform-driven world, the pressure to conform to those standards is immense—so much so that the publication is abandoning the core of its brand’s identity.

On the one hand, that’s not as insidious as it sounds: what works in print doesn’t necessarily work on the web; what works on radio doesn’t necessarily work on television. Different media have different rules. The difference here is that, when it comes to some content at least, publishers aren’t setting the rules—they can only follow.

Remember Your Old Graphing Calculator? It Still Costs a Fortune — Here’s Why — Mic

While Playboy has moved on to keep up with the times, some aspects of American high education haven’t

Nearly 20 years later, students are still forced to use a prohibitively expensive piece of outdated technology. It’s not because better tools aren’t available; they exist, and some of them are even free. It’s because Texas Instruments, the company that creates them, has a staggering monopoly in the field of high school mathematics

However, even if teachers wanted to be bold and bring in better technology, they would end up right back at square one because of that infamous force in American education: standardized testing.

The way Texas Instruments works with testing companies, standards boards, complicit teachers and textbook publishers is reinforcing the achievement gap between upper-middle-class students and everyone else.

Liquid fire

An old Economist piece that was shared on Twitter (I forget by whom) about the contribution of the Arab world to distillation and alcohol. Has some good etymology fundaes

The book-burning was not entirely successful. Medieval Arab science took up the work of the Greeks, as the word alchemy itself suggests. (It is the Arabic article al- added to the ancient Greek kimia, which referred to the magical science of the black land of Kemet, which is to say Egypt.) Precisely when and by whom the distillation of alcohol was perfected is not known.

The etymology of distilling provides further proof of Arab origins. The word alcohol itself derives from the Arabic al-kohl, the antimony eyeliner of that name, being used by Arab alchemists to describe any “purified” substance (thus distinguishing “pure” spirits from khamr, the common word for fermented drinks that comes from khamira, the Arabic for yeast).

Alcohol is made in a still or alembic, which is yet another Arabic alchemical term, appropriated from the Greek ambix, a sort of crook-necked vessel

Arab caravans and dhows transported another pungent expression to the east. Arak, or more properly araq, is the Arabic word for sweat or perspiration. This does not refer to the sticky effect of quaffing too much booze. It is a literal description of the process of distillation. When a wine or mash is heated in an alembic, its araq collects inside the still’s long spout before dripping out as “raised” alcohol.

Boredom is not a problem to be solved. It’s the last privilege of a free mind | Gayatri Devi

If you’ve read this far and aren’t in high spirits but bored, remember these wise words.

Boredom is the last privilege of a free mind. The currency with which you barter with folks who will sell you their “habit,” “fun” or “work” is your clear right to practice judgment, discernment and taste

“Fuck Society”

Some quick thoughts on “Mr. Robot” – the best thing on TV.

*****Spoilers maybe present, read at your own peril*****

It’s so refreshing to see a portrayal of hacking in main stream media that does not involve fancy graphics and bizarre animations. Hacking is shown as it is often done in the real world, using a terminal and commands entered via a CLI. There is a scene in one of the episodes where a couple of hackers make fun of a typically gimmicky portrayal that they’re watching on TV and one of the characters says something like ‘there is a writer right now writing a show that depicts hacking correctly’.

A hacker is shown thinking and typing with purpose, not 10 fingers flying over the keys at the speed of light in a dance of Brownian motion. Given that the show doesn’t overly try to dramatise the hacking, how does it manage to grip the viewer like it does? I think the answer to that is the continual stream of consciousness / inner monologue of the protagonist that the viewer gets to hear. It’s part explanation, part misdirection, but it keeps you focussed on what’s happening on screen (and on the screen inside the screen). This narrative device is the primary reason for the show being so darned good.

The show manages to portray things from the viewpoint of an uber geek, but we also get to see how the majority interact and react to technology. The lack of awareness of how public our online lives are, and how that can be mined for profit or perversion is depicted beautifully in the hacks that are carried out. There are also many hacks that employ brilliant social engineering which shows us our own gullibility.

“Mr Robot”’s 10 episodes of season 1 are some of the best television I’ve seen in a really long time. Highly recommended.


Monsieur Lambert by Jean Jacques Sempé

‘Monsieur Lambert’ is a cute little graphic novel written in 1965 in French by Jean Jacques Sempé and translated into English over 40 years later by Anthea Bell (of Asterix fame).
It shows the scene at lunch at a French Bistro on different days, giving us a peek into the daily conversations of the regulars. The regulars – all men, without fail have lunch at the Bistro every day. Conversation is limited to either politics or soccer, based on the text in the speech bubbles.
Each page is almost the same, yet slightly different. On the left hand side of the page are the politics talking men, on the right side at table for 4 sit Monsieur Lambert, a reasonably young man, with his regular gang of older, past their prime if you will, gentlemen. In the middle is this gentleman who is always in a hurry and keeps getting advice about how to live life by the only lady in pictures, the waitress. There is also another man who is all by himself, in the foreground of the pictures, but pretty much in the background of all the happenings. Each page has enough room for speech bubbles and narration to push the story along.
There isn’t much to push in a book that has 64 pages and if anyone is looking to find a deeper meaning in it, is going to be quite disappointed. The story quite simply is about how the routine of lunch at the bistro is broken by Monsieur Lambert’s amorous adventure involving Florence, a woman we know not much about except that she exists as perfection in pretty much every man’s head.
The book is a quaint look at a small part of Parisian life in the sixties. It has Sempé’s characteristic artwork and the ink pen cursive writing of the speech bubbles gives away its age. 

For me the conversations between the waitress and the man perpetually in a hurry are the best parts and her constant refrain to slow down and live life is for me the Parisian bistro way of life. Breathe. Watch. Read. Eat. Drink. Talk.

The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge

If there’s one thing you read this week, it should be Matt Might’s forceful piece on how to live a meaningful life. Don’t let the title, ‘Howto get tenure’ fool you.
Please take some time off to read the post.

Life is too precious and too fleeting to waste my time on bullshit like tenure. I didn’t become a professor to get tenure. I became a professor to make the world better through science. From this day forward, I will spend my time on problems and solutions that will matter. I will make a difference.”

This Newyorker piece describes young Bertrand’s and the Might family’s journey.

A readlist of articles about the Amazon work culture brouhaha

A readlist of articles about the Amazon work culture brouhaha.

Hyper linked list Volume 0

This post is the first of what I hope will become a regular feature on this blog, where I share stuff that I found interesting on the interwebs over the past n days. (n is yet to be assigned a value and is mutable)

For easier consumption, here is a Readlist of the articles mentioned

Haruki Murakami – The moment I became a Novelist

The introduction from Murakami’s forthcoming book, which is a translation of his first 2 works. Typical descriptive, first person Murakami. Great with a coffee on Sunday morning.

It cost a lot less to open your own place back then than it does now. Young people like us who were determined to avoid “company life” at all costs were launching small shops left and right.

These days it’s easy to open a company that makes an app. Let’s see if any of them become writers in a few years

I imagine most people are relatively laid back in their twenties, but we had virtually no time to enjoy the “carefree days of youth.”

What? Most people I know spent / are spending their twenties working  really hard. For that matter even their 30s

The Hunting Knife – A Murakami short that appeared in The New Yorker

It’s a 12 year old piece that I found a few days ago. It has some good, descriptive prose, but seemed pointless.

Samanth’s beautiful piece on the Anna Library

I tell her she’s leading the life all true readers and writers really desire, a life unencumbered by daily work, pledged to the life of the mind. She claims I am mistaken—that she wants to hone her writing, which is still work even if it is hustled toward no particular deadline;


An eye opening piece on WeChat and what happens if one looks at mobile apps as something new and not adapt things from the PC Era. Almost seems like Emacs for mobile :-p

Office, messaging and verbs

An insightful essay that essentially says that “office apps” will look very different in the future and Slack and Quip are attacking the problem from 2 different directions, Slack – going from messaging to document / information sharing and Quip from documents to messaging. Microsoft will be pretty much dead when this pans out as Office is their cash cow.

What killed those machines was not better, cheaper competitors but a completely different way to address the same underlying business need

Hence, channeling Marshall McLuhan, new tools start out being made to fit the existing workflows, but over time the workflows change to fit the tools.

Breaking Smart – Season 1

I am huge Marc Andreessen fan boy and this series of essays explores his claim that “Software is eating the world”. Someone (IIRC @jackerhack) created a Readlist of the essays, so one can read them all easily. I’m still making my way through it though.

Web design – The first 100 years

While it pretends to be a talk about web design, it’s so much more. It’s a great counter balance to the hype and optimism of ‘Software is eating the world’. I am a big fan of the author, Maciej Cegłowski and was one of the first pieces of software I paid for. Since I read quite a bit from the people who’re creating the future in silicon valley, it’s easy to be swayed with a singular point of view. Maciej usually has a sobering counter argument to a lot of things. His essay critiquing Paul Graham’s ‘Hackers and painters’ is also a brilliant read.

Tech culture is like a deadbeat who lives on your basement sofa. You ask him:

“When are you going to do all those things you promised?”

“Oh, wait until everyone has a computer.”

“They do.”

“Okay, I mean wait until they’re all online. ”

“They are. Why isn’t the world better?”

“Well, wait until they all have smartphones… and wearable devices,” and the excuses continue.

The real answer is, technology hasn’t changed the world because we haven’t cared enough to change it.

Snapshots from the City of God

Allahabad, in a lot of ways reminds me of Kolkata. Both are cursed with muggy, tea-kettle-hot weather, that makes you sweat out of pores you don’t realise you have. The food is usually great and worth the risk involved in its consumption. There is a certain disregard for the law, and affinity to risking life, which can only be explained by the abundance of people, and the low value that such an abundance puts on human life. Humans are used as engines to transport people on cycle rickshaws. There is an enormous amount of history associated with both the cities, and both are stuck in the past, unlike the major rivers that flow ceaselessly through their arteries.

Below are some photographs I took during a trip to Allahabad in the week gone by.

Rice country

Rice country


Green fields provide a beautiful contrast to the terrible driving and bad roads on the highway from Benares to Allahabad

Rising water levels

With high water levels, this man is forced to walk his cycle through the water. (Banks of the Triveni Sangam)

At the sangam

Our boatman said that the reddish water is the Yamuna and the silt laden brown the Ganga. (IIRC)

Kachori and sabzi at Nethram

Kachori and sabzi at Nethram

The famous Sophia “Laurence” pan shop. 

khullar chai

Khullar chai on the highway. The tea was one of the best I’ve ever had.

Bridge on Yamuna

The “new” bridge on the Yamuna


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