Monday, October 31, 2005

Technological Pure Science

Certain proverbs have a characteristic of nagging at one’s understanding of them ever so frequently. Take for instance the old adage “Necessity is the mother of all invention”. The validity of the word Necessity has inspired quite a few arguments. Some people, ignoring the subtle difference in the meaning between the words, are of the opinion that Need would be a better substitute to Necessity. Some others argue that neither qualifies to be the cause of anything and that Chance provides the best alternative. This theory argues that so much is invented based on results, corollary to those being researched, that it is these chance discoveries which are the essence of creation. And finally one more interesting view point that I have come across is that Lethargy, or lack of motive purpose is the mother of invention. Even if one does not associate rather harshly the meaning of lethargy, as lack of motive purpose, one is led to believe by this assertion that laziness is the pinnacle of human pleasure, and the aspiration to attain this leads us to invent things.

The above argument is mostly an extension of an older philosophical debate. An unbiased, narrative article I recently read described two different sides of a similar argument: between merits of pure science and those of technology. It described the two different view points, that of the purists claiming that pursuing scientific truth is necessary and valuable in its own right without regard to its application, and that of the technologists discrediting the exalted view of science being guided from within and propounding a more democratic framework, with a need of collective good promoting scientific inquiry. Trying to correlate these into the existing philosophical structures I referred to the Britannica Junior Encyclopedia’s essay on Philosophy. The above argument is a direct consequence of the contrasting views that exist on the theory of human knowledge and opinion, to that of the methodology of gaining knowledge.

A philosophically equivalent parallel to this argument can be found in the debate between the Rationalists and Empiricist schools of thought. Both these theories deal with the theory and the sources of knowledge, but the basic dichotomy of the two again depends on the contrasting views of the ways to gain this knowledge. The rationalist source of knowledge and subsequently of reality would be through deduction of concepts formed in the mind. This theory relegates the need of appeal to the senses for gaining knowledge and highlights apparently, the priority of perception of reality rather than reality itself. This is in a way similar to the theory of Maya in one of our Indian theologies, expounded by Shankaracharya. The empiricist source of knowledge would be by means of direct perception of immediate facts only through sense observations and experiments. Here too the concept of identity and existence are deemed unimportant and non-conceptualized sensory data is considered as valid forms of knowledge.

The flaw, according to me, in these theories would be firstly the sacrifice of reality and secondly as a consequence of non conceptual sensory observation, the belittling of the mind. The argument for pure science trivializes the application of scientific knowledge and limits it to theorizing about phenomena. On the other hand the argument for technology belittles the need for such conceptualization and emphasizes on the needs of the sensory reality. This leads us to the reason why there seems to be a debate over which concept of knowledge fits the meaning of the proverb best. Is the need for technology, the source of scientific inquiry into knowledge, or is technology a chance byproduct in the grand scale of purist scientific outlook.

It probably augurs well now to look for a synthesis between the source and output. Consider these examples; the explanation of the theory behind semi-conduction has led to the understanding and development of electronics and the electronics industry. But it has been the growing requirements of memory and processing power that has fuelled the scientific inquiry into conceptualizing better explanations of conductivity and subsequently the research into better semi-conducting material. The mapping of the human genome may be a purely scientific undertaking based on the need to understand and explain the evolution of mankind but it is driven in part also by the lucrative insights it can provide in tackling genetic disorders among humans. Just as sensory data is just data without the application of a man’s intellectual process and notion of conception is just a notion without man’s sensory inputs, so are pure science and technology interlinked.

Etymology dissects the word Philosophy as Philien and Sophy, Greek words for Love and Wisdom respectively. Hence Philosophy is the love of wisdom and wisdom would suggest that in the above debate we need to go further than just testing knowledge by its practical consequence or vice versa and develop an integrated synthesis of knowledge and application. Now, if an etymologist can provide a single word for an ‘Integrated Synthesis of Knowledge and Application’, then I believe we have an apt word for our favorite proverb!


Britannica Junior Encyclopedia, William Benton, 1972 edition.

Kant Vs Sullivan, Ayn Rand, 1970

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

En Garde! It is a Dual-Core Duel!

Let’s face it, being an electronics engineer does no good to your hopes of a life filled with James Bond like adventures. Sure, all the movies show these suave heroes and heroines hacking into computers networks of casinos, defusing electronically controlled bombs and plugging in a new chip in a socket and automatically redirecting a speeding ballistic missile in mid air. But the role of “electronic engineer” is always portrayed in plural with one Chinese and one Indian guy moving around with laptops with amazing graphic interfaces where the software readily asks for the longitudinal coordinates of the missile to be redirected, at a push of a button. The worst hit to the ego of an electronics engineer comes when these hunky heroes who are in the midst of saving the lives of millions from the threat of a bomb or a damsel about to be vaporized by a laser, seem to figure out the electronics in less than two minutes, while we have to pore over stuff like linear integrated circuits and feedback equalizers for about a decade before understanding the relation between current and voltage. “Isolate the power source here with a toothpick stuck in the negative terminal, couple the output with the input using chewing gum” will no longer vaporize the girl but genetically enhance her beauty! and voila!, the laser

But now, after all these years of denial of adventure for the electronics engineer something has come up which has made our entire community chivalrous. Unfortunately, it does not involve any damsel about to be vaporized, but nevertheless electronics engineers are not backing down from this real life adventure. It is time for the duel between the electronic giants Intel and AMD over the Dual Core Processor! But before I proceed further on describing about the duel, I think I should make my loyalties clear for the benefit of the reader. I have seen four generations of computers in my family. Great grandpa computer, an IBM286 machine, was born in my house in early 1992. Those were the dark ages where one did not worry too much about processor speeds and he spent his days running programs like GW-Basic and games like Dig-Dug. But come 1998, grandpa computer was born, and the generation gap was significant. He was an AMD K6 266Mhz computer who was at his time so advanced that poor old great grandpa was equivalent to a pocket calculator in front of him. Times had changed and considerable thought went into the selection of the processor with due considerations to the speed. But soon he too was obsolete and as the workload increased he was unable to cope with it. Soon a relatively simple brain transplant was carried out and old pa computer was born in late 2003. Now this guy was advanced! He had the same body as the old guy but he has an AMD Athalon XP 2400+ processor and to this day a good workhorse. Meanwhile, early 2005 saw the fourth generation computer, a young lady with a mobile AMD Sempron 2800+ was born and being a notebook, she is upwardly mobile as all of the younger generation today. Now that it must be clear to most of you that I am an out and out AMD guy, I think we can go ahead and explore the news about the duel more closely.

Back in 2003, when old pa computer was born, a geeky electronics engineer classmate of mine marveling at the capabilities of the highly advanced AMD Athalon XP 2400+ processor went into a tizzy. After using my computer for one evening he looked liked this was what he had been waiting for all those years of his life for. He was also an AMD aficionado and excitedly declared that if an AMD processor and an Intel processor were made to run a race, AMD would win. He wanted a world wide public contest between the two giants to prove that the cheaper AMD worked faster and better than the brand heavy Intel. I was impressed. The electronic engineers at AMD also seem to have the same idea; they have recently issued a challenge to Intel for a public duel between their new Dual Core Opteron 800 series and the corresponding Intel x86 server processors.

Now, without going into too much details, what is special about the dual core processor is this. As every electronic engineer knows, Moore’s law means two times more transistor on a chip every other 18 months. What they probably also know is that this means proportional increase in heat dissipated. That’s not all; higher clock speed to span these newly added transistors means that further power consumption and heat problems. This is where the dual core makes its entry. The solution to the above problem is what is called as thread-level parallelism. By keeping clock speeds down and putting multiple CPU cores on a chip, processor performance can rise as transistor counts do. One of the advantage of this for instance would be that OS can now run on its own separate processor core and leave the other processor core on the same chip for other peripheral activities. Now, AMD want to be the first to manufacture and deliver these beasts for workstations and servers. And hence the battle lines are drawn, which was made public with advertisements about AMD issuing an open challenge to Intel for a Dual Core Duel.

This new battle between the giants has brought the electronics community to battle hungry frenzy. Just as AMD’s advertisement beckons Intel to accept the challenge the electronics engineers are eagerly waiting for the fencing match to begin! Touché Intel?

More about this duel is can be read at the following URL:,,3715_13368_13369,00.html?redir=CPSW51


Monday, October 17, 2005

Copyright act is not expendable!

On Sundays it has been a habit in our home for some time now to get an additional newspaper. On weekdays we subscribe to the Deccan Herald and on Sundays the addition would be the Asian Age. The Asian Age is a sort of pseudo tabloid in the Indian market. Not that it can compete with its illustrious overseas partners like The Sun or even domestic TV channels like Star News in tabloid-ness, there is a distinctly tabloid like feel to the content it carries. Nevertheless, the main advantage of the Asian Age on Sundays is the international content it has. They seem to have collaborations with many good international papers like The Spectator, the Washington Post etc, whose articles they carry in their sheets. They also carry cartoons from these international newspapers and this makes for interesting reading.

Yesterday, there was an article originally from the International Herald Tribune questioning the need for copyrights in today’s world. It started of by lamenting about how the copyrights act, originally stipulated to protect the creators rights was now a tool for big business conglomerates to extort money from customers and control the markets. The article also questioned the European and American legislatures which allows these conglomerates the rights to an authors work for “no less than 70 years after the passing of the original author” and how this was a hindrance to “democratic right to freedom of cultural and artistic exchange”. As I read through the article I found that the authors were there seemed to be some contradictions which I could not understand. Clearly, this came from a very communist school of thought and the language and tone were in likeness to the blatant rhetoric which the bad guys in Ayn Rand’s

Some points made were downright appalling. The authors cited the examples of people exchanging music over the internet, which by the way is considered piracy in most cases, as a fascinating development of people no longer accepting big businesses ownership of music and melodies. What was funny was that they went on to recognize all artistic initiators as entrepreneurs (which at first glance looked highly contradictory of the old communist dogma) who take risks by creating their work and that copyrights were used by these creators to limit those risks. It took me sometime to understand, but I understood that this was just the same old communist thought packaged a little differently. According to them they were firstly downgrading artists by calling them entrepreneurs and than as usual going on to say that as they were business men they should not make money or protect there business risks with mechanisms like copyrights.

The pinnacle of the articles thought was stored for the end. Their proposal was to do away with “protective layers that copyrights ensure” and “make this fatal blow” work. According to the concluding paragraphs of the passage, “If the protective layer that copyright has to offer no longer exists, we can freely exploit all existing artistic expressions and adapt them to our own insights”. Apparently ‘to exploit’ no longer has the negative connotation it had before. And by such exploitation the article further exuded that domination of cultural monopolies could be overcome and new perspective from new artists would emerge and they would be able to make a living of their work. Unfortunately it did not seem to consider the plight of the original artist whose work was exploited and adapted to suit others insights, unable to make a living as a result of such exploitation.

I had discarded the newspaper yesterday finding these above views as radically against mine, but today I was surprised to find the same article printed by arrangement with the International Herald Tribune in the Deccan Herald’s Monday edition! On similar lines was an article I read about how it should be made mandatory for everybody to adopt the tribal way of eating food and how it was all inclusive and by forcing people to not choose the food they eat, the world’s hunger problems could be solved. Well I am surely not looking forward to a world where lack of copyrights mean that cheap remix songs are what one aspires to hear and a hungry stomach would be forcefully filled by insects, worms and raw meat.

Asian Age, Deccan Herald.
International Herald Tribune:"Kill Copyright, let cultures remix again" Joost Smiers and Marieke van Schijndel novels generally dish out.

Sunday, October 16, 2005


As I have mentioned, the art of writing prose poses many challenges. It requires a great degree of clarity in thought, good command over the language and a kind of sublime understanding in making the audience on the other side of the paper grasp the spark of thought that the author wishes conveyed. Oration on the other hand demands of the speaker a gumption which is not easily gained. The writer has the advantage of time that his readers can spend with his writing to understand it; the orator is stretched for time in the sense that generally there is an inverse proportion between the length of the speech and the audience’s understanding of it. There is a substantial difference even between the actual speech and the speaker’s written version, which he may refer to. This is because the speaker while preparing his speech in written form allows his mind the latitude of time to form his thoughts, but even this practiced speech is not granted the same latitude by a listening audience.

Thus oration requires above all, alacrity in speaker understanding the subject. A beautiful example of such a quality can be found in one of the short World War I biographies written by Sir Winston Churchill about the erstwhile French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau. He writes in the note on Clemenceau in the book Great Contemporaries, which by itself is an exquisite piece of superlative writing, about the latter’s oratory skill as follows

“I also heard Clemenceau’s reply in the Chamber. It is very difficult for a foreigner with only a superficial knowledge of the language and only an indirect sensing of the atmosphere, to judge such oratorical performances. Certainly Clemenceau reproduced more than any other French Parliamentarian I have heard, the debating methods of the House of Commons. The essence and foundation of the House of Commons debating is formal conversation. The set speech, the harangue addressed to constituents, or to the wider public out of doors, has never succeeded much in our small wisely-built chamber. To do any good you have got to get down to grips with the subject and in human touch with the audience. Certainly Clemenceau seemed to do this; he ranged from one side of the tribune to the other, without a note or book of reference or scrap of paper, barking out sharp staccato sentences as the thought broke upon his mind. He looked like a wild animal pacing to and fro behind bars, growling and glaring; and all around him was an assembly which would have done anything to avoid having him there, but having put him there, felt they must obey. Indeed it was not a matter of words or reasoning. Elemental passions congealed by suffering, dire perils close and drawing nearer, awful lassitude, and deep forebodings, disciplined the audience. The last desperate stake had to be played. France had resolved to unbar the cage and let her tiger loose upon all foes, beyond the trenches or in her midst. Language, eloquence, arguments were not needed to express the situation. With snarls and growls, the ferocious, aged, dauntless beast of prey went into action.”

Apart from the superlative prose of the author, we are treated also to details of M. Clemenceau’s oratory skills. His ability to hold lethargically hostile audiences, with extempore oration, to rapt attention enough to make them obey him, is definitely a quality to be admired. Writing presupposes a great ability to convey to the reader the authors flow of thought and as a medium of communication is no less difficult when compared to oration, but the “method” required of speech is far greater in terms of proficiency of thought. Taken out of context, the above excerpt may suggest that M. Clemenceau’s oratory prowess may have been restricted to fierce rhetoric, but the following excerpt, again from the same source as above clarifies that his capabilities were much more. More, since the secret behind his exceptional oratory skills was his inherent ability to write.

“Excluded from the chamber, his voice could no longer be heard. Never mind! He had another weapon. He had a pen. His biographer says that Clemenceau’s journalistic output could not be contained in a hundred substantial volumes. He wrote for bread and life: for life and honour! And far and wide what he wrote was read. Thus he survived. He survived not to recover only, but to assault: not to assault, but to conquer.”


Great Contemporaries by Winston S. Churchill, Fontana Books, 1937

Saturday, October 15, 2005

My first serious blog!

My intention for indulging in this Blog is my need to improve my writing skills. Most people have a lot of thoughts and ideas in their minds. Some are able to communicate their thoughts and ideas effectively by speech and oration. This requires good diction and good presence of mind (which generally falters at the sight of an audience). But once this is overcome, speech making becomes easy. Few others express their thoughts by prose. Now this requires a whole other set of skills. In this medium one may not be directly in front of one’s audience to experience any kind of stage fright but has the inherent disadvantage of not being able to communicate visually.
The idea in a person’s mind is conceived as whole but like any channel of transmission the whole is affected by “noise” and all one hears is a group of sounds or reads a set of written symbols. Speech gives us many opportunities to convey tone and emphasis by both visual physical expressions and nuances of the speaker’s voice. Written prose has a tougher task of trying to capture these phonetic cues through articulate use of words and flow of thought. Educational research shows that ability to articulate one’s thought through written form requires a high degree of competence not only with language, grammar and vocabulary but also a great deal of understanding and knowledge of psychology.
My intentions though are not to enhance my psychoanalytical skills but to gain the ability to convey thought and intention in written form lucidly and in a more general sense, to be able to express my view point effectively!
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