The engineer I met, and lost.

     My brother has a desktop PC, a P-IV, which runs Windows XP. One day his system began exhibiting random freezes. He took it to a computer shop nearby where it was diagnosed that the power supply on the chassis had gone south. The replacement supply, costing around 600 PKR including labour, worked well, until after a few months, the same problem resurfaced.

     Suspecting the RAM this time, I ran the memtest application, that runs all sorts of tests on the RAM sticks installed on the system, found on Ubuntu CDs, leaving the application running for hours. Alas, it detected a couple of erroneous memory positions on one of two RAM sticks on board, not really indicating which one. Not having any additional RAM sticks lying around, I could not test to make certain that the problem was indeed without a doubt the faulty stick and which one. I sat down to search for replacement sticks to buy, shocked at the prices of the rather older type of RAM the mother board on the computer could live with.

     As if out of luck completely, before ordering an expensive pair of sticks, I decided on whim to take the computer to the same shop that had replaced its power supply. And as I would realise, I was very lucky I did that.

     If a computer is booted up with no RAM sticks attached, the system, on POST, beeps twice. This combination beep is a signal that the system failed to find any physical memory on the system. And it is a good thing. If the system, for any reason, does not beep with no physical memory attached, then that is an indication something is wrong somewhere on the mother-board.

     That’s what happened at the computer shop when the engineer there tried to start the system without the RAM sticks. When he told me what I hoped not to hear, that there was something amiss with the mother-board, I assumed almost instantly, to my dismay, that there was no way around it but to buy a new mother-board. I think I must have thought out loud, because, to my most pleasant surprise, the guy debunked my assumption, asking me to leave the system at the shop for him to diagnose the problem at leisure. I complied, not having any choice.

     Four hours passed, and he called me to tell me that a couple of ICs on the board around the area where the RAM slots were had burnt out, and that he could fix them for a meagre 400 PKR. Overly ecstatic at the prospect of not having to buy a new mother-board, I got him to reaffirm to me that that would indeed, completely, certainly, fix the problem straight-up.

     When I went to pick up the system, the guy was busy fixing the board in one congested corner of the shop. He had a small desk cluttered with boards, ICs, RAM sticks, and solder dropped from the soldering iron all over. He was perched on his desk, immaculately using a type of soldering equipment I had not seen before: it was a soldering gun, that blew hot air, much like a woman’s hair blower. If you’ve ever used a needle-pin soldering iron, you will quickly understand how difficult it is to use a gun that blows hot air to melt the solder. On a mother board with many, many ICs soldered close to each other, having a gun blowing hot air all over is problematic. But he did it as if it was an every day routine for him. I was impressed. And I was happy.

     He was busy tending to customers, and I couldn’t get him to steal some time to have a chat. I was, though, able to find out that he was an engineering student at a local engineering university in the area, and worked part-time at the shop. He gave me his card, telling me with a smile on his face that I could contact him any time I had a problem. I thanked him profoundly and left.

     A month ago, I was deeply saddened to find out that the shop I had been to was no more there, replaced by another, different shop. And the card he had given me, I was unfortunate and clumsy enough to have misplaced.

     Oh, well.

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Saved on a technicality

If your god is forever forgiving, provided that you bow only before him and consider him unparalleled, unchallenged, and single, would you indulge in petty (and non-trivial but non-cardinal) sins and deeds on the belief that at the end of your day you will be forgiven if you so seek forgiveness for your sins from your god?

Would you, then, intensify your indulgences as well as your acts of supplication in the holy month of Ramadan, a scared period of thirty (or more, or less) days where your god is known by you to be at his most merciful and forgiving demeanour?

Would you not think, on reflection, that what is a trivial lie, a dishonest dealing in trade, but a small mistake that your god will not only not mind but also exonerate you from if you spread your arms and submit to him with all your heart?

Of logic and conscience!

Inspired by The Value of Logic in Pratical Life, by JayWalker, I decided to rant about logic.

Logic, in practical life, is, more often than not, what we want it to be. As Taleb underlines repeatedly in his book, The Black Swan, people tend to only look for instances that corroborate what they want to believe in. They almost never look for instances that challenge or invalidate their reasoning. And as Taleb says, “these instances are always easy to find.

It is a natural tendency in humans. It is extremely difficult to, once you have come up with a theory for, say, doing something, go out and strenuously look for instances that prove your theory wrong. It is even difficult to continually be on a prowl for such instances. And when faced with such an instance that debunks our theory, we find it hard to accept the fact head-on, and tend to ignore it — after all, enough other instances have confirmed our theory. We also forget, or don’t want to accept, that all it takes to disprove a theory is a single instance that invalidates it. Do we know, at any point in our lives, about all such instances that invalidate something we have come to rigorously believe in? Do what we know, give us an edge over what we don’t know?

Is it, then, even conceivable to apply logic in its entirety to our day to day lives? For all we know, there may be that single instance hiding somewhere that will be discovered some day, shockingly so, that will debunk our reasoning. Can we even affirm with certainty what is conceivable and what is not? The strict principles of validity that form a crucial part of determining logic, could be invalidated at any point in time. That we do not know of any such argument or fact that does, does not mean that such an argument or fact does not exist. We really don’t know what we don’t know.

Conscience forms from having infused a fear, by religion perhaps, of the consequences of committing actions that do not comply with what is considered morally ethical, just, or right — I say, “by religion perhaps”, because atheists tend to exhibit a heavy conscience too. A person with a heavy conscience does not succumb to the reasoning that, “just because everyone else is doing it, so should I”. The resulting burden, if they did, is immensely unbearable. But can what is considered morally ethical, just, or right, be some day proven to not be morally ethical, just, or right? On a given day, you would be given to acknowledge that religious beliefs, perhaps some or perhaps a lot, are really similar in nature to logic: strict principles of validity applied to reasoning to come to some sort of a conclusion. They tend to be.

So, when confronted with an opportunity to break a traffic signal, I hesitate, perhaps not immediately because of fear of being accountable in front of the deity I believe in, but because of the risk of hastily causing an accident (or even causing someone to lose their life). Another individual may exploit the same opportunity without thinking as far ahead. For them, the surety that they would not end up in an accident and also get pulled over, is enough to convince them to do it. If the fear of being accountable to the deity is ignored for a while, the only difference between the two processes of applying logic is that of being sceptical and of not being sceptical. Sure, I may not run into an accident every time I break a signal, but I can, one day. And the more times I don’t run into an accident, does not minimise the probability that I will some day. For the other individual, it probably likely does minimise, or even, eradicate that possibility.

I will continue my rambling another time in another post. For all it is worth, what I have written may come across as nothing more than senseless to someone reading it — it probably is.

When it is not fun, move on!

The following is an excerpt from Richard Branson’s “Screw It, Let’s Do It: Lessons In Life”.

    As soon as something stops being fun, I think it is time to move on. Life is too short to be unhappy. Waking up stressed and miserable is not a good way to live. I found this out years ago in my working relationship with my oldest friend, Nik Powel.

    Nik was with me from the very start of Virgin. I was the ideas person and Nik kept the books in order and handled the money. His main job was to run the Virgin record stores. They did very well. When we started the airline, we wanted it to be the best. We sank millions of pounds into it. Our main rivals, British Airways, tried to stop us. As the war between us heated up, we needed more and more money. It seemed an endless pit. Virgin Music was wealthy but the airline was eating up the cash. Nik didn’t enjoy taking such huge risks. That was when we both knew it was time for him to move on. I bought his shares in Virgin from him.

    Nik’s first love had always been films. He used his profit from Virgin to start Palace Pictures. He made great films, like The Company of Wolves, Mona Lisa and The Crying Game, which won an Oscar. He is still in the film business, still having fun and we are still friends. After a struggle, the airline finnally went into profit. If Nik had stayed with Virgin he might have made more money, but he would not have been happy. If we had gone on working together even after the fun had gone, we might have stayed friends. He made the right choice. This is the why I say, never just try to make money. Long-term success will never come if profit is the only aim.

I have been meaning for a long time to say along those lines. Richard Branson, however, has aptly put it into perspective. On an altogether different note, this book is an inspiring read.

Resource! (Random Musings #27)

The client complains, “Where is the resource? The resource hasn’t reached yet for testing.” The project manager frantically responds, “Our resource is on its way for on-site testing.” At another point in time, the project manager is caught writing, “I am aligning my resources for activities planned for today“.

Resource this. Resource that. I tell you, it pisses the hell off of me. I am a resource. Period. Expendable? Likely. But, nevertheless, I am a resource.

I don’t know about what any of you may think, but to me, referring to me as a resource is outright rude. Period. I seriously don’t know how I stand listening to people referring to me as resource again and again. Sigh. It is only a matter of time before I snap.

The earlier you fall, the better! (Random Musings #25)

Random login quote, as I logged into my Linux box early in the morning at work:

…most of us learned about love the hard way. Even warnings are probably useless, for somehow, despite the severest warnings of parents and friends, hundreds, thousands of women have forgotten themselves at the last minute and succumbed to the lies, promises, flatteries, or mere attentions of lusting, lovely men, landing themselves in complicated predicaments from which some of them never recovered during their entire lives. And I am not speaking only of your teenaged Midwesterners in 1958; I’m speaking of women of every age in every city in every year. The notorious sexual revolution has saved no one from the pain and confusion of love.— Alix Kates Shulman