Monday, February 27, 2006

Mylapore

This is a pretty cool site about the social history of Mylapore.
http://my-mylapore.blogspot.com/
Mylapore is really old (dating back to atleast the 1 st Century CE). It is associated with Thiruvalluvar (the author of the Thirukkural), St. Thomas (one of the 12 apostles), is supposed to have preached here.
This particular site doesn't quite reach back that far, but has information starting from the turn of the 20th century. Pretty fascinating stuff.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

(poetry==programming)?Perhaps:Perhaps;

This is in reference to the post on eclair-turing. I was going to write a comment on Naresh's post, but it grew too long.

Now, the gist of the post is as follows
- good programming is about succintness (maximum bang for the buck)
- good poetry is about succintness
- Good metaphors make for more expressive writing
- Good programming paradigms (metaphors for computers :) ) make for more expressive coding.
- Therefore poetry==programming.

It is very well written and backed up with sources. I really enjoyed reading it. But the more I think about it, the less sure I am that it's correct.

All the characteristics of good poetry quoted there are characteristics of good prose too. Low signal-to-noise ration and maximum expressiveness are as much a characteristic of good prose, as of poetry. These things are not poetry's exclusive province. Indeed, they are characteristics of good communication in any medium.

For example..
Peccavi.
(what General Charles Napier said after the conquest of Sind. (Peccavi means 'I have sinned'.)). The Gettysburg Address
The Last Question, by Asimov

None of these has anything more or less than is required. They are expressive, informative and beautiful. They are compact and have intense unity. But, they cannot be called poetry, unless we seriously stretch the meaning of poetry. We can't just say 'Any good collection of sentences is poetry', can we now?':)

So, what then, sets poetry apart?

The most concise way to convey the message of Charge of the Light Brigade is not the poem, but to say 'The Light Brigade was asked to charge the artillery. Even though the soldiers knew that they were going to die for no reason, they followed the order and got shot to bits.' Two sentences, tell you the whole story. Succint. Gets the information across.

But something is missing isn't there? What's missing is the emotional content. The Charge of the Light Brigade is about hopeless courage. It's not about telling you what happened at the Battle of Baclava. That poem stands for any conflict, anywhere where men throw their lives away for a mistake. It is as valid for the 13th Hussars as it is for the millions of lives that Stalin threw away in human wave attacks against the Germans.

Poetry is not about communicating a thought or an idea. It's about communicating an emotion. A poet seeks to make you feel what he feels. That's why our response to poetry is visceral, rather than cerebral.

We would not seek directions to the airport in verse. On the other hand the feeling of separation can be most beautifully expressed in song.

Good poetry is not just a play in words. It has soul. It is romantic in the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance definition of classical and romantic.

Emotional content is what sets poetry apart.

Which brings us to programming..

Programming is a cerebral process. A program is a way of executing an idea or a concept. It is not concerned with the writer's (or the reader's) emotions. It is a 'classical' thing. Its raison-d'etre is utility.

So, where then, one might ask, is the place for art in programming? Is it possible for code to be beautiful? Am I a troglodyte who enjoys destroying other people's joy in writing code? The answers would be yes, yes and no.

Software is not poetry. If I must look for an analogue, I would look into architecture and civil engineering. It's like building a bridge, for example. A bridge can be beautiful, but it's primary purpose is utility, not beauty. A program takes it to the extreme. Its beauty is utility. Beauty here is a piece of code that does the mostest with the leastest.

Isn't that true of poetry also? Of course it is. And prose, and music, and photography, and any other art form. All art seeks to harmoniously interplay the elements to obtain maximum bang for the buck.

Programming is one such art. Poetry is one another such art. Other than the fact that they are art forms, there is not much in common between them.

I really like this post because other than the conclusion (programming==poetry) , the rest of the post is absolutely spot-on. More powerful programming paradigms do make programming more expressive. we must, as programmers, focus on low signal-to-noise ratio. More powerful tools make for better programs.

But these similarities are because both programming and poetry are arts, not because programming==poetry.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Rang De Basanti

I watched this movie last weekend.

It's a well-written and well made movie.
In case you have been living under a rock and don't know anything about it..

Sue is a british filmmaker whose grandfather used to be a jailer in India during the british rule. She has been reading his diaries about the Indian revolutionaries and desperately wants to make a movie about them. The corporation she works for refuses to pay for it (they say 'Do something on Gandhi, it's more saleable' :) ). She comes to India anyway, hooks up with Sonia(Soha Ali Khan), her Indian contact, and tries to make the movie. She ends up meeting Sonia's buddies, and they all decide to help her make the movie.
The rest of the story is about how the movie is made and how subsequent events affect all of them.

I really liked the way the characters were portrayed. Their interactions were unforced and natural, in a manner reminiscent of Dil Chahta Hai. Folks might have issues with how the story unfolds, but I really can't talk about it without giving away the plot of the movie. I thought the movie was a little slack towards the middle, but not by much.

The music was nice, as was the cinematography. There were some really nice shots. Except maybe one song, none of them felt forced. I liked Rang De Basanti and Roobaroo. I also really liked Lalkaar. It's inspired by Ram Prasad Bismil's Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna.
Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna Hamare Dil Mein Hai
Dekhna hai Zor Kitna Bazu-E-Qatil Mein Hai.
The yearning for sacrifice is in our hearts
We want to test our enemies strength.
Here's the complete poem..
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarfaroshi_Ki_Tamanna

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

HERE BE SPOILERS. DONT READ IF YOU DONT WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IN THE MOVIE


- This is the angry-young-man movie updated for the current generation. Very intelligently done, but it is at heart, about a bunch of guys getting upset with the system and killing people they feel are responsible. The story is inspired by the death of Abhijit Gadgil in a MIG-21 crash.

- I thought that the conversations the characters had were pretty well written. I can really relate to their rootlessness and lack of inspiration. When I read history I also feel 'Damn, they did so much, what have I done?' and wonder if I will be able to do something phenomenal if I am put in a situation like that. Would I also be willing to just die if I had been born in the 1930s? So, while I don't approve of the character's action, I can understand them doing it.

- Atul Kulkarni's character was my favorite. His initial enmity to Sonia's gang of friends and his later friendship are all very nicely done. I liked the way he recited Sarfaroshi Ki Tamnna and said 'You won't get your Bismil from these guys'. When I was in college, I had an opportunity to talk with many BJP/RSS sympathisers. While some were just insane (let's kill all the muslims!), some were honestly concerned by what they felt was an attack on hindu tradition. That made, for me atleast, his character more believable.

- I liked the way they juxtaposed the 'Documentary' with 'present-day' happenings.

- There were some really nice throw-away shots, like the one where the friends are having a good time, and Siddharth's character is standing away from the group smoking and the one where Atul Kulkarni's character is admiring a Sikh guy's talwar.