## Beginning of year investing checklist

09 Jan 2023

The beginning of a new year is a good time to contribute to tax-advantaged investment acounts, since these often have an annual contribution limit that you might have already exhausted for the prior year. Here’s my checklist. Would love to hear more about other things that you do as well

• Do the Backdoor Roth IRA: Contribute to traditional IRA and a day later transfer to Roth IRA account. Annual limit is $6,500 in 2023 • Buy I-bonds. Rates have been 6-9% over the last couple years due to high inflation. Annual limit is$10,000
• Max out HSA account. I like to fund the account lump-sum at the beginning of the year rather than via paycheck deductions. Annual limit is $3,850 if you have self-only coverage, or$7,750 for family coverage
• Tweak paycheck contributions for 401k. If you like to front-load 401k contributions at the beginning of year:
• First set the traditional 401k paycheck contribution to 75% (or the max that your plan allows). Also get all the employer matching. 2023 Annual limit of $22,500 for employee contribution • Then, set the after-tax 401k paycheck contribution to max, to fund the Mega Backdoor Roth if your employer provides it. Annual contribution limit is$32,250 for 2023 (at least in my plan)
• Alternately, set-and-forget these numbers such that the desired contribution is reached by the end of year
• Contribute to 529 account. There’s no limit for 529 contributions, but the gift tax exclusion limit for 2023 is \$17,000

• File for reimbursements of any remaining employer benefits, e.g. wellness allowance, from the previous year. The expense generally needs to be incurred in the prior year, so consider doing this in December
• Buy TurboTax. Beginning of the year is a good time to find discounts

## Should I put the toilet seat down?

13 Dec 2022

It is generally considered courteous for men to put the toilet seat down after they pee in a mixed-gender shared bathroom. Is this really optimal strategy, though? What does optimal even mean?

## Defining the problem

We make a few assumptions to model the problem: men always pee standing up, and need the toilet seat up to do so. Women pee sitting down, and both men and women poop sitting down, requiring the seat to be down in each of these scenarios. Touching the toilet seat is generally unpleasant and hence we consider the problem of minimizing the number of times people need to flip the toilet seat (i.e. change its position) . While a myriad complicated strategies are possible, a few jump out:

• Gentleman: Always leave the seat down after you’re done
• Gentlewoman: Always leave the seat up after you’re done
• Lazy: Leave the seat as you last used it

## Analysis through simulation

To gain an intuition for the problem at hand, we built a simple toilet simulator that allows one to tweak some parameters and see how they affect outcomes.

In a household with an equal number of men and women, the gentleman strategy requires a number of flips roughly equal to the number of time the toilet is used (or a 1x flip factor) — women never need to flip a seat, while men must first put the seat up when they pee then put it back down once they’re done. The gentlewoman strategy does similarly, with the women doing most of the flipping (flip factor ~1x again), though it results in a greater total number of flips, since men must also do 2 flips every time they go poo. The lazy strategy really shines in comparision, though. With a flip factor of 0.5x, it only requires half the number of flips as the number of times the toilet gets used. Half the flips are done by women and half by men.

Households with a higher proportion of men make the gentleman strategy perform worse — a 1.5x flip factor at 80/20 man/woman split; and the gentlewoman strategy perform better — 0.6x flip factor at 80/20. Once again lazy outperforms, with a 0.4x flip factor.

So far, the result matches our intuition — flipping the toilet seat after using it in anticipation of future use would get “wasted” if the subsequent use isn’t what you were expecting it to be.

## More rigour, using Markov Decision Processes

There could, however, be a less obvious more complicated strategy that beats lazy. To figure this out, we model this problem as a Markov Decision Process. The initial position of the seat, the person’s gender, and whether the person wants to pee or poop is encoded in the state. The state space, then, looks like:

$\mathcal{S} = \{(👨🏻,💦,U),(👨🏻,💦,D),(👨🏻,💩,U),(👨🏻,💩,D),\$$💃,💦,U),(💃,💦,D),(💃,💩,U),(💃,💩,D)\}$ The choice of which position to leave the seat in encoded as an action. The action space looks like: $\mathcal{A} = \{U,D\}$ We asssume random bathroom usage by gender, and assign the probabilities of the next bathroom usage to be independent of the current state, or the previous usage. The cost of visiting a state and taking an action is set as the number times one has to flip the toilet seat. State Action Cost State Action Cost \((👨🏻,💦,U)$$ $$U$$ $$0$$ $$(👨🏻,💦,U)$$ $$D$$ $$1$$
$$(👨🏻,💦,D)$$ $$U$$ $$1$$ $$(👨🏻,💦,D)$$ $$D$$ $$2$$
$$(👨🏻,💩,U)$$ $$U$$ $$2$$ $$(👨🏻,💩,U)$$ $$D$$ $$1$$
$$(👨🏻,💩,D)$$ $$U$$ $$1$$ $$(👨🏻,💩,D)$$ $$D$$ $$0$$
$$(💃,💦,U)$$ $$U$$ $$2$$ $$(💃,💦,U)$$ $$D$$ $$1$$
$$(💃,💦,D)$$ $$U$$ $$1$$ $$(💃,💦,D)$$ $$D$$ $$0$$
$$(💃,💩,U)$$ $$U$$ $$2$$ $$(💃,💩,U)$$ $$D$$ $$1$$
$$(💃,💩,D)$$ $$U$$ $$1$$ $$(💃,💩,D)$$ $$D$$ $$0$$

We consider an infinite-horizon MDP and solve for the optimal stationary policies which minimize the limiting average cost.

$% \pi_1^*=\min_{\pi}\mathsf{E}_{\pi}\left[\sum\limits_{t=0}^\infty \beta^t c(S_t,A_t)|S_0=s_0 \right]\\ \pi^*=\min_{\pi}\mathsf{E}_{\pi}\left[ \lim_{T\to\infty}\frac{1}{T}\left[\sum\limits_{t=0}^Tc(S_t,A_t)|S_0=s_0 \right]\right]$

Solving this MDP problem, the optimal strategy turns out to be the lazy strategy. Another interesting finding is that the lazy strategy is optimal for any proportion of men and women in the household, and irrespective of how frequently each gender pees or poops. This matches our intuition as well as the empirical result that we got using simulation above.

## Are the cost functions fair?

Our analysis so far assumes that the cost of having to flip a seat is identical for men and women. This is not necesssarily true — e.g. if a man finds a seat down and pees without putting it up, he has to deal with a dirty seat to clean. A woman in the opposite scenario, though, risks having her bum touch toilet water, or even worse falling into the toilet. We model this assymetry by adjusting the cost function in our MDP. If we model the cost to flip for a woman as twice the cost to flip for a man in our MDP above — e.g. $$(💃,💦,U) = 2$$ instead of $$1$$; we see the gentleman strategy finally outperform lazy provided that at least ⅔ of the people living in the house are women. For a higher cost-differential, the proportion of the household needing to be women for the gentleman strategy to be optimal naturally drops.

## In Conclusion

While the cost function will vary with every household, this analysis provides a framework to think through an optimal strategy for you. The lazy strategy is best if minimizing flips is the only concern. Consider adopting the gentleman strategy in a household with a higher proportion of women, or when the cost of getting it wrong is particularly high — say going to pee in the middle of the night when the dark and your groggy brain make falling into the toilet more likely.

## How I'm voting in the November 2022 election

10 Oct 2022

As a newly minted US citizen, I’m very excited to vote in the November 8 election, and have been diligently studying the voter materials for the last couple of weeks. Here is a list of the races on the ballot and how I’m planning to vote on them. I will not be presumptuous to call it a “voter guide” or an “endorsement” since I really don’t think anyone should be voting based on what I recommend. Why post this, then? Mostly to start a conversation and broaden my worldview. I am more than willing to have my mind changed! Please shoot me a text/email/message and I’ll be happy to buy you a beer or coffee and talk about any of these.

## Ballot Measures: State

In general, I think it is better for laws to be passed by the legislature than by ballot measure. There is more flexibility — a law passed by ballot measure can’t be repealed by the legislature, and ballot measures are fairly cumbersome and expensive to do over. There is also less nuance possible — while there’s debate and discussion, and the law goes through several revisions as it passes through committee, state assembly, and state senate, ballot propositions need a yes/no vote and are passed as written.

Thus, when deciding how to vote on a ballot measure, I try to answer two questions: (1) is it good policy, and (2) does it meet the bar for a ballot measure to pass a law.The answer to both should be in the affirmative for me to vote yes.

• Prop 1: Reproductive Freedom — YES: Women having access to abortion and contraception is good policy, and making it hard to repeal by enshrining it in the state constitution also seems like a good idea in the current political climate. I’m voting Yes.

• Prop 26/27: Sports Betting — NO to both: Allowing sports betting appears to be a good policy, but the nuances of how to allow it, tax it, and use the tax revenue appear to be something that the state legislature should debate and negotiate. The tax rate on sports betting, as one example, today ranges from 6.75% in Nevada all the way to 51% in Rhode Island. The 10% rate on Prop 27 would put California on the lower end. Maybe that’s okay, but let the legislature decide.

• Prop 28: Public school arts funding — NO: How they choose to spend their funding seems like something individual school districts should decide. A mandate from Sacramento that a particular school must spend money on Arts, while they might actually need a new Chemistry lab (or vice versa) does not seem right. Prop 28 does not secure any new source of funding either, so this funding would necessarily be at the expense of other state programs. I’m voting No.

• Prop 29: Dialysis Clinics — NO: This one seems to actively harm patients by making dialysis more expensive. But irrespective of whether this is good or bad public policy, it is far too technical to be voted on by average voters — let the legislature consult with experts, and let them decide.

• Prop 30: Millionaire Tax for EV rebates — NO: I like to think of Electric Vehicles as a harm reduction strategy — better than status quo, but only a stopgap while we move towards true sustainability, and build places where everyone is not forced to drive a car to get anywhere. Increasingly, though, they are being seen as panacea for the climate crisis. Raising the tax on high income seems okay, but I’d rather see the money fund public transit than towards EV rebates, especially EV rebates going to large corporations like Lyft. I’m voting No.

• Prop 31: Flavoured Tobacco Ban — YES: This is a tricky one, and have gone back and forth a few times on how to vote. In general, I am not a fan of the government restricting tobacco use by adults. However, the state legislature has already passed this law, with the belief that it will curb underage tobacco use — a fine goal. Big tobacco companies being able to spend a bunch of money and override legislation does not sit right with me. If this were a ballot initiative to get a new law passed, I’d be voting no, but since it is a referendum on a law that was already passed, I’m voting Yes.

## Ballot Measures: City

While my overall thinking around city ballot measures is similar to how I think of the state-level ones, I lower my bar to vote Yes for a measure at the city level somewhat, compared to state level ones (if I think it is sound policy) for a few reasons. One is that I think the San Francisco board of supervisors is a particularly dysfunctional government body, and so some direct oversight is good. The second is that city elections happen more frequently than state-wide ones, so these are slightly easier to amend. They are still incredibly expensive and wasteful, though, so I might vote no for what I think is good policy, if I think it should pass legislatively instead.

• Prop A: Retirement Benefits — YES: This prop is quite confusing. My understanding is that it undoes a ballot prop from 2011, and provides retirement benefits to city employees who retired before 1996 that other retired employees already get. Seems reasonable, and it cannot be passed legislatively since it overrides a previous ballot measure. Voting Yes.

• Prop B: Reunify two city departments — YES : Similar to Prop A, undoes a previous ballot measure, hence can’t be passed legislatively. Less bureaucracy in the city government seems like a good thing, so voting Yes.

• Prop C: Homelessness oversight commission — NO : Less bureaucracy in the city government seems like a good thing, so voting No on adding more of it.

• Prop D: Affordable Housing — YES: On housing, I believe that we need more of it, and at all price points. More so in cities like San Francisco where sustainable car-free and car-light living is possible today. Furthermore, I think the discretionary approval process for building seems distinctly unamerican — if someone owns a piece of land, they should be able to do with it as they please, provided they meet all the codes and zoning, and should not have to beg the board of supervisors for approval. Prop D takes away the discretionary power to reject certain types of housing development from the board of supervisors. It is unlikely to be passed legislatively, since who likes to give up power? Voting yes.

• Prop E: Affordable Housing — NO: This one seeks to build more housing without taking away discretionary power from the board of supervisors. This does not look like it will change much from status quo. Since I’m voting Yes on D, I’ll vote No on E.

• Prop F: Library Preservation — YES: The SF Public Library, along with the SF Parks department seem like two of the better run city departments, and which I have used and enjoyed tremendously. This proposition seeks to extend an existing tax that funds the library. The library seems well run, so extending the status quo sounds good. Voting yes.

• Prop G: Student Success Fund — NO: Similarly to Prop 28 at the state level, this prop mandates how education funds should be spent, without allocating new sources of funding. How the funding gets allocated seems pretty bureaucratic, and how the funding is to be used seems fairly vague. I think schools and school boards should have the flexibility to decide how to spend their funds. Voting No.

• Prop H: Rescheduling Election — YES: This seems like a good change, and one that cannot be done legislatively. Fewer elections saves the city money, and having important offices be voted on together would ensure higher turnout, again a good thing for a robust democracy. The mayor is opposed to this, but I haven’t heard a coherent argument against it, so voting yes.

• Prop I: Cars on JFK & Great Highway — NO: I’ve loved biking down car-free JFK and great highway. I dream of one day Valencia street being car-free as well. I support policy that makes walking, biking, and transit use easier even if that comes at the expense of making it harder to drive in the city. Even if I supported the change, there is no reason to pass it via ballot measure rather than legislatively. Prop I is a clear No.

• Prop J: Car-Free JFK — YES: I think this is good policy, but I’d normally be on the side of letting the legislature take care of it. Similar to the state level Prop 31, though, the legislature has already passed this law, and is being challenged via the ballot process in prop I. Since it is a referendum on an existing law, and not a new law, I’m voting Yes.

• Prop L: Sales tax for Muni — YES: Muni is one of the more extensive public transit networks in the US, and I quite enjoy living in a city where I have the option of making most of my trips on transit. Cutting Muni funding would be a bad idea, and this prop seeks to continue an existing sales tax for 30 years. Seems reasonable, voting yes.

• Prop M: Empty Apartment Tax — NO: Within reason, I think the person who owns a piece of land should be able to do with it as they please. Leaving an apartment empty wouldn’t generally be profitable for landlords anyway, so I’m in favour of letting the markets take care of this. Furthermore, the added cost of the new tax would likely get passed on to existing renters in other units, driving up rents. Seems like bad policy all around. Voting No.

• Prop N: GGP Underground Parking — YES: I’d generally not support building new parking structures using public money — street parking, for example, seems like a massive misuse of public space. If I decide to buy a buffalo, the city isn’t obliged to give me a space to store it, why should it for cars? This is a bit of hyperbole, and I do recognize transportation as a responsibility of the city, but we need to move away from cars as the primary way to do it. This particular parking garage, though, has already been built and seems to be underutilized in its current state, so I’m willing to let the city take over. My understanding is that this one can not be passed legislatively. Voting yes.

• Prop O: New Tax for CCSF — NO: I have taken advantage of the Free City program and have enjoyed taking free Spanish classes at CCSF for the last few semesters. Reading through some of the recent history, though, it looks like CCSF has gotten funding through new taxes in 2012 and 2016, and that it is struggling not because of lack of funding, but due to general mismanagement. Voting No.

## Federal, State, and City level candidates

In addition to these ballot measures, there are 21 elected posts that I will get to vote on. This post has already gotten pretty long, though. I might cover the candidates in a Part 2 of this blog post.

If you made it this far, I commend you! Again, if you want to discuss or debate or change my mind about any of these, please shoot me a message.

## Criteria for baby names

25 Aug 2022

Manasi and I have been thinking through names to give our daughter. I thought that writing out the framework that we’re working with would help. These are not meant to be an objective list of criteria, just a codification of my preferences. These are roughly arranged in the order of preference (e.g. having an easy to pronounce name is more important than having a two-syllable name). Feedback, comments, and name suggestions are all welcome. Please submit them using this form. Thank you!

• Easy to pronounce and not butchered by either English and Indian speakers
• e.g. Sarwadnya (hard to pronounce for English or non-Marathi Indian speakers)
• e.g. Pooja (often pronounce Poo-ha in California because of the spanish influence)
• e.g. Theo (the fricative “θ” doesn’t exist in Indian languages)
• Meaning should not be weird, offensive, etc in English, Spanish, Hindi, Marathi
• e.g. Hardik: Hard Dick
• e.g. Laura: when pronounced the Spanish way, sounds a lot like लौडा
• Two syllable names preferred
• I have empirically observed that people with both longer and shorter names end up getting two syllable nicknames
• This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just not my preference
• Prefer simple syllables over consonant clusters (जोडाक्षरे नको)
• Prefer “classic” names over “unique” ones
• e.g. prefer Kunal to Krunal; prefer Katie to Kassiani
• This also helps somewhat with internet anonymity, which is a good thing in the modern world
• Prefer names with some ethnic ambiguity - e.g. Tanya or Nina could be Indian or Russian

## I'm done with Wordpress

25 Aug 2022

The number and size of annoying distracting ads on wordpress has gotten pretty ridiculous. I’m done! Going to move this blog over to Jekyll. Stay tuned for more details.

Update: Blog has been moved here: http://ravi.bhoraskar.com/blog

## A week in Kaua'i

13 May 2022

Manasi and I wanted to take a long vacation before she started her new job, and since I still hadn't taken my one-month recharge break. Planning a one-month break is hard, though, and as Manasi's job start date loomed, we ended up spending a week on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i instead. Sharing some vignettes from the trip.

Basic economy flight meant we didn't get to pick seats but were sat next to each other across the aisle anyway. Nice! The Lihue airport reminded me of Long Beach — LGB is a secondary airport in LA, just like how LGA is in New York. Ha! Rental car was a Kia Forte, I was hoping for a Kia Soul (so cute!) but oh well. Maybe I should've just asked.

Nicer hotel than expected. Manasi booked a condo on Airbnb, and we were expecting a flat, but this turned out to be a resort instead. It was a timeshare that was being sublet, which these days just means hotel apparently. How they're able to make money renting it out is a mystery, though. Shouldn't the resort company be able to undercut the timeshare “owner” and pocket whatever cut the owner and AirBnB are making? Guess this isn't an Economics 101 perfect market. 🤷‍♂️

Waimea Canyon is called the Grand Canyon of the pacific, and was pretty! Red soil, deep gorges and valleys with a river running through them. It was striking how the leeward side of the island has visibly less dense greenery and trees than the rainy side. Pretty extreme difference. The highlight was probably the hike though. A light drizzle as we started the hike became a full downpour with no respite on the way back. It was a down-and-back hike, and climbing back out was easier, and less slippery despite, or maybe because of the rain. Walking through a tropical rainforest in the rain was quite a magical experience, and though we missed on the views at the bottom (too foggy) the hike itself remained truly memorable.

As we stepped out of the hotel room one evening, we heard live music. Following it led us to the shopping center across from our hotel with a live Polynesian performance ongoing. Hawaiian songs, Samoan fire Poi (reminded me of Anand's fire rope dart), and Tahitian dancing with a lot of aggressive hip shaking. I tried shaking too, but just couldn't do it. Totally unexpected and a super fun event! They were making and selling Leis as donations. Manasi wanted a haku (headband) though, so she had them custom-make one for her. She smelled great all day wearing it.

The island felt extremely American, and one of the striking Americanisms was the car-oriented-ness. One morning Manasi went to get some Starbucks. The closest one was about a kilometer away — a very walkable distance — but the road that goes there is a high-speed highway, with no sidewalks (not even crappy narrow ones). Reminded me of walking in suburban New Jersey a couple years ago where I genuinely felt fearful for my life as I walked next to cars and trucks zooming past at 70mph. The other day in Po'ipu, when I was waiting to cross the road to get to a pie shop, I waited for a good two minutes, if not more, before the signal changed to let me walk. It seems obvious that these places aren't designed to be walked in. For all my complaints about car-centrism in the Bay Area, I'm thankful that even in suburbs like Sunnyvale, we can at least take sidewalks for granted.

One morning, we had a family of chickens come visit us in our hotel room. Mommy and chicks came first, and eventually daddy showed up too. "Cheep! Cheep! Cheep!", they were pretty clearly asking for food, and seemed used to getting some from hotel guests — indeed I saw them do the same family act with a different hotel guest across the yard an hour later. The mommy would nibble at what Manasi tossed, but then drop it again for her chicks to eat. Maybe testing for its foodworthiness? Softening it? Sucking away the spice, if any?

Of all Hawaiian islands I've been on, this is my absolute favorite yet. Fantastic beaches, small — so less driving to do, stunningly green, fantastic hikes, great food, cool snorkeling. Seems like it has it all! Big part of it, of course, is that I'm generally in a great mood and super relaxed on this trip. Great company, so excited about Bob (placeholder baby name), got my naturalization interview date and might be able to vote in June! Seems like when you're happy you notice the good things around you more and don't mind any inconveniences at all.

There are so many food trucks and food truck plazas here! Reminds me of Portland. This island feels significantly more developed (for tourists) than the big island. It is just as possible, though, that most things there were closed when we visited there smack in the middle of the pandemic.

After some so-so snorkeling on the north shore, we headed to Po'ipu on the south shore hoping for better luck the next day. First, saw a blowhole at Spouting Horn Peak. Waves put high pressure water into caverns that comes shooting out of a tiny orifice on the top. Fun! We'd see some blowholes from underneath the next day, when the heroic captain of our boat tour would navigate the 60ft yacht into a cavern on the Na Pali coast. Anyway, after the blowhole, headed back towards a beach where we saw a snorkel rental shop and people snorkeling. This time, the snorkeling did not disappoint! Plenty of fish, including the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa, puffer fish, and plenty more I don't know the names of. Large wide sheltered area to swim too. Just as I'm tired and thinking of heading back, I hear a squeal from Manasi and turn back to see a Honu (sea turtle) heading towards us. This guy was huge! At least a 150 pounds if not more. He was swimming at a languid leisurely pace and didn't seem too bothered by people around. I free dived and chased after him, with Manasi following on the surface. Followed him for a good bit, till we got tired and turned back. Manasi tried freediving too but was far too buoyant and wouldn't sink. I guess a lot of adipose tissue to protect Bob!

Boat tour of the Na Pali coast, including a voyage to Ni'ihau and snorkeling at Lehua rock. So much wildlife spotted! 2 humpback whales in the distance with their splashy tails; spinner dolphins following in our boat's wake, jumping out of the water and doing backflips and spinny tricks; group of bottlenose dolphins jumping out of the water; one solitary monk seal just lounging in the water.
नाव से कई पंछी दिखे, तो मैंने उनसे कहा, "की गल है?". उनका भी जवाब आया, "Seagull है!"
Na Pali was incredibly beautiful. Unlike other Hawaiian islands, the roads don't encircle the entire island, and thus Na Pali on the northeastern part of the island is only accessible by hiking or boat. The pristine green valleys and the many cliffs of Na Pali were quite a sight to see, as were the enormous caverns created by sea erosion.
बोटीमध्ये समोर बसल्यामुळे चेहऱ्यावर खूप मिठाचे पाणी उडले. खूप शेंबूड होता, पण चवीने वाटतच न्हवतं नाक-आलेले.
Snorkeling near Lehua rock — a tiny barren island next to Ni'ihau — super blue clear calm water, though a strong current pulling in one direction meant you had to constantly keep kicking. An underwater ledge with 20 ish feet depth on one side and couldn't see the bottom on the other. Different fish on both sides — they got bigger and more numerous on the deeper side.

The island of Ni'ihua is privately owned, and still owned by the Scottish family who bought it in 1860 from the Hawaiian Royal family. They don't live there, though they “allow” some Hawaiian speaking native Hawaiians to live there, though not to have cell phones or much technology to "preserve" the old way of life. It felt like an oddly colonial/feudal arrangement to me ad an anachronism in the 21st century. A different situation, but felt similarly morally dubious as the tribes who live on the Northern Sentinel island in the Andamans.

What a fun week, and how it flew by! Planned to go Kayaking up the river on the last day, but Manasi got sea sick (but not so Sikh that you could see her beard and Turban) on the boat and we decided to an easy day instead. Riding a bike in Kapa'a was also on the list, but couldn't get to it. I'll be back, Kaua'i!

## Election Day as a Poll Worker

29 Sep 2021

Last Tuesday, California voted in a gubernatorial recall election (Newson wasn’t recalled). I served as a poll worker at a local precinct in my neighbourhood in San Francisco, where my duties as a clerk included setting up the polling station, collecting mailed-in ballots, facilitating in-person voting, and counting the ballots at the end of the day. This was my first time ever doing this, and I quite enjoyed the day. Sharing some thoughts and anecdotes from throughout the day.

• Our poll booth was staffed by four poll workers having four distinct ethnicities, and four distinct accents — Asian guy with a west coast accent, white dude with a British one, Latina woman with a mexican one, and me. That’s America and San Francisco for you!
• An elderly latino gentleman walked into the polling station slightly breathless from the single flight of stairs. He sat down to catch his breath, and confessed, “I don’t read too well” as I handed him his voting materials. Yolanda helped him understand the questions and fill out the ballot. It took a good 15 minutes, but as he submitted his ballot and the machine chirped its “Ding” to indicate the vote was accepted, the biggest grin cracked on his face. ‘¡Viva la me!’, he yelled out. Turns out that he had only just gotten naturalized last month, after living in the States for some 20 years. He couldn’t be prouder of himself to manage to have successfully voted. ‘¡Viva la me!’
• A man came in all excited, and started having a conversation in rapid Spanish with Yolanda. He grew increasingly agitated, eventually causing this older lady who was resting there after having cast her ballot to snap, ‘¡Tonto!‘ at him after which he left dejectedly. Turns out, he thought the polling booth was where you applied to get your Green Card. Welp! Way above my pay-grade as a poll worker.
• Another older man walked in to vote, but started looking around and examining the school cafeteria where we were set up. When I went to inquire if he needed assistance he explained that he had attended this same school some 60+ years ago, and he was just reminiscing on the time he spent there. It wasn’t named after César Chávez back then, (I forget which US president name he said the school name was before), but the building was pretty much the same. Further, his mom went to the same school some 20 years before him when the building wasn’t yet constructed and they used to do classes in some shacks where the playground now stands.
• I’d read that schools in San Francisco were bad, and indeed César Chávez elementary is rated 3/10 on GreatSchools. Never having been at an American school before, I was expecting that to mean apathetic overworked teachers, and students who didn’t care about learning. Speaking with the principal, teachers, and observing the students all day, however, I found this couldn’t be further from reality — in a charming building with striking murals, I found teachers who genuinely cared, and wanted the best outcomes for their students; many students who didn’t yet speak English still learning; volunteers running an after school program — everyone seemed to be trying their best with what they had. Totally seems like a school I’d love for my future kids to go to.

I thought working the polls was a great way to experience American democracy first-hand up close, and get to meet my neighbours who I normally wouldn’t. Will definitely sign up again when the next election comes around!

29 Sep 2021

(originally on Facebook, but also cross posting here, now that Facebook Notes is deprecated)

Until recently, Manasi and I never really thought of buying a house as something we particularly wanted to do — certainly not in the short term. Several of my friends recently bought houses, though, and these are people we know and trust to make wise decisions. So is there something we're missing? Much discussion, research, and deliberation ensued, and we decided to study the topic thoroughly, to make sure we're making the best informed choice and not just letting inertia do the decision-making for us.

As is typical, we started with obsessively reading up everything we could find on the topic on the internet; and there's oh-so-much material! From rent-vs-buy calculators where you put in numbers and tweak some knobs, to this very thorough article on the history and the politics of the Bay Area's housing crisis. We also put out a post on Facebook, asking friends to help us figure this out. This led to an outpouring of advice, comments, and conversations, all of which were super helpful in learning more.

Sharing back what we learned from the process. Some of this might seem like common sense, but it was useful to us, hence putting it on paper.

## House-buying is a life goal

Get a college degree, find a good job, get married, have a kid, buy a house — these are life goals not in the sense that you're incomplete if you don't accomplish them, but that they are seen as the ‘default choice', and choosing not to do one of these is often something you need to justify to yourself. House-buying is an important one, and perhaps the first life goal that you achieve truly independently as an adult.

Recognizing this helped us understand why several folks interpreted our FB post soliciting information about house-buying as us thinking of buying a house now, and we received plenty of advice about how to maximize the approved loan amount, minimize interest rates, and recommendations for realtors. Further, several folks we talked to who aren't buying a house now or here, do see themselves buying a house eventually.

## The intangibles outweigh the financials

Most people aren't buying a house because they want to invest in it, but because they want to live in it. The fact that it also appreciates is a bonus on top. In a sense, buying a primary place of residence is more comparable to buying a car than it is to buying stocks or ETFs — you might buy a Toyota sedan over a Chevy because it depreciates slower, but you won't buy a muscle car when you need a minivan, irrespective of the financial outcomes. And the intangibles are plenty:

• Having to move and upend your life every time your rent increases unreasonably is stressful
• Helps you “lock in” a good school district for when you have kids (or if you already have them)
• The feeling of having a place that you can truly call your own
• The feeling of being anchored in a place and a community
• The freedom to make major renovations

## Financial outcomes may not be vastly different

After having played with half a dozen different rent vs buy calculators, our conclusion was that neither renting nor buying looks like a slam-dunk obvious winner. Tweaking the numbers a few percentage points here and there lead to renting and buying each sometimes coming out ahead, but given that the expected stock market returns, expected real estate appreciation, expected rent increase, etc are at-best educated guesses, the conclusion was that with the current rents and house prices, renting and buying are both likely to lead to somewhat similar financial outcomes in the next ~20 years. Real estate is neither the silver bullet, nor the rusty nail of investing. The following caveats apply:

• A more expensive house costs more than a less expensive one (duh!). Or, choosing between renting a one-bedroom apartment, or buying a 4-bedroom mansion, the latter is likely to cost more both in the long and short term, independent of the rent/buy decision.
• A corollary of the above is that if you see yourself needing a 4BR house three years later, but don't need it now, it is probably better to put-off buying one till then.
• A savings account is a terrible investment vehicle. Buying a house is almost certainly the better choice if you're not investing your money otherwise.

## Discussion

Manasi and I decided to not buy a house right now, for several reasons:

• Neither of us think of house buying as a life goal — Manasi because she spent most of her life living in government quarters, as her family moved from city to city; and me because I've never really felt a sense of attachment to any house I've lived in (instead feeling an attachment to the people I live with).
• We like our current semi-suburban lifestyle with downtown shops, bars, and restaurants within walking distance. We won't be able to afford buying a house here in the downtown area, and house-buying would likely mean moving somewhere more suburban and more car oriented.
• We occasionally idly daydream about moving out of the Bay Area. While we don't have concrete plans yet, buying a house here will make moving out that much harder. From an effort and cost point of view, our conversations suggested that one should not buy a house unless planning to live there for at least seven years.
• Being responsible for your own plumbing and gardening and maintenance seems a lot more intimidating than just giving the landlord a call when something breaks. In practice, this is unlikely to be a major time-sink, but the mental effort seems undesirable, nonetheless.

Did you also go through a similar thought process? In what ways were your conclusions similar, vs different from ours? Did we miss something crucial? Would love to hear your thoughts, and discuss this more.

## Death Throes of the Author

02 Nov 2020

The last paragraph of O Henry’s The Gift of the Magi makes me like it a lot less. Had the story just ended with the reveal of Jim having sold his watch, the reader could’ve read the story as an everyday tragedy, as a snapshot of bitter ironies in life, or just a sardonic take of human nature. The author, though, chooses to moralize, saying “…two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house”, and imposing upon the reader his own interpretation.

Roland Barthes in his iconic essay Death of the Author argues against incorporating the author’s intentions and biographical context into literary analysis, and instead suggests analysing solely the text. Does the author wish to give up their text, though? I wonder if paragraphs like this one are the death throes of the author, a last attempt to exert control over their creation before it leaves them.

Take Sahir Ludhianvi’s Laaga Chunari mein Daag, immortalized by Manna Dey in raag bhairavi. The चुनरी, ससुराल, and दाग could probably have a dozen interpretations. The last antara before the tarana begins, however, goes:

कोरी चुनरिया आत्मा मोरी, मैल है माया जाल
वो दुनिया मोरे बाबुल का घर, ये दुनिया ससुराल

and just like that, the poet snatches away the dozen interpretations from the listener, by explaining their own interpretation of the metaphor within the text.

Mind you, the temptation to editorialize your own work is very real, and I’ve experienced it myself — perhaps most often when posting an Instagram story, and feeling the need to put a caption on it. My main reason, I think, is that people viewing my story won’t “get it”, because I’m not a good enough storyteller. Do the Ludhianvis and Henrys of the world feel this too? Perhaps more apt than death throes, then, might be to call this Insecurity of the Author.

## At Gas Works Park, Seattle

07 Apr 2013

As he gazes down upon people
playing
on his cool ferrous body, does
the metal giant
of Gas Works Park
feel
like
the last dinosaur
did, when he was displaced
by smaller agile creatures
on Earth?
Archaic, unwieldy,
irrelevant.

But beautiful.

## In Chicago

07 Apr 2013

As I gaze out of my plane window and I watch down, I see the lights of the Chicago night. Cars, skyscrapers, houses — all form these patterns, these constellations, these pictures. Look, isn’t that a mother chasing her laughing child around the house? And aren’t the lights on the coastline against Lake Michigan’s vast empty nothingness somewhat in Lincoln’s likeness, as he stares out into the infinite, contemplating about the future of the nation? Are those blinking lights next to the highway transmitting a message in code? Calling the mothership back to take E.T. home? The lights tell stories probably as fascinating and as vivid as the lives of all the people who form them.

Then I glance up at the sky and am horrified to see not a single star in sight! The brown smoggy emptiness of the sky is rivaled only by the oceanic lake below. But where are the stars? Where is Pegasus, spreading his magnificent wings as he rises to Mount Olympus? Where is Andromeda, waiting by the sea to be ravaged by the great sea monster? And as the plane passes above the clouds, and I still find the heavens empty, it dawns upon me that I had just left them down below. In Chicago. As the sun sets and night falls upon the city, the stars, not satisfied with telling the tale from far above, come down into the city to sing their tales to the dreaming millions. The heavens descend upon the earth — in Chicago. Could there be a greater human achievement?

## Hello, Seattle

10 Sep 2012

Pretend that you are in a plane. Closed. Flying 36000 feet in the air. Trapped. No escape. You try to sleep it off with the cheap alcohol. Fake smiles. Standing in line for the tiny toilets. Trapped. No escape. But then imagine your destination. Your home for the next five years. And the sense of curiosity and trepidation replaces dread. And then realize that you are already at your destination. “I’m here already!”, you whisper to yourself with wonder. There’s no apprehension anymore; just a question, “What’s next?”. Seattle welcomes you to an embrace – a cloudy one – but still strangely warm and inviting. “Welcome home, Ravi”, he whispers in your ear. And you smile as you step out of the airport, and reply,

“Hello Seattle! Great to finally meet you.”

## Quick Almond Pie: My first ever original recipe

12 Jun 2012

With a lot (and I mean a lot) of time on my hands, I am dabbling my hands in a bit of everything, including cooking. As I was sitting on the dinner table today, I suddenly felt enlightened, much like Buddha did under the Bodhi tree. The heavens proclaimed that I head to the kitchen, and create a masterpiece that the Gods wish me to create. Now, who am I to dispute the Gods? The item that I created in my creative frenzy turned out to be....well not too bad actually. So here is the crazily simple, yet decently tasty recipe

### Quick Almond Pie

Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Serves: 2 people

Ingredients

• 8 Marie Biscuits
• 4 tsp Sugar
• 15 Almonds
• 2 tbsp Butter
• 4 tsp Milk (Replace with water/soy milk, if vegan)

Instructions
1. Put the biscuits and the sugar in a mixer jar, and grind them to a fine powder
2. Melt the butter and mix it together with the powder. Knead it lightly to get uniform consistency
3. Break the almonds into small, but not too small pieces, and mix into the mixture
4. Take a 4-inch microwavable plate, and press it at the bottom, spreading evenly
5. Sprinkle the milk on the top evenly
6. Microwave for 1.5 minutes
7. Remove and cut into triangular pieces
8. Serve hot, with vanilla ice cream
End Note

You can probably replace almonds with walnuts or pistachios, to get the recipe for the corresponding pie

## A Ghazal

21 Apr 2012

As I sit here by your deathbed, gazing at thy tearful eyes
The memories flash before mine, me and the love of my life

देख तेरा हसीन बदन उमड़ा था दिल में उफान
मदिरा चख ले ‘इक बार, पानी से प्यास मिटती है कहाँ?

A mournful smile you smiled, and said, “In forty-eight moons; Fore’er
Leave you, I must. Can you live with a hole in your heart for life?”

हुस्न का दीवाना मैं, शमा की शहूत [1] - परवाना मैं
जिस्म का ही गुलाम है जो, मुस्तकबिल [2] देखता है कहाँ?

I became you, and you me. And as you giggled, when I kissed
The mole above your navel, wished that moment would last for life

हाँ, मोहब्बत हो गयी थी बन्दे को तुझसे ऐ ज़ालिम
और फिर तेरे साथ बीते चार साल न जाने गए कहाँ

As I sit here by your deathbed, gazing at thy tearful eyes
I wonder at the futility of the rest of my life

तरसता रवि, इक पल और तेरे संग मिलेगा कहाँ?
पर बाद घुरूब-ऐ-आफताब [3], एक किरण भी दिखती है कहाँ

(I wrote this as an ode to the amazing four years I spent at IIT Bombay, which are sadly about to end in the next two weeks. You are free to an alternative interpretation, of course. You can read about the poetic form of a ghazal here)

1. शहूत = lust
2. मुस्तकबिल = future
3. घुरूब-ऐ-आफताब = sunset

## Faithful to the Original: Comparing Sherlock and Sherlock Holmes

03 Mar 2012

(This piece has also been published in Proceedings of the Pondicherry Lodge, Vol 1: Issue 1. You can read that version on scribd)

I meant to write this a while ago, when the second season of the BBC TV show Sherlock came out, right after Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. But well, better late than never.

So this question often comes up in my Shakespearean Afterlives course. (Don't worry, this post isn't about Shakespeare!) What does it mean for an afterlife, or a contemporary work that derives from some past work, to be faithful to the original source? Film and television has had a revival of interest in Sherlock Holmes in the past few years. To be honest, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes has never quite been out of public gaze (see the numerous Sherlock Holmes adaptations over the years), but a revival of interest for the mainstream and big-budget media is recent. In particular, Guy Ritchie came out with his interpretation of Sherlock as a spunky, funny, action-packed hero, played by the inimitable Robert Downey Jr, fighting villains and saving the world in the 1890s. And then there is the BBC TV series Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss that has received accolades from fans and critics alike. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a savant like Sherlock who is quick to embrace gadgets and modern technology - anything that can help him get closer to catching the bad guys.So which of the two works is closer to the revered and canonized Doyle version of Sherlock Holmes?

## The Setting

Ritchie's Holmes lives in Doyle's times. The horse-drawn carriages, old-fashioned clothes and hats and the sepia tones paint the picture of Doyle's London - surprisingly similar to what I imagined the setting to be when I read the short stories. Moffat's Sherlock, on the other hand, lives in the fast, upbeat London of 2012. The characters travel in taxis, wear jeans talk on their iPhones - more of a setting for Doctor Who than Sherlock Holmes. However, recall that when Doyle wrote his Sherlock Holmes stories, he did not intend it to be a historical piece or a costume drama. Doyle's Holmes is based not in the past, but in the present, and is in fact shown to be a man of science, gleefully using any new invention or discovery that may help him solve a case, including the recently discovered fingerprints, in a story whose title I don't remember at the moment. Incidentally, this is picked up by both Ritchie - with his Sherlock shown driving the Ford Model T in a scene - and Moffat - with his Sherlock using SMS, GPS navigation and any other technology that can help. However, while forensics might have seemed cutting edge to the readers of 1890, Holmes driving the Model T is merely a funny scene in Game of Shadows. The horse-drawn carriages are seen as quaint and cute in 2012; they were a way of life in 1890 just like GPS and mobile phones are in 2012. The 2012 audience reaction to Moffat's Sherlock, then is perhaps closer to what the 1890 audience reaction to Doyle might have been.

Note, however, that the modern reader (you and me) also reads Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The charm of the old that the book presents for us is perhaps robbed in the Moffat and Gatiss version. Also, not all plot elements can work as well in a new setting. The photograph in A Scandal in Bohemia becomes a cellphone in A Scandal in Belgravia on the BBC show, since a digital photograph is so much easier to duplicate than a physical photograph of the 1890s. The change in the plot was done smoothly and brilliantly, in my opinion, but the fact that a change was required itself says that the plot wasn't entirely faithful to Doyle. Or perhaps, since it is merely changing the plot to fit naturally into the contemporary setting, one could argue that it is in fact a faithful adaptation.

## Holmes vs Holmes

Coming to the characters, both Cumberbatch and Downey Jr. play the same role - the role of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. The character portrayed, however, is entirely different for both. Robert Downey Jr's Sherlock is an eccentric detective, clever, but ever ready to jump into a brawl. "Holmes is such a weirdo", commented Downey Jr in an interview with the BBC once, and a weirdo is exactly what his Bohemian, comic Sherlock is. Comic is exactly what the Cumberbatch Sherlock is not. While he has his eccentricities, they tend to accentuate the intensity of the character rather than his funny side. The Bohemian Holmes is very much from Doyle's text, but making him a comic character is taking it too far, in my opinion. While I thoroughly enjoyed watching The Game of Shadows, Downey doesn't quite remind me of the short stories that I read so fondly as a child. Benedict Cumberbatch does. Though he uses nicotine patches instead of his pipe and lives in 2012 instead of 1890, he is in essence the Sherlock out of the pages of Arthur Conan Doyle's books.

## Moriarty vs Moriarty

Moriarty features only twice in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's work. Sherlock Holmes's respect and fear for him, however, make him a formidable opponent, and is often shown as an arch-enemy by contemporary works. Jared Harris plays the Moriarty of the Doyle books in The Game of Shadows. The master criminal, the mathematical genius - complete with a beard. Jim Moriarty of the BBC series, played by Andrew Scott is markedly different. He isn't a professor, for one. "Moriarty is usually a rather dull, rather posh villain so we thought someone who was genuinely properly frightening. Someone who's an absolute psycho", Steven Moffat said, in an interview for The Guardian. As in the books, Jim Moriarty commands absolute power in the criminal underworld. An unhinged genius with infinite power - Scott's Moriarty is truly frightening. Perhaps he is a more relevant villain in 2012. But then, Jared Harris's Moriarty is fairly frightening as well. Both Harris and Scott play formidable opponents to their respective Sherlocks, and are probably as clever as him. That, I believe, is the essence of Arthur Conan Doyle's Moriarty, which both characters capture well.

## Concluding Remarks

Perhaps faithfulness to the original isn't a very relevant question. Indeed, I tremendously enjoyed watching both the movies and the TV show, irrespective of the liberties they take with the canonized text. Nonetheless, the differences are interesting to compare and contrast the differences between the three media(book, television and cinema) and the differences between Hollywood and British television. What do you think of the two versions? Which Sherlock did you like better? Which Moriarty did you like more? What about the two Watsons? Let's discuss this in the comments below.

## P != NP

04 Nov 2011

If P = NP, then the world would be a profoundly different place than we usually assume it to be. There would be no special value in "creative leaps," no fundamental gap between solving a problem and recognizing the solution once it's found. Everyone who could appreciate a symphony would be Mozart; everyone who could follow a step-by-step argument would be Gauss... — Scott Aaronson

"...And hence P!=NP. QED", wrote Ryan Brown. He could not believe his eyes. He had finally done it. The efforts of the past 23 years of his life had finally yielded fruit. He had proven the greatest mathematical problem of them all.

As an undergraduate student at MIT in 2011, Ryan came across the problem in his algorithms course. He was fascinated by how such a seemingly straighforward problem had stumped computer scientists for ages. It seemed obvious that you would have to try out all possible combinations in the 3-SAT problem to solve it. Or did it? He dwelled upon the problem, obsessed about it. Finally he decided that he could not be happy doing anything else. Ryan Brown would solve the P-NP problem, and would dedicate his whole life to it, if need be.

As he went from publisher to publisher, his despair grew. At first, he was confident that any journal would be glad, even honoured to publish this momentous result. Imagine his surprise, then, when he was politely declined by not one, but seven consecutive journals. As he went to the eighth publisher, his confidence in the result of the meeting was considerably lower than when he went to the first one. "...And hence, I proved this momentous result.", Ryan explained to the publisher. The publisher listened patiently, but with a smug look on his face, as if he had already made up a decision. "But what use is it?", he asked as Ryan finished his monologue.

The third world war between USA and China broke out in 2018. Nobody could say that they did not expect it. That it wasn't unexpected did not mean it wasn't unpleasant, though. For Ryan, it meant that his research would have to halt, or at least slow down. He could not avoid conscription, as his research did not directly benefit the military. He was posted in South America, where he served for 9 months, till he was shot in the leg, and was allowed to return. His passion undeterred, he continued his research as before. However, the war had significantly changed the world's outlook on research. There was a great degree of pragmatism that had crept into the mindset of the authorities and the researchers alike. Research in theoretical areas and mathematics was dismissed as mere mental amusement, and not deemed worthy of significant efforts or funding. Engineering, which could make missiles, radars and tanks that gave immediate tactical advantage in the war, received hefty funding and approval. Even when the war ended, the attitudes persisted. Ryan's funding had dropped to a trickle. However, all he needed for his work was access to his books, papers, a blackboard, and his mind - all of which was intact.

"Fine, I'll publish it", said the thirteenth publisher Ryan approached, "Don't expect me to pay you any royalties upfront, though. I doubt if this will earn me anything." At that point of time Ryan was ready to accept anything - anything to get his idea out into the open, to let the world know that he had done what mathematicians had been struggling with for over 60 years!

"...And hence P!=NP. QED", wrote Ryan Brown. He could not believe his eyes. He had finally done it. The efforts of the past 23 years of his life had finally yielded fruit. He had proven the greatest mathematical problem of them all.

Ryan Brown's seminal paper turned out to be not so seminal after all. It didn't really change the world view at all. Turned out that everyone who could appreciate a symphony was not Mozart after all. Ryan Brown died in 2035, a year after finishing his life's work.

The world carried on as usual.

## On Charity

18 Oct 2011

Benevolent?
Or selfish? Hungry
(like Shellfish)?

The coins fall
into the bowl

But if they didn't?

In the forest, no one
hears the leaf fall
But if no one heard
would the leaf fall at all?

## The Revolution (Part 1)

24 Sep 2011

My first foray into the world of writing fiction. Comments/criticism would be deeply appreciated, and help improve my writing in the future.

(From the pen of Jaythan Kaytryn of Escavia)

Escavia was not a large planet, still isn't. The economy thrived on Kryxium. Everyone on the planet was employed in either the mines, or the purification plants. Our life in the village was idyllic. We worked hard all day. Mining was hard work, but hardly dangerous as it used to be a hundred years ago. The invention of neutrinogentric machinery had removed any threat to human life than mining might pose. In the evening, everyone in the village would gather round a bonfire, and deliberated about the Escavia NeutroBall League, or the latest exploits of Atom - the protector of galaxies (that used to be the most popular televisor show in those days). The traders would come in their spaceships once every year. They would buy the Kryxium, and sell us whatever Escavia could not produce. Space travel used to be very expensive in those days, and nobody in my village had stepped foot on another planet. I suspect hardly twenty people on the whole of Escavia had.

Overall, life on Escavia was good. We didn't have much, but then we didn't need much either. And as we knew that everyone in Escavia lived pretty much the way we did, we didn't(couldn't) aspire for anything else either.

The Escavian youth was like a pile of dry twigs, waiting for a spark to ignite them. This spark came in the form of Gaspard von Avernus. His reputation preceded him. Apparently, he had started off as a farm hand on some agricultural planet in the galaxy, soon risen ranks and had eventually drafted some reforms that had caused the planet to prosper greatly. The day he arrived, there was a great throng of people waiting to listen to him; me amidst them. He was a thin and unimpressive man with a goatee that made him look like an old movie villain. But his eyes had a sparkle and conviction that I had never seen on any person before. And when he spoke, you had to listen to him, mesmerized. If words had force, his would move galaxies. He spoke of inequality, of injustice and how they must be done away with. His idea of a just society was one where the community owned the means of production, and thus no individual had power to subjugate another. He said that the ones that possessed the power would not relinquish it without a struggle. A revolution was needed to overthrow the current system, and install a new, fair one.

I was stirred by his words, as were many others in my village, on my planet, and indeed on several proletariat planets throughout the galaxy. I became a von Avernus disciple, as did countless others throughout the galaxy. The Revolution was about to begin.

(to be continued.....)

## Non Euclidean Geometries

10 Sep 2011

I wrote a few articles on Mathematics for a magazine for school kids, EducationEdge. These articles are targeted at students of classes VIII to XII. Am reproducing one of them here, hoping some of the readers of this blog might enjoy it too.

## Introduction

Science seeks to figure out how the Universe works, and tries to discover the laws which govern it. Mathematics has no such obligations. Though mathematicians and their theories generally stick to the Universe that we live in, once in a blue moon there will rise an eccentric, but genius mathematician, who will propose a radical mathematical theory, which though marvelous, has seemingly no application - at least not in this universe. In this article, we shall talk about Non-Euclidean Geometry, which is literally out-of-this-world Mathematics.

## What is Geometry?

Since we have all studied some geometry in school, we have generally some intuitive idea about what lines, points, circles and planes are. The ancient Greek mathematician Euclid showed that all our intuitive notion about geometric objects can be summarized into a set of five postulates. If these postulates are assumed to be true, all the rest of geometry follows. Hence, the next time your teacher tells you to memorize some rules about circles or parallel lines, you can refuse to do so, saying that you already know Euclid's postulates. (Disclaimer: The author is not responsible for what your teacher does to you after this!!). Euclid's postulates are as follows:

1. A straight line can be drawn that connects two given points
2. A line segment can be extended in both directions to get a straight line
3. A circle with a given center and radius can be drawn
4. All right angles are equal to each other
5. Given a line and a point not lying on it, exactly one line can be drawn that passes through the given point and is parallel to the given line.

## Non-Euclidean Geometry

As you can see, the postulates seem simple and obviously true. However, mathematicians are not simple and obvious creatures. A few mischievous mathematicians thought, "What if we assume one of these postulates to be false? What if we assume something that is contrary to one of these postulates to be true?'' They did so, and came up with several different kinds of geometries, all of which are inconsistent with our normal notion of Geometry, but nonetheless, consistent within themselves. "But what is the use of all this?'', you may ask, "If these geometries are not real, and don't work in our Universe at all, why do mathematicians want to study them?'' These are very valid questions, but mathematicians are a crazy bunch of people, and often do mathematics just for the sake of it, even if it seems to have absolutely no utility anywhere in the real world.

## Elliptical Geometry

One of the non-Euclidean geometries, that is relatively easy to understand is called Elliptical Geometry. In this geometry, the fifth postulate in Euclid's postulates is changed.

• Given a line and a point not lying on it, no line can be drawn that passes through the given point and is parallel to the given line.

In order to understand this, you must suspend your usual notions about what a point, line, etc are. In our new universe, these are entirely different things than what we usually think of them. We shall hence redefine them in our new universe. To avoid confusion, we shall write point when we wish to refer to constructs in the new universe, and point when we wish to refer to our usual notion. Imagine a sphere. A plane is defined as the surface of this sphere. A point is defined as a pair of diametrically opposite points on this sphere. A line is a great circle on the sphere(A great circle is a circle, like the equator, whose plane contains the center of the sphere). Notice that two lines always intersect in exactly two diametrically opposite points, that is exactly one point.

Observe that in this elliptical geometry, the first four of Euclid's postulates still hold. (Keep down this article and think about the first two postulates now. I assure you that you will find it a rewarding exercise). Though we have not formally defined circles and angles due to lack of space, it can be proved that the third and fourth postulates also hold true in elliptical geometry. Notice also, that the new fifth postulate is now true in this system. Given a line and a point lying outside it, it is impossible to construct a line parallel to the one given. Remember that a line must lie on the plane and since, in this case a plane is the surface of the sphere, the plane of any line through a given point must pass through the centre of the sphere and thus must intersect the given line at some point (see Figure). This makes it impossible, in Elliptical Geometry, to draw a pair of parallel lines! Many other interesting and non-intuitive facts also emerge in this system. For example, the sum of the angles of a triangle is greater than 180 degrees. Mindboggling, but true.

## Conclusion

We saw that even a simple subject like geometry is a subject of deep mathematical study. The essence of mathematics is to question. Mathematicians ask questions like, What is a number?'' or What is a point?'' Though they seem silly, finding the answers to these questions involves much thought, and a journey full of adventure into the dark and mysterious land of mathematics.

## Salakhen

07 Sep 2011

उस हरी दूब पर बारिश की बूँदें

उस ठंडी हवा से पत्तों का सरसराना

और पानी की बूंदों का यूँ गिरना

मानो नदी से नहा कर निकली सुंदरी

सर हिला कर बाल सुखा रही हो

फिर इन्ही बूंदों को सूरज की एक किरण

जब छू कर निकलती है

जी करता है मेरा भी उस बूँद को पकड़ लूँ

सूरज की मंद रौशनी को मुट्ठी में भर लूँ

उस पत्ते की तरह बारिश में नाचूं

पर ये सलाखें

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## A question on morality

06 Sep 2011

One of the arguments that we vegetarians, animal lovers, and human beings in general like to give is that we do not support killing, as long as it is avoidable. That we are pro-life in some sense of the word (NOT the abortion sense). Now, suppose there is a problem of stray dogs in a city. We would probably not support indiscriminate culling of stray dogs. We would, however, probably not be too opposed to catching hold of male dogs and performing vasectomies on them - soon the existing population would die out, and the problem would be solved. Elegant solution, eh? Not cruel at all. What we are disregarding here is that we are still culling potential future life. So then we are not really pro-life in the real sense. More like pro-present-life or more simply anti-death or anti-pain.

Incidentally, Islam says that it is pro-(human)-life and it goes all the way, including potential future life. Hence very conservative Muslims frown upon masturbation and condoms.

But coming back from the digression. The anti-pain policy explains why we oppose poultry farming. It is true that those chickens would not exist, or ever come to life, if not for the fondness that human beings have for the taste of their flesh. However, what good is life without physical comfort, no freedom - no meaning? Not existing at all is probably preferable.

But octopii and squids do not have a central nervous system. They can't really feel pain in the conventional sense of the term. Why oppose eating them? One argument could be that when fishermen go to catch them, they try to flee. Hence, clearly they do not like getting caught. Therefore, even if they can't feel pain the way human beings do,  they do 'feel', if I may use the term, some sort of discomfort or resentment at getting caught. Discomfort is bad, hence catching octopii and eating them is bad.

But now suppose tomorrow scientist develop a new breed of chickens that do not have a central nervous system. Suddenly the pain argument goes for a toss. Also, consider that scientists manage to ensure that all these chickens are born brain-dead. Hence, they can't feel pain and can't even fail discomfort. Heck, they can't feel at all! They're born a vegetable, live as a vegetable, die as a vegetable, but still taste like chicken! I can hear a voice inside my head screaming, "This is wrong!" "This is immoral!" "This is unethical". But why? There is no pain. No discomfort even. The very purpose of existence of these chickens(if I may call them that) is to provide human beings with the soft, tender, succulent taste of chicken that they so love. "But its wrong!", the little voice still says. Why, though? I don't know. Do you?

## Summer in Beantown: Another Day passes

20 May 2010

In my memoirs, I think this is what I am going to do: I'll skim through the new york airport, flight to boston and the whole of yesterday very quickly. I did nothing exciting anyway. I want to talk more about today.

Immigration was a breeze. Here is how the interview went

* Her: Hello.
* Me : Mumble...Mumble...
* Her: I said Hello!
* Me : Ohh! Hello!
* Her: What will you be doing in the US?
* Me : I'm visiting my aunt.
* Her: OK. Oh, you were born in England. Where's your British passport?
* Me : I don't have one. They changed the rules or something.
* Her: Your parents went to school there or something?
* Me : They were working there.
* Her: How long did you stay the last time you came?
* Me : Umm, around 20 days.
* Her: 20 days? Cool. Have a pleasant stay....

Customs was even simpler

* (I hand him my form)
* Him:
* Me : Thank you.
* Him: Okay.
* (No x-ray. Nothing else at all)

The New York airport was really crowded. People and people all around. Lots of them. Not heeding your advice, I had a cheeseburger at Burger King(yes, it has beef in it, and yes beef has cow in it and cows are sacred to Hindus, and you're probably a Hindu. But hey, food comes before religion, right?? Rather food is religion, right??) Here's what I think about the history of vegetarianism. The regions that were prosperous could afford to be snobbish. They could choose to say, "Pooh, I don't want to eat that. I won't eat cow. I won't eat meat". Since at the time when most modern religions were developing, India was rather prosperous, a lot of Indian religions stress upon vegetarianism. Christianity, Judaism and other European religions couldn't afford to have such fads, since there was not enough agriculture to support an entire population of vegetarians. The other extreme is countries like Thailand, Vietnam etc. Since they had even fewer resources, they can afford even lesser fads, and hence eat anything, including snakes and dogs and monkeys.
Anyway, since I had plenty of time, and since I could not sleep lest I miss my flight, I wrote most of the previous post sitting on the airport.
Soon I was in Boston. Came home, ate and slept for 11 hours state!! I could probably have slept for several hours more, but was unfortunately woken up. Ahh, sleep! Isn't it one of the greatest pleasures of life? The rest of the day was uneventful. Nitish - he's my 5 year old cousin - kind of took a liking to me.

Today, I went into Boston all on my own. I'm sleepy, so more about it later.

## Summer in Beantown: The plane journey

19 May 2010

Whenever I thought about my first solitary foreign trip, I imagined a huge party of people come to drop me at the airport, plenty of last minute advice and at least one crying woman :P (makes you feel that you’re not inconsequential). So what happened came as a bit of a surprise. After a wonderful dinner with my beloved (the dinner wasn’t as wonderful as the company), I took an auto, and set to the airport – all alone.

To understand what I am about to say, you must answer this trivia question:

However hungry he might get, a polar bear never eats a penguin. Why not? Well, the answer is that polar bears live on the north pole and penguins on the opposite side of the earth. If a polar bear is that hungry, he’ll die on the way to the south pole before he can eat a penguin. So a polar bear is destined never to taste sweet penguin meat (sweet only in the metaphorical sense. I can’t vouch for the actual taste of it, never having tasted it – not that I am a polar bear).

And so as I was saying, I set of to the airport all alone – alone as a penguin on the north pole.

The moment has come to introduce you to a certain person called Javelin. Not that he needs an introduction. He does not need an introduction, not because he is famous. Of course he isn’t. Otherwise you would have heard his name, and would have gone, “Ooohh! Javelin! I love that chap. He is the nicest bloke in the world!” or something to that effect. But since you didn’t – as I knew you wouldn’t, I conclude – as I know, that this certain individual called Javelin is not a celebrity. This individual does not need introduction because he does not play that significant a part in the story that you are reading. Now normally, I am not quite an egomaniac. I never go me-me-me. It’s called bleating, and that’s what goats do, and I am not a goat. For if I were a goat, I would probably get eaten by someone. And however tasty the goat may be – and I can vouch for the fact that goat meat is indeed delicious (unlike penguin meat, I have had the priviledge to have eaten goat meat, and hence the ability to vouch for its taste), it certainly can’t write a travel diary once it is eaten. And since I am not an egomaniac, I generally do not ramble on and on about myself. However, in this particular case, since you are taking the pains to read my travel diary, I would assume that you are more interested in me than you are in a certain individual called Javelin, or even penguins or bears – howsoever interesting may they be.

So this certain individual called Javelin had predicted right before I left, that my flight would be cancelled due to the dust and ash from the volcano, that had disrupted so many flights flying into and out of Europe since the last month. Incidentally, someone told me at the airport that the Economy of Europe had suffered a 10% setback, just because of the volcano. Also that 131 flights from India to Europe had been cancelled just on the previous day. However, I do not trust these statistics all that much, since statistics are like bikinis. Everyone can wear one, but it looks good on only a few. (The smart ones out of you, readers, may already have realised that what I mean to say is that out of the gazillions of statistics floating around, like the gazillions of bikini clad women floating around, only a few are true).