Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Meeting With Half Knowledge

‘Half knowledge is dangerous’.
One of these days, I met this person who is a shining example of such half knowledge.

Unfortunately, he happened to be a client, whom I met, to elicit software requirements from for a system we have undertaken to develop for them.

I think it is the worst kind of a situation in which to be with someone having ‘half knowledge’.
Because you are helpless.
Normally, when you meet someone like that, you would ignore him. Or you would laugh at him. Or you would show him your contempt. You would give attitude.
Or you would show him a mirror.
But if it happens to be a client, you can react in neither of the above ways. You continue being polite, continue to smile, nod your head, exercising the kind of self control you thought you were incapable of and hold yourself from flinging that paperweight at the idiot facing you.

‘I perfectly understand what you are saying’, ‘I know…’ - that’s how he would begin every sentence.
Here was someone who knew a little something about systems and technology and thought he knew everything.

The meeting started.
We were the technical people, there to advise him, to help him understand various options. And he would not let us do our job. He insisted on doing most of the talking. He talked as if he knew all about how software systems worked and tried to dictate details of how to implement the system.
It is like going to a doctor and telling him what malady you have, which part of the body and how to operate.

He would say something ridiculous and when I corrected him, he would say, ‘I understand what you are saying, but…’ he would not admit that there was a possibility he did not know something that we did.

He would present one complexity of the system that he perceived claiming it was a challenge and suggested an alternative. When I proved to him it was really simple, he would immediately present another challenge. When I showed him, it could be easily done, he would go on to mention a third.

He assumed too many system constraints. The system cannot handle this, so this feature will have to be done this way… and so on.

One particular module required creating user accounts for general public - like shopping sites, like Amazon, where any user can create an account and have access to very minimal features - mostly his own profile, while the bulk of operations and functions remained accessible to the system owners only.
At this his became wide eyes and he started shaking his from side to side saying ‘Oh! This is dangerous. These public users, after logging into the system will surely hack it and steal his financial reports. No no… I cannot allow this to happen’
Even the US president would not have reacted like that at the prospect of allowing someone access to his cabin where a hundred missile launching controls had been fixed.

‘I have seen a hundred websites being hacked like that’!. Yeah right. I have seen a hundred people dying in road accidents, so now on, I will not step out of my house!

I could not help smiling at my team mate who smiled back. And he saw us smiling. I wish we had continued to humour him. From then on a stern look took the place of those unstoppable ‘I know technology - no less than you guys…are you impressed?’-smiles of confidence on his face. It was funny.

But this guy was relentless!
While all clients insist on having legacy data migration as the very first step, this one wanted no offline data to be loaded into the system, for various reasons that did not make sense. After much questioning I figured out what his problem was – he though there was no space in database or tables for these offline things and some extra work would be required to make room for them!
It again took me 30 minutes to make him see that it was just a matter of inserting a few rows of data into the already existing tables.

The last straw on my back fell when he tweaked his real world business process itself to accommodate a system constraint that he perceived.

I leant forward across the table and told him it did not make sense. ‘You should never alter business processes and rules to accommodate system constraints. We work around system constraints and overcome them to put the business rules in place. The system exists for the sake of the business and not the other way round.’
I showed him how the constraints he was assuming could be overcome and then he realized I was right. But of course, he would not admit it.
When caught on the wrong foot, he denied having said something that he had said only 10 minutes earlier. He shrugged and asked ‘Did I say that? No I didn’t” !

Lastly, after saying many things to prove his ‘expertise’ in payment gateways to us, which actually revealed how dumb he was, he asked us to show him some work we had done in integrating payment gateways with applications.
When I showed him the interfaces, he said, “O yeah.. I have seen all this… but”. and I knew he hadn’t seen any.

The very first thing I said to my teammate as we came out of the meeting room was ‘Half knowledge is dangerous”.
“Very”, came the reply.

“I would rather keep my mouth shut and let people wonder if I am dumb instead of opening my mouth and remove all doubt” nice quote...

I understand that a client is a client (I refuse to use the phrase ‘client is God‘ even accidentally. Ouch!), and we have to humour him but we should not lose sight of our higher purpose/goal of delivering a quality system that will address all of the client’s IT needs. Sometimes we have to assume a paternalistic attitude towards the client even though he may prefer to be treated like an equal. In the long run it is rewarding.
This is one of those examples of the meaningless, short sighted practices in the IT industry - getting stuck in protocols, processes, schedules, niceties and losing sight of the higher, larger goal.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Epiphany Of A Sinner

This is a matter of several years ago.
And it happened more than twice or thrice. At different times.
Through my college days.

I would be suddenly gripped by the strangeness of a certain fact.
Describing the feeling, the way it occurred then to me,
There were millions of people in this world but all that mattered, nay, existed was ‘I’, Sowmya.
Today I would not use the words ‘mattered’ and ‘existed’. Today, I would use the word awareness. All that awareness meant was “I”. I would, forever, be aware of myself and none else.
But then, years ago, I knew much less and hence fewer words.
Continuing in the words of those days,...
If I slept now and woke up tomorrow, ‘it’ would still be ‘I’, Sowmya.
Even after 20 years, ‘it’ would still be ‘I’, Sowmya.
There were thousands of people and their life and their stories but all that could be felt, experienced, mattered, was ‘I’, sowmya.
It would always be ‘my’ life, my body, my mind, my thoughts, my feelings.
I was the centre of the universe.
I would always remain I and not become someone else.
The thought held me in its grip for a few minutes as if in a trance.

The first few times, I could not identify it, leave alone have the right words to describe it, even to myself.
It neither made me happy nor sad. I just thought it strange that I should be the centre of the universe, that ‘I’ alone should matter, that it would always be ‘my’ life today, tomorrow, 20 years from, although there were so many others in this world.

I found myself in this spell several times and experienced the same sensation of awe. And then I ignored it. For a long time now, I have never had the thought.

For the last two years, I have been reading some works on spirituality; Ramana Maharshi, Autobiography of A Yogi and all.
In these works, saints experience moments of stupor in which they are able to identify with all beings around them. They can see what is behind them clearly without turning their head. It’s a kind of super conscious state where they realize oneness or unity. They can feel others - their bodies, minds, thoughts, and not just be limited to themselves, their own bodies and minds.
Also, these are their moments of epiphany where they realize what is called by different names - the supreme spirit, the infinite, God… and all.

Long after I put down Autobiography of a Yogi, I realized that, that strange old thought that had gripped me during those spells was an epiphany of sorts.

But of course, they were saints. I was a mere sinner. Our epiphanies were of opposite nature.

While they had realized what was beyond themselves, I had realized my limitation in all it’s vividness.
While they had realized universal consciousness, what had occurred to me during those spells was the realization of the absence of a universal consciousness in all its starkness; the limitation of consciousness to my individual self; the inability to transcend this self.

I would always be aware of myself and never of another person. That was what the thought was!
Though there are millions in this world, as far as consciousness is concerned, there will always be one person. I. And only I.

Has anyone ever had such a strange thought?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Yercaud - Day 2 - Rajarajeshwari Temple, Pagoda Point, Brothers' Academy, Sun Dial

Coffee beans along the drive.

The cool shady estates flanking the road...

More Coffee...some arrangements seemed better than the ones I had photographed. If I were the one driving, I would have stopped exactly where the 'picture perfect' was...

These two... Passed by many pretty ones. The lighting was perfect and sun mild and golden...but everyones said, while we return you take pictures, not now... when we returned, the sun was white hot and the picture, much less prettier... Timing is everything in life.

Rajarajeswari Temple... After the Mahameru temple and its beauty, this was unattractive...But I have to mention that I was surprised to see Muslim women in Burqas entering the temple and coming out of it! When I asked, they said, 'just like that...' and smiled

Miniature sculpture of shiva

Pagoda Point - A vantage point atop a hill, gets its name because of these stones piled up in the shape of little pagodas

View from there...

Some temple, there too...

Trying my best to look good :)

What a pretty house!

Montfort School - some famous fellows studied here.. forgot the names...

We are on entering the premises of an institude, an academy where Christian brothers study... We were asked not to take pictures

I enjoy defying rules. Such a beautiful well maintained place! One thing I love about Christian institutions! Their discipline, their cleanliness...

We had to pass through this in order to reach a vantage point from where you could see this elephant shaped hill...

This superintelligent structure gives you time. You look at where the shadow falls and depending on the month and date, you add/subtract a few minutes to the time indicated and you have the correct time! The sun dial!

One last stolen picture before leaving the premise!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Inside That Baggage

Those hard, sharp, bitter stones. Grains actually.
Inside the baggage. The size of a pouch.
They hurt. Chafed my back.
I had been carrying them for years now.

As time progressed, the pouch gained weight. Of a baggage. The composition of the stones inside was such.
There was more to them. Once you put them inside and closed the pouch, their time stopped ticking. As far as you were concerned, of course.
Therefore they would remain things of the present and never become the past. Your present.
And with time, they gained weight.
So the sooner you threw them away, before they became heavier and heavier, the better off you were. But (here is the catch), for you to throw them away, they had to become things of the past. If you thought of them as things of the present, you could not throw them.
So how would these stones become things of the past? You had to open the pouch. And look inside. For a few seconds. Then, they would catch up in time and become as old, as grown, as they were. Like a movie fast forwarded.
Again, not all of them. Not the ones that had frozen in time. But most of them.
And…, this solution to the riddle, was a secret. It revealed itself to the less intelligent ones. Or it was discovered by sheer accident. The more intelligent would miss it. More often than not.

There was a third possibility too.

So this pouch of mine, gained weight. And the dead weight had become part of my parcel.
I had gotten so used to the baggage, it did not seem to matter. But once in a way, when I turned my attention to it, it became suddenly heavy and I had to drag my feet in order to keep moving.

One fine day, just like that, I opened the bag. It had to be an accident. For I certainly belonged to the league of the more intelligent.
And lo! there were flowers inside. And two stones. Frozen in time.
Stone turning into flowers! This was unheard of!
Opening the pouch, aging them and casting them away would have been good enough. But flowers? (The third possibility…)

But where went all the stones?
I distinctly remember picking them up and putting them inside.
That’s what I did whenever a stone was pelted at me.
The ones I deserved, I would not pick up.
But the ones I didn’t deserve, I definitely gathered, to carry with me. in my pouch.

Where went those stones?
The stones had long transmuted/turned into flowers.
Time had, surely stopped for them; but only as far as I was concerned.
Within the pouch, they had grown - and turned into flowers.

So they had been exerting no weight actually.
But I had felt the weight all along, no doubt. Because, to me they were stones still.
I was not aware of the transmutation happening inside.
All I knew was that I had put in the stones myself and they were there.

How I had been needlessly carrying their weight all these years!
if only I had opened the bag before!

Now I was free.
How light I felt! What a relief it was! And what a pleasant surprise the flowers were!

Now I have only two stones to carry. The rest that turned into flowers shall adorn me and their fragrance will permeate the air all around.

It was an accident.
I met all of them. One evening.
The ones that had hurt me, offended me and made me cry. Years ago. None of which I deserved. I had dropped them into my baggage and closed it.
And they had stopped in time. My time. They had remained the hurtful, evil, malicious people. Everyone said, throw away the baggage. How could I? You throw away the baggage if it is a matter of the past. If it is your present, you cant throw away your present. And once you shut the baggage, shut the people from your life, turn your face away, they remain forever the grotesque people they were when you last saw them. Because after that, you shut the door. Tight.
If you open the baggage and peek inside, you may see that they have changed. They may not be your best friends still, but they are no longer wearing that grotesque expression.
And then, when you see their present, that part of them you were carrying in the baggage becomes a thing of the past and you can cast them away.
But some of them, those people that never change, will still stare back at you with the same malice. Those, you will carry with you, but they will be few in number.

But what happened to me, was the third possibility.
That evening, they were smiling and waving.
They had changed so much. They had grown so much. They had mellowed with time!
Some of them stood with their arms stretched out towards me.
I don’t know how long they had been standing like that. Waiting for me to open the door I had shut on them. Tight.
If only I had looked back earlier, I would have known.

But now, I had done better than just throwing away the baggage. I had flowers to call mine.
What a respite from the festering wounds caused by all that chafing.
It was an experience! A blessing.

But what’s with the riddle revealing itself to the less intelligent only??
That has to do with transcending intellect. The intellect spawns arguments about some people never changing. It admits (of course, since it is intelligent) that time morphs everyone, but then (there again!), the core, the basic character remains the same, a crow does not turn a peacock; snakes, though they may grow old, remain snakes… The realm of the more intelligent is full of ideas such as these…

The meeting with flowers happens to those who transcend intellect, give the crow, the snake and the peacock, an equal chance and accept them all.

For the rest like me, accidents save our lives.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Yercaud - Day 2 - Shevaroy Temple, Tripurasundari Mahameru Temple

A guide had been arranged to show us around. The first destination was the highest point in Yercaud where Seevaroyan temple was to be found. The temple itself is not much – a narrow and dark cave having the God Servarayan and the Goddess Kaveri inside. But the drive to the top through winding hillside roads was enjoyable.

As we reached the top…
This place has some mineral and for the first time, in my life, I saw mining sites…

We reached the top. Appa and Amma…
Yours truly…
From here we started to another temple nearby… The coffee estates on both sides of the road were picturesque…

We reached this Tripurasundari Mahameru temple – a very beautiful temple situated in the midst of a cultivated and well maintained garden. Clean and dry. One of the shrines towards our right had a deity with a very tranquil ‘Mukhamudra’ (facial expression). I have mentioned it in my earlier article but such perfect expression is the ultimate goal of every sculptor and very difficult to attain.

The temple has a Shreechakra. The shreechakra was first instated by Shankaracharya. Many temples took to having one. It a design carved on a stone slab laid within the shrine before a deity and worshipped daily.

A villa next to the temple.