The Price of our Silence

My entry to FWBA‘s Flash Fiction contest for the topic The Price of our Silence.

……………..

It was a dark morning, the sun took its time to come out of the clouds. Everyone expected the clouds to unburden themselves anytime now. The darkness would be over soon, but it was taking too long for the cloud cover to go away.

Shayna Brahm was still in bed. The blanket felt too heavy on her troubled soul and she found it hard to get up. It was a tough time for her, both personally and professionally. The young charismatic but divisive leader of the Nazi Party had been appointed as the Chancellor of Germany. The youth leaders of the Nazi party, who used to spread rumors about Jewish heritage and culture so far, now came out in the open and were threatening her way of life. Just yesterday, she had heard about the attack on their synagogue by a group of rowdy Nazis. They broke all the windows and wrote slogans on the doors asking the Jews to leave Germany. They declared that the synagogue was constructed illegally on the land. When the police arrived, the policemen registered a case against the synagogue for violation of land use agreement. They justified themselves because a small portion of the stairs came onto the road.

The phone rang and Shayna was forced to get up to pick the phone. After a few minutes of hearing her brother’s voice, she muttered “Sure” and hung up. She staggered to the corner of the room and slumped on the floor. Hugging her knees, she rested her head on them. Things were spinning out of control. Tobias Wood Works, her brother’s workshop was set ablaze last night because of the name on the board. He was asking her if he could send his wife and 2 daughters to her house while he tried to fix things there. They weren’t safe in his house anymore. Tobias had been marked by the local Nazi group to set an example for the rest of the community. Now he will have to leave the town, otherwise they would be come for his home next.

She held her head in her hands and tugged at her hair as memories came flooding in. She could still remember her colleague’s words clearly as if everything had happened just yesterday.

Raymond’s voice had risen further when he added, “But Shayna, you can’t ignore the role of Jewish anti-nationals in the loss of Germany in the World War. If Germany didn’t have any Jewish anti-nationals, then the country would have won the World War.”

Shayna had countered back, “The role was of anti-nationals, which included both Jewish and Christians that led to loss. You are no different than the other anti-Semites out there.”

“They were not Germans. Those people did not followed German ideologies of truth and hard work. They took bribes. They were all Jews, taking bribes and collecting money,” Raymond had said.

“I don’t want to talk to an Anti-Semite who has no sense,” Shayna had declared. “You are blinded by the Nazi propaganda.”

“You can’t call it propaganda if it’s the truth. Jews were responsible for the loss of Germany,” Raymond had concluded.

The conversation was from 7 years ago when Shayna was talking to her colleague, Raymond, in her office before the talk show began. They had invited a member of the Nazi party for an interview. Although he was clearly an anti-Semite, she was forced to interview him if she wanted to retain her slot. If she had denied it, someone else would have done the interview in her place.

“It’s not fair!” She shouted in her empty room now, staring at the now-silent phone. “We are just 1% of the population. Where will we go?”

She recalled what her brother told her after the interview years back. “Don’t worry about him. These are just some fringe elements. German values have always tolerated such nonsense. We would be fine once their party is defeated in the elections. This is just propaganda to please the party base. Keep quiet for now and wait for things to get better.”

The silent wait had proved lethal for her community.

Shayna went back to bed hoping the nightmare would end soon.

Outside, the clouds had finally unburdened themselves, but it was too late. A lot of farmers had lost their crop, the land had dried up and would need a lot of manpower to prepare for the next sowing season. Most farmers didn’t have the required money, so they will have to leave their villages in search for jobs in the city. God was against them right now, they should have done more, should have planted drought resistant varieties. But it was all lost now. Debt-ridden, a farmer looked towards the city. It will take many years before he can pay back his debt.

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Change is beautiful

wp_20161004_001-1October is the main month on Autumn in Seattle, this is the first time I noticed the changes in the trees nearby as the autumn proceeded.
At first some leaves start turning Yellow,
then some starts falling and more leaves turn yellow, and some start turning orange.
Then some orange leaves start turning red,

Although the autumn, which signals the tree leaves to fall happens at the same time for all the trees, and leaves, they don’t react in the same way or at the same time.
The reaction and timing are based on various reasons, the amount of sunlight it receives in general, the nutrients, water had earlier or presently.
Some are evergreen trees, and they don’t fall in autumn at all.

Change is the only constant thing in life.

Change happens at varied speeds, day to night in a day, to evolution, millions of years.
Every change needs a time to react, some react too slow, and don’t survive the change, some react to fast and become the pioneers of change.

I am interested in change in the state of a nation, Below is the GDP (PPP) of India, China and US.

world-bank-growth

Source

There are two types of change,
Authoritarian enforced change like China, China was able to transform its economy from 1990 to 2015 at a very fast phase.
This was done by an authoritarian govt, which do not accept dissent, and do not care for the rights of the few when looking at benefit of the country. This was a country run similar to a company with very stable govt, and constant focus.

Then there is the Indian example, a democratic government, we had comparatively slower progress, and comparatively fairer elections, and regime change when trust in the govt was down.
Democracy has its benefits and flaws. The challenge is public opinion, any change in public opinion can impact the stability of the govt. The challenge is to keep public opinion on common economic progress, and prevent being distracted by things dividing us.
Change is inevitable, just like the season, some trees adopt quickly and the nature waits for the others to adjust. It takes time, but slowly and independently all the trees adapt to the change.
You don’t cut the branches if they are not shedding leaves fast enough, its not efficient, we have to clean the leaves every day, but it has respect for each tree, the right to accept the new season at their own pace.

Imagine if a fish was dropped onto the beach and asked to walk by seeing the success of the snake.

Change is beautiful, and the beauty lies in the diversity.

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Exception Handling

A computer program is essentially a group of components executing with each other with a predefined set of Interface.
Lot of times in computer programming, an unexpected input/race condition (scenario in a general term) occurs, which the component does not support, in those cases the component raises an exception, and hopes the appropriate method in the stack is going to handle it.
If an exception is left unhandled, it crashes the process.

I like looking at similarities between life and programming, and this was one case where I thought the safety nets in life are more like exception handlers, they are designed to handle a specific type of exception, and do an appropriate action in response. Because if no one handles the exception, it will end up crashing the process.

In general there are 2 school of thoughts on unhandled exceptions,
One, that a process should be quickly recoverable. In case of an unhandled exception, the process should crash, and restart from scratch. It will reallocate memory and CPU from the system and start afresh. This approach is considered good if we don’t want to hide exceptions, and we want to enforce the system administrators to look at exceptions as they happen with urgency, otherwise the process will no longer run at all.

The second approach is a more compromising, here we have a handle all exception scenario, and we do not let the process crash, at all. If there are unhandled exceptions, we will eat up those exceptions and continue the process. The exceptions can still be logged for the administrators to look at, but there is no urgency in fixing them.

The advantage of the first approach, is that the process always remains clean, we know any unexpected issues will cause the process to crash, so by definition it should be clean, and handle all scenarios. The disadvantage, if at the time the process crashes, the system has High CPU or Low memory, the system will not be able to accommodate the crashed process, and it wont be able to come up after crashing.

On the other hand, in the second approach, the process never trusts the system, and always handles exceptions for itself. By doing some dirty workarounds, it keeps itself up no matter what, which lead to over time many dangling threads, handles and mismanaged components that remain in the bad state, as long as the process is up.

I personally found the first approach more desirable, its clean, idealistic and robust. But it only works if everyone on the system is behaving the same way. If only 1 process follows the first approach, and rest follow the second, only looking after themselves, the first process will not find enough memory/CPU to rise up again after crash.

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Local Maxima

The science has concerned itself with solving many problems of the world, there is a reason why mathematics is considered as the purest science,
Because it finds a solution so generic that it can be applied to solve problems of all derived sciences, from physics, chemistry, biology to the extremes of sociology,
psychiatry, psychology and even faith. We just have to find a construction of our problem into mathematics.

I did a similar exercise to re-look at a life problem with mathematics, Local Maxima.
In pursuit of finding maxima, using basic human probe analysis, one often comes across a local maxima, and he is not able to proceed further.
The issue is not that he is not probing at all the directions, the issue is just that he is only looking at the immediate turns, which seems to go down hill in any direction it takes.

Dilemma:A dilemma (Greek: δίλημμα “double proposition”) is a problem offering two possibilities, neither of which is unambiguously acceptable or preferable. One in this position has been traditionally described as “being on the horns of a dilemma”, neither horn being comfortable. This is sometimes more colorfully described as “Finding oneself impaled upon the horns of a dilemma”, referring to the sharp points of a bull’s horns, equally uncomfortable (and dangerous).

There are multiple ways to find the path towards global maximum, I have tried to list 2 of my applied ones,
1- Genetic Algorithm approach, Introducing a mutation from the current set, and let it compete in the playing field. Having enough variables that mutations can occur, we chose a variable change at random. This helps us identify if there is a chance of getting any better results by changing few things in our current state.

The solution is statistical, We keep mutating, in hope of finding a better solution, and if luck may be so, we will after some rounds.

2- Calculus, Analyze your function, and find its derivative function, see where it gets Grounded to zero. Any place where the derivative function gets grounded is a local minima or maxima. The problem however is how do we know the number of places our derivative gets grounded?
You keep looking at the deriving function, till you reach at the root one, whose derivative is already Zero (Ground). And there is nothing beyond.
Using this, you find the maxima you are looking for, at least the path to it.

The solution is deterministic, but it needs exact formulation of our Maximizing function, which is usually difficult to obtain.

There is no one way to solve a problem, neither is there 1 solution to a problem,
Just a lot of problems for us to try to control in life.

Here is a reference to the image copied from,(Seemed like a good post)

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Self Eulogy

My sister had suggested to play a little game, Writing a self eulogy within 5 minutes after which you are not allowed to edit it. You are not allowed to read the self eulogy of someone else before you have written your own.

Its an interesting game, on showing your state of mind at the current time, What will you have to say to the world if you had died today, The 5 minute limit tries to stop us from polishing the content indefinitely.

Lets play the game, I am pasting below the Eulogy I wrote, I hope you will honor the rules of the game and write your own before reading mine :). Also do share link to your own eulogy if you feel comfortable ,

 

Life is short, it was meant to be,
We need to live it to the fullest,
enjoy, contribute to the society, science, art, literature
It is easy to think 1 idea is correct or better than the other, its not
Every idea, however insane has some usefull roots,
and these roots are what makes us human
Life is short, our presence in the world is short,
No amount of greatness or power is big enough to extend it beyond a period
accept it and see what we can make of it
I have spent my early life persuing science as the spear head of society,
but later I realized inequality is the chains holding it back
Inequality in finance, Knowlege, authority and freedom
We can imagine 2 people living today such different lives that they seem centuries apart
Thats why social science is important,
We all have a role to play,
I had tried to play mine,
you still have some time left, play it.

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Threading.

The industrial revolution that changed the world occurred because of automation. We were able to make machines, very specific machines that were able to do jobs quickly, which might otherwise take multiple men to complete. I witnessed an example in a automated bakery in the outskirts of Riyadh. First manually added the flour and ingredients to the mixture. There was a huge machine to mix everything, create a dough, and pour it in the containers. The manual part again was to put the containers in oven, and then empty the containers to an assembly line, which dropped 1 cup cake (without cup) to the assembly line at regular intervals, which later wrapped A printed plastic sheet around the assembly line, and sealed the top. Next was a cutter, that stamped at each gap between cakes, to pack them into separate pieces. and then manually a person was assigned to collect the falling packets to cartons, and pass it further for sealing.

What an assembly line consisted of was a series of some what generic sealers, rotors, wrappers, mixers, assembled in a specific order to create the automated process. But the assembly and standardization of these individual pieces was hard. Every automation had a huge setup cost.

When the computer revolution occurred, We ended up making a common compute(r) that can process instructions. A generic, standardized, automated process. The biggest advantage was, this digital, precise machine can be connected to analog devices, and can be used to make any machine work, Robots, scanners, etc. The generic nature of this machine allowed it to raise the efficiency bar, (already raised by the industrial revolution). Then Moore’s law came into action. We will see the power of computation double every 2 year, with decrease in costs. A comparison made by many was that had such a revolution occurred in transport industry, we would all be using personal jet ski’s for travel now.

Anyway, even though a single assembly line (or computational core) can process a lot of stuff, the speed of other components didn’t increased as fast as the speed of processing increased.
So a lot of time was getting wasted in waiting for these smaller components, like accessing data from a memory storage, or accessing information from some other server. Seeing this wastage of precious computation resource, the same line could be used for other process, while waiting for this outside interaction to complete, Threads were introduced. Each thread is an assembly line, passing through the same processor, and whenever some one is waiting for a slower component to complete, the next thread gets a chance to use to processor, increasing the overall efficiency of the processor.

Hence the name Multi-Threading, processing multiple threads at the same time. Now even though these threads were doing potentially different work, their overall goals were related, and they were dependent on each other to complete some requirement for them. This led to another great concept of Thread synchronization. This allowed these threads (or assembly lines) to take a hard dependency on another thread to complete its job. Say I need to get information from another server, before I can proceed using the information.
The thread synchronization was achieved using what we call locks. One thread takes a lock of a marker, saying I am using this marker. The other thread waits till the marker is released by that thread, signalling the second thread that the first thread has finished processing. If the locks had been taken for minutes, it would have been easier for the marker to inform the second thread. However if the lock was taken for sub seconds, the locks time would be wasted more by informing, rather the second thread can keep asking if the lock is free now.

This is called spin locking. The next question is of the interval of asking. How much to wait before you ask again. If the interval is small, (sub- seconds), and the lock is processing a task for minutes, a lot of processing will be wasted. The thread will be waiting for the information and keep asking without doing anything else. A lot of useful time will be wasted. If the interval is large, say multiple seconds, and the lock is processing a task for sub-second, there would be unnecessary penalty for using locks.

The scientists agreed on the exponential growth model. the thread should keep doubling its interval of waiting. So it starts with 1ms, 2ms, 4ms, 8ms, and so on. This provides a balance between waiting and not disturbing.

This whole process was generic, and completely dependent on the program that uses it. So the question comes on optimization. How smaller can you break the tasks, so that they remain efficient, and the interaction cost is not more than the improvement obtained by splitting the task. As each task was split to smaller tasks, the thread processing it can be optimized for its specific task, and made the task efficient and exact.

So here is the final comparison.
If a single person works to complete the assembly line, it is going to take time, and its going to be unique. It will be called a unique art.
If a lot of persons contribution goes into the assembly of the common work, each working on independent tasks efficiently, and similarly, It will be called a generic product.

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My old watch

I was sitting in a conference room in a meeting one day, when someone asked how much time was left, and people started looking, some looked into their laptop screens at the bottom right corner, others took out their mobile phones to check the time, some other were searching for the LED displayed somewhere near the door of our room the time. I simply glanced at my hand and was able to tell the time.

Yes, I was wearing a wrist watch, a pretty old looking, rugged, slightly rusted wrist watch. One of them commented “how old school are you to be still wearing that. At least tell me it is battery powered.” And the group smiled,

There was a time when the biggest marvel of the world was a watch. a mechanical watch, that was functioning purely using energy stored in a spring. Yes, it seems to be a stretch today, how much energy can be stored in a spring, well apparently the one needed to run a watch, for a very long time. My own first watch was mechanical, I needed to wind it up every day, and the watch ran for a whole day.

Some of the most intelligent people of the generation were watch makers, Just open up a mechanical watch and see all the intricate fine design, and do know that these designs were not created on some fancy computer software, these were made on paper. The watches existed before the industrial revolution, so each tiny piece of the watch was created and assembled by direct human labor. There were innovations in the watch, so that some watches function without a spring, but by movement of wearer’s hand. If he walked with moving hands, the spring got wound automatically. etc..

The watch that was tied around my hand was a representation of contribution of some extremely smart people around the world, who came together to build something so incredible, that even today if you try to design one from scratch you can see how hard it would have been. It was a representation of how so many small pieces of metal that were nearly useless separately come  together to run something so effectively and accurately that people can rely on them almost blindly. And if small parts become faulty, worn out, the other parts supported the functioning, so that the watch never stop. But if any small part broke or was removed, some critical function of the watch will stop functioning indefinitely, until the part is replaced.

Even today, some extremely smart friends of my father are watch makers of watch repairmen. They don’t earn the most handsome salaries around the town, nor are they involved in the political and social movements occurring in the town. But they knew their role, as a watch maker, as insignificant as they might seem, without them the society will cease to do some of its most important functions. Everyone had their place in the society.

As the science progressed, we removed the spring and used a battery powered watch, then the dials were removed and we replaced it with a digital display, and so many intricate small components were replaced by a handful of bigger components. These components were standardized, so they became easy to replace, easy to understand, and no longer had the requirement for them to be designed and made together, specially for each other, and the watch repairmen were not needed to be so smart anymore.

I am not complaining because the glory and need for intellectuals have reduced, but the small piece of history tied to my hand tells me the marvels that were achieved, and slowly and slowly how standardization is removing the glory of the craft.

 

 

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