Dear Facebook,

The motivation for me writing this blog post comes from this article which I just read. In it, a former Vice President of Facebook, Chamath Palihapitiya, speaks about Facebook and social media in general in the following way:

“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” he said, referring to online interactions driven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”

The Facebook company’s response can be found in this article, and the reply specifically reads as:

Chamath has not been at Facebook for over six years. When Chamath was at Facebook we were focused on building new social media experiences and growing Facebook around the world. Facebook was a very different company back then and as we have grown we have realized how our responsibilities have grown too. We take our role very seriously and we are working hard to improve. We’ve done a lot of work and research with outside experts and academics to understand the effects of our service on well-being, and we’re using it to inform our product development. We are also making significant investments more in people, technology, and processes, and — as Mark Zuckerberg said on the last earnings call — we are willing to reduce our profitability to make sure the right investments are made.

The above reply has struck me as being very generic and detached. If you look at the sentence “We take our role very seriously and we are working hard to improve”, and place it on the scale of just-saying-something-for-the-heck-of-it-without-really-meaning-it, it ranks right up there with phrases such as “Hey what’s up” and “Have a good day”. In other words, Facebook’s reply is bare, it doesn’t really touch any of Chamath’s concerns and the issues he raised. Thinking about the overall exchange, I realized that Chamath is trying to address issues like reduced attention spans, less connection on an emotional level with fellow humans, and lack of perseverance in difficult situations. I don’t know about my readers, but I find myself experiencing these issues quite a lot and I do feel that the prevalence of social media bears a connection to them. And yet, I don’t feel like deleting my Facebook account because it is a great way to plan events and, more importantly, stay in touch with close friends whom I don’t get to see any more. So I decided to suggest some features which I hope will make the Facebook experience more enjoyable and help people deal with the aforementioned issues.

A post rating system

dislikeThis can be done in several ways such as IMdB style 1-10 or Netflix style 1-5 stars. It could even be a slider or a small feedback box. Or, for those really lazy, it could just be a simple Dislike button. The basic idea is that if I don’t like someone’s Facebook post, I should be able to point that out. Pointing out that the post made me angry or sad – features which Facebook already provides – is not what I am looking for. I could be sad at someone posting a link of a disaster killing several people, but that doesn’t mean that I think the person posting it has done a poor job. No, emojis are not what I am looking for. What I would really love to see is a way to tell a poster “Hey, I don’t like what you posted. It’s banal. Stupid. Too attention-seeking. The sole purpose of it is image-crafting. It’s boring to everyone except your inner circle, so kindly don’t share it outside of that,” and so on. A way to tell a person that their post sucks.

A news feed which shows me posts from people and pages whom I have liked in the past, not posts which have a lot of likes from others

For example, if I have a friend X whose past 5 posts have all been liked by me, Facebook should fill my news feed with posts from X. If X hasn’t posted something in a while, my news feed should show posts from pages I like. This could be combined with the rating feature so that I only get to see posts from entities whom I have rated higher than some threshold in the past. And if my entities of interest haven’t been posting anything, my news feed would show nothing.blank news feed It will be blank, which signifies that there isn’t anything on Facebook right now which might potentially interest me.

The point I am making here is quality over quantity. I’d rather see good stuff than see posts which have 100+ likes from people whom I honestly don’t care about (such as people who account for 80% of my friend list). One of the primary reasons I scroll through my news feed is to find good articles on topics which I love to read about. If there isn’t anything like that, then Facebook should show me an empty news feed and indirectly encourage me to log out and try to find good articles on other websites.

A message which says “Are you really sure you want to post this, and share it publicly?” every time anyone tries to post anything.

How many times has it happened that you have deleted something by mistake and thanked the Recycle Bin’s Restore option? Or said something abruptly and later had to apologize? Or needed to press Ctrl+Z? Yes, it happens. Why do we get into such situations? Because as humans, we are not perfect. We make mistakes. Some mistakes cannot be undone and we spend time regretting. But a lot of mistakes and stupid actions can be prevented if they are more difficult to do. As a simple example, knives are kept out of reach of children since that makes it difficult for them to commit the mistake of injuring someone with a knife.

When you put something out there on Facebook, you are releasing it to the world. You are presenting something for others to see. Face it, you are. If you really didn’t care about what other people think, you wouldn’t post something on Facebook in the first place. The fact that you are doing it means that impressing others is important to you. Now think about this. When you go out in public, you spend some time dressing up and thinking about the way you look. When you write a paper, you try to do it correctly and eliminate mistakes. If you have to give a public speech, you spend some time in preparation. All these are examples of where you present yourself to the world, so you care about doing a good job. Why should posting on Facebook be any different? If you really want to share something online and make it public, you should try to do a good job. A simple message from Facebook just before you hit the ‘Post’ button will make you reconsider and perhaps polish the post to make it more appealing. Or perhaps make you think “Hey, I don’t really need to let the whole world that I joined a new gym, just sharing it with my 10 close friends should be fine,” or “Hey, it’s my wife’s birthday. Do I really need to state what she means to me via Facebook? Instead, let me just break it to her in person followed by a kiss (A real one, not an emoji)”. That’s what I am looking for. No, not a kiss. A checking mechanism so that your Facebook posts end up having more quality and meaning to the people you share them with.

are you sure

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, I like the concept of Facebook. It lets people connect. But it has the potential to make people connect more meaningfully. It hires some of the best brains in the world. Surely these brains are capable of critical thinking.

This post was inspired by this awesome post from WaitBuyWhy. And if you like my writing, check out this other article I wrote regarding social media.

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Some Math behind Shooting in Football

Ever wondered what it is exactly that football (soccer) coaches do? It has to be a bit more than telling a player like Lionel Messi to give 100% into every game. While a quintessential component of being a manager is to motivate the team and give pep talks, that accounts for only a small piece of the puzzle in the modern game. Football is won or lost in strategies, not emotions. Dry and unfeeling as it may sound, it is what has allowed great tacticians and data analysts to become great managers. Strategies are underpinned in math. That’s why you see all those stats before every game, it’s not simply to show you which team is better, but also to tell you how the game might progress and where the goals are going to come from. In this article, I will talk about some (really simple) math regarding angles which a player deals with when trying to score a goal.

I will use length and vertical distance for the longer dimension of a football pitch (which has goals at the ends), and width and horizontal distance for the shorter dimension. Most football stadia have a playing area which is 105m long and 68m wide, while the goals are 7.32m wide. Common sense suggests that it is easier to score goals when you are near the center of the goal in terms of width and close to it in terms of length. But that’s not the full story. Wherever a player is on a football pitch, he has 2 checkpoints to aim at — the 2 side posts of the opponent’s goal. The difference in angles from his position to the 2 posts is the angle he has to score a goal. The bigger this angle is, the better are his chances of scoring. Check out the image below. For points near the center of goal such as A and B, it is easier to score the closer you are to goal. But for wide points, the angle decreases as the player moves closer, which makes it harder to score from C than D. These opposing trends must intersect somewhere!

angles

So I went ahead and annotated angles from different points on a football field in the next figure. The white dotted lines represent different horizontal and vertical distances from goal. The numbers are the angles. For example, a player about to take a penalty is at a horizontal distance of 0 from the center of goal, and a vertical distance of 11.5m. This gives him an angle of 37° to play with, which is pretty large. A striker waiting to pounce on a corner at the edge of the goal area (5.5m length) and at the same width as a goal post has a whopping 53 degrees to play with. Of course, the fact that he is jostling with other players and will probably head the ball instead of shooting it makes his life difficult. Football, like life, is a game of many variables, of which the angle of goal is just one.

soccer pitch

Notice how dramatically the angles increase as a player moves horizontally closer to the center of goal while being at a close vertical distance from it. The numbers on the goal area line (5.5m vertical) change from an almost impossible-to-score 2 degrees at the touch-line (34m wide) to an impossible-to-miss 67 degrees at the center. Also notice from the black box that if you are roughly midway horizontally between the goal area and the penalty area, you have the best angle of scoring when you are between 11.5m to 16.5m out long. This means that there is an optimum length at which you should try to shoot if you are somewhere out wide. That’s where the concept of backward crosses comes in. It’s basically trying to increase the angle of scoring by passing to a teammate who is further away from goal, but closer to its center, such as if a player in position C were to pass to position B in my 1st diagram.

I have marked some of the numbers in color. These are:

  • Marco van Basten, of the Dutch Trio of Death fame, scored what has been dubbed as a zero-degree goal in the 1988 European championships final against Russia. The actual angle was, in fact, a bit more than that (look for the orange 11), but it was an outstanding goal nevertheless.
  • Robin van Persie’s memorable headed goal in the last World Cup against Spain is the orange 25. He had a big angle to play with, but, it was a flying header.
  • Diego Forlan scored probably the best goal of the 2010 world cup when he volleyed from the edge of the penalty area in the bronze medal playoff against Germany. That’s the blue 19.
  • Going back another 4 years, Maxi Rodriguez volleyed a wonder goal in extra time against Mexico in the 2006 world cup which was voted by many to be the best in that tournament. Look for the blue 15.
  • Eder’s goal which unexpectedly won last year’s European Championships for Portugal much to the anguish of France is the maroon 17. Notice that he had a bigger angle to play with despite being much farther out than Maxi, but, it’s a goal which a nation will never forget.
  • Remember the Brazil of yesteryear? Remember a baby-faced Ronaldinho humiliating David Seaman in the quarter-finals of the 2002 world cup with a ridiculous free-kick? Ridiculous it was indeed. He had a measly yellow 10 degrees to play with.
  • And the Brazil of yesteryear had another guy, the modern day Marcelo’s father if you will. Roberto Carlos. The match was pretty inconsequential, it was the Confederations Cup 1997. But holy shit, what a free-kick it was. That’s the yellow 13. Still a bit easier than Ronaldinho’s, which was wider out, but the curve on Carlos’s free kick was just crazy.
  • And finally, David Beckham scored a goal from the half-line against Wimbledon way back in 1996. From the half-line. Like yeah, for real. That’s the red 7 on the half line. Check out the goal here.

Here’s a graph plotting angles vs width from center of goal, for 4 different lengths from goal — 5.5m (goal area), 11.5m (penalty spot line), 16.5m (penalty area) and 35m (edge of the final 3rd):

soccer graph

Notice how the graphs are like a programming stack — the higher something begins, the lower it ends. Here’s a simple piece of Python code I wrote to generate the angles. You will need the numpy package. Set the values of length (l) and width (w) from goal and run the code to get the angle.

The results in this blog article should be intuitive to football fans. Being a football fan myself, what I experienced when writing this was not surprise or fascination, it was more of satisfaction at nailing down one of the most important aspects of the game — shooting and scoring goals — to math and understanding exactly how to optimize player positions. It made me (and hopefully you as well) feel like a mini-manager for a while, crunching numbers and teaching players to think and be more intelligent on the pitch rather than wear their hearts on their sleeves.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to leave a like and subscribe to my blog. I am not very regular with updates, so you needn’t be worried about any sort of inbox bombardment :-). Also check out one of my other articles which combines math and football.

Morse code dataset for Artificial Neural Networks

Morse Code

If you already know what Morse code is, feel free to skip to the next section. Morse code is a system of communication devised in the 1830s where each letter, number or symbol in a language is represented using a sequence of dots and dashes. If we take English for example, the Morse code for letter ‘S’ is 3 dots and that for letter ‘O’ is 3 dashes. So if someone wanted to send an SOS message to another someone, s/he could send the Morse sequence ‘… — …’ . morse_sosThe length of the Morse code sequence depends on how common a particular letter is in a language. ‘E’ is a single dot and ‘T’ is a single dash because these are apparently the 2 most frequently occurring letters in English. Here is a useful chart showing the representation of any English character using Morse code. But, how is Morse code useful?

Morse code is very useful in places where voice communication is not possible and the only way to get a message across is by using a device with 2 states. These could be a light which can be ON or OFF, a beeper with 2 tones, or an electrical signal which has 2 voltage levels. If you allow me to quote from Wikipedia, “Compared to voice, Morse code is less sensitive to poor signal conditions, yet still comprehensible to humans without a decoding device. Morse is, therefore, a useful alternative to synthesized speech for sending automated data to skilled listeners on voice channels.” It finds wide usage in navigation.

Artificial Neural Networks

If you already know about the basics of machine learning and neural networks, feel free to skip to the next section. To put it simply, neural networks are a way to make a machine learn a concept and allow it to draw intelligent conclusions from given data, just like a human. If I give an image of a cat to such a network, it would identify the image as a cat. neural_networkThe network is made up of interconnected nodes across which numerical values are transmitted. There are many flavors and techniques to machine learning and one of the most common is classification using supervised networks. In this method, the network is trained to differentiate between different inputs, each of which belongs to 1 out of a finite number of classes. For example, the inputs could be images of handwritten digits as shown alongside, mnistand the network would have to identify what the digit is. In this case, there are 10 classes from 0 – 9. If a network makes a mistake and classifies an image of a ‘2’ as a ‘3’, there is a mathematical function which indicates this and then tries to optimize the network to do better in the future. Think of it as being similar to the way a baby learns to recognize letters. If s/he makes a mistake, it is pointed out and corrected.

An indispensable component in using a supervised network is getting data to train it. The data should have 2 components – samples and labels. Samples are the actual inputs fed to the network such as the images of handwritten digits. Labels are the correct answers for each image. There are various kinds of datasets based on the style of input sample. The most common ones are image datasets where the input is 2-dimensional (2D). Sometimes each image will have a number of features which makes it 3D. For example, a colorful square image of size 32×32 pixels of a cat will have a 3rd dimension which has the values for each color channel – red, green and blue, as shown below. These values indicate the intensity of a particular color at a particular location of the image. So in this case, each input image (i.e. sample) will have a size of 32x32x3.rgb_catMy PhD research involves finding optimal connectivity patterns between the different nodes (or neurons) in a neural network. This requires datasets of different dimensionality. I use 2 very common datasets for 2D and 3D purposes – MNIST and CIFAR10. What is not so common, however, is getting a dataset with 1D input samples. That’s why I decided to create one.

Morse Code – A 1-dimensional dataset for Artificial Neural Networks

Generating the dataset: Input samples for the Morse code dataset are each 64 values wide. All values are in the range 0-16. Lower values indicate the absence of any symbol (i.e. a space), while higher values indicate dots and dashes. The length of a sequence having consecutive high values is used to differentiate between a dot and a dash. A dot can be 1-3 values wide and a dash 4-9. This is accordance with international Morse code regulations where the size or duration a dash is around 3 times that of a dot. The exact length of a dot or a dash is chosen randomly from these ranges. The values are drawn from a normal distribution with mean = 12 and standard deviation = 4/3. The idea is to have the ‘six-sigma’ range (within which 99.7% of the values will lie) from (12-3×4/3)=8 to (12+3×4/3)=16. This ensures that any value making up a dot or a dash will lie on the upper half of possible values, i.e. between 8-16. The space between a dot and a dash can have a length of 1-3 values, all values being exactly 0. There are no spaces before the 1st dot or dash. Any remaining space at the end after all the dots and dashes are complete is filled with 0s. Then, an overall noising effect having mean = 0 and standard deviation = 1 is added to each value in the 64-wide frame. Finally, all values are capped to lie within the range 0-16.

morse_dataset_flow

Example of a single sample: The example above considers the ‘+’ symbol which has a Morse code representation ‘. – . – .’ , i.e. dot dash dot dash dot. Let’s say the random number generator spits out 2, 2 and 1 as the lengths of the dots, 7 and 5 as the lengths of the dashes, and 1, 3, 3, 2 as the lengths of the spaces in between. The total length of the sequence and intermediate spaces is 26 and there are 64-26 = 38 trailing spaces at the end. All the spaces are filled with 0s and all the dots and dashes with numbers in the range 8-16 (mostly). Then noise is added and all values are chopped off from the top or the bottom to be in the range 0-16. Note that any of these numbers can be fractional (I have not shown decimal points in the diagram due to space constraints). The final vector of 64 values is the input sample which denotes a ‘+’ .

Other details: I chose a total of 64 classes – the 26 letters A-Z, the 10 numerals 0-9 and various other special characters and symbols. The encoding is one-hot, which means that there are 64 network outputs and exactly 1 of them will activate for every different class. There are a total of 448,000 samples – 7000 for each of the 64 labels. My rationale behind picking this number was to use 5000 samples of each label for training the network, 1000 of each for validation (i.e. checking to see how good the network is doing while training) and 1000 of each for the final test where we evaluate how well the network has been trained.

Possible variations: There are a number of different ways in which the dataset can be altered, such as:

  • Making a dash 3-9 values wide instead of 4-9. This means that a symbol 3 values wide can be either a dot or a dash.
  • Including leading spaces as well as trailing spaces. Taking the previous example, the 38 unused values in the frame will be randomly distributed between both leading and trailing spaces, such as 21 leading and 17 trailing. This makes the network much harder to train.
  • Increasing the standard deviation of the additive noise to >2 so that spaces can masquerade as dots and dashes, and vice-versa.
  • Dilating the whole dataset to increase the input sample size. This would increase the difference between different samples (see the section ‘Why this dataset?’ for a better explanation) and make the network easier to train.

Old version: For completion, I am including a description of the black and white (BW) Morse dataset which I had played around with previously. Here, the lengths of dots, dashes and spaces remain the same. However, values can only be 0 or 1, the former signifying spaces and the latter dots and dashes. Noise was added in the form of flips, i.e. a certain number of randomly chosen values would change from 0->1 and 1->0 at the end. To distinguish the current values of 0-16 from BW, the Python code I wrote refers to the current work as ‘GRAY’ for grayscale.

Why this dataset?

If you have read up till this point, you are probably wondering ‘Ok, this is a 1D dataset. But why use it?’ One primary reason is that this is a hard dataset to train on. The difference between the input samples for different labels is small. Think of the numbers 5 and 4, which have Morse representations ‘. . . . .’ and ‘. . . . -‘ respectively. Consider a case where all the dots are 3 wide of value 12, all dashes are 4 wide of value 12 and all spaces are 1 wide of value 0. Then the input sample for a ‘5’ before adding noise could be [12,12,12,0,12,12,12,0,12,12,12,0,12,12,12,0,12,12,12,0,0,0,…], the ending values being all 0. The input sample for a ‘4’ before adding noise could be [12,12,12,0,12,12,12,0,12,12,12,0,12,12,12,0,12,12,12,12,0,0,0,…], the ending values again being all 0 as usual. Notice any difference? Yes, there is an extra 12 just before the trailing 0s start for the ‘4’. Of course these exact patterns would be almost an impossibility due to noise and the random nature of generation, but it serves to highlight just how close the representations for 2 different labels can be in this dataset. This means that each individual input node becomes extremely important in training the network. On the other hand, the handwritten digit images for the MNIST dataset use inputs of size 28×28 = 784 nodes wide and there are just 10 output classes. This means that the values are much more distinguishable. This is also evidenced by common sense – it’s not so easy to confuse a picture of a ‘5’ for a picture of a ‘4’ as it is to confuse ‘. . . . .’ with ‘. . . . -‘ .

This becomes particularly challenging if you are working on network simplifying techniques such as dropout or pre-defined sparsity [1], [2], [3], which is my area of research. My results indicate that the classification performance for MNIST and CIFAR degrades only when the vast majority of connections are deleted whereas similar degradations occur at much higher connection densities for the Morse code data set. I do have quantitative data to back up these statements, but bear with me for not revealing those right now since I am writing some conference papers on the results. Stay tuned for updates!

Code Availability and Citing

The code is open-source and available on Github. If you decide to use this dataset, please cite this webpage. My work on pre-defined sparsity can be found here:

[1] S. Dey, Y. Shao, K. M. Chugg, and P. A. Beerel, “Accelerating training of deep neural networks via sparse edge processing,” in Proceedings of the 26th International Conference on Artificial Neural Networks (ICANN). Springer, 2017, pp 273-280.

[2] S. Dey, K.-W. Huang, P. A. Beerel, and K. M. Chugg, “Characterizing sparse connectivity patterns in neural networks,” in Proceedings of Information Theory and Applications Workshop (ITA), 2018.

[3] S. Dey, P. A. Beerel, and K. M. Chugg, “Interleaver design for deep neural networks,” in Proceedings of the 51st Asilomar Conference on Signals, Systems and Computers. IEEE, 2017.

 

How Italy enchanted (and irritated) me

Italia. The foot sticking out in the Mediterranean. The cradle of Western civilization, or so they say. The effing Pope’s home ground1. A place I had the privilege of visiting to attend a conference recently. This article is about what an Americanized Indian felt while being in Italy, which is a bit of both America and India. Italian people are somewhere in between the cold professionalism and superficial pleasantries which are typical of Americans, and the disorganized habits and warm poke-your-nose-in-everything attitude of Indians. Let me explain by first painting a picture of America.

us road sign

US road signs are quite detailed

When I first came to the US, the thing which struck me was how polite Americans were. They smile at you and are helpful. Things run smoothly and efficiently. There is proper procedure and a defined system for everything. Being an outsider in the US is completely  hassle-free because the whole country is designed for people to exhibit their individuality and do their own thing. Signs are detailed and in English, which is pretty much the accepted world language. You have no trouble doing something new or figuring something out. Supermarkets have aisles dedicated to breakfast cereal. Google Maps tells you exactly which lane to be on in the freeway to get to your destination. In short, life’s easy. You don’t need to be born in the country or know all about it to start living in it. Nobody stares or laughs at you if you do something wrong or mess things up. It all goes down as “It’s ok man, don’t worry. How can I help you?” and so on.

India, on the other hand, requires you to know stuff to do stuff. You need to know that simply standing in line will never get you to the ticket counter, you need to push and jostle your way through. Cars won’t stop and allow you to make a right, you have to seize the moment and blast your horn to avoid an accident. You don’t get a choice of breakfast cereal, you pretty much hop down to the street corner and buy Kellogg’s Chocos. People don’t smile and greet you in the street, some of them downright glare at you if you come in their way. In short, India’s tough.

But…

But my American friends, listen up. You guys are way too professional. Way too cold. You think only about your own lives and let the rest of the world go to hell. You are superficially nice and charming and you shave and wax2 every day, but you lack warmth and an intrinsic feeling of caring for others. And it’s not that I’m pointing fingers and going you Americans are cold and heartless. Nope. I’m getting there as well. Individuality and leading your own life is so addictive, I find myself caring less and less and becoming more superficial and professional with every passing day. And that’s why Italy enchanted me. It felt like a throwback to India. A return to the happy chaos and noise and warmth of India. I never knew when to cross the street in Rome since neither traffic nor pedestrians ever stopped moving. People would wave their hands like traffic policemen and ask cars to stop as they crossed the street. I eventually worked out a scheme where I would wait at the sidewalk for some Italians to arrive and cross the street and I would tag along. It was the only way I found of avoiding death.

parking

Cars parked in Rome

Italian drivers don’t honk, which is great, but that doesn’t mean that traffic is orderly. I am so glad I shelved my plans of driving in Italy, parking alone would have given me sleepless nights. And then there was the case when I was sitting inside an Uber stuck in traffic when I noticed several motorbikes speeding along in the same direction down the adjacent lane which had no cars. So I asked my driver, “What is that lane for?”
“That’s for traffic in the other direction.”
Not wanting to look stupid, I asked him, “Why are there motorbikes going in our direction down that lane?”
“Oh don’t worry”, he said with a smile, “that is how we drive in Italy.”
Of course. I am from India. How did I not realize that there would be other parts of the world where it’s quite acceptable to be in the wrong lane? The whole world’s not LA.

I really liked the few conversations I had with Italians, whether they be Uber drivers or hotel managers or tour guides or restaurant workers. There was always a sense of connecting to me when they talked, as if they wanted to reach out and understand me as a person despite the language barrier, which was crippling at times. One hotel manager had to use Google translate on his phone to understand that I wanted a taxi to the airport at 3am.

IMG_20170912_210923

Traditional Sardinian lamb stew

When I went to a Sardinian restaurant, the waitress got visibly agitated when I started having food in the wrong custom. She had placed a basket of bread in front of me and, hungry as I was, I had started to eat it. I mean it’s bread, what else would you do with it? Well, it turned out that most of the bread was for show and you were only supposed to have a bit of it with the rest of the meal when it came. When she eventually brought me the other dishes (which were very flavorful by the way), she explained Sardinian cuisine passionately and gave me a pat on the back as if to say “There son, now do you understand how to eat?” It was so different from American waitresses who never cease to have the same smile plastered on their faces and care two hoots about the way you eat.

The conference was in a university in Alghero, which is a quaint little town on the west coast of Sardinia – an island west of the Italian mainland. It is truly a place for relaxation. The university is right next to the coast, which is serenely beautiful. Some of the conference attendees would wander off to sit alone next to the coast and stay there for long periods of time, as if the only thing they wanted was to walk the rainbow bridge from the world of academics and work to the glorious sunset on the horizon.

Rome was next on my list after the conference ended. There was the usual amazing stuff which makes Rome famous – Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, the Colosseum, the Pantheon and Trevi fountain. But the city itself is just so grand. Normal buildings like the Supreme court would be tourist attractions had they been anywhere else in the world. I mean, just look at this:

rome supreme court

A place for justice or a budding wonder of the world?

Strolling through the streets of Rome is like being in a different timeline and a different world altogether, one with uber-elevated standards for grandeur. I honestly got bored after a while, everything was just so intricate and beautiful. It’s like when you’re in Manhattan – the first few minutes feel amazing and then you just grow so tired of the tall buildings that when you see a 50-storeyed building, it’s like seeing a McDonald’s in any major US city. Speaking of McDonald’s, they are ubiquitous in Rome and, for some reason, are very well demarcated. So well that I actually thought the big M stood for metro because there’s one every couple of streets. And then there’s this McDonald’s right beside the Spanish Steps which is the oldest and suffers from albinism:

IMG_20170916_155048

White McDonald’s sign

But the highlight for me was getting to see Julius Caesar’s grave and the Roman forum, where Mark Antony gave that speech. Yes, that one which my entire batch studied for our secondary examinations. That one which is a favorite in elocution competitions. Here they are:

Rome definitely has plenty to offer and is worth multiple visits. But seeing my English textbooks come to life totally made my day. Imagine those commoners standing in the Roman forum while Antony went on and on in front of Caesar’s dead body, each word of his a nail in the conspirators’ coffins. This is where it all happened. Chilling realizations. Unfortunately the exact place where Caesar was murdered isn’t really a special place now and is not on any tours. That would have completed the experience.

My final stop was Venice. You probably know all about Venice. It is the city where canals are streets, a magical place for romance and enchantment, a city like no other in the world. All that is true. Unfortunately it is also a city where living sucks. You wouldn’t want to be a Venetian, trust me. There is no public transport. Want to get from point A to point B? Walk. Walk through some of the narrowest streets you’ll ever find. Don’t want to walk? Get your own boat. Can you park it? What if the only parking you find is on a side which can only be accessed through water? Such things happen in Venice.

When the time finally came for me to head back to LA, I found that I was really looking forward to returning. Don’t get me wrong, Italy is absolutely amazing. The Sardinian coast is beautiful and is truly a place to leave the world behind and seek enlightenment. Rome is a mesmerizing mix of the Roman empire around the 2nd century, the Renaissance around the 16th and present day. Venice is one of a kind. The fact that such a city can actually exist is enough to drive me crazy. It’s like if Hogwarts existed for real with flesh-and-blood wizards and witches strolling through it. And I didn’t even get a chance to visit Florence and the italicized tower in Pisa, let alone places like Milan, Naples and the Amalfi coast, all of which are must-dos for tourists. But despite all the beauty, there is something to be said for the cold efficiency of the US. Life is just better here. You can drive without worrying about killing someone or getting killed. And you can drive cars, not boats. Ambulances can go at 90 mph if need be, not the maximum of 20 kmph like in Venice. People maintain order and you can be yourself. I think I now understand why people travel. Traveling itself brings experiences, not necessarily pure pleasure. Some of the experiences can be weird and taxing. But the pleasure which comes from returning home, back to the comfort and familiarity of the place you know and understand and speak the language of, never underrate that pleasure. Returning is one of the unspoken joys of traveling. Italy may be marvelous, but it’s not LA.

spencer

My building in LA

1Yes I know the Vatican isn’t technically in Italy, but a guinea pig isn’t technically a pig and it doesn’t come from Guinea. Let it go.
2Why men wax off the hair on their chest is still a mystery to me.

 

Doctoral Realizations – II

An edited version of this article was published on the USC Electrical Engineering website. Read it here. What follows is the original, unedited version.

On a bright and uncomfortably hot summer day a couple of years back, I had sat at my office and hammered away at my keyboard trying to make sense of all that I had experienced during the 1 year of my PhD journey completed thus far. This was the result. 2 years later, on another hot and uncomfortable summer day (which explains why I don’t feel like doing research at 10am on a Monday morning), I am writing this article to go deeper on what a PhD journey is like. Some of my perceptions have changed and new things have come to light. So here goes.

First up, the notion that PhD students are very busy and overworked with little time to live life is a myth. A myth born from the general tendency of PhD students to stay cooped up in their offices and complete simulation after simulation without apparently coming to any meaningful conclusion. A myth kept alive by some advisors so that their students don’t get swayed by the bigger picture that life is meant to be ‘enjoyed’ and instead continue slogging day in and day out at their working desks. Let me dispel this notion. In reality, PhD students have way more time, freedom and resources on their hands than most other people around them. One of the reasons behind this is that we get paid well. Not ‘well’ as in ‘handsomely well’, but as in ‘well enough’ to satisfy the wants of life and then some. I should clarify here that I’m talking about people like me who only have to support themselves. There are cases where a PhD student might have to support a spouse and kids on a doctoral stipend alone, and that requires quite a bit of belt-tightening (not just idiomatically but also literally since families mostly resort to home-cooked food and make it much harder for themselves to fall into the grips of obesity). However, from what I have observed, the majority of PhD students just use their stipends to support themselves. Although this does not allow them to live like kings by any stretch of imagination, it allows them to not fall into any hardships, live comfortably and spend bucks on following their interests, be it driving around town, binge-watching on Netflix, going to basketball matches or buying video games.

Apart from financial stability, PhD students have considerable freedom in terms of when they work, flexibility in terms of how they work, and excitement in terms of what they work on. Let’s look at the ‘when’ first. We don’t have shifts. We don’t have times when we are required to be in office. Heck, we don’t even have to clock a certain number of hours each week. Officially yes, we do have to, but unofficially, every PhD student knows that work is done in spurts of high intensity instead of a regular and sustained effort. If I want, I can disappear from office for a week and nobody would ask questions. And I can just as well stay in the lab the whole night because a problem is really damn interesting and nobody would roll their eyes at how diligent I am. That’s just how PhD students work. Hours are a formality since half the time you don’t know if something is going to work or not and it’s pointless spending a certain fixed amount of time on it. On the other hand, when something does work, it captures your attention to such an extent that you upset your diurnal cycle completely, fail to notice the path of the sun and blend night and day seamlessly as you sit red-eyed in front of your computer and notice that the data is quadratic and not linear as expected. Now if you’re feeling skeptical and would rather shy away from an unpredictable life such as this, I totally understand. Even I find myself wishing most of the time that I could go to sleep at 11 and wake up at 6 every day, have a hearty breakfast, exercise, and lead a healthy and regular life. But, I would never accept that over the excitement of fixing a bug at midnight on a Friday, then working on it over the whole weekend, getting the final results on Monday morning, then celebrating by not going to office on Tuesday and Wednesday. Can you, who has a regular job, afford to do that?

That was the ‘when’, now let’s turn to ‘how’ we work. There are no precedents or playbooks when it comes to a PhD. There’s no existing method of doing something. There’s no training new recruits in the way things are ‘generally’ done. Standard protocol is non-existent. You do things your way. If things don’t work out, well hey, that’s research. Things are not supposed to work out most of the time. If they are, then what you’re doing is dull and you should move on. A professor of mine once said ‘Engineering is all about complications. If there were no complications, we wouldn’t train you to be engineers in college because any high schooler can follow instructions and do things in a certain way’. She got that right, except that it applies more to doing a PhD than to engineering in general. Most engineering jobs are about following procedure and getting things done. But not a PhD. The entirety of a PhD is filled with complications, which is why there’s no ‘this is how you do this’, instead it’s always ‘how are you going to do this?’ While that makes life difficult a lot of the time, it also keeps it fresh and entertaining. Getting stuck on something and trying to wade through and figure it out is quite interesting. There is no penalty for failing, but there are handsome rewards in the form of publications on succeeding.

As for the ‘what’ we work on, it’s always exciting. In my previous article, I argued that what you do during your PhD is more of exploration than actually discovering something new. That is true. But guess what, that doesn’t suck. Initially I didn’t think much of exploration, but I have actually begun to love it now. It’s like going on a hike and following a different trail. It might lead to a dead end, but hey, you were the one who discovered the dead end. You are original, a trailblazer. A trailblazer who discovered something useless and eliminated it from the consideration of future generations. That’s extremely useful. To understand this, imagine that you’re trying to find a good movie to watch on Netflix. Now suppose an angel appeared, cleared all the advertisements and recommendations and pointed you to the one movie which you would absolutely love. Wouldn’t you hug that angel and thank her for her service? In general, such angels don’t exist. That’s because most professional people work on furthering their company’s interests. Google wants to sell its Pixel and markets it as being great. So does Apple. So does Samsung. And so does HTC. And so will others in the generations to come. But PhD students don’t so that. We clear the path for you. We explore all the models and tell you that the Pixel is the best. What do we get from doing this exploration? Being pioneers. Pioneers in recognizing that something isn’t going to work and eliminating it from consideration. Why do we love doing it? Because hey, we discovered something. We were the first. We got the thing in its pristine condition, while what you get has already been ratified by us.

Finally, I would like to share something which the above paragraphs serve to somewhat explain the reasons behind. I want to stay in academia. This is contrary to what I stated in my previous article. I did this about turn because I realized that I’m not a people’s person. I’m not a good team player. I would not enjoy fitting in and acquiescing to a ‘that’s your job Sourya’ from my boss. I would like to walk on untrod paths by doing my own research and having my own thing going. Even if that means following a lot of dead trails. The sense of recognizing dead trails, separating them from alive ones, and eventually imparting that knowledge to people of tomorrow is something that satisfies me. In common terms, this act is known as teaching. Teaching is fun. I’m the boss. And yet I’m not bossing anyone. I’m not paying people to do as I tell them to and follow company protocol. People are paying me to learn what I know. That feels good.

Just felt like Writing

A common problem among people today is the lack of adequate time on their hands. Be it studies or work or socializing or cooking, we are constantly pressed for time and find ourselves wishing we had that extra hour or two every day to make up on sleep, get a bit of extra work done, or watch one more episode of TV. But what if I had too much time on my hands? What if I had so much time that I didn’t know what to do with it? Let me tell you.

I live alone. Alone. Just me, with my laptop, Playstation 4, TV, high speed internet, state-of-the-art cellphone and Kindle e-reader. There isn’t a single human I really care about in LA, or, for that matter, in the whole of the western hemisphere. Yes, I have acquaintances, tons of them. Casual friends worth talking to for a few minutes, work colleagues and an advisor worth bouncing ideas off of, students whom I teach and who constantly reach out with emails, and so on. And I have family a few thousand miles away, across the Pacific and Japan and China. I do care about them, but I only have a passive interest in their lives. After all, I am not with them, neither can I be with them in anything short of one and a half days. So why bother? Which brings me back to my main point – there isn’t a single human I really care about around me right now. Now before I start sounding a sad pigeon, let me tell you this. I bloody well enjoy it! Oooh, I do. Yup, I feel like I’m in the best phase of my life right now. I have zero social obligations to fulfill. I can wake up at 1 pm on a Sunday, heat the dinner I made the previous night on the same plate I used, strut around the house naked (not that I do, but I can), blast porn at high volume on a 32 inch TV, and, for what it’s worth, spend a few hundred bucks on a bigger TV if I want because I earn more than enough to support myself. So yeah, I’m happy. Or am I?

Now don’t get me wrong after reading the dubitable way in which I finished the last paragraph. I sort of gave the impression that I could be happier. Yup, true. We can all be happier. Or, as some people would say, we can all be “more happier”. But let’s get to the point. Why do I sometimes feel frustrated? It’s because I have too much time on my hands. More than enough to do all the things I need to do. More than enough to get my daily dose of minimum recreation. I have enough time on my hands to make myself think of doing something creative. Like writing this article. Or learning how to code in Tcl. Or cook a fabulous new dish. Or meditate and find the secret to living, or whatever those spiritual classes will have you believe. But I don’t, in general, do these things. I spend my time listening to the same old songs over and over, watching an ostensibly stupid TV show while gorging on pizza, and paying for porn sites. Why? Because I fucking can. Because I am the master of my own wonderful life. Then why am I frustrated?

It’s because I get this feeling that I should be more creative. It’s like there’s this ball of pent-up creativity within me which needs to be unleashed, and order created from chaos. I watched this wonderful video which said that all matter is essentially made up of the same stuff – quarks, bosons, and similar small shit. But what makes life ‘life’? It’s the order created from the chaotic mess of these particles. However be it that humans came into being (no, God did not create us, religious people can believe the jackshit they want), we are ultimately an orderly mass of the fundamental particles. And all creation by humans is making order from chaos. What is a song? Making order from harmonic chaos. A movie? Order from visual and auditory chaos that follows a script, fleshes out characters in a certain way and has a definite chain of events taking place. A computer program? Order from a mass of individual computer characters. A sensible, purposeful coming together of ‘if then for while do switch int var’. That’s what happens in life. We create order from chaos. And that’s what I feel I should be doing more of in all the time I have on my hands. Like writing this article. It may be developing in a fairly nonsensical way and I may have been offensive in certain places, but hey, being offensive is also creating a certain type of order. Like when a boxer lands a well placed punch.

So let’s come back to the point. Why do I have so much time on my hands in the first place? No social obligations baby. You got it. Trust me, just try living on your own and cutting yourself off from your ‘friends’. Just fill your life with yourself. You’ll see how much extra time you have. Ostensibly I am really busy. Research, teaching, taking courses of my own, cooking, taking care of my bills, and so on. But that still leaves me with a ton of time on my hands. And the saddest part of the story is, despite feeling the urge to get really creative sometimes, I don’t. Usually that urge comes after a lot of time spent in being non-creative, which basically implies being lazy and not focusing on something. I find myself starting books and not finishing them. Starting movies and leaving them because I got bored 20 minutes in. There’s this constant need for something that captures my attention.

Obviously this is not good. But, what is ‘good?’ What’s the end goal of life? Is there an end goal? I don’t believe so. Life’s about being happy every moment. And trying to find that happiness is a task in itself. More often that not, there’s only one alternative. Like when a group of friends ask you to accompany them for a movie. You do that without thinking of alternatives, and try to make yourself happy while watching the movie. In other words, it’s you adjusting to life and trying to find happiness given a particular situation. But what if, like me, you were given the opportunity to pick the activity that made you happy? What if life were to adjust to you instead of the other way round? What if you had the power? With great power, supposedly, comes great responsibility. Except that here, your only responsibility is to yourself – it is to make yourself happy. Paradoxically, it’s not even a responsibility since if you think of it that way, you won’t be happy any more. No one likes responsibilities. Those are burdens. But yet, acting in a responsible way to make yourself happy, such as learning to code in Tcl and getting better results in research, is rewarding because it lifts the burden of uncertainty regarding your career from your shoulders and makes you more happy. So by taking on the burden, you have made it lighter. Which begs the question, why take on the burden at all?

To answer this seemingly confusing question, let me give an analogy. Think of modern society. Think of the way credit cards and bank loans and paying in installments and all that money shit works. Isn’t it a huge burden to understand all that? Wouldn’t it have been simpler to just pay for everything in liquid cash (side note: I really like the term liquid cash, it conjures up an image of boiling cash and getting a massive jar of green fluid which can buy anything in the world) and not having to worry about investing money for the future, or stocks and bonds, or shares and mortgages, and blah blah blah? Yes and no. Humans made things more complicated for themselves to make their overall lives better and less complicated. It’s like when your banker says “Don’t worry Sir, I am here to help you and make your life easy”, and you feel like saying “If life, overall, was easier and there were no banks, I wouldn’t need you to make my life, which you complicated in the first place, easy.” See, taking on burdens to ostensibly reduce burdens. Where does it end? And yet, going back to the Stone Age (or even going back to Kolkata and leading a simpler life with my family) doesn’t feel like an option to me. I am here in LA living the solo life where I’m completely my own master. And yet, sometimes, for a few fleeting moments everyday, it might have been better to have someone else in control. Maybe that’s why the concept of female dominatrixes became popular. Maybe that’s why God became popular. People like to attach importance to certain stuff so that they have things to do and think about, like going to church and hanging out with friends. It controls their lives and occupies them. But hey, maybe being controlled is what makes them happy. Maybe that’s how humans were meant to be – marionettes. Alistair Maclean’s ‘Puppet on a Chain’ comes to mind. Are we all puppets, or can we ever hold the strings from which we ourselves are suspended, have the power to wield them, and do so happily with the knowledge that things are still ‘good’. But then, what is good and bad?

Kolkata

Scrolling through the News Feed on Facebook, I found a video of Pokemon Season 1’s theme song rendered by the same guy who first sang it 20 years back. This was after midnight and I was trying to get back to sleep after being awakened by my cellphone ringing, but seeing this video set my heart beating. It sent my pulse racing, adrenaline flowing, hormones crazy and caused practically every biological event associated with nostalgic excitement. Suddenly I was transported back 13 years to class 6, waking up in the morning to “I’ll be the very best, that no one ever was… Ta ta ta ta… To catch them is my real test, to train them is my cause”. It is incredible how a mere cartoon had assumed such larger than life importance. However, this article is not about Pokemon. It is about the place where I used to stay when all this was happening. The place where I grew up, went to school, made the best friends, and then left more than 6 years back to only come back to sporadically for a few days every year. It’s, perhaps ironically, referred to as the ‘City of Joy’. That place is Kolkata.

It’s a dying city. Everyone with a sensible head on their shoulders is leaving. Soon it will become a relic of the past, a mere shadow of its vibrant self during British India. Disasters happen every now and then. It’s too hot. Way too humid. Bengalis are lazy. They do nothing but have cha-adda sessions, eat roshogollas and discuss politics. The government is fucked up. Industry is decaying. There is too much traffic. Rallies and roadblocks every day. No one has any ambition. It’s dirty. It’s disorganized. It’s overlooked during national development. Kichu hobe na Kolkatar. Kichhhu hobe na!

Are we done? Good. Now that we have got the mandatory negatives out of the way, let’s come to Kolkata. Not the ‘Kolkata’ which people in their final year of college refer to as the last place they want to get placed at, but the real Kolkata. What exactly is Kolkata?

It might seem weird that I, someone who hasn’t lived in Kolkata for a long while, should try to answer this question. But I have lived long enough in the city to try to characterize it. Kolkata is a place which thinks. It acts less. It thinks more. People use their brains. That, fortunately or unfortunately, is not the key to development the way we know it today. Development is about action. At some point you have to stop thinking and go for it. Build something and see how it turned out. Chances are it won’t be the perfect thing. But then, people don’t generally look for the perfect thing. Much as I may love math, the world is based on engineering, not math. Engineering is based on being ‘correct enough’, not perfect. As a simple example, think of a video you’re playing on your computer screen. Is it really a fluidly moving picture, the way things move in real life? The answer is no. A video is a collection of images which are displayed at a rate of 50 every second. So one image stays on the screen for about 20 milliseconds before being replaced by its next. Now, when the human eye sees an image, it stays in the brain for up to 100 milliseconds (this phenomenon is called persistence of vision). So if the image gets replaced by another within 20 milliseconds, the human eye won’t be able to distinguish between them and call them separate images. The result is that the video appears to exactly mimic real life where something moves continuously.

How did human beings come to realize this? Engineering. Engineers realized that by showing 50 images per second, they were being good enough for human eye purposes. If an ant was being shown a video, it might experience ‘framing’ or ‘buffering’ effects if its persistence of vision happens to be less than 20 milliseconds. In that case, ant engineers would simply increase the frame rate to a number such that it appears to be smooth to ant eyes. That’s all you need, being ‘good enough’. Don’t strive for perfection because that’s an ideal concept to be dreamed about, not to be attempted in reality.

And it’s here where Kolkata is being naive. Kolkatans like to dream. They are idealists. Hopeless and helpless romantics. They believe in emotions and beauty instead of trying to build something which works. Other people build things that are ‘good enough’. And when it ceases to be ‘good enough’, they build a better version. And then a better one. Always strive for something which gets the job done. Where is the need to do extra stuff and try to be too good? You might have heard people telling you to go the extra mile and do things not asked for, because hey, extra goodness never hurts right? You know what? It does. Extra goodness does hurt. I have learnt this thing in the US. People appear to be so good and efficient at what they do, but that’s because they only do what’s needed to be done without worrying about doing extra. You don’t have to be a hero, it will come back to haunt you later. That extra thing you do will eat into your leisure time, which will leave you dissatisfied with your leisure, which will leave you craving more leisure, which, ultimately, will eat up into the time in which you were supposed to be doing your job. So don’t go the extra mile. Do as much as is needed, but do that very well.

And you dickhead Kolkata, you won’t realize this. Kolkatans are too bothered about others, about trying to do more than necessary and finally ending up doing less of what is necessary. There’s one more thing. Presentation. Kolkata isn’t bothered about presentation. It doesn’t fit in with their mode of idealism and with their intelligence. Let’s face it, Kolkata people are intelligent. Call me proud, but I will say this, in terms of pure intelligence, Kolkatans rank very high. Some of the best scientists and researchers in the country come from Kolkata. But, and this is a big ‘but’, in terms of useful intelligence, Kolkata either falls woefully short or just decides not to use it. You see, presentation is important because the world has a lot of people and communication between different individuals and groups is a key way to success and development. There’s only so much that can be done alone. 2 non-Kolkata heads, each having 60% of the intelligence of a single Kolkata head, still has more combined intelligence. And no matter how much you pride your individuality, at some point you have to rely on other humans. I am guessing Einstein probably didn’t cook too often, he relied on someone to do it for him. You need presentation and communication to get yourself in the spotlight and get resources to develop further. There’s another name for it, it’s called advertising. Kolkata sucks at it.

There’s a flip side to this. It’s that when something is ‘bad enough’, you should not do it. This is where the dirty side of Kolkata comes into play. I read an article years back that it’s becoming a red city thanks to the alarming frequency at which betel leaf (paan) chewers spit in every place and direction imaginable. Now here’s the thing, spitting betel juice is something ‘bad enough’ for people to refrain from doing. In other words, it shouldn’t be done. These are cases where you should go the extra mile in keeping the juice inside your mouth till you get to a appropriate place to spit it out. In fact, I shouldn’t be calling it ‘going the extra mile’. This is going the regular mile, it’s part of your duty. It’s something taxi drivers in Kolkata should be worried about. And having measures in place to attempt to curb this menace (and usher in increased hygiene in general) is something the government should be doing, it’s part of their job, not part of the extra mile. But like I said, Kolkata isn’t really bothered about presentation. People are gonna keep living in Kolkata anyway, who cares if I bless this particular square inch of Tollygunge Circular Road with my prized red spit? Except that people are not continuing to keep on living in Kolkata, many are leaving. It’s not directly due to a single gob of spit, but the overall tarnish and lack of presentation and shine in a city where people don’t seem to care about such things.

Politics. I won’t pretend to know much about it because I don’t. I do know communist guys ruled the city for 34 years and evidently did more bull shit than good, then were replaced by a lady who epitomizes the reason why I don’t want to marry, because I don’t want to stand the tantrums of a physically and vocally gigantic female. Anyway, Mamata Banerjee, a good friend of mine tells me, is not very educated. Period.

Sports. Yay, let’s talk sports. This is one of the brightest points to life in Kolkata. The city loves football. Apart from having a rich history in the sport, Kolkatans are extremely passionate about the game. India has never played in the football world cup and hasn’t come close to qualifying in recent memory (and never will, even if 100 nations contested the world cup), yet inexplicably Kolkata celebrates events like the World Cup as if it’s happening in its own backyard. Look at the Brazil and Argentina flags in nondescript Kolkata bylanes and you would be forgiven for thinking the actual teams were staying in a hotel a mile away. This ridiculous fanaticism aside, Kolkatans understand their football. They can talk about it. Talk knowledgeably, that is. Much too knowledgeably for your liking. They ardently support clubs in Europe and follow the game regularly. This is in contrast to most other parts of India, which follow the behemoth known as cricket. I used to follow cricket till recently, then somehow I lost interest to the extent that now choosing to watch cricket while a football game is on would be as absurd as eating green vegetables when there’s chicken in the fridge. (Although now that I am getting older, I will admit that I have begun to see the benefits of green vegetables and might actually opt for them even when there’s chicken in the fridge. But I will never opt for cricket when football is on.)

Now let’s come to the general idea of Kolkata and its perceived decay. Is Kolkata really decaying? That depends on how you define decay. It is not as glitzy and job-creating and youth-attracting as Delhi or Bangalore or Mumbai, but it’s not decaying. The city retains its charm, its unique pulse, its own throbbing existence. People care. They feel things from deep down. They speak from their heart. They are not hypocrites. They know their stuff and impart their knowledge freely, even when no one asked for it. Kolkatans are kind. They are not generous, they are probably more cheap than their counterparts in other cities, but Kolkatans are nice. They really is no other word for it. Kolkatans are nice. Modern society rewards hard work, efficiency and minding your own business. I am not debating whether this is good or bad, but that’s the way it is. Kolkata is not hardworking, it’s inefficient and constantly pokes its nose elsewhere. Modern society rewards presentation and professionalism, not romanticism. Kolkata is romantic and unprofessional. Do you see where I am going? A hospital in Kolkata will have some of the best doctors in the country, but its exterior will be so dilapidated, you would much rather fly to a different city to get yourself treated rather than enter that building. Kolkata is just different from what the average person perceives as appropriate. That doesn’t mean its bad. Is it bad to be different? You tell me.

All in a Day’s Work

Tuesday morning. I wake up slightly late and reach office around 11. Busy day up ahead. I have a weekly planner which shows a bunch of code to be read and then some code of my own to develop. Should be at least a 6 hour job. Might be more if I want to do a really good job. I unlock my office, there’s no one else there. One of my office mates is taking summer classes, the other prefers to work from home. I open my laptop, connect it to the bigger screen I have and open the relevant documents and text editors I need. All set to start a busy and productive day of work. And then it hits me, I don’t feel like working. Not at all. No with a viciousness. I would rather do anything but work.

I go out to the balcony and take a 5 minute break. A bunch of what looks like school kids frolic down below. One fat kid is sitting down on the grass all by himself, seemingly oblivious to the other kids running around him. Another kid goes up to him and offers his hand. The fat one declines. I feel something stirring within me. I imagine myself in the positions of the 3 types of kids down there – the fat one, the one who offered him a hand and the other kids who are not bothered. The fat one could be sick. But there’s a greater chance that he is brooding over something bad and not feeling too good with himself. Something is troubling him and he doesn’t have the will to mention it to anyone else. The one offering him a hand is a caring person. He might have friends of his own, but he is going out of his way to offer a hand. Or maybe he is friends with the fat guy, in which case his actions would make more sense. Nevertheless, I appreciate what he does. A simple act of nicety which doesn’t hurt anyone but has the potential to help someone. And finally the other kids. Blissfully unaware. After all, they all have their own troubles and don’t really want to have someone else’s problems on their plate. Makes sense.

A lady from the floor below passes me by, probably on her way to the bathroom. She smiles at me and I wave back. I have seen her several times, but never really stopped to talk. I wait for her to come back so that I can tell her to look at the kids and share a smile. But a couple of adults (among them an extremely fat woman with the thighs of her jeans stretched in a most ungainly way) round up the kids and tell them to keep off the grass. ‘Keep off the grass’ is such a common phrase for enforcing discipline. It’s almost like adults let children play on the grass for the sole purpose of telling them abruptly to keep off it and thereby enforcing their authority. The kids form a line on the pavement and move on. Seeing nothing more to gaze at, I move back to my office. The air conditioning is deliberately turned off. Power saving in the summer. I call up their number, no one answers. Might as well stop bothering. It is pretty cold (19 degree C), even though it’s summer. I sit down in my chair, leave the door open and get back to work.

5 minutes of reading code later, the vicious repelling force increases and I don’t want to work. Why? The reason could be that there’s no real pressure on me to perform right now. As long as you’re taking subjects in school or doing courses in university, there’s a tangible reason to perform, i.e. grades. There’s also a definite sense of direction – read this chapter, finish this assignment and so on. Things are well defined and a well marked pathway exists. Also, that pathway is generally a hard one. All these aspects are good. It’s like doing a hike with a well marked albeit tough trail. You know what you have to do, but doing it is not easy. It takes some doing and there’s a time limit to finish the hike before sunset. Good. All these pushing forces act on you and bring out the effort from you. But a PhD. Nothing is well marked. I only have a sense of what I need to do, there are no clear steps. Also, there’s no real challenge right now. There’s nothing to push me, no paper deadline or conference coming up. People constantly complain about deadlines, but what they don’t realize is that deadlines bring out the best in them. Man needs to be forced, left to his own devices he will be lost in a sea of confusion.

That’s my situation right now. A sea of confusion. Too much freedom as well. Earning on my own has empowered me to do almost anything I want and get anything I want. There’s no force acting on me to get my work done and live a restricted life. And yet, living a restricted life is the best thing than can happen in today’s society. Allowed to run free, you wouldn’t know what to do. Imagine you need to get from point A to point B and there are several paths to take. All the paths lead to B, but you have the freedom to do whatever you want any time during the journey. What you might end up doing is take one path, think that it’s not a good one, switch to another path, decide that’s not great as well and switch again, and so on until you ultimately are lost in a sea of hopeless confusion. With no close people to confide in, you’ll just keep floating aimlessly. That’s what’s happening to me right now. On the other hand, if you were forced to follow just one path, you would do it and reach point B eventually, even if that wasn’t the best path to take. I would love to be restricted right now.

Let me end this here and make an attempt to get back to work. Society is the way it is.

 

Death Note – An Analysis

Chances are, you watch Japanese anime. Chances are, you were a fan of Pokemon a decade back. Chances are, you find Japanese animation style somewhat kitsch at times. Whatever the chances, Death Note is an anime worthy of being eulogized, having its own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and being discussed and dissected for decades. It is intense, it is gripping and the overall mixture of animation, dialogue and music is exceedingly well done. But over and above everything, it makes you think about various issues of morality, righteousness and character in human beings (and perhaps supernatural beings as well). In this article, I’ll examine some of its themes.

deathnote_s1v1Quick facts: Death Note was originally published as a Japanese manga in 2003 and then aired as a 37-episode series in 2006-07. This article deals with the anime series, as shown in its English dub. The story starts when Light Yagami, a high school student with a brilliant mind, finds a notebook lying around. This is a Death Note, with the property that whoever’s name is written on it will die. Light’s original plan is to use the notebook to kill all criminals and create a ‘new world’ of which he is the god, but things start to become interesting when L, an eccentric genius of a sleuth, decides to track down the owner of the Death Note and stop him from killing.

Note: This article is intended for those who have watched the series. There are spoilers to follow, so don’t read if you’re intending to watch. The episodes are 22 minutes long on average and most of them are available on YouTube.

Creation of a New World

Light’s primary purpose for the Death Note is to create a world free from criminals and wrongdoers. This is what he does in the first few episodes and later what Mikami attempts to do overzealously. It’s quite obvious that Mikami is a fanatic. He wanted to kill his own mother because she told her son that things won’t always happen the way he wants. What exactly did Mikami want? He wanted an end to murder, rape, theft, assault and everything else that keeps the police busy. To achieve this, he wanted to kill all the bad guys responsible for these acts. Is this a bad thing to want? Let’s ignore the fact that Mikami also wanted to kill bullies in his school and people who might have been simply ogling the breasts of a female standing next to them in bus. Let’s just focus on the fact that Mikami and Light both wanted to end the lives of criminals. Or, as Mikami puts it fittingly, delete them. Delete them from the face of the globe by ending their lives. This is wrong, isn’t it? After all, who is someone like Light to take law into his own hands? That’s what you would ordinarily think. But, let’s say you are a female who is walking alone along a dark alley when you are surrounded by a couple of goons and forced to do stuff against your will. Let’s make this clear. Let’s say you are coerced into having sex with them, after which they leave you bleeding and half-dead. Now let’s say you also know that these goons will be later found out, captured and punished. Will the knowledge of this fact save you at that instant of time or lessen the impact this encounter will have on your mind? Will this fact in any way manage to undo the instillment of a certain amount of fear in the hearts of other girls like you? Will it empower them to walk alone at night, knowing that even if they are raped, the rapists will be caught and punished? The point which I am trying to make here is that the punishment doesn’t generally fit the crime. A crime such as rape or even assault and burglary can’t only be measured in terms of what happens in those five minutes. The impact it leaves on the victim and her loved ones is so deep it may never heal. People get scarred for life, the lasting impression of a malicious grin as someone clubs you on the head or forces you into submission on a dark night under the glow of owl’s eyes is something which haunts you every waking moment and changes you forever as a person.

I study in Los Angeles where there’s a big brouhaha at the start of a new school year about staying safe because crimes happen a lot around the campus. There are a myriad of security measures in place, but thefts and sexual assaults still keep happening at the rate of roughly one every fortnight. Assuming half of them go unreported, that’s one every week – quite a staggering number. People take extra precautions and lead their lives differently because they don’t feel safe. Given all this, what would you say to deleting all wrongdoers from the face of the earth? You snatch an iPhone from someone. How dare you? It’s his iPhone. Who gave you the right to take it away? You are the scum of the earth, not fitting to leave your footprints in this world. So die, bastard, die. Makes sense? This is what Light Yagami must have been thinking as he wrote on the pages of his Death Note. Some guy John is a criminal, will be jailed for one year, then will walk out as a free man with his crime forgotten or perhaps serving as encouragement for others like him who think it’s ok to do whatever they want. No, that just won’t do. Delete him and make the world a better place. Free it from all such Johns and Dicks (pun intended) and establish order. No crime, no wrongdoing. A perfect world. Is that a bad thing to ask for? And when L stands in his way, is it bad to want L to die? It will be sacrificing a pawn in a chess game to checkmate the opponent’s king. Remove those who stand in the way of establishing a flawless world and let perfectly ordered peace and safety prevail. Pretty neat, huh?

Except the question begs to be answered, who the hell is Light Yagami to decide all this and become the ‘god of the new world’? Well, to begin with, he is exceedingly intelligent. The god of the new world really cannot be someone like Misa Amane who doesn’t have a holistic sense of greater good in mind. Most people are like Misa, they seek out a niche for themselves to be happy in and stay happy. A little, starving boy in Somalia gets a job which pays for regular food and becomes happy. A girl in Budapest does not feel the need to learn any other language, just Hungarian is sufficient to find a lover and be happy forever in Hungalight_yagami_by_tropical_rain-d5f7w8dry. A Maori tribal can just count up to 5, but that’s all he needs to be happy. Basically people only go that many furlongs as is necessary to make themselves happy. Why bother about the rest of the world? BUT, and this is a big but, that’s not how Light Yagami’s mind works. You may call him ambitious and that’s probably a bad thing in this context, but he does have the foresight and mental resources to care about the whole world and strive to make it a better place. Even though his methodology may not be commendable, it is very effective. Almost every endeavour in this world becomes more difficult in implementation than in theory because of practical difficulties. Even a proven murderer can’t be sentenced to death straightaway because he can bring a lawyer, there will be protracted court proceedings and finally there’s a chance he may walk scot free, which in turn leads to the chance that he may commit more murders and heap more misery upon others’ lives. In Light’s world, as soon as the man was caught and his name and face shown on TV, he would be dead. Quick, efficient solution. Is that a bad thing?

L

L, for most watchers, is the hero of the series. He’s definitely the most charismatic character, with his sitting style, food habits and way of speaking. You can almost feel the gears churning in his head and the brain cells brimming with energy when he speaks. It’s raw clarity of thought spouting from his forehead like an arrow. Now put L’s tragic death out of your mind and think of his modus operandi. L was willing to torture interrogate Misa in a straitjacket for days even after it became clear that she had no knowledge of being the second Kira (achieved by relinquishing ownership of her Death Note). He kept Light and Soichiro locked up for 43 extra days after Light declared he was not Kira, a statement corroborated by the fact that criminals were still dying without Light possibly being able to kill them. But these are nothing compared to L’s treatment of human lives for his own benefit. Remember Lind L. Tailor dying in Episode 2 Confrontation? L later said ‘I had my guy up there’. He had his guy go up on stage and die to get L one step closer to Kira. Later, L was going to test the Death Note the way a student might test for a chemical in a lab. Test a Death Note? Seriously? For a guy who is supposed to be ogiphy-facebook_sn the good side? What does this say about L? Is he any different from Light? In L’s defence, he was doing his duty. He had taken it upon himself to find and stop Kira and people like Lind L. Tailor were mere sacrificial pawns in achieving his ends. If L would not have been willing to play with a few lives, Kira would have been that much harder to catch and there would have been more criminal deaths. One might say L decided to sacrifice one or two people to prevent the deaths of thousands in the hands of Kira. Well, Light decided to sacrifice a thousand criminals in order to make the world a better place for the billions that remain. Isn’t the principle the same? L does not care about human lives when they stand in his way to achieving his goal. Light does not care about human lives when they stand in his way to achieving his goal. What Light does on a bigger scale, L does on a smaller scale. But he still does it. If the question is of morality and not of scale, then shouldn’t Light be pardoned for doing short-term bad to achieve long-term good? L is sympathized with and glorified for the way he tracked down Kira. Why not glorify Light for his lofty ideals? How many people would even dare to use a terrifying device such as a Death Note in such an enormously purgatory way as Light attempted?

Near

It was fascinating (and perhaps a bit tiresome) to watch how similar Near’s mannerisms were to L’s. The obsession with childish things for example. L loved cakes. He treated sugar cubes like Lego. He had no dress sense. Near had a set of train tracks. He built matchstick castles. And his smile is the most babyish thing I have seen in the whole series. Yes, this one on the left. 3234014913e286ef5e4d7361d866e538Eccentric geniuses is a cliched concept, but it never ceases to amuse me. It’s nature’s way of saying to the world ‘Hey look, these guys have been born with far greater intelligence than most others. They can see through things which you can’t. So pardon them for not exactly being stereotypical people.’ Do real people in the world behave differently and become weird when they start using more brain cells?

I like to think of it this way. Let’s say you’re working on a problem. It could be any problem which is substantially bothering you. To use my own example, since I am a PhD student, the problem could be that I am trying to make sense of seemingly nonsensical data which I got from an experiment. After trying for several days, an epiphany suddenly hits me and I discover a theory which exactly fits the data and explains everything. Yes, everything! It’s a Eureka moment. It must happen to you as well, that sudden flash of ‘Aah, of course! How could I be so blind?’. Now think of your actions immediately following the epiphany. Don’t you behave a bit differently than your normal self? You become oblivious to the world around and the weight of your entire focus falls on the problem, slicing through it like a knife edge and taming the beast. Once that’s done, you go back to your usual self and become aware of the surroundings once again. Now, imagine that instead of solving a single problem, you are confronted with a series of never-ending problems and your mind is constantly experiencing epiphanies which tackle one problem after another. In such a situation, will you be living normally and stopping to do things like saying ‘Hi’ to your office colleagues every time you see them or shopping for groceries? Not likely. Your entire demeanour will take on a different form and you’ll be lost in a world of your own where problems arise like tigers in a jungle licking their lips and you, the hunter, spear them one after the other. Your reality becomes alternating states of frustration, vigilance and ‘Eureka’. You aren’t the same, casual, banal person any more. In those rare moments when there isn’t a tiger in front of you, you imagine tigers appearing and keep wielding your spears – this state of omnipresent alertness and challenge is something that’s part and parcel of you, it defines you as a person and you can’t snap out of it. Now does L’s arrangement of sugar cubes to make a tower in his leisure time make sense? His brain cells need to feed on something, otherwise they start rusting. It’s like the movie Crank, the guy needs to keep adrenaline coursing through his body continuously to prevent himself from dropping dead. The same thing, just replace adrenaline with grey matter. That’s a genius. The world is enriched by their presence.

More stuff

There’s more stuff I want to talk about, but I’ll refrain since they haven’t formed concretely in my head. Such as the characters of Rem and Ryuk. Ryuk didn’t just play the role of comic relief, some of his dialogues were, just like he characterized humans, so interesting. Speaking of comic relief, the degradation of Misa’s role into nothing but that in the latter half of the series didn’t go down too well with me. And there are several individual episodes I want to discuss, the most prominent being Ep 7 Overcast. I might do another article on Death Note some time, the series is just too good to watch once and dismiss.

A Tribute to Scorpions – II (Blockbuster hits, Classic lineup)

In part 1 of my tribute, I talked about the early years of German rock band Scorpions. After Uli Jon Roth’s departure in 1978, the band auditioned extensively and unsuccessfully for a new lead guitarist, before finally turning to their home city Hannover to recruit Matthias Jabs. Thus was born the classic Scorpions lineup comprising Klaus Meine (vocals), Rudolf Schenker (guitars), Matthias Jabs (guitars), Francis Buchholz (bass) and Herman Rarebell (drums), which took the band to unprecedented heights through several chart-topping numbers. The years 1979-1991 which spawned six albums is regarded as their golden age, and it is this period which is the subject of this article.


Scorpions’ sixth album, Lovedrive (1979), is rated very highly by critics and found a place on IGN’s 2007 list of the top 25 metal albums. My personal opinion differs, but that’s not saying it isn’t a great album. Before discussing the songs, take a look at the Lovedrive cover, named as “Best album sleeve of 1979” by Playboy magazine. Yes, that’s bubblegum.

With Michael Schenker involved in parts, the band had 3 guitarists (not counting Buchholz) and the effects are well observed in the opener Loving You Sunday Morning and particularly the instrumental-only track Coast to Coast. One of my personal favourites is Is There Anybody There?, primarily due to Meine’s versatility on this number. From the crooning ‘Aaaa hahahaaaah, Aaaah aa haa haa’ to the catchy start of lyrics ‘Open my mind let me find new vibrations‘ to the chorus, Meine does an amazing job. The last track Holiday is my other favourite – a fascinating piece of work which abruptly shifts from soothing acoustic to hard rock in the middle, and then goes back to acoustic for the finale.


The next album, Animal Magnetism (1980), is a very interesting one. The runaway hit from this work is undoubtedly The Zoo, a heavy metal grunge-like number with moody opening riffs and Meine’s voice initially sounding as if he’s being choked. And then the song explodes into life:

We eat the night, drink the time
Make our dreams come true
And hungry eyes are passing by
On streets we call the zoo

The album opener, Make It Real, is a pretty ordinary track albeit very catchy considering the fact that Scorpions are known for being hard rockers. Apparently it is a fan favourite because it’s regularly featuring on the setlist of their current 50th anniversary tour. In fact, it is one of the few Scorpions songs you can actually dance to instead of head-banging or serenely enjoying. Here’s the footage from where I watched it live. 🙂

Despite these 2 hits and the beautiful Lady Starlight, what makes Animal Magnetism really special to me is the presence of 2 tracks like none other you’ve heard. The first one is Only a Man, a song which I don’t want to describe and spoil the surprise. Just listen to it. You’re in for an astounding ride, that’s all I can say. The second one, Hey You, is an extra track released in a later remaster edition of the album and is sung primarily by Rudolf Schenker. His voice is milk and honey and radically different from Meine’s, who sings the chorus portion over a backdrop of lusty panting sounds. Jabs adds an excellent solo and outro to complete what is a very unique, little-known and way above par offering from Scorpions, even by their own high standards.


Scorpions’s 8th album, Blackout (1982), is one of their heaviest sounding and most popular ones, with its album cover being one of the most recognizable images in rock music. For those curious, the guy portrayed is Gottfried Helnwein, a visual artist. Blackout struck gold with its opening title track, which I regard as a definitive experience in that area of music which marks the transition from hard rock to heavy metal. This track is indeed the quintessential Scorpions number, with the build-up lyrics “Don’t waaant to find out / Just want to GET OUT” leading up to the high-pitched scream of “Blackout“, not to mention Jabs’ incredible solo after the first 2 stanzas. The ending is the most fascinating part of the track. Try to imagine being on a roller coaster tumbling forward at rapidly increasing speed and then suddenly it shatters the sound barrier and you’re gone, you’re falling, everything you know bursts into pieces…

The other outstanding track from this album is No One Like You, hailed as one of Scorpions’ finest. I won’t attempt to describe the sheer awesomeness of this song, but I will say this – I literally grew up listening to No One Like You. Much of Scorpions I heard when I was in college and now in grad school, but No One Like You was one of the earliest songs by any artist to inculcate in me the mad love for rock which defines a big part of me as a person. I think I first heard this track in my pre-teenage years and it struck me as something special then. It still does now.

Dynamite is another head-banging, pulse racing track from this album, with terrific opening bars and the urgency pouring out from Meine’s vocal chords. What makes these songs even more special is that Meine had issues with his vocal chords during recording this album and had to undergo surgery. As mentioned in the documentary Return to Forever, when Meine’s doctor had asked him what his profession was and he had replied ‘singer’, the doctor had asked him to look for a different job! Other notable tracks from Blackout include Now, which is true to the overall heavy feel of this album, and When the Smoke is Going Down, which is not, but is still hauntingly beautiful.


And then came Love at First Sting (1984). Here, listen to the first 45 seconds of this to begin with. That’s Crossfire, an excellent track with meaningful lyrics, but one that is largely dwarfed by the Big Three which make this album arguably Scorpions’ best ever (although Crazy World will have a lot to say about that). The first of the Big Three is Rock you Like a Hurricane. Chances are, even if you don’t know the spelling of rock, you’ve heard this song. In my humble opinion, this track is overrated. However, it gained anthemic popularity and has become synonymous with the name of Scorpions. Then comes Big City Nights. I am ashamed to say I discovered this song as late as college. All those years in school I thought I was a Scorpions fan and I didn’t know about this rocker! This song is crazy catchy and the instrumental section from 2:24 to 3:07 is friggin’ incredible, while the no-holds-barred video increases the oomph factor of this number (don’t miss the breast-signing portion). Frankly speaking, even though I happily reminisce about my undergrad days in small town Kharagpur, this song makes me feel that I’d rather live in the middle of a bustling city with its numerous attractions and staggering entertainment quotient as compared to small towns and outskirts. Oh and by the way, don’t listen to this song if you have FOMO, it won’t do you any good!

The final track of this album is Still Loving You. What can I say about this song? Are you feeling unhappy? Did you have a hard day at work? Do you suffer from severe chronic depression? Is your life falling apart? Did your long-time fiancee break up with you? Did someone close die? Is all hope lost and you feel like committing suicide? Listen to Still Loving You. It’s a panacea, a marvellous work of art, it’s something that is so good you’d want to listen to it a hundred times on the trot for fear of suddenly losing the record. This song is something else, the way the drums start 80 seconds in, the mind-blowing long guitar outro, the passion in the vocals, the overall feel of this ballad, it’s just out of this world. It will make you cry, awaken your dormant feelings and take your senses to dizzying heights. Darken the room, set the volume right and immerse yourself in Still Loving You.


Scorpions’ 10th album, Savage Amusement (1988), is a slight dip in form. I love the cover though, somehow the alliterative phrase ‘sexy savage scorpion’ seems appropriate. And sexy is the best way to describe the video for Rhythm of Love, possibly the best track of this album. There are different types of tracks on offer in this collection to suit different tastes; the one I want to mention is the crooning Believe in Love. It’s a great ending to the album and the pain in Meine’s voice as he starts the lyrics provides a great listening experience.

How does it feel babe
To taste sweet revenge
Do you want me on my knees
How does it feel babe
to let me feel your strength
Don’t be cruel, can’t you see
If you don’t catch me now
I can’t stop falling down
Just one more night and the devil’s got my soul


Crazy World (1990), Scorpions’ 11th album, is regarded as their magnum opus. I totally agree. Usually when I listen to the complete discography of an artist, I mark the songs which I find really good and want to listen to multiple times. On an average, 3 out of 10 songs in a decent album get marked. For Crazy World, I marked more than half the songs! It’s just such a solid and well-rounded album, which admittedly doesn’t have as many breakaway hits as Love at First Sting, but has more great songs overall. The chorus of the 2nd song, Don’t Believe Her, gets stuck in my head every time I listen to it. Restless Nights is a flamboyant number about the life of a successful rocker who’s performing all over the world from London to Paris, Dallas to Rio, Moscow to Tokyo, with the motto of his life best described by the lyrics:

Here I go
To take the one and only road I know
In my life
Here I go
Another place to bare my heart and soul
Restless nights

Then there are tracks like Kicks After Six and Hit Between the Eyes, which sound very typically Scorpions, but happen to be distinctly better than the average numbers which fill up other albums. Definitely recommended, particularly the midsection solo in Hit Between the Eyes. Quite expectedly, Scorpions ended the album with a soft number, except that this one is so much better than some of their other soft numbers (particularly those about to come), which can get trying. Instead Send Me an Angel is, to put it simply, amazingly beautiful. No more words, just listen to it.

The 4th track of Crazy World, created a quarter century after Scorpions’ formation and a quarter century back from today, is one of the most famous tracks in the history of rock and roll. It happens to be Wind of Change. I accorded it the special honour of an embedded video, following which are some facts (and tributes) on this perennial favourite of mine and millions of music lovers world over.

  • The song has international significance, celebrating the end of the Cold war and the fall of the Berlin wall, which unified East and West Germany.
  • There are several Russian references such as the Moskva – the river running through Moscow, Gorky Park – a park in Moscow named after Maxim Gorky, and the balalaika – a Russian stringed instrument.
  • The band presented a gold record of the song to Mikhail Gorbachev, who is hailed for having brought glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) to the Soviet union.
  • The video above is not the full version of the song. The full version is half a minute longer and can be heard here.
  • Little can rival the iconic whistling at the beginning of the song in terms of the effect it has on my mind. The solo at the end of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb comes close.
  • Rudolf Schenker, not Matthias Jabs, plays the solo in this song and does a terrific job. It was aptly described by a fan as being ‘from God’s mouth to Rudolf’s fingers’.

This concludes part 2 of my tribute to the Scorpions. Francis Buchholz left the band after Crazy World, leading to the end of the classic Scorpions’ lineup and consequently the end of their golden era. In the next article, I’ll write about the modern Scorpions, their latter albums and their incredible longevity.