I returned from lunch just now. I left for lunch when I saw 2:00 PM in the notification area (incorrectly called the "system tray" by many people) of my desktop's taskbar.

Lunch is served at our office from 12:30 PM to 2:30 PM. But when I reached there, I didn't find my usual lunch. There were very few people as well. I found that really strange. I wondered why there wasn't any lunch today and why everyone was cool about it. I went for snacks which are always available and had masala dosa.

I understood what happened only after I returned to my desk.

Let me explain it by describing what happened at 12:30 PM. When I arrived at office at 12:30 PM, I came to know that one of the component tests of our project was failing due to a time zone related issue. To understand the issue, I set my time zone from GMT +0530 to GMT +0430 so that I could see the failing test in execution.

I'll set the time zone back to GMT +0530 now. I don't want to reach the parking lot at 6:00 PM and realize that the buses and cabs have left an hour ago.

A discussion about our society with a friend reminded me of this story.

When I was a kid, about ten years old, I was trying to make a cool acronym where each letter of the acronym expanded to a word that was related to the various kinds of books I had. I had a wide variety of books. I won most of them as prizes. Many of them were given to me by my father. Some of them were gifts from relatives. There were about a hundred such books dealing with various topics like dinosaurs, astronomy, aircrafts, hypnotism, magic, astrology, science experiments, biographies, etc. I was looking for the right words that could represent all kinds of books that I had. The acronym I settled for was KEMPS which stood for Knowledge, Entertainment, Magic, Personality development and Science.

I took a large pencil eraser, wrote KEMPS on it with a blue sketch pen in a laterally inverted fashion. Next, I drew an oval around this laterally inverted text. I used the eraser and stamped the KEMPS logo onto the corner of the first page of every book I had. That was how I created my library. I called it the KEMPS library.

It ran smoothly for a few weeks. A few of my friends borrowed books from me at the rate of 25 paise per book per fortnight. I managed to earn a few rupees within a month. But the fun was not in the money. The fun was in the whole concept of a library, in the little things like categorizing books, keeping track of them, serving friends and neighbourhood kids, etc.

After a few weeks of success, I wanted to expand the library. I wanted my friends to join me in the effort and make their books available for lending as a part of the KEMPS library. My plan was that the money earned from lending a book would go directly to the owner of the book. I approached one friend. He talked to his parents and told me the next day that he wouldn't be able to participate in the effort. I wanted to know why. He told me that his parents didn't approve of the idea of earning money.

When I heard this, I felt that earning money by forming a library wasn't a cool thing to do. A few days later, I opened every book of my library and cut out the corner of the first page with a pair of scissors to remove the KEMPS logo. I didn't want that someone should see the logo and ask me what it meant. I didn't want others to know anymore that I had done a silly thing like running a kids' library.

An imaginary conversation from the second chapter (Chapter 2: Can the Universe Create Itself) of The Mind of God: Science and the Search for Ultimate Meaning by Paul Davies:

ATHEIST: At one time, gods were used as an explanation for all sorts of physical phenomena, such as the wind and the rain and the motion of the planets. As science progressed, so supernatural agents were found to be superfluous as an explanation for natural events. Why do you insist on invoking God to explain the big bang?

THEIST: Your science cannot explain everything. The world is full of mystery. For example, even the most optimistic biologists admit that they are baffled by the origin of life.

ATHEIST: I agree that science hasn't explained everything, but that doesn't mean it can't. Theists have always been tempted to seize on any process that science could not at the time explain and claim that God was still needed to explain it. Then, as science progressed, God got squeezed out. You should learn the lesson that this "God of the gaps" is an unreliable hypothesis. As time goes on, there are fewer and fewer gaps for him to inhabit. I personally see no problem in science explaining all natural phenomena, including the origin of life. I concede that the origin of the universe is a tougher nut to crack. But if, as it seems, we have now reached the stage where the only remaining gap is the big bang, it is highly unsatisfying to invoke the concept of a supernatural being who has been displaced from all else, in this "last-ditch" capacity.

THEIST: I don't see why. Even if you reject the idea that God can act directly in the physical world once it has been created, the problem of the ultimate origin of that world is in a different category altogether from the problem of explaining natural phenomena once that world exists.

ATHEIST: But unless you have other reasons to believe in God's existence, then merely proclaiming "God created the universe" is totally ad hoc. It is no explanation at all. Indeed, the statement is essentially devoid of meaning, for you are merely defining God to be that agency which creates the universe. My understanding is no further advanced by this device. One mystery (the origin of the universe) is explained only in terms of another (God). As a scientist I appeal to Occam's razor, which then dictates that the God hypothesis be rejected as an unnecessary complication. After all, I am bound to ask, what created God?

THEIST: God needs no creator. He is a necessary being—he must exist. There is no choice in the matter.

ATHEIST: But one might as well assert that the universe needs no creator. Whatever logic is used to justify God's necessary existence could equally well, and with an advantageous gain in simplicity, be applied to the universe.

THEIST: Surely scientists often follow the same reasoning as I have. Why does a body fall? Because gravity acts on it. Why does gravity act on it? Because there is a gravitational field. Why? Because space-time is curved. And so on. You are replacing one description with another, deeper description, the sole purpose of which is to explain the thing you started with, namely, falling bodies. Why do you then object when I invoke God as a deeper and more satisfying explanation of the universe?

ATHEIST: Ah, but that's different! A scientific theory should amount to much more than the facts it is trying to explain. Good theories provide a simplifying picture of nature by establishing connections between hitherto disconnected phenomena. Newton's gravitational theory, for example, demonstrated a connection between the ocean rides and the motion of the moon. In addition, good theories suggest observational tests, such as predicting the existence of new phenomena. They also provide detailed mechanistic accounts of precisely how the physical processes of interest happen in terms of the concepts of the theory. In the case of gravitation, this is through a set of equations that connect the strength of the gravitational field with the nature of the gravitating sources. This theory gives you a precise mechanism for how things work. By contrast, a God who is invoked only to explain the big bang fails in all three criteria. Far from simplifying our view of the world, a Creator introduces an additional complicating feature, itself without explanation. Second, there is no way we can test the hypothesis experimentally. There is only one place where such a God is manifested—namely, the big bang—and that is over and done with. Finally, the bald statement "God created the universe" fails to provide any real explanation unless it is accompanied by a detailed mechanism. One wants to know, for example, what properties to assign this God, and precisely how he goes about creating the universe, why the universe has the form it does, and so on. In short, unless you can either provide evidence in some other way that such a God exists, or else give a detailed account of how he made the universe that even an atheist like me would regard as deeper, simpler, and more satisfying, I see no reason to believe in such a being.

THEIST: Nevertheless, your own position is highly unsatisfactory, for you admit that the reason for the big bang lies outside the scope of science. You are forced to accept the origin of the universe as a brute fact, with no deeper level of explanation.

ATHEIST: I would rather accept the existence of the universe as a brute fact than accept God as a brute fact. After all, there has to be an universe for us to be here to argue about these things!

Last evening, I went to watch a movie at INOX (4th floor of Garuda Mall), Magrath Road, Bangalore, with Sunita, a friend of mine. After watching the movie, we went to the third floor and found something like a Scary House. It was called: The Maze.

As a kid, I loved solving mazes. In fact, The Crystal Maze was my favourite television game show in those days. These days I find them silly but I still love solving them. Here is one that I solved recently: http://susam.in/downloads/files/car-puzzle/.

A sign board at the counter of The Maze mentioned that it contains a confusing maze of mirrors and the experience would be scary. Both of us loved the experience of Scary House and I loved mazes as well. So, we bought two tickets and entered.

TicketsAs we entered, we found it dark with some lights in the ceiling which helped us to see our reflection in the mirrors. At every step we were bumping into our own reflection in some mirror. It wasn't really scary but it was interesting as the mirrors were terribly confusing. Initially, we felt that we were completely lost. However, after a few steps and turns we could see bright light in some of the mirrors. It appeared like the reflection of the exit. So, I made a plan.

I used the reflection of what seemed like the exit to guide us to the exit. The plan, if written as an algorithm would look like this:

  1. See the mirrors and consider the mirrors where the exit can be seen.
  2. Among these mirrors, select the mirror where the reflection of the exit appears to be the nearest.
  3. Make a rough estimate of the direction of the exit from the reflection.
  4. Walk towards the estimated direction.
  5. Go to step 1 if the exit has not been found.
As a result of this plan, we arrived at the source of those bright lights in less than a minute. The source of the bright lights wasn't really the exit but it was very close to the exit. The place was bright because it was beautifully decorated with lights.

The guard was waiting there for us and he was very disappointed to see us arrive there so soon. He requested us to go back into the maze and have more fun. But we didn't like the idea. It was dark inside and we would find our way out very soon anyway. We wanted to exit. However, he asked us to wait there for a while. Probably they were not ready with the exit surprise which is usually a loud bang near the exit door.

After a few minutes of waiting, he asked us to proceed. We walked into a dark tunnel and found the door to the exit. The loud bang did happen just before we opened the door and came out.

Try this. Lift your right foot off the ground and rotate it clockwise. Keep rotating it round and round in a circle. While doing this, lift your right hand and draw a circle in the air in the anticlockwise direction.

Did your foot falter because it inadvertently copied the motion of the hand? It happens to almost everyone. When it happened to me, I recalled how I used to have the same difficulty when I started learning to play piano. It required considerable practice to make both the hands play independently of each other.

I thought of applying an important lesson I learnt while learning touch typing, juggling balls, playing piano, etc. to this problem. The important lesson is: start slow.

It takes some time to train the brain to do what we want it to do. It is very important to start really slow. If you are not able to do it perfectly well, you need to reduce the speed further. In the initial stage accuracy is more important than speed. Accuracy is more important than comfort too. In fact, it feels very awkward initially. It appears as if the body is not willing to do what you want. Muscles feel tense. Limbs don't move smoothly. But with practice, all of these can be overcome and finally the body and the mind learns to do it naturally and effortlessly. Speed comes naturally once you can do it accurately.

While practising this, I also happened to create a visualization technique that made the problem really simple for me. Out of curiosity, I checked whether I could rotate the left hand clockwise while rotating the right hand anticlockwise. Yes, it was easy. So, while doing this I imagined a conveyer belt sandwiched between two rollers which were being rotated by my hands. So, as the left hand rotated one roller clockwise and the right hand rotated the other one anticlockwise, the conveyer belt moved down. Next, I switched from the left hand to the right foot while trying to maintain the same motion of the imaginary conveyer belt moving down. This did the trick. When I was focussed on maintaining the motion of the conveyer belt, somehow, my right foot could rotate clockwise without much difficulty. However, the motion of the leg was still not completely smooth. I could feel that the muscles were tense. But happy with the effort so far I went to have food.

After a few hours I tried again and I was magically able to do it effortlessly and naturally. That's the second important lesson I have learnt while picking up new skills: take long breaks. I am not sure what exactly happens but it appears as if our brain absorbs the new skill as much as possible during a long break. In fact sleep works wonders for such things.

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