All posts by simonkayar

Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari

I love reading books and have been aided by numerous others in the internet on what could be a good book . It is only fair that I on my part provide some info on the books that I have read and aid (if any) who comes looking for them

Sapiens is easily one of the top 10 books that I would recommend. It might even be one of the top 5. When I think about it, there is no one single reason why I would recommend it but on the whole it is one entertaining package. I think spoilers are valid for books as well but this was the first time I knew for a fact that several species under our genus “Homo” were co-existing at the same time. The nice monkey to man diagram that you are used to is not only wrong but is unfair, for example, to the neanderthals who lived along with us, with bigger brains, buried their dead and took care of their elderly. Or take the interesting thought that it is wheat that domesticated us, instead of we humans domesticating the wheat.

This is not your regular boring history book – this is a brilliantly written book which gets even the worst history-hating homo sapiens to sit upright with some nice story telling. Yuval Noah Harari the author has done an amazing job of pulling together major instances of the human origin story and stitched a nice narrative. As usual there is a good chance that you might feel a particular topic or region is missing which should have been there. This is also available as audiobook in audible.

My rating: 9.5/10 => MUST READ

Audiobooks – the magic spell for Bangalore traffic

Believe it or not, I am one of those fortunate ones that still drives back and forth to office without hitting a single traffic light intersection. There are several junctions but none with red light countdowns. Inspite of this, as any Bangalorean would freely attest, pre-corona days, driving within city is something that very few would curse even on our worst enemies – you see humanity is still alive. I think it is a possible theory that some grandfather of BBPM director left behind a clue for a treasure in one of the roads. They seem to be always digging for something and never giving up :-). Add to this our usual blatant disregard for anything called (traffic) rules. But there was something that eased the pain, almost magical – audiobooks.

After I started listening to them, I completely distanced myself from the pain of driving. I cruise happily at 30-40 km/hr allowing everyone to overtake me happily while listening to someone who had taken the pains of researching a subject, summarizing it, making it in the form of an interesting book and reading it out to me. I know I sound like the US TV ads that are too good to be true but if is true. It has been 3-4 years now that I have been doing this – mostly from audible (Amazon). Audible is 200 Rs per month (or as I would like to think of it, 10 Rs per day or 5 Rs per trip for me). They give you one credit every month to buy audiobooks. There is also an audibleplus catalogue of books always available which covers a wide range of books – you can always find one that interests you

Well, it is not for everyone, so try it out – may start with a simple one like Harry potter (in Stephen Fry’s amazing rendering). My personal favorites or Sapiens, Bill Bryson books, The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins. I was also stumped by the brilliant work of ‘Sri’ as he narrates the Ponniyin Selvan in Tamil (available from Spotify) with enough voice modulation differences for every major character. Just Brilliant.

Of course, the disclaimer is that you should be able to listen to an audiobook as how you would listen to a song or FM in your car. If you even have the slightest doubt that your driving would become worse, then stop. My case – my driving improved drastically – from getting irritated by fellow drivers (everyone is wrong expect me syndrome) to blissfully motoring along while learning something new just blows my mind away and brings a smile everytime I think about it.

Living a Deep Life

So, I was wondering how shallow most of the time we are with whatever it is that we are doing. It is like we are under an imperius curse and chug along as it takes us. Technically we are not to be blamed as most of us are just helpless preys of a life style pushed on to us by others with different motivations. When was the last time you did something deep, like with complete focus and attention, without anything or anybody disturbing you or vying for your attention every few minutes. If you had answered the above question without thinking, you can stop reading, I guess 🙂 All others, poor souls please proceed. Feel free to blame your phones (and probably rightly so) or your spouse or kids or the TV (which won’t argue back) but at the end of the day it is your life.

You can start with a simple experiment, even have fun along the way – say having your food with full attention and see how far you progress. Instead of using heavy words like meditation or mindfulnes, we will call this the depth exercise – if you can survive for one minute in it, try to increase it to two. Then try it on other stuff that you do – say talking to someone without looking at your phone – and then move on to more difficult ones.

Not eating to the point of sluggishness

Why is it always that the first handful of mutton biriyani, the tastiest? Could it be the expectation building up to it or the miriad of smells that keep increasing your hunger exponentially till that point. Whatever the reason, isn’t that feeling heavenly – why can’t we have the same content blissful feeling last the entire meal. Why do we have to spoil the fun by eating to the point of plenty.

I do a great many experiments with myself – the way I eat, how much I eat, when and amount of water I take in and many more. These are mostly for my own fun – sometimes I have been on diet just to see how dieting people would feel. I find the most amazing meals to be the ones that start with a 80-100% hunger and stop at 10% hunger. This may seem counter-inutitive to a lot of us who were grown up with doting mothers who can kill us just by overfeeding. Who eats less than needed. Shouldn’t we eat to the point where we can’t even get up but just lie down and sleep. But it is worth trying this out.

Next time you sit for a meal see if you can get yourself to a good level of hunger, if not just walk around a bit and you will get there 🙂 Then try and eat a bit less say 1% less then what you would eat normally and keep doing the same – the rest as they say – math will take care. Happy experimenting!

The forbidden Apple

Back in 2015, when I purchased my yet another Dell Inspiron, I had written that the MacBook Air was in contention. I had always been very sure that I needed a Windows laptop. Other than the obvious factors like the exhorbitent cost of MacBooks, what made me stay away from considering them were my pet projects. I always end up doing non-regular computing like say, hacking a switch gaming console, downloading MP3s of Ilayaraja and clipping off the unnecssary loud music between the lyrics, having a geneology program in the laptop that maps our entire extended family over several generations, downloading vistaprint’s album maker to get the photos of every into a huge printed collection to name a few. There was also the occasional help that required installing some bizzare python libraries and stuff for my wife.

Fast forward to 2020 and Corona ensured that everyone at home needed a PC. Mine went to my daughter and though it was usable it was showing some signs of getting old after 5.5 years of service. Then random tech browsing saw reviewers raving about a new M1 chip from Apple which was smoking all benchmarks and putting even 3000$ laptops to shame, that too in the body of an Air. My tech antennae picked up these signals and on I went reading anything and everything that I could find about this marvel. The YouTubers were left to find weird emotions to show their surprise and shock and even the most modest ones could not hide their disbelief in what Apple has achieved. How can someone possibly achieve 3.5x more performance than their own Intel based laptops released merely months back, that too without a fan and what’s more with over 50% increase in battery life. Insanity. Apple had after a long time well and truly innovated. I am not sure how long it is going to take the Intels and AMDs of the world to play the catch up game.

Coming specifically to MacBook Air M1, this cheeky fellow sits on a old chassis and gives no indication of the ghost of a laptop that it has become. Mind blowing performance. Can you believe that this thing can run x86 software over a translator (Rosetta 2) and still blow away the Intel version of 2020 or the fact that Windows 10 (Arm version) runs faster on this than on Microsoft’s own Surface Pros.

And so the golden shiny apple lay there tempting me to commit the sin of owning a MacBook which I never thought I would do. Once the decision was made to jump ship, it was easy to choose the model. Between the Air and Pro it was an easy decision to choose Air since they both had identical configurations and I wasn’t going to buy a fan for 300$. Since the base model of MacBook Air at 8B RAM was smoking everything, I didn’t feel the need to upgrade to 16GB for additional sum of 20,000. The SSD upgrade was also costly at 20,000 for 512 GB and so I stuck with 256GB SSD. The price was coming to 92.6k in India and with the education store it was down to 83k (My wife is an academician). I feel it is a steal at this price even the Dell XPS (which is not even a fair comparison) was retailing at 1.4L in India (and 1.15L in US, if someone was willing to bring it from there).

Extending WiFi Range using Slave Routers

I think everyone these days ends up with a good broadband provider (like ACT in Bangalore) and have a decent high speed router too (> 100 Mbps support). But the range is always an issue. We have amazing coverage in our hall but as you move towards the bedrooms the signal drops to 1 point and sometimes none (this is the case with 2.4 GHz, the 5 GHz is short range and does not cross the hall). For a long time I was thinking of getting a wireless repeater but technically it can slow down the overall speed as it uses the same band for communicating between your actual router to the machine that is connected to the repeater.

The power network adapters have not taken the market yet by storm, so for now the best option that I could think of was using some old routers to extend the network. I managed to run ethernet cables from the LAN ports of my main router to 2 of my 3 bedrooms that are the farthest. What was remaining was to setup the routers.

I have provided the steps as 2 options. First option is for the advanced users. Second option is in detail and is meant for someone like me who did struggle a bit before gettings things to work.

OPTION 1: Simple Steps (for Advanced users 🙂 )

  • Note down the MAIN router’s IP address, its subnet mask, WiFi SSID, security mode, channel and WiFi password
  • Configure the SLAVE router’s IP address in the same subnet as main router’s, disable its DHCP and NAT, mimic the WiFi SSID, security, channel and password to match the MAIN router’s and you are done

OPTION 2: In Details Steps for Novice users

  • NOTING DETAILS FROM MAIN ROUTER:
    • My main router was a tp-link and behind it there is the IP address printed on it along with username and password. The IP address was 192.168.0.1 and username and password were both admin
    • I was connected to this router by ethernet cable and opened chrome and gave http://192.168.0.1 and provided the username and password and logged in. If there is any tab that says “Advanced” click it
    • There was a section called “Internet” which had details of my ACT username and passsword. Ignore this. We should not disturb this. It could be called as WAN in some routers.
    • Look for section called LAN. Confirm that the IP address is same as above. In my case it was 192.168.0.1. Note the subnet mask. It was 255.255.255.0
    • Next move to section called “Wireless”. Note down the following
      • WiFi SSID – this is the WiFi name that you use to connect
      • WiFi Security – For me it was WPA/WPA2
      • Channel – It it says auto you choose a number, say 4
      • WiFi Password – Same that you use during connect
  • SETTING UP SLAVE ROUTER – PART 1 <LAN>
    • Power it on and Reset the Slave router. For my Dlink, there was a small reset button that I had to keep pushing for some time. It is always a good idea to start from this resetting as we don’t know what it was used for earlier and the old settings might create problems
    • For this operation, disable WiFi on your laptop and use an ethernet cable to attach your laptop to the slave router.
    • Behind the slave router you will find default IP address and username/password details. For me it was 192.168.0.1 and Admin was username and password was empty.
    • Go to browser again and type http://<slave-router-ip. For me it was http://192.168.0.1. I logged in with the credentials.
    • We are not bothered about setting up Internet details on the slave router (only Main router will be used to connect to Internet service provider like ACT). So we will not enter anything in section like “Internet” or “WAN”. Just leave them to whatever details they have. If the router is forcing you to select something, just choose anything here it does not matter
    • Go to section called “LAN”. It could be also called as “Local Network” in some routers. Do the following
      • In IP address enter the next number after your MAIN router’s IP address. For me I entered 192.168.0.2 (My Main router’s IP address was 192.168.0.1.Actually the last number can be anything but what I am trying to do is name them in order like if 192.168.0.1 is MAIN then 2nd is 192.168.0.2 and I setup a third router also at my home where I set the IP Address of the router as 192.168.0.3. Your default IP address of Slave router does not matter.
      • Enter subnet mask same as what you saw in Main router subnet mask. For me it was 255.255.255.0
      • The moment you hit ‘Save’ or ‘Apply Changes’, it will seem to have stopped working. This is because now, your Slave router has moved to the new IP address that you gave (for me it was 192.168.0.2) and so you have to enter that in browser like http://192.168.0.2 and use the same credentials as before. Sometimes you might have to restart your PC (basically remove any cache in browser) for this to work.
      • Find for the DHCP and disable it. It will be mostly under LAN or ‘Local Network’. You have to select ‘Disable DHCP server’ or if there is a dropdown select “None” for DHCP
      • Find NAT and ensure that there are no entries. If it is not there, don’t worry about it. If there is a ‘Gateway’ instead, disable that. If not, fine
  • PHYSICAL CONNECTION
    • Now run an ethernet cable from one of the main router’s LAN port to a LAN port in slave router (LAN not WAN). I got a long bluerigger high quality ethernet cable and ran it through my data only pipe at home (try not to run it along with power cables). You can run it outside on the walls too. Refer the image below courtesy Amit Agarwal from labnol.org
    • At this point, you can test if the interet is working on your laptop connected to the slave router. It should work. Not only that both your routers should be accessible now using their IP addresses (my case 192.168.0.1 and 192.168.0.2)
  • SETTING UP SLAVE ROUTER – PART 2 <WiFi>
    • Login to your slave router using its IP address (that you gave. I gave 192.168.0.2).
    • Go to ‘Wireless’ section. If there is advanced option click it
    • You can decide to use this as a separate SSID (separate WiFi name) compared to your main router’s WiFi name
    • In my case I wanted them to give the same name. Advantage is that your devices will switch automatically from one router to another as you move around your house, like in a hotel or office. Disadvantage is that you won’t know which router you are connected to (Why do you want to know anyway?)
    • If you want to use same name like me that you have to do the following
      • In SSID give identical SSID that you noted down from Main router
      • In Security, select the same type of security as the main router setting. I put this as WPA/WPA2
      • Select the same channel as main router. For me I put it as 4
      • Select the same password also
      • Click ‘Save’ or ‘Apply Changes’ and you are done.
  • SETTING UP A THIRD ROUTER
    • In fact I setup a third router also (a good way to use the old routers as you move from service providers or upgrade to better ones)
    • For the third router, I used a tenda. I reset it and used its IP address written on back 192.168.1.1 and admin/admin as login. I changed its LAN to 192.168.0.3. For some reason it ran into issues when I did this and I had to reset and use it default WiFi to connect instead of LAN ethernet. I used an iPad this time (laptop was being used) and it went through this time. No idea why
    • After subnet and WiFi details it worked flawlessly.
    • My challenge was in running another ethernet from my main router to this bedroom too.

Overall this was good fun. Sometimes frustrating but as good computer engineers, you stick to it till the end, bear the snide comments from family members and their sarcastic looks when things don’t work, knowing that they still love you a lot and you should be through 🙂

My Slave, My Master

In our feudal society there is no dearth of examples for Master Slave relationships. We see people opening car doors for their masters, holding umbrellas for the chief, constables doing menial jobs for inspectors and their wives and maids made to work all day without holidays for paltry sums of money. We even have the time tested slave, a housewife, who does everything for her husband and kids, but does not even receive the respect she deserves.

Now, Imagine for a moment, that suddenly the roles get swapped- the master becomes the slave and the slave becomes the master. How would it be if the CEO opens the doors for the peon, or god forbid, if your mother washes dishes while your maid eats at the dining table, complaining about your mother. Funny isn’t it. “Can’t even happen in dreams”, you say. But it is happening everyday. We have a slave amidst us, whose job was to obey our orders and do what we say, but who, in turn, is commanding us around all day, at his will.

Who is this talented slave. Our mobile phone, of course! The device that was meant to give us more time by reducing our work has turned a traitor and is consuming all our time. It was meant to happen perhaps, given that most smart phones are smarter than their dumb masters. What is wrong in entertaining ourselves with some whatsapp, facebook, instagram or <Fill your favorite app here>. Aren’t we just changing with time and being cool. Well, yes, but it is a lot more than that. With the new ‘Screen Time’ analysis of iPhones and Android phones, we see baffling numbers – several hours of screen time per day. What more, we spend those hours mostly staring at the screen not even aware that we are using them, sub-consciously.

Even when we try to ignore this slave, it calls us with its mesmerizing notifications. We are bound to pick the phone immediately or end up with some nervous breakdown. The anxiety that we feel when we don’t have the phone nearby can only be better explained by regular users of drugs. Eventually, we have made a deal with the devil and are connected full time. In this strange world that we have built for ourselves, we can’t have a moment’s rest without the gadgets. It doesn’t matter where we are or who we are with, be it in the restroom, our hall with family, having food at the dining table, even with friends out in dinner, in a cinema hall, traveling somewhere, playing with kids. Aren’t we diluting the essense of some of these experiences by allowing our slave, sorry our master, to command us around.

May be we are like King Theoden who has let his servant Grima rule over him and his kingdom (Sorry non LOTR-fans). May be, like him, we also need a Gandalf, who can break the curse and save us from our own slave.

Expiry Date

Everything comes with an expiry date, including us. We all know that taking a medicine past its expiry date will do more harm than good. But, without giving it any thought, we are not only consuming but administering so many ‘medicines’, well past their expiry dates. These ‘medicines’ or rather ideas, notions, beliefs and practices, were once meant to cure a problem during a different age, in a different context. Those problems may not exist anymore or might need different solutions, but we are just stuck to the same old ideas.

They could be in different forms in different fields – Religion, Culture, Politics, Economics. Take Communism for example. What was once considered a perfect solution has long since proved ineffective and outdated, but so many among us still cling on to it and expect it to work today. What befell Communism could happen to Capitalism someday when it ceases to be relevant. Consider the economy. Debt, which was at some point in our history, considered a taboo and even a few decades back was not even an opttion, is everyone’s cup of tea today – though as bad as tea perhaps. These examples are staightforward to accept maybe. How about love, sex or compassion. Aren’t these supposed to be the reason the world is functioning. These have stood the test of time and will continue to be relevant in future too. Right?

Wrong! Though hard to believe they may have their expiry date as well. Imagine, Universe as a person and think of how long it had known love, sex, compassion or any other human emotion. The 13 billion years old universe, has known humans for a mere few lakh years, or roughly .0023% of its lifetime – not even a blink of an eye. To believe that these ‘man-made’ concepts would exist forever is heights of optimism – yes they would probably exist till you and I die, but forever – No.

When even our core values and notions are not indefinite, we have to scrutinize what has been drilled into our head by systematic upbringing, media and society. Clinging on to outdated idealogies inherited from our parents and dumped on to us by other, is not only dangerous for us but for others as well. Let’s open up our mind, the more we learn, the more we read and travel, the better we would be in understanding and accepting new and exciting aspects, concepts and ideas.

The Pressure to be Happy

Of late, I am seeing this funny thing where people are so stressed and pressurized to be happy or make others happy on an important day – say Birthday. If it were not for them being my close friends, I could almost enjoy it like a stand up comedy.

Often times the monotonocity and drama that surrounds the special day is in itself worth exploring. We have the Birthday Man or Woman (all grown up you see), who gets wished through all modes of communication possible (phones, whatsapp, in-person and even SMSes from Finance companies). Those who call on the phones are the most vulnerable. After wishing the usual “Many more happy returns of the day” or just plain “Happy Birthday” or even the newer “<Substitute regional translation of Happy Birthday>”, they end up in this awkward state where they have to speak something but don’t know what to say. They usually end with “So, what’s the plan?”

What would be the plan Bro? You tell me. What do you expect? Of course, it would be the mandatory cake cutting, which people go to lengths to keep a secret while you know what they are upto but have to act as if you don’t. It would also be the gift giving ceremony where the only happy person is one who bought shares in Amazon or Flipkart. There has never been a case of a surprise gift landing well. Mostly, the struggle is between hiding the disappointment creeping on the right side of your face after seeing the gift and the mental maths that your left side of the brain does to guess the price they paid to get you this damn thing.

There have been cases where the expectation of a surprise was so high that the person was dissappointed with the actual surprise they eventually got. Now, this whole businesss of surprises confuse the shit out of me. I don’t understand how it can be a surprise when the person is expecting it. I can imagine the person opening the wardrobe almost expecting some shining package, opening the car door and feeling sad that there is nothing in the driver’s seat, so on and so forth. So, by the end of the day I can assure you that they end up with more disappointing moments on the ‘special’ day compared to happy moments on any other ‘ordinary’ day.

Now, spare some thought for the planners. They want to make the day special for this overgrown birthday baby. They stress themselves out for days, if not weeks thinking of what to do, how best to surprise the already ‘surprise-greedy’ person and also keeping everything under wraps, lest this ‘amazing’ surprise be known before hand. I have seen friends fight it out just because someone spoiled the surprise. Really guys! Can’t we let go off this ‘surprise-planning-gifts’ headache and just have fun that day. Eat, drink and make merry – stop trying to be happy and for once, just be.

An Old Irrelevant Fool

As people age, there one thing that they fear the most. No, it is not health, not even wealth or that they will be missing their charming youth – It is becoming irrelevant. It is the thought that they would brushed aside and no one would even try to explain stuff to them as it would be deemed too much of an effort or worse unnecessary and useless. So, as people age, they try and do stuff that is like “See, I too know it”. That is why you see the posts of “Radiation tonight, switch off your moblies or you will be blown to oblivion” kind of posts from parents and grand parents. Well, this post is not intended to make fun of them. They still mean good but yes they are becoming irrelevant faster than their ancestors.

That brings us to today’s post. What is happening to our elders is also happening to our religion but as usual we choose not to accept it. Religion, which enjoyed so much respect and relevance in the past is fast loosing it. In really old times, religion did several important functionality. It was a “Completed Encyclopaedia of Science” – anything that required explanation from rainbows to thunder storms were documented in full detail. It had definite, beyond doubt convictions about birth, death and even after death. It had clear description of the process of creation and the eventuall end of universe too. It was also the one point “Legal Reference Section”. If you had any doubt how much needed to be paid to the owner of a slave girl, who you had mistreated, you can readily find the answer. List of Punishments (sometime laugable by today’s moral standards) were provided with clear conditions. It also helped the ones in power, including Kings to keep the masses in check and to provide them with a common purpose and meaning to their life. Above all, it brought in love and hope to the poor, suffering downtrodden masses as it promised something out of thin air – a hunger-free, melodious, peaceful retired after life.

Let us see where these stand now. Science has completely taken over and no one in their right minds believe we have a hell lurking beneath our feet now. We also know that we are not the centre of universe or creation but just another species which evolved from monkeys, living in just one of many planets in one of many star systems in one of many galaxies in our immensely large universe. Nothing revolves around us except just one pathetic moon. We know how rainbows and thunder storms happen. The Governments and Courtrooms have their own reference manuals now and religion has been stripped of all legal status except to take oath, now.

However, there is still one major role that religion plays, though it is clinging for dear life there. That is, giving hope of a better afterlife to millions of people who’s earth life is still miserable as they endure suffering, discrimination and oppression at the hands of the powerful. Even, for well off people, during times of personal grief and stress, religion offers a powerful alternate that can surpass all challenges and go beyond what mere mortals can hope to achieve. It also offers solace (It is definitely a pleasing thought to picture your departed loved ones, beaming with pride near your God as it is to think that those who wronged you on this earth will be brought to justice later, even after death). But time is running out for religion. The day when we overcome all health hazards including death, it will become extremely challenging for religion to stay relevant in its current form. However, if there is one big plus for religions, I think it is the ‘love’ that all religions invariably speak about and propogate and personally, I think if they stick to only that and be a religion without ‘laws’ but with lots of ‘love’, then they could be relevant for a long long time.