On Friendship

Friendship isn’t a big thing; It is a million of little things

That isn’t my quote exactly, Wikiquote helped, but I wish it were mine. It condenses everything I have to say about the topic in one line. About problems in friendship, I have to say a bit more.

I have always been a person who has gotten along pretty well with everybody, and as a corollary, I’ve never had strong connections with many people. I’m a decided introvert, and I have few pretty close friends. But at the same time, I’m quite “friendly” to a lot of people – a lot. And I’ve been irritated at a lot of people, but I don’t think I’ve hated anybody. And yeah, I’m almost always willing to give way if it makes things better, mostly because I don’t really care about most of the people I talk to… I care more about living a life unimpeded.

In unflattering terms, I don’t have a backbone. I don’t stand up for my issues. I don’t try to get to know people. Neither do I care about most of the people’s views. I don’t consciously or unconsciously think about my friends a lot – even a lot of my close friends, and I do a lot of stupid things which have hurt a lot of people.

I’m lucky though that I’ve had some good friends who have taught me the secret of a continuing friendship, and it’s pretty simple. Don’t judge. Don’t even try. Don’t try to find reasons, don’t make a fuss. People make mistakes, even your closest dearest friends. Making them admit it is not going to solve stuff, just forgive. And forget. I believe there is something in every friend I have that I like and respect above anything stupid or silly or even vicious that they might do. I know, because I’ve consciously been all of these things, and still been forgiven for it.

And lately, I’ve been sincerely glad I am like this.

Get a Clue

Cluetrain has been the central factor I use to judge businesses for some time now, and it surprised me today that the only reference that I found to it in this blog is a rather shallow one when I mention ASmallOrange. Time to rectify that 😀

The essence behind Cluetrain that I like is that it urges companies (even, or particularly big corporates) to be more personal in the way they deal with their customers. Instead of presenting an unapprochable corporate front to their lowest-tier customers, companies are urged to open up their doors and facilitate an honest employee-customer relationship – in some cases, friendship. This is the idea that business, at the very bottom, are fundamentally human, and therefore it requires a human touch for it to be the most successful.

I first heard about the Cluetrain manifesto when I heard it being refered in connection with Fastmail (whose email id I still use), but I should’ve recognized signs of its proliferation even earlier. Perhaps the most famous (and over-used) example is Google and it’s do-no-evil mantra, and it still remains the most successful psuedo-example. The Cluetrain manifesto though makes the most sense if you are a startup. Take the earlier case of Fastmail, or even ASO which has seen an explosive growth simply because of its word-of-mouth advertising. Head over to their forums to see why this is justified.

The entire text of the Cluetrain manifesto book can be read online, and I urge people even remotely interested in marketing to give it a glance. Even the chapter names are illuminating.

Human Nature

Vijay came over here yesterday, and as always, we had a ripe little argumentative session. Condensed, my side of it should’ve gone like this:

There is no such stable thing as “human nature” – the combination of drives, urges, reflexes, responses and the way of thinking that makes it up is something that is a product of evolution, and therefore, as a rule, constantly changing. Unlike animal nature though, our responses change much more rapidly, mostly because we are able to respond to changes in our surroundings that much more faster and more intelligently.

In a sentence, we can train ourselves to have a different “nature”. (I’ll prove this later)

This brings about an interesting byplay to arguments, conditions and states of being that are rejected simply because they are “unnatural”. Take the case of socialism, which many feel goes completely against the human ideal, or polygamy, or same-sex relationships, or a single parent family… What if we can (and we can) retrain ourselves so that all these conjectures suit us? Is there something intrinsically unnatural to humans then? I can imagine different societal constructs where many of today’s unworkable social ideas, economic models, sexual mores etc. can be made to function, and the society still describe itself as “normal”.

Retraining ourselves is actually very hard, perhaps impossible without the presence of an actual societal model to which you plan to convert to. However, a scenario may run thus: Consider a group of 100 core believers in Socialism. They emigrate to Mars and establish a colony there, and they build a society where the children are taught that work is service. In such a society (living in relative vaccum without any subversive contact with Earth) we might imagine the children to grow up to a world where they do not accord any great merit to material posessions, but rather to the ideal of helping other people (The Jesuit ideal, “men for others” comes to mind). In such a world, their selfish nature is satisfied because it is in their interests to help others… they are taught, it is their core nature that serving others is rewarding. The economic model of such a society I’m sure too is viable, though I’m not experienced enough to detail it here. This is something that perhaps you might have a little trouble accepting, but do think on it, this is something I believe.

Interestingly, if you’d notice, in such a world, Objectivism still holds true, the individuals are acting in their selfish interests, although perhaps the system as a whole holds that ideal in scorn.

Now consider something as innately distasteful as polyandry. As an aside, I choose sexual issues not because I have a perverse streak, but because everybody has a strong opinion about them, the resolution is more effective this way. And oh, I didn’t choose polygamy because sometimes the men just don’t get it :-D. Yup… back to polyandry, consider a world where this is normal. (Another interesting aside, it used to be so in Tibet). A rational man in the current society would have a great deal to say (and do) when his wife goes gallivanting with another man. But consider why our reaction is modeled this way… is it a natural response to the act, or more a response to how our society is modeled? The reaction is naturally one that has been evolved through the ages, and it makes perfect biological sense because if a man is able to keep a woman all to himself, he is more able to ensure that it is his sperm that impregnates her. Crude? But aye, I claim this is still the sole “natural” reason. Every other reason we can claim is something that has evolved because our society is structured this way (And I hope I’ve already shown how a society can be structured differently). Consider a world where such a competition does not exist, where a woman can choose who to be pregnant with, or more sensibly, where who the father of the child is, is a non-issue. Would we still be justified in feeling polyandry unforgivable?

Heinlein’s novels explore this theme very well.. consider reading his “Stranger in a Strange Land”, “Time Enough For Love”, and his recently discovered first: “For Us the Living”

OpenBSD, and a bit of philosophy

I installed OpenBSD a while back on my old system. It’s a PIII 500 with 64M RAM, and it’s been a testbed for new operating systems that I might be interested in. I got introduced to the UNIX world through Linux, but I’ve never spent a lot of computer time in that platform. I switched to FreeBSD as soon as my wireless chip got supported (a stumbling block which prevents me from installing Linux the way I want to, another being that I want things to “just work”) but OpenBSD seems more attractive currently because it natively supports my wireless chip in the latest nightlies. So, I downloaded a nightly build and got to installing it, and that’s when I found out something really nice about it.

There are operating systems, and then, there are operating systems… there’s Windows – ubiquitous, feature-rich, a bit of a kludge and rumored to be buggy, there’s Linux, the official alternative, and then there are these cute little *BSDs lying around the place. OpenBSD, even among these BSDs is not the most popular one, and I suppose it’s the only fault in an otherwise close-to-perfect OS.

OpenBSD has two mantras, they are very dissimilar and sometimes contradictory, but of all the OSs I’ve tried out, it comes the closest to the way I want software to work. The first of course, is that “Everything should be done right”. That’s not quite it, what makes some people hate the OS is it’s tiny (but very important and never-forgotten) addendum, “Everything should be done right… or not at all.” A very good example of this is when the opensource OSs started adding wireless support. Linux used the ndiswrapper kernel extension, and FreeBSD implemented ndis emulation in the kernel… they support newer wireless devices by emulating the Windows (NDIS) driver interface, allowing these OSs to use Windows drivers. OpenBSD would never implement something like that. What they did do is launch a campaign to get closed firmware opened up (see above article) and write proper BSD licensed drivers for that, sometimes even reverse-engineering proprietary drivers released by the vendors. So yeah, do it right. On the flip side, Openoffice hasn’t made it to the Ports collection, neither has Samba3… some stuff like Apache2 and Etheral have been completely removed.

The second mantra (and at times I think it is not in tune with the first, but just because of that, it makes OpenBSD special) is just that “stuff should just work”. And they’ve largely managed to stay by it. A default OpenBSD install detected my wireless card, my sound card, even my Firewire port that I hook my Ipod onto. As a stark contrast, you need to recompile the kernel in FreeBSD to get sound! So yeah, it’s special and the combination of these mantras makes OpenBSD into something I’ve grown to love.

There is of course, the part about some things that I need (/me begging for Openoffice 2) not being there in the ports, and living with that is hard. It’s however, the most secure OS on the planet, and just the idea of immersing code-reviewing ideology with the “just works” thing made it special enough for me to yell about it to you. As always, your mileage may vary, but do try out OpenBSD (and adore the goldfish.)

Perverts’ Own Country

It is interesting to note that during my entire trip of South India, the girls with me were probably the most hassled when we came back to Kerala. This is after we visited big cities like Chennai, Bangalore and Mysore, and it confirms a theory that for long I’ve held true: ‘Chastity belts breed perverts’.

I think I haven’t elaborated on this particular situation in my state before; it’s something that I’ve chosen to write about in my next LOBA column, so you’ll hear my say then. But until then, I’ll leave you guys with a short poem.

To look, not to
To smile, not to
To talk, not to
And to learn when to give up,
and when not to.