The New ‘Avatar’ of Mysticism

Neyetri from Avatar 3D, with bioluminescent points on her face.

Look carefully. The Na’vi people portrayed in James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ sit cross-legged on the ground, hold hands, and rotate their bodies from their bellies in a circular movement. All this in a deeply-meditative trance under the guidance of their chief Shaman and High-Priestess.

Mandala Meditation

The sequence closely resembles an actual technique of meditation, devised by Osho called Mandala. From its official website:

“Mandala means circle. Every circle contains a center. The aim of this technique is to create a circle of energy so that centering results naturally. At the end, one is left in absolute stillness, absolute silence.”

The specific technique is in the second stage of this meditation, described as follows:

“Sit with your eyes closed and mouth open and loose. Gently rotate your body from the belly, like a reed blowing in the wind. Feel the wind blowing you from side to side, back and forth, around and around. This will bring your awakened energies to the navel center.”

Meridien Points of Acupressure

As darkness falls, or during moments of dramatic stress, the beautiful blue-toned bodies of the avatars gently glow with tiny points of bioluminescent light. In some scenes these points appear on the face, in other scenes on the forearm, or on the torso. These points are reminiscent of ‘meridien points’ from traditional Chinese acupuncture. According to wikipedia:

“The meridian … is a concept central to traditional Chinese medical techniques such as acupuncture, and to martial arts such as tai chi and qigong. According to these practices, there are channels along which the energy or qi of the psychophysical system is considered to flow. Such techniques are said to achieve their effects by manipulation and, ideally, balancing of the energy running through a network of complex bodily patterns.”

Deep Forest

While immersed in 3D, keep your ears wide open. You will hear several types of tribal instruments playing soothing, calming, and rather evocative tribal music, even during the call for war. Pay attention to the didjiridoo, which plays for a short while but at the most pertinent moment. Something uncannily familiar about the music kept haunting me, like a fading memory. A few days later, in the silence of the night, I suddenly remembered! This music reminds me of my favourite album from 1998, ‘Deep Forest’, an album on which I’ve danced and meditated through several years of my life, all the way till 2006-ish. Early the next morning I rummaged through my collection, pulled it out, and danced for an hour in my room, delighted to have re-discovered it through a regression into my past from a 3D-conjured future.

The movie has several other allusions to mystical concepts and practices, but I leave the joy of more discovery to your search. At a more basic level, the film also alludes to many Hindu philosophy and religious concepts, starting from the obvious concept of the ‘avatar’. The astral-body and astral-travel of hinduism and buddhism is re-invented by Cameron as a DNA-mutated 10-feet tall living organism. Plugging into other living beings through the ‘queue’, which are the neural strands within the hair-braid of the Na’vi, is a creative interpretation of the ‘hara’ point in zen and buddhism.

The genius of the film lies not just in its technological-marvel, but in James Cameron as a shaman of our new age, channeling truths through a conjured world, unplugging us from the rigor-mortis of mankind’s decaying religions and spirital-values, navigating us in 3D back to our present-day world to our eternal truths.

This is the mark of genius, the revolution of consciousness over computers and CGI.


Really Bad Parenting Advice is Good.

Whew! I’ve finally made it to ‘Really Bad Parenting Advice’. Am sure when my kid grows up he’ll be real proud of me. Check this out: this cheeky website’s used a photo of me telling a dinosaur story to my little kid, with a hilarious twist. ReallyBadParenting.Com

Reminds me of the Calvin & Hobbes cartoon where his dad fills Calvin with all sorts of nonsense about the setting sun. I think all parents must laugh at themselves more often. Okay, now excuse me while I pick up more tips from this fabulous website.

[Update: Here’s a link to Calvin & Hobbes, where Calvin’s dad tries to explain old black and white photography: Calvin-dad-on-black-and-white-photos. ]


“Genesis Takes Place Continually in Nirvana” – Physicist Dr. Michio Kaku

Physics in the 21st century is finally beginning to speak the language of mysticism. Dr. Michio Kaku is an American theoretical physicist, who speaks of Science unravelling not one, but several universes, or ‘multiverses’. The first time I heard this term and its explanation was not in this century, but the previous, and not from a physicist, but an enlightened mystic master, Osho. Watch this excerpt from an episode, posted on YouTube, where Dr. Michio Kaku expresses with child-like enthusiasm how our whole understanding of the universe is going to fundamentally change again:


Speaker-fee for Academia

Effective from 21 March 2014, please note my new conditions for delivering talks, and conducting seminars and workshops for academia within India:

  1. Speaker-fee within the National Capital Region (NCR): Rs 7,500 for each talk between 45 to 90 minutes.
  2. Speaker-fee beyond the NCR in India: Rs 15,000 for upto the first 180 minutes, per day. Each subsequent talk or time-slot of 45 to 90 minutes at Rs7,500.
  3. Please also kindly pay for the commute-expenses, on a per KM basis, as well as for toll taxes if any, within the NCR. I tend to drive down in my own car, as I might be coming in, or going directly to, a client’s project-site.
  4. For outstation: If I choose to drive down, kindly pay the commute and toll expenses incurred, and kindly provide me with clean, comfortable, and air-conditioned accommodations on a non-shared basis. I prefer staying on-campus. Some of the places I’ve stayed at have outstanding facilities, but a few other places have rather disappointed me, making me wish my hosts had rather checked me into a hotel. So please discuss this in detail before finalizing a program.
  5. Silent, peaceful environs are rather important for me, as I tend to meditate in my room. Nights especially have to be quiet, peaceful and undisturbed. Please.
  6. A room with dampness on the walls and/or with strong and stale odours must be avoided.
  7. For travel to longer distances (India is a sub-continent!) I only prefer air-travel. My airline of choice is Jet Airways. For destinations where Jet Airways does not fly, please discuss options before-hand.
  8. Do contact me at least 45 to 60 days in advance as my schedules are usually quite booked.
  9. Once in a while, the teaching-bug really bites me, and I end up working as a visiting faculty in a college or institution, while still continuing with my other professional projects. Should you wish me to work as a visiting faculty, the above rates may not be applicable.
  10. Finally, the most precious aspect of my life is my family, and given my schedules and travel, when possible, I tend to take them along.

The above rates are for academia only. Professional training projects and workshops for non-academia and corporate clients, are usually billed at between Rs 4,50,000 to Rs 5,50,000, with some going up to Rs 7,50,000. All other expenses and applicable taxes extra. The nature and scope of such professional workshops are significantly different from the work I do for academia. The professional fees quoted depend on three core factors: Scope; complexity; and existing competency.

Since 1998, I’ve been working and interacting with academia in India whenever I can. This has always implied my taking time out of my professional tasks, devoting my free and spare time, and even keeping myself away from my family as well as from my personal pursuits.

Why? I love to teach and to share, and to inspire young minds and hearts with new ideas, new insights, and new opportunities. I spend hours every day researching deeply, learning about new things in my various professional and personal disciples, and love to share these with those keen to learn.

The number of invitations I receive keeps going up, semester-after-semester. This delights me. However, my increased professional commitments, which have also become more demanding and challenging, no longer allow me that luxury of time and energy. I often have to carve time out of my professional schedules, and catch up with deadlines by working harder and at odd times through late in the night.

Should I just hang up my kohlapuris, and call it a day? Should I just draw comfort from some of the more fruitful interactions I’ve had over these 11 unbroken years? I don’t think I’m done yet, but I do need to be more focussed and careful in agreeing to invitations. Especially when I’ve startled myself to discover that the token honorarium-fee offered me is often woefully inadequate, or the travel and/or accommodation rather unsuitable.

Some of you may have seen me through the years make an open promise on-stage to come and interact with any college that invites me, provided our schedules match. Look up my flickr account  to see how I’ve delivered on this promise, even though I only started photo-blogging since 2007. According to my estimates, I have surpassed my initial objective of touching the lives and minds of 10,000 students and participants across India. Going forward, some of you from academia may find these speaker-fees rather steep and impossible to accept. My experience, however, indicates the education-sector in India can easily find funds and sponsors for any worthy initiative.


How You May Fight Unwanted and Spam SMS-Text Messages

Are you fed up of receiving unwanted sms-text messages on your mobile-phone? Have you received any within the last 24 hours? If your answer is yes, your problem is far deeper than you’d like to acknowledge.


For instance, do you realize with each passing day, the menace of unwanted SMSes bombarding your mobile-phone is only set to grow? Soon, the growth may turn exponential? Unlike spam-messages in email, that can be seen cluttering your inbox only when you log into your mailbox, a spam-sms pesters you directly, at any odd hour of the day or night, demanding your immediate attention. You may soon find yourself persistently interrupted through your day and life. This is harassment, apparently non-physical and non-verbal, but in reality, it is physical, mental, and even social. So stop being mute about it.

Private and Confidential

It may seem obvious that you need not give your mobile number away to random people and organizations. However, this step alone is not sufficient. I have an Airtel mobile number since 1999, and so far I have never published my number anywhere. In these ten years, I’ve made it a point to never publish my number on any of my business cards. When I do give my number to someone, I immediately impress upon them, whether verbally or in writing, not to share my number with anyone else without my prior consent.

Do Not Answer

My second rule is even stricter. I tend not to answer calls from numbers I do not recognize, or do not expect. So, if you want me to answer your call, you have to first sms me, letting me know who’s calling and why, and request me to consider answering my phone.
The nature of my work, as well as my life, is such that I tend to keep my phone in a switched-off or its silent-mode for hours at a stretch. This is actually a good habit to inculcate. Once people know you are not a reliable mule always available at the other end of their mobile-phone, they’ll use their discretion in calling you, and switch to alternatives, such as e-mail, or even an urgent sms. I make it a point of being prompt in my responses to valid emails. This works as a positive assertion, as people soon learnt to email rather than just call me.

No Escape From SMS-Spam

Even then, the best laid plans of mice and men-with-mobiles oft go awry. Each time I’ve had to book an airline ticket for myself, I’ve been asked to provide my mobile number so the airline may inform me of delays and schedules. Yeah! Right. Within minutes of them punching my number into their systems, I’ve consistently received sms-es promising me hotel rooms, properties to buy, and even vacations. Similarly, when I fill up forms for making investments, or at banks, where providing my mobile number is mandatory (why?) I am subsequently besieged by spam-smses. Even certain government-forms demand I share my mobile-number.

Do Not Disturb

By now, you may wonder how come I do not mention Unwanted Commercial Calls (UCC). Oh! I solved that problem long ago. You see, desperate to unplug myself from this vortex, I immediately registered myself with the National Do Not Disturb (N-DND Registry). You may do so too, by following the directions here:

Black-list Callers

Within 45 days of registering, all unwanted commercial calls actually ceased. Once in a rare while, say once in three to four months, I may receive the one stray call. I promptly fire off a written complaint via email to They formally acknowledge the email, provide me with a number, and respond within a few days on the action they may have taken to resolve the call. I’ve also subscribed to Airtel’s ‘Call Management’ service. This is available from their website for a small fee per month: I pay Rs 15 per month. I have created a ‘black-list’ of telephone and mobile-numbers, and that pretty much keeps UCC at bay.

SMS is a pesky problem. For each junk-sms I receive, I promptly fire up my email software, and write a complaint to Their customer-service then has to respond to such a written complaint, and they follow it up with a voice-call as well. This is where the rub lies. Since the past several months, I’ve pointedly asked Airtel the following questions, which they either duck or evade:

01. Exactly what steps have they taken to stop that sms-sender from sending messages? I don’t need assurance, I need proof.

02. For the harassment caused and for the trouble I take to sit down and file a written complaint, and to respond to their follow-up calls, what compensation will be offered to me?

03. Given that I have clearly and unequivocally indicated that I do not wished to be disturbed by unwanted smses, and registered with the TRAI for this, why is it that Airtel first waits for me to file a complaint, and then responds by stating that a warning has been issued to the spammer? Is that all? Why can’t Airtel prevent spam-smses, by using clever software-filters that catch spam and chuck them out?

04. Does Airtel stand to gain money from having such smses sent on their networks? Or, does Airtel stand to gain money in receiving compensations from spammers for their offenses? The TRAI directive may offer a clue:
“To discourage the telemarketers who make calls to the numbers registered in Do Not Call List, a provision has been made whereby Rs.500/ – shall be payable by the telemarketer to the service provider for every first unsolicited commercial communication (UCC) and Rs.1000/- shall be payable for subsequent UCC. There is a provision for disconnection of the telemarketer telephone number / telecom resource if the UCC is sent even after levy of Rs.500/- & Rs.1000/- tariff. In case of non-compliance to the Telecom Unsolicited Commercial Communications Regulations, 2007, the Service Provider is also liable to pay an amount by way of financial disincentive, not exceeding Rs.5000/- for first non-compliance of the regulation and in case of second or subsequent such non-compliance, an amount not exceeding Rs.20,000/- for each such non-compliance.”
Source: on date: 28 July 2009.

As you can see, the TRAI directive is lopsided. The end-user suffers, while the Service-Provider may stand to profit from penalizing spammers when a complaint is lodged by the end-user. It’s obvious the end-user must be compensated for each offense. This compensation may be automatically offered, whether or not the end-user lodges a complaint.

In the meantime, I feel getting Airtel to respond to me for every spam-sms against which I file a complaint, will eventually yield results. I would therefore strongly encourage fellow-users to file written complaints at

Throughout, I mention my experiences with Airtel. You may find similar services with your service provider. So please check with them, as I would not know.

Finally, we’ve all forgotten the small little detail of spamming. The real person or organization behind the spamming tend to share their own mobile or landline numbers as well. Yummy! Starting this week, I am going to publish all these numbers on a special blog-post, and trust automated internet-spiders will harvest these numbers and contact-details. The rest, I leave to your imagination.

In the meantime, if you’ve got tips and suggestions to share, please do so here.


Quantum Compass in Birds’ Eyes, And More.

There’s more to vision than meets the eye. Especially our eyes. Since more than fifteen years, I have just read, researched, and absorbed anything that helps me understand vision, colors, and ultimately, perception. I just find it so fascinating and mysterious. My workshops on digital color, digital typography, or digital sound, and more recently, digital video, are drawn from my ongoing research and study into the fundamental principles of these doors of perception.

Just stumbled across this new discovery, which I find rather exciting:

Reverse Engineering the Quantum Compass of Birds:

That birds have a compass in their eyes with which they can actually ‘see’ the Earth’s magnetic field is startling. You’ll also find other equally intriguing snippets of information on the page, including how cows and deer align themselves to the north-south magnetic fields of Earth.


Creating Creativity In People


I’ve spent more than 15 years teaching creative-professionals some of the most advanced techniques and technologies behind the latest graphic-design, audio, and video software and hardware. My heart, though has always been more keen on pure design and creativity. Long ago, I recognized the real bottleneck is neither in hardware or software, but in creativity. I call this the ‘blank screen’ syndrome. You get yourself the most powerful computer system with advanced components and peripherals; feature-rich and overwhelming authoring software, only to panic as you stare at an empty digital canvas for several awkward minutes, wondering what to do.

It Can Only Be Caught

At long last, my clients have also started to acknowledge this as their real problem and have started to ask me to focus on deeper and more fundamental disciplines. How to author anything that resonates with aesthetic beauty and creativity is indeed challenging. Teaching others how to do this is exponentially more challenging and exciting. It can’t be taught. It can only be caught.

NewConcept is one of my clients bold enough to move in this direction. I’ve been training and consulting them in technology from time-to-time since circa 1998. A couple of my students have also worked with them on design projects through these years. Finally, in October last year, they invited me to professionally mentor their Research and Design team.

Crystal-Ball of Creativity

The mentorship program covers almost all disciples of design, creativity and media. Some sessions have been devoted to typography and publication-grid and design. Others on color-theory, color-schemes and trends. The team’s also honing its skills in photography and building a large in-house library of photos and images. We’ve covered digital print-production, and several sessions have focussed on the latest trends and techniques in web-design and user-interface. Together with the client-coordination team, we’ve also discussed pre-press and production technology. In almost every session we brainstorm on new and ongoing client projects. Plus, we also set up and fine-tune systems and processes for client-servicing, briefing, and profiling. Once in a while I’ve also delved into new features and technologies in the latest design software.


Personal Challenges

At a professional level, combining creativity with people-skills is indeed quite exciting. Nurturing talent demands a lot of effort and sensitivity, and every insight shared needs to be backed with solid research and references. I spend hours scouring bookshops, libraries, and online resources to compile my references. In the process, am helping build a growing in-house library of reference, imagery, and color trends.

Am blessed to work with a team of devoted professionals each with several years of experience. So far, they’ve always strived to fulfill their clients’ objectives. Personally though, I wish for them to break out of this mould and take a quantum leap in their creative aspirations. I wish for them to study and absorb the latest and most daring design trends; work on creating their own unique signature style; and usher in a fresh vision on design and creativity in their domain. I want the entire organization to start thinking in terms of design and aesthetics. And, along the way, I want them to win several international awards and recognitions.

We certainly have a long way to go. The inspirations and standards I’ve set for them at times seem impossible. I merely chuckle. The initial six months of hard-drilling have started to bear some fruit. We’ve at least sorted out our color-moods and palettes. The team’s always eager to plug into its own photo bank for imagery. We’ve started to roll out a new branding and identity which may take a few more months to percolate down. Some of the newer web-design projects are significantly far-ahead of their earlier predecessors. The greatest challenge though, is to master typography with all its complex nuances. No trivial feat this, but after several months of trying I’ve finally devised a better pedagogy to achieve this.

Finally, all this work is only possible thanks in turn to all my gurus of design. To learn is to share, and vice-versa.


Is An Audiophile A Meditator Of Sound?

Have just been reading this article with great interest:
Why We Need Audiophiles”,
Fremer seems to have honed his ability to listen to music and sound over his lifetime. No wonder he can easily experience the dull, flatness and soul-sapping sound of MP3 music and even compact-discs. Please read the article to appreciate this.
If you’re into Indian music, you can try a simpler experiment, that costs zero in any currrency.
First, listen to a live amplification of a tabla, or a rudra veena. Then go close and listen to it unplugged, without any mics or equipment. The difference is astounding. I’ve often challenged my students to try and create a faithful recording of a didjiridoo, and so far, no one seems to have caught it at its original analog quality.

But I digress. The audiophile may be addicted to the purity of sound, and driven to extreme fetish to acquire the right gear to hear the perfect sound, but the audiophile is still obsessed with sound.
This is where eastern mysticism steps in. Try silence. Have you ever got addicted to deep, blissful, unperturbed fathomless silence? Can you imagine how nourishing that must be for your ears, for your mind, for your soul?
The journey from an audiophile to a silent meditator is rather mysterious. The first thing you realize, is that physical silence is not possible in the physical world. With great fortitude when you do manage to almost cancel all external sounds, the sounds from within your body are louder than the noisiest traffic outside. The gnashing of your teeth, the breathing of your body, the beating of your heart-beat: you never realize how noisy it is to inhabit the human body!
This is where the mind is called in to contribute with what it can do best. You soon learn to teach your mind to attenuate all noise and sound outside and inside. This fascinating noise-cancellation ability of the mind allows you to drop into silence. Momentarily at first. It’s like suddenly diving several hundred kilometres deep into a pitch-black and extremely cold and refreshing ocean. You see nothing, you hear nothing, you feel nothing, but it’s all around you.
Then you come back. Exploding into an explosion of sound and noise of the universe.
Want to be an audiophile for free? Just meditate. Heck! You might even forget sound.


Moving From Noise to Sound

Most of the recent advances in the technologies of sound, are a step-back, or can be largely classified into those that reduce high-fidelity; those that add noise and distortion; or else a mixture of both. The fundamental principles of sound still remain unexplored, pointing to several grand areas of research and development, as well as significant opportunities, through the 21st century.

Am delivering a talk titled “Moving From Noise to a Fundamental Understanding of Sound in the 21st Century.” This, at RAFIT 2009, which stands for ‘Recent Advances and Future trends in IT’. RAFIT 2009 is being held at Punjabi University, in the vibrant city of Patiala in the north-Indian state of Punjab. My talk takes a fresh and inspirational look at several possibilities in a new approach to sound, and the bold approach to research required, that may unlock the richness and complexity of sound.

Am going to share new or alternative ideas in:

1. The Physics of Sound. Comparison to the Phenomenon of Light.
2. Psycho-Acoustics.
3. Loudness. Internal Versus External. Loudness Curves.
4. Clarity versus Distortion.
5. Coding Semantics in Sound Signals: Traffic Horns.
6. Decoding Sound into Semantics and Meaning.
7. Voice and Speech Recognition: Two Different Things.
8. Localization of Sound. Binaural mysteries.
9. The Emerging Role of DSPs.
10.Machine-Recognition: Humour, sarcasm, moods, and figures of speech.

In addition, am also delivering the key-note presentation at this prestigious event.
Discover more here: RAFIT 2009.


Niyam on NDTV Gadget Guru: Blu-Ray Wins Format War

NDTV’s Gadget Guru went live for this special episode. The buzz on and behind the sets was quite electric. I was at 2008, when I got the call to come over to their set for this live episode.

[The embedded video above contains trademarks and copyrights owned by NDTV and its affiliates and partners.]

Niyam on NDTV Gadget Guru: 2009 Look-ahead

Looking ahead at gadget trends for 2009, on NDTV’s popular ‘Gadget Guru’ show. Just discovered this on NDTV’s new service called ‘Tubaah’, a comprehensive video-repository and web-presence of NDTV’s programmes. Enjoy!

[The embedded video above contains trademarks and copyrights owned by NDTV and its affiliates and partners.]

Niyam on NDTV Gadget Guru: 2008 Wrap-up

Just discovered NDTV’s new service called ‘Tubaah’, a comprehensive video-repository and web-presence of NDTV’s programmes. Here’s a video of me on their popular show ‘Gadget Guru’. This is the 2008 wrap-up. Enjoy!

[The embedded video above contains trademarks and copyrights owned by NDTV and its affiliates and partners.]

Video-Screaming! Live From My Mobile.

Live Video-Mobile Streaming from Anywhere to Everyone. Are you screaming yet with

I just headed over to, and installed a free and clever little software in my Nokia E61i mobilephone. This ‘qik’ software, allows me to stream live video from my mobile-phone, from anywhere on planet Earth, directly to the world wide web. Yes, you read it right. It transforms my mobilephone into a video-streaming device that transmits live video to the internet. Think of it as a web-camera you can carry in your pocket wherever you go. More conveniently, a web-camera without a computer or a tethered internet connection.

You may check out my video-streams on my free account, at and engage in a live chat or share comments for each video. I started by testing it over wi-fi, but am quite impressed it works with GPRS-over-EDGE as well. So I can stream live-video from any location on Earth, as long as I get a signal on my mobile. That’s incredibly neat.

What’s not so neat, is that the website and the software is still rather buggy. The site also seems to be rather slow on the take, but hey! we’ve all got spoilt by YouTube. I can choose to publish videos that are marked for the general public, or for private friends and family.

Streaming with Ideas

I can capture and share any experience as it happens. Could be as ordinary as a beautiful stroll at a beach; a mountain-sunrise; lunging down a wild roller-coaster; or even unusual traffic snarls. Anywhere life takes me, can now be streamed with frightening simplicity. Playing my own paparazzi  is the ultimate in 21st century decadence, but I suppose for the moment we call it, livin’ it up.

So what do you think I’ll use it for most often? The first video should offer you a hint. Let friends and clients know am still in the bathroom getting ready, for instance! If I’m going to lose my privacy, I’d rather do it with style.

I’ve only got one life to video-stream.



Living with Multiple Versions of Ubuntu Linux: Breezy Badger, Fiesty Fawn, Hardy Heron, UbuntuStudio

Moving My Computer from an Animal Farm to a Wild Jungle

As a computer consultant specializing in digital creativity and new media, I don’t use Microsoft Windows at all. Yes, it’s possible to meld creative freedom with true digital freedom. So, instead of MS Windows, I use what is known more simply as ‘Linux’ by ordinary folks, though GNU/Linux is more appropriate. I’ve been dabbling in GNU/Linux since circa 1997 and started using it as my regular workstation since circa 2001. Unlike Microsoft’s proprietary offerings, Linux comes in over 400 different flavours and counting. The most popular flavours of these are called Red Hat, Ubuntu, Debian, and Knoppix, to name a few. Impressively, some of these flavours are frequently upgraded within six to nine months, giving me a shining new feel and features with which to surge forward with my work every time. Blokes who just use Windows can’t appreciate the joy and thrill of this rejuvenating experience.

Multi-Boot System

To appreciate the diversity and capabilities of GNU/Linux, at any given time I’ve usually got about 7 to 10 different GNU/Linux flavours and versions installed on my computer, each usually resides in its own separate ‘partition’ on my hard-disk. Mine has 14 partitions. My favourite flavour so far is Ubuntu, which is extremely easy and intuitive for ordinary non-techie Desktop users. In fact, absolute newbies who’ve never used a computer before, take to Ubuntu like a duck to water. Yes, it’s much easier to use than MS Windows.

Normally, you could just buy yourself a laptop or desktop that comes pre-installed with Ubuntu or any other flavour of Linux, and just get down to your work without any anguish or steep learning curves. But I like to tweak and experiment. Ubuntu comes in various versions, updated every six months. I’ve got the following versions installed in different partitions of my hard-disk denoted as ‘hda’. Ubuntu Fiesty Fawn which was released in April 2007 (hence the shorthand: 7.04). It’s installed on hda2. UbuntuStudio, which is a special flavour for authoring sound, music, audio, video, and graphics, on hda3. I’ve used UbuntuStudio for composing, arranging, and producing music professionaly, as well as for graphic-design and video-editing for professional assignments. It’s installed on hda3.

I never hastily delete an old version of a Linux flavour and overwrite it with a new version. Instead, I leave the old version in one partition while installing a new version in another partition. This way, I can test and gradually migrate to the new version and fallback to the old one in case something doesn’t work properly. So, I’ve got Ubuntu Breezy Badger, from 2005, installed on another partition, RedHat 8 on another, Debian Sarge on hda 11, and another multimedia-authoring flavour called Agnula.

Gone but not forgotten from my hard-disk, are ancient versions of Knoppix, Mandrake, PCQLinux, and Fedora. I might just play with Knoppix and Fedora again, some sunny day. I badly wanted to go beyond using Fiesty Fawn to the latest version of Ubuntu, Hardy Heron (8.04) as well as newer versions of Fedora and others.

Linux-Swap: How much is enough?

Alas, my existing desktop only had 256MB of RAM. The newer versions needed about 380MB+, with 512MB preferred. So I finally bought 1GB of RAM, to get a total of 1.256GB of total RAM. In case my system would need more, have configured it to masquerade 512MB of space from my hard-disk as RAM, or virtual RAM. This is called ‘linux-swap’. Most websites clalim you need to set double your RAM size, as your linux-swap size, but this is simply not true. It merely augments your existing RAM, so if you’ve got 2GB or 4GB of RAM, you could even just add 256MB of linux-swap space. I’ve added just 256MB of linux-swap, and have been monitoring the system’s use of swap. It hardly touches it. No wonder my machine appears to respond faster, since RAM is faster than hard-disk.

Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty. When my computer switches on, it presents me a simple menu, allowing me to choose which linux-flavour to boot into from all the choices available on my hard-disk partitions. The software that runs this magic is called GRUB, for Grand Unified Bootloader. Normally, GRUB installs in a special area in the computer, called the MBR, for Master Boot Record. I’ve stored my GRUB settings in hda7, this is where the GRUB on my machine stores the entries into its menu of choices.

Everytime I install a new flavour or version on any partition, I copy the menu-entries from the latest install’s GRUB-settings, into the actual GRUB that I use from hda7. It’s worked beautifully since 7 years, except last evening, when I installed Hardy Heron.

Problems with GRUB and the latest Ubuntu

On the hard-disk known as hda, I found I hadn’t booted into Debian Sarge for some time, so I could replace it with Hardy Heron. Debian was on hda11, the eleventh partition among fourteen on my hard-disk. I deleted the partition. All subsequent partitions moved one step ahead. So the existing hda12, became the new hda 11, the earlier hda13 became the new hda12, and so on. The hard-disk showed 8GB as free space. I selected this, set it to the filesystem of ‘ext3’, and marked it as Hardy Heron’s root space, denoted with a simple ‘/’.

Got to be careful here. The new partition now appears at the end, as hda14. Within 25 minutes, I had Hardy Heron installed on my machine. Now the tricky part. I delberately wrote GRUB into hda14. Later, I booted into Fiesty, and copied the menu entries from here into my venerable GRUB in hda7. Bad idea! It did not work. I spent about 4 hours researching into what could have gone wrong, until some tech-forums pointed to the solution.

The version of GRUB installed on hda7 was 0.42. The latest versions of all Linux flavours, can only work with GRUB version 0.47 or later. So I backed up the menu-configurations of the old GRUB on hda7, and installed the latest GRUB 0.47 straight to the MBR. Cleverly enough, this new version of GRUB sniffed through all my partitions, pulled out all the linux-flavours and versions installed, and automatically populated its own menu of choices for use when the machine switched on. Brilliant.

However, it turned out to be quite unusable. I could only boot into Hardy Heron. Trying to boot into anything else would lead to an initial burst of text-info on the screen, a long wait, and then the terse: “Alert! /dev/sda2 does not exist. Dropping to a shell.” Elsewhere on the screen “Check root=bootarg cat /proc/cmdline or missing modules, devices. cat /proc/modules ls /dev”


Took me another several hours before it finally dawned on me what’s gone wrong. The earlier GRUB version 0.42 denoted hard-disk partitions as hda12, hda 13, etc., where the ‘h’ stands for hard-disk. The new GRUB version 0.47 denotes partitions as sda12, sda13, etc., where the ‘s’ stands for SCSI or perhaps ‘storage’. So, I opened the menu-entries to GRUB, stored in a file called menu.lst, and manually changed the erroneously marked ‘sda’ to ‘hda’ for all other entries. Also add ‘ro quiet splash’ to each kernel entry, so I could get the much nicer graphical screen with a simple scroll-bar while booting, rather than a blizzard of text outputs.

Whew! Everything works. Have finally got my old and new Linux flavours working together again. Next step: have to get into Hardy Heron and fix it’s screen resolution from 640×480 to a much-higher resolution. Have found some tech-forums and read several pages on how to do this. So far, nothing’s worked, but will eventually find a solution. Will then install several of my favourite applications and software, and further tweak the system. Until it’s time again for the new Linux flavour, and a newer version.

Transforming Death to Delight

Death is the only certainty. It can happen anytime. No one can escape it. No one is prepared or ready for it. Face it. Death is real. When you die, you leave your loved ones vulnerable to a lot of unnecessary harassment at the hands of others in the name of rituals and customs, and their own morbid fear of death.
So here’s how I want my death to be handled.

  1. In my actual moments of dying , I’d love those around me to enter into a meditative silence, becoming aware of the entire process, helping me go with ease and dignity and meditation, rather than hold or clutch on to me and make me upset and harassed in my personal moment. Hey! Just remember I’ve lived a beautiful, blessed life. Let me meet death with gratitude and awareness.
  2. Once I die, lay my dead body on the floor. Light an earthen lamp, a diya, next to the body, and please maintain your meditative silence. Please don’t chant any mantras or whatever. Just encounter my dying moments keeping yourself fully awake, aware, meditative, and available totally to the moment. Keep your interrupting cellphones and personal gadgets switched off please.
  3. Usually, it takes several hours for close friends and relatives to gather. But let them not come to mourn. Hire some bhangra-dhol players, or a DJ, or play some fantastic dance and celebration music, and invite everyone to join the celebration.
    Keep the celebration music flowing, ask people to wear their best clothes. In the gaps hold sessions of sharing jokes and laughter. Intersperse with soft, meditative music from the world of Osho. My loved ones would know my favourites. I wish this to be grand farewell in celebration to all my loved ones. The energy should be so high that it swipes everybody off their feet.
  4. Dress me in my favourite maroon robe, or whatever I wear for meditation. Remove everything else. Keep my face uncovered at all times.
  5. Next to me place a printed or hand-calligraphy sign that says: “Reminder: Don’t Escape Your Reality. You Will Die Too.” Add my name, date of birth, and date of death, to the placard.
  6. In the room where the body lies, tell people to be silent and meditative, and not to disturb the atmosphere or others. Don’t try to chat up others, or avoid witnessing death, by chatting up others who do not wish to avoid witnessing death. Outside, make sure the party and celebration goes higher and higher.
  7. An hour before going to the cremation grounds, please play my favourite music for me: Kundalini Meditation from Osho. Those who are interested to do Kundalini Meditation can happily join in. Request others not to disturb them, especially during the silent fourth stage.
  8. When the time comes to go the cremation grounds, use a simple rope to tie the body to the stretcher, for the sole and practical purpose of keeping the body tied to the stretcher. Please don’t use any religious threads, or any other fancy or religious stuff at all. Do not place any garlands or wreaths or bouquets or fancy shawls or anything else. No need to beautify or hide the simple truth of death. Do not hire the services of a priest. No religious chanting of any kind please. Or do anything else which is similar. Don’t even sing or dance. Just carry the body in utter silence and simplicity, without tears or mourning, and while keeping the body’s face uncovered. Take a simple earthen pot that will eventually hold my ashes, and a simple cloth, any will do. No need for any religious markings.
  9. Pay no heed at all to anyone who says the head should go out first or the feet or whatever. All bullshit to me! Just do what comes naturally. Please don’t take the body to any temple or religious grounds. Just go straight to the cremation grounds. Tell the priest you don’t want any religious ceremony or ritual. Could he just place the body on the funeral pyre, please. That is the first and the last thing he should do.
  10. Light the pyre in silence and without any religious rituals and chantings. Make this a purely existential moment for me and yourself. No honey, ganga-water, or other rituals. No need to poke the skull with a wooden stick. No idle chit-chat around the pyre please, for the sake of those who wish to totally experience this moment. Just be silent and with yourself.
  11. Collect the ashes in the urn at your convenience, once the body has burnt completely. Don’t bother about auspicious dates and times. I do not want the ashes thrown into the Ganga or any other river. No religious ceremonies of any kind either. Avoid Haridwar or an equivalent trip.
  12. Just sprinkle the ashes on any vineyard. Yes! That’s where I come from but you wouldn’t know, and this is my strongest wish. If a vineyard is not available, well, then you can sprinkle them on any vineyard anywhere on this Earth. If that may not be possible for you, explore what is the most ecological and convenient method for you to release the ashes into the environment. Heck! You may even just wash them down the sink or release them into a sea or ocean.
  13. Pease do not hold or organize any religious discourse at a temple, or a havana anywhere, or shave your heads, or wear white clothes in mourning, or make donations or be forced to make them, or get into anything else that is more dead-ritual to me than death itself. Take it easy.
  14. Exactly nine days after my death, throw a final, really grand dance celebration for all my loved ones. Bring the best music, the best DJ, lights, live musicians, ask people to come dressed in their finest, and serve the best food and drinks. That’s all. No religious ceremonies in any temple, no speeches, no condolences to be offered or received. Just laugh, dance, and celebrate like there is no tomorrow. There isn’t, actually.
  15. Maybe some people will trickle in a few days or weeks after the death, to offer condolences to the family. Ask them to come in high spirits and celebrate with them. Just play some lively music, share a few jokes and laughter, or do whatever. If people want to know the exact details of the death, you could play them an audio recording of the chronology of events if you wish. A video would be even better. Or politely hand them a sheet with all the details and ask them to read it later, while requesting them to change the topic. Simple.
  16. A few seemingly sincere well-wishers may suggest or cajole my loved ones into the importance of some ritual or ceremony. Boldly tell them that I consider what they recommend as total bullshit, as how would they know what they’re saying is true, until they died and experienced it for themselves. As punishment, ask them to share a few jokes with all present, else who knows, I might come back and haunt them for the rest of their lives!
  17. No need to hold a one-year mourning, or even a one-day mourning. Celebrate all your festivities with grandeur and delight: diwali, holi, birthdays, weddings, or anything else. If you are into giving sweets and gifts on diwali and other functions, go ahead: give and receive. I do not want my family and loved ones to find themselves encumbered by religious and social rituals they have to follow. No need. Live your life to the fullest every moment. You will die too.

Freely distribute this document in advance to people so all know how to respond to this moment and to generally avoid causing any harassment or inconvenience to my family and loved ones.

Seeking Intelligence and Meaning on the Web

Let’s Start with Toys through Hopefully We’ll Get to Truth Later.

What is the world wide web? A collective outpouring of almost a billion minds chattering together to create a cacophony of frenzied thoughts that overwhelm and deluge you. If you could imagine a single giant megaphone connected to the web, and a text-to-speech engine, that converted every blog, chat, email, and every fragment of text on the web into sounds, mixed it with all the podcasts and music, as well as the audio from all videos published on the web, what would you get? Crank up the volume for good measure.

The web is man’s search for meaning. A thirst for intelligence embedded within information.
Google is a funnel, but leaves it to you to extract meaning and intelligence from its results.

A small step in the right direction is alaTest. It addresses a rather frivolous purpose: intelligently rate
any electronic gadget you may wish to purchase. alaTest achieves its goal using a complex and brilliant algorithm, that automatically searches the web for all expert reviews on a single product, then compares it with users’ comments and reviews, to arrive at its alaScore. The engine is much more complex than that, but what would take me several hours or even days through several sites and reviews, is now achievable with almost a single click, in a few seconds.


The site is still a work-in-progress, and expect a few anomalies as the engine refines itself. However, it is a commendable project. For all those who often love to pick my brains on helping them choose their often pre-determined gadgets (hehe!), please consider using the evaluation here instead.
On a more philosophical note, it mirrors our path. As children we start with grasping toys as we try to decode the world around us. Gadgets are nothing more than toys, more often for boys. Hopefully, some day, we may just find the essential algorithms developed through alaTest and other similar engines, to find more meaningful insights on the web, than just what to buy. Until then, let’s enjoy alaTest.