Origin of the word “Algorithm”

Last night, I was searching on some material and books on contributions to computer science by ancient Indian scientists and mathematicians, when I came across few links that were, well, in my view, pretty enlightening.

I specifically searched for related terms. One such term was Algorithm. I went to the default site where any one would start research on anything, Wikipedia. If you go to the Algorithm page, the etymology section reads: “The word “Algorithm” or “Algorism” in some other writing versions, comes from the name Al-Khwārizmī (c. 780-850), a Persian mathematician, astronomer, geographer and a scholar in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, whose name means “the native of Kharazm”, a city that was part of the Greater Iran during his era and now is in modern day Uzbekistan. He wrote a treatise in Arabic language in the 9th century, which was translated into Latin in the 12th century under the title Algoritmi de numero Indorum. This title means “Algoritmi on the numbers of the Indians”, where “Algoritmi” was the translator’s Latinization of Al-Khwarizmi’s name. Al-Khwarizmi was the most widely read mathematician in Europe in the late Middle Ages, primarily through his other book, the Algebra. In late medieval Latin, algorismus, the corruption of his name, simply meant the “decimal number system” that is still the meaning of modern English algorism. In 17th century French the word’s form, but not its meaning, changed to algorithme. English adopted the French very soon afterwards, but it wasn’t until the late 19th century that “Algorithm” took on the meaning that it has in modern English”.

From there I move on to Al-Khwarizmi’s wiki page. There, I found another similar definition of Algorithm. It says: “The term “algorithm” is derived from the algorism, the technique of performing arithmetic with Hindu-Arabic numerals developed by al-Khwarizmi”. Worth seeing are some other links, specially on Al-Khwarizmi. He is famously known for his work on Indian numerals and Algebra. And I also came across a book that’s worth checking out (which I am thinking of doing some time later).

It felt great seeing that something on which almost the entire world now functions, is based on works done on the Indian number system. 🙂

Ah, yes. While searching, I also stumbled upon Alan Turing’s wiki page. I did not know that he had some Indian connection as well 🙂 .

Related Links:

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The Power of Twitter: The case of Radia Tapes

A couple of months ago I had read an interview of The Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger in The Hindu, where he had emphasized upon the role of technology in publishing of news including use of social media like twitter.

In the recent Niira Radia case as well, his thoughts, that people have now more say through discussion and involvement using these social media tools, are echoed. Last week, I was casually browsing through my twitter time-line when I came across the open magazine link on twitter, that exposed the Radia-Dutt-Sanghvi tapes. And then, as is evident from the famous Barkhagate hash-tag, lengthy discussions and criticism followed. However, I was surprised that till later in the day, nobody from the media or any journalist from any national news channel on twitter had spoken a word about it. The Outlook also came up with the list of the tapes and a brief analysis of the tapes. It was only later that night that Barkha Dutt tweeted a link to a statement by NDTV on the defamatory remarks against her. Also, it was only next day that Rajdeep Sardesai broke his silence on the alleged tapes. Before that everything about the tapes was happening on twitter. Indian Express, however, had come up with an editorial that weekend.

Media’s silence did not go down well with the tweeps. People started asking questions about the way media reacted to the story. People wanted some answers. Even if these were alleged and may be forged, the janta demanded a fair debate to sort out this matter. This was also supported by some journalists. After all, reputations of 2 big names who had set examples for many, were at stake. In fact, more than that it was a question on the credibility of the news that we see and also whether media should also come under public scrutiny. Some newspapers, when asked as to why they did not come up with any story on the tapes quoted the uncertainty over the authenticity of the tapes as a reason.

Finally, Sagarika Ghose agreed to host a debate on FTN next Monday, apparently 4 days after the tapes were made public. After that both print media and the news channels started debating the alleged tapes. Times of India finally published this story in their 25th November edition. The recent discussion on the tapes was on The Last Word (aired yesterday) by Karan Thapar (and was indeed a good one). In the show, the editor of the Open Magazine, Manu Joseph pointed out the time and nature of the conversations between Niira Radia and Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi. He said that Radia, having 2 big corporate giants as her clients (most probably Tata group and RIL owned by Mukesh Ambani, as per the conversations), and discussing the allotment of ministries in the cabinet was a big political story (due to the Ambani brothers’ gas dispute and Tata being a major telecom player). The editor-in-chief of The Hindu, N. Ram strongly criticized both the senior journalists’ actions and also said that had it been BBC or NY Times or Financial Times, this(behaviour) would not have been tolerated and their careers would have been finished. The latest development in the story is the response from Barkha Dutt on the allegations against her.

Whatever the result of this story may eventually be, janta has shown the power that lies in unity. Twitter acted as a medium for the various voices in the country to unite and ask for a fair treatment of the story. Washington Post also gave credit to twitter saying:”Twitter has played an important role in launching what has become an international conversation on the issue, with the Indian diaspora weighing in”. And this is probably just the beginning. With media like twitter and facebook and people discussing and collaborating on a whole new level, this is bound to go further. And the more impact we have on the system, the better it is. For only we, the people know what is best and how we can achieve it. I hope, unlike the ministers who simply resign from their posts and get away, if the people/personalities in question are found guilty, justice will be served. True Democracy.

Related Resources:

For more resources, check out the worth reading section on this blog post on POV.

Update: Wall Street Journal also writes about the influence of Twitter in India.

Posted in India, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Response

The Thin Line Concept

What do you do when you feel your job is monotonous? What do you do when you fail miserably in your business venture? What do you do when your girlfriend/boyfriend ditches you? What do you at any point in life when you face failure?

You try to snap out of it. You try anything that can make you overcome that moment’s feeling and make you a little happy. Often, and mostly with time you get accustomed to live with it. Usually that works (if it does not then try the tested formula: get a bottle of signature, or whatever your favourite brand is). But at times it overcomes you. No matter how much you try to avoid it, it hurts when you are reminded of it. It pushes you against the wall. Well, not wall exactly. I would say it pushes you to a certain limit. A threshold. A thin line, something like a tipping point. Line should be appropriate. So here is how it goes: When you are happy and satisfied, when you are having a great time, a good life, you are on one side of the line. Obviously, if you have been pushed towards the line somehow, you know that it exists. But you ignore it. Take for example, your job. You are spending quality time in your office. You love the company of your colleagues, your work is good, you are getting a decent salary. Life’s good. But after sometimes the monotony of the events starts dragging you down. May be I say this because I have seen this trend (I belong to the IT sector guys :)). Now this trend can be seen at most of the places. I do not have the statistics so I do not claim that I am right. But I’ll assume it for now. Want to have some tea?

Or may be this trend used to exist earlier as well. Its just that people had more ways to distract themselves from the monotony and indulge themselves in activities that would divert their mind from paying attention to it. The more you will think about it, the more you will feel it, isn’t it? Ok, so where was I? Yes, the thin line. Why do you start feeling low all of a sudden? Its probably because the thought of your job being monotonous that was sitting at the back-seat in your mind has now come to the front seat and is enjoying the show. Its pushing you towards that thin line. And your mind being programmed not to be pushed towards it, starts distracting itself so that you are pulled away from the line. Each time you do something to distract yourself, you are pulled away from the line. One way to justify this is to observe your own mood on the last working day of a month. Till the end of month, your job sucks but as you get the pay-check in your hand, that thought vanishes for at least another fortnight. So there it is. Whenever you feel dejected, you are pushed towards that line. The events, the thoughts everything seems to be pushing you towards it. And you always try to find your way out. Why? Simple, because it does not make you happy. Nobody likes being pushed. Everyone has their own way and speed of doing things. Good plain theory. But what I found more interesting is how well this theory explains a lot of things. Should I list some of them? Here it goes:

In your job

I have already talked about how it applies in your job. But there is one more thing that you should note. There is a very good chance that your boss knows this concept already. How? Don’t ask me. My boss knows this too. Whenever you complain about anything, your manager’s behaviour, client’s attitude, salary (most common), etc. . he would immediately come up with a proposal of some kind. “Salary eh? I agree with you completely. Don’t worry, we will take care of that in the coming appraisal”. And he somehow pulls you back, though a little bit only (till your next appraisal). This is a good example of an external agent pulling you away from the line. Any one who is unable to do so is not that good a manager I think. Future managers, I hope you are reading this thoroughly 🙂 .

When you were a child

Remember how you used to cry for a toy, and the more you cried (that is you were being pushed towards the line) the more angry you got? It was only when your parents bought you that toy that you used to be pulled away from the line..I mean be happy. Also note that how much you were pulled back depended on whether you got the exact same toy you asked for or not. This also extends till your teen years when you want a bike or a car.

Shopping

I deliberately did not write women in the title because its not just them who are pushed towards the line if they do not shop (Ok, may be they shop a lot hence the common perception). Men too like to shop once in a while. I love collecting books, non-fiction. Even though I have not read at least half of those that I have bought, it helps me stay away from the line. But careful. Overspending is a good example of how trying to pull yourself too much can land you much nearer to that thin line.

Travelling

Ah, my favourite. This is probably the most obvious way of pulling yourself away. Not too much to say I guess.

Well, those were some examples. Finished your tea? Good. We can have more conversation like this some other time :). Till then, try to think of other areas where you can apply this theory. Use your imagination!

Posted in Life, Philosophy | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Responses

This is India, my friend (Part 2)

Read the previous post in this series as well.

The second type

Ask any office goer anywhere about traffic during peak hours and he’ll freak out for a moment. During those 2-3 hours, in the morning as well as in the evening, its as if the entire city is out on the streets. I wonder if this is the case that people are usually not that much in a hurry to reach office in the morning. You know, they have a legitimate reason for reaching the office late: “Sir you know the DND traffic in the morning, its pathetic”. But in the evening, ah well, most of us are desperate to get back home. Somebody has to meet a friend at Great India Place (GIP) or just hang out with his girlfriend in CSM. So usually in the evening, in a traffic situation and in such desperation (due to any reason), what happens most of the time is that if commuters see enough space ahead, they move their car (or bike) without thinking whether if they do this it might cause more problem for the others. But who cares, everybody has to reach some place no.

One such evening, I had just given an interview and was headed straight back home. A traffic jam was the last thing that I wanted. My only crime (may be): I was in an auto-rickshaw. The autowala saw that the main road was choked so he took a short cut. We entered the main road again and were ahead of most of the traffic. “Good, this driver is intelligent”, I said to myself. Unfortunately, it seems that other car and cab drivers were also intelligent. We had avoided most of the traffic but there were enough cars and buses to cause a jam. And so it happened.

We had to take a right turn after some distance. The jam was building up but the traffic was moving forward slowly. Just before the turn, a car overtook us from left as it had to go our way as well (we had to turn right). What then happened was that the car blocked the rest of the road for those moving in either directions on the opposite side, as well as the ones entering from the side lane. Now, the traffic was in a deadlock. And we were stuck in between. Great. Don’t get me wrong, most of the roads in Noida are pretty wide so there is no such problem. But if you are in the industrial area around sector 2 or sector 9, there are chances that you will get choked roads during peak hours, specially in the evening. Again, there was chaos. Utter. Deadly.

This situation could have been avoided had that car not overtaken us. And now since the car had moved in the middle, there was no way the driver could turn the car around since already other cars and bikes were there right behind us. After a few minutes a cop came and started directing the traffic. Thank God, if not a traffic policeman, then atleast a cop. “That should solve the problem”, I told the autowala. But he was having trouble directing the traffic. He was not a traffic guy afterall. Meanwhile, the autowala was getting frustrated. “Pata nahi sir kahan se wo gaadi ghusa diya side mein nahi to abhi tak nikal gaye hote”. I nodded in agreement. After some time the cop came to our auto and ordered the auto wala to move back. Was he kidding us? There was no space behind us. The autowala said the same thing: “Sahab peeche kahan karen..wo car waale ko boliye na wo hataye gaadi..”. The reply came: “Saale bahut marunga agar peeche nahi ki to..”. What the fuck? How can he move the auto when there is no space to move you idiot? Then I looked around. Apparently, where the deadlock was, ours was the only auto rickshaw. What about the rest? On our right side, coming from the opposite side was a Honda city, on our left and trying to turn right (so it was kind of our front-left), the driver who had caused all the trouble, in an Indica, behind us were a few bikes, and infront of us, a few more bikes and a van. Who do you think the policeman would go to first? Guesses?

I agree that auto rickshaws often create lots of problems and that they are sometimes the main reason for such clogs. But why to blame one when he has not done anything? This really upset the driver. He said: “Dekh rahe hain in thullon ko sir..jisko bolna chahiye..jisne ghus ke jaam laga diya use kuch nahi bol rahe..aur autowala dikh gaya to use pelne aa gaye..”. He however, maintained his cool and started asking the cop for directions, “Ab kidhar jaun sahab?? bhenc**d bol ke chale jaate hain peeche karo peeche karo..aage bhi to batao..”. Nevertheless, he kept moving the auto backwards wherever he found some space. This continued for about 30 minutes. The cop first got the Honda City out and then told us to turn around and instead go back from another road. Eventually we went back the same way we came from and we took a left turn to get out of the jam.

This happens everyday I guess. The autowalas and the rickshaw pullers get some bashing from the cops. In some cases, they are at fault, and in some they are not. But why only these guys? I mean you have the rich SUV and sedan people breaking the laws also isn’t it? Well, all you have to do is take out a 500 rupee note and settle everything there. Where can the autowalas and the rickshaw pullers get this much money from. All the way, the pissed off autowala continuously cursed the cop, “In vardi waalon se sir kya bataun itni sakht nafrat hai..ek number ke haraami hote hain aur hamesha hum logon ko hi pakadte hain..”. What to say. I again nodded in agreement.

I do not know how many of you have seen incidents similar to the two that I mentioned. There must definitely be many such examples. Its kind of funny how we are good and bad at the same time. And this despite the fact that we know what is bad and what is not. I guess that it has now become a habit to be proud of what is good, and adjust to what is bad. Why not change? “Not my job..” – a common answer.

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This is India, my friend (Part 1)

I love it when they say This is India, my friend. But I also hate it when they say This is India, my friend. Actually, there is a difference.

The first type

If you visit Chandni Chowk on any busy day, you’ll see the narrow streets jam-packed with the usual traffic hustle. You cannot help it really, the lanes are pretty narrow with shops all around. Even on the main street (infront of the Red Fort), almost half of the road is covered by parked cars and shopkeepers waiting with the goods to be delivered probably from one shop to another. And there are either rickshaw pullers or labourers ready to carry the goods. You will find dedicated wholesale markets there for various types: Books, printing (for cards, calendars, etc.) and other things. There is infact, a wholesale market for Auto parts as well if you go further towards Jama Masjid. There I was one day, standing in the midst of all the hush-hush.

The lanes are so narrow that if for any reason a vehicle or two stop in the middle, get ready for some heavy traffic jam. Chaos. Utter. Deadly. It would not be hard to visualize that for you once you go there. Now, take one instance: This one for a normal city road. You are on your way to some place and suddenly there is a minor accident. Minor, mind it. A cab driver could not keep control on the accelerator and hit another car from behind. Just imagine the scene. Chaos isn’t it? Cab driver and the other person getting into a fight to determine who’s fault was it. Since its a normal city road, there will not be much difficulty for the rest of the traffic. It will still get through.

Now just shift this scene from a normal, relatively wider city road to any lane in Chandni Chowk (no, not the Paranthe waali gali like markets 🙂 ). Sigh. I could imagine cars and bikes waiting in the jam just like people standing in line outside a movie hall to buy tickets. I wondered what if something like that actually happened there. Since I was there I just hoped that day to be my lucky one. And my wish was granted! Apparently, an old Maruti drove past by a Santro a little too closely, and bumped the other one sideways, thus making a dent on one of the doors. A sardarji was driving the Santro. At first, they both stopped right in the middle of the street and had some word. But after all the honking from behind, they both parked their cars on one side of the street, still blocking a small part of the road, and sardarji went straight to the car’s driver to have some word. I seriously thought that had I wished for anything else back then, it would have been granted as well.

But instead of a heated argument (and probably some quick punches and cuss words), sardarji asked the driver, a young guy in his early 20s, to come and see what he had done to his Santro. Even though I was standing right infront of his car, I could hardly hear anything because of the traffic noise. But I could make out that he was simply complaining about the dent. As much as I could hear, sardarji simply told him something like – “Ek to rickshaw bachane ke chakkar mein…*something*…upar se gaddi di maa aur c**d di”. Ok. Fine. I thought that he will not let him get away with this easily and would ask for some money for the repair work. After all, sardarji’s wife was in the car too and it was the door on her side the other car bumped into.

Instead, sardarji simply sat in his dented car and drove away.

Sardarji could have blatantly blamed the other driver and said a few kind words about his mother and sister, which would have eventually resulted in a petty fight. Or he could have done what he did. Now, I have heard incidents where a bunch of guys beat the shit out of a truck driver simply because he was driving at a constant speed in a single lane and not letting them overtake the truck (You can get and idea of what I am talking about by seeing this). I have even seen people quarrel in similar situations as the above one, even though there is no major damage done to their vehicles (something like this). It may have been that this was just an exception and obviously there were a number of incidents like this that I do not witness and must be happening. Still, I thought that Chandni Chowk being a busy area, should not incidents like the one above occur more frequently?

May be they do happen. On another visit, I saw a scooter’s side stand hitting a rickshaw and getting stuck with one of rickshaw’s rear tires (lucky again?). A common scene there. But instead of even saying something to each other, they both tried removing their vehicles away, saw if there was any visible damage, and went on as usual. Not a single word. This can be expected as its an incident that happens there pretty often, but atleast they understood what is important, even if unconsciously. They knew that if they had stopped or created some scene, it would have been problematic for others. Sure there may be differences and issues among each other, but they often put those issues behind to focus on more important things. “Nice”, I said to myself.

Well, I got out of the Chandni Chowk metro station and headed straight to the main market passing by the temple where a large no. of people had gathered, went into the main market and saw a sardarji tell the other guy how he (that guy) had fucked up his car, stood for about half an hour infront of the Gurudwara to catch a rickshaw to Fatehpuri Masjid, travelled in a shared rickshaw (not an auto-rickshaw, mind you) with someone I don’t know for the first time, had an awesome Rabri Faluda in Fatehpuri and then an awesome tea near Jama Masjid, and did not realize about all this till now. I am yet to eat a Parantha in the Paranthe waali gali and have some spicy chaat at Nataraj, and I am already planning to go there again. Its such a happening place. A foreign tourist passed me by near Jama Masjid. “Click all you can dear”, I thought, as if telling him, “This, is India!”.

Read the second part here.

Posted in India | Tagged , , , | 2 Responses
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