The Pigeonhole Principle

I am a self-avowed fan of mathematics, numbers in particular. I might use it tangentially in my life these days but the epiphanic moments when I understand a new idea, especially a concept that is neat and elegant, are something I cherish.

So, my most recent discovery has been the Pigeonhole Principle. As always, Wikipedia does a great job of explaining it, along with its applications, variations and generalisations. I especially like this one because it seems to be so blatantly obvious – if you need to fit n pigeons in holes (where n>m, like, say 4 pigeons in 3 holes), then at least one hole will have more than one pigeon in it – but it is deceptive in its simplicity.

It can be used to solve interesting riddles like the ‘number of people with the exact number of hair in London’. But, as you will learn from the Wiki article, it is also used to prove tenets of lossless compression algorithms and in linguistics, to prove language lemmas ( a supporting theorem).

Simple and elegant.

Reading Habits

Until 2016, my reading habit was practically non-existent.

I have written in previous blog posts about how the ever-growing number of distractions, online and offline, affected my focus. It has been a constant challenge to cut these out and I hacked a few methods that actually worked. For instance, I wrote here about how we stopped reading newspapers and watching news channels. Both of them are, in my opinion, are absolute emotional drains. I still consume news but I control the how and what I read. I now only read local news, with an occasional scroll through a global news site or aggregator, couple of times a day. It has greatly improved my mood and I also thankfully find myself woefully ill-informed, which, in turn, means I am out of vitriolic debates in Whatsapp groups.

But, there is an another habit that has had a higher impact – reading long-form books. Growing up, my summer holidays were filled with mom supplying me with an infinite supply of comic books and Enid Blyton-isque novels. She used to pick these up at a bargain, those days, from booksellers near the bus stops. Even when school started, I hardly recollect a time when I was without a library subscription. My favourite memory of reading goes something like this – go to library, pick up the latest Archie comic book , hit the new, fancy popcorn shop, carry it all back and consume it all in one sitting; the book and the popcorn. As I grew up and grew out, starting some time in early 2000s, I think I essentially stopped reading any books, save for a few books every year, that came highly recommended.

I began reading in 2016 again because of a few things. Firstly, I think I was finally bored of instant gratification media. Gaming, Reddit, TV, Social Media all vied to keep my attention by bombarding me every second with some brand new content that had to be consumed. This got stale and exhausting fairly quickly.

Secondly, I switched to public transport to avoid the stressful traffic in Bengaluru. On the ultra-local trains that ran from Cantonment to Whitefield, I began reading War and Peace , looking as odd, yet strangely fitting, among the assortment of objects the train used to transport – vegetable bags, toolkits, real estate agents, farmers, software workers, working women, government workers, excited kids, folks who could (and did) sleep wherever they could. It is surprising how effective the setting influenced this so much. Vainly enough, I considered myself immune to things around me but the act of sitting in a moving, rocking train served as the ideal accelerator for this habit. Over time, buses and Metro trains replaced this as commutes changed.

Finally, though, as is true for most habits, I stuck with it because I wholeheartedly enjoyed reading. It helped that I resumed this habit with what has to be one of the greatest works of literature but even so, there is so much joy on discovering narratives that slowly unfold. Black characters over a white space that suddenly transform to provide an unexpected chuckle, a moment of introspection or even, profundity. There is no instant payout here, though. But, that makes it worths its while even further.

A newer hack that has worked me has been the idea of “gamifying” my reading habit. To break a recent bout of phone-aided distraction, I set myself a challenge of reading a meagre 20 pages a day, for at least 200 days this year (2019). I can report that in a period of 4 months, I have now completed 9 books, over a reading period of 135 days. It has absolutely worked wonders for me. Like with all my habit-(breaking or making)- initiatives, I use the nifty HabitBull app to keep me honest. It has now got to a stage that I have rediscovered the pleasure of reading, solely for reading’s sake. It is brilliant.

Happy reading!

 

Media, media everywhere. Not a Medium to share.

I am back here.

After dawdling with Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, I realized that a blogging platform provides me with the best platform to talk about the things I find interesting. I will talk about why probably in a different post but for now, what follows below is the type of thing I did not know where else to share, or rather, knew that here is the only place where I wanted to share.

In June 2019, we lost one of our greatest playwrights and creative artists – Girish Karnad. I have known Karnad only as an actor and director through his work in Kannada and Hindi movies. But, I also knew that he was famous for his plays. I somehow never was able to appreciate the theatre form that well but I always did read glowing reviews of Tughlag and Hayavadana (such mellifluous names, BTW). I also sensed a general lack of bereavement and obituaries that didn’t do enough justice to his legacy. Not so much as a comment about his popularity, but more so to know and understand this man better.

Thanks to my trustworthy Feedly feeds, I did find this illuminating tribute by Nakul Krishna in n+1 (a fine magazine, BTW).  It satisfied my curiosity about, and increased my respect for, Karnad. Rest in peace, sir.

My Experiment With Intermittent Fasting

Beginning in Nov 2016, I embarked upon an intermittent fasting experiment to examine what effects, if any, it has on my health and overall well-being. I routinely dive into self-experiments but leave most of them undocumented. This was different because I diligently tracked things I was hoping to impact with my experiment. Here are the results of that experiment.

Before I begin, let’s define a few things first.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Fasting is taking a break from consuming calories, usually in the form of food that we all eat. By this definition, it is clear that all of us fast daily between the times we go to bed and when we wake up. Fasting, as is commonly understood, though is a longer than typical period of ‘not eating’.

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Passive Information Consumption

In February 2016, we stopped our newspaper subscription at home. This was a huge step for me at the time. Since I can remember, my top morning ritual was reading the newspaper. Even when I was a child who barely understood the words, I made sure that I glanced through the headlines and clarify things I didn’t understand with dad.

11 months down the line, this was one of the best things I did this year. Along with other changes and even by itself, this allowed my day to be not as influenced by events (esp. the depressing ones) that had little influence over my life or more importantly, over which I had little influence.

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A New Trip and A New Journey

I visited the US for the first time. I was there for 11 days and it left me tired.

True, partly because there was so much of work to get done. But, also because, the country is so bloody vast and …… exhausting.

Random observations follow:

  • The winters in the northern parts of the US are downright depressing. I’ve never seen the sun set at 3 in the afternoon and after 3 days of this, I was completely bummed out.

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  • This probably also is the reason for the general grouchiness of the people? I was racially abused, provoked into fights and met many unhelpful (busy?) people.
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Mehico!

Forget Paris, Mexico City is the most romantic city on earth.

Beautifully dressed people where all men, young and old, wear jackets. The women are all beautiful. My god, are they beautiful or what? Immaculately dressed, mildly perfumed and make up that just about enhances their looks. They sway and sashay in the most stylish dresses.

Waking along Reforma, you have a large expanse of cobbled and stoned pathways lined with shrubs, trees and historical statues. Sure, vehicles whizz past you to remind you of present times and its symbols but for those, the monuments transport you to a different era of mixed European and Mexican mores.
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