The Essence of Words

I have seen great artists who use very few colors and yet produce wonderful artwork and I’ve also seen some artists who use every hue and shade possible to create a vivid and colourful image.

Well this got me thinking. You can observe one set of language experts who always insist on using “simple” language for communicating with other people assuming the audience is not aware of technical jargon. And the other set of experts believe that if you dumb-down your content it loses its essence.

Wikipedia defines a word as:

a word is the smallest element that may be uttered in isolation with semantic or pragmatic content.

Well then, what’s the purpose of long words when you have short, simple equivalents? I always had this question, and I think Gary Provost explained it really well:

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony.

I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.” [1]

I have observed a general trend among many people where they simply “memorize” word lists from random sites and/or a dictionary and often use these words in actual conversations. This is quite common for those who are preparing for GRE/language examinations. If you think simply using flowery language will make you appear smarter, think again. It wont. It would be like owning a Ferrari without knowing how to drive it.

I believe that no two words are really alike even though they may have similar dictionary meanings and the way any word is perceived varies from individual to individual. On a meta-level, this would mean that everyone interprets everything differently.

Something that looks clever to you might be boring to others, and something very important to you might be meaningless to distant readers. And this is a challenge for the authors to ensure that the readers can “see” their “paintings” exactly the way they had “painted”.



[1] Gary Provost, quoted in Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools

What would you choose?

I’m extremely delighted as I write this post on my blog, which turned five recently. Although I had decided to write as many blog posts per month as humanly possible, my routine didn’t permit me to do so.

The reason I’m writing today is because I came across a very interesting video from Micheal Sandel:

If you had to choose between (1) killing one person to save the lives of five others and (2) doing nothing even though you knew that five people would die right before your eyes if you did nothing—what would you do?

What would you choose in such a scenario?

According to the principle of utility, we should always do whatever will produce the greatest amount of happiness and whatever is necessary to prevent the greatest amount of unhappiness. But is that right? Should you always try to maximize happiness? Should you always do whatever is necessary to minimize unhappiness?

You can save five people’s lives by switching to a side-track and killing one innocent worker. I repeat, one innocent worker. Is the value of his life less than the combined value of the five people? Aren’t we going off-track just to kill him (remember he is not on our planned track-route) even if it means we’re doing it to save “five” people. Is it right to just kill five people when we could save all five of them by switching to a side-track?

Somebody once said “democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on dinner”. The minority require protections just as much as the majority, which is why nations require a constitution limiting the power of the majority and of the state.

Qualitative descriptions to identify the “value” of something is completely subjective and often ambiguous. On the other hand, what’s in a “number”?

Aren’t numbers misleading? How can we quantify the “value” of something? If you go by the utilitarianism theory for the above example, you’d be saving five lives at the cost of one. That might be socially acceptable but is it morally the right thing to do? That’s for you to decide! That’s the beauty of philosophy where merely changing the perspective leads to a totally different mindset for making decisions.

So at the end of the day it’s all about choices. You are here because of the choices you made in the past. Each choice that we make, whether it is big or small, shapes and determines our entire journey of life.


The Quintessence of Education

Does being certified by a recognized university, in any way, guarantee the proficiency of an individual? Does the benchmark used for assessment do justice for evaluating qualitative work in terms of quantitative marks or GPA? Is that a boon or bane? Many political leaders, teachers and students have, since the past decade, tried to make education more effective as it’s meant to be.

Today, there is a little room for innovation and creative thinking. Students are merely restricted to learning “ideas” and reproducing the same “ideas” as-it-is in the examination. Plagiarism is quite ubiquitous in today’s world be it for projects, assignments or even exams! It seems to be more of a memory test than testing conceptual understanding.

Many argue that we are not using the complete brain or they punch in some numbers like we use “9%” of our brain. The sad thing is our brain is not made for memorizing things, but it is made to take informed decisions. Frankly, how many of you remember what you learned in your 6th or 7th grade? The aim of education should not be to memorize the maximum(quantitative number) of facts and reproduce the same in the exam but it should build an individual who can logically deduce situations and solve day-to-day problems. Liberty should be given in respect of choice of subjects.

Facts can always be referred as and when required in print or electronic form. As Einstein once said “I would be more interested in learning why battles in history were fought rather than memorizing dates of their occurrence”.

With this being said, I’m not endorsing the view that the current education system is completely ‘inadequate’. I would like to see some drastic changes in the approach of teaching and conductance of examinations. More emphasis can be given on conceptual understanding by reinforcing creative thinking amongst students. This can be achieved by introducing “What-if” type questions and questions forcing students to think. Questions related to deriving a relation, stating definitions and reproducing the ideas can be done away with completely. The pattern of examination should not be known to students in advance. If the student has really understood the principles behind a particular topic he should be able to answer it no-matter what the pattern is.

Mathematics should not be about memorizing multiplication tables and formulas but it should be all about deductive reasoning from the known axioms/theorems.
Language should be given its due importance in subjects like Economics, Physics, Chemistry or Biology. Generally, students are not penalized for grammatical errors. This is insalubrious as we do need citizens who can communicate well along with a good command over their subject.

The word “cutoff” is enough to give jitters to any fresh out-of-high school student. And we see coaching classes leveraging this fact for their maximum commercial profit. The focus today is more on getting “marks“. I cannot understand how quantitative marks translate into a realistic profile of the student. How does this make an individual “intelligent” or “dull” as they call it?

It is well established fact that the marks scored in board examinations have little or no-correlation with an individual’s career. Yet, all the institutions today during the admission season eliminate a large number of applicants based on marks, whether that may be in the entrance exams or the board exams.

In any case, the facts are there before us which indicate that the quality of students securing admissions is deteriorating despite “tougher” entrance exams and “higher” cut-offs.

Including “Chemistry” as a parameter to decide eligibility for a course like Computer Engineering does not make any sense whatsoever. Granted that it is an analytical subject but using it as a predictor to decide eligibility for a stream like CSE may not motivate programmers, especially the gifted ones who aced Informatics Olympiads in the past.

Much reforms are needed in our education system today to truly “assess” the “understanding” of an individual.

Speed up your Internet

Many people face frequent downtimes, and do not get optimal surfing speed. While it does depend on your ISP, you can optimize your internet connection to get the most out of it.
An easy option is to change your DNS Servers.
DNS Servers are predefined values that lookup the IP Address of a website. All websites have a Unique IP Address, just like we have our home address. For example, when you enter in your address bar, the browser uses the DNS Servers to lookup the IP Address, in this case it is and then it initiates the data transfer. It is a long process , specially for websites featuring news portals as the news are collected from several websites, and your browser has to lookup all the IP Addresses and get the data. This can be very time consuming as it takes several seconds.

You can minimize this time-delay by changing your DNS Servers.
If you are using Windows 7/Vista, the steps are :
1. Click Start > Control Panel
2. Click on Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center
3. Now click on Change Adapter Settings
4. Right click your active connection, if you are using ethernet it would be a blue icon with the text “Local Area Connection”. For wi-fi users it would be “Wireless Network Connections”.
5. Select properties and double click on Internet Protocol TCP/IP v4
6. Select “Use the following DNS Server Addresses” button
7. Now enter the following values in preferred and alternate boxes :
8. Click OK
The instructions vary from each operating system but you should be able to figure out the difference as it would be same for Windows Based Operating Systems.
The IP Addresses shown above are of Google’s DNS Servers which are known for their speed. If you do not experience a change in your browsing experience, please use the DNS Servers that are given below.
Although sometimes your ISP’s default servers are best as they usually do not have latency problems, most of the times they are unable to resolve some websites. Therefore you should choose a DNS Server which is closest to your location. A maximum delay of your DNS Server should be about 300ms. You can find the delay by using the command prompt. Start Command Prompt and enter “ping” without the quotes. Similarly you can use the ping function to determine the delay of any website/DNS Server.

Please try to use the following DNS Servers mentioned below, and select the one which works best for you. Google DNS and OpenDNS are a good option

Level 3 Communications (Broomfield, CO, US)

Verizon (Reston, VA, US)

GTE (Irving, TX, US)

One Connect IP (Albuquerque, NM, US)

OpenDNS (San Francisco, CA, US)

Exetel (Sydney, AU)

VRx Network Services (New York, NY, US)

SpeakEasy (Seattle, WA, US)

Sprintlink (Overland Park, KS, US)

Cisco (San Jose, CA, US)

Let me know if that helped your browsing experience.