[Book Review] Catch-22

My Rating: 4/5

Catch-22 is a satirical war comedy set during the Second World War. The title, Catch-22, is a term often used in the novel to describe military and bureaucratic rules consisting of contradictory conditions. One prime example, and the first explanation of the rule in the book, is the following excerpt:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to.

Like every other novel, this book has characters too. But unlike most other novels, although the story seems to revolve around a central character named Yossarian, it often meanders gently to the lives and thoughts of other equally rich characters. The characters are rich in their details. Heller has created a story-verse with not a single live sphere, but one resembling scores of soap bubbles - each shimmering and sparkling with a radiance unique to itself. The author surprises the reader throughout the novel by picking characters that don’t appear to have a noteworthy role and describing them in such a way that they become indispensable cogs of the machine. The machine has no loose parts, everything fits perfectly.

The storyline is interesting partly because it is not linear - something which adventurous readers would undoubtedly appreciate - and partly because the connections often take substantial number of pages to establish and explain the seemingly incoherent affairs. Heller must have made tremendous efforts to get the story right and the work is manifest in the excellent product.

Lastly, since it is a satirical comedy the reader may expect plenty of rejoinders and ridiculous situations, and the reader would not be disappointed. However, the characters in the book often indulge in conversations and contemplations which sometimes start with ludicrous foundations but take a philosophical turn quite unexpectedly and provide some marvellous food for thought. In particular, Chapter 39 and Chapter 41 (my favourites) are singular as they remind the reader the true nature of wars and suffering.

[Book Review] The Picture of Dorian Gray and Other Writings (Simon & Schuster MMPB)

My Rating: 3/5

Every piece of art is open to interpretation, therefore enfeebling the intentions of the artist. This piece of art, which deals with so many of life’s affairs and at the same time concentrates on a niche section of society and just society itself, is just another in the multitudinous artifacts that humanity has succeeded to produce.

What one takes away after reading this novel depends as much on the reader’s literary, historical, and mythical know-how as it depends on his/her perception of beauty and art. The characters and society portrayed in the novel all seem to be aesthetes and the major characters are devoted to art to an extent which appears to surpass the limits of devotion.

That being said, my perception of art and beauty is what I think is the most prevalent one; “ignorant” or “naive” might be one of the more bland words which critical artists might use to describe it. I do not try to find hidden beauty in beautiful things, nor do I criticize that microscopic irreconcilable scratch that mars the beauty of an otherwise excellent object. In other words, I see things as they are, neither worrying about what they or their constituents signify nor deriving sensory or sensual pleasure out of objects not ostensibly meant to do so.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, unfortunately, deals with just such things. It was the first composition by Oscar Wilde that I read and although I might not have fully understood what Wilde wanted to convey I definitely do not regret reading it any more that I regret reading De Profundis, which was one of the “Other Writings” that this edition of the book refers to. Both texts had a simple story behind the complex play of words that garnish them. Both of them contained references to mythology and history that I had never heard of before and probably would have not bothered to carry on with the book had this edition not contained “Notes” explaining them.

I would like to add though that this was not a failure on Wilde’s part as he targeted the English readers of Victorian Era and, unsurprisingly, I’m not English and definitely do not belong to the Victorian Era. The target readers were expected to be informed about Narcissus, Adonis, Marquis de Sade and such. Neither did I have any such knowledge, nor an inclination to learn about such creatures. I took what I had to take away from these compositions and I’m satisfied, if not delighted.

The third and the last composition which this edition of the book contains is The Ballad Of Reading Gaol. This, for me, was a sharp contrast from the previous two readings as the language was much simpler and was not gilded with esoteric references. However, at the same time, the ballad, true to the nature of ballads, filled me with delight that was missing in the previous two readings. The stanzas were wonderful and I can unhesitatingly say that the three star rating is mostly the contribution of this last and, in no way, the least composition.

[Book Review] India: A History

My Rating: 5/5

If you want to read just one book on Indian history, this has to be it. Enthralling and yet unbiased, Keay sets a very high bar for future historians with India: A History.

I completed this book in a period of about two months, reading 10-15 pages each day, and there was not a single day when I was dispappointed. Each day revealed some amazing fact and left me craving for more.

Although the book covers each period in not too much detail, as that would span several volumes (see The History and Culture of the Indian People by R. C. Majumdar), it might still be confusing to read about scores of dynasties and the dynamic nature of Indian states. It is, of course, difficult to retain everything one reads and it is more so with history. However, one has to remember that the purpose of studying history is not to retain facts or dates, although that is something that seems to provide authencity, but to learn from the mistakes as well as achievements of the past and to get a historical milieu of a place, person, or family. In this respect, India: A History outperforms any other book easily.

Just to give a glance of what’s inside, here’s a peice of text from the book (Chapter 15, Page 348, paragraph 2):

Amongst the coconut groves on one of the islands they [Portugese] had built a small fort. They called it Bon Bahia, or Bombay. In the 1660s, following an Anglo-Portugese alliance against their Dutch rivals, the place was transferred to Charles II as part of his Portugese wife’s dowry.

Life, Death, and Other Things

(Also on scriptogr.am)

The text below might not be well-written, but I think it successfully does its job. I must emphasize that the text is solely the materialization of my thoughts, and I’m in no way depressed, despondent, or pessimistic.

You’re very welcome to share your thoughts by sending me an e-mail or commenting below (if comments are enabled/available). I’d be more than happy to receive any responses.

Below is just a random thought that struck me while writing this:

Praise me and I shall be motivated. Criticize me and I shall improve.

I might not know anything about you. I might not know anything about your life. But one thing I know for sure is that the probability of you dying before finishing this piece of text is finite - it is not zero. And depending upon the present states of the multitude of atoms and molecules in the universe, this probability varies unpredictably between naught and unity.

I might sound morbid, but you cannot deny the truth in this fact.

Speaking of truth, it usually comes in two forms, one which is bitter, and the other which is trite and banal. The realization of mortality and the texts and talks of this ilk belong to these forms of truth, respectively. Everyone experiences the banal truth multiple times, but the onset of realization is often too late. This realization, if untimely, can result in an unprecedented level of inactivity or frenzy. I think, it is for this reason, that a healthy human being finds it difficult to be cognizant of the impending death.

What really matters?

Death is the end of your life. Your life is you. Death is your end. There’s nothing that matters after death. You strive for fame, wealth, and power throughout your life, but does it really matter? Can the wealth you accumulate defy death?

Wealth is materialistic. Fame and respect are not. It’s the conscience, not the material body that governs what you achieve in your life. Ideas are respected, individuals are forgotten. The only reason the names, Einstein, Newton, or Gandhi are cited often, is not because they, as physical entities, were worth worshiping, but because their ideas are applicable even today, and are applicable in the areas which are significant and anything new directly or indirectly depends on them.

Everything you own or are related to would have no meaning to you after you die. This needs to be understood. You might commit an act of valor and become a hero, or you might write some fine text and become a famous writer, but once you’re dead, these things have no meaning to you. They might affect the future generations, but with each new generation, comes a new hero and a new writer, and you’d be forgotten eventually.

The weight of history increases as the time passes by. Each moment of the present would be a part of the history the next moment. With the wheels of time rolling, the history would become so burdened by influential and significant people that their value would be nullified. But the ideas would still remain. The aim of history is not to introduce you to the people who are long dead, but to their ideas which are immortal.

Symbolizing Death

Sleep has an inherent and peculiar guarantee. If you wake up after sleep, the guarantee is fulfilled. And if you do not, the guarantee doesn’t hold; it’s still valid. Think of death as sleeping, just with the quirk that you never get to wake up again and of course, you don’t get to dream.

Temporally, your life is just an infinitesimal time frame on the time axis of the universe. Spatially, your sphere of influence amounts to nothing. Engaging in bickering and dishonesty over petty issues does no good. Think of your life as the games you play. Do you want to enjoy the game or fight for something completely irrelevant and mess up all the fun? Just as the earth is nothing when compared to the Milky Way, and the Milky Way is nothing when compared to the whole universe, our lives are just an enlargement, though still insignificant, of the games we play.

What can you really achieve?

All our life, from our childhood, we are preached by our parents and teachers to work hard and make our lives successful. We are told to study, learn, and work, so that we make something out of our lives. But do we really have to do it? Does this slogging actually do any good?

The simple answer is no. Whatever we do, we do it for others. Let me explain. What did Newton gain by proposing numerous theories and laws? Sure, he gained fame and wealth, but now that he’s dead, he can’t be wealthy and it doesn’t matter if he is famous or not. However, his theories have enabled others to build new theories upon them. He helped others much more than he could benefit himself. This applies to all the professions. The work of an accountant or a clerk can help him earn some money, but is hardly helpful in anything else. The work itself, however, is crucial. For a wall to be complete, all the bricks need to be in place.

YOLO or You Only Live Once

The usage of this phrase is actually interesting. While all the scientific knowledge accumulated hitherto, supports this fact, and we might, for the moment, consider it to be true, the phrase is commonly used as an excuse to do something which a normal and sane person wouldn’t think of doing in normal conditions and which would be classified as utterly stupid and half-witted by the so called intellectual and/or mature folks.

Most often, the veracity of the phrase is ignored and the meaning, neglected. This ignorance is beyond my comprehension.

Facing Death

How would you feel if someone very close to you is lying on his deathbed? You know he is not going to be physically near you after sometime. The most difficult part is how to act. Do you embrace exuberance and vitality to make the final step of the journey the best one? Or do you let the grief and fear take upon you?

I’ve no answer.

How would you feel if you were lying on your deathbed? You’d realize that you have to die alone. Death, being an experience that can never be shared, seems pretty scary. And after you’re dead, what would you leave for the future travelers who take your path to make them aware of your presence? Can you actually leave anything?

One needs to think about it - death is inevitable. What happens in the world after death doesn’t matter, the dead can’t feel it or experience it. You’re gone forever. If everyone has to die eventually, what is it that we’re supposed to do in life. Why are we here? It is well known what happens to the body when someone’s dead, but what happens to the mind, the consciousness?

Religion might have answers to few or all of the questions, but I have none.

I find people so engrossed in materialism and their superficial lives, I often wonder how can anyone not think of matters like this? And if someone tries to introduce the subject in a conversation, they try their best to dodge it and don’t hesitate for a moment to label him/her as a maniac.

This ignorance is beyond my comprehension.

Fix Faience Battery Icons in Ubuntu

The battery icons from the Faience icon pack in Ubuntu look terrible.

Here is how I fixed it:

I had to rename some icons and add some. Follow these steps:

  • Download the faience_battery_icons.tar.gz using the link below.
  • Extract the file.
tar xzf faience_battery_icons.tar.gz
  • Copy all the icons inside the faience_battery_icons folder to the status/22/ directory of the Faience icon theme directory. The icon directory can be one of the following:

    • ~/.icons/Faience/
    • /usr/share/icons/Faience/
  • For example, if the icon directory is ~/.icons/Faience, then you have to paste all the icons inside the faience_battery_icons to ~/.icons/Faience/status/22.

cp faience_battery_icons/* ~/.icons/Faience/status/22/
  • Done!

Download Link: faience_battery_icons.tar.gz

New Theme

I’ve been working on the new theme for this website and it’s turning out to be pretty fine, in my opinion.

I’m not yet completed, however, and will fix it whenever the need arises.

For this theme, I’ve chosen black and white colors only (or only black?) and I decided to use flat icons (or icon fonts) and not images. So, the thing you see beside the tag names is a character (a font) and not an image.

Read More

BASH Inline file search script

Here’s a script:

What does it do? Well, it is a sort of inline file search utility.

Suppose you’re in a directory having a lot of files. You want to search for a file but you remember it’s name only in bits and pieces. What do you do? Probably use find command.

This script along with the script below makes this task way more easier. You just type the string you remember and press TAB and it shows you the files having that string in the filenames. Once you get your file, you can press Enter and it asks the name to program to execute.

Here’s the second script which is nothing, but the one which enables completion on TAB:
Steps you need to follow for this to work:

  1. Download the first file.
  2. Rename it to is
  3. Make it executable using
    chmod +x is
  4. Move it to either /usr/bin or /bin/
  5. Download the second file and rename it to is
  6. Move it to /etc/bash_completion.d/

You are ready!

Now, if you want to search for a file which has ‘xyz’ in its filename, you type in the following command and press TAB:
is xyz

Once you get the name of the file right, press ENTER, and then type in the name of the program with which to open the file.

When bewildered with the validity of matters, mathematics is my solace.

Confirming Benford’s Law

So I watched a video about Benford’s law, a few time (minutes or hours, I don’t know) ago. You should probably check it out, too. It’s very informative.

Yeah, so I decided to test it. I got some csv files and plotted the data using octave. The sources of the data are:
  1. General Measures of Geography: http://www.cid.harvard.edu/ciddata/geographydata.htm
  2. Others: http://data.un.org/Default.aspx
Note: The y-axis is percentage but is not scaled correctly. Sorry for the mistake!

Here are the graphs: