Archive for June 20th, 2008

On programming styles!

June 20, 2008

Other people publish to show you how to do it, but Julian Schwinger publishes to show you that only he can do it.

Attributed to an irritated critic (as reported by Schwinger himself)

Apparently, in writing programs too similar differences in style exist, and this time around the differences are attributed to differences in gender:

Emma McGrattan, the senior vice-president of engineering for computer-database company Ingres–and one of Silicon Valley’s highest-ranking female programmers–insists that men and women write code differently. Women are more touchy-feely and considerate of those who will use the code later, she says. They’ll intersperse their code–those strings of instructions that result in nifty applications and programs–with helpful comments and directions, explaining why they wrote the lines the way they did and exactly how they did it.

The code becomes a type of “roadmap” for others who might want to alter it or add to it later, says McGrattan, a native of Ireland who has been with Ingres since 1992.

Men, on the other hand, have no such pretenses. Often, “they try to show how clever they are by writing very cryptic code,” she tells the Business Technology Blog. “They try to obfuscate things in the code,” and don’t leave clear directions for people using it later. McGrattan boasts that 70% to 80% of the time, she can look at a chunk of computer code and tell if it was written by a man or a woman.

From this WSJ blog; link via Bala at Gilli.

Areas in which India can certainly emulate China!

June 20, 2008

Alex Tabarrok in MR:

At the Beijing airport as the customs official questions you, you get to rate them – there is an electronic box, hidden from their view, that asks for your rating of service.  Damn, this is better than democracy!  I was “extremely satisfied.”


A way of controlling AIDS

June 20, 2008

Alex Tabarrok gives some pointers in MR (in a post which involves more sex, Thailand, and The Wisdom of Whores):

In More Sex is Safer Sex Steven Landsburg famously argued (based on work by Michael Kremer) that if more people, especially more sexually conservative people, had sex the AIDS epidemic could be reduced. Landsburg wrote:

Imagine a country where almost all women are monogamous, while all men demand two female partners per year. Under those circumstances, a few prostitutes end up servicing all the men. Before long, the prostitutes are infected; they pass the disease on to the men; the men bring it home to their monogamous wives. But if each of those monogamous wives were willing to take on one extramarital partner, the market for prostitution would die out, and the virus, unable to spread fast enough to maintain itself, might well die out along with it.

In The Wisdom of Whores (see also my earlier post) Elizabeth Pisani says that such a country exists, it’s Thailand, and the results of more sex were safer sex – exactly as Landsburg argued.

Take a look (and, don’t miss the comments — one of the commentors at least, credits Steinbeck with the discovery of the some of these ideas too)!

By the way, while we are on the topic, take a look at this review (hat tip to Swarup for the email pointer) in New York Review of books by Darlymple, titled India: the place of sex, which is a review of four books — one on Chola bronzes, a translation of Kamasutra, another book on Kamasutra, and one on Tantric sex. Reading the review, you realise that we could have been Thailand, if only we kept up our traditions from those days 🙂 By the way, Amitav Ghosh, in his In an antique land also mentions (with enough supporting scholarly material, of course) how India was indeed perceived as a land of sexual mores by foreigners during the medieval period.

Tarini, the boat-Devi

June 20, 2008

Pratima Kamat writes about Tarini, a goddess worshiped in Goa, and the shared, syncretic ethos of the region that gave rise to the goddess and her worship:

The worship of Tara and Tarini is found in Orissa’s Ganjam district (which has the famous Tara-Tarini temple), Ghatgaon and Ratnagiri (where the Astamahabhaya Tara is worshipped). These are the patron deities of sailors and merchants. Tara is worshipped by sailors for safety and success at sea along the Orissa coast. The Ratnagiri Tara is believed to save her devotees from eight great fears, one of which is of shipwreck. Yet another fear, jalarnavabhaya, is of drowning in a sinking vessel.

Unlike in Orissa, the ‘boat deities’ of Goa, Tarini and Tar-Vir, are found away from the coast, in the sub-Ghat talukas of Sattari and Sanguem, against the backdrop of the Sahyadri mountains, in the villages of Keri, Bhuipal, Nagvem, Zarme, Sonal, Sanvarde, Bhironda, Dhamshe, Guleli, Shayll-Melauli, Malpann in Sattari; Ganjem in the Ponda; and Barabhumi, Surla and Talldem of Sanguem.

The spots where the sculptures have been found are almost always located along the banks of the Mhadei and its tributaries, lying either inside a temple or, weather-beaten in the open, amidst lush greenery, in the vicinity of a stream, and often in the periphery of the devarai or the sacred grove, and, in one instance, outside the Bondla wildlife sanctuary.

The boat-Devi is most commonly found to possess the attributes of an eight-armed Mahishasuramardini, though a couple of sculptures that contain interesting maritime information are chaturbhuja — with four arms. She is either seated on an asana in a boat, or on the boat itself, or is depicted standing in the boat. Almost all the sculptures exhibit human heads in the boat, with boatmen on either side of it, and in the Nagvem sculpture, the oarsmen are actually shown in the act of rowing the vessel.

Other than the ubiquitous boat, most of these sculptures contain related nautical and marine motifs, such as oars, anchors, mast, sail, pennant, fish and crocodile.

The Tarini and Tar-Vir sculptures of the Mhadei, Ragada and Valvanti river valleys provide valuable clues about ancient trade routes and practices, manufacturing centres, riverine ports, types of watercraft used, boat-building traditions and locations, trading communities and cultural interactions that took place as a consequence of thriving commerce.

The discovery of these sculptures has helped me give visibility to the hitherto-largely-undocumented contribution of the talukas of Sattari, Bicholim, Sanguem and Ponda to the commerce of ancient and early medieval Goa and the Konkan coast. Links may even be established between the east and west coasts of India on the basis of the resemblance of the Goan Tarini to Orissa’s Tara-Tarini. The similarities are not confined to the concept of a saviour-deity and the iconography of a goddess-in-a-boat, but extend to other cultural parallels such as boat festivals, and derivation of place-names.

The Tarini and Tar-Vir not only provide valuable clues about the Western Ghats-Arabian Sea trade, of which Goa (Sattari, in particular) had served as an important conduit, but also about the coming together of folk, Sanskritic, Buddhist and Jain traditions, as locally crafted syncretic saviour-deities for the river traders and boatsmen of the Mhadei.

Influenced by the play of varied cultural elements, the Mhadei river valley serves as the crucible of the syncretic Tarini. The goddess who is depicted as either standing or seated in a boat, is a rarity in Indian art. The commercial worthiness of the Mhadei, the Buddhist and Jain settlements that dotted the trade routes in the sub-Ghat region, the presence of the local Chari community as divine sculptors — all these contributed to the creation of the unique representation of the goddess-in-a-boat.

The Tarini is thus a syncretic vision of the Shakti of the Mhadei river valley, a saviour-goddess epitomizing the “shared faith” that characterized the cosmopolitan Sattari in the early medieval period. This taluka brought within its fold a surprisingly wide range of local, Sanskritic, Buddhist and Jain traditions — yet another reminder of the inclusive civilization that India once was.

A wonderful, and must-read essay!