Monday, May 18, 2009

Banana Endianness

Endianness In General
Lilliput and Blefuscu, the two fictional island nations in Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, were at war with each other over the issue of the correct way to eat a boiled egg. The Lilliputians said that it should be eaten from the little (sharper) end, while the Blefuscans claimed that it should be the big (rounder) end!

Though intended as satire by the author, there are dubious merits and demerits for each approach if the issue is meditated upon, especially if the egg is a half-boiled one.

Little End Of Egg
Merit: Rests on a stable base
DeMerit: Hard to insert spoon

Big End Of Egg -
Merit: Easier to insert spoon
DeMerit: Could topple more easily - spillage

There ain't no such as a trivial thing! Everything has a purpose and there is a reason why things are the way they are. The issue is even paid homage to in the field of computers - there are such things as Little Endian and Big Endian computers!!! ***

Bananas - End To End!
A similar question, perhaps one with more tropical relevance, is - at which end should you peel a banana from?

There are two ends for a banana, when it is removed from a bunch - the end with the stalk and the end with the blackish button (don't know the word for the whatchamacallit, the buttonish thingy).

I had always peeled a banana from the buttony end. But then somebody pointed out that he found it unusual that one could choose to do it this way. I asked around and found out, to my surprise and shock, that many (most? ) peel from the stalky end!

Rationale unbuttoned
It made perfect sense to me, peeling from the buttony end. The button was, in my book and practice, the logical peel-point; what else could it have been meant for? The button was, for unbuttoning! It was as clear as a "Tear here" marking for me.

What's more, if you did it this way, you could use the stalk to hold the banana while you ate it. logical, to do it this way! In fact, the longer the banana, the longer you need to hold it and the more logical this methodology is.

Justifying the Stalkers
But there is no rhyme without reason, is there? There had to be an explanation why so many practitioners of the Other Way existed. You've got to put yourself in the other guy's shoes, and find out why and how they fit him fine...

Peeling the banana from stalky end is also not without sense, when I thought about it further. Especially if the banana is of the shorter (plantain) kind. What happens is that when these short bananas are removed from the bunch, they break off at the base of the stalk, at the start of the fleshy part. So, when thus removed, the banana is already open; the proto-peels , they don't have to be created, unlike in the unbutton-methodology. So, the Stalker just has to extend those peels, pulling each one. Perfectly natural!

The Stalker methodology can used to advantage with longer bananas as well. The stalk can be used effectively as a peeler. Peeling with the stalk, there's no confusion: just pull tangentially to the curve of the banana, with the unbuttoning style, you need to take a decision as to which direction to peel!

Also, I observed that many of the Stalkers, with shorter bananas, used the button to pop the banana into their mouths. Press button to eject and ingest, was their operative motto. Buttons are to press?

Another point in favor of the Stalker methodology, with longer bananas, is that you can use the stalk to lock and protect the banana just in case you need to pause and resume your banana-session later! Tennis-players do this in between games.

Stalker Hegemony
The world (mine at least) seems to be full of Stalkers! In the two years since the question was popped (Banana Endianness TBD) at me, I have braved many "What the #%*#" stares and worse for surveying people's banana-eating techniques, but have still not come across a natural Unbuttoner! Existential doubts have sprung up within me... Lilliput 1 - Blefuscu 0?

- Thomas Jay Cubb

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Information Blackholes

This is a continuation of my previous post.

Information forms the basis for actions that we take. Doing the right thing counts for a lot -
no matter where you are, what you do. And you are often defined by what you did and what you did not do.

Information is what bureaucratic hierarchies are based on: the higher you are in it, more the information that you have access to. That information is the basis of your power. Remember the professor's pet-students?

There are people who derive power artificially, by sitting on active information. Collaborating with such people can be a trying and exasperating experience.
They can be broadly classified as -

1) Information Sponges
They do this accidentally and unknowingly. To soak it up and hold it is just their nature. If squeezed, they will let it out. :) Sponges also leak unknowingly: spill what they can't hold or when in trouble. This alleviates crises on occasion.

2) Information Black-Holes
They actively suppress information and use it to derive a competitive advantage. To capture it through their gravity and never let it out is their definitive trait. Often, though not always, they lack any other redeeming qualities and hence it is sometimes for survival that they do what they do.

It is difficult to be proactive and perform effectively in the company of information-suckers. You will often be left gasping for air in the information vacuum created.

But the Information-Suckers also take a lot of the load off your back as well; they end up doing more work, being unable to ask for assistance without sharing the information on occasion! In their zealous quests for exclusive information, they unknowingly and sadly install themselves as points of failure...

Make an active effort to share information when possible and avoid Communication Breakdowns. Never be an Information Black-Hole; instead, be an Information Supernova!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Communication Breakdown

Most, if not all, problems are caused by misunderstandings caused by an inability to share enough information, accurately and effectively.

Even if you realize or accept this idiomatically, it's not so easy to follow. Often, without malice, and to heroically avoid information-overload, you think :-
1. Oh, but it's obvious.
2. That's not important.
3. It's not necessary for him to know.
... and you leave out bits and pieces here and there. You think, "Why bother them with these silly things".

These seemingly minor lapses in communication, slowly but surely, add up over time and lead to information-lockout. As Strother Martin observed in the movie Cool Hand Luke (also quoted by GNR in Civil War), in another context though, "What we have here is a failure to communicate"

And then you go ahead and do something based on the information you have which pisses off the other guy. Or, he would do something that is totally below your expectations. Voila, you have a flareup and quite possibly confrontation.

Communication breakdown, it's always the same.

As it is, it is really difficult to put things across. So before you leave out anything of your communication, think carefully:
1. Is it really so obvious?
2. Is it really not important?
3. Is it really not necessary for the other person to know?