Mercies New

Regrets are the tollbooths of human life. Just like tollbooths, regrets stop us from whatever we are doing and exacts a price from our time & emotional energy. To me, living without regrets seems almost impossible. It seems to me that if we went in search for a man who had no regrets, we would never end our search. And if we do find one, I can safely say that we have found the most ignorant fool on earth. We all have done something we regret. It can be something we did or something we said or it can even be something we didn’t say or do. Whatever the case may be we all have our burdens to bear. These burdens have a way of weighing us down. If we let them, they’ll keep us from getting out of our bed. We won’t have the courage to face the day. I’ve been there and it’s not a nice place to be.

But over the years, I’ve realized certain truths that keep me moving no matter how bad the situations get. Some of them are common sense, but the primary ones are inescapably linked to my faith. I know where I’ve anchored my ship and no matter the size or the shape of storm before me, the anchor will hold. I know that I can lose everything in my life, but I will always have a place to return to. That place is on my knees. I know a love that is more jealous and demanding than death. Standing on these tremendous truths, many of life’s struggles become infantile. These give me strength to be unfazed by the challenges of life.

The secondary truths are more simple and practical ones. I realized long time back that worrying about something changes nothing but your blood pressure. I see each new day as a new opportunity. Even if the previous day I failed miserably, that is in the past. I can’t change the past. The only time I can act is present. And if now I stand frozen at the horror of my shortcomings of yesterday, I will still be in the same place tomorrow, frozen at the shortcomings of my today. The only way to break the cycle is to get up and move.

The whole world stands nowhere but upon the grace & mercies of God. The sun shines both on the good and the wicked. All of us have sinned and fallen short. But to all of us, a promise is also given. A promise of forgiveness and redemption. A promise of renewed mercies every morning. And he says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

To conclude, let me leave you with a song that communicates beautifully the truth of God’s mercies. It reminds us that the stores of his mercies are inexhaustible and no matter how many times or how far we have fallen, we can always come back to the mercy seat. The song is “Mercies New” by Nichole Nordeman.

Is it fair to say I was lured away?
By endless distractions and lovelier attractions then
Or fairer still, my own free will
Is the better one to blame for this familiar mess
I’ve made again

So I would understand if You were out of patience
And I would understand if I was out of chances

And Your mercies are new every morning
So let me wake with the dawn
When the music is through or so it seems to be
Then let me sing a new song, old things gone
Every day it’s true, You make all Your mercies new

The distance left between East and West
Is how far You would go to forget the debt I’d owe
And thrown into the sea, the wicked ways in me
Will never have a chance to wash back on the sand

So I would understand if You would make me pay
And I would understand lying in the bed I made again

Your mercies are new every morning
So let me wake with the dawn
When the music is through or so it seems to be
Let me sing a new song, old things gone
Every day it’s true, You make all Your mercies new

Up comes the sun on every one of us
Gone, gone, gone the guilt and shame that knew Your name

Your mercies are new every morning
So let me wake with the dawn
When the music is through or so it seems to be
Let me sing a new song, old things gone
Every day it’s true, You make all Your mercies new

You can listen to the song here.

A Secret Chord

It’s been long time since I wrote a blog. And there’s so much going on around the world and in my life that I don’t get time to write. I’ve been trying to focus my writing on current affairs but to my horror no affair seems to be current for more than a week. I’m like, “Hold on! Think about this for a moment.” But nobody’s listening. Everybody has moved on to the next big controversy. Or the next big tragedy. Blame it on technology. Blame it on progress. But the end result is we have become a civilization that is on the run. From what? To where? We don’t know. But everybody runs.

But that’s a rant for another day. Today I want to focus on something else. I want to focus on something that everyone likes. Do you know what the most generic answer to the question “What are your hobbies?” is? Listening to Music. Today, I want to do 2 things with this blog.

  1. Introduce a new Series of blogs.
  2. Highlight one of my favorite songs.

Let’s get on with no. 1. Music has been my anchor through good and bad times. It’s been my teacher and comforter. Perhaps, I’ve learned more lessons from music and songs than from anything else. But how? How can music teach? Isn’t it there just for entertainment? Not for me. How dare anyone limit the scope of music to “just for entertainment”? I have learned singing, English, interpreting poetry, philosophy, theology through music. I developed a taste for sublimity from nothing but music. There are great treasures hidden in the songs that we hear. I just want to highlight these treasures.

And when I say that the music has a potential to teach, that potential comes largely from the lyrics. However, with great music accompanying great lyrics, the lyrics come alive and become unforgettable. Sometimes, the songs become the part of our own identity. And in this way, some songs become timeless artifacts of the human condition. They become eternal, relevant through all times. Very much in contrast to our current tendencies of running after the next best (or the worst) thing. I think the way to cure our world from chronic amnesia is poetry. And the world needs poets and romantics more than it needs economists, technologists & politicians.

So, in an attempt to nurture poet inside you, I want to do a series of blog posts that will highlight an artists or a song that has stayed with me for years and will stay with me for years to come. These songs have struck a secret chord with me and I hope they do it with you as well. I will be tagging all my articles in this series with the tag “a secret chord“.

Let me introduce the song that I want to highlight today. It is also a song from which I’m stealing the title for this series of blog posts. It is, “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohan. The best musical rendition is from “Jeff Buckley” but a lot of other artists have also covered it. Here’s the lyrics:

[Verse 1]
Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing “Hallelujah”

[Chorus]
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

[Verse 2]
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

[Chorus]
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

[Verse 3]
Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

[Chorus]
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

[Verse 4]
There was a time you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

[Chorus]
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

[Verse 5]
You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

[Chorus]
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

[Verse 6]
Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

[Chorus]
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

[Verse 7]
I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

[Chorus]
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

So, why do I love this song? Because it defies categorization. There are parts of the song that I don’t fully understand, but I can’t deny a certain mystical allure of the song. It haunts me from time to time. It is not perfect. It is broken. But still, it’s beautiful. It’s something to wrestle with.

As this is just the first post, I won’t go in deeper into the lyrics. I’ll leave that to you. For now, go on and listen to the song from Youtube.

Slaps, Maths and Making the World Better

Today, I was commuting to office via BRTS. As usual, the bus was crowded, especially near the door. I don’t know why but there seems to be some type of strange force at work in the BRTS because people to gather right next to the door even if the rest of the bus is empty. As the bus came near the stand, the people were queuing up to leave because the bus was nearing their destination. And as I was watching people struggle to reach near the door, there seemed to be some sort of quarrel between the two that were standing right next to the door. The guy who was standing right next to the door, was just standing there. He was yet waiting for his destination, yet he had the brilliant idea of standing next to the door and getting in the way of people coming in and leaving.

As I watched, the person behind him suggested that he should go into the back of the bus if he wasn’t going to leave the bus on the next stand. The guy replied, “I will.” And then stood right there for about 10 seconds ignoring what the other person suggested. Which angered the guy standing right behind him, and he pushed him aside and tried to take the first spot right near the door. And as Newton’s third law of motion states, “When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body.” And in about 30 seconds, they were exchanging slaps and pulling each others cloths. One guy’s shirt got ripped off. And even though, one of the guy’s destination had already come and the bus had come to a standstill, he wasn’t leaving. In fact, he continued and when people pushed him out of the bus, he was still trying to get in to continue the fight. Fortunately, the driver quickly started the bus, leaving him on the bus stand with a rag of a shirt.

In the following moments I was thinking about the incident. About how it could’ve been avoided. In this case, there was no right or wrong, both guys were at fault. But still, things didn’t get out of hand until one of the guys slapped the other one. That’s when the whole situation went south. And at that moment, I remembered what Jesus said, “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.” The situation would’ve been very different if one of the guy had exercised this simple statement. In fact, the fight would’ve never gotten started if there was a real christian among them. If I was one of them, what would I have done? In this simple situation, the answers are very simple. However, in a situation where it’s not in our power to hold or contain evil, what would we do? In a situation where we are being wronged, and we have no power to stop it, what would be the correct response?

Due to our fallen nature, we are easily provoked. And in our anger, we do irrational things. We do things that are completely against what bible teaches. And sometimes we just ignore it saying that it’s unrealistic. I mean, “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also” Seriously? That would make me look like a fool! Well, maybe it will. And there can be many arguments and counter-arguments about the practicality of the stated instruction. However, I’d like to present one simple argument that proves it’s practicality.

But before the argument, comes the assumptions. The assumption of this argument is, “The end goal is the betterment of the world”. Let’s look at the argument.

  • At the beginning of the world, the amount of evil done in the world is 0.
  • At a point in time when you are wronged, the amount of evil things done in the world is e.
  • If you react to evil by doing something evil then after the act, the total amount of the evil done in the world would be e + 1. (1 is you!)
  • Now, suppose if we take two points in time, suppose the beginning of 2013 and 2014, and note down the total amount of evil done up until that time, and call it e(2013) and e(2014)
  • Now if we want to find out the amount of evil done in 2013, it would be (delta)e = e(2014) – e(2013)
  • Here, (delta)e represents the total amount of evil done in 2013 year.
  • Now, the 2013 would be an ideal year if there is no evil done in 2013. Consequently, (delta)e would be 0.
  • So, to improve the world, we need to reduce the value of (delta)e. If it reaches zero, we’ll be living in a heaven on earth.
  • Is it possible for (delta)e for a whole year to reach zero? Possible? Yes. Likely? No. So, the only option for us Christians is to reduce the amount of (delta)e as much as possible and make it as close to 0 as possible. How, for one, by not doing evil ourselves and by sharing the gospel to other people so they too can get out of the cycle of evil.

A few observations in the scenario above:

  1. e(2013) is certainly not zero. What it means is, something bad has already happened to many people for which other people are responsible. Someone has already slapped the victim. (Note here that I’m using slap as a metaphor for evil things done. I’m aware that there are certain kinds of slaps that are necessary and even well deserved. I’m not talking about that kinds of slaps) Now the victim can either slap back or turn the other cheek.
  2. In scenario A, a person slaps back. Then the original slapper slaps back. And the slapping cycle continues ad infinitum.
  3. In scenario B, if a person turns the other cheek, there might be another slap coming. And the one after that, and after that and after that… but somewhere it will stop. It will certainly stop. The cycle of evil stops. (Not to mention, the armies of heaven will be gunning for the slapper! And soon he’ll turn from one of them to one of us! More power to Christians in making the world better!)

There it is. A practical, (no-nonsense) mathematical proof of Jesus’ simple statement. Practicality is subjective to the end goal. And if your end goal is betterment of the world by sharing the gospel, then who says it isn’t practical? Anyone?

Managing Information

I’m studying and working. Plus, working in a field that is changing everyday. Everyday something becomes obsolete and without learning something new, one’s skillsets can become obsolete very fast. And then, I like to do a lot of reading outside of my field. What this means is, I have to be on top of a lot of information. I have to keep track of it. I have to revise it periodically.

So, because of this requirement, over the years, I have developed several techniques and I thought, I’d share it. The first step is to classify or categorize this information.

However information is not like carrots and potatoes. You can’t separate one from other so easily. Sometimes you can but not so often. It flows from one category to another like our conversations flow. We start discussing cars and end up debating religion. You can’t say where one ended and second began. That is because conversations are basically an exchange of information. Of ideas.

This makes it pretty difficult to create a system that can handle all kinds of information. One of the reasons why pen and paper are so successful is because they are very flexible. However most of software aren’t. Most software work on definite structure and this structure restricts it from being used for certain kinds of information.

But, let’s get back on track. As I said, first task is to classify. I’d basically like to classify the information in three sections. One, small tasks. Two, big tasks. Three, detailed studies.

  1. Small tasks: Small tasks are things that you can do in a small amount of time. In this section, I basically define tasks that can be completed under 4 hours of time. However, about 80% of these tasks take less than 1 hour. Also, sometimes I take big 4 hour tasks and divide them in subtasks of smaller amount of time.
  2. Big tasks: Big tasks are things like a project. Reading a book. Detailed study of a particular subject. Things that can’t be finished in one sitting. I normally work on 1 or 2 big tasks at a time. These big tasks get divided in smaller tasks and then I schedule these smaller tasks.
  3. Detailed studies: In this section, I put all my studies and reading. All the things I read go into this section. I’ll talk about this later.

Managing tasks

Small ones

Did I ever tell you that I use Emacs? Well, I do. I use it a lot. And I use it for task management also. In fact, there is so much written about it for task management that I’m not going to go into it. I’ll just tell you to go here.

Big ones

Well, here be the beasts and dinosaurs. In here you’ll see things like “Read: The art of computer programming (all finished volumes) by Donald Knuth” However, finishing this task will take hundreds of hours. All the projects and ideas go into this section as well. And then one by one, each one get divided into smaller tasks when I get around to actually do these things.

Detailed studies

This is basically things like reading essays, books or documentations to learn and understand new things. The irony of this activity is, without doing this, you can’t do anything else. Yet, nobody will tell you to do this. They will only tell you to do other things…

The way I do it is in the following order: Read, revise, reference. First I’ll tell what I do in each of these things and then, I’ll talk about the tools that I use.

  1. Read: Does the thing that you are doing right now need an explanation of how? If so, then the end of the world is upon us! But, I do one little thing that you might not be doing. I highlight the main points and phrases. I highlight key information points. Why?
  2. Revise: Because it helps me to revise. If it took me an hour to read a particular article, and I have highlighted it, it will take me only 10 minutes to revise it. However, for this to happen, the highlighting should be accurate. If you are too liberal with the highlights it will do you no good…
  3. References: By God’s grace, I have very good memory. Once I read and understand something, I can recall the concept anytime. But what I can’t recall is the exact phrases used in describing it. I might forget the terms. That’s why when doing something else, I might recall a particular concept but can’t recall how exactly to phrase it. So, I go back to that original article/book whatever it was and search for it.

So, those are the three activities I find myself doing frequently. Now, first and second activity can be done on printed media quite well. However, I don’t know if the third can be done. And even if it can be done, it won’t be as efficient as in electronic media. I’m talking about web pages and ebooks. If you want to search for some word or phrase in a document you just need to give it a command. That’s why I choose ebooks over printed books.

The tools I use are the following:

  1. Emacs: You might be wondering what the heck is this emacs thing… well, it’s a thermonuclear word processor. It’s on the verge of achieving sentience! It’s a wild beast. But once you tame it, it becomes your greatest ally.
    • Org mode: Org mode can be called as the crown jewel of emacs. It can do so many things that I’m not sure that there is a complete list anywhere. I use it to write notes, capture notes and tasks(org-capture), write blogs (org2blog), do study assignments (export to pdf), manage and schedule tasks, track habits and so much more.
    • Deft: This little extension of emacs can be used to do access your notes very quickly. Basically you just start typing and it will search for that particular word in all your notes contained in different files. It basically does a full text search.
  2. Evernote: This piece of software is absolutely awesome. It is basically designed to be a note taking program. But it does much more than that. It syncs those notes across different platforms. If you haven’t tried it, you really should.
    • Evernote clearly: Evernote clearly is an extension for chrome and firefox web browsers. It does few things which are very useful. One, it makes the web pages easy to read by removing all the other useless things and advertisements from the page. You can also annotate things on the web page using clearly. Once you are done reading/annotating you can save that web page to your evernote notebook. Available to you any time you like. Even if the original web page moves or gets deleted, you’ll still have a copy of that web page. It’s just great tool.
  3. Xournal: I use this program to annotate pdf files. In other words, ebooks. So it is easy for me to review/revise what I have just studied.

With the help of these tools, I can easily do things that I need to do with information. Read, revise and reference. And I can also manage the information regarding my time with the same tools. Which is a bonus.

Jingles of Christmas 4: Directing

And then we come to the final topic. The topic of directing. The toughest. Let’s dive right in!

Conceptual integrity

In the writing part, I told you something about the infinite resources of dreamland. However, did you know that there are a thousand dream-lands? Each unique. With it’s own different style and atmosphere? Well there are. So, in my opinion, the first task of a director is to let the actors in, into his dreamland. Or rather, the writer’s dreamland. Meaning the actors must understand the world in which they will be acting. Each actor must understand who they are. Their every action, mentality should match the one that the writer first imagined. Otherwise things will go different. And a different story will be told than the one originally planned.

So, one role of the director is to be the guardian of conceptual integrity. Everyone involved in the play should know exactly what is going on. How to achieve this goal? Well, a detailed document is an effective means to achieve this goal. However, it shouldn’t be so detailed that it becomes so long that nobody reads it… So, one needs to strike a balance between explaining important things and leaving out unimportant things. However, I’ll not go into the details of how to write this document because it’s a big topic altogether.

So, the main point is, maintain the conceptual integrity of the plot. And let everyone involved understand it’s ins and outs.

Being the character

Here, for the most part, I’m assuming that the writer and the director are the same people. However, if they are not, the writer should be at least a co-director. Otherwise the conceptual integrity will surely be compromised. Especially, in this part. The next part is, to make the actors understand their character. And to do that, the director and the actors need to have an conversation about the character.

I think that I did pretty well in these matters and I’m gonna describe what I did. The first question I asked to each actor was, how do you imagine your character. How does your character think, act and move around. But, because we were short on time, I didn’t have enough time to exhaustively have these discussions. However, by God’s grace, whatever happened, happened pretty well. So, I’m content with it.

The ease of understanding

This point goes along with the third point I made about writing. The checklist of assumptions. Basically, don’t make many complex scenes. Also, make everything easy to understand for the audience. Ditch the realism and logic in the favor of understandability where you need to. Meaning, let the audience see bizarre things that do mean something and they can easily understand instead of the showing them real things that are perfectly sensible and real, but hard to understand.

The narrator can do some magic in this part, however, too much use of narration will make the play weak.

I think, these are the main points that one needs to remember when one directs a skit. However, except for the second point, the other two can be applied in any other discipline as well. I know that it applies into programming. It’s from there these points are coming. Not the other way around.

Jingles of Christmas 3: Sound Editing

There isn’t much to talk about in topic of sound editing ( <– that last statement is meant to show you how ignorant I am… ) except a few things. Let’s go over them quickly…

Audacity

That’s what I used to do the editing. It’s a pretty good piece of software which supports unlimited number of tracks. Also, the interface is pretty easy to understand. It took be about 5 minutes to get up to speed and start editing the audio. It also has a pretty good list of effects to apply to the audio.. which is nice. However, because the quality of the recorded audio wasn’t very good, I avoided most of them. However, I did play around with it and it has some great potential.

Do not clip the recorded audio

That’s what I did. Since the recording was done by your favorite rookie(that’s me!) in sound editing, it had it’s highs and lows. Meaning, in some places the volume was very high, in others very low. So, I had to normalize it. The way I did it was to amplify the audio signal. In which on more than one occasion, I clipped the audio. Meaning… um.. I don’t know the jargon to describe it… so I’m not gonna…

So, by doing it, I further reduced the quality of the sound! The lesson is, DON’T DO IT AGAIN!

Keep the dialogues for each person separated

Well, I actually did this. However, it was so useful that I don’t want to forget it. So, I’m going to write it down here: Keep the dialogues for each person separated.

The bell rings again!

And it rings again afterwards! What does it mean? All this bell ringing? Ah well, the period has changed… Ah! Do you hear the long bell? It’s recess time! Who told you it’s recess? The bell. It speaks! It’s got its own language!

So does every sound editing project has it’s own language. For example, a doorbell rings. When it rings you know that someone has come. If the doorbell rings as background music, you wouldn’t think suddenly that the volcano has erupted. Nor would you think that the aliens of the bell planet has contacted us. You’ll think that someone has come in the skit. So, understand that sound is it’s own language and use it intelligently.

If you are doing something repeatedly in the skit, use the same sounds for these things every time, this way, the audience will learn the language of your skit as well and when they hear the same sound again, they will know what is going on.

The continual rhythm

The lesson is not about sound editing, rather of psychology. It is about the mind of the audience. If you use music in the skit and the music stops, the audience thinks that the skit is over before it is actually over. So, don’t let it stop. Let it play continuously.

So, those are the general lessons that I learned which can be used again. Other stuff was plainly incidental and related to the software that I used.

Jingles of Christmas 2: Recording

This post is part of the Jingles of Christmas series. In this post, I discuss the lessons I learned about recording the dialogues. Read on!

Shooting a moving target

As I discussed in the post before this one, I didn’t have a concrete script. So, there were a few modifications made into the skit plot. A few of them happened after the recording was over. So, I had to record the dialogues again for the changed parts. I also had to add/modify music for these parts and it took extra time. Half the time doing these things was wasted because I had to set the timings of all the other scenes following this one again. which was a repetitive task which could have been avoided if I had the dialogues 100% ready before I started the recording. So, that’s a lesson to learn.

I sound like the GODZILLA!

Well, nobody told me that they sounded like the Godzilla after listening to their own voice in the recordings however, there were a few occasion where the voice actors asked me to improve their voice using some editing magic. Problem was, I was a toddler playing at a wizard’s game. This was my first attempt at recording and editing things. However, there was a particular role in the skit that was the longest.

And as I heard the recording of that character, I could make out the difference between the things that were recorded the first and the things that were recorded the last. The latter was better than the former. So, If I could have given the actors a little time to practice on the mic, I think a lot of these complaints could have been avoided and also, the actors would have been much more comfortable, and the quality would have been much better.

Godzilla ate a cat!

Hmm, sit down. I’ll tell you the story. Godzilla ate a cat. However, the cat was very brave and stubborn. It wouldn’t go down easily. So, when the Godzilla was trying to devour the cat, the cat struck the vocal cords of Godzilla with a tremendous blow. However, that was not enough. And to the courageous cat’s dismay, the Godzilla devoured it. Godzilla was proud and when it tried to announce it’s monumental victory to the world with the help of a grand battle cry, it was a moment of a startling surprise. “Meow” It said. The blow to the vocal cords of Godzilla had changed it’s voice and the Godzilla now sounded exactly like the cat. On that day, the cat had slain the Godzilla!

Well, that’s what happened. In one particular scene when I was recording, the voice of the actor between to consequent dialogues changed as if it were spoken by two different people. But it wasn’t. So, how was this magical feat achieved? Simple. The mic was changed.

So, the lesson is, let one actor use only one mic and record their dialogues on the same mixer settings. If there is any change in between, the voice will change.

Go red if you see red

This is a basic. When recording anything, don’t let the signal turn red. It means it’s clipping the audio. Meaning it’s not capturing the whole thing but it’s loosing some audio information. It will be a real trouble when editing and applying effects. How do you solve it? Don’t keep the mic so close as if it were an ice cream and you were eating it…

If it still doesn’t help, then turn down the gain.

Noel’s law of dialogue recordings

Here’s the law: When you record the dialogues of a skit, the length of skit shrinks to half of it’s approximate duration of performance.

A little bit of data: About 12 pages of dialogues printed on an A4 paper with 10pts font size takes about 17 minutes when recorded.

Jingles of Christmas 1: Writing

NOTE: When I started writing this post, I didn’t think that it would get so long. So, I’m gonna do it in 4 parts. Each one focused on one particular topic. Writing, recording, sound editing and directing. This one will be focused on skit writing.

This Christmas, we had ICPF outreaches in schools. Of which I had the privilege to be a part of. The preparations for this programs started just a couple of weeks ago and I had the opportunity to write a skit to perform. And when it was (more or less) written, I had to direct it, record the dialogues, edit the recordings and add music. And, it was my first time doing each of these tasks so it was certain that I would make some mistakes. And as the saying goes, “Those who forget history are bound to repeat it”. So, here I’d like to record my experiences. And then, I’d reflect a bit upon my approaches and leave some notes for myself so when I’m in position of doing these things again, I would not make the same mistakes again.

A thousand ideas and the death of skit

As far as writing a script goes, believe me when I tell you, ideas can make you… crazy. In the past couple of weeks, there has been more than one occasion when I was on the verge of loosing my sanity. All because of amazing, awesome and fascinating ideas. Yes, I am exaggerating it, however some points need to be exaggerated in order to do justice to them. This is one such point. Because everything else depends on the script.

If I were to go back to my programming roots, I’d say that the script is the system architecture. The quality of the system depends on its architecture and if the architecture is in disarray, the system won’t last much. When we translate this into script writing, it means, “A thousand ideas and the death of skit”.

So, what am I saying? Are ideas bad? No. Every idea has its place and when it is misplaced it creates havoc. Good ideas can be made great ideas if you know the right place to put them to. There is only one way to know if it’s right to put an idea in any endeavor. It is the mission. The goal. Or the objective. The purpose.

The one question that needs to be answered before any scripting starts is, “What do I want to communicate through this skit?” I made the terrible mistake of not asking this question beforehand and now when do ask it of the skit that I have written, I get no reply. It just sits there, silently, mocking me. Oh well, maybe a bit of mockery will help me remember the lesson… so I sit there staring at it…

So, once the you have a clear goal, you can check and see if a certain idea fits. The lesson is, define a goal and stick to it. Then bring out your idea canon and shoot at your goal. If the idea sticks, great. If it doesn’t, let it rest.

Infinite resources of dreamland

Just like the previous lesson, this is also not a particularly related to writing a script. It can be applied in pretty much every other discipline. The lesson is of infinite resources.

Let me tell you why computers are so successful. The reason is not because they are fast and efficient. They are very good at calculations. That’s why the banks use them. But have you ever wondered, why do graphic designers, animators, architects, engineers and scientists use them? Their jobs do not require them to be fast and efficient, their job is to create new designs, to solve problems, to shape new concepts. And do you know how they do it? They use their BRAINZ. 😉

So, where does computers come in? They come into use in the second phase of their jobs. The first phase is, they conceive of the design, solution or concept in their minds. Designers and animators, use the near infinite resources of the world behind the magic glass and semi-materialize their design/imagination in the real world. No other medium other than computers can give the designers the luxury of “Undo” as easily as a computer does. The work flow of the engineers and scientists also go from a similar phase. So the reason why computers are so successful is because you can project your ideas onto a computer screen without much restraint. In the case of game designers, the world they create is only limited by their imagination. There isn’t much data loss between the imagination and the projection on the screen. There isn’t much information loss in the translation between the imagination and the computer screen.

How are the success of computers and the work flow of the designers relate to the topic of writing a skit? Well, it connects very well. Maybe, it’s not a problem for the older generation which didn’t have computers and thus had a much stronger sense of reality. Not so with me and my generation. I have seen bizarre worlds and strange beasts. I have seen people disappear in thin air. I have seen men fly by throwing and then holding onto the thrown hammer (What the heck, Thor?). And before I get any more poetic, let me wrap up this lesson.

The lesson is, the stage is not dreamland. There is a very BIG information loss between your imagination and the stage. You won’t have infinite resources and you won’t be able to give magical effects around your actors. Maybe you imagined a scene in a cave and another in a desert. Well, on the stage you won’t have either. The place called the stage exists in the real world. Plan for it. Minimize the use of props and costumes (It’s extra baggage to carry around and it takes time to put up the costumes). And then, imagine the play being done in different settings at different times of the day.

The checklist of assumptions

In the first lesson, I told you to ask a particular question before you start writing the script. Well this activity must be done when the script draft is written. The activity is to identify the assumptions that are made about and about the knowledge of the audience. In the beginning the question was, “What do you want to communicate?” However, the process of communication will be different when you are explaining a programming concept to a child and when you are explaining the same concept to a fellow programmer.

So, what is the exact element that makes the difference? Assumptions. I tell you. You instinctively assume that your fellow programmer knows certain programming concepts which will result in you using a lot of jargon. However, when talking to a child about the same concept, you won’t use that jargon(If you do, take a class in communication skills).

In the same way, if we are asking the question, “What do you want to communicate?”, we should also ask the question “To whom we want to communicate?” Once the audience has been decided, go over the script and identify the assumptions that you have made in the skit. The things that you used have as common knowledge. And if you find any assumptions that you know that the target audience doesn’t know about, eliminate those.

Metaphors: Eternal creatures of human understanding

This might not apply to every script, however when you are creating a skit to communicate something, sometimes it might be better to use metaphors. Let me quote Fernando J. Corbato on the importance of metaphors:

The value of metaphors should not be underestimated. Metaphors have the virtue of an expected behavior that is understood by all. Unnecessary communication and misunderstandings are reduced. Learning and education are quicker. In effect, metaphors are a way of internalizing and abstracting concepts, allowing one’s thinking to be on a higher plane and low-level mistakes to be avoided.

Sometimes, the things that you want to communicate can’t be communicated using normal means, you might need to make too much assumptions which might result in poor communication. However, these are the cases where metaphors really shine.

Lingering thoughts of Lua

For approximately a year now, I have been using Awesome as my window manager. It’s great. A few months ago, I was using Luakit as my primary browser when Firefox got in frenzy of releasing new versions of their browser which demanded more and more memory from my computer which it didn’t have. But, what these two amazing pieces of software have in common? Lua.

I was introduced to Lua when I configured my awesome window manager. It didn’t seem like a programming language much when editing the configuration file of Awesome. However, after that, I also configured Luakit in lua. And, I have been mesmerized by what I can do with these two pieces of software using the power of Lua.

So, today, in morning, I had a thought. Is Lua a viable option for web development? I did a search on google and found pretty interesting stuff. Things like the Kepler project and Sputnik wiki. I read about some stuff and it’s pretty interesting. Will have to continue this when I have some more time…

The Trap of One Thing

For past few weeks I’ve been involved in a debate in one internet discussion forum. The subject is, “Why do people believe in God?”. Since, I am a believer, I thought, let’s join in. Let’s see what happens. So, I presented my reasons in a simple manner. Starting from the cosmological argument, then to the intelligibility of the universe, then history and finally my own experience. However, since I entered the discussion, it has really heated up. However, what I get asked for a LOT is the scientific evidence of God’s existence.

Now, as I see it, the phrase “Scientific evidence of God’s existence” is a paradox in itself. Since, science has made it’s business to explain things, to give evidence of God’s existence in scientific terms requires me to explain God. But this is impossible. So, the next thing I get asked for is a bit more reasonable but equally unreasonable plight to provide the evidence of a miracle. This again, can’t be done without a miracle.

Why? Because miracles are miracles. Miracles do not happen in a pattern. If they did, we wouldn’t call them miracles. Miracles are the things that science can not explain. So, to provide evidence of a miracle, one must predict where a miracle is going to happen and then record it(in a video or picture or something) or hold a public exhibition and call all the skeptics let it happen right in front of their eyes. In the first case of video or a photo the skeptics will most probably say, it is faked.

However, the second scenario, God wouldn’t allow. That is because he has given us free will and he won’t violate it. Thus, he won’t take any person in position where that person is forced to do something (in this case, believe in something) without their own will. Because of these two reasons, atheists can claim that there is no evidence of a God. But that’s not true. The right way to say is this: there is no evidence of a particular kind. The kind that will force people to believe in God.

So, now that little prelude is aside, I want to get to the heart of the issue that I think is the problem. What’s the problem here? What’s going on? This whole thing is so complicated that I’m not really sure if I can really express it adequately so that you can understand. Still, I will try. I think, the problem is, people have trapped themselves in a single kind of mentality which they believe to be true. That’s the core of the problem. Now, let me go into the details a bit.

There are certain groups of people that identify themselves with a certain kind of methodology. For example, atheists. They put a great deal of emphasis on reason. For them, everything must be reasonable. And for that part, I totally agree with them. However the problem arises when they limit their sources of information. The main source of their “reason” is the scientific methodology. Test things in test tubes. The findings must be independently confirmable. The conclusion must be verifiable.

All these things have their use. I’m not denying that. That’s the definite way to go to do science and to further our technologies. However, when one bases a whole worldview on a single methodology, it comes up pretty short handed. That’s why atheists have immense problems when they get in any debate about morality. Very few atheists acknowledge that. However, that’s not the point I want to make here. The point I want to make here is, why do atheists have problems? It is because they rely on a single specific methodology for their information, and the evidence for their arguments.

Still, atheists are not the worst when it comes to applying a single methodology in everything they do. They are still reasonable enough, and I believe, honest atheists will eventually find God in some phase of their life. Their problem is much less severe than other group of people I’d like to talk about. Atheists have only limited their ways to find out the truth, and the way they have chosen is an adverse one, to say the least, for the reasons I described above about the evidence of the miracles. Nevertheless, at least, they do not jump to complete contradictory conclusions. That is the trademark of the other group I want to discuss.

The other group is, new age believers. The people who believe in the methodologies of new age spirituality. They all practice similar methods to reach the… um… spiritual state. To be one with the universal conscious(am I using the right word?). The peculiar thing is, they also believe in complete relativism. Everybody practices the same things. However, everybody can come to their own conclusions. What’s moral for me won’t be moral for the person sitting next to me. And then they have this nonsensical conception of truth. Everybody has their own truth. Everybody must find their own truth! How? Using our methodology. Is there any guarantee? Nope.

Again “new agers” believe in their methodology. The thing that is completely mind boggling to me is that how can someone trust a methodology when it produces complete contradictory results? Still those who believe it have accepted the methodology as the truth. I think this is the most dangerous thing our generation has fallen into. The trap of one thing.

Why do I think it is dangerous? Because it is the complete opposite of what bible teaches. There is only one truth and you can come to that truth using many different methodologies. Take philosophy, history, cosmology… Personal experiences. Everything points to one truth. Not different ones. Because atheists have limited their point of view to a mere scientific one, they have created hindrances for themselves when they try to find the truth. However, in new age spirituality, the complete opposite is happening. There is only one methodology, and a lot of truths.

In the discussion, “Why do people believe in God?”, one of the main reason for me to make it long and touch on different topics was, to not make it one trick pony. I was pretty sure that it will be challenged. So, I made it broad enough so that it doesn’t get stuck in a single field. Because, if that happens, the argument will be one sided. And in my mind, winning an argument in a single field doesn’t amount to much. It’s like um… one trick pony. It does only one trick. However, except that trick, it does terrible at every other trick. I didn’t want the discussion to be like that. That’s the weakness of getting trapped in a single field. It becomes a one trick pony, good at only one argument and terrible in every other argument.

There is also one advantage of being able to confirm something through multiple fields. Every time a thing can be confirmed through multiple methodologies, there are less chances of it being wrong. If a thing can be confirmed by only one methodology, there are pretty good chances that it can be wrong. However, if it is confirmed by two, then the chances of it being wrong drops down. With three, even more so. And on and on… So, if a thing can be confirmed by multiple methodologies, there is very little chance of it being false.

However, the problem is that the current generation doesn’t understand this. When I provided my reasons, they were pretty much overlooked and the thing I was asked for was “positive non-circumstantial evidence”. And since I could not provide it because of the reasons given above, all my other reasons/arguments didn’t held any value! This came as a bit of shock to me.

I think this generation has reached a point where it is preoccupied with a single thing and is ignoring all the other things. The people around us believe anything that is told to them in the name of science. It doesn’t matter if it’s science or not. Just because it’s labeled as science, it must be true. However, we as christians must not fall into this trap. We must confirm our beliefs by multiple means. And we must never, ever, be preoccupied with anything other than Jesus.