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December 17, 2011

Christopher Hitchens died.

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A happy life

July 14, 2011

As you gaze through the first few lines of this monologue, I gather from your calm manner that you have just come back from a tough day. I am sure that you must have, many times, felt that you are wasting your time in a place you don’t really belong. Let me tell you right here, that I, unfortunately, have never experienced this problem. I have come to this world with a gift. A gift of transforming my entire life the second I realize that I am unhappy from within in a given place. Nature has given me a free pass, a ticket to travel you may call it. The moment I am done with one place, I am swiftly put in another, with a completely different set of friends, family, and identity. I obviously know this happens once in a while but my surroundings seem to be oblivious to my travels. This secret is so deep and so dark that I have never ventured to open myself up to anyone. I wonder if the rest of you are the same. Frankly, I doubt it.

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Boltzmann program Vs. maxEnt interpretation of statistical mechanics I

March 28, 2011

This is first in the series of posts about two schools of thought about the nature of statistical mechanics. At first, I will talk about what is the purpose of statistical mechanics.

In the late 17th century, Newton discovered the 3 laws of motion. Given the nature of interaction between a collection of particles (the forces acting between them) and their positions and velocities at an initial time, Newtonian mechanics in principle describes their positions and the velocities at any future time t. Newtonian mechanics explained the motion of the planets around the sun and the motions of comets very successfully and remained unquestioned for almost 3 centuries.

At the same time, scientists were making discoveries about the nature of matter. They soon came to believe that liquids, solids, and gasses were comprised of tiny particles. It was obvious to them that in any amount of experimentally realizable chunk of matter, there were almost an infinite number of these small particles (Now we know that the number of water molecules in a glass of water are of the order of 10^23). It also thus became evident that solving Newton’s equations was an impossible task for such a system. Nevertheless, regularities were observed in the behavior of liquids and solids.

Let us imagine a gas like hydrogen or methane in a closed cubical box. Bernoulli argued in 1738 that due to the large number of gas particles in the box, the average number of collisions on any surface of the box were the same. He also proposed that these collisions gave rise to the pressure of the gas. This was the first deliberate effort to describe average properties of matter (a gas in a box) instead of worrying about the positions and velocities of each particle of the matter. Separate advances were made in the theory of liquids and theory of solids by Euler. Euler’s equation described the flow of an inviscid fluid and Euler equations for a solid described the behavior of a solid under the action of tension or compression.

These discoveries gave rise to a new set of physical laws. These laws did not describe the physical system at hand completely (it was not required to know all the positions in a box of gas, knowing the pressure was sufficient), they described it on an average. It implied that the positions and velocities of individual particles in the system were described by a probability distribution rather than a differential equation (a.k.a the Newton’s laws). The probabilities arose in an otherwise deterministic system (Newtonian mechanics can prescribe exact position and velocities) only due to the physicists’ helplessness. It was evident that no real system can be prepared with exact positions and velocities in order for it to be completely deterministic in future times.

People like Maxwell and Boltzmann derived the probabilities of velocities of gaseous particles in an enclosed gas starting from Newton’s equations of motion and making subsequent simplifying assumptions. Dulong and Petit applied statistical mechanics to solids and discovered the law of heat capacities. Lord Rayleigh and Kirchhoff applied statistical mechanics to radiation and discovered appropriate governing laws. Statistical mechanics was thus a method to study macroscopic objects (a collection of infinitely many particles). The properties of individual particles in the object were not of any concern only their averaged behavior was.

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The Embassy

March 16, 2011

This is the last part: The embassy

Waiting in the line at the Embassy, S. went over what had happened in the last half hour. It was the most dramatic half hour he had experienced. In the line, he thought about Geeta, that poor creature he had tried to help, only to find that he had put her and himself in more trouble than they were at the start of the day. S. had come to appreciate the workings of the Embassy with a cleared understanding. Everything went by rules. All discrepancies, (there were none) were swiftly reported to the head office. He did have concerns about the intellect and honesty of the crew members on the ferry who were given many important tasks. It seemed to him that they underplayed the crucial nature of their work.

When the carrier had caught S. helping Geeta with the Embassy pen, he was enraged. Yet, soon enough, he regained his composure and reprimanded S. in cold and direct words. Misusing the pen was one of the gravest offense and S. had not appreciated that fact, even though according to the carrier, he had expressly warned S. against such stupidities. The carrier later explained to him that punishing S. wasn’t in his authority and the good news was that his paperwork was correct. He was now ready to go to the Embassy.

S. was very surprised that he was let go with so little scolding. In the line, he also thought about fate and what his life would have turned into if he hadn’t met the two strangers: Geeta and the carrier. Why was the pen so important? Why was Geeta scared of her family in the most irrational way? He didn’t know the answer to those questions but he knew that the world was a strange place and he had moulded himself to be a person who ingested everything that came his way but didn’t bother much even if he couldn’t digest it. He decided to wait and see. He now had the paperwork, properly stamped by the carrier. He also had a sheet of paper on which the carrier had written a lot of letters and numbers in a collection of neatly formatted arrays. S. was told not to look at the sheet and he obeyed. After the Geeta incident, he had come to understand that everybody’s cooperation was utmost necessary if the Embassy’s working was to be carried out in a fashion it was famous for: Swift and efficient. S. knew that his case will be handled with diligence and sincerity. He worried the least because whatever the outcome be of his little appointment, he was now sure that the Embassy would take its decisions which were most correct for him.

At the end of the line which was full of people most disinterested in talking to him, there was a counter behind which he could see a man with an air of superiority, condescension, and arrogance. He instantly knew that the man was a civil servant. When his turn came, S. handed over his papers and the sheet to the civil servant. He greedily accepted his documentation and handed him a form to fill without even looking at the paperwork. His papers were immediately sent to a desk which was not visible from the narrow counter window.

The form consisted of a questionnaire. The first section was personal details such as age, date of birth, sun sign etc. Each question in the second section was to be answered in at least 40 words and at most 500 words. Some of the questions were difficult to fit in these boundaries.

Are you a Nazi?
Were you a perpetrator or a sufferer of a genocide?
In case of emergency, will you be able to solve a mathematics problem?
Have you ever conspired in a murder?
Do you intend to enter the United states in order to wage war on the country?

S. wrote his answers to these questions. Since he couldn’t answer in a simple yes or no, he gave lengthy explanations as to why his answers were in the negative. He was quiet happy with his wit and considered his answers funny. He submitted the paper back to the civil servant and waited for his turn to be called again.

He was called immediately and was escorted to a place which resembled the interrogation rooms in cheap B grade movies he used to adore as a youngster. There was one dim yellow light in the center on the ceiling. There was one table and two chairs. The room had no windows and no ventilation. S. couldn’t make out the color of the walls as it was too dark to see. He waited patiently. He was a bit nervous but hoped that this was the usual way of handling applications. After all it made sense since not everybody deserved to go to America and individual applicants had to be examined thoroughly.

A short and stout man entered the room. S. couldn’t see his face clearly at the door. He walked in slowly and closed the door. S.’s eyes had become used to the dim light now and as the man approached him, S. could see more and more of his person. He had a grave look on his face. He looked like the kind of people who do not know what humor is or haven’t laughed a single laugh in their entire life. He brought upon his face a sense of frigid seriousness and spoke,

-Sir, I must congratulate you. Your application has been reviewed successfully. There is a slight anomaly that I am unable to comprehend. I require you to cooperate so that we can sort this issue.

He continued with aggression,

-I have been told by your carrier that you engaged in an unauthorized barter deal with him and forced him to give you his pen. Moreover you have helped a well known adversary of the Embassy by giving her some of the most delicate and important details of embassy work.

S. had expected some kind of retribution for his excursion from normal Embassy protocol. He also figured out that the sheet of paper the carrier handed him was perhaps a report in highly cryptic language about his behavior on the ferry. He then knew why the carrier was so calm even after catching S. helping Geeta. The carrier had merely completed his duty. It was now S.’s turn to face the consequences. He was assured that they will be just.

-Sir, in the light of your behavior on the ferry and your answers to the questionnaire, I have no option but to book you under sedition laws. Fortunately, the courts have given us the permission to try you without a trial, the decision of the civil servant in charge of your paperwork is considered final. Thus, we are saving you a great deal of pain and bureaucracy. You don’t have to go to the court and don’t have to spend money on a lawyer, who anyways wouldn’t have helped because Embassy cases are generally very strong. You’ll be given a punishment within the premises of the Embassy. Two men will come in this room and escort you there. Before that, I should give you the list of offenses you have committed. Some of them are minor and if it were up to me, I would have neglected them.

S. looked at the list. It had items ranging from delaying the carrier to waging war against the Embassy. He asked,

-Will there be any documentation of the punishment?

-Fortunately no. Every entry into the Embassy complex renews a client’s records. Nevertheless, in your case that thought is futile.

S. had to wait for around 15 minutes in the dark room after the man had left. Two stout and large men walked in and politely asked him to come with them. They asked him to stand in front of a wall and shot him. He died instantly.

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On the boat

March 16, 2011

The third part: On the boat

S. stood with Geeta in his arms on the high deck. She was close enough that he could smell her hair. She didn’t look like someone who could afford fancy hair products and her hair smelled natural. S. was pleased. In that moment he pushed her away gently. He didn’t want to risk his sexual arousal being felt by a stranger.

-Let me see if I can find a pen. Then we can work on the list of documents you need.

-Thank you so much sirji!

Geeta replied with gratitude.

S. went back rapidly to his carrier. To his surprise, finding the way back wasn’t easy. He had wandered off in various directions while exploring the ferry. Soon enough, he found his carrier who fortunately was not looking into his papers but was sipping a cup of tea.

-Hello there! I presume you are done with the checking?

-You’re not even close to being correct. You have done a really shabby job in arranging your papers. I am not a man of letters but I have a feeling that even though you have everything required it’ll take you a lot of time rearranging these in a proper fashion

The carrier tapped on the file which was to his left. He continued,

-My guess is that I’ll be done a minute or two before we reach the shore. I do not wish to give you an impression that I know what lies in your documents. I have worked as a carrier for a long time now and most of my work ethic derives from my experience. Nevertheless, all my actions are according to the Embassy protocol.

The carrier sounded a bit defensive in the last sentence. S. imagined the carrier to be a deeply unsatisfied man who was burdened by rules which did not resonate with his intuition. The carrier had the habit to go on rants which were mildly critical of the operations of the Embassy but soon enough his professionalism or the fear of losing his job.

-Sir, I have one more request. May I borrow a pen from you?

S. asked the carrier. His guess was that acquiring a pen shouldn’t be a difficult job for someone like the carrier, who knew his way with words.

-That’s most unusual Sir! A pen on the ferry is a dangerous weapon. Only the carriers are issued pens outside the Embassy. These are special pens. Anyone who’s not a carrier is not supposed to use it. This is not only the practice but also one of the most observed rules of the Embassy. Eh! I don’t want to give you an impression that there are some rules which are less observed than others. That pen is for personal use only. I need to do some calculations for my office. I will throw away the paper in water as soon as I am done.

S. bluffed and waited for the carrier’s response. He thought it was silly that the Embassy should worry so much about pens. He was determined to help Geeta and would have lied to the carrier who had already started annoying him.

-I believe you sir but I am afraid I cannot help you. These are strict direct orders from the civil servants themselves.
Is there anything I could do to change your mind?

S. actioned to take his wallet out. The carrier was immersed in deep thought. He was weighing his options.

-Sir, money is not the issue here. We carriers do not accept money. I do need a watch. Only if I can borrow yours. I will make this exception because I find you trustworthy but please please Sir, throw the papers away after your calculations are done, that is essential!

Without thinking, S. removed his watch. It was a cheap piece. He was also intrigued by the special pen that was issued to the carrier. Perhaps, he thought, the pen was more expensive than the watch.

He rushed back to Geeta. He found her exactly in the pose he first saw her. He slowly went to her and softly said,

-Geeta, I have a pen now. It wasn’t easy but I think it is my duty to help you on this foreign piece of land. Please give me the rough papers I gave you and I will make a list for you. Thankfully my memory is on our side and I can recall everything that is required to go through those gates!

Geeta smiled a faint smile and handed him the papers. S. began jotting down all that he could remember. He remembered that the carrier had complained about his order of the paperwork. He also remembered him saying that most probably, the paperwork was sufficient. It gave him confidence. He wanted to play his part in making sure that this woman finds her husband.

-You vile woman! You scoundrel son of a bitch! You liar!

S. and Geeta were shocked. They saw the carrier filled with rage. He had come here wandering just like S. in order to find him.

-You told me Sir that you’ll throw the papers away once you are done with the pen but instead you are giving them to this woman! This slut who has made our lives a misery on this boat?

S. was caught. He feared if his lies threatened his future dealings with the Embassy.

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Geeta

March 13, 2011

This is the second part:

S. did not know what part of the long and tiresome monologue he was supposed to discard. He found himself sitting with the carrier in the boat. It hadn’t started yet. The carrier continued,

-People thought that going to the Embassy was trivial. Most of them came unprepared. Yet, for swift and efficient operation, for which the Embassy is renowned, every client needs to have proper documentation. I hope you have yours. May I see it now?

S. realized that the ferry will start only after the documents were handed over. He had come prepared, as instructed in the letter. He handed the file to the carrier and soon enough the ferry started. S. did not see the carrier signaling anyone on the ferry. Somebody must have been watching them from a distance.

– We are allowed to start the ferry once you hand in the complete set of documents. The ferry belongs to the Embassy and hence currently on American land. As I told you, many people come unprepared, causing great distress to the civil servants who are used to a kind of efficiency that’s unmatched on the entire planet. In order to save them the trouble of meeting rude and unprepared citizens of your city, it was decided that the documents will be checked prior to admission. Checking them on the ferry makes sure that the client doesn’t panic and escape if the paperwork is incomplete. You get the permit to enter the Embassy before you leave the ferry. I would now like you to not disturb me while I check your papers.

The request was addressed to S. He didn’t mind being silent. He looked around the ferry for a while. The carrier was indulging himself in the papers. He made strange grunting noises once in a while in order to show his mild disapproval of the paperwork. S. did not think it wise to disturb him. He imagined that the permit to enter the Embassy was issued by the same man and did not want to jeopardize his chances now that he had already passed the first stage of what seemed to be an adventurous trip.

He slowly realized that going to the Embassy wasn’t as easy as he had initially thought. He had completely overlooked what he had only heard about; the mess the city used to become in the evening. It would have been foolish to navigate through that maze all by himself. He felt thankful towards the carrier service but did not dare thank him personally. He was a bit disappointed with himself that he had forgotten to ask him how long it took on the ferry and if he could roam around while the carrier was busy. After a while, he decided to walk around.

The ferry was long and with a high deck. S. looked at his watch, it was 9 in the morning already. The sun was shining in the clear sky and he could see no signs of land. He breathed the damp and clear air of the sea and tried to see as far as he could but all he saw was water. He slowly strolled across the ferry. There was no sign of any human presence except the carrier. It appeared that the Embassy issued one carrier and one ferry per client. He thought of it a bit extravagant. As he approached the deck to receive the high air, he saw a thin figure, perhaps a woman, staring at the water. S. briskly approached her.

-It’s a wonderful day out here
-mHmm

The woman replied but didn’t appear to S. to be in a mood for conversation.

-Are you also going to the Embassy?

S. gave it one more try.

He thought he would get bored on the journey without any company. He didn’t know how long it was going to take. The paperwork had made a machine out of the carrier who was churning through the documents like a crazed man. He waited for the woman to respond.

Without warning she turned her face to him and started weeping. She looked as if she was starving. It was difficult to figure out her exact face as the crying and the tears had contorted it. She must look very beautiful in her happy times, S. thought. The innocence and the helplessness in her cries made him automatically sympathetic towards her.

-My husband works in America. He left the day after my marriage. I haven’t heard back from him for so long that I don’t even remember when I got married. I want to inquire about his whereabouts and the Embassy seems to know everything. The problem is,

She continued without looking at him. She would have realized that he was getting interested in her distress.

-My paperwork is incomplete. My carrier says that he is not qualified enough to tell me exactly what’s missing but he says that he will not risk confronting the civil servants in the main office before he is entirely sure about the papers. He is not giving me the permit to go through the gates.

-Why don’t you then go home and get the requisite documents? I can help you with the list of requirements.

S. stopped in the middle of the sentence to search for a pen and a paper. Unfortunately, though he had lots of bills in his wallet that he could have used as rough paper, there was no pen to be found. The woman who was not interested in his silly gestures continued,

-Sirji, I am a stupid woman from a village. My marriage remains unconsummated. And as I told you, my husband left only the day after the wedding. I cannot imagine living with my in-laws. If they realize, and they will, that I am not pregnant after a couple of months, they’ll make my life a living hell on earth. I would rather stay on the ferry and hope that my husband returns soon. Since I have some of the papers, I have the right to be here. They don’t give me any food but I manage to steal some after the crew sleeps. Some days I sleep hungry while others it’s like a feast.

S. thought the reason to be rather exaggerated but the angst and fear in the poor child’s eyes made him want to believe in her. In disgust she said,

-They know that I stay on the ferry and they know that I steal from them. In return I let them steal some of my own belongings. I have lost most of my jewelry, my watch, and my pen. I don’t know how long it will last. I will soon have to resort to methods that no civilized woman will consider appropriate.

It came as a surprise to S. after having heard the cumbersome speech about the efficiency and clarity in the proceedings of the Embassy. He was angered by the injustice. Surely, he thought, if the civil servants found out about this poor woman the crew on the ferry will be severely punished. He decided to mention her case to the carrier and if required to the servants at the Embassy. He had a sudden urge to help her. After searching through his options, he came upon the first one he had suggested. He could help her with proper documentation.

-Have these papers for now. I’ll look around and see what I can do about the pen. May I ask you your name?

-Geeta

She said faintly. In the environment which she deemed extremely hostile, even a small gesture of help was enough to melt her. Overcome by emotions, she leaned closer to him and hugged him strongly.

Unexpectedly, S. took her in his embrace and let her cry. Her touch felt comfortable on the lonely ferry.

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The Embassy

March 12, 2011

The Embassy is a story in four parts. The first part is here: The carrier

S. woke up well before sunrise as usual. It was never cold in the city but he stayed a bit too much to the north where it got comfortable, especially early mornings. 18C, the temperature read on his thermometer. It was cold enough for him to stay in bed for half an hour more. The sun wasn’t out yet.

While rolling in his bed, his eyes half closed, he looked around his apartment. In that tiny place, he had managed to squeeze in a sofa, a bed, a TV, and a stove. He didn’t cook much but the morning coffee was essential. He got up. As he was boiling the water, he made a list-plan for the day in his head. Apart from office and some trivial formalities, the only thing that stood out was the appointment with the Embassy at 6:30 in the evening. Though he hadn’t ever been to that part of the town which was almost the southernmost end, he was confident that he could make it after he was done with office. The day wasn’t packed but he knew exactly how he was going to spend every minute of it. The thought comforted him.

While reading the news paper, the phone rang. The phone never rang and he had almost forgotten that it existed in his tiny place. He picked it up,

– Is this S. ?
– Yes
-S. from the northern suburbs who’s planning to visit the Embassy today?
-Yes

He hadn’t told many people about the visit to the Embassy. It wasn’t a matter of importance for him. He thought of it as a trifle. Nevertheless, somebody knew. Judging by her tone he guessed that lady didn’t have malicious intentions. The woman must have been in her mid twenties. She sounded attractive. He continued the conversation with a voice less surprising and more polite.

-There will be a carrier outside your house soon. Wait for it downstairs. That is how you’ll reach the Embassy.

He told her that he was planning to visit in the evening and he would go there himself. He had an appointment at 6:30pm and he was sure to make it in time.

-6:30? 6:30 in the evening!

She was positively shocked and strangely horrified.

-You are already late Sir! Didn’t you get the letter about the new rules at the Embassy? You have to be present at least twelve hours prior to your appointment.

He had specifically asked for such details when he had booked his time. He was told, he remembered, that half an hour was enough. He told the woman that.

-That’s impossible! The civil servants here are well trained. I doubt that they’ll make mistakes of such proportion.

Maybe they did say 12, he thought. He must have forgotten that detail though it was very unlike him. The confidence and eagerness in her voice made him think that he was at fault and she was right.

-I suggest that you go downstairs as soon as possible. It’s very rude to keep the carrier waiting.

-Thank you M’am. I’ll see what I can do.

-Thank you sir, for your cooperation. The Embassy has a track record of being swift and efficient in its operations. We hope that your experience is the same

She uttered the last sentence with authority, stressing on the formalities.

He gulped down his coffee which had become cold by now. An unpleasant start to the day, he mumbled. He didn’t have the time for complaints like this. Keeping the carrier waiting was rude, he remembered. He showered quickly, put on some clothes, and rushed downstairs. It was still early for the suburbs. The roads, shops, and buildings were all asleep. He hadn’t been out so early. The terrain looked unfamiliar. The carrier had not arrived. He wondered if the driver knew the intricacies of the suburban road networks. It was different here, unlike the city where everything was straight and at right angels.

He saw a dim light at a distance. It was approaching him slowly. He had perhaps waited for half an hour. He didn’t know the exact time because he had forgotten the watch upstairs. Absence of the watch took away a whole dimension of his existence. It made him more uncomfortable. He had an urge to rush upstairs and grap that one thing which would complete him. At the same time, he didn’t want to risk missing the carrier. Not having the watch now meant not having it for the rest of the day. He was going to miss everything that he had planned for the day except the visit to the Embassy. He didn’t know if there will be any time kept at that institution. He didn’t feel like not knowing the time for an entire day. He spent around fifteen minutes thinking and in torment. The light of the carrier was still weak and distant. He thought he could make it upstairs before it reached him.

Undecided, he rushed. He grabbed to watch and ran downstairs. He was back in no more than 3 minutes only to find himself greeted by a man in a fez hat and reddish brown teeth.

-Hoi Sir! You were told not to be late. It’s not nice to keep the carrier waiting

It appeared as if it took him great efforts to put on a formal smile. He must have been frowning inside.

-Sir, I have been waiting here for the last forty five minutes. The Embassy does not and will not tolerate any delays. We must , at once, leave here

He said in a rush.

S. was expecting the carrier to be an automated vehicle which will take him to the Embassy, not a human being. It was strange, he thought, to send one person per client. If the Embassy was as busy as it had claimed in the letter, they must have recruited an army of red teethed fez capped madmen. He imagined an array of such beings being dispatched every morning. It made him smile. He didn’t find it prudent to share his little picture. The man had already started walking briskly towards the north harbor.

-The north harbor is north of here and the Embassy is to the south.

The man told S., who already knew it.

-We are taking the ferry to cross the creek. The Embassy arranges for special ferries at a discount rate. All the details are in the letter that you must have received some days ago. Yet, it is my duty to inform you about them. The Embassy has strict standards about avoiding confusions. I will be reprimanded strictly if I fail.

He continued,

-The Embassy has acquired a reputation of being swift and efficient in its operations. It was chaotic before the war. The carrier system didn’t exist and half the interested people who couldn’t make it to the main office. Of the half that reached, half got bored and left in the enormous queues outside the gates. By the time all the paper work was checked, we hardly had any clients! I am not saying that the working within the office were inefficient. On the contrary, the staff comes from a handpicked few in the civil service. It’s one of the best jobs one can have as a civil servant. It wasn’t the inside but the way to the Embassy that proved treacherous.

They had reached the harbor and the ferry was in site.

– How I get carried away! Please treat all my nonsensical blabber as a personal opinion of an untrained fool. As employees, we are not allowed to share our criticism with outsiders and with the civil servants. The carrier’s job is very important. We have to make sure that each client reaches the main office safely. Hence we are not allowed to cloud the client’s mind with unnecessary information and opinions.

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