Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How to Create a Wordpress Website (and Why I Did It)

Why am I starting a Wordpress website?Fynestuff.com

On July 12th 2016 I started my own gaming and technology website, Fynestuff.com. The plan was to combine two things I think I'm really good at, writing and following e-sports and technology. So I got together with a bunch of my friends (with Shivendra, he might have been mentioned here once or twice) and over a 1AM coffee break literally at Linking Road Starbucks (sidenote: meme magic is real), we thought of how to go about it.

 

Problems We Faced

The first and most obvious problem we had was the name. I knew I wanted to write good quality articles on everything ranging from one of my most played games, Dota 2, to movie releases, TV shows and how Steve Jobs wouldn't like the new iPhone. Just a very 18-24 demographic-y set of articles catered towards people like me. The problem with the content writing and journalism industry is that it's saturated with mediocre and ineffectual listicles, rife with laziness and fake sensationalism. A lot of that has to do with the socio-political changes in the last half a decade or so, with the sensationalist, scaremongering titles propagated by websites like Buzzfeed and Scoopwhoop and needless division and racialism promoted by the Twitterati. I don’t want to get political.

I try to keep the sensationalism to a minimum on Fynestuff, but the problem is, it works. From a business perspective it makes sense to maximise clicks for the sake of a bit of integrity if your content itself isn't very serious, and let's face it, for videogames like Dota 2 and CS:GO, unless you approach it from a serious journalistic lens like Richard Lewis, it makes sense to make that trade-off.

Fynestuff

We went through a lot of names that night, over spotty internet and half-asleep bodies rattling their brains to figure out a name that didn't sound too stupid and was also available as a domain. The only one that we thought fit that criteria was Fynestuff, so the next morning we did it.

Don't ask me about the site architecture or backend. I had no clue how any of this works; but I decided to give it a shot. Limited IT experience and a more than bad set of skills for being a sysadmin puts me in a position where I have to learn everything from scratch.

 

So here's How To Create a Wordpress Website:

1) Choose a hosting provider: I chose Amazon AWS

Amazon Web Services's Free Tier is basically a year of a free t2.micro instance, which is a virtual shared webserver where you can do pretty much whatever you want, including setting up a website. There's lots of other cool things you can do with 30GB of storage, 1GB of RAM and a good amount of computing power. It's enough to support around 50 simultaneous users on my website, though the fact that I choose to run it on a Windows server limits the efficiency somewhat.

I was having a huge amount of trouble setting up AWS's very own Wordpress AMI, which is made by Bitnami. It's basically a go-to, packaged, readymade Linux server that comes with everything you need for a Wordpress website pre-installed. The problem with that is its limited customization. We had a bit of trouble getting rid of the ugly "Bitnami" branding on the bottom left of every webpage we found. And running SSH into a Linux server from a Windows machine is slightly harder than if you're running Mac or Linux, because you have to install Putty or some other software, and can't connect straight through the command line. After being frustrated with the prebuilt Bitnami package, we tried going for an Amazon Linux AMI. There were problems with that too, but that’s mostly down to me being stupid and not finding a way to install Apache correctly. I also got confused between all the different languages; all the answers on Google pointed to using ‘yum’ packages to install Apache, PHP and Wordpress which is meant for CentOS/RHEL and not whatever Amazon’s Linux AMI is running. Huge pain, and after a day of trying to figure everything out, my friend Shivendra got Wordpress up and running through a WAMP stack on Windows Server 2012 in the meantime.

One of the better guides we were following is this. If you want your Wordpress hosted on Linux using an AWS instance free, this is the way to go.

 

What we learnt:

  • AWS Free tier is free for only 15GB of Network Out; if you have a lot of traffic, you’ll have to pay for more bandwidth. We went over this limit in the first month because we were constantly moving files and didn’t have a CDN back then.
  • A t2.micro instance is good for a small to medium website, but if you’re going over 50 concurrent users, considering switching to a paid VPS or controlled hosting. Or even a higher instance of AWS, if you’re so inclined.
  • Make sure to follow all the steps to enable Elastic Load Balancing and an Elastic IP. Very important.
  • Keep Cloudwatch alerts for things like when your website is under load (above 80%), when your cost goes above the Free tier allowance, or when

 

2) Why Windows?

There are some disadvantages to Windows servers over Linux based ones.

  • Both perform about the same in low stress situations, but when the going gets tough, many people are visiting your website and it’s under high load, Linux usually outperforms Windows.
  • Most of the internet is written for Linux based servers. This runs fine on Windows, but if you’re looking to do the opposite, like use .NET or VB software on a Linux server, you run into compatibility problems. By optimizing for Windows you’re probably being less efficient in the long run.
  • Linux software is free? Windows isn’t. People keep throwing this around a lot but both are free under AWS Free Tier, so whatever.

However, none of these problems affect us because PHP and MySQL, which are the two things we need along with Apache/NGinx to run a Wordpress website, work great on both. We ran into SSH issues with our Linux platform after we gave up on Bitnami and installed Wordpress on Linux ourself.

The biggest advantage of a Windows server on AWS is the ability to RDP into your instance; you essentially get to use your server as a desktop like you were using Teamviewer. No SSH or command lines to deal with, and you don’t need FTP solutions as you can just drag and drop files between your desktop and the amazon instance. For noobs like us the convenience of not having to Google how to drop files into our server was great.

 

3) Setting up a web application stack.

On the second day of trying to set up a website from scratch, Shivendra managed to install WAMP server pretty easily. WAMP is what’s known as a “web application stack”, which is a set of software you need to run a server from a computer. WAMP stands for Windows, Apache, MySQL, PHP. There are other kinds of stacks, like MAMP stacks, which is the same but for Mac, LAMP stacks, for Linux, and others. If you’re running Wordpress on Windows it’s best to go with a WAMP server; you won’t need any additional functionality.

 

Use this guide to install Wordpress using WAMP server.

 

A few notes when using Windows and installing WAMP server:

  • Don’t forget to rightclick Apache modules and checkmark the “rewrite_module” thing, because if it’s not ticked it won’t let you connect to Apache and you’ll get a Port 80 error.
  • Follow the end of this guide again to get the DNS servers working correctly with Wordpress.
  • Remember to change your “site address” and “wordpress address” URL in the wordpress settings.

 

4) Installing your Wordpress themes and plugins

This step is really easy and anyone who knows how to click a button or use the internet should know how to do both. There are a lot of great, free themes available out there, and if you want to customize something checking out the theme’s FAQ helps a lot. Plugins are the same. Here’s the plugins I use for Fynestuff:

  • Yoast SEO: Integral to any sort of search engine optimization; probably the best plugin out there on Wordpress right now. It’s this plugin that makes switching to Wordpress worth it from any other platform. Customizability for how your website appears to the rest of the world is invaluable, and good SEO can get your website thousands, if not millions of extra clicks.
  • WP Subtitle: We need a basic plugin to add subtitles
  • W3 Total Cache: We use something called a CDN (Content Distribution Network) that helps us cache webpages on their server. The CDN we use is Cloudflare. W3 Total Cache helps Cloudflare integrate with our Wordpress website, though it’s not a necessity to have this plugin if you want to use Cloudflare. What W3 does best is speed up your site by “minifying” your HTML, Javascript and CSS automatically, as well as doing things like browser and page caching that speeds things up immensely for users on your website. A speedy website has better search rankings than a slow one, so if you want to be “up there” consider getting both a CDN (Cloudflare is free, though you could also try AWS’s Cloudfront) and a cache plugin. It also drastically reduces the bandwidth you need as most of your viewers will be connecting to the CDN’s servers for a lot of the data on your website, and not yours. It’s nice to have.
  • Mashshare: Share buttons. Pretty cool.
  • Mailchimp for Wordpress: for our mailing lists. Email marketing still has the highest engagement rates of any form of online marketing, even more than SMS and way moer than social media. If you can get a substantial mailing list, you have a very valuable resource for consistent engagement.
  • WP QUADS: Helps us put in our Adsense ads in different places on the website. Quite customizable.
  • UpdraftPlus: I got this recently after our website crashed and we lost the entire database. We had to reupload everything manually. If we had kept backups it would just be one click. This plugin automatically uploads all our website’s content, including the database, to Google Drive once a day. Always keep backups!

The Results

I’m not very good at writing, SEO, or running a website, but it’s a learning process for each of them. I’m looking to grow this website into something big, and I know that it’s an effort that requires quality and consistency. The graph you see spikes up from time to time when we have really popular posts, but most of the days have a dull number of viewers, and that’s fine. A content driven platform like mine requires a solid userbase and customer loyalty, and the only way to build that quickly without spending exorbitant amounts of money on online advertising is to be consistent and quality driven.

fynestuff.com's google analytics for first two months

 

Check out Fynestuff.com

fynestuff twitter cover

Monday, June 6, 2016

Review: A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead

Radiohead always found a way to lull you into a sense of security with a heartfelt melody, but also give you nightmares at the same time. With this album, their lullaby dreamscapes coalesce hallucinatory vocals with a new array of classical strings and orchestra to lighten their electronic euphony. Radiohead’s much awaited album A Moon Shaped Pool was released to a fanbase whose hype levels exceeded anything seen before. If In Rainbows was their ice cream after a lovely dinner, then A Moon Shaped Pool is the late night glass of wine while you’re writing sad poetry at 2 AM.

Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke Making A Moon Shaped Pool

The album starts off with Burn the Witch, one of those songs whose title you listen to and think, ‘oh dear, they’re at it again.’ This time you’re one of Radiohead’s tunes for their 2016 album A Moon Shaped Pool, and you’re the song whose title went on all the promo letters sent to random fans across the world. You start off with a duodenal string arrangement created from what I can only assume to be some weird contraption involving a cello and Jonny Greenwood’s hair from three years ago. A col legno (where you pretty much strike the bow onto the strings of the cello like you’re beating it up) interspersed with a swift bass-line gives this song a melodramatic, if somewhat airy feel. It’s only later, after you swim through your ear canals trying to dissect Thom’s lyrics do you realise that this song really is about what the title says; burning witches.

Radiohead Burn the Witch Flyer

The following paragraph on Daydreaming is probably the toughest thing I’ve ever had to visualise in words. Usually describing a sound isn’t too difficult if you know some words. I do know a lot of words, but the transcription from Radiohead to words isn’t as easy. It’s like asking someone to paint the Mona Lisa using chocolate bars and Internet Explorer 6. Yes, I know that metaphor doesn’t make too much sense, but then again, neither does life.

Daydreaming is minimalistic and full of depth at the same time. It’s a fishbowl of tinkering bells, whoosh noises and steely guitar riffs swirling around in a cacophonic orchestral sequence. You then hear a triad of notes echoing through the musical hallway till it eventually falls into your lap amidst the soundscapes of Hellenic background vocals that I’m sure Thom and Ed spent more than three afternoons and two evenings calibrating. The resulting sound is really pretty. You can’t quite fit it into a genre, like most of Radiohead’s work since The Bends, but Daydreaming does a wonderful job of making you feel like you’d like to get lost in a cherubic, ethereal forest with candy-apple leaves peppered across the moss ridden ground.

Juxtaposition and contrast, not just in sound and lyrics but also in its message, seems to be the one persistent theme in this album. In fact, the music video for Daydreaming does a pretty good job of giving it a freeing, yet claustrophobic feel; Thom enters and exits many rooms, creeping around hallways and dinner tables and ignoring people giving him weird looks, before he stumbles into a cave and makes bear noises, presumably entering another 5 year period of hibernation (LP10 when?). It’s warm and fuzzy, but also cold and distant. The music itself is minimalist in that you can hear Jonny composing this in the same vein of his performance of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, but then there’s Ed doing some Treefingers level shit in the background that you can’t even decipher, making every moment unique.

Decks Dark is my personal favourite song on the album. It’s a Pink Floydian mix of a 1979 jam session with the eclectic beats and melodies reminiscent of Thom’s Atoms for Peace project. The lyrical theme is very resonant to Subterranean Homesick Alien, except it’s the opposite.

The wish, it seems, has come true. OK Computer gave birth to Radiohead’s foray into alt rock while experimenting with themes that would eventually go on to solidify their space in the annals of ‘bands that actually have things to say’. Climate change, divorce, breakup, politics, suicide, the dull pang of emptiness you feel on some nights where you wonder what this life thing is really about, and of course the pinnacle of Buzzfeed-esque clickbait scaremongering - alien abduction. In Decks Dark the Subterranean Homesick Alien dream has come true, and aliens have arrived. But as with all metaphors about extraterrestrials, it really isn’t about the aliens. It’s about you. You’re scared, and life is just a big spaceship hovering above you that’s going to DDOS your brain and start stealing your memories’ figurative exif data unless you stop being scared.

Subterranean Homesick Alien Lyrics and Decks Dark Lyrics

Stop right there (criminal scum)! There’s more to it than a simple theme reversal from an OK Computer song. Decks Dark ends with a blues-rock inspired jam, though they do it in their own style that is far enough from the blues to make it appear positively red. Optimistic, the sixth song from their 2001 album Kid A, also ends with a jam that rolls into the next song In Limbo. A lot of Radiohead’s music speaks about disenfranchisement from ‘the system’ and vulnerability, whether it be to alien abductions or dinosaurs roaming the earth once again. There’s always a sense of foreboding that they tap into with the theme itself, which eventually slaps onto the music like butter on bread. Decks Dark and Optimistic share this quality; they’re both decidedly unoptimistic. An inert, etiolated wimp cowering from aliens and a young idealist hoping that his best is good enough for the real world (it isn’t.)

From here our journey warps into a little spiritual mouse-house from the vast expanse of looming fear and groovy unease. An almost spectral acoustic guitar opens Desert Island Disc, which is a love song, possibly inspired by Thom’s breakup with his girlfriend of 23 years. This song is a lemon flavoured air freshener; the acoustic guitar and synths are easy to breathe but the lyrics still have a sour bite.

Colin Greenwood of Radioheadholding a lemon while performing

Analysing lyrics for Radiohead songs is like picking out your raisins from a raisin bran muffin… why did you get a raisin bran muffin the first place? “You really messed up everything,” could mean a variety of things, from the failing predicament of neo-capitalist globalism, to a relationship, or even to civilisation itself. After all isn’t that what Burn the Witch is about? A certain chunk of the human race spent the better part of centuries thinking that women who floated when drowned are witches. It’s probably about a relationship since Thom sings “take me back”, but then again, “you really messed up this time” represents either an extraordinary forgetfulness or a blind oversight in keeping with one theme when songwriting, or he’s just manic. In that way, Ful Stop musically is a cross between Weird Fishes and Idioteque. The melodramatic horns and fading-in percussion are busy and athletic. It’s the “tough love” song before the cold cuddle that’s Glass Eyes.

If you didn’t believe that the same guys who released Pablo Honey were able to create Glass Eyes, don’t worry, no one predicted Kid A either. Jonny’s heavy lifting in the compositional department performed with the London Contemporary Orchestra merge beautifully with Thom’s piano, resulting in an ebbing and flowing ballad about the daunting world we live in (or Thom’s divorce, could be either really). Though you could probably say that about most tracks on this album. The ending is vaguely reminiscent of Motion Picture Soundtrack, with the strings converging into a soaring crescendo that ends in a simple but poignant message. Replace “I will see you in the next life” with “I feel this love turn cold” and you’ve just transcended a 15 year expanse of Radiohead the discography. Except their music, they really haven’t changed much, have they? On my first listen of the album, when I sat in my chair with the lights off, I couldn’t think of what else one would title this track except Glass Eyes. It’s perfectly named and it’s not even related. It’s glassy. It’s watery. It flows perfectly.

Bubbly free flowing stream in Iceland, Radiohead comparison

I first heard Identikit in 2012 when they performed it live, and many people have been looking forward to it being on the album. When it eventually did release, many people wondered what this new incarnation was… it was Identikit… but it also wasn’t? Ed’s backing vocals were chopped, a few bars were cut here and there, the bass was made more prominent, and some verses were newly interjected with freestyle Thom Yorke and the song was made *tighter*, if I could describe it as such. I like both, but the AMSP version grew on me. It’s actually really great. The theme is similar to Ful Stop, in the accusatory “when I see you messing me around” concluding with the head-in-the-sand “I don’t want to know.” The first few beats mess with your head because it seems off, but that’s calculated. Radiohead is calculated. Every sound, every hiss and every beat is engineered and scrapped and reengineered again (this time with Thom around). Jonny’s guitar comes out of the woodwork at the end with a piercing guitar solo similar to the one on Go To Sleep (Little Man Being Erased). Out of all the songs on this album, this is the one you’d most likely find playing in a Starbucks on a Saturday afternoon, which is a good thing.

The Numbers and Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief are two songs that’d fit in either Kid A or Amnesiac, which I consider to be very intelligently produced albums. The use of orchestra adds a lot to an otherwise breadbox mix of electronic sounds that formed the basis of their last album The King of Limbs. The little bits of piano peppered in bring these songs back to their cozy little Moon Shaped Pool home. The Numbers is about climate change, by the way, while TTSSRMPMBMT is about the accustomed Radiohead signature – suspicion and derangement.

Okay, so if you haven’t heard Present Tense, this is AMSP’s Jigsaw Falling Into Place. This is the token In Rainbows song that made its way onto an album 9 years later. Well, not really, but it sounds exactly like it belongs amidst the dreamy In Rainbows songs. The samba inspired track quavers into an angelic chorus that melds orchestral strings, multi-tracked background vocal loops, maracas, acoustic guitar and Brazilian carnival-esque percussion.

Thom Yorke in Daydreaming traversing the snow capped mountains

Oh dear. Now we’re onto the last track on the album, True Love Waits. First performed in freaking 1994, this song has been around for a long time, and has seen its fair share of live performances (more frequently than Creep atleast) without an album release. What’s there to say about this? It gives me chills every time, in a way even Motion Picture Soundtrack doesn’t. Originally performed on the guitar, with a piano transformation on the album this track retains everything, and more. The song itself is nothing more than a plea – a sincere heartfelt plea for love. The last line of the album is a fitting “don’t leave,” which after 22 years, still serves its purpose at the end of A Moon Shaped Pool.

 

Where does this album rank?

I’d put this in the top 3 Radiohead albums released, after In Rainbows and Kid A. OK Computer comes very close and Paranoid Android is still one of the greatest ballads ever written but listening to all 11 songs on A Moon Shaped Pool from Burn the Witch to True Love Waits is an immaterial journey.

Top 3 Radiohead Albums: In Rainbows, Kid A and A Moon Shaped Pool

 

Summary

This album is an old parchment faded letter written to a lost loved one. It’s a celestial ode to the alienation, disillusionment and insanity of modern times. It’s the soul of a an era yet to come where people can’t eat or sleep or love anymore and Radiohead has captured that feeling of cold solidarity enveloped in a blanket of humanity. The music itself is heart wrenching and deep but the themes it explores, if you care about that kind of stuff, has always been about things you’d rather not think about.

Keywords: Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool, LP9, Ninth Album, Review, Daydreaming, Burn The Witch, Desert Island Disk, Ful Stop, Glass Eyes, Identikit, The Numbers, Present Tense, True Love Waits, Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Phil Selway, Colin Greenwood, Ed O Brien

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

5 Tips to Become a Guitar Pro

I started playing the guitar in about September 2008 at a very young age and since then I have garnered some wisdom through calloused fingers and the wrath of musical melodies that the guitar gods have bestowed upon me. The gods I worship in this instance are David Gilmour, BB King, a plethora of random blues musicians and David Gilmour once again, because he’s just that good.

Upamanyu Acharya's Acoustic Guitar

1) Keep practicing

It sounds really simple and stupid, and perhaps quite like a butterfly telling a caterpillar that the only way to get pretty wings is to wrap yourself up in your own saliva and digest yourself inside your own cocoon. And that’s just till you learn your first scale, or if you’re a butterfly, grow your first scale. After that process comes the inevitable monotony of practicing the same thing over and over till you’ve got it down to a literal science (not a figurative one like they teach in school).

The truth is, the first year of playing the guitar is really rough, if you practice regularly for about five hours a week, which you should to become proeficient enough to play songs and not end up being the bass player in your band. Your fingers will hurt quite a bit and you’re going to have to spend money replacing strings every month when the B string breaks for no reason when you try to bend little E (which will happen atleast 20 times in your lifetime) .

2) Recognise when to make a fool of yourself

The bane of every guitar player’s existence is the violent fervour at a semi-drunk party when you’re the only guy with a guitar and there’s 17 girls and 133 guys telling you to play Wonderwall. Oh, damn, you think. You’ve never even heard Wonderwall, though you know the song has something to do with Coldplay or something like that and your other guitar-playing friends hate it.

But hey, there’s still a chance that that one girl who smiled at you for two seconds at the bus stop last year might like Wonderwall, and she’s here at the party, so you might as well. At this point it would really be helpful if you whipped out your phone from your heavily pocketed cargo shorts and looked up the chords for it. “Sing along, guys, I’m not very good at singing,” is what you say, before you play E minor and G major really loudly, bleeting the lyrics at the top of your voice. At that point you have gotten approximately 67% of the party to sing Wonderwall so your job is just to look good and ocassionally strum a not-discordant chord.

3) Learn to read music

A lot of guitarists I know can’t read tabs. So that’s the first place you should start because it’s really easy. The number = the fret, and the strings are visually represented. Once you get a feel of what playing using tabs is like, you can imagine the rest of the song in your head when reading a few numbers, which on the coolness spectrum is somewhere between building an ikea desk yourself and painting a raven using brown paint only.

Classical musical notation is very helpful too, though it’s not used that much if you’re not playing… well, classical music. If you know any good piano players you’ll be good to go for a collaboration since the only thing piano players can do is read sheet music. Also they can only play either Fur Elise or London Bridge, so impressing them with your knowledge about the next point will be easy.

4) Engross yourself with music theory

If you’re an entry level guitarist like a Micromax mobile then you probably have no clue what music theory is, but sadly to get really good you need to understand some arbitrary words invented by either literally prehistoric people or Catholic priests in the middle ages spreading propaganda across Europe through choir recitals. Knowing the ‘Circle of Fifths’ is the key to knowing which, uh, key to play songs in. You can then move on to the Cycle of Fourths, and no, these are not demonic cults or Black Sabbath albums.

Upamanyu Acharya's Electric Guitar

The way I got around to understanding a little bit about music theory was motivating myself to create new music. In the back of my mind I knew that Pink Floyd sounded good and that David Gilmour loved playing in the key of B Minor, but if I wanted to compose my own song in that key I would end up having to learn some theory to understand which chords go well together, and where I can ensconce things like harmonics. If you’re playing lead guitar knowing music theory is vital to understand the different modes, which is a prerequisite to reach school band level playing.

5) Form a band (and find a drummer)

Nothing screams bad guitarist like not having bad guitarists around you to call your collective selves a ‘band’. Saying you’re in a band is a lot better than saying ‘me and my mates know some chords so we get together on Saturday afternoons and strum some stuff before we give up and watch football’. A band is instrumental in becoming good at a musical instrument. More so for a guitarist, because it helps them boost their ego by not being the worst at guitar (that’d be the bassist).

Aside from being bassist racist, you should be looking for a drummer, because that species of musician is more rare than a proper poet in arts college. Drummers will help you keep the beat and play an instrument called the drums, because at this point I’m done with the article and just wasting words on describing what a drummer does to fill an imaginary quota.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

No Matter What Pinterest Tells You, Humans Are Not Visual Creatures

Little Timmy stood within the white walls of the test lab where three overworked and underslept college students poked and prodded him with wires. He didn’t enjoy that process, but it wasn’t so bad. He was going to McDonald’s later so it was #worth. The underenthusiastic and overreaching college students showed him a screen with numbers from 1 to 15, in random positions on the screen, flashing for a second and then turning black. Timmy was tasked to identify where the numbers had been and what the number was. He had been able to catch a fleeting glimpse of the number 4 in the top right corner, so he pointed that out to the underpaid and underfunded college students. They hmm’d and ahh’d and noted down their findings with scribbly handwriting. This was a good study, they thought. Turns out they thought wrong, because they didn’t have a control group.

Humans are visual creatures
Most of us, when put in Little Timmy’s position would falter and fumble when presented with a similar situation. We can identify information; we can look at a fence for a second and tell approximately how old it is based on how the paint has chipped, and we can look at mountains and surmise that they indeed, are tall. But what humans struggle  with is taking in a whole lot of information at once. Listen to a song once and you won’t remember the lyrics, but listen to it fifty times and unless it’s Alt-J or Radiohead you’ll probably understand a few words and be able to place them in your memory bag.

Thom YorkeWill somebody please cheer him up?
When setting up Pinterest accounts or trying to optimise websites for imaginary robots crawling through your pages, people tell you to keep in mind that humans are “visual creatures.” I don’t think they are.
Humans are the least visual creature in the animal kingdom. Well, except for animals that are literaly blind, and plants because they can’t see. And a lot of other animals that are counted out for the nature of their being. And also animals who are many times stupider than humans like Dodos and California Turkeys, who were literally too stupid to survive. So basically pretty much every animal is not counted in my statement where I say ‘Humans are the least visual creatures in the animal kingdom.’ But pretend this isn’t a parliamentary debate and allow me to make my point.

Hey it's me ur monkey typewriter
That gif was on the front page of reddit and it’s what forms the basis of this post, mostly. Aside from the fact that chimps are amazing at remembering positions once they’re taught the concept of numbers, a lot of animals exhibit remarkable mental fortitude in various tasks. Crows remember the faces of pretty much every person they see, so they know exactly whose head to peck on when they inevitably formulate a grudge. Birds and flies and bees can see identify millions more colours than us because it helps them tell which flowers are the prettiest. And there are probably animals aside from elephants that have insanely long memories, just by statistical probability, and if not that then because of the fact that remembering things is probably a useful trait to have evolved in a world where many things can eat and kill you.
Cute Dog Eats Lime

Humans are decidedly non-visual creatures. We can do derivatives and integrate imaginary constructs called numbers to slingshot robots to pluto – centuries worth of human time would have been spent doing the required mathematics for that to be possible. Centuries worth of time would have been spent refining the English language to the point where Shakespeare could write plays with it while inventing words such as ‘scuffle’ and ‘marketable’. I’m sure if you give a chimp an infinity to create the complete works of Shakespeare, it’d just try to eat it, atleast that’s how I imagine it would go. We can enter a trance listening to a man half a planet away create interference in a copper wound magnet by plucking a few strings. We can spend hours reading a book without any pictures; just soaking in knowledge from swiggly lines invented by old men hundreds of years ago that is somehow able to communicate almost the full range of the human experience. That’s like the opposite of visual.

Principia Mathematica Example from Isaac NewtonLiterally what humans invented in their free time

If we were truly visual you wouldn’t be reading this, you’d be watching it on a piece of paper with moving pictures. Oh wait… That seems to be very close to reality. Nevermind, I guess we are visual creatures after all. We just haven’t had the technology to replace squiggly lines and imaginary numerical constructs with tumblr gifs and Friends reruns.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders Are Basically the Same

 

Blogging about Donald Trump is like listening to Nirvana right after Kurt Cobain’s death. People do it to pretend to be cool, or if you’re on the other side of the producer/consumer gravy train, for ratings. I’m doing it for both.

Or as he's known these days, Drumpf.

What caused this Trump phenomenon? And why is it not a bad thing?

Here’s a man who we see on TV saying things that establishment politicians would never dream of saying, even if they may think it, and when they’re slugged at with the weight of his 10 billion dollar “I’m great with words” insults, it leaves them stunned like a vegan in KFC. Let’s be honest, he says some pretty crazy things. He’s gonna build a wall across the border. He’s going to ban muslims. He’s going to make American muslims wear identification. He’s going to do a lot of blatantly racist things that regular people find infuriating. But why? Surely out of 300 million people there’s enough rational people with a sense of post-Medieval empathy; people who don’t want to kill muslims and spit on Mexicans.

Well, first of all, let’s dispel with this notion that Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. (Rubio-bot joke. Had to do it.)

This is what happens when Windows updates in the middle of a GOP Debate

Bernie, on the other hand, is basically Larry David (((gone political))). He connects with young voters, knows his issues and has reasonable stances on things. He believes in getting rid of the middleman in healthcare thus reducing its cost, free college education, and to top it all off, he’s not even racist! Seems it would be great to elect a President Bernie Sanders. And KFC would be pretty happy too.

America is a Centre-Right country.

The United States is a centre-right, or by some standards, far-right country when it comes to politics. UK policies would make Ted Cruz weep into his bible, and according to the rest of the GOP, Europe is positively communist. If Obama ran in the UK he wouldn’t be in the Liberal Party, because Democrats in the USA align somewhere between a coalition of Lib-Dems and Tories in the UK. The establishment GOP, which includes familiar names like Mitt Romney and the Bush trifecta would be further right than the Tories with some UKIP peppered in. And then you have Donald Trump.

The idea behind this right political leaning probably lies in the strong beliefs of things like working hard to make money in a capitalist society, protection of the Second Amendment to protect from government uprising and protecting Christian religious beliefs. Most Democrats, despite their beliefs, would appreciate that these ideals hold a great deal of value in what makes America the country that it is. And that’s where Bernie Sanders with his free college education starts making waves. Because when people hear, for the first time in many election cycles, about a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist advocating what in their minds is Communism – giving things for free to everyone – it rattles the cage of American politics. This is a country where the NHS would be labeled commie propaganda.

Why is Trump such a hit?

Trump isn’t popular with 47% of the country because of his racist stance on things. Most people are racist, and that’s fine. Most people aren’t smart enough to know the difference between China and Mexico, and how enacting tarrifs go against fifty years of trade policy and will crash the economy. He’s not going to build a wall across the border if he gets elected in the same way he’s not going to ban Muslims. If saying racist things helps him get elected, he’ll say it, in the same way he’ll point to Jeb Bush and say “your brother let 9/11 happen.” You don’t do things like that unless you follow up with “it’s just a prank bro.” I believe he secretly doesn’t even care about these issues, because all Trump cares about is Trump.

Wait a minute. You're not Larry David!

What electing a President Trump would do, though, is make the American people look themselves in the mirror and reevaluate the entire political system. It’ll make every politican who had hopes of not having to say nice things about this man pull a Chris Christie and endorse him because he’s rich and brash. They’ll wonder if a man like that can get elected President then they really need to change the way their election system, corporate influence, Super PACs, media coverage, and politics in general works. Right now he’s playing the game like a reality show because that’s how the game is played. It’s all about public attacks, sensationalism, and ratings, not about the policies. They’ll need a makeover, Princess Diaries style. I fully expect a President Trump to not bow down to the establishment once he’s in office. Though I wouldn’t know what kind of power the Illuminati has. I’ve only ever been to one of their meetings and never got past the meet and greet with the cucumbers.

That’s the thing. Trump and Bernie aren’t that different.

The reason Trump and Bernie are similar is precisely that, but they approach it from very different angles. Bernie Sanders reportedly has a networth of less than $500,000, which in politics is below poor people – it’s serfdom. Bernie wouldn’t be affected by the establishment either because his entire journey so far in his 40 years of politics has been going against the centre-right grain. If there’s anything this election campaign is proving is that America is finally noticing the effects of corporate influence in politics and is looking to support candidates who are willing to change that. And that’s where Bernie and Trump are similar; when Exxon, Pfizer or Monsanto offer them millions of dollars to change policies in their favour, neither of them are going to accept. One of them because of his values, and the other because he’s too rich to give a damn.

Monday, November 16, 2015

On Paris and Syria

 

So last night the French retaliated over what happened in Paris by dropping 20 bombs over the ISIS stronghold in Raqqa. It’s going on right now as well, for the second day in a row, as I write this. Air strikes over Syria are extremely common and this news normally wouldn’t be something as widely reported as it was, except for the fact that France was involved in this. For a few months now American forces have been routinely bombing oil trucks, which form the main monetary supply for ISIS forces in the region. However, the French government felt the need to retaliate, as they rightfully should, in some way against the Islamic State and hence these air raids to destroy their command centre aren’t entirely surprising, if a bit unforeseen due to the French being… well, French.

Le Rafale

I’ve seen the pictures of Paris. ‘The Battaclan Massacre’, as it will be known decades from now. Dozens of bodies strewn across the floor – men and women in bloodstained clothes with limp bodies lying in different directions, some in each others’ arms. Swathes of red sweeping across the floor from where the bodies were moved, glowing amidst bright stage lights and empty concert chairs. It was indiscriminate killing. Haphazard butchery on a level rarely seen. Truly goes to highlight the mindset of these brainwashed barbarians for whom life is simply a game, I assume. Except it isn’t.

The terrorists themselves are just bags of meat to the ISIS leaders. Their casualties don’t mean anything, and they probably shouldn’t if we’re not to idolise actions like that. I’m not eve going to talk about ISIS’s barbaric ideology because we probably share the same views, so let’s look at it from the French perspective. For five years the major superpowers of the world have pretty much let the Islamic State fester and grow, spreading their ideology through force and desultory cruelty. Now it’s a major problem, with Syrian refugees, people with jobs and families and kids, not wanting to be a part of a place ruled by these monsters being forced to seek refuge elsewhere in Europe. Obviously the conservative class in most of these countries like the UK, Germany and France won’t be very happy about hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing into their country, but that’s again a failure of their media, and politics taking advantage of this failure for far too long. Refugees are people who come to places like Paris to avoid things like Bataclan. One refugee said, “What’s happening to them is happening every day in Syria, 100 times per day for five years…”

There are people who think refugees are the problem, and I don’t blame them for that. They’re different people from a different country, and it’s very easy to lose perspective about the atrocities committed by ISIS and other militant regimes when you see a horde of refugees seemingly invading your country. Which is what’s different about the Paris attacks – there’s been a very direct refugee crisis indicating the level of devastation that takes place daily in Syria. Just last year we had the Je Suis Charlie thing, and with 11% of France being Muslim, it’s also a very volatile place for a terrorist attack; an attack like this can easily sway public opinion into an aggressive furor at the wrong people. Refugees and Muslims aren’t the problem, or the cause of the problem. It’s the Islamic State.

So is bombing their headquarters the right move? Well, France hasn’t invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty yet, which created the NATO, which states:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

It’s a very difficult move. If France calls in the United States under Article 5 and the agreement is ratified, NATO, which includes most of the EU and the US, officially enters into war with ISIS. This, however, makes the previous US attacks on Syria illegal (as they technically were), which makes Article 5 not so insignificant. The US invoked the same after 9/11 for Iraq, and the two situations have obvious similarities.

There’s a very slight possibility that this whole thing goes nuclear, because as far as we know, ISIS doesn’t have access to nukes (they’re too busy chopping off their own heads to think about fusion reactors). ISIS will (hopefully) never big enough for countries to drop ‘cruel bombs’ on them. Which is for the better, in the long run. This situation will escalate as it always does, and insurgents will keep spawning here and there with the occasional terror attack. ISIS will fade away into irrelevancy, like most terrorist cells before them have. But these airstrikes, right after the massacre in Paris, are a sign of aggression from France that basically tells the world, “don’t fuck with us.” And I’m onboard with that.

Note: everything here is personal opinion and I’m happy to be corrected if any of my facts are wrong.

Monday, October 26, 2015

edgar7

 

Part 7 of a series of 8 unrelated short stories, simply titled Edgar, written by me back in April 2013. I feel like releasing them now after being entirely untouched and mostly unread for two years.

Edgar and Albert were reminiscing. They were reminiscing about the amazing, heartfelt rejoice, gladness and mirth they experienced when they left their senior high school. Quite contradictory to the property of days, those days were very dark, according to them.

“Remember having to put our cell phones in a plastic bag every morning?” asked Edgar.

“Yeah, and once it started ringing, and the accounts teacher got rather exasperated trying to search for my phone. He went through the bag and eventually dropped it on the floor, causing more than a month’s salary worth of damages.”

Edgar and Albert sat comfortably in Edgar’s breakfast room, where they were enjoying dinner. Unfortunately, the sun rarely managed to stay awake at the same time as Edgar. Although they were well acquainted - the sun and Edgar - his tendency to dine in his designated breakfast room was negligible, like a writer’s true vocabulary or the happiness of a public speaker. He instead preferred to drink liquids, mostly mildly harmful in nature, in the comfort of his tables and chairs and his well adjusted curtains.

“Let me guess, it was in your pocket all along,” said Edgar.

“Naturally,” Albert replied.

Albert and Edgar discussed boundaries and limitations; how seemingly irrelevant lines are drawn across borders, between nations and teacher-student relationships, between respect, between hedgerows in a garden. Lines are arbitrary distinctions. Rules, more so. “Push the envelope and watch it bend,” Edgar would say.

“When you’re young, the consequences of breaking rules are much less severe,” said Albert.

“Agreed, my friend,” said Edgar. “Break a rule in school and the worst that can happen to you is getting scolded by a fellow human being. Or having a human being call the people who gave birth to you and explain your mistakes, or some other silly punishment of the sort. But it’s all relative, isn’t it?” he asked, leaning back his chair precariously.

Albert agreed. “To a child, the principal of an institution is this devious monster; the paragon of authority, of Orwellian proportions and distinctive hatred. Reveling in misery and fueled by sadness, like an unwilling software programmer, but less likely to bite off your head.”

Proportional with age do the consequences magnify. But even then, there’s always something worse. There’s always the next level in the video game of life. There’s always a new power-up, or a challenging mountain to climb. And once the mountain is conquered, the only way down is a fall, and the taller the mountain, the more dangerous the fall.

Albert could attest to this quite easily, as he had fallen down a flight of stairs the previous Tuesday. He attributed his sprained wrist not to his clumsy fall, but to his guitar playing, which he claimed was ‘going on quite well, except for the playing.’

Eventually the conversation blossomed into more liberating things such as involuntary imprisonment in North Korea and price increases in the local chip shop, after which Edgar and Albert retired for the night, leaving the tables and chairs and the well adjusted curtains to be. They got up, exchanged pleasantries and agreed to see each other soon, as most friends do but don’t follow through unless absolutely necessary.

Edgar joined Albert for breakfast consisting of coffee and cereal the following morning and discussed alphabetical patterns on the wings of East Asian butterflies and the viscosity of marmalade. Eventually the conversation died into a calming silence, like that of a chess match between two old people.

“Do you  remember that English Olympiad you won?” asked Edgar. I think you came first in all the country for not answering questions like the average Indian, or worse, someone from Essex.”

“Haha, yes. I remember that. The best part about that was -”

“You weren’t even there. You were in Sweden,” completed Edgar.

The two had a good laugh for half a minute or two. Edgar’s clamorous laughter hid the fact that his deep insecurities still cut him like imaginary knives everyday. He should have won that olympiad, he thought. He was the one who was supposed to be proficient in the language.

“You weren’t there either,” said Albert.

“Had I been there we wouldn’t have laughed for the better part of half a minute or two.”

Albert nodded. The nod was not a full fifteen degree nod - it stopped just short, at about thirteen and a half. He, like most of Edgar’s best friends, knew of his self approbatory tendencies and was used to leaving it at that.

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Upamanyu Acharya is a writer who doesn't write. Sometimes he's an artist, musician, photographer, physicist or lazy student. His hobbies include being vague, bending rules, time-travel, and embellishment of words. This is his personal blog where he writes on topics ranging from leadership skills to the consistency of jam.