Girish Venkatachalam is a UNIX hacker with more than a decade of
networking and crypto programming experience.
His hobbies include yoga,cycling, cooking and he runs his own
business. Details here:
There is an old Indian story about a poor woman selling fish and how she
got asphyxiated by the smell of jasmine flowers. The story goes like this.
One day it was raining heavily and this woman with the fish basket took
shelter under a tree in front of a big flower seller's house. The rains
lashed mercilessly and as it grew dark, the flower seller consented to
accommodate her for the night in his outhouse.
She slept on the ground as is the practice in India in the outhouse of
the flower seller. She kept her fish basket to her side while sleeping.
In the middle of the night, fresh jasmines were piled in the outhouse.
As they ran out of space to pile the flowers, someone moved the fish
basket from her side and kept it in the corner of the room. Time went by
and the strong aroma of fresh jasmine flowers wafted through the room.
This woman woke up from sleep wondering where her fish basket was and
with a very uneasy feeling. Half dazed she went to her fish basket and
slept near it.
In the morning she woke up and went on her way.
Story ends there. But our article begins only now. What happened? Why
did she feel uneasy when sleeping?
Answer is obvious. She was used to sleeping with the horrible stench of
dead fish in her basket everyday. When that smell was gone and the
fragrant aroma of fresh jasmine entered her olfactory nerves, the body
reacted and she woke up.
All of us lug different fish baskets close to our breasts. Everyone
knows that very few things smell worse than dead fish and we also know
how great jasmine smells. Still we do not want to get rid of our fish
baskets and enjoy the fresh smell of jasmines and roses.
The force of habit.
We cannot get rid of our old habits and tendencies no matter what. We
may be suffering endless misery due to it, but our system refuses to
change. We simply do not wish to relinquish our evil habits and change
In the technical world, we constantly find that new ideas get shot down
like nobody's business. In the scientific community, new ideas have
always been rejected like poison. Somehow it seems as though the human
brain rejects fresh ideas.
Nobody likes to lose comfort. This is a well known fact. We do not mind
going around in circles in a familiar territory but we do not want to
risk embracing new technology. Or new ways of doing things.
Our minds do not accept new ways of thinking. When Andrew Viterbi came
up with Viterbi encoding for CDMA technology everyone protested. What?
Noise carrying signals? No way.
When an upstart comes along and does something that shakes big
corporations he is ignored and ridiculed. Big companies are like
elephants. They have built up inertia over time. They have fish baskets
they cannot get rid of.
Thankfully nowadays every innovation comes from startups and small
companies. And that happens mostly in the open source world. In the
bazaar rather than in big companies with fat paychecks.
It is always the people who question convention and think differently;
the gutsy ones with entrepreneurial instinct and strong bones and
muscles who come forth with a new way of solving old problems.
We have innumerable examples of such path breaking technology taking
Internet to new frontiers. Doubtless we benefit immensely by such bold
souls, but how many of us are guilty of the 'fish basket' effect?
Aren't we guilty of following old known ways? How many times do we look
at what is being said instead of thinking who is saying it?
I am not saying that we should never question new ideas. Of course we
should. If we are using proven technology and if something new comes up
we should certainly subject the new proposal to a thorough analysis.
Accepting without question is not the sign of a healthy scientific mind.
At the same time, we cannot reject something just because it is new.
Just because our mind gets uncomfortable. I have personally found that
people who innovate a lot tend to respect other innovators and that they
are very quick to digest fresh ideas. People whose brains are used to
new channels of thought have no trouble in evaluating fresh ideas.
Whereas brains with a formation of a crust of old thoughts and
convention will ridicule and reject innovation. I think I should steal
this opportunity to mention the 'great American dream'. America has
always been very receptive to new ideas and it has done the nation a
great deal of good.
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© 2009-11-07 Girish Venkatachalam