Prakash Karat

February 6, 2010

Prakash Karat is the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

He and I went to the same school in Chennai for several years — he was known as K.Prakash then. During that time, our houses were also within a few hundred yards of each other. I cannot remember us walking to school together ever but for several years we played tennis ball cricket in the evenings with another boy Mani whose dad owned the house in which Prakash’s apartment was located. Prakash supplied the bat. A tamarind tree was the stumps. I have fond memories of those times. I loved sweeping the ball to the leg side behind the wicket and Prakash always made appreciative comments of how well I connected the ball, which endeared me to him.

I also have the following memory of his first year in our school which he joined when his family came to Chennai from Burma (now Myanmar). He was quite ahead of us in academics which caused me quite some concern — my parents didn’t like it if I got anything but the top grades. However, much to my comfort, he slowly came down to the level of the rest of us, and I could beat him easily. He never talked about any of this during our evening play. We were not close but in whatever dealings we had, he was nothing but a perfect gentleman.

We had stopped playing cricket sometime before the final year of high school and I had no interaction with Prakash after that, except for reading one of his essays published in The Hindu, for which he had won a trip to the Tokyo Olympics. (This was in an essay competition called The Hindu-Hitachi essay competition.)

A few years ago, I accidentally saw a reference to Prakash on the Web, and came to know what all he has been doing after high school. (He goes by the name Prakash Karat now.) Here is more information about him:

I have fond memories of the time we spent as lads playing cricket together. [It was quite perceptive of him to admire my leg side strokes :-)] He was also nothing but a gentleman in all our dealings. Further, Prakash was on the right side of the tracks while we were growing up and could have settled into a comfortable and easy life. Instead, he has followed his heart and taken up what must be a difficult life. (It is not uncommon to find him being vilified in press and on the net.) My hat is off to him for this also.



February 5, 2010

I came to know about B.Ramakrishnan (“Ramki”) from his Website

which I discovered about a week ago while searching for a recipe for a particular South Indian vegetarian dish.

From Ramki’s Website, I came to know about the very interesting organization Couch Surfing .

Ramki is a member of this — this alone makes him interesting to me. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. What is more appealing to me is the iceberg itself, which in this case is simplifying and demystifying South Indian cooking (which by the way is the only cooking I care about). Cooking seems to have been Ramki’s passion for the last several years. ( After running a software business, Ramki retired early.)  His recipes (and just about everything serious he communicates) are presented in a Compact “One Page” format — please see his site for examples.

The one-pager allows one to readily see the big picture, enabling even a novice to adapt, substitute and be creative. (I used to plod through doing my taxes in the distant past. After several years of this, one year I drew a data flow diagram after which the ordeal eased.)

Each of Ramki’s one-pagers contains instructions not for a single dish but for a group of dishes, since what is presented are three columns with ingredients numbered 0 to 9 for each of the columns. There are also master instructions tying the whole thing together.  Thus, 123 makes one dish, 745 makes another dish, etc.(In 745, 7 is the ingredient from the first column, 4 is the ingredient from the second column, and 5 is the  ingredient from the first column.) While I don’t quite buy his claim that 9!**3 dishes are possible from each recipe (sorry Ramki), I am grateful that I can potentially make say 3 to 5 solid dishes from one recipe. This will empower me as never before. I have read somewhere that the advantage of calculus over algebra is that in the former when you solve a problem you have really solved a group of problems. I don’t know whether this is true or not. But definitely, Ramki is the Newton of cooking and the one-pager its calculus.

Ramki’s recipes are aimed at the rank beginner level, which suits me just fine.

My only beef with him is this: I wish he would define what a “pinch” and a “handful” are, in more precise terms.

Ramki had so much confidence in his technique that he bragged that he could single-handedly cook for 500 people a South Indian marriage feast in under 3 hours, starting from scratch. To his credit, he pulled this off in Jan. 2009 — the details including pictures are on his Website, which of course also contains a one-pager for the event (called 1 for 500), including recipes for the ten dishes he made and a shopping list, just in case someone else decides to repeat this challenge. Another unusual one-pager on the site is the one offering instructions on how to cook in a hotel room using sources of heat like an iron and a portable immersion heater. My understanding is that he is single. [Chennai girls, here is a man who can cook. What more do you want?] If he ever decides to settle down, I can see a one-pager proposal coming offering 9!**3 reasons why the woman should accept his offer 🙂 [I don’t mean to imply that Ramki is a braggart. Far from it, he seems quite humble and modest and has the ability to laugh at himself.]

He seems to have received quite a bit of press attention — from The Hindu, Anantha Vikatan, Dinakaran, and Eenadu. According to one of these, he has a restaurant in Kodambakkam, Chennai. He also offers cooking courses. If I ever make it to Chennai, I would love to take one of his classes. The Hindu reporter (a female and an apparent cooking novice) has written that his technique is ‘astonishingly liberating” — I concur. Another commenter has written that she and Ramki  have “bonded” over food, with him cooking and she eating 🙂 [A woman after my own heart.]

I have just started using his recipes. In the two or three days that I have used them, my grades on my dishes are mostly ‘C’s. However, I am less inclined to ditch the whole effort — this is progress for me. Which reminds me, it is time for me to go and improve the ‘venn pongal’ I made last night. (There is a Skinner incident I would like to add here but it has to wait.)

Ramki is more interesting than 90% of the people I come across. I wish him a lot of luck in all his endeavors.

B.F.Skinner’s Breakthrough Approach to Verbal Behavior

January 10, 2010


In the view of most people, each human has inside him the following:

  • An inner non-physical agent of action
  • A non-physical universe of thoughts, feelings, desires, emotions, and the like

From time to time, a speaker’s inner agent may choose to express one of the non-physical entities using words. This triggers events in the non-physical universes of listeners, causing understanding, actions, and perhaps expression of ideas from them. The non-physical inner agents and entities are considered to be sine qua non. This seems to have been the view from the dawn of human thought.

A Brief History of The Skinnerian View of Language

Skinner published an alternate view of language in 1957, in his famous book Verbal Behavior. (I have no doubt that this book will be hailed as one of the most important books of all time. As a supportive reviewer of the book put it, “Like it or not, the camel’s nose is in the tent”.) The book was not a hasty effort. It was under construction for about 30 years. Earlier versions of the approach was presented in lectures in 1948. Chomsky published a “mean and uncomprehending” review of the book in 1959, without appearing to have read most of the book.

The Skinnerian View of Language

The following are the important points:

  • No inner agent of action nor a non-physical inner universe is assumed to exist in humans. References to the above are considered to be explanatory fictions (say, similar to “the vital force” once popular in biology).

Utterances are learned behavior produced by variables in the environment. No inner agent of action is invoked — such inner agents of action are considered to be explanatory fictions. Several variables act upon a speaker causing him to emit a verbal response at a particular instant in time. This acts on a listener causing him to act. Utterances are operants. All we know about operants can be readily applied to verbal behavior also.

This is a huge step forward, in the history of human thought.

Cut Stuff

When the effects of current setting etc on what is spoken is pointed out, this scarcely generates any excitement, since the contribution from these variables is considered to be trivial when compared to the major role played by the inner agent of action.  An example may help. When a man picks up a telephone and calls, the role played by the telephone is considered to be minimal, compared to the role played by variables inside him which causes him to make the call.

Why Skinner’s Analysis of Verbal Behavior Is Right

January 3, 2010

Anecdotal Evidence


My wife and I eat in the living room watching TV, as usual. As usual again, she is done first, loads the dishwasher, leaves it open, and yells  “Can you rinse and load your plate and start the dishwasher?” (She cannot bear to see a single plate sitting in the sink, when she has just loaded the rest of the dishes.)

The response of interest is the verbal response

“Can you rinse and load your plate and start the dishwasher?”

uttered under the above mentioned conditions (Sunday noon, lunchtime, she has finished eating, I am still eating, she has loaded the dishwasher, etc.)

It is a verbal response – the disturbances in the air caused by the utterance “Can you rinse and load your plate and start the dishwasher?” cannot cause much physical effect in themselves — they may at most extinguish a burning candle nearby. However, if there is a trained human within hearing distance, they may cause a considerable effect — such as my plate being rinsed and placed in the dishwasher, the dishwasher being closed, and the Start button being pushed. It is Skinner’s breakthrough insight that utterances can be analyzed as behavior that produce effect via the meditation of humans, in a strictly deterministic  framework. (This is a huge step forward.  )

Deterministic Framework:

What is beautiful and brilliant about this explanation is that none of the following is necessary:


Skinner’s Definition of Verbal Behavior

January 3, 2010

B.F.Skinner defined verbal behavior as behavior reinforced by the mediation of other persons. (I am writing this from memory. I don’t have a copy of Verbal Behavior with me at the moment. I live in one dwelling during the workweek and another during weekends. I am too cheap to buy multiple copies of even behaviorist books.)

Some people have questioned this definition as being unable to cover all possible cases. (I am not taking the time to explain this well here. Reserve the right to update this part in particular, in the future. Of course, I also reserve the right to update the entire site at any time.) This seems to me to be intentionally focusing on the unimportant — this has also been pointed out (by Dave Palmer, for instance.)

It seems to me that if we add the qualification “if the behavior has an effect without the mediation of others, it is not verbal behavior”, this should take care of most of the extreme cases. (Again, taking care of the extreme cases is hardly any priority.)

Steve Hayes is one of the critics of Skinner’s definition of VB. As Dave Palmer has pointed out, criticizing Skinner definition is neither necessary nor sufficient for advancing Hayes’ molar approach to verbal behavior.

(Add quote here about Hayes two chamber example.)

1. The situation of a Skinner box accidentally dispensing pellets at VR 5 is quite unlikely.

2. If the feeder gets accidentally stuck, the VR5 goes out the window. We can tell the two chambers apart quite easily. Dave Palmer points out a similar thing: when the feed runs out, the two chambers don’t have identical situations. [Dave always steals my best ideas, by thinking of them two or three years before I do :-)]

3. The two chambers are different in other ways too. If there is an announcement “Impending tornado strike. Please take shelter ASAP”, the manual feeder scurries and takes shelter, leaving the poor pigeon unattended. The “stuck feeder” keeps on delivering at VR5.

4. If we use my definition, then the responding in the “stuck feeder” chamber is not verbal behavior at all. (If mechanical/geometrical connections produce the effect, it is not verbal behavior.)

My Very First Blog

January 3, 2010

Even though I have posted in other websites, this is my very first post on my own blog. I am excited. Too bad that I am doing this on the very last day of my vacation, having to go back to work tomorrow, but better late than never.

In the order of importance, the following topics are what I hope to blog on:

  • Behaviorism/verbal behavior
  • Indian cooking
  • Indian immigrant experience in the US
  • Evils of job off shoring
  • Attempts at fiction

Of course, I reserve the right to change anything and everything, at any time.