Thursday, April 28, 2011


It’s hot and I wish I had 16 fingers. 8 on each hand.
No, I don’t want wish that I had some extra super human capability over and above the rest of the population. In fact my wish requires that all of the human species have 16 fingers.

A bead of sweat makes it way down the side of my forehead and slides like a glacier over the side of my cheeks. It leaves a burning trail. I hate shaving on summer days. I hate running out of aftershave even more.

I wipe off the sweat and suck on the straw leading into my cold coffee.  Nothing comes up. I suck harder. Cold coffee! What a joke – it’s a mix of super-frozen ice crystals, milk powder and ground coffee bean powder. Café coffee day Express. I remember Scrooge “Bah! Humbug!”

I reconnect with my train of thought (taking a nanosecond detour there to Sheldon Cooper and back ). The only naturally feasible way – think evolution – for 16 fingers to be possible is if our predecessors – all the numerous monkey species should have had them too!
And considering how humans have a knack for over complicating things with their “ingenuity” and uncommon common sense, I will include in my wish that we (and our monkey great grands) have had the same number of digits on their toes too – sweet sixteen !

I suck on the straw with all my strength now, putting to shame the suction capability of even the best vacuum cleaner in the world. Just before I was about to burst a vein on the side of my neck, a barrage of ice crystal spurt forward into my mouth. 2 seconds later brain freeze!!

As the pain subsides, a huge pile of innumerable consequences of having 3 supernumerary digits on each hand and toe slump down upon me – or rather spurt into my head akin to the way those ice crystal rushed into my mouth. I try to organize them in some fashion before I start slicing up my brain time to process each of them.

Enhanced pleasure – more fingers to touch, more fingers to feel. Enhanced speed – more toes, more thrust. Enhanced gripping strength – more fingers to pull-up your fatty fat body as hang on to the door pole of the oh so full fast local.. hey but wait! Damn! We would lose out on the most popular and expressive gesture of all – because now there is no middle finger!!!  With that said, I am sure we would come up with an equally capable gesture to replace that one.

The heat distracts me again. I wipe myself with my handkerchief. If we had eight fingers, I am sure the Chinese wouldn’t have gotten around inventing the hand fan – Who needs one when you can just use your hands to fan yourselves. The Japanese who had improved the hand fan by making foldable versions would have instead invented some sort of gloves to add webbing between the fingers and increase the airflow. I try to think how one of those would look like and absentmindedly  wrap my handkerchief around my hand trying in vain to create simulate one.

I fiddle with my phone. Landmark and Shopper’s Stop can’t stop offering me discounts that I am not interested. The SMS spam guard app kept the phone from buzzing and irritating me when they bombard me with texts. 900 rupees well spent. But the phone complains. It’s battery is low.  Which brings me to the point – the batteries of our devices would last longer – if we had those extra fingers. 16 of ‘em.

Computers and all kinds of tech gadgets have the same basic architecture. There is the Central Processing Unit, Inputs /Outputs and Memories. Inputs are those signals which are external to the system and fed to it via some interface. In case of cell phones these are the keypad for the humans to type with, microphone for them to speak into and the radio receivers – one each for the Cellphone network (GSM or CDMA), WiFi, Bluetooth and FM Radio. The USB interface is also considered and Input when connected to a PC and so is the button on the wired headset. The outputs are the RF transmitters (for GSM/CDMA, WiFi, Bluetooth), Speaker (ear piece, loud speakers and ringer), LCD screen, vibrator motor and the various LEDs which light up the LCD and Keys. The CPU is loaded with handling the plethora of I/O devices (some phones have even more of them, accelerometer, compass, GPS, proximity detector, touchscreen, FM transmitter) and hence the code comprising the software running on it is huge – millions of lines. And people like me all around the world spend their days staring at the computer screen trying to make sense of what the guy who wrote the code in the first place was thinking when he put together the piece of crap on the screen in front of you.

You curse the manufacturer when your phone dies on you. But the truth is that some dude just like you was responsible for the messed up code running inside it.  But that’s deviating from the topic. I round up back to the power saving part. Computers and computing gadgets spend an immense amount of electrical energy trying to move data from here to there.  Data which is represented in binary – numbers which are represented with just one and zero. Now just because we had 10 digits on the ends of our limbs (10 fingers and 10 toes) we learnt to count with 10 symbols – 0 thru 9 and not 2 or 4 or 8 or 16 which are powers of two. Computers use up extra processing power to convert these binary numbers from binary to decimal just so that its naturally legible to us when printed on the LCD screen.  If a two digit binary number can have 2 values (0 or 1), then by extension, a two digit binary number can have four values (00, 01, 10 and 11) similarly a 3 digit binary number can represent 8 distinct symbols and 4 digit binary number can represent 16 distinct symbols.  Displaying numbers which are stored in binary format but need to be displayed on the screen in a number system in which the number of symbols is not a power of 2 will always require processing. This means someone has to write code for doing this and what you have are thousands of billions of gadgets around the world doing exactly this and wasting energy. So much effort, so much time, so much energy – all wasted – just because we had 10 fingers and not 16 or even 8 for that matter. By the way, there will be the energy wasted in the extra muscle if we have 16 fingers, but balls to that. Making my life easier as a programmer (and the user of a cell phone that doesn’t waste battery on stupid tasks like number conversion) is the point here.

The cell phone beeps and displays the battery low message again. I imagine it shouting at me as if it was a real talking person “abe battery kam hai, charge karna!”. In hindi? Yes, sounds more dramatic that way. I would imagine it saying that in Gabbar tone.

Cell phone (in Gabbar tone): “Kabhi charge kiya tha?”

Me: “Kal Raat”

Cell Phone (in Gabbar tone): “Kitna kiya tha?”

Me: “pacheees minute”

Cell Phone (in Gabbar tone): “bas pacheees minute charge kiya, lekin istamal 10 ghante kiya? Bahut na insaafi hai”

Of course, I am surely must be exaggerating. Playing doodle jump on my Nokia 5800 definitely used up more juice than the trivial itoa() and atoi() conversions. But still Mother Nature has made it a bit inconvenient for us to discover it secrets. She plays with us. It sent us the wrong signals and caused wrong ideas to develop and by the time we realised what was happening, we were already used to the old convention that we found it difficult to change to the actual truth. For example thanks to Benjamin Franklin’s and his gang we have to contend with messed up electric charge signage. Current flows from positive to negative, while in reality the negative electrons which constitute the current flow the other way. And we had to rack our brains to deal with the equations properly while working on electric systems.

Other complications are manmade:  like the plethora of measurement units – Airbus’s A380 was delayed because while building the first prototype, some guys thought the measurement in the drawing was in mm and not inches.  Also the lack of symbols in Greek and Latin alphabets has really made life difficult. Many of the physical quantities have been assigned the same symbol. On top of that, unintuitive use of symbols as operators in Mathematics (like Calculus) haunts all students when they are first exposed to them. The only field of since which suffers the least from such kind of “natak” is the field of genetics. Genetics seems to be one of the youngest and most organized field - thanks in part to Mendel, who cared enough to acquaint himself with Scientific Method before getting on with his research. Genetic knowledge has few of these weird problems with formal representation of real life phenomenon.

So what we need is a full reboot of the human society withal the kinks removed.  That might just be possible. We have screwed up everything here on earth anyway. Maybe when we colonize Mars (aauw – closer to Sun – means “garmiiii”) we will get a chance to do that.

We definitely need to engineer a new breed. To do that we would need to create a transitional breed of engineered humans who would arrive on mars with all the kinks in their scientific knowledge removed and smoothen out. They would then procreate on the new planet - story would be somewhat like James Bond's Moonraker, but we will leave Earth intact. 

We would need to draft and document a new legal and socio-economic system. We would even need to get these new seed people to learn and use Lojban – a logically engineered language which eliminates the possibility of misinterpretation of meaning by the listener. This might be the only chance for the people who invented and promote this language to actually get some to use it.

The seed people would be bought in an isolated environment where we teach them the laws and language of the new society which they would create on the target planet.  We will teach them to count – using 16 digits and not 10. Just so that it comes naturally, we would need to pre-modify their genes while they are in their mother’s womb – even before they are born – so that they are born with 8 digits on each hand and feet. As for the mathematics teachers who are to teach them, we will hack into their hands & feet and implant 3 extra digits.

So calling all Genetic Engineers of tomorrow (i.e. biochemistry students of today) – there is lots of work to be done. You need to isolate the genes  for Polydactyly (mid ray duplications) and when the technology develops (and people stop cribbing about ethics regarding human experimentation) get hold of some good looking, well built, smart people and get them to have sex with each other and while they are pregnant,  screw with the fertilized egg and introduce the gene to create the next stage in the evolution . I remember the documentary they showed on TV about an Indian village where everyone has 6 fingers – what’s its name? Golida?. To start off, they can study the genome of people living there. Or what about that guy from Udaipur who has 12 fingers?. Or even Akshat Saxena : The Indian kiddo with 34 fingers and toes!

While you guys do that, engineers like me will fiddle with our gadgets and modify them for use by these new species. Gadgets ergonomically designed for 16 fingered humans (or whatever we call them) which last longer on a single charge because they don’t have any stupid power wasting numeric conversion calculations to perform.

I dunk the plastic container in the bin. Bid tata to the day dreamer in me and start forcing my mood to flip to being a Tata Consultancy Services employee. This I.T. Analyst has done enough analysis paralysis for the day. The software for 10 fingered humans must still be developed, tested and delivered to the clients. It will be a long time before the 16 finger thing happens. I might not be around till then. And so, I do what’s asked of me. At least the AC is working in the room where my workstation is located.


The Lithiumhead (Anurag Chugh) said...

Even P-TAPs has a take on Polydactyly:
Six Digit Figure

deeksha arunachalam said...

would you prefer 16 undifferentiated fingers or 14 fingers and 2 opposable thumbs?
btw, i loved the gabbar singh part... thumbs (of 16 fingered-hands) up!