Happy Birthday Mr Nobody!
Wherever you are. Whenever you are. Whomever you are:
- Hope you always fight to the finish lines.
- Hope you continue to live for the other.
- Hope you never say di(c)e!
P: Who are you? R: Hello! My name is R Khan. I am repairing your computer. P: R? R: You can call me Mr Nobody. P: What kind of a weird name is Mr Nobody? R: Hold this serial bus for me please. P: What is wrong with my computer? R: It's RAM is not working. P: What is RAM ...
Random Access Memory
The road from Patna to Darbhanga is paved with concrete but carved by elements of nature. Every solar year, elemental flood gates open for much longer than game theory should permit. Water seeps through cracks, farmlands, livelihoods, and eventually touches concrete: one grain of sand at a time. Travelling from Patna, it takes three and a half hours if you are lucky. But forever, if you do not believe in luck.
Ages of empires have come and gone, but this road remains the same: doomed. It’s own life cycle dictated by nature’s entropy; democratised by man, but demolished by fate. The road itself, once paved to trade silk, now serves as a gentle reminder of how little humankind can control.
My father was once posted as the relief commissioner of this state, and even he was helpless in the face of natural games. All of us blamed the system together in a beautiful entropic dance. Both children and adults sang songs of hope in assembly lines of attention. Core mathematics of emergence, systems, and chaos had not been assimilated into public policy yet.
But my datapoints are outdated. After all, only change is permanent, and this memory is somewhat fading.
R: It's RAM is not working. P: What is RAM? R: A computer has three different types of memory. RAM is Random Access Memory, but there is also a Hard Disk Drive, and of course the third one ROM or Read Only Memory in you BIOS ... P: When will I be able to play the paratrooper game again? R: Sooner if you help me fix this. P: How can I help? R: I taught assembling computers to a young kid last month. Do you think you can learn? P: Maybe. What is this small chip? R: This is your ROM.
Read Only Memory
When I was super young, maybe on my ninth birthday, my father gifted me a book. It was a book on mnemonics and memory improvement techniques. It claimed, that you could remember an entire phone directory of names and numbers, simply by using funny associations, catchy acronyms, and sing along rhymes of your own imaginary making. Ironically, I do not remember the title of that book, but I remember everything else.
In retrospect, my memories sound very funny. And there are at least seven songs for the periodic table. I never understood why this memory trick even works. What is it about songs and jokes, about rhythm and symbols, about stories and narratives, that the human brain could never forget them, even if it tried really hard.
Tens of thousands of miles away, Adam Grant was still learning magic! That is kind of irrelevant to this plot, and is simply mentioned for fun. More importantly, a young professor named Levitt, had started drafting a new book. Freakonomics was discovered and published six years later: the first e-book I read on a computer!
P: ... What is this small chip? R: This is your ROM. P: Why does a computer need so many memories? R: Because there are different types of memories. P: What is this box? R: That is the Hard Disk Drive. This one has a hundred Mega Bytes.
Hard Disk Drive
Twenty five years before human-kind invented general but artificial intelligence, I was having the time of my life: I had recently turned nine, I was studying in grade five, and I was holidaying away my summer vacation in Darbhanga, in the Summer of 99.
I had aced learning how to fish. I could now climb small mango trees. I was planning my next great adventure with the thirty different animals I used to call pets: dogs, cats, rabbits, mice, cows, caterpillars, silk worms, paramecium, and a lot of fish! I had already clicked a photograph with a jaguar: my favorite fighter animal, for a future instagram story and blog. Last but never the least, I had thrown packets out of an army helicopter!
But have you ever wondered why capitalism prices experiences and memorabilia differently from materialism and safety? Philosophers and scientists have argued for too long about what is preferable to human nature: pleasure or pain.
But the psychologists have observed a very different version of reality: what we seek is not pleasure nor pain, not sorrow nor joy, neither good nor bad. We simply seek to eliminate boredom. Stimulus distracts from real pain. We seek entertainment.
P: And what is this large circuit board? R: Have you ever seen where ROM fits onto a Mother Board?
I was informed during that summer vacation: a nightmarish monster waited five years into my future: the board examinations!
In a state where we never feared kidnappers, thugs, or slow economic collapse, boards was an examination that would strike fear into the hearts of any Indian child. Given their perennial faith in education and merit, Biharis were not immune to this.
Far into the future, they would think they were immune to a virus, but they were not immune to that either. In the era before the internet, misinformation did not exist. Everything was pure information. You had to wait for the right time for daily evening news.
News itself was a ten minute factual bulletin over a television channel, literally nicknamed after tele-vision. Peak human creativity! News did not seek you out. Neither did you seek out news. Photo synthesis was known to animals, but conducted only by plants.
Not much is feared in Bihar from one perspective. But exams, oh! How they can make or break a life. It was my time to get seriously academic.
I had already started making a time table.
Then I discovered Paratrooper.
It was the best free game on MS-DOS.
So as it claimed. I can never be sure. There was no internet back then. This game constantly reminded it’s players, how breaching the high score was next to impossible. But nothing beats the persistent and obsessive compulsions of a boring Indian summer vacation.
That very summer, to district myself from this newly found anxiety of board exams, I was practicing paratrooper endlessly, closing in slowly on the global high score.
So as it claimed. In the old era of pure information.
R: Perfect, now let's try to restart the PSU. P: This giant box? R: Forgot to tell you, this is the Power Supply Unit.
Power Supply Unit
If you have never played paratrooper, you are not missing out on much.
But I can tell you, it was highly addictive, because the high score was endlessly breachable. How could you read through boring chapters on history, civics, and economics, when you could shoot paratroopers instead, as they trickled down?
The first time I saw a computer was in my father’s office. That year, I spent one hundred days in the Sugar Corporation of Bihar. It was later discovered by science, that this industry, was only peddling addictions of various kinds. Sugar from sugarcanes was actually a slow poison.
But I was too busy to notice. I had discovered MS Paint. I would come back from oil painting classes every evening, and spend countless time, drawing too many versions of a boring familiar landscape, while sipping on thumbs up. But that is a story for another day.
R: Let's try another restart. P: Still not working and I need to play. R: What games do you play?
The Nobel prize for prospect theory was awarded three years later in 2002. Ten years later in 2009, Levitt co-founded Freakonomics Consulting Group with founding partners and Nobel laureates Daniel Kahneman and Gary Becker, as well as other prominent economists.
P: Paratrooper and Chess. Do you have any new games?
In the year 1999, Amartya Sen was awarded Bharat Ratna for his theoretical work on welfare economics of the tricke down effect.
Only paratroopers trickled down in real games.
Not much changed on our roads.
R: I teach at a computer training institute. We have ten new PCs and have recently installed Wolf 3D. P: What is Wolf 3D? R: Wolf 3D is a first person shooter game! It is better than Doom. P: Do you also have The Need for Speed? It's a racing game. R: We have the latest. Need for Speed: High Stakes. Have you played it with a joystick?
P: Can I please visit Mr Nobody's computer lab? P: Who is Mr Nobody? P: The young guy who repaired our computer today. P: Where does he live? P: I don't know. He studies biotechnology at the university and teaches part time at a computer lab. P: But have you completed maths tuition sir's homework? P: No. And I don't think I will ever understand logarithms. P: You can go but come back soon. Social studies is also left. P: That one has too many dates and people.
Input and Output
So I went to Mr Nobody’s computer lab and practiced some Wolf 3D. Meanwhile, without my conscious awareness, Mr Nobody slowly taught me how to assemble a computer from its parts. And after that, he made me write a poem on the importance of time. And after that, he made me write a short story.
The beauty of life lies in the memories we create and the experiences we cherish. As humans, we seek stimulation and avoid boredom, for it is the underlying primal cause behind many of our worst problems. In this age of technology and instant gratification, it is easy to forget the simple pleasures of life.
But then, while I was reading this book on perfect memory, the sound of someone entering my father’s office pinged my ears. I instantly knew it was the computer repair man. I had a high score to break!
Now, at this point in time, I do not know what is excitement versus anxiety. Social media has not been invented. The app store is still ten computer years away. The biggest problem in tech is still Y2K.
P: I am never going to remember all this. R: If you forget everything remember about this One. P: Why does it say Pentium? R: This is the fastest machine ever made. Intel Pentium can compute at 50 mega hearts. P: What is a Mega Heart? R: Mega Hurts. It can think fifty million times in one second. P: Wow! But the heart does not even think. R: Visit our lab. I will teach you how to over clock this 90 times faster. About 4.5 Giga Hertz. P: My cousin is visiting Darbhanga next week. Can I bring him to your computer lab? R: Of course! What games does he play?
What used to be collecting coins is now collecting NFTs. What used to be collecting stamps is now an a collection of Bitcoins. What used to be creation for expression is now generation for need.
But games are still games. I was about to practice paratrooper a few more times, before attempting another ‘global’ high score, and then save it inside a real floppy disk icon. Yes, most of these icons existed for real back then.
But then the computer broke down. And I had to wait for someone to fix it. This new normal was painful but full of hope. It could have taken days, weeks, or months. What if it happened after school reopened? Will I be able to find another computer in Patna? Will it even have paratrooper installed? Will I go out of practice?
This newly discovered anxiety was crippling. To distract from this, one evening in Darbhanga, I was reading a book on memory. I was not playing games. My computer was broken.
But while I was reading this book in a boring evening in Darbhanga, I heard a sound my subconscious was already waiting for: the sound of the computer repair man!
P: But, how do I wish you, if I do not know your birth date? R: Oh it's very easy to remember! Third day of the Third month. P: Zero Three, Zero Three? R: Give me your slam book, I will write it there, so you remember.
R: Let's try another restart. P: It is working now! But who are you? R: Hello! My name is R Khan. I am repairing this computer. P: R? R: You can call me Mr Nobody. P: What kind of a name is Mr Nobody? R: What kind of a name is P P: :P R: ;)
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