Sunday, August 26, 2007

The foragers of Kollywood.

In a post on Kollywood, two years back, I had mentioned how the Indian film industry took advantage of the national obsession with swaying bottoms.

I have since done extensive research on the origin of this Indian fixation. I have discovered that it’s all to do with the birds and the bees, mostly the latter.

In the first quarter of the twentieth century, an Austrian scientist, Prof. Karl von Frisch, discovered that these insects are able to convey the precise information to their fellow bees about the source of food, whether it is nectar or pollen. Professor Frisch found that the basis for their communication system is their dance language that had remained an enigma until he decoded it in 1923.

Bees perform two kinds of dances - the round dance, used to convey that the food source is not far away from the hive; and the waggle dance to convey the opposite, i.e. the source is far from the hive. As soon as any worker finds the food source, it returns to the nest to tell about his discovery by a ritual dance, each movement of which gives precise information to the fellow bees. (source)

What has all this got to do with Kollywood, you ask impatiently. Hang on. You would have noticed that most of these modern heroines try to be slim, even skinny. In the process, they go on crash diets, to the point of turning anorexic. The net result is that they are hungry all the time and constantly crave for food. But, where do you find food, in the movie studios? The heroines have no clue at all.

Enter the hero. By moving his hips rhythmically and swaying it at different degrees, he manages to convey to the heroine, the precise location of the food and what type of food is available. For example, if he happens to know where Hyderabad biryani is, he executes a simple harmonic motion with amplitude of 61.3 cm, which somehow the heroine correctly interprets as biryani. Heroines who fail to read the signals starve to death and are akin to queen bees who have missed the buzz.

The whole ritual, confers an evolutionary advantage on human beings especially the actors and actresses, and is line with Darwinian predictions on natural selection.

Why do the heroines sway their hips then? After all, the heroes look well-fed and nourished and don’t need to know where food is available? Good question. But, that’s the subject for another blog post. I don’t want to reveal all in one post and overload your brains.

Some of you, I know, are not convinced with my theory. All creative geniuses who have preceded me have had to face the ire of such cynics and skeptics .So, I am not surprised by your reaction. After all, when Newton had the insight that the moon was held in orbit by the gravitational pull of earth, he was pelted with apples. (The culprit has never been nabbed, but the needle of suspicion points towards Leibniz, as he was the only other guy around who knew all the complex calculus involved in pelting projectiles). Similarly, when Einstein first postulated his theory on space-time continuum, he was described as a mad cap too, giving rise to the equation that Einstein= mad cap too or E= mc2.

Update 04/01/08 : Research by New York University, says this BBC article, has shown that to be attractive women must sway their hips while moving and men must move with a shoulder swagger.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The heuristic of the successful catcher

At cricket, back in my school days, I used to be a good fielder. In fact, I don’t remember to have dropped a single catch in my entire career. No, that’s not true. In one of the matches, running all the way from first slip, I failed to get my fingers on to a ball that was just crossing the fence over long on.

Anyway, the secret of my amazing skills as a catcher was that I always carried my geometry box with me, to the playground.

Gerd Gigerenzer, explains my methods, in his book, “Gut Feelings”.

Computing the trajectory of a ball is not a simple feat. Theoretically, balls have parabolic trajectories. In order to select the right parabola, the player’s brains would have to estimate the ball’s initial distance, initial velocity and projection angle. Yet in the real world, balls, affected by air resistance, wind and spin, do not fly in parabolas. Thus, the brain would further need to estimate, among other things, the speed and direction of the wind at each point of the ball’s flight in order to compute the resulting path and the point where the ball will land. All this would have to be completed within a few seconds- the time a ball is in the air….. Clearly, this is too complex a process and something else is at work.

Is there a simple rule of thumb to catch a ball? Studies have shown that experienced players use what is called the ‘gaze heuristic’ which works in situations where the ball is already high up in the air. “Fix your gaze on the ball, start running and adjust your running speed so that the angle of gaze remains constant.” The angle of gaze is the angle between the eye and the ball, relative to the ground.

Thus, good fielders, unconsciously rely on a simple rule of thumb that dictates the speed at which a player runs. Note that the player using this heuristic is not able to compute the point at which the ball will land. Yet the heuristic leads the player to the landing point.

What Gigerenzer does not mention, of course, is my name, but cleverly couches it in expressions such as ‘experienced players’; that’s because I did not give him permission to use it, till I broke the story myself in my blog. Another thing he does not mention, probably because he forgot to, is that , as I fixed my gaze on the ball and started running, I used to quickly open my geometry box, pull out the protractor and keep measuring the angle of gaze and adjust my speed in such a way as to keep the angle constant.

Yes, that was my technique. It’s out in the open now.

There’s just that solitary instance to be explained. Why did I drop that catch at long-on? What happened was that, as I ran from my position at first slip, I tripped over the fielder standing at mid-wicket and dropped my protractor on the ground. I picked it up in a second and started running again, but the angle of gaze had changed by a couple of degrees, rendering the heuristic unworkable.

Now, you know everything..

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Dear heart, slow down

Apparently, elephants and mice, or for that matter all the other animals within the spectrum, have one thing in common. In an average lifetime, the heart beats 1.5 billion times and then they die. (source)

The reason the elephant lives longer than a mouse is because its heart beat is much slower. So it conserves energy and manages to stretch its quota of 1.5 billion heart beats over a much longer period.

By this reckoning, human beings ought to be dead when they are 40 years old (assuming 70 beats per minute, the limit of 1.5 billion is reached in 40.7 years). But, we seem to have defied the odds and beaten the system. So, if like me, you are over 40, you have outlasted the warranty that came with the product

The yogis of yore got their fundas right. I read somewhere that one of them could get his heart beat down to single digit and this was verified by medical personnel.

Somewhere, in this news item, I detect a terrific plot for a science fiction novel.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cluck Cluck

“Have you ever had a fight with a friend that ended with both of you not talking to each other? And with the passage of time, you even forgot what you fought about?” Thus begins an article in today’s edition of Deccan Chronicle.

Yes, I remember a fight I had with a friend when I was in school. And I haven’t even forgotten what it was about. Friend is no more, meaning that he is no more my friend, after the incident that led to our fight. So, friend will hereinafter be referred to as my ex-friend.

It happened during the history class. Our regular history teacher was absent that day; so our science teacher was deputed in his place. Science teacher was making a desperate attempt to teach us all about the Maratha rule, and even asked us to draw a picture of Shivaji and name all the parts. In the midst of all this, ex-friend decided to liven the proceedings a bit and made a loud, funny noise that sounded like “cluck cluck”. Teacher turned around, looked at our faces, found mine with guilt written all over it and promptly asked me to get out of the class. Ex-friend did not even own up. I went out feeling like Sydney Carton.

Somewhat like the cheap trick that Tuppy Glossop had played on Bertie Wooster in one of the stories of P.G.Wodehouse.

Anyway, I never saw ex-friend all these years. I heard that he had settled in the USA and visited India only once in 5 years or so. But the incident rankled. The thought that the blighter would have been narrating this incident to his wife and children every second evening and laughing his guts away at my expense, was too much for me to accept.

So, imagine my shock when I bump into this ex-friend at a get-together of the alumni recently. He avoided eye contact with me throughout the evening. Naturally, shame and guilt would have been gnawing his conscience. Towards the end however, he summoned his courage, walked over to where I stood, held my hand, looked into my eyes compassionately and said,

“ Raj, you do remember the ‘cluck cluck’ incident that happened in school, don’t you?

“Of course, it is not something that one forgets easily” I replied coldly.

“ I know that the incident must have rankled in your mind, all these years”

“You bet it has”

“Raj, I want you to know that I have forgiven you long back. I know that it was some mad rush of blood that made you do that ‘cluck cluck’ noise and it certainly wasn’t your fault that that history teacher had punished me instead of you. This must have gnawed your conscience all these years. I hold no grudge against you. So, you can rest easy now. Bye”

And he walked away, sporting a halo over his bald head.

This was too terrible for words. Had I, all these years, mistakenly carried the version that friend had cluck-clucked me into trouble, when, in fact, I was the perpetrator of the plot and he the victim?

Had my faulty memory not reversed our roles, I would have been, all these years, laughing my guts out, at his expense, while narrating the incident, every second evening, to my wife and children, and the ingenious manner I had employed to get ex-friend into trouble with the history teacher. That was not to be. Sigh.


1) What tone has the author adopted to narrate this whimsical tale? Identify the characteristics of the style which helps to establish this particular tone.

2) Study the manner in which the author has written about the science teacher taking the history class. Would anything be lost if this entire paragraph is omitted?

3) What purpose is the author desperately trying to achieve by placing the words “cluck-cluck” within inverted commas?

4) We must assume that the author has recorded only a part of the conversation that occurred towards the end of the evening. What filtering principles has he employed in making his selection?

5) This incident that the author talks about happened when he was in school. Do you detect any evidence that pinpoints the exact decade when it took place?

6) In the structure of this essay, what is the function of the exclusive paragraph on Wodehousian characters? Doesn’t the para stick out like a sore thumb?

7) What do you think is the extent of irreversible memory loss suffered by the author?

8) What is your opinion of the author’s choice of newspapers to pick up ideas for his blog posts?

Group discussions:

A friend who turns into an ex-friend is no more a friend. Discuss the implications of this assertion.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Found : male model

A galaxy of female stars has modeled for Lux Soap, over the decades. Just two years back, Lux broke this tradition and cast Shah Rukh Khan as its first male model.

While watching the telecast of the second test match against England last week, it struck me that there is, at least, one Indian cricketer who has all the right credentials to model for this soap.

V.V.S. Luxman.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Why the sky looks blue

When I observe the manner in which science is taught to my daughters today, I am disappointed to find that there is hardly any change in the teaching methods in the last several decades. True, the subject is a lot wider now, lessons have changed and many things that I learned in college are included in the syllabus of the eight standard. But, the lessons are still imparted in the same boring manner; the teacher does nothing to fire the student’s imagination; both do not have the luxury of time.

These thoughts came to me when I read this piece written, in 1931, by Sir James Jeans, a reputed astronomer,. This was originally part of his book, “Stars in their courses”, but I found it in a book called “Province of Prose”, where it was showcased as an example of good prose writing and how a difficult subject can, in the hands of an expert, lend itself to clarification by analogy.

I remember the drab explanation that my own teachers had provided to explain why the sky was blue. With a smattering of Rayleigh scattering, followed by some long equations. Look how Sir James Jeans has handled the same question, seventy five years back.

Imagine that we stand on an ordinary seaside pier and watch the waves rolling in and striking against the iron columns of the pier. Large waves pay very little attention to the columns- they divide right and left and reunite after passing each column, much as a regiment of soldiers would if a tree stood in their road; it is almost as though the column had not been there. But the short waves and ripples find the columns of the pier a much formidable obstacle. When the short waves impinge on the columns, they are reflected back and spread as new ripples in all directions. To use the technical term, they are ‘scattered’. The obstacle provided by the iron columns hardly affects the long waves at all, but scatters the short ripples.

We have been watching a sort of working model of the way in which sunlight struggles through the earth’s atmosphere. Between us on Earth and outer space, the atmosphere interposes innumerable obstacles in the form of molecules of air, tiny droplets of water and small particles of dust. These are represented by the columns of the pier.

The waves of the sea represent the sunlight. We know that sunlight is a blend of many colors- as we can prove for ourselves by passing it through a prism, or even a jug of water or as nature demonstrates to us when she passes it through the raindrops of a summer shower and produces a rainbow. We also know that light consists of waves, and that the different colors of light are produced by waves of different lengths, red light by long waves and blue light by short waves. The mixture of waves which constitutes sunlight has to struggle past the columns of the pier. And these obstacles treat the light waves, much as the columns of the pier treat the sea-waves. The long waves which constitute red light are hardly affected but the short waves which constitute blue light are scattered in all directions.

Thus the different constituents of sunlight are treated in different ways as they struggle through the earth’s atmosphere. A wave of blue light may be scattered by a dust particle and turned out of its course, and so on, until finally it enters our eyes by a path as zigzag as that of a flash of lightning. Consequently the blue waves of the sunlight enter our eyes from all directions.

And that is why the sky looks blue.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Dear Diary-7

Dear Diary,

As someone cheerfully put it , today happens to be the first day of the rest of my life.

As someone else added a corollary to that statement, the day after tomorrow will be the third day of the rest of my life that starts today.

It has just hit me that yesterday was the second last day of the period of my life lasting from my birth till today. And the day before yesterday was the third last day.

So, though there is a fair chance that tomorrow may arrive, yesterday will never return.

Isn’t this a very sobering thought?

Am I slowly turning into Woody Allen?

R.I.P Series- 12

Liv Nomore who when told by his doctor that he had contracted an incurable ailment, asked him, “Give it to me straight, doc. How long do you think I will live?

Doc replied, “Ten….”

Liv cut him short and screamed, “Ten what, doc? Years, months, weeks?

The doc continued, “...9...8...7...6...5...4...”

(Discl : Joke is borrowed)