Thursday, April 30, 2009

Leave no answer unquestioned

“Were some super advanced alien civilization to swoop down to Earth with the definitive explanation of everything in the cosmos, there'd be excitement at first—it would be thrilling to have answers to questions we've tussled with through the ages. But in short order, scientists worldwide would be utterly depressed. With no remaining mysteries, the scientific journey would halt.” says Briane Green, author of this article in Wired Magazine.

He adds, “Science is the journey. Science is about immersing ourselves in piercing uncertainty while struggling with the deepest of mysteries. It is the ultimate adventure. Against staggering odds, a species that has walked upright for only a few million years is trying to unravel puzzles that are billions of years in the making. How did the universe begin? How was life initiated? How did consciousness emerge? Einstein captured it best when he wrote, "the years of anxious searching in the dark for a truth that one feels but cannot express." That's what science is about.”

Very true. Scientists have to constantly try to find questions to some of the answers we all might know. To paraphrase Reagan (he actually said this about economists). “ A scientist is one who when he/she finds that something works in practice, would want to know if it would also work in theory.

What to blog about


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The right-sized cricketer

I am not too impressed when the diminutive Parthiv Patel or Gautam Gambhir make acrobatic leaps into the air and drop to terra firma while holding a catch, but I am simply astounded when I see big-made cricketers such as Mathew Hayden or Andrew Symonds scrambling to the crease by hitting the ground and skidding across. It calls for stupendous effort, I think.

Normally, agility is traded off against muscle strength, but these Aussies have broken the rule, through sheer hard work and training.

I remember reading a brilliant piece by J.B.S.Haldane ( I found an online version here) in which he had talked about the optimal size for every type of animal and why it was so:

"Let us take the most obvious of possible cases, and consider a giant man sixty feet high—about the height of Giant Pope and Giant Pagan in the illustrated Pilgrim’s Progress of my childhood. These monsters were not only ten times as high as Christian, but ten times as wide and ten times as thick, so that their total weight was a thousand times his, or about eighty to ninety tons. Unfortunately the cross sections of their bones were only a hundred times those of Christian, so that every square inch of giant bone had to support ten times the weight borne by a square inch of human bone. As the human thigh-bone breaks under about ten times the human weight, Pope and Pagan would have broken their thighs every time they took a step.

Gravity, a mere nuisance to Christian, was a terror to Pope, Pagan, and Despair. To the mouse and any smaller animal it presents practically no dangers. You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away, provided that the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes. For the resistance presented to movement by the air is proportional to the surface of the moving object. Divide an animal’s length, breadth, and height each by ten; its weight is reduced to a thousandth, but its surface only to a hundredth. So the resistance to falling in the case of the small animal is relatively ten times greater than the driving force. "

Ok, Hayden is not a thousand times as heavy as Parthiv is and is not dropping down from the third floor, but still you can't take away the fact that with his bulk, the resistance to his falling is much higher and he carries a considerably higher risk of injury. So, his commitment is that much more commendable.

When the student is ready, the teacher panics

Scientists say- and we all know- that driving a car requires extraordinary coordination of all the senses, along with an ability to exercise judgement instantaneously. It is a perfect example of multi-tasking.

Driving a car on Indian roads requires you to not only coordinate all your senses, but to possess a 360-degree vision and be equipped with a well-honed jungle instinct. As a famous email that did the rounds some years back explained, “Indian road rules broadly operate within the domain of karma where you do your best and leave the results to your insurance company.”

Among the tips it provided:

- Just trust your instincts, ascertain the direction, and proceed. Adherence to road rules leads to much misery and occasional fatality.

- Most drivers don't drive, but just aim their vehicles in the intended direction. Don't you get discouraged or underestimate yourself. Except for a belief in reincarnation, the other drivers are not in any better position.

- Don't stop at pedestrian crossings just because some fool wants to cross the road. You may do so only if you enjoy being bumped in the back. Pedestrians have been strictly instructed to cross only when traffic is moving slowly or has come to a dead stop because some minister is in town. Still some idiot may try to wade across, but then, let us not talk ill of the dead.

- Blowing your horn is not a sign of protest as in some countries. We horn to express joy, resentment, frustration, romance and bare lust (two brisk blasts) or just to mobilize a dozing cow in the middle of the bazaar.

And, a few more such stereotypes, all true.

Yet, I have managed to drive my car for many years, with characteristic humility and hardly flaunting the fact that I was a multi-tasking wizard.

But, this self-confidence has taken a beating recently when I started to provide driving lessons to my daughter. I am completely shaken now.

How do you instil in her the need to stick to rules, yet explain to her to be alert as nobody else would be following rules of any kind? How do you teach her that she needs to switch on the indicator while turning, yet tell her to be wary as no driver in front would ever bother to have the indicator on?

How do you instruct her to keep swinging her neck in all 28 directions, as pedestrians could materialise out of thin air, cyclists could pedal their way from nowhere with just a slight movement of the left bum, the bus could stop anywhere, an auto rickshaw could approach her menacingly on the wrong lane, a dog might want to cross the road at a crucial moment, presumably to get to the other side, the puddle a few feet ahead of her could actually be and most certainly will be a huge pothole and that a one-way lane means one-way from both directions?

I don’t think these can be taught. I will try the Spartan method and simply ask her to take the car out and start driving.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

He or she....

If any reader disagrees with my views he may post his comments below…. Sorry, that line was sexist. Let me state that again. If any reader disagrees with my views, he or she may post his or her comments below.. Sorry that sentence was too clunky…

Linguist Richard Lederer says in his book, “A man of my words”:

"While all other pronouns avoid reference to gender, the third-person singular pronouns in English- he and she- are gender specific. We are not fully comfortable with the male chauvinist, “Each student shall underline in his textbooks so that he can achieve his fullest academic potential” or the awkward “Each student should underline in his or her textbooks so that he or she can achieve his or her fullest academic potential”. To the most nettlesome problem in sexist language- the generic masculine pronoun- and to the grammatical stutter engendered by dancing back and forth between the sexes, they has long been a graceful solution as in “Each student should underline in their textbooks so that they can achieve their fullest academic potential”."

Apparently, this was the usage for generations, till the eighteenth century, when grammarians disparaged the use and decreed that indefinite pronouns are singular. Richard Lederer suggests that we should revert back to the old practice.

So, if any reader disagrees with my views, they may post their comments below

Monday, April 27, 2009

The reluctant commuter.

A Belgian who is the owner of a company near Brussels, told me once, “When I interview someone for a position in my company, I ask him how far away from my office he lives. If I find that he has to commute more than 15 minutes, I tell him that it won’t work out. He should either spend time at the office, or with his family at home. No point in wasting time in between”.

While in Heslinki once, I attended a farewell party for a colleague who had resigned. In her parting speech, she explained that the reason she was quitting was that she had to commute 25 minutes one way and this was like wasting 8% of the time that she was awake. She had found a job in a smaller town where her office was just 5 minutes away.

I agree with them.All my life, I have managed to live fairly close to my school/college/work place. Commuting has never taken more than 30-45 minutes, whether by bus/cycle/scooter or car. Whenever I visit Mumbai or Delhi and find myself admiring the energy levels and vibrancy of these cities, I quickly think of the commuting that most of my colleagues out there have to put with. Then I thank my stars that I don’t have to endure such torture.

Jonah Lehrer quotes from his own column in Seed magazine and makes me feel even better:

"A few years ago, the Swiss economists Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer announced the discovery of a new human foible, which they called "the commuters paradox". They found that, when people are choosing where to live, they consistently underestimate the pain of a long commute. This leads people to mistakenly believe that the McMansion in the suburbs, with its extra bedroom and sprawling lawn, will make them happier, even though it might force them to drive an additional forty-five minutes to work. It turns out, however, that traffic is torture, and the big house isn't worth it. According to the calculations of Frey and Stutzer, a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office. The reason long commutes make us so unhappy is that the flow of traffic is inherently unpredictable. As a result, we never adapt to the suffering of rush hour. (Ironically, if traffic was always bad, and not just usually bad, it would be easier to deal with.) As the Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert notes, "Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Stats and pats not important

Here’s an update on an earlier post.

More yummy apple pies from Sugary, Syrupy, Sweety-pie Sachin. At his 36th birthday bash yesterday, he gushed, “I feel like 16. What matters are the good wishes and blessings”. In the same breath he added, “It’s not about breaking records. It’s about winning matches.” Lest that statement be misunderstood, he explained, after cutting the cake“It’s a terrific feeling to win, and that’s what really matters”. Lest that explanation not be clear enough, he clarified, “Stats are merely a reflection of an individual’s contribution to the team. Though individual contribution matters, it’s more about winning matches”.

Even if you wake him up in the middle of his sleep and fill his mouth with chocolate cake to the point of choking, he still manages to spout his clich├ęs at an amazing rate. What a man!

This is truly my 500th post. The earlier post, in which I had celebrated the milestone, was a mere pretender. But, then stats are not important. What matters is that the country must become prosperous, the nation must stay united, Indians must rule the world, milk and honey must flow freely………

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Plus Ultra's efforts bear fruit.

Loyal readers of this blog know that Plus Ultra does not hesitate to take up and publicise humanitarian causes that require immediate intervention and solutions.

In this spirit, Plus Ultra had published a complaint received from a person named Raj that he was put to untold difficulty while seated in the aisle seat of a plane, due to the fact that an over-sized fellow-passenger on the next seat would not allow him to breathe.

Thanks to Plus Ultra’s efforts, some airlines have acted upon the complaint. United Airlines which earlier used to take a position that it ‘will not discriminate’ between normal-sized and XXXL passengers”, has come out with a pricing policy, based on which over-sized passengers will have to pay for two seats. The relevant clause reads as follows:

"UA will refuse to transport or will remove at any point, any passenger … in the following categories where refusal to board or removal from the aircraft may be necessary for the safety or comfort of themselves and other passengers: … persons who are unable to sit in the seat with the seat belt fastened and the armrest down. Note: A passenger will not be removed upon the purchase of an extra seat. If an extra seat is not available for sale on the same flight, UA will transport the passenger, without penalty, on the next flight having adjacent available seats and the passenger will be required to purchase the extra seat as a condition of carriage."

If any under-sized passenger wishes to be charged only for half a seat, please write in to Plus Ultra, giving full details.

I want my curd rice now....

The humble curd rice, the mandatory part of the South Indian meal, is not too difficult to prepare. Just mix rice and curd, I would have explained had someone asked me.

But, nothing in life is easy. Apparently, preparation of curd is a carefully executed ritual. It is an art and a science. Some families guard their bacteria zealously as heirlooms, and ensure continuity of the same brand.

The “Dine and Wine” section of New York Times which normally covers more exotic and fancier-sounding cuisine devoted one of its recent issues to talk about ‘yoghurt’. “Bacteria toil it out at night, while you reap the yoghurt” the article explains.

Says the author, “I’ve made my own yogurt nearly every week for more than 10 years, beginning with a starter given to me by a friend from yogurt-loving India, and using the last spoonfuls of one batch to make the next. It’s a satisfying ritual of continuity and caretaking. And the yogurt is less expensive and better than anything I can buy. It’s free of stabilizers, sweeteners and waterlogged fruit, and its fresh tasting and tart, not sour. I start every day with a bowl of it.

If I may pass on a few tips to this culinary expert, “just add some rice and pickles”.

What is Sachin made of? Sugar and honey and...

Tendulkar was at his sugary, honey-dripping, humility-oozing, patriotic and pious best when his wax statue meant for Madame Tussaud’s was completed and displayed recently.

“It feels great because Madame Tussauds is known to include only those who’ve achieved something great in their lives and thus, it translates that my humble achievement counts as worthy enough for the honour. However, more than for personal reasons, I’m happy that the sports arena of my homeland has received this honour”, he said.

When asked if he had ever dreamt of having his statue at Madame Tussauds, Sachin quipped, “While I cherish every honour bestowed on me, including this one, I’ve never played cricket with an eye on awards and rewards”.

Asked whether he considers the statue his best birthday gift ever, he remarked, “This is indeed a great gift but my parents, siblings, and wife’s love and my children’s affection remains the most cherished gift of all time”.

My suggestion to the media is that they shouldn’t waste Sachin’s time anymore. Let them send their questions to me and I will write out the answers on his behalf, adding honey, sugar syrup, jaggery, caramel sauce and praline in generous doses.

Update: Saccharine Sachin says after the first match of IPL2, in which he scored 59 runs and remained not out: “The team wanted me to stay on till the end, and that’s exactly what I did. I always play according to the needs of the team”. Hmmm, wonder what he would have said had Hayden held on to the lollipop of a catch he had offered early in the innings.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

I made it to D

"England has got people like Matt Prior, who has gone home because his wife has had a baby - as if people have never had babies anytime” was Geoff Boycott’s cynical comment in a column last month.

In a similar vein, if I announce that this is my 500th blog post ( so Blogger informs me), I know I run the risk of being ticked off that I am not the first person in the world to reach this milestone. Big deal.

But, Matt Prior was entitled to his moment of rejoicing. True, babies are born all the time, but this was his baby. Similarly, I can make a big deal about my ‘achievement”. Hell, this is my 500th post.

I can’t recall why I chose the name “Plus Ultra” for the blog. I had read a story somewhere that, till the 15th century, the Spaniards had the words, “ne plus ultra’ below the coat of arms on their flags. The words meant “no more beyond”, that Spain was the ultimate place, and there was nothing more to be discovered. But when Columbus discovered the Americas, they quietly dropped the suffix ‘ne’ and ever since, their flag carries the words “ plus ultra”. Probably, this sounded as impressive a name as any other and I chose it. One could always change it, midstream, if one didn’t like it or if one thought of something fancier.

Some of you may want to know the secret of staying the course till the 500th post. It is somewhat like the answer the centenarian gave on reaching the age of 100 and when asked how he managed to live so long. He said, “Reach the age of 98. Then be very, very, careful”. My advice to new bloggers is the same. “Somehow make it to the 495th post. Then add 5 more”.

As for the others who are racing towards their 1000th or 2000th or n0000th post, my suggestion is that they should slow down. No point in burning themselves out.

Update: While going through the list of posts later on Blogger, I discovered that 4 of my drafts had also been counted. So, technically this is only my 496th post. Please adjust………

Friday, April 17, 2009

The timid natives

Warren Hastings, the first Governor-general of India was called back to England and faced impeachment following charges of corruption. He was later acquitted.

In 1813, a Committee was appointed by the House of Lords to examine the Company’s request for extension of charter. The Committee went through an elaborate process of interrogating a number of people about Indian natives, their behaviour, lifestyle, etc before coming to a conclusion. Warren Hastings, whose knowledge of India was extensive, was one of those called upon to depose before the Committee

Here is an extract from the Minutes Of Evidence Taken before The Lords Committees On The East India Company's Affairs. – April 5, 1813 ( see page 550). I have omitted some controversial sections.

(By Counsel.}—Are you enabled from your long residence in India, and your experience and observation of the manners, habits, and dispositions of the natives of that country, to give the Committee any general description of their national character as contrasted with that of the English ?

Hastings: In answering to this question, it will not be easy to divest my mind of certain circumstances connected with it, which do not relevantly appertain to the question itself. Great pains have been taken to inculcate into the public mind an opinion that the native Indians are in a state of complete moral turpitude, and live in the constant and unrestrained commission of every vice and crime that can disgrace human nature. I affirm, by the oath that I have taken, that this description of them is untrue, and wholly unfounded.

(The Hindoos) are gentle, benevolent, more susceptible of gratitude for kindness shown them, than prompted to vengeance for wrongs inflicted, and as exempt from the worst propensities of human passion as any people upon the face of the earth ; they are faithful and affectionate in service, and submissive to legal authority ; they are superstitious it is true, but they do not think ill of us for not thinking as they do. Gross as the modes of their worship are, the precepts of their religion are wonderfully fitted to promote the best ends of society, its peace and good order; and even from their theology, arguments may be drawn to illustrate and support the most refined mysteries of our own..

Their temperance is demonstrated in the simplicity of their food, and their total abstinence from spirituous liquors and other substances of intoxication. I think the question required that I should speak to the character of my own countrymen, as compared, or contrasted with them ; these, my lords, are almost in every instance the reverse of the other.

It is impossible that the English character should coalesce with the natives in the same state of society. In the higher class of British subjects this effect may not be deduced ; but if Europeans are admitted generally to go into the country to mix with the inhahitants, and to form establishments amongst them, the consequence must certainly and inevitably prove the ruin of the country; they will insult, plunder, and oppress the natives because they can do it with impunity; no laws can be enacted from here at such a distance, and under the cover of so many circumstances as will occur in that country, that can prevent them from committing acts of licentiousness of every kind with impunity; the arrogance and boldness of their spirit will encourage them too far to do every thing that their own interests may prompt them to.

In India, at a distance from the capital settlements, the name of an Englishman is his protection, and a sanction for many offences which he would not dare to commit at home. I must add what I have already mentioned in another place, and which perhaps may not appear to deserve the weight which I feel it possesses in my own mind ; there is a tacit idea prevails universally in the minds of all British subjects, not only in India, but I believe with a feebler or deeper impression even at home, the idea of common participation which every British subject possesses in the sovereignty of the Company :—" Since we became masters of the country:" " our native subjects," and other phrases of a similar import constantly occur in our hooks, in our writings, as well as in the language of familiar conversation.

These ideas in the lower orders of British subjects rise to the height of despotism, and are liable to all the excesses of despotism, whenever the prerogatives annexed to it can be asserted with impunity ; with such a disparity, the aggrieved Indian loses his confidence; he is timid by nature, and not easily provoked to resistance where danger may be apprehended; but though this is a part of their individual character, cases may be supposed in which the provocation of a general grievance may excite the whole people, or detached numbers of them, to all the ferocities of insurrection ; this however is not very liable to happen, and I hope never will.

Very great and .almost insuperable will be the difficulties of obtaining redress should the native Indian be under a necessity of appealing for it to the courts of justice established in the country; these will always be at a great distance from the complainant, because he cannot afford the loss of a day's labour, which procures him his daily subsistence, in appealing to them. The same difficulties will occur in collecting witnesses, and procuring their attendance ; and these combined will be more likely to prevent his complaining at all, than a too quick sense of injury to give occasion for his complaining without sufficient reason.

Electoral trivia

With the spectres of ‘hung Parliament’ and strange coalitions looming large in India, I was curious to know how other countries have designed their own electoral systems.

Through a quick google search, I found that there as many systems as there are democracies in this world. Every country has done something unique. And each has its own strong points and weaknesses.

Germany has a two-vote system, with the citizen casting two ballots, one to choose the candidate and a second to choose the party. Election takes place for 299 seats, while the parties get to nominate the other 299, in proportion to the votes polled.

Australia has a system of ‘preference voting”, wherein the voter is expected to list down his order of preference ( rank), not merely choose one. The preferences are then distributed, in a rather complicated manner, so as to select the winner. As Australia has made it mandatory for citizens to vote, apparently some disinterested voters walk in and, if there are say 10 candidates, fill in numbers 1-10 in serial order. This is referred to as ‘donkey voting” So, candidates who are listed on the top can have an advantage.

Italy ensures a working majority for a coalition or party which obtains a plurality of the vote, but less than 340 seats, by assigning additional seats to reach that number, corresponding roughly to a 54% majority.

At this point, my head started spinning and I abandoned the study.

No other country but India seems to have the complexity posed by multiple, regional parties. So, the system that we have evolved - for all its drawbacks- maybe the best that we can have. Unless we want to pick a few tips from Russia’s or China’s………

It is your duty to vote....

I don’t know when I last went to a voting booth. In fact, I believe that I’ve cast my vote in only one election so far.

If I claim to be educated, honest and conscientious, I must be ready to do my bit. Instead of being a cynic and an arm-chair critic of the political system, I ought to demonstrate my commitment by, at least, taking the trouble of walking up to the nearby booth and casting my vote.. So I am lectured quite often.

When I look at the list of candidates and have nothing but contempt for each one of them, why should I bother to walk up to the booth at all?

Otherwise someone else would misuse your vote, I am told. So, it is better to go to the booth and tick the option of “I don’t want to vote for anyone”. I find this argument ridiculous. Why should I participate in an exercise merely to help plug a systemic failure?

What is the use of good people like me queuing up at the booth to discharge their duties, only to be confronted with a list of horrible candidates to choose from?

The issue, therefore, is not that good people are not persuaded enough to vote; it is that good people are not motivated enough to offer their candidature, in the first place,

Why aren’t honest, efficient people keen on plunging into active politics?

Because, nobody will vote for them.

And, so the cycle continues.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I have a dream.......

The indefatigable Dr.Abdul Kalam is back in the news – indulging in his favourite pastime of dreaming.

Mr. Kalam, who was in the city to declare open the new Chennai Press Club building on Tuesday, said journalists should build a database on the constituencies, providing information about per capita income, the status of water bodies, core competencies or resources, the current rates of infant and maternal mortality and the availability of safe drinking water. If this was prepared by May, it could become the basis for action to be taken by the newly elected Members of Parliament.

He also had an agenda, a list of demands that people could make for the Parliamentary elections in 2014. This included tripling the per capita income; increasing female literacy by 30 per cent and male literacy by 20 per cent; desilting all water bodies; reducing the IMR and MMR to less than 10 per 1000; and providing electricity connection to every home.

Now, the best thing about such long-term vision is that no one can find fault with it. You can couch it in such pious language and articulate them in motherhood statements such as – “health care for all”, “electricity for all”, drinking water for all”, “education for all, regardless of caste, colour, creed, blah, blah.” Who will dare question such dreams? Another good thing about long-term dreams is that there need to be no accountability. Who is going to remember them 15 years from now?

Another notable visionary is management guru, Dr C.K.Prahalad. He will come up with extraordinary dreams for India@75, India@100, India@200. And, the entire corporate world will be discussing them at every conceivable forum

But, ask these worthies to suggest something that we could do in the period from now to 6 months. And they will have absolutely no clue. What do we need to do to revive the economy again and put it back in the right orbit for growth? You will be met with silence, only deathly silence.

Do I hear someone remind me that we can’t be fixated about the immediate; we need someone to nudge us to take a long-range view as well? And that dreamers and visionaries are as vital as doers and go-getters?

My reply is: Do you want to be like Calvin dreaming of a trillion billion dollars or like Hobbes, wishing for a sandwich and getting it soon after?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The all-time great

”The English team has plumbed new depths, that in comparison, Mariana Trench looks like a puddle” reported the London edition of a newspaper, when England lost a match recently to the West Indies team.

Meanwhile, Indian newspapers have been lavishing praise on the Indian team that it would appear that the team has scaled such new heights as to make Mount Everest look like a small stool to step on to. “Is this the greatest team ever?” screams one headline. “Is Dhoni the best captain ever?” asks another.

“Tendulkar is the greatest batsman ever, even better than Bradman was ever was”, Richard Hadlee is quoted as saying. Tendulkar, of course, is mighty kicked to hear that.

(Bradman, when he was asked during a match that he was watching in the 1980s, how much he would have scored had he batted in that match, is supposed to have replied, “ Well, about fifty or sixty runs, I guess. After all, I am eighty years old now”.)

Comparing players/teams of different eras is a favourite media pastime, always with the preface that comparing players/teams of different eras is incorrect.

But, we all love to indulge in this exercise, don’t we?

Praise self for successes, blame others for failures

“Self-serving bias”, explains Wiki, “is a self-deception technique resorted to by people while attributing responsibility for causes of events. The self-serving bias makes an individual take credit for successes and blame external factors for failures (Weary-Bradley, 1978). The concept was introduced by Heider (1958). He said that in ambiguous situations, attributions are influenced by “a person’s needs or wishes. The self-serving bias is an approach to protect or enhance an individual’s self-concept (Campbell & Sedikides, 1999).”

“A classic example of self-serving bias is a student taking an examination. If the student does well on the test, he or she is more likely to believe that his or her own ability and/or effort (things under the student’s control) were the reasons for success. However, if he or she receives a poor grade on the test, the blame will fall on external factors such as luck, difficulty of the task, or uncooperative others (Campbell & Sedikides, 1999). For example he or she might claim “that the professor made up an unfair test or the student could claim that the lighting in the room was too dim so the student couldn’t focus.”

Another classic example is this statement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh:

“We have recorded a growth of 9% in the first four years of our government. Last year, because of the impact of global recession, the growth rate will be slightly less than 7%.”

Thanks to the self-serving bias, it never occurs to the PM that the rising tide in the global economy could have lifted all boats (including India’s) in the first four years. So, he believed that the measures taken by him were responsible for the 9% growth, whereas the decline in the last year was caused by downturn in global economy. He is not to be blamed for that.

Always, find that external factor to attribute blame on. Practise this technique. Don’t ever burden your conscience with guilt. Believe me; it will give you complete peace of mind.


In an earlier post, I had attempted an “Onion” on acronyms. A well-coined acronym never fails to fascinate me.

At the end of a recent article, in The Guardian on how ‘acronyms’ have spiced up our language in recent times, columnist David Mckie wonders,

"Once you've started to note the proliferation of acronyms, there's a tendency to suspect that one of these beasts may be lurking behind quite ordinary words. Leg: Locomotion Enabling Gadget. Hat: Head Adornment Technology. And Acronym? Artifice for the Compacted Reduction of Names Yawningly Multisyllabic, perhaps?"

A comment posted on the same page points out the existence of an associated trend known as RAS syndrome (Redundant Acronym Syndrome syndrome), typified by examples such as 'PIN number' , where part of the acronym is often said in full anyway. As such, it's also known as PNS syndrome (PIN number syndrome syndrome = personal identification number number syndrome syndrome).

The best example of RAS syndrome is provided by another commenter, “In a Dilbert cartoon: Wally invites Dilbert to join The TTP Project.”What does TTP stand for?" asks Dilbert. The answer: "The TTP Project”

Another commenter recalls a Punch cartoon many years ago; two people walking along a street holding up a banner with COCOA in large letters and underneath 'Council in Opposition to Contrived and Obnoxious Acronyms' .

That sums it up, I guess.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Awesome castles in the air, or humble huts on the ground?

Not all those who aspire for Olympic gold medala manage to get the medal. But all those who bagged the gold medal had had the burning desire or aspiration to begin with. Rewards accrue to those who dream big. So we are told by motivational speakers.

Calvin and Hobbes offer a different perspective:

Calvin: If you could have anything in this world right now, what would it be?

Hobbes: Hmmm

Calvin: Anything at all! Whatever you want!

Hobbes: A sandwich.

Calvin: A sandwich??? What kind of stupid wish is that? Talk about a failure of imagination! I’d ask for a trillion billion dollars! My own space shuttle and a private continent.

Hobbes: (later, holding a sandwich in his hands): I got MY wish!

You can decide whose advice you want to follow. Those motivational speakers or Hobbes.

Everything's amazing, nobody's happy

I just heard my daughter cribbing about her mobile phone. Apparently, some of her messages (sms) did not get through to the other end, at a satisfactory speed.

Does she know that she is holding an amazing piece of equipment in her hands? Hell, when I was her age, we had to reckon with those landlines and rotary dials that took ages to connect, if at all. And, remember those ‘trunk calls”? If we had to speak to someone in another town, we had to book a call that would come through after a few hours and then we had to shout at the top of our voices, a habit that many of us have retained to this day.

“Everything’s amazing these days, yet nobody’s happy’ explains comedian C.K.Louis in this video ( via). Plane travelers complain about having to sit for 20 minutes in the A/c comfort of the airport, when boarding is delayed. Do they realise, ask Louis, that they are talking about a 20 minute delay on a 5-hour flight. It took their forefathers 30 years to make it to California from New York, with many babies being born and many people dying on the way”

Something seems to be wrong with the Internet connection. This is taking me ages to post…

Honesty sucks.

A short story by Italo Calvino begins thus:

There was a country where they were all thieves.

At night everybody would leave home with skeleton keys and shaded lanterns and go and burgle a neighbour’s house. They’d get back at dawn, loaded, to find their own house had been robbed.

So everybody lived happily together, nobody lost out, since each stole from the other, and that other from another again, and so on and on until you got to a last person who stole from the first. Trade in the country inevitably involved cheating on the parts both of the buyer and the seller. The government was a criminal organization that stole from its subjects, and the subjects for their part were only interested in defrauding the government. Thus life went on smoothly, nobody was rich and nobody was poor.

One day however, an honest man enters the town and wreaks havoc on the town’s economy. That’s the rest of the story.

I don’t know if somewhere in that story there is a lesson that provides a possible explanation for what caused the meltdown in the global economy. Did someone try something honest? And thereby let loose a chain of events that led to the crash? What a horrible thing to do!

The Tamil New Year

The Tamil New Year day that till last year fell on April 14th was changed to January 14th through a notification of the Govt of Tamilnadu. Among other things, the press release stated that “in view of the consensus amongst almost all Tamil Scholars that the first day of the Tamil month Thai, the opening month of the Thiruvalluvar year, is the first day of the Tamil year, Government of Tamil Nadu has declared 1st Thai as the Tamil New Year Day and a legislation to this effect was enacted on 1.2.2008."

So, the upshot is that April 14th is not a holiday this year.

I don’t know what the political compulsions were to bring about this change, but the stated reason that “Tamil scholars had opined that the first day of Thai, and not the first day of Chitirai marked the beginning of the Tamil New Year” got me to search for some early records from Google archives, and if there was any reference to the festivals that were celebrated in this part of the country

The Madras Journal of Literature and Science which was published by British scholars residing in Indiam in the early nineteenth century had the following objective:

At the present period when the attention of England is particularly directed towards this, "interesting country, and every communication tending to the development of its resources or to add to the information we already possess in regard to its inhabitants, their manners and customs, is sought with the greatest avidity, it appears the more incumbent that each Presidency should contribute its respective share of information on these points, with the view of distinguishing the great and remarkable difference which exists in the people, their institutions, and usages, in different parts of the British territory in the East.

It was this journal that I accessed via Google Books and sure enough Page 14 had this entry.

An account of the Hindoo Holy days and Festivals, by Venket Row, late Interpreter to the Officer Commanding Vellore, with considerable alterations and additions by the Editor. (Read at a meeting of the M. L.S. & A. R. A. S.held on the 21st Feb. 18M.

Page 20 recorded the following, under “Solar or Tamil Festivals”.

Versharumbum or VurshaporapooThe eleventh of April, the first day of the month Chitry, when the sun enters Aries is the first day of the tamil year. It is kept as a festival by sacrificing to the spirits of deceased ancestors and giving alms to the poor and to the brahmins. A good work performed on this day is considered to be worth a hundred done at any other time.

So, there is evidence that at least from the year 1833, Tamil New Year Day has been celebrated on the first day of Chitirai, that is by mid-April. And, as the journal entry was about long traditions, it probably was the case since the time the British landed in these parts, 150 years earlier.

Of course, Tamil scholars of the DMK variety will have their own unimpeachable sources.