Saturday, October 13, 2012

Raj's Random Ramblings-1

Mental Calculations: 

I had not heard of the Mental Calculation World Cup. One such was held in Germany last week and some of the world’s best arithmeticians competed in addition, multiplication, square roots and other categories.  Good to note that a Parashkumar Shah from India came fourth. If you would like to try out some of the mental tasks, some sample questions can be found here. Go on. Have a try. These are simple ones, like adding 10 ten-digit numbers or multiplying two, 8-digit numbers. 

I would have imagined that such an event would be more popular with Indians, and we’d be participating in larger numbers and coming out closer to the top. With our Ashtavdanis and Shakuntala Devis, we ought to. Of course, it’s one thing to show off as an individual in an exhibition event and another to emerge the best in a global event where a group of participants would compete fiercely under controlled conditions. The Japanese and the Chinese seem to revel in the latter format, though, I suspect, that they have calculating microchips secretly implanted in their brains. Like the dope test in the Olympics, we must send them for brain scans.

Punishment = Bad deed – good deed

Rajat Gupta, former Board member, Goldman Sachs is facing prosecution on charges of insider trading, and his sentence is to be decided later this month. A group of eminent people like Bill Gates, Kofi Annan, etc have written to the judge, asking for ‘fairness’ while computing the sentence. According to them, Rajat Gupta has had an excellent track record as a philanthropist and a do-gooder and this should be weighed in balance against the one-time offence of insider trading. 

This is an extraordinary argument. Can a man who indulges in a criminal act with full knowledge that he is doing something seriously wrong turn around and evoke sympathy for some good deeds done in the past? If so, practically every criminal can claim credit for some such act of kindness and plead that it be adjusted against the crime. Moreover, an act of philanthropy as a successful businessman is really no big deal. It is done all the time either to wash off one’s guilt for using dubious methods to accumulate wealth, or out of fear that when the final reckoning happens at the gates of Hell/Heaven they shouldn’t be left with nothing on the credit side. Anyway, it will be interesting to see the position the judge takes.

When the going is tough, the tough use humour

Spain, as we all know, is in dire economic straits. Austerity measures are in place and the situation is grim. So what are the Spaniards turning to at this juncture? Humour. Spaniards are increasingly turning to humor, says this piece , not only to help cope with the dark economic forecasts, but also to make sense of how this grim state of affairs has come to pass. The most trenchant critiques of the present political deadlock rely on humor to make citizens confront the roots of the current malaise. A new activist group called Gila stages street-bound “interventions,” as it calls them. In one, the group pilloried police brutality at public demonstrations by brandishing porras, pastries that resemble police batons. Other actions have mocked banks executing foreclosures. And during German chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent visit to Madrid, Gila poked fun at the obsequious reception mounted by Spanish politicians. One of Gila’s slogans is: “Our vengeance is to be happy.” 

Laughter, as the clich√© goes, is the best medicine. 

The doctor’s bag. 

In a lovely piece, Dr Abraham Verghese explains how the inventory of the ‘doctor’s bag’ has undergone a change over the decades. From the trunk used by his uncle in the ‘70s, followed by the small tan suitcase in the ‘80s and later the smaller leather bag ,the contents kept varying. Dr Verghese concludes the piece by listing out the things he’d possibly like to add to his bag now- a pocket ultrasound machine, a PanOptic ophthamascope which would allow a good view of the retina and an iPad to take pictures and to pull up on a website for the benefit of students later. 

I remember the doctor who used to come home to attend to my grandmother in the ‘70s. He used to carry a briefcase- a fairly large briefcase if such a contradictory description is allowed- filled with syringes, stethoscope, BP-measuring device, assorted medicines, etc. As an injection was mandatory those days- the patient would otherwise feel that the doctor was not doing his job- and disposable syringes were yet to arrive on the scene, he would ask for steaming water for the syringes and the needles to be sterilized. While the water was being heated, he would make conversation with the entire family and occasionally with the patient, sipping his coffee. Once the injection was administered, he would go through the elaborate ritual of packing up his bag once again and slowly make his way out of the house. Why I remember the briefcase is because I had to carry it out of the car when he came in, and carry it back when he left.

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