Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The idiocy of our ways - Afterthought

I mean, take this Charon chap for example. His job is to ferry dead people across a river in return for one coin...One coin! And then cross the stream back again and ferry some more people (because people always keep checking out, you see), and so on and on till the end of time! I mean, with a job like that, what are this guy's career options? If you ask me, I'd say he is already scraping the bottom. He can't even make conversation with the people on the ferry for the rather dull reason that they are not really people, just dead bodies.

(But you never know...maybe one coin is still worth a lot in the underworld. Maybe the dough makes up for the dreariness. Maybe you can, a lot of stuff with a coin. At any rate, if I had one coin for every bloke who popped off... )

But all said and done, he has pretty good job security, and thats more than you can say about most people in these times of recession... and it is not because he is a thorough professional, or because the market will never be dull. No. It's just because no one else wants that job! Maybe the chap who is in charge of the filing cabinets in my office might be interested if he hears about this...But I can't really think of anyone else who would want that job. Really.

And oh...they have a god for wine, whose job it is to make sure we never run out of booze at parties. Somebody please tell me what I should do to get that job? I won't pilfer, I swear!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The idiocy of our ways - Undisguised Ignorance

When women say a man looks like a Greek God, which of the following Greek Gods do they mean?

1. Pan, a short God with the horns, legs and tail of a goat, and with a thick beard, snub nose and pointed ears.

2. Marsyas, who you will notice if you observe this picture, was old, fat, bald and looked, if truth be told, quite homosexual.

3. Aegipan, who had the head of a man and the body of a goat. Experts still argue over whether he was a goat with a man's head or a man with a goat's body.

4. Hephaestus, who was lame and disfigured and so repulsive that his mother, after taking one look at him promptly threw him off a mountain.

What is it with women, I don't understand! Most of these Greek Gods had serious anger management issues and very limited career options. I mean, look at it this way - if women are indeed attracted to men who are stuck with bad jobs and a bad attitude, then you'd have to scrape young girls off me like you'd scrape barnacles off a rusty sea anchor. Whereas I am actually like one of those shiny tungsten-coated ceramic naval anchors which no self-respecting barnacle would ever like to be found in a twelve-mile radius of, unless stunned by an electric shock first, beaten up, tied, gagged and then threatened to be killed for good measure by a large, unpleasant man called Carlos, whose 9-letter long second name wouldn't contain any vowels. No, really. I tell you, try being witty and sarcastic and see just how popular you get with the ladies. Not very, I assure you.

Other things to avoid when the ladies are around - showing off your short temper, if you have one, and hoping you'd pass off for Zeus or Thor. Because believe me, you won't. It is not amusing and you're not impressing anybody. If you don't believe me, try smashing stuff or storming off to Mt Olympus in a fit of rage, or even leaving the door open for that matter, and you will be presented with a stare so cold that you'll think Sarajevo 1992 was a rather humorous affair.

But, this greek-god-guy streaked around the desert naked, drove his father's car when he was 10, lost control of the wheel, ploughed the car into a barn and ended up setting the earth on fire .... and guess what the ladies of his time (and ours) did? They smiled and said "Awwww, dear little PH?! He does that at times...isn't he just adorable?"

Dinosaurs will come back to life before I understand women!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bite my Bytes ;-)

I really don't understand why people find it offending, insulting even to be on the bench. I work in an IT company and I was on the bench for a really long time. It was a lovely time, because besides offering the uninterrupted comfort of idling, it was also very flattering really, to know that a bunch of sharp, efficient executives running a reputed multi-billion dollar corporation deemed it necessary to pay me a large sum of money every month just so that they can retain me and have the option of using my services sometime later. What can be more flattering than that? Besides, if you are on the bench, you are always potential. And potential can't be criticised. You are never given a chance to work so there is never a risk of failure. Office is 50 km from home, and since I wasn't doing much in office, I was actually being paid merely to travel back and forth every day. I know people who pay money to travel back and forth. So I was already better off than a majority of the working population.

But these days, I am involved in a software implementation project for a huge insurance company, who have engaged the company I work for because they don't much understand software themselves. And the computer engineers working in my company do not understand the insurance business much. So the project manager looked at the situation objectively and threw me into the mix, to act as a sort of middle-man between the client and the software engineers. Now, my job is simple - to explain to each what the other says. That's a very convenient arrangement for everybody involved... except me, because...well, because I know absolutely nothing about either insurance or software. In fact my only experience with the insurance industry is that I paid some money to an LIC agent about 6 months ago and got a receipt for it. That was all. So, I know as much about the insurance industry as the average chicken knows about the balance sheet of McDonald Corp. All I know about insurance is that a lot of people regularly pay a corporation a large amount of money, because apparently it is not a good idea to not do so; and that insurance companies make really lousy TV ads. But that is 12 volumes of Encyclopaedia Galactica compared to what I know about software engineering.

But I type my documents in large, friendly letters in a cheerful-looking font and as a result, I am coping well. I also highlight random words in bold and italics and underline whole random paragraphs for no particular reason and send the document back to whoever sent it to me in the first place. Apparently they take it seriously. It also adds to the overall visual clout, as you can see for yourself in the previous paragraph. I also use words like enhance and review quite excessively. It implies that you have gone through the entire passage and know a great deal about a lot of stuff - enough to decide which terms are important enough to be highlighted and which words should be left alone. Moreover, I always end my emails with "Have a good day" or "Good job, keep it up", so as not to seem overly critical and to add a touch of gentle consideration. I think they like me. 

If it weren't for the confidentiality clause, I'd have already warned you against buying an insurance policy from the company whose computer system I have been personally involved in designing. I am not allowed to name the company, but there is nothing against sharing an opinion, is there? So why don't you tell me where you plan to put your money, and I'll tell you if it’s a good idea ;-)

Saturday, December 20, 2008 on...

Why is making out called petting? I am really worried for our species here. I mean, how did the word "petting" even come about? Is it mere coincidence that the word used to describe activities of a sexual nature is the same general term used to describe domestic animals? I sincerely hope our forefathers didn't use their cattle for purposes. No, I am serious! Discovering such a word in the language is always a worrying thing for me. It is carefully hidden proof of mischief that by accident got discovered. It is one of those moments, like when you discover a stack of porn magazines under your grandfather's bed. Not that I ever did, but I can imagine what it would have been like.

We as a race have collectively been upto a lot of mischief, most of which I'm quite proud of. Like melting all that antarctic ice and drowning the penguins? That was pretty cool. Moreover, deviance is a most lovable trait, especially in one's ancestors. I for one prefer ancestors who set fire to buildings and climbed mountains and ran away to forests, chasing rainbows to ancestors who sat around reading newspaper and sipping tea. I like that sense of adventure. Like in a grandfather of mine who fought in the second world war, got bored of it, quit the Air Force and ran away to Burma to grow cotton. I really do like that in a man.

But "petting"! You've got to draw a line there! That's just kinkiness. You know how old people always keep reminiscing how much better things were when they were young? I swear to god, if one of these days I catch an old man watching a young couple making out, and wondering out loud " Girls, for godssake! How thing have changed... What do they teach young boys in schools these days?! I remember when I was young, it used to be goats...", I'm really going to give him a piece of my mind.

And that is why I am ever so wary of learning about the origin and evolution of words. You never know what shameful secrets you might accidentally uncover.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The idiocy of our ways - Blindness

Which of the following is a dentist?

A -

B -

Wrong. The man in picture A is Hugo Sanchez, a qualified dentist who also played football for the Mexican national team. Since he has a degree in dentistry, he can evaluate, diagnose, operate on and treat conditions of the oral cavity and the maxillofacial area.

In picture B is some random-ass fat guy in an oversized white labcoat. He doesn't have a degree in dentistry and he doesn't know anything about cavities and surgery. Infact, the only thing he has in common with a real dentist is that he has a poster of a tooth in his rented room.

Allow me shatter your little dream thoroughly. In real life, this "dentist" is probably an unemployed moron who normally plays uncredited two-bit roles in cheap TV serials. He got the break of his life when CP's ad agency rang him up and asked him to don the labcoat for what would be his Magnum-Opus. He cannot perform a dental implant nor does he have a clue about Gingivitis. However, he can tap two sea-shells together and show us that the one labelled Colgate doesn't break whereas the one with a blanked out name shatters to pieces. He has perfect 20/20 vision, but wears glasses just so that he can look mature, caring and wise. He tells impressionable little children that a bacterium is a little green animated gremlin which wears a maniacal grin on its face and carries a sharp trident. But you can't blame him for that, because probably he himself truly believes that bacteria are actually spooky little animated creatures with bulging eyes and sharp spikes on their backs, who wear a look of ghastly shock on their faces while their arms flail about helplessly as they drown in a white wave of flouride foam.

Look at him. I am sure in real life he is a drunkard who gets into arguments with his neighbours and beats up his kids. In fact, I am sure he drinks so much that his trembling hands can never steadily hold a tooth-drill, because he'd be shaking like a duck on a rainy day. He can't hold on to a steady job either, and is upto his neck in debt. And whatever little money he made from this ad film was spent buying more bottles of black rum. He is probably lying in a dazed stupor on his filthy sofa in his 1-bhk Borivili studio apartment right now, with a 6 day old stubble, sprawled amidst empty bottles and cigarette ash, cradling a bottle of cheap rum, with empty cigarette packets strewn all over the floor.

And you take dental advice from this monkey.

Go away. Feel good about it.

Friday, December 5, 2008

More randomness

Has it ever occured to you that all the billboards and posters that you see along the road are designed to be read at a certain pace? And that that depends on the speed of the vehicle you are in, which in turn depends on the traffic density? Which depends in turn, on the time of the day. So, if you are breezing down Mount Road at 4 in the morning as I was today, none of the road signs and posters will make any sense to you. For instance a bald man in a three-piece suit seemed to be asking me if I wanted to speak better English and before I could find out what scheme he had in mind for me, the view was replaced by a poster inviting me to attend a play called The World Is..something or the other, someday sometime...I couldn't really finish reading. Barrelling down the road, I also saw the LED display on the traffic light advising me that "...shifting saves upto 20%...", and the number 22 was blinking atop the red light, which as I sped past it suddenly became 21 for no apparent reason.

Madras doesn't make sense at 80 kmph.

I saw a dead dog on the road. From a distance, it seemed like someone had dropped a doormat in the middle of the road but when I went closer, it was obvious that it was a dog. At least, it once had been. Now it was a doormat in the middle of the road. A stinking doormat in the middle of the road. Then I realised the stench might carry deadly viruses that could give me some lethal disease. Then I thought about it, and I realised since it was 4 AM and I was standing in the exact same spot on the road where just a few hours ago an agile four-legged wild carnivore had been run over by a speeding truck, maybe catching a cold was not my biggest problem.


You are so easily entertained, aren't you?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Strike One

When I was in the first standard, I had a huge crush on a girl called Shilpa. She was in the 12th standard, so that made her 17 years old. She had beautiful green eyes and was the star athlete of the school and the class topper. Her father was a doctor and he had a Premier Padmini, I remember. I wanted to marry Shilpa. I was 5 years old and I was in hopelessly in love! There was nothing like it, please believe me! In all my five years of life I had never known such poignant suffering. It was amazing. It was heartbreaking!

She had a boyfriend, I vividly remember. And I also remember wanting to inspect the colour of his small intestine. I dont think she even noticed me ever. Or how much I cried when she had to leave school. She was truly my first love... But that was so long ago. That was in another lifetime...

Twenty years seem to have passed in a heartbeat. If she even remembers me to this day, I'm sure her memories of me would be only that of a tiny boy with broken teeth and ruffled hair staring at her from a distance, hiding behind his math notebook, pretending to read, hoping she wouldn't notice. And in my memories, she is always ravishingly beautiful and always green eyed and always walking away from me. And there is a mocking laughter even in her wake.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sod Off !

I hate you.

Every morning I make my way through corridors lined with people poring over page 3 celebrity gossip, walking in a line like little red ants, making plans to watch the movie next weekend, sending each other forwarded emails with pictures of manicured lawns and amusement parks. Ayurvedic spas and honeymoon destinations. Obedient little ants. How I wish you could see what you look like when you all line up in front of the coffee vending machine when the clock strikes 11, like monkeys in some space experiment. Globalifuckingsation. The triumph of the Mob over the Individual. The next great revolution of stupor and cerebral degradation. A world ruled by greedy swine. They are everywhere - in lobbies, in offices, in cities... At nights I see them coming out of every hole in the wall; hungry cockroaches pouring out of ventilator ducts and manhole covers, crawling out tin cans and crowding the streets, tripping and falling over one another as they try to climb up your legs, making it difficult to breathe. I wake up in a cold sweat, gasping.

Bloodshot eyes.

How many animals have to be slaughtered to keep you clothed and well fed? How much grains and starch, and animal carcasses and birds with their wings flapping, have to be flung into the furnace that is your metabolism? All to feed the enormous beast whose sole occupation is to stare dead ahead with a blank face and a mouth gaping wide open. I hope you meet them one day - the animals you tortured and murdered to appease your hunger. I hope they come back to haunt you in your afterlife. Your forwarded emails, little trinkets, junk beads and toy rifles. How your eyes light up when you see those little patterns of snakes and ladders, you sneaky little morons. Patterns that are simple and easy to remember. A mind obsessed with trivia. To me, you are the lowest form of life. A degree of survival that is lower than bacteria, rolling in slime, wading in putrefied sludge, unaware that the filth it is eating is its own. You are a slave. Of your life and your job and your career. You are nothing more than a common slave. Push a button, Get a treat and do your worthless bit for a multibillion dollar corporate cause you neither know nor understand. You are the worst kind of slave - one who doesn't even know he's a slave. And that's why no revolution can ever touch you; no act of defiance can ever ignite a spark in your catatonic mind, because you truly believe you are secure.

You disgusting, impeccable slaves!

You marry. You get a raise. You buy a house. This is your life. You will live in the one of the thousand featureless suburban colonies. This is all your sad life will ever amount to. I hope for your sake you die lying face down in a gutter somewhere, in a pool of blood and shattered teeth, choking on your own bile and vomit. I hope for your sake.

See you in hell.

(No more caffeine, I promise.)

Monday, November 10, 2008


Whenever I visit a barber, no matter where, I am told to use hair conditioner. Dozens of hair-dressers over the years have told me that my hair is brittle and it needs conditioning. But you see, no matter what you say I am not going to use cosmetics. I don’t use hair conditioner for the same reason that kangaroos don’t read newspapers. How can I explain? If trees don't wear lipstick and polar bears don't use vaseline, what in God's name do I need a conditioner for?

It’s a funny thing - if you give a monkey a typewriter and a million years, it might be able to type out a manuscript of Henry VIII. Give it a tube of hair gel and it might figure out that it will make its hair sticky and stand on end, but it can’t for the love of god work out just what is to be gained by doing that to one’s hair and why anyone in the world would want to do it! So the hair gel is the hair conditioner, the laws of statistics and probability are the same and I am a monkey… See where I am going with this?

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Highwaystar

The scorching sun beats down on your shoulders and on the road, vapourising bitumen and making the road ahead and the hypnotising terrain look vaguely hazy. A blast of sand and black smoke hits your face as a truck speeds by. The blurry tarmac buzzing below the footrest is your only measure of speed. The wind blowing on your face brings tears to your eyes and dries your lips. Your head hums with the roar of the engine.

You see milestones rush past faster than you can count. Only then do you realise that the road and the terrain have entranced you so much and that you have grown so used to your bike's vibrations and noises that you are lulled into a dreamy, yet conscious sleep that your thought process has slowed down and your reactions are delayed, yet somehow strangely and deliciously in perfect harmony with the nature, the wind and the clouds.

On a subconscious plane, even when you are riding, you are sensitive to the fact that your motorcycle is your best friend, and that it will never get angry at you or shout at you or ignore you and ridicule you. You develop an almost human relationship with your motorcycle and care for it more than for yourself, at times.

Did you run out of fuel? There was definitely a momentary lapse now as the engine missed a beat, but it reassuringly surges back to life and keeps going. That was probably just the plug misfiring, or maybe a drop of condensation in the carburetor. Your mind dwells on this for a fraction of a second and then moves on... Or maybe the bike just voiced its protest in a way that only someone who truly understands his bike on a spiritual plane can comprehend.

The landscape is plain and devoid any striking features. Nothing seems to be moving in your vibrating rearview mirror, except the blurry horizon, which seems to be going further and further behind with every turn of the crankshaft. A piece of forged metal powers your bike and thoughts as you escape from the immediate past and apprehend about your distant future.

As you finally kill the engine and get off the motorcycle, the landscapes you saw are still playing again and again in your head and even if you close your eyes, you cannot shut it off. The engine isn’t running now, but your ears are ringing. This is going to take a while to wear off. The motorcycle still seems to be throbbing with life. Maybe its your imagination. But you hope its not...

The bike feels strangely peaceful and silent after hours and hours of spine shattering violence.

Your back is sore. Your hands are aching. Your palms are raw. Your eyes are red; your shirt is covered with grime and dust. So is your face. Your legs are cramped from too much riding and dehydration. Your backside is so numb you don't remember the last time you felt it alive. You are so exhausted you just want to crash and sleep for days on end. Yet, this is a feeling you would trade for nothing in the world, because you recognise it for what it is. You are filled with a feeling of tranquility and immense self satisfaction. You are filled with a sense of fulfillment that can only be compared to what you feel when you have reached a mountain top after hours of back breaking climb or when you have just finished listening to divine music. You are at peace with yourself and strangely detached from the rest of humanity.

You recognise it for what it is.

Motorcycling Nirvana.

Friday, October 31, 2008

On fishing

I feel sorry for fishermen who spend years and years fishing, without knowing that it’s not the fish they are after. To call fishing an occupation or a sport would be to not understand that it is much more than just that. Fishing is not a job or a recreational activity. Fishing is not even about the fish. It represents the biggest human addiction – Hope.

A lonely angler sitting meditatively with a fishing rod on a boat in the middle of a peaceful lake, with the line in the water is not the most exciting sight. But that’s missing the point. There is a lot more going on just beneath the surface. Fishing is a mind game. It’s a marathon battle between the fish and the man. It involves great deception, guile, trickery and imagination. But you don’t see that. You only see the angler cradling a motionless line in a still lake. You don’t see the enormous living constellation swirling and swooshing under the calm surface. You don’t see the countless layers and planes and currents being worked out in the mind of the man. It is an epic battle of survival played out in a deceptively motionless environment, and it is all played out in the mind. A good fisherman reads into the mind of the victim.

I’m not talking about commercial trawling here. Taking a 70 metre trawler into the middle of the ocean and hauling aboard thirty-five tones of salmon – that’s not fishing. That is taking a bulldozer to a brain surgery.

Fishing is a game of chess. You don’t just catch fish. Novices catch fish. Real fishermen reap fish. There is no luck or chance involved in it. The catch is the reward for tough mental exertion. So is defeat. It is a reward. Only a true fisherman can see that. Fishing is not about the fish at all. It is a state of mind. It’s the attention to detail, it is instinct paired with imagination. It is a mystical game of possibilities; an enquiry into circumstances. It is chaos theory. The water is not a dull, featureless expanse, but it is a living thing. It is a delightful world full of treasures and riches. It is constantly moving and changing, like there is electricity in it. The fish too, are as fickle and transient as the magical sphere they call home.

You are the stranger. You are the one sitting outside their world, on its roof. You are the piece that doesn’t fit; the awful intrusion in what is otherwise a picture of harmony. A true fisherman never wonders about the one that got away, and knows that, in another world somewhere, a fish would have extended him the same courtesy.

All you see is line going into the water, and your reflection on its calm surface. But who knows what treasures or dangers lurk on the other side of the mirror? What is joined to the line on the other end is limited only by your imagination. It is whatever you imagine it to be, till the instant you reel in the line and make it real, and bring it out into this side of the mirror. Into your world.
It’s not about the fish. There is never a dull moment while fishing. It is a glorious drama involving two mortal beings connected to each other by a fragile thread- one weak and frail and the other strong and powerful. The weak one waits patiently with guile and cunning for the other to take the bait and thrash around for his life. It is the quintessential philosophical conflict. It is mind versus matter.

On Chopsticks

One of my greatest regrets is that I’ve never quite learned to eat with chopsticks. I guess it’s because no one has ever guided me properly on the matter of chopstick handling, but I’m sure it’s because I really can’t be bothered.

In my motorcycling circle, they speak of a Japanese mechanic who once had to replace a worn camshaft on a motorcycle. Now these shafts have a pattern of grooves on them, in which oil is carried around from the galleries to lubricate and cool the valves. In the old shaft, these grooves were worn out. So this mechanic mounted the old shaft on a fast turning lathe and poured molten steel on it straight from a furnace. He then quenched it by plunging it into oil at room temperature, to relieve it of internal stresses and give it more tensile strength. He then copied the groove pattern from a new shaft by making an imprint on a sheet of translucent paper using kohl, and then cut the pattern on the old shaft, turning it back within a micrometer of its old dimension.

It is an awesome story, and the whole painstaking exercise was hard, laborious and incredibly stupid, because it cost him Rs.850. And a brand new shaft is worth Rs.800.

In a list of Japanese inventions posted on the internet, there was a device that you’d have to strap on to your hat right below your ear and when its electrodes sensed a sneeze coming, it would automatically dispense a paper napkin right in front of your nose. Although why anyone familiar with the concept of handkerchiefs and pockets would go so far as to wear a hat and strap on a heavy and embarrassing apparatus still puzzles me.

Most Japanese people want trees in their homes. Most Indians do, too. That is why most Indian homes have Neem trees growing right in the center. But the average Japanese house is only 110 sq.ft in area, and there are about a gazillion houses in Tokyo alone. There isn’t enough room for two medium sized people, leave alone a tree. Faced with such circumstances, an average Indian would have done the sensible thing – chop down all the trees in the neighbourhood and forget the matter. But the Japanese? No. They had to wire, prune and file trees down to miniature sizes, and carry them around in little pots! Looking at a giant sequoia tree, would the average Neanderthal man have ever thought “Hmmm, I’d like a pocket sized version of that on my study desk”? No. Because the average Neanderthal man did not have study desks. The average Japanese Neanderthal man on the other hand not only had a study desk, he also had a palmtop on it which was connected through Wi-Fi to Honda solar powered DNA robots which were presently mowing his lawn. And he was already trying to decide whether to name the miniature invention Bonsai or Hentai.

See, that’s the thing with the Japanese. They want a smaller version of everything. When everything has become small, they’d then want smaller versions of the smaller things. They will take the smallest and simplest task and computerize the living daylights out of it and make it unwieldy. They can go to any lengths to do that. Believe me. The entire western civilization (west of Japan that is) is founded on the basic principle of making things easier. But the Japanese want to make things more complex. They just don’t understand the concept of too much trouble. Nothing is ever too much trouble for them.

Maybe that explains why they use chopsticks to eat rice. If there is a simpler way of doing things, the Japanese will NOT accept it. I mean, how else would you explain it? It’s not like they have not seen the spoon. They have. So they can’t even pretend as though they don’t know about the spoon and plead ignorance. No. The only other logical reasons that explain the continuing use of chopsticks are a) lack of greens in Japanese food and b) a huge mafia funded chopstick production industry. One look at the technological innovations coming out of Japan is enough to throw the lack-of-greens theory out of the window (Though it is still a mystery why a nation of such keen scientists cannot spot the one blaring intellectual anomaly in an otherwise flawless topography). Sadly, we have to live with the pitiless burden of proof, and hence a mafia-funded-chopstick-industry theory doesn’t hold water, either.

So, I think my theory stands unchallenged. I have finally solved the age-old riddle. I’ve cracked the code. In evolution terms, this is the equivalent of deducing the reasons for the extinction of the Galapagos apple snail. I deserve some award for this, surely. (I don’t know if there is such a thing as a Galapagos apple snail. I made that up.)

See, you can place a chopstick next to a spoon and crack all the witty jokes you want till the cows come home, but remember, in Japan, they are making just as many jokes about you and your spoon. You will never understand it, because you don’t understand their culture, and because their jokes are in Japanese.

That brings me to the question that has been gnawing at my mind ever since I began thinking about Japanese culture. If the Japanese go to such elaborate lengths to make things as complex as possible, why do they eat fish raw? So is Sushi really an Australian invention?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On Global Warming

These days I find myself worrying a lot about matters of global importance. Climate change for instance, I feel is too important an issue to be left to scientists and politicians. All that you see on the TV and hear on the news about global warming is what the politicians want you to see and hear. And the solutions that they promote may not exactly solve the problem. So, what is required here is a dry, scientific analysis of the situation.

Let us understand the phenomenon of global warming. In a nutshell, there is a layer of various gases around the earth called the "atmosphere". Carbon-dioxide is an important component of this "atmosphere" because it traps the heat from the sunlight and keeps the planet warm. But having too much Carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere is no good, because then the planet would get too hot. Consequently, the polar ice-caps and glaciers would melt, causing the sea levels to rise. This means some of the coastal places and islands would submerge in water. And polar bears would die.

This is exactly what is happening in the world today. Due to some reason, the sunlight trapped in the atmosphere is not able to escape back into space. And that is causing a lot of worry.

First, let us get a few basic things straight.
More Carbon-dioxide is bad.
Furry animals are good. We want more of those.
More water is bad.
Trees are good.
Heat is bad. We don't want any more warmth.
More land can be good or bad, depending on which side of the Norwegian Sea we are talking about.

All that remains now is to tie up the equation neatly.

The amount of carbon present in the world is more or less constant. The forms in which it is present vary greatly over time. Till a hundred years back, there was a lot of carbon trapped in the soil in the form of coal and petroleum. But over the years, it has been dug out and burnt up, and as a result it has been converted to gaseous form. It is this gaseous form which is harmful to the planet. As long as the carbon is in liquid or solid state, all is fine. But when more and more carbon is released into the atmosphere from the soil, it starts to be a nuisance.

A good plan to cool down the planet should also deal with the problem of carbon sequestration; that is conversion and storage of carbon dioxide in liquid or solid form, thus driving down the CO2 level in the atmosphere. So anything that converts the gaseous CO2 into liquid or solid form is good. Oceans, for instance. Carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean water to form carbonic acid. Thus oceans help to clean up the atmosphere by condensing the carbon into a liquid form. Carbon dioxide reacts with calcium oxide to form limestone deposits. Amines react with carbon dioxide to form solid ammonium salt crystals. Trees use up CO2 to make chlorophyll in a process called photosynthesis.

Fact #1. Forests are good carbon sinks. They store carbon in a solid form (trees). But trees themselves are carbon neutral. That is to say, they do NOT actively clean up the atmosphere. Whatever CO2 they use up in photosynthesis, they return to the atmosphere by means of respiration, anaerobic decomposition and forest fires. So, a tree is just about as effective at cooling down the earth as furniture made from it, because both are merely carbon sinks. Human beings too are carbon sinks. A 100 kg man is equivalent to 66 kg of sequestered CO2. So having more human beings on the planet would mean lesser equivalent CO2 in the atmosphere. (But the disadvantages of having more human beings far outweigh the benefits. So let us ignore that option for a while.) Decaying animals and plants emit methane and carbon dioxide, which contribute to global warming. So why don't we seal off dead organic matter in airtight concrete blocks and bury them in the bottom of the ocean where it won't trouble anyone. More carbon sinks.

So the idea is to have less carbon floating about in the air, which means fewer solar rays would be trapped. That would cool down the earth. There are other ways of cooling the earth, too. I was about to suggest attaching huge cooling fins to the earth, but in the interest of practical science, I won't.

Then there is all this hype about having more Green buildings. Though I am not entirely opposed to the idea, I do think that green is a rather tasteless colour for a building. I prefer lighter shades of grey or beige. But then that's just me.

Our problem is not drowning baby seals or submerging coastlines. Those are just the symptoms of the problem. The actual problem is that there is too much water in the world. Again, the extra water wasn't brought by aliens from outer space. Like carbon, it has always been present on the earth for millions of years. But what is worrying is that recently, it has started moving about. That is the real problem. Too much water let loose in the wrong places. That is to say, your real problem is not the children tripping over in the balcony or the foul smell in the house. It is the dead cow in your front yard. So we need to find a place to store the extra water drained by melting glaciers. In other words, where on earth can you hide a large glacier without anyone noticing it? Think... Water tables. There is water at atmospheric pressure under the ground in most places. It is known as the water table. But in deserts and arid regions, the water table is so low that even deep rooted plants cannot reach it. So there you are. Sweep the glaciers elegantly under the carpet. What's more, it fits like a jigsaw. Fill up the desert water tables with desalinated water. Use the melting glaciers to replenish the ground water in arid areas. Use it to make deserts more fertile. Use it to solve the portable water crisis of the third world. We'd have solved the global warming and drinking water crises of the third world in one fell swoop.

Place huge silica gel slabs in the middle of the desert, which soak up humidity from the atmosphere. Or just dip silica gel cubes in the ocean and throw them in the Sahara desert. If you store enough water to compensate for a glacier's melting and flowing into the Atlantic, it would be the algebraic equivalent of depositing a glacier in the middle of the desert. The net sea level therefore remains the same.

Fact #2. Methane is 72 times more effective than CO2 in trapping solar radiation. This means that one litre of methane will have the same effect on global warming as 72 litres of CO2.

A 1.8L petrol engine with a compression ratio of around 10 running at 3000 rpm will emit 90 litres of carbon-dioxide at a temperature of 900C, which is roughly equal to 54 grams of CO2 every minute. A cow releases 500 litres of methane into the atmosphere every day. That is an equivalent of 495 grams of methane at 1013Pa. Since methane is 72 times more effective than CO2 at trapping solar heat, a car would have to run for 660 minutes a day to match a cow. At 3000 rpm that would anywhere between 330 to 935 kilometres a day, depending on the gearing ratio and traffic density. And I am talking about the crudest of internal combustion engines - not the modern DOHC VTEC units with 5 valves per cylinder and twin spark plugs, with catalytic convertors attached to the exhaust - Those would produce even lesser CO2 than a butterfly breathing, and would be embarrassingly inferior to the average water buffalo in terms of greenhouse gas production.

(Are you even paying attention?!)

So, in what way is it fair to ask car owners to pay a green-tax and expect their vehicles to clear a Pollution-Under-Control test, and give tax concessions to farmers and livestock owners? Shouldn't cattle-owners be taxed 72 times more? Shouldn't cows and sheep pass flatulence-under-control tests? It is clear that we are ruled by a government which is more concerned about appearing to be environment-friendly than actually doing something about the climate situation, and doesn't want to lose favour with the large farmer vote-bank. So, we are required to pay taxes on motor vehicles. But if you really think about it, how can you stop a glacier melting by paying money to the government? How can you solve a climate change problem by throwing money at it? It's a bit like trying to stop the phone ringing by screaming at it.

Paying green-tax only makes the government richer. And the only question it will answer is what colour the leather seats in the MP's next premium car should be. It should stop.

Methane is more dangerous than Carbon-dioxide. It also reacts with steam to form methanol, which is a hygroscopic substance. That is to say, it absorbs water. So, methane from cows can be made into methanol, which can be used in place of silica gel in the deserts to soak up the extra water. So there is less methane in the atmosphere, less water in the north seas and more water in the deserts. Three birds with one stone. I am not talking about 2p savings here. I am talking about removing huge chunks off the carbon score-sheet. The kind that will set us back 5 to 10 years in the greenhouse timeline. Polar bears are good. Plastic is bad. Plainly, what we need are genetically engineered polar bears which eat plastic. That ties up the equation perfectly. That's the kind of innovation we want to see.

The problem essentially is that there is a thick layer of carbon-dioxide covering the earth which is trapping the solar radiation. What we really need is a... "hole"... in this carbon-dioxide layer through which heat can escape to outer space.


er....I think we can easily manage to do that. We have accomplished something similar before.

Fact #3. Melting icebergs DO NOT increase sea levels. Icebergs are chunks of ice floating in water. The reason why ice floats in water is because it is less dense than water. One litre of ice weighs less than one litre of water. So, when floating ice melts, its density increases and it occupies lesser volume. Water is densest at 4 degrees above zero. So, the sea levels would decrease as icebergs melt.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

The idiocy of our ways - Part I of many

The absolute last thing my caffeine addled mind needed to hear on a depressing Thursday morning was a pseudo-scientific tabloid article written by a two-bit Dutch researcher telling me not to use the car or light bulbs.

Now there is a point when a news item becomes less valuable than the paper it is printed on. Thanks to the cries of wolf by paranoid alarmists and attention seeking news channels, Global climate change and health warnings are rapidly becoming a shameful waste of recycled paper and ink.

We have endured two World wars, great economic depressions, millennium bugs, terrorist attacks, revolutions, floods, plagues and assassinations. The Mona Lisa was stolen, the Titanic sunk, the president of the United States of America was shot dead, trains were robbed, atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, volcanoes erupted and tsunamis struck and yet we survived.

Every day we are told about new ways in which we are going to die. We'd die of credit crunch in global markets, we'd be run over by melting glaciers, asteroids falling through the ozone hole. We are told that very soon space travel will be banned because we are littering Neptune's third satellite and polluting the outer rings of the solar system with our nuclear waste. We would also die of nuclear warfare brought upon each other by countries fighting for freedom, total world dominance and advertising space on the moon.

I have played football on muddy playgrounds in pouring rain, gone swimming in rivers, played with stray cats on the road, had motorcycle accidents, not worn a helmet, chewed on tin foil, climbed trees, fallen off walls, eaten sugar and butter, been out in the moonlight, been electrocuted, had contagious tropical diseases and not eaten fruits and green leafy vegetables...yet I don't remember having died.

But if today's edition of TOI were to be believed, if I leave the light bulb on, polar ice shelves would shrivel down, causing the entire north pole to be submerged in water, and Cairo being the northernmost remaining place on earth would be inhabited by refugee polar bears, which would then die of depression when they hear about the state of the global financial markets and rising crude oil prices, and the vanishing Brazilian rainforests would expose the Amazonian Tree Frog to harmful ultraviolet radiation which would burn cloud patterns on its skin, and this would push the dejected environmentalists to commit suicide by talking on cell phones while travelling above the city speed limit in cars without seat belts and sub-standard crumple zones, which would in turn leave the loggerhead sea turtle to fend for itself in a dangerous world fraught with life threatening, hazardous chemicals like coke, fried potatoes and cholesterol, and the lucky ones that escaped the gruesome death caused by eating Asian bird meat and passive smoking would quickly die due to a large black hole produced by a tubelight in a physics lab.

I don't remember a time when the world wasn't heading towards disaster. Every day there is a new evil that will end the world, killing us all. Every day there is something new to panic about. There is danger lurking in every household on every highway in every corner. Every day the same news channels find something new to keep us glued to the screens. If the world indeed was going to end because of a breakaway comet or because of magnetic cloud storms in the sun, just what the bloody hell are we supposed to do about it? Why do news channels keep haranguing about something that we can do nothing about? The world is going to end, so what can we do now? Finish dinner quickly? Lock the doors?

It's about as useful as the announcements made by the captain on a plane.

"We are now cruising at 690 knots at an altitude of 28,000 feet above mean sea level."
("What?! Did you say 690?! Jeez, that’s slow! I know birds that can fly faster than that! Step on it, man! Come on now...chop chop! And I'm gonna take a short nap now, okay? Wake me up when we reach 31,640 feet, will you? There is something rather important I have to do...")

That's not the only amusing thing, though. People who make doomsday predictions seem to do it in all earnest. They seem solemn and serious about it. Which if you think about it, is quite fair because a statement predicting the end of the world is usually not followed by sniggering. It is a statement of impending, inevitable doom. It is not funny or heroic. It is a grave declaration. And as declarations go, it is not open to debate or discussion. And that makes the situation a little tricky because there can be no dignified exit from it. If the world does not end on the said date, there is no way they can worm their way out of the ensuing embarrassment. The only way they can make a graceful exit from the situation is if the world really does end. And that's a shame really, because there would be no one left to appreciate the face-saving act. They never get to say "I told you so" to anyone.

And that makes it the most thankless job in the world.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Fury

There are things that make me want to grab the largest and sharpest axe I can find and bury it in the head of the first smug wannabe urban techie "specialist" self-righteous idiot that I come across.

What was that again, hair gel for your eyebrows? Taking personal grooming to a whole new level, are we? What dimension are you from? Do me a favour and die.

Man has travelled to space, built machines that recreate the birth of the Universe, explained gravitation and magnetism...yet look at the sort of things excite you: The latest mobile phone ring tones, a hundred pictures of tea cups, nostrils and office desks, all clicked at different times and with subtle variations of angle, bus schedules, mindless two-bit TV serials, this-or-that celebrity gossip. You disgust me. You, with your conditioner lotions and your iPods, your shop-to-earn $2.99 referrals, your pseudo-masculine plastic motorbikes and tupperware lunchboxes, earphones, cheesy handbags, office politics, streaked hair and plastic watches, you disgust me. All you plastic dolls with the same deadpan expression on your faces every day of the week, week after week, listlessly marching in a row towards the huge pyramid of slavery to the great monotonous drumbeat of obedience and prostrating under a God who is rumoured to be. All with the same mobile phones but each with a different ringtone that somehow makes you feel clever and special, and somehow gives you a unique place in the Universe and makes you irreplaceable. And how you smugly pat yourself on the back for it, you ignorant, misinformed, servile morons! Your slavish love for forwarded emails with pretty pictures of cute babies, furry animals and exotic places, glimpses of a life you've never had but you wish you had and know you can never have. You are pathetic. Pathetic. You are all the same. Sod off, you sleazy rat-faced scumbags. You, with your delusions of adequacy; I tell you, you can never be truly liberated until you have seen failure, starvation, neglect, filth and decay. Get out of your boxes, go out and see dying things. Rotting, foul smelling, gangrenous flesh. You don't become cool by having a goatee or wearing sunglasses, you shallow dunderheads. You will live a wretched life and you will grow old and die and decay and be eaten by worms, like everybody else. Be miserable, poor, damp and wretched. Die with an abject sense of failure and purposelessness. You will all inevitably perish one day, like a hundred million fruitflies, all rotting in a huge squishy pile of garbage, decaying in a squalid, organic soup of human waste.

Get on with it, get a real life, you wretched morons. Whatever. Just go away. You make me sick.

I feel I'm plastered onto the walls of a hexagonal pyramid, and when it rains, I'll flow down the stairs like synthetic oil and seep into the ground and never be seen or heard from again. I dont like where I'm coming from, but I like where I am going. This is madness, I swear!


Trembling fingers, utter madness.

No more caffiene. I promise.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Identify the bomb from among the following pictures.

Wrong, it’s the one in the second picture. So tell me, if I had to smuggle both of them into my office, which one would more likely be retained at the security desk in the suspicious-looking-items tray?

You can safely say that these are the average security guards in an average office complex in India. Do you know what the problem is with these guys? They probably think a bomb is a cylindrical tube with red, blue and yellow wires sticking out of it, garnished with a huge beeping, Casio style countdown timer, or a clock.

Really, how prepared is he to deal with a possible terrorist attack? Can he identify and disarm a bomb if he sees one? I am sure not. That raises the question; if they cannot do a thorough job why even bother doing it? Whom are they kidding? They look like a bunch of pathetic movie extras from the 70s, and can stop a terror attack as effectively as a couple of ducks can stop a hurricane.

Terrorists are usually trained on the rugged slopes of the Hindukush Mountains in the science of weaponry. These guys can assemble and take apart the most advanced explosive devices blindfolded. These bombs would then have been smuggled carefully across the border and meticulously assembled in carefully chosen old sheds where central intelligence with their trained sniffer dogs could not locate them. If such a terrorist really made his way to one of the fancy IT buildings armed with the latest in detonative charge technology with the intention of setting it off, guess who is going to stop him? A couple of high school drop-outs loitering around in the lobby in a ridiculous costume, cradling ancient weapons from the sepoy mutiny, a bunch of clueless morons who cannot tell an alarm clock from an RDX explosive device. A couple of guys suffering from a mid-life crisis and heavy obesity while sipping tea from a styrofoam cup and gossiping about the latest Vijay movie. Just how on earth are they going to deter a terrorist mastermind? You might as well have a scarecrow and a sack of potatoes at the gate.

The security rules for entry into IT office buildings were written by singularly the dumbest bunch of blockheaded cows you can ever see. You cannot carry an empty CD past the desk without signing a dozen forms and declarations, but they would let a kangaroo through if it was wearing a badge, with its face as much as drawn on it.

I'm the first to acknowledge the ability of utter stupidity in stumbling upon things that have been overlooked by meticulous scientific examination. History is fraught with examples. The Archimedes principle, Gravitation, Pluto, Radioactivity, America – all discovered by bumbling idiots who weren’t looking for them...So, it would hardly be surprising if a security guard accidentally discovered an explosive device in a bag. But more importantly, what happens next? What can he do with it, apart from holding it like he was holding a baby which had soiled its diapers? He can only report the “find” to the chief security guard. But even the chief security guard would appear like a Neanderthal man gawking at a mobile phone. Now, the cold, professional terrorist is not going to be terribly pleased with this. So, he will now open his jacket to reveal that he is armed to the teeth and will, after careful consideration, select a weapon from the vast array on his person. Finding themselves in a completely new situation, the other security guards would freeze in their tracks, unsure of what to do next. They will then start running helter-skelter like headless chicken because it’s the most natural thing to do in the situation. Also because they have no weapons to defend themselves with, let alone protect anyone.

What is needed in a situation like this is not some half-hearted attempt at "security". What you really need are modern techniques of bomb detection and disposal. Electromagnetic digital mapping sensors and metal detectors, remote operated bomb disposal robots, trained sniffer Alsatians, electronic jamming systems, surveillance cameras, radio control units, radars and satellite links. Explosive Ordnance Disposal experts with flame and fragmentation resistant Kevlar suits and carbon-fibre helmets. Legions of black cat commandoes with AK-47 assault rifles prowling around in the campus with their semi-automatic M4 carbines, grenade launchers and sub-machine guns. Tactically placed military snipers with range-finders and night-vision goggles. Howitzers, anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns. Helicopter gunships with air-to-surface missiles, and fighter jets armed with thermonuclear warheads.

Either that or nothing. You cannot have a security team that is “reasonably” effective against terrorists. It’s like wearing a life jacket that can reasonably prevent you from drowning – it just doesn’t work that way.

Bet u a hundred bucks you cant carry this into your office... (its an alarm clock, check it out on e-bay)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why I will not forget the 2008 Italian GP...

It was a sensational win in treacherous conditions for Sebastian Vettel and Scuderia Torro Rosso. But those who have been following F1 for a while will know that before the team became STR, it was known as Minardi. And it was not new to the F1 scene. In fact Minardi entered F1 in 1985, and the first Minardi racer was built as early as in 1979. F1 has, in recent days gone to deserts and Asian nightclubs. But till it was sold to Red Bull in 2005, Minardi was a relic from the past, a nostalgic reminder from a more civilised age. It was probably one of the last surviving traditional fixtures on the F1 calendar. It reminded you of Monza or Silverstone; worn down and unglamorous, but it made you feel at home. A bit like old wallpaper.

Not many would know that the first Minardi racer was evolved from a 1975 championship-winning Ferrari F1 car which was lent to them by the great Enzo Ferrari himself, or that it was a Lamborghini V12 that powered the Minardi in the 1992 season. But even a casual F1 fan would recognise some of the driving talent that Minardi has churned out over the years - Alessandro Nannini, Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Trulli, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Jos "the boss" Verstappen (who over the years didn't entertain us as much with his driving skills as with spectacular crashes...)

Yet they never had the multimillion dollar corporate culture. They were a bunch of grease monkeys who assembled their car with worn out spanners in an old shed and went racing week after week. For 23 years they chased success, in vain. Always at the back of the grid. Always called the minnows. They never had the funding or the manpower that even the midfield teams enjoyed, yet they raced with passion and commitment. They did not care a toss about money or sponsorship. They were happy to just be there, just performing at the pinnacle of motor racing. Such was their motivation. Nuvolari would have nodded his head in appreciation. Ferrari did. In an age where drivers and teams fight in court over the points left over from the previous race and accuse each other of spying and foul play, Minardi were the among the last of the true racers.

Perhaps it was fitting that their first ever win came with Ferrari V8 power at Monza, the spiritual home of the Italian Ferrari fans, not far from their own HQ. This may never be achieved again. This may go down in history as Minardi's first and only win. Many years down the line, old Franz Tost may look up at the lone trophy in admiration, sitting alone in his drab Italian villa, and close his eyes to relive the glory and celebrations of that memorable September noon when Vettel sprayed champagne on the podium for the first ever time for Minardi, having beat all other cars on the grid, having led and won the race from pole position on pure merit. Its a moment that will be frozen in time.

Sebastian Vettel. He is not the first "raw, natural talent" seen in the past decade. Juan Pablo Montoya, Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso were all championship material, but were not exactly in the Senna/Schumacher/Gilles Villeneuve mould. It remains to be seen whether Vettel fulfils the promise.

I believe that Formula One should stick to the traditional circuits: Monza, Spa, Monaco, Silverstone, San Marino, Nurburgring, Montreal, Hockenheim and Interlagos. Maybe Estoril, too. The forest sections of Hockenheim and Nurburgring should be reopened. V12 engines and slick tyres should be allowed again. Michael Schumacher should drive for Ferrari and he should win all the races till the end of time. McLaren and Williams should fight it out for 2nd place. Lotus, Audi, Maserati, Tyrrell, Porsche and BRM should start racing again. And Minardi should win once in a while, even if the corporate prize money goes to Torro Rosso.

But none of these is the reason why I'll remember the Italian GP for a long time. Actually, it is because it was after a really long time that the German and Italian national anthems were played on the podium in succession

Thursday, August 28, 2008

In defence of the dark knight

This is the Altar of Zeus in Pergamon, Turkey.

It is a huge stone structure built in the 2nd century BC by Eumenes II to commemorate his father's victory over the Gauls. The sculptures on the walls of the altar depict the battle of Gods against the demons - A combat of Good and the Evil, Order versus Chaos. Light against Dark. They were meant, at that time, to represent a classic victory of righteousness over the dark forces of immorality. A heroic struggle, in whose tragic aftermath Eumenes was brutally assassinated at Delphi in 172 BCE. In that age, the Altar was a political symbol. It still is, if you have the right kind of vision, more than just a tool for political propaganda. It is a relic from a Godless age which signifies an attempt by the ancient ruling classes to reassure the people that Gods did exist and that they would protect them against the barbarians.

But look at the building itself. It is hardly awe-inspiring. It is no Taj Mahal or Great Pyramid. Some IT office-parks in India are better looking than this, you'd say. But to truly understand a symbol, you have to understand its context. Look beneath the skin. Tear down the facade and examine the skeleton.

It is so easy to miss the point if you aren't looking for it.

The Dark Knight is essentially a superhero movie. That's what it is. A superhero story told with the aid of breathtaking visual aids. And like all superhero stories, it is a conflict between good and evil. So what's different this time?

For starters, this movie deals with issues on a much higher plane. It recognises issues of varying and incredible complexity such as the importance of morality and values in society. It deals the choices people make and the consequences they suffer. The various characters could just have been voices in your head, representing courses of action available to you at any instant. The best thing about this movie for me is that it does not preach Goodness. Nor does it condemn Evil. It merely plays out a debate between the two, and lets you decide. Such are the shades of complexity. It argues that there is no right or wrong. It argues that in life there is seldom a clear victory or defeat, there are only compromises. And usually the one who wins in the end is the one who can rationalise the compromises he makes. By that yardstick, would you say Good won in this movie? The Joker died of course, but did he lose? Would you excuse Harvey Dent for believing that the only morality in a cruel world is chance? Would you blame The Joker for his circumstances?

To me the appeal of a movie lies in the kind of questions it raises. Batman was vulnerable and had no super-powers. What made him a superhero is not physical strength, but the strength he showed to make the choices he made. That's exactly why Harvey Dent failed to make the cut- because one doesn't become a superhero by trusting chance. But you don't blame Harvey Dent for his circumstances. He was only human, so you sympathise with him. You root for The Joker too, because deep down inside, you root for anarchy. Deep down inside you detest rules and refuse to recognise authority, and think that the voice of anarchy cannot be intrinsically evil. The absence of order need not be a bad thing, because it is the only way towards progress. But the question is, where does that leave Batman, the good guy? He is the conservative voice of moderation. He is the anti-change. The Status-quo. He has to be the refugee. He seems to be the piece that doesn't fit when the jigsaw is complete. So he has to be cast away.

The movie did have its share of shortcomings. Harvey Dent's character development was not emphasised, Bruce Wayne in the billionare-playboy-who-wants-to-divert-attention-from-his-secret-life role looked stiff and hardly as convincing as the plot makes him out to be. But all that is trivial compared to the otherwise exceptional quality of overall cinematic delivery. I have no complaints.

So, where would you place this movie? With the other superhero movies- Spiderman, Superman and The Fantastic Four? Or in the same league as The Matrix, Godfather or Apocalypse Now?

This is serious cinema. It is not for the casual viewer. If you liked the dark knight because Heath Ledger's character was spine-chilling or because the graphics were mind blowing, you are missing the point. You liked it for the wrong reasons then. Its a bit like admiring the Communist Manifesto because you like the gothic font.

Crime is an age-old theme. The symbols used in this movie - Batman, Two-Face and The Joker aren't new either. What this movie has managed to do is take ordinary but popular themes and create a drama of epic proportions on the subject of Morality. It is the cinematic equivalent of taking a few blocks of stone, mortar and gravel and building the Altar of Zeus, an artistic symbol of timeless beauty. But then again, its so easy to miss the point

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

On the deplorable state of TV advertising

Have you seen the ads for BSNL and Tata broadband connections, in which Preity Zinta and Kajol try to convince us that their respective internet connections are the best? Kajol tells us that she uses Tata Indicom, and urges us to do the same. Obviously, Kajol's vast knowledge of xDSL technologies and frequency bandwidths easily qualify her as an expert on broadband internet connectivity. So naturally, she is the person to consult if you are looking to get a broadband connection at home. And, if you want to get a landline connection, who better to guide you than Preity, who after painstakingly analysing the merits and demerits of all the other available options in the market, has arrived at the conclusion that BSNL is the best.

Look at these mobile phone adverts. Pay special attention to the people who are using the phones being advertised. Is this what mobile phone companies think their customers look like? Maybe.


Whereas in reality, the people who actually use these mobile phones look like this:-



Why then, are normal ugly people not featured in these ads? Don't ugly people form images on negative photographic film, and hence cannot be used in photo shoots? Are mobile phone companies which use good looking models in their adverts eligible for generous tax concessions under The Income Tax Act, 1961? Are Good looking models cheaper than the bad looking ones, so it is cheaper to produce an ad with good looking faces? Are ugly people rare to find? Is it far easier and quicker to find a good looking girl instead?

Maybe the beautiful models look like and represent the targeted demographic segment for the mobile phones, and since companies are forever competing with each other to grab the biggest possible share of the market, it stands to reason that a vast majority of people in India are extremely pretty girls.

Or maybe it was pure happenstance that for a long time went unnoticed. ("Hey!! By the way, did you notice all our ads have had pretty models in them?" "Whoa! Yes!! It had absolutely slipped my attention!")

But I think its because the people in the ad agency figure that people who watch the ad think that because a good looking girl uses the phone, they should also use it. A pretty person is more persuasive than an ugly person. That should obviously be true, because the last time I checked, Priyanka Chopra had convinced more people to buy toilet soaps than Stephen Hawking had.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Groundbreaking Dutch study links overeating with obesity !!!

How many Dutch scientists do you know, or have even heard of? I can name only one - Christian Huygens, but then he was more a speculator than a scientist. When the Europeans and the Americans were busy discovering electricity, gravitation, photons, X-rays, black holes, vaccination, solar systems and automobiles, the Dutch largely remained quiet, occasionally breaking their technological silence with an odd invention like the device to slice beetroot or the paperweight. But just after the late 1980s, when the scientific community reached a more or less stable state and new inventions became increasingly hard to come by, it appeared as though we were finally exhausted from running hard in the African jungles, and had stopped for a breather only to find ourselves surrounded by cannibals armed with spears and poison darts. And just when we were staring at each other with open mouths in deathly silence, sweating, panting and without a clue as to how to escape from the awkward situation, the Dutch arrived accompanied by a loud din, crashing in sideways in a flurry of flying test tubes and slide rules, burying everyone neck deep in a pile of reseach papers. The next thing you'd expect them to do would be stand up and look around quickly, dust their coats and announce that they were alright.

The volume and quality of research output from The Netherlands has, in recent days rattled the whole scientific machinery, with such breathtaking revelations about the myriad workings of the universe as:

Friday the 13th is not unlucky.

Customers return the products that they can't use.

Children of lesbian couples are like other children.

When people play loud music, they are aware of it.

Drugs are good.

If you eat chocolate, you will live to be 140.

Drugs are good.

Even though twins look the same, they are different people.

When people don't want to quote the exact source of a stupid and obscure scientific finding, why do they always start with "Researchers in the Netherlands have found that..."? Who are these Researchers in Netherlands, and what else have they found out? Has anyone ever bothered to investigate? Do such people really exist, or are they just a stereotype? Short bespectacled men in white labcoats and miner's helmets, holding clipboards, hunched over a mouse cage, taking notes, pretending to be interested.


Look at that picture. Why do those people need labcoats, gloves, shower caps, safety glasses and gas masks to read what's written on a clipboard? Even if it was a sinister noxious-gas emitting clipboard, why is only one person wearing that gas-mask? Doesn't the older man care about his safety? Maybe he is a seasoned old veteran who has seen it all. Even if poisonous gases are emitted, does the scientist on the left really think that the flimsy piece of cloth can save him from the resulting slow and gruesome death? Why are they wearing shower caps? Because they don't want the hazardous clipboard to catch dandruff? Even if you concede that it is a fair thought, why is the man on the LEFT wearing it? He doesn't even have any hair!

Do these chimpanzees really think they can outwit the micro-organisms by wearing silly hats? Who are these people and what exactly are they doing in the picture? Are they even real scientists?

What are those clowns discussing, anyway? The effect of Korean hip-hop music on the embryo of a platypus? The correlation of a graph that links teenage pregnancy with political turmoil in Chechnya?Why do all laboratory accessories come only in white? Won't purple labcoats work just as well?

Recently a team of researchers in Netherlands found that Fluoride in drinking water increases the risk of hip fractures in women. A few months later, another study showed that the fluoridation/hip fracture link was not gender specific between high and low fluoride areas. Barely a few months later, another team from The Netherlands found that Fluoride has nothing absolutely to do with anything at all. A team of researchers studying the polar ice caps reported decreasing ice volumes. Another team of researchers studying the polar ice caps reported increasing ice volumes. Another study established that it is both increasing and decreasing. I am not kidding. The third, ground breaking study quoted "A change in one direction must be matched by a change in the opposite direction, in order to preserve physical harmony in the universe. The predicted result is that sea levels will both rise and fall, depending, of course, upon the perspective of the observer." Those are NOT my words. A scientific study found that fish oil is very beneficial for health. A Dutch study found that fish oil is not beneficial for health.

They really are kicking up some serious scientific dust in Netherlands, aren't they? (Doesn’t nether land mean hell or something?) They advise you to eat Brussels sprouts because it prevents cancer, and then they advise you against eating it because it causes DNA damage. They invent lithium batteries and Bluetooth headsets for cell phones and then warn you against the harmful effects of cell phone radiation. It always seems that research in The Netherlands is sponsored by two rival groups of corporate giants who want to prove each other's products unworthy. In fact scientific funding is so abundant in Netherlands, and the volume of research is so staggering that around 60% of the Dutch are scientists. The other 17 are drug peddlers and prostitutes.

What kind of questions do such findings answer? Who is asking those questions? What manner of scientific or intellectual thirst does it quench? Honestly, I cannot imagine the level of sheer desperation, or boredom that would drive a man towards a line of research such as that. What could it be? The belief that every other significant thing has already been discovered, and all that remains in the world to be done is establish beyond doubt that children who grow up with noisy neighbours tend to be socially inactive in their late 40s?

Please stop taking scientific research seriously. Don't believe anyone. Not especially those tarot-card readers and fortune tellers cleverly disguised as scientists in white labcoats. They are the scum of the scientific world, the disgusting creatures that live behind hinges and in dark corners. Never buy science from a person who seems to know what he is talking about. In science is sometimes wiser to trust a person who is clueless.

Seriously, if scientists hadn't fooled around with such useless research and focussed on the really important things, we might have already cured cancer, or eradicated hunger and poverty. The downside of it is that we might also have invented bigger, more powerful bombs...So maybe its good that the most resourceful minds in the world (not necessarily Dutch) are kept occupied with inventing ceramic cheese graters and talking coat-hangers. Maybe we can put off annihilation by a few more years.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Crude Oil crisis - What the US should do.

Here are a few pointers for the policy-makers in the US govt on how to deal with the oil crisis.  As I see it, the US Govt has the following options to bring down the crude-oil prices back to sustainable levels.

1) Mount a covert operation to hide away all your motor vehicles for a month. Don't allow any cars or trucks on the roads. Plant false media reports that Toyota and Honda have independently invented teleportation, and the days of the automobile are past. Plant media reports that the Japanese car manufacturing giants have patented two designs of the teleportation machine and are undercutting each other's prices. Convince the world that internal combustion engines have been declared illegal and anyone found in possession with intent to use is being shot on sight. Make sure that TV reports show empty roads and airstrips for an entire month. Since the economy of the Arab nations and a large part of the former Soviet Union and Venezuela depends on Oil exports, and with no scope for export revenue, they will soon begin to panic. In a desperate attempt to save the motorcar (and hence their economy) they will be forced to approach your Government. They will be on their knees, begging you to take away all their oil reserves in return for few sandwiches. Take ownership of their oil fields, without seeming to be too keen. When its done, bring back your cars and airplanes, and resume your normal life.

2) All this fuss is over crude oil, which is essentially fossil fuel. Buried old carcasses of animals. So, logically the only reason Middle Eastern Asia is rich in oil reserves is because at one point of time, that region was the most populated in the world. It is too late to do anything about it now, but there is still hope. You can secure energy independence for your future generations. Start by encouraging immigration. Increase your population. Promote promiscuous inbreeding. Lift job curbs on migrant workers, promote immigration. Take in refugees. Adopt the biggest refugee camps in Africa, and bring them home. Encourage obesity in schools. Lift the ban on lard. Ban exercise instead. So, finally when the world plunges into a dark ice age, 3 billion overweight people will be buried under 5 miles of snow. Maybe a million years later, you might have a slight edge over the Middle Eastern countries. It may not be much of a chance, but under given circumstances, its the best you've got. Some economists I have spoken to seem to be of opinion that for world dominance, giving yourself 1 million years may be a tad pessimistic, which brings me to my next point.

3) Invade Saudi Arabia.

And Russia. And while you are at it, annex Iran, The United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Kuwait. Bomb the living daylights out of Canada and Mexico, and kill all refugees. Kill every man, woman and child in Venezuela, Norway and China. Simultaneously, using your air strike capabilities, capture Peru, Brazil and Siberia. Alaska is already yours but bomb it anyway, just to be sure. Bomb the hell out of Bering Sea, South China Sea, Gulf of Alaska, and carpet-bomb most of the Pacific Ocean, just to mark your territory. Seeing the trail of death and destruction, Algeria and Nigeria will throw up their arms in the air and surrender without a fight. You will then have undisputed control over 59 million barrels per day of supply and over 1189 billion barrels of oil reserves, besides a lot of cheap real estate.

4) Next, confiscate all automobiles in China, UK, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Russia and India. With no cars left in the 7 largest oil importers and with no human beings left to drive them anyway, the demand for crude oil would fall to near zero levels. Finish off the steel and fertilizer plants to do a thorough job. When oil suddenly becomes so cheap, nothing will stand in the way of your economic growth. More thermal power plants will flourish, cars will become bigger and faster, more space stations will be launched, more factories will be opened, clean energy projects will become prohibitively expensive and hence will be justifiably abandoned. Forests and polar ice caps will vanish and so will the sun - behind a screen of thick black smoke, which will give the earth perfect camouflage in outer space, so wandering alien space-settlements will accidentally crash into it, and the alien spectators will think its a black hole and will dutifully follow suit, doing what is expected of them, careful not to annoy the laws of physics; thus destroying whatever is left on earth. But what is buried under an ocean of rubble is a hundred billion tonnes of decaying human carcass, which would one day form the reason for another fine political engagement, thus setting it up nicely for a sequel.

On a lighter note, my grand-uncle recently told me that he drove from Kottayam, Kerala to Madras - a distance of 700km on a tankful of diesel in his Ambassador. It cost him Rs.45 in 1971. For Rs.45 these days, you cannot even crank an engine one revolution. I wish I could tell kids 30 years later that I travelled 700 km for Rs.45, but I don't want to. I love my planet too much to let petrol remain cheap.

If there is indeed a solution to the oil crisis, it's got to be one of these. Anything else is just a compromise. You have nuclear reactors and multi billion dollar auto industry backed researches into ceramic superconductors and ultra efficient electric-hybrid-DNA cars that run on love and sunshine. Those Sheikhs have nothing, just a few pipes stuck into the ground. What chance do they have? If with all the might of your atomic energy and nuclear science you couldn't put a few camel jockeys out of business, well you're pretty much screwed.

And that's all I have to say on that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Some more things about the universe that don't make any sense to me...

1) Why do they say "the ball is in your court"? The players are not playing on different courts, are they? Shouldn't they say "the ball is in your SIDE of the court"?

2) What do they mean when they say "3 different times"? Isn't "3 times" enough to convey the message? "I lost my pen 3 different times that day", as opposed to what, 3 same times?

3) Just because you make vernacular motion pictures in a certain town in India doesn't mean you have to name it after the biggest movie industry town in the world. The name of a movie town doesn't HAVE to rhyme with Hollywood. Bollywood! Its OKAY to just call it Hindi film industry. Same goes for Tollywood and Kollywood. The Bombay stock exchange is not called BASDAQ.

4) "Walking distance" is NOT a measure of distance. How the hell long is walking distance anyway? I could walk to the north pole if I had the time.

5) If you pay Rs.100 for this -

would you pay Rs.50 for this...?

Then can butchers just point at leghorn hens in the bushes and collect 50 bucks for each?

Oxygen!!   I need Oxygen!!!!

If you want Boeing to manufacture airliners with ceramic plumbing fixtures, stay off cereal.

Hunger Strikes. I could never really get a handle on the whole concept. It seems there is nothing these days that you cannot protest against by staying hungry. Two powerful nations make a deal to exchange atomic technology in a multi-billion dollar deal that can secure the energy-independence of a large part of the third world; Eastern European refugees are mercilessly slaughtered by soldiers armed with AK-47 assault rifles; Arch gravity dams are built by geotechnical engineers aided by the Government and secretly backed by major power corporations. You read about all this in the news and conclude that the world is upto no good, and decide to do something about it.

What do you do? Do you mobilize the power hungry masses of a deprived communist nation and start a revolution to overthrow the dictatorship? Do you mastermind a secret plot to assassinate the president of the United States of America? Do you thrust anti-aircraft guns and pepper spray into the hands of crane operators and paper mill workers and lead an invasion of the solar system? No. Instead you decide to skip lunch. And assure the media that you are not on a weight-loss diet.

I fail to understand how people can think that they can bring about a change by not eating. How do you combat persuasive political will and corporate greed? Quite literally by skipping lunch! It's a bit like hoping to ward off the Spanish armada, armed with a watermelon.

What do you think is going on behind those thick boardroom walls?

Politician 1: "Gentlemen, we have managed to secure the Government's approval for construction of the nuclear power plant. The project will be sanctioned in a couple of weeks. The reaction chambers are being assembled in Volgograd and the enriched Uranium ore is being loaded into an Ukrainian vessel in Shanghai even as we speak. Phase II of the project will go live in exactly 90 days from now, and within 6 months, our newly installed power plant would produce 11500 MW of power."

Politician 2: "That's great news! We are well on our way to becoming a nuclear superpower. Nothing can stop us now!"

Politician 2's sidekick (in a small voice): "Umm...there could be one small problem..."

(at this point deathly silence suddenly descends upon the room. There is a collective holding of breaths in the room, and the tension mounts)

Politician 2's sidekick nervously continues, "Well, uhh...umm... some environmentalist from Nagpur has not eaten since morning..."

(Everyone in the room gasps in horror, looks of disbelief all around.)

Corporate Mogul: " Oh No! Not THAT! Politician 1! How could you let this happen?! Our plan was supposed to be airtight! How could you let this happen?! What are we going to do now?! Our entire nuclear strategy is compromised now!"

Politician 1: "Honestly gentlemen, we didn't see this one coming. Since we, the Government and the corporate giants care deeply for the gastronomical well being of our social activists, this new and unforeseeable development leaves us with no alternative but to pull out of the deal. Delegates of the press, representatives of our corporate sponsors and representatives of the UN and the G5 nations, we apologize for the inconvenience. Bhel-puri is served in the stalls in the lobby, thank you for your time."

Seriously protesters, do you imagine boardroom conversations to be like that? Look at the situation objectively. In my rational opinion, no one would be hassled if you stop eating, unless they want to sell you popcorn. On the other hand, all considered, few things are more convincing and persuasive than the unfastened end of the barrel of a 5.56mm M4 carbine staring at your temple like a Nazi pit-bull. Hunger of course, is a mute statue compared with the persuasive eloquence of the immediate possibility of 30 rounds of a semiautomatic burst jostling for space with your larynx.

No one has ever died while fasting. It's a fact. Place that large heavy machine gun order before they find out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Men Are Back with a lot less

No Anti roll bars
No Limited Slip Differential
No twin-Garett Turbochargers
No Pirelli P-Zero semi slicks
No sodium-cooled titanium valves
No Dihedro-synchrohelic actuation gullwing doors
No Traction Control
No Active Suspension
No Seven-speed Sequential paddle shift gearbox
No Brembo high-performance discs
No carbon-fibre monocoque
No Electronic Launch Control
No rear spoilers, no Venturi ducts
No variable geometry engine intake
No Afterburners

Monday, June 23, 2008

Who Killed the Dodo?!

In the unimaginably dark and distant past, ancient fish crawled out of the oceans on their fins, gasping for breath, often getting stuck in slosh and being washed back into the oceans by the tides. The searing heat of the still young sun penetrating through a toxic, light atmosphere would desiccate their eyes and soak up their lives. Countless fish lay dead on the sea shore with that open-mouthed dead look that somehow only fish can manage. Yet they persevered, they never gave up...with their flimsy fins and fragile semi-formed vertebrae, they dragged their bodies across the sea shore. It took hundreds of thousands of years of painstaking effort, groveling on their sides, lugging themselves forward with their weak, undeveloped fins. Filling their embryonic semi-formed lungs with short gasps of noxious air and choking helplessly, sucking fluids from ancient pinecones using their toothless mouths, their desperate bodies lunging and writhing in the cancerous heat of an alien environment, rubbing against the sand to shed scales. These were our ancient fore-fathers, creatures we owe our existence to. But for the courage and determination shown by these daring primordial beings, life would have been much different. And you'd think they'd be remembered more often...

Anyway, fish eventually became reptiles, some of which became lizards and later, birds.

After this relatively humble beginning, Life gained momentum. Newer and bolder skeletal structures emerged, some terrifying and some downright comical. There was a brief time when large lizards were fashionable, but for some reason, it didn’t stick. When the ground became clear of these huge reptiles, the apes slowly began to wonder whether it would be a good idea to venture down. Gradually as they gained courage, they sent the first ape down, to experiment. Unfortunately as it was closing time, it failed to notice its tail and tripped and landed on its head with much force, causing considerable damage. It later went on to breed and populate Australia. However the other apes descended without incident and in what is widely regarded as a bad move, quickly got rid of their tails and became Man, and would later chase down and trap the other apes who didn't descend from the trees and teach them how to juggle eleven burning chainsaws while balancing three Campari bottles on the nose and walking on a tightrope over a deep ravine with hungry crocodiles, while giving a discourse about the history of Palestine in Japanese. They would also go on to be the first species to try and kill other members of the same species for no good reason.

Somewhere along the line, Tigers made a brief cameo appearance too. With their feline charms and swashbuckling stripes they streaked through history like a comet, radiating raw sexual energy, making old girls happy and young girls even happier. They were the original Casanovas. They bred profusely and unashamedly, their desire for Food, Sex and The Good Life overcoming all objections of modesty and virtue. Their numbers were growing at an alarming rate, when some idiot had to discover cordite and ruin it for them. They had a good thing going though, before it was an abrupt Game-Over. They are still remembered in bed these days. (In bedtime stories, obviously!)

Given how surprisingly fair and unbiased a process evolution is, some occurrences are simply astonishing.

The extinction of the Dodo, for one. They were massive birds with incredibly strong pectoral muscles. They descended from the great flighted dinosaurs. They could kill their prey by thrashing it with their wings alone. For hundreds of thousands of years, they inhabited the wild islands off the African coast, and were the unchallenged masters of the ecosystem. They were at the apex of the food chain. They were on a roll, they were at the top of their game.

The Gouldian Finch on the other hand is one of world's most delicate and fragile birds. It requires of all things, fire for its food. It feeds mainly on the seeds of one plant - speargrass. It is only after forest fires - started by accident or by man - have cleared the undergrowth that the birds can reach the seeds on the ground. With a handicap like that, you'd think the first Gouldian Finch would have been lucky to see off a few seasons, but No. That bird has survived 60 million years.

The emperor penguin lives and breeds in temperatures less than -45C. The Ivory Gull breeds further north than any other bird, and it perfectly adapted to the conditions which defeat most other life forms. The Bar-headed goose lives on the Tibetian plateau, on the coldest desert on the roof of the world. The Oilbird lives in the pitch blackness of Venezuelan caves. The Rufous Hummingbird survives and breeds at altitudes of 9000ft and at temperatures well below freezing by making a nest of the highest insulate qualities, a network of lichen and spiders web.

Or you'd think the case of the Bermuda Petrel would be a sure bet. It lives in burrows on the side of cliffs just above the sea-line. Minuscule amounts of Chlorofluorocarbons spewed into the atmosphere, a tiny hole in the ozone layer, a wee bit of global warming followed by a small increase in sea levels, and there you are. The Bermuda Petrel, gone. History. Bummer. Sitting Duck. No-brainer. Checkmated by the giant evolution machinery!

And of all these, guess who had to go? The mighty Dodo! And why, after hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, after having survived the long and cold ice age? Because a bunch of hungry Dutchmen arrived in Africa.

The Dinosaurs.
Earth trembled when they walked. They impacted biological history like nothing before or after them, they roamed around with such an other-worldly eminence that in the 200-odd million years that they lasted, they reigned with unchallenged supremacy. Their dominance over other life forms was total, their might unparallelled. They were evolution's greatest triumph, a showcase of extreme biological adaptation. It took a shower of heavenly bodies to put them to rest and end their era. Their total dominance of the food chain would be unmatched in degree and extent till 65 million years after they were annihilated. Their influence was so great, so profound that many species spun off their biologcal pedigree - Birds, crocodiles, lizards, Komobo dragons, even turtles inhabit the earth to this day. Why did they have to go?

The Cockroach
It is the unassuming insect that defeated the mighty Dinosaur in the evolution race, and is all poised to outlast Man, too. Its epidermis is stronger than an elephant's, it is resistant to bacterial infection, its hard, strong exoskeleton can withstand G-forces at which human beings would pass out, they have an incredibly co-ordinated group emergency behaviour, they are cold blooded and are resistant to cell division under nuclear radiation, they don't mutate, they can feed on practically anything. They have been around for 240 million years, they have survived meteor showers, the ice age, the bronze age, and the Liberace age. They are currently doing a very good job of survival in the tele-shopping age. So they can no doubt survive nuclear attacks. The next time you see a cockroach running around, remember that in the long evolutionary race, it will outrun you. After the brief moment of reflection, give it a mighty whack on the head.

Take the case of the Penguin. Here is another evolutionary anomaly. Here is evidence that someone somewhere has seriously messed up. When this kind of mistake shows up, it means someone screwed up seriously at a very early stage, and the anomaly is the symptom merely, of a more deep rooted cause.


How can you explain that appearance? What excuse does evolution have to produce something like that and still be in business? Whatever its ancestor was, just what was it thinking as it began evolving? What strategic roadmap and goals did it lay before itself as it started rolling or stretching or listening to rap music or doing whatever it is that one does to initiate evolution? To what end has a concatenation of geographic, climactic and chemical changes resulted in such a hideous life form? Since everything in the known universe is known to have been caused by something and in turn cause something else, what painstakingly calculated scheme does nature intend for this...thing to play a pivotal role in? What exactly is that Penguin-shaped hole in the expanse of the grand evolutionary blueprint that this creature is supposed to plug? What appalling life form is this bird supposed to give rise to? What can be more unsightly than this? How can Mother Nature create such a being and still keep a straight face?

And finally, here is a drastically simplified evolution chart.


If those primitive invertebrates knew that their revolutionary, world changing act of leaving the oceans and settling down on land would eventually, after countless millions of years result in that thing on the right, I wonder whether they would have bothered at all.

(I had to plug in the tiger was a contractual obligation)