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)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Do Sumo wrestlers use chopsticks?

In Japan, unlike in the southern part of India, the focus while eating is clearly not on quantity or volume. Take the chopstick, for example. What purpose does the chopstick serve? Why would anyone in their right mind use a stick to eat rice with? What were these people thinking? They estimated the effort it took to wash their hands after a meal and said "that seems like a lot of work. I would rather invent something which would involve no washing afterwards. It doesnt matter if it takes me an hour working at full speed, to eat a handful of rice. It doesnt matter if on many occasions I lose the patience to eat halfway through a meal. It doesnt matter if I am eating a bowlful of rice one grain at a time, doesn't matter that I am working the chopsticks at such a tremendous speed that they have their own magnetic field. (that probably explains why the Japanese take off their shoes and watches before eating)."

Do they discard the chopsticks after eating or do they wash them and reuse them? I read somewhere that they usually wash and reuse the chopsticks, but that defeats the purpose for which they were invented, doesn't it?

Maybe they like playing with their food before eating it. But what joy can be derived from watching three grains of rice writhe in pain and agony as you chew on them and crush them between your enormous moss-covered molars? That theory obviously doesn't hold water.

Anyway, at the same time, Japan had its share of smart people, too. There was a smart but elite group of tree-hugging environmentalists who boycotted the whole chopstick movement. They were highly intelligent people who knew that one would exert more energy eating the food than one would gain by digesting it. In Japan, you would lose more weight if you ate food than if you didn't. So, they wisely followed the eating techniques prevalent at that time in the southern part of India. They never used chopsticks. Even to this day, you will never find a Sumo wrestler eating with a chopstick.

I would have given anything to see the look on the chopstick-inventor's face when someone came up with the idea of a spoon. It’s easy to imagine a defeated, yet proud Japanese face. It is easy to imagine any Japanese face for that matter.

Chopsticks are made by chopping down trees. So shouldn't they technically be called choptrees?

Never mention Nefertiti to a Necrophile

I have a caffeine buzz. I feel dizzy and disorientated. I’m sitting ramrod straight in a straight chair, but i feel like a warped polyhedron. I feel dizzy, my head is spinning, my palms are sweating and my fingers are trembling. There is static electricity in my gut, like charged butterflies fluttering in my stomach. I don't know if it’s the caffeine. It could be the caffeine, but I'm not sure. I hope its the caffeine. Something is pulling me, trying to align me towards the magnetic lines of flux. I am sitting up, but I feel gravity is acting on my body in the wrong direction. I feel the blood rushing to my head, like im hung upside down. I've been nodding my head for sometime now. I don't know why. I should stop. I make a mental note of it. I nod my head. I don't stop. I hope it’s the caffeine. I am looking at the computer screen, and I'm blank. My hands are working independent of the rest of my body, working on commands that my mind doesn’t remember giving, furiously typing away, dancing across the keyboard like supercharged spiders on redbull. My mind is far away, thinking something else. My eyes read what my hands are typing. It is strange...I don’t know who is typing what i'm reading. My hands are performing, and my eyes are the audience. It is all new to me. I am being told a story by a being which has possessed my fingers alone. Every word I type is a revelation. It is all heartbreakingly obvious. Damn, why didn’t I think of that before? Someone is trying to communicate to me. There is an alien chick in distress somewhere, in some parallel universe in an unknown dimension and she needs my help! I have to rescue her from the evil goblin who has captured and imprisoned her in the tallest tower of a castle. He has violently murdered the two brave adventurers who set out before me to rescue the princess and ripped open their guts. I follow the trail of intestines and lungs leading up to the topmost tower. I sight the goblin. I see him playing with a gleaming ruby-studded sword, which I realize is the instrument that I am supposed to slay him with. Seeing him use it to pick his nose is discouraging. I realize I have to sneak up behind him, snatch the sword from his disgusting hands and plunge it deep into his throat and then extract it and stab him again and again and again and again and finally bury the sword to the hilt in his left eye. Somehow I suspect that it would disappoint him. I wonder what I'll do with the other hand while I'm thrusting the blade inside his body and tearing it open. I would put it in my pocket, I guess. I could stroke the goblin's head, but they wouldn’t make awfully nice pets but then again not everyone gets to stroke a goblin's head, because they would bite your hands right off, so the best time to do it would be when there is a huge sword buried between its eyebrows. Since I don’t have anything else to do today, I think I'll kill an evil goblin. But no, wait... I realize I'm actually in the mood for a murder scene. I like gore. That's just what I want right now. So, in an unexpected show of grit and valour, I sit back on the bean bag with a coke and wait see the bit where the princess gets raped by the goblin and then gets eaten up.

I am fading away. Thank god it's wearing off. I don't know how I got here, but I'm going away now. The next time I feel sleepy, I will not be tempted. I will stick to my principles. I will NOT drink coffee. I will do the right thing. I will not chicken out. I will not give in. I will be brave and do the dignified thing, uncomfortable though it may be. I will sleep.

I make a mental note...

Monday, June 2, 2008

Absurd Inventions - part 1 of many

Before toilet paper was invented, people were using corncobs and squirrels for the purpose. But the face tissue was already in use even BEFORE the toilet paper was patented, so why didn't they just use the face tissue instead? Hygiene could not have been an issue. If its clean enough to wipe your face with, its clean enough for pretty much everything else. And besides, its definitely an improvement over a dead squirrel's tail.

The guy who patented the rolled, pre-moistened toilet tissue called it "Medicated paper", and he insisted that his name be printed on every ply. Medicated, hmm...

btw, Here is a list of things that people used before TP was invented.

Mussel shell
Coconut shells
Lace (guess who used lace - the French!)
This one walks away with the cake...Sponge soaked in brine, attached to the end of a long stick (The ancient Romans)
Wool and rosewater
Hemp (!!!!)
Snow and moss (the Eskies)

Business. Enhance. Strategy. Improve. Long-Term. Delivery. Integrated. Management. Approach. Assessment. Process. Competency. Convergence. Efficiency. Value Chain. Dynamic. Solution. Value Proposition.

I have no idea what these words mean. But I can throw in a few adjuncts and string them together to describe what I do for a living. Guess what I do for a living. Yours will be as good as mine.

Delivery of long-term business strategy, coupled with an Integrated management approach towards process competency and Delivery convergence, together with a strategic approach towards knowledge management and improvement of inherent value chain inefficiencies.

In more civilized times, a man was either a farmer, a cobbler, a carpenter, a soldier or a baker. More often than not, you could tell what he did for a living just by looking at him. But these days, people no longer mend shoes or grow paddy or dispense justice. No. Instead, they model process flows, they map converging strategic competencies and work out integrated dynamic solutions that enhance the business value. So if you don't keep up with the changing times, you'd never be able to guess a person's profession by looking at him.

I once met a guy on a train. He was carrying a laptop, so I asked him if he was an IT consultant. He seemed genuinely hurt by that. After I told him how sorry I was, he told me that he was in fact a Change management agent dealing with post-production implementation discrepancies. I was then in the business of selling trucks, and if someone asked me what I did, I'd first ask them if they are in the business of selling trucks. If they said yes, I would say "I sell trucks, too". And if they said no, i would patiently explain to them saying "I sell trucks."

Gone are those days. I now deal with Business Process Management, and I model process flows and harvest business policies, enabling organisations to deal more efficiently with long term strategy by enhancing the value proposition of service offerings. Yeah. That's what you'd think if you looked at me.

Why my TV has a large hole in the centre

In the IPL match a few days back, I heard these dazzling quotes:

"Chennai is different from Kolkatta, geographically speaking." No shit? if chennai was georgaphically the same as kolkatta, it would be called kolkta and not chennai, you loser. What the hell is geographically speaking, anyway? Who the hell speaks geographically?

"After having had a look at their winning streak in the past few games, they wouldn't want to lose this match." So it took them a long look at their winning streak to realise that they don't want to lose this one? What dipshits! I wonder what would have happened if they hadn't seen the newspapers that morning - would they have wanted to lose?

Here is what a buffoon with a french beard managed to convey in 180 seconds: "Yeah, absolutely! Exactly! That's what I've been saying all along. You are right. There is no doubt about it. No doubt in my mind at all. The actual trouble is, if you really think about it, if he was asked to bat any other way, I am sure he cannot do it, because this is the only way he knows how to bat. It would be a great loss to the Indian team, and the spectators, and the sponsors and everyone else that we know if he was forced to bat any other way, because as I said earlier this is the only way he can bat. Yes, absolutely. I think we should also consider the fact that he has been an opener and has been in situations where he has had to bat like this, and he did...thats what I'm saying. Absolutely."

aaaarrrrggghhhhh! Somebody show me that Life insurance commercial, quick!!!

After the toss: "Captain, that was a nice toss to win. What are u going to do?"
Captain:"I guess we'll bat"
Commentator: "Great."
(What he should have said instead to boost the TRP ratings:"You GUESS? Make up your mind first, you clumsy baboon!"
Continues..."So, er... you'd like to get a good total on the board and defend it when the other team comes out to bat?"
Captain: "Yeah...the pitch seems dry blah blah blah"
(What he should have said instead to boost the TRP ratings:"Oh no no no! I think you've got it all wrong. What we would like to do is get out as soon as possible after making very few runs, and then when the opposition comes out to bat, we'd all like to dress up like the Limpopo tribals on a full moon night and come out here and do a nekkid mexican wave." That would have been refreshing.

During the match, one of the commentators says "The match has reached a stage where victory can go to either Punjab or Kolkotta. Wow. Now THAT was real deep, you shithead. So either Punjab or Kolkotta it is, eh?! Thanks for pointing that one out... I would never have figured it out on my own! If you hadn't reminded me, I would have probably thought Uzbekistan would have won the match! But hey, wait... you spoiled the surprise for me!