Saturday, January 31, 2009

Look what I found!

Another diamond!

"The sun also ariseth and the sun goeth down and hasteth to his place where he arose." - Ecclesiastes 1:5

What does it take to convince a child riding a carousel that it is not the entire world which is magically spinning around him, but the carousel itself which is rotating rather pointlessly around an ordinary, rusty pole? A lot. Nothing less than a portkey.

How detached does one have to be from contemporary science and technology, how clueless does one have to be about how things work before one comes to the conclusion after seeing the stars and planets streak majestically across the night sky drawing great arcs, before one comes to the conclusion that it’s not the planets which stream across "our" sky, but our humble planet which goes round a beggarly star situated at some arbitrary nook?

In a medieval world, the astonishment at the novelty of the suggestion would have been matched only by the embarrassment it would have caused a lot of people. Imagine the awkwardness establishments would have felt when people found out that the things they have been told for the past two thousand years were absolute baloney.

I believe that was the defining moment in History, when we as a race stopped all the nonsense we were upto and started talking some sense. Everything cool that was ever invented since then, including Atari's Space Invaders (1977) and Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity (1905), is just blown out of the park.

An idea's genius is in direct proportion to the number of people it embarrasses. On that basis alone, I rate Nicolaus Copernicus' Heliocentric theory as the most staggeringly revolutionary idea EVER.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

(Just in - Petrol prices to dip by Rs.5. Yay!!!) Anyway...

Imagine intelligent beings like ourselves living on a TV screen, like in Pac-Man. They would be 2 dimensional creatures living in a 2D world. People would be little dots or circles on the screen. Nothing in that world would have a height. If a "ghost" got trapped inside a circle, there'd be no way it could escape, because there is no height, and he can't "jump" over the wall. Prisons in this world would just be closed circles or rectangles.

Imagine a strip of 2D land, like a flat cricket pitch. The only way to get from one end of the pitch to the other would be to walk the entire length of the pitch which would be, say, 22 yards long.

Now a 3-Dimensional being like you is watching these 2-D beings walk along the length of the pitch. You just "pick up the pitch, roll it once and stick one end of it to the other and put the Pac-Man ghost back on it. This is a very simple cylindrical strip, which would have to be described by a system of radial algebraic equations so complex that the Pac-Man ghosts would never be able to figure it out. They would still continue to walk the 22 yard length from one end of the strip to the other, unaware that on their regular journey they are actually twisting and turning in a dimension completely unknown to them! But since they don't understand the concepts of thickness or rotation, they would only see a flat, unimaginative stretch of cricket pitch as they walk.

But a really smart 2D being standing at one end would realise that the other end of the cricket pitch is not 22 yards away, but right below where he is standing! In fact, he is standing right where he wants to go, 22 yards away! He is "superimposed" upon his destination in a strange dimension! If he had the ability to move in the "strange" third dimension, he could just dig a hole in the pitch right where he is standing, and cross over. The other 2D beings would just see him mysteriously apparate, 22 yards away. He could cross thousands of miles in the blink of an eye! People would be amazed at what he did, but wouldn't be able to figure out what exactly it is or how he is doing it! He would open their minds to endless possibilities! Some would dismiss him as a dangerous anomaly and would warn the others against him.

Every once in a while something comes along which is so bewilderingly different from whatever we are used to that it challenges our very idea about the limits of possibility and stretches our minds in dimensions that we never knew existed. These need not be great, revolutionary ideas or actions. Sometimes, simple, ridiculously insignificant things like discovering a hole in the floor can turn your world upside down. This for me is the ultimate evidence of higher intelligence and the inadequacy of our own imagination.

Innocuous incidents strewn across the pages of history, like little sparkling diamonds in a brickyard.

24th November, 1859 - Charles Darwin publishes "On the origin of species". The world-changing Theory of Natural Selection was not an idea honed, polished and developed over time. It was probably a stroke of genius, a lightning bolt of inspiration that illuminated all of creation for a brief instant before it vanished, leaving the world in darkness again; and Darwin spent the rest of his life painting for the world a picture that the lightning bolt of inspiration revealed to him in that moment of clarity. The most significant achievement of Darwin's theory was that it exposed the limitations of being human by revealing that human supremacy on the planet was either a matter of opinion or a mere evolutionary accident. Imagine the surprise and shock such a "preposterous" idea would have caused in the mid 19th century!

1st June, 1967 - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. Though composed predominantly of nursery level rhymes and wild noises, it impacted culture and music like no other album before or after it. Everything before that was inconsequential. Everything since has been the aftermath. I mean, in our collective recorded existence of about 10000 years, never before had such a tremendous explosion of colour and sounds been seen on such a large scale, causing such mass hysteria. Never before had rowdy been seen as cool. And it all seemed so effortless!

3rd June, 1984 - Monte Carlo. A young Brazilian called Ayrton Senna, in his first ever Formula 1 street race, in an uncompetitive Toleman car, cuts through the pack overtaking 4 world champions. In torrential rain, he waltzed around the cramped streets of Monaco, running circles around vastly superior cars as if they were going backwards. As an exercise in stripping a task down to its barest minimum essentials, those 31 laps around a soaking wet Monaco racetrack fall in the far outer reaches of what the human intellect can achieve.

These incidents were so benign that they are so easy to miss. Yet they are portkeys to a parallel Universe. Can you recognise a higher dimension if you are sitting right on it?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Presidential Manifesto

This climatologist predicts that the average temperature of the earth will be up by 1.8 degrees C in 2050. Absolute rubbish. Can you believe it? 1.8 degrees Centigrade over 40 years! How did he calculate that?! Really, I am sure he can't even tell you what the weather is going to be like tomorrow morning. I mean, who is this joker and what does he know about chaotic non-linear deterministic models that qualifies him to make judgements on current and future climactic states? And how exactly did he arrive at 1.8 degrees Centigrade, I'd like to know. Even if he lists all the factors he accounted for while making the calculation, I am sure I can list 10 more that can throw off his estimation by several digits over a 40 year period.

Sodium bicarbonate is a useful chemical. It can be used as a fire retardant, baking additive, deodorant, desiccant, stain remover, odour repellant, pest repellant, toothpowder, cleaning agent, degreaser, antiseptic and mouthwash, among other things. On the other hand, the only contribution Klaus Toepfer's overpaid team of climatologists have made to mankind so far is some arbitrarily chosen number resulting from a calculation based on some ridiculously flawed logic. So, in terms of overall marginal utility to the well being of our species, polar climate, economy of the free world and the Universe in general, the average weather forecaster is clearly less useful than a pinch of baking soda. So if you see Klaus Toepfer's climatologists dangling from a cliff alongside a spoonful of baking soda and you were allowed to save any one, you'd do more good to the world if you chose the baking soda. It would be the logical choice too, as you cannot use Toepfer's weathermen to clean your teeth or bake a cake nor is the great scientific machinery going to come to a grinding halt if they fall down the cliff. It would merely make a microscopic dent in the enormous population of the world and leave its intellectual capital untouched.

I am not suggesting that the earth is getting any cooler. I don't even deny that the world needs to be saved. I'm the first to admit that the world has a rather peculiar habit of often burrowing itself into situations from where it has to be rescued. All I am saying is that there is no way on earth Toepfer's weathermen can calculate the temperature of the earth 40 years from now. I am sure they are a bunch of losers who wanted to be big-shot UN scientists when they started out, but didn't pay enough attention in school and ended up being dopey half-assed weathermen on Fox TV whom you can't even rely on to accurately tell you whether it rained yesterday. The first practical step towards reducing global warming would be to stop listening to these idiots.

Here are some more practical things we could do to prevent global warming:-

*Kill the whales and dump the carcasses on islands. Less buoyant, blubbery fat floating about pointlessly in the seas would mean lower sea levels.

*Excavate mud and rocks from the bottom of the oceans and dump them on islands. The oceans would become deeper (lower sea levels) and Tokyo would have lower real estate prices. Because no one would want to live there, what with the piles of slushy muck and dead whales on the roads.

*Load SPF-120 sunscreen lotion in a fleet of a dozen 300,000 MT oil-tankers and blow them up in the arctic sea. The resulting sunscreen spill will be enough to protect the sea life and the polar ice caps from the harmful UV rays of the sun.

*All said and done, the chief culprit is sunshine. Let's be practical about it. Trying to cool down the earth by using CFL lamps and eco friendly cars is like trying to stop a speeding train by wheezing at it through a straw. A more practical approach should involve blocking the sun's rays. The idea is to place a huge sheet of heat resistant, light-absorbing amorphous sodium crystal that will block the sun's rays from hitting the north pole.

Click on the following image.

I did some black-magic and came up with this - The polar ice caps have an area of 50000 sq. km, and the sun is 150000000 km from the Earth. To shield this area from direct sunlight, we would only have to take a crystal the size of the Onyx dump yard in T-Nagar and put it in Geosynchronous orbit at an altitude of 148800000 Km. That would be enough to cast a shadow on the north pole and thus keep it cool. We have sent satellites much further than 148800000 Km. Voyager I is now 100 times farther than the sun. So, the altitude should not be a problem. If we can somehow accomplish this, we would have not only solved the global warming crisis, but also made the solar system's biggest sunglass.

Now, that's something we can all look back at and be proud of.

That and the sunscreen spill.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Things I'd like to see invented

1. Wireless electricity - Like Bluetooth. You'd be able to connect a wireless electricity transmitter to the plug socket in the wall, and run electric appliances in the vicinity without connecting them to the mains. It is really quite simple, once we have mastered the principle of Spatial Force Transmission, which is:-

2. Spatial Force Transmission - You'd be able to move objects at a distance by applying force elsewhere. It is different from telekinesis in that the absurd concept of "mind power" is not used. You would have to physically push a joystick (while sitting on the sofa), which would in turn transmit the force through the fabric of space-time to close the door of the fridge in the next room. The idea doesn't use the fictional concepts mind-power or cosmic energy, but rather relies on the solid practical foundation of Energy Credit; which... would have to be invented first.

3. Energy credit. In layman's terms- On-demand Force: There would be a universal energy ledger, which you would be able to access through an energy card, which is similar to the present day credit card. If you need more force than you can physically muster, you'd be able to borrow some, which you would then have to repay later. For example, if you needed to uproot a teak tree in a hurry, or kick a penguin into orbit, you'd be able to borrow some extra force from the Energy Syndicate, which you would later have to return to the Syndicate in many small installments by doing say, 1300 push-ups. Or by pedalling the flywheel of a generator for 3 hours. You might have to pay an interest on energy borrowed, i.e. doing more push-ups than the energy-equivalent of which you borrowed. There would be an energy stock market, and you would be able to trade in energy futures and options. People would speculate on volcanoes and Supernova explosions. Obesity and winters would trigger a recession. But then, you can figure out such trivial matters for yourselves.

You would also be able to lend/borrow time this way. If, say, you want to save time on your commute to office, you can borrow time from yourself. Your hour long commute would be over in a second, but to compensate, you would have to sit idle at home for an equivalent amount of time. There would be time-hedge funds and futures markets, where people who anticipate hectic activity would be trading in time-shares with idle people. Market sentiment and hence the price of the shares would be affected by the forces of demand and supply. Idle people would be in much demand, and hence be paid hefty sums of money to sit around doing nothing. Increasing economic activity would mean more work, and hence more demand for idlers and bums. This would go on until the world reaches a state of frantic industrial activity, where production and business undertakings would reach a state of frenzy, and the person who can do the least amount of work would be paid the highest salary. There is nothing in contemporary economic models that prevents elements of unintended consequence to apply to non-stochastic mathematical frameworks. Besides making me and an old comrade of mine the wealthiest people in the world, it would also serve to establish the exact money value of time. Just how much will a busy man pay an idle man for time before he runs out of marginal utility. In this case, that would be the market value of time as determined by the classical economic forces of supply and demand.

5. An interesting application of Force credit would be paid-weight losers. People whose job it would be to work out and lose weight on behalf of obese people who would pay for such weight-loss services. Relevant pricing models would apply. Blah. Go, figure.

6. Invisible trains. Now who wouldn't want those? As a population control solution, it is far more effective than contraceptives. Less clumsy than contraceptives. And going by the general public's awareness of train accidents at unmanned intersections, more discreet too. What's more, for it to be effective on a large scale, it doesn't need expensive and unnecessary media and press publicity. Au contraire, the less publicity it gets, the better it works.

7. Teleportation. But you had already thought of that, hadn't you? If you've never, ever wished to be teleported, I would like to meet you. And get your autograph. Because on a percent basis, you belong to a group more exclusive than the Apostles.

Some of these developments may seem out-of-the-ordinary. Some may even go against the grain of common sense. But if you think about it, the idea of attaching an ox to a peculiar model of furniture went against all common sense in mass-transportation. If you ask me, on a fundamental level, the question of What is more important than the question of How. What is the question we have to ask ourselves. How will inevitably follow. It is a lesser task that can be figured out by technicians and engineers.  

And once the How is achieved (of course by lesser tactical minds who merely follow our broadly outlined "what" strategy), the next question for us to ask is "How much for a dozen"?

In my opinion, if you figure out whether to manufacture it in China or Taiwan, the rest neatly falls into place.

I should be made the President of the world.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

On why childhood was a particularly tough time

Reasons why childhood was a relatively troubled time...

* There was the burden of options. I could be a bull-fighter or a professor of medieval Peruvian architecture, or an Olympic javelin thrower. Now it's a relief because I don't have to anxiously wait for things to unfold.

* Whenever I was in doubt as to what to do when faced with a tricky situation, the answer always was the same as what Barney the Dinosaur would do in the same situation. That usually involved a lot of reverse psychology. These days it's much simpler - I choose the option that takes lesser effort.

* In late 2006, I made the grave judgemental error of falling victim to chicken-pox. It was a reminder never to leave your early chores unfinished. Especially the childhood ones - you never know when they will come back and bite u in the backside. In my case - when I had to negotiate with a granite quarry-owners Union in North Kerala for the sale of 28 heavy duty trucks. That smoke-filled room with 15 whisky-drinking bearded men sitting stone-faced around an empty chair with a placard that said "Vimal - Gone home to Mommy" is the most embarrassing thing never to have happened to me.

* I thought Paris Hilton was a notorious hotel in France.

* I would wait all week long for a series of electronic images to appear on the TV. 10:30 AM on Sundays, when Ducktales would get over, was the most depressing time of my life. At 10:30 in the morning, Sunday was already over and the rest of the day would inexorably slide downwards and merge with Monday, when I had to go to school again...for 4 days in a row! Would I ever make it to the end of the week? It seemed like it was going to be the last Sunday ever! Was it going to be the last Sunday ever?! Was it?? Was there any justice at all in the world? Oh, why did Ducktales have to end?!

That half-hour every Sunday morning was the highlight of my life!

Years have passed. Many Sundays have come and gone. I lived. I now have all the 100 episodes of Ducktales on DVD. I can see these iconic images whenever I want. But it doesn't fill me with the same excitement and anticipation anymore. I don't wake up at 7 AM anymore to brush my teeth, bathe, eat breakfast and act nice so as not to upset the parents before switching on the TV at 10, nor rub my hands together in hysterical excitement when I see the marvellous and wonderful adventures of Uncle Scrooge, Launchpad and Gyro. There was Webby, Doofus McDuck, Fintheart Glomgold, Magica, Uncle Donald and Duckworth... There were the Beagle boys and Scrooge McDuck's great-nephews, Huey, Louie and Dewey! Duckburg was a magical world! I somehow felt that I was a part of that world! They were all so awesome, and there was nothing I could do!

The trouble with awesomeness is so much trouble.

So, as an adult I have fewer problems than I did when I was a child. In much the same way as an astronaut whose spacesuit is on fire in outer space while he is trying to fasten a loose screw on his spacecraft has fewer problem than the geeky-looking guy back in Space Command in Houston who just remembered having packed in the wrong size screwdriver.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Some more things about the Universe that don't make sense - Part II

In the following few paragraphs I have, for your benefit, succinctly summed up everything that is wrong with the world. Read on.

What exactly is the function of the earlobe?

What exactly do the judges of a Miss China beauty pageant do? I mean, it could be the easiest job in the world or it could be the most difficult job in the world. It's like either picking the winner of a lottery contest or choosing the crankshaft with the highest micrometre finish perfection out of a batch of 100,000 pieces. Either way, it’s pathetic.

What exactly do the judges of beauty pageants do in other parts of the world? It is a remarkably arbitrary task of commodity screening, and is no different from selecting potatoes at the grocer's.

Isn't it remarkable that most of the words that rhyme with Lavatory are names of places where serious scientific research is held, where ideas are born, theories expounded and rigorously tested and science makes progress? Observatory, Laboratory, Conservatory...What does that tell you about our species in general?

Flyovers. So we think we are clever. We saw all that slow-moving traffic languishing at the outskirts and figured out a way to bring it into the city sooner. And built flyovers.

Try pronouncing these - Q, Qu, Que, Queu, Queue...If no matter how many u's and e's you affix after Q the pronunciation doesn't change, why stop with 4? Why not go bonkers and add as many as you please and make it the longest word in English - just for fun? Queueueueueueueueueueueueueue? Why the hell not? Whatever is wrong with having a little fun?

Why is it easier to heat than cool? I mean, think about it. To heat up the head of a match from 32 to 260 degrees C, all it takes is a flick of the wrist. But to cool it from 32 to even 25 degrees C, you need a refrigerator that works on an elaborate ammonia exchange cycle and expansion chambers and compressors which run on electricity! Newton’s laws of cooling and the laws of thermodynamics are perfectly symmetrical, so why should entropy increase faster in one direction than in the other?

They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Where do they go? I mean, if they get going when it becomes hard, by definition, they aren't really tough people, are they? Tough people should stay back and slug it out. (Oh yeah, I know what it really means and I don't want to sound pedantic, but when put like that it does sound like tough people go away somewhere else when the going gets tough.)

When you say someone died of heart failure, what information are you really giving me about the cause of death? I mean, is there another way of dying?

Are South Central America and Central South America different places? There is North America, South America and United States of America. But is there actually a place called America?

If a house is in one piece, would you call it Bricks or a House? Do you call a watch "united gears and mechanisms"? No. A single undivided country cannot be called united states. If your answer to the question in the previous paragraph was "No", you were right. There is no such place as America. So ask yourself this - The United States of America is neither United, nor States nor America. It can at best be one of the three, but not all.

If you say a certain mythological creature is a man with a lion's head, how can you be sure it’s not a lion with a man's body? There are experts who argue fiercely on both sides. PhD degrees have been won and lost in both camps by experts arguing for their respective cases. So what you believe to be true in this case really depends on whom you like more - the unkempt, creepy-looking, absent minded archaeologist with half-moon spectacles and ruffled hair or the unkempt, creepy-looking, absent minded archaeologist with half-moon spectacles and a bald head.

When someone has bad vision, why are they said to have "power"? If you have extremely bad vision, will you have a superpower?

This one of the famous Queen's guards at Buckingham Palace. You can do whatever you want to him, he won’t flinch. He will stand still. Hmmmm....So, what’s the idea, huh? Guards who don't move? What good are they? Would they stand still if they see a robber?

If you see Chris Tucker crying, would you say it was (an) emotional blackmale?

Do all people who look at you over their glasses act as though they are superior? Or do only grumpy know-it-alls get Hypermetropia?