Wednesday, April 09, 2008
A girl born with two faces (Craniofacial Duplication) is worshiped as a reincarnation of a godess. We already have too many gods, godesses, saints and satans running around. Get a life, guys!
Monday, April 07, 2008
Florence 22, is an ambitious violinist; Edward 23, is close to clueless about his career. Her poise belongs to upper class; he has gotten into street fights. She's rich and he's not. But their diversities dissolve completely in their admiration for each other. She listens to rock'n roll because he brought it to her and let's him touch her so that he'll be happy. But the kind of touch she enjoys the most is arm-in-arm walk down the park or hugging and cuddling in the bed - all fully clothed. She's terrified at the very idea of sex, as if a foreign missile directed at her private space. Edward, like most of the men his age is extremely excited at the very prospect of charting into virgin territories. This clash of bedroom interests leads to moments of youthful foolishness that defines their life.
These are the opening lines: They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. But it is never easy. You couldn't blame the lady, for how could she openly discuss her sexual preferences (not inadequacies) with a man who has monstrous expectations on that night. And no point blaming the gentleman - his age and the weighty occasion put him on a high-speed lane. Where he merely suffered conventional first-night nerves, she experienced a visceral dread, a helpless disgust as palpable as seasickness. He desperately tries to control his emotions which want him to explode while she bravely wears a happy-face mask in order to accommodate him.
Like in 'Atonement', there's a defining moment in this plot which places their lives on a forked road. Saying something stupid, or not saying anything at all might alter the course of lives. It's not enough to love; sometimes patience with love is what keeps us sane, is what holds a marriage together, is what keeps the family wheel spinning, McEwan reminds us. As soon as I finished the novel, I hugged my wife and said "You know I love you and.... just bear with me".
Friday, April 04, 2008
Sunday, March 23, 2008
The objective of the video game is to direct any crudely drawn closed figure that you draw to a crudely drawn star on the screen. But forget the objective - just observe your entities perfectly obey the laws of physics on the screen roads you've carved. May not be useful. But an enjoyable way to waste time.
Here's a demo that you can try.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
What high-end clients pay for may surprise you. For example, according to my ongoing interviews of several hundred sex workers, approximately 40 percent of trades in New York's sex economy fail to include a physical act beyond light petting or kissing. No intercourse, no oral stimulation, etc. That's one helluva conversation. But it's what many clients want. Flush with cash, these elite men routinely turn their prostitute into a second partner or spouse. Over the course of a year, they will sometimes persuade the woman to take on a new identity, replete with a fake name, a fake job, a fake life history, and so on. They may want to have sex or they may simply want to be treated like King for a Day.The writer quotes figures north of $10K a month for these sex workers. And it's not for flesh but to listen to what the guy has to say. I guess the terribly busy workforce womenfolk in the cities don't have as much time or patience or willingness or tolerance or empathy or a combination of these to listen to what their husband has to say when they hit the bed. Now, isn't it usually an accusation on men that they never listen?
Thinking about it seriously, I think these men treat these women not as sex workers but as a tool to relieve their stress. I guess it makes a man in his 40s or 50s feel good (say a top executive in a Manhattan office) to have a young beautiful woman listen to what he has to say with fake compassion. He would very well know that the woman might be least interested in the topic he brings to the table; but the point is that he carries home an image of a good looking girl who has also been a good listener which makes him feel good. Now, for someone who makes top dollars, that's better than sex.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Experience is of no use after a threshold. In fact, too much experience in politics is detrimental as one loses the vision to steer the statre. Jyoti Basu (W Bengal), Karunanidhi (TN), Karunakaran (Kerala), Fidel Castro (Cuba), Suharto (Indonesia).... This is not to say that they did/doing a bad job in their old age; but a sad realization that things could have been better if only someone else had been at the helm. As mentioned earlier, when one needs an assistant to help him stand up (literally) it's quite difficult to understand their love for a chair.
That funny & sad cartoon was published in the Time magazine when Fidel handed over the reins to his brother Raul Castro, 76.
Friday, March 14, 2008
But this effect continues to exist in other forms in almost all the cultures. Status symbols linked with waste of resources is quite common. Most of the Indian marriages can be labeled a distant cousin of Potlatch. All that needless extravaganza just for the visitors to go gaga! What's worse is that such events continue to raise the bar; money down the drain marriages are seen as benchmarks which the future event organizers will try to match or surpass. Consider tipping at restaurants - I don't have a problem with the waiters making some extra money. But the idea of showing off one's wealth by over-the-top tipping sets the snowball rolling and effectively raises the average because of peer pressure. In a manner of speaking, sometimes some people spending inline with their income can up the ante for those a rung or two below in the economic ladder who are bent on playing a cat & mouse game to catch up - only in the means of spending, but not in income generation. Modern day Potlatch is very vibrant. It almost makes someone frugal like me seem unfit to be a social animal.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Sunday, March 09, 2008
Barry Schwartz, a professor of Social Theory talks about the perils of too many choices in affluent western societies in this TED talk. His focal points are that when people are presented with too many choices, they either
- get confused and procrastinate decision-making
- make a hasty choice and repent for not making the perfect choice
- feel dissatisfied with even the best of choices for not meeting their expectations
Barry is of the opinion that when the buyers don't get their choice right, they repent and brood. This scenario doesn't occur when there are only a few, or even better just one choice (in which case, there's no choice at all). It's true that people are unhappy if their selection turns out to be less than what they had in mind. But isn't that how one sharpens their decision making abilities? If there were only one cellphone available in the market, you wouldn't bother to look into its configurations. Just because there are so many brands with varying degrees of features, the user takes the pain of educating himself about all the features, assesses if he needs them and then makes an informed decision. There's still a chance that he may brood, but at least he learns from the experience, owns up responsibility for his decision and in the process becomes a shrewd decision-maker.
The third point doesn't have much to do with the number of options available rather than the personality we're talking about. If one is not satisfied with, say the top of the line Bose stereo system, may be he should just wait for the field of acoustics to get better or sponsor a sound research institute. A negligible chunk of the demographics will always be unhappy because of their ridiculous expectations. They're only a minuscule and the market hadn't cared for them.
Update: Barry is correct when he says that multiple options lead to a little bit of confusion and/or hesitation. But he clearly blames the market and exaggerates the multitude of choices instead of researching how people can and should decide from the pool of options.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Instead of alleviating our body fears, however, so many books advising what to wear do nothing but exaggerate them. The entire structure of Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine’s book 'What Not to Wear' is built to help you define your particular version of body dysmorphic disorder. Do you think you have short legs? A big butt? Big arms? There’s a chapter telling you how to dress around each perceived flaw. It’s hard to walk out the door feeling hot and feisty when your entire dressing process has been focused on your main source of anxiety. If I tried to dress to hide all the parts of my body I have ever been self-conscious about, the only thing left to wear would be a hazmat suit.That's bang on target. Any trend that sets in, should at the least be comfortable. If a dress or a decoration comes into vogue inspite of its lack of comfort, the chances are good that it won't sustain. As pointed out by the writer, any guide that provides a fancy work around to hide what you think is your weakest or ugliest organ just feeds to your anxiety. There's nothing wrong in trying to present yourself beautifully; but it shouldn't come at the cost accepting your body as it is.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
... more divorces = less women trapped in bad marriages. An increasing divorce rate indicates that women are being empowered with more choices...But Amit is biased: the increasing divorce rate also frees men trapped in bad marriages who would otherwise have silently put up because of a pseudo moral obligation to hang on to a financially incapable woman. The society would mercilessly foul-mouth an earning man divorcing his home-maker wife even if she's the reason for ruining the marriage. But I believe such cases have always been in the minority and mostly its been men wearing the pants.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Monday, February 18, 2008
- Make solar energy affordable.
- Provide energy from fusion.
- Develop carbon sequestration methods.
- Manage the nitrogen cycle.
- Provide access to clean water.
- Restore and improve urban infrastructure.
- Advance health informatics.
- Engineer better medicines.
- Reverse-engineer the brain.
- Prevent nuclear terror.
- Secure cyberspace.
- Enhance virtual reality.
- Advance personalized learning.
- Engineer the tools for scientific discovery.
Number 14 piques my curiosity. I have some ideas about what the panel may mean when they say 'engineer the tools for scientific discovery'. They aren't talking about scientific inventions, but scientific discoveries which could range from anything between understanding the genetic make up of human species to unearthing fossils or lost civilizations. Scientific discovery in the field of medicine can enable better living standards and in other fields like archeology or paleontology can offer valuable insights about how the earth came to be what it is today and where it may be headed. But this is something only the rich countries can afford to do while the rest are busy either catching up (like India & China) or go down (central African countries).
Number 11 is a no brainer. By the end of the century computers/internet would have radically transformed the way people live. They would have taken new shapes, forms, acquired immense power, would have great reach and will play a vital role in how the economic engine of countries works. Within my lifetime, I'll probably have my preferences set in a repository which will contain data about how hot my bathing water should be, my video rentals, my cuisine choices, etc. When I check into a hotel, they'll have access to these information and will be able to provide personalized services. Now, with this kind of personal data on the internet, security is something that will strongly touch a common man.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Rapes happen all over the world. But such events can almost certainly never happen in the first world countries. It's the animal inside a man that pits him against a hapless tender female body. In a country like U.S.A, I'm sure that for seven men to have cornered a young girl, all of them need to be certified pedophiles working out a well coordinated plan to commit such a crime. Whereas in countries like India and other poor ones, these are normal guys walking the streets. They might have a history of harassment (lightly dismissed as eve teasing) but the police wouldn't bother to pursue, punish or prune such rogues, because they know the taste of female flesh themselves. I know I run the risk of generalization by blaming the entire police force. Mind you, Indian police is one of the 10 most corrupt police forces in the world. Had there been a survey on how they treat women, they would have been in the top 5. Which is why, on popular public demand, India has women-only police stations - such a shame.
Bloodthirsty hounds in human form, the rapists wouldn't even have a fetish for young girls. They rape because they can. That's how dark it can get in such societies. When they see a door open with a young girl in the absence of strong muscles, they jump on her. We have long tolerated a culture of physically over-powering men reminiscent of hunter-gatherers fighting over a piece of skin. And this toleration arises from a multitude of factors with the top 3 being: the offenders have political clout; they belong to the mafia; even worse, they are the police. For an average Indian middle/lower class to fight any of the three mentioned goons is a high stake game. You should be ready to forgo your life to bring them to the book. Since most of victims are aware of the emotional expenses involved in pursuing the criminals, they just put up with the event and get on with their lives.
How are we to prevent such incidents? Women empowerment? Minimize the segregation between men & women in closed cultures? A clean police force? More stringent punishments?.... There are many more bridges that will close the gap. But the primary driving force will be education. I know that I sound very text-bookish when I say education. I refer to education that produces an expanding mind that understands women's role in the progress of a society, a culturally open mind that doesn't fit womenfolk into roles which their grandmothers performed, a loving mind that addresses the need for women's freedom to express. Such a mind cannot be shaped by school education (though it will help to some extent). For a faster & efficient growth, men need to understand that societies need to be built with both hands.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
There are some events, which are of absolutely no significance that have stayed in my mind. I recall an evening when she was talking to our neighbour. Nothing special about the day: neither breezy nor sultry; nothing special about her appearance: neither flashy nor simple; nothing special about her mannerisms: neither forced nor natural. But then, I remember almost every movement she made then, from her shift in balance to hair adjustments, from her lazily elegant leaning on a wall to a semi-brisk walk, from her lullaby of a silence to her cascade-flow words. A happy life, I think is constituted by a collection of such undecorated but memorable, insignificant but worthwhile events.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
In a slide that discusses this aspect, my wife typed 'Mindly Polygynous' instead of 'Mildly Polygynous' (which now stands corrected) and a friend promptly asked if it was a Freudian Slip and the whole crowd started giggling at me. Just a thought: when it's a man's fidelity that's discussed in a crowd in a somewhat conservative society, it can be treated as a joke; but I'm quite sure that had it been a woman's fidelity questioned in a similar society, the discussion would have assumed serious proportions. If you want to understand the paranoia associated with a woman's loyalty to her partner, read the book, or at least go through the slides which are fairly indicative.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
About 40% of countries still allow smoking in hospitals and schools, according to the WHO report. Additionally, only 5% of the world's population lives in countries with comprehensive national bans on tobacco advertising and promotion. Services to treat tobacco dependence are fully available in only nine countries.
Yet tobacco tax revenues are more than 4,000 times greater than spending on tobacco control in middle-income countries and more than 9,000 times greater in lower-income countries, the WHO says.
When the report says that 40% of the countries allow smoking in hospitals & schools, it fails to mention exactly what percentage of the population have the freedom to smoke in such places. I'm quite sure that those countries all are rich or poor. The rich think of smoking anywhere they want as a symbol of freedom and the poor don't care. Usually the middle-world countries like India & China which assign secondary preferences for personal freedom don't encourage such stupidities. There is no point in keeping a hospital sterile when the patients become passive smokers. Schools are cat-on-the-wall places where kids who're susceptible to peer pressure or who try to look smart & cool pick up the habit.5% of the world's population lives in countries with comprehensive national bans on tobacco advertising and promotion. Now we're talking about population, which I think is a more concrete and useful figure compared to the % of countries where the actual number of smokers is hidden. I wonder if the lack of advertisements has any effect at all. Well, in a country like India where movie/cricket stars are demigods, their smoking may cause a considerable impact. But I still think the major driver here is your neighbor/friend/colleague/mate. When they stand next to you smoking, the chances are high that you either pick up the habit (given that you're vulnerable) or resume (how many times smokers quit) or increase your frequency (just for the sake of company). Moreover, there are alternatives when it comes to marketing: most of the alcohol beverage brands available in India advertise their.... yeah.. their music CDs.
Yet tobacco tax revenues are more than 4,000 times greater than spending on tobacco control... The writer again glosses over and fails to provide concrete numbers through which an educated reader can gain some insights. How much does a country spend on tobacco control? In middle-income countries, which is where I guess India & China would comfortably fall under, the fund allocated to combat such public menaces would line the pockets of bureaucrats and only a ludicrous amount would come into the fore. What kinds of techniques are used to fight tobacco? Billboards, radio/TV advertisements, short films... Do the government officials actually care about these messages reaching its intended audince? I'm not surprised at all that the tax revenues paid by cigarette manufacturers are thousand-fold the budget to fight smoke. This is the only way how it could be and the way the writer puts it hardly shocks me.
Fighting tobacco, comparable to quitting drugs or alcohol, involves a good deal of will and strong encouragement & support from family. I also believe that the formative years between 13 and 21 will heavily decide the course of one's personal traits. As for the WSJ piece, there are a few numbers & names thrown here and there, but not much food for thought.
Sunday, February 03, 2008
The slippage between a scientific fact and moral exhortation is accomplished with remarkable ease in a world where people lack the confidence to speak in the language of right and wrong. But turning science into an arbiter of policy and behaviour only serves to confuse matters. Science can provide facts about the way the world works, but it cannot say very much about what it all means and what we should do about it. Yes, the search for truth requires scientific experimentation and the discovery of new facts; but it also demands answers about the meaning of those facts, and those answers can only be clarified through moral, philosophical investigation and debate.Frank brilliantly argues how under-informed, misguided people are trying to replace moral & religious authorities with a shadow of science. In most cases, I try to be a man driven by reason and science is a wonderful tool that helps me wade through the multitude of options available on a daily basis ranging from the trivial like the brand of tooth paste to weighty issues like child psychology.
But an extreme insistence on science in every walk of life (anatomically comfortable sexual position, your TV viewing angle shouldn't exceed 30 degrees, sun screen lotion with an SPF of 12.5.....) makes decision-making robotically boring. As humans with free will (don't we?) the fun comes with owning responsibilities for our actions. By thoroughly turning towards scientific proofs/experiments we deny ourselves in breathing a fresh whiff of air.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Monday, January 14, 2008
There was a time, when the young woman of the house didn't have much say as to her choice of partner, and the father would deem a young man capable of taming a wild bull fit for his daughter. This is not a far fetched idea as there weren't many other means of evaluating the life-earning skills of a man. It wasn't just brute force (to discipline the animal), but the process also involved timing (when to get hold of the bull, when to let go of it), positioning (attack from a vantage point), sense of safety (how well/less bruised he is once done), reflex (avoid those sharp horns & U-turns) and maturity (an crude analysis of the bull's thought process and how best it can be contained in the running field). So, if someone is successful at getting the animal to its knees, by a very rough estimate, he is considered capable of wading his family through tough times - a mark of physical & mental strength.
But what does all of this have to do today? In an age of tractors, fertilizers and electric pumps and in a time when grooms are chosen based on their bank balances, why bother running after an intoxicated bull whose tail has been adorned with fire crackers? Oh yes! Its called 'our mighty culture & tradition'. I saw this guy on TV who has shaved his head as a mark of protest for not allowing him to display his valour. He said that if the supreme court doesn't give a favorable response, he'll shave his head again. Now, in all probability, he'll remain a healthy bachelor!
Sunday, January 13, 2008
As with most nature/nurture debates, asking which is the more important variable is meaningless - despite extravagant claims to the contrary in the IQ literature. (Indeed, the question is no more meaningful than asking whether the wetness of water results mainly from the hydrogen molecules or from the oxygen molecules that constitute H2O!). But the good news is that by doing the right kinds of experiments, you can begin to tease them apart, investigate how they interact and eventually help develop new treatments for phantom pain. It seems extraordinary even to contemplate the possibility that you could use a visual illusion to eliminate pain, but bear in mind that pain itself is an illusion - constructed entirely in your brain like any other sensory experience. Using one illusion to erase another doesn't seem very surprising after all.Phantom limbs, for those who don't know what it is, are imaginary limbs that continue to exist in the mind in spite of a specific limb being amputated. Strangely, some of those who have phantom limbs feel extra-ordinary physical pain in those limbs. Sounds crazy from a common sense perspective to realize that someone who doesn't have an arm is boggled down by unimaginable pain in that arm. As neuroscience has put the spotlight on, the pain is very real and V.S.Ramachandran, a leading neuroscientist has developed a gimmick of a solution which involves a mirror through which the patient can see his/her phantom limb to get rid of it and eventually the pain born out of it.
I didn't know until I read this book that physical pain is an illusion constructed in the brain. I've read before that there are no pain receptors in the brain (which is why those who contemplate suicide try to shoot themselves in their brains). But this fact makes sense from an evolutionary vantage point - pain is the brain's way of instructing the animal: guard your body & keep it safe so that you remain fit enough to pass on your genes. Just for a crazy split-second, I thought: if the wiring in your brain is screwed up where you don't feel pain anymore, wouldn't that be cool?
The author mentions that in some cultures women don't experience any pain during labour. With these women as inspiration, you rewire your circuit such that the pain receptors are out of the brain's normal functioning (I don't think the medical technology is yet there, but let me just hypothesize). You're a cop operating on a risky route; you bust gang and in the process you get shot on your shoulders. You don't feel any pain but you can see blood gushing out of you. With a cool head, you wrap a piece of cloth or get whatever first-aid possible. Call an ambulance, explain your situation and give them your location. Of course, there's a lot of exaggeration involved in that scenario, but I hope the point is clear.
And then I got back from my reverie. My knowledge of physiology, brain's response to a biological crisis & human immunity is just damn flimsy. But wishful thinking never hurt anyone.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
The truth, of course, is that inEvery day a reporter talks rapidly on a very pressing issue as if it might change the economic/political/social landscape of the country immediately. Once the fake storm dies, there is no follow-up. As the writer points out, there are pieces daily that flood our news papers and magazines that fail to offer a shred of insight. But blaming the media doesn't take us anywhere. They are just treading a time-tested model: like the movies, give them something hot for now. When the news cools down, jump on to the next hot thing. Journalism in India, like in most other places has become a act of throwing bone to the dog. Is the dog really hungry? Is it selective in its intake? Does it avoid junk food?
, and in every other large nation in the world, there can be found many shades of gray between the black of one statement and the white of its exact opposite. The grays aren't hard to find, but spotting them might involve the terrific discomfort of occasionally taking off those designer sunglasses and squinting, for a while, into the sun. India
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
2) No doubt that the Australian team is better than the second best team by miles. By the end of the fifth day of the second test match, they lost something invaluable which the West Indies team of the late 70s still enjoy - respect. It's understandable when a batsman holds his ground in case of a negligible deflection. Michael Clarke CUT the ball towards slips and he stood there for the umpire's decision. Again, Clarke would have been 100% damn confident when he took that half-volley catch to dismiss Ganguly. To put the spotlight on a player like Michael Clarke, you need some one like Steve Waugh. Instead by defending him, Ponting has sunk low.
3) Walking. I believe that a batsman is not morally compelled to walk towards pavilion if he knows that he's out. Because there are a number of times when an umpire wrongfully adjudges and the batsman anyway has to walk out and I perceive this as a sort of 'moral compensation'. When Symonds decided to stay, his team was in doldrums and it was in good spirit that he hanged on to bail out his team. Obviously, this can't be a gentleman's game anymore and though we were colonized by the English people, the only thing that's English about today's cricket is 'Tea Break' at the end of second session.
4) Racism is a subjective issue. How does calling one a monkey inferior and hurting that abusing him or his family with as many unprintable four-letter words? Symonds being an aboriginal of Australia with his thick lips and wheatish complexion can take the remarks to be accusatory of his race. But was it Harbhajan's intention? Did Harbhajan actually try to insult Symond's race or was he trying to rebut remarks from another Australian player? Was it a planned verbal assualt or a mere spur-of-the-moment retaliation? Of course, in a different world, the word 'monkey' may have emotionally destabilized Symonds and make him perform lesser than his abilities.
5) I very strongly feel that batsmen should be allowed to express their disapproval when they're wrongfully given out. They're human beings and when umpires are allowed to make incorrect decisions, the human being on the other side should be allowed to vent his disappointment. Umpires are not gods and the ICC is still wallowing in a 19th century reverence imparted on these guys. With the increasing applications of technology, we can have one umpire to call no-balls and the rest can be taken care by the third umpire. And the next generation will replace him with a robot.
6) In a world crying for more 20-20, this test match proves how wonderful it is to watch a finely carved test century. If we're to lose this format, the oncoming generations will never know the taste of gourmet only fast-food.