Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It happens only in India!

In an unbelievably hilarious case of 'It happens only in India!', the bus conductor had stepped down from the bus, and the bus driver drove off before he got back on. Then the conductor ended up having to take an auto and chase the bus! He caught up a few stops later and let's just say the driver and his family were delivered the choicest epithets for a good 10 minutes so loudly that the driver just froze at the bus stop and didn't even drive for that time! I laughed my guts out.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Came up with this pun today

Bureaucracy exists in every nation. It's just in different forms.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

84, Charing Cross Road (abridged?)

84, Charing Cross Road is an epistolary correspondence of nearly two decades between Helene Hanff and the employees of Marks & Co., in particular Frank Doel. The books begins with Helen Hanff (HH) contacting Marks & Co. with a request for some arcane literature. The request is answered with a formal letter and the relevant books by Frank Doel, as a representative of the book company. But Helene quickly slips into a more informal tone, rambling on the aesthetic appeal of the book, and ending with the puzzling postscript, "I hope "madam" doesn't mean over there what it does here.". When she figures out that its the same representative, viz Frank, answering all her letters to Marks & Co., she starts peppering her letters with humour ("M. de Tocqueville's compliments and he announces his safe arrival in America") and the kind of impudence, especially in salutations, that only a woman might get away with. In one correspondence, she opens by addressing Frank as 'SLOTH'! It made me wonder if a man might've been able to begin a letter to another man thus.

Helene succeeds in denting Frank's reserve not only with her deliberate impudence but also by showering affection on him and the fellow inmates of the bookstore in the form of gifts on festive occasions, or simply as presents when UK was suffering from post-war rationing, especially of meat, linen and other such "luxuries". Naturally, this made the employees and Frank's family extremely fond of this strange foreign girl who kept sending them such expensive gifts for no obvious reason. There is something to be said for this kind of wanton kindness. It makes a lasting impression. I still remember this lady who gave us free syringes at a hospital for some injection that someone we knew had to be administered. We'd always paid for them, and I believe it was Rs. 10 a syringe. Yet for no obvious reason, this lady said, "Take it. There's plenty around anyway" (in telugu) and gave it to us. It left me dumbstruck at that time so I still remember the frail lady who did that. Then there is this mexican woman at the campus dining cafeteria, who always remembers my face and bills me $6, the breakfast rate, for the $8 lunch, if no one else is watching. The first time she did it, my eyes widened in disbelief and she quickly raised her finger to her lips as if to suggest 'hush!' and smiled quietly, making it clear it wasn't an accident. Thereafter, she did it whenever it was safe, and I still smile in incredible gratitude. Then there's the plastic flower roadside vendor in my neighbourhood, who one devilish monsoon day, when the rain suddenly crashed down from the skies, rushed to slip an umbrella out from under his plastic sheet not to protect the source of his livelihood, but to hold it up to my mom while she waited for dad to come pick her up. Then there's Izudina. She spent 30 minutes of unpaid overtime to guide me by hand through the purchase of my first suit, for my first interview, which eventually turned into my first job. And above all, there's a woman, a friend, who's forgiven me for imbecilic adolescent past behaviour that no woman might reasonably forgive. It must be the same inexplicable gratitude that I feel for these people that the employees of Marks and Co. must've felt for the large-hearted and generous HH. Out of that gratitude they invite HH to come over to England and stay with them, and HH promises a trip to England as soon as she's saved enough. As the book progresses, correspondences are omitted, possibly to avoid repetition, possibly because the letters have been lost, and before you know it, a decade has gone by with HH still having made no trip to England. Although, if letters were omitted to avoid repetition, I would like to express my delayed disapproval to the publishers, for how can the correspondences be dull when the woman is as funny as this: "Are you a grandfather yet?", she asks Frank. And then suggests that he tell his daughters, "their children are entitled to presentation copies of my Collected Juvenile Works, THAT should make them rush off and reproduce. "(Underline and block font in original) By now, Frank, Nora (Frank's wife), and their daughters, Sheila and Mary, are spatially removed family to Helene.

Age does not wither Helene's humour, which is often nothing more than the vexed desire for the end of the many people she might momentarily disapprove of. Such phrases as "All must die.", " Death the leveler.", "h.hfffffff.", and "FRANKIE, you'll die when I tell you." only make one smile. On one occasion, her mom leaves behind a dozen knives. She resourcefully uses one for her page cutting, and in the email to Frank says, "May be I go with the wrong kind of people but I'm just not likely to have twelve guests all sitting around simultaneously eating fruit." I laughed at that.

Towards the end of the book, you come to love Frank as this simple yet knowledgeable and happy family man, whose proper British reserve Helene arduously breaks down with an endearing mix of impudence, good humour, and overwhelming affection over nearly two decades. So it left me sad to learn that he died without Helene and him ever meeting. As Nora jealously confesses in the end, perhaps Helene and Frank had more in common.

Finally, I wondered how these letters came to be compiled into a book. Was the same woman who confessed to being incapable of converting pounds to dollars a shrewd businesswoman at heart? Or were the letters simply meant to be a tribute to Frank and the employees of Marks & Co.? Whatever her motivation, I'm only happy to have been privy to their correspondence.

Addendum: The upcoming review will be either 'The rise of India' by Niranjan Rajadakshya or 'Reintegrating India with the World Economy' by T.N. Srinivasan and Suresh Tendulkar. I have an India trip lined up and I realised I know too little about my own country. I also hope to finish Ramachandra Guha's India after Gandhi before I set foot on home soil. Wish me luck folks!

post-Addendum: I just realised that the library copy was an abridged version of the book after buying myself a copy from abebooks.com. I will read the full version later. Till then, please consider this only an incomplete review.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Do customer care representatives appreciate humour?

I recently made a purchase from a major online shopping site only to realise soon after that the product didn't have a feature that I needed. I placed a request for canceling the order within an hour of my original purchase. But apparently the store had forwarded the info. to their warehouse by then and so they'd in turn have to contact the warehouse. Here's that response:

Hello Karthik,

Thank you for visiting ***********, I appreciate your patience while we attempt to cancel your order # 94628027. I do apologize that we are not able to guarantee this being done.

I have sent a request to the warehouse to attempt to cancel your order. I should receive a response from them within the next 2 business days. I will contact you once I receive a response from them.

If there is anything else that I can assist you with please reply directly to this email and I will be more than happy to help. I would like to thank you for your time and your patience.


Customer Care

Two business days to elicit a response from within the same company? What kind of a warehouse is this anyway? Is it some underground nuclear explosion safe location built so that the store can continue to do sales to the vestiges of civilization after the holocaust? Peeved that their internal process should be so bureaucratic, I decided to give them a tongue-in-cheek response:

Hi *****,

Thank you for the prompt response. In the event that the warehouse is unable to cancel the order, the only thing I would do would be to return the package unopened via mail back to ******* so that I can avail the 30 day return period. Thinking along those lines, I was wondering if I might go online now and change the shipping address to the warehouse address? That way, they can ship it to themselves and I won't have to trudge along to the post-office. Then I can just place a request to file the package as a return in stead of a cancel. I am hoping the warehouse can cancel, but if not, let me know if I might work this little trick to save myself a walk to the post-offfice. If its possible, then please let me know the warehouse address. Thank you,


I've always wondered if these cloyingly polite customer care representatives have a sense of humour. Perhaps I'll know now?

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Columnist pay - an idea

I was thinking today about the utter lack of brevity in most online news and magazine sites. I understand that companies do this to maximize ad space, and thus ad revenue, the same reason that a single page articles is often broken into multiple pages. I was wondering if there was a way around this menace of verbosity and it occurred to me that companies might use the hit counting tools to everyone's advantage. Since it should be possible for them to track how many hits each article generates, and since ultimately advertisers want more viewers (and therefrom more suckers) it makes sense for news sites to have a fraction of columnist pay determined by a hits/word ratio. This way, columnists are rewarded for brevity, while advertisers still pay more only for pages which generate more hits, and we as consumers get to see news and information whittled down to the essentials rather than come packaged in an armor of verbiage. What say?

Uncommon Genius (How Great Ideas Are Born) - Denise Shekerjian

As I had said in my previous post, I was uncertain if a book on genius or creativity would be worth reviewing. I had come to this conclusion after reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's book 'Creativity'. In 'Creativity', a number of eminent people were interviewied, including two-time physics Nobel laureate John Bardeen, whereas in 'Uncommon Genius' Denise interviews 40 MacArthur fellows. The problem with both books is that there's too much pattern-seeking going on. Creativity requires such and such conditions or so and so methodology. The funny thing however was that in the course of the books, both Mihaly and Denise ended up mentioning a particular trait and its opposite as necessary. For instance, they would realise after speaking to some of those creative people that its important to be aggressive in one's ambition, so that one dreams big and achieves at least a fraction of what one dreams, but elsewhere come to the conclusion it is important to hold one's calm and be patient in the face of obstacles or resilient in the face of failure. They find that its important to be connected/socially networked with one's peers so that one is up-to-date on the field, but at the same time declare elsewhere its important to have isolation so that ideas can incubate. I could go on and on, but the bottomline is that there's no clear pattern or formula that can be worked out for creativity or 'genius'. If not, everyone would be 'creative' or a 'genius'. However, that being said, Denise does a better job than Mihaly and rightly points out that at least the right sort of conditions can be created to foster creativity. She says it beautifully thus: "Its the defeatist who seeks to explain away creative achievement solely in terms of luck, a perspective that would have us believe the role of luck in creativity is something akin to a fortuitous flash of lightning. A more accurate assessment would be if a person went into the hardware store, bought the best lightning rod he could find, climbed to the highest point of his roof, bolted the contraption in place, and then waited patiently for a storm." This really sums up what creativity and genius are all about. And that is what you really learn from all the people interviewed as well. It is not a miracle process and there's no clear-cut pattern. The so-called 'geniuses' themselves can find no pattern, although the authors desperately try to. When one dwells on ideas in a field for a sufficiently long time, the conditions are created for new ideas of one's own to congeal from the soup of ideas one is exposed to. As one reviewer pithily summarised on the very essential goodreads.com, Genius is always interesting. This is the primary reason I managed to finish both books. I will also add that Denise has a more flowing narrative non-fiction tone to the book. That makes for easier reading. However, it can also lead to character misrepresentation. There is much hero-worship of the geniuses and Denise, a former trial attorney, looks at them with the awe of one who doesn't understand their work. Her focus is excessively on character portrayal and less on accurate representation of their work. For instance, while mentioning Robert Axelrod's work on the iterated prisoner's dilemma, not once did she clearly mention that it was the iterated version of the prisoner's dilemma that she was referring to when she said Axelrod had organized a tournament on the game. One can skim over the overarching pattern-seeking by both Denise in this book and Mihaly in Creativity and just focus on the interesting, and oftentimes insightful words of the interviewees themselves. So I'll just end this brief review with words from the Fellows that I thought interesting:

'I'm not afraid of risk because risk is a part of change, and change is what new ideas are all about." - Debbie Meier

Peter Sellars - "...the first two hundred years of American culture were made by Europeans coming to New York...If something happened elsewhere in the land, it had to go to New York and get the seal of American culture stamped across its forehead...I think the next two hundred years of American culture are going to be shaped by another set of immigrants - Asians and Hispanics - who are going to create another set of vocabulary with its own sense of moral values, and the distribution center will be Los Angeles."

"Purpose is what dictates the entire range of the enterprise. Through intention, goals are shaped and ideas are generated to fulfill them. Through relentlessness come the cultivation of skills and the perfection of technique. Through motive come the decisions as to which projects to pursue and in what order. Through resolve, resources are marshaled and the necessary strength mustered to overcome obstacles rather than be overcome by them. Through tenacity, friends and collaborators are selected. And through will comes the wisdom to know when to part paths with influences one has outgrown." - Denise (author)

Thanks to (Howard) Gardner's work, the old question: How smart is he? is giving way to the more meaningful inquiry: How is he smart?

"Chance favours the prepared mind" - Louis Pasteur

...encourage our luck. There are three ways, at least, of doing this: being attentive, so you notice the nuances in daily life; being curious and inquisitive enough to follow your curiosity around a blind corner; and being able to relax and have a good time.

He took an interest in their stories and told them his, which was in keeping with his belief that only through an exchange of stories can one person know and trust another. - Denise on Robert Coles

Friday, October 29, 2010


Did I independently share a dream with Hayek (See from 2:30)?


p.s: Sorry for this distraction from the reviews, but this is way too cool :D

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Economics in one lesson by Henry Hazlitt

This book is just what the title suggests. It is perhaps the single most important lesson in economics for every human being. It is the lesson that most of the time, a government does not create value. Instead, it merely redistributes wealth, and forcibly, through taxes, invariably from the more efficient producers of value to the less efficient ones. Although this lesson may seem obvious if stated in this manner, the author rightly points out that most nations, shockingly, still haven't imbibed Adam Smith's lessons on the benefits of free-trade and capitalism, let alone the ideologies of the 20th century Austrian school of economic thought. It is the single most important lesson of the classical economists. FA Hayek, one of the stalwarts of the classical liberal movement of the 20th century, vouches for this book. He says, "It is a brilliant performance. It says precisely the things which need most saying and says them with a rare courage and integrity. I know of no other modern book from which the intelligent layman can learn so much about the basic truths of economics in so short a time." Its greatest virtue is the simplicity of language and layman friendly explanations, along with illustrative examples even a high school student can grasp. Hayek's Road to Serfdom is the work of a philosopher more than an economist, and it has that vague philosopher's gobbledygooky tone to it. But Hazlitt, who has served as editor on the board's of many big news sources in his time, has that crispness of language which makes the book an easy read. As Hazlitt says in the conclusion, the main aim of the book is to make the reader understand the effects of government interference in markets on the Forgotten Man, in other words, what are the effects of a special interest petition, whether it be parity prices, export subsidies, tariffs, or price-fixing, on the parties not making the petition. Each individual plays the role of consumer, producer, and taxpayer in an economy, and all too often we compartmentalise ourselves into these modes, without considering the three interrelate. He also stresses the importance of understanding the long run consequences of economic policy, without exultation at the short term result of a distortion in markets. It explains clearly the functioning of free-markets, the role of supply and demand in setting the price level, and the effect of arbitrary perturbations on the market equilibrium either through government interference or popular coercion. He elaborates on how supply and demand are two sides of the same coin. The one cannot arbitrarily exceed the other for any sustained period of time. The author states it beautifully as 'There is no limit to the amount of work to be done. Work creates work. What A produces constitutes the demand for what B produces.' Let us take a simple example of this kind of perturbation on the free market: Minimum wage laws and union rates. As the author says, in an exchange economy everybody's income is somebody else's cost. Every increase in hourly wages, unless or until compensated by an equal increase in hourly productivity, is an increase in costs of production. This in turn would reflect in a change in the price level, or what we call the consumer price index, thus ultimately making nobody making nobody wealthier in the best case, but in a more realistic scenario it only increases unemployment. The elasticity of demand for labour is between -3 and -4 in most low-skilled wages and mimimum wage laws are the surest way to increase unemployment. So in stead of allowing a man to earn a mimimum wage and support his family, you put him on the streets, and then give him unemployment benefits through taxing the same producer, but giving him nothing in return, whereas he would've got some returns in stead if he could hire the worker on a minimum wage. It is important to understand that wages are merely labour prices. Just as price levels must be determined by supply and demand, so must wage levels. To take another example, fixing prices above the market level (as is still being demanded in India today. See this and this.) would either reduce demand (depending upon the elasticity) and thus lead to wastage of produce or operation of production at non-optimal efficiency, or if the demand for the price-fixed product is inelastic (as with rice in the hyperlinks above), it would lead to reduced demand elsewhere, throwing other producers out of jobs or reducing profits. Similarly, fixing prices below the market equilibrium would lead to a falling off of profits. And profits are nothing but the capital necessary to meet demand requirements. So reduced profits would scale down production, and possibly create unemployment along the way. Therefore, as the author concludes, any attempt to force prices either above or below their equilibrium levels (which are the levels toward which a free market constantly tends to bring them) will act to reduce the volume of employment and production below what it would otherwise have been. He also highlights a more important role of profits. Not only are profits the necessary capital to meet demand, they are the filter that determines what is demanded and what is not in a free economy. That is, the prospect of profits decides what articles will be made, and in what quantities - and what articles will not be made at all. If there is no profit in making an article, it is a sign that the labor and capital devoted to its production are misdirected: the values of the resources that must be used up in making the article is greater than the value of the article itself. I think this is what Randall Munroe tried to illustrate in this comic. He started the book with a good example on the silliness of the notion of a subsidy which is often demand by the 'dying industry'. He says imagine what would've happened if in the early 20th century they decided to tax the car industry and subsidize the horse-driven carriages in order to save the dying carriage industry. Although this example may seem funny on hindsight, this is precisely what is being done in all nations today as governments subsidize one powerful vote bank industry or the other, distorting the markets and hampering industrial progress. Before the close of the book, he tackles perhaps the biggest devil of 'em all - inflation! He says, 'Inflation is the opium of the people', and there is really no better way to put it. (For instance, how much is India's real GDP growth, minus the staggering 9% overall inflation? Is it a negative -0.5% in the recent 8.5% GDP growth period? Or have they accounted for it when reporting on news sites? There is bound to be inflation in any developing economy, but I wonder how much the growth numbers are fudged by inflation?) This is all of course done to create the money illusion.

The author does not tackle the effects of elasticities of demand and the classical economic theories that take it into account. I'd be interested in understanding the perturbations in classical theory created by demand elasticity so if any of you can suggest good books on the same, please do so in the comments. Thanks.

Finally, as I have stated several times already, this is an excellent introduction to the classical view of economics, and not the only and absolute view. There is a whole other school of economic thought, the Keynesian school, and there are several tomes on how fiscal policy might step in to positively aid free-markets(For instance). As I am only beginning to take a serious interest in economics, I have no opinion on which is the right way of approaching the problems in economics, but I do think the classical economists provide a better starting point than the Marxists :)

As I said folks, this is a busy time academically so the next review may only come after a month or so. It'll be more frequent thereafter for the next two months :)

Upcoming review: Either Uncommon Genius by Denise Shekerjian (If I think it is worth reviewing) or 84 Charing Cross Road (which I'll definitely review)

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Huckleberry Finn


Well, I k'n stend it no mo' peeps.

It was a good book, and Mark Twain has shown his capacity to bring out the different accents along the Mississippi very well, and I daresay that's a nation (hat tip: Twain) tough job. The story starts off kind of interesting with Huck's brilliantly hatched plan to escape from pap, his dad, including a red-herring in the scheme. His discovery of Jim, the nigger, and their times together are fun to read. The first half of the story is mostly Huck's thoughts with the story itself lying in the background. It all sort of acts as a forerunner to the main debate in Huck's head over whether or not to blow a whistle on the escaped nigger. Through Huck, Twain deals with the issue of slavery with the simplicity of a 14 year old. Huck figures he'd feel just as bad if he told on Jim as if he didn't and so he saw no point in telling on him. In another instance, Huck had been 'sivilized' by Miss Watson who had made him pray and said he'd get the things he wanted if only he prayed. And so he prayed for some downright essential things like a fishing rod or two, and seeing he didn't get that upon praying, he figured it wasn't worth taking all that trouble to pray. The latter half of the story however moves out of the realm of Huck's thoughts and his fight with his own conscience and into a bunch of farcical episodes with two fraudsters. Their get-rich-quick schemes are fantastic, the folks they hoodwink are made out to be complete dunces, and you sort of feel like you are reading the script of a bollywood comedy movie. After the fraudsters, Twain creates an opportunity to bring Tom into this novel. At first, I was thrilled at the prospect of Huck and Tom re-uniting but Tom, in this book, just turns out to be maniacally obsessed with making a Rube Goldberg machine out of the plan to free Jim from his latest captors. That line of narration gets tedious after a point, and Huck completely loses character. Initially you are treated to this delightful child who learns life lessons through his voyages on the Mississippi and battles with his own conscience. But in the end he is just reduced to Tom's nodding sidekick, much as he was in the earlier novel Tom Sawyer. So I was left with the impression Twain started of well but then ran out of ideas so that the novel kinda devolved into a farce. Nevertheless, the first half makes it worth a read. However, just like Tom Sawyer, the novel is loaded to the brim with belief in the supernatural and the occult and after a point, you are almost sure that in any situation that gets too complicated for the author to wiggle his way out of, someone's going to come up with some supernatural belief as a way to disentangle the mess. I rate the book better than Tom Sawyer as it had some depth to it in parts whereas Tom Sawyer was almost entirely just a collection of superstitions. Also, there is good humour in both books although you figure out the patterns soon enough. For instance, a lot of jokes hinge on replacing the word stealing with the word borrowing. Twain also manages to highlight the seamless transition that kids can make from the real world to the imaginary as contained in their ability to let on. For a wonderful illustration of child's seamless transition in emotional states, see this picture:

Finally, both books have a very slow pace of events, and lots of conversations of an obscure and arbitrary nature thanks to all the superstitions, so that makes it a little difficult to read in long stretches. I think I will give a rest to fiction for a while.

I think I was irrational to say I'd review one book a week as there's too many variables involved in determining when I finish a book. The blog, however, will continue with reviews. Things may be slow for the next month and a half as there are some major shifts occurring on my educational/career front. But I will keep at reading, and reviewing.

Upcoming review: Economics in one lesson by Henry Hazlitt

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Commitment issues

An experienced serial entrepreneur had written in an article I once read that it'll always come in handy to be good and fast at skills you may use regularly. Good common sense advice, no? In that basket of skills features reading, for me. Also, to an extent, writing. Thinking does too, and I do try to practice that as much as I can. Because if I don't make it a point to think, it turns out, I don't think. I act on automaton mode prompted by immediate reward cues, just like animals. In any case, I realized I am not practicing these skills as much as I'd like. This space, this blog, has been lying fallow for quite some time now. So I've decided to be resourceful and use it to my advantage. I hope to turn this in to a book review blog of sorts. Nothing formal. Nothing orderly. Just write reviews of books, when I finish them. I hope to finish about one leisure reading book a week. By my present reading standards, that's ambitious. But then, there are two schools of thought on making your goals public. In the one case, the fact that you've signaled intent and impressed your audience thus implies you lose initiative to fulfill those goals. For instance, if I am a school kid and I say I wish to become a lawyer to the auntie and uncle that come to visit my parents and they go "very good, child" , I am less likely to work towards becoming a lawyer than otherwise as I've already increased status from the declaration. The other school of thought says, declaring definite goals publicly, especially when most of the status comes after the fact of realising that goal, enhances likelihood of goal achievement. For instance, if I hope to lose a 100 pounds, I am more likely to lose it if I put it on my twitter and facebook status messages than if I keep it a secret vow. I am hoping my book reading and reviewing goals fall in the latter category. I've never reviewed books. So I will mostly begin with whatever little I can recall from the book and my thoughts on it. I hope not to actually open the book at the time of reviewing it. I am hoping this will help with increasing my operating memory on leisure literature, which is quite sparse at the moment. I just finished Tom Sawyer and I don't remember any more the name of Tom's last love. There's also a theory about writing helping to organize things in one's memory better. So I'd like to test that out. I expect the reviews to be haphazard and disorganized for now. But perhaps in a year or two, they will have acquired some form. The other reasons for doing this are that I am too under-read and under-knowledgeable(?) to write meaningful posts otherwise. I may occasionally write-up an article on issues I care about, but I wouldn't be comfortable doing so without a tonne of reference literature to back up my claims, so that would take time and articles of that sort may not be frequent. Also, I think I've screwed up my 'work-life balance'. More my 'life' than my 'work'. Without definite leisure related goals, work and online leisure sprawls matted over the length of the day and I'm hoping this will help me organize my leisure better. I expect most of the book reviews to go up on weekends. I also hope to be able to mention what book I'll be reviewing the subsequent week. Wish me luck friends!

Upcoming review: Huckleberry Finn (for I'd have completely forgotten Tom Sawyer by then, although I thoroughly enjoyed the book!)

Monday, September 20, 2010


The leaves of memory seemed to rustle
The mind's reprieve from the daily bustle

Flitting images real or fake
Leaving much joy in their wake

Friday, September 17, 2010


There is a hint of irony in human nature. Greed throws us into quarrels over bits of printed paper. It has us fighting furiously for bits of earth to plant concrete on, when Earth herself would be bountiful enough in accommodating and feeding the warring parties if she were left alone. Yet this same greed nudges us to try to accumulate and preserve ephemeral joys, to photograph a snow-capped mountain range, to record a child's unbridled laughter, to pen verdant words at the start of monsoon. This greed can thus lead us to boundless sorrow but also boundless joy. And so it is this powerful beast has galvanized me into writing about my favourite time of the day, the precious minutes of dawn. Dawn is a time of such perfect calm that one is hesitant to move lest one trample on its fragile beauty. It is a time of restfulness for life. The air itself breathes in silence at this hour. The trees are bowed in quiet humility to the serenity of the hour. The hardships of the previous day are fleetingly forgotten by humans, and the animals have a sojourn from the struggle for survival. Even the alert owls, those sentries of the night, relax their eyelids a little, as if trusting themselves in the safe arms of dawn. Blades of grass are bathed in dew, and flowers can be seen adorned in water droplets. The unobtrusive lighting of twilight renders nature in its pristine shades. The moist earth is teasing with its intoxicating smells. One can sit in a state of such blissful communion with one's surroundings that its almost impossible not to smile the whole time. Then one sees the red hues on the horizon, the carpet for sunrise. And one begins to sense the first stirrings of life. The chirping of the bird in celebration of the hour. The confused stray dog rummaging a refuse heap for food. The distant whistle of an early morning train. The sound of water gushing out of someone's tap. One is suddenly made conscious of all the humans that are stealthily opening an eye to glean meaning from their alarm clocks, those ticking time bombs that jolt them out of rest. In a few hours from this time we will all have hurled ourselves headlong in to the tumult and turbulence of daily life. It seems almost understandable that we don't allow ourselves to witness dawn very often. It would be well nigh impossible to soak in such perfection, to dilute one's grit, to wash away one's worries, to dissolve one's fears, and then to pull oneself together to carry on with the banalities of daily existence. Dawn can thus paralyze. Yet, if one is ever longing leave from loneliness, or escape from boredom, or freedom from depression, or even faced with an existential crisis, to live through the hours of dawn is enough to give a new lease of life itself.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Made my day

Thank you Izudina. Your service made the 300 dollars I spent worth it.

Monday, August 02, 2010


"Oh!", said the woman
I daily ply my trade
lest i turn housemaid

"Ah!", said the man
I daily ply my trade
only because I'm paid

"Ha!", said the monkey
who was free and flayed
this sad human charade

p.s: I had originally posted this as a comment here but then I really liked it because I have a thing for rhymes, which is the only kind of poetry I understand so I've decided to honour it here :|

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Unprintably hilarious Hemingway

So the dude (Hemingway) decides to use 'unprintable' and 'obscenity' in stead of the actual obscenities in 'For whom the bell tolls'. (an old-fashioned way of going 'beeep' I suppose) But he could've been more clever about it like we are and used the first and last letters and inserted asterisks, the b*****d, but he wasn't clever enough to think of that. So the book, which is otherwise serious, now has funny bits like this:

"I know what it is for and so will you in time," Robert Jordan said. "But now we go to the camp."
"Go to the unprintable," Agustin said. "And unprint thyself. But do you want me to tell you something of service to you?"
"Yes," said Robert Jordan. "If it is not unprintable," naming the principal obscenity that had larded the conversation.

Another one:

"...But I would say one thing. Guard well thy explosive."
"Thank you," Robert Jordan said. "From thee?"
"No," Agustin said. "From people less unprintably equipped than I."
"So?" asked Robert Jordan.
"You understand Spanish," Agustin said seriously now. "Care well for thy unprintable explosive."
"Thank you."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ancient roman saying:

libri aut liberi

(books or children)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gmail play of words

I sent out a common email to my dissertation committee members titled 'Scheduling my comprehensive exam' asking them for times of availability in a particular week. They replied with their times of convenience and I found no time in common. Google had appropriately titled the emails 'Re: Scheduling my comprehensive exam'.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Can a democracy be made more efficient?

I was thinking of how a democracy might be made a more efficient system. While there are problems in constructing a fair voting system , what I was thinking was: irrespective of the approach (from the various approaches mentioned in link) used to elect the representatives, why not apply free market economics to voting systems. Meaning: Voters elect representatives at a local level (may be district level, or some other small unit of measure). Then, after some definite period (say annually), the nearest neighbour localities can choose to either continue with their current representative or pick one of the more efficient neighbouring representatives. In this way, some representatives, the ones which people deem more efficient, now control greater areas, and iterate over time until you have representatives/parties governing people in proportion to the extent to which people deem them efficient. (Someone I know was wondering what this would do to states as we know it? The answer is: States are a convenient fiction. The only thing this does is make those rigid boundary lines fluid.) I think this would substantially improve the powers of democracy. But perhaps there are bottlenecks in implementation? Any other problems you guys can think of?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My stance on global warming

Beautifully written: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/29/AR2008052903266.html

I echo his opinion and analysis.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Broken window theory and cleanliness/hygeine in India

Does the broken window theory explain the lack of cleanliness and hygiene in public spaces in India?

The theory:
Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in rundown ones. Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing.

Also, is there a positive correlation between population density and the feeling of anonymity/neglect needed to trigger the broken window phenomenon? This hasn't been addressed in the link above, but they provide the following example:

Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford psychologist, reported in 1969 on some experiments testing the broken-window theory. He arranged to have an automobile without license plates parked with its hood up on a street in the Bronx and a comparable automobile on a street in Palo Alto, California. The car in the Bronx was attacked by "vandals" within ten minutes of its "abandonment." The first to arrive were a family--father, mother, and young son--who removed the radiator and battery. Within twenty-four hours, virtually everything of value had been removed. Then random destruction began--windows were smashed, parts torn off, upholstery ripped. Children began to use the car as a playground. Most of the adult "vandals" were well-dressed, apparently clean-cut whites. The car in Palo Alto sat untouched for more than a week. Then Zimbardo smashed part of it with a sledgehammer. Soon, passersby were joining in. Within a few hours, the car had been turned upside down and utterly destroyed. Again, the "vandals" appeared to be primarily respectable whites.

A little wikiing reveals that Bronx has a population density of 33,116/sq. mi. while Palo Alto has a population density of 2,475.3/sq. mi. In effect the population of Bronx is about 1300% the population of Palo Alto. My hunch is that a higher population density can trigger the "no one cares" attitude more easily thus spurring the broken window phenomenon w.r.t cleanliness in public spaces. This same phenomenon is strongly witnessed in cities in India and other density populated places (like Mexico city). Of course, there can be local variations due to law enforcement or the success of some local cleanliness/hygiene programs.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I like your...

The pick-up line that I'll use on my future gf: I like your learning curves.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Gandhi of materials science?

I never knew materials science would turn out to be such a jolly subject!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Engrish FAIL!

This is from a paper published in the 'Journal of the Physical Society of Japan'!

Paper title FAIL! :p

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Please donate (Haiti is a very poor nation)


Saturday, January 09, 2010

Witty pun?

Wit - I love it!

© January 9, 2010, Karthik Sivaramakrishnan

Friday, January 08, 2010

Recycled wisdom

This video from TED seems to be doing many rounds on the internet. After you waste 20 minutes of your life watching these yuppie researchers, you may read this excerpt from Daniel Yergin's 'The Prize':

Meanwhile, Rockefeller, relieved of day-to-day responsibility, regained his health under his new regimen. In 1909, his doctor predicted that he would live to he a hundred because he followed three simple rules: "First, he avoids all worry. Second, he takes plenty of exercise in the open air. Third, he gets up from the table a little hungry."

Two points:
1) Rockefeller lived to 98.
2) The three points mentioned above are all that the video conveys after you spend 20 minutes watching it. And apparently to discover this they spent several years on research too.