Friday, October 19, 2007

The Indian Clerk: A review

"Ramanujan says nothing. Instead he rests his head against the pillow and turns, once again, to look at the river. And Hardy wonders: from his starting place, from the pial at twilight, could he have traveled further."
The eponymous 'Indian Clerk' in Leavitt's novel is Ramanujan, but 'The Cambridge Don' would perhaps have been a more apt title for the book, as the book is much more about Hardy. Ramanujan remains a cipher throughout the book: his inner thoughts are never presented by the author. It is Hardy we get to know really well.

However, in another sense, The Indian Clerk is very much about Ramanujan, in showing how even the most brilliant among us are ultimately dependent on the systems and institutions that govern our lives. It takes the First World War to bring out the full capriciousness and cruelty of the British institutions. Hardy is careful not to make his pacifism too overt during the War, for fear of losing his fellowship. Many see him as a coward, and he watches Russell and Eric Neville lose their fellowships at Cambridge for their pacifism. Russell can afford to, but Neville is a lesser talent, mathematically and otherwise, and is soon forgotten. Their tragedy is of course nothing compared to the tragedy of the men dying at the front. Hardy befriends one of them, called Thayer, and has a short homosexual affair with him. However, he is always embarrassed by his sexuality, as well as Thayer's social class, and can never bring himself to treat Thayer as an equal. As someone from a family of schoolteachers who moved up by navigating the system, he does not have the same insouciance towards it as his peers Russell and Littlewood have. As Hardy muses as he watches his dying mother's ravings:

"She speaks of school. And why not? All her life she has spent in schools. Both she and his father. From Ramanujan's perspective, there must be little difference between him and Littlewood, him and Russell. All are children of affluence to him. And how can he be expected to recognize what separates Hardy from the others? For Littlewood comes from a Cambridge family; Russell is an aristocrat. Whereas Hardy is merely the child of teachers...Hardy is dependent on Trinity, just as his father was dependent on Cranleigh, his mother on the Training College, his sister on St. Catherine's. The only difference is one of prestige. Without the support of munificent institutions, all of them would be lost."
Of course no one knows the cruelty of institutions better than Ramanujan. Ramanujan's story is often told as one of 'genius will out', but that is a fallacy: essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ramanujan's genius for all practical purposes does not exist till he gets the seal of approval from Hardy, who in turn got his seal from Cambridge. No one sees it better than Ramanujan, who, even after building his reputation, wants the B.A. he was never granted by the education system in India. He hopes one of his papers will win him the Smith's Prize, a prize for undergraduates. This irritates Hardy, because Ramanujan's work is far above the prize. But the reality is that he doesn't have the Smith's Prize: he wants the prizes, else he is not a genius, not even to himself.

Hardy takes a long time to realize this. Their relationship for a long time is one of mutual incomprehension. Hardy has a strong perception of himself as an underdog. He identifies with other underdogs, he likes to 'save' them, the way he saved himself with his own brilliance. But his self-absorption, combined with an acute sense of his own status in the class hierarchy, does not make him a very good savior. It takes him a long time to understand Ramanujan's demons are much more severe than his own: his lack of formal achievements and medals, his difficulties and inadequate appreciation of formal proofs in mathematics, a sense of wasted years, his distance from his family, his constant sense of being an outsider, or even his Hinduism that forces him to a vegetarian diet difficult to maintain in wartime Britain. Ultimately Hardy and Ramanujan manage to form some sort of personal bond beyond the professional relationship they had, and Hardy helps him achieve a part of his hopes (against strong racist opposition from Trinity). But the war ends soon after, and Ramanujan wants to go back to India.

The novel is about a lot of other things besides Hardy's relationship with Ramanujan: the troubled life of John Littlewood, the Cambridge Apostles, Russell's activism during wartime, Hardy's atheism, his relationship with his sister, and a (probably fictitious) unrequited love Alice, Eric Neville's wife, has for Ramanujan. I was dissatisfied with his potrayal of Hardy's atheism: it seemed too formulaic. Also, Leavitt seems to make Hardy colder than he perhaps actually was. Anyone who has read 'A Mathematician's Apology' cannot help feeling a certain affection for Hardy's love of mathematics. This love does not come across in his potrayal by Leavitt.

But ultimately the book is not about mathematics. It is about a certain period in English life, when the political and social hypocrisies of the empire were unraveled by an inglorious war. It is also about how the systems and institutions of the time did not treat its greatest minds very differently from how they treated the callow youngsters sent to the front. In this aim it succeeds marvelously.

"And the amazing thing was that they never let him [Thayer] go. They would break him, and send him home for repair, and break him again. In much the same way, I realized later, we broke Ramanujan, and patched him together again, and broke him again, until we had squeezed all the use we could out of him. Until he could manage no more.

Only then did we let him go home."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Webware makes its list of 5 funniest tech comics. xkcd is on top, and it is by far the best. It was a weird mix not so long ago: Randall seemed to be trying too hard at times. Its grown more sophisticated since. The only thing I find odd is its focus on computer science jokes: are there enough CS people out there to constitute, like, a market?

The desi name on the list, Krishna Sadasivam's PC Weenies (#3), is worth a look. Some good ones here and here.

Speaking of desis, a brief bushily bewhiskered brown sighting was reported from phdcomics recently. Pradeep, physics major, spoke seven words in all, none of them funny.

2nd October

Selling at my campus bookshop: Gandhi finger puppet, whiter than Ben Kingsley- $5.00 only.

In the company of Che Guevera, Leon Trotsky and Nelson Mandela (out of frame-v desilike brown hand visible).

I am not complaining-they got the big ears right.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Should I be offended?

When something like this happens, I know its time for a shave.

Random (Asian) dude at bus stop: Is Pakistan sunny?
Me: No more sunny than Texas, probably.
R(A)DABS: What was that?
Me: I am not from Pakistan. I am Indian.
R(A)DABS: Oh! I am sorry. (pause) Wow! I am glad I didn't mistake a Pakistani for an Indian. That could have been complicated. Indians are peaceful people.
Me: Why do you care if Pakistan is sunny?
R(A)DABS: Uh, I thought if its sunny, it should go help the sunny people in Iraq.
Me: Umm, I guess.

I realized later he meant Sunni.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Mahatma's Khadi Franchise

"'We want to harness capital to our side,' [Gandhi] wrote in his paper, Young India....Indian capitalists naturally wished to take advantage of the boycott of Manchester goods. But Gandhi's assurances notwithstanding, what was to be considered swadeshi cloth? This was in part a problem of definition - mill-made cloth could be endorsed as swadeshi, although strictly Gandhian principles appeared to rule this out. Some mills, however, used yarns made in Manchester. This was not considered acceptable and the Congress was drawn into bargaining with businessmen to ensure that swadeshi cloth was not made with foreign yarn that was merely woven in Indian mills. Eventually, a deal was made between some capitalists and the Congress, which set a maximum permissible percentage of foreign yarn in Congress-endorsed swadeshi cloth."
- Benjamin Zachariah (Nehru)
There was also the problem of piracy:
"But mill owners had also to be rebuked for weaving coarse cloth on their machines and passing it off as hand-woven khadi - the latter was still a few rungs higher up the moral ladder in the Gandhian scheme of things."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Kagemusha: a confused review

I was afraid I will not like Kurosawa's Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior), and in a way, I was right. At 180 minutes, it takes its time, including a five minute sequence where a character (who is not seen again) does little besides clean and load his gun, and another where the future king of Japan gets up and does an impromptu Noh dance. But it still is a haunting film, about the dynamic between individualism and collectivism. The most intriguing part is that Kurosawa refuses to side with individualism: rather his sympathies (I think) tacitly seem to lie with the other side. That certainly is a bummer: which was the last movie you saw where the hero was not a rebel of some sort.

The movie starts with a thief (who remains unnamed) being brought before the Samurai lord Shingen Takeda, by his brother Nabukado. The thief has a close resemblance to Shingen and will be useful as a body double. This saves the thief from the fate, crucifixion, that he was intended for, but he is unimpressed. He boldly confronts the warlord and tells him that a man who has robbed and killed thousands cannot be a judge of his petty crime. However, soon, the warlord is dead and the thief is required to take his place. He is reluctant: he cannot live a lie, plus he wants his old life back. But he agrees when he realizes that his refusal might well spell the end of the Takeda clan. He is not of the clan, but he also wants to be useful, to have served a purpose, even if that means living a lie.

The movie at this point touched a raw nerve with me: the dilemma that anyone who grew up in a traditional society like Japan, or India, faces. The choice between the role we are expected to play as part of the society we are born in, and our sense of independence. This is not so true of my generation, but I meet so many people from my father's generation and above who spent their lives playing roles they felt they were born into: the good son, the good husband and father, the perfect wife. And like the thief they play the roles so well, they become these roles, and sometimes you cannot tell if there is a real person besides the role. Did they all make a conscious decision at some point to play the role?

Kurosawa sees the tragedy in this, but a certain dignity. As Nabukado, who occasionally played his brother's double himself, tells the thief:

I was for a long time the lord's double. It was torture. It is not easy to suppress yourself to become another. Often I wanted to be myself and free. But now I think this was selfish of me. The shadow of a man can never desert that man. I was my brother's shadow. Now that I have lost him, it is as though I am nothing.

Kurosawa identifies with the loss of individuality, but at the same time sees a dignity in accepting the role. To accept it is to live with the satisfaction that you have done your duty: there may not be happiness, but there is a certain sense of meaning. To not do so is to be selfish. But selfishness is such an old world sin ;) .

The movie ends in tragedy, with a final battle sequence, where the arrival of modern guns signifies an end to the traditional Samurai way of life. The Kagemusha dies trying to stay true to his illusion even though it no longer matters: his secret is out. What is Kurosawa trying to say? Is it a heroic death, or a pathetic one? I went with pathetic, but someone with different cultural assumptions might see a heroism in that tragedy. In fact, I have a feeling my father and I will disagree :).

Perhaps the point is the ambiguity: that every culture has its own tacit assumptions, and not realizing those assumptions means talking past one another. Is that what Kurosawa is trying to say?

I give up ;) .

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Off to India

After 3 years. Finally.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The World is Not Flat

On eight nails sticking out of the earth, just high enough to defeat the Pacific, lives an entirely different world, or perhaps two worlds. As a kid I remember wondering if, when Sri Lankans drew a map of their country, they drew India in a corner, really small, like the way our maps showed Sri Lanka. Obviously I wasn't paying a lot of attention when the teacher discussed geographic scaling. In Hawaii I corrected a different, in some ways an opposite, error.

Eight hours by flight from both the US mainland and Japan, it is hard to know where to fit Hawaii. McDonald's and calligraphy shops face each other, and Macy's and sushi, and beautiful banyan trees that reminded me of India, with people sleeping under them through the afternoon. And it is not like Chinatown, where you go down a certain street to find a different world. Here two worlds collide on every street, confidently incongruent.

I was initially stupid enough to be surprised that one of the western-most corners of the US should be its most east-like. But it was good to be reminded that east is east and west is west only because that is how we print our maps. If we published our maps with the eight small islands in the center, and the world flowing both ways from there, breaking off perhaps somewhere in the middle of Europe, that map would be just as accurate.


Kilauea volcano (Big Island):


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Explosion

In memory of the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre, and also of the countless massacres ongoing over the world.

The Explosion
On the day of the explosion
Shadows pointed towards the pithead:
In the sun the slagheap slept.

Down the lane came men in pitboots
Coughing oath-edged talk and pipe-smoke,
Shouldering off the freshened silence.

One chased after rabbits; lost them;
Came back with a nest of lark's eggs;
Showed them; lodged them in the grasses.

So they passed in beards and moleskins,
Fathers, brothers, nicknames, laughter,
Through the tall gates standing open.

At noon, there came a tremor; cows
Stopped chewing for a second; sun,
Scarfed as in a heat-haze, dimmed.

The dead go on before us, they
Are sitting in God's house in comfort,
We shall see them face to face -

Plain as lettering in the chapels
It was said, and for a second
Wives saw men of the explosion

Larger than in life they managed -
Gold as on a coin, or walking
Somehow from the sun towards them,

One showing the eggs unbroken.

-Philip Larkin

Even when we have no clue where we are going with our lives, and I sometimes do get the feeling I am making up the story on the go, there is a feeling that it will all make sense at the end, years, perhaps decades, from today. I have no idea what it must feel like, if some lunatic comes out of nowhere and picks up this story you are writing, tears off the last page, and says, sorry but it has to end right here. How unfair that must feel, and how helpless.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Breaking news

A daddy's disappointment to beat Abhishek Bachchan and Julian Lennon.

It appears that the closest living relative to Tyrannosaurus Rex is the humble Gallus domesticus.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The answer my friend...umm, nevermind!

Robert Lucky recently had a short opinion piece in Spectrum, where he confirms an uncomfortable feeling I've had for a long time:

'Many questions following technical talks seem intended more to show the expertise of the questioner than to elicit information.'

I am glad I am not the only one who thought so. Lucky has a few other observations:

'The (typical) question goes something like this: “Are you aware of the work on this subject by Professor John Blutarsky at Faber College in 1962?”...“Oh, yes, that Blutarsky,” you say, playing for time. “It’s been some time since I studied his work, but I believe that his assumptions were quite different, and we all know how much technology has changed since then.”...There is an uneasy stirring as people crane their heads to view the questioner. Who is this expert who is familiar with Blutarsky, whose obviously important work the speaker seems not to know?'

There is another category of questioners: those who don't want the speaker to leave with the impression that no one was listening. So a few questions are raised about obvious drawbacks/extensions to the work, something along the lines of 'have you considered the case when k=0', or 'how will your approach do if conditions z hold'. The speaker might then explain that they were not really focusing on the k=0 problem, though with some modifications, it might be possible to get reasonable results. Of course no one really cares what those modifications might be: they are just relieved that the talk did not end in the question-free zone. That would be bad karma.

You can read Lucky's article here.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Path of Khan

"At the height of the British Empire, the chess loving Indian servant, Sultan Khan, arrived in the imperial capital as part of the feudal retinue of Sir Umar, his high caste master. While Sir Umar deliberated in the rarefied atmosphere of London conferences, with British panjandra, on the future of the Raj, his retainer started to take on the British élite at chess. Sweeping all before him, the Indian genius entered the international arena where, playing top board for the British Empire team, he defeated grandmasters, such as Rubinstein. Tartakower also succumbed to the Indian sage, and then came Sultan Khan's greatest triumph - a win against Capablanca. Then, as suddenly and mysteriously as he had arrived, Sultan Khan departed for India and was never heard from again - though rumours did emerge from Kashmir in 1951 that an Indian village chessplayer, when shown the games from the world title match of that year, had opined: 'these are two very weak players!'"

-R.N. Coles (The Best Games of Mir Sultan Khan (An Indian Mystic Challenges the West)

Anand's ascent reminded me of the strange and Ramanujanesque story of Mir Sultan Khan, for no reason really, except that he too was from the Subcontinent. Technically, I believe, Sultan Khan was India's first chess grandmaster (sorry, Vishy), though he died in Pakistan, and he was certainly the first Asian grandmaster.

Sultan Khan was a servant to Umer Hayat Khan, a minor raja from somewhere in Punjab. He is said to be illiterate (though there is some controversy regarding this), but his unique talent in chess was noticed by the raja, who brought him to England.

Sultan Khan won the British chess championship in 1929, 1932 and 1933, and also represented England at the Chess Olympiads all over Europe. His most famous game is the one in which he defeated Capablanca, perhaps the greatest chess player of this century.

But unlike Capablanca, whose only duty as 'ambassador-at-large' for Cuba was to play chess, Sultan Khan had a day job. It was in the service of Hayat Khan, thereby making the maharaja the only man in history to have the British chess champion serve him chicken biryani. Well, not the only. In the words of the American chess grandmaster Reuben Fine:

"When we were ushered in we were greeted by the maharajah with the remark, 'It is an honor for you to be here; ordinarily I converse only with my greyhounds.' Sultan Khan, our real entree to his presence, was treated as a servant and we found ourselves in the peculiar position of being waited on at table by a grandmaster."

It is not known what Sultan's feelings were about the situation. In fact, the most troubling aspect of telling his story is that his own perspective is entirely missing.

He was ranked world #6 in 1933, his game was improving daily, and even greater things seemed to be in store for him, when King Khan decided to move back to India, and took his server with him. The grandmaster disappeared from the world of chess.

The British had predictably romanticized Sultan in the meantime, and reporters kept searching for him decades after his disappearance. The British Chess Magazine reported in the 1950s that he now made a living as an opera singer in Durban, and was believed. Hell, a guy who could win the British chess title while waiting tables for a maharaja could certainly be an opera singer in South Africa.

The truth was in some ways more interesting. Sometime in the early 1960s, the chess writer R.N. Coles painstakingly traced Sultan Khan to his village in the Sargodha district of Punjab(Pakistan), where he found him sitting under a banyan tree smoking a hookah. Sultan challenged Coles to a game of blindfold chess, which the writer 'wisely declined'.

Sultan Khan is believed to have died in 1966, at the age of 61.

Sultan's most famous game, against Capablanca, described by Chessgames as The Wrath of Khan, is online. I was interested enough by Sultan to go through the game, and if you like chess, you won't regret it. It is clear that his victory against Capablanca was no fluke. Capablanca seems to dominate initially, but Sultan, by forcing a clever exchange of his queen with Capablanca's two rooks around the 20th move, kills off all his momentum. After that it is Sultan all the way, and Capablanca's solo queen keeps trying quite helplessly to break into Sultan's defences. Capablanca is so distracted by this that he lets Sultan create a passed pawn, and that proves to be his undoing.

Disclaimer: This is just my interpretation of the game between Sultan Khan and Capablanca. I am a very indifferent, and needless to say, amateur chess player, so I may be entirely wrong.

1. wikipedia
2. The Edinburgh University Chess Club Website
3. Chessgames

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Topalov topples

Viswanathan Anand finally lives up to his first name.

After clinching the Morelia-Linares tournament, Anand is set to move to the world number one spot in the FIDE chess ratings, beginning April. Topalov is moving to number two, after coming out seventh out of the eight players at the tournament (tying with Peter Leko).

Anand was the FIDE world chess champion(distinct from the ratings) in 2000, but didn't play Kasparov, thanks to Kasparov still being in the last throes of his ten-year itch. Anand's situation was akin to that of the king in chess: everyone knew the vizier was the real boss.

But seven years later, it is the real thing. He is boss and everybody knows it. Great news for him, and world chess could use a new face after last year's sordid hungama by Topalov over Kramnik's restroom habits.

The Indian media doesn't seem to have latched on to the story yet. They might when he officially takes the spot next month. After the cricket world cup hype that blew up in their faces, they may be glad for any distraction. Or maybe this will be buried under endless cricket-related faux-introspection that we are inevitably due for.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


If Manoj Kumar made a movie about Prithviraj Chauhan starring Sunny Deol, it would be like 300.

Except they probably would not depict Muhammad Ghori as an eight foot giant of ambiguous sexuality.

There's a lot of discussion on the web about the politics of the movie. No one seems to be surprised by how breathtakingly inane the screenplay is. I mean, we do call comics 'graphic novels' now, don't we. And Frank Miller is supposed to be some kind of graphic novel god.

Yes I know, its just an action movie and not supposed to be taken seriously. Someone should have told the director that.

PS: Sneaking suspicion: Am I getting too old for this kind of stuff?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

One need not be a chamber to be haunted

He was an old, half-crazed peasant who begged for a living during the day and played funny tricks on his benefactors at night. Draping a white sheet on a ladder he would walk about with it, to the terror of the villagers. Sometimes he covered his face with soot and, peeping through windows, called out the occupants in a nasal voice. During the day he was a picture of humble obsequiousness. At night he transformed himself into a malicious imp- so clever that though many suspected him, no one ever caught him. When he lay dying he confessed everything and with his death the village was rid of its ghosts.


Class conflict with a supernatural twist. Clark Kent and Superman in rural Bengal: the possibilities are endless. I wish Saratchandra had pursued this story, but he lets it drop.

How did he pick him victims? Was his sadism random or did he have a method? Did he only torment those who tormented him, or did he pick up cudgels for others. I wonder if he planned his deathbed admission all his life, his only moment of glory and sweet revenge. If he had accidentally died without telling the village he was the ghost, he might actually have come back as a ghost to let them know.

*from Aruna Chakravarty's translation

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Star is Dead

One of the most impressive discoveries was the origin of the energy of the stars, that makes them continue to burn. One of the men who discovered this was out with his girl friend the night after he realized that nuclear reactions must be going on in the stars in order to make them shine. She said "Look at how pretty the stars shine!"
He replied, "Yes, and right now I am the only man in the world who knows why they shine."

- Richard Feynman, The Feynman Lectures
I always envy people who can identify constellations, an ability I have never been able to develop beyond the basic Ursa-major level. But it must be good to have friends up there, so, when you look up, you can give Auriga, or some other constellation you recognize, a good-natured wave or a pranaam(which will duly reach in 5000-odd years), before carrying on with this tale told by an idiot.

I was fortunate to be working on a project with a few astronomers for a while, and their passion sort of rubs off. I am still not on talking terms with the stars. The good news is that I now enjoy gaping at those pretty pictures as much as the next yokel.

Hubble snapped the picture above yesterday, of an extremely photogenic white dwarf around 4000 light years away.

You might remember that the Sun will die as a white dwarf too, but now you get to see it. The barely visible white dot in the middle will be the Sun(shrunk to the size of earth), and the glittering expanse of millions of miles of gases, a mixture of helium, oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen, smoking hot at around 200,000 C and emitting ultraviolet rays, will easily reach earth.

Trust a poet to get it wrong: the world will end with a bang after all.

Check out Hubble's website for truly awe-inspiring photographs.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Odd that the brain could function on its own, without acquainting him with its purposes, its reasons. But the brain was an organ, like the spleen, heart, kidneys. And they went about their private activities. So why not the brain.

-Philip K. Dick (The Man Who Japed)

Really, when you think about it.

Monday, February 12, 2007

I swear on the bones of Charles Darwin....

One evolutionist actually does say that in Flock of Dodos. In his defense, a) he is drunk, and b) he is very very angry.

Directed by Randy Olson, evolutionary biologist and two-time TA for Stephen Jay Gould, Flock of Dodos tries to understand why, what should have been game-set-match for the evolutionists, is running into tie-breaker after tie-breaker.

Olson thinks it is because most scientists are ugly, don't suffer fools, don't look good on TV, and couldn't speak in 'talking points' to save their lives.

Intelligent Design proponents, on the other hand, seem to speak only in talking points. Every ID fan Olson talks to raises the same arguments, such as, how just as anyone can tell that Mount Rushmore has to be intelligently designed, it is obvious that life too is, then some platitudes about irreducible complexity, and claims that biologists intentionally lie and mislead (picked from Wells' Icons of Evolution). On the other hand, they are always nice, never condescend, some even carry around helpful little photographs of Mt. Rushmore with them to make their point. The ones you get to meet are bearded old gentlemen or loving grandmas (all the bible thumpers having been pushed to the back pews).

Olson makes this point wonderfully when he asks a scientist (I forget who), "Their catchphrase is teach the controversy. What is your catchphrase?" The scientist is stumped, "Catchphrase?" Ultimately he comes up with 'Teach the Science', which is not so bad, if only someone used it.

The best part about Flock of Dodos is that it is constantly funny, never takes itself seriously, and remembers its own lesson and never condescends.

And yes, Happy Darwin Day.
If people remember your 198th birthday, that is a very special achievement.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Koi Sukha Hua Patta tha...

Nida Fazli reads his beautiful nazm valid ke vafat par (on the death of my father) here. He was unable to attend his father's funeral because he could not afford the journey.

You can also listen to his hamd (in praise Of God). Its certainly the quirkiest hamd one is likely to hear.

The South Asian Literary Recordings Project records the works of writers writing in different South Asian languages, in their own voice.

I have a fascination with poets reading their works. What a poet emphasizes, and what he/she does not, tells so much about how they interpret their own poems.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

One of the guys I frequently run into at my department kitchen uses one of these for his afternoon cuppa.

It always reminds me of that sequence from Annie Hall.

Annie: Sometimes I ask myself how I'd stand up under torture.

Alvy: You kiddin'? If the Gestapo would take away your Bloomingdale's charge card, you'd tell 'em everything.

He is a nice guy and all, but c'mon, coffee mug Che is ridiculous. I know this sounds too glib: it puts the moron in oxymoron ;) .

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

You may be more popular than Jesus Christ...

...but can you beat yahoo?

The Daily Domainer points out that yahoo has overtaken sex as the most popular search term on google.

Shallower creatures might be intrigued by the rise of yahoo, but I am more concerned about the decline in interest in sex.

If you think its just statistics, consider this: the battle between Satan and Christ is also coming to a head, with Jesus finally catching up, even as Satan holds on to his awe-inspiring lead in Turkey, Slovakia and Norway.

Trend-watchers might also remember that as of January 2007, God has held his own against Paris Hilton for a whole year. And while that contest is by no means over (the Lord, in his majesty, will be the first to admit he is no Paris Hilton), it does make one wonder.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

Or maybe not. The Beatles vs Jesus Christ is still a no-contest.

PS: In case you were curious about Aamir vs Shahrukh (it isn't pretty).

Friday, January 26, 2007

The problem with assumptions

xkcd is surreal sometimes, sometimes plain weird.

PS: This is where I stole my pic from.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Or perhaps He does not know

Who then knows whence it has arisen,
Whence this emanation hath arisen,
Whether God disposed it, or whether He did not,-
Only He who is its overseer in highest heaven knows.
Or perhaps He does not know.

- Rig Veda (creation hymn)

If you watched Bharat ek Khoj, you might remember the same hymn played in hindi in its title song.

Wahi sachmuch me jaanta, ya nahi bhi jaanta.

Its surprising that thousands of years ago, people were willing to admit they didn't know a thing about God or creation. I don't know where that honesty disappeared.

They must have gone woefully wrong with their kids ;) .

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Imperialist Strikes Back

I had to blog this bit of trivia.

What is common to Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States?

Answer: The only three countries that still follow the Imperial System of measure.

Cliff at slashdot pointed out this interesting little nugget. He also suggested that it might be a good idea for the US to switch to the metric system.

I thought it would be a very non-controversially good idea for the US to start getting used to the metric system. Besides the incentive of getting its name off the only list that reads more embarrassing than the Coalition of The Willing, there is also the confusion, sometimes very serious, trying to cope with two systems creates.

But Cliff was on to something, as he filed it under the worthwhile-but-pigs-are-likely-to-fly-first category. In vindication, the little entry generated one thousand three hundred-odd comments, with passionate arguments for and against. Clearly people do get worked up over the metric system.

But, it turns out, people get even further worked up than that. Though the protest against metrication is usually conventional, such as placards or Simpsonesque civil disobedience, some people have actually gone to the trouble to set up websites, of which slashdot points out The reason given on the website is not laziness, or who's-going-to-go-about-changing-all-the-boards-now, or sheer pig-headedness (which are all perfectly good reasons, btw). No, it would threaten the American way of life. I guess if you provide logical reasons you run the risk of being refuted. But what to do of emotions. Dil to Pagal Hai.

In its defense, the website provides other reasons. For one, the metric system is sexist, as it was 'almost wholly created and standardized by male scientists and bureaucrats' (apparently because the lesbian cabal was busy with the imperial system). Also, it quotes the great French Man of Destiny:

The scientists adopted the decimal system on the basis of the metre as unit. Nothing is more contrary to the organization of the mind, memory and imagination. The new system will be a stumbling block and source of difficulties for generations to come. It is just tormenting the people with trivia.

-Napoleon Bonaparte

Seriously, who better to defend the imperial system than the grand imperialist himself?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A New Poet Arrives

A New Poet Arrives

A new man flies in from Manchester.
Fran Frittlewood.
Death to the Public Schools,
Ready to piss in the eye of the Old Universities.

A big woolly striped scarf around his neck,
The hunched antagonism of a left wing student,
How right he is!
Through immense spectacles he sees clearly

That only a New Movement can save our souls.
Wordsworth's great beak was pecking at that apple.
The tree of knowledge,
Dividing line between the past and future.

Take off those vestments, and those vested interests.
Show as a naked soul. You must admit
He's onto something.
Change, in the Arts, is nearly always good.

- Gavin Ewart

The sarcasm almost killed me.
Gavin Ewart, an admirer of Auden and also Betjeman, is generally known for his light verse. There is, in his obituary in The Independent, another poem excerpt; containing, in characteristic english (or desi) style, a cricket reference.

Friday, January 12, 2007

All roads lead to...

Austin for me.
Back home. After a long and winding vacation, with Slj.

Highlights include a visit to Canaan Valley, West Virginia, where in the beautiful countryside punctuated only by pickup trucks, snow-white churches and restaurants advertising home-made meals, I got my first sight ever of the leafless autumn I only knew through comparisons to Larkin's bored childhood.

Then a visit to Baltimore, MD, where at the science center embarrassingly(for us) short of adults, with an increasingly exasperated Slj beside me, I indulged my juvenile fascination with dinosaurs.

Finally a short but exciting trek at the Breakneck Ridge trail, NY, with my brother and his fiancee.

Canaan Valley, West Virginia:

Science Center, Baltimore, MD:

A Giganatosaur

Tyrannosaurus rex

Breakneck Ridge, NY