Monday, February 28, 2011

The Dilbert Principle - Scott Adams

Parts of the book were good. They made me laugh. But parts were boring. This was for my morning light reading in the cab.
I have noted two passages from the book here.

Good advertising can make people buy your product even if it sucks. That’s important, because it takes the pressure of you to make good products. A dollar spent on brainwashing is more cost-effective than a dollar spent on product improvement.

Obviously there’s a minimum quality that every product has to achieve. It should be able to withstand the shipping process without becoming unrecognizable. But after the minimums are achieved, its advertising that makes the big difference.

A good advertising campaign is engineered to fit a precise audience. In particular, there is a huge distinction between what message works for men and what message works for women.

Males are predictable creatures. That makes it easy to craft a marketing message that appeals to them. All successful advertising campaigns that target en include one of these two messages.

1.This will help you get dates with bikini models.
2.This product will save you time and money, which you’ll need if you want to date bikini models.

Compared to simple minded brutish men, women are much more intricate and complex. Your advertising message must appeal to women’s greater range of intellectual interests and aesthetic preferences. Specifically, your message has to say this:

1.If you buy this product, you’ll be a bikini model.


You can make your product look special by disguising the true costs and then claiming its more economical than the alternatives.
Some good techniques for disguising the true cost of your product include:

1.Link payments to exotic interest rates such as the Zambian Floating Q Bond.
2.Offer discount plans so confusing that even Nostradamus would throw up his hands and say, “I donno. You tell me.”
3.Give coupons that are redeemable for prizes through an impossible inconvenient process that combines the worst elements of scavenger hunts, tax preparation and recycling.
4.Compare your lowest cost plan with the competitor’s highest cost plan
5.Offer lease options to people who are bad at math
6.Assess gigantic penalties for customers who miss payments. Once in a year, forget to mail the customer a bill
7.Offer steep discounts for initial payments, followed by obscene price increases. Make it difficult for customers to wiggle out after they are caught in your web.
8.Sell the product without any of the features that could make it useful for example computers without keyboards and RAM.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Best Short Stories Of India - Phyllis Atkinson, RE Enthoven, Krishnaswami Aiyangar

This was a book I picked up in Select Bookstore.

The book might be of academic interest to certain people. But to me, it was an unending repetition of very ordinary stories. They are grouped under categories Southern India, Bengal, Manipur, Salsette, Central Provinces, Santali, Hindustani, Telugus, Telugu Vaishnavas, Dakshina Desa. The stories of Southern India were the best of them all.

Parts from the introduction by Rao Bahadur Dr. S Krishnaswami Aiyangar is what I will mention here. For it describes the difficult involved in tracing the origin of folk lore and tradition to a particular race, country or civilization. Interested deeply as I am in history, I wish to record this.

“This collection helps you form an idea of the character of these stories.
A general reading of these would give the impression of a community of thought and feeling common to the whole of India, notwithstanding the multitudinous character of language, religion and all that goes to constitute what is called in a general comprehensive term ‘culture’ or ‘civilization’.
The stories from different regions are alike with characteristic differences.
The similarities and differences have each, a tale to tell.

The collection serves as a common framework of Indian tales.
It would serve a larger purpose when studied in comparison with folktales of other people all the world over.
One important line of research that this opens, the late Sir Richard Temple has drawn attention to in his foreword to the Katha Sarit Sagara. Speaking of the tales incorporated in the Sagara, he has the following. “The Aryans came across at least one race, the Dravidians, equal to themselves in mental capacity, and across many others whose minds they could more or less easily dominate. Neither the Dravidians nor the others were of their form of civilisation and tradition, but they all mingled with them in some degree or other, at any rate to the extent of social contact, generally as master and servant.”

Speaking of the evolution of fairy tales so far as they are comprised in the Katha Sarit Sagara, the same learned observer describes them as “fundamentally Aryan, with accretions from every race with which the Aryans had come in close contact for, say 3000 years by Somadeva’s time. These races were Dravidians, “Kolarians” or “aborigines”, and people across the Northern and Eastern frontiers – all very different in origin from the Aryans.
They all carried their religions, folk tales and folklore with term, and cannot but have infected the indigenous corresponding nations of the Aryans of India with alien ideas and folk-tales.”

Sir Richard points out that this opens a new line for research. ‘Whence did the various non Aryan tales and ideas come? It is not an easy line to follow, as the period is so late and the whole matter by that time already had become so complicated. Suppose a custom or tale is non-Aryan Indian – i.e. Dravidian or Kolarian – or father Indian (Mon, Shan, Tibeto Burman) by origin: by Somadeva’s date it had plenty of time to be assimilated and take on an Aryan form.” This points to one difficulty in any research undertaken along this line. But what follows indicates in clear terms the danger to which this research is liable unless it is pursued with very great care and circumspection. Referring to a custom or an idea, he has the following, which deserves to be noted very carefully. “suppose, it to date back before the Aryan irruption into India – its existence in principle now or at some ancient date in Western Asia or Europe would not prove that it arose either in India or in Europe or Western Asia. Suppose research to show a tale or idea to be of general occurrence in India, Asia, Europe, Africa, and even in America and the pacific islands; recent works show so much and so ancient communication all the world over as to make one very careful in asserting origin. Suppose we find a story in Siam, in Indonesia, in Persia, in Europe, in South Africa, as well as in India; it might well have gone thence out of India or gone through or even round India in either direction. To show how this kind of thing can happen I printed in 1901 a tale told in the Nicobars in Nicobarese form to a European officer who was a Dane by nationality, Mr. A. de Roepstorff, which turned out to be a Norse tale he had himself told the people some years before. Wherever then, a civilization or a people travels, there go also folklore and custom…
The whole question is very difficult. Even if we trace a tale or an idea to the Jatakas, to the earliest part of the Mahabharata or the Ramayana, to the oldest Puranas, to the Brahmanas, to the very Vedas themselves – that does not make it Indian or Aryan in origin.

What then is the use of research in a subject like this, which is so illusive? In cases where a common origin could be proved satisfactorily, it would indicate the direction that early migration took. If independent origins have to be conceded they would still throw light upon the growth of the human mind in the earlier stages of civilisation. Whether the material collected be put to use for purposes of research or no, there is the inherent interest in the stories themselves and the pleasure that one derives from reading these popular tales as light literature.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Next Destination

They were all exasperated with me.
Stopping a moving car every now and then, at every bend, uphill, downhill, foothill and hilltop to take a picture; of the same old hill, of trees (as if trees are uncommon and deserving of such attention).
It’s getting late. For them.
They need to reach the next town quickly to have some coffee. They need 4 cups of coffee a day. So what if they are travelling? And its coffee time now.

They are getting late. You should reach the destination in time, well before its lunch time, before breakfast time, before it gets dark... in fact just reach as soon as possible.
What do you mean why?
Because it’s our destination. Simply because it’s the destination.
Let’s first reach there. On our way back you can stop to take pictures.

On our way back….
You never know. There may not be so much light available. It may be cloudy. Who knows what will happen on our way back?

I, much to the anguish and consternation of all others, get down to photograph the brambles. Did you notice those red flowers all over the thorny shrub and no leaves at all?
I will never see it in Bangalore.
Then the coffee fruit on bushes; not this bush, that one - for their arrangement is special, they look like pearls on a string.
The house on that hillock that looks really old; a few decades if not hundreds.
A patch of grass below, that’s turned yellow and gold.
Monkeys - they give perspective to your picture.
Have you never seen monkeys before?
There are 25 of them huddled together in a ball. I have never seen them like that before. A ball of monkeys.
Yet another monkey on the parapet that had closed it's eyes, probably taking afternoon nap, looking like a meditating monkey.

That bull dozer.
Now that one you see in the city every day!
But this one is different. The ones in the city blend so harmoniously with their surroundings. And this one; the contrast is striking.
It will change the face of the hill forever. This must be a historic moment for the hill.

This way you can go on taking pictures. Is there an end? It’s difficult for him to drive. To stop now and then. How selfish you can be!
Take one picture of the lake, two of the temple, a few at the rose garden, one of the sunset. That should be enough.

And after a few hours, it’s time to return.
So why waste time, looking at the same thing again and again?

It’s not the same. We had passed by this spot in the afternoon. When it was sunny and white. It’s dawn now. Foggy. Misty. Blue. And only a small patch below is glistening yellow with the sun. It’s not the same thing. Try to understand.

We have to reach home in time for lunch and afternoon nap, and evening tea. We have to reach before it gets dark.
Because now home is the next destination.

Thus they went on. Most of them measuring life by the destinations visited and not by the journey itself.
As if the countless moments in between amounted to nothing.
And the only one who enjoyed the journey was thought abnormal.

So it is with their life.
That’s how they measure it. Not by the journey itself but by the destinations visited.
10 standard, then 12, Engineering Degree, then software job, America, then marriage, own house, car, then children.

The one who is simply happy, to be breathing, to be living, eating, singing, reading, writing, talking, joking, taking pictures, occasionally passing a few destinations now and then has no success to boast of.

Like me.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Yercaud - Day 1 - The Journey

5th Feb 2011

I, brother, mom and dad left Bangalore early in bro’s car to Yercaud. We drove some, had breakfast at A Kamath restaurant and then drove more.
What beautiful roads! As we entered Tamil Nad, they only better.
Some views presented kilometer long stretches of continuous road ahead and were worth photographing.

These toll gates make a lot of money. They collect 20, 30 or 60 rupees at each gate and there were some 10 of these gates on our way.

I slept some and read Somerset Maugham’s Cakes & Ale alternately until the uphill climb began.
And then I was ready with my camera, clicking away to the annoyance of my whole family.


We found them all along the climb. Comfortably ensconced on the parapet, on the branch of a tree, on the road, gaping at passing cars, hoping for those inside to throw them some food. We had to slow down sometimes for fear one of them might dart across the road suddenly.
On our way down, 2 days later, early in the morning, we saw some 50 monkeys huddled together closely in one big ball. Before I could take a picture, our car had passed them. What a rare sight it was!

There are 20 hair pin bends. And at each bend you see a marking of the count on a rock or the parapet by the road.

Bamboo is one of the photogenic trees on my list. The others being coconut, Devdar and the Pine.
This one was lovely. What with sunlight falling on the leaves and turning them golden green, special effects and all!

Mountains in layers.

Can’t help thinking about Kedarnath where we saw 6 or 7 of them one behind the other.

And the coffee estates made me think of Coorg.

That’s the thing about Nature. The same mountains, the same rivers, but you cannot have enough of them.

And we reached Hotel Tamil Nadu. Our room cost 1000 rupees a day and there was hot water available all the time. It’s right next to the lake. Recommend it.

Our balcony ‘pretended’ to look out to the lake. I mean there was a lot of weedy ground under the balcony, after that a street and then the lake.

Since it was very sunny, everyone rested in the room for the noon.
After some resting, I set out alone, ambling about, hoping to find some work for my camera.
I bought a hat for myself (my second hat after the first one in Goa), and a cap for my dad.
I was surprised to see pine in the vicinity. I thought they were to be found only in the northern mountains.

I had to position myself and my camera strategically so I could picture this part of the hillside and leave out the debris around it.

We had lunch in hotel Malar (a ‘pure veg’ hotel – my father was very particular).
We had south Indian meals and ‘Vatthal Kozhumbu’ was very good.

After lunch we went for a short drive when I took more pictures which will follow…

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Out of Thin Air

Jan 9, 2011, Sunday, 12:45 PM
Out of Thin Air, 50 mins
By Shabani Hassanwalia and Samreen Farooqui

‘Las Del, Las Del’, you can hear a voice as if a push cart vendor were shouting his wares.
And on the screen are pictures of a place that seem very familiar.

Two men drag a horse, a boy and a girl, all life size toys, up a hill. The next frame shows them standing on the edge of the hill and pushing the toys down. They fall in slow motion,
Horse, girl and boy, into blue green waters of a river in the valley below.
This looks familiar too.

There are Buddhist prayer flags and prayer wheels with rugged mountains in the background.

This is becoming more and more familiar.

Oh! Ladakh!
That’s why!

Twice, not once but twice I visited Ladakh. And I did not know there was a film industry there!
The very thought of a film industry in Ladakh makes you smile.

Stories of small town innocent folks following the glitter of the cities are always funny, cute and endearing.

Who would ever imagine that Ladakh had a film industry?
And who would imagine that a Buddhist Lama was acting and dancing in one of these films?

Yes. The people who make these films are taxi drivers, restaurant workers, shop keepers and lamas. The ordinary people. And they do everything. There are no defined roles.
One particular fellow was director, choreographer, dancer and actor. Almost all of them were many things at once. How all of us in the auditorium laughed!

10 music videos and 6 digital films release in Leh every year.
The frame shows people crowding outside a door. It opens, it is dark inside and several feet rush to get inside, pushing each other.

Their latest release is a Las-Del, meaning Karmic Connection. This is their most expensive film. It cost 15 lakhs.
On an average, a Ladakhi film costs 5 lakhs.

Zulfikar Ali, a taxi driver and employee of public works department, known as Zulzul, also as Munna (after Munnabhai MBBS) is a villain.
‘what can I do, I have a face like that’ he says.
If I play hero, no one likes it. If I play a murderous fellow carrying a Kalashnikov, then people like me.

In Sholay style, Zulfikar says, “Door jab Bachha rota hai to ma kehti hai ‘beta soja warna Zulzul ayega” and laughs.

“There are seasons – one love story became a hit. Then everyone started making love stories. And then a tragic film became a hit. All started making tragic films. We made an action film. But it was a flop”, says another insider of the industry.
“Don’t know why, but these Ladakhis like tragedy a lot. They watch these films and cry and cry…”

Norzum is an actress, dancer and choreographer. She is shown dancing for the Hindi title song from the film ‘Khushi’. It is more of folk dance and does not really have anything of Bollywood in it.
“Whom do you like more? Madhuri Dixit or Norzum?” when you ask a local, “Norzum”, comes the reply.

The heroine, giggling most of the time, says she puts a lot of passion into her work. Sometimes she really starts crying as she is acting. Otherwise, she puts glycerine and cries and cries.
“Aasoon ata hai to rote hain, warna glycerine lagake rote hai”.

“Garhwali films and films made in Himachal are inspired by Ladakhi films. Even their songs are copied from us” says this guy. “These Garhwali films are imperfect – “maang tika hata hua hota hai to hero scene mein gana gate hue aake theek karta hai (if there are faux pas, the actors make corrections as part of the scene ). We don’t do such things. We are perfect.”

“We want to preserve Ladakhi culture. This is fast changing.”
Very true.
In just 1 year, between 2 consecutive visits, how much had changed.

The director of a film is a Buddhist Lama and he wants to cast Hrithik Roshan in one of his films.
He wants his grandfather’s permission for becoming full time director, because it was his grandfather who wanted him to be a lama.
“Unse poochoonga. Who agnya de to karoonga”, says he with a smile.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Bose-Einstein Condensate and State of Samadhi

Matter and energy are inter convertible.
Matter is present in various energy states that are temperature-dependent. The higher the temperature, the greater the energy.
Water boils when it is heated to higher temperatures.
This increases the disorder in the molecules as they are energised.
This is entropy.
It represents the excitability and chaos of the molecules that constitute matter.

Satyendra Bose proposed to Einstein that if matter was cooled to very low temperatures —to Absolute Kelvin or minus 273 degrees — then its entropy should decrease and matter should come down to a zero-energy state.
This was proved later on.
This zero-energy state is now known in physics as the Bose-Einstein condensate.
This state of matter is also called a super atom as the entire mass behaves as if it were a single atom.
It loses all its characteristics of shape, charge and polarisation.
It probably reverts to a shapeless, attributeless phenomenon in a de-evolution, reverting to just the potential to manifest as anything.

The human brain is an aggregate of nearly 100 billion neurons.
Thoughts that constantly crowd our minds are the sum total of simultaneous activity of different neurons.
There is chaos in our waking state.
The thoughts translate into various biological changes mediated by the hormonal apparatus at the pituitary interfacing system.
The complex interconnections that abound in the nervous system ensure that even a small impulse rapidly spreads.

Some individuals have innate higher entropy levels and so find it harder to concentrate.
They are ‘distracted’ easily.
They have fleeting thoughts and are very restless.
The sensory organs serve as an important pathway to increase the entropy as they stimulate various neuronal circuits adding to the entropy.
Therefore, closing the eyes helps in the process of concentration.

Continuous stimulation of the neural networks happens in the waking state.
Hence sleep is necessary for minimizing these constant excitatory inputs.
Sleep deprivation leads to fatigue of the neural networks.

When you concentrate, there is a resultant decrease in the disorder of the neural system. As concentration increases, the tendency of the mind to waver and scatter decreases.
The mind is more sharply focused.
So when we concentrate, we are increasing the synchronicity of a specific group of neurons and silencing unrelated neuronal activity.

In scientific parlance, concentration decreases the entropy of the neuronal apparatus.
Just as the entropy of matter drops to near-zero levels when we approach Absolute Kelvin, similarly, the neuronal disorder keeps waning as we concentrate.
The neuronal firing decreases in amplitude as well as frequency. So would the propagation across various networks.

In the waking state, when you consciously attempt to decrease the entropy of the nervous system, it is referred to as meditation.
As the entropy of the neurons keeps decreasing, a state of calmness is perceived.
As this progresses further, the neurons start becoming synchronous.
That is, they neither modulate nor amplify any incoming signal.
They just resonate in harmony.
As this orchestra gets more in sync, you experience varying states of bliss and happiness.
Till what is presumably the final state of zero entropy, where all 100 billion neurons function in total unified quantum coherence.

The Bose-Einstein condensate equivalent of the neuronal system is what may be termed as Samadhi.

Article by Deepak Ranade, a consultant neurosurgeon.