Category Archives: Articles

The world is in our hands, and we are burning it down

We are burning down the world …

The world is in our hands, and we are burning it down

Look around. Read newspapers. Corruption. Wars. Terrorism. Epidemics. Poverty. Disasters. Think. If you had previously thought that the world is a beautiful place to live in, do your calculations again. And if you still think the same, you are probably one among millions of people living in a virtual world. The real world is pathetic, and is going down into its own abyss at a speed that is beyond human comprehension.

It is perfectly human to feel a need for power. But it is the greed for power that is turning deadly in terms of scope and consequences. Corruption has become omnipresent. The rich magnets are sucking prosperity out of the needy. If corruption becomes widespread, I fear that it will no longer be illegal. It will no longer be immoral. In the end, if that remains the only means of survival, what else can we do?

Terrorism is turning out to be an unending war. The causes for terrorism are varied: Religious, Political, Economic, and other causes. We are not walking down the right path – religion is increasingly becoming defocused, politics need long-term vision but politicians have short term goals and the economic situation is strained. If we proceed in this path, we must eliminate progress from the equation.

Let’s shift from humans to nature. We are living under the presumption that our resources are infinite, nature is always generous and bountiful. Nature has selflessly given us almost all that she had had within her. Resources are depleting. Crude oil is depleting. We now find one barrel for every four we consume. Similar is the case with coal, metals and everything else we have been plundering from earth. We are facing a terminal decline.

Add to these the earthquakes, tsunami, floods, draughts and other natural calamities that are destroying lives in millions every year. Or are these nature’s own little way of implementing corrective measures?

We are presented with hundreds of circumstances on life’s adventure that we complacently take for granted. We have conveniently adapted ourselves to the present, accepting it as a part of our lives. It is the degree to which we have become accustomed to this convenience pod that thwarts imagining its obsolescence, along with that of the infrastructure based upon it.

It is high time we wake up from our virtual dreams. The reality is disheartening. The game is rapidly slipping out of our hands. When disaster strikes, it will strike us so hard that it will erase mankind from the map of the universe. Are we ready for the disillusionment? Are we ready to change our lives towards the better? Or are we getting ready to brace ourselves for the end? But please, let’s not stay oblivious to all these.

“If you don’t deal with reality, reality will deal with you”

௧௨௩௪௫௬௭௮௯ – Tamil Numbers !!!

A number plate on a vehicle I came across in Thanjavur read:

த நா – ௪ ௯
அ அ – ௭ ௫ ௨ ௬

This inspired me to write a post on Tamil numbers.

Most of us believe and use the Hindu-Arabic numerals (0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9) in Tamil too … We also know that Hindi has its own representation (Devanagiri). How many of us know that Tamil has its own unique representation for these numbers?

Here is the list:

௧ = 1
௨ = 2
௩ = 3
௪ = 4
௫ = 5
௬ = 6
௭ = 7
௮ = 8
௯ = 9

Originally, Tamil did not have zero. Tamil also has numerals for 10, 100 and 1000.

௰ = 10
௱ = 100
௲ = 1000

Thus, the above number plate can be read as:

TN – 49
AA – 7526

If positional digits (10, 100, 1000) are used in represent numbers, this is how it is done:

2785 - ௨ ௲ ௭ ௱ ௮ ௰ ௫
இரண்டு – ஆயிரத்து – எழு – நூற்று – எண் – பத்து – ஐந்து

Interesting, is it not ?? But still, தமிழ் குடிமக்களே, please use English and Arabic numerals on your number plates !!!

cricket and internet – a comparison

Sounds weird? Probably. I was thinking about cricket. Then my mind forayed into various aspects of internet, God knows why!. And when both these threads of thoughts got entwined in my little brain, I got a new theory. This weird comparison.

There were these olden times, when the red kookaburra balls bounced off the ground for five days before they went to rest. Yes, the test matches, which put the batsmanship and the bowling skills to gruelling tests. Cricket lovers had to wait five long days to find out which team won. But it had its own charm. Grab a cup of coffee. Sit down. Watch the match. Repeat the previous steps for five days.

And there was this new technology, called email, which made the normal form of mails to be aptly nicknamed as snail-mails. Fascinating it was. Very fast. Extremely convenient. Easy to convey your feelings. But then the wait for a response  was sometimes annoying. And soon came another trend – personal websites. It took quite some time to create them, and much more time to publicize.

But then, in this fast-paced world, one cannot spend five days watching batsmen playing just too many defensive shots, scoring at under 4 per over. The focus shifted to ODIs. Just one full day. We get to know the results after just 100 overs. Interesting. And more innovation. The ground has become colourful. Teams were recognized by the colour they wear. “Men in blue”. “Men with the black caps”… More following. More money. A single packet of popcorn. But the ball turned white .. !

And then people thought. “I remember there was one guy sitting in the farthest corner of the classroom, when I was in fifth. I guess what his name was…”. A sudden sense of bonding develops between these two persons, who apparently might be in two corners of the world right now. emails are good. But not good enough. Thus came social networking. Orkut. Facebook. Hi5… Find friends. Sometimes it gets so weird that the websites help us to find our long-forgotten friends. But yes, this was much faster. Response time was lesser. And along with it emerged the blogging fashion. A few hundred words helped people to give vent to all their feelings. Quick and efficient. And the whole world was there to read it. But, privacy was hugely compromised .. !

And now to the present. People have only enough time to manage a short movie during office breaks. How can we afford to spend a whole day to watch cricket, where people just hit at about 6 an over with the ball occasionally going over the fence. Cricket got further shortened… From mega to mini to micro. 40 overs. A little above three hours. Fireworks all around. Fiery hitting. Music, Drums and Cheerleaders. A perfect commercial movie. Or a sitcom. No more time to have a full packet of popcorn. Just grab a bite, a glance at the television and off we go…

And no time to edit a blog either. Now we have twitter. After extensive research, someone has discovered that 160 characters [160 - the length of an sms too. twitter offers 140] are more than sufficient to express our feelings to this world. And along with it came all these short forms too… LOL, OMG, ROFLMAO, IMO, G2G, NVM, TTYL… Txtng s gr8. Characters are precious. Cannot afford to waste. Affectionately called micro-blogging. “I had a cup of coffee this morning at 6 am, and guess what, I made it myself”. As if the world cares… Why should i write a whole blog trying to convey that I am sad? Just “:-(” is sufficient enough. So now, twitter rocks. Not because it is good, but because people do not have time to write long emails to friends or to sit and type blogs, and twitter has come to the rescue. And this can be very easy if you put your mobile phones to appropriate use too.

Time is nearing for cricket to be made a sitcom screened during the prime-time, competing with Himym and Heroes for viewership. And time is also nearing for single-character blogging. A – I just woke up. B – I had coffee. H – I am happy. L – I love u.

Test matches have almost become vintage classics. So do emails and personal websites. Sorry, we just do not have time…

In this age of timelessness, if you really did read through this entire article of mine, you deserve special appreciation. Kudos.

In One Ear and Out The Other

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I recently read an interesting article in The New York Times. The article provides answers to many intriguing questions emerging in our brain…

IN ONE EAR AND OUT THE OTHER
Article by Natalie Angier, Published: March 16, 2009, NY Times

By all accounts, my grandfather Nathan had the comic ambitions of a Jack Benny but the comic gifts of a John Kerry. Undeterred, he always kept a few blank index cards in his pocket, so that if he happened to hear a good joke, he’d have someplace to write it down.

How I wish I knew where Nathan stashed that deck.

Like many people, I can never remember a joke. I hear or read something hilarious, I laugh loudly enough to embarrass everybody else in the library, and then I instantly forget everything about it — everything except the fact, always popular around the dinner table, that “I heard a great joke today, but now I can’t remember what it was.”

For researchers who study memory, the ease with which people forget jokes is one of those quirks, those little skids on the neuronal banana peel, that end up revealing a surprising amount about the underlying architecture of memory.

And there are plenty of other similarly illuminating examples of memory’s whimsy and bad taste — like why you may forget your spouse’s birthday but will go to your deathbed remembering every word of the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song. And why you must chop a string of data like a phone number into manageable and predictable chunks to remember it and will fall to pieces if you are in Britain and hear a number read out as “double-four, double-three.” And why your efforts to fill in a sudden memory lapse by asking your companions, “Hey, what was the name of that actor who starred in the movie we saw on Friday?” may well fail, because (what useless friends!) now they’ve all forgotten, too.

Welcome to the human brain, your three-pound throne of wisdom with the whoopee cushion on the seat.

In understanding human memory and its tics, Scott A. Small, a neurologist and memory researcher at Columbia, suggests the familiar analogy with computer memory.

We have our version of a buffer, he said, a short-term working memory of limited scope and fast turnover rate. We have our equivalent of a save button: the hippocampus, deep in the forebrain is essential for translating short-term memories into a more permanent form.

Our frontal lobes perform the find function, retrieving saved files to embellish as needed. And though scientists used to believe that short- and long-term memories were stored in different parts of the brain, they have discovered that what really distinguishes the lasting from the transient is how strongly the memory is engraved in the brain, and the thickness and complexity of the connections linking large populations of brain cells. The deeper the memory, the more readily and robustly an ensemble of like-minded neurons will fire.

This process, of memory formation by neuronal entrainment, helps explain why some of life’s offerings weasel in easily and then refuse to be spiked. Music, for example. “The brain has a strong propensity to organize information and perception in patterns, and music plays into that inclination,” said Michael Thaut, a professor of music and neuroscience at Colorado State University. “From an acoustical perspective, music is an overstructured language, which the brain invented and which the brain loves to hear.”

A simple melody with a simple rhythm and repetition can be a tremendous mnemonic device. “It would be a virtually impossible task for young children to memorize a sequence of 26 separate letters if you just gave it to them as a string of information,” Dr. Thaut said. But when the alphabet is set to the tune of the ABC song with its four melodic phrases, preschoolers can learn it with ease.

And what are the most insidious jingles or sitcom themes but cunning variations on twinkle twinkle ABC?

Really great jokes, on the other hand, punch the lights out of do re mi. They work not by conforming to pattern recognition routines but by subverting them. “Jokes work because they deal with the unexpected, starting in one direction and then veering off into another,” said Robert Provine, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of “Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.” “What makes a joke successful are the same properties that can make it difficult to remember.”

This may also explain why the jokes we tend to remember are often the most clichéd ones. A mother-in-law joke? Yes, I have the slot ready and labeled.

Memory researchers suggest additional reasons that great jokes may elude common capture. Daniel L. Schacter, a professor of psychology at Harvard and the author of “The Seven Sins of Memory,” says there is a big difference between verbatim recall of all the details of an event and gist recall of its general meaning.

“We humans are pretty good at gist recall but have difficulty with being exact,” he said. Though anecdotes can be told in broad outline, jokes live or die by nuance, precision and timing. And while emotional arousal normally enhances memory, it ends up further eroding your attention to that one killer frill. “Emotionally arousing material calls your attention to a central object,” Dr. Schacter said, “but it can make it difficult to remember peripheral details.”

As frustrating as it can be to forget something new, it’s worse to forget what you already know. Scientists refer to this as the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, when you know something but can’t spit it out, and the harder you try the more noncompliant the archives.

It’s such a virulent disorder that when you ask friends for help, you can set off so-called infectious amnesia. Behind the tying up of tongues are the too-delicate nerves of our brain’s frontal lobes and their sensitivity to anxiety and the hormones of fight or flight. The frontal lobes that rifle through stored memories and perform other higher cognitive tasks tend to shut down when the lower brain senses danger and demands that energy be shunted its way.

For that reason anxiety can be a test taker’s worst foe, and the anxiety of a pop quiz from a friend can make your frontal lobes freeze and your mind go blank. That is also why you’ll recall the frustratingly forgotten fact later that night, in the tranquillity of bed.

Memories can be strengthened with time and practice, practice, practice, but if there’s one part of the system that resists improvement, it’s our buffers, the size of our working memory on which a few items can be temporarily cached. Much research suggests that we can hold in short-term memory only five to nine data chunks at a time.

The limits of working memory again encourage our pattern-mad brains, and so we strive to bunch phone numbers into digestible portions and could manage even 10-digit strings when they had area codes with predictable phrases like a middle zero or one. But with the rise of atonal phone numbers with random strings of 10 digits, memory researchers say the limits of working memory have been crossed. Got any index cards?

How safe are we?

How safe are we? Can we be confident that we will not receive a bullet to our chest? Can we tell with certainty that every time we go to a market, we would come out intact; every time we board a train, we would alight too; every time we check in at the reception desk of a hotel, we would check out too? How sure are we that when we go to bed every night, we would wake up the following morning?

Every one of us lives in fear – A fear that our most precious possession – life – might be lost; a fear that we might be victims of terrorism; a fear that we are incapable of defending ourselves. And this is the same fear that incapacitates the brave in us. We can also say that this is the same fear that is being exploited by the inhuman killers.

We know that no one has the right to kill another human. No one has the right to take away the life of a fellow human being.  The world is ours and life is our gift. It is the duty of every human being to ensure that the world is a safe place to  live in. We must safeguard ourselves and our fellow humans. We must be brave, face our enemy and win them. Yet we hesitate to come out of the cocoon called fear. We hesitate to stand up against the evil. We hesitate to fight terrorism.

No one was born with the ugly paint called terrorism. No one enters this world as a terrorist. It is the world around him that changes him into one. Every one has a family. Every one has someone to care for. Every one has a human within. But the good is being blinded by the bad. People are brainwashed to believe that terrorism is the only way to solve the problems the world faces. They are made to believe that killing is the only means to teach someone a lesson. They have been pushed to the extent of calling this ‘liberation’. This is a war, a deadly battle.

But this is not a war between countries. This is not a battle between religions. This is an attack on humanity. It is our unity that is being put to test. The integrity and the secularity are being tested for their strength. If we break down or split apart under such stressful situations, then we stand to lose. The purpose of such brutal terror acts will be achieved. Their motive will be fulfilled. We must not present any opportunity for this. We must stand united. We will never be able to make an effective protest until we achieve solidarity.

We will not be safe if we lock ourselves up in our rooms. We will not be safe if we wait for someone else to take action. We will not be safe unless we overcome our fear. There is no use in worrying about the past or waiting for the future. We must learn from our past, act in the present to make the future a safe one. If we are not ready for this battle, then we will be forced to stop every person we meet on the streets and ask, “Sir, I’m concerned. Are you a terrorist?” ..

A letter to every Indian

A Letter to Every Indian
The Former President of India Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam’s Speech in Hyderabad.

Why is the media here so negative?
Why are we in India so embarrassed to recognize our own strengths, our achievements?
We are such a great nation. We have so many amazing success stories but we refuse to acknowledge them. Why?
We are the first in milk production.
We are number one in Remote sensing satellites.
We are the second largest producer of wheat.
We are the second largest producer of rice.

Look at Dr. Sudarshan , he has transferred the tribal village into a self-sustaining, self-driving unit. There are millions of such achievements but our media is only obsessed in the bad news and failures and disasters.

I was in Tel Aviv once and I was reading the Israeli newspaper. It was the day after a lot of attacks and bombardments and deaths had taken place. The Hamas had struck. But the front page of the newspaper had the picture of a Jewish gentleman who in five years had transformed his desert into an orchard and a granary. It was this inspiring picture that everyone woke up to. The gory details of killings, bombardments, deaths, were inside in the newspaper, buried among other news.
In India we only read about death, sickness, terrorism, crime.. Why are we so NEGATIVE? Another question: Why are we, as a nation so obsessed with foreign things? We want foreign T.Vs, we want foreign shirts. We want foreign technology.

Why this obsession with everything imported. Do we not realize that self-respect comes with self-reliance? I was in Hyderabad giving this lecture, when a 14 year old girl asked me for my autograph. I asked her what her goal in life is. She replied: I want to live in a developed India . For her, you and I will have to build this developed India . You must proclaim. India is not an under-developed nation; it is a highly developed nation.

Do you have 10 minutes? Allow me to come back with a vengeance.
Got 10 minutes for your country? If yes, then read; otherwise, choice is yours.
YOU say that our government is inefficient.
YOU say that our laws are too old.
YOU say that the municipality does not pick up the garbage.
YOU say that the phones don’t work, the railways are a joke. The airline is the worst in the world, mails never reach their destination.
YOU say that our country has been fed to the dogs and is the absolute pits.
YOU say, say and say. What do YOU do about it?

Take a person on his way to Singapore. Give him a name – ‘YOURS’. Give him a face – ‘YOURS’. YOU walk out of the airport and you are at your International best. In Singapore you don’t throw cigarette butts on the roads or eat in the stores. YOU are as proud of their Underground links as they are. You pay $5 (approx. Rs. 60) to drive through Orchard Road (equivalent of Mahim Causeway or Pedder Road) between 5 PM and 8 PM. YOU come back to the parking lot to punch your parking ticket if you have over stayed in a restaurant or a shopping mall irrespective of your status identity In Singapore you don’t say anything, DO YOU? YOU wouldn’t dare to eat in public during Ramadan, in Dubai . YOU would not dare to go out without your head covered in Jeddah.

YOU would not dare to buy an employee of the telephone exchange in London at 10 pounds (Rs.650) a month to, ‘see to it that my STD and ISD calls are billed to someone else.’YOU would not dare to speed beyond 55 mph (88 km/h) in Washington and then tell the traffic cop, ‘Jaanta hai main kaun hoon (Do you know who I am?). I am so and so’s son. Take your two bucks and get lost.’ YOU wouldn’t chuck an empty coconut shell anywhere other than the garbage pail on the beaches in Australia and New Zealand .
Why don’t YOU spit Paan on the streets of Tokyo? Why don’t YOU use examination jockeys or buy fake certificates in Boston??? We are still talking of the same YOU. YOU who can respect and conform to a foreign system in other countries but cannot in your own. You who will throw papers and cigarettes on the road the moment you touch Indian ground. If you can be an involved and appreciative citizen in an alien country, why cannot you be the same here in India?

In America every dog owner has to clean up after his pet has done the job. Same in Japan.
Will the Indian citizen do that here?’ He’s right. We go to the polls to choose a government and after that forfeit all responsibility.

We sit back wanting to be pampered and expect the government to do everything for us whilst our contribution is totally negative. We expect the government to clean up but we are not going to stop chucking garbage all over the place nor are we going to stop to pick a up a stray piece of paper and throw it in the bin. We expect the railways to provide clean bathrooms but we are not going to learn the proper use of bathrooms.

We want Indian Airlines and Air India to provide the best of food and toiletries but we are not going to stop pilfering at the least opportunity. This applies even to the staff who is known not to pass on the service to the public. When it comes to burning social issues like those related to women, dowry, girl child! and others, we make loud drawing room protestations and continue to do the reverse at home. Our excuse? ‘It’s the whole system which has to change, how will it matter if I alone forego my sons’ rights to a dowry.’ So who’s going to change the system?

What does a system consist of? Very conveniently for us it consists of our neighbours, other households, other cities, other communities and the government. But definitely not me and YOU. When it comes to us actually making a positive contribution to the system we lock ourselves along with our families into a safe cocoon and look into the distance at countries far away and wait for a Mr.Clean to come along & work miracles for us with a majestic sweep of his hand or we leave the country and run away.

Like lazy cowards hounded by our fears we run to America to bask in their glory and praise their system. When New York becomes insecure we run to England . When England experiences unemployment, we take the next flight out to the Gulf. When the Gulf is war struck, we demand to be rescued and brought home by the Indian government. Everybody is out to abuse and rape the country. Nobody thinks of feeding the system. Our conscience is mortgaged to money.

Dear Indians, The article is highly thought inductive, calls for a great deal of introspection and pricks one’s conscience too. I am echoing J. F. Kennedy’s words to his fellow Americans to relate to Indians..
‘ASK WHAT WE CAN DO FOR INDIA AND DO WHAT HAS TO BE DONE TO MAKE INDIA WHAT AMERICA AND OTHER WESTERN COUNTRIES ARE TODAY’
Lets do what India needs from us.

–Dr. Abdul Kalam

the hare and the tortoise – corporate version

Once upon a time a tortoise and a hare had an argument about who was faster. They decided to settle the argument with a race. They agreed on a route and started off the race. The hare shot ahead and ran briskly for some time. Then seeing that he was far ahead of the tortoise, he thought he’d sit under a tree for some time and relax before continuing the race. He sat under the tree and soon fell asleep. The tortoise plodding on overtook him and soon finished the race, emerging as the undisputed champ. The hare woke up and realized that he’d lost the race. The moral- “Slow and steady wins the race”. This is the version of the story that we’ve all grown up with.

THE STORY DOESN’T END HERE,

There are few more interesting things…..it continues as follows…… The hare was disappointed at losing the race and he did some soul-searching. He realized that he’d lost the race only because he had been overconfident, careless and lax. If he had not taken things for granted, there’s no way the tortoise could have beaten him. So he challenged the tortoise to another race. The tortoise agreed. This time, the hare went all out and ran without stopping from start to finish. He won by several miles. The moral – “Fast and consistent will always beat the slow and steady. It’s good to be slow and steady; but it’s better to be fast and reliable.”

THE STORY DOESN’T END HERE

The tortoise did some thinking this time, and realized that there’s no way it can beat the hare in a race the way it was currently formatted. It thought for a while, and then challenged the hare to another race, but on a slightly different route. The hare agreed. They started off. In keeping with his self-made commitment to be consistently fast, the hare took off and ran at top speed until he came to a broad river. The finishing line was a couple of kilometres on the other side of the river. The hare sat there wondering what to do. In the meantime the tortoise trundled along, got into the river, swam to the opposite bank, continued walking and finished the race. The moral – “First identify your core competency and then change the playing field to suit your core competency.”

THE STORY STILL HASN’T ENDED.

The hare and the tortoise, by this time, had become pretty good friends and they did some thinking together. Both realized that the last race could have been run much better. So they decided to do the last race again, but to run as a team this time. They started off, and this time the hare carried the tortoise till the riverbank. There, the tortoise took over and swam across with the hare on his back. On the opposite bank, the hare again carried the tortoise and they reached the finishing line together. They both felt a greater sense of satisfaction than they’d felt earlier. The moral – “It’s good to be individually brilliant and to have strong core competencies; but unless you’re able to work in a team and harness each others core competencies, you’ll always perform below par because there will always be situations at which you’ll do poorly and someone else does well. Teamwork is mainly about situational leadership, letting the person with the relevant core competency for a situation take leadership. Note that neither the hare nor the tortoise gave up after failures. The hare decided to work harder and put in more effort after his failure. The tortoise changed his strategy because he was already working as hard as he could.” In life, when faced with failure, sometimes it is appropriate to work harder and put in more effort. Sometimes it is appropriate to change strategy and try something different. And sometimes it is appropriate to do both. The hare and the tortoise also learnt another vital lesson. When we stop competing against a rival and instead start competing against the situation, we perform far better.

To sum up, the story of the hare and tortoise has much to say: Chief among them are that fast and consistent will always beat slow and steady; work to your competencies; pooling resources and working as a team will always beat individual performers; never give up when faced with failure, and finally, compete against the situation – not against a rival.