Friday, December 30, 2005

The King William's College GKP

By way of young Thos. at the Coffee Shack, we learnt about King William's College on the Isle of Man. Said College appears to have been founded a few nanoseconds after the Big Bang, and has been going strong ever since. Wikipedia tells us that
Since 1904, the College has set an annual general knowledge test, known as the General Knowledge Paper (GKP). The pupils sit the test twice; once unseen on the day before the Christmas holidays, and again when they return to school in the New Year, after having spent the holiday researching the answers. However, the test is now voluntary. It is well-known to be highly difficult, a common score being just two correct answers from the list of several hundred. The best scores are 40-50 for the unseen test and about 270 of 360 for the second sitting. Traditionally, the best scorers were given a free half pint of bitter, while anyone doing particularly badly was given a detention.
Apparently 2 points per question. Feel free to impale yourself against this year's edition. It is bloody difficult. You need to be very, very, very well up on your Eng. literature (classical, pulp etc.) and Eng. history. The Guardian carried an interview with the bloke who sets the paper.

Thos. also points us to the Financial Times Arts and Culture quiz, which is apparently what you attempt once you've been humiliated in the GKP. Then for some of us who, having been mocked by the FT quiz, are on the verge of applying asp to nose (in the manner of Cl.), there is consolation in the form of the KQA quiz.

This will be the last post of the year. Be happy.

Friday, December 23, 2005


Our first "guest post". Sort of. More like a post extricated from guest under severe duress. Friend Tahei just submitted his Ph. D. thesis. We hereby present the "Acknowledgements" section of said monumental work, with all names blanked out. It loses some of its mood and vitality, but privacy needed to be protected and so on. Enjoy.


As I neared the completion of my PhD, I felt much as I had imagined the Hobbit Frodo Baggins would have felt as he cast the One Ring into the smoldering crater of Mount Doom, after having encountered several trials, tribulations and anxieties on his monumental journey not to mention the recent loss of one of his fingers to the vicious jaws of Gollum just moments before the denouement of his quest. As the end approaches, relief blends with well-springs of gratitude. Had Frodo written his memoirs on the shores of Valinor, he would undoubtedly have devoted large sections of his chronicle to thank the many people who aided him in his seemingly impossible quest Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, Men, Wizards and Ents among them. Now it is my turn to attempt to acknowledge the folk who aided me in my quest for a PhD.

Any journey such as this begins at home, in the Shire. I owe perhaps the deepest debt of gratitude to my own hobbit-folk the Baggins', Tooks, Brandybucks, Grubbs, Chubbs, Bolgers and Bracegirdles that are my family. I will start off with and would especially like to thank _____, Amma and Appa for their unconditional encouragement, patience, love and support for everything I have ever attempted to do. None of this would have been possible without them. Next I would like to thank the Bilbos of my world _____, ______ chittappa, ______ mama, ______ manni and ______ thatha for their indefatigable attempts at the rather thankless and perhaps Sisyphean task of infusing me with some worldly wisdom (buddhi). They persevered where mere mortals would have long since surrendered. ______, ______ and ______ added just the right amount of nonsensical amusement that allowed me to retain my sanity, while in the eyes of ______ and ______ patti I could almost do no wrong. I will be forever grateful to all of them. On to the Elves of Lothlorien: ______, ______, ______ chithi and ______ mama who ceaselessly provided me with 'lembas bread' (Sambhar, Rasam, Keerai, Kootu, Kesari and other Indian victuals) for my long journey, and indulged in healthy debates over every international, national, county and village cricket match that was ever played. ______, ______, ______ and ______ who transported me back to a lost world of innocence and bliss that I had all but forgotten. My years in California would not have been the same without them. I would like to thank ______ thatha, ______, ______ mama, ______, ______, ______ perima and ______ perippa, who influenced me through my formative years. Last but certainly not the least I am especially happy and proud to thank ______ the newest hobbit to join our fold and one with whom I will embark on several journeys in the years to come for her understanding, belief and support towards my quest. I dedicate the entirety of this work to all of these enchanted folk.

Any fantastical tale involves a Wizard (or three). My three committee members, a veritable mixture of Gandalf the Grey, Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, provided me with an astonishing amount of wisdom, knowledge, guidance and support that helped me decimate every Orc, Troll or Balrog that I encountered throughout my perilous quest. Of these wise men, I would first like to thank my principal advisor ______ for his continuous support, confidence, comments and thoughts on my progress. I am convinced I learnt more about research from him than I could have anywhere else. I would also like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Prof ______ and Prof ______ who held aloft the light of Earendil and illuminated my path as I navigated the webs of literature, methodology, analysis and writing that all constitute a PhD. Even as modest as my work might be, their guidance has helped it attain a quality that I did not think was possible at the onset. Many Ents, wise and un-hasty beings, also liberally bestowed their wisdom upon me, though they had no obligation to do so. Unplanned trysts with ______, ______ and ______ often led to matchless insights that cleared the cobwebs from my addled mind. Dr ______'s varied experiences and real-world insights contributed greatly to both my research and to my own personal life. I also benefited greatly through comments from Prof ______, Prof ______, Prof ______, Prof ______, Prof ______ and Prof ______ as well as from CIFE's and the NSF's support of my research.

What of the Fellowship? Of the Elves, Dwarves and Men that accompanied me through rain and snow? ______, ______ and ______ my office-mates and co-researchers whose work closely complemented my own, provided me with much needed solace and company as we spent long hours hunched over our terminals. Research is a social product, and I learnt as much from talking with them, as I did from my own lonely vigils with my data, journals and books. I would also like to express my heartfelt thanks to ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______ and all the other researchers who shredded my thoughts and presentations, and helped me patch it all back together into something even better.

My journey was not merely metaphorical. Just as Frodo left the Shire and marched boldly up the peak of lofty Caradhras, under and into the mines of Moria, through the woods of Lothlorien, across the Marshes and even into the land of Morder, my quest too led me to France and Germany, through Finland, across Taiwan and deep into India before its end. I would like to thank ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______ and others from ______ Inc. for accommodating my early data collection efforts. ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______ and ______ for their German hospitality. ______, ______, ______, ______ and ______ for their thoughts and introduction to Finnish culture. To ______, ______ and ______ for taking a chance on me and allowing me to visit projects in Taiwan. I cannot forget the Rohirrim or the Riders of Rohan and the Men of Gondor from India who came out in droves in my hour of need to provide me with data and insights that have formed the bulwark of my dissertation. ______, ______ and ______ eased my passage considerably and did not shy away from relating the 'real stories' that transpired on their projects. ______, ______ and ______ were far more cooperative than I could have ever wished for given the constraints on their time. ______ often provided me with lunch, enjoyable company and analytical insights into the Indian mind that proved invaluable in the final analysis. ______ graciously arranged for me to visit the project site and to talk to as many people as I possibly could. Not only did ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______ and several others on the projects in India and Taiwan provide me with anecdotes and data, their warmth, interest and encouragement made field research a far more enjoyable proposition than I had ever imagined it would be. I would also like to thank Prof. ______, Prof ______ and Prof K.N. ______ of IIT-Madras, as well as ______ of the Indian Railways for making my visit to India possible.

I would be amiss if I did not acknowledge the avocations that made my life at Stanford such a pleasurable experience. My interests and desire to contribute to social development and innovation were kindled through my interactions with BASES and ESW. Through conferences, speakers and conversations with ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______ and many others I spent delightful years learning about the magic of social change. ______, the EPATT kids and crew, and other tennis players and coaches at Stanford taught me about tennis and patience and provided me with some much-needed exercise. My "institutionalized values" have been molded and shaped by my numerous friends and teachers from ______, ______, ______ and other places ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, ______ and ______ to name but a few of the multitude that I alas do not have the space to acknowledge. I am eternally indebted to all these people who have enriched my life and from whom I have learned so much.

Finally, every day of my life I have been grateful for all the fascinating things that I have been able to see and do and for this I thank God.

In Yeats' words, it was a 'lonely impulse of delight' that started my journey. Now the quest is nearing completion and I leave it to you to ascertain the extent of its practical or academic merit. However the scales of knowledge might value this work, it would not have been possible without all of these people that I have mentioned above. Wherever I turned I found support and inspiration, and through my meanderings I learned from all of you what Bilbo Baggins captured in verse:

All that is gold does not glitter
Not all who wander are lost

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Stopping By The Kitchen On A Wednesday Morning

In the manner of Fleming, we have serendipitously discovered a law of nature this morning.
Ants, given enough time, will find all food.
P.S. In brief, there are a number of ('prominent') 'libertarian' desi bloggers. A royal to-and-fro has been happening elsewhere, which one must note. This DesiPundit thing is all over it. Take a day off and read everything. Perhaps we will have more to say about this later?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

More Highbrow Movies

*sigh* Yes, we're very wannabe this weekend. In one fell swoop, tried to remedy some deficiences in the movies-seen list.
  • Charulata, Satyajit Ray
  • Rashomon, Akira Kurosawa
  • All About My Mother, Pedro Almodovar

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

More Movies says this is post #50.
Saw a bunch more movies recently.
  • Apaharan, Prakash Jha - Apaharan is like the proverbial curate's proverbial egg. The first half is eminently interesting and watchable. Somewhere in the second, Jha loses the plot. Not too stupendously, by the standards of Bollywood, but nevertheless the phillum meanders a bit, the histrionics and melodrama are kicked up a notch, and it all ends in a somewhat predictable ending.

    Jha seems to be inventing a "Bihari-politician-criminal-nexus" factory (a la Ramgopal Varma) all by himself, you go by Gangaajal and Apaharan. He has his stock set of actors doing the Bihari thing, and they all seem very convincing, to a non-Bihari anyway. Devgan is decent, as usual, except that he seems a little too old to play the "student" type role. Much better off as the fiery cop in Gangaajal. Nana Patekar (and indeed everyone else who plays a politician) is very engaging.

  • Children Of Heaven, Majid Majidi - Have the Iranian directors (Majid Majidi, Jafar Panahi, Abbas Kiarastomi, the Makhmalbaf family) taken over the "Cinema Featuring Children" franchise? Children of Heaven is very good, even if it does border on sugary-sweet sentimental at times. Like Panahi's White Balloon, the story revolves around the predicament of a brother-sister duo. In The White Balloon it was goldfish, in Children of Heaven it is a pair of shoes.

    The brother loses the sister's shoes, on his way back from the cobbler's, and now the children have to somehow (a)hide this from their overworked, somewhat irascible father and sick mother (b)pull the wool over their schoolteachers' eyes (c)find a pair of new shoes. Not to mention do chores at home, look after the baby, study, help out at the mosque and so on. There are many slices of life from Teheran's poorer quarters, and a foray into the posh end of town.

    The actors and actresses (the kids especially) were born for these roles and nothing else, or so it seems. Majidi weaves in what seem to be a atleast a couple of near-tributes to other directors. In one sequence, father and son get on a rusty old bicycle and trudge to the richer part of town, where they work as gardeners for a day. After a hard day's labour, they cycle back home, and on the way the father basks in thoughts of lifting his family out of their poverty (with the help of cycle), and of course its too good to be true and something happens. Shades of Vittorio De Sica's The Bicylce Thief.

    Majidi also has a way of building up suspense, using the most mundane devices. In one sequence, the girl (who is wearing her brother's sneakers) loses one shoe, which falls into a gutter and is borne away by the water. She gives chase, and the camera duly accompanies her, at breakneck speed through the alleys and lanes of their neighbourhood. As this is happening, the tension mounts. Will she get the shoe? You find yourself rooting for her, because losing this pair will just result in disaster. In another part of the movie, the brother signs up for a road race. The third prize is a new pair of shoes, and he must come third. In possibly one of the best sport sequences ever in cinema, Majidi's camera runs the race along with the kid, and here too, in the end, the suspense is unbearable.

    Enough already. Go see this one. One additional source of paisa vasool is the language (Farsi is absolutely beautiful), and the fact that you can catch glimpses of the origins of Urdu! Even the Farsi title (Bacheha-Ye Aseman) is tantalizingly accesible. The only complaint - the thing borders on the sugary-sentimental, the kids are tad too goody, but for someone inured to the "Mere paas maa hai" variety of movies, it isn't too bad. Nevertheless, it is Hereby Decreed that all directors will have a copy of "The Lord Of The Flies" close at hand when directing children's movies. So let it be written, so let it be done.

  • Mighty Aphrodite, Woody Allen
  • Sideways, Alexander Payne
  • Das Boot, Wolfgang Petersen
  • Manhattan, Woody Allen
  • Contempt (Le Mepris), Jean-Luc Godard - More about the movie later, but there seems to be a (possibly unintended) connection1 between one scene in this movie, and The Two Towers. There is a scene where the Fellowship sails down the Anduin, through Argonath "The Seat Of Kings", they pass between two huge stone statues, the likenesses of Isildur and Anarion. Part of this scene is a shot, where the camera appears to track from front and below the bearded dude (Isildur?) who is holding his arm out, to his left, and finally behind him, as the boat floats from upstream of the statues to the gap between them, to a point downstream.

    Cut to "Contempt". There are a couple of shots where Godard shows a figurine of a bearded dude (Zeus?), from a point-of-view that is below the statue. In this case, instead of the camera turning around, the statue itself rotates. Unfortunately, a picture of the statue/shot is not to be found anywhere, but there is a mention in a review. Both shorts are startlingly similar, or is it just that time has dimmed the powers of recall, and the memory of the first has fused into the already fading memory of the second, making one see things that don't exist?
  • Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan
Details to follow.

1. Another coincidence: In The Last Castle, Robert Redford plays a certain US Army Lt. General who rejoices in the name of John Eugene Irwin. Surely, it is not mere happenstance that this bloke's name more or less matches the first names of a certain other commander. Have not yet found anything to suggest this is more than a coincidence, but but but....

Saturday, December 10, 2005

On Cyclones

If you grew up near the Coromandel Coast, in the Northern Circars for example, the the weather generally played a fair to middling part in your life. Indeed, evidence of this obsession with the ritus may be found elsewhere in these pages (here and here). In particular, one remembers those annual offerings that the Bay of Bengal used to dish out with impressive, metronomic frequency - the tropical cyclone.

In meteorology, a tropical cyclone (or tropical depression, tropical storm, typhoon, or hurricane, depending on strength and geographical context) is a type of low pressure system which generally forms in the tropics. While they can be highly destructive, tropical cyclones are an important part of the atmospheric circulation system, which moves heat from the equatorial region toward the higher latitudes.
These things used to be phenomenally regular (in the late 80s and through the 90s, anyway). From April/May to September/October, one after the other, they would show up. They were moderately predictable, like salespeople who ring the bell in the middle of your Sunday nap. You knew they would show up once or twice a month, but you were never sure exactly when. The sky would start to turn leaden, battleshippy. You would read in the paper, or listen to the AIR newsreader's dire tones, that there was a "depression in the Bay".

There was no telling where each one would end up. Would it try to diddle the good people of the Godavari-Krishna doab into staying at home, while it went and lavished its tender attentions on the good people the Madras, Nellore and Prakasam country? Would it feint a move towards Puri and Konark, but actually come storming through the N. Circars and extinguish itself in the Agency areas? Or would it bugger off in a generally nor-noreasterly direction and do unspeakable things to the long suffering people of the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Irrawady deltas?

Equally, there was no telling how strong it would be. At the bottom of the scale, you had your depressions that stayed depressions, and lived up to their names. Annoying, gloomy, wet things that draped themselves over all the land and sobbed their guts out in slow motion. Some were made of sterner stuff. Vigorous demonstrations of strength and intent, in the form of rain, wind, whirling leaves and fallen pylons up and down the coast. Not enough to seriously interfere with life, other than plant the voluptuous maybe-no-school-tomorrow thought in impressionable minds, and disappoint. Mama Gaia saying, "I was here".

Once every few years, the elements would bestir themseles into putting up a real show of power, usually with tragic consequences. The Regional Meteorological Centre in Mumbai informs us that in October 1737 one of these whoppers hit the Calcutta deltaic region and took 300,000 lives to the accompaniment of a 12 metre storm surge. 12 metres!! In December 1964, the Rameswaram cyclone wiped out the town of Dhanushkodi, and en passant carried off a passenger train and a biggish bridge. The Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) storm of November 1970 tried to pip the 1737 one in the Lives Lost Stakes and seems to have given a good account of itself (this disaster's aftermath must surely have had something to do with the geo-political events of the next year). In November 1977, much of coastal Andhra Pradesh was hammered by a storm that took 10,000 lives. Even closer to our times (1990, 1999) there have been tastes of disaster. The Orissa Supercyclone of 1999 was the last really humongous event. Since then, things have been ominously quiet.

There are many places on the internet where you can find information on tropical storms and hurricanes. That stalwart newspaper, The Hindu publishes a satellite image every day, which you can use in your betting games. Don't worry, the one in this picture is Cyclone Fanoos (yes, they're naming them nowadays), which weakened in to a depression and crossed the Tamil Nadu coast at Vedaranyam a few hours back. The Indian Meteorological Department is slow, but purportedly has animated satellite and Doppler imagery (a la

Hurricanealley has a Bay of Bengal section where you can track the progress of cyclones in the bay. But why settle for chaff when you can go directly to the motherlode? The US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center provides eminently readable information on the path of cyclones around the world.

They also have a plain text message written by Tom Clancy.

         110600Z --- 11.0N 77.7E

and so on. They even have a ship avoidance graphic.

So if you happen to be driving a US Navy warship in these waters (as some of us do during weekends), you might want to take a gander at this ever so often. Note that Baaz and Fanoos having departed for their Meteorological Abodes, the corresponding graphics and warnings are no longer available on the website, but they do track Bay of Bengal cyclones too.

One has noticed recently that the stalwart newspaper has 'lifted' the graphic verbatim (pictoratim?) from the JTWC website and planted it on their front page. One is not sure if all sources were credited or not. Finally, we have the National Hurricane Center. The spelling of 'center' should help you identify the nation in question.

They're naming the Bay of Bengal storms using names from countries in this region. We recently had Baaz, and Fanoos. Strangely enough, both these storms hit Tamil Nadu, leaving many a scrawny Dravidian scratching his head in bewilderment, "Ennaaya idhu, indha Baaj, Fanoos? Onnume puriyillai." In certain quarters, voice has been lent to the Unspoken Thought that the names should be more sensitive to culture and geography. Therefore, we hereby declare, that all TN bound storms will submit to the following naming ordeal this year: Arumugam, Balasubramaniam, Chokkalingam, Dayanidhi, Elangovan ... Pachaiyyappan ... Thirunavukkarasu(!!) ...Venktachalapathi ... Yenkatachalapathi ... Zebra. Being the state animal of TN. If you take a close look at some of the better designed intersections in Madras.

OK, enough.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Confusious Says

Drinking the 4 day old Gatorade from fridge,
After licking clean the spoon from the jam jar,
Like Titanic sailing without enough lifeboats.

Very bad idea.