Friday, December 21, 2007

A River Runs Through It

Which is about a trip

In October 2007, we visited Konaseema. What follows is a kind of report. Thanks to Space Bar for the introduction, to Lesley for making the junket possible, and to Outlook Traveller for footing the bill. It will appear/has appeared in the "Weekend Breaks from Hyderabad" book from Outlook's Getaway series.

Note that much of the practical information (phone numbers, timings, prices etc.) has been carefully edited out of this draft. If you're a friend of Ludwig, you can ask him, and he will duly divulge. Otherwise, you will have to buy the book and find out for yourselves. For in this manner, Outlook will make money, and hopefully send Ludwig on more gallivants. Read this for some very pertinent thoughts on the matter. In any case, if you're in the AP/Karnataka/TN region, you should probably just buy the book, seeing as it will be filled with lots of practical information that will help you realize the Ultimate Brahman or whatever during one of your weekends.

Previous (non-mercenary) trip reports:

Bhubaneswar-Konark-Chilka weekend

Bandipur

Pondicherry

Belur-Halebid-Chickmagalur

Train - Vizag-Delhi

Train - Across America

Random list of memorable train journeys

INTRO

The people who live along the Godavari in Andhra have a curious turn of phrase to describe the annual floods that the river brings. "Godaari vachhindi", they say, "Godavari has come." It is as though the river is a person who has packed her bags and gone off to live somewhere upstream during the dry months, exposing the sandy bottom. Little trickles and small pools that soundlessly give up the ghost in the heat are the only reminders that the riverbed’s days in the sun are borrowed time.

For soon the Godavari will come, the real Godavari; the generous provider of water for the summer crop; the careless invader of banks that sweeps away everything it can carry. For the people who live on the great rivers of the world, they are more than mere sources of alternating despair and salvation. The river has life; it is almost sentient, an aging relative, with moods and mood-swings that perhaps only those who live on it can fathom.

And perhaps no one on the Godavari feels this kinship more than the people of Konaseema, seeing as the very piece of earth they call home is bounded and defined by the river. This is where it all ends for the Godavari, a last chance to lavish its attention on the land, before slipping serenely and gracefully into the ocean.

So it leaves behind a final offering, a verdant triangle of coconut groves and paddy fields. When the clamour of traffic and the greys of concrete and asphalt and smog smother your spirit, head for Konaseema. The weariness will slough off and like the river you "...shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, dropping from the veils of the morning..." Perhaps you will discover your own Innisfree, and remember it in the deep heart’s core.

Fieldwork

ORIENTATION

Technically, Konaseema is an island, but only in the sense that Manhattan is an island or Bengal is an island. The exhausted Godavari is sundered in twain just downstream of Rajahmundry, and fans out into its delta. Konaseema is the roughly triangular region between the Gautami and Vasishta Godavari rivers (the northernmost/easternmost and southernmost/westernmost branches) and the Bay of Bengal.

The delta is dotted with picturesque fields, villages and temples and makes for great drives if you have access to a car. The APTDC facility itself is located on the Vasishta at the village of Dhindi. As you cross the deliciously named Chinchinada Bridge on NH 214, you can see the resort on the left bank if you look downstream.

Chinchinada Bridge

Palakollu (12 km) is the most convenient railhead for Dhindi. Local transport in the form of negotiable non-metered autos and share autos are available within and between major towns and villages such as Narsapur, Palakollu, Razolu and Antarvedi. Reasonably frequent RTC buses also ply between these towns and connect to Amalapuram, Rajahmundry and Vijayawada.

With the river wending its sluggish way through all these places, you may be forgiven for thinking that you could float up and downstream to your destination. Alas, the state of inland water transport isn’t what it could be! Although if you find yourself in Antarvedi and in a hurry to catch an evening train from Narsapur, one option is to get to the village of Sakhinetipalli and take the ferry across the river.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Thankfully, since you will likely spend much of your time in Konaseema on the deck of a gently bobbing houseboat and pampering your taste buds, there isn’t a whole lot by way of sightseeing to do. Which is a very different thing from saying that there are no sights to see.

Uppder deck view

Expect a good part of the weekend to pass in splendid isolation, contemplating such profundities as the fickleness of the river and how it is a metaphor for life. Once on terra firma, and if you are so inclined, there are a number of charming shrines scattered around the region that you can visit.

Houseboat Cruise
The APTDC houseboat cruise is the high point of the Konaseema experience. The cruises start at 10 a.m. from a coconut grove in the village of Dhindi and end around the same time next morning (if you opt for the 24-hour experience). Before you leave, discuss what you want to have for lunch with the staff on shore (there’s no cooking in the vessel, so to speak) and they will get busy while you drift about. Make sure to ask for local specialities, especially fish and prawn centred delicacies.

The crew will take you some way downstream and upstream from Dhindi. How far and how long you want to go is configurable. One option is to float downstream until the town of Narsapur and motor back up to Dhindi in time for lunch.

Ze river

You will spot fishermen going about earning their day’s wages in little open sailboats (naavus) with canvas and plastic sails. On the banks there will be boys practising fishing in the shallows. The occasional motored craft will wend its way gingerly, avoiding shoals and underwater nets. If you stretch your imagination a little bit, maybe you will feel the shades of Huckleberry Finn and Mark Twain hovering near the gunwales.

Life on the Godavari

Ever so often, something iridescent and altogether unexpected will break the cover of the verdure of the shore and dash across the water. For the ornithology enthusiast, it might be worthwhile carrying binoculars. Kingfishers, drongos, Brahminy kites, the ubiquitous lapwings and other familiars are to be found close at hand.

The rest of the afternoon could be spent upstream near the islet of Sivakodilanka, with a return to Dhindi in time a silent and spectacular sunset. Dinner is served on board. Turn off the lights and sit on the upper deck and feel the stillness of the night about you, and watch the stars tremble as they switch on.

Sundown - Peace comes dropping slow...

Sivakodilanka Island
"Island" is the sort of word the Sivakodilanka islet would use to describe itself on a resume. This sandbar on steroids is located less than a kilometre upstream from Dhindi, across from the Chinchinada (there’s that word again!) bridge. The cheerful staff will be sure to point out the world-famous-in-Konaseema "five-branched palm tree" as you approach Sivakodilanka.

The world famous five-branched palm

The island is covered with different types of tall grasses and reeds, and scrub vegetation. Up until 2006, the houseboats would take you to the island for games on the sand in the evening, camp fires and other revels. After dinner, the boats would anchor mid-river and drift about all night thanks to the push-pull action of the river current and the ocean’s tides. Overnight camping was also permitted.

Alas, the flooding of the Godavari has put paid to all that. The good news is that there is talk about restarting the overnight stay and games etc. so be sure to check both at the time of booking and with the crew on what the possibilities are. Depending on the weather, the water level and the flow, it might still be possible to disembark and do a picnic on the island, or even go for a swim.

WHERE TO STAY

Not being on anybody’s default list of destinations (yet), Konaseema doesn’t come with too many options on the accommodation front. The APTDC rules the roost for the moment. But as the outside world finds out more about this bucolic haven, it is surely a matter of time before alternatives become available.

Without a doubt the sine qua non of the Konaseema experience is the APTDC houseboat cruise. As of this writing, it is not only the best accommodation option available; it is virtually the only accommodation available.

Home

Each boat has two surprisingly well-appointed cabins with tiny but adequate attached bathrooms. The rooms come with pedestal fans, mosquito netting and air conditioning. There are plug points should you want to charge your phone or laptop, although you’ll have to ask the crew to run the generator. Towels are provided, but you’ll have to carry all your toiletries and other needs with you. The helpful crew and other APTDC staff can help you with arrangements such as autos or taxis, bus schedules and advice on local culinary and cultural attractions.

The roofs of the cabins and the gangway in between form the floor of an upper deck, which is accessed by clambering up a wooden ladder. There’s a canopy big enough to keep the elements out and yet open enough to let the sun and the wind in. There are chairs to lounge in and small tables should you want to play a hand or simply put your feet up. Carry something to read or board games or just sit and watch life on the river.

Right opposite the boat jetty, on the edge of a quiet green pool, in the middle of the coconut grove are the cottages of the Dhindi Resorts Pvt. Ltd. There are two tiled, air-conditioned cottages with oodles of decorative woodwork and sit-outs overlooking the pond. Lake View is a single bedroom unit and Vasishta has two rooms.

Cottage

The town of Narsapur has a few basic budget options. Hotel Madhuri on the Main Road is close to the bus stand and railway station, and can arrange taxis. Hotel Sri Vijaya Durga has tidy rooms and is also on the Main Road, closer to the bus stand.

APTDC is building a massive 33-room resort with attached bar and restaurant at Dhindi right next to the boat jetty. As of this writing, construction was in full swing and is expected to be complete in 3 months.

WHERE TO EAT

When you go for a weekend break in a houseboat on a river near where it empties into the sea, what would you expect to eat? If you’re thinking fish and prawns, reach around and give yourself a pat on the back. While the Coromandel Coast remains somewhat overshadowed by its Malabar and Konkan counterparts as far experiments with seafood are concerned, your taste-buds will likely be pleasantly surprised by the menu.

As with accommodation, the APTDC will mostly dictate what you have to sate your appetites. Talk to the staff about what the options are as far as food goes, and be monomaniacal in your desire to eat fish. By the time you sail in for lunch, they will have cooked up a storm.

Hotel Madhuri in Narsapur also comes up trumps. Try the maaga and pandugappa fishes, curried or fried and throw in some prawns for the sake of variety. If you’re vegetarian and haven’t tried them before, you can ask for Andhra special curries and dals and discover a whole new cuisine you didn’t know existed. A meal for two (including the fish and prawns) will set you back to the tune of a princely Rs. 200 - Rs. 250!

There are lots of cheap-and-best eateries along the main highways, but be prepared for not-perfect cleanliness and to take on the spiciness for which the cuisine of the Andhra region is known (and feared!).

AROUND KONASEEMA

Antarvedi (20 km)
The temple town of Antarvedi is at the end of a short drive from Dhindi, over bosky, canal-lined back-roads, through numerous villages and small towns. Simply being in the middle of the vivid greens of paddy and coconut, and the relatively laidback ways of the country will do much to soothe jangled nerves. The quiet temple and beach at journey’s end are icing on the cake.

The Lakshmi Narasimha Swami Temple is the reason why most people come to Antarvedi. The sthala puraana has it that the sage Vasishta consecrated the shrine in honour of Lord Narasimha for avenging the death of Vasishta’s sons at the hands of Raktavilochana, the asura son of Hiranyakashipu. While the first temple is supposed to have been built in the 15th or 16th century, it was subsequently destroyed. The current edifice was completed in 1923.

Outside the Lakshmi Narasimha Swami temple

The temple is designed such that on the day of the Ratha Saptami (in January/February), the rays of the setting sun fall directly on the feet of the deity. The Antarvedi shrine has a quietude and unhurriedness about it that is in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of most temples nowadays.

The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam runs a choultry in Antarvedi.

Antarvedi lighthouse and beach

The picturesque Antarvedi lighthouse complex is a couple of kilometres down the road from the temple, on a stretch of deserted, windswept beach. The neatly painted tower stands in a little complex of its own, complete with pump house, electrical equipment, and staff quarters.

Clamber up 7 floors of steps inside the building and a final metal ladder, and you will find yourself treated to gob-smacking views of patchwork fields glinting in the sun, and fishing vessels taking shelter in the estuary. After its rough and tumble journey from Maharashtra, here is where the sighing Godavari finally joins the Bay of Bengal.

The view from a lighthouse

The beach itself is desolate, and a serviceable picnic spot, although the only shade around is offered by clumps of casuarinas. It is the perfect location for one to engage in those solitary and essential interrogations of oneself.

Antarvedi beach

FAST FACTS
When to go
Basically - in winter. Summers are hot (sometimes very hot, this is Andhra Pradesh!) and it can get very sweaty and sticky in these parts. The rains have the unfortunate side effect of making the river unpredictable, and hey suddenly after lunch all that plunging up and down through the swell isn’t all that much fun anymore. November - January is probably best, but make sure to check the weather report for signs of those utterly unpredictable annual Bay of Bengal productions called tropical cyclones and depressions. If you can put up with a bit of humidity and sweat, or don’t mind getting a little wet, it might be worth going just for the sultry stillness of summer or the susurrus of showers.

LAST BUT NOT THE LEAST (WE-DONT-USE-CLICHES.COM)

A word about the culinary piece de resistance of Konaseema. Upon the mildest interrogation, any local will happily inform you that you really haven’t lived life until you’ve tasted the pulasa fish.

In August/September, as the Godavari brings the fresh water that the monsoon has deposited in the hills to the sea, the pulasa make their way upstream to lay eggs. The fish becomes fleshy, fat, and irresistibly delicious and the market price shoots up by as much as an order of magnitude over the deep sea version. So much so that a proverb in these parts wholeheartedly recommends the pawning of a mangala sutram to pay for the pulasa.

Because of its seasonal nature, the pulasa is not exactly the easiest thing to come by. Even when available, it usually doesn’t find its way into local eateries because of the price. However, do remember to ask the houseboat staff if there is even a slight chance they can rustle up some pulasa. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

If you’re wondering where you’ve heard this story of the fish-that-is-cheap-and-thin-in-the-sea-and-fat-and-expensive-in-the-river, that’s because the pulasa of Konaseema is none other than the ilish/hilsa that Bengal swears by!

Antarvedi beach, from lighthouse

Thursday, December 20, 2007

MIT Open Course Ware

More techie stuff never hurt anyone

MIT has gone a put tons of their course material online and available for free download as part of the Open Course Ware (OCW) initiative. You can download course material from pretty much all the departments at MIT. And this doesn't mean that only the geeks need to go into spasms of ecstasy, material from the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences grouping are also available. So if the Music of India floats your boat, feel free to download the ZIP file and unleash.

Hat tip to Abi for the reminder about OCW. He has a post pointing to several seemingly fundastic video lectures in physics.

Note to self: Switch to unlimited download broadband plan.

P.S.: Yesterday was a very, very good day for sit-in-balcony birding. We saw red-vented bulbuls, pesky babblers, koels, golden orioles, what must've been purple sunbirds (but didn't look so), scaly breasted munias, green bee-eaters, ashy prinias, pestilential quantities of pigeons, a white-browed wagtail, 1 nos. saada drongo, tons of pigeons, and the odd parakeet. And these two birdbrains were back at their usual adda.

Hornbills and Syntex tanks: A Juxtaposition

We even have a video (11MB) of eldritch hornbill hooting away. It's very blurry and unclear and all, but right at the end you can see a blur as birdie launched itself from tank. Check out (our first video!).
video

Monday, December 17, 2007

ScienceBlogs Select

Which is a formal plug for ScienceBlogs

Really, you all should plug in a feed from ScienceBlogs into your favourite feed readers. Some days back, GrrlScientist posted a video depicting the famous "Two Fork Toothpick" Shaolin move.

Today, Chad Orzel provides the explanation. It's really quite amazingly simple, yet mindbogglingly counterintuitive.

Some of the best ScienceBloggers are
  • Mark Chu-Carroll writes good and sometimes incomprehensible stuff at Good Math, Bad Math about mathematics, computer science, cooking and takes the occasional dig a the "intelligent design" loonies
  • Dr. Free-Ride posts at Adventures in Ethics and Science, and her two children frequently contribute the most hilarious and thought provoking pieces.
  • Orac, who writes (mostly scathingly) at Respectful Insolence about "Complementary and Alternative Medicine" (CAM) or "non-evidence based medicine" as he (she?) calls it, or more frequently "woo".

etc. Lots more.

Also examine FreeRice. If you fancy yourself to be good with words and vocabulary and so on, you will end up spending 10s of minutes trying to boost your score. Every word you get right, you donate 20 grains of rice to the UN Food Programme. It's quite addictive.

After 4000 grains, we wheezed our way to 49, if you must know.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Philosophers on Video

Which has links to some very very amusing videos

There's not nearly enough posts on philosophy on this blog. By these presents we do make amends.

Exhibit A

A TV commercial presented by the Nietzsche campaign attacking Kant.

Exhibit B

The Germany vs. Greece philosophers football match! This one is brilliant. The referee is Confucius, and the linesmen are St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Monty Python rocks! Why haven't we been told about this before? TMKAHHI, you know we're talking about you.

Commentary excerpt
'There’s Archimedes, and I think he’s had an idea! “Eureka!” Archimedes, out to Socrates. Socrates back to Archimedes. Archimedes out to Heraclitus who beats Hegel. Heraclitus a little flick. Here he comes, on the far post. Socrates is there! Socrates heads it in! Socrates has scored! The Greeks are going mad! The Greeks are going mad! Socrates scores! But a beautiful cross from Archimedes. The Germans are disputing it! Hegel is arguing that the reality is merely an a priori adjunct of non-naturalistic ethics. Kant, via the categorical imperative, is holding that ontologic exists only in the imagination, and Marx is claiming that it was offside.'
:-)

Exhibit C

Is related to Exhibit B, and is how we got to Exhibit B in the first place. At P h i l o s o p h y F o o t b a l l ("sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction"), you can get some very cool T-shirts. Hat tip: Mike Marqusee.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The iPod Shuffle Tag

Which we got from Srini and are passing it along

Rules:
1. Put your MP3 player on shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
3. You must write the name of the song no matter what. No cheating!

And ours went like so:

IF SOMEONE SAYS "IS THIS OKAY?" YOU SAY?
Pukaro mujhe naam lekar pukaro - Fursat Ke Raat Din - Mukesh

WHAT WOULD BEST DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONALITY?
Aaj mausam badaa beimaan hai - Rafi

WHAT DO YOU LIKE IN A GUY/GIRL?
Shubh din aaye - Mughal-e-azam - Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan

HOW DO YOU FEEL TODAY?
She's Leaving Home - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE’S PURPOSE?
Macavity - Cats

WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO?
Fireball - Deepest Purple - Deep Purple

WHAT DO YOUR FRIENDS THINK OF YOU?
Pappa pappa pappu thapalam - Pelli Pustakamu - S.P. Balasubramaniam (heh, Srini will be happy!)

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR PARENTS?
Maate mantramu - Pelli Pustakamu

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT VERY OFTEN?
Ek akela is sheher main - Fursat Ke Raat Din (this is the one that came closest?!)

WHAT IS 2+2?
Hori Khelan Kaise Jaun - Evolution of the Thumri - Shobha Gurtu

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR BEST FRIEND?
Dharmam Saranam Gachhami - Swathimuthyamu - SPB

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE PERSON YOU LIKE?
Fat bottomed girls - Greatest Hits - Queen (this was also pretty close :P)

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE STORY?
Kitaabein padhi hain - Baazigar (and this too!)

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?
Susie Q - Chronicle Vol.1 - Creedence Clearwater Revival (yes, we want to be Susie Q)

WHAT DO YOU THINK WHEN YOU SEE THE PERSON YOU LIKE?
Let's get rocked - Vault - Def Leppard (Coffee? Je suis le President du Burundi!)

WHAT DO YOUR PARENTS THINK OF YOU?
I've Got a Feeling - The Beatles Anthology 3 - The Beatles

WHAT WILL YOU DANCE TO AT YOUR WEDDING?
I Get Along Without You Very Well - Lady in Satin - Billie Holiday (ha ha ha! prescient)

WHAT WILL THEY PLAY AT YOUR FUNERAL?
In My Life - The Beatles (nice, we're happy with this)

WHAT IS YOUR HOBBY/INTEREST?
Pyaar Deewaana Hota Hai - Kati Patang - Kishore Kumar

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST SECRET?
The Art of the Fugue BMV 1080 (Contrapunctus 9) - J.S.Bach

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR FRIENDS?
Thilothamma - Aasai - SPB

WHAT SHOULD YOU POST THIS AS?
Don't Pass Me By - The Beatles (White Album) - The Beatles

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Amphiboly

Which is an amphiboly that was found in a notebook last night

We took a course once. Prof. Hirsch offered up this sentence as an example of amphiboly.

Zen Buddhist monk to hot dog vendor, "Make me one with everything."

:)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Moon is now but Yellammathota

Where we dig up a priceless lyrico-musical nugget for the enlightenment of our audience

Many years ago, on one dark and dreary fall evening in New England, our then partner in dramatic crimes introduced us to something that forever changed the fabric of the space-time continuum for us, from that point forward.

After a successful opening night performance as Sculder (or was it Mully) in that critically acclaimed and commercially successful blockbuster "Holy Cows In Outer Space" (directed by the partner in crime, a story which will have to be told another day), yours truly and That Man Keynes And His Homosexual Intrigues (as he calls himself on this blog) had visited el Directoro at his digs. After potations and libations had been imbibed, el Directoro disappears, and re-enters slipping an LP record out of its sleeve. TMKAHHI were expecting Pink Floyd, or The Moody Blues, or something like that. Instead, something literally out-of-the-world wafts over the ether.

Turns out that the LP had 2 songs on it, one on each side. The singers were Dr. PB Sreenivos and Ms. S. Janaki, and the lyrics had been penned by the good doctor himself. The songs appeared to be a sort of commemoration-celebrations of the Apollo 11 moon landings. Self and TMKAHHI were blown away (reasons follow).

Years passed, until this afternoon, when on one of those tangential internet explorations that happen, we stumbled across Dr. Sreenivos' web page. And sure enough, in the Multi Lingual section, were the two delicious songs. We urge all our readers with the loony senses of humour to promptly download and listen to "Man to Moon" and "Moon to God". As an appetizer, we will give you the opening lines of "Man to Moon":

          Man has set his foot on Moon
          Moon is now but Dehra Doon
          Moon is now but...Dehraa Doooon
          Armstrong isn't mere arm-strong
          He is mind-strong and aim-strong
          Aldrin is the another man
          Who too walked on moon and land(?)

That apart, the meda meeda meda katti(WMA file) song from Preminchi Choodu (1965) is very entertaining (and is what we were searching for in the first place), as is it's Tam version medai mele(WMA file) are very peppy (especially the videos, if they can be found).

Dr. Sreenivos is not alone in experimenting with the English language. Mohammad Rafi sang The She I Love Is A Beautiful Beautiful Dream Come True to the tune of the rollicking Hum Kaale Hain To Kya Hua Dilwaale Hain:

          Ha ha ha ha!!! It is a lover's duty
          To fall in love with Beauty!
          The she I love is a beautiful beautiful dream come true
          The she I love is a beautiful beautiful dream come true
          I lau her, lau her, lau her, lau her; and so will you!

The lyrics are outrageous ("Because she thinks it pleases me, like a cat a rat, she seizes me, she tickles me, she teases me...") and presumably not by Rafi himself.

Rafi also sang (at the UN General Assembly, apparently) the unforgettable "Although we hail from different lands", set to the tune of bahaaron phool barsaao. Unfortunately, the English version is not available online, although Ludwig has the MP3, for anyone who asks nicely.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"Birdie birdie kee gal hai?" said Sardarji.

To which the bird replied "Praaji, praaji sea gull hai!"

First, check this out (you will need Macromedia Flash). You are given a glass box full of mice. Each mouse is on a different recreational drug (marijuana, heroin, cocaine, Ecstasy, alcohol, methamphetamine, LSD). Choose your mouse and drop it in the chair. Said rodent is duly conveyed to a box, and a nice voice will explain exactly how these different drugs affect our nervous system. Priceless.

Local events heads up.

The Hyderabad Half Marathon/10k is on Sunday. We've run this in 2005 and 2006, and it was mostly fun.


Bird Race




HSBC HYDERABAD BIRD RACE


Sunday - 2nd December 2007


Dear Member

You will be glad to know that HSBC is sponsoring the “BIRD RACE” again this year in Hyderabad. For the information of members who have joined our society recently, BSAP had organized and conducted the Bird Race last November which was a great success. We are confident that with your continued support we should be able to make the race this year also a greater success.

The rules of the race in a nutshell are: Participants have to bring their own cars and each car will have four to five persons and this will form a Team. We can even consider two motorbikes with four riders as a team. If you do not have a car and want to participate – absolutely no problem! We have enough seats for you in the cars that are participating.

Each car will have a CAPTAIN who will be familiar with the geography of Hyderabad and its environs and also be reasonably knowledgeable in bird identification. For first timers who are not familiar with birds but still want to have lots of fun, again no problem – we can provide Captains from amongst our members. And remember – this race is not only for BSAP members but open to all. So get your friends, young and old, school children, et al.

The cars will be flagged off early in the morning and report back at sunset, that is almost 12 hours of birding. Each car will be given a Log Book containing a list of birds found in our region as also names of places and locations that you can visit. You are however free to go wherever you want, as long as you keep within a radius of about 50 – 60 kms around Hyderabad. You have to tick mark all the bird species that you see and where you saw it. The logbooks have to be surrendered to the judges in the evening for their scrutiny. The criterion is that you try and record as many bird species as possible to win the first prize. There will be prizes also like Bird of the Day, Dip of the Day, etc.

We ofcourse expect total honesty and integrity of the participants. Despite the rules, the main purpose is to have loads of fun.

PROGRAMME
  • Cars with the Captain and Team members to report at 6:00 am sharp on Sunday, 2.12.2007, in front of the Hyderabad Public School, Begumpet Main road, next to the foot overbridge.

  • Each car will be given a sticker with a bird name. This has to be stuck prominently on the left upper corner of the front windshield glass.

  • There will be a briefing of the rules and each car will be given a Log Book and breakfast hampers and all will be flagged off together at 6:30 am.

  • There is no entry fee. You have to carry your own lunch, water and snacks, including binoculars and field guides. As usual we advise you to wear dull colored clothing good walking shoes and a cap.

  • You can visit as many places as you can – the more the better. We have also listed a few prominent places in the Log Book for your convenience.

  • The cars must return latest by 6:30 pm and the Captains have to submit the Log Books to the organizers at Secunderabad Sailing Club, situated on the banks of the Hussiansagar Lake, at the end of the Tankbund on the Secunderabad side. Refreshments will be served on arrival, which you will need badly, anyway! Please note that Teams submitting their Log Books after 6:30 pm are liable to be disqualified. So, give enough margins for traffic jams and we suggest you target to reach the club by 6:00 pm.

  • The function will start by about 7:30 pm. There would be a few talks by the organizers to kick off the get-together and may be a short speech by the Chief Guest. All Captains will also be required to speak for a few minutes each, recounting the team’s experience for the day. We expect you to make this as lively and funny as possible! This will be followed by prize distribution and DINNER for all the participants.

We do hope the above is clear. Please rush and register your names for this wonderful event. The last date for receiving the entries is 24.11.07.

You can give your names to the following members. Mention whether with car, without car, want a captain, etc. Any question feel free to ask.

         Siraj - 32936937.
         Sushil - 9393319333

Hope to see you all in large numbers and make this event a huge success.

BSAP Organising Committee
15th November 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Unbearable Blindness of Seeing

I am colourblind. As a kid, I used to wonder why they had the funnily named tube of Burnt Sienna in the oil colours box, when there was a perfectly serviceable brown at hand. And what was with those shades of green, all the same?

Drawing was fun, I particularly remember diligently copying out birds from a bird book onto the backs of dot matrix printouts that amma would bring from the physics department (Andhra University had recently entered the Age of the Computer). After making the pencil outline, we would colour it using that little Camlin watercolours box, the orange (was it?) one with 4 × 3 grid and the little slot for the brush. Those pictures are still lying at home, but the boxes have disappeared.

I'd foolishly expend colours in asymmetric quantities, perhaps I couldn't find uses for some of them. Within a few weeks, about half the little tablets would've been weathered into nothingness with the orange colour of the box showing through the bottom. Then you could shake out the rest of the tablets, tie a looped string through the box, hang it around your neck, and pretend that you were Captain Kirk, or Mr. Spock, or Dr. McCoy with your little box of magic, teleporting from the starship Enterprise (the bed) onto some strange planet (the floor), and the box would go "beep beep" as it detected signs of alien life/radioactivity/gooseberries ripening in the backyard, and off we would go. How whole afternoons used to fly by! What fun!!

Drawing in the company of other kids was often not fun. Because, that meant sharing your colour pencils and tubes, and sooner or later, one of them will throw out that terrifying request, "Pass me the purple, no?" And then that horrible moment of hesitation, when 3 or 4 different thoughts and hues would collide and jostle, demanding immediate attention. Should I take my time in picking the thing? Will that increase the chance of finding the right one? Or is it better to hand over an approximation quickly, so that they wouldn't notice my indecision? What is worse - to be slow, or to be wrong? When we go to the park to play cricket in the evening, will my reaction speed and accuracy matter to whoever is picking teams? The decisions of childhood are the most terrifying ones.

I think everyone must've noticed that I sometimes couldn't name the right colours, and preferred pointing out stuff instead of being precise with colour names like the others. Thankfully (or perhaps not?), they must've thought that it was because I was dumb, as far as colours went. Would it have been better for the rest of them to know that such an "ailment" as colourblindess? What is worse - to be dumb, or to be ill?

Life went on. We moved into a building which had a fantastic view of the sea. Almost every day, I'd see the ships of the Eastern Naval Command sail out of the Naval Base. Or else a gigantic cargo ship with "NIPPON STEEL" painted in giant white (I am sure, for a change) letters on the hull would lumber out of the port and head eastward, leaving a trail of sooty smoke. All the nautical activity, combined with a steady diet of Alistair Maclean novels ignited a craze for becoming sailor. Only, somewhere inside there lurked the nebulous thought that I couldn't, because I wasn't qualified.

By the time I was an Intermediate student, the drawing and colours were just memories, stuff that we used to do only when we lived on campus. The only time we even remembered those things was when we had to rearrange or clean the cupboard, and those printouts would show up, with the faded, embarrassing pictures on the obverse. Also faded were memories of helplessness.

Now life was mostly about maths and physics and entrance exams and spending the bus fare on samosas and cone cakes at Suresh Bakery. And chemistry. In second year, a childhood fear awoke again, and turned into something altogether more crucial and terrifying.

Titration. That one word spelt doom. The lab manuals would be full of instructions that made my brain freeze and eyes blur over.

Titrate the solution from the receiving vessel to the endpoint with HCl, when the phenolphthalein should appear a very light shade of pale pink.

they said. Pale pink? This is the kid who couldn't pick the purple pencil. pH paper was another terror, as was almost every single test for elements in chemical compounds. I got 25 out of 30 in the chemistry practical exam. Everyone got 29 or 30. The dumb kid was back.

Thankfully the entrance exams didn't involve anything to with colours. I waltzed into JEE counseling, with nary a care in the world. Counseling is where you get to meet a black box to which you input your rank and it outputs the likelihood that you will get a seat in the branch and IIT of your choice. My black box was spot on, it turned out. Ended up in the department and IIT he said I would end up in.

In the bustle of counseling day, they slipped in a medical exam. Height and weight were checked, and a blood sample was taken. Then they had that vision test, the one with all the funny Es and the letters receding from laughably huge to challengingly tiny. I read all of them off, and a couple of notices that were stuck in the notice board next to the chart, just for kicks. Those were the days when we thought every test was a competition, and no quarter was given.

Then the guy in the white coat pulled out a book. Black pages, with white circles in them. And lots of dots. He wanted me to read out the numbers. The first couple were easy enough, and then he really began pulling my leg by showing random dots and asking me to read out non-existent numbers. I made up a couple to humour him, but had a sinking feeling that this was actually important, a watershed moment, if you will. The fact that the guy kept flipping page after page, while everyone else was done in 5 pages only added to the suspicion.

4 years in college zipped past in a flash. I didn't do all that great academically, and any data I could've gained about my colourblindness (via bad grades, like the chemistry practical exam) was lost in the general noise of indifferent academics.

Campus selection season started, and after flunking 3 or 4 tests and interviews, I was one of the last few people to get a job. This happened to be at TISCO in Jamshedpur, and as campus jobs in 1997 went, it was one of the better paying ones at Rs. 11,000 a month. We were thrilled to bits. We were even more thrilled when we found out that TISCO would pay all of us the rail fare to visit Jamshedpur for an orientation programme.

And a medical test. Sheer dread. It was bad enough that we would have to strip to our undies and wander from room to room in the TISCO hospital while they collected all kinds of data. Not to mention the whole doctor-putting-hand-in-undies-and-making-you-cough routine, which surely was something that was conjured up by someone overdosing on Human Digest and Penthouse. Little did the rest of the gang suspect that none of this held the terror that the eye checkup did.

Sure enough, deja vu. The black book with white circles and dots. The same sinking feeling; at least this time I knew what was coming. The same curious looks from the medical staff, the pulling aside for one more round of testing, when all the other guys were done and ready to hit the town for some beer and chicken.

I don't think I ever received the appointment letter, and I don't remember any explanations either.

It didn't matter, because the MS admission and aid had come through, and I was off to Massachusetts. Since then, things have been relatively easy. I've never had to worry too much about colours, even driving tests don't check for colour vision, and I could tell the red and green of the traffic lights apart (but not the red and amber, or the amber and streetlights).

It's water off a duck's back now, and I can laugh at it and joke about it, and even use it as an excuse to slime out of responsibilities ("Hey, I can't do that UI design, you know my problem, no?", "Please don't ask me to help you in picking out the kameez, you know that I only pick blues.") It's just become a source of irritation - when someone uses insanely gradated colours in maps and charts and you can't tell the differences; when you can't see a red bird in the greenery that everyone else is ooh-ing and ah-ing over; when you run into the ubiquitousness of colour coding in daily life.

I suppose we're a pretty small proportion, 5-10 % of all men, basically. We aren't a large enough constituency to merit special treatment. So things will go on as they have. But it would be nice to once in a while run into someone who doesn't say, "Tell me what colour is this tablecloth!" the moment you told them you were colourblind. This happens almost every time. Without getting into distasteful analogies, imagine the equivalent of doing that when you meet someone in a wheelchair.

Please love us. We may be deficient, but we are also human beings only. ;-)

PS Colorvisiontesting.com has online tests for colourblindness. I've failed the test in exactly the ways they predicted. They explain why one is colourblind (it's all your ancestors' fault apparently, the dissolute rascals). There is no cure.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

An Exercise in Estimation

Which is an anecdote

Yesterday evening, G called. He's planning to spend a few weeks in some Arctic European country, and needs warm clothes. Our ski jacket and pants, turtlenecks, mucho cool Hugo Boss Wall Street type outfit, and sexy leather gloves have been gathering fungi for the last 3 years, so we thought we'll foist them on G. He said he's going to come over today to borrow them.

A bit of background. G and Ludwig used to work together. G is a software architect type who operates in the rarefied atmosphere of design and specifications. Ludwig used to muddle around trying to get a small team to build stuff. Both of us were on the hook to deliver stuff to the powers that be, and of course had to "set expectations" on when stuff could be delivered and so on. If you've done this sort of thing before, you know how it works.

Developer Boy looks at the 6 things on his plate, factors in such things as time spent on Orkut, table tennis, and those vast tracts of unproductivity that show up in the middle of our day and says it will take x days to finish.

Seen It All Team Lead looks at x's estimate, mentally goes "Yeah, right." (1) and puts 1.5x in his schedule.

I Rule Microsoft Project Product Manager sees Seen It All's estimate, applies the same factor of safety. This continues recursively until the CEO or VP or whoever has a "Beta Duryodhan, yeh kya ho rahaa hai?!" moment.

But that is all beside the point. The point is we hedge our bets when we make these estimates. It turns out that once you start doing this, it really seeps into real life. Case in point, G and Ludwig trying to arrive at a mutually convenient time for handover of said winter paraphernalia.

G: Hey, so when should I come by your place tomorrow da?

Ludwig [Mental calculation: Going running in the morning and will be back by 8, and have that meeting in the evening at 4:30]: I'll be at home between 9 and 3.

G [Mental calculation: Yeah, right.]: OK, I'll come between 10 and 2.

L [Mental calculation: I'd better be at home for sure between 11 and 1.]: OK.

He's probably going to show up at noon.

P.S. The wisdom of children...




1. We owe this nugget to G.

Linguistics professor: It is a strange truth about language, that a double negation ends up with a positive meaning. For ejjampul, "Putting your finger in the socket and turning on the switch is not unsafe if there's a power outage."

See? Double negative, means positive. But a double positive can never mean something negative.

Bored voice from the back of the class: Yeah, right.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Basic Concepts in Science: A List

Which is a public service post

The most excellent ScienceBlogs has what is possibly a valuable post on Basic Concepts in Science. If you are/were a scientist and want to do some revision, or want to learn about someone else's specialization, or if you're a non-scientist and want to get the 101 on science, this might be a nice starting point. Links to lots of articles including:

Geology: The Composition of the Earth, Chronology and Stratigraphy, Paleomagnetism, I: Introduction, the Scientific Toolbox, II: Crustal Chemistry, the Solar Nebula, and the Solar System, III: Rocks from Space and the Accretion of the Earth, IV: It's Getting Hot in Here, Differentiation, and Core Formation, V: The Moon, the Magma Ocean, and the Mantle.

Chemistry: pH, Strong and Weak Acids, Acids and Bases, What is Food Science?, Food Chemistry, Elements, Polar and Non-polar Molecules, Intermolecular Forces

Biology: Gene, What is a Gene?, New definitions of a Gene, The Richard Dawkins Definition of a Gene Is Seriously Flawed, The Central Dogma of Molecular Biology, How Proteins Fold, Heat Shock and Molecular Chaperones, The Genetic Code, ABO Blood types, Genetics of ABO Blood types, Genetics of Eye Color, Collagen, How do you sequence a Genome? Parts I, II, III, IV, V, and VI, What are Hypothetical and Putative Proteins, Linkage Disequilibrium, Mutations by evolgen, Allele...

Evolution and Phylogenetics: Evolution, The Many Faces of 'Evolution', The Three Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Natural Selection, Modes of Natural Selection, What makes Natural Selection an adaptive process?, Artificial and Natural Selection, Sexual Selection, Human Evolution 1001, Fitness, Measuring Fitness, Clade...Ancestors, Why Spiders aren't Insects, parts I, II, III, IV, and V...

Ecology and Environment: What is Ecology?, Biomes I...Biomes VIII, Conservation versus Preservation

Developmental biology:...

Medicine and Psychiatry:...

Other or multiple topics: Artifacts and Vectors, 8th Grade Math (Hardy Weinberg, Genetic Variance, Molecules and Phylogenies, Kin), Biological Clock...

And the really interesting and important stuff.

Physics and Astronomy: Energy, Fields, Force, Measurement, Entropy, Redshift, Understanding Electricity, Ohm's Law, Estimation and DImensions, De Broglie Equation, Phase changes


Mathematics and Computer Science: Normal Distribution; Mean, Median and Mode; Standard Deviation; Margin of Error; Correlation (and Causation, and Random Variables); Binary Search; Innumeracy; Percentage and percentage points; Proof by contradiction; Statistics Primer, Part 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5; Multidimensional; Vectors; Algebra; Calculus; Limits; Recursion; Turing Machine; The Halting Problem; Real Numbers; Algorithm; Discrete versus Continuous [Mathematics]; Infinity and Infinite Sums; Numbers; Metric System; Modular Arithmetic; Theories, Theorems, Lemmas and Corollaries; Fractals

Logic and Computability: Logic, Modal Logic, Syntax and Semantics, Sets, Arguments, Optimization, Axioms, Going Met, Parallel, Distributed, and Concurrent

Philosophy, Philosophy of Science: The Feminist Theory of Science, Falsifiable Claims, Epistemology, Theory, Introductory texts for philosophy of biology, Scientific Method, Laws and theories, Likelihood Theory

Crib: There's too much biology and not enough mathematics, logic and philosophy of science. And to a lesser extent, history, economics and other such mumbo jumbo.

Sidr

Which is about the weather, again. And about Bengal, because Srini asked.

As we speak, Tropical Cyclone Sidr (06B) is headed resolutely for the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta. Per usual, our friends at the Joint Typhoon Warning Center seem to be on top of things. The tropical cyclone warning graphic, ship avoidance graphic, satellite imagery, and Tom Clancy telegram are all in place.

Thanks to the wonders of remote sensing and satellite imagery and so on, this time we are hopefully a little better prepared. Unlike 1991 (Gorky), 1970 (Bhola (WTF!)) and before (1737 Calcutta, 1789 Coringa etc.).

As usual, Bong-land lies squarely in the path of this one. Hold tight.

P.S. We've rambled about cyclones before, it's a bit of an obsession. We even re-read "The Hungry Tide" recently, and that has refueled us a bit.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Blogs We Read Regularly

Which is another way of saying, we're updating our broglorr, sort of

This is the height of laziness in the blogging world, this writing about other blogs. Even so, we're doing it after two years. But then we're the Sultans of Laziness. Can't even be bothered to make this remotely amusing. Without further ado...

The Top 10

These we check more or less every day, in no particular order.
  • The Spaniard In The Works - The Spaniard, when she can take a few microseconds out of her busy daily schedule of vampiring and zombieing and defenestrating, always and regularly has poems worth reading, movies worth watching, books worth buying, and links worth clicking.

  • Nanopolitan - It's a blog, and it's also a portal. An almost one stop shop for all kinds of happenings, especially in science, engineering, and academia. What we've actually done is outsourced our bookmarks to Abi, who does (apparently a lot of) triage on the messy world that is the Internet and only lets the latest and the greatest slip through. This one is a must if you're remotely interested in science/technology, academia, debates on policy, especially in the desi context. Go ahead, bookmark it.

  • Fanaa - CSM is to the world of development what Abi is to the world of sci-tech. Updated regularly, always something interesting going on.

  • musings from mumbai - Kenny was our senior in college, and co-infested a couple of Massachusetts campuses with us. She writes about life in Mumbai, journeys, stories, and about this kid of hers. Who appears to be absolutely delicious and kidnappable.

  • sElecting a President in New Hampshire - Longtime Asha buddy, and co-conspirator in world revolution, Melli has just started a fascinating and regularly updated blog on the election process in the US. The Democratic primaries in New Hampshire will get underway in January, and then there's the presidential election in Novembar, and this is one blog we will stay glued to.

  • Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing-wax - Our blogs are actually siblings (observe the names) that got lost in some blog mela when mine went to buy inji mittai for hers, and the fireworks accidentally went off, and the elephant stampeded, and the rangula ratlam flew off its axle and rolled towards the elephant, and the heat, and the dust, and the screams, and Rakhee and...and... You get the picture. Sheetal writes about travel, and birding, and sports, and writing, and whatnot. Woh kya kattey ji, horizonaan broadenaan ho jaate.

  • k'uvvat-e-guftaar - Another almost bachpan mein bichad gayaa blog. If the Choultry wasn't named after something from "The Walrus and the Carpenter" or "Jabberwocky", and didn't have utterly obscure sayings from the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, it would surely make a ghazal type statement. Even more so, it might've made a k'uvvat-e-guftaar statement, seeing as one of our all time #1 ghazals is Mehdi Hasan singing ek bas tuu hi nahiin mujhse khafaa ho baitha (see footnotes). Shweta also writes about travel, birding, music, and Federer and will occasionally let fly little nuggets of shaayiri

    But the siblings Vyas are somewhat overly fixated on Harry Potter and his lethal salutations, and being very hoity toity, we deplore!

  • Blogical Conclusion - Read without fail every week for Baradwaj Rangan's sometimes funny, sometimes sober, always thought-provoking takes on the Indian cinema.

  • Yossarian Lives - This woman is on ayahuasca. Fullto fun will come here. If you see a somewhat harassed, academic looking Bong who answers to the name of Bill (Billabong!) in the vicinity, be nice to him. He needs it!

  • A writer and his web-blahg - Samanth holds forth. Very erudite. Discourses with equal Felicity on Herodotus, the Poincare conjecture, Brecht, maayamaalawagowlam and so on. Poor Felicity. He's either very learned, or very very very good with search engines and typing. Lives some kind of latter day Caligula life in the fleshpots of New York, and occasionally infests these parts to win most quizzes he attends, and once safely back in Manhattan writes about such intensely annoying things as how to spend Rs. 10,000 worth of Landmark coupons. Bah.

Blogs We Check Regularly But Aren't Updated So Often(1)
  • Not all who wander are lost - No indeed they aren't. Some are merely very very jobless. They should write more often. Ram Ram.

  • Muesli harmless - The only blog in the world known to be written by an Irrawady dolphin. Nowadays a very very lazy Irrawady dolphin. These conservation types have made life too easy for some species!

  • Da Black Mamba - Why for she is not writing more often? Is she engrossed in researching shades of pink, perchance?

  • Phantasmagoria - Is becoming distressingly irregular. We will get to the bottom of the matter. Is it wrong for a blog whose name ends in goria to annoyingly trigger off a song from Coolie No. 1 in one's head?

  • kufr - Actually boy is writing quite often nowadays, and we're visiting very regularly too. But we're placing him under observation, if he keeps up the good work, 2 years down the line we may bump him into the other list. Blog is about a lot of diverse policy type issues, and we seem to agree on many things so we likes to read.

  • Dev's Walden Pond - Writer, journalist, author of Touch Play which is a must buy book if you're into inspirational sports stories and are looking for an Indian hero.

  • Horse product - Utterly irreverent, and utterly funny. Seems to have utterly stopped writing.

  • I *heart* Bombay (and well..Boston) - The Vikster has recently moved from Bombay to Bangalore, and consequent angst is in progress. Sekk it out.

  • Last Man Blogging! - Is where Rithesh writes about many things including the life of the Hyderabadi entrepreneur, but not so often...

  • Flying in a blue dream... - Is also updated only irregularly, is by a Hyderabadi quizzer, and has one fantastic post (read comments also) on food joints in the city.

Other Ones We Check Reasonably Regularly
  • these amiable drifters - Srini who is short, squat, bespectacled, bewhiskered, and from Tiruchirapalli used to blog at cha-biskoot, but then Japanese Martian monkeys took over and now she's recuperating here. Her hairstyle rocks.

  • Mango Indian - Just Kishore's "Death by PJs" (be very afraid) website, spiced up by the occasional rant!

  • Raves and Rants of a Demented Cinephile - Promises to be the last world on definitive cult movies!

  • Dangling conversations - Sudhir Pai writes about everything!
  • Dhammonia - D-man about books, running, and quizzing usually. This boy is the Energizer Bunny of Bangalore middle and long distance road races.

  • Zoo Station - Dr. Abraham about economics, entrepreneurship and so on. When he can find the time from hanging out with George (Soros), Montek (S. Ahluwalia) and so on.

  • Easy Bedtime Reading - Mr. Google himself. Once in a while write something, lep.

  • Rajni's Blog - Rajni about life in the US, in India, education, travel, Deathly Hellos, and so on.

Excellent Blobs We Used To Read Very Regularly But For No Particular Reason Seem To Have Stopped Looking At (Which Is A Bad Bad Thing)
  • A Walk in the Clouds - What to say? :( It's really her fault, though. She keeps disappearing for inordinate lengths of time.

  • 2x3x7 - Can't blame the boy, he posts regularly and copiously. Then why? Wovon mann nicht sprechen kann, daruber muss mann schweigen.

  • Indian Writing - This also somehow slipped through the cracks. Boo hoo. Too much catching up to do.

  • Who is Buchu? - Used to get our daily Harvard Square fix from here. Alack, those days are gone.

Group Blobs


Few. As in, "Phew!" This is only about a quarter/third of all our bookmarks (including all the boring techy ones). But it'll have to do for now. Have we missed anyone? That would be really bad, no? Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be, speaking words of wisdom...

UPDATE

We forgot to mention (maybe because we only got to know about this one very recently), but Bombay Boy is also being read nowadays. It's about "food, delhi, bombay and chicks". Lesley has a post linking to The Delhi Walla which appears to be an excellent, excellent piece of work that tries to poke and pry into facets of Delhi that aren't exactly the most visible ones.


Notes
1. When we say "we check regularly", we mean to say that we're utter novices at such things as reading feeds and so on. So for us reading blogs means painstakingly navigating from bookmark to bookmark.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Mathematics Genealogy Project

In which the below mentioned is about the above mentioned

The Mathematics Genealogy Project is one of those internet curiosities that are worth visiting from time to time. The algorithm is fairly simple.

   ∀x|x∈M(the set of all doctorates in mathematics)
   find x's adviser


For example, take Ludwig's onetime roommate. Boy is widely recognized to be very, very, very smart (Maths Olympiad medalist smart) and his dissertation on the Smoothed Analysis of Gaussian Elimination is of suitably overwhelming obscurity, befitting boy's pedigree. Follow boy's academic ancestry.

One passes through a few generations of unknown (but doubtless worthy) names, until the first tentative signs of recognition occur at Marvin Minsky. After a brief detour into Minsky, we move on.

Somewhere at the turn of the last century, the geography shifts to Europe - sometimes to France, more commonly to Germany. Also, the names start becoming a whole lot more familiar (Klein 1 2, he of bottle fame, for example. Further, see here for a very funny cartoon, one that should join the ranks of the jokes here).

From the mid nineteenth century onwards, the names are all scarily familiar. Scary mostly because you've heard these names in various classes before, and now nothing - nothing - comes back.

Eventually, it is very likely that you will end up at the very obscure (hitherto unheard of, in fact) Herr Erhard Weigel. Why, you ask? How, is it possible, you wonder?

The reason is not hard to seek.

Erhard begat Gottfried
And Gottfried begat Jacob, (en passant, he also begat the calculus)
And Jacob begat Johann (which sounds very odd, because they were in fact siblings)
And Johann begat Leo, and ay there's the rub.

From Euler, it's hoppity-skippity-hop and suddenly we're spitting out the Gods of mathematics. Euler is Lagrange's mai baap and Fourier (of transform fame) and Poisson (of distribution fame) were the apples of Lagrange's eyes.

As the image on the homepage suggests, there's another path through this tree, which leads via Klein to Gauss. Indeed, if the tree/graph were a railway network, Klein would be Mathura.

Go on. Head over to the project, and find out how your mathematics Ph. D. buddy is a descendant of Mencke or Weigel. It's an utterly absorbing pastime, we assure you.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Teams

Which is about teams we've been following lately

This is apparently now business as usual.

These guys apparently lost by a whisker to these guys. Who gives a shit?

The Dynasty are in the process of whipping the aquatic mammals in the third quarter as we type this, and seem to be sublimely unbeatable.

He lost. But this might simply mean that He has used up His allotted quota of losses for next year, and will therefore win everything.

And finally, the only thing that really matters, and has mattered for the last couple of weeks, is what will happen to them? Hail Mary...

Monday, October 15, 2007

Dramanon Presents...

Which is a plug for a local event

Theatre seems to have taken off in Hyderabad in recent days. First there were the Naseeruddin Shah/Ratna Pathak Shah plays, then the Metroplus Theatre Festival, and now a friend and his friends have gotten together for a production. Details follow. Come one, come all etc. Help Hyderabadi theatre flourish.






The Original Last Wish Baby
    - The Hyderabad adaptation of William Seebring's satire

Date: 18th October
Time: 8 p.m.
Duration: 60 minutes
Venue: Bhavan's Auditorium, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Basheerbagh
Tickets: Rs. 200, Rs. 150, Rs. 100
Contact: Sudhir Pai (99089 33318)

ABOUT THE PLAY

Dramanon’s current production, William Seebring’s ‘The Original Last Wish Baby’ is a blend of black humor, pathos and unexpected moments of tragi-comedy. Throughout the play, there is a strong criticism of popular culture and sensationalism. The play begins with all of Hyderabad caught up in what may be the last wishes of a baby born without a heart. The irony of the sad event is covered by the media, which later succumbs to capitalistic urges. The mother of the baby goes on to star in a reality TV show so that everyone can hear baby’s last wishes every night. Subsequently, the whole country wakes up to this miracle baby’s wishes. The World takes a note of all the events that follow, thanks to Media coverage. An expose about the baby’s identity briefly sows seeds of doubt among the Indians and many controversies follow. The play’s radical element lies in its brilliant roller coaster scripting and the use of visual medium in such a way that theater borders on cinematic effect.

An irreverent dissection of the media stranglehold on the mass mind, The Original Last Wish Baby takes fluffy news casting, sympathy mongering, and the "right to life" movement to their logical conclusions and well beyond.

ABOUT DRAMANON

Founded in 1991, Dramanon, a theatre fraternity, originally comprising of the faculty members and students of Manipal, has grown from strength to strength and evolved into a team which has staged 22 successful plays till date, all of which have recorded rave reviews and wide critical acclaim. Now settled professionally at various places all over India, the alumni of Dramanon now want to carry their passion for theatre wherever their career takes them. After staging 4 successful shows in Bangalore, Dramanon now endeavours to entertain the Hyderabad audiences.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Three Quarks for Muster Mark

In which Ludwig is reminded of food and music by an unlikely book that SpaceBar showed him

We used to live in a first floor hostel room that, through a brace of ashoka trees and over a rusty phalanx of forgotten bicycles, looked down at an eatery judiciously named Quark. Judicious because Quark is the kind of name that carefully attenuated to be simultaneously cool and geeky enough to appeal to a wide cross-section of the student populace.

The fare at Quark was mixed. Variations on the "oily gobs of semolina with shreds of vegetables and meat" theme were passed off as products of Szechuan and Manchuria. Vanilla ice-cream was cheerfully and sometimes inevitably (given Madras temperatures and power cuts) melted, optimistically christened "milk shake" and peddled for a princely Rs. 10. The menu was written on a whiteboard, and some of us went there just to find out what spelling they'd used today ("Kobe Manjuriyan - Rs. 15").

The piece de resistance of the cordon bleu experience, as it were, was the delicious kheema porotta. The porottas were of the excellent Mallu variety, and for the connoisseurs amongst our readers, enough said. The kheema was fine grained, spicy, in generous quantities (enough to warrant an extra porotta) and quite sexy. In hindsight, one fervently hopes that the meat came off some traditional ungulate, or at least an herbivorous quadruped. Who is to say?

When the thing was cooked, one of the waiters would put on his best American accent and announce loudly, "Khhheemmmaa porrotttaa, exxxtrraaa porrrotttaaa!!!". And as his shriek died in the prosopis plants that infested the place, you could swagger up to the counter, and everyone would know you were spending big money tonight.

Quark had a "fountain Pepsi" machine. Remember those things? It is reasonable to suspect that a number of people patronized Quark because they were mesmerized by this hissing-panting consul-general of liberalization and globalization in the midst of our customary squalor. If the Starship Enterprise had landed in the hostel quadrangle and Captain Kirk had invited us to play at the battle bridge we couldn't have been happier. For 5 seconds while the plastic cup filled up and the beaded bubbles started winking at the brim, we were on an American campus.

Dining was al fresco. This is another way of saying the management couldn't be bothered with putting up any kind of roof over our heads or providing any furniture. Which was just as well. The future has come to pass, and a recent visit threw the "advantages" of progress into Stark Relief. Shudder. Instead we had trees, and a bunch of cubical and cylindrical concrete blocks, sturdy specimens that had survived the rigours of destructive testing in the structures lab, now living out their retirement respectably as stools and tables.

The management were also proud purveyors of the sketchiest selection of Hindi and Tamil "chartbusters" of the mid-nineties. They'd rigged up an elementary stereo and loudspeaker system that pelted us with scratchy (yet loud!) versions of such classics is main maal gaadi hoon tu dhakka lagaa, subah ko leti hai, shaam ko leti hai, and sarkai liyo khatiyaa, jaadaa laage.

But those were also the days when Kaadhalan and Rangeela were young, and Gulabi and Bombay were around the corner. And how was one to concentrate on the intricacies of the serendipity element or fathom the thought process behind Terzaghi's theses, when coffee, cigarettes and conversation punctuated by urvasi, urvasi or beat in my heart beckoned?

Perhaps Quark was a metaphor for a campus and a country in transition. The hep name, the unorthodox fare, and the English-speaking wait staff were all harbingers of the fifteen kazillion such eateries that dot metro India today. The Hawaii chappals, crap music, ersatz sundaes and the makeshift seating harkened back to something altogether less complicated.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fapjprid - An Experiment in Collaborative Verse

In which Ludwig dredges up a almost forgotten work of art from the depths of his hard disk

In the Spring of 1998 we were young and restless. We had more or less just decanted off the Air India 747 at JFK and wended our circuitous way to Amherst, MA. We had successfully negotiated one semester at grad school via masterful inactivity, learned how to prevent the fire alarm from going off when cooking Indian food (wet towel, duct tape), stuck our tongue out at falling snowflakes, and located the closest desi store (Hartford, CT - unless you counted sketchy tinned stuff peddled by our kin from Kamboja on Route 9 in Hadley, MA). We had done our first road trip in the freezing winter of '97, gawked at the stupid ball falling at Times Square, "gambled" (20$!) at the Taj Mahal (misguided nostalgic patriotism) in Atlantic City, and survived close encounters of the wetting pants kind with a number of semis during the course of an icy January night somewhere between Pittsburgh, PA and Hartford, CT.

In short, to sum it up, we were feeling rather content. The s. was on the t. and the l., having astutely observed the advent of Spring, was airborne. As the sun's rays crept into long frozen nooks and crannies of the land and the thaw set in and life sprung anew, like so many gorgeous toadstools after a monsoon, a quantity of undergrad women had begun to appear on the lawns of Puffton Village. Whatever fill-in-the-blanks (umm...unfill-the-unblanks, rather) they left to the imagination could easily be filled in by referring to certain reliable textual and online resources.

Such was the nature of the space-time continuum that Spring, and Ludwig's creative juices were raring to go. Certain sundered but unforgotten friends were contacted, the talk turned to matters of days gone by, and of long and utterly pointless conversations under the Tarams tree, at the dead of night, in a miasma of cigarette smoke, under the influence of several "cup sp. coffees". Three friends decided to try and see if they could recreate some of that insanity.

Thus was born the idea of writing a "chain mail poem". We set to with gusto, and the entire saga follows without major changes. This masterpiece was actually on the web at one point and then removed, but is now emerging after a shelved existence of 7 years.

NOTE: The way to read this poem is to read a line, and then refer to the corresponding footnote (if any). Think of the footnotes as running commentary. It will help immensely if you think of the authors as three 20 year old geeks from a certain kind of institute, possibly suffering from a touch of insanity. If you, in fact, were acquainted with the authors during they time they spent on campus, you will have no need to imagine the insanity, you would've seen first-hand demonstrations. Also remember that this was written in 1998.


Fapjprid

This poem was written by three of the weirdest, coolest guys I know, Deski, Prosh and Ludwig. If one of them ever asks you, "How big is spider?", "Some spiders eat birds." would probably be the right thing to say. You get the idea.

It's a really interesting poem, especially if you know the details about its evolution. Click on the line numbers to jump to explanations for the line.

Introduction

The three of us had long contemplated writing nonsense verse. We thought that it would not be too difficult, because this is almost the exact pattern into which our conversations used to fall most of the time.

The interesting thing about this work is that we rotated lines so that each one of us would pen (or rather key) every third line. Ergo Deski wrote lines 1, 4, 7 etc., Prosh wrote lines 2, 5, 8 etc. and I chipped in with 3, 6, 9 etc. The entire poem was written over e-mail during the spring of 1998. Sometimes we would dash off several lines a day. Sometimes it would be a week and several death threats later that one of us would set the ball rolling again.

There are, of course, several pretentious things about Fapjprid like the deliberate creation of new words a-la-Jabberwocky and the references to other great works of yore (Grond ring a bell?). But what the hell, it was great fun and the result isn't too bad.

I have attempted to provide an glossary of sorts and explanations for several features, atleast from the lines I wrote. I'm waiting for the other guys to tell me what they were thinking of so that I can present a complete picture.

The Poem


  1. The fapjprid sang a merry tune, a-walking thro' the glade,
  2. In one hand she had her rolling pin, and in the other two her spade
  3. The fourth was digging thrimungles, her beak was hammering Gronds
  4. She hopped upon her only foot, and squawked "My pant's too long."


  5. With a tear, and a chokgling cry did the pants take to the air,
  6. The fapjprid's endless wailing, was more than they could bear.
  7. I'm off to find my better half, the jirwoc's suit of gold.
  8. Or perhaps I should meet a sage, or a thimble which is bold."


  9. O'er Dorkil Mountain they went, they dived into the Ecsta Sea
10. A soggy and untimely end...alas, nor sweet nor savour-y
11. The oysters sleeping below on their heads got quite a shock,
12. And, out of shame, the fapjprid took to wearing a frock.


13. All clad anew in purple hue, she sallied forth once more.
14. (But ask her not about her pants, about 'em she's still quite sore !)
15. Ere she came to Dorkil Mountain, she met a jirwoc fierce,
16. She turned not pale, a horn of ale gave she to him. Said "cheers!".


17. The knavish ale, laced with poison fierce, at once took its toll,
18. Laid the jirwoc flat, that was that, and skyward rose his soul.
19. She stood on land, saw soul in sky and pants in sea, and laughed
20. And all at once found her head knocked off by a shy B'zaft.


21. But glory be to bark and tree, like a Phoenix she arose,
22. Our twice born friend that cannot end s'long as Ecsta Sea flows,
23. Lingering on like a fermenting wound that reeks of rotting fish,
24. Unharmed, unscathed, unmarked, unchained, no scar or blemish.


25. "Adventure" gumphed the fapjprid "is verily what I need
26. Thrimungles 'n Gronds are rather nice, tho I hate aniseed."
27. She passed o'er Dorkil Mount and came to the edge of Tijus wood,
28. Where three roads forked and a doleful sign read "Go which way you would"


29. Searching in the trees nearby, she caught a four faced coin,
30. One face said head, one said tail, the others were hair and groin.
31. Up spun the coin and landed on her forty 'leventh toe
32. Silence followed, the head then said "Them wood's the way to go!"


33. So she grit her feet and set her teeth and plunged down Middle Way,
34. ("But fapjprids have beak and foot, pray explain!" you may say
35. The reason's simple - 'tis a feat indeed to be fleet with one foot.
36. Ere she'd taken twenty steps, her cerebellum went ka-put.)


37. No matter that...ere long she met a consanguineous har
38. The eyes on his patch made him look really quite bizzare.
39. He was striped, which was odd, for he most surely wasn't a tiger,
40. He twirled his legs, beamed at an X, and went to raid her Geiger.


41. The fapjprid, outraged at this attack on her modesty,
42. Threw a thrimungle at that har which was nobbut lusty
43. "Das har dass war" exploded white and turned into a spider
44. A cutlass in one hand, the others with tankards of cider.


45. Tis' with tender heart and moist eye that we come to this final scene,
46. The sword puts end to jolly breast, alas, God save the bilious spleen,
47. And what of the spider? A more ill-fated creature I have yet to meet,
48. End of tale of jirwoc and ale, and linger thoughts of thrimungles sweet.

Annotations

1. Deski writes the first line. The word fapjprid is obtained by hitting keys at random. We contemplate changing the name to something more pronounceable, but later decide against altering what Fate has ordained. Not only do we use poetic license in creating the word, but we agree to give you, Gentle Reader, the linguistic license to pronounce it as you will. This makes fapjprid the first of its kind in the English language.

2. Here we begin to get an idea about the anatomy of this curious creature. We also learn its sex...or so we think.

3. This is the first line I wrote. Another hand is added to an already well-limbed f. and a beak is thrown in for good measure. Grond is the hammer of Melkor in the Silmarillion and also the name given to the battering ram that the Lord of the Nazgul directs against the gates of Minas Tirith in The Lord of the Rings. My Tolkien fetish makes itself evident in the early stages. What a beak the fapjprid must have to hammer Gronds of any sort...

4. To make matters worse for a fapjprid that is in imminent danger of turning into an octopus, Deski proceeds to give it a foot and pants. Though we are unaware at this moment, this foot will go on to play another, more controversial role in the future.

5. Chokgling, Prosh? Perhaps this is a vague reference that Prosh's subconscious has dredged up, to the Chokkalingam who sells aananda maNakkam outside Guindy railway station, Madras, India?

7. The jirowc now gate crashes the party...

9. Another pathetic attempt by yours truly to introduce new things into the poem. Ecsta Sea is actually a solution of LSD in water, which is why everyone wants to dive into it.

11. The oysters are a veiled tribute to Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and the Carpenter. We are all great fans of Do-do Dodgson and we salute the master.

12. At this point, the fapjprid is clearly confused about its sexuality. It started off being a "she", went on to wear pants, and now is ashamed (in spite of being a "she") to wear a frock? Or else, to retain sanity, one could imagine the fapjprid joining the clergy (frock, capisce?) to overcome the shame it felt.

18. This line is of no particular significance, except that my friend Sujit was peering over my shoulder when I typed it, and he expressed amazement at my great poetic skills.

19. This is really where the fapjprid loses it. It must have been a fairly traumatizing and existential moment. To see your clothes (your outside) and your soul (your inside) leave you, you must be a pretty mean sort of thing in the first place. A hitherto absent philosophical spin is added to the poem.

20. In what he claims is the humanitarian thing to do, Prosh does away with our wonderful creation with a single stroke of a "shy B'zaft". Me and Deski are outraged. Things were just beginning to look good for f. A war of e-mails erupts.

21. In desperate attempt to keep the insanity going, I resurrect the fapjprid from doom. Arthur Conan Doyle needed a whole story to bring Holmes back from the dead, we achieve it in one line with a classical allusion.

22. Deski lends his support to my efforts to revive our protagonist.

23. Prosh reluctantly comes around to our way of thinking. He expresses his disgust with the state of affairs in an eloquent and olfactorily stimulating line.

24. Secretly overjoyed that Prosh is back, I pen this inspirational line. My way of saying, "Prosh, friend! We forgive you!".

27. I decide to immortalize Sujit for complimenting my poetical genius by reversing his name and sticking it into the poem. 6 years later, the guy in the purple jacket who knows this fact, wins the Saarang main quiz in a tiebreak and Rs. 10,000 and is deified in Indian quizzing circles. Abraham Thomas is relegated to a footnote.

28. A nice pun there from Deski...How much wood would a fapjprid prid if a fapjrid could and would prid wood?

29. Prosh has a party on Friday which involves inhalation, injection and drinking of several classified substances. He wakes up at four in the evening on Saturday and writes this line, which is probably an accurate portrayal of his state of mind.

30. I toss tempestuously in bed for a night, trying to come up with a polite word that rhymes with coin. Next day, under duress and out of sheer desperation, I decide to go ahead with groin. I am burnt in effigy in Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN - home of Deski and Prosh.

31. More anatomical complications...

33. I make a cardinal error in referring to the fapjprid's "feet". Remember, the fapjprid as originally conceived has just the one foot (line 4)? Deski sends me e-mail with a few choice abuses that are popular in the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Rim of the Eastern Spiral Arm of the galaxy. A reference to Buddhism, to add more philosophical color.

34. Deski attempts to salvage factual integrity by the ancient method of posing rhetorical questions to an imaginary audience, in brackets.

35. Prosh comes up with this perfect riposite to Deski's question. Somehow, we agree to agree that the matter has sorted itself out.

36. In a fit of shame, I kill the fapjprid, in German.

37. Deski decides to ignore my efforts and introduces a har into the scheme of things. A har is something me and Deski conjured up while chatting over the web. I am no longer sure about what it is. It must have been a pretty neat concept.

38. Now we know what the "patch" on the har looks like.

39. I add stripes to the har. This line too (like line 11) is a veiled reference to The Walrus and the Carpenter. The tiger causes problems. I receive hate mail from Deski enquiring of me, "How the $%@& do you expect me to find a word that rhymes with tiger, you $%^$^&&)(!*@^%#%$?" A detailed description, too obscene and violent to be recorded here, of his plans for my body follows. I buy a ticket for Timbuctoo, Mali and spend a week lying low and enjoy sub-Saharan Africa.

40. Deski, smart young chap that he is, finally does come up with a rhyming word. Life goes on.

42. Nobbut is how someone from Yorkshire would say "Nothing but". I picked this tidbit up from James Herriot's stories. A thrimungle turns out to be some sort of throwable object, like a paper weight or a ball. An error of omission occurs when I do not refer to >The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it being line 42 and all that...

43. Deski exhibits his German skills and we also see the beginnings of his arachnomania.

44. Prosh continues to display the effects of substance abuse.

45. We agree that there can be too much of a good thing and decide to put an end to things. This time its all very civil. I am particularly keen on stopping at this point because it will mean that all of us will have written the same number of lines and more significantly, I will have the last word!

47. Prosh joins Deski on the spider bandwagon. Its a good thing we have agreed to stop, or else this might end up looking like a cobweb.

48. A nice sentimental line to end it all.