Monday, March 24, 2008

On The Road - Funda, The Fourth

Which is a long and winding post

The Lord of the Links - The Return of the King: "I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide."

The Charminar Express pulled into Gudur Jn. around 9:00 p.m. Ludwig had polished off his egg biryani, apple, biscuit, and Perk and was lolling in the upper berth with his laptop, churning out code playing Tetris till the battery was doomed. Directly we heard the sounds of the railway platform and we detrained to see what was to be seen and to eat that which was to be eaten.

Those of you who ride the rails in this wonderful country will know that a new blight that answers to the names such as "standardization", "privatization" and so on now inflicts the expresses and mails.

What this means is that a host of private caterers under the umbrella of the IRCTC have theka le rakha hai the business of plying the hapless traveling public with grub, chow, and oota. Since these guys are all about margins and are allotted on a per train and per station basis, it isn't really in their interest to have your platform vendors selling all and sundry to their precious flock.

What this means is that the desi railway platform is fast turning into culinary Kalahari. Remember the days when you could exit the vestibule and swoon into the arms (and/or boiling pan of oil) of the poori bhaaji? Gone. The bun omelet fellow with the banshee wail is silent, the plaintive tones of the pazham pori plantain guy is hushed, and a sepulchral silence more or less pervades over the qaaynaat.

We are not even talking about the Tadepalligudems and the Nidadavolus of the world, this malaise has spread to the Vijayawadas and the Vizags of the network. The good vendors of the sublime dal vadaas at Dharmavaram Jn were the last bastion of station specific food specialization, the final line of defense, the Spartans of saapaad at the Thermopylae of sleeper class hunger.

We report that we were (thankfully) somewhat mistaken. On this particular trip, we had the good fortune to be plonked in S14, which as you all know, is the last sleeper class compartment on Charminar Express before the general compartments, brake van, engine, and everything in front of the engine.

It turns out that these private caterers don't have any interest in catering to the general bogies. Question of margins, we think. So instead the good 'ol poori man with his hellfire, the banshee and other such creatures now lurk at the ends of the trains and it's all a throwback to the old days.

At Gudur, we whipped out our cellphone and shot our first ever movie with it. A brief snippet titled "Life At One End Of Charminar Express In Gudur Junction In March 2008" is presented below.

We also recorded the sounds, this was a lot easier (try hanging out with a video camera At One End Of Charminar Express In Gudur Junction In March 2008 - quite nerve wracking, everyone will either be very suspicious, or start pretending like they're Dilip Kumar).

The clip (993K MP3) is here. (Hat tip to BM for suggesting location and helping us find the damn thing once it was uploaded). Warning: This may make you hungry. Quite mellifluous, the vendors of Gudur. Try to make a note of all the different comestibles being hawked.

Finally, as the train left, we shot a motion picture (of the leaving). A brief glimpse of Ludwig's sexy legs is to be seen right at the beginning. The blur on the other platform is the empty rake of 2709 Gudur-Hyderabad Simhapuri Express. A fine and upstanding member of the train community no doubt. Much to our horror however, it was being hauled by a WAG! A WAG, we tell you. What self respecting superfast allows itself to be hauled by a WAG. A WAM might be excusable, but a WAP would be the proper thing to do by it. Shameless train. Kali yugam.

Anyway, Video Deux: Departing Gudur.

So we bookmarked a whole bunch of interesting links from last week. Yensoy.

Missing Children

Spare a moment. Check out Missing Indian Kids. You might be able to help.


Via Smoke Signals, the Pedros and the Schillings of the world better watch out, cometh the hour, cometh the man, Rinku Singh is here.

They are not exactly sure what baseball is, or even javelin for that matter. However, in and around Rinku Singh’s village Holepur in Bhadohi, the news of his $100,000 throw — catapulting him to San Francisco — has reached fast.

While on the subject, On Point tells us that they're taking down Yankee Stadium. Good riddance. Please make sure that the team is in the clubhouse when the dynamite goes off.





No, really, kidding.




Newsweek asks Nobel boy Steven Weinberg about how the Large Hadron Collider experiments might impact our ideas of the cosmos and our place in it.

At some point will it be possible to find proof that God or the Ultimate Designer does not exist?
I don't think that we can ever prove that God does not exist. But if he does exit it might be possible to prove it.

It might be?
Well, if God did exist and suddenly made himself known by sending thunderbolts to all the people who don't believe in him [Laughs], that would be pretty strong evidence that he exists.

Do you think he would send you one?
He hasn't so far.

Philosophy of Science

On a related note, the excellent Cosmic Variance has tried to address the issue of science and unobservable things.

...the case I tried to make was that attitudes along the lines of “that stuff you’re talking about can never be observed, so you’re not doing science, it’s just theology” are woefully simplistic, and simply don’t reflect the way that science works in the real world.

Marine Biology

Delightful. Apparently, "A bizarre geek-fight has erupted in the blogosphere over which types of invertebrates are coolest, Echinoderms or Molluscs.". How can you not love something like that?

Back on the 20th of March The Intersection blog mused on sea cucumbers and squid, concluding, “No contest! Cukes would eat squid for breakfast...”

This drew a scathing response from some quarters, with Craig McClain on Deep Sea News delivering this cutting put down to the sea cucumber fans:

It’s just hard to get excited about a sea cucumber that either feeds on sediment muck or filters muck out of the water column and not much else. Or an organism whose idea of fun is spewing its organs all over you or creating poop trails.


Funny Geeky Stuff

Error Messages

30 error messages from hell.

A problem has been detected and CONTROLPANEL N9608P has been shut down to prevent further damage to your HELICOPTER.

Please shut down and restart your HELICOPTER and check all newly installed hardware or software...

#2 is a variation on a theme from Pulp Fiction, no less!

Funny Answers

This is a chestnut, but worth revisiting.

Time Travel Forum

Priceless. Read right through to the end.

At 14:52:28, FreedomFighter69 wrote:
Reporting my first temporal excursion since joining IATT: have just returned from 1936 Berlin, having taken the place of one of Leni Riefenstahl's cameramen and assassinated Adolf Hitler during the opening of the Olympic Games. Let a free world rejoice!

At 14:57:44, SilverFox316 wrote:
Back from 1936 Berlin; incapacitated FreedomFighter69 before he could pull his little stunt. Freedomfighter69, as you are a new member, please read IATT Bulletin 1147 regarding the killing of Hitler before your next excursion. Failure to do so may result in your expulsion per Bylaw 223.

Department of Remarkably Good Ideas, nuclear weapons edition

Netscape founder Marc Andreessen writes about a Dr. Strangeloveish headline he found.


A plug for the Hackszine where the most bizarre and cool hacks are perpetrated. For instance, you could build a little drummer bot

...Yellow Drum Machine is a tiny musical robot who's sole purpose in simulife is to motor around looking for suitable surfaces to drum a beat on.

Stick Figure Genius/Misogyny

Fuck grapefruit. Anyone who has read a Gartner Magic Quadrant thing will empathize. Mouse over for more gyaan.

Suggestive pickup lines for geeks. Mouse over for more gyaan.

And gender and math. Mouse over for more gyaan. A related math joke (molto funny if you get it, sorry non-calculus folks) is at Wild About Math.

April Fool

Virgle and singles sites for IITians is all very well, but the award goes to the BBC for the blow-you-off-your-feet hoax (see the YouTube video here).
Just Plain Weird

Science tattoos it seems!


Siva wonders how you could live in a big bad city and not be a total environmental jerk, with en passant references to diesel generator sets.

History, Literature, Religion

Everyone's surely on top of the RaamaayaNa controversy where a bunch of the usual suspects (i.e. khaaki chaddiwaala isotopes) beat up someone for something to do with the fact that many Indian traditions have many readings of the epic. It turns out that the "controversial" essay is available online. Fascinating, fascinating stories. Read.

On a related note, we told a couple of running buddies that in some versions Sita is depicted as Ravana's daughter for various reasons, and they were somewhat mortified. Since when do Valmiki and Tulsidas have exclusive rights on this tale?

Science, Religion

Child abuse video, via Parseval.

In other news, one issue that had the science blog world in a tizzy last week was PZ Myers - Richard Dawkins - Expelled incident.

Briefly: Ben Stein and a bunch of other eminent scientists have made a movie called Expelled. The basic premise of this movie is that "big science" is a monster that suppresses alternative, valid theories such as "intelligent design", "creationism" etc. The movie included interview excerpts with PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins, who were to speak for the non-believer position.

Myers and Dawkins showed up at a screening where the director recognized Myers and refused to allow him in, but inexplicably let Dawkins through. Controversies galore. Search for "Myers", "Dawkins" and "Expelled" and you'll be all set.


On Point had a great show, an interview with MIT professor Daniel Ariely about irrational human behaviour. Some very, very interesting experiments...

Now, a new work of behavioral economics looks at how dependably goofy we humans can be. How "predictably irrational," whether we're standing at the all-you-can-eat buffet, or fingering our credit card or getting naked at Mardi Gras.

This really deserves a post of its own, but listen to the podcast if you can. Fascinating.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On The Road, Funda The Third

19-March-2008: Painted sign near Secunderabad station, "Entrance shifted to backside."

3 new albums + sundry other songs find their place in the iPod.

Hazaaron Khwaishien Aisi - for baavra mann (the qawwali version, and the woman singing version)

Metro - for the non-remixed songs, all of them

Phir Teri Kahaani Yaad Aayi - for old times sake, and for tere dar pe sanam and aane waala pal

Sundry - Mehdi Hasan (ek bas tuu hii nahin, Farhat Shahzad), Steely Dan (Reelin' In The Years), Simon & Garfunkel (Dangling Conversations - we're told it's bad form to reveal that you like this song, but WTF), Kalyug (tujhe dekh dekh hasna)

Among the things deleted to make way for all this, Def Leppard (Vault - everything except 'Pour Some Sugar On Me' and 'Let's Get Rocked')

1. Higginbothams and Book Point on Mount Road, Madras do not have poetry sections.

2. 4 bookshops in Madras don't have what is more or less considered to be a landmark in modern Tamil literature, neither in the original, nor in translation.

It rained.

Ominous coffee mug in Landmark, seen just before a reasonably important meeting:

"If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it." ~ W. C. Fields


PS Links will be added once the safety of the broadband pavilion is regained.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lynx Orgy

In which no animals were subjected to violence, cruelty, or other indignities in the making of the post

Since writing original content is so difficult (although a seminal work on the psychoanalysis of pigeons is lurking beneath the surface), we will make do with more links, in no particular order.


Our politicians are all getting their knickers in a twist about Sarabjit Singh's impending execution. In particular, it is disgusting that this lot want Sarabjit let off. This is more or less the same lot that has been baying for Mohammad Afzal's blood, even if that case is like a colander. Indeed, no less than the worthies of our venerable Supreme Court think that "The collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if the capital punishment is awarded to the offender."

Shame, shame, puppy shame. The death penalty is wrong.


The S.J.Dubner and S.D.Levitt, authors of Freaknomics have a blog at the New York Times. In their latest post, they point you to a video on The "Colbear" Report where the main man himself speaks with Sudhir Venkatesh about his (Sudhir's) experiences as a Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets. Venkatesh spent time living with Chicago gangs to understand among other things what makes someone risk their lives and limbs for a minimum wage job. Fascinating stuff.


Via Chaotic Utopia, we are led to the Questionaut, an educational game.

The game begins with two friends lazily lounging on a tiny pastoral planet. As you click around and explore, you’ll set off little chain reactions. One of these will lead to one of the friend’s hat being blown away. The other friend promptly chases after it in his hot air balloon. Now, this is where you come in. The little aeronaut needs enough hot air to keep the balloon lifting. As he reaches new levels, he’ll find himself stuck in different environments. The only way to move on is to catch the attention of the local residents. Once they notice the little guy, they’ll start asking a series of questions in areas we ought to all know: geometry, physics, English, biology, and much more. If you answer correctly, they’ll give the balloon a lift.

Utterly delightful and very cute. The audio effects rock! Stage 3 has desi elevator music and all! A must if you were ever a child, or have one of those things yourself.


Forgotten Books, forgotten no more.

Welcome to! From here you can read thousands of books FREE online (100% viewable) and purchase the books you like as high-quality paperbacks at wholesale prices.

We specialize in historical writings, this includes works such as: classical fiction, philosophy, science, religion, folklore, mythology and sacred texts, in addition to secret and esoteric subjects, such as: occult, freemasonry, alchemy, hermetic and ancient knowledge. Fiction and non-fiction books.

Early days, but promising. Random browsing unearthed "A Christmas Carol" (Dickens), "A Textbook of Theosophy" (Leadbeater), "The Nicomachean Ethics" (Aristotle), "Beowulf", "The Code of Hammurabi" and so on.


The sometimes controversial but always readable Joel Spolsky predicts war.

You’re about to see the mother of all flamewars on internet groups where web developers hang out. It’ll make the Battle of Stalingrad look like that time your sister-in-law stormed out of afternoon tea at your grandmother’s and wrapped the Mustang around a tree.

Strictly for geeks, this is about browsers and standards (or lack thereof).


Some people write fugues. This fellow, for example wrote some passable ones, and made a name for himself. Art of Fugue is very nice we've always thought, especially after Vikram used it so lovelily in An Equal Music.

There is no forced gravitas in her playing. It is a beauty beyond imagining - clear, lovely, inexorable, phrase across phrase, phrase echoing phrase, the incomplete, the unending "Art of Fugue". It is an equal music.
I push through the crowded lobby into the rain. I walk a long while, through the streets, the darkness of the park. Once more I stand by the Serpentine. The rain has washed my earlier tears away.

Music, such music, is a sufficient gift. Why ask for happiness; why hope not to grieve? It is enough, it is to be blessed enough, to live from day to day and to hear such music - not too much, or the soul could not sustain it - from time to time.

Fugues feature prominently in Gödel, Escher, Bach, and lately we find that this worthy has also begun fugifying.

So, off we went on the Wikipedia-Youtube circuit, in the manner of Esmeralda after truffles and here is what we've uncovered.

Glenn Gould talks about "Art of Fugue". He even plays several of them (this one for example). But the most entertaining introduction to fugue, after you've done your Wikipedia and other due diligence, is to be found in this video. It is splendid! How to write a fugue using Britney Spears' "Oops I Did It Again". Fundastic. So you want to write a fugue? along similar lines is also immensely entertaining.

En passant, we alight on hot woman violinist play "Toccata and Fugue in D minor". What's to not like?


The Official God FAQ is now available, and pretty much bang on target.

Friday, March 14, 2008

On The Road - Funda, The Second

Which is a random roundup of the peregrinations including weddings, campuses, fundamental problems, poultry farms, Satyajit Ray, and how we were almost duffilled

It is a very bad thing to have 200+ blogs in your feed reader, and to go away for 10 days. Had to wade through industrial quantities of posts to clear up the queue somewhat, and the whole "science" category is still waiting...

While we're at it, random facts about the trip. Circuit was Hyderabad-Vizag-Madras-Bangalore-Hyderabad.

In Vizag, went to one wedding and one wedding reception. The wedding was huge. Groom was a hostel mate, and bride happened to be daughter of a Member of Parliament. The entire playground of a Zilla Parishad high school had been commandeered, partitioned in two, and what looked like the whole constituency was invited to the party.

There was a live band ("the Young Stars from downtown Amadalavalasa, Srikakulam Dt."), CCTV cameras monitoring the hordes, fireworks (some exploding dangerously close to the car park), and screens showing videos of the engagement ceremony. Somehow made way through the throng, blessed happy couple, gorged, and scooted out.

The reception was altogether more low key, walking distance from home, and relatively more peaceful and quieter. Alas, had to scoot out early thanks to being self-assigned driver to 2 of the spunkiest little girls in existence. The bride claims that she has no memory of our blessings! Cheating...

5k run on the bestestestest stretch of runnable road in the world (i.e. the esplanade at Vizag), 2 cricket matches, and we were off to Madras on the Guwahati-Bangalore Exp. The train was crawling with people from the northeast. Almost felt apologetic about having to disturb the community atmosphere on board. Nevertheless, bravely soldiered onto upper berth, and got some work done (i.e. played Tetris until the battery ran out on the laptop).

Rajahmundhry happened in the evening, and we stood at the open compartment door, ogling at the splendiferous Godavari, feeling very superior to the northeasties, seeing as it is the longest rail bridge in India and all. Then remembered that where these folks come from, they have a river that is so wide that it's probably impossible to build a bridge across it. At this point, Ludwig saw the approach of Kovvuru and discreetly fell silent.

Madras was a blur of meetings and greetings, including some quality time in ye olde campus. Hung out at the swank Coffee Day that has sprung up next to the old library, and was scandalized by a couple of students coochie-cooing in the middle of the afternoon. Since when? My God, this is the campus where our class of 360 had 20 girls (and that was a record high), where the general algorithm was "boy treats, boy treats, boy treats, boy retreats". What's with the PDA?!! Bah.

The Bangalore train trip was supremely interesting, because we were set upon by one gentleman, who happens to be the head priest at the Andal temple in Srivilliputhur. Said gentleman cornered us as we stood near the door per usual, and launched into a long diatribe against various ills in the world. Much of it was in Kameswaran (of Michael Madana Kama Rajan fame) lingo, and somewhat unparseable.

From Bangalore, scooted by bus to Puvidham where Gaseous Beyondus teaches nowadays. Fundastic place, photos follow. Did some walking, birding, astronomy 101, eating, and lazing about. Some fundamental problems were discussed, including:

* How to teach a child about why negative multiplied by negative is a positive? A related question was why the hell do we need negative numbers? No satisfactory answers.

* What is the fundamental difference between conventional (allopathic) medicine and complementary and alternative medicine (homeo, siddha etc.)? Does it matter?

* Will olives grow in Dharmapuri?

* What are the key differences between amphibians and reptiles?

And so on... As you can see, we were very jobless.

Drove back to Bangalore, met the pink person for an altogether too brief coffee and discussion on chicken and egg problems, and municipal porcine management, borrowed and watched "Snatch" and "Farewell, My Concubine", celebrated the sibling's 30th b'day by having a suitable sombre wake, watched "Aranyer Din Ratri" the next day, and caught the Kacheguda Express back home.

The side upper berth effectively prevented all sleep, so in the middle of the night when the train stopped in some forsaken town, we got off and were stretching our legs. Thanks to iPod booming in ear canal, didn't hear the train whistle, didn't hear the rattle of couplings being jolted out of stasis, and the next thing we knew, the bloody thing was on its way. A very small sprint and nimble, gazelle-ish leap later, we were thankfully back in the confines of S1. Reminded very forcefully of Paul Theroux's "The Great Railway Bazaar" where a certain sad old individual named Duffill is stranded on some obscure Italian railway platform as the Orient Express buggers off, thereby leading to the word duffilled entering the vocabulary.

Back in Hyderabad at a ghoulish 5:30 a.m., and promptly fell back into our cheapskate ways by taking the MMTS from Kacheguda to Begumpet and walking home, instead of taking an auto. What to do, public transport ki jai!

Rebooted home. Defrosted fridge. Got the whole dosai batter thing going. And here we are...

“A beginning is a time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct”
- Bene Gesserit coda, "Dune", Frank Herber

Monday, March 03, 2008

On The Road - Funda, The First

Which was sparked by a reverie on Falaknuma Express

Long time, no sunset from sleeper class. Friday, between Secunderabad and Guntur, was unspeakably gorgeous. Sun, gold, rocks, water, egrets, fields, stone, blues.

Don't just do something. Sit there.