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.


that man keynes has too much time on his hands said...

Escellent postings be thy name. Talking about tellings, have you come across the Vel.Nar. Rao intro which tells of one modern version of Rama leaving Ayodhya? The story goes something like Rama is leaving Ayodhya and everyone comes to the edge of town to weepingly bid farewell at the exile. He says "Brothers and Sisters, go home, I will return in 14 years". When he returns, he finds the Eunuchs still there, at the edge of town, long beards and white hair et al. They were unsure what to do, since they did not come under his injunction of "brothers and sisters". Rama is moved by their devotion. He tells the Eunuchs "I am touched by your love. You may have lost 14 years of this life, but in the next life you will be more lucky-- you will be reborn as the Congress party".

Arre wah!


choxbox said...

first time here (i think).

delicious - those clips of gudur station! used to travel on C Express in one of my past lives..

Ludwig said...

[tmkahhi] Thank you. It is truly a case of "MOAB is my blogpost". I've heard the VeNaRa Rama story before, not sure where. It's not in that book, is it?

[choxbox] Welcome! Any friend of Kenny's is a friend of ours. You're the first new commentor in ages, so we're thrilled to bits.

Would you believe it, I'm doing the C Express shuttle once again...

choxbox said...

btw you share my aloo matar looks like.. would i know you if i saw you?

also abt the LHC, got major fundae recently at a science festival in cambridge. what i like abt these guys is how accesible they make it to the layman.

Space Bar said...

don't you mean, Long and Unwinding post?

Ram Tekumalla said...

[LUDWIG] You're the first new commentor in ages, so we're thrilled to bits

What? Please define ages..

ludwig said...

[choxbox] definitely the same potato-peas, slightly after kenny and csm. not sure you would know me, unless you remember a very yeng looking lad who everyone thought was a freshie's younger brother for a semester. other than that, no notable achievements!

[space bar] dyamn. should've snuck that one in, neh? long and unraveling post, actually.

[ramtek] here you go, always happy to help with defective vocabularies.

Nina said...

Re. different versions of the Ramayana, have you read (although not a traditional narrative) Aubrey Menen's Rama Retold ?

Ludwig said...

[nina] Nope, never even heard of it till now :) Google reveals that it was banned many decades back and all. Worth a gander?