Monday, June 18, 2018

Surprises galore at FIFA World Cup 2018

Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson saving
a penalty kick from Argentina's Lionel Messi
Photo credit: Marca
With the FIFA World Cup on in Russia, there is at least one good match to look forward to everyday till July 15, when the final will be played.

I come from a state in India, Kerala, where people are so crazy about football. All are united as one, when it comes to interest in the game, and no conversation is complete without some reference to the ongoing World Cup matches.

Eleven matches were complete till yesterday; and if there is one theme running across all of them, it is how it has been hard time for the favourites.

On June 15, Portugal, in spite of having Cristiano Ronaldo, were held to a 3-3 tie by Spain.

On June 16, Argentina, in spite of having Messi, were held to a 1-1 draw by, of all teams, Iceland.

On June 17, Germany suffered a shock defeat by Mexico 0-1, and Brazil were held 1-1 by Switzerland.

Of course, in every tournament, there are surprises. It's good they are there, so that we don't have predictable, and therefore boring, matches.

Today evening, England will face Tunisia. And, I am wondering how that will go. The tournament is wide open.

YOUR PREDICTIONS?

Which four team you think have the highest chances of winning the cup?

I am placing my bet on Brazil. The other three in the order of probability are: Germany, Argentina and France.

If I can add two more, I won't be surprised if Spain and even England make it to the top four.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Reuse, Reduce, Recycle -- the golden 3R Rule for resource conservation

Image courtesy: University
of Southern Indiana
It is extremely heartening to see that in many places people are practising the golden 3R Rule for conserving natural resources -- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

A number of things that we use in our daily lives can be minimised by using smaller quantities, so that there is no wastage. If something is not needed, instead of putting it in the garbage bin, it is better to pass it on to someone who might need it.

Water and electricity

These are two things that we tend to take so much for granted. We can easily reduce the amount of water and power that we use. I make it a point to open the tap only as much, so that too much water doesn't flow: basically just the required amount.  Very often we tend to open the tap to such an extent that more water than what is necessary flows out, which is of course wasted. No wonder, there are grave warnings of water running out.

Same is the case with electricity. Air conditioners, fan and light often remain switched on even if we don't need them. We take availability of electricity for granted. If we can reduce the consumption,

Paper

If my observation is any indication, there is at least some reduction in the use of paper, with most of the routine communication now online in soft copy format. This is not to undervalue of the importance of having something written on paper, or reading something written on paper. That can be the subject of another post.

When I swipe my card in a store, a paper trail of the payment receipt is generated by the point of sale machine. I always tell cashier, I don't need the customer copy, because I have already got a conformation via a text message on my phone. I have seen some stores not taking out a paper receipt for themselves too. When I asked them, why they weren't taking one, they said, it's logged in the system, and there is no need for a paper receipt.

My late father always reused available pieces of paper (like the reverse side of bills, envelopes and advertisement flyer that come along with newspapers, or dropped in our letterbox) to write anything that was not formal, and didn't require taking a new sheet of paper.

A non-government organisation, Youth for Seva, in Bengaluru, has launched an initiative called 'Give Paper Back', which involves collecting notebooks that have unused pages in them. The idea is to take these unused sheets, stitch and bind them to make new notebooks that are distributed in rural schools for students.

Clothes

The trend is catching on, and it's not just paper.

In the city of Thiruvananthapuram (capital of south Indian state of Kerala), outside a shopping mall, there is a red box, which resembles a letter box, in which you can drop old clothes, or even a new ones. This is an initiative by a non-government organisation called Support 4 Society. They are planning to install such "dress banks" outside other shopping centres as well.

Plastic

Though plastic is very useful, and not all plastic is harmful, there is plenty of it that is needlessly used and harming our ecology. The South Western Railway (of Indian Railways) has, in partnership with a private firm, set up bottle-crushing machines at train stations in the city of Bengaluru. They were earlier introduced in Mysuru. They are there in Ahmedabad, Pune, and Mumbai, stations as well. As a token of appreciation, if you enter your mobile number in the machine, you get a cash back of Rs 5 in your Paytm wallet.

Spectacles

Various organisations like Lions Club, Red Cross etc collect used spectacles send them to recycling units. Some opticians too accept old specs.

These are really heart-warming initiatives, which not only need all the support and encouragement, but also are worthy of being emulated.

What about you?

Do you consciously make an effort to reduce and reuse? Are you aware of similar initiatives?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Shrinking job opportunities for seniors

Climbing up the career ladder, gives a person more experience and brings in more wages. But the flip side is higher one goes, narrower become chances of getting hired. My impression is not based on any research, but on purely anecdotal evidences.

One tends to find more job openings for younger people. The younger crowd tries to experiment  and explore different careers. There is a lot of churning in that level, and naturally, job vacancies keep coming up in the lower rungs of an organisation.

In the middle and senior levels, many people tend to stick on to their jobs. They are averse to taking risks since they have various commitments like expenditure for their children's education, many loans which they need to pay back monthly etc.

Another reason is that employees at lower levels are paid lesser. There is a heavy cost burden when organisations recruit staff at higher levels. So, the probability of getting hired at senior levels become lesser.

Seniors tend to come to an organisations with a heavier baggage than juniors. They might also be less amenable and flexible, compared to a junior who might be willing to experiment and learn.

The seniors are usually counted for their experience, broad perspective, insights and ability to make very informed and mature decisions. In this context, a news item that I read a couple of month ago, comes to mind. 

A Mumbai-based startup, Truebil, which is a virtual market place for pre-owned cars, is hiring interns who are over 60 years of age to work at middle and senior level managerial positions. Two advantages here: one, helping elders understand how new, niche technology works; and two, putting their maturity and experience to good use to mentor the employees of the startup who are mostly in their mid-twenties.

But all said and done, as we grow older, we need to understand and accept the fact that we have had our heydays; and that there are younger, brighter, smarter men and women who would be more efficient. 

But, if someone wants to count on our skill sets, maturity and experience, like that startup, we are always there.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House
Right from the moment Donald Trump threw his hat into the presidential contest ring, I have been following updates about him. So, when I got to know about this book, I naturally wanted to read it.

Unlike other books, the problem with this one was that, the most explosive or sensational points had already become headlines in major global news platforms, even before the book became available for purchase. So, when I bought the book and read it, it didn't have the sort of impact it should actually have had.

Almost all persons connected to the Trump administration figure in this book. It is all about how he dealt with them, how they dealt with him, what they did, what they didn't do, how he hired them, how he fired them, what they thought about the President etc. And, Michael Wolff adds his own interpretations to all of that.

If you have been following news headlines related to Trump, a lot of pages of this book will just evoke a feeling of deja vu. You would get a little more of insights into those controversies, their contexts, and implications.

There are references to Trump as a person, and his habits as well. Apparently, he reprimanded the housekeeping staff for picking up his shirt from the floor. And he said, “If my shirt is on the floor, it’s because I want it on the floor.”

Wolff writes about Trump, "Personal dignity — that is, apparent uprightness and respectability — is one of his fixations. He is uncomfortable when the men around him are not wearing suit and ties."

After a point, the book becomes boring and predictable, with lots of details of intrigues, deals and strategies. As I reached the end of the book, I was wondering if Trump doesn't have any pleasant side to him at all. I don't know if he doesn't really have; or the author hasn't been able to get that out, or he didn't want to highlight that in the book.

If Trump is a person who has no quality worth writing home about, then how did he reach the position he is in now?

View my list of books on Goodreads

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Don't let loneliness make you feel sad

All parents are happy to see their children grow up and be independent. But, ironically, the fact that the kids are confident enough to venture out into the world on their own triggers sadness.

We are talking of "empty nest syndrome", which is not a disease but a feeling of loneliness, when the only child or the last of the children, leaves home for higher studies or on work. If we are not conscious of the symptoms, they can gnaw at our well-being.

(Even if you are not a parent, whose child has left home, there could be occasions when you feel lonely. So, you can carry on reading the post.)

When unchecked, some people turn cynical, sarcastic, and critical of anything and everything around them. Some others become short tempered and snap at every other person. In extreme cases, people could even turn to substance abuse like alcoholism.

What we should do

  • Accept the fact that the child had to relocate, and the consequent loneliness is an inevitability. 
  • There is nothing to feel sad about; instead we should find companionship. 
  • Speak on the phone to people who you are comfortable with, connect with such people on social media, emails etc.
  • Do some physical activity. Walk, run, exercises are good options. 
  • If you like cooking, get into the kitchen. 
  • Clean the house. 
  • Don’t put all clothes in the washing machine, wash some manually. 
  • Do some craft work, or paint. 
  • Do anything that involves the movement of your limbs.
  • Give your mind some work. Solve puzzles, read, write. Do something creative.
  • Do some good to people. No need to look around for opportunities; there are so many occasions in our daily routine, when someone needs some assistance. Be conscious of such opportunities, and reach out to them.

What we did

Our turn to face loneliness came when our son left home for another city for his post-graduation. Needless to say, the emptiness in our house is very palpable. Not just one person is not around, there is silence since we no longer hear the music my son plays on his mobile. The chit-chats, and the playful pranks are missing. And he isn’t with us now, for us to take care of.

One immediate thing, my wife and I did straightway was to ensure that we both had our weekly off day from work on the same day. (I have my off on Sunday and she had it on Wednesday.) She spoke to her boss, and got it moved to Sunday. 

We thought it was better for both to take off on a weekend rather than on Wednesday, because that will give us an opportunity to catch up with our friends, or attend some social functions, which we generally used to miss. So, now we have been meeting up with friends, watching some movies etc. 

Since we both are employed full time, we are occupied most of the waking hours. When we retire, we will have to seriously look around for something to be occupied with.

What are you doing?

  • Have you faced empty nest syndrome? 
  • Or do you know people who have facing this condition?
  • If you have been affected, how are you overcoming it?


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Do you talk or type?

Credit: Apple
You can not only talk on the phone, but you can also talk to the phone.

It is common knowledge -- at least among people who regularly use smartphones and other handheld computing devices -- that there is an option to speak to the phone, instead of typing.

Ask Google

For example, if you are looking for something on the Internet, you don't have to key in words into search engines likes Google or Bing or Yahoo. You can tap on the small microphone icon, within the search box, and speak to your phone.

Actually, some mobile keyboards give you the option to switch to voice commands, which means you can actually dictate an email rather than type it out.

You can also unlock your phone by speaking into it.

What is the weather today?

There are also voice-based digital assistants. Google has one called Google Assistant, there is Alexa Echo from Amazon.

Alexa is particularly useful. You can get advice on what the weather would be for the day, so you can decide what dress you should wear; or you can ask Alexa to add cheese to your shopping cart.

Then, why type when you can talk?

Very often talking is easier than typing, is it not? But when I look around, most people are typing on their phones, and not talking to it.

If talking is easier, then why is everyone typing?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Usher in new ideas, and accept them

Everything around us is changing at a fast pace. Forget 50 years ago, even 20 to 30 years ago, the world was so different.

While technology has made our lives easier, there are plenty of depressing things happening. There is no end to violence and killings; there are many instances of financial deceits; and physical intimidation, covert and overt. There is a lot of suffering and pain undergone by people, because they have been wronged.

In such a situation, it's only natural that many of us could be despondent; depressed with the new ways of the world, as it were. To pull our spirits up, we need to cut through this negativity; and keep reminding ourselves the good old phrase: 'Every cloud has a silver lining'.

The 50+ age group

Though pessimistic and cynical people can be found in any age group, there are many in the above-50 age bracket, for the simple reason that they have a long past to feel good about. There are many old people who keep saying, "In those days .... ", or "When we were young ... " The subtle hint in those statements is: "The past was better than the present."

I have also heard some old people making comments such as: “Look at this generation, How disorganised and careless they are. Moral standards and value systems have taken such a beating ...” These are people who find it hard to adjust to the different value systems of the younger generation.

About a month ago, some of us friends were having a discussion on how bright, smart and enthusiastic youngsters are today; and also on some of the successful startups (from Facebook to some lesser known ones) that are headed by young people. Then an old person amongst us, in his late sixties, made a comment that was very sarcastic, belittling the youngsters.

He said, “We struggled so hard for years together to reach the positions that youngsters are enjoying today without much effort." His complaint seemed to be: “I had to suffer so much, but these kids are having it so easy.” (But the fact is that youngsters are also putting in a lot of effort to be successful.)

Needless to say, such an attitude is not encouraging at all. Actually, it reeks so much of negativity.

Need to stay positive

I am not saying that everyone who is above 50 is low-spirited. There are so many people in that age bracket who are so cheerful and brimming over with positivity. They have so much of hope and trust in the youngsters.

One example of this was the gentleman whom I saw in the metro train recently. I blogged about him  last week.

There might be downsides, but in many ways, today's world is far better than what it was in the past. The youngsters may have different value systems and priorities. It might not be always possible to relate to the new dynamics. It might be also difficult to agree with everything that youngsters say and believe in. But that doesn't mean, all of us are hurtling towards disaster.

Change is inevitable

I think we should give space to the new ways of thinking, and new models of working and lifestyle. Afterall, as someone once said, 'the only permanent feature is change'.

Let us also not forget that when we were younger, our way of thinking was different from that of our parents' generation. So, it is only natural that the norm today is different from what it was many years ago.

As Alfred Tennyson wrote in Idylls of the King, "Old order changeth yielding place to the new."

Let us accept and embrace change.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Karnataka election - a contest that no political party won

(This post has multiple updates at the end, added on May 16, 17, 18, 19)

In any democracy, the most exciting part is the elections, and the announcement of the results.

Virtually the whole of yesterday, I spent tracking – on television and social media – the results of the election to the State Assembly in my State, Karnataka.

Most of the exit polls on the day of polling, on May 12, had predicted a hung Assembly (a House in which no single party gets a majority). And true to that, the election produced no winner yesterday.

The BJP, which was steadily picking up seats at the start of counting, finally stopped its march at 104 (112 is what the winner should get). Its tally however had improved substantially from 40, what it had got in the previous election five years ago.

The Congress, the party of the outgoing government, ended up in the 2nd place, with its tally down from 122 to 78.

The JD(S), a local party, came in third, with its tally down by two: 38 this time, against 40 five years ago.

Instability ahead

Elections around the world throw up such verdicts. And, what follows is usually a period when parties try to strike deals with one another to cobble the required numbers. (Just to cite a recent example, Germany got a government only last month, six months after elections.)

Here in Karnataka, there is a very interesting situation.

In the seats tally, the top spot is for the BJP which doesn't have the majority: they are 8 short. But the No 2 and the No 3 combined (an alliance that was formed by two parties that were opposing each other till yesterday) have a majority.

Why this is controversial

In such situations, it is not very clear in India's Constitution, whether the governor (the head of state) should call the single largest party or the single largest coalition (that too a post-poll alliance in this case) to explore the possibility of forming a government.

If the alliance was a pre-poll one, there would have been no controversy. The alliance would have emerged winner and formed the government.

If one were to look at precedents, there have been cases of both.

Those who are interested can read the following links:

Karnataka election results: For governor, no scripted path, only precedents and conventions (Hindustan Times)

With no clear rules for Governors in hung verdict, BJP & Congress cite precedents that suit them best (The Economic Times)

Karnataka election results: It's now over to governor's 'subjective judgment' (The Times of India)

Anyway, the quick alliance between two parties (the Congress and the JDS) that were till yesterday hurling barbs against each other, generated lots of mirth, with memes and jokes flooding social media platforms.

Who should be invited

Someone has to be invited to form a government. Right now, both the BJP (the winner) and alliance of Congress and JDS (the runners-up) are staking claim to form the government.

Logically looking at it, the mandate evidently was for the BJP. And my personal opinion is that it must be given the first shot at forming a viable government, and given not more than two days to prove their numbers in the Assembly.

If they fail, the let the post-poll coalition can be given the chance, and given not more than two days to prove their strength. This looks the most fair way.

Though the runners-up seem to have the numbers, as they claim, my objection to them being called in first is: one, they didn't contest polls jointly. So, their alliance, in order to claim the mandate, is not fair. Two, going by the sheer number of seats Congress and JDS got, they are way behind the BJP.

Update

2130 hours: Governor invites BJP's Legislative Leader B S Yeddyurappa to form a government; and gives him 15 days to prove majority in the Assembly. Swearing in tomorrow at 9 am.

That is too long a time. If not two days, which I think is ideal, it shouldn't have been more than five or seven days.

2200 hours: The Congress has approached Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Justice Deepak Misra to hold an urgent hearing in the night and cancel tomorrow's swearing-in.

2300 hours: Supreme Court admits Congress and JDS petitions.

May 17

0015 hours: Chief Justice decides that a three-judge bench will hear the petitions at 1.45 am. Only once before the Supreme Court has had such a midnight hearing: on a petition challenging the death sentence to Yakhub Memon.

0200 hours: Supreme Court begins hearing the case.

0400 hours: It's two hours. Arguments still on.

0430 hours: Supreme Court says it is not inclined to stay the swearing in of the new government. But arguments on other aspects raised by the petitions are still on. The court says that its observation is subject to the outcome of the petition. Which means, the swearing-in is only an interim measure.

0900 hours: Yeddyurappa sworn in as chief minister. No ministers. Opposition Congress and JDS are protesting outside the Vidhana Soudha (the central government office complex).

May 18

1130 hours: Supreme Court resumed the hearing, from where it left off in the wee hours of yesterday. It ordered the day-old Chief Minister Yeddyurappa to prove his majority in the Assembly at 4 pm tomorrow.
Now speculation as to how he and his party, which has only 104 lawmakers, will cobble the magic figure of 112.

1600 hours: Now a fresh controversy. The governor, Vajubhai Vala (who is a political appointee of the federal government, which is ruled by the BJP) appointed a lawmaker of BJP, K G Boppaiah as pro tem Speaker. By convention the government recommends the seniormost lawmaker to the governor to be appointed as the pro tem Speaker, who will conduct the initial process of constituting the new Assembly, administering the oath to the new lawmakers etc.
But the controversy is that the the long-standing convention of having the senior-most lawmaker as the pro tem Speaker. Now Congress-JDS is objecting to it, on two counts. One, that Boppaiah was partisan towards BJP once when he was the pro tem Speaker. Two, many senior MLAs were bypassed. They are even planning to move the Supreme Court.

2000 hours: The Supreme Court says that the petition challenging the appointment of Boppaiah as the pro tem speaker will be taken up for hearing tomorrow at 10.30 am.

May 19

1145 hours: The Supreme Court dismissed the Congress-JDS plea against Boppaiah. The court said, one, there have been instances in the past of lawmakers, not the senior-most, being appointed as the pro tem speaker. Two, if the petitioner wants Boppaiah's suitability to be considered then he too will have to be issued notice, and the assembly session and trust vote will have to be postponed, which the court implicitly wasn't in favour of.

1430 hours:  Rumours flying thick and fast that Yeddyurappa is considering resigning after making a speech, since he hasn't been able to cobble up the required number. There was no provision for making a speech in the original agenda. But it looks like that it's been made.

1630 hours: Yeddyurappa makes an emotional speech, saying till his last breath he would fight for the welfare of the people of the state; and that he and his party will come back with big majority next time round. And, he says that he is tending his resignation.
One chapter in the whole saga has now ended.

2000 hours: H D Kumaraswamy invited to form the government. The day of swearing in still not known.

Monday, May 14, 2018

A rare act of kindness

The other day I was in the metro train, travelling to my work place.

At one station, a young man, dressed in formal wear, might be in his mid-twenties, ran in, and managed to board the train just before the door closed. The train wasn't crowded, but there were no vacant seats. He stood in front of where I was sitting.

He was breathing rather heavily, indicating that he might have been walking briskly, and had run up the escalator. Obviously, it looked like he was rushing to some place, on some urgent business, and didn't have time to wait ten minutes for the next train.

Then, a very strange spectacle unfolded before my eyes.

An elderly man, who was sitting beside me, and probably in his early 60s, got up, and vacated the seat for the young man. Gesturing him to take the seat, the elderly man told the young man: "Please sit down. You need some rest."

The young man, was taken by surprise, and didn't seem to understand what the elderly man was saying. Quite natural. People vacating seat for someone itself is rare. And rarer still is an elderly man vacating seat for a young man.

Once he understood, the young man said with a smile, "Thank you.. But, no sir ... You please sit." He then placed his right hand on the shoulder of the elderly man and nudged him gently to sit down. Like me, he too must have been wondering, why this elderly man was vacating his seat for him.

By now, this unusual incident had caught the attention of a few other passengers too, who were all curiously looking at the two men, each seemingly trying to be more polite than the other.

Then came a surprise.

The elderly man said, calmly but firmly, in a manner that was measured, and quite laden with a sort of wisdom that only years of lessons in life would give anyone.

"Listen, young man, I appreciate your respect for me. There was a time when I worked like you, running from place to place... Now my time is over. It's your turn now ... Please sit, and relax, so that you regain energy for your work... Good luck, and do well."

I couldn't believe what was happening.

The elderly man slowly moved away from the seat, turned, and gently nudged the young man towards the seat, almost forcing him to sit down.

"Please, please, sit ... I will be getting off at the station after the next one. It's fine ..." He smiled, and a look of total contentment seemed to illuminate his face.

The young man had clearly been outdone; didn't know what to say, and sat down in the place the elderly man had vacated. He looked up at the elderly man, and brought his palms together in a gesture of reverence, and just said, "Thank you, sir."

The train was approaching the next station, where I had to get off. I got up and moved to the exit.

That elderly man's gesture and profound words will never fade from my memory.

I have no clue who that elderly man was.

But surely, he is a very rare human being.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Gadfly CitiHub -- Know your elected representatives and connect with them

This post will be of particular interest to readers in the US and Canada, besides India.

It's about an app called Gadfly CitiHub, which is available on iOS as well as Android, developed by a startup based in Delhi called Wabi Tech.

What you can do with with the app

  • When you switch on the app, it automatically detects your location and tells you, who your elected representatives in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of national Parliament), State Assembly and the local city municipal corporation are, along with their details. 
  • You can change location manually to find out who the representatives are for other places as well. 
  • You can contact them via phone, SMS, email or any other medium they are on.   
  • The app gives the social media feed of the elected representatives and also the feed of the news articles in which they figure.

Why this app

  • The founder of the company Nikhil Bapna decided to develop this app because he felt in India it is very difficult to not only easily find out who your elected representatives are, but also contact them to convey any information or views regarding governance issues or feedback.
  • The app is available in India, the US and Canada. The information regarding elected representatives in the US and Canada are still being updated.

Related links

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Blogging From A to Z Challenge - Reflections

I have always believed that blogging is a far better platform to connect with other people, compared to social media. The reason is you bond over topics of similar interest.

On the contrary, on Facebook-like media, it's mostly photos and videos, and random thoughts that are too shallow and bereft of any context or detail. The connections you make over blogs are, therefore, much more substantial.

Many years ago, I was more active on my blog; and via blogs, I made quite a few friends as well. We even had a few bloggers get-together in Bengaluru. I am touch with some of them still.

Though I have been blogging for so many years, I have never taken part in any blogathon or blogging challenge. The only reason was that my hectic work schedule left me just enough to blog once a while. Blogging got relegated in my daily priority list.

The turning point

Needless to say, the itch to blog and blog-hop was getting more and more severe; and I began going back to my good old days of giving more time to blogging and blog-hopping.

Just then, I stumbled on a post of JaishWrites about the 'Blogging A to Z Challenge'. I checked the website. The whole concept of blogging on 26 topics, one for each alphabet, through the month of April, sounded absolutely cool, and I just fell for it. I lost no time in registering for it. I didn't choose a theme, because I didn't want to restrict myself.

With some difficulty, I blogged every single day, and also checked other blogs. I am happy that I did find quite a few blogs of interest. I am yet to fully go through the Master List of participants of this challenge. And I am sure, I will stumble on a few more blogs that I like. Please wait for a post at a later date on my favourite blogs.

How did I choose what to write each day

  • I wanted the topic to be different, not something that was obvious.
  • It was not enough that it was an unusual topic. It should be something I can related to.
  • It should be something on which I can write easily. There wasn't enough time each day to research either.
  • I kept thinking almost through the month on different topics. I wrote on a paper some of them, so that I didn't forget.
  • I selected the best among them.
  • The links to each of the posts can be found here.

What I enjoyed the most

  • Undoubtedly, the sheer of process of thinking of a topic, conceiving the post, writing, editing and publishing it. Two posts I scheduled in advance. Two (on a weekend) I wrote the next day (on Sunday), and pre-dated them, I must confess.
  • Blog-hopping is always good fun, stumbling on interesting posts, that we either just enjoy reading or stir our thoughts. Jotting down comments, reading the reply from blogger.
  • It is so nice to see many blogger dropping by my blog, reading my post and leaving their comments.

What I wish I could do better

  • I wish I had fewer other (official and personal) commitments, so I had more time to blog.
  • I wish I could beautify my posts with photos.
  • I wish I could visit more blogs than I actually did.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Machines, prostheses, implants and transhumanism

Today at 4.35 pm, BBC World Service Radio had a good programme on Transhumanism -- a theory that the human body could evolve, not biologically, but with the use of science and technology -- a field of research that has been increasingly in focus over the last two decades or so.

As you can imagine, it is quite a controversial subject. But there are supporters of that theory, who believe that human race is still in the process of evolution, and probably, the next phase could be when we can digitally or technologically enhance our capabilities.

There is considerable research going on this area. There are people who are doing surgery on themselves to embed chips and other electronic devices into their body. (They are doing it themselves because doctors aren't allowed to do such bizarre stuff which are not scientifically or medically approved.)

Six years ago, I had an opportunity to meet Prof Kevin Warwick, who is widely recognised as the first cyborg (a person who has artificial parts within his body), who got a chip implanted in his arm and has been conducting experiments on himself.

These are a bit extreme. But if you think of it, our dependence on machines has significantly gone up and the human element is reducing. Take for example, this simple act I am right now doing -- keying in this text on my laptop. Earlier, I would have done it on a paper in my own handwriting. There are many more examples in our daily lives.

Medically, many people go in for implants that set right a physical problem and help us perform in a normal manner. For example, prosthesis, especially limbs. Then there are dental implants and stents in the heart. If a person is not able to swallow and eat in the normal manner, a pipe is inserted through the nose right up to the stomach (Ryle's Tube) and he is fed liquid diet. Tracheostomy is a medical procedure that involves creating an opening in the neck to allow air to enter the lungs directly. Dialysis is another example, wherein the function of the kidney is performed by a machine.

So, we are already making use of machines and implants to enhance our lifespan.

Now the question is: even if there is nothing wrong with our normal body, should we take the aid of implants to further our human capabilities. Like how about having another pair of limbs so that we can work more efficiently? Can we have eyes in the back, so that we can see what is behind as well? Or a chip in our body so that we can directly detect infrared and ultraviolet radiations?

Already, we are into an era where automation is being more and more intelligently done, and machines are intelligently assisting us in our daily chores. When you give a search for Katrina, Google knows whether you are referring to the hurricane or the Bollywood actress. The autocorrect in word processors is able to make alterations correctly depending upon the context.

I think our dependence on machines, automation and implants will only increase further. Just like I have a choice to write with the pen or type on a laptop, we will soon many many more such options. Of course, the choice will be ours.

Will human race evolve in that direction? I will not be surprised if it does.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Zero - the omnipotent nought

It is tempting to look at this circular figure as hollow, signifying nothing. But look deeper, and you see it is extremely powerful.

Add more of it to an integer and the value increases ten-fold. (2, 20, 200)

Place one or many of them in the middle of a number, and the value changes depending on where you have placed and how many you have placed. (11, 101, 1001, 10101)

Indeed, its power comes from where it is. Add any number of zeros after the decimal point, and it just means nothing.

Though so powerful, it's very diplomatic and neutral too: right in the centre of the number line, neither negative nor positive. (-1, 0, +1)

For that reason, it's a good point to start over, if you have lost track, by resetting to the centre point. Think of the weighing machine.

So diplomatic, it will not be party to any situation where you have to divide something. No, you can't divide a number by zero.

At the same time, you try to raise any number to the power of zero, and you always get just one.

(This is the last post in the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018" series. It was good fun thinking of a word and blogging on it everyday. Looking forward to next year's challenge.  To read the posts on each day of this month, there is link to them on the top of this page.)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Yawn - No, it is not boring

That sounds a bit contradictory, right? Because, that involuntary reflex action, which is famously very contagious too, is often considered the signal of tiredness and boredom.

It is also widely referred to as the most popular mysterious action of the human body. The famous expert on yawning Robert R. Provine, a neuroscientist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said, "Yawning may have the dubious distinction of being the least understood, common human behaviour."

In June 2010, there was an International Conference on Yawning in Paris. Many scientists there said yawning need not always be an indication of only boredom. Many researchers are now saying that we might yawn if are stressed or aroused, or it could even be an erotic signal.

One theory is that the temperature of the brain rises because of excitement or stress, and yawning is a natural body mechanism to cool the brain down. But so far there is no way to distinguish which yawn is for what. That could have been quite useful in many situations!

However, there is one takeaway at least. No need to necessarily get offended if someone you are talking to yawns. The signal could be quite contrary!

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018.")

Friday, April 27, 2018

Xerox - you see it everywhere

I first knew the process as photocopying. It used to cost some 15 times what it costs now to make a copy of something in black and white. And much more to get that done in colour.

Later, this word called Xerox began appearing on stores that ran the business of getting you photocopies of documents. When I saw that word for the first time it looked very mysterious, until i figured out that it is the name of the American company, a pioneer in the photocopying technology.

Today name of that company has become so synonymous with the process, that everyone says Xeroxing rather than photocopying. (Remember, Googling is not the first such usage.) In India, you see the word Xerox in every city and town, especially in places near educational institutions, and government and private offices.

Though soft copies and easy options to scan are available by way of apps on mobile phones, one needs to take Xerox of documents for official purposes. So, that industry is hardly threatened.

I don’t think there is any company whose name is so widely displayed in so many cities and towns, at least in India. I am not sure how popular Xerox is in other countries.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018.")

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Why ..

That is a basic question, which our innate human curiosity prompts us to ask.

  • Why is sky blue?
  • Why water boils at higher than 100 degrees if you add salt or sugar?
  • Why does ice float on water?

There are clear-cut reasons for these questions, answers that are proven beyond doubt.

However, there are many other question for which we have no conclusive answers.

  • Why some people who drive recklessly never get into accidents?
  • Why in spite of progress in science and technology, there is still so much misery?
  • Why is one person who is 70 years is weak and bedridden, while another person who is 85 is hale and hearty, and walking all around the place?

Why do we have answers only for some questions and not for others?

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018.")

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Voting is not all in a democracy

People in India will hear a lot about voting in the months to come.

State Assembly election in Karnataka is on May 12. This will be followed by polls to Assemblies in the States of Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, by January next year. And, we will have the grand national election to the Lok Sabha (the Lower House of Parliament), by May next year.

Right to vote irrespective of any discrimination – or universal suffrage – is considered the bedrock of democracy. So much effort is made to encourage people to vote. There is celebration of democracy when there is a huge turnout. Democracy is identified with voting, and nothing else, so much so that the general feeling is that democracy begins and ends with voting.

I think differently.

Whether people vote or not is one thing. It is immaterial how many people finally voted. The ultimate success or failure of democracy has to do more with how an elected government functions (irrespective of how many people voted them to power.)

Voting is just one day's affair. But governance by the party that has been elected to power is a five-year affair. And what matter really is governance not voting.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018.")

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Umbrella - a complex lifestyle accessory

Most umbrellas are black in colour, especially in India. Not quite sure where else. Japanese umbrellas are mostly white and colourful.

Ever wondered why they are black in India? I haven't heard anything very conclusive. But here are a couple of reasons.
  • A legacy of the British Raj. When they ruled India, for them black was the most official colour. So their umbrellas too were black. And we are just carrying on with it, like many other legacies of the British.
  • Umbrellas were mostly used to protect oneself from rain. A wet black cloth dries faster than that of any other colour, since it absorbs heat and therefore water evaporates faster. 
  • Dirt on a black surface is less conspicuous compared to on any other colour.
But if one were to use an umbrella in sunshine, black ones would absorb a lot of heat, and it would become hot. So, some new varieties have a silver coating inside to prevent radiation towards the user. 

Modern features

Some new models come with a feature called 'wind vent', meaning the umbrellas won't fold backwards while holding it in strong wind.

I have also heard of umbrellas that protect the user from ultraviolet rays. But I am not sure how credible those claims are.

Of cows and cats

In Kerala, I have seen cows getting provoked and jumping about in an aggressive manner, on seeing umbrellas. In those days, while passing through the nearby village, we used to often encounter farmers walking with their cows back home. There have been a few occasions, when those farmers, on seeing my umbrella, have called out aloud from a distance asking me to close it, and hide it, so that the cows won't be provoked.

At home, my cats were always fascinated by umbrellas. I used to keep it open for the cats to play hide and seek. Some will try to climb on top of it, and it will start rolling to one side, making the cats all the more excited.

Buying one is not easy 

The monsoon is approaching. I need to buy an umbrella, because the one that I have is so old that it's become totally dysfunctional. I have been looking at some online shopping portals; and after reading the elaborate product details and specifications I am totally confused. Nowadays, umbrellas can also send out a style statement, I am told.

An umbrella used to be such a simple device -- a piece of black cloth strung around a stick -- so that it can be held to protect oneself from rain and sunshine. But how complex and complicated it looks now. I never realised buying an umbrellas is so difficult.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018.")

Monday, April 23, 2018

Tears of joy

Tears are mostly associated with sadness and crying. It has got such a negative connotation. Is it because the verb, the action of tearing up something, is a destructive act? 

Our eyes can well up, and tears can roll down our cheeks, if we are overcome with positive emotion, and we are overjoyed.

It's very common among athletes and sports persons, who are unable to hold back their emotions, when they score big.

It is a misconception that only girls and women cry, largely because of societal stereotyping. In many conservative families, when a boy cries, he used to be strictly told not to cry, that it's such a shame, and that only girls cry etc. On the other hand, when a girl cries, the reaction used to be different, but there is no great effort made to console her, because the assumption was girls cry, but boys don't cry. Of course, now there is less of stereotyping, and boys and girls are brought up more or less in the same way.

When Roger Federer won the Australian Open in January this year, at the end of his victory speech he broke down very bitterly. But it was no surprise that he was overcome so heavily with joy. His match was a record 30th Grand Slam final, equalling a record seventh Australian Open final. With his victory he equalled a record six Australian Open titles, and he also became the first man to win 20 Grand Slam titles. With such a huge achievement, who will not be overcome with emotion?!

Fans who watch such epic moments too can be swayed. At the recent Commonwealth Games on Gold Coast, Australia, Indian athletes put up a brilliant show. With a total of 66 medals -- 26 gold, 20 silver and 20 bronze -- India finished third behind Australia and England.

I used to get up early in the morning to watch many events in which India's athletes were in the final; and I was lucky to see India winning the Gold many times. It was such a great feeling - and every time I saw the Indian national flag go up while the Indian national anthem was being played, I got goosebumps and couldn't resist the tears of joy.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018.")

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Sugar - good or bad?

I have memories of my father going off sugar when I was in school, because his blood sugar level had gone up. Once he cut off sugar, he was fine. When my mother was diagnosed with diabetes, she also had to give it up. She was then okay.

There has been a lot of talk about how much sugary or sweet stuff we should eat, ever since medical professionals began attributing problems related to heart, kidney, eyes etc. to over-consumption of sugar. We are all having too much sugar, and we don't need that much, was the general refrain.

Some countries are planning a "sugar tax", in order to force people to reduce their intake of sugar.

Here are some of the stuff that I have been reading and hearing:
  • The taste of sugar is an acquired taste. Go without sugar for a week, and you get used to that new taste.
  • Sugar gives you energy, but it has no fibre, vitamins or minerals. So, it is referred to as "empty calories" . It is better to look for energy elsewhere.
  • A number of food items that we eat have sugar in some form anyway, and that takes care of our body's requirement. So, there is no need to take sugar separately, by adding it to tea and coffee.
  • Cut down on sweet bakery items, because you are pushing more sugar into your body than is normally required.
  • Sugar will only make you obese, increasing chances of diseases like diabetes and heart problems.
So, stop eating sugar?

Some more stuff that I have been reading and hearing:
  • All people need not go completely sugar-free. But it is a good idea to minimise sweet items to the maximum extent possible.
  • No harm in switching to sugar-free tea, coffee, milk etc., because you are more than compensated by the carbohydrate in other food you anyway have.
  • If you need sugar still, jaggery is a better alternative.
What I have done:
  • I like sugar and sweets. I am not diabetic, nor am I obese. But I have decided to cut down sugar.
  • I am definitely not paranoid. But if I have a choice, I have decided not to add sugar to tea or coffee. I have discovered a new taste, and I am fast getting used to it.
  • I am minimising sweet, sugary and carbohydrate-rich food items as much as I can.  If possible, I will avoid them. If I can't, I will take as small an amount as possible.
I am trying to do a balancing act, because that's what so many people are telling me. But the problem is that I am not always able to decide where and when to draw the line.

Let me see how it goes.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018.")

Friday, April 20, 2018

Rain - the ultimate joy

Bright sunshine gradually fades. Clouds gather from nowhere. Darkness gently creeps in. A streak of lightning, and a bolt of thunder, sometimes. The sky finally opens up.

For some, that's depressing. They chant, 'rain, rain go away'. But not for me. I get excited. I go to the window and watch the falling raindrops. Are they big or small? I look up to see if I can catch that flash lighting up the sky.

The first rains of a year are usually the summer rains around April. That's also the time to get intoxicated in petrichor, the pleasant smell of water falling on dry and warm earth.

Then there is the southwest monsoon. In those days, June 1 was when the the monsoon hit state. And that was and still is the first day of the academic year. So it was always a challenge to keep the school uniform from getting wet and dirty. Nowadays, mostly monsoon is a few days late.

Then, we have the retreating monsoon, or the northeast monsoon, somewhere to the end of the year.

I don't mind getting wet in the rain. That happens, while riding a motorbike. If it rains, and I am heading home, I won't take out the raincoat. After all, I am going home, and I can afford to have my dress wet.

Many pleasant memories of playing in the rain during childhood. We all looked for one excuse to be in the rain. Parents then got wild, warning us we will get fever. But that never mattered, for it was fun and frolic in the rain. We made plenty of paper boats and let them sail.

Those days, we always had acute water shortage. So, when it rained, there was some relief that there will be water at home Because, we used to tie a bed sheet to two parallel ropes, and collect rainwater. This is besides the water collected from eaves.

It's so sad that in spite of so much rain, we are on the verge of running short of water. It seems the next war would be fought over water. There is something called rainwater harvesting. I just wonder why it's still not the norm. May be we are waiting for our taps to actually run dry.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018.")

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Queer, gaining acceptance

In school, when I used to hear the word 'queer', I understood it as 'strange", as in 'queer phenomena'. Also there is a phrase, 'queer someone's pitch' meaning, 'to spoil someone's plan'.

But over the last many years, 'queer' has come to mean a person who is homosexual: an umbrella term that refers to people of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community, whose sexual or gender identity does not conform to the established norms.

Most of the dictionaries, including Oxford and Collins, qualifies the meaning as informal and even offensive, when it refers to homosexual men. But the word is very much in the mainstream language, and I can see websites dedicated to homosexual content using this word.

Anyway, neither the word nor homosexuality is literally queer, meaning strange. While many people, men and women, have openly declared their sexual preferences, a debate also has raged on social and religious rights and wrong about such preferences.

Section 377 in India

Homosexuality is not a new phenomenon. It's been there for ages. But it was a taboo to talk about it. So such people, preferred rather not to reveal their gender choice, rather than face social isolation or even banishment. While many countries have passed laws making gay marriage legal, there are also countries where it's still a criminal offence.

A couple of days ago, British Prime Minister Theresa May apologised for criminalising gay relationship in Commonwealth nations.

In India, though there has been a lot more acceptance of homosexuality, many are still in the closet. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a legacy of colonial British laws, has been a contentious issue. It is still being debated in the courts.

Social evolution

The British PM's apology, and the Supreme Court decision have given hopes to the large community that finally they can be themselves, openly.

Socially, anything that is non-conformist, can lead to tension within that group of people. So the debate and conflict of views is only understandable.

Many social codes that are so common and acceptable today, were once upon a time, a taboo. So what we are seeing is part of the ongoing social evolution. Nothing is the same forever.

Let each of us be what we are, and allow others to be what they are. Live and let live, as the common adage goes.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018.")

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Print -- is it dying or is it dead?

A question I am asked often, especially by students of mass communication is: "Is print dying? Or is it dead?"

My answer: "It might be dying. But it's not dead. I don't think it will die."

Yes, especially in the United States, many publications have closed down. For many newspapers, like the NYT, their digital subscription has been growing. But the print medium will be there, surely at least in the foreseeable future. Only that the number of physical newspapers, magazines and books might come down.

The printed document, all said and done, has its own impact on the reader. When we see a headline across up to around 15 inches of a newspaper, it has its own impact on us, compared to a similar headline across around less than half of that on a laptop, or still smaller on a mobile phone. Headlines on newspapers also signal to us the relative importance of news items, which is very difficult to achieve on a mobile phone.

Newspapers, magazines and books are unique in the sense that they have just printed words and photos on them, and nothing else, like a mobile phone are a computer.

A comment I keep hearing is: "Children don't read newspapers or books, nowadays. They are all watching videos or movies, and listening to music."

My reply: "True there is more of photos, memes, GIF and videos. But it's not that kids aren't reading anything. They are reading "newspapers" but it's online, mostly on their mobile phones.

Also, look at the crowds at some of the book stores, no one will ever say that people have stopped reading actual books. And it's mostly youngsters who are reading these books.

Where digital scores is in storage, portability, and easy retrieval of data. So, it will be too far-fetched to say that print will vanish all together.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018.")

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Outlook: inspiring stories

One of my favourite programmes on BBC Radio is Outlook, which comprises human interest stories from around the globe: glimpses into the inconspicuous lives of people who are far away from media glitter and spotlight. Most of the episodes are unsung inspirational true stories; tales of fight against adversity and hardship.

Outlook has been running for 52 years, since its first broadcast on July 4, 1966. I began listening to it around 1980, when John Tidmarsh and Colin Hamilton were the presenters. John was the more famous of the two. I used to particularly like the programme when John was the presenter, because of his characteristically pleasing voice and modulation. John presented Outlook continuously for more than 30 years, until he retired in 1998, after his 70th birthday. He is now close to 90 years.

The one-hour programme was aired at 7.30 pm, immediately after the 1400 GMT news bulletin. I used to be a regular listener until I left Kerala. After that, professional commitments made me an irregular radio listener, except for news.

Now that I have rediscovered the radio (via the phone and laptop), on almost all days I listen to Outlook at 8.30 am. The presenters are mostly Mathew Bannister or Jo Fidgen.

One of the episodes on yesterday's programme was about John Corcoran, who had a very peculiar problem: he was unable to read and write. But kept that a secret, and amazingly managed to graduate and even become a high school teacher.

Another episode was about Amit Madheshiya, who has been tracking the 'cinema travellers' in India, who go to remote villages showing movies to the people there. His documentary by that name, traces the impact of modern technology.

On the 50th anniversary of the programme, BBC announced the Outlook Inspirations, 50 amazing stories of unsung heros chosen by the listeners. Three of them, chosen by a panel of judges, receive the Outlook Inspiration Awards. This year's nominations just closed. The list will be announced in May. Read about it here.

Kudos to the BBC for putting together such heartwarming stories of ordinary people from around the world, everyday. It is a great programme. You can listen to it either live or recorded on the BBC Outlook website. Or you can download the BBC iPlayer app, for iOS or Android.

The iPlayer app has all the BBC stations, so go to the World Service. I usually listen to Outlook at 8.30 am. It is broadcast at other times too. Or you can listen to the podcast.

Happy listening!

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018.")

Monday, April 16, 2018

News: real, old and fake

It is not that there are a lot more things -- good and bad -- happening in the world now. We are just getting to know them, since we have the internet, mobile phones and social media. Thanks to these three innovations, we also speak a lot more, we write a lot more, we hear a lot more, and we read a lot more today.

Earlier too we had fake news. But we generally called them rumours, gossip, lies etc. Today, they have a new medium to spread, which is faster and reaches more people, that too directly. Now, these fast-spreading rumours and lies have a fanciful term.

WhatsApp, Facebook are not news sources

Nowadays you find many forwards and shared posts, especially on WhatsApp groups. It's like those forwards we used to see in emails, some 15 to 20 years ago, when emails were new to all of us.

There is no idea from where the information contained in them have been sourced. There will be no credit or no indication who the author is or who has created a particular video.

There are cases of old news clippings doing the rounds on WhatsApp. A few months ago, I received a forwarded message from my sister-in-law in Bhopal that the stage during a school function in Bengaluru collapsed killing many children. There was a clipping of TV news channel as well with the message. I immediately realised that it was an incident that happened in February 2016. No one had died. Some people have uploaded those clips on Youtube in January this year, giving the impression that it happened this year.

People keep saying, "I read it on WhatsApp" or "I saw it on Facebook", giving one an impression that WhatsApp and Facebook are news sources. But, they are only platforms on which we read information put out by different people -- just as Google is not a website, and is only a search engine that gets you relevant websites for you to read. What I mean is WhatsApp and Facebook are not equivalents of a BBC or a Fox News or an NYT.

Unlike social media (where mostly individuals post information), institutional media have in place a system where information goes through multiple people who not only fact-check them, but also vet the information, before they reach the public domain. News media organisations are not supposed to put out unverified information.

Next time you read something of major consequence or import, on WhatsApp or Facebook, or any platform for that matter, it may be a good idea to see who has posted that. Is that information from a credible source?

How do you know if a source is credible?

There are a few generally accepted parameters. One, a well-known or reputed institution. Like, if it's some information related to astronomy, see if it's from any space-related organisation, like NASA or ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation). Two, a well-known or reputed person, or someone who is occupying a position of some responsibility.

Another source which is considered credible, is 'institutional media'. By that I mean news organisations. For example, Reuters, Associated Press, Press Trust of India, BBC, Fox News, NYT, The Hindustan Times, The Times of India, etc. I am using the term 'institutional media' to differentiate it from 'social media'. Earlier, by media, we understood it as only 'institutional media'.

The professional-amateurs

Having said that, one should remember that sources of information need not be only professional organisations or professional individuals. One can't be biased against amateurs, just because their chosen field of specialisation is not their professional field.

For example, there could be a bank executive who is a great fan of movies. Or a professional dancer who is very knowledgeable about West Asia (why not?) Or a student who is a cricket enthusiast. They could be actually authorities on those subjects. They might be posting on social media about their favourite topics. More importantly, they might also be ensuring that what they post is factually correct, and might even go to the extent of attributing information to sources, like a professional journalist is expected to do.

Such people have come to be known as 'professional amateurs'.

So, let us not be totally dismissive about social media, with the comment that all that appears in social media is wrong and fake news. Actually, some of the big stories have broken on social media. A few that I can remember are:

There are plenty of such examples. In fact, journalists get tipped off by tweets and Facebook posts.

To err is human

Not that "credible" sources can't go wrong. There have been cases of people occupying official positions like a Prime Minister, and media having got their facts wrong. But those are famous exceptions rather than the rule. One famous example:
  • In March 1979, Prime Minister Morarji Desai announced in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) that Jayaprakash Narayan (the architect of opposition unity against Indira Gandhi) was dead. All India Radio and news agencies put out the news. But JP was still alive. He passed away in October that year.
How to check fake news

Today, thanks to Twitter and Facebook, in a sense everyone is a journalist. So, just as professional journalists are expected to fact-check information, all of us too have to fact-check what we see and read on WhatsApp or Facebook.

And, please don't forward any information (especially those that are of critical implication) that you haven't verified yourself.

It's better not to have an unverified information passed around, than to spread wrong information.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018.")

--------------------------------

Update on April 17

What a stunning coincidence this is, just within a day of writing the above post.

When I was travelling by the Metro today, I overheard the man sitting next to me telling someone on the phone that war has broken out between Russia and Britain. He was asking the other person to check out BBC, and that it the news is all over the place.

I was startled hearing this, and looked at him. Just before leaving home I had checked the news channels. I have half a dozen news apps on my phone, and I had not seen any notification. Even as he was speaking I opened the BBC and NYT apps. There was nothing there.

Since he had seen me looking at him, while he was talking, after his conversation, he repeated what he had spoken on the phone. I asked him where did he get to know this. He said WhatsApp, and opened the message. It was a BBC news clip. I was really surprised. He started playing it.

It was a BBC Breaking News alert about a Russian jet being shot down by NATO forces near the coast of Latvia. I immediately realised it was an old clip. I told him, "The Syrian conflict has been going on for seven years. And there have many such serious incidents in the past." I couldn't recollect when this incident happened.

I did a quick web search with the key words "latvia russian plane shot down" It was an incident that happened in 2015. I found a Youtube clip that was uploaded in 2017, and it is that clip that is circulating on WhatsApp. Why it is getting circulated is a no brainer: the ongoing crisis over chemical attack and the US missile strike in response.

He was concerned because his brother-in-law is leaving for London this evening, he told me. He said he was speaking to his mom, and he now looked very relieved. He called his mom, and said it was fake news.

I told him never ever believe any such news that comes as WhatsApp forwards, unless doing a web search and confirming with a credible source.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Malapropism: what was that again?

It happens with all of us; but goes unnoticed until it's pointed out. I am referring to malapropism, use of a wrong word that sounds similar to the originally intended word.

This happens because many words sound similar or have similar spellings, but mean quite different. There are plenty of examples. Some of my favourites:
  • Defuse, Diffuse
- Timely police intervention defused the situation. (Make less tense or dangerous)
- The gas that leaked from the cylinder diffused rapidly. (Spread)
  • Discrete, Discreet
- Rainbow is made up of a set of discrete colours. (Separate)
- He is very discreet when he talks to his boss. (Careful, prudent)
  • Adapt, Adept, Adopt
- She adapted to the new place very fast. (Adjust)
- She is adept in dealing with difficult situations. (Very skilled)
- She adopted a kitten yesterday. (Take care of)
The above examples are usually found in writing, because they sound almost same.

There also spoken ones, wherein words with slightly different pronunciation are used mistakenly.
  • "After circumventing the world, the ship returned to the base yesterday."
It should be circumnavigating the world, meaning to go around. Circumvent means avoid, though one might be able to circumvent a problem (like a puddle of water on the road) by circumnavigating it.
  • "What you are saying does not jive with the evidence we have."
It should be jibe, meaning agree. Jive means to dance to music.
  • "He eludes confidence."
This is a sentence supposedly said by William Bratton, Los Angeles police chief, while making a reference to Barack Obama's second inaugural speech in 2009. What he meant was exudes confidence, to mean display. Elude means to avoid. There is also a word, illude to mean trick or delude.

Some famous ones

A well-known malapropism was by Australian Opposition Leader Tony Abbott while criticising Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during a Liberal Party function in Melbourne in August 2013. Abott said, "No one, however smart, however well-educated, however experienced, is the suppository of all wisdom." What he meant was repository. Suppository is a medicine that is kept in rectum or vagina where it gradually dissolves. Repository is a place where something is found or stored.

George W. Bush, (the eldest son of George H W Bush), was famous for the gaffes he used to make during public speeches. So much so that they came to be known as Bushisms.

During electioneering in November 2000, while referring to the advisers of his Republican rival John McCain, Bush said, "They misunderestimated me." There is no word like misunderestimate. It's either misunderstand or underestimate.

In April 2006, while there was widespread call for Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign, because of various issues like reports of abuse of prisoners by US military at the Abu Ghraib prison etc., President Bush said in Washington, "I'm the decider, and I decide what is best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense." Decider is term used in sports, when a point or a goal decides the winner of the match.

There are plenty of compilations of Bushisms on Youtube. Check them out.

Watch out! Malapropism can be hilarious, embarrassing or totally misleading!

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018.")

Friday, April 13, 2018

Language, an emotional connect

A newborn needs no language to communicate. Her language is the body language. Slowly, she picks up the language her parents speak. When she is in school, she learns more languages. In the company of friends and colleagues, later in life, she might pick up more languages.

But all people are not adept in learning languages: some pick them up very fast, others take a long time, a few simply are unable to learn a new language even after many years. Some people are forced to learn new languages because of compulsion of the new State or country they have moved in to.

In most non-English-speaking European nations, you need to know their national language to study or work. In some countries, people are so attached to their language, they will talk only in that, irrespective of whether you know or not.

Language is elementary to communication, and therefore, to making an emotional connect. No wonder politicians and sales executives try to speak in the vernacular to sound more convincing and make an impact.

As much as emotionally binding, languages can also be emotionally divisive. When two people speak in a language that you can't understand, you feel left out. If you are a bit insecure, you might even think that they are talking about you. Some people see political agendas and hegemonic biases in a particular language.

I am not sure about other countries, but in India, languages is an explosive topic, like religion, unless handled carefully. Ironically, in the South, our own Hindi is a more divisive language than the foreign English. Similarly, in the North, our own local south Indian languages can be a put-off to many people, compared to English.

So, English is seen more as a link language, and generally more acceptable compared to our Indian languages. But some people see English as the language of the elite, and make every effort to dissuade other people from learning it, though they themselves will learn and ensure that their children too learn it.

A few months ago, in Bengaluru, the Metro Rail authorities were forced to remove Hindi signage from stations and drop Hindi announcements, since local Kannada activists saw Hindi signage as a symbol of the Federal government's authority in the State. (India's capital, New Delhi, is in the North where Hindi is the commonly used language.)

Language is just a tool to communicate. One shouldn't see anything more than that in it. You learn languages when you need to use them, unless you have a passion to learn them. Languages should be there for our convenience and comfort. More the better.

By the way, in a testimony to the diversity of our country, we don't have a national language. We have two official national languages - Hindi and English; and each State has its own official language or languages, which may or may not include Hindi and English.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018.")