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.")

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Key, there is more to it than what you think

It is something that you use to open a lock.

You use it to wind a clock, tune a musical instrument and to type out a letter on the computer.

It is also an answer to a problem, a fruit, and a region on a basket ball court.

You can key in data into a computer, while it is generally said that the key to success is hard work.

There is a Key in Ohio, West Virginia and Alabama. Besides Keys in Oklahoma, and Florida Keys.

Then in central Iran there is a Key, and a Key Island in Tasmania, Australia.

I am sure there are many more meanings to key.

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

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Judge me, but judge me right

Judging others, and others judging us -- such a common thing, but very contentious. Among the common triggers are: dress, accent, physical features, our religion, caste, whether we are vegetarians or non-vegetarians etc, etc.

People judge you by various other parameters as well. I know a marketing executive who prefers to take his car and not his motorbike, because he thinks his boss and clients will have a better impression about him if he is seen coming in his car.

It's not that none of us want to be judged. We are all perfectly okay if we are judged by the answers we write in an examination, or by the way we play in a game. But definitely not by what we wear or what we eat.

Having said that, consider this scenario.

If you have to go for a job interview, would you be dressed in business wear or casuals? The normal practice is to be in formals, and not casuals.

But, the interview is not about being judged for your dress. You are being judged for your knowledge and skill sets in your domain area, that is business. Why should the dress matter?

So, you decide to be in what you are most comfortable; and you go for the interview in casuals.

Did you do the right thing, or was that a mistake? How do you think the interview board would judge you?

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

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Instant lifestyle

Priti was at the Bangalore airport on her way to Delhi to rejoin work, after a weekend break to catch up with classmates. There was a lot of time for the flight. So she decided to wait till about an hour before the departure time to check in.

She took out her mobile. Checked messages, replied to some of them, and put it back in her bag. She thought it was a nice time to catch up with the novel she was reading.

She took the book out. That's when she caught the sight of a 20-something guy video chatting with a young woman.

Probably, that girl must be miles away, in some other continent. How distance has become irrelevant, thanks to the gadgets and someone's invention, she thought.

With the novel in her hands, Priti's memories raced back to the past. There were days when she had ...

- waited for more almost an hour to get a bus to go to her college,

- waited one month to get a reply to the letter she sent to her boyfriend,

- waited for 10 pm, so that she needed to pay only one-fourth when she made the long-distance calls to her parents and friends,

- waited nearly two days for the counting of Lok Sabha election ballot papers to get over, so that she knew who will be the next prime minister,

- waited for months to see the Oscar-award winning Hollywood movie.

Today it is all different. Everything is not just fast, but instant.

An air hostess sat down beside Priti, and was feverishly typing out on WhatsApp. Probably, she won't be able to use her mobile for another 10 or 12 hours, while she is in flight. Must be chatting with her boyfriend.

Only the previous day, Priti's boss, the accounts manager, had shouted at her for not replying immediately to his email. "Do you need 24 hours to type out a one-line reply," he had barked at her.

When Priti went for the interview for her job in the advertising agency Delhi last year, she had a tough time getting a cab at the Delhi airport. So, only after getting a cab, she messaged her mom. But mom was furious. "Ok, you had problem with the cab. But why couldn't you just call when the flight landed?" mom had shouted at her.

The guy who was doing the long-distance video chat with the girl had lost the video link, and he was desperate to get connected again.

Why on earth are people so impatient, she thought. Can't people just wait?

Her eyes fell on the airport cafeteria that proudly announced how customers would get their food within five minutes of ordering. How is that possible? What will be the quality of the food? Perfect, for the human race that has no time for anything; not even to eat good food.

Priti heard the phone beep. Usually, she is never in a hurry to check messages, especially if she is doing something or reading a book. But she was only getting distracted seeing things around her; and so, took her mobile out.

It was a WhatsApp message in her school group. She froze as she read it. Julie, her friend and classmate, who was in the hospital with dengue, was no more.

Priti couldn't believe it.

Ya people die of dengue, but Julie was recovering. And she was okay when I met her.

She put the mobile in her bag, stood up, walked up to the airline counter, and just cancelled her flight. Priti couldn't think anything; but her thoughts were all clouded.

She got into the first cab that pulled up, put the bag aside and stretched back. As she closed her eyes, she wondered how could that happen.

In about an hour, she was at the house of Julie. She looked around for someone, and spotted Janani. Priti struggled to hold back tears.

Janani hugged Priti, and muttered into her ears. "That was a false alarm, Priti. Julie is recovering."

Priti released herself from the arms of Janani, moved back and looked into her eyes. "What?"

Instantly, a sigh of relief and a smile.

Janani knew Priti was leaving for Delhi, and guessed that she must have cancelled her flight. She also knew Priti hadn't seen the subsequent messages.

There was embarrassment, relief, anger, everything, when Janani explained: "I had told Radhika, don't shoot off that message, into the group. Wait, for half an hour, at least, till we get a confirmation from the doctor. What is the point in putting out another message that it was a false alarm, and Julie is recovering?"

Priti didn't know what to say. "Thank God," she muttered, and managed a smile.

The last one hour had drained all the energy out of her. She sat on a chair that she found nearby, took her phone, and called the airline.

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

Monday, April 9, 2018

Husband, husbandry

This is one of those many words in English that can be misleading. Husbandry has nothing to do with husband, at least not in the present-day context. However, if you look at the origin of both words, you can find a link between the two.

Originally, husband only meant the male head of a house; married, widowed or single. It was only from very late 13th century that it came to mean as a man married to a woman.

Husband is believed to have come from hus = house; and bondi = occupier of land or house, tiller of soil.

Husbandry evolved from there, to mean cultivation and management of crops, animals, or farms in general. 'Animal Husbandry' is a common usage. India has an Animal Husbandry Minister in government. Probably other nations too.

The word husband gradually came to mean as the main, if not the sole, provider of a family. Of course, today, the word means neither someone who is wedded only to a woman nor someone who is the sole or main provider of a family.

Husband can also mean to use resources economically, or someone who uses resources economically. (How many husbands actually use resources economically, is open to debate.)

There are a couple of other interesting related words:

Husbandable, means suitable for husbandry or cultivation.

Husbandage, is the money paid to the manager (or husband) of a ship.

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

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Generation gap within a generation

A generation means all the people born during a particular period of time.

So we have now Gen Z, the kids born after mid-1990s.

Before that, the Millennial, the Gen X, the Baby Boomers etc.

Generation gap is the difference of opinion between people of two generations. This gap or difference becomes apparent in different ways: like use of language, style of dressing, social value systems, attitudes in workplaces and at homes, etc.

I don't know if you have noticed, nowadays, this generation gap is becoming apparent among people of the same generation. Earlier, one spoke of children differing in their opinions with their parents or grandparents. Which means, one saw major attitudinal difference between people separated by around 20 years or more. Like, someone of 20 years and 40 years. Today, a 20-year-old and a 30-year-old have a much wider difference of opinion than what one used to see during 1980s or earlier.

My theory is that it is because of the changes that technology is bringing about. There is some invention or innovation every six months to one year, bringing major changes in our society. The changes in our lifestyle between 2008 and 2018 are far more dramatic than the changes that took place between, say, 1998 and 2008, or between 1988 and 1998.

We have had television, internet, mobile phones, broadband, now artificial intelligence and internet of things. And each of these have been changing so rapidly. Mobile phones of today are far different from those 10 years ago. Social media itself has changed so much in a span of 10 years or even less.

A child born in 2015 and a child born in 2005, though separated only by 10 years, grow up with entirely different frames of references which in turn influence their attitudes, value systems and behavioural patterns. This difference wasn't so much for two children one born in 1965 and the other in 1975. 

If this generation gap becomes more pronounced between people who are separated by very few number of years, will we have around us more and more people having differences of opinion.

Is the strife that we are seeing world over today, a result of this change in the nature of generation gap?

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

Friday, April 6, 2018

Fast, not furious

A few years ago, a new colleague in my office, asked me, "Are you from Mumbai?"

I said, "No."

"You have grown up there?"


"Why?" I was curious.

"Because you walk very fast."

I quickly made the connection. Mumbai, the densely populated financial capital of India, is a city where life moves at a fast pace. Time is precious for people there, and it's generally said that people there walk fast.

The average human walking speed is 5 kmph, or about 3.1 mph, which means one kilometer (0.6 mile) in 12 minutes. I cover a kilometer in not more than 10 minutes. So, a bit on the faster side. Yes.

But, my pace is not very fast, but my strides are a bit longer. So, when I increase my speed a bit, I tend a cover a longer distance. So, that gives an impression that I walk very fast.

Brisk walking is considered  a good exercise. But if you are aiming at burning calories, then better jog or run; which burns more calories. So, runners tend to lose more weight, and have more stamina, when compared to people who walk a longer distance.

Fast pace can be a problem, because when you walk with most people, they tend to get left behind, and you have to either slow down, or wait for them to catch up.

So, what type are you? You walk fast or slow?

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

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Euphemism: saying it, without saying it

In school, when our English teacher, Mr Prem C Nair, told us that "kicked the bucket" means "that person is dead", caused a good amount of mirth among us students. We were so excited about the phrase that whenever we heard someone was dead, we used the word "kicked the bucket".

Euphemism is a figure of speech wherein a word or phrase, which sounds more polite or mild, is used instead of one that sounds harsh or embarrassing. There are plenty of such euphemistic words or phrases we use in our daily life.
  • He is a bit tipsy. (He is drunk)
  • He is very economical with truth. (He is a liar.)
  • He is between jobs. (He is unemployed.)
Euphemisms are also evolving; and I have heard some people objecting to it. 

There are women who prefer to say, "I am pregnant", rather than "I am in the family way". Similarly, very few young women nowadays would say, "I am in that time of the month ..." Instead, they would say, "I have my periods". The use of the word "menstruation" is also no longer a taboo or offensive.

At the end of the day, what word or phrase to use, depends on the context, is it not?

One of the most famous critics of euphemisms is George Carlin, the American stand-up comedian and social critic. Here is a 9-minute video clip of Carlin's take on euphemisms. Enjoy. :-)

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

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Diplomatic, to be or not to be

The world and life being what it is, there are umpteen situations when people and situations present themselves in such a way that it drives us nuts. Not all people are polite and discreet when they either speak to us or interact with us.

People react to them in different ways. One way is to snap, tell what comes first to your mind, and brush aside those people and situations brusquely.

The other way is not to react, either by words or action, immediately. Wait for tempers to cool, and sort things out. Also, react in such a way that a situation doesn't get worse; instead engage in such a way that a resolution can be brought about.

My experiences in life have taught me that it works better for me when I am cautious and prudent rather than abrupt and impulsive. Probably it works the other way round for some people.

Diplomacy gives the room to adapt to situations, which means one gets more opportunities and avenues. It opens up the situations for one to look at different ways of moving forward.

Being diplomatic doesn't mean always being nice, flexible and accommodative. That could spell disaster. Sometimes being firm and abrupt can be a part of being diplomatic; because such an approach would be essential to yield a solution.

Diplomacy is sometimes misunderstood as surrender. One way I look at diplomacy is:  the art of taking one step back in order to move two steps forward.

I will leave you with two quotes:

“Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.”
― Winston S. Churchill

“Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy.”
― Isaac Newton

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

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Captcha, please make it easy this time

You have all seen, and interacted with, the website security guard who goes by the name Captcha.

If you are trying to submit some stuff -- text or picture or whatever -- to a website, this guy, who has been deployed by that website, would want to know if you are really a human being or some sort of an automated software.

So, to test you, he will toss some jumbled letters or figures or a mixture of both, and he would want you to enter them into a small box, in the same order you see them.

But sometimes, he thinks he is too smart, and doesn't make it legible enough for me to read. If computers weren't so much of an inevitable part of our existence, I would have just told him, "Hell with you. I got better things to do in life", or something even worse.

Credit: BBC
But I have no option, and I pray, for the task to be an easy one.

You know, he is arrogant too: he himself is not a human being, and expects us to be one!

By the way, his real name is: Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart.

Big deal.

He can throw up some crazy stuff at you as well, as one person, who goes by the Twitter handle @emilysaysso, discovered a few days ago. On the Bank of America website, Captcha threw up a combination of letters that had a four-letter expletive in it. It was not only spelt correctly, there was a "y" in the beginning, and "u" in the end. Don't say that aloud!

I am not kidding.

Bank of America is now adding a profanity filter, after this incident. This was the bank customer's tweet; and you can read about the incident here.

What goes around comes around. Captcha is getting a taste of his own medicine. The latest is that artificial intelligence-trained software can fool him too. Read about it here.

Captcha, don't think you are all that smart!

(This blog entry is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018"

Monday, April 2, 2018

It's bitter, I love it

The other day, feedback on our office canteen was being collected from some of us. A colleague of mine said in jest, pointing towards me: "Don't collect the feedback from him."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because you will say the canteen doesn't have anything with bitter gourd in the menu. They will decide to have it, and we all will have a tough time," he replied with a smile.

He was joking. But I am quite serious about my love for the vegetable that is popularly hated -- bitter gourd, also called bitter melon; karela in Hindi and pavakka in Malayalam.

It is said that this vegetable has medicinal properties, and if at all anyone likes it, it is because they were forced to eat it, when some health issue cropped up, when they were in their mid-forties or later. But not in my case. I have always liked it, right from childhood.

Most of the recipes have a few steps to reduce or totally remove the bitterness. But since I have no problem with the bitterness, I like it as fried or put in some curry, or plain boiled, or as juice. I know very few people who like this vegetable.

Much after I took a fascination for it, I learned that this vegetable, which is said to have originated in India, and is commonly used in many Asian countries, has a number of medicinal properties.

The most well-known is that it keeps the blood sugar level down, because it has a chemical that works like insulin. It works as an antioxidant, helps digestion, and is generally good for your well-being. Most of properties are attributed to widespread anecdotal evidences, and I am not sure if there is conclusive scientific proof to back them up.

It will be interesting to know if any of the readers of this post, has the same taste as I do.

(Know more about bitter gourd: Practo and WebMD)

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

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Ayurveda: the first, last or not an option?

When I fall ill, the choice of treatment also becomes an issue that I have to wrestle with, besides the sickness. Should I go to the nearby family physician, or go to the ayurveda doctor?

(For non-Indian readers of this blog, who might not be familiar with ayurveda, it's an ancient Indian system of medicine that bases its treatment method on the nature of the person, and derives its medicines from naturally available substances rather than chemicals. Read more about it here and here.)

When I think of taking the first option, images of strong antibiotics and severe side-effects they produce come to my mind. I wonder should I subject my body to such an onslaught of chemicals?

When I think of taking the second option, images of multiple tablets and kashayams (a bitter and pungent medicine in liquid form) come to my mind. There are so many diet restrictions. Some of the tablets might have to be dissolved in warm water. That's not an easy thing to do, given my crazy daily schedule. 

The clear divide

People who believe only in either of the two have no problem.

There are plenty of people who swear only by ayurveda. They don't go to an allopathic doctor, or take allopathic medicines. Even if they have unbearable pain or fever or an upset tummy, they resort to natural home remedies, rather than reach out for the easily available across-counter tablets.

Maybe the complete cure takes a few days. But they are very patient; and that in combination with their unshakeable faith in this system of medicine, brings them huge amounts of physical as well as psychological comfort, for sure. Their biggest relief is that their body system hasn't been polluted by chemicals during the process of healing.

There are also people who think ayurveda is all unscientific and unproven. They say doctors go by sheer intuition and prescribe medicines that no one is sure will work or not. And if the illness is not cured, another set of medicines are prescribed. They also say that doctors, if they know that the illness is grave, prescribe chemicals-based medicines that are camouflaged as ayurvedic medicines, so that the situation does not aggravate. Once the symptoms have disappeared, the trial and error of ayurveda begins.

Interestingly, many people who go to allopathic doctors, don't trust the doctor or medicines. If you ask them, why do they still go, their reply will be that there is no alternative. On the contrary, people who go to ayurvedic doctors, are never sceptical. They have full faith in both the doctor and the medicines.

Here is what I do

I go by the disease. If it is something that looks quite grave and demands immediate intervention, I go to an allopathic doctor. For example, a major cut or infection or tummy trouble. If needed, I will get a few tests done to get the diagnosis right. If the issue with some muscle or ligament or bone, or to do with the body system in general, then I go to an ayurvedic doctor.

A couple of years back, I was down with fever and body ache. Paracetamol tablets kept the temperature in check. Since the fever didn't go even after a few days, I got a blood test done for dengue and chikungunya. Both turned out to be negative. The fever totally disappeared after about a week. But the pain in the joints didn't go. There was also swelling on feet, more so on the right foot, which didn't subside.

The allopathic doctor told me to take pain killers and apply muscle relaxants, since all the tests indicated that there was no infection or any other serious issue. Then, I decided to head to an ayurvedic doctor. The progress was very very slow. She told me it's arthritic fever. It will take time. I limped around, kept feet at a raised level, so that the swelling will be less. It took as long as three months for me to get back to normal.

I know a person, who when diagnosed with a form of blood cancer, tried out ayurveda and then later had to undergo bone marrow transplant. It's been many many years, and he is hale and hearty. But, I have heard that people have got themselves cured of life-threatening infections, like cancer, with alternative medicines like ayurveda and homoeopathy.

It is all about your health and life. Choose what suits you! Medical treatment is also a lot about your faith in it. So, be it ayurveda or allopathy, believe in what you choose.

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