Sunday, August 31, 2008

Get there faster

Most main streets have a co-ordinated traffic light system, timed to allow vehicles that have hit one green to pass through uninterrupted for as long a stretch as possible.

That said, if as a driver, your route involves turning onto a side street, your luck with the lights gets scrambled.

The timing of the lights is usually pre-programmed and in phases, accounting for variables such as offering independent lefts, rush-hour, etc. There are newer real-time reactive systems that account for unexpected traffic volume and the like, but for the most part, the lights have a state machine controller that pre-accounts for several traffic-related variables before spitting out an optimal light-changing schedule.

Given such a case, how about feeding the timing sequence of these lights into your GPS unit? That way, when mapping a route to your destination, the unit would consider the posted speed limits on all of these roads, traffic conditions (another real-time GPS input easily available these days) and how far you are from the next traffic light. The unit would then map a route that would take you through the most green lights, even if it meant a bit of a longer distance, with the goal being either fuel economy or a shorter drive time.

There you go, more $$ I've just given away :)

P.S. On a tangential note, I'd read UPS delivery trucks have routes mapped out for them that have no left turns so that the truck never gets stuck at a light. Saves a lot of time, PLUS the driver doesn't have to worry about explaining the shorts to whoever pulls up alongside at a light.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My low-key Kung-Fu - II

This post centers on movement. I'm condensing a couple of concepts here, so I hope you'll forgive the abrupt tone.

The moving mind

We're all trying to push mountains, whether it's in combat (or conflict - not necessarily physical), towards some collaborative effort, or simply an individual effort to become a better people. All of these mountains are easier moved when we can understand what's on the other side, i.e. what's
(a) stopping the mountain from moving and
(b) where we want the mountain to finally end up.

To do this, consider being able to dance around the mountain. The notion here is that the mountain isn't insurmountable. As far as obstacles go, the mountain exists in fewer dimensions than we can look beyond. Here are some of the dance styles you might consider -
(i) The possibility to physically dominate the mountain
(ii) to intellectualize a tunnel through the mountain or
(iii) to wear it down through will-power

*Note that will-power is not a fixed-quantity commodity. It's very muscle-like. Exercise it to depletion, and over a realizable period, it'll nourish itself back to where you began and then some.

Degrees of movement

The idea here isn't necessarily physical movement. Here are some of the degrees.

(i) Hum
This is code for 'faster than the mind can perceive', producing a low hum. Muhammad Ali, Usain Bolt, Einstein, Tagore, they're all hummers, whether it be in the form of their world record sprints or just the magnitude of their achievements, measured by volume and impact.

(ii) Skeet
This movement form is seen in a winning street fighter - move more effectively than your opponent. You don't have to be quick, this degree of movement is viewed relative to the context.

(iii) Slide
This movement form enables streamlining. Flying a kite, growing older gracefully, paying your taxes - all of these are examples of the slide, where movement is in keeping with the immediate environment, causing the least disruption while allowing natural flow.

(iv) Dam
Ahimsa's a good example - where you stand upright against the wind. In doing so, you begin to discover your center of gravity, and adjust your stance accordingly. This stillness takes the most toll on your body, and has the least impact on your conscience.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My low-key kung-fu - I

Over the last couple of weeks, I've tried to initiate myself into the world of combat by auditing some wing chun kung-fu classes. Initially, the idea was to get in another form of physical activity, and if as a side-effect, I achieved some mystical, oriental tranquility in the process, I'd take it. The idea's begun to evolve already, and hopefully in the days to come it'll become part of my philosophy. Here are the seeds.

When someone bumps into us on the street and doesn't apologise, our senses flare up. There's anger, confusion, sadness -we were just minding our own business, being conscientous of our manners and taking care not to spill any bit of ourselves onto others on the street so why did we just get roughed up like that? By a stranger, no less...Surely we didn't deserve it?

All this emotion for a simple shoulder bump.

What then if we're actually assaulted? It's disturbing if you seriously picture it, and a lot more scarring when it actually happens to you. You don't see it coming, but you suddenly feel the shock of physical pain, inflicted purposefully, and there's little about it that's friendly. It was meant to cause some degree of trauma. The why isn't important here, just the act and its repercussions.

I know I'd be reeling from a punch long after my body had forgotten about it. This is because I wouldn't be able to distance myself emotionally from the attack. Ego, personality and injury would all tie into an indistinguishable lifeless form, dragging me down with it.

These kung-fu classes (boxing classes would've worked just as well - no oriental philosophy yet) have started to teach me how to physiologically react to assault. The differences between this class environment and the street assault scenario are (a) the surprise component is low here because we're expecting to be attacked (this is the downside) and (b) there's no underlying malintent. You start to separate personality from the action.

Of course, I'm not kung-fuing to win. I just really love my noodle soup.

More to come on how far I get with my kung fu zen.

Friday, August 22, 2008

News - Friday Aug 22

*I'm going white-water rafting and cliff-jumping today. I obviously haven't learnt my lesson. I'm praying I return in one piece. I'm also praying that something slightly untoward happens ;-), stay tuned*

Update (Aug 24) - All of it went by the script. Each rapid, each wave played out its role. The raft obliged, taco-ing up on itself each time. I jumped off a cliff as well, and managed not to face plant. By the end of it, I was drenched to the bone, but left feeling just a tad dry. Nirawsh.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


A close friend posted recently that he'd begun to feel old.

During the last year of our teens, I'd wished him a happy birthday as best I could sitting in a different country, and without a credit card. I was hopeful the "thought-that-counts" would go a long way :)

Anyways, here's a letter I sent him, it's obviously fairly personal, and dripping adolescence (which in my case may just be a terminal condition).

You turn twenty soon. Older than me.A year. Not that much of a difference really. Not agewise, not otherwise either. I'm sorry I'm not around for that monster hug. Only email sending possible. Could've sent an e-card also, but that's not worth even the thought.

Maybe on this day, we could've gone to Angeethi, and settled ourselves in for a stuffing the likes of which the manager's never seen before. Maybe we could've gone to watch the James Bond flick after that..Of course, we'd drown the movie with our snoring. And at the end of the movie, we'd be back out on the streets..Normally, we'd just get out our respective modes of transp. and head homewards (Marvel and yamaha 100cc)..But not this time..Bday doesn't come every month. This time, we'd draw up a list of chaps from school or elsewhere (max of three), and then buy bus tickets to Kodai. Give call to old uncles/aunties, let them know we'll be back in three days. So, no luggage, minimal amount of money (definitely enough for return trip), three other chaps (optional), and we're Kodai bound by nine pm sharma travels bus. Reminiscent of that Jaguar trip last year? well, what to do? I'm just real predictable..

But this isn't any distant future..this is happening now. We polish off dinner at some darshini, and get on the bus, with only the clothes we're wearing. We're pretty gung-ho about having some major discussion through the night, but we're asleep by ten..wake up at 5:00am, bus is climbing some weird's still dark outside..not black, but maybe a deep blue...some retard left his window open in the front of the bus..bloody cold..Sharma's given each passenger a thin blanket..wrap yourself up well..through the window, you can make out the silhouettes of stunted mountain can see the valley down far below..and you can see misty clouds enveloping the rocks, the way sleep's enveloped the other passengers.
Wake me up..Wake up other guys if there are any..all have terrible breath...For a moment, we're a little stunned, as to why we aren't in our bedrooms..then it comes back. And we realise how young we are, and yet old enough, so we can chill..It's all good, all good.

Bus stops at small tea stall, for driver to take a leak, and a sip of tea. We trundle out too..He's surprised..didn't expect anyone to be up this early..Nothing like overboiled tea leaves in a syrup of milk to drive away the sleep. Three rupees..each..highway robbery.. People around the stall busy themselves over their kadai-s, pumping up their small gas stoves, heating the oil to start frying the morning bondas..pretty cold at this altitude..We're still celebrating your birthday, so we get the first order of fries...even the locals are wearing sweaters and monkey caps..we've only got thin blankets..but the hot batter fried stuff does wonders for our chilly insides.

And this, saar, is just the journey..We haven't even gotten to the party. We will. Real soon. Happy Birthday man.

It's been a few years since, and we still haven't gotten around to it. We're at that age now where we think we've outgrown this teen/tween sentimentality. I hope we haven't, but we'll know for sure only when we actually get on that bus.

Saar, you listening?

Rain today

Beautiful article at the link below on how america (or those who can afford it) pursues happiness at the cost of doing away with the opposite end of our emotional spectrum.

The article talks about our obsession with eliminating melancholia, and finding happiness in every walk. Each life an individual shangrila. Not isolation, but happiness all around. We try to do away with sadness and pain, and so injure the muse. Happiness slowly becomes the norm and everything else is an aberration that needs treating. And so we have pills to make us happy.

*Like the author of the article, I'm not knocking the seriousness of clinical, manic depression. I'm just talking about the lighter variety.*

Happiness is a broad term though. There's that question "wouldst you dance in the rain or be free from pain?". Romantically, the answer's obvious. Practically, it's the latter. Not that the choice has been offered, but ideally, you should want to enjoy dancing even if you are in pain.

And finally, there's the danger of losing our definition of happiness if we constantly try to do away with the baseline reference of unhappiness. There are parts of this article I don't subscribe to but I'd like to project here - I hope our capitalist mentality helps us preserve the concept of 'degrees of happiness'. This'll help us come to peace with our stock (because we know it can always be worse).

This stillness against the race for happiness is another kind of tranquility, one that helps a new kind of happiness blossom.

*Update* - I realise I started this post by plugging that melancholia article, but the forecast called for sunshine today.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Culture club

In trying to decide whether I need an iPhone, I was confronted with several questions about my sense of identity that I thought I'd buried (the questions, not the sense of identity) when I emerged out of my teens.

The first had to do with why I wanted the iPhone. I'm still convinced it's only because my little Ericsson has caused me enough grief, and the frustration I've borne deserves a reward. Thing is though, by ascribing to the iPhone culture, I also join a club (no longer exclusive, given volume of iphone sales).

I'm averse to joining clubs for the sake of joining them. The problem is that this non-club joining mentality (sure, call it non-conformity) drops me right into another club.

The other trouble, again cutting to my pith, has to do with this pressure to be an early adopter - whether of technology, ideas, lifestyle or anything in between. (Have you read Fassbinder? NO?? Oh, but you must! He's the Goethe of our times!..No, he hasn't published yet, but here's the address of his blog).

That I've considered the iPhone only just now reveals I haven't given in to this culture. But the pressure's been there.

And it only gets worse. By the time (if ever) I end up owning an iPhone, it's going to be on its way out. And not just technology-wise. I won't draw a parallel to fashion because that monster 180s on itself all the time. But I'd be like the guy that's just bought a Hummer. I'd draw sneers of reproval even if the instrument worked well for me.

Eventually, after I come to grips with being an early adopter, I'd have to evolve into an early discarder. It's that fine line between "I want one because everyone else has one" and "Everbody has one, I need something else".

I think you know how I'm going to wrap up this post.

My crappy Ericsson lives to fight another day.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


I went kayaking this past weekend, at a place not far from this millwheel on bracebridge in northern Ontario ( It's a pretty sight here, and I'm just glad I've lived to tell the story.

It was my third time kayaking. They'd vanned us out to a point from where it was to take us an hour to get back via kayak. It was mid-afternoon, we were on a winding stream with a gentle current.

After lazing a while, letting the current do the work, I decided to put my back into it, and pulled ahead of the others. The vistas changed with every bend in the stream, beginning with open country on either side of the stream to a more wooded landscape as the current began to pick up. The faded dry-green facade quickly changed into a deep, pulsating forest-green. With the water speeding up, rocks sprung from the water-bed, and the earlier light gurgling of the stream gave way to animated arguments where water met rock.

I hadn't realised it, but I'd missed the sign that asked kayakers to dock. The aerodynamics of rowing with the rapids took up all of my mindspace. Insert the oar's blades into the water at an angle that least disrupts the kayak's lines. Don't push the water, pivot the boat using the oar as fulcrum. Accelerate the blade rapidly (m/s^3) so that the oar builds on the kayak's momentum instead of subtracting from it. I was creating my own little Beijing.

It was possibly an hour past the stopping sign that I realised I'd probably missed it. By now, the stream was a river. A shallow one, but one that looked remarkably like the picture above. Beautiful, and alive. Far be it from me to claim any kayaking expertise, but I was having the time of my life dodging rocks, and ducking under ash-white branches that were drawn towards the river. Each new bend, each rapid was a mini-challenge. There was a point that I perfectly jumped a five-foot straight drop waterfall in my kayak. I learnt later that I wasn't supposed to have been that lucky. Rather, that my kayak should've tipped and that I should've hit my head against some rocks. I'd have been easily found then.

By now, I was looking for a spot that I could lodge my kayak, realising that the further I went, the higher the chances I was going to get lost. The river goaded me on some partly by how beautiful it was, and partly by sheer dominance.. The rapids were in no mood to help me break my journey.

Three hours into this my kayak finally lodged itself in the branches of a dead tree that had fallen across the river. I was unhurt, and quickly got out of the kayak as water gushed into it.
There was forest on either side, and I had little knowledge about the geography of the area. I hadn't seen any signs warning of bears, but then, with it approaching dusk, my delicate urban sensibilities would've been ruffled by any carnivore. I decided I was better off making my way upriver rather than trying my luck in the woods. The river was wider than I've managed to show in this picture above, but it gives you an idea of the forest on either side.

I walked along the sides of the river, so that I could clutch onto the underbrush to help push against the current. My sneakers were soaked, but with every step into the water, I felt like I was redefining the concept of saturation. The river bed was not just slippery because of the moss, but at various points, it'd suddenly change depth. Here a foot deep, and there, five. I broke off a long, unwieldy branch that seemed to have extended itself for the purpose, and poked at the rocks on the bed to see if they were truly part of the bed, or if they were just playing possum until I stepped on them. I fell a few times and the current pushed me back some meters, but I was making positive overall progress against the current.

There were times when branches hung so low over the river that the only way to get past would be to take a deep breath and swim below them, against what was quite a rough current. It wouldn't be as much swimming as much as using these same branches to pull my way past them. At other times, I'd turn back and head to a uniformly shallower part of the river so that I could swim-crawl on all fours to the other bank, hoping I'd have better luck moving upriver on that side.

I could no longer see the sun, and though there was still some light, the green of the woods was fast changing into a darker, deadlier colour. I had already called out for help a couple of times without any real conviction, as though it was just a step towards my rescue. Now, I realised how much hope and desperation my next call would have. And as I shouted for help, I knew I wasn't going to get a reply, it was that densely wooded and that remote. And all of it felt so primal. This base instinct for survival tempered with an illogical attempt at dignity. Articulated in a foreign language, limited to a single word. "Help". Not "HELP!!!!". I hope I haven't let on I'm scared. It'd be funny if they find me and say, "Hey, don't you know there's a path behind that oak there? leads right to our cottage. We're having a barbeque. Join us?"

But as the minutes ticked by and with no help to be had, I found instincts I didn't know were in me. Instincts, not courage. Courage is a choice, instinct is your subconscious taking over. I'd scraped the skin off my thumbs a little while earlier and when I grabbed onto a log to stop me falling, I felt a shock, a sting so intensely painful that I cried out. I'd normally have dropped everything to treat it, but my instincts had prioritized things for me. The sting was secondary. Survival primary. I needed to get to a vantage point, and if there wasn't one on hand, I needed to find a dry spot to spend the night on before it got too dark to see.

I was crawling back across the river to the other side when I heard a shrill whistle. I looked up to see a canoe rounding the bend, two men pointing excitedly at me.

I'd known it wouldn't be hard for them to find me. I'd kayaked a finite number of hours downstream. I was making my way back going the most logical search path any rescuers would take. But I'd be lying if I said I hadn't seen this playing out in some other ways as well.

Later, when my feet were on land, I looked at my thumb, wondering why such a clean patch of scraped skin would sting as much as it did. A tiny worm emerged from under my skin. It had made pincer-like holes in my flesh at a few points, from which an oily secretion flowed. Later this just turned into tiny droplets of blood. Blood I know. Blood I can deal with.

A friend asked me if I felt stronger for the experience. I didn't know what to tell him.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Lean to the right

I'm convinced there's beauty in asymmetry too. It gives me a hint of something unnatural that went before, or that there's layers and nuances within.

In numbers - a portrait of something solitary, the third person in a crowd of three and so on.

In a face - a scar, a lazy eye.

In music - a 7th chord, the one baton a conductor uses, the third tenor, shikar taal.

In food - I can't think of how asymmetry applies here. Perhaps in how sashimi doesn't need to be washed down with a salad. Here, I'm thinking asymmetry in nutritional content. Or maybe I'm just hungry.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The intelligence paradox

There are a few paradoxes surrounding the general concept of intelligence. Most of them are academic constructs, making no notable points. I've listed a couple here. The second one is a good take-away, and possibly something to reflect on as we go about building our lives following markers that society defines as measures of intelligence and success.

1. The un-PC paradox: Yes, I've named it myself. It's a throwback to a pet topic, Darwin's theory of evolution. Ideally, as we tend to infinite time, the selected random mutations in our DNA should make us supermen. This conceivably includes our becoming super-intelligent as well. The paradox however is in the reality of our times, economic and social. Those of our species considered to be elitely intelligent tend to have way fewer children than the lesser-blessed crowd. These are raw statistics. The intelligence gene pool is skewed towards devolution. Random dna mutations vs a lesser number of intelligent pro-creators.

And then there's

2. The intelligent life -

Society pushes the more intelligent beings of our species to take up jobs that demand they use this intelligence to the fullest capacity. As a result, an intelligent person ends up becoming a lawyer juggling five corporate cases, or an investment banker paying meticulous attention to her commas and zeroes. This leaves them with fewer mental cycles to exercise their intelligence for themselves, having sold most of it off to the highest bidder.

The blue-collar joe then becomes today's thinker. A big step for joe, a smaller step for mankind.

As a result, the sum total of our intelligence is hard-pressed to grow. Call it the devolution of intelligence, or just the paradox that holds us back.