All that glitters is not gold

In modern times there is a proliferation of media. Television and the internet is bombarding the average viewer with audiovisual content on a per-minute basis.  Adding to it we have the traditional media: magazines and newspapers. We have a lot of information literally on our fingertips. But there is a real possibility that a majority of the things we see, hear and read, and ultimately believe are simply not true.

The late Steve Jobs of Apple Computers said in 2003 to the media, “I’m not convinced people want to watch movies on a tiny little screen.” Again, in 2004, he reiterated that Apple is concentrating on music, and not going to make a video iPod. And the next year, in 2005, the company unveiled its first video iPod.

So, at the time of Steve Jobs’ announcement that his company will not be producing a video iPod they were actively considering one. Though it became apparent that he was lying blatantly when he claimed that Apple will never make certain products, which it eventually did; Jobs was only appreciated for his management wiliness rather than being called a liar.

Reported speech often goes totally wrong. Media will report that someone said something, and after sometime it turns out that what was being said was entirely different. Sometimes it is even the opposite of the actual truth.

Politicians and businessmen talk a lot of stuff to the media. A lot of that is political rhetoric and well-thought-out jargon. There might not be an iota of truth in such statements. Yet, the media reports such statements verbatim and we automatically believe what is being printed as true.

Our emotions also influence our beliefs. If we really want the Indian cricket team to win, every news we read will be biased to that extend. We simply tend to ignore any news that is to the contrary. And if we do not like a particular sport star, any news that is defamatory we will imbibe and accept as true.

It is often accused that winners write ‘history.’ Alexander III of Macedon, commonly known as Alexander the Great, is depicted no less than a Greek God in his statues. I have heard that some historians claim that Alexander the Great was in reality of small stature (about 5’ 2” tall) and not-at-all good looking. He will forgive me if I am wrong.

Need for speed

It was the year 1995. I was in the hospital bed reading The Economic Times. My attention turned to a feature about a very young man called Marc Andreessen who became an overnight millionaire when his company Netscape went public. Marc Andreessen had co-developed a browser called Mosaic which was the first widely used web browser, and the precursor toward the highly successful Netscape Navigator. The internet was still in its nascent stage and Netscape Navigator was the first web browser for many people. Microsoft was alarmed and they soon developed (and bundled it with Windows) the Internet Explorer.

In those days, computer memory or RAM as we call it was measured in MBs rather than in GBs. A computer running Windows 98 with 64 or 128 MB of RAM was powerful enough in terms of speed. Then came Windows XP. I remember I had to upgrade my PC and when I did, I had chosen a computer with a clock speed of 1.4 GHz with 128 MB of RAM running Windows XP. It had an antivirus running in the background as well as a firewall. It was so fast that I do not remember any difference in speed with the computers we use today that boasts of a few gigabytes (GB) of RAM inside it.

In the good old days of Windows 98 and Windows XP, every computer magazine or journal were abuzz with predictions that hardware improvement is happening so fast that it will take some time for software developers to write code that takes full use of the hardware that is rapidly coming across. Fast forward to the present time, were we see a scenario where we are connected to the internet and the computer we use demands more and more of memory, no matter how many GBs of RAM are already installed.

Does it mean that the software engineers have found out ways to write code that utilizes the RAM our current systems have? Hmm. Only partially. For me, in modern systems the biggest memory hog is the browser we use. Netscape Navigator has shut down and Internet Explorer is on the way out. The top two browsers for Windows-based PCs are Chrome and Firefox.

Check this out for yourself. Just open a couple of tabs in your browser and press Ctrl+Alt+Delete. Choose ‘Start Task Manager’ from the options and click on ‘Processes’. You can see the huge difference between the memory the browser uses and the memory that is being used by other applications.

Modern browsers suffer from “memory leak” among other challenges i.e. when we close a tab, the tab gets closed but it still may hog memory in the background. If your system is low on memory, restarting the browser will solve the issue for the time being.

I wish if someone develops a browser that is fast, resource-friendly, and secure. I am not a geek, but I still use a text-only browser called Lynx which takes only a couple of MBs from my data plan even after hours of usage.

We are what we eat

Food is essential for our body for producing energy as well as for growth and maintenance of cells – the basic constituents of our body. So what we eat is of paramount importance to our health and well-being.

Modern nutritionists are of the view that we should reduce the number of calories we consume everyday. And add more fruits and vegetables into our diet. Red meat and foods rich in saturated animal fats are a strict no-no. Alcohol consumption should be reduced to one or two drinks, not more that three times a week.

But personally, I believe that diet and nutrition is much more of a personal thing. A lot of research that is taking place is based in the United States which is a developed country, and whose people have got a habit of consuming the so called “junk food”. Obesity, especially among children is endemic there and most of the advice we see in the media is directed toward their people.

I believe that one’s diet should be more in tune with factors like age, body type, and activity level. Nutritionists will also agree. A growing child who is attending school needs a diet that is nutritious and has more calories than a daily laborer who does bimanual labor. Also, certain people are lean and lanky and they can have a little bit more of fat and calories than the ‘fat” men of their age.

Also, people who do a lot of physical activity, like, sportsmen and people who do manual labor need more calories than people who lead a more sedentary lifestyle.

When thinking about dietary-advice a story comes into my mind.

A young Kerala doctor went to a foreign country for her graduation and when she came back she took charge in a government hospital. One poor farmer came to see her. He is thin and frail as a pencil. She metes out her advice to him.

“Do not consume high-fat foods. Stay out of red-meat, fried foods, and egg yolks. And do not consume more than a couple of drinks per week”.

The joke that was never published

Reader’s Digest invites original jokes and anecdotes from their readers. And they promise to give a grand (Rs 1000/-) for every joke or anecdote they publish. Last year, I decided to send them one anecdote from my life. But it never got published.

According to the editors of the Reader’s Digest, they get a lot of similar stuff on a daily basis. They have got this screening process where they check every joke they receive for authenticity. Reader’s Digest say, sometimes they search randomly in the internet; and a joke someone had sent would pop up from another part of the world.

I am still hopeful. One day they decide that they publish my joke, and their readers will enjoy it; and I hopefully get my money. Anyway, for my readers here is the joke that I had sent.

This is from the 1st Year Pre-Degree Chemistry labs. One student even after a battery of tests was unable to find the result. Here he goes:

ALL IN A DAY’S WORK

In the chemistry labs, our assignment was to find out what salt we’re given in the clear solution by treating it with different chemicals and heating them. I was really engrossed in the work when I overheard a classmate, incidentally one of the brightest in the class, remark, “I think I’m given tap water for testing.”

Adding another dimension to our thoughts

A dot in space theoretically is of one dimension. Anything drawn on paper has two dimensions i.e. length and breadth. And 3-D objects are of three dimensions, namely, length, breadth and volume. Likewise, many times, especially when reading, say, from a newspaper; our comprehension of everything lacks a few dimensions.

Pravda is a famous Russian Political Newspaper. It has got an English edition also. A few years back, reports were aplenty that their standards have become so low that their English edition was tantamount to a collection of jokes. One example from their July 18, 2006 edition:

“Many US tabloids have been flooded with rumors that George and Laura Bush are to divorce after November elections. George and Laura Bush hardly ever speak to each other. A former employee of the presidential administration has reportedly told that Laura Bush once spent her night in a hotel to stay away from the White House. The reason: Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State.”

For me, I suspect how many Russians speak or read languages other than Russian? And if this the quality of reporting there, what would be their view about the outside world?

Back home, for a long time in my life I believed that Jesus went to the desert to start his 40-day fast. He had gone to a desert like the Sahara desert. Or the Thar desert in India. Because, in the Malayalam Bible the word-that-was-chosen-for-it was also synonymous with the word desert. But when I started reading English Bible, I had known that he simply retreated to the wilderness. He went to a desolate place. Simply put, he had gone to a place where nobody was there.

Also in the Bible when talking about divorce, Jesus is mentioning Moses’ law that a husband was able to give his wife a “vessel of divorce” and be able to get divorce from her. But in the English Bible, it states that Moses allowed men to get divorce just by giving a “divorce note.”

Again, I went back to the Malayalam Bible and found out that all these years, while reading through, I have been unwittingly adding a jot (or a tittle) to the Malayalam script which made all the difference causing it to change the meaning from a letter (a divorce note) to a utensil (vessel of divorce).

The moral: Learn another language. Or if we know two languages learn another one also. It will increase the dimensions of our comprehension and will enable us to view the world in 3-D.

The problems of our economy

In 1991 India decided to do away with socialism and embrace capitalism. Economy was opened up, licenses were liberalized, and foreign direct investments were allowed. I am a member of the Roman Catholic Church and our economic policies are much more in tune with socialism rather than capitalism or communism. Before I state the problems of our economy let me explain these economic terms a little bit.

In capitalism, the consumers are supposed to benefit. We do a job and amass a capital. And that capital is again used to amass more capital. With the capital we buy goods and services. Consumers have choice to buy or not to buy a product or service. And the consumer is king.

In communism, the idea of distribution of wealth is different. Everyone works for the common good of the society. For the state. And the state looks after the welfare of the workers, of its citizens. Workers are supposed to enjoy fair treatment and greater benefits.

In socialism, it is a mix of the above both. Free capital is allowed unlike in communism, but the state still provides a lot of public services for the common good of their citizens.

In India, socialism has purportedly failed because it became the worst of both worlds rather than the other way around. Instead of showing the good qualities of both communism and capitalism, our bureaucracy; corruption, and especially corruption in the bureaucracy ensured that socialism failed.

Let us examine the state of affairs as we see in our present world.

China is currently the epitome of communism. If I were in China and got married and had a few children there is a possibility that I might be jailed. The Communist party there decides how many children their citizens should have. As a human being who believes in freedom, I simply do not like that.

Exploiting factory workers in China by locking them up in dormitories and feeding them a few packs of biscuits before making them work on making iPhones is human-rights-violation in the United States, not in China. What did you think about the low-cost of Chinese products, uh?

So the system supposedly made to help the workers is exploiting them. Certain industrialists in Kerala support the Communist Party for no other reason. Communism is flawed.

Capitalism is made for the consumers. Right? After making soda in sugared water American Capitalists sell it for exorbitant sums of money. How? By the help of advertising and marketing. Everything is traded in the United States of America, currently the most powerful nation in the world. Services, goods, aerated water, human beings themselves. For what? For capital.

The homeless-man seeking alms in front of the bakery and sleeps in the pavement might be a former soldier there in the U.S. Since he has no capital and has lost the ability to earn capital he sleeps in the street. Other men are totally busy in earning their capital. Capitalism is evil.

I am not paraphrasing the book Freakanomics here. One former home minister in Kerala said that they are going to increase the number of Police personnel here. What will happen?

For me, the number of criminals and acts of crime will also equally increase. A balancing act.

We have to bring back an economic system where there is freedom for all human beings, freedom to choose, the right for trade, and where there is support to live and where the dignity of work and the honor of life is acknowledged.

Theory of Relativity

It was already nightfall, and I was returning home pushing my bicycle along, walking. I was coming back after a few games of cricket or tennis, I do not exactly remember. I used to play both during those days. I was giving side to a vehicle that overtook another vehicle, both coming from the opposite side, when I tripped over a narrowing of the road and fell to a depth of about 10 feet. That area of the road was not as broad as the road in general which had a small bridge that had no railings. I tripped and landed 10 feet below and my head banging against a boulder as I fell face down.

I felt pain and shock, my body became still, and I can hear the sound of vehicles plying overhead through the road. I was down under about the side of the road, prone, and though my mind was conscious since I can hear vehicles plying, I was not able to move a limb. Any attempt to move the body was met with extreme pain and agony. Helplessness. I was dreadful.

After some time, I was able to stand up and I realized that I had blood drawn from the gash on the forehead. I stood up, took my bicycle from that waterless-canal and climbed higher onto the road. My shirt was wet with blood oozing down from the forehead.

Then a few people started to gather. One man helped me with the rim of the bicycle which had turned to one side. While he was straightening the front-tire by putting it in-between his legs, another person asked me what had happened. I started to talk, but my speech started to slur.

Like I had just eaten something extremely cold, like an ice-cream. I was in my late teenage years, and everyone started saying that I was drunk and fell into the ditch inebriated. It was a common man’s gathering. At least some people were trying to make everyone believe, including me, that they believed that I was drunk.

Some people asked me to go to the hospital. I politely said no. I did not have a habit of going to the hospital. I took my bicycle and proceeded to my house. I had to push the bicycle for sometime because my body was shivering and arms were feeling numb. Even before I reached my house, I started to feel that everything was normal and my mind started to drift toward mundane things. In my house I dressed up the wound applying Burnol. I was fine soon.

In hindsight, there are a few lessons that I learned from the incident. First is that a teenager can take a blow like that. Currently, I can’t fancy taking the bicycle from the ditch, climbing higher, and going back home. I still would love to do that, but I am unsure if I would dare it. Going to the hospital is a safer bet.

Second lesson is that no one would know the magnitude of an incident while it happens and when you are too close. In 2004, during the Indian-Ocean-tsunami more than 200,000 people died. A massive earthquake in the seabed had triggered tsunami-waves across the Indian Ocean. If I were in the seafront during the Tsunami and had escaped undead, my personal experience would not have been too much different.

Our body and mind have a mechanism built-in to deal with emergencies, and what matters is the outcome that whether you survived or not. When the big picture arrives and when you sit back and look it from another perspective, any comparison vis-à-vis the magnitude of the things that had happened serves only academic interest.