Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Crystal and the physics of kayaking

I went kayaking last weekend! Never thought I would kayak because a) the kayaks look like flimsy, non-reliable contraptions of doom and b) I have very miserable hand strength. I struggle with sealed water bottle caps…yes it is that bad.

But then I met Buck’s friend Chip. Chip is in his 50s (or 60s?), very active, athletic and enthusiastic about kayaking. He convinced me to give it a try and I thought okay, it can’t be that bad. I have rowed a boat in Powai or somewhere in Mumbai and I can swim albeit frog style. So I should be able to handle it. Happily I agreed and made my way to a kayaking lesson.

Chip of course was very excited and when we got to his house, we were confronted with 3 kayaks locked and loaded on top of his Jetta. How do you fit 3 kayaks on a medium sized 4-door car you ask? Apparently you need some basic knowledge of trigonometry, a little bit of integration and derivatizing and then multiply the whole thing with Plank’s constant to get a unique number that does not appear in the Fibonacci sequence. So obviously it is yellow, green and white from left to right, left and right being relative terms which you can figure out using Einstein’s constant of relativity. It is good to know all the constants, it evens out all the equations and stabilizes them. Man, was I glad I took all those math and physics classes or we would have never headed out to the water. Then to remember the order in which the Kayaks go on the car Chip came up with an acronym. Of course later on we forgot the acronym, so then we had to come up with another acronym to remember the first one. It is all very hazy now.

Lesson 1: Getting into the kayak.

Yeah, it starts there. How do you get into a wobbly kayak that is more tipsy than Jack Sparrow at 10 in the morning? First you take a journey through time and go back to the buoyancy lessons you took in the physics class. Multiply the kayak with the buoyancy constant to make the kayak stable and then leap ‘crouching tiger hidden slip disk’ style and aim to land straight into the kayak cockpit. If you try this, let me know how it worked out for you. Then you find your center of gravity which is usually right under your butt. Now it is time to bid good bye to land sweet land and make way to the watery grave.

Lesson 2: Rowing

Apparently you do not need hand strength to row a kayak if you are doing it correctly. The stroke requires you to use the abdominal and back muscles. I know what you are thinking. An ab workout in the middle of a lake? Where do I sign up?

It is pretty much like learning to ride a bike. You balance the kayak with your knees, if the wave tips the kayak to the right you lift your right knee which is wedged against the kayak side to lift it up. The trick is to not over compensate, coz once you get into a pendulum swing the sin theta will increase and what that means in layman terms is that you are about to swim with the fishes.

So that also brings up the other problem of rowing. The oar is held the same way one would hold a balancing stick on the tight rope. Then without bending the elbows too much you begin to row. To row correctly you need to swing your torso side to side. The problem with that is …you have to move the upper torso. Once you find your center of gravity, you don’t want to mess with the posture too much. So that’s the challenge. Add to that, an uneven strength in the strokes depending on whether one is righty or lefty. I being righty, the kayak kept steering to the left. So navigating was an added challenge.

I kept venturing out in the center of the lake because I felt the water was steadier there as compared to the water’s edge which had more of the ripples and waves. However, I realized that it was a very bad idea for a n00b to do that. Thankfully, my beginners luck spared me the agony of toppling into the water. However, Buck wasn’t as lucky. His kayak took a bad turn with gargantuan sin theta values and Buck was water bound. The important thing is not to panic. Even when you can’t feel the ground beneath your feet, which Buck didn’t. So now there was the task to get Buck ashore and tow the kayak and oar to the shore. Buck pretty much had to swim to the shore because we weren’t familiar with techniques of getting back into the kayak in the middle of the lake. Plus the gravitational constant is too high for you to do crouching tiger. Add to that Newton’s second and third law of motion. Buck as a result was left with little or no thrust.

I will stick with the shore next time.

Surprisingly Buck didn’t get psyched out by the dupki he took in the water and went for another round of kayaking. I on the other hand called it a day.

Lesson 3 is in July.

Meanwhile I found these videos of kayaking on you tube. Simply amazing. Hope you guys will get excited about kayaking after reading this post and put all your physics and math skills to test.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Alice in wonderland

I decided to take another plunge into the rabbit hole last week when I came across “The Annotated Alice”. This time around, I had a Gardner by my side, Martin was his name and he revealed that there were many a things left unexplored when I first visited wonderland. Cleverly hidden math riddles, wordplay and illustrations, I was dazzled by it all. Curiouser and curiouser as I got, alas a dreadful question I asked, which was quite so eloquently put by Smokie when they sang…

Twenty-four years just waiting for a chance,
To tell her how I'm feeling, maybe get a second glance,
Now I've got to get used to not living next door to Alice...
Alice, who the fuck is Alice?

Alice Liddell photographed by Lewis Carroll

So I had questions, more questions than Alice had for the dormouse, about Alice and the Dodo with the pen name called Carroll. I was curiouser, that he chose a little girl as the protagonist. Was he a feminist? A social activist perhaps? How did he concoct this fantastical fantasy land? Much to my chagrin, Wonderland started transforming into Michael Jackson’s Neverland and my now disturbed mind was filled with images of Carroll Carroll (as Vladimir Nabakov referred to Carroll, comparing him with Humbert Humbert from Lolita). In fact, in the introduction to the annotated Alice, which I had conveniently skipped and proceeded to jump deep into Wonderland enjoying tea parties and croquet, there was a disclosure of some circumstantial evidence that Carroll might have been…(gag)…a pedophile.

Lewis Carroll

Of course the moment I read that, I was filled with disgust and I felt a shudder as I wondered about Alice and other ‘child friends’ that Carroll made over the years. Who was Alice? Was she a fictitious character or one of Carroll’s child friends? Many believe that Carroll designed Alice after Alice Liddell, who was the daughter of Henry Liddell, a friend of Carroll. He described Alice Liddell as ‘a child of quite unearthly beauty.’

He wrote a letter to Alice Liddell after she got married stating, “I have had scores of child-friends since your time but they have been quite a different thing.” Gardner mentions that it is also known that Mrs. Liddell was suspicious of Carroll’s kinship with Alice and took measures to discourage their interaction. Mrs. Liddell all of the early letters to Alice. Carroll would often sign off his letters to his special friends as 10,000,000 kisses. However, in Gardner’s view Carroll’s intentions could not have been sexual.

Gardner also mentions that Carroll was adept at meeting little girls and would carry knick knacks to peak the girls’ interest. This would include safety pins to pin up the skirts of the little girls when they decided to wade in the water at the beach. He would sketch nude photos of his child friends with polite permission from the moms no less. Didn’t MJ have notes from mommas of his PJ buddies too?

Once Carroll offered a piece of blotting paper to a little girl who was drenched in sea water and said to her, “May I offer you this to blot yourself up?”

Whether Carroll was sexually interested in these little girl is something that is not clearly known. Some say in those days, taking nude photos of little girls did not have sexual connotations. Little girls would be admired for their purity and virgin beauty. Even so, I find that the way he sought out and consorted with little girls, was a bit odd.

Now I return to the mock turtle and the Duchess.

“Well, there was Mystery,” the Mock turtle replied, counting off the subjects on his flappers…

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Tale of Mrs. Fuddle-Dud

There was a 20-something chap called Vettickanakudy,
A dingy university apartment dweller and a bit moody.
He ate oodles of noodles,
Drew questionable doodles,
For a cruddy crap major chose he.

He drank gallons of tea,
Slurp slurp slurp went Vettickanakudy.
One day he sat feeling quite blue,
Under a lamp that cost just 2 smackaroos.
The tap leaked drippity drop,
The clock chimed tickety tock,
Just then Vettickanakudy thought,
He heard a hissy hiss no doubt.

Following the hissy hiss sound,
His eyes circled the room around.
And he spotted 6 legs in a hurry,
Crawling out of last night's putrid curry.
“Pudding and rotten curry, my what lovely treats,
I wish I had 6 hands instead of 6 feets."
Thus misspoke the owner of the hissy hiss,
Scurrying and scampering amid the messy mess.

“Why Mr. Creepy Roach,
That’s awful rude of you to encroach!”
Said Vettickanakudy now quite annoyed,
To find a Periplaneta Americana by his side.
Startled the roach lost its footing,
Down tumbled all the scrumptious pudding.
“Clearly you are the one to apologize,
Sorry Mrs. Fuddle-Dud would suffice.”

“Hey! You’ve been mooching off me since January end,
I saw you peeking and hiding under the cabinet bend.
If anything, you owe me apologies and monies,
For hogging my space and eating my macaronis.”
“It’s your own fault Mr. Vettickanakudy,
For leaving scrumptious snacks for a 6-legged foodie.
So now again I demand at once,
Say you are sorry for being a rude dunce.”

“Alright Mrs. Fuddle-Dud you make a good point,
I do have a habit of running a messy joint.
But before I go into a lengthy extenuation,
A teeny question precedes my self flagellation.”

Distracted by the big words Vettickanakudy used,
Mrs. Fuddle-Dud got a little confused.
“Can you tell me Mrs. Fuddle-Dud what’s the pixel size,
Of your peering dark globular black compound eyes?”
“Now that you ask, I must confess,
The compound eye resolution is a bit of a mess.”

“Well that explains why you did not see,
The red can of whoop ass lying just by me.”
Down came the mist, choking and all,
Vettickanakudy waited for the imminent fall.
Falling on her back with the slightest thud,
That was the end of Mrs. Fuddle-Dud.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Review: Pixar doesn't screw Up

I watched “Up” this weekend. The reviews are already in and it is, as they say, the must see movie of the year so far. I agree. It is worth going to the theater and shelling out $11.75 to watch it in 2D. I am not much of a 3D fan though. Chota chetan was the only movie I’ve ever watched in 3D. Other than that all my 3D experiences have been in Universal Studios. I’d rather not watch an entire movie in 3D. I think it would give me a headache. Plus I was hoping that most of the little buggers will go for the 3D version and so I should be able to enjoy the movie in an unadulterated fashion, uninterrupted by the dark shadows of dutiful parents escorting their bundles of joys to poo poo potties. No such luck.

Expectations can make or break a movie for me. Particularly high expectations…they tend to ruin movies for me. With Pixar I have continually gone in with increasingly demanding expectations and incredibly Pixar has not failed to deliver (with the exception of Cars. I have forgiven and moved on since). Wall-E surpassed my expectations, not only because of its inherent awesomeness, but because the previews for the movie were the most perfect previews I could ever ask for. Intriguing enough to make you want to go check it out, yet not revealing of the characters, plot and particularly jokes. I had no clue about where the plot would go in Wall-E and every scene unfolded, unraveled and kept me mesmerized. That’s the thing with jokes, they can knock you over with the punch line and make you roll on the floor hysterically first time around but the second time it is worth no more than a chuckle and then it stops being funny. So that was one my complaints with Up, I felt like there was too much given away in the previews.

The flying house and the dirigible were reminiscent of Miyazaki’s movies. However, unlike Miyazaki movies, this one left me with a lot of sadness which would probably go unnoticed by most viewers in their 20s or younger. I watched most of the movie teary eyed, feeling horrible about Carl Fredrickson’s life and feeling mushy about his memories and life with Ellie and what they had together and what they didn’t have together. It was one emotional roller coaster for me, tugging at my heart strings with that haunting thematic music score by Michael Giacchino. This was one Pixar movie where I cried more than I laughed.

There were some jokes in the movie which were what I’d consider cheap laughs. Alpha’s voice was not a source of entertainment for me, although I can understand that it is hard to appeal to such a wide range of audiences. It might have tickled the little buggers, who were actually quite amusing at times when they laughed hysterically at some silly antic like Russell climbing onto Carl’s face.

So although Pixar did not meet my expectations for this movie to be a 90 minutes long laugh riot, it was well worth making a trip to the theater. Another triumph for Pixar. “Adventure is out there!” Go watch it.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Jane Wendell - 2

Air France Flight 447 went missing in the Atlantic Ocean with 228 passengers and crew on board. Jane wondered what the passengers or the crew went through when that happened. Did they get to say their goodbyes to the loved ones at the airport before the plane took off? May be some of them were so lucky that they got to say a teary eyed goodbye in a warm embrace. May be some of them were flying home after a long lonely wait. There was a report of a young man on the flight who was heading back to France after attending his father’s funeral. Poor bastard…the irony…he spent his final days moping around for a loss that he didn’t have to bear for more than a few days. Or may be he hated his father and was glad that the old geezer finally kicked the bucket. How inappropriate of him, Jane thought. But Jane didn’t have all the facts to decide who was being inappropriate to whom.

Jane thought that a plane crash was one of the most horrific ways to die. But again, may be Jane didn’t have all the facts. There were reports of the plane losing cabin pressure and there were reports of no communication from the pilots. All the information was reported by the plane systems, or so the media led Jane to believe. Even the airplane systems didn’t seem to have the facts straight. There were contrary reports of the airspeed right before the crash. It was entirely plausible that the plane systems failed and that this in turn resulted in a sudden pressure drop. In such an event the definition of an ideal situation changes dramatically. Ideally, the oxygen masks should drop. The passengers and crew then have, depending on how fast the cabin pressure is plummeting, sometimes less than 15 seconds to put on the mask. Jane would never pay attention to the emergency instructions. Jane would think, much as most of the passengers on Air France Flight 447 probably thought, “What are the odds?”

And even if Jane would’ve paid attention, she could’ve never managed to put on the mask in less than 15 seconds. And would the odds be any better if panic and turbulence were added to the equation? Jane wouldn’t know. She was never any good with probability problems. But none of that would’ve mattered anyway.

If the cabin pressure had dropped suddenly, the passengers and crew would pass out. There would be no communication from the pilots. The media reports that there were no distress calls issued by the pilots. Jane could console herself by thinking that at least they didn’t suffer just like the Columbia crew on Feb 1, 2003.

Jane had once read somewhere that NASA gives the crew cyanide pills so that in the event of an imminent disaster the crew can choose to die a less painful death. She does not want to acknowledge that sometimes events can transpire rapidly and be completely out of ones control. That there are times when you run out of possibilities and choices to consider. In case of shuttle disasters, Jane clearly does not appreciate the gravity of the situation. Jane still believes that NASA provides instant death pills to every crew member.

Jane’s life is full of choices. Some of these choices are not even possibilities. But Jane doesn’t know that. Jane works very hard to keep it that way.

On a side note, although most if not all the passengers and the crew on Air France were born on different days and had different sun signs and the exact same planetary alignment as their counterparts on earth, only the ones on the plane met with the same fate.

Jane Wendell

Jane sat on the couch glancing out of the living room window. She felt much like the gloomy skies, dull and jaded. As always, things could be better and things could be worse.

The top story on the news today was about HIV positive men raping girls in Zimbabwe because they believed that having intercourse with a virgin would cure their disease. The youngest victim was reported to be a one month old baby. Was there anything at all that could’ve prevented this rape? Education, religion, faith? This man thought that it was okay to rape a one month old baby. What can anyone possibly say to this man to convince him that it is not okay to rape a baby? That it is not okay to rape anyone? Jane couldn’t think of one thing to say.

What is the solution then? Lock him up? For how long? What happens once he is released? Will he learn morality in prison? However, it is said that people can be reformed. Many find Jesus in prison. Nobody knows what crime Jesus committed.

There must be some law in Texas that would say “FRY ‘EM”. Many think it is not humane. That every motherfucker deserves a second chance. The tiger who mauled a zookeeper to death on May 27 in New Zealand was immediately shot to death. There was no room for debate. He turned on a human. The tiger deserved to die. He could not be reformed. It was the most humane thing to do.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009