Monthly Archives: November 2007

So what is it?

We have this ongoing Puzzle fest at work. Someone puts up a puzzle on the whiteboard and we all try to solve it whenever we get a chance between busy sessions of cranking code. Lends excitement, fosters debate, sometimes fierce and helps build camaraderie. Our CEO who sits in an office couple of doors away from mine, is simply amazing at solving these incredibly fast. He solved this Mensa puzzle in under 3 minutes while my office-mate and I were still trying to understand what the puzzle was all about.

Recently, I put up this one.

What is pronounced the same in ALL languages?

This “puzzle” is kind of “invented”. Googling hasn’t come up, yet, with any reference to the question, so for now, I’m taking credit for “inventing” it.

Anyways, what is the answer you ask. The answer I thought was suitable is “Your Name”. My argument is, your name is the sound your parents deemed to represent your name. Most times this is usually in your native tongue. Jim, our CEO took issue and said it’s not the case. The case in the point is Jesus. In English it is pronounced as Jee-sus. However, ask a Mexican and he will say its Hey-soos. The “J” pronounced like the English “H”. But I argued that Jesus is an English name and its still Jesus in any language. The J is an English character and Spanish just happens to use the same character to represent the sound made by English “H”. I argued that “Jim” is “Jim” in any language and if a Mexican called him Mr. Him he would take exception.

 But then you can argue that some languages do not have certain sounds. Take my name. Ramesh. The English characters R-A-M-E-S-H DO NOT represent the true sound of my name in Sanskrit or my native language Kannada. It’s just an approximation. English does not have the “Ra” sound, at least as for as I know. The “R” is rolled like the “R” sound in burrito. So is my name pronounced the same in English and Sanskrit based languages? I think my argument breaks downs and I have to concede that Jim is right.

My office-mate, Greg, has an answer that I think is way better than mine and close to ideal.

Music.

Music is the “pronounced” the same in all languages. Music theory may be different in different cultures, but the sounds that represent music in one language is the same in another.

So, dear reader, what do YOU think is pronounced the same in ALL languages? Or does this question not have a good answer?


So long, Business 2.0

The dot-com era gave raise to many excesses. It was during the height of the bubble that a magazine was launched. Business 2.0just could not print enough about all things dot-com. It started out as a monthly, grew in size, moved to fortnightly, grew more and it looked as if it was all set for a stellar ride. Soon after the bubble burst, Business 2.0 went back to being a monthly and later switched to only 11 issues annually. All the while the magazine kept getting thinner and thinner.

I kind of liked the new, slimmer version. The articles were bite sized and could be consumed in less than 10 minutes. Ideal for bathroom reading. Om Malik, a former senior writer, discovered early on the potential of blogging and fled to start his own blog. Something just did not seem right, Yet the magazine arrived month after month and I read it from cover to cover. After being a subscriber for so long I even wrote my first letter to the editor. I guess that nailed it. Last month, finally Business 2.0 gave up and announced that they are folding.

I am sad to see Business 2.0 go. I have read every issue cover to cover and just could not get enough of it. So long friend. You will be missed. Yet another casualty of the dot-com bubble.


Hero Worship

Nowhere is hero worship taken to an extreme than in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. To truly understand the meaning of the word Fanatic, you need to witness the frenzy around the release of any movie starring Rajanikanth as the hero. Elaborate milk-baths (abhisheka) are given to, not the living breathing actor , but to giant plywood cutouts of the actor’s profile. What a waste. Why not just donate the milk to needy poor kids. One day’s calcium requirement can be satisfied. The people of Tamil Nadu are truly unique. You will find Tamils in all walks of life and some of the smartest Indians hail from Tamil Nadu. You will find people at either end of the IQ spectrum. This is not to say that other classes of people do not have such a wide distribution but I think they are a truly unique, fanatic people.

Now, what fascinates me is not the fanaticism of Tamilians, but the human nature that causes it. Why does a human being feel so compelled to blindly worship another, a movie actor, for crying out loud? I understand that not all movie actors are mere matinee idols. Some have dedicated their talent to the betterment of fellow citizens. I am intrigued by the inner workings of the human brain. If you have read Isaac Asimov’s collection of short stories I, Robot, you know that every single story is based on a variation of the 3 laws of robotics. The positronic brain described by Asimov needs to work within the confines of the 3 laws. So what confines the human mind to suspend logic and become a movie actor fan? Why can’t the mind of such a person separate the make-believe from reality? What makes someone try to act like the hero and become intoxicated by the antics on screen?

Carl Sagan describes beautifully the evolution of the human race in his book Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. This is a great piece of work of science and like his other book, The Pale Blue Dot, deserves more respect than it gets. Not many have heard or read the Shadows. The opening paragraph where Sagan describes the earth as one descends from space is simply breathtaking. I was hooked and since became a Saganist. His other work The Dragons of Eden explore the evolution of human intelligence but it does not answer the question that intrigues me.

Hero worship and narrow mindedness is, in my opinion, what has caused the status of politics in India and Pakistan. I can’t believe that out of the millions of educated Pakistanis, all you have to look up to, is Benazir Bhutto? And what about the people of India who cannot find a prime minister from among 1 billion Indians and are ready to handle the mantle to a foreigner? Is this blind faith? Why does the human mind just give up hope and look up to so called “heroes”? Or is it the hope that the hero is going to rescue you?

The real heros are the scientists and teachers and the soldiers who dedicate their life for the betterment of others. If anyone, it’s people who work tirelessly, that need to be idolized. I am glad someone recognized this and did write a blog post on the real hidden heros.

If you are looking for a hero, here is one. That is a true hero. Not your average cigarette popping movie star. Need another one? How about this one? There are countless other who deserve your idolation. Recognising such deserving people is teh duty of every citizen. Go get me a true hero.