And There Goes My Confidence…

Have you come across any signs on the road or elsewhere that really scare you? This is a photo taken on a freeway near San Francisco. It is not a very uncommon road-sign and can be seen on several roads where there are sharp turns. I am sure the drivers of trucks feel very confident looking at such signs and the people passing them feel even more so.

Try Passing Me!
Try Passing Me!

Here is another that looks less risky, but when you think about it in a certain way, this sign at an airport sure looks like the plane is going to nosedive rather than arrive.

Plane Landing or Nosediving?
Plane Landing or Nosediving?

Thanks to Haldar for pointing these out.

One Ring to rule them all?

Before I start off with a situation I am sure some of you are familiar with, let me provide a quote which I guess most of you are familiar with

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

J. R. R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings

I am sure the lines above need no introduction, but they definitely need some context. When I moved to the US, my first instinct was to purchase a TV, since a TV and internet are the two things that are absolutely essential for my survival. So with the TV I needed to get a cable service or a dish, which came with its set-top box.

To ensure that Tanuka wouldn’t get bored sitting at home, I got her a subscription to Netflix. Initially we were content with watching the movies on our laptop. But soon it felt too underpowered. So we got a DVD player. I like to think of myself as someone with foresight. Since I have a large number of DVDs from different countries I needed a DVD player that could play DVDs from multiple regions. So I got one of those.

In due course of time I bought a MacBook and a handycam. Very soon the speakers on my TV started feeling underpowered. So I bought a home theatre system. I then took a fancy to Nintendo Wii and managed to get my hands on one of those. Next I wanted to get a nunchuck for the Wii to try out games like boxing. I also thought it might be a good idea to play against another person. So one more Wiimote and one more nunchuck.

As time went by, I fulfilled one my my long-standing desires – getting an HDTV. There was an offer on at that time, which let us get a free upconverting DVD player. OK, so we got those. A few months later I wanted to move from my analog audio, which was essentially comprised of a large number of cassettes and vinyl records, to a digital format. So I needed a cassette player. It would be a bonus if that could manage to record directly to a digital format. Well, I managed to get one that recorded from cassettes to MP3. I still need to get one for the vinyl records.

Now I have one remote for my old TV, one for the set-top box, one for my DVD player, one for my Mac (Front Row), one for my handycam, one for my home theatre, 2 Wiimotes and 2 nunchucks for my Wii, one for my HDTV, one for the upconverting DVD player and one for my music system. There are 13 remotes/devices in all. Some of these are proprietary (4 for the Wii, 1 for the Mac, 1 for the handycam and 1 for the music system) and I hoped that the others could be replaced by one of them. Unfortunately I had no such luck. I had the highest of hopes from my Comcast cable remote and my Samsung HDTV remote, but they were the first to fail. At the end of it all I could just combine the HDTV and the upconverting DVD player remotes.

I could not find the one remote to rule them all and I am stuck with 12 remotes now. **Sigh**.


Tanuka is often amused at the fact that I suffer from spontaneous rotflosis. And no, that has nothing to do with the compulsive desire to use rotten dental floss. It is more like spontaneous combustion, except that instead of bursting into flames one starts rolling on floor bursts into peals of laughter. Today was one of those days. I came across this exceptional website called xkcd, described by its author Randall Munroe as “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.” It has a lot of funny cartoons and this was the one that caused the spontaneous rotflosis:

Exploits of a Mom
Exploits of a Mom


And the Fun Goes On

At the end of the Commonwealth Bank Tri-Series Cricket tournament in Australia in March 2008, there was a hilarious comment posted on the website of an Australian newspaper:

Securing the services of Matt Hayden: $375,000
Securing the services of Ricky Ponting: $400,000
Securing the services of Andrew Symonds: $1,350,000
Making these Australians eat their own words in their own backyard – Priceless
There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else there’s BCCI.

– Comment by “Sagar”, Melbourne Herald Sun

Let Me Check My Skejule

While working for WebTek in 2000 I happened to be speaking to a colleague from overseas who said, “Let me check my skejule and get back to you”. At that time the sentence created a jarring effect on my ears. A few days later I happened to be watching a movie which had me laughing with respect to the skejule.

An Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him,
The moment he talks he makes some other
Englishman despise him.
One common language I’m afraid we’ll never get.
Oh, why can’t the English learn to set
A good example to people whose
English is painful to your ears?
The Scotch and the Irish leave you close to tears.
There even are places where English completely
disappears. In America, they haven’t used it for years!
Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?

Prof. Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady

An erudite British colleague of mine once pointed out certain differences in accents between speakers of American and English. “Nicaragua”, he said, “is pronounced ‘Nicaragyua’ by the English and ‘Nicaragooa’ by the Americans”. That shed some light. Friends of mine who had joined universities in the US for higher studies provided further insight, “Americans pronounce words like they are. Since ‘school’ is pronounced ‘skool’, ‘schedule’ becomes ‘skejule’.”

Really? Why is “argue” still “argyu” and “tongue” still “tung”, then? I also reasoned that it should have acutally been ‘skedule’, but then figured out that ‘individual’ is pronounced ‘indivijual’. The American interpretation of the language is actually just that – an interpretation. That isn’t to say that it is wrong. Language, after all, is how you define it.

A lot of words have been taken liberties with, not only in terms of pronunciation but also in terms of their spelling and meaning. Being from a place that was a British colony not long back and working in the US most of the time poses a difficulty of switching contexts every now and then. I am in the habit of writing “civilise”, “analyse” etc., which my word-processor has a ripe gripe with. I also write “fulfil” as opposed to the American “fulfill”. “Program” has made its way into my dictionary, but only when I am talking about a computer program. I guess things will get really creepy the day I start saying “I cannot believe where I am at.”

Raymond: That is what has got me to where I am at.
Marie: Where I am at?
Raymond: Where I am… where I am.
Marie: Have I taught you nothing?
Raymond: I know, I know. You cannot end a sentence with a proposition… A preposition.

That is gross. Truly gross. Another thing that vexes me is the use of “presently” to mean “currently”, while it actually means, “in a short time”. “Prodigal” is another word whose meaning has changed quite a lot in the last couple of decades.

As a general rule I have decided to stick with the English roots rather than the American variants because I believe that in most cases the American variants start out as idealistic approaches and then lose their way. Moving beyond the realm of language, I recently discovered the discrepancy between and American gallon and an Imperial gallon (which is used in the rest of the world, wherever the FPS system is still in vogue). I believe that I can be forgiven in this regard because India uses the SI system, which is much easier to handle. But what is the point of having two different measurements with the same name?

Then there is the custom of left-hand drive and right-hand drive. And here is a curious thing – there is a reason for travelling on the left side of a road. In medieval times when Englishmen travelled on horseback, they used to doff their hats at people coming from the opposite direction using their left hand. That way if they saw an adversary coming they could have their right hands free to draw their swords and fight (most people were right handed). It thus made sense to travel on the left side of the road. This practice extended to horse-driven carriages and eventually automobiles. I don’t know the reason for driving on the right side of the road, though I can only guess that since most people in a sample set used to be right-handed the tendency was to choose the right half of the road (assuming that you weren’t going to be fighting while using a road).

An interesting digression – why are a large number of Chinese left-handed? Again, here I don’t have a concrete answer, but I do have a theory. In February this year while my wife and I were doing the Singapore tour that Singapore Airlines provides, the tour guide showed us the “Suntec Building” that was shaped like the left hand. She explained that it had everything to do with Feng-Shui and Yin and Yang. The right hand gives away wealth and the left hand gets in wealth. In places where such beliefs are strong you would naturally encourage your children to be left-handed since that would be considered auspicious.

Back to Americanisms. Actually another digression. I have a large number of vegetarian friends. Some of them claim that they do not eat meat because it is cruel to animals. And they continue to use leather purses/wallets, belts, bags, jackets and shoes. Another attempt at starting out idealistic and stopping midway.

Anyway, English as a language is fine. And the American interpretation is fine as well. As I said, language is all about communicating. And both the versions are mutually compatible. They don’t castigate you for not getting your pronunciation right. So everyone is happy. And let me schedule my next blog update.

On the Ball

Disclaimer: I mean no offence to baseball-lovers. The following is my attempt to explain some quirks of cricket by drawing parallels to baseball.

One of my stated hobbies on Orkut is “Memorising Cricket Statistics”. This may seem weird. Hell, it is weird. But it is fun. I guess it follows as an extension of liking both, cricket and numbers.

Most of my American friends find it difficult to understand an Indian’s obsession with cricket, the same way most Indians (and in fact, most non-Americans) find the attraction of Americans to baseball quite queer. To a bystander it does often seem funny that cricket is a game where you could play a match over 5 days and still not have a winner!

The Other Laws of Cricket
You have two sides, one out in the field and the other in the clubhouse. Each man that’’s in goes out, and when he is out he comes in and the next player goes in until he is out. When all the players are out, the side that was out comes in and the side that was in goes out to get those players that are coming in out. Sometimes players are still in and not out. When a player goes out to go in, the players who are out try to get him out, and when he is out , he goes in and the next player in comes out and goes in.

There are two men called umpires who are all out all the time, they decide when the player who is in, is out. When both sides have been in and all players are out and both sides have been out twice after all the players have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game.

Now do you understand cricket? To avoid complicating matters more, we haven’’t got to the ““silly mid on”” and ““sticky wicket” scenarios.

What, then, is the reason that a country of over a billion people obsesses over cricket? The reason is hard to pinpoint, though I believe that it is because individual brilliance in a team game is never showcased better than in cricket. Football (not the American breed) is the quintessential team game. In cricket, though, more often than not you have outstanding individuals in ordinary teams.

Then there is a question of skill. I know next to nothing about baseball, hence given my rudimentary understanding of the game baseball experts might find my knowledge of their game as superficial as a layman’s understanding of cricket. The little that I know of baseball tells me that you have to thump the ball as far as you can and run like your life depends on it. Cricket is different. Often it is not about thumping at all.

Douglas Jardine: Like most batsmen I can play one or perhaps two different shots to any given ball, whereas Bradman can choose between four or five.

Percy George Fender: Oh, he doesn’t choose. He just plays the first shot that comes into his head. But he has no technique. Now he can get away with it on those true hard Australian wickets. But put him on one of our green strips, with Morris, seaming the ball late… Oh no, he is too unorthodox. Now take the third test in Melbourne. On at least three occasions the ball was short-pitched, screaming out to be hooked. He played a cover-drive.

Douglas Jardine: At least two of those balls went for four. That is the power of Bradman. He’s learnt that the batsman’s sole objective is to score runs and he’ll play whatever shot, unorthodox or not, which best fulfils that purpose. It makes it almost impossible to set a field to him.

– From Bodyline – The Mini-Series

Every game is about scoring runs and getting the opposition down. Bradman happened to be the best batsman ever, but there have been several players for whom the above statements hold true. Now, would it be possible to say the same in a game like baseball? That is not to say that baseball-type slogging isn’t a part of the batsman’s repertoire in cricket. You do have some pretty brainless heaving exhibited by players like Shahid Afridi which would not be out of place in baseball.

There is, then, the whole different aspect of bowling. The very fact that you get to pitch the ball before it reaches the batsman opens up a new vista of options that would be quite out of place in baseball. You could have a bowler bowl really fast, the way you would ideally like to pitch in baseball and you could have the classic art of spin exhibited by slow bowlers to fox batsmen. Personally I like the sight of a menacing fast bowler sending down a thunderbolt to a batsman and the batsman promptly dispatching the ball to a corner of the field.

Greg Thomas was bowling to Viv Richards in a county game. Viv missed a superb outswinger, and Thomas said “It’s red, round and weighs about 5 ounces.”
Next ball Viv hits Greg Thomas out of the ground and replies, “Greg, you know what it looks like. Go ahead and find it!”

Running between the wickets is akin to running between the bases in baseball, I guess. But often it can lead to hilarious results due to a breakdown of communication on the field. Records of players like Inzamam-ul-Haq and Sourav Ganguly tell their own tales in this aspect.

“Bomber” Wells, a spin bowler and great character, played for Glocuestershire and Nottinghamshire. He used to bat at No.11 since one couldn’t bat any lower. Of him, they used to paraphrase Compton’s famous words describing an equally inept runner.

“When he shouts ‘YES’ for a run, it is merely the basis for further negotiations!” Incidentally, Compton was no better. John Warr said, of Compton “He was the only person who would call you for a run and wish you luck at the same time.”

Anyway, when Wells played for Gloucs, he had an equally horrendous runner as the No.10. During a county match, horror of horrors… both got injured. *Both* opted for runners when it was their turn to bat. Bomber played a ball on the off, called for a run, forgot he had a runner and ran himself. Ditto at the other end. In the melee, someone decided that a second run was on. Now we had *all four* running. Due to the confusion and constant shouts of “YES” “NO”, eventually, *all* of them ran to the same end. Note – at this point in time, the entire ground is rolling on the floor laughing their behinds out. One of the fielders – brave lad – stops laughing for a minute, picks the ball and throws down the wicket at the other end.

Umpire Alec Skelding looks very seriously at the four and calmly informs them “One of you buggers is out. I don’t know which. *You* decide and inform the bloody scorers!”

Harold “Dickie” Bird’s From the Pavilion End

While the batsmen and the bowler are in the thick of the action, the fielders too have their part to play. I don’t think catching the ball in baseball does the batter any harm (or does it?). In cricket it surely does. So a napping fielder often gets a good hiding from the bowler.

Fearsome English fast bowler Fred Trueman extracted an edge from the batsman, which flew straight into the hands of Raman Subba Row at first slip. The ball however went right between Row’s legs to the third man boundary. Fred didn’t say a word. At the end of the over, Row ambled past Trueman and apologised sheepishly. “Sorry Fred. I should’ve kept my legs together”. Trueman retorted in classic fashion “Not you, son. Your mother should’ve!”

Perhaps more than in any other game, the most thankless job is that of the umpires. Not only have the poor souls have to stand and watch an entire game, they also have to listen to at least one appeal each over (which makes it a good number of them in the course of a match) and then have each of their decisions scrutinised very thoroughly.

Lot of our appeals against the New Zealand players were turned down. Chandra in particular had a really bad time with a lot of legitimate decisions going against him.
He finally bowled the batsman out and turned to the umpire, “Howzaaaat?”
The umpire said, “He is bowled”.
Chandra’s reply was a classic, “I know he is bowled. But is he out?”

Sunny Days by Sunil Gavaskar

The humour, though, is not restricted to the field. There can be a fair bit beyond the field too.

Jack Crapp, who was born on 14th October 1912, played seven Tests with reasonable success but is best known for the amusing, and possibly apocryphal, story of a misunderstanding with a hotel receptionist. When Crapp reported to the front desk, he was asked “Bed sir?” Presuming he had been mistaken for Alec Bedser, he replied, “No, Crapp.” The receptionist duly directed him to the first door on the right.

Well, this article has been the most unfit among the lot with the subject, “Eloi and Morlocks”. So what was my real motivation behind writing it? Nothing, I guess I just wanted to rant against baseball and show how cricket stands out in spite of or because of its idiosyncrasies!