National Geographic Photo of the Day

Friday, January 4, 2008

A Dog's Tale

Now this here is Mr Cactus, my dog. He's a pure breed fawn coloured male Labrador retriever who always wants to play. My first dog Knicks had died at the age of 9 years on Dec 13 2006. And we all were deeply affected by his loss. The house seemed so empty without him around the place to liven it up. (I'll tell you about the ordeal we faced with his illness in another post sometime).

So a friend of my dad's told us one day that his show champion lab had just had eight pups. He said I could take one if we wanted. That was around Jan 26th 2007. We went over to his place and we had a look at the pups. And this little guy came straight over and jumped into my lap as if we'd known him all our lives. It was one of those aaaawwwwww -so-sweet moments. And we decided right there that we would take him. So we took him to the car and put him in a basket that we'd propped up with cushions and stuff and some toys just for him and we took him home. The breeder had given all their dogs there starting with C - Chelsea, Cheruba...... and they'd asked us to name him something similar if we could. So we thought up Columbus, Christopher, Christmas, ...... and finally hit up on Cactus. And thus his name.

His birthday falls on Semptember 20th. He's one year and four months old this January. Now Knicks used to eat just rice with curds and beef, with some minor variations on different days. But Mr.Cactus, no way rice was on the menu for him. They had given us a list of stuff that he should and should not eat and at what times he should be fed. Mr. Cactus initially gets breakfast which is a mixture of pulses and grains and some protein-rich stuff mashed into a paste and mixed with milk in the morning. Then we let him loose in our long driveway where he runs around with us. After that he takes his milk sometime around 11am. Followed by that he sleeps inside the house (oh, you thought we let the dog sleep outside?). Again lunch is Pedigree Dog food or Royal Canine (Chicken and Milk flavoured mind you). From the way he waits for and eagerly pounces on his food, you'd think he hasn't been fed for 10 days at a stretch. And then comes his afternoon siesta. Now Mr. Cactus snores loudly... and i mean LOUDLY while sleeping. And he makes some funny noises and moves his legs while sleeping as if he's having some dream most of the time. But he's always ready to come lie down in your lap and play with you. A very friendly guy. In the evening, he has some egg whites and vegetables. Then he runs along the driveway chasing his little basketball and bringing it back true to his retriever tag. Dinner includes pedigree again followed by his customary banana (you should see his eyes light up when he sees mum cutting up the banana). Finally, he sleeps peacefully (the snores continue of course).

Mr. Cactus even gets Cod Liver Oil so that he can keep his coat shiny and smooth. Plus he's powdered, brushed and pampered everyday. A very dignified soul when we're about. However the guy's a complete devil when you leave him alone in the house. This cute looking dog demolished the living room and the bed room on the very first night that we brought him here. Cushions and sofas were devoid of stuffing, phones were pulled down and wires bitten through, books were lying torn, the dining table's leg was mauled badly and he'd even eaten a few hundred bucks. All that in the ONE HOUR that we left him alone when we went to have dinner. Now that's something. He's much better now though he does like to sharpen his teeth on furniture on occasion. Fetching the newspaper though seems to be his favourite job. He won't have anyone else bringing the paper to the bedroom but him. Of course without supervision he wouldn't give the paper to us, it would be in bits and pieces around the bedroom if we weren't there. Cactus is a nice and friendly dog to have around, and his bark, his teeth and his size are enough of a deterrent to mailmen and salesmen alike. Though he's never used his teeth on us yet. Whenever I need a hug, I know just right person to go to in my house - Mr. Cactus!

Texting - a boon or a bane

SMS (or texting as it is commonly known) would be the bane of many a parent who has got their kids a cell phone. You can't turn left or right at a mall these days and not find a group of youngsters sitting and texting. And when people at the cinema SMS sitting right next to me, it gets my blood boiling. Earlier, text messages used to be sent when one couldn't call for some reason or the other. But that changed with the fall in SMS rates and many packages coming with a fixed number of SMSes free with the connection. For many it became the primary function of having a cell phone. Colleges and schools struggled to keep the students from constantly texting with their phones hidden under their benches. So much so that cell phones had to be banned in several educational institutions.

But SMS provides an easy way out from having to talk with someone and explain something. Imagine - you won't be able to make it for a friend's birthday bash because you want to do something else then. But calling him up and giving an excuse is really hard as we all know. Instead, we just text saying "Car brk dwn. Cant make it. Srry. :-(". That way we avoid having to speak with him directly. It provides a comfortable buffer that you can use to measure your words. In a way it is an invisible wall that we hide behind. Any reply to his message would be carefully thought out.

That aspect of SMS eliminates the spontaneity in communication that makes human interaction so unique. While I still prefer to talk over the phone (not that I have the money to do so all the time), I can firmly say that the vast majority would disagree with me.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

To Speak or To Write - a difficult choice

I was just thinking about what choice I would pick if someone told me I could either write an article in one issue of a reputed magazine or talk in front of a large gathering at a well-known auditorium. Its like choosing between two sides of a coin - fundamentally they are based on the same thing - a proficiency in the language. However they are radically different in their own ways.

My choice would surely be speaking. Lets take a look at the cons of speaking. not everyone can excel at this art. It requires a fluency in the language. A clear thought process is a prerequisite. A good speaker cannot pause and think about what he's going to say mid-way through his speech. He or she needs to have the ability to look ahead of his or her own words. When writing, one can correct his or her mistakes and prepare several drafts before the end result emerges. The old adage, "Words once said cannot be taken back" is indeed true. The audience will make absolutely no distinction between unintentional words uttered by the speaker and actual ideas that he or she puts forth. Truly, that is the main disadvantage in speaking. The orator should be able to captivate his audience. A long lifeless speech would evoke a poor response in comparison a short, peppy and lively one.

However that very same aspect of speech is a powerful weapon in the hands of a good orator. What writing cannot achieve, speaking can, through its ability to convey emotions, expressions and ideas the way the speaker wishes. A written document cannot influence people in the way that a good speech can. To cite an example of how a good speech differs from a mundane one, consider Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address. The long speech given by the main orator of the day, Everett, is of little importance. But, the lines that President Abraham Lincoln uttered that day were etched into history. Not necessarily because he was famous, but more so because he had prepared each of those lines with the utmost
care and devotion and with such emotion had he spoken that those words remained forever in the minds of the audience.

The output of an essay or written thesis is entirely dependent on the reader's interpretation, speaking allows improvisation and innovation.

Could Portia have trapped the wily Shylock had she written out why he should back down from his demands? Could Mark Antony have moved the very stones of Rome to rise and mutiny against the conspirators if he had written a treatise on the pros and cons of Caesar's assassination? No, I don't think so.

I stand firm in my belief that the art of oration wins over writing any day. The unquenchable fire that speaking evokes has no substitute.

Software - Cracks and hacks, Why?

Huge Software Sale

A few days back a friend of mine asked me to give him an estimate of how much it would cost to assemble a decent rig that could play most recent games and stuff at least at medium settings. So I was drawing up a list of items he would need, and I included the OS in that list too and I sent him an e-mail. And he was like "Why did you include the OS and office packages in the cost, I can get that off some friend or download it and crack it." Now that's an attitude that prevails over a large majority of our country's population. The concept of buying software is alien to most. Several things influence this:
1. The fact that software costs are quite high.
2. The widespread availability of pirated DVDs and CDs.
3. Downloading stuff off the net carries no penalties in the country unless you do it on a really massive scale.
4. No one ever tells us even in school that we should pay for the software that we use.

Nobody really cares about the time and effort that people put into developing programs.
The lack of awareness is as big a problem as the widespread availability of pirated copies. But, hey lets not put the big software giants on a higher pedestal either. They rob us blind for every piece of software we need. How many times have we looked at the prices of various Windows Vista editions and gone "Wow, that's daylight robbery!". And they don't give you discounts on subsequent editions too, you have to buy it all over again next time it comes out. And that's true of almost every company. The ones who suffer the most from this vicious cycle are indeed the small time and independent software developers who put out shareware versions for download and hope that someone buys stuff from them. They might as well give stuff out free what with Kazaa, Lime wire, the torrent network and every other P2P type network ruling the roost!

Cell Phones - keeping it simple

Cell Phone Overkill

There was a time when we used cell phones to reach our near and dear ones, whenever we really, really needed to. But that time is past, long gone. Now its more a tool with which telemarketers torture us day and night. Our near and dear ones have been replaced by just about every one we can call as long as we have the money. While we pay top dollar for every silly service we use, its the telecom companies that laugh all the way to the bank. Do we really need to check the cricket scores or the news on your cell phones rather than just switch on the radio or television (which of course many couch potatoes among us would be too lazy to do)?

But I guess all that pales in comparison to what cell phones themselves have become in our modern day world. A Multiple touchscreen with a visual keyboard, e-mail, web browsing, a music player, video player, several GB of memory space, a 10 mega pixel camera, visual radio, visual voicemail - I mean, who uses all this stuff? And we do indeed pay a premium when we buy phones with such features. That too when all these applications would be more efficiently performed by individual devices meant for specific tasks - and probably at a much cheaper rate overall. Its become more and more difficult to find a regular mobile these days. And the premium is not just money, but also in the fact that all these extra apps slow down the phone.

Thank God all I use is a K750i.

Tigers - the world over - in the news

Around Christmas I'd come across a certain story on the Internet which made me feel quite sad actually. In case you didn't know, there was an incident at the San Francisco Zoo concerning three young men and a tiger. Tatiana was a Siberian Tiger at the SF zoo who clearly had some anger issues. But those issues were nothing compared to these three young men. What these three were up to no one clearly knows. Amritpal "Paul" Dhaliwal and Kulbir Dhaliwal even told their companion's (Carlos Sousa Jr) dad that he wasn't with them when they had either arrived at or were on their way to the zoo. Somehow, these men managed to attract the tiger's attention (by what means, that I leave to your own imagination) and had the tiger gunning for their throats. She (Tatiana) leaped up the 12 and a half feet wall and mauled Sousa to death while the Dhaliwal brothers ran to a nearby cafe. The tiger however was not easily put off, she followed them to the cafe and continued her attack only to be shot and killed by police officers arriving on the scene. The Dhaliwal brothers have been all mum about the incident and have as yet not cooperated with the police or given their account of the attack.

Now, the loss of human life is regrettable, but it is hard to believe that the tiger made that kind of a leap without any sort of taunting or instigation. Giving evidence to that is a bloody footprint which was found on a railing in an area between the gate and the edge of the moat. Plus, they also found a number of sticks and pinecones inside the exhibit in the moat where they couldn't have landed naturally.

Closer home, a farmer in Shaanxi province of China took a photo that seemed to show a South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis), a species that is reported to have merely about 20-30 living members in captivity. This species is the original species from which all other tiger subspecies supposedly evolved. A sighting of this species hasn't been made since 1964. Mao Zedong's extermination campaigns nearly rendered them extinct. Surprisingly he called them 'pests'.

Talking about pests over in Sri Lanka, the country seems to have another kind of Tiger problem. One that involves the LTTE, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Peace accords and gunfire are exchanged back and forth between the Tamil Tigers and LTTE. Its sad that people can't learn to get along without asking for a separate country for themselves wherever they go. And that too in the name of language. The Sri Lankan Government has however gone all out by saying that it will now scrap its truce with the LTTE. Considering all that's been happening over there, I'm tempted to go "Yeah Right, like there ever was a truce in the first place."

Coming back to the San Francisco Zoo attack, we tend to vilify the tiger and make heroes out of the ones attacked. But considering all that happened I feel sorry for the tiger. No doubt, this very tiger had bitten the flesh off a zoo keeper's arm a year back. Granted, the zoo takes a major part of the blame for not having raised the enclosure wall to the required height. But the tiger was doing just what she was bred to do....... be a tiger. When angry they most certainly will attack. If you put your finger in a wall socket and get an electric shock for your trouble when you're just a little kid, well that's not really your fault. But when you're a young adult who goes up to the largest tiger species and taunts it and asks for trouble, you shouldn't cry when it kills you. No surprise there, I'd just say survival of the fittest, the stupid ones die.

There are less than 1000 Siberian tigers (accounting for both captive AND wild individuals) in the world. Thanks to those idiots and the SF zoo, there's one less now. I mourn the loss of a rare, beautiful and critically endangered animal.

This week seems to be one for tigers in the news, some for the wrong reasons, some for the right ones!