Monday, December 20, 2010

Cars and Driving

Familiar to those brought up on a Cartoon Network diet, I would go gaga over all things in a car just like Dee Dee in Dexter's Laboratory. "Oooh what does this button do?"

All those nice memories, being small enough to lie down completely in the back seat and look in wonder at all the branches that hover past you. It's quite mind-boggling, almost gives a feeling of being upside down. 

Apart from that, more importantly, I was and am CRAZY about driving cars. I'm not as interested in makes and all that but rather am really fascinated by such a complete package. It's sort of the same adrenaline that flows when I solve a physics problem or code some program. I bet nobody paid as much attention to Basic Civil and Mechanical as much as I did when they took IC engines.

One of my most fundamental doubts was, alright you tell me that this is a four stroke engine - suction, compression, power and exhaust and energy is "produced" during power stroke alone, how can it possibly sustain itself with such a tiny battery? Also, I was told the battery was only for ignition. They took us to the lab and then I got it, thanks to the poignant description of the lab assistant. After the first cycle, the moment of inertia of the flywheel would keep the system running as long there was fuel even though the flywheel itself consumes a small amount of the electrical power from the battery.

I had a very simple doubt. It required so much of understanding. The people who engineered this feat truly are to be applauded to come up with such an elegant solution.

And oh yes, I did make a complete fool of myself in the lab jumping around like Hermione, "Oooh that's a spark plug".

On another line, my driving 'lessons' have become utter comedy. I haven't even started.

Here's the deal. My dad wants to be at my first ever lesson. I need to attend a driving class.

Ok, I have had the worst luck in the world, rain and vacationing instructors but I really thought this weekend was THE weekend.


Calling the class. Teacher is on leave. Dad has the odd and extremely rare Saturday meeting. Dad assures he'll at least teach me the basics when he's back. Mom chides my feet will not reach the pedals.

Dad takes out car at 4 in evening. Says we'll go repair the watches and start. Go to P.Orr and sons with him. Got my watch, the one I wore to my board exams, repaired. More on that later. Argument at shop. Delayed. Mom calls, asks Dad to get something from Saravana Bhavan.  We order parcel and tomato soup. Finish soup and talk and talk and talk. Little over an hour later, finally get parcel. Credit card #1 rejected. #2 rejected. Dad investigates. Finally accepted. Reach home at 8:30. Everyone's hungry. Dad says we'll see tomorrow. It's hard to be disappointed over paneer butter masala.

Next day, Sunday.

Dad wakes up late, tired from all that driving. Says he needs haircut and then returns. Says he's hungry. I make soup. We have lunch. He has his afternoon nap. He gets up and freshens up. I wait for him.

It rains the rest of day.

I'm optimistic. Maybe this weekend?


I don't remember when exactly I bought Macbeth, maybe four or five years down the line. Every time I read it gives me this thrill of emotions and there is quite some history behind it too.

I heard the story first when I was in sixth standard. We had to write our own scripts and I was Lady Macbeth. "All the perfumes in Arabia will not sweeten this hand... ". Never mind I failed miserably, that's another story.

The story of Macbeth goes thus. Three witches confronts Macbeth and his friend Banquo and claim that he is the Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor and later the King of Scotland. Banquo, on the other hand, is said to be the father of future kings. Now Macbeth is presently the Thane of Glamis and tries to banish these prophecies from his mind, even as these witches disappear. No longer are they gone, that the king's messengers arrive to inform him that he is indeed the Thane of Cawdor. Doubt start stirring in noble Macbeth's mind and he hastens to inform his wife, Lady Macbeth, his experience. Fed by an unnatural desire, she seeks to help Macbeth fulfill the third prophecy by contemplating and planning the murder of the King who is to be their guest that night. She convinces Macbeth with a strong hand and the deed is done.

However, instead of the joy and comfort they anticipated, they are disturbed and confused. Macbeth goes on a killing spree, prodded by desire and ambition. He is seen as a tyrant and even plans for the murder of Banquo, his trusted aide in battle. Predictably, his son Fleance survives. Lady Macbeth, becomes engulfed by her guilt and suffers a sort of madness before taking her own life. The witches make three more prophecies, o be wary of Macduff, to rest easy until Birman Wood marches and know that he suffers death from a man not born from a woman. Macbeth is somewhat comforted by these omens and ruthlessly brings down Macduff's family. He does not succeed in killing Macduff who was in England at that time. Enraged by the murder of his wife and children, he seeks to avenge himself. His army moves towards his castle camouflaged by a branch until it seemed as thought the Wood were moving. Finally, he kills Macbeth by revealing that he was torn from his mother's womb untimely before birth. The story ends with the battle over and preparations for the next coronation.

There are several salient traits in this play. There is an undercurrent of the supernatural and a beautiful play of emotions. Shakespeare's shortest play is nevertheless powerful. You tangle with witches and ghosts, superstitions and omens. Honour, valour and other noble traits are also poignantly put forth.

There is a separate beauty to Shakespeare's plays. It has a poetic intonation due to its pentameter. Especially, the witches incantations are a poem more popularly known in the Prisoner of Azkaban movie

"Double Double Toil and Trouble"

It is a play on Scottish history to herald James of Scotland, the new King of England. It is said that James had a short attention span and thus this play was kept as short as possible. Also, he was obsessed with witchcraft and strove to fight against it. Well, looks like Shakespeare did some first rate grovelling and fawning!

Although it took me a while to become comfortable with Shakespeare's English, I think it was worth the effort. You actually feel as though you are in medieval Scotland. It's not very authentic but quite enjoyable.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The War of Roses

My name is Margaret. Margaret of Anjou. I was fifteen then. I recollect those times in a haze almost. I remember sitting on the banks of Moselle with my grandmother, reciting stories. Stories of old, how she would keep Anjou out of the hands of the English, stories about the Hundred Years Wars and Joan of Arc. My mother too, when she had time to spare, would tell me of heroic battles that she had overseen when father was in prison, fighting for the the kingdom of Naples. Together, they taught me all they knew and I was blessed to be one of the most educated girl in all of France.

I was happy, truly unconditionally happy without any worries then. Until, William de la Pole, the soldier in the Hundred Years Wars approached my father for an alliance between Henry VI and me, Margaret of Anjou. At first, I was hesitant, after all the we have been fighting the English for Hundred Years! Soon, I learnt that this was a noble attempt to restore peace between the two nations and will restore Anjou and Maine unconditionally to French hands. So, with ideas of peace, I married Henry VI, King of England.

Little did I know then, that my lot in life was not peace.
I was the Quene of England.

Unfortunately, I could sense unhappiness among the English. Their people had been ravaged by war just as much as the French had. However, in their eyes, the French were at fault and my mere presence bore them a repugnance that was visible in those fawning eyes feinting flattery. I also donned a diplomatic mask and met these smiles with marked civility in court. I may be French by birth, but I had now dedicated myself to England, as is my duty to the Crown.

Richard of York

Five years after I married Henry, Richard of York had been named as the successor to the throne in absence of an heir. I was, well, confused. It was la Pole who explained all the politics that I was a stranger to.

Henry VI of Lancaster
My husband had ruled England since he was a mere baby, with regents acting on his behalf and incapable of taking decisions. We belonged to the House of Lancaster. Richard, from the House of York, claimed ascendancy to the throne based on an impressive family history. He explained to me that his actions had foiled an attempt to reconcile the rival dukedoms who had contemplated an inter-marriage. He told me about the corrupt courtiers that Richard had won and his gaining popularity.

I listened with interest. However, there was nothing to be said as the law required an heir and that the House of Lancaster did not have. Under William's  advice, I tried to remove him with the best assassins but he lived without doubt about his claim. That is, until my Edward was born in 1453. To my chagrin, Richard was named Lord Protector of the infant in light of the temporary mental illness that gripped Henry. On another line, both me and Henry had shared a dream of education and reformation and I set-up the Queen's College at Cambridge in his absence.

Soon Henry recovered and tactically removed the threat, Richard from the court.

Richard of York took arms in 1455 to fight for his right to the throne beginning a civil war.

An unrest had been simmering all along on the English loss in the Hundred Years' War, taxes and the famous Percy-Neville feud. Also, everyone swore their allegiance to their immediate lord, not to the respective side. It diluted power. English blood boiled, waiting to be spilled.

I observed all these factors and above all, this hatred rose in my heart against the one person, Richard of York. I wanted to secure the throne for my son.

The first battle took place at the capitol, St.Albans. We lost. Richard killed the powerful members of our side.  Henry collapsed mentally and was found in a tent quietly musing. Richard was once again Lord Protecter.

Both Houses were shocked at the bloodshed. They sought dialogue to come to a peaceful solution. I allowed my mask to fall. I made it very clear that Edward of Westminster, my son, is the next heir. Henry recovered and sent Richard to Ireland. We also moved away from the angry over-taxed merchants of London and set court in the country at Coventry. Slowly, we built our army through conscription, an order for all youth to participate in this civil war.

Oh yes, now I recollect that preposterous venture of Thomas Bourchier who celebrated Love Day in honour of complete peace between the two houses in 1458. Hostilities continued the next year when the deported Richard returned illegally from Ireland. After a loss at the Battle of Blore Heath, we won at the Battle of Ludford Bridge.

Seizing this opportunity, we ordered all the confounded members of the Yorkist faction attainted, that is denounced their noble blood status. Alas, they won at the Battle of Northampton in 1460 where Henry became a prisoner.

When Richard thought he had won, he was wrong. It was I who led the House of Lancaster now and may I say with pride, we won the Battle of Wakefield. Meanwhile, with many adventures, I had escaped to Scotland to protect the heir. I struck a chord with the Queen of Scotland and she agreed to send troops in exchange for Berwick-upon-Tweed for this battle.

Richard was killed in this battle and it was with great satisfaction that I ordered his head to let rot at the city of York.

Finally, I thought my child is safe.
How very wrong I was.

Richard had a son who had survived, Edward, who led the Yorkist forces now. We lost the Battle of Mortimer Cross due to his ludicrous superstitious speeches about seeing three suns. We won the Second Battle of St.Albans. I took particular pleasure in executing the two knights who were trying to ransom the king.

Alas! The biggest battle, the Battle of Towton, near York, we lost. Our family fled. The few surviving leaders changed sides. Edward of York beheaded John Clifford, my best man who had ,in turn, killed his brother.

Richard's son, Edward IV was crowned King of England. He married some Woodville, I cannot recollect. I think Elizabeth Woodville. Seeing the corruption and the rise in the nobility of the Woodville family, his most powerful and richest ally, the Earl of Warwick, a Neville, by the way, joined our side, bless him. My Edward married his daughter.

There were many, many battles after that. We won some, lost some. The King temporarily lost service. I draw now to the close of my story.

The Battle of Tewkesbury, 4 May 1471. I will not, cannot forget it. We had just returned from our long exile to join the triumphant forces only to realise that the news relayed to us, in Scotland, was out-dated. We entered into the battlefield.

My son, Edward, was killed.

After that, there was no spirit in me. The very reason for my existence just faded right in front of my eyes. I was imprisoned in England. Henry was murdered.

I was ransomed by the French king in 1475.

There is nothing left for me to add. I once again look at the clear waters of the Moselle only now they ripple with the faces of those long gone. In my haste to protect and honour the one life that I helped create, I do not know, how many I helped extinguish. I failed to realise the mortality of my own son's life. It seems ironic, that today, the 23 March 1480 marks half a century in my life and I have witnessed both the principalities of the war die, Richard and my husband Henry VI. I am old, so old, just living in total poverty through the sympathies of others. My son lived to see just seventeen summers. I stop my story here. May God forgive me, I think I have been punished enough.

This narrative is continued by Margaret of Lorraine, her niece after Margaret's of Anjou's death in 1482.

Well, news poured into France. Edward IV died of an illness. He named his brother Richard as Protector. Preparations were being made for his son's coronation. Richard had other plans, of course and murdered the 11 year old and the 9 year old princes in the Tower of London. He was crowned Richard III.

Henry Tudor, the Lancastrian candidate revolted at Buckingham against Richard which failed. Finally, Henry won the Battle of Bosworth field in 1485. Richard III was killed.

The House of Lancaster had won.

Henry Tudor, a man of infinite wisdom, married the daughter of Edward IV of York and created the Tudor line and was crowned Henry VII.

My aunt never lived to see the final victory. Henry VII joined the two symbols the Red Rose of Lancaster and the White Rose of York into the Tudor Rose ending the War once and for all. I think, historians will probably come to call it the War of the Roses. How ironic!

White Rose of York
Tudor Rose
Red Rose of Lancaster

In my opinion, the entire exercise was futile. The Richards, Edwards and Henrys were all killed. The ones who started this war were killed. Thirty years of Civil War from 1455 to 1485. England lost some of her best soldiers. The Battles were complicated and some times, chivalry was missing too. But as my aunt said, blood was boiling in English men, waiting to be spilled. They would have probably fought over another reason anyway. Peace exists now between and within England and France.


Monday, December 13, 2010

House-elves and Feminism

"Dobby sir... Dobby the house-elf"

In light of the recent Harry Potter movie, these words just echoed within my head. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was the first book I read and I just love Dobby. 

I think I really connected with Dobby on several counts:

An insane, obsessive and indescribable worship of Harry Potter.
A powerful urge to protect the aforementioned specimen of courage, goodness and bravery.
A penchant for sticking out of the crowd with insane ideas.
A will to stand up for what's right.
A person who enjoys freedom above all.

Now Dobby wanted freedom from oppression and he got it. He enjoyed it but still shuddered at the "riches" Dumbledore offered. He adored work and didn't mind admitting it, he just wanted his worth. His dedication and affection are unparalleled.

He is FUN. 

Now before you start wondering what feminism has to do with all this or if you have got a whiff of the alley I'm headed at, let's go to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Now, Hermione comes up with the SPEW. It sounded ridiculous to me. Exactly how Harry and Ron felt at the time, my thoughts reverberated on similar lines. They want to work for free, let them. Hemione seemed downright silly to me and her ideas about brain-washing seemed absurd. Alright, Dobby wanted freedom, he's an exception.

Years later at Grimmauld Place, Harry lords over Kreacher and he realises what a raw deal house-elves have. Hermione's words finally make sense and he changed his chauvinistic views and especially how he felt Kreacher was responsible for Sirius' death. 

So did I.
But then, suddenly something just clicked in my head.

As a die-hard feminist, I've often stated how brain-washed women are and how true gender equality and freedom are far from being real. I realised that as far as house-elves were concerned, I was the chauvinist! I thought the exact same things that infuriated me about exceptions and capabilities and so on and so forth until the seventh book. 

I've changed my opinion now, of course but J K Rowling has taught me to never judge too quickly. It's okay to have an opinion but you must be open enough to alter that and most importantly, give an ear for what others say, there might be some wisdom.

Who'd have thought I took spiritual courses from Harry Potter?

On a final note, I'd just like to say "Here is a free elf"

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Presenting... My first Presentation

The presentation on William Wallace was my very first and I had lots of help from my father. I owe a lot of my presentation skills to my father. So this post is dedicated to my dad.

First let me give a little background. The presentation was due on Monday. Me and my friend had planned to do it over the weekend on Environment. She faced a family situation, her relatives had come from abroad and she couldn't make it. I was very low in spirits as I had no idea what to do. Two days, one presentation. My dad came to my rescue and gave me confidence.

Research: We surfed a lot of websites (this was before Wikipedia arrived) and collected a sizeable chunk of information and pictures.

Organisation: My dad said we needed to categorise all that we needed. He said that but didn't get to it. I asked him why? And I got a mumbling from which “no mood” was highly audible. I was kind of confused when I realised what he was doing. He was searching templates. His favourite technique to really get into the presentation was to spend some time on its appearance. Its a golden rule I've always followed. Finally, we made about twenty slide headings in Lucida Blackletter font. Then, we racked our brains for a title and finally the “Scottish Pride” was chosen. The template was the one with spectacles on the title slide and parchment feel to it.

Layout: Never have too much text. That's another nugget I learnt. I had real fun during this session. I mean William Wallace had a five-foot long sword and there was slide dedicated to that alone. There was another one where I mentioned Age of Empires too.

Sound: The soundtrack was Age of Empires || open. Also, I recorded my voice for all the text in the slides. Ah, all the trouble I went through.

The Scottish Pride”
You're supposed to sound proud not sleepy
The Scottish Pride”
Louder, even I can't hear.
The Pride.. chi.. Scottish”
What was the Scottish for?
The Scottish Pride”
Perfect! But the fan is too loud, let me switch it off.

The final slide has a neat little custom animation with a curtain descending and my dad added the clap sound effect.

I went to the AV room. I switched off the lights. I started it and sat down, everything was automatic.

The claps drowned the digital ones.

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Belt and Physics

I was putting my belt to hang on the clothes rod which promptly fell with a loud clang. Obviously, I had left too much of the belt hanging on the buckle side.

I smiled as I remembered the pulley problems I used to solve. It reminded me of the typical free body diagrams we used to try. So if I had to find out how much of the belt I need to leave hanging on both sides of the rod, I could reduce it to an ideal problem by replacing it exactly as the above string pulley system with the mass of each side replaced as a point mass at the centre of mass.

Hence, its clear why my belt fell. At a point, the mass on the side with the buckle would be too heavy (have a large mg component) to be compensated by the other.

I assumed that both sides of my belt were at a state of equilibrium usually and that's why it stayed stationary. After a while I started playing with it and something kept nagging me. The buckle side of my belt fell down much later than I would have anticipated considering how light the rest of the belt was.

Then, it hit me. This couldn't be solved as an ideal pulley system cause I had forgotten one very important assumption.

The pulley is rigid and frictionless.

Friction. That was what was saving me from having bother about belt lengths usually. As long as the mg components remained less than the co-efficient of static friction between my rod and the belt, it was able to satisfy a large amount of stress. It was only when it crossed the limiting friction, it fell.

Ah, I love physics. I maybe wrong, these are just random thoughts based on my understanding and you have been warned, this is no guide to physics, just a flavour of my thoughts.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Model Student

The hall is silent. The only sounds your over-strained ears can pick up are the occasional rustling of paper and the scratching of the pen (yes, the phrase is borrowed from the Order of the Phoenix replaced with pen instead of quill). The physics examination was in session.

A student walks out an hour early.

Later, he is summoned to the office by his teacher to reprimand him for his abysmal performance.

Teacher: You need to answer this question correctly to pass, I'm giving you a last chance
Student: But what's wrong with my answer?
Teacher: Read this.

Q: How do you measure the height of the building using a barometer?
A: Tie a string to the barometer and let it down until the barometer just touches the ground. Add the length of the string to the length of the barometer to get the answer.

Teacher: How much do you expect for this answer?
Student: Full
Teacher: I'm giving you five minutes to tell me the right answer. Otherwise, you fail.

Student looks aimlessly for three minutes.

Teacher: Well, shall I fail you? Don't waste my time, do you know the answer?
Student: Well sir, I have many answers, I didn't know which to choose so I'll mention all of them.

You could measure the length of the upright barometer's shadow and the length of the building's shadow. By using the known length of the barometer, with a simple ratio you could ascertain the building's height.

You could tie a string to the barometer and use it like a pendulum. By calculating the acceleration due to gravity at both the ground level and at the top of the building and use the minute difference to measure the height.

Or, you could measure the air pressure at ground level and air pressure at the roof in millibars and substitute in this formula to find the height.

Personally, I'd just ask the janitor.

The student passed.
His name was Niels Bohr.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My First Novel

My very first book review on my blog is going to be on the very first book I read. Its Secret Seven Win Through by Enid Blyton. My mom had bought it when I was in third but I shrugged it off until a year later. I was terribly sick and had to lie in bed all the time. Simply, dying of boredom, I browsed the first few pages. Earlier I had run to the dictionary for every few words and had found it an awkward process. Since I was too tired, I just skipped the ones I didn't know. I found it quite easy to read without them and slowly figured them out too.

The story is set in 1940's something. Its summer and the children have a gang with passwords. Their dog leads them to a cave hidden by foliage and they convert it into their meeting place. Strange events befall them that seem unexplainable. A thief eludes every trap they lay and they leave. With a little bit of sleuthing and shadowing and proud bruises in the manner of traditional duel scars, they apprehend a criminal.

I loved it. The book truly gave me a feel of how their life was even if it was too far-fetched.

After two years, of course I noticed the subtle stereotyping in both Secret Seven and Famous Five. The entire book would be fantastical and filled with adventures but the boys would take care of the girls in an unnaturally protective manner. They'd basically not have any fun. The height was when George(ina) tells the police officer what happened from the beginning (including Timothy (her dog) having an ear infection), he looks up from his notes and says, “Oh I'm sorry, I didn't notice you were a girl. I'd better hear the account from Julian, I don't have any time for dog-collars.”

Well, I love Enid Blyton even without her seeming lack of feminism. Perhaps, she didn't want the kids to get carried away and tried to inject a sense of caring. I have probably read a hundred of her books and enjoyed each and every one of them completely. She is one of the great patrons of story telling.