Category Archives: Assorted

Weighted Average

Ever wonder what the statute of limitations on a college degree should be? I mean, how long should a college degree be allowed to be valid? Is a college degree really worth anything, say a decade from when you are out of college? Laughing Gas recommendation is to render all college degrees that are ten years or older, null and void. But, we digress.

Memories of lessons learnt in a classroom bleach and fade from acid tests in the real world in due course of time. And, all that’s left are memories, selectively picked and retained from the fondest trove.

Presented this week is a nugget from the author’s pensieve of campus memories, the first of hopefully more to come in the Campus Tales series. As with any campus tale, this has been embellished and artfully embroidered for maximum effect.

Weighted Average

Everyone experiences these moments. You know, the moments of shock. They are sometimes preceded by profound bliss, with singing birds, brilliant sunshine or fluorescent rainbows in the background. And then, without so much of a warning, the music stops.

“Aren’t the IIT results out this week?”, the steady penetrating voice of a relative puncturing my bliss into abrupt nothingness.

I was at a family gathering that evening, which had turned out to be not so unpleasant after all. Until, voices started firing bullets at my blissful insouciance.

“Holy cow”, I sat up straight. The relative was right. I was a mere seventy two hours away from judgment day.

“Wait. Why am I panicking?”, I thought to myself. “It is possible that I might just get through”, hope springing to the fore.

“I read that over one lakh students wrote the JEE this year. I am sure you have done well. Haven’t you?”, the penetrating voice continued remorselessly.

I nodded and smiled weakly, my optimism rapidly receding as I re-calculated the odds. All conversations stopped. Heads turned. The wheels of time creaked to a clanging halt. The birds had stopped singing. There was no more the brilliant sunshine. The entire universe paused for a moment to enjoy my discomfiture.

The power of fortune is understood only by the unfortunate, for the lucky have no reason to analyze it.  So I realized as I awaited the verdict. Seventy two hours later, I discovered that I had a ticket to travel to the end of the rainbow with the rumored pot of gold. And, so began an incredible ride.

A few weeks later

After having completed admission formalities, we were in line for the medical examination at IIT Madras. The two boys who stood in front in line chatted while we awaited our turns. The little details overheard here and there indicated that they had met on the train from Bangalore to Chennai. They seemed pretty chummy. And, the conversation inevitably veered towards the choice of a branch of study made that morning. It appeared that they had managed to convince themselves that delving into the finer details of Civil Engineering was the best use of their time over the next four years.

“Excuse me”

I inserted myself politely into the conversation. The boys paused and turned to look at me. I had resolved to bring to their attention what, in my mind, was nothing short of a major faux pas.

“How come you guys didn’t consider Metallurgy? Civil engineering is not what it used to be”

I spoke confidently.

The heavier of the two goggled at me first. Then, he goggled at his friend in incomprehension. His friend returned what I can only describe as an understanding glance of acknowledgement.

“Metallurgy? No way. I have no plans to become a welder in a mechanic shop”, he finally blurted.

“Welding? Is that all metallurgists do? Are you kidding me?”

“What else do you think they do?”, his friend piped in.

I had to admit that they had me on this one. I had no idea what metallurgists did. But, it had seemed mysterious and exotic until a few minutes back. The mystery was unraveling already, and the picture did not look pretty.

“Step forward”

A bespectacled man, who sat at the table in front of us, gestured to the heavier of the two boys.

“Come forward. We’ll need to check your height and weight”

“Vinod. Height 175cm, weight 78 kgs”, called out the peon who was doing special duty that day in measuring heights and weights of pimply faced seventeen year olds.

“Seventy eight? Are you sure?”, the bespectacled man got up from his chair. He walked over to look at the needle which seemed to have no such doubts and sat steadily at the 78 mark.

“Next”, he called as he went back to seat himself in his chair and sip his fourth coffee of the day.

The lighter boy stepped nimbly onto the scale.

“Sanjeev. Height 175 cms. Weight 48kg” the peon measuring called out again.

“48? .. are you sure?”, the bespectacled man, again, was not happy with this piece of information. Reluctantly, he got up from his seat to examine for himself. He craned to look closely at the needle which now hovered indecisively around the 48 mark as though it was trying to decide how far it would go in its transgression of truth.

“48kg? That’s 2 kg below the required 50kg weight minimum”, the bespectacled man paused.  He had been weighing adolescent teenagers at IIT Madras for two decades. His mastery of the rules was second to none.

The lighter boy stood there on the scale, digesting this piece of information cautiously. He turned to look at the needle, mentally willing it to move a couple of notches further.

This was riveting drama. All eyes darted to and fro between Sanjeev and the weight recorder and the bespectacled man.

What would they do? Would they deny him admission? After all, he was only 2 kgs under the requirement.

Questions swirled in the air that day.

The bespectacled man stood there, pondering and scratching his chin. As he absently surveyed the crowd assembled there awaiting his judgment, his eyes alighted on the 78kg boy, who, still in the vicinity, was waiting for his lighter friend.

“A-ha!”, the man smiled.

“You are 48kg. And, your friend over there is 78kg. Between you, the average is 63kg. I declare both of you eligible. Welcome to IIT, boys!”, he roared.

The crowd approved smilingly. The sun appeared from behind the clouds. The birds started chirping again. The bespectacled man wiped the sweat off his brow, and smiled in relief and gesticulated to the peon.

“Get me another coffee”. He sat down heavily in his chair and mopped his forehead. Only two out of the two hundred in line were done.  But, he had already accomplished  a great deal that day.

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The Funniest Indian Blog wins an Award

Why would anyone want to give us an award? A few days back, we received a congratulatory message from the young folks (let’s pretend that they are young) at indiantopblogs.blogspot.com. Suspicious that the contents of the message might contain inflammatory materials or worse, substances of the exploding kind, we called in the SWAT team – which crouched around the aforementioned message and gently prised it open – all the while on the lookout for blue wires, powdery substances, digital clocks and other tell tale signs of imminent detonation. To our relief, our fears were well founded. The message contained a bombshell of an announcement. It said that Laughing Gas had been ranked in their Directory of Best Indian Blogs in 2011.

Such proclamations when they come out of thin air, without adequate warning can cause the gravest of alarms. Alarm? Why alarm? Isn’t this cause for celebration, you may ask. Time to open the bubbly perhaps and spread the cheer around? Instead, why did it cause us to leap six inches in the air like a startled gazelle stalked by an invisible predator?

What ho. We shall explain. The first and spontaneous cause for alarm was that someone was actually reading Laughing Gas. Till date, we have perspired blissfully under the notion that other than blood relatives and friends who owed us money, none else was aware of our presence or was under compulsion to examine its innards. The illusion of being a better kept secret than the Knights Templar before Da Vinci Code was shattered. And understandably, we pressed the big red button on the table. The emergency response system kicked into high gear.

Disaster recovery and mitigation was sought. We had been discovered. It was time to let our agents in the field know that their cover had been blown.

No sooner than the first round of dust settlement came the next round of dust. We wondered what on earth would make anyone rank Laughing Gas anywhere in anything? We are a mere stripling blog, recently born, all of sixty days old and just began to take baby steps. Our brows furrowed and our eyes narrowed to slits as we pondered the unponderable that had just occurred. We imagined the condition of Indian blogscape if *we* made it to the Directory of Best Indian Blogs. What ho, we whispered in a low conspiratorial tone. The picture we imagined did not look pretty.

The passage of seventy two hours have injected some calm into the proceedings at Laughing Gas HQ. We have come to our senses. For, we have finally seen the light. For, we have understood that there is no way this could have happened but for Laughing Gas fans. Those of you who stood in long lines at ration shops to get your weekly quota of the funniest Indian blog, we salute you. And, those of you who walked ten miles in pouring rain to the nearest keyboard to type in those magical letters http://whatho.in, we tip our hats. For it is you that made this happen. Thank you, Laughing Gas fans!

And, yes, thank you indiantopblogs.blogspot.com! Keep up the good work.

What ho, indeed!

Google+ versus Facebook

Google+ is out. In limited trials. So is it a facebook killer?  If you are not familiar with limited trials in the tech world, think of it as letting a select few people watch a movie premiere, so you can change the ending (if that’s possible) and also drum up publicity in advance of releasing to hoi polloi.

Since we move  around in the mysterious cognoscenti circles of the tech world (ahem), we received an invite  to check out the new social network from Google. Here are some first impressions.

The worlds don’t collide on Google+

Your family, friends, neighbors, the guy you met yesterday, the gal you have never met ever and your pet are all treated as equals on Facebook.  Let’s face it. Each of us has different worlds that we’ve created. From the world of family to relatives through acquaintances to people we simply transact with. Having them all in one network has never made sense. (But, that never stopped Facebook from acquiring 750million users, of which 200M+ login every day!) The worlds don’t collide in Google+. It lets you create umpteen number of “Circles” and create different worlds in which you can drop family, friends, acquaintances and relative strangers of various hues. This means that you can share certain things with only family and none others, and so on. This is how the real world networks work. This is definitely a plus.

Score: +1 point

Google+ is a one stop shop

It combines Facebook, Twitter, Email, Groups and a sophisticated private Chat room with video called “Hangout” in one place. None of this is radically new. With Google+, you can do it all in one place, and enjoy the convenience of having all your contacts in one place. In the tech world, they call this a ‘one stop shop’. Now, let’s think about it. Do we really want a one stop shop for fun things like social networking? Do you really like to eat at the same restaurant every time you go out? And, would you want to order Alu Paratha and Paneer Butter Masala from a guy named Madurai Murugan?

Score: -1 point

Google+ vs Facebook: Post office versus Disneyland

Google’s user interface has always been simple and minimal. Which makes it perfect for transactions like email and search. Not for fun activities like checking out your nephew’s first birthday pictures and idle gossip twittering among friends. The difference between Google+ and Facebook/Twitter experiences is the one between going to a post office and an outing in Disneyland.

Score: -1 point

Verdict

Final Score: -1 out of 3.  Time will tell if the world really needs another social network, that too from Google. In the battle between convenience and coolness, the latter often wins. Especially when teenagers and 20-somethings are involved.  This is a winner takes all game. There is no room for a number 2 in social networks. Zuckerberg can rest easy because he may have already won the game. If anyone has cause for mild worry, it’s probably Twitter at the moment.

If you are on Google+ or have been reading about it, do write and let us know what you think in the comments section.

We have a new home!

Laughing Gas is now What Ho! at http://whatho.in. We are in the middle of unpacking the boxes, applying for gas and phone connections, figuring out where to put the TV and hanging pictures on the wall. Welcome to our new home!  Do stay and look around, and let us know what you think. Thanks for visiting!

 

June 25, 1983 – A day in history

For us fogeys at Laughing Gas, there is unlikely to be a moment rivaling the euphoria on this day in 1983, when Kapil’s Devils won the Prudential World Cup, in one of the greatest team efforts in Indian sports history. Scorecard: India won by 43 runs. India: 183 (54.4 overs). West Indies: 140 (52 overs). Man of the Match: Mohinder Amarnath. Chak de India!

The Happiest Country in the World

And, the survey says … the happiest nation in the world is China with a perfect score of 100/100.

According to a Happiness Survey commissioned by Kim Yong Il himself, North Korea comes in at a modest number two with 98 points. The top five list of happiest nations in the world is rounded out by Cuba, Iran and Venezuela. Generally happy countries like Denmark and Sweden were plunged instantly into deep gloom after being told that they were in “the hundreds” ranking wise. All of Scotland was electrified at their rank of 45, but the excitement quickly died after being told “only because Kim Yong loves haggis”.

Turns out that rabid dictatorship and being on George Bush’s axis of evil are key ingredients of happiness. Who’d have thunk that?No news on where India finished. We can however confirm that Israel was not even on the list. “The American Empire” not surprisingly finished dead last. Our sources in Pyongyang tell us that the US scored an impressive 3 on 100, prompting a surprised Kim Yong Il to go, “I apologize and swear that it will never happen again”. Our sources also tell us that little known innovative metrics such as “how many days can you go without food” and “how long can you hold your breath in a gas chamber” were used in the analysis and final rankings, along with a brand new numerical system that has now been invented by the North Koreans. It also helped that African countries were not included in the survey, giving China and North Korea clear shots at the top dog positions.

Unconfirmed reports have Pakistan coming in at number 6, prompting the interior minister Mr. Rehman Malik to attribute the non-inclusion of the commonly accepted “how many times has a bomb gone off under your feet” metric to their poor finish. In Teheran, a belligerent and apparently disoriented Ahmedinejad denounced the Americans for trying to “manipulate the rankings to further their satanic agenda in support of the Zionist regime” prompting the White House spokesperson to respond “someday they will suffer for this when they get democracy.”

One cannot but admire the sheer chutzpah of the pint sized dictator. We did a little Googling to dig up some dirt on this guy. Apparently he has a fetish about titles, having given himself hundreds of these. An example is “Highest Incarnation of the Revolutionary Comradely Love”. It also turns out that his official bio mentions that he has been “falsely accused many times of corruption, misbehaving with women and murdering his opponents”.  If this guy lived in India, I am guessing that his title is likely to be “Member of Parliament.”

Pint Sized Mug Shots

Oh.. the little joys of living in India! How do I describe thee? 🙂 The topic de jour is passport sized photos. Is it me or is there an insane demand for passport sized photos in this country? In all my time of living in the US (a lengthy tenure), I must have taken perhaps a couple of sets. And they were only required when I applied for, well, my passport. In India, passport sized photos have very little to do with passports.

The clamor started the day I landed in Chennai almost a decade back. Checking account. Cell phone connection. Gas connection. Phone connection. Electricity. Home loans. Demat account. Auto drivers. Well, on the last part, I exaggerate. But, you get the point. Everybody and his brother in law wanted a piece of the action. At first, I naively did runs of  6 or 8 prints. Pretty soon, wisdom dawned and I upped the ante to packs of 20 to feed the insatiable appetite.

An aggravating aspect of this matter is that it is impossible to optimize production levels to exactly match demand. Complex algorithms and spreadsheet macros have failed miserably. Which means that you usually end up carrying inventory. Say you do a run of 20 prints. The way things play out, you end up giving 15 of these babies away. A small and odd number get left behind as unused stock. A few months later, you are applying for a permit to park where you work. The conversation with the security chap inevitably turns towards passport sized photos. You go home, rummage through your possessions and come up with nada. Another run of 20 prints is quickly ordered, and soon yet another small and odd quantity is misplaced. And the cycle goes on. It is quite likely that I have hundreds of these pint sized mug shots lying around, mysteriously hidden somewhere in the house.

An amusing aspect has to do with taking of the photos themselves. The rookies (of which I used to be one) tend to shower, shave and wear collared shirts from this misguided belief that these photos are actually looked at. As time goes by, wisdom dawns. Once, a guy who came to pick up a credit card application casually pocketed my photos with nary a glance. And, to add insult to injury, his pocket bulged with photos of other clients. Seeing my 2x2s being subject to step motherly treatment, I enquired as to how he planned to match the photos with the forms later. “Don’t worry, Sir” was the response. Veterans of this game have been known to enter photo studios and  exit in 30 seconds flat with photos in hand. Shave and shower are most definitely dispensed with. The maestros of this game, I suspect, are dispensing even with clothing of any kind.

Last but not the least, one has to touch on the quantities, not an insignificant line item which can dent the household budget. Statistical analysis suggests that the number demanded roughly correlates to the importance of the mission. Bank account app usually calls for two. Demat accounts could be more. Interestingly enough, a lot depends on the agent. Some are meek. You can push them to the edge and get away with it. “I have only two, they dont match and were taken when I turned six”. Others are defiant cowboys. “Sir, I need five or six”. “What the..? Why six?”. After intense nego, you can get some of these Quick Gun Murugans down to 3 or 4. Suspect they are compulsive-obsessive collectors. I can imagine the bragging in the back office “I got 12 out of a poor sod today”. I would also not rule out spot fixing and match fixing possibilities. Perhaps vast sums of money are being wagered on who can collect the most on a given day.

I’ve often dreamt of landing the Bharat Ratna. The highest honor in the land. To do the nation proud. I walk upto the President. And she says “Congratulations on being the first Indian Nobel prize winner in Physics. You have done the nation proud. That new fangled theory of yours that makes Einstein look like a  four year old totally rocks!” I nod and bow graciously, and stretch out the hand, eager to grasp the award. And that’s when she says “Not so fast, buster. I’ll need to see 25 passport sized photos first”. I usually wake up in a cold sweat.