Saturday, March 18, 2006

The vexata quaestios of the presumably undemanding game of shuttlecock

Some people have the habit of using the Thesaurus extensively. In an attempt to show mastery over the language, they indiscriminately right-click on words, navigate to the list of synonyms and replace. Or for the old world paper and pen writers, there is always Roget's Thesaurus or Chambers Thesaurus to look up. This could actually be beneficial if only the writers bother to check the meanings of the words they use, and make sure they fit the context, but ever so often this is not the case, and the random replacement ruins the flow of the article. The synonyms sometimes stick out like a sore thumb!!

To explain more vividly, a lot of times it is a transition from the Thesaurus to the writing, without entering the writer's brain.

Just to have a little fun, I did a small exercise today. I wrote a simple piece, and blindly replaced some of the words with synonyms. Mind you, I removed and set my brain aside when I wrote this, and my only purpose, if any, was to complicate affairs.

Check out the wierd outcome...

"Armed with our racquets and a tattered shuttlecock, the neighborhood girls and myself, flock every evening, jocund, jolly and yearning to play a perfect game of shuttlecock. After the painstaking ritual of forming teams, which involves a lot of self-assertion, self-assurance, self-confidence, self-control, self-denial, self-glorification, self-possession, self-propulsion, self-reliance, self-righteousness, self-sacrifice, self-satisfaction and self-will, we indulge in the process of deciding which team will play on which side of the gate (yes, that serves as the net.) This being no less meticulous, we return to the game ashen.

Now arises 'The Great Peace Disruption Affair' revolving around the predicament of who gets to deliver the first service. Ultimately, after total disruption of camaraderie, we begin the game.

The shuttlecock rises into the air - up, up, up, up, up and away. Of all the preposterous, fatuous, imbecilic, unthinkable rabble rousers on earth, it's the wind this time, which, being inordinately prejudiced against us, blows in a direction perfectly perpendicular to the direction of motion of our shuttlecock (measured with apparatus without zero error, and conditions of 0% error due to defective measurement.)

By this time, the few bona fide Gurus of the seemingly simple game of shuttlecock leave due to emergencies such as attending their music or dance classes, studying for the next day's examination or for continuing their beauty siesta.

The rest of us amateurs (phrasing it pretty decently) ponder over the fate of our ambiguous game. By the time we resolve our problems and resume the game, it is either too dark to play, or our one and only shuttlecock is run over by a 1940 model vintage car."

Ten minutes to a better vocabulary

How do we build our vocabulary? Reading a lot of books does help but most of the times when we encounter a new word while reading we feel too lazy to look it up in the dictionary. However, we are able to guess the meaning of the word, based on the context, and that vague meaning sticks on. The result: we know a word, but are not confident of using it because we are not 100% sure of the meaning. Here's one technique to fine tune your vocabulary and be cent percent sure of word meanings...

Take any word and list out words which seem like its synonyms. Then check up each of these words in the dictionary. You will be surprised by the subtle differences between the meanings of seemingly similar words. After all, if they had the SAME meaning, we would not need so many words at all :-)

Example:

Seed word: meticulous

Synonyms (or so we think): systematic, fussy, fastidious, punctilious, scrupulous, perfectionist, painstaking, thorough, accurate

Check out these meanings from Merriam-Webster Online (www.m-w.com)
  • meticulous: marked by extreme or excessive care in the consideration or treatment of details
  • systematic: methodical in procedure or plan; marked by thoroughness and regularity
  • fussy: requiring or giving close attention to details; revealing a sometimes extreme concern for niceties
  • fastidious: having high and often capricious standards; difficult to please; showing or demanding excessive delicacy or care; reflecting a meticulous, sensitive, or demanding attitude
  • punctilious: marked by or concerned about precise accordance with the details of codes or conventions
  • scrupulous: punctiliously exact
  • perfectionist: a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable
  • painstaking: expending, showing, or involving diligent care and effort
  • thorough: marked by full detail; careful about detail
  • accurate: free from error especially as the result of care

Although the words seem very similar and in most cases we can use one instead of the other, on careful observation we can see the subtle differences in meaning and intensity. For example, words like 'fastidious', 'fussy' and 'perfectionist' are so strong that sometimes, they may even border on the negative!

When we pick words like this and systematically analyse them, it improves our vocabulary phenomenally. This exercise just took me 10 minutes. I am sure we can afford to spend that much time every day to develop one of the most essential skills required by writers.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Five minutes a day, to go the good learner's way

Have you tried WhatIs.com's Word of the Day e-Newsletter? It's absolutely fantastic. Every day it sends you the explanation of 1 information technology term, along with links to articles, trivia, and so on.

That's the first e-mail in my Inbox which I open and read every morning. Five fun minutes to a sharper intellect.

Today I learnt what a Slingbox is. Yesterday I explored Holographic Versatile Disks (HVD). Every day there is something new to learn.

To subscribe to the Word of the Day newsletter, visit http://whatis.techtarget.com/registerProfile/1,291003,sid9,00.html

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Let's learn a few new words today...

  1. gerrymander: to manipulate a situation to gain advantage
  2. truckle: to submit meekly to another's will
  3. splenetic: irritable
  4. excoriate: to criticise harshly
  5. visceral: instinctive or intuitive
  6. quiddity: essence or substance of a thing, person or situation
  7. daub: a crude or unskilled painting
  8. antediluvian: very old-fashioned
  9. evanesce: to fade from sight
  10. bagatelle: trifle; an insignificant thing or amount

Holi Greetings!

Wish you all a very happy Holi! Holi, as you all might know, is a day to seek the blessings of Agni, the fire God.

Agni, in the Vedas, is described as the purifier. He is considered the essence of life, the fundamental life-energy. He is equated to will power and strength.

Sa hi rtuhu sa maryaha sa saadhur

mithro na bhoodhadhbuthasya ratheehi!

Tham medheshu prathamam devayantheervisha

upa bruvathe dhasmamaareehi!!

Rig Veda I.77

Translation by Sri Aurobindo: "For he is the will, he is the strength, he is the effector of perfection, even as Mitra he becomes the charioteer of the Supreme. To him, the first, in the rick-offerings the people seeking the godhead utter the word, the Aryan people to the fulfiller."

All-encompassing prayer

asathomaam sath gamaya
thamasomaam jyothir gamaya
mrithyormaam amrutham gamaya
aum shanthi shanthi shanthihi

"Lead me from the unreal to the real.
Lead me from darkness to light.
Lead me from death to immortality.
May there be peace everywhere."

Some wonderful thoughts...

"There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children... one is roots, the other is wings." - Stephen Covey

"Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creative." - Charles Mingus

"Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success..." - John Keats

"Reduce your plan to writing... The moment you complete this, you will have definitely given concrete form to the intangible desire." - Napoleon Hill

"Fixing your objective is like identifying the North Star - you sight your compass on it and then use it as the means of getting back on track when you tend to stray." - Marshall Dimock

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

When you are taking a break...

It is humanly impossible to work continuously. It is healthy to take a ten minute break after every hour of work. Walk out of your cubicle and get yourself a cup of your favourite beverage. What next? There are a lot of simple activities you could do during your short breaks, which will not only refresh you, but also sharpen your skills and knowledge at the same time. Here are some…

Buy yourself a book of math puzzles by Shakuntala Devi. Pick a puzzle at random and start solving. Her puzzles are absolutely mind-boggling and most of the beginner level puzzles can be solved within a few minutes. I suggest you buy yourself a book of solved puzzles so that you can peep into the solution and get back to work satisfied after your break is over. Otherwise, your mind might unconsciously keep hacking the puzzle in the background, not allowing you to concentrate on your work later.

Another alternative is free form writing. Just let your mind loose and write whatever comes to your mind. After five minutes, stop and read through what you have written. Sometimes your write-up is so funny that you can get back to work after a refreshing laugh. Other times, you may end up having jotted down such profound thoughts that you can improve the piece and publish it on your blog or elsewhere.

You could also visit sites like www.howstuffworks.com, www.wikipedia.org and www.whatis.com and read the day's featured article or any other of your choice. They are great resources for improving our knowledge.

Enjoy these `break time exercises', and also share any more that you can think of.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Known, yet unknown

It was with much apprehension that I first entered my Upanishads class in college (this was around four years ago.) It was a new elective that was being offered and I had enrolled thanks to my unquenchable desire to know more about our cultural and Vedic heritage.

I entered with butterflies in my stomach, equipped with some basic knowledge of Sanskrit, which I was sure would not suffice for understanding the Upanishads. There were thirty equally baffled faces sitting in the class. We had been informed that the nature of the Brahman (the supreme soul) would be the main topic of discussion. Waiting for the teacher to arrive, I glanced through the first few pages of our textbook. The content baffled me.

I came through statements like… “The Brahman is known, yet unknown; and is a matter of experience which cannot be explained by words or pictures or any of the tools of communication, that what the teacher imparts to the student is only a near-perfect description of the experience and guidance on the means to obtain the knowledge.” For a layman like me, it was Greek and Latin.

Had I been a teacher and had I entered that class to teach Upanishads, not even the promise of half a kingdom would have made me stay, let alone proceed with the discourse, for all of us students were looking so dazed and ignorant. But it was amazing how, for our teacher, it took only ten minutes and one example to convince us of the practical perspective of the concept of Brahman. The example was really an eye-opener and I am compelled by an urge to share it with more people.

Just imagine a lamp, which is covered by an earthen pot. Suppose we made a lot of holes in the pot and kept the setup in a dark room, wouldn’t the room be splattered by spots of light? Depending on the distance of the hole from the lamp, the spots may be diffused or sharp … of varying shapes and sizes. But can we dispute the fact that all the light is indeed from that one lamp.

That, the teacher explained to us is the concept of Brahman, which is the Supreme spirit of which we human beings, of varying complexions, heights, weights, appearances and nature, are simply manifestations. When we realize this harmony between the individual and the universal, we come to terms with life.

After that there was no going back. The cosmopolitan group understood that there was no language barrier in learning such a universal concept. Example after example made us understand the essence of the Upanishads, but none matched the concept as perfectly as the above.

It leads us to wonder, doesn’t it… if all of us realized this oneness and harmony, there would be no question of communal riots or religious disputes. All of us are but drops in one big ocean of humanity with a touch of the divine in every one of us. Let’s remember to search for that divine spark in ourselves, and behold it in others too.

Hinduism is not a religion

Don't believe anybody who tells you that their religion is Hinduism. In fact, if they have told you that, they don't really qualify to be Hindus, for the simple reason that Hinduism is a way of life and not a religion. This is the underlying logic behind the fact that there is no formal system for conversion into Hinduism. You just learn to live the life of a Hindu.

See the following link for some articles that explain this wonderful way of life...

http://hinduwebsite.com/hinduwaymain1.htm

For luscious reddish brown coloured Chole Masala

Part of the success of any dish rests in its appearance. And for good chole masala, the perfect colour is reddish brown. Sometimes, when the tomatoes are not ripe enough, the basic gravy lacks that luscious colour. How do you make up for this? Tie a few teaspoons of tea in a muslin cloth or spice bag, and add this to the gravy when it is boiling. You will be amazed by the fantastic, and absolutely tempting colour of the gravy. The tea also adds a nice flavour to the dish. Remember to remove the tea bag before serving.

Bed, Breakfast and Wi-Fi

Check out my latest article in BenefIT (www.benefitmag.com) The article talks about the various IT services that Indian hotels offer their guests, and also how the hotels themselves use IT to serve the guests better.

http://www.benefitmag.com/admin/issuepdf/IT%20in%20Hospitality.pdf