Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bakra Bore

Book: Karl, Aaj Aur Kal
Author: Cyrus Broacha
Publisher: Random House India
Pages: 234
Price: Rs 195

Eisha Sarkar
Posted On Mumbai Mirror on Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 02:16:29 PM

"Much against my will, and under severe duress, I have been coerced into writing this book. If I am found dead by the end of it, please arrest the publisher forthwith." This could well be Cyrus Broacha's apology for writing Karl, Aaj Aur Kal. Unfortunately, it comes a tad too late - on the last page of the book.

The only reason why you'd even think of picking this book up is Cyrus. Never mind the badly-Photoshopped image of him with devil horns on the cover. Cyrus is funny and the book will be humourous, you think. But the problem with humour is that it has to come at the right time and give the right impact. A little late in the timing and it becomes lame. A little too much on the impact and it looks forced.

Unfortunately this is where Cyrus gets it wrong. Slapstick and sarcasm work well together on TV. You watch a man slipping on a banana peel, you laugh. But reading about a man slipping on a banana feel is more likely to evoke empathy. Cyrus's humour relies heavily on physical movement. Unfortunately, word imagery can’t match up to it.

Cyrus's tale is simple. It has two friends Karl and Kunal, who start out as "two ordinary Mumbai boys who like ordinary things: bunking classes, films, food and pornography". They fly off to the legendary Lee Strasburg Acting Studio in New York to sharpen their acting and skirt-chasing skills. They fail on both counts and return to Mumbai with a jackpot: their maiden movie role.

What starts off as a light tale of two boys finding their own space in this world, develops into a third-grade Bollywood script. The book lacks three essential elements: storyline, emotions and sadly, humour. It fails to connect to the reader in spite of the clich├ęd descriptions of Bollywood, Mumbai and politics. He tries to pack in information, sometimes seriously too, but it simply adds to the readers' confusion.

The book would have been better had it been proof-read and edited. There are places where the names of the characters have got mixed up, a sin by editorial standards.

That Cyrus is not a writer is fact. But he does use language to his advantage and he should do it more often in a medium where he can be heard. As for this book, ignore it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Road Rage

Puzo's back!

Book: Six Graves to Munich
Author: Mario Puzo wiriting as Mario Cleri
Publisher: Maclehose Press
Pages: 200
Price: Rs 399

Eisha Sarkar

"Now, why did Puzo think of writing on Munich?" It's a question that dwells on your mind even after you've finished Mario Puzo's 'lost book' Six Graves to Munich. The creator of The Godfather is known well for painting Sicily and New York with words. How does Munich, East Berlin and Budapest fit in? The Nazis make good tales of torture, but doesn't Mario Puzo write about the cruel-but-honourable Italian mafia? The questions play on your mind, till you search up Puzo on Wikipedia.

On Wikipedia you read, "After graduating from the City College of New York, he joined the United States Army Air Forces in World War II. Due to his poor eyesight, the military did not let him undertake combat duties but made him a public relations officer stationed in Germany." Slowly, it all falls into place - the choice of location for this novel and the one preceding it titled The Dark Arena.

In Six Graves to Munich, Puzo weaves a tale of vengeance. Seven senior Nazi officers torture American Captain Michael Rogan, murder his pregnant wife and leave him for dead. After the end of World War II, Rogan's torturers escape to new lives on both sides of the Iron Curtain. But Rogan survives, recovers from appalling injuries and plots for 10 years to exact his revenge.

He traces them down, one by one, with their new identities and new facial features and systematically eliminates them one by one, till he falls for another victim of torture and rape, Rosalie. Whether he should pursue vengeance or sacrifice it for the sake of happiness is the choice Rogan has to make.

Written before the monumental The Godfather, Six Graves to Munich is dark, violent and even grotesque at times. Unlike his mafia novellas, Puzo doesn't play with the side-tracks here. The story's simple, it's like an obstacle race Rogan has to win. There is no space for any diversions. Moving back and forth in time through distrubing flashes of memory, this is a book that will compel the reader to read from cover to cover. The big font works to the reader's benefit.

The book rarely found a mention among Puzo's bestsellers such as The Godfather, The Sicilian and Omerta till it was republished in 2009. For a hardcore Puzo fan, this book doesn't match up to the mafia tales that Puzo admits to have written to "make serious money". You may actually feel let down because you know the story and how it's going to end. But if you've got a long commute ahead of you, you may as well grab this one.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

45 Animal Inspired Logo Designs

Animals have always played a huge part in business branding. Sometimes an animal is used because of what it represents such as a bull representing strength or a sheep being synonymous with sleep. Other times, an animal is simply used because its in the business name or works well in representing what a business is about. So if you ever have to create a logo for a business and an animal is to be included, you will love this round up of some of the best animal logo designs on the web.

For more check


My mind's in conflict. A conflict of belief and fear. Belief in myself and fear that I will not be able to do justice to it. In this conflict I stand. The proposal is simple I have to sing a song in front of an audience. For many this would seem a trivial matter. Voice or no voice, what's there in a song? For those who know me well, know that I don't sing, not even "Happy Birthday". I am not even a bathroom singer.

I watch those around me trying to set their scales onto a Karaoke track. They start well but go off pitch on the high notes. They try again, lowering the scale this time. It's a matter of convenience. It's not about being professional, this show. It's about singing along. I haven't sang even a line for over a decade. Yet, this routine seems familiar. From a distant past, I remember singing on stage - in school and even at neighbourhood events in Pune. I'd even got a first class when I appeared the first time for the Hindustani Classical Music examination. I vaguely remember the ragas - bhupa, bhima palasi, sarang etc. But I can still recite the teen taal intact. It used to bring me joy, the singing.

But now when I try, it doesn't. It becomes more of an effort than a relief. I don't remember when I stopped singing and for what reason. I just stopped one day. After seven years of singing the nightingale lost her voice. I never even attempted to sing after that. When someone asked me for a song, I'd say, "I'll dance instead." I'm glad I still dance. It sets me free, unlike singing.

Today, I'll have to sing. No one's put the gun on me but it's one of the things you're expected to do in a crowd. It's like a mild trauma one has to overcome. It'll hurt, there will be tears but they'll be my own. I do believe I should try. I fear that I won't. I try to sing but my voice fails me. The conflict rages on...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Men Don't Listen & Women Can't Read Maps

Authors: Allan and Barbara Pease
Publisher: Manjul Publishing
Pages: 300
Price: Rs 195

Eisha Sarkar
Published on Mumbai Mirror on Monday, May 03, 2010 at 05:49:07 PM

Why Men Don't Listen & Women Can't Read Maps
- you really wouldn't want to know, would you? But as you inch closer to the bookshelf to have closer look at it, you try to tell yourself that the book can't tell you anything more than you already know. You then pick it up and flip through the introduction. You surprise yourself by actually reading a paragraph or two. And then you've got it safely tucked under your arm.

This is what 'Mr Body Language' Allan Pease and conference-speaker wife Barbara do to you with their book. It's not one of those boring, dull relationship books that preach how you should behave with the opposite sex. Why Men Don't Listen & Women Can't Read Maps starts a conversation with the reader. Tracing the history of the two sexes back to the Stone Age where man was the hunter and woman was the nest-defender, the Peases reason it out why men are good at certain tasks - driving, engineering, sport - while women are better than others - art, teaching, personnel management.

It's all about evolution
They write, "Men and women evolved differently because they had to. Men hunted, women gathered. Men protected, women nurtured. As a result, their bodies and brains evolved completely different ways. As their bodies physically changed to adapt to their specific functions, so did their minds.... Over millions of years, the brain structures of men and women thus continued to change in different ways. Now, we know the sexes process information differently. They think differently. They believe in different things. They have different perceptions, priorities and behaviours. To pretend otherwise, is a recipe for heartache, confusion and disillusionment all your life."

Wired differently
The difference between men and women is all in the brain, the writers note. Why men have better spatial vision, hence better driving, navigation and parking skills, and why women have better peripheral vision and hence can never be caught ogling at guys at a party is due to the brain chemistry.

Why women talk too much
How the brain functions is also responsible for why the sexes talk so differently, why women can multi-task while men find it hard, why men listen like statues or don't listen at all.

The authors quote a study on Italian women to find out why men feel nagged. "Italian women are top talkers speaking up to 6,000-8,000 words a day. They use an additional 2,000-3,000 vocal sounds to communicate, as well as 8,000-10,000 gestures, facial expressions, head movements and other body signals. This gives these women a daily average of more than 20,000 communication 'words' to relate their messages...

"Contrast a woman's daily 'chatter' to that of a man. He utters just 2,000-4,000 words and 1,000-2,000 vocal sounds, and makes a mere 2,000-3,000 body language signals. His daily average adds up to around 7,000 communication 'words'... This speech difference becomes apparent at the end of the day when a man and a woman sit down together for dinner. He's completed his 7,000 words and has no desire to communicate any more... she still has up to 15,000 to go!"

Homosexuality is an in-born trait!
The development of an XY foetus to a baby boy starts about six weeks from conception where the foetus receives a massive dose of male hormones called androgens which first forms the testes and then a second dose to alter the brain from a female format to a male configuration. The authors reason that if the foetus doesn't receive adequate male hormone at the appropriate time, a baby boy may be born with a brain structure that is more feminine who will most likely be gay by puberty or a genetic boy may be born with a fully functional female brain and a set of male genitals.

Contradicting gay activists, the authors stress that homosexuality is not a matter of choice as they quote from several studies to prove that there's something called a 'gay gene'.

That the authors have given space to the sexual minorities in a book whose central theme is to explore the biology behind the stresses that damage man-woman relationships (PMS, remote control battles and promiscuity among others) is quite commendable.

The verdict
While several books now talk about differences between man and woman - most notably, Men Are From Mars and Women Are From Venus - this one goes beyond just stating the facts. The authors have explored differences in sensory capability, communication, sexual drive, academic ability and more with the intention of helping us understand why these differences occur. They also offer practical suggestions how men and women can cope with these differences and reduce stress in their lives.

Humourous, racy and packed with very good illustrations and information Why Men Don't Listen & Women Can't Read Maps is a good read. Learn you will, and if not, you'll certainly have a few laughs!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Road Rage

This is road rage with a difference: If you go to Ahmedabad from Vadodara you're almost certain your car will be stopped by the traffic police at least once. They will ask you for your license and the car's registration, insurance and PUC papers. If you don't have any one of them, you may have to shell out anywhere in excess of Rs 400 for the cops to let you pass. If you DO have them you have to wait for several minutes till the cops ascertain that there is no way they can get you to pay a 'fine'. After that they reluctantly hand over your papers and ask you to leave quickly so that they can catch someone else. With Ahmedabad traffic cops swooping down on cars with GJ-6 number plates, Vadodara's cops have started retaliating. So every time an unsuspecting GJ-1 car comes down from Ahmedabad into the city, our cops out here force them to halt. It's payback time!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

How does homeopathy work?

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Times Wellness on Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tiny white pills in small glass bottles - that's homeopathy to the ignorant. Uncork the bottles and you'll find remedies to ailments as different as cold and cancer. For many, homeopathy is akin to hearsay. Others believe it was born in India, like Ayurveda. On the occasion of World Homeopathy Day, we seek to demystify this science and find out what those white pills can really do.

Potent pills

The roots

Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, the founder of Western medicine, first mooted the idea of curing 'like with like' over 2,500 years ago. The Chinese, Indians, Greeks, Mayans and Native American Indians also used the law of similars. But it was German physician Samuel Hahnemann who created the alternative medical practice in 1796.

Treat the person, not the disease
Homeopath, Dr Madhuri Gurjar says, "We look at treating the person, not just the disease, while allopathy seeks to treat the symptoms of the disease. When a patient comes in for consultation, we get into his/her case history and find out his/her entire physical/mental make-up. If there are 10 typhoid patients, we will not give the same remedy for all 10. We'll look at them individually and suggest treatments accordingly."

"Like cures like"
While translating William Cullen's A Treatise on the Materia Medica in 1790, Hahnemann found the claim that cinchona, the bark of a Peruvian tree, was effective in treating malaria because of its astringency. Hahnemann decided to test cinchona.

Noting that the drug induced malaria-like symptoms in himself, he concluded that it would do so in any healthy individual. This led him to postulate a healing principle, simila similibus curentur (like cures like), which is the central doctrine of homeopathy.

"We believe in treating the patient with the minimum dose of the medicine that produces the same effect or symptoms in the patient as the disease," explains Dr Parag Buch who has been practising homeopathy for 20 years.

Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of Homeopathy

The law of dilution
Minimal dosage is key to homeopathy. "We believe in boosting the body's immune system to fight off the disease. There are cases where just a single dose of homeopathic drug administered accurately has cured the patient," Dr Gurjar says.

Back in the 1790s Hahnemann had found that ingesting substances to produce noticeable changes in the body resulted in toxic effects. He then attempted to mitigate this problem through exploring dilutions of the compounds he was testing. He claimed that these dilutions, when prepared according to his technique of succussion (systematic mixing through vigorous shaking) and potentization (successive dilutions of the mother tincture), were still effective in alleviating the same symptoms in the sick.

It's these dilutions that have come under scrutiny of scientists and medical experts. In her book Suckers, medical writer Rose Shapiro notes such dilutions can be equivalent to "one drop of remedy in four Olympic-sized swimming pools". How effective can that be?

Dr Buch responds, "This principle of homeopathy will be understood once there is greater awareness of how nanotechnology works. If you'd tell an earlier generation that you can have a camera the size of a ball-point pen's tip, they would have laughed. But now it’s possible to conceive. The same is for these dilutions. Homeopathy is ahead of its time. How it works is a grey area. But if something has been curing people for almost 300 years, it can't just be all water, right?"

One drop of tincture in 4 swimming pools!

What are those pills?

"The problem that most people have with homeopathy is that all pills look alike. Many believe they're made sucrose or lactose but they're actually globules made from goat's milk. We put one drop of the actual medicine onto these pills," says Dr Gurjar.

Why aren't any of the ingredients listed on the bottles? "To prevent self-medication. All homeopathic drugs are available over the counter. People simply read books and buy medicines without consulting with a homeopath about the correct dosage or whether they really need to take the medicine. There is a great risk of side-effects if you combine two or three medicines without proper knowledge of the science. By not giving away the ingredients of the medicines, we are in turn forcing them to go for proper counselling," says Dr Gurjar.

Stepping in where allopathy fails
For Shreyasi Majumdar, homeopathy has done "loads of good" since she started the course in February this year. "I have seen significant positive changes with regards to the gynaecological/hormonal and dermatological problems I was trying to address and the effects of the medication have far surpassed those I have experienced with traditional allopathic medicine."

For a good cause

"There have been cases where there is no allopathic treatment for the disease but homeopathy has found a cure," notes Dr Buch. "If you have tonsillitis, your allopath will suggest surgery. But surgery is not treatment. Homeopathy can cure you of tonsillitis in few weeks."

It takes too long!
Dr Farokh Master, one of the world's leading classical homeopaths, says, "People complain that homeopathy takes too long but in most cases they come to the homeopath only at a very late stage of the disease. If you've been suffering from diabetes for 20 years and have been taking allopathic therapy and if a homeopath tells you that a treatment will take five years to be effective, you make a huge hue and cry!"

The steroid question
Many medical experts allege that homeopathic remedies that give results quickly often contain steroids. "This is absolutely untrue," noted homeopath Dr Jugal Kishore writes on his website. "A good homoeopathic prescription which is geared towards stimulating and helping the body's defense system and works as an immuno-modulator, gives very satisfying results in acute cases as well. Homoeopathic remedies which are by and large derived from the plant kingdom do have certain alkaloids that are as effective as steroids and these are extracted and made into homoeopathic medicines. These however are not steroids and do not give rise to any steroid-like side-effects," he says.

No one treatment for all
Homeopathy isn't about cause and effect. Dr Master explains, "You should sit in a chair you fit in. I am a doctor, not a carpenter. If you ask me to alter the shape of the chair to fit you in, I can't. Unfortunately, commercial homeopaths don't realise that. Homeopathy has its limitations. It doesn't cure everything under the sun, as many modern homeopaths tell their clients. Hair-fall can have a wide variety of causes. If you prescribe the same medication for all, then why call yourself a homeopath? It's just an allopathic treatment using homeopathic medicine. That beats the very purpose of homeopathy where you talk with your patient over a period of time and diagnose the disorders the patient is suffering from and then go in for the prescribed remedy."

There are side-effects
"The benefit of homeopathy is that it is proved on humans and not guinea pigs so the side-effects, if any, show up as symptoms in humans. However, where it lacks is in statistics and standardisation because few pharmaceutical companies have come forward to sponsor such research," Dr Gurjar says.

While many homeopaths claim these remedies have no side-effects, Dr Master cautions, "Homeopathy can be very dangerous if not done properly. I am worried about the current trend of homeopathic colleges mushrooming everywhere. There is a lot of money in this line and people tend to prescribe textbook medication and label themselves as homeopaths. There are plenty of homeopaths around with degrees from dubious colleges. The crucial element in a patient-doctor relationship is trust and in the case of a homeopath, that is absolutely essential."

Majumdar stresses on the "importance to find a good homeopath though, since my experiences with other homeopaths in the past have not been very savoury as far as long lasting effects go. I would suggest going to a well-known homeopath, with a good number of positive testimonials. I have become a firm believer in alternative medicine paths and as far as those go, homeopathy has proved most effective for me.”

Greater awareness
With people becoming increasingly aware of this science through media, homeopaths hope there'll be more people coming in for treatments for acute and not just chronic ailments. "It's refreshing to see more paediatric cases coming in year after year," Dr Buch says while Dr Gurjar claims her patients have increased three-fold over the last four years. "It's only among the uneducated where homeopathy has failed because they prefer injections that can cure them in 24 hours instead of pills they have to take regularly," she says.

Will allopathy and homeopathy ever work together? Dr Buch breaks into a smile, "If it helps thousands of patients, then why not?"

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sriram Recommends...

"You come up with a good value proposition, someone will copy it. But that's life." When R Sriram spoke these words in front of a motley of businessmen and members of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), I couldn't help break into a smile. I like Sriram. He's the man who co-founded Crossword, the bookstore that turned non-readers to book browsers (well, at least that!)

While Sriram's done well for himself. He sold off his Crossword shares to Shoppers Stop and set up his own consultancy Next Practice Retail. Having built a brand like Crossword in a nation that doesn't read much, Sriram knows how retail works. "It's the top 10 per cent of India that accounts for 30 per cent of its income and 35 per cent of consumption. Retail doesn't have to target all of India. If it targets just the top 10 per cent that's enough," he said. The audience nodded appreciatively.

For any retail company to work in India, it should value three concepts that are peculiar to the Indian market:

1. Concept of Freshness
Sriram said, "We will never make the same vegetables for lunch and dinner both. Our idea of food is: We make it now, we eat it now. We buy small quantities of veggies and we buy it often. Therefore, the supermarket should be close to our homes. Moreover, our dense public transport doesn't allow us to carry too many bags and not all of us can afford to take the car out to buy a few groceries from the supermarket. Thus, proximity plays a big role."

When the Apna Bazaar superstore came up at Agar Bazaar, Prabhadevi (Mumbai), my mom chose to go there for shopping veggies. She had good reason, she said. "You get chopped vegetables packaged in tiny dabbas. You can just pick up the veggies you want to cook for dinner everyday. It makes it so easy for the women who have offices here. They can pick their veggies up on their way home." Apna Bazaar has got it right. By keeping it fresh and small, it has provided a solution to a particular customers' needs.

Will next-door supermarkets ever rout the familiar kirana stores out of business? "The kirana works because it provides a solution to your needs. They will deliver the goods home for free instead of inconveniencing you by making you wait at the shop and carry all the packages. Supermarkets cater to different needs. They work on a strategy where they allow you to browse through a range of products (kiranas often lack that kind of space that will allow customers to browse). Identify the need, the customer and you can well be in business!"

2. Concept of Value
"We always want more for less. In the US, if you want more, you pay more and if you want to pay less you get less. The Americans have accepted this as way of life and their whole economy works that way." Sriram's right. In India, we're always looking at value for money. Not just what money can buy but how much more we can buy with that same money.

This is where the pricing becomes important. In retail, you need to keep on investing and geographically India is so large that if you want to reach out to everyone, you'll have to incur huge costs.

"Most people in this country pay more for the same products than their counterparts in other countries, simply because of this high cost of reach. And there are peculiarites even there. In the US, a movie costs $10 while a book costs an average of $6.99. Books are cheaper than going to the movies. In India, it's the other way round. A basic English-language paperback will cost around Rs 300 while you can watch a movie for Rs 100. Only mobile charging is cheap here. That's why the market has exploded to 50 million users."

If you want to be in business here, Sriram says, you should not be in the business of products but into the business of solutions. That's how you can offer value for money.

3. Concept of Space
"You need to build space to start a business. In India, it takes more capital than planned, more time than planned and you always get revenues that are less than what was planned for." The basic concept of a supermarket is space. It's not that there weren't bookstores in India before Crossword came along. But they didn't really encourage browsing. You had to tell them what you needed and they would give you the book. They'd probably suggest a couple more. But if you'd just step in to browse, the shopkeeper's assistant would peep over your shoulder to find out which book you'd picked up and then ask you if you'd found what you're looking for.

What Crossword did was offer you the leisure of browsing through books, even reading them while sitting in the comfortable sofas while sipping coffee (provided by an in-house cafe) and give you the freedom to pick up as many books as you wanted.

That's where the malls and More have failed. In order to combat the kiranas, they've built huge spaces, but they've had their floor assistants track you down and follow you as you browse through merchandise. It was ok for a kirana to tell your brand of shampoo or sugar wasn't available for the day and that they could get it for you in a couple of days. But at a supermarket, you expect things to be stocked up. If it's not available, you'll go back to your kirana (at least they deliver home!) Storing inventory is expensive but for supermarkets to survive in India, it's a cost they'll have to be willing to shell out.

When you talk about retail space it's not just the shop floor. It's shop floor + storage + toilets + back office + parking lot. The last is one of the most important reasons why malls have largely failed in India. Malls prefer to use that space for shops than parking lots. But in their bid to get revenues from rentals, they lose out on potential customers. People who bring a car to a mall are more likely to buy something than those who don't. That explains why in spite of high footfalls many malls have had to close. Footfalls don't fetch revenues, parking does. It's expensive but it's a matter of convenience and hence a solution. And like Sriram said, business is about solutions, not products.

Most of the points Sriram made were either straight out of management textbooks (read Kotler) or simply common sense. So why haven't retailers figured this out yet? "There has to be a shift from the supply side to the demand side. They still have to understand that!"

Monday, April 5, 2010

What the Dog Saw

Book: What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Publisher: Allen Lane (Penguin)
Pages: 410
Price: Rs 479

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Mumbai Mirror Monday, April 05, 2010 at 03:05:22 PM

The book's cover shows a dog wearing a lampshade over its head and the naked lamp on a table beside it. The back cover shows that the lamp's lit, the dog with the shade still over its head basking in the glow. The picture is funny and wouldn't have made it to the cover of a book unless it was about the dog in the picture. But this is Malcolm Gladwell's book. Expect the unexpected.

Those who've read Gladwell's previous books, Blink, Tipping Point and Outliers, know well that Gladwell talks of the most common of common occurrences, beliefs, events, observations and myths, puts them under a psychologist/sociologist's microscope and decodes why humans behave the way we do. With What the Dog Saw, he has extended his scope. For now he has found why dogs behave the way they do.

The book is named after an article on Cesar Millan, the so-called dog whisperer. Gladwell writes, "Millan can calm the angriest and most troubled of animals with the touch of his hand. What goes on inside Millan's head as he does that? That was what inspired me to write this piece. But after I got halfway through my reporting, I realised there was an even better question: When Millan performs his magic, what goes on inside the dog's head? That's what we really want to know - what the dog saw."

What makes Gladwell a brilliant writer is that he asks questions that wouldn't even have occurred to most of us. The book's not about dogs. It's about how faulty our perceptions can be. He illustrates this in the article, The Picture Problem. Gladwell draws parallels between mammography and satellite images used during the Gulf War. In either case, experts had trouble identifying 'the threat'. So while tumours in the dense areas of the breast may not show up during a regular mammography exam, an oil tanker can mislead analysts to believe that it's a Scud missile. What one man perceives as threat can well alter another man's life.

From hair colour to pitchmen, 'Black Swans' to late bloomers, Enron to Iraq, dangerous minds to troublemakers, talent myths to new-boy networks, plagiarism to intelligence, all form part of this anthology of Gladwell's articles that were published in the New Yorker Magazine. What the Dog Saw encompasses over a decade's worth of well-written, thought-provoking articles. The book's divided into three parts - Part One on obsessives, pioneers and other varieties of minor geniuses, Part Two on theories, predictions and diagnoses and Part Three on personality, character and intelligence.

To his credit, Gladwell quotes extensively from literature and experts to illustrate his point. He does like to hammer it down till you fall in line with his way of thinking (or at least give it an appreciative nod). He skims the surface and digs deeper and deeper till he leaves you with the feeling, "It just can't end here."

That Gladwell is an excellent storyteller and researcher is well-known. But where he scores most is in his underlying humour that he sometimes but powerfully laces with sarcasm to make an impact. He makes you think, when you think he has put it all down for you. That is his genius!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Of pothole-free roads and green tyres

I attended my first seminar as member of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) yesterday. Though I've attended such events before as a journalist, this was different. For one, as a member, you can't walk out of a presentation no matter how sleepy you feel. Yes, the coordinator mentioned that "coffee and tea would be available for all those who feel the need to keep awake," but things are not as easy as a journalist walking out of an event he/she considers boring (unfortunately most events we journos attend are).

Luckily for me, this one was on Nanotechnology and Surface Coating. My husband warned that it might be a little dry, but I insisted that I attend. And I'm glad I did.

The speakers were three scientists - two from universities in the US and one from Indian Institute of Science, Mumbai - who are now working with various industries in and around Vadodara. The focus of discussion - technology entrepreneurship.

Slides after slides showcased how just a few molecules of a silicon compounds (silanes) can be added to paints, polymers and plastics to increase their strength, durability or both. I noticed a few yawns while some of the students took to frantic note-taking not so much for actually making a note of the seminar's proceedings but more to keep themselves awake. (It was something we were taught by teachers in school. She'd said, "If you feel sleepy during a class, start writing down whatever is said. It'll keep you awake.)

While the seminar was mostly academic, it threw up some interesting solutions to problems that make us go grrrrrr! Here are some of them:

1. Pothole-proofing for roads: We hate the rains because of what it does to our roads. And since we do want the rains, we'll have to deal with the roads. One of the panelists suggested that if we use aminosilane (a silicon compound) to asphalt (that's what roads are made of), we'll be able to build roads that are waterproof and pothole-proof. He said, "It's commonly used abroad but no one has thought of doing it in India!"

2. Green tyres: As we look for greener options, can tyres be far behind. A slide of huge green truck tyres has caught my fancy. The scientist who showed it to us, told us, "These can do 225,000 miles before they need to be changed." Wow! 225,000 miles a single set of wheels can drastically cut down carbon-emission levels. How are they different from regular tyres? "Organosilanes." The technology is very expensive though. That's why BMW uses them!

3. Recyclable labels: I love pulling off the stickers on Coke and Pepsi bottles, much to my mom's irritation. But what do I do with those stickers? I chuck them away. This is where the 'green solution' comes in. A panelist told us he'd made recyclable labels for Coke bottles once. "We'd used adhesive-dyes on the bottles that could be washed several times without really rubbing off." When asked why Coke has gone back to stickers for labels, he said, "Recyclable labels don't make much business sense. A 25kg can can cover over a million bottles. "Unfortunately, nanotechnology doesn't sell!"