Tuesday, July 31, 2007

And the Cat got the Cream.......Based on a True Story.

I'm sure a lot of us remember the childhood stories we heard - especially the one's which emphasize a moral point. But more on that after the story. Yesterday I was at Dance class a bit early and as the elder statesman there , I was called onto adjudicate between two warring parties. The trouble started with a newcomer to the class last week - a Russian girl - typical- tall, blonde, blue-eyed. And two guys in the class- lets call them B and M - both of them school mates upto +2 and have recently joined different engineering colleges started to take a closer notice of her. We are doing the Cha-Cha recently and we are supposed to dance with partners (preferably the opposite sex) and we have to, at the start of every class, ask out a girl to dance the rest of the class with us.. Good training for the real world (and for those with starting problems in dating). If 2 or 3 consecutive girls refuse you - no matter, you can dance alone - the instructor wouldn't shout at you - but you have to be seen making the effort first (get rejected in front of everyone of course) Any way the instructor was watching hawk-eyed as to who would approach Catherine first (as everyone looked intimidated at her presence) and our two friends came to a gentleman's aggreement - each would ask her out on alternate classes and that way they could share and keep her to themselves. I was as usual waiting for the crowd to thin out and to ask the girls who were usually ignored by the rest of the guys to dance with me. (not because I pitied them or something - just that they would probably dance as bad as me and together things would even out..)

So the thing goes according to plan and B got the chance to dance with the Ruski on Wednesday. On friday M couldn't come to the class and the Russian girl not knowing the rule that you have to be asked out every single time afresh, as a matter of routine - went to B and continued to dance with him. On monday M turned up and was all enthusiastic for asking out the Russian until B reminded him that as per the agrreement it was B's chance today. M went ballistic - but B persisted in saying that it was M's own fault that he hadn't been there to claim his due on the appointed day. And all the while the girl, Catherine was standing there right beside them smiling inanely and not understanding a word of the conversation going on in hot tamil - not knowing that it was she they were fighting for. As things started hotting up a few of us suggested going out to cool it a bit and once outside - I proposed a compromise - let the girl go into the general pool- no monopolizing her at least for today and restart the agreement again from next class. So as we went in, I went straight up to the girl and said "Lets Cha,cha" and took her to my usual spot while B and M fell in on either side of me - watching and gloating that the other hadn't got his hands on the girl..As for me she soon made me regret why I had asked her with the speed at which she was stamping on my poor feet. Now that I am all grown up and mature I find I prefer personal comforts more than "neighbours envy and owners pride"

I remeber reading a story a long time ago about two monkeys fighting over some cream and a cat came by....... Never really believed that people could behave so - but you live and learn something new everyday....

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Terminator- The Gene Not Arnie....

Continuing from where I left off last blog, I'll try to give my take on why Genetically-modified foods have such a bad name. The reason can be given in one word -MONSANTO. An incredibly rich MNC in the USA - it is also a paradox- a great scientific/engineering department with morons in the management side.

Chronologically the Monsanto story starts with the first controversy - The Roundup ready corn- their hybrid corn with the promise of high yield. This plant had one extra feature - it was genetically engineered to withstand a strong weed-killer , also manufactured by monsanto incidentally. This allowed you to plant the seeds, watch it grow, and then spray the whole field with the weed-killer indiscriminately- resulting in death of the weeds while the corn plants survive easily. A very easy and time - saving alternative to current weed-killing alternatives where multiple chemicals are used for different weeds. The catch was that you buy both the seeds and the weed-killer only from Monsanto. This monpoly idea put off many farmers and got the company in trouble with the US Govt. resulting in withdrawal of the product. This idea was later made use of by Matthew Reilly in one of his novels where the Chinese release a deadly biological warfare virus worldwide which kills people of every ethnicity like Whites, Blacks, South Asians while the Chinese alone have a genetic mutation which protects them from the virus.

The next stupid product from Monsanto was the BT-Cotton (BT- bacillus thuriensis - a bacteria) which was engineered to cause the death of the Boll Worm which eats up the cotton plants causing heavy loss to the farmers. The genetically enginnered plant leaves when eaten by an insect or a caerpillar is activated in the alkaline conditions of an insect's stomach (animals have acid in their stomach) forms a toxin and kills the insects- resulting in high yields. Again a good idea -but the way it was marketed suggesting death to all insects (including cute butterflies -which of course come from ugly leaf eating larvea) got the naturalist group into a great indignation and protests. They expressed doubts that the insects will not be affected by the Bt-Gene and what if they develop resistance to it? The answer is - of course they'll develop resistance - its just a matter of time. We are talking biological warfare here- our brains Vs. organisms adaptive capacities remember? Again a good product and unbelievable marketing disaster.

Fianlly we come to the most notorious - The Terminator Gene. Farmers usually use the seed from this year's crop to cultivate next year. But most hybrid seed varieties are naturally sterile and don't germinate that easily. Monsanto went a step further and created a hybrid seed variety - intentionally and completely sterile and non-germinating. Of course the seeds were producing yields 4 to 5 times more than normal seeds - but the farmer had to buy them every year from Monsanto again and again. No one could compel the farmers to go back to the company for the same seed except if they liked it and got good returns for the money- and of course the company has to pay huge amounts as salaries to its scientists right? The problem was the huge furor caused by the Idea, the Very Idea of genetically creating something sterile (as opposed to our ideas of fertile life-giving plants)- an incredible marketing disaster - one which destroyed the company. There was the point raised by our environmentalists that the gentic mutation may spread to adjacent crops (cross-pollination) which don't have the Terminator gene resulting in widespread sterility of all plants. This is an inane argument - biology shows us that it is always the other way around - given a chance the terminator plants would have somehow got cross-pollinated and regained the capacity to undergo germination again - Life goes on - that's the very basic principle of biology. Anyhow the resulting controversy destroyed the company which never recovered from this disaster and was sold off.

So as I said in my first Blog - all this controversy has created a fear psychosis in people regarding the safety of genetically- modified foods - which indeed are the future if our species continue to develop at the present rate - given the limited resources available on this planet. We either have to increase the yield of every single crop many times over or try some method of population control or go for extra-planetary food farms on the moon or elsewhere if we have to survive as a species..

For those readers who have survived up to this point, I hope I have not bored you - I next intend to write about some truths in the IT field... So keep coming back, Ok?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater.....

I was in a Reliance Fresh outlet yesterday, shopping with a friend and we came to a rack of Luscious Red Apples which my friend took a look at and rejected immediately- "Not Natural" he said and added "Genetic engineering" with a look of distaste. And this from an engineer. Well, we spent the rest of the afternoon arguing the merits/demerits of "Genetically Modified Foods". And I think its time I spelled out a few truths here for the benefit (torture) of YOU , my faithful readers.

Leaving aside all that you read and hear on Television from the likes of Vandana Shiva, just stop a minute and ask yourself- Do you really believe that whatever food you eat is completely organic? without any contaminants/chemicals? and naturally available? Sorry folks, sorry to disabuse you of wrongful ideas (or not sorry) but the wheat/rice/any cereal you eat today wouldn't survive a single day out in the wild. Thats right - try planting it in your garden and see - it will disappear almost immediately and it just cannot survive without assorted weedkillers/insectides every step of the way. In fact you have to take better care of it than you did for your baby. And it doesn't strike many people that what we are eating is a highly evolved, genetically modified descendant prdoduct of a once naturally existing (a million years ago) wild plant type - every self respecting farmer/gardener from the time of the Babylonian Civilzation in Ur to the modern day organic producers have modifed (the species) genetically using Natural Selection (remember good ol' Darwin?) for high yield/pest resistance and various other factors. Thats right folks- what we have been eating for a long time now is Genetically Engineered food.

The difference is in the depth of technology - previous versions of the technology used trial and error empirically while now we have the technology to go right down to the genome level and do our stuff - using enzymes like DNA Poymerase and Reverse Transcriptase. We can remove all the bad aspects of the DNA like - causing allergies to humans, vulnerability to climatic changes and variations in taste/colour as easy as whistling. We can add Vitamins and essential nutrients and make fruits and vegetables even more nutritious than nature intended and thats not such a bad thing is that? We can improve the yields enormously and prevent loss due to weeds/pests and transportation and that does no harm too, right? And provided that certain basic issues are clarified right at the outset with good Governmental oversight (the vector of tranmission- should be bacterial rather than viral) which are all purely technical details - there willbe 0% chance of any untoward happenings in human ingestion. And just remember that the use of Gentically modifed food will reduce/eliminate the need for chemicals like pesticides (urea/ddt) and ethylene - used for ripening mangoes?

Then why the bad press?- the answer's simple - it's primarily due to an incredibly stupid company called Monsanto and its greed to control/dominate the food market- which I will continue to tell in a separate blog tomorrow...... (I hope I have not scared you off from my blogs with weighty issues....?)

Friday, July 27, 2007

What a Cliche!!!!!

Is necessity really the mother of invention? Does circumstances really make the man? Are these just cliches or is there something more to them? Lets take the second question first - today morning I was all beat waking up - a result of a bit of an overzealous workout yesterday. All I wanted to do was roll over and sleep again. Unfortunately I am no longer able to shirk my responsibilities with an easy conscience- I had appointments to keep and patients waiting (hopefully). So I dragged myself out of bed and went and got dressed; swearing to earn enough money soon for an early retirement....and maybe a villa in the Caribbean. But has my circumstances really brought a change in me? Am I now (god forbid) a real "Responsible" person- all grown up and mature? Does that prove I am now a Man? And then my first question- About necessity. Recent circumstances - the sudden transfer of my mother to Madurai High Court - have rendered me the sole occupant of the family homestead and has stirred my latent ambitions in the culinary skills. My knowledge of cooking goes so far as to say authoritatively that Knorr Soups tastes better than Maggi Soups - especially in the Sweet Corn Category. And I'd Recommend Ashirwads Palak Panner and MTR's Pongal in the ready to eat category(heat it= eat it). Saves time cooking for one single person, although they all are labelled to serve four. So is necessity playing the role of my Mother?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter - the review

I have a little confession to make first - I was one of the first to queue up on Saturday Morning at Landmark in Nungambakkam (elbowing aside little twerps who dared to come in front) to get "THE BOOK" . And you know what - half way through - sometime in the early hours of Sunday morning - maybe 2AM or thereabouts - I kept the book aside and didn't go back to it for 3 days - till I finally finished it today. This has never happened before with Mr.Potter - especially with all the anticipation for the climax. Just that the book is not upto Rowlings usual standards- for one thing there is no Hogwarts. I especially loved Part 5- The Order of the Phoenix- because it so damned reminded me of my own college with Dolores Umbridge as my Chief and Fudge as the Princy. I could connect with the rebellion of the students against authority- if you know what I mean. But this one is just a mish mash of the Da Vinci Code and Lord of the Rings- Return of the King. There is faithful Hermione playng Sam's part to perfection and Harry Potter walking out to his own death....Boooo. I want more... I want a bettter book or my money back. It finally picks up in the climax fight - again at Hogwarts with everyone joining in - to support Harry in a cinematic finish. But you just can't beat the ennui which sets in halfway through with a rough and tumble ending can you? Frankly I expected more from Rowling than a family get-together in time for the end. If I wanted to read such a book - There is always that "immortal classic" from the master of the westerns - Louis L'amour's the 'Sackett Brand' - the story which goes like - "If you Hunt one Sackett You Hunt us all" Bet Rowling has a copy on top of her shelf at home. BUT, and yes it is a big But - one small lapse near the end - one bad book in the series should'nt make us forget the immense pleasure of reading the Harry Potter series over the last 10 years - literally growing up with it. So thanks Mrs. Rowling - we loved your books very much. Hip, Hip Hooray.......

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Do I Look like Archiekins? - Or a Red Headed Rockstar?

An Unusual Affliction has affected me and it was caused by my own inability to stand firm on issues of prime importance. To summarize - I made the cardinal error of dropping into the Salon or as it is termed nowadays - the Parlor in a half-awake state. The regular hairdresser, who calls himself my personal stylist and who had been waiting a long time for such an opportunity to catch me off my guard - pounced. He made elaborate suggestions on styling my scanty hairs and I let him go on foolishly without cutting him off right at the outset, as I always do. He continued his gripe on my reluctance to grow a moushtache and felt it decreased my manliness- and I slowly drifted off into a semi stupor as he continued in this vein and he mistaking my nodding head to mean aggrement with his views (Retro is in) - proceeded to style my head in the 1960's rock band - The Beatles fashion. When I finally woke up and looked in the mirror I screamed - and he hurriedly suggested coloring up my hair to disguise the cut. I reluctantly agreed and chose a Deep Burgundy and somehow again there was mix-up and I was shocked to notice on washing off that my hair is now a bright cheerful red. I look like a Red-headed John Lennon and all that is left to do is join the Red-Headed league. I have been hiding out at home since then and venturing out only in the dark- like a vampire, I suppose - avoiding places of bright lights and crowds - hoping the color will wear off and my hair will grow back to its unruly mop. My underground sojourn still continues.....

Friday, July 20, 2007

If Two's A Crowd - What about the Whole Gang?


Lightning is never supposed to strike at the same place again is common myth. Right, it is a myth - for it keeps striking me again and again against all rules in Unexpected places and Unwanted times. There's a cool tingle as the current passes through the body, the heart starts galloping and I break out into a sweat. Yes, Gentleman and Ladies, you guessed it right- I got a new crush- on an unknown girl- just a single glimpse and I'm down.. And as my crushes have a very short shelf-life I should probably get a move-on to ascertain the availabiltiy status and check for any advance reservation. I'll try to get a word today...

Another day and another episode in my never ending romantic life.... The objective this time was to do a Die-Hard. Yes, for those of you who remember the Bruce Willis starrer as Detective John Mclane - the plot goes something like this - Hero's alone in a building with a host of dimwit terrorists who just wont let him get a few moments alone with this wife....comprende? Now shift the scenario Chennai-wards- Hero , (ok,Ok, I can hear the sniggers) Scratch that out- Now lets start Again.. Good Dude sees someone who gives him high BP (watta girl*********)and the bad dudes - the rest of her batchmates won't give him the privacy to say a few meaningful words (uh! uh! whats the time?) to her.... Come on, everyone has to make a start somewhere and if the object of your attraction is so very popular and is always with a crowd (the wolf-pack?) what's a guy supposed to do? - Pick them off one by one with an axe/chainsaw? Sometimes these girls have got no sense - they notice me hanging around the fringes all the time and still act as if they are least bothered- which is probably the truth... Now I would appreciate some intelligent suggestions to break through the gang and do the talking-up - and please leave out the 'Drop-it' advice thing- As James Bond says- "You only live once" and like Abimanyu I'm gonna gate-crash the Gynecology Department to talk to her even if I dont' think up an emergency exit route- I can always blame a short-term memory loss, can't I?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Dance Baby Dance

In a spell of momentary madness (everyone has those, right?) I went and did the unthinkable- joined a dance class at Swingers academy of dance... And right now there are a lot of disgruntled would-be dancers at Singers with bruised bodies who were dancing within 5 metres in my proximity. Can't help it can I, if in a burst of misplaced enthusiasm and excessive energy I go around stamping on people's feet and poking them in the wrong places? And the look on the instructor's face (sorry, Shiva) is priceless - when I'm doing my exercise routine - he keeps reminding me it's a Dance Class and I have to dance - not just make some moves and try not to hurt other people and would I for gods sake not keep forgetting todays routine and end up improvising by adding and mixing last week's Salsa steps into this weeks Hip-Hop moves... The way that guy goes - he's sure to either end up with hypertension/stroke (he's already foaming at the mouth at the end of each class) or else Swinger's is gonna have to look for a "New Instructor" soon. If this was regular school I would be writing imposition all day long....Well, in my defence I'd have to confess that the rest of the students there, my fellow dancers are on an average ten years younger than me--- School Kids most of them in their teens. But what I lack in style, speed etc - I more than make up in my enthusiasm- so they can't kick me out yet... well my adventures on the road to self discovery goes on.. and for all those who doubted me- that I wouldn't survive the first class- it's almost a month and I'm still going strong... not gonna stop till they refund my money and throw me out. And its who blinks first..Swingers or me? And the adventure continues.....