Thursday, January 28, 2010

Misc Reading - Week of Jan 2

Let's see if I can be regular about this... Started out strong last year too, but .... Starting late this year.

  • Dilbert and the silent moron (link)
  • Mike Lester's cartoon on the aftershocks of the undie-bomber (link)
  • Joel Spolsky on the secret language at Microsoft (link)
  • Robert Cringely reminisces on the Y2K hype (link)
  • John Battelle on his predictions for 2010 (link)
  • Dilbert creator Scott Adams on measuring (link)
  • Daily Dose of Imagery Toronto video (link)
  • Daily Dose of Imagery timelapse video (link)
  • James Kalbach on Don Norman (link)
  • John Battelle on how he did with his 2009 predictions (link) - the key is to be specific very little, and general most of the time. If the specifics hit, you end up looking like a clairvoyant.
  • John Battelle has a link on a study on Facebook's ethnography (link)
  • Marshall Ramsey's cartoon on the effects of the undie-bomber and the new year (link)
  • Barry Ritholtz on his book being featured in a 'best' list (link)
  • Bob Sutton on his best posts of 2009 (link)
  • Grand tour of the universe (link)
  • Visualizing web traffic on the New York Times (link)
  • Scott Kelby on his pick of the best of 2009 (link)
  • Valleywag on the difference in prize money for Google contests (link)
  • People getting obsessed with weird search suggestions in Google (link)
  • Google's Go Language (link)
  • xkcd cartoon on birthdays and Dec 25 (link)
  • Bruce Schneier on Change Blindness (link)
  • Schneier on the Predator video link (link)
  • Why indulge in self-censorship for the sake of appearing politically correct?? See this and this.
  • Marshall Ramsey's cartoon on the underwear bomber (link)
  • Paul Krugman in the NY Times on the big zero that were the noughties (link)
  • Seth Godin on the evolution of every medium (link)
  • Seth Godin on bad graphs (link)
  • Eye on Oracle on the Top 10 posts on, what else, Oracle (link)
  • Presentation Zen post on books to make you a better presenter (link)
  • Anil Dash on Twitter's list suggest feature (now defunct) (link)
  • The dark side of the Twitterverse (link)
  • Valleywag takes a close look at Facebook's new (un)privacy features (link)
  • Seth Godin and Groucho Marx (link)
  • Sandeep takes a look at the Shah Bano case (link)
  • Not most-admired, but the most loathsome people of 2009 (link)
  • India is the world's biggest global headache. Yes. (link)
  • Schneier on the risks of airplane terrorism (link)
  • WTF on the Chief Development Officer (link)
  • WTF on Tales from the Interview (link)
  • Cringely ruminates on Microsoft (link)

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Nurture Shock

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children 

My Review

This is the first book I have read with "pre-release" and embargo notices slapped all over. The back cover and the inside title page has a stern warning that begins
"No material from Nurture Shock may be quoted, cited, or otherwise used prior to the book's publication date of September 3, 2009..."
The table of contents does not have the chapters numbered, and so on...

Excellent book that covers a wide range of topics, all on children and parenting. Read with an open mind, and be aware of the illuminating power of as well as the limitations of research.

This is a book that's very broad in its coverage. It attempts to cover, in one chapter each, an aspect of child development, citing plenty of research done in recent times to support arguments and theories put forward. Each chapter covers a topic - confidence, sleep, lying, racial attitudes, intelligence, sibling conflict, teen rebellion, self-control, aggression, gratitude, and the acquisition of language. Existing theories are explained, and new emerging research is cited and used to explain each topic. The wide variety of topics covered also means that parents will have plenty of material to go over, irrespective of how old their children are, and while teenagers are not likely to pick this book up, it would help them also a lot.

A note of caution. Just as new research and advances in neuroscience are contradicting and overturning some long held beliefs about children and child development, it is possible that subsequent research in the coming years may disprove, correct, or maybe even validate some of the theories emerging today and outlined in this book. So, an open mind is really called for here. Know past theories, read about the current research, and try and not be dogmatic about what you accept and what you reject. And at the end of the day, parenting is a lot about patience, something that children are exceptionally adept at sucking out of parents.

The title of the book is explained in the Introduction itself -
"'Nurture shock,' as the term is generally used, refers to the panic - common among new parents - that the mythical fountain of knowledge is not magically kicking in at all."

There seems to be an overabundance of writing these days on what it takes to excel, on talent, genius, and the like. 'Outliers' (see my review) by Gladwell is one recent popular example.
The first chapter in this book, "The Inverse Power of Praise", covers this topic from a slightly different but related angle, when the authors write about the difference between praising innate talent and praising effort.
"Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control," she explains. "They come to see themselves as in control of their own success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child's control, and it provides no good receipe for responding to a failure." ... "those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort. [italics] I am smart, the kids' reasoning goes; [italics] I don't need to put out effort.

The chapter on lying could be the most uncomfortable for parents, since it raises uncomfortable questions about how often, why, and when children lie. If there is an upside to a child's lying, it could be that:
"A child who is going to lie must recognize the truth, intellectually conceive of an alternate reality, and be able to convincingly sell the new reality to someone else. Therefore, lying demands both advanced cognitive development and social skills that honesty simply doesn't require."
Some comfort. Children use lying in different ways too - as children to avoid punishment, by school age it includes empathy and manipulation, in elementary school as a coping mechanism.

For a broad overview of where the academic landscape and literature is in the area of child development, this is perhaps one of the best books on the market.

Also recommended is Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds (my review)

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Most viewed posts of 2009

Based on data returned by Google Analytics, these are the 10 posts in 2009 that attracted the maximum page views, in descending order of page views:
  1. UB City Mall, Bangalore
  2. Rajdhani Restaurant at UB City Mall - this and the first ranked post that I can't understand this at all. Maybe UB City Mall is really so popular, and that too outside Bangalore. In fact, most of the hits seem to be from outside Bangalore, and many from outside India.
  3. Bandipur and Mudumalai National Parks 
  4. Chunnambar and Paradise Beach 
  5. Maserati on Church Street - another post that I cannot explain the popularity of.
  6. Coorg and Dubare Elephant Camp
  7. Colonel Bailey's Dungeon, Srirangapatna - I like this one. One of the first posts where I included an embedded Google Map with the location.
  8. Strand Book Stall Mid-Year Sale
  9. New Car and Gas Tanker - I can only imagine that the morbid fascination people have with the macabre made them click this link, only to be disappointed.
  10. Coorg - Irupu Falls -these are quite beautiful, and not too frequented by tourists, thanks to the absolutely, indescribably 20 kms of bad roads that lead up to these falls.

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ford County Stories

Like counting - go from one to ten, and you are done. So is the book
Slice-of-life stories from the Mississippi. All based in and out of Clanton. No twists. No surprises. Sheer curiosity may entice readers.

Most living in the cities may be curious to know what life in the small towns and villages may be like. Beyond what is shown in the news, and beyond what appears in glorified paeans to the rural life. This book provides a matter-of-factly look. That is its strength. Just don't expect twists in the tale.

However, some of the stories, in fact all of them, come to think of it, just end. They peter off to an ending. No unexpected twists.

The best of the lot has to be the first story, "Blood Drive", a hilarious travelogue of sorts to Memphis. "Michael's Room" is the story that you wonder - about what could have been had this story landed in the hands of Stephen King. The most disappointing has to be "Casino". "Fish Files" is where Grisham gets close to the familiar territory of lawyers and legal firms, but that too is almost incidental to the plot.

You will not get the satisfying endings, albeit at times macabre, that you get with collections such as A Twist in the Tale No Comebacks, or the absolutely twisted tales in Twisted: The Collected Stories of Jeffery Deaver. The gold standard, of course, has to be Roald Dahl - Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl.

Ok read.

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Stream Valley Resorts, Wayanad

If visiting Wayanad, a lovely place to stay is "Stream Valley Cottages", 300 meters off NH212, and very near the Pookote Lake.

There is a real stream that flows through the place, so the name does in fact reflect reality. There are probably all of 15 or so cottages, categorized into three types - earth, on stilts, and a tree house. The earth cottages, as the name suggests, are on ground level, and probably the best bet if you have small kids. The cottages on stilts are the best since they are larger than the earth cottages, feature a small kitchenette and living room area, and offer a very nice view of the surrounding hills. The cottage (maybe there are more than one, but I don't remember) on the tree is a different experience altogether. Families with kids are not allowed on the tree houses, understandably.
The service is friendly, and bare bones. There is no dining area, nor is there any attached restaurant, or coffee house, or swimming pool, or any such thing. The food is cooked on an as-needed basis, so you need to tell the people in the morning whether you would be eating lunch or dinner. They bring the food over in a tiffin, to your room, and pick them up later.

Highly recommended.

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

We Must Have No Price - Arun Shourie's New Book

 We Must Have No Price is Arun Shourie's latest book, published by Rupa & Co.

How did India respond to the terrorist assault on Mumbai? Why does it never have any option when such assaults occur? How real is the threat from China, what should India do to brace itself for it? Will Pakistan deflect the terrorists it has spawned back into India? What should be the contours of our defence policy?

Category: Current Affairs
Sub Category:
Number of pages: 342
Book Size: 6x9
Book Weight (Hardbound): 1000 gm
Book Weight (Paperback): gm
Published in: 12/01/2009
Available in: Hardbound
ISBN_HB: 9788129115638

More links on the book and its launch - Rediff Books - linkDNA India, Indian Express, NewsX, Yahoo News, Hindustan Times.

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Trucks, drinks, and the wife

Some of the most profound poetry, or shayari as it would be more aptly called, can be found at the back of trucks. Mostly so in North India. This truck, unsurprisingly, had a UP state registration, and was seen exiting the NICE expressway on Bannerghatta Road.

What it says:
पीना भी छोड़ दी पिलाना भी छोड़ दी - ११९० की खातिर घर वाली भी छोड़ दी ||
or, "Peena bhi chhod di, pilana bhi chhod di - 1190 ki khatir ghar wali bhi chhod di.

Loosely translated, it reads as:
 Gave up drinking, gave up offering others drinks, for the sake of 1190 even gave up the wife.
What is 1190? It is the last four digits of the registration number of the truck - see in the first photo.
Why the angst? Well... The truck is from Bareilly, a town in the state of Uttar Pradesh. And the photo's been taken in Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka, a state in South India. The distance between the two towns is 2025 kms (1273 miles) - a journey that would take upwards of two days by truck.

Google Map showing the route between the towns of Bareilly and Bangalore. View Larger Map

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Scenes from NH48

More scenes from NH48.
There is four-laning work being carried out, and per the NHAI site (link - "Projects Under Implementation as on 30th November 2009", link accessed Jan 03 2010), an 81 km stretch, connecting Neelamangala Junction on NH 4 with NH 48 to Devihalli, is being four-laned. Much of the work as far as laying the foundation and some of the tarring of the roads goes, but it will probably take another year or so before it is completed and you have all four lanes operational. The travel time for that 81 km stretch will likely come down to an hour or so, down from the present 90 minutes it takes. These photos give a glimpse of what has been constructed.

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.


SH 57 in Karnataka connects the historic temple town of Chikamagalur to Belur and then to Hasan. It is a lovely stretch of road, with scenic views of the hills and of rice and wheat plantations, and a very smooth, well-maintained road.

View Larger Map
The milepost markers for state highways in Karnataka is a dark green semicircular top - the rest is the same as for national highways. Black text on white background for the base.

Some lovely sunflower fields were on display. The skies were overcast, and because of the need to get to a gas station I could not spend too much time shooting.

Also see List of State Highways in Karnataka - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

© 2010, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Jog Falls

Jog Falls are the highest falls in India. Located in Uttara Karnataka (north Karnataka), they are a spectacular sight to behold. They can be seen from two sides, and the view from both sides is a sight. To behold. The flow of water in the winter months is vastly reduced when compared with what's there during the monsoons, but that also allows you to see the four falls there more clearly. Each sight has something unique to offer.

The Jog Falls are created by the Sharavati River that plunges down from a height of 829 feet, though some figures put that height at over 900 feet.
Per the Wikipedia entry on Jog Falls (accessed Jan 1 2010)::
Jog Falls (Kannada: ಜೋಗ ಜಲಪಾತ), created by the Sharavathi River falling from a height of 253 meters (829 ft) is the highest plunge waterfall in India[1] Located in Shimoga District of Karnataka state, these segmented falls are a major tourist attraction. It is also called by alternative names of Gerusoppe falls, Gersoppa Falls and Jogada Gundi.[2]
There are many waterfalls in Asia - and also in India - which drop from a higher altitude. But, unlike those falls, Jog Falls is untiered, i.e., it drops directly and does not stream on to rocks. Thus, it can be described as the highest untiered waterfalls in India.

Also see:Jog Falls | World Waterfall Database: World's Tallest Waterfalls
The World's Most Spectacular Waterfalls- Slide 10 - Slideshows - Travel + Leisure

Google Map:

View Larger Map

This is NH206, heading westwards. In the background you can see the bridge that takes you over the Sharavati river and towards the south side of the Jog Falls.

This milepost is actually as you approach Jog Falls from Honnavar. This is also milepost marker 333, which means you are 333 kms from the start of NH206 at Tumkur.

And five kilometers later you can see milepost marker number 328. This is the standard for milepost markers on national highways - a stone marker, with a yellow semi-circular top, and a white cuboidal base. The text is in black. The signage, the text and the numbers, alternate in English, Hindi, and Kannada.

This is the bridge that takes you over the Sharavati river. An old bridge, it looks even more picturesque from afar.

From the bridge you need to drive some 2.4 kms before you actually get to the falls. The drive curves through the Ghats before landing you at the entrance to the Falls, where you pay an entrance fees. The fact that the Falls are not very near any major city also means that there were no more than a hundred tourists there. Which means you can spend time viewing the falls from the viewpoints without having to jostle with hordes of tourists. The preferred mode of transport for the majority of tourists is to take one of the several buses that ply to Jog Falls - tourist or otherwise.

And this is the view from the south side. During the winter months the flow of water is reduced to a trickle, but the sound of these four falls plunging down almost 900 feet is still an impressive roar. The spray however does not reach up. It may, during the monsoons. Each view has its beauty.

There is a walkway, comprising 1600 steps, that you can take to trek down to the base of the falls. Got to try it the next time. Per the guide, the trek down and up and spending some time down takes generally three hours or so.

Lots of people do that, walk down, choosing to bathe in the waters there.

This is the Rocket fall below. The name is derived from the fact that there is a large volume of water that falls down at high speed.

A closeup reveals that there is a large volume of water; in fact of all the four falls, this one seems to have the most volume of water.

And a further closeup reveals that water seems to be rushing out at great speed.

Raja Falls and the view from, shall we say, suicide point?
All of this brings me to the highlight of our visit to the falls. Our intrepid guide, very helpful and cheerful, took us to the north side of Jog Falls, and then past the view point, where a five minute trek, not strenuous at all, took us to the point where a small stream of water forms a small pool of water that then makes it way through a small opening and plunges down as the Raja Falls. To the left right of this point is a huge boulder strategically placed so that it overlooks the Raja Fall. Almost completely over the falls.
Now, you do not clamber over the boulder, walk over to the edge and peer over. No sir. Do not try that. Do not. Because the body's gyroscope is quite likely to err.

So what do you do?
You clamber over to the rock. And then you crawl. On all fours. And your belly. Till you can peer over the precipitous ledge.

And this is what you would see.
The Raja fall is the one at the top left corner.
And the small white mass of water that you see at the bottom is 829 feet below.

Needless to say, the first time I peered over, I peeked and then immediately peeled myself back. As far back as I could. The mind has a tough time coming to terms with heights as stark as this. At first. You get the feeling that if you were to peek long enough, you may just, somehow, find yourself tipping down. You won't really, because the ledge does not have a downward slope. But tell that to the mind.

After collecting my wits, I ventured again, this time armed with a camera. And shot off two shots, rapidly, one in portrait and the other one in landscape mode. And peeled myself back.

These two photos are, I believe,  the first ever taken from this vantage point. Till I am corrected.

So let us get mathematical and do some calculations. We want to calculate the time it would take for a person so deciding to take the final plunge to hit the water below. We will ignore the effects of wind resistance. And take the value of 'g' as 9.8 meters per second per second, i.e. g = 9.8 m/s2

Now, the height can be taken as 829 feet, which is 248 meters.
The initial velocity, u, is 0.
So, plug these values into the equation s = ut + 1/2 at2
248 = 0 + 0.5 (9.8 x t2)
or, 50.6 = t2
which gives us 7.11 seconds.

The bridge, as seen from the north side of the falls.

The Linganmakki dam.
Per the Wikipedia entry on Jog Falls (accessed Jan 1 2010):
Associated with the waterfall is the nearby Linganmakki Dam across river Sharavathi, and the hydro-electric power station that it serves[4]. The power station has been operational since 1949, and is, at 1200 MW capacity, one of the largest hydro-electric stations in India and a significant source of electric power for Karnataka. The power station was previously named Krishna Rajendra hydro-electric project, after the King of Mysore at that time. The name was later changed to Mahatma Gandhi hydro-electric Project. It was served by Hirebhaskara dam until 1960. After 1960, thanks to visions of Sir M. Visvesvarayya, Linganmakki Dam, built across river Sharavathi is being used for power generation.

© 2009, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.