Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Merchant of Apples

Steven Paul Jobs or Steve Jobs produces Apples outside an orchard. He is my hero. When a young Jobs went to India on a ‘spiritual pilgrimage’ and returned to America, reportedly wearing traditional Indian attire, not many may have thought of him more than a crank who provided a bit of amusing entertainment. Later he started his first project in his parents’ garage after dropping out of Reed college. Years later, after he had designed the first Macintosh and Apple had grown into a fairly large company, Jobs was fired from the household he started. His response was incredible as he mentions, “It was awful tasting medicine, but the patient needed it.” If anyone can be more positive in his approach towards life, one of those few handfuls in the great line of homo sapiens is certainly Mr. Jobs.

Jobs says that the most creative period in his life was the five years that followed after he was forced to leave his own garden of Apples. Depression and disillusionment followed and then came the realization that he still loved what he was doing. He started NeXT, PIXAR and met his future wife, all in those five golden years. The magic continued as Jobs was offered the boss’s chair as CEO of Apple computers back again. Out came the generation next. I-pods and MacBook Pro being the two most luscious fruits in his achievement portfolio. Jobs DOES provide unusually hi-tech entertainment to perfection!

All you need to do to know about my hero would take not more than fifteen minutes of your time. Hope those fifteen minutes turn out to be one of the many golden moments in your life. Here is the link to the text of the speech he delivered at Stanford University on Tuesday, June 14, 2005. (You can also watch the video on youtube.)

Great job Mr. Jobs!

Monday, February 23, 2009


Professor Roger Pulvers is currently writing COUNTERPOINT, a series of articles for The Japan Times. He writes on culture, the Japanese language and a host of other topics in his fresh, inimitable style full of good humor. I came across him many years ago as a translator of Japanese stories by Kenji Miyazawa. At that time, I was new to Japan and my Japanese ability was hardly good enough to understand Japanese texts properly. I often needed their English translations. His translations are excellent (I would love to follow in his footsteps in future). All in all I can say I am very much ‘Pulverized’ and wish him a long and happy writing career.

Mr. Pulvers was born in New York, stayed in the erstwhile Soviet Union for a long time before coming to Japan. (See his profile on his website). He is an Australian citizen living in Japan. If you are interested in 'pulverisms' and looking at Japanese culture through ‘Pulverized’ eyes, do have a dose of his witty articles. Here is the link to his website.

My fascinating world of audiobooks

Ever since I was a kid, I have loved listening to the radio. And from that I developed a fascination for listening to audiobooks on tape and CD later in life. I like to listen to news read by good newscasters and stories read by excellent elocutionists. It is an enchanting world worth every bit of its taste. Audiobooks not only convey the stories themselves, but they introduce you to the voice personality of the reader as well. Recently, there is a trend of the authors reading their own books, so you get to know them more ‘personally’. Reading a book is great, but listening to tapes has its own charm too. On a Sunday, you can sit on a chair, put your feet up on your bed and listen. You can plug in earphones of a walkman and carry your favorite ‘books’ with you on the train. You can do it while watching the sun rise or set! If you are sitting by a small river, the chirping of birds, the sound of the flowing water, or the crickets do not sound out of place in the background of a narration. Try it! It can only add to the beauty of the experience. Recently, I went for a walk to the port nearby and gazing at the vast expanse of the blue pacific ocean, I listened to a tape of The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (read by Donald Sutherland). When the reflection of the sun on the water hurt my eyes, I closed them and could vividly visualize the old man on the water in his skiff looking for his fish. I also listen to movies I like by playing the DVD while solving crossword puzzles. When you are watching your beloved movie for the umpteenth time, you know the scenes by heart. There is no need to look at the screen. You can listen and visualize. I also listen to audio tapes of Japanese novels, Rakugo and tongue twisters. Once I listened to the story Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies) on a lonely summer night while looking at fireflies flying around the bushes near a small stream.

The same book read by a different person could well be a different experience altogether.

My favorite audiobooks? You could start with Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson). Read by Jasper Britton. A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens). Read by Goeffrey Palmer. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand). Read by Christopher Hurt. The Conscience of a Liberal (Paul Krugman). Read by Jason Culp. Or, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (read by the author himself). I am sure you’ll find out your own taste pretty soon!

Postscript: Language learners/ students could benefit immensely through creative listening.

A Teacher To His Students

Here is a poem by Derozio that I found on his relationship with his students.

Expanding like the petals of young flowers
I watch the gentle opening of your minds
And the sweet loosening of the spell that binds
Your intellectual energies and powers.

… …

What joyance rains upon me when I see
Fame in the mirror of futurity
Weaving the chaplets you have yet to gain,
And then I feel I have not lived in vain.

----- Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809 – 1831).

p. 39, “The Indian Awakening and Bengal,” by Nemai Sadhan Bose.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Lasers In Bloom

Dr. Mani Lal Bhaumik, physicist and LASER scientist par excellence. Former team leader/ manager of laser technology at Northrop and co-inventor of the cold cut excimer laser later used for corneal sculpting, an eye surgery made popular by LASIK. The man whose life-story has inspired me in limitless proportions.

Born on the mud floor of a hut in a village near Tamluk in Bengal, his struggle began in the birth canal and as he lay on the floor for an entire night awaiting someone to cut the umbilical cord. He suffered from the pangs of hunger and utter poverty. The infamous Bengal famine destroyed many families. His grandmother Sarada fed him her own share of food from the relief agency while she herself wasted away to death. In his own words, she taught him that great love is more verb than noun. Dr. Bhaumik thus survived and was given a chance to face life despite the insecurity of destitution. For inspiration, he had people like the great freedom fighter Matangini Hazra around him, a strong lady who taught him never to give up.

This man has lived life on his own terms as only great men and women do. He talks about science, the universe, and the meaning of life in his autobiography Code Name God. The quintessential scientist, he calls God the one source and explains his concept of the primary field where that one source has been at play all along. From penury, to a top class scientist, to the great socializer who almost ended up as his own tragic hero, The Great Gatsby, to drinking the nectar of meditation to the lees, successfully dabbling in real estate, then back to his roots, Mani Bhaumik’s journey has been a long and eventful one that came back a full circle to science his only consort, and his scientific paper on Unified Field-The Universal Blueprint? He is a man who is rich enough to have appeared on the television show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. A real rags-to-riches story that did not end as Jay Gatsby’s did. In his seventies now, Mani Bhaumik continues to be an active man and is in vibrant contact with many scientists across the globe. He continues to give lectures, make science programs especially for children, and encourages research on the human consciousness and neuropsychiatry.

He mentions his friendship with Norman Cousins (the man who decided to beat his own fate and his heart problem), Eddie Albert (the famous actor whom Deepak Chopra introduced him to) and Ashley Montegu (the famous anthropologist/ sociologist). Montegu encouraged him to write the story of his life upon hearing it. Unfortunately, death came a knocking as Montegu passed away and the story that was supposed to have been co-written by the two friends never materialized. But the story ultimately came out.

If you are interested in biographies, this is a great book. If you are looking for inspiration, then too it could be the best book for you. Happy reading!

Book review/ Code Name God.

Delhi Metro: A Taste of the Good Life!

I had been back to New Delhi (where I had previously stayed and studied for six years) for a few days after a period of four years. Nothing much had changed. Or it seemed so, until I boarded the Delhi Metro for the first time in my life. For a mere seven rupees I could go from Mandi House to Chandi Chowk, quite apart in distance. The trains are new and sparkling clean. Not to mention, that all the compartments are air conditioned. It is a taste of the good life that one usually gets only in the most developed parts of the world; and at such little cost! Inside the train, I saw people of all kinds, traveling to their various destinations. I even saw a man wearing a torn shirt standing right beside me. Of course, there were the others too with their latest cellular phones chattering or mailing away. But for all, it is a taste of the good life that is hard to come by once outside on the dusty polluted corridors of the capital. Two things came to my mind immediately when I came back and started thinking about my experience. One was the low price of the tickets that makes it possible for almost every common man to use the services. Secondly, I wondered what the government could achieve by subsidizing such extravagant services (as it may very well be the case from the poor man’s point of view). The government may be running this service at a great cost, but it seems they have become wiser over the years about what to subsidize. This ONE experience gives the poorest a taste of the good life that I have been harping on since the very beginning of this passage. And it gives dreams, the power to dream, to live in an India that is clean and developed and punctual. Nothing can show the masses better the real difference between the ordinary lives that they lead and the life that they could lead when India becomes a rich and powerful nation. Not the least of all was the kindly behavior of some people who actually got up from their seats to give it to the elderly or other women fellow passengers. A new India in the making? Well, kudos to the people who planned and got the Metro going! They have proved their subtlety in their mission. In certain ways, India is firmly on the road ahead. Very democratic. When people realize the difference, few people will want to go back to the old dusty ways. So they will not vote for any government that does not make clean things. Or will they?

Cutting edge technology: It uses the best escalator technology in the world. It has been specially designed so that the edges of sarees (traditional dress worn my women in India) do not get entangled in the moving steps of the escalators. Necessity is the mother of invention! I don't think escalators in Japan have that technology. Traditional women's wear is driving technology! Great isn't it! Of course, I am not asking all women to wear sarees!

‘Buy-ology’ the science that sells!

Recently I saw a book with this title on one of the shelves of Business and Economics books at a bookstore. I have not read the book yet so I do not know what is inside. The title is catchy and seems very interesting. I liked it so I would like to borrow it here. A ‘to read’ book in future. Here, according to me, is the science that is selling goods all around the globe with aplomb!

Have you seen goods with a price tag of Rs. 499? Or, \598? Or, for that matter $97? Have you thought about what it means? Many of you may have but it still doesn’t seem to register well, right? Well, here is my take on it. It is a psychological selling ‘trick’ that is being used all over the world. (Another form of ‘globalization’ may be?!)

When you see the figure 499, your first thought is that it is NOT 500. Hence, it is being offered cheap. So you think twice about buying it. But all the same there is a high chance of you taking it home!

There is nothing wrong or unethical about such selling techniques and many people may have already talked about this before. These days, people have access to information so there is no actual trick involved if you are aware.

The next time you see an item marked with a price tag of 999 (in whatever currency), what would you do? The choice is yours!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Wanna go to a bar tonight?

I was wandering aimlessly in one of the underground shopping malls in Japan. I came across a bar with many colorful and colorless cocktails. I sat down at the counter and ordered a sniff. Any relation to snuff? No way! Alcohol? Nope! It was an Oxygen Bar, selling oxygen to people deprived of that precious stuff. The deal? Less headaches, more energy, better blood flow etc. etc. Where would you get a bar that promises such excellent fare! Deal.

First buy the tube to put into your nostrils. This is for personal use only (Of course! And who would have thought otherwise!), though you may keep it at the shop for later use. Then you get to sniff the oxygen for ten minutes. Perfumed oxygen (aroma therapy!) in different flavors or unflavored oxygen. If you chose a longer course from the menu, you get to use a reclining chair for free. Another deal!

Now this is getting serious. The staff at the counter come and talk to you gently asking you how you feel. The advice? Breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth. Sounds good when you are talking to them all the time! Time flies and before you realize what happened, it is over. Want more? Sure, go ahead! In between you are provided water with high content of hydrogen for free as ‘service’. They also sell oxygenated water.
Japan is one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world. People buy water and oxygen. This bar has applied for a patent. Who said that the best things in life come for free? Nothing against oxygen bars. Loitering in underground malls can be quite tiring. And probably with such a crowd in there always, there isn’t much oxygen to share anyway. Great place to recharge your batteries and get back to shopping again. Good place to relax or even read a book for a while. I liked the reclining chair. Haven’t used it yet. Every time I pass the place to my favorite bookshop, I sometimes look fleetingly at the reclining chairs. Would I like to go to the bar again? O yes! (When I have the urge for more oxygen again.) Would I use the reclining chairs? No way, the money will buy me a book to read while sniffing my oxygen. Cheers!

The Last Lecture

Quote: “I am dying and I am having fun.”

This lecture was delivered on Tuesday, September 18, 2007 by Professor Randy Pausch at Carnegie Mellon. It has also been penned into a book.
Here is the link to the site on which you can also see the video.

The first thing I want to say is that you can not stop loving this man. What does he make his students do? I do not have much of an idea, but some of them make video games of roller skating Ninjas! Wow! Now that is something! I am not much into videogames but I like animation and the short one shown during the presentation was great stuff.

For budding programmers, try Alice. Yes, this is also the one that will take you to Wonderland. (Professor Pausch used to treat his students and colleagues by taking them to Disneyland.)

If you have read the book Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom, let me remind you that this happened on a Tuesday too. There is no astrological connection in that. At least I do not believe it. But this speech or book is a must for all educators and those into education, that is, both teachers and students. It is about the miracle called life.
When a man says that he is having fun while dying, you are both laughing and crying. Have you figured out the third head fake? (Thanks Professor Pausch!) This is not the last lecture. It is a lecture that lasts!

Sunset on Third Street: Sanchoume no Yuuhi ALWAYS (Japanese movie, 2005)

This is one of the most stunningly moving Japanese movies I have ever seen. Set in post world war II Tokyo, Japan, in the 1950's when the Tokyo tower was being built giving dreams to people, the success lies in simplicity and it’s all pervading ‘Japaneseness’. All the actors and actresses have done an excellent job. Definitely a movie you would like to see with your family around you including your little kids cozying up.

Credit goes to director/ filmmaker Mr. Takashi Yamazaki, whose experience with animation and visual effects is quite evident in his work of turning a popular manga into a touching film.

This movie is about togetherness, the value of family, love and the greatness of believing in your future even when things are not going right. It is about the subtle comedy that happens to the budding writer as he pursues his dream and makes little slips on the way. It is also about a young kid finding a home when he doesn’t have one. It is a movie that brings tears of joy.

The Tokyo of the yester years as shot on film seems amazingly real. This is not about the Japan of today. It is about the Japan that was. Nostalgia for a world that was so warmly humane; hardworking yet not hurried. This movie deserves a wider audience across borders in this age of the great tug-of-war between modernity and sweet nostalgia.

The veteran actors and actresses in the movie are undoubtedly superb in their performance. The owner of the automobile repair shop, Mr. Norifumi Suzuki (played by Shinichi Tsutsumi) and his comical tantrums; his wife Mrs. Tomoe Suzuki (Hiroko Yakushimaru), the perfectly caring Japanese wife, coldly reserved but extremely loving; Ms. Hiromi Ishizaki (played by none other than Koyuki of The Last Samurai fame!), her moments of anxiety, unsure ness and reticence of a woman in love; and, Mr. Ryunosuke Chagawa (Hidetaka Yoshioka) the writer aspiring for the Akutagawa Ryunosuke literary prize, in his touching and almost theatrical despair and agony.

Special praise goes to the apprentice, the young and simply beautiful Ms. Mutsuko Hoshino (Maki Horikita). She walks in beauty … one shade the more, one ray the less … (courtesy poet genius Lord Byron). Her first appearance at the mechanic’s household, her hesitance in saying her old fashioned, ordinary name aloud as self-introduction; her oldie colloquial Japanese (Aomori dialect of northern Japan) and village bumpkinish, childlike, innocent demeanor, her reception by the Suzuki’s and her reactions to their behavior is brilliant acting. The sense of wonder and surprise in experiencing city life for the first time is visible in her eyes. She has such a lovely baby face (you can praise the makeup artist for that if you like) in the movie that it was a pain to look at the semi-clad photographs that appeared of their own accord on the screen while searching the internet for more information on her. I am sorry I did not recognize her as the same person in the movie. May be actresses/ actors are highly talented people with multiple personality disorder! (laugh!) Forget the hashed metaphor. No offence meant! A star actress of the future if she keeps her head on her shoulders. She could also be cool with tomboyish appearances. You must have realized by now that I am smitten by the character she plays in the movie. She is a wonderful elder sister to Ippei. The Suzuki family deserves attention for the way they fit Mutsuko into their household as one of their own.

The high point of the movie is the scene in which the shy and stuttering Chagawa confesses his love for Hiromi and proposes to her on Christmas eve with an empty box containing an imaginary engagement ring that he could not yet afford. Hiromi’s response is dramatic as she puts on the non-existent ring with elaborate effort on her ring finger. Touché!

The thoroughly loveable parts are played by the two kids Master Ippei Suzuki (Kazuki Koshimizu), the mechanic’s son and Master Junnosuke Furuyuki (Kenta Suga) the abandoned boy. They are both matchless and I am not sure who the better actor of the two is. Both of them deserve high praise and a bear hug for their roles. Hats off! Thumbs up! Atama ga sagarimasu!

This movie has a sequel that is as good as the first part.

You can check out the plot summary on ‘encylolibraria’ Wikipedia online. It is a pretty good one but I would mildly suggest you see the real movie before that.

Thanks to my Indian friend Anubhuti who introduced it to me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Children's books/ love/ inspiration/ peace

This is an article introducing the book, "Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith," written by Ms. Deborah Heiligman, an author of children's books. She has introduced the book herself and this moving article appeared first on the Los Angeles Times. It has been reproduced here with her permission. It is a beautiful story powerfully told and I plan to read her books in the near future. You can find out more about the author at: http://www.deborahheiligman.com/page1.html

The Darwins' marriage of science and religion

In their 43-year marriage, Charles and Emma Darwin used respect, understanding and acceptance to bridge the gulf between his reason and her steadfast faith.
By Deborah Heiligman, January 29, 2009

On Jan. 29, 1839, in the little chapel in the English village of Maer, a religious, 30-year-old woman named Emma Wedgwood put on a green silk dress and got married. She believed firmly in a heaven and a hell. And she believed you had to accept God to go to heaven. She married Charles Darwin. As we head into a new era for a country that has struggled for too long with the marriage of science and religion, we should take a look at the marriage of Charles and Emma Darwin. When Charles came home in 1836 from his five-year voyage around the world, which included the visit to the Galapagos Islands, he was already seeing life and creation in a new way. And as he courted Emma, he also was secretly scribbling notes about a new idea, his theory of evolution, in leather-bound notebooks marked "private." He knew that his view of creation would rock the faith of Emma and almost everyone in England, and as he prepared to propose to her, he agonized. Charles' father advised him to keep his mouth shut. "Conceal your doubts," he warned. But Charles couldn't do that. He was too honest. He told Emma of his doubts about the veracity of the Bible and of his growing skepticism about religion. Emma said she would marry him anyway. She prized his candor, and she knew he was a good and moral man. But in a letter she sent him soon after their engagement, she told him that she was sad that "our opinions on the most important subject should differ widely." This was the first of several letters about religion that Emma wrote to Charles during their lives. She urged him not to close the door on faith. And she shared her fears that they would be separated for eternity. Charles always listened to what she had to say, and they talked about the problem. He kept each letter close. He wrote on one of them, "When I am dead, know that many times, I have kissed and cryed over this. C.D." On another he wrote, simply, "God bless you."Charles and Emma had 10 children together. Three of the children died; the death of their beloved 10-year-old daughter, Annie, broke their hearts. That loss could have driven them apart forever. It strengthened Emma's faith and all but closed the door on God for Charles. But they fought for their marriage. The day after Annie died, Emma wrote to Charles, "You must remember that you are my prime treasure (and always have been)." Darwin worked for decades on his theory. He tried to make his argument as strong and solid as possible, and he also aimed not to offend. He showed Emma drafts, and he worked harder on a passage when she wrote in the margin, "a great assumption." In 1859, as he finally readied "The Origin of Species" for publication, he gave the manuscript to Emma. She was always his best and most trusted editor. As she read the argument that essentially took God out of creation, she did not ask Charles to soften it at all. In fact, she helped him strengthen his book by making the language clearer. (She also cleaned up his spelling and punctuation.) Through the years, the two continued to talk and listen to each other about this "most important subject," as Emma called it. She encouraged him not to approach religion in the same way he approached science. What leads to faith, she said, is "feeling, not reasoning." After he became famous, people often wrote to the sage of Down House and asked him what he believed about God. Usually Darwin demurred. And he echoed Emma. He said his views were of "no consequence to anyone except myself" and that the question of religion was for theologians, not for scientists. Still, he often pointed to his friend, the American botanist Asa Gray, who was both an evolutionist and a theist. Charles and Emma were married for 43 years. In his last years, Charles renewed a fascination with worms and wrote "The Formation of Vegetable Mold through the Action of Worms with Observations on Their Habits," a bestseller in its day. Emma, never much interested in science, found herself joining him in his obsession. They spent hours together watching the worms in the garden of Down House, side by side. Although they never were able to see eye-to-eye on the question of religion and God, they were able to reach their hands across the gulf. In the end, each of them accepted and, it seems, truly understood what the other believed. If it is a sign of intelligence to be able to hold two opposite thoughts or opinions in your head, then it is a mark of a successful marriage to be able to truly see the other person's point of view. This is also the mark of a successful society. There is an apocryphal story that Darwin accepted God on his deathbed. The true story is this: When he suffered his last and fatal heart attack, Charles told Emma that he was "not the least afraid of death." And as he slipped away, he told her, "Remember what a good wife you have been to me." Emma held Charles in her arms as he died. Deborah Heiligman is the author, most recently, of "Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On Friendship

I got this forward from a dear friend as e-mail. Since I liked it very much, I would like you to go through it.

"Think about this for a minute...

If I happened to show up on your door step crying,
Would you Care?

If I called you and asked you to pick me up because something Happened,
Would you come?

If I had one day left, to live my life;
Would you be part of That last day?

If I needed a shoulder to cry on,
Would you give me Yours?

Do you know what the relationship is between your two eyes?
They blink together, they move together, they cry together,
They see things together and they sleep together,
BUT THEY NEVER SEE EACH OTHER... that's what friendship is. Life is lonely without FRIENDS. "

Thank you for reading. Thank you for sending this to me. And, the biggest thank you obviously goes to the author who actually wrote these beautiful lines!