Tuesday 9 October 2007

Phrases from "Five point someone" - Part II

Continuing from where I left a few months ago.

Pg 19:
Everyone in class knew about the rumour, and the quiz was as much a surprise as snow in Siberia.
I wouldn't be surprised if people give a perplexed look after reading this book in about 50-100 years from now. I am speculating that this novel will become a college-life classic in that time.

As Hari expresses his state of mind about the quiz to Alok, Alok says
"We are screwed. Let's get screwed in silence at least," ...
What obedience? Long live the obedient nerds.

... he said as he placed his head in his 'study' position, left cheek almost touching the answer sheet.
This is how close you observe people when you don't know answers in an examination.

Pg 20:
I saw my own answer sheet. The instructor had written my score in big but careless letters, like graffiti written with contempt.
What an analogy 'graffiti written with contempt' and what a time to say it!! Impeccable in every aspect.

Ouch, the first quiz in IIT hurt.
But take Ryan's scores. ... I was two points ahead of him, or wait a minute, sixty-six percent ahead of him, that made me feel better. Thank god for relative misery!

The traditional ways of satisfying your ego!

Pg 21:
... Alok wrinkled his pug nose as he dispiritedly plopped a thick blob of green substance mess-workers called bhindi masala.
Reminds me of my first attempts at cooking when what you intend is seldom what you get (WYIISWYG) ;)

Ryan and I took everything; though everything tasted the same, we could at least have some variety of colors on our plate.
Unbelievably humourous!

Pg 22:
I think Alok picks up a word and uses it too many times, which ruins the effect. There were too many 'damns' in the dialogue.
"Then drop it ...

What timing in the narration! I think the author was saying it to himself rather than to the character.

You heard what he said? Hari ...
I had heard Alok, nothing being the matter with my eardrums but I wasn't paying attention to anything apart from keeping count of the 'damns'.

This reminds me of a friend who always said 'you know what ... I was like ... oh my god ... and I was like' in a very ordered pattern, and the pattern is what I count when I converse with the person.

Pg 23:
As Hari narrates how he brought the fight between Alok and Ryan to an end, he says,
Sometimes, if you just paraphrase everyone's arguments, you get to be the good guy.
What a philosophy to terminate the Terminator chapter.

Pg 24:
The quiz mishap reinvigorated our commitment to studies for a while. Ryan was quieter when we studied in the rooms, controlling his urge to discuss emergency topics ranging from movies to food to new sci-fi movies ...
This book is becoming the beacon of sarcastic wit.

Pg 27:
Hari after the four kilometre long run he made with Ryan to get his body in shape:
My entire body groaned as muscles I never knew existed made themselves known.
This reminds me of the stories that one of our lecturers used to say when I was doing my undergrad. "You get to know where your body parts are only when you experience pain in them". How true that is!

Pg 27:
As Neha hits Hari with her car,
"I am so-so sorry,"
A typical Indian girl apology.

Pg 37:
We did go to Connaught Place that weekend and had quite a blast. The movie was what every Hindi movie is like - regular boy meets girl, boy is poor and honest, girl's dad is rich and a crook.
This is the best part of the summary!
However, the heroine was new and eager to please the crowds so she bathed in the rain, played tennis in mini-skirts and wore sequined negligees to discos. Since all her hobbies involved wearing less or transparent clothing, the audience loved her.

Absolutely hilarious reasoning!
The girl's father damn near killed the boy who flirted with his hot daughter, but ultimately the hero's love and lust prevailed.

I like the usage of the phrase 'love and lust'! How true of the pretty much standard Indian movies.
The hero had no damn assignments to finish and no freaky profs breathing down his neck. I know, these Hindi movies are crap, but they do kind of take your mind away from the crap of real life like nothing else.
Yes, that is true! Though you watch a thousand different good movies nothing is as relaxing as a nice masala movie.

At the restaurant after the movies:
Tearing his rotis like a famished Unicef kid, Alok got chatty.
That was quite a visual analogy of how Alok ate!

Pg 40:
After Ryan put forth his plan for the upcoming semester, to handle the pressure studies and also enjoy the life of that age. Alok and Hari agree to his plans. Hari gives a glimpse of how Alok agreed to it:
Alok agreed, but his voice was so meek, it sounded like the chicken he hust ate speaking from within.
Absolutely hilarious!

Pg 42:
Neha apologizing to Hari:
"... Hey, I am really, really, really sorry, I could not reply to you properly there. There's a reason." she divulged.
Now, girls do this all the time, they think repeating an adjective makes it more effective; the three 'reallys' supposed to constitute an apology.

Can't put that in better words. Feels like he is doing a kind of stand-up comedy this whole book.

Pg 43:
"... We can go to the Hauz Khas market. Do you feel like some ice-cream?"
It is hard enough to say no to pretty girls or to the ice-cream but when it's offered together, it is well nigh impossible. I said yes, and she instructed me to walk out the campus gate ... She ... gave me a five-minute headstart, walking sedately behind me.
It was completely weird to walk alone that way, and I kept thinking how stupid I'd look in the parlour if she did not show up. At least I'd have ice-cream, I thought. Food is almost as good as girls.

What gluttonous thoughts? Stomach pain out of laughter is the end result of reading this book.

Pg 45:
Neha on Hari, Alok, and Ryan's scholastic plans for the next semester.
"... Guess you are underestimating the profs and their love for assignments,"
In their love sometimes they are so blind that they overestimate the abilities of the students. Afterall love is blind!!!

Friday 7 September 2007

Pride and Prejudice



How can I tell how much I love this novel! First I wanted to try Jane Austen's works because my favorite author JK.Rowling once said in an interview "Jane Austen is the pinnacle to which all other authors aspire" and yes she is right ..Jane is too good an author that I enjoy reading every page and every line..Never I felt it boring.

Unlike the last novel ,Life of PI in which the story was told using 2 characters - Pi and Richard Parker(the tiger),this novel is full of varied characters from Mrs.Bennet ,a foolish woman who is obsessed of getting her daughters married in most remarkable way irrespective of how agreeable it is.Her favorite daughter Lydia as silly as her mother who elopes with imprudent Wichkam and the self-conceited Collins whose role attributes to comedy in many parts of the story. Elizabeth ,the heroine darling of the story who impresses the readers through her quick wits ,expressiveness and liveliness and not to leave Darcy who hates being officious , formal and poor in socializing thereby perceived as proud and satirical by the society.

"Darcy, who never looks at any woman but to see a blemish," says Elizabeth's father once.

The novel starts as "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife "
(which made me shrug :) ) and this implied that this is going to be a funny story about some distasteful logic of "getting-married" . It ended telling that marriages are not to be decided in haste with false impressions and prejudices.

The story contains the matching story of 4 couples.

1.Wedding between Lydia and Wickham -about how not to be married .Both of them prejudice each other because of their youth,glamor and vivacity and getting married.

2.Wedding between Jane and Bingley -Both soft-natured ,too good to think ill of others, fall in love .Binlgey ,easily influenced by his friend Darcy and their love is not strong enough to stand against the external influences(Darcy and Bingley's sisters) .Yet they both understand each other in the end and get married.

3.Wedding between Elizabeth and Darcy - This is the best match where they stand in extremes for their prejudices in the beginning.and Darcy getting attracted to the liveliness of Elizabeth and they both take time to understand each other to get rid off their false impressions and then fall in love

and the fourth one between Collins and Charlotte which is done for financial security and just for the sake of that matrimonial status rather than love or affection.

Interesting parts of the story are Collin's proposal to Elizabeth lol..and the reasons he explains why Elizabeth cant refuse him are really hilarious when we feel how Lizzy would have got irritated.

`You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course. My reasons for believing it are briefly these: -- It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy your acceptance, or that the establishment I can offer would be any other than highly desirable. My situation in life, my connections with the family of De Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in its favor; and you should take it into farther consideration that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. Your portion is unhappily so small that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications"

And the next Darcy's ,(the real romantically-challenged)..proposal to Elizabeth..

`In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.''

How could he expect Elizabeth to accept such a proposal !!

Elizabeth - "why with so evident a desire of offending and insulting me, you chose to tell me that you liked me against your will, against your reason, and even against your character? "

Oh..how would I say that it reminded me of "the letter" which had bullet points that why he should not love me and ended with, despite that he loved me.There can not be more insult.

This rejection do quite a change in Darcy's temper and pride which in turn changes Elizabeth's feelings and hatred for him later.

"How despicably have I acted!' she (Elizabeth) cried. - 'I, who have prided myself on my discernment! - I, who have valued myself on my abilities!." .

I liked the next proposal of Darcy in the end.I can really imagine how much it would have taken for a man like Darcy to ask again.

"If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once.My affections and wishes are unchanged, but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever."

The best thing about this novel is that though it had a requirement to tell the emotions and feelings of everyone, it is not narrated directly but told under the surface through the characters.Overall this 18th century literature is a good read ,a happy end and feels good at heart and the crush on Elizabeth will surely last for few more days :)
About Jane Austen , I agree with Pangali's saying once "Most British Authors have that flair of writing in witty style and have a good caustic humor and sarcastic narration "

Saturday 25 August 2007

Life of Pi - Yann Martel


Yann Martel,the canadian author revealed his inspiration and motives for this novel saying “I was sort of looking for a story, not only with a small ‘s’ but sort of with a capital ‘S’ – something that would direct my life”. He spoke of being lonely and needing direction to his life. This novel became that direction and reason to his life.

The story starts with the Piscine Patel who is teased by his school friends as Pissing patel self-christens his name as Pi Patel (pi=3.14).Pi's father is the owner of a zoo and Pi grows up watching and living with the animals,with his clocks based on animal activities .The first part of the story is in the zoo and when Pi is studying in the school .He is interested in every religion and in following them .For him,religion is faith.He is equally enthralled by science ,accepts his agnostic father and feels a kinship towards his atheistic biology teacher.

Atheist : Religion is darkness.
Pi: Darkness is the last thing religion is.Religion is light.Was he saying "Religion is darkness", the way he sometimes said in class things like "Mammals lay eggs " to see someone would correct him?("only platypuses ,sir")

"It was my first clue that atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith and everyword they speak,they speaks of faith.Like me ,they go as far as the legs of reason will carry them and then they leap"
Agnostics are different .They play with doubts.
"Doubt is useful for a while.If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer,if He burst out from the Cross,"My God,my God,why have you forsaken me?" then surely we are also permitted doubt.But we must move on.To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transpotation"
Other than these spiritual things ,the story enlightened me about the zoo ,animals in zoo ,zoo-keeping .
"Do u know which is the most dangerous animal in the zoo ? "an arrow pointed to a small curtain Behind it was a mirror. :)
Another misinformation we all have is wild animal life is simple,noble and meaningful whereas for zoo animals, the happiness is dashed by wicked men and these animals mightily yearns for freedom .Being denied its freedom for too long the animal becomes a shadow of itself ,its spirit broken.The truth is not so .
Imagine you go to a home,kick the people out into the street and tell them that they are free .they would ask us "With what right do you throw us out ?This is our home"
Dont we say "thers's no place like home .thats certainly animals feel...Animals are territorial..They ask us to stay out and we ask them to stay in .This balance keeps the zoo working.I think the author makes more sense.Next time I visited the zoo,my perception got changed .I dint feel pity for the caged peacock and bored tigers..I felt they enjoy getting attention and even try to impress us.
The story enters a twist when Pi's family had to move to Canada through sea along with all their properties ,the animals.The ship sank and Pi was stranded in a life raft with an orangutan, Zebra, Hyena and a large Bengal tiger for company.
Then the faith and determination of Pi kept him alive midst of the sorrow of his missing family members ,through out the days of journey in the ocean with animals which exhibited different characteristics ,searching for the sight of land.
Once Pi's father gave them a terrific demo of tiger to show its ferocity so that his kids will not peek or touch the cage of it .But in the second part Pi had to live with Richard Parker,the large bengal tiger as his only company.How he takes over control of Richard parker by drawing its territory and playing its master role , though he dreads that animal implies so many things related to our life.(Its upto the reader).
Carnivorous island which attracts animals and fish through algae ,desalinates the sea water to kill the salt-water fish , secretes acid to eat them is another scary yet impressive part.
I read the story by installments every night desperately hoping that he would find the land that night and the night (day for him) he reaches the land,barely strong to be happy about it..I felt emotionally overwhelmed and happy for him and closed my eyes and said "You did it my boy..You proved the reason for survival is faith" and I regretted the botched farewell by his company Richard parker as well .
And in the part 3 ,the author again narrates the entire voyage story in an alternate way when humans doesnt agree with the unbelievable part 2 .He asks them to take the one which they believe.After all its about faith.
Through out the novel , the reader needs to apply the imagination and find the analogies to fully enjoy the novel.The ability to relate it with our life can even create a feeling that we are reading our own story.
Though I started reading this novel cribbing that it was boring (not every novel starts with a curator murder ) , it is one of the most meaningful book which I read.Thanks goes to Pangali for gifting it.

Sunday 22 July 2007

Excerpts from 'Longitude' - Part II

A beautiful epigraph!
Pg 34:
An event is such a little piece of time-and-space
you can mail it through the slotted eye of a cat.
- DIANE ACKERMAN, "Mystic Communion of Clocks"

Some poetic prose!
Time is to clock as mind is to brain. The clock or watch somehow contains the time. And yet time refuses to be bottled up like a genie stuffed in a lamp. Whether it flows as sand or turns on wheels within wheels, time escapes irretrievably, while we watch. Even when the bulbs of the hourglass shatter, when darkness withholds the shadow from the sundial, when the mainspring winds down so far that the clock hands hold still as death, time itself keeps on. And since time sets its own tempo, like a heartbeat or an ebb tide, timepieces don't really keep time. They just keep up with it, if they're able.

With those words in mind, I am just wondering how can the word time-keeper be changed to comply to this reality!!!

Christiaan Huygens - Dutch Physicist
Pg 37 - 38:
... a gifted astronomer, had divined that the "moons" Galileo observed at Saturn were really a ring, impossible as that seemed at the time. Huygens also discovered Saturn's largest moon, which he named Titan, and was the first to notice markings on Mars.
Huygens best known as the first great horologist, ... evinced a deeper understanding of the physics of pendulum swings-and the problem of keeping them going at a constant rate-when he built his first pendulum clock in 1656. Two years later Huygens published a treatise on its principles, called the
Horologium, in which he declared his clock a fit instrument for establishing longitude at sea.
By 1660, Huygens had completed not one but two marine timekeepers based on his principles. ... Now a recognized authority on the subject, Huygens published another book in 1665, the
Kort Onderwys, his directions for the use of marine timekeepers. Subsequent voyages, however, exposed a certain finickiness in these machines. They seemed to require favourable weather to perform faithfully. The swaying of the ship on a storm's wave confounded the normal swinging of the pendulum.
To circumvent this problem, Huygens invented the spiral balance spring as an alternative to the pendulum for setting a clock's rate ...


Robert Hooke
Pg 39:
As a biologist studying the microscopic structure of insect parts, bird feathers, and fish scales, he applied the word cell to describe the tiny chambers he discerned in living forms. ... a surveyor and builder who helped reconstruct the city of London after the great fire of 1666. As a physicist, Hooke had his hand in fathoming the behavior of light, the theory of gravity, the feasibility of steam engines, the cause of earthquakes, and the action of springs.

Hooke and Huygens clash - Here, in the coiled contrivance of the balance spring. Hooke clashed with Huygens, claiming the Dutchman had stolen his concept.

Wounded dog method of finding longitude at sea!!!!!!
Pg 42-43:
Send aboard a wounded dog as a ship sets sail. Leave ashore a trusted individual to dip the dog's bandage into the sympathy solution every day at noon. The dog would perforce yelp in reaction, and thereby provide the captain a time cue. The dog's cry would mean, "the Sun is upon the Meridian in London." The captain could then compare that hour to the local time on ship and figure the longitude accordingly.

This is hilarious now!
One had to hope, of course, that the powder really held the power to be felt many thousand leagues over the sea, and yet-and this is very important-fail to heal the tellable wound over the course of several months. (Some historians suggest that the dog might have had to be injured more than once on a major voyage.)
Whether this longitude solution was intended as science or satire, the author
(author of the method) points out that submitting "a Dog to the misery of having always a Wound about him" is no more macabre or mercenary than expecting a seaman to put ot his own eye for the purposes of navigation. "Before the Back-Quadrants were Invented," the pamphlet states, "when the Forestaff was most in use, there was not one Old Master of a Ship amongst Twenty, but what a Blind in one Eye by daily staring in the Sun to find his Way. " ... A few years of such observations were enough to destroy anyone's eyesight.

Magnetic compass method of finding longitude.
Pg 44-45:
The compass needle points to the magnetic north pole. The North Star, however, hovers above the actual pole-or close to it. As a ship sails east or west along any given parallel in the northern hemisphere, the navigator can note how the distance between the magnetic and the true pole changes. ... A chart could be drawn ... linking longitude to the observable distance between magnetic north and true north.

Pg 50:
In the spring of 1714, they got up a petition signed by "Captains of Her Majesty's Ships, Merchants of London, and Commanders of Merchants-Men." This document, like a gauntlet thrown down on the floor of Parliament, demanded that the government pay attention to the longitude problem-and hasten the day when longitude should cease to be a problem-by offering rich rewards to anyone who could find longitude at sea accurately and practicably.

Pg 53:
The actual Longitude Act, issued in the reign of Queen Anne on July 8, 1714, did all these things. On the subject of prize money, it named first-, second-, and third-prize amounts, as follows:
Pounds 20,000 for a method to determine longitude to an accuracy of half a degree of a great circle;
Pounds 15,000 for a method accurate to within two-thirds of a degree;
Pounds 10,000 for a method accurate to within one degree
(111km at the equator) ... The fact that the government was willing to award such huge sums for "Practicable and Useful" methods that could miss the mark by many miles eloquently expresses the nation's desperation over navigation's sorry state.

Pg 56:
In the wake of the Longitude Act, the concept of "discovering the longitude" became a synonym for attempting the impossible. Longitude came up so commonly as a topic of conversation-and the butt of jokes-that it rooted itself in the literature of the age. In Gulliver's Travels, ...

I think in a few centuries to come, the adage "It's not tough as rocket science" would get the same treatment!

Some interesting and lovely Epigraphs:
Pg 61:
Oh! She was perfect, past all parallel-
Of any modern female saint's comparison,
So far above the cunning powers of hell,
Her guardian angel had given up his garrison;
Even her minutest motions went as well
As those of the best time-piece made by Harrison
- LORD BYRON, "Don Juan"

Pg 74:
Where in this small-talking world can I find
A longitude with no platitude?

- CHRISTOPHER FRY, "The Lady's Not for Burning"

Pg 126:
How sour sweet music is
When time is broke and no proportion kept!
So is it in the music of men's lives.

I wasted time, and now doth time waste me;
For now hath time made me his numbering clock;
My thoughts are minutes.
- WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, "Richard II"


In the intermediary chapters the author captures the life of Harrison, the maker of the chronometer, and his tussles with Reverrend Nevil Maskelyne, compiler of Lunar tables for determining the longitudes. The brilliance of Harrison and his claim to the prize money is only stopped by the power of Maskelyne. However, in the end the chronometer succeeds as the mainstay of navigation.

Pg 134:
Maskelyne produced the first volume of the Nautical Almanac and the Astronomical Ephemeris in 1766, and went on supervising it until his dying day. Even after his death, in 1811, seamen continued relying on his work for an additional few years, since the 1811 edition contained predictions straight through to 1815. The others took over the legacy, continuing the publication of the lunar tables until 1907, and of the Almanac itself up to the present time.

Sometimes, time takes away the meaning of certain things that we do it just for tradition's sake.

Pg 138:
Sauerkraut.
That was the watchword on Captain James Cook's triumphant second voyage, which set sail in 1772. By adding generous portions of the German staple to the diet of his English crew (some of whom foolishly turned up their noses at it
(it has quite an offensive smell)), the great circumnavigator kicked scurvy overboard. Not only is sauerkraut's chief ingredient, cabbage, loaded with vitamin C but the fine-cut cabbage must be salted and allowed to ferment until sour to be worthy of the name. Practically pickled in brine, sauerkraut keeps forever aboard ship-or at least as long as the duration of a voyage around the world. Cook made it his oceangoing vegetable, and sauerkraut went on saving sailors' lives until lemon juice and, later, limes replaced it in the provisions of the Royal Navy.

Pg 152:
When John Harrison died, on March 24, 1776, exactly eighty-three years to the day after his birth in 1693, he held martyr status among clockmakers.

Pg 167 - 168:
But Maskelyne's tables not only made the lunar distance method practicable, they also made the Greenwich meridian the universal reference point. ... This homage to Greenwich might have been expected to diminish after chronometers triumphed over lunars as the method of choice for finding longitude. But in fact the opposite occurred. ...
In 1884, at the International Meridian Conference held in Washington, D.C., representatives from twenty-six countries voted to make the common practice official. They declared the Greenwich meridian prime meridian of the world. This decision did not sit well with the French, however, who continued to recognize their own Paris Observatory meridian, a little more than two degrees east of Greenwich, as the starting line for another twenty-seven years, until 1911.


The beauty of this book is that it blends literature, the scientific during that period, and other tid bits with the main theme. Though a 176 page nutshell, it gives a wide variety of information in the most lucid manner. Looking to read the next book of Dava Sobel "Planets".

Wednesday 13 June 2007

Ideal Husband - Oscar Wilde

After reading couple of Oscar Wilde's works , Iam in complete awe of him.His anectodes, insightful quotes, barbed wit,sarcastic humor and repartees made me a fan of him :) .His thoughts are still fresh and interesting to read even today.

My first read was "Importance of being Earnest" ,and now the play "Ideal Husband" by him.

Following are some of the places I enjoyed reading the play .

Father asks his to son to get married soon

You have got to get married, and at once. Why, when I was your age, sir, I had been an inconsolable widower for three months, and was already paying my addresses to your admirable mother. Damme,sir, it is your duty to get married. You can't be always living for pleasure. Every man of position is married nowadays. Bachelors are not fashionable any more. They are a damaged lot. Too much is known about them. You must get a wife, sir.

Temptation , a weakness ?

Weak? Do you really think, Arthur,that it is weakness that yields to temptation? I tell you that there are terrible temptations that it requires strength, strength and courage, to yield to. To stake all one's life on a single moment, to risk everything on one throw, whether the stake be power or pleasure,I care not - there is no weakness in that.

Sarcasms about listening to others

It is a very dangerous thing to listen. If one listens one may be convinced; and a man who allows himself to be convinced by an argument is a thoroughly unreasonable person.

Another Witty comment about today's Romance

Romance should never begin with sentiment. It should begin with science and end with a settlement.

Oh This Guy is with Men's side or Women's side ?

LORD GORING. But women who have common sense are so curiously plain,father, aren't they? Of course I only speak from hearsay.

LORD CAVERSHAM. No woman, plain or pretty, has any common sense at
all, sir. Common sense is the privilege of our sex.

LORD GORING. Quite so. And we men are so self-sacrificing that we
never use it, do we, father?

How true! Now News channels can be added too.

spies are of no use nowadays. Their profession is over. The newspapers do their work instead. And thunderingly well they do it.

About a man's love

when a man has once loved a woman, he will do anything for her, except continue to love her?

Well Oscar belongs to 1890s.I can forgive him now.

A man's life is of more value than a woman's. It has larger issues, wider scope, greater ambitions. A woman's life revolves in curves of emotions. It is upon lines of intellect that a man's life progresses.

Being an Anglo-Irish , He should be right

If one could only teach the English how to talk, and the Irish how to listen, society here would be quite civilised.

Other insightful quotes from the play.


Even you are not rich enough, Sir Robert, to buy back your past. No man is.

Life is never fair...And perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not."

To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance


Read the entire play here

Sunday 13 May 2007

From Fiction to Non-fiction - Excerpts from 'Longitude' - Part I

Longitude - The true story of a lone genius who solved the greatest scientific problem of his time

Preface:
This is an excellent book for those who are interested in history of science. It just brings the whole science of longitude determination down to the layman without complicating or being wordy. Having studied myself these things back in my formative years as an engineer, it really was a great refresher. Though the book might look small, it just covers everything you need to know and feel, how big a problem this longitude determination was. Lot of interesting facts, and lot of beautifully selected epigraphs, which is not a surprise given the fact that the book was written by a woman. As is common with British writers, the author of the book also is too proud of the achievements of her ancestors. "Oh dear! how so pompous!"

Note:
This particular blog is going to be not just phrases from the book, but also some facts and events that I felt were quite interesting.

Pg ix:
... two sources of accurate time were available: the radio ... and the bells of the courthouse clock

Just reminds me of the beep sound before the hourly news in the radio. Also, its just amazing to listen to the courthouse bells or the church bells on a silent afternoon. In these days of airtight offices, it has become a thing to be longed for.

Pg ix - x:
Some of the townspeople did not have wristwatches and depended on the courthouse bells for marking the beginning and end of the workday.

I am just wondering how would people in India would have started and ended their working days, where the courthouse bells, church bells or clock towers were not there. Sometimes, I think that is the single-most important reason, why most of us are not punctual.

Pg 4:
The placement of the prime meridian is a purely political decision. ... The zero-degree parallel latitude is fixed by the laws of the nature, while the zero-degree meridian of longitude shifts like the sands of time.

How often do we take things just for granted, which are an integral part of our lives, but are mere conventions and traditions.

Christopher Columbus followed a straight path across the Atlantic when he "sailed the parallel" on his 1492 journey, and the technique would doubtless have carried him to the Indies had not the Americas intervened.

For all these I have been wondering, why didn't Columbus reach India even with good maps and compasses available. Yippy! got my answer!

Pg 4-5: Longitude Measurement Method
To learn one's longitude at sea, one needs to know what time it is aboard the ship and also the time at the home port or another place of known longitude--at that very same moment. ... Everyday at sea, when the navigator resets his ship's clock to local noon when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, and then consults the home-port clock, every hour's discrepancy between them translates into another fifteen degrees of longitude.

Looks extremely simple eh?

Pg 6:
From Vasco da Gama to Vasco Nunez de Balboa, from Ferdinand Magellan to Sir Francis Drake--they all got where they were going willy-nilly, by forces attributed to good luck or the grace of God.

Wondering how did our great Thamizh Kings, especially the Cholas conquer the far-east territories! Was it sheer luck too?

Motivation for determining Longitude:
As more and more sailing vessels set out to conquer or explore new territories, to wage war, or to ferry gold and commodities between foreign lands, the wealth of nations floated upon the oceans. ... no ship owned a reliable means to establish her whereabouts. In consequence, untold numbers ... died... In a single such accident ... two thousand men lost their lives.

What would have we named "shipping", if the same problem persisted even this day?

Pg 7:
Renowned astronomers approached the longitude challenge by appealing to the clockwork universe: Galileo Galilei, Jean Dominique Cassini, Christian Huygens, Sir Isaac Newton, and Edmond Halley, of comet fame, all entreated the moon and stars for help.

But none could, and finally the solution was found out by a carpenter! This just reminds of the popular story of the emergence of cone-ice creams: a worker suggesting the cups be made edible as well and that would reduce the waste generated. History repeats itself ;)

In the course of their struggle to find longitude, scientists struck upon other discoveries that changed their view of the universe. These include the first accurate determinations of the weight of the Earth, the distance to the stars, and the speed of light.
Reminds me of the good old thamizh proverb "Ghosts came out while digging up a well" (Thanglish version: kinaru thoenda poi boodham kelambuchaan!).

Pg 8:
The British Parliament in its famed Longitude Act of 1714, set the highest bounty of all, making a prize equal to a king's ransom (seven million dollars in today's currency) for a practicable and useful means of determining longitude.
Again reminds me of the Nagesh's role as Tharumi in the movie Thiruvilaiyaadal!

Actually, the inventor of the chronometer's, John Harrison, who solved the problem of longitude sounds like a real life enactment of the Tharumi part of Thiruvilaiyadar Puraanam!

Really, the book has been written like a scientific article. Very precise, and the first chapter telling us everything in a very condensed manner, while inbetween chapters cover one-by-one the rest of the timeline of the development. The last chapter concludes and summarizes the developments and adds later developments and changes to the method.

Here comes one of the most beautiful epigraphs chosen for this book

Pg 11:
"They that go down to the Seas in Ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep" - PSALM 107


Pg 13 - 14:
... the sea captains of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries relied on "dead reckoning" to gauge their distance east or west of home port. The captain would throw a log overboard and observe how quickly the ship receded from this temporary guidepost. He noted the crude speedometer reading in his ship's logbook, along with the direction of travel, which he took from the stars or a compass, and the length of time on a particular course, counted with a sandglass or a pocket watch. Factoring in the effects of ocean currents, fickle winds, and errors in judgement, he then determined his longitude.

The further I read this book, the curiosity to know how the ancient civilizations (Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, Romans and Greeks), and the Vikings navigated in the ocean. The interesting fact is that this method of dead-reckoning is still used in missiles, unmanned aircrafts, and also in tunnels as a replacement for GPS, when there is no signal available from GPS satellites. Here is what the author feels about dead reckoning,

Too often, the technique of dead reckoning marked him for a dead man.

Pg 14:
Long voyages waxed longer for lack of longitude, and the extra time at sea condemned soldiers to the dreaded disease of scurvy. The oceangoing diet of the day, devoid of fresh fruits and vegetables, deprived them of vitamin C, and their bodies' connective tissues deteriorated as a result. The blood vessels leaked ... wounds failed to heal ... when the blood vessels around their brains ruptured, they died.

Oh my goodness! That is for sure painful than the most painful of deaths!

Pg 15:
By the end of the seventeenth century, nearly three hundred ships a year sailed between the British Isles and the West Indies to ply the Jamaica trade.

That's heavy traffic given the above limitations!

Pg 21 - 22:
The sky turns day to night with a sunset, measures the passing months by the phases of the moon, and marks each season's change with a solstice or an equinox. The rotating, revolving Earth is a cog in a clockwork universe, and people have told time by its motion since time began.

A very poetic prose, and here you can see a glimpse of the author's precise writing skills. No single detail left out and yet short and really sweet!

Pg 24 - 26: Galileo and Lunar methods
... Galileo worked out a longitude solution. Eclipses of the moons of the Jupiter, he claimed, occurred one thousand times annually-and so predictably that one could set a watch by them. ... it was never possible to view the hands of the Jupiter clock during daylight hours ... Nighttime observations could be carried on for only part of the year ... only when skies were clear.
In spite of these obvious difficulties, Galileo had designed a special navigation helmet for finding longitude with the Jovian satellites. The headgear-the celatone-has been compared to a brass gas mask in appearance, with a telescope attached to one of the eyeholes. Through the empty eyehole, the observer's naked eye could locate the steady light of Jupiter in the sky. The telescope afforded the other eye a look at the planet's moons.
...
Galileo himself conceded that, even on land, the pounding of one's heart could cause the whole of Jupiter to jump out of the telescope's field of view.
Nevertheless, Galileo tried to peddle his method to the Tuscan government and to officials in the Netherlands, where other prize money lay unclaimed.


When a scientist is quite famous, his pride rather than his work is at stake. This reminds of the fact that Alfred Wegner-the man who proposed the plate tectonic theory-knew that his explanation he gave to the plate tectonic movement were wrong, but yet he maintained they were true until his death.

Pg 27:
Galileo's method for finding longitude at last became generally accepted after 1650-but only on land. Surveyors and cartographers used Galileo's technique to redraw the world. And it was in the arena of mapmaking that the ability to determine longitude won its first great victory.

This reminds me of the statement 'you never know'. Yes, you never know what something is really capable of!
But the precise measurement of the Earth meant that the boundaries had to be remeasured. Here are some funny events,

Indeed, King Louis XIV of France, confronted with a revised map of his domain based on accurate longitude measurements, reportedly complained that he was losing more territory to his astronomers than to his enemies. ... With borders of kingdoms hanging in the balance, numerous astronomers found gainful employment observing the moons and improving the accuracy of the printed tables.

Pg 28:
Giovanni Domenico Cassini
....
Having become a French citizen in 1673, he is remembered as a French astronomer, so that his name today is given as Jean-Dominique as often as Giovanni Domenico.


Pg 29 - 30:
... Ole Roemer made a startling discovery: The eclipses of all four Jovian satellites would occur ahead of schedule when the Earth moved closest to Jupiter in its orbit around the sun. Similarly, the eclipses fell behind the predicted scheduled by several minutes when the Earth moved farthest from Jupiter. Roemer concluded, correctly, that the explanation lay in the velocity of light. ...
Until this realization, light was thought to get from place to place in a twinkling, with no finite velocity that could be measured by man.
... Roemer used the departures from predicted eclipse times to measure the speed of light for the first time in 1676.


Birth of the Greenwich Observatory
Pg 30 - 33:
... the sieur de St. Pierre ... proposed (to King Charles II of England) to find longitude by the position of the moon and some select stars ... The king found the idea intriguing, so he redirected the efforts of his royal commissioners, who included Robert Hooke, a polymath ... and Christopher Wren, architect of St. Paul's Cathedral.
For the appraisal of St. Pierre's theory, the commissioners called in the expert testimony of John Flamsteed, a twenty-seven-year-old astronomer. Flamsteed's report judged the method to be sound in theory but impractical in the extreme.
...
Flamsteed, ... suggested that the king might remedy this situation by establishing an observatory with a staff to carry out the necessary work. The king complied. ... the Observatory at Greenwich ... Commissioner Hooke directed the actual building work, which got under way in July of 1675 and consumed the better part of one year.

Thursday 3 May 2007

A touching dedication!

I was reading an anthology of a Indian Historian-cum-mathematician-cum-statistician: D.D. Kosambi. The book is called "Combined methods in Indology and other writings". The first chapter is an introduction to how Mr. Kosambi worked and how his work is important in the present day context with respect to Indology. Then comes the part of the personality of Mr. Kosambi, where his love and care for his family members, friends, and peers are brought out. In writing that the author takes out a dedication of Mr. Kosambi. Here goes that dedication ...

"At a time when my health and finances were both ruined, and the work would have been suspended, she put at my disposal, unsolicited, the meagre savings of a lifetime devoted to the service of her children. To these funds, given without condition in the disappointed hope that I should use them to improve my health, this edition owes its very existence. A matron in the noblest Indian tradition, one to whom even Bhaasa's broken hero of the shattered thigh, abandoned on the field of battle, might pray with his dying breath, 'If merit be mine and rebirth fall to my lot, be thou again my mother', she deserves to have a far better work dedicated to her, just as she deserves a far better son. However, if she will condone the shortcomings of the book as she has those of the child, both are hers."

After reading this I was numb for a while. I really appreciate the man who wanted to dedicate only the best to his mother. What great ideals!

If you are interested, here is more about Mr. Kosambi http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D._D._Kosambi