Thursday, January 12, 2006

Those who can, do. Those who can't, whine.

Found this attack on Wikipedia today (via this). Here's the summary of the argument presented there:
  1. The entry for "Woman" on Wikipedia contained a subsection on "Vulgar terms" for woman.
  2. Therefore Wikipedia is bad.
Here's an equally reasonable argument:

  1. Dinosaurs were large, slow and stupid.
  2. Therefore evolution is bad.
Next time, please try to improve the article yourself, or mention problems on the discussion page instead of whining about it elsewhere. The power of the wiki process is the ability to modify suboptimal content quickly. Suppose the same article had appeared in a print encyclopedia, how long would it have taken to change it?

(And no, Dilip, the argument that the Chambers Dictionary didn't have vulgar terms listed is not valid. If you want to compare Wikipedia with something, compare it with an encyclopedia. If you want to compare a wiki equivalent with a dictionary, please compare Wiktionary with it. The Wiktionary entry for Woman does not list offensive terms).

Friday, December 16, 2005

31 flavors. One fuck-up.

So there's this country Elbonia, which has a lot of people that its government classifies as being "economically backward". Some people in this country decided that it would be good for Elbonian society if they managed to give jobs to the economically backward (hereafter referred to as "poor"). Their Government had two choices:

1. Make a list of all the poor families in the country and give one job to each family.
2. Classify them into 31 categories on the basis of which Baskin Robbins flavor they liked, and give jobs only to those flavors that were liked by very poor people on average. In this case, rich people who liked a flavor that a lot of poor people liked would still get jobs anyway, while poor people who liked flavors that a lot of rich people liked wouldn't get those jobs.

Which choice would you think was saner?

Now replace "Baskin Robbins flavor" by "caste", "Elbonia" by "India" and you get the provisions of the Mandal Commission.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Most bizarre opening to a news story ever

Here's an AP story that begins:
In an unusual case of mistaken identity, a woman who thought a block of white cheese was cocaine is charged with trying to hire a hit man to rob and kill four men.
Fascinating opening. How can one not read a story like that?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

There's literature and there's bad literature

It was a dark and stormy night - The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest
Jennifer stood there, quietly ovulating - The Lyttle Lytton Contest
Imitation Hemingway and Faux Faulkner Contest.
Bad Sex in Fiction Award. (no fixed website yet).

And the all time classic: What if the Lord of the Rings had been written by someone else?

Like Zorro

And he came hard in her mouth and his dick jumped around and rattled on her teeth and he blacked out and she took his dick out of her mouth and lifted herself from his face and whipped the pillow away and he gasped and glugged at the air, and he came again so hard that his dick wrenched out of her hand and a shot of it hit him straight in the eye and stung like nothing he'd ever had in there, and he yelled with the pain, but the yell could have been anything, and as she grabbed at his dick, which was leaping around like a shower dropped in an empty bath, she scratched his back deeply with the nails of both hands and he shot three more times, in thick stripes on her chest. Like Zorro.
I know that sounds like William Faulkner desperately trying to win the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest, but it's only an excerpt from
Winkler by Giles Coren, longlisted for the related Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The greatest argument against having an apocalypse

Think of every movie you've watched or heard about which was set in a post-apocalyptic world. Here are a few: Radioactive Dreams, The Sisterhood, Ultra Warrior, The Postman, and arguably Barb Wire.

Now imagine: if you had an apocalypse, every damn movie would be like those.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Is Mysore representative of India?

For those of you who don't know Dave Barry, here's a quick introduction. Dave's blog is light fun to read, with topics like terrorist squirrels, exploding animals, toilet malfunctions and other minor mishaps which somehow seem saner than most events in world politics.

But I digress. The topic of this post is that Dave has unofficially adopted the Star of Mysore as the representative Indian publication, and blogs about several news items reported therein. Most of these news items cause some bemusement not only to Americans, but also to Floridans; stories about illegal floors being demolished, stories about people named Snake Shyam catching sleeping pythons, and stories about the sale of cow urine in Madhya Pradesh. Not to mention the name "Mysore" in English.

This gives me a fun idea. Go ahead, try it out.

1. Pick a country. It should be as different from yours as possible, and you should also be willing to welcome whatever new you learn about it.

2. Pick a city or town in that country. Look at a map if necessary. Ideally, the town should not be big or famous enough to come to your mind immediately when you think of the country.

3. Find a local newspaper or other MSM outlet based in that town. Don't pick a newspaper which is circulated through the entire country. Pick something that has more news reports than analyses and editorials. Don't pick a special-topic forum or a blog for this exercise.

4. Add that newspaper's website to your bookmarks, and read the headlines regularly for 2 weeks. Blog about anything interesting, funny or new that you find.

Finally, compare whether you leraned more about the country than what you knew earlier. If you had any stereotypes, were they reinforced or were they dispelled?

For my part, I'm picking Coast Week, published from Mombasa, Kenya.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Press #0#0#0#0 to speak to a human

If you've ever called customer service and been put on hold, you've probably fretted and fumed for a human.

Social problem. Technical solution. And incredibly useful at that: http://paulenglish.com/ivr/

Source: Guardian article here.

Addendum: How will the companies respond? If you think they will revert to humans, press 1. If you think they will not respond at all, press 2. If you think they will fight to declare this cheat sheet illegal, press 3. Leave a comment below to communicate with a human.

Deny that the problem exists

I once had a conversation with someone who was outraged that India has entire subcastes whose job it is to clean out toilets manually. (Here's an informative, if POV, introduction). The conversation digressed from real toilets to Indian railway tracks, where pretty much the same problem exists. I listen to his tirade for a while, and then I ask "How would you solve the problem?".

He blurts out, "All castes should spend equal time cleaning out railway tracks".

Then he realizes something, calms down and says, "No, I would develop a machine that could roll along on the tracks and clean them with high-pressure water".

I didn't tell him my thoughts, all of which dealt with the question "Why is human excrement present on railway tracks in India?". I personally would go with installing sewage holding tanks in all passenger compartments so that the waste can be disposed of in stations using suction hoses or something similar. Eliminate the problem. Or at least deny that it exists and see where it leads.

But what would I know? I'm just a humble engineering type who searches for simple technical solutions to problems. I see a filthy railway track and I look for ways to clean it up. What would I know about caste?

So this Chinese and this Indian walk into a bar...

...and each tries to outdo the other on negative pride. The Chinese guy says, "We had this toxic spill upstream of Harbin, which made its 9 million residents go without water for four days."

The Indian snorts derisively and says, "We've had that for years in Chennai, and we didn't even need toxic spills like you did!".

But is Chennai listening? Or any of the other places in India without water?