A List Of Things You May Not Know…

…and may not wish to know:

  • The dot over the letter ‘i’ is called a “tittle”
  • Ketchup was once sold as medicine in the US (Dr. Miles Compound Extract of Tomato)
  • There are no words in the dictionary that rhyme with orange, silver and purple
  • American Airlines saved $40, 000 in 1987 by eliminating one olive from each plate of salad served in first class
  • The very first bomb dropped by the Allies on Berlin during WWII killed the only elephant in the Berlin Zoo
  • Names of all continents end with the same letter with which they start
  • If a statue of a horse with a person on it has both front leg in the air, it means the person died in battle…If the horse has one front leg in the air, it means the person died of wounds received in battle…If all four legs of the horse are on the ground, the person died of natural causes
  • A duck’s quack does not echo
  • Donald Duck comics were banned in Finland because he didn’t wear pants
  • I’m very bored today

Not So Clever Country

We Indians take pride in our mathematical ability and are not shy broadcasting it…The question is, are we really as good as we think we are? The results of the International Mathematical Olympiad or IMO ( an annual competition for high school students) show otherwise…

India’s rank in the last 10 Olympiads:

2009: 28          2004:14

2008: 31          2003: 15

2007: 25          2002:  9

2006: 35          2001:  7

2005: 36          2000: 14


China’s rank in the last 10 Olympiads:

2009: 1          2004:  1

2008: 1          2003:  2

2007: 2          2002:  1

2006: 1          2001:  1

2005: 1          2000:  1


If you look at the entire list, you will notice that we have been routinely coming behind smaller countries like Iran, Mongolia, Serbia and Turkey…China, Russia, USA, North Korea and South Korea usually rank in the top 5…

Whilst the Mathematical Olympiad may not be a true indicator of talent or overall intelligence, it does show the rot in our education system, which is based on rote learning rather than analytical thinking…Indian children are not stupid, they are just pragmatic…Their focus (and the focus of many teachers) is to maximize marks rather than learn…This attitude needs to change if we are to succeed as a nation…If children don’t learn how mathematics relates to the rest of the world and how to approach problems from different angles using mathematics as a tool rather than just concentrating on getting the math right, then we are doomed…Educationists should remember that new technologies can only go where mathematicss has been been before…For example, engineering of today is based on mathematics developed more than 30 years ago whilst the mathematics being developed today will power engineering 30 years in the future…

Why are the Chinese doing better than the Indians at the IMO?

In Chinese society mathematical skills are considered a barometer of a persons’ overall intelligence…Mathematics is also the foundation for the modern sciences, whose progress has been given priority over liberal arts (I don’t agree with this) by China’s government and educational authorities…Like in India, there is a lot of competition in China to get into good educational institutions and good educational institutions give great importance to mathematical skills…As a result, a majority of primary school and middle school students in big cities take after school Mathematics Olympiad (MO) courses (MO questions require analytical thinking) to improve their chances of getting into the university and course of their choice…

Does MO education work? It seems it does…Not only has it helped Chinese students win more gold medals in the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) than students from any other participating country, but it has also helped a great many to gain admission at top universities in China…It seems that mathematical skills, reasoning and creative thinking can be cultivated through intensive training and hard work… If you look at the results tables on the IMO website, you will notice that every year this competition is dominated by students from Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Taiwan – societies that place high value on science and technology and see mathematics as the foundation of science, and use similar training methods to teach mathematics as China does…

As I mentioned earlier, the Math Olympiad is not an indicator of intelligence but given that both cultures embrace intellectual challenge, Chinese educationists and policy makers must be doing something right which has resulted in their students’ excellent showing at the IMO year after year…The Chinese first participated in the IMO in 1985 when they ranked 32nd., but since then they’ve moved up and up…India, on the other hand, first participated in 1989 when they ranked 25th. and have remained more or less mediocre since then (except for 4 years when they ranked in the top 10)…It’s not as if the Chinese have suddenly become more intelligent, it’s just that their method of education has become better…They seem to be more proactive unlike India where the course structure and material never changes…If our ‘top’ children chronically underachieve, then our dream of being a superpower will have to wait…

We are not as clever as we think we are because we don’t see the present or the future, just the past…We are not as clever as we think we are because we don’t see the rot in our system…

Edited to add:

Abhishek made a comment that the reason Indians don’t fare well in competitions like the Math Olympiads is because we concentrate more on getting into the IITs…This is probably true but doesn’t this show that our education system focuses only on mastering theoretical knowledge that helps in getting jobs and not on conceptual and innovative thinking? Getting into IIT is so ingrained in our culture that everything else is overlooked…IITs exist because of JEE and not because of research…The facilities are just not available because of a lack of funds and government interest…IIT ranks high in the world when it comes to BTech but this ranking falls drastically when it comes to post graduate education…Indians do well in foreign universities because they can take advantage of first class facilities funded by foreign donors…

The Chinese, Mathematics And Language

Have you ever wondered why the Chinese are so good at Maths? I know I have… Malcom Gladwell, the author of the extremely interesting book Outliers (he is also the author of The Tipping Point and Blink), solves the mystery for us…According to him, the Chinese (and other South East Asians) are not more intelligent than Westerners; all they have is a more developed number sense because of the way their language is structured…

“Take a look at the following list of numbers: 4,8,5,3,9,7,6. Read them out loud to yourself. Now look away, and spend twenty seconds memorizing that sequence before saying them out loud again.

If you speak English, you have about a 50 percent chance of remembering that sequence perfectly If you’re Chinese, though, you’re almost certain to get it right every time. Why is that? Because as human beings we store digits in a memory loop that runs for about two seconds. We most easily memorize whatever we can say or read within that two second span. And Chinese speakers get that list of numbers—4,8,5,3,9,7,6—right every time because—unlike English speakers—their language allows them to fit all those seven numbers into two seconds.” [Link]

Chinese words for numbers are extremely short…For example, 4 is ‘si’ and 7 is ‘qi’ (takes 1/4 of a second to pronounce each number) while in English they are ‘four’ and ‘seven’ respectively (takes 1/3 of a second to pronounce a number)…As a result of shorter names for numbers and the memory loop, the Chinese especially the Cantonese are better able to memorize digits than English speaking people…

“It turns out that there is also a big difference in how number-naming systems in Western and Asian languages are constructed. In English, we say fourteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen and nineteen, so one would think that we would also say one-teen, two-teen, and three-teen. But we don’t. We make up a different form: eleven, twelve, thirteen, and fifteen. Similarly, we have forty, and sixty, which sound like what they are. But we also say fifty and thirty and twenty, which sort of sound what they are but not really. And, for that matter, for numbers above twenty, we put the “decade” first and the unit number second: twenty-one, twenty-two. For the teens, though, we do it the other way around. We put the decade second and the unit number first: fourteen, seventeen, eighteen. The number system in English is highly irregular. Not so in China, Japan and Korea. They have a logical counting system. Eleven is ten one. Twelve is ten two. Twenty-four is two ten four, and so on.

That difference means that Asian children learn to count much faster.

The regularity of their number systems also means that Asian children can perform basic functions—like addition—far more easily. Ask an English seven-year-old to add thirty-seven plus twenty two, in her head, and she has to convert the words to numbers (37 + 22). Only then can she do the math: 2 plus 7 is nine and 30 and 20 is 50, which makes 59. Ask an Asian child to add three-tens-seven and two tens-two, and then the necessary equation is right there, embedded in the sentence. No number translation is necessary: It’s five-tens nine. For fractions, we say three fifths. The Chinese is literally, ‘out of five parts, take three.’ That’s telling you conceptually what a fraction is. It’s differentiating the denominator and the numerator.

The much-storied disenchantment with mathematics among western children starts in the third and fourth grade…a part of that disenchantment is due to the fact that math doesn’t seem to make sense; its linguistic structure is clumsy; its basic rules seem arbitrary and complicated.

Asian children, by contrast, don’t face nearly that same sense of bafflement. They can hold more numbers in their head, and do calculations faster, and the way fractions are expressed in their language corresponds exactly to the way a fraction actually is—and maybe that makes them a little more likely to enjoy math, and maybe because they enjoy math a little more they try a little harder and take more math classes and are more willing to do their homework, and on and on, in a kind of virtuous circle.” [Link]

Edited to add:

I didn’t realize that campaign speeches were all one needed to win the Nobel Prize for Peace…Long live the Nobel Committee! I hope you are sleeping peacefully now…

A Little Bit Of This, A Little Bit Of That

When stones and bottles don’t work,

cow udders do! [Link]


Isiah Harris receives an H1N1 influenza vaccine at Rush University Medical Center October 6, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. Rush is one of many hospitals and clinics that have started to distribute the vaccinations against the H1N1 swine flu virus in the United States this week. [Link]

Hell, I’d rather suffer from H1N1 than get vaccinated against it! Couldn’t they find a better delivery method?

The new CDC anti-smoking ad

Tobacco advertising today aims more at stigmatizing smokers than informing them of health effects of smoking…Fine, stigmatize smokers but why is it necessary to pick on one minority group – gays? Will this new tactic work?

The Ridiculousness Of Religion

George_Gordon_Byron2-thumb-233x313-17481“God would have made His will known without books, considering how very few could read them when Jesus of Nazareth lived, had it been His pleasure to ratify any peculiar mode of worship. As to your immortality, if people are to live, why die? And our carcases, which are to rise again, are they worth raising? I hope, if mine is, that I shall have a better pair of legs that I have moved on these two-and-twenty years, or I shall be sadly behind in the squeeze into Paradise.”

– Lord Byron in a letter dated Sept. 13, 1811 to his friend Rev. Francis Hodgson [link]

Well said, Lord Byron! If God is loving and full of mercy and grace, why are non-believers and sinners sent to hell – why is there a hell at all? If we are images of Him, why aren’t we all saints? Why are scriptures so important – did God write them himself?

I hope, if mine is [carcass is raised], that I shall have a better head of hair (a la Dimple Kapadia) and a better figure (a la Megan Fox), or a sinner like me shall be sadly behind in the squeeze to get the Lord’s attention in Paradise if I reach it at all…

More of Lord Byron’s Wit and Wisdom:

Adultery : What men call gallantry, and gods adultery, Is much more common where the climate’s sultry. (Don Juan, canto 1, stanza 63)

Anarchy : There is, in fact, no law or government at all [in Italy]; and it is wonderful how well things go on without them.  (Jan., 1821, to Moore)

Aristocrats : For what were all these country patriots born? To hunt, and vote, and raise the price of corn? (The Age of Bronze, stanza 14)

Aristocratic Education : He learned the arts of riding, fencing, gunnery, And how to scale a fortress – or a nunnery. (Don Juan, canto 1, stanza 38)

Critics : A man must serve his time to every trade, Save censure–critics all are ready made. (English Bards and Scotch Reviewers)

The Dead : I have seen a thousand graves opened, and always perceived that whatever was gone, the teeth and hair remained of those who had died with them. Is not this odd? They go the very first things in youth & yet last the longest in the dust. (18 Nov. 1820, to John Murray)

Hate : Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure; Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure. (Don Juan, canto13, stanza 6)


Does A Bad Past Excuse A Crime?

Apparently, it does according to John Farr:

But the story of what Polanski suffered even before the unspeakable trauma of having his pregnant wife Sharon Tate butchered in the spooky twilight of the turbulent sixties makes me believe that overall, he’s as much victim as predator himself.

Can you imagine living in the Krakow ghetto during the Nazi Occupation, and at the tender age of ten watching both your parents shuttled off to concentration camps, only to have your mother die in one?

These horrors by no means excuse his crime, but they are mitigating factors, are they not?

No, I cannot imagine living in a ghetto but I also cannot imagine the trauma Samantha Geimer, now 45, went through as a 13 year old child…Polanski’s troubled past does not excuse his crime, period…Why haven’t other Holocaust survivors committed similar crimes? They too had to deal with living in ghettos and concentration camps and the loss and torture of loved ones…Just as the Holocaust was a colossal crime against humanity, rape especially the rape of a minors is also a crime against humanity and there are no excuses for either…

Farr continues:

So, with all due contempt for child molesters in general, I hope the case will be handled expeditiously, and if and when sentenced, that Polanski ultimately receives a measure of leniency. In other words- don’t throw away the key.

I can’t help musing that here in America, we drove away Chaplin for all those years, and though Polanski’s crime was much harsher and more defined, I, for one, would welcome having him back among us once he’s paid his debt to society. Maybe he could even help us make better movies again.

It’s good to know that Mr. Farr has contempt for poor and untalented child molesters and admiration for rich and talented ones…Has Roman Polanski paid his debt to society? Does making award-winning films negate his past sins? Why should celebrities get preferential treatment? Is talent more important than crime?

Roman Polanski may be talented but the fact is, he’s an admitted child rapist who ran away from justice…

A commentator to the post rightly said:

Every rapist has their reasons or stories. perhaps they were raped in the past or suffered some trauma or other psychiatric stress. should we let all rapists off the hook? the consequence of jailtime as a deterrent and shows such behavior is not compatible with current society. Polanski should be locked up.
His movie accolades have absolutely zero role in this discussion.