Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ever wish you were a giraffe? I do.

If there's one great life-lesson I would pass on to future generations, it would be this:

When travelling, always pack an extra pair of socks in your hand baggage.

Let me put this pearl of wisdom in context.

Three days ago, I was in New York. I had a flight to catch in the afternoon, and had decided to spend the morning and early afternoon walking around the city, doing some shopping and meeting friends. What made the plan all the more acceptable was the weather. Mild rain and light winds came together to make it very pleasant and extremely romantic weather for a walk about New York. Sure, there were puddles every now and then, but splashing about in puddles is precisely what the child in every one of us loves.

I was having such a good afternoon that I lost track of time, and only just made it to the airport in time to check in. I sent my bag through, picked up my boarding pass and ambled off towards the boarding gate. I pulled out my laptop (yes, I was working!) and sat down, when a sudden loud squelch and a strong pungent smell assailed my senses.

I looked left. Nothing.
I looked right. Nothing.
I looked up. Nothing.
I looked down. Ah.

A morning romp through the puddled streets of New York in the rain might bring glorious joy to the mind and spirit, but wreaks havoc on one's footwear. My shoes and socks were wet through, and increasingly smelly. I eased my feet out of my shoes to allow them a little air, and nearly gagged. An old man three seats away went into a paroxysm of coughing, and a woman two rows behind me said in a voice that could be heard across the Atlantic, "What in God's name is that smell?!"

Said woman did not, however, have the time to launch a detailed investigation into the phenomenon as boarding was announced. I sighed, shoved my wet-sock-covered wet foot into my wet shoes and squelched my way through the queue onto the aerobridge into the plane and squeezed into my seat. Relieved at having a relative stretch of peace, quiet and sock-drying ahead of me, I proceeded to take off my shoes. I let out a satisfied sigh. I even went so far as to wiggle my toes in comfort.

One thing I really miss about London is the British sense of subtlety and politeness. Tell them an earthquake has wiped out Dover and they'll respond with a "By Jove, you don't say! How frightful!" Inform them that they have just won a million pound lottery and they'll react with a "Oh, jolly good show!" Block them on an escalator in the Underground, and they'd cough under their breath and say, "If you don't mind awfully, young man, could you please shift to your left just a bit so I could pass? Thank you so much, awfully kind of you. Good day." Order an English breakfast in a pub and the waitress'll serve you your plate with a warm smile and an "Enjoy your meal, love!"

My impression of Americans is, however, just the opposite. Not that it's wrong to be like that. It's just very in-your-face. Look at Donald Trump. Look at Las Vegas. Look at the Big Mac.

Anyway, so there I was wiggling my toes in comfort. Approximately 1.4 seconds later, I felt someone poking me in the shoulder. I turned around to face a very big, very red American woman. "Yes?" I asked. "Put on your shoes, boy, you're stinking up the whole damn plane!" she roared.

Perfectly true, but I'm sure there are better ways of putting it. Hard to argue with her logic though. I sighed (yup, I have quite a lot of practice in that line) squished my wet shoes back on, and settled in for what I was sure was going to be a very podiatrically uncomfortable 8 hour long flight. To add to my misery, one of the inflight movies was 300, which featured Spartans happy and content in their open-toed sandals.

I arrived at Amsterdam, and headed straight for the most remote seating area I could find. I ripped off my shoes and my socks, and threw up into the conveniently placed bin near my seat.

Someone walked up and noticed the empty seats stretched on either side of me. He sat down three seats away from me. He sniffed. He cast an evil looked in my direction. He sniffed again. He got up and left.

This happened to me seven more times over the next hour, even though I had chosen a seat as far away from the rest as humanity as possible (insofar as one can be far away from humanity at a major international airport).

As the area started filling up, and the sniffs became more pronounced and laden with menacing intent, I let decency take over from comfort, and put my shoes back on. They were reasonably dry, and considerably less smelly, so that made the 8 hour flight back to Delhi relatively more tolerable.

The End.

Moral of the story (Just to drive home the point): Keep a supply of fresh socks handy at all times. Or be a giraffe so your nose is far far away from your feet.

Smelly socks, smelly socks your smell is preceding you
Smelly socks, smelly socks it's not your fault...
It's because of me that you're drenched wet
You're causing discomfort to others, I'll bet
You stink like a dead animal that decomposes
Yeah you're no friend to those with noses.
Smelly socks, smelly socks your smell is preceding you
Smelly socks, smelly socks it's not your fault!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Empirical observations from New York...

...on the basis of about 15 hours of walking around midtown and downtown Manhattan.

At a reasonably brisk pace of walking, one sees
a. A Dunkin Donuts every 14 minutes
b. A McDonalds every 10 minutes
c. A Starbucks every 5 minutes
d. A Japanese tourist clicking photos of everything that moves (and most things that don't) every 2 minutes.

Other observations/musings:
a. Nothing seems to have changed since I was here 10 years ago. Except for the fact that every second person has an Apple product in his pocket, on his palm, or in his ear.
b. Manhattan is a very very easy place to be a tourist and/or explorer on foot. The fact that lower midtown and northwards is laid out in simple rectangular grids makes it idiot-proof, and hence ideal for me.
c. Italian food in New York is probably second only to Italian food in Italy. And it's one hell of a close contest.
d. Times Square is simply waaaaay too loud and bright. The screens light up the damn place like it's daytime. Nice if you like that kind of burning-the-eyeballs intensity but it's not my cup of tea. I'm sure with this kind of energy consumption, Times Square alone must be a major contributor to global warming. Any thoughts, Mr Gore? On the other hand, I must admit the sheer vitality of the place is simply mindblowing. And very very seductive.
e. London is waaaaay more expensive than New York. In practically every single sphere of activity.
f. The London Underground, however, is super seductively sexy compared to the NY Subway. It may be smaller and connect fewer places, but it's cleaner and more idiot-proof (again, critical to me). This is a clear distinction between the two, and the New York authorities should Mind the Gap (snigger, snigger).
g. Americans are waaaaay (I realise I'm using 'waaaay' waaaay too many times, but it's now waaaay beyond my control.) too fond of starchy, sweet and fatty food. In my two weeks here, I've put on what feels like atleast 5 kgs. And that's just on my arms.
h. Blueberry Cake Donuts rock. Big time. And I will brook no argument whatsoever on this point. (This might seem to tie in with point g above but anyone who dares suggest such a thing will have to deal with a fist that has grown 150% in 14 days.)

More later. Ciao.

I apologize for the infrequent posts and replies to comments of late. I've been busy (working, unbelievable though it may seem!)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Update to my previous post: Schiphol!

In my previous post, I had mentioned the flies painted on the urinals at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.

Well, I was at Schiphol earlier today and decided to check it out first hand. (Two for best aim, actually, but let's not go into that.) So here's a first-person photo:

Cue 'fly' jokes

So there I was, peacefully minding my own business taking this photo... when I heard a cough behind me.

I turned around, and there stood a Dutch policeman, looking at me rather quizzically.

"Sir, what are you doing?" he asked.

My brain whirred into action and I replied with the entirely truthful, "I was taking a picture of the urinal."

He looked at me. I looked at him. He looked at me. I looked at him.

It struck me that "I was taking a picture of the urinal" is not the most convincing or elaborate of answers to give Amsterdam's finest.

I decided to elucidate. "You see, I've heard a lot about how Schiphol's urinals are unique because they have flies painted on them. Quite interesting, actually, so I thought I'd take a photo just as a memory."

He looked at me. I looked at him.

And then he broke into a smile. "Ah, that's nice!" he said. "There is a lot more to Amsterdam though!"

I smiled sheepishly, zipped up (the camera case, I mean) and headed out into the bright, inviting sounds and sights of Schiphol Airport.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

You're within the boundaries of Alabama!

Ladies, gentlemen, and that guy who lives across the corridor from me and stares at me as I leave for work every morning. This post has two parts to it. The first is... well, a post. Yet another piece of my random ramblings about something that popped into my head. The second part features The first ever Lord of the Things Contest. Here we go!

WARNING: This post deals with the same topic that this one dealt with - micturition. If you're mentally going, "Ewwwwww, yucky!" or are in general not comfortable with the topic, I would suggest not reading any further. Reading this post further, I mean; don't drop reading altogether. Feel free to read a novel or a newspaper, if you want. (Make believe worlds and
death/destruction/illogical politics are just so much better, aren't they?) And please do come back to my blog sometime in the not-too-distant future. If you were to boycott my blog altogether, I'd lose 20% of my readership. 25% if I don't count myself.

I'm sorry, I tend to get carried away.

REVISED WARNING: This post deals with urination. In some detail. If this pisses you off, tata bye bye have a nice day.

Men all over the world are faced with a perplexing problem - how exactly does one use a urinal? I've managed it fairly well for several years now, but what precisely is the technique? Where, in a urinal, does one aim? Into the back wall or into the base? And how, by GOD, does one avoid splashing? (Especially onto 65-35 polywool mix formal pants where the droplets just stay on top and don't soak through yet refuse to be wiped away, leaving a faint yet unsettling smell... a friend's experience, of course, not mine. Definitely not mine.)

These are critical issues, ones that we men worry about day after day. Social ettiquette restricts us from sharing our anguish, so we cover our crippling anxiety and insecurity by loudly cracking crude jokes about farting and the human anatomy.

<- SIDELINE: Bilingual Adult Joke ->
Courtesy Dbabble. If I find out who posted it, I'll let you know.
NB: If you don't know German, ask someone to translate. Or try this.
A lady is walking down a dark street in Berlin. Suddenly, a man jumps out of an alleyway, wearing nothing but a long trench coat. He whips it open in a single fluid moment.

"Eww! That's gross!" says the lady. And the man smiles broadly and replies, "Thanks!"

<- End of Sideline ->

Back to my rant about urinals.

Anybody who has spent a fair amount of time in front of one or more urinals will appreciate some fundamental facts about their design. The designers seem to have had the right idea - the walls of the urinal are curved in a manner that any liquid hitting it should experience streamlined/laminar flow, thereby gracefully flowing down the wall and into the drain. Logical? Yes. Except that it doesn't work! Time and again, at over 50 cities in more than 15 countries all over the world, my friend has been experienced the splashback effect.

What makes the situation worse is the cumulative effect of several users being splashed. User 1 does his job, gets splashed, and thereby leaves a little memory of his visit on the ground in front of the urinal. Unhygienic and selfish chap that he his, he doesn't wipe it up or assumes others will either
a. Appreciate and enjoy this spontaneous, brotherly sharing of body fluids
b. Mistake it for a part of the floor pattern

User 2, naturally, can't be expected to clean up after User 1 (unless it's his job to do so - but let's leave such complications out of the story). User 2, now has to take aim from further back. As one can imagine, this does not help the situation. User 3 and User 4 follow suit. While some like yours truly are comfortable with and can handle the distance, not all are as gifted, leading to one heck of a mess. All of which could have been avoided if only the urinal didn't splash so to begin with.

If you're looking for alternatives, check out this patented Anti-Splashback design. I'm sure it's very scientific and all that, but the thought of peeing into something that looks remarkably like a human ear gives me the shivers. And if it were to give me the shivers during the act itself, well... so much for the objective of an anti-splash session.

One design that I would like to see more of is a Saxophone-like one. Just look at the structure... isn't it perfect?

Apologies to Mahesh - he loves his sax

Peeing down rather than straight (or up), and having it conveyed further away from you is sure to minimize the splash. Plus it's less icky to consider peeing into a musical instrument than into someone's ear. (Unless you're the kind of person who likes indulging in that sort of thing. Again, let's leave such complications out of consideration.)

The chaps who designed the urinals at Schipol airport in Amsterdam came up with a cool way of attacking the problem - make the pee-er pee properly! Each urinal has a fly drawn on it. Yes, a fly. And no, I'm not going to crack a joke about the appropriateness of this in the current context. I'm guessing any guy coming up there would see the fly and think, "Harrrumph! Let's see if I can get the b@#$@%!" and proceed to aim straight at that spot. I know I probably would. It's a guy thing. Why restrict oneself to just urinating when one can urinate and make a sport of it? Anyways, I'm guessing that achieves two things
a. You're shooting at the best point, from an engineering/fluid mechanics point of view, in the curvature (locus, focus... there's some technical term that's relevant here) to get minimum splash.
b. You're concentrating on ensuring a steady stream, minimizing the human tendency to be wayward and somewhat directionless when not having much to think about.

It's high time the world woke up to the problems half it's population faces thanks to either lousy design of urinals or inadequate training/awareness of how to use them. And it's high time we stopped focusing on making peeing more pleasureable and concentrated on making it more efficient.

My limited research on the topic (Google gives 2,040,000 search results for 'How to use a urinal', including this very useful beginners' guide) doesn't seem to provide any definitive answers in the context of splashing... I'd welcome your inputs on this critical issue. (I would have called it a burning issue, but then we all know that can be treated with medication.)

The first Lord of the Things Contest

It gives me great pleasure to announce The first ever Lord of the Things Contest. If you've actually suffered through the entire post above, you truly deserve to participate in this contest.

Question: What's the funda behind the title of the post?

Post your answers as comments. The first person with the correct answer wins!

I haven't decided what the prize will be, but depending on your age, gender and sexual orientation, you could be the proud recipient of a Genuine AC/Kaka branded passionate kiss or enthusiastic high five. At the very least, I'll feature your blog's link prominently on my blog (yeah right, like that's going to increase your traffic!)

(Disclaimer: Prizes could vary considerably from how cool and/or desirable you imagine them to be.)