Friday, March 28, 2008

Mention the differences

Back in school, every science exam would have atleast one question which was of the type :mention the differences between A and B. For some reason it seemed to be the favourite type of question for teachers in every school. Maybe it gave them the opportunity to kill 2 birds in one stone since students had to know both A nd B well enough to answer the question. Of course, the more optimistic and informationally-challenged students countered this problem with very creative differences like A is called A while B is not called A and so on. But that is besides the point.

I read an article recently about a car being made by a company called Aptera which claims that their gas-electric hybrid car will give you an eye-popping fuel mileage of atleast 300+ miles per gallon. Usually I am least interested in the make or look of a car and I don't care about such things as long as it transports me from one place to another without the brakes failing or the steering wheel coming off. But as someone who beams with satisfaction everytime I see the 50 mpg number on the display screen of my Toyota Prius, the incredible 300+ mpg figure just took my breath away. So I had to take a more detailed look at the Aptera and that is what reminded me of the 'mention the difference' question in the science exams of yore.

Ladies and gentlemen, please take a look at the 2 vehicles below and mention the differences between them.

Figure A

Figure B

I know that almost all of you will have either knowledge about one of the vehicles or none of them, but definitely not both. So I will be kinder than my science teachers and publish the answer right below the question.
The differences are as follows:
1. Figure A is the Aptera produced and seen only in California, USA while figure B is the humble Auto-rickshaw, predominantly seen in India and maybe other parts of South-Asia.
2. The Aptera has 2 wheels in the front and one in the back, while the Auto-rickshaw (popularly referred to as 'Auto') is the opposite and has one wheel in the front and 2 in the back. My first thought after looking at the Aptera was, "hey, it almost looks like an Auto, only backwards".
3. The Aptera is a 2 seater car and has not been produced commercially yet while the Auto is a 4 seater (including the driver) and is almost always used as a vehicle for hire (like a cab). Never have I seen someone buying an Auto to be exclusively used as a personal vehicle, though that would be very interesting.
4. The Aptera is available as a fully electric model or gas-electric hybrid model. So from an emissions perspective, its a clean vehicle. The Auto, on the other hand is available as a diesel, petrol (gasoline for my American friends) and CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) model. So it can range from a clean vehicle to a disgusting-billowing-sooty-exhaust-in-your-face vehicle.
5. I may be generalising but in all probablility, the driver of an Aptera is going to be a safe cautious driver. On the other hand, I have yet to meet an Auto-driver who does not think of himself as any less than a Formula-1 racing driver. Michael Schumacher (retired now) and all his F-1 buddies are really lucky that they have never had to compete against any of the auto-drivers in Bombay. Many years ago, I was late for an interview and I told the auto driver about it. He said 'no problem' and then I had to shut my eyes in terror for the next 20 minutes, but he managed to deposit me in one piece at the venue of the interview in time - the journey that we finished in 20 minutes would have normally taken atleast 40 minutes.
6. The Aptera driver will always be seated in the left-hand side of the vehicle since its an American car and will be a left-hand drive vehicle atleast in the US. There is no such limitation for the Auto. Although the handle is in the centre, I have seen some drivers sitting to the left or right for reasons unknown even though it is much more convenient and probably safer to sit in the centre.
7. Autos can fit into the smallest of places. Probably it has to do with the fact that the front part is tapered and has only one wheel which makes it easier for the driver to muscle his way into seemingly impossible spots and thus cut off other vehicles more efficiently and smoothly. I doubt, the Aptera can do that since it is like a regular car atleast from the front.
8. Speaking of cutting off other vehicles, it is an accepted thing in Bombay as long as you do it smoothly. You can only imagine what it would be like if an Aptera driver did that in some place like Los Angeles. So, another indirect difference would be that an Auto can be driven only in places where there is gun-control whereas cutting off people is not even an option if you are driving an Aptera.

I am sure there are other differences, but this little lesson should do for now. Now that you are somewhat-informed about this, maybe you could come up with the rest of the differences.

The Aptera is kind of affordable for the common man. Although it looks like a spaceship, it does not cost like one. Their website quotes a price around US $ 27,000-30,000. I am sure that too will come down just like other cars once the model becomes more common-place and they start mass-production. I really hope that the Aptera is successful and I hope this is what cars in America will be like in the future - Smaller, futuristic, fuel-efficient and more importantly cleaner.

The auto also has been kind of affordable for the auto-drivers. I mean it definitely costs much lesser than a car. And its semi-open design makes you feel one with the road - just like being on a motorcycle. Feeling one with the road may not necessarily be a good feeling especially in the traffic of Bombay when the next vehicle is a few centimetres away from you, but it definitely is great when you are in less traffic or in the country-side. You also get to talk with many interesting characters behind the handle (the auto does not have a steering wheel). The best rides are the ones which are decked up in almost discotheque-like lights, faux silver-plated roofs and have the biggest sub-woofer sound systems blaring out the latest B-grade songs.

I really hope that all Autos are forced to use CNG as they have been starting to do in Bombay, Delhi etc. I also hope that the Auto never goes away from India's traffic landscape. The Auto is one of the first things that make me feel that I am home when I get out of the Bombay airport and I would like that feeling to stay intact every time I go back.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The sport effect

I watched this youtube clip of Zinedine Zidane and I realised more than ever why football is called 'the beautiful game'. I also realised that rap/hiphop music in French sounds 'tres' cool. Zidane is such a treat to watch. His control over the ball is sheer poetry. Unfortunately most people who don't follow football probably remember him for his infamous headbutt - strange word that, which brings us to the bad pun of the day section: "Anyone who says that they can't make ends meet should be given a headbutt". Now that we have that done with, I was saying that most people who don't follow football probably remember him as the guy who headbutted the Italian player in the finals of the world cup 2006. Unfortunately France lost the match in the penalty shoot-out later on and almost every person who could voice an opinion and had the medium to do so, blamed Zidane for the loss. Not many bothered to find out why he had done it and what did Matterazzi say that provoked him so much. The details of the incident surfaced many weeks later. If what this news article says is true, it started with a shirt tug, which was met by sarcasm from
Zidane, which proceeded on to Materazzi mentioning his preference for Zidane's sister over his shirt in rather colourful terms and finally ended with the infamous headbutt. Anyway, the headbutt just shifted focus from what was an end to a glorious career which mesmerised audiences all over the world. Zizou was one of the greatest that the game ever had.

Watching sportsmen who are brilliant at what they do is like watching artistes practising their art. You wish you could do it, but lesser mortals know they can't and so you just appreciate the beauty of it all. I get the exact same feeling when I watch cricket and the batsmen are batting brilliantly or the bowlers are bowling beautifully. Watching batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar just blows you away. Just the thought of how, when a moving ball is being hurled at them at around the 85-100 mph mark, batsmen like him can decide in the split of a second whether to step forward and shift their weight to the front foot, or step back and shift their weight to the back foot, depending on where the ball pitches and then hit the ball taking into consideration the lateral movement of the ball is mind-boggling. Watching great bowlers bowl also gives me that same tingly feeling all over. There is nothing more spectacular than the ball crashing into the wickets of a batsman. Even better if the ball is a 'yorker' and the batsman is 'yorked and bowled'.

I have often wondered what it is about sport that makes people, especially men so passionate. What is it that it makes me want to wake up at 6 am on Sunday and play cricket. I am very sure there is nothing else I will wake up voluntarily for at that unearthly hour. What is it about sports that prompts us to do crazy things like running around in the streets and celebrating after a win or just sulking at home after a loss - maybe even shed a tear or two. I could never figure out how a grown man could cry on account of some game being telecast on the televsion until that crazy India-Australia match in 1992. India were in a hopeless situation and they rallied to almost win and lose and then win and finally lose the game in the last ball that was bowled. People who have seen that world cup match should know what I mean by win,lose,win and finally lose, all in the last ball. I jumped up for joy and celebrated twice in that one ball only to have my happiness cruelly crushed. I was in shock. It was just a game but I had that feeling which could probably be described as something you may feel when everything you have owned and wanted has been taken away in one instant by fate and there is no way you can get it back. I was almost in tears and slightly ashamed about it too and that's when I looked at my brother and my cousin brother. Both of them were sitting silently on the sofa, eyes moist. My brother was 20 at that time and my cousin was 27.

There are so many people who suffer heart attacks watching the games - especially during the cricket and soccer world-cups. I have a feeling that in a few decades, I may become one of them. Even now if the game is thrilling, I get that queasy hollow feeling in my stomach and I can't bear the tension. I have realised though that this only happens when I am watching the game and and not when I am playing it. Probably because I know that I am helpless in changing the course of the game if I am merely watching. On the other hand if I am playing, I know I have a chance. I think I may have control issues.

My wife tells me that she read an article sometime ago in some newspaper a while ago that the movies that men are most likely to cry during are sports movies or patriotic movies. Actually if you ask me, playing the best moments of a game in slow motion with good slow music also works very well.

So ladies, promise to look the other way when you see us men crying at games and we will promise not to look at you when someone close to you is getting married or when Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood are next to each other at the traffic lights in The Bridges of Madison County.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Wine-making chronicled

Some years back, my friends and I tried to make wine. Of course we did not use any recipe, since that went against our principles of being organised. We just went by our instincts and the results were surprisingly good. One of my friends had chronicled it on his web-page in pictures. I have just reproduced verbatim those same images and captions. Happy wine-making to anyone who wants to try it.

Step 1: Get the resident flunkey to buy the stuff.

Step 2: Clean the bucket (remember to wear a hat).

Step 3: Get outside help to wash the grapes.

Step 4: Keep some grapes aside to feed the vintners.

Step 5: Appoint a manager to supervise the elephant.

Step 6: Ensure all grapes are crushed.

Step 7: Use force if required.

Step 8: Manager Vision Camera Angle.

Step 9: Always keep the crushers happy to ensure purity of contents.

Step 10: Add the secret ingredient.

Step 11: Colouring Agent

Step 12: Admire your hard work

Step 13: Stir. Do not spill.

Step 14: Seal the mixture and let it happen

Step 15: Its happening.