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the art of Writing

Saturday was a long day!

I achieved the excruciatingly boring and painful (for my poor hand) task of writing the Log Book for my IA. I had to fill in entries for the past eight weeks (come on! no one is regular!). It was like writing multiple language papers together made worse by the fact that my hand has completely lost the practice of Writing – the task of holding a pen and creating legible words on paper. Thanks to today’s digital age, all submissions, letters, notes,everything is done using Microsoft Word. Then one such day comes by when you have to Write! The effort to keep my handwriting readable, to make sure by ‘s’ and my ‘r’ look different, my ‘d’ and my ‘a’ do not look the same takes up half my concentration and I lose track of what I am writing. This is especially bad during exams since sometimes, I anyway have no clue what I am writing. Well, many painful hours later and thanks to ‘Bruce Almighty’ and ‘Angels and Demons’, I finished!

But the whole effort got me thinking about the lost art of Writing. In school, I had two whole hours dedicated to ‘Cursive Writing’ every week – the time when we sat with our ‘red-and -blue line book’ making an effort to trace out alphabets, make sure the ‘l’ touched the top line but the ‘t’ did not, that the ‘g’ and the ‘y’ touched the bottom line and formed a nice loop, that the dot on the ‘i’ did not look like a random pencil (oh yeah! pencils!) mark. Frankly, I never enjoyed the class but the whole exercise seemed practical seeing that we made a lot of handwritten projects and nice handwriting always made a good impression on the teacher (and got you a better grade). So was the art of  cancelling out words neatly.

Then that slowly started dying away. As we progressed to higher classes, some teachers would insist on reports being typed, possibly to avoid reading our horrible scribbled sheets of paper – I guess no one took those handwriting classes seriously . Now in University, the only time I Write is during exams.

Today, I assume the attention paid by a student to Writing will be even lesser seeing the spread of technology and the use of Microsoft Word for ALL submissions and reports. I mean when is the time we actually Wrote a letter and did not E-mail someone? Yeah ok, e-mails are so much faster so why bother using the snail mail. But I guess that’s how good handwriting is going to die. At the hands of modern technology.

In school, I never paid attention to my writing because I was that lazy. Today, I guess no one sees the point of spending time on something you are hardly going to use.

That said, nothing beats the warmth that a handwritten letter holds. My mom has written a few letters and a lot of e-mails to me but trust me, it’s those letters that I remember the most and which make me smile. Even if she scribbled those letters in a bus.

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Kitty cat, kitty cat, what is my luck today?

Continuing my new found fascination with cats – especially black cats.

Superstitions about black cats abound in all cultures. The funny thing is that whether a cat bring you good or bad luck depends to a large extent on where in the world you live and in which century. More than listing out what the superstitions are (that would fill a book) I was more interested in the history.

And this is what I found.

Cats bring good luck!

Cats have been living along with humans for millennia. The cat was worshipped inEgyptas the cat goddess Bastet and to kill one was considered a capital crime. Egyptians hosted black cats in their homes to gain favour of the cat goddess.  When an Egyptian family’s cat died, the cat was mummified and the family went into mourning as they would for a family member.

Romans, also, considered the cat sacred and introduced it intoEurope.  Black cats were also considered good luck in Japan and Asia. Furthermore, it is believed that a lady who owns a black cat will have many suitors. Sailors owned a black one on ship because they believed it would bring good luck. Sometimes, fishermen’s wives would keep black cats at home too, in the hope that they would be able to use their influence to protect their husbands at sea.

Oh no! Cats bring bad luck!

The luck of the black cats turned from good to bad as the ancient Egyptian and Roman civilizations declined and the conquerors did their best to erase the culture of their conquered. Widespread dread of black cats first arose in Europe in the Middle Ages, particularly in Englandwhen the witch hysteria struck. Poor, lonely, old ladies usually fed stray alley cats and were accused of practicing black magic. Their cat companions were deemed guilty of witchery by association.Europe went on a mass ‘black cat eradication’ drive.

Also, when the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock (US), they brought with them a devout faith in the Bible and a deep suspicion of anything related to the devil. They also viewed the black cat as a companion to witches, part demon and part sorcery and persecuted anyone found with a black cat.  So most of western and southernEuropestarted viewing the black cat as a symbol of bad luck and this continues even today, especially if a black cat crosses paths with a person, which is believed to be an omen of misfortune and death.

I personally have never believed in superstitions. I always thought superstitions formed out of the interaction of a person with the environment or out of the search for answers to things that logic and knowledge at that time could not explain or just simple things that people did not want to take the trouble to explain (like ‘walking under a ladder is bad luck’ – maybe it was a precaution so if the ladder crashes, it does not crack your head).

But well, this is my thinking and I might be wrong. Now excuse me, I need to go find my black cat buddy.


An app for your car!

Yup! That’s the next thing in the auto mobile industry – making your car as smart as your smartphone.

General Motots and Nissan already have apps that let the user lock their cars or check the gas levels using their Android smartphone. BMW is aiming to make the dashboard of the car an interactive screen. But the most promising combination comes from the company Ford with Bug Labs.

Using the open-source Android software and the open-source Arduino hardware, Ford has created the OpenXS platform. OpenXS basically is a way for the Android to interact with the internal systems of the car. The Arduino works as the hardware connection between the two via an USB.

Ford estimates that the average car has a life expectancy of 13 years, while the average smartphone is changed every 1.5-2 years. By that calculation, the ‘smart car; that a company designs and rolls out into the market is going to be obsolete before it even enters the market! OpenXC lives upto this challenge by working by way of simple upgrades and interchangeability. So if you decide you want this amazing new thing that is out in the market, just get the corresponding hardware- software combo and literally, plug it into your existing car system!

Meanwhile, Research in Motion integrated their QNX system into a Porsche car while keeping the hardware exactly the same. The QNX – a Real-Time Operating Software – controls a few consoles in the car which are basically some BlackBerry PlayBook touch screens. The driver and the passenger can control the audio in the car, play videos via the headsets, make phone calls with amazing Bose speakers and a whole lot with these consoles.The audio system uses full duplex stereo and spatial recognition to engage different channels (two 48 KHz channels) for different voices and control the delivery of audio in a surround-sound way. Amazing! Another revolution on the smart car front!

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