Friday, May 13, 2011

Not perfect, but very endearing: photos of the Royal wedding

Take a look at these two pictures from the Royal wedding of William and Kate:

It's been a while since we had such a universally popular fairytale. Lots of buzz, the wedding gown industry got a mega boost, British fashion is suddenly hip and the paparazzi have new targets. It was a grand event, but with a lot of fun.

It was the above two photos which caught my eye, though, for being well, awkward. They aren't 'picture perfect' for a wedding album, what with photoshop and very basic editing tools available.

In the first, it's Prince William's goddaughter Grace van Cutsem covering her ears because of the noise of RAF planes flying overhead, just as the bride and groom are kissing. In many ways, the photo op was 'spoilt' by a distracting Grace, but it only makes it all the more down-to-earth and tells you, 'Hey, they're normal humans too!' Years from now you can look at the pictures and smile remembering 'That girl who didn't care a bit about the world's most famous couple kissing and was more bothered by the noise of it all'.

To be fair to the photographers, there was no way to exclude Grace from the picture(although it was the second time that they kissed) - the kiss was for mere seconds, far away on a balcony, so they had to shoot what they could. Even then it was up to editors to leave her out from the famous kiss, but a few chose to leave her in. It speaks volumes, that they want to keep the 'adorable' part in that photo.

Now on to the second, which is even more fascinating. It's the official photograph, released by the Palace, of the newly-weds with their attendants. Again, it's not all so 'perfect' - Grace is looking beyond the camera, the first boy from the right strikes his own majestic pose with hair standing up and most wavering of all, is the other boy who's decided to showcase his Ministry of Silly Poses pose for the official wedding photo. It's not my point to blame to kids, but rather to ponder over the decision of the photographer and editor to select this picture over many others as the right one.

Obviously, they've let the kids be kids and actually managed to capture that in the photos. No doubt well-behaved, they did make faces and just have plain fun at some relatives' wedding. I just cannot imagine any other wedding photographer having the courage to select these two photos to pass, lest he bring upon the wrath of the person who's paying him for 'such stupid photos'. There have been dozens of incidents where subjects have wanted retakes because their hair was bad or their pose wasn't good. But this is the most famous wedding in the world. And they chose their wedding photos to not be perfect.

I too have had some success in capturing my friends in their 'natural environment', much to their chagrin, that is - they wait around waiting for me to take a picture while I've taken a dozen of them simply chatting and being themselves. The royal pictures are a sort of redemption.

Without a doubt, it will bring a smile to anyone who looks at these pictures in the future. It was some elders' wedding, the kids were just enjoying the spotlight.

Oh, and, about the wedding, just one word: Philippa. Damn.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

That time when you hear a song and desperately want to know its name

The first time I heard it was on the college shuttle. It was on low volume and sounded good - just enough to register that tune in my head. Then I heard it on the radio, again, on the shuttle. I wanted to know the name of the song and listen to it again - because the tune was catchy. I strained to listen to the lyrics, but over the noise of the engine and the whirr of the cooling all I heard was 'black and blue'. I thought I heard 'dear' and 'baby', but searches for such lyrics yielded no songs which matched the tune in my head.

As luck would have it I hear the same song playing at an event. I quickly searched for someone to ask and settled on a guy. I asked,

'Excuse me, do you know what song this is?'

'Eh.. Moon or Mars.'

'Moon or Mars.. Ok, thanks, do you know who the artist is, or the full title of the song?'

'Umm.. One second..' 'Grenade... It's Moon or Mars Grenade.'

Strange song/artist, I thought. I kept repeating it in case I forgot.

About half an hour later I am able to get to my laptop. The first thing I did was search for the song. The top result is Bruno Mars' 'Talking to the moon;' I play it, it's nothing like what I heard.

And then, right below, are the links I need, thanks in no small deal to some websites which included 'moon' in the names of their websites: Grenade, by the artist Bruno Mars. In the din of the music I had got the name of the artist when I asked for the song, worse, misheard the artist's name.

That is how I ended up listening to the song I wanted to for quite a while. It's the small victories which bring a smile to your face - nothing substantial has happened, yet, it's one of life's small joys.

Turns out the song is very sad and the music is much more pronounced than on the radio and when played outdoors. I like the tune of the song, the lyrics not so much(because they're not in the mood I am in), which means I had to find a karaoke version.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A totally (un)scientific (anecdotal)study into male pattern baldness among non-resident Indians

One of the first things anyone will say when you're leaving to the West is 'So, you'll come back bald isn't it?' There's not much you can do except crack a smile and just hope the topic changes. This is an investigation of sorts into the phenomenon.

Does it really happen?

Do men actually lose hair in the prime of their youth, with the rate of loss being much more than what it would have been had they stayed put in India? Going with anecdotal evidence here... The answer will be a resounding yes. Photos from aeons ago laid side by side reveal much shorter hair; dramatic inroads on either side of the head like someone clearing the Amazon jungle, little by little.

Then there's the totally eagle-eyed group of relatives, who always have most to say about 1. Hair and 2. Weight. It's either that you've put on weight after eating home-made food or lost a lot of wight by cooking your own. Either way, you lose. Coming back to the topic of this post, they will say, yes, one has lost quite a lot of hair, with lots of advice to not lose more in the future because it may damage prospects. Another thing to worry about.

Probable reasons for the hair loss

Now that we've established that it does actually happen, we have to move on to pinpoint the causes.
  • Eating habits
More seriously, there might be some credence to the effect of 'diet' on overall health. In the West, consumption of junk food - soda(anything carbonated has loads of sugar and HFCS), cookies, chips, pretzels and almost anything and everything packaged in plastic with shiny graphics - doesn't count towards nutrition, though the calories count, giving you a neat belly.

Expanding on the topic, growth hormones are probably the biggest unknown variable modifying growth in humans today. Wading in the realm of speculation, consuming milk and meat - 80% of antibiotics in the US is given to farm animals - significantly increases your chances of consuming them and whether they affect you negatively is not yet proven or unproven(it's a conspiracy!).

Almost everyone(except those who keep their finances in control) prefers to eat out rather than cook at home - part convenience, part lack of time and part not wanting to wash the dishes. Even worse is not eating on time and skipping a meal or two. Anything already made has loads and loads of salts as preservatives and additives to improve taste and texture of the food. All you have to do is read the label. My roommate was surprised to learn that the 'butter' he bought contained almost no milk - it was mainly hydrogenated oils. The pressure to improve the look and feel and shelf life of foods has pushed manufacturers to completely modify their The pressure to improve the look and feel and shelf life of foods has pushed manufacturers to completely modify their products so much that they are not what they are supposed to be.

Why take supplements, which may not be absorbed as well as whole foods with that essential vitamin or mineral?
  • Bathing habits
I've really thought about this and it might be the biggest factor of them all. Back in India, owing to water shortage and/or lack of continuous hot water supply, most bathing, including a head bath is performed using a bucket and mug; in the US, it's with a shower. I don't even know of any houses with facility for a bucket to be filled from a tap.

The effect of this shower, which coincidentally spurts out hot water at our preference, is that a pointed jet(s) of hot water is directed at the hair, for elongated periods of time. A very poor analogy would be watering a grass lawn with a hose of hot water - continuously(please correct me if this analogy is more wrong than right). Sounds scary. Solution: Use only warm water and avoid prolonged exposure to the water.

Applying oil is pretty often in India, much scorned here - another factor? The oil could be locking in the moisture keeping hair fluffy and not dry. Infrequent cleaning of the scalp - which allows dead skin and dirt to build up - doesn't help matters.
  • Climate control
All buildings and confined spaces have temperature control, so it's a given that the temperature will always at the opposite end of that outside the building. So, while all other parts of the body are clothed, the hair is often exposed to extreme temperatures - for a few minutes - everyday. E.g.
Home: 20 C
Outside: -10 C Swing: 30 C
Car: 10 C Swing: 20 C
Outside: -10 C Swing: 20 C
Building: 20 C Swing: 30 C

For the South or during summer the swing might be lesser, about 10 C, but still such a swing during winter is tremendous.

Apart from temperature control, many houses have constant humidity, which could be over or under the required amount. Warm air during winter can sap water vapour from the air, hence the hair could be devoid of the moisture it needs.
  • Stress
Have a girlfriend: Stress out keeping her happy
Don't have a girlfriend but friend has a girlfriend: Still stress out
Have a girlfriend back home: Stress out in the middle of the night with lack of sleep
Stuck with a prof who extracts 25 hours a day: Huge stress
Equipment fail: Mega stress
Need to be done with dissertation, paper publications and job within 6 months: Ultimate stress

'Stress' is a proven factor contributing to hair loss.
  • Genetic
And finally the most obvious reason of all: Your grandfather lost his hair at 40, your father at 32, so you will at age 23. Simple.

Please chime in with your own well (un)reasoned thoughts on the topic.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Soap and toothpaste are not magic

One of the best things about learning is you get to apply it to real life. Growing up, you learn to look at soaps and toothpaste in a new light.


It is imbibed that we wash ourselves with soap well, especially after playing in the dirt, which gives rise to the impression that soap is that magic substance removing all the 'bad things' from us. Well, that's only half the truth. Soap works by the action of micelles, but more practically speaking, scrubbing is essential - to increase contact surface area by producing more lather - so if your hands are really dirty, the soap makes it easier for the dirt to be carried away by it from the dirty surface, but it in itself is not capable of removing anything automatically. So simply contacting your hand with soap isn't going help. This applies to vessels and any other surface which we clean with soap - clothes, cars, the floor, windows and the kitchen countertop.


One fine sunday a decade or so ago, I decided I hadn't brushed my teeth well enough and had to 'make up' for it by brushing for longer and harder. I didn't repeat it afterward, thankfully, and now realise it was but a futile exercise. That's not how toothpaste and a toothbrush work. Toothpaste in itself is a form of chalk - albeit finely ground chalk, with the toothbrush acting as the tool to use the toothpaste. When we 'brush', we use the abrasive power of the toothpaste to remove the plaque collected on our teeth with the toothbrush additionally removing particles of food lodged in between the teeth.

If you take some toothpaste and grind it between your incisors, you can feel the solid particles. It's something similar to using sandpaper to polish metal or wood. But, beware, unlike those substances which have more if you remove the top layer, teeth are pretty sensitive, and excessive brushing can damage the enamel, i.e. the outermost layer of the teeth.

On a similar note, a full strip of toothpaste on your toothpaste isn't needed - it's just a marketing gimmick used in ads to get you to use as much as the model in the ad is using. Just about a third of the full strip is sufficient. This gimmick extends well to shampoo and laundry detergent also, to the extent it does more damage than good.

Talking of which, there is one substance which works like magic - deicing fluid and rock salt-water for snow. Based on the principle of depression in freezing point, it is very effective at removing ice and snow at not-so low temperatures. But at the same time, it is essential that the salt is added as a solution - it is very common for people to put salt on snow and expect it to disappear - add water and it will.