Guns, Germs and Steel

The expanded title reads :
Guns, Germs and Steel : A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years
And it could not be more correct. In less than 500 pages, the author takes you on a whirlwind tour of how civilization emerged in all continents, and how the local geography, flora and fauna affected the development of complex societies throughout the world.

It examines various historic events, figures out the causes behind them and then tries to perform a scientific analysis of the origin of those causes.

It starts with the main factor behind origin of civilizations – food production. It examines how food production independently arose in different regions at different times. It then examines how and why it spread quickly across the vast continent of Eurasia and resulted in development of complex societies, but spread much slowly in the Americas and Africa, hence resulting in slower development.

Having food production as the foundation of development, it examines how some societies developed diseases (germs), and some did not, and how something as simple as germs resulted in wipe out of entire native populations, with the rapid European conquest of the Americas and Australia while resulting in a failure of colonization of Africa till much later. It digs deep o find out why such germs developed only in certain societies and not in others.

It also examines in detail the entire chain of evolution of civilization, starting from a tribe, leading on to a chiefdom, then a kingdom and finally becoming a nation state. It identifies how civilizations evolve from an egalitarian model into a kleptocracy with multiple class divisions as the population increases.

This is only a small snapshot of the book’s scope, it goes much deeper and wider to compile nearly entire history of human civilizations and how and why some of them succeeded while others failed. It goes behind the science of it all to explain how and why history unfolded the way they did, completely changing the study of history to be a scientific subject rather than one of humanities.

The author Jared Diamond is a maverick academic. He started his career in the biological sciences, becoming the Professor of Physiology at UCLA med school in 1966. He then switched to ecology and evolutionary biology, gaining fame for his explorations of remote parts of New Guinea in late 1970s. He then developed a third career in environmental history, becoming Professor of Geography and Environmental sciences at UCLA.

World Ex Day

Is it for real?
Just got this on email :

11th January is officially world ex day.
All you do is just call your ex and say “happy ex day” just to show you are over him/her or maybe not. And it’s not just about your ex relationships but it also could be about your ex colleague, ex client, ex coach, ex best friend blah blah blah.
Join it on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=213157523909 and be the first to spread the word.

Is Delhi actually that dangerous?

Original article here –
http://ourdelhistruggle.com/2009/12/09/is-delhi-actually-that-dangerous/

Conventional wisdom holds that Delhi is a riddled with crime. Our neighbors and coworkers assured us that Delhi was a haven of danger. Criminals lurked around every corner, they declared; we were taking our life into our hands every time we rode in an auto, walked through the Old City, or generally left our house after sundown.

But after eighteen months in the city, during which our only brush with crime was four scary six-year-olds, our question is this: why isn’t there more crime in Delhi?

The demographics and economics of Delhi suggest that the city should be a warzone. The city skews young and male: 55% of Delhi is male, as compared to 52% across India and a global average of slightly more than 50%; and over 53% of the city is under the age of 25, compared to about 33% in New York City. Poor young males in America turn to sex and violence to vent their energy and aggression, but Delhi is such a conservative culture that it’s very hard for young men to engage in the former. The city’s economic gulf is incredibly wide and incredibly visible, like Ferraris-driving-past-pavement-dwellers visible. And the hardships of the city — heat, cold, traffic, pollution, water shortages, high population density, insults and indignities — are overwhelming even to people who can afford to overcome them.

Most cities would be torn apart by these social forces. But not Delhi.

The statistics reflect our observations. We don’t argue with reports that show Delhi to be India’s “crime capital“. But while Delhi may be dangerous by Indian standards, it’s positively tranquil as compared to American cities. The Delhi region had 495 murders in 2007, or 2.95 murders for every 100,000 people by the National Crime Records Bureau’s population estimates. In that same year, however, New York City had 5.94 murders per 100,000 people — and that was a year that New York City was named the safest big city in the United States. There’s a similar story for rape in 2007: 3.57 per 100,000 in New Delhi, 10.48 per 100,000 in New York.

It’s fair to assume that a lot of crime goes unreported in Delhi. But it’s hard to imagine that three murders for every 100,000 people go unreported, or seven rapes for every 100,000 people. Which means, from our limited and admittedly amateur statistical analysis, that while Delhi has all of the demographics to make it a warzone, it has none of the actual crime.

It’s clear even from the newspapers that Delhi’s day-to-day dangers are nowhere near the level of even the safest American cities.The papers report every crime as if it heralds the end of days, but the fact that simple robberies make the news as often as they do suggests that bigger crimes are not occurring at a comparable rate. “Rs 1 lakh stolen from Punjab trader on bus,” shouts one headline for a seven-paragraph article — a petty crime that, while unfortunate for the victim, wouldn’t garner even a sentence in an American paper because so many bigger crimes would elbow it out of the way.

We just can’t understand why Delhi’s so safe. Not only do we not understand why angry young men haven’t taken full control of the city, we can’t even understand what keeps the grizzled old parking attendants from stealing the cars to which they’re entrusted. In places like Defense Colony Market, rich businessmen routinely hand the keys to their million-rupee cars to a parking attendant with the accompanying promise of a ten-rupee tip. How could these poor men, when faced with such a quick ticket to easy street, not take advantage of it?

Never mind what Delhi’s apocalyptic news media says. The real question is this: what’s keeping a city of poor, jealous, sexually-frustrated young men from unleashing their aggressions and turning Delhi into Gotham City?

Stephen Fry In America

“Stephen Fry in America” is a 6 episode video documentary on the travels of Stephen Fry across all 50 states of the USA. For those who need an introduction, Stephen Fry is arguably the wittiest British TV presenter/comedian.

In this travelogue, he showcases many historic and culturally significant places and events. Ranging from the hotel where the World Bank was formed to the place where Ben and Jerry’s was founded, the Mardi Gras festival in New Orleans to traditional Halloween celebration by witches in Salem, seeking the roots of Jazz music in southern Mississippi to advent of new genre bands in Seattle, its a very extensive study of the country as a whole.
And it also goes beyond all this to show how immensely scenic and beautiful the American countryside really is.

A must see for anyone planning to visit the country, or even a citizen as its vast scope covers places many would not have seen or even heard of.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Excerpt from back cover :

“What do a dead cat, a computer whiz-kid, an Electric Monk who believes the world is pink, quantum mechanics, a Chronologist over 200 years old, Samuel Taylor Coleridge(poet), and pizza have in common?”

“A THUMPING GOOD DETECTIVE-GHOST-HORROR-WHO DUNNIT-TIME TRAVEL-ROMANTIC-MUSICAL-COMEDY-EPIC” – The author

Douglas Adams is truly like no other. His combination of creative imagination and rib tickling humour is unparalleled. It starts a bit slowly, making you wonder whether all that promised on the back cover is actually in there…but by the time you finish, all that is delivered and more.
Its my serious advice that unless you want to make a giggling fool of yourself, do not read this book in a public place!

Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain

Just finished watching this wonderful, wonderful French film.
Amelie Poulain is a girl who grew up alone. Her control freak parents were too concerned about her health to send her to school, so they home schooled her. With no one around to play with, she grew up introverted, devising fantasies with the little things around her.
She grows up, gets a job as a waitress and leaves home, but still remains the same. A chance incident imbibes a sense of helping those around her, and in the process she manages to fall in love with a guy. But being her, she’s too afraid to escape her life of fantasy and face the real life, fearing rejection.

I believe we all have an Amelie inside ourselves, devising her own little fantasies. But we’re too conditioned to conform, and bury her deep within. Let her out sometimes…let her breathe the fresh air.

Books I’ve read recently


Gives a very good understanding of the China most of us don’t know anything about.
Quite apocalyptic in its view of China, but the failures its predicted don’t seem anywhere close as yet. Still, knowing the closed nature of China, one may never know until it actually happens, like the oft quoted quote from Leon Trotsky in the book – “Revolution is impossible until it becomes inevitable”.


A dark comedy recounting the events around General Zia’s 1989 plane crash. Gives a good glimpse on the role of the army in Pakistan’s society. Very funny at times.


Autobiographical story of a ‘white trash’ girl who gets trapped in a weird Island tradition. Dreaming of becoming an artist as a child, she instead gets married to a guy from an Island and ends up becoming a part of an Island prophecy which repeats once every few generations. Didn’t really like it much…seemed interesting initially but it never really picked up pace.


Great. Totally different kind of writing. Where Forsyth writes without much emotion, Le Carre’s writing is full of compassion. George Smiley, interestingly described as having “the cunning of satan and the conscience of a virgin” is completely different from any other spy fiction protagonist I have come across.

65 Questions You’ve Probably Never Been Asked

(From Susie’s blog)

1. First thing you wash in the shower?
Hands…to check if the water is warm enough

2. What color is your favorite hoodie?
I don’t have one

3. Would you kiss the last person you kissed again?
No

4. Do you plan outfits?
Usually plan them while in the shower

5. How are you feeling RIGHT now?
Normal…nothing special

6. Whats the closest thing to you that’s red?
My phone

7. Tell me about the last dream you remember having?
Got stuck between Voldermort and the Twilight vampires. Was relieved to wake up alive!

8. Did you meet anybody new today?
Interviewed a guy for a post in my company who’s resume read like “I want to apply for Update Target Designation at Update Target Organisation” (He used a template and forgot to update these fields!!!”

9. What are you craving right now?
Nothing

10. Do you floss?
No

11. What comes to mind when I say cabbage?
Just had cabbage parathas for dinner!

12. Are you emotional?
I’m usually at stable equilibrium…even if disturbed get normal quickly

13. Have you ever counted to 1,000?
Maybe in school while writing “I won’t do this again” kinda notes when punished…but don’t remember reaching 1000.

14. Do you bite into your ice cream or just lick it?
Usually lick but bite when its melting too quickly in case of a cone

15. Do you like your hair?
They certainly don’t like me

16. Do you like yourself?
I love myself!

17. Would you go out to eat with George Bush?
Definitely. He’s a very funny guy 😀

18. What are you listening to right now?
Eyes on fire – Blue Foundation

19. Were your parents strict?
Strict when I was a kid…reduced as I grew older

20. Would you go sky diving?
Maybe

21. Do you like cottage cheese?
I love it

22. Have you ever met a celebrity?
Yes, many.

23. Do you rent movies often?
Nope. Download or watch at a cinema.

24. Is there anything sparkly in the room you’re in?
Nope

25. How many countries have you visited?
One

26. Have you made a prank phone call?
Yes

27. Ever been on a train?
Many, many times. Done 48 hour journeys several times.

28. Brown or white eggs?
Doesn’t matter as long as they’re done well

29. Do you have a cell-phone?
Yes

30. Do you use Chapstick?
Use occasionally during winter

31. Do you own a gun?
No

32. Can you use chopsticks?
Never tried

33. Who are you going to be with tonight?
My family

34. Are you too forgiving?
If you think you’re too forgiving, you aren’t really forgiving.

35. Ever been in love?
Yes

36. What is your best friend doing tomorrow?
Working through the day…probably meeting me in the evening

37. Ever have cream puffs?
Had a few times. Didn’t like much.

38. Last time you cried?
Last week…

39. What was the last question you asked?
Dont remember…

40. Favorite time of the year?
September-November…love the festival period

41. Do you have any tattoos?
No

42. Are you sarcastic?
Yes

43. Have you ever seen The Butterfly Effect?
Only first few minutes

44. Ever walked into a wall?
Yeah…I do that when I’m in deep thought and lose sense of my surroundings

45. Favorite color?
Everything has a right color…I don’t like when its out of sync

46. Have you ever slapped someone?
Yes, long ago

47. Is your hair curly?
No

48. What was the last CD you bought?
I download music 😀 Last album was the RocknRolla OST…great music!

49. Do looks matter?
Yes, not the look a person is born with…but how he/she chooses to look

50. Could you ever forgive a cheater?
Yes, if they are genuinely sorry

51. Is your phone bill sky high?
Bit high these days due to the data plan

52. Do you like your life right now?
Yes

53. Do you sleep with the TV on?
Very rarely

54. Can you handle the truth?
Yes, as long as its factual and not subjective

55. Do you have good vision?
Yes…6/6 when I last got a test

56. Do you hate or dislike more than 3 people?
Yes

57. How often do you talk on the phone?
Often

58. The last person you held hands with?
Shantanu…but it was more like a hi 5!

59. What are you wearing?
A tee and shorts

60.What is your favorite animal?
A lolcat 😀

61. Where was your Facebook picture taken?
Hogenakkal

62. Can you hula hoop?
Never tried

63. Do you have a job?
Yes…one full time and a lot of freelance consulting

64. What was the most recent thing you bought?
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre, a Python programming book, and several magazines

65. Have you ever crawled through a window?
Yes