Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Taming The Math Monster

The Math Monster

Got any ideas about the mythology of the 'parabola' or a dazzling grasp of the complex arabesque of calculus? If not then probably we are on the same page. Image my consternation when I chanced upon the hideous math monster presented with delectable phrases in the Op-ed section of the New York Times. Don’t believe me? Eh? Look at this:

The beloved math-geek, Steven Strogatz, makes the breathtakingly ugly mathematical splendors look so easy in his article. Take an X and now take a Y and then do some mumbo jumbo brain tricks and you will know exactly what y = 4 – x2 is. That is exactly how Steven's simple math loving trick sounded to my math-hating ears. I read the whole article with great interest and even though initially I felt like having P.H.Nerd from one of the world's top geekological institute, I lost my interest half way and started yawning. Then, because of my natural urge to delve into the unknown (which in this case refers to the [un] holy world of numbers) I decided to read the article again from start to finish. And lo! Would you believe it, I actually thought that things he was saying made good sense to my un-mathematical brain. I loved the intelligent analogy that Strogatz pointed out between common household tools (hammer, nails, etc.) and intrinsic mathematical problems, especially the one where he says that the number 4 in the equation y = 4 – x2 acts as a nail for hanging a picture on a wall. I love hanging pictures on the wall. Strogatz's words made so much sense that way, but don’t expect me to tell you how they made sense to me, they just did. May be it is the simplicity of his approach that made the highly technical problems seems easy to approach. In a world where people are running after ways of making simple look outrageously difficult and unapproachable, Strogatz's simple, all-for-dummies approach seem to work just the right way. And talking about the right way, what is exactly the right way of knowing things? Learning to understand simpler aspects of nature in an unnaturally difficult way or learning the same thing in a simplified over- the-counter manner? If you ask me I would say that since it is the end that matters the most, we should grab the option of learning difficult things the simpler way. That would not only abate innate fears about a subject or a language, but also make the subject look strikingly attractive. Learning is supposed to be a natural, spontaneous process and the more we make it look difficult and unobtainable, the more the process would seem elusive to you.

I remember in my childhood I had the innate fear about mathematics;I never could do well in that subject because I was always told that math is a guy-friendly subject that is too difficult to grab. My teachers, my parents all forced me to spend hours on this subject and I hated every bit of that ordeal. Therefore, naturally, the kind of natural love that I harbor for English never arose for mathematics. To me it always remained a dull and drab world of obscure numbers that I needed to learn halfheartedly to pass the examinations. I now feel that if I had somebody like Strogatz as my teacher may be I would have done well in math or at least have harbored an amicable feeling for the subject.

Now that I have discernable pattern in front of my eyes as to how to defragment my brain and add some happy-numerical experiences, I would definitely take a chance. I don’t have any teacher to please anymore, so I guess I can now rear some real mathspertice. With power tool at hand I know I can nail down the problem once and for all.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Little Talk on Heightism

In a world of agelasts, political-ninjas and popinjays here comes another noteworthy species: The heightists. According to the Urban Dictionary a heightist is "Someone who believes that people are superior to or inferior to others on account of their respective heights, or that people of differing heights have different moral qualities and intellectual capabilities." Food for thought, isn’t it, but before reading my ideas on the subject check out this hilariously somber article featured in the Times of India: 

Now, let us discuss this knew known fact (?) that people with good heights are indeed the living ambrosias who are more successful in life than the less tall ones. Is it true that in this new era gazebo people will good physical stature are given the first class tickets? If so, then what would happen to us, the normal ones?  Are short people doomed forever in the world where there soon will be a reservation for tall and really tall people much like the SC and ST reservations we have in educational institutions. The problem may not be that threatening, but it surely has some emotional connotation.  It is indeed true that people with less perfect features suffer from deep distress. That explains why women who think they are fat spend at least one hour in a day before mirrors examining their physical shape or people go to plastic surgeons to get a nose job. The fact is we are never happy the way we are, and often morph into jealous bad girls. Now, I know many of you would thrash my idea and say no, I don’t do this, I am pure at heart, but let's face it we are all humans and we all have complexes. I believe, it is this innate human sense of complexity that brought into light idiosyncratic beliefs that people with good heights are deemed to be more successful than shorter folks.

When I was  in school I sported a height of 5 feet four and a half inches. For an average Bengali girl in her early teens that was an eccentric number; a number which made my mother dubious about my possibilities of finding a groom for myself. At standard nine I was way taller than my girly girlfriends and I was evidently jealous of their small heights. My height was an indelible mark on my name, I known as the tall girl with specs; however intellectually perfect that might sound, I never managed to be the numero uno student in class. And talk about romanticism, all the guys of my age were romantically bent on my shorter friends. At thirteen the worldly truth dawned on me that my height would spell the doom. Later, of course against the better judgment of my acarpous fate, I managed to find my prince charming and I can't tell you how happy I was when I found out that he was a few inches taller than me.  A match made in heaven I thought and tied the connubial knot. Thus, to me my acromegalic features had been a book of bad memories. Many of you may say that a good height comes with great advantages; yes, true, the advantage of towering over a sea of people is great, the advantage of never being ignored when in a conversation is great, but ultimately isn’t all that matters is the quality of conversation that I am into rather than my physical presence in it. Also, shorter people are cuter than their taller counterparts --don’t you find that Amir Khan or Tom Cruise cuter than say, Abhishek Bacchan or Johnny Depp?

A study of the business arena and the global market would definitely show evidences that successful tall people have been at the helm of successful companies, that actors with good heights bag the best film roles or the best looking girlfriends. Such dubious talks would always linger in the society, and even if you and I may ignore their presence, we cannot deny them altogether. The most important thing is probably to feel good and confident the way we are. I believe that positive energy and positive virtue takes a person up the ladder of success. We may encounter a series of quirky looks and quirky questions from quirky people who would be more interested in our physical appeal rather than our intelligence and handwork; such people would always be there, however, we must always strive not to take them seriously. Ultimately, there has never been an instance in history when a person has succeeded in life just because of his grand physical attributes.

 Barnali Saha

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Are Social Networking Sites Making Us More Narcissistic?

The trick to survival in this vast virtual net that we are entangled with is to be a narcissist. Look at the social networking sites from Twitter to Facebook from Blogger to Orkut and you will know exactly what I am talking about. The generation X and their over intellectual ways of converting every minuscule details of their lives into legible fonts posted with great gusto on their social networking site pages. Gone are the days of keeping a leather bound journal and hiding your emotions in it, it is now time to set your sentiments free.

Let's start off our discussion with blogging. A blog is a must-have fashion accessory like that earring you got to pair with the little black dress hanging in your closet. A blog allows you to write your feelings, emotions and even infinitesimal personal stuff with great dexterity; people even take important life decisions in their blogs-- it is like a virtual diary open for everyone to read. And not just reading, your readers can actually comment on your ideas and give you lengthy words of advice in case you might need them. Leave it or take it if you will but you cannot deny the importance a blog. In it you are like the center of one whole universe where your readers are your satellites reading your moves or in other words, watching you. One may say that indeed it is a tad bit weird to have people talk about one’s personal matters, well, that's how it works; if you are an introvert or if you are scared of letting people know your whereabouts then the virtual world will deny you its active citizenship because one way or the other the only thing you do every time you enter this world is update your status quo. No doubt we could all use a little personal corner in this net-world, it does feel good at the end of the day that when in real life you might not be having all the attention you need or deserve, in this blogging world you are the monarch of your page. But that is not all, to make your blog appealing/ appetizing to your readers flocking your site there are rules to keep it mind. First of all keep your blogs short and simple, remember it is not a place to show your prowess as a public speaker. Second, you must always have anecdotes under your belt to drizzle on your words and ideas, that way you could be popular in the blogging world in no time. Thirdly, never look depressed in your blog; like celebrities you must portray good social etiquette at all times. The next is very important, reply to your comments no matter what you must follow this rule if you want to be a well-liked blogger. And remember when you are commenting on blogs your readers have posted never be cynical; in the blogging forum we are all pompous, overconfident birds, we hate criticisms. If you are too critical you may end up losing your popularity, so beware dear girl, always keep yourself in the loop. And if do not have any followers, damn it, write for yourself, because you always end up being your biggest admirer. So be proactive and create yourself a blog and expand your virtual territory. At the end of the day all that matters is how good you feel about yourself being liked and admired by a group of well-bred aficionados or you being loved by yourself, so what that feeling comes with a little bit of narcissism. A bit of narcissism everyday keeps depression away, remember?

Now let us delve a little deeper into the world of social media and talk about the social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. According to Associate Professor Dr. Jean Twenge of San Diego State University, who collaborated with a national youth poll of over a thousand college students in a survey in which they were asked to give their opinions of several subjects including networking sites and if such sites made the new generation narcissistic and overconfident, that over two thirds of the college students replied affirmatively thereby accepting the fact that social media does have a hand in molding the identities of these youngsters. It is said that self loving people are more active in such websites posting attractive pictures of themselves or updating their status or making new friends. But does this mean that social-networking sites are only for narcissists and that only self-loving people only should be using these sites, and those who intend not to morph into egocentric spoiled brats should better abstain from getting involved in the social network? I believe such an assumption is erroneous since social networks did prove to be positive in reuniting old friends and contacts, they are a good platform for group discussion and for the exchange of opinions on varied subjects. Be it politics or be it the world of entertainment, we all can voice our demands or our specific points of view in these forum. But that surely doesn't mean that on the other side of the coin we wouldn't find certain unpleasantness linked with our beloved networks.We all know that there are always two sides to a story, and I believe that narcissism being linked to Facebook and Twitter is just one part of the whole story. It cannot be fully denied, however, that after a long stay in these networking sites, even though we strive not to operate the self-centric lobe of our brain, inadvertently we all end up being a tad bit egoistic. A healthy level of self-confidence is good for all of us, doesn't is make us feel better about ourselves? As for posting pictures, to an extent I love seeing them, but when people get overindulgent and post such intimate photographs as visually unappetizing ones, I feel like telling them right away that there are certain stuff which one should keep in one's bedroom. The discretion of how much you would share with your virtual neighbors does rest with you, so those of you whole feel like disgorging all unsavory details of your life in your blog or in your Facebook page should better use their brain cells first before writing down something and then regretting about it later on. I hope you know that employers do check your virtual activities these days before giving you a job. Yet, despite all the forebodings and premonitions, social networks are a fun way to spend time and this fun factor does play role in their being so popular in the virtual world market. Take Farmville for example, how would we have known about it if there were no Facebook?

Let us end the discussion with a positive note that even though social media may be linked with narcissism there are other factors too like boasting about oneself, feeling like a know-it-all, etc., that might boost an already egocentric mind to become more self absorbing. But in normal human beings with completely sagacious minds who have a good idea about their potential and their social image, I belive social networks seldom transform their innate character.