30 October 2009

A Single Time Zone for the entire World

I have often wondered why we can’t have a single time zone for the entire world. We can then all follow the same 24 hour clock. Think of all the benefits it would accrue.

No missed connecting flights. This sometimes happens, when, having landed in a new country, you forget to synchronise your watch to the new time zone. Another benefit would be that when you land in a foreign country, you are sure what the current local (?) time is. Therefore, you are less likely to miss that important business meeting. Think also how the artificial date line would go up in a wisp. No gaining or losing days as you take transpacific flights. Had this time zone rule been promulgated before his time, Jules Verne would have had to write the climax of ‘Around the world in eighty days’ differently.

The biggest advantage would however be the saving in software development and deployment. Time zone conversion software keeps piling up like some garbage in a landfill. Any software, that services or triggers anything that is cross border, and has something to do with real time or near real time, has always been a nightmare to maintain. What with daylight saving hours in some countries, the complexity just keeps growing exponentially. Multinational companies come to a grinding halt whenever a software that has anything to do with time stamp and time-zone gets messed up. Operations halt, business is lost and generally chaos reigns all over.

The argument against a single time zone is essentially the psychological impact leading to a physiological distress. We have grown with our times, metaphorically and physically. We have breakfast at a particular time, go to office at a particular time, whether in Bangalore or in Rio De Janeiro. But with a same time zone all across the world, some may have breakfast at 1200 hours while others may take breakfast at 2300 hours. I say, so what? Such psychological barriers can be overcome. Think of the people in the poles; often times, for them, there is no correlation with what they are doing and where the sun is in the sky. Think also of the blind. Time is just a number for the blind. I think the psychological barrier is not a big deal.

The real problem obviously is to make all countries agree on a common clock. It is not a trivial task. Look at where the universal language Esperanto is today. Even after one and a quarter century after its invention, no country has adopted it. Language obviously evokes more emotion than time zone, but to get all countries to a single time zone will take a while.

Even so, I think it is worth engaging in that direction. Perhaps, someday you would place a transatlantic call and not ask this question: What time is it over there?

23 October 2009

Categories in the Games

Disclaimer: The following is a work of fiction.

A high official in charge of making the Games happen had called a press conference. It was meant to be a PR exercise. It was to let the world know that the facilities and infrastructure were coming up according to plan. But, till now the press conference had been a disaster. In fact, the conference had taken off at a tangent. One of the media persons was veering the conference away to seemingly non issues. He had been asking some weird questions. Why are there only two categories of participants? Male and Female? What about the third sex? Isn’t this discrimination on the basis of sex? What happens to the lofty ideals of Olympics? After all, there are about five million of the third sex in India alone. Aren’t they human beings, he demanded.

This media person was threatening to hijack the carefully orchestrated press conference. Try as he may, our high official could not convince him that it was not in his hands to change the charter of the Games. Indeed, it was not even in the hands of our country. The mandate came from International Olympic Association. What was more irritating was the way this media person pronounced some words. His ‘w’ sounded like ‘g’, especially, if the ‘w’ came in the beginning of the word. For example, when he wanted to say ‘where’, he would pronounce it as ‘ghere’. And when he wanted to say ‘what’, he would say ‘ghat’. It was so jarring to hear! But, Mr Gill, our high official, could ill afford to antagonize the media. He kept on pleading that such change as the media person was wanting, was really not within his purview. Could they please get on with more important things on the agenda?

But as the conference wore on, our friend from the media was getting more and more strident and restive. He was now demanding that there should be separate categories in the competition for people with different sexual orientations. He wanted a fourth and a fifth category for the gay. The more our official tried to ignore him, the shriller his voice became. But our high official had had enough. Sexual orientation thing was the last straw. He shouted at the media person, “Sir, it is not possible to do what you are suggesting! Now, will you please shut up?”
This seemed to incense this media person. He flew from his seat and shouted, “There is will, there is way!”

At least, that is what he wanted to say. What came out of his mouth very closely sounded like:
“There is gill, there is gay!”

Even as our official went red all over his face, pandemonium broke out in the press room.

13 October 2009

Why do the traffic police lie in wait?

Why do the traffic police lie in wait? Why do they wait till you jump the light and then pounce on you?

I haven't understood the logic of this, ever. I am not an legal eagle, but I do know that it is job of the police to prevent crimes from happening. How is it that in the case of a traffic offense they wait for it to occur and then pounce on the perpetrator?

I mean, how come they lurk behind the lights at the intersections and catch the guys jumping the lights after the latter have committed the offense. Why don't they stand in front of the traffic lights and prevent the crime from happening in the first place? How is this offense different from any other offense?

Am I missing something?

06 October 2009

Counter Intuitiveness is in Fashion, at least in Memory Recall

When I first read about doodling doing wonders to your memory recall in the Time’s February 2009 issue, it struck a little odd to me. However, I let it pass. But when I read about good memory recall after nodding off in meetings in Harvard Business Review’s issue of October 2009, I could not help but wonder : Was there more to it than met the eye?
What Time was essentially saying in its Feb 2009 issue is that if you doodled and fidgeted while attending lectures or classes, you are more likely to recall what was being taught than a ‘non doodler’ . To prove the point, Time quoted a bizarre experiment. Jackie Andrade of University of Plymouth fashioned an experiment to prove this hypothesis. What beats me is how the idea ever occurred to her in the first place. It is not everyday that you wake up with the idea that doodling is good for memory recall and then go along and design an experiment to prove the point. Was it that anything you prove that is counter intuitive will get you noticed? Here is an excerpt from that article which described the experiment:


Afterward, the papers were removed and the 40 volunteers were asked to recall, orally, the place names and the names of the people coming to the party. The doodlers creamed the nondoodlers: those who doodled during the tape recalled 7.5 pieces of information (out of 16 total) on average, 29% more than the average of 5.8 recalled by the control group.


Looks like one can prove anything under the sun. One only needs 40 volunteers.

Now, for the article in Oct 2009 issue of Harvard Business Review. The article is titled: The Simplest Way to Reboot Your Brain. Let me quote from it:


On a day off, taking a nap is a small but heavenly pleasure. Dozing at your desk isn’t—especially if a colleague walks in on you—but sometimes exhaustion just takes over. The 2008 Sleep in America poll, conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, found that nearly one-third of adults who work at least 30 hours a week have fallen asleep or become extremely drowsy on the job—behavior that employers often frown upon. Should they lighten up? Perhaps. In a knowledge-based economy that depends on sharp minds, a few minutes of shut-eye could be good for business.


Here is another counter intuitive memory recall phenomena at work. You doze off, yet you are better off for memory. Again, an experiment is quoted to buttress the claim. It says that a report in June 2009 Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences showed that a nap with REM sleep improves people’s ability to integrate unassociated information for creative problem solving. Touche!

If we combine the gist of these two articles, the summary makes interesting reading. You must nod off during lectures. Between your slumber -when you are awake and yawning- be sure to doodle and fidget for memory’s sake. Your memory recall will be second to none.

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