Monthly Archives: October 2012

Arghhh! Stuck in Train Doors

No apologies if your head gets stuck in train doors!

The Writer’s Digest recently announced a very short story contest called The Shortest Short Story Contest which requires a story to be told in 132 characters or less (in Twitter) or 140 characters or less in its website. In an impulsive moment, I thought “why don’t I write any little story that comes to my mind?”.

Here’s what I wrote in 132 characters:

The train doors crushed me. Stuck, struggling, I prepared to be dragged viscously to my death. Suddenly, the doors opened. Oh god!

Someone made a nice comment about this little story, so I thought I’d tell the full story here. Yes, it’s a true story – it actually happened to me!

I had landed in London, Heathrow in a snowy, very cold winter one January, after a good six weeks in the tropics. It was obviously a shock to the system, besides, I was very tired after the 14-hour flight. Taking the underground train (or tube as it’s called in London) to Central London, I was half asleep when I realised my destination had arrived. I rushed to pick my suitcase and bags up.

I was wearing leather gloves, and struggled to lift the suitcase handle which had a spring that flapped it firmly down when not being lifted. I took out my gloves but my fingers were numb in the freezing weather a weather that I really hadn’t gotten used to just then. I could hardly feel anything with my fingers. By the time a managed to lift up my suitcase and gather my other bags and speed out, it was too late. The train doors slammed hard with me stuck in between them clutching all my bags with my numb hands! I was absolutely terrified.

I had visions of being dragged by the train, crushed against the walls of the underground tunnel and being torn to pieces. Arghhh! Horror of horrors! Thankfully, oh, so thankfully, a few seconds later, the doors opened and I walked out, my blood circulating properly again at last. Only at that moment did it occur to me that these trains must have sensors and safety features built in that prevent them from moving if the train doors are not shut properly. Of course – it makes perfect sense! Silly me! Nevertheless, technology is not always reliable and there is always a chance of something going a little awry, so I have to admit, I would still be a little scared if it happened again, if not as terrified.

Well, that’s my little story! I wonder if someone could have imagined it from the shorted 132-character version!

Sci-fi: Conversations with an Extraterrestrial – (4)(ii)

4. The Encounter (ii)

“What do you want with us?”, Sequillious demanded, now making her echoing voice heard. “What is your objective of seeking us out?”

“Well”, Alan stumbled, taken aback. “It’s er, the pursuit of knowledge, uhm… all in the interest of science and advancement”, he fumbled, caught like a deer in the headlights with that interrogation.

“Earth is in a terribly sorry state. Earth has been destroyed, there is no compassion or sense of responsibility here. It is dirty, polluted, filled with greed and unnecessary stress. Focus on the problems on Earth and do not interfere with us Ladingans”, Sequillious uttered reproachfully.

“Your objective is not for the pure pursuance of science and knowledge – you fibbing earthling. There is money involved on a big scale. I will repeat my question – what is the objective of seeking us out?”, she continued in her booming voice, unrelentingly.

This was most bizarre for Alan. He had never expected this. He was the intelligent one who was going to find life on other planets…lesser lives, he had always assumed. Now his vision had been somewhat turned upside down. His world, in fact, was turning upside down.

“Well”, he said, trying hard to get his thoughts together, like in a tough job interview with a person who was out to thrash him and test his reaction, “Uhmm, there were a few possibilities that had crossed our minds”, he mumbled absent-mindedly. “

Sequillious stayed silent. She was waiting.

Feeling threatened, caught by surprise and defeated, Alan finally plucked up enough courage and said “Well, there was the possibility of working together with you….trading with you, exchanging goods and services and perhaps arranging tourism between Earth and Ladinga.”

Sequillious glanced the other way, almost turning up her nose. “Have you ever thought about collaborating with cockroaches on Earth?”, she asked rhetorically.

Feeling very small at the condescending question, Alan replied meekly, “I’m sorry  – I don’t understand. What do you mean?”

Sci-fi: Conversations with an Extraterrestrial – (4)(i)

4. The Encounter (i)

Ollie had just installed an updated program into the cubit and Antigua Helmet, based on the latest discussions. He lost no time, that one. Ollie was young, energetic and enthusiastic – he was almost in a futuristic dream world – he would think of scenarios before they materialised and integrate all the reality that was unfolding into this dynamic vision.

Alan twitched in the cubipit as his Antigua Helmet buzzed strangely in his ear.

“Alpha 2735: reduce it to 2735.7”, a sign flashed.

Alan did this as if instructed by a ghost. “Who is this?”, he demanded.

As if he then was struck by lightning, Alan almost fell over – he saw an image of a being, vaguely like a woman in the distance, flashing the signs in perfect English to communicate.

“I thought you appeared in the form of ether – we sensed you the other day. What is going on now?”, Alan gasped.

“My name is Sequillious. I manifest in different forms – ubiquitous ether, a lady in the distance, an octopus clasping an object, etc. You must be familiar with the concept. There are religions on Earth that have deities in different forms depicted in statues – because it is believed God manifests in different forms”, the sign flashed.

“Are you saying you are God?”, Alan exclaimed in utter disbelief.

“No, certainly not, but I dare say we are much closer than you might ever imagine. We are light years ahead of Earthlings in intelligence”, she retorted.

“Is there a community of you? Do you all understand English? Where is your community? Tell me about yourselves”, Alan couldn’t contain himself. The questions were coming faster than he could say them.

There was a pause, as if Sequillious was thinking “Why do you think I should have to feed you with so much information – don’t you think you ought to explain a few things yourself??”. Not that she said this – it’s just what went through Alan’s mind just then.

Odd Advertisements – Yo Yo Ma and UBS?

Sometimes, I just don’t get it. When I first saw this advertisement, I thought, “What Nice Music”. Yo Yo Ma is, after all, a great cellist. The second and third time, I thought the same, “What Nice Music” and thought again, what fantastic musicians Yo Yo Ma and the pianist are.  It occurred to me after a hearing it a few times, that I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was that was being advertised. I had to concentrate really hard the next time I saw it – and there it was – the very unobtrusive UBS logo right at the end.

After many times, I have to admit, I still don’t get the logic of this advertisement. Some may call me obtuse, some may say I don’t appreciate a really good quality advertisement. Well, maybe that is all true, but I’m still baffled. I still find the association of Yo Yo Ma (and any musician or artist, for that matter) with UBS (or any bank, for that matter) a rather unnatural one.

“Working together” is something we would like all banks to do with their customers, sure. There’s nothing wrong with that, although, as a statement, it’s not particularly memorable – wouldn’t we obviously want that for any service industry? “Creating together?” Well, that’s something else. In this age, one cannot help but be reminded of “creative accounting” and “creative banking products” that led to the systemic collapse of the financial services industry. “Creative” seems to have almost become a dirty word, when associated with Finance. Doesn’t the ‘Sage of Omaha’, Warren Buffet say, after all, he likes to keep things simple? If he cannot understand something, he will not invest in it, he has always told us.

I will emphasise, this is just my opinion, and an expression of the impact of this advertisement on me (i.e. nil, as far as banks as concerned). I will never (easily anyway, even after seeing the advertisement many times) associate musicians with banks, and Yo Yo Ma with UBS. Do you have a different take on this?

Sci-fi: Conversations with an Extraterrestrial – (3)(ii)

Business_as_Usual

3. Business as Usual (ii)

Actually, never mind the devotion to finding and talking to aliens, the Dream Team’s work had many possible applications on Earth, as it stood. Alan was keenly aware though, of course, he was working for Don, and Don’s obsession was to find this life elsewhere. To think how much they could have done with all this knowledge on understanding how animals think and behave, what drives different behaviour like psychopathic thinking and how to address this and so on – it was mind-boggling.

Nevertheless, as those thoughts went through Alan’s head every now and again, he remained absolutely loyal to Don. Alan was a rules based, principled guy and this devotion to Don’s mission was hard wired now.

“Morning! How’s the Dream Team doing today?” Alan chirped. There were excited exchanges as they all chattered engaging in some fun for a while. Nancy and Tanaka had gone to a friend’s party the night before; Ollie broke his own record in a triathlon over the weekend and Alan spoke about his beautiful long walk over the hills. They shared a few photos.

“I have something to share with you”, Alan announced, moving the conversation into serious matters. “Felix and I had an interesting experience last night and in the early morning”, he said drawing out the iPad with all the recordings. The three dropped their chatter immediately and looked intently at Alan; Felix perked his ears up too waiting to relive the experience as told by his master.

Alan related the vision of something like ether, permeating and Felix being disturbed in the night. In the early morning, it came again and Alan had entered the cubipit with Antigua Helmet in time to catch a glimpse of an aura. Ollie jumped right on it. “Aura images are all recorded. I’ll just need to extract sensor Zee-3722 and process them. I’ll do that and put up the media, then we can all view it again – hopefully that’ll give us more clues about who’s trying to contact us about what”, he declared. The discussion continued…

Sci-fi: Conversations with an Extraterrestrial – (3)(i)

Business_as_Usual

3. Business as Usual (i)

The Dream Team met again. Nancy was the zoologist who had spent time with dolphins, elephants, dogs, whales and a whole lot of other animals, figuring out their senses. With all her work, the team was able to wear the Antigua Helmet and think like an elephant, dog, zebra etc. as required. She had spent two weeks with a rhinocerous once, both being totally at ease with each other, as in its mind she was just behaving like another in the herd.

Tanaka was the neuroscientist, studying the human brain with cutting edge technology in brain scans and other instruments for the nervous system. Never before had anyone understood so much about the brain. The amygdala was a particular fascination for him, with its incredible emotions like fear and panic affecting human behaviour. He was also now pretty clued up on psychopathic tendencies, what remorseless brains looked like and mapping brains according to the various spectrums – the Autistic spectrum, pattern recognition abilities, etc.

Ollie was the astrophysicist cum computer boffin who studied the planetary movements and put together all the findings of the team into the computer programs, microchips and sensors. Ollie advised when Mars was nearest or furthest or when disturbances from stars, comets and other matters interfered. With Ollie’s help, the team could predict and optimise when they picked up signals from the extraterrestrial beings. Ollie was also the one mad on computer programming and video games; it had been a hobby since he was five. This was a nice bonus for the team – he was a natural talent in putting all the findings together to work magic.

Alan was of course, the expert on extraterrestrial matters. He was skilled at many things and shared Ollie’s interest in technology but there were not many people who had studied extraterrestrial life to such an extent as Alan, and he focussed his efforts there.

Quotes from ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’

Quotes_My_Big_Fat_Greek_Wedding

I was travelling yesterday and re-watched a couple of old movies that I had seen a long time ago. One of them was ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’. There were a couple of charming quotes in the movie that made me smile.

Advice from Mother to Daughter on Influencing Dad:

The man is the head of the house, but the woman is the neck… and the neck can turn the head in any way she wants.

Wedding Speech by Bride’s Father on the Coming Together of the Two Families (Greek and American):

(The bridegroom’s family name was said to mean ‘apple’ and the bride’s family name meant ‘orange’.)

“Apples and oranges…they are different, but in the end, we are all fruit.”

Sci-fi: Conversations with an Extraterrestrial – (2)(ii)

2. Sequillious (ii)

What about this fellow, Alan Quinn? Why the hell was he trying to get in touch anyway? He was clearly an Asperger’s guy – what other kind of human could have meticulously collected and put together all this mundane, mind boggling data into the ingenious cubipit and Antigua Helmet in seven years? The other guy, Don Valentini was the scheming money-making megalomaniac. It was he who was behind this. Alan was the one with the talent who got lured and this was one unique way he could use his talents and not be criticized for not fitting into society.

Sequilious was fuming again as she thought through this surreptitious plot. Why can’t they deal with the gargantuan problems on Earth instead – trillion dollar debts, messed up global warming, fast depletion of natural resources, obesity…? They were really doomed, yet were investing on more greedy plots. They had pretty much destroyed their planet – now what, another planet?

Sequillous sat there imagining annihilating Earth. It brought a smile – that would take all the problems away. But no, her project ‘Rectify’ had a mission to preserve the good and do something about all those bad genetic mutations. Ambitious, yes, her boss Cancer was, but Sequillious got it. It made sense – it was just incredibly complicated to figure out the strategy.

She tuned in to CNN, watching the Presidential Debate. Blah, Blah, Blah. Ladies caked up with cosmetics…if earthlings had Ladingans’ sensory perceptions, they would realize they look much uglier caked up…such a waste of the multi-billion dollar cosmetics industry. Men in suits and ties, so others would respect the suit and tie if not the person… Huffffffff! She puffed out into Hugo again. Yabber, yabber…. !

Losing patience with the debate, Sequillious tuned out and thought about a juicy vitamin drink. The brain waves registered with her robot, Jara, who promptly served it.

Sci-fi: Conversations with an Extraterrestrial – (2)(i)

2. Sequillious (i)

Sequillious grimaced at the thought of her next assignment from her community hideout in Mars, Ladinga. She hated Earth and all the nonsense that was going on there. In the five years that she had studied Earth, she grew an intense dislike for earthlings. She understood them far better than they themselves did, now. Of course, she would; the Ladingans’ IQ levels were easily double that of those earthlings. Now this Alan Quinn fellow was making considerable progress but she was going to keep him at bay. Damn! They had done enough damage on that beautiful planet Earth – forget about letting them anywhere near Ladinga or detecting any presence of life here.  That would be a grave mistake.

She lay there thinking, trying to fathom all the earthlings were up to. Psychopaths (or at least people having those psychopathic tendencies or other psychiatric abnormalities) seemed to be the new ‘kings’ on Earth. Their remorseless greed was rewarded. So, they used creative or cunning schemes to get the bucks rolling in and show their prowess. Those with no power had well, no power, even if they had more sense or morals. All that doping in sports, sex scandals leaders got involved in and all that white-collar crime made Sequillious cringe.

Sigh! There was also what the economy was coming too. It wasn’t all about producing useful stuff like healthy food, science education and medical technology. It was now so much about advertising and spin-doctoring to deceive, then sucking money from those who could be lured.  Never mind the billion or two people suffering or dying from poverty and disease every day – everyone was fixated on ego-boosting “cool” stuff that made statements about how important they were.  Hufffffffffff! She puffed vigorously three times into Hugo, the Toxic Recycler to attempt to cleanse herself from the toxic Earth thoughts.

Left Brain – Right Brain Confusion

left_brain_right_brain_confusion

I attended a 2-day training programme, about a year ago, by a company called Dramatic Resources, as part of a course I was attending. This 2-day segment was mainly on public speaking and leadership.

One set of exercises we had to do in the programme starkly showed how the interaction of the left brain and right brain can sometimes derail us if we are not careful. This has implications in the things we do in life so it is worth taking note.

Here’s how the exercises went. We paired ourselves up (to illustrate, let’s call the participants in a pair A and B) and did the following exercises:

Exercise 1

A and B say 1,2,3,1,2,3, in sequence alternating between A and B quickly (i.e. A:1; B:2; A:3; B:1; A:2; B3; A:1 etc)

This, apparently, is an activity in which the left brain predominantly, is used.

Exercise 2

A and B do the actions (clap, stamp your foot, flick your fingers) in sequence alternating between A and B quickly (i.e. A:clap; B:stamp; A:flick; B:clap; A:stamp; B:flick; A:clap etc)

This got us into a groove. We almost felt like we were dancing! In this mode, we managed quite well. This, apparently, is an activity in which the right brain, predominantly, is used.

Exercise 3

Combining the above, A and B had to insert the numbers in Exercise 1 after every 2 actions in Exercise 2 (clap, stamp, say 1, flick, clap, say 2, stamp, flick, say 3, clap, stamp, say 1 etc. ) in sequence alternating between A and B quickly (i.e. A:clap; B:stamp; A:1; B:flick; A:clap; B:2; A:stamp; B:flick; A:3, etc). As you can imagine, this drove us crazy!! It was really, really hard to do this quickly. This, apparently, is an activity using both the right and left brain and gets very confusing.

This really hit the point home for me and I found the exercise very insightful.

There are examples of this in real life. A child may get quite carried away in telling a story using her imagination (right brain activity). When an adult comes a long and chides the child, demanding an explanation as to why she is not doing her homework (left brain activity to answer this) she just freezes, going blank.

This could sometimes be what happens when we are talking to an audience, happily engrossed in the description of what we are saying and something triggers left brain activity (doubt for example – why is that person reading his blackberry instead of listening? Am I boring them?) This disrupts our right brain activity that was carrying on so nicely until interrupted.

I find it very useful to have this understanding of how our brains function. With this knowledge we can try to consciously tell the offending part of the brain to keep from interefering (for a while when we need this discipline) when another part of the brain is doing just fine.

Have you had such an experience you would like to share?