Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Alphabet I Wish I'd Learned

Have you ever had those moments when talking to call center representatives of a utility company or a bank over the phone, and found yourself wanting for words for a letter of the alphabet while trying to spell something out? I know I have. So I decided that enough was enough, and began to re-learn the letters of the English alphabet. Only this time, it'd be the words as they are used for radio communications. Its called the 'Phonetic Alphabet'. It is ofcourse used primarily by the armed forces, law enforcement officers, pilots, ham radio operators, and others who have to communicate using radios.

The entire Phonetic Alphabet is listed further below (if you go through the list, at the bottom of this post you'll find a very amusing, may be even cerebral, snippet I promise), but a comprehensive list of the alphabet from almost a century ago and the words that have changed over time, can be seen here. An interesting fact that pops out upon going through this list - of the 26 words in the Phonetic Alphabet, only two have remained unchanged for almost hundred years - M (Mike) and X(X-ray). Another good list of the Phonetic Alphabet used by a few different agencies and countries (all of them have occupied parts of the world beyond their own at one time or another!) of the world is here.

If it were up to me, I'll teach all the kids this alternate alphabet. Enough with 'A for Apple', 'B for Boy', and 'C for Cat' already. To me, it makes a lot of sense to teach kids the alphabet with words that are used in the Phonetic Alphabet. Less training for kids who go on to become soldiers or pilots or law enforcement officers for they'll already be aware of the entire Phonetic Alphabet, less training for kids who go on to become call center employees around the world (I've already imagined a scenario where the entire world is one big call center - more on that some other day), and fewer hassles for customers (all of us are customers, isn't it?) who need to call those 1-800 numbers. Moreover, it is just more fun. I know, I know, if the kids don't know the letters of the alphabet, how will they be able to learn the Phonetic Alphabet? Will need to work on that.

May be its just the engineer in me, but while I was learning the Phonetic Alphabet, I just had to take the leap to learning the Morse Code! I am still working on it. It'll take a little bit of time to get used to to teaching myself to think in terms of dashes and dots, or dah, di and dits. Here is one for those of you who text a lot, and use the stupid shorthand (yeah, there, I said it - I don't like it) all the time:
1. LOL translates to .-.. --- .-..
2. ROFL translates to .-. --- ..-. .-..
3. ROFLMAO translates to .-. --- ..-. .-.. -- .- ---
And, for those of you who think I shouldn't mind all the shorthand used in text messages, my message to you is: -.-- --- ..- / -.-. .- -. / --. --- / - --- / .... . .-.. .-.. --..-- / .- -. -.. / -... . ..-. --- .-. . / .-.. . .- ...- .. -. --. --..-- / -.- .. ... ... / -- -.-- / .... .- .. .-. -.-- / -... .-. --- .-- -. / .- ... ... .-.-.-

A for Alpha
B for Bravo
C for Charlie
D for Delta
E for Echo
F for Foxtrot
G for Golf
H for Hotel
I for India
J for Juliet
K for Kilo
L for Lima
M for Mike
N for November
O for Oscar
P for Papa
Q for Quebec
R for Romeo
S for Sierra
T for Tango
U for Uniform
V for Victor
W for Whiskey
X for X-ray
Y for Yankee
Z for Zulu

Ok. Here is the promised snippet. Ever wondered if one can compile a list of Silent Phonetic Alphabet? Well, I hadn't either. But I sure am glad that someone had. The following is blatantly taken from this webpage here.

A as in BREAD
B as in DEBT
E as in GIVE
G as in GNAW
H as in HOUR
I as in FRIEND
K as in KNOW
L as in CALM
M as the first M in MNEMONIC
N as in AUTUMN
O as in PEOPLE
P as in PSALM
Q as in COLQUHOUN (a Scottish surname)
S as in ISLAND
T as in CASTLE
U as in GUARD
V as in MILNGAVIE (a Scottish place name)
W as in WRONG
X as in SIOUX
Y as in PEPYS

Friday, June 10, 2011

The day Gunga Din drove me to the airport

Last night, on my way back from Rochester (the one in Minnesota), I hailed a cab from right outside my hotel at Rochester Downtown. The weather was just beautiful - temps in low 70s (Fahrenheits of-course) and it was just slightly breezy. But, I was just dead tired to enjoy the weather much at that point, leave alone the cab ride to the airport. The cab's driver was a very genial looking Caucasian gentleman. I found out later that he was 60+. He gave me his name just as Chuck.

Rochester airport is not more than 10 or so miles south of the downtown. Factoring in all the traffic lights and some afternoon traffic it must only have taken the cab 15 minutes to get me to the airport. But, as tired as I was, when I got off the cab at the airport, I was smiling ear to ear. Somehow, my conversation with Chuck, during our ride to the airport, veered to Rudyard Kipling and his composition Gunga Din. And Chuck knew the entire Gunga Din by heart. How do I know - he recited the whole thing for me while driving me to the airport, complete with flourishes where they should be and how they should be! It was so much fun listening to him recite the poem, and especially because he did not miss a note or a syllable from the non-English words in this poem. It was just brilliant - it was the best cab ride I've had to date. As far as various professions go, cab drivers have always been one of the two favorite people of mine to strike a conversation with - the other being barbers at hair salons. More on that some other day.

Here's a shout out to Chuck - Thanks Chuck, for making my day, giving me an unforgettable moment with Gunga Din, and for bringing back for me some cherished memories of school days, and that too with one of my favorite English poems that I hadn't recited or listened to in a long-long time.

The complete Gunga Din by Rudyard Kipling (it was sourced from here) below. Just a few pointers so you can enjoy reciting this poem as it was meant to be recited, and enjoyed:
1. Gunga Din is an Indian (/Hindi) name. It can be one word (Gungadin) or it can be two words (Gunga Din), but you'll still stay it the same way - Gungadin.
2. It is Gunga as in Gun+ga, and not Goonga.
3. Din part of the name will actually be pronounced as 'Deen' or 'Dean', and not Din (as in loud noise).
4. If you do not speak Hindi, have one of your friends from India help you say the few Hindi words in this poem right, and ask your friends the meanings to those words as well. Better yet, ask your friend to recite this poem out loud once! Not only will you enjoy the poem, I promise you, your Indian friend will too!
5. Ok, one last suggestion: If you've never ever heard of this poem, or listened to someone else recite it, I'd suggest you play one of the embedded youtube videos at the bottom of this post, and then follow the lyrics of the poem as the gentleman in the video recites the poem in the background. I especially like the recitation in the first video by Robert Hardy.

Rhyme away.

Gunga Din

YOU may talk o' gin an' beer
When you're quartered safe out 'ere,
An' you're sent to penny-fights an' Aldershot it;
But if it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An' you'll lick the bloomin' boots of 'im that's got it.
Now in Injia's sunny clime,
Where I used to spend my time
A-servin' of 'Er Majesty the Queen,
Of all them black-faced crew
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.

It was "Din! Din! Din!
You limping lump o' brick-dust, Gunga Din!
Hi! slippy hitherao!
Water, get it! Panee lao!
You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din!"

The uniform 'e wore
Was nothin' much before,
An' rather less than 'arf o' that be'ind,
For a twisty piece o' rag
An' a goatskin water-bag
Was all the field-equipment 'e could find.
When the sweatin' troop-train lay
In a sidin' through the day,
Where the 'eat would make your bloomin' eyebrows crawl,
We shouted "Harry By!"
Till our throats were bricky-dry,
Then we wopped 'im 'cause 'e couldn't serve us all.

It was "Din! Din! Din!
You 'eathen, where the mischief 'ave you been?
You put some juldee in it,
Or I'll marrow you this minute,
If you don't fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!"

'E would dot an' carry one
Till the longest day was done,
An' 'e didn't seem to know the use o' fear.
If we charged or broke or cut,
You could bet your bloomin' nut,
'E'd be waitin' fifty paces right flank rear.
With 'is mussick on 'is back,
'E would skip with our attack,
An' watch us till the bugles made "Retire."
An' for all 'is dirty 'ide,
'E was white, clear white, inside
When 'e went to tend the wounded under fire!

It was "Din! Din! Din!"
With the bullets kickin' dust-spots on the green.
When the cartridges ran out,
You could 'ear the front-files shout:
"Hi! ammunition-mules an' Gunga Din!"

I sha'n't forgit the night
When I dropped be'ind the fight
With a bullet where my belt-plate should 'a' been.
I was chokin' mad with thirst,
An' the man that spied me first
Was our good old grinnin', gruntin' Gunga Din.

'E lifted up my 'ead,
An' 'e plugged me where I bled,
An' 'e guv me 'arf-a-pint o' water—green;
It was crawlin' an' it stunk,
But of all the drinks I've drunk,
I'm gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.

It was "Din! Din! Din!
'Ere's a beggar with a bullet through 'is spleen;
'E's chawin' up the ground an' 'e's kickin' all around:
For Gawd's sake, git the water, Gunga Din!"

'E carried me away
To where a dooli lay,
An' a bullet come an' drilled the beggar clean.
'E put me safe inside,
An' just before 'e died:
"I 'ope you liked your drink," sez Gunga Din.
So I'll meet 'im later on
In the place where 'e is gone—
Where it's always double drill and no canteen;
'E'll be squattin' on the coals
Givin' drink to pore damned souls,
An' I'll get a swig in Hell from Gunga Din!

Din! Din! Din!
You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
Tho' I've belted you an' flayed you,
By the livin' Gawd that made you,
You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

Gunga Din by Rudyard Kipling, by Robert Hardy (posted on youtube by poetictouchannel):

Gunga Din by Rudyard Kipling, (posted on youtube by Caspar33):

Friday, June 3, 2011

Recipe for Sleeplessness - Opposable Thumbs vs. Prehensile Tails

So I finally decided to read 'A Walk in the Woods' by Bill Bryson - it had been by my bedside for a few days and somehow the picture of that bear on the cover was more inviting than usual. Moreover, I was hoping to fall asleep soon enough. Afterall Dallas Mavericks had just beaten Miami Heat in the second game of the NBA Finals and I was happy.

I was lying on my bed with my left arm under my neck to prop my head up a little bit, and with my right hand I was holding the book - the little finger and the thumb of my right hand were helping me keep the book open to where I was. I must have been a couple of more pages, and just a few more blinks away from falling asleep when this strange thought occurred to me - how would I have been able to read this book if I had no opposable thumb? The very next thought was - what are the other things that I wouldn't have been able to do without opposable thumbs?

Right then I knew that this is going to be a long night. I tried so hard to get rid of that thought and focus on the book again. But there was no going back to it now. I was way too occupied thinking about things that one wouldn't be able to do without thumbs - everything from not being able to hit the spacebar on the keyboard to not being able to shoot basketball to tie shoelaces occurred to me. Some of the things that occurred to me were kinda obvious, some not so much. But some others were downright 'R' rated, and can't mention any of those here.

Many of the problems that we would have faced without opposable thumbs we would been able to tackle with some ingenuity. Maybe we would have developed some other feature in our body! How about a prehensile tail? Voila. A prehensile tail would be a good substitute. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that a prehensile tail would be way better than opposable thumbs. If somehow I had a choice between opposable thumbs and prehensile tail, I would certainly go for the latter. How about you?

Go Mavs. And do not ever think about what you would do if you never had your thumbs, or you won't be able to sleep at night.