Category Archives: Humor

And what is funny Phaedrus, and what is not funny — need we ask anyone to tell us these things?

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Three Parrots

Once upon a time in India, there were three parrots. They were for sale. A prospective buyer was interested.

“How much is that parrot?” asked he, pointing to the first one.

“3000 rupees.”

“That’s pretty steep. What’s so special about it?”

“Well, it can speak Hindi.”

The prospective buyer was impressed, but wanted a better deal. So he probed, “How much for the second one?”

“5000 rupees.”

“What? Why?”

“It speaks Hindi and English.”

Thoroughly impressed and interested by now, he tried again. “How about the third one?”

“10000 rupees,” was the reply.

“Wow! How many languages does it speak?” asked the buyer.

“None. It doesn’t say a word.”

“Well, then. It must do some wonderful tricks. What can it do?”

“Nothing. It just sits there.”

Outraged, the buyer asked, “Why are you asking for 10000 rupees for it then?”

“Well, the other two parrots call it ‘Boss’,” explained the seller.

Moral of the story: All parrots are birdbrains. Why would they be for sale otherwise?

Photo by mybulldog

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Instant Water Heater

My primary degree is in engineering of the electric/electronics variety, which is why I can fix LED lights, for instance. I suspect an engineering degree gives you more of a theoretical understanding rather than practical knowledge. I mean, I’m no electrician. At times, I take on projects where I may have been better advised to call an electrician.

Recently, our maid’s instant water heater died, and some action on my part was indicated. Though an engineer, I have been in the corporate scene long enough to know that the right response to any action item during a meeting is, “May be by next Tuesday.” So I asked the maid to use my mother-in-law’s bathroom, thinking that I could postpone this issue to one of the future Tuesdays. But the maid, probably bound by some sacred ethical covenants of her profession, refused to do that. At that point, I should have called the electrician. But I foolishly decided to take a look at the prima facie evidence. The switch looked fine, with its indicator light coming on as expected, but the water heater remained intransigent.

Knowing, theoretically, that the most likely point of failure was in the heater, I decided to focus my formidable intellect on it. It turned out that the darned thing was so neatly installed by the electrician (with insufficient theory, I bet) that it was impossible to even open it. A closer inspection revealed a tiny screw near the bottom, which looked promising. But I didn’t have a screwdriver handy right then (when I was on the ladder, I mean). Then again, what was there to see? What else could be wrong?

Once I diagnosed the problem using the sheer power of pure intellect, I used the second lesson I learned during my corporate years — transference. I called my wife and informed her that she needed to get a water heater; her commute route ran close enough to a bunch of appliance stores, and by arguments of proximity and convenience, she was much better placed to get it. Furthermore, I would do the installation myself, and that gave me the edge in the argument of division of labor as well. But my wife, much better schooled in the corporate games, promptly skipped the country thereby nullifying my proximity and convenience advantages. I should have called the electrician then, I can see clearly now in hindsight.

An engineer is nothing if not resourceful. If we can save a trip to the local mall or the appliance shop using eBay and the Internet, why wouldn’t we? I know this statement also nullifies proximity and convenience arguments, but know this — no action is always better than even convenient action, and the proximity argument still applies, as long as it can save an action item. I ordered the heater online, and they delivered it in about five minutes. These guys need to take a chill pill. Seriously.

Anyway, I ignored the box for as long as possible. Finally, I located the elusive screwdriver and dismantled the broken heater. It turned out to be remarkably easy to install the new one. The only issue was in lining up the front panel knobs with the internals of the heater. It took me a while, but I finally managed it, The installation wasn’t as sturdy as the electrician’s, but its theory was clearly superior. Then came the cutover process and user acceptance tests. The switch clicked on, with the bright red pilot light indicating that all was well with the world. The faucet opened, and water ran nicely and in copious quantities. But it ran cold.

An engineer is seldom flummoxed by a hundred dollar (plus shipping and handling) water heater. Not for long anyways. No, he focusses his sheer and pure intellect on the next possible solution, and like hot knife through butter — nay, like high-power laser though butter –it invariably takes him to the bottom of the problem at hand. Sure enough, my laser-guided problem solving methodology led me to the culprit – the switch. It was the only other moving element in the system, the only other point of failure, the villain. It got power because its light came on. It didn’t send power because the water heater didn’t work. What could be more obvious? The only question was, really, where to get the replacement switch from. Local mall or eBay? As I was formulating a general plan of action to procure the afore-mentioned switch, it occurred to me — what if this point of failure didn’t fail either? We engineers, we learn from our experience, you see. We are logical. We are trained in abstract lateral thinking. If the most likely point of failure didn’t fail, the second most likely point is even less likely to fail — ergo, the third most likely point is in fact the most likely one. Doesn’t make sense to you? Don’t feel bad; it takes years of rigorous training to follow such intricate logic. To be fair, this lateral logic came to me after I tested the switch and found it to be working fine.

Although it meant I had to take off the carefully aligned front panel of the water heater, I did some improvised continuity tests and found the power cable, the least likely point of failure, had in fact failed. Another hour of blood, sweat and tears, and the battle — nay, the great war — against the water heater was finally won. True, an electrician may have checked the incoming power before dismantling the old heater. True, there was no need to spend $100 (plus S & H) on a new heater. But the greatness of a struggle is not often counted in dollars and cents. No, its glory transcends mere profit and loss — mundane, prosaic, vulgar even, profit and loss, how dare you? It is all about the journey, not the destination. It is about living in the present, it is about experiences, life’s lessons. (If you can think of any other vaguely applicable platitudes, please leave a comment. It will really help me out.)

As all great stories, this one also has a moral. “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,” as our fellow logician, Mr. Holmes put it. In other words, eliminate the theory and call the electrician.

Photo by VeloBusDriver

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Sad Movies

I found something weird. People seem to like sad movies — tear-jerkers. But nobody likes to be sad. I mean, you watch great tragedies with genuine sadness, and then go around saying, “What a great movie!” If whatever happened in the movie really happened to you or somebody you knew, you wouldn’t say, “Wow, great!” Why is that?

I think a good answer is that such depictions in movies let you experience the emotional intensity with no immediate physical (or even emotional) danger. If you were actually on the Titanic, you would at least have taken a cold dip even if you survived. But watching Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio battle for their lives probably lets you experience their fear and pain from the comfort of your armchair, with popcorn and soda to intensify the feeling.

I have a similar morbid fascination with natural disasters. I don’t mean to trivialize the human trauma caused by events like tsunamis and earthquakes, but I cannot help watching the movies and documentaries over and over. Volcanos are my favorite though. Visiting a live one is one of the things on my list of things to do before I die. If it is a very active volcano, I guess it will have to be the last thing on the list. I think in my case, the fascination goes beyond the safety associated with movies; I suspect I actually want to see the real thing, and don’t mind a bit of physical harm. The only downside I can see is that the real experience may not be as good as the movies. I mean, say I am in a tsunami. I say to myself, cool, I get to see a real one. But then, I may get hit by a pole or a plank or some other debris in the first five seconds and get knocked out cold. What’s the point in kicking the bucket in a natural disaster if you don’t even get to see the show?

I wonder whether this kind of fascination extends to people who like horror movies. Would they really want to be in a haunted house with Freddie Crugers and other slashers running amuck? Or see creepy girls crawling out of their television sets? Luckily, I’m not a horror movie buff, and I don’t have to find out.

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How to Act Young

Everybody wants to be young forever. Of course, nobody is going to be succeed in that quest. You will get old. The next best thing you can hope for is to look young. If you have enough money, tricks like facelifts, BOTOX, tummy tucks, hair implants etc may help. Those on a budget will have to content themselves with delaying tactics like hair dyes and gym memberships in their battle against the ravages of time. This is not too bad; I’m in this category and I think I have managed to stave off about five years.

What do you do when all your efforts fail? Well, then you have to cheat, of course. Here is how. You have to act young. The devil is in the details, you see. Well, may be you don’t see too well, which is one of the problems of old age. In order to get the aging muscles in your corneas to squeeze down on your hardening lenses, you squint, and then you hold the piece of paper you are trying to read farther and farther away. And finally, the day comes when your hand is just not long enough, and you go and get your reading glasses. Now, when you see a youngish-looking fellow holding his smart phone at arm’s length, you know that appearances can be deceptive.

Here is my advice — when that young friend of yours hands over his or her hand phone with their vacation photos, hold the phone at the normal, optimal distance of about a foot from your eyes and make appropriate noises like “Wow!” “That’s amazing!” etc. Just remember to keep your comments non-committal — “Wow!” almost always works. Of course, you won’t be able to see anything, but what are you missing, really? If you do want to see the pictures of people jumping off cliffs and stuff, ask them to email them to you. In the privacy of your home, you can don your microscopes (reading glasses, I mean to say) and take a good look.

This trick may not always work, when they show you a text message, for instance, for you to read and enjoy. (I actually wanted to write “peruse and be enthralled” for comic effect, but then I remembered that people have accused me being pretentious.) The trick in such a situation is to do a double-bluff — say something like, “Could you read it for me? These old eyes are not what they used to be.” And then give a wink or a sly smile to indicate that you are only kidding. By the way, this trick also works in a corporate setting when your job involves, well, nothing. I had a colleague at the bank. At director-level on the more lucrative side of banking, I knew that he commanded a handsome compensation package. So I asked him over lunch one day what exactly he did. He said, “Nothing, absolutely nothing!” I said, “No, seriously.” He insisted, “Seriously, nothing!” You know what? I actually believe him. But then, he was recently promoted to be the managing director of nothingness with a generous hike, I heard. Another buddy of mine, CEO of a start-up, when asked the same question about his daily activities at work, replied, “You know, sweeping, cleaning..!” I don’t know what to believe. But I do believe this — one of the most effective ways of lying is to stick to the outrageous truth with a twist.

Back to our theme, blurry vision is only one of the nasty features of us attaining wisdom. Another one is joint aches and a general lack of springiness in our movements, especially after a hard session of tennis or badminton. Well, my advice is to either learn to smile through the pain and simulate springiness. Or, exaggerate and simulate a sprain or something, which is usually a young affliction. (Broken hips and knee problems are old afflictions though.)

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that this obsession with aging and how to fight it is a sure sign of aging. So this blog post is probably not helping my quest for eternal youth. With that, I shall forever hold my peace on this subject.

Internal and External Successes

Success can be internal or external. External success is easily measured in terms of money and material possessions. The internal one is measured in terms of less palpable yardsticks, like happiness, peace of mind etc. External success is related to extrovert qualities, like articulation, and depends on what others think of you. The internal one, on the other hand, depends on what you think of yourself. It is made up of things like duty, honor etc. Confusing one with the other leads to misconceptions like identifying money with happiness, for instance. You need one for the other, but they are definitely not the same.

The height of extroversion are the social medial networks like Facebook. Paradoxically, they are also an introvert’s desperate attempt at being an extrovert, but that’s another story. I think people’s success in life shines more through Facebook than anything else these days. It even leads to something similar to Facebook envy, as BBC recently reported. The report said something about people feeling left out because they see their friends having a grand time all the time. They then feel as though life is passing them by.

There is a flip side to this Facebook-evny phenomenon. You can try to generate as much envy as possible by posting your photos in fabulous locations, having wall-to-wall fun. If that doesn’t project an aura of external success, what does?

I should admit — I’m guilty of this Facebook bragging. I once posted a photo of mine with the Eiffel Tower in the background, and I even remember asking my daughter to be sure to catch the tower in the background. I guess in today’s day and age, you do need a bit of external success as well. The internal one by itself doesn’t quite cut it.

Key to Marital Bliss

Here is a short story about how a cowboy found the secret to marital bliss right after he got married. The ceremony was beautiful and the bride lovely. After the wedding, the bride and groom got on their horse-driven carriage to make their way home, with the bride happy and excited, prattling on about nothing, and the groom staying strong and silent with not a word after the “I do.”

Halfway through their ride, the horse stumbled. The cowboy broke his silence and said, laconically, “One.” His wife was nonplussed, but let it pass. Another couple of miles on, the horse stumbled again, and the groom went, “Two.” The wife ignored it and went on with her one-sided conversation. Just as they reached home, the old horse stumbled once more. The cowboy said, “Three,” pulled out his gun and shot the poor beast dead.

The bride was, understandably, shocked and dismayed. She said, “Jack, honey, you should control your temper. It’s inhuman to shoot a poor old horse for stumbling a couple of times.” The cowboy remained silent. The wife decided to take it up a notch. “Are you listening to me? Anybody can shoot a defenseless animal. Don’t think you are impressing anybody! Promise me, you will never do this again.” The cowboy remained silent. The wife, exasperated now, asked, “Well, don’t you have anything to say for yourself?”

The cowboy finally did have something to say. He said, “One.”

It is said that they never had another argument in their long and happy married life.

Disclaimer:
No animal was harmed during the writing of this post.

Replace Halogen with LED

Here is how it happened. I have a neat custom-built home office. One cool feature of my work area is the recessed lighting built into the top part of it. Three nice LED downlights. Sadly, a couple months ago, one of them started flickering. I ignored it for as long as possible, then decided to take a look. From below, it looked impossible to reach the innards of the light. But I’m not so easily stumped. I can always approach a problem from different angles. So I lugged myself up a ladder and tried the top end of the light, above the top part of the built-up study table. To my surprise, it looked neatly paneled with no access to the lights. How am I supposed to change the bulb or whatever? Lousy workmanship, I said to myself, and proceeded to continue ignoring the flickering light. After all, it was above the kids’ PC, not my iMacs. I’m not saying I was stumped, but you have to pick your battles, you know.

A few days later, it dawned on me — you are not supposed to access recessed lights from above. After all, they are usually in ceilings with no “above.” They are held up there using a clever spring-loaded mechanism, and you can just pull them down. I tried it with the flickering light, and it came down fairly easily. No need to hack up top of the study desk. The workmanship wasn’t that lousy after all. Excellent work, in fact. After pulling the light down, I figured out it was the tiny electronic transformer that was malfunctioning, and ordered one on eBay. (By the way, when I explained this to my son he was thrilled because he thought I had ordered a car that could turn into a giant robot!)

When you buy something from eBay, it is impossible not to browse a little. I saw this deal on 50 LED downlight kits, with everything you’d need for a cool project, at about $12 apiece. The dormant DIY devil in me was stirring. Long story short — I bought the sucka. It showed up at my doorsteps in just two days. (Shipped from China, although I bought it from Australia — globalization of the e-kind, I guess.) And I started replacing all halogen recessed lights in the house with LED ones. It is so easy to do it — just pull the old one down, pull out the old ballast transformer, disconnect it, wire up the new LED light and push it back in. The whole thing takes about five minutes, if there are no complications.

Life, however, is full of complications, and the measure of a man is in how he deals with them. On the first day, it took me about four hours to do about thirty lights. By then, I had blistered fingers. Worse, I got one finger caught in one of those darned spring-loaded thingies (which also work like mouse traps, I forgot to mention) and got it squashed pretty good. And the plaster material from the ceiling acted as some kind of catalyst for infection. Long story short again, I’m just finishing the five-day course of Avelox, a broad-spectrum antibiotic that my GP prescribed after a cursory look at my finger. That’s another thing — why are these doctors getting younger and younger every year?

Anyway, despite all these setbacks, I managed to finish the project in about ten days, after ordering another batch of ten LED kits, and ten LED bulbs to replace some track lighting. I think I established my measure as a man, although I did approach my wife with my battle-worn fingers for sympathy and compassion. She dished them out aplenty, and lovingly called me “nasook” — a Hindi expression I’m not quite familiar with. I have to look it up one of these days — something in her tone makes me wonder, did I lose a bit of my measure?

By the way, the flickering light is still flickering. The three-dollar transformer hasn’t arrived yet.

Retirement — a Wife’s View

In connection with my recent retirement, my wife sent me an article (a speech given by someone on how to retire happily) which made several interesting points. But even more interestingly, it started with a funny story. Here it is:

In a small village in Kerala, a devout christian passed away. The local priest was out of station, and a priest from an adjoining village was called upon to deliver the eulogy. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” began the venerable pastor with the coffin before him. “Here lies dead before me a rare human being of this village with outstanding qualities. He was a gentleman, a scholar, sweet of tongue, gentle of temper and very catholic in outlook. He was generous to a fault and ever smiling.” The widow of the deceased sprang up and screamed, “Oh my God! They are burying the wrong man!”

True to form, this gentleman concluded his speech with another story.

First God created the cow and said, “You must go with the farmer everyday to the field, and suffer under the sun all day long, have calves, give milk and help the farmer. I give you a span of sixty years.” The cow said, “That’s surely tough. Give me only twenty years. I give back forty years.”

On Day Two, God created the dog and said, “Sit by the door of your house and bark at strangers. I give you a span of twenty years.” The dog said, “Too long a life for barking. I give up ten years.”

On the third day, God created the monkey and said to him, “Entertain people. Make them laugh. I give you twenty years.” The monkey said to God, “How boring! Monkey tricks for twenty years? Give me only ten years.” The Lord agreed.

On the fourth day, God created Man. He said to him, “Eat, sleep, play, enjoy and do nothing. I will give you twenty years.”

Man said, “Only twenty years? No way! I will take my twenty, but give me the forty the cow gave back, the ten that the monkey returned, and the ten the dog surrendered. That makes it eighty. Okay?” God agreed.

That is why for the first twenty years we sleep, play, enjoy and do nothing.
For the next forty years we slave in the sun to support our family.
For the next ten years we do monkey tricks to entertain our grandchildren.
And for the last ten years we sit in front of the house and bark at everybody.

Well, I managed to cut down my forty cow-years to a mere twenty. Here’s hoping that I will get similar discounts on my monkey and dog years!

Chinese Names

As you may know, a San Francisco TV channel got in trouble for reporting fake names of the pilots involved in a recent air crash. If you missed it, here is the video — the fake names are around the 43rd second mark.

http://youtu.be/wFA7t1sHxBI

In light of this TV report, I thought I would post a bunch of fake names that I got through email a while ago. It definitely seems timely, if not appropriate.

That’s not right Sum Ting Wong
Are you harboring a fugitive? Hu Yu Hai Ding
See me ASAP Kum Hia Nao
Stupid Man Dum Fuk
Small Horse Tai Ni Po Ni
Did you go to the beach? Wai Yu So Tan
I bumped into a coffee table Ai Bang Mai Fu Kin Ni
I think you need a face lift Chin Tu Fat
It’s very dark in here Wai So Dim
I thought you were on a diet Wai Yu Mun Ching
This is a tow away zone No Pah King
Our meeting is scheduled for next week Wai Yu Kum Nao
Staying out of sight Lei Ying Lo
He’s cleaning his automobile Wa Shing Ka
Your body odor is offensive Yu Stin Ki Pu
Great Fa Kin Su Pa

Apologies if you find this post offensive — only trying to be funny here.