Monday, October 29, 2012

Beckoning Mount Everest

Many people succumb to the charm of beckoning wilderness, challenging mountain cliffs, enticing treacherous trails and coaxing unknown paths. The reasons, objectives and experiences may vary from individual to individual but it is amazing to notice that even the fatal incidents and near death experiences do not mitigate their passion to walk the razor sharp edges (sometime literally).Perhaps the excitement to be at the top of the world or exploring the un-traversed paths is difficult to replicate anywhere else and  even more harder is to derive the same joy and contentment from any other pursuit. But thanks to the chronicled words of these mountaineers and trekkers, their armchair counterparts can virtually share at least some part of the thrill.

'Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?', was the question asked to George Millory (an English mountaineer who took part in the first three British expeditions to Mount Everest in the early 1920s). To this question, he retorted : 'Because it is there' and these three words have become the most famous words in the world of mountaineering.

Mt. Everest  8,850m (29,035 feet) high lays in Himalayas, along the border of Nepal, Tibet and China. New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Tenzing Norgay were the first people to ever reach the summit of Mount Everest. Since that year, the roof of the Earth - the Sagarmath (the mother Goddess), the Everest keeps beckoning many people year after year.

'Into Thin Air' is the first person account of Jon Karuker who was part of the Mt. Everest expedition of 1996.  He was in a team led by a seasoned climber Rob Hall heading the Adventure Consultants. But despite being well equipped with all required paraphernalia, expert guidance, meticulously planned program, well researched tracks, deftly organised training camps and human assistance in the form of Nepali Sherpas, this expedition completely fell apart.

Closer home, Arjun Vajpai relates his experience vividly in 'On Top of the World'. He became the youngest Indian to scale Mt. Everest in the summer of 2010. For him the fascination of mountains began at the tender age of 10 and his parents nurtured his passion in tandem with the support of his teachers and friends. The hunger and thirst for adventure drew Arjun to the mountains. His is a story of inspiration, grit, determination and indefatigable spirit to fulfill the dreams and his was clearly an expedition where almost everything went right from the fitness, weather conditions to the support system.

'The Top of the World : Climbing Mount Everest' written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins is a picture book for very young readers - Ages 5 and up. The book briefly explores the history, natural geography, culture, climate of Mount Everest along with the mention of people like Mallory and Irvine, Tenzing and Hillary. The formation of Himalayas, the weather conditions and brief introduction to various aspects of scaling Mt. Everest including the gear and training required and the impending threats on the way find the mention in this book. Besides being an informative book, the beautiful cut paper illustrations make it a visual treat for young adventurers.

'Legs on Everest' is written by Mark Inglis, the double amputee who fulfilled his childhood ambition to stand on the summit of the highest mountain of the world. He achieved this feat on 15th May, 2006 braving all odds in the wake of his peculiar condition. The frostbite from one of his previous expeditions costed him both his legs from below the knees but it could not rob him off his dreams rather it made him even more focused and driven to accelerate his efforts towards the goal. In Mark Inglis words, 'Whenever you have pushed yourself to the limit, you know you can achieve things that were once only a dream. The more times you undertake the extreme journey, the greater your confidence that you will attain your dreams, and the bigger your dreams become. And if you want a bigger dream then why not go for the biggest - imagine standing on the summit of Everest!'.

These are not all, there are umpteen books written on the experiences of mountaineers who have dared to climb the crowning glory of the Earth. There are some common strings worth appreciating in all these adventurous stories which tower taller than the uniqueness and differences of the same. Such individuals dare to let their dream soar high, they make their passion fuel their efforts and eventually their determination leads them to achieve the set goals. After having accomplished the designated objective, they find themselves having gained maturity and education from none other than the supreme teacher - the Nature itself. Being in the lap of nature in its purest form, they get to witness its true soul - its nurturing quality and its tempestuous side, its fury and its vulnerability, its unpredictability against human planning. The individuals come out with heightened respect for the supremacy of nature and understanding of the humble position that we share in this precarious balance that has been so beautifully maintained.

Whether it is the - love of wild flora and fauna, desire to redeem oneself, test of self limitations, need to push oneself harder and further, this trend would continue, the epitome of grace Mt Everest would keep seducing mortals year after year. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Book Review : Math Trek - Adventures in the Math Zone

Title : Math Trek : Adventures in the Math Zone
Author : Ivars Peterson and Nancy Henderson Publisher : Jossey-Bass
There is an amusement park in town but this is quite unlike the ones that you must have been to so many times. Since this is an extraordinary amusement park, how can the ticket be a regular one for such a place. Of course, it is extraordinary too. Here your mind is the ticket as you unravel the secrets of many joy rides while having fun with math in everyday life.

The only way to open the naughty knotty gate is to find the knot that is not a knot. Tying a simple knot was never a problem and we all learnt it pretty early but tying a knot which is actually not a knot?, now that is the tricky part. Many magicians have earned our appreciation and applause performing exactly this trick seamlessly and now the visitors of this park can do it too. One hurdle crossed, time to enter MapZone and the lady manning the stall invites people to try the Map-ematical challenge. The visitors are handed six coloured pencils and they need to figure out the smallest number of colours that is needed to fill in the MathZone map so that a distinctive colour could be seen for each activity area. And the rule is : no two sections that share a border may by of the same colour.
Here is one for you to try. Can you complete the map using six colours? Five? Four? Three?

Once through the mapzone, proceed to fractal forest where an intriguing Mobius Strip roller coaster is waiting for you. Here you will be guided to design your own Mobius strip in order to feel confident that after the ride you all will end up right side up. So no need to fret. You come out of the roller coaster and enter the Mercenne's Fun House and The Fractal Pond Race. This is not it, in fact the joy ride continues with dice, decoding the code, a ride on Tilt-a-Whirl and in the wild game hall. Soon enough it is time to advance to the way-out zone where you are welcomed by intriguing fractal mazes to guess.
Remember how we all try to cover a regular amusement park by sampling different rides during the whole day that we spend there, similar is the case with Math Trek. The idea is to try as many activities as possible to derive maximum fun out of the Math Zone. Interesting trivia, sneak peek into historical background of the concepts, mind-exercising puzzles and the answers to the problems make this book a fun filled adventure read. 'Math Trek' is a wholesome package for children, parents and teachers. The driving force which led the couple to compile this book was to highlight the 'fun' component with math learning. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book Review : G is for Googol

Title: G is for Googol
Author: David M. Shwartz
Illustrations by Marissa Moss
Published by Random House

A for Abacus to Z for Zillion, 'G is for Googol' has all. The book introduces fascinating mathematical concepts in an interesting and palatable manner.

The Supreme teacher - nature seems to be an eternal lover of Math; It is surprising how Fibonacci numbers show up so much in nature! The number of petals in a flower is usually a Fibonacci number. Fibonacci numbers could also be called 'sunflower numbers', 'artichoke numbers' or 'pineapple numbers' because sunflower's seeds, artichoke's leaves and pineapple scales all spiral according to this series of numbers. Amazing, isn't it!!! Who can ignore amazing symmetry in nature.

Googol is actually a number which is 1 followed by 100 zeroes, and so is googolplex which is 1 followed by a googol zeroes. R is for Rhombicosidodecahedron and this is a real word and a mouthful too. It is a special kind of Polyhedron.

Little bees are not just busy, they are super intelligent too as they work to get the most space to store honey for the least amount of wax that they have to spend to build their honeycombs and so they use hexagons as the tessellate (when shapes cover a surface with no gaps in between, the shapes are tessellate) polygons to build their honeycombs. So you see, it does pay to be good at math - even if you are a bee!!

Talking about units, in Egypt about 5000 years ago, the distance from the pharaoh's elbow to the tip of his middle finger became the first standard unit of length. It was given the name Royal Cubit. Just imagine taking his elbow all over the place just so everyone could measure papyrus!! No prizes for guessing, what got invented - a measuring stick of course.

I have been asked this question by the little ones at home.. When are we ever gonna use this stuff anyway? The answer is - everywhere - at school, at home, at play, and at work. Don't you check the quantity and quality and the units used to measure what you’re buying. Living in this world who can avoid conducting transactions without dealing with money?

Designers of modern computers have weaved a whole new world around binary numbers because computers 'think' in binary. The computer understands only two digits - 0 and 1, and it is happy working with just these two digits to get amazing things done for us.

It is strange but the world of unknowns in Math which is also called algebra assigns names to unknowns and X can boast of being the most common and famous personality here whose identity changes with every equation and who revels in a new identity every single instance.

G is for Googol' would entice every reader to dig further and no matter how much you try, in no time this book would turn you into an ardent fan (if you already are not) of this wonderful subject which holds keys to solve many other queries that crop up in the minds. From light year to exponents explaining very big and very small numbers, from mobius strip to Fibonacci numbers, delightful information is tastefully packed which kids and even adults would love to explore. The fact that math is in every aspect of life would not go unappreciated when the concepts are found getting practically executed and validated in day to day life. A convincing presentation of the fact that math is all pervasive.Its time to kiss the Math phobia goodbye with this alphabet book.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Book Review : Minpins

Title : Minpins
Author : Roald Dahl
Illustrator : Patrick Benson
Publisher : Puffin
ISBN : 978-0-141-50178-9

"Little Billy's mother was always telling him exactly what he was allowed to do and what he was not allowed to do. All the things he was allowed to do were boring. All the things he was not allowed to do were exciting.
One of the things that he was NEVER NEVER allowed to do, the most exciting of them all, was to go through the garden gate all by himself and explore the world beyond".

Thus begins another adventurous tale spun by none other than the ace storyteller Roald Dahl whose imagination knows no bounds and who dares his readers to enter the magical worlds where anything and everything is possible .

So little Billy kept on looking at the garden gate longingly day after day, month after month, year after year but the lure of the world at the other side of the gate never mitigates in his mind. And one odd afternoon, a devil whispers in Billy's ears and instigates him to cross the garden gate to explore the lovely world that is alien to him. He makes Billy believe that there is no such thing as Hornswogglers and Snozzwanglers and Vermicious Knids and the Terrible Bloodsuckling Toothpuckling Stonechuckling Splitter about which Billy's mother often alarmed him.  Little Billy stops 'being good' and follows the advice of the devil whispering in his ears.  

He enters the forbidden forest and soon enough finds himself being chased by none other than the terrible snorting smoke-blowing, smelly breathed beast. Billy runs for his life and on finding a mysteriously low branch climbs on the tree and enters the world of green leaves and thick, smooth branches with no earth or sky in sight. As he rests there in peace for a while, he notices tiny little windows and doors opening up in the bark of the tree and many miniature faces staring at him.  He realizes that he is in an extraordinary strange world of tiny people who called themselves Minpins. Minpins had taken refuge in the hollows of the trees for the fear of Red-Hot Smoke-Belching Gruncher, who had grunched up hundreds of humans and millions of Minpins. They had special suction-boots which helped them walk up and down almost vertical branches without any trouble and the feathered birds were their friends and transporters with whom they had a beautiful symbiotic relationship.

But now with the fearsome Gruncher waiting for Billy under the tree how could Billy reach back home again? Can he help Minpins get rid of this Gruncher so that they enjoy their freedom once again? Read on to find that out.

The curtain draws on the adventurous story with these words - "Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most likely places. Those who dont believe in magic will never find it."

These words capture the essence of life and how it should be approached with open senses and mind to experience the wonders all around us. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Review : Desperate In Dubai

Title : Desperate in Dubai
Author : Ameera Al Hakawati
Publisher : Random House India
ISBN : 9788184001716

Desperate in Dubai is centered around the lives of four women protagonists. Each of these women have much to hide, little to reveal in the crazily diverse culture of Dubai. The author Ameera talks about many of the taboo subjects which usually do not come out of the cupboards especially when it is concerning Muslim women. She explores the lives of her heroines addressing the topics like - dating, love, secret marriages, drugs, alcohol, extra marital relationships and much more.

Lady Luxe has a rebellious streak in her disposition and she comes across as a person who loves walking on the razor edge of thrill, adventure and exploration. She manages enter the garb of a completely different person, usually for her nocturnal pursuits. She has inherited the business acumen of her Emirati father and is the potential heiress of the business empire. Lady Luxe's friend Leila thinks she has just a small age window left to find a suitable wealthy husband for herself. Nadia relocates to Dubai following the dream of her husband but it does not take her very long to realize that all her efforts were in vain. The last is Sugar who tries to push her past away by leaving the familiarity of UK behind and by trying to embrace the culture of Dubai.

Though apparently they all seem to belong to diverse backgrounds but as the stories progress, it becomes very clear that all of them are trying to be someone who they actually are not. And the main motive behind all this struggle is to get the illusive happiness either through defying norms, starting afresh or believing that having someone else would end the search finally.

Being a Muslim woman herself, I feel the author has dealt with the issues much more authentically and has also brought the right perspective to the proceedings. The habitual usage of hijab, prayer routine, religious symbols, mosques and such are entwined in the narrative without letting them hog the complete focus. The narrative has good dose of luxury which Dubai stands for. You will find mention of glamour, fancy brand names and luxury cars scattered throughout the narrative.  It is courageous on the part of the author to bring to the forefront the other side of Dubai's glittering picture. The book never attempts to be a literary masterpiece so readers should not expect it to be one. It is simply a breezy light read which gives a small peek into the lives of a set of people. 
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