Saturday, April 23, 2016

LearnNBlog #4: The Produnova Vault

18 April 2016 - Dipa Karmakar created history by becoming India's first ever female gymnast to qualify for the Olympics. In a country starved of non-cricketing sporting icons, she immediately became the toast of a nation. The very next day, Dipa won the gold in the Vault event of the qualifier. The first ever international gold for India in gymnastics.

How did she achieve this? By perfecting the "Produnova Vault". She is one of the five gymnasts who have successfully done the Produnova Vault. This has a difficulty score of 7.0, the highest difficulty level in gymnastics. The vault comprises of a handspring and two somersaults (i.e. turning twice over in the air) before landing on your feet.

Here is a video montage explaining the Produnova vault and depicting some of the gymnasts who have attempted it with varying degrees of success.

The Produnova vault is named after the Russian gymnast Yelena Produnova. Given the extremely difficult nature of the vault, there have also been calls to ban it from certain sections. There is great risk of the gymnast landing on her neck or spine and doing grave damage to it.

Dipa Karmakar has been executing the Produnova vault since the last couple of years in the international circuit. And she has the results to show for her efforts. Medals in the Commonwealth Games (2014) and Asian Games (2014), a fifth place finish in the World Championships (2015) and finally a gold in the Rio Qualifiers. What a story it would be for a country with almost no history of Gymnastics, if Dipa vaults her way to a medal at Rio.

More Readings
The Produnova Vault (Wikipedia)
Yelena Produnova (Wikipedia)
Dipa Karmakar (Wikipedia)
Should Produnova Vault be banned? (Blog 1, Blog 2)

More Videos
Indian Gymnast's Dangerous Leap for Success

Produnova doing the Produnova

Previously on LearnNBlog: Zentangles

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Drought & The Scapegoat

Maharashtra is reeling under severe drought. Many water bodies have dried up. People are forced to migrate due to lack of water. Special water trains are being run to ensure supply to the interiors.  Even Section 144 had to be imposed in some parts to prevent water riots (The Hindu)

While the situation is severe, here are some other events which have happened in the interim.

Exhibit A: IPL Matches to be moved out of Maharashtra, declares High Court (Indian Express).

Exhibit B: Tanker Water used to fill Ramkund pond in Nashik to enable pilgrims to have a holy dip. (Indian Express Article)

Why were IPL matches ordered to be shifted. Because the Courts "cannot act as a mute spectator and ignore the plight of the people". Because holding IPL matches consumes a lot of water which the state can ill afford in these drought like conditions. Interestingly, no comment was made whether grounds should be maintained during this time, as if water is not consumed on other days. In fact, grounds are not watered on the day of the game. So in a country which gives high value on tokenism, the ban on the matches was immediately hailed by many. Especially give that it was IPL, considered the source of all evil in the world according to some. We have in the meantime trivialized the entire drought situation by putting it up against a few IPL games.

On the other hand, water was brought in by tankers to fill the dried up Ramkund in Nashik so that pilgrims could have a holy dip. And there is no outrage at all for this waste. Or maybe given that it is a matter of religious beliefs, no one is raising any question. This is certainly more wasteful than the IPL which would have brought in some revenue to the state. Also given that the water was brought in from elsewhere, not sure how holy this dip would have been for those undertaking it.

Amidst all this outrage, where many sports pages have turned into editorial columns, the governments have managed to get a fig leaf to hide behind in this crisis. Even in the 21st century, it is a shame that we are still so heavily reliant on monsoons. Two successive below-par monsoons and we have severe drought. It does raise several questions.

  • Why can't our irrigation systems be improved?
  • What happened to the implementation of the river linking project?
  • Why can't we use sea water treatment like the middle eastern countries? Really shameful that coastal cities have to depend on monsoons for adequate water supply?
  • Why isn't rain-water harvesting being carried out at a bigger scale?
  • Is some of the drought artificial, created due to the nexus between politicians & tanker mafia
Till we find these answers we will continue to be at the mercy of the rain Gods and rely on the power of prayer, while finding convenient scapegoats (like IPL matches) to sacrifice.

A Game of Cricket underway in a dried up lake in Latur 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

LearnNBlog #3: Zentangles

What is a Zentangle?

Zentangles are a method of creating designs by drawing structured patterns. The art form was created by Maria Thomas & Rick Roberts.

Zentangles are created by making patterns on a small piece of paper roughly 3.5" side. These are called Zentangle tiles. The drawings are made free-hand without the aid of any instruments like straight edge or compass. Erasers are not to be used. Small patterns are used to fill in the larger blank spaces. The patterns are filled one stroke at a time. While most zentangles are black and white, colors can be added into the pattern if desired. It can be considered similar to doodling, though zentangles are bigger. Sometimes complex patterns can be built up by combining zentangles or through building up on a single one.

Zentangles are also considered as as self-help art therapy practice to enhance relaxation and focus. There are cetified Zentangle trainers. But these can be done without any training by using one's own imagination.
Sample Zentangle Images
Zentangle (Home Site)
How to make a Zentangle (WikiHow)
Maria Thomas & Rick Roberts' Zentangles (GoLocalWorcester)
Calm Down & Get Your Zentangle (Psychology Today)

Previously on LearnNBlog: Shell Company

Sunday, April 10, 2016

MovieNotes: The Jungle Book

Title: The Jungle Book (IMDB)
*ing: Neel Sethi (Actor) & Nana Patekar, Irrfan Khan, Om Puri, Priyanka Chopra, Shefali Shah (Voices)
Language: Hindi (dubbed)
Director: Jon Favreau
Genre: Fantasy, Action, Adventure

Basic Premise
A human boy, Mowgli, is raised in the wild by a pack of wolves. And he has to face-off against his arch-enemy Shere Khan with a little help from his friends.

The Jungle Book brings a full bag of nostalgia for those who have grown up in the 90s. The animated series was a staple part of our Sunday entertainment diet. And specially the title song "Jungle jungle baat chali hai, pata chala hai". So when the trailers came up a new version of the song that was enough to ensure a visit to the theatre.

The highlight of the movie is the depiction of the jungle. The CGI makes the jungle come alive and makes it the biggest character of the movie [Reminds me of the opening scenes of Life of Pi].

Some scenes are genuinely scary. No wonder our censor boards gave UA certificate to the movie. But that did not deter a large number of kids from attending the screenings.

The jungle has its own laws. And all animals follow the same. After all their biggest enemies are not the ones residing in the jungle but those who reside outside and wield the "red flower".  In times of drought everyone gets equal and safe access to the water --a stark contrast to the human world.

A key message: "The strength of a wolf lies in a pack and the strength of the pack lies in the wolf."

There are variations from Kipling's tale, which is not surprising given that it wasn't one story but rather a collection of stories. [Bookmarks - Jungle Book]. But couldn't stop comparing the story with the original tale.

Rating - 9/10. For bringing Kipling's tale of the jungle to life. Overall a fun watch, brimming with nostalgia. Although disappointed that the trailer song did not feature in the movie.

Previously on MovieNotes: Kung Fu Panda 3

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

LearnNBlog #2: Shell Company

On April 3, 2016, came to light, the Panama Leaks. Some 2.6 TB of data from a Panamian corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca had been anonymously provided to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. These documents, nearly 12 Million in number are being analysed and released to the public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The documents provide list of over two hundred thousand offshore corporations along with the identities of their directors. 

The list of names is a collection of the rich and the famous and the powerful from across the world. The initial names have already created a global storm. They are being accused of parking their money in tax havens through shell corporations and avoiding paying tax on their wealth. 

Now we come to the subject of today’s BlogNLearn. What are Shell Companies? 

A Shell Company is a non-trading company used as a vehicle for various financial manoeuvres or kept dormant for future use in some other capacity. These do not have any assets or operations of their own. Some shell companies are the remnants or "shells" of companies which have wound up operations. 

While shell companies are not illegal, they have been often used as vehicles for routing money illegally. Shell companies have been created to money laundering and tax evasion. Many a times they just a front, while the real owners remain hidden. Many shell companies have small offices just for address. Hence are also referred to as letterbox companies. These companies are mostly registered in offshore financial centres or tax havens. 

A Tax Haven is country with very low or zero taxes in certain regards. They also provide a great deal of financial secrecy. Thus attracting foreigners who do not want to have their money taxed in their own country at higher rates. Most of the tax havens are small countries and territories. Financial secrecy generates a lot of cash flow into the country without having to build any infrastructure.

The Panama papers have provided an explosive list of names, politicians, sports stars, business folks, movie stars. More names are expected to tumble out while the entire database is scanned. There could be large repercussions in some parts of the world (e.g. Iceland) while others would go about business-as-usual (e.g. Russia). Not all individuals named would have done something illegal. Although we have a tendency to paint everyone with the same brush. 

The papers do highlight the discrepancies which exist in taxation systems across the world and how some are able to exploit it for their benefit. Given the increased globalization, it does call for a more uniform financial systems across the world. Although something of this kind is unlikely to happen at one go. 

If the taxation systems across the world undergo reforms, maybe something good would have come out of the Panama papers leak.

Further Reads 
The Panama Papers (ICIJWikipedia & The Guardian)
How assets are hidden & taxes dodged (BBC
Shell Corporation (Wikipedia
Tax Haven (Wikipedia

Previously on LearnNBlog: Fermat’s Last Theorem

Sunday, April 03, 2016

MovieNotes: Kung Fu Panda 3

Title: Kung Fu Panda 3
*ing: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Bryan Cranston, JK Simmons (all voices)
Language: English
Director: Alessandro Carolini, Jennifer Yuh
Genre: Animation, Martial Arts, China

Basic Premise
In the 3rd installment of the Kung Fu Panda series, we have Po, the Dragon Warrior, having to fight against Kai, who has returned from the spirit realm after having acquired the "chi" of many Kung Fu masters in the spirit and mortal realms. Meanwhile Po has to face a couple of challenges of his own. He needs to become a teacher as Master Shifu is retiring, while he meets up with his real family of Pandas. Together they conquer Kai.

There is an element of sameness in the 3rd installment of the Kung Fu Panda Series, which first hit the screens in 2008. We see Po, more self-confident, yet having doubts about his abilities to face the new challenges. And in the end, Po learns new abilities through his own self-belief and comes out a winner, also increasing Master Shifu's frustrations.

The movie-makers thought that if one cute panda can rake in the millions, wonder what would happen if there was a whole village full of them. So we have pandas in all sizes who are all learning Kung Fu together. If ever there is something called cuteness overdose, this movie is it.

We can't get tired off Po's one-liners. Specially the ones where he begins explaining his line. 

There are many references to the previous two installments in this laugh-riot. Yet, amidst all the hilarity they manage to throw in few life lessons. After all, the biggest question in life is "Who are you?". Quite a big question for a children's movie.

Very surprised that the makers delayed the India release for nearly two months. After all, most franchisee movies get an immediate India release these days. Apparently three more sequels are in the offing. It is fast becoming another of the Hollywood cash-grabs now.

Rating: 7/10. Fun but repetitive. Gives a deja vu feeling of having seen the movie before.

Previously on MovieNotes - Airlift