Thursday, January 28, 2016

Pluto's Big Brother

Till January 20th, Mike Brown was a massive hate figure. He was the badass astronomer with the twitter handle @plutokiller who got universally booed for reducing our beloved Pluto into an impotent snowball by questioning its very right to be called a planet. Having caused a cosmic uproar, he decided to make amends by discovering Planet Nine with 29-year-old astrophysicist Konstanin Batygin. And what a giant discovery it has turned out to be!

Planet Nine has 10 times the mass of Earth and despite being so huge, the big fella’s got very little gravitational influence on Earth because it’s located far, far away from the sun – at least 250 times the distance between Earth and Sun!

The thing that’s got everyone excited is the obvious question that’s posed when a new-born arrives with a big bang: “So what are we gonna call it?” Mike Brown’s 10-year-old daughter Lilah is already calling it Planet Lilah. Given the godzilla-esque proportions, Mike and Konstanin are informally referring to it as ‘Fatty’. Most researchers are using the placeholder name ‘George’. But the International Astronomical Union (IAU) is in no hurry as the planet might take at least 5 years to get sighted by a half-decent telescope.

But that hasn’t deterred anyone from voicing their suggestions. Some want to call it ‘Mickey’ after Mickey Mouse as Pluto is Mickey’s pet dog in the Disney series. David Bowie fans want it named ‘Bowie’ but that’s a really long shot as the convention is to name space oddities after Roman or Greek mythology characters.

Given this constraint, the list has narrowed down to: ‘Terminus’, the Roman god of borders; ‘Vulcan’, the Roman god of fire; ‘Bacchus’, the Roman god of agriculture and wine; ‘Nyx’, the Greek goddess of the night; ‘Ulysses’, the Greek hero of Homer’s Illiad; ‘Apollo’, the Greek god of light; and ‘Minerva’, the Greek goddess of wisdom.

There have been a few wild card entries. One smart aleck wants the name to change every year to raise megabucks from corporations. One year it could be, ‘Planet Swoosh’, the next, ‘Steve Jobs Was Here’, and then ‘Windows 9’, and so on. Pluto sympathisers feel it’s a sequel after all. Therefore, ‘Plutwo’ should suffice. If you ask me, I’d say, why not a Hindu mythology moniker? Why not ‘Bheem’? That way, future Star Trekkers could go, “Bheem me up, Scotty!”

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Fundoo & Funded

Start-ups must be the most envied corporate beasts. They get tax holidays. Ten thousand crores of funds from the government. Wall-to-wall coverage from the pink papers. Get celebrated for not making a rupee. And enjoy astronomical valuations for manufacturing nothing.

Sour grapes aside, for every unworthy billion dollar unicorn, there’s a start-up somewhere, working quietly to be a game changer fuelled by just sweat, spunk and spirit. It’s time we focused on them rather than the much ballyhooed Snapdeals and the Flipkarts. I’ve put together a nifty A to Z list in case you decide to punt a million bucks on these dark horses:

‘Airwoot’ specialises in listening to social media conversations and presenting the hot button issues to brands before they spiral out of control. The deliciously-named ‘Better Butter’ is a social discovery platform for ghar ka recipes from across India. ‘Culture Alley’ teaches English, Mandarin, Spanish and Portuguese using news articles, games and daily quizzes. ‘Delhivery’ is the last-mile logistics delivery firm for many e-commerce ventures and small merchants. ‘Embibe’ is the online test preparation coach that students will love as the site quantifies the weaknesses and deficiencies, and aims to improve scores using analytics and technology. ‘Faircent’ is the bridge that connects lenders and borrowers and promotes peer-to-peer lending.

‘Greenlight’ is into spreading the light of rural energy in off-grid villages by evangelising the use of solar lamps. ‘HereNow’ is the equivalent of a neighborhood bulletin board where you can exchange news and views relevant to your locality. ‘Inshorts’ serves news in 60 words for the generation with woefully short attention spans. ‘Joe Hukum’ is your valet to get things done - from ordering pasta to cleaning dishes to fixing leaks. ‘Kratos’ is the mobile ad network aiming to deliver better bang for the buck through better targeting. ‘Lybrate’ lets you take second opinions from doctors through online chats, telephone calls and in some cases, they even arrange a home visit. ‘MapMyGenome’ is a new-gen diagnostics company that uses genetic tests for proactively guiding you on your health. ‘NextDrop’ can amazingly track and solve water problems by connecting users with the municipality technicians.

‘Qyk’ is the mobile google for professional help. With a track record of developing over 1400 apps, that too in Udupi, ‘Robosoft’ is clearly the app-maker to watch. ‘SilverPush’ is in the realm of making ad measurement in idiot boxes, smarter. ‘Truly Madly’ is a dating app that turns singles into un-singles. ‘Unobitcoin’ is into helping you buy and trade in the currency of the future. ‘Wishberry’ breathes life into creative projects by leveraging the power of crowd funding. And finally, ‘Zoomcar’ is the self-drive car rentals venture that propagates the freedom of four-wheels. With such an impressive line-up, Start-up India doesn’t look like one more big bubble.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Sounds like a winner

I love reading movie subtitles. While everyone else surrenders to the overpowering imagery and the sensory delights of the unfolding plot, my eyes prefer to soak in the poetry of the written word. I particularly relish the sound descriptions that set the tone for things to come.

When the lift bell dings, when the wind howls, when the leaves rustle, when the footsteps go clickety-clack, when the shotgun is cocked with a schklikt, and bullets fly all around rat-a-tat-tat, an opera of onomatopoeias play out on the screen!

In case ‘onomatopoeia’ felt like an immensely forgettable entry from the Barron’s GRE Word List, it’s Greek for ‘name-making’ and in plain English it cues ‘a word that mimics a sound associated with the action designated’. Comic books are full of it. Who can forget the ‘Badaboom’ explosion, the ‘Thith-thith-thith’ helicopter whirr, and the perfect punch ‘Kapow’?

Onomatopoeias have been around since eternity. The Sanskrit ‘Om’ is considered one. The Tamil crow (‘Kaka’) is simply an echo of the bird sound. Our own Bollywood ‘Dishoom’ is of recent vintage. Even our daily lingo is replete with written sounds: ‘Tuk Tuk’ for auto, ‘khat-khat’ for knocking, ‘tick-tock’ for the flow of time, ‘padapadppu’ for palpitation, ‘chomp chomp’ for munching, and ‘pitter-patter’ for rain.

Children love repetition. That’s probably why onomatopoeias are used as a memory device in making them remember rhymes. If you recollect ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’, the moo-moos, the quack-quacks and the oink-oinks will be embedded in your mind as if you learnt it yesterday.

The obvious attraction of catchiness has made onomatopoeias the go-to literary device for most name smiths. When ‘Refreshing Mints’ wanted some zing in their name, they rechristened the brand as ‘Tic Tac’ after the distinctive clicking sound that the pack makes when it’s opened and closed.

When Noah Glass was looking to name his killer creation, he considered Friendstalker and Twitch before zeroing in on Twitter, derived from how birds go ‘tweet-tweet’. Microsoft’s search engine ‘Bing’ was launched by pitching the name as the ‘sound of found’. The humble hawai chappals are internationally known as ‘flip-flops’ after the noise that the rubber soles make when they slap against your feet!

So if you want your cash registers to go ‘ka-ching’, maybe it’s time to opt for a ‘Boing Boing’!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

That’s a new one!

When billions of people have millions of things to convey, even six hundred thousand words in the Oxford English Dictionary may seem woefully inadequate. Which is why, neologisms are minted every year to keep pace with our thoughts.

2015 saw many new words take the world by storm. The practice of using drones to deliver packages was brought to light by Amazon. But DHL went a step further and actually deployed it by labelling the service as ‘Parcelcopter’. The name has fast emerged as the category descriptor.

Another word with immense utility is the Mx honorific. Although coined in the 1970s, the gender-neutral title gained currency as Mr, Miss, Mrs or Ms wasn’t doing the job for transsexuals, cross dressers, gays and lesbians. By extension, one can state that the gender-neutral pronouns would be Xe (instead of he/she), Xyr (for her/their), and Xym (for him/them).

An acronym that’s gotten popular is FOGO (Fear of Going Out). It’s the uneasy feeling anti-socials experience when their friends call them out for a lunch, dinner or hang out session. I can confess, I get FOGO, all the time.

The noun ‘manspreading’ is something most males will relate with. It’s the habit of sitting in public transport with legs wide apart. Another masculine word is ‘lumbersexual’. It’s a reference to young urban men who cultivate the appearance of a rugged outdoor person by sporting a beard and looking neatly unkempt.

Tiger Moms of the eighties have given way to Helicopter and Lawn Mower Parents. Helicopter parenting involves hovering over children and constantly worrying about them while the Lawn Mower types actually smoothen the path by eliminating all the hurdles thereby creating spoilt brats!

The digital overload of mindless whatsapping, facebooking, tweeting and youtubing has created a new kind of beast called the ‘Disconnectionist’. Basically it cues a person who believes in shutting down all devices and focuses on opening up to oneself. Another appropriate coinage is ‘Dumbwalking’. It’s the zombie-like walk of someone who has lost his attention to a smartphone.

Booze lovers will relish ‘Wine O’Clock’. It’s the time of the day when you start wetting your lips. Foodies will concur with the thinking behind ‘Hangry’. It’s the state of being so hungry that you become angry. Urban Dictionary has a lot more of these creations. Till you visit the site and find out for yourself, I won’t breathe a word!