Saturday, October 22, 2011

It's official folks, we're a 7 billion strong family now

Many population based maps are available at this forum.

World Map (country size based on population figure) 
India Map (based on population figures), physical map given in faint outline.

Rajasthan, Gujarat, J&K, Uttranchal and most of the North East have shrunk drastically, whereas the metros have swelled up to hundreds of time of their physical size. Uttar Pradesh too has assumed a monstrous size.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Yukaghir girl writes a love letter / Semasiographic and Glottographic writing systems

A Yukaghir girl in love with a Yukaghir boy wrote him a letter. The Yukaghir are a North Eastern Siberian tribe who live by hunting and fishing. The letter is given below. This image constitutes the complete letter. Any guesses as to what it says?

A bit tough  to understand, isn' t it? The first I came across this letter, I couldn't understand any of it; in fact I only saw it as a drawing. But it is a letter indeed and what follows below is the explanation. I have highlighted the parts using various colours and then broken down the sequence of events into 9 frames only to explain the chain of thought. The actual letter is just the one colourless image shown above.

1. The writer of the letter, the Yukaghir girl, is the tree shape in Blue. We know she is a girl because she has plaited hair.

2.  The girl is in love with a Yukaghir boy, another tree shape, in Green. He is a boy as he doesn't have plaited hair. The letter is addressed to him.

3. The Yukaghir girl writes that she and the boy loved each other and this is depicted by the intermingling of their thoughts just above their tree point heads.

 4. The girl further writes that now the boy has left her for another girl, a Russian girl and started living with this Russian girl. The Russian girl is shown to the left of the boy in Red and they are shown together living under one roof (a step pyramid/tent-like structure over their heads). The Russian are ethnically, socially and culturally completely different from the Yukaghir and the writer shows this by drawing panniers on the Russian girl's skirts (which are absent from her own Yukaghir skirt). The Russian girl of course also has plaited hair as she too, is a girl.

5. The Yukaghir girl tells the  boy that the Russian girl has destroyed the relationship the Yukaghir boy and girl had earlier. This is depicted by the Russian girl's thoughts emanating from her head and cutting through the thoughts / love shared by the Yukaghir boy and girl earlier shown in figure 1.

 6. However the girl knows that all is not well between the Yukaghir boy and his Russian girl friend. This tension is depicted by crosses between the heads of the Yukaghir boy and Russian girl, highlighted in Red.

7. The girl also informs the boy that she is alone in her house and she is sad. Her sad state of mind is shown by the crosses drawn behind her own head. But she tells him that she still often thinks about him and wants to be with him. Her thoughts (shown emanating from her head in Blue) are still.... sort of....drifting towards him.

8. However there has been a development. She tells the boy that now another Yukaghir boy has started making advances towards her. These are shown by a rather persistent and focused squiggly emanating out of this new boy's head towards the girl.

9. The girl finally lets her ex lover know that if he wants to get back with her he should move immediately, before she gives into the advances made by the new Yukaghir boy and before her ex lover has children with the Russian girl. Two children are shown on the extreme left moving into the house of the Russian girl and the Yukaghir boy.

And so this is the interpreation of this love letter written by a grieving Yukaghir girl to her ex lover.

Amazing isn't it. Suddenly the letter seems so clear after the explanation. This letter is an example of a semasiographic system of writing. Semasiographic writing is when the writing/drawing represents the idea itself rather than any spoken words ie speech. The spoken words which are used everyday by the reader and the writer to communicate are not recorded in the written communication. The idea is recorded.

Actually we all deal with semasiographic writing everyday. Here are some examples:


Yup, these and many more semasiographic writings live all over our glottographic world. It is said that written mathematics is a very pure form of semasiographic writing.

Semasiographs are not the same as pictures. They are very much language based communication and are fluid in the sense that they can depict tenses and are very precise in interpretation to those who know how to read them, unlike pictures which are frozen and hence perhaps timeless and are also open to subjective interpretation. But most importantly any person using a semasiographic system will have to represent the same idea in the same way. handwriting differences notwithstanding. Whereas in a picture, there are many different ways to drawing the same idea, eg. a woman sitting next to a tree. This can be drawn in many different highly divergent ways. But the Yukaghir people must write the letter above in the same way. Here in lies the greatest difference between semasiographs and pictures.

This is an example of a picture. Perhaps a grieving lover draws this picture and sends to the one she grieves for. Or perhaps not. She may just be sleeping next to a tree. It is a painting.

However this is clear written semasiographic communication. It's a letter, not a pciture. Those familiar with the Yukaghir language know how to read this letter. Every Yukaghir who wants to represent the idea of this letter in writing will have to write the same letter. 

In both cases an idea is communicated. Both the painting and the semasiographic letter can be very precise if need be. But the two should not be confused.

Now the more prevalent writing system in today's world is not semasiographic but glottographic.This blog post is in English, which is an example of a glottographic system of writing. In a glottographic system the idea is not directly recorded in the communication. The spoken words which represent the idea are directly recorded. The idea to be communicated is not directly shown. Rather the written "speech" has to be read and then the idea becomes apparent. The Yukaghir people have actually now adopted the Cyrillic / Russian script for their languages after the Russification of North Eastern Siberia. Hence the Yukaghir languages have moved from a semasiographic system to a glottographic system of writing.

Obviously both semasiographic and glottographic systems have their respective advantages and disadvantages. Road signs, washing instructions, mathematics all if translated into glottographic writing would become extremely cumbersome and unwieldy. I think I would use neither exclusively if I had a choice. Both could be used in combination or different ones for different languages. That would be fun. And terribly confusing perhaps.In both the semasiographic system and the glottographic system, the writing, the language and the idea are being coded seamlessly and continuously but in different ways.

I came across this Yukaghir letter in a fantastic book on scripts called Writing Systems by Geoffery Sampson. It is a great book and I can re-read it many times. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in scripts and perhaps also in linguistics. Most of the ideas for this blog post have come to me directly from the 2nd chapter of this book. I think I love scripts even more than I love languages. I wished to write a much longer post but I am sure it too would have joined my list of long dead unfinished posts. Perhaps one day I will write on the symbiotic world of scripts and languages as well. God willing.

Know More:

Writing Systems by Geoffery Sampson
The Yukaghir
A study of writing by Ignace Gelb

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Who is most fierce animal?

"Qual è il più feroce degli animali?" chiese allora il Poeta. "L'uomo."
"Domandalo a te stesso..."

Baudolino by Umberto Eco

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

82 prints of Los Desastres de la Guerra by Goya on an aimless Monday evening

Ultimately it was the faces. Just one look at the faces and I knew Goya had touched me deeply. He had made me feel the pain. The physical and mental pain of war. And the sheer futility. A waste.

I knew nothing of Goya before seeing this exhibition. I had ofcourse seen his famous work, The Shootings of May 3rd 1808. But I knew nothing of him, his style, his world. I had read some bits on the Penensular War in War and Peace but that was it. Then one aimless Monday evening I chanced upon an exhibition on a series of war prints by Goya. Goya, a Spaniard, was asked by a Spainish general to witness, and preserve in art, the attrocities being commited by Napoleon's troops in the cities of Zaragoza and Madrid during the Penensular War of 1808-1814. Goya went to the battlfields and the seiges and diligently, often in grave danger or under the protective cover of darkness, sketched out the scenes of agony and human suffering being played out before him. The outcome: a series of 82 prints called Desastres de la Guerra (Disasters of War).
I think each of the 82 prints influenced me immensely. The time I spent amongst them wasn't enough at all. I could look at these engravings over and over again; sometimes looking at Goya's excellent shading technique and his use of dark and light to highlight and conceal, at other times his forceful framing and  composition, and at other times just be lost in those scenes, feeling them, living them. Overwhelming.

The prints themselves are actually etchings/engravings called Aquatints.It think this is a great medium and coupled with Goya's mastery of technique makes for the perfect represtation of such a dark subject. Very effective.

If I was absolutely forced to pick 5 from the 82 prints which influenced me the most, these would be the prints I would select:

I have found a new favourite artist and also images which will always stay in my mind.

Know More:
The exhibition at the Instituo Cervantes - Click here
Goya  and the Desastres de la Guerra
The entire series of Los Desastres de la Guerra, in the correct sepia tone
Penensular War: Spain Vs. Napoleon

Friday, May 20, 2011

Google Search Globe: some observations

Google Search Globe is available here

Google Search Globe  provides daily statistics on which parts of the globe search in which language and in how much volume. I choose to see Search Globe as a great interactive 3D globe which gives insights into which languages are dominant in which parts of the world for online searches.  Quite fun moving the World around. Needs WebGL in your browser.

Some observations on Google Search Globe:

  • India searches only in English on apparently. 
  • Amongst the Indian cities Delhi uses the most, followed by Bombay, Bangalore, Madras, Pune, Hyderabad and then Calcutta.
  • Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Kolkotta do not exist
  • Bangkok (??), Jakarta (???) and Istanbul (?????) search more than any Indian city
  • Singapore searches in English and a bit in Chinese, Hong Kong in Chinese mostly.
  • All of South America uses Spanish except Brazil which uses Portuguese. Though West Indies uses Spanish, English and Portuguese.
  • Despite Spanish being the second most spoken language in the USA, all the searches from the USA are in English.
  • A lot of people somewhere on the USA-Canada border near Montana do not use English (but which language do they use? can't be French, too far from France and Quebec)
  • Canada uses English though Quebec uses French (ugh!).
  • Egypt is all about the Nile
  • Most (net-connected Australians live on the East coast.
  • Polynesia searches :)
  • Atlantis still chooses to remain hidden from the rest of the world.
  • One or more of these: population, internet access, preference for are so low in Central Asia and Iran that the region appears almost uninhabited.
  • Surprisingly UAE and Qatar perform a majority of their searches in English (expats perhaps), though predictably Saudi, Yemen, Kuwait and Egypt use Arabic.
  • Sadly, Modern European Languages have completely killed of all Western European regional languages (Basque, Piedmontese, Langue d'Oc etc) in terms of net usage at least.
  • Werewolves and vampires inhabit Transylvania (and Manhattan).
  • North Korea, Tibet, Siberia, Sahara, Congo don't care much for the internet.
  • Both Arctic and Antarctic Penguins happily agree to eschew all things net and Google.
  • Highest search volumes originate from USA, Europe, and South America
  • The filthy human race has spread to almost all parts of the planet Earth.
  • I have much to travel.

More info on Google Search Globe here

I really like WebGL, it is a beautiful way to interact with 3D content through one's browser, without the need to install any softwares other than a decent browser. One can explore the human anatomy, the World' geography, play 3D games, interpret 3D data and what not. Some more wonderful WebGL applications by Google are available here

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Luck and Love

The debutante smiled and said "Oh I just can't decide and do you really thing someone would want to get married to me. I hope I am lucky enough to find the love of my life."

The weary old magistrate instinctively reached for something in the inner pocket of his dinner jacket but stopped. He was silent and staring, at nothing. Then he smiled, took another slip of the wine and said "I hope you are lucky enough for the love of your life to know that he is the love of your life and lucky enough for him to love you back as much."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Map of Names of Recent Revolutions - Jasmine Revolution

I am forever in love with maps. While doing a little research about why the revolution in the Arab world is called the "Jasmine Revolution" I realized that in recent years many revolutions have often been given non-political, non-personal names. So I decided to make a map out of this knowledge of names of recent revolutions. 

Libya and Syria are now included in this map. As of today, the 9th of April 2011, the date of the revision of this map, Muammar Gaddafi and the revolutionaries are still fighting each other in Libya and no negotiations have been started. Last night I did listen to a senior ex-Gaddafi minister on Hard Talk who was confident that Gaddafi is not going to be able to hold out much longer and the revolution in Libya will be successful. The NATO-led coalition is still fighting against Gaddafi's mercenaries.

Meanwhile in Syria 20 protesters more were killed in Dera in their struggle to overthrow President Bashar Al Assad. No progress there either. Each promise for reform made by President Bashar Al Assad is followed by a fresh wave of violence against the protesters. It's almost as if a promise made is a clear hint towards fresh retribution. So Syria is still in a revolutionary limbo as of now. Though the situation could change.

The revolutions and their names shown in this map chronologically are:
1. Carnation Revolution, Portugal 1974
2. Velvet Revolution, Czechoslovakia and USSR 1989
3. Rose Revolution, Georgia 2003
4. Orange Revolution, Ukraine 2004
5. Tulip Revolution, Kyrgyzstan 2005
6. Jasmine Revolution, Arab World 2010-2011

The Jasmine Revolution is a term specifically for the Tunisian events and I don't think the protests and unrest taking place at various hot-spots in the Arab World have all been clubbed under the umbrella term Jasmine revolution as yet. However it was Mohamed Bouazizi's sacrifice which sparked the domino effect in Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen and Egypt. The tremors are being felt all over the region and in certain Asian regimes as well.

I hope that the Arab people find themselves in a much better position once their struggle is successful. I also hope that peace comes to these people soon.

Click on the map to view a larger image.

I may have missed some other names of revolutions and I would like to know about these if this is the case.

Feel free to use this map for any purpose you like, just link back here / give credit. Email me for bigger file size or other file formats (pdf,gif,png etcetera)


Everything I want to write has already been written
Every scene I want to scribe has already been put on the easel
Every hint of an emotion I want to feel has already been experienced
Everything I want to hold back has already been left unsaid