Anecdotes of Europe #3: Story of a Knife

This story is about a knife.

I visited Switzerland pretty early during my summer stay in Germany in 2011. I have friends there with whom I stayed. When I was about to return by train, my friend Alex who had come to see me off  went into a tourist shop with me in the station as I bought a few little souvenirs. This is frankly the last type of place where you should buy things, because they are targeted towards tourists with money to spend on junk trinkets. But what the hell, I was pretty late and I wanted something. So I bought a few things (including a red T-shirt with a proud Swiss flag and ‘Suisse’ written across the chest, and which upon subsequent investigation revealed a tiny ‘Made in Bangladesh’ tag), and then my gaze fell on something that I just had to buy. Of course, it was a Swiss army knife. My birthday had been just a couple of days ago, so Alex became wonderful and said he’d pay for it as a gift. I was overjoyed.

On the way back, I started to completely drool over it and took a photo of it in the train. So here it is:

IMG_1389

After I returned to Germany, though, and had taken a better look at it, I was a little unsure of exactly how sharp it was. I couldn’t immediately think of anything to try the blades on. If you own a Victorinox, that is of course not a feeling you want to have about it. You want to feel content.

Anyway, on my next trip a week later with a friend named Vishal, probably to Italy, I took the knife along.

Sitting across the aisle on the train was a wiry woman who I didn’t like the sight of very much. Yes, just because of the way she looked. She was thin, wiry, had sunken eyes and thinning hair, and looked on the whole pretty sinister to me.

So on the train I pulled out the knife, of course.

If you are imagining that this caused some panic or distress among the passengers, no, that’s not how this story goes.

I pulled out the knife to show it off to Vishal. He took it in his hand, and I started to say, pretty proudly, ‘Be careful. This is very sharp stuff, man. Don’t cut yourself.’

Vishal was very impressed with the whole thing, you know, how cool and outdoorsy it is to have a Swiss army knife with you. And I was radiating tangible awesomeness as I took it back from him.

A couple of blades were open, and I started to close them.

Do you know how this closing works? The blades resist your closing for some of the way, then at a critical angle it suddenly snaps close. As this happened with one of the blades, my finger pressing behind it followed along with the blade, and landed smack on the cutting edge of another blade that was open.

I watched as blood started to flow immediately from a beautiful, long cut.

I remember the next thing that happened: my lips bent involuntarily into a serene, pristine smile, watching the accumulating blood.

This shit is sharp, I thought.

Vishal was visibly distraught. I was, too, now, realizing how stupid this was looking. I needed to stop the bleeding and the dripping and all the red nonsense somehow. Red is too bright a colour in a train full of people like that.

I pulled out some tissues that had come with some McDonald’s stuff I had packed along, and started dabbing my finger on them. I could not dab the tissue on my finger because it was too much blood, so I just had to lay the tissue on the seat and dab my finger at different spots, letting gravity do its job.

It was a pretty long cut, and the blood just kept flowing. In a few minutes, the tissue had become this:

IMG_1557

At this time, an Italian train attendant of some kind arrived in our compartment, to check the tickets or perhaps he was just going through, I can’t remember which.

I was worried now, and embarrassed to a far greater extent, and I asked this guy if I could have some first aid. People were looking at me now.

He looked blankly at my cut (it was just starting to look scary at this point), and shrugged and said there’s nothing he could do, and went on his way. Italians are rude, I thought. I had got too used to German politeness.

I was hating to touch the tissue by then; it was starting to remind me of a, well, you know what. But given the options, I decided that I’d have to resort to keep dabbing my finger on it until the bleeding stopped. This looked like first class idiocy now.

Suddenly, this wiry, sinister woman, who had observed the exchange with the attendant, called me across the aisle, and said that she had some band-aid with her.

She rummaged through her purse, pulled out a band-aid and gave it to me. I was immediately so sorry and grateful to her that I showered her with profuse thankfulness as I accepted it.

So the band-aid went on the finger, and the rest of the journey was uneventful. Except that I made a fierce mental note in my head, Looks-based impression: 0, band-aid-based impression: 1.

 

The other half of this story of the knife happened on my way back to India. This is a sad story about the loss of the knife actually. And there are three people who are responsible for it, to be revealed in chronological order.

When I had packed my bags for India, I had suddenly become too moronic to suspect that Swiss army knives would not be allowed in the cabin baggage. So it arrived in Hamburg airport happily nestled in my backpack, oblivious yet of its impending fate. I, therefore, was the first of the three persons responsible.

As I checked in to get my boarding pass, I met the second person responsible for the sad parting: the woman at the counter.

She was a thin, old-ish woman with pale hair. As I was putting my suitcase on the belt for the registered luggage, she told me that I’d have to get rid of all the previous airplane tags. She tried tearing them by hand, but it wouldn’t tear. I tried it, and I couldn’t tear any either. Then I remembered the knife. I told her, just one moment, and with one elegant flourish, I brought out the knife from my bag and snapped open the scissors in it, and got to cutting the tags away.

A sensible counter person would at the sight of this have gone into a wild-eyed tantrum, shrieking like a love-crazed yeti at me to put the knife away in the registered luggage.

You know what she did? She went completely gaga over my effusing superhuman coolness and watched me and my unbearably awesome army knife go at the baggage tags like some starry-eyed, giggly high school crush.

happy-oh-stop-it-you[1]

And this is why she was the second responsible person. If I were sorting these people instead in terms of their contribution to the misfortune, she would lead hands down.

I checked in my registered luggage, popped the knife back into my backpack and got on the flight. Nobody stopped me even at the cabin baggage check.

Oh wait, actually they did. It was because I had some liquid with me. I think it was a face wash gel which I had to throw away. Then they said I have more liquid. It was a bottle of water, and they said to throw it too, but I had memories associated with the bottle (that’s me), so I asked them if I could just drain the water, which they allowed. So I actually left all my stuff at that checking, strolled out of the airport, found a trash, drained the water and came back. But I remembered this little part mostly positively, because the girl who was requesting me to get rid of all these was very sweet and apologetic and she seriously asked me if I had been in the US for long (I had a serious American accent on throughout my Europe stay).

Anyway, back to the story.

My flight wasn’t a straight one to India. It was a cheap (the cheapest I could find) Aeroflot flight that connected through Sheremetyevo, Moscow. Suffice it to say that

a. There was another check of the cabin baggage there, and

b. Russians are more careful.

 

So I’m wearing my shoes after the security pat-down when this beefy, stern looking security woman watching the scans of the bags tells me that I have a knife, and I must take it out. She is, of course, the third person.

For a moment I don’t know what she is talking about, then I remember. And I think, aghast, no, not like this.
I gingerly bring out my Swiss army knife. She unceremoniously puts it to her side and tells me to move on.

You know what happens when an Indian suddenly faces the inexorable hand of fate like this? (There’s a pun here with face and hand. It’s called a slap. It’s what fate usually does to you.)

We reset to our default Indian bargaining mode.

I ask her if it is not allowed. She says it is not. Then I ask her with please. She said there is no way that knife is allowed in the cabin.

I think of a last-ditch try, although in my head it sounded really lame. This is your last chance anyway, I told myself. Then I looked up at her and blurted out: ‘But it was a birthday gift! From a friend!’

She did not even look up as she repeated the same thing. I think she was starting to think now that maybe I had some serious terrorist ideas.

I walked slowly away from the checking, gazing longingly at my Swiss army knife, knowing it was the last I would ever see of it.

 

Epilogue

My friends from Switzerland visited us later the following year in India, and I had told them of the unfortunate story and told Alex to bring another Swiss army knife, a better one, for which I would pay. He brought it, and I have it now, and it’s awesome and sharp and cutting-edge technology. I don’t test it on myself any more though.

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Explorer

index_01[1]

Are you there yet?

Have you reached the stratosphere?

Look out, look out of your porthole

Tell me what you see

 

Is your space capsule given up

to the beautiful rolling blanket of stars

Is there peace

Or just handfuls of cold emptiness

To betray our quiet dreams of growing up

 

Is there peace, explorer

Can you bring back a sample

They put us on the blue one, we made it to the grey

Stop and watch the blue one now

gets redder every day

 

Do I care any more what sense I make to them

Just my footsteps echo in the landing crater

And a universe of hope

Looking up at the rise

Of our great majestic blue

Against a starfield of aeons

 

Just this one time, explorer

Turn off your cabin lights and listen to my voice

Interrupt your sequence and look out the porthole

 

Is there a different beauty there, a different truth

Or are you going away through hallways of starlight

 

Explorer, do you copy?

 

photo c/o Jeremy Geddes

Flickr photo view counts: an elementary analysis

I was taking a casual look at the number of views on my flickr photos, when I noticed something that should not appear very surprising: view counts are low for the first few days, then gradually grew to a higher region (around 100 for me). This idea came to me to actually plot the view counts of the photos against the number of days they had been online, to visualize the trend. So I did it using Excel. You just need to enter the date of upload and the current date into date-formatted cells, and then the usual subtraction command happily gives you the number of days between those dates, so that was pretty easy. Here’s the result from my rather limited dataset of 33 photos:

image

There are some statutory notes before drawing any conclusion from this graph. One is that not all photos grab the same attention. Some are better than others, and will digress from a trendline decided simply by the number of days passed, like the highest point in this chart, which is, according to me, the best photo I have posted to flickr so far. It is not expected therefore that a graph like this should show a smooth pattern because there are other factors that affect views, like its quality, and how well it was shared and publicized through various social media etc. Also, as I slowly gather contacts and people who follow my photostream and watch for my uploads, I’ll expect new uploads to get more attention than another of the same quality did in the past.

Even keeping all these in mind, though, there seems to be some degree of rise in this pretty scattered graph. The linear correlation coefficient (although I don’t expect the correlation to be linear) is around 0.39. That’s about a third of the way upwards from totally random. Extending that observation, if I imagine a statistically averaged trendline over many photos of different qualities and different degrees of online publicity, i.e. I want to think only of the effect of days passed, several properties of such a trendline curve logically come to my mind:

  • It shall start from the origin.
  • It shall be monotonically increasing, of course. Photos cannot be unviewed once they’ve been viewed.

Wait, did you fall for that second one? Because I’d be surprised if you didn’t. I fell for that myself, until just some time back when I relented to humor a tiny splinter in my brain that was groaning against this argument ever since I thought about it. The groaning ensued from memories of a related puzzler in ensemble averages that I had encountered in Statistical Mechanics once, and eventually turned out to be quite legit.

The truth is, there’s actually no reason why that averaged curve should necessarily be monotonically increasing. Why? Well, a point on that curve has a certain x-coordinate, and so corresponds to the average over all photos that are a certain number of days old. Another point, with a different x-coordinate, is an average over a different (and completely mutually disjoint) population of photos. And while the average view count of a fixed set of photos must necessarily go up with time (each view count goes up, so sum goes up, so average goes up), nothing can be said of a comparison between view counts of two disjoint sets of photos at different points of time. It might very well be that the photos you posted five years ago have never received the limelight so long that your now awesomely professional photos have hogged in just a few months. Thus, the averaged curve may at times even drop with increasing online age. Which, in fact, my scatter plot seems to indicate to some degree.

Thus, while a time series plot with gradually falling y-coordinates (where this coordinate means something good, like views) is in almost all cases bad news, now I know that in this case it is a most enviable sign of growing reputation.

So we must strike out that second property. On to the next:

  • There will be an initial spike in views as the photo is uploaded and the ripples spread through flickr to your contacts, to other pages, and possibly through linked accounts to other sites. This means a higher slope near the beginning, which decays eventually at a rate that I don’t know anything about at the moment, except that it will probably be of the order of a couple of days.
  • In the long run, when these transient effects have decayed out, the only thing that keeps view counts going up is the fixed background rate at which people chance upon your photos on flickr. I don’t know what this rate is. But whatever it is, barring the reputation effect I mentioned, it can be assumed to be fixed for a flickr profile, unchanging in time. In real life though, it rises when you gather more contacts, increasing the audience that can discover your photos by some avenue. It’s in no way a negligible effect. Reputation and recognition matter. In fact, that’s finally what most people on flickr and elsewhere are striving for. But ignoring that effect, asymptotically the trendline should become a straight line with positive slope.

There are several curves that have all these properties, like the familiar parabola. The actual curve that will fit this hypothetical data is unknown at this point, of course. The trendline I fitted with my dataset was a parabola, with no manipulated parameters, all floating, and it clearly shows the fall towards the end. Although I strongly suspect this could be a contribution from that outlier high point (that’s where the hump of the curve is). With my hopelessly insufficient data, this is all pretty arbitrary at this stage:

image

That’s all I wanted to say, and by itself this is not very interesting stuff, but maybe someone will get some other interesting ideas from this. Like maybe plotting a reputation growth curve calculated from the departure (fall) of this view count curve as compared to the idealized, constant-reputation view count curve which asymptotes to a rising straight line as I mentioned.

Builders

Welcome

to the Age of Light

to the blinding digital paradise.

 

Just ask

and ye shall receive

the spoils of our technologies.

 

One touch

and the world arrives

for your entertainment on primetime.

 

Make a wish

to our shopping malls

anything you dream, we’ve got it all.

 

All Rise

to the power and freedom of the Future Age.

 

Give the word

Sit back and watch the world obey.

 

Just one word

I almost forgot.

With all good things there’s always a catch.

 

This power

you think you exercise

was never yours, just open your eyes.

 

It’s the Market

that’s all-powerful

and guess what, they’re manufacturing you.

 

It’s Business

you know the holy command

create supply, manufacture demand!

 

All Rise

and submit to the power of the Future Age.

 

Stay calm

nobody gets hurt if you just obey.

 

 

Look out to the sea of faces,

hypnotized, anesthetized,

as the all-fulfilling structure

enslaves and drugs our minds.

 

Here’s calling out to the ones who still

have the power to disbelieve.

 

You are the architects of our future

Step forth into the light.

 

This is your time

Lead us to the Age of Questions.

 

Come take the helm

and guide us to a new horizon.

 

Rise to the glory

Of blood, sweat and tears of pride.

 

You are the one.

The eyes of time are turning on you.