Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer Temperatures & Vacation Timings in Muscat

Height of laziness in journalism? Today’s (28 July 2010) Times of Oman carries an article titled ‘Summer heat irks school kids’ on the front page of its local section (B1 or pg 17). The article seems to be nothing but a compilation of a few readers’ letters in the last week. The end result is an article that is highly biased and lacking in any understanding of the facts.

The gist is this: Indian Schools in Muscat region have summer vacations from end-May to end-July. International and Omani schools in Muscat, and Indian schools in the rest of GCC have vacations in July and August. Certain parents want the vacations to be rescheduled to July and August.

The two main complaints by a few parents are:
•    Indian students have to go to school during July & August, which are the hottest months
•    The vacations of the parents working in government or private institutions do not coincide with those of their wards studying in Indian schools.

Both arguments are baseless. The reporter has not taken any efforts to dig any deeper on this. No effort seems to have been taken to get the other side of the story either. As in, why are the vacations kept in June & July in the 1st place? What are the benefits of such an arrangement? No one seems to have spoken to any of the school authorities either, to get their side of the story. A couple of vague sentences that close the article seem to have been put in just to give a semblance of balance.

Here’s what is false about the article, or has not been looked into:

•    The hottest months in Muscat are May & June, not July, and definitely not August. It is July and August in the rest of GCC.

The rest of Oman also generally seems to follow the Muscat trend. Buraimi is similar to other GCC countries. Salalah has its peak temperatures in May & June. And appropriately the Indian school there closes for those months.

So the Indian schools seem to have got it right when scheduling their holidays. The question really is then why do other schools close during July – August, and operate in June when the heat is maximum. The European and American schools have merely synchronised with calendar in their home countries, where the academic years begin in September. Not sure why the Omani schools also keep the same calendar.

•    Most offices do not have a fixed vacation period for their workforce. Educational institutes may have it. Maybe some other organizations as well. But the bulk of employers will not want all staff to take vacation at the same time. Clearly no commercial establishment shuts down completely for 2 out of 12 months.
•    Under the current setup once sees many Indian staff take vacations in June and the Omani & European staff in July – August. Think this is a better solution than all vying for the same time slot.

There are other benefits of the schools having staggered vacations
•    June, being the hottest month, will also likely be the month with maximum per head electricity consumption. Would be interesting to study what the impact on power generation would have been if all the residents of Muscat were in the country during the month of June. I am not certain if we would have been able to avoid blackouts.
•    Road traffic is a bit relaxed all through from June to August, since a sizeable part of the population is out for each of these months.
•    Airlines are able to manage better with the peak load spread over a greater period. Oman Air for instance, has a high load from Muscat to the sub-continent during June. During July this load continues with the transit passengers from other GCC countries. Ditto for the return leg, with the load spread from July to September.

Funnily the online version of this article credits the story to Reuters!

Some further links for reference.

Oman Temperatures

Muscat Temperature

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cute football quotes

Mostly picked up whilst following the World Cup. Some from memory.

The ball is round. The game lasts 90 minutes. That's fact. Everything else is pure theory. 
- quoted in 'Run Lola Run'. Original - Sepp Herberger.

Three years ago, Spain decided to keep the ball -- and the side still hasn't given it up. - Sid Lowe

If you have a Ferrari and I have a small car, the only way I can win is by putting sugar in your petrol tank. 
-Jose Mourinho

The best players of the world (and Xavi) - WTF headline from Daily Mail

I'm sure I saw him give the ball away once. - Alex Ferguson jokes about Xavi.

The Netherlands is a team in which six players defend, three attack, and Dirk Kuyt runs about. -
Jonathan Wilson

He cannot kick with his left foot, he cannot head a ball, he cannot tackle and he doesn't score many goals. Apart from that he's all right.
- George Best on David Beckham

You always lose when your opponents score and you don’t. - Raymond Domenech, who's mastered the art.

Pele should go back to the museum. We all know what the French are like and Platini as a Frenchman thinks he knows it all.
- El Diego

Soccer is a game for 22 people that run around, play the ball, and one referee who makes a slew of mistakes, and in the end Germany always wins. - Gary Lineker

I always score 1 against Germany. - Lineker after scoring 1 run in a cricket match. 

The Spanish Grandmasters

Watching Spain plod through the World Cup rounds, I keep getting the feeling that they play football, similar to a grandmaster playing chess. Xavi in particular being the mover.
  • The score is usually 1-0.
  • They play a series of small moves, and suddenly the whole layout has dramatically changed.
  • They play moves and lines that you just couldn't see until they showed it to you
  • Everyone but the aficionado gets bored watching them
  • They know they have 90 minutes to win the game, and don't try to hurry it. Thus not giving the opponent a chance to capitalize on any error.
  • No useless shots at goal (checks). One is good enough to win most games.

Monday, June 28, 2010

World Cup Round 1 review part 2

Group E
The Dutch have a tendency to self destruct. So no saying when they will undo all the good work . They have been looking good so far. Add Robben to the mix, and you have genuine title contenders. Though Van Persie at times reminds on of the forwards in Chak De India. He just refuses to pass!
Japan were very impressive with their organized play. Danes disappointed. They were not able to put their pace and height to good use in the key matches.

Group F
I think it was Gatusso who said, "With all respect to the other teams, if you can't qualify from a group that contains New Zealand, Slovakia & Paraguay, you need to have tomatoes thrown at you." Or something to that effect. What more can I say?

Group G
Argentina packed their team with so many forwards, that they had to play some of them in the midfield. Brazil played some defenders in their midfield. And at the end of every match, Dunga would complain that they didn't score enough goals because the opposing team wouldn't let them! With the likes of Kaka, Maicon & Robinho they could have put on quite a show if they wanted to. If.
Not to be outdone, Portugal played even more defensively. They split the playing ground into - Ronaldo covers the opponent's half, and the other 10 will cover their own. They were more open in the game against North Korea, where virtually every shot they took went into goal.
North Korea were impressive on 2 counts, despite the thrashing they took in a couple of matches. They held Brazil quite well to a very large extent. And they played a relatively clean and positive game. Cote d'Ivoire were unlucky to be in this group. They'd probably have topped if they were in C or E.

Group H
In the biggest shock of the round, the methodical Swiss beat the flamboyant Spaniards in the 1st round. Thus avenging all the losses a flamboyant Federer has had to take against the methodical Nadal. After that they failed to score at all, and got knocked out.
Spain recovered, and went on to play some of the most pleasing, but not effective, football and top the group. Torres joined the likes of Messi, Kaka & Rooney to have note scored at all so far. Chile were the only ones to take the game into the Spanish half, though they were not able to sustain it beyond the 1st 25 minutes.

Round up.
On the looks of it, the best 4 teams seem to be Argentina, Brazil, Netherlands & Spain, in  ascending order. Since Brazil could meet the Dutch in the quarterfinals, (and hopefully lose:) the 4th semifinal spot is most likely to be filled by Uruguay. The other contenders Germany & Portugal.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

World Cup Round 1 review part 1

A brief look at the teams at the end of the 1st round.

Group A
The big story here was France. Am surprised people expected more of them. Raymond Domenech has achieved nothing of significance since taking over in 2004, bar the 2006 qualification and World Cup 2nd place. That too was largely courtesy Zidane and his troop of retirees. Don't know why the French persisted with him for so long. Once qualified, he doesn't include the likes of Karim Benzema & Samir Nasri in his squad. And then leaves Henry & Malouda on the bench. What can Ribery do on his own? It's a bonus they got a point out of Uruguay.
Uruguay looked solid in defence, and Forlan was the 1st player to show that the Jabulani can be controlled for long range shots. Deserved toppers.
Mexico should regret not having tried harder against Uruguay. Topping the group would have given them a pretty good shot at reaching the Semifinals. Would like to have seen a bit more of Javier Hernandez.
South Africa performed better than expected against both Mexico & France.

Group B
Probably the most photo mileage in the group was achieved by a certain Diego Armando. Messi mesmerized all including the goal posts, which he struck at regular intervals. Argentina playing with 3 out-and-out strikers was breathtaking. Made even their match against the sleep inducing Greeks worth watching. 
Korea were impressive with their pace and lack of fear. Park Ji Sung especially impressed. Nigeria disappointed, as all other African teams this time. Enyeama though was outstanding under the bar. The Greeks, with every game, make 2004 look like a miracle.

Group C
Beckenbauer is right. England are idiots to not have topped the group, and pass out on a golden opportunity to stroll into the Semis. In the 1st couple of games they couldn't even get simple passes right. Even Algeria out-possessed them! The only players to earn their place were Gerard, Ashley Cole, Barry & Johnson. Rooney couldn't hold on to a single pass. Whatever Heskey apologists say, forwards score goals. And unlike Rooney, he is not even out of form. This is the norm. If you must play him, play him as a midfielder. And then get a decent forward into the team. Lampard was anonymous. No idea why Capello didn't substitute him at all. Fellow Chelski players might call JT the greatest thing since sliced bread, but he was pretty average. Was totally out of depth in the 1st 2 matches. Too many unnecessary passes back to the goalkeeper.
USA impressed, especially Donovan and Bradley. However as a team overall they seem to lack tactical acumen. Thanks to England's magnetic repulsion of the ball, they now have a good shot at repeating their achievement of 1930.

Group D
The German youngsters showed a lot of promise to start. However they now face a tough run with England next, possibly Argentina after that, and if they make it past that, Spain or Portugal for place in the finals.
Ghana salvaged some African pride. Serbian players seem to suffer from flaying arms. The Aussies are a team a lot of people love to hate. Especially other cricket & rugby playing nations. Not many were sorry to see them lose.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Times of Oman Open Quiz 2010

The 14th edition of the Times of Oman Open Quiz unfolded on Friday 23rd April 2010, following the prelims on 20th. Departing from the practice of the past few years, this time the quiz was set much later in April than usual. And the gap between the prelims & finals was widened to 2 days. So the finals ended up being on a Friday rather than Thursday. Various inconveniences included the weather being much warmer, and the following day being a school day for the bulk of the audience. Suspect both these changes were dictated by the IPL schedule. 20th & 23rd were the only dates without T20 matches clashing.

Nevertheless the show was a fantastic success with Pickbrain proving the ever effective anchor, and the fluctuating fortunes of the teams right up to the end, keeping everyone on the edge. In the end we managed to finish winners for a 4th consecutive time, nudging 'Questionable Characters' to 2nd for a 2nd consecutive year. 'Quizzically Challenged', on stage for the 1st time, put in an assured performance, ending 3rd. The two school teams in the finals - Sri Lankan & ISG were both very impressive. Both lost out on a top 3 position mainly due to the negatives accumulated.
QMs typically fall at one of two extremes on scales of entertainment value and learning quotient. The entertainers - those who pander to the audience, asking populist questions, that half the audience can easily answer. They are also more likely to use buzzer rounds, and introduce great variance in points per answer.  They can talk a dime to the dozen, and ensure that there is not a moment's silence the entire evening. Most of the big name QMs would fall into this category. At the other end are the quizzer QMs. They are typically quizzers 1st, and quizmasters next. Questions would tend to be filled with layers of detail and obscure fact and would normally fly over the heads of most of the audience. And usually, over most of the participants as well. But one comes back from such an event having learned a lot more.

Pickbrain, amazingly, has managed to combine both ends, more successfully than anyone I've seen. While he is a fantastic entertainer that can keep crowds of ~5000 captivated, he also manages to ask quite a few mind provoking questions. It is not at all easy to do this. While I'd personally prefer that he makes the questions even tougher, I also realize that if he makes it any less topical or more difficult, he'd start to lose both the audience and some participants.

In addition to getting the mix right, it also helps that he is extremely down to earth, is very approachable, has a good sense of humour, knows a bit about the questions he asks and is comfortable with himself. He tries to put the focus on the teams rather than himself, and projects even the easiest of answers as works of genius. Moreover he is quite open to suggestions, from both the teams and the crowd. Case in point - he lengthened this edition of the finals after getting feedback that last time's was too short. The no. of questions went up from 30 to 42. Main reason for shortening was to include the school pre-finals before the open.

The prelims were, as has been the norm with the TOO open, quite high scoring. The cut-off was 21 on tie-breaker with the top score being 24/26. There were probably half a dozen teams on 20, and perhaps the same number on 19. The disadvantage of having an easy prelims is you can't afford to make  many mistakes. The difference between the top team, and ones that did not make it can be as low as 3 points. Many good team thus end missing the finals due to this low margin for error. 'Jet Set Go' were among the notable victims this year. The flip side is that many teams go back feeling they missed by just a whisker, there were many easy questions where they nearly wrote the correct answer, and resolve to come back the next year more prepared. A stronger prelim would discourage many teams from attempting again. I'd personally prefer a low scoring prelim with clear daylight between the qualifiers and also-rans.

23rd evening started with the school pre-finals. 3 teams stood out. Sri Lankan School were very impressive , ending up winners. ISG team showed last year's results were not fluke, and that they have improved further. ISM All Over Again flattered to deceive - all over again:( And Indian School School Sohar & ABA also chipped in with a few decent answers.

The finals started off in a bad way for us. The 1st question of the quiz was to us, and we were as baffled as most of the audience. To add salt, the question was answered by one of the school  teams, ISG. After 14 (33%) of the questions were asked we were yet to open account. One of my friends later remarked to me that he was feeling very embarrassed for us at that stage. And thought it was all over for us. Our thoughts at that moment were 'Lets try to not finish last.' We finally managed to score off the last 2 questions of the 2nd round.

The scores read out at the end of the 2nd & 4th rounds both showed 'Questionable Characters' with comfortable leads. This was not a big surprise, as they were expected (at least by me) to win this year. A very strong team with all members pulling their weight. They were particularly impressive in the 4th round at the end of which they had a 26 point lead over us. By then our position had improved enough for us to change our aim from avoiding wooden spoon, to going for silver.

This was not a foregone result, since all teams were delivering punches, and showing that they were not there to make the numbers. The 2 school teams - Sri Lankan & ISG - showed they were not at all intimidated  by the occasion. Both were done in by their suicidal affinity for the buzzer. ISG more so.

The turnaround for us came in the 5th and penultimate round - the link round. Or 'Lateral Thinking' round, as Giri likes to call it. We managed to score enough to come within a point of the leaders. We scored on the 1st question of the last round and took the lead. Then ISG took over. They literally monopolized the buzzer for the next few questions, effectively keeping all other teams stuck to their respective scores. They cam within a point of 3rd place. Their earlier accumulation of negatives proved to be their undoing.

in the Times of Oman
Mostly Clueless, again
Never a dull moment
Lapping it up

Will there be a new winner?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Quizzing - The Whys & Hows

Link Heavy post. Largely derived from the Boat Club QC notes.


Niranjan on How to set a quiz or sweet scorn soup for the quizzical soul. And on setting a quiz. And a few tips more.  
Ramanand continuing on the passing format. Explaining Direct & Pass. And Infinite Rebounds. And some update on Infinite Rebounds.And on why we have so many chestnuts in quizzes.
Abhishek provides a checklist for organizing quizzes
The Pune gang on making quizzes popular.
Hirak suggests the inclusion of the Pounce & Bounce.  

Pour Quoi
Tadatmya Vaishnav in defence of quizzing. In 2 parts. Part 1 at the bottom of the link.

For the insatiated only
Abhishek on the Centaurian system.