The Group of Death by Ranking

 The group-stage draw for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is out and, as usual, many fans and commentators around the world have begun lamenting how their country’s team was dealt a spot in the “group of death”. The Guardian was quick to proclaim “England to kick off ‘group of death’ in the jungle”. Not so bloody fast mate.

There’s plenty of talk about which is the group of death but hardly any about the consolidated rankings within each group.

world cup draw rankings 2014

 If rankings mean anything, it’s clear that two of the groups are a level above the rest. And if we had to pick a true group of death, it would be Group G (Germany, Portugal, USA and Ghana), which has an average rank of about 11. Rankings aren’t everything, but when the numbers are so clear, they’re a good place to start.

It’s easy to say that your own competition is the most difficult. In a way, it tempers expectations and provides a preemptive excuse in the event of elimination from the tournament. But if history is any indication, expectations for England and the USA should already be tempered – no need to blame it on the group of death.


How to Play Video Games as a 30-Year-Old Non-Gamer

Temple Run DeathStep 1: Read New Yorker article about Canabalt and the long-lost “endless runner” genre of video games and think for a moment that since they don’t require headsets and 10-button control pads, you might actually be able to play and enjoy a smart phone game.

Step 2: Realize that $2.99 for Canabalt is $2.99 more than you’re willing to spend on a game and settle for the free Temple Run which was described in the article as also good.

Step 3: Get killed by band of crazy monkeys in 10 seconds.

Step 4: Get killed by band of crazy monkey in 15 seconds.

Step 5: Turn off smart phone and go back to reading the New Yorker while lamenting the passing of Sega Genesis and complaining that video games these days just aren’t as good as they were when you were a child.

Mr Cyriac Goes to Kerala

Rice paddy behind dad's house

I was born in Kerala, but then I left at a young age. I have visited Kerala, but was rarely permitted to venture out of my family’s protective bubble. My sister and I were escorted by the family driver from one auntie’s house to another, sipping endless cups of chai that each tasted sweeter than the last.

It was always strange to listen to stories of friends’ visits to Kerala filled with backwater houseboats and hippie beaches – all of these were foreign to me. It wasn’t until reading about it in a travel book that I realized that I was from the “backwaters”. How provincial my roots were indeed. If Kerala exists in the global consciousness as an ayurvedic elephant paradise, for its displaced children, it’s more reminiscent of beef curry and watered down communism.

Last week was my first time visiting the state as a tourist – staying in a relatively fancy hotel and hiring boats to take us sightseeing. We even went to the beach where, as expected, all the foreigners stripped down and plunged in while most of the Indians, local and otherwise stood around for hours and posed with the horizon in the background.

While lying down and reading a magazine, a particularly plump group of aunties insisted on standing about 2 feet behind me. “This is nothing compared to Marina Beach” one said authoritatively. I wonder if she swims in Chennai.

If the first half of my trip was an introduction to the Lonely Planet version of Kerala, the second was gloriously familiar, perhaps so because it was juxtaposed with the former. The food was good in the first half, but spectacular in the second (I remember this one time a few years ago when I had to explain to my cousins and aunt what paneer was – they had never heard of it and assumed that I was just making things up). Lots of tourists in the first half and lots of mundus in the second. And green – there was green everywhere.

No big point or political statement in this post – merely wanted to share my trip and some pictures. Enjoy.

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Remembering 2012

It was a leap year – the first one in four years. Mr Cyriac started blogging. It was cold in January, unless you were in Florida or Arizona, in which case it was mild. Spring continued to bloom in Syria and people died. A plump young man completed his first month as supreme leader of The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In 2012, about 55 million people died while 135 million people were born. A woman born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary celebrated her 60th year as Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. One of Edvard Munch’s Scream paintings, of which there are four, sold for $120 million.

Venus passed between the Sun and the Earth. Scientists found the Higgs Boson particle at a Large Hadron Collider and began to wonder what to do next. London put on an Olympic show with skydiving monarchs and sheep. For two days, 600 million Indians went without electricity in what was the largest power outage ever. Mr Cyriac and Miss Dodson went to Delhi. The unlikely became the absurd and people throughout the country began questioning why they ever started watching Homeland in the first place. Scientists concluded that chocolate may be good for the heart. Fareed Zakaria apologized for copying and pasting. Comic book movies continued to make money.

Several celebrity couples broke up. Fights between fans of rival football teams in Egypt killed more than 70. Hurricane Sandy killed more than 200 in the Western Hemisphere. Typhoon Bopha killed more than 1000 in East Asia. More than 500 people were murdered in Chicago.

A man named Felix jumped from a balloon in space. Brooklyn got a basketball team. The UN General Assembly approved the recognition of Palestine as a non-member Observer State. Miss Dodson became a certified yoga instructor. The UN Climate Change Commission extended the Kyoto Protocol until 2020 – The US is still one of the only countries to not have ratified the original treaty. Israel and Gaza continued to be Israel and Gaza. A student was savagely gang raped on a bus in Delhi, setting off protests and the beginning of a national conversation. The European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize. Barack Obama was re-elected. Six weeks after being convicted of fraud and tax evasion, Silvio Berlusconi (age 76) announced his candidacy to become Italy’s Prime Minister for the fourth time.

New Yorkers are holding bigger balls for charity. Apparently Ray William Johnson has a girlfriend. For three hours, 228 customers at a coffee shop in Canada paid for other people’s drinks. I finally saw Billy Wilder’s The Apartment and absolutely loved it. Gangnam Style passed 1 billion views on Youtube. David Brooks is still the whitest man in America, except for maybe George Will. December 21st came. And then December 22nd came. Washington and Colorado legalized pot. Gay people can now get gay married in 9 states. NASA’s robot successfully landed on Mars and fired lasers at rocks.

2012 Year in Review – List of Lists!

So I’ve compiled a list of my favorite lists that I have seen over the past couple of weeks or so, chronicling the year that was in all its glory and pathos.

From Wired: Best Memes of 2012

Memes exploded into the mainstream in 2012. And given how quickly they take shape and get rendered obsolete, this means that anyone can be smug and make people feel stupid for not knowing about the latest greatest. Some are great, some are meh, but they are very 2012. God bless Hillary and her steadfast texting.

From The Atlantic Wire: The 50 worst columns of 2012

This sounds like a daunting task. Most folks probably can’t recall 50 columns at all, let alone the 50 worst ones from the last year. Hats off to the Wire team for highlighting the insane, ridiculous and often silly opinion pieces from writers such as Thomas Friedman, George Will and David Brooks. If anything I’m surprised those guys don’t have more entries on the list. It should be noted that the New York Times appears on the list ten times – such an honor!

From Quartz: The five most disruptive technologies of 2012

Remember when you were young (it doesn’t matter how old you are because it applies to anyone born after the Depression) when everyone thought that in their lifetime, there would be flying cars and humanoid robots in the house? Well 2012 actually introduced some breakthrough technologies concerning self-driving cars (still not flying) and augmented reality.

From Foreign Policy: Five Weapons to Watch in 2013

OK fine this is not about 2012, but it’s still fascinating. In case you’re not permitted to read the article, the weapons mentioned are (1) 3D printed guns, (2) killer drone boats, (3) stealth drones (the flying kind), (4) killer robot cars and (5) electricity blackout causing flying drones. So there you have it, 2013 will be all about death robots – nothing to be scared about.

From Forbes: 10 Greatest Industry-Disrupting Startups of 2012

The overwhelming trend among new companies has been to organize data to introduce buyers and sellers to new sellers and buyers. By now most of you know about Kickstarter’s work in crowdsourcing. But what about Farmingo, a company that connects consumers with local food producers? Recyclebank incentivizes recycling by partnering with traditional retailers. Noodle sounds like a Craigslist for K-12 education.

From National Geographic: Traveler Photo Contest 2012

Nothing fancy or avant-garde, just pretty pictures. The winners are shown on the link above but take a look at the In Focus section of the Atlantic where they’ve combed through the submissions and put together their own top 50. And then they put up another 50.

From the Huffington Post: 10 funniest awkward family holiday photos

HuffPo’s favorites from the trove of images available at Awkward Family Photos. I’m not even sure if this qualifies to be on the list as there’s nothing really specific to 2012 about it, but who cares. It’s a list, it was made in 2012, and it’s hilarious. Merry Christmas to all!

The Origami House

How can one build a house that can withstand and adapt to extreme temperatures?

In Norway it’s common to see grass roofs.

In Australia, they have  rotating houses. This week though, I discovered something that took residential housing to a whole new level. In Finland, architect David ben Grunberg‘s has designed an Origami inspired building that can open up and fold into various combinations.

I can’t decide if it’s gimmicky or groundbreaking architecture. Sure, there are enormous initial costs (grass on the roof seems a lot cheaper), but the savings in heating, cooling and lighting costs might make up for it – and you won’t have to mow your roof (or get goats).


North Korean Unicorns Discovered

Kim Jong UnicornActually, their presence has merely been reconfirmed.

The Korean Central News Agency has just reported that archaeologists have found a unicorn lair in Pyongyang belonging to King Tongmyong. How did they know it was a unicorn lair?  According to the news agency:

“A rectangular rock carved with words “Unicorn Lair” stands in front of the lair.”

Pretty impressive, but worthy of the Central News Agency’s time? Of course, there’s more. The report continues:

“The discovery of the unicorn lair, associated with legend about King Tongmyong, proves that Pyongyang was a capital city of Ancient Korea as well as Koguryo Kingdom.”

It’s important to note here that although the Korean peninsula is divided now, it’s not the first time in history that this has been the case. From 57 CE to 668 CE, the Korean peninsula was dominated by three powers (GoguryeoBaekje and Silla) which is why the period is called the Three Kingdoms Period. Silla defeated Goguryeo in 668, ushering in the Period of the North South States – sound familiar?

With the discovery of the unicorn lair, the DPRK government is now confident that the rest of the world (why translate it into English otherwise?) will see that the North Korean capital is the rightful capital of a unified Korea. Well then, I guess it’s settled.