Thursday, September 25, 2008

Photomontage: London

My end-sem exams got over today, so I’ve finally found time to go through the countless photos from my London trip, select the least terrible ones, and upload them. I was too lazy to write captions for each one, so I’ll answer queries about the photos (if any) in the comments section. Click on the images for the larger versions, because some of the photos have funny text which is not visible in the thumbnails.




Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Joys of Microsoft Publisher

In a dramatic break from tradition (actually the opening words were more dramatic than the actual break from tradition), we decided this year to do the layout and formatting of Writer’s Block in-house instead of getting it done by professionals. (For the uninitiated, Writer’s Block is our monthly college magazine. It has campus news, some creative writing, and the most jobless ed board in the world. Part of the September issue cover page is pictured below.)
This decision had many consequences. One consequence is that, for about one week every month, we become a permanent fixture in the recreation room and consume untold amounts of Coke. Another is that it revealed to me a Fundamental Truth: there are two kinds of people—those who love formatting and those who don’t.
Lahiri (who is also on the ed board) and I have long been aware that we belong to the former category, because law school, with its innumerable paper submissions and moot court memorials, gives you awesome opportunities to discover and then indulge your love. But when you’ve exhausted headers, footers and mark citation, there is only so much you can do with Microsoft Word. Microsoft Publisher, which we use for formatting Writer’s Block, is in a different league altogether.
To illustrate, we ensure that no page has empty spaces, and we’ve evolved a code of permitted and prohibited practices for achieving this objective. To illustrate further:
Permitted practices
Prohibited practices
1. Editing stuff written by ed board members
2. Changing the number of columns on a page (within acceptable limits)
3. Cropping photos
1. Editing general body contributions
2. Changing font size
3. Having pictures whose width is not an integral multiple of column width
That is the level at which we are talking. To cite other examples, we have been known to take policy decisions on whether headlines should be in title case or upper case, and whether kerning the masthead is an acceptable practice.
Not surprisingly, some ed board members have declared themselves unavailable for the formatting sessions because they couldn’t take it any more (or maybe just because they have a life). But the ones who do sit in are gradually coming under the sway of our obsessive tendencies. Once, upon inserting a paragraph break and watching the text fill up the text box perfectly, I cried, “I live for these moments,” and I distinctly remember Karthy giving me a funny look. These days, when such a thing happens, she gives high fives with as much gusto as the rest.
Only Anuj, our convener, claims to be above it all, and pretends that he doesn’t obsess over the magazine like we do. But the September issue came back from the printer yesterday, and when he thought no one was looking, he was observed cradling the issues in the crook of his arm and crooning, “My babies…”

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Hobby

I don’t know if you’ll be affected the same way, but in my experience, if you read the xkcd “My Hobby” series (my favourite ones are this, this and this), after a while you start noticing some quirky little hobbies of your own. I’ve therefore decided to start my own “My Hobby” series.

There's no autocorrect entry for 'law' :(

This is method #43 of entertaining yourself while writing research papers.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Genesis 1:28

This is from Richard Whish on Competition Law—a table on market share threshold and its consequences. I draw your attention to footnote 275.

It’s not often that something I see in a textbook on Antitrust Law makes me laugh, but this did.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Khandsari molasses

It is the night before (or more accurately, the morning of) my Indirect Tax viva voce, and I am trying to come to grips with reams of notes on what must surely be one of the driest subjects taught in law school. Around 3 am, just as I am warming to my task, the following Kafkaesque provision comes to my notice.

Rule 7 of the Central Excise Rules, 1944 states that the producer or manufacturer of excisable goods is liable to pay the duty leviable on such goods. The proviso to this rule, intriguingly states that nothing contained in the rule shall apply to khandsari molasses. In other words, for khandsari molasses, alone among the ranks of manufactured or produced goods, the excise duty is to be paid by the purchaser and not the manufacturer.

Why have an exception to the perfectly sensible rule that excise duty should be paid by the manufacturer? Why make it applicable to khandsari molasses alone? What, when it comes to that, are khandsari molasses?

I did what any red-blooded law student would do under the circumstances: put away my notes and directed my attention to answering these questions. When I eventually found a case (Ranson Industries v. Union of India) where the constitutionality of the exception was challenged, I thought my questions would be answered at last. But incredibly, the Division Bench of the J&K High Court, in a 5,070-word judgment, never once saw fit to answer the one question anyone might reasonably be interested in: Why has a special provision been made for khandsari molasses? The closest they came to an explanation was the lame-ass justification: “A duty on home produced goods will obviously be imposed at the stage which the authorities find to be the most convenient and the most lucrative.” Judges…

Anyhow, my researches led me to the Wikipedia article on molasses, which took me to Carob Tree, and thence to Simon bar Yochai and…well, you know how it goes. For the exam, the teacher asked me to speak on “taxable event”. On any other day, I’d have knocked ’em dead with my gripping account of the In Re Sea Customs Act case. As it happens, eyewitnesses say that my performance consisted of rubbing my eyes and mumbling brokenly about excise duty and molasses.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Of scientists and ‘normal’ people

On September 10, the world’s largest particle accelerator complex, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva, will finally be switched on.
By recreating energies and conditions last seen a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, scientists hope to gain insights into mysteries of the universe, ranging from dark matter to supersymmetric particles. Most enticingly, the LHC could produce the elusive Higgs boson, and supply a long-standing missing link in the Standard Model of particle physics: the question of why matter has mass.
It could also produce the end of the world as we know it. Some theorists claim that the LHC could create black holes which could consume the planet, or a strangelet that would convert earth into a dense dead lump of strange matter. Lawsuits seeking to halt the LHC’s startup have been filed before the District Court of Hawaii, and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. CERN dismisses such doomsday claims as unscientific bunkum. But frankly, anyone who knows enough physics to understand the risk would be too excited by the LHC’s possibilities to even dream about dismantling it.
I for one am all in favour of switching on the LHC. It has the potential to reveal wonderful new truths about our universe. And as any geek knows, microscopic black holes evaporate almost instantaneously due to Hawking radiation. Rather more concerning is the fact that owing to the random nature of quantum physics, there is always a minuscule, but nonzero, chance of anything occurring. Theoretically, the LHC could produce another Himesh. But if the LHC does indeed bring doomsday for our planet, we can at least reflect that being spaghettified by a black hole of our own creation is not an altogether uncool way to die.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Version 2.0

Version 2.0 retains all the features that you always loved, while making several significant improvements on older versions.
Its author is an older, wiser man. It does not have any posts about kangaroo courts and natural justice (at least, not yet). The blogroll has more names, and each name has a tag—some are funny, some are lame, some have already attracted death threats. And finally, the creators of The World According to Sroyon Version 2.0 promise you that this version will never get deleted.
Yeah, you can stop groaning now. Sheesh. What does it take to get a little encouragement around here?

I guess that takes the biscuit for the lamest opening post ever, but it’s the best I can do right now. I have a Human Rights Law viva voce in another ten hours. If you need more justification, please note that this was