Updates – fragrance of the rain

Thanks to two readers of our blog, we have some more information related to our last post.

Click on this link to read about Geosmin, one of the molecules that plays a role in petrichor. In fact, its name is derived from the Greek words ‘Earth’ and ‘smell’.  Another interesting point, the human nose is extremely sensitive to geosmin and is able to detect it at concentrations as low as 5 parts per trillion. Geosmin is responsible for the muddy smell in many freshwater fish ; Geosmin breaks down in acidic conditions and becomes odourless, hence vinegar and other acidic ingredients are often used in recipes to cook these fish. Thanks for all this info, Oinks.

And this link is about a fragrance called ‘mitti attar’ made in Kannauj, which captures that refreshing energising fresh smell of wet mud after the rain. Thanks for sharing this article, Ruks. This article that is quoted in the earlier one mentions one fascinating factoid , albeit unrelated to petrichor. Apparently after the Empress Mumtaz Mahal passed away, Shah Jehaan never wore perfume again , attars had been one of the couple’s shared passions.

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Zenobia

July 1, 2016 at 1:09 pm Leave a comment

The smell of the rain, and why we like it

rain pic 2

As the monsoon advanced across South India, Wikipedia shared an apt factoid on twitter last week, ‘The smell of rain is “petrichor.” ’ The oxford dictionary defines petrichor as ‘a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.’ No wonder most of us love that ‘fresh wet mud’ smell – it heralds an end to the sultry summer and the onset of cloudy breezy weather, but more about that in a bit.                      

The word petrichor is derived from a combination of the Greek words ‘petra’ meaning stone, and ‘ichor’, the fluid that flows in the veins of the Gods in Greek mythology. Petrichor was first described in a paper published in Nature journal in 1964 by Australian CSIRO scientists Isabel Joy Bear and Richard G. Thomas, and the process that gives rise to the fragrance we perceive is fascinating indeed.

During dry periods, plants exude an oil that retards seed germination and early plant growth, this oil is absorbed by clay – based soil and rocks (hence the words ‘petra’ and ‘ichor’). The smell itself comes about when increased humidity fills the pores of rocks, soil, etc. with tiny amounts of water. While it’s only a minuscule amount, it is enough to flush the oil from the stone and release petrichor into the air; this must be why we get that slight whiff of the rain smell before it actually starts raining. This process is further accelerated when actual rain arrives and makes contact with a porous surface; air from the pores forms small bubbles which float to the surface and release aerosols, such aerosols carry the scent and spread it. The article that I referred to for much of this information also has a super slow motion video released by scientists at MIT last year that helps explain this process.

So now you know it, Petrichor – that fresh fragrance that makes everyone’s spirits rise, is not the fragrance of the rain, neither is it that of wet mud, it’s actually due to an oil that’s released from the rocks or soil into the air just before the rain begins to fall. Did the description of the process in the last paragraph kill the romance of that fragrance for you, or make it even more interesting ? I hope it’s the latter, because more deconstruction follows – this time of why we find the smell of the rain so pleasant.

The reason petrichor makes our spirits rise may actually be hardwired into our memories, part of our collective consciousness – some scientists think it’s due to our species’ reliance on rain for a plentiful supply of plants and game animals throughout history.  This article describes some evidence that may support this hypothesis. Anthropologist Diana Young of the University of Queensland in Australia, who studied the culture of Western Australia’s Pitjantjatjara people, has observed that they associate the smell of rain with the color green, hinting at the deep-seated link between a season’s first rain and the expectation of growth and associated game animals, both crucial for their diet.

So next time you draw in a deep breath of that fresh wet mud smell and feel invigorated, think of how that reaction connects you to your ancestors from centuries ago.

Next post : Now that we’ve serendipitously stumbled upon the topic of fragrance and the collective consciousness, we’re going to take this thread further – look out for more examples in our next post.

  •  Zenobia Driver

June 11, 2016 at 8:09 am Leave a comment

Infographic – India expenditure data , rural

We’d earlier shared a set of infographics on per capita expenditure on various categories in urban India (https://escape-velocity-blog.com/2015/08/19/infographic-india-expenditure-data-urban/ ), and the trends over time therein (https://escape-velocity-blog.com/2015/09/22/infographic-india-expenditure-trend-urban/ ). This post shares similar data for rural India.

India MPCE - Expenditure data - Rural

The first point to note is that the average MPCE (monthly per capita expenditure) is much lower for rural India vs. that for urban India (Rs. 1429.96 vs. Rs. 2629.6 respectively). Hence, while the absolute value of expenditure on various categories may be lower in rural India, as a percentage of the MPCE it’s much higher. For instance, though the average monthly spend on food is Rs. 622 per capita, it is 48.6% of the total per capita expenditure ; this is closer to the proportion spent by the poorer fractiles of the population in urban India. One area on which folk in rural India spend much less than their counterparts in urban areas is housing, others are education and transportation. In almost every other category, the proportional spends (spending on category as a % of average MPCE) of rural folk are actually higher than those from urban areas.

 

  • Ravindra Ramavath

 

June 6, 2016 at 11:55 am 1 comment

English-Vinglish, and all that jazz

Read this article about the English Dost app via a friend’s Facebook feed and was reminded of a few incidents that I’ve witnessed during the last year.

On the day a friend left Mumbai for Singapore, among those who visited her house to say goodbye was her maid. The maid had brought her adolescent children along too, and I was amazed at the difference between the maid and her children. Had the mother not introduced me to her daughter, I’d never have guessed how closely they were related; the maid seemed like someone one step away from the ancestral village, while the daughter seemed a native of a big city.

While the mother wears a sari, cannot speak much English and is rather diffident, her daughter prefers jeans and a shirt, speaks good English and is much more confident. While the mother is uneducated, she’s ensured that her daughter got a school education and learnt English, and encourages her to attend college; even though the young girl has to hold down a part-time job in order to meet her education expenses at college ,she’s determined to obtain a college degree that will get her a better job than her mother’s and a brighter future.

A few months later, I was at Bodh Gaya for the sales and marketing module of a Cream training program. The participants comprised micro-entrepreneurs from villages in Gaya and Muzzaffarpur district of Bihar. They could speak some English, but not much ; hence classroom sessions were conducted in both English and Hindi, with constant translation of any English sentence by an interpreter. All our training material (slides , hand-outs, question papers) had also been translated into Hindi for the benefit of the participants. Yet we witnessed an amazing zeal to learn new English words that pertained to their businesses, as if they saw these words as currency for garnering status in the eyes of their peers (remember that these were all rural micro-entrep[reneurs). There were participants who’d stop us mid-sentence and ask us to spell out ‘negotiation’, ‘consumer’ etc. and earnestly write down the English word in their notebooks.

English learning appsNo wonder there’s such a huge market for English learning apps and so many of them available now. There’re generic apps like Busuu through which anyone can learn English ( or another of a set of languages) by having conversations with native speakers of that language. There’re English Dost and enguru, both of which use a game with real-life situations to help users learn English, these seem to target those joining the corporate sector in junior management roles. English Seekho by IMImobile and IL&FS Education & Technology Services limited target a very different audience – junior level clerks, traders, unskilled laborers, frontline staff, taxi drivers, restaurant waiters etc. There’s also the British Council site that has several English learning apps, podcasts etc., and even an app to help Taxi drivers learn English to communicate better with their customers ! Clearly there’s a ton of demand from a large number of segments.

  • Zenobia Driver

December 10, 2015 at 1:18 pm Leave a comment

Updates

We’d run a series of posts on the population distribution of various nations a few years ago and shown the transition of the age-wise demographic distribution of many countries from pyramid to either kite, dome or cylinder (read posts here, here, here). This video from the Economist shows how the population pyramid of the world is changing with time, and here’s an article from the same publication that mentions that from now on children in schools and colleges will learn about the population ‘dome’ and not the population ‘pyramid’ ! Monumental change, isn’t it ?

We’d also looked at some implications of India’s so-called demographic dividend in two posts (read them here and here ). This article from the Mint offers a worrisome perspective on how the low skill levels of our young workforce may undo much of the benefit we hope to reap from it in the manufacturing sphere. It isn’t a very encouraging perspective, so if you’re already in a blue mood, read the article anther day.

Changing topics, a few links on interesting articles related to behavioural sciences.

This video on the Backwards Brain Bicycle is a rather entertaining look at biases – or neural pathways that are so natural we don’t even recognise them, unlearning the bias and then learning to think differently, and how much time it takes.

One article that’s about changing people’s behaviours and an experiment to test which works – facts, science, emotion, or fear.

An article on language, surprisingly on how the language you use changes your view of the world. Incidentally, bilinguals have a lot of tangible benefits, including protection against dementia – so that should be good for all us Indians who know English and Hindi and a mother-tongue, and often Sanskrit or French or some official third language from school.The last paragraph is especially interesting – ‘when judging risk, bilinguals also tend to make more rational economic decisions in a second language. In contrast to one’s first language, it tends to lack the deep-seated, misleading affective biases that unduly influence how risks and benefits are perceived.’ I wonder whether this lack of bias also manifests itself when bilinguals think of other subjective issues in a second language, say opinions of politicians, or climate change, or co-workers for that matter.

Collated By,

Zenobia Driver

November 7, 2015 at 6:06 am Leave a comment

The MPCE calculation – methodology

This post is just a follow-up to the previous post – fulfilling my promise of illustrating how the MPCE is calculated.

Computing MPCE

  • The process has evolved over time to the current large sample quinquennial surveys (once in 5 years)
  • Broadly, the endeavor has been to get more accurate data and time periods have been appropriately chosen / designed to capture certain data.
  • The household consumer expenditure schedule used for the survey captures both information on quantity and value of household consumption.
  • Info collected consists of 142 items of food, 15 items of energy (fuel, light and household appliances), 28 items of clothing, bedding and footwear, 19 items of educational and medical expenses, 51 items of durable goods, and 89 other items.

Whew ! That’s a lot, isn’t it ?

  • Ravindra Ramavath

October 7, 2015 at 5:10 pm Leave a comment

Infographic – India expenditure trend, urban

India Expenditure Trend Urban - trends

  • Urban India has seen an increase of 128% in MPCE(URP) based on current prices
    • Real MPCE (measured using a price deflator with 1987-88 as base) has increased 29% between ‘04 to ’11, a CAGR of 3.7%
  • Share of food in MPCE declined by about 4pp in urban India between ’04 -’12 , you can clearly see the light green band receding from the right end
    • A few more points that are not shown in the graph :
      • Within foods, except for Milk, fruits & Beverages, all other products categories tracked have fallen in contribution.
        • While Milk and fruits has increased by 1pp, beverages have increased from 15% to 18% within foods
      • Cereals have registered the largest decline – from 24% to 19%
    • Among the rest of expenditure, durable & minor durable type goods has seen the highest jump of 2.4pp followed by rent at 1.4pp and clothing & bedding at 1.3.
    • Also, notice the steady rise in medical and education expenses
    • Proportion of spends on entertainment have also risen, albeit off a small base

The method of computing MPCE is rather interesting ; next week we’ll share an infographic on that too.

  • Ravindra Ramavath

September 22, 2015 at 2:47 pm Leave a comment

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