Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Commandments of Detective Fiction

Continuing from ...Why Agatha Christie is better than Aurther Conan Dyle

"Twenty rules for writing detective stories," by S.S. Van Dine, 1928 (Source)
  1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.
  2. No willful tricks or deceptions may be placed on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.
  3. There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.
  4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering some one a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. It's false pretenses.
  5. The culprit must be determined by logical deductions -- not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.
  6. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. His function is to gather clues that will eventually lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter; and if the detective does not reach his conclusions through an analysis of those clues, he has no more solved his problem than the schoolboy who gets his answer out of the back of the arithmetic.
  7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader's trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded.
  8. The problem of the crime must he solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic séances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. A reader has a chance when matching his wits with a rationalistic detective, but if he must compete with the world of spirits and go chasing about the fourth dimension of metaphysics, he is defeated ab initio.
  9. There must be but one detective -- that is, but one protagonist of deduction -- one deus ex machina. To bring the minds of three or four, or sometimes a gang of detectives to bear on a problem, is not only to disperse the interest and break the direct thread of logic, but to take an unfair advantage of the reader. If there is more than one detective the reader doesn't know who his codeductor is. It's like making the reader run a race with a relay team.
  10. The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story -- that is, a person with whom the reader is familiar and in whom he takes an interest.
  11. A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person -- one that wouldn't ordinarily come under suspicion.
  12. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders: the entire indignation of the reader must be permitted to concentrate on a single black nature.
  13. Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. A fascinating and truly beautiful murder is irremediably spoiled by any such wholesale culpability. To be sure, the murderer in a detective novel should be given a sporting chance; but it is going too far to grant him a secret society to fall back on. No high-class, self-respecting murderer would want such odds.
  14. The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be be rational and scientific. That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure.
  15. The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent -- provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should reread the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face -- that all the clues really pointed to the culprit -- and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter. That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying.
  16. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no 'atmospheric' preoccupations. Such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude.
  17. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by housebreakers and bandits are the province of the police departments -- not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities.
  18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. To end an odyssey of sleuthing with such an anti-climax is to hoodwink the trusting and kind-hearted reader.
  19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction -- in secret-service tales, for instance. But a murder story must be kept gemütlich, so to speak. It must reflect the reader's everyday experiences, and give him a certain outlet for his own repressed desires and emotions.
  20. And (to give my Credo an even score of items) I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective story writer will now avail himself of. They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime. To use them is a confession of the author's ineptitude and lack of originality. (a) Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect. (b) The bogus spiritualistic séance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away. (c) Forged fingerprints. (d) The dummy-figure alibi. (e) The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar. (f) The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person. (g) The hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops. (h) The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in. (i) The word association test for guilt. (j) The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unraveled by the sleuth.
Edit 28/05/2015

Saturday, July 14, 2012

You are fired!

No other act has seen use of so many euphemism as corporate action of firing employee off. In quest to be as sweet as possible while doing the exact opposite, corporate HR should probably won some kind prize for coming up so many ways to not say what they want to. Not that I believe companies shouldn’t fire people, but it will be worth a bit honesty and ethics to not rub salt on it. Of course, honesty and ethics are kinds of things you wouldn’t associate with any big company anyway.

In the sprit of doublespeak, then, here is collection of what ‘you are fired’ may sound like:

assignment ended
assignment expired
best shoring
bought out
bounced out
career change opportunity
career transition
contract not renewed
contracted out
down size
early retired
eased out
end of trial period
freed up for the future
going in different directions
headcount adjustment
headcount reduction
helped with exit
invited to be successful elsewhere
involuntary separation
laid off
let go
made available to industry
made redundant
make internal efficiencies
managed out
off shoring
personnel realignment
personnel surplus reduction
position has been eliminated
promoted to customer (retail workers)
pursue other opportunities
rationalize the workforce
reclined to extend
reduced headcount
reduction in force
regime change
released from the talent pool
relieved of duties
re-prioritizing labor expenses
resource action
responsibilities have been reassigned
right size
services no longer required
skill mix adjustment
smart size
stepped down
taking it for the team
we really feel like we’re holding you back here
workforce efficiency initiative

Friday, May 18, 2012

Links to share

  1. Leading a team requires skills different from successful personal achievement. Here are nicely put tips for being a great boss.
  2. Even in this day with GPS tracking, satellite mapping, Helicopter and what not, Amazon forests still remain out of reach of human. See fascinating narration of what lies inside through eyes of explorers who went in search of mythical city of Z.
  3. Given this history, it is not wrong to assume that all government departments are wrong and ready to loot money. Frequent strikes by Air India workers seem to suggest entitlement. But every story has two sides. Here is a attempt to look from other side.
  4. String theory suggests as many as 11 dimensions of Universe. Physical senses can see 3 dimensions. Brain can understand 4th dimension of Time. Beyond that it’s mere imagination. But ain’t it fun!
  5. Is character a well defined social concept?
  6. There is science behind design of parking space and parking penalty!
  7. And there is science behind walking: Part I and Part II.
  8. Humans are fallible. Even those who sit at highest pedestal deciding fate of lives of people: judges. And they don’t make good decisions if they are hungry!
  9. Look behind world of car salesman in US. Also good lesson in human psychology of selling.
  10. The turning point of advertising: mix Sex and Ad.
  11. Once American Airline decided to sell unlimited free flying passes for $300k+. It still lost. Because people just flew too much.?
  12. Why do people overeat?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Cost of improper signage

Small things, yet very important. I am talking of traffic signage in India. Traffic signs are obviously very important for road users. They serve primarily two functions: information and warning. Informative signs provide directions, street names, speed limits, one-way streets, distance, nearest convenience facility, turn permissibility, and so on. Warning signs warn of work in process, diversions, traffic lights, stop sign, lane constraints, road block, weight limit, height limit, and so on. For drivers and pedestrians alike, they serve purpose to facilitate traffic, reduce inconvenience, reduce traffic jam, manage blockage and congestion, provide mental peace, and all in all are very helpful. In fact, I find proper signage so helpful — and this is not just limited to roads, but also in public areas like parks, hospitals, bus and railway stations, airports — that I feel instant gratification for that designer who decided to put a sign where he did in case I find one exactly when I need one.

In USA I’ve found signs to be absolutely well placed. Almost as if someone is reading my thoughts and the moment I feel I need directions, a sign happens to be right there as soon as I look up. This, unfortunately, hasn’t been the case in India. Indeed, while they are absolutely important to avoid unnecessary U-turns and save fuel cost and traffic congestion, I doubt anyone in Indian municipalities — which are responsible bodies for this kinds of works — pays any iota of attention to them. There are many problems:

  1. Major issue is that there aren’t just signs where there obviously should be, like fork in the road or a flyover or traffic junction or closed road.
  2. Content of signs leaves enough to be desired
    1. First, there is a issue of font size. There is hardly any standard for any sensible font size which can be read by driver is who driving at or below permissible speed limit. More often than not, it’s too small that you need to be parked to be able to read.
    2. There appears to be is no standardization on sign language too. Often for temporary signs (for construction work, for example, which in Indian case, temporarily last for up to couple of years) signs are not phrases but full sentence. Combine that will small font size and you are predestined to be unable to read it.
  3. Biggest issue is of placement
    1. While vehicles are permitted on all lanes, sign is placed exclusively to cater to lane nearest to it, even when it is applicable to all lanes.
    2. Sign is too close to the point where decision based on that information can be made e.g. you are already on flyover when sign says where this flyover goes and where road below does, or sign on left lane is so close to junction that moving to left lane at that point is impossible, or speed-breaker sign is after speed-breaker.
    3. Sign is hidden behind an advertisement poster or an overgrown tree
    4. Sign has moved/shifted/turned by forces of nature and time or is misplaced in the first place where it points to direction which is wrong is vague (arrow marks the street where there isn’t any). This is specifically bad of places like Bangalore where concept of perpendicular road crossing is rare and you’ve multiple roads crossing at odd angles.

None of this, of course, matters to traffic police should they decide to cite you for violation. You may have driven on a road couple of kilometers before you see a speed-limit sign (if you do, despite above) yet you are expected to somehow know that and not exceed that. You may come across a traffic junction and keep looking if and where is the signal for you, for it’s either placed at strange angle or is behind a tree. Blind turns and road conditions ensures that one may drive at full speed only on roads where one has driven few times. Do not expect speed-breaker or turn sign will warn you. You will have to remember that. That and that pothole which is just there unannounced ready to engulf you with your car.

And improper signage is not just small annoyances. I personally have wasted quite a lot fuel and time on missing a turn or driving on a flyover when I am not supposed to. Subsequent course correction adds to unnecessary traffic congestion and caused road rage. Compared to investment of putting useful, readable, properly placed signs, returns on overall fuel, time, accident saving, and public convenience is expected to be high. I do not have numbers with me but I’d expect them to have one of highest return-on-investment for any public expenditure work. Yet, there is no future where I envision this will happen any time far.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Birthday wishes

Birthdays are special occasion for most people. Special day, celebrated, purely because it happens to be the day on which the self, which, of course, is the center of known universe — not in cosmic sense but in sense of world around it — came into existence in its own conscience. An exercise in narcissism, no doubt, yet perfectly valid, for any other metric of time is intellectual, theoretical, abstract, and in any practical sense, immaterial. A person’s conscience has only one true timescale which runs from birth to death. Of course, why the day, and not moment, hour or minute, and why annually, and not in any other periodicity, is purely conventional.

Most people like to make their birthdays special day for themselves, affording themselves luxury of their favourite pastime, meal, indulgence, or anything that brings them happiness. Most of remaining people are generally upbeat their birthdays if not making a fuss of it. Rest, just let it be.

For those who care, of course, receiving birthday wishes is expected. It is desired from one to wish another birthday wish, if former happens to come to know about this, and is in presence of later, even if there is no familiarity between them. At their annual frequency, birthdays, naturally, become convenient touch points with people whom one would place in acquaintance category — not too friendly to connect often, yet preferable to be in touch with. Given that people expects and like being wished on birthdays helps the matter.

What doesn’t help, apparently, is the mechanism for helping you remember their birthdays. People expects, surprisingly, that you wish them because you remembered their birthday. This also applies to any wish-requiring occasion such as anniversary. An emphasis on expensive brain real-estate marks the importance person has in your life. Even if you took help of any of technological aids (calendar, reminder), you are not to disclose, for it will reduce well-being conveyed by your wish. No wonder impact of my ‘Happy Birthday’ drops a notch soon I tell them — only on being asked how come I remember — that I remembered it because I was reminded by my calendar system. I must pretend that I remembered. My getting external help seems to suggests farcical wish and not a genuine one. That I bothered to make note in may calendar and took effort to wish is easily swept away. Of course, wiser next time, I just remember. That is not to say that people don’t know it but they would rather not have this be stated explicitly. How many birthday wishes on facebook, a purely rhetorical question, mind you, are because your friend saw the reminder on top right? Yet, would one dare to draw the attention to the same? No one does, of course.

Seems I find this topic little more fascinating than I imagined — I have written on the same couple of years earlier too.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Three Men in a Boat

When I started reading Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome, a humourous book written in 1889, I had not imagined that what lay ahead of me. Book is through and through hilarious story of three good-for-nothing lazy hypochondriac friends who decide to take one week trip along the river to help them relax. From story point of view, book offers little; rather, one can say that there isn’t really an story. Indeed what constitutes this 200 odd page narrative is collection of numerous meanderings off-shots tales which either recounts some historical episodes from protagonists past or are part of wild and vivid imaginations. Narrative is definitely old English yet flows freely and isn’t trouble to read or understand. In fact, this book affirms faith that despite hundred and quarter century of time difference and thousands of miles of cultural difference between me and them, basic human nature has hardly changed. If a minor annoyance must be noted then that should be about convoluted names and British history of various places on river they visit which a modern and non-British reader may find unfamiliar. Best way to present what is awesome about this book is exhibit collections of quotes from within. And if you don’t find them hilarious, then perhaps this book isn’t for you.

Book introduces our protagonists and their hypochondriac nature:

It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent medicine advertisement without being impelled to the conclusion that I am suffering from the particular disease therein dealt with in its most virulent form.

I had the symptoms, beyond all mistake, the chief among them being “a general disinclination to work of any kind.” What I suffer in that way no tongue can tell. From my earliest infancy I have been a martyr to it. As a boy, the disease hardly ever left me for a day. They did not know, then, that it was my liver. Medical science was in a far less advanced state than now, and they used to put it down to laziness.

And when they decide to take trip down the river:

…said, however, that the river would suit him to a “T.” I don’t know what a “T” is (except a sixpenny one, which includes bread-and-butter and cake, and is cheap at the price, if you haven’t had any dinner). It seems to suit everybody, however, which is greatly to its credit.

Describing one of the member of journey:

You can never rouse Harris. There is no poetry about Harris—no wild yearning for the unattainable. Harris never “weeps, he knows not why.” If Harris’s eyes fill with tears, you can bet it is because Harris has been eating raw onions, or has put too much Worcester over his chop.

Oh and oh, three men in a boat also have a dog with them. His introduction follows:

To hang about a stable, and collect a gang of the most disreputable dogs to be found in the town, and lead them out to march round the slums to fight other disreputable dogs, is Montmorency’s idea of “life.”

Montmorency’s ambition in life, is to get in the way and be sworn at. If he can squirm in anywhere where he particularly is not wanted, and be a perfect nuisance, and make people mad, and have things thrown at his head, then he feels his day has not been wasted.

Planning for the trip:

“Begin with breakfast.” (George is so practical.) “Now for breakfast we shall want a frying-pan”—(Harris said it was indigestible; but we merely urged him not to be an ass)...

And packing for the trip:

I said I’d pack.

I rather pride myself on my packing. Packing is one of those many things that I feel I know more about than any other person living. (It surprises me myself, sometimes, how many of these subjects there are.) I impressed the fact upon George and Harris, and told them that they had better leave the whole matter entirely to me. They fell into the suggestion with a readiness that had something uncanny about it. George put on a pipe and spread himself over the easy-chair, and Harris cocked his legs on the table and lit a cigar.

This was hardly what I intended. What I had meant, of course, was, that I should boss the job, and that Harris and George should potter about under my directions, I pushing them aside every now and then with, “Oh, you—!” “Here, let me do it.” “There you are, simple enough!”—really teaching them, as you might say. Their taking it in the way they did irritated me. There is nothing does irritate me more than seeing other people sitting about doing nothing when I’m working.

I’m not like that. I can’t sit still and see another man slaving and working. I want to get up and superintend, and walk round with my hands in my pockets, and tell him what to do. It is my energetic nature. I can’t help it.

And so on and so on. I could cite many, trouble being the given the wandering nature of book, quotes tend not to be just quotes but paragraphs themselves. Not good for blog but a recommended read. You have no excuse since it’s even free and available on Project Gutenberg.

Planning your own foreign trip, with Sri Lanka as example

Cross-published at This guide is about...