December 22, 2010

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

How odd it sounds to say that. Really ! Are we living in the 21st century or what !!!

Is this still the Middle Age? Say out loud — The King of Saudi Arab. What an anachronism !!!

I read today that the said "king" of SA is getting out of hospital in New York !

And it occurred to me how there's this civilizational clash going on between the West and the Muslim nations ... Muslims would generally have a very low opinion about the "moral" values of the West and would be lightning fast in criticizing them but when it comes to getting medical care, I guess they don't mind when the King goes on a little jaunt to the Big Apple to get his slipped discs set right or a few broken bones joined back ...

Oh well, people tend to not realize when they are being hypocritical ... that's human nature.

December 19, 2010

A Double Century — At Last

Well, it has got nothing whatsoever to do with the celebrated Little Master. It's only a personal milestone ... this is my 200th blog post for this year ...

Oh well, that definitely calls for some celebration !!!

Not that quantity signifies quality — not by any stretch of the imagination !!!

But I am happy with my 'perseverance' since I am usually lazy and what not ...

And this is far from a money-spinning endeavor.

What a journey this year has been ... but that calls for a separate post !

India's Cryogenic Travails

It seems India is yet to perfect its cryogenic engine powered satellite launch vehicle ... today, one more launch was postponed. India is of course yet to become self-reliant in this technology either ... still using Russia supplied engines.

I guess India is still on a learning curve when it comes to all this complex technology which is a combination of so much ... material science to electronics and what not ...

My hats off of course to the boffins of ISRO who have achieved so much in spite of the fact of working in an organization that is "owned" by the Government of India.

December 17, 2010

Bidding Adieu to Larry King Live

I must confess I have wasted too many hours sitting in front of the TV and many hundreds of those hours might have been spent watching Larry King Live.

Well, the critics will all be dissecting Larry's career and show and what not. I think I mostly enjoyed watching people who are at the top of their game in various professions. How else would I have managed to meet people as diverse as Michelle Obama to Seth Shostak.

So, my thanks to Larry for bringing all these achievers to my drawing room at various points of my life. Watching successful people has an effect that is mostly beneficial. It somehow makes you want to achieve something in your own life. So, a positive influence after all.

Of course, one can criticize the sense of priority of our society where people who have a "public" sort of career tend to get the lion's share of publicity. So, you have movie stars and music stars holding forth on every topic under the sun. Perhaps, that reflects the escapist tendency of most humans who want entertainment on TV rather than something really hard ... like science.

How many people after all would be interested in a TV show that had on its show scientists and engineers and doctors every day and every week and for months and years on end. People would quickly tire of discussions about various approaches being tried to battle cancer, or discussion about the next steps in space exploration, or a discussion about how to fight climate change, etc.

I remember Larry King once saying that Angelina Jolie was one of the most intelligent people he had ever met ... and I remember thinking that then perhaps Larry has not met that many intelligent people ...

December 14, 2010

Beginnings and Endings

I was thnking about Liz Hurley's marriage with Arun Nayar coming to an end.

On the other hand, Prince William seems to be on track to keep his promise to his girlfriend Kate Middleton and marry her.

So, some things are ending and others are beginning.

And then I hear just now about the death of Richard Holbrooke — that's an ending as well ... albeit in a completely different category and of a completely different kind.

December 13, 2010

Ride Like Royalty — as per MSN

1=22021#2">http://editorial.autos.msn.com/slideshow.aspx?cp-documentid=1167436&icid=autos_0122>1=22021#2

The options:
  • Nissan Acura
  • Ford Taurus
  • Hyundai Genesis
  • Infiniti G37 Journey
  • Lexus ES 350
  • Lincoln MKZ
  • Nissan Maxima
  • Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited
  • Toyota Avalon Limited
  • Volkswagen CC 2.0L

The Safest Cars in America — according to msn

1=22025#2">http://editorial.autos.msn.com/slideshow.aspx?cp-documentid=1167463&icid=autos_0120>1=22025#2

  • Ford Fiesta
  • Honda Civic
  • Subaru Forester
  • Hyundai Sonana
  • Volvo XC60
  • Buick LaCrosse
  • BMW 5-Series
  • Toyota Sienna
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee
  • Volkswagen Jetta

Peter Orszag

I am a bit surprised to hear about Peter Orszag joining Citi ...

http://www.banktech.com/articles/228800147?cid=nl_bnk_daily

I am not sure why this is not a bigger news than it is ...

I guess this is all a normal part of the usual Washington revolving doors or musical chairs game ...

December 11, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards

Her death is quite shocking to hear.
Reminded me of others who have died over the years.
Reminded of my mortality as well. Especially because it was 'cancer.'
The days of our lives are numbered. As Elizabeth said.
Life and death. So sudden!
What a contrast. More than day and night.
What to do. An unsolvable mystery.
A one way journey ... no turning back, no returning.
All of us will be dead as well ... soon enough. The span of a human lifetime is not much in the life of the universe ... although it appears to be quite long within its own framework.
Nature rules ...

December 01, 2010

News please

Well, here's one of my occasional news round-ups of the day ... just a random collection today's news headlines that caught my fancy for some reason or the other ... oh, so it's my 'editorial judgment' and I am responsible for it, okay!!! So, don't hyperventilate please, ye reader, if you are not in agreement with my particular choice of headline items ... you are free to have your own blog and then talk THERE about the stuff that interests you ... of course, I know that my stuff is better than your stuff — that's a NO-BRAINER!!! So, with that helpful 'disclaimer' or 'Preface,' let's get started ...

  1. Oh, let me start with yesterday's news in fact ... I saw Barkha being 'tried' on NDTV by folks like Dileep Padgaonkar and Sanjay Baru and Swapan Dasgupta. Manu Joseph was there too and the program overall helped me gain some perspective into the whole controversy since I have not been following it too closely ... well, seems like Barkha has not committed some sort of an 'original sin' after all ... and folks were merely hyperventilating after all ... as is the usual nature of media folks to do ...
  2. Ratan Tata is aggrieved about private conversations being bandied about openly with impunity and he has rightly filed a petition in the Supreme Court claiming that his right to privacy has been breached. I shudder to think what all the government might be recording ... when you combine the power of technology, the headiness of power that you feel when you have the official sanction to wield that power, and the secrecy that surrounds this whole business, I think this is a perfect recipe for 'MISUSE' ... All I can think of that the government can do to minimize the scope for misuse of this right would be to have multiple people involved in the decision-making process. And there should be an annual or six-monthly audit of all the wiretapping performed. Ahhhh, I am thinking of Gene Hackman from Enemy of the State. It's such a difficult balance to maintain really .... on the one hand you have the need of the state to keep a tab on things ... have the technological ability to keep a tab on things and then there's this massive scope for abuse/misuse ... a perfect storm ...
  3. And so the circus in Andhra continues ... a son claiming that he is the 'rightful' heir to his father's legacy ... well, I guess his argument certainly has merits in this country where many elderly men/women pass on their legacies to their kids ... so, why not Jagan???
  4. I did not know that the present CVC is the former Telecom Secretary. Need I say more? What a corrupt person he must be!!! And he's the Chief Vigilance Commissioner !!! My foot !!!
  5. WikiLeaks has managed to stir things up once more ...what a fantastic job it is doing ... stirring up one hornet's nest after another and giving sleepless nights to many people around the world ... folks must be wondering: am I next on the list? Here's wishing WikiLeaks all the Godspeed in the world ...
  6. Well, the NDA is going paperless ... that is the National Defense Academy.
  7. What else ... the Sensex is northbound ... exports are on the rise, GDP expected to grow spectacularly ... all positive news basically ... oh well ... cheers then!!! India Shining

F-u-e-l EFFI-cient

Well, this one certainly gives new meaning to that phrase.

One might normally ask ... how many kilometers to a liter? But with this vehicle, the right question is: how many liters per kilometer?

And the answer is: 350 liters ... that's how much fuel the crawler transporter guzzles ...

Have more fuel if you are hungry ...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crawler-transporter

Vehicle Assembly Building

Too many records to its credit ... largest, or fourth largest building in the world by volume, tallest single-story building in the world, tallest building in Florida until 1974, etc.

Well, what can one say about an 'assembly' facility ... basically a 'workshop' that is 160 meters tall, 218 meters long, and 158 meters wide. No need to say much really.

Let me just quote Wikipedia and say that the interior volume of the building is so vast that it has its own weather.

Read more ...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vehicle_Assembly_Building

Boeing X-37

Oh, the U.S. is still up to doing its usual secret x-plane stuff!

I learnt about this beast only today.

It's supposed to do an automatic landing at the Vandenburg Air Force Base this weekend.

Wow!

A Space Shuttle that lands automatically all the way from space ...

November 25, 2010

Nitish Phir Champion

Some good news from the grim and all-too-corroded world of politics. The state of Bihar is in some ways emblematic of all that is wrong about India. That may be a wrong characterization of Bihar but that's the way things stand.

Therefore, it's quite uplifting to hear about the 'landslide' win that the people of Bihar have given to Nitish Kumar. I have heard only good things about his administration. People are saying that some semblance of law & order has finally been established in that lawless land.

Of course, I can't fail to see the irony in all of this ... the fact that we have all come to accept corruption as so much a part of life and of politics that when we come across someone who is NOT corrupt, we hail that fellow with extraordinary amounts of wonderment and appreciation and what not. But this should not be the case in the normal scheme of things. People and politicians in should have been honest people. And the corrupt one should have been the exception. But it seems that things are exactly the opposite and therefore Nitish Kumar's win is cause for much cheer.

A Brief History of Scams ...

I thought to create a brief history of recent scams in our polity. This is as much to inform the public ... well, let me revise that ...

This is more a 'reminder' for myself than an informative piece for the public. You see, now a days scams are coming and going at a furious pace.

So, here goes (in no particular order):
  1. The 2G scam.
  2. The Adarsh housing scam.
  3. The Commonwealth Games loot.
  4. Barkha Dutt and the DMK story.
  5. LIC and PSU bank officers story.

To revisit some of the 'older' scams but still from memory ...

Raju of Satyam fame ... but that will become an unending tale ... might back to the other 'golden age' of scams in India ... during the time of the great Narasimha Rao's primeministership ... from the telecom scam of Sukh Ram to Urea scam and sugar scam of Kalpanath Rai fame ... and oh, how can one forget the famous fodder scam of the one and only Lalu Yadav.

Then you have the coffin scam of the Kargil skirmish times to the Harshad Mehta scam to all the shenanigans of the Ambanis ...

Oh well, I will wanted to mention the 'top five' scams just so I can revisit this blog a bit later and check on the status of those scams.

Ohhhhhhhhh ... spare the children please ...

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/24/phys-ed-the-benefits-of-weight-training-for-kids/

Now, of course, Geetha will have even more reason as to why I should join a gym ... oh well ... I guess I will eventually need to join one ...

See ... the 'bad' News Now ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/25/nyregion/25nychaiti.html?_r=1&hp

People are turning to religion in times of stress — so, what's new???
And oh, one more bad news to post since we are talking about bad news in general. Discovery's final flight has been indefinitely postoponed.
Well, that seems to confirm my blog post from yesterday. Something seems to be seriously amiss with the shuttle program as it seeks to wind down.
Of course, NASA will definitely say 'no, no, this is normal ... this is usual ... we are only following standard procedures.'
But, can I utter aloud the unspoken fear — there is a great likelihood of something going wrong when the shuttle launches ...
Shall I say 'Amen?'

Good News ...

http://articles.cnn.com/2010-11-22/opinion/coontz.marriage.pew_1_marriage-college-educated-women-higher-plane?_s=PM:OPINION

It's good that people have so (relatively) quickly altered their opinion about a relatively hoary tradition of humanity such as marriage.
This is somewhat surprising in the context that with respect to the other weird hoary hoax known variously as god, religion, belief and what not, people are simply not willing to grow up.
Half of Americans probably believe that some god created the universe 10,000 years ago ... which is ... what? unintelligent? againt common sense? patently and obviously untrue???

November 24, 2010

Farewell to Discovery — but what's all this delay about???

I was wondering about all this recurring delays afflicting the final flight of Discovery. And I thought people are choosing to remain silent about a massive elephant in the room. It's a very commonplace and predictable issue really.

Imagine a circus company that has been performing shows for 30 years and now has only two or three shows left to perform before bringing the curtain down permanently. Or, imagine a factory manufacturing cars that has been doing it for the past 30 years but is now on the verge of being closed in a couple of months.

Clearly, there would be a lot of churn going on in either that circus or that plant. I think that's what is happening with NASA as well. Many of the people are probably going to lose their jobs once the shuttle program winds down. The lucky ones will move to different projects inside NASA. Applies to internal NASA employees as well as contractors.

So, probably contractors are being faced with a situation of their best and most talented employees leaving them ... which would clearly affect the quality of execution of their current projects.

These contractors would be basically at various stages of shutting shop as it were. And therefore, perhaps they are not as prepared for somewhat unforeseen challenges as they normally would have been. And I somehow feel that might have something to do with the problems relating to the foam on the external tank .... seems to be some sort of a mark of something getting shoddy somewhere ... may be, some contractor cutting corners somewhere. Same can perhaps apply to the problem with the ground umbilical carrier plate as well.

Surely, NASA will vehemently deny that any such thing is happening or that any such factors are responsible. And yet, my doubts linger.

Well, all one can do is hope for a majestic and successful final flight and a glorious journey into retirement ... Discovery has certainly earned a permanent place for itself in the National Air and Space Museum.

November 23, 2010

The Obama Legacy

Someone wrote that Obama will turn out in the long run to be like a Truman rather than like Carter. I certainly hope that it turns out to be that way.

Although it's also quite 'unfair' that Carter is considered to be a 'failure' for whatever reasons. It just shows how little leverage presidents really have on the larger sweep of events.

It's clearly weird that Reagan has turned almost into a demi-god in Republican circles and even Democrats find it hard to criticize him.

It's no wonder therefore that Mark Twain's memoirs are at no. 4 on bestseller lists whereas George W. Bush's memoirs are almost 'guaranteed' to reach the no. 1 position.

November 19, 2010

Oh .............. how pathetic!!!! An American Sri Sri ... or something

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/14/magazine/14evangelicals-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hpw

I can't believe that all seven billion humans on this planet are actually living on the same planet at all! On the one hand, you have got all these gigantic, mind boggling, spectacular, eye-popping achievements of science and yet on the other hand, people continue to believe in medieval 'faiths.'

How can anyone still look up or point upwards to the sky and say that there's a heaven up there??? Beats me!

The worst part of course is that all these preachers don't mind partaking the benefits of science & technology even as they continue to blame science (or too much of it) and urge the 'faithful' to 'submit' themselves to the 'will of God.'

Do they really believe all the nonsense that they are peddling? Certainly, the in-your-face radical atheism of Richard Dawkins is very much timely.

Do I have to enumerate here all the great achievements of science & technology? It's not even about the fact that we benefit so much from them ... that our lives have become so much better. The fact that cosmologists and astrophysicists understand the large scale structure of the universe and the internal workings of stars may not have much bearing on our personal lives and yet that is an example of the kind of heights to which humankind has already risen intellectually and clearly, it's way, way a wrong century to be depending on God to look after us.

I see some dark times ahead for humanity ... most of all, on account of the huge pressures we are putting on the environment with the relentless increase in human population and the rising standards of living and the rising demands for energy sources. And when nature behaves in an 'unpredictable' manner, people will suffer somewhat and then, I guess, even more people will turn to God ... uttering inanities like 'this is God's way of punishing us for not being good' or whatever similar nonsense.

Oh well, we'll see ...

Top Gear still going strong ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/automobiles/21TOPGEAR.html?_r=1&hpw

Well, it's definitely good news for me as well. I loved watching Jeremy Clarkson's goofiness during the time that I used to watch the show.

I remember his standing in front of the U.S. Congress with placards proclaiming that the Concorde was all-British ... no American parts whatsoever!!! What a goofy idea indeed!

November 16, 2010

Chandra Continues ...

to Razzle and Dazzle ...

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/news/H-10-299.html

It's strange how talk about black holes has become so common place and 'merely' the stuff of science and not folklore.

And unfortunately, for ordinary people, science is considered to be a very dry and starched kind of topic bereft of all romance and suspense and excitement.

Of course, it's exactly the opposite which is the truth.

My Bucket List

In light of the movie starring two enormously accomplished actors (Morgan Freeman & Jack Nicholson), I have become used to the idea of a bucket list of mine.

What would such a list contain? Perhaps some permutation and combination of the following activities ...

  1. Watching a shuttle launch
  2. Better than just watching would be actually going to space on one of those gigantic vehicles.
  3. Even better would be getting to land on the Moon.
  4. Is not going to Mars better than going to the Moon? Sure it is. For me at least.
  5. Perhaps going to New York City would be fun.
  6. And visiting the pyramids of Giza.
  7. Visiting the Grand Canyon ... with someone???
  8. And the Niagara Falls.
  9. And Disneyland?
  10. Go scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef.
  11. Go for a swim with dolphins.
  12. Go see some blue whales somewhere in the North Atlantic or wherever they live ...
  13. Visit Las Vegas for fun???
  14. Enjoy a romantic dinner ... with??? Meg Ryan?
  15. Climb Mt. Everest ...
  16. Fly a Boeing 747.

But I would merely say that I have already accomplished all that I wanted to do ...

Some Intriguing information

https://ntl.custhelp.com/cgi-bin/ntl.cfg/php/enduser/cls_adp.php?p_sid=IN_Ljbfk&p_lva=270&p_li=&p_accessibility=0&p_redirect=&p_sp=cF9zcmNoPSZwX3NvcnRfYnk9JnBfZ3JpZHNvcnQ9JnBfcm93X2NudD0zOTUmcF9wYWdlPTEmcF9zZWFyY2hfdGV4dD1ob21l&p_cluster=00002710008&p_faqid=270&p_created=1204657934&p_topview=1

October 30, 2010

A Bugatti for Mr. Biswas

In this land of Gandhi and Buddha, the Bugatti Veyron is now also available. I know it's yawningly lame to use that hoary phrase.

It's of course as erroneous to imagine that Indians are born ascetics as it's to imagine that somehow Chinese are born to be Communists or Russians are born to be Communists.

Indians seem to be ascetic only because they lack the wealth to be otherwise. All that is changing of course — in India, China, and Russia.

Here's a review for those of us who can't afford it:

http://business.in.com/article/appraisals/bugatti-veyron/342/1

October 29, 2010

4-year-old can be sued

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/29/nyregion/29young.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Well, I am wondering how long the dead will be free from the fear of being sued. Or, may be, it's already ok to sue dead people too.

The most-deserving candidate for lawsuits is of course quite obvious — the imaginary character known as 'God.'

October 18, 2010

What goes up must come down

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/17/world/asia/17japan.html?src=me&ref=general

To use a hoary cliche ... "a cautionary tale" from the Land of the Rising Sun.

I am thinking of that once-somwhat-celebrated book that I had read Silicon Samurai. And I am also wondering as I could not make out clearly ... what is that book with the word 'Samurai' in its title that Jack Nicholson's character is reading on the private jet in The Bucket List.

Oh well ... Uncle Sam is quite rich ...

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/204899.php

$160 million is basically small change. I am happy that no Indians are involved in this ingenious scam. Or, should I say ... I am a bit surprised ...

October 16, 2010

Medical Advances ...

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/204658.php

I don't know what to make of this ...

Well, I guess what suprises me above all is that this has not caused the "usual suspects" to cry foul in any significantly audible fashion which I think is somewhat strange ...

I guess the crazies who oppose advances in medical science are after all less crazy than the "defenders" of the gods ...

I am thinking of the hue and cry — millions of people out on the streets in many cities around the world — that happened when someone made fun of someone in cartoons ...

October 11, 2010

Writing and Winning — The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik

Ngugi wa Thiong' o? Juan Goytisolo? Adonis? Over the past several weeks, some version of this list was muttered, usually to a silent spouse in the middle of the night, by insomniac writers contemplating another Nobel Prize about to go where it shouldn't; i.e. to someone other than themselves. (Not that winning puts out the competitive fires. Saul Bellow, who won the Nobel for literature in 1976, was said to ahve grown wistful every October after that, because you can win it only once.) Nor is the muttering restricted to the papabili who make the short list; pretty much every living writer with a word processor thinks that he or she has a shot at wining. (Edmucd Wilson reports that our own James Thurber longed for it to go, just once, to a humorist; predictably, he never got anywhere near the podium.)

When this year's prize was announced, last Thursday, it went to a writer, who, if not a North American (again), is at least familiar to North Americans: the Peruvian novelist and man of letters Mario Vargas Llosa. So all hair Vargas Llosa, whom even his nosier left-wing critics have to regard as exactly the kind of writer the prize ought to go to: one with a host of well-regarded novels ("The Time of the Hero," "Conversation in the Cathedral," the screen-adapted "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter," "The Feast of the Goat") and a sense of social responsibility (he ran seriously for, and lost badly, the Presidency of Peru), not to mention a lively personal life that includes once punching out another future laureate with an equally impressive triple-barrelled moniker, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, reportedly over something to do with Mrs. Vargas Llosa. The Nobel thus not only crowns a career but provides the basis for a fine future Javier Bardem/Antonio Banderas movie. ("The only thing they cared for more than Latin American epic fiction was ... the honor of a woman.")

What this year's prize really shows is that prizes, like people, have a DNA of their own

October 08, 2010

The Bucket List

Wonderful movie ...

This movie starring two of my favorite actors (Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson).

Saw the movie again.

How can one make a movie as good as this one? That's what I am wondering about.

I can't think of much else to write.

October 03, 2010

Games India Isn't Ready to Play — Pankaj Mishra

This is of course from the New York Times.

He concludes his wonderful article with a perceptive quote from Walter Benjamin:

"There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism."


http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/03/opinion/03mishra.html?_r=1

September 25, 2010

Cosmos Episode 5: Blues for a Red Planet

For Sagan, talking about Mars must be as familiar territory as one's 'back of the hand' to use an old saying. Sagan coveres the history and evolution of our understanding of the Red Planet. All the expected stuff such 'The War of the Worlds' by H. G. Wells to famous Martian canals 'discovered' by Perceval Lowell.

Sagan talks about Robert Goddard and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. And then the modern age of Martian exploration with the Mariner landings. And what an awesome achievement that is! Audacious and impossible-sounding dreams of a century ago are a banal reality today.

Sagan describes the topography and geology and ecology of Mars — about how it came to be a cold and barren planet in spite of having conditions that are seemingly clement for life to arise. The search for life on Mars continues of course.

I am sure like Sagan that one day we'll be the Martians — and all that that implies. I look forward to unmanned aerial vehicles flying in the thin Martian atmosphere and sending the videos back to planet Earth. Oh, what a fantastic thing that would be!

The ideas of terraforming Mars to make it habitable for humans is also an engineering dream that will surely come to fruition in the due course of time. Again, what awesome ideas! Release the CO2 from underground reservoirs and plant vegetation on the planet and let the atmosphere thicken and an ozone layer envelop.

Then one day, Mars will/might have an atmosphere quite Earth-like and we will be able to roam its surface just as we roam the surface of Earth nonchalantly. I can't say 'I look forward to that day' unfortunately as I will have been safely dead by then.

One Day on Planet Earth

Well, roughly.

Yesterday or so was sort of a busy day with many developments. I thought to do a round-up of the news as it were as the Earth rotated around itself.
  • Seven elephants got mowed down by a goods train in Bengal or somewhere. Not an everyday occurrence clearly. Who is to blame? Animal lovers must be furious. I wonder if these gentle giants are loved as passionately by anyone as dogs/cats are by many millions ... Perhaps the undoing of the pachyderms was their tendency to sort of mourn the death of their kin. I think I read in one news item that a kid elephant died first on the tracks and so a herd of elephants had gathered ... perhaps ruminating on the sad event and then they all perished too. I wonder what must go through the giant brains that these giants possess. What thoughts might they possibly have??? Of course, much of their brain might be devoted to housekeeping for the enormous physical sizes they possess and the 'thinking' part or the cerebral cortex part (as it's called in us humans) may be small. I do not know if their cerebral cortex is larger or smaller than that in the human brain.
  • And then Squadron Leader Mahapatra crashed a Mig-27! He survived by ejecting but I guess our poor country lost a fighter aircraft! And they don't come cheap ... how many Nanos can one buy for a single Mig-29? Well, I guess this was nothing out of the ordinary in the sense that sometimes fighter aircraft DO crash ... I guess what is unusual is the name of the fighter pilot ... he has to be from my neck of the woods for sure and therefore the 'event' holds some significance for me ... Alas, I am never going to be a fighter pilot ... sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
  • Oh, a test of the Prithvi II missile failed as it refused to get off the launchpad!!! Ho ho ho ... it was a user trial to be precise. Well, I think a failure once in a while is ok. It's a government program after all. And even software applications crash sometimes ...
  • The usual saga related to the Commonwealth Games continues but perhaps that's a different story.
  • Well, a bit of an older news is that Mahesh Bhupati and Lara Dutta are now 'officially' a couple. Good for them, I say. Not because of the fact that it's 'official' of course ... I don't care whether it's official or unofficial. I mean, it's good that folks are enjoying each other. And India has luckily moved on to accepting people divorcing and changing partners. Life is a ... well, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity ... one could say. Therefore, if folks feel like moving on from one relation to the next, they should be free to do so.
  • And oh, an even 'older' news — the 'young' Putin getting hitched to a 24-year-old gymnast! Oh dear!!! Nothing more to say ...

The Spy Who Came in From The Cold?

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/26/fashion/26Plame.html

A Good Life: Eddie Fisher

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/25/arts/25fisher.html?hpw

September 20, 2010

Human Genome Sequencing for $1,000

A team led by Boston University biomedical engineering researchers is continuing to refine its nanoscale, low-cost, ultra-fast DNA sequencing method that could lead to individual genome sequencing for less than $1,000.

This is all being funded with NIH grants:


http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/201416.php

Early Female Puberty Linked to Absent Biological Father

Research at the University of California, Berkeley has thrown up some unexpected results.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/201709.php

Julianna Deardorff, UC Berkeley assistant professor of maternal and child health, and lead study author, said:

"The age at which girls are reaching puberty has been trending downward in recent decades, but much of the attention has focused on increased body weight as the primary culprit. While overweight and obesity alter the timing of girls' puberty, those factors don't explain all of the variance in pubertal timing. The results from our study suggest that familial and contextual factors - independent of body mass index - have an important effect on girls' pubertal timing."

Bay Area BCERC's principal investigator Dr. Robert Hiatt, UCSF professor and co-chair of epidemiology and biostatistics, and director of population science at the campus's Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, said:

"The hunt for an explanation to this trend is significant since girls who enter puberty earlier than their peers are not only at greater risk for reproductive cancers, they are also more likely to develop asthma and engage in higher risk sexual behaviors and substance abuse, so these studies have broader relevance to women's health."

Deardorff said:

"In some ways, our study raises more questions than it answers. It's definitely harder for people to wrap their minds around this than around the influence of body weight. But these findings get us away from assuming that there is a simple, clear path to the earlier onset of puberty."

September 19, 2010

Cosmos Episode 4: Heaven and Hell

Sagan the exobiologist is in his element talking about the atmospheres of other planets.

He covers too much stuff in one episode as usual.

Sagan starts off with the famous Tunguska event in Siberia. He explains how it might have been the result of a meteor crashing there.

Sagan talks about the hellish atmosphere of the planet Venus and how it got to be so. He elegantly extrapolates the lessons of that cosmic reality to the fate of our own planet Earth.

Great to see the prescient Sagan express concern about the man-made greenhouse effect on Earth at a time in the '70s when clearly environmental consciousness would not have been so commonplace as it is today.

A generation after the series was made of course, the unfortunate reality is that humans are still firmly set on their suicidal course.

Cosmos Episode 3: The Harmony of the Worlds

Here comes Professor Sagan, the Great Astronomy Teacher!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was great to see Sagan launch into astrology with the elegance that only he is capable of. He pretty much demolished astrology in about five eloquent minutes. He pointed out the many incongruities and inconsistencies in the logic of astrology. Of course, the apologists for astrology will find counter-arguments to his arguments but that's a futile exercise.

Sagan enriched my knowledge of history as usual as he talked about how the size of the Earth was first calculated by the director of the Library of Alexandria ... or, perhaps he did that in another episode of Cosmos.

Sagan talked about the Anasazi people of Southwest America who had built a place where the Sun shone at a particular place on only the Solar Solstice.

Sagan went into European history and how Johannes Kepler's orbit intersected with that of Tycho Brahe. Seeing Sagan explain Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion, I was reminded of my own days of undergraduate Physics. Clearly, Sagan's way of explaining it was far more interesting than the usual humdrum teacher's way of explaining it.

Oh, how one wishes one had a teacher like Sagan. But then, perhaps even that would not necessarily inspire all the students in class as students at that age tend to have different inspirations and focuses.

Cosmos Episode 2: One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue

Hail Professor Sagan the Biologist!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was extraordinary to see Sagan turn into the world's best teacher of biology as he talked about the origin and evolution of life on planet Earth.

The ease with which complex organic molecules can form in the atmosphere of the early planet Earth is sobering. One inevitably wonders about how can the same process not have been repeated elsewhere on other planets.

The complexity of the DNA molecule is rather perplexing to understand of course but one then it's difficult to grasp the expanse of millions of years and billions.

The self-replicating nature of biological molecules is fundamentally astonishing and the complexity of a single cell is truly mind boggling.

It will definitely help to find life elsewhere on other planets ... even the simplest sort of life forms as that will deprovincialize biology as Sagan put it. Hence, the continued search for life on Mars.

We have to develop the technologies in the future to go explore planets around other stars too in the nearby regions of our galaxy and look for life there. One wonders which will happen first.

Whether we will go to other planets around other stars and discover microbial life forms or whether some of our radio detection equipment will detect evidence of advanced extraterrestrial life elsewhere in the cosmos. Either of which will be plenty exciting but alas perhaps neither of these is destined to occur in my lifetime.

Cosmos Episode 1: The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean

A spectacular opening to the series by Sagan as he provides a historical perspective about ourselves. Clearly, he is doing a conscious job of not presenting a Western-centric worldview or looking at the world as merely comprising of Westerners.

Sagan's knowledge of history would seem to suggest that he is a historian and not a scientist as he tours the Library of Alexandria and mourns the loss suffered as the result of the destruction of that temple of knowledge.

There's a message there for those who wish to understand it. The Library was the glory of the ancient world for seven long centuries. Yes!

How many monuments of the modern world can claim to have lived for that long. All that we would be able to think of as great have been built perhaps in the last one hundred years.

I can think of everything from the great skyscrapers to the great bridges to the space vehicles and the great cities.

But which of these will remain great seven centuries hence ... and therein lies the strange dichotomy. Humans, as Sagan so beautifully illustrates with his cosmic calendar, have made an appearance on the cosmic stage very recently indeed ... all of recorded human history has happened in the last few centuries which is like the last day of the cosmic calendar comprising the entire 15 billion years of our cosmos.

From the perspective of a single human life, centuries appear like eons ... many generation are born and die in the span of centuries and in recent times, our civilization is making progress in such an accelerated fashion that it is more impossible than ever before to predict where we'll be in the next 500 years from now.

And yet, the true history of the world comprises not centuries or millennia but millions of years. That's how long time is needed for the great forces of evolution to work their wonders.

Hundreds of millions of years have passed since the time of the great dinosaurs roaming this Earth. It is a fantastic fact, isn't it, to imagine this Earth during the time of the dinosaurs.

Life took even longer to reach the stage of those complicated reptiles ... the Cambrian explosion of 500 million years ago can be pinpointed as the epoch since when evolution has happened in an 'accelerated' fashion. And yet, clearly, 500 million years for humans to evolve is not a cakewalk on the scale of a human lifetime.

And, oh, evolution is not a certain affair. There are unpredictabilities and randomness built into the evolutionary process. The appearance of humans hinges on many chance occurrences not the least of which was the 'lucky' extinction of the dinosaurs.

Naturally, one wonders as one ponders these great time spans ... what lies in our future? We live in an universe where a thousand years is merely two seconds on the cosmic calendar.

We indeed have thousands of years ahead of us. Even a hundred thousand years. And a million years. And 10 million years. And 100 million. And 500 million. And a billion. And five billion years.

Then of course the Sun will die and we will have to find a new home as the Earth will die along with the Sun.

It amazes me as to why these scientific reflections don't seem to hold so much attraction for much of humanity as it does for Sagan and for me and a few others like me. Perhaps that is all right. Perhaps the contemplation of the cosmos is a scary business somehow and people might get scared if they contemplate it too much.

It's perhaps good that humans are happy to live their humdrum lives without worrying too much about the origin and evolution of humans or of the cosmos.

But it gives me a sense of calm ... some perspectives to counteract the pulls and pressures of the rat race of life.

Cosmos Episode 9: The Lives of the Stars

What a rousing climax to this episode as Sagan imagines being on a planet somewhere about the central disk of the galaxy and how each morning on that planet, the inhabitants would witness not a sunrise but a galaxyrise.

What a soaring imagination to cover in one episode everything starting with Chemical Elements 101 from the Cavendish Laboratory to talk about white dwarfs, neutron stars, super novae, red giants, pulsars, and black holes.

Not much needs to be revised in this generation old series from his descriptions of the interior of the atoms to his descriptions about the lives of the stars.

And oh, he talks about how black holes might be worm holes through which we might be able to journey to different parts of the universe. The usual science fiction stuff of course but I can hardly wait to fall into a black hole.

It occurred to me that in the time since Sagan made this series, no one else has dared to venture onto this territory and try and improve on Sagan. Seems like an impossible task in spite of the advancements in so many aspects of making TV programs.

That proves that this series was essentially possible due to the singular talent of one man.

Time will tell if there will ever be another one quite as talented.

September 18, 2010

Old? Who Me?

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/17/us/17judge.html?ref=a_g_sulzberger

Being a judge at 103 must be a pretty unique experience indeed.

And America must be the only country in the world that lets that be.

Well, I do admire the system that allows it and the men who persevere so.



Delhi Earthquake

Earthquake in Delhi.

I think a mild tremor shook Gurgaon about 10/15 minutes back.

I am not even sure if it was a figment of my imagination ... we'll see tomorrow I guess.

Sure, nobody came rushing out of their homes in the middle of the night. I guess everyone is fast asleep on a Friday night after a tiring week.

It's only weird me who is still not quite dead and so felt the very slight tremors in my chair in my fourth floor apartment.

Am I hallucinating? Or, a canary in the mine.

September 13, 2010

Oh! Hi! Oh ...

So, the usual reactions and anger and disappointment.

The State of Ohio in its wisdom decided not to let any company outsource any IT projects to India. Fair enough. And then the howling starts out of India. Quite predictably.

I don't understand all this hullabaloo of course.

I think lawmakers of the State of Ohio are perfectly justified in trying to preserve and protect jobs of that state for the citizens of that state.

Contrast this with the hullabaloo that has happened in the recent past in India itself where politicians of a state want to protect jobs in that for people of that state only.

But of course, one need not worry too much at this development.

Private businesses and corporations exist for one purpose only — to maximize their own profits. These entities will push outsourcing for the simple reason of enhancing their own profits. And in this game of monetary oneupmanship, India has got some advantages because of the low cost of its IT manpower.

So, so need to lose one's sleep! At least, not so soon ...

Teleanesthesia

I heard this for the first time ...

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/200688.php

Folks being 'put to sleep' at a distance ...

Well, manpowe is never really a problem in this blessed country called India ... so, I guess the premise of this technique is a tad difficult for me to appreciate.

I am thinking of those lethal injection delivery techniques ... used to punish criminals ... one of the ways of executing a criminal of death row.

Oh well, it's perhaps not right to write about an advance in medical science/anesthesiology and a way to kill criminals.

Giraffe Shuttle and Panda

No kidding!

Pardon me if I seem like I am being a brand ambassador of GE.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/200754.php

These stuff really exist!

All for the benefit of tiny-tots of course!

Well, Godspeed then!

September 11, 2010

Remembrances ...

http://www.corsinet.com/braincandy/graves.html

Thanks to Geetha, I got these wonderful tombstone literature.

Wonderful strong words about the Pope

Geetha sent me this link ... I don't know how and where she comes across all this good stuff!!!

Wonderful and strong-worded criticism of the Pope:

http://newhumanist.org.uk/2369/an-audience-with-the-pope

I was thinking that all this religion business has become such an integral part of one's life that it's difficult to get rid of it all without having some alternate structure.

People don't think too much about the evil that religion is and about the pure lunacy and idiocy of religion. So, they don't mind placidly accepting all the untruths being peddled by religion.

The problem is that if you get rid of religious rituals, what do you do when a person dies and what do you when someone is born? How do you observe all those occasions leaving religion aside?

I mean, stupid Indians who consider themselves rich (for example, I have in mind, the so-called hot-shot IT professionals) and intelligent do not mind buying a car and then taking it to some temple to have it blessed by God or whatever it is that they do.

The same stupid folks ... when they take the even bigger step of buying a house, of course they organize a big religious function ... for what, I would be damned if I know.

So, all in all, since religion is so deeply ingrained into people's everyday lives or into the important aspects or occasions of their lives, it seems it is going to be tough to get rid of this menace of religion though it's great to have people like Dawkins and Hitchens and so many others calling a spade a spade finally.

September 07, 2010

Masterful Friedman

As always, Tom Friedman manages to come up with an incisive article with a lot of clarity.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/opinion/05friedman.html?src=me&ref=general

The days are over when America used to be the sole superpower. But now what? Well, so now, we have an Iran with crazy ideas and a crazy leadership doing crazy things and we have an Afghanistan caught in its eternal web of poverty and poppy not to mention religious poppiness too.

Looking back upon the history of the 20th century, the story seems simple enough in retrospect: couple of World Wars which were essentially European wars with competing national or racial or political identities and ideologies.

What will the history of the 21st century look alike a hundred years from now? Perhaps there will be lots of little or regional turmoils and no big ones on the scale of those world wars. The key driver of those conflicts will be differing religious worldviews — truly a tragedy that all these religious ideas which have long outlived their relevance not to mention validity still can arouse so much feelings amidst people. I wish people would yawn at any mention of religion or any religious references whatsoever. But I am afraid that day is nowhere close to us. Being a citizen of India, I get to see how deeply embedded in people's psyches religion is. Of course, people in the so-called advanced countries are hardly much better ... it's easy enough to whip up religious hysteria in those nations as well despite their self-proclaimed advancements.

September 01, 2010

Moore'e Law Revisited

The following NYT article is interesting ...
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/31/science/31compute.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=general
People of course have been predicting the end of the Moore's Law since almost as long as Moore has predicted it. But it has been happily surviving all those dire predictions.

Today, science is faced with some seemingly fundamental scientific limits as it seeks to miniaturize chips and switching and data storage devices.

But as the article points out, perhaps solutions will yet be found using some quantum principle ... some offshoot of nanotechnology perhaps ... one is happy to hear exotic phrases such as memristers and what not ...

What a journey we have traversed in such a short span of time — from vacuum tubes to quantum computing. I think I indeed had vacuum tubes in the physics lab of my college during the days of my youth. Well, that might give the impression that I must surely be a doddering old 80-year-old gentleman looking 60 years back in time. But that would be a wrong impression.

My undergraduate days were from 1989 to 1991 only. So, the existence of vacuum tubes in the lab in those 'recent' days actually demonstrates how archaic India is.

But of course the communication revolution has meant that we have access now to MIT OpenCourseware stuff! So, in a way, many barriers are gone ...

All the wonderful stuff of science ... from Hubble images to Chandra images to the human genome to other biological projects to SETI@Home and EINSTEIN@Home ...

And now we can perhaps look forward to the day when we will have cellphone sized storage devices ... the sort of external hard disk which I have with a capacity of 500 GB ... soon, the capacity of that hard drive might increase to 500 petabytes ... which is 500,000 terabytes ... which is 500,000,000 gigabytes ... which is 500,000,000,000 megabytes ... which is 500,000,000,000,000,000 bytes ...

WHEW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

August 28, 2010

Cosmos Episode 8: Travels in Space and Time

Sagan covers so much ground in this episode ... which is what he does in all the other episodes as well!

Sagan explains relativity to the general audience — I would never have thought that possible. Perhaps, an audience that is not trained in science would not be able to make much of this really.

The spectacular ideas originating with Albert Einstein that the speed of light is the ultimate speed in the universe, that the speed of light stays constant in all frames of reference, that there are no privileged frames of reference, that time slows down as you travel close to the speed of light, all these concepts are such basic concepts of modern physics and yet very little known to the general public.

Sagan talks about the original thinker that Leonardo da Vinci was and how Einstein's special relativity opens the door to the possibility of long distance space and time travel.

Sagan shows sketches of spaceships of the future that utilize nuclear fusion as their power source — surely something that lies hundreds of years in the future from now if not thousands.

And yet we must be thankful to the people who dare to design such things in a world where stupidity of all sorts is all too common.

It astonishes me no end that we are a species that simultaneously conducts space exploration and is still mired in all sorts of religious and ethnic and other sorts of fanaticism.

On the one hand, we have landed robotic spacecraft on other planets and yet on the other hand, the planet still struggles with abject poverty and millions and hundreds of millions of people are still prey to superstitious religious beliefs.

Cosmos Episode 7: The Backbone of Night

Sagan begins this episode talking about his childhood years in Brooklyn. He describes how as one grows up ANYWHERE, one's world keeps getting bigger.

Sagan goes back to the Greek islands from 2,600 years ago where people first developed the scientific method.

Sagan goes even further back in time to our hunter-gatherer ancestors and wonders if they ever wondered about the stars and how they would have reasoned.

We are all children of astronomers of course, like Sagan has said in one of these episodes somewhere.

It is awe-inspiring to realize that people made simple extrapolations and realized that those little points of lights in the night sky had to be like our sun and that there might be planets and life around those stars too.

And here we are, more than 2,000 years on, and we are still searching for the answers to those questions posed a long time back. It's tough to find the answers to some questions.

I was thinking of what questions I could pose today that humanity would still be trying to answer more than 2,000 years from now.

Sagan touches upon Democritus to Pythagoras to Pluto and then returns to a classroom full of young kids in Brooklyn. It is fantastic to see the zeal kids have for science — pure, unadulterated curiosity. Slowly, as kids grow up, they get caught in various rat races and the sense of curiosity somehow becomes quiescent.

Sagan also mellifluously described how the natural curiosity of mankind ages ago would have naturally led to ideas that perhaps the Sun and the Moon were gods and so also all the other occurrences of nature.

In making that argument of course, Sagan unarguably demolishes the need or rationale for any religion in the present day ... without being too bellicose about it.

It's up to the smart people among us to realize that.

It of course amazes me that so many of us would cling to these prehistoric religious beliefs ... belief-systems which arose millennia ago while we would not be seen dead in a car more than ten years old or a cell phone more than two years old.

What is so sacrosanct about 'old' belief systems that gives them any enduring value. it's not time to throw all of them away into the dustbin like so many computers from the '80s, well, it's LONG PAST the time when we should have done that.

August 26, 2010

Cosmos Episode 6: Traveller's Tales

Sagan is in his element in this episode ... well, really he is in his element in ALL the episodes!

Sagan talks about the Voyagers ... those robotic spaceships ... traveller's from Earth as far as Sagan is concerned.

Sagan goes back and forth in time effortlessly ... from the world of Christian Huygens to the strange worlds discovered by the Voyagers ...

Sagan talks about the Jovian satellites and their wonders.

Sagan daringly conludes this episode like the true visionary that he is imagining the day that people on Titan will look up at the sky and see the wonder that is the ring planet Saturn.

I am sure that day will come to pass perhaps 500 years from now ... long after we are gone from Earth.

The Cassini mission that Sagan talks about has come to pass of course. How sad it is that Sagan did not live to see the spacecraft landing on Titan ...

August 23, 2010

Cosmos Episode 13: Who Speaks for Earth

Sagan makes a personal stand in this episode. This episode is kind of like a crescendo of this fascinating series.

Sagan covers an immense and bewildering amount of ground in this episode too as with every other episode. He narrates the story of how French explorers first made contact with a tribe living on an Alaskan coast back in the 18th century and how they had a peaceful interaction and he contrasts this with Spanish explorers and they violent initial contacts they had with the Aztecs in Mexico. This was all awe-inspiringly new found knowledge and discovery for me personally of course.

He uses these earlier encounters to explain how a future initial contact with an extraterrestrial civilization might turn out to be. He daringly attempts to explain the imponderables in the Drake Equation which tries to put a number on the possible existence of intelligent civilizations elsewhere in the universe. I am curious about one of the components of the Drake Equation in particular — the likelihood of a technologically advanced civilization self-destructing. The prognosis in that equation is rather pessimistic. I don't know why that should be so. On Earth and in that particular moment in the history of human civilization when the Cold War was at its zenith or near-zenith, it might have been easy to have a pessimistic outlook about humanity's future. But, I don't know why we should extrapolate that and ascribe similar stupidities to all civilizations that develop technical capabilities. The particular adolescence of humanity arises out of some peculiar evolutionary heritage whereby we have deeply held racial/national allegiances. I don't think that these would necessarily apply to all up and coming technological civilizations on all planets. I sure hope so.

Sagan passionately elucidates the extraordinarily dangers from nuclear war. This was of course a very clear and present danger back in the seventies when the series was first made. This particular danger has receded somewhat since then.

Overall, since this was the last episode, one is tempted to pass judgment on the series as a whole. I am clearly inadequately qualified for that task. Sagan was a professional scientist of course. His speciality lay in extraterrestrial explorations. Other scientists have discovered other stuff. So much has been discovered in biology since we understood the structure of the DNA. So much has been explained and understood in particle physics down to quarks. So much is known now in the realm of the large-scale structure of the universe. We understand perfectly well the evolution of stars and galaxies. Astronomy has advanced so much across much of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Sagan's more fundamental contribution has been his role as the Great Communicator of all this scientific knowledge to the larger public. Of course, the current attitude of the public in much of the world to science is very lucidly and very disappointingly demonstrating the public's absolute ignorance about the scientific enterprise. It's astonishing to see how effortlessly people adopt the fruits of scientific advancements and at the same time do not mind questioning its methods and principles. It's astonishing how scientific and unscientific people can be all at the same time.

In conclusion, one can only say that Sagan was a one of a kind. We have never seen a more passionate and pellucid communicator of science in all of human history. I wonder if there will ever be another one quite like him. Of course, it should not shock anyone if I say that Sagan was way ahead of the times and century that he lived in. Humanity in the 20th century was not quite ready to understand him. I wonder when humanity will grow mature enough to appreciate men like Sagan or Feynman and others of their quality rather than following some demagogic leader blindly like so many uneducated, unskepitcal sheep.

In another 500 years, humanity should still remember Sagan ... or may be only the historians will remember him ... those who would be studying the discipline of 'ancient history' in the 26th century.

August 22, 2010

Cosmos Episode 12: Encyclopedia Galactica

It's not that I am unfamiliar with the topics that Sagan covers in this series. In fact, I've read Cosmos and many of Sagan's other books. So, I guess the reason why I am lovin' it so much is because it has been quite a while since I touched base with all these concepts that are so close to my heart.

In this episode, Sagan daring touches upon what one might describe as the somewhat treacherous and murky grounds of UFOs and extraterrestrial intelligence. It was instructive to see him emphasize and repeat that 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs.'

The way he categorically ruled out that all the sightings of UFOs are anything but figment's of people's imaginations showed the essential spirit of scientific inquiry at its best — one might almost have concluded that Sagan doesn't really think that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe at all.

But in fact Sagan and most other scientists do believe in the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. They are positive that our galaxy must be teeming with them. That of course poses the question of why we have not yet made contact with any. A question to which there is no answer really.

It boggles the mind that we are not yet conducting an exhausting survey of the universe across all available radio channels to detect if any such civilization out there is sending out any messages intentionally or otherwise.

After all, we have been broadcasting out into space our TV messages unintentionally ... the unfortunate historical fact being that Hitler's opening ceremony speech from the Berlin Olympics in 1936 is going to be one of the first TV signals that has gone out into space from the human race.

The question of our ability to decipher such a message if and when we receive it is another issue as well and Sagan goes back to the story of how the Egyptian hieroglyphics were deciphered after a lot of effort and missteps to illustrate the difficulties involved in the process.

August 21, 2010

Cosmos Episode 11: The Persistence of Memory

It's going to be tough to write about Cosmos because I will run out of superlatives pretty soon. Anway, we'll see about that when we come to it, I guess!

It was breathtaking to see Sagan start this particular episode talking about whales with all the confidence and panache and more of a marine biologist.

He talks about the amount of information in our genes and then moves on to our brains — one particular theory posits that the brain evolved in layers: the brain stem, the Reptilian-complex, and then the cerebral cortex.

He lucidly shows how the brain contains more information than contained in our genes and how that accounts for all that we have accomplished as a species and he extrapolates about species that might have more neurons and neuronal connections than are present in our brains. He speculates about intelligent life forms whose neurons may not be physically connected like they are in our brains. What creative thoughts!

Astonishingly enough, Sagan draws parallels between how a city like New York evolves and how our brain has evolved! And he does a marvelous job of it of course ...

And yet as powerful as our brains are, mankind has advanced so much in the last few centuries although it has had pretty much the same brain for the last ten thousand years. Sagan leads us to understand how critically important books have been, the technologies of paper and printing and all the related stuff.

And of course, late in his life, Sagan would have witnessed the incipent Internet and would have visualized the end of printed books as well.

My thoughts were that every educated person should watch this series ... at least, this is much easier than reading all his books. This should be part of the curriculum in all streams of education.

And it makes me shudder when I hear politicians proudly go on about the Sunday Bible schools they had attended as kids.

The amazing truths about the real universe discovered by science are far more awe-inspiring than any religious truths contained in any of the religions of the world. Think of the fact of the expansion of the universe first discovered by Hubble and his assistant whose name I was not familiar with so far until Sagan mentioned him.

Cosmos Episode 10:The Edge of Forever

It was amazing to see Sagan touch upon such a vast array of topics and present it all with his exquisite and unique poetic touch.

This episode is all about the large scale structure of the universe. Sagan talks about the types of galaxies and the origin and fate of the universe.

Sagan tries to explain the possibility of the existence of a forth dimension. He wonders if there might be enough matter in the universe to stop the present expansion of the universe.

Oddly enough, he seamlessly weaves Hindu philosophical stuff into this story of modern scientific cosmology. He talks about how only the timescales mentioned in Hindu mythology come anywhere close to the timescales revealed by modern cosmology.

It was wonderful to see Sagan visit South India and talk about the Pongal harvest festival in the same episode that he talks about the Very Large Array in New Mexico. And he visits both South India as well as the VLA.

He gives eloquent voice to the speculations about whether our universe might be only one of an infinite number of universes and whether we are living in one cycle in an infinite cycle of expansions and contractions.

Sagan humbles by both the breadth of the science that he talks about as well as the breadth of his vision and knowledge and humility.

I liked the way he both pointed out that timescales in Hindu mythology roughly correspond to the timescales in modern cosmology and at the same time added that it was mere coincidence.

We are truly poised at the edge of forever as he concluded the episode by saying. That was true when he said it and that remains true today.

I wonder if we will ever reach definitive conclusions about these cosmic questions or if we will still be poised on the same edge a thousand years from now and a million years from now.

It was calming to see all this as we realize then that we are all so insignificant in the big scheme of things. Our individual human lives do not have much significance. That gives me some solace as I measure my own life with all its little triumphs and numerous defeats.

August 17, 2010

Sherlock Holmes Needed!

It's a strange case of disappearing old men and women!


Japan has many achievements it can be proud of. One of those is the extraordinary number of centenarians amongst its population.


But now it seems that many of those centenarians exist merely on paper!


http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/world/asia/15japan.html?_r=1&th&emc=th

The New York Times reports that some of the older folks have been dead or missing for nearly 30 years in some cases but their relatives never reported this minor detail to the government so that they could keep claiming the pension.


Well, it seems economic necessity can make people do the strangest things.

It might seem ironic to state of course that people in nations such as the United States and Japan suffer from 'poverty' ... synonymous as those nations have become with wealth and affluence.

August 16, 2010

Topic of Cancer

Hitchens writes about what it feels like to be diagnosed with cancer.

http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2010/09/hitchens-201009

He is wonderfully unsentimental as when he suggests that an appropriate answer to that inevitable question about 'Why Me?' is ... 'Why Not?'

Yeah, exactly the kind of stoicism that I hope to display under circumstances of stress.

It's infinitely infantile of course to imagine that the universe cares whether we are alive or dead! But clearly, people who believe in one variety of religion or the other do believe that there exists a benevolent 'Father' up in the sky who is looking after us.

Of course, it beats me how people can believe in the basic scientific facts such as the fact of the Earth being a sphere and revolving around the Sun in space and at the same time believe in all this religious childish mumbo-jumbo. You see, when you look up at the sky to point to the Big Fellow with the White Beard, that's only a part of the sky that's relatively located at the top of your head at that point in time.

If you could go through the center of the Earth, you would reach a point exactly opposite to where you are standing at the moment and there, you would again point to the sky to locate 'Heaven.'

The problem is that these two heavens would be located in exactly the opposite directions!

August 14, 2010

The Churlish Adolescence of India and Pakistan

I was surprised when I learnt recently that the Government of India was mulling giving aid to the flood victims in Pakistan until recently when so many weeks have passed since the floods.

This is extremely unfortunate and childish on the part of the government. Does it think that the people of India will get angry if it gives aid to the poor people of Pakistan? I don't think the people of India have any enmity with the common men and women of Pakistan who are probably hostages in the hands of the Army and religious zealots.

And at last, the government, in its infinite wisdom decided to give $5 million. But, strangely enough, now it's the turn of the government of Pakistan to show that it's no less childish than the government of India. So, what does the government of Pakistan do? It's still mulling whether to 'accept' India's gift or not!

It's shocking to see this infantile behavior of these two 60 year old nations.

August 13, 2010

Death!

Is the right punishment for corrupt people. That's my opinion.

It's nauseating to hear about all the corruption with respect to the contracts awarded for various projects related to the Commonwealth Games.

People are doing it so 'transparently' and brazenly as they know that nothing will happen to them ... there are no consequences. Powerful people know that you can always make sure that a corruption case will get lost in the maze of the Indian judiciary. You can make a case last longer than your lifetime and then of course once you are dead, it's over!!!

The death sentence is on the statute books of course for the 'rarest of the rare' crime as of now. People get the death sentence for particularly gruesome cases of murder. Although, another oddity in India has been the fact of how rarely even those few death sentences get carried out. But that's another story.

If people can be awarded the death sentence for murder/rape, then why not give them the death sentence for particularly eggregious cases of corruption as well. I think we as a society have to agree to do it and then we can really use it effectively.

Of course, we'll need to fast track such cases like we manage to fast track cases where any foreigner is raped. Once people see justice being served expeditiously, the corrupt will curb their abandon. China provides a good model in this sphere though it's not a model to be followed in general.

Let's not wax eloquent and get all mushy about the value and sanctity of life and what not. Let's face it. Life is cheap in India.

How many people die in road accidents everyday in India? 300? 400?

How many folks just fall off the railway tracks in Mumbai everyday and die that way? 10? 20?

How many female infanticides happen every year?

How many cases of murder that don't get solved?

Nehru, Indira and Manmohan?

Holy Ghost!!!

Well, the mumbling Good Doctor is now India's third-longest serving PM ...

Third on the all-time list! Well, India does not have the kind of restrictions that the United States. Think of the vision of Washington to leave the office voluntarily after he completed two terms in the office!

That was 200 years ago and strangely enough nobody dared to try to better the General. Think of Jefferson — he wanted him epithet to say that he was the founder of the University of Virginia. Being the President was passe to him. What an humble polymathic genius!

And what do we folks here in India do? We put someone in the office of the PM and once the bloke has been there long enough, we start thinking ... 'oh, who after him/her!' This man/woman is indispensable!!! How is India going to survive after him/her!!!

And we lift the ordinary mortal to the level of a deity ... there you go. That's us Indians. We really like our deities I guess.

Does BlackBerry bypass the NSA?

That's what I am thinking after reading this ...

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/13/technology/13rim.html?hpw

I mean, the U.S. govt. is probably able to crack any encrypted communication it wants to ...

And the movie Enemy of the State would have us believe that the telecommunications companies are hand in glove with the govt. And of course there are laws in the U.S. too that require companies to provide access to the govt. when the govt. wants to tap into any particular individual's account.

As long as that's all done in a supervised fashion ... legal warrants and all ... I think that's okay in these days of terrorism.

Slice of History!

And what a day it must have been!

To live through and fight through the War.

We are all poorer for not having participated in anything so massive ...


http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/13/from-photos-periphery-an-eyewitness-to-a-timeless-kiss/#comment-737783

God Bless!!!

Oh, swine flu is spreading fast in Orissa!
Where in hell is that exactly, you may ask?
Well, it's just one of the tiny states of the Republic of India. If you are trying to find out on a map, look EAST if you may please ...
40 million people ... all the relevant statistics that matters.

And what do the blessed and intelligent folks of Orissa — happens to be the state that I am from — do to 'fight' swine flu?
Oh, they turn to homeopathy of course!
Wow! How smart of them!

August 12, 2010

And Kashmir Smolders

The Valley has seen enormous discontent in the population in recent months.

Many people have been killed in firing by the security forces. A really tragic state of affair. Kashmir is almost like a problem without a solution. Things seem hopelessly bad.

But challenging problems have been solved elsewhere in the world.

It seems though that people must learn to deemphasize the role of religion in their lives for any hope of finding some sort of a solution.

Strangely enough, when you look at what is common to many of the enduring problems the world over, religion seems to be the one thing that is common to them all.

Think of the never-ending troubles in the Middle East. Jerusalem, the Holy Land being at the center of dispute, there being many claimants to the same patch of land.

Northern Ireland was a religious problem too though it seems to have been resolved amicably now.

Of course, the worst of the battles in the history of the world have been fought about national and racial identities.

It seems therefore that excessive racial and nationalistic zeal along with religion are the true poisons of mankind.

Hawking Says — Beware Mankind!

Stephen Hawking says that humanity must find an alternate to planet Earth in the next couple of centuries failing which our chances of long-term survival are slim.

I am hopeful that we will certainly find habitable planets in the vast oceans of space that is our visible universe.

I am sure there will be many good candidate planets for colonization in the spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy itself.

What is disheartening is to realize the enormous vastness of galaxies. When you talk about interstellar space and interstellar travel, distances inevitably need to be measured in hundreds and thousands of light years just to begin with.

And the rocket technology that we have mastered so far is woefully inadequate for the task of making these interstellar journeys even inside our own galaxy.

Certainly, our little, tiny planet Earth will be found to be suffocatingly small for an ever burgeoning population of billions of humans.

But there's an irony there though. As long as parts of the human race continue to have babies in significant numbers, the battle for scare resources becomes that much more desperate. And we have to waste our energy and effort to find answers to the basic challenges of feeding the teeming multitudes.

Broadly speaking, we can't devote our attention and energy fully to the task of developing a 'sufficiently advanced form of technology' unless we rise above more basic problems.

We are yet to eradicate polio and TB, malaria, and HIV.

Surely, their eradication will come to pass though nobody can give an accurate prediction of when that will happen.

I think I should preserve my brain using cryonics techniques so that I can be brought back to life in another thousand years ...

I want to see where humanity will be in 3001 A.D.

Puberty Ahoy!

It seems girls are reaching puberty ever sooner and this has been linked to a general increase in weight.

Well, the human species is changing in fundamental ways, it seems.

But that's inevitable although we are probably far away from accomplishing the kind of things depicted in the movie Avatar.

Plane Crashes in Alaska

And Ted Stevens, the long-time Alaska senator dies.

Luckily, Sean O'Keefe, the former administrator of NASA survived the crash.

It beats me how anyone can survive a plane crash but I don't know the details of the crash of this private jet.

O'Keefe, it turns out, now heads the North American operations of EADS, the European defense and aerospace giant.

That's a perk of having deep links in Washington thanks to his many years of working in the Beltway.

Desiree Rogers is now CEO

The ex-White House Social Secretary is now the CEO of a major publishing house.

Call it the perks of a stint at the White House.

But print publishing apparently seems to be on a death spiral.

So she will need all the luck in the world to revive the magazines that she is going to publish.

August 10, 2010

The Perks and Perils of CEOship

CEOs of major corporations are in some ways like modern-day royalty. Of course, PMs and Presidents of countries can lay claim as well. Obama enjoys such perks of the presidency as would have been quite unimaginable in the days of the old-world kings.

However, these modern-day royals have to perform a real tight-rope walking as well. Gone are the days when kings used to have 'exclusive' access to extensive harems. Alas!

These days, well, just look at what happened to the CEO of HP. Mark Hurd has done a fantastic job as the CEO by all accounts. And yet he was brought down by sexual harrassment charges brought by a reality TV contestant.

It's not entirely clear what exactly was the job description of the lady who has brought these sexual harassment charges. Seems like she was a high-end hostess or something — whatever that means.

Perhaps, HP's mistake lay in hiring her for that job but then that decision must have been more than just Mark's since her's was very much a 'public' job.

To me though, there seems to be some amount of inherent contradiction in this lady making these charges.

Clearly, I am not aware of the specifics of the charges levelled. My point therefore is simply this: clearly, the lady was not hired for her 'rare' intellectual abilities. She was hired because she was a woman and had what women have that makes them appealing to men.

That being the case, I would tend to be somewhat skeptical about her allegations.

It's somewhat vertiginous to think about these things. I am thinking of how constrained a President of the U.S. is now a days ... how careful he has to be. Certainly, a president can't think of conducting some secret affair.

And yet you had Clinton doing exactly that and almost self-destructing his presidency. He did what he did inspite of all the 'known' risks that he must have been aware of ... more than most people ... inevitably got caught with ... shall I say 'with his pants down'?

Kennedy was lucky then. The press was more ... deferential perhaps or cooperative or non-interfering back in those ... should I say, 'halcyon days'?

Alzheimer's conundrum

The battle against Alzheimer's seems to be reaching some fruition.

It seems researchers have come up with definitive biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/10/health/research/10spinal.html?_r=1&hp

Parallels are being drawn between these amyloid and tau markers as a predictor of Alzheimer's and cholesterol as a predictor of heart disease.

So, the dilemma is also pretty inherent. Having cholesterol is a good predictor of heart disease. However, not everyone who has high cholesterol will develop heart disease.

Similarly, if a person has amyloid and tau, that doesn't mean that the person is sure to develop Alzheimer's in the future.

Drug companies out there are all frantically trying to develop drugs of course.

Will we see a day when there will be something akin to atorvastatin for people having these biomarkers?

It's going to be a dangerous balancing act to do a cost versus benefit analysis pertaining to any drugs that apper that proclaim to help 'prevent' Alzheimer's.

But it will be really wonderful if such a linear correlation or cause-and-effect relation is definitively proven and then drug(s) are developed to counter those degenerative processes in brain cells.

Hopefully, this task won't be akin to finding the mythical elixir of life or the fountain of youth.

Choppers of India Unite!

Now that Sen. Charles Schumer (D — NY) has termed Infosys a 'chop shop,' righteous indignation and condemnation will pour forth like water down the Niagara.

The 'insiders' know that it's all political posturing ahead of the mid-term elections.

Is Infosys a chop shop?

Well, if Infosys was into the leveraged buyout business, then this 'slur' might have made some sense. As it is, it's nonsense of course and I expect Tom Friedman to write about this in his next column.

Friedman got the 'inspiration' to name his book The World Is Flat from Nilekani of Infosys after all.

What does Infosys do though? What does the broader Indian IT industry do?

It certainly can't claim to be an innovator in the sense of a Microsoft or Google or Apple. What Indians are learning to do is acquire IT skills and some domain expertise and then be able to do 'regular' paying white-collar jobs that earlier Americans used to do.

So, these 'safe' jobs for average Americans are vanishing in astonishing numbers. That makes the Indian IT industry somewhat of a convenient scapegoat in the current difficult economic climate in the United States.

Manufacturing has of course shifted lock, stock and barrel to China from the U.S. However, that's a done deal and so there's no point in crying hoarse over that particular split milk.

The outsourcing of good, high-paying white collar jobs is still a work-in-progress and so it makes some sense for politicians to shed some crocodile tears over it.

I certainly sympathize with the plight of the poor Americans. Whereas the average young American professional might aim to earn $100,000 by the time he or she is 30, Indian professionals would be happy to earn one-fifth of that. Earning $20,000 in India would make the person very rich indeed!

This is of course what happens when the world becomes flat. The imagery that I like to think of is that of liquids kept in different containers.

As long as the world economy was not interlinked and intertwined, it was like the liquid containers were not connected and there was water in the different containers up to different heights which is to say the standard of living was different in different countries. There were rich nations and poor nations. However, a globalized world is like connecting all these containers and so water will tend to adjust itself across all the containers so that it's at the same level in all of them.

In the economic sphere, what this translates to is that the fact that there are poor nations on the planet such as India and China — with huge numbers of people — will mean that the wealth of the entire global economy will tend to get spread evenly across the entire globe. So, Americans can't expect to maintain an exorbitantly high standard of living even as people in the poor countries continue to remain in abject poverty.

So, in a way, the problem of over-population becomes a global one. I am concerned as a citizen of India about the abysmal lack of consciousness of Indians about this horrendous situation. I guess now is the time for people in the rich nations to concern themselves with such 'global' problems. Over-population and poverty in any nation becomes not the problem of a particular country but everybody's problem.

It's a good thing after all. It's high time folks on planet Earth realized that we are all inhabitants of one tiny, little oasis floating in space.

August 09, 2010

Adversity helps cope with chronic back pain

This is according to a recent study by researchers at the University of Buffalo and UC Irvine.

The study's author Mark Seery, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at UB says: "It appears that adversity may promote the development of psychological and social resources that help one tolerate adversity, which in this case leads to better CBP-related outcomes. It may be that the experience of prior, low levels of adversity may cause sufferers to reappraise stressful and potentially debilitating symptoms of CBP as minor annoyances that do not substantially interfere with life."

Well, well, this is some discovery.

Actually, kind of common sense knowledge put in medical gobbledygook.

What the research has shown is that folks who have experienced some prior pain can take CBP in their stride. And folks who have never known any pain whatsoever will wilt under the slightest CBP.

Well, that figures!

Novartis has got one more winner

Tasigna has got fast-track approval from the FDA to be used to treat Ph+ chronic phase CML (chronic myeloid leukemia).

To use the technical phrase, the FDA has approved a new indication for Tasigna (nilotinib) for the treatment of CML.

This new indication expands the use of Tasigna to to adult patients in earlier stages of the disease.

The new indication for Tasigna was approved under the FDA's accelerated approval program, which allows FDA to approve a drug to treat serious diseases with an unmet medical need based on an endpoint thought to reasonably predict clinical benefit.

The interesting thing is that while the FDA has approved the drug, in the meanwhile, the company is required to collect additional long term efficacy and safety data confirming the drug's benefit.

Thus, with this accelerated approval program, patients get to lay their hands on promising new drugs while the confirmatory clinical trials are being conducted.

One can hope that these confirmatory trials will stand transparent scrutiny and no inconvenient data will be hidden under the carpet on account of Big Pharma greed.

So, Novartis now provides the one-two punch for CML so to say: Gleevec and Tasigna.
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