Monday, July 31, 2006

How nerdy are you ?

I got this nerdiness test from TerraSig. He said he was an 88 percentile nerd...that means that 88% of the folks that took the test are less nerdy than, someone who has a PhD in Pharmacology and writes/practices about it on a pretty famous blog, is an 88 percentile nerd !

I had to take the test, if not for anything else, but to check where I are the results...

I am nerdier than 90% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Ninety (90) friggin' percentile !!! Can you believe that ? Here's the comment that came as part of the results for the test...
Supreme Nerd. Apply for a professorship at MIT now!!!.
Now the question is...should I be happy or sad ? Jumping with joy, or just plain depressed ?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

"A Reminiscence of cricket"

A great poem by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, about the only wicket he ever took in his first class cricketing career...that of the famous W G Grace ! I love the intimate, yet flowery descriptions...
"A Reminiscence of Cricket"

Once in my heyday of cricket,
One day I shall ever recall!
I captured that glorious wicket,
The greatest, the grandest of all.

Before me he stands like a vision,
Bearded and burly and brown,
A smile of good humoured derision
As he waits for the first to come down.

A statue from Thebes or from Knossos,
A Hercules shrouded in white,
Assyrian bull-like colossus,
He stands in his might.

With the beard of a Goth or a Vandal,
His bat hanging ready and free,
His great hairy hands on the handle,
And his menacing eyes upon me.

And I - I had tricks for the rabbits,
The feeble of mind or eye,
I could see all the duffer's bad habits
And where his ruin might lie.

The capture of such might elate one,
But it seemed like one horrible jest
That I should serve tosh to the great one,
Who had broken the hearts of the best.

Well, here goes! Good Lord, what a rotter!
Such a sitter as never was dreamt;
It was clay in the hands of the potter,
But he tapped it with quiet contempt.

The second was better - a leetle;
It was low, but was nearly long-hop;
As the housemaid comes down on the beetle
So down came the bat with a chop.

He was sizing me up with some wonder,
My broken-kneed action and ways;
I could see the grim menace from under
The striped peak that shaded his gaze.

The third was a gift or it looked it-
A foot off the wicket or so;
His huge figure swooped as he hooked it,
His great body swung to the blow.

Still when my dreams are night-marish,
I picture that terrible smite,
It was meant for a neighboring parish,
Or any place out of sight.

But - yes, there's a but to the story -
The blade swished a trifle too low;
Oh wonder, and vision of glory!
It was up like a shaft from a bow.

Up, up like a towering game bird,
Up, up to a speck in the blue,
And then coming down like the same bird,
Dead straight on the line that it flew.

Good Lord, it was mine! Such a soarer
Would call for a safe pair of hands;
None safer than Derbyshire Storer,
And there, face uplifted, he stands

Wicket keep Storer, the knowing,
Wary and steady of nerve,
Watching it falling and growing
Marking the pace and curve.

I stood with my two eyes fixed on it,
Paralysed, helpless, inert;
There was 'plunk' as the gloves shut upon it,
And he cuddled it up to his shirt.

Out - beyond question or wrangle!
Homeward he lurched to his lunch!
His bat was tucked up at an angle,
His great shoulders curved to a hunch.

Walking he rumbled and grumbled,
Scolding himself and not me;
One glove was off, and he fumbled,
Twisting the other hand free

Did I give Storer the credit
The thanks he so splendidly earned?
It was mere empty talk if I said it,
For Grace had already returned.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Future crunch ?

[Sarat and I had a really interesting dicussion a while ago...although I have been planning on penning it down, from the get go, I have been downright here goes...interestingly, I am often amazed at the kind of great thoughts/materials that come out during discussions with, you are a great intellectual sparring partner (not to mention one for tennis too) !]

We now live in a world, where we are constantly being barraged about the impending oil/energy crisis. So, we are told that oil reserves will die out in around fifty years, and we are nearing the peak of oil production, and all that is left, is the inevitable fall in production, until it just tapers off. Ok, first off, I believe that the fifty years being touted by the media and the oil companies is plain rubbish...I mean, we haven't even started to tap into the vast reserves under Siberia, Alaska, the Rocky mountains, and of course, the granddaddy of all - the deep sea oil reserves ! So, this 50 year deadline may not be such a hard one after all...thinking pessimistically, I believe that it might be closer to 150 years...optimistically, maybe even 200+ years !

[Note : the two graphs above represent various studies about oil reserves and production peaks respectively.]

But this is not to take away from the fact that the oil reserves are in fact finite ! The day will come when we have pumped the last barrel of oil, and we have seen the last of the hydrocarbon-based vehicle being thrown into the dumpster and even the day when the black marketeers run out of the damn why aren't we worried ? Why doesn't humanity rush into the streets, insane at the loss of the the modern lifestyle and a descent into the middle ages ? Doesn't the end of oil spell doom for our civilization ? Well, not really, because all of humanity rests on hope - hope that an alternative energy source will fill all the needs that hydrocarbon-based energy sources provide today. Nuclear energy, fuel cells, solar energy, biofuels, etc. are already either in the market, or close to being so (being late into the research and development stages). Each one has its share of problems that haven't been surmounted yet. We are nowhere close to that one mass production idea when any one of these (or even a combination) will be able to match the current and future requirements for oil. So, perhaps that next big thing is in the future...perhaps in the immediate future, perhaps a bit further on...maybe far into the future. But worry not, it will come well before the oil crunch hits us, and we shall carry on happily into the future until we colonize the nearby stars and the galaxy and who knows what next...

But hang on a minute, let us study the possible futures of humanity based on the energy demands, and availability of resources to meet these demands...

Scenario 1: Optimisic !
Let us consider the scenario shown in the following figure...
This is the hope that drives us to wantonly use oil and energy without worrying about the future. The blue arrow shows us the point where an alternative energy source, possibly as yet undiscovered, will make up for the impending oil crisis, well before it is a crisis ! This is the perfect world, where we will not even notice the pinch from the production drop in oil and other conventional energy sources. The future for humanity will be bright and we will march into it with even greater speed...

Scenario 2 : Pessimistic
Let us see what happens at the other end of the spectrum...This is the worst case scenario! From the above graph, we see that it is possible that the next big thing will not take off, and hey, may not even arrive, before the oil production drops to abysmal levels. This portends doom for humanity, and for human civilization at the very least...our modern way of life will be threatened, as literally everything - from transportation (people/goods) to power generation, to every day affairs often depends on an easily available resource like oil. Without it being available so abundantly, we will enter crisis mode, and from then on, one can only hope that widespread anarchy doesn't flare up...this is a very bleak future for us indeed...

Scenario 3 : The middle path ?
Suppose the situation is neither perfect nor is it the worst case discussed is average, as life often tends to be...The shaded blue are represents a time frame when we will feel a global crunch...the countries/communities/people at the lower rungs wil probably feel it worse than the ones at the top, but there will still be widespread effects felt for decades...this blue region depicts the time when the oil production is depleting, and the new tchnology has not quite been able to quite catch up the the demands posed by the failure of oil to supply the needs of the ever growing human populace. Global economies will be in ruins, but hopefully not unrecoverably so...prices and inflation will go up, and life will be harder to will push back economic growth by a few decades, perhaps even a century or two...but then again, we should be able to get back on track once the new technology takes off and mass production is able to bring the prices down...perhaps the drop in oil and resulting effects might delay/advance the new technology a bit, depending on the thought processes of the world/corporate leaders (will there be a difference between the two ? That is for a later post!)...of course, it might degenerate into the pessimistic model or might be able to gather enough momentum to bring on the perfect model....but an effect will still be felt, and no small one at that.

If we consider the three scenarios, we must notice that they are not all impossible...each one is as likely as the other...we are all so confident of our technological abilities...we take it for granted that technology will show us the way...but what if our current technological ccapabilities are short of such discoveries...even if we have the ideas, we may not be able to implement them. becuase we have yet to make certain technological advancements that will help us make the ideas a reality...da Vinci had the idea of lighter than air flying machines 600 years before it became a one was able to implement one until the 1900s, because aerodynamics was just not advanced enough, the materials and tools that make it possible weren't invented, and so, the possibility of a crunch occuring is just as real as one not occuring especially due to technological reasons.

So, if any one of the three has as good a chance to occur, and considering that two out of the three scenarios are bad, isn't it possible that we have a 67% chance that the future might have some bleak possibilities, if we consider the energy situation ?

Sarat, though has a better vision for us...he feels that the energy situation will be something like this...i.e., outputs of various smaller energy sources will make up for the global drop in oil production(see blue arrow). The coloured lines representing the various energy sources are cumulative - i.e. they are "added on" to the production from the previous alternative energy source. Interesting, and makes a lot of sense...I can actually see this as one good alternative, considering the way technology has developed over the last few decades...but I have some niggling thoughts regarding this...
  1. Suppose we consider the sum total of all the smaller energy sources, as a single source for analysis, and consider its trends, then won't this cumlative trend also have one of the three possible futures that I indicated above ? Then, the graph shown above, is just the optimistic case that I have explored.
  2. The energy source will be easily available to the common man, mainly because of mass production which drives the per untit price down...but if each of these new small sources are not able to the achieve the same levels of production as oil, won't each one be more expensive than oil in its current state, and thus unaffordable by the common man ?
[Note : the graphs used in this post are just for illustrative puposes, and are not from actual numbers, nor are they indicative of any actual numbers.]

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Why do grandmas exist ?

What do language, tool-making and higher-order cognition have in common ? Menopause - that's what ! Apprently none of these traits would have evolved in humans, as they haven't in other primates, if not for this unique human trait !

According to Laurence Shaw, medical director at the London Bridge fertility, Gynaeocology and Genetic center...
menopause begat grandmothers, and grandmothers mean daycare and extra nutrition for demanding human babies
Some excerpts...
Women who are no longer able to have children have more time to babysit and forage for food. Both of these functions are important because at this point in her life, a woman's daughter—who is likely around 17 years old and at the peak of her fertility—is busy giving birth to more children.

"[The grandmother] is investing in the second generation of her own line," Shaw said. "None of the other primates—and certainly none of the great apes—show this consistency."
Although this could also explain some of the problems for women in modern life...

While helpful for hunter-gatherers, this decline in fertility is a hindrance in modern life, Shaw says. Women now often delay childbearing until they are less fertile, and more women live past menopause, becoming more susceptible to health problems like osteoporosis, bowel cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

Paradoxically, Shaw's finding might actually prove beneficial to those wanting to have kids at an older age. Scientists already know that the process of fertility decline is controlled by genes that promote apoptosis, or programmed cell death, which causes a reduction in the number of eggs in a woman's ovaries. Knowing this, scientists might be able to use gene therapy to allow women to conceive naturally later in life, Shaw said. seems that hot flashes were the reason why humanity has been able to evolve so much ! Hmmm...somebody up there has a wacky sense of humour !

IE and firefox versions for Microsoft.

Apparently Microsoft has unveiled a beta version of its new website. Interestingly, here is what the site looks like, in IE...
And here is how it looks in Firefox...
Interesting ! An "error" page that doesn't appear on IE but does so on Firefox...and Microsoft doesn't even have a warning stating that they don't support Firefox...also users haven't been able to view it on Safari, or even the IE for the Mac ! So this works only for IE on Windows...

While they have every right to decide on the platform on which they wish to launch their websites, I wonder if this doesn't prove to be a bad business strategy...I mean, just because they force people to view their websites on the IE on XP platform, does it mean that the other platforms do not exist ? In fact, they are legitimising the existence of other choices, and the threat that is being posed by them, by forcefully suppressing these choices...

I like some Microsoft products, such as Visual Studio and MSDN. These could be the reasons why I visit the Microsoft website, and not have anything to do with Windows or aren't they turning me down by this new strategy ? I am a valid admirer/user of theses two products, and am blocked from access to it (if this current strategy spills over to other Microsoft websites as well) might hurt them in the long fact, with all the negative publicity they're receiving, it would hurt to appear magnanimous and allow free access to their sites...

Original link via ArsTechnica.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


With the completion of the World Cup, a generation of great soccer players have probably ended their careers. Two of the greatest, Zidane and Figo, and easily two of my favourites for a long time, did so in the semi-final matchup between France and Portugal...

I got the following video on Youtube, and to me that was one of the saddest moments as a football fan...the end of the match after France beat a better Portugal...Zidane and Figo exchange shirts...

Having been a great fan of the La Liga for many years now, I have watched these two giants of international football play on a star-packed Real Madrid team and still appear to be head and shoulders above everyone else...of course, the immense respect they both receive from opposing defenders (they almost never attack them...there is always a gap of at least 2-3 feet between the defenders and these two) just shows their talent...

Zidane has gone from obscurity to the heights of superstardom and then fallen to obscurity and again risen to superstardom and fallen from grace again...Figo has somehow never been able to achieve the same amount of adulation on the international stage, simply because international matches were never a priority to Portugal until recently...of course anyone watching club soccer knows how lethal and sublime he can be...

Zizou and Figo...all controversies apart, two of the best in their generation...and perhaps two among the all time best ever ! I shall cherish the moments I watched these two magicians perform on the football field...

[Of course a sadder event was what happened in the final with Zidane head-butting Materazzi, and his eventual ignominous exit...but that has been battered about in the press so much and it is still a sad moment to ruminate about...hence I shall completely side-step the issue...watching one of your idols fall from grace is just not very pleasant...but, let us not take that away from the greatness of Zidane...]

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Challenging Darwin ?

Nicholas Wade's new book, "Before the Dawn : Rediscovering the Lost History of our Ancestors" has some really surprising discoveries...some of them challenge accepted notions in the scientific community...

Some excerpts...this one shook a lot of my beliefs...
Genetic analysis strongly suggests that all men are descended from a single male, and all women from a single female !
So there really were an Adam and an Eve ?

How about these...
his book advertises news of scientific discoveries that might not go down well with his liberal readers. For instance, it turns out that chimpanzees are not quite the peaceable souls that decades of National Geographic specials have represented to us. Your average adult male chimpanzee likes nothing better than an aggressive border raid into the territory of the neighboring troop. The usual order of battle is for three chimps to set off into enemy territory and find a solo chimp feeding away from the rest of the troop. When they have caught their prey, two of them hold the victim down while the third kills it.

That might explain why humans have been so warlike over the years.About 65 percent of primitive societies are at war constantly, Wade writes, and about 30 percent of males die from conflict. The dawn raid is a favorite human tactic. You enter an enemy village at dawn, set fire to the huts, and then kill people as they run out of the burning huts to safety.

Or how about this one...
race is clearly genetic in origin, and not a “social construct” as the American Sociological Association insists
So, could it be that all those myths are not really what they seem to be - mythical ? That there is a semblance of truth somewhere and Darwinism may not be the complete truth ?

Original Link via Econlog.

The long dark side of the moon...

Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon", found its way into the Billboard top 200 chart for albums in started a long session for the album on the charts...right until July 1988 ! It dropped off the charts for a couple of weeks, and then astonishingly, it returned...and what's better ? It has stayed on ever since ! It reached the staggerging record of 1500 weeks in May 2006 !

Apparently Bob Marley and Wailers' "Legend" is several years behind and the Floyd's lead is almost 2-1 !

Dark Side of the Moon has apparently sold over 40 million copies worldwide, and continues to sell more ! On a slow week, about 8000-9000 copies are sold !

[But of course, this would also be the right place to pay tribute to the great Syd Barrett ! Visionary, eccentric, legendary, genius, madman all combined into one...perhaps many more adjectives could be used and we'd never run out of them to describe in peace, your vision still lives on !]

Thursday, July 13, 2006

"If your brain can do it, we can tap into it"

A paralyzed man, with a small sensor implanted into his brain, is able to control a computer, television set, a robot, etc. with only his thoughts !

Some excerpts...
In a variety of experiments, the first person to receive the implant, Matthew Nagle, moved a cursor, opened e-mail, played a simple video game called Pong and drew a crude circle on the screen. He could change the channel or volume on a television set, move a robot arm somewhat, and open and close a prosthetic hand.

The sensor measures 4 millimeters by 4 millimeters — less than a fifth of an inch long and wide — and contains 100 tiny electrodes. The device was implanted in the area of Mr. Nagle’s motor cortex responsible for arm movement and was connected to a pedestal that protruded from the top of his skull.

When the device was to be used, technicians plugged a cable connected to a computer into the pedestal. So Mr. Nagle was directly wired to a computer, somewhat like a character in the “Matrix” movies.


Mr. Nagle would then imagine moving his arm to hit various targets. The implanted sensor eavesdropped on the electrical signals emitted by neurons in his motor cortex as they controlled the imaginary arm movement.

Obstacles must be overcome, though, before brain implants become practical. For one thing, the electrodes’ ability to detect brain signals begins to deteriorate after several months, for reasons not fully understood. In addition, the implant would ideally transmit signals wirelessly out of the brain, doing away with the permanent hole in the head and the accompanying risk of infection. Further, the testing involving Mr. Nagle required recalibration of the system each day, a task that took technicians about half an hour.

Well, it seems like the future, only seen in science fiction to date, is finally here ! Perhaps we can all envision a future where human computer interactions are more "natural" than using a keyboard or mouse, or even a pen !

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Waking up to Mumbai's troubles...

Being someone who works all night and then sleeps most of the day sometimes cuts me off from breaking news alerts...added is the fact that I am on the eastern seaboard of the United States, and the 9 and a half hour time difference cuts me off from most breaking news stories about India...

As I waddled into my lab this evening at 6 pm, I was unaware of the turmoil in India's financial capital, Mumbai. The news channels out here aren't very reliable in carrying "breaking news" alerts about other times other states even ! So, when I look up from my usual list of RSS feeds, and I see a vague item about bomb blasts in Mumbai somewhere deep in the Washington Post's list of stories, I was absolutely shaken ! And this was about spending 15 minutes looking at RSS feeds from the New York Times, which had no coverage on it until then ! And then I found more information on Wikinews, and finally launched into the Indian Express and the Telegraph and the list of Indian bloggers to get more information...

Being a large city with huge financial undertones and the myriad people that live there, I have great hope in the resilience of the Mumbaikars in being able to get back on track. Already I hear reports of people coming down to the stations to help out with the rescues and provide water/food/etc. to the people affected and also the rescue workers ! Hold on Mumbai...the people affected must be helped without thought of costs and the police agencies must be cooperated with fully to help aid in the capture of the miserable characters responsible for this dastardly crime...above all, our condolences and hearts must go out to those whose lives were lost and their families and friends...

I would like to take an alternate spin on the media coverage in this post actually...I was incredulous about the response to the event by the American mainstream media ! They passed it off as a footnote at best, and then got on with more "serious" matters ! As I mentioned, the Washington Post probably had the initial uptake on the matter and a couple of editorials and op-eds. Similar coverage was seen in the New York Times. While I have great respect for the journalistic integrity of these two large institutions in world media, I was more than disappointed ! CNN, seemed to have better coverage and analysis on this situation ! So did Pajamas Media, Wikinews and Slate ! BBC, of course, has a pretty good handle on this situation (as expected from a respeced International news organization). So, why this blind spot from the two of America's (and probably the world's) largest news publications ? Even the Los Angeles Times had just one story on this...are American newspapers editors and readers just not interested in a bombing in internationl cities ?

Hang on a sec...the bombings in London and Madrid got a lot more coverage that this incident! I remember constant news reports and updates and stories and editorials being written about those "heinous" crimes ! Journalists were crying in unison about the rise of the islamic terrorists and how they should be countered...but in the case of Mumbai, not so much as a peep ! Have they come to accept the loss of life and property in a non-caucasian country as "acceptable" and a fact of life ? Do they think that the mutilated bodies of Indian citizens will not be a cause of concern for ordinary Americans ? And this from some of the lofty perches of journalism that have usually set a high standard on integrity and the knowledge of information! Of course, this is not really a part of the "war on terror" is it ? This is probably an internal matter of a country that is halfway across the world and is of significance only because of the customer service support that once receives and is in the news only because of the recent nuclear deal and outsourcing !

I think it is well past the time that the American mainstream media woke up and realised that this incident is just one of the many that have been taking place all over the world, the real war on terror is a much larger subset than just the one started in 2001.

Sibildo plays for Brazil...

Amit Varma had a link to a website that creates a Brazilian football jersey for you...
I would be Sibildo ! Fantastic, I say...people will go to great lengths to make funny, at times useless stuff...

Monday, July 10, 2006

Conan O'Brien's India call centre skit...

Check out the video...really funny !

Predicting the future.

David Leonhart writes, in the New York Times, about how the internet can be used to predict future trends for humanity! And with the recent unveiling of Google Trends, even the layman can get into this business of predicting the future...

Some excerpts...
When people went to the home page of Google or Yahoo and entered a few words into a search engine, what they were really doing, he realized, was announcing their intentions.They typed in "Alaskan cruise" because they were thinking about taking one or "baby names" because they were planning on needing one.
YOU can see, for example, that the volume of Google searches would have done an excellent job predicting this year's "American Idol," with Taylor Hicks (the champion) being searched more often than Katharine McPhee (second place), who in turn was searched more often than Elliot Yamin (third place). Then you can compare Hillary Clinton and Al Gore and discover that she was more popular than he for almost all of the last two years, until he surged past her in April and stayed there.
Thanks to Google Trends, the mayor of Elmhurst, Ill., a Chicago suburb, has had to explain why his city devotes more of its Web searches to "sex" than any other in the United States (because it doesn't have strip clubs or pornography shops, he gamely told The Chicago Sun-Times).
Well, I wonder if the internet searches could also perhaps provide seeds for truly random number generators...

But I threw in the following comparison, and saw an interesting result...
McCain vs Gore
Interestingly, both have similar news coverage volumes, but Al Gore seems to lead in the search category, and with a wide margin at that ! John McCain came close only once, that too in early, if Al Gore joins the presidential race for 2008, we can perhaps venture a guess as to who will win ? Assuming of course that both will be the frontrunners from their respective parties...