Wednesday, November 29, 2006

JPGmag photo submission.

I submitted a photo to JPG photo magazine - a cool concept where anyone can submit photos and then the public gets to vote on which ones are best...the good ones get published in their next issue.

Here is my submission...the deadline for voting is : Dec. 08, 2006. Check it out and vote for me if you like it... 







The theme under which this submission has been filed is : Embrace the Blur. Here is a synopsis...

We photographers spend our lives avoiding blur. We shoot fast, hold our breath, and pray for stillness. But blur is part of life, and this theme is all embracing blur: using it to draw the eye, create a sense of motion, and show life more for how it feels than how it looks.


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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Human brain cells in humpback whales !

Researchers from the Mount Sinai school of medicine have reported that they have found human brain cells in humpback whales ! These brain cells are seen only in humans, apes and other cetaceans such as dolphins.

Some excerpts...

this might mean such whales are more intelligent than they have been given credit for, and suggests the basis for complex brains either evolved more than once, or has gone unused by most species of animals


The finding may help explain some of the behaviors seen in whales, such as intricate communication skills, the formation of alliances, cooperation, cultural transmission and tool usage


Although the function of spindle neurons is not well understood, they may be involved in cognition -- learning, remembering and recognizing the world around oneself. Spindle cells may be affected by Alzheimer's disease and other debilitating brain disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

Hmm...this might show distinctive links between humans and these aquatic mammals.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Irrational Stock Market.

The stock market has often been cited as being the the shining example of how capitalism works - apparently the free trade and the constant change and flow of wealth and materials the world over means that everything works according to the best examples of capitalism. Supply, demand, financial deals, etc. can chase each other across the world multiple times over, without a single physical transaction taking place.

But all is not perfect in this virtual world -- apparently the stock market and the ideals that lie beneath its operations are quite the anti-thesis of capitalism, and give rise to irrational concepts, such as "private equity". Some excerpts from the Slate article...

All of this depends, though, on the assumption that the stock market sets the right price for shares of big companies. But a whole separate part of corporate finance is based on the assumption that those prices are wrong. These special deals used to be called leveraged buyouts. Now they're called "private equity." The details are different, but the principle is the same. Private investors buy a company from its public stockholders. They have a letter from an investment bank saying the price is a fair one. They usually have the support of management, or they actually are the management. The public stockholders have little choice. But time and again—surprise, surprise — the investment bank turns out to be wrong. The company is actually far more valuable! (And any bank that can't be counted on to get this wrong will not be in this profitable line of work for long.) Soon, the company is sold at a large profit, either to another company or back to the public.

So, free-market capitalism has decreed three different values for this company. One is set by the stock market: the value of all the company's outstanding shares or "market capitalization." One is what the private investors are offering—usually a bit more than the market cap. And one is what the private investors sell the company for a blink of an eye later—which is usually a lot more than the other two. Which of these numbers is the true capitalist price? Which one represents the most sublime interaction of supply and demand? the "free-market" idea is actually swindling the general public ? Here is the counter argument stating that it is not a swindle...

Defenders of this procedure say it's not that the stockholders have been swindled. It's that the company is actually far more valuable in private hands because managers—even the same managers as before—can manage far better without the constraints of public ownership, with its meddlesome stockholders and nettlesome regulations.

Well, but if the deals are fine and perfectly legal, then what is the whole point of having a stock market in the first place ? The public that has invested in it does not necessarily get the best possible price for their investment, and it seems as if companies are getting a better deal than what is publicly possible on the stock market. Doesn't this make the whole concept of the stock market a farce ?

But the big question is this: Either the stock market is a fraud on the public, or these deals that dominate the business pages are a fraud on the public. Which is it?

Well, we shall have to see how far this whole concept of the stock market and "free trade" will go...perhaps if the general public were to realise the true consequences of these "trades" then the whole system might collapse, taking with it a large number of world economies that are often reliant only on the deals that happen through various stock markets.


Waves in spherical water...

An amazing NASA video from the International Space station, showing waves in a sphere of water in zero-g...the alka-seltzer effect towards the end is also fantastic...


Sushi Police on their way...

Apparently when Japan's Agriculture minister, Toshikatsu MATSUOKA, visited Colorado on a business visit, he stepped into a well-known Japanese restaurant to get a taste of what he was missing back home - sushi. He was horrified when he saw the menu, for he found...

...something he considered a high culinary crime -- sushi served on the same menu as Korean-style barbecued beef.

"Such a thing is unthinkable," he said. "Call it what you will, but it is not a Japanese restaurant."

Apparently restaurants around the world that advertise themselves as being Japanese, are more along the lines of "Asian Fusion". To counter this, the Japanese government has launched a programme to offer official seals of approval on restaurants that are deemed to be "pure Japanese".

Italy and Thailand are also going along similar lines, to "purify" what they consider an insult to their national pride.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Another Holy Grail for electrical engineers!

Wireless electricity ! Researchers from MIT have announced that they have a simple system that could deliver power to laptops, map3 players, etc. without cables!

Some excerpts...

The concept exploits century-old physics and could work over distances of many metres, the researchers said.
Although the team has not built and tested a system, computer models and mathematics suggest it will work.
The answer the team came up with was "resonance", a phenomenon that causes an object to vibrate when energy of a certain frequency is applied.

Interestingly, this uses existing and old technology...

a simple copper antenna designed to have long-lived resonance could transfer energy to a laptop with its own antenna resonating at the same frequency. The computer would be truly wireless.
Any energy not diverted into a gadget or appliance is simply reabsorbed.
The systems that the team have described would be able to transfer energy over three to five metres.

And of course, Nikola Tesla had similar ideas, but had to stop his project as he ran out of funding.

Hopefully we will now be able to avoid carrying the klunky power cords/bricks for our laptops and other devices ! Here is a graphic from the BBC article on how it works...


Legends to some...embarrassment to others...

This might seem like a scripted movie comedy, but it turns out that a herd of wild elephants have destroyed and cornered rebels belonging to the Ulfa outfit !

Some excerpts...

Police officials in Jorhat district, one of the strongholds of the outlawed Ulfa, today confirmed that elephants had destroyed several makeshift camps of the militant group on the chaporis — Assamese for sandbank — off Neamati. “We had information about the rebels setting up camps on these small islands and were planning to take action. But the elephants did the job for us,” a senior police officer said.


He said the marauding herds had not only demolished Ulfa camps but also forced the militants to change their travel plans.

“Militants prefer to cross the river by night but no boatman wants to take the risk now for fear of running into wild elephants on the sandbanks,”

Perhaps it was some sort of revenge thingy...

Elephants have been troubling militants even in the mainland. An elephant was gunned down by militants near Champang Basti in Mokokchung district of neighbouring Nagaland a few days ago after a herd destroyed several huts in the area. A joint team of militants from Assam and Nagaland had been hiding in those huts.

Hmm...this seems like a whole great thriller movie in the making! Wonder which outfit will win out in the end - "Jumbos vs Ulfa"...has a nice ring to it, wouldn't you say ?


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Science Trek | Nov. 09, 2006

World's largest desert reason for existence of world's largest rainforest!

Scientists recently showed that a significant link exists between the Sahara and the Amazon rain forests! The reason for existence of the Amazonian rain forests, is the dust from one tiny area of the Saharan desert, to restock its soil with nutrients and soil! Scientists used analysis from NASA's MODIS satellite. Apparently, Bodélé, a region not far from Lake Chad, is the source of more than half the material that fertilizes the Amazonian rainforest. Scientists have calculated that the area provides up to 0.7 million tons of dust each day, which is swept into the atmosphere by the Saharan winds.

Monster Digital Picture.

A company named Hal9000, has created what might be the world's largest digital picture - a monstrous 8.6 GigaPixels !

Look at the amazing details that you can see by zooming in...and the scale bar on the top left should give you a great idea about the size of the image...

Research bush-whacked!

Federal agencies are investigating possibilities of whether the current Bush administration tried to censor research by government scientists, especially about important issues like global warming. The commerce department and NASA are conducting sweeping investigations on the topic. The white house have denied that scientists have been offered anything but transparency. A report in last month's scientific journal journal, Nature, suggested that the commerce department's National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration's administrators blocked the release of reports the link hurricane strength to the frequency of global warming. Apparently the total US emissions (more than 7 billion tons a year), are projected to rise 14 percent from 2002 to 2012!

Losing it - at the tight time...

Researchers recently announced (in the British medial journal Lancet) came up with some surprising results about global trends related to sex - results that would seem to be counter-intuitive to ideas in the modern day and age. Here are some of them...

  • monogamy is the dominant sexual pattern globally
  • married people have the most sex
  • men report in having had more partners than women in a single year
  • kids aren't losing it earlier as we had initially thought - sexual activity starts from the ages of 15-19!
  • married women are more likely to have unhealthy sexual practices - they find it harder to convince their partners to use condoms than single women.

Diamonds are forever...well..not quite !

Scientists at the Sandia National labs have melted the hardest known natural substance - a diamond; they melted it into a puddle! They used Sandia's Z-machine, the world's largest X-ray machine. It was used to subject tiny diamond squares, only a few nanometers thick, to pressures more than 10 million times the normal sea-level atmospheric pressure. To create the pressure, the the machine's magnetic field hurled small plates at the diamond at 34 kms per second, or faster than the earth's orbital speed of the sun! The idea was to see how diamonds would react to a range of extreme pressures, to see if they may be uses to encase fuel pellets needed to drive a nuclear fusion reactor! Here is a picture of the Z-machine...


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Thursday, November 09, 2006


Google, Symantec and McAfee have all been to the European Union of what would these corporations want with the political body ? Perhaps they were summoned, you say ? Not really...they went of their own accord...anti-trust hearings, perhaps ? Well, that's kind of right. "What ?", you say...these three corporations are being charged with anti-trust suits by the EU ? How come I haven't heard of it ? Well, they aren't and you haven't as a result...they are not being charged, and hence the reason for it not being in the news. The reason for these companies voluntarily going up to the EU is Microsoft's impending release of Vista!

Google recently joined the list of companies, Symantec and McAfee included, who have "expressed concerns" about Windows Vista, even before it has been released ! Some excerpts...

The company recently sent a top executive to Brussels to let the EC know that Google is concerned about "choice" in future Microsoft products.

David Drummond, a Google VP in charge of corporate development, told reporters, "It's been our view that any new version of Microsoft products that include search, that that be done in a way that preserves user choice for search and other applications,"

And here it where it gets better - Adobe has also joined the bandwagon...

Adobe has also gone public with its objections to Microsoft's new XML Paper Specification, which will provide built-in PDF-style functionality.

Now I find the entire taking-Microsoft-to-task-for-monopoly thing stupid in a capitalistic economy! First of all, if they give away free stuff, how is that harmful to the customers ? so, they gave away IE for free...isn't that a good thing for the customers ? So, if Ford gives away free leather seating with its cars to get better business, I don't see them being taken to task...

About the search issue - almost every other browser around (including Firefox, the fast-growing browser) has Google as its default search engine! No one seems to be making a fuss about that ! And I have test-driven IE a little bit to know that changing the default search engine is as easy as doing the same for, don't get me wrong...I like Firefox, and its variants, especially, Flock. And its not that I am a die-hard Microsoft fan (well, except in the case of Visual Studio and MSDN - they're the best products ever by Microsoft and the best in their categories...of course, now there is Live Writer), but I believe in individual choice - if Microsoft and their products work for you, then use them...if on the other hand, there are other products (perhaps open source) that work for you, then feel free to use one should be pressurized into using something or not using something, especially due to ideology!

I find it especially odd that companies like Google and Adobe, which are market leaders in their own respective areas, to be running like frightened children due to an impending operating system release by Microsoft! I mean, wasn't Google the one prophetizing about the death of the desktop, and that everything will be online ? Now they are worried about the epitome of a desktop - an operating system, being a threat to their their business (and related products) based on such weak foundations ?

As for Adobe's worries about the XML Paper Specification (XPS) - surely they're not worried about a bit of a competition ? So, they don't mind competition as long as its from a smaller entity and not someone who can stand up to them and take them on, like Microsoft ? They can ride roughshod over the entire portable document format, but they don't like it when someone provides them with real competition. Isn't it good for consumers when multiple formats compete with each other, especially when they are backed by companies that can put in resources to make the products better ?

I took a look at the XPS and related software and found the idea interesting...ok, it has various bugs that need to be ironed out, but Microsoft has some interesting ideas for its developement...they have based it on XML, an open idea, and they welcome developers to make better products that make use of the idea!

I think the hypocrisy has to stop...either these folks put up with it or shut up...if they are so insecure about something that hasn't been released yet (Windows Vista), then imagine what will happen when someone comes along and snatches away their prized products with better quality ideas/products ?

This is the rare case though where I have to give credit to the EU for being sensible...their response to the entire deal...

The Commission has been willing to listen to all complainants, but has publicly made clear that it will not comment upon or attempt to regulate products which have not yet appeared.

But here is where the hypocrisy really comes in - to quote from the ArsTechnica article...

Google is doing quite well when it comes to making its search engine easy to find and use from within Microsoft products. With Windows, for instance, Google has had success in signing deals with OEMs like Dell that will prominently feature links to Google properties on new desktops

So if a customer purchases a Dell computer, then Google products come integrated with it, and its not easy to get rid off! Now, that is what I call an intrusion of privacy and taking away customer what they claim Microsoft did/will do, is what they are precisely doing, except that they are doing so in conjunction with the hardware manufacturer, Dell!


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Phantasmic furniture...

A Swedish design group, FRONT, has created the next generation technology for designing and manufacturing furniture, almost out of thin air ! People use their fingers to trace invisible strokes in the air to create models of furniture. These strokes and designs are captured by motion sensory equipment and then "manufactured" in liquid plastic by rapid prototyping technology!

Watch the video...

Of course, the video is more interesting to watch what with the designers being pretty Swedish women...

Original link via Wired Blogs.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Ek/Anek video...down memory lane...

Those of us who grew up watching Doordarshan in the eighties, will definitely remember the following video with sharp pangs of nostalgia...

Enjoy..."ek chidiya...anek chidiaya...ek...anek...". My is definitely catchy !


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NASA's take on Sanskrit!

Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language, that has been the mother of a variety of modern day langauges, as well as a rich source of information in the form of the vedas/upanishads, etc. has been given a new task...that of knowledge representation for Artificial Intelligence, according to Rick Briggs, who is a part of the NASA research center.

Some excerpts...

there is a widespread belief that natural languages are unsuitable for the transmission of many ideas that artificial languages can render with great precision and mathematical rigor.


But this dichotomy, which has served as a premise underlying much work in the areas of linguistics and artificial intelligence, is a false one. There is at least one language, Sanskrit, which for the duration of almost 1000 years was a living spoken language with a considerable literature of its own. Besides works of literary value, there was a long philosophical and grammatical tradition that has continued to exist with undiminished vigor until the present century. Among the accomplishments of the grammarians can be reckoned a method for paraphrasing Sanskrit in a manner that is identical not only in essence but in form with current work in Artificial Intelligence.

Here is an example of the grammar of Sanskrit..

Sanskrit Semantic Net System

An in-depth explanation of the use of Sanskrit for knowledge representation has been provided in this article...of course, some other wonderful accomplishments of Indian philosphers, thinkers and mathematicians have also been enumerated, such as the zero and the binary system...

Zero Mathematical Symbol

Binary Number System

Well, this is a great phenomenon...if we can throw some light on the discoveries from the Indian past and put them to use in the present day world.


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Microsoft supporting Linux !

Well, hell has frozen over, it if news about the existence of Microsoft's Linux lab wasn't enough of a surprise, Microsoft and Novell announced recently that they will support Suse Linux !

Some excerpts...

The deal effectively makes Microsoft a reseller of Suse Linux, Novell's version of the operating system, and kicks off a broad technology collaboration between the two companies. At the heart of the deal is a"patent covenant" under which Microsoft agreed not to file patent-infringement charges against users of Suse Linux, and Novell agreed not to sue users of Windows. Businesses that use Linux have long worried that Microsoft would one day file patent-infringement suits against them, thereby hindering their use of and investment in the rival software.

This comes as a blow to Redhat, the leader in Linux and open-source software...especially on the support side. This came soon after Oracle's announcement that they will provide support for Redhat products, at half the cost of Redhat. Redhat shares fell after both announcements, around 4% in the former case and about 25% in the latter case!

The two software giants openly supporting Linux might be a death-blow to Redhat-type companies, which until now relied on being the sole providers of open-source software and support. They also rode the wave of anti-proprietary software that both Microsoft and Oracle are famous for...but it seems that the majors have decided to weigh in and get out of their previous one-track views of the changing face of the computing industry...they have both accepted that alternatives exist, and once that was done, it was only a matter of jumping on the bandwagon and cashing just has to wait and see as to how Redhat and others in the open-source industry will react.

There is, of course, an off-chance that the dedicated open-source community might shun Suse and Novell, because of their involvement with Microsoft...but the businesses should lap it all up, that is precisely what Microsoft and Novel are probably looking for.

Previous posts on "the times they area changin'" series : 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Original link via Slashdot.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

India's changing face...Bangalore/Bengaluru...

Well, Nov 01, 2006 has come and gone and Bangalore no longer exists ! What ? Surely no disaster has befallen the darling of technologists, pensioners, scientists and good ol' Bangaloreans ? Well, it has...sort of. The government of the state of Karnataka has decided to change its name from Bangalore to "Bengaluru" ! This is how it is referred to in one of the local languages, Kannada! Apparently it is a hare-brained scheme hatched by U R Ananthamurthy, a Kannada writer and poet, to "empower" the local people!

Now, let me get a few thoughts off my chest about this topic..

Bangalore was never Bengaluru! Its original name was "Bendakaluru" which literally means "boiled beans" ! The legend goes that Veera Ballala II, a Hoysala king, was lost and wandering in a nearby forest. In a famished state he happened upon a solitary hut, where an elderly lady fed him boiled beans. As a result when he re-established the city that existed there, he named it "Benda-kaluru" meaning "boiled beans". [An even older name (set sometime in the 9th century AD), is "Benga-val-uru" when the city and region were parts of the Ganga dynasty.]

It was when the Brits came along and decided to set up a cantonment there (the lovely weather was a definite factor along with the fact that it was a tactical location, being on seven small hills, as well as having mountain ranges nearby for cover) that "Bendakaluru" became "Bangalore".

Over the years, the Bangalore became localized into "Bengaluru" in the local language Kannada. So, this case is different from that of say, Kolkatta or Chennai - their English names were anglicizations of their local names (Calcutta and Madras), whereas it was the other way round for Bangalore.

Bangalore is a cosmopolitan city (one of possibly only two in India - the other being Bombay). It is no longer (actually never did) belong to Kannadigas! It doesn't even belong to Tamilians, Malayalis, Gujaratis, Anglo-Indians, or any other sect or community on the face of the earth. On the other hand, it belongs to everyone who resides there...every single person or group who was born there or has come in and set up residence (even for a short duration) owns a part of Bangalore and contributes to its rich culture and heritage (for eg.: did you know that Bangalore has great Jazz/Blues/carnatic/rock/theatre/bharatnatyam/million-other-things traditions?!!). To say that it has to be renamed in Kannada, is a personal affront to everyone who loves the city for its seemingly endless capacity to embrace folks from all cultures and background! An insult to all of us who where were born and raised there, who came to love this city, but are not Kannadigas !

The city manages to mix the old with the new - the British architecture and traditions with the modern technological lifestyles, with hints of Indian culture and traditions mixed in...

Bangalore has become a brand name for India as has become recognizable on a global scale, and a focal point for the scientific and technology communities all over the world...I am constantly amazed at how many people, in North Carolina of all places, recognize Bangalore! To change its name is to tarnish that image - maybe by a bit, but tarnish nonetheless.

What is gained by renaming Bangalore ? How does a Kannadiga become more proud because we have decided to shun our heritage ? Does he/she feel more secure now that the city has been renamed ? What about the millions of people living there who are not of Kannada origin, but have helped bring this city to its current status ? The folks who toil day and night, who dream and build, in the process moving everyone, Kannadigas and non-Kannadigas alike, forward. Are we ashamed of our rich background which over the centuries has been a melting point of thoughts, ideas and cultures ?

How about the enormous amounts of money that is wasted in changing signs, name-plates, forms, letterheads and so on ? Wouldn't it have been better off if the government had used this money to say, alleviate the traffic problems in the city?

I do believe that anyone who has ever been in the city will always call it least know I will...and I'm waiting for the day when this ridiculous attitude among politicians of pandering to the masses is done away with...

Previous posts on Bangalore/Bengaluru : 1.

[An interesting footnote : Apparently stone tools, as old as 4000 BC were found near Bangalore ! It has a rich tradition, dating back from 890 AD !]


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