Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mona Lisa speaks...

A Japanese scientist, Dr. Matsumi Suzuki, has recreated the voice of Mona Lisa ! He measured the face and the hands of the famous portrait to estimate her height and ultimately her voice...

The chart of any individual's voice, known as a voice print, is unique to that person and Suzuki says he believes he has achieved 90 percent accuracy in recreating the quality of the enigmatic woman's speaking tone.
"In Mona Lisa's case, the lower part of her face is quite wide and her chin is pointed," Suzuki explained. "The extra volume means a relatively low voice, while the pointed chin adds mid-pitch tones"
A promotional video/audio has been released (note though that the site is in Japanese and the audio is on the play button below the Mona Lisa portrait and wait for the advert to get over). In the above clip, she says, among other things...
"I am the Mona Lisa. My true identity is shrouded in mystery..."
He has also recreated Leonardo DaVinci's voice, but believes that it might be inaccurate as he had to work from a portrait that had the master's beard on his face.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Cloak and dagger...

Cloaking devices, a staple in science fiction, might soon become a reality!

Some exceprts...
propose methods using the unusual properties of so-called "metamaterials" to build a cloak.

These metamaterials can be designed to induce a desired change in the direction of electromagnetic waves, such as light. This is done by tinkering with the nano-scale structure of the metamaterial, not by altering its chemistry.


suggest that by enveloping an object in a metamaterial cloak, light waves can be made to flow around the object in the same way that water would do so.

"Water behaves a little differently to light. If you put a pencil in water that's moving, the water naturally flows around the pencil. When it gets to the other side, the water closes up," Professor Pendry told the BBC.

"A little way downstream, you'd never know that you'd put a pencil in the water - it's flowing smoothly again.

"Light doesn't do that of course, it hits the pencil and scatters. So you want to put a coating around the pencil that allows light to flow around it like water, in a nice, curved way."

Hmmm...I always figured that science fiction and the idea presented in them, just show possible views of the future, which might become reality...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

RSS buildup...

Feedforall has a page where you can build your own RSS button...add your own customizations/colours/text/etc.

Of course, you could use the Firefox/IE (never thought I'd live to see the day to when they collaborate!) version of the the RSS feed icon...

Numbers in education.

Gerald Bracey writes in the Washinton Post, about the "myth" of 600,000 Chinese and 350,000 Indian engineers flooding the world, while the US supposedly graduates only 70,000! These numbers have raised concerns in various circles and people are alarmed that the US will lose its technological superiority...

In the above article, Gerald Bracey states that perhaps these numbers are a myth after all ! He quotes the results from the Duke University survey titled, "Framing the Engineering Outsourcing Debate: Placing the United States on a level playing field with China and India". The numbers, according to this survey, are completely different, as seen in the following table from that study...

According to these results, the US produces around 137,437 bachelors with an engineering degree, while India produces 112,000 and China 351,537. While I have no facts to discuss the numbers from China, I would like to state some points about the numbers presented above for India, which I think are essentially false. Having completed by undergraduate engineering degree from Bangalore, in the state of Karnataka in India, I have my doubts about these numbers. During the time of my admission, in the year 1997, I remember that the total number of engineering seats in the state, was close to 28,000! In succeeding years, that number has been rasied to now encompass close to 35,000 seats. Karnataka, along with the states of Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu, probably churn out the largest number of engineering graduates in India...a rough estimate of close to 100,000 ! I believe that even Andhra Pradesh has a large number of engineering colleges. So, considering the large number of universities and engineering colleges strewn across India (I have seen numbers like 900-1000!) I do believe that the total number of admissions is closer to 300,000 - 400,000 (increasing every year), whereas the number of graduates every year (again, increasing) must be close to 200,000 - 250,000. Let us now dissect the various numbers...

[I must state that when I say "engineering", I mean the typical four year course of engineering, and not any other "degree course", "short-cycle degrees", "associated degrees" or "sub-baccalaurate degrees"...these have been excluded from my analysis.]

The Duke study apparently uses numbers for comparison from NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Service companies). I searched for similar results from NASSCOM on Google and found this interesting result...According to the above numbers, the number of admissions in the year 2004 (the year being considered for the Duke results as well) were of the order of 340,000 with around 184,000 graduates. Extrapolate to 4 years down the lane to 2008, and we should (hopefully) see a large percentage of them my opinion, at least 200,000 to 250,000 ! Even the 112,000 number stated in the Duke survey doesn't agree with the above results. Another interesting result obtained was from the Information Technology report about India, produced by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (available from the Indian Embassy site), in which the following numbers appear (these are more recent, as we see results for the 2004-2005 period)...
These numbers indicate that the total number of engineering seats in India, is actually 464,743 ! In four years time, i.e. around the years 2009/2010, probably 350,000 - 400,000 thousand of them will graduate! Also, if we see the number for 2000-2001 (290,088) we could safely assume that around 200,000 of those people would have graduated between 2004-2006! Hence, we see that the "myth" of 350,000 engineers from India may not remain one for will probably be surpassed in the next four or five years.

Update : I received some comments regarding the differences in the quality of the education between people graduating in the US and India/China. While this is a very good point I hadn't considered while writing this post, I must state, that I am only discussing the absolute numbers as a response to the Washington Post story and the Duke thoughts about actual quality, I shall discuss in some future post...

Monday, May 22, 2006

Cancer Vaccine !

A breakthrough in medicine...a vaccine for cancer !

Possibly one of the biggest breakthroughs in medicine in recent times, in my opinion...

But it is already causing controversy ! Some people are never satisfied...a cure for cancer, and all they can think about is sex!

Simpsons as philosophy...

Apparently the Simpsons TV show reveals truths about human nature that rival the likes of Plato and Kant! Or so, a BBC article states.

Some excerpts...
To speak truthfully and insightfully today you must have a sense of the absurdity of human life and endeavour. Past attempts to construct grand and noble theories about human history and destiny have collapsed.

We now know we're just a bunch of naked apes trying to get on as best we can, usually messing things up, but somehow finding life can be sweet all the same. All delusions of a significance that we do not really have need to be stripped away, and nothing can do this better that the great deflater: comedy.

The Simpsons does this brilliantly, especially when it comes to religion. It's not that the Simpsons is atheist propaganda; its main target is not belief in God or the supernatural, but the arrogance of particular organised religions that they, amazingly, know the will of the creator.


The satirical cartoon world is essentially a philosophical one because it reflects reality by abstracting it, distilling it and presenting it back to us, illuminating it more brightly than realist fiction can.

This analogy actually makes great sense...

Another reason why cartoons are the best form in which to do philosophy is that they are non-realistic in the same way that philosophy is.

Philosophy needs to be real in the sense that it has to make sense of the world as it is, not as we imagine or want it to be. But philosophy deals with issues on a general level. It is concerned with a whole series of grand abstract nouns: truth, justice, the good, identity, consciousness, mind, meaning and so on.

Cartoons abstract from real life in much the same way philosophers do. Homer is not realistic in the way a film or novel character is, but he is recognisable as a kind of American Everyman. His reality is the reality of an abstraction from real life that captures its essence, not as a real particular human who we see ourselves reflected in.

Couldn't have said it better myself !

Sunday, May 21, 2006


The latest in a series of unique names for girls...

Nevaeh is actually Heaven spelled backwards...

So, as the title of the article suggests, is it Lleh for boys ?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ignoring a killer.

Apparently budget cuts across the board are being passed on to Diabetes, states this New York Times article.

It also quotes some disturbing facts...
Diabetes is the only major disease with a death rate that is still rising — up 22 percent since 1990 — and it has emerged as the leading cause of kidney failure, blindness and nontraumatic amputation.
The number of Type 2 diabetics in the United States has doubled in the past two decades, to an estimated 20 million, when undiagnosed cases are included, making the disease the country's fastest-growing public health problem. Epidemiologists predict that one in three American children born in 2000 will join the ranks of those afflicted with Type 2.
Facing this problem on a personal front day in and day out, I only hope that the trends reverse, and some breakthroughs help alleviate the problem.

Work ? Leisure ? Hard to say...

That is, of course, due to the fact that I was in Las Vegas attending MEDC 2006! Microsoft Research was kind enough to pick up my tab, and I should say, it was a fantastic experience...why? Well, here are my top reasons...
  • Its Las Vegas !
  • It was an embedded and mobile devices conference...all the gadgets on display were supercool !
  • I got to talk to the folks who developed various Microsoft products, like Vista, Tablet PC, Origami, Win CE, etc.
  • I liked the concept of the hands-on labs that they had set up.
  • Did I mention that it was in Vegas ?
  • I got to meet this guy, who was an expert in not just the tablet PC and hand held devices, but also in C++ and its new managed extensions, C++/CLI. Finally, I got an insight into the managed C++ world...the new forum being pushed by Lippman and co.
  • Oh yes, the venue for the conference was the Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas !
  • The icing on the cake...I managed to win an Ultra Mobile PC (or Origami as the project is also called) in a lucky draw ! It has generated nothing short of oohs and aahs everytime someone catches sight of it...and I have not held back in letting people know of my good fortune !
My pics from the trip...

Friday, May 05, 2006

God's games according to Richard Feynman.

God does play a game, according to Richard Feynman. He once noted that discovering the laws of Physics is like trying to learn the rules of Chess by merely watching the game from time to time, from a corner, perhaps.

A BBC video from 1981 has him explaining this analogy and also the importance of mathematics...

Original link via Bapat's blog.

Other interesting videos on Onegoodmove.

A wonderful series of Physics lectures by Feynman from the University of Auckland, as a part of the Douglas Robb memorial lectures.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Who watches the watchmen ?

So, goes a saying from one very good graphic novel - Alan Moore's Watchmen.

It has been discussed, discarded, adored, hated, misunderstood, philosophized before...but I would like to add my two cents here...

What makes a superhero ? According to the popular Greek myth by Pindar, a hero is defined as...
the offspring of a human and a God.
Hmmm...then all the mythical stories around the world from time immemorial, hundreds of thousands would qualify as a hero. But an addition, also by Pindar clarifies it a great deal more...
the offspring of mortals and the gods or those who had done a great service to mankind.
So, more superheroes of current folklore, would fall under this category. For a more precise definition, we have...
A superhero is a fictional character who is noted for feats of courage and nobility and who usually has a colorful name and costume and abilities beyond those of normal human beings. A female superhero is often called a superheroine.
But then again, Graphic Novel artists and writers have often clarified differences between metahumans (such as Superman) and regular humans (such as Batman), who with their amazing willpower, training and the use of technology, are able to help the lost causes of humanity.

But in almost all instances, there is a common thread...that of the sanctity of life...the fact that even a single life-form is sacred...and great efforts must be made to force this ideal on others. Too often, we have seen the superheroes, our cherished ideals, fall down to the depths of depression and self doubt, either because they have failed to protect this ideal, or have been guilty of taking lives themselves...more often than not, inadvertantly.

This, at times seems to be a short-sighted view of everything...much as they harp on the value of life, they are quite unwilling to go to the next logical step to make sure of the safety of humanity and life as a would think perhaps that the ideal for a single life and that for humanity are the same...but more often than not, it isn' could be quite contrary. In real-life, the classic example is that of Hitler. Would humanity have been better off, if he had never existed ? Or if someone had killed him off before he became the Fuehrer ? Most people will enthusiastically answer : "yes" ! In the comics world, would humanity have been better of if the Batman had disposed of Joker, or if Superman had killed off Lex Luthor the first time they committed heinous crimes against others ? Perhaps, yes ! The idea stems from the thought that these vile creatures are better off under the ground than alive and tormenting others...but the superheroes in question, would never commit such an act. It would go against their entire belief system...

While the choices to kill Hitler, the Joker, or even Lex Luthor are easy to make for most people (the lesser evil concept), what if a superhero (or an ordinary person even) decided that millions of ordinary people must die for the betterment of humanity ? And suppose we have a machine that allows us to see accurate alternate futures based on our current, we are guaranteed that humanity will prosper and grow much better if say we were to kill off an entire city with millions of people, whatever the reasons may be. Would it be possible for a superhero to make that kind of a long-term decision? It would be an extremely nerve-wracking decision for a single, ordinary human being, but superheroes, with their greater thought processes and abilities are supposed to be able to handle such tensions and difficulties. Would they correct no matter what path they chose ? Would I be able to adulate and adore someone who I know was personally responsible for the deaths of my dear ones, but who has made life for everyone on the planet a lot better and safer ?

Alan Moore is able to exploit such conundrums with his writing in the Watchmen (and also in V for Vendetta). He is a writer par excellence, always taking the regular heroes, and then humanizing them - showing them for what they really are...somehow along the lines, with our versions of clean-joe Superman, or the super detective Batman, we seem to have lost the idea that ordinary people can also come up to be superheroes...they may come from the filthy alleys or from high executive offices....from regular 9 to 5 workers to hollywood starlets...they can all don the costumes and the ideals, but they have their own commercial and selfish interests at heart...fame, fortune, money, or even a misguided sociopathic ideal. They may not be able to separate themselves from their costumed identities just because the mask has come off.

Even the smartest, most powerful of entities may not be able to make the difficult choices - should one provide guiding lights for humanity as a whole, no matter what the costs, or just tackle the everyday mundane problems, and hope that the future will work itself out, even if it looks extremely bleak? What are the ethics of such decisions ? What if someone decided to take it upon himself to forcefully make the decision? Are we sure we want someone to have even the power of such a thought ?

India Quiz 2006.

I recently conducted an India Quiz, here at're the prelims questions...feel free to leave answers in the comments...some are downright easy, some moderately difficult I should say...I shall put up the correct answers in about 2-3 days...
1. India has three official archipelagos (a lanform which consists of a chain
or cluster of islands). Name them.

2. This dance form originated as devotional dances, which were performed in
goddess Durga's honour. It shows the mock fight between the Goddess and
Mahishasura and is nick-named the "sword-dance". Other variations find
origins to the life and times of Lord Krishna. Which dance ?

3. A rectangular piece of unstitched cloth, it is wrapped in, at times, a
complex manner around the waist and legs. Apparently there are 60 ways
of draping this ornament. It's name in some south Indian languages,
indicates that as much as five knots are required to wrap it in the formal
style. What ?

4. The first foundation was laid at Burhanpur in Madhya Pradesh, but was the
shifted to its current famous location, after problems in transporting
the raw material to Burhanpur. What ?

5. Which famous pesonality founded the "hawala party" and got it registered
with the election commission ?

6. At the age of 14, he was sent to the Rugby School in England. He continued
his studies at Kings College, Cambridge, where he read history. On
graduation, in 1968, he worked for the Pakistani TV industry. From 1971 to
1981 he worked intermittently as a freelance advertising copywriter for
Ogilvy and Mather and then went on to achieve international fame/notoriety.
Who ?

7. Initially known as the "Hindustan Landmaster", it later became an icon of
sorts in India. What ?

8. His original family name was "Kaul, but then his ancestors changed the name
to "one that dwells besides the canal". His autobiography starts with "An only
son of prosperous parents, is apt to be spoilt, especially in India". Who ?

9. M L Jaisimha is one of two Indian batsmen to have batted on all five days
of a test match. Who was the other ?

10. Michael Madhusudhan Dutt published a partial translation of s famous
literary work, and named it "Hector Badh". Name the original.

11. Why is Uttarkashi named so ?

12. It is a derivative of the leaf and flower of the female cannabis plant,
and is used to make beverages and smoked at times. The mughals believed it to
be an aphrodisiac. What ?

13. His real name was Singanalluru Puttaswamayya Muthuraju and was often
referred to as the John Wayne of India. Who ?

14. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers, especially, former Major
General Shabeg Singh (who was dismissed from the Indian Army in 1976), started
a sequence of events that finally culminated in what military operation ?

15. On June 8, 1948, a Lockheed Constellation aircraft named "Malabar Princess", took
off from Bombay for London, via Cairo and Geneva. What did this mark ?

16. The great poet, Purandara Dasa (also known as Sangita Pitamaha) laid out
the basic learning structure and framework for what ?

17. "this twenty sixth day of November, 1949, do hereby adopt, enact and give
to ourselves this Contitution." -- the last line of what ?

18. Connect : tatkar (fast footwork), chakkar (pirouettes), temple dancers, the bhakti
movement and mughal court dancers.

19. It falls on the Phalgun purnima and spans two days, the second of which is
known as "dhulandi". In vrindavan and mathura where lord krishna is supposed
to have grown up, it is celebrated for 16 days. What ?

20. What specifically dis Aryabhatta refer to as "bijaganitham" ?

21. Located 10 kms from Pune, it is the first joint services academy in the
world. Name the institution and the place. (no half marks)

22. What is the constitutional body, in India, to conduct examinations for the
appointment to the services of the union ?

23. Who is the current Chief Justice of India ?

24. What was the name of the commission set up to investigate the events of
the Babri masjid demolition ?
The remaining ones were audio-visual questions, which I am not putting up right now...

Et tu Brutus !

Looks like animals have gotten in the eco-terrorism mode now.

A crocodile was so peeved at the noise made by the cutting of a tree, that he chased the person with the chainsaw, and then proceeded to smash the saw to bits.

The aptly named Brutus, a 15-foot saltwater crocodile kept as an attraction at the Corroboree Park Tavern in Australia's Northern Territory, took offence at the noise of the chainsaw as the man cut the fallen tree
"Fred virtually gave him the chainsaw, shoved it at him. It was still going and he took the chainsaw onto the ground and proceeded to smash it and it stalled. The crocodile didn't cut himself, just broke a few teeth."
Well, well...either he was really hungry, or just wanted to prove a point...who knows ? But then again, he Australian...