Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Non-Newtonian liquid is...corn starch & water ???

Some students in Spain mixed corn starch and water, to create a non-Newtonian liquid - it exhibits the properties of a solid when pressure/stress is applied, but is a liquid otherwise.

 Original link via Digg.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Science Trek | Dec. 13, 2006

Smaller memories ?

IBM, Qimonda and Macronix have announced that they have jointly developed a new kind of material that holds promise for new computer memory chips being available for the mass market. They created a new semiconductor alloy derived from materials currently used in optical storage devices like CDs and DVDs. This falls into the category of non-volatile memories, which IBM believes could enhance the speed of microprocessors. It could also be used for a vast array of devices like mp3 players, video, etc.

Ancient "Luna-tic" machine.

Scientists recently announced that they have been able to understand the delicate workings of a 2000 year old computer used by ancient Greeks to calculate lunar cycles. Named the "Antikythera mechanism", it was discovered over a 100 years ago in a Roman shipwreck. It could also track solar and planetary positions. It could have been used to time agricultural and religious festivals.

Welcome to the "Dark" side

Scientists have discovered anti-gravity...not, not the one from science fiction lore, but dark energy. Apparently, after the big bang, the cosmos behaved like there was was serious anti-gravity at work that forced it to expand -- this was known as dark energy. A group of astronomers, using the Hubble space telescope, have found that billions of years before this antigravity overcame the cosmic gravity, it was already present and was shaping the evolution of the universe.

A Large lens

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has approved the construction of what will be the world's largest telescope, the European extremely large telescope (E-ELT). Costing Euros 57 million, it will have a mirror with a diameter of 42 meters, and is composed of 906 hexagonal segments, each 1.45m in size! Now if only they could use some of their intelligence to think of an original name !


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Recently, Diversity@NC State decided to create a video in commemoration of the adoption of the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" by the United Nations. The Chancellor proclaimed Dec. 10, 2006 as International Human Rights day at NC State.

Yours truly was invited to participate...

The video (in parts), has been uploaded in parts onto the Diversity Website:

I appear in the two sections marked with a * above, i.e. Articles 1-4 and Articles 5-10.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"The Problem with Programming" - Bjarne Stroustrup.

In an interview with MIT's Technology Review, Bjarne Stroustrup talks about "his legacy and examines what's wrong with most software code."

For the uninitiated, Stroustrup is the creator of the C++ programming language, and author of, in my honest opinion, the definitive C++ book.

For the various folks out there who diss C++, I found this bit interesting...

I'm sure that for every programmer that dislikes C++, there is one who likes it. However, a friend of mine went to a conference where the keynote speaker asked the audience to indicate by show of hands, one, how many people disliked C++, and two, how many people had written a C++ program. There were twice as many people in the first group than the second. Expressing dislike of something you don't know is usually known as prejudice. Also, complainers are always louder and more certain than proponents--reasonable people acknowledge flaws. I think I know more about the problems with C++ than just about anyone, but I also know how to avoid them and how to use C++'s strengths.

And then, of course, you don't expect proponents of languages that lost out in competition with C++ to be polite about it. Software development doesn't have that degree of professionalism--though I hope it eventually will. Science is different in this respect: when a new tool, technique, or theory wins out, people see that as progress. In software, contributions by competitors and predecessors are not widely acknowledged, appreciated, or even understood.

Original link via Slashdot.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Movie Review : American Dreamz.

[Spoiler Warning : I might discuss details of the plotline, including parts of the if you don't wanna know, do not read the rest!]

One would think that a movie with a cheesy title like "American Dreamz" wouldn't necessarily be an interesting watch, or worse, turn out to be a "chick flick"! Or considering that it was directed by Paul Weitz, who in the past has perpetrated such rib-tickling comedies like "American Pie" as director and "American Pie 2" and "American Wedding" in his roles as executive producer, it might be another one in a long series of frat-boy, under-sexed teen-comedies...but every once in a while, something flies under the radar and takes you by surprise...

I happened to bring home the DVD and watched it on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Weitz's take on current American culture and politics with beautiful sarcastic undercurrents makes this movie a real delight to watch - the best part of course, is that the movie is neither obnoxious nor over the top about the topics that it deals with...American strategies in the middle east, the obsession of everyday people with television and reality shows, the lengths that folks will go to for achieving stardom, how the chief executive is perfect only if he is a puppet, etc.

The movie is centered around three different stories, all intertwined around a popular television show, a la American Idol, and aptly named "American Dreamz" (and this is made painfully obvious in the cloying title song - "American dreamz...that's dreamz with a Z"). There is the President of the United States, Joseph Stanton, (leader of the free world as some would like to think) played by Dennis Quaid, and no one is left with the impression that it is anyone but you-know-who (of course if you have any doubts, it is soon dispelled by his wife who seems to be a copy of Laura Bush and his advisor who is modelled after Karl Rove.). After winning his second term, he seems to develop a conscience and a need to get real news from an apocryphal source, such as newspapers (his advisors would rather that he get it from daily news briefings that talk about Dr. Octopus and Magneto being the bad guys).

The second character is Omar Abidi (played by Sam Golzari), an Iraqi orphan, who lost his parents in an American bombing raid and has decided to join a terrorist training camp and infiltrate the United States as a "sleeper agent". Oddly enough, for a terrorist, he seems to love music, especially the Broadway type.

The third story is about Sally Kendoo (portrayed by Mandy Moore) a mid-western, middle class American girl, who has been constantly pushed by her mother to become a television star. She hopes to win the American Dreamz competition to achieve this aim, and will go to any lengths to ensure her victory, even taking back a boyfriend she heartlessly dumped once she knew she was in the competition, just because he was injured in Iraq, and it makes for "good television".

Cast in the role of Master puppeteer, is Hugh Grant as the obnoxious, self-centered, Martin Tweed (molded along the lines of Simon Cowell). He is the producer, host and judge of the American Dreamz show...and it is the absurd, the pathetic and weird that catches his can be seen when he asks his assistants to find him an Arab and a Jew on the same show...when asked about if they should get an Arab-Jew, he says, "don't be absurd"! He wants the basest types on his show, to maintain the popularity records for the show and himself.

From the time that the president decides to show up as a guest judge on the show, to the terrorists forcing Omar to participate in the show so that he gets a chance to attempt a suicide mission to kill the president, to Sally dumping and then "re-uniting" with her boyfriend, the movie moves along showing how ridiculous turns life can take for seemingly ordinary people. The sad part is that any of this is actually possible in real life, as the tag line for the movie states,

"Imagine a country where the President never reads the newspaper, where the government goes to war for all the wrong reasons, and more people vote for a pop idol than their next President."

We get great one-liners, situations, and interestingly, political statements, insightful thoughts, and satire along the way, which, again, sadly, could be true, such as,

"I think my mother wanted me to become president just to prove to my dad that any idiot could become president."


"Why are you reading Canadian newspapers?

"They are our neighbours"

"Who cares?"


"I think the middle east will never improve from its current position...never...never. And I'm sorry."

You know the movie is not going to end well, when Sally's boyfriend finds her and Martin making out in her dressing room, and he finds the bomb that Omar has discarded. He appears on stage threatening to blow everyone up, and while the audience screams and runs, Martin finds a camera to continue to telecast the situation, and ends up killing himself and the boyfriend, when the camera inadvertently presses the button to set off the bomb...the satirical take on the American media and the public is emphasized, when immediately afterwards a note appears on television screens asking people to vote, and the dead boyfriend wins the contest due to the popular vote! Of course, his outburst is termed as "a post-traumatic stress syndrome", and Sally ends up taking Martin's role as the host of the show...

This movies leaves you with an vague feeling of uneasiness because it seems so reminiscent of reality...

The soundtrack by Stephen Trask also has a vague, haunting feel to it, and this just emphasizes the mood while watching the movie...


Friday, December 01, 2006

Weapons of Math Instruction!

One of the funniest pieces I have read in a long time...I came across this piece on the door of a Computer Science professor at NC State. The parts in bold are exceptionally funny, in my humble opinion.

At New York's Kennedy airport today, an individual later discovered to be a public school teacher was arrested trying to board a flight while in possession of a protractor, a T-square, a slide rule, and a calculator.

At a morning press conference, Attorney general John Ashcroft said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-gebra movement. The man is being charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction.

"Al-gebra is a fearsome cult," Ashcroft said. "They desire average solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in a search for absolute value. They use secret code names like x and y and refer to themselves as unknowns, but we have determined they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country. As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, there are 3 sides to every triangle," Ashcroft declared.

When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, "If God had wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, He would have given us more fingers and toes. I am gratified that our government has given us a sine that it is intent on protracting us from these math-dogs who are willing to dis-integrate us with calculus disregard. Murky statisticians love to inflict plane on every sphere of influence," the President said, adding: "Under the circumferences, we must differentiate their root, make our point, and draw the line."

President Bush warned, "These weapons of math instruction have the potential to decimal everything in their math on a scalene never before seen unless we become exponents of a Higher Power and begin to factor-in random facts of vertex."

Attorney General Ashcroft said, "As our Great Leader would say, read my ellipse. Here is one principle he is uncertainty of: though they continue to multiply, their days are numbered as the hypotenuse tightens around their necks."

I do believe that the originator of this joke was Brian Leiter.