Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Gods of Chance in Bangalore ?

Bangalore is known for its urbane, hip, technologically literate crowds, for its stability, for a flourishing economy, beer, real-estate booms and inflation...not much fazes Bangaloreans even when things are going out of control elsewhere in the state, country or even the world. I mean, this is the city which barely noticed the problems associated with the Babri masjid fiasco, the Cauvery water dispute and even the fiasco that was the kidnapping of Rajkumar - the iconic hero of Kannada movies.

I remember all these events, because while they were blasted across the media 24x7, Bangalore went about its business...ok, there were a few skirmishes here and there, but on the whole, life got back to normal real quick...

Not that people from Bangalore are cold-hearted or don't's just that most of us who grew up there got used to the lovely, laidback approach of the city...where people always thought before jumping the gun, especially on matters like religion. People were cultured, well-read, educated and simply put - sensible.

Unfortunately, it isn't true anymore...the Bangalore that I remember is no more...too much has changed in the recent years, the least of which is a large influx of people, almost on a daily basis, with just one thought in mind - money ! People are now getting involved in riots on trivial matters. Gone are the days when we would all wonder as to why anyone would put their loved ones in danger and run amok among the streets...we only hoped that we would never face such a problem - Bangalore was always the steadiest city that I've seen in that seems to have undergone a cataclysmic shift...alas, that Bangalore is no more. Even the name doesn't exist...officially that is.

I read about the recent riots in Bangalore, and thought - well, it will probably subside very quickly, and no one will be hurt...and with the typical Indian thick skin, and lack of sensitivity, I believed "well, at least no one I know!"

When my parents called me the same day - I asked them how matters were, and they said, has improved a bit, but problems might reoccur, and then my mother went on to other mundane matters of how the car has some battery problems and it ran out when they were driving back from a wedding and they had to walk and find a garage, etc. I tuned out for a while, just making the required "ahem", "uh-huh" and "ok" noises from time to time, before I said I had other things to do, promised I would call back and hung up...

Today it hit me...the car broke down, and they had to find a garage to get it fixed...they were on foot trying to find a mechanic, whom they did find and then decided to leave the car in the workshop...hence, they got home much later than they would otherwise have...all the while the riots had started and were going on, on the very route they had taken if not for the fact that their car broke down ! By the way, the autorikshaw they called to get home, took them along a different route altogether...

So, if all was fine with the car, and they had proceeded on the normal route, they would have gone in to the area where the riots were at their peak and possibly run into the thick of it all! Who knows what could have happened ?

So was it intervention by a divine entity, random chance, preordained fate ? Who knows ? This is not a post about any of these is about realising that innocence and strongly held beliefs are lost...forever...the belief that Bangalore is a safe city capable of taking on all adversities; the Bangalore that I grew up in, the Bangalore that I left behind four years ago...has is but a ghost of itself; in the mad scramble for technological superiority and heartless economics and wily politicians...

Also lost is that sense of security when one hears of bad events and people getting hurt - the cold, selfish security that nothing can happen to oneself or the people that you are close to...the bullets are hitting closer to home now and there isn't much that I or anyone else I know can do about a constant niggle has crept in to my thoughts...and it seems bent on growing into an all out sense of dread and fear...

Alas, my simple beliefs in my favourite city and in many of the important matters in life, is no more...I shall mourn this loss for a long time to come...

Previous posts related to Bangalore : 1, 2, 3, 45, 6.

[Note : I do not wish to propagate the myth that the entire city was up in wasn' was apparently restricted to certain areas...but those were the exact areas through which my parents would have taken had their car not broken down.]

Cross posted on Desicritics.


Monday, January 22, 2007 launch...

Announcing the launch of - a grassroots set up launched by people with diverse backgrounds and interests - with the only common threads being an interest in science and in blogging.

But do not be alarmed...we will not stick only to science...we will present thoughts, facts and opinions about any and all topics under the sun.

Here is the press release of the launch...



Scientific research is the latest area of public life to draw the interest of bloggers hoping to shed light on under-reported stories., a grassroots coalition of academics, scientists and science nuts, is the latest, officially launching Jan. 22. It joins Seed Media's, and ScienceNewsBlog in this burgeoning category.

Some science bloggers, whether professional or amateur scientists, are driven by intense interest in topics that may be too niche for major magazines. Others have a point of view that's at odds with the mainstream scientific media. Like all bloggers, they enjoy the freedom to express their opinions that blogging allows.

The IndyScienceblogs crew is indicative. They include:

  • Emily DeVoto, a healthcare consultant who covers policy and news
  • Aleksandr Kavokin, a Russian M.D. with a special interest in unusual medical conditions
  • Susan Kuchinskas, who tracks research on the hormone oxytocin
  • Barry Leiba, an IBM researcher who cherry-picks ideas from many disciplines
  • Ed Minchau, an engineer with a fascination for robots
  • Sibin Mohan, a computer science doctoral student who blogs about everything from movies to philosophy to gadgets
  • Mike White, who brings his expertise in genomics and molecular biology to his posts about cutting-edge research
  • Trisha, who writes about the research involved in women's health issues.
  • And The Beauty Brains, two anonymous cosmetic chemists who decode the mysteries of beauty products

The science blogs trend is good news for the general reader: Bloggers pore through journals, translate arcane scientific data and explain what it means for the rest of us. Full contact information and background for a story on this trend are available, and interviews can be facilitated at your convenience.

You can either visit the webpage regularly or subscribe to the RSS feed. Along the way we hope to amaze you, to make you question, confuse you, simplify matters, have discussions with you or just disseminate some tidbits of knowledge...stay with us on this journey...


Friday, January 19, 2007

John McCain can do no wrong.

 John McCainUS Senator John McCain (Wikipedia entry) has been a darling of the media for a while now. He has been touted as the next President of the United States, savvy, witty, smart, charming yet with a volatile temper - a classic touch that makes him "human". The media loves him...he can get along with all media personnel, trade jokes with them, take shots at Dick Cheney and seem like a rebel fighting alone to reel in the right-wing, conservative Republic Party to the center...

Some of the biggest names in the journalistic profession seem to back him up and extol his virtues, as seen in this Joe Klein article in Time where a comparison is made between McCain and Obama's handling of their "Face the Nation" appearance. Excerpts...

From where I was sitting, McCain got the better of it--not because he had the better argument (he didn't), but because he was clear, concise and confident.


He also threw down the gauntlet to the Democrats--if you're really against the war, don't mess around with non-binding resolutions, cut off the funding.

And about Obama, he had this to say in conclusion...

but he sure seemed less assured, less presidential, than McCain

Well, that settles it doesn't it ? Obama is definitely less presidential that McCain! Note that he doesn't "disapprove" of Obama's message, just that he didn't say it right...that must mean that McCain is more "presidential"! Now this article is a classic example of how the media has propped up John McCain to this saintly status and the next presidential candidate. Not that I am supporting Obama here -- I do not know much about him (his background, policies, etc.) to be able to form an honest opinion, yet. Its just that no matter what his opponents have to say, whether right or wrong, and no matter what he himself has to say, John McCain can do no wrong...if he makes a statement that agrees with their ideas, the media will extol him as if he were the next messiah; if not, well, he said it better than the other guy and he's more dignified and "presidential".

Seems like the jury has cast its votes on him becoming the next President!

For everyone who believes that that John McCain is a moderate in the Republican party and someone who steers to the center, here is a piece of information for you -- you're wrong! Here is an analysis of his voting record among the  senators of the Republican party:

109th Senate : Second most conservative!

108th Senate : Fourth most conservative!

107th Senate : Sixth more liberal !

The above numbers show a disturbing trend - his voting records are becoming more and more conservative as the years go by ! Anyone with half an ounce for a brain can see that if he has the second most conservative voting record in the Republican party, then he definitely cannot be a "moderate" !

In fact, the American Conservative Union gives him an 83% lifelong rating. In their rating of presidential hopefuls, his rating is far above that of the Democrat with the highest rating on the list - Senator Evan Bayh, with a rating of 21. How can McCain be considered, even remotely, as a moderate ?

What people forget, in the media blitz, is that McCain has toed quite a bit of the Bush administration line, especially regarding the War in Iraq. He has always voted in favour of the war and for troop increases, including the latest one. Even when the war is being acknowledged as a mistake by the very folks who initially wanted it, McCain refuses to backtrack on this issue - this can only bring him unpopularity, unless of course, the media finds a way to gloss over it.

And McCain is yet to seriously announce his Presidential ambitions for 2008(yes, yes, he has announced the creations of campaign and finance exploratory committees, but that is still not official). If and when he does do so, then the smear campaigns will probably start. When the dirt starts to fly, we shall see the skeletons in McCain's closet and see if he can handle that kind of intense media pressure. He lost the 2000 Presidential nomination, largely due to a smear campaign, in South Carolina, led by his opposition. Of course his famous temper might be more of a liability than an asset and rumours and news articles abound with stories of his extra-marital affairs and his racist slurs against Asians (he reportedly used the phrase "gook" to refer to South Asians, even during recent times. He defends himself saying that it was refers only to his Vietnamese captors during the Vietnam war, where he was a POW).

He was also a serious player in the Keating Five scandal.

It's still early days yet for the key players in the 2008 race to be finalised, but we shall have to see how the media scrutiny of John McCain changes, if at all, when he becomes "official". Don't get me wrong - I am not really against John McCain as such (he is probably just as good/bad as the next person) for being who he is. I'm placing a large part of the blame on the mainstream media for extolling his virtues while neglecting his faults. Whatever happened to the idea of an objective viewpoint ? This next election will decide whether a media-propped favourite will win become the President even if he is against the popular ideas on important issues.

As an interesting footnote, an article by David Leonhart in the New York Times, once talked about how Internet searches might predicted the future, which I had written about previously. Google Trends is a good tool to use for this purpose. you can compare the interest in two people side by side, simply by observing the amount of searches against their name and the amount of media coverage they receive. 

[ Key : Blue = McCain, Red = Other person ]

Here is a comparison of McCain vs Obama:

Interestingly they're neck and neck as far as Google searches go, but McCain leads, most of the time in news coverage. Of course, certain announcements by Obama makes his popularity spike.

Here's another comparison - McCain vs Hillary Clinton:

Well, seems like the Arizona senator has a clear lead in this race. But I guess a few of her results are lost here due to the last name being the same as her husband's.

But here's when it gets really interesting - McCain vs Gore:

Interesting don't you think ? This seems to indicate that Al Gore is more popular in Internet searches, and is slightly more popular in news coverage. Does this mean that Al Gore might just about win this time round if he is the Democratic nominee ? I have a gut feeling that he might, but that is a post for another day.

Cross posted on Desicritics.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tesla back in popular imagination...

 Nikola Tesla is everywhere...and no, this does not refer to the late 1800's/early 1900's, but right now! He is appearing in movies, books, name it. Eccentric, inventor, genius, far ahead of his time, scientist, mystic...all of these attributes and qualities make him interesting even in the modern era, 60 odd years after his death.

Consider Thomas Pynchon's "Against the Day". Here is a brief extract from the synopsis...Against the DayCover design: Michael Ian KayePublication date: Nov 21, 2006

"The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics, and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses, and hired guns. There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx."

Many events in the book happen during or around Tesla's experiments in Colorado Springs. Tesla himself does appear. although in a brief cameo. Pynchon is smart in the way he weaves a web of mystery around the famed inventor.

The second popular appearance is in the movie, "The Prestige". Tesla is played by none other than David Bowie. Here there is more of the mysticism as well as the mention of the financial troubles Tesla faced during his experiments. Also present are references to his feud with Edison, dubbed as the War of Currents. In the movie he works on creating a device capable of teleportation, but has unintended consequences.

Cover of The Five Fists of Science, a graphic novel showing Tesla in the center.Nicola Tesla has also appeared in a graphic novel named the "Five Fists in Science", where he teams up with Mark Twain to bring about peace by fighting off the dastardly forces ruled by Thomas Edison!

Some of his ideas were right off the chart, and we are just coming to terms with them, for eg., wireless electricity, directed energy/particle weapons, a flying machine that could run without use of an engine, wings, ailerons, propellers or onboard fuel source.

Rumour has it that the Tunguska event was caused by a directed particle beam from Tesla's experiments!

Of course we know that his ideas on AC current were right in spite of being maligned by Edison and his cohorts...and it is no surprise that he has often been dubbed as "the man who invented the twentieth century" and the "patron saint of electricity".

Cross-posted on Desicritics.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Grad Students, world over, grieve... the recent death of Momofuku Ando. He was the inventor of instant noodles and cup noodles, known popularly as Ramen noodles (for which he founded the Nissin Foods company).

PhD comics pays tribute to him...

Call it coincidence, irony, a sad example of typical grad student life, or what you will...I was eating a cup of noodles when I read the news and the cartoon and I am eating one now when I write this post...


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Stem Cell cartoon.

An interesting series of cartoons on Slate regarding Stem Cell research and the Bush veto. Although they tend to lean more in the direction for stem-cell research. I found the the following cartoon the most interesting one, showing the dichotomy of thought prevalent in the world about stem-cell research...and also the ethical that might really hard to resolve...

These are both valid concerns, mind you...but don't ask me to take may not like what I have to say ! Although if you push me to take a stance, I would say that Stem cell research should be allowed, as long as we do not have to sacrifice embryos for the cause. There is research on using stem cells from placentas that do not harm embryos which apparently obtain similar results. Now, that might be an acceptable compromise...

All this of course, while the House votes for increasing the scope of stem-cell research.

Previous posts on Stem Cell research : 1, 2.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Apple's iPhone is here...

...announced by Steve Jobs in his keynote address at Macworld.

Here are some pictures of Jobs showing off the iPhone:




Wow ! I must ! This seems like the next must-have gadget ! Well, it's priced at $499 for the basic (4GB version) and $599 for the upper end one(8GB). Here's Jobs' reasoning:

"Our most popular iPod is $199 -- what's a smartphone cost? Somewhere around $299 with a two year contract."

"What should we charge for the iPhone? We should charge more for this stuff!... "

"So how much more than $499 should we price it? We thought long and hard about it... it does so much stuff..."

"What should we price it at? For a 4GB model we're pricing it at $499 -- no premium whatsoever.
"We're going to have an 8GB model for just $599."

It's going to the available on the Cingular network (or AT&T as its known now) in the United States.

Well, here's an early commercial that was released in March 2006...that gives us some ideas on this phone...


Original link via PajamasMedia

Update: ArsTechnica article on why the iPhone won't be the next "killer app" for Apple.

Update 2 : Cisco sues Apple for trademark infringement...they have a trademark on the iPhone name. I was wondering what happened to the Cisco trademark, after Apple announced their product. They had released a web-phone/skype phone late in December.


Saturday, January 06, 2007


Shane Warne is retiring. Well, considering his record, he's getting a lot of accolades, after taking more than 700 wickets in test cricket - more than any other person on the planet, to date. Many consider him to be the best spin bowler of all time...perhaps a reason why the Australians have dominated cricket over the last decade or so. I personally think its all hype.

For one, to be the best spinner in the world, you have to have been successful, consistently, against what is arguably the best spin playing nation on the planet - India. He hasn't performed against the Indian fact, every time he has come down to India, his bowling figures have been set back considerably what with the thrashing he has received from the likes of Sidhu, Kambli, Sachin, Laxman and Dravid. So much so, that he has often refused to come down to play in India in the last 6-7 years, until he came by for the 2004 series. And considering that the Indian subcontinent pitches are a paradise for spinners, it seems a bit suspicious. He also had excuses like the baked beans fiasco in 1998.

Here is Shane Warne's overall record in test cricket:

Matches   Wickets   Best    Average   5Wkt Hauls

    145           708        8/71     25.41            37

Now here is his record against India:

Matches   Wickets   Best    Average   5Wkt Hauls

    14              43       6/125      47.18             1

The numbers speak for themselves...his bowling average is twice against India, as compared to the numbers for this overall career. I mean, considering that Australia and England play each other so often and that Warne has racked up most of his wickets against teams that traditionally do not play spin.

Then there's talk about the magic ball/ball of the century where Shane Warne gets Mike Gatting out by bowling him between his legs. Now, consider this, Indian bowlers like BS Chandrasekhar, L Sivaramakrishnan and Venkataraghavan have bowled myriad such "balls of the century" in their day. Here is a video of their first test win in England, with these two spinners weaving magic against the confused English batsmen: 

I think Anil Kumble deserves a lot more respect, simply because he has taken wickets in all test-playing countries, under all sorts of conditions. For that fact, I believe that Saqlain Mushtaq deserves great respect because he would consistently take wickets against the India team. In fact, he has a better average against India than that for his entire career ! That speaks volumes about his talent.

While Shane Warne is a good cricketer, one must be careful before dubbing him the best spinner in the world. He has won multiple matches for Australia, but then again, they were opponents who were clueless against spin bowling. Also, anyone can be deadly when one has Glenn McGrath tying things down from the other end. In my opinion, McGrath will be the difference between a great Australian team and an ordinary one (well, that is a post for another time).

And before you ask, no Muralitharan doesn't quite qualify as well...while his record is better than Warne's (well, maybe not in number of wickets, but I doubt if that will last) overall as well as against India, we have all seen him being soundly thrashed by Indian batsmen over the years...and for some reason, they used protect him against Sachin Tendulkar...but I guess he does deserve far more respect than Warne, but then there's always going to be a footnote about this "chucking" and other related controversies.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year !


"The Year" *

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That's not been said a thousand times?
The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.
We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.
We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.
We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our prides, we sheet our dead.
We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of a year.

by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Well, another year gone down...2006 was a very interesting year, but eventful nonetheless...

A list of scheduled events for the current year.

* Poem received via The Wondering Minstrels mailing list.


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