Saturday, December 29, 2007

Benazir is dead - but what does it mean?

When I heard about her death on NPR yesterday, it reminded me of when I had heard on Radio of Rajiv Gandhi's assassination -- a sense of disbelief. As I have heard more on this on news, and from friends, it is clear that the people here are not clearly aware of the many aspects of the story.

Well, Amy Goodman clearly knows how to choose learned guests. Today on Democracy Now!, she had two guests talking about the situation. Go here to read/listen/see it.

Following this, I went to the blog co-written by one of the guest on her show (Manan Ahmed), and his excellent post on the subject. I must say I was unaware of the fact that the first attack on Pakistan's democracy came just three years after independence, with the assassination of its first PM.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Meri Christmas

Yeah.. I am kinda late in posting this.. but it is 10:50pm here on the 25th :-).

So here comes, a classic desi christmas video - 12 days of christmas - desi style

and for bonus.. one more - the desi origins of santa

!!!Merry Christmas!!!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Top10 most underreported humanitarian stories of 2007

'tis the season to be jolly, but not for all...

As I have often said, I love independent media like NPR and Democracy Now!.

And today on Democracy Now, there was a report on the top 10 most underreported humanitarian stories.

Those wanting to do a quick fly-by in a photogallery form can click here.

Sad that the mainstream media here chooses to not cover these stories at all.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The X-factor in Ganga jal

"The mughal king Akbar believed that the water of Ganga was the elixir of life, and carried it with him during his campaigns"

"Ganga-jal was the only water carried on British ships bound to Britain, since it was the only water that would not get spoilt"

So says NPR's latest post on the Ganga [Ganges for the english-speaking ones :-) ]. Their correspondent talked to a whole bunch of people to ask two questions:

1. Why does Ganga water hold so much more oxygen than the other waters?
2. Why don't we get water-borne epidemics although so many people bathe in its waters, esp. in occasions like the kumbh mela?

During my years in ITBHU, the ganga was always a big part of life, it being Varanasi and all, but I guess I have begun to appreciate it more when "outsiders" [read NPR] showed an interest in it. I still don't completely understand what their fascination with the river is -- maybe it is the X-factor?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ganpat [and Kali and Ram] on NPR

I love NPR, I really do, whether it is their reports on the presidential debates, or on obscure islands in the pacific, the reporters are not shy to [fairly] report on issues that are not covered by the mainstream media here.

Of late, Laura Sydell has been reporting from India on the media industry, and today's Morning Edition had two reports from her.

The first was about how Virgin Comics is now making graphic novel versions of the Ramayana and the story of Raktabeej and Kali.
Less than two years old, Virgin Comics has already published dozens of titles, with names like Sadhu, Ramayan, Uma and Kali. All of them are classic figures, and the staff here knows these stories from childhood.

The Virgin Comics illustrators work from a palette of colors and shapes that resemble those you'd find on the walls of a Hindu temple. Their long-haired warriors have narrow hips and robust chests; their voluptuous women drape themselves in colorful saris. Mostly, the stories are heroic journeys, and good generally triumphs over evil.

The Hindu demon Raktavija is the basis for a comic called Virulents.
A writer at Virgin imagined what might happen if you put Raktavija in the middle of the conflict in Afghanistan, and had a group of American and Indian troops discover a nest of the demons — and the result, as presented in Virulents, piqued the interest of filmmaker John Moore.
"It was based on a mythology that people knew little or nothing about," Moore says. "The movie staples have been well worn by now, you know, whether it's vampires or werewolves or guys running around in capes and tights."
I, for one, am happy that they are going to look at the rich Indian mythology, as opposed to the traditional egyptian and greek ones :-). Hopefully our desi filmmakers will also make some good movies [No, Naksha does not count!!] using Indian mythology.

And to end the India-update for the day, they reported on the hit song "Ganpat!". You've got to hear their report on this :-).

P.S. I saw the website of Virgin Comics just now. Check out their take on the Ramayana, and their photo gallery. I wonder how long before the Bajrang-Dal burns down their offices for sacrilege :-P.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Positive: A touching short film on AIDS

I came across this brilliant short film today on AIDS by Farhan Akhtar. (click on link above for full screen version)

Brilliant performances by all leading people. I think I should join the Shabana Azmi Fan Club now :-).
Two things went unanswered though: why did AIDS cause paralysis, and where exactly were they taking him in the end?

But yeah.. good movie... click on the "play" button, will ya!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Summons for a Darshan! [and NPR in Varanasi]

K sent me this BBC article today about a judge in Jharkhand who has summoned two Hindu gods, Ram and Hanuman, to court in a property dispute.

The reason:
The dispute [...] revolves around the ownership of a 1.4 acre plot of land housing two temples.

You failed to appear in the court despite notices sent by a peon and post
Judge Sunil Kumar Singh in letter to Lord Ram and Hanuman

The deities of Ram and Hanuman, the monkey god, are worshipped at the two temples on the land.

Temple priest Manmohan Pathak claims the land belongs to him. Locals say it belongs to the two deities.
So, the court duly summoned the gods, since letters sent to them went unanswered :P.

Interesting side-effect of having fast-track courts :-).

On another note, do take time to listen to this NPR report on the Ganga. Very nice.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Jaywalking in Delhi - no way!

I came across this interesting article today, which talks about how police is enforcing anti-jaywalking laws in New Delhi.

First, the why:
More than 900 pedestrians a year fail to make it to the other side, killed by the city's lawless drivers. So police decided on Wednesday it was time to start enforcing a 27-year-old rule against jaywalking.
The, the how:
police officers grabbed jaywalkers by the arm, issued them tickets, and made them pay 20-rupee (50-cent) fines before explaining the idea of waiting patiently for the lights to change.
and then, the funny parts :) :
"How would a villager know about these lights? There are no traffic lights in their villages," said Constable Suresh Sharma, who thought that the widespread rule-breaking was partly due to Delhi's large population of rural migrants.
"Next time I'll be watchful," said Vasant Pant, a 20-year-old courier late making his deliveries. "I'll look to see if there's a traffic policeman before crossing."
"I don't have the money," pleaded Ankita Khurana, a nervous-looking 18-year-old student.
"Then you'll have to go to jail," the policeman replied. She suddenly remembered she had change in her bag.
Since I know some people who have gotten tickets in LA for the same "crime", I wonder what they feel :-).

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Choosing pseudo-pride over real gains

Seriously, what is wrong with desi politicians? Why do they keep opposing the nuclear deal with the states, something which I personally cannot believe the US govt agreed to pass, given how lopsided it is towards India.

Rather, I should ask -- what is wrong with the Indian public, that their "elected representatives" can freely assume that empty slogans [think "we do not want to be America's b*tch"] can convince the public to oppose a sound deal.

Some weeks ago, I came across this open letter, written by a host of eminent people who have a deep understanding of national defence, urging the politicians to act smartly and not oppose the deal.

Their main thesis:
It has been generally expected ever since our Independence that India’s size, strategic situation, civilisation, not least the talents of its people, were bound to make us one of the most significant influences in the shaping of the modern world. A major obstacle to our full achievement of that position has been the denial of the high technologies, particularly those related to security needs, which have enabled some self-selected powers to forge well ahead of us. We will continue to be denied access to such technologies unless the international community agrees to remove the existing sanctions. In opening the way to such an outcome, what is formally a bilateral agreement between us and the USA is actually the basis for agreement with the international community.
Their main points:
1. This deal does not mean no more tests ever -- as with any deal, we are free to break out of it if we feel that the geopolitical situation has changed, as was clarified by our defense minister today in the debate.
2. Our PM has said that "we cannot agree to fissile-material cut-off unless they allow for our security concerns." This means that this deal does NOT stop India from having its own credible minimum nuclear deterrent.
3. Finally, to counter the argument made by the left and BJP alike ["this deal makes us subservient to America"], the authors say:
Without entering into the rights and wrongs of this view, we would draw attention to an objective fact: international relationships are shaped by strength, the stronger you are the greater your freedom of action. We believe India is more vulnerable to foreign pressures without this agreement than we would be by increasing our strength through an intelligent use of it to put through various development programmes which currently falter. To revert to our initial point, this agreement should be viewed as an instrument for making us that stronger power, confident of itself and of the respect of others, that counts more and more in the world, and can do more for its people.

Why am I posting about this today? because the recent debates in the parliament and the walk out today. I think the BJP and Left parties did not read the above open letter.

I personally agree with the defense minister when he said, as the walkout was happening, "They have no reason. They have no case.".

But seriously, what is the public thinking? Is pseudo-pride valued more than real progress?!

flabbergasted, and outraged,
P.S. I would appreciate comments [pro as well as con] from my dear readers on this topic. What do you think? Am I missing something here?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Wii will make you fit!

Video games make kids lazy and obese.. right? wrong!

First there was DDR, but this one truly takes the cake! Watch for yourself.

mmm.. Wii Fit.. Now to find some time and money for this one :-).

Friday, November 30, 2007

The proof is in the proving...

S sent me this link today, about the various techniques of proving theorems.

Vidhya had already told me one:
Proof by intimidation, which according to her, was proving by throwing tons of math at the reviewer :-) [read "abstract nonsense" below]

But this one has some more true gems. Here is a sample:
Proof by example
The author gives only the case n = 2 and suggests that it contains most of the ideas of the general proof.


Proof by wishful citation
The author cites the negation, converse, or generalization of a theorem from the literature to support his claims.

Proof by funding
How could three different government agencies be wrong? Or, to play the game a different way: how could anything funded by those bozos be correct?


Proof by eminent authority
``I saw Ruzena in the elevator and she said that was tried in the 70's and doesn't work."


Proof by personal communication
``Eight-dimensional colored cycle stripping is NP-complete [Karp, personal communication].''


Proof by reference to inaccessible literature
The author cites a simple corollary of a theorem to be found in a privately circulated memoir of the Icelandic Philological Society, 1883. This works even better if the paper has never been translated from the original Icelandic.

Proof by ghost reference
Nothing even remotely resembling the cited theorem appears in the reference given. Works well in combination with proof by reference to inaccessible literature.

Proof by forward reference
Reference is usually to a forthcoming paper of the author, which is often not as forthcoming as at first.


Proof by cumbersome notation
Best done with access to at least four alphabets, special symbols, and the newest release of LaTeX.

Proof by abstract nonsense
A version of proof by intimidation. The author uses terms or theorems from advanced mathematics which look impressive but are only tangentially related to the problem at hand. A few integrals here, a few exact sequences there, and who will know if you really had a proof?

Seriously.. go read the article :-).
P.S. Still down with a terrible cold .. gah!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Om Shanti Om - why I liked it

इतनी शिद्दत से मैंने तुम्हें पाने की कोशिश की है
कि हर ज़र्रे ने मुझे तुमसे मिलाने की साजिश की है
[itni shiddat se maine tumhein paane ki koshish ki hai,
har zarre ne mujhe tumse milaane ki saazish ki hai]

Yes yes, the above lines are borrowed [ from the alchemist - "If you really wish to achieve something, the whole world conspires to give it to you."], but so is the entire movie idea :-) [from Karz]

I went to watch Om Shanti Om today, expecting something like Main hoon na, full timepass, no brain - nothing more.

However, I must say I came back very impressed [and entertained]. Yes, the movie has the guest stars and the good looks and the glamor and the song-and-dance that is common in a big-budget movie -- but here is why _I_ liked it.

  1. Proper crediting - The makers made no bones about their inspiration sources - they even make a tongue-in-cheek joke about the "friends mein no thanks no sorry" dialogue :-)
  2. Self - targeted humor - This film is a very cute look at the movie industry, and SRK does not stop at making fun on himself either - be it the guy saying "he is much shorter in real life" to phir bhi dil hai NRI, and the other movie essentially being the same [reminded me of Zoolander's "poses" ]
  3. Jibe at press for SRK's "enmities" - The pre-filmfare interviews were very cute, since they were very much how the media portrays the rivalries - with AB senior and junior, as well as Rakesh and Hrithik Roshan's commenting as the media would report them :-).
  4. Great acting - by two people - the veteran Kirron Kher, and the relatively new Shreyas Talpade. The others also play their parts very well. About Deepika Padukone - well, I thought her acting was very nice, in addition to her drop-dead-prettiness.
  5. Special Effects - Watch out for them in the 70s section of the movie, esp the dhoom taana song. Good use of computers I say :-).
  6. The ending credits - I think the one thing I liked most about the movie was the ending credits. It was so nice to see that in a movie that was about a junior artist, the makers gave the technicians and other small people a chance to get their 5 seconds of fame. Kudos to Farah Khan!
There is more to write, but work calls.. if you have not watched it yet, I suggest going and watching it. Well worth the money

Finally, all I can say about the movie is, in the words of Mohabbat Man / Mongesh-da -- "oodi baba!"

Sunday, November 18, 2007

For those missing the daily show and colbert report

Here are two videos... by the writers of the shows themselves :-).



very nice to see these videos... I wish they had an ad-driven website they could post their videos at. I would love to watch their creations. Also, I think the above writers do not lose any "ideas" if they post them online. The jokes lose their currency a few days later anyways.

So yeah.. go WGA!!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

All of USC was our stage...

... and we were the players.

This past saturday, Nov. 10, I was part of the Vidushak comedy theatre group as we did our skit - TBD.

I went on stage and started with .. "I'm sorry Ladies and Gentlemen, but due to midterms etc, all my actors have ditched me. There will no skit today... BUT!.."

To know what happened after this, see the video yourself :-).

कोई शक?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bihar’s Waterman

How much time do three bulldozers take to make a pond 60ft by 60ft in area and 25 ft deep?

Now... how much time will one man, 56 years old, take to do the same thing, armed only with a trowel [khurpi or खुरपी in Hindi]?

7 years. Yes, for seven long years, Kamaleshwari Singh, a semi-literate farmer of Manikpur village in Barh block of Patna district, worked on this dream project, which is now bearing fruit.

From the article:
Manikpur village had no pond before Kamaleshwari decided to get one dug, thereby making a permanent source of water available to the residents of Manikpur.

What makes Kamaleshwari’s achievement more significant is that his initial inspiration for the job and his continued determination to keep digging for seven years came from his frustration with what he calls "nasty village politics". He was not a participant in village politics. A simple farmer who owned 12 bighas of land 15 years ago and now has only five bighas, he got entangled in the regular tide of crime in his village and surrounding villages. His elder son, who kept fighting pitched battles for supremacy with gangsters in the nearby villages, was killed. Kamaleshwari had to sell seven bighas of his land to fight court cases. Thoroughly disgusted, he once decided not to fight any court cases and to rather concentrate on "something constructive".

It is a great story of determination in the face of adversity.

"After losing my 26-year-old elder son, Siyaram, to gang war, I decided to forget all bitterness and start doing something constructive," Kamaleshwari told TEHELKA. As he started digging for the pond [...] in the summer of 1996, [...] the entire village started laughing at him. "[...]They even ridiculed me by calling me ‘Talabi Baba’. My own family tried to restrain me from this work, but I kept ignoring everything and got the pond ready in seven years," said Kamaleshwari, who studied only up to Class VIII.

The cool thing is, after so many years of hard work, it has finally brought respite to the villagers.

The 60-ft-by-60-ft pond has enough water even in summer for the villagers to bathe, wash clothes and feed their cattle. [...] In fact, the village, inhabited by people from various upper and lower castes like Rajputs and the Yadavs, has deep and complex caste divisions that disallow people from using one another’s resources. "But there is no caste division in the use of this pond," says Rakesh Kumar Gupta, a villager.

Here's to Kamleshwariji and his determination!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A very nice Holi video

I came across this on youtube the other day, and thought of sharing.

A wonderful video that showcases holi, reminds one of India, and manages to convey a message too.

gotta love the creativity of the people back home.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

What is common between a cough syrup and a DVD player?

One thing I have missed in the states is witty ads. Somehow, the Indian ads have always been my favorite [yes, I like the European ones too].

So, when Pranay pointed me to the following, I had to see:

A very very nice concept indeed.

And from my side, dear readers, I give you the following:

waddaya say?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tehelka's take on the Godhra Train burning

It was the fire that supposedly started all the fires - the burning of coach S-6 of the Sabarmati express near Godhra station in 2002. The

Following my recent posts on Tehekla's sting operation on the rioters, many have asked the same question:

"Why doesn't Tehekla do a sting operation to find out what happened when the train coach burned?"

Well, Varun's comment told me that they did one on that too, and a little bit of googling brought up some interesting articles.

1. An article from 2005: A massacre that wasn’t? - The Banerjee Committee’s interim report reveals many holes in the police’s claims.

2. The more recent one [long article], including interviews done by the same reported who did the other sting operations:

I strongly encourage all, those who agree with my PoVs, and those who do not, to go through the entire article. Some excerpts.

The Provocation[s]: Testimonies by onlookers stating how there was a fight between a tea vendor and kar-sevaks, and that they also tried to abduct a muslim girl.

Tehelka's sting reporter meets a witness:
What exactly transpired between ASM Meena and the mob?

[Assistant Station Master (ASM) Harimohan Meena who was manning the cabin] is silent on the issue in his statement to the police. TEHELKA’s undercover reporter decided to meet him posing as a research scholar. Meena — not aware that he was talking to a journalist or being recorded — said that when he came down and asked the mob why they were chasing the train, a few people from the mob replied that one of their people had been abducted by the karsevaks on the train. Meena also said that he heard a few in the mob suggesting that the coach be set on fire to drive people out of the coach so they could recover their person. But he saw no swords, any other sharp weapon or inflammable material being carried by the mob. On the contrary, according to him, the mob mainly consisted of women and children carrying sticks and pelting stones.

Pre-meditated fire-setting, or mob gone out of control?
EMERGING CONTRADICTIONS: Was the mob carrying petrol and kerosene? Among survivors of coach S-6, only the karsevaks claim so

Neither Meena — the only official who witnessed the mob from close quarters — nor any of the survivors who were not karsevaks in S-6, like army man Pande and Rajendrasingh Rajput, saw any inflammable material like petrol, kerosene or diesel being carried by the mob. Nor did they see coach S-6 being set on fire. Satish Misra, a businessman in Vadodara who was travelling back with his family from Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh on S-6, and who lost his wife in the blaze, says, “Upon hearing that there was stone pelting on the coach, we had closed the windows and doors... As there were fumes of smoke on account of the fire I could not see any people pelting stones or who set the coach on fire.”

Four among the surviving karsevaks of coach S-6, — Amrutbhai Patel, Dineshbhai Patel, Rambhai Patel and Nitinbhai Patel, all residents of Mehsana, all of whom had gone to give ahuti at the Ramjap Yagna at Ayodhya — too have stated in their first statements, recorded on March 8, 2002, that they had not seen anybody carrying inflammable material or setting the coach on fire. They said that they fell unconscious because of the smoke inside the coach.
The only people who claim to have seen the mob carrying inflammable material are some of the karsevaks in S-6 who survived and karsevaks in other coaches. Interestingly, all these karsevaks admit that they had shut the doors and windows of their coaches because of the heavy stone pelting, yet in the same breath they claim they saw the mob armed with all kinds of inflammable material.

Please note that Tehelka chose to report on impartial witnesses also, though they could have easily not reported on that. They do not say that the mob did not start the fire, but there are valid questions about the use of fuels like kerosene.

AN IMPARTIAL EYE: Was there any neutral survivor, not a karsevak but an ordinary passenger, from coach S-6 who saw any possible source of fire?

The answer is yes. A family of four — Lallan Prasad Chaurasiya, his wife Jankiben, their 13- year-old son Gyan Prakash, and a toddler Rushabh — were aboard coach S-6. The Chaurasiyas were travelling back from their native town of Allahabad and had two reserved seats in coach S-6 — seats number 8 and 72.

However, karsevaks had occupied seat number 72, so the entire family travelled on seat number 8. Later they all shifted to seat number 6. This is what 13-year-old Gyan Prakash said in his statement recorded on March 4, 2002: “Because of the stone pelting, people in the coach had closed the windows and doors of the coach. However, the stone pelting continued on our coach and as a result the windowpanes were broken. Before the iron window could be closed, some burning substance had come inside and immediately there was black smoke inside the coach. Seeing this, I immediately told my mother to get out of the train along with my sister’s son, Rushabh.
Gyan Prakash’s parents, both Lallan Prasad and Jankiben, corroborated that some burning substance had fallen in through a window and after that black smoke had filled the coach. None of the Chaurasiyas however said that they saw the mob carrying petrol or kerosene or containers filled with inflammable liquid.

There is much more detail in the article, and I once again recommend you all to read it for yourself. A final link to the section about the truth about some key witnesses is in order though.

So, what is the conclusion of this investigation of Tehelka into the train burning incident itself?

THE MOOT QUESTION: A pre-planned conspiracy or a spontaneous riot?

A detailed study of statements and eye-witness accounts, like the one above, clearly suggests that the burning of coach S-6 was an instance of spontaneous vandalism that snowballed out of control. Provoked by the attempted abduction and the karsevaks’ fight with Muslim hawkers at the station, the hawkers began to pelt stones at the train, and then, as the mob gathered strength and force, someone in the mob eventually threw burning rags into the coach that started the fire.

Before my detractors say, "Aha! Now you call the burning of the train a spontaneous mob act, but refuse to acknowledge that the following riots were the same too.", I would like to make one thing clear -- the killing of innocent people is a crime, no matter what the justification, and I would like the real culprits in that train-burning mob brought to justice as much as I would like to see those baby-burning Hindu fanatic b*stards hanged.

Also, there is a lot of evidence [unless you didn't see the videos] that the riots were incited by the state govt itself, which had been given the task of protecting its populace; and that is what I have the biggest problem with. Feel free to post your questions of my choice of focus in the comments, and I will be happy to answer them.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Answers to common comments on Tehelka's sting operation

Adding to the post I made a couple days ago about Tehelka's recent string operation, here is Abi's excellent post summarizing responses to the most common attacks on the sting operation itself. Included is the response to "Why not investigate situations when Hindus were killed".

'nuf said.. please read the post by Abi:-).

Friday, October 26, 2007

See. And Be Afraid

The Tehekla guys have done it again. One of their reporters went undercover as a researcher on hindu resurgance, and got to talk to the a lot of people involved in the Godhra riots. In true Tehelka style, he was wearing button cameras, and got stunning confessions on tape.

Editor-in-chief Taun Tejpan writes in his editorial:
Of the many things that are uniquely appalling about Gujarat 2002, three are particularly disturbing. The first that the genocidal killings took place in the heart of urban India in an era of saturation media coverage — television, print, web — and not under the cloak of secrecy in an unreachable place. The second that the men who presided over the carnage were soon after elected to power not despite their crimes but seemingly precisely because of them (making a mockery of the idea of the inevitable morality of the collective). And finally — as TEHELKA’s investigation shows — the fact that there continues to be no trace of remorse, no sign of penitence for the blood-on-the-hands that — if Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky are to be believed — is supposed to haunt men to their very graves.

Like Germany and Italy once, Gujarat begs many questions. How do a non-militant people suddenly acquire a bloodthirsty instinct? Does affluence not diminish the impulse to savagery? Does education not diminish the impulse to bigotry? Do the much-vaunted tenets of classical Hinduism not diminish the impulse to cruelty? If tolerance and wisdom will not flourish in a garden of well-being and learning, in the very land of Mahatma Gandhi, then is there any hope for these things at all?

The following videos made me sick to the stomach, but hey, the truth _is_ bitter.

Babu Bajrangi: A local Bajrang Dal leader and one of the main conspirators.

Ramesh Dave: VHP's point man who planned attacks on Muslims in Kalupur and Dariyapur

Arvind Pandya: State Counsel appointed by the Narendra Modi government to defend it before the Nanavati-Shah Commission

The sceptics will ask - "Why now? Isn't this a Congress ploy just before the elections?". I say it very well can be, but does that change the gruesome nature of these crimes? [Also, Tarun slams the central govt for its spinelessness too, and I don't like the congress for what they did in the Delhi riots either.] And please do not give me the "muslims killed so many hindus in the medieval times, so what if we killed some now" line -- last time I checked this was not the middle ages, and we had something called due process.

Or perhaps, I am wrong, and as Tarun says in his editorial:
Is it possible that contrary to all the hoopla we may have already lived out the high tide of our democracy? Many Indians may get richer and richer but as a people — a deep civilisation — we will now only get poorer and poorer? Is it possible that a country sprung from the vision of giants can now only sustain small men with small concerns? Once a few good men shaped a modern egalitarian nation out of a devastated colony; are there none now to staunch the rot?

Too shocked to write more...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

There is a hole in the sky ...

... through which things can fly!
I am talking about Portal, the latest game from the creators of Half-Life.

Here is the video trailer:

I have loved Half-life, as opposed to Quake or Doom or Unreal, because I love solving puzzles, and I love the first-person perspective. Even right now, I am at a stage in Half-life 2 where I have to kill a lot of zombies, and that is something I am not really interested in.

Portal, for me, provides the best part of half-life, namely the physics and realism in a first-person perspective, without the bloodshed. I am seriously thinking of spending the $19.95 for this game.

But wait, there is more! The good people at Primotech have modded Half-life to be played with the portal gun enabled. More details, and a video are here.

And for those who want to get a feel of the game, but for free, there is the flash version of portal. One of the best things is that you retain momentum while jumping through portals - so if you jump from high above into a portal, you come out of the other end with the same momentum [and kinetic energy]. This can be used to jump very high :-). [I know this sounds confusing. Post a comment if you want me to explain further, or better, play the flash game for a few levels :-)]

Finally, credit is due to the guys at User Friendly, who have been running comic strips on this topic for some days now, sufficiently so to prompt me to look it up on wikipedia.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sex, Truths and Videotape

Today I came across this wonderful desi educational video [careful: video is very explicit in places] about safe-sex. [hat tip to Abi]

The video is in Telugu, but with english subtitles. The cooler part is, they do not shy away from topics such as feminine condoms, and the need for condoms by gay men. I wonder if they are already showing it on regional TV :-).

Saturday, October 20, 2007

How to turn a sphere inside out

Abi posted an entry about this wonderful educational video about how to turn a sphere inside out.
[If it says "video not available", refresh the page. Worked for me :-)]

I love the graphics, and the way they have explained these concepts. And yes, once again, my subscription to Abi's blog's feed pays off :-).

P.S. AIS Garba tonight!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Coal-bear is running for office!

.... well.. at least in South Carolina.

He gave a glimpse of it here:

and then followed it with the following:

I would love to see him in the debates - esp since he is running both as a republican and a democrat :-).

In fact, if he runs for the full country, and some cool techie people get hell bent on showing how vulnerable the e-voting in USA is, he might just pull off a Man of the Year ;-).

P.S. In other news, Sanjay Dutt meets a combination of the pink panther and wiley coyote in the movie Chatur Singh Two Star -- why can't they be original!! Think of Shikari Shambhu.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

How to talk to children

I love the NPR series This American Life. And since I have recently discovered the joy of downloading podcasts on iTunes at home, I added the show to my list.

This weeks episode was about talking to children, and how adults make mistakes when talking to them. You can listen to it here.

The show starts with a number of children talking about what they hate about adults' conversations with them ("Why is it always - 'How's school?' - don't they have anything else to talk about?"). It then goes into the story of two stand-up comics who had to create a show for 11 year olds. If you have seen any stand up comedy here, you know why that can be tough. The part where they talk to the kids after the show is done is pretty revealing.

Act two is about Sex. They interview the editors of Sex, Etc., a national magazine for teenagers. Then they go into the story of what happened when a mother learned that her daughter was having sex.

Finally, they explore the 'benefits' of yelling at children.

Having had interactions with 7-12 year olds recently [kids of friends, cousins], I understand how tough it can be to interact with kids that age, and loved the show. Strongly recommended listening.

P.S. Do NOT watch Bhool Bhulaiya.. terrible movie.. I came out sad, pained and angry
P.P.S. The radio show is here, in case you missed the link :-).

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Mottainai Grandma's coming - finish your rice!

NPR's morning edition is always amazing. Today's cool post was about the Mottainai Grandma comics, which use the old granny to teach the message of no wastage.

From the article:
Mottainai roughly translates as "Don't waste." In the drawings, Grandma looks a little stern with her hair up in a bun and cane in hand. And there's no avoiding her eyes.

"Mottainai!" she says to her grandson, who is brushing his teeth. "One cup of water is enough!"

I strongly recommend reading the post and listening to it. It is a very good look into the current Japanese situation - where people are trying to reconcile their desire to get new things, while trying not to waste.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Onions, Tears and Blood

MS sent me this article today, about the various sides of the onion price hike. Not the best written article, but very moving nevertheless.

From the article:

When I had gone to cover the first onion farmers' suicide in rural Nashik, I was very directly questioned by a village boy, " you do go to the urban housewives to see their problems when onion prices go high then why don't you come to us when it falls to Rs1 per kg?" And I had no answer.

Some parts of the article reminded of the story of potato growers from Fast Food Nation here in the USA.

As per the law, [the farmers] have to bring the their the APMC's pay for weighing, grading, loading/unloading...and sell at the pre-managed auctions in the APMC's. The traders form a ring among themselves and decide that none of them is going to bid for more than a certain price...the farmers face an auction with a pre-determined bid price...thus the prices are made to fall. If you remember...for the past 3 seasons, the prices in the APMC's were kept as low as Rs 1.50 per kg but the retail prices were never below Rs 9 per kg.

And then this..

Also, the government gives subsidies to those farmers who build a facility to store onions...this costs nearly Rs2 lacs and hence only the rich afford to build this. More than 60 per cent of the onion farmers are small land owners and they simply can't afford. So even this time, the rich farmers who could store the summer crop are minting money today but still the 60 per cent of the farmers have not benefited.

The above sure reminds me of the US taxation system, where the rich employers get tax breaks in the name of fostering innovation and creating jobs.

I really wish I could do something about the situation

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Happy Birthday Bapu!

Today is Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday in India, in honor of the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. It is also commemorated as the International Day of Non Violence now [thanks for the tip RM!].

As a kid, I used to hate him, for postponing India's independence by 5 years by stopping the quit India movement after the violence. However, over the years, I have begun to appreciate the power of non-violence, and the risks of using violence as a tool for getting one's demands met. For one, violent struggle often involves killing people, and someone always survives to get back at you! There are no such risks in a non-violent struggle.

I still do not know much about the man himself, and have not seen the "Mahatma vs Gandhi" play or the movie based on it, but I _do_ like the non-violence idea. I have issued his autobiography from the library recently, and am looking forward to reading it.

One of my favorite bapu songs is दे दी हमें आज़ादी (de di humein azaadi) written by the great poet Pradeep. Here is a video for you all [lyrics in indic and roman scripts]:


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

High School Dropout ?= Good Leader

I remember how I have had a lot of dinner table conversations about how there must be an educational standard for political leaders, and at some point it made some sense to me. Not any more though, after I have seen people with advanced degrees spill communal vitriol near me. However, a clear example always helps.

And the Daily Show comes to the rescue! Here is the clip of the interview that Jon Steward had with Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia. Apparently, he is not even educated up to high school, and is the first indigenous president of the country, and has apparently fulfilled his three main promises within 8 months!!

See the video for yourself to hear him talk about nationalization of his country's oil, the agrarian revolution, and his views on making sure the white-folk in Bolivia do not mind the changes. I wish Lalu was as good in fulfilling promises, and as humble in his interviews.

Hunger, Terror and Music

First all, thanks for your comments on the new look (ranging from 'you look good' to 'I never thought you could look nerdier').

In main news, as last year, and the one before, I am fasting today for the fast-a-thon organized by the USC MSU. A whole bunch of other people are too, and so far it has been good. Each year when I do this, I realize how one's sense of smell increases when one is hungry :(. I think I now realize how the hungry kids at the BHU Temple felt when they are around the snack shops. [Note to self: Must try to introduce such a system in my next workplace]

In other news, as I was looking at my incoming traffic yesterday, I realized that Abi had linked to my post about Randy Pausch! I must say I am honored to be linked from his blog, but also a bit perplexed as to how he saw my blog post in the first place :-?

In any case, it was a pleasure reading his posts, esp. the one about myths about terrorists. I feel proud in mentioning that he is a fellow ITBHU alum :-).

Finally, check out the songs of Laga Chunari Mein Daag, amazing stuff. I especially like Hum to Aise Hain and Kachchi Kaliyan - very nice lyrics and good music. With Rani Mukherjee, Konkona Sen and Jaya Bachchan, this one is a must watch!

That's it for now folks... I will resume work [and the wait for sunset :-)]

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

39 dollars for a new look...



'nuf said. Bring on the mugshot jokes!

P.S. To see the reference of the post title, go here. Thanks to M for pointing it out, and all those who helped me finalize the design :-).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A last, inspiring speech

A couple days ago, N forwarded me an email from S about the last lecture of Prof. Randy Pausch, a virtual-reality and graphics guru, who, at 46 years of age, has been diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer, and has been given only months to love.

Now I am not a graphics guy, but there was something about that announcement that struck me, and I ended up watching the lecture live, streamed from CMU. And boy, was I impressed. I think my resolve to be in academia has been strengthened by this event.

I strongly encourage you all to see/listen to it.

Google Video [thanks to Abi]:

A good coverage is here, but I encourage you to read it _after_ seeing the videos, so the surprises are not spoiled :-).

Monday, September 10, 2007

Long Time no Write

Hi all,
I can't believe it has been almost a month since my last post! At the same time, I hope my status links on IM have kept you all entertained/informed :-).

The last couple of months were marked by a lot of activity, esp the visit of mom and dad, which had me freaked out, and a paper submission.

Well, all said and done, it has gone off well. My parents had a good time here, and are now in Atlanta, with my big bro.

This past long weekend, I drove a thousand miles in two days (!!) to grand canyon and back. The trip was nice, and mom took a lot of snaps. [yes yes... I will upload them soon.. please don't kill me]. Perhaps the most memorable part of the trip (apart from the Grand Canyon scenes themselves) was when we say rain clouds pour away in the distance... complete with lightening strikes. I could swear I saw two strikes simultaneously at a time!

The paper submission to the conference went fine. And now, off to more such endeavors!

In other news, Sushant sent me the link to this very interesting article, which uses game theory to explain why we should/should not be selfish. Read more here. I am thinking of buying the book.

That's all for now... more when I upload the pics.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Untold Stories of Contemporary India

Hi all,
Mom and Dad's US trip is going on fine. They have already seen Disneyland near LA, and loved the lake shrine. Bhai comes to LA tonight, and then we are off to San Diego Sea World and then to the bay area on the PCH.

In other news, I came across this wonderful video today on youtube.

I loved it, thought you all would like it too.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Blowing up the stereotype

[Note: Long post, but I had to write about this. Please find some time to read this.]

We [I] live in a world [country] where the terrorists have won. No, don't get me wrong here - no more explosions have taken place since the last time you read the news. But the terrorists' aim is not to kill people - that is merely the means to an end - which is to terrorize people. And if you need any proof of this current state, just look at the faces of the passengers on a jet when they see a brown man with a french beard boarding with a copy of No god but God in his hands.

Why am I ranting about something everyone already knows? because I recently read this TIME article about how the recent attempted bombings in Britain showed that the stereotypes about terrorists do not hold. Tbe following quotes give you an idea:

Much of the plot line was familiar: homemade bombs, near misses and violent extremists targeting civilians. But certain details didn't fit. Islamic terrorists had never before deployed car bombs in the U.K. What could it mean? "Baghdad comes to Britain," trumpeted the New York Daily News. "Make no mistake," intoned Lord John Stevens, the Prime Minister's new security adviser. "This weekend's bomb attacks signal a major escalation in the war being waged on us by Islamic militants." And was it just a coincidence that two of the three vehicles were Mercedes? "Typically [terrorists] use throwaway vehicles, not a luxury car like that," worried CNN anchor John Roberts. What about the fact that the suspects appear to be doctors from outside the U.K.? Those did not fit recent patterns either. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, "It is clear that we are dealing, in general terms, with people associated with al-Qaeda"--though his security chiefs conceded it was too soon to say for sure.

Trying to profile would-be terrorists based on metrics like education or income can be counterproductive. French authorities say they continually come across new radicals whose backgrounds give absolutely no reason to suspect an embrace of extremism. "In Montpellier, we arrested three university students who had formed a cell after self-radicalization from Web sources but who previously were in no way interested in religion at all," says an official with a French intelligence service. "This happens anywhere people are seduced by the radical discourse. We have to avoid falling back on stereotypes because they cause you to miss things."

Perhaps the best section of the article is the following [I love the castle moat analogy]:

The best way to protect civilians from terrorist attacks is to prevent them from being planned. One goal is not separate from the other. But governments still tend to focus much of their time and money on our last lines of defense--explosives sniffers at airports and haz-mat suits for firefighters. That's the equivalent of building a really deep castle moat and waiting for the invaders to arrive. "Unless you can arrest [terrorists] before they get to execution stage, your chances of averting bloodshed and death come down to luck," says a French former counterterrorism official.

Indeed, the way to fight terrorism is to prevent it, not to fight the symptoms.

Which brings me to my second obvious statement of the day - if you want to prevent terrorism, how about not being responsible for the destruction of someone's country? I was listening [on democracynow] to an army officer describe a typical raid in Iraq, and it was sad to listen to him talking about the situations where they would break open the door of a random man's house at 2am, pull him out of bed [nevermind the poor wife and kids] and question him about insurgents, when he might not even know anything about them.

From the trascript:
So you go there in the middle of the night, and you want to catch them -- you want to catch the Iraqis off guard. So you enter the house fast and furious. You kick down the door, and you run upstairs, and you get the man of the house and you get him out of bed, and his wife is laying next to him. It’s Baghdad, it’s July, it’s August. His wife sometimes may be exposed, because of her night garments in the middle of the night, which is humiliating for that woman and for that man and for that family. And you separate the man from his wife, and if he has children, you put his family in a room, and, you know, you put two soldiers on the door, outside the door, to make sure that his family stays in that room. And then you get -- we had interpreters, so we would take interpreters with us throughout the house. And we would have the man of the house, and we would interrogate him over and over again. “Who are the insurgents? Do you know who they are? Are you with them?” And, you know, basically we would tear his house apart. We would, you know, take his bed, turn that upside-down, dump his closets, his drawers, if he had them. I mean, just anything.

And I would say eight out of ten times we never really found any intelligence at all within these homes that would lead us to believe that these people were members of the insurgency. What they were was just Iraqis in their own communities. And we came in there, and we came in uninvited. And I believe -- and I don’t blame this on the US military at all. I don’t. I blame this on George Bush. But when you’re involved in a military operation like that, you enter these homes as if you’re going after the enemy, as if you’re going after bin Laden himself, when, for the most part, they're just families living in their homes, trying to get a night's rest before they get up and go to work in the morning, if there is work for them. And it’s just -- I believe that this created a lot of resentment among the Iraqi people, causing them to join a resistance movement against US and coalition forces in Iraq.

Or how about not leaving your helpers - people who became translators in Iraq to assist in their country being rebuilt - high and dry? This article talks about one woman's struggle to get an iraqi translator to the US, since his life is in danger there. The politicians from both sides of the fence are not helping.

My representative in the House, Maurice Hinchey, and his wonderful federal liaison, Lisa Newman, have been the only people in Washington who have stuck with us all the way through this process; my New York State senators, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chuck Schumer, have not once even responded to my many e-mails, phone calls, and faxes. Nor did any of a half-dozen other Congress members, both Democrat and Republican, including the Indiana representative who had initially sponsored the so-called "Iraqi translator asylum bill."

Others working to resolve this humanitarian crisis also recognize the hidden-in-plain-sight government system designed to keep Iraqis out of the United States. It certainly makes sense that this administration would not want Iraqis here, telling their stories freely. But they are messing with people's lives, and causing the end to people's lives. How can they live with themselves?

All this makes me think - why don't I see more protests here against the war? Don't these conducts make more people hate the US? Why don't I hear student activists starting a petition to get that translator here to safety?

Or perhaps the people also are either non-informed, or jaded. Or perhaps, too terrorized to question their politicians? Whatever the reason might be, it surely is not helping IMHO.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

So far, so good

So, apparently my parents like my place and the city :).

A large part of yesterday was spent putting finishing touches on the cleaning mission. A BIG thanks to all those who wished me luck online, and a bigger one to M, who came over and helped in final moments, and then came to the airport too [the plan was to use her car to carry luggage if my parents' suitcases do not fit in Jean-Luc, my trusted Accord].

We reached a bit after 1 hour past the plane's touchdown time, thanks to LA traffic, and I was afraid that they might be out in the terminal looking for me. Thankfully [?], they took 40 more minutes to go through immigration and agriculture, and I was able to receive them properly.

Then, on the drive back, numerous phone calls were made to relatives everywhere, most of whom had threatened to do bad things to me unless I informed them of the arrival ASAP. I showed mom and dad a bit of the 405 freeway, and some Culver city downtown while on the way home. Then over a cup of tea, some samosas from India Sweets and Spices, and some Kaju Barfi from Delhi, we had a nice sit-down snack-meal.

That was followed by a whole lot of unpacking, with mom showing M her collection of pickles, spices, clothes, and other desi stuff she got through customs :). M then took off, but not without some kaju-barfi, sounf and bangles :).

Dinner was some left-over Rajma and some freshly mom-made alu-sabzi. I must say that my parents liked my Rajma :D.

They woke up at 8 this morning and had their tea, so I am assuming that the Jetlag is not terrible, although only time will tell. The cool part is, they like the house very much, esp the kitchen :-).

okay then, back to work.. thanks again to you all for the encouragement :).
P.S. Speaking of air travel, here [via] is news of a mother and her child being booted out by an attendant, coz the child kept saying 'bye bye plane'. Thankfully the Lufthansa people were better than that.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

They are on their way!

As I type this entry, my beloved parents are waiting to board their flight from the Indira Gandhi International airport at New Delhi, which will take them to Frankfurt, and then to LA in 26 hours. [Their US trip spans 3 months, with 5 weeks spent in LA]

After pushing soooo hard over the past couple of years, to get them to apply for passports, visas and tickets [you all have no idea how many reminder phone calls it has taken], it is finally happening! I will finally be able to show them what my life is like here, and who my friends are. The fact that I will get to eat Mom's home made food is a good plus too :-).

All that said, I am a bit freaking out - mostly about whether or not their time will be well spent. Thankfully there is a temple and an Indian store close to my place, and the area has some nice walks, so I am a bit relaxed. I have purchased a DVD player, so maybe they can watch movies to pass some time. I have also been cleaning the house for two days now, and there is still more to be done :-).

So my friends, what tips would you give to make my parent's trip better?

happy, excited, and a bit freaked out,

Friday, June 29, 2007

Truth is closer to fiction than you think

Last night, I was watching the X-files, and saw this episode, where they talk of a govt. conspiracy to run nazi experiments on citizens. Pretty creepy episode I must say, but gave interesting insight on how the X-files started.

Obviously, the story of the episode was fiction, but as usual, I spent some time thinking "what if it was for real?". I guess that is a common side-effect of watching Chris Carter's creation.

It was interesting then to see that B's status link today was pointing to the Tuskegee Study page. As I was shocked to read [from here]:

For forty years, from 1932 to 1972, 399 African-American males were denied treatment for syphilis and deceived by officials of the United States Public Health Service. As part of a study conducted in Macon County, Alabama, poor sharecroppers were told they were being treated for “bad blood.”In fact, the physicians in charge of the study ensured that these men went untreated. In the 25 years since its details first were revealed, the Tuskegee Syphilis study has become a powerful symbol of racism in medicine, ethical misconduct in human research, and goverment abuse of the vulnerable.

NPR has a piece on it here.

This sure gave me the creeps. I wonder if similar stuff happens in India. [yes, I know about this post, but do we also have stuff sponsored by the govt?]

still shocked,

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Paper, Poster, and Tricolor

The past couple of days were spent in Santa Fe, NM, at DCOSS - a premier conference in sensor networks, my research area. Apart from presenting my paper and poster, I was also here to help my advisor in organizing the conference.

The talk took 20 minutes [the presentation had gone through some 5 revisions in the process], and at the end of it, to my horror, noone asked a question! Obviously, I had failed to connect with the audience. Then the session chair, who is bound by duty to ask a question if the speaker gets none, asked me one I answered it, and suddenly, 5 hands went up in the audience! I was like, where the hell were you guys before?!

Anyways, I answered the questions, and proceeded downstairs for my demo. To my pleasant surprise, both the keynote speakers, Richard Karp and P. R. Kumar, both very big guys in the area, spent some time at my poster/demo, and seemed interested in my work :).

My advisor was also pleased with my performance, and so I figured that it was a good time to talk about my future plans - that of going back to ITBHU as a faculty member.

Once again, surprisingly, he was not the least bit concerned with the "why are you missing out on golden opportunities in the states" argument that I have been given so often by others who know of my plans. He was very supportive, and seemed to appreciate the idea :). The only requirement - do lots of research before you graduate! But hey, isn't that what a PhD is all about?

So, in summary, things are looking up, and tons of more work needs to be done, but I am excited!

P.S. I visited Los Alamos last night and met Zack. We went for a hike, got some freshly made pizza with his girlfriend, and saw "The Matrix" on his home projector. Good times!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Go watch Amu!!

Amu movie posterDoes the year 1984 mean anything in Indian history? Do we even know what happened that year, why and how? More importantly, why do we not talk about it?

These are some of the questions that Amu makes one think.

The movie is a very good mix of humor and seriousness, and I LOVED it when I saw it at USC [thanks to the wonderful folks from Asha USC].

And it is releasing this weekend in LA [and also on the east coast].

Go watch it - the filmmakers have taken lots of pains to release it themselves [yeah, no big distributors came fwd], and the first weekend's sales will determine the further shows of the movie.

The movie is in English, and will appeal to all audiences. So, whether you are brown or not, GO WATCH IT!!

Click here and scroll down a bit for screening timings and locations.

Wish I had time to write more... but coding calls!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

I am back!

Dear Readers,

As promised, I am back to blogging. Thanks to all of you who have given me support through these days, and have asked me when I am going to resume. This post is dedicated to you :-).

And what better day for the re-birth of the blog than my own re-birthday [cannot believe it has been 5 years now]. The best part is, Ashish, Akshay and I might meet up this year :-).

There will a slight change in this avatar of my blog though. Unlike the last time around, I won't be blogging regularly - not until I get more comfy with my research work. But I will post every once in a while, and will look forward to your views and comments. And of course, my regular status changes will keep happening.

So today, I bring you this interesting article [pointed out by B] about the unitary executive aspect of the latest directive issues by GWB. This might sound like paranoia - but the possibilities are interesting [read the end of the article].

Also, I realized that AlterNet is a cool news source [look at their awards]. So it has been added to my daily news list [Google News India, LA Times, Slashdot]. Thanks B!

and that brings us back to the end of the first post of the second incarnation of my online journal. As always, I shall wait for your comments and opinions.