Thursday, January 31, 2008

Another Day in Grad School

The PhD comics are always funny, but sometimes, they get very, very close to reality.

See this one to know what I am talking about :).

and now, back to real work.
P.S. Check out Elements of Style. Looks like a must-have-in-office book.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A rising ocean lifts all ... houses?

What do you do when the ocean levels rise, or the predictions say that there will be a flood once in 12 years?

Well, you can choose to migrate, or choose to change how you live, factoring the water in the picture.

No, I am not talking about waterworld. I am talking about the houses built over water by a dutch architect.
"This is underwater," she says when we get there. We are in an enclosed basement with a low ceiling, and the Maas River is all around us. I mean, you poke a hole, and you're going to have water come in.

You see, Smits' foundation actually sits on the river bottom. If the river level rises to flood stage, the house and the foundation float up with the water level. Flexible pipes keep the house connected to electrical and sewer lines.

Talk about human resilience! But wait, there's more:
"The next step: we not only make the house floating, but we make the complete garden floating," Olthuis says.

Why not? Why lose all those pretty Dutch tulips just because it floods? After all, Olthuis says, building floating foundations is a snap. Just fill a concrete box with some kind of plastic foam, flip it over, and you've got a stable platform that's ready to float. And the more of these platforms you join together, the more stable they are. So Olthuis doesn't plan to stop at single family homes.

"You see a floating foundation, with a garden on top of it, a swimming pool on top of it, and a house on top of it. And you can fix those floating gardens to each other, and make a floating village of it," he says.

We should really start making some of these in India soon.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Looking forward to Jodhaa Akbar

I had seen the teaser for Jodhaa Akbar while watching the atrocious Bhool Bhulaiya, and have been looking forward to it since.

And today I found the theatrical trailer for it on IndiaFM. And I like what I see :-).

I like how the desis are making good period movies that _look_ the part. Looking forward to more.

For more info, including how perhaps the name Jodhaa was a historian's mistake, check the wikipedia article.

For listening to the songs, check out Dhingana. My favorite is "Azeem-o-shan Shehanshah".

On a different note, give the controversy-creating nature of our media, and the rise of religious nutjobs in India, it will be interesting to see how this muslim-hindu love story is received :-).

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dear Consitution!

... and a happy republic day to you all too.

The above page has the parade video, and if you want a patriotic song, I give you two:

The classic one:

and the modern one:

Aap sabko Shubh Gantantra Diwas !

and now... must go to the flag hoisting.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Telecommuting Construction Workers?

Imagine a future where robots do our work [the kind currently done by under-paid illegal immigrants], but need human to control them.

What if that manpower came from across the border, not in trucks, but over communication lines?

That is the premise of the movie Sleep Dealer. Wired has an interesting post on it.

Sleep Dealer tells the story of a young campensino named Memo whose DIY radio draws unwanted attention from a U.S. military contractor. Fleeing to Tijuana, Memo has implants placed in his body in order to become a "node worker" -- a Mexican laborer who, from south of the border, taps into a vast network that operates robots located in the United States.

Memo's robot welds girders on a skyscraper. Other node workers perform housework, watch the kids and keep the yard neat. The film's title refers to the node workers' exhaustion as they work 12-hour shifts to build, clean and maintain cities they'll never visit.

Given that it will be some time before robots become smart enough [and we trust them enough] with jobs, the premise of the movie may come to be true. Definitely worth thinking about.

In other news, did you know that there are 9 million bcycles in Beijing? [great music video - must watch]

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Shoppers without Borders

In case you don't know yet, Palestine is currently divided into two administrative regions, with Gaza being ruled by the democratically-elected Hamas organization [who, btw, believe in shooting rockets periodically into Israel :-( ].

Since Israel controls the borders of Gaza, it has blocked all supplies into it, causing a severe shortage of food, medicine and fuel. In fact, Gaza had a blackout yesterday since their fuel ran out, after which the Israelis allowed some fuel to cross into Gaza.

Of course, the leaders of both sides remain stuck on their PoVs, GWB and his "peace-attempts" notwithstanding. But what about the people? What is a person to do when the price of things like rice go to three times the price.

Well, if you cause such a pressure, science tells us that walls might break.

And break they did. Well, one wall - the one on the border between Gaza and Egypt - has been broken.

So, what kind of violent demons infiltrated Egypt from Gaza?

Jubilant men and women crossed unhindered by border controls over toppled corrugated metal along sections of the barrier, carrying goats, chickens and crates of Coca-Cola. Some brought back televisions, car tires and cigarettes and one man even bought a motorcycle. Vendors sold soft drinks and baked goods to the crowds.

They were stocking up on goods made scarce by the Israeli blockade and within hours, shops on the Egyptian side of Rafah had run out of most of their wares. The border fence had divided the Rafah into two halves, one on the Egyptian side and one in southern Gazan.

Ibrahim Abu Taha, 45, a Palestinian father of seven, was in the Egyptian section of Rafah with his two brothers and $185 in his pocket.

"We want to buy food. We want to buy rice and sugar, milk and wheat and some cheese," Abu Taha said, adding that he would also get some cheap Egyptian cigarettes. He said he could get the food in Gaza, but at three times the price.

The Egyptian president, a big-time US ally, has said that he does not mind if the Palestinians walk into Egypt, shop, and go back - as long as they are unarmed.

I think this incident puts a human face to the crisis. Leaders from both sides, please take note, and start working to alleviate the stress. Otherwise, more frequent and more severe wall breaches might occur.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Command-line Life Partner

R pointed me [via /.] to this craigslist personal ad for a g33ky girl.

Some glimpses:
I am part of a dying breed of people known as "shell users." We are an old-fashioned bunch, preferring the warm glow of a green screen full of text over the cold blockiness of a graphical interface. We use ssh, scp, and even occassionally ftp.
Because there are fewer and fewer of us, I must help keep our lineage alive. I am looking for someone to help me do this. I need a woman (obviously) who is willing to raise a child with me in the method of Unix. Our child will be introduced to computers at a young age, and will be setting emacs mode before any other child can even read. I earn a sufficient income to support a family in modest comfort. Other than the fact our child will be bright, text-based and sarcastic, we will otherwise be a normal family. We will even go to Disney World and see Mickey Mouse.)
on the issue of relocation. I live in a place where my income/expense ratio is proper (i.e., greater than 2:1). I'm willing to live anywhere in the world where this remains true.

All in all, an interesting take on the personals ad. I am sure that if the girl uses command-line like him and responds to him, they will also share a lot of other interests.

Now to find someone like above ... who also happens to love the Ganges ;).

Saturday, January 19, 2008

New Look, Crack and Dreams

3 things:

1. I finally migrated to the new template of blogger, primarily due to the cool drop-down list of posts on your right [and the ability to add widgets - though I am not keen on experimenting on that for now].

2. Listen to this report about how sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh spent seven years among crack dealers as part of his thesis.

3. Check out Khwaab [and read their blog], a non-profit for helping children, but with an interesting twist -- they do NOT want you to donate money, just your time. So if you're in the Pune area, join in! I so wish I could help.

That's it for now folks. Those who are into the current US political season might want to listen to what the author of "how to rig an election" has to say.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Does my moustache make me Facist?

I love it when Jon Stewart rips apart his author-guests who write books that are essentially crap.

Here is the latest one, about a book called "liberal facism". It was actually an 18 minutes long interview, but they had to edit it to fit the format. Among the gems, "Why is organic food Facist!"

Another one (with Chris Matthews) here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Too much endangerement

In an interesting case of what the environment is coming too, Wildlife officers are trying to figure out how to scare away endangered stellar sea lions from eating endangered sturgeons.

Apparently, this has been caused due to a dam on the river, which concentrates the population of the fish, something that the sea-lions have discovered. The big problem is, the fish take a lot of time to mature before they reproduce, so this killing by the sea lions can easily make them extinct.

But why is this happening now? Perhaps because the mammals have nothing else to eat.
Biologists aren’t sure why Steller sea lions, which are opportunistic feeders, have targeted sturgeon.

But Charlie Corrarino, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife conservation manager, said the big fish are about the only ones in the river right now.

Smelt, an important forage fish, have nearly disappeared, noted Parker, the Inter-Tribal Fish Commission biologist. Tons of the thin, oily fish used to flood the lower Columbia and its tributaries in winter. Sea lions had only to open their mouths, let the smelt swim in, and then swallow, he said.

Expect more such craziness as we Homo sapiens further change our environment and cause our own destruction.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Darwin Awards 2007

The Darwin Awards for 2007 have been announced [ref: /.]. For those who don't know, the are given to "those who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it" in creative[destructive?] ways.

This year's highlights:
Playing Chicken with a Train
[removed due to claims of inauthenticity by the sister of the deceased. Her statement here.]

Stop. Look. Listen.
The show is delayed. Two women leave the venue to escape the rain. They pass multiple free shuttle buses that run directly to the parking lot. Instead, they opt for a shortcut across a 7-lane Interstate.

And a desi story about elephants also:
In the past few months, migrating elephants have killed eleven people in southeast India. A team of four journalists decided to interview this herd of rogue elephants. [...] Elephants are big, and elephants are fast. As the recent deaths illustrate, a person can't out-run an elephant. But these intrepid journalists [on foot] apparently assumed that a press pass grants immunity.

How about checking your email while driving, or trying to electrocute a mole by driving electrified metal poled in your lawn?

But perhaps, the most intriguing one goes to this mystery:
A passing cabbie found a 21 year-old couple Znaked and injured in the road an hour before sunrise. The two people died at the nearest hospital without regaining consciousness. Authorities were at a loss to explain what had happened. There were no witnesses, no trace of clothing, and no wrecked cars or motorcycles.
answer here.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

What I want for christmas

Yes... Christmas -- it will take a year [or more] to build this beauty :-)

XKCD network cartoon

That's it for today ... back to paper writing.
[ref: XKCD]

Friday, January 11, 2008

Aaja meri gaadi mein baith ja

I was going to dedicate this post to the new small car by TATA, but then I came across this wonderful coverage [via Abi], so I would recommend you all to read it (in case you don't already know about it).

And then, go and design your own small car here :-).

Sure, there are criticisms about the possible issues with safety, emissions, traffic etc., but as far as I am concerned, this safer-than-a-motorcycle vehicle that will give off less pollution than a 2-wheeler that costs only $2500 from a company that had all but acquired the Jaguar brand surely is a testimony to the resourcefulness of the Indian entrepreneur. I look forward to the TATA's making money by selling it in a lot of developing countries.

Read the official interview with Ratan Tata here.

Also, while looking at the above site, I stumbled on TATA's solar-power initiative, which to me speaks a lot about their forsight (for a country like India, solar and wind power are the way to go IMHO). I am surely going to buy stuff from them when I get back.

On a more light-hearted side, reading the comments of people on American sites like digg and slashdot made me realize that the word "tata" has multiple meanings here ;-). [check the urban dictionary if you don't believe me]


Moving on to the other reason for choosing the blog post title, New Scientist posted its top pickup lines from its "Flirt with science" competition. My favorite is:
I need a seed for my pseudo-random number generator - could I have your phone number?

And a female test-subject I tried this on actually liked it :P. The list has many other gems like this. Go check it out.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Groping for a solution...

As most of you are aware, the new year celebrations in Mumbai was marked with shock for two NRI girls as they were "misbehaved with" by a crowd after stepping out of a party. The Sena promptly blamed it all on "outsiders" who were corrupting Mumbai's culture.

The following article by Bachi Karkaria makes some interesting comments on the issue.
Mumbai’s incident had all the components of this clash between old hang-ups and new gratifications. It wasn’t just a drunken crowd whipped into mandatory New Year ‘revelry’ pouncing on the easy target of women, one of whom set off the ticking bomb by foolishly responding to the jeers. It was also the classical Them and Us confrontation, which today’s compulsory consumerism has made more volatile.

These women and their partners had emerged out of a deluxe hotel, satiated on its expensive blandishments (which included that testosterone-thumping mob fantasy, Bipasha Basu). They represented all the good time that this crowd had been egged on to have from every media corner - but could not afford to. Add to this the yet-unexorcised demon of sexual regression, and you have big trouble. This was the mob’s ‘compensation’ - perverse, crazed, perhaps even unthinkingly spurred on by mass hysteria, but undeniable. Scarily, shamefully so.
I agree with her that the solution does not lie in a "surrender to the moral police determined to throw us back into the unliberalised dungeon". I hope the perpetrators get what they deserve.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Some-achaar -- 1990s style

Funny how I was thinking of this some days ago, and today I read an article about it.

What is it about ? Well you know what it is about if you can recognize the names in the following quote. In case you do not, read the article, I assure you, it is a good [and nostalgic] read.
There was plenty of fan mail and phone calls too. A harassed husband once pleaded with [Salma] Sultan not to turn up in a new sari every day. "My wife makes similar demands that I cannot meet," he wrote. Shammi Narang recalls how an aging retired government employee wrote asking for help to get his pension. "Perhaps we were perceived as powerful people who could get things done," he says.

Ah.. NOW I remember, I thought of all these people when I was watching back to you. Anyways, go read the article :-).

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Do you like the sound of my voice?

no no.. not my voice, this was the question that anthropologist Coren Apicella asked to a set of people to get their response on the "attractiveness" of the voice.
Last summer, she flew halfway around the world with a tape recorder to study the Hadza people of Tanzania.

In the first phase of her research, Apicella invited a group of Hadza men into her Land Rover and recorded them saying "hello" in Swahili. Then she played some of the voices for a group of Hadza women, asking them which they preferred.

She found that women preferred deeper voices, while males preferred shriller voices. And there seemed to be some other interesting properties also.
The Hadza men with deeper voices also had more children than their squeaky counterparts. But she says voice alone probably doesn't explain that.

"Why there's this relationship, we're not entirely sure yet," Apicella said. "It could be that these men have greater access to mates. Maybe these men that have deeper voices have higher levels of testosterone. Or maybe they're better hunters and they're able to bring more food home to their wives."

Surprisingly enough, although the men liked shrill-voiced women, they also thought that the deeper-voiced women will be better food-gatherers.

But.. what does it all mean?
"I think this study does speak to the fact that voices are signaling some biologically relevant information to potential mates," Hughes said — information like fertility or the ability to put food on the table.

But Hughes, a professor at Albright College in Pennsylvania, says it's unclear if men and women in all cultures would share the preferences of the Hadza.

For listening to the voices, and also what the response of American women was to them, listen to the story :-).

So, what kind of voice do you find attractive?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

My Stead-"fast" New-Year Resolution

Yeah yeah, I know, most new year resolutions get broken soon, but hey, Jan 1 is as good a day as any other to start a changed attitude towards life - right?

So, I went to my office today, and worked on a paper [hopefully the rest of the year will be productive too :-)]. Also, like nearly everyone else, I decided to do something this year that would lead to a more healthy "me".

No no, not the kind that makes you lose money in a Gym, and yes - I am going to approach this like a man, by setting specific goals :-).

So, here goes -- Starting Jan 2008, I will observe a fast on the first Wednesday of each month. I will drink water, and lots of it, but not anything else. I will eat one meal at night, and try to keep it as less processed as possible. That surely qualifies for a 24 hour period without food. If it goes well, I may make it more frequent [the article above says once a week is ok].

The idea is to give my digestive system some rest, and time to recover from the constant onslaught that passes for food in the life of a grad. student in America :-).

So yeah - tomorrow is day 1 - let's see how it goes.
P.S. I guess I decided to hedge my bets and adopt the woman's approach [read/hear NPR article above] to keeping new year's resolutions as well -- my roommate Karthik will also be fasting once a month :-).

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Have a great 2008!

yeah.. that's what I said..

Now turn this computer off and enjoy with your loved ones :-).