Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hasthakshar -- हस्ताक्षर

I think I understand now what Amitabh and Shashi Kapoor were going through in Deewar.

Here is what I finally obtained today.

I guess it is finally starting to sink in ... I have completed my Ph.D.


- Dr. A

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Real Face of the War

Lara Logan of CBS was on the daily show the other night. Her interview is a must watch, since she has spent time both in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is not afraid to tell the truth.

And now, this soldier talks about what they used to do when the reporters were _not_ around. [thanks to a comment on this digg post for the link]

WARNING: This is graphic, and may be disturbing. But hey, the truth _is_ bitter.


Why Obama should become a Hindu

... according to the Peabody winning Stephen Colbert:

must watch -- I like how he is funny, while not being disrespectful. However, I am sure there are those who disagree, that there might be Colbert-effigy burning by the 'soldiers'.

Back to thesis finalizing.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Before T = Zero

I have always loved the title song of Bharat Ek Khoj, taken from the rig-veda. I especially love the questions it asks -- namely, what was there before the creation?

The relevant lyrics, taken from the above wikipedia page, are:

[Hindi in Roman script]
Srishti se pehle sat nahin thaa, asat bhi nahin
Antariksh bhi nahin, aakaash bhee nahin thaa.
Chhipaa thaa kyaa, kahaan, kisne dhaka thaa?
Us pal to agam, atal jal bhi kahaan thaa.

[Hindi in Devnagri]
सृष्टि से पहले सत नहीं था, असत भी नहीं
अंतरिक्ष भी नहीं, आकाश भी नहीं था
छिपा था क्या, कहाँ, किसने ढका था
उस पल तो, अगम अतल जल भी कहां था

Truth/Good did not exist before the Universe came to be, Neither did Untruth/Evil
Neither did Space, Neither did the sky
What was hidden? Where?, Who had covered it?
At that moment, Unmoving, bottomless ocean was not there either


As a kid, when I read A Brief History of Time, it mentioned how even if time existed before the big bang, it does not affect us, so it does not make sense to think about it.

So, that made me stand up and take notice when I read this BBC article about possible evidence of time before the Big Bang.

From the article:
Detailed measurements made by the satellite have shown that the fluctuations in the microwave background are about 10% stronger on one side of the sky than those on the other.

Sean Carroll conceded that this might just be a coincidence, but pointed out that a natural explanation for this discrepancy would be if it represented a structure inherited from our universe's parent.

Then, as if taking a cue from the slokas I mentioned in beginning, he said: "We're trained to say there was no time before the Big Bang, when we should say that we don't know whether there was anything - or if there was, what it was."

As a bonus, here comes the video:


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Letting our Mothers Die

An integral part of life in Varanasi [and in almost all Indian cities] was the presence of stray cows [and Bulls, in Varanasi's case] on the street. I must say that I miss them at times here in LA, when I have to throw away part of a meal that I have not been able to finish, thanks to the huge portions in USA.

Now, as most of you know, Hindus treat the Cow as a sacred animal, many believing that the cow absorbs celestial energy and stores it in its milk, and even its urine and dung. I am sure many protests have been held in India to ban cow slaughter, and indeed, a fatwa was also issued for it by Darul-Uloom.

But there is another killer of the holy bovine Gau Maata in India, and one which is much, much harder to apprehend. It is our own apathy and laziness. The following NPR story shed more light on the threat that plastic bags post to stray cows. In case you did not know, many cows die in India because they ingest whole plastic bags with food in them. Imagine starving, being able to see and smell food in a bag, but not being able to open it. Is that treatment worthy to be given to the mother?!

On the solution side, I remember being told as a kid to not tie tightly the plastic bags which had food in them, so cows could easily shake them open and eat the food. The above NPR post talked about an amazingly convoluted method that the administration came up with. The idea was to make the ultra-thin plastic bags illegal -- so the bags that are used end up being more attractive to the garbage collectors, who pick them up from the garbage piles, emptying them for the cows to eat.

Nice plan, isn't it? The plastic makers make more money per bag sold, the rag pickers make more money per bag thrown, and the consumer foots the bill.

The only problem is regulation. How does one measure if a bag is "thick enough" [20 microns is not the usual resolution of the human eye, you see]? Apparently, the enforcers of this ban were supposed to be equipped with devices to measure bag-thicknes; but alas, due to budgetary constraints, it could not happen. When the NPR reporter suggested that the thicker bags could have a simple image, perhaps a smiling cow, to mark them, the admin guy went "ah, we never thought of that!".

At some level, the above scenario sounds comical -- reminiscent of Yes, Minister even. However, when I think of the end-result -- painful death of the poor stray cows, and the hypocrisy of the so-called followers of the sanatan dharma, my blood boils!

I searched on the website which recently launched a protest against the Love Guru, and was unable to find a campaign to prevent cow-death arising out of plastic bags.

If any of you know of such a campaign, please let me know.
P.S. This post does not reflect my views on cow-slaugher, merely on cow-murder by negligence, perpetrated by its sons and daughters.
P.P.S. In case you didn't click on the link above, read/hear the NPR post -- Very moving.


Posting this from my iPod touch 16GB.

Thanks for this amazing gift Divakar and Deepika!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Celebrating two rebirths

June 9th, 2002: Rebirth of yours truly. [No, not like GWB, but like the Bionic [wo]man :) -- post car crash]

June 9th, 2007: Rebirth of this blog.

And thanks to your blessings, prayers and blog-hits -- both me and my blog have been chugging along well.

So Ashish, Akshay and Rahul -- happy re-birthday!

Interestingly enough -- Ashish is in Britain right now, Akshay travels to France sometimes, and I will be working in the same research group as I was in the summer of 2002. I guess we will be able to finish that road trip after all.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Listening to Both Sides

I believe in the power of informed decision making. Therefore, although I am a liberal at heart [and support Barack Obama], I am more than willing to hear the other side's point of view. The sad fact is, most of the spokespeople of both sides are either loud or loony or both, making it tough to separate reasoning from propaganda.

Which is why over the past year or two, I have loved left right and center on KCRW, which is "the civilized, yet provocative antidote to the screaming talking heads that dominate political debate".

And today, I was exposed to George Will, who appeared on an interview on the Colbert Report, and whom Stephen Colbert called "a formidable opponent". I loved how Mr. Will explained the difference between democrats and liberals. Also, upon reading his wikipedia profile, I came to know that he writes for NewsWeek, and realized where I had seen his face :). [yes, I regularly read NewsWeek also :)]

Anyways, 'nuf said -- here is the video.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Post PhD Plans PhAQ

... or the phrequently asked questions about my life-to-be :).
[kindly excuse the allitration :)]

[Note: Scroll down to see the question I need your help on]

Over the past few days many of you have wished me, some after noticing my post-hooding snap on my facebook and orkut profiles and IM statuses, and some after seeing my post-PhD blog-post. Thanks very much to each of you!

To paraphrase the guy with the webs, with great wishes come a great many questions. So, I figured it would be best to summarize all of them.

Q. So, you are really done? Anything left?
A. Well, I have "successfully defended" my work in front of a committee of Professors, and they have okayed my work. However, I still need to update the text of my thesis -- the intro and related works sections.

Q. So, when do you get done?
A. Hopefully by the end of June.

Q. OK, what after that?
A. I'll be visiting my brother in Atlanta, and then off to INRIA Paris-Rocquencourt, to work as a postdoc with Dr. Valerie Issarny. I intend to live in Versailles, and visit Paris to chill out every once in a while :).

Q. Cool! How long is this going to be?
A. Hopefully 2 years.

Q. And what about your knowledge of French? Do you know la langue française?
A. Mais Oui! [of course!]. All thanks to the Faculty of French at BHU.

Q. Aha! Speaking of BHU, whatever happened to your plans of becoming a faculty member at ITBHU [see last line of this post]? Have you too given in to the lure of money and French wine?
A. Well, this is perhaps the most important question to be asked, since those who know me well know how much I wanted to teach at my alma mater. In all fairness, I applied late last year to be a faculty member there in the CSE department, but was told that there were no vacancies. The current plan is to finish my postdoc at INRIA, and then see where life takes me.

Q. And what about an India trip?
A. Well, the last time I was there was in Dec. 2005. The current plan is to visit again this December, after a productive half-year at INRIA.

Q. Well, enough of the dry academic and career details -- give us some dope now -- what about the personal life? Koi bandi wandi?
A. LOL. Nah. Still single. Still not looking [?]. If you know a well-educated, mature, world-visited, news-reading, geeky, activist type female who would not mind joining someone who wants to be in Indian academia, drop me a line ;).

Q. OK. What is the question you wanted help with?
A. Thanks for asking. You see, a whole bunch of people have asked me what I want as a graduation gift, and I have a tough time figuring it out. Can you please post a comment and suggest something I should ask for, given my tastes and the [near] future plans?

Q. Sure. But can we crash at your place when we visit?
A. Of course! Cya in France! [special treatment to those who post comments and help me with gift selection :D]

Thanks a ton!