Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai Terror: Letters : #2

Continuing my series...

Dear soldiers:
[Mumbai Police, ATS, NSG, MARCOS, whoever else was involved]

It fills me with pride that people just like me are so brave as to not fear facing death in the line of duty. I really do NOT have the words to thank you properly. If any of you are in Paris sometime, send me an email [animesh @ gmail] and I would be extremely happy to buy you lunch. Its the least I can do.

At the same time, it feels me with great sorrow that the casualties on our side could have been reduced, and the mission could have gone more smoothly, if you were given better equipment, whether it be body armor [e.g., Mr. Karkare, who was shot through his 1990's vintage armor], or better weapons [one could see non-automatic rifles and pistols], or better IT equipment [PDAs with hotel schematics anyone?], or better training on how to handle multistorey-building situations.

We, the people of India, through our elected representatives, have let you down. And I am extremely sorry for that. That said, there were incidents of citizen help, and we would all like to take that as an example.

Finally, thanks a lot for making it clear to the public that at the the time of need, it is the regionless, religionless armed forces that come to our rescue, not the so-called "leaders" who only know how to divide us for their personal gains.

Jai Hind.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai Terror: Letters : #1

I think over the next few days, I will be writing open letters to various people regarding what I feel about the recent terror attacks.

Let's begin small.

Dear Terrorists:

no, seriously,



[perhaps better expressed here]

Friday, November 28, 2008

#Mumbai: Some Thoughts

Yes, you all know how the last 50+ hours were, and that stuff is still going on.

I am still under shock, and therefore might be incoherent, not unlike Grover.

However, here is something I will say, for now [a comment I wrote here]. More later.


I do believe that with this mass-murder, the terrorists have crossed a line:
1. This was televised live for a looong time. Enough to make all Indians feel the pinch.
2. A wide range of people were killed, from the Greek shipping mogul to the poor laborer who had missed his train at VT. I myself am only 2 hops away from someone who died. Again, something to make all Indians feel the pinch.
3. The attacked Americans, Britons, and Israelis: wrong move. I sincerely hope this leads to a)pressure from these countries on Pakistan to hand over those responsible [and perhaps support to India if we choose hot pursuit], and more importantly, b)cooperation in forensic investigation with the overworked and underpaid Indian police so they do not end up with the usually shoddy job that they do after each attack and then try to cover up their mistakes with fake encounters etc.

I like the 2 year mandatory military training idea. In fact, I would like it better if the [increased in strength] army was then responsible for running schools and other social projects where they were posted. A roundabout way to get “teach for america” running in India, but just might work.

Of course, our collective reactions over the next few weeks will determine whether we have learnt our lessons and will start demanding performance from our politicians, or keep up with our usual chalta-hai attitude and deserve another attack.

Yes, I said ‘deserve’. I am mad, at us :-| .


So, what is the silver lining? I believe that this is the right opportunity for a leader to rise (not a shackled one, not one with blood on his record, not the usual populist ones).

Lesson to learn: do NOT trust politicians, not in their current forms. Demand concrete plans for them. Not vague statements ["we will take care of it"], and not knee-jerk ill-thought grandstanding ["we will bring back POTA/TADA and kill all terrorists"].

Demand them to tell us what specifically they will do, and how exactly it is different from the state of the art.

Hoping that this shocking incident jolts us public to start behaving like reviewers of top journals,


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What I did Last Saturday

[as I write this post, sad news came. But I promised myself that we need cheer in this dark time, so here goes.]

It all started in June, when JD and I were debating on how best to say "yeah, right!" in French. We did a google search that resulted in this page. I liked what I heard, joined their facebook group, and they added me as friends! [am honored :)]

Well, one thing led to another, and I landed at the bastille day picnic.

And last saturday [as some of you so desperately wanted to know :)], finally, I was honored to be a part of the future, by way of recording a podcast with the great Katia and Kyliemac! It is k&k episode 196 - the one where they learn about temples of sex and that america is NOT fraught with debauchery... and stuff.... :).

The MP3 is here, and you can stream it directly from the gadget below.

Thanks for the opportunity K&K!

So, what do you say, dear readers/listeners?

Now You See Me ...

... now you don't!


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Holy Photosynthesizing Animals Batman!

In these tough days, food items are getting costly, as Fned also noticed recently.

Ever wonder what will be the most extreme ways to cut food costs? Well, worry no more, for a humble sea slug has shown us the way, by adding algal DNA to its own to convert itself to a mean-green slow-moving photon-processing machine!

The new scientist article is here, and the video is here [must watch!].

From the article (all emphasis mine):
[The researcher] has known for some time that E. chlorotica acquires chloroplasts - the green cellular objects that allow plant cells to convert sunlight into energy - from the algae it eats, and stores them in the cells that line its gut.

Young E. chlorotica fed with algae for two weeks, could survive for the rest of their year-long lives without eating, Rumpho found in earlier work.

But a mystery remained. Chloroplasts only contain enough DNA to encode about 10% of the proteins needed to keep themselves running. The other necessary genes are found in the algae's nuclear DNA.


In their latest experiments, Rumpho and colleagues sequenced the chloroplast genes of Vaucheria litorea, the alga that is the sea slug's favourite snack. They confirmed that if the sea slug used the algal chloroplasts alone, it would not have all the genes needed to photosynthesise.

They then turned their attention to the sea slug's own DNA and found one of the vital algal genes was present. Its sequence was identical to the algal version, indicating that the slug had probably stolen the gene from its food.

"We do not know how this is possible and can only postulate on it," says Rumpho, who says that the phenomenon of stealing is known as kleptoplasty.

One possibility is that, as the algae are processed in the sea slug's gut, the gene is taken into its cells as along with the chloroplasts. The genes are then incorporated into the sea slug's own DNA, allowing the animal to produce the necessary proteins for the stolen chloroplasts to continue working.

Another explanation is that a virus found in the sea slug carries the DNA from the algal cells to the sea slug's cells. However, Rumpho says her team does not have any evidence for this yet.

In another surprising development, the researchers found the algal gene in E. chlorotica's sex cells, meaning the ability to maintain functional chloroplasts could be passed to the next generation.

If you didn't click the previous link to see it, now is your time to watch the video.

Sadly, all Chloroplast and DNA is digested to mush in our stomachs, so don't go looking for algae yet :).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Looking into the Future

This weekend, I had two [three?] futuristic experiences.

Firstly, on Saturday morning, I played a game in the musée des arts et metiers known as "the secrets of the museum". Each participant was given a cellphone which could read and write on RFID tags, which had been attached to certain articles in the museum, including a model of the statue of liberty!

The game began with each participant having 4 images in their cellphones. Our job was to gain as many points as possible by

  1. "putting the item back where it belonged" by going to object in the museum [using the map they gave us] and waving your phone next to the tag attached to the object. Funny thing, when you did that, the tag talked back to your phone, adding a new item to your phone. So then you had to go and put that back, and get more points :).

  2. "answering simple quiz questions about the object that one just put back". Upon being put back, the object asked you a multiple choice question, which you could answer to gain points :).

  3. "collecting 4 objects of the same color in your phone before putting them all back". The 16 objects that were involved in the game were divided into four "colors", and if at any time your cellphone contained 4 objects of the same color, you got extra points. Kinda reminded me of the LEO "jackpot" game which I loved as a kid.

  4. "by exchanging objects with fellow gamers". To help in objective 3 above, you could also exchange objects with another person by putting your cellphones close to each other. So I was occasionally seen stopping people and asking "hey, you got a green object? I can give you a yellow one in return."

The game was cool, and we passed an hour without feeling it. The museum is also very nice, and I will surely visit it again. Pictures of the event are here and here. The ones containing me start at this place [pic 35 of 64]. Huge thanks to F for being my teammate [you can see her in the pics].

Of course, the game above was part of an experiment in pervasive computing, and I look forward to meeting the researchers again. I believe that technology has a lot of potential for making education interesting for kids, kinda like this experiment of teaching English to village kids using radio.

The second "futuristic" thing that I did on Saturday, which is something I had never done before, is something I won't talk about quite yet :P.

The third thing was to read this post on A's blog on the focus of Japanese auto-makers on research to make cars of tomorrow, and not cutting R&D funds even in the recession of today. Also, see the second video there where they interview the CEO of their airlines, JAL.

That's it for now, will be posting details about item 2 above in some time ;).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Links: Good, Hopeful, Pretty, and Crazy

Am busy with a proposal [to a funding agency, you-who-thought-otherwise!], so just posting some interesting links I came across today:

1. Good news: 64% of Kashmiris said, lets vote now to get better living conditions, worry about separation later.

2. Resilience news: Bihar flood victims finding ways to improve their lives using software, bamboos, and banana-trunks! [and yes, “Mobile inspectors” with GPRS-enabled phones have been deployed by the State Disaster Management Cell to travel incognito to these camps and take photographs of their conditions. -- right up my research alley!]

3. Science wackiness: particles that can mix and un-mix water and oil by remote UV-light control.

4. Nature cuteness: A gallery of rain-forest snaps, to remind you that a football-field-sized portion of them are disappearing every SECOND! [my fav. snap - this one]

5. and finally, Japanese gadget craziness: the face-bank!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

On the Moon!

I am happy today. Yes, I need to work on the weekend on a grant proposal, but the Indian tricolor is on the Moon now! [thanks for the news PK]

In spite of all the craziness going on in India, news such as these give us hope, an important and required trait in these times

Also, from PK, is a nice piece to remind us on the national anthem.

It is a nice coincidence that the flag-landing happened on Children's Day, and I give you these videos to further celebrate :).

Friday, November 14, 2008

Some Good News on Children's Day

Today, November 14, is celebrated in India as Children's Day. I wish I was there today, and contribute in a more concrete manner, but the least I can do is point you to some good work being done on the occasion.

Here, from the latest addition to my google reader, is a post about how kids in Karnataka are being introduced to ideas of responsible self-government.

Read the post, you won't regret it.

P.S. Another good news is that one of my good friends is pregnant :). Yay for you-who-sent-me-her-pot-bellied-pic-yesterday :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Good News - True and Fake

To start off this post on a problem-solving note [inspired by the discussion on this mutiny post, I guess], I point you to a new website that aims to highlight the positive actions being taken in India right now. Behold, The Better India. [ref: Abi]

Their aim:
The Better India is an attempt to bring out the happy stories, the unsung heroes and heroines, the small good deeds happening across India and showcase them to the world. Over here, you will be able to read about the incremental progress being [made] by the industrious people of this country, the developments happening on the social and economic front.

This is a great initiative. Please visit their website, and add it to your list of feeds etc.

Moving on, some Americans were shocked to note on Dec 12 that the war in Iraq was over. The reason -- a special edition of the New York Times. [ref: Abi again :)]. The video below shows is their press-release.

New York Times Special Edition Video News Release - Nov. 12, 2008 from H Schweppes on Vimeo.

That's it for now. I will focus on the crazy news later, tomorrow perhaps :).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why we Fight - Blame it on the Genes

After having lively discussions on posts such as this one, and talking about solutions in the discussion here [see the end of the comments there], it was interesting to see an article on New Scientist today talking about the very reason for war.

They first start by asking:
IT'S a question at the heart of what it is to be human: why do we go to war? The cost to human society is enormous, yet for all our intellectual development, we continue to wage war well into the 21st century.

and then claim that:
"Warfare has been with us for at least several tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of years." He thinks it was already there in the common ancestor we share with chimps. "It has been a significant selection pressure on the human species," he says. In fact several fossils of early humans have wounds consistent with warfare.

And there are interesting behavioral differences between males and females in this, as they found out:
For example, male undergraduates were more willing than women to contribute money towards a group effort - but only when competing against rival universities. If told instead that the experiment was to test their individual responses to group cooperation, men coughed up less cash than women did. In other words, men's cooperative behaviour only emerged in the context of intergroup competition (Psychological Science, vol 18, p 19).

and then, there is the hormone angle:
He found that cricket players on the Caribbean island of Dominica experience a testosterone surge after winning against another village. But this hormonal surge, and presumably the dominant behaviour it prompts, was absent when the men beat a team from their own village, Flinn told the conference. "You're sort of sending the signal that it's play. You're not asserting dominance over them," he says. Similarly, the testosterone surge a man often has in the presence of a potential mate is muted if the woman is in a relationship with his friend. Again, the effect is to reduce competition within the group, says Flinn. "We really are different from chimpanzees in our relative amount of respect for other males' mating relationships."

Hmm, reminds me of why I feel nice playing TF2 :).

Here's to a more [improbably, but hopefully] peaceful future.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fighting Terror with Truth

Coming close on the heels of the anti-terror fatwa that was signed by 6000+ Indian Muslim clerics, reports are coming from officials within Delhi Police that "plans are being drawn up to impart education about Islam to young Muslims with the help of clerics from neutral Muslim organisations". From the ToI article:
This will address those who are vulnerable to get manipulated into terror in the name of religion. "Except Atif Bashir, who was killed in the Jamia Nagar encounter, all the Indian Mujahideen men arrested in connection with the Delhi blasts are products of public schools and not madarsas. They haven't been subjected to communal discrimination. However, on questioning them we realised they have no knowledge of the Quran. Hence, they were manipulated by Atif. He told them things like Jehad means a war against non-muslims and anyone who fights for Jehad becomes a hero,'' said the official.

Good move sirs, it is time the moderates in India stood up to state that acts of terrorism do not belong in any religion, and only by popularizing the moderate views of one's religion among one's youth can we bring peace.

One suggestion: can we have a "what is my religion about, and how it promotes co-existence" show-and-tell session in our schools? In this day and age, it will be a nice way for kids to know about their classmate's religions, and also about their own!

Ms. Shabana Azmi, I would really love to see your step up and join your voices with these moderate clerics, now that the media has given attention to the moderate factions of Islam, as you had asked for. This will be a good time to make your voice heard. How about recording some PSAs?

Anyone knows of a similar move to teach civility to our Hindu brethren of the ABVP, who believe in spitting at people they disagree with?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Thoughts on the Anti-Terror Fatwa

As you might know, the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, a conference attended by thousands of Muslim clerics, scholars and community leaders in India has endorsed a religious ruling against terrorism. BBC coverage here.

The Jamiat explained that "jihad is a constructive phenomenon and a fundamental right of human beings whereas terrorism is based on destruction. It is required to define 'jihad' and 'terrorism' in the right perspective, which stand poles apart. Terrorism is the biggest crime as per Quran," the resolution said.

However, there is more to it than the basic news, which I must say, is a good thing which I can tell my right-wing Hindu nationalist friends who believe that all muslims are non-progressive and violent. Previously, I have covered fatwas against terror, and against cow-slaughter.

The Times of India had an article about how some Muslims are not quite supportive of the fatwa, on the grounds of "but of course Islam does not condone terrorism. Why should we have to state it?". In my opinion, while their assertion about Islam is true, they must acknowledge that there is a strong smear campaign going on claiming otherwise. This fatwa will go a long way in quelling the fears of the less-informed, as well as perhaps against those extremist clerics who are trying to influence at-risk youth to take the violent path and are using religion as a justification.

On a different note, there were also resolutions asking for 10% reservations for Muslims and asked that "Muslims and Christian Dalits should be treated on a par with other Dalits by amending Article 341 of the Constitution".

My take on this is similar to my take on the Maharashtra CM stating that Muslims will be given preferences in Police Jobs in the state in addition to asking them to "learn Marathi as it is the state language and also been used for the Government jobs".

Dear Sirs, while you are making such progressive statements denouncing the heinous acts of terrorism and asking people to learn a language that can help them secure more jobs, please do not mix your message with the populist call for community-based reservations. Instead, how about openly saying that you are "not" for reservation for your [or any] community, but for aid [perhaps even a time-bound reservation plan] based on economic status?

Progressive fatwas like this make us go forward, but community-based reservations threaten to further aggravate people and threaten to take us back. Please think about this before including it in your resolutions.


On a slightly different note, I bought DVDs of Dor, A Wednesday, and Mumbai Meri Jaan yesterday (in addition to my usual mutton biryani and half-kilo imarti). Planning to watch them in the coming weeks :).

Friday, November 07, 2008

The FUD of Hinduism

From the wikipedia article on FUD.
Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) is a tactic of rhetoric and fallacy used in sales, marketing, public relations and politics. FUD is generally a strategic attempt to influence public perception by disseminating negative (and vague) information.

Recently, I, like many of you I guess, received a PDF titled "The Death of Hinduism", which in my opinion was a classic FUD piece that used misrepresentation and cherry-picking of facts to stir up paranoi among Indian Hindus that the Christians were converting everyone away from the right path, and therefore destroying the country. Those who want to spend time reading extreme-right wing paranoid propaganda can click this link, though I do not recommend it as a proper use of your time.

I have had many discussions on this with people, and perhaps will post something on it later [haven't had time to package my outrage properly], but Bharathwaj wrote a wonderful piece on this today. From the post:
I had just sent that person a small email with the following message.

"I dunno who you are and how you got my email Id. But I totally condemn this email. I m a born Hindu and I follow dharma. Whether people get converted or not, or whether the politicans support or not, its finally we who should take care of ourselves. I m living out of the country and I follow Indian tradition and values. I cant go and ask another fellow Indian why he/she is not following it. It just depends on themselves. I can find a lot of extremism in the attachment. Hinduism is all about acceptance and tolerance. That's where we tell "Hindusim is a way of living".

And for all those who doubt his credentials, note that he was the grad student who _did_ the pooja [yes, he, not the panditji from the temple] at the Hindu Students' Organization's Diwali function when I was at USC.

Swami, I'm proud of you! Keep it up!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Gay? Fine by HC

In pretty much the only good piece of news I read today, the Delhi High Court has asked the VHP, which opposes gays, to substantiate their claim that "gay sex causes bodily injury". From the article:
Senior Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) leader B.P. Singhal, representing the VHP, was pulled up by the division bench headed by Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah and Justice S. Muralidhar who were hearing a petition filed by Naz foundation to decriminalize gay sex among consenting adults, considered an offence at present.

"In several countries where the ban has been lifted (from gay sex), no one has claimed that the act is injurious. Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) does not say that it causes injuries to people involved in such acts," the bench said.

Maybe Mr. Singhal is talking about gay-rape causing injury, but is ashamed to admit it. It is high time Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which "provides punishment up to life imprisonment for indulging in gay sex" was repealed.

While the cause of gay rights progressed just a bit in India, it suffered a setback in California, with Proposition 8 succeeding, which seeks to overturn the California Supreme Court's May decision allowing same-sex marriage.

The shocker, a majority [ref: B] of the african american and latinos voted to deny this right to the gays. From another article article:
Exit poll data showed seven in 10 black voters and more than half of Latino voters backed the ballot initiative, while whites and Asians were split.

Though blacks and Latinos combined make up less than one-third of California's electorate, their opposition to same-sex marriage appeared to tip the balance. Both groups decisively backed Obama regardless of their position on the initiative.

Obama has said he is not in favor of gay marriage but supports civil unions. The president-elect opposed Proposition 8.

Apparently, religious beliefs make you forget that you yourself were/are discriminated against. In case you missed this, watch this daily show video again.

Change has come to American, but a lot still needs to be done.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Analyzing the Terrorist Vote, and Post Election Fears

Although I watched NBC's election coverage for the speeches from 4am today, and listened to NPR for the analysis, I would have loved it if comedy central has free live access to its Jon Stewart-Stephen Colbert election night special.

Well, it is online now [full episode link], and I present some gems from it for you.

Aasif Mandvi on the Terrorist Vote:

The BEST moment in the evening's program [I love how Jon Stewart is feeling, and how the coal-bear is trying to hide it :)]:

And yes, now that it is all over, I know now what to do. Kinda like this:

and this: [ref: ]


Apparently, We Can

[no words]

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Chuck and Larry, and Mac and Barry

With the elections in the USA going on, here are some pre-election videos from JS and the Coal-bear.

First, the debate on gay marriage:

Then, the campaign awards:

and finally, in case you haven't, GO VOTE!

Monday, November 03, 2008

D-day minus 1

[update: For a quick summary, listen to NPR's It's all Politics for Oct 30. Also, NPR's Political Junkie Ken Rudin gives it to Obama.]

Tomorrow, Nov 4., 2008, will be a red-letter day [or a blue-letter one, depending on who wins :)].

Not a lot to post today, since the pics and videos from the Salon du Chocolat and the Diwali function at maison de l'inde from yesterday are still in my camera. However, I am sure there will be a lot of buzz tomorrow and wednesday, once the results, and the voter-fraud lawsuits, are announced.

Where will I get my news from? Why NPR of course, loads of info, no BS. Sadly, I won't be going to any of the several bars in Paris which will have live election coverage tomorrow night.

All said and done, I do believe that no matter who wins, the US foreign policy of hypocrisy in trade and fake-belief in free markets [allow US farmers to sell their corn in India without restrictions, but please pay duties when you want to sell Indian Sugarcane in the US] will continue. However, I do feel [hope?] that Obama will bring a more pragmatic approach to the internal policies, esp civil liberties and the such.

In any case, it will be interesting to see how the next 4 years go.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

2 Reasons why Jon Stewart should host the Evening News

The first is that he spends the time and money to send the wonderfully witty John Oliver for this piece on "community organizers", which, frankly, should have been done by _all_ news channels right after the Republican Convention!

and the second is that he has the guts to laugh at the face of Bill Cristol for his pathetic attempt of explaining why McCain's campaign is doing what it is doing:

Seriously, give him a slot on National Broadcast TV! I am sure the daily show election coverage next tuesday will be more entertaining that any other, and almost as informative as the NPR one :).

In other news, I found S linking to this list of infrequently asked questions by Don Knuth. Great read, esp the quote at the very end.