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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sayonara

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As my week-and-a-half long vacations draw near, I must leave the blogging for a while and rejoin you on first of September, 2008. Meanwhile this is something for you to enjoy. Adiós.

I'd love to die by...

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You've got to give credit to – I can't seem to find his/her name – to whoever made this awesome website Exit Mundi.

Exit Mundi collects scenarios of what could go wrong with the world. Exit Mundi isn't in it for doom preaching, but strictly for fun. It's a fascinating thought: if that comet didn't wipe out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, we wouldn't be here pondering about apocalypses and armageddons in the first place. That's why this site is a tribute to floods, quantum explosions and awfully big chunks of space rock falling out of the sky. If there's a lesson to be learnt, it should be that within every end looms the dawn of a new beginning.

And I urge you to go and explore, in free spirit and free of fear, in how many ways world can end. Some samples:

The Sumerians saw it. The Russians photographed it. NASA saw it, too. And now, eons after it left our world behind as a smoking, lifeless mess, the dreaded Planet X is about to reenter our solar system and mess up our world all over again.

Somewhere, deep in the galaxy, a huge demolition ball of gas and dust is racing straight towards us. It's so dark you can't see it, but it's there all the same. What's worse: when it visits our solar system, it will create havoc and destruction on Earth.

If you like to watch the stars, watch this: that faint, little white spot in the constellation of Ophiuchus. You don’t see it? Don’t worry: it will get bigger over time. For actually, it’s a star that’s coming straight at us.

Worried about getting hit by a meteorite? Aw, that’s so boring. Just wait -- a few more billions of years, and we’ll have an entire GALAXY falling down on us!

It is a problem so strange only a handful of physicists know about it. Well, that is until one day, the ‘problem’ becomes real. It will be some bizarre event. For on that day, everything in the Universe will fall apart.

Is humanity going insane? Although it seems to weird to be true, there are some quite serious clues that the civilized world will one day fade out in mass insanity.

What if we all killed ourselves? We agree: after all we’ve been through as a species, mass suicide would be a ridiculous way to go. But oddly, suicide could also be the inevitable, most logical outcome of evolution...

Your entire country, launched into space. Sounds weird, right? Still, it could happen any day, scientists say. In fact: the country-launching thing may be responsible for the death of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago.

It's almost too absurd to consider, but in the near future it may be a very real possibility: all life on earth is eaten up by man made machines, in what physicists euphemistically call `the gray goo problem'.

What’s furry, has claws and triggers the end of the world? You guessed it. It’s your trusted, feline friend: your cat. And cats are not the only animals causing problems. Rabbits do it. Frogs do. Yes, even the cute Giant Panda is helping to blow the world to kingdom come.

Forget about nuclear weapons, forget about tanks. One guy riding a horse may be all it takes to kill everyone on the planet. Kalki, is the soldier's name. And his only weapon is his sword of holy vengeance.

If diversity of scenarios and style of writing didn't convince you to go through this website from A to Z, I predict you will die of boredom!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Preference for boy over girl, or vice versa

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Whether parents prefer boy over girl is not as obvious as it seems. Answer depends on whom you ask. Parents all over the world do prefer boys as their biological offsprings, though the extent differs from place to place. Extreme preference for boys in India and China is well documented but girls are relatively less preferred in United States too. This article (Do daughters cause divorce?) demonstrates by examples the gender bias in US.

  1. Divorced women with girls are substantially less likely to remarry than divorced women with boys, suggesting that daughters are a liability in the market for a husband.
  2. Parents of girls are quite a bit more likely to try for another child than parents of boys.
  3. Unmarried couples expecting child are more likely to get married if the child is a boy.

Authors also find striking evidence suggesting that "boys hold marriages together, and girls break them up."
In the United States, the parents of a girl are nearly 5 percent more likely to divorce than the parents of a boy. The more daughters, the bigger the effect: The parents of three girls are almost 10 percent more likely to divorce than the parents of three boys. In Mexico and Colombia the gap is wider; in Kenya it's wider still. In Vietnam, it's huge: Parents of a girl are 25 percent more likely to divorce than parents of a boy.
Explanation seems to lie in the fact that parents (men?) prefer boys more than they do girls, and hence more likely to stick together even in failed marriage when there are male offsprings.

However, parents prefer girls over boys when it comes to adoption. Data in US shows that among adopted children, there are 100 girls per 56 boys. Adoption preference is observed in numbers registered with adoption agencies too. What is going on here?

Possible explanations, as outlined in this piece (Why do adoptive parents prefer girls?), are:

  1. Parents feel that a girl is easier to understand and to rear.
  2. When taking the somewhat risky step of bringing a foreign element into their family, parents might perceive little boys to be inheritors of their homes' uneasy fortunes, whereas little girls can more readily seem to be hapless victims of circumstance.
  3. Boys will tend to be put up for adoption when there's something seriously wrong with them, but many girls will be put up for adoption simply for being girls.
  4. Men are largely silent partners in most adoptions, indicating that men's preferences with regard to their children's gender are simply not as strong when patrimony is not an issue.

In developing country like India, people who opt for adoption are likely to be more open minded and hence prefer girls knowing that girls are more rejected and vulnerable to exploitation otherwise. In case of US, there is no consensus on which is correct explanation, but things seem to indicate that when parents have choice – which they soon will given genetic engineering and trend towards designed babies – then biases are going to raise serious ethical questions.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Division or Celebration?

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One advantage of living in college is that there is never a dearth of topic to debate on. At IIMA, student community is permanently connected through a forum platform called Dbabble, which has various sub-forums on topics as formal as academic announcement to as informal as mess food and jokes. Not surprisingly, with over 600 students connected, there is some topic or other which keeps the spirit of campus alive.

At the beginning of each year, when new students join, seniors usually give them welcome treats which are organized informally to increase interaction. Since common identity is important in mingling, treats are structured as dorm treat, IIT Madras treat, Rajasthani treat, Infosian treat and so on. Recently, someone commented that regional treats are divisive in nature and should be discouraged, or should include people of other cultures too. While I admit that letting others experience one’s culture is inclusive and admirable, I am of opinion that sometimes it is necessary to create a home-like cultural ambience to relive nostalgia and pure regional treats, which exclude non-regional members, are good way to do so as long as they don’t create regional politics and divisiveness in the students.

Inclusion of non-ethnic member in a regional treat places many constraints on creating original cultural experience. Biggest factor is language. It is impolite to speak in a language a member of group cannot understand and culture is inextricably linked with language. Another is food preference. External member may find food unappealing and typically requires assistance in understanding menu items. I believe that a person is member of many groups simultaneously and is entitled to that identify since idea of India as "unity in diversity" while places unity first and foremost, doesn’t leave diversity far behind.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Happy Raksha Bandhan

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One of the festivals which has still remained pure from commercialization, mostly because of simplicity of its tradition, is Rakshabandhan. Rakhi is probably unique in celebrating brother-sister love in the world. While corporations are trying to monetize the occasion by equating sister's love with most expensive or most technical rakhi and by equating brother's love with most expensive gift, things are still within control in middle class India. When race of the life finds five days of Diwali too much to spend; when consciousness to child labour or pollution dampens the standing tradition of firecrackers; when efforts of cleaning, side-effects of colours, and harassment reduce the fun of Holi; then comes – the festival of Rakhi because all it takes is a piece of thread and a piece of sweet to celebrate.

Happy Raksha Bandhan

Friday, August 15, 2008

At the stroke of midnight

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This is very famous speech by Nehru on 15th of August 1947. I am quoting it verbatim for my readers as well as for self record.

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.

At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?

Freedom and power bring responsibility. The responsibility rests upon this Assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India. Before the birth of freedom we have endured all the pains of labour and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now. Nevertheless, the past is over and it is the future that beckons to us now.

That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfil the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.

And so we have to labour and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this One World that can no longer be split into isolated fragments.

To the people of India, whose representatives we are, we make an appeal to join us with faith and confidence in this great adventure. This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill-will or blaming others. We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.

The appointed day has come-the day appointed by destiny-and India stands forth again, after long slumber and struggle, awake, vital, free and independent. The past clings on to us still in some measure and we have to do much before we redeem the pledges we have so often taken. Yet the turning-point is past, and history begins anew for us, the history which we shall live and act and others will write about.

It is a fateful moment for us in India, for all Asia and for the world. A new star rises, the star of freedom in the East, a new hope comes into being, a vision long cherished materializes. May the star never set and that hope never be betrayed!

We rejoice in that freedom, even though clouds surround us, and many of our people are sorrow stricken and difficult problems encompass us. But freedom brings responsibilities and burdens and we have to face them in the spirit of a free and disciplined people.

On this day our first thoughts go to the architect of this freedom, the Father of our Nation [Gandhi], who, embodying the old spirit of India, held aloft the torch of freedom and lighted up the darkness that surrounded us. We have often been unworthy followers of his and have strayed from his message, but not only we but succeeding generations will remember this message and bear the imprint in their hearts of this great son of India, magnificent in his faith and strength and courage and humility. We shall never allow that torch of freedom to be blown out, however high the wind or stormy the tempest.

Our next thoughts must be of the unknown volunteers and soldiers of freedom who, without praise or reward, have served India even unto death.

We think also of our brothers and sisters who have been cut off from us by political boundaries and who unhappily cannot share at present in the freedom that has come. They are of us and will remain of us whatever may happen, and we shall be sharers in their good [or] ill fortune alike.

The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour. To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.

We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be. We are citizens of a great country on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.

To the nations and peoples of the world we send greetings and pledge ourselves to cooperate with them in furthering peace, freedom and democracy.

And to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new, we pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service.

If you think life is tough, think again

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I am not one to forward myriads of mails hitting my inbox declaring deep meaning of life, unbound cuteness or plea for sympathy. However, somethings hit hard, and worth looking again and again whenever you feel you are losing touch with reality.

62nd year of political freedom

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A hearty congratulations on 62nd Independence Day to all. May we continue to strive for independence in all spheres of life including political, economic and social. May independence not be limited to voting once in five years. May independence mean freedom, in truest sense as destined in the Constitution, of expression, thought, faith, worship and belief, of acting without fearing offending someone's sensibilities, of speaking without constraining oneself, from prejudices and superstitions, from shackles that constraint Mother India to achieve its rightful place on earth.
(Photo from 2007 Independence Day at IIM Ahmedabad)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

When time jumps ahead, or back

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Daylight Saving Time (DST) is a common technique in many of world's large countries which sets clocks forward in summer and backward in winter to change our daily schedule and thus affect consumption of artificial light and energy, and increase consumption of daylight. In United States, for example, clocks are set one hour ahead in summer, so that even with same timetable, people wake up one hour early and thus enjoy longer evenings and early morning light. In winter, difference is eliminated by setting clocks one hour back again. On the day of change, at midnight, suddenly there is 1pm after 11:59:59pm in summer (one hour lost to history) or 0:00:00am after 0:59:59am (one hour recorded twice). This quirk of continuous timeline has resulted in some very funny, and other tragic, incidents. Consider the following...

In September 1999, the West Bank was on Daylight Saving Time while Israel had just switched back to standard time. West Bank terrorists prepared time bombs and smuggled them to their Israeli counterparts, who misunderstood the time on the bombs. As the bombs were being planted, they exploded--one hour too early--killing three terrorists instead of the intended victims--two busloads of people.

[D]uring the 1950s and 1960s when each U.S. locality could start and end Daylight Saving Time as it desired. One year, 23 different pairs of DST start and end dates were used in Iowa alone. For exactly five weeks each year, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia were not on the same time as Washington D.C., Cleveland, or Baltimore--but Chicago was. And, on one Ohio to West Virginia bus route, passengers had to change their watches seven times in 35 miles!

Patrons of bars that stay open past 2:00 a.m. lose one hour of drinking time on the day when Daylight Saving Time springs forward one hour. This has led to annual problems in numerous locations, and sometimes even to riots.

To keep to their published timetables, trains cannot leave a station before the scheduled time. So, when the clocks fall back one hour in October, all Amtrak trains in the U.S. that are running on time stop at 2:00 a.m. and wait one hour before resuming. Overnight passengers are often surprised to find their train at a dead stop and their travel time an hour longer than expected. At the spring Daylight Saving Time change, trains instantaneously become an hour behind schedule at 2:00 a.m., but they just keep going and do their best to make up the time.

All these and more from webexhibits.org.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Islamic finance: loophole in faith

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As part of a research paper, I studied what Islamic finance is all about. Since I didn't know anything about the subject before, outcome was very surprising and interesting. Islamic finance, or Shariah banking, is banking and investing with rules that are compliant with Kuran. And Kuran doesn't like that people:

  1. collect interest since earning money on money is bad
  2. earn reward without sharing risk
  3. invest in businesses which are haraam such as those dealing with alcohol, pork, gambling, interest collection, entertainment, tobacco, fashion, pornography and weapon
  4. invest in businesses which earn or pay interest or earn money from largely liquid assets (aka money)

Kuran, though, permits trade and selling something for profit and charging rent for use of property. In light of this all but point 3 are just contradictory to say the least. When I can charge rent for you using a car, how is charging rent (commonly known as interest) on you using money from which you can buy car any different? After all, both car and money have utility to me that I forgo when I rent them to you? Similarly, when a bank gives loan to a business and seeks interest in return, it is not exactly seeking return without sharing the risk of business failure as Kuran seems to suggest. When business defaults so bank too loses its debt and hence is sharing part of the risk. Last point is corollary to first point, just from the point of view of company.

But since faith doesn't accept logical explanations, and Muslims are practical people living in practical world, they've come up with some "loopholes" to abide by Kuran and at the same time use regular financial services. Now with oil-money pumping out of Middle East and a quarter of world's population being Muslim, there is huge market for Islamic products which is estimated to be about $300-$500 billion growing annually at 20%. Therefore, many banks and stock markets are creating investment funds to abide by these rules.

So, say you want to buy a car from Islamic bank. Instead of (1) borrowing money, (2) buying car yourself, and (3) paying back interest, you would (1) ask bank to buy car for you and (2) sell to you at higher price making a profit and then (3) you just pay back purchase price to bank which doesn't include interest but only profit margin. Alternative is that (1) bank buys for you, (2) rents car to you and (3) you pay back original purchase price to bank in installments without interest or profit margin, but (4) also pay rent for use during some predefined period.

And if your firm wants to borrow from bank, you will (1) pay back loan amount without interest but (2) also pay back some part of profit or loss of firm for stipulated time. In essence, banks becomes equity holder rather than just debt holder. Of course, when sharing larger risk as equity holder bank charges larger return in form of profit/loss margin, but at least Kuran is followed.

Mutual fund which are Shariah-compliant work by excluding all socially-harmful firms from investing universe. Among the remaining, nearly every firm invests its cash in interest bearing assets (earn interest) or borrows from banks (pay interest) and has some of its assets in liquid form (cash, short-term securities). After long hours of brainstorming about managing a workaround with rule 4 above, Islamic scholars have come up with idea that as long as interest income is less than one-third of total income and liquid assets less than one-third of total assets, Allah shall forgive. However, interest income has to be purified by donating that part to charities.

Considering the demand for these products, lots of Indian banks (Kotak Mahindra, Reliance, UTI, Edelweiss) are jumping into bandwagon to launch these products. Finally all is well with world and Muslims are using financial services in accordance with highest law on earth.

Full report can be downloaded from esnips.com or read at scribd.com.

Using Bloglines

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If you follow more than one news website, blog or discussion group, and you don’t use a feed reader then you are being very inefficient and missing on the greatest technological invention of recent times on internet. If you don’t know what feed reader is, what does it do, and what RSS feeds are then this post is for you. Go and read this simple and lucid post completely. This will explain everything you need to know to track all you websites at one point without wasting lots of valuable time. You will not be disappointed and then you can keep abreast of any new changes in my blog and others without even raising a brow! Apart from Bloglines, another most popular online feed reader is Google Reader, and both are very easy to work with.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Why didn't Raj run?

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During a discussion on movie Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge on BollyWhat? - which is a excellent Bollywood discussion forum aimed at non-Indian fans of Bollywood - someone made an interesting observation. When Raj (Shah Rukh Khan) returned from London for Simran (Kajol), in their meeting in mustard fields, why did he just stood with his arms stretched and it was she who had to run all the length between them? Didn't he love her as well? Observer was disconcerted by anti-feminist implication of the scene which suggested that woman need to run to their lover and man can haughtily stand with smirk on their face with "you-know-you-want-me" expression.

My reaction, at first, was amazement and surprise at sharp eyes of the commenter and depth of the issue that she to chose to look at scene with. By the way, discussions on this forum are as deep on many Bollywood aspects, which I don't really participate in, but are always refreshing look on Bollywood from Occidental fandom. My second reaction was drastic realization of how true love is perceived in India and in West. Here I mean true love in truest sense, pure genuine love, and not in ironical sense.

Other members quickly pointed that it was Raj who had come all the way from London for her, surely he was not as chauvinists as he is made out to be in this scene? I noted that, and I quote myself

I just saw Pardes ... recently. And this comment, and general comments on this board, and my perception of western world, all merges together in that dialogue of Pardes. It goes something like...''in west, love is give and take; in India, love is just give, give and give more.'' Of course, that does sound like ... preaching, but if you reflect you'd find some truth there.

In context of this movie, why should it matter that Shah Rukh is not running towards her and she is running. She knows she wants him, and he knows she wants him, and that's it, that should be enough for her to run towards him. Where is there a place for even doubt to appear whether his attitude is smug or not? Where is value judgment coming there? Why should you even expect something in return, if you love. I am not saying that all love is like that, but I think true love, from Indian definition should be like that, and we can assume that, this being a movie, their love is pure one. I may not be able to express my views here but I think, THAT is major difference expressed in that dialogue of Pardes.

Original member accepted that her expectation from true love is give-and-take. I can understand that these are expectations of an Indian couple too in real life, and are desirable in long-term relationship, yet we have plenty of example where real true love doesn't bother about reciprocation.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Meek shall inherit the earth

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So said the Bible. And it might as well be true if you believe what movie Idiocracy forebodes for the world. World is expected to continue to get increasingly dumber and stupider since intelligent and educated folks chose to have fewer and fewer children (reason why population of Japan and Australia is on decline) and uneducated and stupid folks chose to end up having more children (reason why population of South Asian countries is on rise). Now lets not get into nitty gritty of difference between illiterate versus uneducated versus unintelligent. I am talking in general sense over long time horizon. So, world is expected to have increasingly larger proportion of stupid people, which is corroborated by scientific evidence of falling IQ though trend is not strictly one way because of increasing progress in education and human development opposing the fall - which will stop a some point.

On a more contemporary front, common political and pluralistic decisions are taken by people on temporal moral high ground and emotionally charged planes, resulting in win of short-term goal seekers. After all, being intelligent is no easy task. One has to continuously abreast oneself of new knowledge and information, analyze existing information in light of new one, apply principles of logic and reach a informed decision, and accept possibility of unclear answer in light of multiple views and insufficient information. This entails very precious time which can be utilized breeding. Similar behaviour is observed and documented by political scientists and is termed as "rational ignorance" of voter. What it means is that for each voter cost (of time and money) to obtain information to objectively evaluate each candidate is very high. On the other hand chance that his/her vote will be deciding vote in election is very low. So, rationally speaking, it is best for each voter to not bother about finding who is right candidate since others will anyone choose one. However, when each voter thinks this way, overall outcome is failure of system.

Hence, stupidity (lack of objective logically backed opinion for issues immaterial to immediate surrounding) is desirable for short-term life goals for an individual but undesirable for long-term goals of a society. And as Charles Darwin has said (for genes, but also applicable here), individual selfishness is usually winner against collective collaboration.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Jib Jab

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In interest of limited time, let me leave you with some of the funniest Jib Jab videos to watch today. "This land will surely vote for me" and "Time for some campaigning" are even more fun if you follow United States' politics slightly. "What we call the news" can be very well applied to India while "Big box mart" shows conflicting priorities of American consumer.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

World's most compact data storage ever

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Gone are the days of 5 1/2'' disk, 3 1/2'' disk and even CD. DVD is also on verge of extinction due to threat from HDDVD and Blue Ray. While each of these devices may be capable of handling more data than our brain could ever do, they still pale in comparison with what some scientists have discovered. New wave of super-compact data storage device use as eternal technology as DNA.

That's right, scientists are planning to use bacterial Deoxyribonucleic acid to store large amount of information in smallest space protected under extremes of condition. Specially designed DNA strands contain information in binary form and are inserted in common bacterias. Current use of this technology will not involve storing movies but storing large scientific and historical information to prevent it from destruction under nuclear catastrophe or other humanity shattering events. And bacterias are right tool because they are
good at surviving extreme conditions...can tolerate high temperatures, desiccation, ultraviolet light and ionising radiation doses 1000 times higher than would be fatal to humans.
Each strand is coded to prevent bacteria to identify it as virus and disregard or mutate, thus each generation passes information to next without disruption. With billions of bacterias in a millilitre of liquid, one can only imagine storage capacity of such system. May be one day we'll bacterial USB drive!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Lost in translation

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This is what happened when I tried Google Translation successively to come back to where I started from. Frankly I still surprised it kept what it did.
English: I live in house of mud at bank of river.
Arabic: أعيش في بيت من الطين في مصرف لنهر.
Chinese: 我住在一所房子的泥浆,在河岸。
Danish: Jeg bor i en mudder hus til banken.
Dutch: Ik woon in een huis in de modder van de bank.
French: Je vis dans une maison dans la boue de la banque.
German: Ich lebe in einem Haus im Schlamm von der Bank.
Hindi: मेरे जीवन में एक घर में मिट्टी के बैंक है .
Italian: Io vivo in una casa di fango in banca.
Japanese: 私の家に住んで泥の銀行です。
Portuguese: Eu vivo na lama-casa bancária.
Spanish: Yo vivo en casa de barro banco.
English: I live at home mud bank.

Single step English-Hindi-English was better.
मेरे जीवन में मिट्टी के घर पर बैंक की नदी है .
I live in mud homes on the banks of the river.

I wonder which trajectory leads to minimum loss of information for given set of languages. It would be an interesting exercise for sure. Anyone has time?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Of men and women, and preference thereof

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Today our college kicked off talent-night, an event to showcase talent for incoming batch and to have fun booing them for senior batch. In a horrendously noisy environment where air is reverberating with tempo shouts of performing students and booing noises of audiences, only one thing typically works in calming audience. Bring on ladies. In college where men-women ratio is disproportionately against fairer sex, only beauties on stage can make people pause and listen. I can admit that women may get more than fair representation in any such performance because typically women tend to be good at dance stuff or because any duet song requires performance of both genders. But what ends up having is something akin to mujra where audience whistle and ladies on stage dance to popular item numbers. To my mind this very sexist and I find this disconcerting. But what perplexes me more is that women in audience too enjoy that and women at stage are willing to go to any extent in displaying their seduction. Perhaps my sense of gender fairness is stronger than what even women prefer, or may be it's wrongly applied here and I have conceptual misunderstanding.

On a related note, I find signals that women convey when they expect men to treat them like human beings and not just sex-objects very mixed up. I am sure I am generalizing it a lot but somehow I feel that their civilized sophistication (which warrants non-sexual treatment) is at odds with their biological wiring (which warrants wooing partner with baser of instincts). I remember reading somewhere that our society is progressing faster than what our biology can cope with.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Power of inanities

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It has happened with me many a times. You too would have noticed it sometime or other. Sometimes silly and cliched acts when done with gusto end up having their desired effect.

A speaker rises on the platform and says hello. Audience yell back, somewhat disinterested, half-heartedly. Then speaker speculates on unfortunate event of audience missing their breakfast/lunch that day and urges them to again say with more enthusiasm. This time, roar is louder. Rinse and repeat. Even louder. Do audience really become energetic by this act of speaker? Or they just do that to stop him/her to repeat endlessly? I have a feeling that it's former and yet I also know annoyance that arises from such actions of speaker.

Once a professor found us students drowsy at 8'0 clock class in the morning. She asked us to clap thrice in rhyme of 1-2 1-2-3. Yeah right, we are 5 years old. Yet you know, we were awaken. Was that energy in professor's voice, novelty of her approach, mere noise of our clapping, or, as appears to me, real abandonment of laziness?

Consider annoying as hell 'good morrrrrrrrrrrrrrrning' of Lagey Rahe Munnabhai. As irritating it may be, I expect it to have effect of refreshing listener.

Seems like that enthusiasm, howmuchever over the top it may be, tends to diffuse to audience, even when they don't want it. It's a good thing, I think. Same, of course, applies to hatred. We are not in as much control of ourselves as we'd like to believe.

I am telling you right now

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You better not press this big red button. I am seriously warning you. Yeah, well, as if you will listen to me. Go ahead and click it. Now do it, damn, why are you so afraid. Just don't tell me when you have to buy new mouse that I didn't tell you before because I am telling you right now.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Global Dimming

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It's certain that you've heard of global warming. It's not certain that you worry about it. It's possible that you believe there is not much you can do. Like all national or international problems, efforts of one individual are like drop in a ocean in solving these problems. I am not sure whether I should worry about it. I do believe that prophesies of global warming and impending doom are real but I am pretty sure that this won't happen within my lifetime - and science backs me up here - and I am in general not much concerned about what happens after my death. Question is, should I be? It's my responsibility that not to exploit earth yet should I go out of my way to save it for future generations who have no real bearing on me? Of course, there is one school of thought which believes in self-extinction of human race. Argument is that humans have lived long and well on this planet and they should voluntarily extinct and give up world for other species. I actually find idea fascinating and am not averse to it. After all, why bother with what happens after me? Am I selfish for thinking so?

There was a time though, starting in 1950 or before and ending around 1990, when global warming was competing with global dimming. What happened was that some aerosols particulars were absorbing and reflecting sunlight back and hence there was decrease in energy on earth. Scientists now claim that that might have been factor in clouding effect of global warming for them to observe. More about this in this interesting piece on Guardian.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Who can take life?

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Case of Niketa and Harish Mehta to fight India's abortion law brings back age old debate in all societies to the forefront in India. India is quite relaxed in abortion laws, were one to compare them to United States, because abortion is legal for pregnancies less than 20 weeks old, and for cases where having child will lead to health hazard or mental trauma (rape cases) for mother or risk of life to newborn. Typical rational response - to which I subscribe - to such case is that parents of the child are best to decide whether to abort or not, since they will be ones bringing the baby in the world and taking care of him/her throughout. Yet, some people argue against this because they believe that killing someone is crime even if it is a unborn foetus.

What it ultimately boils down to is when one considers beginning of life. A murder of newborn will chill heart of even most coldhearted, yet is pain felt any less few hours before birth? What about few days? Who decides at what point a senseless cell becomes feeling human being. Arbitrary boundaries at birth worked well before science gave us those mushy pictures and sounds of heartbeats in sonograms. Yet just conceived foetus can hardly be life since it is no different from thousands of cells in over body which one kills by mere scratching of nose. It is true that border of life is ambiguous yet to put order to such cases, birth can reasonably be made the beginning and for all practical purposes couple should be give right to decide to bring their baby in the world or not. In India, and in many societies this right is maternal prerogative. Contributed of husband is not taken into account since he doesn't bear the child. Is he at fault for not doing what he cannot do? This will be subject of some other discussion.

A comprehensive analysis of issue is at Elekhni's blog.

Update 14/08/2008: In a dramatic climax to the saga, Niketa suffered a miscarriage today. While my sympathies are still with parents, doubt remains whether miscarriage was real or planned after unsuccessful attempt at going legal.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Horror Movies

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I am sucker for horror movies even though very few, and I mean I can count on my fingers, movies have been able to really scare me. My problem is that if horror is explicit in form of ghosts or monsters, I find it unrealistic and hence not scary. And when it is subtle in form of creepiness or eeriness of tone of movie, I find it slow and and boring. What works for me is abruptness, ghastliness and unimaginably of sudden acts. Hence true-like tone of Blair Witch Project, overall helplessness and suddenness of acts in The Descent, beyond imagination brutality of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, novelty of 1408 and creepiness of The Ring have propelled them to be top of my list. Fascination with what can shake me to the core has led me to watch as stupid movies as The Deadwood Park. So that's what I watched today, am still wondering even after 5.0 out of 10.0 in IMDB why did I do it? By the way, you can see my Horror favourites here.

First!

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This is my third blog after premature death of short-lived English blog All That Bothers and currently defunct Hindi blog कतरने (snippets). I still hope to revive Hindi one sometime, and hence haven't declared it dead yet. Meanwhile, let's keep our fingers crossed for how long this one survives. I plan to force myself to post one post a day, except when I am computer-challenged. What that means is that you may find a post but content may be limited to what I ate for dinner. Okay, that's it then. शुभारम्भ।
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