Thursday, December 25, 2008

Overwhelmed by Nature

Sometimes, you just need a trip into nature's beautiful garden to realize that the world isn't so depressing after all...Pics from a family trip to Pachmarhi...

Rock Formation at Jatashankar

Pachamarhi Lake

Panchali Kund

Apsara Falls

Some More Pics

At Reech Caves
(Reech is Hindi for Bear)

Bee Falls

Bee Falls Part Deux...

Bee Falls Again...

Reech Caves Pic Deux

And Some More Pics...The Last Lot

Denva River Flowing Through a Valley

Just a Forest...A Common Sight

The Satpuras as seen from Mahadeo

A Tree Finds some Nook to Take Root at Mahadeo

Lots of Caves - Mahadeo

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Take Some Time Out...And Listen

There is a lot of noise going around these days, with people just queuing up to have their say. Everywhere you look, every day you live, there are even more people joining the "make yourself heard" bandwagon. But in the midst of all these, have we just lost our ability to listen? Listen in terms of hearing and comprehending, not just hearing and filing away into the dark recesses of the brain never to be brought to the surface again. To appreciate all those beautiful thoughts floated once in a while, to take a deep breath and enjoy the magic of silence.

I don't know about others, but for me the world is still beautiful. There is still hope and colour and intelligence out there...all you need to do is to earn for yourself a moment of silence...and listen...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

One Joke Here !!

Well, saw this today on Vineet's blog. And so I thought I'd narrate a joke for a change, but then I didn't have any. So I turned to our good friend (and by our, I mean around 60% of the civilized world) Google, which promptly came up with some joke from some site called Comedy Central. And the joke goes something like this:

A grade school teacher was asking students what their parents did for a living. "Tim, you're first," she said. "What does your mother do all day?"

Tim stood up and proudly said, "She's a doctor."

"That's wonderful. How about you, Amie?" Amie shyly stood up, scuffed her feet and said, "My father is a mailman."

"Thank you, Amie," said the teacher. "What about your father, Billy?"

Billy proudly stood up and announced, "My daddy plays piano in a whorehouse."

The teacher was aghast and promptly changed the subject to geography. Later that day she went to Billy's house and rang the bell. Billy''s father answered the door. The teacher explained what his son had said and demanded an explanation.

Billy''s father said, "I'm actually an attorney, but how can I explain a thing like that to a seven-year-old?"

Ha Ha Ha Ha Haaa!!! I hope you liked the joke, because I didn't...

P.S. Well, my return to blogging is meaninglessly brought about (finally)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Feeling Spent

BOSM is just over. Had a lot of fun live blogging during it at The response we got to the blog was so awesome that watching the matches became just another excuse to do live commentary from the sidelines.
Of course, while I just survived the time during BOSM riding on a wave of club enthu and a rush of adrenaline every time I felt like taking to the field myself, there was another more stark reality to address...the growing apathy I am starting to feel towards anything encroaching on my attempts at trying to make sense out of computer science (It's such a brilliant subject that I am feeling guilty for not spending hours at an end just assimilating it all in)...I guess it's reflecting on my neglect of this blog as well. It's painful to sit and compose posts when I have monthly editorials to vent all my frustrations out. :)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The New Cherrapunji??

Pilani - the new Cherrapunji!!!

Apparently, that's what the guy from the Blue Moon claims... :-)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Sports Journalism

I have a certain affinity for British papers - both of the tabloid and the broadsheet kinds - for they are the best sources of any news on Manchester United. So while I've made it a point to start of my daily internet browsing with BBC Sport, Guardian Sport, Telegraph, Daily Mail and the Independent (usually in the same order) it has also made me blisfully aware of the opinions of many of the best sports writers in business (for the previous term, read James Lawton of the Independent, Henry Winter of the Telegraph and Richard Williams of the Guardian) One only wishes that India had such great sports writers...Unfortunately none of our journalists seem to have enough working knowledge of sports (the only column that I do read comes from Harsha Bhogle) and often, Indian newspapers often resort to lifting articles straight out of their UK counterparts (mainly because both countries seem to follow the same sports to different extents)

Of course, the choices of articles are coloured at best - coloured by support, perception and more generally, the Indian mentality which frowns upon almost every sport that boasts of a ball smaller than the red cherry of cricket. So while people coo about the most recent Federer-Nadal final (admittedly, it deserved cooing on the fans' part) and drive themselves mad over Spain's conquest at the Euro (newspapers here called it the return of beauty to football...I guess they haven't followed Fergie's United over the past two years) the most stunning achievement in sport over the last year was conveniently consigned to a most disappointing two-column report in most dailies.

In the Olympic year when we will see more fairy-tale stories and scandals than can be counted on our fingers, we have perhaps ignored the greatest achievement of the greatest sportsperson on earth. On 16th June 2008, Tiger Woods completed his 14th major win, competing against the rest of the field - the best golfers in the world - on one good leg. Playing with two stress fractures in his foot, a knee that he said was as painful as it gets (after the tournament of course...he wouldn't dream of giving a quarter to his opponents before or during a major) and rust out of not playing for six weeks before the tournament due to injury, he overcame the odds and won, prompting James Lawton to say, "Wonder of Woods rooted in resolve as much as flashes of divine inspiration."

These are the kind of stories that sports journalists should highlight - triumph against the odds, the emphatic statement of a champion on the field of play. Pity though, that people seek sensationalism more than inspiration and sports writers give it to them. So on May 22 in the aftermath of Manchester United's Champions' League victory, most papers preferred to dwell on the indecisiveness of a greedy footballer (I am not criticizing Ronaldo's ability but merely a part of his attitude) instead of the unquenching thirst of the longest-serving club manager in Britain, who despite having re-emphasized his place at the top of the pantheon of great football managers, said, "It drains away quickly for me. The euphoria evaporates almost immediately. The moment of that final penalty save from Edwin van der Sar, that was my moment, my euphoria and excitement, then you just carry on."

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Bone of Contention

I read something the other day:
"In an ideal world, we would have 'm' parallel tasks and 'm' processors. But since we are not living in the ideal world, we usually have 'm' parallel tasks and 'n' processors where 'n'<'m'. In the former case, we would complete 'm' tasks in t time, where t is the time that a single task will take for completion."
I don't know why this statement got me thinking, but there seems to be something wrong with it, and I can't seem to put my finger (literally!) on to it. The proverbial "bone of contention" with this statement seems to be a basic assumption which is usually false in the real-world scenario; the assumption being that all the m parallel tasks being spoken of here are completely independent - as in the memory they access, the buses they send their data on, the processors they use are all different from each other - only then would one get m times the performance of a single-processor system.

However, say the tasks aren't completely independent. Let's assume that some of the tasks refer to the same memory space, some of the tasks require information from the results of the other tasks to actually start their own operation. In that case, even if we do have an equal number of processors to the number of tasks at hand, all of them will definitely not be used, which would equate to a wastage of resources.

Which brings me to my question,
"Exactly where on the Performance v/s Utilization line is the trade-off between the two deemed acceptable?"
Of course, the trade-off point (if I might be allowed to say so) will vary from application to application, depending on the required response time of each application and a million other factors (not literally). So, a better way to phrase the question would be "Is there some way to quantify a minimum ratio (maybe not the right term) or a worst-case relationship between Performance and Resource Utilization? In essence, is there a guarantee that while my performance won't suffer much, my resources will still have to work a minimum amount of time?"

Any CSE Gods here care to explain??

P.S. Just discovered a strange quirk of the Blogger editor...Apparently you cannot enclose m inside of HTML tags.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Depression and Addiction: A Superficial Comment

The best thing about being depressed is that no one really cares if you are depressed or not until you do something so stupid that the world sits up and takes notice.
Just to make things clear: No! I am not depressed. It's just a passing thought I came across and somehow I seemed to remember it.

I had been suffering from withdrawal symptoms for the past two weeks. The reason: My notebook went into a coma, its power-on circuit apparently screwed. Now that I've got it back, let me tell you one thing....there's no better thing to get addicted to. :P

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Pilani Diary - Part One : An Info Post

The height of geekiness is in looking at a circuit design layout and exclaiming 'Isn't that beautiful?' The height of eagerness is in selecting a project guide without even meeting him. The height of stupidity is in asking questions without knowing what the question is about. The height of professionalism is in...well, I do not know. For all I have done in Practice School-I (or PS-I) as I call it in the past few days, learning about professionalism has hardly been one of those things.

Like all other batchmates of mine, I've been spending the last week (the first in a series of eight consecutive weeks) at 'work' - where work for me means being a trainee at the Central Electronics Engineering Institute, Pilani (CEERI Pilani). So from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. everyday, you can find me working either on Embedded Systems in the Digital Signal Processing laboratory or looking around in the library (they call it the Knowledge Resource Centre in CEERI) searching for information on the assignments at hand.

As far as CEERI is concerned, it is a part of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), New Delhi and was conceived for the purpose of advanced research and developmentin the field of electronics. With three major focus areas, namely, Microwave Tubes, Semiconductor Devices and Electronic Systems, a lot of good work is going on in various fields like Integrated Circuit design, Smart Materials and Nanoelectronics.

Overall, with seven days of good weather along with a bit of learning and a lot of fun have made for an interesting start to PS-I. Hopefully, Part Two of this Pilani Diary will be a similar upbeat and interested tone...

P.S. On a different note, for those of you interested in the current debate over rising food prices, read Prof. Amartya Sen's views here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pilani Travelogue...The Prelude to Pilani Diary

Well, I am not dead...not yet anyways. The weather Gods have been kind and the days from the 22nd till now have alternated between making me apprehensive about the onset of the summer heat for real and enjoying the dust-storms and the thunderstorms being thrown this way - I have counted three of those since I reached here less than a week back (not that I am complaining!)

And so it is that after six days, I have finally found the necessary energy to write about my journey from Delhi to Pilani. And I am going to make this a balanced, colourless and bland account of the entire thing, that I can guarantee.

The journey to Pilani in itself was interesting - it was the first time I was travelling alone from my home to BITS (usually I am a part of a group of at least twenty). Of course, I had a fellow passenger who hailed from the nearby town of Bagar and he promptly began listing the names of all the famous Indian businessmen (or rather business families) who hail from the region around Pilani. Then came the usual running around Delhi trying to get a bus to Pilani (although this time I had taken a refill at McDonalds :) ). Of course, it didn't help that it had rained cats and dogs earlier in the day; so what I got was two buses which were supposed to turn up not turning up (of course, buses don't turn up by themselves, but I reckon everybody but the daftest person would have caught my drift).

So...what I ended up doing was take a bus from Delhi to Bhiwani (which is 80 km from Pilani) in the hope that I'd get another bus from there to my destination. Of course, like all other things that happened on the day, the decision turned out to be bad, very bad...If sitting through two successive B-grade Hindi movies from the 80s that had 60-year old passengers leering at the slightest show of skin of the female kind (well there is only one kind of skin though, isn't there) wasn't enough, the journey which should have taken three hours took four and a half hours. So there I was in Bhiwani having missed the last bus to Pilani (God, everything rhymes!!!!) and better still, the bus stand was closed because of waterlogging due to incessant rains (in the middle of the summer).

So after waiting at an unknown place in the midst of unknown people with no idea of how to go forward, I had to resort to trying hitch-hiking for the first time in my life. So the thumbs came out (though I doubt half of the cars with defective headlights would have seen them) and after an hour of desperate courting of the few who actually stopped, I found myself inside the cabin of a truck with ten other guys - the ten included the driver and his companion.

What followed was a cat-and-mouse game of "Bend your arms and cringe your nose and breathe in to contract your chest and create a millimetre more of space". One has to actually experience it to actually realize the level of expertise that can be attained in this game in two hours of a tiresome journey. Of course, I think I might have won since I was dropped off at the outskirts of Pilani in one piece. It was a closely-fought encounter and I had aches and pain for the next three days to attest for that.

Nice, wasn't it???

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

In Transition

After a long while, a change in looks seems to be the order. Evidently, I have little time left before I catch a train from my hometown back to Pilani, for what would be the start to my 6 weeks as a Practice School student at CEERI, Pilani. So, the completion to this change will have to span two days and thirteen hundred kilometres...In short, lemme get back to Pilani first... :-)

Of course, a drawback of the timing of my journey and my subsequent stay at Pilani is that I'll miss the Champions' League Final on 21st night (or more accurately, early morning on the 22nd here in India) between Manchester United and Chelsea at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow. Of course, I am not predicting anything for the risk of tempting fate.

Anyways, see you at the end of this transition...

Friday, May 9, 2008

Being a BITSian

Of course, it is very difficult to actually define something that stays with you every waking moment and has done for the past two years (nearly :-) ) It is incredibly complicated when someone talks about a common thread that links you, your friends, your bhawan mates, your fellow college students and everybody else studying on campus, as well as thousands of others who have passed out of the university - some last year, others thirty years before that. Surely such an incredible number of people with different backgrounds, current geographical locations, different jobs (and job descriptions) cannot have a culture in common; plus for the current on-campus students, there is also the small matter of a limited field of vision, a bias that creeps in due to nine months spent in the middle of nowhere among people who have to do the same thing themselves.

But being a BITSian is beyond the regular whines about the location of Pilani, the animated discussions about course averages (or rather Avs I should say), the futile attempts and unfulfilled resolutions pertaining to attending classes, the rush felt on getting up at 8.57 and realizing there is a class at 9 (a class with an evaluative component of course), the realization on entering the exam hall that the open-book test you're about to give is actually a closed book one, the arbitrarily occurring moments of wing enthu where break into hysterics (usually happens on the eve of exams), the birthday bumps, the growing immunity from outcomes and other countless other things. Maybe, the BITSian spirit is what you get when you put four thousand students still confused about whether - on the threshold of adulthood - they should act like smitten, crazy, desperate-to-get-a-girl/guy teenagers or mature, serious adults or in between.

But what makes the experience special is that through every moment you live here, for all the grievances and ill-will you harbour against the entire BITSian system, you can't help but develop loyalty towards the BITSian tag. For it is your identity. For all your claims to indifference, detachment, escapism and whatever, the tag sticks to you as soon as you enter the gates of the campus as a gullible, slightly apprehensive (in some cases, more so) freshman.

Ultimately, being a BITSian isn't probably about whatever I just wrote. Maybe, it is an individual interpretation. To each, his/her own each, his/her own meaning.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


There are some words that define time periods - whether they be ages, years, aeons or even such short time-spans as semesters. Discovery, assurance, exploration - all these phases have come and gone as they willed. The newest one in this list has been detachment...

Well, for one, detachment does bring out a funky ethereality in every thing that one does; after all, it is associated with things like aloofness, stupidity or misunderstood genius (this one should appeal to you if you are particularly influenced by fantasy or alternate reality or you just think that the aforementioned term describes you appropriately)...But that's deviating from the point really - just a sad attempt to add some colour to an otherwise bland, insipid, uninspiring post.

Being detached might just mean feeling nothing but feeling everything at the same time. It is one of those perfect, uncertain states (only the uncertainty is perfect, that is) - there is never a perfectly detached state as such...only an illusion to the believer in his/her own ability/inclination/desire to remain 'above and beyond' everything.

So, does detachment work? That is the all-important question...Well, on certain levels, when applied to certain things, it probably does...

Expectations, Face-value Friendships, Trivialities, Lies or Untruths (as the case may be), Companionship, Self-appraisal, Self-gratification, Mollification, Self-esteem, Confidence...

Isn't freedom from all these enough? Isn't a moment without all these worth craving for?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Tests = No Sweat!

It finally happened to me. Any fear of tests I had left is now gone!!! Gone are the days when I used to be tense, uptight and a downright big pricking arse when it came to tests. Let me tell you how I know...

Over the past few days, I've had Artificial Intelligence tests clashing with every other test I had. I think yesterday was the fifth occasion this semester when I gave two tests in a day. The crowning glory was yesterday when I had an SPM test and an AI test on the same day.

Well, the SPM test was normal enough - prepared, sat, wrote - the usual cycle (whether it was the usual performance remains to be seen ;-) ) Then I went for the AI test, thinking it was an open book test - the lack of preparation was proportionate. When I did find out it was a closed book test, what did I do? I took the news in my stride, was as dispassionate as things go, and then I wrote the test and came out.

Performance on the test is another matter, but aside from that, the day and age when tests used to lord over me seem truly over.

(P.S. Seems like I've fallen into a rut that many regular bloggers fall into, which is describing mundane, day-to-day matters. Whatever missing insights I made are strangely missing. Wonder what this indicates...)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Me, Myself and More of Meself

Every cloud has a silver lining, they say...But then again, what about the clouds that crowd the sky at night, empty themselves of all forms of water and disappear even before the night it up? Bad attempt at humour, I know...but still...

PS-I (Practice School-I) lists were out today. Got allotted to Central Electronics and Electrical Research Institute (CEERI), Pilani, which essentially means that you will be hearing from yours truly throughout the summer from the midst of this desert (not technically, but rather figuratively). It's going to be a very interesting experience, with the campus bereft of most of its population; but then again, I am not a very people person, so probably won't matter that much to me anyway.

Have been feeling under the weather a bit lately - what with late working hours and precious little sleep to accompany them. My appearance has been likened to a 'drug addict' on more than one occasion over the past two days, which is strange actually, since I do not know any drug addicts.

Have been listening to re-runs of the soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings. Evenstar is a track that has been particularly growing on me - it contains that pain, the sense of lost hope and the feeling of losing a precious thing that tears at your heart and makes you want to surrender to the waves of your despair.

For me, that is what music is about - making you feel. Of course, to each, there is his own interpretation. For some, music might be stuff you can bang your head to...for some, it might be the soothing melody of a singer's voice taking over...for me, it comprises of those simple tunes which on one hand, can uplift you; which on the other, can make you despair and cry; above all, music is the thing which can make you feel something you aren't remotely associated with at a given point of time - pain, sorrow, joy, hope and despair.

Sometimes, when you have these uncertain phases, when the chips are down; when you think you are trying hard enough to accomplish what you set out to do, but still feel that something is missing, that you can do better; sometimes when you set out to compose a post and even though you are a stickler for proper grammar and grammatically correct expressions, you simply don't care to correct your own erroneous sentences - it is in these times when you realize that you cannot let the rut affect you so, you can't let it get to your head, you can't let it play around with your mind.

It is in these times that you realize that you are afforded with an opportunity to distinguish yourself from rise above the be someone who not only does what he has to or what he wants be someone who dares to dream, accomplish and follow this cycle without stopping to count his is in these times that you realize that this is just the beginning of a journey - one which you will see to its end.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

All Fools' Day

The April Fools' Day syndrome is back again...The eve of the POM quiz was spent in deliberately planning pranks and setting them into action - all that was ruined though by the multiple allegiance switches of one of the people involved in the prank. So, with all attempts at an elaborately constructed prank getting botched up, I was left marvelling at the simplicity of the PS prank, which fooled hundreds of my batch-mates (In case you wondered, I was saved by Harshad, who regaled me with the story of the PS prank having been played on him.)

Of course, it seems as if the weather gods were trying to play a prank on the Pilani residents as well. In the middle of days which leave you roasted - it's that hot, and worse still, it is going to get hotter - we got some well-earned respite in the form of a thunderstorm that really shook up things - especially our attempts at trying to 'GHOT' POM (Let me tell you there is nothing so uninteresting as studying management.) The first light didn't really appear as it usually fact, it was more a question of 'Is it evening already?' with the clouds giving the appearance of a cloudy dusk setting its stall out in the sky. And then, there was rain - quiet little drops raining down from the sky - not really soaking anyone but still giving that lovely, rainy feel to the day.

This was two hours ago...Two hours from then, it's already sunny, and it seems like it's going to be a pretty hot day. It is these moments that make you wonder if there is a God, and if there is, what kind of wicked sense of humour he/she has. Because regardless of all the pranks that were played and the ones that will see completion today, the prank played by the weather today shall remain the most lasting one.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I remember writing long back about how the ability to understand a language lends meaning to meaningless sounds. Today, let me write about how language has become a part of our learning.

Let me tell you about three specific words I heard during today's Microprocessor lecture - polling, interrupt and handshake.

For those of you who do not know of the meaning of these words in computer science context, let me just give you some very rudimentary definitions:

  1. Polling implies that the processor works in sync with devices by checking continuously for changes in the device status. Can you draw a parallel with a small, shy child or even an adult who doesn't really like drawing attention to himself and so, has to be constantly monitored/taken care of?
  2. Interrupt involves the device interrupting the processor whenever it needs something to be done. Can you draw a parallel with chronic attention-seekers here?
  3. Handshake involves continuous status exchange signals being passed in between the processor and the device to ensure smooth transfer of data. Can you draw a parallel with good communication associated with a successful relationship?

My point here is very simple. Learning mirrors life, which in turn, is represented by language. So, learning mirrors language. You can even put it the other way around and say that language mirrors learning.

The fact that we have well-formed languages makes things much simpler. This Apogee, we had a Spanish speaker lecturing about supercomputing. The distance and language barriers didn't hinder the exchange, simply because of the common language we spoke - of science translated into English, albeit with a very Spanish flavour for an accent.

Sometimes, I have an astounding sense of wonderment when I read something I read in a local book being referred to as the same thing in material originating from some other part of the world. For me, the extent to which the common language of learning has permeated the fabric of our species is simply awe-inspiring. They say globalization has brought about this trend of global learning, but could it not be that global learning has brought about globalization?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Are We Dead, My Precioussssss???

It's been so long since I keyed in my last post that I am not even going to give you readers an explanation for why the blog was dead for so long.

Blogosphere seems to have suddenly metamorphosed into 'blog-dom'. It's become more of a kingdom, fief or whatever else you choose to call it instead of a forum. But then again, that's just me and my cynical illusions...But the truth is, when there are no stories to tell, opinions are hard to manufacture and words are difficult to produce.

Amidst all the revelry which started with APOGEE (BITS' technical fest, in case you didn't know) and ended with Holi (or for me, with a twenty-four hour whirlwind trip to Delhi - a trip that involved philosophy, cynicism and lots of proof-reading, enough for a year actually) some things were lost...the most prominent among those being the regular seven courses I am currently doing this semester.

As I tried to shake off sleeplessness during my Civil labs today, I wondered about certain things. For example, about how instead of Chain surveying to find out the area of a given piece of land, we could take the area's satellite pictures (to scale of course) and calculate the area from that. A simple idea really - probably something that is already commonplace.

Which brings me back to my pet topic - the need for integrating computers into everything we do. Pervasive computing, in short. I never appreciated the concept more than when I came face-to-face with my microprocessor design assignment question. The reason? If we can design a microprocessor based computing system around a weighing machine, that's pretty cool, isn't it? As I like to say, it sort of brings things into perspective and falsifies my claim that we don't make use of automatic computing tools enough in our lives.

The truth is, I have never been happy with my computer's speed. I remember my first PC boasted the then latest 550 MHz Pentium III processor with 64 MB RAM and a 10.2 GB HDD. I vaguely recall naively thinking a year later as I regarded all the 1.2 GHz machines that they would be double as fast as my machine. Well sadly, I operate a 1.66 GHz Core 2 Duo powered machine with 1 GB RAM and 2 MB of L2 Cache, and it definitely isn't proportionately fast. Be it Windows or Linux, I haven't been able to extract the best performance out of my machine with the existing software I use. So is it the fault of the software or is it the user's limitation? Surely the hardware is not to blame...Or is it?

I don't know, but it seems to me that over the last three years, the computer world has undergone a massive paradigm shift when it comes to performance priorities. We saw it occurring when the focus shifted from microprocessor clock-speeds to power consumption; we saw it occurring when Intel abandoned its 30-stage pipeline to use a more modest 14-stage one; we see it happening even now, when Web 2.0 is re-defining the way we perceive the Internet (even though the change might be slower than we like.)

My only interpretation is that we have lingered on old ideas for too long. Maybe we have extracted all we could out of them and are now trying to extend their utility beyond their expiry date. New ideas are needed, if only to herald the death of old, seemingly precious ones. We need these new ideas to revitalize the way things are done. We need them, if only to have the old dying ideas asking, "Are we dead, my precioussssss?"

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Delhi ‘Fiasco’ cacies

Just back from the Capitol Grub.

Moral of the entire experience: Just decent food doesn't satisfy the appetite; definitely not if the service is bad and there is a hungry stomach grumbling for food within you.

Result: Storming out of the grub in anger doesn't satisfy the desire to break something; it's highly advisable to actually break something before leaving…

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence

“The size and age of the universe incline us to believe that many
technologically advanced civilizations must exist. However, this belief seems
logically inconsistent with our lack of observational evidence to support it.
Either the initial assumption is incorrect and technologically advanced
intelligent life is much rarer than we believe, our current observations are
incomplete and we simply have not detected them yet, or our search methodologies
are flawed and we are not searching for the correct indicators.”

At SETI, scientists and researchers are trying to find the search methodologies that will give us correct indicators about the existence of intelligent life in other parts of the universe, a task complicated very much by our limited reach within the universe and the relatively high turnover (read low lifespan) of humans as compared to the extent of the universe.

Here’s an interesting news item on a recent development in the apparently growing uncertainty regarding the direction to be taken by SETI researchers in pursuing their search for extra-terrestrial life.

SETI stands for Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Some of the important facts about the organization are:
  • The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe.
  • Their motto: ‘We believe we are conducting the most profound search in human history — to know our beginnings and our place among the stars.’
  • The SETI Institute is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific research, education and public outreach.
  • Founded in 1984, the Institute today employs over 100 scientists, educators and support staff.

Always at the epicenter of many modern sci-fi stories, especially those that involve discovery of extra-terrestrial life, SETI quite possibly acts as the hand put forward by human beings to intelligent extra-terrestrial beings.

But there are a few other things about SETI that interest me, one of them being their SETI@home project. SETI@home is an extremely popular volunteer computing project that was launched by U.C. Berkeley in May 1999. It was funded originally by the The Planetary Society and Paramount pictures and later by the State of California. Any individual can become involved with SETI research by downloading and running the SETI@home software package, which then runs signal analysis on a "work unit" of data recorded from the central 2.5 MHz wide band of the SERENDIP IV instrument. The results are then automatically reported back to UC Berkeley. Over 5 million computer users in more than 200 countries have signed up for SETI@home and have collectively contributed over 19 billion hours of computer processing time. As of January 29, 2008the Seti@home achieves an average throughput of 387 TeraFLOPS, making it equivalent to the second fastest supercomputer on Earth.

There have been two distinct approaches that SETI researchers have tried to follow in their search for intelligent beings outside the planet.

1. The Ordinary SETI approach involves using an array of radio telescopes to listen for signals sent out by alien civilizations.
2. The Active SETI approach involves sending out powerful radio signals in the hope that alien civilizations can receive and listen to them.

On the superficial level, it might seem that these approaches are nothing but a fool’s hope of trying to find out about sentient life in other parts of the universe. As I remember, Abhinav once expressed his extreme displeasure about the day and age we are born in. If I remember the argument correctly, somebody predicted that the nearest distance between life forms at different places in this universe would be 200 light years at best, which means any chance of us finding intelligent extra-terrestrial beings within our lifetime, is unlikely, improbable and impossible at best. Unless of course, we have aliens actually knocking at our doorstep, which is probably what’s rankling with many of the opponents of the active SETI approach.

Ultimately, it is one of those ethical questions that confront researchers quite often, especially these days. How far do you push the boundaries and dimensions of science before it starts infringing upon our beliefs and our seemingly convoluted sense of what is ethical and what isn’t.
Although the two fields seem far removed from each other and one might be inclined to think that the purported long term nature of extra-terrestrial search makes this an issue which isn’t quite as relevant, I find many parallels between the opposition to cloning and the opposition to active SETI. Both stem from a fear of the unknown for one.

In the former case, people are afraid that cloning and stem cell research might prove the natural order of things wrong. And worse still, they are afraid that advances in these technologies might actually put a big question mark over their own belief systems – they are afraid that their belief in God, Genesis and the like might prove to be false. People reckon man shouldn’t play God. But why shouldn’t he? The essence of an intelligent being is to try and gain more knowledge. Man is trying to do that. Why stop him? Why curb his thirst for more of the driving force behind civilization – knowledge?

On similar lines, why must we stop people from seeking out other intelligent life forms – life forms that might be so technologically advanced than us that all of our questions regarding life, its inception and the universe could answered by them? Why must we stop looking for others, whose existence would prove to us that we are not alone in this infinitely empty universe? A lone person seeks comfort in the company of others of his kind. Can’t a lone intelligent civilization seek to find solace in other civilizations rather like its own? Isn’t that a cause worth pursuing? Isn’t that a cause worth risking everything we own for?

It is my belief that there are others around us – some of whom are more advanced and others less so. It is also my belief that all civilizations undergo the same stages of development – establishment, infancy, coming-of-age, glory, wane and finally, self-destruction. It is indeed debatable as to which stage we have reached (depends on the point of view, doesn’t it?) but one thing is certain – the ultimate quest for our civilization’s survival will involve meeting other life forms and taking their aid – it will involve intermingling and cross-civilizational learning. That will be the only way wherein we might be able to ensure the establishment of a new civilization – ready to tread on the same cyclic path of establishment, infancy, coming-of-age, glory, wane and self-destruction.

Monday, January 7, 2008

23 & 3 & 1...Another Rat Race

Enough said. Period.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Sad Rant

Just when you think the pall of hypocrisy and contorted views can't cast a longer shadow upon our supposedly educated society, something comes along which perfectly well makes you believe otherwise. Let me tell you a couple of examples that I encountered over the end-semester break...

December 23 (or so I remember)...I was watching the Gujarat elections' coverage on CNN-IBN. One of the 'experts' being questioned was Teesta Sethlavar - well,I might have got the spelling wrong...don't care about the spelling though since I guess the name would sound right enough) - a self proclaimed social activist. A question posed to her spoke of why the only human rights violations during the 2002 Gujarat riots are the only violations they saw. The question went on to ask about the lack of action of these very human rights activist groups in the case of the blatant atrocities that were committed in Nandigram. The reply didn't surprise me. The reply could have made the best diplomat proud in the way the question was dodged.

January 7, today...Sachin Tendulkar scored a hundred at the SCG, and the same media, which was vilifying him for such reasons like not scoring/failing under pressure/scoring too slowly/getting out in the 90s and what not, showered upon him the same adulation reserved for demi-gods who can do no wrong? And funnily enough, we had all these discussions popping up about whether Tendulkar now deserves to be awarded the Bharat Ratna...And of course, then we have people who were vehemently opposing the possibility of the government ever taking such a step (a social activist was one of them, surprise surprise!!!!)

Now, don't get me wrong! But there are two fundamental flaws in the topic of discussion itself. First, the Bharat Ratna should be awarded to persons in recognition of a life time of work. In Tendulkar's case, he might be nearing the end of his career but he's certainly not hung up his bat. The honour can wait...but having said that, I must also emphasize that the honour must be given, which brings me to the second flaw in the discussion...

When we have people who grossly underestimate the power of a particular medium talking about achievements of a person engaging himself in that medium, we get senseless reasons being thrown about which only succeed at tarnishing not only the person's achievements but also the medium itself.

Sport is a medium that transcends the physical and psychological sphere. The joy and inspiration that we, as plain and simple supporters of a sports team, get out of watching a genius wield his bat around like a wand, cannot be quantified in terms of sheer direct influence on a person's life. Isn't the example of the heights attained by Sachin through sheer hard labour an inspiration to everybody who wishes to achieve something in life? Isn't the example of his undying hunger on the cricket field a lesson in keeping the flame of desire glowing inside one's mind?

It is time we looked beyond strictly defined rules and analyzed the real influence...the real service done by a person to the nation...Sachin has done a service to the nation which few in post-independence India can claim to have done...he's made us proud of being Indians...he's given us a reason to hold our collective breaths when he steps out to bat...he's given the great Indian middle class a reason to believe that the sky is the limit for their achievements...

It is for only this reason that Tendulkar must be honoured...but only when the time is right (and that time certainly isn't now)

Unfortunately, the media has made this issue a media circus. No doubt, it is going to be the same group of people who will be the first to vilify Sachin once again when the going gets tough.

Sadly, it is this hypocrisy that is gnawing at our collective conscience. People might never have liked others climbing ladders to success even while they themselves lingered on the lower rungs, but now our society and its components have begun doing something that's even worse...We've begun pulling down those who show the spirit, the endeavour and the industry to attempt to climb the ladder.

Maybe it is time for change...Probably it's upto us to find a way to make sure that the values we treasure don't get lost in a race for instant popularity...Probably it is upto us to concentrate on our own success - and that too, without trying to vilify and harm others.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A Year Gone...What About Manchester United?


Well, it's now exactly a year since I started off on this little thingy called Blogger. Well, I'm not really going to go all bleary-eyed and rant about whatever I've written over the past year. No, not at all!

I'm just going to write on a topic that was also the subject of my first post - Manchester United Football Club.

Last time I wrote about United, we were at the top of the Barclays Premier League, chasing a title that we once considered ours by right but one which we hadn't been able to claim for the last four years. This time, the time of the year is the same...the number of games played by each club in the league is the same...only United is going for its tenth Premier League crown.

So, with half of the season gone, I thought let me take a look (as a fan) at what all United have done (or not done) during this campaign.

  1. Barclays Premier League: We currently lie second in the table, two points behind the leaders Arsenal. Not bad, although the loss at West Ham United might come back to haunt us. Still, with as many as 18 games to go, it's a long race ahead. Only, Arsenal don't seem willing to let the lead slip (unlike Chelsea who were quite charitable during the festive season last time around)
  2. FA Cup: A 3rd round tie against Aston Villa beckons.
  3. Champions' League: The team did brilliantly to make light of a potentially tricky group to qualify on top. Lyon in the pre-quarters will be a completely different proposition (in a difficult sort of sense) but man for man, it seems like Lyon should be more afraid of United.
  4. League Cup: Another early exit meant that questions were once again raised about the quality of United's youngsters. Okay, I might not be an authority on United youth teams, but I reckon we are expecting too much from the club's youngsters. The specter of the Class of '92 hangs over these lads and that probably, is the reason why the pressure is getting to them.

Overall though, the team is looking good. The new boys Tevez, Nani, Anderson and Hargreaves have settled remarkably well. Ronaldo is still in awesome form, and the defense looks good too. Fergie too seems quite ready for battle and even more glory, despite being 66 years young as a man and 21 years old as a manager. So, I guess there is only one thing left to say: "Go For It United."

Here's a list of some of the best action of the season thus far according to me:

BEST MATCH: Definitely a toss-up between the match against Aston Villa (away) and the match against Middlesborough (home). Will probably go for the Boro match, since the one against Villa ended up with United against nine men.


  1. Christiano Ronaldo : 18 goals. Enough said.
  2. Nemanja Vidic : Best defensive record in the league. Enough said again.
  3. Anderson : I never thought I'd say this, but at last United seem like they've got a genuine contender to replace Paul Scholes after he retires. If only he adds an added dimension of scoring regularly to his game, Anderson could be United's midfield lynchpin for the future.


  1. Carlos Tevez against Birmingham City (H)
  2. Carlos Tevez against Middlesborough (H)
  3. Nani against Tottenham (H)