Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mechanical Turk

I usually never spend time on stuff like this, but was amazed at how easy it is to earn money these days, doing simple stuff. However, this may not be the best use of your time as this blog suggests.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Li Mu Bai

Stumbled upon a quote from the movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" that used to be my on my email signature file once upon a time.
The things we touch have no permanence. My master would say: there is nothing we can hold onto in this world. Only by letting go can we truly possess what is real.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ajoba - a truly remarkable man!

My Ajoba (maternal grandfather) died in his sleep last week. He was 98.

As anybody who met him will say, he was a truly remarkable man.

Remarkable, not simply due to the sheer length of his life which allowed him to witness historical events like World War I and II, the rise and fall of communism,  the emergence of Mahatma Gandhi and the modern Indian nation, the Great Depression, the shift from newspapers to radio to television to the internet etc.


His legacy is not built around being a passive spectator of history as it quickened its pace of change to unprecedented levels over the last century. He was an active participant, a man who made interesting choices in his life - many that directly affect and guide me today.

He was born in a business family in a small town, became enamored with physics, and decided that he wanted to do a PhD, and went to Gottingen, Germany in the early 1930s.

Germany, early 20th century and physics were like Silicon Valley, late 20th century, and computers.

He got to meet and interact with some of the brightest minds of that time (my Aaji - his wife - loves to tell us the story of how she once had Nobel Laureate Milliken for tea). He got out of Germany, and came back to India just as the Nazi regime was taking hold.

He joined the physics staff at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore in a department that then included another Nobel Laureate, C.V. Raman. A few years later, in a move I've never really understood even after asking him several times, he came back to his little home town - the same place where I spent the first 18 years of my life.

He immersed himself in science education at the school and college levels. In the meantime, he fathered 9 children - 8 of whom were girls. His education brushed off on all of his children (including my mother). In a time and age when few women ventured out - three of his girls became doctors, four of them got a masters in science, and one of them became a practicing lawyer. He really was far ahead of his times.

He was a voracious reader, and immersed himself in his study for several hours every day. It was a little, quiet, sunny room, with diploma-laden walls, and the scent of old books. He made his own tea and walked almost a kilometer to the college he built and loved, well into his 90s. He led a simple, active, and intellectually full life.

My favorite story about him - something that I derive direct inspiration from - happened on the eve of his 85th birthday. I saw him in his study working out a calculus problem from a graduate textbook. I was puzzled, and asked him why he was doing it. He replied "If I don't practice, I will forget." He worried about forgetting how to integrate a function by parts, when most people his age had trouble remembering their names. His devotion to learning is what kept his mind surprisingly sharp, till a very advanced age. It is only after his eyesight became too weak to read, that the overall deterioration of his health commenced.

The last time I met him in 2008 at Anju mavashi's place - I talked to him about his time in graduate school. He was surprisingly coherent, and laughed often, as he told me stories of his advisor, his defense, and his work.

For almost a full hour.

I never knew, at that time, that this was my last chance to watch, as he vicariously re-lived some of his fondest memories.

Like someone said, "We all die. The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will".

And he did.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Differences between boy and girl (kid) brains?

Just read this article via this blog.
In one [study], scientists dressed newborns in gender-neutral clothes and misled adults about their sex. The adults described the "boys" (actually girls) as angry or distressed more often than did adults who thought they were observing girls, and described the "girls" (actually boys) as happy and socially engaged more than adults who knew the babies were boys. Dozens of such disguised-gender experiments have shown that adults perceive baby boys and girls differently, seeing identical behavior through a gender-tinted lens.
I always suspected that the "men are from mars and women are from venus" line, as closer to astrology than to science. Evidently
assertions of innate sex differences in the brain are either "blatantly false," "cherry-picked from single studies," or "extrapolated from rodent research" without being confirmed in people. For instance, the idea that the band of fibers connecting the right and left brain is larger in women, supposedly supporting their more "holistic" thinking, is based on a single 1982 study of only 14 brains. Other baseless claims: that women are hard-wired to read faces and tone of voice, to defuse conflict, and to form deep friendships; and that "girls' brains are wired for communication and boys' for aggression." Eliot's inescapable conclusion: there is "little solid evidence of sex differences in children's brains."
Of course the larger picture that the article and the book suggests is that small differences in treatment accumulate to measurable differences eventually.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Surface Area Required to Power the World

Check out this blog which tries to estimate the surface area required to generate all of the worlds energy requirements using renweable sources.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How to post a ppt, doc, pdf, odf, etc. file on Blogger?

The main obstacle in doing this is, of course, the lack of "space" to upload your document.

One method to accomplish this is embedding. You can use an utility like Scribd, or slideshare. These websites show you how to do the needful on Scribd, and on slideshare. Essentially, this involves registering on the particular website and uploading your presentation there. The process is very similar to how you would upload movies onto YouTube and link to it from your blog.

Another method, which I guess is obvious to many people, exploits the ubiquity of gmail accounts.

1. Go to docs.google.com. Login.
2. Select "Upload" (in the blue band), and upload your file.
3. "Open" the document
4. On the top right corner select "Share -> Get Link to Share"
5. Get the link, and from your blogger site just link to it as you would any other website.

One advantage of this method is that anybody can download the file in whatever format it was uploaded.