Little things that make Geeks happy

By nature, Geeks are a species very easy to satisfy. They don’t require elaborate arrangements, expensive dinners, long rides — its the small and the simple that excite us, and enthuse us.

One of the things that really excited me was getting a new email id – kpowerinfinity@clickass.in. This is a part of the CoolHotmail service that Microsoft has launched in India — and lets you create email ids in fun domains. After deliberating for a long time whether I should get martinian.in, or vadapaavrocks.in, or boscoite.in, I finally settled on ClickAss. And as soon as I describe it to my friends, we all break into instant laughter — geek connection. Click Ass! (Check their new Viral)

Another thing obviously is things that work. iPhone. One of my friends recently got an iPhone, and trust me, that is called beauty unparalleled. Aishwarya Rai and iPhone and I will choose iPhone any day. Other smaller things are also cool — like the new linked ids in Windows Live. I have multiple Live accounts, and it was always a pain to switch — and Live has not made it a cakewalk. It’s a little like Yahoo! with its small business offering, but far more flexible. I hope Google switches it — and then life will become a lot easier.

And then, of course, reading something completely ludicrous and hilarious. That just makes your day — for example sample this: (from The Hindu)

There is also another connection between the moon and China. In the 1970s, a crater on the moon was named after a Chinese stargazer, Wan Hu, who is said to be the first astronaut in human history. Legend says about 600 years ago, around the middle of the Ming Dynasty, Wan Hu, a local government official, tried to fly into space with the help of a chair, two big kites and 47 self-made gunpowder-filled rockets. According to the legend, after the rockets were lit there was a huge bang and a lot of smoke. When the smoke cleared, Wan was nowhere to be found.

Nothing, of course, can equal being interviewed yourself — that too by a NY Times journalist. That was yesterday — about life at IIT, how I got in, what I did there, what are the advantages of studying there and so on. Funnily enough, geekiness took over and I offered to proof-read it for factual errors (I didn’t know she wrote for NYT), and she politely said – “I have been doing this for a long time, and I think I am quite good at being factually correct”. Point noted.

[And if you haven't checked out xkcd as yet, you should NOW!]

Missing Feeling

So, I have been feeling low for awhile and I figured that the single biggest thing I miss right now is the feeling of Durga Puja. Having grown up in laid back Calcutta, with a heavy dose of vacations and dollops of Pujo during this season. Have had my share of fun in the Navratri — from getting sloshed to fun dandiya nights. However, it still doesn’t feel complete. Somehow, there is a large missing entity in the equation, and things just don’t add equally up on both sides.

I think what separates Calcutta during this time from the rest of the country is that Puja is just not a festival you enjoy, not just another set of rituals you observe, not just a holiday you chill out on, not just old relatives you don’t meet the rest of the year — Puja is a way of life. It’s all pervasive — it’s in the air, the crowded streets, the blaring music, the glittering lights, the all-night food stalls selling egg chow-mein, in the new clothes, bedecked women, and kurta-clad men, in the silent corridors of power and the menagerie therein, in the adda sessions and the ogling and the swooning, in the temples and outside, in the priest and even the atheist (holiday, after all!), in the closed offices and annual bonuses, in the pandals and new-yet-worn-out sandals, in anticipation of new things and frustrations of those over-used, in the sparkle of people’s eyes, in their troubles and smiles. It’s just one heady feeling — when the world around you is caught in a time-warp, when nothing else matters but Puja.

I am guessing I am missing that feeling right now. There is fun and there is work and both might overlap, but there is no single event that completely captures all your imagination, your thinking, your whole existence for a period of four days. It’s like being in love just enough.

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Brighter Than a Thousand Suns: A Review

[Cross posted on my WordPress blog]

I have often wondered what makes accomplished people participate in something that would hammer their conscience for the rest of their lives, and I have found myself unable to come up with an acceptable answer. How does a lawyer defend somebody who murdered somebody in cold blood? How does a soldier kill a helpless victim? How does a scientist invent a weapon of mass destruction?

All the answers to the third question are in this book. The byline reads ‘A personal history of the atomic scientists’. I was recommended the book by a colleague and even though its not a thriller, I could hardly keep the book down until I had finished it!

The story of the atomic scientists is so intriguing that I would doubt if any other real story would come even close to it in terms of their truth and sincerity, their single-minded devotion to the science, and their shock at the results of their discovery. The book paints these scientists as real human beings, with greed and compassion and dedication and ruthlessness, rather than a human-computer many others would.

The story itself is fascinating — it begins in idyllic surroundings in Europe, where students all over the world learn from the Gurus about the new emerging field, the great friendship and competition amongst the scientists, the carefree concentration in their research (they would routinely switch their shoes!). It shows how science can bring the world together, cut across state boundaries and get people with extremely diverse backgrounds to work together amicably and solve problems for a larger cause.

Great progress was made in the labs in Europe at the time. However, as the clouds of the second world war gathered, and Hitler started rounding up the scientists, this utopia soon started crumbling. Many had to move to other countries because of their Jewish backgrounds — and became extremely paranoid about Hitler’s plans. At the same time, many threw open the doors to their friends and collaborators — welcomed them with open arms sometimes even putting themselves in the line of fire. The paranoia, however, grew and it was some of those scientists who approached their governments with suggestions of developing new materials to halt Hitler’s stride. They wanted a deterred strong enough such that Hitler would not even think about trying to expand his power base. They were also worried that the dictatorship in Germany might be forcing its scientists to develop an atomic armoury and the race began.

Thus was the Manhattan Project started and the Los Alamos National Laboratory set up. Oppenheimer assumed leadership, and the scientists worked day and night, living in an uninhabitable place, disconnected from the rest of humanity. However, very soon, they were going to be shocked. They had never anticipated that once a weapon is in the hands of the government, it would be obliged to use it. Despite their protests, and their initial baby-steps towards a third-party controlled nuclear certification policy, the worst annihilation of the century was perpetrated by their government.

What we see now of the IAEA and other such bodies was germinated by the scientists. However, some of the scientists in their greed, promoted the idea of the Hydrogen bomb — the world has never recovered as yet! It was also quite topical because all the Indo-US nuclear negotiations were still going on while I was reading it.

The book is almost like the fall of Adam and Eve — an idyllic world interrupted by evil forces and disintegrated into the morass that now remains.

[Unfortunately, I found it extremely difficult to find the book. Had to read from an almost tattered second-hand book which I bought at Blossoms]

Brighter Than a Thousand Suns: A Review

[Cross posted on my Spaces blog]

I have often wondered what makes accomplished people participate in something that would hammer their conscience for the rest of their lives, and I have found myself unable to come up with an acceptable answer. How does a lawyer defend somebody who murdered somebody in cold blood? How does a soldier kill a helpless victim? How does a scientist invent a weapon of mass destruction?

All the answers to the third question are in this book. The byline reads ‘A personal history of the atomic scientists’. I was recommended the book by a colleague and even though its not a thriller, I could hardly keep the book down until I had finished it!

The story of the atomic scientists is so intriguing that I would doubt if any other real story would come even close to it in terms of their truth and sincerity, their single-minded devotion to the science, and their shock at the results of their discovery. The book paints these scientists as real human beings, with greed and compassion and dedication and ruthlessness, rather than a human-computer many others would.

The story itself is fascinating — it begins in idyllic surroundings in Europe, where students all over the world learn from the Gurus about the new emerging field, the great friendship and competition amongst the scientists, the carefree concentration in their research (they would routinely switch their shoes!). It shows how science can bring the world together, cut across state boundaries and get people with extremely diverse backgrounds to work together amicably and solve problems for a larger cause.

Great progress was made in the labs in Europe at the time. However, as the clouds of the second world war gathered, and Hitler started rounding up the scientists, this utopia soon started crumbling. Many had to move to other countries because of their Jewish backgrounds — and became extremely paranoid about Hitler’s plans. At the same time, many threw open the doors to their friends and collaborators — welcomed them with open arms sometimes even putting themselves in the line of fire. The paranoia, however, grew and it was some of those scientists who approached their governments with suggestions of developing new materials to halt Hitler’s stride. They wanted a deterred strong enough such that Hitler would not even think about trying to expand his power base. They were also worried that the dictatorship in Germany might be forcing its scientists to develop an atomic armoury and the race began.

Thus was the Manhattan Project started and the Los Alamos National Laboratory set up. Oppenheimer assumed leadership, and the scientists worked day and night, living in an uninhabitable place, disconnected from the rest of humanity. However, very soon, they were going to be shocked. They had never anticipated that once a weapon is in the hands of the government, it would be obliged to use it. Despite their protests, and their initial baby-steps towards a third-party controlled nuclear certification policy, the worst annihilation of the century was perpetrated by their government.

What we see now of the IAEA and other such bodies was germinated by the scientists. However, some of the scientists in their greed, promoted the idea of the Hydrogen bomb — the world has never recovered as yet! It was also quite topical because all the Indo-US nuclear negotiations were still going on while I was reading it.

The book is almost like the fall of Adam and Eve — an idyllic world interrupted by evil forces and disintegrated into the morass that now remains.

image

[Unfortunately, I found it extremely difficult to find the book. Had to read from an almost tattered second-hand book which I bought at Blossoms]

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Which part of the brain do you use?

I usually hardly ever go to try such surveys, but this was intriguing. Look at the picture below and see if the dancer is moving clockwise or counter-clockwise. If clockwise, then you use more of the right side of the brain and vice versa. Most of us would see the dancer turning anti-clockwise though you can try to focus and change the direction; see if you can do it.

brain_use

Left Brain Functions Right Brain Functions
uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
knowing
acknowledges
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies
practical
safe
uses feeling
“big picture” oriented
imagination rules
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can “get it” (i.e. meaning)
believes
appreciates
spatial perception
knows object function
fantasy based
presents possibilities
impetuous
risk taking

 

I almost always see it as clockwise! What do you see?

The original article appeared at: http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,22556281-661,00.html. Thanks to Anupam for the tip.

Khshar Bhar ko Kyun Pyaar Kiya Tha

I had written another of Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s in the past in this blog and for some reason, I feel that I need to keep coming back to it every once in a while. He has this amazing ability to write very simple things which touch our hearts. And for some reasons, for me, things that are closest to my heart are oftentimes expressed so succinctly and brilliantly in the Hindi language.

अर्द्ध रात्रि में सहसा उठकर,

पलक संपुटों में मदिरा भर,

तुमने क्यों मेरे चरणों में अपना तन-मन वार दिया था?

क्षण भर को क्यों प्यार किया था?

[Suddenly, in the middle of the night, your eyes brimming with intoxication, why did you give you heart and soul to me? Why did you love me for a moment?]

‘यह अधिकार कहाँ से लाया!’

और न कुछ मैं कहने पाया -

मेरे अधरों पर निज अधरों का तुमने रख भार दिया था!

क्षण भर को क्यों प्यार किया था?

[All I could say was, "Who gave you this right?" Why did you love me for a moment, placing the weight of your lips on mine?]

वह क्षण अमर हुआ जीवन में,

आज राग जो उठता मन में -

यह प्रतिध्वनि उसकी जो उर में तुमने भर उद्गार दिया था!

क्षण भर को क्यों प्यार किया था?

[That moment will live forever in my life. Even today, I feel that passion, a reflection of the bliss you filled my heart with? Why did you love me for that moment only?]

Updates on other blogs

Over the last couple of days, I wrote new posts on both of my other blogs — Some Observations on Social Networking, mainly inspired from an article by Chris Anderson, and a reproduction of a poetry in Hindi by Harivansh Rai Bachchan — Kshar Bhar ko Kyun Pyaar Kiya Tha?

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