Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Advances in Space

Over the last week and this week, there have been a few developments on the space front.

First, India launched the World's first education satellite. And then India advanced it's Lunar Mission Launch to 2007.

And just after, Sir Richard Branson launches "Virgin Galactic" (virgingalactic.com). He's licensing the technology from the Ansari X-Prize hot favourite, Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne. Flight bookings have begun, and will begin 2007 costing anything between $170,000 to $200,000. Peanuts compared to what it costs nowadays!!

And finally, this Wednesday (29th September, 2004), Burt Rutan makes the official trip to try and win the X-Prize. If anyone stays near the Mojave Desert, don't miss it.

The final frontier is getting closer!

Happy Birthday Taj Mahal

taj mahal

Today, the Taj Mahal celebrates 350 years of it's creation.

The first time I saw the Taj Mahal I was too young. I hardly got to appreciate it! The next time I saw it was a few years ago during my India bike trip.

This time it was an experience which I will never forget.

The thing that hits you when you see the Taj Mahal is the absolute, perfect purity of it. The symmetry gets to me. It's amazing, every notch, every pillar, every etch seems to be the same on both sides of the axis. And then there's the whiteness of it. It's ethereal. As if it appeared there fully formed. It's beyond my comprehension how human hands could have created something so, so, so... flawless.

In these days of bugs, viruses, trojans, terror attacks and airport security checks, that there is something on this earth which shows what humans are capable of, is what in itself makes a visit to the Taj Mahal worthwhile. But what I enjoyed the most was just sitting on that wonderful green grass, in that bright sunshine, facing this creation and letting it sweep me over with calm, peace and tranquility. It could only have been built for love.

Happy Birthday.

(The Guardian has this wonderful article on the Taj Mahal. Don't miss it.)

Thursday, September 23, 2004

What's happening to America?

What's going on? How come two hundred odd years later, the basic principles which America stood for, indeed, got created with, are disappearing? Free speech, free and unfettered enterprise, innovation, ingenuity? Why are all these getting quashed?

The very basis which founded America - competition, hard work, finding new solutions to problems, where have they gone? Why is there legal issues at every turn? Why are kids getting sued for listening to music? Why is free speech being used to allow all kinds of advertisements on the internet? Why is junk mail being discussed in the government?

Ever since this nation began, it has believed that hard work and keen brains will always succeed. And people have succeeded. The 'American Dream' meant something. But now, those same people have become so big that they kill competition, lobby for ineffectual standards, stick to old technology.

Technology, (at one time it used to be called Engineering!), which brought this country to where it is today, is moving away. Om Malik has been pointing out that the axis of technology has shifted over the China Sea. And now I read that BBC is putting it's entire audio video archive on the internet to be downloaded, shared and built upon by anyone and everyone. And they're doing this with the help of Lawrence Lessig, an American of Creative Commons fame, who has been questioning copyright laws in this country for years now. Are American ideas getting accepted faster abroad now?

When most of the word is going 3G services in cellular, America is just catching up. When the rest of the world is beginning to enjoy ever faster internet speeds on their cell phones compared to dial up, statistics of broadband use of 42% in the US is making everyone feel proud. When even developing countries like India are getting ready to set up Internet TV, there isn't even a whiff of it in the horizon here.

Something is seriously amiss.

I believe Capitalism is showing it's age. Hard work and brains are required when you're starting something. But when the machinery has gotten running you need a different set of skills to make it run. You only need to mend those small things that break from time to time, and slowly over the years a new machine emerges. But if you don't replace the parts which fall off with newer parts, sooner or later the whole monolith becomes too costly to run.

Law, which any civilised society uses to prevent it's citizens from undue harassment and to entitle people their rights, is being used for exactly the opposite! Two years ago, I read a book by Philip Howard called "The Collapse of the Common Good: How America's Lawsuit Culture Undermines Our Freedom" and "The Fine Art of Drawing the Line". Philip is a lawyer in New York who argues how law is getting abused in America. An example - there isn't a single see-saw or a blade of grass in children's playgrounds in America. How did it come to this?

The world is changing. It's people are changing. People are becoming more aware, informed, are able to make more intelligent choices than earlier. And it will not match with what worked last century, last decade and sometimes even last year.

Marriages, which one time meant a lifetime relationship, is not the same anymore. Many people are deciding to share their lives together without getting married. Europe has been changing it's laws to reflect the changes happening in society, and here we're fighting over the issue of gay marriage? To the point that it's being debated as an election vote earner?

With elections looming up, attacks and counter-attacks on the veracity of military careers are going back and forth. What about the number of military careers getting extinguished everyday in Iraq? (And is anybody keeping count in Afghanistan any more?, or is public memory so short that we've forgotten who caused the 9/11 attacks?). And all this not counting the thousands of civilians. Would America love another country with so much blood on their hands?

And someone, somewhere is making a bunch of money out of all this. And all in the name of freedom, in the name of democracy, in the name of security. That is what galls me. Over the last couple of years, security has become the biggest industry in the US. In the midst of everyday people trying to eke a living, some people have forgotten to feel. To feel for the people dying in the war everyday. To feel for the people who have been earning their whole lives to live their retirement in peace, and now they are not even being allowed that. Is there no stopping greed? Does money always have to be the bottom line?

Two hundred years ago, Thomas Paine said, "The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind". This is the reason, however much anyone resents it, is why the rest of the world has looked up at America. Unfortunately, that mantle is slowly getting vacant. Other countries are showing the way.

Today, Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, gave a speech at the UN. He addressed this speech to the President of the United States. He said -
"If we look around us, the single most defining characteristic of our contemporary world is the global, transnational character of the challenges we confront, whether these are in the realm of international security or development."

"We speak about cooperation, but seem hesitant to commit ourselves to a global offensive to root out terrorism, with the pooling of resources, exchange of information, sharing of intelligence, and the unambiguous unity of purpose required. This must change."

The torch of democracy, of freedom, of a respectable life for all is not getting extinguished. The fire is spreading. Other countries are leapfrogging into development. Encouraging growth, innovation, invention and ingenuity.

America cannot give up what it started.

If anything, the fire has to burn brighter here.

This is my wish.

Friday, September 17, 2004

On Education & Schooling

The Underground History of American Education is a book by John Taylor Gatto, who's a former New York City school teacher. During his 30-year career, he has taught at 5 different public schools, has had his teaching license suspended twice for insubordination, and was once covertly terminated while on medical leave. He has also won the New York City Teacher of the Year award three times and the New York State Teacher of the Year award once during the final year of his career. The whole time he has been an outspoken critic of the school system. Nine years after leaving his career, he published "The Underground History of American Education". Here he put's his version of what's wrong with American schooling.

His verdict is not what you'd expect: the school system cannot be fixed, because it has been designed not to educate.

The full text of the book is available online here.

There are links on top which take you to different sections of the book. The book is big, especially to read online. I'm looking for a PDF version which I can download, haven't found one yet.

Although it talks about the American system of schooling, I think it's important reading for everybody. I've just started with the Prologue and that itself is very, very interesting. One of his quotes "We don’t need a national curriculum or national testing system". Some of the things will ring true for a lot of us having done schooling in India.

In the past, I've always resented how Tata Consultancy Services and other software organisations have refused to interview graduates of non-engineering disciplines. This categorisation doesn't make any sense, except to the Visa authorities as they insist on 12+4 years of education like in their own countries. But instead of questioning the bigger issue, I think a lot of institutions in India miss a lot of good talent.

A friend of mine, Balu, & myself have had many, many discussions over the current school system in India and the kind of pressure it creates on the students. Balu, of course, has his own form of teaching which is quite revolutionary, to say the least. Additionally, both of us are totally against this universal system of awarding numbers to students as if children could be represented by just digits, that too within a finite range.

This system seems to carry on to the job scenario as well. Every year, during the aprraisal process, this is something which I have to go through with the rest of the team much to my immense discomfort at the system itself!

The tragic part is there doesn't seem to be any middle ground - you either accept the system or you're an outcast! Ridiculous! John Gotto addresses a number of these issues in his book. Hopefully, I'll be able to go through some of it to learn something useful!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

So this is how it is done!

shirt folding

The simplest way to fold your t-shirt! (1.5 MB Video)

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Interview with Thomas Friedman

friedman book
There is this very interesting interview with Thomas L Friedman, who's the author of a book called 'The Lexus & the Olive Tree' over at Rediff.

As a background, Friedman went over to India to see what this big hullabaloo on outsourcing was all about. He's now what we call a convert!!

Anyway, of all the nice things he said about India, this is what I liked best -
"I'll tell you what I'm impressed with by India. India has its hardcore olive tree people, hardcore nationalists, some of them are in power now. But here's what I feel: your success in globalization is really a function of your success at glocalization, your ability to take the best from the world's systems, best practices, best ideas, best brands, and meld them with your own culture in a balanced way so that you don't feel overwhelmed by them.

What impresses me about India is its ability, its innate ability, to glocalize. It's not so easy. But to take the very best practices of the world system, absorb them, and yet, you go to India and you feel you are in India! People are eating curry, daughters-in-law are living with their mothers-in-law, marriages are being arranged, and women are wearing saris! You know, you don't go there and feel -- at least I don't -- 'O God, globalization has really wiped out Indian culture!' Not at all. I feel Indian culture is extremely robust, has been able to absorb these things and find a kind of balance."

The complete interview is available here.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

And you thought you knew English?

Picked this up from Om Malik. This is a comprehensive list (I think!) of words being used for SMS. The PDF can be downloaded here.

How many can you guess without seeing the expansion?

And to think it's available in other languages as well! Which means I have to learn two scripts for every language I know!!

1One; Won; Want
2To; Too
2U2To You, Too
AAMOFAs A Matter Of Fact
AFAICAs Far As I’m Concerned
AFAICTAs Far As I Can Tell
AFAIKAs Far As I Know
AFKAway From Keyboard
ASAPAs Soon As Possible
ASLAge, Sex, Location
ATBAll The Best
ATMAt The Moment
AYTAre You There?
BAKBack At Keyboard
BBFNBye-Bye For Now
BBLBe Back Late(r)
BCNUBe Seeing You
BITMTBut In The Meantime
BOTBack On Topic
BRBBe Right Back
BTWBy The Way
BYOBring Your Own
C4NCiao For Now
CRSCan’t Remember “Stuff”
CUSee You
CUL(8R)See You Later
CWOTComplete Waste Of Time
DITYIDDid I Tell You I’m Distressed?
DIYDo It Yourself
EODEnd Of Discussion
EOMEnd Of Message
ETAEstimated Time Of Arrival
FFemale; If
F2TFree To Talk
FAQFrequently Asked Question
FBOWFor Better Or Worse
FOCLFalling Off Chair Laughing
FWIWFor What It’s Worth
FYAFor Your Amusement
FYIFor Your Information
GAGo Ahead
GALGet A Life
GBTWGet Back To Work
GFCGoing For Coffee
GFETEGrinning From Ear To Ear
GMTAGreat Minds Think Alike
GR&DGrinning, Running & Ducking
GTGGot To Go
GTGTTBRGot To Go To The Bathroom
GTRMGoing To Read Mail
HANDHave A Nice Day
HHOKHa-Ha Only Kidding
HSIKHow Should I Know?
HTHHope This Helps
IACIn Any Case
IAEIn Any Event
IANALI’m Not A Lawyer, But
ICQI Seek You
IDGII Don’t Get It
IMCOIn My Considered Opinion
IMHOIn My Humble Opinion
IMNSHOIn My Not So Humble Opinion
IMOIn My Opinion
IMPEIn My Previous/Personal Experience
IMVHOIn My Very Humble Opinion
IOWIn Other Words
IRLIn Real Life
ISPInternet Service Provider
IYKWIMIf You Know What I Mean
J/KJust Kidding
JICJust In Case
JKJust Kidding
KISSKeep It Simple, Stupid
KITKeep In Touch
KWIMKnow What I Mean
LDLater, Dude
LMHOLaughing My Head Off
LOLLots Of Luck; Laughing Out Loud
LTNSLong Time No See
MMale; Am
MTCWMy Two Cents Worth
MYOBMind Your Own Business
NAnd; In
NANot Applicable
NO1No One
NOYBNone Of Your Business
NRNNo Reply Necessary
OICOh, I See
OLLOnline Love
ONNAOh No, Not Again!
OTFOn The Floor
OTOHOn The Other Hand
OTTOMHOff The Top Of My Head
PCMPlease Call Me
POVPoint Of View
PUThat Stinks!
REHIHello Again (Re-Hi!)
ROFLRolling On Floor Laughing
ROTF(L)Rolling On The Floor (Laughing)
RSNReal Soon Now
RTDOXRead The Documentation/Directions
RTFMRead The Frickin’ Manual
SITStay In Touch
SMSShort Message Service
SNAFUSituation Normal, All Fouled Up
SOSignificant Other
SOLSooner Or Later; “Stuff” Out Of Luck
SPAMUnwanted E-Mail
SROStanding Room Only
TAFNThat’s All For Now
TANSTAAFLThere Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch
TEOTWAWKIThe End Of The World As We Know It
THKQThank You
TIAThanks In Advance
TLK2UL8RTalk To You Later
TMKTo My Knowledge
TOSTerms Of Service
TPTBThe Powers That Be
TSWCTell Someone Who Cares
TTBOMKTo The Best Of My Knowledge
TTFNTa-Ta For Now
TTYTalk To You
TTYL(8R)Talk To You Later
TWIMCTo Whom It May Concern
U2You, Too
URLWeb Page Address
W/BWelcome Back
WAN2Want To?
WAN2TLKWant To Talk?
WRTWith Regard To
WTGWay To Go
WUWhat’s Up?
WWWWorld Wide Web
WYSIWYGWhat You See Is What You Get
XOXOXHugs And Kisses
Y2KYear 2000
YGIAGAMYour Guess Is As Good As Mine
YGWYPFYou Get What You Pay For
YMMVYour Mileage May Vary

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Why do we get a sound when we crack our knuckles?

I've been wondering about this a long time and someone had told me the answer but I had forgotten, so today I decided to look it up!!

Basically, because we stretch our fingers, our joints get seperated and the liquid between the joints gets stretched too. And as the liquid gets stretched, which is equivalent of reducing pressure, (think of a water filled syringe which is sealed at the tip, and pulling the plunger out), the air dissolved within the water starts forming bubbles and pops out of the surface. This is what makes the noise.

Additionally, it takes about half an hour for the air to redissolve back into the fluid, and that's why it takes some time before you can crack your knuckles again!

And finally, it's not considered harmful except for making your grip a tad weaker! So, don't do this if you're into arm wrestling!

The detailed answer is here.

Friday, September 03, 2004

20 Questions!

You've all played that game called 20 Questions, right?

It takes two, one person thinks of something and the other person has to guess what it is by asking 20 questions. If s(h)e succeeds they've won, otherwise you win. Simple, isn't it?

Now, there's an internet version of the game, which is really enjoyable to play. Basically, you pit your wits against the computer. Of course, thinking up of names of people or places is not allowed. I thought of 'Yak' and it guessed it right on the dot! Quite amusing really.

You have to click on 'Play 20Q' at the website. You have to fill in some details of yourself because the computer makes allowances for you if you're from Mars.

You have to answer the questions thoughtfully though! And honestly! And make sure you choose between 'No', 'Irrelevant', 'Probably' and 'Doubtful' correctly.

Also, if the computer guesses early or doesn't succeed in 20 questions, you can give the computer a chance to continue further by choosing 'Close'!