Thursday, December 30, 2010

Aesthetics and Science

This article by Dr. Chandrasekhar, is the best I have read so far on the motivations of scientific pursuit.

To kindle your interest:

"the motives which guide the scientific man are, from the beginning, manifestations of the aesthetic impulse"

Monday, December 27, 2010

Manmadhan Ambu

I cannot deny it is a very humorous movie. Apart from many of the specifics that can be appreciated, I found the story line very impressive.

A person is dying of cancer. If only he had money to get the necessary treatment, he can live. Isn't a life more worth than anything else in the world? So, his friend decides to undertake a spying work for which he is promised to be taken care of the hospital expenses. He needs to tail an actress who is taking a vacation in Europe. The actress's lover doubts her. A natural doubt that might arise in anybody in today's world. I wouldn't call it justified, but it is natural. Women these days are working. But men, most part, have still not come out of their cocoons fully. So, it is very natural that they do get into a mode of doubt. That has been portrayed very well in the movie. When the detective friend finds that the actress is beyond doubt, the lover gets into a stupid argument that since the detective did not find anything new, he will not get any pay. This again, is a very nice portrayal of the mentalities of people today. Take for example, what you expect from a Scientist. Every tax payer expects that a scientist would churn out a new finding everyday that would change their lives forever. In reality, that is not what happens. And they say, it is the moral right of the tax payer to expect it from a Scientist. Truly, no. The layman has no idea of how Science progresses and how slow it can be. It is the very nature of Science. In addition, uncertainty is the paradigm of Science. Just because a scientists announces something, it necessarily is not true. It may be disproved immediately, or sometimes, after very many years. It is this kind of situation that the detective is faced with. He is doing his duty...but that does not satisfy what the employer wants! Should he live to being honest, or, can he make a 'thagudu thatham' to save his friend? Propelled by the wrong intentions of the employer, the detective ends up in twisting the truth, which is still true, but is miscontrued by the employer - because of his preconceptions. These preconceptions finally lead to breaking up of their love forever.

I liked the movie for its simple, yet, profound story. Preconceptions are part of what we are. It cannot be denied. But if we are not open to change, we would finally lose.

The story cannot be better said!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Seas

The seas house many unimaginable wonders of the world. Starting from the colors of the water, to the colors of the seabed, to the variety of organisms, colors of them are all mind-boggling wonders. A travel to the sea always reminds that the earth, however netted by the internet, is still big and has a lot to be explored. In the last 6 months, I have had the chance to visit two different seas: The South China Sea along Bintan, Indonesia and the Andaman Sea along Phuket, Thailand. The two places where very very exotic and different in their own way. At the outset, Bintan had clear blue waters while Phuket had Turquoise blue waters. See the pictures below: The first one is Bintan, and the next one is Phuket.


This color difference was the one that I noticed first. It was exotic to see turquoise blue waters in Phuket. One could note that even as one is flying into Phuket. In contrast, the waters in Bintan were clear blue. The reason, I learned later, was due to the fact that Phuket waters contain more of lime dissolved in them and the sea bed is made of limestone. The dissolved lime and the seabed, contribute to this color of the water. Water, in itself, does not have any color. But the dissolved particles, or the surface beneath, when reflecting/refracting the light from the sun, gives such a color to the water. The reddish color of certain other seas, I learn, is because of the ion content dissolved in them. So, the color of the ocean tells us about the ecology in that area!

I also noticed that the corals in Phuket (during snorkelling) were more colorful and housed more fishes than that we saw in Bintan. This could be due to several reasons. The one we saw in Bintan was shallower than the ones we saw in Phuket. A deeper sea could have more colorful corals. Maybe. But I did notice that there were huge schools of fishes in Phuket than in Bintan. I don't know why. But it was a little frightening to see huge swarms of fishes! :-) The colors of the fishes, I just couldn't believe my eyes. I don't know if we can reproduce such colors in paintings! In their natural setting, the colors were awesome.

The next thing I noticed was the huge limestone rock mountains in the Phuket seas. It seems that these limestone rocks are there for over several thousand years. The calcium deposition during the ice age, along with volcanic activities, they say, had shaped the current geology of the area. Bintan, on the other hand, was just like the seas that we know of usually. A large landscape with no interrupting rocks or mountains. What was more interesting is that, these large limestone rocks, sometimes looked as though somebody had taken a huge knife and just sliced it apart! That was intriguing. But later I learnt that since the limestones are inelastic, when the seabed underneath undergoes an expansion, the rocks just split apart, unlike sand mountains which would slide and make an even topography. See the photo below. This may not be the best picture, but still you can appreciate that this particular side of the rock has been just sliced off as though you cut an apple into two halves.


There are several studies on the geology of the andaman sea. This one 'The Andaman Sea Rocks' is a good start to read about them.

That's so much I have to say about the landscapes I have seen in the two places.

Corals, the organisms that give the landscape of the sea, are interesting in their own. Their way of living, their physiology, their anatomy, their symbiotic modes of living are way intriguing. Wikipedia has lots of interesting information on it...so, I don't think I should reproduce the information. But anybody who is going to snorkeling or diving, should first read about the corals. You will then be able to appreciate the beauty and the lifestyle of these organisms much better!

PS: The photos I have provided here were taken by my friend, Santio Ruban. So, if you want any of them, please contact him.

Hues of Happiness

It is christmas time. The nights are dark and cold. The streets are deserted. The lights on the christmas trees are winking at each other, with no passers by to spy on. The calm air is filled with happiness...gently moving through the streets again and again to ensure to fill every tiny crevices with joy. The year is coming to end. But the plants don't seem to be aware of it. They are enjoying their lovely calm nights, occasionally gossipping with the moving breeze. Happiness is everywhere.
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Stillness

8.23 pm. Pandian express is standing in the first platform. The platform is teemed with a number of people. The college students teaming up, making loud noises as they get ready to enjoy their travel together. There is still one machi not yet turned up. So one guy is trying to reach him.
In another compartment, the husband is going on a business trip and the whole family is standing at the platform giving all sorts of last minute warnings and wishes.
In yet another compartment a couple with a new born sitting and attending to their kid. Suddenly they realize they would run out off water soon. So the husband is rushing out witg the wife shouting that it was time and he should not go. The husband, still propelled by his lovr for his kid, pushes his way through the small door through which passengers are coming in. The incoming passengers are shouting at the husband.
The platform is filled with "idly vadai....kaapi, tea' music. Porters are urgently making their way. Railway authorities getting ready doing all the last minute checkings. 8.29 pm. The friend has just got down from the auto and is dashing in. The husband is waiting for the shop keeper to give back the change. The family people are giving their handshakes and are reluctant to part.

The atmosphere is filled with intense tension. Even a silent spectator could sense the tension prevailing there. 8.30 pm. The train starts moving. The husband runs to enter into one if the compartments. He gives a hand to the late friend who was struggling to throw his bags inside. The wife trying to get a glimpse of her husband through the window...but in vain...she is still tensioned.

The train slowly moves away from the platform. All the waving hands are going down one by one. The platform becomes empty in a few minutes.

There is stillness. The tension in the atmosphere vaporizes. Time seems to take slow strides. There is stillness. Peace. A blankness. The stillness after a heavy tension. A tension that grew to fulfill ambitions (late friend). A tension that grew out of love - the dad for his kid, the wife for her husband.
But when they all move over, there is a sense of peace and happiness. The sound of the stillness pervades the mind and body.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

I don't know if this is appropriate:

http://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/money-and-careers/article938221.ece

Even though the IT companies scrap off the last ounce of creativity and innate talents, they have been valuable in improving the socio-economic statuses of several families and the nation as a whole. But this initiative - to waive the written aptitude test for "consistent performance" (read 'consistent regurgitation') - is a further step in ensuring and encouraging a mentality among the students that stresses the importance of memory, rather than use of intellect. It is not enough only for the academic institutes to talk about improving educational standards, but recruiters must equally participate. This is very much frustrating. This is also a bias against the "late pickers". A late bloomer canNOT be discriminated, for any reason, against a consistent performer.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Endhiran

Endhiran - I must say I was incredibly impressed with the first half of the movie before the standard Indian masala crept its way through to the second half. The technical wizardry is probably commendable - I leave it to the experts to comment on it. The storyline good for sure. A scientist with a "helping-humankind attitude" builds a robot that can learn from daily life do several tasks that his contemporaries are unable to do, thus making a significant advancement. However, it suffers from a serious limitation in that it cannot take moral decisions and can only do what it has been instructed to do. Due to this limitation, the AIRD (anybody can tell what it is?) does not approve it for use in the military. At this point, I must appreciate the movie team which had brought out the boons and banes of technological advancement vividly. In due course, the scientist "teaches" (or programs) to even "feel", a unique property of the living beings, so that he can take moral decisions. However, things take a twist and the robot starts to love. Then the whole thing takes the Indian masala shape. One is also reminded of the Hollywood movies like iRobo, Eagle Eye etc towards the end.

However the technical advancements and the storyline maybe commendable, I cannot still convince myself of spending Rs. 190 crores for the movie. I am also surprised by how somebody is able to invest such a huge amount in a single project! That only reveals how wealthy India is! Historically, the development of a nation and its citizens is evaluated by the amount of time and money they invest in art and culture. In that sense, India, and specifically Tamil Nadu must be really well-off that they are able to bring out such a mega-budget movie with a decent story line.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

GENE THERAPY - A SUCCESS STORY

All these days, I never knew gene therapy was at clinical trial levels. I always thought it was at research level and there are a lot of difficulties to overcome before it came out in clinical levels. Alas, I was wrong! Read the success story of treating beta-thalaessemia, an inherited blood disorder, by gene therapy HERE and HERE!

Though it has been a success, there are a number of issues that are yet to be taken care of.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I happened to notice this news (click here) in dinamalar that doctors should come forward to work in villages. This is not the first news of the type. I think there is also a service bond for the medical students to serve in the PHCs for about a year or two. While I do agree that this is a nice initiative keeping the long-term welfare of the nation in mind, it seems like a biased initiative as well. Why not engineers be asked to serve in villages as well? After all, our villages need more infrastructure and technological advancements. Medical benefits are now prevalently available in the villages. Will the government think?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Marauder's Map

I am sure everyone who is a fan of Harry Potter is also excited by the marauder's map. Harry uses it to find that Peter Pettigrew is alive and roaming within Hogwarts. Later he also uses it to track Draco. How interesting it must be to have such a map! You can map out what your boss is doing, can monitor where your kid is, etc etc. How wonderful it would be if it were true! Alas, indeed it is now a reality, and no fiction! Thanks to the smartphones and google lattitude/maps! One can enable GPS tracking in one's mobile phone and google map automatically updates your position! Even as one is travelling, you can.know which road he is in and if traffic information is available, one can esotimate time of arrival! On retrospection, the old fantasies and so-called magic are becoming a reality. I don't know if these would have been a reality without the yester years' fantasies and wild imaginations. The only uneasy thing about the old fantasy stories is that, people tend to believe that they are true and people of the past really did have those abilities and facilities. Truly, the stories of those days were born out of curiosity and imaginations. Again, curious people these days b
capitalise on science and technology to bring those imaginations a reality. Cheers to creativity and imaginations!

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Doctrate of Medicine and Neurology

Any higher degree that involves research (particularly, a supervisor) is not an easy job. To complicate it, imagine you have to deal with several people as well. If the people you have to deal with are ill, chronically, and you are deemed to cure them, and at the same time take data for your research. To talk of it is itself head-swiveling for me! And what, my sister has borne all these difficulties and passed her DM Neurology course after a streneous focussed effort of five years. The scholarliness gets infused into your blood only after a great struggle. Salute to the Doctors community who withstand all difficulties and live their dreams to serve people.

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Sync your Microsoft Outlook Calendar with Google Calendar!

One can synchronize your google calendar with your microsoft outlook calendar (click here). So, when using calendar in android phones, I don't have to re-enter my appointments in my google calendar. The sync application automatically does that for me. What more, you can control the information flowing path! You can either choose to update your google calendar with your outlook data, or update outlook data with google calendar, or both ways! Isn't that cool and very useful? But coming to think of it, is Google trying to monopolize? ah...never mind...it is useful, so it is ok. We cannot abandon PC for google, atleast now.
This is how Madurai looks when seen from above.



(The photo was taken from a Hindu article )

One can see the four streets around the meenakshi amman temple. It is for this 'whorl' type arrangement, the city has been conventionally called to have the arrangement of a lotus flower.

The scene would be amazing when you look at it in the night with all the lightings! Take an evening flight from madurai to chennai or bangalore to see this panaromic view! ;-)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Talent is just the starting point" somebody said. Yes, it is truly just the starting point. Perseverence and self confidence are the key ingredients to bring a dream to reality. After about two years, my friend's comic has been selected to be one of the best in a comics contest. No doubt his comic story was original, creative and all good adjectives fitted appropriately for his creativity. But it did not gain the immediate reputation he had hoped for. He persevered. Made several attempts to take it to the people in several different ways. And Voila! Finally it got the recognition it deserved. Never give up your dreams!

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Monday, July 19, 2010

It all started with a forward with the message "no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend."
Perhaps he forwarded it to me to indicate/prick/poke me that I have, of late, not been spending quality time as I was drenched in my own apprehensions, anxieties, confusions, aspirations and commitments, slowly letting go the dose of reality and entering a monotonous melodramatic drama.

There's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend...and so did this saga start at Starbucks. This has been the second time we ventured into such planned unplanned trips. Since it was quite a long time since we met (almost about a year and half), the time was mostly spent on talking talking talking that morning and in the days to continue. Each updating the other of the lived and un-lived moments. For some reason, you get to talk more in person rather than by emails or even phone calls. That makes me wonder what it is that the physical presence does - any quantum entanglement phenomena triggered a cascade event?! Since I had saved time by executing an idiosyncratic plan well-ahead, we had more time that morning. It was then decided to explore the local delights and the downtown Singapore. However, the trip ahead was well punctuated as a result of the explorative nature of our minds. On the way to the destination was the Haw Par Villa which was not in our schedule...but finding it attractive, couldn't resist getting down - pressing the stop button in the bus as the bus was about leave from the stop. So did time pass by there moving around amids the chinese mythological characters and stories of good against evil. Time, though had started moving slow by then, did not fail in its job to induce hunger. Finally towards vivocity again for lunch at Thai Accent. But Vivocity is not a just another place! It has enough retreat for a gadget freak - my companion - that can last more than a day or two! The first target was Best, exploring 3D Tvs, i-products etc. But my hunger somehow realized it was 3.30 pm and was craving for some food that we had to ditch Best halfway to satiate my hunger at Thai accent. Interesting foods. To top it, the Green Apple juice was just amazing! Alrite, hunger satiated...what next? Return to Best to complete surveying the rest of the shop! And from there we slowly moved on to explore Vivocity and to freeze time within the Canon time machine. The phone pouch, the 3-D pictures, sun-activated T-shirts, Sound T-shirts, the pool on the top of the skypark, nothing was left unexplored. Vivocity was followed by Chinatown - Pagoda street - 3 for 10 dollar shops. Well, who can resist buying things over there? Ended up buying interesting stuffs over there. But all these places, we decided not to rush through since our aim was not to 'see' all places, but 'explore' the places that we go. Well, truly, we didn't quite explicitly come to this agreement, but I guess both of us came to an implicit understanding. However, I did nudge a little to keep moving on for the fear of sticking to just one place. Dinner at Chinatown, followed by a walk aside the Singapore River was refreshing. The beautiful night lightings around clarke quay was something I had noticed, but not enjoyed so far. I have enjoyed the evening walks over there though. At the end of these, we decided to explore Mustafa around 1 am. Mustafa, those who have visited it, will know what it is to shop there. It is an ocean of goodies...a one-stop shop for all your needs. A lot of shopping again here.

One might ask, is this all you did in Singapore? Shop...shop...shop? Well, actually yes, the first day was mostly so...but as somebody said, the joy lies while climbing the mountain than reaching the top as such.

The first day needs to be told in such detail because we couldn't freeze much of the time within our time machine - damn the batteries. However, starting the second day, the time machine - the camera - was in full use. So, no details! :-D {alrite, I am getting lazy}.

The five days ran through every minute. It is indeed true that "There's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend". The trick is to realize and honor it at the appropriate time. The apprehensions of the future will definitely cloud the mind always. But truly, the future is designed by the present. If you want to relish your future, you have to live the present!!

Anyway, here are a few tips for the readers:

1. Don't plan your outings to precise details unless needed (sometimes it is necessary to keep to proper eating schedules, especially if diabetic.)
2. Be a tourist who goes and explores the place, rather than knowing what to do in a place apriori. In doing so, you might miss out some places and some events, but you definitely will explore and relish the places you found by exploring!
3. If it is a short trip, give a vacation to your sleep as well!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Taste of technology

This is a new taste for me. I have always refrained hopping into newer technologies for the fear that I may get too much dependent on it. Also because I always believed in the supremacy of man over machine. But this taste of technology with spica tells me how ignorant I have been. A lot of seemingly impossible and 'magical' phenomena are now real. One is able to manage a huge amount of information in easy and undistractable ways. And the all-in-one nature is quite good. Could follow blogs, could write emails, could check location, could maintain my booklists, wishlists, calendars, tasks etc etc. The main purpose of being connected to home through skype has been missing though! But definitely gives a feeling of connectedness.

All these do not make me additive, but explorative! It does not mean supremacy of machine over man, but man over information! Great going so far! :-)

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Research is more often a struggle than an enjoyable phenomena. Only on retrospection does it reveal its sweetness and beauty. But by the time you start retrospecting, you have already killed many of your social contacts and disturbed your social life. So, it is very likely that you are retrospecting in a lonely environment. However, if you were to evaluate if you are truly lonely, you find a negative answer. Truly, your well-wishers and friends have never left you alone...they have been constantly monitoring and have been very understanding of your idiosyncrasies. And what more does one want in life more than this care? Professional achievements are a matter of dust before strong relationships.

Perhaps this is true in all careers. We sweat the small stuff and let go the bigger picture. This adds to one more lesson in my life. A lesson taught by experience, the toughest master. :-)

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Wanted: Innovative Mathematical Thinking

http://www.maa.org/devlin/devlin_07_10.html

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Best Illusions of the year

New Scientists picks the best illusions of the year. (Click here)

Illusions, I think, are the best way to study cognition!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Some recent works on Protein-DNA interactions.

Specific protein-DNA binding has been thought, so far, to be a two-step process. However, a recent study by Sanchez et al (PNAS, 107:7751-7756. April 27, 2010) show that it may not be always the case. They find an equally probable second route – a route that has more rougher energy landscape. By a series of systematic mutations in the protein, the characterize the energy landscape of the second route – which again involves atleast two intermediates. The overall picture is that, there is an initial transition state ensemble with non-native contacts that drive the system into a kinetic trap. These non-native contacts are slowly rearranged into native-like interactions.
There are two points that are quite interesting:

1. That the second route is significantly probable.
2. To think of additional factors such as DNA bending in such a rough energy landscape is mind boggling!

While this study delineates the pathways to protein –DNA binding, yet another study (Genes and Development, 24:814-826) shows that the *shape* of the DNA minor groove directs binding by the protein FIS, a DNA-bending protein. The results of the study seem to suggest that FIS initially selects DNA targets with *intrinsically* narrow minor grooves and then it compresses the minor groove and bends the DNA. The study re-iterates the idea that the shape of the DNA is more important than its sequence – atleast in the noncoding regions, as shown by an earlier study (Science, Vol 324, 389-392, 2009).

Even as it is becoming clearer that the shape of the DNA is important, I think there is a long way to go in understanding what changes occur in the intrinsic properties of the DNA/protein that eventually modulate the structure.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Randomness in Speciation and Darwin's Theory of Evolution

Since school days, it has been taught to us that natural selection is the primary reason for the origin of species. Only 'fit' individuals survive in a particular environment. That is, it means that that there are certain characteristics needed for survival in a particular environment. So, if natural selection had played its role well, there can be only one species in a given environment - one species of bacteria, one species of a plant, one species of a spider, one species of a mammal etc. But this doesn't seem to be the case. Often several species cohabit an environment. So, it becomes obvious that natural selection cannot explain the 'origin' of species. This has been a contentious issue among evolutionary biologists since long and a recent study probably has revealed the underlying 'fact'. See the nature article. Or, read this New Scientist article which explains the issue in layman terms. According to this study, the origin of species is a random event. A rare event triggers change and a group of individuals in a particular species become reproductively isolated. These isolated group of individuals then gradually change, adapt by natural selection and form the new species.

I think this completes the theory of evolution. A rare event triggers the formation of a new species. This species then adapts to the environment and forms a new species. It seems like randomness is an important aspect of life! Nothing can be predetermined as some claim.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

ஏனோ வெளிநாடு சென்று புகழ்பெற்ற இந்தியர்களை தலையில் தூக்கிக் கொண்டு "இந்தியர் அறிவாளி" என்று கொண்டாடும் பெருவாரியான மக்களை இன்று காண்கிறோம்.
சற்று சிந்திப்போமே ஏன் அவர்கள் இந்தியாவிலேயே சாதிக்கவில்லை என்று.
சற்று சிந்திப்போமே ஏன் இந்தியாவிலேயே வசிக்கும் 100 கோடி மக்களில் பெருவாரியானவர் சாதிக்கவில்லை என்று.
அல்லது ஏன் தான் நாம் மற்றவர் நம்மை அடையாளம் காணும் வரை பொருத்து இருக்கிறோம்?

English translation: There are great many number of people today, who cite examples of Indians who have achieved in foreign nations and claim the intelligence of Indians. Let us think why these people did not achieve it in India. Let us think why, of the 100 crore people, there are not many achievers. Or, why do we at all wait until a foreign organization identifies the talent in the Indian talent pool?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Carbon Footprint

Global warming is a serious issue if you are concerned about future generations who will live 100 years down. As the international leaders are trying to set up regulations and reduce the global warming, it is necessary that citizens in under-developed and developing nations be educated on Global Warming and the need to go green. "Carbon footprint" is probably the first terminology to understand in this process.

I came across the following links that I consider to be good in educating about carbon footprints and global warming in general.

http://www.carbonfootprint.com/
http://www.carbonify.com/

Friday, January 08, 2010

A sense of scale

To add wonders to the elegance of the universe, check out:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/scale.html for a sense of scale!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Festivals, Society and Science

Snowflakes have always evoked a sense of awe owing to their beauty and elegance. Various shapes of snowflakes are used in Christmas cards mainly for an aesthetic value and to denote the winter season. However, it is not common knowledge that snowflakes are always six-sided - hexagonal - owing to water's property. For quite sometime now, I have counted the number of edges of snowflakes appearing in commercial ads...and was always intrigued by the nonconformity to the "six". I was getting into the impression that I was wrong about my knowledge of the hexagonal structure of snowflakes. However a recent correspondence in Nature by Prof. Koop from the Bielefeld University helped me assert that I was indeed correct.

I really appreciate Prof. Koop's effort to bring it to the attention of the media that many of the commercial ads are depicting the snowflakes against the laws of Nature. Even as we celebrate festivals and try to include Nature into our celebrations - or perhaps as sources of inspiration and beauty - let us do it the right way. In my opinion, this is one of the responsibilities of Scientists: ensure that the layman gets to appreciate Nature for its elegance and beauty in the right spirits.

Once he gets to learn the intricacies and complexities of Nature, his appreciation for Science would increase and critical thinking for productivity would be automatically be inculcated.