Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Which is an amphiboly that was found in a notebook last night

We took a course once. Prof. Hirsch offered up this sentence as an example of amphiboly.

Zen Buddhist monk to hot dog vendor, "Make me one with everything."


Monday, November 26, 2007

Moon is now but Yellammathota

Where we dig up a priceless lyrico-musical nugget for the enlightenment of our audience

Many years ago, on one dark and dreary fall evening in New England, our then partner in dramatic crimes introduced us to something that forever changed the fabric of the space-time continuum for us, from that point forward.

After a successful opening night performance as Sculder (or was it Mully) in that critically acclaimed and commercially successful blockbuster "Holy Cows In Outer Space" (directed by the partner in crime, a story which will have to be told another day), yours truly and That Man Keynes And His Homosexual Intrigues (as he calls himself on this blog) had visited el Directoro at his digs. After potations and libations had been imbibed, el Directoro disappears, and re-enters slipping an LP record out of its sleeve. TMKAHHI were expecting Pink Floyd, or The Moody Blues, or something like that. Instead, something literally out-of-the-world wafts over the ether.

Turns out that the LP had 2 songs on it, one on each side. The singers were Dr. PB Sreenivos and Ms. S. Janaki, and the lyrics had been penned by the good doctor himself. The songs appeared to be a sort of commemoration-celebrations of the Apollo 11 moon landings. Self and TMKAHHI were blown away (reasons follow).

Years passed, until this afternoon, when on one of those tangential internet explorations that happen, we stumbled across Dr. Sreenivos' web page. And sure enough, in the Multi Lingual section, were the two delicious songs. We urge all our readers with the loony senses of humour to promptly download and listen to "Man to Moon" and "Moon to God". As an appetizer, we will give you the opening lines of "Man to Moon":

          Man has set his foot on Moon
          Moon is now but Dehra Doon
          Moon is now but...Dehraa Doooon
          Armstrong isn't mere arm-strong
          He is mind-strong and aim-strong
          Aldrin is the another man
          Who too walked on moon and land(?)

That apart, the meda meeda meda katti(WMA file) song from Preminchi Choodu (1965) is very entertaining (and is what we were searching for in the first place), as is it's Tam version medai mele(WMA file) are very peppy (especially the videos, if they can be found).

Dr. Sreenivos is not alone in experimenting with the English language. Mohammad Rafi sang The She I Love Is A Beautiful Beautiful Dream Come True to the tune of the rollicking Hum Kaale Hain To Kya Hua Dilwaale Hain:

          Ha ha ha ha!!! It is a lover's duty
          To fall in love with Beauty!
          The she I love is a beautiful beautiful dream come true
          The she I love is a beautiful beautiful dream come true
          I lau her, lau her, lau her, lau her; and so will you!

The lyrics are outrageous ("Because she thinks it pleases me, like a cat a rat, she seizes me, she tickles me, she teases me...") and presumably not by Rafi himself.

Rafi also sang (at the UN General Assembly, apparently) the unforgettable "Although we hail from different lands", set to the tune of bahaaron phool barsaao. Unfortunately, the English version is not available online, although Ludwig has the MP3, for anyone who asks nicely.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"Birdie birdie kee gal hai?" said Sardarji.

To which the bird replied "Praaji, praaji sea gull hai!"

First, check this out (you will need Macromedia Flash). You are given a glass box full of mice. Each mouse is on a different recreational drug (marijuana, heroin, cocaine, Ecstasy, alcohol, methamphetamine, LSD). Choose your mouse and drop it in the chair. Said rodent is duly conveyed to a box, and a nice voice will explain exactly how these different drugs affect our nervous system. Priceless.

Local events heads up.

The Hyderabad Half Marathon/10k is on Sunday. We've run this in 2005 and 2006, and it was mostly fun.

Bird Race


Sunday - 2nd December 2007

Dear Member

You will be glad to know that HSBC is sponsoring the “BIRD RACE” again this year in Hyderabad. For the information of members who have joined our society recently, BSAP had organized and conducted the Bird Race last November which was a great success. We are confident that with your continued support we should be able to make the race this year also a greater success.

The rules of the race in a nutshell are: Participants have to bring their own cars and each car will have four to five persons and this will form a Team. We can even consider two motorbikes with four riders as a team. If you do not have a car and want to participate – absolutely no problem! We have enough seats for you in the cars that are participating.

Each car will have a CAPTAIN who will be familiar with the geography of Hyderabad and its environs and also be reasonably knowledgeable in bird identification. For first timers who are not familiar with birds but still want to have lots of fun, again no problem – we can provide Captains from amongst our members. And remember – this race is not only for BSAP members but open to all. So get your friends, young and old, school children, et al.

The cars will be flagged off early in the morning and report back at sunset, that is almost 12 hours of birding. Each car will be given a Log Book containing a list of birds found in our region as also names of places and locations that you can visit. You are however free to go wherever you want, as long as you keep within a radius of about 50 – 60 kms around Hyderabad. You have to tick mark all the bird species that you see and where you saw it. The logbooks have to be surrendered to the judges in the evening for their scrutiny. The criterion is that you try and record as many bird species as possible to win the first prize. There will be prizes also like Bird of the Day, Dip of the Day, etc.

We ofcourse expect total honesty and integrity of the participants. Despite the rules, the main purpose is to have loads of fun.

  • Cars with the Captain and Team members to report at 6:00 am sharp on Sunday, 2.12.2007, in front of the Hyderabad Public School, Begumpet Main road, next to the foot overbridge.

  • Each car will be given a sticker with a bird name. This has to be stuck prominently on the left upper corner of the front windshield glass.

  • There will be a briefing of the rules and each car will be given a Log Book and breakfast hampers and all will be flagged off together at 6:30 am.

  • There is no entry fee. You have to carry your own lunch, water and snacks, including binoculars and field guides. As usual we advise you to wear dull colored clothing good walking shoes and a cap.

  • You can visit as many places as you can – the more the better. We have also listed a few prominent places in the Log Book for your convenience.

  • The cars must return latest by 6:30 pm and the Captains have to submit the Log Books to the organizers at Secunderabad Sailing Club, situated on the banks of the Hussiansagar Lake, at the end of the Tankbund on the Secunderabad side. Refreshments will be served on arrival, which you will need badly, anyway! Please note that Teams submitting their Log Books after 6:30 pm are liable to be disqualified. So, give enough margins for traffic jams and we suggest you target to reach the club by 6:00 pm.

  • The function will start by about 7:30 pm. There would be a few talks by the organizers to kick off the get-together and may be a short speech by the Chief Guest. All Captains will also be required to speak for a few minutes each, recounting the team’s experience for the day. We expect you to make this as lively and funny as possible! This will be followed by prize distribution and DINNER for all the participants.

We do hope the above is clear. Please rush and register your names for this wonderful event. The last date for receiving the entries is 24.11.07.

You can give your names to the following members. Mention whether with car, without car, want a captain, etc. Any question feel free to ask.

         Siraj - 32936937.
         Sushil - 9393319333

Hope to see you all in large numbers and make this event a huge success.

BSAP Organising Committee
15th November 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Unbearable Blindness of Seeing

I am colourblind. As a kid, I used to wonder why they had the funnily named tube of Burnt Sienna in the oil colours box, when there was a perfectly serviceable brown at hand. And what was with those shades of green, all the same?

Drawing was fun, I particularly remember diligently copying out birds from a bird book onto the backs of dot matrix printouts that amma would bring from the physics department (Andhra University had recently entered the Age of the Computer). After making the pencil outline, we would colour it using that little Camlin watercolours box, the orange (was it?) one with 4 × 3 grid and the little slot for the brush. Those pictures are still lying at home, but the boxes have disappeared.

I'd foolishly expend colours in asymmetric quantities, perhaps I couldn't find uses for some of them. Within a few weeks, about half the little tablets would've been weathered into nothingness with the orange colour of the box showing through the bottom. Then you could shake out the rest of the tablets, tie a looped string through the box, hang it around your neck, and pretend that you were Captain Kirk, or Mr. Spock, or Dr. McCoy with your little box of magic, teleporting from the starship Enterprise (the bed) onto some strange planet (the floor), and the box would go "beep beep" as it detected signs of alien life/radioactivity/gooseberries ripening in the backyard, and off we would go. How whole afternoons used to fly by! What fun!!

Drawing in the company of other kids was often not fun. Because, that meant sharing your colour pencils and tubes, and sooner or later, one of them will throw out that terrifying request, "Pass me the purple, no?" And then that horrible moment of hesitation, when 3 or 4 different thoughts and hues would collide and jostle, demanding immediate attention. Should I take my time in picking the thing? Will that increase the chance of finding the right one? Or is it better to hand over an approximation quickly, so that they wouldn't notice my indecision? What is worse - to be slow, or to be wrong? When we go to the park to play cricket in the evening, will my reaction speed and accuracy matter to whoever is picking teams? The decisions of childhood are the most terrifying ones.

I think everyone must've noticed that I sometimes couldn't name the right colours, and preferred pointing out stuff instead of being precise with colour names like the others. Thankfully (or perhaps not?), they must've thought that it was because I was dumb, as far as colours went. Would it have been better for the rest of them to know that such an "ailment" as colourblindess? What is worse - to be dumb, or to be ill?

Life went on. We moved into a building which had a fantastic view of the sea. Almost every day, I'd see the ships of the Eastern Naval Command sail out of the Naval Base. Or else a gigantic cargo ship with "NIPPON STEEL" painted in giant white (I am sure, for a change) letters on the hull would lumber out of the port and head eastward, leaving a trail of sooty smoke. All the nautical activity, combined with a steady diet of Alistair Maclean novels ignited a craze for becoming sailor. Only, somewhere inside there lurked the nebulous thought that I couldn't, because I wasn't qualified.

By the time I was an Intermediate student, the drawing and colours were just memories, stuff that we used to do only when we lived on campus. The only time we even remembered those things was when we had to rearrange or clean the cupboard, and those printouts would show up, with the faded, embarrassing pictures on the obverse. Also faded were memories of helplessness.

Now life was mostly about maths and physics and entrance exams and spending the bus fare on samosas and cone cakes at Suresh Bakery. And chemistry. In second year, a childhood fear awoke again, and turned into something altogether more crucial and terrifying.

Titration. That one word spelt doom. The lab manuals would be full of instructions that made my brain freeze and eyes blur over.

Titrate the solution from the receiving vessel to the endpoint with HCl, when the phenolphthalein should appear a very light shade of pale pink.

they said. Pale pink? This is the kid who couldn't pick the purple pencil. pH paper was another terror, as was almost every single test for elements in chemical compounds. I got 25 out of 30 in the chemistry practical exam. Everyone got 29 or 30. The dumb kid was back.

Thankfully the entrance exams didn't involve anything to with colours. I waltzed into JEE counseling, with nary a care in the world. Counseling is where you get to meet a black box to which you input your rank and it outputs the likelihood that you will get a seat in the branch and IIT of your choice. My black box was spot on, it turned out. Ended up in the department and IIT he said I would end up in.

In the bustle of counseling day, they slipped in a medical exam. Height and weight were checked, and a blood sample was taken. Then they had that vision test, the one with all the funny Es and the letters receding from laughably huge to challengingly tiny. I read all of them off, and a couple of notices that were stuck in the notice board next to the chart, just for kicks. Those were the days when we thought every test was a competition, and no quarter was given.

Then the guy in the white coat pulled out a book. Black pages, with white circles in them. And lots of dots. He wanted me to read out the numbers. The first couple were easy enough, and then he really began pulling my leg by showing random dots and asking me to read out non-existent numbers. I made up a couple to humour him, but had a sinking feeling that this was actually important, a watershed moment, if you will. The fact that the guy kept flipping page after page, while everyone else was done in 5 pages only added to the suspicion.

4 years in college zipped past in a flash. I didn't do all that great academically, and any data I could've gained about my colourblindness (via bad grades, like the chemistry practical exam) was lost in the general noise of indifferent academics.

Campus selection season started, and after flunking 3 or 4 tests and interviews, I was one of the last few people to get a job. This happened to be at TISCO in Jamshedpur, and as campus jobs in 1997 went, it was one of the better paying ones at Rs. 11,000 a month. We were thrilled to bits. We were even more thrilled when we found out that TISCO would pay all of us the rail fare to visit Jamshedpur for an orientation programme.

And a medical test. Sheer dread. It was bad enough that we would have to strip to our undies and wander from room to room in the TISCO hospital while they collected all kinds of data. Not to mention the whole doctor-putting-hand-in-undies-and-making-you-cough routine, which surely was something that was conjured up by someone overdosing on Human Digest and Penthouse. Little did the rest of the gang suspect that none of this held the terror that the eye checkup did.

Sure enough, deja vu. The black book with white circles and dots. The same sinking feeling; at least this time I knew what was coming. The same curious looks from the medical staff, the pulling aside for one more round of testing, when all the other guys were done and ready to hit the town for some beer and chicken.

I don't think I ever received the appointment letter, and I don't remember any explanations either.

It didn't matter, because the MS admission and aid had come through, and I was off to Massachusetts. Since then, things have been relatively easy. I've never had to worry too much about colours, even driving tests don't check for colour vision, and I could tell the red and green of the traffic lights apart (but not the red and amber, or the amber and streetlights).

It's water off a duck's back now, and I can laugh at it and joke about it, and even use it as an excuse to slime out of responsibilities ("Hey, I can't do that UI design, you know my problem, no?", "Please don't ask me to help you in picking out the kameez, you know that I only pick blues.") It's just become a source of irritation - when someone uses insanely gradated colours in maps and charts and you can't tell the differences; when you can't see a red bird in the greenery that everyone else is ooh-ing and ah-ing over; when you run into the ubiquitousness of colour coding in daily life.

I suppose we're a pretty small proportion, 5-10 % of all men, basically. We aren't a large enough constituency to merit special treatment. So things will go on as they have. But it would be nice to once in a while run into someone who doesn't say, "Tell me what colour is this tablecloth!" the moment you told them you were colourblind. This happens almost every time. Without getting into distasteful analogies, imagine the equivalent of doing that when you meet someone in a wheelchair.

Please love us. We may be deficient, but we are also human beings only. ;-)

PS has online tests for colourblindness. I've failed the test in exactly the ways they predicted. They explain why one is colourblind (it's all your ancestors' fault apparently, the dissolute rascals). There is no cure.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

An Exercise in Estimation

Which is an anecdote

Yesterday evening, G called. He's planning to spend a few weeks in some Arctic European country, and needs warm clothes. Our ski jacket and pants, turtlenecks, mucho cool Hugo Boss Wall Street type outfit, and sexy leather gloves have been gathering fungi for the last 3 years, so we thought we'll foist them on G. He said he's going to come over today to borrow them.

A bit of background. G and Ludwig used to work together. G is a software architect type who operates in the rarefied atmosphere of design and specifications. Ludwig used to muddle around trying to get a small team to build stuff. Both of us were on the hook to deliver stuff to the powers that be, and of course had to "set expectations" on when stuff could be delivered and so on. If you've done this sort of thing before, you know how it works.

Developer Boy looks at the 6 things on his plate, factors in such things as time spent on Orkut, table tennis, and those vast tracts of unproductivity that show up in the middle of our day and says it will take x days to finish.

Seen It All Team Lead looks at x's estimate, mentally goes "Yeah, right." (1) and puts 1.5x in his schedule.

I Rule Microsoft Project Product Manager sees Seen It All's estimate, applies the same factor of safety. This continues recursively until the CEO or VP or whoever has a "Beta Duryodhan, yeh kya ho rahaa hai?!" moment.

But that is all beside the point. The point is we hedge our bets when we make these estimates. It turns out that once you start doing this, it really seeps into real life. Case in point, G and Ludwig trying to arrive at a mutually convenient time for handover of said winter paraphernalia.

G: Hey, so when should I come by your place tomorrow da?

Ludwig [Mental calculation: Going running in the morning and will be back by 8, and have that meeting in the evening at 4:30]: I'll be at home between 9 and 3.

G [Mental calculation: Yeah, right.]: OK, I'll come between 10 and 2.

L [Mental calculation: I'd better be at home for sure between 11 and 1.]: OK.

He's probably going to show up at noon.

P.S. The wisdom of children...

1. We owe this nugget to G.

Linguistics professor: It is a strange truth about language, that a double negation ends up with a positive meaning. For ejjampul, "Putting your finger in the socket and turning on the switch is not unsafe if there's a power outage."

See? Double negative, means positive. But a double positive can never mean something negative.

Bored voice from the back of the class: Yeah, right.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Basic Concepts in Science: A List

Which is a public service post

The most excellent ScienceBlogs has what is possibly a valuable post on Basic Concepts in Science. If you are/were a scientist and want to do some revision, or want to learn about someone else's specialization, or if you're a non-scientist and want to get the 101 on science, this might be a nice starting point. Links to lots of articles including:

Geology: The Composition of the Earth, Chronology and Stratigraphy, Paleomagnetism, I: Introduction, the Scientific Toolbox, II: Crustal Chemistry, the Solar Nebula, and the Solar System, III: Rocks from Space and the Accretion of the Earth, IV: It's Getting Hot in Here, Differentiation, and Core Formation, V: The Moon, the Magma Ocean, and the Mantle.

Chemistry: pH, Strong and Weak Acids, Acids and Bases, What is Food Science?, Food Chemistry, Elements, Polar and Non-polar Molecules, Intermolecular Forces

Biology: Gene, What is a Gene?, New definitions of a Gene, The Richard Dawkins Definition of a Gene Is Seriously Flawed, The Central Dogma of Molecular Biology, How Proteins Fold, Heat Shock and Molecular Chaperones, The Genetic Code, ABO Blood types, Genetics of ABO Blood types, Genetics of Eye Color, Collagen, How do you sequence a Genome? Parts I, II, III, IV, V, and VI, What are Hypothetical and Putative Proteins, Linkage Disequilibrium, Mutations by evolgen, Allele...

Evolution and Phylogenetics: Evolution, The Many Faces of 'Evolution', The Three Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Natural Selection, Modes of Natural Selection, What makes Natural Selection an adaptive process?, Artificial and Natural Selection, Sexual Selection, Human Evolution 1001, Fitness, Measuring Fitness, Clade...Ancestors, Why Spiders aren't Insects, parts I, II, III, IV, and V...

Ecology and Environment: What is Ecology?, Biomes I...Biomes VIII, Conservation versus Preservation

Developmental biology:...

Medicine and Psychiatry:...

Other or multiple topics: Artifacts and Vectors, 8th Grade Math (Hardy Weinberg, Genetic Variance, Molecules and Phylogenies, Kin), Biological Clock...

And the really interesting and important stuff.

Physics and Astronomy: Energy, Fields, Force, Measurement, Entropy, Redshift, Understanding Electricity, Ohm's Law, Estimation and DImensions, De Broglie Equation, Phase changes

Mathematics and Computer Science: Normal Distribution; Mean, Median and Mode; Standard Deviation; Margin of Error; Correlation (and Causation, and Random Variables); Binary Search; Innumeracy; Percentage and percentage points; Proof by contradiction; Statistics Primer, Part 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5; Multidimensional; Vectors; Algebra; Calculus; Limits; Recursion; Turing Machine; The Halting Problem; Real Numbers; Algorithm; Discrete versus Continuous [Mathematics]; Infinity and Infinite Sums; Numbers; Metric System; Modular Arithmetic; Theories, Theorems, Lemmas and Corollaries; Fractals

Logic and Computability: Logic, Modal Logic, Syntax and Semantics, Sets, Arguments, Optimization, Axioms, Going Met, Parallel, Distributed, and Concurrent

Philosophy, Philosophy of Science: The Feminist Theory of Science, Falsifiable Claims, Epistemology, Theory, Introductory texts for philosophy of biology, Scientific Method, Laws and theories, Likelihood Theory

Crib: There's too much biology and not enough mathematics, logic and philosophy of science. And to a lesser extent, history, economics and other such mumbo jumbo.


Which is about the weather, again. And about Bengal, because Srini asked.

As we speak, Tropical Cyclone Sidr (06B) is headed resolutely for the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta. Per usual, our friends at the Joint Typhoon Warning Center seem to be on top of things. The tropical cyclone warning graphic, ship avoidance graphic, satellite imagery, and Tom Clancy telegram are all in place.

Thanks to the wonders of remote sensing and satellite imagery and so on, this time we are hopefully a little better prepared. Unlike 1991 (Gorky), 1970 (Bhola (WTF!)) and before (1737 Calcutta, 1789 Coringa etc.).

As usual, Bong-land lies squarely in the path of this one. Hold tight.

P.S. We've rambled about cyclones before, it's a bit of an obsession. We even re-read "The Hungry Tide" recently, and that has refueled us a bit.