An Owl's 2 hoots

Thursday, June 30, 2005

I am back!

Back to reality and to the blogosphere. I returned last night from the conference. This was the 13th Annual conference on Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (or ISMB 2005, in short). We (from our lab) had a poster to present (among 600+ others!). The conference was in Detroit, MI. Some of the highlights of my trip:

1. American National Air carriers are really at the bottom of the barrel nowadays. Hardly was there a pleasant moment in the flight.
2. Detroit is huge. The hotel which we stayed (also the same venue for the conference) was the Renaisance center at the Detroit Marriot. This is also the world HQ of GM. Although Detroit is the automobile capital of the world, it was sad to hear that none of the big 3 companies (GM, Ford, Chrysler) are doing well.
3. Detroit is also one of the more polluted cities in the US. I was hardly able to see the sun in the 4-5 days of the conference.
4. It is truly multi-cultural. The cab driver said there were almost 1 million non-US folks living in Detroit. Not to mention the rich music culture here.
5. I had no idea that the Canadian border was just a stone's throw (a strong throw, that one) from Detroit. The nearest city - Windsor is a mere 5 miles from downtown Detroit.
6. I also realized that the world is so big. People had come from all corners. In fact, there were 3 groups from Madras alone!. Collaboration and Competition worldwide!. Ready or not, global economy is here. In all, around 3000 people turned up.
7. I met a few peers from Canada (desis, of course). I was surprised to hear that cell phones and credit cards are not that prevalent there. Hmm..
8. Normally, after returning from a conference, one of three things can happen. one) you would get so depressed looking at the competition and would probably take sanyaasam. two) you would get really motivated by the competition. three) you would safely ignore the hyped fields and do something different. I hope I don't fall in the first category.
9. Nowhere else have I seen so many cars with low frequency bass sounds in full blast. I was being sonic-boomed every step of my walk in the downtown area. So much so, I could even hear the sound from my room in the 17th floor. No speakers inside the car, all are outside.
10. Oh, yea - there was a casino near our hotel. I think I would have created the fastest record of losing 20 dollars (broken into four 5-dollar bills) in a 5-cent slot machine.

All in all, it was a welcome change for me. It gave me some new ideas about my field and has definitely increased my humility.

In my small hiatus, I missed blogging, reading blogs. There was a cyber cafe in the hotel lobby (had Macs though), and I was able to check email and peeked in my blogpage a little. So much to catch up!

Friday, June 24, 2005

Soopa bizzi

Been extremely busy preparing for a conference. Would be coming back on Wednesday. Although I was not blogging, I did make my stops at the usual blogouts. Afraid even that would not be possible for a good 5-6 days.

I'll be back.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Useless fact # 3

This post is only half-kidding and may represent an underlying problem in the Indian IT sector.

Useless fact # 3:

If I mention my gross income salary, perks et al to every Tom, Dick and Harry, I MUST be an Indian IT professional.

Proof: Look around you.


Useless facts 1, 2 are here.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Bok Sanctuary

About 100 miles from my place (Sarasota, FL) is a peaceful garden called "Bok Tower Gardens". One can really feel the serenity and calm at this place. In many ways, it reminded me of the"Sri Aurobindo Ashram" in Pondichery. Some of the highlights of this place are:

1. Built during 1927-1928, and inagurated by the then President, Calvin Coolidge.
2. The 245-acre estate is located on the highest elevation in Florida - a mere 298 feet!.
3. The centerpiece of the garden is the "Singing Tower" which has a "Carillon" set atop it. Apart from musical chimes to indicate the hour, it also plays a variety of songs throughout the day at various time points. This tower is around 205 feet high and is touted as the "American Taj" and 'Florida's highest place" - which is true in more than one way.
4. It also serves as a sanctuary for a variety of fauna - tortoises, burrowing animals, rodents, aquatic birds, fox, snakes, etc., and flora - pines, ferns, oaks, flowering plants, etc.
5. It was mainly constructed to help one re-discover peace, serenity and beauty.

Some of the photos which I took there:

Bok Sanctuary - entrance Posted by Hello

Serenity Posted by Hello

Me in front of "The American Taj(!)" Posted by Hello

Bok Tower Posted by Hello

2 friends Posted by Hello

Neva scared Posted by Hello

A thing or two about wildlife - they are NOT afraid of humans AT ALL. This wild squirrel scampered towards me without the slightest hesitation. There are warning signs asking people not to entertain them, since they can get aggressive. Leave wildlife wild.

Highest elevation in ALL of Florida - 298 feet!! Posted by Hello

Time simply comes to a stand still there while one enjoys nature at its very best. I was refreshed and rejuvenated when I came out. A lot of us have stress in the work place or life in general. Instead of popping pills, I would suggest a nature walk or a hike to release the tension. Check out the tourism pages of your place - there may be one very close to you!.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Useless fact #1

Sometimes when we go out, or watch TV, listen to music, certain things strike us and we kind of start hypothesizing. Then we substantiate our hypothesis with more instances to create a proof (or theorem). After sufficiently beating the proof to death by arguments and counter-arguments (all in our own mind), we successfully turn the theorem to a fact!.

Such useless facts are what would be listed under my so-called, hope-to-find-more-of-this-kind series - "Useless fact #n".

Note: The only person I have discussed this is with myself, so it may/may not be right.

Useless fact #1:

The more expensive the make of a car, the less funny the ad (TV) would be.

Proof: I think this is more or less true (atleast in US TV ads). Next time when you are watching TV, pay attention when there is a car ad (it should not take long for one to come by). Consider a less expensive make - Hyundai, and a more expensive car - Lexus. While the actors in the Hyundai ad are making fools of themselves, the car dealership, Lexus simply displays a blur of a car and the omnipotent "L" at the end. Thats it. No jokes.


Disclaimer: This may not be applicable to truck ads. I think in the case of trucks (any make), all you need is a supposedly macho voice mouthing inane remarks like "power", "heavy-duty", "full-size", "torque" or "refraction(!!)" and a truck skidding on a muddy road. And that Ladies and Gentlemen, just became my Useless fact #2!!.

Have a nice weekend!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

TNPCEE saga continues

Even after announcing the decision to scrap CET, chaos reigns supreme in TN. As usual petitions and cases have been made against the ruling. I do not know if this was done for the actual betterment of the candidates.

Types of people who are still left in the dark:
1. Those who wrote improvement exams this time.
2. Of course, OC candidates (gets screwed royally every time, this time it does'nt make a difference)
3. CBSE students - sigh!

*sudden crazy thought!*

Jaadhigal illayadi Paappa
- apadinna, reservationum irukka koodadhu.

1. If this is utopia, and all were treated equally (either equally high or equally low), would we care if there is an entrance exam or not?.
2. Since this is hypothetically utopia, what if all exams were made open-book and competitive. Would'nt it make things a lot better - quality wise?.
3. What if there is a good counselling system for all disciplines (not just Engineering and Medicine).? Natural selection would play its part and the Normal bell-shaped curve would take up its role again.
4. What if the parents are ALSO counselled to understand that it is NOT a stigma for their wards to do something else - serious sports, arts, journalism. (Not that these are not available, but not a lot of parents allow their children to pursue these actively - "veylaikku aavaadhu". I personally know a friend of mine who had to give up his sporting skills on account of 10th board exams). Even amongst us, a lot of us have been "forced" to take up a certain field. Maybe we are doing well now - but doesn't that prove that given time and hard work one can excel in a random field?. So, why not start at the right field of interest?
5. We would not be having hundreds of engineers loitering around after graduation - working in unrelated jobs, wasting their hard-earned degree.

Already it is agreed that this century would belong to Asia. I am sure by our sheer number, we would make an impact. Maybe we can make that impact more profound.

*snap back to reality*


VHP geniuses

I am not sure if this suggestion by VHP is a good idea:

Increase Hindu Population

As it is, there is no space for people to move in cities and towns. Don't these buffoons have anything better to do?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Hypocrisy at its best

We see hypocrisy every day - it is a way of life. Take for instance, driving. Anyone driving lesser than (y)our current speed is an idiot, and anyone driving faster is a crazy guy. Of course, there is the simple fact that all 3 kinds of people are driving faster than the speed limit. So, we all do it. We are not perfect. Similarly, there are several other hypocrisies.

But I recently found that this one walks with the gold: Smoking-is-such-a-nasty-habit-i-don't-know-why-people-smoke-i-don't-smoke-but-i-think-drinking-is-ok. I had the oppurtunity to see some people berating a smoker while all were drinking. I neither drink nor smoke, which would have become obvious by now.

Smoking is not ok, and drinking is fine?


So, what is it they are trying to convey - "I would rather suffer from liver complications and overwork my kidneys, rather torture my lungs". Is that it?. I like my lungs more than my liver. Is that it?.

While the government is banning smoking from restaurants, public places, MOVIES(!!), it is alright if people drink and drive?. God forbid if one is sober and is driving out on Friday or Saturday nights.

"But how can that be?. I would be ostracized, pariahed from my workplace and community if I don't indulge". Also, studies have shown that drinking is good."

BS!. I would not be reading a research paper from an alcoholic scientist. I happen to work in a bio reasearch community and I have decent knowledge on how these studies work. If there is anything called "completely biased", then it HAS to be in the research field and how people interpret research results - totally biased and subjective.

I may have sounded preachy, but I could not help it when this particular hypocritic barrage was flowing from their mouths, complete with the reek of alcohol.

Personally I have no problems with drinkers as long as things do not get, well, personal.

Which also brings me to another (unrelated) topic. Why is there so much forced socializing?.

Monday, June 13, 2005

World Wind

NASA has come up with a cool software for browsing the world. No, seriously.

Check out World Wind 1.3.

World Wind is a software which is in many ways similar to Keyhole, and is free to use. It has a LOT of features packed in it and you can even zoom to a street/building level. They (too) use the "mosaic" technology for getting layers of details. Of course, details on US landscape are more pronounced. Historical data (like forest fires in Africa, Hurricane data, Volcano eruptions), Weather data (water vapor, cloud cover, etc) can be mapped on to the areas for viewing.

My friend who studies geography says that NASA have capabilities to zoom upto 1m resolution, do lateral scans, etc. Of course, these are all strictly off limits to the casual user and are safely locked up in NASA's vaults.

Recently, World Wind was released as an open source software.

I like the zoom feature in World Wind - zoom out from the earth until it becomes a small ball and scroll your mouse like crazy to go to a street level!!

Here are some sample pictures which I got while fiddling with World Wind.

WORLD WIND - Crtsy: World Wind, NASAPosted by Hello

MADRAS - Crtsy: World Wind, NASAPosted by Hello

FL - Crtsy: World Wind, NASAPosted by Hello

Note: If you want to download it, make sure that you have a pretty good video RAM. It is seriously big.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Sacre BLUE!

I am a vegetarian and pretty conservative in my diet, but I think I would have tasted possibly the MOST disgusting thing ever. Blue cheese!

See, I went to this soup and sandwich place called "Panera" - a pretty cozy place for lunch - wireless internet and all - but not much choice for vegetarians. I scanned the menu for vegetarian dishes - there was one!. Garden veggie sandwich - such an innocent sounding item. I quickly glanced through the ingredients - bread, veggies, some sauce, salt and Gorgonzola Cheese. I thought, hmm.. now what could that be, in the worst case. Its just cheese. Oh, how wrong I was.

One bite, that's all it took. One bite, for me to dump it and make a mental note to tell my future kids (and grandkids) to keep off of it. Man, did it stink!

You see, Gorgonzola Cheese is also called as blue cheese, which is supposed to be a delicacy in Europe (particularly in France). Now why is it called blue?. Because of the mold and spores that grow on the cheese. THEY ACTUALLY ALLOW THE CHEESE TO ROT!!.

Here is a detailed explanation, and here are the directions to prepare it.

I respect other cultures and cuisines (veg and non-veg), but why would someone eat something which is positively rotten?

Thursday, June 09, 2005


I am not gifted, so I compensate.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Is it an anomaly in Tamil?

When transliterating in tamil, why do people replace the 'L' by 'zh'?

Note: Bear with me, I still have not figured out how to blog in Tamil.

For example, supply is written as suppzhai, clinton as czhinton.

I remember one of my tamil grammar teachers explaining the reason, which I either forgot, or did not convince me. I mean, tamil has la, zha, and Zha. So, what is the problem in writing clinton (english) as clinton (tamil) itself?

I sent a question to some tamil magazine where I used the above convention, and the editor promply changed my question to the older format!

This has been puzzling me for quite some time now. Any one can see through it?

Updated at 8:20 PM: Thanks for the unicode link, thennavan. While I am fiddling with it, have a look at this image.

clinton or czhinton? Posted by Hello courtesy: Kumudam.

Monday, June 06, 2005

No more TNPCEE

Well, well.

+2 students in TN need not worry about TNPCEE anymore. According to this (and this) article, admissions would be only on the basis of +2 results and of course, reservations (you thought that would be removed?).

Here is how I see it:

1. If you are able to memorize the entire text book, and you are from a "reasonable" caste, you get into a nice, warm and cozy college.
2. If you belong to the heaven-forbid, won't-memorize-shall-understand types, you are screwed. Make that double screwed if you belong to OC.

In general, students score humungously in +2, 50/50 in biological and Physical sciences, but struggle only in in Mathematics entrance tests - since some of the questions are not examples in the textbook. Even so, I was under the impression that TNPCEE actually separates the cream from the foam. Sadly, this is not to be from now on.

I am sure this was brought about since there are more engineering seats than the applicants. Extreme pressure by the self-financing colleges on the government, the usual drill.

So, mug away, students. Great going!.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Tabloids in Indian Media

We must have seen numerous posts bashing T(sl)imes of India, and how bad and cheap the quality is. Well, add one more to it.

I had some time in hand, so decided to see perform a small experiment on how bad is TOI really. I took the HTML source code of the headlines section in and wrote a small script to detect words that make TOI so famous. Even if one of the words match, I account that headline. For comparison sake, I did the same on 4 other papers - Sify news, Hindustan Express, Hindu and Indian Express.

The result was not unexpected. Samachar gives the top 5 headlines of each of these papers. TOI wins hands down - average cheapo headlines is 2.48 per day. Hindu seems like the most conservative of all.

toi Posted by Hello

Seems like Tuesday is a "holy" day for TOI!. Cheapo headline count = 0.

Note: Samachar holds only 7 days of archived news. Maybe more rules like these can be mined if I set a robot. Finally, my DM training is being put to use.

Just for fun!!
Have a nice weekend.

I was the Adam Gilchrist of the 60s

This was told by Farokh Engineer (Indian cricketer of yesteryears). Don't you feel strange reading it?. Its been more than 50 years since our independence, and we still have that complex. Consider this - Samudragupta of the "Golden age of Gupta empire" was considered to be "The Napoleon of India". Excuse me?. Chronologically speaking, who was first? Coimbatore being the "Manchester of India". And what is that sense of warmth and glow which we feel after comparing?.


Where is our individuality?


If you are a Mathematics or CS person, you probably would have heard about The Erdös Number Project. Now, there are (were) few guys like Erdos (pronounced: AIR-dosh). The guy had more than 700 papers written, had no permanent home or job, and most of all: he was not a theorist, he solved problems, and not just solve them, but elegantly solve them. Combinatronics, Graph theory and Number theory were his favorite areas.

The Erdos number project would seem a little presumptous to the casual reader, but mathematicians and computer scientists are proud to have some kind of association with the great man himself. This is how the Erdos number project works:

1. You cannot have an Erdos number of 0, since it belongs to Erdos himself!.
2. If you published with Erdos, then your number is 1. There are more than 500 people who did that!
3. If you are a co-author of any of the persons with Erdos 1, then you have Erdos 2 (around 7000 people have it), and so on.

A professor in my Grad school has an Erdos number of 3. Unfortunately, his area is Distributed OS, of which I have no clue. So my Erdos number is infinity. :-(. Added later: Through the wonders of network theory, I found that my Erdos number is a modest 6 (or lesser). yahoo!!

This page dares us CS and Math guys (who have published) to compute our Erdos Number. If anyone is successful in finding out, share it with us.

Another fun link about the project is here.

A digressing thought: Why can't geniuses be normal?, and no smart-aleck comments saying "Hey, I am normal, and a genius"!.