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From Jumbo to Micro and onwards

June 4, 2014

It was Valentine’s Day. It was just one year after the war had ended. People were still recovering from the horrors they were exposed to. This war had given them a raw taste of disease and death. Every family had either lost a hero or gained a veteran. The environment had changed rapidly. What used to be calm and peaceful had come to be replaced by the fear filled stress of agony and death. The agitated minds of the people were slowly simmering down. The war was itself not just an accumulation of all things evil…

Somewhere in Maryland, on the very same day of 1946, the “Giant Brain” was being celebrated by the US Army and the Pentagon alike. The University of Pennsylvania’s very own Electrical Engineering Professors, J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, now offered the world the “Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer”, ENIAC. This was the beginning of a new era in the Man’s life on Earth. Occupying the floor space of that of a large room, the ENIAC was built to solve “a large class of numerical problems”. With 17,468 vacuum tubes, 7,200 crystal diodes, 1,500 relays, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors and around 5 million hand-soldered joints, it weighed almost 30 tons and consumed 150 kW of power. A rumor that lights in Philadelphia dimming whenever the computer was switched on was in circulation. Yes, the computer era was born but it was a heavy baby in the flimsy cradle.

Considering the decade when the computer was born, computers were not known or heard of in the public as commonly as now. A regular man’s work during the last part of the first half of the twentieth century would have been fairly dependent on the radio and cars for entertainment. A typical holiday time lazing would be with friends at a local bar or at hunting game or the beach. But things were very slow then and people didn’t need computers for their everyday activities.

Fast forward 68 years into the future and now we have computers that we can carry on the move. A laptop which can magically transform into a tab on the press of a button (which triggers a decoupling mechanism) may have sounded similar to an alien technology from the future. Considering myself at this point of time, I can’t live without my computer and WiFi connection. Imagining myself with a handheld computer which can change the way I want to work on it gives me that big futuristic fantasy I’ve wanted ever since the day I understood that computers were not meant to be bulky giants on tables. I envision it to simply function as a gaming tablet or an ebook reader without the keyboard and an important executive office desk with the keyboard attached to it. With an incredibly long battery life, life may never be the same as I may keep working on the go without worrying about drained batteries! With an extremely slim body, I might as well have a small pocket tailored into the inner lining of my jacket so that others won’t notice it and I’ll have handy all the time. With a lightning fast processing speed, it may make the ENIAC look like a dragon fly competing against an elephant in a body weighing contest. With a beautifully crafted design, I’d be able to feel the smooth glossy surface with a good grip. It may sound really like a dream from the future. But engineers have never failed Moore’s law and the designers always keep improvising. I personally think it is time for us to get out and check the market for such products too…

Some such products have started showing up out there (for example, ASUS’s T100 (http://asusindia.co.in/T100/) – seems promisingly good). I hope many more products come out.

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The poorly pessimistic nature of the fourth kind…

June 3, 2014

I am an ardent fan of Albert Einstein. Yes, the theory of relativity gives me a thrill whenever I get to think about weighing stuff in relative terms. Though I love doing this consciously and rationally, what many people do with the same concept in a relatively uncouth albeit an unconscious manner would be assessing how “Rich” a person is.

Having had the excruciating experience of attending a lot of weddings in and out of my family, I have noticed how aunties and grannies pass incorrigible commentaries about the way their third cousin’s or distant uncle’s offspring married someone from a “Poor” background and how much it is derogatory to their family! In fact, my first cousin’s marriage was scorned upon by most of my family members while I remained a silent but strong supporter of her decision to marry her sweetheart from college. Familial ties with her have seemingly degraded down to a cotton thread of communication and her very own sibling refuses to talk to her! If all men had to be “Rich” to be given a bride, most of the men would end up having surnames such as Hilton, Trump or Gates! (Ofcourse, no offence meant to them as they are self-made monetarily wealthy individuals)

Maybe I am too naïve, but when people say “Rich” I fail to understand how this quantitative adjective applies only for the measurement of monetary accumulations. When I hear the word “Rich”, tonnes of different interpretations emerge in my mind.

Being a die-hard fan of Sir David Attenborough and his documentary narratives, “Rich” means to me the diversity of life on Earth. With more than 8.7 million species of organisms on Earth, the number seems staggering. The different dazzling hues in which these species come in; the curiously orchestered behaviours that they engage in; the engineering and design brilliance of Nature; and the surprisingly intricate means by which every species is interdependent on the other while Nature tirelessly regulates the available resources in a never ending circle of life are simply breath-taking.

When I imagine Dr. Richard Dawkins in my mind and hear the word “Rich”, it switches on my mind’s simulation tool and I see the many indistinguishable strands of DNA inside the cellular nucleus and stand in awe understanding that it is nearly next to impossible to completely understand the beauty of the genetic basis of life! The genome is “Rich” with so many sequences that how a life-form may take in its first breath; how it may grow its organs and regulate them; and how it may sense, perceive, process, respond to external stimuli and remember all of this at the same time. The genome may seem rather small, but it is “Rich” in both relevant (life giving and sustaining) and irrelevant (non-sense or as of now unknown) information.

When I hear Dr. V. S. Ramachandran’s low pitched voice with a curiously differently sounding American English accent explaining the marvels of the human brain, it makes me marvel at the way the human brain performs such logic defying feats of performance such that with even such a big and “Rich” brain that we have come to possess, it will take several more decades to even closely understand how our brain works! The brain is so rich in information sensing, processing, storage and retrieval that the human body as a machine would outperform all manmade automation designed and constructed till date by several hundred or even thousand folds. The brain is Nature’s piece of technological artistry so “Rich” in processing abilities that one may study the brain his whole life and yet remain in his educational infancy at his death bed!

When I read the works of Roald Amundsen or Henry David Thoreau, I understand how “Rich” a man can think and try to live his life equally colourfully despite all ordeals he has to face in life. When I glance at the notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, I am awestruck at how “Rich” one man can be in so many different things at the same time! When I watch an old episode of a sitcom such as Seinfeld or Friends, unbeknownst to myself, I sit wide-eyed and surprised at how “Rich” in comedy a show about a bunch of crazy people doing whacky things can be when all they do is be themselves as characters!

In a rather funny take, when I see a man with a head full of hair, I envy the way he is still “Rich” with active hair follicles and when I see a man with a balding scalp, I understand how “Rich” his face becomes with the added realty from the North.

When I see an infant, I see the “Rich” potential welling in his heart and life to make his dent in the universe. When I see a wrinkled, hunching and withering old man, I see his “Rich” repository of experience and wisdom that he has accumulated over the years.

In simple words, “Rich”-ness is only the abundance of the characteristic we wish to quantify. It may be money, wisdom, colour, experience or any apparently relatively quantifiable entity or perceived characteristic.

With all this optimistically different perspective, isn’t this piece of work a relatively poorly pessimistic in itself in explaining there are no other means of perceiving “Rich”-ness?…

Why Elvis cried…

March 11, 2014
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He woke up feeling totally tired. 6 hours of sleep were not sufficient. His legs were still aching from the previous day’s activity. There was no choice. He woke up from the bed to face his world. The man in the mirror was old and bald. His Crow’s feet were longer and wrinkles criss-crossed his face. His denture-less mouth over-closed and his lips were dry. A silvery stubble was growing from the previous night. Despite the man’s age, his eyes still sparkled with vitality. A toothless smile softened his entire face to look like a baby. The man took inspiration from his reflection. He was ready…ready to face life to the fullest just as he did every day since he was in his early twenties. Pablo never backed down from any fights, even if it meant losing the love and affection of his parents.

His suit was white, the same that Bill Belew had designed. Though the eagle on his back was the exact replica, he had never visited the USA. No matter that. He knew the right pitch and tempo to sing in. He had mastered the voice of his role model. Ever since he had seen him sing “Aloha from Hawaii” on the Telly in 1973, he had decided what he was going to do. He started singing in the same voice. He practised day and night. His studies had to face the darkness. He eventually dropped out of college despite his parents’ strong insistence in continuing their dream for him to become an Engineer.

“No. Yo quiero cantar. Quiero ser Elvis.” No. I want to sing. I want to be Elvis.

40 years had passed. He was still singing. The King changed. The country changed. Even Elvis had left the building once and for all. But Elvis’ voice was still echoing in Barcelona Metro. His voice welcomed the dazed tourists of the city. His voice welcomed the busy people who hurried to finish their own errands. His voice brought back good old memories of that age to the veterans who grew up listening to him. Standing in the high heeled shoes for more than 5 hours a day for the past 10 years had taken a heavy toll on his body. A distinct hunch made his head move forward while Elvis grasped the mike to sing “Life”

Somewhere out in empty space

Long before the human race something stirred

A vast and timeless source began intelligence was born

And then there was the world

People were too busy to notice him singing his heart out. He had made only 2,20 €. Maybe he had to starve tonight as well. No, he will not stop. He will sing on. He is Elvis.

While he was nearing the twilight of “Life” for the day, his stomach was singing for sustaining his Life. That was when a Mexican lad in his early twenties stopped right in front of him. He hated his mother’s Tortas. He hated the taste. He liked to have a McBurger. But not a Torta! Just when he was going to throw it away into the trash did he find the old hunchbacked man. He was wearing a black wig and singing in a low pitched voice more in gibberish than in English. He gave the Mexican sandwich to Pablo. At least this man could eat it instead.

He sang the last stanza such that everyone in Barcelona Metro could hear that night:

“Well He showed the world that dreadful day

That love could be the only way

Or all is lost of life  everlasting life

For life is love and love is life”

One man’s trash is another’s treasure. One man’s disliked lunch, is another’s best supper of the day.

Today Pablo will sleep without hunger.

Elvis cried.

Harry, Christena, Barcelona…

March 10, 2014

WARNING: Suggested only for mature readers. May contain explicit imagery!!!

 

“Do you want to use one that I brought from India?” I asked my roommate.

“Ok…That’d be nice. Hope it will fit. Thank you” he answered.

We were going to the most famous institution of this “genre” at Barcelona. We were very excited. Ever since we had come to Barcelona, we had seldom tried to look for such retreats in this part of the world. Despite the abundance of those whose structure is marvelled and held close to the Spanish (Tourism Department’s) heart, we never liked the prospect of visiting even a single one. No, we were both adults very open to experiments of the real world. We hadn’t even taken a peek into this busy sector of the city….nope not even a peek.

We dressed for the occasion and left on the Metro, to be invited by surprised looks from Europeans. Of course, Indians and our good neighbours from Pakistan didn’t even give us a fleeting glance. La Rambla (Spanish for The Street) is a busy street which has a never ending stream of tourists and locals. Asians, Caucasians and Africans of any gender and age walked here freely, step in step, shoulder to shoulder, under the cloudy sky with pride and awe at the wonderful Rambla. It is not uncommon to see Pakistanis owning shops and cafes in Barcelona here welcoming Europeans in Spanish and those from the Indian subcontinent in Hindi like Urdu. Feeling a bit shy to ask Pakis the way to our destination, we were in search of the institution which rents a whole floor of a big building, with just a web-screenshot of the map on the phone.

We had reached the building when our junior from college came to greet us and take us inside to experience the ecstacy. The cold air from outside had forced me to find a place to take a leak. The small enclosure reminded me of those in India, only cleaner. It looked like a budget loo and poo space. Well, a minimalce that!

My roommate was missing. He was inside already. I didn’t want to miss anything that could give a person a high. A mild thumping and muffled sounds behind the main door told me there were more than 10 people jumping up and down and enjoying what they were doing. A lady came out unable to take all the action probably. She was too sweaty and had come out to have a breath of fresh air. Well, when the door opened, it was a warm room. A dance was in progress! Not the Raas Leela, but the high energy dancing and singing following the baritone of a white man in clad in dhothi and kurta with a traditional tuft of hair on his otherwise bald scalp. We were with the Harry Christenas…

Though we wanted to have free food and skip some cooking at home, we managed to have more than just that. We joined the jolly good show! We sang loudly despite the fact that we comprehended not a word what the Spaniard was singing in Spanish accented Hindi. We had the best food we had tasted outside in Barcelona! It is indeed mind boggling how just some singing and jumping can make the simplest food tastier than ever. We “Harry Bole”-d and bid adieu to return to our home in high spirits.

Yes, Religion connects us humans (better than any online social networks) across the world despite the distance from our homelands.

Here’s to ISKCON….in Barcelona!

Cheers!

Hari Bol!

If the British had been denied entry…

February 26, 2014

Thomas Best was waiting for Abdullah. He was worried. He was unsure about how he could carry on the task that His Majesty had bestowed upon him. Considering the fact that the kingdom was probably spending too much in the current venture, the King, His Majesty James I, had put a lot of thought into his decision and extended the Company’s charter in 1609. It was clear that the whole venture would be cancelled if there was no profit within three years. Chief Commander Best had travelled on the seas this far for more than 8 months on the tenth voyage of the company to find prospects in trade outside Europe.

Just about 4 weeks ago, these people had arrested the purser of his ship as well as well as Mr. Chambers. That is when Captain Best seized a whole ship of the Mughals and demanded his men be released. This is why he had come to strike a deal with the Governor of Gujarat, Abdullah Khan.  …..

The story could go on interestingly. But to cut to the chase, Abdullah Khan was then raiding a nearby fort and struck a deal with Best. Amongst the negotiations, the East India Company was allowed to trade in the Kingdom of the then Mughal Emperor, Nur-ud-din Mohammad Salim also known to us as “Jahangir”, with a few restrictions of course. Best had presented Abdullah Khan and his son with so many gifts as well (Under the table deals were not so uncommon in the past either!). Unexpectedly, Best had to fight a battle against the Portuguese at Suvali (anglicised to Swally) on the shores of Gujarat, not far away from Surat. (Suvali is coincidentally being pursued actively by archaeologists but it is currently elusive) [5] After winning the battle, Best goes on to Diu and then to Surat.

While all this happened, elsewhere in the capital of the Mughal Empire, being infatuated with Mehr-un-Nisa, i.e. Noor Jahan, Jahangir plays to her whims and fancies. Noor Jahan was practically the “Power behind the Throne” from 1611.

When the British King, James I, finds the possible opportunity to establish markets in India, he sent Sir Thomas Roe, in 1614, to Jahangir’s court to arrange a commercial treaty for securing sites in India for the East India Company. Jahangir accepted and wrote a long diplomatic letter to King James I accepting the treaty. [6] What happened after this is obvious.

If I were to be someone in the past and change the course of history, it would have definitely been Noor Jahan. I would have definitely rejected the possible chance of having trade relations with them when Thomas Roe would have approached. Despite the pros and cons of British rule even 66 years post-independence, there would have been a huge difference in the way India would have been.

Indian would probably still be under the Mughal rule. Monarchies would have persisted regardless of centuries of downfall due to selfishness and treachery. The Indian sub-continent would have been similar to a geographical entity such as the UAE. The ominous threat of battles or cold wars would persist openly. Eventual chaos could ensue and internal strife might emerge. There would be more distinct economic separations, a proof of principle of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. There would be haraams and many fatwas.

It is not just the problems that could be, but also the advantages that could be… The crime rate would be very low considering the extremely cruel punishments for petty issues.  [8] Art would have flourished. Religious acceptance would have been even more prominent.

But these positive impacts would soon fail if Aurangazeb were to occupy the throne as it happened in History. Anything more or anything less similar to what we observe now is due to every single act of our predecessors. Nothing as of now can be predicted accurately as much of the data about our past is lost.

References:

[1] Kerr, Robert, ed. A general history and collection of voyages and travels. Vol. IX.

[2] Best, Thomas. The Voyage of Thomas Best to the East Indies, 1612-1614. Asian educational services, 1995.

[3] Agrawal, Ashvini. Studies in Mughal history. Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1983.

[4] Allan, John, Wolseley Haig, and Henry Dodwell. The Cambridge shorter history of India. S. Chand, 1964.

[5] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/Hunt-on-to-locate-port-of-British-entry/articleshow/42701870.cms?referral=PM

[6] http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/india/1617englandindies.asp

[7] http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00generallinks/kerr/vol08chap10sect17.html

[8] http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00islamlinks/ikram/part2_16.html

Knowledge is Great

January 17, 2014

If I could study/specialize in any subject of my choice in the UK, what would it be, where and why?

If given a chance, my choice would be Nanotechnology as a specialisation at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England. My specific area of interest is the fabrication and use of Nanofluidic devices for nanosensors in Healthcare applications.

The City

Before I begin to write about the University, let us look at why the city of Cambridge is by itself famous. Cambridge is a really ancient place considering the fact that the remains of human existence from a time around 1500 BC were found in this region. The city also has witnessed the Romans, Anglo-saxons, and the Vikings even.  Cambridge was also an important place during the English Civil War and the Second World War. In modern times, 2 Universities dominate the fame of this city. Silicon Fen or the Cambridge Cluster is a region around Cambridge, home to a large cluster of high-tech businesses focusing on software, electronics and biotechnology, has more than 3000 start-up companies, with many directly linked to the University of Cambridge. Cambridge is home to many religious buildings as well as museums. It is in fact a tourist paradise, never ceasing to fascinate a curious onlooker.

The University

Founded in 1209, the University is the second-oldest university in English-speaking areas. It is also the world’s third-oldest surviving university. It grew out of an association of scholars that was formed in 1209 by scholars leaving Oxford after a dispute with townsfolk. The University has a rich history.

Many of the contributions of significance in History were from the Universiy alumni. For example,  Sir Isaac Newton contribution on the laws of motion, Henry Cavendish’s Discovery of hydrogen, Lord Kelvin’s contributions to thermodynamics, James Clerk Maxwell’s Formulation of the laws of electromagnetism, etc. The University boasts of around 90 affiliates who are Nobel Laureates.

The Department

With a Major in Nanotechnology, this University would be my obvious choice if I were to apply for my Graduate research. The Nanotechnology department, called the Nanoscience Centre, is very famous. It’s level of Research is obvious from the type of research publications in the year 2013 alone. For instance, Microfluidic device for yeast cells imaging; Superhydrophobic carbon nanotube electrode AC production from photosynthetic protein-based photoelectrochemical cells; Crystal structure influence on solid-state dye-sensitized solar cells; etc…

The Research Groups

Various Research groups in Nanoscience are working in various regions such as Nanophotonics, Polymers and colloids, optoelectronics, Semiconductor physics, Theoretical Condensed Matter, Protein Engineering, etc… This ensures the possibility of a very coordinated interdisciplinary interaction and research.

The Facilities

The Nanoscience Centre has many facilities for Nanofabrication. A class 10000 clean room of 663m2 is also available for basic photolithography, wet processing, dry processing inclusive of Thin Film deposition by PVD, ALD and Thermal Evaporation. Characterisation facilities such as SEM, TEM, AFM/SPM, FIB, Probe station and Zetasizer are also available in vibration free zones within the lab.

Final Sum-up

Considering the availability of a supportive environment, research attitude extending up to 400 years, active research activities, multidisciplinary research groups and high quality state-of-the-art Nanofabrication lab facilities, this Institute promises to be my dream institute for specialisation if I were provided an opportunity to do so in the UK.

** For more information on opportunities in the UK, please visit http://knowledgeisgreat.in/ **

Apple Pecan

October 20, 2013

Although it is often misquoted that X created this famous way of information rendering, X merely popularised its usage. The usage of this method started around 1801. X used this way to explain the causes of mortality in the armies in the east with respect to their region around 1854. Who is X and what did X popularise ?

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