Archive for January, 2008

A young star is speeding away from the Milky Way so fast that astronomers have been puzzled by where it came from; based on its young age it has traveled too far to have come from our galaxy.” – The story startled me. A runaway star from one of our neighboring galaxies – the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) – crossing the intergallactic void, and now crossing our own galaxy at unimaginable speed as I type this post – really not a news that we can expect on daily newspapers! The very concept took me back to the days of childhood imaginations – of reading Flash Gordon comic strips and of watching the famous 1980’s movie. Ming the Merciless used superior alien technology to free their planet from their star-system’s gravitational pull, and transforming it into a spaceship, he came with his people and planet into our Solar System – to conquer Earth. A nice way to get around the problem of creating galaxy-class spaceships – the species becomes spacefaring because their planet is a spaceship! As long as one can make the planet’s lifeforms survive through their travel across interstellar void, a nice idea indeed!

But lo! 28 years down the line, we get to know from Mother Nature herself that truth is stranger than fiction. Are you facing the problem of sustaining the atmosphere of the orphan planet? Why don’t you take the star along with the planet as you start off? Doesn’t it make you wonder – can a civilization – our civilization – be so powerful one day that we could move stars? Not a movement of a mile, but make the star shoot across galaxies at will? Can we make our home star-system our very own spaceship?

The Sun-god (Suryadev) from Hindu mythologyDoes it sound familiar at all? For those who knows their Hindu mythology – look at this image of the Sun-god Suryadev. According to Hindu scriptures, he rides his chariot drawn by seven horses across the sky. That was the explanation of day and night assuming a geocentric model for the Universe. But we’ve come a long way since then – we now know more about the structure of our Solar System, we know there are no horses and no whip behind the horses that take the Sun across the sky – rather we on this poor planet spin like a top and enjoy a nice merry-go-round around the Sun every year.

But wait – remember, that the Hindu mythology is all about metaphors. And where else to use this apart from in Science Fictions? Imagine a civilization who has complete control of the movements of their star-system. When they wish to travel across space, they don’t travel using spaceships – they take their star-system with them! Just like this picture above. And as for the whip – have you heard of cosmic strings? 😉 Boy, that would be a story!

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WDYCWOPT-Page1A small note of correction – the reference from Richard Feynman‘s quote mentioned in the previous post Nature’s Beauty and Mind’s Perception was actually from his second biography book “What do you care what other people think?“, and not from the first one “Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman“. A portion from the first page of the book in question is shown here, which also covers the section I was talking about.

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Just happened to come across this new piece of research in Digg.com. And memory raced back to the days of reading “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman“. I still remember buying that book cheaper from one of the ill-fated bookstalls in the 1997 Kolkata Book Fair. It was sold cheap the day after the fire because of a little black spot in one corner of the back cover. And for me and a friend of mine, in those days when buying English paperbacks in Kolkata was a luxury still and we were students with little money and many choices, it was a boon. We heard about the book for sometimes, but couldn’t manage to find it in college libraries. And not having the cult-book for Feynman-fans was a shame. We engulfed the content within a few days (yes, we were slow readers!) and shrugged the shame off. And the mark of that one book is still visible, but ain’t that obvious, for all that its worth, we’re talking about Mr. Feynman!

He always talked about the beauty of nature and the pleasure of finding things out. His books and his articles (which were later compiled as some of the best-seller paperbacks) have demonstrated his way of thinking and analysis (with some leaps sometimes, which you’ll have to keep for genius physicists like him) quite a number of times. I still recall reading about how his father taught him about nature, the basics of physics, the way to analyse things and look beyond the obvious, and intrigued him to such extent that, before he was even a teenager, his fate was hopelessly sealed with science. And boy, wasn’t that a blessing for the rest of the world! The concept that immediately made me relate Feynman’s old memoirs with this digg reading was his statement about how a poet saw a flower – for its beauty alone, and how as a physicist he saw a flower – for appreciation not only for the beauty, but also for the beauties of the photo-chemical reactions and of the structures of complex molecules inside the flower which constructed the said “visible” beauty.

One can wonder why did it have to be beautiful? A complex molecule reacting with the light – refracting it, reflecting it, absorbing some parts of the spectral frequencies, and bouncing some parts off – why did it have to be such that was liked by human eyes? Strangely, now that I have typed the sentence above, the parts of the spectral frequencies reflected off by the flower happened to be the part that will be absorbed by our eyes and would be considered as nice color! How wonderful is the design of Nature! A set of mathematical models simulated by a computer resembles the way Nature constructs the snowflakes – again the beauty of physical, chemical, mathematical rules and ways unfold in front of our eyes as “beautiful” structures. Why do we love it? Why do we not hate it? Why do we love symmetry and parity? Why does an electrical signal running along our nerve-fibres create a sense of “beauty”, for that matter, when observing things with certain color, certain shape, and in context with certain other things (For example, if we see a ground of dark blue plants with black flowers – will we like it? On the other hand, if the plants were completely yellow, and flowers black – probably that would be more acceptable?), while creating a sense of “repulsion” for certain other combinations of the same?

Too many why’s – too less answers. I know some research has taken place / is taking place along these lines. Perhaps fields like A.I. and the Physics of Mind have to get married to get the world the final answers to these – perhaps the day will come when we will not only simulate the snowflake, but also an artificially intelligent response to the simulated design like: “You call it a snowflake? Seriously?”

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We spent about five hours of our life yesterday appreciating talents from the good old Bollywood. It started with the long pending task of watching Nagesh Kukunoor‘s Dor [IMDB link], and finished with the new flick from Rajkumar Santoshi, Halla Bol [IMDB link]. A nice blend for a lazy sunday – lacking proper exercise, one of those helps you exericising facial muscles through the techniques of laugh, and the other one makes your adrenaline rush.

Dor - Nagesh KukunoorLet’s start with Dor. One of those directions where the director doesn’t think the audience is stupid, so that he has to explain each event from 10 different camera angles and 20 flashbacks and 30 monologues. The story unfolds slowly in the beginning, and when it catches on, it’s really interesting. The plot is not very complex – a single storyline with a single goal. A story of two families, drastically distinct, coming together for a purpose dear to one and repulsive to the other. And then slowly we see a second thread emerging – a story of a poor young widow whose life is crushed between the demands of a male-controlled society and of a father-in-law who only cares about his long-lost family-pride – a story of her getting-into-terms-with-the-world, of rediscovering her own self and esteem. The two threads merge perfectly, and the goal is met. The finishing was bit impractical, but wonderful nevertheless. Nagesh gets his guest appearance and has his whiskey with Girish Karnad. Gul Panag gives an admirable performance and carries the movie almost alone. But one cannot ignore the performance from Ayesha Takia, who does dare to do this off-the-beaten-track film and proves her capacity as an actor convincingly well. Shreyas is a charm, as usual – especially the dance sequence on the sands can hold its position within top 25 YouTube videos for a month or so I guess! The overall impact of the story and movie is such that it may not move you disturbingly, even when the social issues are quite grave, but like Nagesh’s other films, it lingers on your mind for long and makes you think. Soothing for the eye, filling for the mind – Dor is a must watch for those like us who didn’t manage to watch it earlier.

Halla Bol - Rajkumar SantoshiAnd that was the afternoon, which slowly faded away into the evening getting its way through some samosas and chicken dippers. And since there was nothing interesting on tele, Halla Bol seemed to be the choice for the night. We weren’t aware of the storyline – that’s often the case. So discovering every element of a movie always seems more enjoyable. And luckily this time we were not disappointed. Even if it’s a so-called “commercial” Bollywood movie (I guess), but there was a distinct storyline for a change! The theme was many-a-times-reused one of political corruptness and police’s indifference towards the suffering of the masses. Probably nothing new. But one can still like the movie because of some uniqueness of subplots and convincing acting. Ajay Devgan was somewhat perfectly fit for the role he played – because he looks exactly like the same in real life. Both in Shikhar and in here, I like his performance – his appearance suits the role to the tee. But everything fades in front of Pankaj Kapoor. I am a fan of his perhaps since the Karamchand days – and he never fails to convince the viewers in any character portrayal. Be it a famous pundit in Dharm, or be it the lonely-and-a-child-at-heart-shopkeeper in The Blue Umbrella (Chhatri Chor) or be it a dacoit-became-actor in Halla Bol – if he is cast for the role, consider it done. Overall the movie tackles a serious socio-political issue of corruption within police, government and business domains, and does a good enough job of it. The end is extremely ideal – I wonder how many such cases our country has seen in reality when the court reopens a case on its own to do justice. But we have to remember this is a movie, not a typical hindi-tele-soap where the evil continues to win and still audience continues to watch it with a hope that one day the good will be victorius. So here the good has to win, however marginally, at the end, for the dropscene. And not only the court, but the public also – do they really “wake up”? Ever? And when they do, what exactly happens – things like Nandigram, West Bengal or things like what happened just yesterday itself? [Refer to the newclips: The Telegraph (Kolkata) and Anandabazar Patrika (Bengali Newspaper)] If this is the reality what we read in the newspapers, what do we hope to accomplish by making movies like these? It is supposed to carry some social message to the mass – like did Rang De Basanti and many such movies from time immemorial, but our people have seen too many instances of even stonger evils around the very place they live to even think about reacting to injustice. Statements like “the mass cannot be stopped once it wakes up” advertised in the movies have been violently disproved. And that’s the country we live in – that’s the country we long to go back to while staying far. Paradox? No, love and hope. Silly things – they die hard.

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bpdeystreethome They say that the images that we see on Google Earth / Google Maps “Satellite” mode are anything between 1 to 3 years old, and for some places on Earth, even older. Even though Google constantly strives to get latest updated high-resolution images for everyplace on the planet, factors like cost and availability sometimes pose as constraints to achieve the goal. But we have little complaints. What we are getting is more than what we had hoped few years back. We get to see the planet – streets, building, rivers, lakes, mountains, deserts, oceans and continents – from the luxury of our desk or lap! We get to see the real thing. We get to fly around and zoom in and out – virtually everything a bird may desire (and even more – not all birds can fly at an altitude of 10 km!), except for attending nature’s call while flying above someone’s head on real time. And since arrival of Wikimapia, we get to even put names to places we know – so that the world can see which is “my home” and where was “my kindergarten school”!

I was just flying over my home today – for the umpteenth time. It takes me in closer proximity to my childhood place vertically, than I am horizontally right now. Since the day Google enhanced their stock images for Indian suburbs and given us higher resolutions for seeing streets, buildings, ponds and railtracks, it was a charm to see one’s own house in obscure towns in obscure districts of semi-urban and rural India. Since the image is always a couple of years old, it feels like taking a flight in a time machine – you can still see the ponds that were filled up and old heritage houses that were bulldozed to construct flats, owing to the recent promoter-culture, perhaps uniquely infamous in semi-urban India. It’s still too high up to actually see images of people, bicycles or rickshaws – but one would like to hope that perhaps that day is not far when on a certain frame – till it would get refreshed with newer images – one would be able to see a friend or a relative frozen as they were crossing the street. An image from a year back, taken from hundreds of kilometers above, not caring about privacy 😉 and openly out in the internet for the world to get a glimpse on – that would be the day (someone please zoom in on Paris Hilton’s house!). Is the Google-bot reading this? Tell Sergey please.

Love, G

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