Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Thoughts of Einstein

This is my fourth speech at toastmasters. I could not post it before because it was a complete sponti speech. No preparation whatsoever.

"God does not play dice", said Einstein and it is obviously the most famous thing he ever said. Ironically, it is one of the few things he said which are proved wrong.

Fellow toastmasters, I believe in the power of simple words and today, I am going to tell you his other thoughts which were his best. In a more flowery physicist language they are called "The Theory of Relativity". The thoughts are so complex that in Einstein's own time only 14 people on earth actually understood the whole thought. But using simple words, I hope to put them across.

To start with Einstein had two firm foundations to start with: two firm feet of belief to stand on. First one, the left foot was simple. He proposed that if Physics is a good science then if its rules are true for this chair , they should also be true for that chair. If they are true in this room they should be true for the room below this. If they are true on this planet, they should be true on any other planet.

The second, the right foot is a little tricky one. He reasoned that everything that moves has speed. So even light should have finite speed. So, because of this limit, light from the sun takes some time to reach earth. 8 and a half minutes. Light from some of the stars take years. That means that the light from the stars that we see today only proves that such and such star existed a thousand years ago. So there is no thing as the real time. There is no need to keep THE clock which shows the real time. HE said that everyone has to buy his own watch and keep his own time. I know that is expensive , but that is how it is.

Now the things start to get real confusing. Because now Einstein said , that if we are carrying a different watch then probably even the speeds of each of our watches is different. A second in my watch may be longer than the one in yours.

Manoj, always tells me that I don't use the stage much and stand at one place. So Suppose, that exactly at 1 o'clock, in both my and your watch, I start running here and there on this stage , to use it completely. And very fast for that matter. Then when I have been running for a long time and Manoj has pity on me and exactly at 2 O 'clock in his watch he asks me to stop.
Then what will you see. Of course, apart from me being all Sweaty, Smelly and Silly. If I show you my watch, and this being a glorified example, it will magically show only half past 1. This has nothing to do with "If you sit with a beautiful girl on a bus, one hour seems like a minute and if you sit on a stove, it seems like eternity" That is just relativity for dummies. Not for us. This experience in the flowery physics language is called "Time Dilation".

One other interesting thing that you will see and which is also beneficial to me. I will actually grow thin. This physicists scaringly call "Length contraction".

All this happens for real , why don't we see it? Because we need to see beyond our normal narrow vision to see them. Scientists and saints observe them in stars. They observe them in atoms.

So, students, if you already have had enough for today, lets disperse and meet in the next class.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A story of Prof. Shiv Dutta Joshi

Prof. S.D.Joshi would not appear to you as the stereotypical professor of IIT Delhi shown in "3 idiots" (Bala Sir may..but then that is a different post altogether). He won't appear to you as any stereotypical teacher, if you meet him outside. He is simple, sober, smiling and intelligent. He appeared exactly that way when he came to our hostel for the STIC-D(Students Teachers Interaction Council Dinner) last year. Till that day we all regarded him as a chill prof, who knows his subject through and through and who is modest enough not to intimidate others by his knowledge.Now the respect has increased manifolds.

That day he told us one of the most amazing first person account you can ever here. Its genuineness and the genius was evident just like that.

I will try to tell it in first person, almost verbatim, though it is difficult because it happened one year back

I started working on my PhD thesis in IIT, I was lucky to be able to work in a field I liked. But all my work was to solve a particular problem (whose details Sir mentioned, but I cannot remember).

I still remember I used to go to my mentor's room. He would not be there most of the time. And then daily, in the morning, all I did was took few blank pages, sit on a chair there, write the same question on the top of the first page and then for the whole day just keep looking at it. Doing nothing else except doing some rough scribble here and there. At the end of the day, I would just leave the room, feeling nothing, but the question still in my mind.

I continued this routine for almost 4 to 5 months and now I was supposed to show some results as the semester was going to end. There were no means to gauge my progress because the solution was unknown. I did not know, and neither did anyone else, how close to or how far from the solution I was. So I could not say that I have completed x percent of my thesis work.

Then one day, while I was diligently repeating my routine of staring at the question, something just struck me. I knew I had found the solution. I was very happy but I did not write even a word on the paper that day, not even a scribble. I left my mentor's room, called my friends and went for a movie. I have never felt so happy.I was happy because there was something in my brain that no one in the world ever knew.

I enjoyed life for the next fortnight. I had not written even a word of the solution. Finally because of the pressing deadlines, I sat down to work and writing the solution was as easy as I thought.

Even today I love research because I get to feel that exhilaration of doing something original. Those moments are few but then you just love them.
Amazing man! Amazingly simple and modest.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The image edit that was just awesome

While we were tired and descending the gigantic mountains of Garhwal, near Uttarkashi, Amrit made me stop at this place and told me to pose. I saw a dry tree trunk coming out of the edge onthe path and chose to pose using it. It was a better than average photo (escpecially because MM being in it too and not posing or anything, made it look like just-another-photo).

Then one day when I was editing the photos, I used almost all the options available in Picasa on this particular photo. That included removing MM from the pic, adding colour to black and white gradient and some basic fixes. And just like that this amazing picture was born.

I did think of a little aesthetics here and there, but now when I look at the picture there are a thousand interpretations (poetic,aesthetic, general) that I think of which I did not think about while making it. So I don't believe it was made by me, it was made through me (like in Gita) is more apt.

I just can't have enough of this photo :)

Reintroduction

This is the 5th speech at toastmasters that i am planning to give. Content is completely inspired from Devdutt Patnaik's blog post . The way of telling is mine :)

Though the name suggests Reintroduction, no I am not going to give my Ice breaker again. I am not going to reintroduce myself. But I am going to reintroduce four gentlemen who came to be, hundreds of years ago, and have been living with us ever since. We have stopped recognizing them lately, and even if we remember them, we get all confused with which one is which.

Fellow toastmasters, allow me to call between us these fine gentlemen, aptly named Raja Bhoj, Gangu Teli, Gobarganesh and Shekhchilli . I know for most of us the last three are synonymous with morons. But it was not so when they were born in the folktales of India.

So without further ado, let me reintroduce to you Mr. Shekhchilli. He is a man with dreams and desires. He has the capacity to look into options no one even ventures into. Let me share with you an anecdote from his life. Once his master was happy with him and gave him a pot of milk. As soon as he had the pot, he started thinking how he could make butter from this milk and sell it to buy "more milk then more butter then more milk then more butter than a cow then more milk then more cows ..." and sadly for him the pot in his hand fell.

Seeing this the person who laughs most is Mr. Gangu Teli. He is a realist. He does not believe in dreams. He believes in present , he believes in getting things done. In that he believes in stick, not the carrot. By profession he is a teli (or an oil presser). In his profession he is always on a lookout for efficiency and effectiveness. Because he is a doer, he thinks he moves the world and suffers from overconfidence .

Mr. Gobar Ganesh is the timid and shy person at the back. He looks at everyone and thinks that the other one is too smart and starts imitating him. He has no opinion of his own and believes in the opinion of the one who talked to him last. So he shows signs of dreamers and doers at some point or the other, but does that involuntarily .

Raja Bhoj is the ideal leader. He knows when to be a doer and when to think ahead. He has his own opinion on things. He always aims at achieving balance between the extremes of Shekhchilli and Gangu teli.

Now these four gentlemen are present in every organisation that is successful. From hundreds of years of experience they tell us that to run a group successfully, you need everyone on the team. Even if one is missing and other three work their best, the organisation is bound to collapse.

When shekchilli was out , we saw lack of vision and the recent recession. When Raja Bhoj was out , shekhchillis and gangu teli's fought and bought many sport teams to dust. Many entreprises have not even seen the light of day because though they have good ideas and leadership  but no Gangu Telis or Gobar Ganesh's to make them happen.

All they have come here to say to us today is "None of us is more important than the others. We all are needed and stop calling us morons"

Sunday, January 17, 2010

On achieving

The first response to "What is westernisation?" in India is invariably burgers and jeans.But like always these first responses are only the apparent, observable effects and not the cause. Primarily I think there are two causes that make us do stuff like drink cola, eat chewing gum, wear revealing or skin tight dresses, be indifferent to far relatives; sometimes farness reaching as close as parents, etc. (Note I have not put speaking English in there)

The first cause is fairly visible and obvious. I think it is a lack of confidence in our own culture and better selling by the west. As Shashi Tharoor said in his TED Talk "each nation has a good story, what matters is who tells a better story". We are too impressed to see the greener grass on the other side to actually feel the warmth and the softness beneath.

The second cause which I am really worried about is which i think is also a cause fueling the above mentioned lack of confidence. It is a new mentality among the human beings all around the world to be heroes in their lifetimes.This is a fairly hidden cause because it was not present during the times when westernisation began in our culture, so it is easy to miss. This change in mentality is affecting the western world as much as it is affecting our way of life, only that it is affecting them a little early.We being master imitators, it spreads to us almost as a free gift.

Let me elaborate on what I mean to say. Compare the stories of say Ramayana told during king's times,with the stories of Rama told by Ramananda Sagar, to the animated 2-3 houred Ramayana. Leaving aside the time of the reel there are many other things that are different. The change which most relevant to this discussion, is that during the olden times the story of Ramayana acted as spices in the main food. The food being the substance, the moral, the lessons on politics, the spiritual understanding. Just to add taste and make them easier to remember, the stories were framed.

Gradually, while they reached the times of Ramananda Sagar, they started to be perceived as stories of God. We no longer bothered as much about the hidden meanings, first of all because they were hidden and did not take the screen time. What took the screen time were special effects on the stunts that god performed, though what was common to the past era still was that we did not associate us with god. Ram was still some ideal man who was very very different from us.

Today when we see the animated Ramayan, for the kids of this generation, it is not very different from say spiderman or pokemon adventures.We are only eating spices so to speak.

Now coming back to the 'change in mentality to become a hero in a lifetime' thing I was talking about. Let me again give you an example of a TV series called Sa Re Ga Ma, so that we can all relate to it. In the times of Manna Day and Mohd. Rafi, singers were a different class of people, their technical knowledge was esoteric, almost all singers did nothing else in their lives but sing and nobody who did anything else ever sang, at least not on stage and never on TV.Compare it with the time today when we are so connected to the reality shows that we are more bothered about the love life of the singers than the actual song. The song may be recorded and filtered but it does not matter to us as long as the comments by the judges after that are spicy, cheesy, extraordinary, extreme...anything but mundane. Doesn't matter if they are wrong or contradictory. I bet people don't see a paradox in experts arguing whether an amateur singer is 9/10 or 4/10 every time.They are too busy following their idols. Another interesting thing is we have started to accept faults in our idols. Imagine some singer being even accused of being a child molester in the old times. Imagine someone giving a hit album after being molested.

All I want to show by the above example is that we have started believing that after all even common people like us can be heroes. Everyone can be extraordinary.

But poets in the past would have thought it is a good thing. Why am I sounding so worried and cynical? Because I think we all can be heroes by being ordinary and people around me are not understanding it. And trying to be extraordinary is killing them.

Lets take the example of IIT JEE. Holistically, it is nothing but an exam to test students for their engineering aptitude (that too of only one kind - theoretical) and in doing so take the best few thousands to teach them engineering. Now think of a student who is not inclined to be a good theoretical engineer, ....(sorry! need to go now,will continue later)

Finding Frozenland

After two months of vishraam I was finally able to give my third Toastmaster's speech.I was lucky enough to have had an amazing trip with my friends in those two months, so that formed the topic of the speech. I was also lucky that Ranka came to hear that speech, and also wrote a blog post on that speech. So interested junta please read it here