April 14, 2014

Moralizing and Extramarital Relations

Something from Brain Picker, Maria Popova.

From the book Updike:
“Updike wasn’t the first in his Ipswich crowd to commit adultery, and it’s possible that he wasn’t even the first in his marriage…
He didn’t have to look far to find a lover. Several of the couples had already had affairs before moving to Ipswich, and once they were all settled and best friends, romantic intrigue was very much in the air. It’s safe to say that the group’s unusual closeness (and a large part of the pain that followed) had something to do with the collective willingness to indulge in extramarital sex. This “weave of promiscuous friendship” wasn’t a purely local phenomenon. “Welcome to the post-pill paradise” is perhaps the most famous line from [Updike's 1968 novel]Couples, which Updike set in 1963, three years after he claimed to have first fallen “in love, away from marriage” — and three years after the first birth-control pill was approved for use in the United States. Did the advent of oral contraception unleash a frenzy of adulterous coupling in suburban communities all over the country? That theory seems a little pat, yet there’s a measure of truth to it. There’s no doubt that by the time of JFK’s assassination, the junior set of Ipswich were already hopping in and out of one another’s beds with impressive frequency. Whatever moral qualms Updike might have had were long since banished, and any lingering shyness had dissipated. He threw himself with reckless enthusiasm into the tangle of Ipswich infidelities. It’s worth stressing, however, that it wasn’t his idea; he wasn’t the instigator. He made suburban sex famous, but he didn’t invent it.”
 Maria Popova writes:
To give a sense of just how normalized the extramarital escapades were in the Ipswich community, Begley offers a telling example — the only two affairs of real significance in Updike’s life, one with Joyce Harrington, who was a “core member” of the love-swapping crowd along with her husband Herbert, and the other with Martha Bernhard, who had joined the circle later on with her husband Alex. Begley writes:
The first affair came within a whisker of ending the Updikes’ marriage in the fall of 1962; the second did end the marriage: John separated from Mary in 1974, and they were divorced two years later. John and Martha married soon afterward. And then, as if to demonstrate what a snarled web it was, Alex Bernhard, Martha’s ex-husband, married Joyce Harrington, John’s ex-mistress.

I don't really understand why there is so much moralizing attached to having extramarital relations. I mean, people are reacting like somebody is killing somebody or making suicide bomb attacks or exploding nuclear weapons.
People have grown up with some narrow, oh-so-outdated notion about what is 'moral' in relation to marriage and they are SO loath to apply their brains to those notions of morality.
At best, people will point to the matter of having children; as if every time one has sex, a baby pops out.
The thing or fact that should have the maximum input in formulating a sense of morality seems to me to be the idea of the rarity of life. The Dawkinsian idea of the improbability of our existing at all considering the millions of cells fighting to fertilize an egg. Our existence is a rare thing ... whether you want to call it an accident or not.
Although a "rare thing," that thing having come to pass, it is up to each of us to find the purpose of life for ourselves. Is it the purpose of life to merely carry on old-fashioned "rules" and live life as per those rules laid down by our illiterate Stone Age ancestors? Or, should we make our own rules?
I think it makes sense to make our own rules and to discard meaningless shibboleths.
The purpose of life should be to maximize happiness. Happiness can be had in many ways including: playing with kids (whether one's own or someone else's), playing or watching competitive sports, watching movies or TV shows, reading books, solving mysteries, doing research, becoming a physicist and doing equations, doing astronomy, building machines, playing with cars in one's garage, eating tasty food, cooking tasty food, and having sex.
That last point of 'having sex' perhaps has a disproportionate importance compared to the other stuff that make us happy. Only enjoying tasty food and having sex appear to me to be more or less universal things we do for enjoyment.
It appears to me to be a matter of common sense therefore that we should try to maximize that which gives us pleasure. It is weird if we should "voluntarily" make laws or put restrictions on ourselves that in any way reduces the pleasure we may be capable of achieving.
I do not advocate anything that is forcible of course. I am not suggesting that we steal food ... from anyone. There is joy to be had in eating tasty food and indeed mothers and grandmothers even get pleasure out of feeding their children and grandchildren.
As to sex, the rule about 'exclusivity' seems rather silly. In traditional societies, people associate 'faithfulness' with 'marriage.'

You gotta be faithful.
Why is that? What has sex got to do with 'faith'? It is a weird rule rooted in religious mumbo-jumbo and we all know that religious 'wisdom' is about 5-inch deep and only adolescents should take religions seriously.
Once people grow up and out-grow religious 'woo woo,' one must necessarily re-think and re-evaluate the stuff ... rather, the 'other' stuff that is also an inheritance from religion.
Religion not only deals in inane and childish theories and ideas about how the universe was created or who created it, it also claims a special place for humans and also lays out values and tries to tell people what is moral and what is not moral.
People need to discard not only religion but also ideas about morality that are derived from religion.
Remember that rules formulated regarding what is moral and what is not are man-made rules. There is nothing universal about such rules.
You cannot choose to obey or not obey the Law of Gravity as that is a law of nature. How the stars formed or how the galaxies formed is similarly a product of the laws of nature. The story of evolution is also a scientific fact. It is a fact that we on Earth are travelling on spaceship Earth that is hurtling around the Sun while rotating around itself. It is a fact that the Sun is whirring mightily around the center of the Milky Way galaxy. It is also a fact that the galaxies are going away from each other at a breathtaking pace approaching significant fractions of the speed of light (when you look at galaxies that are billions of light years apart).
Yes. All those 'talk' about the universe being created in a Big Bang 13.82 billion years ago is also factually correct. Our Milky Way comprising of 300 (or 400) billion stars is also factually correct.
In light of all that knowledge that humans have gathered recently (mostly in the last century), our insignificance in the grand scheme of things of the universe is pretty clear.
Looked at from this perspective, I think the idea of marital 'fidelity' seems particularly silly and childish. It's as if a kid wants to keep a toy only for himself and herself and won't share it with anyone else. Sure, kids tend to be selfish like that. But adults got to be better.

April 13, 2014

Are Indians Dense?

Who says Indians are NOT dense? I thought the evidence was pretty clear.

Just look at the obsession with silly religious rituals. Look at how sundry godmen are prospering. Look at how 'popular' Double Sri Bearded Widow is among the section of our population who are supposed to be among the most educated.

Look at the obsession with cricket and Bollywood —> and the obsession, in turn, of those 'heroes' of people (Sachin and Bachchan) with various gods. One donates crores to this and that god; another sheds tears when charlatan Afro Sai Baba dies.

Even the pointless 'heat' during the present election season shows the silliness of Indians.

The choices on offer are all so mediocre that I am mostly happy to remain a bystander. But look at the Modi-bhakts who are happy to abuse all and sundry at the slightest bit of 'questioning' of their 'leader.'

They will abuse all and sundry — whether it's Mahesh Murthy or a retired general or a retired Ambassador. (I see this on Twitter).

These Modi-bhakts are incapable of taking the slightest criticism of their leader.

Of course, they will be all praise for anyone who sings songs in praise of their 'leader.'

And what an ordinary, average CM that leader is.

A long-time CM with a clean record? I think there are "many" such CMs serving in different states all across India belonging to different parties.

Of course, the Modi-bhakts are extraordinarily ill-informed about history — just as Modi is.

They are happy to take Modi's empty and pointless blustering at face value.

These Modi-lovers tend to hold on to many myths which can have sinister consequences — they think only Muslims are responsible for increasing India's population; they think the Congress Party has bestowed untold great amounts of favor on the Muslim community ... of course to the detriment of the great 'Hindu' community in the process ... ; they think all the 'sins' of the Congress Party committed over the last six decades can be cured by electing Modi.

They forget that India has been a democracy throughout — even after the Emergency, Indira was thrown out but then a motley bunch came together to form a government which collapsed soon enough and people VOTED Indira back to power.

To return to the bigger question about whether India's people are 'dense' ...

The masses sympathy-voted for Rajiv ensuring that he got more seats than even Nehru.

Of course, the Modi-lovers are dense in a different way than the poor masses. The poor masses will vote for anyone who 'guarantees' them food or employment or mid day meals for their children.

The Modi bhakts are happy to question the 'quality' of all and sundry. They will say — Nehru was a third-rate guy who took Kashmir to the UN and had affairs with women and so on. Of course, most have never read a single book by Nehru or have much idea about the early years after independence.

Some of this is attributable to 'youth'; perhaps not many of the Modi-bhakts remember even the Vajpayee government let alone Rao or Rajiv Gandhi.

If one chooses to remain a political party-agnostic, it is easy enough to see that India has a habit of muddling along and this or that party does not make much of a difference.

It's easy enough to see that the quality of the Gandhi-Nehru family has consistently declined over one generation to another; but do not forget that IT IS THE PEOPLE OF INDIA (and our forefathers) who VOTED THEM into power.

Rajiv Gandhi was at best average — I mean, how 'tough' can life be if you are the son of the PM and get education at Doon School and then become a commercial pilot.

In the 1990s, the economic liberalization happened either because the knowledge dawned on people and policymakers at last that socialism and license raj cannot continue or because the IMF forced our hand.

Vajpayee carried some of that forward. The good growth rates during the early years of liberalization can be said to be sort of akin to 'low hanging fruit.'

India has large IT exports because India has cheap manpower. India has a large diamond processing and exporting business because India has cheap manpower. India exports textiles and leather good because India has cheap labor.

But all this can take us only so far.

What is India's competitive advantage as a nation? Cheap labor?

Well, now Philippines is supplanting India in call centers.

Bangladesh has cheaper labor than India to produce textiles for American brands.

Who would have thought that this nation of cow-worshipers would end up as, of all things, the largest beef exporter in the world?

What irony!

People say Vajpayee built all those roads. I say, any government in power at that point would have come up with those policies as EVERYBODY (every industrialist) was saying the same thing back then: 'bad roads, bad roads, poor infrastructure, poor infrastructure'.

In the din of headline-grabbing corruption scandals such as the Commonwealth, 2G and Coalgate, the details tend to get 'lost in translation' as it were.

The 2G 'scam' amounted to much less than what the CAG claimed it to be — as conclusively demonstrated by the subsequent auctions which flopped spectacularly.

Telecoms licenses are quite complex and technical and it's difficult to separate out the different strands of that entire 'scam.'

From what I understand, the 'scammy' parts were only to do with the Tatas getting pan-India licenses without paying much license fee; Reliance of course trying to grab licenses via a front company (Shadhi Balwa/DB Realty); real estate guys (Unitech) trying to get into the telecom business(!!).

Of course, there was a scam! But it is a tribute to the spectacularly complex legal system — that has obviously failed to do the job — that
the 'accused' get arrested (Raja, Kalmadi, Kanimozhi, Unitech/Reliance officers), spend time in Tihar Jail and ultimately get bail and basically that's the end of the matter!

The cases will linger for 20 years. See Salman Khan.

Tell me the name of the political party that is promising police reforms or reforms to the judiciary and then I will support that party.

Oh, Rahul's sister's husband made 200 or 500 crores?

Sure. So, why is the BJP not promising to prosecute Vadra or put him in jail?

Why are honest officers like Ashok Khemka suffering and no political party is supporting him?

I am not sure that Mr. Kejriwal really intends to do much about headline corruption either. His aim appears to be to reach the PM position as soon as possible — and I don't blame him; after all, when he compares (as he must) himself against MMS or Rahul or Modi, surely he must feel that he is SUPERIOR to these three.

But even as people of India get enraged about this and that scam ... oh and BTW, I forgot about the Coalgate which is too complex and involves both Congress and BJP ruled states ... people do not mind indulging in corruption in their own lives.

In obsessively rooting for Modi, I've heard the 'sane' supporters talk about his administrative competence. This means these supporters think India is just a bigger version of Gujarat.

It is strange if anyone thinks one man can 'govern' or rule India.

But then, apparently, there are enough people in this country who:

1) extol the 'greatness' of Hitler ... his great 'qualities' ... whatever they are;

2) expound the tired old view: 'India needs a dictator' ... forgetting about our great neighbor which has been run by 'dictators' for most of the time since independence (or creation) and forgetting about our own days of 'Emergency'.

The fact is that India is about such people:

(A)  people who will 'vote' for a PM because his 'mom' died;

(B)  or people who think that dictatorship is a good idea (perhaps they think the soldiers of the Indian Army are descended from heaven);

(C) or people who think Vivekananda was a 'great' man (he was not; he was just a racist guy who belonged in the 19th century);

(D)  or people who 'protest' that their 'god' Asaram is in jail.

Where am I supposed to find 'hope' for a 'great' future for this country?

*sigh* which is why I just prefer to keep "mum" :D :P

April 07, 2014

Article Collection 2014 Part II

It's not just the TLD 'ie' that is intriguing about this article and the website it is on.

About the CIA's snooping on the Senate.

About Silicon Valley culture.

conversation with Paul Davis about the flow of time.

Something about lightning.

The loss of the night sky.










































April 01, 2014

CEO Blogs Collection

Here's a collection of collection of CEO blogs. So, a sort of 'meta' collection of CEO blogs.

Here's a list of Top 10 CEO blogs.

Here's a list of Top Tech CEO blogs. Include people like Marissa Mayer, Rashmi Sinha,  Marc Andresson, Paul Graham, Guy Kawasaki and so on.

Another list of CEO blogs. Includes people like Mark Cuba, Srth Godin, Bill Mariott and Tom Peters.

Oh wait: out of the blue, the question occurs —> how come Bill Clinton is not blogging? Oh well ...

Nine CEO blogs. Includes some of the same people named above.

Mario Sundar's blog.

March 28, 2014

Amazing Resources

It's quite incredible that NASA seems to just upload all the data they gather straight on to the Internet.

Look at all the stuff here:


I mean, this is just incredible.


The whole fricking data and everything is here.

One could spend a day or a year browsing.

I guess this would be of maximum interest to geologists.

History Via Los Alamos

From B 61 images to a lot else.

It is somewhat unbelievable that these stuff are even in the public domain.

Here are a few samples:

"Adobe was a free fall airburst that was a successful LASL verification test of the XW-50X1-Y2 warhead in a Mk-39 Mod-1 Type 3 drop case. The device was similar to those tested in Aztec, Kingfish, and Bluegill Triple Prime. The W-50 warhead was eventually deployed in three yields: Y1 (60 kt), Y2 (200 kt), and the Y3 (400 kt) and deployed on the Nike Zeus SAM (surface-to-air missile), and the Pershing surface-surface ballistic missile. The mushroom cloud rose to about 60,000 ft.

"This was a generally successful LASL of the the XW-50X1-Y3 in a Mk-39 Mod-1 Type 3 drop case. It was the highest yield variant of the W-50 warhead (used on the Nike Zeus and Pershing missiles), giving a yield-to-weight ratio of 2.21 kt/kg. This device used a spherical secondary stage. The device was similar to those tested in Adobe, Kingfish, and Bluegill Triple Prime. The yield was slightly lower than expected. The mushroom cloud rose to about 60,000 ft.

"Arkansas was a highly successful LRL test of the XW-56X2 (Fife-I) warhead for the Minuteman missile. This warhead was derived from the breakthrough LRL W-47 warhead developed for the Polaris missile. The characteristics of the two warheads are generally similar although the W-56 kept the same general yield (usually given as 1.2 Mt) as the high yield W-47Y2 variant, while trimming 133 pounds of the weight. This test used a Fife secondary stage. This test demonstrated a yield-to-weight ratio 4.00 kt/kg (remarkably close to the effective practical limit of 6 kt/kg for such a light weight device). The test device included a mockup war reserve firing set. This was similar to the devices (also W-56s) fired in Swanee and Bluestone. The mushroom cloud rose to about 60,000 ft.

"Frigate Bird was the only US test of an operational ballistic missile with a live warhead. This test involved firing a Polaris A1 missile from a ballistic missile submarine. The missile was launched by the USS Ethan Allen (SSBN-608) at 13:18 (local) from a position 1500 nm east-northeast of Christmas Island. The re-entry vehicle (RV) and warhead flew 1020 nm downrange toward Christmas Island before re-entering the atmosphere 12.5 minutes later, and detonating in an airburst at 11,000 feet. The system tested was a combination of a Polaris A1 SLBM, and a W-47Y1 warhead in a Mk-1 RV. The Mk-1 RV had a beryllium heat-sink heat shield, and with the 717 lb warhead had a gross weight of 900 lb. The missile/RV demonstrated an accuracy on the order of 2200 yards. This warhead had a yield-to-weight ratio of 1.84 kt/kg, but the higher yield Y2 variant tested in Dominic Harlem doubled the yield and nearly doubled tht YTW ratio to 3.61 kt/kg.

Taken from here.

A Wiki page.

March 26, 2014

Stephen Fry On The Meaning Of Life

“The humanist view of the meaning of life is different. Humanists do not see that there is any obvious purpose to the universe, but that it is a natural phenomenon with no design behind it. Meaning is not something out there, waiting to be discovered, but something we create in our own lives.”
“And although this vast and incredibly old universe was not created for us, all of us are connected to something bigger than ourselves, whether it is family and community, a tradition stretching in the past, an idea or cause looking forward to the future, or the beautiful natural world on which we were born and our species evolved.
“This way of thinking means that there is not just one big meaning of life, but that every person will have many different meanings in their life.”

March 21, 2014

In Memory Of The Emergency

Like the partition and its accompanying riots, Emergency was an abomination. It's good to remember lest we repeat the same mistakes again.

Khuswant Singh was one of those who initially supported it but then opposed it when they realized how grotesque it was. It turns out that Jayprakash Narayan was sort of like an Arvind Kejriwal of his day. Or, to put it in another way, Kejriwal is trying to be the JP of the present age.

A new generation or two has come of age since Indira Gandhi's time. Who remembers the ghouls such as Jagmohan or Naveen Chawla or the other chamchas of Sanjay Gandhi and their misdeeds. There were a few heroes too of course, such as George Fernandes.

The death of Khuswant Singh is an occasion for a bit of looking back.

March 18, 2014

Inflationary Universe

Dennis Overbye's story at the New York Times.

Nature explains gravitational waves.

Nature article about the observation.

Nature interview with John Kovac.

Lawrence Krauss in the New Yorker.

Discovery article about the discovery.

Washington Post tells it this way.

Phil Plait covers it over at Slate.

From Scientific American.

From New Scientist.

Yosemite HD II

Search Engine Algorithms

How do you create search logic that works globally on the WWW and returns the most meaningful results?

How to make sure that the top result is www.harvard.edu and someone searches for 'Harvard'? It may seem trivial but it is not.

How to ensure that websites for 'Honda' or 'Toyota' turn up in the search results when someone searches for 'automobile manufacturers'? After all, those websites are not likely to contain the phrase 'automobile manufacturer' on them?

There's a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes. Here's a paper about some such stuff.

Here's a Google patent about a method for ranking hyperlinked pages using content and connectivity analysis.

A Google patent about determining reachability. One more Google patent.

Google Fellow Jeffrey Dean. Google Research home page.

A paper about the 'Temporal Dynamics of Online Information Streams."

March 12, 2014

Primary Sources: Permissive Action Links and the Threat of Nuclear War

The dangers of nuclear Armageddon as existed during those oh-so-long-ago years ... 50 years since the Cuban Missile Crisis ... how many of the humans alive now have been born since then!?

Perhaps for the inhabitants of the planet now, nuclear war is an improbable thing. But who knows? Look at the unnecessary war-mongering by the Republicans in the U.S. over Ukraine and Crimea.

Look at Israel's sabre-rattling over Iran's nuclear program. Look at the occasional border tensions between India and Pakistan, those two famously 'nuclear-armed' neighbors in South Asia. Things can always 'escalate.' Humans seem loath to let go of their ever-present prejudices.

Hence, this New Yorker article is quite important. Since the United States and then former Soviet Union pioneered both the development and deployment of ever-more ferocious nuclear weapons in those bygone days, the evolution of the thinking in those nations during those days gives important insights.

There would be nothing more absurd of course than if an 'accidental' nuclear weapon went off or a rogue guy set one off and that led to full-scale nuclear exchange. Hopefully, now that probability is gone with these 'permissive action links' in place.

But even so, I wonder how a nuclear event would evolve. Say, if Pakistan drops a nuclear weapon on India, would India resist the inevitable pressure on it not to retaliate? And if India does retaliate, and Pakistan responds, where does it all end? When all the 400 nuclear weapons have been 'used' on the 'enemy'?

Consider what a crazy situation that would be. Though in the India-Pakistan case, such mutual, full-scale nuclear war won't either lead to the entire population of India disappearing — let alone the entire human species. In the case of the US-Soviet rivalry of course, any escalation may well have led to the end of our species. Remember Carl Sagan talking about such a scenario in his Cosmos from a cosmic perspective. Is it likely that many civilizations do appear and evolve into being scientifically and technologically advanced and then eventually self-destruct? Well, may be not.

Why should we impose our own biases upon others? Just because we humans here on Earth want to kill one another because of the flimsiest excuses — differences in nationality, religion and so on — why should we assume that species that evolve on other planets will suffer from those same lack of wisdom as well.

Consider the vastness of the Milky Way galaxy with its 300 billion galaxies most of which have planets around them. We humans may choose to travel there and set up camp, as it were. At least on those planets that are clement to life and to human life in particular. We have got all the time in the world ... or the universe. The universe ain't going anywhere; nor the Sun. Let us keep advancing our technologies and then become a multi-planet species. What's the point of South Koreans and North Koreans fighting? Or India and Pakistan fighting? Or the U.S. fighting with Russia?

Also, I hope the Indian nuclear arsenal also has all these permissive action links that the article talks about. I am sure over the decades there would have been some covert collaboration between the U.S. and India whereby the U.S. would have helped India to make its arsenal safer. This applies even more to Pakistan.

Let's remember that we are talking about 'real' stuff here and not play things. These bombs carry enough power to destroy entire cities and kill tens if not hundreds of thousands of people.

Whatever 'strategic' calculation has persuaded the "strategic" thinkers to argue in favor of a nuclear arsenal cannot justify the needless killing of thousands of innocent civilians.

March 11, 2014

Satoshi Nakamoto

So, the Bitcoin founder was 'outed' by a newly resurrected Newsweek magazine. He denies being the founder though. So the Whodunit continues?

That and other article links in this article.

But really, this post is mainly a tribute to that 'priceless' expression on the face of the man in the image above. I wanted to preserve that expression.

Redditers are skeptical that Dorian Nakamoto is Satoshi Nakamoto, the founder of Bitcoin.

March 09, 2014

Is NASA Going to Europa?

After the White House asked for $15 million in the FY 2015 budget request for Europa mission-related expenses, there's vigorous speculation about whether it's actually going to take off.

Remember that this is going to be either a Flagship class mission costing $4 billion to $5 billion or a Frontier class mission in the $1 billion range.

Here's a WaPo article that surveys the landscape.

Related article about how the sudden cancellation of the Constellation program and Ares I rocket has affected the space coast in Florida and left behind a brand-new, unused $500 million launch tower.

A quite exhaustive article on NASA and its cost constraints.

A collection of articles by Joel Achenbach.

March 06, 2014

2015: Year of the Dwarf Planet

Emily Lakdawala has written a passionate blog post about the great stuff that are going to happen next year.

And she wants the readers to 'spread the word' about all that since the public is insufficiently aware of all that as of now.

Create Free Websites With Wix

February 25, 2014

Articles Collection 2014

That much lauded work, Thanksgiving in Mongolia, by Ariel Levy.

Travelling from ocean to ocean across South America.

A son reflects upon the death of his father.

About Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng.

Carol Blue interview with Piers Morgan.

Why Carl Sagan is truly irreplaceable.

Fast Company technology articles.

Ghost writing for Julian Assange.

An article about endometriosis.

About lives of old men.

A profile of Putin.

About the ITER.


February 12, 2014

Great Quotes

Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless...

Additional Info:
This is a phrase from Paul Bowles' book The Sheltering Sky. It was chosen byBrandon Lee (son of Bruce Lee) to be printed on his wedding invitation cards, but they are now inscribed on his tombstone.

The above is taken from a Quora thread.

January 01, 2014

December 03, 2013

Sagan and Russell Destroy Religion and Invisible Gods

Russell's Teapot or the Celestial Teapot is an analogy intended to refute the idea that the burden of proof lies upon the skeptic to disprove the claims of religions. By using an intentionally absurd analogy, Russell's Teapot draws attention to the formal logic behind the burden of proof and how it works. The celestial teapot is similar to the more recent and perhaps equally paradoxical examples of the invisible pink unicorn, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and the dragon in astronomer Carl Sagan's garage, the latter of which can be found in his book "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark". Here Carl Sagan used Russell's teapot in the chapter "The Dragon In My Garage" in which he described the discussion as follows:

"A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage" Suppose (I'm following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin. I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you'd want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity! "Show me," you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle--but no dragon.

"Where's the dragon?" you ask. "Oh, she's right here," I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon." You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints. "Good idea," I say, "but this dragon floats in the air." Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire. "Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless." You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible. "Good idea, but she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick." And so on.

I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work. Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists?

Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so." - Carl Sagan "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark" (1996) The original analogy can be found in an article titled "Is There a God?" commissioned, but never published, by Illustrated magazine in 1952.

Here Russell wrote: "Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time."

November 24, 2013

Scientific Spirit in India

I posted a long comment on this Livemint article about the lack of a scientific spirit in India.

How does one even begin to comment about 'science' in India?

I wrote probably 1,000 words here in Disqus in half an hour or so and then 'lost it' as the power suddenly went off.

Enough said?

I will try to re-write it all but it might appear even more disjointed or incoherent than when I wrote it the first time. I will post the comment and then keep adding to it.

"Dare Mighty Things" is the logo the MSL Curiosity project uses. Indians, on the other hand, are probably more like 'should I dare mighty things?' or 'dare I? Mighty things??'

Nora Ephron, in her commencement address, urged the graduating females of Wellsley to 'break a few rules ... create a little trouble.' Indians are more inclined to 'leave no rule of *tradition* unfollowed' or 'break no rules that the *wise* old guys in the family have laid down.'

About Americans and their love affair with cars ... that's of course a unique and strange love affair.

November 17, 2013

Doris Lessing

Excerpt from Doris Lessing's Nobel Lecture:

We are a jaded lot, we in our threatened world. We are good for irony and even cynicism. Some words and ideas we hardly use, so worn out have they become. But we may want to restore some words that have lost their potency.
We have a treasure-house of literature, going back to the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans. It is all there, this wealth of literature, to be discovered again and again by whoever is lucky enough to come upon it. A treasure. Suppose it did not exist. How impoverished, how empty we would be.
We own a legacy of languages, poems, histories, and it is not one that will ever be exhausted. It is there, always.
We have a bequest of stories, tales from the old storytellers, some of whose names we know, but some not. The storytellers go back and back, to a clearing in the forest where a great fire burns, and the old shamans dance and sing, for our heritage of stories began in fire, magic, the spirit world. And that is where it is held, today.
Ask any modern storyteller and they will say there is always a moment when they are touched with fire, with what we like to call inspiration, and this goes back and back to the beginning of our race, to the great winds that shaped us and our world.
The storyteller is deep inside every one of us. The story-maker is always with us. Let us suppose our world is ravaged by war, by the horrors that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise. But the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us -for good and for ill. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative.
That poor girl trudging through the dust, dreaming of an education for her children, do we think that we are better than she is - we, stuffed full of food, our cupboards full of clothes, stifling in our superfluities?
I think it is that girl, and the women who were talking about books and an education when they had not eaten for three days, that may yet define us.

October 30, 2013

Edward Snowden

This seems to me to be the defining journalism-whistle-blower story of this generation.
It's rare in today's world when privileged people voluntarily choose to take steps whereby they give up comfortable lives to do something that is in the 'public good.'
Mr. Snowden was clearly a computer whiz which explains why he got jobs at the CIA (including postings in Geneva under diplomatic cover). Booz Allen obviously did not hire him or pay him the $1,20,000 salary without Mr. Snowden showcasing some considerable technical expertise.
I believe Mr. Snowden's expertise probably lies in having deep expertise in various flavors of Linux. That is what I am inclined to infer from his various job roles as a 'Systems Engineer' or 'System Administrator.'
Being the self-driven sort of person that he was, I am sure he must be having good knowledge about networking and encryption stuff including but not limited to Cisco routers and related technologies.
To put these things in perspective, I would guess there must be thousands in the United States with similar kinds of expertise as Mr. Snowden (and probably hundreds in India).
I imagine a 'Systems Administrator' in India or a Networking expert with 10 years experience having almost the same kind of technical expertise as Mr. Snowden. He would get a salary of $20,000 per annum to $30,000 per annum or may be even $40,000 per annum which is a very good salary in India. He would be employed at one of the top IT companies or banks. He would live a busy but 'comfortable' life defined by the usual material amenities of life and possibly a bunch of maids helping out on the home front (cheap human resources are one of the 'perks' of life in India).
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