Friday, May 20, 2005

Are we heading towards the Armageddon?

Sorry folks, for the mini hiatus I had taken. It was motivated partly by the fact that it was getting kinda busy at work and more so by the fact that I couldn't come up with anything interesting worth writing about.

I was reading an article on MSNBC.com today about the massive deforestation taking place in the Amazon rainforests. The article reveals a startling statistic that about 10,000 square miles of the rainforest had vanished in the 12 months ending August 2004 and that it was the second worst ever. The Amazon forests cover an area of approximately 1.6 million square miles and even if we conservatively assume that the deforestation continued at the same rate, it doesn't take an Einstein to figure out that the forests would be wiped out completely in about 150 years. Mind you, this timeframe is based on a very conservative estimate. It could be way less than that, maybe even in your lifetime.

Now, some of you might be tempted to wonder what all this brouhaha is about a few trees being cut. My friends, a lot of us seem to have no idea how significant an impact the Amazon rainforests have on the weather patterns of the planet we call home. The rainforests are referred to as the "lungs" of the planet because the millions of trees in the forest absorb massive amounts of Carbon-di-oxide and release an equal amount of oxygen so vital for our existence. Imagine what would happen if there were no forests . With no trees to absorb the carbon-di-oxide we release, each breath we take would only take us closer to death. Aside from this, with no trees, there would be frequent flooding and land erosion which would deplete the land of precious top-soil. The lack of trees would result in global warming which would melt the polar icecaps resulting in an increse in sea-level and eventually drowning us all. Just yesterday, I was watching a program on TV in which the scientists said that there had been an increase in global warming lately that a huge glacier in Greenland had begun to melt and that if all the glaciers in Greenland were to melt, the sea level would rise by as much as 20 feet.

The Amazon rainforests are also home to a third of the world's plant and animal species and scientists speculate that there could be many more species waiting to be discovered. Each tree we cut could lead to yet another species becoming extinct. What people, in their endless quest for money or livelihood, don't seem to realize is that what they are doing to the forests is akin to a woodcutter cutting the very branch he sits on. Unless something is done, and done soon, I think we are all heading towards the Armageddon and heading there in a hurry.

The agnostic that I am , I still can't help remembering Vyaasaraaya's kannada lyrics
"Krishna nee begane baaro" meaning 'Krishna, come hither soon".

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Amma, I love you

Uyirum neeyae udalum neeyae uravum neeyae thaayae than
udalil sumandhu uyirai pagirthu uruvam tharuvaay neeyae
un kannil vazhiyum oru thuli poadhum kadalum muzhugum thaayae
un kaaladi mattum tharuvaay thaayae sorggam endbadhu poyyae

vinnai padaiththaan mannaip padaiththaan
kaatrum mazhaiyum oliyum padaiththaan
bhoomikku adhanaal nimmadhi illai
saami thaviththaan thaayaip padaiththaan


This song, from the movie 'Pavithra', beautifully and tersely penned by Vairamuthu, amazingly composed by A.R. Rahman and soulfully rendered by Unnikrishnan, is one of my favorite songs and without an iota of doubt, my favorite song celebrating God's greatest creation - Mother. I am invariably moved to tears each time I hear this song. It elicits the ecumenical truth about mothers and the sacrifices they make for their children. Today, 8th MAY 2005, is celebrated as Mother's day. Not that anyone would forget their moms but let us all take this opportunity, nonetheless, to express our love and gratitude to our moms for the sacrifices they have made to help us achieve what we have achieved today.

Amma, You were the best mother any son could have and if there is such a thing as a next life, I'd like to reborn to you. You were the most gentle, caring, affectionate and compassionate person I've ever known. My love of music and animals are just a couple of the many things I inherited from you. The days when you and I, as a team, would beat appa and anna in carrom are still vivid in my memory. I still remember the days when you would take anna(brother) and I to Bruce Lee movies because appa was not interested in movies. You were my closest friend, guide and companion. I could discuss anything under the sun with you, even stuff that boys find awkward discussing with their moms. The great cook that you were, I knew I could always count on you to have piping hot samosas and cutlets ready when I arrived from college, tired after a long day of loitering in the canteen. Etched in my memory are the days when you took care of appa and I, when both of us had chicken-pox simultaneously, day and night, without any concern for your own health. These are only a few of the countless instances of sacrifices you've made for us. I don't know if I have said this enough but I LOVE YOU AND I MISS YOU. I love you more than anything in this world and I know you are always with me, watching over me, wherever you are. I wouldn't be half the man I am today if it weren't for you and for this, I owe you my life.

All that I am or ever shall hope to be, I owe to my loving angel mother. God Bless her - Abraham Lincoln

PS:
1. My dear friend, Raman, had written a wonderful article celebrating mothers on May 5th. His blogspot can be reached by following the "Uttandi's blog" link on this page.

2. A nice english translation of the song mentioned(for non-tamil speaking readers) would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

To Si'R', with gratitude

"A real teacher is someone who can instill a thirst for knowledge in his pupils"

Today is National Teacher's day in the US, a day dedicated to teachers who shape our lives and careers. Actually, it is celebrated on the Tuesday of the first full week of May and so the date keeps varying each year. I am sure all of us have had special teachers in our lives - someone who went a little out of their way to teach us or do stuff that would remain with us forever. Over the years, I've had quite a few such teachers: Sheila Miss, in middle school, who taught me a lot of the English I know today, Solomon Sir, in high school, who turned this Math and Science nobody into a Math and Science "know"body and Somayajulu Sir, in junior college, who taught me the concept of a derivative, not just as a mathematical operation but as a physical quantity. These are just a few that I can think of off the top of my head and I take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to them for moulding my life the way they did. But this post is not about any of the aforementioned persons. It is about another one of my great teachers, someone I had the chance to interact with in graduate school.

This was when I was in the second semester of my graduate studies. I had taken a course on Programming Languages under Dr. R and that was the first time I was taking a course under him. But I was well aware of his capabilities as a teacher. My seniors at that time had told me about how sharp his mind was and how he was a stickler for correct grammar(in documentation. Alas, I found this out the hard way :)). So naturally, I was very excited to have finally had the opportunity to take a course under him. I discovered, not to my surprise though, that he was very much the great teacher that my seniors had told me about. Come first assignment, I found out the hard way what a stickler he was for correct grammar. He docked quite a few points for my grammatical transgressions but it did not matter much. I was learning a lot and I was happy about it. My performances on the subsequent assignments were much better than the first and suddenly, I found myself in the 'A' grade region. But it was cut-throat competition in the class for an 'A' grade and a small slip-up could easily relegate me to the dreaded 'B' grade.(not that I hadn't had a 'B' grade before. It was dreaded, nonetheless). I was also very active in the class, answering a lot of his questions and participating a lot in the discussions. At that time, I had no idea he had noticed that, but, as I would find out later, that was what proved to be my savior. It was almost the end of the semester and the final assignment was handed out. It was nothing extraordinarily tough and I completed it on time.

A few days passed...the semester ended and the time came for us to check our grades. Most of my close friends secured an 'A' but to my horror, I discovered that I had secured a 'B' in the course. Tears are not something that come to me too often but that day, I was about to burst into tears....not because I had secured a 'B' and definitely not because my friends got an 'A'. There have been courses where I have received a 'B' but was not bothered about it too much because I was found lacking in effort in those courses. It was different this time because this was one course I had put my heart and soul into, and I felt a 'B' did not reflect my efforts or my performance. Anyway, what was done was done. I decided to meet Dr. R and find out why I had secured a 'B' which is what I did. He showed me my final assignment and pointed out the error. I had done something completely different from what was expected. No wonder, it did not seem "extraordinarily tough". I knew it was my own (un)doing, cursed myself(on the inside), thanked him and was about to leave the office. That was when I heard the best thing I'd heard in a long time. Dr. R said, "Moni(yahoo! He even remembered my name. that's a good start), I am going to change your grade to an 'A'". I couldn't believe my ears but found the gumption to ask him why. He replied, "I had noticed that you were very active in class, answering a lot of questions right. And your performance in the other assignments were also very good. One bad assignment shouldn't strip you of what you truly deserve". And that was it. Tears started welling in my eyes but somehow i managed to control them. I felt like prostrating(saashtaanga namaskaram) in front of him, then quickly realized that would be too melodramatic for real life. So I shook his hands, thanked him and scooted out of there.

The reason I am writing about this today is to bring out the greatness of the man. I already knew he was a great teacher but, that day, I realized he was great in more than one way. I cannot imagine anyone else doing such a thing. I bow before you in gratitude, Dr. R. Thank you.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Technical papers for free

This post is mainly aimed at students of Computer Science but I am pretty sure others will find it just as amusing, something to lift the spirits of my friends reeling under the burden of finals week.

First off, I'd like to thank my friend, Venugopal Puram, for bringing this most amusing news item to my attention and so any credit for this is rightly his(is that a rhyme there? Must be all the anonymouses messing with my head ;) ).

I am sure most of you are aware of the umpteen number of technical conferences being held around the world each year and the infinite number of papers being submitted to these. But have you ever wondered how many of these conferences are really genuine? If not, it's never too late to start thinking about that. A group of graduate students at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have written a program called SCIgen which, given the author's name, generates a technical paper which consists of an eclectic hodgepodge of technical terms, mostly Computer Science. At first glance, it seems like a very genuine paper, complete with graphs, figures and a multitude of references. It is only on careful reading that you realize it is full of absolutely nonsensical stuff. The reason the students worked on creating such a program was to expose some of the so-called "International symposiums" which, sometimes, do not even review the papers submitted.

So, the next time someone tells you he/she has published a paper(you know he/she is not really capable of that) and you are wondering "How,on earth, did this person manage to do that?", you know where it could have come from. ;).

I suggest that you visit the site and amuse yourself by trying it out. SCIgen.

Hope you find it just as amusing as I did. Until my next post, cheerio.