Monday, December 22, 2008

Benefits and Risks of the SaaS Model – A Case Study

Saturday, December 6, 2008

From Khajuraho with love


Khajuraho in Madhyapradesh, India has a magnificent set of of medieval temples with  beautiful sculptures rivaling  Konarak in Orissa. Though more well known for the erotic sculptures, they consist only about 10% of the  sculptures here and that too more on the outer circles of each temple. Built between 900 and 1100 AD, there are about 25 temples (remaining out of the original 85), they are definitely worth a couple of days of sight seeing. The light and sound show they have each evening is one of the best I have seen in India.

The Khajuraho temples mark the culmination of the central Indian building style that has certain distinctive peculiarities of plan and elevation. They are compact, lofty temples without any enclosure wall and are erected on a high platform terrace which elevates the structure from its environs and provides an open ambulatory around the temple. The temples are grouped into three : Western, Eastern & Southern


Some pictures of the Western Group from my visit earlier this year:


Some pictures of the Eastern group:





Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Enchantress of Florence - Salman Rushdie


Finally a book from Salman Rushdie that I could read and enjoy! I had tried a couple of his earlier works including the 'Midnight's Children' but found them too confusing and complex.

The "Enchantress of Florence" is a wonderful story based in 16th century India during the time of Akbar the Great, the most well known Mughal emperor. The visitor from Florence, Italy comes to the Mughal court with a secret to tell to the emperor and the story keeps the reader enthralled throughout. The contrasting lifestyles and philosophies of the western and eastern world is beautifully brought out by the author. Mr.Rushdie's in depth understanding of history, religion, culture and philosophy is obvious and his ability to mesh them all together to bring out a great book is outstanding. Every line contains so much information that I am astounded on how much research that must have gone into this book.

The history of the Mughals from Babar to Akbar is brought out well and Akbar's reign is covered in detail. The construction of the city Fatehpur Sikri and its final desertion is built into the story of this book. Akbar's famous courtiers such as Birbal and Abul Fazl makes the story even more appealing to Indian readers. Since I had visited Fatehpur Sikri recently, I found the references to this city (which is well preserved even now) even more interesting.

Some pictures from Fatehpur Sikri below:















Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Water from Air?

A Canadian company, Element Four (http://www.elementfour.com/) claims to have developed a device called the Water Mill that can generate water from the atmosphere.

The device, meant to be a home appliance works by drawing air through filters to remove dust and particles, then cooling it to just below the temperature at which dew forms. The condensed water is passed through a self-sterilising chamber that uses microbe-busting UV light to eradicate any possibility of Legionnaires' disease or other infections. Finally, it is filtered and passed through a pipe to the owner's fridge or kitchen tap. It claims to be able to produce upto 12 litres of water per day.

The mill ceases to be effective if the relative humidity is below 30%. However the device has a built in computer that increases its output at dawn when humidity is highest. It is not clear how much energy the device will consume, but the web site claims that the device is "energy efficient''. Well, dont try to buy the device now - the company's web site says the online store will be open in 2009.

My engineering 'fundas' are not good enough to comment on whether this device will work effectively. Will some 'real enginners' stand up and comment on this device? I would like to know:

(a) Is this techncially feasible?

(b) If so, how come no one invented it till now?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Musical Instruments Museum, Brussels, Belgium


If you ever visit Brussels, this is a museum that you should not miss. With over 1500 instruments covering ancient, traditional and modern music, this is a treat that is worth the time and effort – whether you are a music lover or not.




Technology has been leveraged very well in the museum, with infrared headphones providing brief recordings of the instrument when you stand in front of it. No buttons to press! Each recording is of 2 to 3 minutes and will automatically stop when you move away.
For more information about the museum visit http://www.mim.fgov.be/home_uk.htm

Friday, November 21, 2008

Intelligent people live longer!

( Abstract from Nature Magazine – 13th Nov 2008; Italics are mine)

No kidding!. It is true – or as a wag would say “the thick die quick!”.

It has been proved that Intelligence can predict mortality more strongly that body mass index, total cholesterol, blood pressure or blood glucose, and at a similar level to smoking.
(Here Intelligence denotes scores from cognitive ability tests like IQ tests)

But the reasons for this are still mysterious.

At present there are four explanations:
1. Higher Intelligence normally results in a better education which would result in professional occupations that would place the person in a healthier environment
2. People with higher intelligence might engage in more healthy behaviors (I doubt it !!)
3. Early life tribulations (including prenatal) might be the cause of both high IQ as well as mortality (I cant see the link!)
4. High mental test scores in youth might be an indicator of a well put-together system

I think 1 and 4 are likely.

There is another argument that simple reaction speed (the time taken to press a button when a stimulus appears) may be even a better predictor of mortality risk. Reaction-time tasks do not require complex reasoning, and are so unlikely to be improved by education.

So there is some benefit for the hours we have spent on those computer games after all!

But jokes apart, the question is being seriously researched by many including he author of this article in Nature – Mr. Ian Deary who is the Director of the University of Edinburg Center for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, which opened on Sept 1, 2008. Let us wish him good luck!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Craig Venter - ASHG Conference, Philadelphia Nov 13, 2008


I had dropped in at the American Society of Human Genetics Annual conference at Philadelphia mainly to understand what is happening in the exciting field of Genetics. The most impressive event for me was the presentation from the leading scientist Craig Venter on "My Genome".

Some key points that struck me from his presentation:

1. The variations in the genome between human beings are more than what had been assumed earlier. Now it is expected to be as much as 1.5 % to 2% between two individuals.
2. This also means that our genome variation with the Chimpanzee (our closest relative) is more closer to 5%  (the earlier conclusion was about 2%) - his comment in the presentation that this should be a relief to many evoked laughter in the audience.
3. Understanding the human genome would only be a first step in our efforts for finding cures for many of our diseases. We would need to sequence the whole 'Human Microbiome' which would include all the microbial organisms that live inside the body and which outnumber our cells by a factor of 10.
4. Preventive Medicine would be a key benefit for individuals we understand our genome better. Based on our genetic tendency for various diseases, we should be able to use appropriate medicine as well as life style choices to reduce or eliminate the risk of some diseases.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Heliodorous Pillar - 2000 year old Garuda Pillar


I had read about the Helidorous pillar in Vidisha close to Sanchi, Madhya prdesh, India and was determined to see it when I visited Sanchi earlier this year.
The Pillar may not look very impressive - but when you consider that it was erected in 100 BC and that too by a Greek (Heliodorous) who came as an ambassador from the Greek King of Takshashila to the court of King Bhagabhadra of Vidisha., you cannot deny its historical importance. It seems Helidorous was a Vishnu devotee and erected this Garuda pillar dedicated to Vishnu (as per the Brahmi inscription in the pillar).

But it took me a long time to find the pillar - the locals did not seem to know much about it, but finally after a couple of hours of searching, I found the dirt road leading to the pillar.

And who says religion is of no use? the pillar has been worshipped in the past and maybe that is why the pillar survived the 2100 years. There was an Asoka pillar nearby which was broken up by an ‘enterprising’ business man and used in his jute mill!

So Heliodorous survived while Asoka perished!!!!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hanuman's birthplace - no takers?

Considering the furore in India over Rama's birthplace, I was expecting a lot more when I visited Hanuman's birthplace of Kishkinda (now Hampi in Karnataka). However the temple turned out to be a small cement shed on top of a mountain. 
A good climb though of 600 odd steps.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Trip to the Arches National Park, Moab UT

This was a family trip during the Memorial Day week end last month - and it was wonderful! We never expected the Arches park and the adjacent Canyonlands Park to be so beautiful!! We had only two days there and I feel at least a week is needed to enjoy this place fully.
A 4x4 would be ideal to tour the hundreds of miles of untarred roads....




Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku

The Impossible Explained.....



A very good book for the physics enthusiast – especially the unique approach the author brings to the table. The author takes a good look at various phenomenon in science fiction such as ‘Force fields’, ‘Invisibility’, ‘Teleportation’, ‘Time Travel’, ‘Perpetual motion machines’ and so on and classifies them into Classes of 1 to 3. Class 1 impossibilities are those that are impossible today but do not violate the known laws of physics and may be realized within this century, Class 2 are those that may be realized in millions (!) of years; and Class 3 (surprisingly very few) that violate the known laws of physics.

An easy to read book with many references to popular science fiction books as well as TV shows and movies, it enables the reader to put in perspective many of the science fiction concepts that we often hear about. Numerous scientists and authors have also been interviewed by the author and their feedback brought into the book. However I would have liked to see more of the author’s views on Ray Kurzweil predictions on spiritual machines and humanity overcoming death.

The author’s science projects at school will invoke an inferiority complex in most of us :) but does give an idea of what precocious children can achieve in the school system of the United States. In spite of the good research that went into the book, I noticed a minor error which will titillate Indian readers. In page 44 of the book, the Hindu God Shiva is mentioned as a goddess.

I would recommend this book to readers interested in Physics and Science fiction.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Kindling along....


I finally got my Kindle from Amazon last month. After a wait of about 45 days (since placing the order) it was exciting to take a look at one of the latest gadgets. 

I like the device - strong points are:

1. Easy to read - very close to a book feeling
2. Fast download of books from amazon.com
3. Highlight and Note features are great
4. The best one - you can download a sample chapter of each available book before you buy it.

Downside:

1. Battery seems to last only a few hours 
2. Only over 100,000 books available in ebook format
3. Most of the good ones are expensive - about $9.99
4. Hey - and I cant show of the books I buy in my bookshelf!

I tried a few sample book and bought my first one - 'Your Inner fish: A Journey into the 3.5 billion-year history of the Human Body' by Neil Shubin.

More on that later...





Monday, April 7, 2008

Genetic Diagnostics - To test or not to?

Blood Matters by Masha Gessen (Book Review)

The book describes the journey of the author who is diagnosed with a genetic mutation that predisposes her to ovarian and breast cancer. As she fights personal battle, she also tries to explore the field of genetic testing, its implications as well as ethical considerations.

The jacket cover of the book claims it is “a much needed field guide to this unfamiliar and unsettling territory.” Well, it is not. It is more a rambling journey across a difficult terrain by a pioneer, discovering trails and gathering knowledge during the process. The lack of a science background and the inability to explain the fundamentals in a clear and structured way weakens the book. Explaining a complex science to the laymen is tough but has been mastered by authors like Carl Sagan, Brian Greene and Richard Dawkins. This book fails to reach that level.

However, it does capture well the agony of an individual who goes through a challenging situation created by new knowledge provided by science. This will definitely be something more of us go through in future as we will be forced to grapple with the information provided by genetic testing.

The book provides interesting information on Asheknazi Jews as well as organizations like Dor Yeshorim which collect genetic data to provide predictive information. In spite of her jewish heritage, the author covers the Nazi efforts on eugenics with equanimity. A number of genetic diseases and their current research status are covered in the book through many interviews with experts across the world. Nevertheless the lack of a clear structure, direction and focus wastes the author’s efforts to a large extent.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Rani by Jaisree Misra

Flattered to Deceive

Finally - a historical fiction book on `Rani of Jhansi' - a name which most Indians would remember as a legendary figure in the India's struggle for Independence from British occupation. Some might even recollect the picture of a queen on horseback with a sword in hand, from their history text book. But hardly anybody would know more - maybe you can blame the traditional Indian apathy in highlighting their heroes.... So it was with some excitement that I picked up this book. My initial impression was good with the author's depiction of the Rani's childhood and the development of characters around the Rani. However, soon the book started becoming more like a documentary with very little excitement or story building. Set in the mid 1800's the Indian landscape provided considerable opportunity for the author to develop a fascinating story - but the author missed the chance. The book seemed well researched but becomes very boring by the mid way point. From then on it is a struggle to complete reading it.

I would recommend this book only to the serious students of Indian History.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

$100M fund from Kleiner Perkins

iFund™
KPCB’s iFund™ is a $100M investment initiative that will fund market-changing ideas and products that extend the revolutionary new iPhone and iPod touch platform. The iFund™ is agnostic to size and stage of investment and will invest in companies building applications, services and components. Focus areas include location based services, social networking, mCommerce (including advertising and payments), communication, and entertainment. The iFund™ will back innovators pursuing transformative, high-impact ideas with an eye towards building independent durable companies atop the iPhone / iPod touch platform.
"A revolutionary new platform is a rare and prized opportunity for entrepreneurs, and that's exactly what Apple has created with iPhone and iPod touch," said John Doerr, Partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. "We think several significant new companies will emerge as this new platform evolves, and the iFund™ will empower them to realize their full potential."
"Developers are already bursting with ideas for the iPhone and iPod touch, and now they have the chance to turn those ideas into great companies with the help of world-class venture capitalists," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "We can't wait to start working with Kleiner Perkins and the companies they fund through this new initiative."
The iFund™ will be managed by KPCB Partner Matt Murphy in collaboration with partners Chi-Hua Chien, John Doerr, Bill Joy, Randy Komisar, Ellen Pao and Ted Schlein. Apple will provide KPCB with market insight and support.

iPhone SDK - Good Opportunity?

Apple Announces iPhone 2.0 Software Beta
Includes SDK & Built-in Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync
CUPERTINO, California—March 6, 2008—Apple® today previewed its iPhone™ 2.0 software, scheduled for release this June, and announced the immediate availability of a beta release of the software to selected developers and enterprise customers. The iPhone 2.0 beta release includes both the iPhone Software Development Kit (SDK) as well as new enterprise features such as support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync to provide secure, over-the-air push email, contacts and calendars as well as remote wipe, and the addition of Cisco IPsec VPN for encrypted access to private corporate networks.
“We’re excited about creating a vibrant third party developer community with potentially thousands of native applications for iPhone and iPod touch,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “iPhone’s enterprise features combined with its revolutionary Multi-Touch user interface and advanced software architecture provide the best user experience and the most advanced software platform ever for a mobile device.”
The iPhone SDK provides developers with a rich set of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and tools to create innovative applications for iPhone and iPod® touch. Starting today, anyone can download the beta iPhone SDK for free and run the iPhone Simulator on their Mac®. Apple today also introduced its new iPhone Developer Program, giving developers everything they need to create native applications, and the new App Store, a breakthrough way for developers to wirelessly deliver their applications to iPhone and iPod touch users.
With the iPhone SDK, third party developers will be able to build native applications for the iPhone with a rich set of APIs, including programming interfaces for Core OS, Core Services, Media and Cocoa Touch technologies. The iPhone SDK will allow developers to create amazing applications that leverage the iPhone’s groundbreaking Multi-Touch™ user interface, animation technology, large storage, built-in three-axis accelerometer and geographical location technology to deliver truly innovative mobile applications.

Friday, February 29, 2008

NDTV Calsoft

We can relax! There will be no recession :)

Bush says US not headed into a recession !

Fri Feb 29, 2:03 AM ET
WASHINGTON - President Bush said Thursday the country is not recession-bound and, despite expressing concern about slowing economic growth, rejected for now any additional stimulus efforts. "We acted robustly," he said.