Sunday, December 02, 2007

Coat Uncoat

A quote that deserves more visibility.

"The Universe is run by the complex interweaving of three elements: energy, matter and enlightened self-interest."
- G'Kar, Babylon-5

Friday, November 30, 2007

MEI dinners

Assume two people A and B, both of whom are standard MEI students.

A is in the last stages of having his dinner in the famed East Canteen with live entertainment (in the form of scuttling rats) and candle light ambience (on all days but in certain corners only). B joins A. Now A’s dining ritual is tending towards completion yet B in his ignorance, feigned or otherwise, has still joined A.

How long should A, whose dinner is almost done, wait for B in such a situation?

Keen observation and several MEI dinners later, scientists have deciphered the factors that determine the time that A will wait for B.

The time is directly proportional to

  • The size of the intersection of their social circles. i.e. the number of mutual friends that they have.
  • The days that A has not met B.
  • The number of favors that B can do for A. (e.g. exchange of library duty, giving competent cells, helping with assignments etc.)
  • The number of favors that B has done for A.
  • The number of treks that they have been together on.
  • The number of technical terms that B uses frequently and which A understands. E.g. cytokinesis, Euler buckling, Sandpile model, Euclidean space, etc. (Putting it another way whether or not they are from similar fields)
  • The number of social causes B espouses.
  • The number of books, movies, etc that B owns that A is interested in.
  • The number of mood altering substances they have had together.
On the other hand, the time is inversely proportional to

  • The time that A had been sitting at the table before B joined.
  • The number of people at the table other than A and B.
  • The difference in the years of their joining. (e.g. 2002 – 2007=5)
  • The number of days B has not taken a shower.
  • The number of favors that A could theoretically do for B
  • The distance between their respective home towns. (See Addendum below)
A special case is if A and B are of the opposite sex. In such a case, the time thus obtained after these computations is to be doubled. (The time may be quadrupled if B and A are single). The time is also doubled if A and B share the same mother tongue.

Admittedly the actual relationships of all the factors are complex and involve other emotional factors which cannot be quantitated but this is major step in deciphering the complex social dynamics at MEI and will help in understanding that greatest of enigmas - the MEI student.

(*** - Addendum - Consider a line drawn between the two respective hometowns and an imaginary mid point at the exact center of this line. It can now be said that the effect of “distance between hometowns” factor is more complex as its effect in turn increases exponentially as increase in the distance of said imaginary midpoint from Mumbai, location of MEI. A very subtle jibe there if you can get it!)

[Some creative inputs from S.J., P. S. and S.S. MEI here standing for My Esteemed Institute - a place of some repute I am told.]

      Friday, November 23, 2007

      Eleven things

      Eleven things I want to do before I die

      1) Read "The Lord of the Rings". All three parts.

      2) Visit Paris/Vienna.

      3) Bungee jump.

      4) Become a size 0.

      5) Drink absinthe.

      6) Own a Joni Mitchell CD. This one to be precise.

      7) Write a short story- in Marathi. Just to prove a point.

      8) Direct a film – horror preferably set in my institute. Its long corridors with multiple doors and desolate areas are a perfect setting.

      9) Listen to the Berlin Philharmonic perform Carmen live.

      10) Meet my high school crush.

      11) Put up this poster on the wall on my room.

      Someday. Someway.

      Tuesday, November 06, 2007

      Unofficial Department Mottoes in MEI

      First Department – What we do is great and what others do is junk.

      Second Department – What we do may not be great but what they do is definitely junk.

      Third Department – We should get noticed. Somehow.

      Fourth Department – We don’t know and we don’t care. We are going to Bangalore anyways.

      Fifth Department - We know but we don’t care. Pune is great at this time of the year.

      Sixth Department – We know and we care very much but we don’t know what to do about it.

      Seventh Department – We earn so much more than the rest that we don’t need to care. So we play badminton.

      (S.S. to be credited with the first two. MEI stands for My Esteemed Institute.)

      Thursday, October 18, 2007

      On being cynical

      When I joined the insti, the fifth/sixth years were this hallowed tribe you could make out from the others. They were always worried, always serious, never smiled. They did talk to you occasionally to give you advice like “go home more often” or “time flies like an arrow” or something more practical “if your flies don’t mate, sing to them.” (huh??). Some lost their temper on the silliest of things – like when I overshot my time and then invaded into theirs on the confocal microscope or when a lizard entered the culture room. ("Get it out! Get it out! It will eat my flies. I have to finish in two months!")

      Something about the hard phd life that makes them like that I used to think. Now I am beginning to wonder whether I am like that too.

      Lets see. In the past ten days I have..

      Intensely worried - check
      Never smiled or laughed - no.
      Screamed at junior - check
      Screamed at junior for no reason - check
      Given unsolicited advice - check (this was about fly mating, for the record.)
      Been in a bad mood - check (but that was because of a hangover. That does not count, does it?)

      Not bad. 4 and a half out of 6. I pass!

      Thursday, October 11, 2007

      MEI stories

      Things you must do to be grep ('geekily hep') in MEI

      1) Music - Must profess a love for Pink Floyd, Bob Marley or Leonard Cohen. Denver is too pedestrian and Billy Joel is too 'whatever'. Britney Spears and her ilk is definitely a no-no. Though Eminem will do if you can say something suitably clever about his lyrics. To be truly eclectic you can say jazz. But pure classical rules as always.

      2) Books - non-fiction - Must have read all of the following books - selfish gene, blindwatchmaker, nobel dreams, tao of physics. Reading them means being able to discuss them or trash them with sentences that begin with "looking at it like a scientist........"

      3) Movies - Must have watched (and enjoyed in an explainable, virtue extolling kind of way) a movie in a foreign language - Russian sci-fi, French romance, Irani social commentary, Japanese anime, or Spanish fantasy.
      4) TV- Must watch one or more of the following series and profess and undying love for them - Star Trek, Heroes, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, IT crowd or something more geeky. On the animation side, South park or Simpsons but then you will have discuss their social relevance.

      6) Books - science fiction - Terry Patchett, Isaac Asimov or you might want to say Ray Bradbury just to show your predeliction for the dark side of things. Non-science fiction - late 19th century fiction if you want to be differently different, or something dense like Nietzsche, Chekhov or Chaucer. Say "I like Rowling" and you will be wandering in the dreary desert sands of MEI social wilderness for years.

      5) Graphic novels. They are the IN thing these days. Persepolis is a good start though Sarnath Banerjee is a close second due to his bong connection.

      7) OS - "Never judge a book by its cover, a man by his shoes or a geek by his operating system.", so said a wise man. but who listens to wise men anyways? Be warned, you WILL be judged by your OS. You must know UNIX/LINUX or at least pretend to use it even if you cannot use the command terminal and prefer a mouse. OSX is a close second. Mention Windows XP you will be summarily eliminated from the conversation. Vista and you might as well jump into the sea.

      8) Dress - dress is everything. This has to be carefully casual. A hopelessly crinkled kurta or shorts. Just to show the world that you are so fracking devoted to your science that you dont have the time to dress properly. Maroon is currently very much in style, replacing black as the t-shirt colour of choice. However, at any given time in MEI there will be at least one maroon or black shirt in a gathering of 5 or more people.

      9) Must espouse some social cause, which is a good thing.

      10) Must be a blogger or a blogger to be. The latter mainly means reading blogs.

      11) Should be able to discuss the pros and cons of the iPhone versus the Blackberry versus any other PDA, even if you have never seen them. All this within hours of their release. Time is critical. If you discuss it before release you will be labelled jobless, if you discuss it the next day it will be yesterdays news. Literally.

      This combined with a healthy dose of the relevant recent research in your field of interest and are all set to tackled the behe'mouths' of MEI.

      The very idea of 'grepness' involves refusing to be defined. So these very things might just be non-grep tomorrow. You have been warned.

      Friday, September 28, 2007

      Dreamer of Dreams

      (Stumbled on this poem from this site, where it was just two lines at the bottom of the page, but after that it has been stuck in my head. It is what can be called a poet's poem. What haunts me the most is the last two lines. )

      We are the music-makers,
      And we are the dreamers of dreams,
      Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
      And sitting by desolate streams.
      World-losers and world-forsakers,
      Upon whom the pale moon gleams;
      Yet we are the movers and shakers,
      Of the world forever, it seems.

      With wonderful deathless ditties
      We build up the world's great cities,
      And out of a fabulous story
      We fashion an empire's glory:
      One man with a dream, at pleasure,
      Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
      And three with a new song's measure
      Can trample an empire down.

      We, in the ages lying
      In the buried past of the earth,
      Built Nineveh with our sighing,
      And Babel itself with our mirth;
      And o'erthrew them with prophesying
      To the old of the new world's worth;
      For each age is a dream that is dying,
      Or one that is coming to birth.

      -Arthur O'Shaughnessy.

      Tuesday, September 11, 2007

      All our life

      All our life we chase a dream
      when we get it we realise
      it it not what we wanted.
      With these words I set you free.
      And in doing so I am released too.

      Thursday, August 16, 2007

      The week that was

      I have had the nicest week ever.

      It started with a play at the NCPACotton 56 Polyester 84. It was brilliant. It is a play about the Mumbai mills, the culture they spawned and the way it died. There were several references to real incidents – the rise and fall of communism in Mumbai, the underworld etc. It hit home is more ways than one, as my grandfather worked in the mills. Interspersed with some traditional Marathi music it really made me nostalgic.

      Then mid week for no reason we went to Theobroma and I had a huge choco fudge cake sponsored by S. The only thing better than chocolate cake is a free chocolate cake. Hmm..

      This was followed by a movie – Gandhi my Father. One of the more ‘intellectual’ movies to come out of Bollywood and I love Akshaye Khanna and since it has been sometime since a handsome guy graced my blog here I put his pic. Muah! He acts well as usual. So does the guy who plays Gandhi (except for his unintentionally funny prosthetic ears). The actors are great. The sets are fantastic. But the film is smaller then the sum of the parts and whole thing just does not gel together. You would be better off watching the play with Naseeruddin Shah and Kay Kay.

      A telugu movie on Friday night – It was called Jagadam. Technically it was a brilliant movie, the way it was shot, the scenes, the background etc. The first half hour was actually entertaining like entering a whole new universe. A few minor hiccups. The heroine wearing a short white skirt falls for the tapori hero after he molests her at the theater. Huh? Are we still living in the middle ages? And their way of expressing love? Ok wait for this. The girl sucking water off the heroes shoulder before he has a bath with a straw. This scene is shown three times in the movie for added effect. Meh!

      Then a trek to Mahuli – possibly my first trek. And yes the very idea of Samudrika trekking was enough to send some people into hysterical laughter. But pox on them! The high point was a well wishing co-trekker whose idea of de-stressing was making up rhyming couplets as we climbed up. Ah yes dear readers I made up the rear of the trekking group but I managed it. This was followed quickly by a promise to me to not go on another trek ever, until I build up my stamina. To add more interest to the whole thing, it was raining when we climbed down, when all the rocks became slippery and suddenly the trek was non-trivial.

      On Sunday I went to judge to St. Xaviers for a science project competition for Malhaar, which is arguably the most popular college fest in Mumbai. It was the first time the famous college fest actually had a science based competition. That was heart warming. The topic was "Novel perceptions of time and its measurement". How thrilling! I am told that Malhaar usually involves judges like John Abraham, so I am in exalted company. Yes, you may have my autograph!

      That brings me back to my manic Mondays. Not bad at all. Time to buckle down and get to work or else my pre-thesis seminar is going to be DOA.


      That was me screaming my stress off. So if you hear some random screams over the next four weeks (I have only four weeks!! Damn! Damn! Damn!), that would be me. Please be kind!

      Currently listening to – Don’t worry be happy – Bob Marley.

      Thursday, June 28, 2007

      Peter Pan-esque

      It has been a dreary couple of months - the last week has been the worst. A friend is sufferring from a illness which has no physical manifestations, and an illness which most people would make fun of.(the D word darling!) Sometimes I feel partly responsible because I ignored my friend when I was needed the most. Wrapped in my own thoughts, I did not bother to enquire about hir** at all. But hir is "limping back normalcy" slowly and hopefully all will be soon be right with my world.

      Also lots of people leaving MEI - people I knew, people I loved, people I liked. With each leaving, an era ends. MEI becomes slightly more different than it was before if that oh-so-familiar face is not in the canteen, collonade, seashore or library. What is life if there is no one to share late night multi-hour 'information exchanges' with?

      Perhaps all this is just a symptom of the high stress life that being in fifth year entails. you know post doc searching, thesis writing, paper writing, boss fighting, recco getting and all that. interspersed with frantic searches on Pubmed to see what your batchmates have been upto for the past five years, regretfully realising that they have done better than you while you devoted yourself to wine, man and song. Literally.

      Now its time face the world. start worrying about money, housing, stock options, money, babies, jobs, visas, passports, money, some serious work perhaps, mid-life crises, in-laws, etc and money too.

      ** - hir - new article which is gender independant. could mean him OR her. can also be used in place of he OR she.

      *** - MEI - My Esteemed Institute - a well known and reputed research insitute in India which I study in, but I will not name, lest Google give me away.

      Monday, May 21, 2007

      Summer time

      (This was written last year when the visiting summer students arrived. I have no idea why I never published it then. But today being the day that the summer students start their six week thing, I figure I would post it today. )

      Summer time and weather is fine.
      If you stretch right up you can touch the sky…

      Thus spake Peter Andre – the one with the six pack abs.

      However, summer time for a research scholar means something entirely different. This heralds the arrival of the species which in polite terms are called the short-term students. The people from various undergrad institutes that makes their way into My Esteemed Institute ostensibly to learn something new. This is of course all a part of the great initiative of a government funded research institute to encourage science aptitude in the undergrad.

      I don’t know how it works in the theoretical sciences but it the experimental ones they get tagged along with some (un)lucky grad student.

      Some of them are quite nice and I have had quite an enjoyable time with them. But these days all the summer students come with one thing – attitude with a capital A. I don’t know it is just me , or just me getting old, or some radical shift in perception.

      Situation one

      Here I am. We use carbon dioxide to make flies sit still so that we can work on them. The CO2 comes from huge cylinders outside the lab. One of these got over. Me poor me standing there with a spanner in my hand trying to move these huge things and fix them right.

      This VSRP comes, makes whistling noise as if he pities me and then he just stand there and watchs. Just watches. All this while i have this huge spanner in my hand and I am trying to move these big cylinders because the helpers have all gone for the day.

      “Why don’t you use some other less cumbersome method of anesthetizing flies?

      Pregnant Pause.

      Are you sure you are doing it right?

      Another Pregnant Pause.

      “This is really dangerous. What if it explodes?”

      I had these mental images of crushing his skull out with my spanner. But then I gave him my MEI sneer and he went away.

      Situation two

      Then the irritating guy (from IIT) of larger than average proportions who comes into the lab.

      Opens the door. Door bangs against some book shelf kept behind it. Then he asks why don’t you get rid of that thing? And gives us a look of supreme contempt. Like the morons that we non-IITians are should have fixed that problem earlier.

      Situation three

      Trying to make some lunchtime conversation – you know the situation where no one knows anyone and you are trying to pass time while you chew the grub. This fellow happened to be working in a certain s***** theory dept - which MEI is supposedly famous for.

      Him: So who do you work with?

      Me: XXX

      Him:Oh I don’t know him.

      That is good thing.

      Me:What do you work on?

      Him: You would not understand.

      End of conversation.

      Situation four

      Then there was the story of the student who thought he knew everything. And then he would catch people at the time when they had the most work and ask "what do you do?" Most people like to talk about their work so someone would start explaining about drosophila spermatogenesis and then he would say “Yah yah I know.” But he does then you start explaining something else and then he would say “yeah I know that too.”
      Can’t you just listen? And no you don’t know these things.

      And just when you think that you have got it all figured out and you are finally exploiting them to full glory – pat comes the news. Their six week training period is over and they have to leave and you end up finishing all the experiments that they have started.

      Truly speaking they do provide us a whole bunch of jokes to laugh at for the rest of the year. Don’t get me wrong some of them are quite useful. and there are the incidental advantages. Some lucky peeps have found mates this way. But most of all they do remind us wizened old souls about why we started science in the first place – for the wonder and joy of it.

      Just when you start to forget them, comes a new bunch of them bigger, brighter better - with attitudes to match.

      Here's to another six weeks with the peeps that arrive today!

      Sunday, May 20, 2007

      Death of an obsession

      (Emotions are such fickle things. One day I am desperately in love with Tracy Chapman. I play her songs again and again. Next day, I am bored of her. Bored to death. Therefore a poem is born! If there is one thing I am consistent with is the fact that at any given time I will be obsessed - just that it will be with different things.)

      The gossamer wings of a butterfly
      The silky web of a black spider
      A dewdrop within a dewdrop
      A dream within a dream
      Transient, evanescent
      An emotion, a feeling
      There for a second

      And in a flap
      Gone forever
      Not a trace
      That it ever

      Tuesday, May 15, 2007


      The wonders of Adobe Illustrator. I wanted to make a schematic illustrating a stage of Drosophila spermatogenesis - something like the diagram on the left.

      But then I started fiddling around with Illustrator and somehow ended up with the picture on the right. (a psychedelic 's view of the Drosophila testes perhaps?). I did not have the heart to delete it so I do the next best thing. Blog it!

      Thursday, May 10, 2007

      Ode to Spot

      (I came across this poem supposed to have been written by Data - the android from Star Trek for his cat. For some reason, I found it very funny, thought right now I cannot recollect why. Text courtesy Memory Alpha, the Star Trek wiki.)

      ODE TO SPOT by Commander Data.

      Felis Catus is your taxonomic nomenclature,
      An endothermic quadruped carnivorous by nature.
      Your visual, olfactory and auditory senses
      Contribute to your hunting skills and natural defences.
      I find myself intrigued by your sub-vocal oscillations,
      A singular development of cat communications
      That obviates your basic hedonistic predilection
      For a rhythmic stroking of your fur to demonstrate affection.
      A tail is quite essential for your acrobatic talents:
      You would not be so agile if you lacked its counter-balance.
      And when not being utilized to aid in locomotion
      It often serves to illustrate the state of your emotion.
      Oh Spot, the complex levels of behavior you display
      Connote a fairly well-developed cognitive array,
      And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend
      I none-the-less consider you a true and valued friend.

      Wednesday, May 09, 2007

      Science writing

      I have started blogging at another place. A friend invited me to join a group blog to write about science and other related things. This blog will be pretty much restricted to not-so-serious issues.

      You should hop over there. We have real fun discussions sometimes.

      Currently listening to - New York state of mind - Billy Joel.

      Sunday, May 06, 2007

      Writing on a wall.

      No matter how many times it happens it always hurts the most.

      The strange part is that I thought that it would get easier with time. But it has not.

      It has gotten worse.

      This pain when someone whom you like and trust betrays you. When someone who you think is a good friend, turns their back on you.

      I wish I would grow up soon. But I don’t. I am just a kid at heart – for whom the world is new and still full of possibilities and joys unexplored - na├»ve and trusting and believing.

      Sometimes I think it is better than I have not grown up. Because I am afraid that if I did, I would become bitter. And that would definitely be the end of my world.

      Now listening to – I never gonna dance again – George Micheal.

      Tuesday, May 01, 2007

      MEI underground - Satyajit

      (for todays article I have given my space to our guest blogger as he reports on happenings in MEI– May the truth prevail!)

      From our special correspondent – Satyajit.

      Late into the night when the whole world sleeps, My Esteemed Insitite(MEI) awakes. The MEI underground emerges in its full dark glory.

      The corridors come alive with sounds of screaming as someone is being strangled (for the record that was the frustrated fifth year was mortally wounding a innocent first year because he asked her how many publications she has) . This is followed by the sound of the piercing laughter of the resident siren (who with her laugh lures many an unsuspecting person into the quicksand of desire from wherein no one has escaped)

      From another lab comes the sound of someone yapping nineteen to the dozen telling the world that he will do for [INSERT RANDOM SUBJECT] what Einstein did for physics. You actually pay attention till you realize he is just back from Gokul(local pub) therefore should not be trifled with. You try to shrug him off but he follows like a faithful dog.

      There are reagents smuggled from one lab to another, which in broad daylight would have caused more than one P.I. to have a heart attack and would have made the P.I. realize the importance of the saying that no man is an island. Truly some men are not islands but are the Eurasian continent unto themselves. They have been known not to start an experiment until they know that all the reagents they need have been made by someone already. "Why bother making something when you can just beg, borrow or steal it? It is also much faster besides. " says the drunk as he quietly 'borrows' the 2 dimensional electrophoresis apparatus.

      Whispers in a small corridor catch your attention. Clandestine hard discs and flash drives are passed around, information too sensitive to be transmitted across the networks, bits and bytes of precious data that entertains, that enthralls, that mesmerizes and that ruins. The digital apple in the silicon Garden of Eden. "Have you seen ********?" A soft voice who in the day you would have never even known existed is suddenly the complete center of your attention. "Later!" says the drunk to the soft voice and drags you away before you can succumb to the temptation. The first sensible thing he has done this evening. You go outside to clear your head.

      Strange combinations of people which are not fashionable in the broad daylight of the midday sun can be seen scattered around the campus. The mathematicians politely but guardedly socialize with the experimentalists and biologists consent to talk to the theorists. Class distinctions fall and presence of juniors is actually acknowledged.

      Over endless cups of tea and soggy parathas of the open canteen, the days events are mocked, analyzed, exaggerated, re-examined and remade,. New stories emerge out of this. Fodder for another night perhaps.

      Subtle nuances gain importance. Whey did the third year girl call her room mate ‘darling’ in that lilting tone? Is there more to it than meets the non-pink eye? "Yes, we get our cheap thrills like this only." says the drunk.

      On the sofas outside the canteen various secret societies meet with secret handshakes and even more secret agendas. You hang around and try to listen –certcon certcon certcon - is all you hear so you give up when you notice them giving you strange looks.

      where is the science in all this? you wonder. The drunk from Gokul says “This is what science is actually all about”. You ignore him and move on. Time to go home.

      Even at the hostel the MEI underground does not let go of you. They take the hostel cat and treat her like a goddess, take snaps of her, cuddle her and feed her, insist that you appreciate it. And the cat she has the attitude of a diva. "I love her, "says the drunk, "I will make a video of her. I will market the video. I will make her a superstar. The world should know my diva for what she is." You suspect this is no longer about the cat so you ignore it.

      As the morning hour nears, the players of the MEI underground flock to the beds to sleep till the wee hours of the day like bats. You do too, knowing that tomorrow is another day, another challenge and the MEI underground rests too knowing the same. If they did not get you today, tomorrow they will. You switch off the light in your room and try to sleep.

      "Good night" whispers the drunk. You start and then you realize the drunk was always inside your head. The talons of the MEI underground reach farther than you had fanthomed. You have no choice but to surrender.

      Current obsession – Comfortably numb by Pink Floyd

      Thursday, March 08, 2007

      Flights of Fancy

      If it were the Victorian age, I would have been a sailor going sailing on any ship that I fancied chasing wild ideas of my capitan, rejoicing at success, paying with my blood for the mistakes that I have made, careless and free as a bird.

      If it were the medieval period, I would have been a solider of fortune, trying my luck as things went along, working for whoever paid me, running after imaginary riches and scouting them out to lay them at the feet of my master who has hired me.

      If were the dark ages, I would have been a knight, loyal to my King, propounding His Royal Highness' word through the land, making sure that His rule is never disrupted, advocating his law and promises to distant lands and decimating his detractors at risk of my life and limb.

      In this age I am a Ph.D student still doing pretty much all these things.