Feb 28, 2006

Dream before sleep

There are days I feel so sleepy before going to bed that I doze off as soon as I hit the bed; and there are days when I go to sleep bcos it is 'bed time'. To minimize the sleepless time, many people resort to things like taking deep breaths or close eyes and imagine a sheeps jumping over a fence. For me, it has been a time to realize my cricket dreams. I would imagine myself as a batsman or bowler taking apart the opposition players and make the teams win.

Post-World Cup '03, I used to imagine myself as a tail batsman facing the Aus bowlers in the finals when all seemed lost and then start blazing sixes, to clinch an unbelievable victory. Especially creating new records like reaching fifty in just 9 balls, a hundred in less than 20 balls, and max. no. of sixes. If I sleep today, it would be me hitting five sixes off Harmison or Hoggard, getting a 1 or 3 to retain the strike and continue the onslaught the next over; this way the team score would be over 1500 when India bats first; or if it is bowling, I would make all their batsmen bowled within my first 10 balls. Never it has failed to bring sleep to me within 5-10 minutes.

Since I hardly get a chance to play cricket, this super-dreaming doesnt affect me negatively. When India loses, and when I feel bad, I sometimes console myself that they lost because I didnt play !! hahhaa.. might sound funny, but thats my way of coming over such demoralizing temporary emotions. Logic cant take a beating; so, when I sleep today, I wont imagine playing the first test vs England (which would have started by then) but rather catch a flight to India, and 'somehow' get into the team before the second test. It is hard, u know, without having played a single Ranji team. So, I would imagine me impressing either the captain or chairmen of selectors or coach (the way Wasim Akram impressed Imran Khan on the eve of a test and literally hand-picking him).

Now, with the team in desparate look for real fast bowlers and the selectors declaring that anyone bowling above 135 kph is welcome, it would make the logic during my dreaming easy. If I clock 160 kph and above, wouldnt it be among the easiest way to enter the team? :-)

Feb 25, 2006

Visa Fiasco

Many of you might have heard the news on the problems with issue of U.S. Visa to Prof. Goverdhan Mehta, former Director of IISc. He was asked to attend the interview at the Chennai embassy and then told that his answers were not satisfying to warrant issue of Visa. The staff at the embassy had no clue about him obviously. Though it came as a shocking news, it was not all that 'totally-unexpected'. After the nuclear tests in 1998, some prominent Indian scientists such as Dr. Chidambaram were denied U.S. visa. Post 9/11, the situation has arguably worsened, as some of you might have experienced.

Yesterday, one of the senior faculty members, Prof. Ken Wagener, talked to me about it and sincerely apologized, as an American, for the injustice caused to an Indian scientist. He need not have done that, and it showed how hurt he was at the proceedings. Prof. Mehta was slated to visit our University (as an invited and distinguished Professor) and then attend a major Chemistry meeting at the end of March. Now, even though his visa has been granted, thanks to some high-profile involvement, he has cancelled his visit.

IMHO, it is high time that scientists beyond a certain level have to be treated differently when the Visa norms are considered. The people at the embassy are not experts in all the areas of science and technology to judge and analyze upon the quality and value of a scientist. A little homework from their part can surely prevent this kind of mishap.

I was one of those affected by such Visa problems. I was initially supposed to join Tech. Univ. of Eindhoven in the Netherlands, in a group which is arguably the best on this planet to work on polymers. Dutch visa, as far as I know, is the most difficult Visa to get. Too many procedures and norms for comfort. For those from developing countries, it requires a original birth certificate, duly attested at the highest possible place. I paid several visits to Madurai and Chennai (the secretariate) to get my birth certificate verified and stamped.

The visa form is 18 pages long, with info (D.O.B. and place of birth) required on my parents, kins, uncles, aunts, grandfathers, grandmothers, our school education history from class 1, etc. It required calling everyone of them (over 25, scattered all over India) and getting the info. At last, I went to attend the interview in Mumbai. Then came the shock of my life. They had introduced a new rule just a few days before, which required that the certificates with 'initials' will not be accepted. As a South Indian with no family name or surname and only the first letter of father's name as the initial, I had all my certificates with initials on it. The new rule meant that I would have to run pillar-to-post in the slow-working government offices of City corporation, collector's office, secretariate and even High court, to get my name changed.

I realized that it would take atleast 6-7 months to get the visa, so I, in a moment of rage, applied to my supervisor here, who was my Ph.D. supervisor's friend and our collaborator, and I was lucky enough to get a position. Within 6 weeks from then, my visa was ready. That experience with Dutch visa left a sore note, and I decided to never apply for it again. The government's policies are taken without considering the scientific community, and thus a scientist is treated the same way as an illiterate. High time it changes.

Feb 23, 2006

One help

The blogger template, when one chooses it first, gives a rather small working area, with some blank space left on either or both sides. Since I use mostly 14+ inch screens, I tried to maximize the blog area by expanding the area. Then, in some PC's, I found that my profile and other stuff (which are on the left) would be pushed all the way down at the end of the page, which was due to smaller screen size; so I cut short the width (from 1100 pixels to 950 pixels). I also realize that it depends on the font size; choosing a bigger font would again squeeze the space.

So, I wanted to write this post for quite sometime: How does it appear on your screen, normal on the left or not? Letting me know that would help me in making sure that you all view the blog the same way I do by adjusting the width of my blog. I advance-appreciate it, y'all..

Feb 22, 2006


A unique month, isnt it? A short month, flanked by two longer ones.. When I was in India, Feb was a month not-so-bad, bcos it would go away pretty fast before the next salary (scholarship) date arrives.. With the fortnightly check system over here, it is different.. one gets paid exactly for the number of workdays but gets charged similar to a typical 30 days-month for house rent, phone bills and others.

Moreover, it is as if one more month in your life went away pretty fast.. sad! :-( I dont know who that 'intelligent person' was to keep such kind of inequalities in the first 3 months of the year.. it could have easily been 30 days equal for all Jan-March, with Feb. getting 31 days during leap years.. I wish someone starts a worldwide movement to make it happen atleast now on.. Initially, it would be a bit messy to adjust, esp. with the computers and stuff, but hey, it would generate new jobs similar to the ones created for Y2K bug.

Feb 20, 2006

Hail, India!!

What a week it has been for Indian cricket.. three comprehensive wins against a strong Pak team in one-dayers after doing catch-up for most part of the test series!! A team not so long ago tagged as among the worst chasers, have won 13 games in a row while chasing reasonable targets (280+ on several occasions).

Congratulations, Team India!!
* It is interesting that the teams that we have done well against in the recent past, were rated #2 when the series began (though we didnt defeat SA, we didnt lose it either).

* Sachin's contribution has been immense.. (both with bat and ball); so, all those who wish and assume that Sachin's career would go the same way as Saurav, plz. stop all the rantings and enjoy the show..

* It is only second time that India has won 4 matches in a row against Pak..

* We have now got not one - but two Michael Bevans: both Yuvraj Singh and Mahi Dhoni have been terrific finishers of the game.

* India has jumped from #7 in ICC one-day ranking to joint #3 in a span of 16 matches and 4 months. A good show against England in both one-dayers and tests should push them to #2 in both the formats of the game..

* Time to play more games against Australia, guys.. It has been almost 8 years since we won a one-day against Australia while chasing.

* India's bowlers, though far better than the Pakistanis, still have a long way to go in being consistent and world-beaters. Amazing that our reliability on spinners is almost totally gone and pacers rule the roost.

* This is for girls: India's fast bowlers are handsome hunks now (Irfan, Zaheer, and RP Singh). ;-) I have heard that they rival and even outsmart the Bollywood heroes among college-going fans.

* The upcoming England series is going to be damn interesting.. they are back to near-full strength thanks to the return of Simon Jones. After long time, we can get to see four genuine fast bowlers bowl in India; I cant wait. The mind games have already begun - Nasser Hussain's comment that England should put pressure on India by using the Ganguly issue tells us that they are ready to go to any level to return home undefeated.

* Look at Dravid's facial expression in this foto.. His clenching of teeth and exuberance is so different to the 'cool and calm' Dravid we thought him to be. IMHO, he is a very good, if not better, replacement for Ganguly; his use of super-sub has been a bit baffling but, thank god, the rule is gonna be scrapped. I wish it wasnt; it is an interesting thing to have but it required just one change to make it interesting: So far, the team winning the toss has got the better conditions plus the super-sub advantage; removing one and giving it to the other team would be a nice way to even out. How about the following change? Both teams would name their 12, with a super-sub before the toss. The team that has lost the toss can change the super-sub among the 12. This way, the toss factor can be evened out. It seems that the ICC doesnt have enough innovative advisors.

Feb 17, 2006

Mother and child

In my childhood, we had my dad's aunt and her family living with us. Two of my dad's cousins were very laidback, lazy and until their 30's hardly did any work. Everyone used to tell them that their mother (my granny) didnt inculcate any sense of responsibility in them. In the MGR's song 'Indha Pachai kilikkoru sevvandhi poovai' (from 'Pallandu Vazhga') there is this funda
Endha kuzhandhaiyum
nalla kuzhandhaidhaan
Mannil Pirakkaiyiley

Avan Nallavanaavadhum
Annai VaLarppiniley
She was a staunch MGR fan; but she didnt agree with this funda. She said the mother had little/no control over what the child would become later. Obviously, when some reference was made w.r.t. her children, she would stress upon the point even strongly. Well, I am not talking about big-time baddie like a serial killer.. but someone who has more bad qualities than good ones.

What do you say about this philosophy? Was MGR/Kannadasan right?

Feb 15, 2006

Here and there

What do they do in India? Get up in the morning, have coffee, take a shower, do some puja, have breakfast and sit in front of TV, watching Meggga serials till noon, take lunch, have a li'l nap, watch serials again, go for a small walk in the evening, come back to watch the serials, have dinner and go to bed.

What do they do abroad? Everything mentioned above, if one just manages to get the Indian channels.. Tie them up in their own same world, albeit in a different environment. So, no complaints of 'loneliness' from them anymore.. The lives of parents of NRI's have taken a dramatic turn for the past few years.. Vaazhga Megaserials!!

Feb 14, 2006

Kaadhal Seiveer!!

Here is a quick and simple translation of a beautiful song, on the occasion of the V- Day..

Yakkai thiri; Kaadhal sudar

Yakkai (body) is a wick; love is the flame. The whole purpose of the wick is to light; flame helps that. Without flame, the wick is useless. The wick sacrifices itself for holding the flame.

Jeevan nadhi; kaadhal kadal

Soul is a river; love is the sea. All the rivers, no matter how long, big and violent they are; they ultimately mix in the sea. The sea takes in all the rivers; and rivers that mix in the sea lose their identity and they are just called sea.

Piravi pizhai; kaadhal thirutham

Birth is a mistake; love is the correction. Don’t regret at being born; there is love. The god does the mistake of creation; and then he corrects it with love. Without being corrected, a mistake can never stand alone. It will always remain a mistake.

Irudhayam kal; kaadhal sirpam

Heart is a stone; love is the sculpture. A stone can serve several functions; as a simple paper-weight, to kill someone, to build home, as a resting place, etc., but a sculpture on it changes it totally. It gives beauty to the stone, which was missing altogether but always hidden beneath.

Jenmam vidhai; kaadhal pazham

Birth (again) is a seed; love is the fruit. A seed, after growing up tall as a tree, becomes a tree and gives fruits. The fruits most often define the use of the tree. The seed is bitter; the fruit is sweet. The fruit came from the seed; or the other way around? (

Lokam dwaitham; kaadhal advaitham

The world is dual; love is singular. World, by and large, is made of men and women; love is made of only one – the pair. Two is better than one? Why does everybody want to be #1?

Sarvam soonyam; kaadhal pinnyam

(Thanks to Yours Truly, I am able to complete this missing link):

Everything (sarvam) is zero (soonyam). Love is infinite (pinniyam). IMHO, it is amazing!! The reciprocal of zero is infinity. Vairamuthu says all in the world is equivalent to nothing (and useless); and love is everything. Truly amazing!!

Maanudam maayam; kaadhal amaram

Life is an illusion; love is undying.

Wish you all a very happy Valentine's Day!!

Feb 10, 2006


A prelude to the Valentine’s day..

My first DG was Amala. From 'Satya' until 'Kodi Parakkudhu,' she was awesome; after that, she became horribly thin and faded away from my thoughts slowly. She was replaced, strangely, Kimi Katkar. I first saw her in the movie ‘Abhimanyu’, which was the remake of our ‘Sakalakala vallavan’. She looked very gorgeous and stunning in that movie and for a few years (until Hum) she was my DG.

Then, one day in early 90’s, I saw the ad for Pepsi.. a cute girl said ‘Hi, I am Sanjana.. can I have a pepsi plz?’ to Aamir Khan and that was it. She was one of the 5 most beautiful girls I have ever seen. Yeah yeah you know who she is.. she was my DG until I saw Sonali Bendre in ‘95.
That was the time the internet was booming up; she was the girl whose pictures were the most famous in the web.

In ’96, I saw ‘Tere mere sapne’ in which Priya Gill was introduced, along with Simran. She acted as a Tamil girl in the movie. I was totally lost.
Then came 'Keerthi Reddy'.. a special one.. she was the only actress to whom I have sent a fan letter.. ;-)

Next year, the mettle was passed to Mahima Choudhary, who was deadly in Pardes,after a great ad for Wills during World cup '96..
Lisa Ray replaced her soon. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's album 'Afreen' shown on DD those times was such a lovely song.

As you can see, mid 90's had me drooling over 5 beauties; the transition from teenage to the 20's.. It was inevitable.. ;-)

After that, love happened and research also took over. Still, few other girls to be my DG of late are.. Divya Khosla and Tamanna.

Feb 7, 2006

A commercial

A newly-built, isolated house at the suburb of a big city. The family is preparing for the wedding of the only girl of the home. It is night time and everyone is asleep. Four thieves, who have been monitoring the activities of the house, decide to try their luck. One climbs up the post and cuts off the phone connection to the home. Now, all of them jump the fence, go to the back-door and start banging it. The house is so solitary that no other house is nearby within the shouting distance. The police station is a kilometer away. The people of the house are rudely awaken and shocked to know what is going on. Someone picks up the phone and realizes that it is dead. Then, one of the guests puts hands in his pocket, takes out his mobile and calls 100. The police is immediately alerted and just when the thieves manage to successfully break the door, they hear the police siren. They have no choice but to run towards their bikes. The family is saved and everyone appreciates the cell-phone owner.

This story might sound silly now; but imagine this to have happened 5-6 years ago, when the mobile phones were affordable but overlooked by the middle class. When I bought my first mobile in 2001 and realized its tremendous importance after a few incidents, I was wondering what a valuable invention it is. IMHO, the ads for the mobile phones and the service-providers were surprisingly less than innovative and very little was shown about its true potential. In that context, something in the line of the first para was the story I was telling Geeta then that I would like to see as an ad.

Feb 4, 2006

Me and Movies

I was an average movie watcher in my childhood. That changed a bit in late 80's, when we bought a VCP. I became an avid movie-watcher.. and, added to that, the video parlour near our home had a scheme that, for Rs. 100 per month, we can rent one movie per day.. Plus, since we were the only ones having a VCP, two of our neighbours made a deal of bringing a video cassette of their own choice and allowing them to watch at our home. Thus, my summer vacations in late 80s and early 90's were largely spent on movies and movies.. Once I watched close to 100 movies in 2 months..!! (old, new, repetitive, Tamil, Hindi, English all put together).

When I was in class 10, on one crazy evening, I decided to write down all the movies that I had watched till then.. I took a chalk piece and started to write it down in a room.. Then I got the idea of writing them in a document, so I picked up a new diary and began entering all the movies I had seen, from my reasonably good memory. To seggregate, I divided them based on the actors (MGR, Sivaji, Kamal, Rajini, Vijayakanth, Satyaraj, Prabhu, Karthik and Others), English, Hindi and other languages.

Within a week, the project was complete and when I added them up, I realized that, in less than 15 years of my life (or, to be precise, 10 years of movie watching), I had watched over 1000 movies. Impressive, huh? I decided to continue that practice (not the frenetic movie-watching, but the writing down part). Then, I added all the movie halls I had visited. After my school, I started collecting my movie tickets and stored them in the same diary, on the appropriate date.

It was too good to last. I kept up with the documentation for over 8 years.. and then it stopped, along with my diary-writing habit of 13 years. Now, some of you know how and why I have become the TMDB.. When I counted it last time (late 90's), my movie-count had reached about 1500. With the flurry of movies that I have watched since then (esp. in the past year-and-half,) I am sure it would be touching 2K now.. :-)

Feb 2, 2006

Tale of two scientists


Place: Gastein, Austria.
Time: July, 2000.
Occasion: International Conference on 'Synthetic Metals'

A scientist from the famous Bell Labs presents a plenary lecture in which he shows that his group has achieved such phenomenal results within the past few months that most scientists all over the world would be more than happy to have got over their entire lifetime. He had published a few breakthrough publications in the famous journals 'Nature' and 'Science' in the months leading to the meeting; but those who listened to his talk forgot to breath for a few secs - such were the kinds of results. In the next few months, that group published an astonishing number of papers - some 40 + - an average of one paper every 8 days.

They won several awards, including the 'Best Presentation' in the conference, the Science magazine's 'Top 10 discoveries of the year 2000' and so on. I was one of those who attended his lecture and I could sense that it was something big.. The leading scientist was touted to be a strong contender for the Nobel prize in the next 3-4 years. In short, the results were ground-breaking in the area of materials science. Some of you might be aware of the Moore's law (which states that the no. of transistors in a square area of a chip would double every 18 months); it has been surprisingly valid so far but it has the danger of running out by the turn of the next decade. At that time, transistors being run by a 'single molecule' are required.. The Bell lab scientists had already claimed to have achieved it, 10 years before the 'deadline'!!


A very famous biologist from South Korea, Prof. Hwang is well-known for his 'cloning' work. He is as famous in Korea as Dr. Abdul Kalam was/is in India.. He was projected as 'Korea's face to the world', the 'Hope of Korea' etc. Some of you might be aware of the controversial 'stem cell' research. (Stem cells are taken from a fertilized human egg in the first few days after pregnancy; scientists have strong hope for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease on stem cells.) He published a paper in 'Science' in 2004 that he could create clones from the stem cells.

A few months later, he became the first one to clone a dog, 'Snuppy'. In 2005, he published another break-through paper that he could form individual, person-specific 'cell-lines' from the clones taken from the stem cells.. to put it simply, it would mean that, for a person suffereing from a particular disease, the doctors can monitor another 'clone' in which the disease is slowly developing.. Thus, it would give a better idea on the medication required. His results were also ground-breaking; and he was a strong contender for the Nobel Prize.

What happened next?
Several groups were interested in the results, they tried to do similar experiments in their labs; but failed to reproduce the Bell lab's results. The word started spreading around. One scientist found that figures from different publications of the group, on different subjects, were identical; so much that even the 'noise' was the same.. By 2002, the concern was a major one and everyone started to view the results with suspicion. The Bell labs had to appoint a committee to check the validity of the papers. When the committee approached the main scientist, he directed them to 'the one' post-doctoral student, who was the person to have done all the experiments himself.
That guy was a German, Dr. Hendrich Schon, who did the experiments partly at Bell labs, USA and partly in his Ph.D. university in Germany. The committee was in for a shock when they interviewed him.. 1) He didnt maintain any lab notebooks
2) He erased all data from the computer because the computer in Bell labs didnt have 'sufficient memory'.
3) He was the only one to have ever 'seen' those results.. he hasnt shown any of the phenomenon to his boss or to his colleagues.
4) He said that he had 'too many results' that it is possible that some of the figures could have been jumbled up in different papers
5) He accepted that he 'generated some graphs' using programs so that 'they look nice as desired'.

The committee was in rude shock at his remarks and after a thorough inquiry, held him responsible for 'manufacturing' results and 'modifying' them. He was fired from Bell labs; all the papers were 'retracted' from the journals; his PhD. university took away his Ph.D. degree (though his dissertation was apparently clean and undisputed); but the committee left his co-workers, including the boss free, saying that though they could and should have verified the results, they were not at fault. The head scientist resigned from Bell labs and started his career as a Professor in ETH, Zurich, Switzerland.

It came as a huge shock to all of us, who work in the area of materials science.. What to trust and what not to.. The irony of this is that, still there are papers which continue to 'cite' those disputed and retracted papers.

At first, there were concerns about the source of the 'eggs' which Dr. Hwang used. Ethically, it is considered wrong to pay for getting them, bcos the process of removing egg from a woman's ovary is a painful process.. Dr. Hwang said all the eggs he got were from volunteers, who came willing to assist in the breakthrough scientific experiment. Later, two female members of his group told a Korean TV that they donated eggs. It became clear later that Dr. Hwang 'advertised' for want of eggs and paid big money as compensation to the donors. This created a controversy bcos it proved that Dr. Hwang lied about the source of the eggs.

Also, other groups in the world could not reproduce his results so the shadows of doubt fell on his work too. A committee was formed by the university to investigate the matter. They too found that the results were fake; several fotos published in the paper were wrong and duplicated from elsewhere.. One of the co-authors accepted that Dr. Hwang asked him to 'make-up' some fotos.. Dr. Hwang retracted both his papers. The committee, however, said that his dog-cloning work was real. His lab is sealed now and he is facing prosecution..

Feb 1, 2006

Jaathigal Illaiyadi Paappa..

Ramesh was a middle-class Brahmin from Tamilnadu. From his childhood, he wanted to become an 'engineer' thanks to the constant feed from his parents and relatives. When the time came, he realized that it is pretty tough, as the government had the huge reservation, leaving little for open competition. That made him hate the government, caste-based politics and the system of caste itself. He somehow managed to join an engg. college. During his B.E., he had several brain-storming sessions about the quota system, how and why caste is bad, how the grown-up countries are so without any worry about caste, etc., with his friends.

He was waiting to complete his studies and fly abroad. He went to U.S. and completed his MS. He got a job and soon got married. After a few years, his wife was about to give birth to a baby boy, and now it is time for thinking about a name for the child. He discussed at length about the problems he faced in US; he was always just V. Ramesh in India.. and it became Venkatesan Ramesh in his passport; in US, he had a tough time about what people should call his name, the first or last name. Then there was this conversation:

He: Kuzhandhaikku rendu peyar ulla oru pera vaippom..
She: Adhu enna 'rendu peyar ulla oru peyar'? Idhuleyum kuzhappama?
He: Suppose Dilip Ram-nu vacha?
She: mm.. easy-yadhaan irukku.. but Ram-nguradhu family name madhiri theriyumey..
He: Amam.. appuram avanoda kuzhandhaikku some 'X' Ram -nu peyar vaikka vendiyirukkum..
She: Namakkey innoru penn kuzhandhai porandha Sudha Ram-nu vaikkava mudiyum?
He: mmm.. appo namma vamsathaiyum serthu Dilip Iyengar-nu decide pannidalam.. OK?
She: OK..

(Purely fictional story; any resemblance to real-life is coincidental..) :-)