Binayak Sen, the traitor.

That the charges are completely bogus would be an understatement. That Binayak Sen is being hounded by a police state that wants to enforce the draconian act that is the inland version of the AFSPA is plain for everybody to see.

And see it people do.

I had no intention of writing something on the blog this soon after the last post. Something’s happened, however, that I’ve tried to not get worked up about, and failed – miserably. Apart from being a one-off then, this post is also going to be an outpouring. I apologise if it isn’t as well-written as it can be.

A court in Raipur convicted Dr. Binayak Sen of treason and sentenced him to life in prison. The doctor, a gold medallist at CMC Vellore, and a paediatrician who works to provide healthcare to people in the least developed parts of Chattisgarh, and who is also the Vice-President of the PUCL, was charged with treason for carrying messages from a naxal leader to the maoists. That the charges are completely bogus would be an understatement. That Binayak Sen is being hounded by a police state that wants to enforce the draconian act that is the inland version of the AFSPA is plain for everybody to see.

And see it people do.

Former CJIs AM Ahmadi and VN Khare have said the verdict is stupid, in so many words. Amnesty International has called the verdict a dangerous precedent. The point that ‘sedition’ or, as one reporter and apparently the judge who handed down the verdict put it, ‘rajdroh’ is a relic from a different age at best, violates the freedom of speech that the constitution purports to guarantee, and is used whenever convenient has also been made.

The doctor’s statement before the court is a hallmark of his – and I could not mean this more of anybody else – nobleness.

And then this happens: the Union Minister for Law, Veerappa Moily, chastises the former judges who expressed concerns about the sentence meted out to Binayak Sen. The minister’s argument:

[…]such utterances could influence the judiciary and create “confusion” […] one must “bow down” before the verdict unless it is set aside by a higher court. […] Persons who have held very responsible position in the judiciary, they will have to consider that their statements can tomorrow influence the mind of a judge or a magistrate. He will think that a former judge of a High Court or the Supreme Court or a chief justice is commenting upon this, then should I give a judgement. To that extent, it may influence the independent mind of a judge, which will not be fair. It will not be just[.]

It will not be ‘just’ that people speak out against a judgement that is not only brutal, but also lacking legal merit. At least until a higher court sets aside the verdict. Because these pesky people who point out the umpteen number of ways the judgement is stupid might make a better judge realise exactly how stupid the judgement is. How can that be allowed?

And, just to be sure, this business in jurisprudence of consulting the opinions of former judges on similar cases? It’s called legal precedent. Maybe the minister should look it up.

Oh, and if the higher court happens to cite “the collective conscience of the society” that “will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender”, tough luck, I guess. We wouldn’t want to unjustly and unfairly influence the legal process, would we?

An announcement and an apology

The following is entirely off-the-cuff; so I fully expect it to sound like blabbering. I haven’t been writing here too often of late. I have been otherwise occupied, let’s say. There’s been somewhat of a steady decline in how much I write here, and I see no point in making the blog a link-collection. There’s a lot I want to write about which I don’t think I’ll do justice.

This, then, will be the last post until I get some things at work sorted out. Which, if it happens, I don’t expect will take inordinately long. It’s another matter if it doesn’t happen at all; but then the blog will be the least of my concerns. You are welcome to think of this as a winter hiatus. With that out of the way…

I read about this work from the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), which is quite inventive. A bunch of people from the electronics and the agriculture departments have come together to use the Tobacco Mosaic Virus to create high-performance batteries. Technically, they’re only using the outer shell of the virus, which like most interesting things today is nano-sized.

They coat the outer shell with nickel and use the tenfold increase in surface area over a plane surface that happens because of this to act as the current carrier in a battery. These batteries will be smaller for the same power output, and can be scaled up to meet large demands, they say. They also expect this type of battery to be longer lasting, and cheaper to produce. I haven’t put in any links here, but the story is from PhysOrg, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find it.

I thank you for reading. I hope to be back soon.

The Aliens have sprouted!

I took this picture a while ago. I thought the ‘craters’ looked suspicious and everything, but didn’t do anything about it […] this is what happens when you see a problem but do nothing about it. The only thing needed for aliens to start to sprout is for good people to do nothing!

I took this picture a while ago. I thought the ‘craters’ looked suspicious and everything, but didn’t do anything about it:

[aliens]

[/aliens]

You see, this is what happens when you see a problem but do nothing about it. The only thing needed for aliens to start to sprout is for good people to do nothing!

[sprouting]

[/sprouting]

Do it yourself: Laptop powered dawn

The human brain is considered the most complicated object in the universe, with its 100 billion neurons and more (possible) connections than the number of elementary particles in the known universe. It should surprise nobody, then, that the process by which this organ of seemingly infinite complexity refreshes itself, reboots as it were, is also very well studied. I allude, of course, to sleep.

I will not say anything about sleep itself here; one because I don’t know nearly enough to even start, and two, because I want the liberty, today,  of not having to get everything factually right. So take this as a disclaimer that the following is just something interesting that I’ve observed with myself that I think you can repeat, but that I make no other claims.

That the brain is never fully ‘off’, that it never fully shuts down, is well-known. The brain is responsive to external stimuli even during sleep. This is how, for example, an alarm clock can awaken you. This is also how you can get ‘used to’ an alarm clock – if you don’t ‘want’ to get up someday, your brain is capable of ignoring the wails of the alarm clock. (Incidentally, I think this usually happens using some sort of confabulation. Go look up ‘confabulation‘ in the context of neuroscience!)

The following is an experiment that you can try on yourself when you feel like it. You will need to have a regular sleep cycle for this to work, though. I apologise if that rules out pretty much anybody who reads this blog! Anyway, if you have a regular sleep cycle, and sleep in a room which has some sort of window by which sunlight can get in, at dawn, this should work for you. This is a nice way of seeing how the brain responds to external stimuli even when one might think it has shut itself down.

A laptop is a good way of doing this, but I would wager that any light source whose intensity you can vary should work. Put your laptop facing you, preferably from the direction of the window in your room (you’ll see why shortly). You’ll have to arrange to have the display on throughout the night. You’ll have to also turn the brightness of the laptop display down as far as you can. If you do all this, you will see that you will consistently get up an hour or two earlier than you usually do (this is where the necessity that you have a regular sleep cycle comes in).

Do you see why?

Here’s the explanation I’ve cobbled up: at some point in the early morning, the ambient lighting in your room goes up beyond that you are used to getting up to. However, this happens earlier than usual because there’s already the light from the laptop. I usually get up at 7 am. If I keep my laptop on throughout the night at the lowest brightness setting, I can consistently get up at about 4:15.

Try it yourself and see if it works for you!

The end is not near, it’s here.

My interview for admission into the PhD programme at JNCASR was today, this morning, just now. You know what they say about deer in headlights? Yeah.

Anyway, there are always a good and a bad side to any story. The good side, in this case, is that the blog will be back to normal programming very soon. I will leave the bad side unsaid, and leave it to you to figure out what it is. As stopgap, here are a few things that might keep you occupied, until tomorrow, when ‘normal programming’ resumes.

1) Wikileaks, that truly noble organisation if there ever was one, is starting a mass-mirroring effort. The entire site is only a few GB in size, apparently, and people with servers can form a sort of cloud-server for the information that is going to be leaked. I got none of the other technical details, but perhaps you will. This is apart from grad students being warned not to bring up wikileaks on social networking sites, and after wikileaks was deserted by paypal, by amazon.com and by its DNS provider. [Hat Tip: Slashdot]

2) In less depressing news, it seems that electrons have ‘strength and honour’ too! I can now totally imagine the following to-and-fro:

– ‘Our switches will block out the flashlamp.’

– ‘Then we will fight in the shade!’

[/fuck electrons]

3) Here’s a really nice picture of the city of Paris. It’s from Black and White, who’ve taken it from somebody’s flickr page. I’ve linked the photo straight to the flickr page of the photographer.

Of Bongs and Tams

Stephen Fry has a characteristically witty and self-effacing take on people who write regularly for a column of some sort, out of compulsion – monetary or otherwise […] So what of Bongs and Tams, you ask? Completely mindful of the fact that this is going to sound like the dickishness of an absolute pillock, here it is.

Stephen Fry has a characteristically witty and self-effacing take on people who write regularly for a column of some sort out of compulsion – monetary or otherwise. When you get lazy or simply have nothing else to talk about, or both, there is a tendency to fall into this trap of venting about something that just happened to irk you. Stephen Fry calls it pining for the milkman’s cheery whistle – it’s the sort of article that practically writes itself.

It’s the easiest thing to do, is to angrily rant about something trivial, that seems to trouble nobody but you, and which even you might find silly on a less-worked-up day. I am not being lazy here, but I am trying to get something written and to get on with studying StatMech for, well, for StatMech. I’ve always wanted to read StatMech and I’m finally getting to do it now. Anyway, back to the rant: What of Bongs and Tams, you ask? Completely mindful of the fact that this is going to sound like the dickishness of an absolute pillock, here it is.

I was on the (crowded) bus back to IISc from JNC, and there was this portly Bong fellow who bobbed on into the bus and to the seat right behind me. While this in itself would’ve been no problem but for the five seconds the bus shook a bit when he performed said bobbing-about, something else was. The fellow can’t be shut up. He has a million things to say. And he has absolutely no concept of an indoor voice*.

He’s twenty-five years old, for crying out loud. How old do you think somebody has to be before they learn that 100 dB is not how loud conversations inside a closed tin box have to be? How hard can it be to understand that not everybody on the fucking bus wants to know how much you liked the chicken curry? The moron has all the sense of privacy of a raw potato. Not only does he not care about you listening in on his conversation, he practically makes you listen.

I’ve seen this often enough with Bongs that I am going to make the (patently silly) generalisation that all Bongs are indoor-voice* impaired. The only other people who seem to be this way are Tams. They have no concept of an inside voice either. None. Adult men and women talking about things that nobody but they could possibly be interested in, at the top of their voices.

And to top it all, the traffic was murderous. I endured a full forty-five minutes of nonsense yelled in a voice that can’t charitably be compared with a frog’s croaking.

‘Double damn with an extra side-order of damn!’.

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* This is what happens when you let an article write itself. I meant ‘indoor’ voice, as in speech in a volume appropriate for an enclosed space, not ‘inside’ voice, as in schizophrenia.

NOT a new life form.

Did you read about this? A NASA agency has coaxed some bacteria to evolve the ability to replace, in SOME part of their cell-cycles, Phosphorus with Arsenic. Yes, Arsenic, that element that’s poisonous.

Oh, boy, did the science journalists go haywire: A new life form discovered! No, it wasn’t.

Go here to read a proper review of the paper. No, a new life form on Earth wasn’t discovered. Not even all the cell cycles where Phosphorus is used were altered to replace P with As.

xkcd’s take on this brings out the frustration that people whose research is misrepresented this way must feel:

[arsenic]

[/arsenic]

Remember what I said about gullibility? It looks like science reporters are just as inclined to overstatement bordering on misrepresentation, and this isn’t limited only to the religiously inclined, like so: