Archive for the ‘General’ Category


Saturday, August 15th, 2015

I had heard from Connie Jones (Secretary of the High Energy Physics group) that Prof. Okubo had written a paper with a Japanese colleague. I helped her put it on the arxiv. She wanted me to help him with publishing it.

Okubo left a copy of it in my mailbox. I read it and left a message with Connie that I would like to talk to him. He came by. We discussed the paper, on certain non-associative algebras. Then he said somewhat uncharacteristically that he was very sick. And in pain.

Pauli Meets God

Monday, August 18th, 2014

God is kind to physicists. They get an interview after death where questions which stumped them in life are answered. Most ask about Quantum Gravity.

Wolfgang Pauli too, got his chance.

God: “You have any questions for me? ”
Pauli: “Of course not. May be your staff didn’t tell you who I am ?”
God. “Oh yes, they told me some Pauli stories. And I see what you did there with the matrices.”
Pauli: ” So.. do you have any questions for me?”
God:”Yes. Explain turbulence.”


Monday, June 30th, 2014

Trip Report Marcy Ascent 08June2014

After a day’s rest, I attempted Marcy again, this time succesfully. Decided to leave a bit later. Bought gloves, hat, wicking shirts, because of being cold in the last attempt. Turned out to be unnecessary: it was a warm day. The forecast said fog, and rain late in the day. But there was no fog at all and was not very cloudy. Turns out looking out the window is a good predictor of visibility conditions.

Much self-doubt in the morning. Weather report seemed to be bad. 70% chance of rain. Feet aching. But it seemed nice outside. Decided to go. Pangs of self-doubt and negative thoughts as I set out for the Loj. When I got there realized I had forgotten my wallet. No ID,no cash. Instead of going back to get it, decided to go ahead. Signed out at about 7:30.

Look at Garmin etrex track MtMarcyAscent2014-06-08 for details. Nice to play it overlaid on the ADK map at 40x actual speed.

First person to sign out for Marcy. Walk to Dam seemed longer than last time. In general pessimistic mood. Wearing two shirts, carrying one liter collapsible bottle and a 2-liter collapsible in the pack. Marcy Dam sign out around 8:00.Nice weather. Irrational fear of getting caught in mountains in rain makes me walk fast. Also black flies eat you alive if you stop. Garmin gps not really necessary on the well maintained van Hovenberg trail. But seeing waypoints fall gives psychological boost. People start to pass me on way to Marcy. Pass Phelps Mt turnoff in just half hour. One more hour to
Indian falls. Didn’t see table top trail but didn’t stop to look either.

Feet ache. Flies bite. Pushing myself forward. Energy boost from Hersheys chocolate bar and Snickers. Another hour to meet Hopkins trail. Starting to be optimistic I will make it this time. Great view of Marcy from old lean to site. Can se people who passed me dotting the path. Last time I was here it was bleak. No view, just fog driven by whistling wind. That time mountain seemed to whisper in my ear to stay away. This time the mountain is welcoming me up. Cant stop long because of flies.

Dropped bag at intersection to Phelps trail from JBL. Group of young hikers, whom I would cross many times in the day, sitting around. Much easier to climb up open rock without bag. Reached the cairn I saw last time, the place I turned around. Much better day and reassured by many hikers in front and behind me. No foreboding of doom this time.

Somehow got off track, easy to do on rocks if you lose track of blazes. Followed rarely used but visible trail through the brush around a big rock. Climbed up rick to where I could see people. Back on track now. Summit easy now at 11:30. Just 3.5 hours from Marcy Dam. One guy was finishing his 46th peak, Summit steward Kayla(?) chatting with about 20 people hanging about there.

Didn’t linger too long. Still afraid of getting caught in the rain, knowing I hike slower than most of these people. But rationally, expecting to be back in three hours. In fact took longer to climb down than up.

Hike down uneventful but loooong. But on later look just as fast as ascent. (2:30 hours from Marcy Dam to Hopkins both ways.) Marcy Dam at 3:08. Round trip 7 hours. Walk from Marcy to Loj long but routine. Signout 4:01. About 9 hours round trip again. Took just under one hour.

1. If the weather looks good trust your sight better than yahoo on fog.
2. Not bad to not climb a mountain that is telling you not to. Better come back after a day.
3. Garmin track replay is great fun to watch.
4. Learn to use mountain water like the experiences hikers. Start giving up snickers bars.
5. Go hiking weekends when many people are around. More confidence.
6. Fight negative thoughts early in the trip.
7. Make checklist, including obvious items like wallet.

I owe the ADK loj an extra donation for parking.

Trip Report MarcyAttempt 6June2014
(with 3 hrs Sunlight to spare in June).
Marcy Hike is about nine hours (5 UP 4 DOWN) return trip.
Read a trip report from someone who struggled to make it back from Marcy and got caught in the dark and rain. Let that influence me too much. So left very early, still dark,

Forecast said 52 with 70 by noon. That is in the valley. Summit was fogged in.
Need undershirt that wicks sweat. Fleece and rain coat. Wear Gloves early before fingers go numb. Hat a must.

Wore just a hooded tshirt, long hiking pants with a light rain coat in the bag. Should have dressed warmer. Added to mistake by abandoning tshirt to save on weight. (Hid it under a tree, marked the spot on gps unit. But somehow it had no record of it later, so lost shirt.) Had to stop just 0.28 mile from summit because too cold and fog scared me.

Carried too much food: 4 bananas, peanut butter jar etc. Didn’t use.

5. GPS is useful even on well marked trail. Waypoints give a paych boost as you go from one to the next.

6. van Hoevenberg trail to marcy trail is excellent, well marked. A few steep piches. Other than weather at the summit everything was quite predictable. Only last half mile is exposed to wind.

4:33am Signout ADK Loj. Dark. Flashlight for first mile.
5:33 am Marcy Dam sign out. Drizzling. Dawn. Changed hooded tshirt for rain coat.
6:16am Mt Phelps turn off.
6:25am Footbridge across Phelps brook
7:07am Indian Falls. Couldn’t locate Table Top mountain turn off. Sign says 3 mi to Marcy GPS way points keeping spirits up.
7:11 Marcy Brook crossing. Rain. Wrongly smug about ditching tshirt to reduce weight.
8:11 Hopkins trail. Moving much faster than expected. 1.2 miles to Marcy. Getting cold. Foggy. Fingers lost control. Hard to put on gloves. Feeling fine I thought, but looking back, cold was affecting co-ordination and judgement. Cant type on iPhone anymore with gloves on.

Soon after met Phelps trail. Really worried now. Need to walk fast just to avoid cold. Only 0.6 miles to summit. But no view. Arrived up here too soon?
GPS way points keep falling. Open Rock. Cairn. 0.28 miles from summit. Next blazes visible. Wind blowing fog around. Whistling mountain scary. Turning back.

Met first hiker of the day. Bill from Iowa. Has down all the 14ers in Colorado. Here to do highest point in NY state. Says this is not easier than 14er, just different. Putting on his warm clothes. Offered that I could join him in climb. But decided not to join him. Got spooked by the mountain.

Descent uneventful. Saw about ten hikers going up. They must think I summited.
Couldn’t locate the hooded shirt I left behind a birch tree. The gps didn’t save the waypoint. Bad karma leaving shirt.

12:18 pm Marcy Dam signout
1:17 pm sign out loj.
Forgot soap so decided not to take the hot shower. Drove home to shower and nap.
A great hike even if no summit. 9 hours Loj to Loj.


Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Attention must be paid to Narendra Modi. A good place to start is the article The Emperor Uncrowned in the Caravan by a Malayali journalist, Vinod K. Jose. The story of the attack on Gulburg Society is chilling.

Modi has been compared to Ronald Reagan (small government conservative supported by the religious right), Margaret Thatcher (Iron Lady), Deng Xiao Ping (economic reform), Nixon (went to China), Putin (wears a shirt sometimes) and inevitably, Hitler. All of this is nonsense. The leader Modi most resembles is Indira Gandhi, whom he admires more than his own party colleague, Vajpayee. (more…)

Mathematical Astronomy in Medieval Kerala

Friday, November 8th, 2013

I spoke to Anand, an astronomer at the new ISRO institute in Trivandrum, when I was there in June. He also moonlights as a science journalist and wrote this article about our conversations on mathematics in medieval Kerala.

Truth Is A Pinprick

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Nazir had a friend who loved to blow big bubbles. The bubbles get bigger each day,defying gravity. He seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of hot air. Nazir encouraged him in this dubious talent.

Except one day Nazir pricked his latest bubble with a sharp pin. It burst, creating a big mess.

“What did you do that for?”

“Truth can be as sharp as a pin.”

Where Every Student is the Best Ever

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Lake Wobegon is a fictional town in Minnesotta where “every child is above average”. I can do Garrison Keillor one better: I live in a land where every student is “among the very best ever”.

It is that time of the year when we read through applications to graduate school.

My Name Is Khan

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

Shah Rukh Khan, the hero of many Bollywood movies, was detained by US immigration for two hours because his surname popped up on a watch list. Khan is the most common last name among South Asian Muslims; there are more Khans in the world than Smiths. Even in the US, it is the 665th most popular name.

Khan was an honorific title of Mongol tribes, and eventually was adopted as a surname by many people who are descended from a Khan or wanted to be associated to the name. Indeed, 0.5% of all men in the world carry a genetic marker believed to be passed on by Genghis Khan. There were strong selective pressures to help propagate the Khan name when the Mongols dominated the whole of Asia.


One among the hundreds of millions of people with the surname Khan is a very bad guy: AQ Khan, the man who built the Pakistani atom bomb and sold nuclear secrets to Libya and North Korea. But the surname alone has very little value in identifying a person in this case: US immigration should have known how common it is.

On the other hand, Indians tend to be overly sensitive in such matters. Only a month ago there was a furor because Indian employees of Continental Airlines frisked former President Kalam. This was considered an indignity: all Indian airports post a list of VVIPs (Very Very Important Persons) who are exempt from security procedures, a list that starts with the President and former Presidents. Indian culture accepts such special treatment for celebrities and retired politicians. (more…)

Mechanics In One Dimension

Friday, August 7th, 2009

Finally I post something about physics. Here are notes from lectures on mechanics to freshmen at the IISER-TVM. I didn’t have time to edit it. Any corrections ( spelling mistakes, algebraic errors etc.) are welcome. It usually takes me a few iterations to get everything right.

eHow To Watch A Chick Flick

Friday, July 17th, 2009

There are three kinds of chick flicks.

Type A often has Meryll Streep and always involves a disease. There is no way to watch this type. Run. Don’t walk. May be there is a hospital fire somewhere that only you can put out? Doubly beware if the name of the movie ends in cutesy symbols such as `XXOO’ or makes inscrutable references to metallic flowers and/or green fruit.

Type B usually has Meg Ryan, Kate Hudson or lately, Ann Hathaway. These are watchable, in small quantities.

Never see a chick flick at a theater. Does the phrase captive audience mean anything to you? Always go for Netflix or a DVD at home. Do not hog the remote control. Just for once.

The first hour of the movie is the hardest. (more…)

Moussavi Is Not The Obama of Iran

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Duh. Next week’s revelation: Water is Wet. Really.

The Liberal blogosphere has turned Green. TPM and Rachel Maddow have become cheerleaders for what they think is the democratic movement of Iran. Obama and Kos have decided to stay out of the fray, while not criticizing others for commenting on the situation. On the Right Wing, there is talk that this cautious approach is somehow a betrayal of our allies in Iran. Remember how well McCain’s meddling in Georgia worked out.

As someone who grew up in another country (India) awash in conspiracy theories of American involvement in local politics, I believe that the best thing for Americans can do right now to support democracy in Iran is..nothing. Stay out of it. Obama, having lived abroad, understands this. As does Kos, for the same reason. Any whiff of American support for Moussavi will undermine him. The crowds in Teheran, chanting “Allahu Akbar”, will themselves turn against Moussavi if the US voices support for him.

As I write this, the Supreme Leader is giving a sermon in Teheran. Darkly warning against “arrogant Western powers” and asking for “prayer” and “divine guidance”. Even if the US Government stays out of it, if American media is involved, such as through blogs, it will be used against Moussavi and his party. In other words,

Don’t just do something. Stand there.

Besides, we may not really understand what is going on. (more…)

Highly Trained Individuals

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

When I came to the US thirty years ago, coffee was this brown muck that cost about a dollar per gallon. In the generation that has passed since then, coffee has become a spiritual experience, a political statement and a way to save the planet. Sleek new devices that hiss and purr when stroked have replaced the old coffee machines. The people who make the coffee have never looked better. Many of them have college degrees, even if they are unaware that Venti is simply the Italian word for twenty .

Starbucks just took out a full page ad in the NYTimes touting its exceptionalism.

They Want You To Think Coffee is Coffee. Well, It’s Not Just Coffee. It’s Starbucks.

It’s lotsa bucks actually. Until a year ago, $4.50 was considered a reasonable price for a cup of coffee. Starbucks is, like the Hummer, Enron and the AIG, an emblem of turn of the century excess. Now McDonalds is eating their lunch. The baristas at Starbucks still look upon with you with condescension if you ask for a “small cup of coffee” instead of a “Tall Americano”. But you can see the fear in their eyes. The Ad says that these are highly trained individuals, who can make 87000 different kinds of coffee. If so, aren’t they a bit over-trained? Punching a few buttons on a coffee machine is not exactly rocket science.

The Indian Railway II

Monday, April 20th, 2009

What Went Right?

The Railway was a failure when it was a monopoly. Now it has competition from trucks plying the recently built highways. So they had to shape up to survive. The Government owned airlines are struggling due to competition from the newly licensed private carriers. The Indian Airlines (the domestic airline) has already been folded into Air India. So why did the Railway thrive under competition and not IA?

The Indian Railway I

Monday, April 20th, 2009

The Indian Railway is the world’s largest employer. The main lines were built in British times. Mostly to move the army around to quell rebellions in different parts. The Madras regiment in Punjab, the Punjab Regiment in Assam and so on. But later, it also became the common man’s mode of travel in India. For a few dollars you can go from Chennai to Delhi or from Mumbai to Kolkatta. The trains are slow and the bathrooms are–ahem–aromatic. The food is of questionable hygiene. But you will see the countryside, and most likely make some friends. In the long distance trains, if you have a sleeper berth, the journey is comfortable but not luxurious. I am not talking about the palaces on wheels meant for foreign tourists.

A Certain Swagger

Monday, April 20th, 2009

I mentioned to a colleague that Varadhan, a mathematician of Indian origin at NYU, won the Abel Prize. One of the top honors in the field. My colleague turned to the person sitting next to him, a visiting academic, and said:

In the middle of all that corruption, they are good in statistics. It must be because the British were good at it.

He was expressing a common view of India as a corrupt place where nothing works, perhaps with an occasional genius. Even Americans whose knowledge of India does not extend beyond watching “Slumdog Millionaire” feel free to pass such judgment. (more…)

An Order Or A Request?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

There is an apocryphal story about Gandhi, said to have taken place when he was working as a lawyer in London. It was unusual for an Indian to have an Englishman working under him, but Gandhi had an English assistant. One day Gandhi asked him to do something and the Asssistant asked,

Mr. Gandhi, is that an order or a request?

Gandhi replied:

If you do it, it would be a request.

Gandhi did not have to ask a second time.

Hard to know for sure if it really happened.

I Recommend

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

India Gets Spy Satellite From Israel

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

So that is the payoff. A few months ago India launched a spy satellite for Israel, using its PSLV rocket. So why take the risk of doing a favor for Israel, when the political situation in South Asia is so inflammatory?

Indian Rocket Launches Israeli Satellite

Now we know. Indian satellites lack the Synthetic Aperture Radar that can see through clouds and at night. The Mumbai terrorist attack highlights the importance of being able to track small vessels in the Indian ocean and to watch terrorist training camps within Pakistan. The two countries can fill the gaps in each other’s capabilities. And then there is the whole enemy of my enemy thing happening also.

It is not something either side wants to talk about much: (more…)

Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount of Brenchley

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

I had to write a report this week and was looking through my calendar from last year. Noticed a curious entry, a talk I missed because I was out with a cold. Who exactly is Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount of Brenchley, this denier of Global Warming? The magic of Google and Wikipedia allows us to find out easily. The drawback to such convenience is that such information is often superficial.



We Just May Have To Lay Off Andre’.

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Hat tip Public D

The Economic crisis is so bad that we just may have to lay off Andre’.

Publisher’s Note
The original author of this photo-cartoon remains anonymous. I took it from a post on Daily Kos and added the following speech explaining Andre’s fate. The photo has since appeared on many websites. The second speech below is a totally unfair parody of one by the CEO of Beth-Israel Medical Center. I blame our staff for the biting tone of that parody. The staff member has been properly chastised. His only excuse is temporary loss of sanity from performing experiments on the nature of electricity.

Why We Just May Have to Lay Off Andre’

Hello everyone. Thanks for taking the time to get together today at an actual work site. How is everyone feeling in those work overalls? Thought it would be a nice change from the eleventh floor.

I’m not going to waste your time or mince words. The reason for getting together is to bring you up to speed on the company’s status. Unfortunately, it’s not as good as we all would have anticipated even 6 short days ago.

There are several issues.


Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

A couple of years ago I stopped by Dubai on the way to India. Because many Malayalis work there, Kerala is better connected to the Middle East by air than to the rest of India. I wanted to avoid the maddening crowds at Mumbai airport and also look up my brother who worked in Dubai at that time.

It is the most bizarre place in the world I have ever been. (more…)

The Inauguration Will Be Televised

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

I come home from a business trip to see a large envelope from the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Inside is a handsome card embossed with a Golden Seal.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee requests the honor of your presence to attend and participate in the Inauguration of

My heart beats faster. Finally, all those blogs I wrote on Daily Kos are paying off. Impassioned arguments with Hillary Clinton supporters back in the Spring of 2008. Alegre, eat your heart out in your little corner. We are the ones going to the Inauguration.

Barack H. Obama as President of the United States of America


Fatwa On Demand

Friday, December 26th, 2008

Ever since the Salman Rushdie incident, the word Fatwa has had a negative connotation. Perhaps no word has been as misunderstood, with the exceptions of jihad and madrassa.

It turns out that a fatwa is a kind of judicial opinion from an islamic religious authority. In nations that have adopted the Shariah as part of the legal system, a fatwa could have the force of law. But mostly, it is guidance for the faithful. Because Islam does not have a hierarchy like the Catholic Church, each religious authority has to rely on its own reputation as the force behind its fatewa.

Outside of the Middle East, the most respected school of Islamic studies is Darul Uloom, located at Deoband near Delhi in India. It was founded in 1866 after the defeat of Indian forces by the British. The school played an important role in the Freedom Struggle of India. It opposed the creation of Pakistan, and asks its followers to participate peacefully in Indian democracy. Its influence extends well outside of India. The mainstream of Islam in Pakistan is historically of the Deoband school. After Partition, certain logistical difficulties clearly exist and Saudi Arabia is playing an increasing role in providing support to the madrassas. (more…)

Who Is On The Line?

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

Hoax phone calls used to be funny. As a teenager, Steve Wozniak, the inventor of the Apple computer, figured out the Bell System technical protocols- he and Steve Jobs had found the manual at the SLAC Library. Woz used this knowledge to call the Pope, pretending to be Henry Kissinger. His fake German accent was good enough to get the Holy Father out of bed. But before he took the phone, an aide figured out that it was some California teenager pulling a prank. (more…)

Who Attacked Mumbai and Where Are They?

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Lahore Country Club

The Lahore Country Club in Muridke

The US National Intelligence Director has taken the unusual step of placing blame in public: AP

The same group that carried out last week’s attack is believed to be behind the 2006 Mumbai train bombings that killed more than 200, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell said Tuesday during a speech at Harvard University.

McConnell did not identify the group by name. However, the Indian government has attributed the 2006 attack to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani terrorist group based in Kashmir, and the Students Islamic Movement of India.

Hard to know how to evaluate this information. The Bush Administration just isn’t that credible after the epic failure of intelligence on WMD in Iraq. They could be right this time: the boy who cried wolf was right one time too. Whether or not the LeT are behind this particular attack, it has already been designated a terrorist organization based on its previous record.

At first one may think that the LeT is a secretive organization, operating out of some cave in the mountains. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Although it is banned, the LeT actually operates freely in Pakistan: it just changed its name. It runs schools, hospitals and provides social services. Its headquarters is in Muridke: a suburb of Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city.They even have a website in English. and in Urdu ( the national language of Pakistan.) (more…)