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December 22, 2009

Keep Running... celebrating 2 years of running ... Bangalore Midnight Marathon

Boulder City, Nevada - 27th June : I ran in my 5th Half-marathon, this one was aptly titled 'Running with the Devil' marathon. The race was in the Mohave desert starting at noon with about 150-160 runners, to add to the misery of the runners... most of the 21.1 km course had hills... Just 30 mins in my run... the forbidding terrain, the hills, heat and isolation overpowered my mental strength .. and I just gave up.. Though I did finish the 21.1 kms course but it took me over 3.2 hours to do so most of the time walking, as it was not my maiden marathon it left me very disappointed.

Since then I had a burning desire to run a perfect half-marathon to restore my self esteem. Finally that opportunity came last weekend at Bangalore ... running in the Bangalore Midnight Marathon on 12 th Dec, I ran the 21.1 kms in a respectable 2 hrs 18 mins (Though not my career best time but still satisfying)

The occasion also marked second anniversary of my tryst with running... way back in December of 2007, I first dreamt of running in the Mumbai marathon while staying in Cleveland. Picture of the treadmill where I trained for my maiden run. (Took the picture when I visited Cleveland in August 2009)
keep running.... keep dreaming...

August 30, 2009

Atoms & Universe

  • On 16th Aug in a meeting of American Chemical Society, researchers formally reported that samples collected by NASA’s Stardust spacecraft when it flew thru the gassy halo of a Comet Wild 2 in 2004 contained Amino acids. Amino acids are considered the building blocks of protein and thus an essential ingredient for creation and sustenance of life. The idea that life was seeded by comets that crashed into earth in its adolescent years has been in circulation for a while, but this was the first time we had concrete evidence to prove it. So in a way all life form on Earth is ET (Extra terrestrial – from outer space). Carl Sagan wrote in his book ‘Cosmos’ “Human beings, born ultimately of the stars and now for a while inhabiting a world called Earth, have begun their long voyage home.”

    (Question still remains how did Amino acid get generated in the comet’s halo in the first place) There is an entire branch of science devoted to study- Abiogenesis – science of how life came into existence from non-living matter.

    Inspite of all the scientific progress three fundamental questions remain largely unresolved. And after years of research we have discovered more questions than answers.

    What is the Universe and how it was created? - Genesis
    How did life originate from non-living matter first in outer space and later on Earth? - Abiogenesis
    And how did it evolve into a complex organism with such intelligence (brain) & conscience (thoughts /feelings) as mankind? – Evolution (probably the best understood of the three because of the ‘adaptation of species’ and ‘survival of the fittest’ theories proposed by Darwin )

    If we are all created by cosmic dust, than in my theory even if our body (hardware) is decomposed our software (DNA / Conscience) is in perpetual circulation and if somehow we can connect to that conscience, we can download all the answers. This idea is religion neutral, agnostic and purely spiritual. I am certain in our life time science behind spirituality would be discovered and its fundamental laws just like the laws of Gravity would be established.

    As we develop evermore powerful instruments to explore the distance Universes and probe into the insides of the atoms we are discovering striking similarities in their structure and the laws that govern them. At the Hadron Collider project two beams of sub atomic particles called ‘hadrons’ would be accelerated and collided, the results of that collision will help us understand the big bang and structure of the Universe. A Hadron which is sub-atomic infinitesimal can help us understand the infinite Universe. Can there be anything more remarkable.

    The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries- Carl Sagan

    And for me star gazing still retains the number one slot for stress busting. So while trying to beat my own stress I ventured out over the weekend with the aid of my Dobsonion 230 mm telescope, but thanks to low pressure conditions the sky was mostly overcast.

August 13, 2009

The Art Quotient

Some time ago I watched a program on Horizon ' Battle of the Brains'. They took seven people - a musical prodigy, a quantum physicist, an artist, a dramatist, an RAF fighter pilot, a chess grandmaster and a Wall Street trader. Each is put through a series of tests to discover who is the most intelligent. The resuts were astonishing, Check the conclusion of the show it will change your perception about intelligence. Results link.
The series firmly planted in my mind that Art was as intelligent a pursuit as science or engineering. Ability to imagine, conceive and express with a piece of art was comparable with performing surgery or writing a computer program or balancing the books. And I became acutely aware of my inability to appreciate a piece of Art beyond its aesthetic appeal for its intellectual dimension. I used to hear terms like impressionist, cubism, renaissance, et el; I could not understand one from the other.

Recently on my visit to Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh I signed up for a guided tour to learn ‘to read & appreciate art’.

I have over 40 pictures of various works of art from the museum on Facebook / Orkut; check the name of the art work in the picture and than input that into the Carnegie Museum database .You will get details about the art work, painter and the art movement that represented. It is extremely informative. I have copied a few of them below. Also a good resource to understand various art movements (Renaissance,Impressionism, Cubism etc)

Mystery behind Modern Art – Like others 'modern art' perplexed me too. And I found out from our tour guide as to why the artist shifted from drawing landscapes, portraits etc to vague images. With advent of photography in late 19th century the traditional main-stay of artists was threatened. So artists ventured into areas that photography could not address – such as more ‘abstract work’. is a terrific resource to get some basic understanding of Modern Art and various art movements within Modern Art.

Idea behind Minimalism was to strip down form to its very basics and then strip it down even further. The result was a fresh and simplistic article with the emphasis being on the audience being able to view the artwork with increased intensity and focus on the meaning without the distraction and clutter of form and composition.
Carl Andre / Fallen Timbers
Impressionism was a modern art/contemporary art movement which, through painting an image as if it was a glance, would show how an object's surroundings can effect what is seen in a memory. Art had a new thinking, no longer does it have to resemble a photographic image, it can embrace an extra dimension which is, 'how we perceive art'. Waterloo Bridge, London by Claude Monet

The idea behind the modern art movement of pointillism was to paint in minuscule dots. The effect was a painting that looked dream like and fairytale like.
Place dec Lices St. Tropez by Paul Signac

Environmental Sculpture titled Stone ring by Richard Long

I created a new term – Art Quotient – which means the ability to understand, interpret and appreciate / critic Art. And now I can proudly claim that my Art Quotient is above ZERO.

August 6, 2009

The Speciesist…Part 1 ( And the moral dilemma for many Indians)

Like every other kid who grew in the 80s, I read all Hardy boys, Three Investigators and the like. In fact the whole thing got into our heads so bad that I with my brother and cousin thought of creating an investigating agency. Our first case was about a cycle theft in our neighborhood, and we solved that mystery in minutes (on paper that is). Our deduction - mechanic running the local cycle-repair shop was the culprit; he had the modus-operandi and wherewithal to dispose a stolen cycle. Without any investigation or evidence, we condemned him guilty. Thinking about our naïveté makes me laugh even now.

Another thing I was copying Hardy boys was their eating habits– Bacon, Sausage, Hot Dog and the ilk. Though eating ‘non-veg’ was a strict taboo in our family. My Dad who had travelled a bit, was a libertarian , so I had my first sausage in class 6 at a Snack bar called Frightemp, probably the only shop in small town Baroda where you could find something so ‘Foreign’ to eat those days ( later eat Chicken couple of times at my friends house.

One Sunday evening while watching a Doordarshan movie at home I heard some commotion in our society. There used to be a small bush diagonally opposite to my house where there was enough shrub to feed a few animals. The commotion was caused by an unlikely and uneven contest between a cow and two butchers. When the crowd who had gathered protested the men informed us that they had bought the calf from the owner of the cow.I was a mute spectator as in vain that hapless cow tried to protect the calf from being taken away. She charged at those men several times but it did not deter them. Eventually one of them distracted the cow while the other quickly grabbed the calf tied its feet and dumped it in their van. In a few minutes it was all over.
Thinking about what followed gives me goose bumps even today. That wretched cow stood at that very spot for the next 2 days grieving, wailing. It was eerie; I had never heard an animal cry before, let alone seeing tears in their eyes. It was a sort of ‘Gautam Buddha’ moment for me, It was very troubling for a young mind & I promised myself never to eat non-vegetarian food again. Though that episode happened over 20 years ago I have still kept that promise I made to myself… But??
But, that was the easiest part I had more troubling questions. What if everyone became vegetarian, would Earth be able to feed and sustain this growing human population? What about fisherman whose livelihood depend on catching & selling fish? What about Darwin's theory of evolution & survival of the fittest? If we are the dominant species, in a way we are entitled to our ways. Nature grants us that privilege by virtue of our earned superiority. What if that stray asteroid had not struck earth and Dinosaurs were still the dominant species, would they have shown any compassion towards humans. Questions endless questions.

And the most disturbing was Jagdish Chandra bose’s findings about Ascent of Sap. (* he showed with the help of his newly invented Cresco graph that plants responded to various stimuli as if they had nervous systems like that of animals. He therefore found a parallelism between animal and plant tissues. His experiments showed that plants grow faster in pleasant music and their growth is retarded in noise or harsh sound * Wikipedia) In that case wont eating of plants be the same as animals.(
Last month while watching a documentary ‘Earthlings’ which uses the term ‘Speciesist’ to explain how humans treat other species(animals) and it compares it with racism. And suddenly all those moral questions came rushing back to me…………. But this time I figured out a few answers (Part 2)

(In case anyone has found answers to the moral dimension of this argument please email me before I conclude)

August 2, 2009

Rocks to Blogs ... an incredible evolution in human expression !!

Today we are witnessing an unprecedented explosion in technology-enabled, non-verbal human expressions – twits, posts, blogs, pictures and videos. To me expressing is distinct from communicating the same way that work of literature is different from an instruction manual. First one is driven by human want the later by human need.
So when recently on a hiking tour in the mountains near El Paso , I came across several Rock Art or Pictographs. ( *Rock art is a term in archeology for any man-made markings made on natural stone. They are divided into Petroglyphs - carvings into stone surfaces and Pictographs - rock and cave paintings (*info from wikipedia) ) I was fascinated by the thought that how far mankind has evolved in expressing themselves from "Rocks to the blogs" At this point of time dating the pictograph is still an evolving science and the age of these pictographs is speculated to be between 1500 to 500 years ago.

Although language and various non-verbal means (writing, painting, sculptures) of expression had already advanced significantly in civilizations of antiquity - Mesopotamia, Indus Valley , Greek, Roman, Egyptian,Chinese but those means of expressing came late to the Americas . Indigenous American's did not start using any non-verbal forms of expressing till early part of 10th Century. It might be safe to assume that these pictographs represent the very primitive form of the indigenous human expression in the Americas

This desire of human kind to express themselves has had such a profound impact on making us the imaginative and therefore highly productive society we are today.

In a span of last 1000 years we have evolved from Rocks to blogs .... from bits to bytes .. what about the future, … future non-verbal communication would be in form of thoughts through mind ware .. there wont be any medium of communication but ether or space , through thought transference or telepathy. .. "Rocks to Blogs to Thoughts" … (atleast thats what I think we are headed)

So leave your mark for posterity….go write something… and be a part of this journey of human expression from ‘Rocks to Blogs’ …..

July 17, 2009

How I became a 'news Junkie'

Like all stories, this story too starts a long-long time ago..and is influenced - inspired by a women (no prizes for guessing that )

The story begins in the year 1994 - year Star TV introduced cable television to India, as part of their bouquet of channels they offered - Star TV, MTV, BBC, Star Sports.

At 17 years of age my staple diet of Cable used to be Baywatch (when parents were away at work) or Mash, Neighbours, British comedies (otherwise). But one day as destiny would have it, while browsing thru the channels aimlessly I saw her .......

Katy Haswell was her name and she was a News reporter on BBC World !!

... while the generation 'Next' tuned in to MTV to see their fav artists - Madonna, Mariah Carey, Paula Abdul et al, I tuned on BBC News to watch ...... Katy Haswell

Anyone familiar with BBC format would know that 30 mins of news is followed by 30 mins of other programming, did not matter I used to seat right thru those 30 mins... so while the world watched MTV, I became BBC's 'patron in chief '

And so it is that even 15 years later, in whichever time-zone, geographical area I may be residing, I wake up to BBC News (Thanks to broadband internet and streaming video technology)

Subsequently Katy left BBC to host her own show ' The Art Show' on CNN, which I used too I started following... and check the showreel which captures the personality of Katy Haswell ... or check this youtube video of her hosting the art club

July 14, 2009

Both sides of the story ..

We are inundated by news from all directions; most of us form opinions, thoughts, based on what we watch on the news bulletin. But we do not realize how easily we can fall prey to media excesses. Because some time ago we got hot-wired in believing that what they tell in the news, it ought to be true.

Media outlets today are big business and like any business they want to get the highest ROI (Return on Investment), for that they need advertisers, to get advertisers, they need viewers (all of us). And to keep us hooked on to the news broadcasts, news media uses the human psychology to their advantage by sensationalizing everything. This strategy of sensationalism over substance seems to be bearing fruit for the news media outlets in generating record viewership.

But fortunately today for someone discerning, popular news media is but one option … so many alternate sources of information have proliferated that with limited effort, we can see both sides of the story and make our own opinion.

And I want to challenge you to an actual case in point - read these articles below on the current crises in Honduras from CNN and BBC

Now read this article I found on a offbeat news site

And think how your opinion has dramatically altered because instead of just consuming whatever is served by the news media giants you decided to make your own informed mock-tail

July 7, 2009

Power of positioning !!

Barack Obama addressed students of the Cairo University today, what was billed to be a beginning of a new chapter between America and the Muslim world, a new dialogue based on mutual respect. I started admiring Obama for his gift of speech making in early 2007, when he was still a largely unknown candidate contesting for the Democratic nomination in the primaries. I was staying in Cleveland during that time.

But more than mere word play, what I admired the most was his positioning. On almost any issues, even the most intractable, he takes such a position which seems acceptable to all parties. I learned the art of positioning observing him, and it is more than ‘cliché’s’ and ‘glamorous words’ because you need to first know what is your positioning – which requires intellectual prowess, a deeper understanding of the world around you.

And recently I got treated to another exemplary example – abortion is a highly controversial issue in US, the entire population is divided right to the middle in two camps -- Pro –choice (favor of abortion) and Pro-life (Against abortion). You can just gauge the sensitivity and the kind of passion this subject generates from the recent incident where a doctor performing late state abortions was shot dead while attending Sunday Mass by a Pro-Life activist.

When Obama was giving a speech on the subject he took the position that we should be really focused on preventing unwanted pregnancies – which are the cause of abortion and the whole controversy in the first place. Though he did not elaborate on that in detail, according to me --it a masterstroke of positioning. Suddenly everyone has a common ground – whether pro-choice or pro-life.

And it is the art of positioning that we all should learn from Obama - create our own brand, our own positioning !!!!

the Universe !!!

Something in us recognizes the Cosmos as home. We are made of stellar ash. Our origin and evolution have been tied to distant cosmic events. The exploration of the Cosmos is a voyage of self-discovery – Carl Sagan

My fascination with the Universe started while watching “COSMOS” by Carl Sagan on Doordarshan as a kid, but than for decades it lay dormant. Than in 2007 when I was living in Cleveland . Watching hours of programming on the Universe on History channel, reignited that lost interest.

Since than I have spend countless hours reading on the Universe. But yesterday I took a first concrete step towards fulfilling a childhood dream – of exploring the Universe from my own telescope. I bought a 203 mm Dobsonion Reflector telescope from Orion.

The package arrived at the FedEx ground facility in El Paso from where I picked it up. Parked next to my car to give a perspective of the size of the scope.

It would take me all of the coming weekend to assemble its over 20 components. This is how it should look after it is fully assembled Wish me luck as any fault in assembling the scope would render it useless.
Will share the journey of discovery with all of you.

June 23, 2009

Alice in the wonderland.. called cyberspace

If knowledge is power, ours is by far the most powerful generation to have inhabited this planet. Reason (simple enough) – The Internet!!! Never in the history of human civilization have we got access to such quantum of information, literally at a push of a button.

Just over one weekend we can know more about the ‘world that surrounds us’ than, what such erudite thinkers of their times - Pluto, Aristotle got to know in their life times.

Truly Cyber-space like the Outer-space has so much to reveal provided one is intellectually curious or passionately inquisitive.

Events that unfold each year bring new, offbeat words into popular circulation. If there was a contest for such words for the year 08, ‘Ponzi’ will easily take the top honors, after the disclosure by Bernand Madoff that his financial empire was nothing but a ponzi scheme (pyramid scheme).

“We were better off earlier (read before privatization) in India ” heard this before. Whenever we think about our childhood-days a sense of nostalgia usually clouds our Judgment. Human psychology often makes us view the past in more favorable terms than it truly deserves. Want a glimpse of how life in India would have been today had we not liberalized and embraced market economy. Read about a country ( Cuba ) that decided to stay the course of Socialism. It will remind you of the country of our childhood. Though somewhat arduous a great read for someone with a penchant for history, economics and ‘the story of ordinary people’.

Someone rightly said ‘truth is stranger than fiction’. The incredible almost ‘filmy’ but true story about Pocahontas

Like me, how many of you felt that 2008 was one awfully long-miserable year. Surprise, surprise!!! We were right all the way …well almost

Astrologer’s gone wild!!! And most of us have been taken for a ride!! All this while

There is one claim that all Indians can make, most of us have seen ‘one of the new 7 wonders of the world’ – The Taj Mahal.

Based on the criteria for candidacy circulated by the New 7 Wonders Expert panel, Guess which according to me should have been the No 1 wonder of the world (hint it was not even nominated)

Manhattan in New York City – an enduring symbol of human ingenuity and modern (post 19th century) heritage. Consider every parameter for comparison with all other finalists (structure quality, artistic and cultural value, recognition factor, diversity) and you might draw the same conclusion.

And finally on a humorous note. If you grew in a city where you had to share your play area with pigs, take heart, now we have children of Berlin for company I guess pigs don’t discriminate between Third world and First world!!


“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest” quote by Benjamin Franklin

Without having to do much how I lost 20 % of my savings in 2008.

  • Without having to do much how I lost 20 % of my savings in 2008.

    Samir Konnur presents:

    I earn in Mexican Pesos, but need to save in Indian Rupees. As there is no institution that will give me rupees in exchange for the pesos, I need to first convert my pesos in to green backs – the US Dollar. And subsequently in India convert dollar into rupees.

    Now consider the facts –
    US economy has been in recession for over a year while India & Mexico are still enjoying positive GDP growth
    Unemployment has skyrocketed in US while India & Mexico has relatively been stable
    Major US banks & Institutions in US have collapsed, none so in India & Mexico

    Based on the above one would have assumed that both Mexican Peso and Indian Rupee would have become stronger against the USD but …. The value of both currencies have fallen since September

    In September - 10 Pesos made 1 USD today roughly 14 Pesos make a 1 USD ( 40 % reduction in value of the peso)
    In September - 42 Rupees made 1 USD today roughly 49 Rupees make a 1 USD (20% reduction in value of the rupee)

    So for someone earning in Pesos, saving in rupee thru the dollar

    If I saved 1000 pesos in September, I would have got 100 dollars – and in turn saved Rs.4200 in India (At exchange rates prevailing at that time)
    Today if I saved 1000 pesos I would get 71 dollars – and in turn be able to save – Rs. 3500 in India (At current exchange rates)

    Net loss 17 % L

    So I went about researching this puzzling phenomenon – and found how Interest rates & Inflation affect the exchange rates. Now re-look at the facts

    Interest rates in US are around 1 %. In India over 8 % while in Mexico over 4 %
    Inflation in US less than 2 %. In India over 9 % in Mexico over 5%

    So exchange rates tend to balance the impact of Interest rates, inflation amongst various countries. Eureka !!

    Why would you invest in a financial instrument – bond, security, etc to get some return in form of interest .. Right? Read the article below

June 20, 2009

Houston, we have a problem..

Houston, we have a problem!!! - A phrase now commonly used to describe “being faced with a difficult situation”.

For several years as a student I tried to understand the origin of this phrase, but in vain. I knew there was some space connection but why not, Cape Canaveral , FL - Kennedy Space Center or Cleveland , OH - Glenn Research Center , are located, what was special about Houston ?

Though I got my question answered a few years ago - the MISSION CONTROL for all NASA space flights is located in Houston at the Johnson Space Center .

It was still quite a thrilling experience when as a part of the guided tour at the Johnson Space Center in Houston I got to view the actual Mission Control Center for all the Apollo missions (14 of them) and to see the console where that call was received from the Apollo 13 mission.

Apollo 13 mission ‘story’ now part of the space exploration folklore was to be the third mission to Land on the moon after the success of Apollo 11 (first mission to land on Moon) and Apollo 12. Mechanical failure crippled the spacecraft during flight and the moon landing was aborted. James A Lovell Jr. Commander – Apollo 13 called up the Mission control in Houston to inform them about ‘the problem’. The crew returned back to the Earth after orbiting the moon but without making the planned landing.

Besides is the Astronaut Memorial Grove at the Johnson Space Center , where a tree is planted for each astronaut that is lost on or while preparing for a mission.
Though not a big devotee of George Bush’s oratory, I really felt something, listening to the memorial speech delivered by him right here at the Grove after the Columbia space shuttle disaster in 2003.

For a nascent astronomer in me the visit to the JSC was another reminder there is so much more to life than 'mere living'. So much to explore, so much to know.

More so in the troubling times we live in, seeing such senseless acts of barbarism perpetuated in the name of God.