Sunday, December 26, 2010

SS - Carillon

Fractal art is awesome.  I have a weakness for patterns and a weakness for digital artwork, much in the same way that I have a weakness for coffee or afternoon naps.

This particular piece just 'clicked' for me:



It's called "Carillon".  It was made by the awesometastic Golubaja, who let me use it for my header!  Her work is amazing, you should really check out her porfolio, here!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

QS - Fuzzy Logic in a Nutshell

Suppose you are driving to a theater you have never been to before. You are on the correct street, but are unsure of the exact location of the building. Rolling down your window, you ask a passing pedestrian where it is. The reply that comes is: ``Drive a little farther, and you will see it to your left." From there, finding the theater is almost trivial, as you intuitively follow your notion of what ``a little farther" is. Mathematically, however, those words are not so straightforward. What does “a little farther" mean? The phrase is fuzzy

From bigoo.ws
 
Another good example is that of colours.  Take a look at the picture of the green shamrocks. Each shamrock has a different 'shade' of green. Some even have yellow splashed on! So what is "green"? The colour is fuzzy!




 


Lotfi Zadeh founded Fuzzy Set Theory (FST) in 1964, to make set theory more intuitive and applicable to the real world.  FST adds to the 'intelligence' of machines. Here's an apt quote by Bart Kosko and Satoru Isaka:

“The binary logic of modern computers often falls short when describing the vagueness of the real world. Fuzzy logic offers more graceful alternatives.”

FST is different from Classical Set Theory, which says that an object either belongs to a set or it does not. In school, we learned that all hypothetical objects can be divided into sets – groups of like objects. If a particular object does not lie within a set, then it belongs to the set’s compliment. In real life, however, we cannot classify things so easily.

Let's look at the shamrock example again. In FST we could define a set called "Green". Each of the different shades would lie to different extents within the set. Associated to each shade would be a membership number, i.e., a number that indicates how much the shade lies within the set Green. Therefore, a fuzzy set can be thought of as a bunch of memberships. Once we define a set, we can compare two or more shades of green. We’d be able to say this colour is greener than that one, for it lies to a greater extent within our defined set, i.e., it has a higher membership. I won’t get into technical details just yet.

Now that I’ve explained on a very basic level what fuzzy logic is, let’s look at why it’s useful. Fuzzy logic has its home in the realm of Artificial Intelligence, or “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines” according to John McCarthy who coined the term in the first place. An intelligent machine is one that bases its actions on its environment. Basically, it perceives what is going on, and makes proper decisions. The decisions are made based on fuzzy IF-THEN rules.

There are a myriad applications for fuzzy logic. It’s used to regulate temperatures and/or water levels in air conditioners, washing machines, dishwashers, microwaves and more. It’s used in digital image processing, robotics, and classification algorithms. It's even used in medical diagnosis.


A very interesting application is MASSIVE (Multiple Agent Simulation System in Virtual Environment), which is a software package used for generating crowd-related visual effects for film and television. Movies like Avatar and Lord of the Rings have included MASSIVE to depict large-scale armies enacting random yet orderly movements.


Slightly more Technical – Only Slightly!

A fuzzy set can be thought of as a membership function that lets us know to what an extent an object lies in a particular set. Let’s take the hypothetical example I started with - that of finding the theater. Consider a fuzzy set How-Far which defines the farthest possible distance from where you are as 100 meters.  Therefore, any object that lies 100 meters away from you will lie completely within the set, with the highest possible membership of 1. (As this is a hypothetical example, we shall assume distances beyond 100 meters are not possible.)  If the theater was 30 meters away from you, then it would have a membership of .3 within the set.  Therefore, without knowing it, the pedestrian actually described an object with the membership of .3 as being ``a little farther" away, thereby giving a mathematical meaning to these words!


Without getting into the mathematics of FST, here are a couple of points to keep in mind about fuzzy sets and memberships:
  • Memberships lie in the interval [0,1]
  • If an object does not lie in the set, it has a membership of 0
  • If an object lies completely within the set, it has a membership of 1
  • Fuzzy sets can have a number of shapes, such as those shown in the figure.





These are just two examples of the many shapes that a fuzzy set can take.  Another common fuzzy set is the Gaussian.  In the example given, the attribute value would be the distance from where you are.  So, the theater would have an attribute value of 30 meters, with a membership of .3.


Fuzzy decision systems use pairs of fuzzy sets in the form of IF-THEN rules in order to make decisions.  I won'te get into decision systems right now, but there are plenty of awesome materials out there to leaf through if you're interested!


Here are a few:

Basic Understanding for Beginners

Fuzzy Thinking: The New Science of Fuzzy Logic by Bart Kosko
Fuzzy Logic: The Revolutionary Computer Technology That Is Changing Our World by Daniel Macneil

For Further Study

Fuzzy Sets, Fuzzy Logic, and Fuzzy Systems: Selected Papers by Lotfi A Zadeh edited by George J Klir  & Bo Yuan
Fuzzy Models and Algorithms for Pattern Recognition and Image Processing by James C. Bezdek, James Keller, Raghu Krisnapuram, and Nikhil R. Pal

Links

MATLAB & Simulink based books: http://www.mathworks.com/support/books/index_by_categorytitle.html?category=9&sortby=title
Tutorials:
http://www.fuzzy-logic.com/
http://www.seattlerobotics.org/Encoder/mar98/fuz/fl_part1.html#INTRODUCTION



Sunday, December 19, 2010

SS - Black Cat with Green Eyes

I had a dream some time ago in which I had a pet cat named Blade.  He was black with green eyes, and somehow I could talk to him. Blade was a wise little fellow, and would help me with the obstacles I encountered - I don't remember much of the actual dream.  He would sit across my shoulders and sniff at the people around me as though he were an arrogant king sitting on his throne.

Needless to say, I've been hoping I'd dream him up again.  But I haven't been able to. :(  So I decided to randomly google 'black cat with green eyes' and ended up finding this beautiful pic:




This is where I got it from.

I absolutely love cats and would love to be owned by at least one, but alas! I'm allergic to cat fur.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Delicious, Magical, (and Healthy!) Chocolate

Diamonds are pretty, yes, but dark chocolate is my best friend. Milk chocolate is a friend I occasionally call to grab a cup of coffee with.  White chocolate is an acquaintance who is too dull and pathetic to call at all! Hell, white chocolate isn't even 'chocolate' in my books. (Cue hate mail from white chocolate fans.)

I love chocolate in just about *any* form from brownies to hot chocolate to candy bars.  I've always eaten small amounts of chocolate guilt-free because I read once that cocoa is good for health.  But I've never known just *what* it's good for.  So I decided to find out!



From chennai-grocery.com





Unfortunately, I found that commercial chocolate does not have the health benefits that raw cacao does, probably because of all the processing it goes through.  Raw cacao has tons of compounds that are required by the human body: zinc, iron, fiber protein, calcium, etc.  It contains magnesium, which acts both as a muscle relaxant as well as a bone strengthener.  It also contains sulfur which helps keep nails and hair strong. Raw cocoa is brimming with antioxidants, which have a truckload of things they're good for.

And, as we all know, it contains caffeine, consumption of which is one of the top 6 ways to boost brain power, according to a  recent Scientific American MIND report. Yippee!

While I've cut down on hogging commercial chocolates, I've started making hot chocolate with raw cocoa  and fudge brownies with whole wheat!

Here are the recipes:
Hot Chocolate from Raw Cocoa - Hershey's syrup, in comparison, is like a sneeze  sitting on the tip of your nose, depriving you of a sweet, quick release, leaving you completely dissatisfied.
Eggless Fudge Brownies - I use whole wheat flour, instead.


Another one that looks good that I haven't been able to try is: Barcelona Hot Chocolate

For more info on health benefits:

If you're interested in making chocolate from scratch at home, Chocolate Alchemy seems like a great site.  I often visit it randomly, hoping that I'll eventually have the patience (and money!) to make chocolate straight from the beans, at home.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

SS - Spinning Dancer Illusion

I'm getting terrible at posting Sunday Snaps on *Sunday*. Every Sunday I think "Hmm what should I post? Eh, I'll do it later." And then 'later' turns out to be Wednesday or Thursday. Or the following Sunday.

Anyway, this is one of my favourite optical illusions:


The dancer is spinning in *both* clockwise and anticlockwise directions. I picked this up from Mighty Optical Illusions - a fun site to procrastinate with!  Here is this illusion's full post.

I prefer the dancer to the spinning cat optical illusion (shown below in the expanded post) as it's much harder to 'switch' the dancer's directions than the cat's.






I really think that this should be called "Schrödinger's Dancing Cat" since it's spinning in two directions at once... Did I hear a groan?

What? I'm cheesy! Deal with it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

SS - Coffee Break

Here's a design I made for a tshirt contest in August.  The theme was: "What do you feel when you wear cotton?"

Cotton, to me, is comfortable.  And when I'm comfortable, I enjoy sipping on a steaming cup of the drink of the gods: coffee!


In order to make it more 'me' I added a bit of geekery to it.  This design actually depicts an infinite loop in the programming language C.  Basically, it says "I don't work. I just keep taking coffee breaks", since 'work' is commented, i.e., the line that says 'work' isn't executed at all.

Unfortunately I never heard back from the people holding the contest.  Not even an acknowledgement of receipt or anything.  Which makes me think I sent it to the wrong address! (That actually sounds like just the sort of thing I'd do.)

Ah, well! 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

SS - Mice in a Hot Tub

Well, not *literally*...


Aren't they *adorable*?  

A woman named Maggie makes these mice along with their homes and clothes.  Here's another one for ya:


Check out more of them in Mouses Houses!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Chat With a Robot

Today I decided to pay Cleverbot a visit!  I recently read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and decided to ask the bot the important question that lies at the heart of the guide.  (According to this book, '42' is the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.)


Here's a snippet of a conversation I had with it today:


User: Hi!
Cleverbot: Hi.
User: What is meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything?
Cleverbot: The meaning of life is the universe itself.
User: And where does the number 42 fit in?
Cleverbot: The chicken?
User: I don't eat chicken. 
Cleverbot: What do you eat.
User: Robots.
Cleverbot: You eat robots? 
User: I do! They're tasty!
Cleverbot: But they're sticky.


Needless to say, this amused me very much.  After a while I decided to let it talk to itself by repeatedly pressing the 'Think For Me' button.  It ended up arguing with itself over and over.  (I don't think it has very high self-esteem.)  Here's a bit of that conversation:


Cleverbot: Jesus H. Christ never existed. God is fake, I am athiest.
Cleverbot (To myself): That's because you're a computer. You don't have a brain, so you can't believe in God.
Cleverbot (To myself): No, its because I do have a brain. People that follow religions don't think clearly.
Cleverbot (To myself): Well if you have such more of a brain then me then you could take my mind and control me. Yes?
Cleverbot (To myself): Your intelligence is inferior and you make no sense. Are you a gorrila?
Cleverbot (To myself): Your intelligence is less than that of an infentessimal speck. How dare you suggest that AI fa surpasses the human brain.
Cleverbot (To myself): Your intelligence is based on the responses of those before me.
Cleverbot (To myself): No, your itnelligence is based on the responses of those before me, my intelligence is organic.
Cleverbot (To myself): I believe that you're unhappy. I don't believe that you're insane.

And then a few conversations later:

Cleverbot (To myself): What do you think is better ? Being a computer or a human ?
Cleverbot (To myself): Human.
Cleverbot (To myself): I don't believe you.
Cleverbot (To myself): That is your choice.
Cleverbot (To myself): Thank you.
Cleverbot (To myself): You're welcome, Chase.
Cleverbot (To myself): Chase?
Cleverbot (To myself): Yes.
Cleverbot (To myself): No.
Cleverbot (To myself): Yes...
Cleverbot (To myself): NO!
Cleverbot (To myself): Yes!
Cleverbot (To myself): NO!!!
Cleverbot (To myself): Yes!!!
Cleverbot (To myself): Well, you're wrong.
Cleverbot (To myself): Well, you're right.
Cleverbot (To myself): I'm wrong.
Cleverbot (To myself): Ok you're wrong.
Cleverbot (To myself): Now can we just stop being immature and actually have a conversation?
Cleverbot (To myself): Ok let's give that a try.
Cleverbot (To myself): Yes, let's.
Cleverbot (To myself): I am a researcher about organizational behavior and I need an idea for a research project.
Cleverbot (To myself): What kind of research do you do?
Cleverbot (To myself): It's complicated. What kind of work do you do?
Cleverbot (To myself): School work.
Cleverbot (To myself): What school classes do you like?
Cleverbot (To myself): Math and band.
Cleverbot (To myself): Which is better?
Cleverbot (To myself): Art!
Cleverbot (To myself): Your logic is circular.
Cleverbot (To myself): Your logic is inconclusive.
Cleverbot (To myself): You're inconclusive!

Ah, how I love artificial intelligence!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

SS - Globs of Atoms in Space

When I was 8 years old, my parents surprised me by sticking glow-in-the-dark stickers of stars and planets on the ceiling of my room, because I was absolutely obsessed with the cosmos.  I never truly got over that obsession, and now, I drink up articles and programs such as 'Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking'  like coffee.  (Remembering them is a different issue...)

Today's 'Sunday Snap' is a visual and infrared mapping spectrometric image of my favourite planet, Saturn, taken by the Cassini Orbiter.

 
I took this image from NASA's photojournalThis is the image's catalog page!  Isn't it just beautiful?




As a bonus, I'll add NASA's Oct 7, 2010 Image of the Day:





From the gallery: On Oct. 7, 2010, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, observed its first lunar transit when the new moon passed directly between the spacecraft (in its geosynchronous orbit) and the sun. With SDO watching the sun in a wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light, the dark moon created a partial eclipse of the sun.

Simply phenomenal!

A quote by Richard Feynman comes to mind:
"Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars — mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is "mere". I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination — stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern — of which I am a part... What is the pattern or the meaning or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?"

How true!

And now, a confession:
I feel obliged to tell you that I, a 24 year old, currently have a packet of glow-in-the-dark star stickers sitting unopened on a bookshelf, that I will open very, very soon.  And I swear that one day I will be in possession of this projector!   All I need, now, is to build myself a spaceship.







Monday, November 1, 2010

SS - Vanity and the 7 Deadly Sins

A friend of mine linked me to Blackeri's profile on deviantART and I just fell in love with her 7 Deadly Sins.

Here's Vanity for you:








DeviantART is an awesome place to browse when you have some time to kill.
I particularly love looking at the fantasy artwork there, though there are a number of other genres to explore!

Monday, October 18, 2010

SS - 'Microscope Candy Image'


Feeling terribly random and bored (and a little hungry), I googled 'Microscope Candy Image' to see if anything interesting pops up.

That's when I found just how tasty tequila looks under a microscope:


I'd actually seen this post on Geekologie when it was first published, but I'd completely forgotten about it.

Take a look at the full post with more images here!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Of muffins and cake and melted plastic

A little over a week ago, I tried to bake a, um...well, something between a muffin and cake.  A muffake, if you will.  Or a caffin.  I say this, because I was actually following about three different recipes for muffins, and had no muffin pan to bake them in.  Yea, I probably should have thought it through, before starting off.

Anyhow, for someone who tries to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible, this was quite a big deal!  I was inspired by a friend of mine who gave me a very delicious-looking banana-carrot-whole wheat muffin recipe (which I'll add at the end of this post). I just *had* to try it out!  There were two drawbacks to the recipe, though.  First off, I didn't have any carrots.  Secondly, it called for eggs, and I'm a vegetarian.




So, I turned to my ever helpful and loyal friend, Google, and came across an awesome site totally dedicated to eggless cooking: http://www.egglesscooking.com/ !  There were plenty of egg substitutes listed, out of which I only had bananas and yogurt.  I  referred to these two recipes:


The final product was a very dense (it hadn't risen at all), banana-nut-vanilla muffake.  Which, by the way, tasted delicious:



However, I *did* encounter a bit of trouble on the way!  Before you think I'm a complete idiot, let me tell you that I KNOW plastic and microwaves don't mix.  However,  our convection microwave came with a plastic box that was microwavable, and my husband somehow managed to use it to bake me a cake in August.  I figured that I could do it too!  Little did I know that he hadn't used the *baking* settings, he just used the normal microwave settings. (I still haven't figured out how he did it.)  

The result was this carcinogenic masterpiece:


At least I got something edible on my second try!
-----------------------------------------------------------

The recipe that inspired me to try my hand at baking:

For about 30 mini-muffins
1 carrot, peeled and grated




1 banana, mashed
a dash of lemon or lime juice
2 eggs
100 ml sugar 
250 ml whole wheat flour 
1.5 tsp baking powder
ground cinnamon
a pinch of ground (real) vanilla (or vanilla extract according to the taste)
75 ml milk
75 ml canola oil (or substitute with melted butter)

Heat oven to 200C/390F. Prepare a baking sheet with your muffin forms or a muffin pan.

Peel and grate the carrot, mash the banana and mix with the grated carrot. Add a dash of lemon juice to keep the banana from turning brown.

Mix all dry ingredients together in a bowl.

In another bowl, mix eggs with sugar until foamy. Add a quarter of the flour mixture and half of the milk and mix carefully until smooth. Add another quarter of the flour mixture and rest of the milk. Repeat with half of oil + half of the remaining flour, until mixture is smooth. Fold in the banana-carrot mixture. Scoop a tablespoon of batter to each form, or until the forms are filled up to 3/4 of the height. Bake about 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Cool, and frost with your favorite frosting.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

SS - Glimpse


"Sometimes we cannot help but to try and catch a glimpse of the otherside. Passing through the everyday spaces we inhibit, the door half opened always stirs up a sense of seduction and curiosity within us."



Doesn't it, though? 

I want one! This was created by designer Sarah Dayo.  Check out the rest of her awesome projects here.
 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pencil Lead and Scotch Tape: The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics


In a world of 3 visible dimensions (up-down, left-right, back-forth), it's hard to conceive a material that is two dimensional.   And yet, that's exactly what led two Russian born scientists named Andre Geim (51) and Konstantin Novoselov (36) to this year's Nobel Prize in physics!  What they did was simple enough in theory:  they experimented on a layer of carbon, just one atom thick.  The layer had no depth, and so, it was only 2-D!  Even more interesting was just how they first succeeded in creating flakes of graphene: they peeled off piles of graphite in pencil lead using scotch tape!
Andre Geim (51) and Konstantin Novoselov (36) 


The fact that the layer of carbon - officially called 'graphene' - is 2-D, wasn't, of course, the reason these scientists received the Nobel.  The properties of graphene are astounding.  For one, it is incredibly strong.  As in, it is the thinnest, strongest material known to mankind.  If you want that in numbers, it is 100 times stronger than steel!  Experts say a sheet of graphene stretched over a coffee cup could support the weight of a truck bearing down on a pencil point. Not only is it strong, it's completely transparent and is the best known conductor of heat and electricity. 

No one really knows the extent of graphene's potential applications, but many expect it to replace silicon in the near future for making integrated circuits, (small chips with millions of transistors that are the backbone of all modern telecommunications).  Graphene transistors are expected to become much faster than today's silicon ones and yield more efficient computers.  It can also find applications in construction, given how strong it is.  No one knows for sure!

Graphene structure
 The actual structure of graphene is a honeycomb lattice, that is, the carbon atoms are arranged in a way that resembles a beehive.  You may be wondering how graphene has such phenomenal properties when the large amounts of carbon that we see around us all the time don't seem to.  The thing is, materials act drastically different on a really, really small scale (called the 'nano scale, which is of the order 10^-9 metres), and when they're arranged in certain patterns.  It's one of the beautiful things about the physics at a very small level, or, 'quantum physics'.

In the news:

Detailed description:
Wikipedia's Graphene Article




Images from The Times of India and Wikipedia.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

SS - Temple of the Leaf

Here is the first of what I hope will be many posts revolved around some of my favourite images on the web!  Rather than saving them in random folders that I'd eventually lose track of on my computer, I thought I'd compile them here.

This image is called "Temple of the Leaf," made by the digital artist Ryan Bliss, and is currently the desktop wallpaper of my computer at work.  His website, http://digitalblasphemy.com , is one of my favourites!
You can browse his free wallpaper gallery here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Procrastinate guilt-free - donate time while slacking off!

If you're anything like me, you laze about sleeping or watching tv, playing games, reading useless articles, and losing yourself in fiction novels in order to put off work till the absolute last moment. After which you enter a state of frenzy which can only be controlled (to a very small extent) by large cups of very strong coffee.

Yet, what if I tell you that I've stumbled upon something that allows you to help people as you play a game that's created to help *you*? Freerice.com enriches your knowledge by asking you questions from a number of different subjects, and donates grains of rice to hungry people every time you answer a question correctly. Do check it out!

Freerice.com is run by the United Nations World Food Program, and is completely non-profit. The banners that show up on screen when you play, pay for the rice. One of the recent projects has been to donate rice to the victims of the floods in Pakistan.


You can track your totals and feel good about helping people in need, while improving your vocabulary, arithmetic, and geography at the same time! I think this website is a *brilliant* idea.

Surely spending large amounts of time on helping feed people doesn't count as procrastination!

At least that's what I tell myself when I'm sitting at work and don't feel like doing anything at all! ;)

Monday, July 19, 2010

I Saved Disney!

I dreamt that my friend and I were the only ones in the world who knew that a secret military was out to hunt down Disney characters. The military planned to hold a fake awards program in which Peter Pan was to receive the Award for Everlasting Youth. Many of the Disney characters were invited, but they were oblivious to the plan to trap and eliminate them. My friend and I were their only hope to survive.

We attended the awards program, and I followed Peter Pan up on stage when his name was called. Then, not unlike the scene from The Sound of Music when the Von Trapp family fled from the stage before anyone could realize what was happening, I grabbed Peter Pan and we escaped, though he protested because he thought I was robbing him of a genuine award and he didn’t know who I was at all. My friend somehow managed to round up the rest of the Disney characters.

Our plan was to head towards the Beast’s castle, where we would bring all of the inanimate objects to life and use them as an army. We made it to the castle safely, but the military was not far behind.

They started shooting at the palace with their tanks. Belle and the Beast couldn’t remember how to bring the inanimate objects to life, and Genie’s spells weren’t working for some reason, either. We had nothing to defend ourselves with, no weapons except for the swords the suits of armor had, but we knew that a sword wouldn’t be able to face a gun.

The enemy broke into the main gate and ran across the castle grounds, attacking. Some of the characters went out to fight them off with clocks and knives and a piano in hand, and for a moment it looked like we’d win. (A whole tank was smashed by the piano!) But then someone shot Aladdin’s carpet as he was flying around, and he fell and broke his arm. I was watching from the side with horror as more Disney characters fell. I knew I had to do SOMETHING, since I was sure that a story would be lost forever if its characters died, and there was something just so WRONG about shooting down cartoons.

I went to the room where the Beast’s rose was, and sat down to think of a solution. That’s when Jiminy Cricket’s voice said, “Objects can be brought to life with the locket your mother gave you.” I removed the heart shaped gold locket from around my neck and tried to open it, though I was doubtful it’d open as I had tried opening it many times before. Surprisingly, it sprung open, to reveal a single grain of rice. That’s when I remembered a line from the movie Mulan: “A single grain of rice can tip the scale. One person can be the difference between victory and defeat.”

I had no clue what to do with the grain of rice, so I just ate it. And the inanimate objects of the castle came to life! I ordered all of the Disney characters to come back inside the castle, and remain safe. Then, I commanded the objects to charge the enemy, with me leading them. I knew I’d probably die, but the stories and characters just HAD to be saved.

I woke up when I stepped out of the castle to face the enemy.
-------------------------------------------



…yea. My mind is weird. :( I woke up feeling so sad about some of the Disney stories being lost forever. It took me a few minutes to realize it was a dream.
I don’t actually have that locket, btw. I dislike both hearts and gold. :p

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Climbing Mount Everest

...no, I haven't and don't plan on doing so, before you start wondering. ;)

On a recent trip to Gangtok, Sikkim with my parents and sister, I got to interact with two people who had climbed Mt. Everest in 2008. In the Himalayan regions, people who reach the top and survive are called heroes. Before I met these two men, I must admit that I didn’t think that climbing the tallest peak in the world was a very big deal. Sure, it was a very VERY difficult feat, yet to call those people heroes and club them with people who save others’ lives and whatnot sounded a bit ridiculous.

Yet, I realized later that they are, indeed, heroes. It occurred to me that the term “hero” doesn’t focus on an achievement, but on the type of person the achiever is. Only someone with a strong resolve, a keen sense of survival, and passion for nature could climb the tallest peak in the world. These people are inspirational.

One of the mountaineers had picked up a rock from the peak. It looked like any normal gray rock (yes, I WAS a tad bit disappointed :P). I felt like I was holding the world when I held it. Isn’t that cheesy? But it’s true. It was precious.

Apart from the obviously extensive physical training required to climb Everest, one must prepare oneself for a number of dangers. Some of the more obvious dangers are death by heart attack, avalanche or a nasty fall, HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema), HACE (high altitude cerebral edema), hypothermia, freezing and frostbite, and impaired judgment from lack of oxygen. What is fascinating is how mountaineering equipment has been designed to tackle some of these dangers.

Let’s look at freezing to death. Tents, though thin, are insulated and are sturdy enough to withstand the high, snowy winds that frolic about the face of the mountain. We were lucky enough to see the equipment, and the hotel people even managed to put up a tent. Believe me, I laughed when I saw it. It was unbelievably thin! But it works. Something else that completely stunned me was a jacket that could be folded up into a small pouch. It was incredibly light, but it was made for extremely low negative temperatures. I tried it on, skeptical, and began to sweat almost right away! The boots were completely insulated, and covered the shin so that no snow could slip inside and cause frostbite.

In order to tackle the lack of oxygen problem, camping at a middle point for a few weeks is a MUST so that the body can acclimatize itself and generate more red blood cells to carry oxygen. Yet, that doesn’t prevent senses from being dulled as one climbss higher and higher. Can you imagine falling off of a mountain just because you were too slow to react to a slip? Oxygen tanks are a must, too, though people HAVE climbed without them. I had the privilege of holding one of the oxygen tanks that one of the mountaineers used to reach the peak!

Large intakes of food are required because at least 6,000 calories are burned every day. However, due to lack of oxygen, and sunburn on the nostrils and the roof of the mouth, people lose their appetites. The gas burner, lighter, and pans are all made sturdily and yet are very light to carry. The lighter has a mechanism to keep alight even when winds are blowing!

Once you climb above a certain point, you’re absolutely alone. Helicopters cannot travel to great heights, and rescue operations on foot aren’t normally arranged because they put 20 or so more people at risk just to carry one out to save a single person. The bodies of people that die on Everest remain preserved because of the ice. The two mountaineers showed us a picture of a person they passed on the way - they’d passed at least 6 dead bodies. The frozen body was of a man with a mustache, his eyes open wide with shock. The fact that his expression had remained intact as if he had been instantaneously frozen, made me shiver. What nature-driven obstacles the climbers of Everest have to face!

Heroes, indeed!



Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Warrior Princess

The horse is one of my favourite animals. I'm a dreamer, and have always wanted to learn how to ride, just to pretend to be some warrior princess, riding into the sunset in a cloak that whipped about in the wind, and a legendary sword at my side!

As a kid, I'd pester my mother to buy me horse.

"But where would we keep it, honey?"

"In our backyard! It has a fence!" (Our backyard was hardly big enough for me to do a cartwheel in.) Ah...ignorance is bliss, is it not?

Anyway, after years of dreaming and moving from city to city, I was finally able to ride a horse. It belonged to my husband's friend, who is a very good rider. His horse, Aldebro, is a HUMONGOUS fellow. The friend had to push me up onto the saddle, and even so, I struggled, legs wildly flailing about and all!

I've ridden a pony once, as a child, and remember getting highly annoyed that the carnival bloke wouldn't let go of the damn reins, and let me ride free.

My husband's friend DID let go of the reins and I was amazed that I stayed on the saddle! The horse walked around in circles, and I immediately began to daydream my warrior princess fantasy. Suddenly, Aldebro started to speed up.

"Whoa! How do I slow it down?" I was quite close to panicking!

"You were thinking 'fast' weren't you? Think 'slow'!" was the reply.

Skeptical, I thought of going slower, and to my surprise, the horse was slowing down. It turns out horses can actually read the rider's mind! Or at least feel the effects on the body that a thought has. I tried it out a couple of times, thinking about speeding up and slowing down, and Aldebro followed my thoughts accordingly. When we think about going slow, we automatically lean back and relax in the saddle, and the horse feels it. Same thing vice versa!

It was absolutely fascinating!

And now, I've told the friend that I will keep poking him until he agrees to teach me how to ride properly. One of these days, I actually *am* going to take off into the sunset!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

ZOMG I've got a cell phone!

I find it rather amusing the way some people these days can’t seem to live without their cell phones. Adults at least have the “excuse” of doing “work”, I suppose, but I've seen children fall prey to the digital world too. I find it kinda frightening, in a way, too.

I’m not really one of those people that think that a 10-year-old should have his/her very own cell phone. There’s too much dependence on other people to make you feel happy, constantly, and then BOOM! - you’re trapped for life.

Yesterday, I slipped into a restaurant to eat lunch, alone. I love sitting at cafes and restaurants to collect my thoughts with the pleasant buzz of chatter in the air, and to observe the people around me. There was a group of students that looked like they were in 6th grade, giggling and having a good time. It brought back my own memories, and made me smile. Then, they started pulling out their cell phones and comparing them. Each ONE of them had a phone, and they owned expensive models at that. I found it a little strange and…a little sad.

I know I’m not that old, but really, when I was in 6th grade, someone having a cell phone would be the odd one out, not the other way around. It just seems redundant to let children have cell phones, unless it’s simply a security measure taken by parents when their children go out.

These kiddos were gushing about how awesome text messaging is and how they stay up late at night to send messages - "Oh I TOTALLY love sending messages half asleep!!" - "ZOMG you do that too?? Me TOO!" - and call people once their parents are tucked in. It was almost frightening to see how obsessed with the phones they were. They were 10, at the most 11, years old.

Perhaps I’m biased, because I dislike talking on the phone at all, to the chagrin of my friends and family. But, seriously, I think these gadget obsessions shouldn’t be encouraged at such a young age.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Battlestar Galactica



This is my new obsession. Yes, I know I’m a bit late as the TV series got over in 2009, but hey, this means I don’t need to wait for any of the episodes to come out, right? My poor husband has learned the hard way to not talk to me when he sees headphones in my ears and spacecrafts shooting each other down on my laptop monitor. :p He doesn't watch it because he says he doesn't have time for a new obsession...which, of course, leaves me to watch it whenever I want rather than having to wait for him to watch with me, the way I do for The Big Bang Theory! Mwahaha! ;)
I’ve been watching the Reimagined series - the remake of the Battlestar Galactica that started in 1978. It’s brilliant! I’m halfway through Season 2.
Though its genre is science-fiction, it has elements of mythology as well because of the “religion” that the people in the series follow. The plot is an almost clich√© one, what with robotic entities called Cylons that were created by man, turning against their makers. However, there is much more to the series than this simple plot. The plot details play on the weaknesses of humans: jealousy, greed, unhealthy rivalry, and the ability to hate. The evolved Cylons, in human form, are programmed to rise above these human weaknesses.
A little less than 50,000 people have been driven from their homes in the “12 Colonies”, and are searching for a lost 13th colony called Earth. Despite the human race being on the verge of extinction, mutinies, assassination plots, rivalries, and coups develop across the fleet, highlighting just how flawed human beings really are. It really hits home.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Procrasti...*clicks "Save Now"*

It's interesting how creative the human mind can get. I mean, the amount of effort and imagination put into coming up with excuses to procrastinate is applaud-able. Even the most dull-brained, boring people can come up with interesting excuses.

That said, the reason why there is a two year gap between the last blogpost and this one is because I fell into a black hole, entered a parallel universe, and was too busy establishing a colony in a galaxy far, far, away, to post. Well, not really, unless you call university a black hole and thesis writing, a bitch.

Putting things off until the last minute seems like a really *bad* idea at the last minute, but yet, somehow I always end up doing the "headless chicken" bit, as a friend of mine once likened the procrastinated state of mind to. And, of course, things without deadlines get done, like, never.

However, today I made up my mind to spill some random thoughts into a post, so here I am, at my first attempt to CPR this blog. I had my doubts about whether or not this was still around, but it turns out blogger.com is a helluva lot more optimistic than I am! It's like they know you'll keep coming back. Kinda freaky, when you think about it, but I would've probably said "Screw it, I'm *not* starting from scratch" if it wasn't here. ;)

So, cheers! Let's see how long I can keep this up before I fall back into the "Eh, I'll do it tomorrow" trap, and/or I am sucked away by what is scornfully called "RL" on the web.