Monday, November 4, 2013

Winter is coming... I got me an Arya:

Her middle name is Tempus -- Latin for 'time'. It covers three of my loves: Doctor Who, Wheel of Time, and mythology.

Once she got used to her new home, she went around claiming spots. She was all: "By the way, this is mine. And this. And this."

Her absolute favourite spot is the chair at my desk.  That basically means I end up having to wrestle a highly stubborn and not at all amused kitteh every time I want to work.

I usually lose:

I have sliding glass front doors. Every morning I open them, leaving just the net doors shut for a bit of fresh air. When I did this for the first time, she sat and stared at it for an eternity. I could hear her mentally screaming "SOMETHING IS DIFFERENT OMG I MUST FIGURE THIS OUT!" Then she decided to investigate:

And gave me a sheepish, derpy look when she realized I was watching her:

Arya thinks she's fabulous at hide-and-seek:

She also thinks she's Spiderman:

From time to time she remembers that she's a cat, and shows signs of the Cardboard Box Obsession of her people:

Even though she mostly pretends to be a fearless know-it-all, she does need reassuring once in a while. Watching Disney's 101 Dalmations was a terrifying experience, and required warm towels and lots of snuggles:

She's quite a fiesty little fighter.  I was actually quite proud when she gave the vet's assistant a good bite in self-defense.  Yes, I know I shouldn't have been, but I was.  My little girl takes after her namesake

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why Do I Study Physics?

Hey, do you mind if I tell you a story? One you might not have heard. All the elements in your body were forged many, many millions of years ago, in the heart of a far away star that exploded and died. That explosion scattered those elements across the desolations of deep space. After so, so many millions of years, these elements came together to form new stars and new planets. And on and on it went. The elements came together and burst apart, forming shoes and ships and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings. Until eventually, they came together to make you. You are unique in the universe. There is only one [you]. And there will never be another. Getting rid of that existence isn't a sacrifice. It is a waste.
- The Doctor

There's so much beauty in the clockwork of the universe, that I wonder why more people don't just stop rushing through their lives and take a look around.  We exist and tick along only because certain constants are fixed at certain values, certain fundamental interactions have certain strengths, and certain events took place at certain points in space-time.  If any of these were even slightly altered, the universe would be very different!  

For instance, if gravity were stronger, stellar interiors would be hotter than they are now.  There's a chance that stars would burn out too soon for life to develop. On the other hand, if gravity were weaker, there would be no clumped matter, and therefore, no us.

The beauty of the complex grid of laws that dictate our universe is precisely why I study physics.  

This video explains it wonderfully:

Why Do I Study Physics? (2013) from Xiangjun Shi on Vimeo.

If you want more proof of how glorious physics is, read physicist Richard Feynman's autobiographical Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and be inspired!

Friday, October 25, 2013

FF - 5 Sexy Bookish Links

You know what's sexy? I mean downright ye gods giggity sexy? Bookshelves. And notebooks. Hell yes.

It is no secret that I have a notebook collection.  Here are some pictures of it.

I apologise for the poor picture quality.  I don't apologise for making you feel like a muggle compared to the awesomeness that is a notebook collection on friggin display!

And yes, that's the 11th Doctor's sonic screwdriver on my shelf. Along with a Wheel of Time card deck. And a dagger.

If you're into books and libraries and shelves and notebooks and awesomeness the way I am, check these out:

1. Bookshelf Porn
2. Letternote - (I have three of their notebooks)
3. Bookcase Porn
4. Lifehacker article on the best paper notebooks
5. 62 of the World's Most Beautiful Libraries

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Diet Based on Blood Type?

It's been brought to my attention that a diet based on blood type is becoming a popular trend. Reading about health is a new obsession of mine, and the thought that blood type affects one's health seemed logical -- even believable.
Intrigued, I looked it up.

These articles pretty much sum up the diet:

The claims seemed fairly plausible, so I decided to take a look at food charts like this one, to see which foods have been labelled as 'helpful' or 'harmful' for different blood types.  I'm an O+.

My research on the topic hasn't dug up any extensive scientific studies to validate these tables.  As far as I'm concerned, this is a glaring turn-off. I've actually been skeptical about this diet ever since I read that cinnamon is harmful for type O. Cinnamon has a lot of healing properties and has been used in Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, home remedies, and other areas of alternative medicine for a long time.  Considering that type O is the most common blood type, wouldn't the use of cinnamon have been observed to be adverse, or at the very least ineffective? It wouldn't be such a common healer. That in itself sets off the alarm bells in my head.  While I do feel that blood type logically makes at least a bit of difference to one's diet (and I've already implemented a couple of minor cautions), I feel more thorough research absolutely needs to be done.

For those of you who want to follow this diet, I suggest you make sure you're not leaving out essential nutrients (eg: calcium in dairy) in your eating regime. And take what you read with a pinch of salt.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Nerding Out

So, a good friend of mine went to CERN and I gave him instructions to kiss ALICE for me. ALICE is one of the four LHC experiments, and I've had the privilege to work with the ALICE group for a year in Kolkata, India. Unfortunately, while I've met many people from CERN and interacted with them through video/voice e-meetings, I never did get to visit!

He sent me this:

This, ladies and gentlemen, is ALICE.  She's bloody beautiful.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Dear Fantasy, I think we need a break.

Just to clarify, this does mean that I can sleep with other genres.

I'm so sorry. I never thought I'd ever say this. Not in a million years.  But today, I finished The Book Thief, and I was left with this deep, carnal desire to learn more about the world I actually do live in. Though this book was about a fictional German Christian girl, it took place in Nazi Germany, and shed light on the atrocities from a different perspective than that of the Jewish people: the only perspective I'd read about up until now.  It both horrified and fascinated me.

I read the last chapter listening to violin music, sitting at the edge of my bed, biting my finger, thinking about the German families that were involuntarily torn apart during the war. And I want to know more. I am not ashamed to say that I acquired Mein Kampf behind your back.  I want to read it, to get into the mind of someone who could propagate such monstrosity.

Apart from that, I have collected at least 15 other non-fiction books in the past week.  And no, before you ask, none were related to science.  I know you've always been tolerant with my occasional flings with the likes of The Tao of Physics, Decoding Reality and Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman. But these are real-life accounts with real-life people.

I'll be looking at historical fiction and perhaps alternative history as well.  Not alternative history like your Kushiel's Dart.  As much as I loved it, there was still you stamped across it.  I began Red Plenty today.  In a few days, I imagine I'll know more about the Soviet Union than I ever thought I'd care to.

Don't worry, I won't be gone for good.  I still religiously wear the One Ring and the Great Serpent ring you gave me years ago. Just today, I put a Slytherin Quidditch team poster up on my wall.  But I am, frankly, bored and restless.  I couldn't even make it through Tigana, which according to a number of people whose tastes I share, is amazing.  The Alloy of Law was a bit of a let down, and that was disappointing, because Brandon Sanderson is one of my all-time favourite authors.   The Lies of Locke Lamora was surprisingly lovely, but I really did take way too long to finish it.  Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't be able to put down one of your good pieces.  

So, yes, my dear genre.  I'm calling it off for now.  The only thing really left for me to say is:

Sunday, September 8, 2013

SS - On Women

A beautiful, powerful campaign launched in India, depicting abused goddesses [link]:

An equally touching video is this one on Upworthy.

Also, check out these portraits of women who have lived their lives as men, in Albania [link]:

happens to my son
living within my skin
drinking my cells
my water
my organs
his soft psyche turning cruel.
does he not remember
is half woman.

nayyirah waheed

Friday, August 16, 2013

FF - 15 Obsolete English Words I Want to Use

I came across an article called 18 Obsolete Words, Which Never Should Have Gone Out of Style. I was not disappointed.  It triggered a word-quest across the interwebs that resulted in my finding these glorious websites:

- (About the books Forgotten EnglishThe Word Museum, Altered EnglishInformal English by Jeffrey Kacirk.  I definitely want to read The Word Museum!)

I devoured these websites with a combination of raw excitement and a pang of despair: I weep for English sometimes. I'm all for evolution of language, of course, but to hear things like "YOLO"? Really?

I've compiled a list of words I'm determined to use in my everyday language because they are nothing short of epic:

1) Wonder-wench: A sweetheart — “The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten” by Jeffrey Kacirk

2) Groak: To silently watch someone while they are eating, hoping to be invited to join them 

3) Roinish: Scabby, despicable.

4) Spermologer: A picker-up of trivia, of current news, a gossip monger, what we would today call a columnist — “The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten” by Jeffrey Kacirk

5) Pulverable: That which may be reduced to fine powder. From Latin pulvis, pulveris, powder. Pulverous, consisting of, or like, dust or powder. - Daniel Lyons's Dictionary of the English Language, 1897

6) Kittling: A kitten

7) Beef-witted: Having an inactive brain, thought to be from eating too much beef. — John Phin’s “Shakespeare Cyclopaedia and Glossary”, 1902
8) Queerplungers: Cheats who throw themselves into the water in order that they may be taken up by their accomplices, who carry them to one of the houses appointed by the Humane Society for the recovery of drowned persons, where they are rewarded by the society with a guinea each, and the supposed drowned person, pretending he was driven to that extremity by great necessity, is also frequently sent away with a contribution in his pocket. — “The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten” by Jeffrey Kacirk
9) Englishable: That which may be rendered into English — John Ogilvie’s “Comprehensive English Dictionary”, 1865
10) Resistentialism: The seemingly spiteful behaviour shown by inanimate objects 
11) Zafty: A person very easily imposed upon — Maj. B. Lowsley’s “A Glossary of Berkshire Words and Phrases”, 1888
12) Skybald: A good-for-nothing; a worthless person, animal, or thing.

13) Rememble: A false memory.

14) Flabberdegaz: Nonsensical talk. - Maurice Weseen's A Dictionary of American Slang, 1934

15) Monsterful: Wonderful and extraordinary. -Grose's 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

Which words do you like?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Reflections and 20 Inspirational Quotes

On this day last year, I lost one of the most remarkable influences in my life:  my professor. He is the reason I fell in love with research and education. Prof. Satish Kumar not only set a positive academic example, he was the epitome of an exceptional human being as well.  I wrote a tribute to him last year, here.

This untimely death wasn't the only major event to happen in the past 12 months.  There were a number of other life-altering circumstances people close to me and I were forced to face. As a result, I feel I have learned much about how remarkable the universe and the human mind can be.  And I continue to learn everyday.

I've witnessed people fall into a black hole and rise up against all odds.  I've witnessed people generating strength within themselves to overcome obstacles that life throws at them. I've learned the power and beauty of little, positive things that add up to make a difference.

And so, today, I'd like to reflect on the things I'd like to keep in mind, in the form of my favourite quotes.

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” -Thomas A. Edison

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else." - Judy Garland

"Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve." –Napoleon Hill

“Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars - mere globs of gas atoms. 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 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?” -Richard Feynman
"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now." –Chinese Proverb
"When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life." –John Lennon 
"Whoever loves much, performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well." –Vincent Van Gogh

“The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” -Ayn Rand
"Today's mighty oak is just yesterday's nut that held its ground." -David Icke
Because Douglas Adams deserves his own list:
"Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the drug store, but that's just peanuts to space." 
"It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes."

"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so."
"I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be." 
"A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools."
As does Doctor Who:
"Hey. Do you mind if I tell you a story? One you might not have heard. All the elements in your body were forged many many millions of years ago in the heart of a faraway star that exploded and died. That explosion scattered those elements across the desolations of deep space. After so, so many millions of years, these elements came together to form new stars and new planets. And on and on it went. The elements came together and burst apart, forming shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings. Until, eventually, they came together to make you. You are unique in the universe. There is only one [you]. And there will never be another. Getting rid of that existence isn't a sacrifice, it's a waste!"

"But this is one corner of one country on one continent on one planet that's a corner of a galaxy that's a corner of a universe that is forever growing and shrinking and creating and growing and never remaining the same for a single millisecond, and there is so much to see."

"The human race just keeps on going—keeps on changing. Life will out. "

"Look at these people, these human beings. Consider their potential! From the day they arrive on the planet, blinking, step into the sun, there is more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than— no, hold on. Sorry, that's The Lion King. But the point still stands."
"I see 'keep out' signs as suggestions more than actual orders. Like 'dry clean only'."

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Aerogels: "Solid Air"

So I was happily surfing the web, minding my own business, when I came across the word 'aerogel'. Intrigued, I looked it up.  I was not disappointed.

I had no idea that aerogels existed! They are the world's lightest solid materials.  They're so low in density that they're often called "solid air" or "frozen smoke".  They've got an insanely impressive variety of properties, depending on which materials they're made out of. Check out this Quest Lab video:

Awesome, innit?

There's a ton of information here:

Sunday, July 28, 2013


You don’t know
How powerful the mind is
How it can rise to the occasion
A sling to a broken heart
How it can wrap around you
A warm blanket under ice
How no matter what
It remains your best friend
Even its harsh whispers
That keep you from sleep
Are nothing but a chrysalis
A wall of protection
While you transform
Tear at the threads, sweetheart
Tear at them
And fly away

Image from

Friday, July 19, 2013

FF - Function Space and Qubits

I've written an introduction to qubits on Function Space.  If you're curious about quantum computing, and want to know just what it's all about, this generic article is for you!

A couple of friends pointed me towards Function Space this week, and I'm kicking myself for not finding it sooner (granted, it was founded only in April 2013, so I'm not that late).  It's an excellent resource for anyone wanting to explore science, math and computer science.  From their 'About' page:
What is Function Space?
Function Space is an online education social network and a learning platform.Whatever you need, from lectures, online discussions to interact with people, book reviews, problem solving sections, in-depth articles and subject groups; we have it all. This multifaceted approach of Function Space lets you grasp whatever you learn.
What really resonated with me is their aim to deepen understanding of subjects through discussions of interesting problems you don't normally see in classrooms.  I've always felt uncomfortable with the way students tend to memorize things, spit them out for exams, then promptly forget them, without really understanding the subject -- heck, even I used to do that as an undergrad, because the educationssystem is such that it doesn't always encourage out-of-box thinking.  Only when I got involved in out-of-classroom problems did my passion for research and science ignite.

Adit Gupta, a co-founder of Function Space, is passionate about science, and I've thoroughly enjoyed the few chats I've had with him.  He gave me the opportunity to write articles for them, so I started off with Introduction to Qubits.  My future articles will be listed here on my Function Space profile.

Right now their home-grown social learning network is at its beta stage, but I encourage you to sign up!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

SS - Liquid Art

High speed photographs of bubbles and splashing coloured liquids:

Absolutely brilliant. Imagine the amount of coordination needed to capture something like this, especially to create a specific image like the flower pot by Jack Long.   Read about how high speed photography works here.

Friday, March 22, 2013

FF - 5 Awesome Free e-Learning Websites

One of the best things about the internet is how easy it is to learn just about *anything* you're interested in!   Sometimes I wish I didn't have to sleep, just because there's just so friggin' much to learn out there.

I'm currently taking Songwriting by the Berklee College of Music on Coursera.  This is the first class I've signed up for that isn't directly related to my research, so it's a nice daily 20-minute break from my regular physics and machine learning schedule.  I enjoy writing lyrics, but have never formally learned about it.  This is also the first class I plan on completing religiously, quizzes and projects and all, rather than simply perusing the resources and videos.

5 awesome places on the Web to learn for free:
1. Coursera - an excellent collection of college courses
2. edX - another collection of college courses. I haven't checked this out yet, but I've heard from people that it's really good.
3. MIT OCW - Open courseware provided by MIT
4. Khan Academy - School-level content on a large variety of subjects
5. VidyaPrasar  - Open courseware offered by my home institute: Dayalbagh Educational Institute.  It's only got a handful of courses on physics and computer science right now, but it's definitely worth checking out if you're interesting in topics like Neural Networks.

Do you know of any more sites offering courses on different subjects? Where do you go to learn on the Web?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

SS - Onwards

Don't look back
Just fly.

Become the wind.

Dedicated to a beautiful friend, who passed away on March 15, 2013. [Song: May angels lead you in.]

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Science of Consciousness

Last week, I attended the conference "Toward a Science of Consciousness" at my home institute, Dayalbagh Educational Institute [conference brochure].  While I don't work in the field of consciousness, I've always had a fascination for the workings of the human brain and mind, so I really enjoyed the talks!

A number of renowned personalities gave talks: Stuart Hameroff, Deepak Chopra, James J. Barrell, to name just a few.  A complete list of the speakers, abstracts and talks can be found here.

Stuart Hameroff is an amazing, engaging speaker. He lucidly explains complex ideas, has a fun sense of humour, and his enthusiasm is palpable. The talk he gave was on the Penrose-Hameroff Orchestrated Objective Reduction (Orch-OR) theory of consciousness, a theory he and Roger Penrose came up with together. Though he's an anesthesiologist, he became interested in consciousness because his job essentially entails taking consciousness away on a daily basis.

What consciousness actually is remains scientifically unknown.  It's generally, superficially, taken to be awareness or perception, but when we get down to scientific details, we run into a lot of unanswered questions. Can consciousness be downloaded into a computer, the way it's shown in movies like The Matrix and Avatar? Can consciousness exist outside of the body?  What exactly is consciousness made up of? How do things that don't require external stimulation, like daydreaming, meditation, and creativity, work? And tons more.

There are conflicting views of thought: western philosophy says that consciousness emerged from biological evolution, whereas eastern philosophy says that it has always been in the universe.  Hameroff thinks it's a combination of both.  He spoke of the paramecium, a unicelluar organism that appears to think and act on its own, pointing to some level of consciousness.

A number of experiments and studies have been directed towards cracking consciousness.  One such study speaks of a sort of "readiness potential" we all seem to have.  Apparently, the decisions we make take place in our subconscious minds before we actually become aware of them. An experiment described in the magazine Nature, consisted of participants looking at random letters on a screen. They were told to press a button whenever they felt the urge to. It was found that "the conscious decision to push the button was made about a second before the actual act, but the team discovered that a pattern of brain activity seemed to predict that decision by as many as seven seconds." The experimenters linked this phenomena to free will, and deduced that perhaps free will is an illusion. (I don't agree with that thought; the decisions are still made in our own subconscious minds, irrespective of whether we're aware of them or not.)

Work done by Anirban Bandyopadhyay in Japan addresses the molecular side of consciousness: moletronics and intelligence, or "molecular machines".  Bandyopadhyay, who was also at the conference, is up to immensely interesting work involving the actual circuitry of the brain.  I suggest you take some time out to peruse his website, which has tons of information as well as links to general news articles that discuss his team's work.

A ton of the papers at the conference addressed the effects of meditation on the human body and mind.  There's a protein in our saliva linked to immunity that seems to be more prominent in meditators, positive physical changes are observed in our brains' neuronal connections after meditation, small changes in personality traits according to Jung's personality theory can be observed after a regime of yoga and meditation (eg. extroversion seems to tend to introversion)... the list goes on and on.

An old lab-mate and I ran some preliminary experiments on the effect of meditation on the vocal output of singers, and presented a poster at this conference as well. However, ours was just a pilot study: we wanted to see whether meditation affected how far singers deviated from a reference note.  We measured the errors (|sung note frequency - actual note frequency|) before and after meditative sessions for 20 participants, and found that the errors after meditation were less than the errors prior to the meditative sessions.  It was pretty cool to observe!  I'd be interested in gathering a larger number of participants, spanning a whole bunch of philosophical and religious backgrounds.

The field of consciousness is absolutely fascinating, and researchers across the world are becoming more and more conscious (ha!) about it.  I can't wait to see what they come up with.

Pictures taken from:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

SS - Cloud Art

This exhibit at the Castle of D’Aspremont-Lynden was created by Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde through moisture control and a smoke machine. Check out more here.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Lately, I've been exploring the interesting field of psychometrics. Tutorific, the group I work part-time for, is putting together an adaptive learning system that will utilize psychometric analysis in order to provide 'custom-made' content for students.

I've written a brief post on the topic for the company blog. Do check it out; psychometrics are interesting!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

SS - Whisper

I am a boat: riding on tides of flighty emotions, rolling and tumbling on waves of doubt and security under a sun that’s too bright on an ocean that’s too deep.
I am a leaf: leaping on a wind too heavy to carry me, stretching my sinews and scattering my broken heart across an empty land full of promise and dread.
I am a torch: burning those who come too close, lighting the way down a path lined with broken glass and rose petals.
I am a blink: clamping at a dusty touch, ferociously protecting the window within, ignoring you and hanging on to your every word.
I am a heart: beating until the very end.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"God does not play dice!"

... said Einstein. Bohr retorted: "Quit telling God what to do."  You see, quantum mechanics made Einstein extremely uncomfortable.  He was not at all a fan of it being an underlying theory of nature.  He acknowledged that it was an elegant theory within its domain of applicability, but the thought of nature being governed by randomness and probabilities -- the heart of quantum mechanics -- made his hair stand even more on end than it already was.

Quantum mechanics cannot tell you precisely where a particle is located, only where it probably is.  Does that seem a little strange to you? It also says that two particles that share a history can interact with each other no matter how far apart they are. These 'entangled' particles  appear to interact with each other instantaneously, without any transmission of information, despite the speed of light being the fastest possible speed.  When one particle is measured, the other one automatically adjusts itself to correspond to the first one's measurement. Does that mean that something is traveling faster than light? Einstein was adament that something was missing, and that quantum mechanics as a theory is incomplete.

Einstein called this 'instantaneous' interaction of separate particles "spooky action at a distance".  It turns out that what troubled him is not a debatable point, but an actual observed phenomena.  This actually happens!  

Suppose I have two marbles: one blue and one red.  I put each of them in two individual opaque packets, and send one to Japan and the other to Egypt.  If you open the packet in Japan and find that the marble inside is blue, then you know right away that the one in Egypt is red.  The colors of the marbles were already predetermined, and the color information was already present even though it was hidden from us behind the opacity of the packets.  Sounds about right, doesn't it?  Einstein argued that this must be the case with entangled particles: there must be some hidden variable that can explain the whole thing.  Since quantum mechanics doesn't allow these local hidden variables, he argued that it was incomplete.  

Let's take a look at a different scenario, one allowed by quantum mechanics: consider two magical, colourless, identical marbles, that become coloured if someone touches them.  They are 'entangled' in such a way that if one turns red, the other definitely turns blue.  Each individual marble is as likely to turn red as it is to turn blue, at a single touch, but once you touch it, the other one has to take on the opposite colour.  How does the second marble know what colour the first marble is?  There was no predetermination. There are no hidden variables. The second marble doesn't say "okay you go red, and I'll go blue", and the first one doesn't send the second one a message that is faster than light. Before the first marble was touched, it was happily lying in a state of ignorance about whether it would turn blue or red. It knew that it had an equal probability of turning either colour.  But, somehow, because the two were magically 'entangled', the colour of one influenced the colour of the other.  

Seems a little un-intuitive, doesn't it? But this actually happens! This has actually been observed in the lab with photons and electrons and other systems of entangled particles. And physicists are still working out the implications.

Does this make you uncomfortable? It certainly discomforted Einstein.

More to read:

Wikipedia -- Quantum NonlocalityEPR Paradox, Bell's Theorem
Is the moon there when nobody looks?
Bell's Theorem With Easy Math
Does Bell's Inequality rule out local theories of quantum mechanics?

More complicated: A Historical and Modern View on Bell’s Inequality