Cerebral Shangrila

Friday, June 30, 2006

Brilliant Photo - Courtesy World Picture Network Posted by Picasa

Was reading the National Geographic magazine, when I came across this brilliant photograph.National geographic reports,"It looks like a rainbow that's been set on fire, but this phenomenon is as cold as ice.Known in the weather world as a circumhorizontal arc, this rare sight was caught on film on June 3 as it hung over northern Idaho near the Washington State border.

The arc isn't a rainbow in the traditional sense—it is caused by light passing through wispy, high-altitude cirrus clouds. The sight occurs only when the sun is very high in the sky (more than 58° above the horizon). What's more, the hexagonal ice crystals that make up cirrus clouds must be shaped like thick plates with their faces parallel to the ground.When light enters through a vertical side face of such an ice crystal and leaves from the bottom face, it refracts, or bends, in the same way that light passes through a prism. If a cirrus's crystals are aligned just right, the whole cloud lights up in a spectrum of colors."

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Game theory, Soccer and Penalty Kicks

The authors of the immensly popular book - Freakonomics, write a very interesting blog. Steven Levitt (One of the authors of the book) explains why very few players hit the ball in the middle, although the theoritical probability of scoring a goal is high if hit in the middle of the goalpost.

Levitt says, " In my paper with Tim Groseclose and Pierre-Andre Chiappori, we test the predictions of game theory using penalty kicks in soccer. We find that the players’ actions conform very closely to the theoretical ideal.

There is one big deviation that we see between what players actually do and what the theory predicts: kickers kick the ball right down the middle much less than they should. Or put another way, in practice, kicking it down the middle scores at a higher rate than kicking it either to the left or right (at least in our data set).

Why? If you kick it right down the middle and you don’t score, it is damn embarrassing. So even though the middle is a great play statistically, kickers don’t choose it very often. There are some things that are even more important than winning, like not looking like a fool."

Economics can never explain irrational things. Isn't not looking like a fool one such ?

P.S : Interested in the Application of Game theory for penalty kicks in Soccer? Here is Levitt's paper on it with two more authors.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Hawaii Islands Named World's Largest Marine Sanctuary

I was happy to read this news in National Geographic , " A scattered chain of Hawaiian islands today (June 15,2006) became the largest marine sanctuary in the world.The announcement was made today by U.S. President George W. Bush, who has designated the wildlife-rich islands and surrounding seas a national monument.The move follows a long campaign by Hawaiians and conservation groups for federal protection of the NWHI, a 1,200-mile-long (1,930-kilometer-long) chain of islands, atolls, and coral reefs.The region is home to more than 7,000 marine species, about a quarter of which are found nowhere else on Earth."

But couldn't help laughing when I read this one-liner from Jay Leno in his Tonight show on NBC , " President Bush is creating a marine sanctuary in the Pacific Ocean off the northwest islands of Hawaii. You know what that means. No oil around there."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

TN tourism to promote less exotic locales

Though we have lagged our N.Indian counterparts in Infrastructure development and marketing, TN tourism still holds a lot of promise. Though Indian tourism has increased its marketing spend and visibility, the infrastructure still needs a lot of improvement. As someone who has travelled a lot around TN ,I have been lucky to have visited most mentioned destinations, I have seen from upclose the beauty of our architechture,tradition and nature's tranquility.

Some basics we (Indian tourism) need to do :

1. Avoid the discrimination and over-charging of foreign tourists ( At Agra, the foreigner pays Rs.750 whereas we Indians pay Rs.20 , where is the "Athithi Devo Bhava" ? )

2.Upgrade the Infrastructure ( Airports,Roads,Trains,Water) -- We are doing it but I see pockets of great infrastructure and places of extreme apathy.

3. Helpline/ Hotline -- Am not sure if we have it already. But there should be a 24 hour tourist helpline/hotline to aid the tourists once they land in India.

4. A better attitude towards environment and civic hygiene.

5. A much more reponsive and pro-active tourism board. The "Incredible India" has served as a wonderful marketing campaign but a lot needs to be done once the tourists arrive .

Let's make things better .

The Week reports about the facelift the lesser known locales in TN are about to get. " Tourism in Tamil Nadu, among both the foreign and Indian nationals have always meant Kodaikanal, Udhagamandalam and Mahabalipuram. But, ambitious plans are afoot for making a concerted effort to develop lesser known tourist attractions here, which include hill stations, waterfalls, historical monuments and temples, highly placed sources in the Tamil Nadu Tourism Department said.

An illustrative list of tourist spots released by the tourism department, which are in the pipeline to experience a face lift soon, includes Yercaud, Elagiri, Courtralam, Hogenakkal, Tranquebar, Pulicat, Pitchavaram, Chithanavasal, Karaikudi and Manora. A survey conducted in 2004 ranked Tamil Nadu as the second major tourism avenue for people from abroad, with the inflow of foreign tourists touching an all time high of 11.79 lakh in 2005 as against 8.05 lakh in 2002. New spiritual destinations will be given top priority, with centres of Jainism like Chithanavasal, Kudumianmalai, Melsithamur and Kazhugumalai, being identified for the thrust. The 'Navagraha' tour operated by the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation to temples, which are believed to ward off evil, is already making roaring business, sources say. Pitchavaram, one of the healthiest mangrove reserve, the backwaters of which hold potential for canoeing, kayak and rowing, will be developed with all basic amenities without disturbing the environmental restrictions. The Department will look at the possibility of engaging the Public Private Partnership model for creating facilities like tourist accommodation, increasing infrastructure like roads and water supply and introducing new holiday attractions.

The main idea is to create an awareness among the both segments of the tourists about these places and this will be accomplished through an extensive publicity campaign, a senior tourism official said. Promotion of such less popular tourist spots is also expected to generate more employment for the local population, he said."

Monday, June 26, 2006

Buffett pledges $30 billion to Gates foundation

This is like a fairy-tale. The second richest man on the planet and the legendary investor - Warren Buffett, has pledged most of his wealth to the Gates Foundation. The bridge playing buddies who are the top two richest men on the planet, have taken philanthropy to a new level by joining hands and pledging most of their wealth to charitable causes.

CNET reports , " Billionaire investor and Berkshire Hathaway Chief Executive Warren Buffett is donating about $30 billion in stock to a charitable foundation started by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, the firm said Sunday.The announcement comes after Gates, 50, said he would move away from his day-to-day role at the Redmond, Wash.-based software company to focus more on charity work.Now worth $30 billion, the Gates foundation is one of the world's richest philanthropic organizations. It has committed millions of dollars to fighting diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis in developing countries, and to education and library technology in the United States.

In letters to the recipients, he said he will award the gifts every year for the rest of his life. He is in "excellent health," he wrote to the Gates foundation, but said that he is writing a new will to ensure that the stock is distributed after his death.The gift is contingent on one of the Gateses continuing to be involved in the foundation, Buffett said."

Here is the Letter posted on the Berkshire Hathaway's website about the donation. These words by Buffett in his letter to BMG ( Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) capture the essence of Philanthropy :

"I greatly admire what the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (“BMG”) is accomplishing and want to materially expand its future capabilities.I hope that the expansion of BMG’s giving is one of depth, rather than breadth. You have committed yourselves to a few extraordinarily important but underfunded issues, a policy that I believe offers the highest probability of your achieving goals of great consequence. The doubling of BMG’s present spending can increase the Foundation’s already impressive effectiveness in addressing the societal problems upon which it now focuses.

Working through the Foundation, both of you have applied truly unusual intelligence, energy and heart to improving the lives of millions of fellow humans who have not been as lucky as the three of us. You have done this without regard to color, gender, religion or geography. I am delighted to add to the resources with which you carry on this work."

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Parijatham - Tamil movie review

Kudos to Bhagyaraj for delivering a clean,humorous family movie in an age of Gansgter and rowdy movies. There is are no fights,no villans,less songs ( 3) , a major departure from the current trend. I managed to catch this movie at GV Yishun yesterday.

The storyline is simple. Sumathi (Saranya - Bhagyaraj's daughter who resembles her mother Poornima very much) works as a maid in Seetha's house. Seetha likes her so much and decides to marry her to Seetha's only son.Unfortunately Seetha dies in an accident. Her son (Prithviraj) & Husband (Prakashraj) do not know who was the girl chosen by Seetha. Saranya is reluctant to reveal the truth for the fear of being accused of aspiring for the wealth. How Bhagyaraj (in a lengthy cameo role) unites the pair forms the rest of the story.

Bhagyaraj's biggest strength is his screenplay. There are few in Kollywood who can challenge his mastery over Screenplay ( Andha 7 natkal,mundanai mudichu.......) . The first half of the movie is hilarious and its a novelty to have a fictional story (since the heroine is a writer) inside the main story . The Hero & heroine are adequate and do a fine job,though, Saranya seems to over-act a bit in the early part of the movie. Prakashraj does a good job with controlled acting. Bhagyaraj's acting is a bit overboard (but isnt that his style) and adds a certain cliche to an otherwise refreshing script. I liked the last song (shot in rain) which was quite melodious.

So if you are looking for some clean entertainment, Parijatham would be good value for money.

P.S : It was good to see Sarath Babu after a long time. Amazingly, he hasn't aged at all though his role was reduced to a maudlin soap opera.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Want to volunteer @ Ranthambore ?

I am fwding an email that I received from one of my wildlife newsgroups:

Tiger Watch and Rajasthan Forest Department are looking for Volunteers to come and assist in forest management work in the Ranthambhore National Park during the monsoons to relieve nearly 40 guards to do antipoaching and antigrazing work, from the first week of July to the end of September.

The volunteers shall have to bear all costs of travel to and from Sawai Madhopur as well as costs for food during the stay. Accommodation in the guard huts/houses or dormitory type of rooms shall be provided as per availability. Although the work will be tough, it will surely be exciting, as it will give the Volunteers an opportunity to observe at close quarters leopards, tigers and all the amazing wildlife diversity that exists in Ranthambhore. The Volunteering stints may vary between 15 days at minimum to the full period of 3 months. A certificate of participation and appreciation shall be issued jointly by Tiger Watch and the Forest Department ofRajasthan.

Interested candidates may urgently email their resumes to Dharmendra Khandal at

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

TN to woo Bangalore IT firms

The Financial Express reports, " A month after Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s attempt to woo investments from Bangalore infotech firms, it is now Tamil Nadu (TN) chief minister M Karunanidhi’s turn. Mr Karunanidhi has taken the battle for IT investments to the heart of Bangalore by promising big-wigs like Infosys and Wipro all the help if they step up investments in Chennai and tier-II cities in the state. Much to chagrin of Karnataka, Mr Karunanidhi has the full backing of Union ICT minister, Dayanidhi Maran.

While Mr Reddy canvassed IT wizards at a hotel in the garden city, Mr Karunanidhi went a step ahead by directly visiting the Wipro and Infosys campuses. Infosys announced it would create 25,000 jobs in TN in three-to-four years with its largest campus coming up in Mahindra City near Chennai. Sources said, Wipro chief Azim Premji also assured more investments, particularly in tier-II cities. The TN chief minister’s visit to top IT firms in Bangalore is seen as a significant event, especially at a time when they are thinking of expanding operations outside Karnataka."

Seems MK has made a promising start in his new tenure or is there to more to it than it meets the eye ?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Outlook latest issue - Bollywood music special

Outlook's latest issue is a Bollywood music special and has some interesting (controversial?) rankings. Outlook has assembled a jury of music directors and singers and has ranked the 20 best hindi film songs ever, most popular hindi film,composer,singer & lyricist.

Art is perceptual. Its extremely difficult to define "popularity" in art. I personally did not agree with most of these rankings but then afterall an opinion is "an opinion" .

Outlook ranking / popularity results ( My comments in Brackets) :

Most Popular Hindi film Song : Man Re Tu Kaahe Na Dheer Dhare from Chitralekha ( While I agree that its a fabulous song , # 1 position is debateable ! )

Most Popular Hindi Film ( Musical) : The Guide ( Perfect Choice . SDB's immortal score with gems like Aaj Phir Jeene Ki, Tere Mere Sapne,Gaata Rahe,Din Dhal Jaaye)

Most Popular Hindi film Composer : S.D.Burman ( Can they choose anyone else ? SDB is my favorite composer and am glad the jury feels the same way. What an amazing perseverance and versatility. The only composer who was "in demand" till his death. An extra-ordinary oeuvre consisting of Jaal,Pyaasa,Kala Bazaar,Kaagaz Ke Phool,Nau DoGyarah,Bandini,Sujata,Guide,Jewel Thief,Aradhana,Abhimaan,Sharmilee,Mili).

Most Popular Lyricist : Shailendra ( I guess its the right choice. Shailendra's lyrics had the incredible quality of appealing to both the common man and the connossiuer .Simple but elegant poetry. Btw, my choice would have been Sahir . He is a magician of words)

Most Popular Singers : Lata & Rafi ( This debate has no answer. I guess this is the popular choice of the nation too. Hard luck kishore ! )

P.S : Btw, here is Outlook's ranking of the top 20 hindi songs and a short write-up on the evolution of tamil film music .

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Bill Gates - Geek to Philanthropy

Bill Gates would slowly reduce his invovement from the day-to-day activites at Microsoft and instead work full time at his Charity Foundation. Though the news isn't totally surprising, the timing is. I would have expected Gates do such a thing a decade from now. But he is proving to the world the importance of giving away when one is at his prime.Bill Gates has taken a leaf out of Rockfeller's book but he is a step ahead by doing it when he is still young and by leading the foundation too ( Apart from a much Global impact of his charity work).

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been doing pioneering work in the field of AIDS & communicable disease eradication in under-developed and developing nations. The world needs the " Philanthroper Bill" more than Microsoft's need for the " Geek Bill" . I wish him and his foundation well.

P.S : Btw, here is a short video on Channel 9 where Steve (Ballmer) & Bill (Gates) discuss about Bill's decision to step down from Microsoft.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Next UN secy General - An Indian ?

With Kofi Annan's term ending by the end of this year, the next UN Secy general is most likely to be from Asia ( An unwritten rule by which its supposed to be Asia's turn !). India is likely to nominate famous writer and the current UN under secy general Shashi Tharoor for the post. He is likely to face tough competition from Sri Lanka's Jayantha Dhanapala for the top Job.

Will India's attempts to secure a seat in the UN security Council affect its chances to secure the top Job at UN? India might need to use all its political connections and suaveness to send its man to the top Job. With Tharoor's impeccable academic and professional credentials, India can at least be satisfied that its put the best foot forward.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Global Warming - Is it the cool thing now ?

Global warming has been a subject of intense debate in recent years. While the enviromentalists have accused businesses/governments of not paying heed to this burning issue, businesses have called the enviros as hyper and alarmist.Can the Green costs be reclaimed from the consumers so that businesses can justify the costs ?

The Economist writes why a growing number of firms are taking global warming seriously now.
"The army of corporate greens is growing fast. Late last year HSBC became the first big bank to announce that it was carbon-neutral, joining other financial institutions, including Swiss Re, a reinsurer, and Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, in waging war on climate-warming gases (of which carbon dioxide is the main culprit). Last year General Electric (GE), an industrial powerhouse, launched its “Ecomagination” strategy, aiming to cut its output of greenhouse gases and to invest heavily in clean (ie, carbon-free) technologies. In October Wal-Mart announced a series of environmental schemes, including doubling the fuel-efficiency of its fleet of vehicles within a decade. Tesco and Sainsbury, two of Britain's biggest retailers, are competing fiercely to be the greenest.

The recent high price of oil and natural gas, allied to fears over the security of energy supplies from the Middle East and Russia—neither of which have anything to do with climate change—may be the main reason why many firms have recently become interested in alternative energy sources. But at the same time, a growing number of bosses—whatever their personal views about the scientific evidence of climate change—now think that the public has become convinced that global warming is for real.

A recent study by the Carbon Trust, a British quango, reckoned that, for industries such as airlines, up to 50% of brand value may be at risk if firms fail to take action on climate change. This figure is challenged by many in the industry who point to the low take-up of British Airways' service enabling passengers to offset their flight's carbon emissions. And there's the rub. A growing number of companies—urged on by shareholders who see greenery as a sign that managers are thinking long-term—are ready to do something about climate change. It remains to be seen whether their customers are willing to pay the price."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

H1B's - An indepth look

Its almost a mantra for every software engineer in India ( Perhaps not as much today as in the past). With the US senate calling for a broader immigration policy , it looks like the 65k,115k game might finally end. Having been a H1B worker (long time ago) in the US, I have seen from close its limitations and abuse.

InformationWeek takes an indepth look at the H1B debate. It profiles an H1B worker who talks about the risks. Makes a business case for the need for H1B. It also matters where an H1B worker comes from. And explores the eternal quest for the Green Card.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Pink Slips in India -- An unlikely visitor

Anyone talking about Pink Slips (Layoffs) in India must be crazy. Those are things of the past ( The tech meltdown). With most firms hiring in thousands , the talk is about lack of skilled manpower.

However, there might be a few pink slips due to the global restructuring of some majors who have faced more competition than ever and hence resizing worldwide. Business Line discusses the possibility of some layoffs in the Indian operations of Sun Microsystems ( New CEO , Cost cutting to stay alive ) , Intel ( Global downsizing , AMD posing intense competition) , Seagate ( as a result of Maxtor acquisition) , Apple ( Shutting down Indian support centre - Did they arrive a bit late for the party ? ).

Its no sign of worry yet but proves how much integrated India is becoming with the Global economy.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Roshan - Rajesh Roshan on his father

An excellent article in Mid-day where Rajesh Roshan reminisces about his father - Roshan. Some interesting excerpts / Trivia for lovers of old hindi film music :

"At these times he’d phone Anil Biswas, the legendary composer and he’d come over and ask, ‘What’s the matter?’ Dad would say ‘This antara is stuck, I am not able to move ahead.’ Then, they’d work on it together.”“Sahir (Ludhianvi) and he were good friends. They argued and fought but never kept any ire in their hearts. Sahirsaab would say ‘Why should your name come before mine?

“SD Burman used to walk on the pavement below and shout out, ‘Roshan, oye Roshan — Accha music deta hai, style accha hai. Darna nahin. Kamti picture se kuch nahin hota hai. Jo aata hai wohi dena, copy nahin karna Roshan!’ And he’d stroll off. Shailendraji used to strangely park his car across the road and shout, ‘C’mon yaar let’s go for a walk.’ ”

“Those were really the days! When these gifted people were allowed their individuality and their peculiarities — a freedom which resulted in eternal and lasting work.”

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Soccer World Cup

The biggest sporting event on earth is commencing tomorrow. I am waiting to see one man in action - Ronaldinho ........So who are you betting on ? ( Isn't Brazil a too easy answer ?)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Dilbert - Outsourcing Posted by Picasa

This one is Hilarious !

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A town with a Vision

The only thing remarkable in my wallet is a eye donor card which proclaims , " It is my desire that at the time of my death in any part of the world, the nearest eye bank should be contacted within 6 hours for removing my eyes to be donated to the blind. My eyes should be kept closed and covered with wet cloth and two pillows be kept below my head" . It bears my Name,Address,Phone number and Signature.

Was pleasantly surprised to read about this small town in M.P (India) where the entire town is a firm believer in eye donation. Outlook says, " Much before Aishwarya Rai started persuading television viewers to pledge their eyes to the visually impaired, residents of Neemuch—a small town in western Madhya Pradesh—had made a commitment to donate their eyes. So far, at least three thousand men and women all over the country have been blessed with eyesight, thanks to the citizens of Neemuch. The town even boasts of an ultra-modern eye hospital with in-house facilities for corneal transplant."

GNRC an NGO based at Neemuch seems to be force behind this noble initiative.

So do you want to donate your eyes after your death ? Think about it.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Bicycle Thief -- The Italian Classic

This Italian classic movie was on my "must-see" list for a long time. Finally managed to see the original Italian version (Ladri di biciclette - with english sub-titles) last week.

Its a fine example of how a simple story can be portrayed so poignantly and powerfully on-screen. The ending is quite shocking ( a bit unexpected) and conveys the pragmatism of today's world and how a man's search for self dignity is full of obstacles and such a difficult path to tread.

The movie is set in post-war italy which is strife with unemployment. A simple,honest man needs a bicycle for a new job, ( Pasting posters on the wall) that he has managed to obtain amidst hardship. His loving wife pawns their bed-sheets to raise money to buy the bicycle (a must have if he wants the job). The Bicycle gets stolen by a thief and how the Man and his Son search for it in the alleys of Rome forms the rest of the story.

The relationship and exchanges between the Father and the Son (small boy) is a classical exploration of a cobweb of Self-dignity,pride, anger and love. If you love serious world cinema, don't miss this movie. Its Black & white but that doesn't take any sheen away from its glory.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Cricket Comedy

Mimicry of Film stars is quite popular. Here is a wonderful and hilarious mimicry video of popular cricket stars . The best thing is the audience include Sunil Gavaskar,Bishan Bedi,Sachin Tendulkar,Ajit Wadekar,Harsha Bhogle and other cricketers. Watch this ...........