the home coming..

I am flying home tonight after a long stretch of 850 days.. came to Germany for my master degree and going home after completing it.. ūüôā
It has been an incredible journey and taught many many lessons.. and as this phase of life comes to a conclusion,I am reminded of an incident from the movie Life of Pi.. so the story is a about a little boy stuck with a tiger on a small boat in the middle of the sea.. how he manages to survive with the big cat and other conditions until they find the shore. When they finally do reach the shore, the tiger takes his own path and that incident breaks the boy’s heart.. since the tiger was part of his struggle,he thought he would stay with him afterwards too.. but instead he just walked away and the boy who was so strong during the entire journey… wept like a child grieving the loss of his cat friend..
What he didn’t realize was that the cat was with him as a matter of chance.. and the purpose he served was to make the boy stronger..and when he found a way of his own,he pursued that..

A lot of people and places touch our journey and shape us in different ways.. but not everything and everyone carries along with us .. they serve their purpose and then move on in space and time.. we must learn to accept that,shouldn’t we! ūüôā

A note of gratitude to everything and everyone who shaped me.. and to all things yet to come!!


And I just realize how strange spaces most airports are.. too much of artificial light all the time to know whether it’s day or night,or how the weather is outside.. too formally dressed staff,long faced immigration officials :p .. crazy expensive goods…isn’t it! I love to see a plane take off and the technology marvel it is, but the airports could be made better.. ūüôā

A few hours more to reach the best place on the planet… home..!

happy holidays folks! Until next year!

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let’s switch our jobs!

So the idea is that the brain and the body should be in good co-ordination, for a healthy living.This is for a simple reason that we are both,the brain and the body, and not just one of these..and so we better make sure that both are in good terms.

Most of the species in the animal kingdom seem to follow this regime quite intuitively, and we hear of less cases of being couch potatoes or falling sick too often from them; except for the human species who have some concerns.

So lets have a look at the kinds of work that our human world consists of:

We have sports where one’s physical fitness and dexterity is tested… and then we have arts including music, dancing, drama, painting, poetry and a lot other forms and they require one to be creative among other things. We have the sciences from physics to life sciences to social sciences where one needs to be primarily a ¬†good observer and understand the underlying phenomenon and then we have the workshop techniques where one needs to be good at handcrafting and applying different concepts to build stuff and a lot of other professions¬†including agriculture ¬†and administrative jobs and a lot lot more..

What we might observe that is that each kind of work requires a particular type of skill and when one practices the work more often, one becomes more skillful..which is nice. But what we might also realize is that somehow most of the jobs use the physical and mental faculties quite disproportionately.For example: jobs in the domain of household are more physically stressing  and academic jobs require more desk sitting. And also so it happens that quite a large fraction of us might do the same assigned job for years together, some might do it for their entire career lifetime.

So how about if we had a mechanism to switch our jobs from time to time? (or say more practically switching for a little time from our main jobs?)

Lets begin in a home environment. That the roles between mamma, papa, children and the elderly are switched for one day a week, and so the tasks of cooking to looking after the shopping list to cleaning the home are assigned randomly to everyone. It might already be a good exercise to know how the whole home runs! =)

Next would be at the level of an Institution. If it were an educational one, we might definitely try to inculcate a Gurukul¬† system for the students¬†where along with academic skills, they would also learn how to cook food and keep their surroundings in order. Apart from that, switching the roles between the students and the teachers for a while and also every member of the institute taking the role of the head of the institute for a day during the year might bring in newer ideas and a sense of responsibility in each and everyone, wouldn’t it!

So be it!

So be it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If it were a corporate institute, it would require  everyone to spend some time in different positions once a while.

At a more larger scale of a city or a state within a country, it would be more diverse multiplexing and we could go to do some different work which would be in a different place too.

So it might be possible that probably depending on the climatic conditions of a land, the kinds of jobs developed might relatively be similar,say more warmer countries might have more agriculture and so more work related to that while colder climatic conditions might need more industrial and technological work to survive in the ecosystem. So we would then consider exchange across countries. Apart from doing something different, just relocating oneself to a faraway place might bring new learning related to languages and cultures.  It would be a more substantial experience than simply travelling to a new country though.By being in different places, we might realize how each location and her people add to the total diversity that our planet consists of, and make friends from all over the globe!

Zooming in back to the individual, one could definitely start off by making sure to do a bit of both,work which requires brains and which needs brawn. Develop different hobbies and make sure to keep the balance of health well.


So in summary the advantages of switching jobs would be:

  • Gaining a new perspective in our work, by doing something entirely different and by collaborating with people from different domains.
  • Letting go of any little pride that we might have gathered doing our work, and by excelling in that.. by realizing how little it is in the domain of all the work that is in the world.. ūüôā
  • Since each job comes with its own set of skill set, gain some new skills..
  • Experiencing life in many more dimensions than before..

so imagine a future where an industrialist works on a farm for a month and an artist does an internship in a biology lab and a technician goes to a music school..

blog post

 

A more balanced and playful globe! (Ok, once we find life outside earth, we will think about planet hopping too!)

Happy Diwali Folks! Oct 23,2014 

=)

 

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2 years in Germany!

2 years ago, on this very day, I landed in Germany..Somehow today reminds me of the day when we had our counselling session at NIT,Surat sometime in July 2007, when we began our undergrad lessons there. We were a bunch of anxious 18 year olds, most of us away from our homes for the first time, looking forward to the 4 years of life that we were to live at this new place. 

Just after a week of our beginning of the first semester, we had a counselling session and we were told a wonderful story by Mr. Mahesh, who was also an alumni of the Institute and was conducting the session. 

The story was about 3 types of people put in a new environment. He said a new environment is like boiling water. Some type of people are like carrots. Quite hard and strong before we put them in boiling water. Once they are put in the water, they become softer.

Then there are people who are like eggs. The egg is soft inside before it is boiled, but when it is boiled, it becomes hard. (Never boiled an egg myself, but seems it happens so.) 

And finally there are people like tea leaves. When put in boiling water, they put their aroma in the water. 

He said the carrot kinda people are those who are strong earlier but after being put in a¬†new environment, they give in to the situation, loosing their sense of self. The egg type of people are those are nice and fun on their own who but when put in the new environment go isolated and don’t mix at all.¬†

Whereas the tea leaves kind of people make the new place their home and add their fragrance among the place and people they are now. 

We choose what kind of people we would like to be, when we are put into boiling water. ¬†Hopefully, the third type, each time.. ūüôā¬†


It was such an inspirational story then and now too.. while now,I am a couple of thousand kilometers away from home than back in Surat where I was a couple of hundred kilometers away, and that I stayed with friends who came from different states of India vs. now where they are from different countries.. it is the same situation, just on a different scale.. 

All those lines of the session just seem like yesterday, the motivation they gave and the anxiety about what shall be next, also similar.. Do we really grow up? I ask myself.. Only if we choose to, I think! 

New places and people awaiting, now again.. ūüôā¬†

 

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Venice trip

July was a month of some travel and we were in Venice too for a day. During my first trip there, I missed out the visit to the neighboring Island of Murano and its glass factories. This time as soon as we reached Venice, we took the water bus towards Murano. Alas, it was evening time and the factories were closed for visit and we missed it this time too![Factories are open for visit from morning hours until around early evening. So plan accordingly!]

Venice and the neighboring islands have been known for glass works since a long time. The glass-makers there use different techniques to make distinctive patterns on the objects.

earrings with Murrine pattern..

Mille-fiori (million flowers) pattern earrings

But then as we walked around a bit of Venice in the remaining time, we got to see some torchworking, as it is called; or making of small glass objects using a torch and colored glass sticks. The shopkeepers were kind enough to answer all my curious questions and let us have a look around how they made those objects.

Apart from the torch with its stand and the special type of glass sticks which they needed (they said, of all the glass manufacturers in Venice, only 1 produced the kind of thin glass sticks that were required for them), they had some tools to clamp and give the required shape to the molten glass. When the glass softened,it was amazing to see how it could be molded into any shape..

workplace:  Colored glass sticks, torch

the workplace

an object under creation

an object in the making

and a beautiful one! :)

and look what he made.. ūüôā

sooo cute!!

freshly made lil elephants! =)

and many more to see..

and many more artifacts to see..

Apart from glass objects, Venetian masks are also quite unique. There are lots of shops in the town completely dedicated for costumes and masks of different designs, and they are quite spectacular.

[Watch out for the imported plastic masks at reduced prices when buying. Venetian masks¬†would be a bit expensive but then wouldn’t be plastic ones.]

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Venice is fun to walk around, from Piazzale Roma upto the Rialto Bridge through the small streets and bridges.. and the small shops and the gelaterias..

Until some other trip back there..

Ciao Venezia!

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Printing Expo, Strasbourg

A few weeks ago, we were in Strasbourg and there were a lot of events happening in the city; one of which was Gutenberg 2014, an exhibition of printing techniques, and it was quite interesting.

We have been using different forms of printing since a long time. Whenever we wanted to make an impression on a material and do it multiple times, we made objects that would help us do that.  Seals, Rubber Stamps, henna blocks, typewriters are examples of such objects.  Lots of objects around us use some form of printing in their making, for eg. Currencies, patterns on fabric, books and other documents, product labels, newspapers etc.

Printing is usually an additive process as we add a layer of some material on another one rather than take away some (as in sculpting). The most essential elements to any type of printing would be 1) material on which the print has to be made(let’s call it the base) 2) object through which the print has to be made 3) the material that is to be transferred on the base.

These days printing has been extended to depositing a material layer by layer one on top of other to create complete objects through such additive technique,which we call 3D printing.

Festival of Printing

Festival of Printing

The name of the festival comes from Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of movable type printing press.

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Some of the Printing Techniques that were demonstrated at the expo:

Lithography

Originally in lithography, a specially prepared limestone was used to prepare the image for printing just as one would draw an image on a paper. The drawing on the stone can be made with any type of greasy material. Once the image was prepared and inked, it would then be transferred to the substrate using a press.

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Lithography stone

 

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images ready to be printed

aligning the stone in the press for transferring the image to the substrate

 


Screen Printing is a commonly used technique to print on fabrics and a lot of other substrates, wood,paper,plastic, metal.

In  this technique, a stencil is first prepared on a mesh by leaving the image areas uncovered & covering the non-image areas with some substance.

When ink is then swapped across the whole screen, the ink permeates through the uncovered areas creating an image.

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Offset printing is probably the most common technique for commercial printing industry. It involves the printing plate transferring the ink onto a blanket which then transfers the ink to the final object.

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Offset printed images of Strasbourg cathedral

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an offset printer

 


Apart from this, there were a few other techniques on demo and it was fun to watch.

a press to print on small rubber type materials

a press to print on small rubber type materials (using  cellophane sort of paper)

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some typography

It was most of us’ first trip to France and we loved the place. Friendly people and beautiful city!

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au revoir!

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Neuroscience

Neuroscience happens to be one of my favorite areas of sciences, other favorite being Physics. I attended a couple of interesting schools related to the area a while ago, and I keep coming back to thinking about the questions posed and the research pursued in the area.

Neuroscience is study of the nervous system. Central Nervous System (CNS) consists of the brain and the spinal cord and peripheral nervous system connects other organs of the body to CNS through nerves. A human brain has about 10^11 neurons each connected to about 10,000 others forming a network of 10^15 nodes, all packed within an area of the size of our fist, inside our skull. It is thus a great example of an embedded system maximizing its performance within the given constraints of area, energy & functional units available. The jobs it has to do are also quite varied and comply almost everything that we all do!

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parts of Central nervous system

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So much of general knowledge, and now we plunge on to some interesting research questions.


Molyneux’s problem Our sensory organs (eyes, nose, ears, skin, tongue..) are connected to different areas of the brain through nerves. Now imagine that until a certain point in time, someone has never seen the world but has experienced it only through the sense of touch. So if you place¬†2 objects, a spherical one and a cube shaped one, the person would differentiate them by how they felt on touching. Now if the person got the sense of vision & if the same cube and spherical objects were put in front of them, would the person be able to say which one is cube and which is sphere without touching them?

Question whether one sense would infer knowledge to another one instantaneously. Answer to this question is explored through a framework called Project Prakash in Prof. Pawan Sinha’s Lab at MIT. People with impaired vision but whose vision could be corrected through surgery are operated and then experiments are carried out.A beautiful scientific as well as humanitarian mission!


Another remarkable¬†ability of our brain, termed¬†Plasticity, is to alter the connections between the neurons through experience. Different brain areas are devoted to doing different jobs and when some sensing modality is degraded, the brain area devoted to processing that information is assigned some other work. Of course, this ability of the brain is highly functional at a younger age than in an adult but still the brain does rewire. Human cortex is fully wired at the time of birth but for a few other animals, it is not the case. Ferrets are an example of such species. At Prof. Mriganka Sur’s lab at MIT what was done¬†to test the extreme ability of brain reorganization was to wire the nerves from the eyes to the area of the brain dedicated to hearing, in new-born ferrets. If brain didn‚Äôt reorganize, would the animal hear what it saw?! Hard to imagine, but the experiment revealed that the brain did reorganize the auditory cortex to process visual information.

I remember having asked Prof. Sur whether the brain areas would have reorganized if the wiring was swapped back; to which he replied those weren‚Äôt easy experiments and one couldn’t answer these with that ease. Of course! ūüôā

During his guest talk at NBRC, he also mentioned that we tend to compare the human brain with the most current technology; previously thinking it is sort of clocks and lightwork and nowadays comparing it to computers (and just as we compared it to an Embedded System). Definitely, a massive parallel processing system that our brain is and the plethora of tasks it performs, we might not near any single artificial system equivalence for it! For more interesting work, check out Sur Lab.


When we see some action being performed by someone else,usually we experience some fraction of it too. It could be tendency to yawn when someone else around yawns to feeling sad when seeing a¬†traumatic situation to learning something by observing an instructor perform an action.¬† There are a whole type of neurons dedicated to processing ‘imitation’ or the act of observing an action and are called mirror neurons.

Dr. Giacomo Rizzolatti’s group while conducting experiments on monkeys for understanding certain movement tasks found that certain neurons responded not only to grasp movements of its own but also to similar movement of the experimenter’s. A great deal of understanding about neural mechanisms behind understanding actions were thus provided by mirror neurons.


Vision is one of our most important senses and so a large area of the brain is devoted to processing visual information. How difficult it is a problem computationally, we might realize through the simple Captchas that we fill up every now and then to tell a computer that it’s a human here.

Dr. Thomas Albright from Salk Institute gave a talk on Contextual influences on visual processing and posed the problem of vision as follows:

Central problem of vision

Central problem of vision

There are 2 problems, a physical problem and a biological problem. Image of the outside world formed on the back of our retina has discrete features such as color information, brightness information, distance information etc. All this discrete information is processed in the brain to gain a continuous visual perception.

He said it as an ill-posed problem as there is not enough information in the discrete features obtained in the retina image for a unique representation of every visual scene; yet amazingly, we usually are fairly sure of what’s around us! ūüôā

S.P. Arun gave a talk on object recognition in a quite different format, that from an engineer’s perspective. Was quite interesting. He said that some researchers like to believe that to solve the problem of vision, we might not necessarily need inspiration from biological systems just as man invented wheel though nature gave us legs , while some researchers believe that for the ultimate answer we would need to look through¬† nature’s mechanisms.


Intuition is one of our powerful abilities. Some of the work at Dr. Keiji Tanaka’s lab at RIKEN, Japan is about finding the neural basis of expert intuition. In games like chess,players do not compute every possible combination of the moves¬† but through experience gain a sense of intuition towards what might be the next best move.

Dr. Tanaka’s lab conducted some fMRI studies of expert shogi (a Japanese board game) players to understand what areas of the brain might be involved in generation of intuition.


 

Brain controlled interfaces are always fascinating, so something about work in that direction. Movement of our limbs is translation of motor commands from the brain to our muscles. So could we direct these motor commands to move an artificial actuator? Prof. Andrew Schwartz lab at UPitt does quite interesting work on developing neuroprosthetics.

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major areas of the cerebral cortex

Invasive multi-electrode arrays need to be implanted in the motor cortex to record the firing pattern from population of neurons for different movements. (consider a neuron as a switch: when it fires, it means it is turned on)

Cosine Tuning What was found while recording such firing patterns for movement tasks in monkeys was that neurons have directionality or preferred directions of motion. If the motion was in the direction of the preferred direction of motion,the firing rate of the neurons would be high  and in angles away from preferred direction, it would fire less and less. Thus  the firing pattern could be modeled as a cosine!

Cosine tuning (preferred angle : ~270 degrees)

Cosine tuning (preferred angle : ~270 degrees)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quite recently researchers at University of Washington have done some studies on brain to brain communications in humans, transferring commands from one brain  wirelessly to another to do a certain action! Crazyy!


Interesting places to look for Neuroscience Research in India:

National Brain Research Center (NBRC) at Manesar

Center for NeuroScience (CNS) at IISc Bangalore

National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore..

Thank you NBRC & IISc for the amazing schools which we could attend! Hope to catch up with some more interesting work soon!

Ciao!

nbrc

National Brain Research Center, Manesar ūüôā

dst participants

DST SERC School participants @ NBRC , Spring ’11

main building of Indian Institute of Science (IISc)

main building of Indian Institute of Science (IISc)

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IISc campus

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participants of Brain & Cognition workshop, IISc Bangalore [Summer ’11]

Posted in musings, Science | 3 Comments

things I miss about India

Surely I miss a million things. And since today also happens to be the 600th consecutive day away from home (2nd summer without home Mangoes, damn.),  so a little tribute to every loving thing about there.

1. Philosophy of frugal  Some of us, children of urban India, might not be exactly living up to it; but I think the heart of the country still lies in its natural way of living. Living with less things by choice.

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small home, large courtyard..

Whether it be in doing science or living, many people  find the minimalist approach still agreeable.What a contradiction to the otherwise urbanizing planet!

[I personally might not be so frugal, but definitely have inspiring friends who are so much so!]

2. The little fixes ¬†You find a cobbler, a tailor, a carpenter just around the corner ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†(Of course since we are so many people!)… for doing lil fixes for you for a myriad of things. ¬†So if something is broken you don’t throw it away, you could fix it.

3. Food Once you step out of the country, whether you learn to do anything else or not, you definitely learn to cook. And however choosy one might have been about food back home, any Indian food is equivalent to heaven outside.

a farm in Rajasthan

a farm in Rajasthan

One might not just miss the variety of vegetables and fruits available at local markets everyday, but also the street food and the tea stalls and juice stalls everywhere.

"bisibelebath" a typical dish of Karnataka

“bisibelebath” a typical dish of Karnataka

In countries with less vegetation,vegetables tend to be costlier than finished industrial products and you realize how nice it was the other way round back home. Also generally food is not just cooked for the family members, but also for the cow who sits under the shade of the tree opposite to home and also the old lady with her goat and for all the neighbors who enjoy that dish cooked by mother.

a welcome meal at a wedding (vada(right) & halwa)

a welcome meal at a wedding (vada(right) & halwa)

Ya, times are changing in the urban world, but there might still be a glimpse of  those times at some places.

4.  Mangoes Well, mangoes definitely fall into a whole another category of the things that are missed. We can bear the wrath of the sun for the sweet fruit that comes during the season. Everything that we eat would be accompanied by mango in some form [mango slices, mango juice, mango milk-shake, mango shrikhand, mango icecream, mango pickle.. ]. Mangoes which add fragrance to the whole house as soon as they arrive and dominate the food market for 2 months. [Could recommend a trip to Gujarat in May just for the mangoes!]

yummy!

yummy!

5. Everyday wisdom  Everyone is a philosopher there.You find life lessons and wisdom from the vegetable vendor or the milkman or the auto-rickshaw driver uncle who brings children from school to home. Surely, everyone has something to say and listen..

how u doin?! ;)

how u doin?! ūüėČ

6. Travels  Trains are the best way to explore and travel the country. Super economic, if you travel in Sleeper class, (well, economic even if you travel in air-conditioned coaches) Though it might be hard to always get a ticket due to the rush, but long journeys in sleeper class generally end up in making new friends and sharing stories.. You could also sit on the compartment doors and enjoy the view, wait for a particular station to eat the local delicacy or call a friend to bring you home food at that station..

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7. Shopping ¬†Its so much easier to find stuff of one’s choice given the variety of things in ¬† markets.. ¬†To give a faint idea, one might find a whole bazaar just full of shops selling bangles (an accessory for wrist), each shop maybe selling bangles of a particular kind and how people¬†would navigate to the exact shop to find the things. ūüėȬ†And shopping wont be complete without visiting the¬†lemon juice stalls and chana-chor-garam vendor in the bazaar.

8. Myriad colors of life Given the abundance of natural resources in terms of agricultural land and the resulting flora and fauna, we find a million shades of life too.. manifested as  diversity in languages ,food,clothing, dances , customs.. and everything else..

a mural in a temple..

 

 

a bow to the land from far far away..!

ŗ™Üŗ™Ķŗ™úŗęč (aavjo)!

[photos clicked by Ruts/Sharz/me during our different trips around.. ]

 

Posted in India, musings, Travel | 4 Comments