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No entries for the period February 2016 - October 2016.

(Archived on 19.10.2016)

How 1 January came about as the date of new year's day

A funny historical photo of new year celebration
Before the New Year dawns, many Japanese set about the preparation of a sweet item made of rice pounded into flour by huge wooden mallets. Young men of a mountain village in Nagano in Japan are seen coming out of the cold waters of a river, on Jan. 3, 1937, after purifying themselves for the task. They took their wooden mallets in with them, but not much else. (Washington post)

Residents gather to watch the final sunset of the year in Bombay on Dec. 31, 2001.

During the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, years began on the date on which each emperor first entered office. This was probably 1 May before 222 BC, 15 March from 222 BC to 154 BC, and 1 January from 153 BC. In 45 BC, when Julius Caesar's new Julian calendar took effect, 1 January was fixed as the first day of the year. This civil new year remained in effect throughout the Roman Empire, wherever the Julian calendar continued in use.

In England, William the Conqueror became king in 1066 and he ordered that 1 January be established as the civil New Year. Later, however, England and Scotland joined much of Europe to celebrate the New Year on 25 March.

In the Middle Ages in Europe a number of different days came to be used as the beginning of the  year.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII while reforming the Julian calendar established 1 January as the beginning of a New Year of the Gregorian calendar.

22 September  was New Year's Day in the French Republican Calendar, which was in use from 1793 to 1805. It took quite a long time before 1 January again became the universal or standard start of the civil year. 1 March was the first day of the year in the Republic of Venice until 1797, and in Russia from 988 until 1492. 1 September was used in Russia from 1492 until the adoption of the Christian era in 1700. Britain adopted 1 January as the date of the new year in 1752, Greece in 1923, Turkey in 1926 and Thailand in 1941.

Tailpiece: This is not connected with New Year Day celebrations! Only sharing a piece of humour!! Find out the disastrous spelling mistake in the following image.

Archived on 01 January 2016

Some say this is the funniest short story

Be a smart wife!

After 37 years of marriage. Jake decided to divorce his wife Edith to marry his young secretary.

His new girlfriend demanded that they live in Jake and Edith's palace-like home. The lawyer gave Edith, Jake's now ex-wife, just 3 days to move out.
She spent the 1st day packing her belongings into boxes and suitcases. On the 2nd day she brought in the trucks to move her things. On the 3rd day she sat down for the last time at their beautiful dining room table, put on some soft background music and feasted on a pound of shrimp a jar of fish eggs and a bottle of grapes. When she had finished she went into each and every room and stuffed half-eaten shrimp shells dipped in the fish egges into the hollow of all of the curtain rods. She then cleaned up the kitchen and left.

When the husband returned with his new girlfriend all was bliss for the first few days.

Then slowly the house began to smell. They tried everything cleaning mopping and airing the place out. Vents were checked for dead rodents and carpets were cleaned. Air fresheners were hung everywhere. They even replaced the expensive wool carpeting. NOTHING WORKED. People stopped coming over to visit. Repairman refused to work in the house. The Maid quit. Finally they could not take the stench any longer and decided to move.

A month later even through they had cut their price in half they could not find a buyer for their stinky house. Word got out and eventually even the local realtors refused to return their calls. Finally they had to borrow a huge sum of money from the bank to purchase a new place. The ex-wife called the man and asked how things were going. He told her the saga of the rotting house. She listened politely and said that she missed her old home terribly and would be willing to reduce her divorce settlement in exchange for getting the house back.

Knowing his ex-wife had no idea how bad the smell was he agreed on a price that was about 1/10th of what the house ha been worth, but only if she were to sign the papers that very day. She agreed and within the hour his lawyers delivered the paperwork.

A week later the man and his girlfriend stood smiling as they watched the moving company pack everything to take to their new home, including the curtain rods.

Archived on 01 December 2015

Kerala's Rich Mathematical Heritage to Get 'Faces'

Image of Sangamagrama Madhava
created by Madhava Ganitha Kendram, Thiruvananthapuram
(Image courtesy The Telegraph)

Two eminent figures of the Kerala School of Astronomy and Mathematics, which flourished between the 14th and 16th centuries and is credited with many vital discoveries, are, being given ‘faces’ to match the names.

Madhava of Sangamagrama, the founder of this school, has already received his, courtesy the Madhava Ganitha Kendram which strives to popularise his discoveries.

The Kerala State Science and Technology Museum (KSSTM) in Thiruvananthapuram has commissioned an artist to create a portrait of Neelakanta Somayaji, another great astronomer/mathematician of the school.

Both images are artist’s impressions of what the two men may have looked like, but both institutions have gone to great lengths to ensure that the portrait of Madhava, a 14th century mathematician, and that of Neelakanta Somayaji, who followed his footsteps, do not prove to be flops.

‘’The only clue Madhava gave of his family name and birthplace is in the 23rd shloka of ‘Venwaroha’, the only surviving work of his. Sangamagramam is Irinjalakuda and his descendants still live there. We used the earliest photographs they had of their ancestors to create an impression of Madhava using morphing,'’ says a functionary of Madhava Ganitha Kendram.

To know more about Madhava and the Kerala School of Astronomy and Mathematics, click on the following links to Wikipedia pages.

Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics

Madhava of Sangamagrama

Madhava series

Nilakantha Somayaji

Archived on 01 November 2015.

Data lost inadvertently.

Archived on 01 September 2015.

No comments!!

Archived on 01 August 2015

. . . and that was how the length of a yard was standardised

Scene: Palace of King Henry I of England

Characters: King Henry, bodyguards, a pair of people in dispute

Narrator: This is the story of how the yard measure came about. King Henry I of England was fed up settling disputes about measurement of length among groups of people in his kingdom, so he set about solving it for once and for all.

Scene opens with king at the court yawning, studying chessboard and moving pieces. Bodyguards standing inside the door. Knock heard at the door, an angry fisherman enters carrying a length of rope, followed by the man who sold it, who is held by two guards.

Fisherman: May it please your majesty, but I believe I have been cheated by this scoundrel. I sent my boy to him for 5 fathoms of rope, and there are only 4 fathoms here.

Rope-seller: But your majesty, the rope is 5 fathoms long. Look, I'll measure it!
(He measures out the rope by holding it in one outstretched hand stretching the rope across his chest to the other, and calls out each fathom as it is measured)

Fisherman: You scoundrel! Now I'll measure it! (He measures out the rope)

Fisherman: See! Only 4 fathoms!

King: OK! I'll have to check it out! (Checks it and finds it's 4½ fathoms long.) 'Tisn't one scoundrel we have here but two! Pay him his due, and now be off with both of you, and don't let me see either of you here again!

(Exit pair)

King: Guards! Send in my smiths! (Enter smiths) A lot of my time is spent solving petty disputes, and I want to spend more time hunting and playing chess! I want you to cut a metal bar for me a yard long so that next time there is a dispute, those in dispute can measure for themselves.

Guards: A great idea you majesty! But how long is the bar to be? We were arguing ourselves this morning about this very thing!

King: (Strokes beard, and paces up and down for a while) A yard is half a fathom, and a fathom is the length from the thumb of the outstretched hand of a man, to the thumb of the other outstretched hand. The nose is in the middle of this distance, so the lawful yard henceforth is the distance from my nose to the thumb of my outstretched hand.

Guards: Begob, but that's great thinking altogether! We'll cut a bar that length and we'll keep it safely locked away in the Tower of London, to be used as needed! (Guards mark bar for cutting and exit).

Narrator:... and that was how the length of the yard was standardised.

Archived on 01 July 2015

How to frighten small children

There is a large body of "How to ..." manuals and videos. Here is a very unlikely one sourced from uncyclopedia. Excerpts ...

My name is Booth Johnson, but the neighborhood children call me Old Man Johnson. They scuff up my lawn, throw pebbles at my window, ring my doorbell and run away, and stand on my sidewalk singing Old Man songs. They know I don't like them. I know, people say children are our future, or compare them to bundles of joy, little lambs, or to angels doing all of us a big favor by coming in for a landing on Mother Earth. But there's one big problem, these things are selfish little snivelling BABIES. . . Excuse me a minute. "Hey, Sally, GET OFF MY LAWN!!!" 
Well, luckily for us normal grown-ups, who have to live with these noisy creatures chasing about, we don't have to just sit back and take it. We can have a bit of fun. We can scare them!

For a step-by-step procedure, refer the source cited. It is so frightening! However the final step is to show the child some of the frightening pictures (like the one on the left) and tell them in a menacing voice what they are and what they are going to do to the child . . .

Those who are in need of more information may consult this book also.

Uncyclopedia is a satirical website that parodies Wikipedia. It styles itself "the content-free encyclopedia", which is a parody of Wikipedia's "the free encyclopedia". Originally founded in 2005 as an English-language wiki, the project currently spans over 75 languages. See Wikipedia article on Uncyclopedia.

Archived on 01 may 2015

Now everybody is a photographer (thanks to mobiles).

But . . . who took the first photo

With the advent of digital photography with digital cameras and mobile phones, every Tom, Dick and Harry has become a photographer, yes of course of the WhatsApp and the facebook variety. They seem intend on documenting with complete visual support even the most trivial daily incidents in their lives as if these are earth shaking events. They go on clicking on everything their eyes fall upon and then instantaneously forget all about it. OK, we have no quarrell with them, let them have their share of fun!   

Let us spend a few minutes to look back in time and try to see how the technology of photography evolved. Let us see who took the first photograph, when and how it looked like; who created the first color photograph and who initiaited the technology of photographing objects in motion. 

World's First Photograph

In 1826, French scientist Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, took the world's first photograph, titled View from the Window at Le Gras, at his family’s country home: a view of a courtyard and buildings seen from the house’s upstairs window.

World's First Color Photograph

Best known for his development of electromagnetic theory, Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell produced the first color photograph in 1861. Maxwell created the image of a woolen ribbon shown here by photographing it three times through red, blue, and yellow filters, then recombining the images into one color composite.

World's First Photos of Movement

Want to see more such first photographs? Click here.

Archived on 01 April 2015

On dogs' body orientation during defecation and urination

A team of researchers from Czech Republic, Germany and Zambia have discovered that when dogs urinate or defecate they place their body in the north-south direction! More precisely, the dogs prefer to align their body axis with Earth's north-south geomagnetic field lines.The team was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize for biology in the year 2014. (The Ig Nobel announcement can be seen here.) The findings have been published in a paper titled "Dogs are sensitive to small variations of the Earth’s magnetic field" in Frontiers in Zoology in 2013. The full paper can be read here.

Here are some extracts from the paper:

"We measured the direction of the body axis in 70 dogs of 37 breeds during defecation (1,893 observations) and urination (5,582 observations) over a two-year period. After complete sampling, we sorted the data according to the geomagnetic conditions prevailing during the respective sampling periods."

"We found no differences in alignment of females and males during defecation and of females during urination, which might be related to a similar posture the animals are adopting during defecation (in all dogs) and urination (in females). Urinating males have a slightly different preference to orient their body axis than urinating females; this could be caused by leg lifting during urination in males. Indications of different directional tendencies depending on which leg (left or right) is lifted are currently under study. All recordings were made outside on open fields, and routes of walks were routinely changed to exclude or limit pseudoreplications which would arise when dogs are defecating or urinating at just a few places within their kennel or house yard."

"It is still enigmatic why the dogs do align at all, whether they do it “consciously” (i.e., whether the the dogs “see”, “hear” or “smell” the compass direction) or whether its reception is controlled on the vegetative level (they “feel better/more comfortable or worse/less comfortable” in a certain direction). Our analysis of the raw data (not shown here) indicates that dogs not only prefer N-S direction, but at the same time they also avoid E-W direction."

But the research is not all fun.

"It is for the first time that (a) magnetic sensitivity was proved in dogs, (b) a measurable, predictable behavioral reaction upon natural magnetic field fluctuations could be unambiguously proven in a mammal, and (c) high sensitivity to small changes in polarity, rather than in intensity, of magnetic field was identified as biologically meaningful. Our findings open new horizons in magnetoreception research."

Let the dogs do whatever they like, but they should be advised not to interfere in the personal lives of we, the humans, like this!

Archived on 01 March 2015

Extracts from
Introduction to Broomology seriously!

Chapter 1
First Facts (only on brooms, definitely not on politics!)

1.    Definition
       A broom is a cleaning tool consisting of stiff fibers (often made of materials such as plastic, hair, or corn husks) attached to, and roughly parallel to, a cylindrical handle, the broomstick. It is thus a variety of brush with a long handle. It is commonly used in combination with a dustpan. A smaller whisk broom or brush is sometimes called a duster.
        Note on the origin of the termThe word "broom" is derived from the name of certain thorny shrubs used for sweeping.

2.    History
       Brooms in some form or another should have been an essential item in every dwelling unit of man as long ago as homo sapiens evolved. But history records that before 1797 brooms in America were home and hand-made. It was in that year,  Levi Dickenson, a farmer began to manufacture brooms using the tassels of a variety of sorghum (Sorghum vulgere), a grain he was growing for the seeds. This led the proliferation of industrial units producing a variety of different brooms.

3.     Economics
3.1   Brooms in American economy
         One source states that the United States had 303 broom factories by 1839 and that the number peaked at 1,039 in 1919. Most of these were in the Eastern U.S.  Oklahoma became a major center for broom production because broom corn grew especially well there. Faced with competition from imported brooms and synthetic bristles, most of the factories closed by the 1960s. Today, brooms are also commonly made with synthetic bristles. Another common type is the push/pull broom, consisting of a wide brush with short bristles, to which a broomstick is attached at an angle in the center of the brush.

3.2   Brooms in Indian economy
        Sorry, no data available.

4.    Politics
       Will be updated as and when inputs are received from A.K. Wall and other broomologists.

Archived on 19 February 2015

Pickles are not good for your health
Pickles will kill you! Every pickle you eat brings you nearer to death. Read on ...


Pickles are associated with all the major diseases of the body. Eating them breeds wars and Communism. They can be related to most airline tragedies. Auto accidents are caused by pickles. There exists a positive relationship between crime waves and consumption of pickle. For example:

1. Nearly all sick people have eaten pickles. The effects are obviously cumulative.

2. 99.9% of all people who die from cancer have eaten pickles.

3. 100% of all soldiers have eaten pickles.

4. 96.8% of all Red sympathizers have eaten pickles.

5. 99.7% of the people involved in air and auto accidents ate pickles within 14 days preceding the accident.

6. 93.1% of juvenile delinquents come from homes where pickles are served frequently.

Evidence points to the long-term effects of pickle-eating:

Of the people born in 1839 who later dined on pickles, there has been a 100% mortality.

All pickle eaters born between 1919 and 1929 have wrinkled skin, have lost most of their teeth, have brittle bones and failing eye-sight - if the ills of eating pickles have not already caused their death.

Even more convincing is the report of a noted team of medical specialists: rats force-fed with 20 pounds of pickles per day for 30 days developed bulging abdomens. Their appetites for wholesome food were destroyed.

The only way to avoid the deleterious effects of pickle eating is to change eating habits. Eat orchid petal soup. Practically no one has any problems from eating orchid petal soup.

Comment: The above article is nearly a verbatim copy of an article that appeared in a science humour magazine named Journal of Irreproducible Results. The original article can be seen here.

Archived on 01 January 2014

Creativity, innovation

Just look at the following pictures and wonder at the imaginativeness and resourcefulness of people around the world. The images are all taken from the website http://www.crookedbrains.net/ which has on display thousands of images featuring several other creative ideas.

1.    A book-shelf shaped like a map of the United States of America.

2.    Unusual chair designs

3.     Lap pillow for napping, reading or watching television.

4.    The most comfortable and advanced bus stop, fully enclosed with air conditioning.

01 December 2013

My refrigerator and I speak occasionally

It's not much during the day. White, drab. Bland. Humming, bumming. Night. We converse at night. I open the door and a community, a whole society, awaits me.

I'm particularly fond of Jeff, the pickle jar. He's full of these witty little jokes. They're just so funny. There's nothing quite like it.

He wants this girl. Her name is Bethany. She's a bottle of grey mustard, slouched in the back corner with other condiments. The Randy jar, all she does is gossip all day. Stuck, with the others. Bethany's too sensible for such silly talk; she'd run away from the mess but can't. I never move her, either. I never take her out of the fridge. We only have her when my grandparents come over.

"You shouldn't, Jeff. Mustard, and pickles? It just doesn't sound right. Bestiality." I tell him, serious, direct.

He pleads. "The curves of her jar...'"

Suffice to say, he's madly in love with the woman. For shame, for shame. Perhaps I shall finish the pickles, and remove Jeff. A social experiment, if you will.

Imagine a woman, in Alabama. Large, negroid. The milk shares these qualities, although what it lacks in pigmentation, it makes up with negrotic sass. Relentless, all of them. Having more than one jug at any given time is mayhem in the lower shelves. Divas, everywhere. Errywhere, perhaps.

Juices are perhaps the least exciting. They sit in their little imaginary cubicles, droning away at a computer screen, entirely made up of course. Wasting their lives away, with minimal interaction, barring the occasional imaginary trips to the imaginary water fountain. That's why I go through so much juice. Can't stand to have them in the fridge at night.

There is a social hierarchy, of course.

The freezers, they're at the top. Pizzas, vegetables, quick-fix microwave meals—they're all goddamn royalty. The once in a while the freezer door opens, they scorn you for abusing their royal privacy. Indeed, such filth as humans should never be near beings as perfect as they. And then you eat them.

The meat drawer comes next. They rule the refrigerator.

No one's witty enough to do anything about it. They sit in their drawer, all muscular and gargantuan. The vegetables tremble at the sound of a steak slapping on the counter.

Dairy products are the juveniles. They play, restless, excited. Pent up with energy, they float across their days in elated bliss, woefully ignorant of the corrupted world around them. My, how fortunate they are.

I tend to speak with Harold. He's leftovers from a year ago that never got thrown away. Coated in mold, he has seen it all. His age and consequential knowledge is impeccable.

We speak of the olden times often. When things were better, more organic. The vegetables, the meat: hormones and pesticides. Everyone is becoming so fake, nowadays.

And yet, a tiresome feeling overcomes my body, and I close the door, off to bed. Teeth brushed, I sleep. The food awaits for tomorrow, for me.

(Courtesy: Illogicopedia

01 November 2013

What is  qwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm?

Everybody knows the answer! Now let us see what urbandictionary has to say about it:
  • A phenomena that happens to a computer's keyboard when a human being is bored to death... Bored to death in a cubicle, a human decides to type qwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm (all the keyboard buttons in an orderly way) to a search engine to see what comes up.
  • This is the layout on modern computer keyboards. This came about because on typewriters using the alphabetical method meant that the most commonly used keys were next to each other, and got stuck a lot. The new keyboard method came about because some bright spark placed all the most common keys apart from each other, and the qwerty keyboard has stayed with us forever! You can also spell "TYPEWRITER" from the letters on the top row! WOW!
  • Contrary to popular belief, one does not necessarily have to be bored to death to search for this word, only need to be extremely skilled at procrastinating.
  • qwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm is the exact opposite of mnbvcxzlkjhgfdsapoiuytrewq, whereas the one can’t exist without the other. This is true to the same extent that that DEATH is the opposite of LIFE, yet the one can’t occur without the other since both are linked and the one always follows the other. The one actually depends on the other and can’t exist without the existence of the other. Therefore qwertyuiopasdfghjklzxcvbnm will always be the opposite of mnbvcxzlkjhgfdsapoiuytrewq.
  • A word by typing all the letters of which in an orderly fashion you can make your teacher think you are doing work.

01 October 2013

Thanks! Textbooks!!

The following are extracts scanned from real existing textbooks. They show how to study theory of probability the adulterous way, how to study calculus the romantic way, and how to measure the body weight of a dinosaur using a glass beaker. For more such gems visit Thanks, Textbooks.

1.   Learning probability the adulterous way!

2.   Calculus of romance!

3.    A simple way to measure the weight of dinosaurs!

01 September 2013

Story of projectiles

Figure 1

You know it,  everybody knows it. When a gun fires a shot, when a javelin is thrown, or when a cricket ball is thrown, the path of the projectile - the bullet, the javelin, or the cricket ball - is a parabola (as in Figure 1).

The great Greek philosopher Aristotle (4th century BCE) did not know this. He believed otherwise. Aristotle believed that a shot object (a cannon ball, for example) followed a straight line until it "lost its impetus," at which point it fell abruptly to the ground (as in Figure 2 and Figure 3). People continued to believe this to be true for centuries, even though their every day experience was at variance with this theory.

Figure 2 and Figure 3

People began criticizing this belief. They criticized Aristotle's theory of projectile motion and came up with a new theory. According to this revised theory, a shot  object moves along a straight line for sometime, then moves along an arc of a circle and finally falls vertically to the ground (as in Figure 4). This theory was put forward by Albert of Saxony in the 14th century.

Figure 4

Then came Galileo Galilei (early 17th century). He was the first to prove that the trajectory of a projectile is a parabola.

Galileo Galilei

01 August 2013

Delayed gratification

Delayed gratification, or deferred gratification, is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward. Generally, delayed gratification is associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later. The ability to delay gratification is linked to to a host of other positive outcomes, including academic success, physical health, psychological health, and social competence.

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment

The seminal research on delayed gratification – the now-famous "marshmallow experiment" – was conducted by Walter Mischel in the 1960s and 1970s at Stanford University. Mischel and his colleagues were interested in strategies that preschool children used to resist temptation. They presented four-year-olds with a marshmallow and told the children that they had two options: (1) ring a bell at any point to summon the experimenter and eat the marshmallow, or (2) wait until the experimenter returned about 15 minutes later), and earn two marshmallows. The message was: "small reward now, bigger reward later." Some children broke down and ate the marshmallow, whereas others were able to delay gratification and earn the coveted two marshmallows.

The children who waited longer, when re-evaluated as teenagers and adults, demonstrated a striking array of advantages over their peers. As teenagers, they had higher academic  scores, social competence, self-assuredness and self-worth, and were rated as their parents as more mature, better able to cope with stress, more likely to plan ahead, and more likely to use reason.

Now we know the value in delaying gratification. Let us practice it ourselves and teach kids and younger generation the ability to delay gratification.


For more details visit the Wikipedia page on Delayed gratification.

The following videos in YouTube are quite exhilarating and very entertaining.

Marshmallow experiment on Kids

Marshmallow experiment on adults

01 July 2013

Errors in Excel

An error in an Excel worksheet can be a dangerous thing! But there are plenty of errors in Excel computations. Many have been reported in various discussion forums and academic papers have been written on them. Before beginning to use Excel seriously, be aware of these errors and the limitations they impose on the accuracy of the numerical results produced by Excel.

Have a look at a few of the errors.

Error 1
INT(123456789 - 0.0000004) returns 123456789 instead of 123456788.
In contrast, INT(123456789 - 0.0000005) returns 123456788 as expected.

Error 2
We have

    -1.23 + 1.12 + 0.11 = 0.0000000000000001249

We also have:

    -1.23 + 0.11 + 1.12 = 0.0000000000000000000


    -1.23 + 1.12 + 0.11 is not equal to -1.23 + 0.11 + 1.12!

Error 3


A1     67%

B1     33%

C1     0%

D1     =100% - A1 - B1 - C1

Results in D1 = -5.55E-17.

Work to do

1.    Verify that your version of Excel also produces these errors.

2.    Read this article about how two world-renowned economists misused  Excel

       worksheets: The Reinhart-Rogoff error – or how not to Excel at economics

2.    Find out why Excel produces these errors. Here is a clue:

    Excel maintains 15 figures in its numbers, but they are not always accurate: the
    bottom line should be the same as the top line.

01 June 2013

Only Govt approved hairstyles!

Govt approved hairstyles for women (18 choices!)

Govt approved hairstyles for men (only 10 choices!)

Which one of the hairstyles shown in the pictures (men and women) you like best? None? We are extremely sorry, you have no choice, you have to select one, if you are living in North Korea!

The North Korean government has recently (February 2013) recommended a range of 28 hairstyles for its citizens, claiming that they are "the most comfortable" styles and capable of warding off the corrupting effects of capitalism.

There are more restrictions. The hair of the  young men should be less than 5 cm long and they should have a haircut once every 15 days. However older men may sport hair as along as 7 cm. Unmarried women must have short hair but married women can go with piled-high curls!

They say schools, armies and tyrants generally hate long hair, seeing it as a mark of disorder, individualism or rebellion.

Any lessons for us in Vidya? We can choose not to live in North Korea!

01 May 2013

Parkinson's Law

C. Northcote Parkinson

(Excerpts from an article of the same title that first appeared in The Economist in November 1955. You can read the full article here. The article is partly humorous, partly serious. The formulas that appear in the article are pure nonsense!)

Too may people filling available space and time doing too little work!

It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Thus, an elderly lady of leisure can spend an entire day in writing and dispatching a postcard to her niece. An hour will be spent in finding the postcard, another in hunting for spectacles, half-an-hour in a search for the address, an hour and a quarter in composition, and twenty minutes in deciding whether or not to take an umbrella when going to the post-office in the next street. The total effort which would occupy a busy man for three minutes may leave another person lay flat after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil.

Granted that work (and especially paper work) is thus elastic in its demands on time,it is manifest that there need be little or no relationship between the work to be done and the size of the staff to which it may be assigned. Before the discovery of a new scientific law - herewith presented to the public for the first time, and to be called Parkinson's Law 1 - there has, however, been insufficient recognition of the implication of this fact in the field of public administration. Politicians and taxpayers have assumed that a rising total in the number of civil servants must reflect a growing volume of work to be done. The fact is that the number of the officials and the quantity of the work to be done are not related to each other at all. The rise in the total of those employed is governed by Parkinson's Law, and would be much the same whether the volume of the work were to increase, diminish or even disappear. The importance of Parkinson's Law lies in the fact that it is a law of growth based upon an analysis of the factors by which the growth is controlled.

This law can be derived from the following two axioms:

I. An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals.
II. Officials make work for each other.

In any public administrative department a staff increase may be expected to follow this formula:

x = (2k^m + p)/n

where k is the number of staff seeking promotion through the appointment of subordinates; p represents the difference between the ages of appointment and retirement; m is the number of man hours devoted to answering minutes within the department; and n is the number of effective units being administered. Then x will be the number of new staff required each year. Mathematicians will, of course, realize that to find the percentage increase they must multiply x by 100 and divide by the total of the previous year, thus:

100(2k^m + p)/yn %

where y represents the total original staff. This figure will invariably prove to be between 5.17 percent and 6.56 percent.

01 April 2013

Picasso's Bull Sequence:
A lesson in image processing?

The Bull sequence  by Pablo Picasso, the legendary Spanish artist and painter, is a series of eleven images where Picasso deconstructs the academic image of a bull. He eliminates the traditional elements of an image like lines, shapes, shading and form one by one until the final image is obtained where it is just line. The middle images are especially noteworthy because there we have got triangles, squares, ovals and many other shapes intertwining to make up the animal.

Are there any lessons to be learned for those who are interested in image processing?

We have reproduced below only four images of the sequence. The full sequence can be seen here.

This is the image which Picasso started with.

This is the image at the fourth stage of the abstraction.

The next image is the seventh stage in the process of abstraction.
And this is the final abstracted image.

01 March 2013

A topic for research?
Which way a roll of toilet paper should hang?

The over orientation
The under orientation

Toilet paper when used with a toilet roll holder with a horizontal axle parallel to the wall has two possible orientations: the toilet paper may hang over (in front of) or under (behind) the roll. The choice is largely a matter of personal preference, dictated by habit. In surveys of American consumers and of bath and kitchen specialists, 60–70% of respondents prefer over.

Research problem: Do a similar survey in India.

Defenders of either position in America cite advantages ranging from aesthetics, hospitality, and cleanliness to paper conservation, the ease of detaching individual squares. Celebrities and experts are found on both sides. Some writers have proposed connections to age, sex, or political philosophy; and survey evidence has shown a correlation with socioeconomic status. For example, 60 percent of those who earn $50,000 or more prefer it to be over and 73 percent of those who earn less than $20,000 prefer under.

Research problem: Do the Indian scenario significantly differ from the global scenario with respect to toilet paper orientation preferences?

In the article "Bathroom Politics: Introducing Students to Sociological Thinking from the Bottom Up", Eastern Institute of Technology sociology professor Edgar Alan Burns describes some reasons why toilet paper politics is worthy of examination. On the first day of Burns' introductory course in sociology, he asks his students, "Which way do you think a roll of toilet paper should hang?" In the following fifty minutes, the students examine why they picked their answers, exploring the social construction of "rules and practices which they have never consciously thought about before". They make connections to larger themes of sociology, including gender roles, the public and private spheres, race and ethnicity, social class, and age.

Research problem: Make an in-depth examination of the suitability of Burn's approach in the Indian context.

Further research problems:
Toilet paper placement as an example of ritualized behavior
Debate over toilet paper as a debate about symmetry.
Should a toilet seat be left up or down?

For a more detailed introduction to the ideas presented above read the Wikipedia article on the topic here: Toilet-paper orientation.

Caution : Never think of these problems while you are in the toilet!

01 February 2013

Florence Nightingale was a statistician (my God)!

Florence Nightingale died a hundred years ago, in August 1910. She survives in our imaginations as an inspired nurse, who cared passionately for injured and dying soldiers during the Crimean war, and then radically reformed professional nursing as a result of the horrors she witnessed. But the "lady with the lamp" was also a pioneering and passionate statistician. She understood the influential role of statistics and used them to support her convictions.

"To understand God's thoughts, we must study statistics, for these are the measures of His purpose".

When Nightingale returned from the war, she began a campaign for reform. She persuaded Queen Victoria to appoint a Royal Commission on the Army medical department, and she herself wrote an 830-page report. Nightingale compiled vast tables of statistics about how many people had died, where and why. Many of her findings shocked her. For example, she discovered that in peacetime, soldiers in England died at twice the rate of civilians — even though they were young men in their primes.

Lack of sanitation, she realized, had been the principal reason for most of the deaths, not inadequate food and supplies as she had previously thought. As impressive as her statistics were, Nightingale worried that Queen Victoria’s eyes would glaze over as she scanned the tables. So Nightingale devised clever ways of presenting the information in charts. Statistics had been presented using graphics only a few times previously, and perhaps never to persuade people of the need for social change.

Nightingale’s best-known graphic has come to be known as a “coxcomb.” It is a variation on the familiar modern pie graph, showing the number of deaths each month and their causes.

A coxcomb

Each month is represented as a twelfth of a circle. Months with more deaths are shown with longer wedges, so that the area of each wedge represents the number of deaths in that month from wounds, disease or other causes. For months during the first part of the war, the blue wedges, representing disease, are far larger than either the red ones (for wounds) or the black ones (for other causes).

The conventional way of presenting this information would have been a bar graph, which William Playfair had created a few decades earlier. Nightingale may have preferred the coxcomb graphic to the bar graph because it places the same month in different years in the same position on the circle, allowing for easy comparison across seasons. It also makes for an arresting image.

01 January 2012

He (not she) is good at mathematics!

(In the November 2012 installment of the Fun/Work column we met a woman mathematics wizard solving some of the toughest problems in mathematics. Such mathematical prodigies are there in the other sex also. This month we present some of accomplishments of a male mathematics wizard.)

He had his school education in the 1980s. This period was characterised by revolutionary changes in mathematics teaching methodology. The examination questions began to test real understanding rather than rot learning. Here are some sample examination questions of different periods and note the profound changes introduced in 1980s.

1960s: A peasant sells a bag of potatoes for Rs.10. His costs amount to 4/5 of his selling price. What is his profit?
1970s: A farmer sells a bag of potatoes for Rs.10. His costs amount to 4/5 of his selling price, that is, Rs.8. What is his profit?
1980s: A farmer sells a bag of potatoes for Rs.10. His production costs are Rs.8, and his profit is Rs.2. Underline the word "potatoes" and discuss with your classmates.
1990s: A farmer sells a bag of potatoes for Rs.10. His or her production costs are 0.80 of his or her revenue. On your calculator, graph revenue vs. costs. Run the POTATO program to determine the profit.

An early accomplishment: Once he was asked by the teacher to simplify the fraction 16/64. His reply was instant: 1/4. He ridiculed the teacher
for giving such a silly problem as the answer can be easily obtained by cancelling the common factor 6 from the numerator and denominator! (However, he later used a calculator to verify the accuracy of his answer.)

A prize for talent: He came to the Staff Room with a shiny new cup, the sort of which you get when having won something. He explained: "I won it in the Math Contest. They asked what 7 + 7 is. I said 12 and got 3rd place!" "Oh! You are a genius," commended the teacher.

Thoughts: He occasionally thinks deeply and comes out with profound insightful observations:

"Mathematics is made of 50 percent formulas, 50 percent proofs, and 50 percent imagination."
"There are three kinds of people in the world; those who can count and those who can't. "

A doubting Thomas always:
Teacher: "Now suppose the number of sheep is x..."
Math wizard: "Yes sir, but what happens if the number of sheep is not x?"

"A man with many wives": His crowning achievement came when he corrected a mistake in an examination question and came up with the right answer to the corrected question:

Question: " What is a polygun?"
Answer: "There is a mistake in the question. It should be polygon and not polygun. A polygon is a man with many wives."

30 November 2012

She is good at mathematics!

Here is a problem which even the wizard could not solve. Perhaps you can ! Try it !!

31 October 2012

Beggars using Wikipedia founder’s picture to swindle money

Beggar boy with image of Hanuman
Boy (not visible, hiding behind the image!) with image of Jimmy Wales
The begging mafia in Delhi is getting ingenious and keeping with modern times.
After using pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses to extract money from the believers, beggars are now using pictures of Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, and swindling money from internet savvy residents of the national capital in the name of donation to the community driven free web-based encyclopedia.

“I was surprised when this 9-year-old kid knocked on my window and showed me Jimmy’s picture,” Rashi Taneja, a final year MBA student recalled her experience when she was driving last evening, “Of course I use Wikipedia for my project reports too often and I couldn’t help giving 50 rupees to the kid, who gave a thumbs-up to me as if liking something on Facebook.”

Such pictures of Jimmy are taking people by surprise at traffic lights

The Delhi police have denied any knowledge of the fake Wikipedia donation racket being run by the begging mafia in the city.

“Begging was banned only during the Commonwealth Games,” Ranjeet Sharma, a traffic police constable informed, “we can’t act against them till there is any written complaint against this Jimmy guy. Who is he by the way?”

Unlike the police department, the begging mafia in Delhi has accessed and updated themselves with all the information about Jimmy Wales, and the beggars have been trained to answer any queries by suspecting Wikipedia users.

“His first wife’s name was Pam,” says 13-year-old Suraj designated at India Gate, further adding with a wink, “Not Pamela Anderson if you thought so.”

Ravindar, the kingpin of the begging mafia in Delhi, confirms that the latest “initiative” has returned favorable results and they were all set to take the campaign to the next stage and make it more “impactful”.

(Published in Faking News in November 2010.
Faking News is a website that has news content with no reliable sources. They simply fake news to attract our attention. And they are honest about admitting it. They aim to provide clean humor in shape of fake news reports, a style not unique with them. They try to be funny, most of the times. They also try to be satirical and sarcastic about various elements of  Indian social life and news media. They try to act smart and intellectual, sometimes.)

Archived on 30 September 2012

Best Images!

In this month we take a look at some of the very interesting images scooped out of the internet. These and many more similar pictures are available here. There are no clues to know the identity of the people who decided that these are the best. Whether best or not, they are indeed amazing.

Best body paint

Best human landscape

Best human image

Best public display

01 September 2012

Minimal vocabulary:
1000 words are enough (to bless and to curse!)

"City of words"

You are tired and bored of  being reminded again and again about the need of improving your communication skills.

But nobody tells you exactly how you can improve your communication skills. You are always told that there are no shortcuts. Of course, there are no shortcuts. But the task of acquiring a minimal communication skill is not that difficult. There are indeed some shortcuts!

To speak in any language one must know some words of that language. How many words? `Not many' is the answer!

How many words one must learn to speak fluently in English?
Not much, say experts. To begin with a thousand words  would suffice!
Experts have compiled various lists of such minimal vocabulary. One such list is given in here. Scan the list, learn the words and start talking! You would immediately notice that you already  know most of them which means you already  have enough vocabulary to speak in English.

After learning some words, you must learn how to string together the words to make up sentences. What is important is not whether the strings are beautiful or not but whether they express your ideas, feelings and thoughts. So to begin with, learn how to juggle the words you has learned. This can be learned very quickly if you are willing to be a child once again. Imitate baby speech! Enough!!

That is all you must do to be an effective communicator!

After some time you may feel that the 1000-word-list is too short for you. At that stage have a look at a longer list given Here.  This list has 3000 words in it. It is claimed that "a basic understanding of these 3000 words is a very powerful tool and will help students develop good comprehension and communication skills in English."

List of 1000 basic words >>

List of 3000 words >>

A "word sculpture" in Potsdam in Germany,

01 August 2012


Temperature of heaven

The temperature of heaven can be rather easily and accurately computed. Our authority is the Bible. Isaiah 30:26 reads:
Moreover, the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold as the light of seven days.

Amount of radiation received by heaven
= Amount of radiation received from moon +
   Amount of radiation received from sun

Amount of radiation received from moon by heaven
= Amount of radiation received from sun by earth

Amount of radiation received from sun by heaven
= 7 X 7 X Amount of radiation received from sun by earth

Amount of radiation received by heaven
= 50 X Amount of radiation received from sun by earth

(The light we receive from the moon is one ten-thousandth of the light we receive from the sun, so we can ignore that.)

With these data we can compute the temperature of heaven:

The radiation falling on heaven will heat it to the point where the heat lost by radiation is just equal to the heat received by radiation.

In other words, heaven loses fifty times as much heat as the earth by radiation. Using the Stefan-Boltzmann fourth power law for radiation
(H/E)^4 = 50
where E is the absolute temperature of the earth and H is the absolute temperature of heaven.

Taking the average temperature of earth as 27
°C, we have
E = (273 + 27)
°K = 300°K. With this value of E, we get H = 798°K or H = 525°C.

Thus the temperature of heaven is 525

Temperature of hell

The temperature of hell can be deduced from Bible.
Revelations 21:8 reads:

But the fearful and unbelieving... shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.

A lake of molten brimstone (sulphur) means that its temperature must be at or below the boiling point, which is 444.6°C. (Above that point, it would be a vapour, not a lake.)

So temperature of hell must be less than 444.6°C.


Temperature of heaven = 525°C.
Temperature of hell < 445°C.
Therefore heaven is hotter than hell.

Applied Optics, 11(8) A14 (1972), August)

01 July 2012

Murphy's Law states:
"Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong."
Several people have spent sleepless nights researching the identity of the man behind Murphy's Law. Some concluded : Nobody knows for sure who this Murphy was or when he lived. Some others concluded : The Law was not actually invented by Murphy, but by another man of the same name! (Which of the two is the real Murphy? Who knows? Research is still going on!) Researchers in the meanwhile having nothing else to do have started speculating and theorising about the probable (non-)existence of an unMurphy who possibly  should have invented the unLaw: Anything that can go right, will go right. Want to start a research on the Law yourself? Uncyclopedia is not definitely a good starting point, but Wikipedia is.

Since the appearance of the original Law, several other such Laws have been invented. There are even specialisations like love laws, tech laws, nurse laws, etc.They are all collectively assigned to the mythical Murphy.
Here is a sampling from computer laws:
  • Any given program, when running, is obsolete.
  • If a program is useful, it will have to be changed.
  • If a program is useless, it will have to be documented.
  • Any given program will expand to fill all the available memory.
  • Every non trivial program has at least one bug.
  • Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.
  • A working program is one that has only unobserved bugs.
  • All components become obsolete.

Check the Murphy's laws site for a comprehensive collection of all such laws.

Note: Murphy's Law is an adage or a short but memorable saying which holds some important fact of experience that is considered true by many people, or that has gained some credibility through its long use.

01 June 2012

If You drop it, should you eat it?
Apply the five-second rule!

The five second rule says: If food falls to the floor and it's in contact with the floor for fewer than 5 seconds, it's safe to pick it up and eat it.

Many say that this rule is great superstition. Some say it is pure science. Whether it is superstition or science, some have investigated the validity of the rule. Whatever be the conclusion, some interesting facts emerged:
  • Seventy percent of women and fift-six percent of men (in America, of course) are familiar with the five-second rule, and most use it to make decisions about tasty treats that slip through their fingers.
  • University floors are remarkably clean from a microbial standpoint.
  • Women are more likely than men to eat food that's been on the floor.
  • Cookies (that is, biscuit) and candy are much more likely to be picked up and eaten than cauliflower or broccoli.
  • And, if you drop your food on a floor that
    does contain microorganisms, the food can be contaminated in 5 seconds or less.
Historians have traced the Five Second Rule all the way back to the great Genghis Khan. Back then, the Five Second Rule was known as the Khan Rule.

As his army marched across Europe and Asia, he would present his generals with a great banquet after each victory. At the banquet, Khan made sure there was plenty of food and drinks for everyone and informed his generals of his only banquet rule. "Any food fallen on the floor can stay on the floor for twelve hours or as long as The Great Khan says it can stay on the floor! Trust me - it will still be safe to eat."

Learn the rule thouroghly. Apply it in your life. Preach the virtues of the rule to your friends and to children. Thereby you can save a lot of food (at some risk to our health)!

Read the following for more information about the rule:
  • Details of research on five-second rule >>
  • The Citizen (Online) article >>

Archived on 01 May 2012

License to sin ?

"When individuals buy ecofriendly products, they are more likely to cheat and steal."

Shocked? Believe it or not, research shows that it is indeed true!

Researchers in Taiwan did an unusual experiment:
They gave sugar pills to 74 smokers, misleading half of them to think it was a vitamin C supplement. Then they were told that they could smoke if they desired. Those who believed they had taken a vitamin C pill smoked twice as many cigarettes as those who knew they had taken a sugar pill!

The researchers explain this strange behaviour like this: The participants may have felt, consciously or unconsciously, that the healthy activity of taking vitamin C pills entitled them to indulge in the unhealthy activity of smoking cigarettes.

This is known as the licensing effect: Earning a license to sin!

This study, published in the journal Addiction, is the first to examine the health ramifications of the licensing effect, but others have shown its influence on moral behavior.
  • In 2009 a study found that reminding people of their humanitarian attributes reduced their charitable giving.
  • Last year another experiment showed that when individuals buy ecofriendly products, they are more likely to cheat and steal.
"Sometimes after we behave in line with our goals or standards, it's as if our action has earned ourselves some moral credit," says psychologist Nina Mazar of the University of Toronto. "This credit can then subsequently be used to engage in self-indulgent or selfish behaviors without feeling bad about it."

You may be able to avoid the pitfall simply by remembering that the feeling of having "earned it" leads down a path of iniquity.

Scientific American, 04 March 2012
"Virtuous Behaviors Sanction Later Sins"

Archived on 31 March 2012

HUSBAND 1.0 is malfunctioning: What to do?

Here is a funny piece of writing adapted from a story which appeared somewhere in the interneet, which is a stereotypical view of the difficulties in a marriage or relationship presented in a humorous way. It is hoped you would enjoy reading  this. Be warned, it is kind of a dangerous read if you don’t have a sense of humor. Also it is set in the great American cultural context.

Dear Tech Support,

Last year I upgraded from Boyfriend 5.0 to Husband 1.0 and noticed a distinct slow down in overall system performance, particularly in the Flower and Jewelry applications, which operated flawlessly under Boyfriend 5.0.

In addition, Husband 1.0 uninstalled many other valuable programs, such as Romance 9.5 and Personal Attention 6.5, and then installed undesirable programs such as NBA 5.0, NFL 3.0, and Golf Clubs 4.1. Conversation 8.0 no longer runs, and Housecleaning 2.6 simply crashes the system. Please note that I have tried running Nagging 5.3 to fix these problems, but to no avail.

What can I do?
Desperate Jane

Dear Jane,

First, keep in mind, Boyfriend 5.0 is an Entertainment Package, while Husband 1.0 is an Operating System.
Please enter command: i_thought_you_loved_me and try to download Tears 6.2. If that application works as designed, Husband 1.0 should then automatically run the applications Jewelry 2.0 and Flowers 3.5. However, remember, overuse of the above application can cause Husband 1.0 to default to Silence 2.5, or Beer 6.1.

Please note that whatever you do, DO NOT under any circumstances install Mother-In-Law 1.0 (it runs a virus in the background that will eventually seize control of all your system resources).

In addition, please do not attempt to reinstall the Boyfriend 5.0 program. These are unsupported applications and will crash Husband 1.0. In summary, Husband 1.0 is a great program, but it does have limited memory and cannot learn new applications quickly. You might consider buying additional software to improve memory and performance. We recommend: Cooking 3.0.

Good Luck Babe!
Tech Support

PS: There are several varitions of this Husband 1.0 joke all over the internet. Many of them are funnier and nastier! For those who dislike talking about the malfuntcioning Husband 1.0 there are plenty of of stories about Wife 1.0 also.
Enjoy the fun!

Archived on 29 February 2012

A man who wrote more than 200,000 books


Believe it or not, there is sombody out there, somwhere in Europe, who is credited with writting more than 200000 books! No, threre is no error in the number. It is 200000, that is, two lakh or two hundred thousand. The person in question did indeed produce two lakh books, of course, all in English. Yet, the man in question was born only in 1960 and holds a professorship of  Management Science in some reputed institute in France.

The man

The incredible person is Mr Philip M Parker who was born dyslexic. He gained undergraduate degrees in mathematics, biology, and economics. He received a Ph.D. in Business Economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and has Masters degrees in Finance and Banking.
An outline of "a method and an apparatus for
automated authoring and marketing"
(click on the image to see a larger diagram)

The machine

Parker's secret? He takes only about twenty minutes to write a book with 500 pages! You dont believe? Impossible?? Parker claims it is possible provided you use the right tools.
Tools? What tools? Other than, pen, paper? Or a superfast word processor? Completing 500 pages in twenty minutes?

Parker used a differnt tool. He used a computer programme to write books! Parker has patented his tool which he calls
"a method and an apparatus for automated authoring and marketing". The book-writing machine works something like this: First, one feeds it a recipe for writing a particular genre of book - a tome about crossword puzzles, say, or a market outlook for products. Then hook the computer up to a big database full of info about crossword puzzles or market information. The computer uses the recipe to select data from the database and write and format it into book form.

The poetry!

Parker has applied his techniques to produce poetry also; he reports posting over 1.3 million didactic poems. He refers to these as “edge poems” since they are generated using graph theory, where “edge” refers to mathematical values that relate words to each other in a semantic web.

Note: To know more about Philip Parker and his algorithm, visit the Wikipedia page Philip Parker.

(Updated on 01 February 2012.)

Archived on 01 February 2012


Is there anyone out there who doesn’t like comedy, humour, satire, parody? Uncyclopedia, a satirical website that parodies Wikipedia, is an endless source of fun for those who love to laugh. To start with, have a look at the Main Page of  the site: http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com /wiki/Main_Page . See also what Uncylopedia has to say about our own country India. Here is the link: http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/India.

This is how the site describes the history of India.

The following is an account of the history of India presented as a C programme. It is so presented because all educated Indians are computer programmers. All others are people like you. The History of India is an iterative function with the following structure:

int main()
  int i, t; //India's only profession.
  char History_of_India[ENDLESS];
  char residents = 'Dravidians';
  char intruders={'Iranians', 'Greek', 
    'Arabs', 'Mongols', 'French',  
    'Portuguese', 'British_empire',
    if(t==sizeof(intruders)) t=0;
    printf("%s are
    History_of_India[i++] =
      residents += intruders[t++];
      char 'Gandhi';
      //Gandhi nullifies colonial
      /*The British Empire*/ break; /*off  
      in confusion*/
  return 0; //India's only contribution to
  the world.

Unfortunately this program - as with all other kinds of Indian logic - hangs up in an infinite loop. India is known to have been conquered many times in this time period.

Archived on 30 December 2011

Church of Computer

The following are some of the beliefs of many hardcore computer users. Some pseudo-intellectuals dub them as superstitions. Nevertheless there are signs that such a belief-system is evolving into the formation of a Church devoted the veneration of Computers.

1. Do not reboot.    
Don't reboot, whatever be the temptation! It will only lead to stoppage of work by a running computer!
2. Never upgrade a working software.
Upgrading a software always leads to problems. Just think of all the trouble you had when you upgraded that Microsoft product to a newer version.
3. Repeat a command till you get the desired outcome.
If a print command fails to produce output in a timely manner, repeat the command.What else one can do?
4. Insist on using a particular hardware.
The hardware I am using is the perfect one. All others are bad, really bad. Otherwise I would not have bought it in the first place.
5. It is always me (not the computer) who is in error.
6. Computer is magic.
The command we give to the computer are magical mantras and it is the power of these mantras that make the computer behave the way it does.
7. Computer has a mind of its own.
This is certainly true. Have you not ever experienced the feeling that the computer sometimes loves you but at other times it hates you. If not, next time when you approach your computer watch for its emotions.
8. The computer is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent.
9. Computer is always right.
Definitely! Have you ever doubted this?

We’re used to seeing superstitions among gamblers and athletes, who frequently engage in high-stakes performances with largely unpredictable outcomes. That superstitions also show up when people use computers  — algorithmic devices designed to be completely predictable —  is either evidence of human irrationality or an interesting borderline case of Clarke’s Third Law:  “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Based upon all of these things, one may wonder how long it’ll be until someone actually starts a religion based upon computers and/or the Internet? 

(Updated on 01 December 2011.)

Archived on 30 November 2011

A Keralite Nobel Laureate
(Image: Tumbled Thinker, logo of Improbable Research)
Do you know that there is a Nobel laureate - a person awarded with a Nobel prize - born, brought up and still working in Kerala? Surprised? Unbelievable? But the fact of the matter is that there is indeed one! Prof K P Sreekumar, a scientist working in College of Veterinary & Animal Sciences, Mannuthy, had been awarded a Nobel Prize in mathematics in the year 2002. A Nobel prize in mathematics? Yes it is true, because it is not the original Nobel Prize. It is also not a duplicate one! It is the "Ig Nobel" prize considered by some as more prestigious than the original Nobel Prize. Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded every year for outstanding "improbable research" in various disciplines including mathematics.
        So what is "improbable research"? It is research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK! There is an organisation called Improbable Research to promote improbable research. They publish a magazine called the Annals of Improbable Research, and they administer the Ig Nobel Prizes.
        What was the outstanding improbable research of Prof Sreekumar? His remarkable discovery was the following formula to predict the total body surface area S (in m2) of an Indian elephant:

        S = - 8.245 + 6.807*H + 7.073*FPC
        H   = height at the shoulders (in m),
        FPC = forefoot pad circumference (in m).

        Prof Sreekumar also discovered that the formula is valid for both he-elephants and she-elephants! He derived this formula from measurements of the body surface areas of twenty-four domesticated adult elephants. Details of the methods used for the measurements are not immediately available.

Work to do: Open problems

1.    Develop a formula involving two parameters to compute the total body surface area of an adult human. Verify whether the same formula can be used for both male and female humans.
2.    Do a similar study on lions in the wild. It is near certain that a researcher doing this work would be awarded an Ig Nobel Prize (provided he/she survives the study to claim the Prize!).

Archived 0n 31 October 2011

2ROT13: The ultimate encryption scheme!

In the last edition of this column (Network security: Read...) we had a look at the Indian origins of cryptographic practices. In this edition we look at a modern, powerful  encryption method.

ROT13 is an under-estimated, but a relatively strong, encryption scheme. It is four times more powerful than the much deprecated Caesar-cipher. In contrast to Caesar cipher, this scheme replaces each English letter with the letter 13 places forward along the alphabet. Without realising its true potential, ROT13 is now put to only trivial applications; for example, as a means of hiding spoilers, punchlines, puzzle solutions, and offensive materials from the casual glance. ROT13 has been wrongly described as the "Usenet equivalent of a magazine printing the answer to a quiz upside down".
To increase its effectiveness cryptographers have suggested a repeated application of the scheme. 2ROT13, "double ROT13" based on the ideas of triple DES, has been studied extensively by cryptologists. See, for example,  the scholarly paper "On the 2ROT13 Encryption Algorithm" written by the staff of Cryptolabs, Amsaterdam, available at http://www.pruefziffernberechnung.de/Originaldokumente/2rot13.pdf
This paper contains a detailed analysis of the algorithm, a close look at some practical issues and an outlook at possible future applications of the algorithm.

Gur cncre vf n fcbbs ba pelcgbtencul. Sbe 2EBG13, pvcuregrkg vf vqragvpny gb cynvagrkg.

Archived on 01 October 201

Net security? Read Kamasutra!

(Warning: Read only that part which deals with cryptography. Other parts may shock your aesthetic, moralistic and cultural sensibilities!)

The title of this article was the tile of an article by Anand Parthasarathy that appeared in The Hindu dated 02 November 2000. Parthasarathy was writing about a then recent cryptographic breakthrough and its implications to net security. And this is the Kamasutra connection:

“In his researches into classic coding techniques, Dr.Simon Singh (author of a popular book on cryptography, entitled The Code Book,) discovered that the Indian classic, Kamasutra including one of the earliest techniques for rendering messages unreadable - using the ''substitution`` method that remained a standard technique well into the 20th century. If an alphabet of 26 letters is substituted with other letters, says Singh, the chance of deciphering all the letters is 400 million billion billion - or virtually impossible. The technique was safe enough for a man in Vatsyayana's time, to communicate with his paramour - without her spouse tumbling to the liaison. And for decades the substitution cryptogram remained an uncrackable code - until technology caught up. Today computers routinely use the frequency analysis of individual letters to crack most such codes (in English, the letter E is the most frequently used).”

For those who are absolutely curious, it may be mentioned that to Vatsyayana the practice of cryptography, referred to by him a mlecchita-vikalpa, was an art, one among 64 arts that a woman must learn. The list of 64 arts appears in Chapter 3 of Kamasutra.

(Read Anand Parthasarathy's article here.)

(Updated on 01 September 2011.)

Archived on 01 September 2011

The story of Google (the word, not the company)

Everybody loves to talk about the company Google. But how the name came about? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet!

Knowledgeable people assert that Google became Google because Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the developers of the search engine, were bad spellers.They intended googol but misspelled it as google.

The story goes something like this:

Sean and Larry were in their office trying to think up a good name - something that related to the indexing of an immense amount of data. Sean verbally suggested the word "googolplex," and Larry responded verbally with the shortened form, "googol". Sean was seated at his computer terminal, so he executed a search of the internet domain name registry database to see if the newly suggested name was still available for registration and use. Sean made the mistake of searching for the name spelled as "google.com," which he found to be available. Larry liked the name, and within hours he took the step of registering the name "google.com" for himself and Sergey, and Google was born.

So what does the correctly spelled googol mean?

A googol is the large number 10100, that is, the digit 1 followed by one hundred zeros: The term was coined in 1938 by 9-year-old Milton Sirotta (1929–1981), nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner. Kasner popularized the concept in his book Mathematics and the Imagination. Sirotta also suggested a name, googolplex, for a much larger number , namely 10googol.  The original definition of this number was "the number 1  followed by writing zeros until you get tired". Incidentally, people have calculated that there is not enough space in the universe to write all the zeroes in googolplex!!

Love to talk about the company only?

Googleplex is the misspelled head-quarters of the misspelled company Google!

Watch this video on life at the Googleplex.

Archived on 01 August 2011

(Deceptive) image processing


Do you recognise this image? Is it that of the celebrated physicist Albert Einstein? Sure? Stand back by about 3 m. and examine. Do you recognise it now? Is it the image of Merilyn  Monroe, Hollywood's glamour girl of the 50's?

Yes, images are deceptive! Has this any bearing on the theory of image processing?

  • An image such as the one above is called a hybrid image. To see more such images and to know more about them, click here.

Archived on 01 July 2011

Fun, fun, fun

Here are two funny images scooped out of the net. Dig deeper to see more such images that could make even a dinosaur laugh!

No comments!

When cricket goes really wrong!

Archived on 01 June 2011

A computer the size of earth !

What is the ultimate limit of computing?

Imagine a computer with a size equal to the size of the earth (about 6 x 10 ^ 27 grams). Imagine that it has been computing for as long as the earth has existed (about 10 ^ 10 years). It has been proved that such a computer could not have processed more than 10 ^ 93 bits (rounding up to the nearest power of 10) of information.

The number 10 ^ 93, known as Bremermann’s limit, represents the ultimate limit of computing.

A problem that requires processing of more than 10 ^ 93 bits of information is called a transcomputational problem, meaning that it is not even theoretically doable; and in the real world such problems are aplenty!

Wikipedia article created

I have contributed an article on transcomputational problems to Wikipedia on 01 May 2011. See article here.
Since anybody can edit any Wikipedia article, the article you see now need not be the article I had written originally. - Dr V N Krishnachandran

Archived on 01 May 2011

Mandlebulbs : Fantastic images

If you love intricate man-made images, mandelbulbs provide the ultimate complexity. These are fractals in three dimensions. Here is one in low resolution; click here for more in high resolution.


Here is a large collection of  two-dimensional fractals each of which is an amazingly beautiful image.

Teacher : How long is the coast of India?
Student : It depends on the length of the measuring rod used to measure the length!

Archived on 01 April 201

Self-reproducing programs

A self-reproducing program is a computer program which produces a copy of its own source code as its only output.
Such programs are also called self-replicating programs or self-copying programs or quines and they can be created in any language. Here is one written in C.

main(){char *s="main(){char *s=%c%s%c;printf(s,34,s,34);}";printf(s,34,s,34);}

The readers may verify that the program reproduces itself by acually compling and executing the program. The GNU compiler collection is ideal for the verification.

Exercise : Study the code and find how it reproduces itself.

Obfuscated programmes

The C programme given above is a simple example of an obfuscated programme. Obfuscated code is source or machine code that has been made deliberately difficult to understand for humans. Programmers may intentionally obfuscate code to conceal its purpose or its logic, to deter reverse engineering.

There is even an International Obfuscated C Code Contest (IOCCC). Click here to see an award winning entry.

(Updated on 01 March 2011. See Archives.)

Archived on 01 March 2011

An algorithm for hand washing

(Click on the image to see a slightly larger picture.)

Algorithms are everywhere.

Here is an algorithm for hand washing developed by the National Health Service of the United Kingdom.The algorithm makes use of the idea of functions as well. Note that each of the Steps 3 to 8 invokes a separate function which specifies how precisely the hands are to be moved. These functions are indicated by arrows shown in the respective boxes. Make no mistakes. Step 11 is, however, a real innovation!

(Updated on 01 February 2011. See Archives.)
Archived on 01 February 2011

A touchable computer bug

Everybody knows what a bug is: an insect that infests houses and beds. In North America bug means any insect, a moth or a small animal. You think you know what a computer bug is? Can we see, touch and smell a computer bug? You think not?

The photo shows the first bug found in a computer: a really touchable, smellable one! The bug was found trapped in the Harward Mark II computer in September 1947. The operators affixed the moth to the computer log, with the entry: "First actual case of bug being found".

The "computer bug" is on display in the National Museum of American History in Washington D C.

Now you know what a computer bug is?

Archived on 01 January 2011

(Source : http://xkcd.com)

Inappropriate use of extrapolation!

There is a graph. Time runs along the horizontal axis; number of husbands on the vertical axis. Yesterday and today are labeled along horizontal axis. 0 and 1 are labeled in the vertical axis. Points are plotted with 0 at yesterday, 1 at today. A straight line is fitted through them. Imagine somebody using the graph to calculate by extrapolation the number of husbands a lady will be having after one week! This is precisely what the man in the cartoon is attempting to do.

A lady has come to buy a cake for her wedding. The salesperson is attempting to help the lady. He points at the graph and says: As you can see, by late next month you'll have over four dozen husbands. Better get a bulk rate on wedding cake.

Archived on 19th November 2010

Animation featuring plane cubic curves

The basic ideas of elliptic curve cryptography are based on the existence of a group structure on plane cubic curves. So, for budding cryptographers it would be enlightening, but not essential, to know more about the nature of plane cubic curves. Here is an animation which takes one through 14 of a total of 78 species of plane cubic curves.