Saturday, November 16, 2013

A tribute to Sachin Tendulkar - Thank You, Sachin!

Lab - Syracuse, NY

The day that Sachin Tendulkar had announced his retirement, I had just woken up and seen my friend's text message asking me if I saw the news and that he felt old. I immediately opened my news reader, and read all about it. It was slowly sinking in over the next few days, there was a disbelief, and the thought - Hey, there's two more matches...ten more days of cricket with Sachin.

My mind was racing through the role that cricket had played in my life through my childhood, teen years and my twenties too. Cricket began being a part of my life as a kindergarten kid and in primary school, before I even knew that there were six balls in an over, and it intensified into a craze afterward.

The first cricket matches I remember consciously watching were in the 1992 world cup. I remember watching New Zealand win almost all games in the group games and then losing their way in the knockout stages, eventually leading to a Pakistan win. Since then, every open space looked like a cricket ground, anything remotely spherical was a ball, a clipboard, wooden plank, anything made a bat. I didn't know about the magic of Sachin then, but remember that he was a member in the Indian team around then, when Mohammad Azharuddin was the captain.

Four years later, I consider myself to be very privileged to have watched the India-Pakistan world cup quarterfinal match live at the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore. I remember very clearly Ajay Jadeja going berserk in the final overs and hitting Waqar Younis all over the park. I also remember the Prasad-Sohail incident in that match. Sachin was playing too, but I remember that he hadn't scored much, just 2-3 boundaries, and about 30 runs. But he was there, and India had won.

As a teenager, I'd also developed an interest in other sports. Tennis, Formula One, Chess, Football (Soccer). And through my twenties, many dreams were fulfilled of watching my biggest heroes in these sports live. Watching M.S.Dhoni's huge sixes at one of the earliest Twenty20 matches, World XI vs. Chemplast (Chinnaswamy stadium, Bangalore, 2005), Roger Federer winning the title by defeating Novak Djokovic (Arthur Ashe Stadium, New York, 2007), and Michael Schumacher at 300+km/h (Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, 2010) remain very special to me. Though I'm still interested in many of these sports, none of them has been as longstanding an interest as cricket (and chess, but I've definitely watched many more cricket matches live than chess!). And playing a big role in keeping this interest, was the feel-good presence of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar at No. 3 and No. 4. While they were still unbeaten in a match, there was this hope, this sometimes crazily optimistic hope that India would pull off the win.

I've been upset many times over some result in some sporting event. But hardly ever felt actual tears well up in my eyes during the sad moments in sport – well, it is just sport after all, eh? The first was when South Africa and Australia tied in the 1999 World Cup after Lance Klusener's almost perfect late blitz ended in an unfortunate manner with Allan Donald getting run out and Australia advancing to the finals. Being a big fan of Klusener and South African cricket, I could feel my eyes moist. Another instance was when Michael Schumacher announced his retirement from Formula One in 2006, and I'd felt upset that I hadn't got a chance to watch him race live on a track. I was incredibly lucky that he came out of retirement, and I managed to watch him live in Montreal in 2010, albeit not in his prime form, nor in his Ferrari...whatever, I watched him race live. And today, when Sachin gave his moving speech. Partly because he was retiring. Another part was because he was always there, perhaps taken for granted...India at 10/2 chasing 330? Doesn't matter, Sachin is still not out. But mostly because, through all the years of growing up watching cricket, a bunch of other sports, people debuting or retiring, many world cups in cricket and football, many seasons of tennis and the Olympics, Sachin Tendulkar was there during of the entire process - the process of me growing up through all these sports. And for that, I'm very grateful to him. He's been an integral part of me, and probably a billion or so others.

Here's wishing him all the best for the future. A simple thank you for what he has meant to me. A wish that he will still be active in cricket by commentating, coaching, writing. A dream that someday I'll get to see him play that classy straight drive again, maybe in some exhibition match. A hope that the younger generation will be lucky enough to have somebody like him to make their childhood that much richer.

My childhood is now over, long after it was actually over, I was clearly in denial until now. An entire 80s (and perhaps early 90s) generation just got older today. If my life was scaled down to a single day, I feel like I've just had brunch.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Idle thoughts (1) - Where is human evolution headed?

Apartment - Syracuse, NY

It is perhaps not wrong to say that human beings are on top of the evolutionary system, at least for now - that is, if the metric to measure it is the potential to control our environment; our brain has led us to be so. That said, clearly there have been many species which have hung around longer than we have, and can continue to live on even after our species is gone.

Consider for a moment, the shortcomings we have as a species:

1. Power: Nowhere close to the best there is: There are plenty of species which have far more powerful limbs or body structures - elephants can carry a few tonnes of weight; lions, tigers, bears have extremely powerful paws, etc.

2. Speed: Again, not even close to the best. Our legs are not designed to be so. An interesting article examines this in more detail and concludes that an ostrich's leg is perhaps the best for bipedal organisms like us. And, of course, cheetahs are known to be the fastest at about 120 kmph. The current fastest human, Usain Bolt, has a top speed of 44.7 kmph. The same article says that even a common domestic cat can reach about 48 kmph.

3. Respiratory System: I learned from many websites that fish have perhaps the most efficient respiratory systems. The reason is that oxygen concentration is so much lower in water that such efficiency is needed for survival. On top of that, there are many amphibians having systems capable of surviving on land and water. Humans do not have such high efficiency. And since we are not amphibious, efficiency is zero in water. In spite of all our efforts, we are only able to go a few feet underwater for very little time with heavy equipment, as I learnt from scuba diving - for multiple reasons: limited air supply in cylinders, increasing pressure at depths, hazardous nitrogen absorption rates, etc.

4. Eyes: The Mantis Shrimp is said to have the best - according to this article, they can see polarized light, have advanced depth perception, and is equivalent to having "10,000 telescopes"

5. Bite strength: An article in National Geographic credits saltwater crocodiles as having the most powerful bites at about 3700 psi, whereas us humans have a measly 150-200 psi. Many other creatures such as poisonous snakes and frogs have extremely potent venom even if their bite strength may not be much.

And many other such examples of very ordinary features. In any case, the point is that we have probably no distinguishing features that are the best among other animals, or even close to the best. Other animal species have outclassed us in all respects.

All except one, that is - the human brain obviously. About 900-1400 cc of brilliance! In this sense, we are perhaps light-years ahead of other least, for today. This is in spite of being one of the most early "intelligent" brains. Also, that we use just 10% of our brains is supposedly a myth. Our species' survival arguably is only because of our brain. Not just survival, but our "superiority" as well. The quotes is because our superiority is pretty clear, biologically speaking...but fairly questionable, practically speaking, when we look at the plethora of examples of human stupidity :)

Let's take a step back, and consider our species with no intelligence (again, biologically please - I can foresee lots of cracks about why this is so hard to imagine :)). Perhaps, we would never have survived even for a little bit, a few seconds on the evolutionary timescale, we would perhaps have made a nice snack for a few carnivores, and that would have been that - we would likely not have been fit enough to survive, à la Darwin. Or maybe, we would not have even formed in the first place!

So, in summary, that's where we are on the evolutionary scale - very weak and inefficient body systems, but a primitive brain that is so advanced that we not only are able to survive, but are a superior species.

So, if...

(1) all our bodily features are inefficient (except perhaps opposable thumbs),
(2) we are using our brain close to capacity, and
(3) it is purely our brain that has taken us to where we are,

...then my vision for the future of human evolution is as shown in the figure below.

(I'm obviously not much of an artist, but this is just to illustrate the concept :))

Anyway, that was my lazy Sunday evening wondering what the future holds for us humans (provided, of course, that our species does not self-destruct). If you are an advanced "human" (that had the homo sapiens as your predecessors) reading this, please communicate with me by time travelling back to me using your extraordinary brain, and let me know how this prediction worked out.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Lab - Syracuse, NY

A famous quote by Albert Einstein goes: "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving."

It immediately strikes us as true. Very apt indeed.

Let us examine the quote above. There is something big, viz. life. There is an everyday activity, viz. riding a bicycle. And there is an analogy between these two, the simplicity of which is attractive.

My friend also came up with a post about an interesting analogy - a break-up with a common cold. Read it here.

So, such quotes/analogies are of the kind:
X is like Y. (Connected by) Z. 
<X is a deep thought, perhaps philosophical, or just something larger. Y is an everyday activity or a common object. The statement Z connects the two>.
There seem to be many quotes on the internet. Some strike a chord, like the two above. Many others come across as dumb or lame - I won't dwell on these.

The following exercise is to take everyday activities/objects for the variables X and Y and then try to create Z, the second part of the "newly formed quote".

Before I begin this exercise, I must confess - I don't know how to classify this post - perhaps somewhere between light-hearted humour and a valiant attempt at sounding meaningful. If you are in a serious mood, I hope some thoughts make sense. If you are just lazing, I hope the sarcastic humour is evident. But take with a pinch of salt - #fail alert :) Here goes.

Oh, and if by some chance, some already exist in the same or another form, please let me know and I'll cite the source. I haven't done much "literature survey" for this :)

Let's first pick some candidates for X and Y.

Table: Sample values of X and Y
LifeA game of poker
Human mindRiver
PeaceMusical instrument

Let's join these columns. Consider randomly chosen ordered pairs (X, Y), I don't want to attempt all 25 combinations. I'll do 10 instead. Each of X and Y are picked twice.

X is like Y. (Connected by) Z.
1. Trust is like a tree. It's strength depends on its roots.

2. Trust is like a river. Deep enough, it can overpower anything; shallow and a little heat can dry it up.

3. Life is like a game of poker. The probability of your bluff working depends on your position.

4. Life is like a river. Starts off young and energetic, and ends up meandering its way to the ocean.

5. The human mind is like a musical instrument. You can work it and choose to play like a maestro, or keep it rusty and sound like something ran over a cat.

6. The human mind is like a book. Dog-ear it, don't shelve it.

7. Peace is like a tree. As you sow, so do you reap.

8. Peace is like a musical instrument. Out of tune, the music can never sound good.

9. Relationships are like a game of poker. You don't win much if you don't put enough in the pot.

10. Relationships are like a book. The prologue must be interesting to continue.

There it is. Ten new "quotes" created. Let me know which work and which don't!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Dec '12 - Jan '13 vacation at home

Home - Bangalore

First off, sorry about the big break in posting on this blog - first it was the end of the semester and then it was my vacation at home in Bangalore. Here's a not-very-detailed-since-I'm-on-holiday-just-before-sleep summary of what took priority over blog posts :)

Quite a few trips squeezed into one month of vacation. Apart from a lot of eating of course - I've lost count of the number of idly/vadas, dosas, pista milk shakes, pista/badam flavoured milks, sugarcane juices, chaats, etc.

Roaming around was also pretty packed this time around. The first trip to Bhubaneshwar also included a trip to the Konark Sun Temple and to the Puri Jagannath Temple. It was also my first trip to Orissa state.

Then was a trip to Chennai, a city that I've stayed long in, know my way around reasonably and even used to the extreme heat that I always find there! Oh, and this was "winter" there, by the way :)

A much-awaited trip to Hyderabad was next. Apart from the usual sight-seeing spots, I found a (stupid?) thrill in identifying the spot where I was born there. Making the inevitable "life comes full circle" jokes followed, being back to (geographically) where I was born...although a new hospital has come up there. (I hadn't been to Hyderabad since I was born, actually). Also managed a quick visit to Secunderabad.

The final leg was a visit to Guruvayoor Krishna temple with family. And then to Calicut, where a dip in the Arabian Sea was a must! A stopover at Mysore, was also squeezed in. Mysore used to be a quiet little city with no traffic at all, was pretty surprised this time around!

A good trip overall, and here's a selection of a few pics that I clicked in a collage I don't bug you all with a complete album :)

Clockwise (from top left) - 1. Buddha statue, Hussain Sagar Lake, Hyderabad, 2. Sun Temple, Konark 3. A monkey posing for the camera, Bhubaneshwar, 4. View from the top of Golconda Fort, Hyderabad, 5. Western Ghats, En route from Calicut to Mysore

After a fun vacation, I'm scheduled to be back in Syracuse in a couple of days, back to work. Catch you then!

N.B. 1. This post is probably in the "Beats" category - although it is more along the lines of "City Beats" (and not quite the intended rhythm/music). So thought I'd squeeze in a post about travel as well, since I'm vacationing. And come to think of it, writing an occasional post about travel also seems like fun!

N.B. 2. Pista Milk Shake, in my opinion, is one of our species' greatest creations. If you are making this at home, and I'm within driving distance, please ping me and make an extra glass or two.