False Alarm

some of you may have been wondering and worrying where all those scientists who used to pop-up with impossibly gigantic-scale inventions had gotten off to, you need look no farther than TED videos

this from a BBC news story

“The threat is desertification. My response is a sandstone wall made from solidified sand,” said Mr Larsson, who describes himself as a dune architect.

The sand would be stabilised by flooding it with bacteria that can set it like concrete in a matter of hours.

he does acknowledge certain key facts:

The scheme would also have advantages for nearby populations, he said. For example, it could be excavated he said to provide shade, shelter or as a structure to collect water.

However, Mr Larsson admitted that the scheme faced numerous practical problems.

“There are many details left to explore in this story: political, practical, ethical, financial. My design is fraught with many challenges,” he said.

“However, it’s a beginning, it’s a vision; if nothing else I would like this scheme to initiate a discussion,” he added.

i can see the future now – his aims at stopping desertification thwarted, Dr Larsson grows mad with rage against the scientific community that threatened him. In his secret equatorial lair in the heart of the Congo, he mutates the sand-stoning bacteria into a controllable source of human-stoning(that didnt come out quite right) and becomes – Sandstone man! who will save us from such a future?! WHO??????

US of AIPAC-MIC-Bomb Brownie

the Obamagic begins now!

(courtesy the good Michael J Smith)
Our starting point must always be a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel…. we must help the Israelis identify and strengthen those partners who are truly committed to peace, while isolating those who seek conflict and instability….

We should expand our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the army and 27,000 marines….

I will not hesitate to use force, unilaterally if necessary, to protect the American people or our vital interests whenever we are attacked or imminently threatened….

We must also consider using military force in circumstances beyond self-defense in order to provide for the common security that underpins global stability….

…. we must develop a strong international coalition to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons program…. In confronting these threats, I will not take the military option off the table.

…. we must strengthen our homeland security….. checking all passengers against a comprehensive watch list.

shorter Obama: Watch me prove Ralph Nader right after all!

the pragmatic aspirations of (part of) a nation

i rarely watch TV because most of it makes my already overloaded brain hurt more. i do make exceptions, especially for newfound TV love.

i was watching a call-in show this evening, hosted by above young lady of our dreams. i realized that a lot of young people in schools and colleges in chennai seem to ASPIRE to be software engineers. it’s actually something they want to do. this is something shared by my younger cousins who are all either in, or on their way to become engineers.

now there is absolutely no doubt the salaries in the field are higher, and it is the field which has consistently had the best growth in employment figures in india as well as in most parts of the world. however, i see the whole IT field as something to settle for than aspire to.

the fact that urban, ‘middle class’, reasonably well educated(well-rounded i mean) young men and women WANT to sit in front of computers for most of the rest of their lives still astonishes me, when there is so much more that is there to be done.

there are, i would suppose(with only anecdotal evidence and no sociology training whatsoever) a couple of different reasons for this.

numero uno is the ‘play it safe’ mentality that pervades the middle class. this is further reinforced by the disintegration of a social safety net(as in nuclearization of families) and lack of an economic safety net, in the form of social security or any such scheme.

numero dos seems to be the well-marketed ‘indian dream’ in much the same way as the american dream of the late ’50s in the USA. i find an increasing amount of slickly advertised intended to sell ‘lifestyle products’ such as expensiver soaps and shampoos and even such things as real estate, higher end cars and things of that nature.

this is depressing to me on many levels. this is also why i intend to vote for the communist party. AGRARIANISM FTW, BITCHEZ!

Mind Bending

n+1 has put up a fascinating interview with a hedge-fund manager. some of it requires a little knowledge of the basic terms used in ‘the market’, for which i couldn’t recommend a better source than Doug Henwood‘s Classic, yet out of print Wall Street (available as a Creative Commons, donation-ware download.)

HFM: Goldman-Sachs had a fund that lost 30 percent, and Highbridge had a fund that lost a lot of money. Stat arb is, basically, computerized trading of a huge universe of stocks based on a set of models. And those models can be technical models like momentum or mean reversion, or it can be based on fundamental models like just “Buy stocks that have high cash-flow yields and sell stocks that have low cash-flow yields.” That’s a gross simplification, but the core of it is that—the idea that there are certain predictable relationships between either stock price history and future performance, or fundamental variables of a company and stock price performance, and these are broadly reliable. It’s not like any given stock is going to perform in line with the models. But if you’re trading a universe of 5,000 stocks, in general you’ll have enough of an edge that you’ll make money.

n+1: And so the computers themselves are making these trades?

HFM: You build the models and the computer does the trading. You actually do all the analysis. But it’s too many stocks for a human brain to handle, so it’s really just guys with a lot of physics and hardcore statistics backgrounds who come up with ideas about models that might lead to excess return and then they test them and then basically all these models get incorporated into a bigger system that trades stocks in an automated way.

n+1: So the computers are running the…

HFM: Yeah, the computer is sending out the orders and doing the trading.

n+1: It’s just a couple steps from that to the computers enslaving—

HFM: Yes, but I for one welcome our computer trading masters.

People actually call it “black box trading,” because sometimes you don’t even know why the black box is doing what it’s doing, because the whole idea is that if you could, you should be doing it yourself. But it’s something that’s done on such a big scale, a universe of several thousand stocks, that a human brain can’t do it in real time. The problem is that the DNA of a lot of these models is very, very similar, it’s like an ecosystem with no biodiversity because most of the people who do stat-arb can trace their lineage, their intellectual lineage, back to four or five guys who really started the whole black box trading discipline in the ’70s and ’80s. And what happened is, in August, a few of these funds that have big black box trading books suffered losses in other businesses and they decided to reduce risk, so they basically dialed down the black box system. So the black box system started unwinding its positions, and every black box is so similar that everybody was kind of long the same stocks and short the same stocks. So when one fund starts selling off its longs and buying back its shorts, that causes losses for the next black box and the people who run that black box say, “Oh gosh! I’m losing a lot more money than I thought I could. My risk model is no longer relevant; let me turn down my black box.” And basically what you had was an avalanche where everybody’s black box is being shut off, causing incredibly bizarre behavior in the market.

(all emphasis mine)

H/T: Kottke

Twilight Zone

i reveal to you that possibly for the very first time in my short life on god’s green earth, i agree with a certain man with a very prominent moustache and questionable to non-existent judgement.

Tom Friedman argues for better public transport in India’s crowded cities.

i know, i know. i read that and when i found myself agreeing i pinched myself a little bit to make sure this was not a dream. then i looked outdoors and there was the sun continuing about the diurnal illusion of moving from east to west, and no flying pigs or anything either. but you know what they say about stopped clocks and their correctness… speaking of which, david brooks finds a little bit of actual humour.if only he would do a companion piece about the republicans, it would achieve some much-needed(or so they say) balance.

now, on to the overwhelming question of the day based on the articles linked above:

did someone put a little LSD in my breakfast???? (and if you did, could you please make it a habit? kthxbye!)

also: Krugman is finding the nails’ centers of mass and gravity down to the nearest molecule. as is Colbert, obv.!!

this is probably the most i will ever link to the times in one post. 3 links? outrageous!

shoes be droppin

Musharraf has taken control of Pakistan, suspends constitution.

he also fired the Supreme court Chief Justice, said court being the one organization that was working up the determination to challenge his government.

Looks like all the talk about democracy was just so much window dressing. Just FYI, the US has supported the General till quite recently, and was supposedly one of the main forces behind the return of Benazir Bhutto. This also probably explains why Ms. Bhutto abruptly left the country yesterday(or maybe the day before). No direct news out of Pak, as everything has been shutdown.

no news as yet, to the status of the Pakistan Cricket team, currently in India for a month long series of cricket matches.

I only worry for the people of Pakistan, who have yet to see a functional democracy last more than a few years at a time, and for their sake wish that this turns out in some sort of a positive way.



if anybody notices what is slightly wrong with this photo, you may get a little write up about it.

BINGO time: Jennifer nails it at #7! (and karla drives it in a little bit further. mjuboy cheated, he already asked me on flickr. congrats BG, on knowing exactly who is gonna get it done. this is why you’ll be the boss and everyone else a lowly employee!!)

this is a cool effect i discovered, for anyone using a camera with a manually focusable lens (any SLR, film or digital will fit the bill). it requires a little bit of trial and error with a huge helping of luck.

set up a long exposure, something like 20-30 sec., on a tripod. make sure you have an external timer to count out the time (like a watch maybe, or a mobile phone). focus your scene manually, and trip the shutter. at exactly half the exposure time, move the focus ring quickly to an out of focus position and leave it be till the end of the exposure.

at this point, any bright points of light, such as our streetlamps have come out well-exposed but their energy-deficient reflections are less bright and come out almost uniformly unsharp. the rest of the scene is also affected by some unsharpness.

some sharp people, like Jennifer or Karla, might notice i said ‘quickly’ above. what happens when you don’t do it quickly is something like this:

missiles away!

also cool, but not as mysterious. this is similar to the zoom blur, except that i used a macro lens which changes magnification as i change focus and hence the effect. and this is where the ‘double reflection’ comes in. i apparently changed the focus point twice. hehe :)

apologies for the nerdery, and the fake chtulhu invocation. maybe that was just the hunger talking after all.