Monday, 24 November 2014

Toronto Mini Maker Faire

 

Toronto Mini Maker Faire was held at the Reference Library on 22nd and 23rd of November. Maker Faire was started by Make magazine in 2006 to "celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset". Independently organized small scale local events are called Mini Maker Faire. Dozens of such events are now hosted every year across the developed world. Here Individuals, start-ups and small companies bring their projects for recognition, to display their expertise and to win customers.

Children loved R2D2
3D Printers at work
This year's emphasis was on 3D printing and Robotics. Especially, the variety and extent of 3D printers was astonishing. Multi-color and Multi-print material printers are now becoming a standard. This field is attracting so much attention from the companies, inventors and youngsters that 3D printer might become household appliance within a decade.

Papa drone and baby drone
One other product that I really liked was about micro drones. This small quad-rotor can fit in the palm of your hand and is still capable of a top speed of 40 Km per hour, 300 feet range and real-time video recording. Its bigger pro version can easily be adopted for remote sensing of crop data in agriculture besides numerous other uses.

Youngsters busy in designing models for 3D printing.
There were also 3D Printing, Soldering, Silk screening and Origami workshops for children. Encouraging creativity at a younger age is key to a nation’s innovative edge. Standing there and watching those children with spark in their eyes and intense absorption in tasks was mesmerizing. Who knows that how many of the future inventors, creators, designers and entrepreneurs were being fashioned at that point in time? I thought that no one can see the future but certainly a bright one is being created here. 

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Toronto the Third

There was definitely some snowfall.

Third time is supposed to be a charm but on this occasion it went little rough contrary to the common belief. First off, PIA’s flight was late due to some undisclosed reason. During flight, seat was uncomfortable, footrest was broken and video was non functional. Then on arrival, baggage arrived very late. When I came out of the airport it was well into the evening and it was raining hard. Dragging my luggage through bus stops and subway stations, I was tired, soaked and miserable.

Next morning, I went out for breakfast to a nearby Tim Horton. It is cloudy and chilly outside but everything seemed fine. The place was cozy and coffee and muffins were great. By the time I turned back, the wind picked up and it started to snow. Soon it turned into a blizzard (according to my perception). My clothing was not adequate for this kind of weather and the distance of less than a kilometer started to seem like a journey into a void. When I reached house, I realized that I don’t have keys for the front door. Then the latch of the backdoor got stuck. A number of scary scenarios flashed before my eyes (after all it was Halloween just a day before). Although situation was rather quickly resolved but my house mates were not impressed. I heard comments like “Come on, don't be dramatic. It was not even a proper snowfall, these were just flurries. You haven’t seen anything yet. Last year it was like….” and so on.

One can say that honest stories always lack a dramatic flair but it is these little incidents that makes life interesting and I am looking forward to interesting times.

Friday, 10 October 2014

No man is a failure...


“Remember no man is a failure who has friends”

Written on a book given to George Bailey as a Christmas gift by Clarence, ASC (Angel Second Class).

[From the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” – 1946]

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Que Sera, Sera, The future's not ours, to see?


When I was just a little boy
I asked my mother, what will I be
Will I be handsome, will I be rich
Here's what she said to me.

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.

When I was just a child in school
I asked my teacher, "What should I try?
Should I paint pictures? Should I sing songs?"
This was her wise reply. 

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.

When I was young, I fell in love
I asked my sweetheart what lies ahead
Will we have rainbows, day after day
Here's what my sweetheart said.

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.

Now I have children of my own
They ask their mother, what will I be
Will I be handsome, will I be rich
She tells them tenderly.

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.


Que Sera Sera is an enchanting song that I first heard at the end of Japanese anime comedy “My Neighbors the Yamadas”. The Yamadas is a wonderful movie in its own right which reminds us that families all over the world have a lot in common. The original version of this song was produced in 1956 for Alfred Hitchcock's suspense thriller "The Man Who Knew Too Much" starring Doris Day. It won the 1956 Best Song Oscar. Despite its beauty, the song is about the acceptance that future events are beyond our control and we can’t do much about that.

But I believe that even with all its complexities, the future is not an unknown or fixed state. Its structure is in flux all the time and we are constantly creating and modifying it with our little actions, deeds, thoughts, choices and beliefs. The possibilities are endless and the only restriction is our imagination. 

So what should be the opposite of “Que Sera Sera” or what will be, will be theme? Perhaps “Carpe Diem” (seize the day) philosophy. As Robin Williams playing maverick English teacher John Keating says in the film Dead Poets Society:

“carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary."

He goes on saying "No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world."

(Song written by the Jay Livingston and Ray Evans)

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

What Happened?


" ... A similar attitude settled in the Ottoman Empire. Having conquered most of the world they knew, the Ottomans turned inward, into religious fundamentalism and centuries of stagnation. Mahathir Mohammad, the former prime minister of Malaysia, has said,

”The great Islamic civilization went into decline when Muslim scholars interpreted knowledge acquisition, as enjoined by the Qur’an, to mean only knowledge of religion, and that other knowledge was un-Islamic. As a result, Muslims gave up the study of science, mathematics, medicine, and other so-called worldly disciplines. Instead, they spent much time debating on Islamic teachings and interpretations, on Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic practices, which led to a breakup of the Ummah and the founding of numerous sects, cults, and schools.”

In Europe, however, a great awakening was beginning. Trade brought in fresh, revolutionary ideas, accelerated by Gutenberg’s press. The power of Church began to weaken after a millennium of domination. The universities slowly turned their attention away from interpreting obscure passages of the Bible to applying the physics of Newton and the chemistry of Dalton and others…

Soon, the rise of science and technology in Europe began to weaken the power of China and the Ottoman Empire. The Muslim civilization, which has prospered for centuries as a gateway for trade between the East and the West, faltered as European sailors forge trade route to the New World and the East – especially around Africa, bypassing the Middle East…

The answer to the question “What happened?” is clear. Science and technology happened. Science and technology are the engines of prosperity. Of course, one is free to ignore science and technology, but only at your peril. The world does not stand still because you are reading a religious text. If you do not master the latest in science and technology, then your competitors will.”

Future of Wealth (Physics of the Future by Dr. Michio Kaku)

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Visions of a Far Future

Galaxy Galore - Hubble Ultra Deep Field View - NASA

"By the time we are ready to settle even the nearest other planetary systems, we will have changed. The simple passage of so many generations will have changed us. Necessity will have changed us. We are an adaptable species. It will not be we who reach Alpha Centauri and the other nearby star systems on our interstellar arks. It will be a species very like us, but with more of our strengths and fewer of our weaknesses; more confident, far-seeing, capable and wise.

For all our failings, despite our flaws and limitations, we humans are capable of greatness. What new wonders, undreamt of in our time, will we have accomplished in another generation and another? How far will our nomadic species have wandered by the end of the next century, and the next millennium? 

Our remote descendants safely arrayed on many worlds throughout the solar system and beyond, will be unified by their common heritage, by their regard for their home planet, and by their knowledge that, whatever other life may be, the only humans in all the universe came from Earth. They will gaze up and strain to find the blue dot in their skies. They will marvel at how vulnerable the repository of all our potential once was, how perilous our infancy, how humble our beginnings, how many rivers we had to cross before we found our way."

(Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey - Episode 11 - The Immortals)

Saturday, 9 August 2014

World as a Riddle

Earth as viewed from Lunar orbit during the Apollo 8 mission - Dec 24,1968

“I’ll never cease to be amazed that the world exists… Circus performers and variety shows will never captivate me in the same way as steppes or rain forest, or the sky’s uncountable galaxies and all the billions of light years that separate them. 

I am more concerned with the world as a riddle than riddles in the world.”

(The Castle in the Pyrenees by Jostein Gaarder)

Monday, 21 July 2014

Invictus


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.


William Henley is known to many people by means of this single poem. He wrote it in 1875, when his foot was amputated following a tuberculosis infection. This short poem has inspired a number of leaders over the years. It was Nelson Mandela’s favorite poem due to its strong message of defiance and determination. It is said that he often recited it to his fellow prisoners at Robben Island during his 18 years of imprisonment there. Among other things, this poem played a significant part in enabling him to go through the years and years of detention. It is amazing to think that how written word can influence people and shape history in decades and centuries to come, usually beyond the wildest imaginations of its original authors. Would the history of South Africa be any different, if this poem was not written more than a hundred years ago?


Image Credit: Alizee

Friday, 4 July 2014

Socratic Dialogue


"People did not go to Socrates to learn anything - he always insisted that he had nothing to teach them - but to have a change of mind. Participants in a Socratic dialogue discovered how little they knew and that the meaning of even the simplest proposition eluded them. The shock of ignorance and confusion represented a conversion to the philosophic life, which could not begin until you realised that you knew nothing at all.

... the Socratic dialogue was never aggressive; rather it was conducted with courtesy, gentleness and consideration. If a dialogue aroused malice or spite, it would fail. There was no question of forcing your interlocutor to accept your point of view; instead, each offered his opinion as a gift to the others and allowed them to alter his own perception."

(The Case for God – Epilogue by Karen Armstrong)


This method of Socratic dialogue was invented nearly two and a half millennium ago. I wonder how many of our personal, social, cultural, religious and political conflicts could be resolved if we start to favor such kind of thinking again. World could become a much better place if we are able to rise above from our standpoint and give ourselves a chance to understand others point of view.

Friday, 13 June 2014

The Art of Life

       
With the sure and silent touch of his clever fingers he took hold of my pieces, all the old men and young men and children and women, cheerful and sad, strong and week, nimble and clumsy, and swiftly arranged them on his board for a game. At once they formed themselves into groups and families, games and battles, friendships and enmities, making a small world. For a while he let this lively and yet orderly world go through its evolutions before my enraptured eyes in play and strife, making treaties and fighting battles, wooing, marrying and multiplying. It was indeed a crowded stage, a moving breathless drama.

Then he passed his hand swiftly over the board and gently swept all the pieces into a heap; and, meditatively with an artist’s skill, made up a new game of the same pieces with quite other groupings, relationships and entanglements. The second game had an affinity with the first, it was the same world built of the same material, but the key was different, the time changed, the motif was differently given out and he situations differently presented.

And in this fashion the clever architect built up one game after another out of the figures, each of which was a bit of myself, and every game had a distant resemblance to every other. Each belonged recognizably to the same world and acknowledged a common origin. Yet each was entirely new.

“This is the art of life,” he said dreamily. “You may yourself as an artist develop the game of your life and lend it animation. You may complicate and enrich it as you please. It lies in your hands.” 
(Steppenwolf - Hermann Hesse)

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Diversity, Flexibility and Tolerance

I am reading “The Post-American World 2.0” by Farid Zakaria these days. It is a good read and Farid is certainly right in pointing out that rise of the rest is underway. In Zakaria’s words, his book is not about the decline of American power but about the advance of countries like China, India, Brazil and others. It is about the coming decades in which smart nations and cultures will reclaim their rightful place at global stage and would create “a world of enormous cultural diversity and exoticism”.

An interesting passage in this book is about Hindu worldview. I have always been amazed by Hinduism’s ability to survive into the modern times. It is an ancient religion and in a loose sense belongs to a class of beliefs that has now vanished from active service. Old Egyptian, Greek and Scandinavian deities are limited to mythology at present but Hinduism is still followed by more than a billion people. Zakaria’s answer to this riddle is as under:

“Hindus, like Confucians, don’t believe in God. They believe in hundreds of thousands of them. Every sect and sub sect of Hinduism worships its own God, Goddess, or holy creature. Every family forges its own distinct version of Hinduism. You can pay your respects to some beliefs and not to others. You can believe in none at all. You can be a vegetarian or eat meat. You can pray or not pray. None of these choices determines whether you are a Hindu. There is no heresy or apostasy, because there is no core set of beliefs, no doctrine, and no commandments. Nothing is required, nothing is forbidden.”

In his words, “Hinduism is not really a ‘religion’ in the Abrahamic sense of the world but a loose philosophy, one that has no answers but merely questions. The only clear guiding principle is ambiguity. If there is a central verse in Hinduism’s most important text, the Rig Veda, it is the creation Hymn. It reads, in part:

Who really knows, and who can swear,
How creation came, when and where!
Even gods came after creation’s day,
Who really knows, who can truly say
When and how creation start?
Did He do it? Or did He not?
Only He, up there, knows, maybe;
Or perhaps, not even He”

The above lines seems like written by an agnostic philosopher. So perhaps this ambiguity and a very high level of tolerance within Hinduism is the secret ingredient that gives its followers a kind of flexibility to adopt and survive into an ever changing world. 

Zakaria also believes that “Islam in India has been altered through its contact with Hinduism, becoming less Abrahamic and more spiritual. Indian Muslims worship saints and shrines, celebrate music and art, and have a more practical outlook on life than many of their coreligionists abroad.”

Monday, 19 May 2014

"Write"

“Write.”
… every living thing, every leaf, every bird… is only alive because it contains the secret word for life. That’s the only difference between us and a lump of clay. A word.
Words are life … All those blank pages; they’re for you to fill.

(from movie “The Book Thief” - 2013)  

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Synthetic Life


  • "To live, to err, to fall, to triumph and to recreate life out of life." 

from semi-autobiographical novel “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” (1916)  by James Joyce.

  • "See things not as they are, but as they might be." 

from the book, American Prometheus which is about Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of first atomic bomb.

  • "What I cannot build, I cannot understand."

A quote ascribed to physicist and philosopher Richard Feynman as the last words on his blackboard at the time of his death.


May 20, 2010 is a day to remember in human history. On this day four years ago, researchers at the J Craig Venter Institute announced the creation of first self replicating synthetic bacteria (M. mycoides JCVI-syn1.0). It was an organism that was programmed on a computer one base pair at a time. Then it was booted up in a recipient cell and behold, it started to divide.

In case, you are still wondering about the relevance of above three quotations; these were the watermarks written inside the DNA of that bacterium along with the names of its 46 creators and a web address.

The field of synthetic biology has advanced a lot in the past four years. Now life's basic alphabets can be extended and there is talk of using 3D printers to create synthetic life in near future. But these are just the baby steps as compared to the shape of thing to come. In the times ahead, man-made organisms would dominate medicine, chemical and energy sectors. 

Such artificial life forms might also carry the stories of their creations within their genomes. Eons from now, future archaeologist might stumble upon these watermarks. Would they be able to understand the aspirations of their designers; admire the ingenuity of the architects and feel the awe of their creators at the moment of inception?

I wonder.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

There are only two questions really worth asking ...


... But the point, what I've got it down to, is there are only two questions really worth asking. "Why are we here?" and "What should we do about it while we are? And to help you, I've got two things to leave you with, from two great philosophers, perhaps two of the greatest philosopher thinkers of the 20th century, one a mathematician and an engineer, and the other a poet.

The first is Ludwig Wittgenstein who said, "I don't know why we are here. But I'm pretty sure it's not in order to enjoy ourselves." (Laughter) 

And secondly and lastly, W.H. Auden, one of my favorite poets, who said, "We are here on earth to help others. What the others are here for, I've no idea." (Laughter) (Applause)

An excerpt from TED Talk by John Lloyd - An inventory of the invisible. Filmed at TEDGlobal in July 2009.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Clash versus fusion and synthesis

     "Every age, every culture, every custom and tradition has its own character, its own weakness and its own strength, its beauties and ugliness; accepts certain sufferings as matters of course, puts up patiently with certain evils. Human life is reduced to real suffering, to hell, only when two ages, two cultures and religions overlap."

These lines by the novelist Hermann Hesse were written in his book Steppenwolf nearly a century ago. The idea of clash of civilizations has also remained prevalent in recent years. It was popularized by Samuel P. Huntington in late 1990s. Many people still believe that their culture, religion or way of life is under threat by the opposing forces. Fears of modernization and new technologies are likewise common. 


Although there is no doubt that every civilization and time period has its unique characteristics. However, the notion that conflict or overlapping between cultures, creeds or distinct eras would result in human sufferings can’t be true in broader sense. In my view, these are the intersections where ideals, thoughts, morals, beliefs and norms get challenged. Without these collisions, growth in human thought will be hampered and stagnation would ensue. At these boundaries, new ideas take root, synthesis is achieved and flowers grow.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Rainbows are not limited to the skies

Double rainbow with reflection in water, Lappland Sweden by Jerry Magnum Porsbjer
     Charlie Chaplin once famously said “You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down”. It is supposed to be a motivational quote, but then a friend of mine quipped that one can also find rainbow reflection in water while looking down. That was certainly a clever observation and a kind of improvement to the original quote. In fact, a full rainbow circle can only be viewed from a plane or some other aerial vehicle while looking down towards the earth. Rainbows can also be seen in prism light, mist of waterfalls and spray of fountains. Even iridescent surface of a transient soap bubble exhibit something similar.

Mist rainbow at Takakkaw Falls, Canada by Michael Rogers
Rainbow as seen from the Helicopter by Brocken Inaglory
     Rainbows represent hope. It is a promise that gloomy clouds are receding. Hope gives us the courage to face grim odds and like rainbows, one can find it in unexpected situations.
  
So I would like to offer a corollary to Charlie’s quote.

Rainbows are not limited to the skies. You can find these at many different places. Just keep looking and never give up.

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Spring and hope


     Spring rains are here. Cool rain water continues to seep through soil to nurture the roots of plants. Deciduous trees and bushes have woken up from their deep winter slumber. New sprouts and flowers are adorning the countryside. There is a look of clean washed atmosphere and surroundings that suggests as if world is being created anew. Every spring gives us a message that nature has not abounded us. Hope still resides behind the clouds.

Image credit: Subhani, Dania

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Purple Thread


Epictetus was a second century Greek philosopher. He considered philosophy as a way of life rather than an academic matter. According to him, human sufferings arise when we try to control what is beyond our power and ignore what is within our reach. In one of his famous sayings, he compared people who fit in to the white threads of a dress. Such people are virtually indistinguishable from one another. He wanted to be a purple thread – “that small and shining part which makes the rest seem fair and beautiful”. “Why then”, he asks, “do you want me to be like the many? And if I do, how would I still remain purple?”

So which is better? Being peculiar purple or a predictable pale? I think that everyone should try to achieve a level of excellence in his or her favorite pursuit. Being different from the norm is good as life’s splendor comes from its diversity. Besides purple is one of my favorite colors.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

1,000 Exoplanets

How little do we know about the place we live in; our universe. Just 400 years ago, Galileo was trying to prove that earth was not the center of the universe. His ideas took some time to sink in but then sun took the central place for the next couple of hundred years. Less than a hundred years ago, first galaxies were confirmed. At first, these were dubbed as island universes. First planets outside our solar system were discovered in 1992.  The verified list now numbers more than 1,000 such exoplanets. And this is just the beginning as by one estimate earth like planets might add up to billions in just our own galaxy. There may be more than one habitable planet per person alive today on earth. What other wonders exist out there, one can only imagine.



Our universe is huge and distances between stars are mind-boggling. Even a trip to a nearby star system may take generations to complete by our current technology. But this would be like talking about jet engines in the age of sailing ships. New sources of power and propulsion would be harnessed, new technologies would be conceived.

All of our philosophies and beliefs have roots in an era when earth was solidly considered as the center of universe. This new knowledge needs some time to become the part of human psyche. When that happens, new philosophies and belief systems might emerge to explain life, the universe and everything. 

A new era of wonder is around the corner. Stars are waiting for us and the age of humans has just begun.
Image credit : http://phl.upr.edu/

Friday, 24 January 2014

Arimaa – the human, computer standoff


When chess master Garry Kasparov was defeated by IBM computer Deep Blue in 1997, AI programmer Omar Syed felt that it was not fair. He wanted a simple board game in which humans were at a clear advantage against computers. He also wanted to play it with his four year old son Aamir. Thus arimaa was born. It can be played on a standard chess board. Normal chess pieces of pawn, bishop, rook, knight, queen and king are replaced by or renamed as rabbits, cats, dogs, horses, camel and an elephant. This was unquestionably very entertaining for little Aamir (Infarct, arimaa is Aamir spelled backwards with an additional ‘a’ at the start).

Basic concept of the game is quite simple. The aim is to move rabbits to the end line of the board or to capture all enemy rabbits. But complexity of the game comes from the fact that its starting positions are not fixed. There are estimated 64 million ways to open a game. Similarly, the average possible moves are 500 times higher than that of a chess game. This branching factor makes it very difficult for computers. Since 2004, there is an Arimaa challenge in which human and computer programs compete for a 10,000 dollars prize. So far, humans have won the championship every single year. But it is predicted that by the year 2020, computers will have enough processing power to start beating human players. What will happen then? It is possible that another artificial intelligence expert would come up with something new to test the wits of machines. The standoff might continue into the future.

One might say that this is actually not a battle between human and computers at all. In reality, this is just one kind of human intelligence versus a different sort of human brainpower. A chess or arimaa mastermind is competing against carefully crafted human algorithms that are being run on human designed circuits. That is certainly a valid point, until humans give enough logic and processing power to computer that they become conscious.

Image credit: http://www.arimaa.com