The observable examined

Archive for February 2011


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 So what is remarkable about woodpecking? Consider this, the woodpecker pecks at the rate of 20 times per second. The impact per contact is about 1200 g’s of force!! And still, the woodpecker flies away with its brain still intact.

Researchers, working in the fascinating area of study called Bioengineering, have unraveled the genius of nature  behind this extraordinary feat. Essentially, a progressive set of bone structures dampen the shock and a final filament like layer absorbs the vibrations. These same researchers have replicated this prinicple synthetically and had outstanding success in protecting sensitive electronic circuits from extreme shock.



Written by asterix98

February 27, 2011 at 7:29 am

Future diets

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Pretty soon the debates over free range chicken and the like will be over. That is, if we are to believe a picture of the future  painted by two Dutch reserachers from Wageningen University.

Today, you can order such exotic entrees as Baby Bee Brulee or Oaxcan-style dried grasshoppers.

Ok. You get it. The diet of the future involves insects. Among other nutritional benefits, they are high in proteins and low in fat: two very highly desirable qualities in food.  As for taste, they are “nutty”. (I am “nuts for insect food” may soon become a funny pun).

The authors remind us that only modern westerners are slow to realize the salutary effects of insect consumption. Of course, the far eastern cultures have been at this for a long time.  Emperor Hirohito’s favorite meal included “canned wasps”.  Insect foods were consumed in the Roman times and gets mention in the Old Testament!

The Dutch are leading the modern Western charge. Insects like locusts and mealworms are being produced in volume for human consumption. The authors give us every assurance that insects are perfectly safe to consume. However, they are quick to warn not to get too carried away and start popping the ones you see in your backyard, directly into your mouth. Please, atleast, clean them before you do so.

More seriously, there are real environmental benefits to cultivating insects for consumption. Here are a few

  • The pose fewer health risk than livestock in communicating diseases to humans
  • For equivalent feed they provide higher consumable output
  • They produce less waste (20% for insects vs. 45% for beef)
  • 2 lbs of beef requires 10 gallons of water!!
  • Very little or no greenhouse gases compared to animals (10%)

Yet another compelling reason for eating insects. Livestock get stressed when they have cramped quarters. For insects, that’s the normal way of life. They are unlikely to complain about lack of personal space. How understanding! or is “stoic” the right word.

For the holier than thou vegetarians out there….I am reproducing some interesting information right out of the article:

“Though it is true that intentionally eating insects is common only in developing countries, everyone already eats some amount of insects. The average person consumes about a pound of insects per year, mostly mixed into other foods. In the U.S., most processed foods contain small amounts of insects, within limits set by the Food and Drug Administration. For chocolate, the FDA limit is 60 insect fragments per 100 grams. Peanut butter can have up to 30 insect parts per 100 grams, and fruit juice can have five fruit-fly eggs and one or two larvae per 250 milliliters (just over a cup). We also use many insect products to dye our foods, such as the red dye cochineal in imitation crab sticks, Campari and candies. So we’re already some of the way there in making six-legged creatures a regular part of our diet”.

 In India, the Jain monks were prescient and chose to wear a cloth filter around their mouths to avoid such “accidental” consumption of these critters.

For those of you who are really excited about expanding your dietary range, please refer the article on how to make  “Crispy crickets or Superworm Tempura”.

Bon Appetit!

Written by asterix98

February 26, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Posted in future diets, insects

what abnormal vision tells us

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I recently finished reading Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks. He is a neurologist and an excellent author.

In this book, he catalogues the lives of several people (including himself) who have lost some function of the visual sense, in some cases dramatically, and in others gradually. For those of us who take vision for granted, this book is an eye opener (no pun intended!). Although a bit drier than his other books, I highly recommend it, both to understand an important sense organ as well as to fully realize that our mental universe is a constructed reality.

I also recommend his other books (Man who mistook his wife for a hat, Anthropologist on Mars, and Awakenings{was made into a movie} which are also mind bending.

Written by asterix98

February 20, 2011 at 7:54 am

Kara – Session Three

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We had a new (actually old to Kara) family join us this week.  The general topics of discussion revolved around children, photos and momentos, and general ups and downs. (Wow! I have to remember to try and rephrase this sentence. Three ands in a row. Should be avoidable).

The most striking thing, to me, that came out of the discussions, was the fact that the magnitude of the loss is greatest for the nuclear family, no matter how you slice it. This naturally impacts the time constant of the “moving on” component quite dramatically for the nuclear families compared to extended families (even after completely discounting any self-pity components). 

As an example, one person described how watching a particular video (a commercial cartoon movie) triggered a very emotional response, out of the blue, inspite of it being a few years removed from the loss. Later when they described this to the loved one’s brothers, they were incredulous and commented “I can’t believe you are stilling thinking about this person?”.

I shared that sometimes I permit myself some moments of fun/enjoyment but then there is a sense of guilt that the loved one is not able to do the same. Some others said that they experienced the exact same thing. I was struck by the universality of this human feeling.

The children engaged in expressing their feelings and emotions through colors. They did this for the head and the body. Mahati’s pictures showed a wide spectrum of colors, for both mind and body. She is getting better at expressing those feelings verbally.

I was curious to know if children with siblings discussed the loss amongst themselves. The surprising answer is that they don’t!

Written by asterix98

February 20, 2011 at 7:40 am

Posted in grief counseling

Apple hubris

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I recently bought an iMac 27″. Excellent machine. Slideshows are fantastic. Beautiful icons etc.,

But I noticed a few zits. For one, Apple (and I suppose all the PC makers) have still not figured out alphanumeric filename sorting yet. For example, if you have filenames like image1…….image100, the user expects to see images1…10….20….in that order. Instead, alphabetical listing is as follows images1…10, 11, 12,…..19, 2, 20,21…….29 and so on. For how many decades have computers been around?? Apple prides itself on its user experience, this one fell through the cracks.

Another thing I found annoying: you cannot import your PC folder structure into iPhoto directly. You have to recreate these one by one within iPhoto!! Wow! what a concept. (I read on some forums that this had to be so because iPhoto is a database application. Huh!) Other annoying things: to include music into your slideshows or DVD you  have to put all of your music in the iTunes library. You cannot select the music from a folder organization outside of  iTunes. Also, you cannot export an iPhoto slideshow directly to iDVD (if you do you lose all of the effects etc., from iPhoto). So much for seamlessly moving your files from one application to another.

More hubris today….

I think today’s announcement that anybody wishing to publish content on Apple devices must now follow the app model and pay 30% of proceeds to Apple. The apple of the 90s is rearing its ugly head again……

Written by asterix98

February 18, 2011 at 6:51 am

Posted in apple, computer sorting

Jeopardy meets Watson

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Remember Deep Blue, the chess playing computer from IBM, which beat Gary Kasparov. Now IBM is at it again, this time, Watson is the name of the cyborg (developed at a cost of about $30 million). The goal is to defeat two of the greatest human exponents of Jeopardy, the quiz/knowlegde reality show. The duel will be aired on Feb.14, 15 and 16. 

Watson has been sparring the lesser champions of Jeopardy and, so far, been faring with mixed results. See article for details.  No matter, what is remarkable about this achievement is that it is even possible for a computer to play a tight game against humans, given that the clues offered are a mixture of pure facts  to context sensitive cultural events to downright puns.  Watson has some real heavy lifting to do in parsing the clues and narrowing down the choices even if it has brute force access to an extraordinary database. Hats off IBM team!

I can relate to the excitement at IBM around Watson. I tried to take on  a much less daunting task, to algorithmically code the Mastermind game.  It is easy enough to create this game on the computer and make it give feedback, so that you can deduce the answer. However, the opposite, where you make the computer guess the answer (“artificial intelligence”), gives great insight into human “intelligence”. {Note in the original form of the game, you have to find the secret code in eight or less moves}.

More interestingly, what is the real use of building computers like Watson? For a perspective, see David Gelernter’s article. I agree with Gelernter’s observations. Computers with Watson like capability can be the generalist in the age of specialists. What I mean is, science and medicine are so specialized now that it is really difficult for the practitioners to see the big picture, connect the dots, or reach across disciplines to find valuable connections. A Watson like computer, with access to electronic databases that stretches across discplines, can aid humans researchers connect the dots and make important discoveries that could have far reaching benefits. Go Watson!!

Written by asterix98

February 10, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Kara – Session Two

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It was an interesting evening.  One person discussed how memorials now have a whole new meaning. I added likewise, celebrating birthdays, have taken on a whole deeper significance (what most people take for granted, remembrance of a day someone was born vs marking ” X is still here”). 

The topic shifted to the dilemma around what is to be done with the loved ones belongings , clothes to cars, box of chocolates to trinkets. There was a wide range of responses with consensus being do as you see fit.

Others shared some recent incidents where they felt they had received condescending or even insensitive remarks at social events (how their spouses were not helping and it was tough to manage things etc.,) .

Yet another topic that came up was the emotional maturity of kids post-incident. Some were of the opinion that there was some emotional stunting pegged around the time of the incident. This seemed to manifest mostly in the presence of the surviving parent. I commented that part of it may be due to the lack of  the alternative “go to parent” when there are disagreements or emotional upsets in the parent/child interactions.

The participants also wondered whether accepting offers to help was accompanied by the expectation of reciprocal behavior later (Note that this is the social norm in Western society).  However, the general agreement was that the offers to help were unilateral and if anything it was understood that the “debt” would be paid forward (meaning the receiver would in turn help someone in need, not necessarily the doer, in the future).

I also observed to the group that somedays I was really busy and the day would go by in a blur, but the minute I stopped that activity, thoughts of the loved one, popped right into the mainstream of consciousness, almost like they had been forcibly held down, from taking center stage.

It seemed that the kids had a good time sharing too. One of the facilitators said the theme was happiness and places of comfort (simulated by a large box that the kids could decorate to their choice).

I learned that Berkeley and Stanford do offer camps in Summer for the bereaved kids.

Written by asterix98

February 4, 2011 at 6:50 am

Posted in grief counseling

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