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Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Space Hero

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My newest hero is Commander Chirs Hadfield.  What a man! I had never known or heard of him until about two days ago. I tuned in to one of my favorite radio shows, Fresh Air, and I caught Terri interviewing Commander Hadfield.  It was such a riveting interview. In it,the  Hadfield describes his space walk, tethered to the space ship, and orbiting the earth, with a glorious view of the earth on one side and the black quiet emptiness of space on the other,  at a breathtaking speed of about 17,500 miles per hour!  He is so brilliant, “lyrical”, and eloquent in describing his experiences as an astronaut.  I went back and listened to the whole interview again. You can find it   here .

Astronaut Chris Hadfield Brings Lessons From Space Down To Earth .

Ira Flatow also did an interview with him on Friday …

Chris Hadfield’s Lessons From Life in Orbit

and so did  Marco Weman

Astronaut Chris Hadfield shows childhood dreams can come true

All three interviews while similar have slightly different takes but well worth listening.

Here is a link to his  beautiful and moving rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” [18M+ hits ]

There is a lot more…on YouTube….tears in space, sleeping in space…etc., Entertaining and educational for kids and adults alike.

He is a complete package….astronaut, musician, scientist, guinea pig (NASA is studying bone density loss and recovery), author,  and a fantastic human being. A true role model…..I have ordered his book – An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. Can’t  wait to read what he has to say.







Written by asterix98

November 2, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Critical thinking.Anyone?

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“ . . . intelligence . . . is in plentiful supply . . . the scarce commodity is systematic training in critical thinking.” –Carl Sagan (requoted from How to become a Critical Thinker)

Recently, when browsing the Health pages of Google News, I was intrigued by the following headline in the sidebar – Couple Addicted to Coffee Enemas, Up to Four Times a Day! If you know anything about enemas, well, the obvious is easily imagined. It turns out this couple are participants in a reality show – My Strange Addiction on TLC. And it is in its fourth season!! Fourth !?! What’s on tap for this season? I quote from the article “….In its premiere of the first of eight new episodes on Feb. 13 at 10 p.m. ET, the show will also highlight Lisa, a middle-aged woman from Detroit who eats cat fur, grooming her pet with her own tongue. In subsequent episodes, a woman is addicted to bee stings and another one inhales more than 30 jars of vapor rub every week. In the season finale, a woman is addicted to drinking blood….”  Really!  The good news here is that there is not much collateral damage as these strange behaviors are restricted to the individuals or their families.

Which brings me to another topic – Preppers! Anybody watch Doomsday Preppers, the reality show on National Geographic channel, no less! A NYTimes article described the show thus “…is more or less a weekly invitation to laugh at lunatics tunneling into mountainsides to escape a Russian nuclear attack. ” Of course, there was a significant segment of the population obsessing over the ill-fated Mayan end-of-the world prediction. Now it gets a bit worrisome because we are talking about larger groups of people who could potentially influence others in their network to think like them and create panic. The potential for collateral damage is higher!

Which leads me to L.Ron Hubbard. I urge you to listen to this interview – Going Clear – on the Fresh Air Program hosted by NPRs Terri Gross. It gives you some great insights into the mind of Hubbard, Scientology, and its practitioners. Essentially, Hubbard’s fight with his own demons gave rise to this cult with no real basis for broad applicability of its tenets to create social good.

Which points to two modern day abusers of their reach and power, one peddles physical health and wellness, Dr.Mehmet Oz, and another peddles, spiritual health, Dr. Deepak Chopra. You can read about Oz’s shenanigans in the New Yorker article – The Operator – Is the most trusted doctor in America doing more harm than good?. From the article, it will be obvious that Oz is a cardiac surgeon with stellar credentials but also a man who gets carried away by his own success and succumbs to peddling advice (taking on a messianic persona) that is clearly outside of his expertise. Hence, the subtitle question. Clearly, lot of folks tune in to watch his show which means he ought to be more responsible. I came across Chopra’s book, back in the early 90s and kind of bought into his holistic medicine philosophy of curing patients, because it made sense. I sampled some of his writings over the years and quickly determined he was losing it. He has truly become, as one blog calls him, appropriately I might add, the King of Woo Woo. He is #72 on the Top 100 American Loons – a place well deserved. He was on KQED’s Forum program recently talking about his new book – SuperBrain . As usual with his gift of gab and condescending voice, he doles out a bunch of nonsense (which compelled me to write this). What is even more surprising, he has convinced academics from Harvard, CalTech, and other prestigious institutions to co-author books with him. This guy utters pure drivel. But then he has a huge following (I have watched him hold audiences in rapture and wondered why they cannot see through his blasphemy).

Which brings me to the main point of this note, the central importance and need for critical thinking in our lives. P.T.Barnum said there is a sucker born every minute. If you don’t want to be one of them, embrace critical thinking with earnest. Just in case someone needs it, there is a lovely primer on Critical Thinking (targeted for high school and college kids).

Written by asterix98

February 11, 2013 at 9:29 am

an inspiring and entertaining talk

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A couple of nights ago I had the opportunity to listen to Dr.Michael Phelps from UCLA. He is the inventor of an imaging technique popularly known as PET (Positron Emission Tomography). Since its invention, it has been used 37 million times worldwide to help  detect tumors in vivo!

His early years were steeped in tragedy. He lost his two young siblings in a fire. His mother had 50% burns on her body. Due to the circumstances, he was given up for adoption to a neighbor. He was a boxer and a welterweight champion, till a coma suffered in a car accident put paid to his dreams of a boxing career. A friend coaxed him into attending college (“with the promise of women, sex, and booze….”).  Eventually, he obtained a PhD in Chemistry and started out a as faculty somewhere in Washington State. From here, he went on to describe the journey that lead to the invention (a key ingredient was passion …. with a little help from friends along the way). All this culminated in tremendous monetary success (he sold his company to Siemens for, I think, a couple of billion dollars).

He is a great speaker, peppering his talk with lots of well placed humor . He was speaking to an audience of wannabe entrepreneurs as well as seasoned entrepreneurs. His messaging was near perfect. In the space of 45 minutes, he told a beautiful story of tragedy, resilience, serendipity, entrepreneurship, innovation, success, humor, goodwill, passion, and friendships. This is a talk that will stay with me for a long time.

He ended the talk with this joke (not original) – I have reproduced it from this site

This Middle aged man was going through his mid-life crisis so he went out and bought him a new bright red Porsche. So he decided to take his new Porsche on a test drive down the interstate one day.He got up to about 85 mph and all of a sudden he saw this highway patrolman with his blue lights and siren blaring coming toward him. He decided he and his new Porsche would outrun the officer. So the man sped up to 95 mph,and then to 105 mph, but the patrolman was still coming.The man finally came to his senses and said to himself, “This is crazy, I could go to jail for this,” so he pulled over. The patrolman came to the car and told the man, “It has been a long week , it’s Friday and I am ready to go home.. If you can give me one excuse that I have never heard before , I will let you go.”

So the man told the officer, “Last night my wife ran off with a cop and when I seen you chasing me I thought you were trying to bring her back.”

The officer looked at the man and said, “Have a great weekend pal !”

Written by asterix98

May 19, 2012 at 5:33 pm

An eye opener – that’s garbage!

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For those of us who mindlessly engage in consumption binges, have you considered what happens to all the material waste you produce (if you have not caught on, I am not talking about the stuff drained down the toilet)? I think I know the answer.  There was a very interesting piece in the WSJ – Grappling With a Garbage Glut – which gives us enormous cause for pause and some soul searching. Among industrialized nations, the USA is the worst offender, no surprise here, dumping on average about 7 lbs per person per day which translates to about 102 tons per year! Staggering. Some other facts, 19 billion pounds of polystyrene peanuts make their way to the landfills. Disposable cutlery (knives, forks and spoons) waste is about 40 billion! There is enough steel in the garbage dumps to reconstruct the whole of Manhattan!! And get this, Texas can be shrink wrapped with the plastic film at the landfills.  Ridiculous.

I grew up in India in a middle class family. There were no big box retail chains. I helped my parents shop vegetables every week. I carried a bag to the store. Groceries were packed in old newspapers. Biodegradable jute fiber was used to bind the newspaper packing. My parents still use containers which are now probably 40+ yrs old (mind you, they are made of plastic and are almost in pristine condition). Table cleanup in hotels used the stems of banana leaves. Food in restaurants were served on banana leaves (not everywhere though). The used leaves served as food for the cows. There are many other examples. There was much efficiency. Recycling was a natural outcome of the economics of daily life.

I have despaired on the last few visits. Surely, the standard of living has improved enormously because of globalization. But it comes at a huge hidden cost. Rampant consumerism (a sad side effect of the world is flat paradigm) is a Western cultural export that has taken a firm foothold in India now. The problem is compounded because the disposal and recovery mechanisms, and infrastructure, for waste management are not as advanced as in the West.  Well, you get the idea.

Here in the US, in the name of saving the environment and weaning shoppers away from plastic bags, a whole cottage industry has sprung up, making millions of reusable bags adding more junk to the mix. I am sure there are designer labels versions available to the wealthy.

Talking of designer labels, in a different section of this weekend’s WSJ, there was another piece on how designers/labels are now eyeing plastic clothing. The title – Plastic is Fantastic.  Go figure!

I wonder if all the garbage we generate will do us in before the oft talked about nuclear winter. But I am hopeful because we will come up with some innovation (nanotechnology, garbage death ray – mentioned in the article…..). In fact, we must.

If you are interested in the topic, you should also check out this fantastic thought experiment – A World Without Us.

Written by asterix98

April 15, 2012 at 1:42 am

Of Gulags and Heavens

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I couldn’t help notice the irony in a couple of stories circulating in the media.

The first  is a book review – Escape from Camp 14 – which is the story of a man who escaped from one of the North Korean gulags.  A couple of weeks ago,  I had read the excerpt of his actual escape – Escape from a North Korean Prison. This account already gives us a glimpse of the dehumanizing conditions Shin Dong-hyuk endured and how he made good his escape over the freshly dead body of his friend (he was electrocuted on the fence when trying to escape). I thought this was cruel. Till I read the book review. Shin actually witnessed the beating death of a 6-yr old classmate, the reason: she had stolen a few kernels of corn. In his teen years, he witnessed the execution of his mother and brother. He was also punished for the misdeeds of his parents (North Korea believes in punishing the whole family for an individual’s violations).  I urge you to read both of these pieces to understand just how messed up North Korea is. To witness a completely brainwashed people whose self-image, actually never mind, one doesn’t exist, please watch this full length video from National Geographic. It is so tragic as to almost make you incredulous. Control over the individual’s mind is absolute. This is a nation of a little over 24 million people!!

The cover story in the latest issue of Time Magazine is entitled – Rethinking Heaven! In time for the Easter weekend, the article is a nice tour of how the notion of Heaven has evolved over the years in Christian thinking. Essentially, our conception of heaven has mirrored the dominant cultural sensibilities prevalent at any given period of time. Today, some in the church are advocating that Heaven is not a place up there in the clouds guarded by pearly gates. Rather, it  is to be achieved by being eco-friendly, and making a difference through active participation in improving the lot of the underprivileged. In other words, Heaven is a place that can be built on Terra Firma. This to me is a very promising trend.

But, surely what constitutes Heaven must be relative. To Shin, escaping from the Gulag and having the chance to be human for the first time must have been Heaven!

Written by asterix98

April 7, 2012 at 6:10 am

auto analytics in the workplace

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I read an article titled – Employees, Measure Yourselves -in the Wall Street Journal. The article discusses, auto-analytics, a new set of technologies, that can monitor your activities and provide feedback. One class of auto-analytics software allows tracking of screen time. That is, how many windows you have open, how much time you spend on each one and so on. Supposedly the intent is to enable you to be more productive at the workplace. In other words, it is a slack-o-meter. It has a lot of creep factor built in. But as I was reading this article, I was thinking about Jonah Lehrer’s interview on Fresh Air. The topic was creativity.  The bottom line is: for innovation and creativity to do its magic, you have to allow yourself slack time, even daydream. So there is a bit of schizophrenia out there on this topic. More importantly, auto-analytics of this type is probably useful only to certain types of jobs where productivity is directly quantifiable.

The second type of auto-analytic technology uses cognitive mapping techniques. The idea is to facilitate the organization of your ideas over time so that you can potentially make associations that you may not have otherwise made, and have an “aha” moment. I can readily see the benefits of this technology (beacuse you could search for keywords and such which a paper based catalog would not allow). Your personal Watson?

To me, auto-analytics applied to health is the most interesting. Wellness programs are gaining in popularity among employers. After salaries, one of the biggest overheads for employers is health insurance. Employees in poor health, also cost them, in terms of lost productivity. So HR departments are going for Team Wellness Challenges, gym reimbursements, and the like to promote employee wellness. This is a great start. But I am very excited because we are working on some monitoring technologies and analytics that could change the way medicine is practiced today. Our first stop is women’s health in general and mothers to be, in particular. More on this when the time is appropriate.

Written by asterix98

April 5, 2012 at 4:16 am

political campaigns then and now

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From the period of human history  we mark as BC  nearly 2000+ years ago, to now, somethings have not changed. Here is how a journalist may report on the current Republican nomination contest and the attendant political campaigns….

“It was a bitter and volatile campaign, with accusations of inconsistency, incompetence and scandal filling the air. Candidates competed to portray themselves as the true conservative choice, while voters fretted about the economy and war threatened in the Middle East. …”

In fact, Philip Freeman opens his piece, Dirty Tricks, Roman Style, with these very words but is describing a political campaign from 64 B.C !! In the rest of the article, Freeman documents the advice Quintus Cicero gave his older brother, Marcus, when he ran for the highest political office in Rome.  Freeman lists the top five

  1. Promise everything to everyone
  2. Call in all the favors
  3. Know your opponents weaknesses and exploit them
  4. Flatter  voters shamelessly
  5. Give people hope

He goes on to describe Quintus’ justification for why these are key elements for a successful political campaign. It is a very interesting read. I was struck by how remarkably little has changed in politics, and human nature, in general, in all these years.

Written by asterix98

March 18, 2012 at 8:43 pm

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