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Physics: more theory than you imagined

Having begun my work at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, I thought I would do well to catalogue my time and thoughts here. These updates will be short, because most of my time will be spent doing actual physics rather than blogging — what else did you expect? — but I hope to keep them interesting.

I want to talk more about general ideas and fleeting thoughts than specific physics or minutes of my day (this is hardly my diary). Besides, I would not want to bore anyone. So today, I’ll be addressing theoretical physics.

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This is not so much a travelogue as it is a bunch of random thoughts penned in conclusion to my recent trip across the Switzerland of the East. I have always loved clouds and fog and coniferous trees, and I was surrounded by all these for the past few days. (This article only has a few photographs; you can find others on my VSCO journal which I will soon publish my VSCO journal entry.)

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Recently I decided it was time (after three years) to backup my mobile phone photographs. I only started taking mobile photography seriously after getting my Note 3 and that enthusiasm swelled with my iPhone 6 Plus. In all I had about 1,300 photographs made since I got my iPhone — just the photographs I wanted to save, the total number of photographs is greater. And I looked around for an ideal backup and storage solution with which I could maintain my photographs.

The first option a lot of people suggested to me was Loom, but that is not available where I live. (Loom happens to be US-only.) And then there was Everpix — was — which was free and shut down as fast as it became popular. In all honesty, Everpix was an excellent solution, but faced the biggest problem with cloud storage solutions: they shut down, mostly because they run out of money trying to give storage free. Lesson: never opt for free cloud storage.

Then I tried Picturelife about three months ago and still love it for a lot of reasons. Some readers asked me to talk about my experience with the product and how I went about moving my photographs to the cloud, so this is it.

Update: After this article was published and discussed around the web, Picturelife got in touch with me and offered a generous 20GB of additional free storage for life. Thank you. And here’s to Picturelife for being one of the top cloud storage solutions for all of us.

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The utter nonsense of the first draft

Anyone who has ever written a substantial piece of text knows how hard it can be to put together well. The most important word in the last sentence was the last one: well. A chimpanzee can put together a substantial chunk of text — even a meaningful one. In fact, this is called the infinite monkey theorem and states that a monkey can almost surely type all of Shakespeare’s work if given enough (read, infinite) time during which it taps at random letters on a keyboard.

Equating Shakespeare to a chimpanzee is not the best way to begin any article, but that blame (or credit, depending on whether or not you’re Christopher Marlowe) goes to Frenchman Émile Borel. Neither is the monkey here a monkey, nor are the mathematicians who designed this thing full of life because a monkey is so much better than the randomly typing machine they proposed. (At least a monkey was more believable — back in the 1913s.) But I digress.

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There was once a time when Google Reader was the top dog in RSS aggregators. And then Google shut it down, much to the dismay of its million-strong user-base, like it almost habitually shuts down services (Knol, iGoogle, Google Talk, Buzz, Answers etc.) In fact, there exists something called a “Google graveyard”. In any case, while some got replacement services, Reader never did.

That was when a lot of us moved to Feedly, but soon Feedly (which was fully free up to that point) created a pro subscription with all the good stuff. It did not make sense to me to pay monthly fees for the convenience of reading a bunch of articles when the articles themselves were free. And thus began the search for the (near-)perfect RSS reader app on my iPhone and today, it appears, we have an winner.

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No language should be compulsory

This morning I awoke to preposterous news: Kannada, the local language here in Karnataka state, is being made a compulsory paper for all levels of education, from school to graduation. Nobody has a real defense for why this should be done — some genuinely seem to believe it helps. Is it their inferiority complex that makes them believe that others believe Kannada is beneath, say, English or Hindi? Or is it a misplaced sense of pride or cultural dissatisfaction? Or, worse still, is it a classic case of being opposed to multicultural society?

I love Kannada. I have nothing against it, but these are times when one should think logically rather than emotionally: learning Kannada has no better advantages than learning Sanskrit or French or Mandarin or German or Russian or Greek or Latin or Hindi or Urdu or Arabic or Swahili — you get the point. All languages have a geographic significance that is non-existent beyond certain borders. And no language is different.

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Sunset on Mars is blue

We are so accustomed to certain things in our daily life that we rarely wonder if they are the universal norm. Take sunsets, for instance (yes, I planned on getting straight to the point) — they are orange. Worse still, they are supposed to be orange. Or red. We associate warm colours with sunset, but the same sun on our neighbour, Mars, sets coolly.

I woke up to some feverishly exciting photographs this morning, sent in by NASA’s Curiosity rover. The land-based experiment vehicle which landed on Mars on 6th August 2012, sent back its first picture of the sunset 956 sols later. (A sol is one Mars day, which is roughly one earth day.)

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I had been to Manthralayam purely by mistake a few months back. Manthralayam — or Manthralaya — is a Hindu pilgrimage site in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. I did not visit the temple there, of course, bust instead spent close to an hour outside, photographing the devotees.

How I came to visit this place is not worth discussion: I was traveling to another city and decided to visit this because it was on the way and we had surplus time on hand. What piqued my interest in visiting Manthralaya was not its burial of the Madhwa saint, Raghavendra Swami (hence the pilgrimage), but the fact that, in 2009, the Tungabhadra river, which flows through the town, had submerged it in heavy floods.

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Have we crossed the Great Filter?

One of the biggest arguments regarding the existence of aliens are the famous Drake equation and the equally famous Fermi paradox. I wrote about them four years ago and debated that aliens may still exist in spite of these arguments against them, and I still stand by that belief.

I was reminded of this again recently when I read about a so-called Great Filter theory that attempts to explain the standard sceptic’s question: if aliens exist, where are they? why haven’t we seen or met them yet?

Stemming from astrobiology, the idea behind the great filter is that a civilisation or species reaches a developmental wall it cannot cross. But some — including myself — like to believe that we have already crossed this wall, or filter. And that leads to some interesting ideas.

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Switching to iPhone and iOS

When iPhone 6 Plus came out last year, I bought it without a second thought. I had an iPad, so I had experienced the new iOS 8, and when the phablet-sized device came out, my last complaint against  Apple went out the window (tiny screen sizes). iPhones are extremely capable, user-friendly devices and this means a lot coming from someone who once swore by Android until Google’s ugly material UI took over.

However, there were some things I wish I had known when I first switched to iPhone that I thought would be helpful to other new users. Not all of these may take you by surprise — some might — but all of them are definitely helpful and will improve your already stellar user experience with your shiny new phone.

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Installing gnuplot on Mac

Hardly anyone who has gone through a college mathematics or physics course is unacquainted with gnuplot. However, it turns out that installing gnuplot (or Octave, for that matter — but let us leave that for another day) on a Mac is a pain in the neck; in a time when installing games take a few clicks at best, it simply is not straightforward to install gnuplot.

After scratching my head over it for two days straight, I finally installed gcc, gnuplot, Octave and LaTeX on my new Mac (OS X 10.10.3, Yosemite) and decided to note some points/instructions down here for anyone else looking for a simple solution from start to finish contained in one place.

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Are stock iOS apps more than sufficient? — part 1

These past few weeks I have been increasingly wondering why people complain about stock apps on iPhone. Granted, for some, the apps fall short in some areas; this is particularly true for those who use their iPhones in corporate environments where the tech department has its own apps or possibly where app usage restrictions exist or special use cases are only met by certain third-party apps.

But the practice of hating stock apps just for the sake of hating them has undeniably increased among the self-declared hip crowd. My own anger against bloatware (if you call appeals of bloatware removal “anger” that is) was well-founded because bloatware, by definition, is that which a user would not voluntarily have installed even if he had heard about it.

In this light, let us take a look at my own use of stock apps and examine cases where I use alternatives (and why I do so) as well as where I use the stock apps (and why I do not seek an alternative). The apps I will talk of that I use are Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Messages, Photos, Reminders and Podcasts; and I mention apps like Notes, iTunes and Calculator that I rarely (if ever) use. This is spread out over two articles for length.

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The (not so) minimal iPhone setup, or simply “what’s on my iPhone 6 Plus?”

A lot of people have been going on about a minimal iPhone lately. Most of that has something to do with stripping down the apps you use, having just one home screen and then sitting around and justifying it because you paid a small fortune for the phone and now you talk of using it as minimally as possible.

None of that makes sense. The iPhone has probably already replaced a lot of other things you use and thereby made your lifestyle a lot more minimal, if that is what you were going for. It likely replaced everything from desk calendars to USBs in cars to cinema and plane tickets and — for some people — laptops.

I am not one among them, so my iPhone setup is not what I would call minimal. I do however follow a certain practice where I try to reduce the apps I use in some ways I have not seen a lot of others adopt. That is one reason I wrote this article — the other was because people wanted to know what was on my iPhone.

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Initial thoughts on Ello

I have been spending some time on Ello recently and I have generally liked it. Being invite-only and beta at the moment, Ello still needs some sculpting, but so far the developers and designers, Paul Budnitz, Berger & Föhr, and Mode Set, who are, as they describe themselves, seven well-known artists and programmers, have done a great job.

Right from the start, Ello has a somewhat informal yet encouraging feel to it — despite the predominantly, nigh fully, black and white design. In brief, Ello is gunning to be what social networks should have been all this while: an ad-free, content-rich social platform which does not thrive on selling user data.

I joined Ello right at the start of 2015 and have no plans of leaving. Ello is something I had been looking for all this while, both in terms of design ideas/usage and community. But that does not mean Ello is perfect; there are quite a few things that could do with improvement.

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Tissot Le Locle — timeless elegance and versatility

I have had an affection for Tissot since my childhood, so I often collect Tissot watches. My latest acquisition is one of a famous automatic collection whose name brings smiles and nods of respect from any watch connoisseur: the classic Tissot Le Locle.

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