Times New Roman is not as bad as you think it is

I have, of late, grown a fondness towards Times New Roman. Perhaps it is the bibliophile in me — although a lot of imprints these days too are letting go of the Times family for preppier alternatives like Garamond and Palatino.

Contrary to popular belief, Times New Roman is not a classical typeface like, say, the very Swiss, very classic Helvetica — another personal favorite of mine — or even the slightly more modern Helvetica Neue or its grandfather, Akzidenz Grotesk.

But to truly appreciate Times New Roman (TNR henceforth for simplicity) we will have to understand a little bit about its history, and that story begins in the 1930s. Continue reading

The Theremin

Divinity, untouched

I watch Castle and occasionally Bones or maybe Dexter. But, to me, none of these shows will be as uniquely supreme as the mother of all whodunits (as I like to call it) Midsomer Murders.

For a long time now, Celia Sheen’s theme music for the show, played on an almost unheard of music instrument, the Theremin, has been my phone ringtone. It is eerie and aptly suited for the classy, sophisticated television show I call my favourite. The film-length show on TV will never be the same now that (a) Barnaby has left and (b) Celia Sheen just passed away a couple of days ago.

It is like a small piece of the show lost, although the slot will always be well worth watching — it has been so for 14 years now! And Ms Sheen has played for the entire 14-year period. As a little tribute to her, I wrote this short piece on her instrument. But first, let us watch her play.

  

What is the Theremin?

You might have a question now: in the video, what on earth is Celia playing on? There are no keys, no strings, nothing physical to touch! The truth is, the music that she is creating, she is doing so by touching nothing. And that is the Theremin.

The oldest electric music instrument ever made was by Russian inventor, Leon Theremin. Named after him, this beautiful instrument is easy to learn but difficult to master. Continue reading

Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

A long thirst well quenched!

On 11/11/11 Tintin released here in India and I soon realised there was hardly any movie I had waited so eagerly to watch, ever. I first came across Tintin as a kid of very few years of age and—like so many others around the globe—found it impossible to leave the fandom. A few years later, I wished I could watch Tintin on the silver screen. This was in the last millenium. Today, that wish came true!

Now this is not a review or a critique, merely my thoughts on the Spielberg-Jackson venture which few, if any, expected to be bad. First things first: I shall try to go in order.

The characters have eyes!

Alright I had noticed this in the trailers. Something had seemed wrong. A while later when I took out one of my Tintin cartoons from my collection, I realised that Herge drew the characters with mere dots for eyes.

Tintin happens to be blue-eyed. While this does not spoil anything and while Jackson was right in deciding to go for stop-motion animation as opposed to a live action film, what disappointed me was that all the pivotal characters were not present.

To be precise, Prof Calculus is absent

That is right. Cuffbert Calculus is absent. What was Spielberg thinking? Perhaps, now that I look back at the film, I see Calculus would have hardly fit in; but Steven Moffat is one of those writer-geniuses who I’m sure could have worked out a plot to fit Calculus into it. Continue reading

Answer me this

That looped statistical mathematics question only smart people seem to figure out

I have spotted this question around the internet more than a few times now and have seen my bearable share of wrong answers/explanations, so I decided to provide my version of (what I reckon is) the correct answer.

First of all, here is the question:

If you randomly picked an answer to this question, of the four choices below, what are the chances of your answer being correct?

  1. 25%
  2. 75%
  3. 50%
  4. 25%

I shall give you some time to figure out the answer yourself before you go ahead and read my answer.

The Explanation

Now any maths/physics student (or somebody better) will, in a general case of four options provide you the answer 25%. Now I do not refer to this question, but to any such question with four options, of which only one is absolutely correct.

The case here too is the same. The chance of you picking the right answer is 25% except that there is a catch right after this. The option 25% appears twice. This means that the chance of you picking the right answer (i.e. 25%) is two of four. Having just doubled, the correct answer would be 50% and not 25%.

And now the real fun starts: if 50% is indeed the correct answer (i.e. option 2) then the chances of you picking that would again come back down to 25% since 50%, as an option, only appears one of four times. Continue reading

Guide to buying a digital point and shoot camera

Or, how I bought a great camera and how you can too!

There are way too many p&s cameras out there in the market and almost everybody seems to portray their products as more worthy a buy than another. But how much can we bend before we break?

I faced the same problem when I was contemplating on which camera to buy, and after a few weeks’ repeated consideration which required quite a lot of endurance, I finally ordered one. But I learned an extensive lot in the process: terms I never new existed, stuff I never knew mattered and more stuff I never knew meant nothing. And most importantly, what one’s itinerary ought to be on the map of confusion that is the market of cameras. So this is my two cents on what you ought to consider when you buy the next digital camera. Rest assured I have covered everything there is in this brief, yet informative, guide filled with all you need to know. Plus my own experience from a few days ago!

Is what I have now not good enough?

Perhaps the first question one needs to ask themselves is whether they need  a digital camera at all. A few good reasons you can convince yourself is because the images are output digitally, which means they are easier to handle and you do not have to wait for an entire reel of film to run out before you develop it (if you really like to hold it physically.)
That said, and if you already have a digital camera or a mode of shooting digitally  (I had my smartphone) do you need a new one? Continue reading

When emails become humbling

A month ago I decided that all my flash fiction writing—often on papers I have lost at some point of time—need to be conserved. So, after some planning and detailing until less than a week ago, I launched my Flash Fiction website, Onomatopoeia.

No do not ask me why I called it that. Frankly, it was a name I had decided on long ago and the closest reason to validity that I can come up with now is because it is my belief that in flash fiction, one ought not read between the lines anywhere except at the very end.

This is analogous to saying understand words the way they are; or, words that sound like their origin—onomatopoeia. But all that is very well, and I had managed to put up just one piece of my writing (that is excluding the one I wrote today) and my expectations were modest.

In my large bank of readers, I expected ten or twenty to like it and even less to actually send me an email saying they loved it. This became a necessary option. After I realised (as I have said in a previous post) that most of my readers seemed to choose to email me rather than comment right here, I did not write the comments and replies coding into the sourcecode of my website. The trend has continued to this day and I mostly interact with all my readers via email.Yesterday was a normal day, and I had not checked my email for two days already. Continue reading

On Physicists and the law: how society has misplaced its views of science and its community

While I have often said that the community of physicists works for the common gaining of knowledge and to derive infinite mental pleasure out of that, I have also asserted that little is done towards blindly implementing it—that is what engineers are for: the Engineering – this is where the semi-skilled workers realize the work of better minds… [The] Oompah-Loompahs of science, as Sheldon Cooper puts it.

But, fun apart, my argument has always been struck, perhaps even beheaded many a time in the past. And today, I learned the height of it all—although I was quite late in finding out. Perhaps the greatest opponent to my belief is social paradigm. Non-scientists (who are the ones supposed to understand this in the first place) fail to catch on to the fact that a scientist has so much on their hands that to conform to complicated social ways becomes terribly troublesome. And, needless to mention, it is quite meaningless to hold them legally responsible for it.

Dr Adlène Hicheur

Today I read the editorial on a recent issue of Nature (Oct. 13, 2011) about the singular case of the French-Algerian physicist Dr Hicheur, which reminded me of the villain from Iron Man 2 (he is a physicist.) As it happens, the French think that Dr Hicheur, a high-energy physicist from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Laussane, was plotting terrorist attacks in France.

Whether his work was so alien to the (forgive me for saying this, but) incompetent authorities who captured him on this account, that it appeared to them like a diabolical plot to blow up France; or whether they just needed a reason to feel safe and so decided to catch somebody and call him a criminal, is beyond me. Continue reading

When the Journal hit F5

To paraphrase Ed Yong (from my Google Plus stream) there are losers who try to increase their web traffic by sitting before their computers clicking F5. It seems the Wall Street Journal has been doing the same.

And it has been caught red handed. The European Managing Director of Dow Jones & Co. (under whom The Wall Street Journal operates,) Andrew Langhoff, resigned a few days ago because the scam was exposed and proof was found soon after, all pointing at him.

A wise move resigning was, considering he probably would have been fired anyway. What startled me most was how Rupert Murdoch, his right-hand man, Les Hinton, and a number of other top executives at News Corp. chose to be sinfully deaf to the news when it was brought before them by a whistleblower with the Journal almost a year ago. Of course, Hinton resigned on the equally shameful phone-hacking scandal back in July, but he did have time to right this wrong and regain some of his lost reputation—and that of the company.

In my opinion, more people have to pay for this including the biguns. In parallel, think of the scam itself and the scammed! Langhoff allegedly channeled money from big European and Asian companies and occasionally students (often promising them that they could advertise at terribly low costs, or, in case of students, that they could see their name in the paper or something along those lines) and used those ill-gotten dollars to buy several copies of his own paper. Continue reading

Space Junk: our real problem in space

Man has been known to leave behind everything he touches in a manner making it a tad untouchable. And while we seem to be running out of any earthly space to dispose of our garbage in, smart alecs who suggest that we use space have another thing coming: space is filled up too.

As physicist Michio Kaku puts it in his article on Big Think, ‘Forget Alien invasion—space junk is the real menace from space.The aftermath of the past fifty years of launching to a height as low as low earth orbit—and, of course, beyond—has been the end of the dreams of the famed minds who saw space as the ultimate dumping ground. As it turns out, even physicists now have a problem when it comes to sending things off to faraway places: they need to dodge the space junk floating around the earth much like a satellite (which is supposed to be there anyway.)

Now our problems do not end there. One look at the kind of horrifying things that we have categorised as junk will give us a clearer picture: we have things as small as few millimeters to things as big as booster rockets! There are paint flecks, metal shavings, gloves, screw drivers and wenches to name a few. And yet we have not seen the full consequences of these things out there.

But before we go into that, we can perhaps visualise how our earth might actally look from space (forget that computerised blue planet image from magazines and films.) This illustration released by the European Space Agency will paint a picture closer to the truth. Continue reading

Wielding the Lion

The last time I tried a transformation pack was with FlyAKite OS. I think it was the basic Mac transformation it delivered. At that time it appeared to be the only transformation pack that actually looked trusty, and it was. But not quite. If it did better than the other softwares, it was because it left lesser trace amounts after the transformation was stripped. In other words, while most other transformation packs left half your computer in high Mac state and half in lower Windows XP consciousness, FlyAKite left trivial things such as desktop effects and such behind.

Needless to say, I was not entirely satisfied with it and it was not until today—when I came across Deviant Art’s OSX Lion transformation pack in this month’s issue of Digit. I decided to try it on so I backed up my computer, created a restore point to be double sure and hit Install. I was pleasantly surprised.

The Lion roars

Apple’s newest OS upgrade has gotten the hype it deserved, and, to the surprise of many, has actually crossed all expectations. Nobody can praise Apple enough. Face it, the company has a lousy support system for versions that are not the absolute latest, and that is not very pleasing. But the look of Apple products, be it software or hardware, alone sweeps people off their feet.

As I rebooted my PC, the first surge of joy came along with Lion’s simple, grey loading screen that, although it lasts for a few seconds, creates sufficient impact on the user. Continue reading

On Tachyons

But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins.

Oscar Wilde

I received my copy of the Journal of Astrophysics and Astronomy today and when I was going through the abstract of a paper titled Peculiar physical properties of HST-1 in M87 by Y J Chen et al.

We report on VLA observations of HST-1 in M87 at 8 GHz from 2003–2007, during which a long major outburst occurs from radio to X-ray wave bands. At the VLA resolution, the flux density of HST-1 rises rapidly from 2003, peaks at the end of 2004, and then falls slowly in subsequent stages, which is similar to that in optical and X-ray wave bands. It appears that HST-1 moves with an apparent speed of 1.23c±0.91c, and the fractional polarization keeps rising through the whole major outburst. The persistent increase in polarization level may mainly be attributed to the formation of a couple of new ‘subcomponents’ of relatively high degree of polarization within HST-1, and the weakening depolarization due to Faraday rotation and/or opacity through the whole major outburst.

One particular line caught my eye: It appears that HST-1 moves with an apparent speed of 1.23c±0.91c … The first question I asked myself was, ‘How would a layman interpret this?’

Would he interpret it as an instance where Special Relativity fails? Would he interpret it as a break down of causality? Would he call it an impossibility?

I still do not know the answer to this, but this was when I realised that some of my readers would not be acquainted with the idea that Special Relativity allows faster-than-time travel—under certain circumstances—and that there exists a putative particle known as the Tachyon which indeed does travel faster than light. Continue reading

Why I prefer Twitter over Facebook. And why you might want to.

Like everyone dedicated enough to technology to have multiple accounts on websites across the internet (and I refer to the years when the convenient Login with Facebook button was not around) I am an economical user of both Facebook and Twitter—and more recently, Google+, but let me not go into that right now.

Facebook was created to promote ease in linking with your friends and acquaintances and, as it later turned out, bosses and never-before-seen people. But I need hardly say that here considering there are people who make far greateruse of Facebook than I do—including my mother. For one, I do not put up photographs on Facebook; and, frankly, the only reason I am on Facebook—apart from to promote my website—is because, in society nowadays, to whose expectations you have to tiresomely bend, if you are not on Facebook you are unanymously considered technologically backward and outdated.

That said, I use Twitter more extensively. You will find the Twitter application adorning the home screen on my phone, and you will not find the Facebook application at all. That was just to give you a comparison. But many wonder why I am so. The point is simple: Facebook is an obligation, and Twitter meets my needs.

What Facebook is for 

Before you decide to skip this section, you might want to hold back and read through it. I am not going to give you a detailed picture of Zuckerberg’s magnum opus; instead, I am going to state my perspective of it and why it is of no use to me. Continue reading