The days after a wonderful vacation are tough. High spirits, laughter, fun, a break from all your worries, and the vacation evaporates before you realize. It's like an equilibrium (and a highly desirable one at that). Afterwards, when you return to your 'normal' life, all the tiny (and some not so tiny) problems reappear on your radar. And there are some that you wish/hope/pray would just disappear as if by magic. Now this has its own equillibrium state (how else would we survive otherwise). You solve some problems, ignore some and (re)start whining about others. But this second equillibrium takes time to set in. And in between the two equillibriums exists an ongoing case study in cognitive dissonance.
When you are falling asleep, thoughts become increasingly less connected (and hence logical), slowly.. until the consciousness completely fades away. I don't like to get disturbed in this state (I suspect nobody does), cuz then I cannot sleep for hours. This happened last Friday. We were to leave for Vapi (Khyati's native place) on Saturday morning (4 am, so it would be more appropriate to call it Friday midnight. Anyway.), and I wanted a good sleep before we begin. I left office early, and pulled the sheets over my head at 10:28. At 10:45, I heard Mithunda. In the TV. Being a Mithunda + DID fan, it would have been unworthy of me to sleep, so I watched the show. The sleep had left me though, so I read something after the show. Still no sleep. Thankfully Dushan Devta was coming on Max. I even sms'd people about it in case anyone else was suddenly hit by insomnia.
We left Pune pretty much on time the next morning (Thanks to Rabitt, who made a significant contribution by coming on time :p). The journey to Vapi takes about 6hrs but we did not feel it, because, surprise, surprise, everybody slept almost throughout. I remember stopping at a Kamath restaurant, where Sabudana Khichdi was rather good.
We reached Vapi by 11 IIRC. The town is an industrial center and a bit rusty look is to be expected. We were to stay at Khyati's placepalace. This was my first experience of Gujju Aatithya. The high praise it has earned is not without reason. I almost felt like I was at my own home. Then I experienced the Gujju meal, again for the first time. Unsurprisingly I We ate like dogs (Kutte jaise khaya ka trans.). It might be my largest single meal till date. There was so much variety, and everything was so delicious. We automatically dozed off after (suspending the plan for Daman beach for a while).
We left for Daman beach (snap below) in the evening. It's quite close (an hour's drive max). We played on the beach, had a mast bhutta. Most of the junta didn't enter the water though. Can you believe they said it's dirty, like it matters? :p Daman port is worth a visit, and a good location for those interested in photography. Boats make an ideal backdrop. The church there is beautiful from the outside (and I heard that it is very beautiful on the inside).
Then we visited Mirasol, a garden resort. I think everybody, and I mean everybody has this fascination with trains. We jumped onto the toy train like kids! After that came boating. The artificial lake they have created is fundoo. Being the self appointed captain of the boat ship (see snap below) (I appointed Rabitt as the navigator), a dream had came true and we discussed Godzilla, Jaws, making dynamos, navigation using stars and other highly logical and related topics (people later wondered how come the fellow passengers of the boat ship did not revolt and throw the captain out. Did they actually tried doing exactly that is going to remain a mystery. And I must add I prefer it that way :p).
After this we went to the Jetty for food. Had anybody asked whether we wanted to eat, the answer would have been a resounding no. But then everybody hogged (again. Ab to aadat si ho gayi thi). The thing I most liked there was the statue of Saint Jerome (snap below). There are so many symbole there, and inscriptions in portugese and demons and stuff, I guess there is a job opening for a full time Robert Langdon. If only those cheapo groups wouldn't be there! I maintain that do kaan ke neeche (ulte hath se) a day will go a long way in solving their problems! Another thing I noticed was every board and sign was in Gujrati plus English. I actually asked whether there is a law mandating that. The answer was no, and I felt good about it (after all that we have seen happening in Maharastra).
After returning we fell asleep rather quickly, and two individuals provided the background score we absolutely did not want! The plan was to get up early next day and go for a morning walk, but then you know us. Half of the population maintained that they actually went out for a walk, a story that I am not going to believe.
The next day plan included visiting Silvasa. But before it came the Gujju breakfast. My definition of breakfast (after being a hostelite for 9+ years) includes a cutting chai + creamroll, but here you have scores of dishes just for breakfast. Dhokla, Fafada, Undhiyu, Khari, Khajli.. the list went on, and rather unsurprisingly, (again) kutte jaisa khaya!. Must mention that I hadn't had such nice Jalebi in years!
After the breakfast (and nap? I don't remember) we left for Dudhni. The road to Dudhni is scenic. There is boating facility in waters of Damanganga. I tried rowing but couldn't do it very well. It's one of the tasks that looks easy at a first glance, but is not.
So we made paper boats!
Thankfully(!) my wallet always has a lot of kachada (and very little actual money :p). We went for a sugar cane juice after the boating. The paryatak niwas at Dhudhni has two rather nice fish tanks. One of them had a kachua, and we spent a lot of time observing and clicking snaps. Discussion natuarally ensued on whether Kachua can breathe underwater. I don't remember how it was concluded.
We started our journey towards Pune at around 2:30 in the afternoon, and we were to make a halt at Amit's place in Thane. The journey was full of songs, laughter and even a few serious discussions. The lines of the song 'Dil chahta hai' kept coming back to me, and I thankfully had it on my mobile. I guess they were not that far from other people's minds too. My rather non-existant song compostion skills got me in a trouble though. Now I have made it mandatory for myself to wear helmet at certain places, even when not driving :p. After a brief halt at Amit's place which included pohe, ladu ani chaha, we started the final hop of our return journey. Reached Pune by 12 or so.
Nobody, absolutley nobody wanted to return to the mudane existence of daily life (read Monday at work), but then we hardly had choice. Thankfully we have these cherished memories! Thanks to Khyati (for taking the not insignificant risk of inviting us) and her family and also to Amit, Charuta, Lalit, Manish, Shruti and Zarin for making the weekend so wonderful!
Recently I finished reading Dava Sobel's The Planets. The book is about (duh) planets, but what distinguishes it from what has gone before (and there is a lot of that) is the wonderful blend of literary skill and science. For example, the chapter about Mars is written as if a mars meteorite is telling its story (for those curious about exactly which meteorite, the answer is ALH84001. For more about it, go here). And the chapter about Jupiter blends Astrology, Astronomy and Galileo (who separated them) in the most entertaining way. I usually scoff at mentions of Astrology, but didn't this time. I also learned quite a bit. Some interesting facts..
Sun contains the 99.9% mass of the solar system (it converts about 700 million tonnes of Hydrogen to Helium persecond), and on the planetary side, Jupiter is more massive than twice the rest of the planets put together.
Venusian surface has been extensively mapped, and in concert with the ancient identification Venus has with femininity, all the surface features have been named after Goddesses, mythical giantesses and heroines (both real and invented). There is only one exception to this rule, a mountain range named after James Clerk Maxwell.
The person who makes maps of Mars is called an Areographer. (Ares: Olympian God of war, Mars: Roman God of War, Simple). Wouldn't have imagined there is a word for that.
The New Horizons spacecraft (launched in 2006, and which will make a flyby to Pluto in 2015) carries some the ashes of the discoverer of Pluto, Clyde Tombaugh.
The far side of moon might be the safest place in the Solar System from radio noise from Earth.
Overall, the writing reminded me of the master of popular science writing, Carl Sagan. We would be much better off with more writers like Sobel and more books like The Planets.
First ever pictures of snowflakes taken (in late 19th and early 20th century) by Wilson A. Bentley, who is also known as Snowflake Bentley. I honestly don't understand how nature produces such beautiful symmetries (even after reading wikipedia), but thankfully, understanding is not a prerequisite to appreciation.
It seems like ages since I finished a book. I actually checked, my last post in the Books category is dated 7th Dec, last year. Meanwhile I hadn't stopped buying books, making substantial additions to my collection. You keep doing that and there comes a point when the towers of books on the table (and chair), under the cot etc become just too much to bear and makes me park my lazy ass and do some actual, continuous reading. Lacking any big plans, the weekend offered the opportunity.
The book was David Leavitt's biography of Alan Turing. All you CS grads know about Turing machine, Turing test, Turing award and so on. No doubt the man was a Genius! He started his career as a pure mathematician, specifically tackling the decision problem (he proved it is insoluble), and it is for this task that he invented the concept of 'a-machine' (which later became known as Turing machine). During WWII he was among the chief cryptanalysts of Britain and broke the formidable Enigma cipher. Later, he proposed the 'imitation game' (which later became known as Turing test) as a test to decide whether a machine can be deemed intelligent. But despite his towering intelligence and important contributions, he led a tragic life. He was a homosexual (which was punishable by law in 1950s), and when this fact was discovered, he was deemed a security threat by the authorities, his security clearance was revoked, and he was forced to undergo a course of estrogen injections (intended to cure him) which was effectively chemical castration. Humiliated, he took his life by biting into a cynaide laced apple in 1954.
The book is a good read, but it is not extensive. The 'computable numbers' paper (in which Turing proposed the 'a-machine') is well explained, but I found the description of Enigma breaking a bit confusing (read Simon Singh's Code book if you really want to know). Also there is a theory that the 'Computing machinery and Intelligence' paper (in which the 'imitation game' was proposed) has a parallel meaning as describing Turing's feelings regarding his sexuality, which I found rather amusing. Now maybe I should go and read The biography of Turing.
Well, that's not the moon. Believe it or not, it's the Sun. As you might guess, the photo was taken during today's Solar eclipse (A tip o' the Hat goes to MD). There was this phase in secondary school when I could think of nothing but Astronomy. FF to the present, and I was totally unprepared for today's eclipse (All I could think about was why nl_set_encr is saying invalid args), and might have missed it if not for Vijay and Sonal. First we used a folded black sheet (which apparently doesn't filter UV, we're able to see anyway). Later, courtesy Milind, we got a better look through eclipse glasses (I don't know what they are called otherwise). I think it is stuff like this that rekindles the fire within! It was a beautiful sight, and I am glad I did not miss it. And I hope you didn't too.
OK, that should really read 'Discovery of the Sage'. Anyway, just to avoid any possible confusion (and more likely, shocks), let me explicitly state that I haven't entered the realm of mumbo jumbo spirituality, yet [Update: forgot to add ;-)]. What I am talking about is Sage. To scrap the website a little, it is 'a free open source mathematics software system licensed under the GPL', which 'combines the power of many open source packages into a common Python-based interface'. I went through some of the documentation and it really appears to have a lot under its hood. I mean, it has NumPy and SciPy and SymPy too. (here is the full list component list. And a little disclaimer, I have heard about but never seriously delved into either of the last three links). That I plan to do now (it is getting installed as I write this). To use the oft quoted phrase, 'I am really excited', and will keep you posted how it goes.