If you didn’t like “Interstellar”, you probably didn’t understand it.

Although a seemingly simple movie about an emotional separation of a father and a daughter, Interstellar packed some serious theoretical physics in it. Some reviews focused on the emotional part and called the theoretical physics jargon just a way to create a story, but my mind was fixated on that “jargon”. It’s a pity that not everyone understands the implications of theoretical physics. Day in and day out we follow the same routine, and deal with daily life issues, work issues, family, friends and everything around it. And just 50 miles above us, starts nothingness, with smatterings of matter here and there, but mostly nothing. All the stuff we deal with on a daily basis start to become really insignificant as we imagine ourselves looking down at Earth. I have been hooked on to the physics of the Universe ever since I read ‘A Brief History of Time’.  I literally have my head up in space when I ponder over these ideas that mathematics and physics have given birth to. I am in no way a physicist (although I do rethink my profession time to time) and neither do I write movie reviews (heck I don’t even write for long periods of time). But I am a serious theoretical physics fan, and when a movie like this comes along, my mind goes berserk soaking up the ideas re-created on-screen that it has been desperately trying to visualize.

*Warning: The last time I was this excited about a movie was when the Tintin movie came out.

I am not telling you the story (if you haven’t seen it yet, why the fuck are you wasting your time reading this!), no spoilers and absolutely no reviews. This is probably a feeble attempt at summarising the ideas that were used in the movie. Let’s go.

Let’s start with a singularity. In simple English, a singularity is a point, a state, fact or quality of being singular, unique. There has been debate about the exact definition of a singularity in terms of General Relativity, but it is that one single point, which is infinitesimally small and where all the laws of physics breakdown. Our universe was a singularity at some point in time (13 billion years ago, to be precise). We know that the universe is expanding, and if we play the expansion of the universe in rewind, we can visualize everything contracting and coming back together, until it finally all just comes down to a point. A singularity. An explosion in this singularity (The Big Bang) gave birth to our universe and everything inside it. At the centre of a black hole is a singularity, a dying star that collapses on its own and gives birth to immense gravity. So you see, a singularity in the terms of Relativity is probably where all the answers to the mysteries of our universe lie.

Next up is the horizon. No, this isn’t your beautiful Sun setting, where the sky and the earth meet. What they mean when they say horizon, is the event horizon. An event horizon is the very edge of the black hole, where the gravitational pull is so strong that it makes escape impossible. Even if there was any light beyond the event horizon, it would never reach the observer. If an observer sees an object approaching the event horizon, he will never see it actually pass through the event horizon, he will see the object fall slower and slower. This is because light from the object is having a tougher time escaping the pull of the black hole. Basically, it’s “the point of no return”. And since no light can escape a black hole, the observer will never know when the object crosses the event horizon, just constantly seeing a dot image of the object hovering over the black hole.

Time Dilation. Stuff responsible for perhaps the most intense scene in the movie. Brand and Coop return to the Endurance after an hour’s trip to Miller’s planet, and realise that more than 23 Earth-years have passed since they left Endurance. Time dilation is real stuff. It happens to astronauts orbiting Earth on ISS, they age about 0.007 seconds slower than the people on Earth. A miniscule amount, because their orbiting speed is about 7.7 km/s, and for time dilation effects to be actually perceivable, their speeds should be close to 300,000 km/s, or the speed of light. It’s interesting to note that current GPS satellites have to take into the effects of time dilation and actually adjust their clocks to match Earth times. Experiments involving clocks being flown away from Earth to measure the effects of relativity have been successful in reporting time dilation results within 4% of the predictions of relativity. Relativity is for real people!

Gravity has been explained due to the effects of warping of the fabric of space-time. Any large object sufficiently manages to bend the fabric of space-time, creating a dent, and hence attracting other lighter bodies. Imagine a larger fabric stretched out, and you place a ball in it. The fabric will dent where the ball is. Place a heavier ball, and you will have a larger dent. And now, if you place another lighter ball, it will roll towards the heavier ball due to the slope in the fabric. Think of the fabric as the fabric of space-time and the heavy ball as a star, or any other heavenly body. There’s gravitational attraction for you! Gravity doesn’t seem so mysterious now, right?

Another notion used extensively, and a major reason the protagonists land themselves in the situation, is wormholes. A wormhole, officially known as the Einstein–Rosen Bridge, is a theoretical bend in space-time that connects two extremely distant points. Travelling through it will allow the intrepid explorer to reach the other spot in an insanely short amount of time, as compared to if she took the direct route. Points that would take hundreds of years to traverse could be reached within hours or minutes. Wormholes have never been observed directly, but the equations of general relativity have valid solutions that contain wormholes. This bit of interstellar physics just blows my mind! If we had the technology to create one and explore it, I would definitely want to be on one of those unimaginable trips.

The last one I want to mention is Einstein’s Paradox. While not directly mentioned in the movie, the outcome of the protagonists in the movie is a result of Einstein’s Paradox, which in turn is a result of time dilation. It is a thought experiment in special relativity involving twins which says that if one of the twin were to leave Earth and go on an epic journey across the universe in a high-speed rocket, when he returns to earth, his twin on earth would have aged more than the twin who went on the journey. Time would have run slower for the twin on the journey, and so would his aging functions. People have some considerable difficulty grasping this notion, but we must remember that time controls everything. Relativity has proven the effects of immense speed and immense gravity on stretching and delaying time. We don’t have the technology to undergo interstellar travel and actually prove it, but I’m sure it would be dream come true for numerous physics enthusiasts out there to practically experience the implications of interstellar travel.

Well, that’s interstellar physics for you. Fascinatingly inconceivable, yet complete with mathematical proofs. I wish I could see the evidence for these concepts that the equations so robustly support. I wish I could be one of those crazy people to take a journey into the unknown!

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Local situations

A piece back from when I used the Mumbai local trains as my daily commute to work. I was not in a very positive frame of mind, and truly speaking, the mess that Mumbai local is, it kind of helped me alleviate and forget the cause of my stress.

….

The crowd. The noises. Stray dogs. Sleeping people you might step over. Spitting people you might come in the way of (ugh!). A million puddles to dodge. Another million puddles of spit. Leaking roofs spewing waterfalls. People walking annoyingly slow. People walking hurtfully fast. The foghorn of arrival. The rush of departure. The melee to get a seat. The confusion of a newbie. Experienced aunties. Clumsy, overloaded aunties. Least bothered first-class chics. Overflowing second-class bogies. The hopelessness of running. The danger of a stampede. Irksome delays. Adamant beggars. Noisy hawkers. Acrobatics for earnings. Dare-devilry of the young. Helplessness of the old. The stench of survival. Suffocation. Sweat. Uneasiness. Headache. Get me out of here!!
……

A stranger’s nod. An unexpected friendship. Known faces. Unknown smiles. Politeness of a few! Big-boned aunties(if you know what I mean). Parsi aunties. Gujju aunties. Bossy aunties. Tech-savvy discussions. Birthday celebrations. Weather predictions. Marriage invitations. Pregnancy announcements. Sleepy bobble heads. Books reviewed. Seat’s claimed! Grey’s Anatomy discoursed. A parallel universe. A different world.

Mumbai local. True story.

….

I do miss it, although weirdly enough, I would never,ever want it to be my means of daily commute again.

Goa – A habit

For most of the crowd, Goa is small tourist place/honeymoon destination, somewhere near Maharashtra, with beautiful beaches and resorts, plenty of skimpily-clad foreigners, fantastic seafood and booze flowing like water. For the most part, this description is pretty much sufficient. You can tick mark Goa out of your “100 places to visit before you die” if you’ve done all that, but believe me, just once is not enough. And I feel so sorry for those who feel that visiting Goa once or twice is enough to last for a lifetime. They really don’t know what they’re missing.
Believe it or not, the first time I ever walked, took my first baby steps on two legs, was on a beach at Goa. My parents were just lounging around when I suddenly stood up, and they went berserk. There’s a photo to prove that. After that, I stayed in numerous places and never really got a chance to visit Goa again, until 10 years back, my father was posted there. I didn’t exactly stay there, because I was in college in Delhi, but going to Goa every winter vacations, when it was the best weather in Goa, was just such an elating sensation. Imagine, everyone leaving the hostel for their holidays to go to Mathura, Noida, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad, Sonipat, Patna and a bevy of other places. And me?

Excerpts from an actual conversation:-
Girl: Where are you going for vacations?
Me: Goa
Girl: Wooah! For how many days?
Me: Umm..my parents live there.
Girl: Live? As in LIVE LIVE?
Me: Ahaan.
Girl: People LIVE there also???

I cannot explain my reaction to that. I wanted to laugh at her stupidity, cry at her ignorance. It was at those times I realized I live in an extremely cool place. Every semester end, I used to smugly smile at my good fortune of having to visit Goa. But what gave me that warm gooey feeling in my heart was that I was not going there like it was some special holiday destination, but just as my home.

But my actual love affair with this place began when a school friend of mine and me began making frequent trips once we started earning. Now it was her father who was posted there, and we did not miss any opportunity to visit them. Her mother found out fantastic places to eat, one of them being Baba Au Rhum. It’s a quaint little, nondescript place to eat French/Greek cuisine, and boy oh boy. You will not find anything of THAT quality and taste, at those competitive pricing, anywhere. We found some excellent night clubs, beach shacks, karaoke beach shacks, beaches, food places and to top it all, there was always cheap booze around.

This time, we had the longest holiday I have had in Goa, minus family. It was a 6-day, true-blue Goan holiday. We rented bikes and scooters, lived in a beach house, tanned ourselves on the beach so much that my mother would not recognize me when I came home, ate like starved lions, danced like no one’s watching, ignored the sun altogether, ignored our depleting monetary resources and forgot we had to snap back to reality.

After every trip when it’s time to leave, I want to extend the trip, I want to come back. Come back with the enthusiasm of any other person visiting Goa the first time. Every time, you will find a new road, a new beach, an ignored shack, a missed lane, a shocking transformation, and sometimes, you will also find Chunky Pandey.

Don’t visit Goa for what it is supposed to be. Visit it for what it canbe for you.

MBA – Mai Bada Aadmi (I am an important person now)

That is the only thing an MBA degree teaches you to think of yourself. You have scrubbed your ass for two years to get a management degree and been rewarded with a job that probably pays moolah equivalent to a mini Swiss Bank (no denying that). Money is important. Damn right it is. Or else what would pay for your daily existance and still leave enough for the simple joys of life (read, I-don’t-need-but-want items). Money holds an extremely important position in our lives and up to a certain degree (apparently, a very high one), money does buy happiness. In comes a management degree, a sure shot way of ensuring that the monthly cash inflow remains as stable as Mount Everest on the face of Earth, and the hikes as exponential as multiplying bacteria.

But this article is not to decide whether MBA is the best career option, or whether people like MBA or don’t like. I’m not an educational counselor. This article is about what an MBA degree does to people. A list of things comes to my mind, regarding the MBAs I’ve met in my life. So here goes:-

1. An MBA degree inflates a person’s ego faster than a hydraulic pump filling a mini-balloon. It’s great if you were bullied as a child or were mentally tortured for a major portion of your life and could do with some ego. But if not, oh boy does it create individuals with as big a false sense of pride as a crow feeling proud of its voice. The intensity, of course, varies with each individual. I will still not care as much about those who obtain a management degree from tier-1 institutions. But I’ve noticed that the institution’s ranking is inversely proportional to the degree of false sense of pride. Hate me all you want, but it’s true.

2. An MBA degree makes people think that they do not require any other knowledge in the world, other than whatever they’ve mugged up in the two years of supposedly attaining professional nirvana. I’ve met people who talk only about marketing strategies, sales (bleh) strategies, this-shit-that-shit strategy in any given conversation. They don’t care what is being spoken about, and whether their MBA jargon is even related to the topic at hand. A strong urge to blurt out stuff about the above mentioned for-all-I-care strategies is the only driving force for them to talk.

3. An MBA degree makes them disregard other people’s proposals or suggestions faster than 300,000meters-per-sec-squared. It might be a result of point#1, but I feel it’s important enough to have its own place as a point. Before even someone can complete her or his point of view, this supposedly-worldly-wise-MBA-person cuts him or her off midway to justify why their idea will not work, or if they are the really bad ones, I-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-what-you-say types, will begin rambling about why the other person’s point is actually worthless in front of what they said. I just switch-off or find an excuse to get rid of the thousand-miles-per-hour pounding on your ears.

4. An MBA degree makes people think that they now have the right to bullshit every other career track. The world, for them is divided into two parts-the MBAs and the non-MBAs. They might not say it on face, but their disregard to other’s chosen means of livelihood is as conspicuous on their demeanor as fake hair on Sehwag’s head.

5. An MBA degree makes even their parents disregard your decision to stay MBA-less (god it’s almost equivalent to deciding to not get married!) as the worst self-inflicted calamities of your life. “Oh, you didn’t give CAT? What are you going to do now??” I feel like laughing and crying at the same time, every time someone asks me this. “Because I don’t want to wear monochromatic pantsuits all day long and strut around like a vain peacock!” is what I would like to say. In fact, that answer would be much more satisfactory to everyone asking me this question. My standard reply, that I am simply not interested in the management side of things, evokes a gazillion more questions. “WHAT?? How can you be NOT interested in what-is-supposed-to-be-the-career-option-that-Dhirubhai Ambani-himself-patronizes-from-the-heavens-above??” or “So what you’re doing now, does it have any future?” The shocked expressions and the jaws dropping as if 10g’s of force are acting upon them make me feel, I should’ve given the entrance exam and scored zilch purposely so that people don’t consider me “MBA material” at all. Which, by the way, brings me to my sixth point.

6. An MBA degree makes people think that they’re “MBA material”, and that’s why they’re pursuing an MBA in the first place. Umm. There is no such thing as MBA material. People can be born with talent such as painting, music, (Mozart, who composed symphonies at the age of three. That kind of precocious talent has certainly not been taught.), mathematics etcetera. No one is born with MBA talent. Anyone can work hard, get into a good college and become an MBA. Nobody says “She/he was born to do an MBA!” So yeah. There’s no such thing as MBA material.

Of course, no one person has all of these less-than-desirable qualities. That would make that one person a highly irritating A-word with which I would not like to dirty my blog. They are evident in people in varying degrees, and may be, it’s not even because of the process of becoming an MBA. May be it’s their inherent quality. I don’t have anything against any career option anyone chooses. Some of the most important people in my life are soon-going-to-be management gurus. I’m not even going to venture into advising because I’m not a counselor. But really, keep your uber-cool managerial skills where they’re most likely to be respected, like your office. I mean, who wants to wants to listen to MBAs shooting management jargon at topics even like “When will I lose my virginity?”?

The best possible summary.

How to bring Optimus Prime to life.

I recently read an article about a two Harvard guys who managed to cram 700 terabytes of data in a single gram of DNA. How they did it is actually quite simple to understand. DNA consists of four bases, A, T, G and C. So all they did was assign T and G=1 and A and C=0(I’m not aware of the logic behind it). So if you have a binary sequence of 1000110111000110100, it would simply translate to TAAAGGCTTTAAAGGCTAA. Create strands of DNA with the required sequence and voila! You have a string of binary encoded into DNA. Of course, it’s not as simple as reheating leftover food in the microwave, but like I said, the concept is quite easy to understand.

When Chitti(the awesome Rajnikanth robot) mentioned that its memory is one zettabyte, I wondered if such a thing actually existed. Apparently it exists just as a unit value, and no single storage device has been able to contain one zettabyte of memory yet. So while I readily accepted that a fictitious robot could have one ZB of memory, I find it hard to grasp the much smaller 700 TB, even in fiction. I mean 700 terabytes. That’s more data storage me and my ten subsequent generations would require. I still haven’t yet been able to fill up my 500 GB hard disk with data worthy of preserving until eternity. 700 TB is probably the amount of data a huge organization like a multi-national bank would transact with. The amount of space required to store such colossal data is immense. Not only the space, resources like electricity, security, round-the-clock fire safety etc. and to top it all, back-up, requires massive effort. It’s not an easy task maintaining such data centers and server farms. And the need for storage space keeps mounting. In this event, DNA-based storage is like a boon. Consider this: by current reports, the entire amount of data available on the Internet is close to 3000 TB, so by a simple calculation, the entire world’s electronic information could fit in just 4.2 grams of DNA! This is unfathomable. The total weight of DNA strands in an average individual human is around 60 grams, so we could potentially be carriers of approximately 43000 TB of data! On one side, we have lakhs of square feet of space being created to support the rising demands of data storage, and on the other hand, we have something so small, being able to support storage for insane amounts of data.

The other thing that fascinates me about it is the medium of storage. DNA. DeoxyriboNucleic Acid, for the uninitiated. Until a couple of years before, DNA was this god-like thing, which held all the secrets of living organisms. I only heard about it on Medical Detectives, and a fleeting mention of it in our science class at school. Now, as if genetic modification and cloning were not enough, storing binary data in DNA format is the latest shocker. How do you grasp something that marries two completely different ideas into one? Is this where the line between biology and technology begin to dissolve? Taking it a step further, it might be possible to embed millions of bytes of code into the DNA, and create a DNA-based android, much like the alien robot species in Transformers. If it sounds far-fetched, remember, even the idea of electricity reaching people’s homes in remote areas was a dismissed as crazy until Tesla came up with alternating current.

So you never know. One day, you might be plugging yourself into a computer, to watch that movie you saved on your epidermis. Extract your memory to view it on the big screen (Minority Report ?). Exchange digital information with someone just by touching (now this gives me really weird ideas). Drive Bumblebee around while helping Optimus Prime save the world. The possibilities, are endless.

The link of the article-
Havard guys store digital info in DNA

“I wana take a picture of mine” multiplied by 934,757,321 times.

Technology makes people do crazy things. Unnecessary things. Things that they didn’t even know they liked to do had it not been for the multi-featured high-end smartypants device in the palm of their hands. Me, for example. Before you think I’m one of the oldies, uninterested in gadgetry, I would like to mention that this blog is being typed out on one of these smarter-than-Einstein devices. Okay, no one’s smarter than Einstein, pardon me. But I had no idea I would like consolidating my thoughts on a blog through my phone until I realized there is an app available for it. I love it now! The gamut of features on hand-held devices today never ceases to surprise me. I use a smart phone like I use soap-daily and vigorously. My phone one day might literally wear out like soap due to the excess wear-and-tear my usage causes it. And I’m sure that’s not only my story.

When you talk about features in a smart phone, how can Internet access be ignored, which is cheaper and more easily available than food, clothing and shelter in a Third World country (I’m not sure, but I don’t think I’m allowed to use this term. I’ll risk it). You literally have the world in the palm of your hands(major,major cliche, i know). Any and every goddamn information is available on your phone. Forget about retrieving information, uploading and sharing is what has taken front seat like last-minute ticket buyers at a run-down cinema hall. Facebook’s daily updates run into trillions of bytes, out of which most is redundant, useless, indecipherable crap that people think are worth sharing. Before you kick me, I’m also included in the “people”. We cannot help the urge to share, share, share because we live in times when sharing what you did and hence prooving to the world you did it, is more important than laying back and actually enjoying your accomplishment all for yourself.

So I’ve noticed everyone who owns a smart phone (okay, I’m tired of calling it a smart phone, now onwards, please refer to it as Baby), has a favorite feature to which they’re so addicted that they wouldn’t mind even if it causes brain cancer-the app/feature should just be the most up-to-date version, and the world is a better place for them. For me, it’s the photo-editing applications. I cannot, and actually, will not, upload a picture on a public forum without editing, no matter how minor. My eye can discern the difference, and I love how even minor editing (depending on the lighting and what not in the original photo) gives so much depth and life to a photograph. Okay so here I go ranting and raving about post-processing. As proof, I have five photo-editing applications installed on my Baby, and I use all of them simultaneously because it gives me infinite permutation and combination options to edit a photo(and no, I don’t use Instagram).

Thing is, I did not know, before I had a Baby(okay, poor choice of words) that I would like photo editing so much. And I’m sure there are people who are stuck to a particular feature like a leech sucking blood. Specifically, I talk about people who only take their own photos. Now that doesn’t sound too bad, right? Well if it doesn’t to you, you’re the one I’m probably writing this blog about. There are a trillion more things in this world to take a picture of and share, but no. These people, will constantly take only their own photos and upload on a public forum as if they’re doing everyone in their friend list a favor by showcasing the various angles, pimples, warts, facial hair on their face. Get a life. Look outside. See that colourful plastic bottle on the road? That is a much more interesting view than seeing your face 934,757,321 times and has major potential to become a point of quality conversation on a public forum.

Unfortunately, unavoidable.

Airports scare me. There is a constant, constant flurry of activity that if you just stand in one place for a second, you’ll feel like the subject of a time-lapse video. You, staring into space, confused and trying to align your vector, while the world runs at Mach 3 in the background. Frankly, it’s easier for me to manage the local trains in Mumbai than trying to find my way through these giant terminals, feeling like a small undigested fish in the belly of a whale shark.

Airports in the old days were quite places were maximum of three planes would take off in a day, and that too those belonging to the Britishers or the Maharajas. Common man could not even dream of setting foot on the tarmac, forget even getting to touch the aircraft. I’m quite sure there weren’t any dhabas also, forget huge shops, food courts or bars. But go to an airport today and your eyes will be trying to adjust to a never-ending plethora of shops. There are the massive bling shops, mushroomed over the entire airport like couples at Bandstand. And mind you, by bling, I don’t mean only the Swarovski counters. I also mean the posh bars, coffee shops, accessories shops and pen shops. Oh, and I forgot to mention the things-people-don’t-need-when-they-travel shops. Majority of the passengers are interested in just catching their respective birds( I’m deducing that because I see majority of the people sitting with an extremely bored expression on their face). So why take up so much space, to make shops that people never buy from (0.1 % sales figure is equivalent to never for me)? I always wonder, how much revenue they’re generating, and if even the revenue generated is more than the rent paid for these shops. Hell, what do I care? I’m not going to be shopping at these shops anytime soon and neither am I going to be the rent collector for them anytime soon.

But but but..there are women, who not only shop at airports, but shop as if the world is coming to an end. Oh wait. Isn’t it? What’s the date? Aah looks like i should finally buy those shoes I’ve been eyeing… Sorry zoned out! So when you see well dressed women (I mention only women because I have seen only women do it. I’m not sexist. I’m a woman) exiting a Shopper’s Stop at the airport with a bag full of unnecessary I-don’t-need-it-but-its-fun-to-shop-when-getting-bored stuff, you can’t help but wonder incredulously, didn’t they get any other time to shop? Or what was so fucking important that it had to be bought at a time when you’re about to be airborne, and have a slight chance that you may not land at all?

Other than the inanimate objects I’ve mentioned, how can anyone miss the diversity of crowd at airports? I say this because you will not see well-dressed (often handsome) business men trying to figure out their seats at a railway or bus station. Or NRI-accented families trying to hassle the TT for a lower berth instead of an upper berth. You will see only up to a certain class of people at railway and bus stations, never above that. In contrast, at airports, there are people from all strata of the society, thanks to the low-cost airline business(R.I.P Kingfisher..a minute of beer-intoxicated silence please..). Business men/women, children with headphones blaring and carrying swanky luggage, aunties with enough gold jewelry to increase the bullion price all by themselves, noticeably poor families of five carrying just a single bag, maid servants taking care of the children, students, families probably on their maiden trip aboard an aircraft and looking as confused as Goofy given a fish to eat, families where even a two month old infant would know how to “proceed to Gate number 3” all by themselves..you get the picture. And god forbid, if one of the too-sexy-for-her-age aunties or the too-much-hair-on-their-head uncles comes in verbal contact with some of the not so privileged lot. It opens up a whole trunk of misunderstood grunts and directions, with the non-conversation finally ending with the posh people rolling their eyes and moving on. I don’t understand what harm would it do if they speak a few words of Hindi or whatever regional language and give proper directions. Or..oh, I’m sorry, is it tacky to speak an Indian language at an airport at India?

So yes. The fact remains. Airports scare me. For their sheer size, their un-navigability, for the fakeness it brings out in people and mostly, for their overwhelming shops which scream at you–Don’t be so happy!! Your salary still sucks! Ugh. I hate airports. Unfortunately, unavoidable.