Wednesday, 6 June 2012 06:59 by salim

Immigration officer (IO): Why are you being paroled?

Me: Adjustment of status, I work for xyz.

IO: How long you been working for xyz?

Me: 13 years

IO: Wow! That is ridiculous. If I were you, I will move back to India.

Me: That is exactly what I am doing. See?


IO: Good for you!

Categories:   Politics | IT | Home | Freedom | Self
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The Arsenic DNA Bacteria that might not be!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010 02:54 by salim

So, earlier last week, NASA comes out with an announcement saying that it will have a press conference on the 2nd of December to announce a major development that has implications to astrobiology.

A day after NASA announcement, Gizmodo published a highly speculative article that predicted that NASA is going to announce that they have found life in one of Saturn’s moons. Then there was just a flood gate of article, some of them with completely bizarre and unfounded speculations and rumors about the discovery.

On December 2, 2 PM, NASA announces the finding (at the same time the article was made available in Science Magazine titled A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus. The authors claimed in the paper and asserted in the press conference that they have shown that these bacteria can not only tolerate Arsenic but incorporate it into their DNA structure replacing Phosphorous.

This followed another flood of reports and blog posts. There was great excitement about the news, especially because it, if correct, would mean that the life can support a much wider range of conditions than we thought. It also will suggest that the main ingredients if life as we know are not that fixed after all.

First thing to come out of it was that, it was certainly over hyped by NASA by clearly hinting it is something more than what it is. Yes, finding a life form that can substitute Arsenate instead of Phosphate is an incredible finding. But, we know life on earth is very resilient and innovative. It would certainly don’t mean that we are closer to finding exobiological entities.

Along with this, there came a series of posts by scientists questioning the veracity of the methods used by the NASA scientists (Felisa Wolfe-Simon et al). Among the many I read about this subject there are two that stand out in its clarity of presentation and scientific rigor (no, that is not to make any claims about its correctness).

The article by Alex Bradley looks at the problem from a chemist’s perspective and brings up a few very serious process and interpretation issues. He correctly points out that there were due diligence that the NASA scientists did not perform.

An even more detailed criticism by Rosie Redfield can be read here. She goes more into the methodology and points out many potential pitfalls in them.

All this reminded me of the famous Carl Sagan adage “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

Another point this brings to light is the methodology of science and the immediacy and openness with which it is happening. Answering requests for comment, one of the authors of the article said that the discussion should happen in peer reviewed journals, not in the blogosphere. That is a bit odd though, considering that they themselves made an effort to make this very public.

Irrespective of how this particular finding turns out, science will go on. I have noted this earlier, the usually hidden away dynamics of the process of scientific enquiry is now spilling over for every one to see. It is beautiful, exciting. Now, if only the media learn to stop seeing everything in black and white.


Unlike religion, Science brings so many heartbreaks!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010 01:26 by salim

So much is happening in the world of science these days with new claims of discoveries and inventions, breaking and formation of new theories, wild hypothesis. In an earlier age, people outside the academia could only get, often mistimed, almost always distorted view from the media.

Now, we have an almost immediate access to most of this information, in many cases, the original papers that describe the finding. There are many science blogs that provides background information and further reading guides. This has given me, and I am sure it is a shared feeling, a real glimpse into the process of science in action. Instead of discoveries and inventions being a bunch of static text in a text book or magazine, I can see each of these ideas evolve, painstakingly. It is like watching a live telecast of (substitute your favorite sports here) with continuous upsets and miraculous moves.

So, here is the short history of Gliese 581g, the earthlike, goldilocks planet from last couple of weeks. Here is one of the many overblown press reports (Gliese 581g).

It really was a wonderful feeling to know there is this planet that could potentially harbor life (well, other than say Io, Titan etc. We still have a problem defining the parameters of life, but that is another story). And the best part, it is only 20 light years away. Think about it, if there is a planet that can support life (as we know) right at our neighborhood, then chances are that there are many more around us.

The scientists Steven Vogt, Paul Butler and possibly a large unnamed gang of doctoral and post doctoral scholars analyzed 11 years of data available on Gliese 581 to arrive at the conclusion that there could be up to 6 planets orbiting this star with one possibly at the goldilocks zone potentially with liquid water. This planet could have a minimum of 3 times the mass of earth.

The frenzy followed this included someone in TV saying that it is only 20 light years away and if we trash earth, we could go there. This is true, if you have 180,000 years or energy equivalent of total earth consumption for several thousand years. So, we are not going there anytime soon.

Then came the shocking news. A SETI scientist from Australia Ragbir Bhathal had detected a strange pulse from this planet 2 years ago. This however did not impress Drake!

Speculations, stories, visitations from beings live in Gliese 581g, psychics who claim they are in communication with the great king Atutoao of Gliese 581g, and finally…

You know, there might not be a planet at all…

This is the problem with science. You cannot have faith in anything scientific. The moment you start believing something, there comes an experiment, an observation, a mathematical proof that force you to change.

Unlike religion, where it takes a few hundred years for a mistake to be admitted, and the only thing valid is faith.

Strangely though, I love the heart breaking, invigorating, wondrous feeling of awe, every day is a new day. Nothing remains unquestioned, no truths remain unchallenged.

Aussie Christians and Ethics Education

Monday, 13 September 2010 18:21 by salim

Jim Coyne of Why Evolution is True writes about the NSW (New South Wales) policy of teaching Christianity in schools. Apparently until recently students who did not want to go to the religion class were prohibited from doing any other educational work. Recently they introduced an alternative course on Ethics for students who does not want to listen to the brain washing by the priests. Below is a sample of the Ethics class

From the description and the video it looks like a very creative way of encouraging students to think for themselves and to learn that it is ok to dissent. Of course the church is all offended by this. One pastor says, “it creates competition” to telling (translation – indoctrinate) students about Jesus. It appears that over 50% of the students are now opting the Ethics class to the religion class.

For a very long time, I thought that India was so backward when it comes to adherence to religion compared to the developed countries. But, it appears that, Indian secular roots is much stronger than anywhere else, especially compared to many of the developed countries. I have studied in government and christian missionary schools, and there were absolutely no teaching of religion. Many of my teachers in highschool where nuns, but they seldom brought faith and religion into the classroom. Well, in a few times when they tried to bring it up, I and a few other atheist students could effectively question it and stop it from being repeated. While that put me slightly in the not-so-liked group, there never was any adverse reaction from the teachers.

It is good to have brought up in a secular country. Though the larger society in India is still mired in religious factions and superstitions, the educational institutions and the state are very clearly separated from it albeit efforts, mainly by the religions fundamentalist parties (Bharatiya Janata Party, Muslim League, some Christian political organizations etc.) to dilute this separation.

(Most of my experience here is from Kerala, which might not be representational of the rest of India, but I don’t think anyone will try to introduce creationism or young earth theory into the curriculum)

Even though I am not particularly a nationalist, secularism of India is something to be proud of.

Categories:   Freedom | Politics | Religion
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Two checklists for feminists : Pharyngula

Thursday, 5 August 2010 00:36 by salim

46. I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege.

This is the reason why I recommend the list as a must read for every men!
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Categories:   Freedom
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When porn becomes the norm…

Thursday, 29 July 2010 00:36 by salim

“….The Stepford Wife image that drove previous generations of women crazy with their sparkling floors and perfectly orchestrated meals has all but disappeared, and in its place we now have the Stepford Slut; a hypersexualized, young, thin, toned, hairless, technologically, and in many cases surgically-enhanced, woman with a come-hither look on her face”

says Gail Dine in her new book Pornland: How porn has hijacked our sexuality.

I have not read the book, but only one chapter published here.

Like any other man, I like my porn, though I do not have a stash of porn magazines (or mpegs) that my best friend will come and delete in case of my demise (means, my stash is not a secret, not that I do not have a stash :)) But, as a person who tries to live a fair life, there are many things that bugs me about the porn industry. So, I make it a point to read anything that comes through my feed that talks about this subject. Recently, while reading about the issue of Sexigate, I stumbled up on quite a few feminist blogs and aggregators, and in the last few days, porn has become the issue of discussion of at least 3 posts.

The fact of exploitation of women in porn industry is a major issue, especially in less developed countries (or women trafficked from poor countries). I have recently read some articles that discusses another angle of the porn industry that is not necessarily exploitative, at least not to the females participants in its production. There has been some studies that struggle to prove that exposure to porn increases sexual violence.

What Gale Dine discusses in this article is a much more widespread effect of porn in our culture. This is not just from the traditional porn media (playboy, internet porn…). The “hypersexualized” image is crowding our media space as a constant stream of soft-core porn!

There was a time, especially in India, when the left was arguing for the recognition of female sexuality, as different from the traditional view of a tool for male comfort and convenience and progeny. It is interesting to see how this has morphed into yet another way of keeping the status quo.

Curious are the ways of the world…

I am waiting for the book to come out in some form of E-version.

A small incident in science and feminism

Monday, 19 July 2010 22:46 by salim

A few days ago, a self proclaimed atheist writing a self professed atheist blog (whose link is purposefully excluded from this post) came out with a list of 15 sexiest scientists.

He probably wanted to have a fleeting fame. Apparently he actively sought opinions from the people on the list, asking them, are you offended!

Since I am an uptight nerd, i will not be using nor repeating any of the right adjectives given to this person. However, I will list a bunch of posts that looks at it from a larger perspective of feminism.

I want to comment on two specific things. Over at rambling perfectionist, this guy laments that according to the “feminists” there is no way one can escape the sexist label. My answer to that kind of argument is that, men are by default, sexists and it takes a lot of effort to be not one.

The other is about feeling sexual desirability at the sight of a woman.

There are several occasions when I felt uneasy because the person I am professionally interacting with is perceived by me as sexually attractive. I do not know if female professionals feel that way or feel it as frequently as I do.

Someone in these posts talk about silencing as an intentional failure to recognize the communicators intent. It is very natural for men to do. The history and the reinforcement of status quo by media constantly works to reinforce this tendency. The result, most men cannot imagine why a woman should refuse sexual advances!

One of the aspects discussed in these posts is about how female scientists should dress. It was funny that we have to discuss “how to dress properly to work” at scienceblogs! I was surprised to see many women have a “practical” approach in the sense that, they chose casual, mostly gender neutral (jeans and shirt, jacket) attire so as not to cause an additional issue to handle at work. Which sadly is true, as I stated above, I might find someone sexually attractive if they come in enhancing their sexual desirability. So, it is easier for me to support the idea of “dressing properly” for work and dress to your fill during weekend days away from work. But, that is just reinforcing the patterns.

As a man, I have absolutely no say in this regard. But, there is something I can do about it. That is to reinforce the fact that, all women are sexually uninterested in me unless otherwise they explicitly states it in no unclear terms! Most of the time I will require signed documentation, but during the lean days, just a polite “would you like to have intercourse with me?” would suffice.

Here are the posts I found interesting in this debate.

  1. Sheril Kirshenbaum
  2. SeXy Science- You’re Doing It Wrong by rocketscientista
  3. Because You Think Being A Girl Is Degrading by Nerdista
  4. Sexism and Objectification by ramblingperfectionist 
  5. I have been objectified! by PZ Myers
  6. If You Think I’m Sexy And You Like My Data by SheThought.com
  7. Hot Scientist Babes Gate by Physioprof
  8. Save us from the armchair philosopher with a blog. by Janet D. Stemwedel
  9. Top 15 science hotties and labia-punching by Evil Monkey
  10. Sex(ism) in Science by AmoebaMike

Celebrate 100th International Women’s Day

Monday, 8 March 2010 11:25 by salim

There is still a long way to go in achieving equitable social justice and rights for Women. But the advances made in the last century on women’s right is phenomenal.

I proudly stand with all the women of the world in their historic efforts to end discrimination, social and economic freedom and to remake the world into a better place.


Categories:   Politics | Freedom
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War, peace and love

Friday, 22 January 2010 01:13 by salim

A wonderfully moving performance. I am speechless, and teary eyed.

Legacy of Carl Sagan

Saturday, 7 November 2009 23:59 by salim

Today is the Carl Sagan day. Monday is his birthday. He is one of my all time heroes. Here is the last interview, thanks to YouTube.

In three parts.



Categories:   Science | Freedom
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