Monday, July 18, 2005

S^2: LEDs used for street lighting

CNN Uncut

Dutch Electronics group, Philips, the world's leading lighting maker, has replaced bulbs in lamps on the streets of the Dutch town Ede with light emitting diodes (LEDs). With 50,000 light hours, LEDs do not have to be replaced for 11 to 12 years lit at an average of 12 hours per day. The lamps contain yellow and white LEDs which allow for brighter and softer tones according to the season and time of the day. Gas filled electric lamps last for an average of 12000 hours, and are difficult to replace. These new LED street lamps are twice as expensive as the gas-filled street light lamps, but are compensated for by the longer life span.


S^2: Scientists discover planet with 3 suns

CNN Uncut

Astronomers have detected a planet outside our solar system, with 3 suns - a finding that challenges the astronomers' theory of planetary formation, that planets usually form out of gas and dust circling around a single star. The implication is that there are more planets than is believed.

This newly discovered planet which is slightly larger than Jupiter, is around 149 light years from Earth [ 1 light year is about 6 trillion miles or 10 trillion km.


Sunday, July 17, 2005

Should wireless extend into the sky ?

There has been a lot of debate on whether cell phones and other wireless devices should be allowed to be used by passengers during flights. Here are some of the points for those against it :

- pasengers are fed-up with seatmates using cell phones disrupting their peaceful flight journet by discussing their ailments and dating problems.
- use of cell phones sometimes could distract the flight attendants, thereby risking the safety of the aircraft.
- something technical and proper - the electromagnetic emissions could interfere with the aircraft's avionics and flight control systems.
- terrorists could use wireless devices to detonate improvised bombs etc within the flight.

There has been a case reported in 2001, wherein a cell phone left in the cargo hold, triggered a false alarm that led to an emergency landing. This is not the worst case, but there could be many more impending.

The 2 agencies in the US that need to take a decision on whether to restrict the use of wireless devices aboard or not, are the FCC and the FAA. If the agencies end the federal bans, then it would be at the airlines' discretion to decide whether to permit wireless devices or not. United Airlines, for example, has said it will not allow. Southwest says it would consider. Some airlines suggest to allow passengers access to internet and email - well probably they say that without knowing the depth of the Internet :)

So, the debate is still open. I'm still dubious whether a concrete decision satisfying both the busiest, who need 24x7 access to their business world and catch up with their email, and the commoners who say that the last thing they want to hear on a peaceful journey is their seatmate's personal problems, and the CIA who do not want to risk having a suicide-bomber operate a PDA to detonate a bomb on board the flight.


S^2: Discovery - launch yet again delayed

CNN Uncut

Will it ever launch ? Well we'll have to wait and see. Atleast I'm happy they're catching all the bugs in the QA and regression testing stages, unlike the Columbia disaster. The launch has been delayed multiple times since June 15th. This time, it was called off just 2.5 hours before the scheduled launch, due to a glitch in 1 of its 4 fuel sensors. To test the sensors, commands were sent such that the reading should change to "dry" or "empty", but one of the sensors didn't change, The first ever launch ever since failed Columbia mission, which disintegrated over Texas on Feb-1 2003, killing all 7 astronauts on board, is still hanging in thin air.

So, I understand that NASA is desperate to make the Discovery space shuttle a grand success, and are not willing to compromise on such minor flaws. But they're running out of time, if they dont launch it by July 31st, I believe they have to wait until September. That is not a shame though, I would say. They're just being cautious- once bitten, twice shy. So, there's still of lot of heavy work happening at the Kennedy Space Center at Florida, with the NASA controllers working hard to meet their schedule.

Irrespective of whether they launch it or not, such glitches, and skipping deadlines at such high levels as the NASA, well, make me feel good as a software engineer :)


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

FTP - Federer - the lawn mower

Roger Federer is the name. 'The invincible' , 'the peerless', 'the champion', 'the elegant', 'the grass court lord' etc... are its synonyms.

Wake him up at 2:00 am, stick a racket to his hand, and send him out into a howling blizzard - within 18 minutes, he'll be two sets up on Sasquatch. He is Federer. He is simply superb.

Such is the reputation this 23 year old Swiss gentleman has earned for himself already, in the world of tennis. All this grew manifold, when he captured, or rather retained, his Wimbledon crown, thus joining the hatrick club of Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras. As he beat seed no-2 Andy Roddick 3-0 in the finals, and seed no-3 Leyton Hewitt also 3-0 in the semi-finals, he has further displayed his contemporary supremacy over the game. He just dropped one set to Keifer in the 4th round, and that was the only set he dropped all through Wimbledon 2005. Boy, that is some record too !

Federer now leads Roddick 9-1 head to head, on which Roddick comments saying that, he would want to keep taking another chance at Federer as long as that count reaches 1-32 in favor of Federer. He admitted that he played to his best, but Federer always managed to pass him, such is his talent. Roddick seems to have a lot of respect for Federer amidst all this though. He says - "I've told him before, ' I'd love to hate you, but you're really nice' ".

Well, I'm just waiting for Roger to crown his French Open title soon on clay, the only un-championed avenue in his world of tennis.


FOI: Africa - Oh! I dont see it on my world map anymore!

I'm sure I don't want to say that one fine day, but the current affairs in Africa are well pointing in that direction. What's happening to Africa ? We all know that it has been one of the most poverty-stricken continents, over the last few years especially. But now, the poverty levels are now turning to become incorrigible.

At one end we have the Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi publicly calling on the African nations to "stop begging" during the African summit in which more than 50 leaders from this crisis-wracked continent participated in the presence of Kofi Annan, the U.N Secretary General. He rightly said, "We need a cooperation between the big and small countries of the world. Begging would not make a future for Africa" .

At the other end, we have international protests and the Live-8 concert happening around the world for the "Make Poverty History " campaign for Africa. An record 26 million people sent text messages to the organizers in support of the campaign. This is in addition to the 5 billion people who watched it on TV, and the tens of millions who saw it live. I could only manage a glimpse on TV, though. U2, Paul McCartney, Bob Geldof and Madonna were the charismatic stars who participated and hailed the campaign as a proof of public support aimed at putting pressure on the richer nations to deliver their promises to eradicate poverty from Africa. Well, I have my own doubts though if so many people would have turned up had it not been for these so many stars at a single event.

And while I was speaking on this to Divine, my friend from Cameroon, this is how he described the cause for poverty in Africa. -- " Initially, the people who were ruling gave fish directly to the people, instead of teaching the people how to catch fish and cut it. So the people knew only how to eat fish. As time passed by, these rulers slowly started to bring in politics, and started eating a large portion of the fish themselves leaving out very little for the people. This is how Africa has reached this state now. The solution is not to beg other countries, but to start to take initiatives, however small they may be"

Well, well, well...Save Africa !


S^2: Deep Impact Mission - a sci-fi story

CNN Uncut

NASA's barrel-sized unmanned Deep Impact space probe successfully collided on 4th July 2005 10:52 pm pacific time, into a comet by name Tempel 1 which was around 134 million km away and about half the size of Manhattan, in an attempt to start to learn more about the earth's formation.

One theory holds that a giant cloud of gas and dust collapsed to create the solar system 4.5 billion years ago, and comets formed from the left-over building blocks of the solar system. And this mission now also gives scientists an idea of how to stop such a comet from colliding with the earth in future if required :)

It was a big milestone for the U.S Space Agency, as even though it did not place any man on the moon now, no other space mission has flown this close to a comet. This collision caught the attraction of millions of people, scientists apart. The Nasa's Deep Impact website had nearly 1 billion hits. Around 10,000 people gathered on Hawai's Waikiki beach where the collision wass telecasted on a huge screen. Wasn't it one of the most joyeous ways of celebration of an American birthday ?


Saturday, July 02, 2005

FTP: My visa experience

June 17th 2005 was the day that was destined to decide whether I would be granted the option of entering the United States or not, to pursue my master's degree in Business Administration et Management, at McCombs School of business, at the University of Texas, at Austin.

I entered the U.S. consulate at Chennai, my native, at around 3:30 pm, 15 minutes before schedule, carrying with care all my documents related to my academics, offer of admission, immovable properties, bank a/c statements of my parents and myself, in addition to the mandatory list of documents and DD's that every applicant is expected to carry on him/her. I'll try to put up another post with the complete list of docs I carried when I find time.

First the appointment letter and passport were checked at the entrance. After sufficient frisking, I was let into a hall, wherein first both my DD's were collected. After that I was given a token number and awaited my turn. I was then led into another big hall, wherein the mandatory documents were checked by some officials. Once theses were verified to be true, i was given a seat to sit down and again entered the wait state. While on this stage, I could see and hear the interviews being held at the various booths, that reminded me exactlf of railway ticket reservation counter, ...precisely. On an average, 1 out of 5-6 applicants was getting rejected, due to either lack of documents or unknown universities, or lack of motive to go to the states or come back etc...just the normal stuff that all of us would be warned about before going for the interview.

While I was almost dozing off, I got my chance and went to the allotted booth. The interviewer seemed very friendly thankfully, as she greeted me ....and this is how it went on....

VO - How are you doing today ?
me - I'm doing good, thank you. How about you?
VO - Yes, fine thank you, (she looks at my application) Oh so you are going for an MBA ! Thats interesting. And to univ. of Texas Austin, thats pretty good. (she circles the university name, and enters something on her comp.) May I see your scoresheets please ?
me - Sure
VO - Oh you've got into Purdue as well, thats nice. So how are you planning to manage your funds ?
me - thro' personal savings over the last 3 years of my employment, plus family funds.
VO - Great, your visa has been granted and you may depart the consulate now. Your passport would reach you in a few days, All the best.
me - thank you v much.

So, I guess the university and the scores did the trick for me probably. But from what I could see that day, each is a special case, varies from individual to individual. All we can do, is to make sure we have all the documents in place and trust the impending luck.

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