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Experiments in photography: Invisible black backdrops October 15, 2013

Posted by Sharath Rao in image.
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Invisible black backdrops. We see these photos everywhere – think of photos where there are just 2 things – a subject in front and a solid plain black background. Often the photos are b/w, but not necessarily. If you like portraits you probably love those photos too for they so well constrain the focus (pardon the pun) on the subject without letting distractions get in the way. For long I have wondered how these were done. Naively I thought it was literally black background consisting of a plain screen or a wallpaper with low enough light on the subject. I even tried it to replicate it 3 years ago but failed – it was impossible to get the subject lit up without the background lit up as well at which point it wouldn’t be dark background after all.

Why I did not bother looking it up befuddles me – I always thought I was a member of the first ever generation to google their thoughts – look up everything online. Apparently not.  Anyway, I did finally look it up a few weeks ago and found out that the trick is more elaborate and what I had been trying was indeed naive. This past weekend I decided to try it the right way.

Here is a blog post from photographer Gyln Dewis that describes in rather detail how this is accomplished. And if that were not enough here is video of him doing it. Over the weekend I went about following Gyln’s instructions. It required renting some equipment and I am more than pleased with the results! Now there is enough detail in Gyln’s post to reproduce his results and I completely owe everything I was able to do to his post. This post is for those of you who need that last bit of spoon-feeding and a matter of record for me anyway!

Given the windy weekend, with my rather light stand I was only able to work indoors something that Gyln cautions against and rightly so. It is hard to prevent light reflecting off the walls but its possible if you have at least one large room, maybe with more trial and error than usual but not impossible.

Now if you are in NYC you have absolutely no excuse for not getting this right. Read Gyln’s post and come back here.

What you need to have:

I used this flash, this umbrella, a pair of transceivers and a stand to mount the umbrella and flash. You need an off-camera flash cable that connects the flash to one of the transceivers – again something that should come along when you rent all the above, but ask to make sure anyway. I used a Canon 60D, but any entry level DSLR that can use an off-camera flash should do. If you are around nyc, go to csirentals on 19th street between 6th and 7th avenue – they have it all. They give you transceivers with batteries – 2 pairs and the flash comes with a pair of batteries as well. They even give you 4 spare batteries just in case. All of this cost me $55 in rental costs over the weekend: Fri 1pm – Mon 10 am.

What you do with what you have:

1. Set up the stand and fix the umbrella. Mount the flash on the stand – be careful here and make sure its well-secured.

2. One transceiver T1 goes on to your camera like an on-camera flash would have – don’t worry if you have not done this before, its impossible to get this wrong.

3. Hang the other transceiver T2 on the stand. Use cable to connect to the flash.

4. Settings: I followed Gyln instructions on Manual mode with ISO 100, and 1/250 sec. F/6.3 worked better for me than F/5.6. I used a 50mm potrait lens but any lens that permits the above configuration should do.

5. Flash setting is key – the above flash has 5 finer granularity at each main level: 1/8 (-7), 1/8 (-3), 1/8 (0), 1/8 (+3), 1/8 (+7) and so on at each main level 1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1. I started at 1/4 (0) and ended up using 1/8 (+7). But this really depends on 2 things: a) the ambient light and b) how you want your photos to be.

Other things to remember:

1. I was cheated by the Canon 60D screen/preview brightness setting at first – photos looked well-exposed but weren’t so on my computer until I digitally filled light. So watch out.

2. Again about trying this indoors: I did one session in the afternoon and one in the night after dark. The night session I had one corner light in the room in front of the subject (so I can focus!) but I felt more comfortable doing it in the day. In any case, find a place where the subject is farthest from any wall/reflecting surface.

3. Extra batteries might come in more than handy if you use higher power settings on the flash. I was able to get nearly 200 flashes over 3 hours over 2 days.

Thats it – its really easy if you have the right equipment and some patience for try things out.

And now for the results:

Here are couple of photos I thought I would share.

invisible black background


That bookshelf in your life December 25, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in general, image.

A while back I had though it would be cool to have a place where people submit pictures of their bookshelves; not of shelves themselves but of books in the shelves such that you can clearly read the title/author of each book. Turns out there is already one, or rather there is at least one. And its on Flickr. In the group description, they say :

This group was created so you could browse through the titles on other people’s shelves. Please submit pictures showing your books with readable titles, rather than pictures showing your entire bookshelf from a distance, or pictures of your cat/toys/candles/mugs/skulls/gear/etc on your bookshelf.

I spend little time on Flickr or any photo site for that matter and while I had long heard of this remarkable community thing Flickr has in comparison to other photo websites, only now got a chance to see an example. Those pictures are such a joy to go through, not just to see what books there are out there, but because viewed from a (mental, not spatial) distance, its some kind of collective art – non-mundane art out of things as mundane as a bookshelf.

Not wanting to burden the universe with yet another bookshelf group with members consisting of the founder and a handful of friends who “would-rather-not-be-but-will-be-for-our-friendship”, I got a few pictures of my bookshelf and added it to the group. Here are the pictures and I am mighty pleased about how they turned up. If you decide to put up some of your own, please leave a link in the comments section.

Here is one. This slideshow of all 6 pictures makes for better viewing.

This New Year here is a wish that may there be a bookshelf in everyone’s life. ( And may some of their pictures be up online 😉 )

Weather update – Live webcams on Campus edition December 16, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, image.
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I was reading news of winter storms in the North Eastern United States and was curious to see how things look, see not weather reports but actual footage of actual neighborhoods within cities I lived in – Boston and Pittsburgh. One option is of course look for videos on sites such as Yahoo! News and CNN, but you may not get what you want.

The other is to look for live webcams on the internet ! And from a link I saved into delicious back in July, I found exactly that.

Here is from a camera near my department at Boston University looking down on the BU Chappel. Far right end of the footage is the Charles River, which looks (at this moment) all but frozen to me.

Here is the cam from the Carnegie Mellon campus – the actual purpose of this camera is for people to keep track of the work on the new Computer Science building called the “Gates Building”. But, well…

Link: Online webcams

P.S : A sampling of (13) more pictures from the Boston storm. In this picture shot on Jan 24, 2005, the day after a massive thunderstorm, I was actually standing in the middle of the river, about 50 feet from the shore. Never before, never since. 🙂

Image, Video and uuh, text December 11, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, humor, image.
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Dress codes and hair styles of programming language legends. Can you tell who is who ?

Although some of you might be more keen on taking Nangafakir’s quiz about another picture in a league of its own. If Nangafakir had a caption contest on that one, my entry would have been “What Paris, New York and Rio have lost to Islam(abad).”

HT : Amit Varma


Is there anyone who will watch this video for a minute or two and give thought to the idea that someone there looks like a somewhat newly wed movie star without putting me at risk of abuse and my future physical self at the risk of rotten tomatoes ?

For those of you with little bandwidth or little patience – at least this screen shot taken at 0.42 seconds ?


Amit again links to Economist report :

[Hillary Clinton’s] campaign has also begun questioning Mr Obama’s integrity, using an essay he wrote in kindergarten entitled “I Want to be President” as evidence of overweening ambition.

How about Hillary Clinton’s refusal to divorce her husband post Lewinsky as ‘evidence’ of her ‘poor moral character’ and condoning adultery while in office ? Oops, an accidental pun there !

And what now about poor Tom Hasken (that we talked about earlier), a hypothetical future president-in-running for 2048 currently growing up in a small town near Iowa and has a wordpress blog, a myspace profile, a facebook wall, a twitter account and a massive search history logged in somewhere !


2007 Nobel Literature Laureate Dorris Lessing in her acceptance speech :

How are we, our minds, going to change with the new internet, which has seduced a whole generation into its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging and blugging etc.

If “blogging” includes reading blogs, she is talking about you, too. 😀

Jokes apart …no, actually I will just let that pass. [ and leave with you another blogger’s take on this ]


Economics everywhere. More than. November 15, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, humor, image.
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Greg Mankiw points to this really cool advertisement.


I am feeling really wicked today. Therefore, in the interest of promoting humor via economics and of not being economical in promoting humor, here is what I did to the image.

Original link for the image.

Sum Fun November 1, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, image.
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Funniest organization : PETSA – People for Ethical Treatment of Stuffed Animals 😀

PETSA focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of stuffed animals suffer more: in damp and/or moldy closets and attics, in over-lighted collectors’ cases, in the hands of sadistic stuffed-toy bullies, and as dress-up guests at little girls’ tea parties. In addition, we work on various other issues, including the cruel use of washing machines not set on gentle cycle and the abuse inflicted on stuffed animals by backyard dogs.

Here is an example of things that will probably freak out PETSAians.

Disclaimer : I am a vegetarian (to the extent that egg is a vegetable), though that does not mean I eat stuffed plants (or stuffed eggs for that matter)


This site rocks man !! Absolutely for geeks. And here is for cat lovers. And here is for geeky cat lovers.

Assorted links this instant October 21, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, humor, image, science.

This site is kinda like a dream come true. Why ?

LibraryThing is an online service to help people catalog their books easily. You can access your catalog from anywhere—even on your mobile phone. Because everyone catalogs together, LibraryThing also connects people with the same books, comes up with suggestions for what to read next, and so forth.

So maintain a list of books you have – if the collection gets too big you still can track it via searching and stuff. And then all that about connecting to people with similar book interests etc.


Reading articles like this I wonder what is the whole point of linking to scores to studies and wasting your time ( or as a corollary, some of you doing the same and wasting my time 😀 )

We all make mistakes and, if you believe medical scholar John Ioannidis, scientists make more than their fair share. By his calculations, most published research findings are wrong.

Dr. Ioannidis is an epidemiologist who studies research methods at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece and Tufts University in Medford, Mass. In a series of influential analytical reports, he has documented how, in thousands of peer-reviewed research papers published every year, there may be so much less than meets the eye.

Unless of course, among the 90% incorrect findings is the one above. 😉


And then this one – some really cool T-shirts. One of my favorites – here.


On whether Harry Potter as a phenomenon can/will be replicated. One view here and also connects to posts with differing views.

Politically incorrect algorithms/’wisdom’ of the crowds October 15, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, image, politics, technology.
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Another kind of westernization that I bet you never knew about (unless you are from the pertinent profession ).

Looking forward to an impassioned Outlook article about Arundathi Roy’s agitation against ‘Epicanthoplasticians’/’Epicanthoplasti-narians’/’Epicanthoplasti-cists’.


Read disclaimer

More links today October 6, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, humor, ideas, image, science.

MR has this interesting link :

Every year since 1976, the Monitoring the Future Study has asked around 3,000 U.S. 12th graders how important various things are to them. It seems everything is getting more important. Well, not quite. 13 of 14 issues have become more important. The only exception: “Finding purpose and meaning in my life”.

(Emphasis not mine)

Now, here is a cartoon that this finding reminds me of.  The very vast New Yorker Cartoon bank has a cartoon for many a situations in life.

Coming to the results of the survey itself, I am not really a fan of asking people what they think – we are all good liars, even when we are not lying to others, we are, to ourselves.  We are better off making several observations and make inferences based on these observations. For instance, instead of asking people how important they think is contribution to charity, have something that looks for evidence of it – tax returns for instance. (while recognizing that there are some who are willing but unable to make contributions.)


My last year’s post on anticipating the Nobel Prize (Economics mostly for a good reason) announcement. Not much changed.


In response to a question – ““WHAT IS YOUR FORMULA? YOUR EQUATION? YOUR ALGORITHM?””, here is what some of the really original thinkers had to say. Dan Kahneman. And Dawkins’ was probably the best.

Graphs, Plots and animations September 27, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, image, videos, weird.
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Following this blog for a while now, I sometimes am led to wonder if Jessica Hagy must be the one of most interesting people to talk with.

As an aside, a friend of mine talks about how he closes the bedroom doors when he is cooking. Apparently that way next morning his non-Desi colleagues wont know what he has had for dinner. :-). Either you can keep windows open and invite dust into your house or use an AC efficiently keeping doors and windows closed all the time. In the latter case, also don’t forget to keep your clothing away from the kitchen.

Here is an independent confirmation of what Desi food (and its likes) do to you (and your house). As for me, I will anyway keep all doors and windows open and not use the AC if I can avoid it. Given my extremely picky nature especially with regards to food, the one place I really feel Indian (other than of course India itself) is when I am at a non-Desi restaurant.

For people who want to put off getting married.


Now here is something that is not a graph but an animation. Catch this video and everything else on the website. (Thanks to Youtube-freak Sanjika for that pointer)

@DC, @ the movies, not @ all in France September 20, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in assorted, general, image.
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I was visiting the Smithsonian Museums past weekend in Washington D.C. As soon as one enters the National Air and Space museum, there is a box that solicits voluntary contributions from the visitors. Among the various dollar bills, Chinese Yuans, there was one 10,000 Zimbabwe dollar bill.

At the moment, that is worth about 1.75 USD. I would still take my hat off to the person who made the contribution – I know its meant to be a good-will contribution rather than a substantial one. Even though we know that if Mr. Robert Mugabe has his way, that will soon be worth next to nothing.

By the way, D.C. is a such a beautiful city. The view from the top of the Washington Monument is brilliant. And so is the view of the National Mall area at night. I drove 30 miles into D.C. in the middle of the night just to catch that view. Even the Library of Congress is such splendor. Or the National Archives, where I got a chance to see the original American Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta. The founding principles of this nation although today seem rather common place (notwithstanding the recent foreign policy excesses and experience with slavery) is something I have lot of respect for. It may not be the perfect thing out there as liberals like to remind everyone, but its been better than other horrors the world has seen.

Of course, I still do wonder why office buildings like the Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Labor Statistics and such should have been as grand as they are – the bureaucrats have power enough anyway, why those seats of luxury.


Movies watched past week :

The Graduate, Pulp Fiction, The Departed, Taxi Driver, Tsotsi, City of God, Fun with Dick and Jane and Superbad

To put it in perspective, thats more movies than I watched in the past 2 years. I imagine shooting for most movies on this list – the IMDB Top 250. … Some day, for I am starting work in 2 weeks from now and life won’t be the same again.


Liberty. Equality. Fraternity. And now, dental caries.

The article quotes a pair of dentists, one from a Paris teaching hospital and one from the French dentistry association, and offers the following statistics (without citing sources).

– one million French citizens never brush their teeth

– half of all French do not brush their teeth in the evening

– 57% of French children under five have never brushed their teeth

– the average French citizen uses between one and two toothbrushes in a year

Parking lots and patrons September 19, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, image.

I have a thinking-loudly kind of observation through which will likely require you to either undertake some detective work 🙂 or recall something you may have already seen but not taken note of.

There are two major temples in Pittsburgh. Temple A is the Hindu-Jain temple and temple B is the Sri Venkateshwara Temple (subsidiary of the Tirupati Devasthanams). Walking around the parking lots as I inspect the make of the cars, I see one of the parking lots is far more likely to have BMWs, Lexus and Audis, while the other is dominated by Toyotas Camry/Corolla and Honda Accord/City ?

Of course, I just have one data point, but have you seen any discerning trend along the above lines ? (Images of temples are useful cues).

P.S : No racist/xenophobic comments please. Mere rational inquiry suffices.


Some things NYC September 11, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, image, sport.
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My visit to New York City over the weekend was rather different from my previous 3 visits ( excluding transit ) where were mostly about ‘checking out’ the various landmarks, either by myself during vacation or taking parents around. This was a single point agenda – The US open. Although I would have preferred to watch the men’s final, I managed to get the tickets for the women’s final – Henin Vs Kuznetsova. Quite an experience, especially given that it was my first time being present to watch a live sporting performance of any significance.


Each time you visit NYC, you see new things and you hear new sounds (to sound like a foreigner who is speaking about India :p) . Like this time two short Mexican guys who just walked into the train, played some really cool latino music ( so Goan actually ) and made good bucks in between train stops, when its time to hop onto another coach. Much like previous visits, I walked around a lot – but this time looking for used book shops, lying down in the parks reading something, feeding on peaches, cherries and apples from the farmer’s market at Union square. All those green places, the so many parks in Manhattan – just lie down somewhere in Central Park and you are completely oblivious to all that chaos out there – hats off to the New Yorkers. I remember reading about some part of the newly released textile mill land in Bombay which some citizens want turned into urban spaces – I am absolutely for such an idea.

Then there are some weird things like coming out of an underground subway station to find yourself completely disoriented about the four directions. Of course, this likely happens elsewhere but identical (to an untrained eye) square blocks of Manhattan take it to the extremes. And then finding thousands of boards with notices that sign off as “By order from Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City” …I wonder if all those boards have to be repainted when the mayor changes ! Most places just mention the designation.

Like many people I know, I love visiting NYC, but don’t see myself living there. People talk of big cities/urban centers as modern, fast, lot of privacy that the countryside does not bring. I am not sure, for I think NYC has more anonymity, but less privacy. Those little spaces, many of which are really carved out of what used to be just one big house, sharing kitchens and bathrooms with several random folks. Its okay as part of the single, young, college-going chaotic bunch, but not later in life. I know its more about personal preferences and upbringing, much like some of the Mumbaites would give anything to get out of Bombay and several outsiders would only consider short visits.

Leaving Pittsburgh – last day on Campus edition August 31, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, contemplation, education, image, landmark-post, reminisces-2000.

Note : Post was written on Aug 27th, 2007, posted only today.


Today is the first day of classes for several hundred students at Carnegie Mellon. For the last few days, I have seen them – the undergrads – walking down corridors, sometimes asking for directions, in cafes discussing courses, in bookstores buying text books ; I see on the lawn having barbecue parties amid music, games and getting-to know-each-other ice-breakers. And then yeah there are the graduate students too, though they appear to have no time for ice-breaker parties (yet), engaged more in search of funding, house-hunting and research advisors.

The irony then is that to me its the last day on campus. Done with my courses, research and pretty much everything expected of me, I walk around campus reminding myself that its going to be the last time for many months/years perhaps before I come back for a visit. Its going to be weird tomorrow when I walk up to meet the administrative assistant to surrender my college ID card, in the process losing pretty much all building permissions and other privileges that come with being a CMU student. I wonder why they need to do that – taking away something that is arguably the most valuable souvenir from our college days, something one had to be carried everywhere, everyday. Besides, my login account including email-ID and campus wireless network permissions die on Aug 31st, 2007. In all likelihood therefore this will be my last post from an IP address that goes 127.237.xxx.xx, the last from the Carnegie Mellon University network.

I have been here at CMU for barely 27 months. When I came here I was planning to be here for at least 5-6-7 years to get my Ph.D. Somewhere along the way I decided the drop plans of a Ph.D – its queer to say the least because when I started applying to US Graduate Schools, admission into the CMU Computer Science PhD program was something I would have given everything for. And now when there was nearly just that opportunity, I have decided to give it a pass and move on, albeit with the plans of a PhD not completely ruled out. Its amazing how things change that much in this little time.

Especially when the task of making it to the CMU program with full scholarship seemed totally unsurmountable. So much so that after one year of trying when funding finally came through, I wrote to a friend where I mention :

Why is this mail looking like such a hyperbole – replete with exaggeration of a past desperation and present fulfillment. If it indeed seems so, it is unfortunate. To an insider person like me, over 2 years of whose life have been spent in singular and mindless pursuit of this cause, whose several waking moments were occupied by an inadequacy and financial insecurity that this situation created, whom it taught, in a foreign land, some of the lasting lessons in handling ambiguity, pressure and humility, whose emails, letters, chats and conversations were surfeit with thoughts of these, some of whose relationships were built on or broken by this occupation and to whom it culminated in the greatest moment of sheer satisfaction involving 1 man, spanning 2 countries, over 3 years, across 4 cities and involving several direct and indirect contributors – it is no overstatement, it is just a fact of life.

Today though I feel at peace. Lot of good things have been happened in the past couple of months – graduated, got exactly the job I wanted, helped my parents to a very successful, worthwhile trip to the US, 3 conference publications went through and its been generally more peaceful since it was not really that hectic at work.

Of course, if I were doing my masters program all over again, I would do several things differently – read more research papers, spend more time on homeworks and submit them on time :-), pay more attention in some of the courses and develop a stronger social circle of geeks (and savants ?? and polymaths ?? :D) etc.

Overall, I am happy about the way things have turned out with my program, even about my decision to not immediately continue into a PhD program. I did not want to indifferently drift into the another 3-5 years commitment, nor did I want to be on cruise control and hurry myself into it. I now have a conscious discontinuity that will allow me to experience life as something other than a student (first since June 1985 I guess 😀 ), in a different place over 3000 miles away (albeit in the same country), working on similar but not quite similar problems, with a wholly different set of individuals, in a different (corporate) setup, with a substantially higher remuneration. In short, I am bringing about a complete overhaul in my ‘condition of life’.

Yet, there is sadness. I learnt a lot just being on campus at Carnegie Mellon and brushed shoulders with some great guys. 2 years there and I have come out a really different person.

Comparing this to other times of leaving school or college is called for. Mysteriously, leaving KREC meant pretty much nothing. As for Boston University, I mourned leaving Boston more than leaving BU . Leaving IISc was sad but anticipation of the unknown world was a compensation. Leaving Little Rock in 1999 (high school) and CMU will rank among those sad partings, but for entirely different reasons. Leaving Little Rock was about missing all those great times I had with that relatively large friends’ circle and the school, with its walls, grounds and buses, which was my home of 10 years. Leaving CMU is something which I may take a while to even describe to myself, a sadness that is intensely personal, one that has little to do with people out there.

On balance though, I now know its possible to be immensely happy and equally sad at the same time in a way that does not add up to zero (indifference). This is that one moment.


Leaving Pittsburgh, LittleRockers in Pittsburgh edition August 13, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, image, littlerockers.
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In little over 2 weeks I will be gone. Out of Pittsburgh, my home of 27 months. On this occasion, I hope to have a few recollections in form of posts/photographs/trivia up here on the blog over the next few weeks.

For starters, I am tracking my school-mates from Little Rock. As I wrote in my earliest post here

And finally, India’s IT prowess, American graduate schools and a little luck somewhere has meant that I have been able to shoot pictures with almost 8% of my high school class in my graduate school lab 10 years later, 15000 kms away.

I am trying to capture those moments via the album I have uploaded titled “LittleRockers, Pittsburgh and Elsewhere, Sep 2005-Aug 2007”. These pictures as you will notice feature the same faces over and over again. And why not – we are a small group with a floating population, (much like the Indian cricket team) my high school-mates some of who are here on a more permanent basis (grad school for eg.) and others who are here as per work requirements. Yet, we have met every few months in different parts of the North-Eastern US, predominantly in Pittsburgh.

An advantage of seeing pictures of similar folks over a period of 2 years is that in addition to the fun we had, you can also track people’s changing hair styles, weight gains/losses, same place in different seasons perhaps and my two homes in different neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.

You can catch the slide show here.

P.S: If there is a picture that you think is really outstanding, you should probably thank Supreeth’s Canon Digital SLR.

P.S: An earlier set of pictures shot during the same period but in India can be caught here.

@ 60 August 13, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in image, india, littlerockers.
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Sorry, but I have the right to write yet another article on India’s 60th anniversary.

As you must have noted already, its India all over the place these days with the 60th anniversary just in a couple of days. We are of course having this thanks to that inexplicable obsession with rounded numbers. (Suggestion : how about celebrating only prime numbered anniversaries – 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11 …61, 67… it will probably space out more and more over time 😉 ).

There are scores of articles out there on this occasion. Outlook has an entire issue ( am sure do the other mags – India Today has several, but you can’t get them without a subscription though I rate them better in quality than the Outlook articles). Amit Varma has one here. ( Although I have no disagreement with his ideas, I am getting tired of the same theme ( personal liberties – economic and civil ) in almost every other article – BUT this one is a particularly well-written one ). Almost all articles have the same theme – about how India is not truly yet free, that we should not celebrate yet and have a long way to go. I have of course not yet seen an article that holds George Bush (or Karl Marx for that matter ) directly responsible for all our problems, but then I have not read every article out there :-). I am yet to come across Shashi Tharoor’s article on the topic, but when I do, I promise to skip it – years of writing weekly/bi-weekly columns for Hindu/Times, it appears to me that he may not have anything new to say.

I largely agree with these arguments (italicized above), but I am beginning to get bored even though we are a country about which many interesting things can be said. And they often are. The funniest little extract comes from U.R. Ananthmoorthy’s article :

I never tire of re-telling a story I heard from A.K. Ramanujan, a great poet and translator. Once, when he was collecting oral Ramayanas in the villages of Karnataka, he came to hear of a dialogue between Rama and Sita. Rama had been exiled to the forest and Sita was insisting that she would accompany him. Rama tried to tell her that life in a forest would be hard. In the course of the argument, when Rama came up with a strong argument, Sita replied: “In every Ramayana I know, Sita accompanies Rama to the forest. How can you then say no to me?” This is a fascinating example of the intertextuality that unites India.

I not sure why the story is relevant to what he is otherwise saying, but its a cool one nevertheless – reminds me of movie spoofs in college cultural festivals.

In the midst of the pile, this article stands out as it tracks a journalist’s personal history of the various anniversaries. Lets say I take a cue from Mr. Mitra and ask all of us to write our own personal history of Aug 15ths over the years that we remember.

I don’t recall India’s 35th/40th or even the 45th anniversaries. In fact through most of ‘boyhood’, Independence Day meant a holiday, walking up late enough to just see the flag hoisting on TV. The 50th anniversary is an altogether different story. And as with many other things, the memories relating to these events remain because they (in this case the I-Day celebrations) happened at school.

Firstly, we had this skit whose basic plot was about Mahatma Gandhi, Laloo Yadav, Bal Thackerey and Winston Churchill all meeting up in heaven/hell (as the case might be) discussing India@50. I have faint memories of the script – how I wish I could find it. But I do remember preparing and practicing for the skit and my own rendition of Churchill’s lines about India was and will always be doomed, torn apart by internal contradictions. For the benefit of humanity readers, pictorial evidence of the above event may be relished here.


If you are able to recognize from the above details or approximate recollection, you will immediately realize that I am better placed to play Mr. Churchill’s role today – not as much because I agree with him ( though I fear we must not yet wantonly ridicule his prophecies ), but at least because with all the hairs departed, and that receding hairline, there is at least an appearance of credibility. Staying with Churchill, I think if he had said about India what he said about Russia ( “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”), he would gone quarter way to being regarded, even if mistakenly, as an Indophile.

For the record, 3 out of the 5 on the stage are studying/working out of India, with the 4th one on the way out soon. Also I have no idea what the glass tumbler is doing next to Laloo.

A second little thing was the student’s address that I co-wrote. My friend who delivered the speech to this day pulls my leg about how that Independence speech must have the only one out there that does not mention a single freedom fighter by name while still sounding very reasonable. Well, that was probably harsh, but since every other speech did it anyway, it was not all that bad. He does have a copy of the entire speech, but publication shall have to be awaited.

And thus, for want of a better conclusion, my India@60 article ends. 😀

Those hammer and sickle days June 24, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, image, videos.
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Million things about the June 4th, 1989 I did not know. All the million things can be found in this brilliant documentary. The most famous picture associated with the massacre apparently happened 2 days later.

More pictures here. Linked from IndiaUncut.


I have a fetish for reading about (and visiting some day) relics like these :

Also known as the Tagansky Underground Command Center, the 75,000-square-foot facility was built 200 feet below ground level as a communications complex meant to survive a U.S. nuclear attack on Moscow. Work on it began in 1952, when Stalin was still Soviet dictator, and it went into service four years later. The site was in operation through the 1970s, with a staff of 2,500, of whom 1,500 could be on duty at any one time. In the event of a nuclear war, it would have been sealed, with enough stored food for three months, and systems to purify the air. A planned 1980s renovation was abandoned as tensions between the Soviet Union and the West eased, and the site was declassified in 1995.

That is now a museum !


Circa 2002 : I used to hum/sing this song during some really boring classes at KREC, Suratkal, while dedicating it to some of the professors. 🙂

UPA round up ! June 16, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in geo-politics, image, media, politics, weird.

The Indian Express does it twice in a row – either someone out there has a great sense of humor or just plain poor web design skills/presence of mind. What is the purpose of this picture ?


Look you guys at the Express – you are still my favorite newspaper, but don’t work hard to erode that goodwill. Also its not like you have to have some picture there. Its okay if your photographer ( Anil Sharma in this case ) just had a bad day, we all do every once a while.On second thoughts, in the light of what Ms. Patil has to say, this picture seems only naughty.


And then ofcourse there is the Indian Government’s statement in the story alongside :

He said he had made it clear to his Chinese counterpart that ‘it is extremely difficult for any Indian government adhering to the Constitution’ to ‘give up any part of the country which is regularly sending its elected representatives to the state Assemblies and the sovereign Parliament’.

[ Emphasis mine. ]

Pray ! Is it supposed to be read thus :

He said he had made it clear to his Chinese counterpart that (unfortunately) ‘it is extremely difficult (even though we would love to) for any Indian government adhering to the Constitution’ to ‘give up any part of the country…..

Again emphasis mine.

Some self-respecting government this !


I came upon this old article written by Mani Shankar Aiyer back in Nov 1997. Its mostly about Chidambaram. After all that written, they are now colleagues – Chidambaram, one of the senior most ministers and Mani in a ministry that most blog readers will not recall. Some thick skin there, Mani. That last line of the article alone is ordinarily sufficient to see the irony. ( Not to speak of the article title itself )

Remember Yogi Berra’s – Its not over until its over ?

The new look June 15, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, image, india, KREC.
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For KRECians and others who do not know about this new look campus :


Sourced from here.

And what it used to be and has been ever since I first saw the campus in the late 80s. I really don’t mind this color combination.


A new look for Bombay ? From this article of Suketu Mehta’s :

Its problems :

Bombay needs to upgrade dramatically essential civic services: roads, sewers, transport, health, security. But, as one planner said, “The nicer we make the city, the more the number of people that will come to live there.” Most migrants to Bombay now come from the impoverished North Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Bombay’s problems cannot be solved without solving Bihar’s problems. And that means that agriculture has to become viable again for the small farmer. Abolishing trade-distorting subsidies in the US and the EU would go a long way toward making, say, Indian cotton competitive with US cotton. Bombay is at the mercy of national and international factors beyond its control.

Solutions ( Won’t happen, dream on Mr. Mehta )

There’s no reason Bombay should be the capital of Maharashtra state. Shifting the state government to Navi Mumbai across the harbor, as originally intended, would free large amounts of space in the congested office district of Nariman Point. Beyond that, legislation should establish a strong executive authority for the city, with real decision-making power. The office of the mayor is currently no more than a figurehead; the city is run at the whim of the chief minister, and the state’s interests are not necessarily those of the city. Smart and brave architects and planners attempt to work with the state government. The city, which contributes 37 percent of all taxes paid in India, gets only a small fraction back from the central government in the form of subsidies.


Aside from all of the above, but from the same article :

Shot on the Juhu beach, whats that guy doing in the picture – hanging by that boat !


And why would someone name such a ride “Titanic” ! Would that be another addition to this song of Govinda’s – “It happens only in India” !

Assorted links now June 15, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, assorted, image, india, media, politics.

Picture of the day. From the Hindustan Times :



Okay, Madam Patil for President. India’s political class (certainly no pun there ) have revealed the quality of their thought processes and decision making. Let us set aside maybe the 50 odd people from the various parties in the UPA and left who were engaged in coming up with a nominee. Baring these, what is the probability that atleast 1 among the remaining millions considered Ms. Pratibha Patil a presidential candidate. What then is the idea behind calling these leaders our representatives ?

Beats me. And when its happened, selling the idea then as being one of women empowerment is only patronizing to women.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta on the topic, brilliant as usual :

But perhaps the only answer is to genuinely democratise the system. Let there be an open contest in the electoral college. Let parties declare that their members are free to vote for the candidate they wish. Let candidates, rather than parties, make the case for their constitutional credibility. There can be two ways of getting a ‘non partisan’ choice. One is consensus. Since this is not possible, encourage individual legislators to vote with their conscience. Formally, with secret ballots and unenforceable whips, this is the procedure. But it would have been nice if all parties for once did not treat their legislators as mere fodder that comes in neat bundles that party leaders can simply deliver to someone of their choice. This is the premise of the current bargaining game. We need to shift from a focus on arithmetic which allows party leaders to act with hubris. Instead we need space for a more basic question: which candidate, in a free contest, would appeal to legislators nationally?

A fine Barkha Dutt article on the topic.


There is an article from yesterday’s Indian Express that is about Tiger conservation. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Sonia Gandhi. But the page though looks like this :


Some pun somewhere ?


IT recruiting in India – is someone finally calling a spade a spade ?


State of the my blogroll :

Deepak is an angry young man, never seen him use words like that. Shiv, Shiv, Shiv !

Aswin, stop living in denial. Blog more !

On our kids ! June 7, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, humor, image, india.

Links for you, if you are a parent or plan to be one, one day. ( Okay, before that “our kids” in the title refers to the current generation of kids ( wherever they are ), not my kids which number exactly zero. )

1. What kind of a world do our kids grow up in ? Headmaster of the Doon School, Kanthi Bajpai has an excellent article that asks, albeit indirectly, just that. I will let you read through the entire article here.

What is that big deal about 0.5 % points – competitive as the world becomes, its tending to matter. I don’t certainly like the way things are but then thinking about that Class XII kid who in addition to likely being already marginalized by the quota system, now must get that extra 0.5 points to make it to a top 10 school. The problem – of all that excessive stress on marks – as he points out is a consequence of scarcity in Indian education infrastructure. So nothing new about most of what he says, but powerfully expressed sentiments and worth a read.

Also its heartening to know he concurs ( with my long held view ) when he says :

We think that Indian schools are world-class institutions in the making, that our science and mathematics are the envy of others, and that Indian students are smarter and harder working than anyone else. None of this is true. Indian schools are in a shambles; our science and mathematics teaching are appalling; and our students, while intelligent and diligent, are of the same genetic material as other human beings and, given the burden of our curriculum, are in danger of losing their creativity and energy by the time they “succeed” in school examinations.

2. Another must-read article – “Young, Gifted, and Not Getting Into Harvard”. Beautifully written, I won’t say anything more – just read it 🙂

So its not just about scarcity as Kanthi talks about – even 1000 additional quality tech/med schools coming up in India may help ameliorate the current scarcity, but some will always be preferred to others. Average disatisfaction levels may fall, but we will still be talking about cut-throat competitions and narrow margins.

3. Megan and Raji, Student from US, teacher from Bangalore :

Ms. Suresh, has grown close with the Oylers. She frequently tells Megan she loves her and says Megan always replies, “I love you more.” But earlier in the spring, the Oylers began to worry about Ms. Suresh, who wakes up at 3:30 a.m. so the 12-year-old can do her homework after dinner in North Carolina — and works a full day after that. “I felt bad,” says Ms. Oyler.

When daylight savings time kicked in, Ms. Oyler decided that instead of making Raji get up even earlier to accommodate the new hours, Megan would start her homework an hour later, at 7 p.m., giving Raji some extra sleep. “That was very considerate,” says Ms. Suresh, who lives with her husband and two sons in a three-bedroom apartment in Chennai.

What technology and human enterprise enables ! ( Hat-tip : MR).

Then ofcourse there is this cool cartoon 🙂

4. This is an interesting question and an important one – recently a controversy in India as well. But this article is so damn long, I wonder if a shorter version exists somewhere. 😦

The best graduation (goof-up) pics ever !! May 22, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, humor, image, weird.

Lot of water has flown under the bridge ( my most hated cliche ) since my graduation/convocation ceremony. Uuh….well its actually been just 3 days, but trust me even in 3 days, lot of water does flow especially given that there are 800 bridges over 3 rivers in Pittsburgh 😀



Now 3 days later I realized that the best ever pictures from the ceremony were emailed to me today by my good colleague Joy. It turns I was a part of a little goof-up on stage. And I am so glad this was captured by Joy’s camera. He had the camera with the right position, he himself was in the right position and his presence of mind and some luck ensured that these set of pictures will go down as among the best set in my collection !!

For now, I will let you guys fill the dots and interpret what really happened.

Here is the slide show.

Or let me just tell you – I forgot to shake hands with my department head Jamie Carbonell. I went straight from taking the degree from Bob and was on my way to shake hands with Dean Randy Bryant, while I just realized what I was doing ! I then paused, took a step back and shook hands with Jamie. In the background Tom Mitchell looks on. The crowd sent a laughter track down as they saw what I was upto !

I later met Jamie and sort of sheepishly told him that was not my intention. He said that there was always something like this every year – last year someone forgot to receive the degree and just walked past the stage and the year before another person stumbled over his graduation gown. So, I did not do too bad then. Someone even told me that was funny and cute :-P.

The actual pictures are 10 MP resolution and one can zoom in to see the exact facial expressions on several faces in those 5 seconds on stage !

[ To Rajaram : man, best trivia ever ! ]

And now for some pictures.. May 21, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, image.

Some pictures from the Carnegie Mellon University commencement ceremony on the 20th day of May, 2007, at Pittsburgh, PA.

the slide show

Several other pictures here, which you may watch if you have time to brutally squander, pillage and kill since they contain no captions and several are minor variations over the above slide show.

Two pictures today April 24, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, image.

Match the caption and picture and know more about the ‘advances’ in the Indian space/satellite program !!


The problem with transitions I guess – when I caught HT just the moment after they updated the picture and before the older caption went off. But hilarious indeed. 😀 And yeah jokes apart, great stuff from the scientists indeed.



Pittsburgh and Bangalore – a study in comparative weather over time. That was probably for the first since last Fall that Pittsburgh was warmer than Bangalore. And then look what happened 🙂


That shot was of course about 3 weeks back. Now its more like summer in Pittsburgh ( you Southerners never appreciate the sun, because it is always hanging around 😀 )

Doctors as theater artists April 4, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, image, india, science.
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This picture from the article here might or might not be end up causing an outrage. Its about “the doctor plays hangman while waiting for test results during surgery” as the Times says.


Except the doctor in this case is Atul Gawande. Atul is a Rhodes Scholar, MacArthur Grant awardee and one of the famous doctors in America. He teaches at Harvard and was an adviser to President Clinton on American health policies. So for Atul, maybe, they will let go. If you are a doctor somewhere and haven’t read his essays – “Complications” – I am told, you are missing something. I have read one of his essays from this book. Very engaging indeed. Should be more so for doctors.

By the way, I wonder why they call it the operation theater. We commonly associate theaters with performances people pay money to watch. But I am told that surgery is lot about personal touch and there is some art in there. I should know, an intern messed up a stitch on my left eyebrow about 20 years ago and that now goes into official forms when I am asked for “identification symbols” or so. Some people have their own way of leaving a mark on their profession 😀

If I were a doctor and were asked what I do for a living, I would occasionally insist I am a theater artist. ( Albeit not a popular one, since all my art is about ensuring people don’t ask for an encore. 🙂 ) But just to see their reaction, its worth trying once in a while. Ofcourse if they ask me to act out something, I would have to ask them to lay down on the nearest table.

The article itself is about “Music in the Operating Room”. On the lighter side, with more and more Indian doctors in the United States, Anu Malik and co. might find themselves being listened to in unexpected places – American operation rooms. 😉 Bah-lee-vud is truly going global eh :p

That picture is courtesy Erik Jacobs for the Times.

Assorted links today April 3, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, assorted, humor, image, KREC, life, science.
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On that nearly barbaric, uncivilized phenomenon called ragging.

I isolated myself from all ragging at KREC ( thankfully I had a choice, because I lived closeby ). I never got ragged and never ragged anyone, simply because I hated coercion of all kinds and I presumed most reasonable people would feel that way.

But to some of KREC batchmates who were involved, 4 years after college, do you still stand by your world-view ? Do you still refuse to understand what a free-society means and that personal liberties are sacrosanct ? At least after traveling the world and living in the liberal western democracies as many of you have/are ? Or do you have still have that self-serving rationalizations about how its good for ‘them’. And if so, the racist prejudices you might face outside India – are they not good for you ? Aren’t they supposed to help you face the world and be stronger ?


On being busy.


After Friedman’s permanent income hypothesis, here is the permanent happiness level hypothesis.

An experimental psychologist investigating the possibility of lasting happiness, Lyubomirsky understands far better than most of us the folly of pinning our hopes on a new car–or on any good fortune that comes our way. We tend to adapt, quickly returning to our usual level of happiness. The classic example of such “hedonic adaptation” comes from a 1970s study of lottery winners, who a year after their windfall ended up no happier than nonwinners. Hedonic adaptation helps to explain why even changes in major life circumstances–such as income, marriage, physical health and where we live–do so little to boost our overall happiness. Not only that, but studies of twins and adoptees have shown that about 50 percent of each person’s happiness is determined from birth. This “genetic set point” alone makes the happiness glass look half empty, because any upward swing in happiness seems doomed to fall back to near your baseline.

This has been true at least in my case. In general, I don’t know, but I am given to think its largely true.


Some real creativity here. Simplicity too. They often go together, don’t they. My favorite.

Linked from here.

The SFO Summary March 26, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, humor, image, KREC.
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Week away from Pittsburgh has been a week away from high-speed internet access. It has not been all that bad really, except a whole lot of work that had to be done either with poor wireless access or dialup. 3 days at the GALE meeting later, I found myself in Sunnyvale for the next 3 days with my aunt and family. Thats the first time I have visited any relative of mine in over 2.5 years I have spent here, that itself counts for something 🙂 .

Spending time with a family in the US is very different from visiting friends or having friends visiting over because there is a huge difference between a bachelor’s life and that of a family – starting from the neighborhoods they live in, issues of concern, aspects of cultural shock, topics of conversation etc. I had the feel of this when I visited my Little Rock teacher in Chicago in December last; so this stay was another such dose. ( and came with big helping of Konkani food ( Is Tendle Talaasan the best thing I ever ate 😀 ) ).

Or maybe the change is within me, that as I get older I am more sensitive to these concerns and hence observe and appreciate this as I observe families through the prism of responsibility juggling, resource sharing and the trade offs therein that the economist in my doesn’t fail to make note of. [ More here. ]


With Tanuja, her husband Rajesh ( a 1985 KREC grad ) and the twins – Ashutosh and Aishwarya, Golden Gate, March 23, 2007

San Francisco ( SFO) itself is like being in another country – the wider streets, newer houses, no high rise apartments, a more desert-like vegetation in parts and then of course, the sun. SFO downtown is beautiful – the most beautiful topology for any city I have ever seen in this country. ( You dont want to own a bicycle here ). Sunnyvale sits about in the middle of Silicon Valley- that stretch of land between San Jose and San Francisco. I am amazed at just how similar it seems to Bangalore, a city, I must admit, I am not so fond of. Meanwhile, catch the little stretch of I-280 driving into SFO from Sunnyvale which Wikipedia says is the “most beautiful freeway” in the world. Well, at least its the best I have ever seen.

Also caught up with Vaibhav Jain, KREC roommate and his wife Preeti, who stays closeby.


And to put that in perspective, here is our previous picture together – May 18, 2003 – in the KREC hostels.


Just to illustrate how kids are rightly unafraid to communicate ‘difficult thoughts’, will leave you with this little thing my 10 year old cousin Aishwarya ( remember one of my previous post about babynames ) said when I pointed towards a house and asked her if that was an Indian shop/store 😀

You know what Sharathanna, what you said now, I think that was kinda silly. He..he..he…

Another kid elsewhere.

With a million things to catch up back here, posting will continue to be light through the rest of week. 😦

“No minister”, Indianness etc. March 11, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in image, india, politics, sport.
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Few years ago – in  Jan 2005 – Sandeep Shetty, my littlerocker friend sent me this funny article on what it means to be an Indian – “We are like this only“. Long, long article, but worth a read. Captures it all, although there is now some psychoanalytic perspective on this.

For all those doubt that there is such a thing as free press in India, watch this video. Imagine doing this in your favorite Middle-eastern country or military/communist/right-wing dictatorship. Link via Gaurav.

Width of the Panama Canal – just this much.  !!

Hindustan times has changed their format, online atleast. It will take a while to change, but looks much much better. [ Last summer, the Indian Express changed theirs, actually they are coming to resemble the NYTimes page ]

Why Inzamam is one of my favorite cricketers – it is not really a joy to watch him bat, but taking questions from media and/or former cricketers.

With Pakistan answering the hackneyed query about missing the pacers with a superlative show on field, all that Inzamam needed to do was repeat those usual lines that are regularly repeated by mimics posing as the burly batsman. He praised his team by saying “ladke mehnat kar rahe hain”, thanked Allah that “sare batsmen runs kar rahe hain aur bowlers wicket le rahe hain” and finally about his form he said that the “ball balle pe lag rahi hai”.

Cricket is a gentleman’s game with umpires almost dressed as if for an evening ball and players  with their trousers on waiting for the ball to hit ( or come on to ) the bat rather than the other way around. Some laziness 😀 .

Assorted links March 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, assorted, geo-politics, humor, image, movies.
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Went out with my colleagues for a movie yesterday – my first in a theater in America and 4th ever. The movie – Pan’s labyrinth. An Oscar winner for Art direction, it is some amazing work. But appreciating technical brilliance is different from waiting for the screen to light up enough to be able to see the time.


This particular image shot during the construction of the Empire State Building in NYC is an American icon. You can see several related images here.


On the recent “invasion”, by the Swiss Army, of Liechtenstein, country most have not heard of :

Because Swiss politicians are giving the army increasingly less money, economical means must be found to keep the troops occupied. Shoes being cheaper than ammunition, the rank and file just keep on marching. Switzerland may not have the most powerful army in the world, but it does have the most stalwart marchers. If the planet ever runs out of oil, our soldiers will be the last ones moving.

In the same article, some cool sarcasm. Is George Bush listening 🙂

Invading Liechtenstein was admittedly a foolish thing to do, but at least the Swiss Army has shown it knows how to bring a failed military action to a happy conclusion. You just turn around and sneak back home as quickly and quietly as you can before anybody notices. And the next day you call on the head of the foreign territory and offer a formal apology.

Can you imagine what it must be a citizen of a country whose population is less than a million, which has no political, economic clout, that people don’t talk good or ill of, has had no army for the last 150 years ( but is one of the richest countries in the world ) ?

Washington Post on why international graduates are America’s greatest exports. Bryan Kaplan on America’s foolish ( but not foolish enough, read why) policy of treating international students.

If you want to get a U.S. student visa, you’re supposed to demonstrate “nonimmigrant intent.” As one immigration lawyer puts it: “the student must have ‘nonimmigrant intent’ – that is, an intention to return to their home county and not remain in the U.S.” In other words, our laws try to make people go away after they finish their studies.


U.S. policy, in contrast ( to erstwhile Soviet ) , is moderately less brutal, but stupid beyond belief. It says, in effect: “We’ll invest in you – as long as you agree to contribute as little as possible to our economy once you’re done.”

Triplets and the funniest picture today March 4, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in image, life, science, sport.
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Pakistani Wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal doing his leg crunches in the Gym ..which ofcourse is not funny until he see what he is wearing in his feet. 😀 . ( Kallis in the background )


This week’s “Modern Love” coloumn is about a lady’s decision about what to do with her triplets ! For a layperson like me, these multiple births (twins, triplets, quadruplets ) are one of nature’s wonders – the more, the merrier. ( I have never seen quadruplets and beyond except pictures) They are also the toast of science/sociology/psychology researchers. But there is a whole lot about the complications that only specialists and mothers might know.

A little high school reunion February 26, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, CMU, image, india, littlerockers, reminisces-1990s.

The past weekend produced one of the more memorable occasions ( and good pictures) in a long time. (The same period produced no blog posts.) Here is one.


[ Clockwise from top : Aneesh, Prakash, Sharath, PC, Joyas, Ashith ; Supreeth behind the camera]

That 3 of them have worked or are still working for the company that these guys founded might explain some similarity with the photograph.

Here is another set of pictures – one shot on Feb 24th, 2007 and another on March 30th, 1999. How many subjects are common to these pictures is left as an exercise to the reader. 🙂


One of those is in my lab at CMU ( shot thanks to my (hardworking) colleague Sanjika who was in the lab during a weekend ) and another is in Manipal, on the sets of the Bollywood movie – “Hum Tum Pe Marte Hai” ( roughly translated “I am head over heels in love with you” and literally translated as “I die upon you” ). ( That is as close as anyone would ever get to actress Urmila Matondkar’s residence 😀 ) The story of one boy’s patently unsuccessful struggle (in the latter picture) to control his laughter deserves telling. But another day.

Modern electronic technology has meant that :

– There was no need to carry around a second camera with a black and white role to shoot the first of the 3 pictures. It was shot with Supreeth’s digital SLR – a Canon EOS-Rebel TX.

– We are not stuck with a color image if that is how it was shot ( second image). It takes 2 clicks in an image processing software to grayscale what was originally a color image and mistakenly so.

– We are not stuck with a paper version of an image merely because it was shot with a film camera ( Last image shot with Ashith’s 1983 model Canon AE-1 ).

– And finally, India’s IT prowess, American graduate schools and a little luck somewhere has meant that I have been able to shoot pictures with almost 8% of my high school class in my graduate school lab 10 years later, 15000 kms away 🙂 .

The Italian connection February 21, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in humor, image, india, politics.

What are the shared aspects of Indian and Italian politics ? ( Ofcourse apart from the fact that India has an italian born prime minister leader of largest political party ? ).

Here is one more.

If you thought that India has elections too often and a list of unforgettable ( and unworthy of memory ) prime ministers, wait till you see this. Since 1946, Italy has had 16 elections and hold your breath, 37 governments and 25 prime ministers. ( because 6 people became PM twice, 1 person thrice and another one person ( Amintore Fanfani ) 5 times !!! ) Mr. Fanfani was PM for some time in the 1950s, 1960s and 80s as well. ( I would have died of nostalgia ! ) There were 12 PMs between the first and the last time he became PM ! How many Italians do you think can name all the PMs in the last 50 years ? ( By the way, how many Indians can name all Indian PMs in order ? No that might be too much, at least get the name right ? )

Looking at this picture of the Italian opposition when the current minister Mr. Romano Prodi ( who just visited India ) was to resign, I wonder what would have to happen to make me half as happy as they look in the picture 😀 . That picture is priceless !!

Inspite of everything, Italy is the 5th largest economy in the world.

Image of the day February 10, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, image.
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As part of an NYTimes article that talks about the possibility that the Indian Economy might be overheating.


I wrote about this long back – my love for cooking and shopping for vegetables. I wish the photograher had gotten the entire shop in the frame – isn’t the guy on the right selling carrots ? :-).

By the way, just what does it mean for an economy to overheat ?

Several years ago in Class X – that would be mid 1… July 1, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in image, littlerockers, science.
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Several years ago in Class X – that would be mid 1996 – I asked my physics teacher why the rainbows we see come in shapes they do. He didnt seem to be sure. I now see this ‘rainbow’ here below courtesy National Geographic.

What would you name your dog and why ? June 17, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in image, life, reminisces-2000.
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[ Note : The first time I am putting up images on this blog – Please remember to click on the images to see super-large versions ]

Harvard Professor Greg Mankiw‘s dogs have become the talk of the blogosphere. What Prof. Mankiw calls a mysterious blogger has devoted an entire post to why the dogs must have been named after two famous economists – Tobin and Keynes.

What is even more funny is a comment to this article that goes :

My undergraduate degree is in physics and I have a cat named Schrödinger.

My dog in Manipal from 1994 was named Baggy – because of some sympathy for the goal that Roberto Baggio missed in the World Cup 1994. Baggy died in mysterious circumstances in 1999. Our current dog since Dec 2002 seen here below has been named baggy apparently in the memory of the earlier Baggy !

Baggy, Dec 28, 2002 ; 41 days old

Baggy with mom, Feb 5, 2003 ; a little over 2 months Baggy with dad, Aug 1, 2004 ; a little less than 2 years !

He would eat whichever piece of rusk he was asked to eat and go back and sit down to take further instructions

Baggy with me, looks you in the eyes, Dec 31, 2005 ; a little more than 3 years !

A 34 second video featuring Baggy is here. ( look at what he does at the very end – dogs will be dogs ! )

Ways dogs play !

India’s most wanted – Arjun Singh ! May 26, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in image, india, politics, statistics, technology.
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[ Picture courtesy Google Trends ]

Search statistics for Arjun Singh ( BLUE ) and “OBC reservation” (RED) since Jan 2006 – look at the spike in early April and the correlation in the two statistics. Better view here.

Meanwhile, our Prime minister can either do this –

“I am pained to see the agonising experience the youth of the country are undergoing. They should call off their strike and I assure that the government will find a viable and credible way to protect the interest of all sections of the society”

i.e. mouth platitudes like any politician would.

Or do this

I think the matter is already settled”.

i.e. make strong statements unilaterally, like any politician would.

Who says he is technocrat and not a politician. Does he believe in what he is doing ? Or is it just another political expdiency ?

If he doesnt believe in the proposal for OBC quotas but goes ahead anyway because the parliament can pass the bill while maintaining that he supports it, does that make him a liar. Can a Prime minister possibly ever say something like – “I dont personally believe in this but its a political necessity” ? If he could, then Manmohan Singh would have spent most of the last two years saying just that ! Its a crown of thorns, sure is.

Its ironic that people like Arjun Singh who will unlikely live another 10 years have been given ministries such as HRD which are essentially far-looking – what HRD does and doesnt do has far-reaching consequences – to witness Arjun Singh will not ever live. ( Nor will Manmohan Singh himself ). I am probably being harsh, but true it is. So why is Arjun Singh who doesnt have a stake in the system given the reins for controlling it.

HRD and such ministries which dont require specific expertise ( like for. eg. Finance, Commerce) should be handed over to someone who is essentially below 50 years age ( and sane ) – who has a proved track record in policy making not 75 year old derelicts like Arjun Singh. If you call this age discrimination, then what do you which is going on right now ? Isnt dynastic rule some form of discrimination as well ?

….hurt my feelings May 3, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in image, india, statistics.

This is mapping religious groups in the United States. ( click on individual links) This is notable – correlations with education and wealth is hard to miss.

True also of this map – lighter the regions, lesser is religious adherence – so CA, Washington region – lots of agnostic/atheists – also pockets in Maine, Ohio. Everything thats red and light red is what gets the votes for Bush !

Now imagine some map of this kind generated for India. Firstly, I am not sure we have the data to do this. Actually, let me take that back – we most likely do. But such a map can only come at the cost of human lives !! Yes, without a few Muslims-Hindus riots, its unlikely it may happen. And the riots will ensure something like this will not ever be available. BJP will accuse the congress of minority appeasement and Congress will hurl counter-accusations of majoritarianism. Religion is such a sensitive issue in India and its easily going to be politicised.

But what if using the census data ( assuming available to the general public via RTI bill ), a private non-profit organisation decides to come up with this. The house of the head of the organisation will be razed, he will receive death threats and the government will step in to withdraw the study.

Okay, I give up. I would instead like to see a map that shows something totally non-controversial – hmm…something like the size of people’s shoes maybe ! Who has the longest feet – that sure should not generate any controversy.

Or something like – sense of humor ( however you measure it ). Who are the funniest people around in India – ofcourse, that would mean who also appreciate jokes on themselves without starting a riot (no pun here). Aah…this is getting controversial.

There is only so much you can do in India without hurting someone’s feelings, inviting a ban or facing the wrath of the mighty state. I give up.

(Maps were linked to from here )

Understand this ! April 9, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in America, humor, image.
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Can it get more complicated than that !!

This picture was shot just outside my lab in Pittsburgh. ( Courtesy : Smitha ). Will something like this likely work in India ? Probably not – not because several people unlikely to be able to read this ( if someone owns a car/bike he/she should be able to read it.), but because we couldnt care less given our nature of law enforcement.

A related question – is it ethical then for public announcements ( like this one ) to be put in a way that only a section of the citizens can comprehend. An uneducated man who pays city taxes ( does such a person exist ) can argue that the government whose taxes he pays is excluding him from its activities. Nonsensical argument according to me, but it may still be made – like several other such arguments often are.