I like to think and write about a variety of subjects. I am especially interested in dealing with topics related to logical thinking and skepticism. I am admittedly a late entrant into the world of blogging, but as the cliche goes, "Better late than never." The objective of my blog is basically to write down what I think about a variety of things. I need it to express myself. Anyone visiting this blog site is welcome to share their views.
I will never again say that picking a number between 43 and 48 is ridiculously easy. And this is just two dimensions. I guess the ultimate aim would be to generate generalized pattern-finding (or clique-finding) formulae for n-dimensions, which I imagine might help us learn more about the nature of space and hyperspace, but I am not too sure. Would be glad if anyone could enlighten me further on this.
Progress in mathematics is often slow and difficult, and breakthroughs in even minor seeming problems can take years. Results in my field may require new tools, new inspiration, or new computational power to achieve. Sometimes it takes all of these to push the subject forward.
Last week, it was announced in a paper posted on arXiv that the fifth Ramsey number R(5) is at most 48. Before this, it was known to be at most 49. To a random person, the response to this announcement would be a resounding “big deal”. But this is a breakthrough and I will explain why.
Have you ever looked up at the night sky and seen a pattern in the stars, one that doesn’t fit one of the known constellations? That is Ramsey theory at work, with your brain connecting the dots to find new patterns. What the math tells us is that patterns are truly…
Mosquitoes have always been a major problem in the tropical regions. There are few things as unpleasant as a mosquito bite. That, however, is nothing compared to the very real threat mosquitoes pose to humans as disease vectors. Mosquitoes are known to be carriers of a variety of diseases such as malaria, dengue, filariasis and chikungunya, among others. Zika , a viral disease spread by mosquito bites, that otherwise presents very mild symptoms, has of late become another reason for major concern worldwide. It has been found that the virus that causes the disease can be sexually transmitted, and that if a pregnant woman has zika, her child is very likely to be born with microcephaly and neurological problems that may lead to severe mental and physical handicaps or even death. And the virus, which was confined mainly to certain parts of Africa and Asia in the past, saw an outbreak in Brazil recently, and has since been spreading worldwide, because the Aedes mosquitoes that carry the virus are spreading, with a little help from their human friends. It is important, then, to stop the mosquitoes from doing any harm, and steps have to be taken to prevent them from spreading. Continue reading “Mosquitoes, diseases and the “natural” delusion”→
A short promotional video I came across yesterday claims that the Magnetic Hill in Ladakh, India generates a strong magnetic field that pulls cars, bikes or “anything made of metal” with their ignition off towards it. It claims that even airplanes feel the effect of its strong magnetic field when they fly over it. Even the site I linked to has this to say:
The Magnetic hill, located close to Leh, is known for its wonderful magnetic properties…..Not only vehicle, even helicopters and aircrafts feel the same magnetic impact. Locals and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel claim that the helicopters and aircrafts that pass through the area have to fly at a greater speed to avoid the magnetic impact of the Magnetic hill. And if the aircraft comes within the radius of Magnetic Hill, it starts to jerk…..The drivers will inform you that Indian Air Force pilots always steer clear of the Magnetic Hill.
You could complain about how weakly the tourism pitch for such a wonderful, seemingly unique natural phenomenon has been made on the website. But it is difficult not to be amazed or even amused at how the vehicles seem to move against the slope towards the “Magnetic Hill,” apparently because of its rather strong magnetic field and because the vehicles are made of parts that contain ferromagnetic material. That is something we don’t often encounter in our daily life, if at all. No wonder such a place is a tourist attraction. But one question naturally arises: what causes the “Magnetic Hill” to have such a strong magnetic field? Rather, since magnetic fields can be directly measured, how strong is the magnetic field at the Magnetic Hill? Continue reading ““Magnetic Hill”, media and science”→
Two referendums have generated much buzz in the media as well as social media recently. The first was the referendum on the peace deal with a left-wing “revolutionary” group of yesteryears in Colombia and the other was a referendum on EU-mandated migrant quota in Hungary. The former met with rejection of the motion, and the latter with approval. To what extent did the results of these referendums reflect popular opinion in these countries?
Voters in Colombia have rejected a landmark peace deal with Farc rebels in a shock referendum result, with 50.2% voting against it.
Hungarian PM Viktor Orban has declared victory in a referendum on mandatory EU migrant quotas……
Nearly 98% of those who took part supported the government’s call to reject the EU plan.
In the former case, the rejection is barely perceptible, while in the latter the approval seems to be overwhelming. However, there are caveats. In Colombia’s case:
Turnout was low with fewer than 38% of voters casting their votes.
The difference with 98.98% of the votes counted was less than 54,000 votes out of almost 13 million ballots.
In Hungary’s case:
But only 40.4% cast valid ballots – short of the required 50% threshold.
In Colombia’s case, the turnout may have been negatively influenced by weather – a hurricane that hit some parts of the country the day before forced evacuations in many places. In Hungary’s case the cause for low turnout is less clear. So, the question again arises: what do these results tell us? In Colombia they tell us that for the low percentage of people that did turn up to cast their votes, the amount of opposition to the so-called peace deal is nearly the same as that of support for it. But 62% is a lot that is left unaccounted for. Even half of those people voting might have changed the verdict dramatically. The same cannot perhaps be said of the Hungarian referendum, but again, 60% is a lot of people, and their votes might have changed the result, or reduced the margin, if nothing else. Technically, however, the referendum results are invalid because less than half of the population eligible to vote turned up at the booths. Continue reading “Referendums, democracy and reality shows”→
I came across a rather amusing article in Scientific American today, entitled Creationism Invades Europe. It sounds rather ominous, but I think the first paragraph from the article itself will put things in perspective:
“This is outrageous!” Red-faced and visibly agitated, the 60-something was darting toward a hyperrealistic silicone reconstruction of Lucy, the world-famous, 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis. After a highly confused couple of minutes it emerged that the man was operating within a 6,000-year biblical time frame. But he did not object to the evolutionary age of Lucy. He objected to her nakedness. “You have to cover her up! It’s almost as bad as going to the beach!”
I thought it felt good to go to the beach? The waves splashing on you, the sand (making sandcastles if you are young/talented enough), the sun in all its glory (unless it’s a rainy and murky day), beach volleyball etc. But anyway, I digress. This is a well-clothed Creationist in Europe talking. Who believes that humans were created out of God’s magic fart (not exactly, of course) one fine morning just about 6000 years ago. God’s creations also include all the fossils and bones, which a variety of dating methods have shown to be hundreds of thousands of years old, many showing clear signs of following evolutionary trends. God created them for whatever reason. But because Lucy, evolutionarily one of the earliest hominids and ancestresses of humans, could not be so because a reconstructed model of hers was totally naked! Apparently the gentleman forgot to remember that people don’t exactly take birth in their diapers. Nor do certain feral children who had grown up in the wild automatically learn the social importance of clothing. Continue reading “Evolution and challenges to its understanding”→
We have frequently heard about how high sugar consumption in our daily diets is a risk factor for type II diabetes. The message is sometimes interpreted by many to mean that eating too much sugar will necessarily lead to type II diabetes, which is not true. Genetics plays a significant role in disease, and diabetes is no different. It’s a combination of genetics and lifestyle that affects pathogenesis as far as diabetes in concerned. Apart from sugar consumption, overall calorie consumption and amount of daily activity are important lifestyle factors. However, there is a definitive relationship between sugar consumption and type II diabetes in populations where risk for diabetes is moderate to high, and an individual cannot know the exact odds that they will develop type II diabetes, so it’s a good idea to have a balanced, sugar and calorie-controlled diet and regular exercise to keep the odds as low as possible. We are also usually told that excessive consumption of sweet food is bad for the teeth, because it attracts bacteria that might cause tooth decay. One warning we hear less commonly is that binging on sugar might lead to cardiovascular disease. While it’s true that there isn’t a great deal of information that can tell us to what extent sugar consumption is associated with cardiovascular disease and it’s still a matter of debate and further research, evidence from rather recent research has consistently pointed towards a positive association. And the reason why the evidence has been rather recent is, well, the sugar industry, a recent article published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests.
Charlie Hebdo loves being in the news. After shooting to international prominence in January 2015 following a terrorist attack on its office in Paris, which killed 12 of its staff members, people around the world came to know more about the magazine. Initial reaction to the atrocity was one of horror, followed by solidarity -which led to je suis <insert persecuted entity here> becoming something of a meme- and yet another round of debates over the limits to free speech and expression. People also started reflecting over whether or not minorities and their cultural claims being disproportionately targeted for criticism made them victims to cultural bullying in unfamiliar lands. Nevertheless, Charlie Hebdo, by and large, captured media attention in all parts of the world. What was a small throughput French magazine read by probably a few thousand people in Paris became an internationally recognized satire magazine known for its irreverent satire and dark humor. When they made a comeback not long after the tragic episode, they were praised the world over for their bravery. This now means that Charlie Hebdo‘s readership has conceivably taken an upward curve in parts of the world where French is spoken and understood, apart from having its works being translated into different languages. Continue reading “Charlie Hebdo, laïcité and Italy”→
It’s very tempting to fall into linguistic traps, especially when the words being spoken have content that is emotive. Sometimes it’s very difficult to separate what is actually to be taken issue with from what isn’t. Words like “murderer”, “terrorist”, “rapist” etc carry emotive content, apart from their criminal implications. Tag a person’s image with any one or a combination of these words, and it is likely to evoke a deep sense of disgust and hatred towards someone you have never seen before and whose (real) antecedents you have no idea about. The average person -even the average skeptic- is unlikely to look for further evidence that the person in the image actually is what the tag represents.
The issue of capital punishment has been a matter of great debate for centuries, and it intensified ever since there emerged a subculture of humans which realized that people were entirely responsible for their own actions. Dishing out the death penalty began to be considered abhorrent to collective human conscience, and it began to be understood that capital punishment wasn’t effective as a deterrent of crime in any case. In Frederick Forsyth’s bestselling fictional thriller The Day of the Jackal, he mentions how he would feel if he were hypothetically to witness an execution by firing squad in the quote above. You might want to forgive the author for missing out on the words “calculated” and “chilling.” Here is a description of what execution by the firing squad looks/has looked like in the United States:
For execution by this method, the inmate is typically bound to a chair with leather straps across his waist and head, in front of an oval-shaped canvas wall. The chair is surrounded by sandbags to absorb the inmate’s blood. A black hood is pulled over the inmate’s head. A doctor locates the inmate’s heart with a stethoscope and pins a circular white cloth target over it. Standing in an enclosure 20 feet away, five shooters are armed with .30 caliber rifles loaded with single rounds. One of the shooters is given blank rounds. Each of the shooters aims his rifle through a slot in the canvas and fires at the inmate.[…] The prisoner dies as a result of blood loss caused by rupture of the heart or a large blood vessel, or tearing of the lungs. The person shot loses consciousness when shock causes a fall in the supply of blood to the brain. If the shooters miss the heart, by accident or intention, the prisoner bleeds to death slowly.[….]
4th January, 2011. The governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salman Taseer, is sub-machine gunned to death in broad daylight by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri. He is shot 26 times (28 by some accounts), no less, before Qadri surrenders himself to the police. Why this extreme hatred and madness?
“Salman Taseer is a blasphemer and this is the punishment for a blasphemer,” Mr Qadri said in comments broadcast on Dunya television.
Salman Taseer had come out in defense of a Christian woman by the name of Asia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death by a Pakistani court for the Koranic crime, nay sin of blasphemy. Not only that, he also challenged the entire blasphemy law and supported the more sensible amendments to it that were being proposed. To Islamic fundamentalists, this itself was blasphemy. Salman Taseer was also a man who envisaged Pakistan as a “progressive and liberal” democracy in the future. That too, in the fundamentalist Islamic world, is blasphemy. And the punishment proposed by Sharia (Islam’s proposed solution for all ills) for blasphemy is death. It’s obvious Qadri did it for a cause. He was hailed as a hero by hundreds of thousands of Islamic fundamentalists. In late 2015, more than 4 years after the horrific murder, Pakistan’s apex court sentenced him to death, since it was deemed to be an act of terrorism, and by Pakistani law (non-Sharia criminal law) it is understood to be fair punishment to condemn someone to the gallows for terrorist acts. Four months later, in late February, 2016, Qadri was hanged. What followed was great outrage across the Islamist landscape. Angry demonstrations and protests against the judicial murder thronged many streets and highways in Pakistan. Qadri had become a martyr for the Islamist cause.